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Over The Road V: Internet Beginnings & Collapse Endings

Off the keyboard of RE

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

It’s hard these days to remember “life before the internet”, when if you were in correspondence with anyone, you generally would take weeks between exchanging letters. Now, if I don’t get a response to some email I send out to somebody or some corporation that screwed up on billing me for something by the next day, I figure I am either being ignored or it is a conspiracy or both. LOL.

I used to watch TV in those days though, so that filled the need for constant information input, and I didn’t get the Writing Jones until PCs were well into their development in the early 90s. I started but never finished a couple of Sci Fi novels before that and wrote some Poetry during my College Years, but writing wasn’t a big part of my life until the Laptops showed up and I turned Solitary as an OTR trucker.

The Internet was already in existence by then, although accessing it while OTR was pretty difficult. It was Dial-Up modems in those days, and I had to find access to a phone line with a Local Number I could call in order to stay online for anything more than a few minutes. Typical 800 Number charges were 10 cents/minute, $6/hr to stay online on the times I went that route. So in those days I would often compose as I am doing now in a word processor, copy into the buffer and then briefly sign on at some truckstop and paste my post into one of the yahoo groups I ran at the time, then sign off again. My email POP program would download messages I could read off the computer while not online in a few minutes, so for about $1/day I stayed caught up with my friends and net acquaintances that way.

A couple of years into my OTR driving years, a company called Park-n-View started providing Cable TV, Phone and Internet service to truckers right in your Truck, by connecting up with Phone line and Coaxial Cable to a Port that was installed in each parking spot for the trucks. It was a pretty robust port made out of heavy metal in case the truck tandems ran over it in parking, as they almost always did. It also had to be well shielded from the elements, and remarkably to me these ports worked most of the time. Hadda be hell for the guys driving the Snow Plows in those parking lots though during the Winter. I suspect they kept the Plow Blades up 2″ or so off the ground level to clear the ports.  Well built as they were, at right is what they look like today. Nice metaphor for technology in general, and in a sense its just a miniaturized version of Detroit screwed right down into the pavement.

At the very end of my trucking years, rudimentary WiFi began to hit the scene, I got a Sprint Cell Phone I could access a dial up modem with, and had an Unlimited Minutes plan for this. It was mighty slow of course, but in those days it was all just Text, no Pics and certainly no Vids. I was off the road a long time before REAL High Speed WiFi started to be offered in all the Truckstops.

There were of course many hours/days where I had no access to a phone line or even a Park-n-View connection to check in on the net, check my email and so forth, stuck in a Shipper or Receiver waiting for a load or unload. To fill those many lonesome hours in the cabin of my Freightliner, I played on my laptop. I installed graphics programs and publication programs and database programs. I taught myself rudimentary database programming and started creating publications that incorporated pictures into them. I learned the basics of HTML during this time as well, though never have really become a super geek with the uderlying Code that runs websites like the Diner. All of what I did accumulate in knowledge during that time though I now use to make the Diner a lively looking and functional website, though the underlying code comes from Peter, not me.

Most of all though during those lonesome times, I wrote. Not about Doom though in those days, other topics occupied my mind back then. Still in the course of that writing I developed the Gonzo Style and “Atitude” I still use today in my writing, bombastic and over-the-top quite often.

As it progresses here to today, I find some things very interesting in exactly who you find on the Internet to chat with. It is very demographically skewed of course. Despite the prevailing zeitgeist that it is the younger people who are conversant with Computers and the Internet, you wouldn’t know that as you travel around the Collapse Blogosphere, that is for sure. The main Bloggers are just about all 40 & Up, and the older they are, the more Prolific they are in what they write. Likely because once Retired from whatever their normal job was, they have tons of time on their hands to write whatever comes into the Senior Mind. LOL.

Similar demographics in the Commentariat on these Blogs also, heavily weighted toward the aging population of Boomers & Silents. Almost everyone of these folks has developed a “Lifetime Philosophy”, which often breaks down to very conventional Political Classifications of “Socialist” or “Capitalist”. There are of course innumerable variations on these ideas, but basically it seems to me to come down to those who think the Individual is more important versus those who think the whole Community is more important. Individual “Rights” versus Social “Welfare”, that sort of thing.

It is not just in age demographics that you get a skewed perspective, it is also across cultural lines as well. Even though a good part of the “well-educated” of 3rd World countries speak English and can afford a Laptop and Internet connection, I have never had a Native Chinese or Indian or Brazilian or Russian show up on any of my blogs or forums, though I did run into a few Eastern Europeans on Peak Oil in the HOT years from around 2006-2010. Mostly though what you find on the Internet in the Collapse Blogosphere are people from the native English Speaking countries of the FSofA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. So is it just these English-speakers who are concerned with Collapse Issues? The Well-Educated of China and India and Russia have no interest in investigating this stuff and discussing it?

Perhaps on their own local net in their own languages there is something similar going on, but you know I really doubt it. I think the whole “contemplation of collapse” meme is pretty consolidated into a relatively small demographic of Boomers & Silents living in the 1st World English Speaking countries. Why is that?

First off, I think the theories put forth by folks like M. King Hubbert and Richard Duncan have been very poorly disseminated outside the English Speaking world, hell even INSIDE this world said theories are not well known. I think in most countries particularly in the 3rd World that the “Progress Meme” is still being highly promoted amongst the Intelligentsia, and these folks are more concerned with CATCHING UP ot the 1st Worlders than with Reverse Engineering their societies toward a low energy footprint society.

The “progress” or move toward Social Media as a primary function of the Internet is also IMHO in large part responsible for poor information dissemination in this area. The English speaking world got Computers and the internet early enough on in the game that your current 40-70+ year old class of people here have been researching and reading about these things for quite some time, at least the most active of them have been. for the younger folks, the Internet has become more of a Sound Bite medium much like Television, with the Internet mainly used as a Comunications medium between friends, not as a Research medium for Information. If ya can’t consolidate it down to a 3  line Tweet or a 2 minute Vid, you can’t get many people to pay attention to what is presented on the net. I certainly have been criticized ENDLESSLY for the fact most of my Essays and Articles run in the Nabe of 2000-5000 words as being just too LONG for people to read. WTF? How can you detail out any reasonably complex idea in much less than this? Books are much longer…oh but yea people don’t read them anymore either!

The upshot of all of this is that the truth about Collapse is very poorly disseminated information, both Globally across cultures and Demographically across age groups. It is most certainly NOT taught in the Schools ANYWHERE at all. What is taught and promoted is to take out huge loans to get an Engineering Degree which in all likelihood by the time the average 18 YO today graduates will be quite worthless. If even the “well educated” class of people with access to computers and the internet are systematically routed away from exploring these issues, it certainly makes it quite difficult to generate a new consensus. Is that a Purposeful Plan of the Illuminati? If not, then it certainly was a fortuitous outcome for them to have a generation of clueless people distributed around the globe just about everywhere.

Henry Ford remarked once that if J6P understood the Monetary System at all, there would be a Revolution the next day. Ignorance is promoted and promulgated by the Illuminati. Anybody SMART enough to understand any of it is Coopted into the Game, and becomes a Mid-Level “Successful” Apparatchik, and over time develops a Rationale which explains and justifies his “Success” to himself. In justifiying that success, the same person demonizes and denigrates those less successful than himself as simply too stupid or too lazy to be successful. These are the people who make our Enslavement possible, these are the people who have brought us to the Brink of Extinction.

This facet of cultural development represents the “Banality of Evil”.  The apparatchiks aren’t the ones truly “running the show”, but they ARE the ones who make the show possible at all.    In one respect or another, anyone who participates in the system as a middle level apparatchik ends up functioning to perpetuate the Evil we have before us.  You work, you pay your taxes, you vote, all of this serves to perpetuate the system.  Dropping OFF this system, or “Dropping Out” really is an extraordinarily difficult thing for most people in Industrial Society to do at all.

If you buy yourself a Doomstead somewhere to set up Permaculture Farming, you are going to have Property Taxes to pay, and it is quite questionable as to whether the farm can both Feed you and Family AND sell the excess produce to increasingly broke populations.  Trying to go out Rewilding, you will find that nearly every spot on the Globe is “owned” by somebody, or by Da Goobermint which has restrictions on just what you can Fish or Hunt up and kill.  More or less a version of the old “King’s Fox Hunting Ground”, nobody but the King can go there and shoot anything, all the creatures on that plot of land belong to HIM. You gotta go mighty far out in marginal territory to be let alone to hunt & fish and gather as you will, at least for now that is the case.

Here on the Diner, we engage in the process of “Work Arounds” for these many facets of the failing industrial economy and how you might negotiate the shitstorm to come.  The FOOD problem remains of paramount concern to most Diners, as we are all aware that the JIT shipping paradigm that utilizes the kind of Big Rig I drove  is amongst the most vulnerable of the systems we are dealing with here and if/when it fails can rapidly bring extreme Hunger & Starvation to the most highly populated neighborhoods in the industrialized world, the Big Shities as I refer to them.

Is there ANY reasonable solution which has some CHANCE at success?  In fact there is, though hope is slim that it will be implemented on a large scale in a near enough timeline to ameliorate an extreme and rapid Die Off event for Homo Sapiens.

What IS that HOPE?  It is Hydroponics, a means of growing vast quantities of food in a Water and Energy conservative manner that can utilize much of the flotsam and jetsam of the Age of Oil ALREADY manufactured to produce vast quantities of  food in many locations otherwise unsuitable for typical Ag techniques, including Permaculture.  Here on the Diner, you can begin your exploration of Hydroponics in the Hydroponics NOW! thread inside the Diner, along with numerous other threads devoted to this topic.

Is Hydroponics a FOOLPROOF Solution to the Food Problem we will face as the spin down progresses onward here?  No it is not, there are many difficulties involved, not so much with the technology or even having available the varous plumbing stuff from the Age of Oil.  Even though you can scale down to create a system just big enough to provide for our own needs as the above pictured setup does for Diner Admin Peter, you do face the problem of Have Nots, aka as “Zombies” who in all likelihood will resort to violent tactics to acquire the food you have or are producing.  Although more secure than exposed plots of land, not that much more secure.

In more remote areas, you probably can pursue such a technique with reasonable security, but inside a Big Shity or Suburb, even hidden in a basement your neighbors will quickly recognize you are not getting so skinny quite so fast as they are.  They will knock on your door to ask for food, and eventually at the Point of a Gun likely ask to search your premises for food.

So even though it is technically feasible to pursue Hydroponics as a Solo Adventure for yourself and family, this really is not the best route to go for most people in most neighborhoods.

Rather, instead of HIDING what you are doing, ADVERTIZE IT!  Let as many people as you know in the neighborhood KNOW about it, and TEACH them to do the same thing.

Learning to do anything like this takes Time & Experience, and time you put in now to teaching yourself how it is done makes you a VALUABLE member of your Community.  People will Look to YOU to HELP them, and you will have the means to do that.  Not with Money, but with that which NEVER can be taken from you by Da Goobermint, what you KNOW HOW TO DO.

Will it be IMPOSSIBLE to do Hydroponics once JIT fails and the Parts you buy now are no longer available from the Big Box Stores by way of Slave Laborers working in China?  Not at ALL, because just about ALL of it can be scavenged from the parts used to construct your McMansion and your SUV!  What cannot be scavenged this way can be facsimilated from local materials.  Even Timers and Pumps can be created locally out of available materials.

If like some of the Diners here you decide to try and build a Hydroponics grwoing facility in your McMansion or Garage or Basement, I urge you not to think of it as just a means to feed self and family, but rather as your autodidactic method of gaining the knowledge necesary to help everyoneelseinyour community do the SAME THING.  So you do not need a HUGE setup for this, and a good beginner system can be set up at an affordable price. for all but the totally destitute already.

The Diners are here to help you.  We are all in the same mess of course, and this is something you CAN DO.  Wherever you live right now, even in a Big Shity it is possible.  Perhaps, just PERHAPS it is possible to get enough of your neighbors to WAKE UP in time to stave off the Zombie Apocalypse.  Is this the Picture you want for the Future?

 

Or is it THIS

You can CHOOSE right now to make the second picture the OUTCOME here.  Or at least make the EFFORT at it.  Even if you FAIL, at least you know when you Buy your Ticket to the Great Beyond, you did NOT quit, you did NOT go down without a fight, and you made your very BEST effort to….wait for it…


Save As Many As You Can

RE

Over The Road: Part IV

Off the Keyboard of RE

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink of the Diner 

Read Over the Road Part I  HERE

 

When I arrived at the gate of the Chicago Rail Yard, I was as Usual both Wiped Out and Pissed Off at the WORLD. Just about everything seemed to be Conspiring Against Me to lead a nice happy life on the Road delivering all the Shit everybody needs every day to make a go of life in this culture. My Dispatchers were Assholes, Shipping Clerks were assholes, receivers and lumpers (guys who hang out on docks to Unload trucks for a fee) were Assholes, hell even MOST Truckstop Waitresses were Assholes! I was Swimming in a SEA OF ASSHOLES!

It did not start off any better in the CRY when I arrived there either. I park my truck in the lot and I get in line behind some Rastafarian ASSHOLE who is engaged in a heated argument with the Receiving Clerk ASSHOLE over his Paperwork, which is apparently full of innumerable errors and quasi-legal problems. Over about 15 minutes listening to these two ASSHOLES hashing out why he is delivering on the wrong day, why they can’t accept the load because its a Hazmat (Hazardous Material) without the right Authorizations etc, I just get REALLY PISSED OFF. This is PAPERWORK ERRORS, IT’S OBVIOUS and I haven’t even LOOKED at the paperwork yet!

Now, RE can’t Back Up a Trailer worth a DAMN at this point and is so Fucking STUPID he drives 10 Miles up a Logging Road instead of just driving a few extra miles on the Interstate to a point he could turn around easily, but he is NOT so STUPID he can’t read shipping papers and scan for errors. So after cooling my heels for 15 minutes listening to these two ASSHOLES arguing with each other, I get REALLY PISSED and I go right up next to the Rastaman and I GRAB the Paperwork and say “Lemme see this!” The Receiving Clerk’s EYES Bug Out of his HEAD and the Rastaman himself looks ready to Cold Cock me for Jumping in on this one. It takes me about 2 minutes going through the paperwork to see 3 Hazmat Codes that are WRONG, and the fact the Delivery Date to the final Receiver and the Railyard were transposed.

I tell Rastaman at this point, “Call your Dispatcher and tell them these Paperwork Errors. Have them Fax you Corrected Paperwork to the Railyard Office here”. Rastaman and Receiver both look at me like I am from Planet X, but Rastaman DOES go over to the Phone to call his Dispatcher. At the time, most Drivers did NOT have Cell Phones.

Anyhow, this gets Rastaman out from in front of me so I can hand MY paperwork over to the Receiving Clerk ASSHOLE so I can drop my trailer in the CRY. This goes pretty smoothly since RE always checks his Paperwork BEFORE pulling a load out of a Shipper and scans for errors. Shipping Paperwork is always just CHOCK FULL of Errors,the people whopound this stuff out are paid minimum wage and generallyare thinking about their impending Divorce or their kid’s school problems much more than doing accurate work on Shipping Papers.

So I head out after this from the Parking Lot to try and find a spot in the yard I can SQUEEZE my 53′ Trailer into, but every “available” spot has like 2″ of room on either side to squeeze the trailer into. I spend a thoroughly frustrating hour or so trying unsuccesfully to back my trailer into one of these spots when who appears in the same Lane of parked trailers but the RASTAMAN! In the Hour I had spent trying to get rid of myTrailer, he had got his paperwork corrected.  He proceeds to pick out a spot I ditched as Unparkable since MAYBE there is 1/2″ of room on either side of the trailer to SQUEEZE into. Rastaman NAILS this in ONE TRY, I swear it took him less than a minute to drop the trailer. Touches neither trailer on either side.

He sits and watches me STRUGGLE a couple more times, then he gets out of his Tractor Waving his Arms and YELLING at me to STOP.

“Maaan, what Da Fuck you DOING! You gots to TINK BACKWARDS! You Tinking FORWARDS Maaan!”

Rastaman then proceeds to direct me into the spot circling one arm to indicate which way to turn the wheel and when and using the other arm to tell me to move forward or backward. Trailer goes in the Spot CLEAN, takes about 5 minutes time. I am RELEIVED!  Rastaman is NOT finished with me though. He makes me pull the trailer out of the spot and do it OVER and Over again with his directions probably 5 more times, and then EUREKA, it CLICKS for me in my head! I GET IT! Trial 6 or so, I back the sucker in there without his arm circles!

Of course, this did not make me instantaneously into the kind of Backing Expert the Rastaman was immediately, I still had a long way to go there. This occassion was not Blind Side Backing which is MUCH harder than that. In Blind Side backing, your obstacles are on the side of the trailer you cannot see because the Tractor is cocked off to the other side of the trailer. However, the lessons I gotfrom Rastaman taught me the PRINCIPLES of Backing well enough that thereafter I was NEVER AFRAID again to go into a Truckstop late in the evening to find a spot to Park so I could go inside for a “decent” meal and a Shower in the morning. It changed my life Over the Road IMMENSELY.  Rather than the Road and Circumstance controlling ME, I was in control.

I doubt I would have lasted for my years driving OTR if it was not for the day I met the Rastaman. I have MANY stories of trying to maneuver around a Big Rig that came after that day, plenty of Hairy Shit no matter how good I got at it,and by the end I was pretty much as good as the Rastaman was. I nearly made 1M Accident Free Miles before I left the life of the OTR Trucker. I can put a 53′ trailer into the garage of your McMansion if the doorway is 13’6″ high now. If  you have not driven one, you simply cannot  IMAGINE all  the problems you get trying to move that BIG A BEAST around typical roadways.  The Interstate is more or less designed for them and long as you are on thoes roads you are pretty OK usually. Problem of course is that at the end of the line on MANY occassions, you will end up on the tiny streets of Chinatown in NY Shity, which were laid out LONG  before there were Tractor Trailers running 70’long.   Man, just driving an SUV down some of those alleys you are squished.  Put a Freightliner with 53′ of trailer behind it on said stretch of road, you are in a World of Shit before you know it. Perhaps I will tell the Chinatown  stories at a later date in another Episode of Over the Road.  Not today though, today is my Homage to the Rastaman.

Alas of course, merely understanding how to Back a Trailer well or even understanding the Paperwork issues or how to Trip Plan and defend yourself from Time Abuse by Dispatchers do not end the many Trials the OTR Driver faces all the time. Loneliness is one of them, and that will be the Theme the next installment of Over the Road, when/if I get to it.

Meanwhile, I sure hope I run into the Rastaman again when I cross into the Great Beyond.   I owe THANKS to that man beyond measure. No Woman, No Cry.   Thank You Rastaman, wherever you are now. You Saved Me.

SAVE AS MANY AS YOU CAN!

RE

Over The Road: Part III

Off the keyboard of RE

Discuss this article around the Kitchen Sink of the Diner 

In this Chapter of  the Over The Road Story, I will try to cover the Highlights of my Year of Indentured Servitude as a Company Driver for Schneider National Trucking following the 3 Weeks of Training I got before heading out on the Open Road of the Eisenhower Interstate to make my living as an OTR Trucker.

Why do I refer to this time as “Indentured Servitude“? Reason is the Contract you have to sign to get the “Free” Training. If you do NOT fulfill your full year of driving for Schneider at the Bargain Basement Price of $0.23 Cents/Mile rate, they tag you with a bill for the Training of around $6000, at least that was the number at that time. So Washing Out of the program once you begin can tag you with a pretty big DEBT if you are DESTITUTE, as I was when I signed up for this.

In fact, even if you do not washout during the Training Period and work for Schneider as an Indentured Servant for 11 Months before decide you can’t stand the life of an OTR Trucker and walk away from your Schneider Tractor, you STILL can be held liable for the entire Training Bill.  No idea how often Schneider actually pursues this “Debt” in Court or how often Don Schneider actually can COLLECT on it, but regardless it still hangs over your head like the Sword of Damocles all the time for that First Year.  If you do NOT make it through those first 12 Months, just about everything you might have SAVED during that time will be Clawed Back by Schneider in Court.  So essentially, your ASS belongs to Don Schneider for that year, if you can make it through it anyhow.

In microcosm here, you see how the Capitalista Class preys upon  the DESTITUTE by  offering them Credit to hopefully improve their station in life and the society. A few Lucky and Resourceful ones DO make  it through and Improve on their situation, I was one of the Lucky and Resourceful who did. Many MORE do not though, they at best end up in DEBT up to their EYEBALLS, or sometimes like my friend Lincoln, they only find their way out when they buy the Ticket to the Great Beyond. I doubt Lincoln’s Debt to Schneider for his 3 weeks of Training was ever collected on, even from surviving family members.

This of course is not a whole lot different than the Student Loans that recent HS Graduates who do NOT come from the Upper Class are forced to take out in order to get a Sheepskin not unlike a CDL which at least in the past would grant you Access to one of the better paying Jobs in the society.  God forbid though you choose to study Art History or French Literature instead of IT , Accounting, Engineering or better yet do the Pre-Med or Pre-Law courses of study.  Only the outrageously RICH can afford a Liberal Arts education which is not focused on supposedly preparing you for some Real World Job.

Fact is actually that even in such fields as Law if you studied that, you STILL don’t have access to the Super Duper High Paying Corporate Positions.  Those are reserved for the graduates from the RIGHT Law Schools, Harvard, Yale, Columbia et al. Same deal with the MBA degrees. An MBA from Northwestern maybe got you into Management at some small to medium size company somewhere, but it did not get you an immediate Ticket into upper Management at say a JP Morgan or Merrill Lynch.  For that, you need two things, first a Degree from the Right University, then some CONNECTIONS.  Blythe Masters for instance  got her position with just an Undergrad Degree in Economics from Cambridge.  I got my position at Merrill because of a Columbia Degree and the fact the CEO at the time had gone through the same Executive Training Program my Dad the Pigman went through at Chase Manhattan in the 1950s.  They were still good buddies at that time.

For most though, such positions were not available for the Common Folk.  However, at least for a while they mostly did get you your Ticket to a Better Life, and not with TOO MUCH outrageous indebtedness. Not true nowadays of course.  First off, the debt you need to take on unless you have a Filthy Rich Pigman for a parent is beyond belief now. Costs on this have skyrocketed too WELL into the six figures for even some State Universities, forget the Ivy League.  Second, even if you GET the damn Sheepskin in Mechanical Engineering or some other technical field which takes good smarts to make it through, there just ain’t many JOBS out there for you in a contracting economy.

I digress.  Back to The Road.  As I mentioned in Part II, I was ill prepared and ill equipped for living the Mobile life when I got assigned my first IH Flattop Tractor.  All I brought with me  to the West Memphis terminal was a bag containing a few changes of Clothing.

The first thing I noted my Tractor did NOT have was a CB Radio.  This essential piece of equipment was NOT provided by Schneider at the time,perhaps they do now, dunno.  Reason for that from Schneider’s POV should be obvious, with many different Drivers being assigned to a Truck over time, some folks are not as careful with Electronic equipment as others, they BREAK the stuff and it needs then to be replaced.  If the Drivers have to supply their  OWN CBs, they are likely to be more careful with their own equipment.

Why do you NEED a CB in a Truck?  It’s not just to do the “Breaker, breaker, pull back Good Buddy, them Smokies are on your tail” thing.  At many Shippers and Receivers, you get your Call to the Dock over the CB, sometimes waiting for a full day for that to come while you Twist in the Wind in the parking lot.  No CB, you gotta rely on the Trucker parked next to you, or run back and forth to the logistics office every 15 minutes to check on your status.   I did both for my first  Month OTR. When I got my first Paychecks and took my first Weekend Break, the first thing I spent my newly earned Buckolas on BEFORE paying back my Retired Mom was a Portable CB Walkie Talkie.  Not too good for doing “Breaker,Breaker Good Buddy” while running the Interstate, but mostly pretty good for keeping track of calls to the Dock while sitting in the yard of a Shipper or Receiver.

I actually never did  get into the CB thing of chatting with other Truckers while driving.  Idiots pursuing Idiotic conversation mostly.  I eventually did buy myself a first class CB setup with a Big Ass Antenna , SSB and more range than the Walkie Talkie, but in all honesty it was a Waste of Money, I hardly ever used it.  The Walkie Talkie was perfectly good for most circumstances, and I did not have to be IN the Truck to hear it. Remarkably few Truckers have one of them though. The way I began to Communicate with others at that time to relieve the boredom and loneliness was over the incipient beginnings of the Internet, on AOL and Yahoo Chatrooms and Groups.  That is it’s own Chapter in this story though, I will leave it for another day.

The CB was only one of NUMEROUS items Schneider neglected to mention you should carry along as your own gear, basic TOOLS for doing Minor Repairs on your Truck was another one.  The Toolkit they provided had like NADA in it. Let’s not bog down here in Gear quite yet though.

It was easy getting into the 4 year old International Harvester Flattop that first time, since I only had One Bag, a fitted sheet for the Bunk and Pillow and Sleeping Bag.  Threw in my Gear, did the Checklist Pre-Driving Inspection of the Truck and sat and waited for the First Load to come over the Qualcomm. By the end of my Trucking years, it took me a good hour to two hours to get into my truck and get all my gear set up for what usually was close to 3 months continuous OTR driving, punctuated by 2-3 weeks where I took time off.  This did not make me exactly POPULAR with my Dispatchers. They LOVED me when I was inside the Truck running, they simply could not GRASP  how I could stay out of the truck for such long times, which I was entitled to because the longer you stay out, the more time off you accumulate.  You don’t get paid for it of course, but by my 3rd month out on the road I was already flush with savings, even at the Slave Labor mileage pay of $.023 Cents/mile. Schneider however feels they are LOSING money on you when you are not running, since you drive so much cheaper than their Experienced Company Drivers and WAY cheaper than Owner-Operators.

Reason I was so flush by then is simple.  First off, I had declared Bankruptcy BEFORE  becoming employed by Schneider, so I was free of Debt.  Second, I had no Dependents I was supporting somewhere I wasn’t.  Third I had no Rent or Mortgage Payment.  OK, I had the $35/mo I was paying for a  Storage Unit in Springfield which held stuff I couldn’t fit in the Truck and was important to me, mostly for Nostalgic Reasons, as it is to this day.  My daily costs on the Road were minimal, 95% of the time I slept in the Truck in Free Parking either in Truckstops or Interstate Rest Areas, or sometimes just on the shoulder of  On Ramps to the Interstate. VERY  rarely when I was Out of Hours I would take a 24 hour Break in a Motel, and always then in Fleabag Bates Motels at around $35/Night at the time.  My food costs even eating from relatively Expensive Truck stops was never more than $15/day, and that was ONLY when I would buy the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet at Petro (the best one), the Flying J (next best) or Truckstops of America, aka TA.  OK they changed their Corporate Name to “Travel Stops of America”, but they are Truckstops.  The other big chain of Pilot was the Low Class place to stay, with only usually a Fast Food outlet of Wendy’s to get Hot Food. In all cases though, I usually just ate inside the Truck from a food stash I bought at supermarkets.  Usually cold food in the early years, I got cooking equipment later. On days I ate that way. cost was more like $5/day.

