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There Is No Normal

There Is No Normal


The wheel of time rolls forward, never retracing its path, but because it is a wheel, and we are riding in it, a persistent illusion persuades us that the landscape is recognizably the same, and that our doings within the regular turning of the seasons seem comfortably normal. There is no normal.

There is for us, at this moment in history, an especially harsh turning (so Strauss and Howe would say) as our journey takes the exit ramp out of the high energy era into the next reality of a long emergency. The human hive-mind senses that something is different, but at the same moment we’re unable to imagine changing all our exquisitely tuned arrangements — especially the thinking class in charge of all that, self-enchanted with pixeled fantasies. The dissonance over this is driving America crazy.

The wheel hit a deep pothole in 2008 turning onto the off-ramp and has been wobbling badly ever since. 2008 was a warning that going through the motions isn’t enough to sustain a sense of purpose, either nationally or for individuals trying to keep their lives together ever more desperately. The cultural memory of the confident years, when we seemed to know what we were doing, and where we were going, dogs us and mocks us.

The young adults feel all that most acutely. The pain prompts them to want to deconstruct that memory. “No, it didn’t happen that way,” they are saying. All those stories about the founding of this society — of those Great Men with their powdered hair-doos writing the national charter, and the remarkable experience of the past 200-odd years — are wrong! There was nothing wonderful about it. The whole thing was a swindle!

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Zeitgeist Knows

The Zeitgeist Knows


Who said the global economy was a permanent installation in the human condition? The head cheerleader was The New York Times’s Tom Friedman, with his 1999 book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, the trumpet blast for the new order of things. Since then, we partied like it was 1999, with a few grand mal seizures of the banking system along the way, some experiments in creating failed states abroad, and the descent of America’s middle-class into a Disney version of Hieronymus Bosch’s Last Judgment — which is kind of what you see on the streets of Los Angeles these days.

Guess what: the global economy is winding down, and pretty rapidly. Trade wars are the most obvious symptom. The tensions underlying that spring from human population overshoot with its punishing externalities, resource depletion, and the perversities of money in accelerated motion, generating friction and heat. They also come from the fact that techno-industrialism was a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end — and we’re closer to the end than we are to the middle. There will be no going back to the prior party, whatever way we pretend to negotiate our way around or through these quandaries.

The USA-China romance was bound to end in divorce, which Mr. Trump is surreptitiously suing for now under the guise of a negotiated trade rebalancing. The US has got a chronic financial disease known as Triffin’s Dilemma, a set of disorders endemic to any world reserve currency. The disease initially expressed itself in President Nixon’s ditching the US dollar’s gold backing in 1971. By then, the world had noticed the dollar’s declining value trend-line, and threatened to drain Fort Knox to counter the effects of holding those dollars. Since then, all world currencies have been based on nothing but the idea that national economies would forever and always pump out more wealth.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Rumors of War

Rumors of War


The race to economic collapse is an international competition sparking threats and tensions summoning the specter of war. The imploding center of this collapse is that of industrial technocracy based on fossil fuels. All the nations will go through it on differing schedules. It has been playing out slowly, painfully, and deceptively — hence, my term for it: the long emergency.

Following a dumbed-down media unable to parse the delusions du jour, one might think, for instance, that the USA and China are engaged in a symbolic battle for the heavyweight championship of the world. Rather, both are freaking out at a prospective decline in activity that will make it impossible to support their current populations at even close to the levels of comfort they had lately achieved.

For China, that means very lately. Up until the turning millennium, most Chinese lived as though the twelfth century had never ended. For but two decades now, a new and quite large Chinese middle class has been driving cars around freeways, eating cheeseburgers, wearing designer blue jeans, shooting selfies at the Eiffel Tower, and even dreaming of trips to the moon. They’ve barely had time to turn decadent.

Getting to that was quite a feat. China compressed its version of the industrial revolution into a few decades, catching up to a weary, jaded West that took two hundred years achieving “modernity,” and now it is seeming to surpass us — which is the reason for so much tension and anxiety in our relations. The real news is: we’re all already in the climax of that movie. Nobody will surpass anyone.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Trend is Not Your Friend

The Trend is Not Your Friend


The be-Muellered, bothered, and bewildered American public may find US-China trade talks about as interesting as a rain delay in an Orioles-Chisox game, but the Friday collapse of negotiations may be marked by historians as the day that the global economy died. The Big Box blue-light-special orgy of bargain shopping ran about thirty years, with China exuberantly pumping out cheap consumer goods to feed the US beast-of-Mammon. Americans happily payed for it all with IOUs based on long daisy chains of previous IOUs. Tom Friedman of The New York Times said it would last forever. Alas….

