Grounds for optimism in 2015

SUBHEAD: The world has become quite lucid on what the United States is as a global empire in 2014.

By Dmitry Orlov on 6 January 2015 for Club Orlov -
(http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2015/01/2015-grounds-for-optimism.html)


Image above: Armed Statue of Liberty. From (www.DuncanLong.com).

This may seem like an odd line of reasoning to pursue given what everyone else seems to be saying. Some are thinking that 2015 will be a repeat of 2014 with a few incremental changes (always a safe bet, but makes for boring reading) while others are warning of the potential for a nuclear confrontation between the US and Russia (always a possibility, on par with an asteroid strike or a supernova in our galactic vicinity).

But this is all more of the same. The interesting question to ask is, How has the ground shifted in 2014, if indeed it has?

To my mind, the really interesting development of 2014 is that the world as a whole (with a few minor exceptions) has become quite lucid on the topic of what the United States, as a global empire, is and stands for. It is now very commonly and completely understood that:
  1. The United States is an evil empire, attempting not so much to rule the world as to disrupt it to its short-term advantage.

  2. The United States is failing, as an empire and as a country, and no amount of fraud, mayhem, torture and murder is going to save it.

  3. The United States is still quite powerful and can cause massive damage on its way down. This damage must be contained, while plans are drawn up for an international arrangement that will arise upon its demise.
Looking back on 2013 and before, such sentiments were already being expressed, but on the fringes and quietly. The difference is that in 2014 they became commonplace knowledge, and their expressions thundered from presidential podiums. 

What's more, there just isn't that much of a counterargument being voiced. I don't hear a single voice out there arguing that the US is a benevolent force that is on the up-and-up, would never hurt a fly and is the permanent center of the universe. Yes, some people can still think that, but it's hard to see value in such “thought.”

There are still a few holdouts: the UK, Canada and Australia especially. But even there the true picture is being distorted because of their Murdockified national media. Judging from what I hear from the people there, they are almost uniformly nauseated by the subservient pro-US antics of their national leaders.

As for the EU, the image of political uniformity presented by Brussels is largely a fiction. In the core countries of Western Europe, business leaders are almost uniformly in favor of close cooperation with Russia and against sanctions. Along the fringe, entire countries appear to be on the verge of switching sides. Hungary—never a friend of Russia—now seems more pro-Russian than ever.

 Bulgaria, which has had a love/hate attitude toward Russia for centuries now, seems to be edging back closer to love. Even the Poles are scratching their heads and wondering if close cooperation with the US is in their national interest.

Another major shift I have observed is that a significant percentage of the thinking people in the US no longer trusts their national media. There is a certain pattern to the kinds of messages that can go viral and spread wildly via tweets and social media.

Fringe messages must, by definition, stay on the fringe. And yet last year something snapped: a few times I ran a story in an attempt to plug a gaping hole in the US mass media's coverage of events in the Ukraine, and the response was overwhelming, with hundreds of thousands of new readers showing up.

What's more, a lot of them have kept coming back for more. I take this to mean that what I have to say, while by no means mainstream, is no longer on the fringe, and that bloggers have an increasingly important role in helping plug the giant holes in national media coverage.

Of course, the national media still has an important role to play. For instance, I have no idea how big Kim Kardashian's derrière is—but I hear it's big in the media. Can it sing?

And so if you are looking for authoritative information on that important subject, then American national media is your friend. But for most non-ass-related things, it seems to me that the Americans who run the nation's political and media circuses broke a fundamental rule, which they apparently forgot, because it was first expressed by an American by the name of Abe Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

In case somebody out there in the media realm is tired of playing it safe and printing stuff that's only fit for wiping your Kardashian with, here are a some points for you to try to refute:

Number 1: 
Economic inequality has to increase continuously, until the whole thing crashes, because that is the only way to continue propping the financial bubble while the real, physical, productive economy is actually shrinking. The rich can't possibly spend all of their money in the real economy.

Instead, the poor things have to content themselves with investing in various luxury items, which they can't use all the same time, and so most of them sit and slowly decay. Or they put their money into paper wealth of various kinds—and that, of course, is very good for the financial bubble.

In any event, if you have a financial bubble you need to prop up no matter what, in the face of serious physical limitations on land, energy, fresh water, high-grade ores and other essential industrial feedstocks, then your best bet is to do the reverse-Robin-Hood thing and go rob the poor and give to the rich.

Number 2: 
Worldwide chaos must be driven up because that's the only way the US military can justify its existence. It is a very expensive military, but not a particularly effective one. (Just the new F-35 fighter cost over a trillion to develop—and yet it is a complete dud of a project and may never even go into production.)

But in spite of this lavish spending the US military is incapable of scoring a decisive victory in just about any conflict, against any adversary, no matter how weak and impoverished, and their end result is always some sort of ongoing low-grade conflict that can flare up again at any time.

Nevertheless, it can still threaten the weak and the poor, and use these threats to its financial advantage. But the only way to make these threats effective is to destroy some country on a semi-regular basis: “Nice country you got there! We'd hate to see it go the way of Libya.”

A military confrontation with any of the real military powers—Russia, China, India, even Iran—is, of course, entirely out of the question, because a single humiliating military defeat for the US (which is inevitable given its track record against smaller, weaker adversaries) would be sufficient to undermine the entire program of US militarism.

Number 3:
As another American (Dwight Eisenhower) once put it: “If you can't solve a problem, enlarge it.” But it stands to reason that you do have to solve a problem once in a while; you can't just go on enlarging every problem you see ad infinitum.

Now, what problems has the US solved lately? Anything good happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria or Ukraine? No, worse than ever. How about financial reform in the wake of the narrowly averted collapse in 2008? No, and there is another big one coming up in the form of the fracas in the fracking patch due to low oil prices.

Anything good to report on health care reform? No, it's more ridiculously bloated and expensive than ever. Student debt repayable now? No, not by a long shot. How about an effort to reduce carbon emissions, to postpone (no longer to avoid!) the eastern seaboard, where half of everything is, going underwater? No, not a glimmer of hope.

Problems with runaway public debt or unfunded government liabilities solved? No, there have been no efforts in that direction at all. Is the country still on course for national bankruptcy and collapse? All systems check, go with throttle up!

Now, your mileage may vary, but I have discovered that a surprising number of people around the world (though not especially in the US) is now very much clued into these things. And that is something that makes me feel optimistic about 2015.

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Oil & Economy 2015-16

SUBHEAD: Are we encountering some sort of change or transformation that is in the best interests of mankind and the planet?

By Gail Tverberg on 6 January 2015 for Our Finite World - (http://ourfiniteworld.com/2015/01/06/oil-and-the-economy-where-are-we-headed-in-2015-16/)


Image above: An illustration for Bioshock Rapture in underwater city. From (http://bioshock.wikia.com/wiki/File:Bioshock_rapture.jpg).

The price of oil is down. How should we expect the economy to perform in 2015 and 2016?
Newspapers in the United States seem to emphasize the positive aspects of the drop in prices. I have written Ten Reasons Why High Oil Prices are a Problem. If our only problem were high oil prices, then low oil prices would seem to be a solution. Unfortunately, the problem we are encountering now is extremely low prices. If prices continue at this low level, or go even lower, we are in deep trouble with respect to future oil extraction.

It seems to me that the situation is much more worrisome than most people would expect. Even if there are some temporary good effects, they will be more than offset by bad effects, some of which could be very bad indeed. We may be reaching limits of a finite world.

The Nature of Our Problem with Oil Prices
The low oil prices we are seeing are a symptom of serious problems within the economy–what I have called “increased inefficiency” (really diminishing returns) leading to low wages. See my post How increased inefficiency explains falling oil prices. While wages have been stagnating, the cost of oil extraction has been increasing by about ten percent a year, described in my post Beginning of the End? Oil Companies Cut Back on Spending.

