Mar 012019
 


Marcel Duchamp Sad young man on a train – Nude study 1911-12

 

 

Longtime Automatic Earth friend Alexander Aston talks about finding himself at Oxford at a point in time when the British themselves appear overcome by a combo of utter confusion and deadly lethargy, and one can only imagine what it must be like for ‘foreigners’ residing in Albion, who face large potential changes to their lives and know there’s not a thing they can do about it, not even vote.

I like the observation that the entire British political system, the place where decisions are made, is the size of a small village. That’s a visual we can all relate to. It’s a physical limit as well as a mental one. I’m all for sovereignty and self-determination, but how’s that going to work if you can’t even see the boundaries of your own territory?

 

Guys, it’s 4 weeks to D-Day today. How about we call off the landing, get a few pints instead, and talk? First round’s on me.

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Alexander Aston: I arrived in the UK in 2015 to undertake interdisciplinary research at the University of Oxford. I am a child of the Empire, a cultural product of Britannia’s oldest colonies in the British Isles, her most important colony now turned empire as well as one of her youngest, Zimbabwe. The UK is both an intimately familiar society and yet one that is also strangely alien for me, like a wealthy, often charming and deeply abusive parent that sparks both self-recognition and rejection.

The ‘leave’ referendum occurred close to a year after I arrived in the UK and is one of the few political events over the past few years that surprised me. I suppose that I assumed, given the power and wealth afforded to UK elites by the EU, that those who benefited so greatly from the status quo would do anything to manipulate or fudge the results. Nonetheless, history decided to swerve, and over the past four years, I have watched the inhabitants of this island stumble into an profound identity crisis. Having spent a good portion of my life in Greece, I do not have particularly warm and cuddly feelings toward the European Union and was never a natural ‘remainer’.

The single markets and the long peace are significant achievements, and the ability for Europeans to move freely and form new discourses, relationships and endeavours has value that is impossible to quantify. The EU is technocratic, unaccountable and enthralled to a neoliberal ideology that knows only how to extract wealth from the most vulnerable and concentrate it in the hands of the most powerful. I have lived in Athens, I have family in Greece, I have seen well enough the true costs of EU membership.

What strikes me most in my experiences of the United Kingdom are the incredible levels of cognitive dissonance demanded by its media, politics and economics in order for the society to function. I live in one of the most expensive and unequal cities in the entire country. I am surrounded by the grandeur of powerful and wealthy institutions that are older than the Aztec empire and filled with some of the most powerful and elite humans on the planet and their heirs in waiting. Every time that I enter a building, go to a lecture, meet with a colleague, or sit for some grand meal in one of the colleges I must walk past dozens of human beings that are cold, hungry and occasionally dying on the streets.

 

This is in a country that provides social housing and millions in basic income to a single family, where it is accepted that the most vulnerable people are relentlessly bullied into poverty through cuts, inspections and ever increasing demands of performance. In a country where the Beatles and J.K. Rowling all started their careers on the dole. I don’t know the answers to our predicaments, but the conversation is extremely lopsided and blind to the real misery it is creating. Every time I walk through Oxford, I am filled with a profound sense of guilt and remorse, I marvel and benefit from the treasures surrounding me and I wonder… is this the best we can do? Are these the limits of our social imagination and creativity?

Shortly after I arrived, Jeremy Corbyn was elected to the leadership of the labour party. It was an early prefiguration of the political disruptions that were about to sweep the world. The neoliberal managerialism of New Labour had lost control, and its partisans wage an increasingly desperate guerrilla war with no small amount of aid from the establishment media.

Long before Brexit was a reality I became aware of the repetitious delirium of innuendo, slander and fear-mongering through which the media managed the perspective and narrative in the country, much like the American system but with its own uniquely British aesthetics and sense of authority. This somnambulant fever has only grown as the country has tripped and stumbled through the unexpected circumstances and self-engineered traps of austerity, political deadlock, and delusions of grandeur.

 

 

Day in and day out we are subjected to a litany of failure by one of the most incompetent governments in history while the media clucks, puffs and turns a path of ruin into mere spectacle. Yet, day after day we find ourselves in a state of inertia, nothing seems to change as the country hurtles towards historical rupture. The dissonance created between a seizing political system, PR firms masquerading as journalists and a dysfunctional economy requires that the people of the United Kingdom smooth over, ignore or forget the increasing contradictions of their lived experience.

Anthropologically speaking, the nuance of British culture that has perhaps had the most profound impact upon me is the detail to which the English are able to infer region, class and schooling through the voices of their fellow citizens. The subtle encoding of social hierarchies into the dialects and accents of the United Kingdom to degrees that I have never experienced in the rest of the Anglophone world. Despite my ignorance about many intricacies of British linguistics, one thing I do feel relatively confident about is that even though the English have the vast majority of the wealth and power in the United Kingdom, the Celts have received the warmer sense of humour.

For me, one of the few truly positive possible outcomes of Brexit is the potential for Irish reunification and even the chance of an emerging “Celtic sphere” to provide a new counterbalance in the British Isles. The partition of Ireland stems from one of the deepest and oldest wounds inflicted by the British Empire. It is an ironic twist of fate that the Tories now find themselves dependent upon the Unionist partisans and descendants that they so eagerly fostered to maintain dominance over Ireland. The United Kingdom’s mythology of itself has run headlong into the contradictions at the heart of its empire. The country that is partitioning itself from Europe finds its politics paralysed by an older act of partition.

The contradictions of Brexit have riven the political parties and the governing process has ground to a halt. It is an intractable predicament, the interests of the Unionists, Capitalist Utopianists, Neoliberal reactionaries, Political Elites, Nationalists, Independents and Socialists are all pulling in different directions. Consensus is only achieved in moments of near universal rejection, yet with no ability to pass any meaningful legislation the Tories only coalesce in obstinate refusal to change the situation.

 

Meanwhile the ship of state drifts towards a political, economic and moral abyss. What I can say from my time at Oxford is that the political masters of this country are indoctrinated with an imperial hubris in a political system that operates like a small village. The institutions of power here produce all too many children with no experience of the daily struggles of common people, that are all together convinced as to their entitlement to rule over millions with a PPE degree in hand.

The country is in an intractable prisoners dilemma, the logic of which makes a no-deal outcome highly possible. My fear with a no deal is that this would result in a bond shock, and with economic disruptions in Ireland, the Benelux, a France mired in a political crisis and the financial precarity of Italy all create excellent conditions for an absolutely roaring debt calamity. Yet, the UK blithely dithers on as Theresa May puts on her best performance of Neville Chamberlain and tries, tries again. The fact is that the government has lost all political legitimacy and Parliament is an omnishambles.

Those that lead us are so committed to their own narratives, so convinced of their acumen and power, so insulated by their privilege that they will sacrifice the health and prosperity of this nation in the absolute conviction that they are right and that all their problems are the fault of stupid people that don’t listen and do what they are told. The folks in the ERG think they only need sit on their hands and they can, they will, find themselves in a libertarian Aristocracy sea steading off the shores of Europe.

The London centric remainers think that they can paper over the past four years with a second referendum and that all can go back to normal and Brexit can be safely tucked away as a terrifying aberration. I am reminded of the H.L. Mencken quote that “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”

 

The only pathway I can see to restoring political legitimacy at this point is a general election. Only after an extension of article 50 and a new government has negotiated an alternative deal is it really feasible to begin speaking about holding further referendums that won’t cause great harm to democratic society. Citizen assemblies would need to be formed and plans for three referenda drawn up, a choice between Mays and the Alternative deal followed by a decision between the winning deal and a no-deal option which would culminate in a final choice between a popularly demanded type of Brexit and remaining within the European Union.

I, as the rest of us, have no idea where our current moment in history will lead. However, there are a few things that I feel confident are occurring. The long twentieth century that began in 1914 is at the end of its cycle. Whatever comes next will be something new, a difficult and demanding opportunity for profound creativity and the chance to step out of the long shadow of our past. In all ecosystems, diversity generates resilience. It is the reason and the strength of building consensus. Yet we cannot build consensus if we refuse, alienate and straw man the voices of others and refuse to examine and discuss the contradictory predicaments in which we find ourselves.

Those that lead us are blind, they are blind because they are true believers and they lack either the wit or compassion to imagine something different beyond more wealth extraction and violence. We have seen Neoliberalism’s Capitalist Utopia and it has failed. Only open and honest discourse coupled with pragmatic action will allow us to navigate to a new shore. I feel strongly about these things, that and that no matter what ones political persuasion, voting for the Tories should be beneath anyone’s dignity at this point.

To be awake from this collective dissonance we must approach our predicament with humility and honesty. Without a democratic commitment to an open and honest discussion, pragmatic decision making processes and a functioning political system capable of mitigating the worst damage, this country will become a mere serfdom ruled by Lilliputian lords.

 

 

“For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

 

 

 

 

Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.

 

 

Nov 152018
 
 November 15, 2018  Posted by at 3:31 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Max Ernst Ubu Imperator 1923

 

 

Ilargi: This is part 3 of Alexander Aston’s view of how upheaval and collapse can lead to new insights, new bursts of creativity, in science, religion, society and the arts. Part 1 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada can be found here, part 2 is here.

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Quantum, Jazz and Dada:
The Dynamic Symmetry of Destruction and Creativity

 

Human Development

 

Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things, a renewal of our link with our ancestors and a contribution to generations yet to come. Our breath is a part of life’s breath, the ocean of air that envelopes the earth.”
– David Suzuki

 

As human minds first started to emerge from the ocean and step onto the shores of Africa, they increasingly began to respond to their own presence. Hominids co-evolved through the complex social structures generated through the ecosystem engineering of tool using communities, forming a kind of “multicellular” cognition. The unique features of human cognitive evolution emerged from the dense feedback between brains, bodies, and their environments. As humans learn to engage with the material world around us we transform our collective developmental processes. “The structure of the brain reflects its history: as an evolving dynamic system, in which one part evolves out of another”. (20)

Tools made available whole new energetic niches for early hominins while sharing and cooperation increased group resiliency. This stimulated the growth of new neural structures capable of mediating the growing complexity of hominin interaction with the world. It is from these socio-cognitive ecologies that the phenomena we call history has emerged. What is clear from our deep past is that cooperative behaviour is overwhelmingly the dominant evolutionary characteristic of our species. Early Hominins that shared and reciprocated effectively created a broader distribution of resources that safeguarded against ecological change, thereby producing significant advantages in the face of adversity. In this sense, cooperative behaviour can be understood as a form of counteractive niche construction in which other members of the species provide a form of ecological storage to buffer against environmental variability.

The active structuring of relationships within a species creates unique adaptive landscapes that produce powerful and often novel forms of evolutionary feedback. Through interaction and cooperation, the social “body” itself becomes part of the ecological inheritance in which the organism develops. The greater the selective advantage afforded to cooperative behaviour the more complex the adaptive landscape becomes through collective behaviours and group size. Effective cooperation can help to ensure against the monopolisation of and exclusion from resources, enabling a more efficient circulation and distribution of resources through the social system.

Thus, the effectiveness of this strategy provides an advantage to those individuals more willing to engage in cooperative behaviour. What is critical about this is that it illuminates the idea that social organisation in of itself can be understood as a form of niche construction. Through socially structuring the material and energetic flows of their environments hominins created powerful feedback loops between social cognition and organisation. The ecological benefits of cooperative behaviours fuel their own expansion.

Human beings have developed such intense feedback between their environments, brains and bodies that we can engineer ecosystems and construct niches with very little impact upon our underlying genetics beyond what amounts to fine tuning. Nonetheless, human systems are still subject to the fundamental patterns from which they have emerged. In essence, humans “internalised” the logic of co-evolutionary ecologies, analogous to the way mammals localised thermal regulation. Our capacity to manipulate environmental structures and collectively adapt has led to unparalleled growth in organizational complexity throughout the course of human existence.

“The cultural transmission of knowledge and practices resulting from individual lifetime learning, when combined with the physical persistence of artefacts, yields yet another source of selection impacting feedback.” (21) In other words, the products of human activity become ecological entities shaping flows of energy, matter, and information in the environment. Our minds emerged in the wild, but over millennia we have engineered socio-technical ecosystems to shaping our development, our ways of knowing and being in the world. It is through the active structuring of energy-matter flows in our environment that we create the medium through which we think and act.

This interplay between material structure and flows of energy shape human engagement by encouraging and constraining interactive possibilities, and making new forms of meaning possible. It is in this sense that the most significant feature of human cognitive evolution is the feedback generated between the plasticity of the brain and the plasticity of the material environment. “Constant transformation of what is out there to be perceived facilitates further projections [that] over time… may construct a creative ecology of recursiveness and metacognition.” (22) Material culture allows us to engineer our ecosystems, forming “cognitive ecologies” that structure the contexts and possibilities of human development and interaction. (23) We grow from the world we help to create.

 

 

It is in these regards that the seeds of the next system must be sown in the dynamics of human development, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. The environments that we expose or subject ourselves to, shape how we think, relate and what we are capable of becoming. We must learn how to create healthy environments that support and empower human development in ways that are socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. Critical to this are intergenerational communities that allow us to observe and learn from the broad arc of human development, individual and collective. We also need educational processes that are truly dynamic. Experimental learning communities that are integrated into their societies are necessary. Yet, the most fundamental truth is that it will be co-operation that will be the single most critical trait that will lead to success. The more effective we are at sharing resources in mutual aid the more likely our systems will survive.

From Palaeolithic bands to the first city states and the contemporary global system, humans transform their environments, tapping new energetic resources and creating unique developmental pressures. As human social ecologies reach the limits of their growth or encounter novel conditions, people transform their energetic systems and their development. Human beings have gone from isolated bands to vast entanglements that dominate global ecology. Like atoms aggregating into stars and cells forming into bodies, minds have condensed into novel and dense relationships such as kinship networks, polities, religious communities, states and transnational empires. Diverse forms of human sociality have grown and withered countless times as unique cognitive ecologies,. The cosmos of identity and meaning that shaped our ancestors as they flourished, now erode in the elements, their ideas, knowledge and art forming the strata beneath our feet and the basis of our own understanding in the world.

Since the emergence of agriculture, elite groups have become extremely adept at dominating bottlenecks in the flows of complex systems, enabling them to reorganize social institutions around powerful monopolies and thereby establishing persistent, stratified political economies. Early states formed as identity cults with monopolies over specific behaviours and resources. In a sense, they were entropy-gathering mechanisms, domesticating and discipling human bodies in order to harness their energy and concentrate it in powerful cores. These hierarchical systems are effective at creating durable structures, yet their ability to create inertia also increases their fragility. The linear, overly centralised energy-matter flows of vertical control systems mean that they are only stable over a limited range of conditions as complexity increases. Not only do they often fail to adapt, but they are also powerful enough in the short term to fend off systemic changes, increasing the pressures upon the system as more energy is consumed to maintain stability.

This dynamic of inertia is where we stand at the end of the petroleum era with global institutions that developed around an immense energetic scaffolding of fossil fuels. These energetic throughputs have created powerful dominance hierarchies far beyond the scope of any previous social systems. The current “global” culture that has emerged from these processes comprises a unique way of understanding the world through developmental scaffolding afforded by industrial systems. “The assembling of ‘the economy’ [came] with the transition from a coal based energy system to a predominantly oil-base one… [a concept that] depended upon abundant and low-cost energy supplies, making post war Keynesian economics a form of ‘petroknowledge.’” (24)

Those at the core of the current system will resist changes because it is central to their very understanding of what the world is and how it functions. It is difficult for all humans to challenge and change the fundamental assumptions and logics of the systems in which we develop and create meaning, this all the more the case for the extremely privileged. Elites are at the centre of extremely dense and potent energetic flows that have developed into very powerful belief systems. It will doubtlessly require a great deal of energy and destruction to convince them of new possibilities. Such is the nature of all Ancien Régimes.

 

If we wish to create a new system, a healthier system for humanity, we must find ways of re-organising energetic flows from the ground up. There is no simple schema that can be imposed in such a process. Ecological design must emerge from its local context. The nature of sustainability will not be interchangeable across the globe. One of the critical things necessary for new, healthier systems to develop effectively is the decentralisation of production and consumption into locally stable configurations. There is no central authority with the sophistication necessary to impose a model or engineer a solution.

Down that path lay the horrors of the twentieth century. Rather, a new kind of society must emerge through negotiating the great diversity of human communities and their environments at multiple scales. What these social ecologies should share is a fundamental logic of co-evolutionary feedback, dynamic relational structures shaped by the flow and form of their environment. It is from those fundamental parameters that we can begin to organise new institutions. This requires engaging with the dynamics of the local environment and designing systems that harness and circulate energetic and material flows effectively.

The basis of our energetic systems is food production. It is critical that we begin to integrate our consumption with our ecosystems. There are many sophisticated techniques for bio intensive farming that have emerged over recent decades such as permaculture, hügelkultur, aquaponics and other experimental designs as well as extremely robust traditional practices across the world. Rethinking our systems from the ground up and engineering stable energetic feedback in our environments will allow us to reduce bottlenecks and increase local autonomy and resiliency. The more local the production of energy flows and their effective distribution in communities, the more they can create healthy developmental conditions as well as rapidly adapt to changing contexts.

This also can function as a way of creating counter power. Dominants (individual or institutional) will be less capable of creating differential access to resources and therefore dependency and power. Communities that harness their energy dynamics efficiently and effectively will have greater independence for they will be less susceptible to systemic coercion. Power, in a technical sense, is the expression of energetic capacity. The greater the autonomy of a community’s energetic capacity, the more power they can express in relation to the broader system. It is the counterbalance of power that creates stable feedback. Food autonomy is the cornerstone of this, from that foundation we must work to build counter economies, shaping new institutions around these energetic flows.

We must produce as much of our material needs from our immediate environment as possible. Recycle, reuse, repair while sustainably maintaining and harvesting local resources and reaching out to our broader communities for support in measured and considered ways. There are already many models and tools with which we can begin to design the institutions of a counter economy. DIY and maker spaces, cooperatives, social collectives, small businesses, sustainably powered micro-factories, all provide potential avenues for new networks of production and consumption. The point is to link up as many of these processes within our communities so that their synergy can start producing self-sustaining feedback.

Tools such as the P2P Foundation, Loomio, Opensource Ecology and countless other resources made available through digital culture allow us to design, implement and share in ways that can rapidly scale between local, regional and global, communities. Indeed, such resources opens the space for new forms of politics through consensus practices and highly refined, dynamically responsive voting structures. Through practice and participation we will learn how to create the next system as it emerges, co-evolving with it, creating it as it creates us. It is also critical that we do as much as possible to limit bottlenecks in informational networks.

 

 

It is only through communication and considered negotiation that we will be able to collectively adapt to the challenges that face us. The creation of alternative communication networks such as meshnets are extremely important, structurally distributed information flows ensure greater adaptability and coordination. This does not mean that we should not intersect with older or more traditional institutions. We should engage with those pre-existing structures that truly benefit our communities and learn how to transform and integrate them into new social configurations. We should also discover how to divert as many of the old systems energetic flows into new relationships, as long as such actions do not compromise our local systems.

Money is a powerful social technology by which we are undeniably dominated. Money mimics the dynamics of energy, acting as a kind of “fly-wheel” that facilitates the flow and storage of energetic capacity. “The flow of energy makes possible the circulation of money and the manipulation of money can control the flow of energy.” (25) In key ways, money is a cognitive artefact that humans use to store and express energetic capacity. Ultimately, it seems that if we want to have a materially grounded system of accountancy we should peg our currencies to measurable energetic flows. The creation of counter currencies, digital, local or otherwise, is one potentially fruitful avenue.

However, in our present circumstances, divestment from major banks into credit unions and other cooperative structures will help to ensure more democratic and local control over community wealth. Furthermore, the use of money to develop sustainable and shared resources is incredibly important. Investment into micro-grids, sustainable housing, community farms, consumer and producer cooperatives, tool libraries, time banks, transition towns and more, will all help to increase local resiliency. We must work to create configurations between such institutions that produce self-reinforcing dynamics. However, this does not mean that local communities will ever be fully disentangled from global flows of energy, only more resilient in the face of their disruption.

These dynamics must be mediated at local, regional and global scales. Indeed it would seem that one of the most potentially fruitful avenues for institutional frameworks would be to mimic the relational structure of the environment from ecosystems to biomes, ecotones and the biosphere. The communities and tools through which these processes are developing are far too numerous to detail. We should take heart that across the world communities are already developing solutions. Through observation, experimentation and communication we can begin to design feedback processes, positive and negative, that empower resilience and flexibility. The next system will emerge through communities working with the ecological flows in which they are embedded, developing new ways of articulating between the various scales of these processes. It will be a diverse kind of “Protestantism” rejecting and reorienting away from the demands of the current system as humanity searches for salvation.

