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The Broken Template

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation January 26, 2015

The more detached from reality American culture becomes the more strictly ceremonial leadership gets, as illustrated by the raft of bromides Barack Obama floated past the assembled vassalage of government last week in another grand effort to avoid the necessities of the moment.

Those necessities include freeing a hostage public from the tyrannical clutches of corporate despotism — the evil empire of big boxes, big burgers, big pharma, Big Brother — and the atrocious rackets fostered by them that masquerade as an economy. The template of the life we have known is broken and the pieces within are flying apart, and no amount of wishing or promising can keep them going. If this society is even going to survive, the people have to smash their way out of this template prison, probably against the efforts of the people and organizations now running it merely for their own benefit.

The future is telling us very clearly: get smaller, get finer, get more local, get less complex, get less grandiose, do it now. Do you want to eat food in the years ahead? Better make sure you live in a part of the country where small-scale farming and backyard gardening is possible because the General Mills Agri-Biz GMO Cheerios model will be folding its big tent along with its financing agents in the debt Ponzi banking system.

Do you want to have a personal economic future? Think about what you can do to make yourself useful in a local economy made up of your neighbors. And if you live in one of the thousands of soulless, neighborless suburban wastelands that amount to nothing but big box and big burger plantations, you better get out and find a real town in some other part of the country.

Do you believe that computers and robot factories will define the years to come? Maybe you have failed to notice that the US electric grid is decrepit and in need of at least a $1 trillion upgrade-and-rebuild, which, by the way, is not going to happen. What is all that crap going to run on? America’s disappointment with the broken promises of technology will be so epic that we’ll be lucky not to slide back into a world ruled by superstition and ghosts.

Do you think that $50 oil is going to make the world safe for WalMart, Walt Disney World, and Happy Motoring? In fact, $50 oil is going to crush what is left of the US Oil industry, especially fracking for shale oil and deep water drilling. And guess what — everything else is depleting at about 5 percent a year. The frackers will never again get access to the sort of junk bond financing that allowed them to ramp up their Ponzi demonstration projects in the Bakken and Eagle Ford. And they will never again regain their current level of production — which is the net result of past Ponzi financing, now ending in tears. So, forget “Saudi America” and “energy independence,” unless you mean living in a walkable community near a navigable waterway.

Do you want to be an educated person, that is, someone capable of comprehending reality and functioning within its demands? In the USA, that means you must learn how to speak and write English correctly, especially if you are in a “low performing” ethnic minority group. If you can’t conjugate verbs, you will have a hard time distinguishing the past, the present, and the future in your daily activities. Among other things, you’ll be incapable of showing up on time. And that, of course, is only the beginning. It’s that simple. These abilities used to be the result of an eighth-grade education in the United States. We would be lucky to get back to that high standard, and our knucklehead fantasies about universal access to community college be damned. It’s only a new layer in the current racket that pretends to be education.

That is the current state of the union and a glimpse of the trajectory it’s on, which the inept leaders of our country do not comprehend and cannot communicate.

 

 

***

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.

Schilling Shilling

Off the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  November 4, 2013

 

Shale-Gas--A-natural-gas--007

     Such is the power of wishful thinking that a set of fool-making memes now pulses through the word-clouds of financial chatter in America spreading the false good cheer that our economic troubles are behind us and pimping for perpetual motion in wealth expansion. A poster boy for this bundle of falsehoods is financial analyst A. Gary Schilling. Just last week, he was talking out of his cloacal vent about US “energy independence” and “the manufacturing renaissance” that will allow this country to magically decouple from the compressive contraction driving the rest of the world.

     Shilling is among the growing chorus of cheerleaders who believe that the shale oil and gas boom will make it possible for so-called “consumers” (what we foolishly call ourselves) to keep driving to Wal-Mart forever — which is the master wish behind all the current fantasies of endless expansion. That idea is going to leave a lot of people disappointed and put the nation further behind in the necessary reorganization of all the key systems that support everyday civilized life, namely: food production, commerce, transport, and the management of capital.

     Here’s what’s actually going to happen with shale oil and gas. Best case scenario: shale oil production rises for three more years to about 2.3 million barrels a day and then crashes so quickly that in 10 years the shale oil industry ceases to exist. A less rosy forecast would admit that the exorbitant costs of drilling-and-fracking will not find the necessary capital to even take the industry that far. Rather, dwindling capital will see the shocking decline rates of shale wells (commonly 50 percent the first year and double digits the following) and will run shrieking for other places to hide.

