Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year 2019

Happy New Year folks!

Extraordinary Musical Interlude: Renaissance, "Song of Scheherazade"

Renaissance, "Song of Scheherazade"

Be kind to yourself, turn down the lights, close your eyes, relax and take the time to savor this extraordinary live performance, highlighted by the incredible talent of Annie Haslam, whose 5 octave voice is on full display here. The high note she hits at the end is like nothing you have ever heard, or likely ever will, hear again. (Begin at 26:40) If angels exist, they sing like Annie Haslam. 

- CP

"A Look to the Heavens"

"Staring across interstellar space, the alluring Cat's Eye nebula lies three thousand light-years from Earth. A classic planetary nebula, the Cat's Eye (NGC 6543) represents a final, brief yet glorious phase in the life of a sun-like star. This nebula's dying central star may have produced the simple, outer pattern of dusty concentric shells by shrugging off outer layers in a series of regular convulsions. But the formation of the beautiful, more complex inner structures is not well understood. 
 Click image for larger sizes.
Seen so clearly in this sharp Hubble Space Telescope image, the truly cosmic eye is over half a light-year across. Of course, gazing into the Cat's Eye, astronomers may well be seeing the fate of our sun, destined to enter its own planetary nebula phase of evolution ... in about 5 billion years."

"A Choctaw Prayer"

“Oh Great Spirit Father, who sits on high beyond the heavens,
Creator of all life below, please hear my spiritual prayer.
For I seek guidance in a world where few can lay claim to eternal peace.

Grant me the vision to see beyond tomorrow's horizon, yet still
accept my daily trials, that must and will be faced to survive.
Give me the strength to rise each day and breathe the breath of life
that you have provided for me.

Touch my spiritual soul, so that I may use every moment to spread
your sacred message of love and peace for all mankind.
I ask only the privilege to speak my native tongue, and learn
the ways of my people, from generations of old.

Help me to understand and accept that we are of one body, and
God, as each spirit flows, from one to another in a sacred hoop.
Let the trails that bore my ancestors blood and tears, and the
chains that bound their freedom serve as reminders to all,
of our hate and savagery against one another, and ensure its
trust that we as a people choose never to repeat such ignorance.

Grant Mother Earth the strength to endure all injustices that have
been placed upon her, and cleanse her red clay body to renew her
growth for new generations to thrive. Shelter, clothe, and feed
the masses, for all owe you their daily prayers.

Embrace my mind and grant me the wisdom to seek and receive
my ancestral birthright.

Guide my feet down the passage of forgiveness, of those who have
severed my tribal ties, and help me to bind them once more.
Teach this child, oh Great One, the true lesson of life, its sacred
message of love, to spread freely beyond self, and among my
brothers and sisters throughout the duration of my earthly existence.

May your morning sun awaken this weary body, and your night
moon allow it to meditate and rest.

May your spirit continue to heal and instill within me the meaning of
this spiritual prayer, and trust that I use it to serve you well.”

- Choctaw Prayer

"The Purpose Of Life..."

“I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be "happy." I think 
the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate.
It is, above all, to matter and to count, to stand for something, 
to have made some difference that you lived at all.”
- Leo C. Rosten

"A Moment With the Sea: John Denver, 'Calypso'"

"A Moment With the Sea: John Denver, 'Calypso'"

Chet Raymo, “A Universal We?”

“A Universal We?”
by Chet Raymo

“I have a few words to say about Oxford anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse, and his thoughts on ritual as "the glue that holds social groups together." I was drawing on a story in the 24 January, 2013  issue of “Nature.” He is quoted further: "Emotionally intense rituals have bound us together and pitted us against our enemies throughout the history of our species. It was only when nomadic foragers began to settle down did we discover the possibilities for establishing much larger societies based on frequently repeated creeds and rituals." The big question, according to Whitehouse, is whether the "glue" of ritual can be extended to humanity at large.