 

Utopia and all that Jazz

 

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”
– Oscar Wilde

 

It was a song that encouraged soldiers to lay down their weapons and cross the lines on Christmas eve of 1914. Of all the things humans create, it is music that most closely resembles the reality of our universe, the dynamic symmetry of patterns in time. A tension between becoming and unbecoming shaping movement. Crescendo and dissolution, trough and peak. It has been over a century since that silent night, in which a fragile utopia emerged amidst the freshly dug trenches for Europe’s impending self-immolation.

What will we choose to sacrifice and create as the last of the industrial empires enter terminal decline? Across the globe connections are breaking and new spaces are being created, often with great violence. The demands of the old system exceed the Earth’s capacity and with every passing year, more and more people will be searching for new solutions. We must discover new ways to sing to one another and build our utopias not as end goals but as practices through which we can learn how to better take care of one another. We must create it together, in all our diversity, to give new meanings to the way we live.

It is our historical moment to be such a generation, to live amidst such immense forces of change. The high priests of our system fiercely deny this and demand ever more blood sacrifice from us to end the eclipse of their infinitely growing future. The very logic of their organization precipitates their extinction. However, if we embrace our position, balanced between destruction and creation, we can begin to create harmony amidst the crescendo of the old world. We live amongst dinosaurs. The meteor is coming. We must learn to be warm blooded, how to flower. Will our successional ecology be a golden age or a toxic one? The choice will be ours.

We must try to imagine and prefigure societies where human needs are met by systems of production sustainably embedded within ecological and thermodynamic processes. Imagine a world where children dive and play amongst the reefs formed by our submerged cities, their communities growing like gardens surrounded by vast tracts of wilderness, connected to new global networks. Perhaps they will ply the seas in ships that cast their sails into the stratosphere, transmit radio waves into space and still listen to the classic musicians of our times. Think of institutions where education and learning are free from linear economic narratives and embraced as one of the great joys and passions of the human mind.

A world where Art, Philosophy and Science are acts of joy and play, where generations are conscientiously integrated into community learning environments. Vibrant and diverse cultures that grow from sustainably designed communities powered with solar steam engines, eco-farms, cooperative institutions and more. It is beyond our knowing. All that we are certain of is that it is our generation, our actions that will create the possibilities of the future. The next system must emerge as a dynamic scaffolding of energy, matter and minds through which we can nurture new institutions. The ultimate outcome is beyond our comprehension, however the old world is reaching a crescendo and it’s denouement will be in the hands of those with the sense of vision and endeavour necessary to create something truly revolutionary.

Imagine…

The Industrials came from the ancient imperial-merchant cultures of Eurasia. Even today their ingenuity and technical prowess is astonishing. Their sciences still form much of the foundations of our knowledge, their stories continue to shape our identities. They were complex and contradictory peoples, capable of breath taking beauty and savage cruelty. Often one is left baffled at what they seemed unable to comprehend in themselves and their world, creating their own tragedies and traumas as if by compulsion. Yet, inexorably, the world changed. It would have been hard to see then, the seemingly disconnected and separate events that have only crystallised into history over the centuries.

There were signs of the gathering transformations at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Though the violence and trauma of the period was extreme, developments such as the Global Justice Movement, Chiapas, Occupy, Rojava, Nuit Debout, Standing Rock, and countless other innovations great and small were part of a gathering wave of transformation and reconfiguration. It was not a seamless and smooth process and over time it would create unanticipated problems that they and their descendants were forced to negotiate. Yet we owe much to those last generations of the industrial age.

Amidst all their challenges and shortcomings, they learned to create something new, an inheritance they have bequeathed us all. It must have often been terrifying and difficult during those final days of empire. Yet, as their world began to fall apart they started to produce whole new forms of art and philosophy, new systems of meaning and relationship, reshaping their communities and setting in motion the birth of the world we know today. Despite the horrors of their age, they still managed to create something beautiful. It is their redemption. They worked to build a renaissance rather than flee an apocalypse…

 

“We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin

 

 

20) Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 255.
21) Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension, (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press 2008), 259.
22) Lambros Malafouris, How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement, (Cambridge: MIT Press 2013), 193.
23) Edwin Hutchins, ‘Cognitive Ecology’. Topics in Cognitive Science 2, no. 4 (October 2010): 705-15.
24) Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. (London: Verso 2013), 139.
25) Howard T Odum, Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-First Century: The Hierarchy of Energy, (New York: Columbia University Press 2007), 41.

 

 

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Laland, Kevin N., and Michael J. O’Brien. ‘Niche Construction Theory and Archaeology’. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 17, no. 4 (2010): 303–22.
Le Guin, Ursula K. The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia. New York: Harper Voyager, 2011.
Levin, Simon A. Fragile Dominion: Complexity and the Commons. Cambridge: Helix Books, 1999.
Malafouris, Lambros. How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2013.
McGilchrist, Iain. The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.
McNeill, William Hardy. Plagues and Peoples. New York: Anchor Books, 1989.
Mitchell, Timothy. Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. London: Verso, 2013.
Nichols, John J, Glenn M Schwartz, Society for American Archaeology, and Annual Meeting. After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2010.
Odum, Howard T. Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-First Century: The Hierarchy of Energy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet. Novato, Calif: New World Library, 2000.
Russell, Edmund, James Allison, Thomas Finger, John K. Brown, Brian Balogh, and W. Bernard Carlson. ‘The Nature of Power: Synthesizing the History of Technology and Environmental History’. Technology and Culture 52, no. 2 (2011): 246–59.
Schneider, Eric D., and Dorion Sagan. Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Scott, James C. Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2008.
Shryock, Andrew, Daniel Lord Smail, and Timothy K. Earle, eds. Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.
Stotz, Karola. ‘Human Nature and Cognitive–developmental Niche Construction.’ 
Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9, no. 4 (December 2010): 483–501.
Suzuki, David T. The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature, Updated & Expanded. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2007.
Tainter, Joseph A. The Collapse of Complex Societies. 23. print. New Studies in Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011.
Taylor, Paul D. Extinctions in the History of Life. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Tuchman, Barbara W., and Robert K. Massie. The Guns of August. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004.
Watts, Alan. The Book: On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are, 1989.
Wilde, Oscar, and Linda C. Dowling. The Soul of Man under Socialism and Selected Critical Prose. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin Books, 2001.
 

 

 

Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.

 

 

Nov 112018
 
 November 11, 2018  Posted by at 3:42 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Hannah Höch Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany 1919

 

 

Ilargi: This is part 2 of Alexander Aston’s view of how upheaval and collapse can lead to new insights, new bursts of creativity, in science, religion, society and the arts. Part 1 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada can be found here. Part 3 will follow soon. Check TheAutomaticEarth.com.

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Quantum, Jazz and Dada:
The Dynamic Symmetry of Destruction and Creativity

 

Energy, Ecology and Ecosystems

 

Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatim as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
– Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend

 

The concept of energy is essentially an accounting process we have devised for describing the relationships of flow and transformation observed in the fundamental structure of the universe. It is an elegant concept, whether discussing the life of stars, the feeding of bodies or the intensity of industries, the movement of energy is remarkably consistent. In other words, it is very hard to lie about. It has one key characteristic in its movement through systems, the creation of feedback between material structures. Matter congeals from energy, planets and the basic chemical elements of life originate in novae, bronze is forged with fire and earth.

Positive feedback structures the growth of energetic systems and negative feedback shapes their stability. Stars and atmospheres remain balanced between gravity and the void, bodies respire, species co-evolve, ecological cycles persist. A self-similar pattern begins to becomes apparent in the flows of energy and matter through our universe. Cascading from singularity to the stars, flowing from hydrogen and radiated upon oceans; denser and denser, energy whirls and eddies into myriad forms, binding them together in increasingly complex configurations. Defined as the capacity to do work, there is a deceptive simplicity to our description of energy.

A universality that encompasses all activity, almost undermining the value of the concept due to the complexity of what it describes. Part of this problem is an epistemological one; our language renders a world of interacting objects. In this discourse, there is a tendency to think of “energy” as an entity, one more “object” in a milieu of discrete, bounded things. However, energy is not so much a “thing” as it is a way that “things” happen. Energy is process; indeed, it is the ability for process to exist.

Exchanges of energy are what create causal change over time due to the fundamental characteristic of entropy, the spontaneous, intrinsic characteristic of energy to move from an organized state to a disorganized one.. “It illuminates why anything – anything from the cooling of hot matter to the formulation of thought – happens at all.” (12) Process and change over time are “hardwired” into the universe. Yet this leaves us with one of the most profound questions of modern science. How, if the universe is wired for disorder, does a complex phenomenon arise that seems to run counter to entropy? (13)

The very existence of pattern is counterintuitive to a universe dominated by the processes of entropy, something made even more paradoxical by the observation that this entropic universe has, thus far, manifested increasingly complex forms of organization. As we look through deep time we repeatedly see the emergence of relatively rapid and powerful bursts of complexity, from the formation of stars to the emergence of life, the human brain, agriculture and industry. The general feature of this pattern of emergence is the energetic binding of material structures into new ecological relationships, shaped by positive and negative feedback.

Negative feedback ensures structural stability while positive feedback generates the disequilibria necessary for both growth and destruction. Unstable structures such as supernovae die out, creating not only space for more stable structures to form but also the materials that provide the structural components of new energetic relationships. Given enough time and space, energy density and material complexity would logically result from the repetition of such processes.

Systems help to stall the process of entropy by circulating energy flows before they dissipate. The more efficiently this is done the more stable the system. Efficiency in this sense is the way in which a system taps available energetic resource, how effectively a system circulates energy before dissipation, and the ratio of waste to energy consumed over time. All systems are bound together by a constant throughput of energy. Without these required energetic inputs systems will break down into the most stable configurations available. It is in this light that we begin to see how entropy, complexity and emergence are woven together.

 

 

Energy bonds together the constituent elements of a system into a process of relational development that orders a systems overall behaviour. Likewise, changes to the way energy flows through a system will produce new patterns of organization. More specifically, the greater the density of energetic feedback in a system the more complex its organization and intense its environmental influence becomes. “New configurations emerge quite suddenly as once independent entities are drawn into new and more ordered patterns, held together by an increasing throughput of free energy.” (14) New systems create new sources of energy and thus new differentials and gradients along which further complexity can develop.

Systems emerge through processes of positive feedback; the amplification of an effect by its own influence on the process which gives rise to it. A clear example of this is seen in the formation of a star. The gravitational pull from slightly denser clusters of hydrogen draw surrounding atoms into concentrated areas. The gravity created by this increasing mass causes more atoms to coalesce until the density of atoms is so great that nuclear fusion ignites. If the positive feedback is not checked the star will continue to accrete mass until it either goes nova or collapses into a black hole.

However, the star will stabilize into a durable system capable of regulating the energy flows if it forms a negative feedback loop by which the function of the system counterbalances itself in such a way as reduces change. In the case of a star, the heat and pressure caused by the gravitational compression of hydrogen causes its mass to expand. However, the expansion of the star into the vacuum of space causes its surface area to cool and compress thereby increasing heat and pressure. In a sense, stable stars respire, heating and cooling, expanding and compressing in space. The elements of complex systems are bound together by the energy flows from which they are constituted and changes to the way energy flows through systems can lead to reconfiguration, dissolution and novel emergences.

Earth’s ecosystems are its primary way of storing and circulating energetic capacity. Energetic flows bind organisms into the dynamic co-evolutionary relationships we call ecologies, or the complex adaptive systems that self-organize through the mutually reinforcing interactions between their constituent species. In other words, the presence of life reshapes and changes the conditions in which it arose, forcing it to continually adapt to its own presence. In a sense, evolution is the dynamic continuity of an organism transforming and mutating in the changing currents of energy over the course of billions of years.

Organisms greatly increase available energy by excreting metabolic waste (such as when anaerobic organisms oxygenated the biosphere), as energy dense packets for predation, or simply by decomposing. By increasing available energy in their surroundings they fuel the emergence of new forms of complexity. “Ecosystems converge in the way they handle energy” suggesting that “ecosystems and organisms organize similarly under energy flow” and the “expansion of the complex system is thermodynamically mandated.” (15) These complex adaptive systems are predicated upon the way energy flows through their biotic communities.

Due to the logic of selection through adaptive cycles, they tend to expand in complexity over time as the individual elements of the system compete and cooperate for better access to resources. The more effective a species is at harnessing available energy the more it shapes environmental and evolutionary dynamics in its surroundings. This in turn creates selective pressure amongst other organisms to adapt to these changing patterns resulting in co-evolutionary feedback. All organisms are “ecosystem engineers” to some degree or another, altering the flows of energy within ecosystems to meet their needs and shaping broader environmental pressures and relationships. (16)

For example, when beaver dams gather silt until they burst, flooding the lands downstream to create fertile meadows. In these regards, organisms are also niche constructors to varying degrees of intensity, shaping their environments as a form of “ecological inheritance.” (17) Selection is understood as a reciprocal process in which the creation of developmental ecologies selects for developmental plasticity. Persistent environmental alterations have downstream effects on the organisation of energy and matter in the environment, and therefore the evolutionary dynamics experienced by a host of organisms.

In other words, the organism, and the others that it impacts, become dependent upon constructing behaviours and engineered environments for survival. In these regards, humans can be understood as ecosystem engineers and niche constructors without parallel on Earth. However, humanity’s unique evolutionary dynamics lead us to create what might be termed “cognitive-developmental niches” or the, “problem solving resource and scaffold for individual development and lifetime learning.” (18) Through understanding the co-evolutionary feedback created between human cognition and the environments it is possible begin to design more sustainable and healthier processes.

Systems, cosmic, ecological, cognitive and social, all function through the dynamic feedback between matter and energy, something that we measure as information. When the growth of a complex systems begins to reach its energetic limits, it must either find a dynamic equilibrium between negative and positive feedback, intensify, or collapse. Understanding the dynamics of energetic feedback are key to designing effective solutions. The greatest transformations in the history of our societies are marked by the intensity with which humans have extracted and put energy to use. From hunting to farming, slavery to steam; like all organisms, human beings are shaped by the way in which they harness energy from their environments.

 

The greater the density of energetic flows, the more complex the human systems that emerge. Indeed, our history and “our relationship to the ecosystems we and our ancestors have inhabited is marked by scalar leaps in extractive capacity.” (19) Undeniably, the two most intensive reconfigurations and emergent dynamics yet experienced by the human species are the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Indeed, the magnitude of transformation that we face finds its closest parallel in these events. The human species must begin to reorganise the way in which energy is produced, stored and dissipated through their socio-technical ecosystems.

If such a reorganisation can be accomplished it will lead to a transformation of human developmental environments in what might thought of as kind of “eco” revolution, a move towards a more symbiotic integration with the energy-matter flows of the planet. Such a transformation can only be accomplished by observing the ecological dynamics of our environments and designing our institutions around them. In this way, we can design interventions that create feedback within diverse ecologies of humans, non-humans, technologies and institutions. In other words, we need to learn how to manage both growth and stability through feedback across a multitude of scales ranging from individuals to planetary ecology.

This means assessing the energetic and material flows that are available to our communities and their broader ecosystems in terms of efficient, sustainable use and distribution. Ecologies are the way in which the energetic capacity of the planet is organised and circulated through organic life. Their health and stability are the fundamental scaffolding upon which our societies are built. The idea of ecology is fundamentally one of relational and developmental systems. It has done much to breakdown our clockwork, factory inspired models and metaphors with their linear production processes.

It allows us to understand ourselves as caught up in complex predicaments, as opposed to merely complicated problems. Industrial societies have made this reality abundantly clear through the incomprehensibly vast changes they have wrought in their environments. Should humanity succeed, it will still be centuries before we will have ameliorated the damage to our global ecosystems. However, in creating stable feedback between environments, communities, institutions and technologies as part of an interdependent system, we can begin the process of such a recovery. It is through redesigning our developmental environments for dynamic equilibrium that the next system will coevolve with the planet.

 

 

12) P. W. Atkins, The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), xii.
13) “That’s the beauty of the system with the four fundamental forces chucked in, 1) gravity (for matter to coalesce), 2) electromagnetism (for light to be transmitted), 3) strong nuclear (for a nucleus to form from protons and neutrons, which then form atoms because electrons are needed to balance the charge) and 4) weak nuclear (which results in radioactive decay and various other interactions which lead to the chemical order we see today).” Personal correspondence from Dr. Vincent Hare
14) Christian, p. 45
15) Schneider and Sagan, p. 152
16) Alan Hastings, James E. Byers, Jeffrey A. Crooks, Kim Cuddington, Clive G. Jones, John G. Lambrinos, Theresa S. Talley, and William G. Wilson ‘Ecosystem Engineering in Space and Time.’ Ecology Letters 10, no. 2 (2007): 153-64.
17) Kevin N. Laland and Michael J. O’Brien. ‘Niche Construction Theory and Archaeology.’ Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 17, no. 4 (2010): 303-22.
18) Karola Stotz, ‘Human Nature and Cognitive-developmental Niche Construction.’ Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9, no. 4 (2010): 483
19) Shryock, Andrew, Daniel Lord Smail, and Timothy K. Earle, eds. (Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 247.

 

 

Part 1 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada can be found here. Part 3 will follow soon. Check TheAutomaticEarth.com.

 

 

Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.

 

 

Nov 092018
 
 November 9, 2018  Posted by at 3:41 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Marcel Duchamp Nude descending a staircase 1912

 

 

Ilargi: Much to my surprise, I received a mail from an old friend. Alexander Aston last wrote for the Automatic Earth in 2014. But he hasn’t been idle. Alexander is presently finishing his doctorate in archeology at Oxford, after prior degrees in philosophy and history. And for this article, he’s been thinking about how upheaval and collapse tend to lead to new insights, new bursts of creativity, in science, religion, society and the arts. A view that’s -too- rarely contemplated. It’s so long I cut it into three parts. Please don’t miss any of them.

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Quantum, Jazz and Dada:
The Dynamic Symmetry of Destruction and Creativity

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Introduction

 

This paper is not about Quantum, Jazz and Dada per se, but rather a meditation on those radical bursts of human creativity that occur during historically destructive moments. Ultimately, my thesis is quite simple. Barring the possibility of extinction, humans are on the precipice of the most radical social reorganizations in the history of the species. In navigating this process of transformation, if we wish to create a world worth living in, it is necessary to understand the interactions between energy, ecosystems, cognitive development and social organization.

Without a grasp on the interdependence of these relationships there is no hope for shaping our world in a healthier manner. What is historically unquestionable is that periods of radical upheaval result in drastic reconfigurations of belief, meaning and knowledge. In the contemporary world, metaphysical and theoretical assumptions about the division of mind and matter, culture and nature, humans and environment all stem from a philosophical and scientific heritage that has divided form and flow. If we are to create something better out of the ongoing destruction of the current system we must radically rethink our understanding of energy, matter and the interdependence of humanity and the Earth.

 

Collapse Ain’t Nuthin New

 

At the beginning of the twentieth century the Industrial Empires and their world order collapsed, imploding into a cataclysm of brutality and desperation that persisted for decades. Czars and Kaisers, empires and vassals dissolved in the onslaught of history. The old order was left rotting in the trenches. Muddy altars to the gods of empire and industry that demanded a blood sacrifice beyond comprehension. In the wake of the destruction, new imperial orders and secular religions emerged in the search for control and stability, dominating and traumatising those that survived the slaughter. It is impossible to grasp fully the horror and devastation of the period.

The wars, depressions, epidemics, famines, revolutions and authoritarian regimes have become so normalised in our narratives that it is hard to grasp the magnitude of these events. It was a cascading systems failure of a scale and intensity without historical parallel in terms of the global scope and the speed at which it unfolded. There are few words for the early twentieth century collapse other than horrific. Yet, even as the tragedy unfolded, a profoundly creative dynamism emerged from the ashes. Like a successional ecology following a wildfire, scientific, artistic and social practices began to transform.

In the ruins physicists began to undermine radically the common pre-war belief that physics was an essentially complete science. Artists began to deconstruct the meaning of cultural institutions that could not account for such technological savagery, leading to the advent of post-modernism. As the global system reoriented it was the descendants of slaves, at the beating heart of American suffering, that catalysed the greatest musical renaissance in world history. Despite the tragedy, there is a kind of beautiful symmetry in the flourishing of Quantum, Jazz and Dada amidst the rubble and devastation of the war.

Destruction is part of the fecundity of life, the dynamism that creates the possibility for growth. Disruption and disintegration break the equilibrium of our systems and feed a creative evolution for more effective, resilient practices and forms of organisation. Peak and trough, complexity and entropy are bound together like a wave to the ocean. Life flourishes amongst dead and decomposing stars, extinctions produce radiations, ovulation leads to menstruation, death and renaissance produce one another. It is in this dynamic symmetry of creation and destruction that uncertainty produces physics, chaos creates art, and the persecuted compose music.

Much like our ancestors at the dawn of the twentieth century, we are on the precipice of immense changes. Indeed, we are already caught in the momentum of this wave. The complexity of the current system has begun to hit hard energetic boundaries, fracturing economic, political and social stability. For the first time in human evolution the species is confronting not only global resource limits but its own behaviour as a geological force. The energetic structure of the global system that has emerged over the past five centuries has begun to radically reorganise.

