Jun 072018
 
 June 7, 2018  Posted by at 2:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Everything That Dies Does Not Come Back


Charles Sprague Pearce The Arab jeweler c1882

 

 

There are a lot of industries in our world that wreak outsized amounts of havoc. Think the biggest global banks and oil companies. Think plastics. But there is one field that is much worse than all others: agro-chemicals. At some point, not that long ago, the largest chemical producers, who until then had kept themselves busy producing Agent Orange, nerve agents and chemicals used in concentration camp showers, got the idea to use their products in food production.

While they had started out with fertilizers etc., they figured making crops fully dependent on their chemicals would be much more lucrative. They bought themselves ever more seeds and started manipulating them. And convinced more and more farmers, or rather food agglomerates, that if there were ‘pests’ that threatened their yields, they should simply kill them, rather than use natural methods to control them.

And in monocultures that actually makes sense. It’s the monoculture itself that doesn’t. What works in nature is (bio)diversity. It’s the zenith of cynicism that the food we need to live is now produced by a culture of death. Because that is what Monsanto et al represent: Their solution to whatever problem farmers may face is to kill it with poison. But that will end up killing the entire ecosystem a farmer operates within, and depends on.

However, the Monsantos of the planet produce much more ‘research’ material than anybody else, and it all says that the demise of ecosystems into which their products are introduced, has nothing to do with these products. And by the time anyone can prove the opposite, it will be too late: the damage will have been done through cross-pollination. Monsanto can then sue anyone who has crops that show traces of its genetically altered proprietary seeds, even if the last thing a farmer wants is to include those traces.

Anyway, when reading John Vidal in the Guardian yesterday, I was struck by some numbers. Bayer-Monsanto, soon to be just Bayer, own 60% of proprietary seeds and 70% of agrochemicals in the world. That’s roughly comparable to the numbers of vertebrates and insects that have vanished from the countrysides of Germany, France and England. Life itself is dying. Species extinction is now a bigger threat than climate change. Vidal:

 

Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals?

“Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get.

It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by. But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers.” It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by.

But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers. Backed by governments, and enabled by world trade rules and intellectual property laws, Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta have been allowed to control much of the world’s supply of seeds.

Do note that although Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta may be large companies, Bayer-Monsanto alone own 60% of proprietary seeds and 70% of agrochemicals. Since they ‘only’ own 60% and 70%, they can’t be accused of running a monopoly. But their main product, glyphosate (Roundup) is also produced by Dow, DuPont and Syngenta. So together they do effectively run a monopoly. Just not ‘technically’. These guys have the world’s best and biggest legal, lobbying and PR teams. Because they’re after global control.

[..] because most farmers in rich countries already buy their seeds from the multinationals, opposition has barely been heard. Instead, it is coming from the likes of Debal Deb, an Indian plant researcher who grows forgotten crops and is the antithesis of Bayer and Monsanto. While they concentrate on developing a small number of blockbuster staple crops, Deb grows as many crops as he can and gives the seeds away.

This year he is cultivating an astonishing 1,340 traditional varieties of Indian “folk” rice on land donated to him in West Bengal. More than 7,000 farmers in six states will be given the seeds, on the condition that they also grow them and give some away.

This seed-sharing of “landraces”, or local varieties, is not philanthropy but the extension of an age-old system of mutualised farming that has provided social stability and dietary diversity for millions of people. By continually selecting, crossbreeding and then exchanging their seeds, farmers have developed varieties for their aroma, taste, colour, medicinal properties and resistance to pests, drought and flood.

The battle is between biodiversity and Monsanto, and the latter is winning big. Monsanto-Bayer wants farmers to grow only a few crops, that it has patents on, and to kill off everything else with the chemicals without which these crops will not grow. Monoculture on steroids, raised in sterile environments bereft of life. 75% of insects gone in Europe’s countrysides, 60% of vertebrates, birds and butterflies becoming a rarity.

It is insanity in its purest form. Insanity of individual people, insanity of legal systems, insanity of governance. No-one, and no country, should be obliged to prove that Monsanto’s products are killing off biodiversity. We have an instrument called the precautionary principle, and we must use it. Like Hippocrates’ First Do No Harm. It is not complicated.

But I must admit I sometimes think it’s already too late. Once you kill off 70% of any form of life, in any ecosystem, how is it going to recover? Because mind you, with the Bayer-Monsanto merger being approved worldwide, things are only going to get worse at ever increasing speed. The agro-chemical industry is a culture of death that relies for its profits on a giant die-off, probably worse than whatever it is that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

And the odds that mankind will survive this one are slim to none. Our survival depends one on one on the diversity in the ecosystems we reside in. But yeah, I hear you: intelligent species.

 

 

Here’s something I first published in December 2016. Things have gotten much worse much faster than I could have predicted back then. Kill Monsanto before it kills your children.

 

 

Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity

 


Caters Extremely rare albino elephant, Kruger National Park in South Africa

 

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back …

Springsteen, Atlantic City

“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 verbatium 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

 

What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.

First of all, don’t tell me you’re trying to stop the ongoing extinction of nature and wildlife on this planet, or the destruction of life in general. Don’t even tell me you’re trying. Don’t tell me it’s climate change that we should focus on (that’s just a small part of the story), and you’re driving an electric car and you’re separating your trash or things like that. That would only mean you’re attempting to willfully ignore your share of destruction, because if you do it, so will others, and the planet can’t take anymore of your behavior.

This is the big one. And the only ones amongst us who don’t think so are those who don’t want to. Who think it’s easier to argue that some problems are too big for them to tackle, that they should be left to others to solve. But why should we, why should anyone, worry about elections or even wars, when it becomes obvious we’re fast approaching a time when such things don’t matter much anymore?

The latest WWF Living Planet Report shows us that the planet is a whole lot less alive than it used to be. And that we killed that life. That we replaced it with metal, bricks, plastic and concrete. Mass consumption leads to mass extinction. And that is fully predictable, it always was; there’s nothing new there.

We killed 58% of all vertebrate wildlife just between 1970 and 2012, and at a rate of 2% per year we will have massacred close to 70% of it by 2020, just 4 years from now. So what does it matter who’s president of just one of the many countries we invented on this planet? Why don’t we address what’s really crucial to our very survival instead?

 

 

The latest report from the WWF should have us all abandon whatever it is we’re doing, and make acting to prevent further annihilation of our living world the key driver in our everyday lives, every hour of every day, every single one of us. Anything else is just not good enough, and anything else will see us, that self-nominated intelligent species, annihilated in the process.

Granted, there may be a few decrepit and probably halfway mutant specimens of our species left, living in conditions we couldn’t even begin, nor dare, to imagine, with what will be left of their intelligence wondering how our intelligence could have ever let this happen. You’d almost wish they’ll understand as little as we ever did; that some form of ignorance equal to ours will soften their pain.

It’s important to note that the report does not describe a stagnant situation, there’s no state of affairs, not something still, it describes an ongoing and deteriorating process. That is, we don’t get to choose to stop the ongoing wildlife annihilation at 70%; we are witnessing, and indeed we are actively involved in, raising that number by 2% every year that we ‘live’ (can we even call it that anymore, are you alive when you murder all life around you?) in this world.

This is our only home.

 

 

Without the natural world that we were born into, or rather that our species, our ancestors, were born into, we have zero chance of survival. Because it is the natural world that has allowed for, and created, the conditions that made it possible for mankind to emerge and develop in the first place. And we are nowhere near making an earth 2.0; the notion itself is preposterous. A few thousand years of man ‘understanding’ his world is no match for billions of years of evolution. That’s the worst insult to whatever intelligence it is that we do have.

Much has been made through the years of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and much of that is just as much hubris as so much of what we tell ourselves, but the big question should be WHY we would volunteer to find out to what extent we can adapt to a world that has sustained the losses we cause it to suffer. Even if we could to a degree adapt to that, why should we want to?

Two thirds of our world is gone, and it’s we who have murdered it, and what’s worse – judging from our lifestyles- we seem to have hardly noticed at all. If we don’t stop what we’ve been doing, this can lead to one outcome only: we will murder ourselves too. Our perhaps biggest problem (even if we have quite a few) in this regard is our ability and propensity to deny this, as we deny any and all -serious, consequential- wrongdoing.

 

 

There are allegedly serious and smart people working on, dreaming of, and getting billions in subsidies for, fantasies of human colonies on Mars. This is advertized as a sign of progress and intelligence. But that can only be true if we can acknowledge that our intelligence and our insanity are identical twins. Because it is insane to destroy the planet on which we depend one-on-one for everything that allows us to live, and at the same time dream of human life on another planet.

While I see no reason to address the likes of King of Subsidies Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking is different. Unfortunately, in Hawking’s case, with all his intelligence, it’s his philosophical capacity that goes missing.

Humanity Will Not Survive Another 1,000 Years If We Don’t Escape Our Planet

Professor Stephen Hawking has warned humanity will not survive another 1,000 years on Earth unless the human race finds another planet to live on. [..] Professor Hawking, 74, reflected on the understanding of the universe garnered from breakthroughs over the past five decades, describing 2016 as a “glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics”. “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years and I am happy if I have made a small contribution,“ he went on.

”The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to understanding the laws that govern us and the universe is certainly a triumph.” Highlighting “ambitious” experiments that will give an even more precise picture of the universe, he continued: “We will map the position of millions of galaxies with the help of [super] computers like Cosmos. We will better understand our place in the universe.”

“But we must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity. I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”

The tragedy is that we may have gained some knowledge of natural laws and the universe, but we are completely clueless when it comes to keeping ourselves from destroying our world. Mars is an easy cop-out. But Mars doesn’t solve a thing. Because it’s -obviously- not the ‘fragile planet’ earth that is a threat to mankind, it’s mankind itself. How then can escaping to another planet solve its problems?

What exactly is wrong with saying that we will have to make it here on planet earth? Is it that we’ve already broken and murdered so much? And if that’s the reason, what does that say about us, and what does it say about what we would do to a next planet, even provided we could settle on it (we can’t) ? Doesn’t it say that we are our own worst enemies? And doesn’t the very idea of settling the ‘next planet’ imply that we had better settle things right here first? Like sort of a first condition before we go to Mars, if we ever do?

In order to survive, we don’t need to escape our planet, we need to escape ourselves. Not nearly as easy. Much harder than escaping to Mars. Which already is nothing but a pipedream to begin with.

Moreover, if we can accept that settling things here first before going to Mars is a prerequisite for going there in the first place, we wouldn’t need to go anymore, right?

 

 

We treat this entire extinction episode as if it’s something we’re watching from the outside in, as if it’s something we’re not really a part of. I’ve seen various undoubtedly very well-intentioned ‘green people’, ‘sustainable people’, react to the WWF report by pointing to signs that there is still hope, pointing to projects that reverse some of the decline, chinook salmon on the North American Pacific coast, Malawi farmers that no longer use chemical fertilizers, a giant sanctuary in the Antarctic etc.

That, too, is a form of insanity. Because it serves to lull people into a state of complacency that is entirely unwarranted. And that can therefore only serve to make things worse. There is no reversal, there is no turnaround. It’s like saying if a body doesn’t fall straight down in a continuous line, it doesn’t fall down at all.

