What’s happening to John McCain is tragic. It’s not something one should ever wish upon another human being. Nor is it decent, let alone useful, to wish that he would die. Wishing bad things upon someone because they did bad things is too close for comfort to what he himself did. But it’s good to remember that his brain tumor is not the most tragic part of McCain’s life on earth. And no, neither is his time as prisoner of war in Vietnam.
McCain’s main tragedy is that he didn’t learn the one lesson he should have learned about his time in Vietnam, and didn’t turn his back on warfare. Instead, he turned into the biggest and loudest pro-war campaigner in Washington for decades. Talk about a missed opportunity, a life wasted. If there was one person who was presented with the first-hand experience needed to turn against bloodshed, it was John McCain.
What’s more, during his time in the House and later the Senate, McCain completely missed out on a development that might yet have changed his mind. That is, wars became unwinnable. Something even that the US losing their war in Vietnam might have taught him. It entirely passed him by. McCain still never saw an opportunity to wage battle somewhere, anywhere on the planet, that he didn’t like.
That makes him a dinosaur and a fossil who should never have been allowed to remain in the Senate for as long as he did. At the age of 81, and after ‘serving’ for 35 years in Washington, it apparently becomes too difficult to see how the world outside changes, let alone to adapt to those changes. If you limit the time a president can serve, why not do the same for senators? Is it because those same senators would have to vote on that?
Moreover, if wars are unwinnable, but you incessantly call for new wars anyway, then regardless of moral issues about going to war in the first place, you have de facto become a threat to your own people and your own country that you purport to serve. Especially, and first of all, to the American soldiers you desire to send out there to fight those wars. But also a threat to the image of America around the globe.
When wars are unwinnable, there is no reason to fight them. Again, even apart from morals and ethics. You will have to find other ways to deal with ‘elements’ that feel and act less than friendly towards you. To find out what, it helps to realize that they understand it’s just as futile for them to attack you militarily as it is for you to attack them. It also helps to figure out why they are unfriendly.
What doesn’t help is to take yet another stab at Putin and say “Vladimir Putin is an evil man, and he is intent on evil deeds”, as McCain does in a forthcoming book. If that’s the best you can do, your best-by date has long since passed. That’s language fit for a 4-year old. And George W.
McCain’s father and grandfather were both 4-star US Navy admirals. Perhaps that partly explains his blindness to the evils of war, and the role the US has played in many conflicts, including -but certainly not limited to- Vietnam. It’s hard to imagine Apocalypse Now, Platoon or Full Metal Jacket being McCain’s favorite Hollywood classics.
And that is a bigger problem than it may seem. Because America has indeed been able to paint a vivid portrait for itself of why Vietnam was such an insane venture that should never have happened, and certainly not repeated. If your culture has the ability to put that in words and images, and as a nation you still don’t learn the lesson embedded in them, you’re pretty much lost.
Oh, and besides, you lost too, remember? You lost the war and the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of young Americans and over a million Vietnamese. To have been part of that and then turn around and strive to be Washington’s premier warmonger, that’s just totally bonkers. Or worse. Has McCain been promoting war all this time because he subconsciously wanted to redo Vietnam but this time not lose?
Unwinnable wars are bad news for the weapons industry. They will deny the existence of even such a concept as long and as strongly as they can. Because if you can’t win a war, why wage them? There will continue to be technological developments, but there’s no “throughput”. You can fire some missiles into some desert somewhere from time to time, and that’s it.
The military-industrial complex is happy only -because most profitable- if and when guns and missiles and jets constantly need to be replaced because they’ve been lost in a theater of war, along with young Americans. McCain knows this better than most. And he knows the captains of this complex, both the military side and the weapons producers. Far too well.
Being as beholden as it is to the arms makers and dealers, has made America lose whatever edge it once had militarily. In the US weapons are developed and sold to generate the largest profits possible; in Russia, they are developed to protect the country. This is largely why the American defense budget is 10 times larger than its Russian counterpart. All this happened on John McCain’s watch.
The entire narrative of “protecting and sharing our values” has become hollow propaganda. Because the US has engaged its military in more theaters of war and invasion than we can even keep track of anymore. The US armed forces don’t protect democracy or human rights around the world, they protect the financial interests of America’s elites, including the military-industrial complex. Does anyone believe John McCain doesn’t know this?
Unbeknownst to John McCain, the world has entered a whole new era. And this didn’t happen yesterday. Russia and China may have only recently announced new hypersonic missile technology, but it didn’t fall out of the sky. It does profoundly change things though. It ends all notions and dreams of American exceptionalism and unilateralism.
And America needs to learn that lesson. It will have to do it without John McCain. And it might as well, because McCain was incapable of changing, and of seeing the changes around him. But the American view of the world will have to change, because the world itself has.
Still, you’re right: the real tragedy is not that John McCain wasted his own life. It’s that he helped destroy so many others.
On June 16, 1858 more than 1,000 delegates met in the Springfield, Illinois, statehouse for the Republican State Convention. At 5:00 p.m. they chose Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for the U.S. Senate, running against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. At 8:00 p.m. Lincoln delivered this address to his Republican colleagues in the Hall of Representatives. The title reflects part of the speech’s introduction, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” a concept familiar to Lincoln’s audience as a statement by Jesus recorded in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).
Even Lincoln’s friends regarded the speech as too radical for the occasion. His law partner, William H. Herndon, considered Lincoln as morally courageous but politically incorrect. Lincoln read the speech to him before delivering it, referring to the “house divided” language this way: “The proposition is indisputably true … and I will deliver it as written. I want to use some universally known figure, expressed in simple language as universally known, that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.”
On April 12, 2018, the Washington Post runs this headline:
We need to go big in Syria. North Korea is watching.
The WaPo is undoubtedly disappointed that James Mattis prevailed over more hawkish voices in Washington and the least ‘expansive’ attack was chosen.
Then after the attack, Russian President Putin warns of global ‘chaos’ if the West strikes Syria again. And I’m thinking: Chaos? You ‘Predict’ Chaos? You mean what we have now does not qualify as chaos?
Yes, Washington Post, North Korea is watching. And you know what it sees? It sees a house divided. It sees an America that is perhaps as divided against itself as it was prior to the civil war. An America that elects a president and then initiates multiple investigations against him that are kept going seemingly indefinitely. An America where hatred of one’s fellow countrymen and -women has become the norm.
An America that has adopted a Shakespearian theater as its political system, where all norms of civil conversation have long been thrown out the window, where venomous gossip and backstabbing have become accepted social instruments. An America where anything goes as long as it sells.
In an intriguing development, while Trump pleased the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and MSNBC, his declared arch-enemies until the rockets flew, his own base turned on him. While the ‘liberals’ (what’s in a word) cheered and smelled the blood, the right wing reminded the Donald that this is not what he was elected on – or for.
Can Trump afford to lose his base? Isn’t the right wing supposed to be the side that calls for guns and bombs? It’s unlikely that he can do without his base, it would weaken him a lot as the Lady Macbeths watch his every move looking for just that one opportunity, that one moment where his back is turned.
As for the right wing not being the bloodthirsty one, that is quite the shift. Not that it’s a 180 on a dime, it has been coming for a while. It’s not just interesting with regards to Trump, there are many war hawks who -will- see their support crumble too if or when they speak out for more boots in deserts. Maybe John McCain should consider changing parties?
So yeah, what does North Korea see? Should it be afraid? Will it have become more afraid? Kim Jong-Un will have watched for China’s reaction, much more important to him that what the US does. And China has condemned the attack. It would do the same if America were to attack North Korea, and a lot stronger. Therefore Kim Jong-Un doesn’t believe Washington will dare attack him.
“A weak country has no diplomacy. As a hundred years have passed, China is no longer that [weak] China, but the world is still that world.”
That is how China, and in its wake, North Korea, see America. And so does Russia. Americans may -and do- think that they are still no. 1, and the most powerful, economically, politically, militarily, but that’s no longer what the rest of the world sees.
Is the US still mightier than China militarily? Probably, but not certainly. Still, how do you conquer 1.3 billion people and keep them subdued? Xi Jinping is very aware of that, and he bides his time.
Is the US still mightier than Russia militarily? Almost certainly not. To quote Paul Craig Roberts once more (and he’s no amateur):
The Russians know that they can, at will within a few minutes, sink the entire US fleet, destroy every US airplane & ship in the ME & within range of the ME, completely destroy all of Israel’s military capability & wipe out the military of the two-bit punk state of Saudi Arabia.
I’ve written this before in the past: there is a big difference between how America sees and treats its military, and how Russia does it. A difference that explains how Russia can, with one tenth of American defense spending, still be militarily superior, or at least make any wars against it unwinnable.
That is, in the US the focus is not on making the best weapons, it’s on making the most money on weapons. Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed will develop those weapons that are most profitable, not those that are most effective. The interminable story of the development of the Joint Strike Fighter is perhaps the best example of this, but there are many others. The Pentagon is a money pit.
