Friday, March 29, 2013

Lawrence Auster dies ... and lives

The great essayist has departed this life.

During his final illness, one correspondent after another wrote to remark that their thinking, their values, their lives had been changed by their encounter with him.

I must say something similar. Lawrence helped dispel many of my areas of ignorance. He tuned up lazy thinking on my part. I didn't and do not agree with all he wrote; he sometimes had harsh words when I disputed him, both online and in personal correspondence. Yet -- and this suggests his largeness of spirit -- he never held a grudge, and continued to link to this blog from time to time. (Invariably those links brought far more traffic to Reflecting Light than almost any other posts I have written.)

Lawrence's moral courage continually astounded me. He committed daily thought crimes against the religion of multi-culturalism. He spoke honestly about racial issues, to the point that unquestionably many "progressives" would have jailed him if they had had the power. Yet neither was he an ideologically bound conservative -- he could make subtle but important distinctions that eluded even some of his supporters. Without him, it would have taken me a lot longer to get it that "neo-conservatives" are wolves in sheep's clothing who have nothing to do with genuine conservatism.

As of today, it looks like he lost every battle. The transformation of the United States into a Third World country is nearing the goal line. Virtually nothing he spoke for has come to pass; so much that he denounced has happened or looks like it will happen. He gave us millions and millions of closely reasoned, engagingly written words that failed to change the course of events. A lesser man would have turned into a bitter misanthrope, perhaps decided his life's work was quixotic and not worth the bother.

Yet he went on, saying things that it often seemed only he could say, in ways that only he could say them.

It is not mere sentimentality to believe that Lawrence Auster's eloquence, wit, and sharpness of mind will continue to be influential -- even in generations to come, I suspect. He may yet be seen as a powerful force in a turnaround, a rebirth of traditional conservatism.

SAY not the struggle naught availeth,
   The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
   And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
   It may be, in yon smoke conceal'd,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
   And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
   Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
   Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
   When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
   But westward, look, the land is bright! 

 Arthur Hugh Clough

For now, Lawrence, for you, it is time to rest.

Monday, March 25, 2013

We must prune back the Cyprus tree ... or else

While driving to my stock group Saturday morning I listened on the car radio to the program hosted by Ric Edelman, financial guru to the masses.

Edelman and his two yes-men sidekicks (I wonder what he would do if one of them happened to disagree with him sometime) were having a knee-slapping laugh at all those upset about the plan to loot bank depositors in Cyprus so Europe's financial Godfathers would keep the country on the dole and in the Eurozone. How small was Cyprus's economy? One of them said, about the size of Shreveport, Louisiana's, har har.

Edelman, Mr. Conventional Wisdom, hasn't yet noticed that it isn't still 30 years ago. The world of global finance is far different, and far more dangerous, than when Jimmy Carter was telling us to remove our malaise and put on our sweaters.

Of course Cyprus's spot of bother is microscopic in numbers of euros involved, by comparison with the economic devastation wrought on Spain and Italy, which threatens to spill over to other countries. It's nonetheless shocking that the banking-EU cartel felt safe in openly helping itself to depositors' savings.

We read that one reason they imagined most of the world would approve their grab is that Cyprus was a storeroom for Russian money, a lot of it dirty. That faith seems spectacularly naive: will the Russian mob sit still for having their euros siphoned up? More likely, one way or another, they'll send a message understandable in any language. But that's not what matters to you and me about this official pickpocketing.

It's no exaggeration to say that it strikes at the heart of everyone with any degree of wealth to protect, if it can arbitrarily be confiscated to prop up countries and central banks that have maxed out their credit cards.

Karl Denninger writes in The Market Ticker:
When you enter into an investment, whether you make a deposit in a bank or buy a bond or something else, you are buying into a capital structure in a given place with a given and declared level of both risk and potential reward.  You price that risk and your willingness to enter into the transaction with the full understanding of where you are in that capital structure.

When that is unilaterally changed retroactively you are being stolen from.
The amounts involved are almost beside the point. The point is, the rule of law, the protection and enforceability of contracts, can no longer be assumed.

