Welcome to the Exclusion Zone

Off the keyboard of John Ward

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Published on The Slog on 12/14/2014

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Welcome to the Exclusion Zone

Do you ever get the feeling that life in the last sixty years has been little more than a series of zone creations? Perhaps you don’t, but I do.

Like most words in the Western world, ‘zone’ comes from the Greek meaning a tract, area or belt. The Romans narrowed it down to mean a girdle, but afterwards middle English broadened it out again…until some time around the 1950s, the Americans used it as the universal collective noun for a region.

Since that era, every new bit of formative history has adopted it….to the point where it seems at times to be a banal noun. But usually, it is anything but: when something becomes a zone, it means things are going tits-up.

In the early 1960s, there was the intriguing Twilight Zone on the telly, but soon there was the all-too-real Demilitarised Zone (the Dee-Em-Zee) between North and South Vietnam. By the time I arrived in Lambeth in the mid 1970s, it had been declared a nuclear-free zone. Sadly, under Ted Knight it was also brain-free zone all the time – and a grit-free zone in the wintertime. Later – living as I did just around the corner from Railton Road – it turned into a war zone. Not long after that, it seemed that – overnight – the entirety of London became a No Parking Zone.

A long and pointless period of talking to shrinks began around this point, and the term comfort zone seemed to keep popping up. I also began a rapid period of promotion within a multinational ad agency, and so time zone calculations became a regular thing – in order to work out how knackered one might be on getting back home. I finally got to fly in Concorde, and had my first close-up view of the Ozone layer.

Shortly after I packed in going to the office and started doing different stuff, the eurozone was born. The internet showed early signs of losing its marbles, and not too long afterwards friendzones started up. I began reading about Buddhism, CBT, homoaeopathy – and so began a fascination with the oddities of the sub-atomic zone. And then just last night, I learned that Costa Rica is a blue zone country….because it has one of the highest citizen contentment scores in the world. Well I never.

Who knows what the next zone will be? Whatever it is, I’d wager it won’t be pleasant. There’s something doom-laden about zones, in that they tend to get added to a description when things are getting worse, weird, or completely out of hand.

Twilight was quite a nice (almost romantic) time until zone was added. Before the DMZ came along, something demilitarised was a good idea: suddenly, in this case, folks were fighting on either side of it. Nuclear free zones and No Parking zones sounded constructive, but were in reality early signs of London’s approaching dementia.That dementia has turned some Islamist and West Indian areas into a potential war zone. We used to have wars fought on battlefields: today, we have civilian war zones to mark just how profound our ignorance is of social anthropology.

On a more personal note, comfort zones were merely a recognition of the fact that much of modern life was mentally uncomfortable: one of these for me was constantly crossing time zones. And at the ultimately macro planetary level, big holes in the ozone layer were so worrying, not even James Delingpole was daft enough to suggest they don’t matter.

The eurozone needs no introduction. Suffice to say it will very probably wind up being the single biggest cause of global financial disaster. Much of me thinks ‘Bring it on’, but an awful lot of innocent people are going to suffer the consequences of Brussels, political, banker and geopolitical hubris…and I don’t want that: only fanatics want that.

Anyone who thinks friendzones are other than an awful symptom of the growing human desire to seek out all things unreal and unnatural needs help. The sub-atomic zone is fascinating alright, but it challenges the very reality of that same reality so many people are deserting in favour of the virtual. And no offence to Costa Rica, but if that’s a blue zone, I don’t want to think about what a red zone might be like.

However, if you were to ask me what the most telling and ironic zone of the twentieth century was, then I’d have to give the award to the Falklands War Exclusion Zone. The Falklands War for me was – along with the Dubya remake of the Iraq War – a key factor in my personal rethink. While I knew what a nasty, murderous tinpot dictator Galtieri was, it was impossible to miss that – in our hour of victory – Margaret Thatcher had finally left the Earthly Zone, and was now stationed three up from Barking. More to the point, against all the ‘rules’ of the Exclusion Zone, she sank a ship full of soldiers and got away with it.

It was the point at which I finally understood that, once you’re above the law, there is no limit to how easily you can evade it…and that there is nothing ruthless psychopaths won’t do to achieve their horribly twisted aims once they’re in this place. In truth, as we approach the end of 2014, the West’s control-freaks are in the Immunity Zone. The rest of us are in the Exclusion Zone.

