I rarely discuss financial markets these days. Although I pay attention, it's not in the obsessive manner I did a decade ago. I mainly keep my eyes out for potential big macro turning points, and if I see something interesting in that regard, I try to share it with readers. This means I might not mention markets for months at a time, if not longer. I think the setup right now is unique enough to provide a few thoughts.
The only chart or ratio I really pay attention to is SPY/GLD, which is a proxy for the S&P 500 priced in gold. In my view, a real equity bull market is characterized by equities rising and hitting new highs in gold terms, not just in nominal terms.
Let's take a longer-term look at this ratio.
The title of today's post is not meant to be taken literally. I trust plenty of people. I trust friends who've demonstrated their trustworthiness over the years. I trust my family. Having people in my life I love and trust makes everything far more meaningful and pleasant. I hope people reading this likewise have a circle of trust they've built over the years.
On the other hand, you should never trust anyone or anything that hasn't given you good reason to do so, and if someone or something gives you good reason not to trust them, you should never forget that. The more power a person or institution has in society, the less trustworthy they tend to be. I don't say this because it's fun to be cynical, I say this because my life experience has demonstrated its accuracy.
Where's evil? It's that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side. It's that part of every man that finds all kinds of ugliness so attractive - it's that part of an imbecile that punishes and vilifies and makes war gladly.
- Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night
As things felt like they were spiraling out of control last week, as Americans and people around the world were inundated with endless videos of street violence in addition to reactionary calls to deploy the U.S. military to cities across the country, the temptation to lose control of one's mental faculties and basic humanity was heightened.
I saw evidence of this all around me. There was a dark and vicious energy in the air, and it felt contagious.
It's with an extremely heavy heart that I sit down to write today's post. Although widespread civil unrest was easy to predict, it doesn't make the situation any less sad and dangerous. We're in the thick of it now, and how we respond will likely determine the direction of the country for decades to come.
If the combination of peaceful protesting, looting and violence witnessed across American cities over the past few days completely caught you off guard, you're likely to come to the worst possible conclusion about what to do next. The knee-jerk response I'm already seeing from many is to crush the dissent by all means necessary, but that's exactly how you give the imperial state and oligarchy more power. Power it will never relinquish.
There's a passage in Teddy Roosevelt's famous 1910 “Citizenship in a Republic” speech I want to share with you today:
If a man’s efficiency is not guided and regulated by a moral sense, then the more efficient he is the worse he is, the more dangerous to the body politic. Courage, intellect, all the masterful qualities, serve but to make a man more evil if they are merely used for that man’s own advancement, with brutal indifference to the rights of others. It speaks ill for the community if the community worships those qualities and treats their possessors as heroes regardless of whether the qualities are used rightly or wrongly. It makes no difference as to the precise way in which this sinister efficiency is shown. It makes no difference whether such a man’s force and ability betray themselves in a career of money-maker or politician, soldier or orator, journalist or popular leader. If the man works for evil, then the more successful he is the more he should be despised and condemned by all upright and far-seeing men. To judge a man merely by success is an abhorrent wrong; and if the people at large habitually so judge men, if they grow to condone wickedness because the wicked man triumphs, they show their inability to understand that in the last analysis free institutions rest upon the character of citizenship, and that by such admiration of evil they prove themselves unfit for liberty.
The above words strike me as a perfect description of the deep hole we find ourselves in presently throughout these United States of America. It takes a whole nation to screw things up as badly as we have, and boy have we ever.
And at the dead center of it all is Eric Schmidt. Well before Americans understood the threat of Covid-19, Schmidt had been on an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign pushing precisely the “Black Mirror” vision of society that Cuomo has just empowered him to build. At the heart of this vision is seamless integration of government with a handful of Silicon Valley giants — with public schools, hospitals, doctor’s offices, police, and military all outsourcing (at a high cost) many of their core functions to private tech companies.
- The Intercept: Screen New Deal
Each crisis in the 21st century has been aggressively and ruthlessly wielded into a massive wealth and power grab by the American oligarchy and national security state. The big power grab following 9/11 centered around whittling away constitutional rights via mass surveillance in the name of "keeping us safe", while the money grab after last decade's financial crisis concentrated wealth and assets into fewer hands while entrenching financial feudalism and making the Federal Reserve and mega banks even more powerful.
Despite the success of this diabolical and intentional concentration of money and power, there's still too much privacy, freedom and independent wealth around for the imperial oligarchy to feel comfortable. As such, the current pandemic is being used to put the finishing touches on whatever little political and economic freedom remains in these United States.
I’ve become convinced the next major event that’ll be used to further centralize power and escalate domestic authoritarianism will center around U.S.-China tensions. We haven’t witnessed this “event” yet, but there’s a good chance it’ll occur within the next year or two. Currently, the front runner appears to be a major aggressive move by China into Hong Kong, but it could be anything really. Taiwan, the South China Sea, currency, economic or cyber warfare; the flash points are numerous and growing by the day. Something is going to snap and when it does we better be prepared to not act like mindless imbeciles for the fourth time this century.
When that day arrives, and it’s likely not too far off, certain factions will try to sell you on the monstrous idea that we must become more like China to defeat China. We’ll be told we need more centralization, more authoritarianism, and less freedom and civil liberties or China will win. Such talk is nonsense and the wise way to respond is to reject the worst aspects of the Chinese system and head the other way.
- From my 2019 piece: Two Paths Forward with China – The Good and The Bad
As the clownish farce that is Russiagate slinks back into the psyop dumpster from which it emerged, an even more destructive narrative has metastasized following the U.S. government's incompetent response to covid-19.
