Monday, August 29, 2011

Kunstler: "Katrina in Vermont"

Katrina in Vermont
By James Howard Kunstler
on August 29, 2011 8:34 AM

Note to readers: I'll run an update at the bottom of this blog over the next few days.

* * *

The same creeping nausea that followed the CNN 'all clear' sign in New Orleans six years ago happened again yesterday. Anderson Cooper seemed a little peeved that the lights didn't go out in Manhattan, but then the remnants of Hurricane Irene stomped up the Hudson Valley and stalled a while and commenced to rip apart the Catskills, the eastern Adirondacks, the Mohawk and upper Hudson valleys, and then almost all of Vermont, not to mention New Hampshire and western Massachusetts, and I can't even tell you much about whatever's going on in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland this morning. Connecticut, Long Island, and Rhode Island are in there somewhere, and surely there's more than a few things out of place in North Carolina.

This is nowhere near Katrina's death toll of over 1800 souls, but the damage to scores of towns, businesses, houses, and basic civic armature is going to be very impressive as the news filters in later this week and the disaster is still very much ongoing Monday, even with the sun shining bright. Towns all over Vermont and New Hampshire are still drowning. The Hudson River is still on the rise. The Mohawk River is at a 500-year flood stage and is about to wipe the old city center of Schenectady, New York, off the map. Bridges, dams, and roads are gone over a region at least as big as the Gulf Coast splatter-trail of Katrina.

That story is still developing. A lot of people will not be able to get around for a long, long time, especially in Vermont and New Hampshire, where the rugged terrain only allows for a few major roads that go anywhere. Even the bridges that were not entirely washed away may have to be inspected before people are allowed to drive over them, and some of these bridges may be structurally shot even if they look superficially okay. There are a lot of them. If you live in a flat state, you may have no idea.

The next story is going to be the realization that there's no money to put it all back together the way it was. The states don't have the money. The federal government is obviously broke, and an awful lot of the individual households and businesses will turn out to not have any insurance coverage for this kind of disaster where it was water, not wind, that destroyed the property. I don't know what the score is insurance-wise along the mid-Atlantic beachfront towns - but remember, insurance companies were among the biggest dupes of the Big Bank mortgage-backed securities racket, and when the new claims are toted up they may find themselves in a bail-out line.

This is a warning to America that the converging catastrophes of climate change, energy scarcities, and failures of capital formation add up to more than the sum of their parts in their power to drive a complex society into a ditch - no matter what a moron like Rick Perry might say. But, of course, political ramifications will follow. There will be a lot of pissed-off people in the Northeast USA. Maybe they'll even start giving the grievance-bloated folk of Dixieland some competition in the politics of the bitter harvest. Oddly, the Siamese twin states of Vermont and New Hampshire are political polar opposites. Vermont, the land of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and other squooshy culture tropes from the attic of Hippiedom, is about as Left-progressive as it gets. New Hampshire's license plate says, "Live Free or Die," and that same draconian mood defines the state's politics: hard Right. It's like a few counties of Georgia shook loose and drifted north somehow. My guess is that the political rage will be about equal on both fronts, as folks are left stranded, or homeless, or without a going business they thought they had only a day or so ago. And my further guess is that their mood will afford some insight into the extreme impotence, incompetence, and mendacity of both major political parties. As I've said before in this space, think of these times as not unlike the convulsive 1850s, preceding the worst crisis of our history.

Apart from the fact that the hurricane season is just gearing up, and that a procession of tropical storm blobs has commenced to pour out of West Africa, there is that other alternate universe of storms, brushfires, and fiascos called the fnancial system, which everybody sort of forgot about over the weekend. Well, it's ba-a-a-ck this morning, too, and the financial weather was deteriorating sharply last time I looked. You can stick a fork in the Euro Zone. Bank of America is panhandling for spare change like a dying wino as it whirls around the drain. Nobody knows what the shadow bets on all this action is, but you can bet on one thing for sure: the counterparties can't pay.

Oh, by the way, anybody remember that we had an earthquake here in the Northeast a few days before Irene rumbled in? Probably not, unless part of your building fell off. God's wrath, some might say, as we beat our path to a world made by hand.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

CounterPunch's Revamped Design

Our Re-Design

Yes, as you know, we launched our new look last Tuesday and have been in teething pains ever since as our server struggles to adjust to the new data base. (Hint: emptying your cache on a regular basis may help.) Cheers and curses fill our editorial inbox.

