Ilargi: The Year 2014 in 5 Narratives

By Raúl Ilargi Meijer, editor-in-chief of The Automatic Earth. Originally published at Automatic Earth.

Let’s see, how do we close this year in a proper manner? I already wrote that 2014 for me has been The Year Propaganda Came Of Age. Likewise, looking forward, I said that The Biggest Economic Story Going Into 2015 Is Not Oil. Moreover, I talked about things that need to be done next year in Things To Do In 2015 When You’re Not Yet Dead.

So what else is left? I thought I’d make a list of narratives that painted the past year, and look at what’s real about them versus what we’re being told they are about. Nothing comprehensive about them, mind you, just train of thought.


The Crimeans voted to join Russia: not an option. Everybody but the Crimeans and Russians declared the vote illegal. East Ukraine held a referendum: not an option. Everybody but the East Ukrainians and Russians declared the vote illegal. The ‘logic’ is the only people who can hold a legal referendum in East Ukraine are the very ones who send in their armies to kill them.

But the US/EU-led ouster of an elected president, and the replacement of his government with one led by a US handpicked PM, narrowly voted in by a parliament at the time replete with guns and at best shady elements, that’s democracy, AD 2014. Throw in a billionaire Willy Wonka who, true, did get elected as president, though the legal status of that election should be under scrutiny given that East Ukraine did not, could not, participate in electing its own leader.

One of the very first things Willy Wonkoshenko did was order his Swastika-toting storm troops to go and kill more East Ukrainians, whose ‘official’ president he had just become (and they did). This all happened under US/EU command (Ukraine itself couldn’t fund a brassband, let alone an army).

Which makes me think, that’s not that far removed from for instance imagining that Washington sends its army into Texas or West Virginia with a licence to kill. But who over there have stood up for East Ukraine? None that I’m aware of. Other than Ron Paul, a proud Texan himself. You guys could have really gotten under Obama’s skin on that, but you never did. What a missed chance, right wing America! Too far away? Too close? Here you got these people whose only goal it is not to be subdued by Washington, and who get shot to bits because of it, and you don’t recognize yourselves in that image?

The west didn’t leave Putin any other option than to assimilate Crimea – and he did it through elections! -; it was clear all along to all involved that Russia would never let go of its only warm water port. It had nothing to do at any point with anything close to a majority of Ukrainians wanting to be ‘free’, but with the west – NATO – wanting to encroach on Russia’s borders, despite specific agreements stemming from the early 1990s not to do that. Putin is not the aggressor in this narrative, we are.


2014 was almost quiet in Europe, apart from the Ukraine narrative, compared to the last few years. Well, that’s not going to last. We’re going to have a Greek election January 25, and an epic three weeks of mud-slinging and fear-mongering prior to that date. It’ll be something to behold, at least from a safe distance. For the Greek people, it won’t feel like much fun.

The European Union consists of democracies – however flawed and corrupt they may be -, but it is not itself a democracy. And that increasingly reflects back – in a very negative way – on the original democracies that founded the doomed edifice in the first place. Everyone gets infected by the virus eventually.

The EU, and the eurozone, will fail and fall apart at some point. The longer it takes, the worse it will be for the people. The EU deserves to fail for the same reasons other supra-national organizations do, like NATO, World Bank, IMF etc.: they’re all inherently undemocratic. They have no reason to listen to what people want. The same can by now well be said for the US, by the way.

The reason these organizations will start to fail now is that economies have begun to fail. It’s as simple as that. I first quoted Yeats years ago on this, but it’s still as fitting as can be: The Centre Cannot Hold. Not when the economy falls to bits. All the smart boys will call it protectionism, in very derogatory tones, but that’s what happens when economies and empires fail: people must manage to take care of themselves in smaller units.

The good thing is, people are very good at that. The bad thing, is emperors and other power hungry ‘leaders’ don’t take kindly to being made redundant. But it has to be done regardless. So let Greece lead the way. It wouldn’t be the first time. Brussels has been nothing but disaster to southern Europe. The European Union is dead and must be dissolved, and its place be taken by a form of cooperation that doesn’t suffocate entire nations. There’s no simpler or clearer way of putting it.