It was clear to me from the start that Russiagate was a nonsensical narrative wildly embraced by a variety of powerful people in the wake of Trump's election merely to serve their own ends. For establishment Democrats, it was a way to pretend Hillary Clinton didn't actually lose because she was a wretched status quo candidate with a destructive track record, but she lost due to "foreign meddling." This allowed those involved in her campaign to deflect blame, but it also short-circuited any discussion of the merits of populism and widespread voter dissatisfaction (within both parties) percolating throughout the land. It was a fairytale invented by people intentionally putting their heads in the sand in order to avoid confrontation with political reality and to keep their cushy gravy-train of entrenched corruption going.
We find ourselves at a moment where the financial and political systems that have dominated for decades are failing in a spectacular and irredeemable fashion. Those who pull the levers are (as usual) attempting to take advantage of the situation by rapaciously snatching and consolidating more wealth and power, while leaving the general public to rot. When faced with such a historic moment, one should assume a certain degree of responsibility to make sure the next paradigm ends up better than the one we're leaving. If we fail to think deeply about an improved vision and framework for the future, someone else will do it for us.
Tucked into the recent recovery bill was a provision granting the Federal Reserve the right to set up a $450 billion bailout plan without following key provisions of the federal open meetings law, including announcing its meetings or keeping most records about them, according to a POLITICO review of the legislation.
The provision further calls into question the transparency and oversight for the biggest bailout law ever passed by Congress. President Donald Trump has indicated he does not plan to comply with another part of the new law intended to boost Congress’ oversight powers of the bailout funds. And earlier this week, Trump dismissed the government official chosen as the chief watchdog for the stimulus package.
The changes at the central bank – which appear to have been inserted into the 880-page bill by sympathetic senators during the scramble to get it approved -- would address a complaint that the Fed faced during the 2008 financial crisis, when board members couldn’t easily hold group conversations to address the fast-moving economic turmoil.
The provision dispenses with a longstanding accountability rule that the board has to give at least one day’s notice before holding a meeting. Experts say the change could lead to key information about the $450 billion bailout fund, such as which firms might benefit from the program, remaining inaccessible long after the bailout is over.
The new law would absolve the board of the requirement to keep minutes to closed-door meetings as it deliberates on how to set up the $450 billion loan program. That would severely limit the amount of information potentially available to the public on what influenced the board’s decision-making. The board would only have to keep a record of its votes, though they wouldn’t have to be made public during the coronavirus crisis.
A Fed spokesperson did not comment on the changes in the law or whether the Fed would continue keeping records of its meetings.
An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.
- Arthur Miller
Before going any further, I want to share a graphic that accurately summarizes my position on the current pandemic affecting the world.
Crises, like pandemics, don't break things in and of themselves; they show you what's already broken.
- Patrick Wyman
Big macro crises in any form are scary, massively disruptive, and in some cases, literally deadly. This is why governments and entrenched institutions always see such events as opportunities to further consolidate wealth and power.
The current global pandemic is no exception, as I detailed in last week's piece: Power Grab. While it's necessary to be aware of this reality -- and to push back against it wherever possible -- it's equally important to recognize there's a silver lining to all of this.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
- Percy Shelley, Ozymandias
It didn't take long for the most opportunistic, nefarious and corrupt actors in the U.S. to turn a pandemic crisis into another massive power grab attempt. We've seen it before; after 9/11 and also throughout the response to the financial crisis a decade ago. The irredeemable sociopaths who always make the big, important decisions used those crises to consolidate wealth and power. They're going for it again.
There are many examples, but let me list a few:
And it was in the midst of shouts rolling against the terrace wall in massive waves that waxed in volume and duration, while cataracts of colored fire fell thicker through the darkness, that Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague-stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in times of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.
- Albert Camus, The Plague
It's likely the past few weeks have been some of the most surreal you've ever experienced; I know it's been the case for me. The largest cities in the U.S. are essentially on lockdown, the stock market is in free fall and grocery stores are being stripped bare. It feels like a very dark moment, but in such darkness I see the light of a new beginning. A new beginning that starts with each and every one of us.
One of the things that helped me navigate the last couple of months in a state of relative calm is a longstanding understanding that something of this sort was inevitable. Not a pandemic necessarily, but something was bound to come along and slam us unexpectedly, and that when it did, the impact would be shockingly disruptive given how completely brittle and phony our economies and societies have become.
And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually.
- Jimi Hendrix
There's a widespread belief out there that the U.S. and the global economy in general is on much sounder footing ever since the financial crisis of a decade ago. Unfortunately, this false assumption has resulted in widespread complacency and elevated levels of systemic risk as we enter the early part of the 2020s.
All it takes is a cursory amount of research to discover nothing was "reset" or fixed by the government and central bank response to that crisis. Rather, the entire response was just a gigantic coverup of the crimes and irresponsible behavior that occurred, coupled with a bailout designed to enrich and empower those who needed and deserved it least.
Everything was papered over in order to resuscitate a failed paradigm without reforming anything. Since it was all about pretending nothing was structurally wrong with the system, the response was to build more castles of sand on top of old ones that had unceremoniously crumbled. The whole event was a huge warning sign and opportunity to change course, but it was completely ignored. Enter novel coronavirus.
There are several reasons I spend so much time discussing and analyzing the current state of affairs. The primary motivation, aside from a drive to share personal opinions and spread awareness, is to encourage people to think critically. I don't want readers to agree with everything I say, I want people to become inspired to think for themselves.
The ruling class doesn't want you to think, they want you to simply accept the nonsensical stories they tell you. By contrast, I don't want readers to blindly accept any of my conclusions, rather, I want my work be a case study on how to deploy independent logic and insight to a variety of topics and situations.
While I haven't discussed the 2020 presidential campaign much here, I comment on it quite a bit over at Twitter, and people often ask why I discuss the circus at all. The reason isn't because I expect a politician to come save us and make everything right again, but because the establishment response to populist-type candidates is so instructive.
“Happy 18th Birthday! Meet your new Daddy,” read one website advertisement. “Do you have strong oral skills? We’ve got a job for you!” cooed another.
A message on another billboard directed at the “daddies” was more blunt: “The alternative to escorts. Desperate women will do anything"...