The paradigm kicked off for one simple reason: energy flows dictated capital flows. By the mid-1980s, the non-OPEC world was once again swimming in oil from the last great bonanzas of the oil age: The Alaska North Slope and the North Sea. Twenty years later, they were running down. Meanwhile, the USA had fecklessly “offshored” its factories in the mistaken belief that we had entered a shimmering new digital economy of virtual business were nobody had to make real stuff. China became the world’s workshop and the USA became the world’s financial bucket-shop, churning out endless swindles and frauds. The predictable result was the financial crisis of 2008, which coincided with oil prices rising to over $140-a-barrel (and six months later they crashed, with the economy, to under $30-a-barrel).

The “recovery” from that was based on Wall Street’s premier swindle: the shale oil “miracle,” based on high-risk lending to companies that couldn’t make a red cent even while accomplishing the majestic stunt of exceeding America’s old 1970 oil production peak of around 10 million barrels-a-day (now at around 12 million). Notice, too, that the final push to 12-million barrels occurred during the last two years: thus, Mr. Trump’s miracle economy. All that, to paraphrase the immortal words of Mr. Dylan, balances like a mattress on a bottle of wine.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Cascading Cat Litter

Cascading Cat Litter


And so now Julian Assange of Wikileaks has been dragged out of his sanctuary in the London embassy of Ecuador for failing to clean his cat’s litter box. Have you ever cleaned a litter box? The way we always did it was to spread some newspaper — say, The New York Times — on the floor, transfer the used cat litter onto it, wrap it into a compact package, and put it in the trash.

It was interesting to scan the Comments section of The Times’s stories about the Assange arrest: Times readers uniformly presented themselves as a lynch mob out for Mr. Assange’s blood. So much for the spirit of liberalism and The Old Gray Lady who had published The Pentagon Papers purloined by Daniel Ellsberg lo so many years ago. Reading between the lines in that once-venerable newspaper — by which I mean gleaning their slant on the news — one surmises that The Times has actually come out against freedom of the press, a curious attitude, but consistent with the neo-Jacobin zeitgeist in “blue” America these days.

Anyway, how could anyone expect Mr. Assange to clean his cat’s litter box when he was unable to go outside his sanctuary to buy a fresh bag of litter, and was denied newspapers this past year, as well as any other contact with the outside world?

US government prosecutors had better tread lightly in bringing Mr. Assange to the sort of justice demanded by readers of The New York Times — which is to say: lock him up in some SuperMax solitary hellhole and throw away the key. The show trial of Julian Assange on US soil, when it comes to pass, may end up being the straw that stirs America’s Mickey Finn as a legitimate republic.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Blind Leading the Deaf and Dumb

The Blind Leading the Deaf and Dumb


You had to wonder why it took Nancy Pelosi so long to figure out that maybe impeachment was not the big rock-candy mountain that, for “the resistance,” marked the gateway to a Trump-free nirvana. It became obvious this week, through the release of the Bruce Ohr and Lisa Page transcripts, that RussiaGate was birthed entirely by persons in the employ of Hillary Clintion, with then CIA Director John Brennan as midwife, and the DOJ / FBI avidly assisting — all of them fully aware that the predicate was false. What’s more, the evidence timeline makes it clear that Democratic Party leadership, including Nancy Pelosi, knew it was false. Hence, the pained smile she’s been wearing these many months.

In the event of an impeachment proceeding in the House, all that would be revealed, especially if it got as far as a trial in the US Senate, where the defense is allowed to mount a case under rules of evidence. Imagine the howls of embarrassment on late-night TV when even ex-comedian Stephen Colbert would have to admit that he was gulled into acting as a shill for a seditious con.

I suppose Ms. Pelosi also made the calculation that any impeachment ginned up by the likes of Jerrold Nadler and Maxine Waters would be superseded by a slew of actual indictments among the above-mentioned former law enforcement officialdom, including perhaps former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and persons in the Obama White House. You might even include the enigmatic Robert Mueller, who appears to be liable for the destruction of evidence in his own inquiry, as well as malicious prosecution.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Ides and Tides

Ides and Tides


Just as presidents are expected to act presidentially, Federal Reserve chairpersons are expected to act oracularly — as semi-supernatural beings who emerge now and again from some cave of mathematical secrets to offer reassuringly cryptic utterances on mysteries of the economy. And so was Jerome Powell wheeled out on CBS’s 60 Minutes Sunday night, like a cigar store Indian at an antique fair, so vividly sculpted and colorfully adorned you could almost imagine him saying something.