Americans can perhaps still make the best weapons for the least money, but they don’t do it. Russia does. For Putin, the best weapons are a matter of survival. Russia has been under American threat as long as he can remember.
While Americans believe so strongly in their supremacy, and have grown so accustomed to the idea, that they no longer see having the best weapons as a matter of survival for the nation. They have come to see their superiority as something automatic and natural.
The attack on Syria is seen as a sign of weakness. Because there was no need for it. Because the evidence is flimsy at best. Because the world has international bodies to deal with such issues. Because there is no logic in allowing the blood to flow in the Gaza and Yemen but cite humanitarian reasons for bombing alleged chemical facilities elsewhere.
What the world sees is bluster emanating from a deeply divided nation (and we haven’t even tackled Britain). It sees that less than 48 hours after the airstrikes, a former FBI chief talks about his former boss in terminology that nobody would dare use in most countries, and throughout most of history,
James Comey is beyond Shakepeare. And in America, the issue is who’s right in the Comey-Trump conflict. In Russia, China et al it’s not. They see a house, a country divided. A weak country has no diplomacy.
That’s how all empires end. Complacency and division. That is what North Korea sees when it watches America, what China, and Russia see. And they may even know how Jesus put it. He didn’t just say a kingdom divided would become less powerful or wealthy, he said:
Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.
Los Angeles, California, 5 December “You got a choice to make, man. You could go straight on to heaven. Or you could turn right, into that.” We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of America’s wealthiest cities, and General Dogon, dressed in black, is our tour guide. Alongside him strolls another tall man, grey-haired and sprucely decked out in jeans and suit jacket. Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. General Dogon, himself a veteran of these Skid Row streets, strides along, stepping over a dead rat without comment and skirting round a body wrapped in a worn orange blanket lying on the sidewalk. The two men carry on for block after block after block of tatty tents and improvised tarpaulin shelters. Men and women are gathered outside the structures, squatting or sleeping, some in groups, most alone like extras in a low-budget dystopian movie.
We come to an intersection, which is when General Dogon stops and presents his guest with the choice. He points straight ahead to the end of the street, where the glistening skyscrapers of downtown LA rise up in a promise of divine riches. Heaven. Then he turns to the right, revealing the “black power” tattoo on his neck, and leads our gaze back into Skid Row bang in the center of LA’s downtown. That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation. A nightmare in plain view, in the city of dreams. Alston turns right. So begins a two-week journey into the dark side of the American Dream. The spotlight of the UN monitor, an independent arbiter of human rights standards across the globe, has fallen on this occasion on the US, culminating on Friday with the release of his initial report in Washington. His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty. Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance.
Having shown us his favorite trade of the year for 2018, DoubleLine CEO Jeffrey Gundlach tweeted last night his “must watch” chart for 2018. “Since Jan SPX up big & way above MA’s all year…” “…yet JNK unchanged and below 50, 100 & 200 MA’s with a death cross even… As Gundlach concludes: This is “unusual… Must Watch”
On Thursday, the retail sales report for November clicked up 0.8%. Good news, right? Not so fast. First, sales of gasoline, which directly impacts consumers ability to spend money on other stuff, rose sharply due to higher oil prices and comprised 1/3rd of the increase. Secondly, building products also rose sharply from the ongoing impact of rebuilding from recent hurricanes and fires. Again, this isn’t healthy longer-term either as replacing lost possessions drags forward future consumptive capacity. But what the headlines miss is the growth in the population. The chart below shows retails sales divided by those actually counted as part of the labor force. (You’ve got to have a job to buy stuff, right?)
As you can see, retail sales per labor force participant was on a 5% annualized growth trend beginning in 1992. However, after the financial crisis, the gap below that long-term trend has yet to be filled as there is a 22.7% deficit from the long-term trend. (If we included the entirety of the population, given the number of people outside of the labor force that are still consuming, the trajectory would be worse.) But wait, retail sales were really strong in November? Again, not so fast. The chart below shows the annual % change of retail sales per labor force participant. The trend has been weakening since the beginning of 2017 and shows little sign of increasing currently.
While tax cuts may provide a temporary boost to after-tax incomes, that income will simply be absorbed by higher energy, gasoline, health care and borrowing costs. This is why, 80% of Americans continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck and have little saved in the bank. It is also why, as wages have continued to stagnate, that the cost of living now exceeds what incomes and debt increases can sustain. Yes, corporations will do well under the “tax reform” plan, and while the average American may well see an increase in take-home pay, it will unlikely change their financial situation much. As a result, economic growth will likely remain weak as the deficit expands to $1 Trillion over the next couple of years and Federal debt marches toward $32 trillion.
Uber allegedly engaged in a range of “unethical and unlawful intelligence collections”, including the theft of competitive trade secrets, bribery of foreign officials and spying on competitors and politicians, according to an explosive legal document published on Friday. It’s the latest chapter in the discovery process for the company’s messy legal squabble with Waymo, Google’s driverless car spin-off, which has accused Uber of stealing trade secrets. The details were outlined in a 37-page demand letter filed by the ex-Uber security manager Richard Jacobs, who left the company earlier this year. The document paints a picture of a team of employees dedicated to spying on rivals and “impeding” legal investigations into the company.
Jacobs alleges that when he raised concerns over the techniques being used, he was given a poor performance review and demoted as “pure retaliation” for refusing to buy into the culture of “achieving business goals through illegal conduct even though equally aggressive legal means were available”. He had sent the letter to Uber’s in-house counsel with his allegations about possible criminal activity carried out by the special group in May this year, threatening to sue the company. Uber did not provide the letter to Waymo as part of legal discovery before the trial started. An Uber spokeswoman said in a statement: “While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter – and, importantly, any related to Waymo – our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology.”
Covering the Trump presidency has not always been the media’s finest hour, but even grading on that curve, the month of December has brought astonishing screwups. Professor and venerable political observer Walter Russell Mead tweeted on December 8, “I remember Watergate pretty well, and I don’t remember anything like this level of journalistic carelessness back then. The constant stream of ‘bombshells’ that turn into duds is doing much more to damage the media than anything Trump could manage.” [..] Since October of last year, when Franklin Foer at Slate filed an erroneous report on a computer server in Trump Tower communicating with a Russian bank, there have been an unprecedented number of media faceplants, most of them directly related to the Russia-collusion theory. The errors always run in the same direction—they report or imply that the Trump campaign was in league with Moscow.
For a politicized and overwhelmingly liberal press corps, the wish that this story be true is obviously the father to the errors. Just as obviously, there are precedents for such high-profile embarrassments in the past. Editors at top news organizations once treated anonymous sourcing as a necessary evil, a tool to be used sparingly. Now anonymous sources dominate Trump coverage. It’s not just a problem for readers, who should rightly be skeptical of information someone isn’t willing to vouch for by name. It’s a problem for reporters, too, because anonymous sources are less likely to be cautious and diligent in providing information. According to CNN, the sources behind the busted report on Trump Jr.’s contact with WikiLeaks didn’t intend to deceive and had been reliable in the past. Maybe so, but given the network’s repeated errors it’s difficult to just take CNN’s word for it.
But it’s one thing to use anonymous sources; it’s quite another to be entirely trusting of them. CNN decided to report the contents of an email to Donald Trump Jr. based only on the say-so of two anonymous sources and without seeing the emails. [..] For their part, the media don’t seem to be coming to grips with the damage they’re doing to their own credibility. CNN, which calls itself “the most trusted name in news,” didn’t retract their WikiLeaks report but rewrote it in such a way as to render the story meaningless. They also came to the defense of Raju and Herb, saying the reporters acted in accordance with the network’s editorial policies. And of course they didn’t out their sources—the ultimate punishment news organizations can mete out to anonymous tipsters who steer them wrong.
It understandably infuriates the media that President Trump remains unwilling to own up to his own glaring errors and untruths, while news organizations run correction after correction. And it also understandably upsets the media to watch the president actively attack and seek to undermine their work, which remains vital to ensuring accountability in American governance. What they haven’t grasped is how perversely helpful to him they are being: On a very basic level, President Trump’s repeated salvos against “fake news” have resonance because, well, there does indeed appear to be a lot of fake news.
I’m not a Trump admirer, didn’t vote for the guy (nor Hillary, either), am not invested emotionally in his political survival, but I do have a pretty firm idea of what he represents: primitive maleness in all its lumbering vulgarity. I can see why he has a certain symbolic appeal in a society that increasingly shouts “men need not apply here.” He also represents the widespread disappointment with the poor job that the remaining men in charge of things have done in recent decades caretaking this polity. They’ve managed to dodge the repair of every broken institution and duck engagement with any of the really scary problems facing citizens of this republic, from the gross disparities of wealth, to pervasive racketeering in health care and education, to our rotting infrastructure, to the quandaries of race, immigration, climate change — you name it and they have done squat.
