The Next Global Meltdown is Baked In

Connecting the Dots Between Oil, Debt, Interest Rates and Risk

by Charles Hugh Smith (June 30 2014)

The bottom line is the Federal Reserve Bank (“Fed”) can only keep the machine duct-taped together by suppressing the market’s pricing of risk.

One of the Grand Narratives of our era is the substitution of debt for income: as earned income and disposable income have stagnated for forty years, the gap between the rising cost of living and stagnant household income has been filled by borrowed money.

Money has been borrowed to replace income everywhere: consumers have borrowed money to buy things they otherwise couldn’t afford, students have borrowed over $1 trillion to attend college, governments have borrowed money to fund wars and social spending, corporations have borrowed money to buy back their own shares, pushing stock prices higher.

There’s one little problem with debt: interest must be paid on debt. Let’s focus for a second on the difference between cash income and borrowing money. Cash doesn’t cost money to maintain; debt does. In a functioning economy (as opposed to the dysfunctional mess we have now), cash would earn income from interest paid by borrowers.

If cash income is saved, the cash can buy stuff without debt or interest payments. That is a powerful advantage over debt.

How powerful is the advantage of cash over debt? It’s literally life-changing. Take a look at your credit card statements, which now include an estimate of interest you will pay and how long it will take to pay off the balance at a given monthly payment.

Those making minimal payments will end up paying 100% or more of the balance due in interest.

The phenomenally high accrued costs of interest is true of mortgages, student loans, auto loans, corporate debt and government debt: eventually, current spending is crimped as more and more net income is devoted to paying interest.

There are two words for what happens when real income declines and interest payments rise: impoverishment and insolvency. This dynamic is scale-invariant, meaning it works the same for individuals, households, enterprises and governments.

Let’s connect the rising cost of oil to debt. As we all know, oil matters because it’s the foundation of our economy, and the cost of oil is built into virtually every sector in some way. For example, look at how the the cost of food rises and declines in lockstep with the cost of oil:

Despite the substitution of cheaper natural gas for oil, we use a lot of oil.

While the recent increase of three-plus million barrels a day in domestic production is welcome on many fronts (more jobs, more money kept at home, reduced dependence on foreign suppliers, et cetera), the US still needs to import crude oil.

The rising cost of oil acts as an economy-wide tax. Everything that uses oil in its production or transport rises in price without offering consumers any more value than it did at much lower prices.

Look at the impact on food prices as oil rose from $20 per barrel in 2002 to $140 per barrel in 2008. While government statisticians adjust the consumer price index (CPI) based on hedonics (as the quality of things goes up, the price is adjusted accordingly) and substitution (people buy chicken instead of steak, et cetera), the reality is, as one heckler put it, “We don’t eat iPads”: that is, all the stuff that is hedonically adjusted (tech goodies, et cetera) is non-essential.

The Status Quo has compensated for the relentless rise in the systemic oil “tax” by making debt cheaper to service. The Federal Reserve’s zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP) has two purposes:

1. Channel immense sums of free money to the too big to fail banks by relieving them of the onerous requirement of paying interest on deposits while giving them unlimited access to nearly-free money they can lend out at huge spreads. (This is crony-capitalism writ large. The winners were picked by the Fed and the rest of us are the losers. Yea for the godlike Fed, our modern-day Mammon.)

2. To keep consumption alive as income declined and the oil tax eroded household disposable income, the Fed made borrowing cheaper.

Unfortunately for the godlike deities residing in the Fed, zero-interest rates trigger malinvestments, which are inherently risky. When unqualified borrowers borrow a ton of money – for example, a student with no assets or income, or a poor credit risk household assumes an FHA mortgage, or a corporation sells junk-rated bonds – the risk of default is intrinsically higher than debt taken on by qualified borrowers.

This poses a systemic problem for the Fed: The Fed needs to enable more borrowing by the uncreditworthy to keep consumption growing and bank profits flowing, yet the inevitable result of such credit expansion is a massive expansion of systemic risk.

The more debt that is taken on by marginal borrowers – where marginal is defined as unable to weather any shock or decline to their financial position or income – the more risk piles up in the system.

The analogy is a forest where the deadwood is never allowed to burn.

The net result of rising systemic risk is a massive conflagration that burns off off the accumulated risk and bad debt.

Such a fire sweeping through the mountains of risky debt piled up in the American financial system would bring down the entire Status Quo. So what’s a godlike Federal Reserve to do when it can no longer lower interest rates?

Answer: it suppresses visible risk by manipulating the stock market to reflect complacency.

Does a record low measure of risk reflect the systemic risk of default and a decline in consumption, or is it merely a reflection of the herd’s boundless faith in the godlike powers of the Fed to suppress risk even as Fed policies pile risk ever higher?

The bottom line is the Fed can only keep the machine duct-taped together by suppressing the market’s pricing of risk. Suppressing the market’s ability to price risk is throwing common-sense fiscal caution to the winds; when risk arises from its drugged slumber despite the Fed’s best efforts to eliminate it, we will all reap what the Fed has sown.

Nuclear Power is No answer to Global Warming

If we’re serious about cutting carbon dioxide emissions, there’s no place for nuclear power because it’s the least cost-effective way to do it. By far the best way is to improve energy efficiency. But tell the Government the truth, and it’ll close you down.

by Ian Fairlie

The Ecologist (July 10 2014)



In terms of dollars per tonne of carbon dioxide saved, Amory Lovins found that nuclear was among the worst methods. The best, by some margin, was energy efficiency.



It’s quite clear that climate change is an extremely serious problem for mankind and that we desperately need carbon-free or low-carbon energy and transport policies.

Many people, even a few who claim to be ‘environmentalists’, remain convinced that nuclear power is an important or even necessary way to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions.

However even the most cursory examination reveals big problems with that view, and when the matter is examined in detail, one wonders how on earth so many people are taken in by it.

Nuclear power stations emit no carbon dioxide … ?

Let’s take the most obvious issue: surely nuclear reactors don’t produce carbon dioxide emissions? Well, true, they don’t when in operation, but reactor operation is only one step in the long nuclear fuel chain.

You need to consider uranium mining, milling and concentration, nuclear fuel fabrication and U-235 enrichment, then reactor construction, spent fuel storage and construction of whatever underground nuclear fuel dump is decided upon in future: none has been built yet.

