Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Invaders

Beyond the merely clueless are those who find Trump and the US response to the crisis inspiring. Where I see terrible breakdowns and injustice and hypocrisy, these others see American exceptionalism. This divide is so incredibly wide it goes far beyond mere partisanship, it actually makes me wonder whether we inhabit the same universe, the same reality. And here I am talking about my immediate neighbors, my little community where I know I would find 80% approval for the way the government is responding and the same percentage just waiting for things to return to the exact same state as before the virus.

I am reminded of a tv show our family watched when I was growing up called The Invaders. The premise was that aliens from outer space had landed on earth but they looked and acted ALMOST exactly like earthlings. The only tell-tale was the way they held their fingers. Episode after episode the hero would try to fight the invaders but inevitably he would ally with someone, put his trust in them and inevitably glance down and notice their alien fingers.

I walk/drive around my community and look at people knowing most of them are totally alien. Our beliefs would be so opposed, our perceptions and realities so different, that it is impossible to say we share any identity. They come from a different planet, speak a different language, see a whole different world than I do. And their reality rules the world.I am the alien.

Meanwhile our local politicians run around with signs saying "Stop Big Government"- as government spending saves their bacon. Everything they learned about political economy they got from Sean Hannity or Glen Beck. Not sure if this is clueless or alien or both.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Corona Clueless

My neighbors apparently believe Bud Light is a vaccine for the virus because each weekend they have parties where everyone drinks shit tons of it. Sitting close together while whooping it up. Which is just another example- of the many out there- of folks who can't understand what is happening. The only clue to their politics is an "Infowars" sticker on their garbage can, from which I speculate all kinds of things. But the bottom line is they are alcoholics who have one focus and one focus only, come hell or high water (or pandemic).

Of course, they may be correct in their assumption, in which case the clueless will truly inherit the earth, if they haven't already. The other piece of news is that I have been "furloughed" from my job which means I can now spend endless hours on the internet, blogging and climbing down increasingly insane rabbit holes. Yeah! My boss would prefer I don't file for unemployment and I suspect it is because he believes it is a "moral hazard" to get money for not working. But either way I get money for not working, so?.. The Great Stimulus bill would pay me my miserable unemployment PLUS 600 dollars a week, more than I make working ( or not). The Republicans were worried about this moral hazard aspect of the bill. Poor bastards who live hand to mouth will be dis-incentivized to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. They will go out and buy caddilacs, or sit around drinking Bud Light.

As Frank Zappa wrote: "There's no way to delay that trouble comin everyday"

Friday, March 27, 2020

Suspended Accumulation

Writing this from my bunker after another meal of spam and macaroni...But seriously, it is a novel experience, sitting here in limbo, wondering if liberal "democratic" capitalism is nimble enough to survive this pandemic. If the hegemonic order is instilled deep enough, if the colonization is thorough enough that people will be content to bury the dead and return to old, familiar ways. As I just heard somebody say: it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of cruise ships. I am cynical enough to believe it.

The question is; after the burials, after all the post-mortem analysis and angry blog posts, can Capital just thaw itself out, just fire up the motors of accumulation and return from the deep freeze like some cryogenic corpse? What does all the accrued debt do to the system? Is the next generation of taxpayers obligated to pay back the trillions? According to WIKI on modern monetary theory: " an ongoing tax obligation, in concert with private confidence and acceptance of the currency, maintains its value."

So its a confidence game that works until people run out of toilet paper. For my part, I can make more by getting laid off and collecting unemployment than I can working. And the tax payments future workers have to make to keep the cruise ship industry alive will also be financing their own destruction in the form of climate chaos. So we can say the incentive structure is a bit off kilter.As for so called "politics", not even Debord could have imagined a Spectacle this obscene or surreal.The stock market has a record day as unemployment skyrockets along with infection. No one knows what to think, myself included. See what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Almost Great Again

After losing wars in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan, folks were looking for something to be proud of. They yearned for that old feeling of greatness that they had heard so much about from their parents. And with a record Bull market it looked like we had at least won the trade war with China. It looked like we could pick off Iranian generals without any repercussions. It looked like having a businessman at the helm was going to pay big dividends.

But greatness is elusive. One little virus, smaller than an ant's teeny weenie has laid us low. As Trump would say: So Sad. And despite being a great businessman, he doesn't seem to be much of a tyrant; after all, this would be the perfect time to throw a little shock doctrine around, consolidate power, declare martial law, round up dissidents, a la Q Anon (8chan conspiracy shit currently gaining adherents).

The real question is who is giving Trump a crash course in macro-economics?

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Missed Opportunity

Had Bernie not been concerned with winning, he could have proposed this Green New Deal at the debate Sun. night:

Government (Leviathon) take over the commanding heights of the economy and direct all stimulus spending towards renewable energy infrastructure. End all contracts with Saudi Arabia and use shale energy to build said infrastructure, employing tens of thousands. Let airline industry, cruise ships, automobiles go (purchase and retrench) Let investment banks go. Reorganize prioritizing IPCC emission goals including food system, mass transport, efficient urban housing and design.

