election 2016

The Mystery Revealed

smoke and mirrors freda gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler

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                                                                     Anthony Freda                        

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation April 11, 2016

 


The mystery is at last revealed: why does the field of candidates for president score so uniformly low in trust, credibility, likeability? Why are there no candidates of real substance, principle, and especially of real charm in this scrim of political basilisks? (Surely there are many people of substance and principle elsewhere in America — they just don’t dare seek the job at the symbolic tippy-top of this clusterfuck of faltering rackets.) The reason is that the problems are unfixable, at least not within the acceptable terms of the zeitgeist, namely: the secret wish to keep all the rackets going at all costs.

This is true, by the way, of all parties concerned from the 0.001 percent billionaire grifter class to the deluded sophomores crying for “safe spaces” in their womb-like “student life centers” to the sports-and-porn addled suburban multitudes stuck with impossible mortgage, car, and college loan debts (and, suddenly, no paying job) to the deluded Black Lives Matter mobs who have failed to notice that black lives matter least to the black people slaughtering each other over sneakers and personal slights. None of these groups really want to change anything. They actually wish to preserve their prerogatives.

The interests of the 0.001 percent are obvious: maintain those streams of unearned, rentier, notional wealth as long as possible and convert them as fast as possible into hard assets (Caribbean islands, Cézanne landscapes, gold bars) that will theoretically insulate them from the wrath of history when the center no longer holds. The poor (and ever-poorer) formerly middle class suburban debt serfs, for all their travails, can’t imagine living any other way or putting less of their dwindling capital into the Happy Motoring matrix. The Maoist Social Justice Warrior students are enjoying the surprising power and thrills of coercion, especially as directed against their simpering professors and cringing college presidents anxious to sustain the illusion that something like learning takes place in the money laundering operations of higher ed. The Black Lives Matter crowd just wants to be excused from their failure to follow standards of decent behavior and to keep mau-mauing the other ethnic groups of America for material and political tribute.

It must be obvious that the next occupant of the White House will preside over the implosion of all these arrangements since, in the immortal words of economist Herb Stein, if something can’t go on forever, it will stop. So the only individuals left seeking the position are 1) An inarticulate reality TV buffoon; 2) a war-happy evangelical maniac; 3) a narcissistic monster of entitlement whose “turn” it is to hold the country’s highest office; and 4) a valiant but quixotic self-proclaimed socialist altacocker who might have walked off the set of Welcome Back Kotter, 40th Reunion Special. These are the ones left standing halfway to the conventions. Nobody else in his, her, it, xe, or they right mind wants to be handed this schwag-bag of doom.

On Saturday, the unstoppable Democratic shoo-in Hillary lost her 7th straight contest to the only theoretically electable Vermont Don Quixote, Bernie Sanders. This was a week after it was reported in The Huff-Po that her campaign crew literally bought-and-paid for the entire 50-state smorgasbord of super-delegates who will supposedly compensate for Hillary’s inability to otherwise win votes the old-fashioned way, by ballots cast. Wonder why that didn’t make nary a ripple in the media afterward? Because this is the land where anything goes and nothing matters, and that’s really all you need to know about how things work in the USA these days.

The Republican mandarins are apparently delirious over loose cannon Donald Trump’s flagging poll numbers in the remaining primary states. Should Trump fall on his face, do you think they’ll just hand Ted Cruz the Ronald Reagan Crown-and-Scepter set? (They’d rather lock Ted in the back of a Chevy cargo van with five Mexican narcos and a chain saw.) The GOP establishment insiders are already lighting cigars in preparation for the biggest smoke-filled room in US political history, Cleveland, July 20. But what poor shmo will they have to drag to the podium to get this odious thing done? Who wants to be the guy in the Oval Office when Janet Yellen comes in some muggy DC morning and says, “Uh, sir (ma’am)… that sucker you heard was gonna go down…? Well, uh, it just did.”

As for the Dems: they are about to anoint the most unpopular candidate of our lifetimes. The BLM mobs have promised to deliver mayhem to the streets of the party conventions and don’t think they will spare Hillary in Philary, no matter how many chitlins she scarfed down last month in Carolina. The action in Philly will unleash and reveal all the deadly power of President Obama’s NSA goon squads when the militarized police put down the riots, and Hillary will be tagged guilty by association.

And that is how Kim Kardashian gets elected president.


James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

The Uses of Disorder

freda ballot boxgc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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freda ballot box

                                                                                                                                                                    Anthony Freda               

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation March 21, 2016


Many thoughtful and patriotic citizens entering the Kubler-Ross free-fire zone of desperate bargaining with reality are at work attempting to chart an orderly course around the Godzilla-like figure of Trump looming outside the desecrated once-shining city of American democracy. I doubt there is such an orderly way through this political bad weather. When storms hit, things break up.

It can be argued endlessly whether times produce the man or vice versa, but except in the most schematic and wishful sense, is there any question that Donald Trump is unfit for the office he’s seeking? Personally, I am tortured by the question: why him? Why this vulgarian who can’t string together two sequentially coherent thoughts? Are there in this land of 320 million-plus people no other men or women with comfortable fortunes and better minds bold enough to take on the matrix of mafias running our affairs into the ground? Apparently not.