Indeed. At first glance, the internet might seem to offer possibilities. Does Facebook count as a ritual? Are the social media universal enough and adhesive enough to bind together California Valley Girls and Afghani war lords? Is any imaginable global ritual cohesive enough to overcome already deeply entrenched alliances? Will Muslims and Christians ever sing kumbaya together? If not the internet, what about consumerism? Consumerism seems to be doing a pretty good job overcoming ancient animosities between Asia and the West. Can the shopping mall be our new temple/cathedral? Or maybe Dancing Matt? (Video below... - CP)

I'm not optimistic. The key might be in the Whitehouse quote above: "bound us together and pitted us against." Whatever ancient cultural, perhaps innately behavioral, influences incline us to ritual, they were undoubtedly forged in a dynamic of "us" versus "them." Rituals can divide as forcefully as they unite.”

"One Summer Night..."

Click image for larger size. 
"One summer night, out on a flat headland, all but surrounded by the waters of the bay, the horizons were remote and distant rims on the edge of space. Millions of stars blazed in darkness, and on the far shore a few lights burned in cottages. Otherwise there was no reminder of human life. My companion and I were alone with the stars: the misty river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the patterns of the constellations standing out bright and clear, a blazing planet low on the horizon. It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead; and because they could see it almost any night, perhaps they never will."
- Rachel Carson

The Daily "Near You?"

Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA. Thanks for stopping by!

You Can Never Again Say..."

"The Lumpy Circle Of Life"

"If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire - then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems. You will live longer."
 ~ Sigmund Wollman, quoted by Robert Fulghum, "Uh-Oh", 1991
"For thirty years now, in times of stress and strain, when something has me backed against the wall and I'm ready to do something really stupid with my anger, a sorrowful face appears in my mind and asks... "Problem or inconvenience?" I think of this as the Wollman Test of Reality. Life is lumpy. And a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same lump. One should learn the difference." 
~ Robert Fulghum, "Uh-Oh"

"We Learn..."

“We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success.
 We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; 
and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.” 
- Samuel Smiles

"A Message from the Hopi Elders"

"A Message from the Hopi Elders"

"You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.

Here are the things that must be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift, that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river,
keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personal. Least of all, ourselves.
For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word "struggle" from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we have been waiting for!"

- Oraibi, Arizona, Hopi Nation

"Anyone Who Isn't Confused..."

"Anyone who isn't confused really doesn't understand the situation."
- Edward R. Murrow

Gregory Mannarino, “The Game, The Charade, Continues- And The Middle Class Always Loses”

Gregory Mannarino, “The Game, The Charade, 
Continues- And The Middle Class Always Loses”

"How It Really Is"

"44 Numbers From 2018 That Are Almost Too Crazy To Believe"