Men mostly in charge of the FBI are currently busy demonstrating that they can completely botch the wished-for Trump-ending investigation of Russian “meddling and collusion” — whatever that is as a legal matter — under special prosecutor Robert Mueller. The agency begins to look like the brotherhood depicted on The Sopranos TV show some years back. The congressional committees (mostly men) with oversight on the FBI (and its umbrella agency, the Department of Justice) can’t even get a few deputy Attorneys General to answer a subpoena. If ever there was a display of feckless impotence, this is it. The desperation to get rid of Trump by the Democratic Party and its handmaidens in the media has an odor of reckless dishonesty from a faction that succumbs more and more each day to the dangerous idea that the ends justify the means.
Despite the momentary jubilation over the defeat of Roy Moore in the Alabama special election for senator, the party is close to committing suicide via the collective fantasy that all romantic gambits by men are always and everywhere a prelude to rape. But then, the Republican Party ought to be on suicide watch, too, as it debates a stupendously mendacious tax reform bill that will only shove the country closer to financial meltdown.
Germany and France will offer their joint vision for reforming the eurozone by March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, in an effort to bridge divisions over the future of the single currency. Meeting without departure-bound Britain, the bloc’s 27 leaders were tasked by EU President Donald Tusk to speak freely about their often clashing visions for the single currency’s future at a summit widely expected to be dominated by Brexit. Overhauling the eurozone and making it more resilient to economic shocks has been a top priority of French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as for European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker.
But these ambitions have been stymied by political uncertainty in Germany, where Macron ally Merkel is still trying to form a government after the pro-business FDP party abandoned talks amid doubts about eurozone reform. “We will find a common position because it is necessary for Europe,” Merkel said at a news briefing, speaking alongside Macron after a summit focused mostly on Brexit. Merkel’s overture to France will rankle her conservative CDU party which toes an austerity-minded line on economic matters, but appeals to Social Democrats, with whom she must now build a coalition. Reform of the eurozone is often blocked by political divisions, with rich countries – such as Germany and the Netherlands – reticent to adopt policies that share risks with their heavily-indebted eurozone partners, such as France, Spain, Italy or Greece.
Companies across the EU will be forced to disclose their true owners under new legislation prompted by the release of the Panama Papers. Anti-corruption campaigners applauded the agreement as a major step in the fight against tax evasion and money laundering, but expressed disappointment that trusts will mostly escape scrutiny. The revised terms of the EU’s fourth anti-money laundering directive include: • A requirement for companies to disclose their beneficial, or true, owners in a publicly available register. • Data on the beneficial owners of trusts to be available to tax and law enforcement authorities, as well as sectors with an obligation to follow anti-money laundering rules, such as lawyers. • A requirement for member states to verify beneficial ownership information submitted to their registers. • Extending anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism regulations to apply to virtual currencies, provision of tax services and those dealing in works of art.
EU member states will have 18 months to transpose the new directive into domestic legislation. As a current member of the EU, the UK will implement the legislation. “This is a big breakthrough and confirms that full transparency of corporate ownership is now the global standard against which other countries will be judged,” said Laure Brillaud, the anti-money laundering policy officer at Transparency International EU. “The EU deserves credit for taking this bold leap to end the secrecy that facilitates corruption, tax evasion and other crimes.” Global Witness applauded the move “in the face of opposition from countries like the UK, Luxembourg, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus,” but criticised the failure to introduce the same requirements for trusts.
EU leaders appealed for unity in a last-ditch effort to break their deadlock on sharing out refugees by June, telling reluctant eastern states they could otherwise be outvoted on a dispute that has shaken the bloc’s foundations. Coming out from a fraught discussion among 28 EU leaders that went into the small hours on Friday morning in Brussels, rivals in the two-year-old dispute all stuck to their guns, hemmed in by expectations they have raised with their own voters. The Mediterranean frontline states Italy and Greece, and the rich destination countries including Germany, Sweden, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are demanding that all countries host some refugees as a way to demonstrate solidarity.
Their four ex-communist peers Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic refuse to accept people from the mostly-Muslim Middle East and North Africa, saying that would threaten their security after a raft of Islamic attacks in Europe. “There are areas where there is no solidarity and this is something I find unacceptable,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. At one point during the two days of talks in Brussels, cameras caught Merkel, the bloc’s paramount national leader, as she appeared to become agitated when talking with the leaders’ chairman, Donald Tusk, making her displeasure with him clear. That came after Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, came out strongly against “ineffective” and “highly divisive” obligatory refugee quotas, ruffling the feathers of those states that back them as well as the executive European Commission.
“The manner in which the principle of solidarity was being questioned does not only undermine the discussion on the refugee issue, but the future of Europe,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told reporters after what he called “intense” talks. Tusk said the ineffectiveness of relocation schemes was demonstrated by the fact that only 35,000 asylum seekers had been transferred from Greece and Italy under a 2015 plan meant to move 160,000 people. “Mandatory quotas remain a contentious issue,” Tusk told a joint news conference with the Commission’s head Jean-Claude Juncker, the disagreement between the two playing out visibly despite their usually friendly rapport. “Relocation is not a solution to the issue of illegal migration.”
The first vulnerable child refugee stranded in Greece who qualifies for sanctuary under the Dubs amendment has arrived in the UK, more than a year after the government pledged to bring over hundreds of children. The Home Office had accepted that the boy was vulnerable and eligible for transfer 16 months ago. The Dubs amendment, part of the 2016 Immigration Act, was passed after a campaign to transfer 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees stuck in camps to Britain. There are more than 3,300 unaccompanied children in Greece, 11,186 in France and 13,867 in Italy. The Home Office agreed to resettle 480 under the Dubs scheme. Conditions for lone children in Greece have been condemned by Human Rights Watch, which found filthy cells infested with bugs and vermin, sometimes without mattresses or access to showers.
Hammersmith and Fulham council in west London has stepped in to offer the boy a home and one of its social workers travelled to Greece to assess the child, who has lost contact with his family in Syria. The boy, who is said to be deeply traumatised, was detained until last month in a police cell with no access to medical professionals, and forced to sleep on an inch-thick mattress on the ground. Police said the boy had repeatedly self-harmed, tried to kill himself and was at “imminent risk” of doing this. According to Antonia Moustaka, a lawyer for the humanitarian agency Praksis, he spent more than 380 days in psychiatric clinics, 124 days in shelters for unaccompanied minors and six weeks in police detention.
[..] George Gabriel, the project lead at the charity Safe Passage, said: “There are more than 3,300 unaccompanied children in Greece and only 1,130 spaces in shelters. The winter is bitterly cold and conditions are getting worse. “Over a year and a half ago, the Dubs amendment brought hope that hundreds of these kids would be brought to safety. It has been appalling to watch these minors wait, month after month, on bureaucratic delays.”
More than 2,000 years after Augustus banished him to deepest Romania, the poet Ovid has been rehabilitated. Rome city council on Thursday unanimously approved a motion tabled by the populist M5S party to “repair the serious wrong” suffered by Ovid, thought of as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature along with Virgil and Horace. Best known for his 15-book epic narrative poem Metamorphoses and the elegy Ars Amatoria, or the Art of Love, Publius Ovidius Naso was exiled in 8 AD to Tomis, the ancient but remote Black Sea settlement now known as the Romanian port city of Constanta. He remained there until his death a decade later. Although ordered directly by the emperor, scholars have long speculated over the motive for Ovid’s exile; the poet himself attributed it to “carmen et error”, a poem and a mistake.
Experts believe the cause was probably a combination of three factors: that Ovid’s erotic poetry was considered offensive, his attitude to Augustus was too disrespectful, and that he may have been involved in an unspecified plot or scandal. La Republicca reported that M5S, which holds a majority of the seats on the council, demanded that “necessary measures” be adopted to revoke the order in what the capital’s deputy mayor, Luca Bergamo, described as an important symbol. “It is about the fundamental right of artists to express themselves freely in societies in which, around the world, the freedom of artistic expression is increasingly constrained,” Bergamo told councillors.
Ovid was indisputably “one of the greatest poets in the history of humanity,” the deputy mayor said, and moreover the real reasons for his mysterious banishment by the emperor “were never placed on the historical record”. Sulmona, the Abruzzo town where the poet was born (then Sulmo), formally acquitted him of any wrongdoing. Dante, the great Renaissance poet, was similarly pardoned in 2008 by Florence – from where he was exiled on pain of death in 1302.
You could perhaps say that this is part 4 in a series on -America’s- peak wealth, even if it was never intended to be such a series; it just happened. First, in a February 18 essay about declining economic growth, “Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing”, I said “..the Automatic Earth has said for many years that the peak of our wealth was sometime in the 1970’s or even late 1960’s”.