Slogger Trifecta

Off the keyboard of John Ward

Published on The Slog on August 19, 2013


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August 19, 2013 · 9:25 pm

At the End of the Day

Over the last few days, cheated preferentes depositors in the Novagalicia Bank  have been demonstrating in Spain. At this morning’s demo they rightly proclaimed themselves to be hard working, thrifty savers who had simply kept their savings there. They can no longer withdraw their life savings, because some hastily manufactured legality has told them they are creditors, not customers.

When, after twenty years hard graft, I finally in 1988 received a large cheque at 3am one morning for my shares in an ad agency I’d helped found, seven hours later I dashed down to the local Building Society and whacked the cheque in. When it cleared three days later – and only then – did I phone my first wife to say “The money’s safely banked”.

Safely. What a rare word that is these days in financial services.

Exactly who do these language-manipulating sociopaths think they are? They are bankers who took money in at minimal sight rates, making eternal profits from their customer base – and then had the gall to introduce service charges. They are blank-faced, goggle-eyed  bureaucrats in Whitehall, Brussels and Washington who approved this weasel terminology as if they might be rubber-stamping the train times to Auschwitz. And they are the multi-faced politicians who perpetually apologise for the indefensible behaviour of those whose money they so desperately need…having failed, year in year out, to keep within budgets.

Feeling safe is about having trust. The EC finally lost the trust of the lenders after the 37th dithering lie about the problem being solved. The ECB lost the trust of the bond markets when it illegally subordinated holders of Greek debt, and then went on to rape Cypriot investors for no good reason at all. Bernanke lost the trust of the American people when he carried on chucking their dollars at an intractable problem intrinsic to neoliberal economics. Parliament lost the last vestige of my trust when it said nothing against the theft of money from Cooperative Bank depositors to save its own neck. David Cameron lost the trust of millions of Britons when he continued to insist there had been nothing improper in his personal relationships with senior Newscorp officials. Congress lost the trust of the entire world when it bickered about the biggest deficit in US history. And last but not least, the Church of England lost any last vestige of trust when it began trying to profit from fracking.

Everything from love to money is based on trust and mutual respect. I no longer love my country, because it is a whore. There isn’t a single institution there I would trust. I can’t even feel that banked money is safe.

But still the apologists for this insane f**ked up fiat currency version of globalist ‘free market’ capitalism witter on, failing as ever to acknowledge that not a single investment market anywhere on the planet is free from artificial (and usually illegal) interference.

Please Britain, don’t put off your protest or jump off the cliff because they tell you to. Switch off the telly, get off the sofa, and tell the bastards where to get off.

· 7:11 am

CRASH2: China plans new gold standard for dominant Yuan

Uncle Sam goes foot-shooting, gets felled by snipers


Last week I posted about how Bernanke has run out of road in his attempt to keep everyone happy. As so often in such circumstances, he’s pleased nobody in the end: not the brokers, not the Asian creditors, and most definitely not the US consumer.

I also posted last week about the huge percentage of US bond-offloading accounted for by Chinese and Japanese dumping. And I’ve posted ad nauseam about the inability to generate spending from people who’s wages one just spent a decade eroding by 30%.

But as America shoots itself in the foot, snipers are busy targeting its head. What follows will explain how.


From Day One of QE, Ben Bernanke insisted he was showering American consumers with money. Along with millions of other sites, The Slog always maintained he did it to get dividends up, keep the Dow high, and create liquidity/solvency/new business at the banks. Some neat new charts now show us precisely why we were right and he was telling porkies.

In this one, we can see how the supply (aka printing) of money went stratospheric during and after Greenspangling and Bernankenomics, and then upcurved further after 2010:

Fredcrop1There are today almost exactly twice as many dollars in circulation than there were…..but middle America’s share of it went down 30%. So they had less money with less spending capacity. So they spent less, took out more credit – and bought cheap Asian imports. Bang! There go the toes in your right foot.

Now let’s look at what happened as that Nixonian shift off the Gold Standard inevitably turned into Uncle Ben’s buck-showering bonanza:

Fred3cropWhile the supply of Fiat paper rocketed, consumer purchasing velocity fell even faster under QE than it had been doing during the previous pauperisation of the populace. And as blue-collars are now working fewer hours for less money with little chance of further credit, most of the money never reached them….and if it did, they paid off debt rather than indulging in retail therapy. Bang! There goes your right instep. Try to keep your balance now…

There is a growing feeling around the globe (if my contacts are even remotely typical) that after all this mess has finally covered every Westerner in excrement, there will be pressure to end the era of fiat paper. Not only would this be a disaster for the US, it would be a major coup for Beijing: there is every chance that a Yuan set against a new gold standard would make it the dominant reserve currency in short order….especially as the Dollar even now is predictably drifting down in value. China, it seems, has the aim of de-linking the Yuan from the US dollar. And Asian media are increasingly of the view that they will, when the time is right, fix it to gold instead.

