James Howard Kunstler posts

[ As I re-read Kunstler posts I will add more excerpts and/or links.  I encourage you to read these brilliant posts in their entirety at http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/ for their wonderful humor, language, and the full logical chain of discourse, which excerpts disrupt. Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com]

Excerpts from posts by James Howard Kunstler

November 16, 2015. There are no Safe Spaces.

I’m not persuaded that world opinion will ever “make sense” of the Paris attacks. The non-linear rules the day. So-called Fourth Generation Warfare works because there are so many small arms loose in the world and any band of maniacs with a few machine guns and a pound of Semtex plastic explosive can create the equivalent of a war zone in a given locality…..None of this is good, either, for a global economy constructed around long, hyper-complex, and fragile chains of obligation, the most critical being global finance and global energy lines. You think the Paris attacks were bad? Just wait until a few maniacs lob some explosives at the giant Ras Tanura oil refinery and shipping terminal on Saudi Arabia’s Persian Gulf coast. Imagine if that happens in the middle of winter, when Europe is freezing. Do you suppose the Big Brains in the Pentagon think about that? The West itself, including America, is a circus of soft targets. The softest ones are between our ears.

November 9, 2015. The Leviathan.

The economic picture manufactured by the national consensus trance has never been more out of touch with reality in my lifetime. And so the questions as to what anyone might do can hardly be addressed. How can I protect my savings? Who do I vote for? How do I think about where my country is going? Incoherence reigns…The Federal Reserve has morphed from being a faceless background institution of the most limited purpose to a claque of necromancers and astrologasters, led by one grand vizier, in full public view pretending to steer a gigantic economic vessel that has, in fact, lost its rudder and is drifting into a maelstrom.The Fed now finds itself in a trap of its own making. Having so interminably yapped about the interest rate hike, the central bank will have to put up or shut up in December… The truth is, this phony baloney economy can’t withstand even a measly quarter-point benchmark interest rate hike [which] would blow up the operating models of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the buyers of home mortgages who are keeping the construction industry on life support, as well as the parallel rackets in securitized auto and student loans. Imagine all the derivatives bets that would go south. In reality, the Fed knows that it will have to shovel more ZIRP money into the debt-saturated maw of a dying financial leviathan… and the leviathan will be a little closer to heaving up dead on the beach.

October 12, 2015. Bang You’re Dead.

October 5, 2015. Syriasly.

Senior administration officials say the new offensive holds promise and may change the dynamics on the ground. — The New York Times

Whew…. That’s reassuring. Finally, a Middle East policy you can believe in….based on a joint Kurdish-Arab army that our side (the USA) is pretending to assemble around the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. We’re informed also that American military officials have screened the leaders of the Arab groups to ensure that they meet standards set by Congress when it approved $500 million last year for the Defense Department to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels.  Is it safe to say that the table is now set for World War Three? King Salman of Saudi Arabia is itching to mix it up. Of course, the moment he sends official KSA ground troops in there, he will be eligible to have his oil terminal at Ras Tanura in the Persian Gulf blown up. Imagine what that would do to the S & P index. The Turks, too, are none too happy with their currency imploding and their economy falling apart, and perhaps view a widened war as politically refreshing. And let’s not forget Iran — having concluded the long, torturous negotiations to make America feel better about their nuke program, Iran is eager to put an end to this barbaric (Sunni-flavored) ISIS nonsense. Oh, did I leave out Israel. Probably a good idea since so many people just want to hate on it if the subject even comes up. But suffice it to say they are in the mix, too, with the ability to turn their adversaries into ashtrays, should it come to that.

As the old song goes: someone left the cake out in the rain.

You had to at least admire the forthrightness of Mr. Putin. His economy of motion is breathtaking. He goes to the UN and says: “The situation in Syria is intolerable and we’re going to do something about it,” and a few days later they did. Russia commenced bombing groups that the US had labeled “the moderate opposition” to Bashar al-Assad. The quandary for the US, of course, as Mr. Putin pointed out at the UN, is that we keep on arming and training “moderate oppositions” to this regime and that regime and abracadabra (to use an old Middle Eastern term-of-art) they break bad on us. They use the Humvee’s we give them to control the landscape and they blow stuff up with the ordnance we give them, and cut off the heads of Americans on video in the rudest and cruelest manner imaginable. So, might we ask ourselves: is there anything to the US’s complaint that Russia is not bombing the right ISIS?

