Thursday, April 26, 2018

Musical Interlude: Liquid Mind, "Moment of Grace Part 1"

Liquid Mind, "Moment of Grace Part 1"

"A Look to the Heavens"

"Sometimes, you can put some night sky in your art. Captured above Japan, a picturesque night sky was photographed behind a picturesque frosted leaf. The reflecting ice crystals on the leaf coolly mimic the shining stars far in the background. The particular background sky on this 48-second wide angle exposure, however, might appear quite interesting and familiar. 
Click image for larger sizes.
On the far left, although hard to find, appears a streaking meteor. Below and to the right of the meteor appears a longer and brighter streak of an airplane. The bright star on the left is the dog-star Sirius, the brightest star on the night sky. To Sirius' right appears the constellation of Orion, including the three linear belt stars below the red giant Betelgeuse. The bright patch of light further to the right is the Pleiades open star cluster. Similar views including the constellation Orion can be seen above much of the northern hemisphere for the next several months, although you might have to provide your own leaf.”

Chet Raymo, “Telling Stories”

“Telling Stories”
by Chet Raymo

"When the pulse of the first day carried it to the rim of night, First Woman said to First Man, "The people need to know the laws. To help them we must write the laws for all to see"...And so she began, slowly, first one and then the next, placing her jewels across the dome of night, carefully designing her pattern so all could read it. But Coyote grew bored watching First Woman carefully arranging the stars in the sky: Impatiently he gathered two corners of First Woman's blanket, and before she could stop him he flung the remaining stars out into the night, spilling them in wild disarray, shattering First Woman's careful patterns."

This episode from the Navajo creation story of is from "How the Stars Fell Into the Sky", a children's book by Jerrie Oughton. It is a lovely story, full of ancient wisdom. For centuries, Navajo children heard the story at an elder's knee. The story was taken literally, or at least accepted with a willing suspension of disbelief. I heard a similar creation story in my youth - of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Serpent. I accepted the story with a willing suspension of disbelief.

All cultures, everywhere on Earth, have stories, passed down in scriptures, traditions or tribal myths, that answer the questions: Where did the world come from? What is our place in it? What is the source of order and disorder? What will be the fate of the world? Of ourselves? No people can live without a community story. The problem comes when the community story becomes so disconnected from empirical experience that it no longer commands a suspension of disbelief. For many of us in the West, that is the case with the creation stories that have undergirded Western civilization.

Today, a New Story exists for those who choose to accept it. It is the product of thousands of years of human curiosity, observation, experimentation, and creativity. It is an evolving story, not yet finished. Perhaps it will never be finished. It is a story that begins with an explosion from a seed of infinite energy. The seed expands and cools. Particles form, then atoms of hydrogen and helium. Stars and galaxies coalesce from swirling gas. Stars burn and explode, forging heavy elements - carbon, nitrogen, oxygen - and hurling them into space. New stars are born, with planets made of heavy elements.

On one planet near a typical star in a typical galaxy life appears in the form of microscopic self-replicating, carbon-based ensembles of atoms. Life evolves, over billions of years, resulting in ever more complex organisms. Continents move. Seas rise and fall. The atmosphere changes. Millions of species of life appear and become extinct. Others adapt, survive, and spill out progeny. At last, consciousness appears. One of the millions of species on the planet looks into the night sky and wonders what it means. Feels the spark of love, tenderness, responsibility. Makes up stories - of First Woman and Coyote, of Adam, Eve and the Serpent - eventually making up the New Story. The New Story places us squarely in a cosmic unfolding of space and time, and teaches our biological affinity to all humanity. We are inextricably related to all of life, to the planet itself, and even to the lives of stars.

