futures, real and imagined- part 4

The little note that I pretty much knew would not be a little note, from the start, now reaches part 4.

I’ve just read the latest weekly blog installment from writer James Howard Kunstler, who writes about the general gnarly subject of “healthcare” in America from some pretty dramatic and major personal experiences of his own, a set of different major medical issues he has had to deal with. In the note Duct Tape Politics, he pretty much gets the essence of the whole circus surrounding so-called “healthcare reform“, even in the choice of title.

Part of what Kunstler often writes about, along with other people doing an honest job of trying to get a handle on what’s what, is a variety of different systems and circumstances that share a broad kind of common theme of overly large and overly complex systems. By not so random coincidence, things sharing that characteristic are usually also systems and circumstances that waste massive amounts of money, time, energy, and resources, while simultaneously managing to not actually work very well.

Anybody who wants to even try to get an idea of what the future might hold needs to get a grip on this, because this kind of thing is going to be hammering us over our collective heads with all kinds of major problems. Saying this is not going out on a limb of crystal ball vision speculation. It’s easy to say this with confidence, for the simple reason that this kind of thing is already hammering us over our collective heads with all kinds of major problems.

There’s an irony hard to avoid here. Given what I’ve just said, there are Americans who would respond almost by pure trained reflex with some of the common cliches about the evils of Big Government.

It looks apparent to me that many Americans are victims of manipulation by devious characters who talk about being against Big Government, who, it appears, aren’t really against big government at all. They just don’t want government that serves the interests of the people as a whole, or gets in the way of whatever the hell these characters and their masters want to do. They seem just fine with bigger government in things like police state keeping the peasants submissive and obedient, and a massive military spread all around the world maintaining Empire.

Part of this, unfortunately, is that the police state, including the increasing trend toward paramilitary police forces, isn’t about protecting citizens from harm. Police states never are. People who feel safe and secure and protected against various crimes that can cause them harm don’t demand increasing police powers and force. Keep them feeling insecure and threatened and afraid, and they won’t just go along with an increasingly draconian police state, they’ll start to demand it.

Tyrants have understood and played that nasty game for a long time. They also do their best to make sure the peasants don’t learn things like these from history.

Along the same lines, it’s also important to be conscious of how many people playing the theatrical games of posing against “Big Government” seem perfectly fine with getting that pesky government out of the way of massively large and hypercomplex and misbehaving banking and finance and corporations.

All of the above are not just headed for trouble, they already are in major trouble, although people who find those overextended and hypercomplex systems to be something to their advantage are also thrashing around mightily to preserve the status quo in everything they wish to continue just as it is, even as this will clash more and more with reality as time passes.

As we consider where we are now, there are all kinds of things to examine about where we place a sense of importance, or not. On a national level, across the country, as a nation, we have endless cases of neglect of education, neglect of everything functional under the broad heading of infrastructure, while spending astronomical amounts of money on military expenditures and everything else people label as “national security” and “defense”, even while arguably most of it has little to nothing to do with protecting and defending the country.

How about the “financial industry“? That’s an ongoing epic, and it’s more tedious than ever to even look at it. I’ve talked about that plenty, and it’s the same story. How are those “new financial products” and “financial innovations” working?

A couple of days ago I found myself watching a program on C-Span that was one of these kinds of events you see there often, where some discussion panel of people, presented as representing expert authority, gathers sitting on a stage in an auditorium somewhere, with a moderator, and yaps on a topic. The topic this time was the effects of the financial crisis of 2008.

One of the participants was former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who, frankly, deserves no more serious attention at this point than what it might take for people to demand that he join Dick Cheney (and a few others) in some sort of club of people who should shut up and go away forever, having already done far too much damage to the nation (and the world beyond, for that matter).

The most obvious problem that can be summed up pretty quickly is that this bunch represented a common view held by economists and politicos that the “financial crisis” is an event of the past, over and done years ago, and now it’s all about “the recovery”. It was a pretty good demonstration of how people in the kinds of positions represented by the characters onstage really do seem to live in their own little distorted and arguably delusional alternate reality, separate from all the rest of us.