     Contrary to Gary Schilling’s blather, America is not practicing “energy conservation.” Rather, an economy engineered strictly to run on cheap oil has gotten crushed by oil that is not cheap. Does Schilling believe, for example, that American suburbia works just as well on $90-a-barrel oil as it did on $11-a-barrel oil, or that it has a future as the basic armature of daily life, or that we are doing anything meaningful to alter the burdens of living this way? My guess is that he has never thought about it.

            Likewise, as the American economy got crushed by no-longer-cheap oil, all the working classes in this country below the one-percenters got crushed, hammered, and trashed. Among other things they can no longer afford is gasoline. Total vehicle miles driven has gone down by almost 3 percent since 2007. It will keep going down, and the Happy Motoring matrix will collapse for another reason: capital scarcity will translate into fewer available car loans for Americans, and fewer qualified borrowers, and Americans are used to buying their cars on installment loans.

    The shale gas situation is also not the “energy savior” it’s cracked up to be. Because it costs so much to export the stuff, and we don’t have the export infrastructure in place — ocean terminals, fleets of special (expensive!) tanker ships — shale gas is hostage to the US domestic market. The initial boom was so extravagant that it produced a gas glut, which drove the price way below the level that makes it economically rational to drill for the stuff. Now, a lot of those drilling rigs are migrating to North Dakota, where the Bakken shale oil fields require perpetual increases in rig-counts to offset the rapid decline of existing wells.

      The shale gas regions of Barnett (Fort Worth), Haynesville (Louisiana), and Fayetteville, Arkansas, are already dwindling. The “sweet spots” turned out to be smaller than the hype suggested. The Marcellus (Pennsylvania and New York) is next. Several of the other hyped shale gas “plays” — the Antrim and the Utica — proved too unpromising to even bother with and never made it out of the wish bag.

      The problems with fracking and groundwater pollution are secondary to the economic quandaries as far as the fate of the industry is concerned. At under $8 a unit (1000 cubic feet), shale gas is not worth drilling-and-fracking for. It’s currently around $4. Above $8, Americans are going to have a hard time paying for it. So, enjoy the temporary glut and now stand back and watch the industry begin to dry up and blow away.

      As for the “industrial renaissance,” clowns like Gary Shilling can’t put together the obvious trends. The talked-about new factories will be operated by robots, so there would be no employment renaissance to go along with them. Then there is the question of who might the products be sold to? To Americans who have no jobs and no money? To Europeans who are also going broke and also have the ability to roboticize industrial production and impoverish their own working people? To Asia, which is already at industrial over-capacity — and which will only grow worse as Americans and Europeans buy less stuff? I guess that leaves South America and Africa. Well, good luck with that.

     Schilling is really only shilling for delusional stock market psychology, which tends to be a self-reinforcing racket until it reaches a threshold of credulity criticality and then implodes from a sudden loss of faith, ruining even a great many one percenters. Money may indeed keep pouring into the US stock markets, especially from other countries, where the money is frightened. I’ll tell you what it ought to be really frightened about: that it doesn’t represent genuine capital, i.e. has no real value. One day not distant, all the nations will discover that their money is only notional and that notions have a way of going up in a vapor. Foolish ideas, though, appear more durable and plentiful. They just keep coming, no matter what’s going on in reality.

     My basic wish is that we would quit all our wishing in America and get on with the job of transforming our economic arrangements to a scale and mode that are consistent with the resource and capital realities of these times — before they whap us upside the head and put and end to the project of remaining civilized.


***

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.

 

Duct Tape Politics

Off the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  November 4, 2013

 Duct-tape_Moving_Van

 

 

 Duct Tape Politics

The ObamaCare website rollout fiasco, joined by the bait-and-switch “You can keep your current insurance (not)” tempest, obscure the fundamental quandary about so-called health-care in America: that it is a gigantic racket structured to allow countless layers of grift and counter-grift. The end product of all that artifice is that medical care costs twice as much in America as any other civilized country, and that it has to be operated by a cruel and despotic matrix of poorly coordinated bureaucracies that commonly leave people more disabled financially than the diseases that brought them into the system.