It has been the task of many of us gathered here on this cyber porch to help wed the New Story to the spiritual quest, to create what Thomas Berry calls an "integral story." In his introduction to Kathleen Deignan's collection of Thomas Merton's nature writing, Berry writes: "Today, in the opening years of the twenty-first century, we find ourselves in a critical moment when the religious traditions need to awaken again to the natural world as the primary manifestation of the divine to human intelligence. The very nature and purpose of the human is to experience this intimate presence that comes to us through natural phenomena. Such is the purpose of having eyes and ears and feeling sensitivity, and all our other senses. We have no inner spiritual development without outer experience. Immediately, when we see or experience any natural phenomenon, when we see a flower, a butterfly, a tree, when we feel the evening breeze flow over us or wade in a stream of clear water, our natural response is immediate, intuitive, transforming, ecstatic. Everywhere we find ourselves invaded by the world of the sacred."

Berry reminds us that we will neither love nor save what we do not experience as sacred. The older creation stories locate the source of the sacred outside of the creation. The New Story, the scientific story of creation, provides unique opportunities to experience the creation itself as holy and good.

We should treasure the ancient stories for the wisdom and values they teach us. We can praise the creation in whatever poetic languages and rituals our traditional cultures have taught us. But only the New Story has the global authority to help us navigate the future. Of all the stories, it is certainly the truest. It is the only story whose feet have been held to the fire of exacting empirical experience.”

"The Eternal Silence of Infinite Spaces..."

"The eternal silence of infinite spaces frightens me. Why now rather than then? Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time have been ascribed to me? We travel in a vast sphere, always drifting in the uncertain, pulled from one side to another. Whenever we find a fixed point to attach and to fasten ourselves, it shifts and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition, most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desires to find solid ground and an ultimate and solid foundation for building a tower reaching to the Infinite. But always these bases crack, and the earth obstinately opens up into abysses. We are infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, since the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from us in an encapsulated secret; we are equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which we were made, and the Infinite in which we are swallowed up."
- Blaise Pascal

The Daily "Near You?"

Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Thanks for stopping by!

"When Life Itself Seems Lunatic..."

"When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams - this may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness - and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!"
- Miguel de Cervantes in "Man of La Mancha"

X22 Report, “The Pension Crisis Is Much Worse Than We Thought, It's A Disaster”

X22 Report, “The Pension Crisis Is Much Worse Than We Thought, It's A Disaster”

Gregory Mannarino, "ALERT: Beyond Anything We Have Seen Before! Massive Bond Buying”

Gregory Mannarino,
"ALERT: Beyond Anything We Have Seen Before! Massive Bond Buying”

CNN Market Data:

CNN Fear And Greed Index:

Musical Interlude: Neil H, “The Remembering”

Neil H,  “The Remembering”

Musical Interlude: Elton John, “Your Starter For”

Elton John, “Your Starter For”

"How It Really Is"

"Of Sound Mind..."

“A man who is "of sound mind" is one who keeps 
the inner madman under lock and key.”

- Paul Valéry, 
“Mauvaises Pensées et Autres”, 1942

"History: More Fake News”

"History: More Fake News”
by Bill Bonner

"The streets were crowded last night. On the main ramblas, so many people were strolling about that we could barely cross the intersection. Many of the women held a single red rose. It was the Day of Roses and Books - Sant Jordi’s Day - in the Catalan capital city. Women are given roses to celebrate the slaying of the dragon by Sant Jordi (Saint George) in the 4th century.

Men are given books coincidentally, to recall the deaths of the two giants of Western letters, William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes, both of whom died on the same day: April 23, 1616.

Dragon infestation: Fake news is our subject today. We open our eyes and see it everywhere. Myths and legends - like political slogans, federal budget projections, and declarations of eternal love - are not subject to proof. According to legend, the town of Montblanc in Catalonia had a dragon infestation. In order to keep the dragon satisfied, the town fed it one person every day. And the person selected on the 23rd of April, 303, was - improbably - the town princess.

It was on this day that Sant Jordi, a Christian knight, showed up and quickly went to work. He drove his lance into the beast. The dragon was killed, its blood spilled upon the ground. And from the blood-soaked ground grew a red rose. The story is probably fake news.

