Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010 Prediction, Wishes and Advice


2010: Fish or Cut Bait [literally]


I wish you all a merry and safe New Year's Eve!

May you find pleasure, engagement, and meaning in 2010.


Follow the white rabbit. - c

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything


You are the master who makes the grass green.


Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything

Wilson describes his work as an "attempt to break down conditioned associations, to look at the world in a new way, with many models recognized as models or maps, and no one model elevated to the truth."

"My goal is to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone but agnosticism about everything." -- Wikipedia

Audio book: Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything: (or Old Bob Exposes His Ignorance)

Robert Anton Wilson explains Quantum Physics

The Reality As You Know It Does Not Exist

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"Is", "is." "is" — the idiocy of the word haunts me. If it were abolished, human thought might begin to make sense. I don't know what anything "is"; I only know how it seems to me at this moment." -- Bob Wilson

2010 Forecast from Clusterfuck Nation

Peter Bruegel, "Triumph of Death" (Black Plague), Flemish artist, 1562, oil on panel, in Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Clusterfuck Nation ThinkTank's 2010 Forecast: Definitely Not Rosy

As there are less than 48 hours in 2009, which everyone except Goldman's bonus recipient corps can't wait to be over, some last minute opinions on what awaits us in 2010. This one comes from James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergencyand the Clusterfuck Nation blog. As one can imagine from the title, we don't anticipate Mr. Kunstler will be making the CNBCOMCAST tour of propaganda duty circuit any time soon. -- Zero Hedge, h/t: Steve Koh

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The Center Does Not Hold... But Neither Does the Floor

Introduction

There are always disagreements in a society, differences of opinion, and contested ideas, but I don't remember any period in my own longish life, even the Vietnam uproar, when the collective sense of purpose, intent, and self-confidence was so muddled in this country, so detached from reality. Obviously, in saying this I'm assuming that I have some reliable notion of what's real. I admit the possibility that I'm as mistaken as anyone else. But for the purpose of this exercise I'll ask you to regard me as a reliable narrator. Forecasting is a nasty job, usually thankless, often disappointing - but somebody's got to do it. There are so many variables in motion, and so much of that motion is driven by randomness, and the best one can do in forecasting amounts to offering up some guesses for whatever they are worth.

I begin by restating my central theme of recent months: that we're doing a poor job of constructing a coherent consensus about what is happening to us and what we are going to do about it.

There is a great clamor for "solutions" out there. I've noticed that what's being clamored for is a set of rescue remedies - miracles even - that will allow us to keep living exactly the way we're accustomed to in the USA, with all the trappings of comfort and convenience now taken as entitlements. I don't believe that this will be remotely possible, so I avoid the term "solutions" entirely and suggest that we speak instead of "intelligent responses" to our changing circumstances. This implies that our well-being depends on our own behavior and the choices that we make, not on the lucky arrival of just-in-time miracles. It is an active stance, not a passive one. What will we do?

The great muddlement out there, this inability to form a coherent consensus about what's happening, is especially frightening when, as is the case today, even the intelligent elites appear clueless or patently dishonest, in any case unreliable, in their relations with reality. President Obama, for instance - a charming, articulate man, with a winning smile, pectorals like Kansas City strip steaks, and a mandate for "change" - who speaks incessantly and implausibly of "the recovery" when all the economic vital signs tell a different story except for some obviously manipulated stock market indexes. You hear this enough times and you can't help but regard it as lying, and even if it is lying ostensibly for the good of the nation, it is still lying about what is actually going on and does much harm to the project of building a coherent consensus. I submit that we would benefit more if we acknowledged what is really happening to us because only that will allow us to respond intelligently. What prior state does Mr. Obama suppose we're recovering to? A Potemkin housing boom and an endless credit card spending orgy? The lying spreads downward from the White House and broadly across the fruited plain and the corporate office landscape and through the campuses and the editorial floors and the suites of absolutely everyone in charge of everything until all leadership in every field of endeavor has been given permission to speak untruth and to reinforce each others lies and illusions.

How dysfunctional is our nation? These days, we lie to ourselves perhaps as badly the Soviets did, and in a worse way, because where information is concerned we really are a freer people than they were, so our failure is far less excusable, far more disgraceful. That you are reading this blog is proof that we still enjoy free speech in this country, whatever state of captivity or foolishness the so-called "mainstream media" may be in. By submitting to lies and illusions, therefore, we are discrediting the idea that freedom of speech and action has any value. How dangerous is that?

Where We Are Now

2009 was the Year of the Zombie. The system for capital formation and allocation basically died but there was no funeral. A great national voodoo spell has kept the banks and related entities like Fannie Mae and the dead insurance giant AIG lurching around the graveyard with arms outstretched and yellowed eyes bugged out, howling for fresh infusions of blood... er, bailout cash, which is delivered in truckloads by the Federal Reserve, which is itself a zombie in the sense that it is probably insolvent. The government and the banks (including the Fed) have been playing very complicated games with each other, and the public, trying to pretend that they can all still function, shifting and shuffling losses, cooking their books, hiding losses, and doing everything possible to detach the relation of "money" to the reality of productive activity.

But nothing has been fixed, not even a little. Nothing has been enforced. No one has been held responsible for massive fraud. The underlying reality is that we are a much less affluent society than we pretend to be, or, to put it bluntly, that we are functionally bankrupt at every level: household, corporate enterprise, and government (all levels of that, too).

The difference between appearance and reality can be easily seen in the everyday facts of American economic life: soaring federal deficits, real unemployment above 15 percent, steeply falling tax revenues, massive state budget crises, continuing high rates of mortgage defaults and foreclosures, business and personal bankruptcies galore, cratering commercial real estate, dying retail, crumbling infrastructure, dwindling trade, runaway medical expense, soaring food stamp applications. Meanwhile, the major stock indices rallied. What's not clear is whether money is actually going somewhere or only the idea of "money" is appearing to go somewhere. After all, if a company like Goldman Sachs can borrow gigantic sums of "money" from the Federal Reserve at zero interest, why would it not shovel that money into the burning furnace of a fake stock market rally? Of course, none of this behavior has anything to do with productive activity.

The theme for 2009 - well put by Chris Martenson - was "extend and pretend," to use all the complex trickery that can be marshaled in the finance tool bag to keep up the appearance of a revolving debt economy that produces profits, interest, and dividends, in spite of the fact that debt is not being "serviced," i.e. repaid. There is an awful lot in the machinations of Wall Street and Washington that is designed deliberately to be as incomprehensible as possible to even educated people, but this part is really simple: if money is created out of lending, then the failure to pay back loaned money with interest kills the system. That is the situation we are in.

The inertia displayed by our system - especially its manifest ability to keep stock markets levitating in the absence of value creation - is strictly a function of its size and complexity. It is running on fumes. I thought it would finally crash and burn in 2009. The Dow Jones industrial average certainly fell on its ass last March, bottoming in the mid-6000 range. But then it picked its sorry ass off the ground and rallied back up again thanks to bail-outs and ZIRPs and really no other place to look for returns on the accumulated wealth of the past two hundred years, especially for large institutions like pension funds that need income to function. I'd called for a Dow at 4000. A lot of readers ridiculed that call. Was it really that far off?