When it comes to re-designs people mostly hate change. I do. So does Jeffrey St Clair. On my shelves I keep ancient copies of publications, just to remind me of the way they used to be: the old London Times, on beautiful old stock, with classifieds on the front page; the Italian Espresso of the 60s, with its vast rotogravure photos. Jeffrey and I liked the way the CounterPunch site looked. But technologically it was getting progressively harder to deal with, with many of you shouting for features it couldn’t accommodate, like a print-friendly feature, RSS feeds, ease of linking, a data base archive and so forth.

You’ve got them now, and boy, are some of you mad! When emotions cool we hope outraged CounterPunchers will see that under our mandate designer Tiffany Wardle stayed pretty close to the old design. We’ve kept changes to a minimum – no video, no ads, the same three-column lay-out.

Here’s a bouquet of reactions, starting with Sam Chandler’s rock through the editorial transom, about an hour after the resdesign went up.

“I do not appreciate the new look. It is horrible. It is not respective of the academic look CounterPunch has cultivated over the last few years. It is jarringly eye-wrenching shit. It is corporate capitalism without style. Sam Chandler.”

Jeffrey, who evolved our old layout piecemeal across the years, winces at the cruel phrase “academic look.” I’d say the typographical heritage here with the new site goes back to German lay-outs of the 1920s, not to mention the Constructivist heritage, but maybe that’s me being sentimental.

“It’s about time! Love the new layout. Pete Stanislaw”

“I thought I had the wrong web page for a second. Nice new streamlined look! Great work from my favorite source for news of what is happening. Congratulations, Glenn Ierley.”

“Just my 2 cents.. I much preferred your previous page layout to the new look changes you made in the last day or 2. FWIW, I’m a subscriber and will be renewing. Regards, Ron Bianco”

“As a person who has found your site to be an invaluable trove of alternative voices and views, I’m greatly distressed to see the new graphics of the site. The colors are harsh and distracting, the fonts are unattractive, and in general there seems to be a very aggressive look to it, one I would associate more with the sites of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity (I have seen them) — the only thing that seems to be missing is an American flag. Teresa Schiano”

“I like the new layout of the website. Very fresh.

Be well, Vijay Prashad”

“I’m a faithful reader who believes in you and depends on you for my daily dose of hopelessness. I just don’t like that it was redesigned at all. All New! has gotten so passe. Our news sources should be staid and steady. Walter Cronkite never got a facelift or even shaved off his moustache, and we trusted him, whether or not we should have. I still hate the redesigned Wall St Journal, for instance: it’s so generic now. Likewise my hometown daily paper, the Keene (NH) Sentinel.

“We want news sources to be about content, not style. In a world where even the light switches are designed, the un-botoxed gets more and more beautiful. Wabi-sabi, the Japanese called it, beautiful decreptitude. Boo to urban renewal of websites. Let the words speak. Stacia Tolman”

“I love the easy-to-read new look, particularly the print option (I’ve probably sent a half dozen emails requesting such a change over the past decade). Thank you. Bob Siver”


I like the revised format; the change is greatly appreciated. Respectfully, Dave Fargher.

Impressive website redesign – addition of RSS feed is very welcome.Cheers!

Will Astle.”

“Drudge has stayed the same and is still one of the most popular sites. There’s something gratifying and attractive about remaining low-tech – don’t let well-meaning bumblers tell you otherwise. In two words, it is repulsive and UGLY!! (Add a third word: Unreadable).


Let’s see how you all feel in a month or two. Meanwhile, it’s a work in progress. We appreciate the plaudits, ponder the advice and dodge the brickbats.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Two-Dollar Gallons of Gas

cannot be promised.

Allen West: Real-Life Mr. Butts

With his ash-gray fade Congressman Allen West resembles no one so much as Doonesbury's Mr. Butts, an anthropomorphic walking cigarette.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hold Your Applause

History is Not Your Therapist
By James Howard Kunstler
on August 22, 2011 8:36 AM

I suppose we'll know in a few hours whether Colonel Muammar Gaddafi gets hung out to dry, Mussolini-style, from a lamp-post, or is mercifully handed a one way ticket to Palookaville, a.k.a. The Hague, where old despots go to eat French fries with mayonnaise and be judged. The rebels celebrating in Tripoli's main square looked a tad ticked off about all the trouble it took to pry the old rascal off his throne. Over in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, the ophthalmologist who rules the place, must be following developments with a keen interest. (Perhaps he will hastily decide to re-open his medical practice in, say, Iraq.) Despite the bubbling of CNN news-readers, I suggest that we Westerners hold our applause until the world gets a clue as to who or what will govern Libya (or Syria, in the event).