If the historians are to be believed, the real Saint George was not in Montblanc that day in AD 303. Instead, he was in the ancient Greek city of Nicomedia, undergoing the kind of punishment that Donald Trump wants to give drug dealers. Saint George offered religion - Christianity, to be specific. And Emperor Diocletian had declared war on Christians. He ordered that all Christian soldiers were to be arrested. According to this account, George refused to renounce his religion and his head was cut off, making him a martyr to the cause. 

Either a fool or a genius: History is jammed with fake news, too. The bare facts may be reported correctly. But facts lack all sense and meaning unless there is context. In addition to the ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘when’, you need a ‘why’. And the ‘why’ is almost always so distorted by time, delusion, and wishful thinking that the meaning is more myth than reality.

Barcelona’s streets - at least in this part of town - are wide with a centre strip for pedestrians, protected from the Mediterranean sun by sycamore trees on both sides.
Sycamore trees shade the pedestrian walkway.
Buildings are handsome 19th or early 20th century constructions, many with elaborate overhanging balconies, often set distinctively on the corners and enclosed in stained glass. Architecture is important here; the city is most-often remembered as the home of Antoni Gaudí, whose works are remarkably inventive, clever, and playful. But when he began his career, it was not at all clear where he would end up. When he graduated from architecture school, his class director said: ‘Today, we give this degree to either a fool or a genius. We will see later.’ By the time he died in 1926, his peers had made up their minds; Gaudí was a genius. (Later today, we are going to see his famous cathedral, the Sagrada Família…stay tuned.)

Independence movement: From our brief inspection, the traditional or vernacular architecture of the city is fascinating in itself. The proportions are handsome. And the details are eye-catching and pleasant. The dark wooden shutters, for example, are much more attractive than the white metal ones of Paris. But what’s going on here? From balconies all over the city hang red and yellow banners.
Catalan flags, a symbol of the independence movement.
‘Ahh…there’s an independence movement,’ explained a friend. ‘They’re asking for a separate government for Catalonia. They want to break away from Spain. And I know what you’re thinking…that they want freedom and independence so they don’t have to suffer the win-lose deals from Madrid. But you’re wrong. The separatists are like the originarios in Latin America. They want independence so they can impose their own win-lose deals. It’s not about liberty; it’s about control.’

We wondered what the history books will say. Will they say it was a brave struggle for the rights of man, for ‘self-determination’…and an echo of the Declaration of Independence? Or will they say it was just another political bamboozle, where a small bunch of zombies and cronies tried to get control of a government so they could rip off the public?

It depends how it turns out! The victors write the fake news. If you want to be a hero, make sure you win. Otherwise, Gaudí would be a fool, we’d have a Diocletian Day rather than a St. George’s Day, and Barcelona would be celebrating the dragon!"

"Uncle Sam is Biggest Brother"

"Uncle Sam is Biggest Brother"
by Phil Hart

Back in the 1770’s there was a collection of radicals, who were highly educated in the natural law and the errors and successes of past political and economic systems. They were American Colonists with names like John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, et. al. They believed that each man was uniquely created by God and could have a personal relationship with the Creator if he or she chose to do so. This mind-set also caused these men to reject the idea that God only spoke to men through either the Pope or the King, and that the political theory of the “Divine Right of Kings” was a scam used by kings to justify their dictatorial form of government. Claiming their divine right, kings would claim they represented God to the people and that all their policies were God ordained and therefore infallible.

Instead, these radicals reasoned that if each of them were uniquely created in God’s image, not only were they all equal before God in the spiritual sense, but that every man was also equal politically. Back in the 1700’s such thinking was radical compared to the status quo. They also believed that men were capable of governing themselves and writing their own laws.

In 1765, the “Divine Right of Kings” form of government clashed with the “all men are created equal” way of thinking when the King’s government imposed a tax on tea in the American Colonies. The amount of the overall tax burden was small, only about 2%, but the way the tax was imposed on Americans was highly offensive to them. American Colonists objected to any tax being imposed on them that they did not approve of through representation in the legislative body imposing the tax.