A feature of 2009 easily overlooked is what a generally placid year it was around the world. Apart from the election uproar in Iran, there were few events of any size or potency to shove all the various wobbly things - central banks, markets, governments, etc - into failure mode. So things just kept wobbling. I don't think that state of affairs is likely to continue. With that, on to the particulars.

The Year Ahead

Just about everything which evaded fate via gamed numbers, budgets, and balance sheets in 2009 seems destined to hit a wall in 2010. To pick an arbitrary starting point, it is hard to see how states like California and New York can keep staving off monumental changes in their scale of operations with further budget trickery. Those cans they've been kicking down the street have fallen through the sewer grate. What will they do? They can massively raise taxes or massively lay off employees and default on obligations - or they can do all these things. The net result will be populations with less income, arguably impoverished, suffering, and perhaps very angry about it. Welcome to reality. Will Washington bail the states out, too? I wouldn't be surprised to see them pretend to do so, but not without immense collateral damage in everybody's legitimacy and surely an increase in US treasury interest rates.

But backing up a moment, I'm writing between Christmas and New Year's Eve. The frenzied distractions of the holidays ongoing for much of Q4-2009 are still in force. In a week or so, when the Christmas trees are hauled out to the curbs (and it turns out that municipal garbage pickup has been curtailed for lack of funds) a picture will start to emerge of exactly how retail sales went leading up to the big climax. My guess is that sales were dismal. Reports of such will start a train of events that sends many retail companies careening into bankruptcy, including some national chains, leading to lost leases in malls and strip malls, leading to a final push off the cliff for commercial real estate, leading to the failure of many local and regional banks, leading to the bankrupt FDIC having to go to congress directly to get more money to bail out the depositors, leading again to rising interest rates for US treasuries, leading to higher mortgage interest rates for whoever out there is crazy enough to venture to buy a house with borrowed money, leading to the probability that there are few of the foregoing, leading to another hard leg down in house values because so few are now crazy enough to buy a house in the face of falling prices - all of this leading to the recognition that we have entered a serious depression, which is only a facet of the greater period of hardship we have also entered, which I call The Long Emergency.

This depression will be a classic deleveraging, or resolution of debt. Debt will either be paid back or defaulted on. Since a lot can't be paid back, a lot of it will have to be defaulted on, which will make a lot of money disappear, which will make many people a lot poorer. President Obama will be faced with a basic choice. He can either make the situation worse by offering more bailouts and similar moves aimed at stopping the deleveraging process - that is, continue what he has been doing, only perhaps twice as much, which may crash the system more rapidly - or he can recognize the larger trends in The Long Emergency and begin marshalling our remaining collective resources to restructure the economy along less complex and more local lines. Don't count on that.

Of course, this downscaling will happen whether we want it or not. It's really a matter of whether we go along with it consciously and intelligently - or just let things slide. Paradoxically and unfortunately in this situation, the federal government is apt to become ever more ineffectual in its ability to manage anything, no matter how many times Mr. Obama comes on television. Does this leave him as a kind of national camp counselor trying to offer consolation to the suffering American people, without being able to really affect the way the "workout" works out? Was Franklin Roosevelt really much more than an affable presence on the radio in a dark time that had to take its course and was only resolved by a global convulsion that left the USA standing in a smoldering field of prostrate losers?

One wild card is how angry the American people might get. Unlike the 1930s, we are no longer a nation who call each other "Mister" and "Ma'am," where even the down-and-out wear neckties and speak a discernible variant of regular English, where hoboes say "thank you," and where, in short, there is something like a common culture of shared values. We're a nation of thugs and louts with flames tattooed on our necks, who call each other "motherfucker" and are skilled only in playing video games based on mass murder. The masses of Roosevelt's time were coming off decades of programmed, regimented work, where people showed up in well-run factories and schools and pretty much behaved themselves. In my view, that's one of the reasons that the US didn't explode in political violence during the Great Depression of the 1930s - the discipline and fortitude of the citizenry. The sheer weight of demoralization now is so titanic that it is very hard to imagine the people of the USA pulling together for anything beyond the most superficial ceremonies - placing teddy bears on a crash site. And forget about discipline and fortitude in a nation of ADD victims and self-esteem seekers.

I believe we will see the outbreak of civil disturbance at many levels in 2010. One will be plain old crime against property and persons, especially where the sense of community is flimsy-to-nonexistent, and that includes most of suburban America. The automobile is a fabulous aid to crime. People can commit crimes in Skokie and be back home in Racine before supper (if supper is anything besides a pepperoni stick and some Hostess Ho-Hos in the car). Fewer police will be on guard due to budget shortfalls.

I think we'll see a variety-pack of political disturbance led first by people who are just plain pissed off at government and corporations and seek to damage property belonging to these entities. The ideologically-driven will offer up "revolutionary" action to redefine some lost national sense of purpose. Some of the most dangerous players such as the political racialists, the posse comitatus types, the totalitarian populists, have been out-of-sight for years. They'll come out of the woodwork and join the contest over dwindling resources. Both the Left and the Right are capable of violence. But since the Left is ostensibly already in power, the Right is in a better position to mount a real challenge to office-holders. Their ideas may be savage and ridiculous, but they could easily sweep the 2010 elections - unless we see the rise of a third party (or perhaps several parties). No sign of that yet. Personally, I'd like to see figures like Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank sent packing, though I'm a registered Democrat. In the year ahead, the sense of contraction will be palpable and huge. Losses will be obvious. No amount of jive-talking will convince the public that they are experiencing "recovery." Everything familiar and comforting will begin receding toward the horizon.

Markets and Money

I'll take another leap of faith and say that 6600 was not the bottom for the Dow. I've said Dow 4000 for three years in a row. Okay, my timing has been off. But I still believe this is its destination. Given the currency situation, and the dilemma of no-growth Ponzi economies, I'll call it again for this year: Dow 4000. There, I said it. Laugh if you will....

I'm with those who see the dollar strengthening for at least the first half of 2010, and other assets falling in value, especially the stock markets. The dollar could wither later on in the year and maybe take a turn into high inflation as US treasury interest rates shoot up in an environment of a global bond glut. That doesn't mean the stock markets will bounce back because the US economy will only sink into greater disorder when interest rates rise.

Right now there are ample signs of trouble with the Euro. It made a stunning downward move the past two weeks. European banks took the biggest hit in the Dubai default. Now they face the prospect of sovereign default in Greece, the Baltic nations (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the Balkan nations (Serbia, et al), Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Iceland and the former soviet bloc of Eastern Europe. England is a train wreck of its own (though not tied into the Euro), and even France may be in trouble. That leaves very few European nations standing. Namely Germany and Scandanavia (and I just plain don't know about Austria). What will Europe do? Really, what will Germany do? Probably reconstruct something like the German Deutschmark only call it something else... the Alt.Euro? As one wag said on the Net: sovereign debt is the new sub-prime! The Euro is in a deeper slog right now than the US dollar (even with our fantastic problems), so I see the dollar rising in relation to the Euro, at least for a while. I'd park cash in three month treasury bills - don't expect any return - for safety in the first half of 2010. I wouldn't touch long-term US debt paper with a carbon-fiber sixty foot pole.

