Category Archives: Abject stupidity

Peak Fracking

Kunstler has a habit of speculation about the future with at best, partial information. But on this subject, he is spot on! Shale oil is a mirage. It is a secondary recover scheme that only works when there is plenty of money financing this crazy difficult / expensive scheme. In many cases, shale exploration does not even cover the investment in purely energy terms so eventually, even the hot money boys will find something else to do.

Of course, none of this is especially new. I knew folks in 1960s oil patch North Dakota who could have predicted that the long-term outcome for such scheme was non-producing wells.

Enjoy Kunstler at his most informative.

Party On, Dudes

James Howard Kunstler , February 9, 2018
Clusterfuck Nation

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As of this week, the shale oil miracle launched US oil production above the 1970 previous-all-time record at just over ten million barrels a day. Techno-rapturists are celebrating what seems to be a blindingly bright new golden age of energy greatness. Independent oil analyst Art Berman, who made the podcast rounds the last two weeks, put it in more reality-accessible terms: “Shale is a retirement party for the oil industry.”

It was an impressive stunt and it had everything to do with the reality-optional world of bizarro finance that emerged from the wreckage of the 2008 Great Financial Crisis. In fact, a look the chart below shows how exactly the rise of shale oil production took off after that milestone year of the long emergency. Around that time, US oil production had sunk below five million barrels a day, and since we were burning through around twenty million barrels a day, the rest had to be imported.

Chart by Steve St. Angelo at

In June of 2008, US crude hit $144-a-barrel, a figure so harsh that it crippled economic activity — since just about everything we do depends on oil for making, enabling, and transporting stuff. The price and supply of oil became so problematic after the year 2000 that the US had to desperately engineer a work-around to keep this hyper-complex society operating. The “solution” was debt. If you can’t afford to run your society, then try borrowing from the future to keep your mojo working.

The shale oil industry was a prime beneficiary of this new hyper-debt regime. The orgy of borrowing was primed by Federal Reserve “creation” of trillions of dollars of “capital” out of thin air (QE: Quantitative Easing), along with supernaturally low interest rates on the borrowed money (ZIRP: Zero Interest Rate Policy). The oil companies were desperate in 2008. They were, after all, in the business of producing… oil! (Duh….) — even if a giant company like BP pretended for a while that its initials stood for “Beyond Petroleum.”

The discovery of new oil had been heading down remorselessly for decades, to the point that the world was fatally short of replacing the oil it used every year with new supply. The last significant big fields — Alaska, the North Sea, and Siberia — had been discovered in the 1960s and we knew for sure that the first two were well past their peaks in the early 2000s. By 2005, most of the theoretically producible new oil was in places that were difficult and ultra-expensive to drill in: deep water, for instance, where you need a giant platform costing hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention armies of highly skilled (highly paid) technicians, plus helicopters to service the rigs. The financial risk (for instance, of drilling a “dry hole”) was matched by the environmental risk of a blowout, which is exactly what happened to BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico, with clean-up costs estimated at $61 billion.

Technology — that El Dorado of the Mind — rode to the rescue with horizontal drilling and fracturing of ”tight” oil-bearing shale rock. It was tight because of low permeability, meaning the oil didn’t flow through it the way it flowed through normal oil-bearing rocks like sandstone. You had to sink a pipe down, angle it horizontally into a strata of shale only a few meters thick, and then blast it apart with water under pressure and particles of sand or ceramic called propants, the job of which was to hold open those fractures so the oil could be sucked out. Well, it worked. The only problem was you couldn’t make any money doing it.

The shale oil companies could get plenty of cash-flow going, but it all went to servicing their bonds or other “innovative” financing schemes, and for many of the companies the cash flow wasn’t even covering those costs. It cost at least six million dollars for each shale well, and it was in the nature of shale oil that the wells depleted so quickly that after Year Three they were pretty much done. But it was something to do, at least, if you were an oil company — an alternative to 1) doing no business at all, or 2) getting into some other line-of-work, like making yoga pants or gluten-free cupcakes.

The two original big shale plays, the Bakken in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford in south Texas, have now apparently peaked and the baton has passed to the Permian Basin in west Texas. If the first two bonanzas were characteristic of shale, we can look forward not very far into the future when the Permian also craps out. There are only so many “sweet spots” in these plays.

The unfortunate part of the story is that the shale oil miracle only made this country more delusional at a moment in history when we really can’t afford to believe in fairy tales. The financial world is just now entering a long overdue crack-up due to the accumulating unreality induced by Federal Reserve interventions and machinations in markets. As it continues to get unglued — with rising interest rates especially — we will begin to see the collapse of the bonding and financing arrangements that the fundamentally unprofitable shale “miracle” has been based on. And then you will see the end of the shale “miracle.” It is likely to happen very quickly. It was fun while it lasted. Now comes the hard part: getting through this without the nation completely losing its marbles and doing something stupid and desperate — like starting another merry little war. more

Oh goody—another dirty climate conference

Someday soon, humanity must make organizing and attending climate conferences a capital crime. These things are worse than useless but they grind on because the folks who like these sorts of things are convention planners. It's what they do. This year's climate extravaganza is being held in Bonn Germany. No one knows why or what they hope to accomplish. An estimated 23,000 people are descending on a tiny little backwater that is obvious ill-equipped to handle them—belching thousands of tons of CO2 on their sacred journeys of self-importance.

