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2021 Year in Review: Crisis of Authority and the Age of Narratives

Every year, friend-of-the-site David Collum writes a detailed “Year in Review” synopsis full of keen perspective and plenty of wit. This year is no exception. Poignant and delightfully acerbic when necessary, considering the troubling times. As with past years, he selected Peak Prosperity as the site where it is published in full. It is longer than our usual posts, but worth the time to read in full. This is Part 1.

Introduction

Dave: You do lack self control, but I learned and laughed making my way thru this.

~ Larry Summers (@LHSummers), former Secretary of the Treasury

I’ve been trying to reach you about your car’s extended warranty. What began more than a dozen years ago as a synopsis of the year’s events in markets and finance for a few friends morphed beyond my control into a Year in Review (YIR)—an attempt to chronicle human folly and world events for the entire year. It captures key moments before they slip into the brain fog. The process of trying to write a coherent narrative helps me better understand WTF just happened and seminal moments that catch my eye.

By far my favorite end-of-year recap for the last ten years. Finished it yesterday. Once again David hasn’t disappointed. He’s on my I want to go to dinner with list.

~ Jim Pallotta (@jimpallotta13), money manager and former owner of Boston Celtics

I’m game, Jim, even if it’s just a pretzel, nachos, and a brewski. The title, “Crisis of Authority,” is a double entendre. On the one hand, previously trusted authorities that we relied on to better understand the world are long gone. Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and Tim Russert have been replaced with Chris Cuomo, Don Lemon, and Brian Stelter. Oops. Scratch Chris Cuomo..

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

Elon Musk: “Civilization Is Going To Crumble”

Elon Musk: “Civilization Is Going To Crumble”

Even billionaires like Elon Musk can see that the current state of affairs is completely and utterly unsustainable.  If we stay on the path that we are on, and there are absolutely no indications that we plan to reverse course, societal collapse is inevitable.  In fact, as I detail on a regular basis, societal collapse has already begun all around us.  Unfortunately, most people still can’t bring themselves to admit that it is actually happening.

I don’t always agree with everything that Elon Musk does or says, but he is certainly a very interesting guy.

He is not afraid to anger the establishment, and he often expresses opinions which run counter to the dominant narratives of our day.

For example, he just told the Wall Street Journal that our declining birth rates are “one of the biggest risks to civilization”

“There are not enough people,” Musk told a Wall Street Journal event Monday. “I can’t emphasize this enough, there are not enough people,” he said.

The tech billionaire said low and rapidly declining birth rates are “one of the biggest risks to civilization.”

Without a doubt, birth rates are certainly dropping quite precipitously.

In fact, here in the United States the birth rate is at an all-time record low, and every single U.S. state has now dropped below replacement level.

In other words, if birth rates do not start rising we will soon see our population steadily shrink.

We are witnessing similar trends all over the globe right now, and this deeply alarms Musk.  He believes that if birth rates do not start going back up, “civilization is going to crumble”

Musk added that too many “good, smart people” think there are too many people in the world and that the population is growing out of control.

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

Space Colonization Is A Capitalist Perception Management Op

Space Colonization Is A Capitalist Perception Management Op

Listen to this article:

The world’s two wealthiest people are fighting over the moon, which just says so much about where our species is at right now.

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are in a dispute with NASA over whose private space exploration corporation will get the $2.9 billion US government contract to return to the moon. I gleaned this annoying piece of information by way of an obnoxiously sycophantic Atlantic puff piece titled “Elon Musk Is Maybe, Actually, Strangely, Going to Do This Mars Thing”, subtitled “From his private Cape Canaveral, the billionaire is manifesting his own interplanetary reality—whatever the cost.”

The mainstream press cannot get enough of these two unfathomably wealthy plutocrats and their outspoken ambition to colonize space, with Musk advocating Mars colonization and Bezos preferring to ship us all offworld to live in giant Amazon space tubes. They love it for the same reason they love war and status quo politicians: it fits in beautifully with the capitalist world order.

