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Trapped in a Millennial’s Daydream

 millennials  gc2smOff the keyboard of Thomas Lewis

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millennials

The meaning of life in one easy chart! It’s easy when you’re a Millennial. (Photo by ITU Pictures)

Published on The Daily Impact on November 3, 2015


Culture — the shared sense of who we are, and how we act — is now transmitted, in the main, by television. Once, our culture was preserved, protected and passed along by wise elders — heads of families and clans, priests, scholars and the like, whose motivation was to remind us of our shared history and values, and to summon us to a life of service to those values. Today, our culture consists of titillation, entertainment, distraction and falsehoods choreographed by 20-somethings who think history is something that happened last week, character is a part in a movie and wisdom is the name of a tooth.

The cable news shows on TV, for example, upon which many depend for information about the world and for clues about what to make of it, are produced by Millennials. They bring their ideas to the story conferences, advocate their inclusion in the lineup, book the guests, and write the copy. What is the purpose of these tasks? To inform, inspire, educate or motivate? No, to grab eyeballs (translation: attract viewers). How? By making it sexy, provocative, bloody, heart-wrenching (she breaks down, she cries, great TV!), hilarious, and if you can’t get any of that, make it fast. Dress it with dazzling graphics, surround it with pounding sound effects, and for those whose attention might wander after two consecutive seconds of anything, run crawls! supers! inserts! overlays! banners! Grab those eyeballs and never let them go!

Guests and pundits are sought who fill one or both of two requirements: one, they have proved on other appearances that they can get eyeballs (did you think that you have seen little but Trump on TV for three months because of the quality of his ideas? Eyeballs stick to him! Get him!); and two, they validate the booker’s pre-conceived idea of what will make good TV. A typical opening line from a booker calling a prospective guest goes something like this: “Hi, we’re looking for someone who will compare Hillary’s email scandal to Watergate. You willing to do that? Fine, we’ll send a car. You think that’s a dumb idea? Have a nice day.”

Ordinary people cannot be relied upon to deliver good TV, although they do seem to study and learn from each other’s performances as “witnesses,” “victims,” and especially “family members.” Producers stack the decks by writing pre-answered questions for the anchor bimbos and bimbettes: “So, how did you feel when he pointed the gun at you? Did your life flash before your eyes, did you have trouble breathing, did time slow down and stop?” Answer: “Uh, yeah.”

This is the world of the millennials, whose creative writing is done with their thumbs, whose idea of a good read is 140 characters long, who eyes glaze over if they are even briefly deprived of the stimulation of flash-bang video grenades. And they are the people who do most of the work on our news programs, commercials and TV shows — the shared experiences that fill our conversations, inform our thought, and after a while define us and our time.

Millennials are not stupid, but they are young, lacking in experience and consequently judgment. That is why we used to entrust culture to old people. A Millenial cannot imagine what will amuse or engage large numbers of people who live suffocated lives far from the trendy urban centers of New York, New York, etcetera. So the Millenial news producer, creative director or TV writer falls back on rules made up by other Millennials and tested by time for six months or so.

Which is why we are presented with endless parades of celebrities (everybody likes them, right?); endless repetitions of nostrums that are simple, obvious and wrong (trickle-down economics, just one example); and cartoons pretending to explain some wondrously complex process of nature with a crayon (see, the medicine goes in here and all the bad stuff runs away!).

Which is why, when a celebrity gets up on a stage and gives us a simple, cartoonish explanation of how he would handle the presidency of the United States, it doesn’t seem ridiculous. In our culture, that’s how things work.  I know. I saw it on TV.  


Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

Death Watch in the Oil Patch

 Pumpjack-1024x768  gc2smOff the keyboard of Thomas Lewis

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Pumpjack-1024x768

Oil pumpjacks starting to suck oil instead of money. (You and I know, of course, that grasshopper pumps are not used in fracking, but have become a universal symbol for the oil bidness in the Mainstream Media, so there you go. And here you are.).

Published on The Daily Impact on October 28, 2015


In the same sense that brave individuals are said to “fight” stage four cancer, the American oil industry has spent a harrowing year fighting reality. Since oil prices tanked last summer, the industry has drawn down its strategic reserves of whitewash, pig lipstick, shinola and embalming fluid to keep things looking good even as they were decomposing. They did a pretty good job, but then they’ve had a lot of practice.Their theory, apparently; when you’re kicking the can down the road, a myth is as good as a mile. Consider a brief compendium of the lies, damned lies and statistics the oil guys have sold the country in the past few years.