I eventually had some Communications Bills also, for a Cell Phone and Park ‘n View, an early Cable TV/Internet service for Truckers which I will explain later.  My first Cell Phone though was a Trac-Phone which I bought a monthly card for Minutes for $20.  I never talk on the phone, so I almost never used up my minutes on that either.  Anyhow, all totalled my Weekly costs were maybe $100/wk, but I was taking home usually $400/500  after taxes even then.  I just socked the difference away in the bank. Later on once my pay went VASTLY up, I was socking away $1000/wk.  I saved a LOT of MONEY for a Working Man.

Back to the Qualcomm and the First Loads.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, it was a fairly Primitive form of on board Text Messaging Computer which connected you to your Dispatcher by Satellite. The system also could Track the Truck for Location and determine whether you were Moving or Not, which was important with respect to Driving Hours if you were pushing the Limit, as most Truckers do.   The Messaging Battles were enormous always since 9 times out of 10 before you even unloaded in those days you would get a Dispatch with an absolutely IMPOSSIBLE load to deliver on anything but the most abstract calculation spit out by the bullshit Computer Algorithms they were running at the time.  The average driver gets completely SANDBAGGED by this, takes the Load and ends up Late on Delivery, which is a Negative Mark on your Driving Record.  Not so RE of course, I would run the calculations using REAL parameters and then proceed to Text Message the whole Trip Plan BACK over the Qualcomm to the Dispatcher to demonstrate why the load was really IMPOSSIBLE to Deliver the way it was Dispatched.  This takes some pretty good Keyboard Skills to do of course, but again not an Issue here for RE. 😀  Needless to say, this AGAIN did not make me Highly Popular with Dispatchers. 🙂   In fact, by the time I left Schneider after my required 1 year of Indentured Servitude, it is Highly Likely that I held the Schneider Memphis Terminal all time RECORD for going through Dispatchers.  I was basically a Dispatcher’s WORST NIGHTMARE.  LOL. They couldn’t argue with me though, because I was Fucking PERFECT!  I NEVER missed an Appointment in 6.5 YEARS Driving OTR.

Of course at the time of the First Load, these battles were in the Future, and the very First One seemed just fine to me.  I had to make a Pickup at a local Distribution Center for delivery to a Retail Sears Outlet in a Mall, as I recall maybe a 500 Mile Load or so.  It was highly Fortuitous that this DC was close to completely EMPTY of other Trucks with HUGE Backing area and empty Docks to both sides of my assigned Dock, because even so it took me at least a Dozen tries to get the trailer into the Dock square and lined up right.  After getting loaded, before getting underway I took another hour to practice a bunch more times.  I STILL SUCKED, and I had to get rolling.

So now off to find the Mall and the Sears Outlet, which was a fairly Uneventful drive most of the way until I got to the Mall.  I couldn’t find the right Truck Truck Entrance to the Mall, and ended up entering the Mall Ring Road through an Entrance designed for 4-wheelers. The Radius of this entrance was to tight for my Trailer, and YES I rolled my Tandems up over the Curb to make it through that one.  LOL.  No Pedestrians there to Crush though fortunately, and No Witnesses.

So now I am circling the Mall on its Mini-Ring Road looking for where the Truck Docks for the Sears Outlet are, and on my first THREE passes around the ring road I don’t see them.  I slow to a CRAWL, 4 wheelers behind me are PISSED.  Finally  I SPOT THE DOCK! It’s in an underground Parking Garage for 4-Wheelers with several entrances.  I make another full trip around the mini-Ring Road to get back there and turn into what I THINK must be the right entrance based on how long my vehicle is and how much space I would need to get it into the dock, even if I was GOOD at Backing a Trailer.  Sadly, I was WRONG by one entrance. 🙁

The problem now is how to get  OUT of this situation and into the correct lane.  I am in an Underground Garage surrounded by Parked 4-Wheelers, maybe 5 feet to either side of my BEHEMOTH, and the ONLY way OUT is to BACK the trailer COMPLETElY BLIND back out onto the Ring Road!  Where 4 wheelers are whizzing around at an average Clip of 40MPH, 10MPH over the official Ring Road speed.

Problem here it was pounded into my SKULL at the Schneider Training Facility you should NEVER back your trailer out to spots you cannot see at all, ESPECIALLY if there is moving Traffic.  So I shutdown the Engine, TRAPPING all the 4 wheelers parked to my right and left and walkover to the loading dock to look for somebody who will go out and Spot for me to back out onto the Ring Road. This takes about 15-20 minutes, by the time I get back to the Truck there are 2 EXTREMELY PISSED 4-wheelers wanting to pull out of their spots but cannot because my truck is trapping them.  They did not get OUT of them either for a good half hour after that either.

With my Spotter in Place out on the Ring Road stopping the traffic there though, I do back my way  out of the WRONG lane of the Parking Garage and onto the Ring Road.  Still MORE Pissed Off 4-wheelers of course there.  Fortunately none of them were carrying Guns.  LOL.  Now I have to make ANOTHER full trip around the RR to get back to the Parking Garage and go down the CORRECT lane to make the Dock.

Which I in fact do Problem Free, albeit Sweating Bullets at this time.  Getting down the correct lane this time, I now have to figure out how to back in this dock with ZERO Pullup Room and a bunch of 4-wheelers Parked in a line about 70′ or so from the Dock.  The ONLY way to do this is to get it ABSOLUTELY PERFECT on the First Try and at the end have your tractor cocked at about 45 Degrees to the Trailer which has to be perfectly square with the Dock.  This takes me probably 2 hours to get right, and that is WITH a spotter helping me.

After THAT, it turns out this is one of the Loads I am expected to HELP unload onto the Sears Dock, and its NOT Palletized. Which means it has to be done all by HAND, and takes a good 3 hours WITH the help of several Sears Dock Workers.

So all in all, along with the 5 hours or so of Driving I did, the Hours it took getting into and out of the loading and unloading docks and HOURS of White Knuckle time in bad backing situations in this Underground Garage, I am SPENT!  A good 12 Hours of time altogether EASY.  What happens IMMEDIATELY after I sent in my Qualcomm Message that I am  Unloaded?  I am sent ANOTHER load I have to pick up requiring another 5 hours of driving IMMEDIATELY to make the Appointment.

At this stage of the game I am so STUPID though I accept the load and run my ass off AGAIN to go get it.  My LogBook still shows enough Available Driving Hours here. This one is Preloaded onto another Trailer in a Drop Yard so I have to find an Empty Spot to drop my Empty Trailer in, then go hook up to the New Trailer with my Bobtail.  The Drop Yard in this case did have SOMEWHAT more Pullup Room than the Underground Parking Garage, but not much.  Again, it takes me a good hour to wedge the Empty into on of the open spots before unhooking and hooking to the Loaded trailer.  A proceedure which  in later years would take me about 2 minutes time MAYBE.

So now after finally Hooking  and exiting the Drop Yard with the Loaded Trailer, I am already well behind the Eight Ball on the Trip Plan to make the Unload Appointment for this trailer. The ONLY way to do it and APPEAR Legal is to backup the time I actually left the Drop Yard by the hour I wasted and then run a good 10MPH over the Speed Limit.  I DO this, I am NOT caught and I MAKE the Appointment with maybe 5 Seconds to Spare.  LOL.  OK, it wasn’t THAT tight, but close, no more than 5 minutes.

Somehow I get into this dock and fortunately do NOT have to help Unload this one, so after about 20 hours of continuous Driving, Backing, Unloading etc.  and SWEATING BULLETS the whole time.  I take a Nap in the Bunk for the 2 hours it takes for them to Unload the Trailer. I am also OUT OF HOURS now so Schneider Dispatcher cannot send me another load to Pickup for at least 8 hours. Great! I will FINALLY get some REST here! Right? WRONG!

Issue is this Receiver will NOT allow me to remain on the Property for 8 Hours DESPITE the fact I am OUT OF LEGAL DRIVING HOURS, and besides that, TOTALLY EXHAUSTED.  My Trucker’s Guide to Truckstops shows a Pilot Truckstop around 20 miles or so up  the Interstate, so I head for that. I will fudge my Log Book later to make that SEEM LEGAL.

I get to said Pilot around 2AM probably, and the place is PACKED.  There are a couple of Open Spots in there, but at this point I am too Fatigued and too SCARED to even TRY backing into them.  I leave the Pilot without even getting out of the Truck to buy some Food.  I have been subsisting at this point for a full day on Candy Bars and Potato Chips out of Vending Machines.  I drive BACK to the  Interstate On Ramp,  and PARK it there on the shoulder and climb into the Bunk, HUNGRY and EXHAUSTED.  I pass out completely for the next 8 hours.

Actually, for the next month or so, On-Ramp sleeping is the Norm for me, because until I finally Wised Up to how the whole system worked, I never got to the Truckstops EARLY enough to get a good Parking Spot and eat a decent meal.  OK, “decent meal” is stretching the concept there some when you talk about Truckstop Food, but you get the idea I am sure.  It is a STEP UP from Vending Machine Food.

When I awaken, the Qualcomm is Blinking Again with a NEW load to go pick up.  Which I again I accept , but now I  AM getting a little SMARTER finally.  BEFORE going to pickup the Load, I head BACK to the Pilot (it was on the way fortunately), and now it is pretty much EMPTY and there are Pull Through spots available so I don’t even have to BACK IN! YAY!  I go to the Wendy’s Fast Food counter in the Pilot and proceed to WOLF down 2 Fat Laden Burger/Fries/Coke Super Size Meals.  Then I EMPTY the shelves of the Pilot of every Bag of Potato Chips they have to load them into the Tractor.  Despite the Exorbitant Cost in the truckstop for these items, its STILL Cheaper than buying the teensy weensy bags from the Vending Machines.  I buy so MANY of these bags of chips there is no longer ROOM for me to sleep in the Bunk of an International Harvester Flattop without rolling over them and turning the chips inside into tiny Crumbs I have to shovel into my mouth to eat as near Dust Food.  OK, again I am EXAGERRATING, but not by much here either.  I was so worried at this point I would literally STARVE while out on the road I decided I had to pack the Tractor with as much FOOD as I could carry.  This probably is where my current Food Hoarding tendencies come from even more than worrying about Corn Crop failure due to Drought here in 2012.

Now, to my best recollection, the next couple of loads were not filled with quite so much DRAMA, and while I am still Slow as Molasses in getting Backed into any Dock,  these loads did not present the same kind of NASTY Backing Situation the Sears Load in the Underground Garage did.  It was not until maybe the end of the Second Week I ran into my next really TERRIFYING situation, after picking up a load of Paper from a Paper Plant which as I recall was in Tennessee.

For many reasons, not the least of which are that they STINK really bad  and totally POLLUTE the water supply in the area used to rinse the Paper of numerous chemicals used in the processing and they need vast amounts of Wood Pulp to use for making the Toilet Paper you use daily to Wipe Your Ass AND the Toilet Paper Helicopter Ben prints up Daily you use to Pay Da Bills, Paper Plants are always in pretty REMOTE locations.  I do find the place fairly easily though, even before I went High Tech and got my first GPS (a Garmin Handheld Unit I still have), Road Navigation was a Strong Point for me from the Get Go, unlike the Backing problems.  It also looks ON THE MAP as a fairly easy trip to get from the Paper Plant back to another section of the Eisenhower Interstate to then head EASILY over to the Reciever, in this case as I recall a Newzpaper printing Plant.  I was loaded with HUGE Rolls of Newzprint in this case, right to the LIMIT of 40 tons or so you can carry in a Dry Box.  This also has to be Balanced just right over the Drive Wheels and Tandems , which you do by Sliding the Tandem Wheels under the trailer.  Many tricks involved in this, but I will leave that for the moment.

After getting loaded I head out of the Plant in a different direction than I came in, taking a secondary road to a different Interstate junction.  On the Map this looks to be maybe 10 miles away.  It is late at night and no lights on the road except my Headlights.  I come up on the Interstate Junction before I realize it and almost miss even seeing it.  I pass the on ramp going the direction I need to go.  I am too scared to try to Back Up to the on ramp, partly because I SUCK at Backing, but also because Schneider told me never to back up on a main thoroughfare and also it is PITCH BLACK behind me and I can see absolutely NADA in my mirrors.

Next possible choice, this is a 4 lane road with two wide Shoulders,  enough room to swing a 53′ Trailer  and cop a Uey.  Except of course in the process halfway through, your trailer sits sideways across all the traffic lanes and the shoulders also.  this is another Safety Violation Schneider told me never to do.  Showed videos of 4 wheelers with the top of the car sheered off as it went under the trailer.  They did not show the decapitated 4-wheelers though,  but you got the idea.

Another possible choice would have been to get onto the Interstate going the opposite direction I needed to go, because that On Ramp was still ahead of me. However, this would have required me to go around 30 miles to the next exit to turn around, lots of extra mileage there.

In the end, I choose neither Door #1 or  Door #2 but go for Door #3 which is to keep on going straight ahead to look for a Parking lot big enough to turn around in.

What occurs though right after driving 1/2 mile off the Interstate Junction is the 4 lanes drop to 2, with nothing but trees on either side of the road.  I am starting to get NERVOUS again and the Knuckles go White on the Steering Wheel again. I definitely cannot back up now, nor can I turn around at all.  I keep on going. It gets WORSE.

The shoulders disappear from the side of the road, and now my trailer is breaking branches of trees to my right.  Then it gets WORSE again.  The PAVEMENT disappears!  Now I am on what I figure must be a Logging Road for the Paper Plant.  I  am easily 10 miles off the interstate junction by this point.  I am again SWEATING BULLETS.  I figure now at the end of this road there MUST be a clearing for the truckers pulling the logs out to turn around.  There probably was, but I never got there.  Another mile up the road, on my right hand side there is a LIGHT!  It is a FIRESTATION!  I pull into the first driveway of the firestation, figuring if firetrucks can turn around there, the lot is big enough for my rig also.  Sadly, no. While there are a few fire trucks as long as a Big Rig, most are not, they are Straight Trucks in the 35-40′ range, not Split Rigs in the 60-70′ range.  The Parking lot by itself is not big enough to swing the trailer.

However, there is an Exit Driveway ahead of me, and as I eyeball it, if I use every inch of the Logging Road I will be able to swing the trailer as I  leave.  The only problem with this is a Drainage Ditch dug out between the two driveways. I begin to slowly inch my way out of the driveway.  I keep stopping to get out of the tractor and go out to look. I am almost to the Drainage Ditch when I realize I am not gonna make it.  The left side tandems would drop into the ditch, and with the weight I had there of 40 tons of Paper Rolls, the trailer would Capsize immediately. Unlike many drivers, I am pretty aware of the forces of mechanics and how vectors operate, and this vector is pointing DOWN into the Ditch!  ACCCKKKK!!!  What to do?

Well, remember earlier I told you about how Trailers have Sliding Tandem Wheels that you use to balance the weight out in your trailer?  Then the LIGHBULB goes off in my head.  I realize that if I slide the tandems ALL THE WAY up and misbalance the load, my radius will be short enough to make this turn.  So I straighten the truck up and I do this, and then once again go to make the turn.

In the cab, I am scraping against the trees to my right, rolling over and killing innumerable small trees which never got a chance to Grow Up to be Big Trees because I arrived there one day with my Big Rig. 🙁

Back on the Left Tandem wheels, the two outside ones hang over the ditch.  The earth is crumbling under the massive weight of 40 Tons of Paper on the Inside Left Tandems.  The Trailer Lists, and now I CANNOT STOP.  I gun it and Go for Broke. The Trailer Listed to about 10 degrees off the vertical, but it DID NOT TOPPLE!  I MADE THE TURN!  HALLELUJAH! The Trailer rights up vertical and I am facing back towards the Holy Grail of the Interstate On Ramp I needed to get on to deliver this load!

The FINGER OF GOD!

After making the turn and driving back to the Interstate, the whole Adventure probably took about 2 hours. It did not affect my Delivery, because there was plenty of time on that load. It also never showed up in my Log Book either.  According to the Log Book,  I left the Paper Plant and got straight onto the Interstate without any detour at all. This of course is routinely done by all drivers to conserve Driving Hours. You don’t record how much time it REALLY took to get anywhere, you record the amount of time it takes if everything goes perfect and there was no traffic and Unicorns Shit Skittles along your route for your truck to glide smoothly over.  LOL. The ONLY time Driving Hours are accurate in a Log Book is for the Hours you do at the maximum legal speed on the Interstate.  All the rest is total fabrication.

Over the next two months, there were other similar White Knuckle Events, in fact they happenned on about every load during that time for me.  Mainly because I did not have enough EXPERIENCE to know how to avoid getting into a bad situation to begin with, but also of course due to my poor Backing Skills.

I learned pretty quickly how to keep the Dispatchers from abusing me by manipulating my driving time and how many hours I would show after the unload.  This was a Math Game and easy for me.  I learned to go into Truckstops during the early part of the Day after most of the other truckers were out on the road and the Pull Through  spots were open, so no Backing Necessary.

In reality, Bad Situations never stopped coming for all my years OTR, just I got better at handling them as my skills improved and my ability to spy a bad situation in the making improved.  For those first 2-3 Months though, not a day went by where my heart wasn’t POUNDING trying to get into a dock or a truckstop to sleep or eat.

One day about 3 months out Over the Road in a Railyard in Chicago, that all changed for me. That was the day I met the RASTAMAN.

More about the Rastaman in Part IV of Over the Road.

RE

 

Over The Road: Part II

Read Part I of “Over The Road” HERE First

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink of the Diner

When we last left the Road, I had just graduated the Schneider National Training Institute for LOSERS.  After driving my  7 year old Trusty Toyota Tercel 4WD mini-SUV/Wagon back to Springfield and finally passing my Blood Pressure exam, I am given a date about a week away to show up at the Schneider Terminal in West Memphis to continue my Training for a Month with an Experienced Training Driver.

So, after cleaning up my affairs around Springfield, I borrow still MORE Money from my Retired Mom to hopefully last me for the first month on the Road until the first Paychecks can be cashed.  During this Training Period, you weren’t Paid by the Mile, you got a fixed $250/week salary.  Regardless how many hours you drove the truck for this time, this is what you were paid.   Your Training Driver got the Mileage pay for what you drove.  Needless to say, this works out to LOWER than the Minimum Wage,  but somehow this is Justified in the Trucking Industry.

In fact, if you consider the fact the OTR Company Driver is expected to ALWAYS be available 24/7 near the Qualcomm in his Truck as long as he still has Legal Hours left to drive,  he is ALWAYS  “On Duty” and because of that you really are paid below minimum wage all the time.  You ONLY get paid for the hours you actually DRIVE.  You are also expected to NOT LOG  hours and hours you spend waiting to get unloaded  or even in some cases actually Unloading the truck YOURSELF.  You CAN log this time, but if you do so you are frowned upon by your Dispatcher and he returns this by handing you really lousy loads until you Learn Your Lesson.

I am getting ahead of myself here though. Upon arrival in West Memphis, I was not aware of any of these issues, I was just happy to have a JOB.  All I had with me at the time was one bag with some clothes in it, I had no clue on all the stuff you should Carry With You to make your life as an OTR Big Rig Driver somewhat tolerable.  Would have been nice if somewhere in that 2 week Training Course in Green Bay if somebody had discussed this with the New Recruits. By the end of Big Rig Years, I had a Package of 5 Bags and Containers that included all the coolest supplies and equipment necessary to live the Mobile Life.  I’ll list those out eventually also.

So, I do get Matched Up with my Training Driver for the One Month period, except there is a small PROBLEM. They were short of Training Drivers at the West Memphis Terminal, because despite the fact it is pretty lucrative for the TD to do this, it is pretty STRESSFUL to be in the Passenger Seat of Newby Driver. Also, long time Drivers with the Hours required to BE a TD tend to be Loners not comfortable with spending extended time with what amounts to Random Strangers assigned to them.

As a result, instead of being  matched up One-to-One with my TD, TWO of us are assigned to ride with him for the month. This in the Equipment Schneider was mostly running at the time, Intenational Harvester Flattops.  These as opposed to the more common “Condos” you see nowadays pulling the Trailers on the Interstate. Below is a comparison photograph of the two types of  tractors.  Everybody went to Condos in the 90s,but Schneider wa sstill running the Flattops for training at that time,and also for most of the Newby Drivers first rigs also.  As you can see,the Fairing onthe top of the Flattop gives no additional living space. The Condo Model  (In this case a Kenworth T2000) uses that space to allow Stand Up Room inside the Cabin.

In an IH Flattop, you can’t Stand Up to stretch ever,  and there is only one Passenger Seat which the TD always occupies if he is not in the Driver’s Seat. Soifyou are 3-up in such a rig, the other Newby not currently behind the wheel has to spend HOURS in the tiny Bunk compartment.  You can try to Sleep or Read, but it is near impossible to do either. There is no ergonomically comfortable way to spend hours in a Box like that. Think of it like being in one of those Tiger Cages the Vietnamese put POWs in for Punishment, except not for just a few days, but a whole MONTH.  Supposedly.

What occurred in actuality in my case was that this whole situation was so intolerable for all 3 of us that after 1 Week, our TD said “I think you guys are READY” and signed us both off as being  sufficiently Trained to go out as a Team of Newby Drivers. I was fortunate here in that the guy I was training with and I got along pretty well during that week.  He was a Black Guy from the Bed-Stuy area of Brooklyn named Lincoln, and we had lots of NY Shity stories to share with each other. So I was pretty OK with the idea of spending a few months with him Team Driving.

The idea behind putting two Newby Drivers together as a Team was that they could Help each other along the way. The Passenger doing the Navigating by the Map while the other drove;  one of the Team getting out of the Truck to serve as Spotter in Backing into docks which makes it much easier, at least if the Spotter knows how to give the right directions it does anyhow.  Not true of most Newby Drivers of course, but over the years I ran into a couple of really GOOD spotters. You did’t have to do anything but watch him in your mirror circling his arm left or right (and he would reverse it for you so when looking in the mirror it was correct for you), and all you needed to do was follow his arm motions and spin the wheel along with his arm while you were backing, and POOF a perfect docking on the First Try!

The very BEST of these Spotters was a man whose name I will never know, but who really probably saved my LIFE as an OTR Trucker.  I ran into him at a Railyard in Chicago after about my 3rd month on the road.  He was a Rastafarian Jamaican, complete with the heavy Bob Marley accent and the Dreadlocks.  More about that encounter later though, I am jumping the Gun again.

After being Certified as competent by my TD, I was all ready to go out on the Open Road with my new Bed-Stuy buddy.  EXCEPT there was another PROBLEM.  The idea of  partnering up complete STRANGERS,  both of whom were often long time LOSERS was not working out too well for Schneider.  They were getting into fights with each other, blaming each other for ACCIDENTS, stealing from each other, the WORKS.  It likely was an administrative and legal NIGHTMARE for Schneider for as long as they pursued this idea.

So they STOPPED pursuing this program, in fact right before we were supposed to head out together on the Eisenhower Interstate to begin making a living as Truckers in the Age of Oil.

Result of that?  After a 2 week stint at the Schneider National Training facility in Green Bay, WI and 1 week with an Experience TD where I only got 1/2 the time behind the wheel you normally would get because I was sharing the training time with my Bed-Stuy buddy, both of us were assigned our OWN TRACTORS AS FIRST SEAT SOLO OTR TRUCKERS!

Folks, the normal amount of time and money involved in getting your Class A CDL from a typical Commercial Driving School is around 6 Months, and at that time around $5000 I did not have.  In 3 Weeks, at no cost to myself except the 1 year of Indentured Servitude for Schneider I put in afterward at $0.23 Cents/Mile,  I was First Seat Solo in charge of my own Big Rig out on the Open Road of the Eisenhower Interstate.  I was TERRIFIED.

So also terrified was my friend Lincoln from Bed-Stuy, and he did not make it. His was the Final Washout.   3 weeks out onto the Road, he bought his own Ticket to the Great Beyond in a multiple collision with two other Big Rigs and several 4-wheelers.  I guess I was lucky I was not riding in his passenger seat when that occurred.  Or perhaps it was not LUCK?

Perhaps it was the Finger of  God? I was Saved a couple of other times before that one when I most surely SHOULD have been dead. Other stories from other parts of my life, perhaps a Tale in the Future, not part of this one though.. The statistical chances it happenned the way it did to me over all of them seem small.  I don’t know the answer to this, in this life I won’t get it either. I don’t suppose I will know the answer to that question until I buy my own Ticket to the Great Beyond.

How I SURVIVED those early days  is the next part of the Over the Road story.

RE

Over The Road: Part I

 

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink of the Diner

For a few of my Old Friends, it is common knowledge I spent a number of years as an Over-the-Road Trucker (OTR) Trucker.  Occassionally I will drop on some Stories about this period of my Life in the Age of Oil,  but I do not recall ever having written about this time in all the detail I should before I pass into the Great Beyond. So tonight, I will begin to tell this story best I can, and it may take a while to complete.  Likely this will not be the only article, because the story is too long for that, even by my standards.  Gotta start somewhere though, right?

I believe the story has Significance in the sense it was a Transition from who I was to who I am now.  How does an Ivy League educated man end up as an OTR Trucker?  If you find one way of life untenable, how do you find another one?  How do you learn new skills and change your behaviors to SURVIVE?  How do you MAKE PEACE with yourself and the world around you?  All these were questions I confronted when I turned to the life as an OTR Trucker; all the SAME questions confront just about everyone now as the Age of Oil comes to a close.  Main difference is it is likely to be even HARDER to make successful changes to your life as we move forward here in the collapse of Industrial Civilization than it was for me back in the mid-late 1990s. Level of difficulty aside though, most of the Priniciples I believe are the same.

I sure never thought I would be driving a Big Rig as a  means to make a living during my College Years at Columbia.  Doctor maybe, Lawyer maybe, BANKSTER maybe, but Trucker never figured in to that equation.

I DID start out as a Bankster though, working first for Merrill Lynch through connections I had from my Dad the Pigman, then briefly after that with Drexel before it blew up. Made some real good MONEY in those days also, 6 figures straight outta college as 20 year old.  Spent just about every dime of it also Partying with Joffrey Ballet and Fashion Institute of Technology girls as well.

Around the end of the second year of this, things started to go south.  I got into fights with my "superiors" at Drexel over what I thought were poor risk evaluations. My stomach was tied up in knots EVERY DAY,  I really did not even want to get out of BED at all most days to go to "work".  I couldn't even express my rage to my girlfriend of that time. while she was quite sweet, a good dancer  and GREAT in the sack, she just was not much of a talker at all.   One cool September Morning it all became too much for me and I could not walk through the door at Drexel. And so that Period of my Life ended then and there.

I descended then into the Middle Class as a Clinical Chemist after that for a very long time.  More than a 50% Pay Cut, and I was no longer hanging out with the Joffrey Dancers.  But I was more at peace, met a"nice"girl and got Married. Discovered then that "Nice" girls are not always so Nice and beyond that, *I* am too idiosyncratic to live with for anyone.  Besides, I just wasn't making enough MONEY to afford a Wife and eventual kids down the line.  We divorced, fortunately before reproducing.

I went into a deep funk after that and my job in the Lab got merged into another lab and I went through my first UE Period. This was the Rayguns Years, and there was Hoopla about Science and Math teachers being needed in the Schools to Save Amerikan Competitiveness against the oncoming Chinese Horde, so I went back to Skule for a Masters and took all the necessary Politically Correct Ed courses required as well as filling out academic requirements to get CERTIFIED as a Teacher in 4 specialties, Biology,Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics. This is a LOT of sub-specialties to be fully certified to teach through HS AP level.

