Hillary

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gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Anthony-Freda_web15

 

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  August 29, 2016

 


Would fate permit it, the election of Hillary Clinton will be the supreme and perhaps terminal act in an Anything-Goes-And-Nothing-Matters society. Yet, even with the fabulous luck of running against a consummate political oaf, she struggles to get the upper hand, and she may land in the White House with the lowest voter turnout in modern history. And then her reward in office may be to dodge indictment for four years while the nation crumbles around her. This is the way the world ends: not with a bang or a whimper but with a cackle.

Imagine the scene following Hillary’s election. In order to salvage the last shred of its credibility, the Federal Reserve raises its overnight funds rate another quarter percent and crashes the last Potemkin semblance of a “recovering” economy, that is, the levitated stock markets. Tens of millions of retired individuals previously driven into them by zero interest rate policy are wiped out. Even more gravely, pension funds and insurance companies are destroyed, but not before their troubles trigger derivative contracts with big banks which then explode and expose the inability of counterparties to make good on their ends of the bet.

In a blind panic, the Federal Reserve reverses its policy in December, drops the Fed Funds interest rate back to 25 basis points and announces the grandest new round of “quantitative easing” (money printing) ever, while congress is coerced into voting for the greatest bailout of institutions the world has ever seen, along with a “one time” helicopter drop of a cool trillion dollars in the form of combined tax cuts and “shovel-ready infrastructure projects.” The media rejoices. The US Dollar tanks. Absolutely nobody wants US treasury bonds, bills, and notes. The pathetic remnant of the American middle class stares into the abyss. (If it looks hard enough, it sees the US government down there.)

We’re now living in the setup for this, treating the election shenanigans so far as just another sordid television entertainment. It’s more than that. It’s an engraved invitation to the worst crisis since the Civil War. The crisis may even feature events like a civil war with identity groups skirmishing around our already-ruined “flyover” cities just like the factions in Aleppo and Fallujah. Thank the “Progressive” Left for that. Believe me, history will blame them for chucking the idea of a unifying common culture onto the garbage barge.

And yes, for all our tribulations here in America, the rest of the world will be struggling with its own epic disorders. It remains to be seen whether they will lead to war as, say, the Chinese ruling party attempts to evade the crash of its own rickety banking system, and the inflamed millions of ruined “investors,” by starting a brawl with Japan over a few meaningless islands in the Pacific. Could happen. And, oh, is North Korea for real with its right out front nuclear bomb-and-missile program? What does the rest of the world plan to do about that?

You don’t even want to look at the Middle East. The grisly conflicts there of recent decades are just a prelude to what happens when the House of Saud loses its grip on the government. That will happen, and then the big question is whether Aramco can continue to function, or whether the critical parts of it end up damaged beyond repair as competing tribes fight over it. In any case, the world will begin to notice the salient fact of life in that part of the world: namely, that the Arabian desert, and much of the great band of arid territory on either side of it, cannot support the populations that mushroomed in the nutrient bath of the 20th century oil economy. And they won’t all be able to self-export to Europe either.

Speaking of that interesting region, around the same time Hillary sets up for intensive care in the third floor of the White House, the old order will be swept away across Europe. Farewell Merkel and Monsieur Hollandaise. Farewell to the squishy Left all over the place. Enter the hard-asses. You’d think if anything might unite that continent it might be the wish to defend secular freedom under the rule of law, but even that remains to be seen.

Yes, the world following 3Q 2016 is looking like one hot mess. If you remember anything, let it be this: the primary mission of your cohort of the human race is managing contraction. The world is getting wider and poorer again and the outcome everywhere will be determined by the success of people to manage their lives locally. The big things of this world — governments, corporations, institutions — are losing their traction and whatever we manage to rebuild will get done locally. In victory, Hillary may utterly cease to matter.

 


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.

Dark Dynamics

gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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ghost in the machine freda

 

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  August 22, 2016

 


What the world is witnessing, without actually paying much attention, is the death of our debt-based economy — that is, borrowing the means to thrive in the now from a future that can’t really furnish it anymore. The illusion that the future would always provide was a legacy of the cheap energy era. That era ended in 2005. The basic promise is broken and with it the premise for living as we had been. The energy available today, especially oil, is no longer cheap enough to run the industrial economies designed to run on it. Any way that you look at the dynamic, Modernity loses.

With oil under $50 a barrel, and gasoline under $3 a gallon (back east), the public apparently thinks that the Peak Oil story is dead and gone. But when it costs $75 a barrel to pull the stuff out of the ground, and the stuff only sells for $47 a barrel, the oil companies’ business model doesn’t really work. The shale oil companies especially have been gaming the system by issuing bonds that pay relatively high interest rates in an investment climate where almost nothing else offers enough yield to live on, especially for pension funds and insurance companies. Two little upward bumps this year in the price of oil toward the $50 range prompted a wish that the good old days of high-priced oil were coming back, that the oil business would be profitable again.

The trouble is that high oil prices — say, over $100 a barrel, as it was in 2014 — crush advanced economies, so that demand for oil crashes, and with it productive activity. Without productivity, the debts issued by companies (and even governments) don’t get repaid. There really is no “sweet spot” in this energy cost equation.

A lot of wishful thinkers would like to believe that you can run contemporary life on something beside oil. But the usual “solutions,” solar and wind energy, don’t pencil out, especially when you consider that the hardware for running them — the photovoltaics, charge controllers, batteries, turbines, and blades, can’t be mass-produced and distributed without the very fossil fuels they are supposed to replace.

These matters add up to the essential quandary of our time. It has expressed itself in falling standards of living for what used to be the middle class, most particularly in the USA. European countries have tried to work around this problem with their rigid bureaucracies for keeping those already employed from losing their jobs. In France, Spain, and Italy, this has only made it much harder for people under 30 to get a job. The jobs picture for millennials in the USA is not much better, though there’s no structural job-protection for their elders who are still working here. They live in abject fear of termination by the HR ghouls of the big corporations.

Sooner or later the younger generation will explode in rage at the system and there is no telling what the result will be. We’re already seeing it in the black ghettos, where decades of accrued social dysfunction make the anomie and purposelessness — of young men especially — much worse. The newer loser class of people who once had good jobs and now have poor prospects of ever getting them back gets swept up in the mania for their incoherent champion, Trump, who shows no sign of understanding the essential quandary of our time. The tragedy of Trumpism is that the man so poorly represents a large group of Americans with genuine woes and grievances. And the larger tragedy of our country these days is that events did not prompt better leaders to step forward.

The explanation may be that people who actually understand the dark dynamics spinning out are rather pessimistic about the our ability to carry on under the familiar disposition of things. Hillary represents the forces in our national life that want to pretend that nothing is wrong, that all the splendid rackets of the day — Federal Reserve interventions, corporate debt-fueled stock buybacks, military log-rolling, medical racketeering, the college loan Ponzi, pension fund levitation, primary dealer bank interest rate arbitrage, agribiz Frankenfood proliferation — can just grind along like some old riverboat banger engine keeping the garbage barge of American life afloat. Thus, Hillary is shaping up to be the patsy of the century, likely to preside, if elected, over the biggest blowup of established arrangements that world has ever seen.

The debt problem alone is absolutely certain to express itself in at least three major ways: the crash of equity markets, the collapse of the bond markets, and the loss of faith in the value and meaning of whatever money you’re using. Any of those events would turn the economic life of the linked advanced economies upside down. Any of them could occur during the 2016 US election season.

 


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.

Political correctness demands diversity in everything but thought

From the Keyboard of William Blum
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the future doesn't like us

Published originally in williamblum.org August 12, 2016


For 50 years I’ve been painstakingly cataloguing the brutal militarism and human-rights violations of US foreign policy, building up in the process a very loyal audience.

To my great surprise, when I recently wrote about the brutal militarism and human-rights violations of the Islamic State, I received more criticism from my readers than I’ve gotten for anything I’ve ever written. Dozens of them asked to be removed from my mailing list, as many as I’d normally get in a full year. Others were convinced that it couldn’t actually be me who was the author of such words, that I must have been hacked. Some wondered whether my recent illness had affected my mind. Literally! And almost all of the Internet magazines which regularly print me did not do so with this article.

Now why should this be?

My crime was being politically incorrect. The Islamic State, you see, is composed of Muslims, and the United States and its Western allies have bombed many Muslim countries in the recent past killing thousands of Muslims and causing widespread horror. Therefore, whatever ISIS and its allies do is “revenge”, simple revenge, and should not be condemned by anyone calling himself a progressive; least of all should violence be carried out against these poor aggrieved jihadists.