Needless to say, stagnating wages together with rapidly rising costs of oil production leads to a mismatch between:
  • The amount consumers can afford for oil
  • The cost of oil, if oil price matches the cost of production
The fact that oil prices were not rising enough to support the higher extraction costs was already a problem back in February 2014, at the time the article Beginning of the End? Oil Companies Cut Back on Spending was written. (The drop in oil prices did not start until June 2014.)
Two different debt-related initiatives have helped cover up the growing mismatch between the cost of extraction and the amount consumers could afford:
  • Quantitative Easing (QE) in a number of countries. This creates artificially low interest rates and thus encourages borrowing for speculative activities.
  • Growth in Chinese spending on infrastructure. This program was funded by debt.
Both of these programs have been scaled-back significantly since June 2014, with US QE ending its taper in October 2014, and Chinese debt programs undergoing greater controls since early 2014. Chinese new home prices have been dropping since May 2014.

Figure 1. World Oil Supply (production including biofuels, natural gas liquids) and Brent monthly average spot prices, based on EIA data.
Figure 1. World Oil Supply (production including biofuels, natural gas liquids) and Brent monthly average spot prices, based on EIA data.

The effect of scaling back both of these programs in the same timeframe has been like a driver taking his foot off of the gasoline pedal. The already slowing world economy slowed further, bringing down oil prices. The prices of many other commodities, such as coal and iron ore, are down as well. Instead of oil prices staying up near the cost of extraction, they have fallen closer to the level consumers can afford. Needless to say, this is not good if the economy really needs the use of oil and other commodities.

It is not clear that either the US QE program or the Chinese program of infrastructure building can be restarted. Both programs were reaching the limits of their usefulness. At some point, additional funds begin going into investments with little return–buildings that would never be occupied or shale operations that would never be profitable. Or investments in Emerging Markets that cannot be profitable without higher commodity prices than are available today. 
First Layer of Bad Effects 
  1. Increased debt defaults. Increased debt defaults of many kinds can be expected, including (a) Businesses involved with oil extraction suffering from low prices (b) Laid off oil workers not able to pay their mortgages, (c) Debt repayable in US dollars from emerging markets, including Russia, Brazil, and South Africa, because with their currencies now very low relative to the US dollar, debt is difficult to repay (d) Chinese debt related to overbuilding there, and (e) Debt of failing economies, such as Greece and Venezuela.

  2. Rising interest rates. With defaults rising, interest rates can be expected to rise, so that those making the loans will be compensated for the rising risk of default. In fact, this is already happening with junk-rated oil loans. Furthermore, it is possible that the US Federal Reserve will raise target interest rates in 2015. This possibility has been mentioned for several months, as part of normalizing interest rates.

  3. Rising unemployment. We know that nearly all of the increased employment since 2008 in the US took place in states with shale oil and gas production. As these programs are cut back, US employment is likely to fall. The UK and Norway are likely to experience drops in employment related to oil production, as their oil programs are cut. Countries of South America and Africa dependent on commodity exports are likely to see their employment cut back as well.

  4. Increased recession. The combination of rising interest rates and rising unemployment will almost certainly lead to recession. At first, some of the effects may be offset by the impact of lower oil prices, but eventually recessionary effects will predominate. Eventually, broken supply chains may become a problem, if companies with poor credit ratings cannot get financing they need at reasonable rates.

  5. Decreased oil supply, starting perhaps in late 2015. The timing is not certain. Businesses are likely to continue extraction where wells are already in operation, since most costs have already been paid. Also, some businesses have purchased price protection in the derivative market. They will likely continue drilling.

  6. Disruptions in oil exporting countries, such as Venezuela, Russia, and Nigeria. Oil exporters generally get the majority of their government revenue from taxes on oil. If oil prices remain low, oil-related tax revenue will drop greatly, necessitating cutbacks   in food subsidies and other programs. Some countries may experience overthrows of existing governments and a sharp drop in oil exports. Central governments may even disband, as happened with the Soviet Union in 1991.

  7. Defaults on derivatives, because of sharp and long-lasting changes in oil prices, interest rates, and currency relativities. Securitized debt may also be at risk of default.

  8. Continued low oil prices, except for brief spikes, because of high interest rates, recession, and low “demand” (really affordability) for oil.

  9. Drop in stock market prices. Governments have been able to “pump up” stock market prices with their QE programs since 2008. At some point, though, higher interest rates may draw investors away from the stock market. Stock prices may also decline reflecting the poor prospects of the economy, with rising unemployment and fewer goods being manufactured.

  10. Drop in market value of bonds. When interest rates rise, the market value of existing bonds falls. Bonds are also likely to experience higher default rates. The combined effect is likely to lead to a drop in the equity of financial institutions. At least at first, this effect is likely to occur mostly outside the US, because the “flight to security” will tend to raise the level of the US dollar and lower US interest rates.

  11. Changes in international associations. Already, there is discussion of Greece dropping out of the Eurozone. Associations such as the European Union and the International Monetary Fund will find it increasingly difficult to handle problems, as their rich countries become poorer, and as loan defaults become increasing problems.
In total, eventually we are likely to experience a much worse situation than we did in the 2007-2009 period, although this may not be evident at first. It will be only over a period of time, after some of the initial “dominoes fall” that we will see what is really happening. Initially, economies of oil importing countries may appear to be doing fairly well, thanks to low oil prices. It will be later that the adverse impacts begin to take over, and eventually dominate.

Major Concerns

Inability to restart oil supply, even if prices should temporarily rise. The production of oil from US shale formations has been enabled by very low interest rates. If there is a major round of debt defaults by the shale industry, interest rates are unlikely to fall back to previously low levels. Because of the higher interest rates, oil prices will have to rise to an even a higher price than required in the past–in other words, to more than $100 barrel, say $125 to $140 barrel. There will also be a lag in restarting production, meaning that high prices will need to be maintained for some time. Bringing oil prices to a high level for a long time seems impossible without crashing the economies of oil importers. See my post, Ten Reasons Why High Oil Prices are a Problem.

Derivatives and Securitized Debt Defaults. The last time we had problems with these types of financial instruments was 2008. Governments around the world made huge payments to banks and other financial institutions, in order to bail them out of their difficulties. The financial services firm Lehman Brothers was allowed to go bankrupt.

Governments have declared that if this happens again, they will do things differently. Instead of bailing institutions out, they will make changes that will make these events less likely to happen. They will also make changes in how shortfalls are funded.  In many cases, the result will be a bail-in, where depositors share in the losses by “haircuts” to their deposits.

Unfortunately, from what I can see, the changes governments have made are basically too little, too late. The new sharing of losses will have as bad, or worse, impacts on the economy than the previous government bailouts of banks.

Regulators do not seem to understand that models used in pricing derivatives and securitized debt are not designed for a finite world. The models appear to work reasonably well when the economy is distant from limits. Once the economy gets close to limits, many more adverse events occur than the models would have predicted, potentially causing huge problems for the system.1

What we are likely to be encountering now is a combination of defaults of many kinds simultaneously–derivatives, securitized debt, and “ordinary” debt. Many of these risks will be shared among institutions, so that banking problems will be widespread. The sizes of the losses are likely to be very large. Businesses may find that funds intended for payroll or needed to pay suppliers are subject to haircuts. How can they operate in such a situation?

It is even possible that accounts under deposit insurance limits will be subject to haircuts. While deposit insurance is available in theory, the amount held in reserve is not very great. It could easily be exhausted by a few large claims (the scenario in Iceland a few years ago). If governments choose not to make up for shortfalls in funding of the insurance programs, the shortfalls could end up with depositors.

Peak Oil.
There seems to be a distinct possibility that we will be reaching the peak in world oil supply very soon–2014 or 2015, or even 2016. The way we reach this peak though, is different from what most people imagined: low oil prices, rather than high oil prices.

Low oil prices are brought about by low wages and the inability to add sufficient new debt to offset the low wages. Because the issue is one of affordability, nearly all commodities are likely to be affected, including fossil fuels other than oil. In some sense, the issue is that a financial crash is bringing down the financial system, and is bringing commodities of all kinds with it.

Figure 2 shows an estimate of future energy production of various types. The steep downslope is likely because of the financial problems we are headed into.2

Figure 2. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.
Figure 2. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings. Renewables in this chart includes hydroelectric, biofuels, and material such as dung gathered for fuel, in addition to renewables such as wind and solar. (It is based on an IEA inclusive definition.)

