The Emperor’s New Clothes

People see only what they are prepared to see.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

It could seem a little weird, I suppose, to have an old children’s story come to mind in while thinking about the world and current events, but sometimes things just fit.

In this case, the old children’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen, has a simple theme that resonates pretty heavily today. Many people who are supposedly grown responsible and aware adults will often gladly play along with some sort of shared group consensus of pretense, because they think that playing along with it will make things easier, simpler somehow, despite the simple fact that the facts of reality will always show themselves and be what they are.

Here in the United States, it’s mid-August of an election year, so the circus is indeed in town, but that’s been the case for a while, it seems like forever at this point, even before the traditional summer political conventions have happened. But, then, it’s not like the old days, when a presidential election year saw the party candidates for President and Vice President selected at the summer convention, a party platform hammered out, and then the campaigns proceeded for a few months until the November election. Now, apparently it’s nearly constant, an interminable 2 year barrage.

In all that time, with all the media available now that wasn’t around in the past, you could reasonably expect that a lot of important subjects would have all the relevant facts brought to light, truth sorted out and lies, more subtle reality distortions, and general confusion cleaned away, and things discussed and thought through thoroughly. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Instead, it seems rare that people can actually focus on the right things, get the facts right, and address them honestly and think.

I mentioned a thought the last time around here in this space that’s worth repeating. Turn your attention to some factions, and you get this barrage of chatter telling you that Barack Obama is some sort of leftist radical socialist, while the actual reality of his term in office so far is Obama as president being about as much of a leftist radical socialist as Richard Nixon.

People are walking around with all kinds of nonsense, confusion, even pure fiction in their heads, often completely divorced from reality. Sometimes I feel like asking people “what color is the sky in your world?”. I’ve talked about much of this before. It’s boring and tedious to review it, and I have been over it before, but it keeps piling up, every day, more and more. The result is a dominance of people completely unable to have any kind of serious thoughts or discussion about really serious, pressing, urgent matters, because they can’t even focus on the right subjects, never mind being clearly informed about them.

 

“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.” — Mark Twain

 

There are people out there who are keeping tabs, paying attention, can understand what they observe, and can think, and then talk about it honestly and clearly, but they aren’t the people getting all the attention, as nearly all of the public attention is going to the usual suspects parade of bullshit nozzles who show up on the cable networks and elsewhere.

 

If you turn to politics, even trying to address the very real criticisms to be made about Obama as president so far is an exercise in futility. It can’t get through the noise, and the problems of people trying to make things fit whatever nonsense they have lodged in their heads already.

There has been nothing at all visibly happening, under the Obama administration so far, in addressing any kind of legal responsibility among the pile of misconduct in the worlds of banking and finance that knocked us into the long running economic distress we find ourselves in. At this point, this just is not happening, and it doesn’t look likely to be addressed. If he is reelected, maybe the lack of need for more campaign contributions and all that might make a difference. I can’t avoid the sense that he’s been basically held hostage by the Wall Street crowd.

Any notion that Willard Romney as president, joined by new boy Paul Ryan as vice president, would get on the job and get on this case and resolve things, is absurd beyond measurement of absurdity. That’s just a comical idea.

What we have there is a presidential election party ticket that, perhaps more than any example in American history, represents a candidacy for the top executive branch offices of the United States government operating on the idea of blatantly removing any pretense of being anything other than government by plutocracy. It’s not even subtle.

Spend some time contemplating this, from The Automatic Earth

Banana Republic : In practice, a banana republic is a country operated as a commercial enterprise for private profit, effected by the collusion between the State and favoured monopolies, whereby the profits derived from private exploitation of public lands is private property, and the debts incurred are public responsibility. Such an imbalanced economy reduces the national currency to devalued paper-money, hence, the country is ineligible for international development-credit, and remains limited by the uneven economic development of town and country.