Moreover, inasmuch as ISIS is the offspring of religion, this adds to my political incorrectness: I’m attacking religion, God forgive me.

Totally irrelevant to my critics is the fact that the religious teachings of ISIS embrace murderous jihad and the heavenly rewards for suicide bombings and martyrdom. This, they insist, is not the real Islam, a religion of peace and scholarly pursuits. Well, one can argue, Naziism was not the real Germany of Goethe and Schiller, of Bach and Brahms. Fortunately, that didn’t keep the world from destroying the Third Reich.

We should also consider this: From the 1950s to the 1980s the United States carried out atrocities against Latin America, including numerous bombings, without the natives ever resorting to the repulsive uncivilized kind of retaliation as employed by ISIS. Latin American leftists took their revenge out on concrete representatives of the American empire: diplomatic, military and corporate targets, not markets, theatres, nightclubs, hospitals, restaurants or churches. The ISIS victims have included many Muslims, perhaps even some friends of the terrorists, for all they knew or cared.

It doesn’t matter to my critics that in my writing I have regularly given clear recognition to the crimes against humanity carried out by the West against the Islamic world. I am still not allowed to criticize the armed forces of Islam, for all of the above stated reasons plus the claim that the United States “created” ISIS.

Regarding this last argument: It’s certainly true that US foreign policy played an indispensable role in the rise of ISIS. Without Washington’s overthrow of secular governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and – now in process – Syria, there would today be no ISIS. It’s also true that many American weapons, intentionally and unintentionally, have wound up in the hands of terrorist groups. But the word “created” implies intention, that the United States wanted to purposely and consciously bring to life the Frankenstein monster that we know and love as ISIS.

So, you wonder, how do we rid the world of the Islamic State? I’m afraid it may already be too late. The barn door is wide open and all the horses have escaped. It’s not easy for an old anti-imperialist like myself, but I support Western military and economic power to crush the unspeakable evil of ISIS. The West has actually made good progress with seriously hampering ISIS oil sales and financial transactions. As a result, it appears that ISIS may well be running out of money, with defections of unpaid soldiers increasing.

The West should also forget about regime change in Syria and join forces with Russia against the terrorists.

And my readers, and many like them, have to learn to stop turning the other cheek when someone yelling “Allahu Akbar” drives a machete into their skull.


Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others.

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

 

Burning Down the House

gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Freda money

                                                                                                                                                          Anthony Freda

 

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  August 15, 2016

 


There’s a new feature to the Anything-Goes-and-Nothing-Matters economy: Nothing-Adds-Up. The magicians who pretend to measure the growth of GDP (Gross Domestic Product — the monetary value of all the finished goods and services) came up with a second quarter “adjusted” figure of 1.2 percent. That would have to be construed by anyone acquainted with basic econ stats as perfectly dismal. And yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics put out a sparkly Nonfarm Payroll Report of 255,000 for July, way above the forecast 180,000.

There were so many ways to game the jobs number — between people forced to work more than one shit job and the notorious “birth/death model” used to just make up any old number for political purposes — that no one can take this information seriously. Anyway, the GDP number was instantly forgotten and the jobs number launched the stock markets to previously uncharted record altitude.

It’s that time of the year for the hedge fund boys, with their testosterone flowing, to start burning down their house rentals in the Hamptons. And it’s also the time of year for an ever more stressed financial system to go down in flames. And, of course, it’s a presidential election season. Even for one allergic to conspiracy theories, it’s not farfetched to imagine a coordinated effort by central banks — under government direction — to generate Money-Out-Of-Thin-Air (QE) for the purpose of allowing “liquidity” flows to end up in US equity and bond markets in order to paint a false picture of “recovery” so as to insure the election of Hillary Clinton. I think that is exactly behind the recent money-printing activities by the Japanese and European Central Banks, and the Bank of England.

Why would it end up in US markets? For bonds, because the Euro and Japanese bond sovereign yields are in sub-zero territory and the BOE just cut its prime rate lower than the US Federal Reserve’s prime rate; and for stocks, because the value of the other three currencies is sliding down and the dollar has been rising — so, dump your falling currency for the rising dollar and jam it into rising US stocks. It’ll work until it doesn’t.

Why do this for Hillary? Because she represents the continuity of all the current rackets being used to prop up belief in the foundering business model of western civilization. If she doesn’t get into the White House there may be no backstopping of the insolvent banks and bankrupt governments and a TILT message will appear in the sky. That TILT message is likely to appear anyway because, remember,  the authorities are only pretending that they can manage events. In fact, all of their “management” strategies and shenanigans only insure the further distortion of the basic operating system, which is already so far out of whack from twenty years of previous management efforts that nothing in banking and markets really works anymore.

Companies don’t make money, despite rising share prices. No one in his right mind buys bonds with negative yields — that promise to pay back less over time — so governments have to pretend to buy them. (In fact, they don’t so much “buy” them as simply extinguish them by playing three-card-monte with national treasuries.) And, of course, the masses of people in all these nations — including the patsy USA — sink ever deeper into penury every month.

The release of tension is being felt in the ground game of politics where outsider candidates here and abroad are rising on a tide of rage and resentment. The fecklessness and stupidity of the elites has been epic, sacrificing everything to maintain the illusion of normality. Nothing is normal and “the people” are finally onto it. Sadly, it looks as if both politics and finance are veering toward crack-up simultaneously. The daisy-chained Too-Big-To-Fail banks are already choking on the suicide bolus of derivatives. The equity markets are one algo accident away from cratering. The bond markets are a sick joke. And Hillary may win the booby prize of presiding over the smoldering wreckage of it all. When it happens, she will have no idea what to do.

 


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.

Let the Games Begin!

gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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trump kong v hillzilla

 

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  August 1, 2016

 


Hot air balloons may be crashing in Texas, but in Philadelphia last week sainted Hillary, draped in spotless white privilege robes, floated through the glassiest ceiling of all on mighty gusts of saccharine gas. The good wife… the good mother… tireless fighter for the rainbow outcasts and gender martyrs of this patriarch-plagued republic, she pledged both continuity and change to the credulous faithful as history yanked her above the gurgling cesspits of allegation, suspicion, and distrust that lo, these many months, had come to be her natural haunt.

The cameras cut to poor brooding Bernie seated just above the delirious groundlings, frowny-faced, arms crossed, brow beetled beneath his white Corinthian curls, perhaps suffering the effects of cheese-steak poisoning. He’d endorsed Saint Hillary with all the passion of a Seventh Avenue soft goods jobber hawking last-year’s resort-wear, and the next day he would up-and-quit the Democratic Party — as if that was not sending a message to the true believers.

Yet another email maelstrom almost spoiled the gala, this one revealing the strings and levers pulled by the DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz in violation of the Party fairness charter. She was axed in a New York minute, and the whole country — including the ADD-afflicted news media — dropped the story to behold the awesome ascension of She-Whose-Turn-It-Is. All except the arch-boor Trump who cracked that maybe Russia could find those 20,000 emails missing from I’m-With-Her’s fabled server. The entire nation, including the aforementioned Special Needs news media, actually missed the point of the gag — which was: how lame are the US security agencies if they couldn’t find those emails but Russia could? And how come nobody raised that question?

Julian Assange then appeared, Jacob Marley-like, to warn the minions of Hillary that he had portfolios full of interesting material yet to dump, and would take his sweet time choosing the opportune moment to do it. How Hillary must wish she could send a Navy SEAL team into Ecuador’s London embassy to ventilate that hacker-rat! It will be fun waiting for Julian to make his move, and to see how much Xanax Hillary will require in the meantime. The DNC coronation show will prove to be only temporary relief from the phantoms and revenants of misdeeds past.

The distraction du jour is whether Trump has become an agent of Russia. Notice that this line of intel comes direct from the neo-con central agitprop desk. This unofficial US War Party representing the amalgamated war industries has been busy demonizing Russia throughout the current presidential term. Not all Americans are so easily gulled, though. Those who know history understand, for instance, that the Crimea has been a province of Russia almost continually for hundreds of years — except the brief interval when the ur-Ukrainian Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev one drunken evening gave it away to the then-Soviet region of Ukraine in a fit of sentimentality, assuming it would remain a virtual property of Greater Russia forever. Notice, too, that since Russia annexed it in 2014 (being the site of its only warm water port and major naval stations) not even the US neo-con war party has been able to make a credible case for fighting over it. Instead, they’ve resorted to name-calling: Putin the “thug,” Putin the “worst political gangster in the world.” This is exactly the brand of foreign policy that Hillary will bring to the Oval Office.

