Chicken

Greek Chicken Souvlaki Kabuki

logopodcastOff the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on February 17, 2015

 

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The Game Continues…

For you Rant Fans, I found a New Gear for this one, and got it into OVERDRIVE by about the 7 minute mark, channeling Peter Finch.  🙂  A little Charlton Heston for Spice too!

Also, be aware I started the script for this last Friday during the first meetings, so the first part is not about the stupidity today, but a preview of that stupidity.

Snippet:

…Well, a thoroughly anti-climactic day here in the Greek Souvlaki Kabuki, as DieselBoom and Souvlakis spent a whole day talking past each other, with absolutely no indication that anyone is going to give an inch here. The Can Kick for this now is back to the 'Deadline' date of next Monday and the ultimatum that the Greeks will be CUT OFF from their Euro Gold Card and left to twist in the wind.

So what's the chances that they can come up with a SOLUTION to the problem on Monday they couldn't come up with today? Slim & None of course, unless somebody capitulates, and neither side can do that. The market of course believes that this is just another one of the endless series of “Deadlines” that will be Can Kicked down the road once again, and that very well might happen. Or maybe not.

What will it take to get a reaction here? Basically, the day the Greeks finally declare a Bank Holiday and start printing New Drachmas. Then Mr. Market finally wakes up from the stupor and does a Charlton Heston Planet of the Apes scene.

You did it! You finally really did it! You Blew it all Up! Damn You! Damn you all the HELL! LOL…

 

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

 

In case you missed them, here are the last 2 installments of Greek Kabuki…

Requiem for Baa-Baa

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 11, 2015

The Life Story of Baa-Baa, a Baby Lamb from Oz

Baby_Lamb
I was born in Oz in 2014.  My mom named me Baa-Baa.

http://www.all-creatures.org/letters/20130406-ap-04.jpg

One of the Humans came and took me away from Mom a few days later.

http://animalwelfaretaiwan.webs.com/sheep-slaughter-01.jpg?0.8444126189191226

Another Human sent me to the Great Beyond later that day.
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RE found some of my Ribs at Three Bears Food Warehouse in Alaska a little while later.  I don’t know how long it took to make it across the Pacific Ocean in the Container Ship, because I was already dead.  My ribs were worth $11.37 in FRNs when they got to Alaska though!  I was honored to be worth so much!

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After a few days in the General Electric Freezer in RE’s New Digs, in the New Year of 2015 RE cooked my Ribs in the Countertop Electric Toaster Oven made by Black & Decker and they came out like this.

I can tell the short story of my life now because part of me is now a part of RE.  It was a great life and I am the first Baby Lamb Blogger now!

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Back when I was a boy shortly after we returned from Brasil and Mom & Me started doing the cooking instead of the hired help from the Favelas we had to do these tasks there, I settled on a couple of cuts of meat which were my favorites.

http://static.webshopapp.com/shops/000967/files/000065836/beef-steak-t-bone-steak.jpgFor Steaks in those days, it was T-Bones.  A nice thick cut, preferably cooked on the outdoor Hibachi BBQ I used for all my grilling in those days, but I was OK with it cooked in the Broiler of the oven too.

http://cdn.smokingmeatforums.com/6/61/300x300px-LS-6195c040_B002VLYNG8-41zysRqSUOL.jpgMy Hibachi was a little Cast Iron charcoal job which I used for probably a decade of time, and I liked it better than the typical round charcoal grills of the era because it had a little window/slot which let you control to an extent how much air the charcoal got for burning, plus it had 4 levels you could set the grilling grates on, controlling the amount of heat sizzling your meat.  It looked pretty much precisely like the one at right.

On that little Hibachi I BBQed regularly, besides the steaks I often cooked up chicken wings, which I usually left marinating in BBQ sauce overnight in the fridge.  Wings are of course just loaded with fat so they are real juicy and tasty coming off the BBQ.  My mom loved those wings.

For indoor cooking in the Broiler though, my absolute favorite was what mom called “Baby Lamb Chops”.  This is kind of redundant, because  Lamb is by definition a juvenile, its a Baby Sheep.  What the Baby Lamb Chops I liked really were was Rib Chops, and when mom periodically would screw up while shopping she would buy Shoulder Chops, which were OK but just not as tasty and fat laden as the Rib Chops.  Came in cheaper also, so on bargain eating days, the shoulder chops showed up.  Interestingly in those days on the supermarket shelves you never saw Lamb Loin Chops, which seem to be the most often dropped in the meat freezers in the last few years in most Amerikan communities I have lived in.

http://sophisticatedignorance.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/rackoflamb.jpgWhen you do find the Ribs, it usually comes as a Rack of Lamb, not as individually pre-cut Chops.  I occassionally will buy a Rack Of Lamb, and I experiment with some of the multitude of recipes you find on the net for cooking them also, but probably because of the nostalgia aspect, I still like the individual chops cut up and then just dropped under the broiler.  No spices, no BBQ sauce, no charcoal flavoring from the grill, just the baby lamb chop.

So anyhow, shopping at 3 Bears meat department back in the last days of 2014, there was a package of Baby Lamb Chops straight from Australia on the shelf, the package you see at the top of the page.  Not cheap at $12.99/lb, but not horrifically expensive by today’s meat price standards, where a Prime Beef T-Bone goes for $23.99/lb sometimes.  I still often find my current favorite beef cut of Ribeyes coming in at $7.99/lb, so the lamb chop price falls in as an intermediate, and I get two meals out of it because again by tradition, one meal always had 3 Baby Lamb Chops on my plate.  Since they appear so rarely in the meat fridge these days, I probably only cook them up maybe 4 times a year the most, so it even can fit inside the SNAP Card food budget, though I finished that experiment a month ago or so.  I’m back to buying whatever food looks good at whatever price now, while I can get it.