Space colonization is largely a capitalist perception management op promoted by the likes of Musk and Bezos to strengthen the narrative that it’s okay to continue the world-raping global capitalist principle of infinite growth on a finite world because we can escape the catastrophic ecological consequences of that paradigm by fleeing to space.

“Ecocidal capitalism is fine, we’ll just go to space before it kills us!” is the message we’re all meant to absorb. And too many do. A large obstacle to waking people up to the existential crises we are facing as a species is the blind faith that technology will save us from the consequences of our mass-scale behavior, and therefore we don’t need to change. Which suits the world’s richest men perfectly.

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

Musk: Electric Cars Will Require a Lot More Electric Power Than We Currently Have

Musk: Electric Cars Will Require a Lot More Electric Power Than We Currently Have

AP Feed
Tesla CEO Elon Musk says we’ll need more electricity to power cars like his. A lot more.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said on Tuesday that electricity consumption will double if the world’s car fleets are electrified, increasing the need to expand nuclear, solar, geothermal and wind energy generating sources.

Increasing the availability of sustainable energy is a major challenge as cars move from combustion engines to battery-driven electric motors, a shift which will take two decades, Musk said in a talk hosted by Berlin-based publisher Axel Springer.

There’s no unicorn energy source or free lunch. Currently, electric cars are primarily powered by coal, natural gas, and nuclear. Those are the sources we use to generate electricity, after all, according to the Energy Information Agency. Renewables are growing but still account for less than 20% of U.S. electricity.

There’s no free lunch when it comes to renewable energy sources, which may not even be all that renewable. Wind and sun are free, but the means of generating power from them are not.

They require batteries, which requires extensive mining and the use of toxic chemicals.

Mining is a dirty business.

Weighing those trade-offs — between supporting mining in environmentally sensitive areas and sourcing metals needed to power renewables — is likely to become more common if countries continue generating more renewable energy. That’s according to a report out Wednesday from researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia. The report, commissioned by the environmental organization Earthworks, finds that demand for metals such as copper, lithium and cobalt would skyrocket if countries around the world try to get their electric grids and transportation systems fully powered by renewable energy by 2050. Consequently, a rush to meet that demand could lead to more mining in countries with lax environmental and safety regulations and weak protections for workers.

“If not managed responsibly, this has the potential for new adverse environmental and social impacts,” the report says.

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

Elon Musk At War With German Environmentalists Protesting His New Gigafactory

Elon Musk At War With German Environmentalists Protesting His New Gigafactory

It was just a couple of days ago that we first reported that Tesla would need to cut down “thousands of trees” in order to build its Gigafactory 4 in Germany.

In that article, we noted that the company needed to clear so much forest space to put up its factory that dozens of protesters recently organized a gathering known as a “Forest Walk” to protect against Tesla’s tree removal activities at the site, according to Teslarati

The protesters were dressed in yellow vests, replicating the “Yellow Vest Movement” in France and are also concerned about what the deforestation may do to the drinking water in the area.

This past weekend, in a fit of hilarious and ironic virtue signalling cognitive dissonance, Musk responded to the criticism, saying on Twitter “this is not a natural forest — it was planted for use as cardboard & only a small part will be used for GF4.”

Oh, well in that case, just cut down as many trees as you want, Elon. 

Musk also responded to criticisms about water usage at Gigafactory 4, lying saying “Tesla won’t use this much net water on a daily basis. It’s possibly a rare peak usage case, but not an everyday event.”

Company planning documents, however, estimate that the factory would need about 98,000 gallons of water per hour. 

The company remains in the process of “jumping through hoops” to get the plant up and running, according to Bloomberg.

One of those hoops included clearing the area of wartime bombs. Disposal officers carried out controlled detonations of seven wartime bombs on Sunday at the site.

