Tuesday, February 20, 2018

“The Worst Killer of the Modern Age”

“The Worst Killer of the Modern Age”
by Bill Bonner

"Monday was a holiday in the US. We took the occasion to connect dots. What we see is one of the most curious patterns ever. Human experience is marked by two contradictory ways of doing things. Longtime Diary sufferers will be quick to raise their hands when we ask, ‘What are they?’ Of course, they are the familiar win-win or win-lose. But today, we look at them through a wider lens. We see that they are not merely ways of gaining wealth or doing business deals. Instead, they are two opposed impulses - both of them etched deeply onto human hardware.

Violence and persuasion: There are only two ways to get what you want in life. Either you get it peacefully, offering something in trade. Or you take it by violence or the threat of violence. Even the most common, everyday things are illustrations of one or the other of these approaches. Do you want more sex, Dear Reader?

Well, you have your choice. You can either ask for it politely, perhaps making your request in the alluring, seductive tones of a real paramour; or you can rape someone. Sometimes, the frontier between rape and request can be unclear. Sometimes, it shifts with cultural trends. What was considered acceptable to the baby boomers, for example, may be considered quasi-rape to millennials. Just ask Al Franken.

There is always some grey area between violence and persuasion. But that is for the courts to figure out. For our purposes, it hardly matters. We are just looking at the black and white parts and telling you what we see. Finer intellects with better eyesight can draw the boundaries.

A new book: This theme, by the way, is one we are developing in a new book. We took it up because we thought it offered a simpler and better way to understand public life. It surprised us when we saw that it helped us understand the rest of life, too. In our book, due out later this year, we will explore the difference between the two approaches. We will see that…

win-win promotes long-term relationships; win-lose is strictly short-term…
win-win describes the world of the jungle; win-lose is like a zoo…
win-win provides constant feedback and correction; win-lose cuts the feedback loop, allowing mistakes to continue…
win-win is the place for entrepreneurs; win-lose gathers in MBAs…
win-win is best governed by common law; win-lose is favored by edicts and diktats…
win-win is based on the individual; win-lose targets tribes and groups…
win-win is local; win-lose is usually national…
win-win is what they do on Main Street and in markets; win-lose finds a cozy home in Washington…
•win-win creates voluntary collectives; win-lose forces people into involuntary collectives.

We could go on. And we do…in our forthcoming book. But let us today lay a bit of the groundwork.

The routine of killing: There was a time when humans lived almost entirely by violence. Plants may have been useful sources of minerals and vitamins. But the early man had no fires (we are talking about long ago…even before humans became the people we know as Homo sapien sapiens), so he couldn’t eat what are major staples today. Rice, beans, potatoes, and wheat are indigestible when they are uncooked. In order to get the protein they needed, they had to kill and eat other animals. That’s why humans have eyes on the front of their heads, like other predators, instead of eyes on the side, like grass-fed prey.

The bone records, as well as the oldest oral and written records, show that our ancestors didn’t mind killing each other, either. Killing was routine. And it made sense. If you killed a stranger, you could take his weapons, his women, his children, and his hunting lands. And you could eat him, too. If you didn’t kill him, on the other hand, what did you gain? Perhaps you could get a piece of amber from him, trading it for flint. But what else? Not much.

There is plenty of evidence of prehistoric trade. That is, objects are found where they are not native. But we don’t know how they got there. Persuasion? Or violence?

Downward drift of violence: In today’s world, between private citizens, violence is rare. There are bar fights, domestic abuse, murders - but they are relatively few. And becoming fewer. The murder rate, for example, has come down dramatically over the last few centuries.

With a generous dose of doubt and guesswork, here are the figures for the US: The private murder rate for the 1700s was roughly 30 per 100,000 per year. In the 1800s, the rate fell to 20 per 100,000. Then, in the 20th century, the rate declined to 10 and below. Today, the US murder rate is just 6.

That said, there are local particularities. In Baltimore, for example, the murder rate in 2017 was even higher than it was for the entire US in the 18th century, with 55 murders per 100,000. And occasionally, there are spectacular murders that make the news and distort popular impressions. This week, for example, 17 youngsters were killed at a public school in Florida, making huge headlines, but not significantly changing the downward drift of violence.