The role that green, sustainability, conservationist groups play in our societies has shifted dramatically, and we have failed completely to see this change (as have they). These groups have become integral parts of our societies, instead of a force on the outside warning about what happens within.

Conservationist groups today serve as apologists for the havoc mankind unleashes on its world: all people have to do is donate money at Christmas, and conservation will be taken care of. Recycle a few bottles and plastic wrappings and you’re doing your part to save the planet. It is utterly insane. It’s as insane as the destruction itself. It’s denial writ large, and in the flesh.

It’s not advertized that way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not how it works. Saying that ‘it’s not too late’ is not a call to action as many people continue to believe. It’s just dirt poor psychology. It provides people with the impression, which rapidly turns into an excuse, that there is still time left. As almost 70% of all vertebrates, those animals that are closest to us, have disappeared. When would they say time is up? At 80%, 90%?

 

 

We do not understand why, or even that, we are such a tragically destructive species. And perhaps we can’t. Perhaps that is where our intelligence stops, at providing insight into ourselves. Even the most ‘aware’ amongst us will still tend to disparage their own roles in what goes on. Even they will make whatever it is they still do, and that they know is hurtful to the ecosystem, seem smaller than it is.

Even they will search for apologies for their own behavior, tell themselves they must do certain things in order to live in the society they were born in, drive kids to school, yada yada. We all do that. We soothe our consciences by telling ourselves we mean well, and then getting into our cars to go pick up a carton of milk. Or engage in an equally blind act. There’s too many to mention.

Every species that finds a large amount of free energy reacts the same way: proliferation. The unconscious drive is to use up the energy as fast as possible. If only we could understand that. But understanding it would get in the way of the principle itself. The only thing we can do to stop the extinction is for all of us to use a lot less energy. But because energy consumption provides wealth and -more importantly- political power, we will not do that. We instead tell ourselves all we need to do is use different forms of energy.

Our inbuilt talent for denying and lying (to ourselves and others) makes it impossible for us to see that we have an inbuilt talent for denying and lying in the first place. Or, put another way, seeing that we haven’t been able to stop ourselves from putting the planet into the dismal shape it is in now, why should we keep on believing that we will be able to stop ourselves in the future?

Thing is, an apology for our own behavior is also an apology for everyone else’s. As long as you keep buying things wrapped in plastic, you have no right, you lose your right, to blame the industry that produces the plastic.

 

 

We see ourselves as highly intelligent, and -as a consequence- we see ourselves as a species driven by reason. But we are not. Which can be easily demonstrated by a ‘reverse question’: why, if we are so smart, do we find ourselves in the predicament of having destroyed two thirds of our planet?

Do we have a rational argument to execute that destruction? Of course not, we’ll say. But then why do we do it if rationality drives us? This is a question that should forever cure us of the idea that we are driven by reason. But we’re not listening to the answer to that question. We’re denying, we’re even denying the question itself.

It’s the same question, and the same answer, by the way, that will NOT have us ‘abandon whatever it is we do’ when we read today that 70% of all wildlife will be gone by 2020, that 58% was gone by 2012 and we destroy it at a rate of 2% per year. We’re much more likely to worry much more about some report that says returns on our retirement plans will be much lower than we thought. Or about the economic growth that is too low (as if that is possible with 70% of wildlife gone).

After all, if destroying 70% of wildlife is not enough for a call to action, what would be? 80%? 90? 99%? I bet you that would be too late. And no, relying on conservationist groups to take care of it for us is not a viable route. Because that same 70% number spells out loud and clear what miserable failures these groups have turned out to be.

We ‘assume’ we’re intelligent, because that makes us feel good. Well, it doesn’t make the planet feel good. What drives us is not reason. What drives us is the part of our brains that we share in common with amoeba and bacteria and all other more ‘primitive forms of life, that gobbles up excess energy as fast as possible, in order to restore a balance. Our ‘rational’, human, brain serves one function, and one only: to find ‘rational’ excuses for what our primitive brain has just made us do.

We’re all intelligent enough to understand that driving a hybrid car or an electric car does nothing to halt the havoc we do to our world, but there are still millions of these things being sold. So perhaps we could say that we’re at the same time intelligent enough, and we’re not.

We can see ourselves destroying our world, but we can not stop ourselves from continuing the destruction. Here’s something I wrote 5 years ago:

Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

We have done exactly the same that any primitive life form would do when faced with a surplus, of food, energy, and in our case credit, cheap money. We spent it all as fast as we can. Lest less abundant times arrive. It’s an instinct, it comes from our more primitive brain segments, not our more “rational” frontal cortex. It’s not that we’re in principle, or talent, more devious or malicious than more primitive life forms. It’s that we use our more advanced brains to help us execute the same devastation our primitive brain drives us to, but much much worse.

That’s what makes us the most tragic species imaginable. We’ll fight each other, even our children, over the last few scraps falling off the table, and kill off everything in our path to get there. And when we’re done, we’ll find a way to rationalize to ourselves why we were right to do so. We can be aware of watching ourselves do what we do, but we can’t help ourselves from doing it. Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

The greatest miracle you will ever see, that you could ever hope to see, is so miraculous you can’t even recognize it for what it is. We don’t know what the word beautiful means anymore. Or the word valuable. We’ve lost all of that, and are well on our way, well over 70% of it, to losing the rest too.

 

 

 

PS Please note I could not gather all sources for all pictures here, but I’d be more than happy to add them. It’s not that I don’t recognize the effort that goes into them; it’s an emotional thing.

 

 

Mar 232017
 
 March 23, 2017  Posted by at 5:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Live cooking in Monastiraki Square, Athens

 

Every time I write about my ‘adventures’ in Greece for the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund, which I initiated in June 2015, I think it’s been way too long, but also every time I realize that I’ve already written so much about it (which makes every new article harder to write as well). Still, it’s been three months since the last one, and as always lots has happened; we’re not sitting still. As always, there’s a full list of previous articles at the bottom of this one.

To start with the latest development, I gave Konstantinos Polychronopoulos of O Allos Anthropos another €1,000 (the last funds I had) on March 15, which he needed to go to Lesbos, where he’s been asked to help set up a ‘Multi-Center’, to be jointly built by Greeks and refugees. It’s an initiative of a privately funded organization named Swisscross, to be located outside of the horrible Moria camp.

The center, which will have no sleeping facilities, is designed to make life more bearable for the refugees stuck inside Moria. It will provide shower rooms, laundry facilities, a kindergarten, a school (remedial teaching), a cinema, cafeteria and a restaurant.

O Allos Anthropos will be in charge of the restaurant, which will also be very much geared towards providing space, equipment, food and resources for the refugees themselves to cook. An often overlooked part of the refugee tragedy here in Greece is that preparing food is an important aspect of family- and community life, a source of dignity and pride, that has been taken away from them and replaced by real bad catering.

 


Thank you to the Texan girls who donated their Santa hat to me for Konstantinos on December 25. Perfect fit!

 

We’ve had the fifth anniversary of O Allos Anthropos in December, and of course Christmas. Then we had New Year’s, and on January 8 Greek New Year. February 16 was Tsikno Pempti (aka Charcoal Thursday or Greek Cholesterol Day), when everyone eats roasted meat – there’s a connection with carnival there-, and the Monday after that was Clean Monday, the end of carnival and the start of what is probably best compared to Lent, what once upon a time was a 40-day period of ‘fasting’ all the way to Easter. No Fat Tuesday or Ash Wednesday, as far as I could find.

Konstantinos and his people made sure that everyone, homeless and refugees, had a Christmas and New Year’s party like ‘normal’ people. Someone had donated a whole lot of turkey for Christmas, there was some meat to eat, and on Cholesterol Day there was even over 1000 kilos of meat to be spread to the Social Kitchens all over the country. It’s the kind of thing that makes people feel they do count, and they do belong, despite the misery they find themselves in.

Just as important, if not more, was the fact that all children who were present in the Big House in Athens, many of whom are homeless, received presents on Greek New Year. That means so much to them. Holidays without presents is cruel to children. I’ll sprinkle some pictures through this article.

 


Nobody gets left out at Christmas

 

Through all these events one thing that kept popping into my head was how close they brought joy and misery together. It’s pretty much priceless to see the happiness in people’s faces when they are served a real Christmas meal, a sign that they belong to the ‘human tribe’, that they ARE important, and there ARE people who care about them. Being able to do that for people is a very precious thing. As I said to someone also involved in refugee work a while ago: I’m sure that when we look back on this years from now, we’re going to say this is the best thing we’ve done in our lives, or right up there.

But at the same time, you can’t look at the joy without realizing where it comes from, why a simple meal or a Christmas present means so much; it comes from the every day misery so many people live in, in Greece these days. Looking at people knowing they’ll have no place to sleep that night, while it’s pretty cold outside too (colder than I thought Athens would be), it will never be easy. The misery is always close to the surface.

So I want to thank you once again, Automatic Earth readers, for having made much of this possible through your donations. You help make a lot of people feel better, help them eat, shower, give them a sense of dignity. In the process, you make me feel better too. Thank you. (Update: Saw a video the other day of a girl tattoo artist who set up a program to change self-mutilated arms into beautiful works of body art. Her reason to do this: “You don’t know what happiness is within yourself until you do something for another person.” That. You rock.

 


Happiness is a little girl’s face

 

That €1000 I gave Konstantinos was again the last money I had to donate to him, so I will call on you once more, and shamelessly so (which I allow myself to do because it’s for others, and it really helps). The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund has so far generated over $50,000(!) -one wonderful soul sent me a check for $10,000…-, and it’s a bit of a victim of its own success. The more there is, the more gets spent; we don’t want to not help people. And already the number of meals O Allos Anthropos can prepare and serve is dropping again, for monetary reasons; the number should be going up instead. We’re rowing against a strong current, which is awfully ironic, as you can see in the rest of this article.

 

I was reading an article earlier this week from AFP about an Italian program for refugees that shows everything that is wrong about how the crisis is being dealt with in Europe. Italy has started flying in Syrian refugees from Beirut, so they don’t have to spent a fortune on a risky sea voyage only to be locked up for months in camps. There are other ways. Kudos to Italy, and may many other countries follow their example:

Avoiding Risky Sea Journey, Syrian Refugees Head To Italy ‘Pronto’

Just before midnight in a sleepy district of Beirut, dozens of Syrian refugees huddle in small groups around bulging suitcases, clutching their pinging cellphones and one-way tickets to Italy. “Torino! Pronto! Cappuccino!” They practise random Italian words in a schoolyard in the Lebanese capital’s eastern Geitawi neighbourhood, waiting for the buses that will take them to the airport, and onwards to their new lives in Italy. Under an initiative introduced last year by the Italian government, nearly 700 Syrian refugees have been granted one-year humanitarian visas to begin their asylum process in Italy. The programme is the first of its kind in Europe: a speedy third way that both avoids the United Nations lengthy resettlement process and provides refugees with a safe alternative to crammed dinghies and perilous sea crossings.