That prompted a reply from long-time Automatic Earth reader Ken Latta, which he turned into an article a few days later which I published on February 23 as “When Was America’s Peak Wealth?” Ken reasoned that America’s peak wealth was sometime in the late ’50s to early 60’s.
Then yesterday, I posted “Peak American Wealth – Revisited”, which contains Ken’s responses to what various readers had written in the Comments section of the second piece. I remarked that many of the commenters seemed, like Ken, to be in their 70s. All this led to an even livelier and more personal Comments section for that article, including quite a few by younger readers.
Not that I ever had the impression that the Automatic Earth had become an old folks home, I just figured ‘older’ people are more likely to be triggered by talking about the 1960s, a period the younger only know from second-hand accounts. Still, it’s good to see, also in private emails, that there are quite few in their 20s and 30s who’ve been reading us for many years, and who do understand quite a bit about the crisis we’re in.
One of the mails I received was from long time acquaintance (for lack of a better word, I don’t think we ever met) Charles A. Hall. I’ve been familiar with Charlie’s work as systems ecologist on energy -in a very broad sense- for a long time, and have always held him in high esteem. That he reads the Automatic Earth on a regular basis is of course a privilege for us. That what he sees as my mistakes urge him to write an article is an even greater honor.
I’ll let Charlie do his own PR line: “Dr. Hall is Emeritus Professor at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse. Author of 13 books and nearly 300 scientific papers on these topics including Energy and the wealth of Nature (with Kent Klitgaard) and his new Energy Return on Investment: a Unifying Principle for Biology, Economics and Sustainabiity (both from Springer Press).”
And I do agree with the honorable professor that discussing peak US wealth without giving energy a prominent position in that discussion is far from ideal. At the same time, economic systems can fall apart of their own accord and/or through human hubris. Even with equal or growing energy availability, no everlasting growth is guaranteed -or even possible.
Interesting detail is that Dr. Hall puts the ‘peak wealth time’ in the late 70s to early 80s. That’s quite a bit later than either Ken Latta or I did, and than most of our commenters seem to do. But point taken: absent energy no wealth can be created. Here’s Charlie:
Charles A. Hall: I keep being amazed at the inability of economists, commentators and most regular citizens to fail to understand the importance of resources in general and petroleum (oil and gas) in particular to the material well being of society. This is exemplified by the recent posts of Latta and Meijer. I provide a few simple graphs to make my point, and then below add some excerpts lifted and slightly modified from our book (Hall and Klitgaard, Energy and the Wealth of Nations, Springer).
John Hickenlooper, when he was Mayor of Denver, understood the importance of oil and its restrictions. He said: “This land was originally settled by the Sioux. Everything that the Sioux depended upon, their food, clothing, shelter, implements and so on, came from the bison. They had many ceremonies giving thanks and appreciation to the Bison. We today are as dependent upon oil as the Sioux were on the bison, but not only do we not acknowledge or celebrate that, but most people do not have a clue”. Since 2010 global oil production is no longer increasing and may indeed be decreasing. Almost certainly it will decrease substantially in the future as we enter, in the words of geologist Colin Campbell, “the second half of the age of oil”.
The American dream was the product of industrious and clever people working hard within a relatively benign political system that encouraged business in various ways, but that all of these things also required a large resource base relative to the number of people using it. A key issue was the abundance of oil and gas in the United States, which was the world’s largest producer in 1970. But in 1970 (and 1973 for there was a clear peak in US oil production, and while the continued increase in oil production worldwide buffered the United States (and other countries) from the local peak it seems clear by 2017 that global oil production has reached its own peak while demand from around the world continues to grow.
This mismatch between supply and demand resulted in a sharp increase in the price of oil and many economic problems that we believe it caused, at least in part, including the stock market decline of 2008, the sub-prime real estate bust, the failure of many financial corporations, the fact that some 40 odd of 50 states are officially broke and that there is a substantial decrease in discretionary income for many average Americans. As developed later …. all of these economic problems are a direct consequence of the beginning of real shortages of petroleum in a petroleum-dependent society.
The historical ability to achieve wealth in the United States is in large part a consequence of the incredible resource base once found on the North American continent. These include initial endowments of huge forests, immense energy and other geological resources, fish, grass and, perhaps of greatest importance, rich deep soils where rain falls during the growing season.
While many other regions of the world also have, or had, a similarly huge resource base the United States has several other somewhat unique important attributes. The fact that these resources have been exploited intensely for only a few hundred years (vs. many thousand as in Europe or Asia), the presence of large oceans separate us from others who might want our resources; results in resources per capita that is relatively large, an extremely low human population density in the past and even now, so that the resources per capita is still relatively high.
A critical component of these patterns was the large increase in labor productivity during the first two thirds of the 20th century. This allowed both industry owners and labor, especially of the largest corporations, to do better and better. What was less emphasized but enormously clear in retrospect was that to allow the economy to expand it was possible to massively increase the production from oil, gas and coal fields, some new, and some old but barely tapped previously, so that once the economic engine was started there was a great deal of high quality energy available. The United States began using many times as much energy per person as had been the case relatively few decades before or was the case in Europe.
But in 1973 the United States experienced the first of several “oil shocks” that seemed, for the first time, to inject a harsh note of vulnerability into the united chorus of the American Dream for all. Before the 1970s nearly all segments of American society – including labor, capital, government, and civil rights groups – were united behind the agenda of continuous economic growth. The idea that growth could be limited by resource or environmental constraints, or, more specifically, that we could run short of energy-providing fossil fuels was simply not part of the understanding or dialog of most of this country’s citizens. But this was to change in the 1970s.
In retrospect, we can now say that the pillars of post-war prosperity began to erode in the 1970s and early 1980s, and that changes in the social sphere also began to complicate and add to the biophysical changes derived from the decline in the availability of cheap oil. Even though the oil market had stabilized and cheap energy returned to the United States in the late 1980’s, the changes in the structure of the economy were long lasting. The economy ceased growing exponentially, although it continued to grow linearly but at a decreasing rate, from 4.4 percent per year in the 1960s to 3.3, 3.0, 3.2 to 2.4 percent to close to one percent in the following decades.
Many formerly “American” companies became international and moved production facilities overseas where labor was cheaper and oil, no longer cheaper in the US compared to elsewhere, was the same price, although cheap enough to pay for the additional transport required. The decrease in labor costs when production facilities were moved to other countries outweighed the costs and the process of globalization accelerated. Productivity growth (formerly strongly linked to increasing energy used per worker hour) in manufacturing industries began to slow, falling from 3.3% per year in the 1966-1973 period to 1.5% from 1973-1979 to essentially zero in the early 1980s.
Mainstream economists seemed at a loss to explain this phenomenon. Their statistical models, which relied on the amount of equipment per worker, education levels and workforce experience left more factors unexplained than explained. Even the profession’s productivity guru, Edward Denison, had to admit that the seventeen best models explained only a fraction of the problem, leaving half of the increase in wealth unexplained. But Denison’s model did not include energy, but only capital and labor. When Reiner Kummel and his colleagues included energy in the same model they found that the unexplained residual disappeared and that energy was even more important than either Capital or Labor.
My point, and this could be emphasized with many more citations and analyses, is that humans for some peculiar reason are unable or unwilling to give natural resources, the biophysical basis of real economies, their proper due. The days of abundant, cheap, exponentially growing availability and use of many resources, including especially high quality fossil fuels, is forever behind us. Fracked oil is expensive and already declining, we still import about half our oil, and consequently our economy cannot physically grow as readily as in the past. While there are many reasons beyond resources (such as concentration of wealth) for the failure of our economy to grow, we must first start with biophysical reality.
See also my new book “Energy Return on Investment: A unifying principle for Biology, Economics and Sustainability (Springer)
Esther Bubley Waiting for Greyhound bus trip from Memphis to Louisville, KY 1943
Been scribbling several some post-election notes over the past few days, it seemed a good idea to not publish things too soon after the upset, even if I at least had the advantage that it wasn’t that much of a surprise or upset. But I’ve read far too many people too eager to write about how they haven’t moved an inch, and too many others who have -mostly reluctantly- moved but don’t know how or where to. It’s okay to think about such matters first, guys and dolls. Make that: it’s better. There’s too much nonsense out there as is. Why bother adding to the pile? Here’s a few thoughts in no particular order:
The transition we find ourselves in, into an era as profoundly different as it will be from the one that preceded it, can only possibly be chaotic. Smooth is not an option. Because it takes much time for people to recognize let alone accept that there is such a transition to begin with, and not everyone acknowledges or accepts it at the same time. Many never will at all, they will be left behind in their own realities tied down by the chains of what once was.
This transition is the one away from economic growth and globalization -centralization in general- and towards smaller, less centered and grandiose, politics and markets. It is not an idealistic transition towards self-sufficiency, it’s simply and inevitably what’s left once unfettered growth hits the skids. It doesn’t have to be anywhere near as bad as people would have you believe, or at least not necessarily so. What could make it real bad, though, is the widespread resistance and denial which seem certain to meet it.