Not that Donald Trump offers a coherent alternative. The reasonable suspicion persists that he doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground vis-à-vis how the affairs of the world actually work. For him it’s all same as tough-talking the sheet-rocker’s union. Then, of course, Trump had to immediately step in dog-shit by bad-mouthing the mother of an American army hero who-just-happened-to-be of the Mohammedan persuasion. Trump for practical purposes is a child and a reasonable case is not hard to make for denying him presidential power.

And so the great disaster movie of 2016 commences: Godzilla Versus Rodan the Flying Reptile. Which one will survive to completely destroy the sclerotic remains of our nation? The good news is that voters are moving to the Third and Fourth party nominees, Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green) in droves, herds, flocks, porpoise pods, and stampedes. Perhaps both of these relatively sane candidates will show enough polling strength to make it into the Great Debates. Won’t that be fun?


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.

Cuba’s Second Special Period – 2016

youtube-Logo-4gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on June 12, 2016

PeakSurfer

Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

"Cuba’s economy minister told the Cuban Parliament last week, in a closed session, (drum roll) that the country would have to cut fuel consumption nearly a third in the second half of this year."
 

Foodlines in Soviet Union 1991 (photo by A. Bates)

The story of Cuba’s Special Period has been told here before, but just to refresh. (light bongo beat) In 1992 the Soviet Union was undergoing great social upheaval at home and in the shifts that followed could no longer support its massive foreign aid dole-out to client states such as Cuba. Without Russian fuel and food aid — and more importantly without the Eastern European export market for its sugar and other commodities — and still under the 30-year-old embargo imposed by the United States, Cuba sank into catastrophic recession. The caloric intake of its population shrank by a third. Oxen replaced tractors and combines. Cuba teetered at the brink of collapse.

In the face of these challenges, the spirit of the 1953-59 student-led revolt revived and bolstered the willingness of the population to come together, tighten their belts and do what needed to be done. (light guitar comes in with the bongo beat) Urban gardens led by permaculture instructors arriving from Australia and South America sprung up along sidewalks, on balconies, and on rooftops. Bicycles, horse taxis and “camels” (massive 300-passenger buses) replaced the diesel classic car fleet. Ride share coops, farmers coops, barefoot doctors and street markets ignored the daily power blackouts and kept the country alive, even thriving. (conga beat picking up, maracas coming in) It was an historic moment, although if you ask the average Cuban, as we did four years ago, they would tell you they would never want to repeat the experience.

Generalisimo Batista and his rival, medical student Ernesto "Che" Guevara


When we visited in 2012 we noticed, and blogged here, that Cuba was doing some remarkable things but that much of their economic development came from and is planning to go forward on, their alliance with friends in the South, notably Venezuela and Bolivia. Instead of being addicted to Soviet fossil energy, they were becoming enslaved to Orinoco Heavy. (castanet roll) Cuba uses 80,000 barrels per day of Venezuelan oil, but when we visited they had ambitious plans for offshore fracking, a giant harbor that would handle oil supertankers and Chinese container ships too large to dock in Miami or Houston, and a revival of the sugar industry using Brazilian next-gen technology to make ethanol. In Havana, the neighborhood gardens were still there, but they were beginning to look a little seedy. (tambourine, cow bell)

Following the student-led revolt, conditions improved markedly.


Cuba’s economy minister told the Cuban Parliament last week, in a closed session, (drum roll) that the country would have to cut fuel consumption nearly a third in the second half of this year because the Venezuelan spigot was slowly squeezing shut. Venezuelan oil exports to Cuba have dropped 40% since January. As the news rippled out through Havana there was a universal sense of Déjà vu. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, won’t be fooled again (as George W. Bush said in his being-folksy mode, unable to recall where he was in the fool-me-twice-shame-on-me proverb and so reverting to a rock anthem lyric from his Yale fraternity days).

 

Havana 2012 (photo by A. Bates)

Venezuela is running dry, as is neighboring Mexico, and bargain basement crude sales to bolster Venezuela’s economy don’t help. Venezuela can no more supply the Citgo stations in Havana than it can keep the lights on in hospitals in Caracas.

Since we are not exactly getting the White House morning briefing we can only speculate on connections between the US military/intelligence community (triple oxymoron there)’s goals in Venezuela. We know that as the curtain comes down on the Pentagon-mesmermized Drone King Administration and up on an uncertain successor, it could be a chessboard moment. (bass drum and brushed cymbals)

 

Havana 2012 (photo by A. Bates)

We know, for instance, that the shortages in Venezuela are specific products, so other food and consumer goods remain available. Could it be that the crisis in Venezuela is less about the oil economy and more about black ops by opposition elements? Those elements would include domestic food companies controlled by long-standing opponents of the Bolivarian revolution of 1999. They control, for instance, 62% of every arrepa, a staple of Venezuelan cuisine.

The market distortion is curious. Venezuelans can purchase yogurt, cheese, teas, vegetables, chocolate and fruit, but not meat, corn flour, milk, coffee, and personal hygiene products like soap, toilet paper, sanitary napkins and diapers. In a managed socialist economy you’d think the reverse would be true. It is only when you look at the ownership of the companies where scarcity exists that it begins to make sense.
 

V.P. candidate Mike Pence and actor Everett McGill – Under Siege 3?

The Friday night military coup in Turkey is another one of those things that can be explained by other factors but the timing is curious. There is no love lost in either Washington or Moscow for the Erdogan regime. Russian press and other sources linked Turkey to the CIA-covert resupply chain for the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), which the Syrian Army, supported by spectacular Russian air strikes, is in the process of decimating. Erdogan was a klutz, but he was Washington’s klutz. He made that very clear when he shot down a commercial Russian airliner and then okay’ed a new pipeline to take offshore oil and gas Israel was stealing from Gaza through Turkey to Europe. That will potentially square US accounts with kleptocrats in Kiev who keep siphoning gas meant for Europe and not paying for it.

 

Havana 2012 (photo by A. Bates)

As we penned this Friday night this we were watching the air battle over Ankara not knowing who was fighting for whom over what. That Russia Today is a more reliable witness than The New York Times is the new normal.

Cubans have been here before, and actually, this time it may not be as bad. The embargo is lifting. Although Donald Trump is out-polling Hillary Clinton in Florida, especially with Cuban-Americans, his war-chest is no match for hers and

Havana 2012 (photo by A. Bates)

nationwide, at this point in the election cycle, he is a diminishing threat to US-Cuba détente. (muted instruments, brushed cymbals, then just bongo) With air routes opening, tourist hotels being planned, and Havana’s notorious nightclubs a shorter hop than Las Vegas for half the population of the United States, Cubans only have to hold their breath while they turn off the fans 8 hours per day.

Then the

Out Out, Damned Email!

gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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LorettaLynchBillClinton_590

 

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  July 4, 2016

 


The mighty Shakespeare in his direst night sweats could not have conjured up the Clinton family in all their sharp angles and dark corners, but we can try to reconstruct the scene last week on Loretta Lynch’s plane out on the Phoenix airport tarmac. Former president Bill steps aboard:

Loretta:   What the fuck are you doing here?

Bill:            I just had to tell you what Charlotte did last week.

Loretta:   Who the fuck is Charlotte?

Bill:           Our grand-kid. She’s turning into a good little earner.

Loretta:   We can’t meet like this. We’re about to depose your wife.

Bill:           Charlotte gave a speech to the whole Citibank C-suite.

Loretta:   I don’t give a fuck. Get off my plane right now!

Bill:           Well, I don’t know if ‘speech’ is the right word. She gurgles nice.

Loretta:     I guess you didn’t hear me.

Bill:             She pulled in fifty grand for that. Of course it was a hundred percent remitted to the foundation. Well, bye now. (Exits plane).

I have a theory about the Clinton family dynamic. Bill does not want Hillary to win because he doesn’t want to live in the White House again. For sure he does not want to live with The Flying Reptile, but he especially doesn’t want to be on display in that fishbowl where folks pretty much can see what you’re up to 24/7. For one thing, “The Energizer” can’t discreetly come and go. But he certainly doesn’t want to concern himself as “First Husband” or “First Gentleman” (title TBD) with deciding which fabric to choose in replacing the East Room draperies. So Bill decided to fix things for sure with that innocent visit to the US Attorney General’s airplane to talk about grand-kids.

It seems to be working. If there was any question that Loretta Lynch could just sit on her hands about Hillary’s email investigation through the November election, it went up in a vapor last week. It also left FBI director on the hot seat because now he will have to either cough up a referral to Justice Department prosecutors, or he’ll have some ‘splainin to do in the heat of a presidential election campaign. If you thought Watergate was a ripe peach, this one is beginning to look like a stinking durian (Durio zibethinus).