September 28, 2015. Tick Tick Tick.

September 21, 2015. Fed Cred Dead.

The economy is a two-headed monster. One head is the trade in real goods and real services. The other head is the financialized traffic in swindles and frauds that surrounds banking…Most of the remaining on-the-ground economy consists of people merely driving their cars absurd distances, burning gasoline, between exquisitely-tuned giant warehouse store operations that were designed to destroy local Main Street trade — and accomplished that, by the way, to the applause of the local citizens whose towns were destroyed (“We want bargain shopping!”). Now, of course, even WalMart is looking over its shoulder at the collapse of the complex arrangements that allowed it to metastasize across North America like some cancerous fungus. Globalism is winding down as the gargantuan matrix of Ponzi schemes based on owed money dissolves debt by debt….A few decades ago, the suburban arrangement of daily life seemed like a good idea. You buy cheap land 27 miles outside what used to be a functioning (now obsolete) city. Build lots and lots of houses out of cheap, shitty materials such as strand-board and vinyl, pave a lot of new roads, line many of them with even shittier strip-mall buildings and Big Box “power centers,” and there you have a wonderful basis for an economy. That was more or less the Ronald Reagan Utopia. Now it’s all aging badly, fraying, too costly to fix and, increasingly, not worth scraping off the land and replacing with a new cheap, shitty building…The Federal Reserve itself is the victim du jour of its own grandiose fatuous fecklessness, in particular the idea that it could play a national economy like a three-button flugelhorn. What seemed like a good idea at the time when Alan Greenspan and then Ben Bernanke stepped into the pilot house now just looks like the fraud of frauds: enabling corporations to borrow ever more money from the future to pretend that their balance sheets are sound. That scam has nowhere left to go, except into the black hole that has been waiting for it.  Meanwhile, what remains on the other head of this two-headed economy besides driving to-and-from the Walmart? Pornography? The tattoo industry? Meth and narcotics? Prostitution? Professional sports on the flat screen? Kim and Kanye? Grand theft auto? Do you really think Donald Trump can fix this?

September 14, 2015. The Parties Crawl Off to Die.

I‘ve alluded to being a registered Democrat now and again, a disclosure that makes some readers go feral with wrath. For years I could only justify it as formal opposition to the cretinous brand of Republicanism that washed over the country like a septic wave with the reign of that sainted pompadour-in-search-of-a-brain, Ronald Reagan, whose “morning in America” bromide was among the biggest whoppers of my lifetime. With Reagan, we got the officially-sanctioned marriage of right wing politics and the most moronic strains of Southland evangelical religiosity. (Ronnie stated more than once his belief that Biblical “end times” were close at hand, which should have raised the question of his actual concern for the nation’s future — did he think it had one? — but nobody ever asked him about it.) George H. W. Bush expressed a similar view, perhaps merely pandering to the dolts of Dixie.  Who in his right mind could have subscribed to that load of bullshit? …More than once I’ve referred to the earlier period in US history, the 1850s, when the political compass points shook loose and parties died. The Whigs disappeared altogether (and fast!) and the Democrats became a rump party of southern slavers. Well, the two major parties of our time are now perfectly poised to enter the Temple Grandin cattle chute of death. But history doesn’t repeat, of course, it only rhymes, and this time there are no other political parties standing by to take their place, no credible institutions, certainly no one like Lincoln. There are only Bernie Sanders and the execrable Trump.
Sanders functions nicely as a foil to the flying reptile. But the self-labeled socialist has a big problem. The public may be simmering with grievance, but my guess is that they are not especially hot for more redistribution of the national wealth — that is, whatever little remains in the hands of a sore beset former middle class. The absence of any other reputible figure on the Democratic “bench” belies a party now more hollow than a supermarket Easter egg. What we see gathering is a political storm as perfect as the typhoon that has formed in banking. Surely the financial storm will strike first and it will leave the public stupefied with loss. I would not even bet against the possibility of the 2016 selection being canceled in some manner. Imagine, for instance, what the Pentagon brass thinks of Trump. And what they are planning for him. Just sayin’.

September 6, 2015. There Goes Europe.