All of these steps have heavy carbon footprints, especially uranium mining, U-235 enrichment, reactor construction and deep underground excavation.

In such situations, it’s normal to carry out Life Cycle Analyses (LCAs) of all the steps involved. Here the nuclear scenario would be modelled to estimate the number of tonnes of carbon dioxide produced from all the steps per megawatt hour of electricity generated, and compared with similar figures from LCAs of other forms of electricity generation.

Nuclear is low-carbon, not zero-carbon

The problem is that LCAs are prone to different results because of differing assumptions used in modelling scenarios. The most reliable studies are those by independent groups who are not paid by the nuclear industry as their results are less likely to be biased towards industrial viewpoints.

In recent years, two such studies have been published – by the Oko Institut in Germany, and by Dr Storm van Leeuwen and his team in the Netherlands. Both groups found that nuclear produced less carbon dioxide than coal, oil or gas, but the amounts of carbon saved by nuclear power were relatively small.

Van Leeuwen estimated that nuclear produced about one-third as much carbon dioxide as a modern cogeneration gas-fired plant. In other words, nuclear is a low-carbon, not a zero-carbon, source of electricity, as often touted by the Government and others.

But you may say, shouldn’t we still promote nuclear, as a two-thirds saving compared with gas is still worthwhile?

Perhaps, but there are several better ways of reducing carbon dioxide emissions than gas-fired stations. These include demand reduction measures via greater energy efficiency, and renewables such as biomass, wind, wave, geothermal and solar photovolaic (PV).

If we’re really serious about reducing carbon dioxide emissions, then we should be examining how much each method costs per tonne of carbon dioxide saved. But the Government and its nuclear acolytes seem to be avoiding this.

The reason is clear: in 2009 US energy guru Amory Lovins from the US-based Rocky Mountain Institute carried out a thorough analysis of the costs (both construction and operating) of each method of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The results were published in ‘Nuclear Power: Climate Fix or Folly?’ {1}. Lovins found that in terms of dollars per tonne of carbon dioxide saved, nuclear was among the worst methods. The best, by some margin, was energy efficiency.

I understand that a year before his report was published Lovins was invited by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (“DECC”) to give a UK lecture on energy policy regarding the costs of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

His new findings were a bolt out of the blue for DECC’s nuclear diehards and Lovins was received in stony silence then quietly shown the door. We must ask: is DECC following science-based policies?

Look what telling the truth did to the SDC!

The most thorough UK examination of nuclear’s potential carbon savings was by the former Sustainable Development Commission in 2006. It estimated that the carbon dioxide savings from a ten gigawatt replacement nuclear programme in the UK would only be a four to eight percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 levels, depending on assumptions.

It concluded: “Nuclear power is not the answer to tackling climate change …” {2} Surprise: one of the first things the Tory-led coalition Government did when it assumed power in 2010 was to abolish the Sustainable Development Commission.

These examples of wilful disregard of available research bring to mind the infamous ‘Downing Street Memo’ of 2002 concerning the impending US/UK war on Iraq, in which the Director General of the MI6 stated that “… the facts were being fixed around the policy”. It seems to be happening again with nuclear power.

The cost is prohibitive

The most serious flaw in the argument that nuclear provides an answer is its prohibitively high cost. Nuclear construction costs have always been high but in recent years they have increased substantially.

The anticipated cost of Hinkley C is now GBP 16 billion, 1.5 times the entire cost of the 2012 UK Olympic Games. This for one nuclear station which would supply less than five percent of the UK’s electricity if it were ever built and operated.

As pointed out by The Economist on October 26 2013, the UK and Finland are on their own in the EU in having plans for more nuclear power. {3}

On February 21 2014, The Spectator followed this by asking: “Why has Britain signed up for the world’s most expensive power station?” and stating that MPs owed it to the taxpayer to throw out the proposed Hinkley deal.

It would be best to throw out all the Government’s nuclear plans, as they clearly do not provide an answer to our climate change difficulties.

Indeed, it would be best to throw out this discredited Government altogether at the next election – and elect a Green one!


Dr Ian Fairlie is an independent consultant mainly on radiation in the environment. His previous studies, which revealed the mechanism for large observed increases in childhood leukemias near nuclear power stations throughout the world, led to this work on energy policy.


This article is a shortened form of the lecture to be given by Dr Fairlie on Saturday in London – see below.

JAN {5}: A group of mainly Japanese people in London have formed a lively organisation (Japanese Against Nuclear – JAN) who meet every week in silent vigil in front of the Japanese embassy to protest against the Japanese Government’s support of nuclear power. JAN is now one of the largest anti-nuclear groups in the UK.

On Saturday July 12th, JAN is organising a lecture on why nuclear is not an answer to climate change at the School of Oriental and African Studies at lecture theatre G3 at 1.30 pm. All are welcome. For more information see







MH17: Cold War Replay?

by John Feffer

Foreign Policy in Focus (July 23 2014)

The most bizarre conspiracy theory surrounding the recent downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine comes from a leading pro-Russian separatist, Igor Girkin.

Relying on second-hand information, Girkin asserted that many of the passengers from the crash had already been dead before the plane had even taken off. His underlings had reported to him that the bodies were badly decomposed and drained of blood. This, of course, was news to all the families of the victims who’d seen off their loved ones at the airport in Amsterdam.

The separatists have denied responsibility for shooting down the plane and have pinned the crime instead on the Ukrainian government. Until recently, the rebels restricted access to the crash scene and the bodies, which gave them ample opportunities to tamper with the evidence – such as sawing the cockpit in half and lugging away pieces of the plane. Now that the bodies are in the hands of outside investigators, presumably the rebels have moved on to more plausible exculpatory explanations.

The United States, meanwhile, argues that it has conclusive proof that the rebels not only shot down the plane but also gloated over their success on social media (before deleting the posts). Moreover, Washington argues that Moscow is ultimately responsible for the disaster because it gave the separatists the surface-to-air missile system in the first place.

Russia denies delivery of the Buk missile system and has claimed that a Ukrainian fighter jet was near the civilian airplane shortly before it was hit. The problem with the latter claim is that the fighter jet that Moscow asserts was trailing Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 – a Ukrainian SU-25 – couldn’t actually reach that particular altitude and doesn’t have the weaponry onboard capable of taking down a plane 10,000 feet further above.