Landed a job in a suburban Skule District on Long Island, immediately HATED the job. Administrative Nightmares, Kids who didn't want to be there, it was awful.  3 years of that, I was done again.

Back on the UE Line, start sending out Resumes.  Mid 30s at the time.  You would think with that education I could find SOMETHING right?  Nada.  See, I was over educated for any Entry Level spots and too OLD already also with no experiencein specific fields.  I did not want to go back to Lab work because it had become very BORING as all the stuff got computerized, you just put blood into machines and they did all the chemistry.

So, I am now in Springfield, MO living with my now Retired Mom in a 2 Bedroom apartment,  UE with Debt Up to my Eyeballs from years living in NY Shity where if you don't make 6-Figures your Rent alone consumes most of your paycheck. I take the opportunity at this time being COMPLETELY destitute to declare Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, right before they changed the rules to make that more difficult.  The Banksters who held my Credit Card debt did not even show up in court, it took 5 minutes and I was out from under $15K in debt!  Still no Job though, and no money either.  No UE this time, because I quit my last job,  I wasn't fired or laid off.

So I am leafing through the Want Ads of the Springfield Newz-Leader and see an Ad for Schneider National, the largest Trucking Company in the FSofA, which will be having a Recruiting Session at the local Bates Motel on Saturday. Promises of BIG BUCKS in the great career of TRUCKING! So on Saturday I mosey over to the Bates Motel and Norman behind the desk points me to the Conference Room where said Recruiting Session is about to get underway.  I join a dozen other guys or so who are just like me, COMPLETE LOSERS!  LOL.  OK, not precisely the same, I was a Loser with an Ivy League education and they were Losers who were HS dropouts, but otherwise not too different.

What I find out from the Recruiter in this session is that Schneider will train me for FREE if I just sign up for one year to work at the Bargain Basement price of $0.23 Cents/Mile.  This translates if you run 3000 miles a week to around $30K, which at the time seems to me like a fucking fortune!  Of course, running that many miles/week and staying Legal in your Log Book is pretty tough.  Still, during that year as I found out later Schneider DOES run the living shit out of you pulling freight, because they are paying you the LOWEST rate out there for drivers on the road. They make the money back they spent to Train you in probably the first 2 months.

So I pack up my 1989 Toyota Tercel Wagon 4WD and drive up to Green Bay, WI for my 2 Week CRASH COURSE in driving a Big Rig.  The Toyota was a 5-speed Standard Transmission, and besides BREATHING and not having a long list of DUI convictions, knowing how to drive a standard transmission was about the only requirement necessary to get into the Schneider Training School.

Once again, kindly Don Schneider puts up all the New Recruits at the Green Bay Bates Motel, where again all the Recruits are just like me, still MORE LOSERS, this time from all over the country! A couple of Female Losers in there, but mostly Male Losers.  Rules are set down, no DRINKING for the 2 weeks, any Beer in your room found and its instant dismissal from the program. Since everybody has a Roomie, they don't wanna get dismissed forsomebody else knocking back a few beers after a hard day on the Skid Pad, so they will Tattle on you.  So pretty much nobody drinks, at least nobody in my session got dismissed for this.

So, off to my First Day of Training, and at the time Don Schneider came in to give a Pep Talk to every new class of recruits.  Then we get our Classroom Time learning how to Trip Plan and do Logging which is phenomenally tedious for me since I figure it out in the first 5 minutes on the first day.  Sadly for about 20% of the rest of the class, they never figure this out in 2 weeks, so that is one group of WASHOUTS from the program.

Then its off to the Yard with your Instructor and another Recruit to get in the old International Flattops they used for training to take the first step, which is learning to drive an UNSYNCHRONIZED Standard Transmission. For those of you who never drove one, this is the type you have to Double Clutch going into and out of Gear, revving the Engine to match the wheel speed or else the Tranny Grinds horribly and you can't get it to drop into the gear. This I am not such a Quick Study on, and I spend 3 nerve racking, gear grinding days worrying I am going to Washout because I can't get the hang of how to shift the fucking thing.  Fortunately though, I finally do get this, then after another Day or so on the Lot its out onto the STREETS of Green Bay in your Bobtail, which is what a Tractor not attatched to a Trailer is called.

This is somewhat harrowing as well, since if you never sat up that high with lots of itty bitty Carz buzzing around you, getting used to that is a challenge. You get so worried about that you forget your recently learned skill of double clutching, and the Gears Grind again.  Also, tractors aren't really designed well to operate without a trailer.  The steering and braking are both too sensitive.  Driving a Bobtail is in fact HARDER than driving the Tractor Trailer combo because of this. Bobtail stories to come later.

If you get through this period (I obviously did), then you get to hook up to a Trailer and have to yank one of them around the yard a while until again you head out into the STREET.  It's at this point you realize typical City Streets are not well designed for Behemoths 70 feet long.  Rounding corners and not rolling your tandem wheels over the corner and crushing a few pedestrians with 40 Tons of Beer or Paper in the trailer  is another learning curve to master.

Finally, before the end of the two weeks you get your first lessons in BACKING a trailer, which if you haven't done that is pretty confusing since you have to do everything with the steering wheel BACKWARDS while also LOOKING Backwards and Reversed through your side mirrors and having one completely BLIND SIDE.  Backing is also REALLY important to know how to do well, because if you can't back well, you can't get into crowded docks or truckstops to get a good night's sleep.  Backing however is NOT a focus of your training, because it is not part of the Road Test.

If you haven't washed out by this point, on your Final two days, you get 2 opportunities to pass your Road Test in Green Bay on Schneider's Dime.  After that, you would have to rent your own tractor trailer combo to take another road test somewhere else. Probably 30% have washed out by this point though. First time through the course,  I FLUNKED.  I rolled my Tandems up over a curb getting on the Interstate, an Instant Failure Mistake on the Road Test.  Another Sleepless Night worrying I wasted my time and the Gas it cost to get me to Green Bay and back to Springfield, and would remain a UE LOSER, an even BIGGER LOSER than the other HS Dropout Losers who PASSED the test.  My DREAMS of that $30K paycheck were fading.

Fortunately, on my 2nd run through the course, I go through CLEAN, and I get my Class I Commercial Drivers License! Hallelujah! CDL as it is referred to commonly.  My TICKET TO GOLD!  Almost.

See after getting the CDL, in order to be employed in the Trucking Industry  you gotta pass a Medical Exam, which includes taking your Blood Pressure.  I've always been Hypertensive, and I don't like dropping pills to solve problems like that. So again after getting back to Springfield on my first try I Flunk my BP Test.  Next time though I pop some of my mom's BP meds and schedule the test for the early morning right after I get up,when my BP  is always lowest. 2nd time through again, I PASS!

I am now finally Signed ON as an Official Schneider National Driver and assigned my Terminal out of West Menphis, AR.  There, before becoming a First Seat Solo Driver, I am supposed to be paired with an Experienced Training Driver for One Month, then after that be Paired with another New Driver asa Team for 3 more months before going out on the road Solo in my own Big Rig.  It did not work  out quite that way though.

More about that in the next part of Over the Road.

RE

Read Part II of Over The Road HERE

 

Oil Producers and Their Governments

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Published on the Economic Undertow on June 2, 2018

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Being a top oil producing country is not conducive to good government.

Looking at the top fifteen oil producing states, nine are autocracies, seven of which are of long standing. Only three are democratic republics. Two other producer states are transitioning to single-party status or decaying to warlordism. While the US is officially a democratic, multi-party republic, it is a de-facto corporate autocracy. The policy impulse for the US establishment as it is for other single party states is enrichment of elites: waste-based, finance-driven ‘growth’ regardless of the cost, ‘out of the barrel of a gun’ as necessary; (from Wikipedia):

 

  Country Oil Production, Bbls/day Political System
World Production 80,622,000 Indicates OPEC membership
1 Russia 10,551,497 Single-party police state
2 Saudi Arabia 10,460,710 Monarchy/Single-party police state
3 United States 8,875,817 Corporate autocracy
4 Iraq 4,451,516 Iranian protectorate.
5 Iran 3,990,956 Single-party police state
6 China 3,980,650 Single-party police state
7 Canada 3,662,694 Multi-party republic
8 United Arab Emirates 3,106,077 Monarchy – effective single-party state
9 Kuwait 2,923,825 Monarchy – effective single-party state
10 Brazil 2,515,459 Transitional*
11 Venezuela 2,276,967 Single-party police state
12 Mexico 2,186,877 Transitional**
13 Nigeria 1,999,885 Multi-party republic
14 Angola 1,769,615 Effective single-party state
15 Norway 1,647,975 Multi-party republic

* Brazil is in the process of transitioning to military rule or single party status.
** Mexico is in the process of transitioning to warlord (failed) state or control by criminal gangs.

Petroleum resources offer enormous leverage for those able to gain control over them; at the same time control over the resources offers political advantages that are both obvious and difficult to overcome. Because of its dependence on integrated refining, processing and distribution infrastructure, petroleum is a resource that lends itself to ‘cartelization’. A government has only to create a monopoly to access resources at hand or take over control of existing businesses and combine them together.

Because of the absence of public input or a ‘negative feedback channel’ to restrain leadership, single-party states tend to be militaristic. Control over large petroleum resources offers managers the appearance of the means to dominion, to overrun or undermine neighbors, to expand control over resources or to destroy consumption in target countries so that it can be exported elsewhere:

  Country Military Expenditures (in US dollars) Current Wars – Potential Wars
1 Russia $63 billion Ukraine, Syria – Poland, Baltic states, Balkan states
2 Saudi Arabia $69.5 billion Yemen, Syria – Qatar, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran
3 United States $610 billion Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, western Africa – China/North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Mexico
4 Iraq $19.4 billion Turkey, Syria, Islamic militants
5 Iran $14 billion Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Turkey – US, Saudi Arabia
6 China $228 billion Low intensity war in Xinjiang – US, Vietnam, S. Korea, Japan
7 Canada $20.6 billion Various support efforts for US and Nato
8 United Arab Emirates $21.8 billion Yemen
9 Kuwait $7 billion Iran
10 Brazil $29.3 billion Civil war
11 Venezuela $4.5 billion Civil war, US
12 Mexico $6 billion Civil war
13 Nigeria $1.8 billion Civil war vs Islamic militants and others
14 Angola $2.3 billion South Africa, civil war
15 Norway $6.3 billion Russia

The US gets away with its belligerence because the dollar is the world reserve currency; Wall Street simply produces dollar credit on demand, borrowers both domestic and abroad wind up indirectly funding the US war machine. Because Wall Street cannot lend resources into existence, credit creation runs ahead of available resources as they are depleted. At the same time, the US must hunt everywhere for new resources to cannibalize … or rivals to destabilize. In a way, the US has given itself no other choice, wasting fuel and other resources is what makes up our precious lifestyle.

Primary credit providers such as Great Britain during its imperial heyday are aggressive in preserving their credit monopoly, exorbitant privilege. The US’ role as primary credit provider suggests conflict with China is likely, perhaps between the two countries’ proxies on- or near the Korean peninsula or in the South China Sea. It is probable none of the autocrats in either country understand credit provision and the necessary infrastructure, these being a native currency, a treasury, a lender of last resort, strong commercial banks (able to distribute their own losses into the general economy); also private property, equitable regulation, enforceable contracts, the rule of law and a body of jurisprudence. All of these marshaled over time equal ‘creditworthiness’; the last three — enforceable contracts, rule of law and body of jurisprudence — are absent in China. Without fundamental changes, it will rely on external (dollar) credit. As it is, of the fifteen top oil producers, only the US is a credit provider, a status that required over 100 years and the exhaustion of Great Britain in two world wars to achieve.

As economic activity continues or increases, so does resource depletion. It is not depletion per-se that is causing problems within individual countries but the larger dynamics, energy deflation and dollar preference. The peripheral countries are affected first.

Single party states = poor economic management; inflation in Iran, (Prof. Steve Hanke):

Figure 1: Annual inflation in Iran is now running 78%. Iranians are ‘voting with their wallets’ and using the local currency to buy whatever dollars they can get their hands on.

Figure 2: Inflation in Venezuela is accelerating, now an amazing 30,000%+. Venezuela has the world’s largest reserves of oil but it does not matter: the country lacks the funds to access them, even as Venezuelans must either flee their country or face starvation.

There is inflation elsewhere: official figures tend to understate actual rates of inflation because they discount black-market rates; Angola, 30%; Nigeria, 16%; Russia, 4%, etc.

The question for Americans and the West becomes how much erosion of rights and privileges will people accept, how many wars, how much ruin; how far down the rat hole to we travel before questioning the energy-wasting status quo? How much are we prepared to give up for illusions?

Diesel Powerd Murikan Roadkill

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Published on Epiphany Now on March 13, 2018

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I took this picture with my iphone at a truck stop in Utah
 
It's 2 in the morning and a shape appears on the northern Indiana road in front of me. At 65 mph there are only a couple of seconds to decipher the image and react. It's quickly realized that there are two raccoon on the road, they are moving around, probably picking at some type of food. It's a mystery what they are doing, but in the next second there is a thud thud as the 80,000 pound semi tractor trailer continues on at 65 mph. It seems that racoon should be more intelligent than this. The next several minutes are followed by a lingering melancholy. I've just taken one, maybe two, lives, and senselessly with no premeditation. I've killed directly before, with a 30/30, but I killed intentionally from a tree stand 20 feet up in a tree. I also ate the meat.
 
As I drive on through the night and contemplate the death of those raccoon, I'm reminded of some things. I begin to ruminate on America, and why I have also unintentionally killed thousands of people.
 

17 years ago I was on a U.S. Aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, and planes crashed into the World Trade Centers in N.Y. City. That day changed this country. It changed all of the citizens. It changed me in irrevocable ways, and for different reasons than it changed most. The first Murikan bombs dropped on Afghanistan were from my ship, and I spent a lot of effort directly helping that reality, and I consequently spent even more effort trying to understand why. At the time I was a 21 year old idealist. I should have never enlisted in the military, but I was lost, and wandering, and searching for my own way in the world. I had grown up mostly fatherless, the product of a single mother. That too has gone a long way towards defining who I am now and why I was on that carrier in the first place. Constantly on a quest, searching for something that I defined as the truth. What was the world, and what was I supposed to do with it? I was not interested in money, but money is necessary in society.
 
I smelled a rat. I smelled a stinkin', no good, putrid, walking dead rat. At the time I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew that it had something to do with my country, and my navy, and my conscience. Cognitive dissonance grew to lighting and thunder in my own mind. It shook me to insanity, and I ran away from any contribution to those bombs. Consequences be damned! I was 21. That decision has also continued to define me. Shortly after the terrorists attacked we were in Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction as the military moved in. There were no WMD's, that was a lie, as was the effort in Afghanistan. A lot of evidence points towards the U.S. , at a bare minimum, being complicit towards the demise of the towers. The government at least allowed it to happen, and then used that tragedy they allowed to happen to accomplish a goal. Why is our military still in Afghanistan and Iraq? Nobody in Murika talks about the fact that Murika is still at war, and has been since 9/11 of 2001. If forced to think about it “keeping Murika safe from terrorism” will likely be regurgitated all patriotic and programmed meme like.  Well…it's really not correct to call what Murika is doing "war."  It's actually occupation, domination, and usurpation of formerly independent and autonomous nations at drone, bomb, missile, and gunpoint.   
 
Petroleum is the reason we have been at war for 17 years. More specifically gasoline and diesel is the reason. Petroleum is a limited resource, and that is an irrefutable fact of geology. It's an irrefutable scientific fact. Read that again, slowly, and for comprehension, and try to have a clue about what it means. Murikans are professional delusionists. I knew that we are completely dependent on petroleum before I took a job as a long haul flatbed trucker. Now I KNOW it. Everyday I burn somewhere between 50 and 100 gallons of diesel. Do you know how many truck drivers there are in Murika doing the same? It's somewhere around 4 million. It is just about impossible to buy anything with money that has not been on a truck at a minimum of once. It's more likely that the finished product you buy has been on 4 or 5 or 10 trucks (in many cases thousands..this would be your average car) and probably a ship and a train before you spend your money on it. In order to buy something that has not been on a truck it just about has to be made by human hands, locally, and from raw materials that have been harvested locally from nature.
 
Just before I took this job as a trucker I was busy learning how to do just that with bamboo. In fact you could have bought a basket from me, made by me, out of bamboo that I grew, harvested, cured, treated, split, and wove all by hand. You'd have to pay around 2 to 300 dollars for it because said item would have represented a minimum of 25 hours in direct artisan labor on my part. That's not counting the time it took to care for the groves, to harvest the cane, to process it, and then to cure it. That's just counting the time it took me to treat the cane with fire, and then to split the cane with a traditional Japanese bamboo splitting blade, and then to weave it. Next to nobody will pay 300 dollars for an artisan bamboo basket grown and crafted by artisan hands locally when they can go buy a plastic (petroleum) bucket from Lowes for $5. I also spent a number of years training in permaculture design. I made money with bamboo and permaculture, but not enough money to support myself in this world, much less a wife and two children.
Split bamboo next to whole canes.

 

A bamboo fence for my wife's garden spot

 

 
 
 
I was involved in Permaculture and bamboo, and both because I was following my bliss. That bliss was to live a natural life. That bliss was to use my hands to create beauty, and to be a good steward to the natural landscapes that sustain us as biological creatures. That bliss was to pay homage to the actual reality that is the natural processes that occur in nature to make things such as the air we breath, the water we drink, and the soil we grow our food in. That bliss was to treat the Earth as a living entity that, along with the sun, imbues and blesses us all with life. That bliss was an idealistic lie in this world. Alas, idealism does not pay any bills.
Weaving a door for the garden spot fence

 

Delusional bliss in action

 

A bamboo door
 
So what does roadkill have to do with Murika and petroleum and war and an idealistic hippie playing with bamboo and digging permaculture holes? I realized that America is this truck that I now drive for money, and those raccoon are the rest of the world. That is exactly how Murika treats the rest of the world, as well as the natural environment. It's just “collateral damage” (a term coined by the Murikan Military Industrial Complex to describe innocent civilian deaths in war) that is unfortunately necessary to keep us all up in the manner we have become accustomed. Just about nothing, with the exception of nature (and air brakes combined with engine compression brakes), can stop an 80,0000 pound truck at 65 mph. Anything that's in the way becomes roadkill…thud thud. Worse than that actually, because at least the scavenger birds can pick at the roadkill, and occasionally some crazy ass re-wilder may come along and take the roadkill home to eat it. 
 
Those raccoon may as well be the old me sitting in the road weaving my bamboo basket from bamboo grown in my yard, planting trees, and attempting to make my way in this world as a permaculturists specializing in bamboo. Now I'm at the wheel as well. I'm now a willing participant finally made complicit to the Murikan semi that's making a thud thud out of the rest of the planet…kickin' your brown ass and takin' your brown gas! If only the 21 year old me, getting himself kicked out of the navy on account of his idealism, could see me now! If he could see me he would disown me, or kill me before I could get out of control with complacency, apathy, and what he would see as cowardice while kneeling down before the puppet masters of the system for some pellets of comfortably numb conformity.
 
Ironically I love this job! I wasn't entirely a product of a single mother. My father was in my life, but minimally. I saw him a couple of times a year when I was a little boy. He was a trucker, but that wasn't why I didn't see him, that's ironically what enabled me to see him. I didn't see him because his second wife hated my mother, and she hated me because I was my mother's son. For a number of years he was under her spell (something he now recognizes), and so I rarely saw him. When I did see him it was to go with him over the road in his semi (and his wife had no idea, hence the afore mentioned irony). Such power fathers have over their children!  It's enough power to make them into truck drivers 30 years later on account of a couple of preteen memories!  Well, that, and a large helping of genetics.  
 
Deep down I love semi trucks and trailers. I'm sure it has a lot to do with the need I have to be a man, and a father, due to a wife and two of my own boys. My father was a trucker.  He was the only template on being a father I've ever had.  When I finally spent time with him it was to the sound of a diesel engine, and to the smell of diesel, and with the allure of the passing road. I love driving a semi, I love the power, and I love the mechanical accomplishment they represent. But if I'm completely honest, some part of me feels that I have finally grown to a man, and I am now providing money for my family. Men are supposed to provide, and in our society that means money. Yet the plague of cognitive dissonance continues to haunt me with it's furious sound of hypocrisy.
 
To be constantly going somewhere new, and to have everything I need with me, and to mostly be left alone…these are all things that I love about being a trucker. It's very peaceful to be left alone while listening to music, and my thoughts, as the landscape changes in front of me, as I fulfill my husbandly and fatherly requirement to get money. I never know where I will end up for the night to catch a shower and some sleep. Mostly I stay at truck stops, which are the places our society have created for the trucks to stop so that their human pilots may shower, do laundry, eat, and get coffee and cigarettes. There's also rest areas, company terminals, and occasionally a Walmart parking lot or the parking lot of a shipper or consignee. I imagine that I'm sailing a ship on the black bitumen sea, and I'm the captain. I'm also making twice as much money as I've ever made in my life doing this. I'm making twice as much as I made working as a medic on an ambulance after 8 years of service.
 
You see, permaculture and bamboo were not paying any bills. They were not presenting the promise of any type of stability for my wife and children. As much as I wanted to live in a world that did not exist…a world morally superior to the one we all inhabit, and a world that aught to exist, it was all just delusional thinking. Idealism made pernicious by business as usual. 
 
If Murika is the truck that splattered the racoon, than the Corporatocracy is at the wheel, and we're all just unique and individual diesel atoms. Murika is also a delusion, at least as it exist in the minds of most Murikans. The truth is that there are no lines on the map of the world any longer. At least not any lines that matter to the Corporatocracy. All of the inhabitants of this planet, both human and non-human, have no value to the corporate machine beyond the value of their contribution to the continuance of BAU. Business As Usual is business as it always has been. Since the rise of the first civilization the world has been dominated by the hierarchy of man. Man has taken by force using both his mind and his body. For a long time there were proper kingdoms which were ruled by kings. The king ruled by controlling the politics and the military of his kingdom. There were many different kingdoms that existed throughout the world of time and place.
One of my conventional landscape business clients had this pesky weed food growing, so I harvested it

 

Took it home and fed it to my family.  Bamboo shoots have more protein than any other vegetable
 
Now, for the first time in the known history of man, there is one kingdom that controls the entirety of the planet, and that is the Corporatocracy which has a capitol in Murika (not to be confused with capital…wait). It has control of the technology we use everyday. It controls the global military as well as the politics that control the global military. It controls all of the people of this world, and those that it does not control it kills wantonly and with no conscience. No one can stop this final rule of the Corporatocracy. The only things that have the potential to stop it are natural disaster and petroleum depletion. This is the reality that greed has formulated. The Corporatocracy's primary objective is profit for the share holders. All of the decisions that are made are made to keep those at the top at the top. They are at the top of a system that works for them, and they will continue perpetuating that system so long as they can because they are greedy and psychopathic.
 
What about the rest of us? Are we complicit in this unnatural disaster? We all contribute because we all need money to survive. We need money to buy food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare, safety, stability, comfort, security, entertainment, convenience, and the electronic gadgets we need to participate in SwampBook, KnitTwitter, and all of the rest of the anti-social narcissism that currently defines the majority of the sleep walking wake walkers. There is no escaping the global matrix that controls the planet. At least there is no escape where you succeed and are still left breathing and above ground. To escape in reality, and to do so without contributing to BAU, would have to mean doing so without money. How many people do you know that are living without money? If you spend money then you are spending it on goods and services that are only possible due to this diesel powered Murika. This diesel powered Murika is only possible due to our military and the petroleum our military protects and enables. If you aren't contributing than you'll likely be turned roadkill by the semi trucks that make the American way of life possible.
 
 
The last bamboo basket I made before becoming a Trucker
 
 
 
 

The Bumpy Road Down, Part 5: More Trends in Collapse

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Published on The Easiest Person to Fool February 20, 2018

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Bitteersweet Berries
Still on the vine in February
 

In my last post I started talking about some of the changes that will happen along the bumpy road down and the forces and trends that will lead to them. (The bumpy road down being the cyclic pattern of crash and partial recovery that I believe will characterize the rest of the age of scarcity). These changes will be forced on us by circumstances and are not necessarily how I'd like to see things turn out.

The trends I covered last time were:

  • our continued reliance on fossil fuels
  • the continuing decline in availability, and surplus energy content, of fossil fuels
  • the damage the FIRE industries (finance, insurance and real estate) will suffer in the next crash, and the effects this will have
  • the increase in authoritarianism, as governments attempt to optimize critical systems and relief efforts during and after the crash

 

Oscillating overshoot with declining carrying capacity

I've once again included the stepped or "oscillating" decline diagram from previous posts here to make it easier to visualize what I'm talking about. This diagram isn't meant to be precise, certainly not when it comes to the magnitude and duration of the oscillations, which in any case will vary from one part of the world to the next.

The trends I want to talk about today are all interconnected. You can hardly discuss one without referring to the others, and so it is difficult to know where to start. But having touched briefly on a trend toward increased authoritarianism at the end of my last post, I guess I should continue trends in politics.

More Political Trends

Currently there seems to be a trend towards right wing politics in the developed world. I think anyone who extrapolates that out into the long run is making a basic mistake. Where right wing governments have been elected by those looking for change, they will soon prove to be very inept at ruling in an era of degrowth. Following that, there will likely be a swing in the other direction and left wing governments will get elected. Only to prove, in their turn, to be equally inept. Britain seems to be heading in this direction, and perhaps the U.S. as well.

Another trend is the sort of populism that uses other nations, and/or racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities at home as scapegoats for whatever problems the majority is facing. This strategy is and will continue to be used by clever politicians to gain support and deflect attention from their own shortcomings. Unfortunately, it leads nowhere since the people being blamed aren't the source of the problem.

During the next crash and following recovery governments will continue to see growth as the best solution to whatever problems they face and will continue to be blind to the limits to growth. Farther down the bumpy road some governments may finally clue in about limits. Others won't, and this will fuel continued growth followed by crashes until we learn to live within those limits.

One thing that seems clear is that eventually we'll be living in smaller groups and the sort of political systems that work best will be very different from what we have now.

Many people who have thought about this assume that we'll return to feudalism. I think that's pretty unlikely. History may seem to repeat itself, but only in loose outline, not in the important details. New situations arise from different circumstances, and so are themselves different. Modern capitalists would never accept the obligations that the feudal aristocracy had to the peasantry. Indeed freeing themselves of those obligations had a lot to do with making capitalism work. And the "99%" (today's peasantry) simply don't accept that the upper classes have any right, divine or otherwise, to rule.

In small enough groups, with sufficient isolation between groups, people seem best suited to primitive communism, with essentially no hierarchy and decision making by consensus. I think many people will end up living in just such situations.

In the end though, there will still be a few areas with sufficient energy resources to support larger and more centralized concentrations of population. It will be interesting to see what new forms of political structure evolve in those situations.

Economic Contraction

For the last couple of decades declining surplus energy has caused contraction of the real economy. Large corporations have responded in various ways to maintain their profits: moving industrial operations to developing countries where wages are lower and regulations less troublesome, automating to reduce the amount of expensive labour required, moving to the financial and information sectors of the economy where energy decline has so far had less effect.