Our entire worldviews and ‘philosophies’ are based on ever more and ever bigger and then some, and our entire economies are built upon it. That has already made us ignore the decline of our real markets for many years now. We focus on data about stock markets and the like, and ignore the demise of our respective heartlands and flyover countries, even as we experience Brexit and Trump and similar movements set to come to many more countries.
Donald Trump looks very much like the ideal fit for this transition – but nor because he understands the issue itself, or its implications. What matters is he promises to bring back jobs to America, and that’s what the country needs. Not so they can then export their products, but to consume them at home, and sell them in the domestic market.
That is the future of the world post-growth, and post-globalization. Every country and every society needs to focus on self-reliance, not as some idealistic luxury choice, but as a necessity. And that is not as bad or terrible as people would have you believe, and it’s not the end of the world. What would be terrible is if all we do is try and restart growth and globalization, because that would be a hideous waste of time and resources.
You’ll be flooded in the years to come, even more than today if you can imagine, with terms like protectionism and isolationism and even populism, but ignore all that. There’s nothing economically -let alone morally- wrong with people producing what they and their families and close neighbors themselves want and need without hauling it halfway around the world for a meagre profit, handing over control of their societies to strangers in the process.
There’s nothing wrong or negative with an American buying products made in America instead of in China. At least not for the man in the street. It’s not a threat to our ‘open societies’, as many claim. That openness does not depend on having things shipped to your stores over 1000s of miles, that you could have made yourselves at a potentially huge benefit to your local economy. An ‘open society’ is a state of mind, be it collective or personal. It’s not something that’s for sale.
Earlier this week I read what looks to be an apt observation: ‘Every white person in New York who didn’t vote for Trump is now out in the streets protesting against him’. But the people who protest now are miles off target and months too late: they should have stood up for Bernie when it became clear that the Hillary camp and the DNC conspired to oust him. Indeed, Bernie himself should have stood up back then, not for himself but for his supporters; they would have stood up with him.
Whether they all like it or not, being asleep and/or silent when big things happen that count, does carry a price. If you drop the ball, you can’t just pick it back up again and pretend it didn’t fall. Shouting ‘not my president’ in the wake of an election is a sign of weakness, no matter how well-intentioned. The protests should have taken place before the election, not after.
Moreover, to a large extent people are up in protest against the image the Hillary campaign and the media have painted of Trump, not the man himself. A difference they cannot see. Would these same people have been protesting if Hillary had won? No, they wouldn’t. But why?
Many voices expressed the wish that Americans would vote for Hillary, a story about a woman and a glass ceiling, instead of for the male and allegedly sexist and misogynist Donald Trump. Simply because she’s a woman, and it’s time for a female president.
These voices have been consistently and for a long time been blind to the fact that Hillary’s campaign and Foundation, in legal, shady and downright illegal ways, have long been financed to a substantial degree by uber-rich men in charge of Middle East oil extracting nations who have far more misogynist views and attitudes towards women than Trump will ever have.
These men carry things like misogyny, racism, xenophobia and homophobia high and proudly in their banners. Also, they’re well on their way towards obliterating not just an entire country in Yemen, but indeed an entire people, all with the enthusiastic support of Obama, Hillary and their friends and donors in the arms industry. And lest we forget, they sponsor ISIS too. Is that the future Americans want?
The bright side is the chances of a war with Russia have gone down substantially. While the odds have gone up dramatically of much fewer US servicemen and -women being sent abroad to engage in endless and countless battles and wars that never seemed to have much to do with the US, going back all the way to Korea and Vietnam.
How can either of these things can be perceived as negative? The continuation and expansion of -often proxy- hostilities versus Moscow would have been cast in stone had Hillary been elected, it was a milestone of her entire campaign. And a major part of this would have been fought at some desert location in the Middle East.
Where America has needlessly squandered the lives of many of its young and finest, to and in a mad scramble over control of oil resources which has resulted in nothing but a shapeless chaos that has equally needlessly killed millions of people, sent millions of others fleeing their homes and razed entire ancient civilizations, accomplishments that will follow America around the world for many years to come. Is that the future Americans want? Double down?
There’s -undeniably- still a risk that Donald Trump will succumb to the mighty hand of the military industrial complex. But at the same time, he may well be the country’s -and the world’s- best if not only chance at making that hand that much less mighty. There may be many things wrong with Trump -there are- but being in the pockets of arms manufacturers and other doctors of death is so far not among them, to our best knowledge.
Hillary and her crowd ran the entire election process from inside a cocoon, built largely on hubris and a lack of contact with the world outside. They had the media so much on their side that TV and newspapers became part of the Hillary cocoon, and reporters got locked into a groupthink mode that then in its turn infected the campaign itself.
What I mean is you can’t stop at saying Trump is a disaster, so let’s pick the other side, it was always very much a choice between two disasters. And at the same time, as I wrote at the Automatic Earth the day of the election, the US presidency is a poisoned chalice. There’s nothing simple about this.
Trump means a big clean-up for the GOP, and the Hillary loss means the chance for the Democrats to do the same. You bet those folks realize achingly well they could have won with Bernie. Hopefully that wing can take over substantially from the lying conniving machinery the DNC has turned out to be.
Someone summed it up as: Trump swept aside the Republicans, the Democrats, the Bush dynasty and the Clinton dynasty, all in one fell swoop, and we should perhaps be thankful to him for that.
Trump has run his campaign catering to the anger that exists among Americans. And people experience and label that as ‘terrible’ and ‘awful’. His Republican friends and opponents find it terrible, because it scares the bejeezus out of them, and they’re too scared to go anywhere near that anger. Trump embraced the anger. Because he knew from the start, instinctively, that it was the only way he could win.
And you can think like the majority of your peers do, that all that commingling with the anger, with racists and bigots and what have you, is inexcusable. But what you miss out on if you take that approach and hold on to it, is that in that case the anger does not get addressed at all. It’s instead left free to just wander over the land and fester and grow on society, out of reach of politics, media, everything.
A certain by now very vilified cartoonist explained that what Trump does is to ‘feel’ what the angry crowd wants, and then play into it by making over the top statements targeted at the anger. That way this crowd will follow him, gather around him. This has worked like a charm. But no, that doesn’t make him look like a certain German dictator.
Because it does not mean that Trump is going to literally do everything he said in the over the top statements he made. It’s all just a basic sales trick. Trump makes the angry people feel like he knows, and cares about, their grievances. Just like a car salesman makes you think he knows just what you want and need in a car, and praises the assets of that car in such a way that it touches that part of you which makes you want the car.
But that doesn’t mean at the end of the day he’ll drive the same car home that you just bought off of him. He makes you think he is like you, and knows what you want, so he can sell you that car. That’s all. He’s judged you to be the right ‘target’ for that vehicle.
That is how Trump has reeled in America’s hidden anger, how he has gathered its lost hidden mob. And before you say anything else, it’s perhaps a good idea to wonder where that anger would go without Trump. Because it’s not going to go away by itself. It’s been growing and festering for a long time, and it’s well-armed, lest you forget.
The question then becomes: would America be a better, or a safer, place if the entire angry part of its population had again, and still, been ignored by everyone? Or is it better to have them gathered under the umbrella of Donald Trump? Take your pick. Don’t be shy.
Another way to phrase the issue is this: without the exact same sales tactics that Trump used to ‘gather the anger’ around him, the TV ads (most ads in general) you see on a daily basis would look completely different. Whatever products these ads sell, from detergents to cars, they do it by referring to your unconscious, not your rational abilities.
The ads, like Trump, sell feelings, not facts (if you don’t get that, you’re lost).
Yet nobody would think of taking the companies whose products are advertized this way to court -nobody even gets really angry with them- because the happy smily people and unending open roads bathed in sunshine from the ads do not magically appear once you purchase the product. We would even find that crazy, that anyone might take the images shown in the ads, literally.
We should interpret Trump’s campaign words along those same lines, the same way we ‘undergo’ the ads that play to our subconscious. The problem is, how do you do that? How do you interpret what you are largely unaware of on a rational level?
The president-elect will now need the same skills in order to ‘come down that mountain’ without antagonizing each and every side of the discussion, of the nation. He’ll have to convince the liberal camp that he didn’t mean everything he said in a literal sense, while at the same time keeping his ‘angry mob’ satisfied that he will do enough of what he promised them.
That will take a lot of persuading. But at the same time that happens to be the one thing he’s really good at. He’ll have to convince his voters that he’s not breaking his promises, just adjusting them in ways that will, if at all possible, be even more beneficial to them than the original ones.
Difficult, but if he can convince them that there are signs, delivered relatively fast, that their living conditions are improving, he may succeed. They just vent their anger at people that are visibly not themselves, but that’s not where the anger stems from.
