the actual state of the union

The last note was talking about the annual State of the Union address, although really it ended up being more about the circus surrounding the actual speech than the speech itself. What’s still left, after the president’s speech, an annual ritual of national American government, is the question of what is the actual state of the union.

Addressing that subject is not my job, so I hope you will bear with me if this seems to bounce around a bit and just isn’t as organized as it could be. The fact is that taking on such a task is only necessary because of people not doing their jobs. This doesn’t refer only to the political creatures charged with the responsibility of governance, it also obviously refers to what is presented to us as “news” by the infotainment circus that substitutes for a functioning free press in America today.

I do need to say that despite what some people might think about the use of adult-language vulgarities as the sign of a primitive and inarticulate mind, be prepared for that possibility, as this whole subject just begs for the simplification and summary that boils down to one simple crude word: bullshit.

I haven’t bothered to even try to research any television ratings statistics, but I don’t think I’m going far off into sheer speculation detached from facts and reality to guess that more Americans watched the Super Bowl on TV than the annual State of the Union address delivered by the President of the United States to a joint session of Congress. The tragic thing is that neither of them was more than trivial entertainment, a circus event to distract people, having much any real meaning, other than as demonstrations of how distracted and oblivious much of the American population is now. Come to think of it, it might not be unreasonable to guess that more people watched some of the endless “pregame” TV chatter about the Super Bowl than watched the State of the Union address.

Part of what’s sad, just genuinely tragic about this, is that it’s not just about a distracted, ignorant, and apathetic citizenry, a lot of this has to be attributed to a more realistic assessment of things by people who are a little more aware, trying to pay a little more attention, and coming to the conclusion that the whole dog and pony show is a waste of time. To be clear, I’m not only talking about the actual State of the Union address, but all of the “Republican response” sideshows, which are a whole absurd item of its own, with there being at least four different “Republican response” speeches, as well as all the pseudo-news chatter around it, before and after the event.

Stepping aside from the actual political circus, with the whole competing sports team metaphors that apply, turning to what some people seriously regard as news and information is loaded with all kinds of reality distortion and nonsense. There, I find more repetition, many of the same things keep raising their ugly heads. One example was something I stumbled upon over the past weekend. Once again, it featured television douchebag John Stossel and his show of unintentional comedy on Fox News.

I had written just days ago about the problem of addressing the serious problems of what should be described in terms like economic imbalance, a massive problem of warped sense of value in economic matters, using phrases like “economic inequality” or “income inequality” (or the inverse wording, like “economic equality”), when “equality” or “inequality” are just the wrong words, the meaning is all wrong in addressing the problems. That only confuses matters.

Sure enough, as if right on cue, Stossel and his hour of idiocy popped up as I browsed channels, with him chattering about “economic equality”. Sure enough, absolutely predictable, Stossel, along with guests, wasted time yapping and riffing on the theme communism is bad, as if anybody with any sense of 20th century history needed an explanation about this. But, then, as expected, this was presented as “economic equality”. Right there was a perfect demonstration of the serious problem of the way some simplistic blockheads respond to concerns about turning into a kind of dysfunctional banana-republic of plutocrats and peasants by chattering simplistic idiocy, this exact kind of thing, essentially saying, “oh, so you want communism, then?”.

You can find plenty of reality warp in this realm by turning on a television and watching CNBC (another recurring subject). Taking a peek a few days ago at the Larry Kudlow comedy hour, I caught a segment where the theme was posing the question asking if there is a “War on Banks”. Why? Apparently Larry seems to think that a few token wrist slap penalties for the US government are some sort of persecution of banks, some grand injustice. Never mind that the stuff involved is not about banking in general, but about specific malfeasance and misconduct from particular banks of the “too big to fail” mega-bank variety. Furthermore, the cases involved seem to all be treated as some minor civil-penalty matter, with none of the people committing misdeeds and bearing responsibility being held accountable.

The actual fines all amount to what any normal human would regard as a monumental amount of money, but in the context of the organizations involved, probably amount to an impact something like a traffic ticket for most people, a minor annoyance to the banks involved, a wrist-slap token penalty that’s nothing in the overall financial picture for the banks involved. It would be interesting to see a detailed examination of the fines involved compared with the bonuses and other payoffs to the people within those same banks.

All of this, the kind of reality-distortion nonsense you get from people like Kudlow, or Stossel, a large cast of others, has created a general atmosphere where basic ideas about business, money, and value have become so deranged and distorted that virtually any serious and sensible discussion of anything under the subject heading of “the economy” is nearly impossible.

