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Another day, another campaign of fearmongering in America: North Korea’s cyberattack on Sony

18 December 2014

Summary: Another day, another campaign by the fearmongers to terrify America. Leaks from anonymous officials, amplified by cybersecurity and national security experts (noses planted in the trough) — journalists eager to fill the space between ads — and its time for war with North Korea (again).  (This is the 2nd of 2 posts today.)

Truth, not Pravda, Will Make You Free

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Polls show the American public has low confidence in government and journalists. With the exception of our police and military, whom most Americans hold in high regard. Journalists, who we trust not at all, are even more credulous — with a child-like trust in the words of government officials (at least, that’s how they report the news). That’s not the problem.

Unfortunately for us, government officials — civilian and military, high and low — lie. A lot. Often. As we see months after the news hits the tape, in the frequent (but little noticed) corrections.

The list is endless. And about the Warren Commission Report… But that is not the problem.

Too often we believe government officials: journalists, geopolitical experts, us. We’re credulous, gullible. That’s the problem, one of our most serious. It cripples our ability to clearly see the world and respond to events. We spend our time alternating between rage and fear about largely imaginary threats. This makes us easy to rule, since it renders us incapable of self-government.

Now the cycle begins anew. Government officials accuse North Korea, one of the small poor nations George Bush Jr. puffed up into the “Axis of Evil” that threatened the West, of hacking Sony. The result is embarrassment for its executives and some financial loss to that already troubled mega-corp.  So (again) the US government provokes hysterics, as our hawks urge that we arrest the usual suspects.

A week ago the ball started rolling with leaks pointing to North Korea, and bizarrely speculative reasoning — like this by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of House Intelligence Committee): ” North Korea denied responsibility but did not condemn the attacks.” See their response here. We should worry about that reasoning, since Rogers is a former FBI agent.

This afternoon Reuters serves the usual weak tea on which our geopolitical experts go insanely hawkish:

Read more…

Will a return of rising temperatures validate the IPCC’s climate models?

18 December 2014

Summary: The pause in temperatures since roughly 2000 has become the hot topic in both climate science and climate politics. While scientists study its causes and estimate its duration, activists on both sides use it to work their tribes. On the Left they deny its existence, ignoring or misrepresenting the many papers about it. On the Right they use the pause to discredit climate models and even climate science. In this long and somewhat technical post an eminent climate scientist walks us though the debate.  (1st of 2 posts today.)

Will a return of rising temperatures validate the climate models?

Donald C. Morton, posted at Climate Etc, 15 December 2014

Reposted under their Creative Commons License

World of Equations

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Time Scales
  3. Natural Versus Anthropogenic Contributions
  4. Parameterization in Place of Physics
  5. Uncertainty in the Climate Sensitivity
  6. Applying Statistics to Biased Samples
  7. Nonlinearity and Chaos in Climate
  8. The Validation of Climate Models
  9. What Should We Do Now?
  10. About the Author
  11. For More Information

(1)  Introduction

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The coincidence of the current plateau in global surface temperatures with the continuing rise in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has raised many questions about the climate models and their forecasts of serious anthropogenic global warming.

This article presents multiple reasons why any future increase in temperature should not be regarded as a vindication of the current models and their predictions. Indefinite time scales, natural contributions, many adjustable parameters, uncertain response to CO2, averaging of model outputs, non linearity, chaos and the absence of successful predictions are all reasons to continue to challenge the present models. This essay concludes with some suggestions for useful immediate actions during this time of uncertainty.

What if the global climate began to warm again? Would all the criticisms of the climate models be nullified and the dire predictions based on them be confirmed? No one knows when the present plateau in the mean surface air temperature will end nor whether the change will be warmer or cooler. This essay will argue that the climate models and their predictions should not be trusted regardless of the direction of future temperatures.

Read more…

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In cyberspace you don’t see your attacker (that’s why we don’t know who hacked Sony).