The remaining "good" industrial jobs in developed nations are less likely to be unionized, with longer hours, lower pay, decreased benefits, poorer working conditions and lower safety standards. The large number of people who can't even get one of those jobs have had to move to precarious, part time, low paying jobs in the service industries. Unemployment has increased (despite what official statistics say) and the ranks of the homeless have swelled.

Since workers are also consumers, all this has led to further contraction of the consumer economy. We can certainly expect to see this trend continue and increase sharply during the next crash.

Our globally interconnected economy is a complex thing and that complexity is expensive to maintain. During the crash and the depression that follows it, we'll see trends toward simplification in many different areas driven by a lack of resources to maintain the existing complex systems. I'll be discussing those trends in a moment, but it is important to note that a lot of economic activity is involved in maintaining our current level of complexity and abandoning that complexity will mean even more economic contraction.

At the same time, small, simple communities will prove to have some advantages that aren't currently obvious.

Conservation

All this economic contraction means that almost all of us will be significantly poorer and we'll have to learn to get by with less. As John Michael Greer says, "LESS: less energy, less stuff, less stimulation." We'll be forced to conserve and will struggle to get by with "just enough". This will be a harshly unpleasant experience for most people.

Deglobalization

For the last few decades globalization has been a popular trend, especially among the rich and powerful, who are quick to extol its many supposed advantages. And understandably so, since it has enabled them to maintain their accustomed high standard of living while the economy as a whole contracts.

On the other hand, as I was just saying, sending high paying jobs offshore is a pretty bad idea for consumer economies. And I suspect that in the long run we'll see that it wasn't really all that good for the countries where we sent the work, either.

During the crash we'll see the breakdown of the financial and organizational mechanisms that support globalization and international trade. There will also be considerable problems with shipping, both due to disorganization and to unreliable the supplies of diesel fuel for trucks and bunker fuel for ships. I'm not predicting an absolute shortage of oil quite this soon, but rather financial and organizational problems with getting it out of the ground, refined and moved to where it is needed.

This will lead to the failure of many international supply chains and governments and industry will be forced to switch critical systems over to more local suppliers. This switchover will be part of what eventually drives a partial recovery of the economy in many localities.

In a contracting economy with collapsing globalization there would seem to be little future for multi-national corporations, and organizations like the World Bank and the IMF. While the crash may bring an end to the so called "development" of the "developing" nations, it will also bring an end to economic imperialism. At the same time, the general public in the developed world, many of whom are already questioning the wisdom of the "race to the bottom" that is globalization, will be even less likely to go along with it, especially when it comes to exporting jobs.

Still, when the upcoming crash bottoms out and the economy begins to recover, there will be renewed demand for things that can only be had from overseas and international trade will recover to some extent.

Decentralization

Impoverished organizations such a governments, multi-national corporations and international standards groups will struggle to maintain today's high degree of centralization and eventually will be forced to break up into smaller entities.

Large federations such as Europe, the US, Canada and Australia will see rising separatism and eventually secession. As will other countries where different ethnic groups have been forced together and/or there is long standing animosity between various localities. If this can be done peacefully it may actually improve conditions for the citizens of the areas involved, who would no longer have to support the federal organization. But no doubt it will just as often involve armed conflict, with all the destruction and suffering that implies.

Relocalization

The cessation of services from the FIRE industries and the resulting breakdown of international (and even national) supply and distribution chains will leave many communities with no choice but to fend for themselves.

One of the biggest challenges at first will be to get people to believe that there really is a problem. Once that is clear, experience has shown that the effectiveness of response from the victims of disasters is remarkable and I think that will be true again in this case. There are a lot of widely accepted myths about how society breaks down during disaster, but that's just what they are: myths. Working together in groups for our mutual benefit is the heart of humanity's success, after all.

Government response will take days or more likely weeks to organize, and in the meantime there is much we can do to help ourselves. Of course it helps to be prepared… (check out these posts from the early days of this blog: 1, 2) and I'll have more to say on that in upcoming posts.

The question then arises whether one would be better off in an urban center or a rural area such as a small town or a farm. Government relief efforts will be focused on the cities where the need will be greatest and the response easiest to organize. But just because of the millions of people involved, that response will be quite challenging.

Rural communities may well be largely neglected by relief efforts. But, especially in agricultural areas, they will find fending for themselves much more manageable.

I live in a rural municipality with a population of less than 12,000 people in an area of over 200 square miles (60 people per sq. mile, more than 10 acres per person). The majority of the land is agricultural, and supply chains are short, walking distance in many cases. Beef, dairy and cash crops are the main agricultural activities at present and they can easily be diverted to feed the local population. Especially if the food would go to waste anyway due to the breakdown of supply chains downstream from the farm.

So I think we're likely to do fairly well until the government gets around to getting in touch with us again, probably sometime after the recovery begins.

In subsequent crashes the population will be significantly reduced and those of us who survive will find ourselves living for the most part in very small communities which are almost entirely relocalized. The kind of economy that works in that situation is very different from what we have today and is concerned with many things other than growth and profit making.

Rehumanization

The move toward automation that we've seen in the developed world since the start of the industrial revolution has been driven by high labour costs and the savings to be had by eliminating labour from industrial processes as much as possible. That revolution started and proceeded at greatest speed in Britain where labour rates where the highest, and still hasn't happened in many developing nations where labour is very cheap.

Sadly, the further impoverishment of the working class in Europe and North American will make cheaper labour available locally, rather than having to go offshore. During the upcoming crash, and in the depression following it, impoverished people will have no choice but to work for lower rates and will out compete automated systems, especially when capital to set them up, the cutting edge technology needed to make them work, and the energy to power them are hard to come by. Again, the economic advantages of simplicity will come into play when it is the only alternative, and help drive the recovery after the first crash.

The Food Supply and Overpopulation

In the initial days of the coming crash there will be problems with the distribution systems for food, medical supplies and water treatment chemicals, all of which are being supplied by "just in time" systems with very little inventory at the consumer end of the supply chain. To simplify this discussion, I'll talk primarily about food.

It is often said that there is only a 3 day supply of food on the grocery store shelves. I am sure this is approximately correct. In collapse circles, the assumption is that, if the trucks stop coming, sometime not very far beyond that 3 day horizon we'd be facing starvation. There may be a few, incredibly unlucky, areas where that will be more or less true.

But, depending on the time of year, much more food than that (often more than a year's worth) is stored elsewhere in the food production and distribution system. The problem will be in moving this food around to where it is needed, and in making sure another year's crops get planted and harvested. I think this can be done, much of it through improvisation and co-operation by people in the agricultural and food industries. With some support from various levels of government.

There will be some areas where food is available more or less as normal, some where the supply is tight, and other areas where there is outright famine and some loss of life (though still outstripped by the fecundity of the human race). In many ways that pretty much describes the situation today but supply chain breakdown, and our various degrees of success at coping with it, will make all the existing problems worse during the crash.

But once the initial crash is over, we have a much bigger problem looming ahead, which I think will eventually lead to another, even more serious crash.

With my apologies to my "crunchy" friends, modern agriculture and the systems downstream from it supply us with the cheapest and safest food that mankind has known since we were hunters and gatherers and allows us (so far) to support an ever growing human population.

The problem is that this agriculture is not sustainable. It requires high levels of inputs–primarily energy from fossil fuels, but also pesticides, fertilizers and water for irrigation–mostly from non-renewable sources. And rather than enriching the soil on which it depends, it gradually consumes it, causing erosion from over cultivation and over grazing, salinating the soil where irrigation is used and poisoning the water courses downstream with runoff from fertilizers. We need to develop a suite of sustainable agricultural practices that takes advantage of the best agricultural science can do for us, while the infrastructure that supports that science is still functioning.

The organic industry spends extravagantly to convince us that the problem with our food is pesticide residues and genetically engineered organisms, but the scientific consensus simply does not support this. The organic standards include so called "natural" pesticides that are more toxic than modern synthetic ones, and allow plant breeding techniques (such as mutagenesis) that are far more dangerous than modern genetic engineering. Organic standards could certainly be revised into something sustainable that retains the best of both conventional and organic techniques, but this has become such a political hot potato that it is unlikely to happen.

As I said above, during the upcoming crash one of the main challenges will be to keep people fed. And I have no doubt that this challenge will, for the most part, be successfully met. Diesel fuel will be rationed and sent preferentially to farmers and trucking companies moving agricultural inputs and outputs. Supplies of mineral fertilizers are still sufficient to keep industrial agriculture going. Modern pesticides actually reduce the need for cultivation and improve yields by reducing losses due to pests. It will be possible to divert grains grown for animal feed to feed people during the first year when the crisis is most serious.

Industrial agriculture will actually save the day and continue on to feed the growing population for a while yet. We will continue to make some improvement in techniques and seeds, though with diminishing returns on our efforts.

This will come to an end around mid century with the second bump on the road ahead (starting at point "g" on the graph), when a combination of increasing population, worsening climate, and decreasing availability and increasing prices of energy, irrigation water, fertilizer, pesticides and so forth combine to drastically reduce the output of modern agriculture.

Widespread famine will result, and this, combined with epidemics in populations weakened by hunger, will reduce the planet's human population by at least a factor of two in a period of a very few years. Subsequent bumps as climate change further worsens conditions for farming will further reduce the population, resulting in a bottleneck towards the end of this century. Without powered machinery, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and with drastically reduced water for irrigation, agricultural output will fall off considerably. And our population will fall to match the availability of food. I do think it unlikely that the human race will be wiped out altogether, but our numbers will likely be reduced by a factor of ten or more.

Turning to Violence as a Solution

It is a sad fact that many people, communities and nations, when faced with the sort of challenges I've been talking about here, will respond with violence.

In the remaining years leading up to the next crash, I think it is likely that even the least stable of world leaders (or their military advisors) will remain well aware of the horrific consequences of large scale nuclear war, and will manage to avoid it. As has been the case since the end of WWII, wars will continue to be fought by proxy, involving smaller nations in the developing world, especially where the supply of strategic natural resources are at issue.

War is extremely expensive though and, even without the help of a financial crash, military spending already threatens to bankrupt the U.S. As Dmitry Orlov has suggested, after a financial crash, the U.S. may find it difficult to even get its military personnel home from overseas bases, much less maintain those bases or pursue international military objectives.

But even in the impoverished post-crash world, I expect that border wars, terrorism, riots and violent protests will continue for quite some time yet.

Migration and Refugees

Whether from the ravages of war, climate change or economic contraction many areas of the world, particularly in areas like the Middle East, North Africa and the U.S. southwest, will become less and less livable. People will leave those areas looking for greener pastures and the number of refugees will soon grow past what can be managed even by the richest of nations. This will be a problem for Europe in particular, and more and more borders will be closed to all but a trickle of migrants. Refugees will accumulate in camps and for a while the situation will find an uneasy balance.

As we continue down the bumpy road, though, many nations will lose the ability to police their borders. Refugees will pour through, only to find broken economies that offer them little hope of a livelihood. Famine, disease and conflict will eventually reduce the population to where it can be accommodated in the remaining livable areas. But the ethnic makeup of those areas will have changed significantly due to large scale migrations.

In Conclusion

I've been talking here about some of the changes that will be forced upon us by the circumstances of collapse. I've said very little about what I think we might do if we could face up to the reality of those circumstances and take positive action. That's because I don't think there is much chance that we'll take any such action on a global or even national scale.

It's time now to wrap up this series of posts about the bumpy road down. At some point in the future I intend to do a series about of coping with collapse locally, on the community, family and individual level. I think there is still much than can be done to improve the prospects of those who are willing to try.

The Bumpy Road Down, Part 4: Trends in Collapse

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Published on The Easiest Person to Fool January 26, 2018

 

Bamboo in Winter

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This time I'm going to look at some of the changes that will happen along the bumpy road down and the forces and trends that will lead to them. If you followed what I was saying in my last post, you'll have realized that the bumpy road will be a matter of repeatedly getting slapped down as a result of going into overshoot—exceeding our limits, crashing, then recovering, only to get slapped again as we go into overshoot yet again.

Along the way, where people have a choice, they will choose to do a range of different things (some beneficial, others not so much), according to their circumstances and inclinations. Inertia is also an important factor—people resist change. And politicians are adept at "kicking the can down the road"—patching together the current system to keep it working for little while longer and letting the guy who gets elected next worry about the consequences.

Because the world will become a smaller place for most of us, we'll feel less influence from other areas and in turn have less influence over them. There will be a lot more "dissensus"—people doing their own thing and letting other people do theirs. I expect this will lead to quite a variety of approaches, some that fail and some that do work to some extent. In the short run, of course, "working" means recovering from whatever disaster we are currently trying to cope with. But in the long run, the real challenge is learning to live within our limits and accept "just enough" rather than always striving for more. Trying a lot of different approaches to this will make it more likely that we find some that are successful.

Anyways—changes, forces and trend…and how they will work on the bumpy road down.

I've included the stepped or oscillating decline diagram from my last post here to make it easier to visualize what I'm talking about.

Energy Decline

Because I'm a "Peak Oil guy" and because energy is at the heart of the financial problems we're facing, I'll talk about energy first. As I said in a recent post:

"Despite all the optimistic talk about renewable energy, we are still dependent on fossil fuels for the great majority of our energy needs, and those needs are largely ones that cannot be met by anything other than fossil duels, especially oil. While it is true that fossil fuels are far from running out, the amount of surplus energy they deliver (the EROEI—energy returned on energy invested) has declined to the point where it no longer supports robust economic growth. Indeed, since the 1990s, real economic growth has largely stopped. What limited growth we are seeing is based on debt, rather than an abundance of surplus energy."

It is my analysis that there is zero chance of implementing any alternative to fossil fuels remotely capable of sustaining "business as usual" in the remaining few years before a major economic crash happens and changes everything. So the first trend I'll point to is a continued reliance on fossil fuels. Fuels of ever decreasing EROEI, which will increase the stress on the global economy and continue contribute to climate change and ocean acidification.

Those who are mainly concerned about the environmental effects of continuing to burn fossil fuels would have us stop using those fuels, whatever the cost. But it is clear to me that the cost of such a move would be a global economic depression different only in the details from the one I've been predicting. Lack of energy, excess of debt, environmental disaster—take your pick….

It has been interesting to watch the governments of Canada and the US take two different approaches to this over the last couple of years.

The American approach has been based on denial. Denial of climate change on the one hand, and denial of the fossil fuel depletion situation on the other. "Drill baby, drill!" is expected to solve the energy problem without causing an environmental problem. I don't believe that either expectation will be borne out over the next few years.

Our Canadian government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made quite a bit of political hay by acknowledging the reality of climate change and championing the Paris Climate Agreement in the international arena. Here at home, though, it is clear that Trudeau understands the role of oil in our economy and he has been quick to quietly reassure the oil companies that they have nothing to fear, approving two major pipeline projects to keep oil flowing from Alberta to the Pacific coast and, eventually, to Chinese markets.

Yes, Ottawa has set a starting price of $10 a tonne on carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, increasing to $50 a tonne by 2022. This is to be implemented by provincial governments who have until the end of the year to submit their own carbon pricing plans before a national price is imposed on those that don't meet the federal standard. It will be interesting to see how this goes and if the federal government sticks to its plan. Canada is one of the most highly indebted nations in the world and I wouldn't be surprised if our economy was one of the first to falter.

At any rate, sometime in the next few years the economy is going to fall apart (point "c" in the diagram). As I've said, this may well be initiated by volatility in oil prices as the current oil surplus situation comes to an end. This will lead to financial chaos that soon spreads to the rest of the economy.

On the face of it this isn't too different from the traditional Peak Oil scenario—the collapse of industrial civilization caused by oil shortages and sharply rising oil prices. But as you might guess by now, this isn't exactly what I think will happen.

In fact, I think that we'll see an economic depression where the demand for oil drops more quickly than the natural decline rate of our oil supplies and the price falls even further than it did in the last few years. We won't be using nearly so much oil as at present, so we will once again accumulate a surplus, and we'll even leave some reserves of oil in the ground, at least initially. This will help drive a recovery after the depression bottoms out (point "e" in the diagram). Please note that I am talking about the remaining relatively high EROEI conventional oil here. Unconventional sources just don't produce enough surplus energy to fuel a recovery.

But the demand for oil still be a lot less than it is today and this will have a very negative effect on oil companies. Some governments will subsidize the oil industry even more than they have traditionally, just to keep to it going in the face of low prices. Other governments will outright nationalize their oil industries to ensure oil keeps getting pumped out of the ground, even if it isn't very profitable to do so. Bankruptcy of critical industries in general is going to be a problem during and after the crash. More on that in my next post.

During the upcoming crash and depression fossil fuel use may well decline enough to significantly reduce our releases of CO2 into the atmosphere—not enough perhaps to stop climate change, but enough to slow it down. As we continue down the bumpy road, though, our use of fossil fuels and the release of CO2 from burning them will taper off to essentially nothing, allowing the ecosphere to finally begin a slow recovery from the abuses of the industrial age.

The other trend involving fossil fuels, as we go further down the bumpy road, will be their declining availability as we gradually use them up. Eventual our energy consumption will determined by local availability of renewable energy that can be accessed using a relatively low level of technology. Things like biomass (mainly firewood), falling water, wind, passive solar, maybe even tidal and wave energy. Since these sources vary in quantity from one locality to another, the level of energy use will vary as well. Where these sources are intermittent, the users will simply have adapt to that intermittency.

No doubt some of my readers will be wondering why I don't think high tech renewables like solar cells and large wind turbines will save the day. The list of reasons is a long one—difficulty raising capital in a contracting ecnomy, low EROEI, intermittency of supply and difficulty of operating, maintaining and regularly replacing such equipment once fossil fuels are gone—to mention just a few.

Large scale storage of power to deal with intermittency will in the long run prove infeasible. Certainly batteries aren't going to do it. There are a few locations where pumped storage of water can be set up at a relatively low cost, but not enough to make a big difference. And on top of all that, I very much doubt that large electrical grids are feasible in the long run (and I spent half my life maintaining on one such grid).

The FIRE Industries

The next trend I can see is in the FIRE (financial, insurance and real estate) sector of the economy. During the growth phase of our economy over that last couple of centuries the FIRE industries embodied a wide range of organizational technologies that facilitated business, trade and growth. Unfortunately, because they were set up to support growth, they were unable to cope with the end of real growth late in the twentieth century. They have supported debt based growth for the last couple of decades as the only alternative that they could deal with. This led to the unprecedented amount of debt that we see in the world today. Much of this debt is quite risky and will likely lead to a wave of bankruptcies and defaults—the very crash I've been talking about.

The FIRE industries will be at the heart of that crash and will suffer horribly. Many, perhaps the majority, of the companies in that sector won't survive. In today's world they wield a great deal of political power. During the global financial crisis (GFC) in 2007-8 that power was enough to see them through largely unscathed. This is unlikely to be the case in the upcoming crash, creating a desperate need for their services and an opportunity to fill that need which will be another factor in the recovery after the crash bottoms out. But of course there is more than one way it can be done.

In the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th posts in my " Collapse Step by Step" series, I dealt with the political realities of our modern world, which limit what can be done by democratic governments. I identified a political spectrum defined by those limits. At the left end of this spectrum we have Social Democratic societies, which still practice capitalism, but where those in power are concerned with the welfare of everyone within the society. At the right end we have Right Wing Capitalist societies where the ruling elite is concerned only with accumulating more wealth and power for itself.

Since the FIRE industries are crucial to the accumulation and distribution of wealth in our societies, the way they are rebuilt following the crash will be largely determined by the political goals of those doing the rebuilding.

At the left end of the spectrum there is much can be done to regulate the FIRE industries and stop their excesses from leading immediately to further crises.

At the right end of the political spectrum the elite is so closely tied to the FIRE industries and so little concerned with the welfare of the general populace, that those industries will likely be rebuilt on a plan very similar to their current organization. A policy of "exterminism" is likely to be followed, where prosperity for the elite and an ever shrinking middle class is seen as the only goal and the poor are a burden to be abandoned or outright exterminated.(Thanks for Peter Frase, author of Four Futures—Life After Captialism for the term "exterminism".)

In the case of either of these extremes, or anywhere along the spectrum between them, there are some common things I can see happening.

The whole FIRE sector depends on trust. In the last few decades (since the 1970s) we have switched from currencies based on precious metals to "fiat money" which is based on nothing but trust in the governments issuing it. This was done to accommodate growth fueled by abundant surplus energy and then to facilitate issuing ever more debt as the surplus energy supply declined. I don't advocate going back to precious metals—what we need is a monetary system that can accommodate degrowth, of which a great deal lies in our future. Unfortunately we don't yet know what such a system might look like.

It is clear, though, that the coming crash is going to shake our trust in the FIRE industries to its very roots. Since central banks will have been central to the monetary problems leading to the crash, they may well be set up as scapegoats for that crash and their relative lack of success in coping with it. People will be very suspicious after watching the FIRE industries fall apart during the crash and their lack of trust will force those industries to take some different approaches.

I think governments will take over the functions of central banks and stop charging themselves interest on the money they print. Yes, I know that printing money has often led to runaway inflation, but the conditions during the crash and its aftermath will be so profoundly deflationary that inflation will not likely be a problem.

The creation of debt will be viewed much less favourably and credit will be much harder to get. And of course this will make the crash and following depression that much worse. In response to this many areas will create local banks and currencies to provide the services that local businesses need to get moving again.

During the last couple of decades there has been a move to loosen regulations in the FIRE industries, to let single large entities become involved in investment banking, business and personal banking, insurance and real estate. Most such entities began as experts in one of those areas, but one has to question their expertise in the new areas they moved into. In any case they became "too big to fail" and their failure threatened the stability the whole FIRE sector. Following the GFC there was only minor tightening of regulations to discourage this sort of thing, but after the upcoming crash I suspect many governments, especially toward the left end of the political spectrum, will institute a major re-regulation of the FIRE industries and a splitting up of the few "too big to fail" companies who didn't actually fail.

It is all very well to talk about business and even governments failing when their debt load becomes too great. But there is also a lot of personal debt that is, at this point, unlikely ever to get paid back. What does it mean, in this context, for a person to fail? What I carry as debt is an asset for someone else—probably the share holders of a bank. They are understandably reluctant to watch their assets evaporate, and I have to admit that there is a moral hazard involved in just letting people walk away from their debts. That feeling was so strong in the past that those who couldn't pay their debts ended up in debtors' prisons. Such punishment was eventually seen as futile and the practice was abandoned and personal bankruptcies were allowed.

One suspects that in the depression following the coming crash it will be necessary to declare a jubilee, forgiving large classes of personal debt. What might become of all the suddenly destitute people depends on where their country lies on the political spectrum. I wouldn't rule out debtors prisons or work camps, the sort of modern slavery that is already gaining a foothold in the prison system of the United States.

If we were willing to give up growth as the sole purpose of our economic system, there are many changes that could be made to the FIRE industries that would allow them to provide the services needed by businesses and individuals without stimulating the unchecked growth that leads to collapse. I think we are unlikely to see this happen after the upcoming crash—we will be desperate for recovery and that will still mean growth at destructive levels.

I think the crash following that recovery will involve the food supply and still unchecked population growth and sadly a lot of people won't make it through (more on this in my next post). Following that, it's even possible that in some areas people may reach the conclusion that growth is the problem and quit sticking their heads up to get slapped down again. They'll have to find a more sustainable way to live, but with it will come a less bumpy road forward.

Authoritarianism

In the aftermath of the next crash, I think we'll see an increase in authoritarianism in an attempt to optimize the systems that failed during the crash—to make them work again and work more effectively. Free market laissez faire economics will be seen to have failed by many people. Others will hang tight, claiming that if they just keep doing yet again the same thing that failed before, it will finally work.

As is always the case with this sort of optimization, it will create a less resilient system, much more susceptible to subsequent crashes. And after those crashes governments will be reduced to such a small scale affair that authoritarianism won't be so much of an issue.

Fortunately, beyond authoritarianism, there are some other trends that will lead to increased resilience and sustainability. We'll take a look at those in my next post.

The Bumpy Road Down, Part 3

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Published on The Easiest Person to Fool January 13, 2018

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Winter on Lake Huron

In the last post in this series I talked about the next financial crash and how it may well be serious enough to spread into the non-financial sectors of the economy and effect supply chains and critical systems in ways that we did not see in the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08. Systems that most of us depend on for the necessities of life may fail and many kollapsniks see this leading immediately and inevitably to a hard, fast and permanent crash of industrial civilization.

I disagree, seeing this as just one more bump on the road down, the cyclic pattern of crash and partial recovery that I believe will characterize the rest of the age of scarcity.

To understand why I hold this opinion, I said we need to do a couple of things:

1) take a systems dynamic approach to the events we are talking about. Specifically, we need to look at what happens when overshoot occurs in nature, in systems like the one we inhabit. Which is, after all, a subset of the ecosphere. Overshoot is a common enough phenomenon and usually works in fairly predictable ways.

2) look at the sort of things governments, communities and individuals can do to limit the damage of a financial crash and its spread to other critical systems.

Today we are going to do that.

(Note: all three of the graphs below are smoothed out, idealized and imprecise representations of the processes they illustrate. The point is to allow me to make some points visually. I hope not to get into much in the way of quibbling over minor details, of which no doubt a few are missing, inaccurate or outright wrong.)

So, first, let's take a look at how overshoot works. Take moment or two with your favourite search engine and you will find a graph that looks something like this:

1) typical overshoot situation with constant carrying capacity

The green line shows the behaviour over time of the population of a species which finds itself initially at a level well below the carrying capacity of its environment (the dashed blue line). Because that environment provides lots of whatever the species need to grow, it does grow. This tendency to grow in response to favourable conditions seems to be an inhernet property of life. As is always the case, this is exponential growth—it starts out slowly but eventually reaches a point where it takes off and quickly exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment.

What happens then is interesting, especially since we currently find ourselves in just such a situation. You get some oscillation of the species population, above and below the carrying capacity, until it finally settles out somewhat below the carrying capacity.

First, let's be clear that it is possible to exceed carrying capacity in the short run, at the cost of damaging the environment and reducing its capacity—overpopulation has a negative effect on that capacity. There is also some time delay built in to the effect of population growth, as newly born individuals add relatively little to the species impact on the environment compared to what they will add once they have grown up. The negative feedback and the time delay result in the oscillation shown in the graph.

Of course, the straight line representing carrying capacity would actually have some peaks and valleys, corresponding to how the environment responds to the stress of overpopulation and how it recovers when the population falls. If we idealized both the blue and green lines into something like a sine wave, we would see that the variation in the carrying capacity leads the variation in the population by about 90 degrees.

The red line, by the way, represents a fast and permanent collapse. In order for this to happen the carrying capacity has to fall all the way down to basically nothing. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but overshoot isn't one of them, because as soon as the population falls off below the carrying capacity, the stress on the environment is relieved and it begins to recover.

There is, in fact, no such thing as a "balance of nature" and it is by no means inevitable that the oscillations damp out and the population settles down just below the carrying capacity. In many cases what we actually get is the situation in the next graph, where populations oscillate on an ongoing basis.

2) continual oscillation of predator and prey populations such as foxes and rabbits

You might think that the population of rabbits and foxes in an ecosystem would level out at steady values, but that is not in fact what is observed.

