There’s something to mention that I don’t think I’ve really talked about here. I like cars. I really like cars, and always have, virtually all of my life. I loves me some automobiles. I like cars, I like driving them.
Among other things, one of the interesting aspects of the period of human history coinciding with my lifetime has been the amazing development of automobiles over this period. Part of my lifelong interest in the automotive world has been quite an intense interest in motorsports.
I’m one of those characters who can bore people to tears if you trigger this rambling about the history of Indy cars and Formula One. I know who Michael Schumacher is and who Juan Manuel Fangio was, can rattle on about why Jim Clark was so great, what an interesting character Mark Donohue was, the astonishing developments and changes in various forms of racing cars between the early sixties and the present. I noticed the recent passing of Jerry Grant when few people in the United States would even know who he was (and, hint, he was an American). And so on. Got insomnia? Call me, I’ll fix you right up.
The changes and developments in racing cars, since the time when I first noticed these amazing machines as a young boy, to now, have been amazing. It’s truly astonishing when I look back at those earlier beasts and compare. Major changes and developments in everyday road cars have followed. The most humble machines today, among basic econo-box daily drivers, are, in many ways, much better than exotic racing machinery from past times within my lifetime.
This is part of my own personal background and context when I think, and write, as I find myself doing on a regular basis now, about where we are situated regarding petroleum resources and use.
My interests in this area are not anything particularly interesting to most people, and I’m not going to bore you with it. (When that comes up here, you’ll know right off the bat if it’s a car topic, and can bail immediately if that glazes over your eyes and mind.)
How we’ve gotten it wrong in the automotive department here in America has more than one facet. I’ve talked about it all before. Really getting going after the end of World War II, our nonstop intensive program of outward development of suburban sprawl, coupled with the phenomenon of “single use” zoning laws separating out the places where we live, work, and do all the things of human interaction and transactions of day to day life, took us to the maximum of Hubbert’s peak of oil production in the US over four decades ago, and into the endless diminishing returns decline ever since, even with a couple of slight upturns on the downside of the graph. Despite that, our gluttony of oil consumption has just gone up and up, overall, even though the last few years have shown a decline in petroleum consumption, thanks to an economic crash, which is hardly a good way to fix that particular issue.
We’ve arranged most of what we do and how things work in America completely around almost complete dependency on getting in petroleum fueled cars and trucks, and driving for miles.
As we reach the Labor Day holiday, I ponder the idea of how many people in my country look at this weekend as some other holidays, a time to burn mass quantities of petroleum as transportation vehicle fuel to go somewhere.
That isn’t the only thing happening, of course. We’re between the big national conventions of the two big political parties that are the only ones recognized as existing in most circles, especially news coverage, and between the two of them.
The Republican national festival of mendacity happened this past week, and this week will bring us the Democratic party convention.
The Republican event was no surprise, really, but even as expected as the general character of that circus was, it was still a little shocking, how thoroughly the whole dog and pony show turned out to be a nonstop parade of outright lying, filled in with assorted more subtle forms of deceptions, and a large dose of delusions and fantasies.
As was no surprise, the Republican party rolled out Willard Romney as their official candidate for election to be President of the United States. As was also no surprise, they fell all over themselves to present Mr. Romney as an actual human being Regular Guy in assorted bits of scripted theater, everyone falling in line, which included banishing Ron Paul and supporters off into a little convention in exile of their own, for refusing to extol the purported Wonders of Willard.
The absurdities were massive and continuous, with much of the proceedings revolving around presenting Mr. Romney as The Guy Who Can Turn The Economy Around, despite being extremely vague or even plain absurd about how that’s supposed to work, added to the irony of Willard’s actual business history making it clear that the real Willard Mitt Romney is one of the kind of people who turned the economy of the United States into a pile of wreckage and woe.
Add to this the glaring fact that Mr. Romney is a chronic pathological liar, simply pandering to whatever audience he’s addressing at that moment, and that’s about there is to that, and the whole episode becomes an obvious meaningless farce.