Then there is the question — only nascently theoretical at this point — of where such an orderly course of decision and action might lead this country. For Trump, it seems to be a restoration of the 1950s, when armies of “breadwinner” factory workers churned out cornucopias of Maytag washers and Zenith black-and-white televisions, and the less numerous Wogs of the outside world busied themselves with basket-weaving, and Atoms For Peace would make electric power “too cheap to meter,” and popular entertainment came in the chaste form of Dinah Shore urging the upward-aspiring masses to “see the USA in your Chevrolet!”

That was, of course, the time of Trump’s childhood (and my own), and if there is anything more certain than night following day, it is that America is not going back to that sunny moment. Trump and I are way past done growing up as human organisms and America is done growing as a techno-industrial political economy. People decline and die and are replaced by new people, and political economies wither and morph into sets of new activities and relations.

The forces of history want to take us to this new disposition of things, and just about everything on the American scene these days is a manifestation of resistance to that journey. The destination is a much re-scaled and down-scaled edition of daily life in a de-globalized economy, with far fewer luxuries and a greater demand for earnestness, purposeful work, generosity-of-spirit, and plain dealing. These are not qualities exhibited by Trump, who represents only the poorly-articulated and grandiose wish to “make America great again.”

The institutional collapse of the Republican Party is in full swing now thanks to Trump. By the way, it could easily be matched by an equally brutal collapse of the Democratic Party if the head of the FBI makes any criminal referrals in the matter of the Clinton Foundation’s entanglements in official State Department business via an email slime trail. It would be an awesome and wondrous event if the nation landed on November 8 with both parties in complete disarray and more than a couple of rump factions posting candidates with dubious legitimate credentials to stand for election. In over two hundred years we have not seen a national election postponed, or canceled.

I’ll repeat my assertion that professional observers on the political scene appear oblivious to the financial shit-storm gathering out-of-sight of land, and how it might affect electoral events at landfall. There’s a fair chance that six months from now, the USA may be in some kind economic emergency, with the banks either disabled or shuttered, and businesses unable to transact with one another, and the just-in-time supply lines to America’s Big Box merchandise depots badly interrupted, with the shelves bare. Americans at large, lost in the their cell phone app raptures and Kardashian masturbation fantasies have no idea how fragile the systems they depend on are.

America is going to learn something about the uses of disorder before this year is out. One of these is to compel the construction of a coherent consensus as to what is actually happening in the world, apart from our wishes and fantasies. That is, if we are not torn apart in the process of getting to that.

 


James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Mistakes Were Made

who stole the peoples moneygc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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who stole the peoples money

 

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation March 7, 2016

 


Beyond the Kubler-Ross maelstrom of denial, anger, depression, etc., besetting this spavined republic, lies the actual grief provoking it all — especially the shocking loss of national purpose embodied by the muppets and puppets onstage nightly vying to bring out the worst in us in an election season far from just silly. Judging from their demeanor in the so-called debates, the candidates seem not only sick of their opponents but of themselves, a fitting outcome perhaps in a nation that hates what it has become.

The moment that got me in Sunday night’s Democratic boasting contest, hosted by CNN, was Hillary crowing about the great achievement of Obamacare — getting thirty million uninsured Americans on some kind of health plan! The part she left out, of course, is that most of those plans have “deductable” ceilings in the multiple thousands of dollars, guaranteeing that the policy holder goes bankrupt if he/she seeks medical help. Who does she think she’s fooling, anyway? This sort of arrant lying is what drives millions into the camp of Trump.

Even valiant old Bernie muffs every opportunity to explain the death-grip that Wall Street crony politics has on this land: the US Department of Justice did nothing under six-plus years of Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute criminal misconduct in banking. And then President Obama, who is ultimately responsible, did absolutely nothing to prompt that Attorney General into action or replace him with somebody who would act. Obama’s lame excuse back in the days when informed people were still wondering about this, was that the bankers had done nothing patently illegal enough to warrant investigation — a claim that was absurd on its face.

Obama didn’t do any better with the regulating agencies that are supposed to make criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, especially the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged with keeping financial markets honest. There was nothing that difficult about those criminal matters now fading in the nation’s memory: for instance, the bundled bonds (CDOs) of “non-performing” mortgages designed to pay off the issuers handsomely when they failed. A child of ten could have unpacked the Goldman Sachs Timberwolf bond caper. Eventually Goldman and others were slapped with mere fines that could be (and were) written off as the cost of doing business. What a difference it would have made if Lloyd Blankfein and a few hundred other bank executives were personally held accountable and sent to cool their heels in federal prison.

As the politicians are fond of saying, make no mistake: this was Barack Obama’s failure to act. Likewise, regarding the Citizens United Supreme Court’s decision that equated arrant corporate bribery of public officials with “free speech;” Mr. Obama (a constitutional lawyer by training) had a range of remedies at his disposal, foremostly working with the then-majority Democratic congressional leadership to legislate a new and clearer definition of so-far-alleged corporate “personhood,” its duties, obligations, and responsibilities to the public interest — and its limits! Not only did Mr. Obama fail to act then, but nobody in his own party even coughed into his-or-her sleeve when he so failed. And now, of course, nobody remembers any of that.

The effects of all this fundamental dishonesty have thundered through our national life to the degree that American society is now divided into the swindlers and the swindled, loosing the monster of collective Id known as Trump on the public. This is what comes of attempting to divorce truth from reality, which has been the principal business of American life for several decades now. When truth and reality become de-linked, a society literally doesn’t know what it is doing. With that goes the collective sense of purpose, replaced with bromides and platitudes such as Trump’s “make America great again,” and Hillary’s “In America, every family should feel like they belong.”