Besides, we have a sort of Man-Who-Would-Be-Gaddafi fresh out of the woodwork right here in the USA. I speak of Texas Governor Rick Perry, the Bush-Without-a-Brain clone who pulled off a kind of "hat-trick" of cretinism last week by 1.) announcing his disbelief in climate change science; 2.) announcing his disbelief in evolution science; and 3.) more or less threatening to lynch Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. The nation has not seen such a puffed up rogue take the stage since the days of Huey Long, but the rural idiocy that saturated Louisiana in the 1930s has finally seeped all over the country so that even people in once-literate Minnesota are represented by reality-averse evangelical maniacs. Candidates like Perry and Bachmann make a plain vanilla narcissist like Sarah Palin look at least capable of running a student council. What a low moment in America's history. Don't lose sight of the fact that there's room for the bar to go further down.

Otherwise, the weekend was notable for the complete and utter retreat from public view of European leaders charged with figuring out some way around the EU's banking woes. The dirty secret is that there isn't any way around these Alp-size heaps of broken promises, worthless certificates, overdrawn accounts, shiftless governments, and booby-trapped counter-party contracts. The people in charge are trying like hell to make it through the vacation season before the entire continent tips over, but then what? I'll tell you: the chain-lightning of ruin will crackle across the Sargasso Sea and strike deep in the heart of JP Morgan, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citi, and all the other citadels of grift until blood runs out the bronze nostrils of George Washington's statue on the portico of Federal Hall. I don't begrudge poor Barack Obama's attempt to eat a few ice cream cones at the seashore with his wife and two girls. Some presidents are just one-termers. History is cruel that way. But it also rhymes. Rick Perry may be as dumb as Ronald Reagan.

Nobody can believe what's happening. Nobody knows what to do. Well, here's some straight dope: do you want to have an economy? Then prepare to cut your losses and move on. There's so much to do "out there" in America, but the catch is it's not the same as what we've been doing. Do you want to eat a few years from now? Get serious about reorganizing agriculture on a smaller, finer, more local scale. Believe me, there will be plenty of jobs. Only they won't be like sitting in a cubicle writing a marketing plan for a video-game about the slaughter of gym rats from another planet. Do you want to be able to travel around this big country in a few years? Start working on the nearest reconstructable railroad line - and get over your techno-grandiose fantasies about running all the cars on algae, corn, or the plug in the wall. Do you want have some household goods in the future without sending an order halfway around the world? Figure out a way to make stuff in some North American place where there is running water for electric power.

There isn't a politician out there, including the Paul duo, who can really articulate the direction in which history is propelling us. This "recession-depression" narrative doesn't even adequately capture it. This is the end of a certain way of doing things - the industrial growth-spurt fiesta. We're in permanent contraction now. There are no technological rescue remedies that will restore the old economic regime. The banks are not working anymore because we can't create more real wealth, and the wealth we pretended to create for thirty-odd years in the form of IOUs can't be paid back into existence. We can't fund any more senior golfing careers and a lot of people will have to just stop eating fried pork rinds, guzzling Pepsi Cola, and then waddling into the emergency room for consolation.

Does this sound a little harsh? Surprise: history is not your therapist. This is the New Age you never expected. Crybabies need not apply.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I added ClubOrlov and SharonAstyk to the Peak Oil section of my list of links, which can be accessed by clicking on "All Links" in the sidebar.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Kunstler: "High Corn"

High Corn
By James Howard Kunstler
on August 15, 2011 9:47 AM

Looking every inch the Assistant Manager of a J.C. Penny, Rick Perry of Texas stepped on-board the touring evangelical freak show that the Republican pre-primary parade has turned into. I like to think of him as George W. Bush without all the encumbering intellect. I give it three months before media snoops catch him in bed with Michele Bachmann. The two of them will claim it was all right because Jesus was there as chaperone and anyway, "...alls we did was watch the Vikings-Cowboy game...."

Oh these sons and daughters of the high corn! Make no mistake (to borrow a favorite war cry from the presidential cheat sheet), both of these heartland bozos are dumb enough to lead America straight into the graveyard of failed states. Imagine a summit between Rick Perry and whoever succeeds Hu Jintao - the incredulous side-glances of the Chinese leader and his interpreter when Mr. Perry presents the official gift from our nation: a miniature Bible made by the inmates at Stringfellow State Prison and "prayed over by qualified preachers twenty-four hours a day!" Or how about Michele Bachmann and Vlad Putin. I'd sooner watch a gerbil in a terrarium with a King Cobra.