SeekingArrangement was founded by Las Vegas tech tycoon Brandon Wade. Wade is apparently worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million. His motto is, “Love is a concept invented by poor people”...
SA also markets itself as an antidote to student debt. In the U.S. and elsewhere, college students are enduring financial instability and hardship. Because of rising college fees and rent, and the lack of time available for work during studies, many women are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. “SeekingArrangement.com has helped facilitate hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of arrangements that have helped students graduate debt-free,” Wade boasts on the website. Promotional videos show young, beautiful women enrolled in “Sugar Baby University” — in classrooms, holding wads of cash, driving luxury cars, and discussing the pleasure and ease of being a sugar baby.
When signing up for an account, potential sugar babies are told, “Tip: Using a .edu email address earns you a free upgrade!”
- TruthDig: Sugar-Coated Pimping
When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.
– Frédéric Bastiat
Watching politics unfold in the post-financial crisis era has been extraordinarily frustrating. While it's been refreshing to observe the emergence of grassroots populism over the last few years, there's a problematic lack of depth and clarity embedded in these burgeoning mass movements. Tens if not hundreds of millions of Americans now acknowledge that something's deeply broken within the current paradigm, but we remain focused on identifying symptoms as opposed to understanding and rectifying the systemic nature of the problem.
Of course, there are numerous complexities when it comes to the administration of an imperial oligarchy, and our system didn't emerge overnight. Perhaps the most fundamental mutation of the post WW2 era came in 1971 when the international convertibility of U.S. dollars into gold was severed. This is when the country began its long transformation from a largely industrial empire to a financial one. I've often highlighted how the purely fiat USD reserve currency is the most powerful weapon ever invented, and how the U.S. control of the global financial system is the true backbone of empire, but it's equally important to understand how the predatory financial system is also used to subjugate Americans in their own country.
In order to understand how this works we need to dig into the most fundamentally important four letter word in any modern economy: Debt.
Most of you reading this will be aware that Zerohedge's prolific and highly popular twitter account with over 670,000 followers was on the receiving end of a lifetime ban by the Twitter politburo. This post won't focus on the details of this specific ban, but if you want to read more about it, see the following: Zerohedge Suspended On Twitter.
It's imperative not to overly focus on the individual victims of tech giant bans, and instead zero in on the bigger picture. Rather than debating whether or not you like Zerohedge, or whether you think it crossed a line, I want to highlight the dangerous implications of dominant social media companies wielding permanent bans as a weapon against freedom of speech in practice.
This post will cover three main issues. First, the fact that Twitter and other social media companies have essentially created a caste system when it comes to engagement on their platforms. Second, the question of whether or not a lifetime ban from social media platforms is an ethical concept. Third, the dangers of Twitter essentially throwing the entire timeline of a banished account into the memory hole.
Disclaimer: I don't have answers to everything. In fact, I probably don't have answers to anything at all, just some thoughts on what's wrong with the structure of governance around the world (it's too centralized and authoritarian) and some general ideas about what direction we should head in.
Given the increased likelihood that all sorts of things about the current paradigm will begin to fail in a more acute and undeniable manner in the years ahead, well intentioned people capable of critical thought should begin contemplating how things could be as opposed to how they are. Ideally, this will lead to increased action and experimentation, particularly at a local level. Never forget, if we don't come up with our own ideas and perspectives for how things should be, others will be more than happy to decide for us.
This piece should be seen as a thought exercise of how I would think about structuring things if presented with a blank slate opportunity.
In Part 3 of this series, I outlined a framework of sovereignty beginning with the individual, progressing to family, municipality/county, state and finally country. Though the broadest scope of decision making should always reside with the individual, the reality of social relations means some individual autonomy is relinquished as sovereign units grow to include more and more people. It's part of human nature to expand beyond ourselves and our families into larger and more complex social relationships, but far more thought should be directed at the dangers and uncertainties that arise as these units start to include increased degrees of geography and population.
Today's post will outline a framework through which I've come to view politics, as well as life in general. It will identify and examine various units of sovereignty as they exist in the contemporary U.S., since that's the political system I'm most familiar with. Nevertheless, the overall framework should prove useful to people living all over the world.
Let's start from the beginning. The most basic and meaningful unit of sovereignty is the individual, followed by the family, the municipality/county, the state (California, New York, Texas, etc) and finally the federal government (Washington D.C.). It's my view that within a healthy society the scope of governance should decline as you add more and more individuals to the mix. It's at the most basic unit of sovereignty (the individual), where authority over most of life's decisions should reside. This runs the gamut from the really big decisions, such as what sort of work to do, who to marry, what religion (if any) to believe in; to the completely mundane, such as what to eat for breakfast.
Contrary to popular opinion, I think a loss of faith in Washington D.C. and its institutions is entirely rational and healthy. Maintaining faith in something due to tradition or the fumes of hope won't lead to anything productive, rather, it's preferable to honestly assess the reality of whatever situation you're in and reorient your worldview and priorities accordingly.
Whether the issue relates to above the law criminal bankers, a Federal Reserve which systematically funnels free money to the already wealthy and powerful, the societal dominance of free speech and privacy-despising tech giant monopolies, or the national security state's undeclared forever wars for empire, there's no good reason to maintain any faith in the federal government and the oligarchs/special interests who control it.
Philosophically speaking, I've come to conclude the only way to truly have self-government where community life reflects the desires and needs of the people who live there is by concentrating decision making at the local level. I've become increasingly interested in the general idea of localism not just because I agree with it in theory, but because it seems more and more people will begin to gravitate toward this perspective and life strategy out of necessity and frustration.
All I wanted to do this week was work on part 2 of my localism series, but circumstances quickly got the best of me. The assassination of Iran's top general Qassem Soleimani was an event of such historical significance, I feel obligated to detail my thoughts on what it means and how things unfold from here, especially given how much of a role geopolitics and questions of empire have played in my writings.