Sounds like Evil China (or Cuba) I know, but it turns out "democratic" capitalism doesn't work. Bernie couldn't say this ,of course, so he got stuck between "authoritarianism" and "evil corporations, billionaires, etc." You can tax the rich to feed the poor- but you have to decide whether you are trying to get rid of poverty or wealth. Unfortunately, Americans hate rich people but they all want to be one. Bernie understands our pathos.

The thing about being in "unchartered waters" is, most people will default to the familiar, will wish a return to "normalcy", however dysfunctional or irrational it was. My boss insisted on listening to music from the fifties yesterday so he could let an imaginary simplicity wash over him in waves of nostalgia. Expect more of this Jon Stewart/revival mentality. We could start a war, but against who?

Friday, March 13, 2020

Degraded

This is how the Wall Street Journal describes the recent "injection of liquidity" into flailing markets:

"The Federal Reserve said it would make vast sums of short-term loans available on Wall Street and purchase Treasury securities in a coronavirus-related response aimed at preventing ominous trading conditions from creating a sharper economic contraction.

The Fed’s promise to intervene substantially in short-term money markets, together with a resumption of bond-buying stimulus known as quantitative easing, followed two days of trading in which market functioning appeared to have degraded."

So, as market functioning starts to "degrade", Central Banks around the world loan vast sums they have lying around somewhere and they buy bonds from the US Treasury. The EU suddenly has billions of euros to inject. wow. Sounds like they have buttloads of cash, right? Or gold maybe? C'mon, nobody is handing anybody giant wads of cash. It's all just imaginary money that "investors" believe in, a simple con, veiled in mystical jargon, something we all know but ACT as if we don't.

Then there is the oil price war, a bunch of crown princes and oligarchs and shieks dukeing it out for market share. As they start construction on the Keystone pipeline through Montana to pump the world's most expensive crude at a loss.

Finally we have to mention climate change because this IS the climate and capital blog. As might be expected, emissions are down and you don't need a chart to explain why:

"In China, domestic carbon emissions plummeted as industrial activities faltered. In the United States, a major economic downturn would likely drive a further decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, as people simply consume less resources.

“The biggest potential impact of this virus is the effect on the economy,” Jones said. “So if it affects the entire economy, then that’s going to affect economic output, consumption and emissions.”

So if Markets were to wake up to the fact that saving the planet requires "the virus effect", no amount of liquidity would be enough, not even if it was injected straight into the heart of Capital. No airports, no shipping, no cruises etc.. would make the cancellation of sporting events look like a blip. That is the moment Coyote finally looks down.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Capitalocene

Over at Salvage magazine(bleak is the new red),Seymour, Mieville and others riff at length on the climate catastrophe. Perhaps a bit much on the length but still, packed with insights. I wish I could afford a subscription. They end with this bit of bleak optimism:

"Capitalism has, one hundred and fifty years after Marx predicted, finally produced enough diggers to complete a grave, but in doing so, it ensured that all that was left to inherit was a graveyard."

These diggers are the billions of new workers of China, India and the quickly "developing" world. This age, our age, they then call the Proletarocene. Oppose this realism to the view of a young student climate club leader who advises "when building a cathedral you have to start with a foundation brick by brick." I could go on at length myself about bricks in the wall, or about the centuries it took to build cathedrals, or about the dismal progress since the first Earth Day, etc..We are told to build relationships, and certainly there is truth in that, but we remember the trauma of getting to know damaged people and the futility of trying to help.It is an emergency. Rome must be built in a day. This is the tragedy.

"Between salvation and garbage is salvage." It is hard to face the facts. Physics are not subjective, algorithms don't feel our pain. Consciousness is determined by our social being, which all too often is simply dogmatic ritual, the abstract fetish of commodity exchange and all that implies; investment, consumption, speculating, selling (one's labor power).As Zizek puts it, we know but we act as if we don't. Those under the spell of green capitalism put their faith in kinder, gentler, more sustainable investment ( renewables over fossil fuels) but fail to see the inherent death-drive:
M-C-M’. A regime of creative-destructive accumulation that is as inexhaustible as biospheric resources are finite.

Unfortunately, there is no green escape. As Salvage describes it: "This is the tragedy of the worker. That, as avatar of a class in itself, she was put to work for the accumulation of capital, from capitalism’s youth, amid means of production not of her choosing, and with a telos of ecological catastrophe. That thus even should the proletariat become a class for itself, and even if it does so at a point of history where the full horror of the methods of fossil capitalism is becoming clear, it would – will – inherit productive forces inextricable from mass, trans-species death."