The Ukrainian government has denied having any missile batteries within firing range of the flight that day. But, strangely, Ukraine didn’t completely shut down the airspace over the disputed territory and direct traffic to safer routes. It was permitting overflights above 32,000 feet, and Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was cruising at an altitude of 33,000.

Moreover, as Russ Wellen points out in the FPIF blog Focal Points, the Ukrainian government knew that the rebels possessed the capacity to bring down planes that high up, and yet Ukrainian air traffic controllers rejected a request from MH17 to fly 2,000 feet higher. Was the government in Kiev guilty of poor judgement, or was some darker motive at play?

Unless a plane completely disappears – a truly unlikely scenario until it happened to another Malaysian airliner back in March – it’s usually possible to get to the bottom of air disasters with the help of black box recordings, satellite data, and the scraps of wreckage. But it takes time to sift through the evidence. And during that time, all manner of wild speculation can take place.

Sometimes that speculation is idle and produces only flame wars on the Internet. But sometimes it can lead to a very dangerous escalation in tensions between armed combatants.

I was returning to college in 1983 when news broke that the Soviet Union had shot down Korean passenger jet KAL 007, killing all 269 people on board. For a couple days in early September, the campus worried that this tragic incident would spark something even worse: a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. President Ronald Reagan had been rapidly escalating his anti-Soviet rhetoric. Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov, directing Soviet policy from his hospital bed by that point, was firmly convinced that Reagan was planning a first nuclear strike. Indeed, a false alarm later that September – Soviet satellite sensors had mistaken high-altitude clouds for incoming nuclear missiles – nearly triggered a Soviet launch. Only a single quick-thinking lieutenant colonel in Soviet military intelligence saved the world from nuclear annihilation.

There were plenty of rumors back in 1983 about KAL 007. The jet had veered more than 200 miles off course to enter Soviet airspace, so perhaps it was gathering intelligence for the CIA or testing Soviet air defenses. Or maybe the Soviets deliberately downed the airliner knowing that it was a civilian craft. You can still find conspiracy theories on the Internet claiming that the airplane was never shot down in the first place and the Soviets had taken all the passengers into custody (obviously some people have watched too many Lost episodes).

After a number of exhaustive investigations, including an analysis of the black box recordings, the shooting down of KAL 007 turns out to have been the result of error, misinterpretation, and incompetence.

Five years later, it was the United States’ turn to engage in criminal negligence when the USS. Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 in the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 people on board. The Iranian government used language very similar to Reagan’s in 1983, calling the attack a “massacre” and an “atrocity”. The United States denied that the attack was deliberate. It eventually paid reparations to Iran and expressed regret for the incident, though it did not issue a formal apology. Here, too, it appears that errors of judgement determined the tragic outcome. The evidence that the Iranian plane was civilian should have been clear to the US warship, but the chain of command was apparently so convinced that it was dealing with a military target that it ignored all contrary indicators.

In this case, however, the Airbus disaster didn’t escalate the war between Iran and Iraq (in which the United States had intervened on the side of the latter). Within two weeks of the downing of the plane, Iran signed a UN ceasefire. The eight-year struggle was over within the next two months.

The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 can produce either of these results. It can serve as a wake-up call to the combatants that, because their actions are resulting in inexcusable civilian casualties, they should negotiate an immediate truce. Or it can lead to the most serious escalation in tensions between Moscow and Washington since 1983.

Back in the early 1980s, the United States was convinced that the Soviet Union was fomenting instability in an “arc of crisis” that stretched from the Horn of Africa to South Asia. Moscow, or so Washington asserted, was bent on seizing a warm-water port, securing access to Middle East oil, and picking up allies in its Cold War competition with the United States.

It was yet another example of Washington overestimating Moscow. Certainly the Soviet Union wanted the region along its vast borders to be friendly. But there was no secret plan for Eurasian dominance. The Soviet Union was acting more out of weakness than strength when it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Its rash intervention was not the beginning of a neo-imperial surge to the south, but the beginning of the end for the overextended Soviet Union.

Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea and involvement in eastern Ukraine – taken alongside Russia’s encouragement of separatists in Georgia and Moldova and its support for Assad in Syria – might look like a sequel to the arc of crisis. And indeed some on the right are dusting off some of the language from this period. But Putin’s ambitions are circumscribed. He is not interested in reconstituting the Soviet Union, much less the former Soviet sphere of influence incorporating Eastern Europe and client states elsewhere in the world.

At most, Putin wants to recreate a greater Russia, which involves some swathes of the “near abroad”. But even that plan has its limits. Latvia and Estonia, where there are large numbers of ethnic Russians, are both firmly in the EU and NATO. Kazakhstan, home to the second largest number of Russians outside of Russia, has already proposed new laws criminalizing separatist rhetoric. And given the sheer incompetence of his Donbas allies, Ukraine may well turn into Putin’s Afghanistan.

What Putin has done so far in Ukraine is inexcusable. But it’s not part of a plan for global or even regional domination.

All of which is to say that the United States should not overreact to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. This should be an opportunity for Washington and Moscow to work together on investigating the tragedy, which Putin has agreed to do. This is a chance for the combatants to lay down their arms, which Putin has also urged.

Yes, sometimes Moscow’s words and deeds do not match, but Washington suffers from flare-ups of the same disease. Before this war in Ukraine claims more victims and sends US-Russian relations into a deep freeze, both Obama and Putin need to realize that both sides benefit a great deal more from cooperation than confrontation.

A full reset in US-Russian relations is obviously not in the offing. But returning to the status quo ante that existed before the change of government in Ukraine would at least prevent a replay of those perilous scenarios of 1983.

Links: The original version of this article, at the URL below, contains links to further information not included here.

Saving Face

by Dmitry Orlov

Club Orlov (July 29 2014)

The Americans are finding out the hard way that a fact-free zone is not a comfortable place to inhabit. The initial knee-jerk allegations, voiced by Obama, by the screechy UN representative Samantha Power, by John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and any number of talking heads, were that the downing of flight MH17 was all Putin’s fault. These were swiftly followed by a complete and utter lack of official evidence of any Russian involvement but lots of strange, unexplained coincidences pointing to Ukrainian and American involvement. These were, in turn, followed by an uncharacteristically frank admission from US intelligence that there is no proof of Russian involvement. The newly installed Ukrainian oligarch-turned-president Poroshenko (code-name “Piglet”) switched from claiming that he had proof of Russian complicity to being very very quiet. Incompetently concocted fake “evidence” of this and that continues to appear on social media sites, only to be swiftly disproved. Once disproved, the fake evidence vanishes, only to be replaced by more of the same. The latest fake is of Russian artillery bombardment from across the border. All of this has added up to quite an awkward situation for the Americans. Barefaced lying may be fun and profitable, but it does not provide a solid foundation for foreign policy. Nobody wants to go down in history for blowing up the world over some fake Youtube videos.