The desperate wish in what is loosely called the West to at least appear morally correct is unfortunately over-matched by the desperation of people fleeing unstable, overpopulated places outside the West, and it is a fiasco beyond even the events of the moment. The refugee / immigrant crisis around the Mediterranean is a preview of a horror show to which there is no end in sight, and is certain to escalate. So anyone who indulges in fantasies about organizing an orderly, rational distribution of displaced persons for the current wave, is badly missing the point. Wave beyond wave awaits after the this one.  Yes, the tragic intrusions of the US military in Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and elsewhere have been reckless and stupid. But that is not the whole story. The desert nations of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have populations abnormally swollen by a century of oil-and-gas-based agriculture, really by the benefits of Modernity in general. Now that the oil age is chugging to an unruly crack-up, and Modernity with it, and the earth’s climate is doing wonky things, and the rich nations to the north have faked their finances to the point of bankruptcy, well, circumstances have changed.

In the years ahead, populations will be fleeing and shifting from many more unfavorable corners of the world. The pressures are mounting all over. Alas, the richer nations in which the fleeing poor aspire to gain a foothold, will also be contending with the disabling effects of a universal economic contraction — the winding down of the techno-industrial system and the global economy with it. That process has the potential to shatter political unions, overthrow established social orders, and provoke wars between the demoralized countries who still possess dangerous military hardware. At the least, it will produce economic conditions in Europe and North America probably worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s.

So, the idea that the nations currently bethinking themselves “rich” can take in, shelter, and employ the masses fleeing MENA (and elsewhere) is absurd. Somehow the people in charge, plus the intellectual classes who shape opinion and consensus, are going to have to arrive at some clear notion of limits and boundaries. It is actually happening in parts of Europe right now, extempore, where the immediate crisis is worst, for the moment in Italy, Greece, and Hungary — which first interned the refugees and then let them loose on the road to Vienna, probably only a way-station to Germany. Soon all nations across Europe will be agonizing, shucking, jiving, or improvising some sort of desperate response.

Among other confusions of policy and intention, the public “debate” so far does not make any distinction between true political refugees fleeing for their lives or economic migrants seeking to improve their prospects elsewhere. It is surely easy to empathize with both categories of persons, but that doesn’t mean you give up the control of your borders just to make yourself feel better. That is pretty much what has happened in the USA, where the Left, for political expediency, has deemed it indecent to call “illegal” immigrants what they are, and the Right has just been pusillanimous and hypocritical about it. H

Likewise, the rise of Marine LePen in France, Geert Wilders in Holland, and other parties seeking limits to immigration, perhaps even deportations. Personally, I reject the idea that it’s “racist” to want to preserve one’s national culture and character (especially in language), or to favor bona fide citizens for gainful employment. Europe has the additional obvious problem of an immigrant Islamic population overtly hostile to European culture and tradition. Why is it morally imperative for Europeans to countenance what amounts to low-grade warfare?

The situation that smoldered for decades is now exploding. Don’t expect to see any end to desperation and instability in MENA, but do expect new demographic crises out of other regions: Indonesia, Ukraine, Pakistan, West Africa, and Brazil, with its cratering economy. It’s not inconceivable that China might bust apart politically, with centrifugal consequences. The global economy is contracting. We have indeed attained the limits to growth. Cheap oil is bygone and the capital infrastructure we have won’t run on expensive oil — including the oil industry itself. New technology or further central bank legerdemain is not going to fix that. We’re in population overshoot and a scramble is underway to bail on the places that just can’t support the people who live there. National boundaries will be defended. Sentimentalists will have to step aside. History is not a bedtime story about bunnies and kittens.

August 31, 2015. Say Goodbye to Normal.

The tremors rattling markets are not exactly what they seem to be. A meme prevails that these movements represent a kind of financial peristalsis — regular wavelike workings of eternal progress toward an epic more of everything, especially profits! You can forget the supposedly “normal” cycles of the techno-industrial arrangement, which means, in particular, the business cycle of the standard economics textbooks. Those cycles are dying.

They’re dying because there really are Limits to Growth and we are now solidly in grips of those limits. Only we can’t recognize the way it is expressing itself, especially in political terms. What’s afoot is a not “recession” but a permanent contraction of what has been normal for a little over two hundred years. There is not going to be more of everything, especially profits, and the stock buyback orgy that has animated the corporate executive suites will be recognized shortly for what it is: an asset-stripping operation.

What’s happening now is a permanent contraction. Well, of course, nothing lasts forever, and the contraction is one phase of a greater transition. The cornucopians and techno-narcissists would like to think that we are transitioning into an even more lavish era of techno-wonderama — life in a padded recliner tapping on a tablet for everything! I don’t think so. Rather, we’re going medieval, and we’re doing it the hard way because there’s just not enough to go around and the swollen populations of the world are going to be fighting over what’s left.