I'm still not among those who see China rising into a position of supremacy. In fact, they have many reasons of their own to tank, including the loss of the major market for their manufactured goods, vast ecological problems, de-stabilizing demographic shifts within the nation, and probably a food crisis in 2010 (more about this later).

Though a seemingly more stable nation than the US, with a disciplined population and a strong common culture with shared values, Japan's financial disarray runs so deep that it could crash its government even before ours. It has no fossil fuels of its own whatsoever. And in a de-industrializing world, how can an industrial economy sustain itself? Japan might become a showcase for The Long Emergency. On the other hand, if it gets there first and makes the necessary adjustments, which is possible given their discipline and common culture, they may become THE society to emulate!

I'm also not convinced that so-called "emerging markets" are places where money will dependably earn interest, profits, or dividends. Contraction will be everywhere. I even think the price of gold will retrace somewhere between $750 and $1000 for a while, though precious metals will hold substantial value under any conditions short of Hobbesian chaos. People flock to gold out of uncertainty, not just a bet on inflation. My guess is that gold and silver will eventually head back up in value to heights previously never imagined, and it would be wise to own some. I do not believe that the federal government could confiscate personal gold again the way it did in 1933. There are too many pissed off people with too many guns out there - and I'm sure there is a correlation between owners of guns with owners of gold and levels of pissed-offness. A botched attempt to take gold away from citizens would only emphasize the impotence of the federal government, leading to further erosion of legitimacy.

Bottom line for markets and money in 2010: so many things will be out of whack that making money work via the traditional routes of compound interest or dividends will be nearly impossible. There's money to be made in shorting and arbitrage and speculation, but that requires nerves of steel and lots and lots of luck. Those dependent on income from regular investment will be hurt badly. For most of us, capital preservation will be as good as it gets - and there's always the chance the dollar will enter the hyper-inflationary twilight zone and wipe out everything and everyone connected with it.

Peak Oil

It's still out there, very much out there, a huge unseen presence in the story, the true ghost-in-the-machine, eating away at economies every day. It slipped offstage in 2009 after the oil spike of 2008 ($147/barrel) over-corrected in early 2009 to the low $30s/barrel. Now it's retraced about halfway back to the mid-$70s. One way of looking at the situation is as follows. Oil priced above $75 begins to squeeze the US economy; oil priced over $85 tends to crush the US economy. You can see where we are now with oil prices closing on Christmas Eve at $78/barrel.

Among the many wishful delusions operating currently is the idea that the Bakken oil play in Dakota / Montana will save Happy Motoring for America, and that the Appalachian shale gas plays will kick in to make us energy independent for a century to come. Americans are likely to be disappointed by these things.

Both Bakken and the shale gas are based on techniques for using horizontal drilling through "tight" rock strata that is fractured with pressurized water. It works, but it's not at all cheap, creates plenty of environmental mischief, and may end up being only marginally productive. At best, Bakken is predicted to produce around 400,000 barrels of oil a day. That's not much in a nation that uses close to 20 million barrels a day. Shale gas works too, though the wells deplete shockingly fast and will require the massive deployment of new drilling rigs (do we even have the steel for this?). I doubt it can be produced for under $10 a unit (mm/BTUs) and currently the price of gas is in the $5 range. In any case, we're not going to run the US motor vehicle fleet on natural gas, despite wishful thinking.

Several other story elements in the oil drama have remained on track to make our lives more difficult. Oil export rates continue to decline more steeply than oil field depletion rates. Exporters like Iran, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, are using evermore of the oil they produce (often as state-subsidized cheap gasoline), even as their production rates go down. So, they have less oil to sell to importers like the USA - and we import more than 60 percent of the oil we use. Mexico's Pemex is in such a sorry state, with its principal Cantarell field production falling off a cliff, that the USA's number three source of imported oil may be able to sell us nothing whatsoever in just 24 months. Is there any public discussion about this in the USA? No. Do we have a plan? No.

A new wrinkle in the story developing especially since the financial crisis happened, is the shortage of capital for new oil exploration and production - meaning that we have even poorer prospects of offsetting world-wide oil depletion. The capital shortage will also affect development in the Bakken play and the Marcellus shale gas range.

Industrial economies are still at the mercy of peak oil. This basic fact of life means that we can't expect the regular cyclical growth in productive activity that formed the baseline parameters for modern capital finance - meaning that we can't run on revolving credit anymore because growth simply isn't there to create real surplus wealth to pay down debt. The past 20 years we've seen the institutions of capital finance pretend to create growth where there is no growth by expanding financial casino games of chance and extracting profits, commissions, and bonuses from the management of these games - mortgage backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, and all the rest of the tricks dreamed up as America's industrial economy was shipped off to the Third World. But that set of rackets had a limited life span and they ran into a wall in October 2008. Since then it's all come down to a shell game: hide the giant pea of defaulted debt under a giant walnut shell.

Yet another part of the story is the wish that the failing fossil fuel industrial economy would segue seamlessly into an alt-energy industrial economy. This just isn't happening, despite the warm, fuzzy TV commercials about electric cars and "green" technology. The sad truth of the matter is that we face the need to fundamentally restructure the way we live and what we do in North America, and probably along the lines of much more modest expectations, and with very different practical arrangements in everything from the very nature of work to household configurations, transportation, farming, capital formation, and the shape-and-scale of our settlements. This is not just a matter of re-tuning what we have now. It means letting go of much of it, especially our investments in suburbia and motoring - something that the American public still isn't ready to face. They may never be ready to face this and that is why we may never make a successful transition to whatever the next economy is. Rather, we will undertake a campaign to sustain the unsustainable and sink into poverty and disorder as we fight over the table scraps of the old economy... and when the smoke clears nothing new will have been built.

President Obama has spent his first year in office, and billions of dollars, trying to prop up the floundering car-makers and more generally the motoring system with "stimulus" for "shovel-ready" highway projects. This is exactly the kind of campaign to sustain the unsustainable that I mean. Motoring is in the process of failing and now for reasons that even we peak oilers didn't anticipate a year ago. It's no longer just about the price of gasoline. The crisis of capital is making car loans much harder to get, and if Americans can't buy cars on installment loans, they are not going to buy cars, and eventually they will not be driving cars they can't buy. The same crisis of capital is now depriving the states, counties, and municipalities of the means to maintain the massive paved highway and street system in this country. Just a few years of not attending to that will leave the system unworkable.

Meanwhile President Obama has given next-to-zero money or attention to public transit, to repairing the passenger railroad system in particular. I maintain that if we don't repair this system, Americans will not be traveling very far from home in a decade or so. Therefore, Mr. Obama's actions vis-à-vis transportation are not an intelligent response to our situation. And for very similar reasons, the proposal for a totally electric motor vehicle fleet, as a so-called "solution" to the liquid fuels problem, is equally unintelligent and tragic. Of course something else that Mr. Obama has barely paid lip-service to is the desperate need to retool our living places as walkable communities. The government now, at all levels, virtually mandates suburban arrangements of the most extremely car-dependent kind. Changing this has to move near the top of a national emergency priority list, if we have one.

Even with somewhat lower oil prices in 2009, the airlines still hemorrhaged losses in the billions, and if the oil price remains in the current zone some of them will fall back into bankruptcy in 2010. Oil prices may go down again in response to crippled economies, but then so will passengers looking to fly anywhere, especially the business fliers that the airlines have depended on to fill the higher-priced seats. I believe United will be the first one to go down in 2010, a hateful moron of a company that deserves to die.