Lest you believe that such treachery is performed only by perfidious Eurocrats kneecaping citizens of an off-the-freeway country like Cyprus, recall that something along similar lines happened right here in the Formerly United States. In using taxpayers' money to bail out General Motors, the government saved the feather-lined union pensions while stiffing GM bond holders. In a bankruptcy, bond holders are legally at the front of the queue when it comes to dividing up the surviving assets. 
These thefts in our financial system are increasing in severity and frequency.  They have destroyed the belief in the capital structure. 

They have and will make it difficult or impossible to attract capital, since the aggrieved parties cannot find solace in the law. But worse, these thefts are and remain actionable until they are compensated.  They remain actionable whether or not the law recognizes the cause of action or dismisses it with the wave of a hand. They remain open like a festering wound.

They will continue to fester and poison free enterprise until some group decides they've had enough of both the annoyance and injury and decides to obtain recompense through whatever means are necessary.
The essence of the conservative outlook on life isn't simply a matter of tried-and-tested tradition, or even the rule of law, as important as those are. The rule of law is only a particular case of an even more basic principle. 

To those of us who remain conservatives in a leftist and neo-con nation, civilization ultimately depends on a bond of trust. Not necessarily trusting any particular person or institution, but trusting that words and agreements mean what they say; that what is yours cannot arbitrarily be taken from you because it is convenient for the state or its banker overlords, because the judiciary rubber stamps the taking, or because you belong to some class of people labelled as dangerous, irresponsible, or crooked.

Even Ric Edelman might wake up if all bank deposits in Shreveport, Louisiana, received a "haircut" one fine day.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Oscar Wilde from the Afterlife

Direct voice mediumship is among the most maddening and fascinating of paranormal phenomena.

Maddening because it's hard to understand or believe, even for those of us who accept that "our little life" on earth is "such stuff as dreams are made on" and everyday reality is but a sliver of a vast metaphysical edifice. Fascinating because, unlike most of the famous evidence from mediumship which dates from the 19th century before recording technology, we do have modern sound recordings of it -- hardly up to today's state of the art, but still in many cases satisfactory.

A direct voice medium speaks not in his or her own voice, but in the actual voice of the person who is "dead" but communicating. (You can insert "allegedly" or "purportedly" wherever you like in this posting; I'll skip the repetitive hedging.) Not only that, but the voice of the communicator emerges from the air at some distance from the medium.

Impossible, of course.

The only serious answer to that is to quote Sir William Crookes, scientist and member of the Royal Society, when questioned about paranormal events he had witnessed and tested under experimental protocols: "I did not say it was possible; I only said it was true."

Fortunately for those of us who want to explore the mysteries of existence, perhaps the greatest direct voice medium of all time, Leslie Flint, lived in our era and his phenomena were captured on tape recordings.

As time has permitted (not often), I have listened to some of these recordings. Lately the Leslie Flint Educational Trust has put most of them behind a paywall. While I sympathize with its need, like any organization, for revenue this seems counterproductive if its goal is to demonstrate the reality of direct voice mediumship and post-mortem survival.

Furthermore, it's probably useless. Material like this, so significant in our quest to understand the bigger picture of life in this world and the next, is bound to be copied and distributed by a sort of digital samizdat. Some of the recordings have already been put on YouTube by a person or group under the heading "Okkulte Stimmen [Occult Sounds] Media."

Here is one example, Oscar Wilde speaking via Leslie Flint:

Is this really the spirit of Oscar Wilde? It doesn't fit the popular concept of what the man would have sounded like -- gay (in both senses), smooth, witty. This "Wilde" seems a little bitter and petulant. But of course the historical Wilde's last years were an ordeal for him, including two years in a Victorian prison, almost as degrading as ours. (There does seem to be a touch of the famous egotism and paradox when Flint mentions having read Wilde's books, and Wilde replies, "How fortunate you are.")

What seems to me a more serious objection is that Wilde, although a man of the world, was Irish by origin. I don't hear a trace of Irish pronunciation in the voice. Probably his long tenure in English theater and aristocratic circles rubbed away most of his early speech patterns, but almost no one entirely conceals the accent that he picked up in his youth. 