17 December 2014

Our hawks (aka warmongers), with their loyal journalist-enablers, have sparked a new round of hysteria about North Korea’s cyber-attack on Sony. Kim Zetter at Wired gives a good analysis in “North Korea Almost Certainly Did Not Hack Sony“. The Hollywood Report cites insiders pointing to disgruntled current or former employees (Sony has many of both). To understand why we might never know the guilty party, see this post by Marcus Ranum from 2011: attribution of cyberattacks runs from difficult to impossible. Click at the end to see the full post.

Cyberwar: About Attribution (identifying your attacker)

Summary:  Identifying the attacker is the key to modern military defense, so one can launch a reprisal or counter-strike.  But attributing cyberattacks is difficult because nothing in cyberspace has to look like anything familiar. How do you attribute a weapon that was created out of thin air and used by an enemy that has no physical location?  Links to other chapters of this series are at the end.

CyberCrime .

Contents

  1. Cyberspace, Novel Weapons, and Location Independence
  2.  Technology, Language, Culture, and Cui Bono
  3.  A Model For Attribution
  4. About the author
  5. For more information

(1)  Cyberspace, Novel Weapons, Location Independence

Cyberspace does have some unique attributes which are not mirrored in the real world. Such as the nonexistence of “territory”.  There is no “there” there.  Some of the things we are accustomed to taking into account in warfare are missing: hostile forces do not need an ‘assembly zone’ that can be detected and watched. Nor do they have to cross ground — where they leave traces of the type that we’re used to dealing with.

Imagine if a hostile power was going to insert a cover operations team into a target area and wanted to be stealthy enough to achieve plausible deniability. In the past troops could be outfitted with uniforms that had been carefully scrubbed of clues to their origin, “sanitized” weapons, etc. Providing such kit was expensive and exacting work. Inserting them into a target, nowadays, would entail avoiding the ubiquitous video-surveillance cameras, providing false identities under which to travel, laundering funds for the operators, and then having an equally carefully scrubbed extraction plan.

In the real world, this kind of thing is expensive and complex. In cyberspace it is relatively easy and practically free. There are some caveats about the “easy and free” claim, depending on the quality of the defenses that are being attacked but — as we’ve been assured over and over again by our government’s own technical experts — our defenses, to put it bluntly, suck.

{ Click here to read the full post }

Result of NATO’s expedition to Afghanistan: Worse than a Defeat

17 December 2014

Summary: NATO’s expedition to Afghanistan returns, having accomplished nothing but adding another chapter to the destruction of that sad region. Now begins the next phase: to induce amnesia, so that we learn as little from it as we did from Vietnam. James Meek reviews four books about the insurgency at home, people fighting the government’s narrative to help us remember and so do better in the future. Much depends on this. No matter how powerful, a people who cannot learn from experience have no good future.

Afghanistan war

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Excerpt from “Worse than a Defeat

Review by James Meek

London Review of Books

18 December 2014 issue

Posted with the permission of the author and the LRB.

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Books Reviewed

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‘The British wrote cheques they could not cash.’
— American Special Forces officer

In the morning, I left the village where I’d spent the night, the village where, in the ninth century, a famous king had beaten the army of a northern warlord. I climbed a steep path to a high plateau and walked along dusty tracks. There was gunfire in the distance. In the early afternoon I rested on a hilltop, on the ramparts of ancient fortifications whose shape was outlined in soft bulges and shadings on the slopes. Down in the fertile flatlands, I could see rows of the armoured behemoths Britain bought to protect its troops in Afghanistan from roadside bombs, painted the colour of desert sand and crowded around the maintenance sheds of a military base. There was a roar from the road below and the squeak of tank tracks. A column of Warriors clanked up the hill. The Warrior is a strong fighting vehicle. It can protect a team of soldiers as it carries them into battle. Bullets bounce off it. A single inch-thick shell from its cannon can do terrible damage to anything unarmoured it hits. But these Warriors looked tired. They came into service in the late 1980s, just as the Cold War they’d been designed for was ending, and Afghanistan has a way of diminishing and humbling military technology.