     ObamaCare was designed to work like a giant roll of duct tape that would allow the current cast of characters in charge (Democratic Progressives) to pretend that the system could keep going a few years longer. But it looks like it has already blown out the patch on the manifold and is getting ready to throw a rod — which duct tape will not avail to fix.

    I had three major surgeries (hip, open heart, spine) the past year and paid attention to the statements that rolled in from my then-insurer, Blue Shield (the policy was cancelled in October). These documents were always advertised as “this is not a bill” and that was technically true, but it deflected attention from what it really was, a record of negotiated scams between the “providers” (doctors and hospitals) and the insurance company.

      There was never any discussion (or offer of discussion) of the cost of care before a procedure. When asked, doctors commonly pretend not to know what their work costs. Why is that? It’s not to spare the patient’s feelings. It’s because sick people are hostages and both the doctors and the hospital management know they will agree to anything that will get them through the crisis of illness. This sets up a situation that allows the “providers” to blindside the patient with charges after the fact.

     My hip “revision” operation was necessary because my original implant was a defective (“innovative” circa 2003) metal-on-metal joint that released metal fragments into my system and it had to be removed. The stated charge for replacement part — a simple two piece bearing made of metal and plastic, about the size of tangerine — was $14,000. Blue Shield “negotiated” the price down to about $7,000. If you go to the websites of any of the manufacturers of these things, you will not see any suggested retail or wholesale price. The markup on these things must be out of this world. Cars come with four ball joints that carry roughly the same time warrantee, and they come with a staggering array of “extras”— engines, transmissions, air-conditioning, seats, air-bags, and radios. The pattern was similar for the other surgeries and what they entailed. I ended up paying five-figures out-of-pocket. Lucky for me that I saved some money before this all happened. I don’t have kids so I haven’t been paying extortionate college tuitions during my peak income years.

     All the surgeries I had required hospital stays. For the hip op, I was in for a day and a half in a non-special bed (no fancy hookups). The charge was $23,000 per day. For what? They took my blood pressure nine times. I got about six bad meals. The line charge on the Blue Shield statement said “room and board.” It would be a joke if this extortion wasn’t multiplied millions of times a day across the nation. Citizen-hostages obviously don’t know where to begin to unravel this skein of dreadful rackets. If you think it’s possible to have a productive conversation with an insurance company rep at the other end of the phone line, then you’re going to be disappointed. You might as well be talking to a third-sub-deputy under-commissar in the Soviet motor vehicle bureau.

     This ghastly matrix of corruption really only has two ways to go. It can completely implode in a fairly short time frame (say, five years, tops), or we can, by some miracle of political will, get our priorities straight and sweep away all the layers of racketeering with a single-payer system. The evidence in other civilized countries is not so encouraging. England’s National Health Service has degenerated into a two layer system of half-assed soviet-style medicine for the proles and concierge service for the rich. France’s system works more democratically, but the nation is going bankrupt and eventually their health care network will fall apart. The Scandinavian countries have relatively tiny populations. I don’t know, frankly, how the Germans are doing.

     Here in the USA, you can make arguments for putting a greater share of public money into a single-payer system. For instance, if we redirected the money spent on our stupid military adventures and closed some of the countless redundant bases we run overseas. That would be a biggie. Given the current choke-hold of the military-industrial complex on our politicians, I wouldn’t expect much traction there.

     You can argue that nobody complains about government spending on the highway system, so why should “the people” complain about organizing a medical system that really works? Obviously, there’s no consensus to make that happen. Too many doctors want to drive BMWs. Too many insurance executives and hospital administrators want to make multi-million dollar salaries. Too many lobbyist parasites and lawyers are feeding off that revenue stream. Too many politicians with gold-plated health insurance coverage don’t want to change the current distribution of goodies. End-of-story, as the late Tony Soprano used to say.

       It’s the old quandary of fire or ice… which way do you want to go? Since I’m interested in reality-based outcomes, my bet would be on implosion. In any case, several of the other systems that currently support the activities of our society are scheduled for near-term implosion, too. That would be the banking-finance system, the energy supply system, and the industrial agriculture system. As those things wind down or crash, you can be sure that everything connected with them will be affected, so the chance that we could mount a real national health care system is, in my opinion, zero.