[..] A country of just four million people, Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees. For members of Mediterranean Hope, the four-person team coordinating Italy’s resettlement efforts from Lebanon, “humanitarian corridors” are the future of resettlement. The group interviews refugees many times before recommending them to the Italian embassy, which issues humanitarian visas for a one-year stay during which they begin the asylum process for permanent resettlement. “It’s safe and legal. Safe for them, legal for us, says Mediterranean Hope officer Sara Manisera. “After people cross the Mediterranean on the journey of death, they are put into centres for months while they wait. But with this programme, there are no massive centres, it costs less, and refugees can keep their dignity,” she tells AFP.

Since March 20 was the 1st anniversary of the EU-Turkey refugee deal, many articles were published about what happened during the past year. And I haven’t seen one that was positive, which makes a lot of sense. There may be fewer refugees arriving in Greece now, but the situation of those who are in the country has gotten much worse. They are now prisoners, ‘housed’ in squalid conditions and with very little idea what will happen to them, how long their asylum applications will take to be heard, if they can or will be sent back to Turkey.

And now, with Erdogan getting ever more desperate in his quest to become the over-powerful president of Turkey, with just 4 weeks left till the referendum that should make him so, and with polls showing he’s behind, the EU-Turkey deal may well fall victim to petty politics. As it always looked to do. Who will suffer if that happens? The usual suspects, Greece and the refugees. The walls to fortress Europe are still shut tight. And it’s always election time somewhere.

 


Live cooking in Monastiraki Square, Athens

 

A friend recently translated something for me that Konstantinos had written on the O Allos Anthropos Facebook page. He said that every refugee who, before the EU-Turkey deal, passed through Greece on his/her way to Europe, cost the EU €800. For a family of 5 that adds up to €4,000, which would have been more than enough to pay for transport, stay at decent hotels and eat in normal restaurants for the duration of their trip (7-10 days). Suffice it to say, that was not what they got.

After the EU-Turkey deal made it impossible for refugees to leave Greece, €15,000 has been spent per capita. That is €75,000 per family of 5, more than enough to rent a villa on the beach, hire a butler and eat gourmet food for 8 months. Instead, the refugees are stuck in old abandoned factories with no facilities, in old tents in the freezing cold and in the rain, and forced to eat a dirt poor version of rice with chickpeas and lentil soup.

Then over the weekend I saw this confirmed in a graph issued by Refugees Deeply (with slightly lower numbers, but those are just margin errors). Note: March 16 2015 in the graph should of course read March 16 2016:

 

 

Refugees Deeply are a bit of a new kid on the block, they’re a year old, and I have no doubt they do care and have the best intentions. But since they operate throughout the world, not just in Greece, they run the same risk many international NGOs do, of spreading their resources too thin. Moreover, one thing that’s become obvious is that if you approach and treat Greece the same way as Somalia, for instance, you’re certain of making some major mistakes. Greece was a modern and prosperous country until Europe tried to turn it into Somalia.

I first heard of Refugees Deeply 2 weeks ago when they published a report called The Refugee Archipelago – The Inside Story Of What Went Wrong In Greece. A good piece, for sure, and I recommend it, but it comes up far short of naming everything that went -and is still going- wrong.

What’s good is that it focuses on the failures of the Greek government in the never-ending refugee tragedy, because that was a part that had largely been missing. But what’s not so good is that it focuses almost exclusively on that. And that’s far from the whole story.

 

You see, there are three separate parties involved in the saga that have access to serious funding, and all three have their own reasons NOT to solve the problems to the best of their abilities. There’s the EU, there’s Greece, and there are dozens of NGOs, many of whom are large and operate internationally (iNGOs).

The EU wants to use Greece as a deterrent. It aims to create an image to the world of Greece as a sordid inhumane place that no potential refugee should ever wish to flee to. Because it doesn’t want any more refugees. 1 million refugees is too much for a continent, and a political union, of 500 million people. Rich Europe is overwhelmed by 0.2% more people. (Note: I’m not advocation open borders or anything, I’m just saying we need to take care of people in need, which is basically what the Geneva Convention says. Until we decide to stop bombing countries like Syria, and start rebuilding them, people will come to our territory to seek help.)

The EU also wants to put Greece in an even harder predicament, for politico-economic reasons. Brussels hands out a lot of money, but it doesn’t- from what I’ve been reading- seem to keep proper tabs of where that money is going, or how it’s spent. That way its hands are always clean: we gave all this money, you can’t blame us! And their hands will remain clean until someone calls them on their lack of oversight of what happens to taxpayers’ money. But taxpayers don’t even know who to call on, Europe is faceless.

 

The Greek government, too, likes the deterrent idea, albeit for slightly different reasons. While the EU has money to burn, Greece has none. The country doesn’t have the means to handle the refugee influx; it doesn’t even have the means to deal with its own domestic austerity-driven misery. The last thing it wants to do is give the impression that it is able to deal with the whole thing.

That might give refugees the idea that Greece is a good place to go to, and it might give Brussels the idea that Greece can handle this, so it must be doing fine. Also, there are (party-) political issues, there is rampant corruption, and there are egos. Greece is a country that politically, socially and economically has been robbed of any and all certainties and confidence. Where the poor take care of each other and the rich only have eye for themselves. But it’s hardly a functioning society anymore, it’s a bankruptcy fire sale.

The only thing surprising about the letter bombs (parcels) for Dijsselbloem, the IMF and Schäuble sent from Greece is that it took so long. Punishing a country into paying more than they could possibly afford is Versailles redux. But sure, the Greek part in the refugee crisis needs serious scrutiny as well: how Mouzalas can still be migration minister after the Refugees Deeply piece is hard to see. Then again, sources on the ground tell me it’s not -only- him, it’s the overall chaos and infighting.

 


And there are protests

 

The third party, the NGOs, is a bit tricky to talk about. For one, because there are so many of them, and in many lots of people work with the best possible intentions. That coming to a country where you don’t know the language or culture is not a perfect plan may often get lost in translation, certainly for unpaid bright-eyed young volunteers looking for a holiday but with a meaning.

It’s tricky also because NGOs, as I’ve written before, have become an industry in their own right, institutionalized even. As someone phrased it: we now have a humanitarian-industrial complex. Which in Greece has received hundreds of millions of euros and somehow can’t manage to take proper care of 60,000 desolate souls with that.

I’ve even been warned that if I speak out too clearly about this, they may come after Konstantinos and his people and make their work hard and/or impossible. This is after all an industry that is worth a lot of money. Aid is big business. And big business protects itself.

Still, if we’re genuinely interested in finding out how and why it is possible that hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros change hands, and people still die in the cold and live in subhuman conditions, we’re going to have to break through some of the barriers that the EU, Greece and the iNGOs have built around themselves.

If only because European -and also American- taxpayers have a right to know what has made this ongoing epic failure possible. And of course the first concern should be that the refugees have the right, encapsulated in international law, to decent and humane treatment, and are not getting anything even remotely resembling it.

Refugees Deeply quotes ‘a senior aid official’ (they don’t say from what) anonymously saying that €70 out of every €100 in aid is wasted. I see little reason to question that; if anything, it could be worse. But on the sunny side that means it need not take much to improve things. If ‘only’ one third of the aid were wasted, the portion that actually helps could potentially be doubled.

 

Most importantly: how do you waste at least €560 million (7/10 of €800 million) when that was intended for people in misery, in peril, in desperate need? I find it hard to wrap my mind around this, can’t seem to understand how actual people in Brussels can allow that to happen, when it’s about taxpayers’ money supposed to help people in grave distress. And I can’t figure out how Greece can allow that people freeze to death on its territory, when that could obviously have been easily prevented.

Nor can I fathom how iNGOs, who together have received hundreds of millions, can fail to build a number of decent winter camps, having been warned and funded months in advance. A lot of money goes to contractors, to the caterers who provide the awful meals at ten times the cost that O Allos Anthropos does, to the builders who don’t build, to the ubiquitous wheeler-dealers who can smell a cheap profit from miles away. And NGO executives want their often hefty salaries to be paid in time.

But even then I keep on thinking: where has all the money gone? They could have built or rented great facilities for all 60,000 refugees, and fed them, and schooled their children, and still have plenty of profit left. Why must greed be so unbridled?

 

In view of all this wasted money, we, Konstantinos and his people, can do so much more and so much better. But then again, of course, we can’t, because we don’t have that kind of funding, not even to spend wisely. And we won‘t either since we don’t want to comply with rules that would force O Allos Anthropos to refuse a meal to a hungry person, Greek or refugee, who doesn’t have ‘the proper ID’.

That ID thing fits ‘wonderfully’ into the EU model that has turned so many refugees into de facto prisoners, and has made so many Greeks destitute. In the end, aid must come from the heart, not from a wallet. Once humanitarian aid becomes a profit-based industry, as it so clearly has here, situations like the ones I describe here become inevitable. It all must come from the desire to help fellow human beings, and that should never be something that someone gets rich off of.

And compromising that in order to let the same machine fund you that has created so much mayhem feels like a road to some place between hell and nowhere. It’s sort of the opposite of Sartre’s “L’enfer c’est les autres” (Hell is other people). O Allos Anthropos means ‘The Other Human’. In other words, heaven is other people too. I could make a good case arguing that this is the very meaning of life, that we are here to help others. But that of course is just me. And thankfully and hopefully, bless you, many of our readers.

I don’t want to spend too much time being angry over the whole thing. The best we can all do is be positive, work with we have, and help as many people as we can. Of course Konstantinos and I, and many others, talk about becoming an NGO. But in his view, that would mean becoming a part of the machine, the industry, that does so much harm, wastes so much money and precious resources, and hurts so many needy people in the process.

Konstantinos is very much opposed to that, and I agree with him (not everyone always does). For him, it’s about never forgetting the reason why you do what you do, and certainly not forgetting it for money. But at the same time, yes, with more money we could do so much more. The number of projects that don’t get done, the people who don’t get fed, because the money is simply not there, is for lack of a better term, embarrassing. Especially, obviously, because that same money does get wasted somewhere else.

So we ask you once again for your help:

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos. Every penny goes where it belongs, no overhead. Guaranteed. It’s a matter of honor.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

Dec 21 2016

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

 

 

Mar 012017
 
 March 1, 2017  Posted by at 10:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind, directed by Victor Fleming, 1939

 

Raising Pension Age Will Mean Many People Die Before Getting It (G.)
NY Teamsters Pension Fund Becomes First To Run Out Of Money (NYDN)
US Baby Boomers Forced By Law To Start Drawing From Retirement Funds (MW)
Greek Pensioners Brace For Latest Crisis Cuts (K.)
Merkel Bypasses Schäuble To Push For Greek Review Conclusion (K.)
US Stepping In To Ease Greece, Turkey Tensions (K.)
Trump Touts Unity Strength In Speech To Congress (R.)
Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are Not Political Philosophers (Baker)
This Chart Signals China’s Housing Bubble May Burst Soon (ME)
Russia Seen Dominating European Energy for Two Decades (BBG)
Sydney Home Prices Surge 14.8%, Fastest Annual Pace Since 2002 (BBG)
UK Nuclear Power Stations ‘Could Be Forced To Close’ After Brexit (G.)
Denmark Reduces Food Waste By 25% In 5 Years With Help Of One Woman (Ind.)
The World-Ending Fire – How America’s Farmers Betrayed The Land (G.)

 

 

Lots of retirement and pension scare stories today. I can only hope our readers have taken our warnings through the years to heart.