First off, we need to understand the U.S. is now at war with Iran. It's an undeclared, insane and unconstitutional war, but it is war nonetheless. There is no world in which one government intentionally assassinates the top general of another government and that not be warfare. You can argue the U.S. and Iran were already engaged in low-level proxy wars, and that's a fair assessment, but you can't say we aren't currently in a far more serious a state of war. We are.
Soleimani was not only a powerful general, he was a popular figure within Iran. Unlike other blows the U.S. and Iran have inflicted upon one another, this cannot be walked back. There's no deescalation from here, only escalation. Even if you want to pretend this didn't happen and turn back the clock, it's impossible. This is a major event of historical proportions and should be seen as such. Everything has been turned up a notch.
Many of you probably have heard of the second amendment sanctuary movement, which consists of municipalities and counties across the U.S. passing resolutions pledging not to enforce additional gun control measures infringing upon the right to bear arms. The current movement traces its origins back to Effingham County in southern Illinois, which passed a resolution in April 2018 calling the county a second amendment "sanctuary", essentially a vow to ignore gun control legislation proposed by Illinois state lawmakers. This particular tactic gained traction not just within Illinois, where 67 of 102 counties have now passed similar resolutions, but throughout the country.
The movement started gaining more attention over the past couple of months following the blistering momentum it found in Virginia after Democrats won the state legislature in November. As of this writing, 87 out of Virginia's 95 counties have passed such resolutions and it's important to note that virtually all of them were passed in the two months since the election. In other words, this is happening at a very rapid pace.
The United States has historically bragged about its free and transparent markets. But what the Fed is doing today is pulling a dark curtain around the financing of this so-called free and transparent market. The public has no idea which Wall Street firms have received this $3 trillion or why they can’t borrow it elsewhere. This kind of obfuscation by the Federal Reserve could actually stimulate distrust in the U.S. banking system. The Fed admitted as much in its most recent Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) minutes, writing that participation in the Fed’s loan program “could become stigmatized.”
- Wall Street on Parade: Is the Fed’s $3 Trillion in Loans to Trading Houses on Wall Street Legal?
The business model of Wall Street is fraud.
- Bernie Sanders
Financial services as currently structured is the most pernicious, predatory and corrupt industry on earth. Moreover, it's the deliberately complex and opaque nature of the industry which then limits public debate when some problem arises and governments and central banks are called upon to take emergency measures to "save the system," which is just a euphemism for enormous sums of corporate welfare being funneled to people and institutions who couldn't survive otherwise.
It is systemic looting on a massive scale and the primary patrons of this ongoing and seemingly endless scheme are central banks. In the U.S. this means the Federal Reserve, which recently came back into the "market" with enormous new interventions in both the repo market and via renewed balance sheet expansion. I've read many of the smart takes on the repo crisis and still don't feel confident I know precisely what's going on. This is intentional.
But greed is a bottomless pit
And our freedom's a joke
We're just taking a piss
And the whole world must watch the sad comic display
If you're still free start running away
Cause we're coming for you!
- Conor Oberst, "Land Locked Blues"
It's hard to believe 2020 is just around the corner. If the last ten years have taught us anything, it's the extent to which a vicious and corrupt oligarchy will go to further extend and entrench their economic and societal interests. Although the myriad desperate actions undertaken by the ruling class this past decade have managed to sustain the current paradigm a bit longer, it has not come without cost and major long-term consequence. Gigantic imbalances across multiple areas have been created and worsened, and the resolution of these in the years ahead (2020-2025) will shape the future for decades to come. I want to discuss three of them today, the financial system imbalance, the trust imbalance and the geopolitical imbalance.
Recent posts have focused on how what really matters in a crisis is not the event itself, but the response to it. The financial crisis of ten years ago is particularly instructive, as the entire institutional response to a widespread financial industry crime spree was to focus on saving a failed system and then pretending nothing happened. The public was given no time or space to debate whether the system needed saving; or more specifically, which parts needed saving, which parts needed wholesale restructuring and which parts should've been thrown into the dustbin. Rather, unelected central bankers stepped in with trillions in order to prop up, empower and reward the very industry and individuals that created the crisis to begin with. There was no real public debate, central bankers just did whatever they wanted. It was a moment so brazen and disturbing it shook many of us, including myself, out of a lifetime of propaganda induced deception.
Since a few things became clear to me last year, I've consistently forecasted a significant worsening in U.S.-China relations and remained adamant that all the happy talk of trade deals and breakthroughs is just a lot of hot air. What first appeared to be a unique quirk of Donald Trump has morphed into bipartisan consensus in Congress, and clear signs have emerged that the general public has likewise become alarmed at China's growing global clout.
Due to this, as well as a litany of other factors outlined in prior posts, it's highly unlikely the current trajectory will reverse course and result in a return to what had been business as usual. Instead, we're probably headed toward a serious and historically meaningful escalation of tensions between the U.S. and China, with what we've seen thus far simply a prelude to the main drama. If I'm correct and the ship has already sailed, we should focus our attention on how we respond to what could quickly become a very dicey scenario filled with heightened emotions and nefarious agendas. There's a good way to respond and a bad way.
From a big picture perspective, the largest rift in American politics is between those willing to admit reality and those clinging to a dishonest perception of a past that never actually existed. Ironically, those who most frequently use "post-truth" to describe our current era tend to be those with the most distorted view of what was really happening during the Clinton/Bush/Obama reign.
Despite massive amounts of evidence to the contrary, such people now enthusiastically whitewash the decades preceding Trump to turn it into a paragon of human liberty, justice and economic wonder. You don't have to look deep to understand that resistance liberals are now actually conservatives, brimming with nostalgia for the days before significant numbers of people became wise to what's been happening all along.
Stiegler insists, however, that authentic thinking and calculative thinking are not mutually exclusive; indeed, mathematical rationality is one of our major prosthetic extensions. But the catastrophe of the digital age is that the global economy, powered by computational “reason” and driven by profit, is foreclosing the horizon of independent reflection for the majority of our species, in so far as we remain unaware that our thinking is so often being constricted by lines of code intended to anticipate, and actively shape, consciousness itself.