The Democratic party convention gets rolling this week, and it’s unlikely that we’ll have the parade of lying, the egregious and relentless dishonesty we saw this past week, but there will probably be a load of various forms of reality evasion there, as well.
Just before the GOP convention, Romney unveiled his “energy independence plan”, a seemingly cheerful and happy plan solving all America’s petroleum needs, that in reality, is a dance of obfuscation, dishonest accounting, and general delusions, beginning with the not so subtle trick of somehow shifting from “American energy independence” to “North American energy independence”, counting Canadian and Mexican resources.
That prompts the obvious question of what Canada and Mexico think of all that, for a start, but beyond that, this trick still ignores the realities of remaining resources in Canadian and Mexican territory, and the whole thing is a piece of pandering political theater that has little rational connection to reality. It’s a joke, and there’s not a damned thing funny about it.
In the meantime, President Obama’s “energy policy” has been a feeble and lame and unrealistic avoidance of the problems at hand and the future, even as the Team R camp squawks proclamations about “Obama’s failed energy policy”, for all the wrong reasons, pointing to “failures” that in actual reality are failures to be in line with the severe delusions in this area among Republican politicians.
I’ve written loads previously about all the ways people tending toward the “R” bunch of politics are deluding themselves with wishful thinking and avoiding of facts. That includes all sorts of wishful thinking involving Canadian tar sands, “tight oil” petroleum crude in the western US Bakken formation, kerogen from oil shale, and deepwater ocean wells, while ignoring the actual physical, logistical, and economic facts of reality about all of this. It has become a regular standard bit of Republican party rhetoric to make grand proclamations about “America’s abundant energy resources”, while either being honestly oblivious or blatantly deceiving people about the “abundant” part being something that would be more realistically described by stating things in the past tense using the word “had“.
President Obama has responded to the constant barking from the Republican politicians about “energy” and “dependence on foreign oil” by pointing out that, in fact, while he has been in office, petroleum production in the US has actually increased, altering the negative slope of the downside of Hubbert’s curve. The whole bunch ignore a fundamental fact of the matter; that increasing the rate we’re sucking a finite resource out of the ground simply means we’re moving further and further into having less and less left, faster.
All kinds of foolishly and unrealistically overoptimistic notions fly around about the resource of natural gas, which has unpleasant surprises in store for some people when the reality of that hits Among other things, this appears from where I sit to be another variation of economic “bubble” building as money flies around and into natural gas related enterprises, which will inevitably turn out to be almost entirely lucrative and “creating wealth” only for the people who were successful in sucking up other people’s money in the form of investments in these enterprises, not in actual long term returns from those enterprises.
Nobody in current governmental and political leadership, at least among anybody getting enough attention to make a difference, is addressing the basic fundamental problems: dependence on finite underground hydrocarbon fuel resources that are well into diminishing returns, and massive overconsumption of them.
In all of the political circus, as I’ve said before many times, in one of two broad camps, we have people of the “drill, baby, drill” crowd, determined to believe that there are no finite limits, and just because they have grown accustomed to and completely dependent upon what they’ve come to believe is unlimited amounts of petroleum and other hydrocarbon deposits, perpetually cheap, that because they want them, and demand them, they will then be perpetually unlimited and cheap. Apparently they will faithfully vote for anybody who pretends this is true, and not batshit crazy delusion, and attack anybody who dares to say otherwise and point out reality.
In another broad political camp not quite operating in reality, they’ll trumpet grand proclamations about “eliminating fossil fuels and replacing them with green renewable energy”, while failing to seriously examine anything about any of the ideas involved, and maintaining a different kind of wishful thinking that we’ll just swap out “fossil fuels” and replace with “green energy”, and continue to just roll on running everything as we have come to expect as normal, just with different energy sources.
I’ve written over and over about all of this, but as the political shows proceed, one just ended, one about to start, I see no sign anywhere among anybody involved that shows me that somebody is getting serious and realistic about this stuff.
There’s no end to the chatter and proclamations about The Economy. All kinds of contentious noise sounds in the political sports games about the accumulated debt of the US federal government, but nobody seems to be willing to address the gargantuan pink elephant in the room of the overall economic circumstances, aside from matters of governance, of debt in general.