Raising Pension Age Will Mean Many People Die Before Getting It (G.)

Further increases in the state pension age could push it to the point where many working people die before qualifying for it, MPs have warned, in a report that calls for the end of the “triple lock” guarantee on pensions. The Commons work and pensions select committee report on intergenerational fairness, published on Tuesday, claims that financing the triple lock in future will not be possible without increasing the state pension age to 70.5 years – leaving men in Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Blackpool dying on average before they receive their state pension. Under the triple lock, pensions have risen every year since 2010 by whichever is the higher figure out of the rate of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5%. This has lifted many pensioners out of poverty but the committee said it had resulted in the over-65s taking an “ever greater share of national income”.

In its November 2016 report, the committee recommended that the triple lock be replaced from 2020 by a smoothed earnings link. This would benchmark the state pension to a fixed proportion of average earnings in the long run, but would protect its purchasing power in times of inflation. Citing figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the committee said the state pension age would need to rise to 70.5 years by 2060 to make the triple lock affordable, “meaning today’s young would face working lives of over 50 years before receiving a state pension”. It added: “Making the triple lock sustainable would mean pushing the state pension age over average life expectancy in poorer areas of the UK”. Current male life expectancy is lowest in Blackpool, at 67.5, while it is 68.7 in parts of Bradford and 70.2 in much of Manchester. Tower Hamlets in London’s East End has a male life expectancy of 69.1.

Read more …

Dominoes.

NY Teamsters Pension Fund Becomes First To Run Out Of Money (NYDN)

Chmil is one of roughly 4,000 retired Teamsters across New York State suffering a fate that could soon hit millions of working-class Americans — the loss of their union pensions. Teamsters Local 707’s pension fund is the first to officially bottom out financially — which happened this month. “I had a union job for 30 years,” Chmil said. “We had collectively bargained contracts that promised us a pension. I paid into it with every paycheck. Everyone told us, ‘Don’t worry, you have a union job, your pension is guaranteed.’ Well, so much for that.” Also on the brink of drying up are the pensions for two Teamster locals — 641 and 560 — in New Jersey, union officials said. Plus 35,000 Teamster members upstate who are part of the money-hemorrhaging New York State Teamsters Pension Fund.

Bigger than all of New York’s Teamster locals combined is the Central States Pension Fund — another looming financial disaster that could leave 407,000 retirees without pensions across the Midwest and South. And there’s still more beyond that, in various industries, officials say. “It’s a nightmare, it has just devastated all of our lives. I’ve gone from having $48,000 a year to less than half that,” said Chmil, one of five Local 707 retirees who agreed to share their stories with the Daily News last week. “I don’t want other people to have to go through this. We need everyone to wake up and do something; that’s why we’re talking,” said Ray Narvaez. Narvaez, 77, got a union certificate upon retirement in 2003 that guaranteed him a lifetime pension of $3,479 a month. The former short-haul trucker — who carried local freight around the city — started hearing talk in 2008 of sinking finances in his union’s pension fund.

But the monthly checks still came — including a bonus “13th check” mailed from the union without fail every Dec. 15. Then Narvaez, like 4,000 other retired Teamster truckers, got a letter from Local 707 in February of last year. It said monthly pensions had to be slashed by more than a third. It was an emergency move to try to keep the dying fund solvent. That dropped Narvaez from nearly $3,500 to about $2,000. “They said they were running out of money, that there could be no more in the pension fund, so we had to take the cut,” said Narvaez, whose wife was recently diagnosed with cancer. The stopgap measure didn’t work — and after years of dangling over the precipice, Local 707’s pension fund fell off the financial cliff this month.

With no money left, it turned to Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a government insurance company that covers pension. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. picked up Local 707’s retiree payouts — but the maximum benefit it gives a year is roughly $12,000, for workers who racked up at least 30 years. For those with less time on the job, the payouts are smaller.

Read more …

“Americans who turn 70 1/2 have until April of the following calendar year to make withdrawals or face stiff penalties…”

US Baby Boomers Forced By Law To Start Drawing From Retirement Funds (MW)

Robert Kiyosaki, author of the “Rich Dad” series of books, has for years predicted an epic market crash when baby boomers, forced by law, start drawing from retirement funds in large numbers. That meltdown was supposed to happen last year. Instead, the bull market raged on: It will be eight years old in March, if measured by the 2009 bottom. Kiyosaki has drawn some flak along the way. Kiyosaki hasn’t given up on the prediction, however, he told MarketWatch in a late-January interview and a series of follow-up emails. Baby boomers still need to start drawing money in 2017, he notes: They hold about $10 trillion in tax-deferred savings accounts, according to Bank of New York Mellon; Americans who turn 70 1/2 have until April of the following calendar year to make withdrawals or face stiff penalties. (There were nearly 75 million Boomers in 2015, according to Pew Research.)

“Every time I say that to people they scoff at me,” said Kiyosaki of his baby boomer meltdown theory. “The fact is, they’re pulling the money out…the thing that did happen that I never expected, was the market went up a lot due to the ‘Trump Bump.’” Early in 2016, when stocks posted their worst January since 2009, it looked like Kiyosaki might be right about the market. Stocks recovered only to slide on Brexit last summer and then fall briefly in an autumn pre-election dip. It’s been upward momentum ever since. The surprise election victory of President Donald Trump, who rallied investors with his promise to revamp the economy, further muddied the picture for Kiyosaki’s forecast. While stocks were already up about 4.3% before the election, its outcome boosted the S&P to finish 2016 with a 9.5% gain. The Dow industrials logged their best annual finish in 3 years, up 13.4%.

[..] Kiyosaki says 2016 brought about other, unexpected, crashes. “What has happened instead of a market crash was the crash in interest rates, which are adversely affecting millions of fixed-income retirees, pension plans, and savers — at the same time incentivizing people like me to become debtors, using debt to acquire income-producing real estate,” he said. Most retirement plans assume an 8% return, Kiyosaki said, but “when interest rates are a 1% or 0% or negative%, returns aren’t working.”

Read more …

Lots of numbers, but none really matter much. The crux is that if there are Greek pensions that are too high, for instance compared to other European ones, cut them, fine. But don’t cut ones that are already below and and all minimal limits. That is not even worth being labeled policy, it’s simply inhumane.

Greek Pensioners Brace For Latest Crisis Cuts (K.)

One group of Greeks that will look upon the return of creditors to Athens for talks aimed at completing the second review with some trepidation is the country’s 2.7 million pensioners. Since 2010, when Greece signed its first bailout with the eurozone and the IMF, the retirement age and social security contributions have increased, while pensions have come down. There is rarely a review that leaves pensions untouched and this one promises to be no different as lenders are targeting a reduction of annual pension spending by about 1.8 billion euros, or 1% of GDP. The IMF has been the most vociferous among Greece’s lenders regarding the need for a further overhaul of the country’s pension system to make it sustainable in the long run.

Between 2000 and 2010, pension spending in Greece climbed from 11 to 15% of GDP, mostly due to large increases in nominal pensions, generous benefits and options for early retirement. During this period, Greece’s figure was the second highest in the eurozone after that of Italy, according to the IMF. Despite two sets of reforms legislated in 2010 and 2012, pension expenditure continued rising and hit 17.7% in 2015, largely due to a GDP contracting by 25% while the average pension decreased by 8% between 2010 and 2015. The IMF believes the combination of low contribution revenues and high pension spending led to the pension deficit climbing from 7.3% of GDP in 2010 to 11% in 2015, making it by far the highest in the euro area.

Read more …

It’s about access to the ECB’s QE program, where Draghi starts buying Greek bonds. And perhaps even the markets too. That would hugely limit Greece’s dependence on the Troika.

Merkel Bypasses Schäuble To Push For Greek Review Conclusion (K.)

Kathimerini understands that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is prepared to do whatever it takes to conclude the second review of Greece’s third bailout so that it can join the ECB’s quantitative easing program (QE), on the condition that the government agrees to a package of pension cuts and a reduced tax threshold – amounting to roughly 2% of GDP. According to sources, Merkel has, to this end, already seized the initiative and met with ECB head Mario Draghi. The German chancellor is also expected to bypass any objections that may be raised by her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, and will push for a specific outline of what midterm measures for debt relief will look like – once Greece agrees to measures demanded by the IMF.

Draghi, as well as ECB executive board member Benoit Coeure, have already made it clear that Greece can only join the QE mechanism if it concludes the review, and midterm measures for debt relief are in place – which is something that, so far, Schaeuble has opposed. Merkel’s plan stipulates that after a staff level agreement is reached, the Greek Parliament will vote through the measures. When this is done, the specifics of the debt relief measures will be presented as a carrot to Athens. This will open the way for it to join the QE scheme and the IMF to rejoin the Greek program.

Read more …

if this is true, it’s massive.

US Stepping In To Ease Greece, Turkey Tensions (K.)

Washington appears to have activated a channel of communication with Ankara in a bid to reduce the recent spike in tensions with Greece in the Aegean Sea. According to sources, the US recently asked Ankara to tone down its aggressive stance in the Aegean. It is not known how Ankara has taken the American initiative, but it is clear that Washington fears a possible incident in the Aegean between the two NATO allies, which could destabilize the alliance’s southeast wing. Meanwhile, the incendiary rhetoric emanating from Ankara, albeit from nongoverment politicians, continued Tuesday with the leader of the ultra-right MHP party Devlet Bahceli speaking of Greek islands that remained “under occupation.” Bahceli is an ally of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and supports the bid by the Turkish president to expand his executive powers in the referendum that will take place in Turkey on April 16.

Citing what he described as international law, Bahceli called for the “unconditional end to the occupation of the islands,” referring to a string of islands and islets in the eastern Aegean. He went even further, referring to the Greek-Turkish war in 1922 and the way the Greek army was defeated by Turkish forces in Asia Minor – without, however, mentioning the Greek population of Turkey which was uprooted as a result of the war. “If [the Greeks] want to fall back into the sea [referring to how the Greek army was pushed out of Asia Minor] and if they are up to it, they are welcome to do it. The Turkish army is ready,” he said. The MHP leader also said the divided island of Cyprus is Turkish. Since the recent escalation of tension between Greece and Turkey, progress in the UN-backed peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots has stalled.

Read more …

Most remarkable thing must be that Trump has learned to read from a teleprompter, and was told to stick with only that.

Trump Touts Unity Strength In Speech To Congress (R.)

President Donald Trump told Congress on Tuesday he was open to immigration reform, shifting from his harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration in a speech that offered a more restrained tone than his election campaign and first month in the White House. Trump, in a prime-time address to a country that remains divided over his leadership, set aside disputes with Democrats and the news media to deliver his most presidential performance to date, seeking to regain the confidence of Americans rattled by his leadership thus far. The president’s speech was long on promises but short on specifics on how to achieve a challenging legislative agenda that could add dramatically to budget deficits. He wants a healthcare overhaul, broad tax cuts and a $1 trillion public-private initiative to rebuild degraded roads and bridges.