The list of questions that demand answers is quite extensive. Why did the Ukrainians suddenly choose to activate their Buk M1 air defense system, with several rocket batteries and a radar, in Donetsk region, on the day of the crash? What was the Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 fighter jet (attested by numerous eye-witnesses) doing trailing after the Boeing? Why did Ukrainian air traffic control in Dnepropetrovsk redirect the flight to fly at a lower altitude and over the war zone? What were all those foreigners doing in the air traffic control center in Dnepropetrovsk right after the crash, and what happened to the flight control records they confiscated? What was the experimental US spy satellite doing flying over that exact spot at that exact moment? By the way, was anything interesting happening that day at the American drone base in Kanatov, in Dnepropetrovsk region, which, incidentally, is right on the flight path of MH17? (We know that it’s active; two of their drones have already been shot down by the rebels, one of which landed more or less intact, and the Russians are probably having fun tinkering with it.)

Some people are surmising that the crash was a failed false flag attack orchestrated by the Ukrainians with, at a minimum, American complicity. The idea, this version goes, was to pin the blame on the rebels and, by extension, on Russia, in order to escalate the conflict. This version of events may sound plausible to some people, because false flag operations are part of the standard American playbook. After all, there was that chemical attack in Syria which almost led to a US bombing campaign. The chemical attack was blamed on the Assad regime, but then it turned out to have been a false flag: it was made by the Syrian rebels, on Syrian rebels, with help from Saudi Arabia, in order to smear Assad and escalate the conflict. Russia was able to deescalate the conflict by persuading Assad to give up his chemical weapons stockpile. (It didn’t take much convincing, because Assad no doubt realized that this stockpile was more of a liability than an asset.) The Americans were livid; they had been itching to bomb Syria. Had they done so, the too-evil-for-al Qaeda “Caliphate” known as ISIS, which recently spilled out of Syria and rolled right across northern Iraq, would probably be enthroned in Damascus by now as well.

But in the case of flight MH17, the false flag theory rests on an untenable assumption: that the Ukrainians, if tasked with shooting it down, would in fact succeed in shooting it down. All previous evidence illustrates that when Ukrainians want to shoot down a plane, they may succeed in shooting down a nursery school, a maternity ward, an apartment building full of elderly Ukrainians, but never a plane. Conversely, if Ukrainians set out to destroy a maternity ward or a kindergarten (as they are known to sometimes do) odds are that they will hit a Boeing. They inherited a now rather obsolete Buk M1 air defense system from the USSR, which, in skilled hands, is quite capable of shooting down a Boeing flying at cruising altitude, but you’d be wrong to think that they have figured out how it works. They held exactly one training exercise using this system, in 2001, and succeeded in … shooting down a Russian civilian airliner! There were no training exercises in using this system until … it was used to shoot down MH17! It was used in Georgia during the war of 2008 over South Ossetia, where it did shoot down four Russian military aircraft, but there it was commanded by American mercenaries of Polish descent. Ukrainians excel at robbing, selling out, dismantling and destroying their own country; but achieving a specific, precise result as part of a highly coordinated mission? Not so much. Case in point: some Australian and Dutch troops wanted to go and maintain security at the crash site, but couldn’t, because the Ukrainians chose the occasion of their arrival to attack some neighboring towns and villages. You’d think that they would treat the opportunity to get some NATO boots on the ground as a Godsend, and act accordingly, but such rational behavior would be, you know, un-Ukrainian. The proper thing for them to do is to go and strafe some nearby village, and get themselves ambushed and slaughtered to a man by an angry babushka with a Kalashnikov.

Once you discount the theory that the downing of MH17 was a highly orchestrated false flag operation, everything falls into place. Why did the Ukrainians deploy their Buk M1 batteries and radar in Donetsk region, even though there was no enemy for them to shoot at? Because they are idiots. Why was there a Ukrainian Sukhoi 25 jet fighter in the air there? Trailing behind passenger jets and using them as human shields is standard Ukrainian practice. Why did that fighter zoom up into the Boeing’s flight corridor and pop up on air traffic control radar at the exact time the Boeing was shot down? That’s a standard evasive maneuver: the pilot saw a missile being launched, and tried to get out of its way by aiming up. If he hadn’t done that, then the story would have been that Ukrainians shot down their own jet fighter as part of a successful (by Ukrainian standards) exercise, held in the vicinity of an international passenger flight just to spice things up. Why did Dnepropetrovsk APC redirect the flight over the war zone and the Buk M1 batteries? Because the Ukrainians had recently issued an order that closed the airspace over Donetsk, well below the plane’s cruising altitude and away from its flight path, but perhaps something was lost in translation to Ukraine’s wonderfully precise official language, and so the APC redirected the flight right over the closed airspace and told it to fly right above the minimum altitude. Why did the Ukrainians launch the rocket? Well, that was probably something like what happened in the movie The Three Stooges in Outer Space (1957). The stooges find themselves inside a rocket. Moe gets hungry and pushes a button that he thinks says “LUNCH” except that it says “LAUNCH”. Hilarity ensues.

If that is what happened, then that’s really embarrassing, not just for the Ukrainians, for whom embarrassment has become something of a national sport, but for their self-appointed American minders. What’s making this situation even more difficult is that western news teams, following in the wake of the investigative teams visiting the crash site, got a chance to look at, and report on, the carnage and devastation perpetrated by the Ukrainians against their own people. Worse yet, the Ukrainian government, so carefully slapped together out of US State Department-approved dregs of Ukrainian society, has in the meantime come unstuck. The coalition government failed after a spectacular fistfight on the floor of the Supreme Rada, with the two rabidly nationalist parties walking out (okay, I won’t call them Nazi, but only today). Prime minister Yatsenyuk (who had been hand-picked for the job and nicknamed “Yats” by Victoria Nuland of the US State Department) has resigned. President Piglet is still there, but it’s unclear what it is he is doing. In fact, it is becoming unclear whether there even is a Ukrainian government; of late, the officials in Donetsk have been receiving very strange, barely coherent missives from Kiev, obviously written in American English and clumsily translated, then signed and stamped by some Ukrainian monkey to make them look slightly more legit. If the Ukrainian translators run away too, then the American minders will be forced to resort to using Google Translate, making it the world’s first experiment in governance through word salad.