As the share price of Google parent company Alphabet soared to new highs in the U.S. equity market last week, several articles were published detailing just how out of control and dangerous this tech behemoth has become.
First, we learned Google is in the process of secretly sucking up the personalized healthcare data of up to 50 million Americans without the permission of patients or doctors. This was followed by a detailed report in the Wall Street Journal outlining how the search giant is meddling with its algorithms far more aggressively than executives lead people to believe. Despite these revelations, or more likely because of them, the stock price jumped to record levels. This is the world we live in.
Two days before Bolivian president Evo Morales was pushed out by the country's military, Mark Weisbot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research penned a warning about what was happening, and what might unfold, in a Nation article titled, The Trump Administration Is Undercutting Democracy in Bolivia.
Multilateral organizations like the Organization of American States (OAS) have a certain perceived impartiality because they are, in theory, controlled by a diverse group of nations. But sometimes a great power can wield a disproportionate influence. It could theoretically be a coincidence that both the Trump administration and the OAS have tried—without offering any evidence—to discredit Bolivia’s national election in the past couple of weeks. But it’s more likely that this dangerous, ugly, and destabilizing operation is being pushed by Washington.
This "destabilizing operation" came to a head yesterday when Morales resigned under pressure from the military amidst a wave of protests and violence. The situation is Bolivia is complicated, but one thing you can be sure of is anything you hear or read in U.S. mass media will be a heaping pile of lies and propaganda. Fortunately, I came across a really helpful thread courtesy of Kevin Cashman.
“Major movers” such as China, Russia and the European Union have a strong “motivation to de-dollarize,” said Korin, co-director at the energy and security think tank, on Wednesday.
“We don’t know what’s going to come next, but what we do know is that the current situation is unsustainable."
- Anne Korin, Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.
Irrespective of where you reside in the world, chances are you feel some sense of unease, a nagging concern for the future and a deep instinctual understanding that an era you knew and navigated your entire life is slipping away and won't be coming back.
We've been witnessing widespread protest and unrest across countries with distinct political and economic systems, such as Hong Kong, France, Chile, Spain, Ecuador, Lebanon and Venezuela just to name a few. Those with vested interests and an ideological solution to sell insist it's all because of socialism, capitalism or some other ism, but the truth is this goes far deeper than that. What's actually happening is the geopolitical and economic paradigm that's dominated the planet for decades is failing, and rather than address the failure in any real sense, elites globally have decided to loot everything they possibly can until the house of cards comes crashing down.
As President Trump has said many times, we rebuilt China over the past 25 years. No truer words were spoken, but those days are over.
The United States now recognizes China as a strategic and economic rival.
- Vice President Mike Pence during a speech last week at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
The truth is that China is a strategic competitor at best that uses coercion and corruption as its tools of statecraft. (Applause.)
We’ve reconvened “the Quad” – the security talks between Japan, Australia, India and the Untied States that had been dormant for nine years. This will prove very important in the efforts ahead, ensuring that China retains only its proper place in the world.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a speech last week to the Heritage Foundation
I don't take the U.S.-China trade war seriously, because I don't expect a transformative deal to come of it. Specifically, I see the current trade charade as little more than a warmup to a far more serious, unpredictable and dangerous conflict between the U.S. and China in the years ahead.
Last December, in a piece titled Is U.S. Geopolitical Strategy Experiencing a Monumental Shift?, I explained how the U.S. was repositioning its foreign policy to focus on China, and how this would set off a long-lasting and enormously consequential feud between the dominant empire and the emerging power. The post concluded with the following thought:
The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.
- Arundhati Roy
Last week, Hillary Clinton called Tulsi Gabbard (and Jill Stein) Russian assets on a podcast. More specifically:
“I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on someone who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians,” said Clinton, apparently referring to Rep. Gabbard, who’s been accused of receiving support from Russian bots and the Russian news media. “They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.” She added: “That’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset. Yeah, she’s a Russian asset—I mean, totally. They know they can’t win without a third-party candidate. So I don’t know who it’s going to be, but I will guarantee you they will have a vigorous third-party challenge in the key states that they most needed.”
Tulsi subsequently responded to this slanderous accusation with a series of devastating blows.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr, along with co-conspirators in the UK and Australia, recently wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg requesting he not move forward with a plan to implement end-to-end encryption across Facebook's messaging services. A draft of the letter was published earlier this month by Buzzfeed, and it's worth examining in some detail.
What immediately strikes you is the letter's emphasis on "protecting the children," a talking point universally used by authoritarians throughout history to justify both a reduction of public liberty and a transfer of increased power to the state. Though this tactic is transparent and well understood by those paying attention, it's nevertheless disturbing to observe Barr's disingenuous and shameless use of it (the words 'child' and 'children' appear 17 times in the course of this brief letter).
Here's just one example from the letter:
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
- Maya Angelou
If nothing else, one silver lining to Donald Trump's election is the exposure of establishment types, whether Democratic or Republican, for what they really are. We now recognize that there's very little daylight between a neocon and a neoliberal, and that the back and forth fighting over power between these two camps -- which defined American politics for decades -- was nothing more than a manipulative pro-wrestling circus.
Trump's election has forced many establishment Democrats out of the closet as the intelligence agency, surveillance state, empire-worshipping, centralized power bootlickers they always were. Since neocons were historically more in your face shameless about their support for endless war, oligarch-coddling, and authoritarianism, establishment Democrats could pretend to represent an ethical opposition to such things. Alas, it was all an act and if the Obama administration didn't already prove that to you, the embarrassingly clownish neoliberal "resistance" movement should.