I’d walked the same route last year, leaving Edington after breakfast, walking round the edge of the military exercise area on Salisbury Plain and pausing at the Iron Age fort on Battlesbury Hill, which looks out over the British army’s Wiltshire estate. Since then most of the army in Afghanistan had come back to Britain, and an item of furniture had been added to the Battlesbury ramparts, among the cow parsley and purple clover: a bench. I was glad to sit down, as my pack was heavy. But the bench is also a shrine. When I came across it – this was in July – candles had been placed on it and a sun-bleached cloth poppy fastened to the back rest. It’s a memorial to six British soldiers: Nigel Coupe of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, and Jake Hartley, Anthony Frampton, Christopher Kershaw, Daniel Wade and Daniel Wilford of the Yorkshire Regiment. All except Coupe, a sergeant and father of two children, were aged between 19 and 21. They died in Afghanistan in March 2012, out on patrol in Helmand province, when their Warrior triggered the pressure plate of a huge home-made mine. The explosion flipped the vehicle on its side, blew off the gun turret, ignited its ammunition and killed everyone inside.

The British army is back in Warminster and its other bases around the country. Its eight-year venture in southern Afghanistan is over. The extent of the military and political catastrophe it represents is hard to overstate. It was doomed to fail before it began, and fail it did, at a terrible cost in lives and money.

How bad was it? In a way it was worse than a defeat, because to be defeated, an army and its masters must understand the nature of the conflict they are fighting. Britain never did understand, and now we would rather not think about it. The troops are home from a campaign that lasted 13 years, including Iraq in the middle. They are coming home from their bases in Germany, too. The many car parks’ worth of mine-proof vehicles you can see from Battlesbury Hill, ordered tardily for Afghanistan at a million pounds apiece, will be painted European green and dispersed to other barracks.

Read more…

For Japan there is no road but to an economic recovery

16 December 2014

Summary: the most contrarian thing you’ll read today.

Japan was a big story in 2014. The hopes for its rise — quickly crushed — created ripples around the world. Today’s post features an article by an expert asking if a new phase in its recovery story will unfold in 2015. A recovery in Japan would give the world economy another locomotive. The data looks provocative and the reasoning seems profound. (This is the 2nd of today’s two posts.)

“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
— Herbert Stein’s Law (US economist, 1916-1999)

Japan: setting sun

A setting or rising sun?

Keiki Kaifuku, Kono Michi Shika Nai
“Economic Recovery,
There Is No Road But This”
—  LDP Campaign Slogan, December 2014

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By Peter Karmin of Fort Sheridan Advisors

From the Drobny Global Monitor, 11 December 2014

Posted with the generous permission of the author and Drobny Global Advisors.

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For years – if not decades – Japan’s shrinking demographics have been a primary cause for that country’s lackluster economic growth. However, Japan is now reaching a point in its cycle where the population shortage — combined with a scarcity in natural resources and the effects of “Abenomics” – will cause stagflation rather than deflation. This is a structural rather than cyclical change resulting from a shortage in labor and natural resources. The former is a result of declining population/workforce along with stringent immigration laws and the latter is a result of the closing of nuclear power plants following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

During the past few years, Japan’s unemployment rate has gradually dropped and is now at 3.5% which is the lowest since 1997.

Japan's unemployment rate

Drobny Global Advisors, 11 December 2014

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Additional signs of improvement within the labor sector are seen in other surveys. For example, the “Jobs-To-Applicants Ratio” is now at a level (1.1 job openings/applicants) not seen since June 1992 when 10-year Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs) yielded 5% (we have only had to move the decimal over to the left one place during the past 22 years):

Japan: job to applicants ratio

Drobny Global Advisors, 11 December 2014

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Recent Bank of Japan Tankan Surveys show that both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors are finding a shortage of available workers {DI: diffusion index}:

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In 2014 darkness deepened its grip on America. None can see ahead to the dawn.

16 December 2014

Summary: Recent events show that the darkness has claimed us. I see it, as do others with clearer sight. Perhaps you do too. What does this say about our future? What should we do about it? (First of 2 posts today)

Despair or Folly? It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope.