If anyone suggests that anything important could be accomplished with video-conferencing, the face-to-face crowd reacts in horror. According to them, those who would eliminate these conferences are the worms of humanity—the introverts. Since the only legitimate way to call these conferences a success would be the ability to point at falling CO2 levels, and that clearly has not happened after 23 years of conferencing, a sane person would try something else. But these folks cannot even progress to video conferencing. And since few or none of them seem willing to grapple with the problems of progressing from legislating outcomes to funding outcomes, we can assure ourselves that no meaningful progress will happen anytime soon.

Climate change is a Producer Class problem that will only respond to Producer Class solutions. Climate conferences are extreme manifestations of Leisure Class behavior. Pretty much explains why they are useless. After all, useless is the primary goal, the heaven, of the Leisure Class.

COP23: Is the Bonn summit worth the trouble?

Dave Keating (Bonn, Germany) 08.11.2017

In the first part of our COP Secret series, we take a look at how UN climate summits have become mammoth events with high carbon emissions - which is why there's some grumbling that the yearly ritual has become a circus.

In 1995, at the first UN climate ‘conference of the parties' (COP) in Berlin, about 4,000 people gathered in a small venue to begin hashing out the rules of the Kyoto Protocol, which would be agreed two years later.

This week, 23,000 people are flooding into the small city of Bonn, Germany for what has become an incredibly complex, expensive and emissions-intensive yearly event. It's costing Germany €117 million ($135.5 million). Bonn has built two tent cities along the river Rhine the size of eight football fields. Participants must take a shuttle bus to travel between them.

"It's so confusing!" gasps one delegate as she rushes by with a rolling suitcase. "And nobody can tell me where to go!"

Two days in, the city's infrastructure is already under strain – and most people haven't even arrived yet. Bonn's public transport system was overwhelmed on Tuesday, with trams becoming so packed some people were forced to get off. Bonn's 9,000 hotel beds have been booked out for months, motivating many to stay in the nearby - and bigger - city of Cologne. But construction work on the tracks between the two cities has made traveling between them a nightmare.

This isn't the first time the former German capital, home to the UN's climate secretariat, has hosted a COP. In 1999, delegates worked together in Bonn to devise the rules of the already-agreed upon Kyoto Protocol. But just 4,188 people came to town for that summit – much more manageable.

The fact that so many delegates are attending this conference, in an interim year where no major decisions will be taken, shows just how important these summits have become. It's nowhere near the record 38,000 that came to Paris two years ago, but it is strikingly close to the 27,000 people who came to Copenhagen for the previous attempt to clinch a deal in 2009.

Too big?

Some are concerned about how enormous the climate summits have grown to become, saying they are too polluting and too expensive – requiring too much sponsorship by big corporations.

According to the UN, the 2009 Copenhagen summit emitted the equivalent of about 26,000 tons of CO2. But this does not include travel. According to an analysis by Wired Magazine, transportation for the Paris delegates emitted 300,000 tons of CO2. If the emissions can be avoided, wouldn't it be better to do a virtual conference?

The hosts are sensitive to these concerns. Germany held a press conference this morning explaining that the summit is "the greenest UN climate conference ever."

"The emissions have been really managed down, from the food that is served…right to the emissions that are coming from travelers all around the world coming to Bonn," UN climate spokesperson Nick Nuttall told DW.

A consultancy has been hired to calculate how much emissions were produced by the summit, and the result will be published afterwards. Those emissions will then be offset through climate financing from Germany, something undertaken by all hosts in recent years.

Still, wouldn't it be better to keep emissions down and not spend all of this money in the first place?

'We need the face-to-face'

Delegates at the summit told DW that although the logistics of attending such a huge summit can be difficult, it's worth it. "Nothing beats face-to-face time," said Hannah McKinnon from the NGO Oil Change International. "This is my tenth COP, and there's something very familiar about them at this point. You come and it's a nice reunion, you see a lot of your colleagues and friends that you really only see once a year."

But McKinnon didn't have to come far. She lives 400 kilometers up the Rhine in Freiburg, Germany, just two hours away by train. Her roundtrip journey will produce just 0.04 tons of carbon.

For Seydun Kane from Senegal, the journey was much longer and more stressful. He flew from Dakar to Paris, then to Dusseldorf – a journey which will emit two tons of carbon.

"We had some problems when we arrived in Dusseldorf, there was no translation, only German, and we cannot speak German," he said, adding that they then had train problems getting from Dusseldorf to Bonn. "We lost a lot of time."

