Bunker Blog

One Year After Book Review

One Year After Book Review

Adapting to Life after “The Day

William Forstchen continues his story about the people of Black Mountain after an EMP strike in One Year After. Readers learn that over 80% of Americans have died in the year following the EMP strike. Over half of the population of Japan, Eastern Europe, western Russia, and the Ukraine have also perished. The survivors find that much of America has devolved into chaos as tribal factions vie for power over the remaining states. China has deployed troops under the guise of “maintaining stability.” The US government, in an effort to restore order, issued draft notices to hundreds of military aged men and women in Black Mountain. We rejoin the story’s lead character, John Matherson, as he addresses the townspeople.

Following the bitter battle Black Mountain’s militia fought against The Posse, Black Mountain residents believed themselves to have seen and experienced enough suffering. Matherson and his wife, Makala, were nominated to meet with Dale Fredericks, the new federal administrator in Asheville, in an effort to get Black Mountain’s residents an exception to the draft. Matherson assessed Fredericks to be a government bureaucrat intent on controlling Black Mountain. He therefore grew skeptical of Fredericks’ claims to have the people of Black Mountain at heart. One Year After Book Review

Rebuilding

Life in Black Mountain began to strongly resemble that of the 19th century. Ether is again used for surgery and teeth removal, canning and hunting is taught at the college, and the townspeople use their collective brainpower to build a hydroelectric generating system. Electricity, which had been taken for granted before The Day, would need to be restored in order to both boost morale and return some sense of normalcy to the people of Black Mountain. Forstchen beautifully illustrates a world that has been stripped of its former luxuries and the response such a reality elicits from survivors.

Making Friends and Enemies

Forstchen shows how difficult it is to develop trust among people in the absence of our institutions. Matherson’s distrust of Fredericks ultimately proves to be well-founded. The people of Black Mountain learn of Fredericks’ mismanagement of the military he has a hand in controlling and they grow resistant to the prospect of fighting for leaders they don’t believe in. That said, the survivalists living on the outskirts of Black Mountain form a partnership with Matherson. The shared sense of resistance to irresponsible government dictates creates a bond more powerful than any lingering animosities.

Fredericks, sensing a threat to his power, sends a message to the survivalists that he has the resources necessary to assert his legitimacy. Forstchen depicts the carnage, strategy, and human elements of battle in his description of the conflict that erupts between the two warring sides. The recurring themes of integrity and morality are threaded through the pages of One Year After, which make the narrative as instructional as it is engaging. I strongly recommend Forstchen’s sequel to One Second After, especially as we see our own nation losing its own moral compass.

If you want to talk further about the book, please leave a comment below or contact me directly. Please also read my review of One Second After. If you want to see more Forstchen books, you can head to the Bunker Basics Store.

One Year After Book ReviewOne Year After Book Review

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The Fifth Risk Book Review

The Fifth Risk Book Review

A Different Take on the Government

Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker, The Big Shortand Moneyball, delves into the workings of government bureaucracy in his new book, The Fifth Risk. Lewis manages to remove political ideology from his narrative, instead focusing on the work performed by civil servants within the Department of Commerce (DOC), Department of Energy (DOE), NASA, and other government institutions. I will readily admit that I’m unconvinced about the importance of the government, though Lewis manages to persuade even his most skeptical readers of the value we derive from government investments and programs.

Roughly seventy percent of the US government’s employees are in some way responsible for the safety and security of the American people. Lewis hones in on the DOE’s job of maintaining and protecting our nuclear weapons. Moreover, the DOE works to prevent terrorists from developing their own nuclear arsenals. Lewis suggests that it’s of critical importance to properly understand, staff, and manage these government projects, otherwise we increase the likelihood of large scale disasters. The titular risk Lewis wants us to consider to better prevent such disasters is that of project management.

Why the DOE is So Important

United States government investments in nuclear weapons during the Cold War enabled our country to amass an inventory of thousands of nuclear warheads. This nuclear stockpile, though, came at a price. Two-thirds of the plutonium used in the United States’ nuclear weapons was created at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington State. With Cold War tensions cooling, the government allowed the reactors to cool as well. Though the war has ended and the reactors have been decommissioned, it will take Hanford at least “a century and a hundred billion dollars” to clear away the nuclear waste.

Nuclear cleanup projects like the one in Hanford only account for some of the DOE’s portfolio of responsibilities. Lewis interviewed Tarak Shah, the former Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary for Science and Energy at the Department of Energy, about a terrorist attack carried out against our energy grid.

“Late one night, just southeast of San Jose, at Pacific Gas and Electric’s Metcalf substation, a well-informed sniper, using a .30-caliber rifle, had taken out seventeen transformers. Someone had also cut the cables that enabled communication to and from the substation… ‘We actually don’t have a transformer reserve… Our electric-grid assets are growing vulnerable.'” (66)

Forty percent of our hydroelectric power comes from the grid mentioned above. Investments in its continued protection are incredibly important as we grow increasingly reliant on electrical power.