The MH17 disaster and Eastern Ukraine are now front page news across the entire world. The circumstances of the crash are anything but clear, but it is clear that they are not what the Americans initially alleged. This they have already admitted. The Ukrainian government is in disarray bordering on nonexistence. The Ukrainian military is either kettled in traps of their own devising and suffering horrific losses, or blasting away at densely populated districts with heavy artillery and rocket fire. The Ukrainian economy is in freefall, with trade links to Russia severed and industry nearing standstill. The country is bankrupt and at the mercy of the IMF. If you feel that the several hundred lives lost aboard MH17 are a tragedy, then you should consider a larger number: 42 million. That’s the population of Ukraine minus Crimea (which will be fine) and that’s the number of lives at risk from civil war and economic collapse.

The best that the US can do in this situation is to bug out of Ukraine while continuing to babble incoherently. This shouldn’t be hard; bugging out and babbling incoherently are two things that the Americans are clearly still very good at; just look at Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

‘The Boom’ by Russell Gold

by Mason Inman

San Francisco Chronicle (April 05 2014)


The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World, by Russell Gold (Simon & Schuster, 2014)

After decades of decline and stagnation, hydraulic fracturing – or simply “fracking” – has enabled US oil and gas production to make a surprise turnaround. This boom of shale gas and shale oil has been hailed as a solution to nearly every energy issue. Abundant natural gas could fuel our cars instead of oil, reindustrialize our nation with new steel and plastics factories, and replace coal, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. We could export the gas and oil to make more money, create jobs and boost the economy. We could cut reliance on the Middle East. We could use exports to punish Russia, while helping our allies in Europe and Asia. We could achieve the Holy Grail of energy independence.

In all these aspirations there is a bit of truth. But each gets hyped, and collectively they don’t all add up. It doesn’t seem we can have our shale gas and export it, too – and have it remain cheap and abundant. (It’s worth noting that despite the boom, the United States is still a net importer of natural gas, and the world’s second-largest importer of oil, behind China.)

Russell Gold’s The Boom, authoritative and fairly balanced, is a welcome guide – the best all-around book yet on fracking. Gold has reported on the topic for the Wall Street Journal for more than a decade. He also draws on experience. His parents own a farm in Pennsylvania, and they, like thousands of other families, signed a drilling lease.

Given Gold’s reporting, his parents likely knew far more about what to expect than most other families, many of whom were dismayed by the raucous din of drilling rigs, the tree clearing to make way for pipelines, the sheer scale of activities – and how little control they had over what happened on their own land. Most vexing have been the strange happenings with water wells, which sometimes lost water pressure, or became suffused with enough natural gas to make tap water flammable, or occasionally even exploded. Such problems have been the main reason why many environmentalists have lined up against fracking, trying to force stricter regulations, or to even ban it.

How many of these water problems were caused by drilling for gas is still an open question. Groundwater contamination problems appear unrelated to fracking itself, Gold explains. Instead, the problems are far more likely to be caused by inadequate or faulty cementing around wells. The industry knows how to isolate wells from groundwater. But with weak regulations and lax enforcement, Gold argues, companies have not always taken the time and spent the money to do so.

Efforts to make drilling safer have been fended off by the industry – even by companies directed by men who thought of themselves as environmentalists, like George Mitchell. His company, Mitchell Energy, was the first to figure out how to use fracking to get profitable amounts of natural gas out of shale. Gold tells of how, in the early 1970s, Mitchell became a fan of the eccentric engineer Buckminster Fuller, and grew concerned about limits to resources and population growth.

Yet when Mitchell Energy was charged with inadequately cementing its wells, the company fought efforts to impose stronger regulations and force them to pay fines or damages. Mitchell comes across as concerned about the environment in the abstract, but not when it impinged on his bottom line.

As Gold tells it, the lure of the hunt for natural gas, and a similar level of concern about the environment, drove another of the major players in Gold’s book: Aubrey McClendon, the CEO of Chesapeake Energy. Unlike Mitchell Energy, McClendon’s company didn’t make any advances in technology or engineering. Instead, McClendon’s great skill, as Gold put it, was that he “sold the revolution to the world’s bankers”.

Handsome, charismatic and flashy, McClendon is a slick talker who talked up natural gas as a clean alternative to coal (even as he cast doubt on the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change). As Chesapeake made a push into Ohio’s Utica shale, for example, McClendon described it as “one of our biggest discoveries in US history”. Yet so far, the Utica shale has remained a minor player in the boom.

McClendon raised tens of billions from Wall Street, catapulting his company from a minor operator to the nation’s top driller. But his company wound up more than $10 billion in debt, and over the long term has yet to turn a profit on the boom it helped spur forward.

Gold admits “the giddiness of a boom can lead to exaggeration”, which raises the question of how long it might last. He pours doubt on the supposed hundred-year supply of natural gas that the industry has touted and that President Obama cited in his 2012 State of the Union address. Yet The Boom often echoes the industry statements about a “revolution” bringing forth “enormous” and “vast” amounts of oil and gas.

The book’s major oversight is that it doesn’t delve deeply into estimates of how much oil and gas shale might yield in the long run. Will the boom continue, or go bust? Finding the answer is crucial. “We are fossil-fuel addicts”, Gold concludes. “What happens when drug addicts detox? They can be rash, cranky, even psychotic and dangerous”. If the shale boom doesn’t deliver all that Americans have been promised, how will the nation react?


Mason Inman is an Oakland journalist who covers climate and energy issues. His book “The Oracle of Oil”, about the maverick geologist M King Hubbert, will be published by W W Norton in 2015.

Barbecuing the Palestinians

by Dave Lindorff

This Can’t Be Happening! (July 22 2014)

About six years ago, as part of his Bar Mitzvah, my son Jed did a project on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, producing his own graphic novel about the underground fighters who used courage, creativity and the city’s sewer system to, in some small way, offer resistance to the murderous program of the Nazis to exterminate Poland’s Jews.