A major point of this chart is that all fuels are likely to decline simultaneously, because the cause is financial. For example, how does an oil company or a coal company continue to operate, if it cannot pay its employees and suppliers because of bank-related problems?

Our Long-Term Debt Problem. 
 Long-term debt is an important part of our current system because (a) it enables buyers to afford products, and (b) it helps keep commodity prices high enough to encourage extraction. Unfortunately, long-term debt seems to require economic growth, so that we can repay debt with interest.

Figure 3. Repaying loans is easy in a growing economy, but much more difficult in a shrinking economy.
Figure 3. Repaying loans is easy in a growing economy, but much more difficult in a shrinking economy.

Economists conjecture that economic growth can continue, even if the extraction of fossil fuels and other commodities declines (as in Figure 2). But how likely is this in practice? Without fossil fuels, we can exchange baby-sitting services and we can give each other back rubs, but how much can we really do to grow the economy?

Almost any economic activity we can think of requires the use of petroleum or electricity and the use of commodities such as iron and copper. A more realistic view would seem to be that without the materials we generally use, our economy is likely to shrink. With this shrinkage, long-term debt will become increasingly impossible. This is one of the big problems we are encountering.

Our Physics Problem. 
Politicians and businesses of all types would like to advance the idea that our economy will continue forever; the politicians and businesses of every kind are in charge. Everything will turn out well.

Unfortunately, history is littered with examples of civilizations that hit diminishing returns, and then collapsed. Research indicates that the when early economies underwent collapse, the shape of the decline wasn’t straight down–declines tended to take a period of years. Not everyone died, either.

Figure 4. Shape of typical Secular Cycle, based on work of Peter Turkin and Sergey Nefedov in Secular Cycles.
Figure 4. Shape of typical Secular Cycle, based on work of Peter Turkin and Sergey Nefedov in Secular Cycles.

Physics gives us a reason as to why such a pattern is to be expected. Physics tells us that civilizations are dissipative structures. The world we live in is an open system, receiving energy from the sun. Examples of other dissipative structures include galaxy systems, the solar system, the lives of plants and animals, and hurricanes. They are born, grow, and eventually stop dissipating energy and die. New dissipative structures often arise, if sufficient energy sources are available to dissipate. Thus, there may be new economies in the future.

We would like to think that we can stop this process, but it is not clear that we can. Perhaps economies are expected to reach limits and eventually collapse. It is only if economies can add large amounts of inexpensive energy resources (for example, by discovering how to make use of fossil fuels, or by discovering a less-settled area of the world, or even by adding China to the World Trade Organization in 2001) that this scenario can be put off.

What Can We Do?

Renewable energy is has recently been advertised as the solution to nearly all of our problems. If my analysis of our problems is correct, renewable energy is not a solution to our problems. I mentioned earlier that adding China to the World Trade Organization in 2001 temporarily helped solve world energy problems, with its ramp up of coal production after joining (note bulge in coal consumption after 2001 in Figure 5).

In comparison, the impact of non-hydro renewables has been barely noticeable in the whole picture.

Figure 5. World energy consumption by source, based on data of BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014.
Figure 5. World energy consumption by source, based on data of BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014. Renewables are narrowly defined, excluding hydro-electric, liquid biofuels, and materials gathered by the user, such as branches and dung.

Guaranteed prices for renewable energy are likely to be an increasing problem, as the cost of fossil fuel energy falls, and as buyers become increasingly unable to afford high energy prices. Issues with banks, making it difficult to pay employees and suppliers, are likely to be a problem whether an energy company uses renewable energy sources or not.

The only renewable energy sources that may be helpful in the long term are one that do not require buying goods from a distance, and thus do not require the use of banks. Trees growing in a local forest might be an example of such renewable energy.

Another solution to the problems we are reaching would seem to be figuring out a new financial system. Unfortunately, debt–and in fact growing debt–seems to be essential to our current system. We can’t extract fossil fuels without a debt-based system, in part because debt allows profits to be moved forward, and thus lightens the burden of paying for products made with a fossil-fuel based system. If a financial system uses only on the accumulated profits of a system without fossil fuels, it can expand only very slowly. See my post Why Malthus Got His Forecast Wrong. Local currency systems have also been suggested, but they don’t fix the problem of, say, electricity companies not being able to pay their suppliers at a distance.

Adding more debt, or taking steps to hold interest rates even lower, is probably the closest we can come to a reasonable way of temporarily putting off financial collapse. It is not clear where more debt can be added, though. The reason current debt programs are being discontinued is because, after a certain level of expansion, they primarily seem to create stock market bubbles and encourage investments that can never pay back adequate returns.

One possible solution is that a small number of people with survivalist skills will make it through the bottleneck, in order to start civilization over again. Some of these individuals may be small-scale farmers. The availability of cheap, easy to use, local energy is likely to be a limiting factor on population size, however. World population was one billion or less before the widespread use of fossil fuels.

We don’t have much time to fix our problems. In the timeframe we are looking at, the only other solution would seem to be a religious one. I don’t know exactly what it would be; I am not a believer in The Rapture. There is great order underlying our current system. If the universe was formed in a big bang, there was no doubt a plan behind it.  We don’t know exactly what the plan for the future is. Perhaps what we are encountering is some sort of change or transformation that is in the best interests of mankind and the planet. More reading of religious scriptures might be in order. We truly live in interesting times!

Notes:
[1] Derivatives and Securitized Debt are often priced using the Black-Scholes Pricing Model. It assumes a normal distribution and statistical independence of adverse results–something that is definitely not the case as we reach limits. See my 2008 post that correctly forecast the 2008 financial crash.
[2] Points are plotted at five-year intervals, so the chart is a bit more pointed than it would have been if I had plotted individual years. The upper limit at 2015 is an approximation–it could be a year or so different.

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Tropical forests & Climate change

SUBHEAD: NASA finds tropical forests absorbing more carbon dioxide than previously thought .

By Nadia Prupis on 4 January 2015 for Common Dreams -
(http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/04/nasa-tropical-forests-key-fighting-greenhouse-gases)


Image above: Photo of tropical forest. From original article. Photo by Leonard S. Jacobs.

Tropical forests have emerged as a crucial factor in the fight against climate change, according to a new NASA-led study published Friday which finds that they are absorbing carbon dioxide at a far higher rate than previously thought.

As atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases have continued to rise, tropical forests, like those found in Malaysia, have been absorbing roughly 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of a total global absorption of 2.5 billion, NASA found.

Those rates are not only higher than previously estimated, they are also higher than those of the vast boreal forests found in northern regions like Canada and Siberia—which are diminishing.

"This is good news, because uptake in boreal forests is already slowing, while tropical forests may continue to take up carbon for many years," said Dr. David Schimel, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory senior research scientist and lead author of a paper on the study.

Forests use human-made emissions to grow faster, which in turn reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—an effect known as carbon fertilization. They also remove up to 30 percent of airborne human emissions through photosynthesis. If those processes slowed down, the rate of global warming would increase.

Why was it important to determine which kind of forest are more adept at that process?
Because the answer "has big implications for our understanding of whether global terrestrial ecosystems might continue to offset our carbon dioxide emissions or might begin to exacerbate climate change," said Britton Stephens, co-author of the study and a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Schimel added, "All else being equal, the effect is stronger at higher temperatures, meaning it will be higher in the tropics than in the boreal forests."

The problem lies in other harmful impacts of climate change that also affect forests. Warming temperatures decrease water availability and increase larger and more frequent wildfires—which, in turn, release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Still, NASA's discovery is largely auspicious. "What we've had up till this paper was a theory of carbon dioxide fertilization based on phenomena at the microscopic scale and observations at the global scale that appeared to contradict those phenomena," Schimel said. "Here, at least, is a hypothesis that provides a consistent explanation that includes both how we know photosynthesis works and what's happening at the planetary scale."

The study is groundbreaking in its methodology, as it is the first to use a variety of models, technology, and data to create an "apples-to-apples" comparison carbon dioxide estimates between forests, NASA explained.

By using computer models of ecosystem processes, inverse models of atmospheric concentrations, satellite images, and other data and analysis, the researchers were able to determine the accuracy of their results "based on how well they reproduced independent, ground-based measurements."