He says the set-up of the enormous tent city, with two different locations separated by a shuttle bus, has been inconvenient.

"Everything is nice when you're inside the pavilion, but the problem is the transportation between the Bonn Zone and the Bula Zone," he said. "You need to leave the other side to come here, and sometimes you miss important events."

The organizers have said the event's massive size necessitates two separate zones for the negotiators and for the NGOs and businesses. But McKinnon says this can create symbolic difficulties, compared to previous smaller COPs where the two sides were closer and interacted more.

"With the Bonn and Bula zones being quite a ways apart, what does that mean for the interaction of the different constituencies?" she asked. "Will negotiators ever be over here? Those are questions that are not unique to Bonn."

A clean COP

McKinnon is an experienced COP attendee. For 20-year-old Kiran Ooman, a student at Seattle University, this is the first climate summit. His journey will emit 3.3 tons of CO2. He is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against President Trump and the US government for its inaction on climate change. He sees no problem with the fact that the summits have grown to such a huge size.

"I think it's a great thing, the more people are talking about this the more people might actually do something," he said. "I have been very impressed, meeting all of these incredible people from all over the world."

Savitree Srisuk, a specialist on environmental education from Thailand, says she thinks her German hosts are making an effort to mollify the environmental effects of the summit. A roundtrip flight from Bangkok to Bonn emits four tons of carbon.

"I feel like the German organizers are really concerned about the environment, and how people at this event can show their action in protecting the climate," she said.

"They're very concerned about the garbage, and how we use products in the pavilion. Anything that we use every day, like water and food, these things have to be eco products."

Hans Naome with the campaign group Nuclear for Climate had a much shorter journey. He drove from neighboring Belgium, a trip that will emit 0.17 tons of carbon. He had to take vacation days off work to come for the summit to advocate for the place of nuclear power as part of a zero-emissions energy mix. But he says it's worth it, especially for a cause like his which can encounter skepticism.

"If I wouldn't come to the COP, I wouldn't talk to the people I talk to – and most people have very little knowledge about nuclear," he said. "In general most of the people are willing to listen, and in the end it sometimes happens that we say, ok let's just agree to disagree. But most people are friendly. They've come here to talk and learn, and to broaden their horizons." more

The end of Wolfgang Schäuble’s evil madness?

Wolfgang Schäuble does not have a fan club around here because he is such a perfect neoliberal. (The list of my criticisms can be found here) But he has been accepted / praised in Germany because he has been the enthusiastic face of the German financial establishment. And what an ugly face that has been. Even by German standards, he is especially homely. If someone was casting a play and needed a devil to scare little children, he would be perfect. And I am pretty certain the Greeks whose lives he was destroying had no problem thinking of him as evil personified.

But the neoliberalism he was pitching was certain to be harming the German economy as well because it is an economic philosophy that causes a great deal of collateral damage. So it is with some pleasure I note that one of the more enlightened of the German economists, Heiner Flassbeck, has produced a stunningly accurate critique of Schäuble's crackpot mismanagement. Unfortunately for the Germans, the neoliberal bench is very deep. There are probably thousands of economists spread over all the political parties ready to make Schäuble look like a kindly old man. But the fact that he has been eased out as the FM may mean that there are corners of the German economic establishment who at least have questions about the "wisdom" of neoliberalism. It is 25 years too late but a turnaround must start somewhere.

Thank god, it’s over. Eight years of Wolfgang Schäuble

Heiner Flassbeck, 26. October 2017

Thank god, it’s over.

The most common claim in the German press about Wolfgang Schäuble’s eight years as Germany’s finance minister appeared again in the business daily Handelsblatt on Monday morning: “He saved the euro states and consolidated the budget”. That is to say: he was a German Hercules who saved entire nations and worked wonders in the financial-political sphere that have never been seen before.

That verdict can hardly be more wrong. It would be much closer to the truth to describe his achievement as follows: he drove euro nations to the brink of collapse and allowed the German state to record an enormous current account surplus at exactly the wrong time. Wolfgang Schäuble’s record in Europe should be mentioned in the same breath as his record in Germany, because the two cannot be separated.

Let’s start with Europe. The outgoing federal minister of finance, more than any other German finance minister before him, must be held responsible for the economic developments in Europe. As a European financial and political heavyweight, and in view of Germany’s unique historical role as a creditor for the whole of the EU, he dominated the Euro group and set the agenda for the so-called rescue of crisis states. The results were and continue to be catastrophic!

If one compares the economic development of the euro area after the global financial crisis with the only comparable economic area, the United States, the euro zone’s “performance” can at best be seen as inadequate. Even if we consider such a dubious benchmark as GDP, since 2012 growth in the euro-zone economy has remained more than five per cent below what it could have achieved if it had grown as strongly as the United States.