This past week saw two different days when a new record high was set in the magic number of the Dow Jones Industrial Average at the close of business on the New York Stock Exchange. As I work on finishing up this note, the start of a new week looks like being the same. Catching bits of the entertainment from the Wall Street pundits on CNBC shows people being all kinds of excited about this. Oh happy day! Oh wonderment! Out here in the real world, all that is just puzzling and irrelevant. It’s interesting and a little revealing, about the current American economy, that a graphic at the bottom of the screen on CNBC at one point listed “leaders” in the Dow Jones Industrial Average stocks: Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Visa. Ponder this, the fact that these are leaders in the statistical sampling of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

That and the C-Span panel discussion tied together well, in the sense of presenting a whole kind of culture of people within their own bubble world. The panel discussion had all kinds of typical chatter with the usual formalized lingo and jargon, about monetary policy, interest rates, the Federal Reserve Bank, that not only served as a weird kind of theater of delusion in positions of influence and authority, but was a snapshot glimpse of how strangely warped things have become in notions of capital and investment. Among other things, we have this whole culture of investment and finance that mostly seems to revolve around scooping up vast amounts of near zero interest rate money loaned into existance that isn’t going into investments in good useful work and real value, but just going into various casino games of trying to get something for nothing.

We’re still on a long running course into deepening problems, as we have been for a while, thanks to people viewing the planet Earth in a way, as put by John Michael Greer, “to treat the earth as a lump of rock with no value beyond its use as a source of raw materials or a dumping ground for waste“.

In all these topics, and other matters presenting us with long running, long term, complicated problems, we just have way too much of people tending to split themselves off into a few modes of mindset that aren’t helping, and are making things worse; waiting for some miracle, waiting for some cataclysmic doomsday, or just ignoring it all.

I’ve been writing here for a few years now, and there are seemingly endless reasons why I seem to have spent most of the time and space devoted to this on various topics under the subjects of the state of health of the earth, the increasingly dysfunctional and bizarre economic situations, and everything in the area of energy resources and consumption. They are all basic, essential, absolute fundamentals of necessity, Big Picture items. They also all happen to be big picture essentials that are increasingly fouled and confused by the increasingly bizarre circus of politics.

It might sound melodramatic to some people, but the present time and recent history has been a long extended ugly episode of the American people increasingly, and largely successfully, played for fools by people who find it useful for their own advantage to manipulate people and shove them into cliches and stereotypes and prefabricated dogma about Left and Right, loyal obedient R or loyal obedient D, Liberal and Conservative (with the actual literal meaning of those words, devoid of capitalization turning them into lingo, distorted all to hell and obliterated).

A day or two ago I read an online essay piece that riffed on a theme of the pretense of Barack Obama, the idea that Obama as candidate was a big bit of theater featuring a star who seemingly came out of nowhere, and was now revealed as being an empty bit of theater. This note was probably a great example of the kind of problem we have in the public sphere of politics. It turns out that the reality of roughly the last four to five years has, in fact, produced a body of evidence that Barack Obama as president has turned out to be not what many people thought he might be, me included, and hoped he might be.

The problem there is the very reason why I won’t direct readers to the note in question, because the world doesn’t need the kind of confusion and deception contained there to be propagated. There is a case to be made for the contention that Obama has turned out to be an empty vessel of pretense and show, and the online note I’m mentioning then proceeded to essentially get virtually everything about Obama’s presidency ridiculously wrong, and almost entirely failed to get at any criticisms based in actual reality due to be directed toward Obama.

You can find loads of this kind of nonsense. An example of that was found in some text quoted in that piece, taken from another bit of written reality distortion found on another website that is known for being a repository of reality distortion. One paragraph was quoted from there, presented as summing up Obama, that was both brief and such a massive mess of reality distortion that I’m skipping this because it begs for what might turn into many pages of writing to even begin to unravel everything wrong with it. Just one little hint of how deranged some commentary can get about the subject of Obama’s run as president can be found in assorted pundit commentary, and in all kinds of confused idiocy found in the reader comments segments of web pages containing that stuff, that present fevered brain spasms about Obama supposedly being a tyrannical dictator who, in their mind, somehow, is both fascist and communist. Aside from the lack of a grasp of basic reality in recent and current events, the kind of lack of grasp of history and even a high school level understanding of political science reflected in that kind of nonsense would be comical, if it were not simply tragic.