Actually, we’ll be lucky if we can go medieval, because there’s no guarantee that the contraction has to stop there, especially if we behave really badly about it — and based on the way we’re acting now, it’s hard to be optimistic about our behavior improving. Going medieval would imply living within the solar energy income of the planet, and by that I don’t mean photo-voltaic panels, but rather what the planet might provide in the way of plant and animal “income” for a substantially smaller population of humans. That plus a long-term resource salvage operation.

All the grand movements of stock indexes and central banks are just a diverting sort of stagecraft within the larger pageant of this contraction. The governors of the Federal Reserve play the role of viziers in this comic melodrama. That is, they are exalted figures robed in magical Brooks Brothers summer poplin pretending to have supernatural power to control events. You can tell from their recent assembly out west — “A-holes at the J-hole” — that they are very much in doubt that their “powers” will continue to be taken seriously. This endless hand-wringing over a measly quarter-point interest rate hike is like some quarrel among alchemists as to whether a quarter-degree rise in temperature might render a lump of clay into a gold nugget.

What they do doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that a great deal of the notional “wealth” they conjured up over the past decade or so is about to vanish —poof! Perhaps that will look like a black magic act. That wealth seemed so real! The bulging portfolios with their exquisite allocations! The clever options! The cunning shorts. Especially the canny bets in dark derivative pools! All up in a vapor. The sad truth being it was never there in the first place. It was just an hallucination induced by the manipulation of markets and the criminal misrepresentation of statistics, especially the employment numbers.

I have to say it again: prepare to get smaller and more local. Things on the grand level are not going to work out. Get your shit together locally, and do it in a place that has some prospect for keeping on: a small town somewhere food can be grown and especially places near the inland waterways where some kind of commercial exchange might continue in the absence of the trucking industry.

August 24, 2015. Worse Than Hitler.

Immigration is a practical problem, with visible effects on-the-ground, easy to understand. I’m enjoying the Trump-provoked debate mostly because it is a push back against the disgusting dishonesty of political correctness that has bogged down the educated classes in a swamp of sentimentality…But for me, everything else about Trump is frankly sickening, from his sneering manner of speech, to the worldview he reveals day by day, to the incoherence of his rhetoric, to the wolverine that lives on top of his head…Did any of you catch Trump’s performance last week at the so-called “town meeting” event in New Hampshire? Trump told the audience he was “very smart” 23 times… This is a man whose lifework has been putting up giant buildings that resemble bowling trophies, some of them in the service of one of the worst activities of our time, legalized gambling, which is based on the socially pernicious idea that it’s possible to get something for nothing…
Trump’s verbal incoherence is really something to behold. He’s incapable of expressing a complete thought without venturing down a dendritic maze of digressions, often leading to an assertion of how much he is loved…When he attacked Jeb’s statement that we have to show Iraqi leaders that “we have skin in the game,” Trump invoked the “wounded warriors,” saying “I love them. They’re everywhere. They love me.” In the immortal words of Tina Turner, “what’s love got to do with it?

Trump’s notion that he can push around world leaders such as Vladimir Putin by treating them as though they were president of the Cement Workers’ Union ought to give thoughtful people the vapors. It doesn’t seem to occur to Trump that other countries could easily get pugnacious towards us. He would have us in a world war before the inaugural parade was over.

The trouble is that it’s not inconceivable Trump could get elected. Farfetched, perhaps, but not out of the question. The USA is heading for a very rough patch of history… The country stands an excellent chance of waking up some morning soon to discover it is broke and broken. When that happens, all the anxiety and animus will be focused on looking for scapegoats, and they are likely to be the wrong ones. World leaders considered Hitler a clown in the early going, too, you know. But the Germans were wild about him. He pushed a lot of the right buttons under the circumstances. Trump is worse than Hitler. And the American people, alas, are now surely a worse lot of ignorant, raging, tattooed slobs than the German people were in 1933. Be very afraid.

August 17, 2005. True Believers.

July 27, 2015. Potemkin Party.

