Financial Storm Flags Up: Take Cover

God may not play dice with the universe, but the Masters of the Universe shoot craps with everything. (Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks/Flickr)

God may not play dice with the universe, but the Masters of the Universe shoot craps with everything. (Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks/Flickr)

This is not about TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It), nor about the Crash of the Industrial Age (Wait! The acronym for that’s CIA!) that we expect. But it is about a very hard time we are all about to go through, most likely beginning before next year is out and ending God knows when. Most probably, it will not end, but like the last Great Recession simply deliver us to a new plateau of diminished expectations that will become the New Normal. This imminent event is being forecast by a rising chorus of voices like those who warned us 10 years ago that a prosperity based on subprime mortgages, and financial derivatives thereof, could not stand. These voices — actually some of them the very same people — are telling us that we face not one, but two, train wrecks that will be nearly simultaneous, in that one will bring on the other. Continue reading

Ebolas of Our Own

Health care workers in Guinea suit up before approaching patients infected with Ebola in the early days of an outbreak that has become a world health emergency. But it’s not the only one. (Photo by the European Commission.)

Health care workers in Guinea suit up before approaching patients infected with Ebola in the early days of an outbreak that has become a world health emergency. But it’s not the only one. (Photo by the European Commission.)

The world is transfixed right now by the awful spectacle of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It’s like a horror movie — it has inspired several — this monster that lurks for years in some remote African cave, then lashes out to condemn with its touch hundreds of people to a quick and ghastly death. Like a horror movie, the revulsion it inspires in us Americans is short-lived, a quick thrill of faux fear (it is, after all, in West Africa) somewhat like a child’s anxiety about a monster under the bed. But in our real-life movie, the Americans who hyperventilate briefly about the Ebola under the bed are ignorant of the fact that there are chain-saw mass murderers at the door and window. Continue reading

The Next Bubble: Cars Under Water

car under water

Most new cars sold in America today are submarines — they live under water.

The Masters of the Universe — those energetic guys and gals who brought the world’s economies gasping to their knees six years ago — are at it again. Having successfully avoided punishment (for the most part) and staved off any meaningful interference by regulators, they have gone back to their favorite modus operandi: predatory subprime lending to finance big-ticket purchases followed by bundling and securitization of the shaky loans. Not houses, this time. Cars. Continue reading

California Drying: “We May Have to Migrate”

Okay, so this hasn't happened in California -- yet (it happened in Galilee in 1948). But this is what it will look like on the Oregon border if the historic drought continues (Wikipedia photo)

Okay, so this hasn’t happened in California — yet (it happened in Galilee in 1948). But this is what it will look like on the Oregon border if the historic drought continues (Wikipedia photo)

The only category of drought higher than the one now assigned to nearly 60 percent of California (the USDA’s Drought Monitor calls it “exceptional”)  is “Biblical.” Three years in, there is no relief in sight — the much-anticipated El Nino pattern of sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, which usually increases rainfall in California, has not materialized. It would take a full year of normal rain and snowfall to restore surface waters to normal levels. A UC Davis study just out finds the amount of surface water available to California agriculture has been reduced by 6.6 million acre-feet (yes, that’s enough water to submerge 6.6 million acres to a depth of one foot). Groundwater has been pumped to replace five million acre-feet, but the shortfall remains a jaw-dropping 1.6 million acre-feet. Continue reading

Peaked Oil: Waiting for the Swords to Drop

Damocles learned that when you know about the sword up there, it's hard to enjoy a life of luxury. Bingo.

Damocles learned that when you know about the sword up there, it’s hard to enjoy a life of luxury. Bingo.

In the fable that bears his name, Damocles was unnerved in the midst of luxury and power by the threat of a single sword (representing the ever present possibility of failure) hanging precariously over his head. We, who because of cheap oil enjoy luxury and power in our ordinary lives beyond the imagination of the kings of old, live beneath a veritable forest of deadly blades, all of which are just about to fall. Unlike Damocles, we refuse to look up, let alone move out of the zone of impact. When they tell our fable, nobody’s going to believe it. Continue reading

A Gazillionaire Looks to the Future: Sees Pitchforks

Rick Hanauer surveys his realm. On a clear day, you can see disaster.

