At this point we find ourselves confronted by a very disquieting question: Do we really wish to act upon our knowledge? Does a majority of the population think it worthwhile to take a good deal of trouble, in order to halt and, if possible, reverse the current drift toward totalitarian control of everything? If the United States of America is the prophetic image of the rest of the urban-industrial world as it will be a few years from now — recent public opinion polls have revealed that an actual majority of young people in their teens, the voters of tomorrow, have no faith in democratic institutions, see no objection to the censorship of unpopular ideas, do not believe that government of the people by the people is possible and would be perfectly content, if they can continue to live in the style to which the boom has accustomed them, to be ruled, from above, by an oligarchy of assorted experts. That so many of the well-fed young television-watchers in the world’s most powerful democracy should be so completely indifferent to the idea of self-government, so blankly uninterested in freedom of thought and the right to dissent, is distressing, but not too surprising. “Free as a bird,” we say, and envy the winged creatures for their power of unrestricted movement in all the three dimensions. But, alas, we forget the dodo. Any bird that has learned how to grub up a good living without being compelled to use its wings will soon renounce the privilege of flight and remain forever grounded. Something analogous is true of human beings. If the bread is supplied regularly and copiously three times a day, many of them will be perfectly content to live by bread alone — or at least by bread and circuses alone.
Take the right to vote. In principle it is a great privilege. In practice as recent history has repeatedly shown the right to vote by itself is no guarantee of liberty. Therefore if you wish to avoid dictatorship by referendum break up modern society’s merely functional collectives into self-governing voluntarily cooperating groups capable of functioning outside the bureaucratic systems of Big Business and Big Government.
– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited, 1958
This isn’t how I intended to return to writing. There was supposed to be a new website and a new focus, but circumstances emerged and laid waste to my plans. So here I am, back again. I’m a bit rusty so bear with me.
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Remember: Matter. How tiny your share of it.
Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it.
Fate. How small a role you play in it.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
For the past ten years, I’ve spent most of my waking hours learning how the systems we live under function and how wealth and power operate and consolidate in the U.S. as well as globally. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve shared a lot. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would.
I dedicated all that time and energy to writing and engaging on the big issues of our era for two main reasons. First, I felt there was a window of opportunity to turn the ship around and reform the system to avoid needless additional widespread suffering and upheaval, which to me was guaranteed given the destructive path to which our ruling class was obstinately committed. Second, my decade on Wall Street offered some valuable insight into the inner workings of financial feudalism and how it systematically and intentionally enriches certain small segments of the populace while enslaving the masses via perpetual colossal debt issuance coupled with reoccurring central bank bailouts for the creditor and financial asset speculator class. This wasn’t widely appreciated when I first started writing about it, so it became a personal mission to inform as many people as possible.
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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.
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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.
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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.
– KurtMother 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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