OPEC and oil prices

I know where it’s coming from, but I still look with a childish kind of amazement at all the pundits who declare OPEC, and Saudi Arabia first, responsible for what happens to oil prices. If only OPEC would cut production … what? like they did 30-40 years ago?! It’s a different world, kiddos. Why not demand the US cut production, or Canada? The rationale behind that is energy independence and all that, isn’t it?

But the reality behind that, in turn, is that global oil demand is dropping much faster than producers anticipated, while supply – temporarily – outpaces expectations because of unconventional oil. But, you know, if you fill your media to the brim with false reports about US growth and China growth day after day, what can you expect? The recent sudden drop in oil prices was a long time coming, and only held back by the QE related global central bank money drops.

We’ve seen lipsticked pigs for years now, and we think they’re born that way. They’re not, But it’s still very blind to say OPEC caused the drop in prices. I found a nice take on this at RT, where they interview Margaret Bogenrief at ACM partners, who says:

I think what is most interesting, and you are seeing this really with a lot of countries throughout the Middle East, is the genie has kind of been let out of the bottle. I mean, in Saudi Arabia its oil prices, in other countries like Iraq it’s the dissolution of the previous government. I don’t know if there is a lot that Saudi Arabia can do in 2015 to really take care of its citizenry and to prevent the unrest that you see is growing there. If you look at its population, it’s predominantly male, young and unemployed.

And I don’t know if there is a lot that they can do to keep that under control. [..] I think social unrest in Saudi Arabia is going to be a significant issue in 2015 and beyond. What I think is most interesting is that if you look at the 2014 economic numbers, oil accounted for something like 89% of the country’s revenue. That’s a very singular economy. And if you look at this economic disparity combined with that so focused on that resource, you are going to see some significant issues in 2015 and beyond.

[..] the US has really worked under the Bush and Obama Administrations to increase domestic oil production. That has sent a signal to the world market that the US is really looking not to be as competitive as Saudi Arabia, but certainly to be involved and try to control that a little bit more. Secondly, it’s also just a demographic issue. Saudi Arabia is facing a demographic reality that it has not had to face for decades. The combination of those two things along with the US fracking and trying to get more involved in the energy sector, that’s really combining to costs and issues.

If you look at fracking, I actually think that fracking is not as significant when it comes to actual oil production. I think it’s a better message tool than it’s an actual production tool. What Saudi Arabia is realizing, you certainly saw it in the budget, is that suddenly it doesn’t have complete control over the pricing and manufacturing of oil. That’s really causing some issues. In the budget for 2015 oil was priced to be $80 a barrel. Honestly, that’s wishful thinking.

If you look at Saudi Arabia it’s going to impact Saudi Arabia far more than other Middle Eastern countries. I know Iran is facing some potential sanction issues in 2015; the US is debating whether or not to lift sanctions. That’s not necessarily energy related but I do think you are going to see some significant changes there too.

Not like it’s a brilliant take, but it’s much better than just about any I’ve seen. The Saudis don’t control the price of oil anymore, and they know it – ahead of anyone else, it seems – . They’ve been running budget deficits for a while, and they’ve just seen their revenues halved. And then some 10,000 dimwit western journalists write that they should cut production, while shale oil in the US must keep growing. And then today the Saudi King was hospitalized today as well?

The House of Fahd is not having an easy time of it. They’re all on quaaludes by now. And then Bloomberg reports about a maze in the export ban laws that allow for more US light crude exports. What a brilliant idea. Export into an overloaded market, and let your own actions behead your own industry.

North Korea

Yeah, that daft film that now allegedly stands for freedom, artistic or otherwise, and that Obama apparently had to lean into. Chances that North Korea was involved into hacking the Japanese firm that financed it and sort of released it are by now slim to none, no matter what the FBI said. This is what America stands for these days. A mere narrative. Next up: the rape and murder of Obama’s daughters, Prince George and Vladimir Putin. All very funny and artistically free.

The US dollar and global currencies, stocks and bonds

As we speak, the euro has passed the $1.21 barrier. When the new year starts, it will sink below that, unless crazy measures are taken by someone, anyone. And stock markets are not going to remain anywhere near their present highs with commodities falling the way they are; too much ‘money’ is being lost along the way. It’s known as debt deflation.