 Anyhow, one thing I never really did as a boy was consider where a Baby Lamb Chop came from, thus the reason for the cute little lamb pic at the top of the page.  Being brought up as a city boy far from the farms and ranches where these animals are raised, I didn’t give much thought to the fact such cute little animals were being butchered so I could drop them easily under the broiler.

http://gastrolust.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/tongue-sandwich-eppes-essen.jpgThe realization did finally come to me one day in ordering a Tongue Sandwich at the Deli, and for the first time I saw the WHOLE TONGUE, as opposed to just the slices that were in the package from the Deli, or in the Deli Sandwich I ate at one of NY Shity’s fine Jewish Delicatessens of the era.  The Stage Delicatessen, Ratner’s, Carnegie Deli and many more smaller less well known ones that were as good or better out in Brooklyn and Queens.

http://www.marlerblog.com/files/2013/09/6674879767_b0aabde69d.jpgThe realization finally hit me, somebody actually CUT THE TONGUE out of a cow, and I WAS EATING IT!  I was thoroughly grossed out, and stopped eating tongue.  For about two months maybe.

It dawned on me at this point that all the rest of the meat I was eating came from various parts of butchered animals, and I really LIKED Tongue sandwiches, on nice Fresh Rye Bread with the Jewish Mustard on it.  So I got over the shock of seeing that whole tongue sitting there in the Deli counter display, and actually evaluated what part of the tongue was best, which is the thick part at the back.  So I would only buy tongue if it was being sliced from that part.

Since leaving NY Shity, I haven’t found a single Deli in any of the numerous places I lived since then that has a Tongue in the display case or makes Tongue Sandwiches.  This generally was not a Successful Meat far as the Amerikan Palate was concerned nationally.  The only place I have seen Tongue is in the Freezer area of some of the larger Food Emporiums, where you can also find the other internal organs of the slaughtered cows, like Brains, Livers, Hearts, Pancreas etc.  Typical Amerikans don’t buy these parts much, generally only Immigrants from other countries who grew up with these parts as part of a monthly meal choice after slaughtering an animal buy them.

I have toyed with the idea of buying one of these Frozen Tongues, Boiling it up to then slice up and make my own Tongue Sandwich,  but that is a lot of tongue and not entirely sure of the preparation to make it taste like the Tongue I remember from the Jewish Delis of NY Shity.  So I have never done that to date.

Eventually I grasped here that Baby Lamb Chops really did come from Baby Lambs, and found out also that Veal which I really liked as Veal Parmigiana, another one of the regular Meat dishes mom served up, and that Veal was actually from Baby Cows, and the reason the meat was light pink to white was because the baby cows were starved of milk, which is a rather rough way to be born into and then quickly be dispatched from the world of the living.  Did I stop eating Veal because of this?  No again.

http://beefmagazine.com/site-files/beefmagazine.com/files/uploads/2013/07/feedlot-cattle-eating.jpgOver the years since I have learned about the absolutely horrific conditions that industrial raised animals from Chicken to Pigs to Cows live in, how they get injected with hormones to make them grow faster and antibiotics to keep them all from passing diseases to one another in the crowded feed lots.  Once again though, despite the knowledge of this, I don’t stop eating meat.  Why not?

Basically for the same reason I don’t stop driving a car, which is what would it really accomplish if I did that besides making my life a lot more difficult to manage in industrial society, and in the case of food eliminate from my diet foods I ENJOY EATING?  My stopping driving or becoming a Vegan would not do a damn thing really, in fact even millions of Vegans don’t make any real difference here, the system goes on until it won’t anymore, at which point just about everyone is going to find meat to be a pretty tough thing to put on the plate every day.

Now, generally speaking I find game meat which we can still hunt down here in Alaska to be a little bit tastier, and on a psychological level it’s nice to know that at least until it got shot, a Moose was able to live and roam free in the Wilderness.  However, with the exception of some really god-awful GMO raised chickens I have tasted over the last couple of years, overall the difference between game meat and the industrial ag ranch raised version wasn’t that great overall, and for the most part for most of my life that was all that was available in the way of meat to eat anyhow.

http://thelogicalthinker.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/slum.jpg?w=455Far as the animals here are concerned, they live in horrific conditions, but then again so do many people these days.  in some respects, these animals are treated even BETTER than people, they at least get some medical care to keep from getting sick and they get fed every day. They get dispatched to the Great Beyond fairly rapidly, they don’t linger on in Nursing Homes with Bed Sores all over their decaying corporeal shell.   You can’t say the same thing for millions of people living in 3rd World poverty right now.

When Homo Sap got started on domesticating Crops and Animals for food 10,000 years ago or more, it’s doubtful that anyone considered the long term consequences of this, it simply seemed like a more efficient way of getting food on the table.  Nor do I think for the most part Homo Sap has ever been bothered by moral qualms with killing animals for food, we evolved as omnivores and eat whatever we can get our hands on.  That is one survival trait that made the species as successful as it was in terms of multiplying up.

Now, in 20-20 Hindsight Vision you can see all the problems that resulted from this, desertification, topsoil depletion and food products that get increasingly more unhealthy by the day, even if you do still have money to buy them.

Over time to come here, this methodology will of necessity disappear, and if Homo Sap is to survive, we will have to grow our food in a way that does not so destroy the environment we grow it in.  That is the next great challenge ahead, and it remains unclear as to whether we will be able to pull that off.