If we start at a moment when there are relatively few of each species, we see that the population of rabbits (the prey, dashed blue line) grows rapidly. It is well below the carrying capacity of the ecosystem for rabbits and there are relatively few foxes (the predators, green line). But the increasing number of rabbits make hunting easier for the foxes, and their population starts to increase too. Eventually there are enough foxes to overhunt the rabbits, resulting in a crash in the rabbit population. This is followed by a crash in the fox population, since there are no longer enough rabbits to support it. This brings us back to where we started and the cycle carries on.

The reason the cycle can carry on indefinitely is that the foxes limit the rabbit population so that it never exceeds the carrying capacity of the ecosystem for rabbits—the plants the rabbits are eating never get over grazed.

The situation for the human population of this planet is, as you might expect, more complex.

The impact (I) that the human population has on our environment is determined not just by the size of that population (P), but also by the level of affluence (A) we are living at and effectiveness of the technology (T) we are using to maintain that affluence.

This gives us the famous equation, I=PAT. Since I am going to be using the term "T" in another equation shortly, I'll change this to I=PAD, where "D" stands for decoupling. Decoupling is the use of technology to produce affluence at a lower cost to thge environment and it is a number between 0 and 1, with 0 being the goal we would aim for, eliminating our impact altogether. In fact it is proving so difficult to get decoupling anywhere near zero that it is very unlikely to be the solution to our problems.

Carrying capacity (C) also works somewhat differently for human populations.

We can increase the size (S) of our environment by expanding into new areas of the world and habitats previously occupied by other species or by "indigenous" humans.

We can tap into forms of energy (E) beyond just food. For somewhere between two and three million years we've been using fire for landscaping, for cooking our food and for heating our shelters. In each case we were using the energy in burning biomass to increase the carrying capacity of our environment, increase the value of our food, and/or expand the range of environments that we can live in. For the last few hundred years we've been using the energy of fossil fuels to radically increase the carrying capacity of our environment in many seemingly clever ways.

Since whatever method we use to acquire energy consumes energy in the process, it's actually the energy that is left over, available for use (the surplus energy) that's important. This is best expressed as "Energy Returned on Energy Invested", EROEI. This is a dimensionless number and the larger it is, the more surplus energy. When the EROEI is equal to one, the process is just breaking even and there is no point in doing it—we want a much higher EROEI.

Hunter-gather and pre-industrial agricultural societies managed average EROEI's in the high single digits at best. Industrial societies based on fossil fuels in the twentieth century had EROEI's many times that high, which made possible high levels of growth and the development and use of technologies which had previously been completely out of reach. Today the average global EROEI is around 11.

Which brings us to our use of tools and technology (T). With just Neolithic technology (fire, stone tools, weaving, tanning, pottery, boats, agriculture) we spread over the whole planet except for the Antarctic, occupying and thriving in environments very different from the ones where we evolved. Since the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution our use of technology has exploded. And not just material technology, but financial, organizational and information technologies as well. All of which has enabled both our population and affluence to grow at heretofore unprecedented rates.

So, the carrying capacity of this planet for the human race can be represented by the equation C=SET. Clearly, I (Impact) must be less than C (carrying capacity) or we are in overshoot. And since sometime in the late 1970s we have indeed been in overshoot. Currently the level of overshoot is around 60%. That is, our impact on the environment is 1.6 times what can be sustained on an ongoing basis.

3) oscillating overshoot with declining carrying capacity

From left side of this graph to point "a" we see the long and very slow growth of the human population before the discovery of the New World. After point "a" the carrying capacity began to increase significantly as the size of our environment effectively took a large jump with the European settlement of the New World, as the use of fossil fuels greatly increased the amount of surplus energy available and as we developed numerous new technologies to use that energy. Human impact increased with the carrying capacity, as our population grew and affluence increased.

The growth of carrying capacity continued until the last quarter of the twentieth century, point "b", when depletion of fossil fuels and reduction of their EROEI, diminishing returns on technological innovation and stress on the environment from human activities started to reduce the carrying capacity.

Human impact has continued to grow since then, and is now so far above carrying capacity that one has to expect a crash in the near future, point "c". As I said in my last post, this is likely to start with a financial crash. The financial sector of the economy, since it deals largely with non-material things that don't have much inertia, can change very quickly. It is currently under a lot of strain from huge amounts of risky debt. I favour a scenario where a spike in the price of oil, brought about as the current surplus of oil bottoms out, sets off a currency crash in one of more countries, leading to a wave of bankruptcies and governments defaulting on their debts. After point "c" human impact will start to decrease rapidly, primarily due to the effect of the financial crash on affluence.

Note that I have again included a red line (and a light blue line), which represent a fast and permanent crash of both carrying capacity and population. This is possible and some would argue that climate change and ocean acidification (among other things) may be damaging the environment enough to make it the most likely outcome. I don't think so. The ecosphere is amazingly resilient, once human impact is reduced. People have gotten the wrong impression about this because we have been playing the silly game of upping our impact and then wondering why the situation keeps gets worse, as if it wasn't our fault.

To the right is a little chart that contains some shocking information. The top 20% of the human population (in terms of affluence) is responsible for 76.6% of our impact. A financial crash will be very hard on those top 20% and in the process will drastically reduce human impact. Sadly, myself and most of my readers are in that top 20%.

Referring back to diagram 3, I expect that at point "d", where "I" is finally less than "C", the carrying capacity will begin to recover, and a while later at point "e", human impact will begin to increase once again as well.

Remember also that carrying capacity is defined by C=SET, and there is much that humanity can do to change the value of "T" in that equation. I am by no means saying that we will find a "solution" to our problems based on material technology. What I mean is that a major factor in the big decrease in carrying capacity during the upcoming crash will be the failure of our financial and organizational technology to cope with the situation. And there is a lot we can do to reorganize our financial, economic and political systems to work better under the new conditions. Once we are forced to do it. So I do expect there will be a recovery after this crash.

It is very likely that during the crash the financial chaos will spread to the rest of the economy and that there will be some reduction in the growth rate of our population as the support structures provide by industrial civilization fail completely in some parts of the world. But it seems likely that human population will continue to grow until it once again outstrips carrying capacity, at point "f". And then at point "g" we will have another crash. I suspect depletion of fossil fuels, water for irrigation and phosphorous for fertilizer, and the effects of climate change will lead to a collapse of agriculture in many parts of the world. Famine and epidemics will at that point start to rapidly reduce our population and eventually reduce it back below a once more reduced carrying capacity (point "h") and another recovery will begin (point "i").

Beyond point "i" it is hard to say much about exact details or how many more crashes will take place. But the trend of continued oscillation with decreases in both carrying capacity and human impact will continue. The downward trend is because our current system relies on non-renewable resources that we are using up. That trend will continue until our impact can be sustained solely by renewable resources. Along the way we will go through some very hard times (point "i" and subsequent valleys in the green line) because of the damage done to the planet in the process. But eventually, with our impact drastically reduced, the ecosystems will recover. I expect that at this point we will have retained some of our technology and because of this the overall carrying capacity and our population/impact will settle out a bit above what it was in pre-industrial times.

One further thing I want to emphasize is how uneven this whole process will be. Yes it is likely that the impending financial crash, because it involves systems that are highly interconnected and global in scale, will be felt to some extent over the whole planet. But the degree to which the financial chaos spreads to the rest of the economy will vary greatly from place to place. And subsequent crashes, once the high degree of global interconnection has been broken, will most likely occur at different times in different places.

Wherever people are not completely dependent on global supply chains, the effects will be less severe. To the extent that they are not ravaged by climate change, some parts of the developing world where subsistence agriculture is practiced may continue on with little change. Unfortunately many areas will suffer the ravages of climate change—droughts, flooding and heat waves. Many countries (particularly in Africa and the Middle East) do not produce enough food for their own populations. With supply chains broken and agriculture struggling everywhere, these areas will find it difficult to continue importing the food they rely on. Supplies of energy and water will also prove problematical.

I am well aware that all these graphs and explanations do not constitute a proof of my assertions about the bumpy road down. But I hope I have succeeded in making what I'm trying to say much clearer. It's up to you to decide if there is anything to it or not, now that you know what "it" is.

The other area I wanted to touch on today is the sort of things governments, communities and individuals can do to limit the damage when a financial crash spreads to other critical systems.

As the financial crash starts to gain momentum, governments will (to whatever extent they can) use the same tools as they did in 2008 to get things under control— loans and bailouts for faltering businesses, and keeping interest rates very low. It also seems likely that, as the situation worsens, "bail-ins" will be used as well, where depositors are required to accept discounts on their deposits to reduce the pressure on failing banks. And "haircuts" where bond holders have to accept discounts on the value of those bonds in order to reduce the pressure on the governments that issued them.

These efforts will have mixed results and the crash will no doubt spread to the non-financial sectors of the economy. Many governments will try switching failing critical systems over to a direct command “martial law” economy. This will be done with varying degrees of skill (or ineptitude as the case may be) and varying degrees of co-operation from their citizens. Vital materials which are in short supply due to supply chain and production breakdowns will be placed under government control and rationed (food, energy—especially diesel fuel, water treatment and medical supplies), and attempts will be made to patch supply chains and production facilities back together with whatever comes to hand.

I have no doubt that this can be made to work, at least to some extent. It does require convincing the public that it is necessary and that it is being done fairly—applied equally to the rich and powerful as it is to the poor and weak. And inevitably there will be thriving black markets.

Governments that already operate some of these systems directly will be better prepared and experience greater success. System that have been contracted out to the lowest bidder—companies that are primarily responsible to their stock holders rather than their customers—may fail in a variety of ghastly ways.

On the other hand, I think there will also be quite a bit of quiet heroism on the part of companies and individuals in critical industries whose job it is to keep things working. These folks are for the most part competent and highly motivated, and their efforts will be more successful than you might think.

Some governments will be so successful that their citizens may hardly be aware that anything is going on. In other countries, people will be reduced to relying almost entirely on what can be done locally, with locally available resources. Right wing capitalist governments whose primary obligation is to the rich and power will begin to practice wholesale abandonment of the poor and unfortunate.

There are also things that can be done by local communities, families and individuals to be more self sufficient—to be able to carry on during those periods when industrial society fails to supply the necessities. Increasing local inventories in order to be more resilient in response to supply chain failures would be a good beginning. But just being clear about what the necessities are and not wasting resources try to maintain luxuries will be one of the biggest challenges. The first step is realizing that much of what we consider necessary is, in fact, not.

So, as I've already said, I'm expecting a recovery, or rather a series of recoveries after a series of crashes. These crises are going to cause some changes in the way things work, resulting in a very different world. We'll have a look at the trends that will lead to that new world in my next post.

P.S.
If Blogger's statistics and Google Analytics are right, a lot of people are reading this blog on mobile devices. I'd be interested to hear how the graphics in this post worked on those devices.

The Bumpy Road Down, Part 2

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Published on The Easiest Person to Fool January 7, 2018

Lake Huron shore looking north to Bruce B Nuclear Generating Station
Taken Dec 17/17—there is much more ice on the lake now.

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In the last post in this series I started talking about the bumpy road down—the cyclic pattern of crash and partial recovery that I believe will characterize the rest of the age of scarcity and make for a slow step by step collapse, rather than a single hard and fast crash. Because I expect this to take place differently in various parts of the world and for people of various social classes, I guess it should really be "The Bumpy Roads Down".

At any rate, this led to looking at the next expected bump in the process—a financial crash of even greater magnitude than the global financial crisis in 2007-8. We looked at what's leading up to this (a huge debt bubble), how it might start (with one or more currency crashes) and what might trigger the process (a spike in the price of oil).

From where I sit this crash seems essentially inevitable. We are living beyond our means—the available surplus energy is simply not enough to support the continued growth that our economy requires. Some degree of "degrowth" is going to happen, whether we like it or not. The only uncertainly is exactly when it will occur, how far it will take us down and by what route. I'd be surprised if it started sooner than the fall of 2018. I don't really care to guess how much longer it might take to get started—years, easily.

Of course, as we learned in the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08, these things tend to teach us new things about how they work as they are happening. While we learn more with each crisis, there are things about each one that we would never have guessed in advance. And I am certainly not claiming to be exempt from this.

Since I wrote that last post, I read David Korowicz's "Financial system supply-chain cross contagion – a study in global systemic collapse", and much of what I have to say in this post has been influenced by Korowicz's ideas.

His essay directly addresses how things may proceed once a crash gets started, and how difficult it will be to do something about it. He focuses on the degree of interconnection in our modern world and how a financial crash can spread to other parts of the economy. He also looks closely at how fragile our globalized economy is, with many supply chains based on "just in time delivery" and minimal inventories of important supplies.

Before going on with the rest of this post, I'd like to share some thoughts that came to me as I was reading Korowicz's essay. It seems to me that when talking about such subjects, one has to consider one's audience and what one is trying to achieve.

Korowicz clearly feels he is speaking to a doubtful audience and he is eager to convince them. As he says, "The consensus view, even if backed by experts is not, in and of itself, a justification for the consensus view." I sympathize with him in that—the majority of people today are functioning at a high level of complacency and denial. They will latch onto any morsel of hope and use it to convince themselves that everything is going to be fine and that no extraordinary action is required. If you give them that morsel, the rest of what you have to say may well be lost on them.

And so it is very tempting to spin (and Korowicz has spun) a rather one sided story, lacking the sorts of subtleties and nuances that are needed for a solid understanding of any subject and which I have tried to make an identifying characteristic of this blog. I am not going to change that goal, and so some of my readers will see what follows, in this and my next few posts, as unreasonably optimistic. If that is what is necessary to take a balanced approach to the subject, then so be it.

David Korowicz is an intelligent and well informed man and so even he makes some qualifying statements about the solidly gloomy picture he paints: "a collapse could have intermediate states, characterised by partial breakdown and semi-stable states." And near the end of his essay he suggests that we should classify countries as red, amber and green, according to the likelihood of their suffering severely in the crash he is talking about. And he admits that there are indeed some green countries, and interestingly (to me) includes the U.S. in that group. But the essay was written in 2012 and things have changed in the U.S. since then.

For those looking for nothing but hope and reassurance, I'm sorry, but I must make it clear that the bump I am talking about here is likely to be a big one and solidly jarring, especially to those who aren't expecting it. When I say that this shouldn't be considered a fast collapse, I mean that a significant number of people will still be able to get food, shelter, clothing—that "just enough" will still be attainable for most of us. I meet people quite regularly who clearly consider that any change in their lifestyle, however minor, amounts to "the end of the world", and who are simply unwilling to consider that such things may happen. I know they find most of what I have to say to be way too pessimistic. I think they are in for a rude awakening.

But enough of that, let's take a closer look at how the coming crash is likely to proceed. Tim Morgan predicts that it will start with a "currency crash?" What does he mean by this? Simply that at some point currency traders will lose faith in the value of some particular currency. They will all start selling out of it pretty much at once—what is known as a "run". This would cause the price of that currency to drop drastically compared to others, with negative effects on the economy of the effected country, perhaps leading it to default on its debts. But why this loss of trust? In the case of Britain, Morgan (a Brit himself) points to a lack of economic growth, high debt, Brexit and poor economic management by governments over the last couple of decades, including a laisser faire approach to regulating business and the financial industry.

It will probably only take one currency crash (or maybe not even that many, if the price of oil spikes high enough) to trigger a loss of faith in debt and start a wave of bankruptcies and government defaults. Banks and other financial institutions will be at the head of that wave. Modern banking is based on the idea of a fractional reserve—banks are allowed to create money out of thin air when they make a loan, rather than just loaning out money they already have. The loan itself then becomes an asset, a claim on the future productivity of the debtor, based on trust that the debtor will prosper and be able to pay back the money he has borrowed, with interest. Under this system banks' real assets amount to only 2 to 9% of their total assets. The rest is debt, or from the viewpoint of the bank, credit they have extended as loans. It is normal to have a very small percentage of debtors default on their loans, but according to Korowicz, defaults of around 4% are enough to leave a bank in big trouble, and it may end up going out of business, as the financial community loses faith in the debts it holds.

Since the amount of risky debt is much larger than ever before, it seems likely that many of those "too big to fail" banks will indeed be in trouble this time around. In 2008 governments took steps to prevent this, but governments whose currency has crashed and/or who have defaulted on their debts, won't be able to be of much help. Even governments which aren't in financial trouble themselves will face a bigger challenge than they did in 2008, since interest rates are already pretty much as low as they can go. And also because more banks (and other businesses) will need help, in the form of loans on very favourable terms, or outright bailouts. Still, because the effect of a crash like this touch on pretty much everyone, there will be immense pressure on governments to do whatever they can.

As I understand it, what governments have done and will no doubt do in the next crash is to print money to offset the bad debts of failing financial institutions and other businesses. This has been done indirectly, by borrowing money from the central bank of the country. Because it ends up on the government's balance sheet as debt, owed to the central bank, paying the interest is a big budgetary problem. Paying back the principle is a problem for future generations.

Conventional economic wisdom holds that printing too much money causes inflation—the price of goods goes up to match the excess money circulating in the market. This didn't happen to any significant extent in the years following 2008, perhaps because that excess money, rather than going into circulation, was poured into the black holes of the banks' balance sheets.

It seems likely to me that central banks will take a lot of blame for "letting" this next crash happen. There is actually no reason that governments have to borrow money for bailouts from independent central banks. Those banks could be eliminated and governments could take on their role themselves, creating money without incurring debt or interest charges. And as long as that money goes straight to paying off bad debts, the amount in circulation won't increase, and it shouldn't cause inflation.

If this disaster was limited to the financial industry alone it would be bad enough. It is important to realize that in our capitalist system if a business is not profitable, or if investors lose hope of it eventually becoming profitable, it's not going to be running for long, especially in the middle of an economic crash. Even if it is the sole provider of goods and services that folks like you and I consider to be necessities. One would hope that governments would step in to preferentially bail out companies that really do have a vital role to play.

The financial sector also provides many critical services to businesses and in a crash such as we're talking about, those services may not be readily available, thus hurting businesses that would otherwise still be viable.

Perhaps the most basic of those services is moving wealth from what we think of as "investments" (where the point is to earn a return) to ordinary money with which one can buy goods and services. We take this for granted in "normal" times and are largely unaware of what is going on in the background to make it happen so smoothly. During a crash and in its aftermath, this will no longer be the case and without that ready access, businesses and individuals will find it difficult to continue operating as usual.

To judge from what happened in 2008, those banks that are still in business will also get very conservative in their lending practices and much less trusting of the banks at the other end of transactions. The free flow of credit and funds that the commercial world counts on would grind to a halt, at least temporarily, and so the financial crash would spread to the commercial sector. From the viewpoint of ordinary people this is very bad news.

Mind you, in 2008 things were pretty serious. Many people lost their houses because they couldn't pay their variable rate mortgages when the payments went up—indeed that was what started that crash. In the recession that followed, many businesses downsized or went bankrupt and laid people off. Some of the unemployed fell through the cracks in the social/community/family safety nets and ended up homeless and destitute. A lot of wealth and savings disappeared into thin air. But despite all this, the supply of consumer goods continued unabated. If you could afford to shop, the shelves were far from bare.

I think this is likely not to be the case in the upcoming crash. There will be some noticeable effects in the day to day lives of ordinary people, beyond the obvious increasing unemployment, tighter credit and a decrease in the value of whatever savings you may have left.

The basic issue is that today, more than at any time in our history or prehistory, we rely on a complex, internationally networked economy to provide us with the necessities of life. Supply chains have been optimized, with minimal inventories and "just in time" delivery so that they are very efficient, but also very fragile. One little thing can go wrong, a long way down the chain, and within days (sometimes within hours), the whole supply chain begins grinding to a halt.

The global economy relies of a few critical systems, which enable supply chains to function.

The first of those systems is banking itself. The sort of day to day transactions that all of us take part in really are necessary to keep the world working. Most individuals and businesses rely on chequing accounts, over draughts, lines of credit, debit cards, credit cards and so forth, all of which will stop working if your bank fails. At the international level, banks issue letters of credit that facilitate the shipping of goods from one country to another.

Shipping is itself a critical system, and is dependent not just on banking but also, among other things, on energy, mostly in the form of petroleum products: bunker fuel for ships, diesel fuel for trucks and jet fuel for air freight. I suspect that shipping will suffer a good deal of disruption during this crash, not just at the international level, but also among the trucking companies who move goods around within countries, and on which we are very dependent.

Even if mining, forestry, fishing, agriculture, the electric grid, manufacturing and retail remain untouched in a crash (which is by no means certain), problems with just banking and shipping can make for very unreliable supplies of things that we have come to take completely for granted.

When it comes to necessities, water seems straightforward, right? It comes out of the tap. But most municipal water treatment facilities keep only a very few day's supply of treatment chemicals on hand. If deliveries of those chemicals stop, it won't be long—as very few days—before you can no longer rely on the safety of your water supply.

And there is always food on the supermarket shelves, right? But that's only because of daily deliveries that rely on many long and complex supply chains. If those deliveries stop, there is probably only about three days of food available in most communities, less than that of perishable items.

In the developed world, and even many areas in the developing world, access to medical care is taken for granted (the U.S. is an exception). But modern medicine relies on pharmaceuticals and other consumable supplies of which hospitals keep a very limited inventory, relying instead on regular deliveries.

I mention those three areas because they are necessities for everyone, and the supply chains that provide them to us are likely to be negatively affected during a financial crash. In fact, it will be hard to find any industry that isn't affected to some degree.

Now the conventional thing for a collapse writer to do at this point is to suggest that once this starts, it will be impossible to stop and everything will grind to a halt, bringing industrial civilization to an abrupt end and likely enough the human race with it. When you've been studying collapse for a while and coping with disbelief from most of those around you, it is natural, I suppose, to be eager for something to finally happen that will prove you right beyond all doubt.

But I am not that sort of kollapsnik. I'm pretty sure that collapse has been going on for decades not and that it will take a few decades more before it is complete. And along the way, what is happening will be far from obvious to the many people.

To understand why I hold this opinion, we need to do a couple of things:

1) take a systems dynamic approach to the events we are talking about. First off, the model of a fast collapse with a catastrophic impact at the "bottom" is fundamentally flawed. It may portray fairly accurately what happens when you jump (or are pushed) off a cliff, but that is not exactly the situation our civilization faces. We need to look at what happens when overshoot occurs in nature, in systems more like the one we inhabit. Which is, after all, a subset of the ecosphere. Overshoot is a common enough phenomenon and usually works in fairly predictable ways.

2) look at the sort of things governments, communities and individuals can do to limit the damage when a financial crash spreads to other critical systems.

I set out recently to draw some graphs illustrating overshoot and pretty quickly gained some new insights into this process—insights that I think are worth sharing.

So I'll wrap this post up now and carry on with points 1 and 2 above next time.

Collapse Step by Step, Part 8 — The Bumpy Road Down, Part 1

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Published on The Easiest Person to Fool on November 26, 2017

 

Lake Huron Waves Breaking Along South Pier, Kincardine

 

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The term “bumpy road down” refers to the cyclic pattern of crash and partial recovery that I believe will characterize the rest of the age of scarcity and make for a slow step by step collapse, rather than a single hard and fast crash. Indeed, that is where the "step-by-step" in the title of this series of posts comes from. And yes, many of the individual steps down will happen quite quickly and seem quite harsh. But it will likely take many steps and many decades before we can say collapse is essentially complete, and between those steps down there will (in many areas) be long periods when things are stable or even actually improving somewhat.

The fast collapse is a favourite trope of collapse fiction and makes for some exciting stories, in which stalwart heroes defend their group from hungry hordes and evil strong men. And if the story happens in the U.S. the characters get to do their best to stop a whole lot of ammunition from going stale. But it seems to me that in most parts of the world things will progress quite differently when disaster strikes. Indeed there is a branch of sociology which studies how people and societies respond to disaster, and it has identified a set of incorrect beliefs, known as "the disaster mythology" that much of the general public holds on the subject. In particular, the expectation of looting, mass panic and violence is not borne out in really. Here are some further links on the subject: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Dysfunctional as today's world may seem to many of us, it is working fairly well for those who are in power. They have a great deal invested in maintaining the "status quo", and in making sure that whatever changes do happen don't have any great effect on them. They also have a lot of resources to bring to bear on pursuing those ends, and a lot of avenues to go down before they run out of alternatives.

The other 80% of us, who are just along for the ride so to speak, still rely on industrial society for the necessities of life. We are hardly self sufficient at all, dependent on "the system" to a degree that is unprecedented in mankind's history and prehistory. As unhappy as we may be with the way things are at present, it's hard to imagine collapse without a certain amount of trepidation. Denial is a very common response to this situation.

Some of us, though, aren't very good at denial. Even if we only follow the news on North American TV, which largely ignores the rest of the world, we've seen lots of disturbing events in the last year or two and it is hard not to wonder if they are leading up to something serious. Many people in the "collapse sphere" are predicting a major disturbance in the next few years, and some think that this will be the one that us takes down—all the way.

I definitely agree that something is about to happen, but I don't think it is going be the last straw. Just one more step along the way.

As always, I am directing this mainly to those who are not highly "collapse aware", so a closer look at what's going on and what this next big bump might look like would seem to be a good idea. And of course I am making generalizations in what follows. As always, things will vary a good bit between different areas and at different times, and all of this will affect people of the various social classes differently. Also beware that I am not an economist, just a layman who has been watching the field with keen interest for some time. What follows is a summary of what I have learned, in a field where there is lots of disagreement and where the experts themselves have been wrong again and again.

Despite all the optimistic talk about renewable energy, we are still dependent on fossil fuels for around 87% of our energy needs, and those needs are largely ones that cannot be met by anything other than fossil duels, especially oil. While it is true that fossil fuels are far from running out, the amount of surplus energy they deliver (the EROEI—"energy returned on energy invested") has declined to the point where it no longer supports robust economic growth. Indeed, since the 1990s, real economic growth has largely stopped. What limited growth we are seeing is based on debt, rather than an abundance of surplus energy. And various adjustments to the way GDP is calculated have made the situation seem less serious that it really is.

Because of the growth situation, investors looking for good returns on their money have been hard pressed to find any and so have turned to riskier investments, which has resulted in speculative bubbles and subsequent crashes. The thing about bubbles is they are based on trust. Trust in some sort of investment that in saner times would be recognized for the risky proposition it really is. But always there comes a day when the risk becomes obvious, people rush to get out, and the bubble crashes.

The dot com bubble was the first to burst in this century, and the real estate bubble in the US was the next, leading to the crash of 2008.

After 2008 many governments borrowed money to bailout financial institutions (banks) which were in danger of failing, since that failure would have had a very negative effect on the rest of the economy. To control the cost of that borrowing and stimulate the economy, they lowered interest rates. These low interest rates have made it possible to use debt as a temporary replacement for surplus energy as the driver of the economy. Unfortunately this is pretty inefficient—it takes several dollars of debt to create a dollar's worth of growth, and the result has been debt increasing to totally unprecedented levels.

Meanwhile, much of the ill advised risk taking in the financial industry that led to the crash in 2008 has continued on unabated. You may wonder why responsible governments didn't enact regulations to stop that sort of thing. And indeed they did, to a limited extent. I suspect, though, that really effective regulations would have stopped growth cold, and no one was willing to accept the negative results of that. Better to let things to go on as they are, leaving future governments to worry about the consequences.