Both The New York Times and the WashPo are spinning the Hillary email scandal as being about security protocols, which is to say they are deliberately putting too fine a point on the matter as a ruse to deflect from the deeper issue: namely, did Hillary as Secretary of State use her office to shovel money from sources in foreign lands into her family foundation? It sure looks that way if you match the contributions from foreign lands to the arms sale deals she approved as part of her official duties. In any case, whatever connection there might be between those arms deals and the foundation revenue, is there not under any circumstances some obvious conflict of interest (and legal liability) about a secretary of state doing personal business with foreign governments?

This matter is swelling like an abscess ready to burst just as the Hon (?) Debbie Wasserman Schultz whacks the gavel to open the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Bernie’s troops will be ready to rock and roll both inside and outside the convention, with perhaps some diversionary skirmishes by the Black Lives Matter cadres. Throw in another “Lone Wolf” massacre, say, at a cheese-steak stand and you can kiss the Democratic Party goodbye.

Note that this convergence of bad karma will take place against the background of deteriorating events on the banking scene. The European banks in particular are melting away to nothing while European Union officials wring their hands in prayer. You can bet it’s going to affect all the global banks, daisy-chained as they are in counterparty obligations. Somewhere in a dark subterranean chamber, the magma of financial derivatives is getting ready to blow.

Happy Independence Day everybody! Who needs space aliens when we’ve got Hillary and Trump?


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.

Death to All Zombies!

gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Brexit Freda

 

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  June 27, 2016

 


Wait a minute. They’re already dead. Brexit just reveals that not everybody’s brains have been eaten. A viral contagion now threatens the zombified institutions of daily life, especially the workings of politics and finance. Just as zombies exist only in the collective imagination, so do these two principal activities of society operate mainly on trust, an ephemeral product of the hive-mind.

When things fall apart in stressed complex systems, they tend to fall apart fast. It’s called phase change. Too many things in 21st century life have depended on sheer trust that the people-in-charge know what they are doing. That trust has subsisted on the doling out of money-from-nothing: debt, reckless bond issuance. TARP, QEs, bailouts, bail-ins, Operation Twists, Ponzi schemes… the whole sad-ass armamentarium of banking necromancy. The politicians let it get out of hand. Things that can’t go on don’t, and now they won’t.

The politics of Great Britain are now falling apart landslide-style. Since just about everybody in or near power can be blamed for the national predicament, there’s nobody to turn to, at least not yet. The Labour party just acted out The Caine Mutiny, starring Jeremy Corbyn as Captain Queeg. The Tory Cameron gave three months notice without any plausible replacement in view. Now Cameron’s people are hinting in the media that they can just drag their feet on Brexit, that is, not do anything to enable it from actually happening for a while. Of course, that’s what the monkeyshines of banking and finance have done: postponed the inevitable reckoning with the realities of our time: growing resource scarcity, population overshoot, climate change, ecological holocaust, and the diminishing returns of technology.

Britain illustrates the problem nicely: how to produce “wealth” without producing wealth. It’s called “the City,” their name for the little district of London that is their Wall Street. In the absence of producing real things, the City became the driver of the UK’s economy, a ghastly parasitical organism that functioned as the central transfer station for the world’s swindles and frauds, churning the West’s dwindling residual capital into a slurry of fees, commissions, arbitrages, rigged casino bets, and rip-offs. In the process, it enabled the European Central Bank (ECB) to run the con-job that the European Union (EU) became, with the fatal distortions of credit that have put its members into a ditch and sent the private European banks off a cliff, Thelma and Louise style.

The next stage of this protean global melodrama is what happens when currencies and interest rates become completely unglued from their assigned roles as patsies in financial racketeering. Sooner or later we’ll know what’s going on in the vast shadowy gloaming of “derivatives,” especially the “innovative” arrangements that affect to be “insurance” against losses in currency and interest rate “positions” — bets made on the movements of these things. When currencies rise or fall quickly, these so-called “swaps” are “triggered,” and then some hapless institution is left holding a big bag of dog-shit. A zombie is a terrible thing to behold, but a zombie holding a bag of dog-shit is like unto the end of the world.

Once this contagion starts burning, the people-in-charge won’t be able to quell it the way they did last time: by drowning it in torrents of money-from-nowhere. At least not without inducing real-deal inflation, the kind that leads to epochal ruin and more intense political upheaval: the nation-changing kind. We’re about five minutes away from that in the USA already, with the loathsome duo of Hillary and Trump putting on a Punch and Judy show for a disgusted public. If nothing else, Hillary and Trump represent the withering of political trust in America. The parties that spawned them are also whirling around the drain of credibility. They won’t survive in the form we knew them.

Who knows what comes out of this vacuum, what rough beast slouches towards Washington.

 


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.

Nausea Rising

gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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commedia

 

Originally Published on Patreon June 7, 2016

As you may know, http://Kunstler.com is currently under an aggressive Denial of Service (DoS) attack. His web and server technicians are working to get the website and blog back up and live soon (though it's going to cost a pretty penny). In the meantime, here is today's blog. Please share this with any of your CFN friends so they don't miss out.  Thank you for your continued support. — JHK


Considering that the 2016 election looks like a Dark Age puppet show — Pantalone and La Signora smacking each other with dildos — we forget this spectacle is serious. Rather large matters are at stake, such as the continuity of governance, the legitimacy of the two major political parties, the credibility of our financial arrangements, perhaps even the durability of the nation as a united polity.

Most of the deliberate comedy comes from Donald Trump, whose super-long dangling necktie looks like it was designed for laughs by the Commedia dell'Arte prop department, not to mention the hair, which I have maintained for many years is actually a wolverine living on top of Trump’s head. Trump certainly represents a large and valid strain of sentiment in the zeitgeist — the frustration of many ordinary citizens at government-sponsored racketeering that is shoving them into pauperdom. But his utterances against all that are so childish and disordered that he de-legitimates his own mission every time he opens his mouth.

Hillary delivers her laughs mostly deadpan, for instance her Sunday morning ABC interview with the old 1992 Clinton “War Room” hand George Stephanopoulos, who grilled the Flying Reptile rather mercilessly over the recent report from the State Department Inspector General that said she was “not allowed” to use the private email server no, ifs, ands, or buts. As she struggled to deflect the question, the “uh”s started to stipple her vapid evasions like holes punched in a life raft. It was fun watching her sink, uh, uh, uh, gurgle gurgle — though surely that was not the effect she was going for.

Bernie, of course, is not so funny. He’s as serious as a heart attack, which suggests that a pretty sizeable portion of the public is sick of being diverted with slapstick comedy. The old bastard is determined to give the Democratic Party poobahs some schooling in ethical procedure. I admire the heck out of that — also, his record as a demonstrably non-griftable public servant, and his stance against the racketeering-as-usual status quo — though I’m not persuaded he would be an effective president (if such a thing is even theoretically conceivable) given his nanny government disposition. But the bigshots of the DNC still have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do, and it looks like ole Bernie is going to beat it out of them at Philadelphia in July. What I wonder: is he strong enough to hold Debbie Wasserman-Schultz on his lap while he applies the rod.

The people of the United States have real grievances with the way this country is being run. Last Friday’s job’s report was a humdinger: only 38,000 new jobs created in a country of over 300 million, with a whole new crop of job-seeking college grads just churned out of the diploma mills. I guess the national shortage of waiters and bartenders has finally come to an end.

What’s required, of course, is a pretty stout restructuring of the US economy. And that should be understood to be a matter of national survival. We need to step way back on every kind of giantism currently afflicting us: giant agri-biz, giant commerce (Wal Mart etc.), giant banking, giant war-making, and giant government — this last item being so larded with incompetence on top of institutional entropy that it is literally a menace to American society.

The trend on future resources and capital availability is manifestly downward, and the obvious conclusion is the need to make this economy smaller and finer. The finer part of the deal means many more distributed tasks among the population, especially in farming and commerce operations that must be done at a local level. This means more Americans working on smaller farms and more Americans working in reconstructed Main Street business, both wholesale and retail. This would also necessarily lead to a shift out of the suburban clusterfuck and the rebuilding of ten thousand forsaken American towns and smaller cities.

For the moment, many demoralized Americans may feel more comfortable playing video games, eating on SNAP cards, and watching Trump fulminate on TV, but the horizon on that is limited too. Sooner or later they will have to become un-demoralized and do something else with their lives.