Maybe it was an hallucination, but I heard him say that “the economy is in a good place,” and that “the outlook is a favorable one.” Point taken. Pull the truck up to the loading dock and fill it with Tesla shares!  I also thought I heard “Inflation is muted.” That must have been the laugh line, since there is almost no single item in the supermarket that goes for under five bucks these days. But really, when was the last time you saw a cigar store Indian at Trader Joes? It took seventeen Federal Reserve math PhD’s to come up with that line, inflation is muted.

What you really had to love was Mr. Powell’s explanation for the record number of car owners in default on their monthly payments: “…not everybody is sharing in this widespread prosperity we have.”  Errrgghh Errrgghh Errrgghh. Sound of klaxon wailing. What he meant to say was, hedge-funders, private equity hustlers, and C-suite personnel are making out just fine as the asset-stripping of flyover America proceeds, and you miserable, morbidly obese, tattooed gorks watching this out on the Midwestern buzzard flats should have thought twice before dropping out of community college to drive a forklift in the Sysco frozen food warehouse (where, by the way, you are probably stealing half the oven-ready chicken nuggets in inventory).

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Place of Your Own

A Place of Your Own


Do you know your place? In these days of hysterical Wokesterism, the question would surely provoke a riot of cowbell-clanging Antifa cadres, fainting spells in the congressional black caucus, and gravely equivocal op-eds from David Brooks of The New York Times. Yet it’s a central, unacknowledged quandary of our time that so many Americans have no place and suffer terribly from it.

Human beings need a place in the social order, in the economic order, and in actual geography in order to function optimally in a life fraught with the normal challenges and difficulties that reality presents. Let’s take these places in reverse order.

It’s a fact that most Americans live in everyday environments that are, at best, not worth caring about, and at worst actively punishing to human neurology. Have you taken a good look at the American landscape and townscape lately? How do you feel venturing down the six-lane commercial boulevards lined with cartoon architecture? Either anxious or numb, would be my guess. Or a Main Street of empty storefronts? Or an avenue of looming, despotic glass skyscrapers? Or a vast subdivision of identical McHouses where the buffalo once roamed? Is it any wonder that Americans require more antidepressant medication than people in other lands? Or, that failing to find treatment, they self-medicate with alcohol, opiates, sugary snacks, and anything else that takes them out of the soul-crushing reality of their surroundings.

I don’t think you can overstate the damage we’ve done to ourselves in the sheer material arrangement of our national life. A decade ago, I sat in on many zoning board meetings called to approve new WalMarts and other chain-stores around my region of upstate New York and southern Vermont. Inevitably, the companies organized a claque of locals in the meeting hall — itself a depressing, low-ceilinged chamber of cinder blocks and fluorescent lighting — to fill the seats and yell in support of “bargain shopping.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Dreams Die Hard

Dreams Die Hard


Somewhere between the fevered Zzzz’s of American Dreaming and the blinding shock of being “woke,” there is a recognition that an awful lot about contemporary life is not working and can’t go on. At the bottom of this discontent is the mistaken notion that the unwind of modernity can be arrested or mitigated by “smart” and “green” this-and-that.

The disappointment over it will be epic when we discover that the laws of physics override the bright ideas of politicians. America has been blowing green smoke up its own ass for years, promoting oxymorons such as “green skyscrapers” and “clean energy,” but the truth is we’re not going to run WalMart, Suburbia, DisneyWorld, and the interstate highway system on any combination of wind, solar, geothermal, recycled Fry-Max, and dark matter. We’re just running too much stuff at too great a scale for too many people. We’ve blown through the capital already and replaced it with IOUs that will never be honored, and we’re caught in an entropy trap of diminishing returns from all the work-arounds we’re desperately trying.

For all that, there are actually some sound proposals in the mostly delusional matrix of the Green New Deal promoted by foxy front-person AOC.

  • Revoke corporate personhood by amending our Constitution to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech. Right on, I say, though they have not quite articulated the argument which is that corporations, unlike persons, have no vested allegiance to the public interest, but rather a legal obligation solely to shareholders and their boards-of-directors.
  • Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions. A no-brainer.
  • Replace big money control of election campaigns with full public financing and free and equal access to the airwaves. Quite cheap and worth every penny.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

In the Deep Mid-Winter

In the Deep Mid-Winter


Ill winds sweep across the fruited plain in the cruel heart of winter. America can resolve nothing. The state-of-the-union is a kind of hysterical nausea, and the nation hunkers into its crib of toxic diverse identities waiting for history to bitch-slap it back on its feet. History’s big sister, Reality, stands by, witnessing all. Spring… is… coming….