Make of it what you will. That's all any of us can do.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A prayer for today and any days that follow

Dear God,

I pray to you for understanding of the right thing to do in every circumstance, however seemingly trivial or important. And the strength to do what you help me know is right.

This encompasses situations great and small, routine and momentous. They both matter equally.

I do not pray for worldly wisdom, because that is limited to this world, which is half illusion, a blind seeking.

I do not pray for prosperity, although that would be a boon to my wife and cats.

I do not pray for health, although health is a better experience than non-health.

I do not pray for pleasure, because it is transient and leaves regret in its wake.

I do not even pray for the resolution of my spiritual quandaries: because as I become ready to receive the truths of spirit, they will be given to me without my having to ask.

None of these things is to be renounced or rejected. I am grateful for any that I enjoy or will enjoy. They are good, albeit pale copies of the Good that is Your perfect self.

This isn't easy to write in a blog that can be read by anyone. Although I am not a Christian, or a member of any organized religion, I appreciate Jesus's contempt for those who pray in public and make a show of it. That is not, I trust, my purpose.

I pray for this age-old blessing: Dear God, not my will, but Yours be done.

I pray for it sincerely, I think, but knowing that in moments of extreme doubt or hurt I cannot sustain it, will then want only relief, only the end of desperation and pain.

But what is the use of praying for what we imagine we can attain? I pray for what is possible, not by me, but by You.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Investing is dead

Investing, at least as we knew it, is dead! It died when markets became dominated by political rather than economic events. Investing principles that worked for most of the last 150 years are irrelevant in today’s politicized world. ...
Most of what we learned about investing should be forgotten, at least until governments, society and markets return to honesty. If that occurs, it will be a multi generational process, As a result, no one alive today should consider himself an investor.
Don’t confuse Warren Buffet and his ilk with investors. They may have been at one time, but are no longer. They are political operators who utilize politics and connections to their personal advantage. Unless you are very big, well-connected and willing to pay to play, you cannot play in their league. If you fit the aforementioned categories, you already have forgotten about investing and are playing a more sordid but profitable game.

Hat tip: Zero Hedge

You can still put money in the market and possibly you have no choice if you don't want to lose by default. But the author of this piece is right. Don't kid yourself you can invest according to the "time-honored principles" beloved of institutional salespeople, also known as stockbrokers.

At best, you are trying to game the system -- a system now largely abandoned by individuals other than options traders. It operates according to corporate-political alliances and is  activated by computer-driven high-speed trading, which can buy and sell thousands of shares in microseconds.There's no law stopping you from piggy-backing on the moves of big-time players, perhaps getting a taste of their profits ... or losses. But what worked, generally, before the dot com madness is irrelevant today.

That's not the worst of it.

In the past, companies could blow it and flatten your wallet, but you had a decent chance of calculating the odds of your investments and taking advantage of them. If you did your research, had a sense of the economic overview, and could compensate for your emotional biases, chances are you'd be rewarded on the whole.

Nowadays it's not only corporate slips and falls that you have to worry about. It's heavy-handed governments. Continuing to clasp their power and privileges, they can't let the markets work according to archaic principles of supply and demand. They must direct the show.

Monty Pelerin:
For the last half-century government has pretended that it can manage an economy. Any slowdown brings the same reflex-action – expand liquidity and increase government spending. ...

Decades of Keynesian interventions to prevent the business cycle have succeeded in weakening economies around the world. Each intervention was an attempt to prevent distortions to prices and asset allocations from correcting. In the attempt to prevent the corrections, government action added more imbalances. Today, most developed economies are filled with distortions and unable to operate efficiently, grow or create wealth.

The political interventions have reached their limits, at least in terms of covering up economic weakness. Trillions of dollars have been thrown at the current economic downturn over the last five years. There has been no recovery, nor will there be until economies purge themselves of the distortions.
The first, automatic response of today's politician faced with a crisis is to ask: how can I make this somebody else's problem? If he can't find a suitable figure to hang the blame on, the next step is denial, followed by delay, followed by firm delay. It will come crashing down someday, but by that time he'll be retired, enjoying his gains from a career of public service, and sipping margaritas on the deck facing the Caribbean.