My forecast for oil prices this year is extreme volatility. A strengthening dollar might send oil prices down (though that relationship has temporarily broken down this December as both oil prices and the dollar went up in tandem for the first time in memory). So could the cratering of the stock markets, or a general apprehension of a floundering economy. But the oil export situation also means there is less and less wiggle room every month for supply to keep pace with demand, even in struggling economies if they are dependent on foreign imports. Another part of the story that we don't pay attention to is the potential for oil scarcities, shortages, and hoarding. We may see the reemergence of those trends in 2010 for the first times since 1979.

Geopolitics

The retracement of oil prices in 2009 took place against a background of relative quiet on the geopolitical scene. With economies around the world sinking into even deeper extremis in 2010, friction and instability are more likely. The more likely locales for this are the places where most of the world's remaining oil is: the Middle East and Central Asia. The American army is already there, in Iraq and Afghanistan, with an overt pledge to up-the-ante in Afghanistan. It's hard to imagine a happy ending in all this. It's increasingly hard to even imagine a strategic justification for it. My current (weakly-held) notion is that America wants to make a baloney sandwich out of Iran, with American armies in Iraq and Afghanistan as the Wonder Bread, to "keep the pressure on" Iran. Well, after quite a few years, it doesn't seem to be moderating or influencing Iran's behavior in any way. Meanwhile, Pakistan becomes more chaotic every week and our presence in the Islamic world stimulates more Islamic extremist hatred against the USA. Speaking of Pakistan, there is the matter of its neighbor and adversary, India. If there is another terror attack by Pakistan on the order of last year's against various targets in Mumbai, I believe the response by India is liable to be severe next time, leading to God-knows-what, considering both countries have plenty of atom bombs.

Otherwise, the idea that we can control indigenous tribal populations in some of Asia's most forbidding terrain seems laughable. I don't have to rehearse the whole "graveyard of empires" routine here. But what possible geo-strategic advantage is in this for us? What would it matter if we pacified all the Taliban or al Qaeda in Afghanistan? Most of the hardest core maniacs are next door in Pakistan. Even if we turned Afghanistan into Idaho-East, with Kabul as the next Sun Valley, complete with Ralph Lauren shops and Mario Batali bistros, Pakistan would remain every bit as chaotic and dangerous in terms of supplying the world with terrorists. And how long would we expect to remain in Afghanistan pacifying the population? Five years? Ten Years? Forever? It's a ridiculous project. Loose talk on the web suggests our hidden agenda there was to protect a Conoco pipeline out of Tajikistan, but that seems equally absurd on several grounds. I can't see Afghanistan as anything but a sucking chest wound for dollars, soldiers' lives, and American prestige.

What's more, our presence there seems likely to stimulate more terror incidents here in the USA. We've been supernaturally lucky since 2001 that there hasn't been another incident of mass murder, even something as easy and straightforward as a shopping mall massacre or a bomb in a subway. Our luck is bound to run out. There are too many "soft" targets and our borders are too squishy. Small arms and explosives are easy to get in the USA. I predict that 2010 may be the year our luck does run out. Even before the start of the year we've seen the attempted Christmas bombing of Northwest-KLM flight 253 (Amsterdam to Detroit). One consequence of this is that it will only make air travel more unpleasant for everybody in the USA as new rules are instated limiting bathroom trips and blankets in the final hour of flight.

As far as the USA is concerned, I think we have more to worry about from Mexico than Afghanistan. In 2009, the Mexican government slipped ever deeper into impotence against the giant criminal cartels there. As the Cantarell oil field waters out, revenue from Pemex to the national government will wither away and so will the government's ability to control anything there. The next president of Mexico may be an ambitious gangster straight out of the drug cartels, Pancho Villa on steroids.

Another potential world locale for conflict may be Europe as the European Union begins to implode under the strains of the monetary system. The weaker nations default on their obligations and Germany, especially, looks to insulate itself from the damage. Except for the fiasco in Yugoslavia's breakup years ago, Europe has been strikingly peaceful for half a century. For most of us now living who have visited there, it is almost impossible to imagine how violent and crazy the continent was in the early twentieth century. I wonder what might happen there now, with more than a few nations failing economically and the dogs of extreme politics perhaps loosed again. History is ironical. Perhaps this time the Germans will be the good guys, while England goes apeshit with its BNP. Wouldn't that be something?

One big new subplot in world politics this year may be the global food shortage that is shaping up as a result of spectacular crop failures in most of the major farming regions of the world. The American grain belt was hit by cold and wet weather and the harvest was a disaster, especially for soybeans, of which the USA produces at least three-quarters of the world's supply. Crops have also failed in Northern China's wheat-growing region, in Australia, Argentina, and India. The result may range from extremely high food prices in the developed world to starvation in other places, leading to grave political instability and desperate fights over resources. We'll have an idea where this is leading by springtime. It maybe the most potent sub-plot in the story for 2010.

Conclusions

The Long Emergency is officially underway. Reality is telling us very clearly to prepare for a new way of life in the USA. We're in desperate need of decomplexifying, re-localizing, downscaling, and re-humanizing American life. It doesn't mean that we will be a lesser people or that we will not recognize our own culture. In some respects, I think it means we must return to some traditional American life-ways that we abandoned for the cheap oil life of convenience, comfort, obesity, and social atomization.

The successful people in America moving forward will be those who attach themselves to cohesive local communities, places with integral local economies and sturdy social networks, especially places that can produce a significant amount of their own food. I don't think that we'll be living in a world without money, some medium of exchange above barter, but it may not come in the form of dollars. My guess is that for a while it may be gold and silver, or possibly certificates issued by bank-like institutions representing gold-on-hand. In any case, I doubt we'll arrive there this year. This is more likely to be the year of grand monetary disorders and continued shocking economic contraction.

Political upheaval can get underway pretty quickly, without a whole lot of warning. I'm still waiting to hear the announced 2009 bonuses for the employees of the TBTF banks. All they said before Christmas was that thirty top Goldman Sachs employees would be paid in stock instead of money this year, but no other big banks have made a peep yet. I suppose they'll have to in the four days before New Years. I still think that could be the moment that shoves some disgruntled Americans into the arena of protest and revolt. Beyond that, though, there is plenty room for emotions to run wild and for behavior to get weird.

President Obama will have to make some pretty drastic moves to salvage his credibility. I see no sign of any intention to seriously investigate or prosecute financial crimes. Yet the evidence of misdeeds piles higher and higher - just this week new comprehensive reports of Goldman Sachs's irregularities in shorting their own issues of mortgage-backed securities, and a report on the Treasury Department's issuance of treasuries to "back-door" dumpers of toxic mortgage backed securities. And on Christmas Eve, when nobody was looking, the Treasury lifted the ceiling on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's backstop money to infinity. Even people like me who try to pay close attention to what's going on have lost track of all the various TARPs, TALFs, bailouts, stimuli, ZIRP loans, and handovers to every bank and its uncle in the land.

Good luck to readers in 2010. To paraphrase Tiny Tim: God help us, every one....