"44 Numbers From 2018 That Are Almost Too Crazy To Believe"
by Michael Snyder

"It is amazing that 12 months has flown by already.  It seems like the years just keep getting faster, and perhaps that is because we are all getting older. In any event, the following are 44 numbers from 2018 that are almost too crazy to believe…
#1 One study found that the average American spends 86 hours a month on a cellphone.
#2 A different study discovered that 37 percent of all Americans have eaten fast food within the last 24 hours.
#3 90 percent of the beer that Americans drink is produced by just 2 gigantic corporations.
#4 McDonalds feeds approximately 70 million people a day globally.  Pornhub gets more than 78 million visits a day.
#5 60 percent of all Americans actually believe that they have seen a ghost.
#6 The middle class continues to decline, and at this point half of all American workers make less than $30,533 a year.
#7 During the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats were able to pick up 40 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Those that were forecasting a “red tsunami” were completely and totally wrong.
#8 Kevin Spacey’s incredibly creepy YouTube video entitled “Let Me Be Frank” in which he promises that he will never be held accountable for his actions has already been viewed more than 8 million times.
#9 Since 2007, the total amount of student loan debt in America has nearly tripled.
#10 The suicide rate in the United States has risen by 33 percent since 1999.
#11 Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for Americans from age 15 to age 24.
#12 Netflix recently made a deal to renew streaming of “Friends” for another year for 100 million dollars.
#13 According to the United Nations Population Fund, 40 percent of all births in the U.S. now happen outside of marriage. But if you go back to 1970, that figure was sitting at just 10 percent.
#14 13 million households in the United States do not always have enough food to eat.  So if you have enough food to eat every day, you should consider yourself to be very blessed.
#15 According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, almost 1 out of every 4 children in rural areas is currently living in poverty.
#16 At this point, almost 52 percent of all children live in a home that receives monthly help from the federal government.
#17 Over half a million people are homeless in the United States right now.
#18 Today, a million Americans are living in their RVS, and that number is rising with each passing year.
#19 Social decay is clearly evident even in our most prosperous cities.  One recent investigation found 300 piles of human feces on the streets of downtown San Francisco.
#20 62 percent of all U.S. jobs do not pay enough to support a middle class lifestyle.
#21 In 1980, the average American worker’s debt was 1.96 times larger than his or her monthly salary. Today, that number has ballooned to 5.00.
#22 Over half the country now receives more in government transfer payments than they pay in taxes.
#23 According to one recent study, the “rate of people 65 and older filing for bankruptcy is three times what it was in 1991”.
#24 More than 100 churches in the United States are dying every single week.
#25 If you go back to 1986, just 10 percent of all young adults were “religiously unaffiliated”, but now that number has jumped all the way to 39 percent.
#26 According to one recent survey, Americans from the age of 18 to the age of 29 favor Democrats over Republicans by a 66 percent to 32 percent margin.
#27 One study found that one-third of all American teenagers haven’t read a single book in the past year.
#28 The number of married couples with children in the U.S. just reached a 56 year low.
#29 In the city of Baltimore, approximately one out of every four babies is born as an opioid addict.
#30 According to the New York Times, approximately 110 million Americans have a sexually-transmitted disease right now.
#31 It is being projected that the total amount of plastic in the oceans of the world will exceed the total weight of all fish by the year 2050.
#32 90 percent of all seabirds in the world now have plastic in their stomachs.  Back in 1960, that number was sitting at just 5 percent.
#33 In August, we learned that the number of global earthquakes over the last 30 days had risen to a level that was 50 percent above normal.
#34 In September, an all-time record high seven named storms were swirling across the globe simultaneously.
#35 In October, we witnessed the third largest single day point crash in stock market history on the exact same day that the third most powerful hurricane in U.S. history made landfall.
#36 In November, the Camp Fire destroyed 14,000 homes and businesses in northern California.  It was the most destructive wildfire in the history of the state.
#37 According to the official Twitter account of Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire, they had wind chills of between -70 and -75 degrees on Thanksgiving morning.
#38 In the aftermath of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that rattled Anchorage, the state of Alaska was shaken by more than 1,400 earthquakes.
#39 In early December, the largest earthquake in 45 years hit eastern Tennessee.
#40 During the last full week before Christmas, the Dow fell 1,655 points.  That was the worst week for the stock market since the financial crisis of 2008.
#41 The National Retail Federation was projecting that total Christmas spending would surpass $465,000,000,000 in 2018. Only 25 countries on the entire planet have a GDP that is greater than that number.
#42 In 2017, the Dow was either up or down by 1 percent or more just 8 times.  In 2018, it happened 64 times.  Volatility has returned to Wall Street in a major way, and that is a really bad sign.
#43 A recent survey of corporate financial officers discovered that 82 percent of them believe that a recession will have started by the end of 2020.
#44 During 2018, the U.S. national debt increased by nearly 1.4 trillion dollars. We are now almost 22 trillion dollars in debt, and there is no end to our debt problems on the horizon."

"Forecast 2019: Ding Ding! Margin Call USA"

"Forecast 2019: Ding Ding! Margin Call USA"
by James Howard Kunstler

"Welcome to the American hall of mirrors… and mind the broken glass all over the floor. That’s Nature’s way of saying the country has run out room to punk itself. 2018 was the consolidation of bad faith in everything we do: politics, the news media, economics & finance, show biz, regular biz, jurisprudence, medicine, education, and relations between men and women - the year of peak dishonesty and self-deception. Of course, the trouble with dishonesty is that it doesn’t comport with Reality, and Reality being Mother Nature’s husband, bats in the cleanup position. Entering 2019, the bases are loaded with delusions, misdirections, and turpitudes. I shall get right to it without further throat-clearing.