Unbeknownst to the cable news hustlers, events are in the driver’s seat, not the personalities of the puppets and muppets in the spotlight. Come July, there may not be anything that could be called the Republican Party. And Hillary is the first leading contender for the highest office with a possible indictment looming over her. Yes, it’s really there percolating on the FBI’s front burner. Even if the machinery of justice trips over itself again on that, imagine how the questions behind it will color the final battle for the general election. We also fail to appreciate how, if there is just a little more trouble in banking and financial markets before November 8, we can’t even be certain of holding the general election.

 


James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Going Full Whig

Trumpiggc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Trumpig

 

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation February 29, 2016

 


Hillary’s dumb riposte to Trump’s dumb slogan — make America great again! — was “…America never stopped being great.” I guess she’s been traveling around the strip-mall wastelands of Carolina failing to notice the carnage that lays upon this land like a mortal scrofula. America has been committing suicide by bad choices for decades.

We took the collateral winnings of World War II and poured it into a suburban sprawl alt-universe so depressing that our citizens are the most over-medicated people in the world. That alone might help to explain how Hillary and Trump lumber inevitably toward their respective nominations. The cheering “folks” marshaled out in the Piggly Wiggly parking lots are so buzzed on Klonopin and Zoloft that they can’t tell how these two odious celebrities epitomize the very forces behind their pharmaceutically-masked despair.

A nation sunk in such falsity is sure to suffer life-threatening blowback and it looks like the first thing to go will be the life of the political parties. Both Democrats and Republicans have gone full Whig, riding into the 2016 election on the garbage barge of history. Hillary went on hyper-gloat after last week’s South Carolina primary, where she stuffed her pander-bag with black votes reaped on empty promises to re-boot the Civil Rights era. It was painful to watch that get-me-outa-here smile stretched across her face as she hugged the last selfie-snapper and slouched toward the ordeal of Super-Tuesday.

I don’t care how many primary victories Trump racks up, the GOP poobahs will not support him going into the convention. They will crack the party up into warring factions before they let him hoist the gonfalon of Lincoln and the Gipper. Be warned: plans are already afoot to shove Trump aside, to derail him with some scandal easily excavated from a life spent greasing other pols and playing ball with the mob-riddled construction industry in New York, Jersey, and Nevada. Failing that, they’ll leave him with a gutted shell of the party apparatus and by-hook-or-crook get some other figure to make a well-funded run under a slightly altered  banner: Paul Ryan, Bloomberg, Romney, just maybe Kasich. The Koch brothers will organize the money mojo. Failing that, there is always the mysterious magic of the Deep State for winning friends and influencing history.

This is not to endorse the old Republican establishment, just saying that they are increasingly desperate to derail this monster of their own creation, and will go to institutionally suicidal lengths to get it done. It will be more than another election cycle, if ever, before the right-of-center portion of the US political spectrum can realign itself into something resembling a party.

Or perhaps this is America’s true imperial moment, when all party politics surrenders to the pre-tsunami undertow of events. None of the idiot network commentators or Wash-Po or NY Timescolumnists seem to notice that the global economy is sinking into a coma, and in so doing is igniting cluster-bombs of default through the financial system. That so far insidious destruction should effloresce exactly around the time of the nominating conventions. The tide will have visibly gone miles out just as Hillary mounts the podium like some bad joke of a national mommy and Trump sits fretting in his Cleveland hotel room wondering how his rococo dreams of glory turned into a shit sandwich from room service. Yeats’s widening gyre is upon us. The biggest surprise of all yet-to-come is that television will fail to explain it. The second coming will not be the reappearance of the celebrity known as Jesus Christ, but rather of the event called the American Civil War.

 


James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Pretend to the Bitter End

mickeymouseclubgc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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mickeymouseclub
 
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation January 4, 2016
 

Forecast 2016

There’s really one supreme element of this story that you must keep in view at all times: a society (i.e. an economy + a polity = a political economy) based on debt that will never be paid back is certain to crack up. Its institutions will stop functioning. Its business activities will seize up. Its leaders will be demoralized. Its denizens will act up and act out. Its wealth will evaporate.

Given where we are in human history — the moment of techno-industrial over-reach — this crackup will not be easy to recover from; not like, say, the rapid recoveries of Japan and Germany after the brutal fiasco of World War Two. Things have gone too far in too many ways. The coming crackup will re-set the terms of civilized life to levels largely pre-techno-industrial. How far backward remains to be seen.

Those terms might be somewhat negotiable if we could accept the reality of this re-set and prepare for it. But, alas, most of the people capable of thought these days prefer wishful techno-narcissistic woolgathering to a reality-based assessment of where things stand — passively awaiting technological rescue remedies (“they” will “come up with something”) that will enable all the current rackets to continue. Thus, electric cars will allow suburban sprawl to function as the preferred everyday environment; molecular medicine will eliminate the role of death in human affairs; as-yet-undiscovered energy modalities will keep all the familiar comforts and conveniences running; and financial legerdemain will marshal the capital to make it all happen.