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Incomprehensible TPP Secrecy

SUBHEAD: It is incomprehensible that the leaders of major corporate interests are writing the TPP.

By Deirdre Fulton on 5 January 2015 for Common Dreams -
(http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/05/incomprehensible-secrecy-sanders-demands-release-trade-agreement-text)


Image above: The Council of Canadians outside the Delta Ottawa City Centre on July 7, 2014 to draw attention to the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership talks taking place inside. From (http://www.canadianprogressiveworld.com/2014/07/09/secretive-critical-talks-tpp-happening-ottawa/).
'It is incomprehensible to me that the leaders of major corporate interests are actively involved in the writing of the TPP, while the elected officials of this country have little or no knowledge as to what is in it,' says senator Bernie Sanders
With Congress on the verge of taking up the controversial, corporate-friendly Trans Pacific Partnership, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is demanding that the chief trade representative for the United States turn over the full text of the proposed trade agreement.

"It is incomprehensible to me that the leaders of major corporate interests who stand to gain enormous financial benefits from this agreement are actively involved in the writing of the TPP while, at the same time, the elected officials of this country, representing the American people, have little or no knowledge as to what is in it," Sanders said in a letter (pdf) sent Monday to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

"Members of Congress must have the opportunity to read what is in the TPP and closely analyze the potential impact this free trade agreement would have on the American people long before the Senate votes to give the President fast track trade promotion authority."

Proponents of the pact, which would encompass 12 nations that represent 40 percent of the global economy, are pushing for a fast-track process that would hand over negotiating authority to President Barack Obama, who supports the deal. Critics claim the TPP poses threats to civil liberties, workers rights, public health, food safety, and global financial stability.

Sanders asked Froman to respond to his letter by January 16, 2015. If his request is denied, the senator vowed to introduce legislation that would require that the contents of any trade agreement that the U.S. is negotiating would have to be made public at the request of any member of Congress.

In addition, if Sanders' request is turned down, he asked Froman to spell out the legal basis for the denial.

"Please also explain why you think it is appropriate that the representatives of the largest financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, media conglomerates and other major corporate interests not only have access to some of these documents, but are also playing a major role in developing many of the key provisions in it," Sanders added. "Meanwhile, the people who will suffer the consequences of this treaty have been shut out of this process."

Just last week, Sanders penned an essay outlining the top ten reasons why the TPP must be defeated.

In December, a coalition of close to 50 groups called on trade ministers of countries negotiating the TPP to publish the current draft of the agreement, as well as all nations' negotiating positions.

So far, the only details that have been made public have come from leaked documents—representing a lack of transparency that Sanders described in his letter as "very troubling."

See also:

Ea O Ka Aina: The Pacific Pivot 6/26/14
The TPP which locks signatory nations  into a U.S. dominated trade framework.

Ea O Ka Aina: Earthday TPP Fukushima RIMPAC 4/22/14
Excuse us while we turn the Pacific Ocean into a radioactive ashtray.

Ea O Ka Aina: TPP true colors 2/26/14
The plan behind the TPP is to replace national sovereignty with multinational corporations.

Ea O Ka Aina: TPP - Poison for Resilience 1/15/14
Congress is about to vote on whether to fast-track the treaty to hand sovereignty to corporations.

Ea O Ka Aina: TPP - Corporate Domination 1/13/14
TPP is a dream of the 1% - A stealthy policy being pressed by corporate America.

Ea O Ka Aina: TPP is NAFTA on steroids 11/24/13
President Obama wants Congress to reauthorize TPP and negotiations in the future.

Ea O Ka Aina: With TPP Big Pharma & GMOs gain 11/14/13
WikiLeaks blew open the secret negotiations behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Ea O Ka Aina: TPP & GMO labeling ban 10/18/13
Do leaked sections of the TPP's secret text suggest a ban on GMO labeling?

Ea O Ka Aina: TPP revealed once more 8/29/13
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not about free trade. It's a corporate coup d'etat--against us!

Ea O Ka Aina: Green Shadow Cabinet 6/19/13
The Green Shadow Cabinet stands united in opposition to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership

Ea O Ka Aina: Obama & Multi-Nationals in Pacific 11/25/12
Public interest groups have been warning that the TPP could result in millions of lost jobs.

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Kunstler Forecast 2015

SUBHEAD: Americans face life in the breakdown lane as the wheels come off the American Dream.

By James Kunstler on 4 January 2015 for Kunstler.com -
(Ihttp://kunstler.com/forecast/forecast-2015/)


Image above: Detail of photo of nearly abandoned Detroit suburban street. From (http://thehiat.blogspot.com/2012/02/motorless-city-of-detroit.html).

“Don’t look back — something might be gaining on you,” Satchel Paige famously warned. For connoisseurs of civilizational collapse, 2014 was merely annoying, a continued pile-up of over-investments in complexity with mounting diminishing returns, metastasizing fragility, and no satisfying resolution. 

So we enter 2015 with greater tensions than ever before and therefore the likelihood that the inevitable breakdown will release more destructive energy and be that much harder to recover from.

I don’t know how anyone can trust the statistical bullshit emanating from our government reporting agencies, or the legacy news organizations that report them. Yet the meme has remained firmly fixed in the popular imagination: the US economy has recovered! GDP grows 5 percent in Q3! 

Manufacturing renaissance! Energy independence! Cleanest shirt in the laundry basket! Best-looking house in a bad neighborhood…!

¡
No hay problema!

This is simply the power of wishful thinking on display. No one — with the exception of a few “doomer” cranks — wants to believe that industrial civilization is in trouble deep. The staggering credulity this represents would be a fascinating case study in itself if there were not so many other things that demand our attention right now. 

Let’s just write this phenomenon off as the diminishing returns of career log-rolling in politics, finance, media, and academia. All the professional “thought-leaders” pitch in to support the “hologram” of eternal progress that issues their paychecks and bonuses. This culture of pervasive racketeering that we’ve engineered has made us obtuse. 

The particular brand of stupidity on display also points to another signal vanity of our time: the conviction that if you measure things enough, you can control them.

I’m of the view that the measurers only pretend to measure and can only pretend to control things, especially in the most fragile of the systems that we depend on for running all the other systems of techno-industrial economic life: finance. The pretense has endured a lot longer than many of us had expected. 

The legerdemain employed by banking officials and their handmaidens was greatly augmented by the sheer wish that fragility (i.e. risk) had been successfully and permanently banished from the universe. That “magic” at least sustained a universal faith in currencies until the middle of last year when so many monies went south — except the dollar, levitating on blowback of the deflationary wind flattening everything else.

All this unreality in money and markets should be expected in the conditions just preceding systemic collapse of an entire trans-national industrial civilization, just as one should expect societies to construct their most grandiose monuments to themselves shortly before collapse. 

The Mayans R Us. 

One year, they were cavorting bloodthirstily atop their garish painted pyramids and a generation later the jungle was stealing back over the temple steps and the population was a tenth of its former size. The same thing is going to happen to us, except there will be a hell of a lot more worthless, toxic debris left on the landscape.

Of course, even that is a more long-term projection than the exercise at hand calls for, viz., the forecast for measly little 2015. So without further throat-clearing, permit me to break it down for you:

Finance and Banking
As 2014 closed out, that kit-bag of frauds, swindles, Ponzis, grifts, bait-and-switches, and three-card-monte scams is looking at least as wobbly as it did in 2007 when Wall Street was busy manufacturing booby-trapped MBSs and CDOs. 

Except we know the true aggregate risk at stake has only grown larger and more hazardous due to all the strenuous efforts by authorities since the panic of 2008 to evade any natural process for clearing mal-investment and debt gone bad. A lot of that stank was simply shoveled into the Federal Reserve’s basement, where it sits to this day, composting steamily. 

As to be expected (and averred to in my previous books and blogs) financial repression, market intervention, and statistical distortion will produce ever more financial perversity. That is the hazard in decoupling truth from reality. Imposed dishonesty will always express itself in unexpected ways. 

Who expected the price of oil to fall by nearly half in a few months? (More on that below.)

These days, perversity expresses itself in a morbidly obese dollar gorging on junk while bulimic currencies elsewhere projectile-vomit their value away as the economies attached to them die of malnutrition. 