A second former Amazon employee would spark more controversy. Deap Ubhi, a former AWS employee who worked for Lynch, was tasked with gathering marketing information to make the case for a single cloud inside the DOD. Around the same time that he started working on JEDI, Ubhi began talking with AWS about rejoining the company. As his work on JEDI deepened, so did his job negotiations. Six days after he received a formal offer from Amazon, Ubhi recused himself from JEDI, fabricating a story that Amazon had expressed an interest in buying a startup company he owned. A contracting officer who investigated found enough evidence that Ubhi’s conduct violated conflict of interest rules to refer the matter to the inspector general, but concluded that his conduct did not corrupt the process. (Ubhi, who now works in AWS’ commercial division, declined comment through a company spokesperson.)
Ubhi worsened the impression by making ill-advised public statements while still employed by the DOD. In a tweet, he described himself as “once an Amazonian, always an Amazonian.”
- From the must read ProPublica expose: How Amazon and Silicon Valley Seduced the Pentagon
That U.S. tech giants are willing participants in facilitating mass government surveillance has been widely known for a while, particularly since whistleblower Edward Snowden risked his life and liberty to tell us about it six years ago. We also know what happens to executives who don't play ball.
All wars require casus belli, ostensible justifications. After all, despite humanity’s long history of vicious warfare, interstate combat often requires a government distant from its working class to motivate its people to kill and die for distant institutions and esoteric ideologies. That said, Washington doesn’t exactly have a strong track record of honesty regarding its rationales for war. Few Americans know or care much for their own history...
One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting…It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting.
- George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia
It's fall 2019, and nearly twenty years into a series of disastrous and murderous forever wars sold to the public as a necessary response to 9/11, we're being instructed to prepare for another one. Replace the Q with an N at the end of IRA and you know what I'm talking about. Of course, this shouldn't surprise anyone considering much of the U.S. foreign policy establishment has been actively scheming for some invented justification to take out Iran (and many others) for decades.
Ryan Murphy, an economist at Southern Methodist University, recently published a working paper in which he ranked each of the states by the predominance of—there’s no nice way to put it—psychopaths. The winner? Washington in a walk. In fact, the capital scored higher on Murphy’s scale than the next two runners-up combined.
“I had previously written on politicians and psychopathy, but I had no expectation D.C. would stand out as much as it does,” Murphy wrote in an email...
On a national level, it raises the troubling question as to what it means to live in a country whose institutions are set up to reward some very dubious human traits. Like it or not, we’re more likely than not to wind up with some alarming personalities in positions of power.
- From last year's Politico article, Washington, D.C.: the Psychopath Capital of America
One of the most frustrating aspects of modern American politics -- and the culture in general -- is our all encompassing fixation on the superficial. It's also one of the main reasons I have very little interest in presidential politics, which basically consists of a bunch of billionaire friendly puppets auditioning to become the next public face of imperial oligarchy. Though I understand the desire for quick fixes, our focus on highlighting and mitigating only the symptoms of societal decay as opposed to the root causes, ensures we'll never achieve the sort of positive paradigm-level shift necessary to bring humankind forward.
Somewhere between the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein and his extremely suspicious death in a Department of Justice operated prison, the public learned that an FBI intelligence bulletin published by the bureau’s Phoenix field office mentioned for the first time that conspiracy theories pose a domestic terrorism threat. This was followed up last week by a Bloomberg article discussing a new project by the U.S. military (DARPA) to identify fake news and disinformation.
Since leaving office President Obama has drawn widespread criticism for accepting a $400,000 speaking fee from the Wall Street investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald, including from Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Only a few months out of office, the move has been viewed as emblematic of the cozy relationship between the financial sector and political elites.
But as the President’s critics have voiced outrage over the decision many have been reluctant to criticize the record-setting $65 million book deal that Barack and Michelle Obama landed jointly this February with Penguin Random House (PRH)...
While the Obamas’ deal is unique for the amount of money involved, outsized book contracts between politicians and industries they’ve benefitted has precedent. In a recent report issued by the Roosevelt Institute, the study’s authors, Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen, argue that the mainstream approach to money in politics fails to recognize major sources of political spending. Among the least appreciated avenues for political money, they argue, are payments to political figures in the form of director’s fees, speaking fees, and book contracts.
From the 2017 Naked Capitalism piece: The “Market Forces” Behind the Obamas’ Record-Setting Book Deal
Back in 2009, when the Obama administration was busy ensuring the nation's financiers would become larger, more powerful and never serve a day in jail despite their historic crime spree, Larry Summers had dinner with Elizabeth Warren. During the course of that meal, he instructed her about how power really functions in the U.S.:
Is a murder committed more heinous than a suicide allowed? In its act, sure. In this context? NO.
An “unlucky accident” like this is the ONE THING that a non-corrupt State must prevent. It’s the non-corrupt State’s ONE JOB to keep Epstein alive for trial, and everyone knows that everyone knows this is their ONE JOB.
It is impossible to violate this common knowledge without premeditation and malice, without conspiracy and criminality aforethought. It is impossible to have an “unlucky accident” like this in a non-corrupt State.
- Ben Hunt, I’m a Superstitious Man
It's entirely fitting that the death of Jeffrey Epstein is as disturbing, shady, bizarre and seemingly inexplicable as the rest of his life. It seems as if one could research this wretched man's time on earth for years and still come up with more questions than answers. An unfortunate reality complicated by the fact we don't have a mass media particularly interested in asking any of the big questions, such as:
It appears sexually abusing children and accumulating associated blackmail on the rich and powerful was a full-time job for Epstein, so who was actually bankrolling/overseeing this operation? Was it Wexner, somebody else, or was it an intelligence agency as Alex Acosta claims he was told? Seems kind of important to get to the bottom of this.
I could go on and on, but then this would become a book. Rather, the purpose of this post is to highlight the outlandishness surrounding many of the details (or lack thereof) surrounding Epstein's death a week ago in a Department of Justice operated New York City prison.
Indeed, what you'd have to believe in order to think this was a simple suicide is the actual conspiracy theory.