There is no Democratic Party anymore. There …is no will to oppose the lumbering parasitic corporatocracy that is doing little more than cluttering up this moment in history while it sucks the last dregs of value from our society. I say this as a lifelong registered Democrat but a completely disaffected one — who regards the Republican opposition as the mere errand boy of the above-named lumbering parasitic corporatocracy. Readers are surely chafing to insert that there is Bernie Sanders, disdaining Wall Street money, denouncing the current disposition of things with the old union hall surliness we’ve grown to know and love. I’m grateful that Bernie is in the race, I just don’t happen to think that Bernie gets what the country — indeed what all of techno-industrial society — is really up against, namely a long emergency of economic contraction and collapse.
These circumstances require a very different agenda than just an I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill redistributionist scheme. Lively as Bernie is, I don’t think he offers much beyond that, as if cadging a little more tax money out of WalMart, General Mills, and Exxon-Mobil will fix what is ailing this sad-ass polity. The heart of the matter is that our way of life has shot its wad and now we have to live very differently. Almost nobody wants to even try to think about this.

The “to do” list for rearranging the basic systems of daily life in America is long and loaded with opportunity. Every system that is retooled contains jobs and social roles for people who have been shut out of the economy for two generations. If we do everything we can to promote smaller-scaled local farming, there will be plenty of work for lesser-skilled people to do and get paid for. Saying goodbye to the tyranny of Big Box commerce would open up vast vocational opportunities in reconstructed local and regional networks of commerce, especially for young people interested in running their own business. We need to prepare for localized clinic-style medicine…..

Oh, by the way, notice that the lead editorial in Monday’s New York Times is a plea for transgender bathrooms in schools. What could be more important?

July 20, 2015. Trump Hits a Bump.

Was it Donald Trump or the wolverine that lives on top of his head who made the dumb crack over the weekend about Senator John McCain not being a war hero? After all, that ambiguous patch of ginger-colored fur has taken on a life of its own. If I were Trump, I’d simply disown the remark and say that the hair-thing blurted it out, ventriloquist-style, because he (Donald) forgot to feed it that morning….It’s obvious that much of the developed world is now sore beset by past immigration policy choices and by the current inrush of desperate souls fleeing the evermore general breakdown of societies across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). European pols are at least willing to have the debate, unappetizing as it might be. This dreaded political dance is now occurring against the background of a probable financial breakdown across Europe. When the utopian project of the European Union fails, as seems likely now due to the sovereign debt fiasco, I suspect that we will see a renewed effort to defend national cultures — French, German, and all the rest — in a manner that has a great potential for turning ugly. Financial failure means the death of the current banking system and the disappearance of massive notional wealth, and if that isn’t a recipe for extreme nationalism (plus xenophobia) than we are truly blind to the lessons of history…. Europe is in a whole heap of trouble in the event that the Euroland project falls on its face. This is perhaps beyond the question of merely preserving national identities. I think we will live to see an era of mass expulsions, fair or not.

Were I a pol, I would propose a “time-out” from immigration of all kinds. The USA did it before, in the 1920s, after a half-century of prodigious immigration when new states needed to be settled, and new industries needed to be manned, and new cities needed to be built. We are not in the same circumstances anymore. The empty places have been filled (and then some). The factories were banished to China and elsewhere. Some of America’s farming regions aren’t working out so well a hundred years later — Nebraska has been depopulating and God knows what the fate will be of California’s Central Valley as the epochal drought creeps forward.

Meanwhile, notice today’s headline from the fabled “newspaper of record” (The New York Times): Women Who Dye Their (Armpit) Hair

Yes, these are the mighty issues that concern us most.

July 6, 2015. Welcome to Blackswansville.

The Greeks may not recognize this, but they are in the vanguard of a movement that is wrenching the techno-industrial nations back to much older, more local, and simpler living arrangements. The Euro, by contrast, represents the trend that is over: centralization and bigness. The big questions are whether the latter still has enough mojo left to drag out the transition process, and for how long, and how painfully.

World affairs suffer from the disease of terminal excessive complexity. To make matters worse, much of the late-phase complexity operates in the service of accounting fraud of one kind or another. The world’s banking system is mired in the unreality of so many unmeetable obligations, cooked books, three-card-monte swap gimmicks, interest rate euchres, secret arbitrages, market manipulation monkeyshines, and countless other cons, swindles, and hornswoggles that all the auditors ever born could not produce a coherent record of what has been wreaked in the life of this universe (or several parallel universes). Remember Long Term Capital Management? That’s what the world has become.