There are all sorts of nasty things going on, racists and supremacist etc. But you can’t say that Trump caused that to happen. The most you could say is that he gives the people involved in that stuff the idea that because someone finally hears them, they can, are allowed to, make themselves heard.
But just because a few loose cannons let loose, doesn’t mean America has 60 million loose cannons who all voted for Trump and should all be condemned including Trump himself for good measure because there’s a few incidents. Not only is that a misinterpretation of what goes on, it prevents you from understanding what lies behind.
Those incidents at least have a lot to do with the fact that so many ignored Americans live in what Washington has long considered flyover country. It would be a lot more positive and productive at this point in time if everyone looks at what they themselves have gotten wrong over the past years -not just this election campaign- before pointing fingers at everyone but themselves.
But seeing the dug-in heels in Britain almost five months after the Brexit vote, it’s hard to get your hopes up about people coming together, or even doing some genuine introspection. It’s easier to just remain stuck in your comfy little rut.
Thing is, the world is rapidly changing -it already has-, America is changing, Britain is, and many more countries will, it just takes an election to show how much. We’re transitioning to a next phase, and trying to deny we are with all our might, good luck and good night.
Or in a more poetic fashion – we can do that too-:
the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul
If the US presidential debate last night showed anything, it must be that just about everyone has dug themselves into their trenches and had no desire whatsoever to ever came out.
This seemed especially clear on the Hillary side, which appeared to include -to an extent- ‘moderators’ Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, judging from their interruptions. But, granted, they were the only biased side in the discussion, so we don’t really know what trenches the Republicans have dug.
The biggest problem with biased moderators is that people notice their bias. Not those who are on one side already, it passes them by. But others do. And perhaps more importantly, -in this case-, Hillary’s team loses its ability to adopt a neutral view. And she will therefore hear so much praise that she can’t figure out if she’s not done too well.
To illustrate that point: the main takeaway must be that Trump won the debate hands down, but that’s the opposite of what Hillary sympathizers concluded and what various polls said. It’s still true though, if only for one simple reason. That is, for 48 hours straight all talk and ‘reporting’ had been about Trumps lewd ‘words’ on the Access Hollywood tapes.
Trump really was cornered, and he knew it, everyone knew it. But after the second debate, and within 90 minutes, most of the talk turned towards how he ‘threatened’ to jail Hillary. Now, that’s not what he said, but even if he had, it’s something a lot more people sympathize with than with his language on the tapes. That’s a lot of territory ‘conquered’.
Meanwhile, even the likes of Paul Ryan don’t seem to grasp what happened overnight (he apparently think Hillary already won). What he doesn’t appear to see is, again, that Trump looked completely lost for 48 hours, but doesn’t look so lost now. There are 4 weeks and a day left in the campaign, and a lot can still happen.
Look, Trump is a buffoon. The word could have been invented specifically to define him. And it would be a very bad idea to make him president of the US. But that doesn’t mean the idea of making Hillary president is any better. It may well be worse, for a variety of reasons.
What the debate made clear once more is that America stands face to face with itself, it’s looking in a giant mirror, one which -only- in choice moments does not contort its own image, and America finds there’s nothing to like about what it sees in those brief moments in that mirror. And then therefore immediately proceeds to contort that image like it’s used to doing.
America may not like to look at its own stone cold hard reality, but it’s better than any culture ever in painting a picture of itself that it does like. In fact, it’s the first nation ever that made exactly that its main goal in life.
The Brits, the French and the Dutch try to hide their dark colonial and slave trading pasts, but America built an entire culture around contorting its history, right there in Hollywood, with ‘stars’ like John Wayne and John Ford being celebrated for movies that celebrate the annihilation and violent submission by the white man of both Native Americans and African slave populations.
In that same vein, the ‘heroic exploits’ of US soldiers in Muslim countries from Libya to Afghanistan in the past decades are now a major topic for the next generation of twisted history in movies and other media, in which invasions, drone killings and carpet bombings are portrayed as acts of bravery that warrant Purple Hearts. While the people whose lives and cultures are destroyed are swept under the first available carpet.
But that’s another story for another time. Back to last night’s debate. Trump may have won big, but he left some substantial scraps on the table that he may yet come to regret. Perhaps he was too focused on digging himself out of the ‘grab that pu**y’ hole -and yes, that is foul- to notice he was already out. Hard to say. He has the intuition, but does he have the brain?!
The first thing either The Donald or one of his team members must hammer down, urgently, is the way past stupid narrative of Russia’s involvement in US politics. Hillary repeatedly brought it up again, and it’s cheap fare for her, she can say anything she likes on the issue, no-one will contradict her or check any facts.
There were all these alleged fact-checkers ‘active’, but they dare not check the facts on this (there are none). Anything the Democratic Party wants to hide, it is free to hide behind Putin. No questions asked. That is insane at best, and Trump should have halted the narrative.
As should Cooper and Raddatz, and the army of fact checkers, but the fix was in. The low point must have been the allegation that Wikileaks is linked to Putin. Really? Come with facts, or forever hold your tongue. Too much cheap fare, hollow as can be, and Hillary build much of her story on it. Not good on the part of the Trump people.
I was reading an August 2 piece by Timothy O’Brien at Bloomberg the other day on Trump’s Russian connections, and Tim seems to start off with good hope of ‘inking the deal’, but ends up admitting there’s no there there.. The entire narrative of Trump’s Russian connections is as false as John Wayne’s heroism in slaughtering Native Americans. He should have cut that tale short in the debate, He didn’t.
Hillary gets to say, without any interruption or fact checking that “Russia has decided who it wants to be president, and it’s not me.” and that is way beyond any comprehension, really. There is zero proof of that, as there is of everything the US claims about Russia.
For all we know, Putin would much prefer Hillary to be president, because he sees Trump as a much stronger opponent when the chips are down. Hillary’s allegations are just a narrative she thinks will appeal to voters. She’s wrong. At least when it comes to those who wouldn’t have voted for her regardless of the narrative.
The second issue Trump desperately needs to put to bed is the one of his taxes. And mind you, I did say Trump should not ever be president of the US. That’s my perspective.
Hillary again last night painted a picture of Trump leaving US veterans out in the cold by not paying enough taxes. Trump retorted by saying Buffett (not Jimmy) and Soros do the same. But that’s a huge missed opportunity.
Paying taxes in America, and in any western nation, is not some voluntary exercise; there are laws, and they are some of the most stringent and most punishable there are. You cheat on your taxes, and the IRS or their equivalent in other countries have the power to go after you like no other government institution. Tax cheats very often go to jail.
That none of this has happened to Trump means, it’s that simple, that he did not break the law. He has used to the law to his advantage, just like everyone else who could, sure, But there’s not an inch of evidence, not even a hint, that he did anything illegal.
Hillary’s campaign is well aware of this, so the issue gets presented as some -pretty opaque- moral issue: ‘You didn’t do well by our veterans’. But what could he have done? Should Trump be the only American, or only western citizen, to tell the IRS to please take another extra $10 million or so, or $100 million, after they were done auditing him? So he wouldn’t be attacked 20 years on when running for office? It makes no sense in any sense.
And yes, the situation is very different if you’re on a payroll for some company, you can’t deduct what Trump could. But he’s not alone in that; in fact, all American entrepreneurs are in the same boat, and they will all try to swing that boat in the direction that fits them best. And Hillary loves these entrepreneurs as much as anyone when it suits her purposes. And her accountants do the same thing, they follow the same principle. Perhaps for lesser amounts, but that’s not the point.
Trump’s taxes are a non-issue, a brainless narrative. Not something for Hillary or anyone else to use as some innuendo-laden topic, anymore than Trump can use Hillary’s tax files against her in an ‘innuendo illegal’ way. Any judgment on that is up to the IRS, not either the Republican or Democratic campaigns. It’s ridiculous that Hillary can use that in a debate, and Trump and his people should have shut that venue down long ago.
But anyway, we have that 4 weeks and a day to go, and there’ll by much more to ‘enjoy’. Still, Trump came back last night from very very far away. No matter what CNN and other polls may say. Those polls are as biased as the night’s moderators.
It might be a good idea to realize that a year ago nobody ever gave Trump a shot at the gold medal, and his support never came from the people who conform with CNN (which nobody watches stateside anyway) or ABC.
We’ll talk again soon. Meanwhile, I’m with Susan Sarandon, who says bring it on, bring on Trump, because she despises Hillary, and because:
“Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately; if he gets in then things will really explode.”
Sort of like what I wrote before, that if you must choose between two very bad options, might as well pick the worst and get it over with:
I was going to take a day off today, partly because a kind Automatic Earth reader in Athens insisted on taking me out to lunch, partly because I need a break, and partly because the Financial Times complained about their inclusion in my Debt Rattles, which makes me think about the whole thing. Nothing bad about that. Think is good.