Trump built a base of support behind his presidential campaign by vowing to fight illegal immigration. In his speech, he took a more moderate tone, appealing to Republicans and Democrats to work together on immigration reform. He said it was possible if both Republicans and Democrats in Congress were willing to compromise, although he also said U.S. immigration should be based on a merit-based system, rather than relying on lower-skilled immigrants. Comprehensive immigration reform eluded his two predecessors, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush, because of deep divisions within Congress and among Americans over the issue. Trump said reform would raise wages and help more struggling families enter the middle class. “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws,” said the Republican president.

Read more …

Dean Baker corrects the NYT.

Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are Not Political Philosophers (Baker)

Apparently the paper is confused on this issue since it headlined a front page piece on the budget, “Trump budget sets up clash over ideology within G.O.P.” The article lays out this case in the fourth paragraph: “He [Trump] also set up a battle for control of Republican Party ideology with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who for years has staked his policy-making reputation on the argument that taming the budget deficit without tax increases would require that Congress change, and cut, the programs that swallow the bulk of the government’s spending — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” Most of us recognize Donald Trump and Paul Ryan as politicians who hold their jobs as a result of being able to gain the support of important interest groups. It really doesn’t make much difference what their political philosophy is.

Contrary to what the NYT might lead us to believe, this is not a battle of political philosophy, it is a battle over money. On this score, the NYT also gets matters seriously confused. First of all, it is wrong to describe Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as “the programs that swallow the bulk of government spending.” Under the law, Social Security can only spend money raised through its designated taxes, either currently or in the past. For this reason, it is not a drain on the rest of the budget unless Congress changes the law. Medicaid would also not rank among the three largest programs. The government is projected to spend $592 billion this year on the military compared to $401 billion on Medicaid.

The claim that Paul Ryan is concerned that these programs would “swallow the bulk of government spending” directly contradicts everything Paul Ryan has been explicitly advocating for years. Ryan has repeatedly put forward budgets that would reduce the size of the federal government to zero outside of the military, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It is difficult to understand how a major newspaper can so completely misrepresent a strongly and repeatedly stated view of one of the country’s most important political figures.

Read more …

Full blown insanity.

This Chart Signals China’s Housing Bubble May Burst Soon (ME)

The probability that a real estate bubble may burst in China is rising. The financial sector heavily depends on real estate, which in turn exposes the entire Chinese economy to systemic risk. This link means that a downturn in real estate could soon spread to other areas of the Chinese economy if banks face liquidity shortfalls. Also, falling housing prices could result in more non-performing loans (NPLs). While NPLs officially account for only 1.75% of all Chinese loans, the government is likely understating the figure. BMI Research, a financial consulting firm, estimated in a 2016 report that NPLs could be close to 20% of loans.

As banks gave more credit to real estate developers and buyers, their profitability stalled. In theory, China’s economy is not based on capitalism and thus doesn’t revolve around profitability; but in practice, money needs to come from somewhere. A company that doesn’t make a profit can’t survive in the long run. The Chinese government can’t afford to let banks fail since it would threaten both the financial system’s health and the key lifeline to state-owned enterprises that provide jobs. This surge in China’s real estate prices, fueled by ongoing credit expansion, are forcing the government to choose between deflating the housing market and slowing growth.

Read more …

Pipelines vs pipedreams.

Russia Seen Dominating European Energy for Two Decades (BBG)

Europe has wanted to wean itself from Russian natural gas ever since supplies from its eastern neighbor dropped during freezing weather in 2009. Almost a decade later, the region has never been more dependent. Gazprom, Russia’s state-run export monopoly, shipped a record amount of gas to the European Union last year and accounts for about 34% of the trading bloc’s use of the fuel. Russia will remain the biggest source of supply through 2035, Shell said last week, echoing comments by BP in January. EU lawmakers have had their hearts set on diversifying supplies with liquefied natural gas delivered by tanker from the U.S., where production of the fuel skyrocketed last year. So far, those shipments have failed to materialize amid a lack of firm contracts and higher prices outside Europe. Overall, LNG shipments to the region, led by Qatar, were stagnant last year. “Russia will for sure remain Europe’s largest gas supplier for at least two more decades,” even if most of the incremental gains in EU imports are met by LNG from somewhere else, said Vladimir Drebentsov, chief economist for Russia and CIS at BP in Moscow.

Read more …

It was once a good place to live.

Sydney Home Prices Surge 14.8%, Fastest Annual Pace Since 2002 (BBG)

Dwelling values in Australia’s largest city rose at the fastest annual pace in 14-years in February as record-low interest rates outweighed regulatory efforts to avert a housing bubble. Average values in Sydney surged by 18.4%, the biggest jump since December 2002 when the nation was at the tail-end of the early 2000’s housing boom, according to data provider CoreLogic Inc. Across the state capitals combined, values rose by 11.7%. Despite tighter lending restrictions aimed at discouraging speculative buying by landlords, the runaway housing market shows few signs of easing amid strong economic growth, historically low borrowing costs and a tax system that offers perks for property investors. Housing affordability has become a hot-button political issue, with New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian promising to make it one of her top priorities.

Last month, she appointed former Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens to advise on the options. Central bank Governor Philip Lowe has signaled he’d prefer not to ease interest rates as it would further inflate Sydney house prices and drive already record household debt even higher, threatening financial stability. “The strong growth conditions across Sydney have provided a substantial wealth boost for home owners,” said Tim Lawless, head of research at CoreLogic. “However, the flipside is that housing costs are becoming increasingly out of reach.” Prices are now almost 8.5 times higher than household incomes in Sydney, according to CoreLogic. There are, however, considerable regional variations. Perth, in the mining heartland of Western Australia that’s suffering as a decade-long investment boom winds down, saw values fall by 4.5% in the year to February.

Read more …

You can’t easily tweak internation law on nuclear. For good reasons.

UK Nuclear Power Stations ‘Could Be Forced To Close’ After Brexit (G.)

Nuclear power stations would be forced to shut down if a new measures are not in place when Britain quits a European atomic power treaty in 2019, an expert has warned. Rupert Cowen, a senior nuclear energy lawyer at Prospect Law, told MPs on Tuesday that leaving the Euratom treaty as the government has promised could see trade in nuclear fuel grind to a halt. The UK government has said it will exit Euratom when article 50 is triggered. The treaty promotes cooperation and research into nuclear power, and uniform safety standards. “Unlike other arrangements, if we don’t get this right, business stops. There will be no trade. If we can’t arrive at safeguards and other principles that allow compliance [with international nuclear standards] to be demonstrated, no nuclear trade will be able to continue.”

Asked by the chair of the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy select committee if that would see reactors switching off, he said: “Ultimately, when their fuels runs out, yes.” Cowen said that in his view there was no legal requirement for the UK to leave Euratom because of Brexit: “It’s a political issue, not a legal issue.” The UK nuclear industry would be crippled if new nuclear cooperation deals are not agreed within two years, a former government adviser told the committee. “There is a plethora of international agreements that would have to be struck that almost mirror those in place with Euratom, before we moved not just material but intellectual property, services, anything in the nuclear sector. We would be crippled without other things in place,” said Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, which was established by the government in 2013.

Read more …

Bur perhaps none of this matters in the long run, perhaps waste is the inevitable consequence of the need to feel rich, be rich. As Ken Latta put it in his February 23 article here at the Automatic Earth: “wealth is best measured by the capacity to be utterly wasteful”.

Denmark Reduces Food Waste By 25% In 5 Years With Help Of One Woman (Ind.)

Never underestimate the power of one dedicated individual. A woman has been credited by the Danish Government for single-handedly helping the country reduce its food waste by 25% in just five years. Selina Juul, who moved from Russian to Denmark when she was 13 years old, was shocked by the amount of food available and wasted at supermarkets. She told the BBC: “I come from a country where there were food shortages, we had the collapse of infrastructure, communism collapsed, we were not sure we could get food on the table”. Her organisation, Stop Spild Af Mad – which translates as Stop Wasting Food – made all the difference and is recognised as one of the key drivers behind the government’s focus to tackle food waste.

“She was this crazy Russian woman that walked in the door, with a crazy idea about stop wasting food and she has come really far since,” Maria Noel, communication officer of Dagrofa, a Danish retail company, told the BBC. “She basically changed the entire mentality in Danemark,” she added. Ms Juul convinced Rema 1000, the country’s biggest low-cost supermarket chain, to replace all its quantity discounts with single item discounts to minimise food waste. Max Skov Hanser, a grocer at Rema 1000, said the retailer wasted about 80 to 100 bananas every day. However, after the supermarket put up a sign saying “take me I’m single”, it reduced the waste on bananas by 90%. In the past five years Denmark has become one of the leading European countries in the fight against food waste. Last year, a charity in Copenhagen opened Denmark’s first ever food surplus supermarket, which sells products at prices 30 to 50% cheaper than usual retailers.

Read more …

On Wendell Berry.

The World-Ending Fire – How America’s Farmers Betrayed The Land (G.)

Berry’s essays roam widely over such topics as “Writer and Region” (an A-grade discussion of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), “The Work of Local Culture” and his high-minded disinclination to swap his ancient typewriter for a computer (complete with several shocked technophile responses). But the majority of them return, out of a kind of disgust, to the idea of betrayal, and the way in which the US farming industry has abandoned its responsibility to the terrain it has been cultivating for the last century and a half. The startling aspect of this charge sheet is its proxy villain, which is neither the cereal companies nor the burger chains but the American dream. Ronald Reagan once named his favourite children’s books as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, in which the resourceful Ingalls family head west across the newly available prairie states.

Pa chops trees, builds shacks and plants corn while Ma keeps house and thinks the native population “dirty”. To Berry, by contrast, the Pa Ingallses of the 1870s midwest are simply opportunists casting aside the old ways without bothering to reflect on their value, exploiters whose hard work and high moral tone obscure the absence of any real relationship with the land they are bent on despoiling. “A Native Hill”, a series of pointed reflections on the landscape of Henry County, Kentucky, notes that the original inhabitants had managed to preserve its integrity for thousands of years. The pioneers “in a century and half plundered the area of at least half its topsoil and virtually all its forest”, and constructed a road they may not have needed in the first place.

On the one hand, Berry is placing the Native American Indians and Pa Ingalls in false opposition: the effervescing Ingalls brood were different kinds of people – most obviously, nomads and settlers – wanting different things from the world they inhabited. On the other hand, Berry’s agrarian arguments are persuasive. To produce five feet of topsoil, he suggests in “The Making of a Marginal Farm”, takes 50,000 to 60,000 years. Meanwhile, the rallying cries are mounting up: think small; distrust the combines; a family can live for a year off a 60 sq ft vegetable plot; nobody ever did themselves any good by living in a city (he derides “the assumption that the life of the metropolis is the experience, the modern experience … ”).

As for The World-Ending Fire’s implications, you can just about envisage a future in which, once the fossil fuels have run out, necessity forces us all to live in smaller, self-sustaining societies without the benefit of the internal combustion engine. So perhaps Berry will have the last laugh. Whether by that stage in human evolution it will be worth having is another matter.

Read more …

Dec 162016
 
 December 16, 2016  Posted by at 5:44 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Parisians duck down to evade German sniper fire following Nazi surrender of Paris, 1945

 

If you ever wondered what the odds are of mankind surviving, let alone ‘defeating’, climate change, look no further than the essay the Guardian published this week, written by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney. It proves beyond a moonlight shadow of a doubt that the odds are infinitesimally close to absolute zero (Kelvin, no Hobbes).