So, in 2017 we are deep into what might be called a "debt bubble." It relies on trust that interest rates will remain low and that any day now there will be a return to robust growth so that we can all make some money and pay off our debts. Those are risky propositions, to say the least.

On top of that, low interest rates have made it much more of a challenge for pension funds to raise enough money to meet their obligations, a vital concern for retired baby boomers like myself.

Those same low interest rates have made it possible for many non-viable or barely viable businesses to continuing operating on borrowed money, where under more normal circumstances they would have been forced out of business. This makes for a weaker economy, not a stronger one.

Here in Canada we still have a real estate bubble going on, especially in cities like Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, and that despite recent government efforts to cool the real estate market by making it more difficult to get a mortgage, and by applying a tax on foreign real estate investors.

And over the last year that have been a long list of natural disasters which have increased the financial stress on governments, insurance companies and even re-insurance companies (who insure the insurance companies themselves).

The more conventional economists have come to think that all this is a normal situation and that it can just keep on keeping on. But there are others who think that this will lead to a crash of even greater magnitude that 2008. And many kollapsniks think this crash will mean the end of industrial civilization.

Some commentators expect this crash to take the form of a rash of debt defaults by governments who can no longer carry the debt loads they have built up. And a similar wave of bankruptcies of those shaky businesses I was just talking about, when they finally get to the point where they can no longer hold on. Tim Morgan, one of my favourite economists (who is certainly aware of the possibility of collapse), speculates that this bubble may burst in a different way than those of the past, with the collapse of one or more currencies. He points to the British pound as a prime candidate for the first to go and thinks that the U.S. dollar may follow it.

Other experts I've asked say that while the U.S government does have huge debts, they are not so large in comparison to the size of its economy—an economy that is strong enough that trust in it is unlikely to fail. I am not so sure. Much of the strength of the U.S. dollar comes from the fact that all trading of oil is done in it. If you want to buy oil then you need U.S. dollars, so the demand for them is always high. But a number of countries who are not allies of the US have proposed abandoning this system, suggesting that they are willing to accept other currencies for their oil. If this were to happen on a large scale it would significantly weaken the US dollar.

But it takes some sort of unusual event to start a crash like this, to initiate the loss of trust. And that brings us back to the fossil fuel industry.

While the falling EROEIs of fossil fuels have hurt economic growth, it is a mistake to think that those fuels are not still the life blood of our civilization. The success of modern industry is based on the productivity boost provided by cheap energy. The price of oil, for many years, was a fraction of its worth in terms of what could be made with the energy embodied in that oil. But when the price of energy goes up, it reduces the profitability of industry, often leading to a recession.

The oil prices I quote here are for Brent crude, just to keep things simple. In fact, oil trades at a dizzying variety of different prices, depending on where it comes from and its quality, among other things. If you look back over the history of recessions since the 1950s it is interesting to note almost all of them were preceded by a spike in the price of oil. In the summer of 2008 the price of oil, which had been going up for several years, topped out just before the crash at almost $140 per barrel.

After the crash, the economy slowed down significantly, and the price of oil dropped to around $30 per barrel due to falling demand. Starting in mid-2009 the economy began to recover and the price of oil increased to over $100. This appeared to be a straight forward case of supply and demand—an indication that the supply of oil was barely keeping up and suppliers were being forced to turn to more expensive sources of oil to meet the demand.

Then in mid 2014 something surprising happened— the price of oil and many other bulk commodities began to go down. By early 2016 the price of oil was under $40/barrel, and it stayed in the range between $40 and $60 until quite recently when it edged up over $60.

All kinds of ideas have been put forth as to why this drop in the price of oil happened, many of them contradictory. It is my thought that two things have been happening. First, demand destruction—a slowing down of the world economy caused by high energy prices. Second, a temporary increase in the supply of oil, mainly from fracking in the continental US and tapping of unconventional oil—tar sands in Canada, heavy oil in Venezuela, and deep offshore oil in various place around the world, that were suddenly profitable when the price was around $100 per barrel.

Whatever is the cause, it is clear that we have had a surplus of oil for the last few years, and this has kept the price down. OPEC discussed limiting supply to force the price back up, but very little came of it, even though the lower price was severely hurting the economies of the OPEC nations.

In the short run, lower oil prices have had a beneficial effect on economic growth. But unfortunately, the big oil companies were making so little profit that they couldn't afford to invest much in oil discovery.

Regardless of what you may think of the idea of "peak oil" on a global basis, it is a simple fact that the output of any individual oil field declines as it ages. Exploration for new oil aims to match that natural decline with new discoveries. For conventional oil, that has not happened since 1963 and by the start of this century this was becoming a problem. A problem that likely had something to do with the run up of oil prices prior to 2008.

Following 2008, higher prices and improved technology (like fracking and the syncrude process for getting oil out of the tar sands) made more oil accessible. But with the current lower prices, that is no longer the case. Furthermore the wells opened up by fracking are proving to have very high decline rates.

So it seems that sometime in the next year or two, the decline rate of the world's oil fields will have eaten up the surplus of oil. Discovery of new oil fields doesn't happen overnight, so there will be a crunch in oil supply. Not that there will be no oil available, but oil suppliers will be hard pressed to keep up with the demand and the price will spike upward. There may even be shortages of some petroleum products until those higher prices pull demand back to match the available supply.

It seems very likely that such a spike in the price of oil will touch off a loss of trust leading to a recession of such severity as to make 2008 look minor.

In my next post in this series I'll look at how that recession—might as well call it a crash—might proceed and what will likely be done to mitigate its effects.

Fear and loathing on the Afghan Silk Road

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Published on Asia Times on June 21, 2017

An Afghan policeman looks at the bloodstains of victims outside a mosque where a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in Kabul, June 16, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Omar Sobhani

An Afghan policeman looks at the bloodstains of victims outside a mosque where a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in Kabul, June 16, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Omar Sobhani

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Will the New Silk Roads, a.k.a. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) ever manage to cross the Hindu Kush?

Temerity is the name of the game. Even though strategically located astride the Ancient Silk Road, and virtually contiguous to the US$50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a key BRI node – Afghanistan is still mired in war.

It’s easy to forget that way back in 2011 – even before President Xi Jinping announced BRI, in Kazakhstan and Indonesia, in 2013 – the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touted her own Silk Road, in Chennai. No wonder the State Dept.’s vision bit Hindu Kush dust – because it assumed war-torn Afghanistan as the plan’s lynchpin.

The state of play in Afghanistan in 2017 is even more depressing. Dysfunctional does not even begin to describe the administration that emerged out of the fractious 2014 presidential election and which passes for a government.

Since 2002 Washington has spent a mind-boggling US$780 billion on its (unfinished) Operation Enduring Freedom. It has absolutely nothing to show for it – apart from over 100,000 dead Afghans.

President Obama’s much-touted 2009 nation-building-cum-counterinsurgency surge was, predictably, a disaster. Aside from reframing the global war on terror (GWOT) as Overseas Contingent Operations (OCO) it achieved nothing. There was no “clear, hold, and build”; the Taliban are back virtually everywhere.  

HinduKush

 

 

 

 
Washington has spent around US$110 billion in Afghan “reconstruction.” Adjusted for inflation that’s roughly equivalent to the full cost of the Marshall Plan. Yet no gleaming Afghan Frankfurt sprang up around the Ghazni minaret; over US$70 billion went to the Afghan military and police; and waste and corruption were always pervasive. Afghanistan’s GDP last year was still a paltry US$17 billion, or US$525 per capita.

The new Afghan “policy” under the Trump administration has consisted in dropping an MOAB (Mother of All Bombs) in the east, to no effect, coupled with the Pentagon demanding more troops. Enduring Freedom forever, indeed.

Wanna go mining? Ask the Taliban

It should not come as a surprise that, under the radar and without most Atlanticist circles even noticing, Chinese government researchers recently met with foreigners in Beijing for a discussion billed as “Afghanistan Reconnected”.

Sun Yuxi, the first Chinese ambassador to Kabul after the Taliban were bombed out of power in late 2001, correctly summed up the stakes as follows: “If the way and connectivity through Afghanistan is not open, it would be like an important vein being blocked on the Belt and Road, which leads to many diseases to this organ.”

How to reconnect/ reconstruct/ rebuild Afghanistan is the substance of sleepless nights in places such as the Beijing-based Centre for China & Globalization think tank.

Everyone knows about the projections Afghanistan may be sitting on at least US$1 trillion in mineral wealth from copper, gold, iron ore, uranium and precious stones. But how to safely extract it?

Photo: iStock

 

 

 

 

Photo: iStock / Getty

Beijing’s security dilemma about protecting its investments is spectacularly illustrated by the ongoing Mes Aynak copper mine saga. The Chinese Metallurgical Group Corp bought the mine – 40 kilometers southeast of Kabul – in 2008. Theirs was the largest foreign investment project in Afghanistan. It took the Taliban another eight years to pledge its resolve not to attack it. 

Meanwhile, on the railway front – which is key to BRI – in September 2016 the first ever freight train from China arrived in Haratan, in Afghanistan, via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The trade flow is still negligible, though, so no regular service for now.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), led by Russia and China, is finally stepping in. At its latest summit, while warning about the security “deterioration”, the SCO pledged to be directly engaged in finding an “all-Asian” solution for Afghanistan, with both India and Pakistan, now full SCO members, on board.  

The “Syraq” connection

Afghanistan is a close neighbor to the Xinjiang autonomous region – and some of its most inaccessible parts host the odd member of the Uyghur separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is closely linked to al-Qaeda (while being dismissed by Islamic State).

To compound the problem, any possible New Silk Road eventually traversing the Hindu Kush must consider the direct connection with what’s happening with the phony caliphate in “Syraq”.

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is moving inexorably towards the Iraq border. At the same time, the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units have reached the Syrian border in Al-Waleed. Between them we happen to find US forces – which are occupying al-Tanaf in Syria. Damascus and Baghdad have agreed, however, to close the al-Tanaf crossing from the Iraqi side of the border. This means the US forces have nowhere to go, except back to Jordan.

Bets can be made that the Pentagon won’t take this lightly. The Ministry of Defense in Moscow is convinced these US forces will use High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to eventually prevent the meeting of the Iraqi units and the Syrian army, whose mission is to pursue Daesh remnants inside Syrian territory.

This “Syraq” meeting of the armies is so important because it heralds in effect the realignment of a key nexus in the New Silk Roads: Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut.

An Afghan security officer keeps watch at the site of a road being constructed by a Chinese company in Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

 

 

 

 

An Afghan security officer keeps watch at the site of a road being constructed by a Chinese company in Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

It is a categorical imperative for Beijing to expand BRI across the Levant, linking China to the Mediterranean overland just like the Ancient Silk Road did.  And yet that clashes frontally with the crucial fact admitted on record by Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn himself: that the Obama administration made a “willful decision” to let Islamic State fester, with the objective of arriving at a “Sunnistan” across “Syraq” as a means to accelerate regime change in Damascus. Translation: let ISIS break up the BRI in the Levant.

There’s no question influential sectors of the US deep state have not abandoned the project. At the same time President Trump has declared unwavering war on ISIS. The fundamental question is whether the “House of Saud policy” – striking against Damascus and its supporters in Iran – will prevail in Washington.

When the Taliban went after Afghan warlords across Pashtun lands in the mid-1990s, the local population supported them because they brought safety to roads and villages. They were widely regarded as angels fallen from heaven to help the Prophet against his enemies in Mecca.

This “Syraq” meeting of the armies is so important because it heralds in effect the realignment of a key nexus in the New Silk Roads: Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut

In my travels across “Talibanistan,” some of them documented at Asia Times, I found the Taliban to be stone-cold pious and moralistic, enveloped in a sort of heavily-weighted obscurity, virtually inaccessible.

But the main actors in this renewed Great Game in the Hindu Kush are far from being the Taliban. It’s all about the jihadi diaspora after the collapse of the caliphate in “Syraq”.

ISIS is already shipping out jihadis in retreat in both Iraq and Syria to the Hindu Kush. At the same time, it is actively enrolling scores of Pashtuns with lots of cash and weapons – a workforce including tens of thousands of potential suicide bombers.

Besides Afghans, a new batch of recruits includes Chechens, Uzbeks and Uyghurs, all of them quite capable of blending in with the scenery in a mountainous region inaccessible even to the Pentagon’s MOABs.

It’s no wonder secularized Afghans in Kabul already fear that Afghanistan is the new citadel of a re-morphed caliphate. Against the self-declared Islamic State Khorasan (ISK), it’s up to the SCO – primarily China, Russia, India, Pakistan – to come up with a rescue brigade. Otherwise Eurasian integration will be in mortal danger all across the intersection of Central and South Asia.

Blood on the tracks of the New Silk Roads

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Published on Asia Times on June 14, 2017

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China’s cardinal foreign policy imperative is to refrain from interfering abroad while advancing the proverbial good relations with key political actors – even when they may be at each other’s throats.

Still, it’s nothing but gut-wrenching for Beijing to watch the current, unpredictable, Saudi-Qatari standoff. There’s no endgame in sight, as plausible scenarios include even regime change and a seismic geopolitical shift in Southwest Asia – what a Western-centric view calls the Middle East.

And blood on the tracks in Southwest Asia cannot but translate into major trouble ahead for the New Silk Roads, now rebranded Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) attend the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

 

 

 

 

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud attend the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. Photo: Reuters

Trump’s senior staff though maintains that Qatar never came up in discussions with the Saudis. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former Exxon-Mobil CEO and a certified old Middle East hand, has done his best to defuse the drama – conscious there would be no reason for Qatar to continue hosting Al Udeid Air Base and Centcom to a hostile superpower.

Meanwhile, Russia – the Beltway’s favorite evil entity – is getting closer and closer to Qatar, ever since the game-changing acquisition in early December by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) of 19.5% of the crown energy giant Rosneft.

That translates into an economic/political alliance of the world’s top two gas exporters; and that explains why Doha – still holding a permanent office at NATO’s HQ – has abruptly thrown its “moderate rebels” in Syria under the (economic) bus.

Russia and China are bound by a complex, multi-vector strategic partnership. Beijing, privileging economic interests, takes a pragmatic view and is never inclined to play a political role. As the world’s biggest manufacturer and exporter, Beijing’s motto is crystal clear: Make Trade, Not War.

But what if Southwest Asia is mired in the foreseeable future in a permanent pre-war footing?

China and BRI’s best pal Iran

China is Qatar’s top trading partner. Beijing was actively negotiating a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) before the current standoff. Moving forward, a possible scenario is Qatar even pulling out of the GCC.

Qatar is also China’s second-largest source of liquefied natural gas (LNG), while Saudi Arabia is China’s third-largest source of oil. Since 2010 China is ahead of the US as the biggest exporter to Southwest Asia while solidifying its position as the top importer of Southwest Asia energy.

When King Salman recently visited Beijing, the House of Saud ecstatically spun a “Sino-Saudi strategic partnership” based on the signing of deals worth $65 billion. The partnership, in fact, hinges on a five-year Saudi Arabia-China security cooperation agreement that includes counter-terrorism and joint military drills. Much will have to do with keeping the profitable Red Sea-Gulf of Aden corridor free of political turmoil.

Of course, eyebrows may be raised over the fact that Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism is the ideological matrix of Salafi-jihadism threatening not only Southwest Asia and the West but also China itself.

The New Silk Roads/BRI imply a key role for the GCC – in a mutual investment, trademark Chinese “win-win” way. In an ideal world, the Saudi “Vision 2030” modernizing plan breathlessly being sold by Warrior Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) could, in theory, even reign in the appeal of Salafi-jihadism of the Daesh variety all across Southwest Asia.

What the Iranophobic MBS seems not to understand is that Beijing actually privileges its BRI-based economic relationship with Tehran.

Early last year, when President Xi Jinping visited Tehran, he and President Rouhani pledged to raise Chinese-Iranian bilateral trade to a whopping $600 billion in 10 years, most of it related to BRI expansion.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tehran, Iran January 23, 2016. REUTERS/President.ir/Handout via Reuters

 

 

 

 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tehran, Iran January 23, 2016. Photo: Reuters

China and Iran have been doing serious business. For over a year now, direct China-Iran cargo trains have been crossing Central Asia in only 12 days. That’s just the appetizer for high-speed rail connectivity spanning the arc from China to Turkey via Iran in the early 2020s.

And in a (distant?) future, a pacified Syria will also be configured as a BRI node; before the war, Syrian merchants were a top fixture in the trading-in-small-goods Silk Road running from the Levant to Yiwu in eastern China.

BRI does Turkey, Egypt and Israel

China’s Maritime Silk Road is not about a threatening “string of pearls” – but mostly about port infrastructure, built by Chinese companies, configuring key BRI stops from the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea and Suez all the way to Piraeus port in the Greek Mediterranean. Piraeus is owned and operated by China’s COSCO since August 2016; this upgraded, modern container hub for trade between East Asia and the West is already the fastest-growing port in Europe.

For his part, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already made it clear that Turkey’s national interests involve “the Suez Canal, the adjacent seas, and from there extending to the Indian Ocean.” As much as Ankara has set up a base in Qatar – with soldiers now flowing in – it has also established a Turkish-Saudi Strategic Cooperation Council.

Ankara may have been slowly and surely engaged in a strategic pivoting to Russia – as in the go-ahead for Turkish Stream. Yet that also qualifies as a pivot to China – expected to develop, bumps included, in all key areas, from membership of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Both Turkey and Iran – a possible full member of the SCO as early as next year – are actively supporting Qatar in the current standoff, including via regular food shipments. That shows once again how Beijing simply cannot allow itself to be dragged politically into what is essentially the vicious, intractable Iran-Saudi regional power war. Once again; BRI trumps everything.

Egypt poses an extra problem. It aligns with Riyadh in the current standoff; after all Field Marshall President Al-Sisi depends on the House of Saud “largesse”.

In Egypt, the new Singapore-sized capital east of Cairo is essentially being financed by Chinese investment; $35 billion by the end of last year, and counting. Extra bonuses include Beijing facilitating currency swap deals – providing a much-needed boost to the Egyptian economy. Ahmed Darwish, chairman of the Suez Canal Economic Zone, has nothing but praise to the top investor in the Suez Canal Corridor, which happens to be Beijing.

And then there’s the budding Israeli-Chinese connection. Israel backs the Saudi-UAE anti-Qatar blitzkrieg essentially as yet another proxy war front against Iran.

China is bidding to build the Red-Med high-speed rail connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. If the proverbial sea of containers can be accommodated near Eilat, the Chinese will be able to transship cargo via the Red-Med railway directly to Piraeus – an alternative route adding to the already Chinese-involved Suez Canal Corridor.

FILE PHOTO - A man looks as the world's biggest Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tanker, Qatari-flagged DUHAIL as she crosses through the Suez Canal April 1, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

 

 

 

 

A Qatari-flagged LNG tanker crosses through the Suez Canal. Photo: Reuters

Connectivity is frantic on all fronts. Shanghai International Port Group is running Haifa port. China Harbor Engineering will build a new $876 million port in Ashdod. Israel is already China’s top supplier of advanced agricultural technology – as in water desalination, aquaculture and cattle farming, for instance. Beijing wants more biomedical, clean energy and telecom technology Israeli imports. And the clincher is Israel’s imminent membership of the AIIB.

It’s fair to argue that from now on everything that happens across Southwest Asia will be conditioned by, and interlocked with, BRI’s land-sea superhighway emporium from East Asia and Southeast Asia to southeastern Europe.

Focused on BRI’s comprehensive drive for multipolarization, “inclusive” globalization 2.0, and the rapid spread of information technology, the last thing Beijing needs is a throwback to the past; a foolish, manufactured standoff as the new front in an existential proxy war between the House of Saud and Iran, and with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Israel pitted against Qatar, Turkey, Iran – and Russia.

Talk about sleepless nights in the Zhongnanhai these days.

 

Roadmap to Currency Collapse

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 7, 2016

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One of the main questions those of us who have been observing collapse since the 2008 Financial Crisis have always tried to answer is just how a banking collapse would play itself out?  Lately, there have been ever more clues on the shape it will take as it moves around the globe.

The first indication came with Cypress and the "bail-in" of the depositors there, and Greece shutting it's ATMs down and then only allowing small daily withdrawals of cash.  In the last month, we've seen India declare all it's old "large" denomination Rupee notes declared void, issuing out new Rupees to take their place.  Ahead of us, we have the imminent failure of the Italian banks on the horizon along with the possible failure of Germany largest bank, Deutchbank.  Coming at some point even IF somebody loans more money to the Italian Goobermint to bail out Monte dei Paschi di Siena over the weekend.

DEFINITION of 'Bail-In'

A bail-in is rescuing a financial institution on the brink of failure by making its creditors and depositors take a loss on their holdings. A bail-in is the opposite of a bail-out, which involves the rescue of a financial institution by external parties, typically governments using taxpayers money. Typically, bail-outs have been far more common than bail-ins, but in recent years after massive bail-outs some governements now require the investors and depositors in the bank to take a loss before taxpayers.

http://doomsteaddiner.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Money-Spigot-3-300x186.jpg Now, in the 2008 crisis in the aftermath of Lehman, the solution was a "bail-out" of the banks by pulling out Hank "the Skank" Paulson's "Big Bazooka" and charging it all up to the Taxpayers, as opposed to bank depositors in a Bail-in.  Of course, none of the taxpayers are too happy about that, so at least in Eurotrashland rules were set in place to do bail-ins.

Once you deposit your money in a bank, you have made an UNSECURED loan to the bank.  They're supposed to pay you back on demand, but of course if they go belly up and don't have the money and can't borrow it from someone else, your money essentially vanishes to the same place it came from, thin air.  Obviously, depositors who have this occur to them will be even more pissed off than the taxpayers, since your tax bill is spread out incrementally over time.  You don't instantly lose everything overnight, you just go broke more or less gradually as your taxes keep going up.

What bail-ins also do though besides pissing off a lot of depositors is they take a whole lot of money out of circulation, which of course is highly deflationary. Similarly, the exchange of the Rupee notes also is highly deflationary, because Da Goobermint is planning on taxing or confiscating the money that is deemed "suspicious".  That means the Indian whose money was taken no longer has it to spend on goods and services in the economy.

https://i1.wp.com/www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/files/2012/08/weimar-mutilated-300x236.jpg So rather than the inflation so feared by folks like John Williams and Speedy Gonzalo Lira back in 2008, it now is looking more like an end game of deflation as both banks and goobermints confiscate money in order to try and balance their unbalanceable books.  Even if they confiscated all the money in circulation and on deposit in digibits though, the whole system is still net negative due to the interest charges that have accrued and there are so many NPLs (non-performing loans) out there.  Italy is in the worst shape there, with something like 20% NPLs, which is why their banking system is likely to topple first.

The problem after that becomes one of CONTAGION, because the Italian Banks are indebted to mainly the German banks, so if they go belly up the assets held by German banks are no longer assets, and they also become instantly insolvent.  Well'they're already insolvent, but at this point it becomes undisguisable with fraud and accounting rule changes.

If the ECB won't print fresh Euros to recapitalize the Italian banks, where's the money going to come from for this?  "Investors" (aka other TBTF banks) aren't going to buy $5B worth of equity and bonds, because they have already lost $BILLIONS$ down that rat hole.  So will there be an 11th hour Stick Save by the ECB to bail OUT again these banks, which generally puts the bill for it on the backs of the German taxpayer?  That's not very politically acceptable in Germany these days, they'd rather see the Italians go down the toilet, not really grasping they will follow the Italians shortly thereafter, possibly within nano-seconds.

http://www.leftovercurrency.com/Resources/banknote-5000-italian-lire-bernini.jpg Anyhow, given this rather deflationary trend and the likelihood that "your" money currently in your checking and savings account will get confiscated in a bail-in, it's pretty hard to see why any typical Italians right NOW at least are keeping any Euros in the banks in Italy.  The Italians also currently have the very real threat that once Beppe Grillo's  5 Star Movement (M5S) gets into power, they have vowed to return to the Lira.  If you have Euros in an Italian bank, POOF, overnight they magically convert to Liras, and then quickly devalue against the Euro and Dollar, while those currencies are still standing anyhow.  The ew Lira currency would be close to worthless for buying anything from outside of Italy, most importantly imported energy.  I would bet on a 50% devaluation within a month, and maybe 10 cents on the Lira in a year.

So as logical as it seems to take your money and run now, this is not so EZ for the typical Italian.  Setting up an account in another country is tough even if you are a Eurozone member, and then making your daily withdrawals and deposits not so EZ either.  If you are a small biz owner and have payroll accounts and such, using a foreign bank is also impractical.

On a small enough level of savings, say a few 1000 Euros, for the individual stuffing this in your mattress seems like a safer idea than leaving it in the bank at this point, but as the Indian example shows your paper Euros could be made worthless overnight and you would need to exchange them for "New Euros".  However, you still have the issue that it is not practical to pay many of your monthly bills in cash, around here they won't even TAKE cash at the power company.  They also won't take cash for my rent either.  All these payments MUST be done through the banking system.

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/theshatareu/images/2/29/10g_gold_bar_actual_size.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120503095033 So where does this leave you with trying to protect "your" wealth in a serious banking crash and sovereign debt crisis?  For this, many people believe Gold is the safest way to store your wealth, particularly "Possessible" gold like collectible coins and tiny 10 gram slips.  "Paper Gold" is not looked on much better than Fiat Money since it is essentially the same kind of Ponzi scheme.

The problems this has are very similar to your paper money though.  First off, it's not very good for currently paying your bills.  I couldn't go over to the leasing office and pay my rent in Gold Coins any more than I could go in and pay in cash.  If I was running a small business, I couldn't pay my employees in Gold either.  You then also have the problem that every time you exchange Gold for some cash to go buy food at Safeway, you first have to stop in at a coin dealer and you have to pay a transaction fee of some amount.  Finally, your coin dealer himself actually has to have the cash to give you in return for the Maple Leaf or teensy-weensy Gold Chip.

https://www.overthinkingit.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/cortmok1-300x300.jpg There is a further critical problem with using gold as money, which is that over the millenia it has become highly centralized.  It began as deposits sprinkled out all over the earth and was gradually mined up, for ornamental jewelry and then used for coinage.  Over time, generally by some form of theft like the Spanish Conquistadores ripping off the Aztecs, all this gold got hoarded up and ended up going right back where it came from, in a hole in the ground.  Now though, the gold was "owned" by a few people, in the olden days a few Monarchs and a few Banksters.  Nowadays it's Sovereign Wealth Funds, TBTF Banks and a few filthy rich Hedge Fund managers who are also Gold Bugs.  Then you have another small cadre of people who have gold in the form of coin collections, and some with jewelry.  Most of the population though has no gold whatsoever.  So if you want to use it as money, what is the mechanism for getting it out of the hoarded piles and back into circulation for the population at large?

