Futures Markets are a lot more interesting than you’d think. They are a key piece of financial infrastructure, that helped us build the modern world. If you’re interested, William Cronon’s book, “Nature’s Metropolis” is fascinating on the way that futures markets freed farmers and other economic actors from the tyranny of uncertainty and time. On Monday we got a rare, frightening look at what can happen when a futures market breaks. In this video we lay out why US oil prices fell into the -30s on Monday April 20th.
Despite what much of the business press has told you, this price fall wasn’t just a financial oddity. If certain things don’t happen, these prices risk becoming a monthly occurrence. As the Coronavirus depression proceeds, we are likely to see further examples of financial machinery breaking down. Get a preview by watching today’s video.
One of the saddest things about running a channel focused on geopolitics is realizing just how little the US government actually knows about the world beyond our borders. It’s not just the Trump administration, this problem is universal. At the beginning of April, the Trumpsters doubled down on their Venezuela policy, taking a number of steps to intimidate the Maduro government. Many critics complained about the timing, questioning whether this was the right moment to use military resources in this way. But as far as I have seen, nobody attacked the ridiculous premise at the center of the new policy.
By indicting Maduro as a drug trafficker in the US, and then initiating military exercises focused on his country, Trump’s Venezuela guy, Elliott Abrams, and the rest are trying to draw a direct parallel with Panama, a country the US invaded successfully in 1989. What’s obvious to anybody with a map, but not to anybody discussing Venezuela policy in Washington DC, is that Panama is a very, very different country from Venezuela. Today’s video lays out the simple facts.
If you’re like me, you probably find the Transportation Security Administration deeply irritating. But it’s also an institution whose time may have come. Back in the old days of ship travel, and even into the early decades of air travel, things were not as easy and seamless as they were in 2019. A cursory health examination was once a routine part of any long journey. There’s a distinct chance we may be returning to that era. I’ve certainly been somebody who has chafed at restrictions on travel in the past. Some of you might react to today’s video with indignation. It’s certainly not a very “More Freedom” thing to suggest that somewhat more strict restrictions on travel might be necessary.
But it’s not actually all that unprecedented or strange. A big part of building state capacity in the 19th century was around issues of public health. The modern state was, in part, built around sacrificing liberty in the name of sanitation and disease mitigation. The thing was government was almost too successful at this. People have forgotten how important the public health function was. I am grateful to the Prelinger archives for the clip I used in this video. If you are interested, you can check out the video description on YouTube for a link. It shows just how normal heightened public health procedures were at our ports and airports, not all that long ago…
In the month since everybody woke up to what a disaster the Coronavirus pandemic is, it’s been interesting watching people use it as an excuse to push the same things they were already pushing. Conservatives, Socialists, Environmentalists and Nationalists, all of them are eager to tell you that this confirms everything they have been saying all along, and proves that their particular policy priorities should be enacted immediately. Some of them may be right. But one of the most important Washington, DC lobbies is looking a little silly right now. The Military Industrial Complex, that monstrosity that gets close to a trillion dollars a year to keep us safe… did nothing to stop the greatest calamity to befall the homeland since the war of 1812.
But this hasn’t stopped them from pretending that they are still relevant after this extraordinary failure. In alliance with a Trump administration that is desperate to find another scapegoat, they are calling for a deepening of the “New Cold War” against China. They seem to believe that China is “winning” the pandemic somehow. China had what looks like a competent public health response after all, and now it’s flying stuff all over the world to help other countries. Well today’s video is here to tell you that that suspicion is ridiculous. China is not winning this thing. In fact, they are likely to end up the biggest losers.
For most of this channel’s existence I’ve worked to remain fairly non-partisan. I’m generally uninterested in the whole performative, substance-free mess of party politics in the United States. I’ve adopted the understandably popular “pox on both their houses” approach. Obama’s foreign policy left plenty for me to bitch about, and it’s easy to cover Trump as if he’s some unique biblical plague, somehow distinct from the party he leads.