People who get their view of the world through that warped looking-glass probably have notions fixed in their minds of all the alternate reality nonsense I sometimes refer to as cartoon villain Obama, which, in this context, includes the usual nonsense about Obama that deflects attention from the reality played out over the five years of his presidency, of Obama as what appears to be a puppet figurehead of ruling plutocracy, who, among other things, has completely avoiding addressing all the distortions, swindles, and misconduct in banking and finance, while putting on a token show of “financial reform” and “consumer protection”, like the Wall Street managed dog and pony show of what is generally referred to as the Dodd-Frank bill.

As far as I can tell, trying to gather a sense of what’s happening from people who follow and really know the financial world, and are telling the truth, rather than trying to sell people a bag of schemes and perpetuate dysfunction that suits them, the teetering house of cards of all kinds of malfunctioning and even fraudulent financial arrangements, like the various financial derivatives causing the “financial crisis” of 2008, are still there, as much of a problem as ever, and actually even worse. Despite all the proclamations of the president saying “the debris of the financial crisis has been cleared away”, and noises about “recovery”, in fact, it appears that none of that has been cleared up.

Getting back to the Kudlow show, one of the laughable protests of Kudlow in his “War on Banks?” theater sketch was that these supposedly draconian fines would, among other things, interfere with “capital formation”. For a start, in comparison with the general finances of the banking entities involved, including how much money has been extracted by the people in them for themselves, rather than funding useful business activity, this is, to be generous, doubtful. Beyond that, it raises questions about the whole notion of capital in things today.

Writer James Kunstler has raised a point more than once that’s worth repeating, which is about the notion in the minds of many people of “capitalism” as an “ism”, that is to say, the notion of “capitalism” as a kind of political ideology or system, which, of course, for some people, simply turns directly to the simplistic ideas I mentioned already, of some titanic battle of “capitalism versus communism”. It diverts people into all kinds of nonsense and squabbling and away from the basic meaning of what capital is, surplus wealth that can be used in funding useful endeavors.

Larry Kudlow’s protests, about some pathetic token show of penalties for misbehavior and dishonesty that has caused incalculable damage, talking about harming “capital formation” prompts questions about where capital has been going. It doesn’t take economic and financial expertise and special insight to look around a little and realize that much of what we’re talking about in “capital” now involves steady creation of more imaginary money by the Federal Reserve, that just gets poured into more and more of the assorted Wall Street casino games, with the players involved skimming off as much as possible for themselves. Big numbers in the trading market statistics get people chattering about “recovery”, while most of the rest of us out here are looking around asking “what ‘recovery’?”.

Notions of capital investment turn into just a big game, in things like shuffles of high-frequency trading computer trading algorithms buying and selling stocks in time fragments of minutes or even seconds, just playing statistical math games rather than ideas of investment in good business enterprises and funding them over the long term. In the meantime, as Kudlow rattled on about the persecution of those poor bankers by mean old government, literally right above his head on screen was a large clue about capital formation problems. There we got the latest benchmark crude oil prices, which were, I don’t know, somewhere around $97/barrel for West Texas Intermediate and $107 for Brent.

Here, we have a real effect on “capital” and more, an effect of diminishing returns in petroleum, that pesky “peak oil” story that people keep pretending has gone away or was never real in the first place. The simplest facts seem to be avoided as much as possible, like the drain of money from everything involving petroleum, which effectively means virtually everything, plus the factor that manages to keep appearing among all the chatter on CNBC, which is the matter of how much capital now goes into the increasingly expensive operations to scrounge the remaining pockets and dregs of petroleum, natural gas, and things that people pretend are petroleum. Rather than being treated as the serious problems of diminishing returns that they are, all this is turned into sales pitch happy chatter about being an “energy boom” and a road to “energy independence”.

The president is no help at all in this, and even saying anything about this in some settings is guaranteed to get chattering of nonsense about “Obama’s failed energy policies” from people carrying the delusion that we can have infinite endless and perpetually cheap hydrocarbon fuel supplies. The president is no help at all in what needs to come from somebody in political leadership, which is to plainly and honestly address the reality, and get people focused on the urgent need to get serious, now, about what we could describe as a pretty hefty “to-do” list to adjust to diminishing returns and depletion in this department. In the bipolar political sports game madness, anybody in the Republican party is extremely unlikely to be any better, as that bunch like to present themselves selling people a sack of bullshit about how if they were in charge, we would have all the cheap and unlimited hydrocarbon fuel supplies we can wish for, which is complete delusion. Part of the game depends on being able to claim Obama/Democrats/Liberals/environmentalists as being some terrible obstacle to the wondrous cornucopia of endless cheap hydrocarbons they want people to believe will be theirs, if only you vote in the right politicians.

The American people are in for some major disappointments, to put it as mildly as possible, about the situation, and despite all the deluded hype and wishful thinking, at some point it will no longer be possible to avoid facing the fact that they’ve been lied to for many years about the reality of finite resources.

This situation is just one subject area where politicians, among others, traffic in endless loads of diversions, posing, platitudes, absurd irrational nonsense, and just plain old lying.