We are experiencing negative and positive feedback on a planetary scale and facing an ecological, evolutionary and geological transformation of an intensity that is unique in the existence of the biosphere. Extinctions, natural disasters, imperial wars, refugees, financial crises, Arab springs and Syrian deserts, all are systemically entangled with the transforming energy dynamics of our planetary system.

At one pole, we are experiencing the ecological effects of a thermodynamic expansion that has dispersed the fossilised energy of entire geologic ages into the atmosphere in mere centuries. We have amplified the thermal energy retained by the planet and the principle of entropy requires it to be dissipated. Energy that flows through storms, glaciers, and oceans. At the opposite pole, we confront resource depletion and contamination as we feed the energetic demands of the global economy. It is why we claw tar out of the earth in Alberta and drill into the earth miles off the coast of Brazil.

 

 

 

Certainly, no conceptual system can be imposed from the top down. To enforce such abstractions and simplifications on a dynamic reality would require overwhelming violence, as indeed it already does. One of the key insights of modern science is that complex systems are inherently non-linear. In other words, their interactions and emergent properties cannot be determined from initial conditions or inputs. “Our world is governed not only by nonlinear dynamics, which makes detailed prediction and control impossible, but also by nonlinear combinatorics, which implies that the number of possible mixtures of meshwork and hierarchy, of command and market, of centralisation and decentralisation, are immense and that we simply cannot predict what the emergent properties of the myriad combinations will be.” (1) The very nature of “complex adaptive systems” means that we cannot simply engineer solutions with determinate results. (2) This is humbling, it forces us to recognise the limits of our abilities to conceptualise and design systems.

It tells us that whatever comes next, whether for good or ill, is beyond our imaginations. We are akin to medieval peasants attempting to contemplate railroads and telegraphs. The only thing that we are assured of is our current system is undergoing a process of intense reorganisation. It is our burden and privilege to participate in this process. The coming years will take radical creativity and courage if we are to find new ways of living in this world that are balanced and humane. No genius, greater leader or collection thereof can solve this predicament. They cannot scale up to the task, the problems are too intricate, their instruments too blunt and their vision too limited. What we need is not some new ideology or five-year plan but an ethics of practice derived from the organisational dynamics of our world.

It should not be our goal to design and implement a system from the top down but rather to participate in a collective process of reconfiguration through applied practices and the distribution of knowledge, skills and resources. We can only discover how to do this through observation, experimentation and participatory engagement to create new learning environments and social relationships. The next system will not so much be designed as it will be cultivated by individuals, communities and societies seeking resilience and stability. However, our sciences do illuminate fundamental patterns that provide a guide to how we might create the conditions from which new, healthier systems can emerge.

To this end we must engage with three fundamental and interrelated dynamics; energy, ecology, and human development. In other words, we must consider how we produce the fundamental energetic capacity to create and maintain our systems and the ways in which they are integrated within their environments. In turn these elements must be understood in relation to how effectively they distribute available resources in terms of the physiological, psychological and social needs of human beings. In these regards, we must work with human developmental processes in order to create new learning environments that equip people to better articulate and shape these dynamics. Communities and institutions that successfully organise around these relationships will be the steam engines of the twenty-first century.

 

Entropy and Complexity

 

“Without birth and death, and without the perpetual transmutation of all the forms of life, the world would be static, rhythm-less, undancing, mummified.”
– Alan Watts

 

The “next system” will not develop in a context of expansion and growth, at least not initially, but through contraction and disruption. We must consider the dynamics of collapse or disentanglement and transformation that occur in complex adaptive systems so that we might effectively engage with these processes. The universe is an intricate dance of creation and destruction, a fractal of entropy and complexity. Complex adaptive systems emerge through the self-organising dynamics of energy and matter flows in a material and spatial medium.

Think of a murmuration of starlings and one can begin to conceptualise the patterning of relationships in space and time. The process we call history clearly reveals the self-organisation of human communities across multiple, emergent scales. The question is not if humans form complex adaptive systems but how? Ultimately, it is a question of social cognition and how it is that humans understand and understand with each other so as to form relationships that radically alter their ecosystems.

Complex Adaptive Systems are formed of interdependent relationships between “dynamic structures in which faster, smaller processes nest inside and interact with larger, slower ones.” (3) Organisms, ecosystems, and the biosphere interact, aligning and diverging, shaping one another through ongoing developmental processes. The stability and coherence of any self-organising dynamic can be understood emerge through a tension between resilience (the ability to “withstand disturbances and still continue to function”) and connectedness (the ability “within a system to moderate the influences of the outside world”). (4) A highly connected system may be less influenced by external variables; however, the rigidity of its connections only allows it to operate within a limited range of conditions.

Ultimately, the organisation of any system makes trade-offs between forms of high entropy coherence, and low entropy stability. The very nature of entropy ensures that all such systems transform over time, and these processes of change can be schematised into adaptive cycles of rapid growth, conservation, disruption and regeneration. During the conservation phase of a system the “growth rate slows as connectedness increases to the point of rigidity and resilience declines. The cost of efficiency is a loss of flexibility. Increasing dependence on existing structures… such a system is stable, but over a decreasing range of conditions.”

However, it is moments of cascading transformation that are the most dramatic. “The surprise is caused by cross-scale interactions or suites of novelty that ricochet through the system as it reorganizes around alternate sets of mutually reinforcing processes.” (5) Our global system is currently exiting a period of conservation and entering a period of systemic disruption in which “a disturbance that exceeds the systems’ resilience breaks apart its web of reinforcing interactions.” (6)

Such fractal adaptive cycles can be observed repeatedly throughout history, the Neolithic emerges as Pleistocene ecologies begin to break down, the Iron Age emerges from the Bronze Age collapse, the Iroquois Confederacy consolidates out of European epidemics. The examples are numerous beyond recounting; it is an ecological pattern fundamental to the organisation of complex systems. Indeed, it is the breakdown and reorganisation of systems that appears to be one of the key motors of complexity.

Consider for a moment the broad arc of “western” history since Rome. The Roman Imperial system materialized through the resources and slaves extracted from conquered territories. As the empire expanded it required increasing amounts of energy to ensure stability and coherence between the cores and peripheries. Overtime, the cost of maintaining the imperial infrastructure exceeded the energetic returns from further expansion. It is the law of diminishing returns. The growth required to fuel the Empire stalled, sending it into a long, tumultuous process of contraction and decline.

Halting and grinding across the centuries like a receding glacier, the system broke apart, shattering across the Mediterranean world. The very language of the empire fractured, and composed anew as people congregated around the villas and farms that germinated the manorial systems of the Middle Ages. As the crises deepened and intensified a Jewish cult of ostensibly twelve families at the outset, flourished in the cities, providing sustenance and basic care as a result of their cosmology. As plagues, famines and warfare swept through Roman communities in the Third Century AD, patriarchs and patricians fled to their country estates, leaving civil administrations immobilized.

 

As the old patronage systems broke down, the religion spread among the most marginal and vulnerable communities, providing stability by reorienting the basic organization and distribution of social resources around new spiritual practices. Christianity was born within a dying Rome, preserving its bones in the liturgies and communication networks that flowed along the old roads and into the agricultural fortresses of Feudalism. By the time of the High Middle Ages a robust, fractal like system in the throes of a wind and water powered industrial revolution had emerged. With the end of the Medieval Warm Period, famines, schism and conflicts began to erupt in Europe as the Mongols brought the greater part of Eurasia into a single imperial system.

The riders from the Steppe likely helped spread the plague that sent the European Middle Ages into terminal decline. The system initially reoriented around the Italian City States. Those communities that were the gateway of the epidemic also created the first quarantines and effective civil responses while church and aristocracy lay paralysed. As the epidemic burned out, these merchant powers could offer high wages for the scarce labour that survived, drawing people off the manors and into the cities. In turn, the Renaissance transformed into the holocausts of the Reformation and conquests of the Atlantic Empires which in turn produced the Enlightenment and industrialisation, leading to an age of revolutions that would ultimately founder in the trenches.

Breakdown and reorganisation is a critical dynamic driving the evolution of complex systems. Transformations that reconfigure energy-matter flows create ecological bottlenecks as well as new niches to occupy. The biosphere is a “complex thermodynamic system” in which selection occurs around access to available energy gradients. (7) Organisms seek out those sources of energy that sustain their biological function. It is, along with reproduction, the most intense arena of competition amongst biotic communities. The logic of evolution dictates that selective advantage will be conferred to any organism that is more effective at harnessing and sustaining energy flows within its ecology.

In these regards, “selection” can understood “in terms of increasing energy flow through autocatalytic matter-energy loops. Selective advantage will go to those autocatalytic systems that best increase energy flow through their system, those that do so better than their competitors.” (8) Those forms of organisation that are the most flexible and efficient with their use of available resources are the most likely to adapt and succeed. One of the most dramatic examples of such processes are mass extinctions “because they remove incumbents… and unleash a scramble for post-extinction opportunities that can produce bursts of evolutionary novelty.” (9)

Periods of collapse reward forms of organisation that are the most adaptive to radically altering energy-matter flows. “After each mass extinction, the recovery included new species living off new gradients and new habitats. Here we can see a crucial pattern in which complexity declines after a major stress or disturbance and recovers, and often intensifies, during successional processes.

This dynamic of disruption and regeneration holds true across scales such as biosphere and ecosystem evolution. After a perturbation or stress, an “ecosystem rebuilds itself from the remaining species and their genetic material.” (10) These adaptive cycles algorithmically fuel the growth of complexity by selecting energetically efficient and resilient structures that form the baseline of future evolution. A perfect illustration of this is the radiation of endothermic mammals and broad-leafed angiosperms following the extinction of the dinosaurs. Endotherms have greater energetic density than exotherms.

However, though their energy requirements are higher, this was initially offset by the size of early mammals. Their internally self-regulating metabolisms allowed them to better survive in the reduced warmth of the post-meteorite environment. Similarly, with flowers and deciduous trees, their broad thin leaves allowed them to better photosynthesize in the reduced light of the nuclear winter, radiating as the coniferous canopies began to clear. A picture begins to emerge in which energy flows are organized into systems that undergo selection processes shaped by adaptive cycles.

The breakdown and reorganization of those systems has thus far resulted in the emergence of growing complexity, creating increasingly energy dense feedback in ecosystems over time in which “the level of complexity achieved by a living organism can be measured, roughly but quite objectively, by estimating the density of energy flows.” (11) It is why the energy density of ecosystems are far greater than that of stars, and why human brains far exceed both. To light, our world is dominated by institutional dinosaurs caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of resource depletion and climate change.

The future belongs to the “mammals”, those forms of organisation that can most effectively and efficiently harness the energy available in our transforming ecosystems. It is in the cycles of this process that growth occurs, the breakdown or disentanglement of systems create the possibility for new configurations and provides the raw materials from which new complexity emerges. This is how we must approach the next system, the creation of a new and resilient energetic ecology from the ground up as the old-world crumbles.

 

 

1) Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, (New York: Zone Books, 1997), 273.
2) Neil F. Johnson. Simply Complexity: A Clear Guide to Complexity Theory, (Oxford: Oneworld, 2009).
3) Lance H. Gunderson, and C. S Holling, Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems, (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2002), 22.
4) Ibid., p. 17-19
5) Ibid., p. 47
6) Ibid., p. 6-8
7) Eric D. Schneider and Dorion Sagan, Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 152.
8) Ibid., p. 254
9) David Jablonski and Paul D.Taylor, ed., Extinctions in the History of Life: The Evolutionary Role of Mass Extinction, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 173.
10) Schneider and Sagan, p. 253
11) David Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 80.

 

 

Part 2 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada will follow soon. Check TheAutomaticEarth.com.

 

 

Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.

 

 

Jul 082018
 
 July 8, 2018  Posted by at 8:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Utagawa Hiroshige Sudden Evening Shower on the Great Bridge near Atake 1857

 

US Debt Explosion & Weimar II (von Greyerz)
China Threatened By “Vicious Circle Of Panic Selling” (ZH)
The Demise of Toys ‘R’ Us Is a Warning (Atlantic)
Why It’s Not Too Late To Step Back From The Brexit Brink (G.)
British MPs Should Be Ashamed Of Supporting Regime Change In Tehran (Oborne)
OPEC’s Dilemma (Lacalle)
Turkey Sacks Another 18,500 State Employees In New Decree (AFP)
Trump, the Dragonbear, and the Bipolar World Order 2.0 (M.)
Trump’s Existential Threat To The Empire (Stockman)
Are All Societies Destined To Destroy Themselves? (Wef)
Inventing the Weekend (Jacobin)

 

 

“Prosperity built on debt is short lived..”

US Debt Explosion & Weimar II (von Greyerz)

[..] change starts in the periphery where very few are looking. Look at China where the Shanghai composite is down 23% since January. And look at Brazil where the Bovespa is off 17% so far this year and Turkey which has lost 20%. What is important to understand is that most major markets are now looking extremely vulnerable, be it Japan, Germany or the US. Fundamentally most markets are overvalued with the help of central bank liquidity. Also, technically we are not far from crashes in most markets. Whilst there is always a possibility of a last hurrah, it looks like all markets have topped, including the US, and that later in 2018 we will see major falls. Once the bear markets start, they are likely to turn into secular trends that last many years and result in falls of 75% to 95%.

Difficult to believe for most investors today, but nobody in 1929 believed that the Dow would fall 90% in the ensuing years and take 25 years to recover. The investment world has been lulled into a permanent state of security and euphoria. Hard to deny that central banks and governments have been extremely skilful in telling the world constant lies. And why would anyone protest, as the rich are getting incredibly rich and many normal people in the West have a higher standard of living than ever. Very few of the “normal people” understand that their prosperity is built on personal debt and their government borrowing more than ever. Nor do they understand that they are responsible for this debt that they of course can never repay.

Even less do they understand that they will be on their own when debt implodes and they lose their jobs. Because the state will at that point have run out of money and there will be no social security or unemployment benefits. Nor will there be any pension for retirees as pension funds will go from extremely underfunded to totally unfunded.

When Trump was elected in November 2016, I forecast that US debt would continue to double every 8 years on average, as it has done since Reagan become president. That would lead to $28 trillion debt by 2021 and $40 trillion by 2025. Well, it seemed quite unrealistic back in 2016 that the US would average over $2.5 trillion deficit in the ensuing 8 years to 2025. Judging by current forecasts, it looks like debt will “only” be $25 trillion in 2021. But as tax revenues decline and spending increases, I would not be surprised to see $28 trillion debt in 2021. That would put the US on course for a $40 trillion debt in 2025.That would mean a doubling of the debt from 2017 which is in line with the historical trend of a 100% increase every 8 years.

A $40 trillion debt in 2025 would be bad enough but things are likely to get worse. With debt exploding, the Fed will lose control of interest rates as foreign investors dump US bonds. A rate of 10% at that point would not be unrealistic. That would lead to an interest bill of $4 trillion per year (10% on $40T). This would mean that just interest costs are likely to be higher than total tax revenue.

Read more …

“$1 trillion worth of stocks are being pledged as collateral for loans..”

China Threatened By “Vicious Circle Of Panic Selling” (ZH)

Small caps aside, the marketwide numbers are staggering: about $1 trillion worth of stocks listed in China’s two main markets, Shanghai or Shenzhen, are being pledged as collateral for loans, according to data from the China Securities Depository and ChinaClear. More ominously, this trends has exploded in the past three years, and according to Bank of America, some 23% of all market positions were leveraged in some way by the end of last year in China, double from the start of 2015.


Source: WSJ

As a result of the recent market rout which sent the Shanghai Composite into bear market territory, in June UBS warned that it sees a growing risk in China’s stock pledges; the bank calculated that the market cap of pledged stocks that have fallen below levels triggering liquidation amounts to 440 billion yuan with some 500 billion yuan below warning line, which translates to ~1% and 1.1% of China’s entire market value of $6.8 trillion. A separate analysis by TF Securities, as of Jun 19th, stock prices of 619 companies were close to levels where margin calls will be triggered. Since then, that number has increased.

Read more …

When Toys R Us went bankrupt, they got permission to give the executives that drove the company into bankruptcy $32 million in bonuses. Store employees, regular working people, got nothing.

The Demise of Toys ‘R’ Us Is a Warning (Atlantic)

Ann marie reinhart was one of the first people to learn that Toys “R” Us was shuttering her store. She was supervising the closing shift at the Babies “R” Us in Durham, North Carolina, when her manager gave her the news. “I was almost speechless,” she told me recently. Twenty-nine years ago, Reinhart was a new mother buying diapers in a Toys “R” Us when she saw a now hiring sign. She applied and was offered a job on the spot. She eventually became a human-resources manager and then a store supervisor. She stayed because the company treated her well, accommodating her schedule. She got good benefits: health insurance, a 401(k). But she noticed a difference after the private-equity firms Bain Capital and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, along with the real-estate firm Vornado Realty Trust, took over Toys “R” Us in 2005.

“It changed the dynamic of how the store ran,” she said. The company eliminated positions, loading responsibilities onto other workers. Schedules became unpredictable. Employees had to pay more for fewer benefits, Reinhart recalled. Reinhart’s store closed for good on April 3. She was granted no severance—like the more than 30,000 other employees who are losing their job with the company. In March, Toys “R” Us announced that it was liquidating all of its U.S. stores as part of its bankruptcy process, which began last September. Observers pointed to the company’s struggle to fight off new competition. In its court filing, the company laid the blame at the feet of Amazon, Walmart, and Target, saying it “could not compete” when they priced toys so low.

Less attention was paid to the albatross that Bain, KKR, and Vornado had placed around the company’s neck. Toys “R” Us had a debt load of $1.86 billion before it was bought out. Immediately after the deal, it shouldered more than $5 billion in debt. And though sales had slumped before the deal, they held relatively steady after it, even when the Great Recession hit. The company generated $11.2 billion in sales in the 12 months before the deal; in the 12 months before November 2017, it generated $11.1 billion.

Read more …

The legal position.

Why It’s Not Too Late To Step Back From The Brexit Brink (G.)

Last week, in response to a petition seeking a referendum on the final deal, the government not only refused to allow “the people” to decide on the terms of Brexit, it categorically stated that parliament will not be allowed to do so either. Parliament will instead be given what it calls “a meaningful vote … either [to] accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement”. This is the opposite of “meaningful”; the government intends to refuse parliament the chance to reject both options – it must accept what is offered or take nothing at all. And this is the government’s position, irrespective of the dire consequences for our country or “the will of its people” to avoid them. Even though the UK could before March 2019 change its mind, the government says that it will on no account let that happen.

The reason given for this is said to be the government’s “firm policy” that “there must be no attempts to [reverse the referendum and] remain inside the European Union”; the government does not deny that reversal is legally possible. Its position accords with advice, which I am told from two good sources the prime minister has received, namely that the article 50 notification can be withdrawn by the UK at any time before 29 March 2019, resulting in the UK remaining in the EU on its current favourable terms. Such advice would also accord with the view of Lord Kerr, who was involved in drafting article 50, of Jean-Claude Piris, former director general of the Council of the EU’s legal service and of Martin Selmayr, a lawyer and head of cabinet to the president of the European commission.

As a lawyer, I agree with them. Article 50 provides for the notification – not of withdrawal but of an “intention” to withdraw. In law, an “intention” is not a binding commitment; it can be changed or withdrawn. Article 50(5) is, moreover, clear that it is only after a member state has left that it has to reapply to join. Had the drafters intended that once a notification had taken place, a member state would have to request readmission (or seek the consent of the other member states to stay), then article 50(5) would have referred not just to the position following withdrawal, but also following notification. Such an interpretation is in line with the object and purpose of article 50.

Read more …

Britain’s empire days are over. Hard to accept?!

British MPs Should Be Ashamed Of Supporting Regime Change In Tehran (Oborne)

Britain’s prime minister has been fighting a valiant, losing battle to rescue British relations with Iran in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s reckless attempts to wreck them. But last week Theresa May was dealt a devastating blow to her authority after several Tory MPs defied her by going to Paris for a meeting designed to promote regime change inside Iran. This event is the latest sign that the prime minister and her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, are facing a mutiny over Iran. Former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers was among senior Tories who travelled to Paris last week to hear Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York and Trump’s highly influential lawyer, call for the downfall of the Iranian government.

This meeting was a direct defiance of British government policy, which aims to save the Iran nuclear deal intact, and is against engineering a change of government in Iran. Indeed, Johnson assured Parliament in May that “I do not believe that regime change in Tehran is the objective that we should be seeking.” The overwhelming majority of Conservative MPs favoured Trump’s policy of dismantling the JCPOA – and condemned May’s policy of keeping it Three Tory MPs – along with one Labour MP – travelled to the event, organised by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a front organisation for Mojahedin-e-Khalq Organisation (MEK), once listed by the US as a terror organisation. There is no question that these reflect a powerful and vocal body of sentiment inside the Conservative Party.

Read more …

Sanctions on Iran conflict with lower oil prices.