Dismantling Our Core Institutions

In examining the operations of various government departments, Lewis shows his readers that many civil servants have gone unrecognized while protecting us from the threats of natural and man-made disasters. They’ve funded technological developments that have served as the backbones of many of our biggest industries. How about the weather reports we take for granted (and sometimes ignore?) These are the results of sustained government research projects and investments in improved technology.  Lewis makes it clear that the criticism and outright effort to privatize much of the government is a recipe for devastating consequences.

Barry Myers is the CEO of AccuWeather, a company that packages up the government’s weather reports and sells them for profit. The presidential administration picked Myers to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Lewis warns that Myers has a financial incentive to prevent the government’s distribution of weather information. Only paying customers of AccuWeather will receive weather forecasts or warnings. This withholding of information will cost lives, especially as catastrophic weather events are a more common occurrence.

I recommend The Fifth Risk to government supporters and skeptics alike. Lewis, known for unravelling difficult subject matter and eloquently explaining it, offers a convincing argument for the continued funding of our government and its many projects. Whether you agree or disagree, please share your opinion in the comment section, or contact me directly.

The Fifth Risk Book ReviewThe Fifth Risk Book Review

Winners Take All Book Review

Winners Take All Book Review

A Growing Divide

Anand Giridharadas, a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, draws attention to the hypocrisy practiced among the “philanthropic” elites in his Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. Giridharadas introduces us to “MarketWorld,” the universe in which corporate executives, thought leaders,  and globalists operate. While MarketWorld has grown aware of the fractures that have emerged in our society, they seek to find “win-win” solutions to our many problems. The elites believe themselves to be the agents of change who can usher in an era of global prosperity, assuming its on their terms. In MarketWorld, wage stagnation, growing inequality, and systemic racism can all be addressed through the free markets, strategic investments, automation, and revamped business models. What Giridharadas makes clear, though, is that those in MarketWorld must make sacrifices to repair these societal fractures. We learn that they have so far systematically ensured they won’t have to do so.

Bandaids Can’t Stop the Hemorrhage

Davos, the Aspen Institute, TED, and the Clinton Global Initiative. These are all gatherings of elites in which speakers share superficial solutions to our deep rooted problems. Those in attendance are told that we need to zoom in on the individual in order to empower him or her to speak up in the boardroom or find the perseverance to escape the cycle of poverty. The speakers who frequent these conferences tailor their presentations to the elites paying them. They make their messages as palatable as the bite sized tacos served by the waitstaff. With a focus placed on the individual, MarketWorld can avoid the scrutiny for creating a system in which the fortunate few can profit.

While Giridharadas does pull some punches, he doesn’t spare all of the MarketWorld operatives. Members of the Sackler family are known to many as philanthropists who donated millions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University. Giridharadas points out that their company, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, is largely responsible for the opioid epidemic due to its creation and aggressive marketing of OxyContin. Donating millions does not excuse the billions made from getting the nation addicted to your pills. Giridharadas also mentions philanthropic bankers, technology executives, and university professors by name in describing the injustices MarketWorld created.

Maintaining the Status Quo

While the elites spend money on “win-win” initiatives and donate to their pet causes, they also spend fortunes maintaining the status quo. Corporate lobbyists descend upon Washington to ensure labor unions don’t disrupt business as-usual and tax bills are kept to a minimum. MarketWorld feels it can implement change while preventing major change from occuring. The hypocrisy that Giridharadas so vividly illuminates kept me from putting his book down. Giridharadas proposes that increased government regulation, higher corporate and personal tax rates, and better access to healthcare may actually help our ailing nation realize the changes the elites so publicly state they support. This, of course, would slow the gravy train they so very much enjoy riding on.

Winners Take All offers a pointed explanation of why there is growing discontent with the elites in our society. With such vast resources being spent on maintaining the status quo, I fear we will grow increasingly more divided. I prepare for the moment when those who have been left behind assert themselves. One could only hope this assertion isn’t done violently.

If you’d like to chat further about the book, feel free to contact me or leave a comment in the comment section. You can find other books I enjoy in the Bunker Basics Store.

Winners Take All Book ReviewWinners Take All Book Review

The Cost of Efficiency

Cost of Efficiency

Automated Out of Existence

U.S. companies have become far more efficient in the way they operate their businesses. Investments in automation have borne fruit. The S&P 500 hit an all time high this year as the longest bull market in history continues. Products and services are becoming cheaper and it’s easier for consumers to make purchases. Much of the business processes that formerly required human intervention have been replaced with technology. Customer service representatives, for better or worse, are now “chat bots,” engineers work alongside machines on the factory floor, and heavy lifting in fulfillment centers is done by robots. All this automation comes at a steep price: human jobs. Is the cost of efficiency justified?

