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Thoughts on Coming Apart and the Coming Great Reset

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer

Kit Webster

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Reviewing the Bidding

Thoughts and Theses

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No changes this week

  • In the early 1990s, I predicted a severe crisis in the US in the early 2000s - see My Journey for details of how those thoughts were developed, and a description of my predictions, essentially all of which have held up well. That crisis would result in a resetting of the country's financial system and financial institutions and therefore would profoundly affect all parts of the culture and all institutions, including government and military. 

  • The crisis would be precipitated by debt, deficits, entitlements and demographics.

  • The purpose of this web site is to Contemplate Out Loud about ways in which current events are reinforcing or contradicting my predictions. And to create a continual update of thoughts for the future.

  • The Fed, Congress and the Executive Branch have now made that crisis inevitable and of a much higher order of magnitude than I anticipated.

  • The crisis should be played out over the remainder of this decade. There will be a new world with a new financial system and a new culture under construction at the end of the crisis.

  • The Fed has three alternative paths: inflation, austerity and default. For now, they have chosen inflation. 

  • We are deep into a multi-year end game and to the point at which things will generally become worse, faster, although nothing will move in a straight line.

  • The Fed will likely continue on its current path until something breaks.

  • When the Fed signals the end of raising interest rates, we will likely enter a new era of currency devaluation and yield curve control.

  • Biden is significantly contributing to underinvestment in fossil fuels that will result in a multi-year, perhaps multi-decade, energy crisis. He is attempting to cross the green energy chasm in two steps. We will get to the point where even leftists will treasure every drop of oil and every lump of coal. I discuss this critically important issue, perhaps the most important issue we face today, in The Energy Crisis.

  • Biden made a major strategic error by confiscating Russian currency reserves.

  • The last stimulus payment, and arguably the one before that, were major errors, contributing significantly to inflation, shortages, extraordinary speculation and the increase in asset prices.

  • Inflation is peaking - for now (January 2023) - and it will remain at a high level. In the long run, because of debt levels, there is no practical alternative to continued, elevated inflations - which will probably rise and fall in waves. Stagflation is my bet for the foreseeable future.

  • There will be deflationary / disinflationary crosscurrents including demographics (retirement of Boomers, declining birth rates), and debt rationalizing and blowing up of debt, worldwide. Temporarily, we will have the interesting phenomenon of too much retail inventory as a result of overordering during supply chain issues and a slowing economy. Inflation is necessary; deflation /disinflation is the wild card.

  • The economy is weakening - recession is probable, and there is definite slowing down at a fairly rapid pace. Actually, there is a good possibility that a recession has already begun. However, recessionary pressures may recede for a quarter or so. The third and fourth quarters of 2022 are two of those quarters where the pressures are temporarily receding.

  • Housing is weakening.

  • Ukraine should lose the war. A combination of Russian incompetence and advanced weapons from the West, primarily the US, is resulting in at least short term advantage to Ukraine. It is not clear what Russia's next moves are. See Ukraine.

  • Russia may be winning the financial / energy war. Energy is so fundamentally important, and Russia has so much of it, while the US is burdened by extraordinary levels of debt, that Russia holds the better hand. The West's counter to that better hand is sanctions. Having said that, sanctions, particularly those leading to an inability for Russia to maintain their oil fields, will begin to create problems over time. These problems will be for Russia and for the whole world, because the world needs Russian oil. Very high stakes poker. See Ukraine.

  • Europe will have serious energy challenges this winter. Now that the Nordstream pipelines have been damaged, they do not have the alternative to reach accommodations with Russia. Nature has smiled on Europe for half a winter with mild weather. The bullet was dodged until next year. 

  • Food disruptions over at least the next year, and probably for several years, primarily as a result of the Ukraine war, will be significant.

  • I outline my thoughts about how the next few years will unfold here.

Beth tells me, enough with the analysis, already. People want to know how you feel. I am not so sure about that, but if you are interested, I emote here.

Thoughts From

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February 16, 2024

Cliff Notes - Global Warming

The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both. - Milton Friedman

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. - John Adams

Markets

Updated Charts

No change in outlook . We are very near (have already made?) a top of some kind in the stock markets.

