The Crash of 2015: The End of the Beginning

Coming soon to an economy near you: a two-train wreck.

Coming soon to an economy near you: a two-train wreck.

The setup continues of the double train wreck that will decimate the U.S. economy this year; the switches have been thrown to prevent either train from leaving the track, and the engines are accelerating. It doesn’t take much perspective, now, to see both trains, closing fast.

[Note: The Crash of 2015 is not expected to be the collapse of the global industrial economy, which will take a little longer.  Just another lurch downward of the shattered Titanic, further unsettling those passengers who do not believe in icebergs.] Continue reading

Holding Accountants Accountable

If I had known that was the name of my accountant's firm, I don't think I would have turned over my life's savings....  (Photo by Indi Samarajia/Flickr)

If I had known that was the name of my accountant’s firm, I don’t think I would have turned over my life’s savings…. (Photo by Indi Samarajia/Flickr)

It’s on account of accountants that we can’t count anymore, and someone should hold them accountable. We call them bean counters not to disparage them — honestly, I mean no disrespect — but to remind us and them of their purpose: to tell us how many beans are in the jar. When instead they tell us how many beans were in the jar last year; or how many beans would be in the jar if we had only put more in; or exactly how many beans are in a jar we don’t have and can’t get, they are not just failing to do their job, they are doing a great deal of harm to the people and companies and system they serve. Continue reading

America’s Most Violent Terrorists: White Christians

Say “terrorist attack” to us and, like Rudy Giuliani asked how he’s feeling, we immediately respond “Nine-eleven!” But in the 14 years since 9-11, it’s not Al Qaeda operative who have been killing us. We have met the enemy, as Al Capp told us so long ago, and he is us. (US Navy/Wikipedia photo.)

Say “terrorist attack” to us and, like Rudy Giuliani asked how he’s feeling, we immediately respond “Nine-eleven!” But in the 14 years since 9/11, it’s not Al Qaeda operative who have been killing us. We have met the enemy, as Walt Kelly told us so long ago, and he is us. (US Navy/Wikipedia photo.)

“The domestic radical right has killed more people than radical Islam since 9/11 in the United States, without a doubt.” Those are  the words of Ryan Lenz, principal writer of a Southern Poverty Law Center study of violent “terrorist” attacks that occurred in the U.S. between 2009 and 2015. In a classic example of confusing ideologues with facts, the SPLC study found that while US security officials were focused exclusively on protecting against foreign organizations of Islamic extremists, Americans were steadily being picked off by home-grown, Christian lone wolves. Continue reading

When Life Gives You Yemens

What happens when Yemenis have had enough, as they did in 2011. It’s not about which son of Allah you follow, or whether you get to vote; it’s about food and water and fuel. Always. (Wikipedia Photo)

What happens when Yemenis have had enough, as they did in 2011. It’s not about which son of Allah you follow, or whether you get to vote; it’s about food and water and fuel. Always. (Wikipedia Photo)

When the nation of Yemen was put on a gurney and trundled down the hall from the global intensive-care unit to hospice, it was in pretty bad shape. The United States runs the ICU, of course, and has only two treatments to offer, whatever the symptoms presented: massive injections of cash, or invasion surgery. The outcomes are universally terrible, and have been since about 1950, but no one seems able to think of another approach. That may have something to do with the quality of diagnosis: a patient who is starving and dehydrated is unlikely to respond well to either a high-pressure currency infusion or a brain transplant.   Continue reading

One of Our Islands is Missing

Going, going....  How is it we let one of our islands get away from us without learning anything? (Photo by Highcamera Aerial Photography Service)

Cedar Island, Virginia, going, going…. How is it we let one of our islands get away from us without learning anything? (Photo by Highcamera Aerial Photography Service)

The story of Cedar Island, Virginia, is a quintessentially American story, of a man who had a dream, who wrested from an empty landscape a vision of congestion, postage-stamp-sized, $100,000 lots — lots of lots — along with seaside highways, entertainments and villas. He called his vision “Ocean City, Virginia,” and it endured for half a century. But now Cedar Island’s 2,000 acres, dozens of seaside homes, and dreams of wretched excess have been wiped from the face of the earth by an implacably rising sea. Is this a great country, or what? Continue reading

The Crash of 2015, Day 49: Hell to Pay

You have this perfectly good structure, and then you kick out a few of the supporting pillars, and the next thin you know the SEC is on the phone.