— Gandalf speaking to the Council of Elrond in Fellowship of the Ring

Hope

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My gig has long been peddling optimism. During the 1990s I gave 3 speeches every week, on different subjects but all variations on the theme of “the good news is the bad news is wrong” (thanks due to George Gilder and my talented booking agent). Since 2007 the FM website provided optimism, analysis only as diagnosis — the prelude to treatment. This year something changed. I’ve found my optimism impossible to sustain.

The GOP response to Obamacare (giving affordable health care to the working poor = evil socialism). The expansion of our futile wars. Growing inequality. Our passive response to Snowden’s revelations. The passive response to videos of police brutality. Now our response to the Senate torture report: ineffective, except for those that applaud our torture.

The last has had an especially severe effect on my spirits. I’m old enough to remember when defending torture marked one as a NAZI, Commie, or generally evil person. Now it’s a subject of mild debate, with broad support (when used by us; it’s evil when done by our foes). That torture is good and works is now part of the mental DNA for people in our security services, intelligence agencies, and military. Also this makes it almost certain we’ll torture again — probably Americans next time.  Perhaps I’ll live long enough to see mothers urge their children to work hard so they can get a good job with the Gestapo (being American, we’ll have a snazzier name for it).

Over the past few years I have analyzed each of these subjects, and posted the analysis of experts on these things. It all points to a common element in our various problems: us. We’re broken. The War on Terror has corrupted us (Bin Laden’s victory). I cannot even imagine what a cure might look like. All our fancy technological progress, military and civilian, cannot counterbalance the darkness in our souls.

I’m not the only one in despair. William Lind has a new book coming soon — Victoria: A Novel of Fourth Generation War (published under the pseudonym “Thomas Hobbes”; you can read it online here). It starts from a dark outlook, telling of post-USA America (when the Republic has fragmented, due to liberalism). Last week I asked a well-known Army officer (brilliant, author of several books) how we can reform America. His answer: ” Revolution”.

Read more…

Lessons from WWI about “markets” ability to see the future

15 December 2014

Summary: Brad Delong (Prof Economics, Berkeley) reminds us that on this day in 1914 the NYSE ended the longest period of stopped trading. The outbreak of war on 31 July triggered “the longest circuit breaker” in NYSE history. His post, as usual, gives an interesting account of that episode. Who closed the NYSE, and why? There is another lesson from this history, one of importance to us today.  (This is the second of 2 posts today)

Expect the unexpected: fish

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“Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find truth, for it is difficult to discover.”

— Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic “Weeping Philosopher” of Ionia

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Stock market strategists and economists often tell us about markets’ fantastic predictive ability (an emergent phenomenon from millions of investors), often to the extent of referring to stock prices as a barometer of economic health. Count me among the skeptics when it comes to forecasting.

Here’s a survey of risks by Nial Ferguson (Prof History, Harvard), typical of those before the 2008 crash. He doesn’t even mention the structural weakness of banks, the factor converting a real estate downturn into a global crash. But then nobody saw this (that I’ve found).

Even in what investors should see best — economic cycles — their record is mixed. Sometimes the market gets it wrong; the October 1987 crash predicted nothing. Sometimes the market sees things a little late: the Great Depression began as the US economic downturn began in August 1929; the stock market crashed on October 29 (timeline here).  Sometimes the market gets it right: the stock market peaked on 9 October 2007, the recession began in December, the economy crashed in Fall 2008 (timeline here).

Geopolitics have an immense effect on markets. Here economists have very poor record of forecasting, although they often see themselves as bookies of geopolitics (they tend to be hawks, which is odd given the horrific history of war’s effects). Likewise, investors poorly assess geopolitical threats. On this 100th anniversary of WWI let’s see how well investors anticipated that climatic event (timeline here).

In hindsight WWI looks almost inevitable. Historians see its origin in two decades of rising geopolitical tensions among the major western powers as William Lind explains. Yet investors back then didn’t feel rising tension. For a scholarly yet readable account I recommend Nial Ferguson’s “Earning from History? Financial Markets and the Approach of World Wars” (Brookings, Spring 2008), which provides the quotes below. An assassin killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28. In the following month stock prices declined throughout the western world. Prices of US railroad and industrial shares dropped 15%. The Vienna stock market crashed on  July 13.