Here we sit still in the wreckage and repercussions resulting from the collapse of the house of cards, of massive, astronomical debts, complex webs of piles upon piles of interwoven and interacting and interlocked debt, from years of games of people creating massive piles of debt and then regarding it and treating it as “wealth”.
Whether we look at the troubles of government budget deficits and accumulating debt, or everything else (“private sector”) , we have huge, incomprehensible, massive paralyzing piles of debt choking the life out of everything, that seem to have been piled up for a variety of reasons, including plain scams and swindles, piled up with assumptions that “future economic growth” would resolve it all, even as debts compounded on debts.
The problems around this are complex and many. That’s for sure. That should be obvious, obvious enough for anyone reading to think I’m a very silly man to even say that as if I’m illuminating the world with some brilliant new insight. The problem is all available evidence seems to show the people who should be sorting out the messy knots are either genuinely oblivious to the roots of the problems, or, I’m guessing more likely, tied up in some kind of shared pretense of avoiding the whole thing and pretending different things are happening.
“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on him not understanding it.”
I’ve said this before, but it feels a little weird to dive into financial and economic topics, not exactly being any kind of financial and economic wizard. Not by a long stretch. It’s just hard to avoid the evidence that has been piling up that the people who are supposed to possess suitable education and knowledge and expertise are not getting it right, or even understanding and facing what the questions are.
That, in itself, gives rise to extra complications aside from the matters at hand from something new and ugly added to the mix of complexity and confusion. Given enough avoidance and apparent cluelessness (even if maybe the people involved are not really clueless, but in some kind of program of pretense), some people can then start to regard expertise as something to mistrust, and start to think and act as if it’s a bad idea to trust people who actually know what they’re talking about.
I can only guess at some things, but in this particular problem area, I have to suspect some problems in the realm of overspecialization. Part of this could be notions that basically hold that you’ve always been taught and the general professional consensus is that things work this way, therefore, you’ll believe they work this way, despite any glaring evidence otherwise. The other element of this is possibly fitting with the old aphorism, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to you, every problem looks like a nail.
Hanging over everything in this realm seems to be a normal, standard kind of conventional wisdom consensus that holds the idea that “what’s good for Wall Street is good for the economy”, with all that falls under the heading of “Wall Street”, or even, going a little further, a notion that essentially Wall Street is the economy.
The usual talk about the economic mess seems to almost invariably talk about the trouble starting around 2007 and really turning into a “sudden” train wreck in summer and early autumn 2008, but looking back, from my vantage point, it was clear that the economy was not in good healthy condition going right back to around 2000-2001. There was a stretch of years there where it sure looked like lots of people were pretending in different variations of “it’s all good!”, and therein lies the basis of much of the problems.
In a collection of assorted activity where everything revolves around the notion of assumptions of constant “growth”, with everybody’s business plans and financial arrangements based entirely on certain assumptions, and it all revolves around systems and plans of debt based on these assumptions of perpetual growth to make it work, it’s a setup for big problems if anything involved anywhere through all of this burps in some unexpected way.
And here we are.
I’m no economist, but paying attention, and sniffing and digging, and reading people who know way more about things than I do, a picture starts to take shape. We’ve had a pretty long stretch of time, in terms of human lifetimes (even if only a momentary blip in long term historical timeframes), where the demands and expectations of perpetual and ever increasing economic growth got a lot of people going down a path of playing all kinds of games to create and maintain illusions of growth even when it wasn’t happening for real, and that can only go for so long before it blows up and just blows away in the wind.
It basically turns out that loads of theoretical financial wealth looks to have just disappeared, and essentially it has disappeared because it never really existed in the first place, but was assorted debt counted as “capital” and “wealth”. Both the R and D bunch avoid acknowledging this.
Writing this, I then set this aside to review again for dumb typos and spell-check, and went to read this week’s installment from James Kunstler. How about this. He’s writing about the same stuff, essentially.