RE

Last Line of Defense

Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia

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Published on Economic Undertow on November 4, 2014

Triangle-of-Doom-1101141Figure 1: Continuous WTI futures (TFC Charts, click on for big). Price convergence results in a breakdown as customers are unwilling- or unable to bid prices higher. Absent the high prices there is insufficient cash flow to enable drillers to continue operations. Today’s marginal barrels are extracted from high cost deepwater offshore plays, from tight-oil shale formations and from ‘tar’ sands: without customer credit, drillers are more dependent upon junk bond leverage than ever.

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Of course, once on the borrowing treadmill, it is impossible to step off. Borrowers must run faster to stay in place, ever-increasing amounts are needed to keep pace with operating- and service costs as well as to rollover maturing legacy debt. Consumer access to credit must be considered a ‘hard limit’ to petroleum extraction along with geology. Even as drillers are able to borrow they find there are fewer ‘end users’ with available credit … onto whom the drillers can lay off their ballooning exposure.

Conventional analysis insists that fuel constraints result in higher prices due to simply supply and demand. The assumption is that consumers will always find more funds. Instead, fuel constraints reduce customer purchasing power: customers stumble first, the drillers fail afterwards. As customers’ borrowing capacity shrinks the petroleum industry has little choice but to adjust prices to meet the market which forces drillers to reduce output. At some point they fail outright. Fuel supply cuts => diminished consumer borrowing capacity => more fuel supply cuts in a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle.

Saudi Arabia Signals It Will Let Oil Slide Further, FACTS SaysAnthony DiPaola, Robert Tuttle

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is telling the market it won’t cut output to lift crude back to $100 a barrel and that prices must fall further before it does so, according to consultant FACTS Global Energy.

Swelling supplies from non-OPEC producers drove Brent crude into a bear market on Oct. 8 amid waning demand from China, the world’s second-largest importer. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meets Nov. 27 to consider changing its production target in the face of the highest U.S. crude output in almost 30 years.

“Production of shale oil in the U.S. will not be hit as hard as the Saudis think” by the price decline, FGE Chairman Fereidun Fesharaki said at a conference today in Doha, Qatar. Producers in the U.S. “can withstand a lot of pressure” by reining in their operating costs before they curb investment in new wells and production, he said.

Crude could drop to between $60 and $80 a barrel and stay within that range there for about six months until global production aligns with demand, Fesharaki said at the Condensate & Naphtha Forum. Oil in that range is the “right price” to balance the market, Fesharaki said.

Nobody knows what the ‘right price’ is, Saudia cannot push the oil price by reducing output: fuel constraints reduce customer purchasing power: the customers stumble first, the drillers fail afterwards. The oil industry is waking in a new world, where fuel waste is discretionary rather than inelastic; where shortages constrain- or eliminate customer purchasing power altogether rather than diverting an increased share toward the petroleum industry.

Petroleum prices have been high relative to historical norms for decades, with the breakout appearing in dollars in 1974, after the Yom Kippur War and the OPEC oil embargo:

Figure 2: nominal- and adjusted historical crude oil prices by way of BP Statistical Review, (Charts Bin – click on for big). The world’s consumption enterprise has been designed and built assuming sub-$20/barrel petroleum into perpetuity … with energy-guzzling consumer products intermediating every human activity. While the (borrowed) profits from this venture have been collected already, the costs continue to mount. One of the largest is aggregating credit expense. The question now is whether enough (resource) capital can be mustered to re-order our living arrangements or whether the status quo will simply fall apart under its own weight?

After 1974, the establishment chose to hedge against capital-resource shortages rather than meet the problem directly. Strategies included increased financialization and globalization; the shipping of Western industrial jobs offshore to cheap-labor countries, using finance credit to inflate asset prices worldwide as well as by instituting the European currency union: all of these are energy price hedges, all of them have failed completely.

Shipping Western industrial jobs overseas saved manufacturers money but not fuel, which was shipped overseas along with the jobs. Workers in newly industrialized countries used their purchasing power to buy cars and other gas-guzzling gadgets at the same time the Western workers’ purchasing power was chopped. Fuel consumption overseas (supported with direct fuel subsidies) pushed prices higher, this ultimately eroded purchasing power everywhere. Instead of conservation as an outcome of policy there is ‘conservation by other means™’.

Bubbles offer the ‘wealth effect’ that occurs when credit streams into assets … prices rise faster than the price of fuel. At some point credit becomes expensive, there are no more buyers to be had and prices collapse all at once. Those left behind are stripped of their ‘wealth’. Asset price bubbles are Ponzi schemes, the beneficiaries are the bubble promoters and well-positioned shills/insiders who are able to exit asset markets before other speculators.

Globalization allows the free flow of labor and funds, the fuel markets are globalized along with the rest. While more resources-capital is made available to industry so are more risks. Anyone, anywhere is likely be the marginal fuel consumer; that is, the user that sets the price for the everyone else ‘on the margin’. With billions of customers, it is far more likely ‘Marginal Man’ is an inhabitant of a newly impoverished country such as Russia, Brazil, China or Japan; the odds against price support for oil drillers lengthen as more countries become vulnerable due to adverse changes in exchange rates or flight of investment funds out of these countries.

The Europeans created the euro as a hard-currency alternative to the US dollar and UK sterling; to give the little countries of Europe the same purchasing power as the larger nations (and to create a captive market for larger nations’ manufacturers). Ironically, the same administrative structures put in place to support the euro have turned out to make practical fiscal union impossible. Mercantile powerhouse Germany is pitted against the rest: the outcome is failure as the vulnerable countries Greece, Spain and Italy — also Ukraine and Russia — drag everyone down.