Yes, the greenback had a good run in 2014:

But there’s much more to come. And not because ‘investors like the US’ so much, or because the American economy actually grows at a 5% clip. The real reason is, as I explained in The Biggest Economic Story Going Into 2015 Is Not Oil, that emerging economies are being pulled through a wringer, and all the cheaply borrowed dollars they kept appearances up with are dripping right back into the mothership, i.e. the US.

How happy should this make us? Well, how happy should we be about poverty in Greece, Spain, Brazil and all these other nations to begin with? Do you feel it’s a good idea for us to get richer off of the backs and the misery of other people? If you say yes, it’s clean sailing for a while longer. If you don’t, what are you going to do about it?

If you live in a western country, no matter which one, that’s how your political candidates can promise to keep you rich for a bit. By making people elsewhere poorer, and by making your own children even worse off. There are no other ways left to keep up the facade we live in today. There’s no economic growth, there are no new energy sources, the only thing left to do is borrow from the future. And yeah, I know that seems to work up to the present.

But the price of oil should be a warning sign to you. If oil falls the way it does over a significant amount of time, and other commodities do too, it’s just a matter of time until stocks and bonds start bombing merrily along. And that’s even before the Fed raises its key rates, ‘guided’ by numbers like that 5% US GDP growth in Q3.

This is going to be a crazy year. We’ve said it many times before, but here you go again: volatility will reign the day, in ways we haven’t seen in many years. And the volatility will drive us downward. Not up. Nerves will guide decisions. And losses. Losses that will pressure economies, first of all Japan and Europe, into ever deeper deflationary territory. The central bank fairy tale will not last another 12 months. But the US dollar will be fine. Because it’ll be ‘nurtured’ by the demise of emerging markets.

What we, fortunate citizens of this earth, in the twilight of our civilization, should do in my humble view, is not to enrich ourselves as much as we can, but to ‘minimize the suffering of the herd’, as any shepherd should. I saw this Telegraph headline today, “Goodbye To One Of The Best Years In History”, and I thought, if that’s what you see when you look around, if you’re in Britain and you don’t see that fast and vast increase in poverty on your own doorstep, then what can I say? Hats off? Or heads off?

See ya in da New Year!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. skippy

    Ethics Matters in Climate Change

    Forum for European Philosophy public lecture

    Date: Monday 1 December 2014
    Time: 6.30-8pm
    Venue: Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building
    Speaker: Professor John Broome

    Climate change is a moral problem. Through our emissions, each of us causes harm to others – something that generally we should not do. Some people are already suffering great harm from climate change. What should we do to remedy the situation? A solution can be achieved only through the coordinated actions of governments, and difficult ethical analysis is required to choose the right actions.

    John Broome is the White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College at the University of Oxford.

    Skippy… sadly it seems the funding of think tanks to forward agendas is a wee bit lopsided, due to massive ideological over run from the last paradigm…

  2. JLCG

    For we know that he law is spiritual but I am made of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing I don’t understand for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate …..
    …..a very old problem. St Augustine says something about it. It seems to me that the solution is transcendental
    way beyond all the universities of the world.

  3. I.G.I.

    I am greatly bemused by the continuing reference of Western social order as “democracy”/”democratic” when it is plain obvious they are anything but. The only thing touted in support of this claim is the universal franchise, and the ritualistic elections held every couple of years. But historically universal franchise is not one of the defining characteristics of the democratic order (it is in fact a very late invention). What define democracy is (1) citizens participation of government; (2) citizens shaping policy; (3) citizens direct control of their representatives; and (4) citizens making an informed choice. All four are almost entire eradicated from the Western political order, and that is especially glaring with the fourth: there are extensive measures of preventing the citizenry of knowing how the supposedly “their” government operate.

    Why then not call Western societies what they really are, plutocracies with ritualistic universal suffrage? Democracy used in this context must be one of the most abused terms of propaganda.

    1. James

      “Inverted totalitarianism” is looking more prescient everyday. Or to paraphrase Ilargi above: America is a mere narrative now. A story we tell ourselves about a great and noble country so that we won’t feel so bad about the one we actually have. The myths are always the last thing to go, and ours are hanging on by the slightest of threads now. 2015’s going to be interesting, to say the least! Another round of cognitive dissonance for everyone to ease the hangover!