The favored tactic is to put a little distance between himself and ruin by handing the economy off to a central bank. The central bank, in turn, has its own delaying formats. 

One is so-called quantitative easing, a euphemism for money printing -- in a fiat currency system, creating money out of nothing. It works for a while, although eventually it cheapens the monetary unit. Even inflation has a temporary benign effect, taking some of the pain out of paying for runaway government debt. Of course it's an expedient, not a real solution: like losing weight by cutting off a limb.
Investors, whether they know it or not, have been forced into a gigantic game of financial chicken. ...We are all forced to play this game whether we consider ourselves investors or not. Staying in markets is taking risk, but so too is leaving markets. If a person believes that liquidity will continue to drive up financial assets (until it no longer does) and drive down the purchasing power of money, then his biggest payoff is to remain in markets up to the point of collapse. Leaving too early is costly, and leaving too late could be even costlier.

No one should be forced to play this game. Retirees and near-retirees especially should be living off the income from a life of savings, not playing chicken to survive. Unfortunately, the government policy of financial repression (low interest rates) forces them into such a situation. The further policy of counterfeiting money makes the situation even more difficult.
Pelerin's complaint isn't some wacko-fringe perception; it's easy to find many articles and books making essentially the same point. It's almost a consensus among financial sophisticates. 

For a good, detailed explanation of the dysfunctional sham economy we are caught in, check out The Aftershock Investor by Wiedemer, Wiedemer, and Spitzer. 

What's a poor citizen to do to keep body and soul together in an economy of manipulation and pretense?

String-saving austerity won't help much as your savings shrink in value.

There are countries whose economies haven't descended into cloud-cuckoo land, and you can invest in companies or bonds there. Unfortunately, the economies of the world, which now depend largely on international trade, are pretty much handcuffed to one another. The U.S. or E.U. falls into a sinkhole, it'll drag everyone else along for the ride.

Many people believe precious metals, especially gold, offer a lifeline. Certainly on the Day of Reckoning they'll be in great demand and their worth will go way up. But owning gold is far from a perfect solution.

First, remember that the Day of Reckoning could still take quite a while to arrive. Central banks have become very skilled at holding it off. They know just how much heroin to give the addict without killing him. Meanwhile, gold prices can rise or fall, and the metal doesn't  pay you anything in interest or dividends to wait.

Let's say you spring for gold, as much as you can afford, expecting a worst-case scenario. Nothing could be easier if you have the money -- just buy shares in an ETF, such as GLD, IAU, or SGOL. No transaction fee beyond what your brokerage charges, almost certainly less than the mark-up from a precious metals dealer.

Wait! Red light flashing! Your true-gold believer is sure the ETFs are fiddling! They allegedly don't actually have the gold in their vaults -- they've lent it out or they're lying. In any case, owning ETF shares doesn't entitle you to exchange them for real gold. It's "paper" gold, say those who scorn ETFs.

No, you've got to buy actual, physical gold for real security, they insist.

Right, what do you do with your gold coins or bars? You're not naive enough to put them in a bank safe deposit, are you? The bank may not open its doors, even for you, your lordship or ladyship. The government could confiscate your gold. You have to keep it where you can get to it when the great debacle arrives, but no one else must know where it is.

Secure as can be ... until you have to use it to buy or barter for goods during a societal collapse. You can get away with that once or twice. But you might as well wear a sign that says, "I have a gold stash." The word will get around fast, especially among criminals who will impolitely wake you up one night with a blowtorch and ask how long you wish this conversation to continue. What? Speak up. You say it's buried out behind the house? Let's go for a walk and see.
The fact that currency is being depreciated around the world has implications that should not be ignored. The risk of high inflation, perhaps hyperinflation, can destroy anyone on fixed income or who stands pat believing his savings is enough.

At the same time, the potential for an economic apocalypse has never seemed greater. There have already been two 50% drops in stock market averages in the first decade of this century.
 Good luck.