The main reason I am so against the Hillary and Trump, and so ambivalent on Bernie is their inability to comprehend the scope of action actually required to avoid sheer cultural collapse.

 


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 Fat Lady Always Sings Twice

gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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2016 hrc trump sanders

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  May 30, 2016

 


That was the week Hillary began to look like the candidate who fell off a truck wearing a Nixon mask. Email-gate is taking on the odor of Watergate — the main ingredient of which was not the dopey crime itself but the stonewalling around it. The State Department Inspector General’s report saying definitively, no, she was not “allowed” to use a private, unsecured email server validated Donald Trump’s juvenile name-calling of “Crooked Hillary.”

We may never hear the end of that now (if Trump is actually nominated). And, of course, there lurks the Godzilla-sized skeleton in her closet of the still-unreleased Goldman Sachs speech transcripts, the clamor over which is sure to grow. Meanwhile the specter of the California primary looms, a not inconceivable loss to Bernie Sanders. And onto the convention in Philly which I contend will be even more fractious and violent than the 1968 fiasco in Chicago.

I’ll say it again: Hillary is a horse that ain’t gonna finish. The Democrats better be prepared to haul Uncle Joe out of the closet, fluff up his transplanted hair, wax his dentures, give him a few Vitamin B-12 shots, and stick a harpoon in his fist for the autumn run against the White Whale (if Trump is actually nominated).

The Republican convention in Cleveland is apt to be as bloody and violent a spectacle too (if Trump is actually nominated), with Black Lives Matters cadres having already promised to put on a show for global television and their Latino counterparts marching with Mexican Flags and cute signs saying: Trump: Chingate tu madre, perhaps garnished with the sobriquet pendejo. In such a situation, Trump has enormous potential to make things worse with his childish snap-backs. Hubert Humphrey in 1968 at least had the good sense to keep his mouth shut about the moiling multitudes out on Michigan Avenue inveighing against him.

The Vietnam War was a grave debacle, and it especially pissed off the young men subject to being drafted to fight in it, but the woof and warp of American life was otherwise intact. Blue collar workers still pulled in high wages in the Big Three auto plants, and women had not yet declared war on men, and the airwaves weren’t pornified, and there were still people in government with moral authority who loudly opposed official policy. The sobering martyrdoms of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy sanctified the opposition to the status quo. Even Hubert Humphrey himself, a thoughtful man underneath his Rotarian clown mask, began to turn away from Lyndon Johnson’s war hawks.

Nixon won. He surely benefited most not so much from the war issue and the riots in the streets as from the mass defection of Southern states from the long-entrenched domination of the Democratic Party — directly due to Johnson’s dismantling of the old Jim Crow laws. As a personality, Nixon was as much a pendejo as Donald Trump, but no one doubted his ability to run the machinery of government, if not the way they wanted to run it.

One difference today is that the two supposedly leading candidates, Hillary and Trump, are broadly loathed and mocked by people of all ages, not just disaffected youth. Trump appears to actually know so little about the major problems the country faces — energy, trade, the animus of foreigners — that he would be literally helpless in crisis. Hillary would enter the White House more mistrusted than Tricky Dick, and more starkly wired into the parasitical elites draining the body politic of its precious bodily fluids — in the immortal words of Doctor Strangelove.

Though it appears that Trump has consolidated the delegate vote needed for nomination, something tells me that a move is yet afoot to knock the gold ring out of his grubby fingers. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is playing it very cagey and you can imagine that current party stalwarts and office-holders all over the land are wringing their hands over being asked to follow Trump into some dark night of the American soul. Paul Ryan must know that a coup at the convention is still conceivable and that the action inside the hall will be as violent as the street-fighting outside.

 


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.

Lower Away!

elephant-donkey-boxinggc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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elephant-donkey-boxing

 

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  May 23, 2016

 


I hope you’re enjoying these horse latitudes of the political year, when the seas suddenly turn glassy and the Berning sun begins to roast all the diverse and inclusive hands on Hillary’s deck, who wait in anxiety for the first sign of a fresh breeze to push them toward landfall. Meanwhile, full fathom five below the dead calm waters the leviathan Trump waits in his comfortable darkness, circling forward, circling back, solitary, malevolent, content in his bulking grievances, patiently awaiting his moment to rise and smash his rival.

Things go eerily quiet and still before the California primaries. At this stage, the two major parties have discredited themselves so thoroughly that a necrotic stink wafts around the election of ’16. Who put that road-kill possum in Hillary’s podium? Why does Donald look every week more and more like a lurching Golem? The parties are rudderless. Their leaders range the decks like wailing revenants. It’s as if the mortal remains of Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan have come from the grave to eat the brains of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Reince Priebus. The rectified essence of every zombie fantasy churned out of Hollywood seeps through the capillaries of the dying political establishment, as it stews and ferments and waits to be loaded on the garbage barge of history.

Hillary threw a “hail Mary” after the Oregon debacle, proposing that husband Bill would become some kind of economic czar in her inevitable “turn” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s when you knew her crusade was doomed. It raised such a snickering in the media that the sick tropes of HBO’s Veep show looked like press releases from Proctor & Gamble’s PR office in comparison. Bill did such a great job at repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, maybe this dynamic duo of lawyers (“two for the price of one!”) can work on eliminating the anti-trust laws, the First Amendment, and the writ of habeas corpus — and then America can become a fullblown banana republic.

Trump has evidently been working on that smile of his: the slitty eyes, the weird horizontal lip stretch under that baleen of head-gear, the perfect expression of his white whale-hood. The crew from the ghostly GOP Pequod still doesn’t know what the heck to do about him. They rock above the depths in their flimsy dinghies, harpoons drooping, waiting for the sea to boil below them and their boats to splinter.

That will precede a more general splintering to come of the republic, first by demographics, then by territory. The most exceptional thing about the US has been the rapidity of its rise and now fall in the roll-call of empires. We barely had time to put together a coherent culture that historians of the future (enjoying ratatouille with fresh rat by firelight) could identify, and now it’s all percolating into a dreadful maelstrom in which one catches glimpses of the Kardashians, PT Barnum, Betsy Ross, Davey Crockett, and Eleanor Roosevelt amid the detritus of broken Tupperware and flapping pages of the Affordable Care Act. What a goddamned mess we’ve left to posterity.

Something is in the air that tells me Hillary will be dumped by the convention in Philadelphia in favor of Uncle Joe Biden, biding his time practically next door in Wilmington. Speaking of turns, isn’t it Delaware’s turn for a president? He’ll be a respectable place-holder, and he might even get elected, though the party will dissolve before he’s done, just in time for Texas to secede from the Union and set the tone for California, Oregon, and Washington State. Before you know it, the political map will look like 1861 again.

Donald Trump will be forgotten before Thanksgiving. He will leave a bizarre mental imprint on the life of the nation-that-was, something like a bad acid trip. And then the people of North America may actually have to start grappling with the problems induced by a failed banking system, population overshoot, climate instability, and the lost boundaries of social behavior.

 


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.

Trumptopia

Branco-Trump-and-Hillarygc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Branco-Trump-and-Hillary

   Branco  LegalInsurrection.com    

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  May 9, 2016

 


For years, it was easy to see the political storm clouds gather over Europe with its fractious coalitions and its ancient babble of conflicts. Marine Le Pen’s Daddy, severe old Jean-Marie, was on the scene in France decades before Donald Trump ascended to glory on the noxious clouds of America’s crapified culture, attended by heavenly hosts of Kardashian angels and the cherub Honey BooBoo.

For all the strains in recent American life, the two-party system had seemed as solid as the granite towers of the Brooklyn Bridge. Not even the estimable Teddy Roosevelt could blow up the system when he tried in 1912 — though his Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party carried California, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, and he far out-polled the incumbent Republican President Taft, who garnered a measly 8 electoral votes (Democrat Woodrow Wilson won). Ross Perot made an impact in 1992 — he certainly had a good point about NAFTA and “the giant sucking sound” of jobs draining out of the USA. But his popinjay manner didn’t go over so well, and at the critical moment in the general election he lost his nerve and withdrew, only to foolishly re-enter weeks later. Then there was the Ralph Nader in 2000, whose egoistic crusade arguably put George W. Bush in the White House.

Since then, the country see-sawed between the long tenures of two Deep State errand boys from each major party, putting both parties in such a bad odor that Trump now rises on their mephitic fumes. Which raises the question, of course: what exactly is this Deep State? Answer: A leviathan of symbiotic rackets producing maximum incompetence affecting adversely the majority of citizens. It’s a blood-sucking beast of a hundred-thousand heads draining the USA of its dwindling vitality, lying about its intentions while it advertises the pietistic certainties of the Left and superstitious shibboleths of the Right, leaving a smoking hole in the middle where the practical problems of everyday life used to be worked out by practical means.