Things break up in spring. Nature unlocks what was frozen. The bodies emerge from the melting ice and ripen. The air is electric and thunderbolts frighten the gathering mobs in the public square, the Walmart parking lot, with rumors of war. The earth shakes and monuments fall. That’s how it’s shaping up for 2019.

Sometimes nations just lose their shit. The complex collapse of American life proceeds as the public and its leaders fail to comprehend the forces in play. What the Federal Reserve actually accomplished with its ten years of extend-and-pretend policy was not an economic “recovery,” but a degenerative disease of the social contract. If you look more closely, you can sense what will be unleashed when the ground thaws.

There will be a reckoning in the financial markets. Something ominous is rumbling over in bonds. No more high-yield for you! Among the victims of a credit freeze in “junk” (high-risk) lending: the shale oil industry. Watch it start to roll over this spring as money becomes unavailable for the exorbitant operations that comprise fracking. The swift collapse of the shale oil industry will shock the country, but it is really just the downside of its improbably rapid and acrobatic rise since 2005 on the false premise that profits don’t matter in a business venture. Only the fall will be even sharper than the rise: a few measly years. And, of course, the bond market represents the supreme untruth of the age: that debts can be racked up forever and never paid back.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Coming Attractions

Coming Attractions


Last night I had a dream. You were in it and I was in it with you….”
— Randy Newman

As in this age of Hollywood sequels and prequels, America prefers to recycle old ideas rather than entertain new ones, so you can see exactly how the 2020 presidential election is shaping up to be a replay of the Great Depression, with Roosevelt-to-rescue! — only this time it’ll be with somebody in the role of Eleanor Roosevelt as chief executive. Donald Trump, of course, being the designated bag-holder for all the financial blunders of the past decade, gets to be Herbert Hoover. As was the case in the original, economic depression will segue into war, with maybe not such a happy ending for us as World War Two was.

There should be no doubt that the money part of the story is on a slow boat to oblivion. The world has been running on loans to such a grotesque degree that it’s managed the impressive feat of bankrupting the future. The collateral for all that debt was the conviction that there were ample amounts of future “growth” up ahead to service that debt. That conviction is now evaporating as car sales plummet, and real estate goes south, and nations twang each other over trade, and global supply lines wither. Globalism is unwinding — and not for the first time, either.

As in the standard Hollywood screenplay format, expect an “all is lost” moment when the “hero” (the USA) faces the existential dread of realizing that there is no more borrowing with the collateral gone.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Farewell to “Bargain Shopping”


“May God save the country for it is evident the people will not.”
—Millard Fillmore, 13th POTUS, born this day, 1800

France has its Yellow Vests. Here in USA, we have a few poor shlubs hoisting the “Going Out of Business” signs on the highway in front of the K-Mart. The store in my little flyover town in upstate New York announced that it would shutter in March, and the sign-hoisting shlubs appeared out on Route 29 the first Saturday in January, an apt kick-off to a nervous new year. K-Mart’s parent company, Sears, is moving into liquidation, meaning anything that’s not nailed down must be converted into cash to pay off its creditors.

The store’s closing is viewed as both an injury and an insult to the town. There just isn’t anywhere else to buy a long list of ordinary goods, from dish-towels to tennis balls without a 17-mile journey west, which means an hour behind the wheel coming-and-going, plus whatever time you spend picking stuff up inside. And, of course, many people in town feel that this is just another way of Wall Street saying “…you deplorable, pathetic, tapped-out, drug-addled, tattoo-bedizened yokels are not worthy of a K-Mart….”

The K-Mart occupied the better part of a small strip mall at the edge of town, which also boasts a Dollar Store, which appears to sell stuff that fell off a truck. There’s another, newer strip mall beyond it with a supermarket, a drug store, and a Tractor Supply outlet that probably stole a lot of K-Mart’s business after opening a few years ago. There’s much speculation about what’ll go into Kmart’s soon-to-be vacant space, about 80,000 square feet of crappy tilt-up construction not far from the end of its design life, with a flat roof that has groaned under heavy snow loads for four decades. Nobody I talked to has a clue.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Forecast 2019: Ding Ding ! Margin Call USA


Welcome to the American hall of mirrors… and mind the broken glass all over the floor. That’s Nature’s way of saying the country has run out room to punk itself. 2018 was the consolidation of bad faith in everything we do: politics, the news media, economics & finance, show biz, regular biz, jurisprudence, medicine, education, and relations between men and women — the year of peak dishonesty and self-deception. Of course, the trouble with dishonesty is that it doesn’t comport with Reality, and Reality being Mother Nature’s husband, bats in the cleanup position. Entering 2019, the bases are loaded with delusions, misdirections, and turpitudes. I shall get right to it without further throat-clearing.