OPEC’s Dilemma (Lacalle)

The fundamental problem of the last OPEC meeting is the evidence of the division between two groups. One, led by Iran, which wants higher prices and deeper cuts, and the two largest producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia, who support a more diplomatic position. Iran wants to continue increasing its own production yet wants OPEC to maintain the group cuts. Iran also faces the backlash of sanctions on exports. Today, the US exports more oil than Iran. Saudi Arabia and Russia have the lowest production costs and stand as the ones to gain more from a moderate production increase. Oil prices will not collapse and they will sell more oil.

The agreed increase in production is a good political move from Saudi Arabia because it shows that it does not aim to harm the world economy or its customers, only to return to a stabilized oil market. With this, Saudi Arabia cements its position as the Central Bank of oil. The winners from this carefully designed agreement are Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the Gulf countries. Those who enjoy lower costs and can generate higher revenues from improved exports. The agreement sets production higher but no individual quotas, so improvement in output is left to the countries with the highest excess capacity. Iran, Venezuela, Ecuador and other countries that have production and geopolitical problems suffer the most. The commitment is likely to add 600,000-650,000 barrels per day to the market.

A figure of 32 million barrels per day is agreed, but the real increase will not be the optical one million barrels per day, but rather the aforementioned 650,000 one. This figure, at a time when oil inventories are in line with the average of the past five years, relieves inflationary pressures and eliminates the risk that the US Administration will take political measures against the OPEC countries. Trump had already alerted OPEC that it could not keep inflating prices artificially. In addition to showing the tension between these two sides, the OPEC summit also reveals that the cartel has much less market control than they would like to have. The fact that the price has only reached 80 dollars a barrel (compared to 100-130 dollars a few years ago) indicates that their ability to manipulate prices to 100 dollars per barrel is very low.

Read more …

How does that country still function?

Turkey Sacks Another 18,500 State Employees In New Decree (AFP)

Turkish authorities ordered the dismissal of more than 18,500 state employees including police officers, soldiers and academics, in a decree published on Sunday. The Official Gazette said 18,632 people had been sacked including 8,998 police officers in the emergency decree over suspected links to terror organisations and groups that “act against national security”. Some 3,077 army soldiers were also dismissed as well as 1,949 air force personnel and 1,126 from the naval forces. Another 1,052 civil servants from the justice ministry and linked institutions have been fired as well as 649 from the gendarmerie and 192 from the coast guard. Authorities also sacked 199 academics, according to the new decree, while 148 state employees from the military and ministries were reinstated.

Turkey has been under a state of emergency since the July 2016 attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish media dubbed the decree as the “last” with officials indicating the state of emergency could end as early as Monday. The emergency has been renewed seven times and the latest period is officially due to end on July 19. Over 110,000 public sector employees have been removed previously from their jobs via emergency decrees since July 2016 while tens of thousands more have been suspended in a crackdown criticised by Ankara’s Western allies. [..] Sunday’s decree shut down 12 associations across the country as well as three newspapers and a television channel.

Read more …

Recommended by Jim Rickards. The changing shapes of world order.

Trump, the Dragonbear, and the Bipolar World Order 2.0 (M.)

Just a few days ago, in an unexpected move, Ray Dalio, the founder of world’s largest hedge fund -Bridgewater Associates- announced on Social Media: “Today is the first day of the war with China.” And a day earlier, Trump made a statement about the upcoming summit in Helsinki, claiming that: “Putin’s fine. He’s fine.” One might wonder what the former message has to do with the latter, and how all these contradictory statements fit together. In fact, they make sense if seen through the prism of an emerging bipolar World Order 2.0, which is about the systemic rivalry between the USA and China, and the unique position of Russia in between.

It has become apparent that most of the decision-makers, experts and scholars mistook the end of the US-led unipolarity for the beginning of multipolarity and thus overlooked the emergence of the Global System bipolarity as well as the creation of the Dragonbear (an unique systemic bond between China and Russia as opposed to the USA). Furthermore, the Global System has become too unsustainable regarding its main (man-made) socio-economic components of global finance, monetary, economy, trade, and energy networks, and, as a consequence, is now being shaped by the unprecedented systemic rivalry between the USA and China, with Russia, the EU and India being the free riders, which leads to unexpected new alliances like the Dragonbear or the one between the USA and India, and might also result in the breakup of the NATO and the EU in the long term.

Back in 1975, the West and the Soviet Union bloc met in Helsinki to negotiate and sign a final act with ten principles that have been guiding their relations until now, among which the principle of sovereign equality, the refraining from the threat or use of force, inviolability of frontiers, the territorial integrity of states, and the non-intervention in internal affairs. Indeed, these principles were constantly deteriorated by the actions of single states or organisations over the last decades but were at least recognised by all actors of the global affairs.

However, Trump and Putin might declare new rules of the game, which will reflect the growing great powers competition and the flux of the global affairs. The meeting between Trump and Putin tête-à-tête will most likely address the broader picture of the geopolitical and geoeconomic interests of the two actors in the Middle East and beyond, particularly avoiding sensitive issues such as Ukraine, Syria (except for the sake of coordination efforts) or energy sanctions, and will specifically focus on North Korea, Iran and nuclear non-proliferation.

Read more …

The old world order no longer works.

Trump’s Existential Threat To The Empire (Stockman)

[..] the NATO subservient think tanks and establishment policy apparatchiks are harrumphing up a storm, but for crying out loud most of Europe’s elected politicians are in on the joke. They are fiscally swamped paying for their Welfare States and are not about to squeeze their budgets or taxpayers to fund military muscle against a nonexistent threat. As Justin Raimondo aptly notes, “Finally an American president has woken up to the fact that World War II, not to mention the cold war, is over: there’s no need for US troops to occupy Germany. Vladimir Putin isn’t going to march into Berlin in a reenactment of the Red Army taking the Fuehrer-bunker – but even if he were so inclined, why won’t Germany defend itself?”

Exactly. If their history proves anything, Germans are not a nation of pacifists, meekly willing to bend-over in the face of real aggressors. Yet they spent the paltry sum of $43 billion on defense during 2017, or barely 1.1% of Germany’s $3.8 trillion GDP, which happens to be roughly three times bigger than Russia’s. In short, the policy action of the German government tells you they don’t think Putin is about to invade the Rhineland or retake the Brandenburg Gate. And this live action testimonial also trumps, as it were, all of the risible alarms emanating from the beltway think tanks and the 4,000 NATO bureaucrats talking book in behalf of their own plush Brussels sinecures. But now comes the piece de resistance. The Donald is going to Helsinki to make peace with Vlad Putin, and just in the nick of time.

Hopefully, in one-fell swoop they can reach an agreement to get the US military out of Syria; normalize the return of Crimea and Moscow’s historic naval base at Sevastopol to the Russian motherland; stop the civil war in Ukraine via a mutually agreed de facto partition; stand-down from the incipient military clashes from the Baltic to the Black Sea; and pave the way for lifting of the absurd sanctions on Russian businessmen and citizens. Needless to say, time is of the essence. Every hour that the Donald wastes tweeting, bloviating about his beloved Mexican wall, sabotaging American exports and jobs and watching Fox & Friends reruns is just more opportunity for the vast apparatus of the Deep State (and most of his own top officials) to deep-six the Donald’s emerging and thoroughly welcome rendition of America First.

Read more …

It’s about energy.

Are All Societies Destined To Destroy Themselves? (Wef)

In order to illustrate how civilization-planet systems co-evolve, Frank and his collaborators developed a mathematical model to show ways in which a technologically advanced population and its planet might develop together. By thinking of civilizations and planets—even alien ones—as a whole, researchers can better predict what might be required for the human project of civilization to survive. “The point is to recognize that driving climate change may be something generic,” Frank says. “The laws of physics demand that any young population, building an energy-intensive civilization like ours, is going to have feedback on its planet. Seeing climate change in this cosmic context may give us better insight into what’s happening to us now and how to deal with it.” Using their mathematical model, the researchers found four potential scenarios that might occur in a civilization-planet system:

Die-off: The population and the planet’s state (indicated by something like its average temperature) rise very quickly. Eventually, the population peaks and then declines rapidly as the rising planetary temperature makes conditions harder to survive. A steady population level is achieved, but it’s only a fraction of the peak population. “Imagine if 7 out of 10 people you knew died quickly,” Frank says. “It’s not clear a complex technological civilization could survive that kind of change.” Sustainability: The population and the temperature rise but eventually both come to steady values without any catastrophic effects. This scenario occurs in the models when the population recognizes it is having a negative effect on the planet and switches from using high-impact resources, such as oil, to low-impact resources, such as solar energy.

Collapse without resource change: The population and temperature both rise rapidly until the population reaches a peak and drops precipitously. In these models civilization collapses, though it is not clear if the species itself completely dies outs. Collapse with resource change: The population and the temperature rise, but the population recognizes it is causing a problem and switches from high-impact resources to low-impact resources. Things appear to level off for a while, but the response turns out to have come too late, and the population collapses anyway. “The last scenario is the most frightening,” Frank says. “Even if you did the right thing, if you waited too long, you could still have your population collapse.”

Read more …

Lovely treatise on how capitalism shaped leisure time.

Inventing the Weekend (Jacobin)

Although “commemoration of the Resurrection” was the official reason early Christians began observing the day of rest on Sunday instead of Saturday, they were also eager to differentiate themselves from Jews, and by the fourth century this eagerness translated into the codification of the Sunday Sabbath in ecclesiastical and civil legislation. A millennium and a half later, the Sabbatarian movement pointed to this antisemitism, along with the undue influence of pagan sun worship among early Christians, as reason to reestablish Saturday as the Christian Sabbath day. Temporal, political concerns should not have affected the observance of the true day of rest, so their argument went.

There’s another reason Saturday was re-sanctified in the nineteenth century, which has to do with the “illegitimacy” not of Sunday but of Monday. In preindustrial England, according to a poem of George Davis’s, “people of all ranks, at times, obey[ed] / the festive orgies of this jocund day.” Not just skilled laborers but all classes of workers observed “Saint Monday” as a holiday from work, much to the chagrin of emergent entrepreneurs. While it’s true that many workers spent Saint Monday in the alehouse and at cock or dog fights, it was also a day of relaxation and sociability, a day when the public gardens would be “literally swarming with a well-dressed, happy and decorous body of the working classes.”

The fact that Monday was often taken as a day of rest was a consequence of the typical rhythm of preindustrial work, in which workers would assemble to complete a certain set of tasks, work intensely for a few days until those tasks were completed, and then be at play half the week. In E. P. Thompson’s portrayal, “the work pattern was one of alternate bouts of intense labour and of idleness, wherever men were in control of their own working lives.” The idea that work was to be done during a set amount of regularly apportioned time, time that was well demarcated from another time of “leisure,” was still rather foreign. In 1806, a committee appointed by the House of Commons to assess the state of woolen manufacture in England found an “utmost distaste on the part of the men, to any regular hours or regular habits.” Work was a set of tasks, and when those tasks were completed, play began.

Read more …

Apr 072018
 
 April 7, 2018  Posted by at 12:32 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Farmers’ supply co-op. Nyssa, Malheur County, Oregon 1939

 

 

It’s Dr. D again. Told you he’s on a roll. He remains convinced America can re-invent itself. If only because it must.

 

 

Dr. D: Herbert Stein’s Law states “What Can’t Go On Forever, Doesn’t.” This is a neat summary of the present trade and currency imbalance. China makes real goods and the U.S. consumes them by typing digits on a keyboard. This is the very definition of what cannot go on forever.

 

• How long do you expect a nation can make nothing and consume everything?

• How long do you expect a nation without manufacturing, without a workforce, and now without a viable military to remain pre-eminent?

• How long does wealth and influence remain in a nation that makes nothing, does nothing, and knows nothing?

 

Reminds me of that other Law: “A fool and his money should be parted as soon as possible”, for to be wealthy, and helpless, and dumb, is not a combination that lasts for very long.

Since China cannot send the U.S. free goods forever, ergo, they won’t. That means slowly or quickly, now or later, they will cut us off. Right now it appears that can never happen, but I assure you it will very soon. And what will the U.S. do then? Actually, that’s very simple: the U.S. will have to close a $600B trade deficit instantly. Roughly, that means the U.S. will no longer import $600B worth of goods and be $600B/year poorer, or $2,000/year per person. Nor is this unusual. History is rife with examples of nations that once were prosperous and were suddenly cut off: Spain and Greece come immediately to mind. So how does this happen?

The Core nation, the trading hub has failed dozens of times in history, from Venice to Holland, Spain to England, and although most of history was on a gold standard, nevertheless the same thing happened: repudiation and devaluation of the currency. That’s why a U.K. Pound is no longer a troy pound of pure silver ($192) and why the U.S. Dollar is no longer 1/20th ounce of gold ($267). So let’s run down how this might unfold.

Like other empires, the U.S. rose to prominence with hard work and industry. Like other empires, this personal and physical industry was the foundation of an effective military. This military eventually stood alone, leaving the U.S. to set the rules of trade, the rules of diplomacy, and the rules of conduct. Like other nations, the U.S. bent those rules in its own favor, both early and late. Like other nations, the natural way to take advantage was to run an overvalued currency, which draws in capital from all trading partners worldwide, creating a 100-year spiral of wealth and influence that seems truly endless.

However math, the cruelest of Mother Nature’s laws, is not fooled. If you bend the rules to create market distortions, those distortions are indeed created. If there were fair trade, a gold standard, a nation that increases their wealth would find its currency rise. A rising currency would dampen manufacturing and efficiency, the gold would flow back out, and the unfair advantage would be corrected. But only in a free market. Any market on Earth has an Army, and that Army’s job day and night is to make sure that unfair advantage does NOT end. Ask Smedley Butler.

 

Mother Nature is never deterred. However long it takes, she waits. Lacking fair trade, an abnormally strong currency does the only other thing it can: destroy the Core nation’s industry, totally and completely. More certain than a nuclear explosion, economics will not miss a single spot until the wrong is righted and the truth is out. At first the low-gain commodity industries go: mining, shipping, smelting; then their sooty kinsmen: heavy rail, ships, ports, transportation.

After that go the lighter industries: manufacturing, stamping, autos, and so on up to mainframes, silicon chips and phones, and with them, their children, manufacturing processes and R&D. However, as London and NY showed, you can forestall currency correction even now by moving market distortions into services and financial engineering. At this point, however, the Core nation has nothing left but Banks, Universities, and the Government/Military, and no underlying economy to support them.

However, what Charles Hugh Smith calls the fiefdoms of monopoly cartels and apparatchiks of the 1% now lead an empty parade, horse-whipping the uncompliant 99% into supporting an economy that exists only in their minds. And then “What can’t go on, doesn’t.” The empire collapses from within, to the total surprise of historians of the 1%, and the total lack of interest of the 99%, for whom it had already collapsed decades before.

And of the other side? Thanks to the overly-high currency of the Core nation, the perimeter nation has an artificially LOW currency. They didn’t do that, because they are by definition small and weak and aren’t using an army to set the rules. The artificially low currency leads to low costs, low labor, high enterprise, and in the mirror image of the Core nation, the constant INCREASE in manufacturing. The increase in wealth, and the addition of commodity goods, then heavy industry, then manufacturing, then R&D. Whose fault is that? Who used a worldwide army to enforce the very rules that gutted their homeland? Not the Vandals; not China. It was Rome; it was D.C.

What is this whole imbalance based on? In our case, the artificially strong dollar, backed by a worldwide U.S. military. So how must it end? With a weak dollar, falling real markets, and a U.S. military returning home.

You say this can’t happen? Yet it must happen. To say otherwise means China will give us free goods for 10,000 years, and the U.S. will get always weaker that whole time. So how does the transition go?

The U.S. financial bulwark cracks, being highest and most based on psychology, not reality, very likely in conjunction to a military failure or withdrawal, as in empire finance, the military and currency are equivalent. Slowly, then rapidly, the tide flows out, the U.S. dollar gets weaker, the Chinese Yuan gets stronger, and the whole process reversed as it should have done years ago.

 


(mind the log scale)

 

Mother Nature isn’t fooled, and those 70 years of repression and manipulation are made up in a few years.

Down on the ground, what happens is not that China shuts off free imports to the U.S. directly, with a political embargo, what happens is the U.S. is seen as a has-been and the U.S. dollar falls in purchasing power on the world market, raising the price of foreign goods in a “free” and “open” marketplace. Lacking manufacturing and the military power to stop it, the U.S. can’t hold off Mother Nature and the laws of physics any more.

Knowing this to be inevitable, how would a nation prepare? For one thing, you would need to kick-start your industry, post-haste. Anything that can be made internally will find its prices stabilize and not rise. Yet before the currency rates are corrected this face overwhelming headwinds. Second, as income will be lost and the borders will be shut off, you need to switch the focus of taxation from income to tariffs, from finance to real goods.

Third, you need to open your pipelines, ports, and infrastructure, and expand the required steel, oil by any means necessary, even armed standoffs. Fourth, you’ll need to shove the culture away from government support and subsidies that will soon disappear, and into self-reliance and productivity. Firth, you’ll need to downsize the government and especially the military, which will and must return home. Any of those platforms sound familiar?

 

Despite what you read, it’s not all bad. Just as “The arrogant people will be brought down, and high and mighty people will be humbled”, “Every valley shall be raised up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places smooth.”

 

This is a master reversal of all manipulations, of all imbalances that have reached extremes. As the U.S. – China trade deficit must balance, we know that Chinese goods must rise. But that also means the cost of production for U.S. goods must fall. This cost-advantage puts Americans back to work just as it did the Chinese, while the rise of the Yuan will make China rich, but less productive.

What’s more, as matters reverse, the U.S. will raise prices on their exports: food and oil, two things China must have and cannot get elsewhere. Agriculture is at an all-time, 1,000 year low and must rise. Stocks and housing are at an all-time high and must fall. In a reversal, the high prices fall, the low prices rise, that’s obvious. That’s what “reversal” means, that’s what “extreme” means.

As for manufacturing, the world is changing fast. Even China is opening “dark” factories that employ no people, only robots. That will be true here as well, which undercuts any labor savings they once had. There’s a few problems, however: robotic mega-factories only work with very large scale of identical goods that can source reliable, high-quality inputs. If oil is too high, and/or shipping or marketing fractures, those factories scale down, retool more, and therefore require more people than presently.

How is China going to have huge robotic mega-factories if half their export market can no longer afford them? If the U.S. and China split the market, aren’t all those factories half the size of present? Since the U.S. will now have low-cost people and raw materials, what advantage does China bring to offset shipping and tariffs? The “market” isn’t uniform. There was worldwide mass-integration of manufacturing between India and England and the world in 1910 too, yet it’s didn’t persist; it changed.

 

One way it can change is to leapfrog China. We hear about how the U.S. is a has-been as we are supporting legacy copper telephones while the 3rd world goes directly to fiber and cell, and this is true. However, China has mainlined on low-price, low-profit, mass-manufacturing. Why would anyone compete with them there? It’s irrational. Build a baseline and let them have all the low-profit, environment-destroying work they want, the U.S. can’t and won’t beat them there.

We can beat them by leapfrogging into technology that’s out there, but no one is revealing yet, things they haven’t done, but Americans are good at doing: innovating, high-tech, medical. Much as I hate high-tech and its panacea as an answer, yet I believe there are goods, ideas out there that can transform the way things work.

Look at the rapid development and uptake of LEDs for example. The patent office is filled with them, and an outsized number are American. We have superconducting maglev, field physics, material science of no-weight foam, color-shifting paint, hyperconducting graphite, and transparent concrete to name a few. All there, all unused. Let’s make an example case in a very large, very quiet investment.

Medical and Biotech are to some extent used up, with overpriced, mass-market pharmaceuticals being rejected by price and form even by the wider population. But that’s so last-century. The new biotech is going to take a blood or DNA sample and synthesize a drug specifically for your blood and DNA. They are going to create another organ, a blood transfusion no one but you can use.

In one way, this may be more expensive, and that’s good for profits, but in another way, they will work for you, much better and guaranteed, and therefore fix your health faster, spare you useless drugs, bad side effects, and actually work, and therefore be cheaper. What does it take to make them? A complete revolution in drug manufacturing. Multi-billion dollars’ worth of equipment, extremely unique development and patents, a 20 year head start.

 

Could you sell such a thing to the Chinese? You bet. Could they get off retail manufacturing and scoop us on it? Not a chance. So you see how such a thing could happen, even with a U.S. dollar falling and a hard readjustment ahead. And that’s just one.

If boutique and robotic goods are the new industries, what do we do with 200 million unemployed? We won’t have 200 million. That’s a consequence of the distorted extreme of our finance, our centralization, our currency. For one thing, we have only 100 million now and a lower dollar will definitely restore the competitive advantage of highly-productive U.S. workers. At the same time, if work requires fewer workers, we will find a solution. Why?

Because you can’t have 200 million unemployed. Not even 100 million. The resulting inequity and income disparity can and has caused a revolution. Faced with that, any nation will adjust because they must or perish. As difficult as Americans can be, they are a practical people above all. This has happened to dozens of nations in the past: Spain, France, Germany, England, China, Japan, and they all still exist. Things rotated out in the big wheel of time. New things were made and the old ones faded away, and we will too.