Americans further objected to being forced to purchase the taxed tea only through governmentally approved outlets. In fact, these passionate and thinking Americans were so opposed to this construct they successfully boycotted the entire scheme and the tax on tea had to be withdrawn. Finally in 1775 a war was fought over these conflicting political theories and much blood and treasure was expended in order to resolve the conflict. During the War of Independence, Americans would cry out “No Taxation without Representation”.

What replaced the “Divine Right of Kings” in the newly formed United States of America was a Constitution that recognized that every man had equal standing in the new government. This new governmental system utilized democratic processes, representing We the People, to run the government. The new system also recognized that men are fallible, as all men sin and fall short of the glory of God. One characteristic of this new Republic was that a citizen’s rights were more important than what might someday be the appetite of a mob.

The Declaration of Independence listed 27 grievances against an abusive King; and the new Constitution recognized that political leaders might be so bad that they might need to be removed from office through an impeachment process. Our system of reoccurring elections also allows bad actors to be removed from office. This was a huge change from the previous system where the King claimed he represented God and that his policies were therefore infallible.

Believing that all men are sinners, the founders of America chose to limit the power and size of government such that at the beginning America had a limited form of government, limited by what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “the chains of the Constitution”.

How is that working out for us today? Not so good I would say. Referring to the CIA’s World Fact Book (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/), we see that the government of the United States is the biggest government in the world at $3.893 trillion in budgeted annual expenditures. China is second at $2.897 trillion. Japan is third at $1.931 trillion. And Germany is fourth at $1.484 trillion. Recently demonized Russia isn’t even in the top 10 at $286 billion per year, just one fourteenth the size of our budget.

In fact, in all of recorded history, the government of the United States is the biggest government the human race has ever seen on Planet Earth! Uncle Sam is Biggest Brother. How did this happen with a Constitution that guarantees us a limited form of government?

The simple answer is that our government ignores our Constitution. More accurately, what it does is lure us away from our God-given rights as guaranteed in our Constitution with benefits and privileges such that we leave our common law and constitutional rights behind in the rear view mirror in exchange for cradle to grave governmental security.

We have come full circle and have made government our God through a modern version of the Divine Right of Kings. However, instead of being up front about this new scheme, instead we are tricked into joining a new political overlay that uses familiar sounding terms, like “citizen of the United States,” which is a statutorily created entity subject to Congress’ authority and unable to object to the rules and regulations pertaining to the benefits and privileges being sought after. This constitutes a political overlay that has caused the original Republic and its Constitution to go into hibernation.

All of us have left the jurisdiction of the Several States, where Congress’ authority is limited, and instead joined the “public rights” jurisdiction where Congress has plenary power. Most of us have no clue as to how all of this works.

Instead of relying on our God-given natural rights, memorialized in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, we chase after “public rights” created by a bleeding heart Congress anxious to make us subject to its authority as we indulge in tax payer funded benefits. Congress has created a “right to food stamps”, a “right to unemployment benefits”, a “right to low interest loans” if you are a student, a farmer, and first-time home buyer. There are rights to farm subsidies, grants, and of course bailouts for those too big to fail and too big to jail. (For a discussion of “public rights” see Kuretski v. C.I.R., 755 F.3d 929, (D.C. Cir. 2014.))

In reality, these “public rights” are not rights at all, but government granted privileges. The United States Supreme Court has ruled many times that those who chase after a privilege have no standing to complain, object or otherwise defend any right, as there is no such thing as a “right” in the universe of privileges.

A big government, who takes care of us from cradle to grave, is also a government that has become a defacto god. We are now right back to where we were before the War of Independence, except the tax rate and the size of government has increased an order of magnitude compared to that of 1775. The ancient Divine Right of Kings is very much alive and well today.”

“Old Aliens”

“Old Aliens”
by The Zman

"When I was a kid, smart adults still believed that humans would be visiting other planets sooner rather than later. That was mostly a carry over from the previous generations, who managed to get from zero to the moon in roughly a decade. If you were into this stuff in 1968, it was hard not to think that the next stop for man was Mars and then from there the rest of the solar system. By the time I was becoming aware of the world, this was fading, but there were plenty of optimists and romantics, with regards to space travel.

