The Hungry Writer

An unemployed writer keeping sane during The Depression II.

Archive for the ‘depression’ Category

Keeping ’em at bay

Posted by The eDater on February 20, 2009

Want a, hehe, job?

Want a, hehe, job?

Well, they’re coming out in full force now. I just got a “job offer” to work as a “legal representative” performing the duties of accounts receivable, or something like that. All I need’s a bank account and a desire to succeed!

I do wonder how many people fall for these scams. I mean, these are now becoming fairly highly targeted, so the success rate has to be pretty high for it to be worth the scammers’ time. I once heard that regular scam emails only need to hook about 2 people out of every million to be profitable – but this particular one is just going out through Careerbuilder. How many active unemployed can there be on Careerbuilder, anyway?

Ok, don’t answer that. Too depressing.

Then there’s another one I’m getting over and over – offering me freelance writing gigs. All I need do is buy their list of gigs! Then I’ll be paid $450 for every story I come up with!

Now, maybe they’re sending this out to everyone… but I suspect they’ve already got a good idea I’m a writer, and they’re targeting me. Again, how many of us out-of-work writers can there be, to make this profitable for the scammers?

All part of the mounting evidence in the case that needs none – this is a serious depression.

Speaking of serious, I’m seriously considering a slide down the Degree of Desperation ladder. I’ve been headhunted – because I can speak some Japanese. The job – phone tech support, in northern Baltimore, for Japanese folk (and during Japan’s business hours – otherwise known as the graveyard shift). The headhunter even repeatedly stressed – this could be something you can do just until you find something else. He was almost apologetic about presenting this suck-ass position. But there ain’t many Japanese speakers in the greater Baltimore metro area.

And I just might do it. It’d screw with everything else, but it would be, well, something. Tho the jury’s still out – the freelancing is actually coming along pretty well, and I wouldn’t want to mess with that… I’ll keep you posted.

Posted in depression, economy, job search | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Potpourri

Posted by The eDater on February 12, 2009

Power off.

Power off.

Well, during the Movement Hiatus, plenty of fun unemployment stats.

AT&T will soon face strikes from up to 20,000 workers. Jobless claims dip ever-so-slightly, while those living on bennies (like me) are at a record high. Work-at-home scams are hitting their boom days (and admit it, my fellow Jobless Naughts – late in the latest of evenings, alone with your pitiable pile of possible jobs, knowing full well these are scams – you still secretly want to try them out, just in case. I know you have. I’ve even considered “researching” some of these things, figuring I could write an article about the scams. But secretly, you hope to strike that gold.

(Resist! Take it from a former-and-still-sometime copywriter – these guys aren’t even very good at the junk they put out – but when folks’re scared enough, they’re easily persuadable. Just breath deep, friends. Much better. Digression paused.)

The always-popular human interest look at the Depression is up and running. And I’m seeing all sorts of useful anecdotal evidence, of which more later.

But to me, one of the biggest pieces of news this week came from Pioneer. Not only are they laying off 10,000 – they’re halting production of their flat-screen HDTVs. Why does that one really strike me? Well, not only did Pioneer make one of the better HDTVs, but they were pretty popular. Like, the leading seller not that long ago. Recently, not as high as Sony or Panasonic – but still one of the first five firms you’d think of for HDTVs.

And Panasonic’s high-end model, the Kuro, was generally regarded as the best mass-produced HDTV. A true cut above. It was the one I’d targeted for the day after it rains gold. In most business climates, The Best Product will always have a small but significant niche. Not today. No one’s willing to pay the premium anymore, not even the wealthy or the technophiles. Bad times. (Tho for the record, if you have the means – get a Kuro during the blowout sales. They’re amazing TVs, won’t give you trouble, and should go for a song now. I wish I wish I could do this.)

Additionally, Pioneer doesn’t have too many other high-volume consumer electronics that it excels in. Name one. Sure, it makes CD players, a few things for home theaters and car audio… but this felt an awful lot like the beginning of the end for them. Of course, another business facing extinction doesn’t make many ripples these days… but as we move further back up the supply chain, this Depression just proves itself more than a minor correction.

Observed signs: on the way to LA, there were no lines at the security gates. Most people brought food with. No middle seats sat in for most of the two-part flight. My friend stars in a show on an HBO project – well, it was an HBO project. They just sold off the whole section, firing almost everyone in the process. The office – shared with Yahoo! – was, predictably, huge and empty. Literally, hundreds of empty chairs lining bare cubicles, or filling empty offices. The few who remained all had that pained look of the recently-jilted, jittery laughs and gallows humor mixed with a strained stressed look.