Although selling spread of stocks and intensified, investors in most assets in the so-far unaffected nations remained calm (the bond markets dwarf stocks in size). Similar crisis had been resolved through diplomacy. Europe had not experienced widespread war for a century.  Compelling analysis by experts such as Jan Gotlib Bloch (Is War Now Impossible?) and Norman Angell (The Great Illusion) proved war to be irrational and hence unlikely.

Read more…

Why have our movies have become so dark, showing a government so evil?

15 December 2014

Summary: The evolution of America has accelerated as we slide down the long-feared slippery slope leading to the end of the Second Republic (founded on the Constitution). Each event appears clear in the news, but the cumulative effect — the rise of a New America — is too large for us to see. For perspective let’s look at our heroes in print and on screen. Their foes display our fears; their relationship to the government reflects our relationship to it. We might pretend not to see what’s happening, but our mythical heroes see the darkness falling on us — and have changed accordingly in ways that reflect our weakness. When we decide to become strong again, we’ll find new myths (or reclaim the old ones).  {First of two posts today}

“People need stories, more than bread, itself. They teach us how to live, and why. … Stories show us how to win.”
— The Master Storyteller in HBO’s “The Arabian Nights”

Superman in handcuffs

“Man of Steel” (2013)

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Our fictional heroes reflect our dreams of individual empowerment, along a gamut from James Bond to Superman. Less often remarked, some of our myths show our awareness that only through collective action do we have strength. In the real world unions, associations, and governments created the middle class and brought full civil rights to women and minorities. Many of our stories feature heroic organizations — such as the British Secret Service, Triplanetary, U.N.C.L.E, GI Joe, and S.H.I.E.L.D. Heroic individuals and organizations protected us against criminals and foreign powers.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E

No longer. The war on terror has revealed that our government might have become our greatest foe. On TV we see stories with ample precedents in history, but unimaginable to most Americans. President Obama personally selects America citizens for assassination, without formal charges or trial. The NSA taps our phones and monitors our emails. Police patrol our streets with military equipment (just like Fallujah), eager to use force (e.g., SWAT teams killing when delivering summonses).

Fiction often mirrors our fears and our view of the world. As do our films today. Soldiers take Superman away in handcuffs. SHIELD launches helicarriers equipped for surveillance and assassination. Government agents attack Captain America. Action adventures routinely feature government officials as the bad guys. The next sequence of Marvel films feature the Civil War series, in which the government regulates — forcibly enlists — mutants in its service.

The GI Joe team

In this world trust becomes rare. Heroes in TV and films are often told to “trust nobody” (e.g., in “The X-Files” TV show, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, and “Captain America: Winter Soldier”). Sometimes the moral of the story is the even more extreme “trust nothing”, with the usual exceptions of love — or friends and family. It’s excellent advice for peons. Taken seriously this prevents people from working together through existing organizations, which shatters even the strongest people into powerless shards. We become individuals and families helpless before the mega-corporations and government agencies that run our world, and helpless before the 1% that own it.

Movies and TV are our myths. Today they give us nothing to inspire people to work for social and political reform.

The missing link

Read more…

Our leaders justify torture in ways that justify its future use on their foes (including Americans)

14 December 2014

Summary:  On Friday I said that we would torture again., despite the evidence in the Senate’s report.  This weekend former and current high officials of the US government confirmed that guess. Defenders of torture dispute the evidence, deny that torture was torture, and offer bold affirmations that they would torture again.

For I doubt not but, if it had been a thing contrary to any man’s right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, ‘that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square,’ that doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.

— Thomas Hobbs in The Leviathan

Shining City Upon a Hill

By Hawk862

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The Bush and Obama administrations have put torture into our national DNA.  In the past Americans supporting (or enjoying) torture spoke quietly, least they (rightly) get compared to torturers of the NAZI Gestapo, Soviet KGB, and the many lesser known secret police of 3rd world nations (many of whom learned their craft at the US Special Forces’ School of the Americas).