      The ObamaCare duct-taped system will go down. The big hospitals, HMOs, insurers, pharma companies will all starve and shrivel. Like all things in the emergent new paradigm, they will reorganize on a small and much simpler basis. Everyone will make less money and high-tech medicine will probably dwindle for all but a very few… and for them, only for a while. Eventually, we’ll re-set to local clinic style medicine with far fewer resources, specialties, and miracle cures. There will be a whole lot less aggravation, though, and people may die more peacefully.

     Finally, there’s the pathetic American lumpen-public of our day itself, steadily committing suicide en masse by corn byproducts, the three-hundred pounders lumbering down the Wal-Mart aisles in search of the latest designer nacho. What can you do about such a people, except let fate take them where it will?

 

***

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.

Creepily Close

Off the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  October 14, 2013
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 Creepily Close

     Things that can’t go on, the prophet Herb Stein once observed, go on until they can’t. Criticality eventually bushwhacks credulity. The aggregation of rackets that American life has become is rolling over like a great groaning wounded leviathan and the rest of the world is starting to freak out at the spectacle. Instead of a revolution, we’re having a suicide party.

     But don’t worry, a revolution would not be far behind. My guess is that it would kick off as generational rather than regional or factional, but it would eventually incorporate all three. A generation already swindled by the college loan racket must be chafing at the bureaucratic nightmare that ObamaCare instantly turned into at its roll-out, with a website that wouldn’t let anyone log in. Isn’t technology wonderful? I wonder when the “magic moment” will come when all those unemployed millennials join a Twitter injunction to just stop paying back their loans. If that particular message went out during this month’s government food fight, it would do more than just get the attention of a few politicians. It would crash the banks and snap the links in every chain of obligation holding the fiasco of globalism together.

     So far, the millennials have shown about as much political inclination as so many sowbugs under a rotten log, but it is in the nature of criticality that things change real fast. In any case, the older generations have completely disgraced themselves and it is only a question of how cruelly history will treat them in their unseating. The last time things got this bad, the guys in charge divided into two teams with blue and gray uniforms, rode gallantly onto the first fields of battle thinking it was a kind of rousing military theatrical, only to find themselves in a grinding four-year industrial-scale slaughter in which it was not uncommon for 20,000 young men to get shot to pieces in a single day — one day after another.

     Of course, things are a bit different now since we became a nation of overfed clowns dedicated to getting something for nothing, but despite the abject futility of American life in its current incarnation, there is room for plenty of violence and destruction. The sad and peculiar angle of the current struggle is that both sides in government wish heartily to keep all the rackets of daily life going — they just disagree on the distribution method of the vig.

     What amuses me at the moment is the behavior of the various financial markets and the cockamamie stories circulating to explain what they are doing in this time of perilous uncertainty. One popular story is called “the energy renaissance.” This is a fairy-tale that pretends that we have enough oil at a cheap enough price to keep driving to WalMart forever. Of course, shale oil wells that cost $12million to drill and produce 80 barrels-a-day for three years before crapping out altogether do not bode well for that outcome, but the wish to believe over-rides the reality. Another laughable story du jour is “the manufacturing renaissance.” This story proposes that the “central corridor” of the USA, from North Dakota to Texas, is about to give China a run for its money in manufacturing. The catch is that any new factory opening up in this scenario will be run on robots — leaving who, exactly, to be the customers paying for what these factories produce? Think about it for five minutes and you will understand that it is just a story calculated to goose up a share price here and there, and only for moment until it is discovered to be just a story. What interests me most is what happens when the stories lose their power to levitate the legitimacy of the people who tell them.

            Well, Christine LeGarde, chief of the IMF, tried to read the riot act to the American clownigarchs over the weekend, but they’re not paying attention to her. What has she done for her own country, France, lately anyhow. They’ve got their own set of rackets running over there. The Chinese are getting a little prickly, too, since they are sitting on a few trillion in US promises to pay cash money in the not so distant future. The Chinese are beginning to apprehend that future perhaps never arriving.

     In case you haven’t heard: America is “in recovery.” We can play all the games we want with money, or what passes for money these days. And then the moment will come when we can’t. That moment begins to feel creepily close.

 

***

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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The effect of urbanization on microclimatic conditions is known as “urban heat islands”. [...]

Forecasting extreme precipitations is one of the main priorities of hydrology in Latin America and t [...]

The objective of this work is the development of an automated and objective identification scheme of [...]