China continues to amass gold. In June alone, it imported 104.6 tonnes from Hong Kong. That would bring China’s gold imports from Hong Kong to 1,160 tonnes since the beginning of this year. Officially, China hat around 1,000 tonnes of the stuff. But past experience has shown the Beijing suddenly pops up one day far more of shiny metal than you thought. The real figure is estimated to be around 8,000 tonnes….and likely to pass the US total, audited at 8,113 tonnes.

Yao Yudong, major money-man on the China Bank MPC, has of late been talking about fiat paper being a disaster, and his admiration for Bretton Woods. Further, China has been doing currency swap contracts big time with other countries to bypass the Buck. It has currency swap agreements with Brazil, Russia, Iran, Australia and the UK, to name a few. This aim here is clearly to get Westerners accustomed to the idea of dealing with the Yuan, and seeing it as a new ‘Central Currency’.

Bang! That first assassin’s bullet went straight through your neck. Breathing is getting difficult.

And of course, as I posted in recent days, those interest rates that were never going to rise are, um, rising. Very fast. The American cost of borrowing just doubled. And the Chinese are far and away the biggest sellers of those T-Bonds….which must now offer higher yields.

Oh look America, you just fell over, and your lungs are filling with blood….just as the traders, brokers, and big banking dicks get back to their desks next week, only to see a topping Dow, a falling T-Bond, and a backfiring, stuttering economy. And even though you’re manipulating the gold downwards to repair those bank balance sheets, it becomes even easier for Beijing to fill its boots with that gold.

Bang! That was the rear of your cerebrum coming off. It’s over.

August 18, 2013 · 9:02 pm

At the End of the Day

Lines on the nature of being united in idiocy

I think top marks tonight must surely go to Spain, for its unique ability to get Tom Watson agreeing with David Cameron. Yes, there can be no doubt about it, as long as Spain wants Gibraltar “back”, then the Iberian peoples have the capacity to unite Britain…a set of Islands not so much great any more as disintegrating.

It’s a useful distraction for both sides of course, but none of the fuss from Senor Rajoy holds any water at all. Britain has actually ‘owned’ Gibraltar for far longer and more continuously than the Spanish ever did and – as in the case of the Falklands with Argentina – its inhabitants have no desire at all to be Spanish. But if things get very nasty, I can’t wait to see how Operation Barbarossa van Pumpy in Brussels “handles” it.

At the same time, however, one must recognise the ability of almost any event in the Middle East to have Brit and US pols united in myopia, their respective leaders drivelling on about a Special Relationship that deserves the adjective only in the context of kids who require special needs education. After the demonisation of Assad in Syria comes the glorification of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. I came across some Brits down here on holiday this morning, and they clearly didn’t have the remotest notion which way was up about Egypt’s tragedy….or indeed, who was for what, and why David Cameron wants to galvanise the EU into condemning the wicked military “coup”.

A simple analysis of the Egyptian dilemma doesn’t require that many brain cells. Early in July this year, I posted to say that “What [the US] State [Department] has done is bestow respectability upon the Muslim Brotherhood without in any way changing its truly ghastly attitudes and barbaric behaviour.” Tracing the lineage of this dynasty of deranged thinking, as long ago as November 2011, The Slog suggested that “the [Egyptian] military is playing upon a real fear: Egyptian liberals are sympathetic to the military’s attempt to dominate the constitution-writing process, being rightly fearful of Muslim Brotherhood dominance”.

Now we have MB fanatics desperate to present themselves as martyrs – and the usual figures of dead demonstrators growing with every report by Western news agencies. I can only repeat what I’ve been saying for nearly three years about the ‘Arab Spring’: it is based on Anglo-Saxon ignorance about the fundamental nature of Arab liberalism and Islamist fascism.

Very few international situations are as cut and dried as our mamipulative politicians would suggest: in the end – despite the EU nonsense and the Levitt myth of globalism – every nation is out for itself most of the time. The “deposed” President Mohamed Morsi had, from Day One of his term, worked overtime to marginalise a pro-secular Military in favour of his rabidly fundamentalist associates. There is no discernible difference between what Morsi was up to, and what Recep Erdogan has been up to in Turkey – viz, purging all those elements in the political and military class who support the secular aims of the hero Kemal Ataturk, in favour of his own closet Islamist agenda.