The Deep State is also the sum of unintended consequences and diminishing returns of a late-stage, bureaucratic, techno-industrial economy cannibalizing itself to stay alive. One obvious conclusion is that this economy has got to change before there is nothing left to eat, and no political figure on the scene, including Trump and Bernie Sanders, has a plausible vision of where this takes us. Both really just assume that the engine keeps chugging down the track of ever more material wealth that can be distributed differently. The truth is, there will be a lot less material wealth of the kind we’re used to, and a lot less capital representation in the things we call “money.” In fact, the scene at hand today is just a spectacle of the shrewdest and biggest rodents scarfing up the table-scraps of a 200-year-long banquet.

Hillary Clinton, of course, is the Deep State incarnate, which is the real reason so few citizens trust her. Every poor schnook getting shaken down for a $90,000 appendectomy bill looks at Hillary and knows exactly what she represents. Every 25-year-old jobless, couch-surfing millennial carrying fifty-grand in college debt sees the face of the Deep State in her self-satisfied demi-smile. Mainly, she has gulled the diversity pimps — because they are wards of the Deep State — and women, because it’s Mommy’s “turn” to direct the Deep State. Writer, financier, and Deep State rogue operative Jim Rickards keeps insisting that Uncle Joe Biden will end up as the Democratic nominee. (He said so in a Tweet just the other day). You have to wonder what this guy knows. Don’t suppose that Uncle Joe is the knight on a white horse you’ve been waiting for. After all, he’s vice-president of the Deep State.

Voters seem attracted to Trump because he’s so eager to give the finger to the Deep State. It deserves the finger, but it also needs to be carefully disassembled without blowing up what remains of this country. Trump already has a good start on blowing up the Republican Party. Never before have so many party officials dissociated themselves from the (so far) presumptive nominee. I expect to see more extreme measures against Trump to be yet attempted by the party mandarins in the two months before the convention. I doubt you will hear about them before they happen.

In the face of that, Trump’s behavior only gets more childish. His speech after the Indiana primary was a masterpiece of incoherence. Everything that reflected on the magnificence of his victory was “incredible.” Interestingly, that was exactly the right word. He’s tuned in to the national nervous breakdown underway. From time to time, when he’s not speaking emptily about how much he is loved, Trump voices some legitimate concern of the Deep State’s victims. There are few decent jobs outside the Deep State’s own rackets. We’re not obliged to take in a limitless stream of immigrants. Nation-building by military means has been a dismal failure. The national debt is a problem. The country’s infrastructure is decrepit. Trump says he can negotiate a fix to all this: the art of the deal. Blowing smoke up the Deep State’s ass is not a plan.

The tragedy is that no other serious, grown-up figures stepped forward in this dangerous moment of history. The party that Trump purports to represent lost itself in wilderness of grift, jingoism, and supernatural pettifoggery. The rival Democratic Party is high on the fumes of “diversity and inclusion,” kindergarten politics that only corrode what’s left of our tattered common culture. Hillary’s Deep State couldn’t have found a better diversionary subterfuge. Both parties are close to blowing up altogether. I’m not convinced that they’ll survive their own conventionas this summer. Then what?

 


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.

Hillarism

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Published on Peak Surfer on April 24, 2016

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"The Irish Water crisis, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, offshore tax-avoidance havens, the collapse of ecosystems, Occupy Hong Kong, Australian greedy banks, and the rise of Donald Trump link to a single bad gene in our political DNA."

 


It is the political silly season, although these days it never seems to be otherwise. Delma Rouseff, Brazil’s heroic anti-establishment, anti-corruption President, has been impeached by the lower house on (dubious) charges of corruption, but the former, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called it more accurately a "coup d’état.”

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned after it was revealed he owned an offshore company with his wife to channel millions of kroner. British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he owned shares in a Bahamas-based trust up until 2010. In Malta, protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat for the same tax-avoidance activities.

Scores of countries will hold national elections in 2016. In January, Portugal elected Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, former leader of the Social Democratic Party and supported by the Social Democratic Party and the CDS – People's Party. Portugal, which rationalized recreational drug policy in 2001, tilted left.

Ireland, which has a gender neutral election law, requiring any election to be supported by at least 30% male and 30% female voters, in February elected a right-leaning Dáil Éireann (parliament). Sadly the coalition is still too fractious to choose a Taoiseach (prime minister)

In 2013 Ireland consolidated separate county and local water authorities into a single national utility, which proceeded to install meters everywhere and raise rates. In 2014 and 2015 local protests blocked meter installers. Four percent of Ireland's population showed up at one demonstration in Dublin. Irish Water is a wedge between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, so no prime minister for Ireland.

Legislative elections for 450 Duma seats will be held in Russia on 18 September. Polls April 10th give Dmitry Medvedev’s conservative United Russia 46%, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s right-wing anti-communist Liberal Democratic Party 11%, Gennady Zyuganov’s left-wing Communist Party 9%, A Just Russia People's Freedom Party 5% and the remainder to 10 other parties, including the Greens led by Oleg Mitvol.

In Peru, the first round on April 10th narrowed the field to Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, of the Popular Force party, and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski candidate of the Peruvians for Change party. Fujimori has a healthy lead and the second round of voting comes June 5th. Peru is interesting if for no other reason than the names of its political parties (as translated): 

Popular Force
Peruvians for Change
Broad Front
Alliance for Progress
Popular Alliance
Popular Action
Direct Democracy
Possible Peru
Hope Front
Order Party
Developing Peru
Everybody for Peru

These names seem like something you might read on post-its on the wall of the “creatives” room in an ad agency.

In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last November: "I would say around September–October is when you should expect the next election to be.” However, when parties predictably deadlocked over bills to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a bone of contention for the opposition Labor Party, Turnbull this week announced he would dissolve Parliament on May 3 and call for new elections July 2. Turnbull himself is well known to Australians and his party the clear frontrunner. But lately he has been losing ground to Labor leader Bill Shorten in the polls. Labor needs to win 21 seats to take power, a swing of 4.3%. BBC reports:

“Mr Turnbull will attempt to paint Mr Shorten as a union lackey who cannot manage the economy; Mr Shorten will say Mr Turnbull is an out-of-touch protector of greedy banks leading a divided party that stands for nothing.”

The Philippines just concluded its presidential debate cycle and is headed to national elections May 9th. At the top of the ballot is the election for successor to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. The leading candidate is the current VP Jejomar Binay. His opponents include Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago (People's Reform Party) who is suffering from stage 4 lung cancer. Called "the Iron Lady of Asia,” she was the widely expected winner of the 1992 Philippine Presidential Elections, but lost after an inexplicably unscheduled power outage during the counting of votes. The Supreme Court of the Philippines recently declared optical scanner counting devices “corrupt” and forced precincts to return to hand counts.

Santiago announced her candidacy for president in the launch of her book, Stupid is Forever, on October 13, 2015.

Other candidates include Rodrigo “Courage and Compassion” Duterte (PDP–Laban), Grace "Government with a Heart” Poe (Independent) and Mar "Continue the Straight Path” Roxas (Liberal).

While the People’s Republic of China will not be holding national elections this year, what is brewing at the grass roots in Hong Kong is QI — quite interesting.  Wikipedia reports:

The emergence of new political groups led by young activists is set to shake up the political landscape of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Indigenous, a pro-independence localist group, faired well in the February New Territories East by-election by receiving more than 66,000 votes, coming third after pan-democratic Civic Party and pro-Beijing DAB, gaining about 15 percent of the total votes. A day after the election, localist groups including Wong Yuk-man's Proletariat Political Institute, Wong Yeung-tat's Civic Passion and Chin Wan's Hong Kong Resurgence Order announced a plan to field candidates in all five geographical constituencies.

On 10 April 2016. six post-Occupy organisations, Youngspiration, East Kowloon Community, Tin Shui Wai New Force, Cheung Sha Wan Community Establishment Power, Tsz Wan Shan Constructive Power and Tuen Mun Community, political groups formed after the Umbrella Revolution, formed an electoral alliance planned to field candidates in four of the five geographical constituencies with the agenda to put forward a referendum on Hong Kong's self-determination. Hong Kong Indigenous and another new pro-independence Hong Kong National Party also stated that they will run in the upcoming election.