How much longer will our Chinese food be delivered?

By Jeff Rubin, The Globe and Mail, h/t: theediblegarden

A blog about how weaning our economy off oil means some fundamental changes in the way we live, and other things...

If you think you’re eating local now, you haven’t tasted anything yet.

Food and energy are intertwined at many levels, not the least of which starts right at the production stage. Behind the green facade of the farm gate lies one of the most energy-intensive industries in the world. From fertilizer to farm machinery, most modern agriculture is really about making hydrocarbons edible.

No matter what the crop, the most important input is always energy — and it’s getting to be more so every day. Driven by ever greater fertilizer use and farm mechanization, energy represents half the cost of growing wheat (up from 30 per cent only a decade ago), and over 40 per cent of the cost of growing corn or sorghum.

That should tell you right away that a world of rising energy costs translates directly into a world of rising food costs.

And that’ll be even truer in the future. Arable land has not increased in over a decade and virtually every model of [naturally occurring] global warming predicts that it will in fact decrease.

And while Monsanto and other friendly producers of genetically modified seed claim that their laboratories keep crop yields rising, the real reason is energy. Those green fields in Iowa run on about five and half gallons of oil per acre.

But that’s just the cost of growing food. Even if we only ate what was grown in our own backyards, our food supply still has a troubling dependence on fossil fuels. What happens when we eat food imported from all around the world?

As more of our food is sourced from abroad, the average distance from farm gate to dinner table has now risen to over fifteen hundred miles. That’s a bad energy deal in its own right: for every calorie of energy delivered by imported food, you burn, on average, three more calories getting it to your dinner table.

But at triple-digit oil prices, bunker fuel costs will price many of those long-distance food imports right out of your shopping cart.

Look at Chinese food, for example. Last year, America imported $6-billion worth of food from China—a six-fold increase since 2000. Everything from bok choy to frozen chicken wings is sourced from cheap Chinese farm labor half a world away. But it’s bunker fuel that not only moves those chicken wings across the Pacific but keeps them refrigerated as well.

In a world of cheap oil, your taste buds can easily go global. But with the planet already on the cusp of triple-digit oil prices, your menu will have to change.

Start getting used to local produce, because there’ll be a whole lot less Chinese food delivered in the smaller world of the future.

The Portable Chicken Ark

The Ultimate Home for Your Backyard Chickens

Designed specifically for the backyard and urban farmer, this handcrafted chicken coop is an affordable and space efficient home for your backyard chickens.

Modeled on the classic chicken ark that has served British hen-keepers for decades, this portable coop provides a comfortable and healthy home for up to 4 medium laying hens or 6 Bantams.

For more information visit: Handcrafted Coops

Looks simple enough to build yourself -- or add to the weekend "honey-do list." ;D

The Portable Chicken Coop

Time Out

Ah, the good old days. ;)

Rising Star Rocks Einstein With New Theory of Time

"Could Time Flow Backwards in Other Universes?"

By Casey Kazan via The Daily Galaxy, h/t: spacefuture, sciencewisdom

A rising star in theoretical physics offers his awesome vision of our universe and beyond, all beginning with a simple question: Why does time move forward? In January, Caltech physicist Sean Carroll will release his much-anticipated debut book, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. SciFi buffs will grok out on his thesis that our perception of time is informed by entropy — the level of disorder in a system. The basic laws of physics work equally well forward or backward in time, yet we perceive time to move in one direction only—toward the future and that the movement from low to high entropy as the universe expands establishes the direction in which time flows. To account for it, we have to delve into the prehistory of the universe, to a time before the big bang. Our universe may be part of a much larger multiverse, which as a whole is time-symmetric.

Time may run backward in other universes. Some universes, he argues, don’t experience time at all; once a universe cools off and reaches maximum entropy, there is no past or present.

Here's how Carroll describes his thesis: "Microscopic laws of physics are essentially time-reversal invariant, but macroscopic thermodynamics exhibits a profound time-asymmetry; entropy typically increases in closed systems. This intriguing feature of the real world has a cosmological origin: the entropy of the early universe was fantastically small. After a century of effort, it has been difficult to explain this arrow of time without assuming time-asymmetric boundary conditions. Jennifer Chen and I have suggested a simple scenario in which increasing entropy is natural, based on the idea that the entropy can increase without bound (there is no equilibrium state) and that the way entropy increases is by creating universes like our own. In our picture, any generic state first evolves to an empty de Sitter phase; the small temperature of de Sitter allows for fluctuations into a proto-inflationary configuration, which grows and reheats into a conventional Big-Bang spacetime. The same thing happens in the far past, but with a reversed arrow of time. On ultra-large scales, therefore, entropy is growing without bound in the asymptotic future and past."

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-cosmic-origins-of-times-arrow
http://preposterousuniverse.com/research/#arrow
http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/12/pl_print_carroll/

~ ~ ~

"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." -- Albert Einstein

"Time is making fools of us again." -- J.K. Rowling

Muse - Supermassive Black Hole

Muse - Supermassive Black Hole

Ooh, baby don't you know I suffer?
Oh, baby can you hear me moan?
You caught me under false pretenses
How long before you let me go?

Ooh, you set my soul alight
Ooh, you set my soul alight

Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the supermassive
(Ooh, you set my soul alight)
Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the supermassive
(Ooh, you set my soul)

I thought I was a fool for no one
But ooh, baby I'm a fool for you
You're the queen of the superficial
And how long before you tell the truth?

Ooh, you set my soul alight
Ooh, you set my soul alight

Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the supermassive
(Ooh, you set my soul alight)
Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the supermassive
(Ooh, you set my soul)

Supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole

Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the supermassive
Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the supermassive

Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the supermassive
(Ooh, you set my soul alight)
Glaciers melting in the dead of night
And the superstars sucked into the supermassive
(Ooh, you set my soul)

Supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole

Black holes, wormholes, quasars and gamma rays

Black holes, wormholes, quasars and gamma rays

This video kinda reminds me of Carl Sagan's Cosmos series. I miss you, Carl.

Carl Sagan - Cosmos Intro

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Secession: The Hope for Humanity

By Russell D. Longcore

In this article, I will define secession and make a case why secession is the only reasonable, logical and pragmatic solution to further the cause of human liberty and functional governance.

What is secession?

"Secession" is broadly defined as "the act of withdrawing formally from membership in an organization, association, or alliance." We are defining it specifically as the action of a state to cease its participation in the United States of America and for that state to create itself as a new independent, sovereign nation.

The American Revolution of 1776 was, by definition, an act of secession. An association of English colonies banded together and issued a Declaration of Independence that was presented to King George III. The King did not accept the secession and a civil war ensued.

Remember that the Declaration of Independence in 1776 was not the legal, formal secession document originating within any state Governor’s offices or the state legislatures. The 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence were lawyers, merchants, farmers and others who took it upon themselves to place the King on notice of the intentions of a small minority of Royal subjects who did not wish to be subjects any longer, and who were leading a revolution against the King. (Read Secession and Attorneys)

Another secession event happened in the United States in the 1860s. This time, it was the actual state governments that issued formal secession documents.

The misinformation widely prevalent in America about secession was written by the winning side of the American War Between The States of 1861–1865. They called it the Civil War. But it was not a civil war by definition.