Perhaps this comes as a surprise to central bankers standing at their control panels like recording engineers at the soundboard, tweaking all the dials and slides expecting to achieve a perfect repressive inflation rate of 2-plus percent so they can melt away the onerous debt of sovereign balance sheets and Too Big To Fail banks — incidentally squeezing the citizenry of purchasing power in small annual increments that add up, after a while, to worthless money. 

They did manage to extend the inflation of stock market indexes another year, which the public is supposed to interpret as “prosperity.” 

Half a trillion dollars in stock buybacks of S & P companies were executed in 2014, much of it done with money, i.e. “leverage,” borrowed at zero interest. Stock buybacks boost share prices, of course, but they don’t represent any real increased value in a given company. They’re just snakes eating their own tails.

The belief that the world’s “reserve” currency is an implacable force, and that central bankers are omnipotent has made this trade appear to be an irresistible trend — Don’t fight the Fed! Since it’s a matrix of fraud based on thin air money detached from real productive activity, it is certain to blow up. And since 2015 is seven years past the last blowup, it can happen any time. 

All it requires is some small slippage somewhere, that one equivalent extra grain of sand or snowflake to bring the accumulate mass of false value down in a financial earthquake or avalanche. 

That obese dollar has been gorging on the equivalent of cheez kurls and Little Debbie Snack cakes, so it only grows more diseased as it gains weight. Sentient observers cannot fail to notice the advancing sickness.

Meanwhile, the US is stupidly waging currency war against other nations that can only blow back by incurring the animosity of every trading partner we have on the only planet available to live on. In 2015, I expect Russia to enlist China’s aid in undermining the dollar’s reserve status. 

Both countries have weaponry in the form of cash reserves and gold in their vaults. They also have the computer hacking expertise to start seriously messing with US markets — as much Fed technicians and TBTF bank algos do — bringing on mysterious flash crashes, derivatives “accidents,” and other abnormal events that will leave even the Goldman Sachs MIT graduates scratching their heads. 

Such hacking may accomplish what years of arrant market interventions by US technicians failed to produce: a deadly loss of faith on all the institutions that govern money and markets. Then the US will be the cleanest shirt in a laundry basket that is on fire.

The dollar these days represents two kinds of capital. The first is the stuff that the US has built and invested in since, say, the end of World War Two: a wasteland of aging and decrepitating suburban sprawl, that is, the infrastructure of a living arrangement with no future, the greatest entropic sink in human history. 

It extends to whole cities and their subsystems, e.g. the hell-hole of Las Vegas with Hoover dam and the dwindling reservoir of Lake Mead. Before mid-century, Las Vegas will be as desolate as Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. 

Try to imagine the money that went into building all that stupid shit in the desert. In another decade, across America, the housing subdivisions and commercial highway strips filled with tilt-up box stores, muffler shops and burger dispensaries will retain less value than the pyramids of Palenque had for the Mayans after their society rolled over and died. 

The so-called real economy is a New Age serfdom of burger fryers and janitors, indentured to that entropic sink. Below them is a widening slough of methedrine, child abuse, and tattoo art on its way to becoming Soylent Green. To put it bluntly, the dollar is entropy’s algo bitch.

The second kind of capital the dollar represents is the imaginary value based on sheer lying, making shit up, and borrowing from a future that has no chance of being paid back. This is the capital ginned up on “American exceptionalism” and “energy independence,” fairy tale memes functioning as collateral for the aforementioned malinvestments that add up to “The American way of life.” 

This capital has no substance, since it is just made up of intellectual and emotional dishonesty. This is the kind of constructed narrative that addicts and other functional cripples resort to to justify their behavior, and the fragility of it will sooner or later lead to the well-known condition of “hitting bottom.” 

That is the event horizon where the remnants of America enter what I call the World Made By Hand. It will be the greatest socio-economic shift since the fall of Rome, only much swifter.

Oil
It really deserves a sub-category of its own because it is the primary resource of our techno-industrial society and its troubles lie behind much of the present disturbances of our times. 

Despite the triumphal agitprop of the past few years, peak oil is for real. It just manifests more strangely than most people thought, namely, the simpleminded idea that it would only show up as ever-rising prices. 

No, I made point in The Long Emergency (2005) — and other commentators did too — that peak oil would manifest as volatility. And so since the actual moment of peak conventional crude around 2005, we’ve seen pretty wild oscillations in the price of oil. This is due to the harsh reality that the price people and enterprises can afford to pay for increasingly harder-to-get oil is less than the price that makes it possible to get it. 

This sets up a yo-yo-ing instability in economic performance that exacerbates even normal wave patterns in the business cycle (which are, in turn, aggravated by banks and governments’ interventions such as ZIRP to suppress those cycles). Below $70-a-barrel the producers go broke; above $70-a-barrel the customers go broke. 

So the price wobbles up and down as financial Ponzis like shale oil are introduced onto the scene in the hope that debt finagling and mineral rights leasing scams can substitute for physics and geological reality. 

One trouble with this is that each violent oscillation generates more economic and financial destruction. Activities like motoring, aviation, manufacturing, and retail are badly affected and the entire financial system is made more fragile by worsening increments. 

Most importantly, the cost structure of the oil industry itself gets battered to a degree that fewer companies can survive to produce the remaining oil.
The big story for 2014 was the crash of oil prices. It is yet being celebrated in other blogger’s 2015 forecasts as a boon to America. 

Wait until they find out that almost all of the “good jobs” added in recent years were associated with the shale drilling industry that is now being put out of business by low oil prices. 

Wait until they find out how the failure of junk bond financing thunders through the bond markets and the savage wilderness of derivatives — and ultimately into their ruined pension funds. 

Wait until they discover that it was but a symptom of the compressive deflationary depression now gripping the entire techno-industrialized world.

Here are my financial forecast particulars for 2015:
  • Early in 2015 the ECB proposes a lame QE program and is laughed out of the room. European markets tank.
  • Greek elections in January produce a government that stands up to the EU and ECB and causes a fatal slippage of faith in the ability of that project to continue.
  • Second half of 2015, the rest of the world gangs up and counter-attacks the US dollar.
  • Bond markets in Europe implode in first half and the contagion spreads to the US as fear and distrust rises about viability of US safe haven status.
  • Derivatives associated with currencies, interest rates, and junk bonds trigger a bloodbath in credit default swaps (CDS) and the appearance of countless black holes through which debt and “wealth” disappear forever.
  • US stock markets continue to bid upward in the first half of 2015, crater in Q3 as faith in paper and pixels erodes. DJA and S & P fall 30 to 40 percent in the initial crash, then further into 2016.
  • Gold and silver slide in the first half, then take off as debt and equity markets craters, faith in abstract instruments evaporates, faith in central bank omnipotence dissolves, and citizens all over the world desperately seek safety from currency war.
  • Goldman Sachs, Citicorp, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, DeutscheBank, SocGen, all succumb to insolvency. American government and Federal Reserve officials don’t dare attempt to rescue them again.
  • By the end of 2015, central banks everywhere stand in general discredit. In the US, the Federal Reserve’s mandate is publically debated and revised back to its original mission as lender of last resort. It is forbidden to engage in further interventions and a new less-secretive mechanism is drawn up for regulating basic interest rates.
  • Oil prices creep back into the $65 – $70 range by May 2015. It is not enough to halt the destruction in the shale, tar sand, and deepwater sectors. As contraction in the failing global economy accelerates, oil sinks back to the $40 range in October…
  • …unless mischief in the Middle East (in particular, the Islamic State messing with Saudi Arabia) leads to gross and perhaps fatally permanent disruption in world oil markets — and then all bets are off for both the continuity of advanced economies and for peace between nations.
Geopolitics
The signal event of 2015 will be the disintegration of Tom Friedman’s global economy, the trade and banking relations we have known for about a quarter century, especially the frictionless flow of goods and capital between East and West. 

The tactical blunders of the USA and its Euro-partners drive the so-called emerging markets, led by China’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization, into a skein of work-arounds to undermine and avoid the US dollar trade. They don’t exactly replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency but the workarounds lead to a period of worldwide currency turmoil that can only be resolved by monies being at least partially backed by gold. 