Why the murder rate has generally gone down is fairly clear; it just doesn’t pay the way it used to. The police come after you. It’s hard to take the victim’s money. Or his women. Or anything else. All you get is a peck of trouble. So why bother? You’d be better off spending your time otherwise.

A whole ‘nuther side: ‘Thou shalt not kill’ was a lesson that was not learned overnight. It took centuries for it to sink in. Still, there are people who haven’t gotten the memo. Today, the typical killer is a psycho. He doesn’t make a rational calculation leading him to his act. Instead, he is moved by passion, ideology, or delusion. He is mad. He is upset. He is a nut.

And then, there’s a whole ‘nuther side to the killing story. While private murder rates declined, the last century saw a big boom in killing as a matter of public policy, a type of murder that the government promotes rather than proscribes. Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot - these four men alone were responsible for an estimated 120 million deaths.

Hitler is generally credited with 14 million war casualties and another 28 million civilian deaths.

Stalin killed some 20 million in his purges and mass starvations. Another 25 million or so died in the Second World War - many because of political and tactical directives that were criminally negligent or intentionally lethal.

Mao killed 30 to 45 million in his Great Leap Forward, most of whom starved to death; others were tortured and murdered in the zealous application of his agricultural policies.

In this company, Pol Pot hardly deserves a footnote. Still, he murdered (or caused the deaths) of some two million people. His claim to fame is his market share. As a percentage of the population (25%), he killed more than any of them. This figure even surpasses the murder rates recorded in the bloodiest bone pits ever discovered.

But the astonishing thing about this record of violence is what thinking people make of it.

Disarm governments: While private citizens have generally become less violent (win-win is a better way to get what you want in a modern, civilized society), public policy - at least if the last century is anything to go by - has become more violent. Or perhaps simply more capable of killing on a grander scale.

Taking the 20th century US murder rate and applying it grossly to the populations of Russia, China, Germany, and Cambodia in the 20th century, we can guess that there were no more than about 10 million private killings in those countries during the entire century.

But in a few short years (we do not even mention the First World War, in which public policy carried off some 16 million…or any other wars, pogroms, purges, and government-caused famines in these countries), public policies promoted by Mao, Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot alone murdered more than 10 times as many.

A logical and impartial spectator might conclude that it was time to disarm governments. Yet, despite this evidence of clear and present danger from malign public policy, the do-gooders, world-improvers, media, and academic and political activists - both Republican and Democrat - can think of nothing more original than: more public policy!

Following the Florida school shootings, for example, the call went out to take guns away from private citizens…and to buy more guns for the feds. Military spending is set to increase by $716 billion over the next 10 years. Among private citizens, win-lose deals are still rare…and unfortunate. But government only does one kind of deal. The more scope you give it, the more win-lose deals you get."

Monday, February 19, 2018

"What We Might Have Been..."

“No star is ever lost we once have seen,
We always may be what we might have been.”
- Adelaide Anne Procter 

Musical Interlude: “Homeless Boy Steals The Talent Show”

“Homeless Boy Steals The Talent Show”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Framing a bright emission region this telescopic view looks out along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy toward the nebula rich constellation Cygnus the Swan. Popularly called the Tulip Nebula the glowing cloud of interstellar gas and dust is also found in the 1959 catalog by astronomer Stewart Sharpless as Sh2-101. About 8,000 light-years distant the nebula is understandably not the only cosmic cloud to evoke the imagery of flowers. 
 Click image for larger size.
The complex and beautiful nebula is shown here in a composite image that maps emission from ionized sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms into red, green, and blue colors. Ultraviolet radiation from young, energetic O star HDE 227018 ionizes the atoms and powers the emission from the Tulip Nebula. HDE 227018 is the bright star very near the blue arc at image center.”

X22 Report, “The Next Move Will Have To Be Soon, This Is Why”

X22 Report, “The Next Move Will Have To Be Soon, This Is Why”
Related followup report:
X22 Report, “Are Central Bankers Foreshadowing The Next Economic Crisis?”

The Daily "Near You?"

Prescott Valley, Arizona, USA. Thanks for stopping by!

The Poet: John O’Donohue, “For The Time Of Necessary Decision”

“For The Time Of Necessary Decision”

“The mind of time is hard to read.
We can never predict what it will bring,
Nor even from all that is already gone
Can we say what form it finally takes;
For time gathers its moments secretly.
Often we only know it’s time to change
When a force has built inside the heart
That leaves us uneasy as we are.

Perhaps the work we do has lost its soul
Or the love where we once belonged
Calls nothing alive in us anymore.
We drift through this gray, increasing nowhere
Until we stand before a threshold we know
We have to cross to come alive once more.

May we have the courage to take the step
Into the unknown that beckons us;
Trust that a richer life awaits us there,
That we will lose nothing
But what has already died;
Feel the deeper knowing in us sure
Of all that is about to be born beyond
The pale frames where we stayed confined,
Not realizing how such vacant endurance
Was bleaching our soul’s desire.”

- John O’Donohue,
 “To Bless the Space Between Us”

"How the Brain Stops Time"

"How the Brain Stops Time"
by Jeff Wise

"One of the strangest side-effects of intense fear is time dilation, the apparent slowing-down of time. It's a common trope in movies and TV shows, like the memorable scene from "The Matrix" in which time slows down so dramatically that bullets fired at the hero seem to move at a walking pace. In real life, our perceptions aren't keyed up quite that dramatically, but survivors of life-and-death situations often report that things seem to take longer to happen, objects fall more slowly, and they're capable of complex thoughts in what would normally be the blink of an eye.

Now a research team from Israel reports that not only does time slow down, but that it slows down more for some than for others. Anxious people, they found, experience greater time dilation in response to the same threat stimuli. An intriguing result, and one that raises a more fundamental question: how, exactly, does the brain carry out this remarkable feat?

Researcher David Eagleman has tackled his very issue in a very clever way. He reasoned that when time seems to slow down in real life, our senses and cognition must somehow speed up-either that, or time dilation is merely an illusion. This is the riddle he set out to solve. "Does the experience of slow motion really happen," Eagleman says, "or does it only seem to have happened in retrospect?" To find out, he first needed a way to generate fear of sufficient intensity in his experimental subjects. Instead of skydiving, he found a thrill ride near the university campus called Suspended Catch Air Device, an open-air tower from which participants are dropped, upside down, into a net 150 feet below. There are no harnesses, no safety lines. Subject plummet in free fall for three seconds, then hit the net at 70 miles per hour.

Was it scary enough to generate a sense of time dilation? To see, Eagleman asked subjects who'd already taken the plunge to estimate how long it took them to fall, using a stopwatch to tick off what they felt to be an equivalent amount of time. Then he asked them to watch someone else fall and then estimate the elapsed time for their plunge in the same way. On average, participants felt that their own experience had taken 36 percent longer. Time dilation was in effect.

Next, Eagleman outfitted his test subjects with a special device that he and his students had constructed. They called it the perceptual chronometer. It's a simple numeric display that straps to a user's wrist, with a knob on the side let the researchers adjust the rate at which the numbers flash. The idea was to dial up the speed of the flashing until it was just a bit too quick for the subject to read while looking at it in a non-stressed mental state. Eagleman reasoned that, if fear really does speed up our rate of perception, then once his subjects were in the terror of freefall, they should be able to make out the numbers on the display. As it turned out, they couldn't. That means that fear does not actually speed up our rate of perception or mental processing. Instead, it allows us to remember what we do experience in greater detail. Since our perception of time is based on the number of things we remember, fearful experiences thus seem to unfold more slowly.

Eagleman's findings are important not just for understanding the experience of fear, but for the very nature of consciousness. After all, the test subjects who fell from the SCAD tower certainly believed, as they accelerated through freefall, that they knew what the experience was like at that very moment. They thought that it seemed to be moving slowly. Yet Eaglemen's findings suggest that that sensation could only have been superimposed after the fact. The implication is that we don't really have a direct experience of what we're feeling ‘right now,' but only a memory - an unreliable memory - of what we thought it felt like some seconds or milliseconds ago. The vivid present tense we all think we inhabit might itself be a retroactive illusion."

"For Some People..."

"The Internet is so big, so powerful and pointless that 
for some people it is a complete substitute for life."
 ~ Andrew Brown

Ahem...

Chet Raymo, "Free As A Bird"

"Free As A Bird"
by Chet Raymo

"God does not play dice with the universe."
- Albert Einstein

"Not only does God play dice, but... 
he sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen." 
- Stephen Hawking 

"All afternoon I have been watching a pair of hummingbirds play about our porch. They live somewhere nearby, though I haven't found their nest. They are attracted to our hummingbird feeder, which we keep full of sugar water. What perfect little machines they are! No other bird can perform their tricks of flight - flying backwards, hovering in place. Zip. Zip. From perch to perch in a blur of iridescence. If you want a symbol of freedom, the hummingbird is it. Exuberant. Unpredictable. A streak of pure fun. It is the speed, of course, that gives the impression of perfect spontaneity. The bird can perform a dozen intricate maneuvers more quickly than I can turn my head.

Is the hummingbird's apparent freedom illusory, a biochemically determined response to stimuli from the environment? Or is the hummingbird's flight what it seems to be, willful and unpredictable? If I can answer that question, I will be learning as much about myself as about the hummingbird. So I watch. And I consider what I know of biochemistry. The hummingbird is awash in signals from its environment - visual, olfactory, auditory and tactile cues that it processes and responds to with lightning speed.

How does it do it? Proteins, mostly. Every cell of the hummingbird's body is a buzzing conversation of proteins, each protein a chain of hundreds of amino acids folded into a complex shape like a piece of a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Shapes as various as the words of a human vocabulary. An odor molecule from a blossom, for example, binds to a protein receptor on a cell membrane of the hummingbird's olfactory organ - like a jigsaw-puzzle piece with its neighbor. This causes the receptor molecule to change that part of its shape that extends inside the cell. Another protein now binds with the new configuration of the receptor, and changes its own shape. And so on, in a sequence of shapeshifting and binding - called a signal-transduction cascade - until the hummingbird's brain "experiences" the odor.

Now appropriate signals must be sent from the brain to the body - ion flows established along neural axons, synapses activated. Wing muscles must respond to direct the hummingbird to the source of nourishment. Tens of thousands of proteins in a myriad of cells talk to each other, each protein genetically prefigured by the hummingbird's DNA to carry on its conversation in a particular part of the body. All of this happens continuously, and so quickly that to my eye the bird's movements are a blur.

There is much left to learn, but this much is clear: There is no ghost in the machine, no hummingbird pilot making moment by moment decisions out of the whiffy stuff of spirit. Every detail of the hummingbird's apparently willful flight is biochemistry. Between the hummingbird and myself there is a difference of complexity, but not of kind. If humans are the lords of terrestrial creation, it is because of the huge tangle of nerves that sits atop our spines.

So what does this mean about human freedom? If we are biochemical machines in interaction with our environments, in what sense can we be said to be free? What happens to "free will"? Perhaps the most satisfying place to look for free will is in what is sometimes called chaos theory. In sufficiently complex systems with many feedback loops - the global economy, the weather, the human nervous system - small perturbations can lead to unpredictable large-scale consequences, though every part of the system is individually deterministic. This has sometimes been called - somewhat facetiously - the butterfly effect: a butterfly flaps its wings in China and triggers a cascade of events that results in a snowstorm in Chicago. Chaos theory has taught us that determinism does not imply predictability. Of course, this is not what philosophers traditionally meant by free will, but it is indistinguishable from what philosophers traditionally meant by free will. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.

I watch the hummingbirds at the feeder. Their hearts beat ten times faster than a human's. They have the highest metabolic rate of any animal, a dozen times higher than a pigeon, a hundred times higher than an elephant. Hummingbirds live at the edge of what is biologically possible, and it's that, the fierce intenseness of their aliveness, that makes them appear so exuberantly free. But there are no metaphysical pilots in these little flying machines. The machines are the pilots. You give me carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and a few billion years of evolution, and I'll give you a bird that burns like a luminous flame. The hummingbird's freedom was built into the universe from the first moment of creation."
 •
Further Reading:
For a brilliant and provocative treatment of free will and determinism, 
read Daniel Dennett's "Freedom Evolves."

A superb book on how the mind makes itself is Gary Marcus's "The Birth of the Mind: 
How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates the Complexities of Human Thought."

The always provocative Roger Penrose looks for free will in quantum uncertainty in his
"The Emperor's New Mind". Not an easy read, and, in my view, case not proven.
- Chet Raymo

"How It Really Is"

"The New Druze"

"The New Druze"
by The Zman

"In the late 10th and early 11th century, a form of mysticism evolved that incorporated elements of Islam, Greek philosophy, Gnosticism, bits from other esoteric faiths, that existed in eastern Mediterranean and what we now call the Middle East. The person credited with spreading this new faith was a guy named Muhammad bin Ismail Nashtakin ad-Darazi. He came to Egypt in 1017 and began preaching and attracting converts. He was branded a heretic and executed in 1018 by the sixth Fatimid caliph.

The Caliph, al-Hakim, was not hostile to the new faith, so much as hostile to ad-Darazi, who he thought was suffering from megalomania. His move against ad-Darazi was to put Hamza ibn ‘Ali ibn Ahmad in charge of this new religious sect, which would eventually be known as the Druze. The sixth caliph plays a central role in the Druze faith despite being outside the faith. His actions during his reign as caliph made it possible for the faith to spread and altered its course with the decision to execute ad-Darazi.

This is an interesting bit of serendipity, but it has a connection to our own age in a few important ways. The most obvious, if you are a fan of the period, is al-Hakim is often blamed for starting the crusades. His decision to persecute Christians sent ripples through Europe, eventually leading to the call to recapture the Holy Land. Of course, as with everything about history, that’s debatable. There were other forces at work, but it is generally accepted that al-Hakim played a crucial role in the clash with Christendom.

Eventually, of course, two main strains of Islam came to dominate the Arab world, while Christianity dominated Europe, but The Levant has remained a place with lots of religious diversity. The Druze live mostly in Lebanon. The Samaritans are in the Palestinian territories. Maronites, Eastern Orthodox and Melkite Catholics exist in Lebanon. Syriac Christians and Alawites exist in Syria. Of course, various flavors of Judaism dominate in Israel. It is not an accident that instability is the only constant in The Levant.

That’s an obvious lesson when examining this part of the world. If one wanted proof of the axiom, Diversity + Proximity  = Violence, The Levant has more than enough for any argument. The pathological zeal of Western leaders for inviting the world into Western lands, can only have one end. That’s the same we see in Lebanon, a country blessed with a great location, abundant natural resources and natural barriers to larger enemies. Yet, it is a land riven by sectarian violence and the lack of a unifying identity.

There is another lesson from the history of The Levant and that is the cauldrons of diversity tend to create more diversity. The reason this part of the world was popular with schismatics and holy men is it was where the action was in the Middle Ages. Cairo was a wealthy, cosmopolitan place compared to cities of Europe. There were scholars well versed in Greek philosophy, wealthy patrons willing to sponsor scholarship and a wide range of thought to draw from for the creative minded spiritual leader.

That’s something to keep in mind as Europe works to invite the world and all of its religions to settle in the West. Throw a bunch of people together with a wide range of beliefs and inevitably it spawns a bunch of new combinations. The flow of Muslims into Europe, a land that has abandoned Christianity for various secular passions, is going to spawn new spiritual movements. The recent conversion to Islam of an AfD leader is the sort of thing that is happening with increasing frequency. Islam is now a thing in Europe.

The other aspect to this is the West is now open country, when it comes to the religion business. Just as Catholicism faced a dying collection of pagan beliefs, Islam is now flowing into a world held together by habit and pointless social fads. The soul of Europe died a long time ago. To be a European today means to be a deracinated stranger in a land that is increasingly unfamiliar to you. That makes Europe fertile ground for a confident religion brought by people thinking they are on the winning side of history.

That does not mean Europe will be Islamic. Islam is all over the world, but it always adapts to the local environment. Islam in Asia is Islam with very Asian characteristics. Islam in the Caucasus is a mountain man version of Islam. Biology is the root of everything and that means cultural items like religion flow from it. The Islamification of Europe will inevitably result in something that is very European. The Germans will have their take, the Danes will have theirs and the French will do something French.

It also means all sorts of other permutation that result from mixing Western empiricism, Oriental mysticism and traditional Christianity. The Druze we started with in this post combine Ismailism, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Pythagoreanism and Hinduism. It is an esoteric faith that is also an ethnicity. The Druze do not accept converts and they do not allow out-marriage. A person who marries outside the faith is no longer Druze and their children will not be Druze. Imagine something like that happening in Bulgaria.

The point of this somewhat disjointed post is that Europe is dead. The West is dead. The civilization that was created by the culture born of the Enlightenment carries on, but the culture that is the West is dead. Something will come to replace it and that something will, in whole or part, be carried by the people now attempting to replace the Europeans. The resulting culture that rises next will be some combination of the ingredients being tossed into the cauldron, but it will look nothing like the ingredients.”

A suggestion. Just sayin'...

"Seriously..."

"Here’s Why Americans Will Never Pay Back Their Debt: U.S. Debt Hit RECORD High!"

"Here’s Why Americans Will Never Pay Back Their Debt:
 U.S. Debt Hit RECORD High!"
by The Money GPS

"There has never been a time in which debt has expanded so fast and in every single category. Wherever you turn, debt is there. Look in any corner, under any rock. You will find debt. Many countries are being crushed by debt but when you zoom in, you realize it’s not just the nation itself but also the people. The debt spiral will consume nearly everyone in a matter of time."

“Crash 2: It’s Not a Good Look”

“Crash 2: It’s Not a Good Look
by John Ward

"One of the fundamental reasons why Bullishness about the global business and markets outlook is so widely believed around the World is the assurances we get on a daily basis that first, there are green shoots appearing; and second, there won’t be another financial collapse, because “lessons have been learned, reforms have taken place, there is new regulation, and now we should all move on to the next stage in growth”.

Most of the green shoots I read about do not bear much empirical examination: in some cases, the color of the object looks suspiciously like gangrene to me. But the real Truth of just how little “reform” has occurred – and how in fact the financial plates-in-the-air construct has become even worse over a decade – is almost completely unknown…even among the younger end of professionals.

Irish financial guru and allround sceptic Chris Quigley sent me this table last week – if it doesn’t convince you that Doom is coming, nothing will:
Look first at 2. – the total REAL currency in circulation that you and I use every day. Then go to 11. and look at the so-called “notional” value of derivatives. Silly bits of paper valued at light years beyond any real worth are 300 times the ‘value’ of real cash. Now go to 3., and see that the actual (as opposed to trading) value of derivatives is sixty times less than the notional figure…but still five times the value of cash money. Now look at 4., and note that even the real value is 37% of Global GDP.

We got to here from an excellent starting point: farmers expecting a good crop in July could go to the bank in March and get cash in advance to develop the farm, by issuing discounted crop value derivatives to the bank. Thus, crop is harvested, bank makes a turn on it, farmer invests in farm, everyone happy.

Over the last fifty years, a discounted value benefiting those who supply fresh food to human beings has been turned into an interbank trading scam benefiting only the sellers, shareholders and directors involved on all sides… to the point where, at a fire sale, the real money it would raise is only one sixtieth of what’s in the bank’s valuation as an institution.

“That will never happen,” says the banking sector – which is a lie on several dimensions. First of all, it already happened after 2009: bogus “investment” packages full of worthless derivatives were a major part of the trillions spent on QE buying it up to bail out idiots with tertiary frontal-lobe syndrome. Second, it was supposed to be regulated, but Wall St spent billions on lobbying to stop it: the imbalance is now twice what it was in 2007. Third, if every single major bank around the globe is so overvalued in overall Reported Accounts estimation, can you imagine how several rapid re-evaluations from $37 a share to, say, $1.85 would play out across the already nervous bourses around the Globe?

But we need to be real here well within the confines of such a broader vision of disaster: even if I’m talking total drivel, how can it be beneficial to economies creating productive jobs that employ poorer people to be in possession of a banking system that contributes absolutely diddley-ding-dong squat zero to that and whose nefarious activities benefit a mere 0.05% of the Earth’s human population? That question is nothing to do with politics, but has everything to do with econo-cultural sanity.

As Quigley comments: “Nearly 16% of world GDP is income earned on dividends, interest and rent: 9.5 Trillion dollars. A further approximately 15 % is earned by banks through “fractional reserving”: 9 Trillion dollars. Thus annually nearly 18.5 Trillion dollars, or 31% of world GDP, is income earned but unworked. This is the financial reality behind the phrase: ‘the money system is not physically working and is therefore virtual not real’.”

"Thirteen Russians and a Ham Sandwich"

"Thirteen Russians and a Ham Sandwich"
by James Howard Kunstler

"Remember that one from 1996? Funny, that was the American mainstream media bragging, after the fact, about our own meddling in another nation’s election.

"WASHINGTON - A team of American political strategists who helped [California] Gov. Pete Wilson with his abortive presidential bid earlier this year said this week that they served as Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin’s secret campaign weapon in his comeback win over a Communist challenge."
- The Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1996

The beauty in Robert Mueller’s indictment of thirteen Russian Facebook trolls is that they’ll never face trial, so Mr. Mueller will never have to prove his case. In the new misrule of law made popular by the #Me Too movement, accusations suffice to convict the target of an investigation. Kind of sounds like going medieval to me, but that’s how things roll now in the Land of the Free.

Readers know, of course, that I’m not a Trump supporter, that I regard him as a national embarrassment, but I’m much more disturbed by the mindless hysteria ginned up by Washington’s permanent bureaucracy in collusion with half a dozen major newspapers and cable news networks, who have run a psy-ops campaign to shove the country into a war mentality.

The New York Times published a doozy of a lead story on Saturday, the day after the indictments were announced. The headline said: "Trump’s Conspicuous Silence Leaves a Struggle Against Russia Without a Leader." Dean Baquet and his editorial board are apparently seeking an American Napoleon who will mount a white horse and take our legions into Moscow to teach these rascals a lesson - or something like that.

I’m surely not the only one to notice how this hysteria is designed to distract the public attention from the documented misconduct among FBI, CIA, NSA, State Department officials and the leaders of the #Resistance itself: the Democratic National Committee, its nominee in the 2016 election, HRC, and Barack Obama’s White House inner circle. You would think that at least some of this mischief would have come to Robert Mueller’s attention, since the paper trail of evidence is as broad and cluttered as the DC Beltway itself. It actually looks like the greatest act of bureaucratic ass-covering in US history.

Of course, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was quick to qualify the announced indictments by saying that Russian trolling on Facebook had no effect on the 2016 election, and that the Trump campaign was not implicated in it. Maybe the indictments were just a table-setter for something more potent to come out of Mueller’s office. But what if it’s not? What if this is all he has to show for a year and a half of the most scrupulous delving into this “narrative?”

Meanwhile, the damage done among America’s former thinking class essentially leaves this polity like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz: without a brain. I doubt they will be satisfied by Mueller’s indictment of the thirteen Russian trolls. Rather, it may tempt them to even more violent hysterics and greater acts of lawlessness. The only thing that will stop this nonsense is Big Trouble in the financial system - which the news media and most of the public are ignoring at their peril. It is coming at us good and hard and it will feel like a two-by-four to the nation’s skull when it gets here.”

Musical Interlude: Adiemus, “Adiemus”

"Vignettes from Ireland"

"Vignettes from Ireland"
by Bill Bonner

"Vignettes from Ireland:

** We walked into the tourist office in Youghal (pronounced ‘Yall’) in County Cork. Two young men were there. Curly hair. Cute. Something odd about them. Too carefully groomed and well dressed for the town. ‘How do we get to Sir Walter Raleigh’s house?’ we asked.

‘I don’t know. I’ll look it up for you.’ Something was amiss. The accents were wrong. And how could they not know where the famous house was located? It is the only tourist attraction in the small, depressed town. When asked, they gave us the full story. ‘We’re Italian. We’re here on an exchange program to learn English. We don’t know anything about this area.’

** We walked through Portlaw in nearby County Waterford yesterday. The town was almost deserted. But one man came towards us. Disheveled. Unkempt. ‘Good morning,’ we said. ‘Agghh…I don’t talk to nobody,’ he snarled.

** The only café in town had café women behind the counter yesterday morning, but no customers. We sat down and were soon enjoying the ‘small Irish breakfast’ - coffee, soda bread, sausage, ham, tomato, egg, and black pudding. We listened while we ate.

First girl: ‘I’m not going to pay any attention to her.’
Second girl: ‘She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.’
Third girl: ‘She’s just not from here… How could she know? She knows nothing about the area.’
Fourth girl: ‘Yeah…she’s from Kilmeaden.’

Kilmeaden is about five miles away.

BS big picture: Meanwhile…back to the world of money. As you no doubt remember, average numbers - and government statistics - have created a phony picture of the real condition of the country. According to the Fed, the White House, and the press, we are at the beginning of a period of strong, synchronized growth around the world. The bigger the picture, the more likely it is to be fraudulent. You can stand at a podium and say whatever BS about macro trends and theories you want. But don’t try it at home. People do not live in ‘the world’. They do not work in ‘the world economy’. They live in Columbus, Ohio, or Poughkeepsie, New York. And they take the jobs that are available to them there. Even if it were true that the macro picture is bright (which we very much doubt), the micro picture surely is not.

Tale of two countries: Some areas of the country have done very well - boosted by the ‘financialization’ of the economy and the pumping up of asset prices that has been going on for the last 30 years. The number of multimillionaires, for example, has surged. CNBC: ‘The number of American households worth $25 million or more has grown 73% since 2008, compared with growth of 54% for millionaire households. There are now 145,000 U.S. households worth $25 million or more, up from 142,000 in 2014.’

The average man, however, has not gained a penny. The latest figures show that a man over the age of 25 earns an average of 2.5 cents per hour less than he did in 1999 (in constant 1982 dollars). Since real (inflation-adjusted) income growth has been negative, and only a few people are getting so much wealthier, there must be a lot of people who are getting much poorer.

This was our reasoning when our head of research, Joe Withrow, decided to have a look, county by county. He concluded that 73% of U.S. counties are depressed.

And now comes further evidence, using an entirely different approach. Science news website Live Science reports: ‘Last year was not a good one for Americans’ happiness - a record number of states saw declines in their residents’ well-being, according to a new poll. The poll, from Gallup-Sharecare, found that residents’ well-being declined in 21 states in 2017, compared with the levels in 2016. That’s the largest number of states to see a drop in well-being over a single year since Gallup-Sharecare began the poll 10 years ago. For comparison, during the Great Recession in 2009, 15 states saw declines in their residents’ well-being, compared with the year before, Gallup said in a statement.’

Often have we wondered how such a technologically advanced, capitalist nation in the 21st Century could make so little economic progress. It seems almost impossible. And yet, the evidence is there. What went wrong? We don’t know for sure. But it appears that a combination of fake money, fake interest rates, excessive borrowing, and too much government has brought the capitalist machine almost to a standstill.

Knaves and fools: Another way to look at it: Progress and prosperity depend on win-win deals. And win-win deals depend on a few things - reliable money, safety, liberty, and property rights. Take away any one of those things and the machine goes on the fritz.

Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, a handful of academics - backed by a small group of political, Wall Street, and crony insiders (aka the Deep State) - got control over the economy, the government, and the Fed. That group found that it could get ahead by imposing win-lose deals on the nation, paid for largely with the funny money made available by the Fed. Since then, this group of insiders has managed to bamboozle more than 300 million people and stifle what should be the most dynamic economy in history.

We have portrayed former Fed chief Janet Yellen and her predecessors as stupid, bumbling, and incompetent. But a Dear Reader sets us straight: ‘The behavior that you ascribe to Bernanke, Yellen, Powell, and other Fed governors is that of bumbling nincompoops… I have an alternate hypothesis: The Fed governors have an agenda consisting of three objectives.

Objective No. 1 is to protect and enhance the wealth of their masters: the big banks that own the Fed. Objective No. 2 is to convince the American public that they have their best interests at heart, and that they are doing their utmost to maintain full employment while containing inflation within a very challenging environment. 
Objective No. 3 is to conceal Objective No. 1 from the public.’

Yes…he’s right. They’re more knaves than fools. Remarkably, but still predictably, Ms Yellen is now being widely congratulated for her role in this travesty. And her replacement as Fed chief, Jerome Powell, has pledged to continue in her footsteps. ‘While the challenges we face are always evolving,’ he recently assured investors, ‘the Fed’s approach will remain the same.’

Too bad.”