From the very start of this dire history of needless death in the name of a religious leader who is a myth, David Cameron and the US State department have placed themselves cynically on the side of authoritarianism: Cameron because he wants trade deals with Turkey, and the US because they want the oil. Yet  again, it is all about munneeeee. And that root of many evils has placed allegedly liberal democracies on the side of a neo-Nazi, misogynist bunch of religious maniacs.

And in other dramatic news developments today, the BBC’s Newsnight anchor Jeremy Paxman has a beard. I realise that in gay circles this means he has a girlfriend to hide an aberrant sexuality, but there haven’t really ever been any doubts about Paxo when it comes to which way he swings: basically, he would I suspect like to see 95% of politicians swinging from a lamppost. So it is especially sad to see that by far the biggest brain and toughest interviewer at the BBC needs to grow facial hair to catch the fickle gnat’s-length attention of the British public for longer than a tweet.

When the David Kelly affair began the sad descent of the BBC into Government lapdog, Paxman was a steady influence in favour of telling all politicians TGF themselves. After the McApine scam, he once again urged the Governors to face this unpleasant opportunist down. When the Jimmy Savile drivel about him “grooming a whole nation” went full-on tabloid, yet again our Jeremy tried to find some evidence of a spine in the Beeb’s management tier. Having discovered that his employer is, effectively, a mollusc, it is little wonder that he now carries a care-worn, slightly bored air around with him.

To relegate Jeremy Paxman to the margins of our national broadcaster is rather like taking Robin Day’s knighthood away because he gave Thatcher what-for. I’m afraid it symptomatically defines what is wrong with Britain.

Ding Dong, the Witch is DEAD!

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on April 13, 2013


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Thatcher: The Oily Lady


Margaret Thatcher: The first Peak Oil PM

There has been an awful lot of debate raging since former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher died last week. And like many debates that raise the emotional tempo this one is crystalizing nicely into two competing camps, namely the camp that says she ‘saved’ the UK from decline and the camp that says she left it a scorched moral wasteland where only the greedy and the bigoted flourish.