Kleptocracy, government by thieves, features influential government employees exploiting their posts for personal gain (embezzlement, fraud, bribery, etc.), with the resultant government budget deficit repaid by the native working people who “earn money”, rather than “make money”. Because of foreign (corporate) manipulation, the kleptocratic government is unaccountable to its nation, the country’s private sector–public sector corruption operates the banana republic, thus, the national legislature usually are for sale, and function mostly as ceremonial government.

… then, after that has soaked in a while, this-

“The end of Democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.” –Thomas Jefferson

Now that Romney has chosen Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate for the big presidential playoff sports event, Ryan has gotten even more attention than before about his proposals for the federal budget. This has been examined in a very good post on the Zero Hedge website. This gets into the core of the matter, but unfortunately, this isn’t the kind of thing you find among the usual chatter, which at the moment seems to gravitate to the simplest narrow focus, like “what does Romney/Ryan want to do to Medicare?”.

It’s not that the Medicare issue is not important. It’s just that it’s an indicator of how badly what is supposed to be our “free press” handles large subjects.

So read the post on the Zero Hedge site, Paul Ryan’s Budget. It gets into just how badly people who want to be responsible for national government are failing to grasp what we’re dealing with.

In the most recent blog piece from James Howard Kunstler, Pure Americana, he does a nice concise job of speaking of the overall problem with the political players and the election sports.

To snip from that:

At the core of the manifold paradoxes swirling around American governance is the harsh reality that we just can’t keep running our shit the way it has evolved to run. Neither candidate for president is honest enough to spell this out and indeed both act as though easy work-arounds exist for sustaining the unsustainable. 

     In the case of Mr. Obama, it’s paying limitless TBTF ransom money to overgrown banks to avoid the constant threats of collapse that they whisper in his ear – essentially a hostage racket. A policy of managed contraction is probably the only way to avoid unmanaged and uncontrollable collapse, and would include dismantling all the TBTF banks, but Mr. Obama won’t acknowledge the imperative of contraction and the difficulties it represents. So he stands by hoping that Fed Chair Bernanke will keep shoveling ZIRP privileges, “twist’ ops, bail-outs, and bond buying interventions to the “primary dealers” – a line-up of flimflams so abstruse that all the Paul Krugman-type economists who ever lived might puzzle over them around the clock until the end of time and never unravel their inner workings.

     Mr. Romney subscribes to a set of fantasies out of the Chamber of Commerce playbook that all the familiar activities of status quo wealth generation could easily continue via the marvelous invisible hands of unfettered corporatism, if only the deadweight of government restrictions and the squandering of borrowed public “money” were swept away. His choice of running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, is meant to embody all those notions — but more than that appeal to the inchoate mob of Tea Partiers who want to get the gubment’s hands off their goshdarn Medicare. Anyway, the net effect of Mr. Romney’s business fantasies are so inadequate to the contractive forces underway that they would amount to pissing up the massive rope of history in a hurricane of events.

To use phrases like “business as usual” gets into the problem of the way so many things have been turned into sound-bite cliches that they start to become meaningless to people, regarded like an advertising slogan, but there does very definitely seem to be a problem with public figures being mentally locked into notions that fit “business as usual”, whatever form and shape those notions might take. Things get even worse when the notions in play didn’t really fit reality in an earlier period, when it might have been more reasonable to think of “business as usual”. Things now are not “as usual”, at least not in the way a lot of people seem to think of as “usual”.

There lies the core of a lot of problems, with all the difficulties of trying to address them, and point them out to people who seem just locked into some kind of shared consensus trance.

It just baffles the hell out of me to see Romney and his vague and ever shifting showbiz routine, that has a whole host of problems, that being a subject unto itself, the shifting vagueness. Well, wait. That’s not quite right. It doesn’t baffle me, exactly. In a way, it’s completely clear. He’s a pandering con artist politician. I guess maybe it would be more accurate to say that I’m baffled about how so many people seem to fall for it.