On the same day on 10 April 2016, the student leaders in the Umbrella Revolution, Joshua Wong, Oscar Lai and Agnes Chow of Scholarism and Nathan Law of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) also formed a new party Demosisto which was inspired by Taiwan's New Power Party which was formed by the Sunflower Movement leaders and fared well in the 2016 Taiwanese legislative election. The new party calls for referendum on Hong Kong's future after 2047 when the One Country, Two Systems is supposed to expire. The party aimed at fielding candidates in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon East, facing competitions from other new political groups while posing challenge to the traditional pan-democracy camp.

Finally, turning to the USA: With Bernie Sanders’ inability to unset the Hillary Clinton base in New York (Manhattan 66% – 33%; Westchester County 67% – 32%) on Tuesday, it looks more and more like a Clinton victory at the convention is a lead pipe cinch. Who knows? She might even have the team to out-Diebold the Trump machine. In Brooklyn, tens of thousands of voters discovered too late that they were ineligible to vote. The New York City Elections Board confirmed that more than 125,000 Brooklyn voters had been scrubbed from the voter rolls and the NY Attorney General's office is on the case. Clinton can now win less than half of the remaining primaries and still gain the required number of delegates.

Can she throw some kind of a aikido move on the Trump steamroller? We don’t yet know who controls the machines, but it is a pretty good bet it ain’t the Donald.

This past week George Monbiot penned one of the best essays of his career, although it was actually a teaser for his new book, How Did We Get into This Mess? published by Verso for £12.99.

In naming Neoliberalism as the root of all our problems, Monbiot linked the Irish Water crisis, the slow collapse of public health and education, rigged Philippine elections, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, offshore tax-avoidance havens, the collapse of ecosystems, Occupy Hong Kong, Australian greedy banks, and the rise of Donald Trump to a single bad gene in our political DNA.

Monbiot writes:

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

When George W. Bush attributed the rise of Islamic jihadis to “they hate our freedom,” what he was doing was reinforcing the neoliberal meme. As Monbiot puts it:

Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.

Hillary Clinton likes to tell audiences that because of the Affordable Care Act, "We now have driven costs down to the lowest they've been in 50 years.” Actually, health spending in the United States is higher than it's ever been, so the statement on its face is inaccurate. The U.S. spends more per capita than every other country in the OECD; and twice as much per capita as the system in France, with considerably worse average outcomes.

Monbiot writes:

The privatisation or marketisation of public services such as energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and prisons has enabled corporations to set up tollbooths in front of essential assets and charge rent, either to citizens or to government, for their use. Rent is another term for unearned income.

Unearned income is what buys elections, and not just in the United States.

What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. And that is what none of the elections in 2016 seem to be doing.

The Awful Lull

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation April 25, 2016

 


Spring unfolds at last in all its loveliness and Hillary sits back in repose like the matriarch of toads with a clear path to her toadstool throne, having swallowed the mouse-king Sanders. (She forgets that there are millions more mice under the thatched grass, including new mouse-kings awaiting.) And Trump with his bullfrog smile now casts his baleful eye on the two remaining gnats circling his lily pad. Yes, this magical week when the world bursts into leaf and flower, the life of our nation seems like a fairy tale.

Weeks from now when we’re used to the mild air and the greened world, going coatless and care-free, is when the storms of summer strike and the life of the nation turns from fairy tale to horror comic. Both Clinton and Trump are perfect representatives of the nascent forces moving towards some kind of civil war in comic book America.

Clinton perfectly embodies the fortress of the status quo, including especially her praetorian guard of black ghetto grandmothers, giving Hillary the false appearance of some sort of righteousness when, really, she has nothing to offer the greater crisis of black manhood, boxed into prison by the ancient crippling rules of federal welfare policy with its extreme penalties on active fathering. Otherwise, the stone wall of her status quo fortress conceals her privy council of Wall Street necromancers, and the fortune they have helped her lay up in the vaults of the Clinton Foundation.

All of which is to say that Hillary represents the forces that want to keep things just as a they are: rackets rampant. What can crush her triumph of fakery is the sudden manifestation of rackets collapsing under their own weight — a set of awful probabilities waiting to happen, ranging from riots at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia to an accident in financial markets jerry-rigged to mis-price everything for the purpose of funneling carry-trade gains into East Hampton. Look how she croaks about the triumph of the Affordable Care Act, as though it’s a great thing that Americans can shell out $10,000 a year for medical coverage that only kicks in after you rack up the first $6,000 in charges. (Forgetting for a moment that the costs are an hallucination of the “ChargeMaster” system designed to lavish six-figure salaries plus bonuses on the maestros in the hospital executive suites.) What a demonic fraud this woman is.

In terms of sheer persona on persona, Trump is not much better, a walking hood ornament on the faltering beater car that America has become. But at least he recognizes that the beater beneath him needs a complete overhaul, even if he can barely cobble up a coherent list of particulars, or name the mechanics who might be able to fix the damn thing. And, of course, a broad swathe of Americans whose lives have also come to resemble beater cars are very sympathetic to the impulses Trump radiates.

For example, I happen to agree that the nation needs to act on immigration, both on the problem of illegal immigrants and on limiting the quotas of legally admitted newcomers. The Left, sunk in its sentimental sob stories of “dreamers,” and its nostalgia for the Ellis Island romance of 1904, can’t conceive of any reason why the nation might benefit from, at least, a time-out on invitations. The idea undermines their world-saving fantasies. In my little corner of America, the computer chip factory run by Global Foundries (owned by the Emirate of Dubai) has just laid off the majority of its homegrown American technical labor force and replaced them with foreign technicians on H1B visas, thus creating x-number of new Trump voters among the laid-off, and rightfully so, I think.

Really, who says we have to invite every striver from other parts of the world where striving is more difficult? Let them improve the strive-osity of their own nations. Do the citizens already here not have any right to halt the influx and take stock of the nation’s circumstances for a period of time? If only Trump could speak clearly about these issues instead of simply issuing crude and rather dumb threats.

Enjoy this end-of-April lull in the action. Use the moment to gird your loins and perhaps get the hell out of the financial markets while the getting is good. I think you will see things liven up a lot as the heat rises and the seventeen-year locusts emerge from their long sleep underground in frightening storms.

 


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 Mystery Revealed

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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.

Mistakes Were Made

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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.

Between the Loathsome and the Unspeakable

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation February 22, 2016

 


How reassuring is it to Hillary, exactly, that she won what amounted to a straw poll totaling less than 11,000 votes among the various Nevada hotel employees unions? You could tell from her pained, artificial smile at the victory podium that there is something booby prize-ish about that narrow triumph. And what was with the metallic red outfit that had her looking like a previously-owned Christmas tree ornament? Maybe her handlers put her in Kevlar for the occasion.

She’ll need it as this fretful election campaign moves into the middle innings. That trademark unconvincing smile masks the embarrassing truth that the fix is in for Hillary inside the dark machine that is the Democratic Party hierarchy, hijacked by chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s league of crones. The so-called “super-delegates” have all been rounded up and branded with a big smoking “H” on their hindquarters, leaving poor Bernie in the alkali basin of dashed hopes.

Readers have noticed (and complained loudly) lo these many months that I couldn’t get on-board for Bernie. I’m glad that someone opposed Mz It’s-My-Turn, but the Vermonter-from-Brooklyn lacks the juice to drive the necessary wooden stake into her grifter’s heart. The Goldman Sachs speaking fees ($200-K-plus each) should have been enough to send her to the donkey’s graveyard but, like so many awful truths in our over-amped and under-brained world, it got sucked into the TMZ alternative universe of discarded realities.

The latest simpleton’s political theory floating around the ether says that Hillary is guaranteed to get the overwhelming support of black voters. Why is that exactly? And what does it mean? Is she going to re-run the civil rights era? Is she going take up the banner for “safe spaces” on campus? Is she going to join the Oscars boycott? And, honestly, what has Mr. Obama done for black America, besides provide a model for how you can get somewhere in this society by learning how to speak English intelligibly?

So, the simpleton’s theory goes: Hillary wins the black and Hispanic vote and a big majority of womens’ votes. What does that mean? That America is now split into an ethnic-and-womens’ party (Dems) against a white mens’ party (Repubs)? Isn’t that a nice recipe for a multi-dimensional civil war?

Actually, it would be the mere seasoning in a stew of civilizational crisis simmering on the margins of the stupidest election contest in American history that could literally blow the country to pieces. The news media is, for instance, perfectly oblivious to the awful instabilities blossoming on the financial scene. In fact, the banks and markets are behaving in a way that suggests shocking disruptions to everyday life before the general election is even held. How would the Hillary-versus-Trump match-up go in a September of bank bail-ins and empty supermarket shelves due to the inability of businesses to service one another?