Let's begin with the initial attack, which happened three weeks before his death.
Did you wear a black armband
When they shot the man
Who said "peace could last forever"
And in my first memories
They shot Kennedy
I went numb when I learned to see
So I never fell for Vietnam
We got the wall of D.C. to remind us all
That you can't trust freedom
When it's not in your hands
When everybody's fightin'
For their promised land
Guns N' Roses, Civil War
You know things are getting really weird when news of Jeffrey Epstein's death in a New York City prison operated by the U.S. Department of Justice is the least surprising part of the whole story. Countless people, including myself, assumed this exact sort of thing would happen. Then, just like that, he's gone.
I continue to think the players involved with Epstein in what appears to have been an intelligence-linked blackmail operation, as well as those at risk of being exposed in more detail, are simply too powerful and connected to the institutions that run this country (and others) for us to ever get real answers. It's cynical and depressing, but based on what I've seen over the past couple of decades, it's the most likely outcome.
Rule of law in America? Don't be ridiculous. There are rulers and the ruled. Which bucket do you think you're in?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
You're not losing your mind, everybody else is. Things are crazy and getting crazier. Something must be done. Somebody, please do something.
If paying attention to global events overwhelms and results in a combined sense of dread, concern and bewilderment, you're not alone. It's not simply because humans have more access to more information than ever before that you feel this way, there does appear to be a quickening in the pace of the unfolding of humanity's latest chapter. Things are genuinely falling apart, but things are always falling apart. Likewise, things are always being built and created. Governments come and governments go, as do global empires and monetary systems. Everything is dying and being born all at once, constantly and forever. This will not change.
Today's post revolves around a subject I've been thinking about since early 2017, when I noticed much of the population separating into pro-Trump or anti-Trump factions that were becoming increasingly tribal, vitriolic and hostile. I wrote about it in the piece, Lost in the Political Wilderness, and things haven't improved much since. Fortunately, around the same time I came across the theory of Spiral Dynamics which provided me with a useful framework through which to understand consciousness and the importance of guarding your mind and emotional state in a world that encourages fear, tribalism and anger.
Though we live in a time where more diverse information is available at our fingertips than at any other period in human history, we're still presented with news and narratives via specific channels; whether that be an alternative media figure, a mass media outlet or a tech giant algorithm. The news and commentary that somehow gets in front of us on a daily basis shapes our view of the world just as it always has, and this in turn triggers certain emotions - joy, sadness, anger, fear, inspiration, etc. There's space for all that in a human life, but the ones I'm most interested in for the purposes of this piece are fear and anger.
Perhaps, at long last, a serial rapist and pedophile may be brought to justice, more than a dozen years after he was first charged with crimes that have brutalized countless girls and women. But what won’t change is this: the cesspool of elites, many of them in New York, who allowed Jeffrey Epstein to flourish with impunity. For decades, important, influential, “serious” people attended Epstein’s dinner parties, rode his private jet, and furthered the fiction that he was some kind of genius hedge-fund billionaire. How do we explain why they looked the other way, or flattered Epstein, even as they must have noticed he was often in the company of a young harem? Easy: They got something in exchange from him, whether it was a free ride on that airborne “Lolita Express,” some other form of monetary largesse, entrée into the extravagant celebrity soirées he hosted at his townhouse, or, possibly and harrowingly, a pound or two of female flesh.
- From the New York Magazine article: Who Was Jeffrey Epstein Calling?
An honest assessment of the current state of American politics and society in general leaves little room for optimism regarding the public's ability to accurately diagnose, much less tackle, our fundamental issues at a root level. A primary reason for this state of affairs boils down to the ease with which the American public is divided against itself and conquered.
Though there are certain issues pretty much everyone can agree on, we simply aren't focusing our collective energy on them or creating the mass movements necessary to address them. Things such as systemic bipartisan corruption, the institutionalization of a two-tier justice system in which the wealthy and powerful are above the law, a broken economy that requires both parents to work and still barely make ends meet, and a military-industrial complex consumed with profits and imperial aggression not national defense. These are just a few of the many issues that should easily unite us against an entrenched power structure, but it is not happening. At least not yet.
We currently find ourselves at a unique inflection point in American history. Though I agree with Charles Hugh Smith's assessment that "Our Ruling Elites Have No Idea How Much We Want to See Them All in Prison Jumpsuits," we have yet to reach the point where the general public is prepared to do something about it. I think there are several reasons for this, but the primary obstacle relates to how easily the citizenry is divided and conquered. The mass media, largely owned and controlled by billionaires and their corporations, is highly incentivized to keep the public divided against itself on trivial issues, or at best, on real problems that are merely symptoms of bipartisan elitist plunder.
To appreciate the significance of what I'm about to share, you really need to go back and read yesterday's post: The Jeffrey Epstein Rabbit Hole Goes a Lot Deeper Than You Think.
In that piece, I shared many lesser known, but extremely bizarre facts about Jeffrey Epstein and the people around him. I also noted that it appeared his real job was to run a blackmail operation to ensnare some of the most wealthy and powerful people on earth. I alluded to the possibility that he was collecting this priceless information on behalf of a third party, and then just today we learn the following via the Daily Beast:
“Is the Epstein case going to cause a problem [for confirmation hearings]?” Acosta had been asked. Acosta had explained, breezily, apparently, that back in the day he’d had just one meeting on the Epstein case. He’d cut the non-prosecution deal with one of Epstein’s attorneys because he had “been told” to back off, that Epstein was above his pay grade. “I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone,” he told his interviewers in the Trump transition, who evidently thought that was a sufficient answer and went ahead and hired Acosta. (The Labor Department had no comment when asked about this.)...
Like many of you, I've been following the Jeffrey Epstein story with horror, disgust and open eyes for several years. While it's always been a creepy, twisted and completely bizarre saga, I was unaware of just how inexplicable and strange it is until I did some more digging earlier today.