What do you mean, Uncle Clarence didn’t believe they were going to do it, and stayed in his room?

I know, it’s old news. If I stop by on Monday and tell Oscar Oblivious that his house appears to be on fire, he is of course concerned. But when I stop by on Wednesday to say it’s still burning, has consumed most of the structure, and collapse appears to be imminent, he demands to know why I am bothering him with old news. The Crash of 2015, the burn and crash of the economies of much of the world into — at least — serious recession for a very long time, is well under way. It is of course no news at all for the mainstream media, transfixed as they are with simpler stories of happier, imaginary times. But for you who come here from time to time, it’s old news. How is it then that you are still in the burning house? Continue reading

Engineers Offer to Save World from Engineers

Thank God, it’s an engineer, here to save us from the fire by pouring gasoline on us. (Photo by Sergei Nivens/Shutterstock)

Thank God, it’s an engineer, here to save us from the fire by pouring gasoline on us. (Photo by Sergei Nivens/Shutterstock)

The closer a person or  a society comes to the end of its life, the more attractive magical thinking becomes. Clearly this is not going well, the thought process goes, but I can avoid the inevitable outcome if I 1) pray real hard, or 2) pay enough money to the shaman/priest/doctor, or 3) take lots and lots of Vitamin X while bathed in a strong electromagnetic field, or 4) sacrifice plenty of virgins to a volcano. The more hopeless the situation becomes, the more attractive becomes the idea of a magical, easy solution, and the lust to find one often intensifies until death intervenes. Thus now, in the dotage of our society, we are hearing a rising, insistent chant from the shamans of technology, a promise of an easy fix for the climate that is turning against us: “geoengineer it, geoengineer it.” Continue reading

Oil Prices: A Simple Explanation

graph graph

A glance at this simple chart shows how oil prices are determined, and by whom. To the best of our knowledge.

To paraphrase an old saying: For every event there is an explanation that is simple, obvious and wrong. For example, ask why oil prices started to plummet last fall and the simple, obvious answer is: too much supply, mainly because of the American fracking boom, and too little demand because of weak and weakening economies. I have ever been suspicious of people, such as weather forecasters and stock brokers, who have no idea what’s going to happen 24 hours from now but once it happens can immediately explain why it happened, in excruciating detail. Thus on January 7th in this space, I asked a question about this simple and obvious explanation, offered by people who had no clue ahead of time that it was going to happen. The question was this: On what planet does an oversupply of two percent for a machine burning 90 million barrels a day lead to a 50% drop in prices? Continue reading

The World’s Most Sustainable Country: What? Cuba?

By 2006, when this picture was taken, urban farms such as this converted soccer field in the middle of Havana were supplying the city with 90% of its produce while using virtually no petroleum products. (Photo by Dave Williams/Flickr)

By 2006, when this picture was taken, urban farms such as this converted soccer field in the middle of Havana were supplying the city with 90% of its produce while using virtually no petroleum products. (Photo by Dave Williams/Flickr)

After 50 years of pretending that Cuba is not there, the United States government this year admitted that, well, it is still there (even  Fidel Castro is still there) and we may as well deal with it. This is seen in some quarters as progress. But it is widely assumed that American business will swoop in there and upgrade them from their 1967 DeSoto cars, re-mechanize their agriculture, build fast-food restaurants, and stamp out Communism. It’s what we do.

What we should do is recognize that Cuba confronted in 1991 precisely the kind of Apocalypse that looms before us today — the sudden loss of external inputs to the economy — things such as oil, heavy equipment, cars, and did we mention oil? — and handled it. We have more to learn from them than there is likely time to learn before we are in the soup, but we should do the best we can, because there is no better example in the world for meeting and besting such a crisis. Continue reading

Grid Lock and Load Shedding: Why the Lights Are Going Out

The lights went out in Hoboken in 2012. They’re going out more often, for longer, in more places. Are you ready? (Photo by Alec Perkins/Flickr)

The lights went out in Hoboken in 2012. Thank goodness we don’t live in one of those backward countries where it happens all the time. (Photo by Alec Perkins/Flickr)

[Irony alert; avoid reading if allergic.] 

It is amusing to see — from the vantage point of the world’s number one economy, soon-to-be-number-one oil-and-gas producer, number one military power and just all around exceptional nation — the rest of the world struggling to keep the lights on. The poor beggars don’t seem to have the capacity to understand what it takes to run large enterprises and be Number One.  Examples abound: Continue reading