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

Powering the Tesla Gigafactory

Powering the Tesla Gigafactory

Tesla has repeatedly claimed in publications, articles and tweets from Elon Musk that its Reno, Nevada Gigafactory will be powered 100% by renewables.  Specifics on exactly how Tesla plans to do this are sparse, but the data that are available suggest that Tesla’s 70MW rooftop solar array won’t come close to supplying the Gigafactory’s needs and that the other options that Tesla is now or has been considering (more solar, possibly wind, battery storage) will not bridge the gap. As a result the Gigafactory will probably end up obtaining most of its electricity from the Nevada grid, 75% of which is presently generated by fossil fuels.

Lest there be any doubt about Tesla’s claim that the Gigafactory will be powered with 100% renewables, here are some tweets from Mr Musk:

July 27, 2016: Should mention that Gigafactory will be fully powered by clean energy when complete

June 8, 2018: Gigafactory should be on 100% renewable energy (primarily solar with some wind) by next year. Rollout of solar has already begun

August 25, 2018: Tesla’s Gigafactory will be 100% renewable powered (by Tesla Solar) by end of next year

Plus this excerpt from the January 2016 Gigafactory tour handout:

(The Gigafactory) is an all-electric factory with no fossil fuels (natural gas or petroleum) directly consumed. We will be using 100% sustainable energy through a combination of a 70 MW solar rooftop array and solar ground installations.

Plus this one from Tesla’s “press kit”:

The Gigafactory is designed to be a net-zero energy factory upon completion. It will not consume any fossil fuels – there is no natural gas piped to the site nor are there permanent diesel generators being used to provide power … The entire roof of the Gigafactory will be covered in solar array, and installation is already underway. Power not consumed during the day will be stored via Tesla Powerpacks for use when needed.

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

Driverless Cars and the Cult of Technology

We constantly hear that driverless cars are just around the corner. We’re told they will revolutionize transportation and enable us to continue using our car-based transport and land-use system. If they’re made by Tesla, they’ll be powered by magic, solar-powered, super efficient batteries and we’ll all be able to keep living our hyper-mobile, hyper-consumptive lifestyles without any damage to the environment. The only problem is we’ve been hearing about all this for the last five to ten years and there’s no evidence that it’s anything but the same old technological, utopian dreck that we’ve been hearing since General Motors debuted “Futurama” at the 1939 World’s Fair.

Technological utopianism fueled by science fiction is nothing new. If you’ve never seen it, watch Disney’s short animated film “Magic Highway” from 1958. It’s remarkably similar to this recent promotional film for an Elon Musk tubular underground transportation systemin Los Angeles. They’re both fantasies that maintain our inefficient, car-oriented transportation and land-use systems and help the Automobile Industrial Complex retain its stranglehold on our imaginations. They’re also fantasies that dovetail with corporate capitalism’s fantasy of automating the entire workforce and using technology to eliminate jobs and reduce costs.

In many ways, driverless cars have all the makings of a massive cult–the Cult of Technology. This is the idea that technology will somehow solve the problems of human greed, over-population and over-consumption of planetary resources, and therefore will also solve the related problems of climate change, waste, pollution, and species extinction. It’s an old fantasy but one we still buy into. It preys on our laziness and gullibility and it distracts and deludes us so much that we can’t see basic realities staring us in the face.

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

More Evidence The Economy Is Deteriorating

More Evidence The Economy Is Deteriorating

“Financial-market and economic prospects remain far shy of the hype and headlines, amidst tanking consumer optimism and negative revisions to recent reporting.” – John Williams, Shadowstats.com

The economy may seem like it’s doing well if you are part of the upper 10% demographic. Though, in reality, for most of the upper 10%, doing “well” has been a function of having easy access to credit. NASA Federal Credit Union is offering 0% down, 0% mortgage insurance for mortgages up to $2.5 million.

Someone I know suggested the tax cut stimulus had run its course. But the narrative that the tax cuts would stimulate economic activity was pure propaganda. The tax cuts stimulated $1 trillion in expected share buybacks and put more money in the pockets of corporate insiders and billionaires. The average middle class household spent its tax cut money on more expensive gasoline and food. Since the tax cut took effect, auto sales and home sales have declined. Retail sales have been mixed. However, it’s difficult to distinguish between statistical manipulation and inflation. I would argue that, net of real inflation and Census Bureau statistical games, real retail sales have been declining.