In other words, if the EU economy had grown as much as the US since 2009, European GDP today would be well over EUR 150 billion higher than the current figure. This is a considerable shortfall, even for such a large economic area. The simple reason is that, following a recovery comparable to that of the US recovery immediately after the global financial crisis, European economic policy changed tack in 2011 in an attempt to overcome its own crisis, with a fatal mixture of austerity and “structural reforms”.

According to official figures, today’s unemployment rate in Europe is still nine percent, while in the US it is approaching historical lows of well below five percent. Unemployment levels throughout southern Europe, including France, are still extremely high – and this is not due to the encrusted labour markets but solely to low growth momentum.

Europe is not only suffering from low growth and high unemployment; it has also failed to meet its inflation target. The European Central Bank (ECB) has been fighting deflationary trends with zero interest rates for years. This is heavily criticised in Germany, but at the same time we Germans do not want to believe that it was German wage deflation under the Social-Democrat/Green coalition of 2005 to 2010 [check dates] that sowed the seed of deflation in the euro zone.

This means that all the region’s macroeconomic goals are far from being achieved. Germans will object to this assertion, explaining that in Europe there were “structural” problems, excessively high government debt, and a lack of competitiveness. That made it impossible to solve the European economic crisis as easily as in the United States via macro-politics. But this is exactly where the real problem with Wolfgang Schäuble begins. He immediately adopted the theory that the financial crisis was caused by “excessive public debt”, only later adding the “lack of competitiveness of the southern European nations”. Both analyses were wrong.

Already in 2009, Mr Schäuble’s first year as German finance minister, an honest analysis would have revealed that the enormous gap in competitiveness among EU countries is largely due to German wage dumping initiated under the Social Democrat/Green government. Mr Schäuble should then have focused on the burgeoning German current account surplus. He should also have recognised that it was impossible for the other euro nations, which were running current account deficits and whose companies were reducing investment, to consolidate public finances without falling further into recession.

The adoption of an austerity policy at the beginning of the global economic crisis was simply absurd. Consequently the provisions of the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact should never have been so restrictive and no attempt should ever have been made to comply with them. Long before 2015 it should have been clear that no state could adhere to these targets without causing enormous economic self-harm and slipping deeper into crisis.

More importantly, the Euro group had also urged its member nations to “make labour markets more flexible” to combat the crisis, which meant reducing wages to “improve competitiveness”. This however led to a sharp decline in domestic demand, resulting in a further increase in unemployment. The Euro group and Mr Schäuble had expected exactly the opposite.

Mr Schäuble should have been aware of this cause and effect. And he should have fought accordingly for a change in German economic policy. That would however have meant convincing the population that for a nation with a high current account surplus, whose business sector was radically reducing its investment, and in the midst of the euro currency crisis, any attempt at consolidating the budgets of the euro nations was absurd. With a responsible and knowledgeable finance minister at the helm the mechanism for putting a brake on public borrowing would never have been adopted into the German constitution.

This is the crucial point in assessing Wolfgang Schäuble’s performance as German finance minister. The cause and effect we are talking about here are not easily understood, and one can be sure that he did not understand them. Unfortunately he believes that does not matter – even with hindsight. His curious advice to his incoming successor goes like this:

“He doesn’t have to be the greatest expert. That might even be dangerous, since he would then no longer listen to his advisers.”

And Mr Schäuble adds a claim that is hard to beat in outlandishness:

“Of course, it is important to try to comprehend things. But you must also be able to communicate it. Otherwise a politician is not doing his job.”

Apparently the man who held the fate of Europe in his hands for eight years believes that his advisers (his officials and the infinite number of “experts” in the central banks and international organisations) are always right, and that it is therefore best if the politician simply follows their advice. Obviously it never occurred to Mr Schäuble that his advisers might be fundamentally wrong. That is exactly what happens when you give a lawyer such an important economic policy position: he is deeply impressed by the “wisdom” and knowledge of his advisers and cannot carry out his political task of protecting the German and European people from a ruinous economic policy.

But Mr Schäuble goes even further – and this is frankly shocking – by claiming that you can communicate better if you know less. Up to now we were under the illusion that only those who really understand every detail of policy can communicate it in a credible and perspicacious manner. Now we learn that too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Why? Would it then no longer be possible for a finance minister to tell his voters that everything is going splendidly in Europe, although in reality things are only slightly improving? Would it be more difficult to declare that government debt is calamitous? Could Southern European nations no longer be blamed for the defects in the monetary union?

Now that it is too late, we finally know why Mr Schäuble never explained to the German public how monetary union works. Now we know why he never even tried to think of government debt in relation to savings and other sectors’ debts. Now we realize that it was sheer ignorance that drove him to follow the international institutions blindly when it came to “making labour markets in southern Europe more flexible”.