Endorse - with the latest inflation print, the cracks are beginning to show

Cliff Notes - Global Warming

I have been intensively studying man-made global warming for decades. A couple of weeks ago, I included an article I wrote about how climate deniers and skeptics have some good arguments because of the uncertainty around man-made global warming.

I decided to completely oversimplify the state of play in a series of bullet points. The nuance that will be lost will be monumental, but for those who don't want to engage in argument or details, it will provide a pretty good summary.

Here we go.

  • The greenhouse gas effect is scientifically proven.

  • Carbon dioxide (along with natural gas, water vapor and others) is a greenhouse gas.

  • The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has been increasing significantly, particularly since the mid-1800s.

  • Although there is a scientific "consensus" that humans are contributing to global warming, there is no consensus, and there is broad disagreement, about what the effects will be, including the timeframes.

  • Over geological time, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have varied significantly, with an overall decrease. (For quite a while, there was no oxygen in the atmosphere at all.)

  • Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 over geologic time are well-but-not-perfectly correlated with atmospheric temperature.

  • The primary cause of recent increases in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 is the burning of fossil fuels.

  • Models of future temperature changes from increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses are indicative, but sufficiently flawed so that they should not be used as the basis for policy making. Because it is chaotic, climate may not be model-able, even in theory.

  • The atmosphere warms and cools for several reasons (El Nino, changes in the sun's brightness, volcano eruptions, the Earth's orbital dynamics, etc), but increasing concentration of greenhouse gases dominates.

  • The atmosphere has not warmed that much from preindustrial times - maybe 1.1 degrees C (2.0 degrees F). The issue is not about current warming, but about future warming as we continue to emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Today, we are pretty much where we should be in the cycle of ice ages - atmospheric temperature increasing; sea levels increasing within the normal range. The issue is all about the future. (It is highly unlikely that the 1.5 and 2.0 degree C limits on global warming will be maintained.)

  • Future warming is about disturbing our status quo and the status quo of the biosphere. Over geological time, the Earth has been much warmer and much colder than it is today. However, conditions have been more-or-less (and unusually) stable over the last 10,000 years or so, enabling human civilization to flourish and providing the foundation of our status quo. (All things being equal, there will be another ice age in our future.) Status quo includes where crops can be grown and water can be found. Increasing temperatures lead to a relocation and resizing of areas where crops can be grown and affects the water circulation process. It is not known what all of the effects of these changes will be, but they will have an impact on humans and the biosphere. There are also low-probability tipping points that result in significant, rapid (in geological time) changes in the biosphere that could be particularly disruptive. While it is unlikely that humans would be wiped out in these processes, we have created a status quo that requires extraordinary efforts and fine tuning to support 8 billion people. Disruption could be significant. We should not forget that the biosphere, which will also be impacted, is much bigger than just humans.

  • Once a molecule of CO2 enters the atmosphere, multiple-hundreds-to-a-thousand years are required for natural processes to remove it. A molecule of CO2 emitted today will almost unavoidably contribute to atmospheric warming for centuries.

  • Therefore, the only way to stop warming is to reach "net zero," the point at which no additional greenhouse gasses (net) enter the atmosphere.

  • Energy is THE basis for our economy and standard of living.

  • The burning of fossil fuels - coal, natural gas and oil - is the primary source of manmade global warming.

  • Therefore, as one, major step toward net zero, the burning of fossil fuels must end.

  • However, unless other energy is substituted for fossil fuels, we will literally return to a subsistence economy.

  • Wind and solar are insufficient for the task, although they can help. Nuclear is the only currently-available-in-sufficient-quantities additive source that can make up the difference.

  • It takes years-to-decades to build nuclear plants. China is doing it; the US is not. The US has a very dysfunctional regulatory system and nuclear has bad pr. Nuclear is slowly beginning to gain favor in the US, but the obstacles are significant and the timeline is long.

  • The tradeoffs between addressing global warming and standards of living are profound.

  • The US is responsible for approximately 14% of global greenhouse emissions. If the US were to end emitting greenhouse gasses altogether, the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere would continue increasing (China is the largest emitter at around 27%). This is a global, and therefore gargantuan, challenge.