But then of course my head doesn’t stop wandering, and so I wandered into music, and Muhammad Ali’s funeral and memory, and I was pondering that he must have loved the songs I post below. As much as I am turned off by a lot of things stateside these days, and he was too, the country, when history is written, will be known for as long as there are people to sing and play and act, for the incredible melting pot of musical styles and plays and movies it has produced.
America, if anything sums it up, is a country that has perfected the art of painting a portrait of itself in music, literature and film. Often a deceptively false portrait, as in the whole “John Wayne vs the Indians” theme, but that’s not the real story, and we all know it. America’s always been about making you believe it’s something it’s not. And in the process it’s produced, despite itself, magic.
Gospel and religion were always a large part of the music, along with the inherent contradiction in having both sides of the segregation lines and railroad tracks go to churches and pray -in different ways- to the same God. Ali found his own. But he knew all along that there is but one God for those who choose to believe in one. He just didn’t want everyone to know that, at least not 50 years ago.
In the music itself, the British and Irish and German and Russin and Jewish et al influences are plain for everyone to hear. But American music was of course shaped more than anything else by African slaves. The biggest miracle the continent has produced is the coming together, if only in music alone, of the oppressors and the oppressed.
That’s quite an achievement, when you get to think about it. At the same time, that’s the power of music; it doesn’t know borders or race. But that’s not nearly all either.
What’s missing in my view and knowledge is how the music that the earliest slaves, those who weren’t shipped to the US but much further south to Brazil and neighboring lands, we’re talking 17-18th century, influenced American music. That’s something I’d like to know a lot more about. Meanwhile, the Coen brothers tuned right down into all of this. And so did Bob Dylan. And Ali, who now wears the robe and crown.
“Boxing legend dies”, is what most headlines say. And the news was first reported on sports pages, though it did soon move to frontpages, fast.
Muhammad Ali was so much more than a boxing legend. So much more that to mention boxing first doesn’t do him justice. Ali was first and foremost a very brave and intelligent man, who changed America for the better. Or should we say: changed Americans?
He grew up in an intensely racist, segregated and divided America, and in the arguably most divided part of that America. That shaped him. Boxing was merely his way out, his way to fight discrimination and racism.
But it didn’t come easy. His was a lonely fight, for most of it. But then, he wasn’t the greatest for nothing.
The only people who stood by him were the Nation of Islam, who made him say some crazy things and from whom he later split acrimoniously; Ali wanted peace, they, not so much. Ali found he was much closer to Martin Luther King at heart. But still.
I saw some numbers flash by earlier. America’s been at war in 223 of the 240 years of its existence since 1776.
Ali refused to go. No matter what the cost. He could easily have been killed for doing it, or locked away for the rest of his life, and he knew it. But he didn’t even flinch. He would not fight the fight of those who set their dogs on his people. He would instead fight against them.
“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize… But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?
No, I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over.
This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here.
I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow.
I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”
(NOTE: Whether Ali ever actually said: “No Vietcong ever called me a nigger” is not entirely clear. But he did say this:)
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father… Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
Whether Ali was the greatest American alive when he died a few hours ago is of course a personal view. That he was way up there is beyond dispute. And he had been there for 50 years, while he was still alive. Oh, yeah, and he was a good boxer too. And very pretty.
Harris&Ewing Inauguration of air mail service, Washington, DC 1918
That title may be a bit much, granted, because never is a very long time. I might instead have said “The American Consumer Won’t Be Back For A Very Long Time”. Still, I simply don’t see any time in the future that would see Americans start spending again at a rate anywhere near what would be required for an economic recovery. Looks pretty infinity and beyond to me.
However, that is by no means a generally accepted point of view in the financial press. There’s reality, and then there’s whatever it is they’re smoking, and never the twain shall meet. Admittedly, my title may be a bit provocative, but in my view not nearly as provocative, if not offensive, as Peter Coy’s at Bloomberg, who named his latest effort “US Consumers Will Open Their Wallets Soon Enough”.
I know, sometimes they make it just too easy to whackamole ’em down and into the ground. But even then, these issues must be addressed time and again until people begin to understand, and quit making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons. People have a right to know what’s truly happening to their lives, and their societies. And they’re not nearly getting enough of it through the ‘official’ press. So here goes nothing:
People are constantly exhorted to save, but as soon as they do, economists pop up to complain they aren’t spending enough to keep the economy growing. A new blogger named Ben Bernanke wrote on April 1 that there’s still a “global savings glut.” Two days later the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the weakest job growth since 2013, which economists quickly attributed to soft consumer spending.
The first problem with Coy’s thesis is that even if people open their wallets, far too many of them will find there’s nothing there. And Bernanke simply doesn’t understand what savings are. His ideas through the past decade+ about a Chinese savings glut were always way off the mark, and his global – or American – savings glut theory is, if possible, even more wrong. In the minds of the world’s Bernankes, there’s no such thing as people opening their wallets to find them empty. If they don’t spend, they must be saving. That there’s a third option, that of not having any dollars to spend, is for all intents and purposes ignored.
The U.S. personal savings rate—5.8% in February—is the highest since 2012. “After years of spending as if there were no tomorrow, consumers are now saving like there is a tomorrow,” Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial, wrote to clients in March. Saving too much really can be a problem when spending is weak.
The little man inside, when I read things like that, tells me this is nonsense. So I decided to look up how the US personal savings rate is calculated. Turns out, it’s another one of those whacky goal-seeked government numbers. At least, that’s what I make of it. Mainly, though not even exclusively, because of things like this, from a site called Take A Smart Step:
[The personal savings rate in] November 2012 was 3.6%, this is not even close to where we need to be for financial health. This savings rate barely gives us enough to handle emergencies, and makes us as a nation weaker. The government calculates the personal savings rate as the difference between the after tax income and consumption of Americans. So they include not only retirement savings, but debt repayments, college savings, emergency fund savings, anything that was not spent.
Making paying off your debt (i.e. money you’ve already spent) count towards your savings is a practice fraught with questionable consequences. But useful for economists, and accountants alike, no doubt. The problem with it is that it hides reality behind a veil. Because debt repayments are not really savings at all; people are not free to spend what they put into paying off debt, on something else, like iPads, cars or trinkets. Not even on hookers or crack cocaine, for that matter.
For the vast majority of what is paid off in debt, there’s no such thing as free choices. People pay off debt because they must. Or, to look at it from another, wide lens, angle, Americans would have to stop servicing their debt payments if they want to ‘start spending’ again.
Going through the numbers from various sources, I can see that the US personal savings rate is presently some 5.8% of pre-tax income, and debt repayment is close to 10% of disposable -after tax – income. I’m still trying to make those stats rhyme. But no matter how you read and interpret them, it should be clear that debt repayments are a large part of ‘official’ savings. Even if they really shouldn’t be counted as such.
Of what remains in real savings, retirement/pension savings must necessarily be a substantial percentage, and it would be weird to call those things ‘saving like there is a tomorrow’, if only because they are about, well, tomorrow. But that seems to be the new normal: creating the impression that saving any money at all is somehow detrimental to the economy. A truly crazy notion, if you ask me. Let’s get back to Bloomberg’s Coy:
There are only two things you can do with a dollar, after all: spend it or save it. If you spend it, great—that’s money in someone else’s pocket.
In someone else’s pocket, but no longer in yours. Why would that be so great? It’s only great if that someone has added value to something by doing productive work, not if you simply swap paper assets.
If you save it, the financial system is supposed to recycle your dollar into productive investment with loans for new houses, factories, software, and research and development.
That notion of ‘the financial system is supposed to’ refers to theories such as those that Bernanke and his ilk ‘believe’ in. Theories that have no practical value. What is normal for many everyday Americans is crippling debt levels, and no such thing is recognized in these theories. After all, according to them, whatever amount of dollars you get in, you either spend or save them. And if you use them to pay off previously incurred debt, you’re supposedly actually saving, even though you no longer have possession of the money in any way, shape or sense, nor a choice of what to spend it on.
But if no one’s in the mood to invest more and interest rates are already as low as they can go (as they are in much of the world), the compulsion to save can sap demand and throw people out of work. For the U.S. economy, the good news is that the jump in the personal savings rate is probably no more than a blip. Three economists from Deutsche Bank Securities in New York explained why in a March 25 report called ‘U.S. Consumers: Still Shopping, Not Dropping’. While noting a “deceleration” in consumer spending, they wrote, “we think that concerns about the outlook for the consumer are overstated.” Their model of the U.S. economy predicts the savings rate will fall to 3% to 3.5% by 2017.
Oh sweet lord. Now a falling savings rate has become a beneficial thing, even when and where savings are very low. Not saving will allegedly save the economy. How did that happen? If we may presume that debt repayments will continue virtually unabated, and there seems to be little reason to think otherwise, this means that by 2017 there will be just about nothing saved at all anymore in America. Which means there’d be very little left of the ‘If you save it, the financial system is supposed to recycle your dollar into productive investment’.