It is a pity that we are learning this only now, at the last moment, though we could at least learn something from it. Not only that Germany and Europe have eight lost years behind them, but also that the next German finance minister must be more able than his predecessor. The most important rule for the future is to remember that lawyers can’t do everything, even those who like Mr Schäuble are the sons of a Swabian Housewife. more

Ken Burns tries to explain Vietnam

It turns out there IS something worse than being historically illiterate and that is being historically misinformed. Ken Burns is a master of historical misinformation and his latest effort on Vietnam is truly ghastly. What a tragedy! I often claim that this country's failure to come to terms with that horrible and expensive adventure in late-stage colonialism pretty much explains the decline of this once pretty-interesting nation.

Take, for example, the horror that was Agent Orange. Some "genius" came to the conclusion that because the Viet Cong were so good at hiding out in their native jungles, the "solution" was to remove the jungles. And so 21+ MILLION gallons of the most toxic herbicide ever invented was sprayed on that poor nation killing wide areas of native foliage. Agent Orange was so dangerous that the folks who merely loaded it onto the airplanes used for spraying suffered long-term health effects including having children with birth defects.

Of course, compared to the suffering inflicted on those poor people on the receiving end of all that spraying, the damage to the USA troops was trivial. There are areas of Vietnam where serious birth defects are almost "normal." That does not make the pain suffered by the young mothers who must cope with these cruel reminders of some genius's chemical warfare any easier.

There was a small burst of interest in the problems caused by Agent Orange when they began to surface in the affected veterans. But seriously, the subject has not even begun to be treated on anything but the most superficial level. For me, any serious thinking on Agent Orange would include a comprehensive examination of the wasted genius that led to this horrible war crime. In order for Operation Ranch Hand (the cutesy name for the largest deliberate environmental catastrophe in recorded history) to succeed, thousands of engineering hours were spent designing and building a fleet of aircraft that could haul large loads of heavy liquid poison, designing a herbicide so lethal it could kill jungles, figuring out how to manufacture 21+ million gallons of the stuff, and delivering this massive load of poison to the other side of the planet. It took a lot of people who studied very hard to learn difficult and complex subjects to pull off this feat—people who otherwise looked and acted like regular middle-class citizens who would do things like coach Little League baseball.

Think about this for awhile. Star students are taught the most brilliant scientific facts Enlightenment thinking can produce and then are put to work designing and executing an ethical and environmental disaster. You tell me how this cannot seriously degrade a culture. When I discovered how involved my university was with such ventures, I just wanted to run away from the academic world. My epiphany came the day I discovered that my "favorite" PolSci professor had a big contract to help design the Phoenix Program—a nasty little operation of torture and assassination targeting the rural males of Vietnam for the "crime" of being educated.

I sort of understand why Ken Burns is so diligent about telling small stories while ignoring the big ones. Most probably it is because his worldview cannot even comprehend the big stories. And that goes double for the tote-bag crowd that watches PBS. Plus he gets paid large sums of money to create a kiddie version of history. The problem I have with little Kenny's kinderspiel is that people who are historically curious wind up being more ignorant for watching his efforts.

Does Vietnam Even Matter Any More? Does Ken Burns?

Robert Freeman | October 16, 2017

Do you remember when, in first grade, you made mosaics out of colored construction paper? You carefully cut the different pieces of paper into little half inch tiles and patiently pasted them onto a bigger paper with many other little tiles to make a picture of a whale, or George Washington, or a house. Remember?

The challenge of making a mosaic is that you have to hold both the micro- and the macro-view in your head at the same time. And you have to scope in and out between the two views, micro and macro, repeatedly, scores or even hundreds of times, to make it work. What color tile do you put in what place in order to form the particular picture you’re trying to create? The physical and mental dexterity demanded of the first-grade artist in doing it is exhilarating. Its mastery is exulting, which is why first-graders love to do it so much.

Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War series is like one part of that process, the scoping in. It has the micro view—the tile-level view of the War—down cold. The problem is that there’s no scoping out into a bigger picture. It provides no context, no historical meaning, and, most importantly, no moral message. It is, in a very real sense, one dimensional, a view of tiles so up-close that you can’t see what is the real picture of the War. That is its tragedy.

Now, to be sure, Burns’ artistry is unquestioned. The tile-level view that he does provide is riveting. Nobody does it better. Grunts slogging through elephant grass, lugging their M-60s, bandoliers of bullets slung over their shoulders. Soldiers bleeding out in the mud before the medevac can arrive. Napalm blossoming over the jungle, beautiful in its hellacious unfolding evanescence. Credence Clearwater Revival and The Byrds cued up at just the right moment. It’s a kaleidoscopic extravaganza for the sensate voyeur of military mayhem.

But history, conveyed as art, if devoid of context, meaning, and especially moral judgement is not really history. It is entertainment masquerading as history. It may be riveting, even titillating, but it should not be confused with anything like gravitas and certainly not with anything like a lesson, which is what we really need to be looking for in parsing the past, especially in something as destructive and divisive as the Vietnam War.