  • Therefore

  1. Continued warming is inevitable - it is not clear how much or over what timeframes.

  2. We must reach net zero, but that is highly unlikely. Our current efforts are paltry, partially performative, and are not even a down payment on what is required.

  3. We have to remove CO2 from the air. Right now, we don't know how to do that; it is a daunting task; but we are beginning experiments.

  4. We may have to take dangerous steps to "geoengineer" the system - such as putting particles in the upper atmosphere to block part of the sun's energy - in order to provide time for the energy-replacement cycle to succeed.

Ok, now you are better informed than 90+% of the population, but there were a large number of questions that were begged in this discussion.  Each bullet point could be the basis for at least a paper, if not a book. If you have questions, let me know and I will address them.

Short Takes

I have talked at length about the weirdnesses of what kind of person can play what kind of character in movies, TV shows and plays. The latest to pop up on my radar screen is a whole series of Jane Austin movies with an all-black cast. They should go for it, but the promos look like the universe is out of synch. Next up should be Black Panther with a white cast (never gonna happen). Anyway, the struggle continues.

The row over Richard III rumbles on. Disability groups have objected to the Globe’s forthcoming production in which Michelle Terry will take the lead. The able-bodied Terry, who happens to be the Globe’s artistic director, has apologised ‘for the pain or harm that has been caused by the decision for me to play Richard III.’

FWIW, Lawrence Olivier is generally acclaimed as the best Richard ever.

When they need someone to authentically represent us WASPs, I'm available. But, more likely, Ice T will get the job.

Iran has declared Antarctica to be its property.

While I am being snarky - You have probably noticed that some part of the entire Western US is sacred to some Native American group or another. They are now taking it to a whole new level -

The recent attempted Moon landing by the Peregrine Lander contained some human ashes. This was objected to by the leader of the Navajo nation on the grounds that the Moon is sacred to them, and thus using it as a resting place for human remains was “disturbing and unacceptable” and an act of desecration.

Students at Harvard University will continue to be required to take the COVID-19 vaccine in order to register for the upcoming semester, the school has recently announced, joining 69 other schools around the country that still require the shot.

It was interesting - and amusing - watching Fani Willis, the district attorney prosecuting Trump in Georgia, essentially using Trump tactics on the stand. My impression was the same as that of David Blackmon on Substack:

Let’s all raise a glass to Georgia Fulton County DA Fani Willis and her either current or ex-boyfriend, Nathan Wade. I alternated between listening to and watching that hearing yesterday and have seldom been so damn entertained. I mean, you cannot script cringe-worthy comedy like this, you really can’t.

It was 7 hours of non-stop transparently false testimony - unbridled hubris combined with stunning stupidity, all wrapped up in an unintentionally hilarious presentation for the cameras. In the end, it demonstrated that, at least in Georgia, Donald Trump is being persecuted by a pack of absolute circus clowns who may possess even less self-discipline and self-awareness than he does, as hard as that is to believe.

However, this is also deeply sad and disturbing when both sides make a mockery of the judicial process. The social spiral downward continues.

Speaking of our justice system, that $384 million judgement against Trump in New York is beyond absurd. I am beginning to rethink my stance on conspiracy theories. (You know I have no love for Trump.)

Biden Campaign Debuts Official TikTok Account, but App is Still Banned on Most Government Devices

I have been asked to comment on the lack of passage of the border bill.

I will be brief.

On the merits, it was better than what we have, but not great, and it had some gotchas in it.

However, a bipartisan bill these days is an actual, bone fide miracle. We should take it.

The lack of passage was disgusting and vile on the part of Republicans. Makes Lucy with the football look like a saint. There were (figurative) knives with blood on them all over the place. Trump was flexing his muscles just for the hell of it - playing ego games with a profoundly important subject. 

We may have legislative lows in the future lower than this, but I cannot imagine what they would be, short of actual violence.

Maybe someday I'll tell you what I really think.

Speaking of politics, many years ago I quit commenting on Trump's sayings. The insensitivity and garbage are just relentless. However, I am going to violate my rule, here, because he just sank to a new low I didn't even think he could sink to. Reckless and irresponsible do not begin to describe it.