Meanwhile, the other day poor Mitt Romney tried to explain to a crowd of Iowa hot-heads that "corporations are people!" Wasn't that just the right thing to say to folks whose employment opportunities have dwindled down to eviscerating chickens on an assembly line or humping boxes on the WalMart loading dock for $8 an hour. He was heckled mercilessly. I don't see how a candidate recovers from that kind of caught-on-camera mockery - but then again, in a culture that has no shame, just about anything goes.

One thing I'd really like to know about the Republican party, though: if they're so all-fired up about fiscal rectitude and the honest disposition of money, and stuff like that, then how come not a single one of these dissembling ninnies has suggested the investigation and prosecution of the entire Wall Street matrix of swindling grifters - including the officials who rotate between the too-big-to-fail banks and the regulatory agencies like the SEC and the CFTC and all the other utterly failed official watchdogs who stood by whistling Dixie while the future of this country was blatantly sold down the river?

Of course, nobody on the Democratic side asks anything similar of President Obama as he hops from fundraiser to fundraiser. I'd like to know why the fuck the president is even out campaigning more than a year before the election. And hasn't the mainstream news media noticed that there's something a little peculiar about a cycle of perpetual election with no governing in between? I suppose everything is show business now, though I don't expect this aberrant and very dangerous behavior to persist, because virtually all the major operations of the supposedly civilized, "developed" world are veering into a state of obvious failure.

The global financial system is wobbling on its pyramid-tip of debt. Europe is trapped. The members of the currency union can't make good on what they owe and neither can they surrender their independence to some jerry-rigged extra-national authority. At stake is the European banking system and the post-World War Two amity that allowed the region to become the lovely tourist theme park we lately know it as. They are running out of tricks for pretending that debts can revolve forever, and as this occurs the fear rises that the whole lovely thing will bust apart in mob violence, revolution, and maybe even armed conflict between people who don't hold their forks the same way. England is not even in the Euro currency club but five decades of rather feckless immigration policy have resolved into something that looks an awful lot like race war. God knows what the French are thinking, with their own massive immigrant slum population ringing Paris.

Anyway, whatever happens around Europe in the months to come, trouble with its banks is sure to blow back into the American ones, which are hopelessly entangled in Europe's obligations, not to mention skeins of supposed "insurance" swaps contracts primed for ignition at the slightest flap of a black swan's wing that could propel the likes of Lloyd Blankfein's cappuccino machine from an upper floor at 200 West Street, NYC, through the roof, clear to planet Uranus. At least we'd have a space program again.

Surely a lot of European and American officials just want to escape to the seashore for the last two weeks of this punishing month and soak their heads in the surf - perhaps a few will decide to not come back up for air. President Obama will enjoy the briny vapors out on Martha's Vineyard, and maybe even splash around in the wimpy waves there. I'll enjoy the thought of him tying into a clam roll. And now to check how the markets are doing this opening day of the week....

Friday, August 12, 2011

Paul vs. Santorum

Ron Paul vs. Rick Santorum on Iran

Cole refers to the possible sixth war, or the sixth country in which the U.S. military is involved.

The other five:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Lady of Rage

I doubt if Michele Bachmann is "The Queen of Rage." (Hers is a different kind of madness.) Anyway, I'd rather listen to The Lady of Rage.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Kunstler's Latest: On S&P, Etc.

Change You Don't Have to Believe In
By James Howard Kunstler
on August 8, 2011 8:00 AM

A waterfall of woe broke over all the realms of money last week - including especially the realm where we determine just what money is supposed to mean - and a lot of folks barely made it to a rooftop, or a floating log, or some scrap of high ground, where they sit wet and shivering, expecting to get slammed again. The torrent of events is still flowing and there are countless dangerous objects bobbing in it. Remember what that in-rushing ocean was like in the Fukushima tsunami? A wall of miso soup strewn with Toyotas and houses instead of squid rings and fish balls. Try swimming in that. (Try swimming in your Cuisinart on the guacamole setting.)