Yes, War is hell. Of course, mistakes were made. Obviously, there were many sides. Undoubtedly a lot of good intentions went bad. Believing that that tells us anything new, anything useful, is like licking the frosting off of the Frosted Flakes and pretending you’ve eaten breakfast. It’s all candy. War is hell no matter what the War. Mistakes are always made. There are always multiple sides. Good intentions so often go bad they have been memorialized into a cliché—the road to hell.

Besides, Thucydides showed us all of this in the Peloponnesian Wars back in 400 B.C. George Bernard Shaw updated it as satire in 1890 in Arms and the Man. If that’s all there is then we haven’t learned anything we didn’t already know before. In essence, we haven’t risen above the level of cliché, although we’re doing it with more panache and more sanctimonious self-congratulation.

Burns, his wealthy right-wing backers, and his legion of establishment promoters want us to believe his work is some kind of cultural sacrament, a divination, a Rosetta Stone we can use to decode the meaning of it all. But we can’t. It is literally not there. All we can see are the tiles, the individual pathos. There’s no scoping out. That is intentional.

This isn’t to say that there is no footage of higher ups, including plenty showing them lying. There is. Rather, it is to say that the walk-away emotional state demanded of the viewer of The Vietnam War is empathy. It’s a Greek word: em-pathos; putting pathos in. We are made to feel the soldiers’ suffering. Intensely. Relentlessly. That is the effective message of the work, the dominant feeling evoked in watching the series. However, as a cultural memoir of the War, as a touchstone for evaluating the War, or for judging other wars against a standard that might be latent in Vietnam, pathos does not begin to be enough.

Consider, for example, what we learn if we scope out just a little bit, like the first-grader has to do when making that mosaic. We can start to see what we don’t see in Burns’ fetishistically microscopic rendering of the War. Here are two paragraphs of facts that do not focus on the tile-level interpretation of the War and so convey an entirely different meaning about it.

The U.S. invaded and destroyed another country because that other country wanted a form of government different than the one the U. S. was willing to allow it to have. To prevent that country from exercising the “consent of the governed” that the U.S. deifies as the highest political expression of civilization, the U.S. killed six million Vietnamese, most of them civilians. That is the number from the government of Vietnam. The U.S. spent $168,000 for every enemy combatant it killed. The average Vietnamese earned $80 per year at the time. To carry out this act, the U.S. dropped 14 billion pounds of bombs on Vietnam, three times more than were used by all sides in all theaters of all of World War II combined.

The U.S. carried out industrial-scale chemical warfare on Vietnam, spraying it with 21 million gallons of the carcinogenic defoliant Agent Orange. It destroyed half of the nation’s forests, leaving the greatest man-made environmental catastrophe in the history of the world. When the U.S. destroyed neighboring Cambodia to cover its retreat from Vietnam, the communist Khmer Rouge came to power and carried out the greatest proportional genocide in modern history. The U.S. dropped 270 million cluster bombs on neighboring Laos, 113 bombs for every man, woman, and child in the country. Vietnam had never attacked the U.S., had never tried to attack it, had no desire to attack it, and had no capacity to attack it. All of this was justified through a purposeful campaign of lies to the American people that was sustained by five presidential administrations over more than two decades.

Notice that this level of focus, above the tile-level view that Burns insists we see, renders an entirely different understanding of the War. It is an understanding that Burns does not want us to have. He is, after all, a master documentarian, the best in the business, and if he had wanted us to have this vantage he could certainly have provided it. He didn’t.

Let’s scope out one more time and see if we can see anything else that Burns doesn’t want us to see.

For more than 400 years, Europeans had exploited developing world countries, making colonies of them in order to milk them of their resources. They became fabulously wealthy in the process. But in 1945, at the end of World War II, the European imperial states collapsed, victims of their own suicide, brought on by their starting two World Wars in only 30 years. The global imperial system, however, remained in place. The only question was who was going to dominate it and pick up those nations that had been colonies of the Europeans. It was the greatest land grab in the history of the world and the U.S. was determined that those former European colonies would now become its vassals so that they could enrich the U.S. as they had their European masters.

At the same time, the global capitalist system had collapsed in the Great Depression that preceded World War II and could not be revived without war. While the Western world was in Depression, the economy of the Soviet Union boomed, growing almost 400%. For developing world countries, it was an appealing alternative to the neo-colonial subjugation being offered by the U.S. And spending on weapons proved so powerful a means of transferring national wealth to the weapons makers it was graced with its own institutional moniker: military Keynesianism. Weapons spending lined the pockets of the weapons makers while providing the captains of finance the means to expand and hold their new-found global empire.

Again, notice that we get a very different perspective on the War by scoping out a little bit more. This is what Burns assiduously refuses to do—scope out so we can attain a better understanding of what it was all about. Yet, scoping out in this way is the only way to make sense of the whole thing, to put it into a context that imparts coherence, and meaning, and that allows us to make a judgement about it.