But the general form of the Republican party shtick seems very clearly, as astonishing as this is, to be selling the same notions of what was labeled “trickle-down economics” decades ago, also referred to by George H. W. Bush as “voodoo economics” for its detachment from reality, when he was campaigning for the Republican nomination as presidential candidate in 1980, running against Ronald Reagan. This was before he lost that primary campaign to Reagan and became Reagan’s sideman, and quietly dropped the talk about “voodoo economics” from then on.

Just last night I happened across some discussion on C-Span that included one Grover Norquist, the guy who has been pimping the same nonsense for approximately three decades, since the Reagan era, and still does it. There he was, hammering on the same nonsense, going on about the “Laffer Curve” that is supposed to indicate that perpetually reducing taxes will simultaneously make everybody more wealthy and prosperous and make government more financially solvent because reducing tax rates will, according to this, bring in more tax revenue. It hasn’t worked, and in the economic circumstances we now have, it’s even more removed from rational reality.

But, then, we’re in a period of history where many of the noisiest political players yap about “job creators”, and can’t tell the difference between people who have put massive amounts of dedicated time and work into a business doing useful, productive, good work, and pay people properly for their work as part of the process, and people who have just devoted themselves to devising and carrying out clever games to devise financial complexities and endless transactions to gather more money for themselves, while actually doing nothing of value in getting work done and sustaining life worth living.

Watching the political circus play itself out endlessly, it almost seems like the setting of a political stage of Obama versus Romney, and the associated players, and the contentious chatter that is sure to be playing out over the next couple of months, is likely to address “the economy” in evasive and deluded ways that resemble some 15th century practitioners of medicine, arguing over a patient, about whether the proper treatment for some mysterious and misunderstood ailment is an exorcism, or a bleeding with leeches.

There is, for very good reason, a lot of talk about the accumulated debt of the US federal government. Of course, naturally, you can still see political ads where somebody can’t tell the difference between budget deficits and the accumulated debt, but that’s yet another subtopic of the world of confusion and deception.

However, one inexplicable thing is that polticos talk about that as being a general economic problem, not a government financial problem, while ignoring one giant pink elephant in the room about the general economic problem, debt in general.

Add a little review of Willard M. Romney’s business practices and personal finances and then ask the question again “why is the economy such a wreck?”.

Hanging over all of it is the matter of finite hydrocarbon resources.

Here, it gets worse.

Anybody reading this blog has had a pretty clear (I hope) introduction and general guide to our situation in the realm of finite hydrocarbon fuel resources, especially petroleum. As I’ve pointed out many, many times now, the reason for the amount of repetition from me is the way all of what’s involved is largely ignored in the public domain.

Forgive me for a quick mention of some things you might already know well, then.

There’s the general concept described by Hubbert’s curve, describing the general changes over time in, first, petroleum discovery rates, followed by similar patterns later in time in petroleum extraction rates.

There’s the fact that the extraction rates of petroleum crude in the US reached its all time peak plateau around 1970-1971 and has been on the downside decline diminishing returns side of Hubbert’s peak since then, even with a slight short term turn of the graph into a positive slope as crude flowed from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, where there was an estimated 25 billion barrels of crude at the start before we started sucking it out, which was the single largest oil discovery anywhere, ever, in the United States. That helped in generating a kind of mini-peak reaching its maximum around the mid-eighties.

There are the patterns of Hubbert’s curve in action, on a national scale, and for Alaska, on a regional scale. There it is. That’s how it works. That’s what we’re dealing with.

Added to the complications of getting people to understand the situation, we have the confusion and deceptions involving people making enthusiastic noises about things that are not petroleum, but are other forms of hydrocarbons that involve severe destructive ecological problems, massive consumption of water that is left as toxic waste, and massive consumption of energy is the processes of turning the stuff into a kind of petroleum substitute (by burning another finite resource, natural gas), referring here to bitumen from tar sands and kerogen from shale rock formations. I have, of course, written much about that before, so you can refer back to previous entries here if you have not read them and want to know more.