Former president Donald Trump said he would disregard the NATO treaty, claiming he suggested to a foreign leader that he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to member countries that don’t spend enough to defend themselves.

But, it clearly doesn't matter what he says, does or thinks. He is a symbol and a repository of the frustrations of millions of people.

From GZero Daily - a microcosm

Long Islanders are heading to the polls on Tuesday to replace disgraced Republican Rep. George Santos.

The special election between Republican Mazi Pilip and Democrat Tom Suozzi is a test run for upcoming state and national elections. Both parties want to show they can win on issues like immigration and abortion in the battleground district.

In recent state elections, abortion has been a rallying cry for Democrats when restrictions have been on the ballot. But in Long Island, which isn’t considering restrictions, the issue may fall flat. Pilip has said she is pro-life but supports a woman’s right to choose, taking the air out of Suozzi’s accusations that she is radically pro-life.

But immigration is a more tangible concern. Unlike the rest of the country – where suburbs are trending blue – crime and, more recently, immigration, have turned Long Island red in the last three election cycles.

That’s why almost all of Pilip’s budget has been spent on immigration ads showing recently bussed-in migrants, attacks on police officers, and warnings of invasion. Suozzi is also calling to toughen border patrols, mirroring his party’s tactical shift to the center.

The Democrat won. You would expect a Democrat to win in New York, but this was a district that was previously served by a Republican, even though it was Santos. Not sure what it all means, but score one for the Democrats.

From Semafor

The El Niño climate phenomenon that drove global temperatures higher in 2023 and early 2024 will likely end this spring, replaced by its counterpart, La Niña. The National Weather Service estimated a 79% chance that the transition would occur by June. In the U.S., El Niño is associated with warm, wet weather — hence the deadly floods in California this winter — while La Niña brings cooler temperatures and drier conditions. Southern states could face drought: In 2011, La Niña led to devastating wildfires and prompted the governor of Texas to start prayers for rain, Axios noted. The Los Angeles Times reported that California is rushing to improve its water capture facilities ahead of potential drought this year.

Psych or double psych?

Putin says he would prefer Biden to win the United States election rather than Trump

France Passed a Law Making Criticism of mRNA Shots a Crime Punishable by up to 3 Years in Prison and a Fine of up to 45,000 Euros “Without much attention, a law was passed in France on Wednesday [February 14] that could criminalize resistance to mRNA treatment. Anyone who advises against mRNA or other “medical treatments” that are “obviously suitable” for treatment based on the current state of medical knowledge can in future be imprisoned in France.”

n 2023, there were 67 Illinois schools where not a single student tested proficient in math and 32 where no student tested proficient in reading. What’s worse, officials in those schools graduated nearly 70% of their students.

Not surprising - and it will one day spill over into the mainstream. Our culture has no guardrails. We should eventually get to Roller Ball.

Interesting

In a sane, rational universe, ie, not the one we live in, Biden would be replaced as the Democrat candidate at the convention. No idea who(m) he would be replaced with. Hillary is up there, but is now in the old category - only one year younger than Trump. Michelle viscerally hates politics and is not well qualified, to the extent that matters. RFK Jr would be a good choice for the Democrats, albeit a weird dude, but the establishment loathes him. (At 70, he's no spring chicken.) So, I did what every upstanding person should do these days and asked AI. Copilot couldn't handle the question and got hung in a loop. Bard punted. GPT4 responded as follows:

If Joe Biden is not the Democratic candidate in the 2024 presidential election, there are several potential alternatives that have been mentioned in various sources:

Kamala Harris: As the current vice president, Kamala Harris would appear to be the obvious second choice if Biden decides not to run. However, she has also faced low approval ratings, with an approval rating of just 39% in early February.

Phil Murphy/J.B. Pritzker: These individuals have been mentioned as potential candidates to keep an eye on for the 2024 election.

Dean Phillips: A moderate Democrat elected to the House in 2018, Phillips has few major policy disagreements with President Biden and has supported his agenda in Congress. He argues that Mr. Biden's age and low approval ratings mean the party should nominate someone else.

Josh Shapiro and Gretchen Whitmer: Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer have also been mentioned as potential contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2024.