Yes, Bloomberg is the media tycoon and former mayor of New York (which he famously turned into a 100% clean and recyclable city). And since central bankers are as we all know without exception experts on climate change, as much as they are on full-contact crochet, it makes perfect sense that Bank of England governor Carney adds his two -trillion- cents.

Conveniently, you don’t even have to read the piece, the headline tells you all you need and then some: “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” really nails it. The entire mindset on display in just a few words. If that’s what they went for, kudo’s are due.

These fine gents probably actually believe that this is perfectly in line with our knowledge of, say, human history, of evolution, of the laws of physics, and of -mass- psychology. All of which undoubtedly indicate to them that we can and will defeat the problems we have created -and still are-, literally with the same tools and ideas -money and profit- that we use to create them with. Nothing ever made more sense.

That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”. Not one bit. It does, though. It’s indeed the very core of what is going wrong.

Profit, or money in general, is all these people live for, it’s their altar. That’s why they are successful in this world. It’s also why the world is doomed. Is there any chance I could persuade you to dwell on that for a few seconds? That, say, Bloomberg and Carney, and all they represent, are the problem dressed up as the solution? That our definition of success is what dooms us?

Philosophers, religious people, or you and me, may struggle with the question “what’s the purpose of life?”. These guys do not. The purpose of life is to make a profit. The earth and all the life it harbors exist to kill, drill, excavate and burn down, if that means you can make a profit. And after that you repair it all for a profit. In their view, the earth doesn’t turn of its own accord after all, it’s money that makes it go round.

 

The worrisome thing is that Mark and Michael will be listened to, that they are allowed a seat at the table in the first place, whereas you and I are not. A table that will be filled with plenty more of their ilk, as the announcement of Bill Gates’ billionaire philantropist energy fund says loud and clear:

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and a group of high-profile executives are investing $1 billion in a fund to spur clean energy technology and address global climate change a year after the Paris climate agreement. Gates launched the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund on Monday along with billionaire entrepreneurs such as Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma and Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos. The fund seeks to increase financing of emerging energy research and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to help meet goals set in Paris, according to a statement by the investor group known as the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

Yes, many of the same folk and/or their minions were sitting at the table with Trump on Dec 14. To see if there are any profits to be made. When a profit is involved they have no trouble sitting down with the same guy they insulted and warned against day after grueling day mere weeks ago. They have no trouble doing it because they insulted him for a potential profit too. It’s business, it’s not personal.

Billionaires will save us from ourselves, and make us -and themselves- rich while doing it. What is not to like? Well, for one thing, has anybody lately checked the energy footprint of Messrs. Bloomberg, Gates, Ma, Zuckerberg, Bezos et al? Is it possible that perhaps they’re trying to pull our collective wool over our eyes by pretending to care about those footprints? That maybe these ‘clean energy’ initiatives are merely a veil behind which they intend to extend -and expand- said footprints?

The ones in that sphere who wind up being most successful are those who are most convincing in making us believe that all we need to do to avert a climate disaster is to use some different form of energy. That all the talk about zero emissions and clean energy is indeed reflecting our one and only possible reality.

That all we need to do is to switch to solar and wind and electric cars to save ourselves (and they’ll build them for a subsidy). That that will end the threat and we can keep on doing what we always did, and keep on growing it all and as the cherry on the cake, make a profit off the endeavor.

 

None of it flies even a little. First of all, as I said last week in Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity, there are many more problems with our present lifestyles than ‘only’ climate change, or the use of carbon. Like the extinction of two-thirds of all vertebrate life in just 50 years leading up to 2020. There’s -close to- nothing wind and solar will do to alleviate that.

Because it’s not oil itself, or carbon in general, that kills; our use of it does. And the rush to build an entire new global infrastructure that is needed to use new energy forms, which will depend on using huge amounts of carbon, is more likely to kill off that globe than to save it. “Carbon got us in this, let’s use lots more of it to get us out”.

The trillions in -public- investment that are would be needed will make us all dirt poor too, except for the gentlemen mentioned above and a handful of others who invent stuff that they manage to make us believe will save us. Still convinced?

 

The lifestyles of the last 10 generations of us, especially westerners, are characterized more than anything else by the huge increase in the use of energy, of calories and joules. As we went from wood to peat to coal to oil and gas, the energy return on energy investment kept going higher. But that stopped with oil and gas. And from now on in it will keep going down.

“Free carbon excess” was a one-off ‘gift’ from nature. It will not continue and it will not return. Different forms of carbon have offered us a one-time source of free energy that we will not have again. The idea that we can replace it with ‘clean energy’ is ludicrous. The energy return on energy investment doesn’t even come close. And you can’t run a society with our present levels of complexity on a much lower ‘net energy’. We must dress down. No profit in that, sorry.

We built what we have now with oil at an EROEI of 100:1. There are no forms of energy left that come remotely close, including new, unconventional, forms of oil itself. Peak oil has been a much maligned and misunderstood concept, but its essence stands: when it takes more energy to ‘produce’ energy than it delivers, there will be no production.

This graph is a few years old, and wind and solar may have gained a few percentage points in yield, but it’s still largely correct. And it will continue to be.

 

 

We have done with all that free energy what all other life forms do when ‘gifted’ with an excess of available energy: spend it as fast as possible, proliferate to speed up the process (we went from less than 1 billion people to 7 billion in under 200 years, 2 billion to 7 billion in 100 years) and, most of all, waste it.

Ever wonder why everybody drives a car that is ten times heavier then her/himself and has a 10% efficiency rate in its energy use? Why there’s an infrastructure everywhere that necessitates for every individual to use 1000 times more energy than it would take herself to get from A to B on foot? Sounds a lot like deliberately wasteful behavior, doesn’t it?

The essence here is that while we were building this entire wasteful world of us, we engaged in the denying and lying behavior that typifies us as a species more than anything: we disregarded externalities. And there is no reason to believe we would not continue to do just that when we make the illusionary switch to ‘clean’ energy.

To begin with, the 2nd law of thermodynamics says there’s no such thing as clean energy. So stop using the term. Second, that we call wind and solar ‘clean energy’ means we’re already ignoring externalities again. We pretend that producing windmills and solar panels does not produce pollution (or we wouldn’t call it ‘clean’). While enormous amounts of carbon are used in the production process, and it involves pollution, loss of land, loss of life, loss of resources (once you burn it it’s gone).

 

An example: If we want to ‘save’ the earth, we would do good to start by overthrowing the way we produce food. It presently easily takes more than 10 calories of energy -mostly carbon- for every calorie of food we make. Then we wrap it all in (oil-based) plastic and transport it sometimes 1000s of miles before it’s on our plates. And at the end of this process, we will have thrown away half of it. It’s hard to think of a more wasteful process.

It’s a process obviously devised and executed by idiots. But it’s profitable. There is a profit to be made in wasting precious resources. And there is a key lesson in that. There is no profit in producing food in a more efficient way. At least not for the industries that produce it. And perhaps not even for you, if you produce most of your food – it takes ‘precious’ time.

It would still be hugely beneficial, though. And there’s the key. There is no direct link between what is good for us, and the planet, on the one side, and profit, money, on the other. What follows from that is that it’s not the people whose entire lives are centered around money who are the most obvious choices to ‘save the planet’. If anything, they are the least obvious.

But in an economic and political system that is itself as focused on money as ours is, they are still the ones who are allowed to assume this role. It’s a circle jerk around, and then into, a drain.

 

Mankind’s only chance to not destroy its planet lies in diverging from all other species in that not all energy available to it, is used up as fast as possible. But that’s a big challenge. It would, speaking from a purely philosophical angle, truly separate us from nature for the first time ever, and we must wonder if that’s desirable.

We would need to gain much more knowledge of who we are and what makes us do what we do, and why. But that is not going to happen if we focus on making a profit. Using less energy means less waste means less profit.

Yes, there may be energy sources that produce a bit less waste, a bit less pollution, than those that are carbon based. But first, our whole infrastructure has been built by carbon, and second, even if another energy source would become available, we would push to grow its use ever more, and end up initially in the same mess, and then a worse one.

 

 

I stumbled upon an excellent example of the effects of all this today:

The Shattering Effect Of Roads On Nature

Rampant road building has shattered the Earth’s land into 600,000 fragments, most of which are too tiny to support significant wildlife, a new study has revealed. The researchers warn roadless areas are disappearing and that urgent action is needed to protect these last wildernesses, which help provide vital natural services to humanity such as clean water and air. The impact of roads extends far beyond the roads themselves, the scientists said, by enabling forest destruction, pollution, the splintering of animal populations and the introduction of deadly pests.

An international team of researchers analysed open-access maps of 36m km of road and found that over half of the 600,000 fragments of land in between roads are very small – less than 1km2. A mere 7% are bigger than 100km2, equivalent to a square area just 10km by 10km (6mi by 6 mi). Furthermore, only a third of the roadless areas were truly wild, with the rest affected by farming or people.

The last remaining large roadless areas are rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia and the tundra and forests in the north of Russia and Canada. Virtually all of western Europe, the eastern US and Japan have no areas at all that are unaffected by roads.

 

 

It’s a good example because it raises the question: how much of this particular issue do you think will be solved by the promotion of electric cars, or windmills? How much of it do you think can be solved for a profit? Because if there’s no profit in it, it will not happen.

One more for the philosophy class: I know many people will be inclined to suggest options like nuclear fusion. Or zero point energy. And I would suggest that not only do these things exist in theory only, which is always a bad thing if you have an immediate problem. But more than that: imagine providing the human race with a source of endless energy, and then look at what it’s done with the free energy available to it over the past 10 generations.

Give man more energy and he’ll just destroy his world faster. It’s not about carbon, it’s about energy and about what you yourself do with it. And no, money and profit will not reverse climate change, or any other detrimental effects they have on our lives. They will only make them worse.

Dec 082016
 
 December 8, 2016  Posted by at 4:05 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Caters Extremely rare albino elephant, Kruger National Park in South Africa

 

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back …

Springsteen, Atlantic City

“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 verbatium 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

 

What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.

First of all, don’t tell me you’re trying to stop the ongoing extinction of nature and wildlife on this planet, or the destruction of life in general. Don’t even tell me you’re trying. Don’t tell me it’s climate change that we should focus on (that’s just a small part of the story), and you’re driving an electric car and you’re separating your trash or things like that. That would only mean you’re attempting to willfully ignore your share of destruction, because if you do it, so will others, and the planet can’t take anymore of your behavior.

This is the big one. And the only ones amongst us who don’t think so are those who don’t want to. Who think it’s easier to argue that some problems are too big for them to tackle, that they should be left to others to solve. But why should we, why should anyone, worry about elections or even wars, when it becomes obvious we’re fast approaching a time when such things don’t matter much anymore?

The latest WWF Living Planet Report shows us that the planet is a whole lot less alive than it used to be. And that we killed that life. That we replaced it with metal, bricks, plastic and concrete. Mass consumption leads to mass extinction. And that is fully predictable, it always was; there’s nothing new there.