Oh, by the way, here’s a second element of the story to stay alert to: that most of the activities on-going in the USA today have taken on the qualities of rackets, that is, dishonest schemes for money-grubbing. This is most vividly and nauseatingly on display lately in the fields of medicine and education — two realms of action that formerly embodied in their basic operating systems the most sacred virtues developed in the fairly short history of civilized human endeavor: duty, diligence, etc.

I’ve offered predictions for many a year that this consortium of rackets would enter failure mode, and so far that has seemed to not have happened, at least not to the catastrophic degree, yet. I’ve also maintained that of all the complex systems we depend on for contemporary life, finance is the most abstracted from reality and therefore the one most likely to show the earliest strains of crackup. The outstanding feature of recent times has been the ability of the banking hierarchies to employ accounting fraud to forestall any reckoning over the majestic sums of unpayable debt. The lesson for those who cheerlead the triumph of fraud is that lying works and that it can continue indefinitely — or at least until they are clear of culpability for it, either retired, dead, or safe beyond the statute of limitations for their particular crime.

Of course it says something about the kind of society we’ve become that such racketeering has become so normative and pervasive, and that evading responsibility for its consequences has been elevated to a sort of enviable skill-set. In fact, the art of evasion has taken the place of what used to be called honor. We live in a low time that honors only low men. Ironically, we affect to admire only “superheroes” because it has become impossible to imagine mere humans showing courage, fortitude, and respect for truth. All conduct is provisional and equivocal. Every law can be parsed to serve what it was created to oppose. Anything goes and nothing matters.

In this year’s go-round, I’ll try to describe what happened so far, where we stand, and where I think things are going. My method is emergent and heuristic. I’m allergic to charts and graphs, which are among the prime tools of the racketeers and the wishful thinking impresarios for bending the truth. Sadly, also, statistical analysis plays into the fantasy that if you can measure enough things you can control them. (And if you mis-measure things on purpose, you can pretend to be in control.) This illusion of control is the weakest ingredient in the financial system. When it does finally reach failure mode, it tends to produce calamity.

I’m more interested in the longer view than the moment-at-hand. The swirl of events generally includes more vectors and factors than any calculus can manage. Outcomes easily slip away from the linear. Ultimately this is a exercise that might be called a history of the future — that is, just a story.

Banking and Markets

The big event of the year past was the Federal Reserve’s Waiting for Godot act concerning the fed funds rate. When Godot finally showed up two weeks before year’s end, it was in the expected-but-pitiful form of a 25-50 basis point hike — which gives the impression of a possible 50 point rise, but with the way more likely probability of actually sticking to the lowest end of the gradient (and actual overnight lending rates were already a few basis points above zero, so the net was really less than 25 basis points.)

The background of this charade was pretty clear to anyone not brain damaged from the rigors of playing Candy Crush on their phone: the Fed was hiking rates into a wobbling global economy; they were forced to act at year’s end or surrender the last shreds of their credibility (i.e. being taken to mean what they say); and they left the door open to retreat in 2016 if necessary. But the damage to the Fed had already been done. They were unmasked as a propaganda machine powerless against the real tides of economy, creating only mischief and misunderstanding, and ultimately undermining all soundness in the relationship between money and real human activity. Anything they do in the election year ahead will be viewed with suspicion, specifically of pimping for Hillary Clinton’s coronation. And her relationship with the biggest banks is well-understood. So they had to make their grand gesture in December.

The stock markets skidded a little below sideways this year (except for the Nasdaq) which glided up more than 5 percent (techno-grandiosity rules!) — with one upchuck at the end of the summer that was remedied by China bailing out its own janky stock markets and playing games with its currency.

Gold and silver continued their four-year swoon thanks to repeated massive wee hour dumps of futures contracts before the traders in New York even got out of bed. The charts conclusively show this shady activity, raising the question: why would any seller want to hugely undercut the price of what he seeks to sell by selling into a market where no buyers are present… or even awake? The answer seems to be: to make the dollar appear more firm than it really is.

The many years of ZIRP (zero interest rate policy), combined with the previous accumulation of debt unlikely to be paid back has made it ever more difficult to issue new debt with any likelihood of being paid back. But ZIRP has also nullified the relationship between interest rates and risk. In a system unencumbered by central bank interventions, interest rates would have to go a whole lot higher on instruments with such poor prospects. Of course, higher interest rates would only make new bonds that much less likely to be serviced by their issuers, especially governments laboring under Himalayan-scale debt loads. The tension in this equation has been provisionally papered over by the use of interest rate swaps, reverse repos, and other abstruse machinations and derivatives aimed at suppressing true price discovery.

The corporate stock buyback fiesta of 2015 was the perfect example of an anything goes and nothing matters ethos. It happened in full view of everyone, and it happened solely to assure corporate executives that they would enjoy their bonuses and fringe benefits and nobody complained about it. Even so, it barely accomplished anything index-wise. The markets went sideways even with all that insider action because the fundamentals suck and the global economy was obviously sinking into a deflationary contraction.

My auditors derive no end of mirth from my attempts to predict the stock markets each year. So, to add to their enjoyment, I’ll be even more precise this time around. I predict that the S & P will top on January 15, 2016, at 2142, and then crumple below 1000 by June. Carnage at the margins of the bond market — high yield paper — will spread to the center and we’ll finally see the re-pricing of risk back in the European sovereign market. French, Spanish, UK, and Italian 10-year paper below 2.0 percent? What a colossal joke that’s been! Fasten your seat belts and check your pension funds.