Gavin Newsom: California Governor Gavin Newsom has been speculated as a potential candidate, although he has stated that he won't challenge Biden.

But, if you listen carefully to Democrats, they are stuck.

Even if Biden withdraws, no one wants to take on the nation's first black, female VP. They are stymied by political correctness. Does not matter that people don't like her or that she is unelectable. She is black and female, which is what got her the job in the first place. That's all that matters, making her basically unassailable, in another metaphor for our times.

So, the Democrats are in trouble. They get either Biden or Harris with, it seems, literally no other options.

And we all will pay a price for that.

Called by one commentator the "holy shit" moment for AI, OpenAI has just released its new text-to-video capabilities, Sora. Guaranteed to blow you away. I don't know of an easy way to show you, so go to @duborges on X and look at his videos. See if this link works for you.

This is a screen capture of a video of a couple walking in Tokyo created by a text prompt. (The prompt used here is, "Beautiful, snowy Tokyo city is bustling. The camera moves through the bustling city street, following several people enjoying the beautiful snowy weather and shopping at nearby stalls. Gorgeous sakura petals are flying through the wind along with snowflakes.")

From MIT Technology Review

It’s not perfect. In the Tokyo video, cars to the left look smaller than the people walking beside them. They also pop in and out between the tree branches. “There’s definitely some work to be done in terms of long-term coherence,” says Brooks. “For example, if someone goes out of view for a long time, they won’t come back. The model kind of forgets that they were supposed to be there.”

Given all of that, it is simply stunning. Remembering that it is version 1.0, it will get much better, much faster.

In other AI news, Google released Gemini.

From MIT Technology Review

In one demonstration video shown by Google, the model was fed the 402-page transcript of the Apollo moon landing mission. Then they showed Gemini a hand-drawn sketch of a boot, and asked it to identify the moment in the transcript that the drawing represents. The model was also able to identify moments of humor. 

From a Harvard publication - survey of 150 misinformation experts.

I would not have guess this amount of skew.

It Ain't Easy Being Green

From The New York Times, burying the lede that much of the coast is sinking - 

The new research from Virginia Tech and the U.S. Geological Survey used satellite data to show the mounting threats to coastal communities. Nearly 40 percent of Americans live along coasts, where aging buildings, roads and rails face structural damage from floods.

“You have a hazard that is becoming worse every day with sea level rise,” said lead author Leonard Ohenhen, Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Tech.

The global average sea level has been rising around 3.3 millimeters per year since the early 1990s, according to satellite readings from NASA. And based on longer records from tide gauges, we know that rate is accelerating, said Kenneth Miller, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Rutgers University. Local subsidence, or sinking land, makes the threat of sea level rise worse in some places than others. ... Parts of Miami are sinking up to 1.5 centimeters a year; Parts of New York City and Long Island are sinking over 3 centimeters per decade.

For perspective, sea level rising 3.3 millimeters per year is equivalent to 3.3 centimeters a decade. (A centimeter is about 0.4 inches.) So, parts of Miami are sinking about a half an inch a YEAR, while parts of New York City are sinking about a half an inch in a decade. On top of that, global average sea level is rising about a half an inche a decade (this is disputed, but we will go with it for now).

(CH, it looks like your area is stable, although things are more dicey toward the Virginia state line.)

Peter Zeihan describing Biden's LNG pause -

The Biden administration’s move is temporary, limited in impact and scope, and is just a political move to garner support leading up to the election. Think of this kind of like a politician’s wet dream - making some of your constituents happy without actually doing anything.

War, Energy and Food

From The Morning Dispatch

A Dutch court on Monday ordered the government of the Netherlands to stop exporting parts for F-35 jets to Israel, finding “a clear risk that Israel’s F-35 fighter jets might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law,” referring to Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Dutch government said it would enact the decision—which came during a visit to Israel by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte—while also appealing it to the Dutch Supreme Court. “The government believes it is up to the State to [determine its] foreign policy,” the government said in a statement. “The government is lodging an appeal in cassation because it believes the Court of Appeal did not take sufficient account of this.” The decision is the result of a suit brought by three human rights organizations.

Miscellany

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