But at a certain point you’ve got to acknowledge facts. The Democrats are an uninspiring bunch of managerial, condescending twerps. But if your expectations are low, they can be trusted to be reasonably honest and competent. 20 years, and four disasters have shown us that the Republican party is filled with dangerous anarchists, and even worse, people who pretend to be principled, but are eager to bow down to the dangerous anarchists in charge. This video chronicles the 9-11, Iraq war, 2008, and Coronavirus disasters and the political party that brought them all to us. It also lays out why no other media outlet will talk about this…
What a week! Today’s video deals with a troubling aspect of all this that hasn’t really begun to be reckoned with yet. Because of CDC and FDA screw-ups, and Trump’s campaign against acknowledging the disease, we are only now waking up to the fact that the United States probably harbors more cases of Coronavirus than any other country in the world, including China. This has probably been true for weeks, or maybe even a month. What this means is that our country has acted as a super spreader, sending this disease everywhere. We have the medical capacity to (hopefully!) keep this from being too much of a mass death event. Many of the countries we gave this disease to do not have that capacity. While Donald Trump has done the United States incredible damage with his mismanagement of this pandemic, he may have done even more to harm the rest of the world.
This Coronavirus thing impacts everything. The oil market is no exception. I’ve committed to some pretty strong predictions about the future of the oil market and how it means the end of the current regime in Saudi Arabia. I still stand by all of those predictions, but it’s hard to say whether this current crisis accelerates the timeline, or slows it down. Starting March 6th, Saudi Arabia went to war against every other producer in the world.
I believe that the US oil industry will be the most prominent victim. The sustained period of low oil and gas prices we are about to experience may bring us to an inevitable future more quickly. Saudi Arabia will be the last oil producer. The crucial question remains the price at which they are able to sell that oil for. It’s now possible to envision a future where Saudi Arabia controls price again… but only briefly. Today’s video explains…
I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been agonizing over Coronavirus for months. It’s really quite infuriating how hard it was to get good solid information. China looked terrifying. But all market and government sources in the US seemed pretty relaxed. A couple weeks back only the US government was relaxed, while media was waking up to the shock. It was only two weeks ago that the markets began to reflect what was happening. Now everybody is losing their shit, just as China seems to be recovering. It’s all a mess.
When it comes to history, I usually know as much or more than any journalist I am reading. That’s not the case with diseases and epidemiology. It seemed like everything I read contradicted the last thing I read, making it impossible for me to say anything definitive. Eventually I gave up on talking about the disease. It’s too late to warn folks, we are now at the crisis, which is what today’s video covers. I feel like I’ve kind of let the viewership down. I knew this was coming for a while now, but I’m only now adding to the panic pile with this video. Guess I should bone up on biology for the next plague.
I have meant to do a series on frozen conflicts for a while, and I’m glad that my North Africa focus has finally led me to do a video on one of the oldest and dumbest. The frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union are probably the most famous, including Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, Transdneistria, Ossetia and South Abhkazia in Georgia, and now Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine. These conflicts are famously a way for the dastardly Putin to keep his border unstable, and maintain a Russian sphere of influence. The conflicts that the US maintains aren’t generally referred to this way, but they serve the same purpose. Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria are also frozen or lukewarm conflicts that the United States maintains for its own (wrongly) perceived strategic interest.
Most of these conflicts are unlikely to be solved, because a regional or world power has an interest in them. That’s not the case for Western Sahara. France definitely has an interest in the continued fight between Morocco and Algeria, but nobody else does really. The fact that this conflict has derailed Moroccan-Algerian relations for almost 50 years is just dumb, as I explain in today’s video.
One of the best things about doing commentary on YouTube is the feedback. Tuesday’s video is the second installment of my series on Algeria. It covers a lot of the same territory as my first video on Algeria, which was mostly just an appreciation of the country’s amazing history. But by posting that first video, I got a ton of comments that helped to guide some reading on my part, that helped me form more confirmed opinions on the country and its history. Tuesday’s video has gotten some very flattering appreciation. A handful of Algerian commentators have pointed out that my coverage is worlds better than any other English language source. This is less a celebration of my work than an indication of how bad US coverage of the country is more generally. I read two books, one of which I don’t find particularly trustworthy, and read about 1,000 YouTube comments, half of which were one sentence critiques of my figures and my neglect of the Berber population. With just that, I was able to do a better job talking about the country than almost any English language journalist. I’m kind of proud of that, but it’s also pretty sad.
All that said, while I’ve gotten a few very positive comments on this video, I’ve gotten many more that are pretty negative. Now that I’m diving deeper into the politics of the country, and making opinions, I’ve triggered a negative reaction. But I take heart from the fact that most of what people are complaining about is my read on the politics of the moment, and what people think of the current president. Nobody is complaining about my take on the history leading up to this year anymore. And with my next video on Algeria, probably a year or so from now, I’ll be able to incorporate criticisms of others. Iterative analysis. I like it.