I’ve talked about much of this before, but it’s an ongoing situation that’s just literally unbelievably bizarre. Look around at people who have parked themselves into neat cliches of political categorizations, and we have people placing themselves in the bin of Right/Conservative/Republican party barking profoundly distorted or fully fictional nonsense about Obama as president that clashes with reality, when the reality of Obama’s record as president, and what these kinds of characters say otherwise, would make it a reasonable conclusion to think that Obama as president so far should be exactly what these people want, while people parking themselves in the bin of Left/Liberal/Democratic party often hold on to an equally fictional version of Obama that fits what they would like to believe he is.

In that bipolar world of confusion and delusions and all kinds of pretense and theater, what escapes the notice of anybody stuck in all that is the inescapable reality of President Barack Obama as a puppet figurehead of government controlled by a plutocracy of Wall Street banking and finance and giant (often multinational) corporations as a police state military empire. Party loyalists of the Democratic party bunch are sold on a bill of goods of ideas that “Obama is our guy” and doing great things, while party loyalists of the Republican party kind are sold warped fiction using Obama as a convenient fall-guy patsy, with people hammering ideas into their heads basically telling them “you see how badly things are going thanks to that Leftist radical socialist communist Obama!”.

Let’s consider a portion of James Kunstler’s November 11th blog note The Turning:

Everything points to 2014 as the moment the pretending stops and things get real. Nobody believes anymore that the Federal Reserve can replace an economy of authentic transactions with promissory notes. There is only one final thing that can happen with the Fed, and that is losing all control over rising interest rates. Janet Yellen is being set up as one of the epic chumps of history, and proof of her academic fecklessness is the mere fact that she accepted the post as Fed chair. She will preside over a fabulous disappearance of wealth in America. The blame for it will be epic, too, but it will not represent any genuine understanding of what happened.

Much is being made of the loneliness of Barack Obama these days. He also occupies a rather tragic niche in history — or the arc of his story at least points that way these days. Right now, it is very hard to tell whether he has been a hostage or a fool. He could have moved to break up the big banks in January of 2009, and any time since then he could have sent a memo to the Department of Justice instructing the prosecutions of financial crime to begin in earnest (or replaced the Attorney General). Didn’t happen. Was he being blackmailed by the likes of Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, or did he just not know what was at stake?

The history of Barack Obama will be one long record of omissions to act, not just overt failures. He is the Bartleby the Scrivener of our politics. He “prefers not to….” Hence, the powerful lure of the charismatic figure who is sure to act. Adolf Hitler was very clear about his proposed program in the early 1920s, a decade before he came to power. He spelled it out unmistakably in his speeches and his political testament, Mein Kampf: do away with pain-in-the-ass democracy and destroy the Jews. He couldn’t have put it more plainly. The residual admiration for Hitler among the extreme right-wingers of today derives mainly from the simple fact that the man actually did what he said he would do. You can’t overstate the potential hunger for that sort of thing. The current climate of US politics being Weimar-on-steroids, I’m sure that an American corn-pone Hitler would have huge appeal for a beaten-down citizenry.

The next paragraph is especially worth some reflection:

The means for such a coup of the zeitgeist are rather frightful now: drone aircraft, computer surveillance, militarized police, a puppet press. It makes thoughtful folks queasy. My bet, though, is that a fascist takeover of the US would end up being as inept and ineffectual as ObamaCare. It is one of the great hidden blessings of our time, actually, that anything organized on the massive scale is doomed to failure. But it is likewise the great mission of our time to prepare to get local and smaller, something we’re not really ready for and certainly not interested in. The intertwining of these dynamics will be the story in the year to come.

This might look like a good time to start a forecast of the future, but that’s not quite what I’m doing here, four parts in. As I’ve said, doing predictions of the future can be a fool’s task, depending on what you try to do. It’s not too unreasonable, on the other hand, to say that some general circumstances can be seen.