Except for the actors, of course. They’re used to this kind of thing. And their show had made the cut, along with one other. At least, until the buyer goes under themselves.

Degrees of Desperation watch: I just came quite close to accepting a job writing 5-10 hours a week, for about $50 a month. A joke, right? But hey, it’d be writing at least, with a remote chance of getting a buncha page views and maybe almost earning a fifth of a real salary if everything broke right and I far exceeded my hours requirements.

To be clear, I’m not taking it. But I did seriously consider it. Might as well get paid a little something, right? Yaha.

Although, the freelance projects are starting to come along, and pay nearly half a salary given a smooth process (bumpy process would take around 3-5 times as long, really cutting into the money-per-hour).

Righto, more about LA shall follow – I think the constant blue sky would get to me for a full year, but for two weeks in a grey winter, wow – but for the moment, let’s freelance.

Posted in depression, economy, job search, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

News From the line.

Posted by The eDater on February 4, 2009

I'll take my computer, thank you very much.

I'll take my computer, thank you very much.

The line is growing – an estimated 522,000 last January, according to ADP. And that number, of course, won’t have any of February cuts – like the 15,000 Panasonic just announced (half in Japan). Thank goodness we don’t have to stand in the cold, but can apply and submit our unemployment from the comfort of a good coffeeshop, for instance – or lying in bed. Yeah internet!

In other news, Obama has proposed limiting executive pay to $500,000 for any company that accepts TARP help. I think this is a great move – if only because the bonuses that have still been handed out are one of the biggest PR disasters of this whole mess. I see folks get apopleptic over that.

Of course, poor Obama has been under attack from every angle already, and this is no different. Forbes fears the compensation cap will cause some banks to forego TARP payouts. You know what? This is ridiculous on the face of it. Drive away talent? Where to? It seems like rags such as Forbes still don’t get it – THERE ARE NO JOBS. Anyone who has a job is counting their lucky stars, and waiting for the axe. Anyone think they’re such a whiz kid they’ll get snatched up by another company in the especially-beat financial industry? Kudos, kid, good luck. You’ll need it.

And any bank or financial firm with an executive team so greedy they can’t curtail their pay for a year or two – I don’t want ’em. Let it fail. Let it die. They’ll get exactly what they deserve, if they just can’t bear to earn a mere $500,000 in ’09. Are these ‘responsible’ journals just trying to argue for argument’s sake, or do they actually believe this horseshit they’re trying to foist on the public?

Oh, and an aside about poor Obama, because it looks to me like he’s gonna take it on the chin for the next four years, as this crisis isn’t causing generous moods. The appointees, with their owed taxes – yes, that’s ugly. Bad fortune that that happened, and quite possibly bad screening. Not good at all.

But most people I hear are talking about some sort of double-standard – that if Bush had appointees with similar problems, he’d be hammered up and down the court.

Two problems I have with that. One, people are thinking of Bush at the end of eight years, compared with about 2 weeks of Obama. Of course there’d be less patience with an old prez than a new one – Bush’s patience would have been used up years ago.

But the bigger problem is, Bush had appointees with much worse sins – and he got, if anything, less flak than Obama. I’m thinking most explicitly about former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who – at the time of his appointment – had already penned a legal defense of torture, and had acted as Bush’s personal attorney and White House counsel (setting up the conflict-of-interest problems that predictably surfaced later).

Those things, to me, are a whole lot more worrying than some back taxes owed. And there were some folks that gave voice to their displeasure – but the outcry wasn’t so great that Gonzales withdrew his name, as Daschle has.

This whole “liberal media bias” is the greatest hoax the GOP has ever commited – gotta respect it, but I wish folks were aware of the amount of manipulation that goes into it. I’m not saying the media is GOP-biased either – just that it’s easily batted around, and the GOP is better at it.

That might change with Obama as well – but for now, there’ll be plenty of other meaningless lumps that’ll get in the way of real policy reforms. And that, friends, is the sign of a system so broken, it must soon die.

Let’s hope we’re not there quite yet.

Posted in depression, economy, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Anecdotes of the abyss.

Posted by The eDater on February 3, 2009

Did you hear about...?

Did you hear about...?

So my sister goes to her book club, and during the discussion, they make a startling discovery: Every single one of them has a brother who was just laid off.

My Dad, meanwhile, is enjoying the reports of a co-worker’s son. This guy was a high-powered hedge fund type, making 500K a year, something like that. Of course, he’s been let go. And since his layoff, he’s encountered the same broken record I have: Sorry, we’re not hiring. It’s hardly worth trying for the next few months.