Putting aside that Kunstler is a much better writer than I am (well, he should be, it’s his profession), it might be tempting to be a wiseass and say “great minds think alike!”. But really, there is something more than mere random coincidence here, and I think it’s really nothing more profound than the simple fact that if you’re paying attention, and ignoring all the noisy bullshit of people telling you what they want you to think, people can notice the same things, and there are reasons those things come to attention.
As Kunstler nicely summarizes it, there’s a new political party on the scene, the Reality party.
Just to save time for anybody who might not go to read Kunstler’s piece (although you should) and might go off searching wondering “wait.. is he serious, did somebody start something?”, it isn’t literal. I’m just mentioning that to be clear, reminding myself that, among other things, somebody fed up with the “tea party” circus had some fun with a bit of a serious side and started up a casual thing calling it “the coffee party”.
Kunstler was being literal in the sense of actual reality.
Reality doesn’t give a shit about whether we understand it, or even face it, or not.
Addressing the shows of the Republican and Democratic parties of 2012, Kunstler writes:
Reality has a different view of where this all ends and how it will work out.
That covers a lot succinctly.
Somebody has actually taken on the pretty substantial project of chronicling the ongoing mendacity of Willard Romney, as I mentioned previously, and this fellow, a guy called Steve Benen, continues this epic task. That’s a challenge, and I don’t mean it’s a challenge to dig out examples of Romney lying, I mean it’s a challenge to be able to keep up.
The two main political parties, the only two that are acknowledged to exist in the minds of many people, have become seriously dysfunctional in grasping and addressing reality, to the point of becoming irrelevant. This does not mean they’re the same, and/or equivalent in dysfunction.
In Kunstler’s recently published Too Much Magic, he does a critique of both, labeling the Democratic party of the present as The Party of Nothing In Particular, and the current Republican party as The Party of Stupidity.
The Republicans seem to have gone out of reach of facts and reason even when some of their own bunch try to talk them down off the crazy ledge. One is a guy named Mike Lofgren, who turned up on Bill Moyers’ show on PBS just days ago, talking about the state of American politics right now, and has a book out, titled The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted. Interesting title.
He turned up there just a couple days after I read an article from him: Revolt of the Rich.
Add to that things like Four Deformations of the Apocalypse and Paul Ryan’s Fairy-Tale Budget Plan from from former Reagan Office of Management and Budget director and infamous axeman David Stockman, in the New York Times.
Try to get that through to some people, and the responses would likely be to ignore anything about that because they’re busy babbling that Bill Moyers and the New York Times is “liberal media bias leftist propaganda”.
That’s not all.
Steve Benen, the guy busy with the extreme task of keeping track of Romney’s steady stream of lying, put together a good and concise look at another aspect of the detachment from reality in the world of Mr. Romney and the current state of the Republican party. There’s a strange kind of consensual hallucinated nostalgia for a bygone era as “better times” in the past that doesn’t actually match much of the past. This is probably something to return to as an entire subject all its own, because it’s a long story, and really fundamentally important.
In writing this blog, I’m acutely aware that I use the word “delusion” frequently, but the simple fact is that as I look at some things, there just simply is not a word that more accurately and succinctly describes the state of mind of far too much of the American public in the present.
The Republican party politics have become completely dominated by a combination, of a kind of neo Gilded Age batch of plutocrats, and various combinations of the profoundly naïve, plain stupid, and batshit insane.
The Democratic party fares better in terms of still having people with some education and awareness and intelligence and just basic human goodwill (not that there are not any people with those qualities who classify themselves as Republicans, they’re just stomped into submission and shoved aside). They have their own problems of avoiding large matters of reality.
Faced with complex and problematic times, too many people are hiding out from reality, complete with leaving the door open to any manipulative bastards who will take them for an ugly ride to their own doom.
I think this idea is demonstrated by the reaction, or lack thereof, to the fact that the combined gross dishonesty of Willard Romney, now joined by Paul Ryan, and the Republican party in general, has been laid bare, with light shone upon a whole series of lies, from the subtly devious to blatant and monumental, and many people, incredibly, seem to think and behave as if that doesn’t even matter.
This is not a trivial thing.