We’re going back to being just one of many nations, and a fair and productive one too. There are ways and we will find them. How can I be so sure? Because “What Can’t Go On Forever, Doesn’t,” and it won’t this time either.

 

 

Jun 182017
 
 June 18, 2017  Posted by at 1:00 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Thomas Cole Destruction of Empire 1836

 

The Conflicts Forum, directed by former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke, sent me another unpublished article by Alastair and asked if the Automatic Earth would publish it. But of course. Previous articles by Alastair published here are: ‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent in October 2016, Obstacles to Trump’s ‘Growth’ Plans in November 2016 and What is this ‘Crisis’ of Modernity? in January 2017.

Here’s Alastair again:

 

 

Alastair Crooke: David Stockman routinely refers to President Trump as the ‘Great Disrupter’. But this is not a bad quality, he insists. Rather, it is a necessary one: Stockman argues (my paraphrasing) that Trump represents the outside force, the externality, that tips a ‘world system’ over the brink: It has to tip over the brink, because systems become too ossified, too far out on their ‘branch’ to be able to reform themselves. It does not really matter so much, whether the agency of this tipping process (President Trump in this instance), fully comprehends his pivotal role, or plays it out in an intelligent and subtle way, or in a heavy-handed, and unsubtle manner. Either serve the purpose. And that purpose is to disrupt.

Why should disruption be somehow a ‘quality’? It is because, during a period when ‘a system’ is coming apart, (history tells us), one can reach a point at which there is no possibility of revival within the old, but still prevailing, system. An externality of some sort – maybe war, or some other calamity or a Trump – is necessary to tip the congealed system ‘over’: thus, the external intrusion can be the catalyst for (often traumatic) transformational change.

Stockman puts it starkly: “the single most important thing to know about the present risk environment [he is pointing here to both the political risk as well as financial risk environment], is that it is extreme, and unprecedented. In essence, the ruling elites and their mainstream media megaphones have arrogantly decided that the 2016 [US Presidential] election was a correctible error”.

But complacency simply is endemic: “The utter fragility of the latest and greatest Fed bubble could not be better proxied than in this astounding fact. To wit, during the last 5,000 trading days (20 years), the VIX (a measure of market volatility) has closed below 10 on just 11 occasions. And 7 of those have been during the last month! … That’s complacency begging to be monkey-hammered”, Stockman says.

Former Presidential candidate, Pat Buchanan concurs: “President Trump may be chief of state, head of government and commander in chief, but his administration is shot through with disloyalists plotting to bring him down.

We are approaching something of a civil war where the capital city seeks the overthrow of the sovereign, and [to achieve] its own restoration. Thus far, it is a nonviolent struggle, though street clashes between pro- and anti-Trump forces are increasingly marked by fistfights and brawls. Police are having difficulty keeping people apart. A few have been arrested carrying concealed weapons.

That the objective of this city is to bring Trump down, via a deep state-media coup, is no secret. Few deny it.”

The extraordinary successful ‘manufacture’ and ‘parachuting-in’ of Macron into the French Presidential election by the French élite, precisely has given to the globalised Deep State (including their US counterparts), renewed confidence that Europe and America’s slide towards ‘populism’, is indeed a ‘correctable error’. European élites now can barely contain their revived schadenfreude at the Brexiters’ and at the Populists’ presumed discomfort (see here).

 


Thomas Cole Consummation of Empire 1836

 

But despite the palpable danger to the integrity of the political system itself, Stockman notes, “it is no inconsiderable understatement to suggest that the S&P 500 at 2440 is about as fragile as the ‘market’ has ever been.

Any untoward pinprick could send it into a tailspin … Doug Kass said it best in his recent commentary: “Over history, as we have learned, a Minksy Moment develops when investor sentiment becomes complacent after long periods of prosperity and the data is ignored, and doesn’t seem to matter anymore, as I wrote in “It’s a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Market: Nothing Really Matters … to investors.” In short, the market has become ‘zombie’ (in the sense of residing within a psychological defence mechanism – as, when to contemplate the alternative – simply is too threatening to the psyche) [emphasis added].

Daniel Henninger, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, writes: “Donald Trump’s election has caused psychological unhingement in much of the population. But the Trump phenomenon only accelerated forces that were plummeting in this direction before the 2016 election…

“Impossible to miss, though, is how jacked up emotional intensity has become in American politics. The campaign rallies of both Mr. Trump and Bernie Sanders often sat on the edge of violence. Reporters describe political town hall meetings as full of “angry” voters. Shouting down the opposition in these forums or on campus has been virtually internalized as standard behavior. Refusal to reason is the new normal. And then, the unreason is euphemized as free speech.

Explaining away these impulses as a routine turn of the populist political cycle is insufficient. Something more permanent is happening.”

It is not, of course just the markets which are threatened by unperceived risk. Trump shall not be forgiven for challenging the sacrosant meme of a world divided between (good) ‘liberal’ democracies (led by the US and its European allies) and (bad) illiberal autocracies (led today, by President Putin’s Russia): by snubbing Nato and withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, Professor Michael Klare writes, “we’ve been told, President Trump is dismantling the liberal world order created by Franklin D Roosevelt at the end of World War II”.

 


Thomas Cole Destruction of Empire 1836
 

An offence, it seems, against something somehow sacral: recently, US comedienne Kathy Griffin posted a video of herself holding the bloody, severed head of Donald Trump. “But that wasn’t the end of it” Henninger notes. “We may assume that as Ms. Griffin was creating her video, the artists at New York’s Public Theatre, were rehearsing their production of Julius Caesar, the one in which Central Park audiences watch ‘Caesar’ as a blond-haired Donald Trump, who is pulled down from a podium by men in suits, and assassinated with plunging knives … Whatever once fastened the doors of people’s minds to something secure and stable has become unhinged.”

Mike Vlahos (Professor at the US Naval War college and John Hopkins) tells us that, as a military historian and global strategist, he became curious to know just why it is that ‘world systems’ do ‘come apart’. His first, intuitive sense was that their collapse generally was brought about by some massive external force such as war, pestilence or famine, and by the concomitant mass migrations of peoples.

But when he and his students completed their research, he concluded that though these factors had often played an important part, they were not the prime cause of the system coming apart. Rather, he identified a number of key triggers:

· The élites became stratified, and politics frozen
· The peoples’ allegiance became taken for granted, at the same time that the élites chose to ignore threats to the peoples’ way of life
· Social mobility declined, and change is fiercely resisted
· Rather, élites work to maximize their wealth and status.
· Elite authority becomes excessively militarized – and justified as ‘saving civilization’.

He concludes from this study, “the situation that we inhabit today […] here in the imperial city in Washington DC, is that it is absolutely hollowed out … it is incapable of offering anything to its own people, the American people … I think we have reached a point where there is no possibility of revival within the current system that exists. The current system is set upon … is determined to eat itself out in a kind of civil war that is coming, and at the end of that, it will be done, will be finished”.

“The Methoni, one of the great nations of the late Bronze Age, had this same problem with the élites and the 1% that we have today, and they were overthrown. That’s 3300 years ago, and it keeps happening again and again. And the very structure of the decadent relationships in late periods where élites refuse to accommodate, refuse to adapt, refuse to be sensitive to needs of the larger whole of society, means this has to happen. There has to be an overthrow … for things eventually to get better, to be renewed. In other words, you can’t renew from within”.

Is this the situation today? The pre-conditions that Professor Vlahos relates, in terms of élite hubris, self-regard, and disdain for the real concerns of people are there (the polarization of US society at the US election provides the empirical evidence for this). And Stockman, in calling Trump the ‘Great Disrupter’ plainly implies that he might be precisely the ‘externality’ (coming from outside the élite) – that might tip things ‘over’. This surely is what Stockman means when he warns about ‘the present risk environment’ being extreme.

Of course, the usual retort is that Trump offers no coherent alternative conceptual vision for the future, but only seized successfully upon a number of key insights: the power of cultural nationalism, the pain felt by the casualties of globalism, the impact of a hollowed-out US economy, and the need to put America first. This is true. These insights do not constitute a vision for the future, but why should one expect that, from the ‘Disrupter’? His ‘agency’ is that of catalyst, not that of final ‘constructor’. That comes later.

 


Thomas Cole Desolation of Empire 1836

 

So, from whence does ultimate societal renewal come? The classic answer is that after ‘disruption’ nothing much is left standing amidst the (metaphoric) ruins of whatever stood as the reigning ‘modernity’. Historically, renewal was effected through a communal ‘reaching back’- beyond the roots of whatever represented the contemporary crisis – to delve back, deep into the archetypal cultural history of a people. The rummaging in collective memory, allows a narrative to shape, about why the present ‘hurt’ befell its people, and to bring forward, transformed into contemporary meaning, some ‘solution’: a new meta-historical understanding.

Plainly, this (a type of spiritual renewal) is not President Trump’s ‘bag’. (Steve Bannon’s the more so, perhaps?)

What does all this mean in practical terms? First, it suggests that most of us still prefer not to address the stark reality that “the objective of this city (DC), is to bring Trump down, via a deep state-media coup” and the bitter political trench warfare, which this portends. We prefer to rest in complacency, (as zombies for now), until a crisis squarely hits us – in a personal way.

Secondly, thoughts of an easy return to the status quo ante (such as via Vice-President Pence standing-in), is problematic (Macron’s election in France notwithstanding). Since the élites (all of them), have, in their ‘war’ against ‘populists’ and deplorables, totally lost legitimacy and authority for a substantive part of their populations. And they will not – cannot – adapt. For, that is their nature. This is the moment, Professor Vlahos notes, when a system – i.e. US operational governance – begins to ‘come apart’. Individuals, cabals within government, whole departments of state, look to their own self-awarded ‘authority’, rather than to that of the government as mandated by the electorate.

Thus we have this past week, the Senate voting 97-2 to impose further sanctions on Russia. Another wrench jammed into Trump’s foreign policy wheels – and explicitly conceived to paralyse and impede the President.

Thirdly, the intent is – like some Amazonian reptile venom – to ‘bite’ him with so much innuendo and assorted investigations and further allegations, that Trump, like the reptile’s victim, remains awake – but incapable of moving a muscle: A true zombie, in fact, as the reptile feeds on its living corpse.

Fourth, this zombified US President, will shortly face the requirement to negotiate with Congress an exit from a bubbling financial sphere soaring upwards, whilst a moribund real economy trails downwards – under pressure from the fast-approaching debt-ceiling deadline. The Senate’s slap at the President’s face with the Russia sanctions vote suggests it is more likely that he will be tossed another spanner: this time aimed at the wheels of the ‘Trump reflation’ programme.

What other insights might history offer? Two, perhaps: Professor Vlahos, during his discussion with John Batchelor, the latter points out that, even at the very moment that the hub of the Roman Empire already had fallen apart, the collapsing Empire was celebrated the most, when it was imitated at the furthest edges of Empire: by the peoples of Gaul and Germany, for example. Are we not seeing the same today, in Europe, as Merkel and Macron vow to keep the liberal, globalist values of the American Empire alive — at the edges of the American Empire — in Europe?

And lastly, the constituency that historically led renewal? Professor Vlahos: “The Roman legions, the Czarist armies, the German Imperial armies and the Ottoman armies”.

The Pentagon élites should note well.

 

 

Apr 122017
 
 April 12, 2017  Posted by at 8:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Frederick Carl Frieseke Girl In Blue Arranging Flowers 1915

 

Potential earthquakes and black swans are right ahead of us. What else is new? On April 16, Turkey has a referendum to decide whether Erdogan will become de facto supreme ruler. What happens if he loses the referendum is completely unclear, undiscussed even, but it’s obvious a loss would have the country shake on its already shaky foundations.

The Turkish economy is in horrible shape and Erdogan’s post-coup firings (hundreds of thousands) and jailings (tens of thousands) have made large parts of society unattended. The biggest of which may well be the army; you can’t fire large numbers of officers and pilots and expect to retain the same strike effectiveness.

Erdogan’s ongoing war on the Kurds is also turning against him, or at least internationally. Both Russia and the US acknowledge the important role Kurdish forces play in the battle against ISIS, and they’re not going to turn against them. So while Turkey demands a major role in neighboring Syria, it has essentially been put off-side, or benched.

Russia maintains (some of) its boycotts of Turkish products ($260 million worth of tomatoes) that were the result of Erdogan downing a Russian jet in late 2015, and the refuses to deliver arch-enemy Gülen, despite Michael Flynn’s best efforts. This means, by the way, that the country simply hasn’t provided irrefutable proof of the man’s role in the coup (if it was ever a real coup).

If Erdogan cannot come up a winner on Sunday, he would lose a lot of face. And he might lose more than that. Of course one must question if it’s even a option that the Turkish people vote NO, and that that would subsequently be announced as the referendum result. He controls just about anything in the country already; why not this too, by right or by might?!

 

Second black swan: France. It could be a genuine black one, as in unexpected. Less than two weeks before the first round of the presidential election, all of a sudden another contender has come to the fore. Far left Jean-Luc Mélenchon was never given any chance of winning, but one TV debate later his popularity is rising fast.

The French have long been tired of their political system, and this time around that could mean all established parties are out. Even perhaps including Emmanuel Macron, who doesn’t belong to a party but is still perceived as a member of the establishment, no matter how hard he tries not to be.

Come round two on May 7, voters might be faced with the -stark- choice between far left and far right, with a big gaping empty hole in between. That would leave no option of a ‘safe choice’, the big hope of everyone who doesn’t like Marine Le Pen. It would also leave no candidate who unwaveringly supports the euro or even the EU.

In fact, it’s ironic -make that funny- to what extent far left and far right ideas ‘meet in the middle’. Add to the irony that Melenchon’s rise makes a Le Pen presidency that much more likely, because a ‘communist’ is seen as at least as dangerous as Le Pen. That might give her the undecided votes she will need to prevail.

 

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Moscow, he’s way out of his league, and he knows it. His task is, if you read between the lines, to deliver warnings and threats to Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, but both are not only at least as smart as Rex, they have the many years of experience in international politics that he woefully lacks.

The White House issued a ‘we can prove it was Assad, and it was sarin’ report yesterday, but they can not. The sarin accusation even makes little sense given the photos of people attending to the victims with bare hands. Accusing Russia of being complicit in Assad attacking his own people with gas/chemicals doesn’t really fly either.

Tillerson said earlier in the week that Russia is either ‘incompetent or complicit’, that it should have made sure Assad had no chemical arsenal. But a 2013 treaty between the US and Russia established a UN body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), that is responsible for that. And the US is part of that body, and as such co-responsible.

And yes, there will be people saying that Russia delivered chemical capacity to Assad despite the treaty. But why should it? That question falls into the same category as why Assad would use chemicals to begin with at this point in time. It makes no sense, there is no logic. But then in the US logic has been in short supply for a while, certainly when politics are concerned.

Tillerson apparently was told to tell Russia that it has to stop supporting Assad or else, but that is just real dumb. Syria is Russia’s only haven in the Middle East, and there’s no chance they will give it up. And why should they? Would the world be a better place if the US can do whatever it wants in the region? Haven’t the utterly failed regime changes in Iraq and Libya done enough damage?

Sure, Assad may be a shaky asset. But what about the Saudi’s and their western-supported obliteration of the entire nation and peoples of Yemen? Want to look at some pictures that can drive Ivanka to tears? You won’t see them in your media, and neither will she. It’s all just biased nonsense, and by now it’s hard to see how Trump will find his own way in, let alone find his way out of, this foreign swamp.

Threatening Russia is certainly not that way. But sure, the President must feel eager to disprove the unproven non-stop allegations of collaboration between him and Putin. And the one-sided attacks did indeed stop only when the bombs started to fall. It’s all so predictable it makes you want to puke all over your morning paper all over every single morning, Groundhog Day style.

 

The New York Times was awarded a Pulitzer for “agenda-setting reporting on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to project Russia’s power abroad”. I kid you not. The American press has lost all concerns about its own credibility, and the Pulitzers follow them with a vengeance. And that same press did a weather-vane like 180 as soon as 59 Tomahawks were aimed and fired at an abandoned airport in the sand.

They were anti-Trump mongers the whole time, and changed like a leaf on a tree in seconds, to become pro-war mongers. It’s something to behold. They love him! The starkest example, among too many to keep count of, was presented in a publication named The Hill, which we are apparently supposed to take serious. It’s just another WaPo and NYT clone, but this thing by “General Anthony J. Tata, Opinion Contributor” sums it all up too nicely to ignore:

Trump’s Adherence To American Values Demonstrates His Commitment To Protecting Us

In the wake of Tuesday’s Syrian chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians, President Barack Obama will be remembered as America’s modern day Neville Chamberlain, the infamous United Kingdom Prime Minister who appeased Nazi Germany in 1938 by signing the Munich Agreement, setting the stage for the holocaust. Contrast Obama’s negligence with President Donald Trump’s decisive action a mere two days following the Syrian violation of international law. The Syrian government used chemicals to brutalize its citizens in Khan Sheikhoun.

President Trump immediately denounced the attacks, labeling them, “An affront to humanity.” Less than 72 hours later he ordered the launch of 60 cruise missiles to destroy the airfield from which the bomb delivering airplanes departed. If Obama’s passivity in the face of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) deployed in Syria in 2013 lends to Chamberlain comparisons, President Donald Trump’s military action against Syria this week compares favorably to Winston Churchill, Chamberlain’s effective wartime successor.

Just as Chamberlain and Churchill viewed Nazi Germany differently, how could two modern day American presidents see essentially the same horrifying pictures of chemical weapons attack victims and come to two decidedly different conclusions about their terror and an effective response?

Jarring images of Tuesday’s sarin nerve agent attack on its citizens that circulated the world this week were similar to those that went viral in 2013: bodies torqued in gruesome death poses, patients oozing bodily fluids from their mouths and noses, and children running blind through the streets. In 2013, an unimpressed President Obama found a passive, ineffective diplomatic solution relying on unreliable Russian oversight. Syria obviously maintained and built its weapons of mass destruction stockpiles. The United Nations was even in on the deal, declaring that there were no more chemical weapons in Syria.

There’s so much stupidity and mendacity in that, you really have to take some time out to let it sink in. But it’s also very representative of American media these days. CNN, WaPo, NYT, they’re all full of people who by now must feel really shortchanged because Trump hasn’t dropped many more bombs on Syria, and they’re more than willing not to show us the pictures of the children those bombs would maim and kill. After all, how many pictures have you seen of Yemen’s death and famine?

When Trump told Maria Bartiromo that “we’re not going into Syria”, you can bet your buttocks lots of executives behind the desks there were thinking of one thing only: how do we get him to do it anyway? They still have hope there’ll be a major war soon, I guarantee you that.

But Putin is not going to move an inch, not on Syria and not on anything else. He knows the US army can do a lot of damage, but it can’t win. It hasn’t won an actual war in many decades, and it won’t win this one either if whoever’s in Washington decides to start it.

Before I started writing this I was thinking about Rip van Winkle rather than Groundhog Day. The whole media 180, and the war cries, are exactly like they were in 2003. Now, Rip van Winkle allegedly slept for 20 years, not 14, but hey, details. The cute thing about the Rip van Winkle story is also in the details:

When he awakens, Van Winkle discovers shocking changes: his musket is rotting and rusty, his beard is a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found. He returns to his village, where he recognizes no one. Van Winkle returns just after an election, and people are asking how he voted. (Wikipedia)

That election thing is priceless. But Rip woke up to find his entire world completely changed. Whereas today’s hollow US war talk is something we’ve seen before, and many times. That’s more Groundhog Day style. There must be a way to connect the two stories in a way that fits today’s reality. Whoever finds it is in Hollywood blockbuster territory.

War is far too popular in America. It’s scary. Not least of all because the US has zero chance of winning. For the same reasons, by the by, that it can’t fix its health care system.

America as a country, a society, is not effective enough anymore to win anything, there’s no chance of a concerted effort, it’s too inward looking and distracted by TV-shaped reality and ‘social’ media, and its entire society is aimed only at maximizing profit at the expense of one’s own neighbors. America has turned into cats in a sack.

But yes, these are often the most dangerous times in the existence of an empire. The waning days. The downward slope. The swans that will pop up in that are definitely black; there’s no predicting those graceful beauties.