James Fearon, a civil wars scholar at Stanford University, defines a civil war as "a violent conflict within a country fought by organized groups that aim to take power at the center or in a region, or to change government policies." Usually, one side of the conflict is the State.

Based on that definition, the actions of the 11 Confederate states in 1861 did not constitute starting a civil war. They weren’t looking to take power, overthrow the US government or change government policies. They just lawfully and peaceably seceded from the Union. The United States actually invaded a sovereign nation, the Confederate States of America, with the intent of overthrowing their government and bringing the states of the CSA back into the USA.

The most recent example of state secession happened in 1989 when the fifteen republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) seceded from the USSR. The USSR ceased to exist as all of the republics rejected the Kremlin government and became sovereign nations. (Go to: Mikhail Gorbachev and Secession)

Despite the fact that the USSR was the second most powerful nation on the planet, it was completely powerless to stop secession. Once the republics reasserted their sovereignty as free nations, the USSR dissolved into the dustbin of history.

Former Senator John Marchi was at the forefront of Staten Island's efforts to secede from New York City in the early 1990s.

What is the difference in secession and nullification?

Nullification is the legal principle holding that any US state has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that state has deemed unconstitutional. It has its legal foundation in the 9th and 10 Amendments of the US Constitution. Nullification has been used by the states throughout US history to prevent unjust laws from being enforced.

The most noteworthy use of nullification by any state was the so-called Nullification Crisis of 1832. Congress had enacted a high tariff that South Carolina rejected in its Ordinance of Nullification, which stated that the tariff was unconstitutional, and therefore unenforceable in South Carolina. The state made military preparations to resist anticipated federal enforcement. Congress responded by passing a Force Bill, authorizing President Andrew Jackson to use military force against South Carolina to enforce the tariff. But Congress simultaneously passed a new lower tariff that was satisfactory to South Carolina. So, Congress wisely chose to back down and compromise against the South Carolina nullification action.

Thirty-nine states of the United States have passed Tenth Amendment resolutions in recent months, stating that they are prepared to re-assert their authority to determine which Federal laws will be enforced within their borders. A few have enacted firearms legislation which states that firearms and ammunition manufactured and sold within the borders of a particular state are not subject to Federal law and regulation. It remains to be seen if Washington will recognize the nullification of Federal gun laws.

So, we see that nullification is a method whereby a US state may effectively control the legislative process of the US Federal Government as it pertains to how Federal law is enacted and enforced within any state. Compare that process to secession, in which a state formally withdraws from the United States to become a sovereign nation. Secession asserts that the relationship between parties has ceased, and that all previous commitments are null and void.

Why should a state consider secession?

First, secession should never be considered for light or transient reasons. Disagreements come and go between parties, and can usually be negotiated to the satisfaction of all parties. But when a long list of abuses exists, when repeated usurpations of state authority are enacted, when the sovereignty of states is trampled and ignored, and when citizens suffer a diminution of both their natural rights and economic freedom, it is the duty of states to solemnly consider either altering or abolishing the government that abuses that state and its citizens.

Who benefits from secession and what are the benefits?

In today’s America, any seceding state will benefit from the repudiation of the United States’ debt load, which will result in the savings of hundreds of billions of dollars that the citizens of the seceding state will never have to pay. Otherwise, if a state secedes and forms a government just like the one from which they seceded, there is limited benefit to the state or the citizen. But if the state protects individual liberty, life and property rights, the citizens will be infinitely more free.

The citizens of a state that secedes benefit to the degree that the seceding state "institute(s) new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." (from US Declaration of Independence)

Also, any persons who immigrate to the seceding state can experience benefits if they renounce their former citizenship and become a citizen of the seceding state. But, an émigré who did not change citizenship would still receive benefit from simply living in the seceding state.

The business community in the seceding state will benefit instantly as the crushing weight of US Federal regulations would vanish. No longer would businesses be required to be the tax collector for the IRS. The economy of a seceding state would be expected to explode with new commerce directly attributable to the competitive advantages of the new state.

The new state government of the seceding state would benefit as they would be free of US government rules, regulations, usurpations and unfunded mandates. No longer would the seceding state be required to enforce US Federal law.

The seceding state would benefit from a general shared attitude of most people of hope, optimism and excitement about the future.

Immigration to the seceding state would explode as liberty-loving individuals worldwide would bring their talents, experience, assets and gifts to the new nation, seeking a bright future for themselves and their progeny.

Who doesn’t benefit from secession?

In this specific example of secession from the United States, the parties who do not benefit are the United States Federal Government and the states that remain in the Union. To them will fall the unconstitutional debt load in greater percentage than before secession. The US Federal Government will also receive no further revenue from the seceding state. Also, the citizens of the seceding state will no longer be available to the United States for military service. And, individual secessions will occur as Americans leave the USA to immigrate to the new nation...people voting with their feet.

Will state secession cause a military conflict between parties?

There is no reason in law or in fact that the parties may not mutually and amicably agree to separate from each other. It would be mutually beneficial to both parties to negotiate the secession issues, which would include issues of Federal lands inside state borders. But it should be stated that, in the 1783 Treaty negotiated between King George III of England and the United States of America, the King "relinquished all claims to the government, propriety and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof."

The seceding state would also be aware that, if the United States Federal Government dissolved or collapsed in like manner to the Soviet Union, any previously negotiated issues or treaties would be null and void.

Can secession be done without armed resistance?

As stated in the previous paragraph, secession should proceed without military conflict. But, the Second Amendment of the US Constitution states that because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. So, while no reason for armed conflict exists, that does not prevent it from occurring. A seceding state should revitalize its militia and prepare them for armed resistance and the defense of the borders of the seceding state from invasion by the United States military, its hired mercenaries, or United Nations troops.

Can Liberty be restored in America without secession?

The Washington political machine is spinning wildly out of control. Both political parties are two sides of the same coin. Neither party stands for Constitutionality, small government and fiscal responsibility. Even if you elect new representatives, senators and Presidents, the Washington culture will quickly corrupt them by requiring the officials to court contributions while lobbyists shower them with money and perks. In addition, Congress has created vast bureaucracies that grow and infest the nation unabated. Finally, and most importantly, the elected officeholders in Washington do not recognize any control or restraint on their power to enact unconstitutional laws and spend money in excess of tax revenues. Washington has borrowed trillions of dollars from the world that will never be repaid. If there is a solution to bring Washington back into compliance with the Constitution, I have not seen it to this date.

When should secession be done?

Secession should be solemnly deliberated by the elected representatives and the state citizens. Secession should be initiated at the moment that any state reaches the point at which it will no longer accept the despotic tyranny and unconstitutional laws coming from the US Federal Government in Washington, DC. Each individual must come to his or her own conclusion that secession is the only way to regain liberty, and each state must make its secession decision independently.

How would secession be done?

There is no written, formal method for initiating and completing an act of secession. If history can be our guide, we see that the conventions of the seceding states of 1860 wrote and ratified a Declaration of Secession. Each Declaration enumerated that particular state’s reasons for secession, in like manner to the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

Then they passed an Ordinance of Secession. Here below is the simple, succinct wording of the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession of 1860.

AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled "The Constitution of the United States of America."