Europe is telling itself one cockamamie story after another. We've got a rescue fund! Only it has no money! But we will bail out Italy nonetheless! But Italy is too big to bail out - and we tried stuffing it under the carpet, but there's no more room with Greece, Ireland, and Portugal already suffocating in there. The whole G-20 is yakking on the phone as I write, hatching fresh cockamamie stories. Oh, now it looks like the European Central Bank will ride to the rescue with a dispatch satchel full of good intentions. They said the same thing last time, a month or so ago, when a caryatid fell on Greece's head. They are not so sure what money is either. Is a bond like money? Maybe not so much anymore. A stock portfolio? Feh! A Euro? The damned thing is starting to look like a ball-and-chain custom-crafted to weigh down Germans. (And, let's face it: they never did pay any of us for World War Two, really, except what they had to fork over to get the communist side of their own country out of hock. Their guilt-o-meter is still buzzing, I'm sure.) All I know is I hope the whole gang printed up some fresh lira, francs, marks, drachma, pesetas, punts, and whatnot. It would be nice to go back to one of these cute places some day at a discount.

Did you admire Standard and Poor's sly, Friday night downgrade of the United States Treasury bond rating? I was probably the only one in the whole country besides Anderson Cooper not out eating something bigger than my own head at Applebees, or watching the "Footwear Clearance" show over on the Shopping Network. However, I'm not the only one in America asking where do these S and P punks get off downgrading US bonds when three years ago they wore out their Triple-A rubber stamps on the cartloads of stinking offal that Angelo Mozillo and other mortgage rustlers were pawning off as bond-fodder on every Frankenstein "investment opportunity" pumped out of the Wall Street CDO mills. Government officials were righteously seething over S and P's chutzpah, but I suppose when they tried to ring-up Eric Holder over at the DOJ they got connected to some call center in Uttar Pradesh where a friendly fellow named "Dale" picked up. China's government-run newspaper virtually spanked the US: "Learn (thwack) to live (thwack) within (thwack) your (thwack) means!"

I'm not convinced that the US bond rating will even matter that much because nobody knows what anything is worth anymore - especially when governments teeter and the folks in the public square (or the parking lot in America's case), start yelling for blood. Merkel, Sarkozy, Berlusconi, Zapatero, will soon be swept away by that selfsame rolling torrent of dreck-strewn woe - in their case a bouillabaisse - while poor Obama looks like one of those hapless, floating creatures in the second-to-last scene of O Brother, Where Art Thou. Even the gold bugs are scared the price will collapse in a debt deflation, or that the federal government will slap a giant extra-special punitive capital gains tax on precious metal sales, or will try to confiscate it from the public altogether like Franklin Roosevelt did - though, given the vast arsenals of private firearms across this land, and the martial spirit lingering in many pissed-off factions of the Tea Party ilk, nothing would invite a revolution, or civil war, or civic upheaval as surely as trying to snatch folks' gold. As a capital preservation refuge, I'm sympathetic to gold, of course, though not so much to buggery.

Everybody is broke now: national treasuries, giant banks, pension funds, insurance companies. The wonder so far is that credit default swaps have not yet been triggered by interest rate changes or some other silly shit, but when that comes to pass there is no way the counterparties can settle their contracts. Ruin will thunder through the financial system like winged death. Everybody is broke and there's a lot less real "money" (whatever it is) out there. Everybody's quailing at the prospect of QE 3, in all its cosmic futility. The United States has already half killed itself at the Golden Corral steam-table of deep-fried debt. I guess we could go all the way and shoot what remains of the dollar in its pitiful, lolling head.

There is a welling recognition that the dice have been cast and the world has rolled snake eyes. The casino is on fire and a flash flood is boiling down the strip. It's no fun running to the exits only to find the revolving doors already eyeball deep in dirty water. America gibbers to itself but nobody has a clue. I'll try to help: this is a compressive financial and economic contraction (one is money, the other is activity). Late-summer storm that it is, it looks to be intensifying. Everything that's super-big is going down sooner or later. The exact sequence of failures is unpredictable. But you can be sure Nature is telling you to get local, get smaller, get finer, downscale, solidify your friendships, and drop your stupid grandiose fantasies about running WalMart on algae. This is change you don't have to believe in, because it is about to jump up and bite you on the lips.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Cockburn Asks:

"Get Ready to Vote for Mitt Romney?"

Start with Obama. Of course he blew it. Whether by artful design or by sheer timidity is immaterial. He blew it. Two days before the United States was officially set to default on its debts on August 2, Barack Obama had the Republicans where he wanted them: All he had to do was announce that he’d trudged the last half mile towards a deal but that there’s no pleasing fanatics who reject all possibilities of compromise, who are ready and eager to shut down the government, to see seniors starve and vets denied their benefits. So, Obama could proclaim, he was invoking the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution which states that the "validity of the public debt of the United States ... shall not be questioned."