Desperation is almost palpable as the Bank of Japan announces an expansion of its bond-buying program in an attempt to keep market forces (reality) from overwhelming the economy in that country and elsewhere. Bank of Japan boss Kuroda is a fireman for the US Federal Reserve Chairperson Janet Yellen. The central bankers are now the last line of defense for a waste-based enterprise that has exhausted both its resource- and intellectual capital. Our economic problem is not a shortage of cheap credit but a shortage of cheap petroleum. At the same time, getting our hands on the petroleum would not solve anything: our conceptual problem is dependence upon a system that only functions when capital is annihilated. Cheap credit lets us pretend a little while that ‘business as usual’ has a future; the bankers’ success undermines that future.

Petroleum is a resource, it is capital; credit and money are simply purchasing power claims against capital. In Japan and elsewhere, purchasing power is wrenched away from citizens toward the stock and bond gamblers as well as toward overseas energy producers: as the gamblers ‘win’ the citizens lose and energy producers falter. As the Bank of Japan lends, the yen is depreciated on world currency markets; as it falls the fuel price in yen increases, it becomes less affordable. Japanese customers are less able to meet higher prices for fuel => marginal demand is reduced => this causes fuel prices everywhere to tumble. The bankers are working against themselves; the more easing, the less Japanese support there is for fuel prices; the more Kuroda, the greater likelihood that the critical marginal petroleum consumer is a bankrupted Japanese.

What goes up must come down.

Monetary easing reduces borrowing costs but only for those who actually borrow. After years of easing, the only remaining borrowers are finance market gamblers. Cheap (finance) credit is used to push share- and bond prices higher in one-way markets:

L < Rs

With apologies to Thomas Piketty: leverage costs less than what the market offers to speculators. Returns Rs are determined by (artificially constrained) supply relative to demand; leverage costs L are manipulated to near-zero by the central banks: all other costs are considered to be externalities.

Credit is not the product of the central banks but of finance. The aim of central bank intervention is to manipulate the interest rate, to force real borrowing costs (interest-less rate of inflation) as low as possible. Low interest cost renders reduces risks associated with carry trades and stock speculation; low cost + high returns = one-way markets. Theoretically, with sufficient credit, these markets can run forever. In reality, as speculators borrow, the total aggregate debt load increases exponentially while force-fed markets are subject to same diminishing returns as every other speculative endeavor. Over time there is less return for each borrowed dollar, at some point even the most outrageous finance borrowing cannot not move the markets. When borrowing capacity is required to service debts => Minsky Moment.

Manias, panics and crashes are expressions of the ‘Paradox of Thrift’, which states that one-way markets — all buyers or all sellers (or all savers) — cannot exist without severe consequences. A market where all participants are buyers means a market that is ultimately deprived of them. Everyone who is willing to buy has done so: no one remains able to ‘buy from the buyers’. A market where all are thrifty is one where money is ‘saved’ out of circulation so that day-to-day business becomes impossible. A market crash occurs when free-spenders are forced by conditions … to be thrifty all at once!

The need for a new way of economic thinking is more urgent than ever.

Quoted at length from Steve Waldman, (Interfluidity):

“Quantitative Easing” — economics jargon for central banks issuing a fixed quantity of base money to buy some stuff — has been much in the news this week. On Wednesday, US Federal Reserve completed a gradual “taper” of its program to exchange new base money for US government and agency debt. Two days later, the Bank of Japan unexpectedly expanded its QE program, to the dramatic approval of equity markets. I have long been of two minds regarding QE. On the one hand, I think most of the developed world has fallen into a “hard money” trap, in which we are prioritizing protection of existing nominal assets over measures that would boost real economic activity … “

Real economic activity so far has been little other than strip-mining capital and burning it for fun. Asset protection is a bit misleading since worth of assets = their (useless) purchasing power claims against capital: as capital is exhausted so is purchasing power. At the end of the day there are mountains of diluted or redundant claims with nothing to purchase with them. This is the fatal flaw within all redistributionist regimes which either multiply the numbers of claims or shuffle them around.

“My preferred policy instrument is “helicopter drops”, defined as cash transfers from the fisc (government) or central bank to the general public, see e.g. David Beckworth, or me, or many many others. But, as a near-term political matter, helicopter drops have not been on the table.

There are no helicopter drops because the general public has little or nothing to offer as collateral. Central banks are unable to offer unsecured loans. Should they do so they become indistinguishable from insolvent private sector lenders and are insolvent themselves => there is no effective lender of last resort => no guarantor for bank deposits (unsecured loans to banks from the general public). The effective collateral for unsecured loans to depositors would be their own deposits: the outcome => bank runs.

Support for easier money has meant support for QE, as that has been the only choice. So, with an uncomfortable shrug, I guess I’m supportive of QE. I don’t think the Fed ought to have quit now, when wage growth is anemic and inflation subdued and NGDP has not recovered the trend it was violently shaken from six years ago. But my support for QE is very much like the support I typically give US politicians. I pull the lever for the really-pretty-awful to stave off something-much-worse, and hate both myself and the political system for doing so.

‘Something-much-worse’ would be the consequences of capital exhaustion, ‘Something-much-better’ is folly: to somehow gain access to what remains of our capital so that it too might also be annihilated … in a futile attempt to pursue ‘prosperity’ for a vanishingly small period of time.

20141028_oilgdp

Figure 3: Declining economic activity precedes fuel price decline, (chart by ZeroHedge): unsurprisingly, expensive crude oil adversely affects economic activity.