We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance adopted by us in convention on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the "United States of America," is hereby dissolved.

Done at Charleston the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty.

That is the sum of all the words necessary to complete the secession.

In conclusion, try to envision yourself and your family in a new nation created by secession. All the people you meet are excited and breathless in their anticipation of the future. The general opinion of the populace is pure unbridled optimism. The new nation’s economy is booming, the money is backed by gold and silver, and there is no inflation. "Now Hiring" signs are in all the shop windows. The newspaper’s "Help Wanted" ads are packed full. Prices for goods and services are low, and the stores are loaded with goods. Manufacturers are streaming into the new nation to take advantage of the rare pro-business atmosphere. Wages are climbing steadily in manufacturing jobs as companies compete for the best and brightest to be their employees. New businesses are being created at a fever pace. Residential and commercial construction is at a high level to meet the demand of the new residents.

All because one state recognized this historic opportunity and chased the dream of liberty through the process of state secession.

Secession is the hope for humanity. Who will be first?

Recently by Russell D. Longcore: Secession, the Second Amendment and Sun Tzu

Russell D. Longcore [send him mail] is president of Abigail Morgan Austin Publishing Company. He is married to "his Redhead" Julie, has three wonderful children and three even more wonderful grandchildren. Visit his secessionist website at: www.DumpDC.com.

Copyright © 2009 Russell D. Longcore. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man Sees The Marlin by Kay Smith

The Old Man and the Sea - part 1

Alexander Petrov's animation based on the novella by Ernest Hemingway.

The Old Man and the Sea - part 2

"No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in. ... I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things." -- Ernest Hemingway

Forgotten Influences of the Founders

By Joe Wolverton, II via The New American

Our own Founding Fathers were convinced, and history has proven them prescient, that they were building a new and everlasting republic that would do what other republics of the ancient world had failed to do: survive the effects of the maladies of self-government and bequeath to the subsequent generations of Americans a sound and stable republic — if they could keep it.

For the ingredients necessary to brew the right antidote to the poisons of democracy and tyranny, the Founders drew from several sources. From the recent past, there was the English legacy of the right of the people to the enjoyment of certain unalienable rights such as trial by jury and due process; there was the legacy of ancient Greece and Rome that citizens are and by rights should be entrusted with the power of self-determination; and there was the faculty of renown continental thinkers and jurists who propounded the principle of natural law and its blessings and burdens better than any theorists before or since. The Founders wisely chose from among the best and brightest, and combined their words and deeds into a potent concoction that they then reduced down with the fire of revolution into a remedy that, despite its base of history, was uniquely American.

There are many illustrious names whose books and treatises were read and assimilated by our Founding Fathers. Some of those influences are still well known, and their names and their ideas (or at least a vague notion of their ideas) are still heard in lectures on government (Locke and Montesquieu, for example). There are others, however, whose identity and influence are now largely lost to Americans in general, and the books and papers that were once always at hand for Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, et al., are now to be found only in dusty “Special Collections” rooms at the library and online repositories of the foundational tracts of American political philosophy.

Four of these forgotten influences on the Founders are the subject of this article. Their names may sound peculiar, but their wisdom, as distilled through the handiwork of our Founding Fathers, will have as familiar a ring as “We the People” or “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Their names are (in order of their birth): Algernon Sidney, Samuel von Pufendorf, Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, and Emmerich de Vattel.

These great thinkers may be rightly called the Four Horsemen of American liberty, the antithesis of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” who brought havoc and upheaval. These men and their enlightened interpretations and expositions on self-government informed and inspired our Founding Fathers, and their words were as lamps lighting the feet of pioneers searching diligently to find and avoid pitfalls that doomed the best-laid plans of other equally earnest lawgivers. Their ideas forged a new way in the wilderness of man’s attempts to break the shackles of tyranny and to take upon himself the burden of self-restraint and self-rule.

And it is from the study and debate of the works of these Four Horsemen that the Founding Fathers learned the keys to ably maneuvering steadily and safely among the traps and trials of establishing a system of government. The keys to producing a government that at once was powerful and dynamic enough to unite distinct peoples and yet limited enough to give sway to the noblest impulses of its citizens was, first, the recognition of the supremacy of natural law and the fettering of the branches of government through a system of checks and balances and powers expressly enumerated in the constitutional documents of the nation. The first subject of this brief survey is Algernon Sidney.

Algernon Sidney

Algernon Sidney (1623–1683) was the son of Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester. All extant evidence points toward Sidney’s early devotion to republican principles. So pure and deeply rooted was Sidney’s adherence to the principles of mixed government that he opposed the execution of English monarch Charles I for treason, and he distanced himself from former allies after becoming disillusioned with Oliver Cromwell, the 1st Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, for abandoning republican principles, including heavy-handedly side-stepping Parliament.

Sidney left England and was living in France when the English monarchy was restored in 1660. He spent the years of self-imposed exile trying to negotiate with the governments of Holland and France to back a republican invasion of England. Unsuccessful in his diplomatic efforts, Sidney returned to England in 1677 and immediately joined his fellow republicans in opposition to Charles II, who had ordered the dismissal of Parliament. Soon, Sidney was implicated on the flimsiest of evidence in the Rye House Plot, a scheme to assassinate Charles II and his brother, and was forthwith arrested. His arrest was chiefly a means to silence one known to be antithetical to despotism.

As the trial began, the King’s solicitors decried Sidney as a “false, seditious, and libelous traitor” whose writings fomented revolution by inciting the people to “rise up in arms against the King.” While Sidney denied the charges of fomenting an uprising, he did not deny that he was an enemy of absolute monarchy. His study of history made it apparent that the best of all government was a mixed government wherein the royal prerogatives are limited and restrained, and are counterbalanced against the inviolable and natural right of a free people to be self-governing. A book of his beliefs, Discourses Concerning Government, was used against him by the prosecution.

Discourses Concerning Government was a response to Patriarcha, an apology of the divine right of absolute monarchy written by Robert Filmer. Filmer argued that the monarch was the father of the people and that as such he had a divine and unassailable right to rule as he saw fit. The people, as the children of the monarch, thrived best when they were obedient to the monarch’s sovereign rule, according to the philosophy of Filmer. Sidney refuted Filmer, pointing out that monarchs are more apt to be despots than father figures. His work was a classic in political theory and a standard work in the canon of republicanism.

But Sidney did not argue in favor of “taking up arms” against the King. Rather, he simply and without fear or favor reminded the King that he was but one branch of the mixed government so sagaciously supported by the wisdom of the ages. He reminded his readers that Englishmen were freemen and that the King was no more entitled to deference than was the House of Lords or the House of Commons.

That the people possessed basic rights that could not be denied by a King was not a new principle our Founding Fathers discovered in the pages of Sidney’s writings, for this was their inheritance as freeborn Englishmen, bequeathed to them in the articles of the Magna Carta of 1215. What they found in Sidney, however, was a cogent near-poetical explication of the import of this right:

Those who have already fallen into all that is odious, and shameful and miserable, cannot justify fear.… Let the dangers never be so great, there is the possibility of safety while men have life, hands, arms and courage to use them but that people must surely perish who tamely suffer themselves to be oppressed.

These words sounded sharp and clear as a clarion in the ears of American patriots, rousing them to righteous indignation and fastening their resolve to throw off the shackles of tyranny and monarchical abuse.