      1. Vince in MN

        I don’t think the myths are going away any time soon. Aphoristically I think of it like this: one man’ myth is another man’s absolute truth. I’m pretty sure that the Truthers are in the vast majority. Fundamentalists we began and fundamentalists we remain. There are shades of difference of course between our founding and today because myths evolve over time. The Founding WASP male myth has evolved into one which is more inclusive, but basically an oligarch by any other name is still an oligarch. And in a culture which overwhelmingly believes in the myth of the self made man [we all have an inner Bill Gates, we just have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and get busy, after which the omnipotent market will decide who is truthfully worthy of god’s good grace (which is preordained according to our Calvinist roots, but we still have to give it the old college try)], Club Elite has attained even greater power and wealth. Despite growing disaffection amongst a sizable portion of the population, the rebellious groups remain fragmented (self-segregated to a degree) and despite a minor victory here and there, we are losing the war. The myth of Individualism seems to be holding up quite well for the majority.

        1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          Every civilization has a narrative myth, it’s not a bad but rather a necessary thing, the question is whether that myth requires the suffering of others to maintain. The US used to have a very singular and benign myth, and most of the world understood it and aspired to it: freedom etc, land of opportunity, white picket fence. I recently visited Silicon Valley for a few days and I struggled to hear English spoken: I heard 100% Spanish, Hindi, and Chinese, it’s very hard to maintain a national narrative myth in the face of such an onslaught of competing myths. The other very major and inescapable change to our national myth has come since 9/11: the entire culture and society have been suffused with Permanent War mythmaking. You really need to leave the country to notice the depth and breadth of this, America has become Sparta where war is worshiped as the central informing justification for the entire society. It’s set up for worship like a football game, with heroes, underdogs, and cheering when the violence reaches a fever pitch. The American Death Cult as entertainment, coming to you live with gushing stories of the latest advances in new ways to kill people. We build up the supposed enemy to a frenzied pitch, two hapless crazy guys in Boston with a pressure cooker shut down the entire Eastern Seaboard. We send a $311 million fighter jet to kill an $8000 pickup truck, the F-35 versus the F-150, and the entire society goes along as though that is somehow normal or justified. We pump our kids with images of human death and suffering and tell them it is “entertaining”.
          America needs an honest conversation about a new narrative. If it’s Permanent War, Surveillance Industrial Complex, different justice systems for rich and poor, and the most tilted playing field ever for economic opportunity, let’s just be honest with ourselves and the world about it, pretending it’s something else just kills any shred of credibility we might still have and makes for exhausting cognitive dissonance and bureaucratic makework. Team America, F*ck Yeah, kicking asses and taking names around the globe on behalf of the moneyed elite, ya don’t like it then LEAVE

          1. James

            America needs an honest conversation about a new narrative. If it’s Permanent War, Surveillance Industrial Complex, different justice systems for rich and poor, and the most tilted playing field ever for economic opportunity, let’s just be honest with ourselves and the world about it, pretending it’s something else just kills any shred of credibility we might still have and makes for exhausting cognitive dissonance and bureaucratic makework. Team America, F*ck Yeah, kicking asses and taking names around the globe on behalf of the moneyed elite, ya don’t like it then LEAVE

            I think about half the populace has indeed accepted that narrative already, although I doubt many have examined it in any great detail. Unfortunately for them, most are on the wrong side of the equation as well, which they either refuse or are too ignorant to acknowledge. Even more unfortunately, however, that fallacious narrative is the root cause for just about all the major ills we see in the world today, so it’s not something we can just sweep under the rug either. Maybe we Muricans will wake up, but I see no signs of it thus far. The ‘eternal optimism of the American spirit’ was always delusional thinking based on nothing more than exploiting others for their resources, but unfortunately, that game’s about over now too. The tide’s going out on our self-proclaimed Century of Murican ‘Ceptionalism and we Muricans ain’t gonna like what it reveals about us one little bit.