And, of course, there’s the pretty comprehensive paper of the Hirsch report, submitted to the US Department of Energy in 2005 and virtually buried.

None of this is anything like a secret, or even all that obscure.

I was very surprised to suddenly encounter what was a startling bit of information in Ugo Bardi’s Cassandra’s legacy blog, pointing out that in the book he wrote a couple of years ago, Romney revealed that he was aware of the oil peak issue, having read Matt Simmons’ book Twilight in The Desert.

There, I found a quote from Mr. Willard Mitt Romney himself:

“Our own policies interfere with free-market mechanisms.  We subsidize domestic oil and gas production with generous tax breaks, penalize sugar-based ethanol from Brazil, and block investment in nuclear energy.  Our navy assumes the prime responsibility for securing the oil routes from the Middle East, effectively subsidizing its cost.  Thus, we don’t pay the full cost of Middle East oil, either at the oil-company level or at the pump.” (232)

“Market economists also identify a number of externalities – real costs that aren’t captured in the price of fuel – the most frequently cited of which are the health-care costs of pollution and the climate costs of greenhouse gases.  There is a further externality: potentially leaving the next generation in the lurch by using so much oil and energy ourselves – domestic and imported – that our children face severe oil shortages, prohibitively expensive fuel, a crippled economy, and dominion of energy by Russia and other oil-rich states.  No matter how you price it, oil is expensive to use; we should be encouraging our citizens to use less of it, our scientists to find alternatives for it, and our producers to find more of it here at home.”

“Many analysts predict that the world’s production of oil will peak in the next ten to twenty years, but oil expert Matt Simmons, author of Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, presents a compelling case that Middle Eastern oil production may have already reached its peak.  Simmons bases his contention on his investigation into the highly secretive matter of the level of reserves in the Saudi oil fields. But whether the peak is already past or will be reached within a few years, world oil supply will decline at some point, and no one predicts a corresponding decline in demand. If we want America to remain strong and wish to ensure that future generations have secure and prosperous lives, we must consider our current energy policies in the light of how these policies will affect our grandchildren.” (233)

Now, just in the last few days, since the announcement of Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, both Romney and Ryan have been out campaigning, pandering as usual, and the TV news sound bites have revealed them both repeating a message about their “energy policy”. You’ll surely hear some of this yourself if you have not already, but, paraphrasing in essence, their repeated message was to tell audiences that America has all the energy resources we could ever want and need, and Romney and Ryan intend to use these supposed resources. This is completely detached from reality, but they’re counting on an audience who have no clue about that. They repeatedly push the fiction that our only “energy issue” is a matter of government policy.

Previous to a few days ago, the question would have been, with the fiction and nonsense spewed by Romney about “energy policy”, whether it was a case of gross ignorance, full on delusion, or fundamental gross dishonesty. Now, being aware of what he had written in his own fucking book (assuming he wrote it, and not a ghost writer), the answer is very clear: fundamental gross dishonesty.

But, then, this is normal modus operandi for Willard Romney, pure pandering, always. Whatever he says will change, next year, next week, tomorrow, maybe minutes from now, depending on what seems convenient and the audience of the moment.

 

The failure to comprehend and understand reality and deal with it properly is going to have bad repercussions. It is that simple, and the unfortunate part of the story is that the portion of humanity in America circa 2012 really earnestly and honestly trying to understand what we’re dealing with and act accordingly are such a small minority as to be almost regarded as freaks and crackpots. That’s complicated even more, unfortunately, by the noise pollution of people who really are crackpots.

Jim Kunstler summed up quite a lot in his latest online column, when he said:

“bear in mind that, whatever else is going on out there right now in the three-ring circus of presidential politics, events are in the driver’s seat, not personalities, and the seeming quiescence of things on the late summer scene is an illusion that will soon dissipate”

 

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