The answer to this dilemma often proposed is that the Banks then issue Notes on the gold, which would then be used as money.  The problem there is that unless the gold is redeemable for the note, the note is not really "gold-backed", thus you are right back to the fiat money problem.  In such a system, banksters ALWAYS print more notes than they actually have in gold bars in the safe.  That's the principle behind fractional reserve lending and also modern rehypothecation, where the same pile of gold is used as collateral for layers of loans on top of it.

http://static.wixstatic.com/media/f20e17_232aa51b70e2483d81bc605daae98fe6.jpg_256 At some point these Ponzis based on gold always collapse, and a few people get gold back for their notes and the rest are left with a piece of paper.  In general, the ones who end up with the gold are the guys with the combination to the vault.  Back in the mining towns of the Old West, this happened all the time.  The miners would go and have their gold assayed, then deposit it in the local bank where it was supposed to be safer than keeping it in your mining shack or carrying it in a pouch on your belt.  In return, you would get notes from the bank that you could use to go buy a haircut and a bath, a nice steak and bottle of whiskey at the saloon and spend the night in Miss Kitty's Cat House.  Then one morning you wake up and the local bankster has skipped town with the gold, and all you got left in your pocket are worthless notes.

All in all, this makes a system utilizing gold proxied by paper notes no better than the fiat system.  Unless you actually are using the coins themselves as currency, then all the same problems of bankster dishonesty remain.  If you do hoard your own gold at home and carry it around as currency, then you are vulnerable to theft from the other end of the spectrum, the highwaymen.

This is just your issues at the consumer level though, the much bigger issues come at the wholesale level, because once the banking lockup hits, stores can't pay their suppliers, suppliers can't pay the shippers etc, so whether you have either Cash or Gold, the products simply don't make it to the shelves to buy with money of any type.  If the problem goes on for any length of time, people start to get desperate, as has occured already in India as people raid warehouses for food.  That's only a one time solution though, because once the warehouse is emptied, it won't get resupplied until some new system is dropped into place.  Anything more than a week long "Bank Holiday", and you are in the Deep Doo-Doo..

Most places in the world still highly dependent on cash are hard pressed to get any kind of new currency regime going, again India is the Canary in the Coal Mine for this. To get a complete exchange done takes a month at least, and meanwhile tons of people have no money whatsoever to work with.  Farmers can't get seed, truckers can't get diesel, electric companies can't buy coal, etc.

http://media2.intoday.in/indiatoday/images/stories/round-up-story_647_111416014638.jpg

Here in the FSoA where most exchange is all digital now and most people have some kind of plastic card, debit, credit or a SNAP card, as long as it was pre-planned and ready, an alternate regime could be dropped in place overnight.  What this might entail would be a nation-wide bail-in of all depositors, taking 50% of everyone's savings and then using that to recapitalize the banks.  This of course is also highly deflationary.  It also would be EXTREMELY unpopular and you would be sure to see the Pitchforks and Torches surrounding Trumpty-Dumpty at the White House.

http://www.gabankruptcylawyersnetwork.com/files/2014/06/foreclosure-bank-owned.jpg Besides that though, it wouldn't really solve the problem, because in fact even after doing this these banks would still be insolvent.  Since the people just had half of their money stolen, now they don't have this money to pay their car loan and mortgage which means more NPLs and less assets for the bank.  Real Estate prices drop precipitously as people no longer have the money to buy the McMansions and more people go into foreclosure.  Rinse and Repeat.

The only advantage to this type of solution is it might allow the economy to function a while longer without complete breakdown that a paper system has to deal with on a virtually immedite basis.  So rather than complete havoc occuring within a week or two it might take a few months. Maybe.

Returning to the individual, what can you do here to in some way prepare for this eventuality to occur?  Well, as always you should be Prepped up with enough food to last through what hopefully is a temporary disruption of a few weeks to a couple of months.  You should have a reasonable amount of cash, again a couple of months worth of your bills, and hopefully they will take your cash at the gas company office if the banking system is down.  If you have enough money left over after this and think Gold is a good store of your wealth, go ahead and buy some.  Personally, I would not start buying Gold as a Hedge until I had at least 6 months in Cash and Food Preps, but 2 months is a minimum here.

Far as your digibit money in the banks is concerned, Credit Unions are probably somewhat safer than banks, but not by much.  Definitely keep the money in Federally Insured account and don't have more in any account than the insurance limit, which I think is around $250,000.  That's a lot and most people do not have near so much, in fact most people are lucky if they have one month of bills in savings.  Also, splitting up your savings to a couple of different banks might be a wise precaution.  How well the FDIC progam will work in a systemic crash is open to question of course, but it's better than nothing.

https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-QH93E9M2A9M/VvJRWUgpkNI/AAAAAAAABBM/mufh80pzoPAixMprKstmGMA6NMjXRUnEg/s320/thegeektools%2B%25282%2529.jpg The other digimoney many people support as a way to store your wealth are the Crypto-Currencies like bitcoin.  I don't recommend those at all.  In a systemic banking crisis I think those digibits will be worthless and not exchangeable for whatever the new currency regime is in your neghborhood.  Besides that, in all likelihood after a month of disruption, the Internet will go Dark and none of your cryptomoney will be available.

Now, if you are really loaded, there are only 3 other places you might try to preserve your hoarded wealth, the traditional investment vehicles of Stocks, Bonds and Real Estate.  In this type of deflationary crash, it's hard to imagine how any of the paper investments would hold much value, and they also generally suffer from the problem of being extremely illiquid.  It would be hard to sell them to get any new cash being offered up by Da Goobermint, certainly you could not unload them fast enough to use the proceeds for hopping at Walmart for more Preps..

Real Estate presents probably the best of these investments for the well-to-do, but you definitely don't want to be buying it with credit on a mortgage.  In a deflationary crash, it's likely to be underwater rapidly and you probably will lose your job and be unable to pay the mortgage.  So you need to have enough money to buy the property in cash, and few people have enough to do that, at least no more than a few acres of raw land in a cheap area of the country anyhow.

To wrap it up here, there aren't any real fullproof solutions to preserving all that much wealth in a systemic monetary crash, particularly one which goes global.  This crash will come at some point, the system has been patched together with spit, duct tape and bailing wire for almost a decade and it is teetering on the edge of the precipice.  Keep your fingers crossed that the "Smartest Guys in the Room" have a Plan B here to keep things running a while.  If not, we'll see the End of Industrial Civilization occur over a very short period of time.

https://collapseofindustrialcivilization.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/954819_597315660288355_1848092541_n.png?w=529&h=353

Finally, why do you think this problem devolves FIRST to Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the OLDEST bank there is in this system, chartered even before Columbus discovered invaded Amerika in 1492?  Monte dei Paschi start date 20 yers earlier.  Buehler?

 

If nobody comes up with a good rationale on this, I will pitch mine out.  To me, it is obvious, but do not know how others see this.  So I ask for some speculation here.

Why the New Silk Roads Terrify Washington

gc2smFrom the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Originally published in RT on July 5, 2016

 


Almost six years ago, President Putin proposed to Germany 'the creation of a harmonious economic community stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok.'

This idea represented an immense trade emporium uniting Russia and the EU, or, in Putin’s words, “a unified continental market with a capacity worth trillions of dollars.”

In a nutshell: Eurasia integration.

Washington panicked. The record shows how Putin’s vision – although extremely seductive to German industrialists – was eventually derailed by Washington’s controlled demolition of Ukraine.

Three years ago, in Kazakhstan and then Indonesia, President Xi Jinping expanded on Putin’s vision, proposing One Belt, One Road (OBOR), a.k.a. the New Silk Roads, enhancing the geoeconomic integration of Asia-Pacific via a vast network of highways, high-speed rail, pipelines, ports and fiber-optic cables.

In a nutshell: an even more ambitious version of Eurasia integration, benefiting two-thirds of the world population, economy and trade. The difference is that it now comes with immense financial muscle backing it up, via a Silk Road Fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the BRICS’s New Development Bank (NDB), and an all-out commercial offensive all across Eurasia, and the official entry of the yuan in the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights; that is, the christening of the yuan as a key currency worth holding by every single emerging market central bank.

At the recent G20 in Huangzhou, President Xi clearly demonstrated how OBOR is absolutely central to the Chinese vision of how globalization should proceed. Beijing is betting that the overwhelming majority of nations across Eurasia would rather invest in, and profit from, a “win-win” economic development project than be bogged down in a lose-lose strategic game between the US and China.

And that, for the Empire of Chaos, is absolute anathema. How to possibly accept that China is winning the 21st century / New Great Game in Eurasia by building the New Silk Roads?

And don't forget the Silk Road in Syria

Few in the West have noticed, as reported by RT, that the G20 was preceded by an Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. Essentially, that was yet another de facto celebration of Eurasia integration, featuring Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.

And that integration plank will soon merge with the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union – which in itself is a sort of Russian New Silk Road.

All these roads lead to total connectivity. Take for instance cargo trains that are now regularly linking Guangzhou, the key hub in southeast China, to the logistics center in  Vorsino industrial park near Kaluga. The trip now takes just two weeks – saving no less than a full month if compared with shipping, and around 80 percent of the cost if compared with air cargo.

That’s yet another New Silk Road-style connection between China and Europe via Russia. Still another, vastly more ambitious, will be the high-speed rail expansion of the Transiberian; the Siberian Silk Road.

Then take the closer integration of China and Kazakhstan – which is also a member of the EEU. The duty-free Trans-Eurasia railway is already in effect, from Chongqing in Sichuan across Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland all the way to Duisburg in Germany. Beijing and Astana are developing a joint free trade zone at Horgos. And in parallel, a $135 million China-Mongolia Cross-Border Economic Cooperation Zone started to be built last month.

Kazakhstan is even flirting with the ambitious idea of a Eurasian Canal from the Caspian to the Black Sea and then further on to the Mediterranean. Sooner or later Chinese construction companies will come up with a feasibility study.

A virtually invisible Washington agenda in Syria – inbuilt in the Pentagon obsession to not allow any ceasefire to work, or to prevent the fall of its “moderate rebels” in Aleppo – is to break up yet another New Silk Road hub. China has been commercially connected to Syria since the original Silk Road, which snaked through Palmyra and Damascus. Before the Syrian “Arab Spring”, Syrian businessmen were a vital presence in Yiwu, south of Shanghai, the largest wholesale center for small-sized consumer goods in the world, where they would go to buy all sorts of products in bulk to resell in the Levant.

The “American lake”

Neocon/neoliberalcon Washington is totally paralyzed in terms of formulating a response – or at least a counter-proposal – to Eurasia integration. A few solid IQs at least may understand that China’s “threat” to the US is all about economic might. Take Washington’s deep hostility towards the China-driven AIIB (Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank). Yet no amount of hardcore US lobbying prevented allies such as Germany, Britain, Australia and South Korea from joining in.

Then we had the mad dash to approve TPP – the China-excluding, NATO-on-trade arm of the pivot to Asia that was meant to be the cherry of the mostly flat Obama global economic policy cake. Yet the TPP as it stands is practically dead.

What the current geopolitical juncture spells out is the US Navy willing to go no holds barred to stop China from strategically dominating the Pacific, while TPP is deployed as a weapon to stop China dominating Asia-Pacific economically.

With the pivot to Asia configured as a tool to “deter Chinese aggression”, exceptionalists have graphically demonstrated how they are incapable of admitting the whole game is about post-ideological supply chain geopolitics. The US does not need to contain China; what it needs, badly, is key industrial, financial, commercial connection to crucial nodes across Asia to (re)build its economy.

Those were the days, in March 1949, when MacArthur could gloat, “the Pacific is now an Anglo-Saxon lake”. Even after the end of the Cold War the Pacific was a de facto American lake; the US violated Chinese naval and aerial space at will.

Now instead we have the US Army War College and the whole Think Tankland losing sleep over sophisticated Chinese missiles capable of denying US Navy access to the South China Sea. An American lake? No more.

The heart of the matter is that China has made an outstanding bet on infrastructure building – which translates into first-class connectivity to everyone – as the real global 21st century commons, way more important than “security”. After all a large part of global infrastructure still needs to be built. While China turbo-charges its role as the top global infrastructure exporter – from high-speed rail to low-cost telecom – the “indispensable” nation is stuck with a “pivoting”, perplexed, bloated military obsessed with containment.

Divide and rule those “hostile” rivals

Well, things haven’t changed much since Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski dreaming in the late 1990s of a Chinese fragmentation from within, all the way to Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy, which is no more than futile rhetorical nostalgia about containing Russia, China and Iran.

Thus the basket of attached myths such as “freedom of navigation” – Washington’s euphemism for perennially controlling the sea lanes that constitute China’s supply chain – as well as an apotheosis of“China aggression” incessantly merging with “Russia aggression”; after all, the Eurasia integration-driven Beijing-Moscow strategic partnership must be severed at all costs.

Why? Because US global hegemony must always be perceived as an irremovable force of nature, like death and taxes (Apple in Ireland excluded).

Twenty-four years after the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guide, the same mindset prevails; “Our first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a new rival…to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union and southwest Asia”.

Oops. Now even Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski is terrified. How to contain these bloody silky roads with Pentagon“existential threats” China and Russia right at the heart of the action? Divide and Rule – what else?

For a confused Brzezinski, the US should“fashion a policy in which at least one of the two potentially threatening states becomes a partner in the quest for regional and then wider global stability, and thus in containing the least predictable but potentially the most likely rival to overreach. Currently, the more likely to overreach is Russia, but in the longer run it could be China.”

Have a pleasant nightmare.

 


PepePepe Escobar  is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) "Empire of Chaos" (2014),and "2030" (2015), all published by Nimble Books. 

Overly Simple Energy-Economy Models Give Misleading Answers

youtube-Logo-4gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on the Our Finite World on July 25, 2016

oilwell

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

Does it make a difference if our models of energy and the economy are overly simple? I would argue that it depends on what we plan to use the models for. If all we want to do is determine approximately how many years in the future energy supplies will turn down, then a simple model is perfectly sufficient. But if we want to determine how we might change the current economy to make it hold up better against the forces it is facing, we need a more complex model that explains the economy’s real problems as we reach limits. We need a model that tells the correct shape of the curve, as well as the approximate timing. I suggest reading my recent post regarding complexity and its effects as background for this post.

The common lay interpretation of simple models is that running out of energy supplies can be expected to be our overwhelming problem in the future. A more complete model suggests that our problems as we approach limits are likely to be quite different: growing wealth disparity, inability to maintain complex infrastructure, and growing debt problems. Energy supplies that look easy to extract will not, in fact, be available because prices will not rise high enough. These problems can be expected to change the shape of the curve of future energy consumption to one with a fairly fast decline, such as the Seneca Cliff.

Figure 5. Seneca Cliff by Ugo Bardi

 

 

Figure 1. Seneca Cliff by Ugo Bardi. This curve is based on writings in the 1st century C.E. by Lucius Anneaus Seneca, “It would be of some consolation for the feebleness of our selves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”

It is not intuitive, but complexity-related issues create a situation in which economies need to grow, or they will collapse. See my post, The Physics of Energy and the Economy. The popular idea that we extract 50% of a resource before peak, and 50% after peak will be found not to be true–much of the second 50% will stay in the ground.

Some readers may be interested in a new article that I assisted in writing, relating to the role that price plays in the quantity of oil extracted. The article is called, “An oil production forecast for China considering economic limits.”  This article has been published by the academic journal Energy, and is available as a free download for 50 days.

A Simple Model Works If All We Are Trying to Do Is Make a Rough Estimate of the Date of the Downturn

Are we like the team that Dennis Meadows headed up in the early 1970s, simply trying to make a ballpark estimate of when natural resource limits are going to become a severe problem? (This analysis is the basis of the 1972 book, Limits to Growth.) Or are we like M. King Hubbert, back in 1956, trying to warn citizens about energy problems in the fairly distant future? In the case of Hubbert and Meadows, all that was needed was a fairly simple model, telling roughly when the problem might hit, but not necessarily in what way.

I have criticized Hubbert’s model for being deficient in some major respects: leaving out complexity, leaving out entropy, and assuming a nearly unlimited supply of an alternate fuel. Perhaps these issues were not important, however, if all he was trying to do was warn people of a distant future issue.

Slide 29 from my complexity presentation at the Biophysical Economics Conference. Hubbert's model omitted complexity, entropy.

 

 

Figure 2. Slide 29 from my complexity presentation at the 2016 Biophysical Economics Conference. Hubbert’s model omitted complexity, entropy.

The model underlying the 1972 book, Limits to Growth, was also quite simple. Ugo Bardi has used this image by Magne Myrtveit to represent how the 1972 Limits to Growth model worked. It does not include a financial system or debt.

Figure 2. Image by Magne Myrtveit to summarize the main elements of the world model for Limits to Growth.

 

 

Figure 3. Image by Magne Myrtveit to summarize the main elements of the world model for Limits to Growth.

As such, this model does not reflect the major elements of complexity, which I summarized as follows in a recent post:

Figure 3. Slide 7 from my recent complexity presentation. Basic Elements of Complexity

 

 

Figure 4. Slide 7 from my recent complexity presentation. Basic Elements of Complexity

Thus, the model does not forecast the problems that can be expected to occur with increasingly hierarchical behavior, including the problems that people who are at the bottom of the hierarchy can be expected to have getting enough resources for basic functions of life. These issues are important, because people at the bottom of the hierarchy are very numerous. They need to be fed, clothed, housed, and have transportation to work. All of these things take natural resources, including energy products. If the benefit of available natural resources doesn’t make it all of the way down to the bottom of the hierarchy, death rates spike. This is one of the forces that can be expected to change the shape of the curve.

Slide 17. People at the bottom of a hierarchy are most vulnerable.

 

 

Figure 5. Slide 17 from my complexity presentation. People at the bottom of a hierarchy are most vulnerable.

Dennis Meadows does not claim that the model that his group put together will show anything useful about the “shape” of the collapse. In fact, in an article about a year ago, I cut off part of the well-known Limits to Growth forecast to eliminate the part that is likely not particularly helpful–it just shows what their simple model indicates.

Figure 4. Limits to Growth forecast, truncated shortly after production turns down, since modeled amounts are unreliable after that date.

 

 

Figure 6. Limits to Growth forecast, truncated shortly after production turns down, since modeled amounts are unreliable after that date.

Anthropologist Joseph Tainter’s View of Collapse

If we read what anthropologist Joseph Tainter says in his book, the Collapse of Complex Societies, we find that he doesn’t consider “running out” to be the cause of collapse. Instead, he sees growing complexity to be what leads an economy to collapse. These are two of the points Tainter makes regarding complexity:

  • Increased complexity carries with it increased energy costs per capita. In other words, increased complexity is itself a user of energy, and thus tends to drain away energy availability from other uses. Thus, in my opinion, complexity will make the system fail more quickly than the Hubbert model would suggest–the complexity part of the system will use part of the energy that the Hubbert model assumes will be available to fund the slow down slope of the economy.
  • Increased investment in complexity tends to reach declining marginal returns. For example, the first expressway added to a highway system adds more value than the 1000th one. Eventually, if countries are trying to create economic growth where little exists, governments may use debt to fund the building of expressways with practically no expected users, simply to add job opportunities.

Ugo Bardi quotes Joseph Tainter as saying,

“In ancient societies that I studied, for example the Roman Empire, the great problem that these economies faced was that they eventually would incur very high costs just to maintain the status quo. They would need to invest very high amounts to solve problems that didn’t yield a net positive return; instead these investments simply allowed the economies to maintain the level that they were at. This increasing cost of maintaining the status quo decreased the net benefit of being a complex society.” 

View of Collapse Based on a Modeling Approach 

In the book Secular Cycles, Peter Turchin and Surgey Nefedov approach the problem of what causes civilizations to collapse using a modeling approach. According to their analysis, the kinds of things that caused civilizations to collapse very much corresponded to the symptoms of increasing complexity:

  • Problems tended to develop when the population in an area outgrew its resource base–either the population rose too high, or the resources become degraded, or both. The leaders would adopt a plan, which we might consider adding “complexity,” to solve the problems. Such a plan might include raising taxes to be able to afford a bigger army, and using that army to invade another territory. Or it might involve a plan to build irrigation, so that the current land becomes more productive. A modern approach might be to increase tourism, so that the wealth obtained from tourists can be traded for needed resources such as food.
  • According to Turchin and Nefedov, one problem that arises with the adoption of the new plan is increased wealth disparity. More leaders are needed for the new complex solutions. At the same time, it becomes more difficult for those at the bottom of the hierarchy (such as new workers) to obtain adequate wages. Part of the problem is the underlying problem of too many people for the resources. Thus, for example, there is little need for new farmers, because there are already as many farmers as the land can accommodate. Another part of the problem is that an increasing share of the output of the economy is taken by people in the upper levels of the hierarchy, leaving little for low-ranking workers.
  • Food and other commodity prices may temporarily spike, but there is a limit to what workers can pay. Workers can only afford more, if they take on more debt.
  • Debt levels tend to rise, both because of the failing ability of workers to pay for their basic needs, and because governments need funding for their major projects.
  • Systems tend to collapse because governments cannot tax the workers sufficiently to meet their expanded needs. Also, low-ranking workers become susceptible to epidemics because they cannot obtain adequate nutrition with low wages and high taxes.

How Do We Fix an Overly Simple Model? 

The image shown in Figure 3 in some sense shows only one “layer” of our problem. There is also a financial layer to the system, which includes both debt levels and price levels. There are also some refinements needed to the system regarding who gets the benefit of energy products: Is it the elite of the system, or is it the non-elite workers? If the economy is not growing very quickly, one major problem is that the workers at the bottom of the hierarchy tend to get squeezed out.

Figure 7. Authors' depiction of changes to workers share of output of economy, as costs keep rising for other portions of the economy keep rising.

 

 

Figure 7. Author’s depiction of changes to non-elite workers’ share of the output of economy, as costs for other portions of the economy keep rising. The relative sizes of the various elements may not be correct; the purpose of this chart is to show a general idea, not actual amounts.

Briefly, we have several dynamics at work, pushing the economy toward collapse, rather than the resources simply “running out”:

  1. Debt tends to rise much faster than GDP, especially as increasing quantities of capital goods are added. Added debt tends to reach diminishing returns. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult to repay debt with interest, creating a major problem for the financial system.
  2. The cost of resource extraction tends to rise because of diminishing returns. Wages, especially of non-elite workers, do not rise nearly as quickly. These workers cannot afford to buy nearly as many homes, cars, motorcycles, and other consumer goods. Without this demand for consumer goods made with natural resources, prices of many commodities are likely to fall below the cost of production. Or prices may rise, and then fall back, causing serious debt default problems for commodity producers.
  3. Because of growing complexity of the system, the “overhead” of the system (including educational costs, medical costs, the wages of managers, the cost of government programs, and the cost of resource extraction) tends to increase, leaving less for wages for the many non-elite workers of the world. With lower wages, the non-elite workers can afford less. This dynamic tends to push the system toward collapse as well.

The following is a list of variables that might be added to the overly simple model.

  • Debt. As capital goods are added to work around resource shortages, debt levels will tend to rise quickly, because workers need to be paid before the benefit of capital goods can be obtained. Debt levels also rise for other reasons, such as government spending without corresponding tax revenue, and funding of purchases deemed to have lasting value, such as college educations and investments in research and development.
  • Interest rates are the major approach that politicians have at their disposal to try to influence debt levels. In general, the lower the interest rate, the cheaper it is to buy cars, homes, and factories on credit. Thus, the amount of debt can be expected to rise as politicians lower interest rates.
  • Wages of non-elite workers. Non-elite workers play a dual role: (a) they are the primary creators of the goods and services of the system, and (b) they are the primary buyers of the goods that are made using commodities, such as food, clothing, homes, and transportation services. Thus, their wages tend to determine whether the economy can grow. In general, we would expect wages of workers to rise, if their wages are being supplemented by more and more fossil fuel energy in the form of bigger and better machinery to help the workers produce more goods and services. If the wages of non-elite workers fall too low, we would expect the economy to slow, and commodity prices to fall. To some extent, rising debt (through manipulation of interest rates, or through government spending in excess of tax revenue) can be used to supplement the wages of non-elite workers to allow the economy to continue to grow, even if wages are stagnating.
  • The affordable price level for commodities in the aggregate depends primarily on the wage level of non-elite workers and debt levels. A particular commodity may increase in price, but in the aggregate, the total “package” of costs represented by commodity prices must remain affordable, considering wage and debt levels of workers. If wage levels of non-elite workers are rising, the overall affordable price level of commodities will tend to rise. But if wage levels of non-elite workers are falling, or if debt levels are falling, affordable price levels are likely to fall.
  • The required price level for commodity production in the aggregate to continue to grow at the previous rate. This required price level will depend on many considerations, including: (a) the rising cost of extraction, considering the impacts of depletion, (b) wage levels, (c) tax requirements, and (d) other needs, including payment of interest and dividends, and required funding for new development. Clearly, if the affordable price level falls below the required price level for very long, we can eventually expect total commodity production to start falling, and the economy to contract.
  • The energy needs of the “overhead” of the system. Increasing complexity tends to make the overhead of the system grow much faster than the system as a whole. Energy products of various kinds are needed to support this growing overhead, leaving less for other purposes, such as to increasingly leverage the labor of human workers. Some examples of growing overhead of the system include energy needed (a) to maintain the electric grid, internet, roads, and pipeline systems; (b) to fight growing pollution problems; (c) to support education, healthcare, and financial systems needed to maintain an increasingly complex society; (d) to meet government promises for pensions and unemployment insurance; and (e) to cover the rising energy cost of extracting energy products, water, and metals.
  • Available energy supply based on momentum and previous price levels. A few examples explain this issue. If a large oil project was started ten years ago, it likely will be completed, whether or not the oil is needed now. Oil exporters will continue to pump oil, as long as the price available in the marketplace is above their cost of production, because their governments need at least some tax revenue to keep their economies from collapsing. Wind turbines and solar panels that have been built will continue to produce electricity at irregular intervals, whether or not the electric grid actually needs this electricity. Renewable energy mandates will continue to add more wind turbines and solar panels to the electric grid, whether or not this electricity is needed.
  • Energy that can actually be added to the system, based on what workers can afford, considering wages and debt levels [demand based energy]. Because matching of supply and demand takes place on a short-term basis (minute by minute for electricity), in theory we need a matrix of quantities of commodities of various types that can be purchased at various price levels for short time-periods, given actual wage and debt levels. For example, if more electricity is dumped on the electric grid than is needed, how much impact will a drop in prices have on the quantity of electricity that consumers are willing to buy? The intersections of supply and demand “curves” will determine both the price and quantity of energy added to the system.

The output of the model would be three different estimates of whether we are reaching collapse:

  1. An analysis of whether repayment of debt with interest is reaching limits.
  2. An analysis of whether affordable commodity prices are falling below the level needed for commodity consumption to grow, likely leading to falling future commodity production.
  3. An analysis of whether net energy per capita is falling. This would reflect a calculation of the following amount over time: Net energy per capita calculationIf net energy per capita is falling, the ability to leverage human labor is falling as well. Thus productivity of human workers is likely to stop growing, or perhaps decline. The total amount of goods and services produced is likely to plateau or fall, leading to stagnating or declining economic growth.

The important thing about the added pieces to this model is that they emphasize the one-way nature of the system. The economy needs to grow, or it collapses. The price of energy products cannot rise much at all, because wages of workers don’t rise correspondingly. This means that any energy substitute must be very cheap. The system needs to keep adding debt, especially when capital goods are added. The benefit of this debt reaches diminishing returns. The combination of these diminishing returns with respect to investments made with debt, and the interest that needs to be paid on debt, means that it is very difficult for energy products based on capital goods to “save” the system.