Both China and Russia will continue to work to convert their dollar reserves into Gold whenever possible. Meanwhile, America and Great Britain’s campaign to discredit and devalue gold will only permit their rivals to acquire more at a cheaper price.

The rest of the world is sick of America’s interventionist shenanigans and its moronic exported culture of burgers, Grand Theft Auto, and twerking Jezebels. They are aided by America’s own obdurate foolishness and poor strategic choices, for instance the blowback from the Ukraine misadventure of 2014. 

Who in the White House, Pentagon, or State Department thought it was a great idea to undermine the fragile stability of Ukraine? Is there any question that Ukraine was ever not in Russia’s sphere of influence? Or that Russia would allow it to be dragooned into NATO and used as a forward base for American firepower? Dmitry Orlov’s explanation for all this is the most cogent on the web:
What the Anglo-imperialists were paying for in corrupting Ukraine’s politics was a ring-side seat at a fight between Ukraine and Russia. And what they got instead is a two-legged stool at a bar-room brawl between Eastern and Western Ukraine.

Read the whole darn thing; it’s not long.

We succeeded in turning a marginally-bankrupt, marginally-independent nation into a complete basketcase that is going Dark Age as I write — no money, no work, no fuel, no heat, no food, no prospects. Having completely botched the operation, and misplayed the game against Russia’s Putin — and Russia’s legitimate interest in a stable next-door neighbor — the US will now abandon Ukraine. 

It will be forgotten as surely as the US-sponsored Ukrainian air force’s role in the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 — the incriminating details of which were buried by the Dutch investigating officials. Eventually, the Russians will have to care for the dying Ukraine. They will not be enthusiastic about it. They will do little and do it slowly.

Likewise our economic sanctions campaign against Russia (including the attack on the ruble) is now blowing back on the Eurozone’s export economy. Russia has survived much worse than Western sanctions in recent history. Russia will survive by turning east to Asia. This is already happening and is well publicized. 

What it means for Europe sooner than later is the loss of their access to imported oil and gas from Russia. Meanwhile, the North Sea fields and the Dutch Groningen gas field are dying. Good luck staying warm, Europe.

The blowback of Europe’s foolish partnership with the US campaign to punish Russia can only discredit the ruling parties and boost new right-wing parties such as France’s National Front and Britain’s UK Independence Party, both deeply nationalistic, anti Euro Union, and anti endless immigration.

The Islamic State was another legacy of blowback from American foreign adventurism. It was spawned out of the remnants of Al Qaeda in poor, broken Iraq and its conquests in 2014 ranged clear across northern Syria to several major cities in Iraq (Faluja, Tikrit, Mosul) right up to the suburbs of Baghdad. They made a lot of money off of captured oil wells and ransoming western hostages, and they shocked Western decency with their YouTube decapitations of hostages that the US and UK refused to ransom. 

The US’s response now is to bomb their installations and bivouacs. That can only drive them, literally, underground. IS will thrive on Western punishment. It has vast potential to recruit the population of idle, under-employed young men all across North Africa and the Middle East, and beyond to Europe and the band of Islamic society that stretches below Russia across mid-Asia. The catch is, if and when they come to actually rule most of these territories, they will be running economies reduced to Dark Age levels.

As I write, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has just entered the hospital. At 91, he is closer to the end of his story than the middle. 

Meanwhile, the tanking of crude oil prices has critically impaired an Arabian economy that depends on oil sales for more than 80 percent of its operating revenue. Much of that revenue goes to a national welfare system that pays just about everybody to not work. There will be a lot less money to go around now and a lot of grievance over it. 

The population of the Arabian Peninsula is so far beyond critical overshoot that the situation can only get ugly, especially since a large part of that excessive population consists of testosterone-jacked young men under 30 with nothing to occupy their hours but chitchat over tea and religious mummery. 

Consider also that when King Abdullah goes, there is liable to be a deeply destabilizing fight for the throne among the hordes of princes and competing clans — despite whomever Abdullah has named as his successor. You may be sure the Islamic State will be standing by to add fuel to those fires. That, in and of itself, could bring on a fast end of the oil age. 

Bear in mind, too, that the eastern side of Saudi Arabia, where most of the oil infrastructure is, contains a majority Shi’ite population. In a conflict between Sunni IS and Iran-backed Arabian Shia, a lot of stuff could just get blown up. At the least, itr could badly interrupt 30 percent of the world’s oil supply.

China is obviously struggling to prevent a financial freefall brought on by 20-plus years of extravagant debt creation and a lot mal-investment in the service of a very late entry into the techno-industrial frolic. It can’t be denied that they made a good show of it in a very short time, but they got in at the blow-off stage. 

Now conditions are changing unfavorably. The global economy that made China the world’s workshop is unwinding in a vortex of currency war, trade friction, territorial dispute, ethnic ill-will, and the disturbances that attend the great background problem of peak cheap oil.

The Chinese will work sedulously to try for a soft landing in the great economic contraction that looms. Chinese banking being non-transparent, overly subject to blundering central control, and deeply corrupt, may not bode well for that project. 

However, China has many cushions to fall back on short-term in the form of foreign money reserves and stockpiles of raw materials. But sooner or later they have to reckon with their dependence on continued oil imports. 

That is clearly the basis of China’s current flirtation with Russia — but with Russia arguably past its own oil production peak, that’s not a long-term strategy. China has cranked up the world’s mightiest production line of photovoltaic hardware, but solar won’t replace oil the way things currently run, and whatever they rig up may not last more than one generation if there’s no supporting platform of an oil economy for the manufacture of solar replacement parts.
 
Japan’s suicidal experiment with hyper-turbo ZIRP and QE is not accomplishing much except exacerbating global currency carry trades and driving down the nation’s standard of living. It may succeed in destroying the Yen and what remains of its economy in 2015. Fukushima remains unresolved and Japan’s energy future looks plain dismal. They have no energy resources of their own whatsoever. 

Any serious mischief in the Middle East oil fields will finish them off. The nation has been on the fast track to become the first post-industrial neo-medieval society. They could be fortunate to land back there and set up their shop while there are still residual riches in the world to work with. 

They might also go cuckoo and start a war with China for control over the oil fields of the South China sea. It is hard to see any other outcome from such a conflict other than China kicking Japan’s ass.

Geopolitical forecast particulars for 2015
  • Russia toughs out sanctions imposed by the USA; European partners drop their sanctions as self-evidently counter-productive. Russia threatens to post-pone debt repayments to Western banks. The ruble stabilizes.
  • Russia endures Islamic terrorist attacks and responds very harshly, embarrassing the wimpy West.
  • Baghdad Falls to Islamic State forces. Years of American endeavor are lost just like that. The IS attempts to use Iraqi oil reserves to fund its operations. It has a hard time keeping the infrastructure in repair. The USA refrains from bombing Iraqi oil installations, a decision viewed as weakness by IS.
  • The Islamic State makes inroads across North Africa. Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco are all susceptible.
  • Formerly marginal political parties win big across Europe, forcing nations to rethink wide-open immigration policies. Neo-liberalism sinks into deep Weimar-style discredit. Open ethnic warfare breaks out in France, Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden.
  • European economies continue to sink for the simple reason that the growth era of techno-industrialism is over, along with affordable oil, and no amount of debt production will bring it back. All the machinations of the EU and the ECB are dedicated to overcoming this implacable reality, and thus will only lead to deeper and more intractable problems.
  • Beginning with the late January elections, which Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party wins, Greece plays hardball with the EU for debt restructuring that amounts really to forgiveness of utterly unpayable €322 billion ($398 billion). If the EU calls Greece’s bluff and kicks them out, a European banking meltdown is almost certain. If Greece stays, then other hopelessly indebted nations of the EU declare they want the same deal. Pretty much a rock and hard place. Impossible to call except to say the situation promises mucho turmoil in 2015. ¡Hay problema!
  • Ebola contagion persists and rips across sub-Saharan Africa. Other nations are forced to pass severe travel restrictions to-and-from Africa.
  • Nigeria descends into bloody political turmoil as its oil industry falls apart in response to low prices. UN intervention accomplishes nothing. In wartime conditions, Ebola gains a foothold in Lagos, one of the world’s most overpopulated slum cities.
  • Pakistan and Afghanistan both continue to melt down into ungovernability. India is forced to take over administration of Pakistan and remove nukes. America continues to pretend that its mission in Afghanistan has some purpose, but it only remains a black hole of military expenditure and becomes a rancorous issue in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election.
The USA Homefront 2015
For one who has been a close observer of the US socio-political-economic scene since the Kennedy era, the nation has gotten itself into a pretty sorry state. 