What happens in the case of untenable complexity is that it tends to unravel fast and furiously. That’s exactly why avalanches and earthquakes happen all at once, not stretched out over a six week period. The global financial scene not so different. It’s just another matrix of linked mutually-supporting relationships that can implode if a few members weaken.

One question worth reflecting on is whether the implosion is actually well underway on-the-ground in real economies, with just the scrim of illusion to make the surface appear intact. That surely seems to be the case in the USA, where the so-called economy has already avalanched into a rubble heap of part-time scut jobs, defaulted college loans, underwater mortgages, and groaning pension funds — with an overlay of pointless and endless motoring.

Over in Euroland, the Greek “no” also implies that every other sovereign nation wallowing in deep financial shit will demand a haircut (and a disinfectant shower). Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and even France cannot possibly meet their debt obligations. Their citizens are being taunted with currency controls, too, and they have every bit as much potential to go ape-y as the Greeks. Notice you haven’t heard much from their leaders and financial ministers in recent weeks. They are all standing on the sidelines watching the Greeks go through the wringer — but you can be sure they are all making plans of their own.

The failure of the European experiment will be extremely demoralizing to the hopeful citizens of that continent, who emerged from the bloodbath of the early 20th century to become the world’s premier peaceful tourist theme park. I don’t know that they necessarily have to go back to fighting each other on battlefields with things that blow up and destroy human flesh, but they surely have to decentralize and re-fashion some kind of simpler, local way-of-life if they expect to remain civilized.

It’ll happen everywhere. The Japanese are next, of course, and they may be the most fortunate, since they retain more than a few shreds of memory for exactly that mode of life: the Tokugawa shogunate (the Edo period, 1600 – 1853), a manner of high pre-industrial economy and culture that might have persisted indefinitely had not Commodore Perry come knocking on their door.

Ukraine is about halfway back to being medieval with excellent potential to overshoot even that. The Euroland PIIG(F) nations don’t have the energy resources to extend Modernity, even if the banking system wasn’t terminally ill, and then on top of that they have the ethno-demographic quandary of creeping Muslimization — plus the additional flotillas of desperate boat people arriving daily.

America, count your blessings. Tattoos, obesity, drug use, and shiftlessness are all basically behavioral choices. You don’t need a finance minister or a central banker to overcome those problems.

June 29, 2015.  System Turmoil, Structural Reform.

All this trouble with money comes from one meta problem: aggregate industrial growth has ended. It has stopped more in some parts of the world than others, while in the USA it has actually been contracting. The cause is simple: the end of cheap energy, oil in particular.  The bottom line is that the world can no longer count on getting more stuff, except waste, garbage, political unrest, and the other various effects of entropy. From now on, there is only less of everything for a global population that has not stopped growing.

This dynamic was plain to see a decade ago, but the people who run finance and governments thought it would be a good idea to maintain the appearance of growth via the usufruct mechanisms of central banking: ZIRP, QE, market intervention, and universal accounting fraud. It’s not working so well. Debt was generated in place of the missing growth, and now there is too much of it that can’t be repaid on a coherent schedule. Many nations, parties, and entities are in trouble with debt and the prospective defaults are starting to pile up like SUVs on a fog-bound highway. Greece is just the first one fishtailing into a guard-rail.

The magic moment will come when it becomes obvious that these systemic quandaries have no solution. The system itself is programmed for implosion, in particular and most immediately the banking sector, where most of the untruth and illusion is lodged these days. As it stands exposed, the people are compelled to shake off their faith in what it represents: order, authority, trust. Institutions fail and each failure acts as a black hole, sucking air, light, and even time out of the system.

In the natural course of things, structural reform can occur, but that natural course entails some degree of disorder and loss. If Deutsche Bank or Goldman Sachs founders a lot of people will be living in their cars — a first stop perhaps to not living at all. Sooner or later, though, the survivors will all have to live differently. Structural reform means, for instance, that you can no longer count on getting food the way you were used to getting it. No more 3000-mile Caesar salads and take-out tubs of Kung Po Chicken. That will be very traumatic in the early going. Eventually in the places where it is possible to grow food on a smaller scale, it will be done.

Americans think that WalMart and its brethren are here to stay. They’re mistaken. Structural reform means reorganizing many layers of commerce around town centers — Main Streets — while the disintegrating strip malls await the salvage crews. Are we ready for that? Rebuilding local economies would put a lot of people back to work doing real things. All the blabber about “job creation” for the moment is only about increasing the share price of predatory corporations and the bonuses of their mendacious executives. Will the world miss them?