Trumpology: The nation’s focus remains clamped to the mercurial character in the White House. If you subscribe to Strauss and Howe’s theories about The Fourth Turning, then you might see president Donald J. Trump playing the archetypal role they call “The Gray Champion,” an elder figure of the “transcendental” Boomer generation sent by fate to rescue a floundering society at a grave moment in the seasons of history. Yes, I know: we might have been better off calling Ghostbusters. A cardinal precept at this blog is that fate is a trickster. You order a Gray Champion and room service sends up a Golden Golem of Greatness.

To put it mildly, Mr. Trump has failed to charm at least half the country. They are embarrassed at his physical presence: his lumbering gait, like unto a behemoth land mammal of the Oligocene; that swaying bay window stomach half-concealed by the flaps of his suit-jacket and bisected by the oddly elongated necktie; the pained smile he puts on for the photo-ops; his man-spreading when seated with the world’s poohbahs, and that strange confection of sculpted hair, like the spun sugar on a Croquembouche, or the pouf on some horrifying plastic dashboard figurine. His manner of speech, the weird, palindromic repetitions, the childish artlessness of his casual utterances, the absence of Beltway focus-group cant, and of course the reviled Tweets - drive his opponents up a tree. The gilt-plastic trappings he surrounds himself with also offend them. For all I know, they hate his cologne, too.

His adversaries say he is “undermining institutions.” By this perhaps they mean the beloved DC gravy-train of regular institutionalized grift divvied up between elected officials, Wall Street, the War-and-Intel matrix, and the unholy infestation of lawyer-lobbyists slithering around the Swamp. Just look what happened when Mr. Trump threatened to end US military operations in Syria: apoplexy among the Neocons and Progs-for War - though none of them could coherently state what our strategy is there (is it to overthrow Assad so we can have another failed state in the Middle East?). Whatever Trump proposes in the way of policy is inadmissible because, according to the Resistance, Mr. Trump should not be allowed to propose policy, or order it, or direct it. Because he is… Trump…

Whatever you think of his agenda, Mr. Trump made the fateful mistake of bragging on the bubble economy that is now collapsing, and it will probably un-do him more effectively than all of the attempts to pin some actual crime on him by Robert Mueller. The Special Prosecutor has spent two years and has come up with little more than a handful of rinky-dink “process crimes” - mainly lying under oath, engineered by Mr. Mueller’s legal team and old friends in the FBI and DOJ after-the-fact. The Mueller investigation started with a false predicate - collusion with Russia - and entailed loads of prosecutorial mischief. We approach the climax of all that in early 2019. Mr. Mueller will issue his report before March. Maybe it will contain surprises, but the investigatory process involves so many people that it’s hard to believe no hints of any “bombshells” have leaked to the papers and cable news outfits. Rather, Mr. Mueller will depict a whole lot of nothing in the darkest possible light for the convenience of a house impeachment process, the holy grail of the Resistance, though the exercise is likely to fail if it gets to a senate trial.

But before that, there is the question of Mr. Mueller himself. My view is that Mr. Mueller has run a colossal cover-your-ass operation for the many documented misdeeds among the FBI and DOJ in cooking up this mess starting in the spring of 2016. His appointment in the first place was a gross error, considering his mentor relationship with James Comey and prior association with his putative supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. RR remains in that position despite being a witness in matters pending before Mr. Mueller (and other regulators such as federal prosecutor John Huber and DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz), including the FISA warrant scandal, the Uranium One deal, and the tortured doings of the Hillary Clinton and her foundation.

January will kick off with the congressional extravaganza I’ll call Investi-Gate, as committees headed by Democratic chairs Gerald Nadler (Judiciary), Elijah Cummings (Oversight), and Adam Schiff (Intelligence) swarm the President and his associates like army ants on a drove of peccaries. They’ll haul in everybody and his uncle to keep the show going for their pals in the media. The star attraction will be Trump ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, though he will appear as a convicted liar. He may even defy the committee by not answering their subpoena before he has to report to federal prison in March. After all, Rod Rosenstein successfully defied more than one summons to congress for months on end. What will the House committee chairs do to Cohen? - threaten him with jail?