“Much better potential economies may be characterized by higher interest rates and lower prices of housing and financial assets. But transitions from the current equilibrium to a better one would be politically difficult. Falling asset prices are not often welcomed by policymakers, and absent additional means of demand stimulus, would likely provoke a real-economy recession that would harm the poor and precariously employed. Austrian-ish claims that we must let a recession “run its course” will be countered, and should be countered, on grounds that a speculative theory of economic rebalancing cannot justify certain misery of indefinite duration for the most vulnerable among us. We will go right back to QE, secular stagnation, and all of that, to the relief of both homeowners, financial asset-holders, and the most precariously employed, while the real economy continues to under-perform.”

Waldman sees outcomes but not clearly enough. Consumption economies cannot be ‘fixed’ or adjusted but replaced with something less destructive … the Austrian economic rebalancing hypothesis is indeed faulty yet misery of indefinite duration for the most vulnerable among us is both certain and underway. It is a consequence not an alternative. We multiply ourselves and our appetites without restraint and devour our increasingly scarce capital without any thought other than to do so before someone else beats us to it. A better economy would reward those who husband our capital, to tend what remains rather than seeking to gain the pawnbroker’s pittance …

The drillers are canaries in the coal mine, even as they are able to borrow they find there are fewer ‘end users’ with available credit … onto whom they can lay off their ballooning exposure. In place of the non-existent customers is the central bank, a conduit by which credit costs are shifted from the bankrupt customers to the same customers’ children. This is the last line of defense … what remains between our fantasies of endless creature comforts and the pit.

View From the Bottom of the Energy Barrel

Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia

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Published on Economic Undertow on February 1, 2014

http://th04.deviantart.net/fs71/PRE/i/2013/050/9/9/bottom_of_the_barrel_by_satansgoalie-d5vkmpr.jpg

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

Anyone paying attention cannot be surprised by economic distress being felt around the globe … we are all reaching the neck of the funnel, the farthest corner of the box we have built for ourselves out of foolish contradictions and hoped-for perpetual motion machines. There are multiple ways out of the box but we cannot bring ourselves to turn around and step away, to turn loose of our toys that drag us off the edge toward oblivion. Instead, we press ever more tightly into the corner, hoping an escape hatch will materialize by magic.

Triangle of Doom 020114

Figure 1: The World-famous Triangle of Doom: continuous Brent Crude futures price up to the end of January, 2014, chart by Commodities Charts.com. Click on chart for big. The upper bound declines along with creditworthiness. The cost of fuel production increases due to geology and the increased difficulty in gaining fuel to replace that which we have wasted. $110 per barrel appears to be the new upper bound; as the Brent price neared that level a host of countries’ economies began to vomit.

The declining trend is what customers can afford to pay: the advancing trend is the crude oil price required by drillers to remain in business. Soon enough, the price required by drillers will be unaffordable, the outcome will be shortages as first the highest- cost supplies are shut in. Shortages will further affect customers who will purchase less fuel pressing on prices in a vicious cycle.

Our unhappy date with destiny can only be ahead of us as long as nothing important breaks and the managers avoid errors. Keep in mind, any shortages that occur because fuel is unaffordable … will be permanent. One cannot dig oneself out of a hole, having constrained fuel supplies does not make countries richer or more fuel available.

It is axiomatic when fuel prices are too high there are adverse economic consequences which cause prices to decline. Consequences have arrived it is reasonable to propose fuel prices are too high, they are set to decline. Prices have been high for a very long period, for the wealthy and ambitious, at least ten years. Organic economic growth has been impossible due to fuel prices allocating funds away from non-fuel sectors, what has stood in for growth has been the ‘wealth-effect’ of expanding credit. This last is coming to an end because credit has also become unaffordable. Welcome to the energy crisis in 2014; there are no gas lines or ‘odd-even days’, there is no hated ‘double nickel’. Instead, credit is rationed and countries are left with worthless money that cannot be swapped for fuel; conservation by other means.

It is possible that the model is too conservative, that we have already reached the end of the affordability road. That the effect of high prices is felt at a level that is lower than the trend would indicate. It is also possible the ‘too-high’ price is too low at the same time; so that producers such as Russia and Mexico are unable to meet expenses.

Meanwhile, the managers are not error-free. The new regime of monetary tightening on the part of US and China looks to be a serious misstep, (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph UK):

 

World risks deflationary shock as BRICS puncture credit bubblesHalf the world economy is one accident away from a deflation trap. The International Monetary Fund says the probability may now be as high as 20pc.It is a remarkable state of affairs that the G2 monetary superpowers – the US and China – should both be tightening into such a 20pc risk, though no doubt they have concluded that asset bubbles are becoming an even bigger danger.“We need to be extremely vigilant,” said the IMF’s Christine Lagarde in Davos. “The deflation risk is what would occur if there was a shock to those economies now at low inflation rates, way below target. I don’t think anyone can dispute that in the eurozone, inflation is way below target.”It is not hard to imagine what that shock might be. It is already before us as Turkey, India and South Africa all slam on the brakes, forced to defend their currencies as global liquidity drains away.

The World Bank warns in its latest report – Capital Flows and Risks in Developing Countries – that the withdrawal of stimulus by the US Federal Reserve could throw a “curve ball” at the international system.

 

The tightening error is perhaps unavoidable. The energy problem cannot be solved by substitution, by swapping credit for energy; the credit has ballooned to become its own problem. The government strategy of propping key men and hoping for the best turns out to have a limited shelf-life. The personal- and business strategy of relying on public relations in place of facing reality and taking the necessary, albeit painful steps to either adjust or find alternative business models has also failed. While these are not errors per se, they are longer term expedients whose consequences have arrived sooner than their architects intended.

Call this diminished returns on expedients.