Do you fear the end of mass motoring and the suburban infrastructure that it operates in? Maybe your children and their children will be happier in walkable neighborhoods — outlandish as that sounds. There is a hell of lot of rebuilding to do. It may not involve materials like strand-board and vinyl siding, but the newer and smaller buildings will probably last a whole lot longer and look better. And a lot of hands will be needed to do the work.

June 1, 2015. Twenty-Three Geniuses.

June 18, 2007.  Both Ways.

It seems to me you can call the situation in Iraq a lot of things, but it’s not a war. Not at this point, anyway. Call it an unsuccessful nation-building project, a failed occupation, a botched policing job, a monkey-in-the-middle clusterfuck. All the US political factions, from left to right, do the public a disservice by calling it a war, because it misrepresents what we’re doing there.

We’re involved in Iraq because we don’t want to begin thinking about modifying our behavior at home. We are desperate to preserve our access to Middle East oil because that is the only way we can keep running our society the way we’re used to running it.

Mostly, we don’t want to face the tragic misinvestments we’ve made in the infrastructure of happy motoring, and we don’t want to face the inconvenient truth that there really isn’t any combination of alternative fuels that will permit us to keep running all the cars the way we like to run them. Either we keep getting the oil or say goodbye to the American Dream Version 2.K.

The public has now decided that this nation’s primary mission is to find some magic way to keep the cars running on a fuel other than gasoline. Everyone from the greenest greenies to the most medieval-minded Kansas Republican senator has joined in this collective wish. They are certain to be disappointed. All the Priuses in the world will not avail to save the Drive-In Utopia. The public will learn painfully what Iraq is all about.

Every time somebody blames the politicians for this predicament, I’m reminded that the politicians are actually doing a fine job of representing what their constituents want. What they want is to not change their behavior. Not even the science and technology folks want to think about changing our behavior. They just want to find new ways to continue the old behavior. They’re invested in the triumphal effort to come up with a happy motoring rescue remedy. Their techno-cred is on the line. They all want to be the first kid in their housing subdivision to run a car on dark matter.

So, we’ve gone to Iraq on the quixotic mission to stabilize-and-pacify this key territory in the greater region of the Middle East, so we can keep getting oil imports out of there in a reliable and orderly way, so we can keep on driving all our cars. And the whole thing has turned out rather badly.

Now there is another consensus forming. Across the political spectrum, from the far left to the far right, elected officials are now clamoring to “stop the war in Iraq.” By this they mean get US troops out. What cracks me up is their juvenile belief that being there is somehow optional for us, that we can keep on running WalMart and Walt Disney World without paying any price for it in the costs of policing the Middle East.

If we don’t maintain a military presence in Iraq, it is perfectly plain what will happen: Iran will instantly gain control of the southern Iraq oil fields. Iraq doesn’t have an army anymore. It is incapable of preventing Iran from acquiring control of its territory. From that vantage, Iran would also effectively threaten the sovereign existence of Kuwait. Then there is the question of how much instability Iran could generate next door in the Shia-dominated Persian Gulf shoreline region of Saudi Arabia, where most of that nation’s oil lies. (Meanwhile, there will be plenty more Iran-inspired mayhem in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.)

It seems to me the answer to all this is clear: the first thing the US has to do is reach a different consensus about our behavior here at home, starting with the proposition that the happy motoring era must end. If we’re not willing to do that, we’re eventually going to lose both at home and in our struggles abroad. You can be sure that coming disturbances in the oil markets will make suburban life untenable while exhaustion and bankruptcy breaks our military.

The air waves and internet sites are full of blather now about ending the “war” and bringing the troops home. The presidential candidates are agonizing over their various positions on the Iraq adventure. I’d like to hear one of them tell me how Atlanta is going to function without Middle Eastern oil, or how WalMart will move its merchandise from San Pedro to Lansing without a “warehouse on wheels,” or how the thousands of yellow school bus fleets will carry on next September.

Actually, instead, I’d like to hear talk about drastically reforming our zoning laws to discourage any more suburban development or a pitch to allow some of our tax money to fund a US passenger rail revival. I’d like to see a candidate refuse to attend a Nascar race on the grounds that it’s an unconscionably stupid @#%$ waste of energy resources.

I’m waiting for one of these birds to tell the American people the truth: you can’t have it both ways. you can’t get our military out of the Middle East without changing the way we live.

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