We killed 58% of all vertebrate wildlife just between 1970 and 2012, and at a rate of 2% per year we will have massacred close to 70% of it by 2020, just 4 years from now. So what does it matter who’s president of just one of the many countries we invented on this planet? Why don’t we address what’s really crucial to our very survival instead?

 

 

The latest report from the WWF should have us all abandon whatever it is we’re doing, and make acting to prevent further annihilation of our living world the key driver in our everyday lives, every hour of every day, every single one of us. Anything else is just not good enough, and anything else will see us, that self-nominated intelligent species, annihilated in the process.

Granted, there may be a few decrepit and probably halfway mutant specimens of our species left, living in conditions we couldn’t even begin, nor dare, to imagine, with what will be left of their intelligence wondering how our intelligence could have ever let this happen. You’d almost wish they’ll understand as little as we ever did; that some form of ignorance equal to ours will soften their pain.

It’s important to note that the report does not describe a stagnant situation, there’s no state of affairs, not something still, it describes an ongoing and deteriorating process. That is, we don’t get to choose to stop the ongoing wildlife annihilation at 70%; we are witnessing, and indeed we are actively involved in, raising that number by 2% every year that we ‘live’ (can we even call it that anymore, are you alive when you murder all life around you?) in this world.

This is our only home.

 

 

Without the natural world that we were born into, or rather that our species, our ancestors, were born into, we have zero chance of survival. Because it is the natural world that has allowed for, and created, the conditions that made it possible for mankind to emerge and develop in the first place. And we are nowhere near making an earth 2.0; the notion itself is preposterous. A few thousand years of man ‘understanding’ his world is no match for billions of years of evolution. That’s the worst insult to whatever intelligence it is that we do have.

Much has been made through the years of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and much of that is just as much hubris as so much of what we tell ourselves, but the big question should be WHY we would volunteer to find out to what extent we can adapt to a world that has sustained the losses we cause it to suffer. Even if we could to a degree adapt to that, why should we want to?

Two thirds of our world is gone, and it’s we who have murdered it, and what’s worse – judging from our lifestyles- we seem to have hardly noticed at all. If we don’t stop what we’ve been doing, this can lead to one outcome only: we will murder ourselves too. Our perhaps biggest problem (even if we have quite a few) in this regard is our ability and propensity to deny this, as we deny any and all -serious, consequential- wrongdoing.

 

 

There are allegedly serious and smart people working on, dreaming of, and getting billions in subsidies for, fantasies of human colonies on Mars. This is advertized as a sign of progress and intelligence. But that can only be true if we can acknowledge that our intelligence and our insanity are identical twins. Because it is insane to destroy the planet on which we depend one-on-one for everything that allows us to live, and at the same time dream of human life on another planet.

While I see no reason to address the likes of King of Subsidies Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking is different. Unfortunately, in Hawking’s case, with all his intelligence, it’s his philosophical capacity that goes missing.

Humanity Will Not Survive Another 1,000 Years If We Don’t Escape Our Planet

Professor Stephen Hawking has warned humanity will not survive another 1,000 years on Earth unless the human race finds another planet to live on. [..] Professor Hawking, 74, reflected on the understanding of the universe garnered from breakthroughs over the past five decades, describing 2016 as a “glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics”. “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years and I am happy if I have made a small contribution,“ he went on.

”The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to understanding the laws that govern us and the universe is certainly a triumph.” Highlighting “ambitious” experiments that will give an even more precise picture of the universe, he continued: “We will map the position of millions of galaxies with the help of [super] computers like Cosmos. We will better understand our place in the universe.”

“But we must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity. I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”

The tragedy is that we may have gained some knowledge of natural laws and the universe, but we are completely clueless when it comes to keeping ourselves from destroying our world. Mars is an easy cop-out. But Mars doesn’t solve a thing. Because it’s -obviously- not the ‘fragile planet’ earth that is a threat to mankind, it’s mankind itself. How then can escaping to another planet solve its problems?

What exactly is wrong with saying that we will have to make it here on planet earth? Is it that we’ve already broken and murdered so much? And if that’s the reason, what does that say about us, and what does it say about what we would do to a next planet, even provided we could settle on it (we can’t) ? Doesn’t it say that we are our own worst enemies? And doesn’t the very idea of settling the ‘next planet’ imply that we had better settle things right here first? Like sort of a first condition before we go to Mars, if we ever do?

In order to survive, we don’t need to escape our planet, we need to escape ourselves. Not nearly as easy. Much harder than escaping to Mars. Which already is nothing but a pipedream to begin with.

Moreover, if we can accept that settling things here first before going to Mars is a prerequisite for going there in the first place, we wouldn’t need to go anymore, right?

 

 

We treat this entire extinction episode as if it’s something we’re watching from the outside in, as if it’s something we’re not really a part of. I’ve seen various undoubtedly very well-intentioned ‘green people’, ‘sustainable people’, react to the WWF report by pointing to signs that there is still hope, pointing to projects that reverse some of the decline, chinook salmon on the North American Pacific coast, Malawi farmers that no longer use chemical fertilizers, a giant sanctuary in the Antarctic etc.

That, too, is a form of insanity. Because it serves to lull people into a state of complacency that is entirely unwarranted. And that can therefore only serve to make things worse. There is no reversal, there is no turnaround. It’s like saying if a body doesn’t fall straight down in a continuous line, it doesn’t fall down at all.

The role that green, sustainability, conservationist groups play in our societies has shifted dramatically, and we have failed completely to see this change (as have they). These groups have become integral parts of our societies, instead of a force on the outside warning about what happens within.

Conservationist groups today serve as apologists for the havoc mankind unleashes on its world: all people have to do is donate money at Christmas, and conservation will be taken care of. Recycle a few bottles and plastic wrappings and you’re doing your part to save the planet. It is utterly insane. It’s as insane as the destruction itself. It’s denial writ large, and in the flesh.

It’s not advertized that way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not how it works. Saying that ‘it’s not too late’ is not a call to action as many people continue to believe. It’s just dirt poor psychology. It provides people with the impression, which rapidly turns into an excuse, that there is still time left. As almost 70% of all vertebrates, those animals that are closest to us, have disappeared. When would they say time is up? At 80%, 90%?

 

 

We do not understand why, or even that, we are such a tragically destructive species. And perhaps we can’t. Perhaps that is where our intelligence stops, at providing insight into ourselves. Even the most ‘aware’ amongst us will still tend to disparage their own roles in what goes on. Even they will make whatever it is they still do, and that they know is hurtful to the ecosystem, seem smaller than it is.

Even they will search for apologies for their own behavior, tell themselves they must do certain things in order to live in the society they were born in, drive kids to school, yada yada. We all do that. We soothe our consciences by telling ourselves we mean well, and then getting into our cars to go pick up a carton of milk. Or engage in an equally blind act. There’s too many to mention.

Every species that finds a large amount of free energy reacts the same way: proliferation. The unconscious drive is to use up the energy as fast as possible. If only we could understand that. But understanding it would get in the way of the principle itself. The only thing we can do to stop the extinction is for all of us to use a lot less energy. But because energy consumption provides wealth and -more importantly- political power, we will not do that. We instead tell ourselves all we need to do is use different forms of energy.

Our inbuilt talent for denying and lying (to ourselves and others) makes it impossible for us to see that we have an inbuilt talent for denying and lying in the first place. Or, put another way, seeing that we haven’t been able to stop ourselves from putting the planet into the dismal shape it is in now, why should we keep on believing that we will be able to stop ourselves in the future?

Thing is, an apology for our own behavior is also an apology for everyone else’s. As long as you keep buying things wrapped in plastic, you have no right, you lose your right, to blame the industry that produces the plastic.

 

 

We see ourselves as highly intelligent, and -as a consequence- we see ourselves as a species driven by reason. But we are not. Which can be easily demonstrated by a ‘reverse question’: why, if we are so smart, do we find ourselves in the predicament of having destroyed two thirds of our planet?

Do we have a rational argument to execute that destruction? Of course not, we’ll say. But then why do we do it if rationality drives us? This is a question that should forever cure us of the idea that we are driven by reason. But we’re not listening to the answer to that question. We’re denying, we’re even denying the question itself.

It’s the same question, and the same answer, by the way, that will NOT have us ‘abandon whatever it is we do’ when we read today that 70% of all wildlife will be gone by 2020, that 58% was gone by 2012 and we destroy it at a rate of 2% per year. We’re much more likely to worry much more about some report that says returns on our retirement plans will be much lower than we thought. Or about the economic growth that is too low (as if that is possible with 70% of wildlife gone).

After all, if destroying 70% of wildlife is not enough for a call to action, what would be? 80%? 90? 99%? I bet you that would be too late. And no, relying on conservationist groups to take care of it for us is not a viable route. Because that same 70% number spells out loud and clear what miserable failures these groups have turned out to be.

We ‘assume’ we’re intelligent, because that makes us feel good. Well, it doesn’t make the planet feel good. What drives us is not reason. What drives us is the part of our brains that we share in common with amoeba and bacteria and all other more ‘primitive forms of life, that gobbles up excess energy as fast as possible, in order to restore a balance. Our ‘rational’, human, brain serves one function, and one only: to find ‘rational’ excuses for what our primitive brain has just made us do.

We’re all intelligent enough to understand that driving a hybrid car or an electric car does nothing to halt the havoc we do to our world, but there are still millions of these things being sold. So perhaps we could say that we’re at the same time intelligent enough, and we’re not.

We can see ourselves destroying our world, but we can not stop ourselves from continuing the destruction. Here’s something I wrote 5 years ago:

Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

We have done exactly the same that any primitive life form would do when faced with a surplus, of food, energy, and in our case credit, cheap money. We spent it all as fast as we can. Lest less abundant times arrive. It’s an instinct, it comes from our more primitive brain segments, not our more “rational” frontal cortex. It’s not that we’re in principle, or talent, more devious or malicious than more primitive life forms. It’s that we use our more advanced brains to help us execute the same devastation our primitive brain drives us to, but much much worse.

That’s what makes us the most tragic species imaginable. We’ll fight each other, even our children, over the last few scraps falling off the table, and kill off everything in our path to get there. And when we’re done, we’ll find a way to rationalize to ourselves why we were right to do so. We can be aware of watching ourselves do what we do, but we can’t help ourselves from doing it. Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

The greatest miracle you will ever see, that you could ever hope to see, is so miraculous you can’t even recognize it for what it is. We don’t know what the word beautiful means anymore. Or the word valuable. We’ve lost all of that, and are well on our way, well over 70% of it, to losing the rest too.

 

 

 

PS Please note I could not gather all sources for all pictures here, but I’d be more than happy to add them. It’s not that I don’t recognize the effort that goes into them; it’s an emotional thing.

 

 

Dec 022014
 
 December 2, 2014  Posted by at 11:39 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine Newsies Gus Hodges, 11, and brother Julius, 5, Norfolk VA Jun 1911

Oh man, I wanted to keep this short, what I wanted to say looked so straight-forward. But then, in this convoluted world of pretense, is anything ever anymore? Please allow me to start off with something I wrote yesterday in Oil, Gold And Now Stocks? concerning the nonsense spouted by New York Fed President Bill Dudley, who claimed that money not spent by Americans on gas would actually boost the economy if -and that’s still an if – they spent it on anything else. I said they’d still have the same amount of money to spend, so how can it be a boost? Sure, you can say that a lot of the oil is imported, which would transfer profits abroad, but then so are most of the trinkets people can may buy at WalMart with their gas savings. .