While currency problems have to a large degree materialized since the beginning of the year, the forces behind the problems have been building for a long time. All of the countries in trouble today are key men that the corporate- and government establishments have done as much as possible to prop up. Wall Street has lent trillions of dollars overseas since 2008 to purchase GDP growth as if this abstraction is a thing that has some effect on the physical world. It does have an effect and that is to reduce the world further. Funds have become collateral for trillions- more loans in the currencies in question. The problem is that none of the so-called investments turn out to be remunerative, any more so than prior rounds of investments. Managers have been chasing their tails, throwing not-quite good money after terrible.

Non-Remunerative Commerce

 

It can be said, “In the long run we are all dead”; reality provides its own proofs, we can see that the increase in debt accompanies the so-called advance of progress. Common bookkeeping illustrates the absolute requirement for ‘capital’ (borrowed money) in order to advance industrial works of every kind. The assumption on the part of others is that an industry can turn around ‘at some point’ and begin to pay its own way … which industry cannot do, this is simple thermodynamics.

Rather, the process of borrowing — by itself — is become collateral for further rounds of loans, each round larger than the last. Loans are never ‘paid off’ (finance level loans are impossible to repay even with 10% growth), the growth becomes a form of permission for more loans, not the means of repayment. Eventually the costs of lending become unbearable, which is one of the burdens we are staggering under right now.

Instead there is the rolling default as the worth of funds used to repay become less than the worth of funds lent. The joke is on the borrower because his loan cost the lender nothing yet he must find circulating money and hand it over to his lender. The cost of obtaining circulating money rather than interest is the real burden associated with debt. There is far less circulating money than there are debts, the cost is then simply supply-and-demand rather than the fixed percentage of interest.

Buried within this tangled web of contradictions is the fallacy of currency debasement which will be dealt with elsewhere.

Enter Currency Preference.

 

Once upon a time, a petrodollar was one held by an overseas oil producer gained from the sale of his product. The petrodollar of the 1970s and 80′s was a problem: what to do with all of them?

The (petro)dollar is now is the preferred medium of exchange for petroleum … along with euros, yen and sterling … as opposed to other, lesser currencies.

The reason is because these media are available in needed amounts, and are freely exchangeable in foreign exchange markets … so far. The lesser currencies, much less so.

Since World War Two, money — including dollars, yen, euros, etc. — has been a proxy for commerce. In this context, commerce is deemed to be worth more than money so there is incentive for ‘customers’ to trade money they hold for goods and services as quickly as possible.

Almost everything the establishment has attempted since the Lehman crisis has been to reinforce this theme of commerce being worth more than money. Now this regime is falling apart.

Meanwhile, under the establishments’ noses, money is becoming a proxy for petroleum. In that context, petroleum is observed as being worth more than commerce; this is because commerce is revealing itself to be unproductive/auto-destructive. The ‘money choice’ is being made starting within the marginal economies around the world: money is less about commerce and more the capital inputs that are precursors for commerce … indeed, tools necessary for survival.

If money as a proxy for commerce, customers rapidly trade it for goods and services. When money becomes a proxy for petroleum, customers hold money because it becomes the last, best chance to gain goods that are certain to be scarce in the future. Here, the dollar becomes a hard currency, much like 1930s dollar, redeemable for gold.

Right not the ‘price’ of dollars and other currencies is set — not by central bankers or by government fiat — but by millions of motorists using dollars in exchange for gasoline in filling stations all over the world 24/7. Here, other, lesser currencies are proxies for dollars; again, some moreso than others.

It’s a very short distance from exchangeability to redeemability. Making that step is what is underway right now. In the early 1930s, the economy of the developed world shifted from a preference for commerce toward one of holding gold. Gold became the last, best chance to get a roof overhead or something to eat. The world’s economy became gold arbitrage and little else; contracts, currencies and credit were deployed as blunt instruments in a deterministic contest to gain gold. In 3 short years business, banking and to some degree agriculture collapsed.

Preference takes place in people’s minds, it effects how they perceive relative worth and what their own conditions allow. In the 1930s, the US and other countries severed the gold-money connection, they ‘went off gold’. Today, we face ‘petroleum arbitrage’ and the use of blunt instruments to gain fuel the same way our hapless ancestors struggled to gain gold. This is what we see in southern Europe, in Middle East and northern Africa and across Central- and South America. It is a pitiless contest, the losers are deprived of imported resources, those with resources are obliged to part with them cheaply.

As then, our challenge is to ‘go off petroleum’, we do so or else. We must grasp the nettle and court an industrial depression in order to avoid the alternative, an endless Greater Depression that is right now unfolding at our feet.

Failed Public Relations Strategy.

 

A Federal District Court judge recently allowed a defamation suit by climate scientist Michael Mann to proceed against the periodical National Review and a carbon shill Mark Steyn:

 

Climate scientist’s lawsuit could wipe out conservative National Review magazineDavid FergusonThe National Review magazine, longstanding house news organ of the establishment right, is facing a lawsuit that could shutter the publication permanently. According to The Week, a suit by a climate scientist threatens to bankrupt the already financially shaky publication and its website, the National Review Online (NRO).Scientist Michael Mann is suing the Review over statements made by Canadian right-wing polemicist and occasional radio stand-in for Rush Limbaugh, Mark Steyn. Steyn was writing on the topic of climate change when he accused Mann of falsifying data and perpetuating intellectual fraud through his research.Steyn went on to quote paid anti-climate science operative Rand Simberg — an employee of the right-wing think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute — who compared Mann to Penn State’s convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.

Mann, Simberg said, is “the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data.”

Mann sued for defamation. Steyn and the Review vowed to fight the suit, given that defamation is notoriously difficult to prove in court.

“My advice to poor Michael is to go away and bother someone else,” said Review editor Rich Lowry. “If he doesn’t have the good sense to do that, we look forward to teaching him a thing or two about the law and about how free debate works in a free country.”