Rumblings out of the banking system ought to inform us that trust in mutual obligations is dwindling to the same zero-peg (and under) as world-wide interest rates. Something’s got to give and something will give (perhaps starting with something that has the initials “DB”) and then a whole lot of other things will give — beating a path swiftly to disrupting the normal complex operations of daily life that put food in your microwave and gasoline in the convenience store pumps. At that point, of course, all bets are off. Without being too cute about it, we ought to have reason to worry that America will be too disorderly later this year to even hold the 2016 general election.

As for Mr. Trump, he remains what I said at the campaign’s outset: worse than Hitler, lacking the brains, charm, and savoir faire of the Ol’ Fuhrer, and with his darkness even more plainly visible. Even Adolf could manage to get his necktie on so that it didn’t dangle around his nutsack. I don’t mean to trivialize the difference between these two psychopaths, except to say that America will be very very sorry to follow the tune of the so-far leading Republican candidate’s pied-pipings.

Frankly, if Mr. Trump actually manages to technically snag the party’s nomination, I can imagine several consequences. One, that he will indeed succeed in destroying the party. The other leaders at the dark heart of its hierarchy will never stand for Trump. In that case, they will form a breakaway rump GOP and throw their support to Michael Bloomberg, if he decides to jump in — and he might be enough of a true patriot to do that. The less appetizing alternative consequences involve the apparatus of the runaway Deep State (NSA and the military) either bumping off Trump, or staging a coup d’état against him in the event that he manages to get elected. I’m not advocating for those outcomes, but you ought to be prepared for the possibilities.

Most of all, don’t underestimate the power of events to outrun personalities this year.

 


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.

Notes from the Locked Ward

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation February 8, 2016

 


The remaining Americans sound-of-mind must view the primary election spectacle with mounting sensations of wonder, nausea, and panic. It’s one thing for the financial system to crack up, and another thing for social norms to disintegrate, and still another for the political system to become a locked ward of obvious psychopathology. Even the neurosurgeon on duty went narcoleptic the other night when his name was called to take the stage.

Last week’s candidate “debates” (or boasting contests) only underscored the human frailty on display. Marco Rubio was unmasked as an android with a broken flash drive. For a few moments I thought I was seeing an clip from the old movie Alien. In fact, the Republican melodrama more and more echoes the tone and plot of that story: a hapless, bumbling crew lost in space. One of these nights, something unspeakable is going to shoot out of Donald Trump’s mouth and there will be blood all over the podiums.

The Democratic boasting contest was not more reassuring. Bernie blew his biggest chance yet to harpoon the white whale known as Hillary when he cast some glancing aspersions on Mz It’s-My-Turn’s special side-job as errand girl of the Too-Big-To-Fail banks. Together, Bill and Hillary racked up $7.7 million on 39 speaking gigs to that gang, with Hillary clocking $1.8 million of the total for eight blabs. When Bernie alluded to this raft of grift, MzIMT retorted, “If you’ve got something to say, say it directly.”

There was a lot Bernie could have said, but didn’t. Such as: what did you tell them that was worth over $200,000 a pop? Whatever it was, it must have made them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Did it occur to you that this might look bad sometime in the near future? Is there any way that this might not be construed as bribery? And how is some formerly middle-class out-of-work average voter supposed to feel about you getting paid more for 45 minutes of flapping your gums than he or she has earned in the past five years?

Bernie could have found a gentlemanly way to say that directly, but perhaps he experienced a sickening precognitive vision of his jibes being used against the party establishment’s candidate in the fall general election. Of course, if it looked like Hillary was going to get elected, the remaining sound-of-mind in this country might be falling over each other to apply for citizenship in Uruguay.

Beyond all the political histrionics, is there not some broad recognition that whoever occupies the White House in 2017 will preside over a financial debacle like unto nothing in scale that the world has ever seen before? With all the reverberating side effects imaginable among the traumatized nations? Something wicked has been creeping through the stock markets since the year began. The velocity and damage are amping up. Credit default swap spreads are yawning like fault lines in a ‘quake. Bankers are watching their share prices collapse. It’s a wonder that panic has not already broken out.

This is not just about Wall Street and its counterparts in London, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Frankfurt. This is the financial world (and underworld) catching up with the Economy of Actual Stuff. In the USA, that economy has bled out like a hapless bystander with a sucking chest wound for the last eight years. Despite all the patriotic sanctimony on view at the Superbowl, the nation appears to be visibly cracking up, along with the fantasy of a permanent global economy.

None of the desperate work-arounds since 2008 have worked around the predicaments of our time. Politics will not abide a rational journey out of our fatal hyper-complexity to something simpler and more consistent with the realities at hand. Expect more and greater craziness as the year lurches on.

 


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.

Worse Than 1860

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation January 18, 2016
 

The lost story-line amid the food-fights and boasting contests that the “debates” have turned into is the destruction being wreaked on the two major parties themselves. I don’t see how either the Republicans or Democrats get out of this thing alive. The primary season now upon us is the event horizon that sucks these two purposeless clubs into the bottomless hole of historical bad memories. Both parties have failed so fundamentally to represent or even apprehend the interests of the nation that they are now merely obstacles to any sort of plausible future, two infernal machines blocking the road, shaking themselves to death.

The Republican Party may be closer to outright blowup since the rank and file will never accept Donald Trump as their legitimate candidate, and Trump has nothing but contempt for the rank and file. If Trump manages to win enough primaries and collect a big mass of delegate votes, the July convention in Cleveland will be the site of a mass political suicide. The party brass, including governors, congressmen, senators and their donor cronies will find some device to deprive Trump of his prize, and the Trump groundlings will revolt against that move, and the whole nomination process will be turned over to the courts, and the result will be a broken organization. The Federal Election Commission may then have to appeal to Capital Hill to postpone the general election. The obvious further result will be a constitutional crisis. Political legitimacy is shattered. Enter, some Pentagon general on a white horse.

Parallel events could rock the Democratic side. I expect Hillary to exit the race one way or another before April. She comes off the shelf like a defective product that never should have made it through quality control. Nobody really likes her. Nobody trusts her. Nobody besides Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Huma Abedin believe that it’s her turn to run the country. Factions at the FBI who have had a good look at her old State Department emails want to see her indicted for using the office to gin up global grift for the Clinton Foundation. These FBI personnel may be setting up another constitutional crisis by forcing Attorney General Loretta Lynch either to begin proceedings against Clinton or resign. Rumors about her health (complications from a concussion suffered in a fall ) won’t go away. And finally, of course, Senator Bernie Sanders is embarrassing her badly at the polls.

The Democrats could feasibly end up having to nominate Bernie on a TKO, but in doing so would instantly render themselves a rump party peddling the “socialist” brand — about the worst product-placement imaginable, given our history and national mythos. In theory, the country might benefit from a partial dose of socialism such as single-payer Medicare-for-all — just to bust up the odious matrix of rackets that medicine has become — but mega-bureaucracy on the grand scale is past its sell-by date for an emergent post-centralized world that needs its regions to get more local and autonomous.

The last time the major political parties disintegrated, back in the 1850s, the nation had to go through a bloody convulsion to reconstitute itself. The festering issue of slavery so dominated politics that nothing else is remembered about the dynamics of the period. Today, the festering issue is corruption and racketeering, but none of the candidates uses those precise terms to describe what has happened to us, though Sanders inveighs against the banker class to some effect. Trump gets at it only obliquely by raging against the “incompetence” of the current leadership, but he expresses himself so poorly in half-finished sentences and quasi-thoughts that he seems to embody that same mental incapacity as the people he rails against. Corruption and racketeering go unobserved and unchallenged. Even the amazing effrontery of Ted Cruz failing to report his Goldman Sachs campaign contributions to the FEC (with his wife employed as a managing director of that company!) hardly made an impression on public opinion last week.

Political uncertainty has never been so dangerously high in this country since the election year of 1860. Even the Watergate years pale against today’s sick scene because for all of Richard Nixon’s turpitudes and evasions in the White House, the institutions of democracy elsewhere were sound and worked impressively well. The senate committee steadfastly and systematically uncovered the crimes of Nixon and his cohorts over two years of hearings, and the House judiciary committee chugged efficiently through the preparatory work of impeachment — and then, old Tricky Dick boarded his helicopter to San Clemente with a ragged smile and a wave.

Nobody knows where the shit show of 2016 is leading. The uncertainty around it is helping to sink what remains of the old economy, and one can easily discern a very dangerous set of feedbacks creeping into place.

 

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

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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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