Monday, March 30, 2009

Big Doins at Chestnut Square yesterday afternoon - Easter Egg hunt, and Fashions from the collections of The Heritage Guild of Collin well as a petting zoo, and pony rides...all in all a relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spring is nearly here! Plants are blooming and storms are rolling in...can't beat this time of year here!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Full Commanding Detail - James Kunstler
If central casting called for a poised, straight-talking, and capable-seeming president, it would be hard to come up with someone better than the Barack Obama who walked and talked around the White House grounds with Steve Croft on "60-Minutes" Sunday night. He may perfectly represent the majority who elected him, though, because he also appears to be in full commanding denial of the realities overtaking our American experience.

Those realities include the fact that we can't possibly return to the easy credit and no money down "consumer" economy no matter how many nominal dollars get shoveled into the fiery furnaces of banks too-big-to-fail. As Treasury Secretary Geithner's underling, Stephanie Cutter, said last week, "Our singular focus is on increasing lending to support economic recovery. Everything we do to stabilize the financial system is done with that goal in mind."

Lending on the scale that became normal over the last decade is for sure the one thing that we will not recover. We turn around in 2009 to find ourselves a much poorer nation than we thought we were a year ago, especially among that broad range of formerly middle-class wage-earners who lived so luxuriously until yesterday. The public can't process this reality and the president, for all his relaxed charm, is either not ready to articulate it, or can't process it himself.

Everything that we're doing right now is engineered to avoid reality, to sustain the unsustainable, to recover the unrecoverable, when the mandate of reality compels us to face our losses in order to move on to the next chapter of a collective American life. The next chapter would be a society that runs on a much more local and modest scale, centered on essential activities like growing food, requiring harder physical work, and focused attention -- in other words, the opposite of a society lost in abstractions, long-range daisy chains of off-loaded responsibility, and incessant pleasure-seeking.

In retreat from this reality, we've set in motion two forces that are pretty certain to bring us to grief. The first proceeds from the fateful FMOC decision last week at the Federal Reserve Bank to begin buying massive amounts of our own treasury bonds and bills. This is predicated on the idea that the mechanisms of wealth production -- even of illusory wealth, such as the fortunes created by trading securitized unpayable debt -- can keep chugging along, spinning off limitless additional suburban villas, chain stores, car trips, and deep-fried snacks. It would be sententious to explain how this destroys currencies, but wherever "monetizing debt" has been tried before in history, that is the outcome. The result would be ruinous at every level and would lead straight to the second terrible force: social upheaval brought on by the conversion of economic problems into political turbulence.

Those two forces are underway right now, in fact, since the overt monetizing of last week was preceded by the shoveling of bail-outs, which tacitly guaranteed a collapse of credibility in US debt instruments. I'm not in favor of violence and anarchy, but after the AIG bonus affair, it's hard to imagine that we are not one more corporate misdeed away from a rocket-propelled-grenade, or something like that, being fired into a glass office tower somewhere -- and then the "first-broken-window" rule of social disintegration comes into play. Meanwhile, I stick to my time-table of six-to-eighteen months before the reckless creation of new money-for-nothing filters through the system, overcomes even compressive mass bankruptcy, and starts expressing itself in the sinking value of dollars and the revved up velocity of their circulation in pursuit of tangible commodities.

We're already seeing the first twinges of that in the up-creep of oil prices, busting through the $50-a-barrel barrier last week. Since scarcity tends to express itself in gross volatility, it's easy to imagine oil prices rising swiftly beyond the $147-per-barrel record level of last year. As that occurs, the most basic premises of everyday life in the USA will be called into question. If you think car sales have been bad lately, with oil in the $35-a-barrel range most of the winter, just wait. The newly-minted unemployed will be marooned in their subdivisions. They will not be buying GMC Yukons on 48-month installment contracts, let alone X-boxes on their Visa cards. They might be very very hungry, though. All bets are off as to how these social classes may organize themselves to alleviate their hunger (and express their anger about it).