You know… bullshit.

I’ve certainly written enough, all by myself, about the energy situation that if anybody has paid any attention at all it’s impossible to not know where we are in this. There is a lot of work to do, to rearrange and change much of what we do to simply use less of the stuff we’ve been burning through for decades as if there are no limits.

When we come back to the matter of the economy, there is the very basic notion of a functional economy of getting work done and people getting paid for the work.

This basic concept is so obscured by the insanity and plain dishonesty flying around that it seems almost completely lost. There’s a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of people who need to be paid to do useful work. This isn’t a mystery.

Usury is not “economic growth“. Swindles and fraud are not “free enterprise“, and they don’t produce prosperity and wealth.

It almost sends people into twitching reflex allergic reactions to use the word greed, but much of the problems we have come down to this, as far too many people seem to want everything, but don’t want to pay anybody for anything. Then they act baffled and mystified about why things are falling apart and so much doesn’t work properly.

I’ve mentioned the saga of the troubles of the city of Detroit at least a couple of times now. It was interesting, then, to find an article just days ago on the Zero Hedge website talking about the troubles of Detroit, and it fell into the same trap in talking about Detroit that so many people fall into. They talked about it as a story of corruption and cronyism. While those problems might very well be a significant problem in the conduct of governance of the city, it misses the more fundamental problem there, getting diverted in secondary problems and issues.

I’ll repeat what I’ve said before. The root of the decay and decline of the city of Detroit is mostly ignored, and that comes down to the way the actual city of Detroit was abandoned, slowly, and then accelerating in a kind of downward spiral feedback, after World War II, as people and businesses headed outward into suburbia. What was left there had large areas destroyed by construction of limited access highways leading out to the suburbs, either by being directly wiped out, or what was left being divided up by no man’s land barriers formed by the swaths of highway.

It’s almost like this saga is trying to grab our attention and tell us something. It seems to keep popping up, as other situations and events keep popping up. Mention Detroit, or if it comes up in some public talk, especially the political kind, and it’s more likely than not that the talk will manage to veer off into territory where people are no longer talking about the city of Detroit, they’re using the name “Detroit” as if it’s a collective term for all motor vehicle manufacturing in America. They aren’t even talking about a place anymore.

There is no shortage of chatter about Detroit, missing the core of the problem that is actually common to cities across the United States. We have a task staring us in the face. The story of Detroit’s shocking decline is tied up in a tight tangled knot with the problems of petroleum depletion. The abandonment of cities as arrangements for living without massive consumption of petroleum have massively increased the use of petroleum, accelerating the rate of depletion. Considering the arrangements we’ve ended up with in suburban sprawl that don’t work without unlimited and cheap petroleum fuel, we have a problem that is only going to increase with time and further depletion. All things considered, we have some cities to rebuild to work the way they worked before the age of petroleum fueled transportation.

We aren’t hearing that from the president, and we sure as hell aren’t hearing this from politicians in general. The general modus operandi on the American political animals, subspecies Democratic and subspecies Republican, has been to generally operate in one form or another of wishful thinking and promises that basically amount to saying “you’ll have all you want in the energy department, just keep me/us in power”. The subject of actual American cities, as should be clear by now I hope, is tied directly to the energy situation.

It’s astonishing that one of the most basic and fundamental factors in American life is so ignored or misunderstood, that being having places to live and work that actually function, especially in conditions that will have the costs and logistics of transportation becoming more and more expensive and problematic. What we don’t need is the kind of “urban renewal” ideas that were popular in some quarters around the decades of the sixties and seventies, which were often ideas and projects of Democratic party politicians.

The general Republican party politician attitude seems to be that Real Americans dwell in suburban zones, and that American cities (not “metropolitan areas” that cover vast regions tied together by highways) are just wastelands to be ignored anyway because they’re the places of minority persons that were ruined by minority persons and Liberal Democrat politicians, and lots of babbling about “more Big Government Spending” if anybody says anything about fixing them and restoring places that work as cities were meant to work, before the Oil Age.

It’s also extraordinarily hard to talk about any of this and get it across to people here in America without many people thinking of anything about cities as functional cities being about some sort of hipster lifestyle and fashion thing. Anything in this subject can trigger all kinds of reflex chatter, like, for example, something about downtown revitalization projects of one kind or another. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, although this kind of thing can often be something that might be good to some degree, but do nothing about the thing at hand here. Examples are things like some sports/entertainment venue, for example. It’s not just about downtown areas, either, which is often lost on people.

There are people who can fill you in on all this, and many of them consider themselves to be under the general umbrella of “New Urbanism” (which, yes, is another thing with a term of being an “ism”).