Rick Hanauer surveys his realm. On a clear day, you can see disaster.

One of the Masters of the Universe — he bankrolled the startup of Amazon.com, for example — has peered through the bubble of wealth that surrounds him and has glimpsed a terrifying future. Now, the opinions of the rich and powerful have no enhanced value because of their status and deserve no special attention; to the contrary, they are highly suspect given their destructive record. But given the almost universal tendency to defer to people who accumulate money, it’s worth quoting them on the rare occasions when, like a stopped clock, they are in fact correct.

So when Seattle entrepreneur (from the French, meaning “between jobs”) Nick Hanauer publishes an open letter in Politico to his fellow .01-percenters, warning them that unless they change their ways they will come to a bad end, well, it’s worth a listen. Continue reading

Fishin’ Gone. All Over the World.

When the last factory trawler such as this one returns empty from an empty sea, just go ahead and tun off the lights. (Photo by Dennis Jarvis/Flickr)

When the last factory trawler such as this one returns empty from an empty sea, just go ahead and tun off the lights. (Photo by Dennis Jarvis/Flickr)

The headline in the Washington Post on June 3: “The End of Fish.” Not even the usual weasel question mark at the end to avoid the declarative statement. In mid-June the Global Ocean Commission stated its conclusion that the world’s oceans are on the brink of collapse, offering a Pollyanna-ish eight-point plan for their complete recovery (Step One: Every country in the United Nations agrees to stop plundering the oceans for profit and start working for their recovery. Just give us a call when you’ve done that, and we’ll move on to Step Two.)  In late June, Quartz detailed the $27 billion in subsidies from the world’s richest countries to the largest, nost destructive fleets of deep-ocean trawlers, without which they could not sail. The headline on the July 11 cover story in Newsweek: “The Disaster We’ve Wrought on the World’s Oceans May Be Irrevocable.” Continue reading

Who Goes Dry First? Vegas or Phoenix?

Lake Meade, water source for Las Vegas and Phoenix, shows its "bathtub ring" marking where its water used to be. It is less than half full and dropping fast. (Wikimedia photo)

Lake Meade, water source for Las Vegas and Phoenix, shows its “bathtub ring” marking where its water used to be. It is less than half full and dropping fast. (Wikimedia photo)

The title of first American city to be abandoned for lack of water will be awarded in the next decade or so, and it’s hard to decide whether to bet on Las Vegas or Phoenix. It could be a tie. Those among us who still like our stories to end with a moral are rooting for Vegas, whose demise would round out a lovely wages-of-sin, Sodom-and-Gomorrah kind of fable. Phoenix seems less blameworthy, but only if you think what’s about to happen is retribution for sin. If you lean more toward the inevitable-consequences-of-stupidity theory, then there’s not much to differentiate between Dumb Phoenix and Dumber Las Vegas. Continue reading

From Insecticide to Genocide

Dead_bee_winter

A world soaked in insecticides is not a place where bees can live. We’re really going to miss them. (Wikimedia photo)

Call it the Return of Silent Spring. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book of that name aroused the world to the dangers of soaking the world with insecticides (at the time, primarily DDT). Her dark vision of a spring in which no birds sang nor insects buzzed gave impetus to the environmental movement. What better evidence that that movement has been rolled up like a cheap rug than the news that after half a century we are back where we started?

According to a major new study, the world is so saturated with insecticides (especially these days, the pervasive neonicotinoids) that bees and earthworms are vanishing. As they go, they will take our food supply with them. Continue reading

Former Treasury Secretary Sees Climate Crash Coming

Henry Paulson (right) speaks at his nomination as Secretary of the Treasury. He lived through one crash. Now he sees another coming.

Henry Paulson (right) speaks at his nomination as Secretary of the Treasury. He lived through one crash. Now he sees another coming.

The man who was at the center of the global financial crash of 2008 — Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson — knows a thing or two about crisis. And he sees another one bearing down on us. He wrote about it in a hair-on-fire op-ed piece in the New York Times last weekend. The headline: The Coming Climate Crash. And he’s a Republican! Continue reading