Oil and Deflation

The oil picture has bamboozled both the broad public and the smaller cohort of supposedly sentient observers. I maintain that the deflationary contraction underway worldwide is largely due to the fact that the world has run out of a particular form of oil: affordable oil. Turns out the peak oil story is still true, just playing out differently than a lot folks predicted. We’re at the mercy of a pretty basic equation: oil over $75-a-barrel destroys industrial economies; oil under $75-a-barrel destroys oil companies. There is no “just right” Goldilocks place on the gradient.

The public got bamboozled by the Ponzi scheme of shale oil. It seemed like a fabulous techno-rescue: the “fracking miracle!” It operated by converting mountains of cheap leveraged capital into a very rapid bump-up in US oil production. It got full traction after a couple of years of $100 oil squashed economic activity — and then squashed demand for oil. Whoops. The problem was that shale oil was very expensive to produce even if reduced demand drove the market price very low. Back at $100-plus a barrel, hardly anyone made any profit on shale. At $40 a barrel shale was a laughable loser. So, in 2015, the shale oil companies laid off thousands of workers, idled the drilling rigs, and kicked back to pray that the price would go back up. Which it didn’t. Incidentally, all kinds of associated ventures went bust with that. The landscape of North Dakota is littered with unfinished garden apartment complexes that may never be completed, and the discharged construction carpenters and roofers drove back to Minnesota ahead of the re-po men coming for their Ford F-110s. Sad, I know….

The rapid ramp-up in shale oil production from 2010 to 2014 was intended as a demonstration project to convince Wall Street to stuff ever more investment capital into oil companies. It was also part of an enormous PR campaign to allow the people running things in business and government to pretend that America’s oil problems were behind us. The “shale miracle” was going to make us “Saudi America,” It was going to boost us into “energy independence.” It played into the Master Wish beneath all the wishful thinking in America: Please, God, let us be able to drive to WalMart forever. It wasn’t so much an evil conspiracy as a feckless collective effort in denial and self-delusion

It happened that a lot of that Wall Street finance came in the form of high-yield (junk) bonds issued by the oil companies — with fat commissions for the big banks to cream off in creating the bonds. So when the price of oil crashed below $50, a lot of oil companies — especially the smaller ones with no cash flow — couldn’t service the interest payments. What lies ahead in 2016 is a debacle of bond defaults and corporate bankruptcies in the US oil patches. What’s more, because of the peculiar geology of shale oil and the rapid depletion of the fracked wells, it is necessary to incessantly drill and frack new wells to keep production even level, let alone rising. That calls for evermore rounds of new financing. But since the current financial obligations can’t be serviced, new financing will not be not forthcoming. And so neither will additional production. All of which means that shale oil production is going to crash in 2016 when the backlog of previously-drilled but untapped wells runs out. I’ll predict that US oil production will go down a million barrels a day before 2017. That includes the roughly 5 percent annual decline of conventional oil.

Some might suppose that such a crash would drive prices back up again as the supply necks down. There are a couple of problems with that supposition. One is that the previous round of $100-plus oil did a lot of permanent damage to the economy, in particular to small businesses and households (i.e. middle-class workers). That damage looks more and more permanent, meaning a smaller aggregate economy and still-shrinking demand base as businesses and citizens go broke and stay broke. If oil prices do return to a level that would justify exploration and production of expensive, hard-to-get oil, (probably north of $110) it will only crash industrial economies again — and there are only so many times this can happen before the system is so damaged recovery is no longer possible. Another problem is that the oil price crash has done significant damage to the oil industry itself, including its credibility as a viable target for investment. Contrary to hopes and expectations, current low oil prices are doing nothing to re-stimulate economic activity. It all has the look of a self-reinforcing feedback loop, a downward spiral in a global complex networked system getting clobbered by the diminishing returns of its principal activities.

Hence I would predict that the price of oil will fall further in 2016, below the $30 mark, and that it will lead to more carnage in the oil industry, in banking and debt defaults, and to new manifestations of geopolitical trouble that could lead to profound oil scarcities and rationing. We can’t seem to face the fact that our techno-industrial paradigm was designed to run on cheap oil, which is just no longer available.

Geopolitics

People are getting very nervous. They can’t help harking back a hundred years to the mysterious lead-up of the First World War, which brought an end to the first iteration of globalism with a bang. The great nations of 1914 just seemed to get haplessly drawn into a debacle that no one had bargained for — the slaughter of the trenches, bankrupted national treasuries, the fall of three dynasties, the rise of the fascists and Bolsheviks… ugh!

Many people with more than half a brain are seeing similar motifs today — a general movement toward major war by way of sheer fecklessness. For instance, the ongoing effort led by the USA to antagonize Russia for no apparent good reason, dragging the dupes of NATO along with it. I won’t rehash our stupid operation to destabilize Ukraine. David Stockman covered that so nicely last week in his blog. Anyway, that Ukraine action was all back in 2013-14. Ukraine is now a failed state. I predict that in 2016 Ukraine will beg Russia to take it back into the Russian sovereign fold, to become once again a province of greater Russia. However, Russia will demur. Russia actually can’t afford such a woebegone, unreliable, and expensive ward. So Ukraine will then go begging back to the US and NATO to dole out financial life-support. By that time, the US and western Europe will be so economically distressed that they will only pretend to bail out Ukraine, just as they pretend to bolster their own economies via smoke-and-mirrors central bank shenanigans. Ukraine will sink into a World Made By Hand level of neo-medievalism, blazing the trail for everybody else in the world. Think: lawlessness, banditry, gangster autarky, neo-serfdom. Sounds harsh, I know, but it is what it is.