The house committee Investi-Gate circus is a sure thing, though, don’t forget, minority members can also call witnesses, and there is room for blowback on the venture. Republicans still chair the senate committees, and there may be a mud-fight between the two houses. Otherwise, expect a whole lot of grandstanding at the expense of paying attention to any of the nation’s serious business. Mr. Huber and Mr. Horowitz will also release reports in early 2019. Much of the recent criminal misbehavior in FBI/DOJ/ Mueller orbit lies within their commissions. Abundant evidence has already been published concerning the conspiracy to defeat Mr. Trump by subterfuge in the 2016 election, and further illegal attempts to injure him in the years following. Some of the characters in this horror show have already testified to grand juries.

Gen. Flynn was sent to the doghouse by Judge Emmet Sullivan at his December sentencing hearing for the purpose of rethinking his guilty plea. The idea is to persuade him to go to trial and force Mr. Mueller to go through a discovery process (of evidence) that could easily derail Mr. Mueller’s case and reflect poorly on the Special Counsel, perhaps even lead to legal problems for him in the way of malicious prosecution. Gen Flynn’s case also resolves one way or another in March.

Finally, Mr. Trump will be free to declassify a trove of documents in all these matters after Mr. Mueller reports. Doing so prior to that might set up the president on an obstruction of justice charge. If there’s anything germane in those docs, they could change the whole dramatic arc of the story that took over two years to develop. There’s plenty of chatter across the web about Mr. Trump invoking martial law or declaring some kinds of national emergency, plus loose talk about military tribunals and “thousands of sealed indictments,” but I’m not persuaded that there’s any reality to that.

Politics That Maybe Matter: This country faces a lot of practical problems that are not likely to be addressed if congress is preoccupied with Investi-Gate, and depending on how ferocious the action gets in bear markets, currencies, and banking, which could alter the entire picture (more below).

The crisis in medicine is obvious. Whatever else you can say about ObamaCare, it just didn’t do enough and is now crippled by court decisions. Health Care is simply unaffordable for a growing demographic of the sinking middle class. Much of that is due to plain old racketeering, and I propose that it could be mitigated to some degree if a simple law were passed that required doctors, surgeons, hospitals, labs, and other players to publicly post prices for their services - to eliminate this ridiculous business of providers “negotiating” the price of every transaction in secret, according to deliberately incomprehensible guidelines. It may be too late to “solve” the health care problem in the way that much of the Left wishes: a single-payer system run by the government. True, other advanced nations ran single-payer systems with apparent success for decades, and still do, but they started these programs in an era of reliable economic growth based on industrial production and that era is over for reasons mostly having to do with dwindling cheap energy. The National Health service in Britain is a shambles. France’s system still functions, but the high taxation needed to keep funding it is, ironically, a main beef of the Yellow Vest protesters. The deflating financial bubble will underscore a new order of austerity in the USA, and may usher in graver problems with the value of the dollar. One way or the other, congress will be stymied over health care reform in 2019.

The eventual result will be the disintegration of the current health care system and its eventual reorganization into local, clinic-based medicine at a much lower level of complexity and treatment. It was a tremendous blunder to consolidate hospitals and medical practices into gigantically-scaled conglomerates. The hallmark of The Long Emergency is that everything organized at the gigantic scale will fail one way or another. Get your mind right for that outcome and take care of yourself in the meantime.

The Left especially has no inclination to address immigration reform. As long as they mendaciously refuse to even make a distinction between legal and illegal immigration, nothing can be done. The Right is also dishonest and cowardly about it, fearing to alienate the ballooning Hispanic voter bloc. Still there is a better chance that some immigration reform may be possible because it doesn’t require the sort of titanic fiscal outlays that Health Care does - Mr. Trump’s wall aside. More likely, though, the current immigration impasse will continue and may provoke vigilante action along the border in 2019 that could be part of greater civil violence prompted by increasing economic disparities.

Markets and Money: The jig is really up. The big bad bear market is already underway, even if it rallies in January. The debt bubble engineered by the Federal Reserve is blowing up and thundering through the system. The epic market instability of December 2018 on the heels of persistent Fed rate hikes points to major credit problems and especially an inability to roll over old debt into new loans at higher interest rates - in particular loans to zombie enterprises that need to borrow to keep paying interest on previous loans (a lot of that among the shale oil companies). The US government can’t take higher interest rates either. It’s already paying about as much in annual interest on US debt as we pay for our war machine. There are only two ways out, both of them nasty. Either suck up debt defaults, which will produce an impoverishing disappearance of money; or provoke high inflation, by injecting more Central Bank QE “money” into the system, which can destroy the value of money. Inflation is typically the choice of governments because it reduces the face value of debts while it allows government to pretend that it is taking action. In the end, you may have plenty of worthless money, which is no different from having not enough money that retains value. The latter was the main feature of the Great Depression.