The pervasive racketeering that poisons American life from the money-in-politics farce, to the shameless, chiseling medical-pharma cabal, to the SNAP-card and disability rights empire of grift, to the college loan swindle, to the disgusting security state apparatus, to the corporate tyranny of local life and economies, to the delusional techno-narcissism of the media, to the despotic and puerile gender preoccupations of academia — all of it adds up to a society that cares as little for the present as it does for the future. 

And that’s aside from the pathetic digital device addiction of the generation coming up, and the sheer sordid behavior of the tattooed, drug-saturated, pornified masses of adults now forever foreclosed from a purposeful existence or a decent standard of living.

Even physically America is a sorry-ass spectacle: between our decrepitating cities, abandoned Main Streets, gruesome strip-mall highways, repellent and monotonous suburbs, dreary industrial ruins, profaned countryside, and desecrated coastline, there is little left to actually love about This land is Your Land. We’ve made so many collective bad choices about how we live that one can’t help feeling we are simply a wicked people who deserve to be punished.

Whole classes already are, of course. What used to be a working class with aspirations has devolved to the forlorn savagery averred to above. Our thought-leaders are devoid of thought. Our hopes and dreams are absurd sci-fi fantasies prompting us toward robot-assisted suicide. Our political stratagems of recent years accomplish nothing except making more trouble for ourselves while inciting the enmity of people elsewhere.

Barack Obama’s signal failure — aside from letting the banks get away with murder and omitting to counter the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision — has been his total evasion of measures that would prepare the nation for the vast changes in social and economic imperative that will attend the transition out of the techno-industrial era when he is out of office. 

These include supporting local small scale agriculture (rather than giant corporate agri-biz); promoting and supporting the reconstruction of local economic networks (Main Street business); eliminating multitudinous federal regulations that prevent individuals and small enterprises from operating; closing the hundreds of superfluous US military bases around the world; giving federal support to rebuild the US passenger rail system; promoting walkable communities — especially the re-activation of existing small towns and cities — instead of mindless obeisance to the suburban “home-building” industry (and its step-child in the commercial highway strip development racket) — and truly reforming medical care without the connivance of the insurance racketeers.

Obama and his party can be faulted for fostering the myth that every young person needs a college degree — leading a whole generation into debt penury for no good purpose, while depriving society of a long list of vocational roles and livelihoods based on providing genuine service or value. 

We will be a nation of unemployed gender studies graduates instead of plumbers, electricians, organic farmers, arborists, carpenters, machinists, nurses and paramedics, small business owners, et cetera.

This enormous bundles of myths and misplaced expectations for yesterday’s tomorrow prevents the collective national imagination from summoning a revised American Dream based on repairing the massive destruction of recent decades.

The political mood has not been murkier in my longish lifetime. Both major parties edge toward extinction as the Whigs did in the mid-1850s. 

The citizenry not sunk in drugs and depravity — that is, people who still read the news in some form and would like to care about their country — deserve a new faction or party that can at least express their discontent with the current situation. They will surely not get this in the generally supposed coming contest between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. 

I hope they will be so insulted by this dynastic grab that more than one new party will form and make a big stank about it. The Tea Party was a good start in that spirit, but it tripped on its internal contradictions and its association with Dixieland-style religious fundamentalist idiocy and cracker war-mongering.

All that redounds on the current state of the Republican Party, a gang of venal ignoramuses pimping for lost causes. 

Despite having won the 2014 midterms, and capturing both houses of congress and governorships, they seem increasingly out-of-touch with the realities of economic contraction, peak oil, and climate irregularities. The old magic of stirring up the animals on social issues of abortion, bedroom activities, and allegiance to Jesus fail to move the old base, which is becoming economically quite desperate. 

That base also becomes conscious of how they have been hornswoggled into voting against their own interests for years in the sense that author Thomas Frank so aptly described in What’s the Matter With Kansas.

Race relations turned very sour in 2014 with more highly publicized killings of young black men in ambiguous circumstances. The chief martyr of the year, Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., was a poor candidate for sainthood, and did not help advance the credibility of claims that police brutality rather than the misbehavior of young men is behind a lot of strife abroad in the land. 

One gets the feeling that black race hustlers are in the driver’s seat recklessly pushing African Americans toward open warfare with everybody else. 

My view of the situation is not popular with Progressives, viz: that black separatism and its offshoots in “diversity” politics and multi-culturalism tragically promote an antagonistic, alienated, oppositional black politics at the expense of a common culture for blacks and whites with common values and common standards of behavior. 

 It has gotten so bad that reasonable people can sadly conclude that the long civil rights project has ended in failure. 

We are treading on dangerous ground here, with foolishly outmoded ideas about what to expect from each other, and of course all this begs the questions: What now? What next?

Domestic Forecast Particulars for 2015 
  • Markets tanking in Q3 destroy the illusion of “recovery.” It becomes obvious that the story was a lie and the public mood grows much more surly.
  • 2014 proves to be the year of peak shale oil. After the shakeout of 2015 due to low oil prices, production never returns to previous levels. The fairy tales of “energy independence” and “Saudi America” fall apart, deeply demoralizing a gulled public and adding yet another layer of discredit to the people in charge of things.
  • Different kinds of political revolt break out around the country among varied groups, left, right, and center. Some of it revolves around life-and-death struggles for the souls of the floundering major parties. Some of it is organized violence against the government and especially against the US security state apparatus, including overly militarized local police forces.
  • Low-grade racial warfare erupts across the US. Flash mobs, knock-out games, lootings, and hammer attack type outrages generate counter-attacks. By summertime the conflict heats up. Firefights become routine and casualties mount. President Obama proves to be tragically ineffectual in restoring peace.
  • Anti-immigration sentiment in Europe spreads to the US as falling oil prices produce political disorder in Mexico prompting tens of thousands to try to flee north.
  • Bank of America is the first of the Too Big To Fails to enter the event horizon of failure. Obama can’t get congress to go along with a bailout. By Thanksgiving, there is turmoil among the banks as they scramble to cover losses. A public furor over using taxpayer money to cover derivatives losses leads to an unprecedented concerted action by states to attempt “nullification” campaigns.
  • Citibank applies for a bail-in of account holders. Dithering, frightened federal authorities are too slow to respond, permitting a run on deposits.
  • Hillary is loudly booed and hectored at campaign stops as “a tool of Wall Street.” Her coffers overflow with TBTF bank contributions. She bows out of the presidential contest as the public mood toward her sours. But not before she generates a lot of resentful opposition and alienates many Democratic Party voters who are also furious over the eight-years of Obama’s “hope” and “change” hand-jive. Elizabeth Warren is dragooned to replace her — dubbed the “Un-Hillary” — rescuing the party from a near-death experience. She openly feuds with party bosses, who plot against her, and undermine her campaign.
  • Senator Rand Paul agitates to abolish the Federal Reserve. His senate colleagues are shamed into considering legislative reform of the Fed’s mandate. Debate on the issue is the only thing the Republican dominated congress and senate accomplish in 2015. Paul decides to challenge Jeb Bush for the 2016 nomination. This blows the Republican party apart.
  • At Christmas 2015, the DJA sits at 13,500, the S & P is at 1200. Gold is at 1750, silver at 42.
Good luck everybody. Gird your loins and fasten your seat belts.

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Residents ban traffic cameras

SUBHEAD: One Missouri county has voted to ban traffic enforcement cameras that hand out tickets.

By Joshua Krause on 29 December 2014 for the Daily Sheeple -
(http://www.thedailysheeple.com/missouri-residents-vote-to-ban-speed-cameras_122014)


Image above: Dayton to stop using traffic enforcement cameras. Speed cameras aimed at U.S. Route 127 in New Miami, Ohio, Feb. 25, 2014. From (http://wdtn.com/2015/01/05/dayton-to-stop-using-traffic-enforcement-cameras/).