The only ‘growth’ perspective America has left is to grow its debt levels continually, continuously and arguably exponentially.
Other economists have also concluded that the spending dropoff is temporary, which is why the slowdown in job growth, to just 126,000 in March, didn’t set off many alarm bells. “Consumer spending is starting to look more and more like a coiled spring,” says Guy Berger, U.S. economist at RBS Securities. One sign that consumers aren’t retrenching: On April 7 the Federal Reserve reported that consumer credit rose $15.5 billion in February, in line with the recent past.
They got deeper into debt, and this is a sign they’re not ‘retrenching’? A coiled spring? Really?
According to Deutsche Bank Securities, the first reason to think consumers will resume spending is that their incomes are rising. Annual growth in average hourly earnings has averaged about 2% since 2010, which isn’t great but does exceed inflation. With more people working as well, aggregate payroll outlays are up 4.9% from the past year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
The rises in stock and home prices should make consumers more willing to live a little, say the Deutsche Bank authors. They calculate that households’ net worth is almost 6.5 times consumers’ disposable personal income. That’s the highest ratio since before the housing crash.
But that last bit is arguably all due to QE induced asset bubbles. Not an argument the author would make, I know, but nevertheless. Coincidentally, another Bloomberg article published the same day as the one we’re delving in here is called:Why Your Wages Could Be Depressed for a Lot Longer Than You Think. Perhaps the respective authors should have a sit down.
No question, the high savings rate depresses spending in the short run. Purchases of durable goods, from cars to couches, remain well below their 60-year average share of GDP. But all that saving helps consumers get their finances in order, which will allow them to satisfy pent-up demand for that sweet new Ford F-150.
No no no: they just paid off part of their debts. How can that possibly mean they’ll go out and get a new F-150? In real life, they spent their money instead of saving it. Either way, they don’t have it any longer to spend on a F-150. It would mean they need to get into new debt. On top of what they still have left over even AFTER paying down part of it.
Fed data show that financial obligations including debt service, rent, and auto leases are about their lowest in comparison to disposable income since 1981.
Hmm. According to Wikipedia, “Household debt as a % of disposable income rose from 68% in 1980 to a peak of 128% in 2007, prior to dropping to 112% by 2011.” It’s about 105% today. So that’s just a very weird statement. Someone’s wrong, very wrong, and I think I know who that would be. Maybe Peter Coy conveniently ignores mortgage payments when he talks about “financial obligations including debt service, rent, and auto leases”?!
When consumers are ready to borrow more, it won’t hurt that, according to the Fed’s survey of banks’ senior loan officers, banks are easing lending standards.
See? That’s what I said: they can only spend if they acquire new debt. They’re just getting rid of the last batch, and it’s going mighty slowly at that. Lest we forget, when debt as a percentage of income falls, that is due to quite an extent to people failing to make any debt payments at all, and losing their homes and cars. This is a dead economic model. This model is pining for the fjords.
These factors add up to an optimistic consumer.
Oh, c’mon. What is that statement based on? That ‘sky high’ savings rate that is really just poor slobs paying off what they can in debt repayments so they won’t get hit with even more fees and fines?
What I think these factors add up to, is a delusional reporter. There is no excess saving. It’s ludicrous. As far as people have any money at all, they’re using it to pay down their previously incurred debts. And that gets tallied into their savings rate by the government’s creative accounting methods. That’s all there is to the whole story. But it will, regardless, induce a few more poor souls to sign up for more mortgages and car loans and feel like happy American consumers on their way down into the maelstrom.
It’s sad, it really is. Maybe we should first of all stop referring to the American people as ‘consumers’. That might help.
Unknown GMC truck Associated Oil fuel tanker, San Francisco 1935
America has managed to construct an entirely one-dimensional political system. There’s no discernible difference left between left and right, other than in spin language pre-cooked for the sole purpose of faking the concept of elections. There’s very right and ultra right. America is living proof that once money is allowed into politics, the accumulation of it, and of the power it can buy, will and eventually must fully control a democratic system, which in the process, of necessity, suffocates and dies a painful death.
What once was a proud American democracy has been turned into a circus that rolls into town every four years, filled with clowns that pretend to fight each other with over the top grotesque contraptions, but sleep in the same bed once the show is over and the audience has gone home.
In Europe that process has not yet been completed, but with the inception of the EU it is well on its way. It is a predictable process, in that the concentration of power, and of money, is irreversible as long as it’s allowed to continue its course, and the system succeeds in making people believe they still have a say in their own lives. As long as that belief is in place, it’s just an ongoing – relatively – slow corrosion that sets in and then takes its time, but never stops.
Control of the media is an obvious key element of this process, and surprisingly easy to obtain; you’d be inclined to think people would fight harder for their access to real life information. They don’t. As I said two days ago in 2014: The Year Propaganda Came Of Age, that’s what the Ukraine situation has taught me. It’s shown me how far ahead we are, not just stateside, but all over Europe as well, in living up to George Orwell’s visions. As far as I’m concerned, if Eric Blair had named his book 2014, he’d have been dead on. 2014 was the year, much more than 1984. But I don’t blame him: how was he supposed to oversee that in 1948?
Ukraine was the epitomy: no questions asked, just neverending tons of innuendo written and spoken, and a case for which to date no proof has been provided has been firmly decided in the public mind. No due process, no innocent until proven guilty, not proper defense. Everybody has the right to a lawyer, but not in international politics. Or, apparently, in the eyes of western media and citizens.
Only today, Angela Merkel once again said something to the extent that Putin must get the Donbass ‘rebels’ to stop the fighting, while she knows full well they can’t and won’t, because they risk being ethnically cleansed if they would. 4500 of them were already killed by what was supposed to be their own government.
But the German people, like all other European peoples, swallow this nonsense whole. The only counterweight comes from German businesses that lose too much money in the sanctions that make no proper sense. And if the pressure from that side gets strong enough she’ll cave in, slowly, provided she can avoid losing face. That might be the biggest risk to US regime change plans in the new year.
And those plans deserve and need to be thwarted. As do the Troika schemes to throw Europe’s Mediterrenean region ever deeper into misery, austerity and ultimately debt slavery. The EU is a one dimensional one way street into a deep dark night, construction of which is overseen by people who work for their own personal interests, not that of their people. A nice idea gone terribly astray. Let’s make sure we finish it off in 2015, and give the Greeks and Italians back their honor and their dignity. And let’s keep our own dignity in the process.
As for the US, I got to tell you, I don’t know. Obama has been a miserable failure, perhaps because he was just trying to save his skin all along, or because he was like this all along, but he sure never brought much change. Or belief. Waiting in the wings we got Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, but they’re the exact same person. They’ll sell their grandmas for cheap if they think it’ll help them along.
America needs people who believe in something other than money or power, but anyone who’d try would be swept off the Christmas table with the other food scraps in no time, and be devoured by the dogs. I got some flack for saying on my Facebook page that the Ron Paul Institute published the propaganda article I mentioned before, but girl, Ron Paul is all you have left, like him or not.
Dr. Paul is the only one I know in America who has raised his voice against the US involvement in Ukraine, the only one in the entire west even, other than those of us in the blogosphere, or the alternative media if you will. And that’s insane. That’s utterly insane. We should not allow for our voices to be silenced the way they are, not just like Ron Paul, but worse than him. We don’t deserve to be marginalized anymore than Dr. Paul does; we’re smarter than the lot of them.
I guess that is what I think those of us who haven’t died yet should set out to do in 2015. Do what we’ve been doing, and do more of it. As Andy Warhol said: the only thing that counts is work. Big dreams or goals go only so far. They mean little if you don’t put in the work. And for this ‘alternative press’ we have going, from Zero Hedge all the way down to the Automatic Earth, with all the great people in between and around it, what matters is the work. No letting up; we have the same responsibility the illegal press had in Amsterdam and Paris in the 1940s – even if we can’t stand in the shadows of their courage -: to make sure people get information that does not stem from the matrix.
An article in the Guardian today said that 2014 was The Year The Internet Came Of Age. I think I’ll stick with my 2014: The Year Propaganda Came Of Age, but the combination of the two leads to interesting questions. Like: what role has the internet played in the rise of the propaganda that led to almost none of our so-called higher-educated people asking any questions about what really happened in Ukraine, or about so many other situations the ever more concentrated powers that rule us are involved in.
First of all, obviously, the financial world. Hardly anybody may understand what that is doing to us, to the world we live in, to the people we love and those who don’t know but we should still be holding out for (those underground press guys in WWII were risking their lives for people they didn’t know). Between us, we do understand a whole lot of what’s happening. We have no choice – or at least I don’t – but to keep going at it every single day and get it out there, and hope that a few more people every day will pick up on it. Not to make money for themselves – that’s the very disease that got us where we are -, but to be more human, and to try and lead a way forward. For now the internet allows us to do that. Let’s make the best of it while we can.