Now come the propos to convince the American people that this is business as usual, that we’re still an exceptional City on a Hill (Matthew 5:14).

So closes the next chapter in America’s fall. We’ll use torture again. Read Republican’s justification of torture. Hear the echos from the past. As so many have said before, Hitler was just early (hence Godwin’s Law). Listen closely — their words justify torture of Americans (when designated as bad guys by the government). That shouldn’t surprise us after so many tools of the war on terror appear on America’s streets. (plus, of course, Obama’s assassination of American citizens).

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

His word salad clearly communicates that our rights mean nothing to him. CNN about Scalia’s interview on December 12 on Swiss National Radio:

The justice who’s been a mainstay of the high court’s conservative wing for 28 years condemned the “self-righteousness of European liberals” who oppose torture “so easily” Friday in an interview with Swiss National Radio.  “I don’t think it’s so clear at all,” Scalia said. “I think it is very facile for people to say ‘Oh, torture is terrible,'” he said. “You posit the situation where a person that you know for sure knows the location of a nuclear bomb that has been planted in Los Angeles and will kill millions of people. “You think it’s an easy question? You think it’s clear that you cannot use extreme measures to get that information out of that person?”

… “What are human rights is not written up in the sky, and if it were written up in the sky, it would not be up to judges, lawyers, just because they’ve gone to law school, to know what human rights ought to be and therefore are,” Scalia said.

“And therefore each society’s perception of what it believes human rights should be ought to be up to that society, and I think it’s very foolish to yield that determinations not only to a foreign body but to a foreign body of judges,” he said. “I don’t know why anyone would want to do that.”

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Requiem for fear. Let’s learn from past failed predictions and have confidence in ourselves & our future

13 December 2014

Summary: If journalists find it difficult to fill the spaces between ads, they might run articles debunking past popular predictions of doom. They could easily do so monthly. This week brought an unusually large harvest of evidence disproving the doomsters. We should ask ourselves why were we so credulous, even gullible, to believe these stories? What might be the consequences if we continue like this? I haven’t a clue to the former; at the end below is a guess about the latter.

New Scientist: collapse

Click to enlarge

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The Ebola pandemic: millions will die!

Predictions of a global Ebola pandemic swept America before the election, revealed as conservative fear-mongering for political gain as they mysteriously disappeared on November 5. Like peak oil, there were ludicrously weak reasons given for these strident warnings. The WHO’s December 3 weekly status report shows that it has been eliminated from all but three poor African nations: “Case incidence is slightly increasing in Guinea, decreasing in Liberia, and may be increasing or stable in Sierra Leone.” No mea culpas from the fearmongers.

Hyperinflation! The dollar becomes worthless!

Every decade conservatives confidently forecast imminent doom from one or both of these. Always wrong. This year inflation continues at uncomfortably low levels (not much of a cushion against deflation, lethal in a high-debt economy like ours). The dollar continues to strengthen, so depressing exports and corporate profits (destabilizing many emerging nations).

Peak Oil — The end of civilization!

During the years 2005 – 2008 predictions that the end was nigh rang throughout the nation, a tune joyously played by Leftists certain they this proved the folly of capitalism. On 3 July 2008 WTI oil was $145, a record. This week it closed below $60, brought down by a combination of factors long discussed here: slower global growth, increased supply, and improved efficiency. “The cure for high prices is high prices.” Free markets at work. No mea culpas from the fearmongers.

That doesn’t prove the cornucopians’ dreams of cheap oil returning; $60 oil will force rapid slashing of capital investments and slowly return oil to their $80 – $100 range. Nor does that disprove the research warning that eventually this price reign will end with prices breaking higher into a new range, much as the 20 year range of $10 – $20 ended in 1999.

What matters is that there was never any basis for the predictions of imminent disaster, despite the applause for doomsters articles at websites such as The Oil Drum (not in the dustbin of history).

Read more…

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