In 2015 the action between the US and Russia shifted to Syria. Our monumental blunderings in the Middle East, which included enabling the creation of ISIS, left us bereft of any coherent way to counter the barbarism and animus of radical Islam. So, our “adversary” Mr. Putin stepped in, on the premise that destabilizing what remains of the Syrian government under Mr. Assad was not such a good idea — as he explained very clearly to the UN General Assembly. It remains to be seen whether Russia will be able to pacify Syria, much of which lies in ruins now. But unlike the USA, Russia doesn’t have ambivalent intentions where ISIS is concerned. We’ve pretended that any old freelance gang opposing Assad is our friend. Russia’s aims are pretty straightforward: prop up Assad, rescue whatever governing institutions remain in Syria, and smash ISIS. In exchange they get a warm-water naval base on the Mediterranean. That’s supposed to be an existential threat to the USA.

The basic regional beef there, anyway, is between the Sunni and the Shi’ite, which is to say Arabian-sponsored Islamic maniacs versus Persian-sponsored Islamic maniacs. Unfortunately, that translates into the Saudi Arabia / USA and Iran / Russia contest of wills. Throw in some league wild-card players like Hezbollah and Israel and you have a pretty yeasty mix for rising animosities. Sadly, the US can’t seem to formulate a strategy that doesn’t make things worse for people in the region or for the US homeland (or for our allies in Europe, plagued by refugees they cannot comfortably absorb and the awful threat of terror events).

I expect in 2016 that Obama’s policy will be to just get out of the way of Putin and see what happens. He doesn’t have much left in the kit-bag for now. The worst thing to come out of this for Obama, really, is if Putin can succeed in pacifying Syria, America’s leaders will look bad — incompetent and foolish — which is the actual case, of course. Maybe sometimes you just have suck up your mistakes. Much as Obama dislikes Hillary, I doubt he wants to upend the whole groaning Democratic Party Washington DC patronage pyramid, so he might be careful to not start World War Three during the election year. He can leave that to Hillary, should her coronation actually occur on Jan 20, 2017.

Anything might happen across the Islamic world in 2016. Every Islamic nation is grossly overpopulated, given the poor quality of the terrain. Most of them occupy territory that has been horribly degraded during the population explosion of the past hundred years, and stand to suffer hugely from climate and weather abnormalities ahead. Governments will fall and may not be replaced by anything resembling a coherent polity. Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Iraq (fuggeddabowdit), Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia are all only marginally stable for now. Afghanistan is hopeless. We will never control the terrain or the people who live there. But we will continue to maintain a garrison to defend Kabul, pretending that control of the capital city is enough.

And then there is the Big Kahuna: Saudi Arabia, with its dwindling oil income and growing multitude of dependant layabouts. King Salman’s misadventure in Yemen’s civil war has birthed another failed state and dented Saudi Arabia’s resources. If the other clans of Arabia, whoever they turn out to be, overthrow Salman, they will also create an opening for ISIS-flavored non-royals to incite a multi-dimensional civil war. An upheaval in KSA would surely produce profound disorder in the oil markets. The USA would get suckered into this tar-pit wrestling match. The attempt to stabilize our old “ally” with troops on the ground would probably work out about as well as our adventure next door in Iraq did. The further result will be more conflict in this broad swathe of the world over remaining scarce resources, especially water, along with hot war at various scales, and ever more massive movements of populations fleeing the turmoil. If they journey to Europe, they will be turned away. The Camp of the Saints becomes a reality show.

Turkey, with the second-largest military in NATO, could have been a force for stability in the Middle East, but strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an can’t get out of his own way. He can’t decide whether he’s on the side of the Islamists or the West and his attempts to play footsie with both, while piling up private booty, have left him suspect among both camps. Lately he has ventured into such misadventures as shooting down a Russian warplane and receiving stolen goods in the form of ISIS oil shipments from Syrian and Iraqi wells. He was unable to enlist NATO into joining the argument over Turkish airspace and has fatally alienated his western auditors by his actions. He’s lucky that Putin didn’t turn Ankara into an ashtray. The Kurds on Turkey’s southern border threaten to start a civil war by asserting their own nationhood, now just de facto. Meanwhile, the Turkish economy is faltering again, reinforcing its longtime status as “the sick man of Europe.”

Europe’s decades as the West’s delightful tourist theme park are over. The continent is back to being a dangerous free-for-all of nations, tribes, and factions, with the overlay of alien Islamic intruders making things worse. Who knows who or what will blow up next over there. When it becomes obvious in 2016 that the 2015 refugee influx was not a one-off that the Eurozone could comfortably absorb, the individual nations will commence the deportations. Getting to that has been a difficult road, with the headwind of the memory of the Holocaust. But then, unlike the Jews of the 1930s, the Islamists are slaughtering concert-goers, booby-trapping subways, shooting civilians in restaurants, beheading journalists, and explicitly threatening the existence of European society. This business with Islam is different and we are now four generations past Auschwitz. Europeans may just have to get real about defending their respective and collective cultures.