As the case has played out, however, Lowry’s hubris has proven to be unwarranted …

Now, as the suit grinds onward, the Review faces fairly dismal prospects. The suit could eventually be dismissed, but that is looking less likely. What’s looking more likely is that Mann could win a substantial judgment in court or the magazine could settle out of court.

The Week doubts that the publication could financially survive either of those outcomes. In 2005, before his death, Buckley estimated that the Review had lost more than $25 million in its 50 years of operation. It has never enjoyed a single moment of robust financial health competing in the “free market of ideas,” but has relied on reader contributions and bailouts from wealthy donors for the entirety of its history.

Conservatives like to point Buckley’s legacy and the Review as the reasonable, moderate edge of an regressive, reactionary party. In its history, the magazine has consistently staked out far-right positions that favor whites over nonwhites and plutocrats over the middle and working classes.

 

Here is the warmed-over response from the so called business community by way of Bloomberg:

 

Climate-Change Skeptics Have a Right to Free Speech, TooStephen L. CarterOf course we need defamation law. But our constitutional tradition correctly makes it difficult for public figures to prevail. Close cases should go to the critic, no matter how nasty or uninformed. The preservation of robust dissent allows no other result, and robust dissent is at the heart of what it means to be America.I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the cure for bad speech is good speech. Yes, it’s a cliche. But it’s also a useful reminder. Nobody is forced to enter public debate. Once you’re there, it’s rough and tumble. Unfair attacks are as common as dew and sunshine, and everybody’s reputation takes a beating. That’s the price of freedom.

 

The central issue has little to do with the likely outcome — the bankruptcy of the worthless National Review.

Rather, there is the panic over the likelihood of carbon emitters and their shills being held to account. Right now, a jury aims to measure shills against their words: the shills don’t like it one bit. If the trial ends in settlement there will be other trials holding shills to account for their lies. If the emitters are lucky there will be trials holding emitters accountable for their actions.

If the emitters aren’t lucky: (finger cutting gesture across throat).

Because there are indeed consequences to carbon emissions and even the most stupid shill knows it.

God or Bankruptcy

Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia

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Published on Economic Undertow on October 8, 2013

playing-chicken1

Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

The New York Times had a number of articles on the front page this morning that are appropriate to our current national state of being:

 

Detroit Faces Millions in Bills for Bankruptcy

By Monica Davey

The city has been charged more than $19.1 million by the firms and people hired to sort through the bankruptcy.

Worsening Debt Crisis Threatens Puerto Rico

By Mary Williams Walsh

Mired in debt, Puerto Rico has been effectively shut out of the bond market and is financing its operations with bank credit and other short-term measures.

Health Exchange Delays Are Tied to Software Crash

By Michael D. Shear and Robert Pear

A major software component, designed by contractors, buckled under the weight of millions of users, officials said.

It isn’t really necessary to read the articles because they all say the same thing: the Federal government — the country — cannot bail out Detroit, it cannot bail out Puerto Rico and it cannot manage the bailout of its health insurance industry … which ironically does not need a bailout. At the same time, the associated costs — of managing failed systems in Detroit, Puerto Rico and elsewhere — are relentlessly expanding.

Here’s another from the Times:

With Default Deadline Near, Wall St. Stays Calm … for Now

By Nathaniel Popper

The relative quiet on Wall Street is worrying some investors, who fear the markets will not signal to politicians the true danger of hitting the debt ceiling until it is too late.

Reading isn’t required, the fact of potential default by the US government speaks for itself. Since 2008, the business of the establishment has been to prop up key men — systemically important institutions and agencies — everywhere in the world. In 2013, key men appear faster than there are props for them, the establishment cannot keep up, it can only pretend.

In the US there is onrushing economic failure, there is accompanying political failure. The US government can certainly borrow a lot more than it has so far, the loans are simply wished into existence at very small initial cost . Yet the loans are obligations not gifts, they must be repaid with interest; the the costs grow exponentially, they have been growing for decades and have now become unbearable. At this moment, there is little difference between the cost of defaulting and the cost of not defaulting. Added to energy, the aggregated costs of credit have outstripped the ability of flesh-and blood humans with all of their magic toys to meet them particularly since the toys themselves have costs which require credit.

One foot of the borrowing regime rests within the realm of fantasy: that some day, some way, some ‘Ultimate Borrower’ will emerge Paul Bunyan-like to retire the debts accumulated by all borrowers before him. This mythological character is absolutely necessary, he must exist like a replacement for God, otherwise there is no point to extending credit. Every loan becomes the predecessor to others which in turn precede others still; loans begetting loans like Mehusim begetting Abitob then Elphaal. The outcome are daisy chains of interdependent, interconnected loans that inevitably lead to … somewhere?

Right this minute both borrowers and lenders are coming to the unpleasant conclusion that this mythical ultimate borrower is just that, that the accumulated debts are too great to ever repay by anyone — or any thing — that is alive today or will be alive, ever. The repayment numbers have simply become too great, that debts are articles of (misplaced) religious faith, not real claims against actual goods and services … that these things will never catch up, and cannot; that there are limits and we have reached them.

 

Our key men do not understand that everything has a life-span, including ideas, economies, styles and fashions … and key men. We insist that market capitalism as practiced on Wall Street and in the City of London in 2013 is an immutable force of nature, that it is a permanent condition or state of affairs; part of a continuum that reaches back thousands of years to the Roman Republic … without having any idea what sort of economy the Romans actually practiced. As it is, the market state in its current iteration is a farce/folly no more enduring than disco, split-levels or Twiggy … and made of the same stuff.

Here’s Yves Smith;

Budget Brinksmanship: American Exceptionalism Gone Bad

Being exceptional apparently means never having take responsibility for your actions.