Added to that madness, there’s the unavoidable returning and repeating theme of all kinds of assorted noisy nonsense thrown out into the public realm that builds up some complete alternate reality fiction of President Barack Obama, like a new bit of absurdist humor that clearly was not intended as a joke at all, featuring Chuck Norris and wife in a truly fucking bizarre video that basically stops just short of declaring Barack Obama to be the antichrist.
We really need some combination of past Roosevelts, some hybrid of the characters of both Theodore and Franklin, right about now, to just lay out the truth clearly, no bullshitting around, and kick some asses that severely need it.
The Republican party burrows deeper and deeper into a variety of delusions, while doing everything they can, since before inauguration, to sabotage and undermine Barack Obama as president (after being elected by a pretty wide margin as US presidential elections go).
Both they and the Democratic party in general argue about what they think are some tweaks and “fixes to apply to the US economy, while ignoring the fundamental problems we’ve built up over decades. thinking that we’ll just fix things right up and we’ll go sailing along again forever, on what reality will determine to be an unsustainable path. Actually, reality has already given us the memo on that.
That includes the facts of remaining finite deposits of underground hydrocarbon compounds.
We haven’t even gotten to the state of health of planet Earth, even as more news comes in of clues smacking us in the head from planet Earth while we ignore them in favor of every stupid and petty diversion that we can find to occupy our attention instead.
Piled on to all this, just slightly outside the strictly political realm of those sports games diversions, people are exposed to things like writer Thomas Friedman, being regarded seriously as a profound thinker, writing about the idea of “globalization” as The Modern New Way of human commerce and living, declaring all that as the way things work now and the way of the future.
This neglects the very basic facts that, besides all the other problems with the whole phenomenon, the whole set of notions and practices depends entirely on a couple of major and fundamental things. One is the general state of relative international calm and peace, to not cause troubles with the whole worldwide international business shuffle, and the assumption of effectively unlimited and perpetually cheap petroleum for transportation fuel for all the operations involved.
Yes, I like cars. I would like it better if we had developed a set of circumstances where far fewer cars were on roads at any give time, with all of them volunteers, so to speak, in the sense of people only getting out on the road in an automobile driving themselves around occasionally, because that would be a nice option now and then, not a necessity to get between the places of their life to do anything and everything.
Here we get one of the basic glaring failures of virtually anybody in any position of “leadership”, or with ambitions of such. This is the failure to address this, to get things going and get people’s heads around the urgent need to rearrange American places and living and work to be able to function again without the mass consumption of petroleum fuels. That includes longer range transportation of people and things, where people in America have grown used to the notion of normal and standard operations involving airplane travel and large ocean going freighters and trucks, all depending upon and devouring massive quantities of petroleum.
Part of that requires not only getting the deluded fantasies out of the heads of the “drill, baby, drill” crowd, but also nipping fantasies that we’ll just switch everything over to “alternative” energy sources and carry on everything exactly as it has been for just a few decades of recent human events.
I don’t have the complete great master plan, but then part of our problems, especially glaring in observation of the political circus, is a tendency for too many people to grab on to naïve notions that there is some simple plan that will just make an adjustment and presto, all fixed.
Reality will force issues.
We will have to reverse the expanding experiment of suburban sprawl, for one thing, and get more local and regional. I’m reading and hearing little about rearranging to have places again with “walkable” neighborhoods and districts in cities, for living, working, and all the interaction and transactions of human life.
The idea of “globalization” is going to be more and more obviously a serious folly, apart from the fact that international trade has been, and will be, an important part of human civilization on Earth. This is a different thing than the whole concept and set of practices of “globalization”, where part of the requirements and assumptions hold the idea that “distance is trivial” because of petroleum fueled transport, an assumption that is going to continually become more and more problematic.
All of this will bat us about the head with the realities of getting our heads back around concepts of business and commerce and trade based around and upon useful work of real value, not assorted abstract theoretical games of “wealth” as financial abstractions and transactions of the same.
There is almost nothing in the way of any serious public discussion about these things, especially in the domain of governance and politics, and this is a serious problem that’s about as real as real problems get.