It really was a generational thing. By the time my generation was noticing things the space program had stalled and there didn’t seem to be a point to it. The competition with the Russians had decayed into a fight over the mundane and pointless. My guess is beating the Russians in hockey counted for more to most Americans than the space shuttle managing to take off, go to space and come back in one piece. Subsequent generations are simply too self-absorbed and self-indulgent to care much about space travel.

Of course, a big part of it is the self-inflicted wounds from previous generations that continue to tax us to this day. If Boomers and their parents had not decided to violate the rules of human nature in the 60’s and 70’s with a laundry list of social programs, things may have been different. The money spent on “fixing race relations” could have financed several trips to the stars. Our ruler’s endless fights with observable reality is like a leash keeping us from doing much more than squabbling over our own destruction.

Putting aside the Spenglerian interpretation of the recent past, there is another way to understand the technological stall. This post the other day by Steve Sailer had some interesting stuff in it, but the space travel stuff is what got my attention. Freeman Dyson is of that generation that thought we would be much further along in exploring the universe than we are today. He still assumes it will happen, despite the obvious decline in overall human capital due to changes in demographics and social mobility.

What occurred to me reading it is humanity probably needs to go through a different period of technological advance, before we can make the great leap to exploring the stars. If you look at the generation of geniuses who took us from propeller planes to rocket ships, peaking with the moon landing, it all happened in about one generation. It really was a remarkable run. In the 1930’s, the concepts of rocketry were being worked out and 30 years later a rocket was hurling men to the moon. That’s a great career.

That’s what it really is, one career. The sorts of people who work on these types of projects are not starting as teenagers. They go through years of education and apprenticeship, before they get on the big project. A career making project is going to be one that happens within the normal span of a human career, which is about 30 years for a cutting edge scientist.  A guy like David Reich, who is doing groundbreaking work in ancient genetics, is never going to do much of anything else. This is his peak.

Well, if you are an ambitious guy looking to do space work and be part of a great project, you’re not picking one that will take 50 years to finish. Some people may be fine toiling away at some small aspect of the 50 year project, but most people, especially the people funding it, are not going to find it appealing. If Elon Musk is going to bankroll a trip to Mars, he wants it to happen in the next decade, so he can take credit for it. The same is true of the scientist he would recruit. They want to get it done before they retire or die.

What this means is that space travel, beyond orbiting the earth or maybe revisiting the Moon, is going to first require extending the human life span. A mission to land people on Mars and return them to earth is probably 30 years away. Getting propulsion technology to traverse the solar system is a fifty or sixty year project. Figuring out how to survive longer periods in space is an even longer project. Before humans figure any of this out, it is going to mean living much longer lives so that a person can have a 50 or 60 year working life.

Think about it. If a person could reasonably assume a working career that started in the mid-20’s and goes strong to 100, with a slight decline at the end, that’s roughly a 60 year prime working life. With twice the time, you take more risks and you take on different career objectives. Suddenly a twenty year project to put men on Mars is not that big of a deal to the financiers or the scientists. Stretch the lifetime out further and the much more daunting projects can be chipped away at by a team expecting to finish in their lifetime.

Logically, it means the same would hold for some alien species that eventually comes to visit us on earth. Those aliens we have stored in Area 51 are probably very old, as their species had to unriddle problems that would take hundreds of years to solve, not to mention the fact that it was an extremely long trip from their home planet. The nearest habitable planet outside out solar system is roughly four light years from earth, which means it was a very long trip for our alien visitors. They must have been extremely old.