Or, as Planet Money reported in their anecdotes of the crisis, some folks aren’t flushing like they used to. One family used to lay two scoops of sawdust in their compost toilet to “flush”: now, they’re rationing down to one. The reason? All the carpenters who used to happily provide the scrap wood, they’re not working. There’s no furniture being made – so no sawdust as a byproduct – so, better get used to that smell.

Posted in depression, economy, job search | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Brave New World.

Posted by The eDater on February 2, 2009

From the San Fran Sentinel

From the San Fran Sentinel

So, the numbers summed for the month of January: 162,962 layoffs. And of course, that’s the conservative number – we know, for instance, IBM has a lot more layoffs in store than they’ve got listed so far.

Meanwhile, gotta love that the Super Bowl had ads from both Monster and Careerbuilder. I’m tellin’ ya – this is about the hippest time to be unemployed yet. We are so in.

Posted in depression, economy, job search | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Don’t you dare cough near me.

Posted by The eDater on January 30, 2009

Just, Step, Back.

Just, Step, Back.

It’s been a morning of paperwork for you favorite unemployed author. Two days ago was the Blizzard Drive, yesterday the Great Unpacking, so today only made sense as a time to Tackle the Mail.

The good news – soon, I’ll receive my severance, various new checks will be deposited and accessible, and my tight living quarters will breath just a little more freely.

The bad news – it’s unreal what they want for COBRA! I mean, when I was living abroad, and I got this crazy expensive insurance that covers you in every part of the world for every possible situation or malady – that was just over half what COBRA was asking.

Needless to say, an able-bodied, able-minded lad like myself with time to kill wasn’t just going to take the easy way, not when he could probably find some insurance for, at least, that half-price premium.

I did one better, friends. I’m at one-third the COBRA cost. For better coverage. Really makes you wonder, what do we have COBRA for, anyway? Other than for a few pre-existers who wouldn’t be able to get coverage otherwise (and the fact that they couldn’t get coverage any other way is, well, indefensible).

Of course, while my apps are being processed (one for the real deal, one for short-term coverage while waiting on the real deal), take your sick, your tired and your weary and lock ’em in the next room.

Meanwhile, for those of you who couldn’t bare to peak the news this morning… Japan joins the recession march, our GDP falls at a 3.8% annual rate (and people are ecstatic it wasn’t worse!), and Davos starts to come ’round to my way of thinking.

Posted in depression, economy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bits and bobs.

Posted by The eDater on January 27, 2009

This is what bits and bobs look like.

This is what bits and bobs look like.

Yesterday, the housing market gave some unexpectedly good news – existing home sales rose 6.5%. Of course, much of that was predicated by an 18.2% drop in the price of homes, to 2004 levels. Now, 2004 is about when the bubble started going crazy, but the housing market was in a bit of a bubble from 2001 onwards. When bubbles pop, they usually need to fall below the trendline, before evening back out right around that trendline.

The trendline for housing has always been appreciation more or less in line with inflation. House prices in 2004 were well above the trendline (even the trendline carried forward five years to 2009).

In other words, house prices still have plenty of room to fall.

Meanwhile, consumer confidence is at an all-time low. Everyone’s feeling this thing. Not really surprising, then, that everyone’s looking for something else to do. After all, the old job didn’t work out, did it?

Posted in depression, economy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Really? Wow.

Posted by The eDater on January 27, 2009

Sadly, the best use of dollars in the future will be for fuel.

Sadly, the best use of dollars in the future will be for fuel.

If you’ve followed the business news the past few months, you know that most pundits thought that the various bailouts were, while staggering, not really taking all the problems into account. As individual corporations like Citigroup racked up hundreds of billions in TARP money, it was easy to see where the pundits were coming from.

Well, now we’ve got a new number. $4 trillion. That’s how much the banks are in the hole, apparently. Some ‘head at the link thinks the taxpayer’ll need to pony up $1 trillion to $2 trillion to get us out of this mess – or just under 15% of our GDP. (Not the 5-10% mentioned in the article – the US GDP tops out just south of $14 trillion, not $20 trillion – no idea who’s checking their facts.)

I’ve heard some scary numbers before, including $600 trillion in derivatives exposure, or 10 times World GDP. Of course, that’s if everything ends up worthless, which is unlikely – right? I mean, someone somewhere is still making payments on their mortgage, right?

But, if the $600 trillion figure is correct, only around 2.5% of loans need to go bad to wipe out an amount of wealth equal to the U.S. GDP. Right now, according to some figures, 9% of U.S. mortgages are in default.