Wage Stagnation

Market investors and company executives have benefited enormously from business automation. Stratospheric stock prices and generous compensation packages have minted many millionaires this past decade. However, those on the lower rungs of the corporate hierarchy haven’t shared in the spoils. Companies are battling to stay competitive, which is why so much is being invested into automation that, over the long run, will cut the costs of their operations. Unskilled workers, or company employees without the pedigree or experience needed to fill white collar jobs, are suffering as a result of these investments.

Many of these struggles are voiced by workers in the manufacturing and retail fields. Robots are now permanent fixtures on the assembly line. Brick and mortar retail stores are going digital. The shifting industrial landscape prevents these unskilled workers from switching jobs, as they don’t have the right skill sets to do so. Increased automation also decreases employers’ dependence on unskilled labor. Therefore, unskilled workers have poorer bargaining positions and, as a result, receive stagnant wages.

The Threat to Skilled Workers

Workers in financial services, legal, and even medical fields are finding that their skills are growing obsolete. Software is used to review large pools of data that formerly required a paralegal. Diagnoses are now made by technology programs that formerly required a doctor. Financial products are sold to investors online, rather than by a broker over the phone. As more and more jobs are automated, we will see an uptick in unemployment. Critics of this argument state that just as many, if not more, jobs will be created as automation increases. However, most of the jobs created as a result of automation won’t have the skilled workers needed to fill them.

Upskill, Beg, or Revolt?

Workers must take it upon themselves to develop the skills necessary for the jobs of the future. We cannot rely on the government to train the masses about new technology when senators don’t even understand the effect technology has on the population. Online training courses, books, and bootcamps are all worthwhile investments of time and money in better securing your future employability. A more likely alternative that many will take is government welfare. Upskilling is hard compared to filling out a welfare registration form. The easy route may prove treacherous, though, as the increased number of government dependents will shrink the pool of money to dispense. If this pool dries up, you can expect revolts.

Preparing for the Future

Worker displacement poses an enormous threat to the future of our country. It is not too late to act. Companies can invest in training prospective workers on the skills they need to fill job openings. It’s a fair price to pay for the cost of efficiency. Governments can wake up to the fact that this problem will not solve itself. We, as preppers, need to continue to train ourselves the skills necessary to stay employable. I can only hope that the masses take it upon themselves to act. Otherwise, things may very well take a dark turn.

Want to talk more about worker displacement? Leave a comment or contact me.

Cost of EfficiencyCost of efficiency

The Rise of China and Fall of Democracy

Fall of Democracy

The Latest Attack

Bloomberg Businessweek just published a stunning story detailing the Chinese state-sponsored espionage committed against nearly 30 U.S. companies. In short, the People’s Liberation Army compromised the supply chain of Supermicro, a company that is effectively the “Microsoft” of hardware. Supermicro designs and distributes high performance servers to its list of global clients, which include the likes of Amazon, Apple, and the U.S. Department of Defense. The Chinese spies implanted small, barely detectable microchips in these servers, which created entry points for hackers to view, modify, or delete data. This hack has terrifying implications, as Supermicro exposed U.S. government secrets and U.S. intellectual property to malicious actors.

Escalating Tensions

China has been in the news a lot lately due in large part to the ongoing trade tensions with the U.S. U.S. companies had taken the cheap Chinese labor for granted as they continued to outsource manufacturing operations to the Eastern nation. While this practice increased corporate profits, the increase came at the expense of U.S. jobs. Moreover, China has emerged as a superpower rivaling the U.S. It’s economy rose sharply as a result of voluminous number of exports. The Chinese government invested heavily in technology and has been effective in locking U.S. technology companies from access to its consumers. We will see this rift between nations widen as competition for global supremacy intensifies.

Autocracy as an Alternative

Xi Jinping, the President of China, has won the support of China’s National People’s Congress to remove term limits from the Chinese presidency. He now has a lifetime tenure to advance his vision for the country he controls unchecked. To better ensure dissent among the population is muted, China has implemented a sophisticated means of censorship throughout its internet, technology applications, and news outlets. The U.S. has struggled to penetrate the Chinese market, as applications like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Google have been banned in favor of the Chinese sponsored WeChat, Tencent, and Baidu. The Chinese government’s control over the more than one billion inhabitants provides it with invaluable streams of data. These data points can be used to tighten the country’s grip on its people and further power its hypergrowth.

Metastasis

China has demonstrated that democracy is not the only form of government that propels an emerging market to a global superpower. We are now seeing other countries install charismatic strongmen as their heads of state. Russia, Turkey, and Venezuela all resemble China in their autocratic rule of their populations. These countries continue to further insulate themselves from democratic nations, resulting in sanctions, cyber warfare, and sharpened rhetoric. Unfortunately, with a viable alternative to democracy, it’s unlikely that these tensions between nations will subside. In fact, we can expect more countries to shift further away from democracy. The peace between superpowers we have witnessed following the end of World War II is ebbing away. Centralization of power, state censorship, and a strengthening economy had been three of the main factors that led to the German population’s acceptance of war. We can only hope that we don’t need to prepare for another one.

If you want to discuss China’s rise further, leave a comment in the comment section or contact me.
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