The other aspect of this is a longer life would mean more experience. Our IQ may be fixed, but we have an infinite capacity for screwing up. The longer the life, the more trial and error a person would endure. Someone living 500 earth years is not going to be any better at math, but they would be much more prudent. That would mean at the upper limits, the species would become less rash and less prone to error. Those dead aliens in New Mexico are an outlier, because their kind rarely misses its intended target.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Simon & Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson”

Simon & Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson”

“Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon,
Going to the candidate’s debate.
Laugh about it, shout about it,
When you've got to choose,
Every way you look at it you lose...”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“A now famous picture from the Hubble Space Telescope featured Pillars of Creation, star forming columns of cold gas and dust light-years long inside M16, the Eagle Nebula. This false-color composite image views the nearby stellar nursery using data from the Herschel Space Observatory's panoramic exploration of interstellar clouds along the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. Herschel's far infrared detectors record the emission from the region's cold dust directly. 
Click image for larger size.
The famous pillars are included near the center of the scene. While the central group of hot young stars is not apparent at these infrared wavelengths, the stars' radiation and winds carve the shapes within the interstellar clouds. Scattered white spots are denser knots of gas and dust, clumps of material collapsing to form new stars. The Eagle Nebula is some 6,500 light-years distant, an easy target for binoculars or small telescopes in a nebula rich part of the sky toward the split constellation Serpens Cauda (the tail of the snake).”

"A Complete Substitute For Life..."

"The Internet is so big, so powerful and pointless that 
for some people it is a complete substitute for life."
 ~ Andrew Brown

Chet Raymo, “The Wild Silence And The Wild Dark”

“The Wild Silence And The Wild Dark”
by Chet Raymo

"It is probably obvious by now that I have been reading Yeats. So let me share one more poem, "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven":

“Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

There is a wonderfully sexy scene in “Frankie Starlight” where Anne Parillaud reads this poem to Matt Dillion while sprawled on a bed, with that lovely French accent. Although the poetry of Yeats figures in “The Dork of Cork”, the novel on which the film is based, this poem is not there. Once, when I was passing through an airport with the film's producer Noel Pearson, talking about the script, he suddenly darted into a book stall and came back with a tiny souvenir volume of Yeats which held the poem. His instinct was unerring; it went into the script. A beautiful little poem, sentimental, yes, but perfect for my Bernadette. 

The poem is from Yeats' collection “The Wind among the Reeds”, which recalls the biblical reed shaken by the wind and anticipates Kenneth Grahame's “The Wind in the Willows”. And asks the question I posed on the penultimate page of “The Soul of the Night”: “There is a tendency for us to flee from the wild silence and the wild dark, to pack up our gods and hunker down behind city walls, to turn the gods into idols, to kowtow before them and approach their precincts only in the official robes of office. And when we are in the temples, then who will hear the voice crying in the wilderness? Who will hear the reed shaken by the wind? Who will watch the Galaxy rise above the eastern hedge and see a river infinitely deep and crystal clear, a river flowing from the spring that is Creation to the ocean that is Time?”

So read, Anne Parillaud, those soft, sweet syllables, spread your dark cloths, show us that the world unfiltered by rite and ritual, priests and shamans, is wild, and dark, and sexy. Listen. Listen! In the dark and the dim and the half-light for the sound of the wind in the reeds, the wild, wild wind of creation that is the only revelation.”

"Sooner Or Later..."

“Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson

X22 Report, “They Feel Threatened, Deep State Changes Tactics, Next Move Could Be Huge”

X22 Report, “They Feel Threatened, 
Deep State Changes Tactics, Next Move Could Be Huge”
Related followup report:
X22 Report, ”The Central Bank Experiment Failed, 
Germany Moves Closer To The Silk Road”

The Daily "Near You?"

Valley City, N. Dakota, USA. Thanks for stopping by!

"How It Really Is"

"Life Lesson #72"

"The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair."
- Douglas Adams

So you may need this...

"America’s 'Silent' $6 Trillion Crisis"

"America’s 'Silent' $6 Trillion Crisis"
by Brian Maher

"America’s silent crisis is no longer… silent. MarketWatch columnist Jeff Reeves has warned that “collapsing pensions will fuel America’s next financial crisis.” “This is not a distant concern,” he adds, “but a system already in crisis.”

By some estimates, America’s public pensions alone are sunk in a $6 trillion abyss. According to the Federal Reserve, pensions - public and private combined - were roughly 27% underfunded as of last year. Meantime, vast hordes of pensioners are entering or approaching retirement. Come at the dilemma from any angle... and you come upon a labyrinth.