In the course of his research, Jed interviewed a friend of my father’s, a Polish man who had been a teenager in Warsaw during World War Two. He told my son how one day, as he was riding the streetcar to a job, the tram came to a halt near the wall of the ghetto. Everyone was told they had to get out. Standing there in a crowd outside the wall, he saw vast amounts of smoke and heard an enormous amount of gun and cannon fire, and bombs exploding. Asking what was happening, he said he was told by a Polish woman near him, “They’re barbecuing the Jews!”

It was, it turned out, the final catastrophic leveling of the Warsaw Ghetto that he was witnessing, and this man recalled, still in horror at the memory, that people had gathered from all over the city to watch it happen, like going to a fireworks display.

Now we’re seeing the same phenomenon in Israel, as the Israeli Defense Force enters its second week of bombing and invading the walled-in ghetto of Gaza, where some 1.8 million Palestinian men, women and children have been trapped for years with nowhere to go to escape the bombs, rockets, cannon fire and IDF snipers.

And like the horrific case of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, here too we have a small-scale, improbable, resistance being put up by fighters who use home-made rockets, small arms and a network of tunnels to challenge their much better armed attackers. We also have people – ironically this time it’s Jewish citizens of Israel – dragging lounge chairs and refreshments out to hillsides in the evening to watch the fireworks as the IDF’s tanks, bombers and ships off the coast of Gaza pulverize this huge ghetto that is fully under Israeli control.

As the New York Times reported in an article about the Israeli spectator sport of watching the leveling of Gaza {1}, where by July 22 nearly 600 Palestinian, including over 100 children, had been killed by Israeli weapons, this was nothing new. Similar crowds gathered, equipped with comfortable seating and refreshments, during the prior bloody assault on Gaza in 2008 & 2009 in which between 1160 and 1400 Palestinians were reportedly killed.

As in the prior Gaza assault, the IDF has been found to have targeted children, hospitals, mosques and populated residential areas. The Times reports that Danish reporter Allan Sorensen said at 9 pm local time, when he took his photo of the Israeli spectators, who were cheering each explosion in Gaza, the IDF had just fired what it called a “precision strike”, that by either error or design hit a beachside cafe in Gaza where people had assembled to watch the Soccer World Cup semi-final between Argentina and Netherlands. At least eight people died in that bombing.

I know war is always vicious and ugly. But at least, by International Law, it is supposed to be fought between combatants, not by slaughtering innocents and terrorizing an entire population. According to the UN, at least 75 percent of those killed by the IDF in this latest war on Gaza have been civilians, a large percentage of those being children. That compares to two Israeli civilians killed by Hamas fighters, who have also reportedly killed over thirty IDF soldiers.

Popcorn anyone? What Israelis and the Americans who back them are really supporting when they cheer on the IDF in Gaza

Sadly, the hatred against Palestinians that has been stoked by politicians in Israel has been so vicious that seemingly civilized people can sit munching popcorn while cheering explosions and gunfire that are slaughtering little kids just a short distance away over a wall. That’s not to say that Palestinians don’t also cheer when they learn that an Israeli has been killed. I’m sure they do. But let’s be real here: the Palestinians trapped in their exploding ghetto hell are in no position to be sitting on couches munching popcorn while watching Hamas’s pathetic homemade rockets whiz off into Israel only to be, for the most part, knocked down harmlessly by the IDF’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

As the Canadian writer and Holocaust survivor Gabor Mate wrote yesterday in an opinion piece in the Toronto Star {2} titled: “The Beautiful Dream of Israel Has Become a Nightmare”:



There is no understanding Gaza out of context – Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians – and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood. The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.



Years ago, when President Nixon ordered the criminal “Christmas Bombing” of Hanoi and Haiphong, including (as Israel is doing today in Gaza) civilian targets like hospitals, schools and dikes along the Red River, I wrote an editorial in the Middletown Press, where I was a reporter, saying that to the Vietnamese under the bombing onslaught, delivered by giant planes flying almost too high to see, it was like living near an erupting volcano, but I pointed out that we, the Americans, controlled that volcano, and had the power to stop it from erupting.

This one-sided bloody-minded slaughter by the Israeli Defense Force has to stop. Once again, as with Nixon’s carpet bombing of North Vietnam, as the major supplier of Israel’s arms, the US is in a position to make that happen, but so far, as in prior assaults on Gaza, Washington is not demanding a halt to the killing (in fact both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry go out of their way to justify it). Neither, sadly, are most American citizens, with a recent poll showing that 57% support Israel’s murderous assault.

For a real understanding of what is going on inside of Israel, and of how it is reaching out and destroying freedom and democracy here in the US, watch this video {3} of a talk by ex-IDF soldier Eran Efrati.





Smile for the Aliens

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (July 16 2014)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

Last week’s post, with its uncompromising portrayal of what descent into a dark age looks like, fielded the usual quota of voices insisting that it’s different this time. It’s a familiar chorus, and I confess to a certain wry amusement in watching so many changes get rung on what, after all, is ultimately a non sequitur. Grant that it’s different this time: so? It’s different every time, and it always has been, yet those differences have never stopped history’s remarkably diverse stable of civilizations from plodding down the self-same track toward their common destiny.

It may also have occurred to my readers, and it has certainly occurred to me, that the legions of bloggers and pundits who base their reasonings on the claim that history has nothing to teach us don’t have to face a constant barrage of comments insisting that it’s the same this time. “It’s different this time” isn’t simply one opinion among others, after all; it’s one of the basic articles of faith of the contemporary industrial world, and questioning it reliably elicits screams of outrage even from those who like to tell themselves that they’ve rejected the conventional wisdom of the present day.

Yet that raises another question, one that’s going to bear down with increasing force in the years ahead of us: just how will people cope when some of their most cherished beliefs have to face a cage match with reality, and come out second best?

Such issues are rather on my mind just at the moment. Regular readers may recall that a while back I published a book, The UFO Phenomenon {1}, which managed the not inconsiderable feat of offending both sides of the UFO controversy. It did so by the simple expedient of setting aside the folk mythology that’s been heaped up with equal enthusiasm by true believers in extraterrestrial visitation and true believers in today’s fashionable pseudoskeptical debunkery. After getting past that and a few other sources of confusion, I concluded that the most likely explanation for the phenomenon was that US military and intelligence agencies invented it out of whole cloth after the Second World War, as protective camouflage for an assortment of then-secret aerospace technologies.