Given all this, it's kind of hard to believe that the savvy, thoughtful Mr. Obama is going along with such a disastrous program as the one his "team" is rolling out. Perhaps his ease and confidence masks a tragically conventional world-view, an incapacity to imagine "change" outside a very narrow range of possibility. I must say I doubt this is the case. I think, he is going along, for the moment, with a consensus of wishes to prop up life as we know it at all costs. This consensus emanates from the top down and the bottom up. The millions of "Joe-the-Plumber(s)" out there don't want to rethink the terms of existence anymore than the lords of Goldman Sachs. I also think that circumstances will force Mr. Obama's hand before long -- specifically that a moment will arrive when he goes on TV and tells the American public that things have changed way beyond the scope of what they even imagined when they pulled the levers last fall and voted for an uncharted future.

Capable observers are calling, meanwhile, for a robust bear market rally moving through Spring, on technical grounds that have little to do with the greater forces roistering in the background. Reality is a cruel mistress. If the stock market rally rolls out as predicted, it will surely fake-out the mainstream media. They'll conclude wishfully and foolishly that something like "recovery" is underway. They may even interpret rising oil prices as a "positive sign" that the great groaning enterprise of the something-for-nothing economy is back "on track."

They'll be shocked sometime after Memorial Day when it all comes off the rails again. We have a lot to sort out and very little time to get on with job. Notice, I haven't even mentioned the potential for mischief and instability coming out of the rest of the world -- enough black swans to blot out the sun. Want some concrete advice? For those of you sitting on US Treasury bonds and bills, now would be a good time to get out.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tina came to shoot today! Fun Stuff!

Friday, March 20, 2009

The irrepressible Sang Pham from a week or so ago...its the weekend! Time to shoot!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The eye-popping national debt surpassed $11 trillion Monday, the largest in U.S. history.

The new Treasury Department figures on the national debt were released as the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is expected to project that the annual budget deficit will be higher than previously estimated by the White House's Office of Management and Budget. The debt, which refers to the cumulative amount of money the government owes, hit $10.9 trillion on Friday.

The whopping number has major ramifications for President Barack Obama, who is trying to push through a raft of big-ticket bills on health care, energy, education and climate change — while also attempting to stabilize the swooning economy.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Budget Committee, said Tuesday that the numbers could force Congress to make "adjustments" to Obama's $3.6 trillion budget plan.

"It’s very important get a result for the American people and one that has the priorities that have been [announced] by the president in terms of reducing our dependence on foreign energy, that’s in all of our interests, excellence in education, health care reform and dramatic reduction of the deficit,” Conrad told reporters. “Those will be our guiding principles as we go forward, but as I say, we’ve not yet seen CBO’s new numbers. But I think we can all anticipate because they were done substantially later than OMB’s, that they are going to be more adverse. That that’s going to require all of us to make adjustments.”

Monday, March 09, 2009

Anatomy of a Photograph

Kiran...setting up a floral shot...

Nancy Wu photographing Sang at the mini-meet Friday evening!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Dawn, Shane, and D'Lee were in the studio this morning...

Some of the DPS members were up here last night and we had sort of a mini photograph Nancy's roommate Sang...thanks to Nancy Wu and Dominic for making this wonderful person available to us so we could all learn some new tricks and get more proficient at old ones!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Miss Marcy was in the house 2nite for Open Mic Jam...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009
What's Next?
by James Howard Kunstler
, CFN Update for March 2nd, 2009

The Peak Oil story was never about running out of oil. It was about the collapse of complex systems in a world economy faced by the prospect of no further oil-fueled growth. It was something of a shock to many that the first complex system to fail would be banking, but the process is obvious: no more growth means no more ability to pay interest on credit... end of story, as Tony Soprano used to say.

There was a popular theory among Peak Oilers the last decade that the world would enter a "bumpy plateau" period when the global economy would get beaten down by peak oil, would then revive as "demand destruction" drove down oil prices, and would be beaten down again as oil prices shot up in response -- with serial repetitions of the cycle, each beat-down taking economies lower -- the only imaginable outcome being some sort of quiet homeostasis. This scenario did not play out as expected. It was predicated on a mistaken assumption that all systems would retain some kind of operational resilience while ratcheting down. Anyway, the banking system was mortally wounded in the first go-round and the behemoth is dying hard.

The last desperate act of the banking system in the face of Peak Oil's no-more-growth equation was to engineer species of tradable securities that could produce wealth out of thin air rather than productive activity. This was the alphabet soup of algorithm-derived frauds with vague and confounding names such as credit default swaps (CDSs), collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), structured investment vehicles (SIVs), and, of course, the basic filler, mortgage backed securities. The banking system is now choking to death on these delicacies.