2016 will be the lead-up to the French presidential election of 2017. François Hollande has the whole of the coming year to demonstrate his weakness. But can the French stomach Marine Le Pen’s demi-fascist National Front. The French right wing is not for reduced government, just for pushing people around differently. As 2016 goes on, look for good ole Sarko (Nicolas Sarkozy) to flank them both. Sarko is a bit crooked, but as strong-willed as Le Pen, and not as crazy. French voters will be fed up Hollande-style squishiness, but unready for a female Hitler. Sarko is the Devil they know and they will want him back.

The same election time-line goes for Germany. Voters there will increasingly revolt against what Mutti Merkel represents: how she jammed a million Islamic refugees down Europe’s craw. They’re not shopping for another Hitler, either, but they will be looking for a strong-willed someone to protect the volk against the foreign hordes, of whom they are getting good and goddam sick. There is also the matter of Germany baby-sitting all the bankrupt nations to the south.

As 2016 unfurls, the PIIGS will spin back into financial intensive care. Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece will eventually have to face the absence of buyers for their bonds and the falsity of their low interest rates. Spain, for one, is not finished with the Catalonian secession problem. Portugal needs to return to the 18th century. The clowns in Brussels have no plan to repair the finances of Euroland beyond massive QE that cannot be endless. Whoever replaces Merkel as chancellor may be the one who senses that Germany ought to lead the way out of the Euro currency fantasy and all the awful liabilities it entails.

Great Britain is a basketcase in search of a basket to land in. It has no economy left besides the swindlers of “the City,” its version of Wall Street, and that janky establishment is losing its grip as a desirable financial capital after years of sharp practice, with much of its action moving to Shanghai. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is a catamite for the big banks. The Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn is an old-school romantic unionist Leftie in a nation with little remaining industrial workforce. Unlike France or Germany, Britain’s parliamentary system can route a government on short notice. The debt implosion of 2016 and rescheduled Great Depression 2.0 will thrust UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage into the spotlight to salvage what remains of Old Blighty.

The big question around Asia is whether China can navigate its way out of the blind alley it’s trapped in: a banking system steeped in crony corruption, bad debt everywhere, and malinvestment like unto nothing the world has ever seen before. The country is choking on excess industrial capacity just as the world enters its epic Peak Everything contraction. Can they keep on pumping out salad shooters and Han Solo dolls to a world drowning in plastic crap and too broke to buy more of it? They still have $3.4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves to theoretically bail themselves out. But that starts affecting the value of their pegged currency, and their main trading partner (us) can play endless currency war games with them to dissuade them from dumping the rest of their accumulated US treasury paper, which, of course, only pisses them off more and makes them look for surreptitious ways to fight back — which is what currency war is all about. Which is also exactly why China (with Russia and others) has started up its own Asian version of the IMF, the BRICs Development Bank, and an alternative to the SWIFT international clearing system.

Chinese economic and financial statistics are even less reliable than the overcooked sludge offered up by the US agencies, but the tanking of commodity prices worldwide tells enough of a story: China is sure not expanding as much as the good old days, if at all. It’s been a great ride, but it was super-quick, and it happened just prior to the world reaching the bona fide limits to growth. China’s contraction may be as quick as its rise, and if that is the case, it will be rough ride into the same vortex of contraction that everybody else is entering.

My one wild-hair prediction about China for 2016: after Kim Jong-Un pulls some bonehead move against his neighbor to the south, China invades North Korea and installs a more rational management regime there. Kim Jong-Un ends up as a lounge singer in Macao. Lucky boy.

Homeland Frolics

            Be very afraid. Donald Trump isn’t funny anymore. He’s Hitler without the brains and the charm. But he’s gotten where he is for a reason. He expresses perfectly the depravity of the culture he springs from: narcissistic, morally rudderless, vulgar, shameless, lost in fantasy, and sadistic. Hillary (last name unnecessary) is not much better, but she’s not nearly as dumb, only more thoroughly corrupt. These are the avatars of our two major political parties. Be very afraid and weep!

The good news is that political parties do occasionally blow up and vanish from the scene, and that would be an interesting possible outcome of the 2016 national elections. Trump could accomplish this much more briskly with the Republicans. He’s made it clear already that he feels zero loyalty to the Red Team, and noises offstage can be heard that the party faithful would find some way to either expel or end-run the Donald Creature. Given our litigious society, one outcome of this would be an election held hostage by the courts. Oy vey is mir. Another possibility is that a message would be transmitted to the Trump Team from some combination of rogue elements in the NSA and the US Military that he’d better drop out or else. It would be done in such a way that Trump would not be able to use it for further narcissistic grandstanding. Were that not to happen, and were Trump somehow able to get elected, I predict there will be a coup d’état against him inside of April 2017. Hello constitutional crisis. Where it might go from there, no one can say.

Of Trump’s opponents for the Republican nomination, the only one I can grudge up any interest for is Rand Paul, who is a truly disruptive figure without being a maniac. In fact, I think he would make a good president, sober, thoughtful, unencumbered by obligation to the forces of racketeering. But he appears to have a near-zero chance of winning the party’s nomination.