Dec 222015
 
 December 22, 2015  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 22 2015


DPC Old Absinthe House, bar, New Orleans 1906

Global Investors Are More Exposed To Interest-Rate Hikes Than Ever (BBG)
The Keynesian Recovery Meme Is About To Get Mugged, Part 1 (Stockman)
Brent Oil Hits 11-Year Low As Global Supply Balloons (Reuters)
US Gas Prices Fall Below $2 – In Some Places Under $1.60 (MarketWatch)
The Real “Death Cross” Of Oil Markets (ZH)
Risk Of Insolvency Hangs Over UK High Street Retailers (Guardian)
UK Economy Concerns As Household Debt Balloons To £40 Billion (PA)
The Bank of Japan’s $2.5 Billion Plan to Buy Non-Existent ETFs (BBG)
China ‘Suspends’ Another Unofficial PMI Data Set For A ‘Major Adjustment’ (ZH)
Zimbabwe To Make Chinese Yuan Legal Currency After Beijing Cancels Debts (AFP)
Russia, EU Trade Talks Fail, Kiev Set To Face Retaliation (Reuters)
Political Uprising In Spain Shatters Illusion Of Eurozone Recovery (AEP)
Portugal Taxpayers Face €3 Billion Loss After 2nd Bank Bailout In 2 Years (ZH)
Christmas Present (Jim Kunstler)
Et Tu, Brute? – How Empires Die (Thomas)
Do We Need The Fed? (Ron Paul)
Apple Says UK Surveillance Law Would Endanger All Customers (BBG)
Half of World’s Coal Must Go Unmined to Meet Paris Climate Target (BBG)
It’s ‘Almost Too Late’ To Stop A Global Superbug Crisis (PA)

Because the entire system is leveraged to the hilt.

Global Investors Are More Exposed To Interest-Rate Hikes Than Ever (BBG)

With any luck, the world economy will eventually be strong enough for central banks to follow the U.S. Federal Reserve in ending what has been an unprecedented period of extremely low interest rates. If and when they do, they’ll run straight into the same issue that the Fed now faces: Raising rates will precipitate unusually large losses for investors. Over the past several years, investors have gone to great lengths in their search for returns in a low-rate environment. They’ve done so in part by buying longer-maturity bonds, which tend to offer higher yields but are also more sensitive to changes in rates. One gauge of this risk is effective duration, which estimates the percentage decline in a bond’s price given a one-percentage-point increase in yield.

The measure is near all-time highs in the U.S., according to a report issued last week by the Office of Financial Research. The situation globally is no less precarious. Consider the effective duration for the BofA Merrill Lynch Global Broad Market Index, which tracks about $45 trillion in investment-grade bonds issued in major currencies – including government, corporate, mortgage and other asset-backed securities. As of last week, it stood at 6.6, meaning that a one-percentage-point increase in yield would wipe almost $3 trillion off the value of all the bonds included in the index. That’s a larger potential loss than at just about any point since the index’s inception in 1996. Here’s how that looks:

The high level of interest-rate risk illustrates a dilemma for central bankers everywhere. The power of traditional monetary stimulus depends in large part on the willingness of people and companies to borrow for new projects and purchases. But as the debt burden grows, it makes markets and the entire economy more susceptible to rate increases. It can also undermine the effect of rate cuts, as borrowers increasingly struggle under the weight of their existing obligations.

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“These academic pettifoggers are so blinded by their tinker toy macro-model that they can’t even see the flashing red lights warning of recession just ahead.”

The Keynesian Recovery Meme Is About To Get Mugged, Part 1 (Stockman)

Yellen said at least one thing of importance last week, but not in a good way. She confessed to the frightening truth that the FOMC formulates its policies and actions based on forecasts of future economic developments. My point is not simply that our monetary politburo couldn’t forecast its way out of a paper bag; that much they have proved in spades during their last few years of madcap money printing. Notwithstanding the most aggressive monetary stimulus in recorded history – 84 months of ZIRP and $3.5 trillion of bond purchases – average real GDP growth has barely amounted to 50% of the Fed’s preceding year forecast; and even that shortfall is understated owing to the BEA’s systemic suppression of the GDP deflator.

What I am getting at is that it’s inherently impossible to forecast the economic future, but that is especially true when the forecasting model is an obsolete Keynesian relic which essentially assumes a closed US economy and that balance sheets don’t matter. Actually, balance sheets now matter more than anything else. The $225 trillion of debt weighing on the world economy – up an astonishing 5.5X in the last two decades – imposes a stiff barrier to growth that our Keynesian monetary suzerains ignore entirely. Likewise, the economy is now seamlessly global, meaning that everything which counts such as labor supply and wage trends, capacity utilization and investment rates and the pace of business activity and inventory stocks is planetary in nature. By contrast, due to the narrow range of activity they capture, the BLS’ deeply flawed domestic labor statistics are nearly useless. And they are a seriously lagging indicator to boot.

Nevertheless, Yellen & Co. are obsessed with the immeasurable and largely irrelevant level of “slack” in the domestic labor market. They falsely view it as a proxy for the purported gap between potential and actual GDP. Not surprisingly, they are now under the supreme illusion that the labor slack has been largely absorbed and the output gap nearly closed. So they are raising money market rates by a smidgeon to confirm the US economy’s strength and that the Keynesian nirvana of full employment is near at hand. No it isn’t! These academic pettifoggers are so blinded by their tinker toy macro-model that they can’t even see the flashing red lights warning of recession just ahead.

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Oil went up a whiff overnight. I always look at the spread between WTI and Brent. The smaller it gets, the higher the risks. Usually, it hovers between $2-3. Right now, it’s at 50 cents.

Brent Oil Hits 11-Year Low As Global Supply Balloons (Reuters)

Brent oil cratered to its lowest price in more than 11 years on Monday, as demand for heating oil slumped on warmer-than-normal temperatures and traders tested for a bottom. U.S. crude remained above its 2009 low and settled up a penny a barrel as traders squared positions ahead of the January contract’s expiration. The February contract declined and analysts expect stockpiles to build again this week, signaling further oversupply in already glutted market. Concerns about swelling global crude supply and slow demand sparked by economic weakness in China have been recurring themes during this year’s rout. Analysts said the market was still testing for a bottom. “The key in finding the bottom of the market comes in a tightening of the supply side,” said Gene McGillian, senior analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

OPEC and Russia will keep producing at high volumes, increasing pressure on U.S. producers to throttle back production, he said. “I think we’re getting ready for another round of capex cuts in North America,” he said. Heating oil futures weighed down the crude complex, hitting a new July 2004 low warmer-than-expected temperatures have hit seasonal demand. “The market is waiting for the next announcement,” said Tyche Capital Advisors senior research analyst John Macaluso. “The equity markets are waiting on crude oil, and crude oil is waiting for a bounce before shorts will come back into the market.” Crude short-sellers will be reluctant to return before U.S. crude recovers to $35.50, he said. Global oil production is running close to record highs. With more barrels poised to enter the market from nations such as Iran and Libya, the price of crude is set for its largest monthly percentage decline in seven years.

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“..1% of stations selling gas at $1.59 a gallon..”

US Gas Prices Fall Below $2 – In Some Places Under $1.60 (MarketWatch)

Christmas came early for U.S. drivers on Monday, as the national average gasoline price fell below $2 a gallon for the first time since March 2009. AAA put the average U.S. gas price at $1.998 per gallon on Monday, while fuel-price tracking service GasBuddy.com calculated the national average at $1.995 a gallon. That’s the lowest price by either measure since March 25, 2009. Unsurprisingly, drivers can credit a global glut of crude oil for the steady pressure on gas prices. Brent crude the global oil benchmark, plumbed levels last seen in 2004 on Monday, while the January contract for the U.S. benchmark CLF6, -0.20% West Texas Intermediate crude, was down 49 cents, or 1.4%, ahead of expiration at $34.24 a barrel on Nymex. The most-active February contract is down 1.3% at $35.58.

“In areas where there are no refinery bottlenecks, we’ve been able to see the falling price of crude oil translated directly into cheaper gas prices,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, in a phone interview. Nymex reformulated gasoline futures for January delivery slumped 6.33 cents, or 5%, to $1.2114 a gallon. So how low are gas prices? In much of the country, the price is already well under $2 a gallon, AAA notes, with 1% of stations selling gas at $1.59 a gallon. On a state-by-state basis, Missouri has the lowest average price at $1.77, followed by Oklahoma and South Carolina at $1.78, and Tennessee and Kansas at $1.79.

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China. That’s all.

The Real “Death Cross” Of Oil Markets (ZH)

The ‘death cross’ of these two energy market indicators is all one needs to know about the oil market… As Bloomberg notes, total industry oil stocks reported by the International Energy Agency rose for a third month, increasing by 0.5% to the highest on record at 2.99 billion barrels. China’s Beige Book, released last week, showed further economic deterioration in one of the world’s largest commodity-consuming nations in the fourth quarter. Until these two indicators change direction, lower-er for longer-er will remain.

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Lots of last legs there.

Risk Of Insolvency Hangs Over UK High Street Retailers (Guardian)

A string of retailers could face insolvency in the new year with tough trading on the high street in the run-up to Christmas leaving businesses fighting for survival, two influential industry bodies have warned. Widespread discounting and warmer-than-average weather have cranked up the pressure on high street retailers over the festive period. In the last few years a number of high street retailers have called in administrations either just before or after Christmas, including Woolworths, HMV, Zavvi, and Jessops. Retailers generate roughly 40% of their annual profits between October and December, underlining the importance of the period. However, if a high street business struggles during the festive season then its death knell is typically the quarterly rental payment they have to make to landlords at the end of December.

Atradius, one of the world’s largest trade credit insurers, has warned that retailers face a “perfect storm” that could lead to a bleak start to 2016 and a “fresh wave of insolvencies”. The comments from Atradius are significant because if a credit insurer refuses to back a retailer then suppliers will be unable to insure their orders with the business and could decide not to provide it with products. Owen Bassett, senior risk underwriter at Atradius, said: “Those who went into the fourth quarter needing – rather than wanting – a strong performance could be looking at a troubled future. “Experience tells us that when retailers need an exceptional seasonal sales period and then hit financial difficulty, we often see failures in the first quarter. It is not unusual in this sector to be loss-making during Q1 and with the first payment of quarterly rent due in January it can be difficult to survive after a poor Q4.”

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Private debt. Should have a lot more attention. And not just in Britain.

UK Economy Concerns As Household Debt Balloons To £40 Billion (PA)

Families are expected to run up £40bn of debt this year, sparking fears about Britain’s economic recovery. Labour raised concerns that millions of households would face “serious hardship” if interest rates rise and warned the borrowing trend could harm the economy. The latest Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts have found that households have moved from a surplus of £67bn in 2010, the year the coalition took power, to a £40bn deficit this year. Unsustainable borrowing is on course to near the levels reached in the run-up to the 2008 financial crash, according to Labour. Seema Malhotra, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “George Osborne is relying on millions of British families going further into debt to hit his growth targets.

“This is risky behaviour from a chancellor whose policy decisions are hurting, not helping, British families. Alarm bells should be ringing. There is a real risk that millions of families will face serious hardship if interest rates start to rise. “Of course families need access to credit and the ability to borrow to invest for the future. George Osborne should be seeking to rebalance the economy away from an over-reliance on borrowing and debt. “Labour is clear about the need for a strong and sustainable economic recovery. Osborne’s short-term political decisions risk real long-term damage to the finances of millions of British families and the nation’s economy.” The former business secretary Sir Vince Cable warned Britain was returning to “old and unhappily discredited” methods of economic growth. He told the Independent: “We’re back on the treadmill of growth being sustained by personal borrowing. Much of it is against an inflating housing stock.

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Abenomics is a different way of saying anything goes.

The Bank of Japan’s $2.5 Billion Plan to Buy Non-Existent ETFs (BBG)

Haruhiko Kuroda has a new plan. He’s going to buy $2.5 billion of something that doesn’t exist. Markets were roiled Friday after the Bank of Japan unveiled measures including purchasing exchange-traded funds that track companies which are “proactively making investment in physical and human capital.” The central bank will spend 300 billion yen ($2.5 billion) a year from April buying such securities to offset the market impact as it resumes selling stocks purchased earlier from financial institutions. The only problem is such ETFs have never been made in Japan, at least not yet. Even as fund providers start hundreds of so-called “smart beta” products that choose stocks based on everything from dividends to volatility, ETFs that pick companies for how they deploy their cash are rare in global markets.

“These kinds of ETFs don’t exist now. Using capital spending as a factor in deciding what goes in an ETF is quite unusual,” said Koei Imai, who oversees $25 billion of ETFs at Nikko Asset Management Co. in Tokyo. “I think the message from the BOJ is for us to go out and make them.” The central bank is aware such products aren’t yet available and in the meantime will buy ETFs tracking the JPX-Nikkei Index 400, a government-backed equity measure started last year that chooses companies based on return on equity and operating profit. The BOJ also already purchases ETFs linked to the Nikkei 225 Stock Average and Topix index and owns roughly half of the market for ETFs in Japan.

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How to kill confidence.

China ‘Suspends’ Another Unofficial PMI Data Set For A ‘Major Adjustment’ (ZH)

For the second time in two months, an economic data series that indicate drastically weak performance in China has been “suspended.” Having seen Markit/Caixin’s flash gauge of China’s manufacturing discontinued in October (having plunged notably divergently from the government’s official data), Bloomberg reports that the publishers of the alternative China Minxin PMI will stop updating the series to make a “major adjustment.” Guess which time series was just “suspended”…

As Bloomberg details,

Release of the unofficial purchasing managers index jointly compiled by China Minsheng Banking Corp. and the China Academy of New Supply-side Economics will be suspended starting this month, the Beijing-based academy said in an e-mailed statement Monday, about six hours before the latest monthly data were scheduled for release.

Minxin’s suspension is the second in recent months as policy makers in the world’s second-largest economy struggle to arrest a deceleration in growth. Another early estimate of China’s manufacturing sector, a flash gauge of a purchasing managers index compiled by Markit Economics and sponsored by Caixin Media, was discontinued Oct. 1. Minxin’s PMI readings are based on a monthly survey covering more than 4,000 companies, about 70% of which are smaller enterprises. The private gauges have shown a more volatile picture than the official PMIs in the past year.

The manufacturing PMI declined to 42.4 in November from 43.3 in October, while the non-manufacturing reading fell to 42.9 from 44.2, according the the latest release. The factory gauge fell to a record low of 41.9 in August. China’s official PMI from the National Bureau of Statistics fell to a three-year low of 49.6 in November.

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Humor?

Zimbabwe To Make Chinese Yuan Legal Currency After Beijing Cancels Debts (AFP)

Zimbabwe has announced that it will make the Chinese yuan legal tender after Beijing confirmed it would cancel $40m in debts. “They [China] said they are cancelling our debts that are maturing this year and we are in the process of finalising the debt instruments and calculating the debts,” minister Patrick Chinamasa said in a statement. Chinamasa also announced that Zimbabwe will officially make the Chinese yuan legal tender as it seeks to increase trade with Beijing. Zimbabwe abandoned its own dollar in 2009 after hyperinflation, which had peaked at around 500bn%, rendered it unusable. It then started using a slew of foreign currencies, including the US dollar and the South African rand.

The yuan was later added to the basket of the foreign currencies, but its use had not been approved yet for public transactions in the market dominated by the greenback. Use of the yuan “will be a function of trade between China and Zimbabwe and acceptability with customers in Zimbabwe,” the minister said. Zimbabwe’s central bank chief John Mangudya was in negotiations with the People’s Bank of China “to see whether we can enhance its usage here,” said Chinamasa. China is Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner following Zimbabwe’s isolation by its former western trading partners over Harare’s human rights record.

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Europe’s dumb struggle with Moscow continues.

Russia, EU Trade Talks Fail, Kiev Set To Face Retaliation (Reuters)

The EU failed to allay Russia’s concerns about Ukraine’s free-trade accord with the 28-nation bloc on Monday, leaving Kiev to face Russian retaliation through tighter bilateral trade rules from 2016. Closer ties between Ukraine and the EU, including the free trade deal, were at the heart of a battle for influence between Brussels and Moscow in Russia’s former satellite. When the then-Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich, ditched the accord in early 2014 under pressure from Russia, protests erupted on the street of Kiev leading to a crisis in which he fled power and a pro-Europe leadership took over. The EU and Ukraine delayed implementation of their trade deal by a year out of deference to Moscow’s concerns that it could lead to a flood of European imports across its borders, damaging the competitiveness of Russian exports.

But comments by EU and Russian officials on Monday indicated that numerous meetings between the two sides to try to narrow differences and assuage Moscow’s concerns had failed. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom raised doubts about the validity of the Russian concerns, saying some were “not real.” “We have been very open in listening to some of the concerns of Russia. Some of them we think are not real in economic terms. Some of them could potentially be real,” Malmstrom told a news conference following final talks in Brussels. Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, speaking in Brussels, said there was no deal and Moscow would scrap trade preferences dating back to 2011 for Ukraine as of 2016, when the bilateral EU-Ukraine deal will be implemented. “An agreement has not been reached. We were left with our concerns on our own and we are forced to safeguard our economic interest unilaterally,” Ulyukayev told reporters.

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A stalemate that seems to end in either a fragile left government or new elections.

Political Uprising In Spain Shatters Illusion Of Eurozone Recovery (AEP)

Spain risks months of political paralysis and a corrosive showdown with Germany over fiscal austerity after insurgent movements smashed the traditional two-party system, leaving the country almost ungovernable. The electoral earthquake over the weekend in one of the eurozone’s ‘big four’ states has echoes of the shock upsets in Greece and Portugal this year, a reminder that the delayed political fuse from years of economic depression and mass unemployment can detonate even once the worst seems to be over. Bank stocks plummeted on the Madrid bourse as startled investors awoke to the possibility of a Left-wing coalition that included the ultra-radical Podemos party, which won 20.7pc of the votes with threats to overturn the government’s bank bail-out and to restructure financial debt.

Pablo Iglesias, the pony-tailed leader of the Podemos rebellion, warned Brussels, Berlin, and Frankfurt that Spain was retaking control over its own destiny after years of kowtowing to eurozone demands. “Our message to Europe is clear. Spain will never again be the periphery of Germany. We will strive to restore the meaning of the word sovereignty to our country,” he said. The risk spread on Spanish 10-year bonds jumped eight basis points to 123 over German Bunds, though there is no imminent danger of a fresh debt crisis as long as the European Central Bank is buying Spanish bonds under quantitative easing. The IBEX index of equities slid 2.5pc, with Banco Popular and Caixabank both off 7pc. Premier Mariano Rajoy has lost his absolute majority in the Cortes.

Support for the conservative Partido Popular crashed from 44pc to 29pc, costing Mr Rajoy 5m votes as a festering corruption scandal took its toll. The electorate punished the two mainstream parties that have dominated Spanish politics since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s, and which by turns became the reluctant enforcers of eurozone austerity. The Socialists (PSOE) averted electoral collapse but have lost their hegemony over the Left and risk being outflanked and ultimately destroyed by Podemos, just as Syriza annihilated the once-dominant PASOK party in Greece. It had been widely assumed that Mr Rajoy would have enough seats to form a coalition with the free-market and anti-corruption party Ciudadanos, but this new reform movement stalled in the closing weeks of the campaign.

“There is enormous austerity fatigue and the country as a whole has clearly shifted to the Left,” said sovereign bond strategist Nicholas Spiro. Yet the Left has not won enough votes either to form a clear government. “The issue now is whether Spain is governable. All the parties are at daggers drawn and this could drag on for weeks. I don’t see any sustainable solution. We can certainly forget about reform,” he said. Mr Spiro said Spain has already seen a “dramatic deterioration” in the underlying public finances over the last eighteen months, although this has been disguised by a cyclical rebound, the stimulus of cheap oil and a weak euro, and QE from Frankfurt. “They have simply gone for growth,” he said.

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Posterchild no more.

Portugal Taxpayers Face €3 Billion Loss After 2nd Bank Bailout In 2 Years (ZH)

Back in August of 2014, Portugal had an idea. Lisbon would use some €5 billion from the country’s Resolution Fund to shore up (read: bailout) Portugal’s second largest bank by assets, Banco Espirito Santo. The idea, basically, was to sell off Novo Banco SA (the “good bank” that was spun out of BES) in relatively short order and use the proceeds to pay back the Resolution Fun. That way, the cost to taxpayers would be zero. You didn’t have to be a financial wizard or a fortune teller to predict what was likely to happen next. Unsurprisingly, the auction process didn’t go so well.

As we recounted in September, there were any number of reasons why Portugal had trouble selling Novo, not the least of which was that two potential bidders – Anbang Insurance Group and Fosun International which, you’re reminded, is run by the recently “disappeared” Chinese Warren Buffett – suddenly became far more risk-averse in the wake of the financial market turmoil in China. Talks with US PE (Apollo specifically) also went south, presumably because no one knows if this “good” bank will actually turn out to need more capital going forward given that NPLs sit at something like 20% while the H1 loss totaled €250 million thanks to higher provisioning for said NPLs. Now, the auction process has been mothballed and will restart in January. This matters because if the bank can’t be sold, the cost of the bailout ends up being tacked onto Lisbon’s budget.

The impact is substantial. In September, when the effort to sell Novo collapsed, the government restated its 2014 deficit which, after accounting for the bailout, ballooned to 7.2% of GDP from 4.5%. Portugal will tell you that this is only “temporary,” but let’s face it, if they haven’t managed to sell it by now, then one has to believe the prospects are grim – at least in terms of fetching anything that looks like a decent price. Well don’t look now, but Portugal’s seventh-largest bank, Banco Internacional do Funchal, now needs a bailout too. Banif (as it’s known) will be split into a “good” and “bad” bank, and its “healthy” assets will be sold to Banco Santander for €150 million. The government will inject up to €2.2 billion the European Commission said on Monday, to cover “future contingencies.”