So, inflation is the usual choice, but it also typically leads to incendiary resentment among the citizenry when they realize they’ve been played and it takes a wheelbarrow full of cash to buy a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. I suppose that Fed chief Jerome Powell knows all too well he’s popped the Mother-of-All-Bubbles. He can blame it on Mr. Trump. Everybody else will, of course. Sometime in the second quarter of 2019, the Fed will resume the money-for-nothing gambit of “quantitative easing” in the hope of arresting the damage, but this time the dollar will lose value uncontrollably and catastrophically. Many people will be ruined, especially retirees at the mercy of insolvent pension funds.

Before 2019 is out, the US could find itself in a situation worse than the Great Depression. Supply lines are much longer now than they were then. If suppliers can’t get paid because trust has collapsed in the short-term corporate paper system, they won’t deliver supplies, which means you may not eat, or fill your gas tank, or heat your house, or get whatever else you need. Also, the USA in 1931 had not yet transformed itself into the fiasco-waiting-to-happen called suburban sprawl. How is Dallas going to work for people who spend a substantial chunk of their income on mandatory motoring (if there’s little or no income)?

Stock market activity may appear to stabilize in January, but it will go south again later on in the first quarter and the Bear will growl louder for the rest of the year.

Civil Disorder: Be prepared for it in 2019. There are going to be a lot of pissed-off people around the country. They are liable to attack Federal property and their fellow citizens (and their property). The hungrier they are, the worse it will be. They will not understand the forces that are destroying the money system. There are a gazillion small arms out there and the government will not be able to control them or confiscate them. Any attempt to do that will only inflame the situation. A major principle of The Long Emergency is that government becomes increasingly impotent and ineffectual as it rolls out. We’re already seeing that in Washington, and it is not at all just because Mr. Trump has inspired such an impasse between the branches. The states, too, will be hard-pressed to do anything useful. Many of them, like Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California, are already technically insolvent. The federal government may have to pretend to rescue them financially, which will only make the national predicament worse.

Oil: The shale oil “miracle” was an impressive stunt. For a while, it goosed US production way above the former all-time production peak of 1970, and it achieved that with astounding speed - about a decade. But this is oil that is very expensive and complex to produce. It was made possible by massive borrowing at artificial low interest rates, which are now rising. Something like three-quarters of the shale operators never made a red cent in net profit, and many of these companies will find it hard or impossible to roll over their existing debt, especially with oil under $50-a-barrel. But the price is a deceptive metric. If it zoomed up to $100-a-barrel tomorrow, the effect would only be to crush economic activity, because industry requires cheaper oil to pencil out its operations and citizens can barely afford to drive when gasoline hits $4-a-gallon at the pump. At the lower $45-a-barrel, the price crushes the oil producers. Take your pick. There’s no “Goldilocks” price.

The other problems with shale oil have to do with the nature of the shale plays. The Permian Basin in Texas is very large, but the best plays are developed in the so-called “sweet spots” and there’s a limited amount of them. They are the places that the producers developed first, and when they are played out, the next round of plays will be in spots not-so-sweet (or productive) - possibly not worth drilling. The character of the shale oil wells is also way different from the old conventional classic oil wells. The old wells cost about $400,000 (in current dollars). It involved just sinking a pipe into the permeable source rock. The oil came out under its own pressure at the rate of thousands of barrels a day.  Eventually, you put a simple pump-jack on the well (the “nodding donkey”) and it produced for decades, like running a cash register. Shale oil wells cost between $6- 12 million. They require technically demanding horizontal drilling and fracking, with additional costs in highly technical labor, water for fracking, sand to hold open the fracks, chemicals to aid the process, and a gazillion truck trips to deliver all the water and sand (and take the oil away). Shale wells produce maybe a few hundred barrels a day for one year, after which they typically deplete by over 60 percent. After four years, they’re done. The oil is also different. Shale oil is typically ultra-light. It contains little-to-none of the heavier diesel, kerosene, jet fuel, and heating oil distillates, making it less valuable.