As an example, last week Black Box Intelligence released July restaurant sales. While comparable store sales were up 0.54% over July 2017, comparable restaurant traffic was down 1.8%. On a rolling three months, comp sales are up 0.46% but comparable traffic is down nearly 2%. With traffic declining, especially a faster rate relative to the small increase in sales, it means the sales “growth” is entirely a function of price inflation. If Black Box Intelligence could control it’s data for price increases, it would show that there is no question that real sales are declining. I have been loathe to recommend shorting restaurant stocks because, for some reason, the hedge funds love them.

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

If You Read Between The Lines, Global Economic Leaders Are Telling Us Exactly What Is Coming

If You Read Between The Lines, Global Economic Leaders Are Telling Us Exactly What Is Coming

Sometimes, a strongly-worded denial is the most damning evidence of all that something is seriously wrong.  And when things start to really get crazy, “the spin” is often the exact opposite of the truth.  In recent days we have seen a lot of troubling headlines and a lot of chaos in the global financial marketplace, but authorities continue to assure us that everything is going to be just fine.  Of course we witnessed precisely the same thing just prior to the great financial crisis of 2008.  Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke insisted that a recession was not coming, and we proceeded to plunge into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Is our society experiencing a similar state of denial about what is ahead of us here in 2018?

Let me give you a few examples of some recent things that global economic leaders have said, and what they really meant…

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk: “We are definitely not going bankrupt.”

Translation: “We are definitely going bankrupt.”

Tesla is a company that is supposedly worth 51 billion dollars, but the reality is that they are going to zero.  They have been bleeding massive amounts of cash for years, and now a day of reckoning has finally arrived.  A severe liquidity crunch has forced the company to delay payments or to ask for enormous discounts from suppliers, and many of those suppliers are now concerned that Tesla is on the verge of collapse

Specifically, a recent survey sent privately by a well-regarded automotive supplier association to top executives, and seen by the WS , found that 18 of 22 respondents believe that Tesla is now a financial risk to their companies.

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

Not So Happy Motoring


It hasn’t been a great month for America’s electric car fantasy. Elon Musk’s Tesla company — the symbolic beating heart of the fantasy — is whirling around the drain with its share price plummeting 22 percent, its bonds downgraded by Moody’s to junk status, a failure to produce its “affordable” ($36,000 — Ha!) Model 3 at commercial scale, a massive recall of earlier S Model sedans for a steering defect, and the spectacular fiery crash in Silicon Valley last week of an X model that may have been operating in automatic mode (the authorities can’t determine that based on what’s left), and which killed the driver.

Oh, and an experimental self-driving Uber car (Volvo brand) ran over and killed a lady crossing the street with her bicycle in Tempe, Arizona, two weeks ago. Don’t blame Elon for that.

There’s a lot to like about electric cars, of course, if, say, you’re a Google executive floating through life in a techno-narcissism bubble, or a Hollywood actor with wooly grandiose notions of saving the planet while simultaneously signaling your wealth and your “green” virtue cred. Teslas supposedly handle beautifully, ride very quietly, have great low-end power, and decent range of over 200 miles. The engine has something like twenty moving parts, is very long-lasting, and is easy to repair or change out if necessary.

Are they actually “green and clean?” Bwaahaaaaa….! Are you kidding? First, there’s the energy embedded in producing the car: mining and smelting the ores, manufacturing the plastics, running the assembly line, etc. That embedded energy amounts to about 22 percent of the energy consumed by the car over a ten-year lifetime. Then there’s the cost of actually powering the car day-by-day. The electricity around the USA is produced mostly by burning coal, natural gas, or by nuclear fission, all of which produce harmful emissions or byproducts. But the illusion that the power just comes out of a plug in the wall (for just pennies a day!) is a powerful one for the credulous public. The cherry-on-top is the fantasy that before much longer all that electric power will come from “renewables,” solar and wind, and we can leave the whole fossil fuel mess behind us. We say that to ourselves as a sort of prayer, and it has exactly that value.