Regardless of what one might think of her policies however, what has been mostly missing is the role that oil played in her ascendency. When she came to power in 1979 Britain was a dark and miserable place. At least that’s the official narrative; from what I remember things were actually not that bad at all. I, as an 8 year-old boy, could roam around my local town at will without anyone regarding this as unusual, the music in the charts was pretty good, television was for the most part entertaining and giant supermarkets had yet to suck the life out of local communities. Things were pretty good if you didn’t read the newspapers.
But one aspect of life in the 1970s that could hardly be called good was the price of oil. The two oil shocks that had occurred earlier in the decade has threatened the onward march to a wealthier, more comfortable, future. People might have been watching the Good Life on television, but that didn’t mean they actually wanted to give up their jobs and raise pigs in their own back yards. Something had to be done!
Enter Thatcher stage right. The grocer’s daughter from Grantham hit the moribund political scene like a whirlwind, smashing taboos and giving the whole gentleman’s club a sharp kick up the backside. Like any successful politician in a democracy she had identified a deep craving within the psyche of the electorate and had used the power of promise to unleash a wave which she rode to victory as well as any Oahu surfer.
Although people didn’t realize it, they had just done a deal with the devil. No, not Thatcher, the devil I am referring to is right out of Doctor Faustus and its name is oil. Thatcher, and her ideologist in crime Ronald Reagan, pulled every trick in the book to flood the world with cheap oil. North Sea production was ramped up off the coast of Britain, and Reagan did the same thing, eliminating price controls on oil and natural gas in the US. Deals were struck with other oil producing nations to do the same thing and pretty soon the price of oil – and thus the price of everyday life in the industrialised world – crashed to a level so low that it was hardly worth thinking about. The age of mega-abundance was upon us.
Britain, along with much of the industrialised world, then moved into a peculiar position. The access to cheap energy and materials might have been temporarily secured, but Thatcher had a dragon she wanted to slay in the form of the unions. British industry, as she saw it, was inefficient and stuffed full of unproductive suits and workers – most of whom happened to be socialists. The miners’ strike is the best remembered battle here, and Thatcher, by now power-crazed, refused to back down – and won.
But who needed industry anyway? It was much cheaper to get poorer countries to make stuff for you. I remember going on a school trip to a factory where they made tennis racquets. The production manager gave us a talk and I clearly remember him saying that they were ‘offshoring’ soon to China where ‘Each worker will make ten tennis racquets for a bowl of rice.’ And we children all nodded sagely at what seemed to make sense.
Instead of industry we got finance. The so-called Big Bang happened in 1986, when the shackles were thrown off the City of London and financial firms were, not to put too fine a point on it, allowed to create money out of thin air. This proved to be much easier than making cars or ships or digging up coal, and the tax receipts were fantastic too. Nobody mentioned the fact that the whole thing looked like a Ponzi scheme, and the boom in the 1980s swept everyone up, including many of Thatcher’s former naysayers who suddenly found they were doing quite nicely out of it. There can be few more spectacular examples of this than the former Marxist comedian Alexei Sayle, whose stock in trade was lambasting Thatcher and the Tories with foul-mouthed invective. Sayle now test drives luxury cars for the right wing Telegraph newspaper and he’s tied himself in quite a few rhetorical knots trying to explain that one.
But bitter cracks had opened up in the national discourse. Who had the greater moral right to exist? Was it the pit miner, whose family had worked in the same pits for generations, or was it the new breed of financial whizz-kids in the City, who wore red braces and said things like ‘Greed is good,’ into their brick-sized mobile phones? Well, we know who won that battle, if not the debate, in the end.
Individual families were riven – including my own. Once, my aunt and uncle came for dinner. I must have been about 15 at the time, and after a couple of glasses of wine a discussion started between my father and my uncle about the coal miners. My father was ardently pro-Thatcher and had done well out of her policies, whereas my uncle was a socialist through and through, and drove an ambulance for a living. Things became heated and my uncle said to my aunt ‘Get your coat, dear,’and they walked out. I never saw or heard from them again and have no idea if they are dead or alive. Such were the divisions that opened up over Thatcher.
Now, almost thirty years later, it is clear what Thatcher’s legacy was. She, and others like her, rode to power on a gusher. People wanted a cheap way of life and she gave it to them. The billions of barrels of oil that have been wasted over the last few decades could have been used to build a new infrastructure that didn’t rely on the assumption of an infinitely available and cheap energy source. Instead, we wasted it on expensive plastic yachts for the rich and cheap holidays on the Costa del Sol for the poor, and a million other things in between. The chance we were given was squandered.
Was Maggie to blame? Yes and no. She might be a figure of hate for the left and a source of quasi-religious devotion for the deluded neoliberals on the right (including, I might add, Tony Blair) but ultimately, if she hadn’t come along, someone very like her would have seized the same opportunity. Is this how democracies seize up in the end? With two ultimately competing blocks of voters vying for their own share of the pie and regarding the competing faction as ‘evil’? What would Jung say …
People often accuse her of making Britain a crueler, nastier place. Is this true? I have no idea. Looking at it the other way around it could be said that a modern industrialised lifestyle was making Britain a crueler, more atomized, society and that Thatcher was merely our totem. She was the crucible that allowed the 60 million residents of these islands to access vast material riches at the expense of the Third World, and to burn our way through oil supplies that took billions of years to form. She allowed the proud nationalists among us to perpetuate the myth that Britannia had not quite finished Ruling the Waves, and that it was our manifest destiny to remain Great.
Without her, or someone like her, our energy descent would have proceeded in a nicely linear fashion. It’s fun to do a thought experiment on this one. Imagine, for a moment, that instead of electing a Thatcher, we had elected a dull leader lacking in charisma but with the nation’s long term security at heart. This leader, instead of throwing her weight behind motorway and airport expansions, chose to support and invest in bicycle power and energy from windmills. Her government made it law that every house should be thickly insulated to cut down on energy loss, and that cars should be taxed at 200% so that you had to be quite well off to afford one (reinvesting the money in public transport instead).
Yes, Britain would have looked like a larger version of Denmark, where all of the above were followed through on. But instead we got a massive road network that is constantly jammed and unsafe to cycle on, millions of new flimsily-built properties that leak heat like sieves (I have freezing toes as I write this in the fairly expensive 1990s-built house we are currently renting) and an energy grid that is geared for failure.
So, instead of a painful but relatively gentle transition to a future where the ability to harness energy slips slowly from our grasp what we can expect instead is a traumatic and sudden drop-off of available energy exacerbated by a painful financial crash that will likely be the most traumatic time since the cities were bombed to rubble by Hitler.
Luckily for Maggie, though, she won’t be around to experience all that. That joy is all ours

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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