Trouble in the credit markets could shut down shale production for a period of time and create dire problems for the American economy. That could happen in 2019 as poorer-performing companies fail to get new financing. As mighty as it seems to be, the industry is fraught with fragility. Meanwhile, discovery of new, producible oil has fallen to the lowest level since the 1940s, after three recent previous record low years. Current low oil prices at around $45-a-barrel may give Americans a false sense of security. Low prices are mostly indicative of the collapse of the demand for oil at the global margins and among the large US demographic that cannot afford it anymore - that is, the impoverished former middle class. As the damage becomes more obvious, we could hear calls to nationalize the oil industry. The attempt to do that would collide with the aforementioned trend for government to become more strapped  for revenue, more impotent, and more incompetent.

Geopolitical: The Golden Golem has gone an extra mile to antagonize Russia the past two years. Is it to demonstrate how not Putin’s puppet he is? If so, it’s pathetic. For instance, heaping ever more sanctions on Russia, tossing Russian diplomatic staff out of the country because of the laughable Novichok poisoning of the Skripal father-and-daughter in Britain. Nobody believed that set up - who recovers from the world’s supposedly most potent, high-tech military toxin? The larger Russia hysteria, ginned up by the US “Intel Community” to cover the embarrassment of Hillary Clinton’s election loss, has destroyed the brains of thousands of Washington insiders and infected whole sectors of the educated coastal elites who really ought to know better. Meddling in elections? Is that something the US has never entertained? Recall that 1996 Time Magazine cover with the headline bragged, “Yanks to the Rescue: the Secret Story of How American Advisors Helped Yeltsin Win.” And now we’re wetting our pants over a baker’s dozen Russian Internet trolls on Facebook? Yes, this is what the brightest people in the room have been doing for two years. The net result is a new cold war, pushing Russia into the arms of China, giving both of those countries an incentive to construct a new framework for global relations that excludes the toxic US as much as possible.

That new framework, by the way, will not be the same as the late, unwinding Globalism, Release 2.0 (Release 1.0 was 1870 – 1914) that allowed America to exchange IOUs for flatscreen TVs lo these many years. Let’s call that Tom Friedman Globalism, after the pundit who said it would last forever. The world will become a wider place again as the Great Powers are increasingly bound to their own regions for trade relations in a world growing short of energy and capital resources. The exception to that is in weaponry, now that Russia has demonstrated its ability to launch hypersonic rockets that can reach the US in little more than a US minute. Do we have anything like that? I suppose we wish we did. The media is not even talking about it, the implications are so dreadful.

Has Mr. Trump actually accomplished anything with his deal-seeking in China while beating it on the snout with his tariff stick? Well, he got a lot of US companies loading up on inventory of goods they feared will carry costly duties a year hence, so they’re all stocked up just in time for a vicious bear market and the recession/depression that it entails. A lot of that stuff may end up being distributed by the bankruptcy judges.

How does our antagonism against China work with the campaign to “normalize” the behavior of North Korea? I doubt it helps. In 2019, North Korea will be the whoopie cushion that China places under America’s seat at the negotiating table. Mr. Trump defied the conventional State Department wisdom by meeting face-to-face with Kim. It got the two Koreas actually speaking with each other for the first time in 60 years, with some concrete steps toward ending the de facto state-of-war. Will Li’l Kim play the role China assigns him to? I think so. They can squash him like bug. And, of course, everything that the US congress and Mr. Mueller do to injure and weaken Mr. Trump will make further progress in Korea unlikely.

How about the second greatest economy in the world? That would be the European Union. The EU’s financial system is way more dysfunctional than even ours, with no mechanism or provision for regulating each country’s spending vis-à-vis the debt generation of the Union as a whole. There’s no way it can continue and no prospect for debugging the set-up. What’s more, decades-long shenanigans of the European Central Bank have created imbalances that will never be corrected. Even the attempt to normalize operations - as the ECB ceases its debt monetization routines staring in the first quarter of 2019 - is guaranteed to crack up the EU economy, which is a horror show of zombie companies and zombie banks. They will suffer particularly in the recession / depression to come. The next domino to fall, theoretically Italy, will take the EU down, whatever happens with the dithering over Brexit. Without the ECB vacuuming up unwanted EU paper, nothing really pencils out over there. In 2019, expect a substantial fall in the value of the Euro, and possibly its demise as a currency.