Today Zero Hedge’s Tyler Durden turns that theme into not one, but two different posts. First this morning, ‘Central Bankers’ Say The Darndest Things – Bill Dudley Edition, and then just now the second take on the topic, with a very good explanation of what it is Dudley, perhaps the second-most important man in the American financial world – if he’s not numero uno-, gets so wrong, intentionally or not.

Fed Fischer’s Complete & Bizarre Nonsense: Oil Price Collapse “Making Everybody Better Off”

“I’m not very worried,” explains Fed Vice Chairman Stan Fischer in a very Bernanke-“contained”-like nonchalance about the total collapse of oil prices (and US oil producer stocks). Sharply lower oil prices will boost spending and aid U.S. growth, Fischer stated in a mind-blowingly naive speech for the 2nd-most-important-monetary-policy-maker-in-the-world, adding that lower oil prices were “a phenomenon that’s making everybody better off.” We don’t understand his ignorance: as Raul Ilargi Meijer noted earlier, Fischer is talking about money that would otherwise also have been spent, only on gas. There is no additional money, so where’s the boost? This is just complete and bizarre nonsense. As Bloomberg reports:

Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer and New York Fed President William C. Dudley, speaking at separate events yesterday in New York, both stressed the positive economic impact from the steepest decline in oil prices for five years. “I’m not very worried,” Fischer told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The lower inflation that we’ll get from the lower price of oil is going to be temporary.” He also said lower oil prices were “a phenomenon that’s making everybody better off.”

Perhaps Mr. Fischer should ask the owners of oil producer and servicer stocks, the workers in Texas and North Dakota, as well permits collapse..

Here’s some 1st grade math…
• Money people have to spend (the number that is US CONSUMPTION) = X
• Money people have to spend on Gas = GAS
• Money people have to spend on everything else = EVERYTHINGELSE
• Therefore: X = GAS + EVERYTHINGELSE

Now if Gas becomes cheaper by 30%… the savings are merely spent on more of everything else OR ‘saved’ – there is not boost in US consumption… How does it make X any bigger? How does that make anyone better off? Just don’t tell Fischer, Dudley, or anyone on CNBC this!!!

Will Dudley, or the press that covers him, learn anything from this? Does he really not understand why what he says in gibberish, or does he do it on purpose? Do the press too? Will we ever know? All we can do is point it out, and hope people understand it with us.

But I was thinking about another topic today, and it happened to come up in a comment on my article on both The Automatic Earth and Zero Hedge, by an old friend and commenter I hadn’t seen in a while. I started off yesterday saying:

“Is the Plunge Protection Team really buying oil now? That would be so funny. Out of the blue, up almost 5%? Or was it the Chinese doing some heavy lifting stockpiling for their fading industrial base?”

And got this comment:

The Chinese have a “fading” industrial base?! The most spectacular industrial development story of all time, over decades, and they are “fading”?! Are we living on the same planet?

To which I said:

Big things fade too. Or as the French say: Un éléphant se trompe énormement.

Un éléphant se trompe énormement. In English: the bigger you are, the bigger your mistakes. There’s also a wordplay in there with the sound elephants make and a trumpet (trompette in French). But yeah, China’s industry is fading, and I don’t want to get into semantics about the meaning of the term fading. Two days ago, I posted ths from Bloomberg:

China Factory Gauge Drops as Shutdowns Add to Slowdown

A Chinese manufacturing gauge fell as factory shutdowns aggravated a pullback in the economy [..] The government’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to an eight-month low of 50.3 in November, compared with the 50.5 median estimate of analysts in a Bloomberg survey and October’s 50.8. Readings above 50 indicate expansion.

“Today’s official PMI reading points to continued downward pressure on manufacturing activity,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China analyst in Singapore at Capital Economics. “The recent cut in the benchmark rate will do little to boost economic activity unless followed by a loosening of quantitative controls on lending, which policymakers will remain cautious about given concerns over mounting credit risk.” The final reading of another manufacturing PMI for November from HSBC and Markit was 50.0. It was unchanged from a preliminary reading.

My comment then: ‘It’s close to contraction, and that’s a long way away from 7.5% growth.’

Between the lines, we’ve been able to see for a while that China is quite a ways away from that 7.5% growth target, and a near contraction PMI reading would certainly seem to confirm that suspicion. Of course, nearly everything we get from China are ‘official’ numbers, and having faith in those wouldn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

Which made it sort of amazing to see an official government report issued that Jamil Anderlini wrote about for the Financial times on Friday, but which Reuters had already covered 10 days before that. These are government researchers, and that makes you wonder what the message is, and how it’s sent: is Beijing exaggerating the waste for political purposes, or acknowledging just a part of it? My bet would always be on number 2, Xi and Li are not sitting pretty or relaxed these days, and making their own faults look even bigger than they are does not seem to be the way they would go. Here’s some excerpts from Anderlini’s piece:

China Has ‘Wasted’ $6.8 Trillion In Investment

“Ghost cities” lined with empty apartment blocks, abandoned highways and mothballed steel mills sprawl across China’s landscape – the outcome of government stimulus measures and hyperactive construction that have generated $6.8 trillion in wasted investment since 2009, according to a report by government researchers. In 2009 and 2013 alone, “ineffective investment” came to nearly half the total invested in the Chinese economy in those years, according to research by Xu Ce of the National Development and Reform Commission, the state planning agency, and Wang Yuan from the Academy of Macroeconomic Research, a former arm of the NDRC.

China is this year on track to grow at its slowest annual pace since 1990, and the report highlights growing concern in the Chinese leadership about the potential economic and social consequences if wasteful investment leaves projects abandoned and bad loans overloading the financial system. The bulk of wasted investment went directly into industries such as steel and automobile production that received the most support from the government.

To wit: iron ore stocks are down 50%. That’s all China not buying anymore, plus the industry that invested hoping they would. Overcapacity everywhere. US shale, you name it. What does not have overcapacity these days? Oh well, yeah, care for the poor and the elderly, you’re right. I sit corrected.

Mr Xu and Ms Wang said ultra-loose monetary policy, little or no oversight over government investment plans and distorted incentive structures for officials were largely to blame for the waste. “Investment efficiency has fallen dramatically [in recent years],” they say in the report. “It has become far more obvious in the wake of the global financial crisis and has caused a lot of over-investment and waste.” [..]

Much of the investment in recent years has been funnelled into real estate projects, but apartment sales and prices have fallen this year, leading to fears of an impending property crash. Most of the industries that feed the real estate sector, such as steel, glass and cement, are awash with overcapacity and have been hit hard by the property downturn.

Misallocation of capital and poor investment decisions are not the only explanation for the enormous waste in China’s economy. A significant portion of China’s post-crisis stimulus binge was simply stolen by Communist Party officials with direct responsibility for boosting growth through investment, according to separate estimates by Chinese and overseas economists. Jonathan Anderson, founder of Emerging Advisors Group, the consultancy, estimates that about $1tn has gone missing in China in the past half-decade as a result of weak oversight and the enormous opportunity provided by the investment boom. “That translates into maybe 5% of GDP per year worth of skimming off the top,” he says.

“Think about it: every local government wakes up one morning in 2009 and finds that the central authorities have lifted every single form of credit restriction in the economy,” he says. “With no one watching the till, it would be awfully hard to resist the temptation to sidetrack the funds, squirrelling them away in related official accounts or paying them out through padded contracts to other connected suppliers and friends.”

That last bit doesn’t cover he situation. Beijing has relied on the shadow banking system, not just tolerated it, to get China to grow at the numbers it has. And local governments have taken the bait, and taken the shadow loans, so they would look good to their superiors, building whatever they could build, useful or not, roads, bridges, apartment buildings.

I don’t know if we will ever know the size of the shadow banks in China, but there can be no doubt that it’s mind shattering. And if an official government report says $6.8 trillion was spent on nothing, do we even want to know how much shadow loans were spent that way?

In 2009 and 2013, the report says, ‘half the total invested in the Chinese economy’ was ‘ineffective investment’, i.e. money wasted on bridges to nowhere. A more or less accepted number for total official Beijing ‘invested’ is $15 trillion in 5 years, and we now know that the ‘waste’ got bigger as time went on, and totaled about half of the total investment. And that’s just what Beijing put in; it’s anybody’s guess what da shadows added, and how much of that never went anywhere.

Here’s an idea of how that compares to the US, itself not exactly a slacker when it comes to stimulus:

Reuters, 10 days earlier, said this about the report:

China Wasted $6.9 Trillion On Bad Investment Post 2009

China has acknowledged that it is overly-dependent on investment to power the world’s second-biggest economy, but re-ordering the growth model takes time. Investment contributed to 42% of China’s economic growth between January and September this year. Exhorting caution, Xu and Wang said China wasted between 4.7 trillion yuan and 13.2 trillion yuan each year between 2009 and 2013 on investment with zero efficiency. The money wasted on such projects peaked in 2013 at 13.2 trillion yuan, or 47% of China’s total fixed capital formation for that year, their calculations showed. Investment quality had fallen so much recently that nearly two-thirds of the 67 trillion yuan that China wasted from 1997 were spent after 2008.

I don’t know if you can still follow it, but this adds up to absolute insanity. The $6.8 trillion number for money spent on ‘zero efficiency’ is but a cautious estimate by people who both have no access to, and are not supposed to know about, the Chinese equivalent of Don Corleone and the five families. Here’s a bunch of GDP numbers in the west for comparison, PPP GDP data from Wikipedia, for perspective:

France Population 66 million, GDP $2.6 trillion
Britain Population 64 million, GDP $2.45 trillion
Germany Population 87 million, GDP $3.6 trillion
Japan Population 126 million, GDP $4.8 trillion
USA Population 319 million, GDP $16.8 trillion
China Population 1,357 million, GDP $16.1 trillion

When you see those numbers, the $6.8 trillion spent on absolutely nothing productive in China should make you cringe and shudder. China took a big lighter and burned off half of Britain or France’s GDP each and every year just to look better. And not because it was so independently rich and could easily afford it, but because it wanted to look richer than it was, if only for a day, or a year. We all have had that wish at times.

And that’s without adding in the shadow banks, who were pivotal in making the local officials look even twice as grandiose than Beijing’s loose policies were already allowing them to be. China has been running on free debt for years, and who cares about paying it back? It’s no different from the US, is it? Or Europe, or Tokyo. It’s all just a big collection of big debt bubbles. And China looks like it might well be the biggest of them all.

If that PMI number, shaky as it may be both because it comes from the Communist Party and because of its own inherent flaws, dives below 50, and China starts contracting and moving even further away from it 7.5% growth target, I’d literally say there’s no telling what will happen. But it won’t be pretty, that I can tell. It won’t even be funny. Look at all the steel, copper, aluminum, producers in the west who have heavily invested in and on China growth. And don’t get me started on oil producers. Yeah, China’s going to stockpile and save the industry. Sure.

China, like the entire world, is doing much worse then anyone’s willing to tell you. But the entire world still is. And so is China. Enter Elephant stage left.