Hilariously, the bailout was necessary because the bank was unable to repay a previous government cash injection. “The government injected €1.1 billion of fresh capital into the lender in January 2013 to allow it to meet minimum capital thresholds imposed by the banking regulator,” WSJ writes. For its trouble, Lisbon got a 60% stake in the bank and several hundred million worth of CoCos which the bank missed a payment on last year. “That,” WSJ goes on to note, “triggered close scrutiny by the European Commission, which opened an investigation into the legality of the state aid.” “The commission had said that Banif’s restructuring plan might not be enough to allow the bank to repay the state,” Bloomberg adds. “The Bank of Portugal said in the statement on Sunday that a ‘probable’ decision from the commission declaring the state aid illegal would create a shortage of capital at the bank.”

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“We now enter the “discovery” phase of financial collapse, where things labeled “capital” and “credit” turn out to be mere holograms.”

Christmas Present (Jim Kunstler)

Theory du jour: the new Star Wars movie is sucking in whatever meager disposable lucre remains among the economically-flayed mid-to-lower orders of America. In fact, I propose a new index showing an inverse relationship between Star Wars box office receipts and soundness of the financial commonweal. In other words, Star Wars is all that remains of the US economy outside of the obscure workings of Wall Street — and that heretofore magical realm is not looking too rosy either in this season of the Great Rate Hike after puking up 623 points of the DJIA last Thursday and Friday. Here I confess: for thirty years I have hated those stupid space movies, as much for their badly-written scripts (all mumbo-jumbo exposition of nonsensical story-lines between explosions) as for the degenerate techno-narcissism they promote in a society literally dying from the diminishing returns and unintended consequences of technology.

It adds up to an ominous Yuletide. Turns out that the vehicle the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee was driving in its game of “chicken” with oncoming reality was a hearse. The occupants are ghosts, but don’t know it. A lot of commentators around the web think that the Fed “pulled the trigger” on interest rates to save its credibility. Uh, wrong. They had already lost their credibility. What remains is for these ghosts to helplessly watch over the awesome workout, which has obviously been underway for quite a while in the crash of commodity prices (and whole national economies — e.g. Brazil, Canada, Australia), the janky regions of the bond markets, the related death of the shale oil industry, and the imploding hedge fund scene. As it were, all credit these days looks shopworn and threadbare, as if the capital markets had by stealth turned into a swap meet of previously-owned optimism.

Who believes in anything these days besides the allure of fraud? Capital is supposedly plentiful these days — look how much has rushed into the dollar from the nervous former go-go nations with their wobbling ziggurats of bad loans and surfeit of production capacity — but what actually constitutes that capital? Answer: the dwindling faith anyone will pay you back next Tuesday for a hamburger today. We now enter the “discovery” phase of financial collapse, where things labeled “capital” and “credit” turn out to be mere holograms. Fed Chair Janet Yellen herself had a sort of hologramatic look last Wednesday when she stepped onto her Delphic platform to reveal the long-heralded interest rate news. Perhaps Mrs. Yellen is a figment conjured by George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic shop (now owned by Disney). What could be more fitting in a smoke-and-mirrors culture?

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Recognizable patterns.

Et Tu, Brute? – How Empires Die (Thomas)

The state-owned Bank of China has been ordered by an American court to hand over customer information to the US. The bank has refused to comply, as to do so would violate China’s privacy law. The US court has subsequently ordered the Bank of China to pay a fine of $50,000 per day. Any guess as to how this is likely to turn out? China is a sovereign nation, halfway around the globe from the US, yet the US seems to feel that it’s somehow entitled to set the rules for China (as well as the other nations in the world). When China sees fit to develop islands in the South China Sea that it has laid claim to for centuries, it begins to hear threatening noises from the US military. A candidate for US president declares that he would buzz the islands with Air Force One, the Presidential jet, saying, “They’ll know we mean business.”

All over the world, those who live outside the US are increasingly observing that the US has become so drunk with power that they’re threatening both friend and foe with fines, trade restrictions, monetary sanctions, warfare, and invasions. And in so-observing, those of us who have studied the history of empires note that history is once again repeating itself. Time and time again, great empires build themselves up through industriousness and sound economic management only to subsequently decline into debt, complacency, and an entitlement mind-set. Over the millennia, empires as disparate as Persia, Rome, Spain, and Great Britain rose to dominate the world. Of course, we know how those empires turned out and, by extension, we might hazard an educated guess as to how the present American Empire will end.

In the final throes of empire-decline, we invariably observe the more sociopathic trends of a failing power, such as we’re seeing today from the US. First and foremost, any empire declines as a result of economic mismanagement. Decline from within (pandering to the populace with “bread and circuses”) and without (endless conquest and/or maintenance of dominance over far-flung geography) drain even the wealthiest government. Even eighteenth-century Spain, with all its billions in stolen New World gold, could not pay its ever-increasing bills and warfare-driven debt. Typically, the empire of the day enjoys the world’s greatest fighting force/armada/weapons build-up yet, when the money runs out, the war machine simply stops. Soldiers think more about their empty bellies than how much ammunition they have left.

Generals continue to issue orders, but they cease to be followed after the supply lines begin to dry up. And the leaders of a collapsing empire invariably make a fatal mistake: they assume that all the goodwill the empire gained when it was on its rise is permanent – that it will continue, even if the empire behaves like the world’s foremost bully. This is never the outcome. Invariably, as the decline nears its end, allies, without ever saying so, begin to withdraw their support. We see this today, as European leaders (America’s most essential allies) realise that the empire is becoming an arrogant liability and they begin cutting deals with the other side, as European leaders are now doing with Russia and others.

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“The only way to avoid future crashes is for the Fed to stop creating inflation and bubbles.”

Do We Need The Fed? (Ron Paul)

Stocks rose Wednesday following the Fed’s announcement of the first interest rate increase since 2006. However, stocks fell just two days later. One reason the positive reaction to the Fed’s announcement did not last long is that the Fed seems to lack confidence in the economy and is unsure what policies it should adopt in the future. At her Wednesday press conference, Fed Chair Janet Yellen acknowledged continuing “cyclical weakness” in the job market. She also suggested that future rate increases are likely to be as small, or even smaller, then Wednesday’s. However, she also expressed concerns over increasing inflation, which suggests the Fed may be open to bigger rate increases. Many investors and those who rely on interest from savings for a substantial part of their income cheered the increase.

However, others expressed concern that even this small rate increase will weaken the already fragile job market. These critics echo the claims of many economists and economic historians who blame past economic crises, including the Great Depression, on ill-timed money tightening by the Fed. While the Federal Reserve is responsible for our boom-bust economy, recessions and depressions are not caused by tight monetary policy. Instead, the real cause of economic crisis is the loose money policies that precede the Fed’s tightening. When the Fed floods the market with artificially created money, it lowers the interest rates, which are the price of money. As the price of money, interest rates send signals to businesses and investors regarding the wisdom of making certain types of investments.

When the rates are artificially lowered by the Fed instead of naturally lowered by the market, businesses and investors receive distorted signals. The result is over-investment in certain sectors of the economy, such as housing. This creates the temporary illusion of prosperity. However, since the boom is rooted in the Fed’s manipulation of the interest rates, eventually the bubble will burst and the economy will slide into recession. While the Federal Reserve may tighten the money supply before an economic downturn, the tightening is simply a futile attempt to control the inflation resulting from the Fed’s earlier increases in the money supply. After the bubble inevitably bursts, the Federal Reserve will inevitability try to revive the economy via new money creation, which starts the whole boom-bust cycle all over again. The only way to avoid future crashes is for the Fed to stop creating inflation and bubbles.

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The more they can infringe on privacy, the more they will.

Apple Says UK Surveillance Law Would Endanger All Customers (BBG)

Apple outlined its opposition to a proposed U.K. surveillance law, saying threats to national security don’t justify weakening privacy and putting the data of hundreds of millions of users at risk. The world’s most valuable company is leading a Silicon Valley challenge to the proposed U.K. law, called the Investigatory Powers bill, which attempts to strengthen the capabilities of law-enforcement agencies to investigate potential crimes or terrorist attacks. The bill would, among other things, give the government the ability to see the Internet browsing history of U.K. citizens. Apple said the U.K. government already has access to an unprecedented amount of data.

The Cupertino, California-based company is particularly concerned the bill would weaken digital privacy tools such as encryption, creating vulnerabilities that will be exploited by sophisticated hackers and government spy agencies. In response to the U.K. rules, other governments would probably adopt their own new laws, “paralyzing multinational corporations under the weight of what could be dozens or hundreds of contradictory country-specific laws,” Apple said. “The creation of backdoors and intercept capabilities would weaken the protections built into Apple products and endanger all our customers,” Apple said in an eight-page submission to the U.K. committee considering the bill. “A key left under the doormat would not just be there for the good guys. The bad guys would find it too.”

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And that will not happen.

Half of World’s Coal Must Go Unmined to Meet Paris Climate Target (BBG)

Coal, the fuel that powered the industrial revolution, is in hiding. While the world still has 890 billion tons of reserves, enough to last more than 65 years, about half must stay underground if nations are to meet environmental limits agreed to earlier this month in Paris, Bank of America Corp. said in a report. Burning less coal is the easiest way to lower emissions blamed for climate change, the bank said. The pact reached by 195 nations doesn’t target specific fuels, yet coal remains the world’s largest source of planet-warming carbon dioxide. A global oversupply of the power plant fuel has pushed producers into bankruptcy and sent prices to at least seven-year lows. The Paris agreement only further diminishes prospects for a recovery.

“The latest carbon initiatives are the nail in the coffin for global coal,” Sabine Schels, Peter Helles and Franciso Blanch, analysts at Bank of America said in the Dec. 18 report. If emissions limits take hold, “50% of the world’s current coal reserves may never be dug out.” Coal demand stopped growing in 2014 for the first time since the 1990s as China’s economy cooled, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said Dec. 18. Coal for delivery to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Antwerp, an Atlantic benchmark, is trading near an eight-year low. Newcastle coal, a barometer for the Asia-Pacific market, is at the cheapest in records going back to 2008, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

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Last month, the warning came from China. Now it’s England and Wales.

It’s ‘Almost Too Late’ To Stop A Global Superbug Crisis (PA)

It is “almost too late” to stop a global superbug crisis caused by the misuse of antibiotics, a leading expert has warned. Scientists have a “50-50” chance of salvaging existing antibiotics from bacteria which has become resistant to its effects, according to Dr David Brown. The director at Antibiotic Research UK, whose discoveries helped make more than £20bn ($30bn) in pharmaceutical sales, said efforts to find new antibiotics are “totally failing” despite significant investment and research. It comes after a gene was discovered which makes infectious bacteria resistant to the last line of antibiotic defence, colistin (polymyxins). The resistance to the colistin antibiotic is considered to be a “major step” towards completely untreatable infections and has been found in pigs and humans in England and Wales.

Public Health England said the risk posed to humans by the mcr-1 gene was “low” but was being monitored closely. Performing surgery, treating infections and even travelling abroad safely all rely to some extent on access to effective antibiotics. It is feared the crisis could further penetrate Europe as displaced migrants enter from a war-torn Middle East, where countries such as Syria have increasing levels of antibiotic resistance. Dr Brown told said: “It is almost too late. We needed to start research 10 years ago and we still have no global monitoring system in place. “The issue is people have tried to find new antibiotics but it is totally failing – there has been no new chemical class of drug to treat gram-negative infections for more than 40 years.

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Dec 212015
 
 December 21, 2015  Posted by at 10:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 21 2015


Lewis Wickes Hine Child Labor in Magnolia Cotton Mills spinning room, Mississippi 1911

Brent Oil Slides to 11-Year Low as Producers Seen Worsening Glut (BBG)
Siberian Surprise: Russian Oil Patch Just Keeps Pumping (BBG)
This So-Called Rate Hike Is Completely Jerry-Rigged (E&M)
Central Banks Created A Monster That Drives The Economy On The Way Down (King)
Europe’s Year From Hell May Presage Worse To Come (Reuters)
Spain Election Confusion: Conservatives Win But Podemos Are Stars (Ind.)
Alexis Tsipras Pushes For IMF To Stay Out Of Next Greek Bailout (FT)
After Jumping Over One Hurdle, Greece Faces Another With Pensions (CNBC)
UK Buyers Need To Save For Up To 24 Years To Get On Property Ladder (Guardian)
Canada’s Trudeau Cites Risk in Curbing Foreign Real-Estate Investment (WSJ)
Kansas Suspends Debt Limits To Pay For Tax Cuts (Wichita Eagle)
The Empire Files: ‘America’s Ship is Sinking’: Former Bush Official (TeleSur)
The West Dominates Global Arms Sales (Forbes)
The Refugee Crisis Is Forcing Germans To Ask: Who Are We? (Guardian)
Vice Chancellor: Austria Can’t Accept Over 100,000 Migrants A Year (Reuters)
My Baby, The Refugee: Mothers On The Hardest Journey Of Their Lives (Guardian)
18 Migrants Drown After Boat Sinks Off Turkey’s Southwestern Coast (Reuters)

China demand tanks. For oil, for everything. If there is to be a ‘Story of 2015’, it should be that. But instead, denial pushes it forward to 2016.

Brent Oil Slides to 11-Year Low as Producers Seen Worsening Glut (BBG)

Brent crude slumped to the lowest level since 2004 amid speculation suppliers from the Middle East to the U.S. will exacerbate a record glut as they continue fighting for market share. Futures fell as much as 1.9% in London after a 2.8% drop last week. Producers are focusing on reducing costs amid the price decline, Qatar Energy Minister Mohammed Al Sada said Sunday at a meeting of Arab oil-exporting nations in Cairo. Drillers in the U.S. put the most rigs back to work since July, adding 17, data from Baker Hughes showed. Oil has fallen below levels last seen during the 2008 global financial crisis on signs the market’s oversupply will worsen. OPEC effectively abandoned output limits at a Dec. 4 meeting, while the U.S. on Friday passed legislation that lifted a 40-year ban on crude exports.

“There hasn’t been any significant signs of a pick-up in demand and we haven’t seen any meaningful cuts to production,” Ric Spooner, a chief analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, said by phone. “Nothing has really changed in the oil market over the past couple of months apart from the price.” Brent for February settlement slid as much as 71 cents to $36.17 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, the lowest level in intraday trade since July 13, 2004. The contract was at $36.41 at 2:21 p.m. Singapore time after falling 18 cents to $36.88 on Friday, the lowest close since December 2008. Front-month prices are down 36% this year, set for a third annual loss. West Texas Intermediate for January delivery, which expires Monday, was 28 cents lower at $34.45 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It dropped 22 cents to $34.73 on Friday, the lowest close since February 2009. The more active February contract was down 29 cents at $35.77. Total volume was close to the 100-day average.

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Nobody has a choice.

Siberian Surprise: Russian Oil Patch Just Keeps Pumping (BBG)

In the fight for market share among the world’s oil producers this year, Russia wasn’t supposed to be a contender. But the world’s No. 3 producer has been pumping at the fastest pace since the collapse of the Soviet Union, adding to the flood on an already-swamped market and helping push prices to the lowest levels since 2009. Russia’s unexpected oil bounty this year is the result not of a new Kremlin campaign but of dozens of modest productivity improvements across the sprawling sector. Even pressured by plunging prices, as well as U.S. and European Union sanctions that cut access to much foreign financing and technology, Russian companies have managed to squeeze more crude out of some of the country’s oldest fields.

They have also brought new projects on line, offsetting steady declines in its core producing region of West Siberia. With a rise of 0.5% in the first nine months of 2015, Russia hasn’t boosted production as much as its larger rivals, the U.S. (up 1.3%) and Saudi Arabia (up 5.8%), according to Citigroup Inc. But having ignored OPEC’s calls earlier this year to join efforts to support prices by pumping less, Russia is keeping up with the cartel. “I know of no one who had predicted that Russian production would rise in 2015, let alone to new record levels,” said Edward Morse, Citigroup’s global head of commodities research. As recently as April, not even the Russian government thought 2015 would break the record.

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It’s about the banks.

This So-Called Rate Hike Is Completely Jerry-Rigged (E&M)

It’s official. [Last] week the Federal Reserve raised the key overnight Fed Funds rate by 0.25%. The move was discussed, debated, argued, and telegraphed to death. We all heard about it until we hoped anything else financial would happen so we could finally put the tired story to rest. Now that the rate hike is on the books, we can start talking about outcomes, like how in the world the Fed intends to enforce the rate hike, what it means, and what comes next. The first one is not so simple, the second is annoying, and the third is downright depressing. But we’d better start planning for this today, because it will definitely affect our investments in the months to come! This rate hike is unlike any other. It comes on the heels of several quantitative easing programs that have dumped trillions of new dollars into the banking system.

Before the financial crisis, banks held about $60 billion of excess reserves at the Fed. These are funds above and beyond their required reserves. Today, excess reserves total about $2.6 trillion, which represents part of the money the Fed printed and then used to buy bonds. Typically this cash would have flowed into the economy through lending, but in 2008 the Fed started paying interest on excess reserves, which has kept the funds out of circulation. With so much extra cash in their accounts, banks have almost no need to borrow from each other. This creates a problem for the Fed because adjusting the rate at which banks lend to each other, called the Fed Funds rate, is how it historically enforced its interest rate policy. Starting this week, the Fed will have to use new, largely untested tools.

Since there is almost zero demand for money between banks, the Fed is increasing the interest it pays on excess reserves from 0.25% to 0.50%. At the same time, the Fed intends to lend out up to $2 trillion of its own stash of bonds in the overnight repurchase market. It will lend these to banks, money market funds, and other institutions for one night, with an agreement to buy the bonds back the next day at a slightly higher price, effectively paying the counterparty 0.25% interest. It’s more than a little backwards. The upshot is that instead of banks paying each other the higher rate of interest after a rate hike, now it’s the Fed, which means it’s really me and you, since the Fed gets money by taking value from the rest of us. At the new, higher rate, this is about $10.5 billion per year that is nothing but a gift to banks.

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“It depends less on fundamentals, and more on second-guessing what everyone else will do.”

Central Banks Created A Monster That Drives The Economy On The Way Down (King)

The broader narrative – in which central bank liquidity has pushed up asset prices without fostering a similar improvement in the underlying economy – is one we find the vast majority of [fixed income] investors are sympathetic to. The only question is on the timing: no one wants to get out too early. This is one of the reasons we find the outlook for next year so difficult, and why there is so little agreement about it (even internally at Citi, never mind across the street). It depends less on fundamentals, and more on second-guessing what everyone else will do. Of course, markets are always to some extent like that, but self-reinforcing processes seem to have grown in importance in recent years. Rather than the economy driving markets, as is supposed to be the case, the risk is that central banks have now created a monster such that markets drive the economy, if not on the way up, then certainly on the way down.

Suppose, for example, that all does not go according to plan, and that the current squeeze higher in markets fades and even reverses. Perhaps oil price and EM weakness prove persistent, markets and the developed economies continue to prove more susceptible to these than they “ought” to, inflation breakevens fall, spreads widen and equities suffer even in the face of continuing share buybacks and record M&A. The scenario is far from unthinkable: indeed, it would simply be a continuation of everything we’ve seen in the past six months. What we find really alarming in such a scenario is not only that the safety net might be a while in coming, but that we are increasingly doubtful of how much support it would provide, at least initially.

Clearly the threshold for the Fed to reverse its hike, let alone do more QE or move to negative rates, is very high. And while the ECB should eventually do more, the bar to Draghi being able to spur the rest of the Governing Council to arms would now seem to have been raised. Worse, though, the broad market reaction to central bank stimulus seems to be waning. In credit, and in Europe, this is not too bad. We do still think negative rates and QE retain a positive effect, even if it seems to be driving almost as much money into US fixed income as into European credit and equities.

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Brussels is a crisis-producing machine.

Europe’s Year From Hell May Presage Worse To Come (Reuters)

By any measure, it has been a year from hell for the European Union. And if Britons vote to leave the bloc, next year could be worse. Not since 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell and communism crumbled across eastern Europe, has the continent’s geopolitical kaleidescope been shaken up so vigorously. But unlike that year of joyous turmoil, which paved the way for a leap forward in European integration, the crises of 2015 have threatened to tear the Union apart and left it battered, bruised, despondent and littered with new barriers. The collapse of the Iron Curtain led within two years to the agreement to create a single European currency and, over the following 15 years, to the eastward enlargement of the EU and NATO up to the borders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

That appeared to confirm founding father Jean Monnet’s prediction that a united Europe would be built out of crises. In contrast, this year’s political and economic shocks over an influx of migrants, Greek debt, Islamist violence and Russian military action have led to the return of border controls in many places, the rise of populist anti-EU political forces and recrimination among EU governments. Jean-Claude Juncker, who describes his EU executive as the “last chance Commission,” warned that the EU’s open-border Schengen area of passport-free travel was in danger and the euro itself would be unlikely to survive if internal borders were shut. Juncker resorted to gallows humor after the last of 12 EU summits this year, most devoted to last-gasp crisis management: “The crises that are with us will remain and others will come.”