That wasn’t the conclusion I expected to reach when I began work on the project; I had several other hypotheses in mind, all of which had to be considerably modified as the research proceeded. It was just too hard not to notice the way that the typical UFO sightings reported in any given decade so closely mimicked whatever the US was testing in secret at any given time – silvery dots or spheres in the late 1940s, when high-altitude balloons were the latest thing in aerial reconnaissance; points or tiny blobs of light high in the air in the 1950s, when the U-2 was still top secret; a phantasmagoria of flying lights and things dropping from the sky in the 1960s, when the SR-71 and the first spy satellites entered service; black triangles in the 1980s, when the first stealth aircraft were being tested, and so on. An assortment of further evidence pointing the same way, not to mention the significant parallels between the UFO phenomenon and those inflatable tanks and nonexistent battalions that tricked the Germans into missing the real preparations for D-Day, were further icing on a saucer-shaped cake.

To call that an unpopular suggestion is to understate the case considerably, though I’m pleased to say it didn’t greatly hurt sales of the book. In the years since The UFO Phenomenon saw print, though, there’s been a steady stream of declassified documents from US intelligence agencies admitting that, yes, a lot of so-called UFOs were perfectly identifiable if you happened to know what classified projects the US government had in the air just then. It turns out, for example, that roughly half the UFO sightings reported to the Air Force’s Project Blue Book between 1952 and 1969 were CIA spyplanes; the officers in charge of Blue Book used to call the CIA when sightings came in, and issue bogus “explanations” to provide cover for what was, at the time, a top secret intelligence project. I have no reason to think that the publication of The UFO Phenomenon had anything to do with the release of all this data, but it was certainly a welcome confirmation of my analysis.

The most recent bit of confirmation hit the media a few weeks back. Connoisseurs of UFO history know that the Scandinavian countries went through a series of major “flaps” – periods in which many UFO sightings occured in a short time – in the 1950s and 1960s. The latest round of declassified data confirmed that these were sightings of US spyplanes {2} snooping on the Soviet Union. The disclosures didn’t happen to mention whether CIA assets also spread lurid accounts of flying saucer sightings and alien visitations to help muddy the waters. My hypothesis is that that’s what was going on all the way through the history of the UFO phenomenon: fake stories and, where necessary, faked sightings kept public attention fixated on a manufactured mythology of flying saucers from outer space, so that the signal of what was actually happening never made it through the noise.

Many of my readers will already have guessed how the two sides of the UFO controversy responded to the disclosures just mentioned: by and large, they haven’t responded to them at all. Believers in the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs are still insisting at the top of their lungs that some day very soon, the US government will be forced to ‘fess up to the reality of alien visitation – yes, I field emails from such people regularly. Believers in the null hypothesis, the claim that all UFO sightings result from hoaxes, illusions, or misidentification of ordinary phenomena, are still rehashing the same old arguments when they haven’t gone off to play at being skeptical about something else. That’s understandable, as both sides have ended up with substantial amounts of egg on their face.

Mind you, the believers in the extraterrestrial hypothesis were right about a great many more things than their rivals, and they deserve credit for that. They were right, for example, that people really were seeing unusual things in the skies; they were right that there was a coverup orchestrated by the US government, and that the Air Force was handing out explanations that it knew to be fake; they were even right in guessing that the Groom Lake airfield in Nevada, the legendary “Area 51”, was somehow central to the mystery – that was the main US spyplane testing and training base straight through the decades when the UFO mystery was at its peak. The one thing they got wrong was the real origin of the UFO phenomenon, but for them, unfortunately, that was the one thing that mattered.

The believers in the null hypothesis don’t have much reason to cheer, even though they turned out to be right about that one point. The disclosures have shown with uncomfortable clarity that a good many of the explanations offered by UFO skeptics were actually nonsense, just as their opponents had been pointing out all along. In 1981, for example, Philip Klass, James Oberg, and Robert Sheaffer claimed that they’d identified all the cases that Project Blue Book labeled as “unknown”. As it happens, they did nothing of the kind; what they actually did was offer untested ad hoc hypotheses to explain away the unknowns, which is not exactly the same thing. It hardly needs to be said that CIA spyplanes played no part in those explanations, and if the “unknown” cases contained the same proportion of spyplanes as the whole collection, as seems likely, roughly half their explanations are wrong – a point that doesn’t exactly do much to inspire confidence in other claims made on behalf of the debunking crusade.

So it’s not surprising that neither side in the controversy has had the least interest in letting all this new data get in the way of keeping up the old argument. The usual human reaction to cognitive dissonance is to exclude the information that’s causing the dissonance, and that’s precisely what both sides, by and large, have done. As the dissonance builds, to be sure, people on the fringes of both scenes will quiely take their leave, new recruits will become few and far between, and eventually surviving communities of believers and debunkers alike will settle into a common pattern familiar to any of my readers familiar with Spiritualist churches, Marxist parties, or the flotsam left behind by the receding tide of other once-influential movements in American society: little circles of true believers fixated on the disputes of an earlier day, hermetically sealed against the disdain and disinterest of the wider society.

They have the freedom to do that, because the presence or absence of alien saucers in Earth’s skies simply doesn’t have that much of an impact on everyday life. Like Spiritualists or Marxists, believers in alien contact and their debunking foes by and large can avoid paying more than the most cursory attention to the failure of their respective crusades. The believers can take comfort in the fact that even in the presence of overwhelming evidence, it’s notoriously hard to prove a negative; the debunkers can take comfort in the fact that, however embarrassing their logical lapses and rhetorical excesses, at least they were right about the origins of the phenomenon.

That freedom isn’t always available to those on the losing side of history. It’s not that hard to keep the faith if you aren’t having your nose rubbed in the reality of your defeat on a daily basis, but it’s quite another matter to cope with the ongoing, overwhelming disconfirmation of beliefs on which you’ve staked your pride, your values, and your sense of meaning and purpose in life. What would life be like these days for the vocal UFO debunkers of recent decades, say, if the flying saucers had turned out to be alien spacecraft after all, the mass saucer landing on the White House lawn so often and so vainly predicted had finally gotten around to happening, and Philip Klass and his fellow believers in the null hypothesis had to field polite requests on a daily basis to have their four-dimensional holopictures taken by giggling, gray-skinned tourists from Zeta Reticuli?