It’s a little ironic that I’m referring to Kunstler and quoting some noteworthy text here, because over recent years on his website he has been offering some forecasts for the coming year, sometime around year’s end, and one thing that he seems to have backed off is forecasting what will happen to the stock market and the magic number of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. I think he came to the conclusion that this was attempting to predict something that was simply too much of a case of being some kind of irrational chaotic system, if that’s the right way to put it.

Right now, watching the “new record highs!” show of the NYSE is something that strikes me as really truly bizarre. I’m definitely no economic and financial expert guru wizard, but at some point, I gradually realized that as complex as this story might be, if you back away and try to take in a broad general view of that circus, something generally simple, even obvious, takes shape. It starts to appear more and more obvious that nearly all of the daily circus of the stock market is some kind of exercise in what some people would describe as magical thinking. People holding notions of perpetual exponential economic growth as some kind of natural force of the universe thrash around madly looking for anything that looks like it will just generate returns of profit and “growth” that are essentially getting something for nothing. Lacking actual economic growth, people still want, demand, something that will still create something that makes accounts swell larger and larger, even if it’s some kind of phantasm, an illusion, an outcome of a process that isn’t actually getting useful work done, adding real value.

Combine all that with the pumping of near zero interest “new money”, and we get what we have happening, people throwing money into gambling casino games and pretending it’s all some kind of productive enterprise.

Added to this pile of chaos is something else that doesn’t require some financial wizard to notice and understand. Consider all the people with savings accounts in banks or some sort of interest account, that are now generating virtually nothing in interest, thanks to the same action in banking and finance that fuels the speculation and gambling frenzies among the parties who play those games as a full time occupation. We end up with loads of people who might not even be much interested in all the assorted kinds of trading action on Wall Street looking for something, anything, to generate the kind of growth of their own money that they had always assumed, and counted on, from savings and retirement accounts building compound interest.

Take all these people, probably tagged with terms like “retail investors” or “consumers”, and add circumstances of these people, lost at sea and worried about their well being and future, handing over their investments to various professional Wall Street players to manage, who might or might not act in the investor’s interest, and might well be acting completely in their own interest in skimming as much money as possible from every possible source.

All this gives us a messy and incomprehensibly complex mess in everything in the realm of capital and investment.

This is probably a good time to pause and say that this whole series of notes is not about a list of specific predictions of the future. It’s about considering the general difference between what people might imagine as the future, according to a whole bunch of expectations and assumptions and past patterns, and what the future might really be.

Here’s a repeat of part of the quote from James Kunstler:

It is one of the great hidden blessings of our time, actually, that anything organized on the massive scale is doomed to failure. But it is likewise the great mission of our time to prepare to get local and smaller, something we’re not really ready for and certainly not interested in. The intertwining of these dynamics will be the story in the year to come.

One of the problems of people lurching into various kinds of programmed instant reflex reactions to things is that something like what Kunstler said there can cause people to skim past the broader point and immediate snap into some set of notions about “downsizing” or other terms of lingo and jargon of corporate management and financier critters. There’s a whole phenomenon that is painfully far too familiar to many people.

Getting more local and smaller is undoubtedly a central theme of what’s ahead, and this will be something to dive into next time.


Duct Tape Politics | KUNSTLER

ClubOrlov: From the Mouths of Babes

Four graphs showing a nation in decline. An unnecessary and easily fixed decline. | Fabius Maximus

Sound, fury, cliché! Lazy pundits “double down” on “game-changing” “narratives” – Salon.com

Chase Isn’t the Only Bank in Trouble | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone

Commuting’s Hidden Cost – NYTimes.com

Nothing Lasts Forever | Economic Undertow

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Trade Agreement for Protectionists | Perspectives, What Matters Today | BillMoyers.com

Congress Sells Out To Wall Street, Again « The Burning Platform

TRUE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IS 23% « The Burning Platform

Jesse’s Café Américain: The Age of Narcissism

SWAT-Team Nation: The Militarization of the U.S. Police : The New Yorker

Liberty Gets an Enema

Which America Do You Live In? – 21 Hard To Believe Facts About ‘Wealthy America’ And ‘Poor America’ | Zero Hedge

The Dynastic Hillary Bandwagon – Bad for America by Ralph Nader | Dandelion Salad

Why Johnny can’t write, and why employers are mad – NBC News.com

The Turning | KUNSTLER


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