The point is that Vietnam wasn’t an aberration. It was simply the most violent case of the norm when countries refused to submit to U.S. domination. That is what the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran was about in 1953. It’s what the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala was about in 1954. It’s what the assassination of Lumumba in Congo was about in 1961. It’s what the bungled Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba was about in 1961. It’s what the invasion of the Dominican Republic was about in 1965. It’s what the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile was about in 1973. Can you see the advantage that context conveys for understanding? That’s precisely what Burns will not do.

The reason this is so important, and what makes Burns’ occlusion of it such a fraud is that, as William Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” This is what the destruction of Yugoslavia was about in the 1990s. It’s what the invasion of Iraq was about in 2003. It’s what the Honduras coup was about in 2009. Its what the invasion of Syria, albeit by jihadist proxies like al Qaeda and ISIS, was about beginning in 2011. It’s what the destruction of Libya was about in 2011. It’s what the coup in Ukraine was about in 2014.

Should we talk about North Korea in 2017? Venezuela in 2018? Iran, in 2019? Russia? China? As you can see, it never ends.

Burns is a very smart businessman. He makes millions of dollars on these cinemagraphic blockbusters. More than anything else, he doesn’t want to derail the gravy train. He doesn’t want to blow the franchise. He doesn’t want to have to burden his 40 million middlebrow viewers with anything like the weight of having to make moral judgments about their nation’s behavior. Or worse, having to take action when the same atrocities are committed in their name again and again and again and again.

It’s so much more profitable to make his viewers into moral eunuchs by assuring them that whatever trauma was inflicted on American GIs (and it’s pretty clear that they were the real victims in it all, right?) it was only because well-meaning people made some well-intended mistakes. After all, this is America, right?

If there were any meaningful lessons learned from Vietnam, they were learned by the military and the vast bureaucracies that profit from war. The media, in which Burns is a designated doyen, now serves as the freakishly effective propaganda instrument for this militarized state. After Vietnam it learned how to insulate the American people from the realities of war, embedding sycophantic reporters into front-line units so they could send back only idolizing stories of battlefield heroism, valor, sacrifice, bravery, comradery, and idealism. It has learned how to easily engineer consent for the literally endless wars that the empire and the financiers and weapons makers who run it demand.

Ken Burns and his Vietnam War are at once the progeny and perpetrators of this system. It is a surrealistic fantasy world where there are no venal motives, only benevolent ones gone awry, where there is really no blame because it was all well-intended to begin with, where complexity serves as exculpation for anything, and where there are so many sides it’s impossible to form moral judgements. As a result, it becomes impossible to express outrage, and therefore take action against ever newer, more slickly packaged atrocities.

Charles Beard called it “perpetual war for perpetual peace.” A far greater and more prescient American warned about where it inevitably leads. James Madison, the author of the Constitution wrote, “No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war.” By depriving us of the context and, therefore, knowledge of the purpose of the Vietnam War Ken Burns lulls us into passivity in the face of and acquiescence to this enveloping reality. We desperately need better sentinels. more

America’s Russia-gate Obsession – Sign of a Failing Nation

Can the people pushing Russia-gate possibly believe their own BS?? Was anyone so asleep during junior high math that they could believe that a $200,000 Facebook ad buy could swing an election where billions were spent on political persuasion? But the even bigger question is, How much damage can be done by the exposure of such massive stupidity on the international stage? While USA is clearly still the biggest bully in the neighborhood as measured by its willingness to spend so much money on weapons systems and soldiers in uniform, there are a LOT of ways to exercise power. Unfortunately for USA, these alternate methods rely heavily on the ability to convince the rest of the world that competent people are in charge. Between Donald Trump's inability to organize an effective government and the Democrats willingness to push the absurd storylines of Russia-gate, the illusion that USA is run by wise and virtuous people is taking massive hits below the waterline.

The imperial apparatus looks like it is in the process of collapse. The examples of this collapse are numerous but for me, the biggest sign of the loss of imperial power is the overdue attack on the petro-dollar.  So long as petroleum is traded in dollars, the USA can print as many dollars as it wants without fear of inflation because the world is effectively on an "oil standard." With the petro-dollar, multi-billion monthly merchandise trade deficits are essentially harmless. The petro-dollar advantage is so great that oil countries that attempted to opt out of the system—like Libya and Iraq—soon found themselves being destroyed by USA military aggression.

So now the Chinese and Russia have banded together to make war on the petro-dollar. Russia has a massive resource base while China has become an industrial superpower. Both have nukes and neither likes being pushed around. But probably the deciding factor in their decision to move against the petro-dollar now are the obvious demonstrations that USA is being run by badly-educated, misinformed, wildly-incompetent, fools. Ken Galbraith used to say that successful revolutions are usually a matter of someone kicking in a rotten door. Hard to imagine a door more rotten than one composed of Trump and those buffoons who are pushing the hoax that is Russia-Gate.