The budget stalemate in Washington looks to be going from bad to worse. Here we are, ten days from hitting the debt ceiling limit, and by the reckoning of Wall Street’s watchful analysts, only about three weeks away from default (Treasury can do some creative footwork for a couple of weeks until some large payments must be made, in particular, Social Security disbursements), and both sides are digging in.

As we wrote earlier, House Speaker John Boehner had reportedly said privately last Friday said he would not push the US into default. Over the weekend, in public, he took a much harder line. And new reports indicate, as we speculated yesterday, that he could well decide to align with the apocalyptic Republican majority on the assumption that Obama will have to do what it takes to avoid default. And since Obama and his mouthpieces have repeatedly foresworn using sensible routes out of this impasse, like invoking the 14th Amendment or more creative devices, the Republican hard core believes its brinksmanship will force concessions from Obama.

From the Robert Costa; National Review (hat tip Business Insider):

In private, Boehner has told his allies that he won’t bring up a clean CR, and he’s hopeful that as the deadline nears, President Obama will deal. “There’s no way the president holds firm,” a House GOP insider predicts. “Once that crack opens, I don’t know how the debt limit will be addressed, but it won’t be by Republican capitulation.”

The New York Times similarly reports that both sides are hardening their positions. Both sides are trading barbs; there’s no sign that anyone is interested …

The content of the articles doesn’t matter so much as that the content is emerging at different levels widely across the mediasphere, not just at the fringes. The Washington establishment embodies the status quo; meanwhile its actions are a repudiation of it. Neither congressmen nor the president can say the system is falling apart but they are acting it out with great conviction; their actions are the falling apart! The message of these things is the costs associated with our ‘way of life’ are now greater than even the mighty US government itself can bear. Throwing money cannot work, only something else. Nobody knows what that ‘something else’ is, what citizens see is the public face of frustration and failure.

It really is different this time. Imagine what it will be like when 7 billion humanoids wake up one fine morning, look around and discover in the same instant, “We’re screwed!”

 

It’s not so much that the US administrators are evil and irresponsible rather they are caught in system- created circumstances that do not allow any more room to maneuver. The establishment as well as the rest of us are at the end of the gangplank. Here’s more:

China tells US to avoid debt crisis for sake of global economy

A senior Chinese official has warned that the “clock is ticking” to avoid a US default that could hurt China’s interests and the global economy. China, the US’s largest creditor, is “naturally concerned about developments in the US fiscal cliff”, vice finance minister Zhu Guangyao said.

Washington must agree a deal to raise its borrowing limit by 17 October, or risk being unable to pay its bills. He asked that “the US earnestly take steps to resolve” the issue.

Mr. Zhu said China and the US are “inseparable”

China gained over a trillion US dollars by way of mercantile trade, over the period it swapped currency-in-hand for interest bearing Treasuries. At issue isn’t the particular form of money but rather China’s gigantic surplus of US money by itself. China is in the hard school of learning Steve’s First Law of Economics: that the costs to manage surpluses increase along with them – at some point the costs exceed the worth of the surpluses themselves. The costs can be distributed toward others — this is what economies do — but only so far as those others can bear the costs. When they cannot, the costs emerge elsewhere, unpredictably, where they do the most damage.

China’s surplus money costs cannot be wished away, they are just as real as the surplus itself, one way or the other China will bear these costs even if it means the bankruptcy of China. Meanwhile, the Chinese get down on their knees and beg, what they need to do is get rid of the surplus. One way or the other, it’s gone.

Without constant debt subsidy, all industry stops, the managers know this but the costs of debt have become unbearable. Our economy cannot bear the costs, it also can’t bear to stop borrowing because debt finances every single industrial enterprise on Planet Earth. We moderns have reached the end of the gangplank we’ve cleverly built for ourselves, the view from here is pretty unnerving. Those shadows just out of sight under the surface are the monsters waiting to tear apart whatever falls in, (from Bloomberg):

 

Energy Commodity Futures

Commodity Units Price Change % Change Contract
Crude Oil (WTI) USD/bbl. 103.75 +0.72 +0.70% Nov 13
Crude Oil (Brent) USD/bbl. 110.28 +0.60 +0.55% Nov 13
RBOB Gasoline USd/gal. 263.26 +0.65 +0.25% Nov 13
NYMEX Natural Gas USD/MMBtu 3.71 +0.08 +2.20% Nov 13
NYMEX Heating Oil USd/gal. 303.53 +2.60 +0.86% Nov 13

The Chinese would like the US to ‘get its act together’ but the act itself is impossible. Like all the other perpetual motion machines, the US act can borrow diminishing amounts of time for itself and China but nothing more.

Precious and Industrial Metals

Commodity Units Price Change % Change Contract
COMEX Gold USD/t oz. 1,324.20 -0.90 -0.07% Dec 13
Gold Spot USD/t oz. 1,324.37 +1.27 +0.10% N/A
COMEX Silver USD/t oz. 22.42 +0.03 +0.13% Dec 13
COMEX Copper USd/lb. 329.05 -0.60 -0.18% Dec 13
Platinum Spot USD/t oz. 1,403.24 +1.56 +0.11% N/A

The Brent fuel price is very high right now, high fuel prices undo economies, very high prices do damage at once, slightly lower than very high do the same damage but over a longer period of time. It is reasonable that the current price is too high for economies to afford, economies built assuming low-cost fuels into perpetuity. Instead of gas lines and rationing, there are credit ‘problems’ as high prices are met with more and more costly loans.

George Patton in 1945 said, “My men can eat their belts but my tanks have gotta have gas …” In 2013, so does everything else.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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