Algernon Sidney was born an aristocrat, lived as a republican, and died a fearless martyr for the cause of liberty on the gallows of a tyrant.

Samuel von Pufendorf

Look in the index of any collection of writings by any of our Founding Fathers, and you will find numerous references under the name Samuel von Pufendorf. The writings of this illustrious German jurist were as oft-quoted as any of the extraordinary thinkers whose words enlightened the hungry minds of our Founders. Pufendorf was remarkable not only for his prolific opuses, but for the approachable and direct manner of his prose. His political philosophy was an essential element of the curriculum for all educated men of the 18th century and was an indispensable source of well-crafted reasoning in the supremacy of natural law.

Pufendorf was born in 1632 in the German state of Saxony. His father was a Lutheran minister, and Pufendorf intended to follow in his father’s ecclesiastical footsteps. Fatefully, Pufendorf found the dogmatic approach of the faculty of the school of theology too narrow and restrictive, and he decided to undertake the study of law.

Arriving at the University of Jena in Germany, Pufendorf’s excellence and independence of character began to flourish. At Jena, he was exposed to the writings of earlier natural-law theorists such as Hugo Grotius and under the influence of such luminaries, Pufendorf set forth his own theories of man’s rights and responsibilities under the law of nature and nature’s God.

Two of Pufendorf’s books were of unparalleled appreciation by America’s Founders. The first and longer of the two works was an intimidating 1,400-page exposition of natural law entitled Of the Law of Nature and Nations. The philosophy and commentary expounded in this book was later condensed and more narrowly tailored in Pufendorf’s next offering, Of the Duty of Man and Citizen. This shorter and more accessible volume was a vigorous analysis of one of the foundational maxims of American political philosophy: that all men are created equal.

In Of the Duty of Man and Citizen, Pufendorf affirmed that “since human nature belongs equally to all men, and no one can live a social life with a person by whom he is not rated as at least a fellow man, it follows, as a precept of natural law, that ‘every man should esteem and treat another man as his equal by nature, or as much a man as he is himself.’” Pufendorf’s animated defense of the equality of man was restated simply and soundly in the lines of the Declaration of Independence as a “self-evident” truth.

It is to Samuel von Pufendorf’s masterful amalgamation of the spiritual and the scientific that America owes much of the strength of the foundation of liberty upon which she was erected.

Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui

Another brilliant thinker and author now relegated to the lonely stacks of musty libraries is Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui. Burlamaqui was born on June 24, 1694 in Geneva, Switzerland. Burlamaqui was familiar with the works of Pufendorf, as he was a disciple of Jean Barbeyrac, the eminent editor of Hugo Grotius and Samuel von Pufendorf. His mentor encouraged him to study the works of his contemporaries and adjust them to the world as he sought fit. Burlamaqui dutifully followed his master’s advice and at the age of 25, Burlamaqui’s skill in internalizing and cogently and coherently restating the theories of natural law was so advanced and well regarded that he was appointed a professorship of ethics and the law of nature at the University of Geneva.

Before assuming this distinguished post, however, Burlamaqui traveled throughout Europe seeking enlightenment on these subjects from some of the greatest lights alive. To his credit, Burlamaqui, for all his notable achievements and skill, recognized that he would be of greater service to his pupils and to the world at large if he were to dedicate himself to the acquisition of learning and insight from those more advanced, well versed, and accomplished than himself. This humility and clear thinking would serve the young schoolman well as he set his feet on a course that would bring him fame and respect from scholars, thinkers, and most importantly, American patriots.

Two of Burlamaqui’s works left an immense imprint on the minds of American political thinkers who were to become the architects of the world’s most enduring republic. James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton all considered Burlamaqui an example of remarkable clarity of thought and breadth of understanding. Burlamaqui’s two influential books were Principles of Natural Law (Principes du Droit Naturel), published in 1747, and Principles of Political Law (Principes du Droit Politique), published posthumously in 1751. The learning and admonitions set out in these books were published to the world just in time to be of significant influence on the education of our Founding Fathers. Burlamaqui’s words and the spirit of his explanations of the laws of man and nature were digested and then quoted liberally by James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the like. In fact, all of our revered Founders eagerly gleaned insight from the pages of Burlamaqui’s magnificent contribution to the natural-law canon.

Of all Burlamaqui’s American students, Thomas Jefferson was probably the most devout. It was his reading and distillation of Burlamaqui’s theories that inspired Jefferson’s most famous phrase: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” though Jefferson restated the principles of natural law he learned from his study of Burlamaqui. Burlamaqui’s words swayed him and fellow Founder James Wilson to list “happiness” as a natural right as opposed to the more familiar denomination of “property,” also convincing Jefferson that while the designation of property as an “unalienable right” was politically uncertain, it was philosophically well grounded. With Burlamaqui as support, Jefferson felt confident to include the phrase in our nation’s bold Declaration of Independence from England.

Emmerich de Vattel

The fourth of the Four Horsemen of American liberty is Emmerich de Vattel. Although last in this list of forgotten influences, it can be claimed, without exaggeration, that it is Vattel’s interpretations and writings on the subject of the proper constitution of government that was most influential on the Founders of the American Republic. As a matter of fact, Thomas Jefferson, indisputably one of the lead framers of our nation’s government, ranked Vattel’s seminal The Law of Nations, or the Principles of Natural Law as highly as similar treatises by Grotius and Pufendorf. Further proof of Vattel’s impression on the Founders is the fact that Vattel’s interpretations of the law of nature were cited more frequently than any other writer’s on international law in cases heard in the courts of the early United States, and The Law of Nations was the primary textbook on the subject in use in American universities.

The Swiss-born Vattel learned to love God from his father, a pastor in the Reformed Church. It was Vattel’s belief that the law of nations was given to man by God for their happiness. Vattel wrote that the best constitution was that constitution founded most firmly on natural law and least liable to be unmoored from it. Vattel stated, “It is … the constitution of a state which determines its progress and its aptitude to attain the ends of a society.” These words were instructive to the authors of the American Constitution and encouraged them in the sometimes arduous struggle to frame a well-constructed and long-lasting Constitution for the new republic. They learned from the distinguished Vattel that if a country is to be successful then it must begin as it means to continue, built upon an unshakeable foundation of natural law and separated power.

As with many of the ancient historians and our own Founding Fathers, Vattel recognized the insidious harm done to constitutions by those who weaken it from the inside over time. James Madison’s warning in this regard is oft quoted: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” Madison undoubtedly believed this independently, but he was certainly inspired by his reading in The Law of Nations wherein Vattel admonished: “The constitution and laws of a state are rarely attacked from the front; it is against secret and gradual attacks that a nation must chiefly guard.” In this instance and many others, one can appreciate the weight and value of Vattel’s theories on those of our most illustrious thinkers.

Words of Wisdom

The lessons our Founders learned from the wise men discussed in this article are just as valuable for us, their political and philosophical heirs. We must vigilantly and zealously guard and treasure the republican government established by the Constitution and the eternal principles of natural law upon which it is built. Let us be fervent and grateful protectors of liberty and resist all attempts to wrest our government from us or from its firm foundations of popular sovereignty and the right of self-determination.