What’s all this mean? Hard to say – the $600 trillion figure undoubtedly has debt cut and resold and cut and resold many times over, amplifying each loan. And it also undoubtedly is made to appear worse than it is by the U.S. banks 33-1 ratio – whereby they can loan out $3,300 for every $100 they have (I thought we learned the dangers of margin trading in the Great Depression? Apparently we just learned to rename it and do it bigger.)

Are we approaching an economic reset point? There are certainly plenty who believe that – I don’t claim to be smart enough to know.

I will say that the amount of money being thrown around is starting to sound meaningless, even if we take the ‘small’ $4 trillion figure. If we really print up that kind of cash to absorb bad loans, then the dollar is going to suffer sorely. And if we let that kind of wealth just disappear – it was all make-believe anyway – then the economy will grind to a halt with no new meaningful investment being made.

Things were much simpler with a gold standard. I don’t know that paper money is an inherently evil or flawed form of currency – but I do know, the complexities that arise when you play with imaginary money can get pretty big. It’s quite possible that the human brain just can’t deal with those complexities. They wind up creating situations like, well, just like this one.

I’m glad I don’t have to figure this out. I just need to survive it.

Posted in depression, economy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

An efficient bugger

Posted by The eDater on January 26, 2009

The breakfast, lunch, and dinner of losers.

The breakfast, lunch, and dinner of losers.

So, with my move down to the ‘jobs’ in the city coming in a scant 2 or 3 days, I’ve been trying to clean out my cupboard. And to be honest, I’m getting really tired of mac n’ cheese and pasta. But still, it feels rather nice to eat a food supply down to nothing. There’s a perverse sense of accomplishment. Rather like using every part of a carcass – those deer antlers bumped against each other to attract other deer to the fighting, knives made from the bones, rope from the tendons… yes, I’m comparing the slurping of cereal to the efficiency of hunter-gatherers. And I’m not backing down either.

And each bite of ramen is already bought and paid for – sustenance for free! Or for a sunk cost, which is more or less the same.

As I savor my shrimp-flavored powder, not quite dissolved, here’s a nice roundup of tech recession news, courtesy of Engadget. They’re reporting a rumored number of 16,000 cuts at IBM, which, if true, is a really big number. Because after all, IBM is one of the few companies that beat earnings estimates recently, along with Apple and a very few others. Maybe that’s why it’s only 16,000 – which would be about 4% of IBM’s workforce, a relatively small percentage compared with, oh, everyone else wielding an axe.

Posted in depression, economy, sustenance | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Love this.

Posted by The eDater on January 26, 2009

I'm happy too, buddy.

I'm happy too, buddy.

Hard to explain how happy I am that we’ve got a new guy running things. And articles like this are a big reason why. If you don’t have the time to RTFA, basically, Obama’s saying he wants us energy independent – and he’s doing things to make it happen. Raising CAFE standards for one thing – to 35 mpg. With as much political capital as he’s got, and with Dems in all the key positions, this could definitely happen. Allowing states to set their own standards as well – so California can raise the bar for all of us.

Frankly, I can’t understand why everyone isn’t behind something like this. On the left, we’ve got all this scientific evidence on global warming, with the few deniers sounding an awful lot like ‘scientists’ in the 60s claiming smoking doesn’t cause cancer. The scientific debate is over, save for a few nutjobs and oil-sponsored studies. It’s over people. The scientific consensus is about equal to the consensus behind evolution. Which is to say, there is no credible scientist debating it anymore (politicians and journalists are another thing).

Then on the right, you’ve got the national security issue. As long as we’re beholden to OPEC – and especially as long as our fancy billion dollar weapon systems depend on oil – we’re always going to be hemmed in. And it’s oil money that is funding large parts of the mideast terror network. This is very simple stuff, and a lot of conservatives are connecting those dots.

And for everybody, a true Green Revolution could prove the kind of game-changer for the economy that World War II was. Think about it. If we really are in a depression – and you know I believe we are – then something massive like this will likely be needed to drag us out. The stimulus involved in creating a new industry is huge. If we had a Green Revolution to rival the Apollo Program and the Manhattan Project, then we’d really have something.

My Dad’s been pushing this idea for years. And he’s a Republican. Now that the economy is dying, it’s that much more urgent. There’re thousands of reasons why this is a good idea, and I can’t think of any good reason to be against it. Even if you think global warming is hooey – and that’s really hard to do with any logic these days – and even if you think transferring billions of dollars to OPEC each year is just fine – which is just as hard to do – you still gotta know, the oil’s going to run out sometime. Believe in Peak Oil, don’t believe in Peak Oil, doesn’t matter – oil’s a finite resource. Better to make the switch while we’ve still got some to run the necessary machines, right?

Posted in depression, economy, green, oil | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »