Archive for January, 2019

Why must Venezuela be destroyed?


¿Por qué Venezuela debe ser destruida?

Warum muss Venezuela zerstört werden?

Pourquoi le Venezuela doit-il être détruit ?

Last week Trump, his VP Mike Pence, US State Dept. director Mike Pompeo and Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton, plus a bunch of Central American countries that are pretty much US colonies and don’t have foreign policies of their own, synchronously announced that Venezuela has a new president: a virtual non-entity named Juan Guaidó, who was never even a candidate for that office, but who was sorta-kinda trained for this job in the US. Guaidó appeared at a rally in Caracas, flanked by a tiny claque of highly compensated sycophants. He looked very frightened as he self-appointed himself president of Venezuela and set about discharging his presidential duties by immediately going into hiding.

His whereabouts remained unknown until much later, when he surfaced at a press conference, at which he gave a wishy-washy non-answer to the question of whether he had been pressured to declare himself president or had done so of his own volition. There is much to this story that is at once tragic and comic, so let’s take it apart piece by piece. Then we’ll move on to answering the question of Why Venezuela must be destroyed (from the US establishment’s perspective).

What stands out immediately is the combination of incompetence and desperation exhibited by all of the above-mentioned public and not-so-public figures. Pompeo, in voicing his recognition of Guaidó, called him “guido,” which is an ethnic slur against Italians, while Bolton did one better and called him “guiado” which could be Spanish for “remote-controlled.” (Was that a Freudian slip or just another one of Bolton’s senior moments?) Not to be outdone, Pence gave an entire little speech on Venezuela—a sort of address to the Venezuelan people—which was laced with some truly atrocious pseudo-Spanish gibberish and ended with an utterly incongruous “¡Vaya con Dios!” straight out of a hammy 1950s Western.

Some more entertainment was provided at the UN Security Council, where the ever-redoubtable Russian representative Vasily Nebenzya pointed out that the situation in Venezuela did not pose a threat to international security and was therefore not within the purview of the Security Council. He then proceeded to ask Pompeo, who was present at the meeting, a pointed question: “Is the US planning to yet again violate the UN Charter?”

Pompeo failed to give an answer. He sat there looking like a cat that’s pretending that it isn’t chewing on a canary, then quickly fled the scene. But then most recently Bolton, as he was presumably exiting a national security meeting and walking to a White House press briefing, accidentally flashed his notepad before reporters’ cameras. On it were written the words “5000 troops to Colombia” (that’s a US military base/narco-colony on Venezuela’s northern border). Was this another one of Bolton’s senior moments? In any case, it does seem to answer Nebenzya’s question in the affirmative. The appointment as special envoy to Venezuela of Elliott Abrams, a convicted criminal who was complicit in the previous, failed Venezuelan coup attempt against Hugo Chávez, automatically making him persona non grata in Venezuela, is also indicative of hostile intent.

It would be quite forgivable for you to mistake this regime change operation for some sort of absurdist performance art. It is certainly a bit too abstract for the real-world complexities of the international order. Some poor frightened minion is thrust in front of a camera and declares himself President of Narnia, and then three stooges (Pence, Pompeo and Bolton) plus Bozo the Trump all jump up and yell “Yes-yes-yes, that’s surely him!” And a pensioned-off failure is pulled off the bench, dusted off and dispatched on a mission to a country that won’t have him.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the Venezuelan army and the Venezuelan courts remains squarely behind the elected president Nicolas Maduro and a list of countries that comprise the vast majority of the world’s population, including China, Russia, India, Mexico, Turkey, South Africa and quite a few others speak out in Maduro’s support. Even the people in the remote-controlled Central American countries know full well what a dangerous precedent such a regime change operation would set if it were to succeed, and are thinking: “¡Hoy Venezuela, mañana nosotros!”

To be thorough, let’s look at the arguments being used to advance this regime change operation. There is the contention that Nicolas Maduro is not a legitimate president because last year’s elections, where he was supported by 68% of those who turned out, lacked transparency and were boycotted by certain opposition parties, whereas Juan Guaidó is 100% legit in spite of him and his inconsequential National Assembly being opposed by 70% of Venezuelans according to the opposition’s own polling numbers. There were also some unfounded allegations of “ballot-box stuffing”—except that the Venezuelans do not use paper ballots, while according to international election-watcher and former US president Jimmy Carter, “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

There is the contention that Maduro has badly mismanaged Venezuela’s economy, leading to hyperinflation, high unemployment, shortages of basic goods (medicines especially) and a refugee crisis. There is some merit to this contention, but we must also note that some of Venezuela’s neighbors are doing even worse in many respects in spite of Maduro not being their president. Also, many of Venezuela’s economic difficulties have been caused by US sanctions against it. For instance, right now around 8 billion dollars of Venezuela’s money is being held hostage and is intended to be used to finance a mercenary army which would invade and attempt to destroy Venezuela just as was done with Syria.

Finally, a lot of Venezuela’s predicament has to do with the oil curse. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, but its oil is very viscous and therefore expensive to produce. During a period of high oil prices Venezuelans became addicted to the oil largess, which the government used to lift millions of people out of abject poverty and to move them out of slums and into government housing. And now low oil prices have caused a crisis. If Venezuela manages to survive this period, it will be able to recover once oil prices recover (which they will once the fracking Ponzi scheme in the US has run its course). We will return to the topic of Venezuelan oil later.

As a side comment, a lot of people have been voicing the opinion that Venezuela’s woes are due to socialism. According to them, it’s fine if lots of people are suffering as long as their government is capitalist, but if it is socialist then that’s the wrong kind of suffering and their government deserves to be overthrown even if they all voted for it. For example, the site ZeroHedge, which often publishes useful information and analysis, has been pushing this line of thinking ad nauseam. It is unfortunate that some people imagine that they are being principled and right-thinking whereas they are just being dumb jerks at best and somebody’s useful idiots at worst. The politics of other nations are not for them to decide and they should stop wasting our time with their nonsense.

This naked attempt at regime change would set a very dangerous precedent for the US itself. The doctrine of legal precedent is by no means universal. It comes to us from the dim dark ages of tribal English common law and is only followed in former British colonies. To the rest of the world it is a barbaric form of injustice because it grants arbitrary power to judges and lawyers. The courts must not be allowed to write or alter laws, only to follow them. If your case can be decided on the basis of some other case that has nothing to do with you—well then, why not let somebody else pay your legal fees and your fines and serve out your sentence for you? But there is an overarching principle of international law, which is that sovereign nations have a right to keep to their own laws and legal traditions. Therefore, the US will be bound by the precedents which it establishes. Let’s see how that would work.

The precedent established by the US government’s recognition of Juan Guaidó allows Nicolas Maduro to declare Donald Trump’s presidency as illegitimate for virtually all of the same reasons. Trump failed to win the popular vote but only gained the presidency because of a corrupt, gerrymandered electoral system. Also, certain opposition candidates were unfairly treated within the electoral process. Trump is also a disgrace and a failure: 43 million people are on food stamps; close to 100 million are among the long-term unemployed (circularly referred to as “not in labor force”); homelessness is rampant and there are entire tent cities springing up in various US cities; numerous US companies are on the verge of bankruptcy; and Trump can’t even seem to be able to keep the federal government open! He is a disaster for his country! Maduro therefore recognizes Bernie Sanders as the legitimate president of the United States.

Vladimir Putin could then build on these two precedents by also recognizing Bernie Sanders as the rightful US president. In a public speech, he could say the following: “I freely admit that we installed Donald Trump as US president as was our right based on the numerous precedents established by the US itself. Unfortunately, Trump didn’t work out as planned. Mueller can retire, because this flash drive contains everything that’s necessary to nullify Trump’s inauguration. Donny, sorry it didn’t work out! Your Russian passport is ready for pick-up at our embassy, as are your keys to a one-bedroom in Rostov, right next door to the Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovich who was violently regime-changed by your predecessor Obama.”

Why the unseemly haste to blow up Venezuela? The explanation is a simple one: it has to do with oil. “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” said John Bolton on Fox News. You see, Venezuelan oil cannot be produced profitably without high oil prices—so high that many oil consumers would go bankrupt—but it can certainly be produced in much higher quantities at a huge financial loss.

Huge financial losses certainly wouldn’t stop American oil companies who have so far generated a $300 billion loss through fracking—financed by looting retirement savings, saddling future generations with onerous debt and other nefarious schemes. Also keep in mind that the single largest oil consumer in the world is the US Dept. of Defense, and if it has to pay a little more for oil in order to go on blowing up countries—so it will. Or, rather, you will. It’s all the same to them. The US is already well beyond broke, but its leaders will do anything to keep the party going for just a while longer.

Here’s the real problem: the fracking bonanza is ending. Most of the sweet spots have already been tapped; newer wells are depleting faster and producing less while costing more; the next waves of fracking, were they to happen, would squander $500 billion, then $1 trillion, then $2 trillion… The drilling rate is already slowing, and started slowing even while oil prices were still high. Meanwhile, peak conventional (non-fracked) oil happened back in 2005-6, only a few countries haven’t peaked yet, Russia has announced that it will start reducing production in just a couple years and Saudi Arabia doesn’t have any spare capacity left.

A rather large oil shortage is coming, and it will rather specifically affect the US, which burns 20% of the world’s oil (with just 5% of the world’s population). Once fracking crashes, the US will go from having to import 2.5 million barrels per day to importing at least 10—and that oil won’t exist. Previously, the US was able to solve this problem by blowing up countries and stealing their oil: the destruction of Iraq and Libya made American oil companies whole for a while and kept the financial house of cards from collapsing. But the effort to blow up Syria has failed, and the attempt to blow up Venezuela is likely to fail too because, keep in mind, Venezuela has between 7 and 9 million Chavistas imbued with the Bolivarian revolutionary spirit, a large and well-armed military and is generally a very tough neighborhood.

Previously, the US resorted to various dirty tricks to legitimize its aggression against oil-rich countries and its subsequent theft of their natural resources. There was that vial of highly toxic talcum powder Colin Powell shook at the UN to get it to vote in favor of destroying Iraq and stealing its oil. There was the made-up story of humanitarian atrocities in Libya to get the votes for a no-fly zone there (which turned out to be a bombing campaign followed by a government overthrow). But with Venezuela there isn’t any such fig leaf. All we have is open threats of naked aggression and blatant lies which nobody believes, delivered incompetently by clowns, stooges and old fogies.

If Plan A (steal Venezuela’s oil) fails, then Plan B is to take all of your US dollar-denominated paper waste—cash, stocks, bonds, deeds, insurance policies, promissory notes, etc.—and burn it in trash barrels in an effort to stay warm. There is a definite whiff of desperation to the whole affair. The global hegemon is broken; it fell down and it can’t get up.

Shut it all down!


Unless you have been hiding in a cave for the past few months, you have probably heard that for the past month or so close to a million employees of the US federal government haven’t been getting paid. Some still show up for work while others have decided to join the gig economy and do odd jobs instead. Nonessential personnel have been placed on furlough. It is quite a curious fact that the federal government employs close to a million people who aren’t essential. If the shutdown lasts long enough for them to get real, essential jobs in the private sector, all will surely benefit.

The government has been shut down because the Democrats do not want to approve money for Trump’s wall on the Mexican border. The Democrats are on the record being in favor of a fence, but calling it a wall is anathema to them. You’d think that Trump could agree to temporarily call it a fence, just to get the funding approved, and then go back to calling it a wall later, once it’s been built, but perhaps there just isn’t room in his… parsimonious vocabulary for two such similar terms. And now, in a major escalation, Trump is being prevented from giving his annual state of the union speech before congress. But perhaps that is exactly how it should be: What “union” is still there for him to talk about?

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The Future of Energy is Bright, Part II


To pick up where we last left off, running an industrial economy requires a source of cheap and stable electricity. Electricity provided by wind and solar is intermittent and therefore does not fit the bill. Electricity from coal, diesel and natural gas does work but causes environmental damage, plus these fossil fuels are mostly past peak, are increasingly expensive to produce, and won’t last for much longer in any case. Hydroelectric is a good choice, but all the sweet spots for it have already been tapped. Boutique resources such as biomass, micro-hydro, tidal energy and what have you are insufficient to power an industrial economy. This leaves nuclear energy, but nuclear energy has some major problems.

Thus, there are no good solutions, but this may not be a problem because, you see, without a stable source of cheap electricity there won’t be an industrial economy, and without an industrial economy there will be neither supply of nor demand for any of the above. There will still be demand for firewood, to be met by you wandering up and down a stretch of abandoned highway collecting dry tree branches for your campfire, on which to cook some rodents you caught with a forked stick.

If you find this scenario unappealing and wish to look for other options, there is little choice but to look more closely at nuclear energy. Yes, it has some major problems, but what if these problems have solutions? You haven’t thought of that, have you? But that’s not as outlandish an idea as you might imagine. Huge teams of brilliant scientists and engineers working diligently for decades do sometimes come up with solutions to even the most difficult problems. Clearly, it would be foolish to simply assume that all major problems will be solved, but I believe that it does make sense to try to stay informed about the actual progress that has been made, if only to satisfy your intellectual curiosity, should you have any.

Before we go any further, let me assure you that I don’t have any particular political stance vis-à-vis nuclear energy. I have not flipped from being anti-nuke to being pro-nuke or any such thing. Furthermore, let me state unequivocally that your own political opinion on the desirability or undesirability of nuclear power matters not in the slightest. In fact, if ever I let on that it matters at all, feel free to assume that I’ve gone senile and to come over and shoot me, because I don’t want to be a burden. In turn, if I catch you signing anti-nuke petitions, going to anti-nuke rallies or otherwise making your opinion on the matter known, I will assume the same about you, although I won’t bother to come over and shoot you. My wish is to inform, not to influence. If, armed with this knowledge, you find ways to avoid having to cook rodents on a stick (by figuring out where in the world there will still be power and moving there while there is still time) I will be happy for you.

With these preliminaries out of the way, let me rattle off some key facts about nuclear power that you should definitely have under your hat in order to understand the importance of what’s to follow. Nuclear energy is quite unlike chemical energy in that it is something like 100000 times more powerful: 1kg of nuclear fuel provides as much energy as 100 tonnes of coal. Naturally occurring uranium contains two uranium isotopes: U-235 and U-238. Only U-235 is directly capable of sustaining a fission reaction: when a U-235 atom is hit with a neutron, it fissions into Barium-141 and Krypton-92, which are very short-lived and decay into other elements, liberating much energy along the way. It also emits 3 neutrons, which can then hit other U-235 atoms, sustaining the chain reaction.

Only 0.7% of naturally occurring uranium is the useful isotope U-235, the rest is the (almost) useless isotope U-238. Since 0.7% is nowhere near enough to sustain a chain reaction, a complicated process is used to “enrich” uranium, raising the U-235 concentration to between 3% and 5% (nowhere near enough to make a bomb, by the way) by separating out some of the excess U-238. This is done by converting uranium dioxide, (UO2, also called yellowcake) into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) which is a colorless solid that evaporates at slightly above room temperature. The UF6 gas is then fed into a cascade of centrifuges that separate out the isotopes. The enriched mixture is then converted back into UO2 which is formed into pellets that make up nuclear fuel. This is all based on very complicated, sensitive technology which only a handful of countries have.

The reason U-238 is almost useless rather than completely useless is that under certain conditions it can capture a neutron and turn into Plutonium-239, which is just as useful as U-235 in sustaining a chain reaction. Spent nuclear fuel, in which a large percentage of U-235 has been burned out, contains some amount of Pu-239, which can then be reprocessed into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. It is important to note that plutonium produced by nuclear power plants is useless for making nuclear bombs because the fractions of isotopes are wrong: weapons-grade stuff can’t have too much Pu-240, which is unstable, but the plutonium produced at power plants contains close to 30% of it, and since the trick of separating isotopes doesn’t work with Plutonium (it’s literally too hot to handle) you are stuck with whatever isotope fractions come out of the reactor at the end of the fuel cycle. The total quantity of plutonium recycled each year throughout the world is around 70 tonnes.

The ability to produce useful Pu-239 from (almost) useless U-238 in nuclear reactors stretches out the uranium reserves. The conversion ratio is typically between 0.5 and 0.8, meaning that more U-235 is used up than Pu-239 is created to replace it. This is a problem, since uranium reserves are finite and increasingly difficult and expensive to produce. But if this problem were to be solved and the conversion ratio raised above 1, then the amount of U-238 already produced would be sufficient to power industrial economies for thousands (yes, literally, thousands) of years.

And what if I told you that this problem is well on the way to being solved? Furthermore, what if the other really huge problem—of what to do with high-level nuclear waste (of which there are 250000 tonnes in the world) is also well on the way to being solved? (A way has been found to burn up almost all of it in nuclear reactors.) Lastly, what if I told you that solutions have also been found to the problem of nuclear reactors blowing up and melting down once in a while? (This last one is also a very serious issue. The Fukushima Daichi disaster has been estimated to cost at least $500 billion and has pretty much nuked the Japanese nuclear industry).

I will eventually get around to explaining what these solutions look like. Again, I don’t wish to try to change anyone’s attitude toward nuclear power, mostly because it doesn’t matter. You are no more likely to be able to put a stop to it if you tried than you are to be able to run out and buy yourself a nuclear reactor. Rest assured, the issue is safely out of your hands. But it may help you to be informed about it. As with most kinds of technology, once it is created and proved to be useful and effective, it is going to be used. Those who use it will win and get to play again, those who don’t will lose and drop out of the game, and the world will move on.

Before I expound on these solutions, I would like to address a few other, related issues. One is the environmental impact of the nuclear industry compared to that of the fossil fuel industry and renewables. Another is the state of nuclear industry around the world and its general viability, which is in many places questionable regardless of what solutions may exist. And a final, very major issue is the problem of radiophobia: it seems that radiation scares people much more than it ought to. Yes, radiation can be dangerous, but so can a baseball bat to the head. The only difference is that baseball bats are visible and radiation often isn’t, and people tend to be much more scared of invisible dangers than of visible ones. I will take up these issues next.

Taking a Model of Doom at Face Value


The implications of this model are so utterly horrifying that I am only going to allow access to it for subscribers.

For those who still like Patreon.

For those who are ready to try something new and different.

The Five Stages of Collapse, 2019 Update


Collapse, at each stage, is a historical process that takes time to run its course as the system adapts to changing circumstances, compensates for its weaknesses and finds ways to continue functioning at some level. But what changes rather suddenly is faith or, to put it in more businesslike terms, sentiment. A large segment of the population or an entire political class within a country or the entire world can function based on a certain set of assumptions for much longer than the situation warrants but then over a very short period of time switch to a different set of assumptions. All that sustains the status quo beyond that point is institutional inertia. It imposes limits on how fast systems can change without collapsing entirely. Beyond that point, people will tolerate the older practices only until replacements for them can be found.

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.

Internationally, the major change in sentiment in the world has to do with the role of the US dollar (and, to a lesser extent, the Euro and the Yen—the other two reserve currencies of the three-legged globalist central banker stool). The world is transitioning to the use of local currencies, currency swaps and commodities markets backed by gold. The catalyst for this change of sentiment was provided by the US administration itself which sawed through its own perch by its use of unilateral sanctions. By using its control over dollar-based transactions to block international transactions it doesn’t happen to like it forced other countries to start looking for alternatives. Now a growing list of countries sees throwing off the shackles of the US dollar as a strategic goal. Russia and China use the ruble and the yuan for their expanding trade; Iran sells oil to India for rupees. Saudi Arabia has started to accept the yuan for its oil.

This change has many knock-on effects. If the dollar is no longer needed to conduct international trade, other nations no longer have hold large quantities of it in reserve. Consequently, there is no longer a need to buy up large quantities of US Treasury notes. Therefore, it becomes unnecessary to run large trade surpluses with the US, essentially conducting trade at a loss. Further, the attractiveness of the US as an export market drops and the cost of imports to the US rises, thereby driving up cost inflation. A vicious spiral ensues in which the ability of the US government to borrow internationally to finance the gaping chasm of its various deficits becomes impaired. Sovereign default of the US government and national bankruptcy then follow.

The US may still look mighty, but its dire fiscal predicament coupled with its denial of the inevitability of bankruptcy, makes it into something of a Blanche DuBois from the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” She was “always dependent on the kindness of strangers” but was tragically unable to tell the difference between kindness and desire. In this case, the desire is for national advantage and security, and to minimize risk by getting rid of an unreliable trading partner.

How quickly or slowly this comes to pass is difficult to guess at and impossible to calculate. It is possible to think of the financial system in terms of a physical analogue, with masses of funds traveling at some velocity having a certain inertia (p = mv) and with forces acting on that mass to accelerate it along a different trajectory (F = ma). It is also possible to think of it in terms of hordes of stampeding animals who can change course abruptly when panicked. The recent abrupt moves in the financial markets, where trillions of dollars of notional, purely speculative value have been wiped out within weeks, are more in line with the latter model.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.

Within the US there is really no other alternative than the market. There are a few rustic enclaves, mostly religious communities, that can feed themselves, but that’s a rarity. For everyone else there is no choice but to be a consumer. Consumers who are broke are called “bums,” but they are still consumers. To the extent that the US has a culture, it is a commercial culture in which the goodness of a person is based on the goodly sums of money in their possession. Such a culture can die by becoming irrelevant (when everyone is dead broke) but by then most of the carriers of this culture are likely to be dead too. Alternatively, it can be replaced by a more humane culture that isn’t entirely based on the cult of Mammon—perhaps, dare I think, through a return to a pre-Protestant, pre-Catholic Christian ethic that values people’s souls above objects of value?

Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.

All is very murky at the moment, but I would venture to guess that most people in the US are too distracted, too stressed and too preoccupied with their own vices and obsessions to pay much attention to the political realm. Of the ones they do pay attention, a fair number of them seem clued in to the fact that the US is not a democracy at all but an elites-only sandbox in which transnational corporate and oligarchic interests build and knock down each others’ sandcastles.

The extreme political polarization, where two virtually identical pro-capitalist, pro-war parties pretend to wage battle by virtue-signaling may be a symptom of the extremely decrepit state of the entire political arrangement: people are made to watch the billowing smoke and to listen to the deafening noise in the hopes that they won’t notice that the wheels are no longer turning.

The fact that what amounts to palace intrigue—the fracas between the White House, the two houses of Congress and a ghoulish grand inquisitor named Mueller—has taken center stage is uncannily reminiscent of various earlier political collapses, such as the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire or of the fall and the consequent beheading of Louis XVI. The fact that Trump, like the Ottoman worthies, stocks his harem with East European women, lends an eerie touch. That said, most people in the US seem blind to the nature of their overlords in a way that the French, with their Gilets Jaunes movement (just as an example) are definitely not.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.

I have been saying for some years now that within the US social collapse has largely run its course, although whether people actually believe that is an entire matter entirely. Defining “your people” is rather difficult. The symbols are still there—the flag, the Statue of Liberty and a predilection for iced drinks and heaping plates of greasy fried foods—but the melting pot seems to have suffered a meltdown and melted all the way to China. At present half the households within the US speak a language other than English at home, and a fair share of the rest speak dialects of English that are not mutually intelligible with the standard North American English dialect of broadcast television and university lecturers.

Throughout its history as a British colony and as a nation the US has been dominated by the Anglo ethnos. The designation “ethnos” is not an ethnic label. It is not strictly based on genealogy, language, culture, habitat, form of government or any other single factor or group of factors. These may all be important to one extent or another, but the viability of an ethnos is based solely on its cohesion and the mutual inclusivity and common purpose of its members. The Anglo ethnos reached its zenith in the wake of World War II, during which many social groups were intermixed in the military and their more intelligent members were allowed to become educated and to advance socially by the GI Bill.

Fantastic potential was unleashed when privilege—the curse of the Anglo ethnos since its inception—was temporarily replaced with merit and the more talented demobilized men, of whatever extraction, were given a chance at education and social advancement by the GI Bill. Speaking a new sort of American English based on the Ohio dialect as a Lingua Franca, these Yanks—male, racist, sexist and chauvinistic and, at least in their own minds, victorious—were ready to remake the entire world in their own image.

They proceeded to flood the entire world with oil (US oil production was in full flush then) and with machines that burned it. Such passionate acts of ethnogenesis are rare but not unusual: the Romans who conquered the entire Mediterranean basin, the barbarians who then sacked Rome, the Mongols who later conquered most of Eurasia and the Germans who for a very brief moment possessed an outsized Lebensraum are other examples.

And now it is time to ask: what remains of this proud conquering Anglo ethnos today? We hear shrill feminist cries about “toxic masculinity” and minorities of every stripe railing against “whitesplaining” and in response we hear a few whimpers but mostly silence. Those proud, conquering, virile Yanks who met and fraternized with the Red Army at the River Elbe on April 25, 1945—where are they? Haven’t they devolved into a sad little subethnos of effeminate, porn-addicted overgrown boys who shave their pubic hair and need written permission to have sex without fear of being charged with rape?

Will the Anglo ethnos persist as a relict, similar to how the English have managed to hold onto their royals (who are technically no longer even aristocrats since they now practice exogamy with commoners)? Or will it get wiped out in a wave of depression, mental illness and opiate abuse, its glorious history of rapine, plunder and genocide erased and the statues of its war heroes/criminals knocked down? Only time will tell.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost.

The term “culture” means many things to many people, but it is more productive to observe cultures than to argue about them. Cultures are expressed through people’s stereotypical behaviors that are readily observable in public. These are not the negative stereotypes often used to identify and reject outsiders but the positive stereotypes—cultural standards of behavior, really—that serve as requirements for social adequacy and inclusion. We can readily assess the viability of a culture by observing the stereotypical behaviors of its members.

• Do people exist as a single continuous, inclusive sovereign realm or as a set of exclusive, potentially warring enclaves segregated by income, ethnicity, education level, political affiliation and so on? Do you see a lot of walls, gates, checkpoints, security cameras and “no trespassing” signs? Is the law of the land enforced uniformly or are there good neighborhoods, bad neighborhoods and no-go zones where even the police fear to tread?

• Do random people thrown together in public spontaneously enter into conversation with each other and are comfortable with being crowded together, or are they aloof and fearful, and prefer to hide their face in the little glowing rectangle of their smartphone, jealously guarding their personal space and ready to regard any encroachment on it as an assault?

• Do people remain good-natured and tolerant toward each other even when hard-pressed or do they hide behind a façade of tense, superficial politeness and fly into a rage at the slightest provocation? Is conversation soft in tone, gracious and respectful or is it loud, shrill, rude and polluted with foul language? Do people dress well out of respect for each other, or to show off, or are they all just déclassé slobs—even the ones with money?

• Observe how their children behave: are they fearful of strangers and trapped in a tiny world of their own or are they open to the world and ready to treat any stranger as a surrogate brother or sister, aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather without requiring any special introduction? Do the adults studiously ignore each others’ children or do they spontaneously act as a single family?

• If there is a wreck on the road, do they spontaneously rush to each others’ rescue and pull people out before the wreck explodes, or do they, in the immortal words of Frank Zappa, “get on the phone and call up some flakes” who “rush on over and wreck it some more”?

• If there is a flood or a fire, do the neighbors take in the people who are rendered homeless, or do they allow them to wait for the authorities to show up and bus them to some makeshift government shelter?

It is possible to quote statistics or to provide anecdotal evidence to assess the state and the viability of a culture, but your own eyes and other senses can provide all the evidence you need to make that determination for yourself and to decide how much faith to put in “the goodness of humanity” that is evident in the people around you.

Is The US Still A Superpower?


Some believe that the USA is a superpower. They cite GPD figures, military spending, the ability to coerce various US vassals to accede to US/Israeli demands at the United Nations. They also point to its ability to force other nations to abide by its unilateral sanctions even though they are ineffective at best, generally counterproductive and tend to hurt US allies. Are these not the hallmarks or true superpowerdom?

Let us see… If the US were a superhero endowed with various superpowers, what would they be?

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National Bankruptcy as a Board Game


Most people are familiar with the game Monopoly. Its goal is to teach capitalist kiddies a valuable lesson about capitalism; namely, that in running a business it isn’t useful to shoot for some happy modicum of accommodation with your competitors or to strive for a sustainable steady state. Instead, what you need to do to survive (never mind win) is to grow as quickly as possible and eat up your competitors alive, or you’ll get eaten up yourself. That’s not just a game; that’s exactly how capitalism actually works, and if that doesn’t work for you (it doesn’t for most people) then that’s exactly how capitalism doesn’t work.

And so the Waltons couldn’t just run Walmart as a mart; they had to make it into a global empire—just in order to survive. Now, most governments in the world realize that this sort of unbridled capitalism is harmful and seek to regulate it. For instance, Russia has a Federal Antimonopoly Service. The US Justice Department has an Antitrust Division, which is aptly named if its mission is to destroy Americans’ trust in their government’s ability to regulate business. It also has a website which currently says: “Due to the lapse in appropriations, Department of Justice websites will not be regularly updated.” Perhaps that’s all right for a country that seeks to monopolize everything—international finance and law, defense procurement and, of course, the dispensation of “freedom and democracy” and “universal values.”

Most people are also familiar with the concept of national debt. The federal debt of the US government currently equals… never mind; it’s going up much faster than you can write it down. If you want to watch it go up real time, you can look it up here. The exact number is useless: if you take a snapshot of it—say, $21,921,420,945,123.00—that will no longer be the payoff amount by the time you write out the check, and if you write out the check, no matter who you are, it will bounce. But it won’t even get that far: if you mail that check to the US Treasury Department, they wouldn’t be able to deposit it because “Due to the lapse in appropriations…” (You get the picture.)

The debt goes up all the time, and the rate at which it goes up is accelerating. The concept of acceleration may not be intuitive for some of you, so let me explain. Debt goes up with some speed. Acceleration is the amount by which that speed increases, measured in, for example, dollars per minute per minute. Calculating it is a fun little arithmetic exercise. During Barak Obama’s reign it went up by $8.6 trillion, starting from $11.6 trillion and gong up to $20.2 trillion. Trump plans to add $4.8 trillion during his first three years. (Relevant numbers can be looked up here).

Thus, Obama’s velocity was $8.6 trillion over 8 years—roughly $1 trillion per year or $2 million per minute while Trump’s velocity is roughly $1.6 trillion per year or a little over $3 million per minute. Therefore, the acceleration is only a few cents per minute per minute—but it sure adds up! Acceleration tends to sneak up on you. For instance, if you want to gain some intuitive appreciation for acceleration due to gravity (9.81m or 32 feet per second per second) then try jumping off a chair while keeping your knees straight. You can also ponder the fact that satellites that fall out of Earth’s orbit tend to burn up on reentry as they decelerate due to friction with the atmosphere.

Any sane, numerate person can tell you that increases in debt are fine provided your revenues are increasing significantly faster, but if that’s not the case then the eventual result is bankruptcy. And that is most definitely not the case. Hence the name of this board game is National Bankruptcy. But I am not sure what the objective of the game should be. Is it to go bankrupt as quickly and efficiently as possible, or is to go bankrupt as slowly and painfully as possible?

I am quite sure that players who aren’t on a path to national bankruptcy would prefer to keep it that way, and would furthermore prefer to be rid of all sovereign debt issued by whoever is going to go bankrupt before that happens. (Russia seems to have that problem solved already while China is far behind.) In any case, I am a very serious person who doesn’t like jokes and doesn’t have time to play games, board games included, so I’ll leave it to others to ponder such questions. Still, the board game metaphor seems useful for discussing this topic.

One problem with playing this game is the problem of scale. People have a problem appreciating such huge numbers. They are familiar with what a dollar is, but what’s a trillion? Here it is, represented as double-stacked pallets of $100 bills.

That seems a bit cumbersome for our board game. Reasonable values for the chips in our National Bankruptcy game would be $100 billion, $500 billion and $1 trillion. We could use a few $5 trillion and $10 trillion chips too, though not too many because I doubt that the game would go on long enough to make them useful.

I propose that for the sake of this game we introduce a handy new unit called a “piffle” which is equal to $100 billion. A trillion is 10 piffles, 10 trillion is 100 piffles. Then our chips can be 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 piffles. Piffles allow us to express various huge quantities without going through any arithmetic contortions. US federal debt is currently 220 piffles. US trade deficit for 2018 was 6 piffles while the US defense budget was 7 piffles. For 2019 the federal budget deficit (covered by increased borrowing) is 10 piffles and rising while tax revenues are just 3 piffles and falling. The interest payment on federal debt is 3 piffles but with rising interest rates it’s going to 5 piffles within a few years.

Speaking of rising interest rates… just today Trump wished for 0% interest rates again, like Obama had while he was running up his 80 piffles’ worth of debt. But now it’s hovering around 3% and is unlikely to go down no matter what Trump wishes. Why? Well, here’s the reason. The US imports much more than it exports because it can’t afford to or lacks the ability to make all the stuff it needs; that’s why there are 6 piffles’ worth of trade deficit. When other nations sell to the US more than they buy, they end up holding lots of piffles, and since the US needs lots of piffles (remember, the budget deficit is 10 piffles) it makes plenty of sense to borrow that money right back. A little while back it was possible to borrow it back at 0% interest because the US was powerful enough to threaten those who refused to play this game with military annihilation (cue pictures of bombed-out Libya and Iraq). But times have changed, and unless the US bribes its debt-holders with 3% interest rate or better—no deal.

How have times changed? There are two effects worth mentioning. First, the military annihilation threat isn’t working any more. Yes, the US still spends a stunning, record-shattering sum of 7 piffles on defense, but none of that is working. Call it the free money effect. When people spend their own hard-earned money, they tend to be careful with it, but if it’s somebody else’s money that they got for free never intending to pay it back, then they tend to throw caution to the wind. And so US military spending has become less and less effective over time, in one of two ways: procurement costs have gone through the roof, and the resulting products have become useless.

In terms of procurement costs, the purchasing parity between the US and (just as an example) Russia seems to be at least ten to one: to get the same result, the US has to spend at least ten times more than Russia. And so although Russia spends well less than 1 piffle on defense, its military is far more effective. In terms of product uselessness, the Pentagon now resembles a woman who has a closet jam-packed with expensive designer labels but has absolutely nothing to wear because her entire wardrobe is no longer fashionable. There is the entire set of aircraft carriers none of which can operate close enough to enemy shores to be of any use at all because they can be readily sunk using hypersonic rockets launched from very far away. There are the stockpiles of Tomahawk cruise missiles which can’t make it past Soviet-era air defense systems (with a few electronics and software upgrades). There are the Patriot air defense systems which are useless even for stopping Soviet-era SCUD missiles, never mind anything more modern.

Add to this Russia’s (and soon China’s) new hypersonic weapons with conventional payloads and new air and space defense systems such as the S-400: these provide what’s known as “escalation dominance.” Suppose the US does something unspeakably nasty and Russia and/or China decide to teach it a lesson. They now have the ability to blow up any target within the US without getting anywhere near it and without placing any of their military assets at risk.

They could, for instance, take out the US electric grid in a way that will take many months to get it back on line. They can then reliably intercept anything that the US tries to retaliate with. Of course, the US can become suicidal—that’s always a risk—and launch a full-on nuclear first strike, then sit back and wait to be completely obliterated along with much of the rest of the planet. But that’s not a military strategy, that’s pure suicide, and the officers in charge of military strategy tend to be emotionally stable family men who look forward to playing with their grandchildren upon retirement.

So, why then should the US continue to spend 7 piffles on defense? The sad answer is that it will go bankrupt whether it zeroes out the defense budget or not. If the defense budget goes to 0, then there is still 3 piffles’ worth of budget deficit left, plus those 6 piffles of trade deficit aren’t going anywhere but up. But what about MAGA?—you might ask—What about firing up US manufacturing, bringing the jobs back and exporting our way out of this? After all, if we turn those 6 piffles of trade deficit into 6 piffles of trade surplus, suddenly it all works out and bankruptcy becomes avoidable.

No, sorry, that just not realistic. You see, in order to get an industrial economy going again the US needs several things. It needs cheap energy, cheap labor, low cost of doing business and readily available markets, both domestic and export. And the US doesn’t have any of these. In terms of energy—and oil is by far the most important form of energy—in 2019 the US will import exactly as much oil as it did in 1998—around 8 million barrels a day. Yes, the shale oil industry has sprung up in the meantime, and the US is currently producing 11.5 million barrels per day. But also in the meantime US oil consumption has gone up a lot—to 20 million barrels a day, which is a stunning 20% of the world’s consumption for 4.4% of the world’s population.

And so the oil deficit is still very much there. Plus the shale oil patch has never made any money but has accumulated over 2 piffles’ worth of debt and has spent over a piffle’s worth more than it made. With interest rates going up they are unlikely to be able to borrow enough to keep up the same hectic drilling rate, and with declines from existing wells at over half a million barrels per day per month it won’t take many months to whittle down that 11.5 million barrels per day, forcing the US to either boost imports or cut consumption.

But the oil price has gone down a lot lately, so there shouldn’t be a problem in any case, right? Again, sorry, no. Peak Oil for most countries has come and gone. There is now only a handful of countries left that are able to meaningfully boost oil production: Russia, Canada (mostly tar sands), Iran, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Brazil. Russia has recently announced that it isn’t planning to boost production. Saudi Arabia is a huge oil producer but does not seem to have any spare capacity left. Canada’s tar sands patch is a money-losing environmental disaster. Iran and Iraq (call them Iranq, since they are both Shia Moslem, are politically aligned and neither loves America too much) aren’t exactly going to gallop to the rescue. That leaves UAE, Kuwait and Brazil, and if you add them all up together that’s nowhere near enough. So, get ready for oil price spikes, followed by a wave of demand destruction, followed by oil price collapses, followed by supply destruction—you know, the usual.

Moving on to labor. In order to stay competitive, the US will need to lower its median wage a lot. It has to be lower than what the Chinese and the Southeast Asians earn because the US needs to outcompete them to steal their export market share. Without various other major changes this will cause US workers to either rebel or starve to death in short order. The changes involve nationalizing medicine and education to drive down their costs by a factor of 1000 or so, converting to public transportation and pretty much banning the use of private cars to make transportation affordable, putting up high-rises right next to factories for affordable worker housing and so on. That’s a lot of piffles’ worth of effort!

The cost of doing business is a tough one too. The US spends way more on courts and lawyers, insurance and regulatory compliance than most other countries, and the regulatory maze that entrepreneurs have to run in order to run even a small and simple business is very costly and absolutely confounding. How does one take a machete to that whole ridiculous, corrupt scheme? I have no idea. It’s an imponderable. The Chinese would probably just call it a “cultural revolution,” round up all the lawyers and the bureaucrats, make them wear dunce caps and sandwich boards that say “I am what is wrong with this country” and march them in procession while pelting them with rocks and beating them with sticks. Something like that…

Finally, there is the question of export markets. What exactly is the US going to export more effectively than other countries are exporting already? China out-manufactures just about anybody on the planet and isn’t about to give up its spot. Russia exports grain and other foodstuffs (all non-GMO, unlike the US), nuclear and space technology, defense technology (that actually works) and much else. Pakistan and India, and various other countries, export textiles. The world is full up with product. It’s consumers to bankrupt that are in short supply. And if the US cuts its labor rates to make itself competitive, then its consumer base will shrink rather dramatically.

So it looks like bankruptcy is it, no use fighting it. But what should the US do in the meantime? I suggest that it should put up some really huge walls—just for the sake of leaving behind some spectacular ruins for future generations to marvel at. The one along the southern border seems to be going up already, but there should be at least two more. There needs to be a wall along the Mason-Dixon line, because given the heated state of US politics there needs to be a way to prevent people from trying to reenact the Civil War (a misnomer, that!) with actual real weapons and live ammo. And there also needs to be a wall along the northern border, to keep various groups of armed troglodytes from escaping to Canada and ransacking it (it’s the least we can do for our peaceful northern neighbors). How much will these three walls cost? Glad you asked! They will cost roughly 0.005 piffles apiece, 0.015 piffles total—a truly piffling amount. That’s my 0.000000002 piffle’s worth. But, you know, it’s the thought that counts.

Oh, and if you want to actually design this National Bankruptcy board game, please resist the temptation to contact me about it. Seriously, I don’t like games, board games especially. I am a very serious person who doesn’t have time for such piffles.

The Year the Planet Flipped Over


End of the year is a good time to draw some conclusions as to what has changed, what has worked and what has failed. This past year was in many ways remarkable because of a large number of irreversible, transformative events. In some ways, in 2019 we will be dealing with a significantly different planet. Let us look at what has succeeded and what has failed.