How has the American pension come to such a sad pass? As far as public pensions run, the answer is close by. Daily Reckoning contributor Charles Hugh Smith: "Corrupt politicos promised the moon to public employees, and now the fiscal chickens of insolvency are coming home to roost. “But I don’t have a pension,” comes your response. “This doesn’t concern me.” Ah, but have another guess - at least if you swear off your taxes in these United States. As the late Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King styled it: “The politician's promises of yesterday are the taxes of today.”

Zero Hedge’s pseudonymous Tyler Durden: "Funds collected from taxpaying Americans will be spent to satisfy the ridiculous retirement promises and obligations made over the past few decades, and while the immediate recipients of the funds, i.e., those looking at near-term retirement, will be made whole, everyone else, i.e., taxpayers, will lose."

Just so. It is an iron law of nature, second only perhaps to gravity: Politicians promise… taxpayers pay. And let us add our own corollary: The better the politician… the bigger the promises… and the larger the bill.

Most public pension systems were built upon this rosy-dawn assumption: Their investments would yield a handsome 7.5% annual return. Once upon a time, that may have been realistic. But that was before the 2008 financial crisis… before the Federal Reserve opened its war on savers… and bonds still paid a handsome yield.

Consider… The average public pension plan worked an average gain of 2–4% by 2015. It returned just 0.6% in 2016, according to Bloomberg. 2017 saw an upswing. But according to the Center for Retirement Research: "Even if these plans attain their Pollyannaish 7.5% returns over the next few years... they’ll still be only 73% funded by 2021."

Howard Marks, co-founder and co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Group: "If you walked into a pension fund today which had no investments, and you were given a pile of cash and you invested today intelligently, prudently, but not shrinking from risk, I think you could expect to make something in the vicinity of 5% in the coming years from today."

A highly technical term describes the business… and we apologize if it sends you scurrying for the dictionary: Insolvency.

Briefly turn your attention to the Golden State, for example… California pins its hopes on that pie-in-sky 7.5% annual return. But the state’s pension planners put returns over the next decade at barely 6% a year. 6%, 7% - what’s the difference? From one year to the next, possibly little. But repeat it every year... and the meaning of compounding negative returns eventually becomes clear enough. And these calculations - as far as we understand - do not account for a market downturn.

California’s pension fund lost some $100 billion in the Great Recession. It never fully recovered. What if it happens again?

Smith: "The 2008–09 global financial meltdown was a taste of the reality facing public pension programs: Once annual returns slip from 7% annually to minus 7% annually, the pension plans are soon insolvent."

California is by no means alone. The great state of Illinois, for example, risks sinking into a $130 billion “death spiral,” as Ted Dabrowski of the Illinois Policy Institute describes it.

Meantime, jilted pensioners can generate a good deal of hullabaloo. And jilted pensioners vote. Do you think Uncle Samuel will let the politically strategic states of California and Illinois — with their combined 75 electoral votes - go scratching? And who will he hand the bill to? Consult the nearest mirror… and there you will find your sorrowful answer.

The problems are not limited to California or Illinois, of course. From Portland to Portland, Lake Superior to the Mexican gulf… American pensions are wrecked upon the rocks of actuarial fact.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has warned that the state’s pension crisis is driving his beloved Land of Lincoln into “banana republic” territory. Of course, the good governor’s mouth ran away with him here. After all... Who would compare the venerable, eminently worthy banana republic… to Illinois?

Below, Nilus Mattive - author of "The Income Bible" - shows you why he believes the pension crisis is “the biggest risk to the U.S. financial system right now.” But he also reveals his three-part “pension crisis shield” to protect you. Read on."
"The Coming Pension Crisis"
By Nilus Mattive

"If you asked me what I consider to be the biggest risk to the U.S. financial system right now, I wouldn’t say misguided monetary policy, the worsening state of Social Security and Medicare, mounting deficits in Washington, or even the student loan bubble. Make no mistake: I am concerned about all of those things. But do you know what scares me the most? The state of pension systems in this country. And even if you aren’t part of a pension plan, you are still likely to be affected. Maybe a lot. You’ll see why shortly.