  4. JEHR

    Everything that happens in the US affects our country and what is helping this trend is a PM that is fully intent on making Canada a huge private/public entity. Pensions are being reduced in the provinces; public service is being decreased each year both in employee numbers and services; we are bombing the hell out of a people we haven’t even seen; the veterans are being treated like scum; we have promises from the federal government that will be carried out (or not) in the far distant future; we are being bribed with “goodies” so that the PM can enjoy more power by being elected in October 2015. Woe is Me! Woe is You! We will see bad and sad times in 2015.

  5. Jackrabbit

    I guess Illargi hasn’t seen this:

    Mike Whitney: Did the U.S. and the Saudis Conspire to Push Down Oil Prices?


    Additionally, for the last few days a few NC-ers have taken issue with the conventional MSM narrative (HOP back to see these discussions – click on “HOP” below). To summarize:

    – The Saudi’s and American’s are symbiotic and have a history of working together;

    – A Saudi ‘attack’ on the fracking industry would’ve been much more effective if it had occurred years ago (now the industry is mature); instead, the Saudi’s are hell bent on market share just as the new Cold War got underway??;

    – Obama and oil state representatives have been strangely silent about the consequences to their constituancies;

    – the Saudi’s didn’t have to drive prices down so furiously to send a message; in doing so, they ignored the pleas of their friends in OPEC and took a larger than necessary ‘hit’ to their revenues;

    – the reporting on the price drop is too propaganda-like – it is reminiscent of other campaigns that seek to drive a ‘truth’ into public consciouness;

    – and, finally, the threat that Russia represents to the US neolibcon-led West is not well understood: Russia is the lynchpin of SCO-BRICS resistance to NWO and has stood in way of action against Iran and Syria – I doubt there is anything more important to US necons than regime change in Russia.

    H O P

    1. James

      – and, finally, the threat that Russia represents to the US neolibcon-led West is not well understood: Russia is the lynchpin of SCO-BRICS resistance to NWO and has stood in way of action against Iran and Syria – I doubt there is anything more important to US necons than regime change in Russia.

      Having watched the nightmare in Ukraine unfold, who can doubt that the Murican neolibcons are totally unprepared for what regime change in Russia would look like. They’d be wise to lose some sleep this winter seriously considering that scenario, but of course they won’t. All bets will be off if Putin mysteriously catches a bullet this year, cause right now he’s probably the best friend the dumb bastards have.

  6. Les

    What I don’t seem to get about the oil slide, if all the exploration and development gets shelved because of low Bbl. pricing, we (consumers) get to rejoice short term. What happens if the economy is supposedly taking off right now?
    6 months from now there will be a shortage, and prices will skyrocket to 200/Barrel.
    We will be told it’s going to take at least 2 years to get production up, and we will be paying 5.00/gal.
    I don’t believe this oil glut story, unless…the whole thing (world economy) is actually going down the crapper.
    I saw unemployment claims up, but there was an increase in hiring? Huh?
    Obviously, I didn’t study Econ 101 hard enough, I think that was a Monday class.

  7. Olaf Lukk

    “It had nothing to do with the Ukrainians wanting to be free, but with NATO wanting to encroach on Russia’s border, despite specific agreements stemming from the 1990’s not to do that”. This is a truly Orwellian statement.
    What “specific agreement”? Between what parties? Under what authority? Did someone dig up Molotov and Ribbentrop?
    NATO was formed after WW2 as a response to the Soviet reusal to disgorge Eastern Europe after WW2. When the USSR finally collapsed in 1991, those nations previously in the Russian “sphere of influence” (also known as the “iron curtain”) made NATO membership a priority, lest the Russians decided to return. It was a matter of national self-preservation. European nations previously coerced by the Soviets into Warsaw Pact membership- Poland, Hungary, Czechoslavakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania- were the first ex-Soviet satellites to join, soon followed by nations which had been illegally occupied and annexed- Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
    It is Russia which has had a problem with “encroaching” on the borders of its Eastern Europe neighbors, not NATO.
    From 1989-91, freedom- from Russian influence- was exactly the goal of Eastern Europe, just as it is in Ukraine today. Cavalierly dismissing such aspirations by the Ukrainians as nothing more than the actions of “Swastika-toting storm troops” proves only that the Russians will never run out of “useful idiots”.
    Too many in the American political left are so obsessed with calling out the machinations of American neocons that they fail to grasp that a KGB oligarch is regarded as a much bigger threat by most of Eastern Europe.

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