Humor is Where You Find It

Robert Gore, September 30, 2017

Looking for a good laugh? Consider the United States.
Football is a tedious game that fills three-and-a-half hours of airtime with 30 minutes of action, commercials, commentary, instant replays, more instant replays, closeups of pretty cheerleaders, and halftime pageantry. The players are paid great gobs of money but run the risk of rendering themselves concussive basket cases. The super rich owners hold up municipalities for taxpayer-funded stadiums while keeping the TV, ticket, merchandising, and concessions revenues. They’ve also climbed into bed with the federal government, accepting taxpayer money for promoting patriotism. Among other things, this requires players, who until 2009 could stay in the locker room while the National Anthem was played, to be on the field, presumably standing at respectful attention.

Presumably—aye, there’s the rub. Last season, quarterback Colin Kaepernick expressed his disagreement with certain governmental policies and practices by kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. Since then, other players have done the same, to the consternation of many fans, including President Trump. Ratings and attendance are tanking and the crony socialist owners are caught between the rock of their payrolls’ politics and the hard place of their fans’ disgust. To borrow from Oscar Wilde, one must have a heart of stone to ponder their plight without laughing. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer group of guys and gals.

Last year’s losing presidential candidate has written a book blaming virtually everyone for her loss…except the one person who was responsible. A cottage industry has sprung up to feed this self-exculpatory fantasy, affixing on Russia as the author of Hillary’s woes. Russia “hacked” DNC computers, except technically they couldn’t have been hacked, they were downloaded, an inside job. The materials Russia couldn’t have hacked were given by someone, presumably whoever downloaded them, to WikiLeaks, which disclosed them. Doing so, it committed the cardinal sin in contemporary American governance: disclosing the truth. In classic Clinton fashion, Hillary and team never contested the authenticity or veracity of the disclosures, instead concocting the Russian story.

Efforts to keep this fabrication going are a source of endless amusement. There have been evidence-free “assessments” from the intelligence agencies, a special counsel probing the tax returns of a Trump campaign manager who served all of two months, and now there are stories that “Russian-aligned” groups and RT bought a drop-in-the-bucket worth of ads on Facebook and Twitter during a campaign in which billions of dollars were spent on advertising, not counting the unpaid “donations” to Hillary from the mainstream media, pollsters, Google, and Facebook.

The purveyors of the Russian concoction are those desperately lonely schmucks who take the ugliest girls in the bar home at closing time because they’re the only ones left. The concoction is all they have. Let’s hope they have the decency to hate themselves in the morning.

America is like that high school all-everything—sports star, class president, valedictorian—who can’t accept that at the university, she’s just another student. For a brief shining moment after World War II it had an uncontested empire, but empires are notoriously hard to hang on to. Seventy years later the US has a string of “inconclusive” (never “losing”) wars, a lot of promises to its own citizens that aren’t going to be kept, and an empire that’s slipping away. Its chief adversaries—Russia, China, and Iran—are going about their business, consolidating economic and political power in the Eurasian center of the world.

They’ve been helped immeasurably by the comedy of errors that has been US policy in Syria. The same people who championed disastrous regime changes in Iraq and Libya set their sights on Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s duly elected leader. That this entailed crawling into bed with ISIS, an offshoot of al Qaeda, the outfit that reportedly attacked the twin towers and the Pentagon, seemed not to bother anyone. Neither did the fact that while we were supporting ISIS’s rebellion in Syria, we were also supporting the Iraqi government’s effort to quell ISIS’s rebellion in Iraq. Why is it that the butt of all the jokes often ends up picking up the tab? The US wasted tons of blood and treasury, accomplished none of its stated goals, and was humiliated when, at the request of Assad, Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah came in and routed ISIS. You can’t make this stuff up.

Even the US’s supposed friends can’t stifle their schadenfreude, having been under its domination for so long. Derisive joy is tempered by justified concern: in its arrogance and desperation to maintain its untenable position, those zany Americans might blow up the world. The president recently stood before the United Nations, an organization ostensibly devoted to peace, and said he’d destroy North Korea. Maybe it was all just posturing and hyperbole in good fun, but the North Koreans, and their next-door neighbors China and Russia, weren’t laughing.

The US has become an infantile nation. Not playing well with others, it demands the world conform to its dictates…or else. That or else is basically holding its breath until it turns blue, as it self-destructively plunges further into debt and wreaks havoc globally, instilling fear and hate, prompting vengeance. Fealty to a failing government and its symbols has become the sine qua non of a ritual, insecure patriotism. Real patriotism, loyalty to America’s founding ideals, demands opposing at every turn the government’s mindless, unprincipled, and voracious quest for power, treasure, and empire. If the flag and the National Anthem mean anything at all, they stand for the proposition that liberty must be defended and fought for, particularly against that which has always been its chief nemesis—government. Now, they only serve as sad markers of how much has been lost. more