Complexity Adds Unforeseen Problems

One issue that people working solely in the energy sector may not notice is that our current system for setting market-based electricity prices is not working very well, with the addition of feed-in tariffs and other subsidy programs. There is evidence that subsidizing renewable electricity tends to lead to falling wholesale electricity prices. In a sense, if we subsidize electricity prices for one type of electricity producer, we find it also necessary to subsidize electricity prices for other types of electricity producers. (Also in California.)

Figure 8. Residential Electricity Prices in Europe, together with Germany spot wholesale price, from http://pfbach.dk/firma_pfb/references/pfb_towards_50_pct_wind_in_denmark_2016_03_30.pdf

 

 

Figure 8. Residential Electricity Prices in Europe, together with Germany spot wholesale price, from http://pfbach.dk/firma_pfb/references/pfb_towards_50_pct_wind_in_denmark_2016_03_30.pdf

Inadequate prices for electricity producers and a need for ever-rising subsidies for electricity production could, by themselves, cause the system to fail. In a sense, this pricing problem is a complexity-related outcome that economists have overlooked. Their models are also too simple!

Conclusion

It is easy to rely on too-simple models. Perhaps the biggest issue that is missed is that energy prices can’t rise endlessly. Because of this, a large share of natural resources, including oil and other energy products, will be left in the ground. Furthermore, because prices do not rise very high, energy products that are expensive to produce can’t be expected to work, either, no matter how they are disguised. Substitutes that cannot be inexpensively integrated into the electric grid are not likely to work either.

I talked about low-ranking workers being a vulnerable part of the system. It is clear from Joseph Tainter’s comments that another vulnerable part of our current system is the various “connectors” that allow us to have our modern economy. These include the electric grid, roads and bridges, the pipeline systems, the water and sewer systems, the internet, the financial system, and the international trade system. Even government organizations such as the Eurozone might be considered vulnerable connecting systems. The energy cost of maintaining these systems can be expected to continue to rise. Rising costs for these systems are part of what makes it difficult to maintain our current economic system.

The focus on “running out” has led to a focus on finding ways to extend our energy supply with small quantities of high-priced alternatives. This approach doesn’t really get us very far. What we need to keep the economy from collapsing is a growing supply of cheap-to-produce energy and other natural resources. Ideally, these new resources should require little debt, and not cause pollution problems. These requirements are exceedingly difficult to meet in a finite world.

On the Road to United Eurasia

gc2smFrom the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Originally published in Russia Insider on July 5, 2016

 


Whenever President Vladimir Putin stresses Russia’s "all-embracing and strategic partnership" with China, one can hear the proverbial howls of anger emanating from the neocon/neoliberalcon axis in the Beltway.

As he met Chinese president Xi Jinping in Beijng this past Saturday, Putin even allowed himself an understatement; "To say we have a strategic cooperation is not enough anymore. This is why we have started talking about a comprehensive partnership and strategic collaboration. Comprehensive means that we work virtually on all major avenues; strategic means that we attach enormous inter-government importance to this work."

Why understatement? Because this really ventures way beyond a stream of business deals.

Deals, of course, matter; in Beijing, China and Russia advanced 58 projects worth $50 billion. These include a $6.2 billion loan from Beijing to build the 770 km-long high-speed railway between Moscow and Kazan and $12 billion in loans to build an LNG plant in the Russian Arctic.

Russian Railways, Russian investment company Sinara Group, China Railway, and Chinese CRRC will also invest in a plant in Russia to build 100 high-speed trains, designed for the Moscow-Kazan high-speed railway. The railway inevitably will be connected to the future, $100 billion, high-speed expansion of the Trans-Siberian between Moscow and Beijing.

It goes without saying, this is all part of an essential node of the New Silk Roads. And as if this was not enough, in a further, graphic instance of geoeconomic interpolation, Russia and China’s central banks are setting up a yuan clearing mechanism in Russia.

The inter-connectivity bonanza

Putin and Xi met for the 15th time just after Xi concluded a three-nation Eurasia tour – Serbia, Poland and Uzbekistan – where, alongside Foreign Minister Wang Yi, he explicitly laid down the bridge between the New Silk Roads, or One Belt, One Road (OBOR), as they are officially referred to in China, and the development of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Not by accident China has now also struck a "comprehensive strategic partnership" with Serbia, Poland and Uzbekistan – on the way to weaving a broad "China-Europe strategic partnership" in parallel to the development of the SCO.

This already translates into projects such as the Hungary-Serbia railway; the Pupin Bridge on the Danube River in Belgrade; the expansion and upgrading of a power plant in Kostolac; what Beijing calls the China-Europe freight train service (from eastern China to Duisburg in Germany and also Madrid); the Kamchiq Tunnel in Uzbekistan; and last but not least the massive China-Central Asia natural gas pipeline system.

No wonder Xi keeps stressing the "inter-connectivity" theme over and over gain, as economic corridors are being built at breakneck speed, and the China Railway Express all the way to Europe – although not yet on high-speed rail – is already a go.

So there was plenty to talk about at the 16th SCO Council in Tashkent. Plus, the acceleration of full membership to both India and Pakistan; next year will be Iran’s turn.

What this translates to in practice is the amalgamation of the New Silk Roads/OBOR; the Eurasia Economic Union, EEU (as Putin stressed in the St. Petersburg forum); the SCO; financing mechanisms such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); and the overarching Russia-China strategic partnership.

No wonder a certain Sultan Erdogan was watching all this in Ankara with trepidation, and decided to make a move. Erdogan’s attempt at a rapprochement with Russia involves not being hopelessly sidelined in this OBOR/EEU/SCO amalgamation. Turkey cannot afford to be alienated from Russia; the Turkish Stream gas pipeline will be essential to consolidate Ankara’s position as a key energy crossroads towards Europe. At the same time, Ankara must imperatively position itself as a key hub in OBOR.

With India and Pakistan, and later Iran, as full members, the SCO will be able, in the medium term, not only to interface with OBOR on all sides (via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, CPEC, and also the Indian investment in the Iranian port of Chabahar); but also to be the key player in brokering a solution to the Afghan drama, something that the Americans and NATO would never be able to accomplish. Russia and China have always insisted that Afghanistan needs an Asian solution.

Lean, clean and green

Almost simultaneously to the Putin-Xi meeting in Beijing, and also not by accident, the AIIB turbo-charged its operations.

The AIIB started doing business only six months ago, with 57 founding member countries and $100 billion in committed capital.

It’s scheduled to invest $1.2 billion in 2016. Once again with trademark understatement, Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said, "the AIIB needs to establish its comparative advantage", profiting from «lessons of developing countries' years of development».

The board approved its first four deals, worth $509 million, with three projects co-financed with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the United Kingdom Department for International Development and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. They refer to a slum renovation in Indonesia and highways in Pakistan and Tajikistan. A power grid upgrade in Bangladesh will be solely AIIB financed.

And this is just the beginning. The head of AIIB may be Chinese, Jin Linqun (he has promised a "lean, clean and green" AIIB), but one of the five vice presidents is British, Daniel Alexander. Beijing holds 30% of the initial capital but has only 26% of voting power. India holds 7.5% and Russia 5.9%, followed by Germany and South Korea. This is a real multipolar project.

Almost simultaneously to the AIIB in action, Russia and China’s foreign ministers signed a declaration supporting the role of international law, stressing sovereign equality of states; non-interference into internal affairs; and peaceful resolution of disputes. Considering the recent historical record, not exactly The Empire of Chaos’s cup of tea.

Commenting on Brexit, Boris Titov, the Kremlin’s small business ombudsman, ventured, "it’s not long until a united Eurasia – about 10 years". Considering the slowly but surely interpenetration of OBOR, EEU, SCO, AIIB, the NDB and the solid Russia-China partnership inside the G20, that’s more than feasible.

In Beijing, Putin and Xi did discuss their common position in the upcoming G20, only three months away in China; that’s where the real action is, not the G7. Compare it also with NATO’s upcoming warmongering summit in Warsaw; that’s what the West has to "offer" the global South.

In a nutshell; the option to a united Eurasia is chaos. And there’s no question the Empire of Chaos will stop trying to sow chaos. Expect Beijing ordering 1,000 heavy transport aircraft from Russia and Russian ships possibly spotted sooner or later in the South China Sea to add to those perennial howls of anger in the neocon/neoliberalcon galaxy.


PepePepe Escobar  is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of "Globalistan" (2007), "Red Zone Blues" (2007), "Obama does Globalistan" (2009) "Empire of Chaos" (2014),and "2030" (2015), all published by Nimble Books. 

How a (False?) Flag Debate and a Rent-a-Prime-Minister Assisted New Zealand in Relinquishing its Sovereignty

Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on May 25, 2016

The candidates in New Zealand's follow-up rent-a-Prime-Minister flag referendum (please vote below)

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Chances are that unless you live in or are from New Zealand (or perhaps Australia), that you didn't hear much, if anything, about New Zealand's recent referendum on whether or not to replace its 114-year-old flag. To be honest I found its flag a bit odd when I first visited ten years ago (to WWOOF for a year), and not just because it has a Union Jack on it. For while being blue with a Union Jack in the top-left corner, the only difference between it and the Australian flag is that it has four red stars instead of six white stars. Being Canadian it's not as if I had anything invested in the outcome, but when I heard last year that New Zealand's flag might be replaced, I was rather pleased to hear so. But naïve me, what I didn't clue into was how a mere flag change could be a smokescreen for more pressing matters.

First off, there was never any debate on whether or not Kiwis even wanted to replace their flag in the first place, and on top of that, the two referendums on the flag change were scheduled rather ass-backwards: instead of initially being queried on whether or not they even wanted to change their flag, the first referendum (in November and December of 2015) asked Kiwis which alternative flag out of four (then five) they preferred, while the second referendum (held March 3rd to 24th) asked Kiwis whether they wanted to adopt the flag that won the first referendum or stick with the one at hand.

Secondly, although the $26-$30 million price tag for the whole venture wasn't exactly a huge sum of money in comparison to the wads of cash that get thrown around (and conjured out of thin air) nowadays, it was, and is, a large enough sum when one considers that 305,000 Kiwi children are said to live in poverty, and that charities are reporting a huge increase in homeless pregnant women.

But in my opinion, that all pales in comparison to what I see as the rather abhorrent comment made by New Zealand's Prime Minister, and former high-financier, John Key:

In the end you have to say, what price do you put on democracy where people can genuinely have their say on a matter that is actually important?

Now, I suppose that John Key (recently named the finest actor of his generation) and I may have some differences in where our opinions and priorities lie, particularly in regards to the secretly negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) which in February was signed by twelve Pacific Rim governments over in Auckland. Because the fact of the matter is that Kiwis were given no democratic opportunity to grant their yay or nay upon passage of the TPPA, something I would have also thought deserving of Key's description as "a matter that is actually important." Are we to presume then that Key believes that a cutesy flag is more important to New Zealand than matters that pertain to its economic future? Of course not. Truth is, and as the evidence appears to show, John Key has very little interest in the opinions and concerns of the general populace when it comes to matters of genuine importance.

So contrary to first impressions, I'm now seeing plenty of reasons for decrying what in all appearances was likely a diversionary flag debate whose purposes were to placate and distract New Zealand's populace from matters with actual importance, and specifically from the TPPA. Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised to continually see that poll after poll determined that more than 50% of Kiwi voters consistently stood against the flag change, followed up by the final announcement that the prospective flag had been defeated in late March by a vote of 56.6% to 43.2%.

Why did it get defeated? From what I heard and read, (a) some people simply liked the current flag, (b) some people fought for the current flag and wanted to keep it, (c) the referendums and changing of the flag were seen as a waste of resources, (d) the flag change was seen as nothing but a vanity project by opposition politicians (and others), and (e) the flag "debate" was a blatant instance of New Zealand's Prime Minister holding the people in contempt, calling a flag referendum an example of actual democratic importance while denying Kiwis the opportunity to vote on matters of their economic future (the TPPA).

 

In front of the Beehive (Parliament's Executive Wing)

 

Moreover, the TPPA was, and is, an excellent exercise in getting Kiwis to relinquish their sovereignty, which is by no means an exaggeration. In early January a lawsuit was filed in US federal court by TransCanada Corporation over the United States' rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. Claiming that the pipeline permit denial was "arbitrary and unjustified," legal action was also filed under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through which $15 billion in damage is being sought as part of the claim ($3 billion for the denied pipeline and the rest as compensation for expected future profits).

In other words, and much like NAFTA, the TPPA "trade agreement" would work to divulge the rights of citizens and the sovereignty of their nations, in favour of multinational corporate profits and interests. If a multinational corporation dislikes the outcome of a government's decision, then it heads over to an extrajudicial, investor-state tribunal (as allowed under NAFTA) to extract its "lost" profits, which might as well just be called blackmail. That is if things ever get that far, since governments may very well hesitate from undertaking such things as environmental reform out of fear of being sued.

Thanks to the TPPA, this is just one kind of unfortunate situation that New Zealand (and other signees) will undoubtedly face down the road if it chooses to make a decision in defiance of a multinational corporation.

So although I – an outsider who rather likes New Zealand – initially welcomed the idea of a new New Zealand flag, the whole escapade soured on me rather quickly. And to add flame to the fire (or contempt to the contemptuousness), John Key was even spotted at the TPPA-signing wearing a lapel pin of his preferred flag (the failed contender) before the final referendum had even been held. As one columnist properly put it,

Until the March referendum decides otherwise, the Prime Minister needs to set his personal feelings aside and respect our current flag. This week, Mr Key stood in front of the world as New Zealand's representative. He was representing you and me on that stage. Except his insistence on wearing a flag, that hasn't been selected by me or you, meant he didn't represent us at all.

Which brings up a fair question: If New Zealand's Prime Minister doesn't represent the people of New Zealand, who does he represent? Considering that a bunch of my Kiwi mates have their suspicions that John Key was tapped on the shoulder by his Wall Street cronies (Key used to work for Merrill Lynch and then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) to run for New Zealand's top office so that favourable neoliberal policies could be more easily implemented, I find it rather ironic for him to have dismissed protesters outside the Auckland TPPA signing as a "rent-a-crowd" and as part of a "rent-a-protest." Because from an outsider's perspective, and as far as I can tell, all appearances seem to indicate that what New Zealand currently has is actually little more than a rent-a-Prime-Minister.

 

It pays to be the Wall-Street-crony rent-a-Prime-Minister (image by Mahinda Rajapaksa)

 

To be fair though, it's not as if one can expect New Zealand's opposition party to behave any differently towards the TPPA, and not just because the opposition leader stated that his party won't pull out of the agreement if elected into power. Regardless, while John Key went ahead and made it clear that "If we don't change [the flag] by the middle of March next year, we're not changing for 50 or 100 years," I say that while having successfully nixed its recent flag change attempt, it'd now be an equally great accomplishment if Kiwis did what they could to ditch their crony-capitalism-doting rent-a-Prime-Minister (who plans to run again in 2017) for someone else who would send New Zealand off in a slightly different handbasket for what one hopes will be just a temporary hellish TPPA sojourn.

To cap it all off, nothing of what I've written implies that I'd be forever against New Zealand (or even Australia) changing its flag, just that any attempt would have to be under completely different circumstances, and with less of a hokey looking beach towel alternative that essentially replaced the Union Jack with the logo of New Zealand's most famous sports team.

Nonetheless; seeing how the opportunity for a new flag won't be seen for another 50 to 100 years (or so John Key coyly threatened), how recent findings have shown that Canada, not China, is actually the largest foreign direct investor in New Zealand (at 22%, followed by China at 14%, the US at 13%, and Australia at 11%), how John Key acquiesced to the TPPA deal and abided in selling out New Zealand to multinational corporations, and how Key had a desire for a new flag with a silver fern on it, I figure that an honourary and follow-up four-flag referendum, dedicated to John Key, the rent-a-Prime-Minister, would be most appropriate.

So without further ado, and in order of their investment, the new candidates in New Zealand's third flag referendum (seen at the top of this post, and which you can left-click or tap for a larger version) are:

  1. The New Canada
  2. The In Obeisance to Our Up-and-Coming New Colonial Overlords
  3. The Fern-Spangled Banner

And finally,

  1. The Forget the Stupid Silver Fern, Can We Pretty Please Just Be a Part of Australia?

If you've got a Twitter account, and seeing how this round of voting is not restricted to Kiwis, please go ahead and select your favorite candidate in New Zealand's third flag referendum, and then be sure to check back next week for the follow-up post crowning the Rent-a-Prime-Minister Flag winner.

Note: It was recently revealed by the New Zealand Herald that

Prime Minister John Key was the star guest at a private fundraising lunch for the Change the Flag lobby group in a last-ditch bid to raise cash from wealthy Chinese donors who supported a flag change.

As the article then went on to reveal, some of the (Chinese) attendees "wanted the Union Jack gone from the New Zealand ensign," and "the events Mr Key attended allowed [Change the Flag] to send a pamphlet to 500,000 homes around the country." This all followed the rather strange occurrence where New Zealand apples being distributed in China several months before the second flag referendum, and during the first flag referendum, were emblazoned with images of one of the five (initial) finalists.

Taking that all into account, and in true John Key fashion, let me then give away that in this third flag referendum, I've got a certain little hankering for that mighty fine looking red and yellow flag.

 

*******************************

 

As an aside, I happened to be in New Zealand last year on the day when its largest TPPA protests occurred. I reluctantly attended, my reluctance stemming from not being a big fan of these protest events. One reason for my reluctance is that these protests never acknowledge limits to growth: there was lots of hemming and hawing about how the TPPA would cause prices of medicines and such to increase by so and so amount of dollars, but never did I hear people questioning the ramifications that a post peak oil world would have on the viability of fossil-fueled health care systems in the first place. Secondly, the narcissism never fails to appear at these things, and on this occasion one of the three speakers hailed from New Zealand's television industry. The speaker proceeded to bemoan the fact that the only Kiwi-made TV show anyone can name is Shortland Street (which I gather is New Zealand's equivalent to Sesame Street), along with the silly notion that television has something genuine to do with a people's culture. Thirdly, as the event was winding down, a part of the crowd decided to break through the barriers and storm the Bastille (we were right in front of the Beehive, New Zealand's parliament building), and so not having much of a taste for all that role reversal stuff I decided to casually turn my back and walk away.

 

The Fall, and Further Fall, of Broadcast Journalism

gc2smOff the keyboard of Thomas Lewis

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Published on The Daily Impact on April 26, 2016

fortune teller

Get into a dignified line of work, he says. Go into TV journalism, and you’ll never have to be harassed or humiliated like, you know, a hedge fund guy. (Photo by Vito Fun/Flickr)

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Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away, we were young, and journalists. We thought of ourselves as initiates in a brotherhood (which it was, mostly, then, the sisters came later), followers of a calling, and most importantly members of a profession.

A profession, according to the dictionary, is an occupation “that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.” We were never big on the “formal qualification” part — although we had to have an FCC licence to put our hands on the controls of a broadcasting station — but we did train. For many years I spent hours each week being grilled on the word choices in my scripts (Lewis, have you no idea of the difference between continuous and continual?”) and my pronunciation of them (“Lewis, I did not hear any sub-guttural value in that initial G, and where was the labial stop at the end of ‘ship’?”)

We thought of ourselves as doctors to the body politic, lancing the boils of ignorance, quieting the fears of the afflicted by dispensing the balm of objective information. We did this without fear or favor, resisting fiercely any interference in our judgments by crass commercial or political interests — you know, like for example the owners of the stations we worked for. Seriously. We called it separation of church and state, and we believed that the ethics of truth, justice and the American Way could withstand the power of cash. Did I mention we were young?

Our high priest was Edward R. Murrow. Who brought down Senator Joseph McCarthy, and not long thereafter saw his work for television sidelined to make way for quiz shows such as The $64,000 Question. In a valedictory address made shortly before departing from the airwaves (the very year that I read my first on-air newscasts), Murrow laid it out:

“[If] this instrument [television] is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. Good night, and good luck.”

The struggle, of course, was already lost. We all soon realized, simply by taking note of who got fired and who got promoted, that the purpose of journalism was to get ratings. Cleavage and short skirts got ratings: The “weather girl” of yore was soon joined by the anchor babe. Bleeding, weeping and gnashing of teeth got ratings: “If it bleeds, it leads,” became the rule. Training? Diction? Ethics? Gedoudahere.

It’s hard to see how the degradation of a once honorable profession could go much further. At least it was, until Trump.

But there are other paving stones on the road to journalistic hell that have been little noticed or discussed. Once, “news” by definition meant an objective account of what happened. News accounts were supposed to be free of bias, opinion, even interpretation — that’s why there were editorials and columns.

Increasingly, however, turning or clicking on the news has come to resemble more and more a visit to a fortune teller’s tent. It’s all about what the President is going to say, how the election is going to come out, what somebody thinks is going to happen. Then when the President speaks, the votes are counted, or the happening happens, the “news” coverage is either how it did or did not “differ from expectations,” what the panel thinks of it, and/or what’s going to happen next because of it.

What’s the harm? In part it’s the continual reinforcement of an ill-informed, simplistic view of how the world works, with simple causes leading to simple effects, like the cartoonish representations of the human body used in drug ads.

The news industry is dedicated to its new guiding principals — no, not principles, principals, the guys in suits who demand more eyeballs, forbid affronts to sponsors and owners, and prefer crystal-ball gazing to reporting. And these principals insure that we know very little about the total collapse of the industrial world now in progress. For them the answer to last week’s revelations about the near total death of the Great Barrier Reef because of ocean warming, or about the stunning further collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is obvious and simple. Get Trump.

Not coincidentally, three different polls have found recently that only about 10 per cent of Americans trust the media; or believe the media do the right thing; or think they have integrity. Approximately the same number of Americans trust Congress, and think Judge Judy sits on the Supreme Court.

Good night, and good luck.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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"All your satellites are belong us".https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-06-23/china-steps-us-cyberattacks-trade-tensions-worsenChina Ste...

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-06-22/musk-went-ballistic-inside-story-teslas-feud-federal-regulatorsMusk Went Ball...

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/22/star-wars-redux-trumps-space-force/Star Wars Redux: Trump's Space ForceKarl Grossman06/23/2018 I...

Quote from: Palloy2 on Today at 06:54:59 PMQuoteRE: That graph only goes through 2004.  What do the latest real data points look like? BP(2018) shows production in 2004 was 81.1 Mbpd and in 2017 was 92.6 mbpd...

Officials say they don’t know what caused the train to go off the rails, perhaps the track foundations slumped in the flood?https://www.rt.com/usa/430673-train-derailment-oil-spill/...

Diner Twitter feed

Knarf’s Knewz

Quote from: Eddie on March 13, 2018, 05:21:10 PMAl [...]

Quote from: knarf on March 13, 2018, 03:33:01 PMAU [...]

Quote from: knarf on March 13, 2018, 03:25:04 PM [...]

A new study found that the Great Recession correla [...]

From 2003 to 2005, Gina Haspel was a senior offici [...]

Diner Newz Feeds

  • Surly
  • Agelbert
  • Knarf
  • Golden Oxen
  • Frostbite Falls

Political whores deserve real whores for girlfrien [...]

Quote from: Surly1 on June 22, 2018, 06:23:49 PMDi [...]

1st I'd heard of a "St. Rollins"... [...]

Duke St. Rollins is a noted Facebook troll that I [...]

Philosophy shrugged: ignoring Ayn Rand won’t make [...]

Quote from: agelbert on Today at 01:26:21 PMGreenC [...]

First Battery-Powered Offshore Supply Vessel in th [...]

GreenCarReports Audi CEO arrested in G... [...]

Liftra’s Blade Way 💫 brings down turbine blades wi [...]

Quote from: Eddie on March 13, 2018, 05:21:10 PMAl [...]

Quote from: knarf on March 13, 2018, 03:33:01 PMAU [...]

Quote from: knarf on March 13, 2018, 03:25:04 PM [...]

A new study found that the Great Recession correla [...]

From 2003 to 2005, Gina Haspel was a senior offici [...]

The reason bad money drives out good is that gover [...]

Quote from: Eddie on June 13, 2018, 08:51:21 AMQuo [...]

Quote from: Golden Oxen on June 13, 2018, 08:31:45 [...]

Prices on the move again Dear Readers, Trust me, G [...]

Quote from: RE on Today at 02:30:41 AMThanks to th [...]

Thanks to the Diners who so far have Ponied Up to [...]

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/python-indone [...]

My friend Brian is up here from Spokane visiting w [...]

Alternate Perspectives

  • Two Ice Floes
  • Jumping Jack Flash
  • From Filmers to Farmers

Some Thoughts from the Front Lines By Casey Stengel Editor - One of the ways we avoid catastrophe fa [...]

It Takes a Village… By Cognitive Dissonance     Mrs. Cog and I live at the end of a dead end private [...]

Shadows by Cognitive Dissonance   Elevation changes the way the sun and atmosphere interact. In the [...]

Learning from America’s Forgotten Default   May 21, 2018 Sebastián Edwards   As originally posted on [...]

Propaganda, Human Consciousness, And The Future Of Civilization By Caitlin Johnstone As Originally P [...]

Event Update For 2018-06-21http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2018-06-20http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2018-06-19http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2018-06-18http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2018-06-17http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

NYC plans to undertake the swindle of the civilisation by suing the companies that have enabled it t [...]

MbS, the personification of the age-old pre-revolutionary scenario in which an expiring regime attem [...]

You know things have taken a turn for the desperate when women have started to drive. Or rather, whe [...]

From Filmers to Farmers is re-launched on the astounding open source blogging platform Ghost! [...]

The blogging scene is admittedly atrocious. Is there really no option for a collapse blogger to turn [...]

Daily Doom Photo

man-watching-tv

Sustainability

  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

"Fossil fuels are reaching up to pull us into their grave." Approaching the vernal equinox [...]

Is it Hot Enough Yet?"Fudging the dates to make it seem like we will cross the 2 degree threshold in 2018, however, [...]

Waiting for Korowicz"Notice how even greater fragility is being designed into the system."The first named stor [...]

Crow Fritters"Try to imagine half the numbers of commercial passenger flights in 2025 as today, or half the [...]

The Russians Aren't Coming"What exactly is our strategy for the Malthusian predicament?"  In his autobiography, Holl [...]

The folks at Windward have been doing great work at living sustainably for many years now.  Part of [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

To fight climate change, you need to get the world off of fossil fuels. And to do that, you need to [...]

Americans are good on the "thoughts and prayers" thing. Also not so bad about digging in f [...]

In the echo-sphere of political punditry consensus forms rapidly, gels, and then, in short order…cal [...]

Discussions with figures from Noam Chomsky and Peter Senge to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama off [...]

Lefty Greenies have some laudable ideas. Why is it then that they don't bother to really build [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

You do know I wasn't talking about that specific kid, or are you working on feelings? [...]

One article in required actuarial readings years ago started with "1 + 1 = 3 for sufficiently l [...]

Why must it have been "aliens" ? As for machines, you ask reasonable questions. There is e [...]

What have they done to you? Oh the humanity..... [...]

I see Professor Steve Hanke says protectionism leads to higher prices and lower growth. What is wron [...]

Central banks have to prepare themselves for the next money panic (caused by central banks' pre [...]

They can do anything that they want except create a whole new earth to repopulate. As I see it infla [...]

Creedon - Isn't it possible they can do both at the same time? Publicly give the impression tha [...]

The financial elites are at a crossroads. Do they continue to roll back zero interest rate policy an [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

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