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

 

Yet Another Year of Magical Thinking


A peculiar feature of the human condition is that a society in distress will call forth intellectual witch-doctors to put on a colorful show that distracts the supposedly thinking class from the insoluble quandaries that portend serious trouble ahead. This feature is on display these days in the person of freelance space pioneer Elon Musk. He intends to establish a human colony on Mars of one million people by 2040.

Musk, who is also developer of the Tesla line of electric cars and businesses that make solar-electric gear and batteries, has tested a series of space vehicles, most recently last week’s celebrated launch of his Falcon Heavy Rocket, said to be the most powerful in the world. It is just the precursor of the soon-to-come colossus Musk calls the BFR (“Big Fucking Rocket”) that will convey as many as 200 people at a time to their new home on the Red Planet.

NPR reporter Ari Shapiro was rhapsodizing about this “Space-X” project last week on the airwaves, lending it the media stamp-of-approval. And since NPR is a major news source for the US thinking class especially, you can be sure this meme of colonizing Mars is now embedded in the brains of the Pareto distribution (“the law of the vital few”) who affect to be thought leaders in this land.

There’s an old gag about the space race of yore that goes something like this (trigger warning to the ethnically hyper-sensitive):

The UN convenes a General Assembly session on space travel. The ambassadors of various nations are asked to talk about their space projects. The Russians and the Americans tick off their prior accomplishments and announce plans to explore the planets. Finally, the ambassador from Poland takes his turn at the rostrum.

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

There Is Just One Thing Preventing Elon Musk’s Vision From Coming True: The Laws Of Physics

There Is Just One Thing Preventing Elon Musk’s Vision From Coming True: The Laws Of Physics

When Elon Musk stepped on stage at Tesla’s product-launch event earlier this month, he knew the market’s confidence in Tesla’s brand had sunk to an all-time low since he took over the company a decade ago. So, he resorted to a tactic that should be familiar to anybody who has been following the company: Shock and awe.

While the event was ostensibly scheduled to introduce Tesla’s new semi-truck – a model that won’t make it’s market debut for another two years, assuming Tesla sticks to its product-rollout deadline – Musk had a surprise in store: A new model of the Tesla Roadster that, he bragged, would be the fastest production car ever sold.

Musk made similarly lofty claims about the battery life and performance of both vehicles. The Tesla semi-trucks, he said, would be able to travel for 500 miles on a single charge. The roadster could clock a staggering 620 – more than double the closest challenger.

There was just one problem, as Tesla fans would later find out, courtesy of Bloomberg: None of it was true.

In fact, many of the promises defy the capabilities of modern battery technology.

Elon Musk knows how to make promises. Even by his own standards, the promises made last week while introducing two new Tesla vehicles—the heavy-duty Semi Truck and the speedy Roadster—are monuments of envelope pushing.

To deliver, according to close observers of battery technology, Tesla would have to far exceed what is currently thought possible.

Take the Tesla Semi: Musk vowed it would haul an unprecedented 80,000 pounds for 500 miles on a single charge, then recharge 400 miles of range in 30 minutes. That would require, based on Bloomberg estimates, a charging system that’s 10 times more powerful than one of the fastest battery-charging networks on the road today—Tesla’s own Superchargers.

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

Are Electric Cars As Clean As They Seem?

Are Electric Cars As Clean As They Seem?

electric car

Tesla’s unveiling of its mass market Model 3 sparked a global interest in making electric vehicles the next big thing in automobile manufacturing. But can the category’s green agenda keep up with its metal and recycling needs?

The concept of bunking the traditional engine for a non-gas guzzling counterpart has been here for decades, but creating an ecosystem for battery charging and bringing vehicle costs down was a challenge for decades.