The trouble is that the EMT squad brought in to rescue the banking system -- that is, governments -- can't remove these obstructions from the patient's craw. They don't want to drown in a mighty upchuck of the alphabet soup.

The collapse of complex systems is actually predicated on the idea that the systems would mutually reinforce each other's failures. This is now plain to see as the collapse of banking (that is, of both lending and debt service), has led to the collapse of commerce and manufacturing. The next systems to go will probably be farming, transportation, and the oil markets themselves (which constitute the system for allocating and distributing world energy resources). As these things seize up, the final system to go will be governance, at least at the highest levels.

If we're really lucky, human affairs will eventually reorganize at a lower scale of activity, governance, civility, and economy. Every week, the failure to recognize the nature of our predicament thrusts us further into the uncharted territory of hardship. The task of government right now is not to prop up doomed systems at their current scales of failure, but to prepare the public to rebuild our systems at smaller scales.

The net effect of the failures in banking is that a lot of people have less money than they expected they would have a year ago. This is bad enough, given our habits and practices of modern life. But what happens when farming collapses? The prospect for that is closer than most of us might realize. The way we produce our food has been organized at a scale that has ruinous consequences, not least its addiction to capital. Now that banking is in collapse, capital will be extremely scarce. Nobody in the cities reads farm news, or listens to farm reports on the radio. Guess what, though: we are entering the planting season. It will be interesting to learn how many farmers "out there" in the Cheez Doodle belt are not able to secure loans for this year's crop.

My guess is that the disorder in agriculture will be pretty severe this year, especially since some of the world's most productive places -- California, northern China, Argentina, the Australian grain belt -- are caught in extremes of drought on top of capital shortages. If the US government is going to try to make remedial policy for anything, it better start with agriculture, to promote local, smaller-scaled farming using methods that are much less dependent on oil byproducts and capital injections.

This will, of course, require a re-allocation of lands suitable for growing food. Our real estate market mechanisms could conceivably enable this to happen, but not without a coherent consensus that it is imperative to do so. If agri-business as currently practiced doesn't founder on capital shortages, it will surely collapse on disruptions in the oil markets. President Obama at least made a start in the right direction by proposing to eliminate further subsidies to farmers above the $250,000 level. But the situation is really more acute. Surely the US Department of Agriculture already knows about it, but the public may not be interested until the shelves in the Piggly-Wiggly are bare -- and then, of course, they'll go ape****.

The recent huge drop in oil prices has left the public once again convinced that the world is drowning in oil -- if only the scoundrelly oil companies were forced to deliver it at reasonable prices. The public has been consistently deluded about this for decades. What's missing so far is for the president of the US to lay out the reality of the situation in a dedicated TV address. I know a lot of you think that Jimmy Carter already tried this and failed to make an impression (and ruined his presidency in the process). I guarantee you that Mr. Obama will have to do this sometime in the next few years whether he likes or not, and he'd be well-advised to get it done sooner rather than later. And by this I don't mean just vague allusions to "energy independence" or "renewables" in speeches devoted to many other issues. I mean telling the public the plain truth that we'll never offset oil depletion and the intelligent response is to do everything possible to transition to walkable towns and public transit, not to sustain the unsustainable.

The alternatives -- i.e. what we're trying now -- is to further delude ourselves into thinking that we can run WalMart and the suburbs by some other means than oil. Despite all our investments in these things, we won't be able to run them by other means, and the news about this had better get out before enormous disappointment turns into titanic rage. If Americans think they've been grifted by Goldman Sachs and Bernie Madoff, wait until they find out what a swindle the so-called "American Dream" of suburban life turns out to be.

On this blizzardy Monday in the power centers of America, attention is fixed on the never-ending fiasco of AIG -- a company whose main product turned out to be credit default swaps, and is now choking on them. Kibitzers on the sidelines of finance are forecasting a king-hell bear market suckers' rally in the stock markets followed by a belly flop to Dow 4000 or lower. I myself called for Dow 4000 two years ago -- and was obviously a bit off on my timing. All this is surely trouble enough. But while your attention is focused on Rick Santelli in the Chicago trader's pit, or Larry Kudlow desperately seeking "mustard seeds" of new growth in financials, try to let one eye stray to the horizon where these other complex systems are working out their next moves. Farming. The oil markets. These are the coming theaters of alarm and distress.

Had some run shooting Dawn and her daughter DLee yesterday...