In a nutshell, even despite the massive stock market rally we’ve had for the past several years, many defined benefit pension plans remain woefully underfunded. I’m talking about millions and millions of retirement promises about to collapse under the weight of cold logic and uncaring math.

Just as a start, Bloomberg says 43 states saw their funding levels WORSEN in 2016 (the latest year for which comprehensive data is currently available).

Here’s more from that report: "New Jersey, Kentucky and Illinois continue to lose ground and now have only about one third of the money they need to pay retirement benefits. And three states had double-digit declines in their pension funding ratios in the past year: Colorado, Oregon and Minnesota - though some of this can be attributed to actuarial changes in the way pension liabilities are calculated. Some of the other most problematic state plans include Connecticut (44.1% of promised benefits) and Pennsylvania (52.6%), where my dad currently collects a pension.

Meanwhile, what about private pension plans, especially those being run by publicly-traded companies? Many are also underfunded. Problems are especially bad at so-called multiemployer pension plans.

As a recent article from The New York Times explains it: "According to Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research, the nation’s 1,400 multiemployer plans are facing a $553 billion ‘hole’ of unfunded liabilities, meaning they don’t have sufficient assets to cover what they owe workers. About a fourth of these plans are in the so-called ‘red zone,’ where insolvency is more imminent, potentially within the next 10 to 20 years. Even some large individual corporate plans remain deeply troubled. General Electric, for example, has a shortfall of roughly $30 billion."

Stock market volatility is now a risk to many pension plans than it was in the past because more funds have allocated larger portions of their money to equities as a way to make up for lost time.

What if the market crashes? So the choices are pretty simple… In the case of public plans, promised benefits will either have to get cut or taxpayers will have to bear the burden. In the case of private plans, it’s the same basic idea. Some companies - including public ones - will take big hits and many corporate plans will ultimately fail. Millions of additional workers will get shafted in one way or another.

Do you have one of these types of pensions? Whether you answer “yes” or “no,” the problem will likely affect you. The ripple effects of this whole situation are a potential national crisis that cannot be brushed aside. At the end of the day, at least some of this is going to hit taxpayers.

Do you live in a state or municipality with a struggling pension plan? Odds are good you’ll end up paying for the promises made by your local politicians over the last several decades. It also fairly likely that the federal government will end up involved in many of these blowups down the line. That will essentially make all U.S. taxpayers somewhat responsible for those same irresponsible decisions.

We may even end up footing the bill for some of the failing PRIVATE pension plans. In fact, according to The New York Times, this is already being discussed in Congress. A committee is exploring possible taxpayer-funded bailouts of 200 different private pension plans despite very reasonable arguments that there are many dangers in doing so.

But I’m not the only one concerned about the looming pension crisis... Buried far down on page 21 of the 2014 Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder letter was an important warning from Warren Buffett: "Local and state financial problems are accelerating, in large part because public entities promised pensions they couldn’t afford.

Citizens and public officials typically under-appreciated the gigantic financial tapeworm that was born when promises were made that conflicted with a willingness to fund them. Unfortunately, pension mathematics today remain a mystery to most Americans. During the next decade, you will read a lot of news - bad news - about public pension plans."

In the case of public pension plans, Buffett is absolutely right about both the cause - inept lawmakers making promises in a vacuum - and the future effects - financial pain for millions. Plus, once you add in the additional problems at many private pension plans, the overall impact grows exponentially. So I think it’s absolutely crucial that you understand a few things about this smoldering fire as soon as possible…

First, if you are collecting a pension - or you expect to in the future - this situation could dramatically affect your comfort in retirement. My father spent his entire adult life as a state worker. And I have other friends and family members who are also counting on retirement promises made by various politicians. I also know plenty of people who collect checks from private pension plans. My message to all of them is the same: Hope for the best, but plan for the worst."