I put a bunch of information together in a Twitter thread, and rather than reinvent the wheel, here it is:
As Americans head off to Independence Day celebrations, they'll be greeted with a plethora of headlines about record highs in the U.S. stock market. What I find most interesting about the latest bout of exuberance is the fact that priced in gold, stocks remain far below last fall's peak.
From my perspective, a real equity bull market is one where the stock market, in this case the S&P500, consistently hits new highs relative to what's historically been the world's politically-neutral monetary asset, gold; and the U.S. stock market did exactly that from August 2011 until September 2018. Though equities in nominal terms bottomed in March 2009, we didn't really get the all clear in my view until equities started rallying versus gold in late summer 2011.
We cannot content ourselves with simplistically dividing civilization into a workday world of everyday life that is properly social, as I call it, in which we reproduce the conditions of our individual existence at work, in the home, and among our friends, and, of course, the state, which reduces us at best to docile observers of the activities of professionals who administer our civic and national affairs. Between these two worlds is still another world, the realm of the political, where our ancestors in the past, at various times and places historically, exercised varying, sometimes complete control over the commune and the confederation to which it belonged.
- Murray Bookchin, A Politics for the Twenty-First Century
Today, the concept of citizenship has already undergone serious erosion through the reduction of citizens to "constituents" of statist jurisdictions, or to "taxpayers" who sustain statist institutions.
- Murray Bookchin, Cities
In the spirit of my recent interest in direct democracy and the future of human governance, I finally got around to reading something that's been on my radar for a while. It's a collection of nine essays by the late political philosopher Murray Bookchin published together in a book titled:The Next Revolution - Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy. It did not disappoint.
While there are numerous key points on which Bookchin and I would have disagreed spiritedly, that's not the purpose of this piece. Aside from being a wealth of information and knowledge (he closely studied nearly every major revolution in the Euro-American world), his greatest service here is a framework through which to understand human governance and how and why it's all gone so terribly wrong. Many of his themes cover ideas and realizations I've come to on my own, but the clarity with which he describes certain key concepts helped refine my thinking. The purpose of this post is to outline some of these ideas.
ZUCK: yea so if you ever need info about anyone at harvard
ZUCK: just ask
ZUCK: i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns
FRIEND: what!? how'd you manage that one?
ZUCK: people just submitted it
ZUCK: i don't know why
ZUCK: they "trust me"
ZUCK: dumb fucks
- Leaked messages sent by Mark Zuckerberg to a friend at Harvard as he was building Facebook
Years ago, Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that he doesn’t think Facebook is a business. “In a lot of ways, Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company,” said Mr. Zuckerberg. “We’re really setting policies.” He has acted consistently as a would-be sovereign power. For example, he is attempting to set up a Supreme Court-style independent tribunal to handle content moderation. And now he is setting up a global currency.
- From Matt Stoller's recent article: Facebook’s Undemocratic Currency
For a long time, I've maintained there's no doubt the current system/paradigm we live under will collapse under its own weight, but that doesn't keep me up at night. What keeps me up at night is understanding we still have no idea exactly what will replace it. It could very well be a more decentralized and free world, a world less defined by brute force, grotesque power concentrations and coercion, but it could also very easily go the other way. The coming out party for FacebookCoin (aka Libra) is in my view the first real indication the forces of corporate oligarchy are determined to ensure the new world reflects their vision and is under their control.
Though I've seen many thoughtful and important articles on the dangers of Facebook and a consortium of large corporations building a new financial system in broad daylight, I have yet to see anyone explain precisely what seems to be going on. I think the level of strategic long-term thinking happening here is more extensive than even the most cynical observer is willing to contemplate. This looks like a power play of monumental proportions.
War is not a foregone conclusion or a national necessity. Each successive occupant of the White House only needs you to believe that in order to centralize the power of an increasingly imperial presidency, stifle dissent, and chip away at what remains of civil liberties.
- Danny Sjursen, retired US Army officer, The Pence Prophecy: VP Predicts Perpetual War at the West Point Graduation
Whenever I mention direct democracy, a certain segment of the population always comes back with a very negative knee-jerk reaction. Since this response tends to center around several concerns, today's post will dig into them and explain how such pitfalls can be structurally addressed.
The first thing that worries people is a fear there will be no protections for minority populations within such a system. Take the U.S. for example, where approximately 80% of the population lives in urban areas and only 20% in rural. If we moved to a system where direct popular vote played a meaningful role in deciding the majority of issues, rural populations would lose out every single time. It would end up being an oppressive system for people who live in less populated areas and would tear up the U.S. even faster than is happening now.
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means.
- Lord Acton
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
- Buckminster Fuller
If you've read anything I've written over the past several years, you'll be acutely aware of my belief that human civilization is currently in a major transition period between two great paradigms of world history. The old world we all grew up in no longer works for most people, yet is being relentlessly propped up by the powerful and their minions who benefit from its parasitic and destructive nature. Despite their best efforts, a system so poisonous, decrepit and corrupt cannot and will not last. At this stage, it's little more than a Potemkin village fraud barely kept standing courtesy of increasingly intense deception, manipulation and the sheer will of those who profit handsomely from it.
By stating we're in the transition period, I want to make it clear I believe things are very much already being disrupted and altered beneath the hood of a world which appears indistinguishable from what it was a decade ago on a superficial level. Specifically, I think there are two core aspects of human existence that will be completely transformed in the years to come. First, within the monetary and financial systems that define how commerce, savings and entrepreneurship function. The emergence and continued momentum of Bitcoin offers evidence that disruption in this realm is already very much underway, albeit still in its infancy. The second realm I expect will experience massive transformational change relates to forms of human governance. We've barely scratched the surface on this one, but nascent signs have started to appear, and I suspect a push towards political systems more defined by direct democracy will become increasingly common in the years ahead. I've spent many hours writing about the financial and monetary system, so today's piece will focus on what appears to be coming with regard to human political evolution.