This is one very large subject that is one of the most urgent and pressing matters to deal with that we have here in the US today, if we wish to have a functional future. I already talked about one aspect of it, above. But the obstacles include simple avoidance of the matter, although the ways that plays out are maybe not always so simple. I’ve written loads about this already, many times, from delusions and confusion and wishful thinking that include confusion about tar sands bitumen and shale oil kerogen, substances that are not petroleum crude oil, or conflating tight oil deposits like the Bakken formation in North Dakota with reported estimates of kerogen, which is what “shale oil” actually means, or people believing that we’ll just simply switch over to “alternative energy” and run everything more or less the same.

Incidentally, while typing that last paragraph, a television here in the background tuned to a cable channel carrying the CBC Canadian television broadcast of the Olympic opening ceremonies showed a “oil sands” propaganda advertisement presenting the Canadian tar sands enterprises as a clean and shiny happy abundant new source of energy, presenting something with, shall we say, a large amount of dissonance with actual reality.

That actually nudges things off into another area, away from the whole theme of warped or missing assessments of matters of government. There are many things that could be said about all kinds of malfunctions and dysfunction in matters of business and commerce.

I’m reminded of that by the Olympics on television. Here in the US, the 2014 Winter Olympics are being covered by the NBC television network. Where I am, if you have the local cable service here, you can’t actually watch the Olympic TV coverage, unless you watch the Canadian CBC network that is included in their channel lineup, because the cable system operators dropped the local NBC affiliate station from their service.

Just for sense of things, note this. The cable service involved filled the channel with the Canadian CBC, taken from a feed of a CBC broadcast station in Ontario. I’m not watching the CBC Olympic coverage because the CBC is now on the channel previously occupied by the NBC station. I’m watching the CBC coverage because that’s what I can get, and the thing is, the CBC station in question was already on the cable service. I swear to God I’m not making this up: now that it fills the channel slot of the former NBC station, the very same CBC station now occupies two different channels on the same cable service. Just to add to the farce, if you switch back and forth between the two channels with the exact same program source, the audio levels on the two channels are massively different. That’s just one item about the local cable television service in what forms a steady stream of chronic malfunction and incompetence.

If I were to go on about problems like this, I would then also include what seems to be an increasingly frustrating and at times almost farcical string of stupid problems and ineptitude and sheer incompetent neglect on the part of AT&T, where what passes for “customer service” almost seems more and more like something resembling the Terry Gilliam movie Brazil. If you can even get a human being to talk to you, what I keep encountering is people who wander through all sorts of obviously scripted nonsense and irrelevant diversions, including lots of wasted time and attention problems on the other end while some “customer service” person recites pointless bullshit about “thank you for choosing AT&T” and assorted useless platitudes that are various ways of phrasing “we care a lot”, even while demonstrating that caring a lot does not include actually listening to the relevant information you’re trying to give them and focusing on solving an actual problem.

I figured I would throw these in, as I suspect that anyone reading has somewhat similar problems they are dealing with, or have dealt with. In those examples, we’re talking about things that might not be the end of the world, especially the cable service. Communications service issues are a little more significant. In any case, I mention that stuff just because so many people are dealing with things like this, some probably much more significant and problematic, that involve things not working properly, because people just can’t be bothered to do their fucking job. It’s not just that, but the kind of song and dance evasion you get if you raise an issue about some malfunction, and you get some corporate management scripted idiocy and evasion of the problem, instead favoring some mouthing of meaningless PR babble. When it’s not some random isolated glitch, but something you run into all the time, this kind of thing starts to not seem so trivial.

An occasional glitch, a minor mistake, an oversight, these things happen, it’s just human. A constant state of malfunction and incompetent carelessness is something much different, and when it starts to seem to be everywhere, this is bad.

The actual state of the union is not so good, and it’s made far worse by the increasing avoidance of looking at things and addressing them as they actually are. When that’s happening in the president’s State of the Union address, that’s really not good.

I’m including a link below to an interview with James Howard Kunstler that’s worth a listen. In the conversation, Kunstler and the host Charles Marohn talk about the ongoing financial dysfunction, and Kunstler gives a pretty good general summary of the state of things. Part of it includes some pretty concise and accurate statements about how much of that and other continuing messes we have on our hands revolves around people just accepting frauds and general dishonesty and all kinds of pretense and madness as not just acceptable, but even normal. As he put it, we just have a general set of circumstances of people lying to themselves and each other. The results of this are apparent, but, of course, it’s in the nature of all that to have people not notice that, or at least pretend not to notice. People are so buried in the mental debris of lying to themselves and lying to each other about everything that nobody can figure out anything about what’s wrong in anything. It’s like people are so buried in pretense and deception that they can’t sort out the real from the fog of unreal.



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Oil shale

Shale oil

Charles Hugh Smith: The “Impossible” But Inevitable Solution: Decentralization

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New Urbanism

Learn About New Urbanism | Congress for the New Urbanism

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