Hillary is the opposite of a disrupter; she is the racketeer Godmother. As things proceed, however, she would merely preside over Great Depression 2.0. Unlike FDR in GD 1.0, Hillary would inspire no trust among a fractious population out for revenge against the very enablers of Hillary’s election, namely the Wall Street bankers. The nation would fall into factional fighting and possibly even regional breakup under Miz It’s-My-Turn. But I get ahead of myself…. The question at hand for 2016 is: Can Hillary be stopped. At this point, I don’t see how, given all the weight of the party machinery calibrated in her favor by the equally odious National Party Chairperson, Congressperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Bernie Sanders mounted a noble opposition campaign, and perhaps it is too early to write him off here before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Perhaps something can happen and he can at least slay the candidacy of Rodan the Flying Reptile – my other nickname for the Hillary Creature. Apart from that is my basic aversion to Bernie’s political philosophy as a self-proclaimed “socialist.” I know it sounds like a glib dismissal of a cartoonish political label, but Bernie’s self-applied label implies ever more intrusion by ever bigger government into the life of this nation. History wants to take us in another direction now, away from so much hyper-centralized control, and we go against the flow at our peril. While I admire Bernie’s presence as a vocal opposition to Hillary, I’m not keen on what he’s actually selling.

I know that Martin O’Malley is still “out there,” but he appears to be a blank cartridge, or a six-pack in search of worldview, and I don’t believe as some observers have averred that this is the fault of the media. In the few Democratic “debates” held last fall he offered next to nothing outside a conventional punch-list of shopworn center-left ideology — that is, no recognition of the extraordinary problems this country faces in the climax of the techno-industrial idyll, and the long emergency that is following it.

And that’s all you get on the Democratic side for the moment: a powerful sense that the fix is in. Yet there is the very real problem of Hillary’s loathsomeness and how that would go down at the polls. There’s even a pretty good chance that many women would vote against her. So my provisional conclusion / prediction for the November contest is that Hillary runs and loses against some as-yet-unknown un-Trump person. President Cruz? Ach! Rubio? Back in the playpen! Christie? Leave the body, take the canoli…! Jeb? El pendejo supremo! To be continued….

Race Relations and the Cowardice of the Thinking Classes

2015 was sure a bad year for different groups of Americans trying (or not) to get along, especially black people and white people. American society is feeling the full force of the identity ideologies cooked up on the college campuses over the past several decades, now boiling over into an orgy of victim-pleading, identity grandstanding, sexual hysteria, scapegoating, intellectual despotism, juridical blackmail, and (let’s not forget) careerist posturing. The more irrelevant higher education gets, the more strenuously the social justice inquisitors mount their persecutions against those who don’t buy the race-gender-privilege party line. In 2015 it has morphed into a campaign against free speech and free inquiry. The “diversity” deans multiply like fruit flies.

I made the “error” last year of suggesting that black Americans would benefit if the teaching of spoken English were made a high priority of primary and secondary schooling — and I was vilified for saying that. My opponents have not offered any useful counter-ideas beyond name-calling. I suspect that many people of good intentions are running out patience with this racket — and it is a racket for extorting preferential treatment and money from guilt-tripped white people.

In the arena of crime and policing, the situation is especially bad. Black lives matter, but not so much for black people themselves, who are ardently slaughtering each other in places like Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, and “Chi-raq” at a rate proportionately much greater than other ethnic groups in the land. The martyrs of the movement act in ways likely to get them in trouble, for instance the hapless 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot brandishing a BB gun designed to look exactly like the US Army 1911 issue .45 caliber ACP, Michael Brown thugging out on officer Darren Wilson, Trayvon Martin beating down George Zimmerman. The cops present at several notorious incidents include black officers; a black female sergeant who was supervising the action on the sidewalk in Staten Island when her colleagues choked Eric Garner. (she did nothing to intervene); the several black policemen in Baltimore who took Freddy Gray on his fatal ride in the paddy wagon. It’s a scene fraught with ambiguity, to be generous.

Where are we going with race relations in this country? For now, not in a favorable direction. The trend will be for police to regard certain neighborhoods as “no-go” areas — if only to avoid the gigantic multi-million dollar litigations that grow out of these ambiguous confrontations. Some may view that as a good thing, but it will only play into the decadent ethos that anything goes and nothing matters in this country. The larger question going forward is whether Black America will continue to insist on being an oppositional culture. That is what it has become, though the cowed thinking classes will not acknowledge it. They also will not recognize the need for a common culture in this nation, a set of truly shared values and standards of conduct.

Climate Change

This is the underlayment of despair that reflective persons cannot avoid thinking about when all the other petty issues of human relations and the project of civilization are disposed of. Weird weather? Biblical Floods? Melting icecaps? Sea level creep? It was 70 degrees on Christmas Eve here in upstate New York, dandelions blooming in the yard, just a week or so ago. Some people I know can’t stop thinking about climate change. Somehow I manage to put it out of mind and ruminate on other things, or even feel good about something that is happening in the present — a good meal, a gathering of friends, an evening of live music…. but it’s always lurking there in the background like some hooded reaper in a New Yorker cartoon.

Despite the hoopla of the Paris climate change talks, I’m not persuaded that national governments will really do anything, or even that anything they might do would avail to make things better. I’m not even so concerned about whether climate change is man-made or not. I just accept that something is up and that as things change, we will have to adjust. It seems to me that the adjustment will not be easy and five hundred years from now there will be far fewer human beings, if any, around. From the point of view of the planet’s well-being, that is probably a good thing.

In the mean time, let’s do the best we can to carry on and be as kind as possible to one another. Good luck in 2016!

 

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

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