The sheer force of Elon Musk’s vision is building the infrastructure needed to sustain millions of electric cars in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Most major manufacturers have joined the enthusiasm to ditch old-school engines to construct the international fleet of tomorrow.

But this new step doesn’t solve all of the world’s environmental pollution issues related to transportation. The extraction of rare earth minerals, the disposal of lithium-ion batteries, and the sourcing of the energy that powers charging stations are all issues that plague the future of the green argument for electric vehicles.

As Wired notes in an article from last year, electric vehicles are most efficient when they’re light. That way, they need minimal energy to transport their valuable cargo. In search for a light material to carry and conduct batteries, scientists discovered the power of lithium—a highly conductive metal that adds little burden to the vehicle’s frame.

Discovered in 1817, this key ingredient is mostly extracted from deposits in the United States, Chile, and Australia. The most cost-effective method for lithium processing involves pumping salt-rich waters into special evaporation ponds that eventually produce lithium chloride. Then, a special plant adds sodium carbonate to turn the former lithium chloride into lithium carbonate, a white powder.

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

Can Puerto Rico go 100% solar?

Can Puerto Rico go 100% solar?

With seasonal variations in output of only around 30% Puerto Rico is at an ideal latitude for solar power, and despite generally low capacity factors (caused by cloudiness) it can be argued that if solar doesn’t work there it won’t work anywhere. And as the results of this post show 100% solar generation can in fact be made to work in Puerto Rico – but only by installing enormously costly amounts of battery storage. The island could be repowered with gas for a small fraction of the cost. (Inset: Average Puerto Rico annual solar radiation.)

INTRODUCTION

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island with an area of 9,000 square kilometers, a population of 3.4 million and a nominal per-capita income of $29,600, about the same as Italy. It is an “unincorporated territory” of the U.S (more details on what this means here). The island has historically generated almost all of its electricity from fossil fuels, with 47% coming from petroleum, 34% from natural gas, 17% from coal and only 2% from renewable energy in 2016.

Since Puerto Rico’s electricity infrastructure was heavily damaged by Hurricane Maria it has been proposed that the island should take the opportunity to abandon fossil fuel generation and convert entirely to solar. Leading the charge, as usual, is Tesla’s Elon Musk, who has already shipped a small number of storage batteries to Puerto Rico but doesn’t want to stop there: From the BBC

Elon Musk says he can rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with solar: The company says it has powered small islands, such as Ta’u in American Samoa. There, it installed a solar grid which can power the entire island and store enough electricity for three days without any sun. “The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico, too,” Mr Musk tweeted.

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

Homework Assignment

Poor old Karl Marx, tortured by boils and phantoms, was right about one thing: History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Thus, I give you the Roman Empire and now the United States of America. Rome surrendered to time and entropy. Our method is to drive a gigantic clown car into a ditch.

Is anyone out there interested in redemption? I have an idea for the political party out of power, the Democrats, sunk in its special Okefenokee Swamp of identity politics and Russia paranoia: make an effort to legislate the Citizens United calamity out of existence. Who knows, a handful of Republicans may be shamed into going along with it. For those of you who have been mentally vacationing on Mars with Elon Musk, Citizens United was a Supreme Court decision — Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 558 U.S. 310 (2010) — which determined that corporations had the right, as hypothetical “persons,” to give as much money as they liked to political candidates.

This “right” devolved from the First Amendment of the constitution, the 5-4 majority opinion said — giving money to political candidates and causes amounts to “freedom of speech.” The Citizens United ruling opened the door for unlimited election spending by corporations and enormous mischief in our national life. Then-President Obama — a constitutional law professor before his career in politics — complained bitterly about the opinion days later in his State of the Union address, saying that the court had “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

And for the next seven years he did absolutely nothing about it, nor did the Democratic Party majority in congress. Rather, they vacuumed in as much corporate campaign money as possible from every hokey political action committee (PAC) from sea to shining sea, especially in the 2016 presidential election starring Hillary “It’s My Turn” Clinton.

…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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