In fact, expect wholesale disintegration of many structural arrangements all over Europe beginning in 2019, along with more political violence that exceeds the simple street actions of the Yellow Vests in France. NATO has been staging war games on Russia’s border for two years, apparently with no awareness that the NATO members are deeply dependent on Russian oil and natural gas to remain advanced nations with comforts and conveniences, like heating their homes. Perhaps that recognition will hit in 2019. But there will be plenty of noise for that signal to cut through.

Climate Change: Something’s going on ‘out there’ though the picture is deeply non-linear and is being confused for the moment by an extraordinary low level of cyclical sunspot activity. Not being a scientist, I have only two salient points worth considering about the issue:

The first is, we’re not going to do anything about it - because nothing can be done about it. Whatever’s happening, we’re going to have to roll with it. I’m also not persuaded that many of the proposed mitigations - carbon taxes, seeding the upper atmosphere with reflective particles - will not accomplish anything.

The second thought is this: the civilized world has experienced many many instances of climate change over the past several thousand years. Civilizations rise and fall with these changes, but the human project as a more general matter continues, with periods of history that appear to be restful time-outs. The Roman Optimum (warming period) segued into the Dark Age Cooling, and then the Medieval Warming (viniculture in England!), and eventually the Little Ice Age comes along with Isaac Newton and skaters on the Dutch canals. The difference this time is that our civilization is so deeply complex that successful adaptation to new conditions is a low percentage outcome, at least in the form of salvaging many of our current arrangements.The difference this time is that our civilization is so deeply complex that successful adaptation to new conditions is a low percentage outcome, at least in the form of salvaging many of our current arrangements. And so on. People adapted, sometimes with very severe changes in customs, practices, political arrangements, and life-styles.

It will be especially stark this time, and the broad pop culture of Collapse suggests that we intuit this - everything from "Game of Thrones" to "The Road", to my own "World Made By Hand" novels. It begins by wobbling the most abstract and fragile of our systemic arrangements - finance, which is mostly based on ephemeral trust (that the other fellow will pay you). From there, the trouble proceeds to politics and culture. A few concluding words on the latter:

Culture: 2018 was a low point for American culture, such as it is. The idiotic drivel emanating from the university campuses has infected the entire nation like a toxic shock disease. Most damaging, of course is the umbrella ideology of “multiculture” in a society that formerly thrived precisely because of the opposite of that: a common culture composed of ethics, customs, norms, and standards of decent behavior that people not insane could subscribe to. Remove the common culture of a nation and you will not have a nation - it’s that simple. Hence Americans are divided foolishly into battling identity groups who do not believe in a common culture and are doing everything possible to defeat it. They have no idea what E Pluribus Unum used to mean and they have no desire or intention to rediscover it. I return to the cardinal theme of "The Long Emergency:" that we can’t construct a coherent consensus about what is happening to us, and therefore we can’t make any coherent plans about what to do.

The financial hardships of 2019 provide an opportunity for some overdue mind-cleaning on these matters. There may even be a significant number of survivors among the brain-damaged former thinking classes who refuse to go along with the emperors-new-clothes ideas of recent years any longer. The main thing to understand about the so-called Progressive Left behind this toxic shock is that the whole crusade has been less about ideas of justice or fairness than the sheer joy of coercing others, of pushing people around and punishing them because its fun! The ideologies around that behavior are just window dressing.

The response to it so far has been surprisingly mild. If the financial unwind shapes up as harshly as it looks from here, the response will get more severe. The universities themselves will suffer hugely as their budgets crash through the floor and all, of a sudden, they have to issue pink slips to a half dozen Diversity deans on six-figure salaries. Many colleges will begin the process of shutting down in 2019 as their student loan racket disintegrates.

Well, you’ve suffered long enough for today, and I’ll leave it at that. Happy 2019 everybody!"