Trumpology

The nation’s focus remains clamped to the mercurial character in the White House. If you subscribe to Strauss and Howe’s theories about The Fourth Turning, then you might see president Donald J. Trump playing the archetypal role they call “The Gray Champion,” an elder figure of the “transcendental” Boomer generation sent by fate to rescue a floundering society at a grave moment in the seasons of history. Yes, I know: we might have been better off calling Ghostbusters. A cardinal precept at this blog is that fate is a trickster. You order a Gray Champion and room service sends up a Golden Golem of Greatness.

To put it mildly, Mr. Trump has failed to charm at least half the country. They are embarrassed at his physical presence: his lumbering gait, like unto a behemoth land mammal of the Oligocene; that swaying bay window stomach half-concealed by the flaps of his suit-jacket and bisected by the oddly elongated necktie; the pained smile he puts on for the photo-ops; his man-spreading when seated with the world’s poohbahs, and that strange confection of sculpted hair, like the spun sugar on a Croquembouche, or the pouf on some horrifying plastic dashboard figurine.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Which Side Are You On?


You had to love the narrative that the financial media put over about the 1000-plus point zoom in the DJIA on Wednesday: that pension funds were “rebalancing” their portfolios. It dredged up the image of a drowning man at the bottom of the deep blue sea with an anchor in one hand and an anvil in the other, switching hands.

Thursday’s last minute 900-point turnaround was another marvelous stunt to behold. Somebody gave the drowned man a pair of swim fins to kick himself furiously to the surface for a gulp of air. The truth, of course, is that pension funds are sunk, however you balance their investment loads while they’re underwater. They over-bought stocks out of sheer desperation during ten years of near-ZIRP bond yields, and started rotating back into bonds as they crept above the ZIRP handle, and now with bond yields retreating, they’re loading up again on still-overpriced stocks that pretend to be “bargains.” Everybody knows that this will not end well for pension funds. Glug Glug.

The financial press and their red-headed step-siblings in the regular news media seem to think that getting rid of Mr. Trump will power the perpetual bull market into an Elon Musk nirvana of Martian vacations, hyperloops, and another chapter of US world domination — with Wonder Woman running the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spearheading an army of eunuchs. The New York Timesmade yet another pitch for impeachment today (Friday) in an editorial by the revered swamp fossil Elizabeth Drew, 83, who laid out everything but a credible case against the Golden Golem of Greatness. The newspaper makes itself more ridiculous each day in its furious gyno-narcissistic hysteria.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Ghost of Christmas Present


Apparently one additional world leader turned up in Buenos Aires without fanfare this weekend. The General Secretary of the North Pole, known popularly as Santa Claus, took his latest-model hypersonic sleigh to the G-20 Meeting, and made sure that the global financial elite would find their Christmas stockings stuffed with sugarplums one last time before the great reflation bull market dies of incredulity.

Something drastic was required as so many enterprises were skidding into a ditch last month, especially FAANGs, cars, house sales, and oil, while the Grand Old Man of the Dow Jones, General Electric, was singing its death song like an old Arikara chief in the prairie twilight. The US threat of 25 percent tariffs on Chinese exports was shunted ahead 90 days, giving the almighty algos and their human errand boys one last shot at looting the future.

How exactly will this change the basic equation of China sending its industrial output to WalMart in exchange for American IOUs, while the trade deficit mounts ever-higher and the last holdouts of the US middle class sink into debt, addiction, and hopelessness? It won’t, of course, because Americans have to find another reason to get up in the morning besides reporting to the national demolition derby. I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t warm my heart to hear about x-hundred thousand “housing starts” every month, knowing that it represents the destruction of x-thousand acres of meadow, field, and forest, and that what’s being laid down on the landscape out there is soul-crushing infrastructure with no future.

It’s not hard to see why US life expectancy is going down, driven by the two new leading causes of death: opiate drugs and suicide — the former often in the service of the latter.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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