It should come as no surprise to most drivers, that speed cameras are not being installed on your roadways to make your life easier (and they are your roadways. Your taxes paid for them). As much as the government would like you to think that they have your best interest at heart, these devices do not make our roads safer.

If anything they may make intersections even more dangerous, and they really don't serve any purpose beyond generating revenue for the city and the police department.

One Missouri county has had enough, and decided to hold a referendum to ban the use of red light cameras. The measure passed with 73 percent of voters in support of the ban. However, some elected officials aren't happy with the new bill, and have decided to bypass the will of their voters.
St. Peters, O’Fallon, Lake St. Louis, and a councilman from O’Fallon are filing a lawsuit in attempt to block a ban on red light cameras in St. Charles County.
Voters approved the ban November 4, with 73 percent of those who went to polls supporting the measure. However, those suing maintain the county has overstepped its legal bounds.

“Seventy-three percent of the voters pass a ban on red light cameras so what these cities are doing are suing 73 percent of the voters in St. Charles County, within their own cities. They’re suing their own residents,” said St. Charles County Councilman Joe Brazil. 
Normally I'm quite wary of Democracy, and its ability to give privileges to the majority at the expense of the minority. But in this case, the voters weren't attempting to stomp on the rights of the minority. They were attempting to protect their money from a thieving political class, and that class is obviously doing their best to stop them.

Fortunately, they probably won't succeed since the councilman who are challenging this ballot probably don't have any legal authority to do so.
“The federal government has jurisdictions over the states, states have jurisdictions over the counties, the counties have jurisdictions over their municipalities, so it’s fairly clear that they have the right to impose laws on those municipalities, especially if those laws are voted into law by the voters,” said Roger Dalsky.
The attorney representing the cities filing the lawsuit said the county’s legal authority is very clear.

“The state can dictate what cities are authorized to do or prohibit the cities from doing things. There’s nothing in the Missouri Constitution that provides the county to do the same thing,” said attorney John Young. 
It just goes to show you how dangerous our elected officials have become at all levels of government.

They try to tell us that we live in a democracy when it benefits them, but when we vote to cut their funding, they act like they have special powers that were never granted to them.

While the state constitution should keep their money grubbing mitts away from Missouri's drivers, there is still a possibility that they could overturn the ban. After all, The United States Constitution has been violated by the political class numerous times without any consequences. Political documents mean nothing to politicians if there aren't enough people willing to protect their rights.

Hopefully the residents and courts of Missouri can stop the overreach of these councilman, because if they can't, it's going to set a very dangerous precedent for elected officials in the future.ey can't, it's going to set a very dangerous precedent for elected officials in the future.

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Unnecessary Arrests

SUBHEAD: The sun is still out and everything is fine after arrests drop by two-thirds in NYC.

By Jon Queally on 4 January 2015 for Common Dreams -
(http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/01/sun-still-out-and-everything-after-arrests-drop-two-thirds-nyc)


Image above: Some police officers turn their backs as Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during the funeral of NYPD Officer Wenjian Liu on Jan. 4, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (From (http://abc7chicago.com/news/mayor-eulogizes-nypd-officer-as-cops-outside-turn-backs-again/461296/).

If angered NYPD can so dramatically reduce arrests and citations, many are suggesting it could offer an ironic path to better policing nationwide.

Earlier this week, responding to initial news reports that the New York Police Department had drastically reduced the number of arrests and citations following the murder of two of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos on December 20, New York-based journalist and radio host Allison Kilkenny took to Twitter and noted, "Arrests plummeted 66% but I just looked outside and nothing is on fire and the sun is still out and everything. Weird."

What has been largely reported as a "virtual work stoppage" by NYPD officers as a result of a perceived lack of support coming from the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the internal turmoil between City Hall and the police stemmed from the interplay between ongoing street protests in the city that followed the non-indictment of Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the choking death of Eric Garner and public comments made by the mayor in support of those protests.

When the man who killed officers Liu and Ramos appeared cite revenge for Garner's death as part of his motivation, many officers—including union heads and leaders of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association—quickly put the blame on de Blasio for creating what they called an "anti-police" atmosphere.

Though the public debate over the relationship between City Hall and the NYPD has seemingly started to cool, many people are now looking at the "work stoppage" itself—which reportedly resulted in drastic reductions in arrests, citations, and even parking tickets—as rather positive evidence that a city with less arrests may be something to celebrate, not criticize.

Writing for Rolling Stone on Wednesday, journalist Matt Taibbi described the situation in the city as "surreal," but noted positively that, "In an alternate universe, the New York Police might have just solved the national community-policing controversy."

In his article, Taibbi explores that if the police protest was done for "enlightened reasons"—as opposed to what he described as "the last salvo of an ongoing and increasingly vicious culture-war mess that is showing no signs of abating"—there would be something wonderful about living in a city that called on officers to prioritize building-up community members instead of finding ways to put officers "in the position of having to make up for budget shortfalls" by issuing unnecessary fines and citations to people who can barely afford to make ends meet in the first place.

"If I were a police officer, I'd hate to be taking money from people all day long," Taibbi writes. "Christ, that's worse than being a dentist. So under normal circumstances, this slowdown wouldn't just make sense, it would be heroic.  Unfortunately, this protest is not about police refusing to shake people down for money on principle."

But as Matt Ford asks in a new piece for The Atlantic, the stoppage—whatever its motivation—still raises this key question: "If the NYPD can safely cut arrests by two-thirds, why haven't they done it before?"

The "human implications" of that question, he continues, are not insignificant, especially for those most impacted by aggressive forms of policing. He writes:
Fewer arrests for minor crimes logically means fewer people behind bars for minor crimes. Poorer would-be defendants benefit the most; three-quarters of those sitting in New York jails are only there because they can't afford bail. Fewer New Yorkers will also be sent to Rikers Island, where endemic brutality against inmates has led to resignations, arrests, and an imminent federal civil-rights intervention over the past six months. A brush with the American criminal-justice system can be toxic for someone's socioeconomic and physical health.
The NYPD might benefit from fewer unnecessary arrests, too. Tensions between the mayor and the police unions originally intensified after a grand jury failed to indict a NYPD officer for the chokehold death of Eric Garner during an arrest earlier this year.

Garner's arrest wasn't for murder or arson or bank robbery, but on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes—hardly the most serious of crimes. Maybe the NYPD's new "absolutely necessary" standard for arrests would have produced a less tragic outcome for Garner then. Maybe it will for future Eric Garners too.
Concluding his assessment, Taibbi describes what he thinks are the two issues that are central to what's happening in New York City and their relevance to a much broader conversation about race, policing, and other public policy questions for the nation as a whole. He writes:
One is an ongoing bitter argument about race and blame that won't be resolved in this country anytime soon, if ever. Dig a millimeter under the surface of the Garner case, Ferguson, the Liu-Ramos murders, and you'll find vicious race-soaked debates about who's to blame for urban poverty, black crime, police violence, immigration, overloaded prisons and a dozen other nightmare issues.
But the other thing is a highly specific debate over a very resolvable controversy not about police as people, but about how police are deployed. Most people, and police most of all, agree that the best use of police officers is police work.

They shouldn't be collecting backdoor taxes because politicians are too cowardly to raise them, and they shouldn't be pre-emptively busting people in poor neighborhoods because voters don't have the patience to figure out some other way to deal with our dying cities.
However, what Taibbi ultimately laments is that because the work stoppage, in his opinion, represents a self-interested gesture by the NYPD it will likely have little, if any, long-term impact.
Instead of shining a light on the broader issues he mentioned, Taibbi says, it will unfortunately be "just more fodder for our ongoing hate-a-thon" that plays out on cable news and elsewhere.

Sardonically, Taibbi signed off, "Happy New Year, America."

See also:
These are the articles that got me fired as a TGI columnist back in 2008.
Island Breath: The Nature of Police Patrolling 6/7/2008
Island Breath: The Kauai Police Department  Mission 5/18/2008
These are the articles that led to the ones above.
Island Breath: Kauai police need bikes not riot gear 4/5/08
Island Breath: Lingle Plan for Police State 09/22/07

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