His gloomy tone was a reality check on the “we can do it” spirit that German Chancellor Angela Merkel – Europe’s pre-eminent leader – has sought to apply to the absorption of hundreds of thousands of mostly Syrian refugees. Merkel has received little support from her EU partners in sharing the migrant burden. Most have insisted the priority is sealing Europe’s external borders rather than welcoming more than a token number of refugees in their own countries. This is partly due to latent resentment of German dominance of the EU and payback for its reluctance to share more financial risks in the eurozone. Some partners also accuse Berlin of hypocrisy over its energy ties with Russia, while friends such as France, the Netherlands and Denmark are simply petrified by the rise of right-wing anti-immigration populists at home.

One of the sharpest rebuffs to sharing more of the refugee burden came from close ally Paris. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said of Merkel’s open door policy towards Syrian refugees: “It was not France that said ‘Come!’.” Merkel’s critics rounded on her at an end-of-year EU summit. Italy’s Matteo Renzi, backed by Portugal and Greece, attacked her refusal to accept a eurozone bank deposit guarantee scheme. The Baltic states, Bulgaria and Italy denounced her support for a direct gas pipeline from Russia to Germany at a time when the EU is sanctioning Moscow over its military action in Ukraine and has forced the cancellation of a pipeline to southern Europe. “It was pretty much everyone against Merkel in the room,” a diplomat who heard the exchanges said.

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Left wing coalition?

Spain Election Confusion: Conservatives Win But Podemos Are Stars (Ind.)

Spain was plunged into the political unknown on Sunday night as no single party emerged as the winner in its closest general election since the end of the Franco dictatorship 40 years ago. The governing Popular Party (PP), led by the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, secured 28.7% of the vote. That put the party in first place, but well below what it needs to maintain its majority. Mr Rajoy will now be given the first opportunity to persuade rival parties to join him in government before parliament reconvenes next month. But the night belonged to Podemos, and its leader, the ponytailed Pablo Iglesias. The left-wing party, which did not even exist two years ago, finished third with 20.6%. The mainstream left-wing opposition, the PSOE, just beat Podemos into second place with 22%.

For four decades the PP and the PSOE have dominated Spanish politics, swapping power at regular intervals. Their combined grip on office is now almost certainly at an end. The 60-year-old Mr Rajoy, who lost two elections before his landslide four years ago, now faces a fight for his political career. Throughout the campaign, commentators have suggested that the PP – always the favourite to emerge as the strongest single party – could overcome a hung parliament by striking a deal with the new centrist party Ciudadanos, which collected 15.2% of the vote. Crucially for Mr Rajoy, however, the election arithmetic – even with Ciudadanos – appears to work against him. Although he only needs a simple majority to be confirmed as prime minister when the Spanish parliament reconvenes on 13 January, he will need at least 176 seats to carry through his programme. According to the exit poll, which surveyed 180,000 people, a combination of the PP and Ciudadanos will not reach that magic number.

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Tsipras should pull the plug on the entire circus.

Alexis Tsipras Pushes For IMF To Stay Out Of Next Greek Bailout (FT)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras is pushing for the IMF to stay out of the country’s €86 billion third bailout, leaving the euro zone to take full responsibility for overseeing economic reforms. Mr Tsipras said in an interview with the Financial Times he was “puzzled by the unconstructive attitude of the fund on fiscal and financial issues”. He indicated that the IMF should leave his country’s third bailout to the euro zone when it decides whether to stay involved early next year. “We think that after six years of managing in extraordinary crisis, Europe now has the institutional capacity to deal successfully with intra-European issues.” Mr Tsipras’s assertion is likely to anger the German government, which has always insisted the IMF stay on board. Berlin values the fund’s technical expertise as much as it doubts the European Commission’s resolve.

Mr Tsipras also risks alienating the IMF, which is a strong advocate of debt relief for Athens while Germany and other euro zone members are strongly against debt writedowns, although he praised the fund’s support on this issue. Mr Tsipras said his government wanted to implement bailout measures as swiftly as possible with the aim of recovering sovereignty and getting rid of the so-called “troika” of bailout monitors from the commission, IMF and ECB. “We believe the sooner we get away from the [bailout] program the better for our country,” he said. “If Greece completes the first [progress] review in January, we’ll be covering more than 70% of fiscal and financial measures in the agreement.” Mr Tsipras also sounded confident that Greece would lift all remaining capital controls by March and resume borrowing on international capital markets “before the end of 2016”.

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Greece saw 12 seperate pension cuts so far.

After Jumping Over One Hurdle, Greece Faces Another With Pensions (CNBC)

Don’t look now, but 2016 may bring a host of new troubles for Greece, which just last week barely overcame a dispute with its international creditors. Struggling to meet the demands of its bailout terms, the Hellenic Republic was forced on Thursday to scrap an effort to alleviate the burden of its austerity program on poorer Greeks. The demise of its so-called “parallel program”, although a short-term defeat for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, triggered the release of €1 billion in new bailout funding, expected to be disbursed as early as Monday. The money was part of an agreement that was sealed last summer.

Now, momentum shifts to pension reform, which is expected as soon as next month. The battle will take shape just as the Greek government appears to have won a hard-fought consensus with creditors on other outstanding issues such as deregulation and the establishment of a privatization fund – which must gather €50 billion by 2030. A pension system overhaul, however, is shaping up to be a big hurdle for Greece, a hard sell at a time when the country’s economic crises have sent unemployment skyrocketing above 25% and average income plummeting 25% over the last four years. “Both the government’s willingness to reform and its internal cohesion appear to be weak which does not bode well for the prospects of reform,” said Stathis Kalyvas, a professor of political science at Yale University and the co-director of its Hellenic Studies program.

“On the flip side, there is no real alternative for the government right now and the fact that it has already embarked on reform process following last summer’s agreement will be pushing it to implement it sooner rather than later”. Greece challenge is to convince its creditors that it can reduce government expenditure by up to 1% of its economy via pension cuts. But in a country where the social costs of austerity weighs on the mood of the general population, some think new pension adjustments could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Some of the government’s 153 MPs have already made clear that they will not support new cuts to pensions. If as few as three MPs vote against pension reform, analysts say it is likely the government will lose its majority, once again sinking back into political crisis.

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Prime candidate for dumbest term ever invented: housing ladder or property ladder. The UK, like Canada, Oz and New Zealand, is busy blowing up its own housing market, and refusing to halt it.

UK Buyers Need To Save For Up To 24 Years To Get On Property Ladder (Guardian)

Homebuyers now have to save for up to 24 years to set aside a deposit large enough to buy them a foot on Britain’s housing ladder, according to new research. The Resolution Foundation thinktank has used the Bank of England’s latest survey of household finances to show that with house prices rising sharply, it would now take almost a quarter of a century for low- and middle-income households to accumulate a deposit on average, if they set aside 5% of their disposable income each year. It is lower than the peak reached before the financial crisis, but dramatically higher than the three years that was the norm in the 1980s and 1990s – and comes despite interest rates remaining at the emergency level of 0.5% set by the Bank of England in the depths of recession.

George Osborne has introduced a series of help-to-buy policies, including shared ownership schemes and taxpayer guarantees for mortgages for first-time buyers, and pledged in his spending review last month to “turn generation rent into generation buy”. But Resolution’s chief economist, Matt Whittaker, warned that help to buy may simply boost house prices, lifting them further out of the reach of lower-income households. “To the extent that these schemes have stoked demand and so propped up house prices in recent years, they have served to make homeownership even less attainable for many, while increasing the gains flowing to older homeowners who have been the main beneficiaries of the sustained housing boom,” he said.

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It’s an Anglo disease. Trudeau’s too scared to rock the boat, just like the others.

Canada’s Trudeau Cites Risk in Curbing Foreign Real-Estate Investment (WSJ)

Imposing curbs on foreign investment in Canadian real estate could have unintended consequences for the broader economy, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned in a year-end interview with Canada’s Global Television Network, scheduled to air Christmas Day. Mr. Trudeau said there is a lack of “concrete data” about the impact of foreign buying on Canadian real estate, so moving ahead without proper information is risky. Mr. Trudeau’s comments emerge as a debate heats up over the impact overseas buyers may be having on housing affordability in the two of the country’s biggest housing markets—Toronto and Vancouver, British Columbia.

“You know you have to be cautious about decisions like that that are based on a single factor because at the same time [it] would potentially devalue the equity that a lot of people have in their homes right now,” Mr. Trudeau said, according to a transcript of the interview distributed by Global TV. “We have to be very, very cautious about restricting foreign investment in our country at a time where we know we need foreign investment in businesses, in resource development.”

Economists indicate strong sales and price growth in Toronto and Vancouver are supported by job creation in the two metropolitan areas, and an increasing number of people migrating to those urban centers as resource-rich parts of the country suffer under the weight of low commodity prices, as opposed to foreign investment. Meantime, Evan Siddall, the president of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., a government-owned mortgage insurer and housing agency, said in a recent speech that foreign investment could be contributing to the overvaluation of housing prices in the two markets. But, he said, the country lacks “accurate and reliable data” to determine the role foreign investment has on housing prices in the country.

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Almost funny.

Kansas Suspends Debt Limits To Pay For Tax Cuts (Wichita Eagle)

Right-wing Republican lawmakers have operated under the radar to suspend all statutory limits on highway debt, and that unprecedented authority was recently used to issue record-breaking levels of long-term debt to pay for their reckless income tax cuts this year and next. Six lines buried deep in a 700-page appropriation bill last spring gave the Kansas Department of Transportation unlimited authority to issue debt, and in early December, without public disclosure, the agency used that authority to issue $400 million in highway bonds. State law requires those debt proceeds to be used for improving state highways, but do not expect that to happen. Lawmakers directed that $400 million and more be swept from the highway fund to help pay for the $700 million dip in state revenues caused by income tax cuts in 2012 and 2013.

The $400 million in new highway debt represents the largest single highway bond in state history and bumps up total outstanding highway debt to $2.1 billion, also a state record. The size of the bond issue was boosted 60% higher than planned last January in order to stabilize at least temporarily the precarious condition of state finances. Never before in state history has a state agency been granted unlimited powers to issue debt. Prior to this extraordinary action, state lawmakers had carefully placed specific limits on the state’s ability to borrow money. KDOT’s authority to issue unlimited debt continues through this fiscal year and next, so additional highway bonds could be issued at any time over the next 18 months. The governor and legislative leaders went to extraordinary lengths to hide their suspension of debt limits from public scrutiny.

The governor’s budget report made no mention of the suspension. Republicans who controlled the appropriations conference committee never raised the issue. The Statehouse press corps missed it as well. Further, neither the governor nor KDOT disclosed to the public that KDOT had issued $400 million in new, record-breaking debt. Only after press inquiries last week, two weeks after the fact, did KDOT acknowledge that new bonds had been issued.Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders have elevated the practice of confiscating highway funds to pay for other state obligations to a new level. In this year alone $436 million will be swept from the highway fund – the single largest transfer ever. That amount plus prior transfers during Brownback’s term brings their displacement of highway funds to a breathtaking total of $1.6 billion.

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How empires fall: overreach.

The Empire Files: ‘America’s Ship is Sinking’: Former Bush Official (TeleSur)

“This ship is sinking,” retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson tells Abby Martin, adding that “today the purpose of US foreign policy is to support the complex that we have created in the national security state that is fueled, funded, and powered by interminable war.” The former national security advisor to the Reagan administration, who spent years as an assistant to Secretary of State Colin Powell during both Bush administrations reflects on the sad but honest reflection on what America has become as he exposes the unfixable corruption inside the establishment and the corporate interests driving foreign policy. “It’s never been about altruism, it’s about sheer power.”

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This does not include what’s sold domestically.

The West Dominates Global Arms Sales (Forbes)

In 2014, sales of the world’s top-100 arms manufacturers totalled $401 billion, according to a report from the the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. There was a moderate 1.5% decline in sales between 2013 and 2014, primarily due to lower sales for companies based in North America and Western Europe. Despite that decline, the West still dominates global arms sales. In 2014, seven out of the top ten largest arms-producing companies were American. Lockheed Martin grabbed the top spot for the first time since 2009, acccording to SIPRI, with arms sales totaling $37.5 billion. Boeing was in second place with $28.3 billion while Britain’s BAE Systems came third with just under $26 billion in sales.

Last year, the United States accounted for 54.4% of the world’s arms sales. The United Kingdom was in second place, with 10.4% while Russian companies had a 10.2% share of the market. Arms sales by Western European countries fell 7.4% in 2014 with only German and Swiss companies showing growth (9.4 and 11.2% respectively). Increasing national military expenditure and exports in Russia have seen the country’s arms industry grow steadily. According to SIPRI, Russia’s top eleven military companies experienced revenue growth of 48.4% between 2013 and 2014.

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“Are other countries’ wars our responsibility? That’s a question you hear a lot these days. But no one wants to hear the answer.”

The Refugee Crisis Is Forcing Germans To Ask: Who Are We? (Guardian)

I recently read that criminality is on the rise in German towns that have accepted refugees. But it’s not the refugees who are responsible for this crime wave: Germans in these towns have been committing arson, damaging property and attacking refugees. In other words, Germans have been making their own worst fears come true. Often the fear of loss leads to the very loss we fear – a principle that holds true not only for jealous lovers but also, it seems, for those who turn to violence out of fear that the refugees will cost them their safety and peace. The refugees haven’t even all been registered yet, but already they raise questions about who we are. Some Germans can imagine what it means to lose everything – hence their empathy; some can imagine what it means to lose everything – hence their fear.

We no longer have a universal frame of reference. Angela Merkel’s declaration that refugees are fundamentally deserving of protection – hers was the only declaration of its kind in Europe – has two main sticking points in her own country. First, there’s the free-market logic according to which the German government will prohibit neither the export of weapons by German companies to warring nations nor the ruthless exploitation of resources under corrupt systems in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe. And then there’s the ever-growing violence, both verbal and physical, from part of the German population: those who would like to see their country walled off with barbed wire – as is happening in Hungary – or, failing that, to at least have the Berlin government refuse to accept even the ridiculously low numbers of refugees mandated by the European Union – as Poland and the UK have done.

But which “European values” are best upheld with barbed wire and fences, regulations, harassment and attacks? Liberté, égalité, fraternité? Or is this mainly about our own survival? In eastern Germany, you can once again hear people chanting Wir sind das Volk (“We are the people”). In 1989 that sentence opened a border; now it’s being used to close a border, to insulate this finally unified Volk from the newcomers, who lack any unity since they are fleeing so many different wars. Are other countries’ wars our responsibility? That’s a question you hear a lot these days. But no one wants to hear the answer.

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Lest we forget: one prediction is for 3 million refugees in 2016. Even ‘just’ half that will lead to complete mayhem.

Vice Chancellor: Austria Can’t Accept Over 100,000 Migrants A Year (Reuters)

Austria’s Vice Chancellor said on Monday that Austria could not accept more than 100,000 migrants a year, following a pledge from its larger neighbor Germany to limit arrivals. Hundreds of thousands of people, many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere, have entered Austria on their route northwest from the Balkans since early September. Most have moved on to Germany, but Austria still expects to have received about 95,000 asylum applications this year, equivalent to more than 1% of its population, compared with the 28,000 registered in 2014. Of those, 38% were approved.

“Around 90-100,000 – a lot more will simply not be possible,” Reinhold Mitterlehner, from the conservative OVP, junior partner in the coalition, told ORF radio. Chancellor Werner Faymann, a Social Democrat who has generally adopted a more compassionate tone on the issue than the conservatives, was quoted as saying on Saturday that Austria should step up deportations of migrants who do not qualify for asylum. Faymann has also emphasized that policy decisions have been closely coordinated with his German counterpart Angela Merkel, who has pledged to “noticeably reduce the number of refugees”, fending off a challenge from critics of her own.

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“If I cry in this Jungle, will anyone help me? No. I am in the Jungle, so I have to try and smile.”

My Baby, The Refugee: Mothers On The Hardest Journey Of Their Lives (Guardian)

In a caravan in Calais, two little girls are playing a game. While their mother’s attention is elsewhere, they hang out of the small gap of an open window, giggling as they see who can lean the farthest. They could be on a family holiday, if it wasn’t for the squalor surrounding them. Instead, the children are living on mud-covered scrubland, without electricity or heating – just two more inhabitants of the unofficial refugee camp on Britain’s doorstep. A few minutes’ drive from the ferry port, the “new Jungle” is a symbol of the UK’s reluctance to deal with the refugee crises on our borders. Here, 200 women and children are said to be living among the 4,000 refugees, crammed into water-logged tents, caravans and even garden sheds. Thousands more live in similar conditions in nearby Dunkirk. While the young men who risk their lives jumping on to trains or lorries crossing the Channel have become the faces of this crisis, hidden in their midst are these families, trapped in an agonising limbo.

Rima, her shy son Adnan, five, and lively three-year-old daughter, Nour, are among them. The family fled Syria two months ago – just in time, Rima says, to avoid the fate of their nextdoor neighbours, who were killed in their homes the week before we speak. The children’s father was imprisoned in 2012, when Nour was two months old. “There is no security in our city,” Rima tells me. “You don’t have to have done anything for them to put you in prison. Every day I begged the guards to release him. They asked me for money, so I sold everything, but it was never enough. Finally, after a year, they told me he was dead. They allowed me to come every day and plead for him when he was dead. They never gave me his body.” Rima and her children joined the stream of refugees on what has become known as the “ant road”, from Turkey to western Europe.

“Walking through the night was terrifying,” Rima says. “I had a bag on my back and I put my daughter in it. She was ill; she had a temperature of 41C. The most frightening point was when a man on a motorbike wanted to carry my little boy – he said he’d take only the boy, not the girl. I thought he might snatch him.” Like many of the mothers here, Rima’s fear of imminent danger has been replaced with anxieties about the filthy, cold and sometimes violent conditions of the camp. As it becomes more permanent, little shops, cafes and even nightclubs have sprung up, giving a cruel imitation of a music festival – until the riot police come into view, standing guard near the motorway bridge. Despite being just yards from pleasant French houses, and a short drive from Calais’s squares and restaurants, the Jungle residents rely on candles for light and open fires for warmth.

Small fires that rip through caravans and tents are now a regular occurrence. In heavy rain, the area floods. At night, when the police clash with refugees, tear gas fills the air. The noise and insecurity are taking their toll on the already exhausted, traumatised children. “Now, there are no bombs, but we are freezing and still afraid,” Rima says, adding that she developed a heart condition after her husband was imprisoned. “There is no heating and we are living in the mud. In the night, my daughter screams in her sleep and hits out, because she has bad dreams. Four days ago, my heart felt so bad that I thought I would die. If I am not here, who will look after my children?”

Around 400 luckier women and children have found a space in the state-run Jules Ferry Centre, which also provides a hot meal every day for up to 2,500 Jungle residents who live outside, and a hot shower for around 1,000. Dedicated British and French donors and charities have also stepped in, offering warm clothes and nappies, and opening a women and children’s centre with a playground. But their goodwill alone cannot provide lights, heating or somewhere private to wash. For the mothers trapped here, all that is left is to put on a brave face and hope for a better life. Communities have sprung up; neighbours look after each other’s children and try to offer support. Despite their trying circumstances, people greet each other warmly. As one woman tells me, with heart-breaking honesty, “If I cry in this Jungle, will anyone help me? No. I am in the Jungle, so I have to try and smile.”

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Just another day in the Aegean.

18 Migrants Drown After Boat Sinks Off Turkey’s Southwestern Coast (Reuters)

Eighteen people died and 14 were rescued late on Friday after a boat carrying migrants trying to sail to Greece sank off the southern Turkish town of Bodrum, Dogan News Agency reported. Fishermen hearing the migrants’ screams of migrants alerted the Turkish coast guard, who picked up the bodies from the sea after the wooden boat carrying migrants from Iraq, Pakistan and Syria capsized about 3.5 km off the coast. Those rescued were taken to the hospital in Bodrum, many in serious condition, the agency said. The coast guard was not immediately available for comment.

A record 500,000 refugees from the four-year-old civil war in Syria have traveled through Turkey then risked their lives at sea to reach Greek islands this year, their first stop in the EU before continuing to wealthier countries. Despite the winter conditions and rougher seas, the exodus has continued, albeit at a slower pace. Nearly 600 people have died this year on the so-called eastern Mediterranean sea route for migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration. Turkey struck a deal with the EU on Nov. 29 pledging to help stem the flow of migrants into Europe in return for €3 billion of cash for the 2.2 million Syrians Ankara has been hosting, visas and renewed talks on joining the 28-nation bloc.

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