For a living example of the same process at work, consider the implosion of the New Age scene that’s well under way just now. In the years before the 2008 crash, as my readers will doubtless remember, tens of thousands of people plunged into real estate speculation with copies of Rhonda Byrne’s meretricious The Secret (2006) or similar works of New Age pseudophilosophy clutched in their sweaty hands, convinced that they knew how to make the universe make them rich. I knew a fair number of them – Ashland, Oregon, where I lived at the time, had a large and lucrative New Age scene – and so I had a ringside seat as their pride went before the real estate market’s fall. That was a huge blow to the New Age movement, and it was followed in short order by the self-inflicted humiliation of the grand nonevent of December 21 2012.

Those of my readers who don’t happen to follow trends in the publishing industry may be interested to know that sales of New Age books peaked in 2007 and have been plunging since then; so has the take from New Age seminars, conferences, and a galaxy of other products hawked under the same label. There hadn’t been any shortage of disconfirmations in the previous history of the New Age scene, to be sure, but these two seem to have been just that little bit more than most of the movement’s adherents can gloss over. No doubt the New Age movement will spawn its share of little circles of true believers – the New Thought movement, which was basically the New Age’s previous incarnation, did exactly that when it imploded at the end of the 1920s, and many of those little circles ended up contributing to the rise of the New Age decades later – but as a major cultural phenomenon, it’s circling the drain.

One of the central themes of this blog, in turn, is that an embarrassment on much this same scale waits for all those who’ve staked their pride, their values, and their sense of meaning and purpose in life on the belief that it’s different this time, that our society somehow got an exemption from the common fate of civilizations. If industrial society ends up following the familiar arc of decline and fall into yet another dark age, if all the proud talk about man’s glorious destiny among the stars turns out to be empty wind, if we don’t even get the consolation prize of a downfall cataclysmic enough to drag the rest of the planet down with us – what then?

I’ve come to think that’s what lies behind the steady drumbeat of emails and comments I field week after week insisting that it’s different this time, that it has to be different this time, and clutching at the most remarkable assortment of straws in an attempt to get me to agree with them that it’s different this time. That increasingly frantic chorus has many sources, but much of it is, I believe, a response to a simple fact: most of the promises made by authoritative voices in contemporary industrial society about the future we’re supposed to get have turned out to be dead wrong.

Given the number of people who like to insist that every technological wet dream will eventually be fulfilled, it’s worth taking the time to notice just how poorly earlier rounds of promises have measured up to the inflexible yardstick of reality. Of all the gaudy and glittering technological breakthroughs that have been promised with so much confidence over the last half dozen decades or so, from cities on the Moon and nuclear power too cheap to meter straight through to 120-year lifespans and cures for cancer and the common cold, how many have actually panned out? Precious few. Meanwhile most measures of American public health are slipping further into Third World territory with every year that passes, our national infrastructure is sinking into a morass of malign neglect, and the rising curve of prosperity that was supposed to give every American access to middle class amenities has vanished in a haze of financial fraud, economic sclerosis, and official statistics so blatantly faked that only the media pretends to believe them any more.

For many Americans these days, furthermore, those broken promises have precise personal equivalents. A great many of the people who were told by New Age authors that they could get rich easily and painlessly by visualizing abundance while investing in dubious real estate ventures found out the hard way that believing those promises amounted to being handed a one-way nonstop ticket to poverty. A great many of the people who were told by equally respected voices that they would attain financial security by mortgaging their futures for the benefit of a rapacious and corrupt academic industry and its allies in the banking sphere are finding out the same thing about the reassuring and seemingly authoritative claims that they took at face value. For that matter, I wonder how many American voters feel they benefited noticeably from the hope and change that they were promised by the sock puppet they helped put into the White House in 2008 and 2012.

The promises that framed the housing bubble, the student loan bubble, and the breathtaking cynicism of Obama’s campaign, after all, drew on the same logic and the same assumptions that guided all that grand and vaporous talk about the inevitability of cities on the Moon and commuting by jetpack. They all assumed that history is a one-way street that leads from worse to better, to more, bigger, louder, gaudier, and insisted that of course things would turn out that way. Things haven’t turned out that way, they aren’t turning out that way, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that things aren’t going to turn out that way any time this side of the twelfth of Never. I’ve noted here several times now that if you want to predict the future, paying attention to the reality of ongoing decline pretty {3} reliably gives you better results than trusting that the decline won’t continue in its current course.

The difficulty with that realization, of course, is precisely that so many people have staked their pride, their values, and their sense of meaning and purpose in life on one or another version of the logic I’ve just sketched out. Admitting that the world is under no compulsion to change in the direction they think it’s supposed to change, that it’s currently changing in a direction that most people find acutely unwelcome, and that there are good reasons to think the much-ballyhooed gains of the recent past were the temporary products of the reckless overuse of irreplaceable energy resources, requires the surrender of a deeply and passionately held vision of time and human possibility. Worse, it lands those who do so in a situation uncomfortably close to the crestfallen former UFO debunkers I joked about earlier in this post, having to cope on an everyday basis with a world full of flying saucers and tourists from the stars.

Beneath the farcical dimensions of that image lies a sobering reality. Human beings can’t live for long without some source of values and some sense of meaning in their lives. That’s why people respond to cognitive dissonance affecting their most cherished values by shoving away the unwelcome data so forcefully, even in the teeth of the evidence. Resistance to cognitive dissonance has its limits, though, and when people have their existing sources of meaning and value swept away by a sufficiently powerful flood of contradictions, they will seek new sources of meaning and value wherever they can find them – no matter how absurd, dysfunctional, or demonic those new meanings and values might look to an unsympathetic observer. The mass suicide of the members of the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult in 1997 offers one measure of just how far astray those quests for new sources of meaning can go; so, on a much larger scale, does the metastatic nightmare of Nazi Germany.

I wrote in an earlier post this month {4} about the implosion of the sense of political legitimacy that’s quietly sawing the props out from underneath the US federal government, and convincing more and more Americans that the people who claim to represent and govern them are a pack of liars and thieves. So broad and deep a loss of legitimacy is political dynamite, and normally results within no very long a time frame in the collapse of the government in question. There are no guarantees, though, that whatever system replaces a delegitimzed government will be any better.

That same principle applies with equal force to the collapse of the fundamental beliefs of a civilization. In next week’s post, with this in mind, I plan on talking about potential sources of meaning, purpose and value in a world on its way into a global dark age.




John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {5} and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.