Myth Sold: The Oil “Revolution.”  Hydraulic fracturing was a technological breakthrough that was going to make America number one in world oil production again, restore American energy independence and guarantee American hegemony for (pretty much) ever.    

Fact: Fracking is an extremely expensive and environmentally destructive way to wring the last few drops of  oil out of source rock. While it temporarily increased US oil production, it never equalled our peak production of 1970, and while it temporarily decreased our oil imports (which are now on their way back up), it never threatened our status as the world’s largest importer of oil.

Myth Sold: Technology Will Save Us. When oil prices cratered, the frackers reassured their investors, lenders and us that they could handle it. They had improved the fracking technology so much they could continue to make a profit producing $50-a-barrel oil.

Fact: The much-hyped changes were just so much tinkering, and profits remained illusory. Virtually every company involved in the fracking patch had negative cash flows from the beginning. Operating profits from the wells were wiped out by the costs of replacing the wells every three or four years, because of their hideous depletion rates. Conventional wells produce for 20 years, five time longer than fracked well.

Myth Sold: Efficiency Will Save Us. Like the old line about balancing the federal budget by eliminating waste and fraud, this sounds reasonable but never happens. The frackers concentrated on the “sweet spots,” the small areas of their holdings with the best returns, and they started placing four drilling rigs, instead of one, on each pad.

Fact: Thus their production actually increased for a few months after the price crash. But, well productivity is flatlining now and with the rig count down by about half, new wells are not being brought on line and production has started to fall sharply.

Myth Sold: Hedging Will Save Us. For the first year or so of depressed prices, frackers benefited from hedges — contracts to sell their product at last year’s prevailing prices. The theory was, prices would be back up before the hedges ran out.

Fact: The hedges have run out. The people who used to take the other side of the hedges are not answering frackers’ phone calls. Maybe because their phones have been disconnected.

Myth Sold: Junk Bonds Will Save Us. And so they did, for a while. Infusions of cash — from, among others, vultures hoping to acquire cheap oil company assets and ride the resurgence to a new, new oil revolution — in the form of junk bonds, leveraged loans, sub-prime loans, covenant-lite loans, etc., kept the bubble inflated.

Fact: What resurgence? Banks and other lenders, reluctant to recognize the mounting losses, continued to pretend that the oil companies whose assets’ worth had been cut in half were still solvent. Nothing wrong here! Why do you ask?

New Fact: Right now, the banks are conducting a mandatory review of the worth of the assets pledged against their fracking loans, that is, the value of the oil the companies still have to extract. This spring, the banks assessed the oil at last year’s prices, and with fingers tightly crossed rolled over the loans.

It was a stretch then; can they do it again, eke out a few more months of myths? On the one hand, maybe so, denial is not just a river in Egypt. On the other hand, good as they have been, the sellers of the myths appear to be sold out.  


Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

Good Little Maoists

hand over mouthgc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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hand over mouth
 
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation November 2, 2015
 

Sometimes societies just go batshit crazy. For ten years, 1966 to 1976, China slid into the chaotic maw of Mao Zedong’s “cultural revolution.” A youth army called the Red Guard was given license to terrorize authorities all over the nation — teachers, scientists, government officials, really just about anyone in charge of anything. They destroyed lives and families and killed quite a few of their victims. They paralyzed the country with their persecutions against “bourgeois elements” and “capitalist roaders,” reaching as deep into the top leadership as Deng Xiaoping, who was paraded in public wearing a dunce-cap, but eventually was able to put an end to all the insanity after Mao’s death.

America’s own cultural revolution has worked differently. It was mostly limited to the hermetically-sealed hot-house world of the universities, where new species of hierophants and mystagogues were busy constructing a crypto-political dogma aimed at redefining status arrangements among the various diverse ethnic and sexual “multi-cultures” of the land.

There is no American Mao, but there are millions of good little Maoists all over America bent on persecuting anyone who departs from a party line that now dominates the bubble of campus life. It’s a weird home-grown mixture of Puritan witch-hunting, racial paranoia, and sexual hysteria, and it comes loaded with a lexicon of jargon — “micro-aggression,” “trigger warnings,” “speech codes,” etc — designed to enforce uniformity in thinking, and to punish departures from it.

At a moment in history when the US is beset by epochal problems of economy, energy, ecology, and foreign relations, campus life is preoccupied with handwringing over the hurt feelings of every imaginable ethnic and sexual group and just as earnestly with the suppression of ideological trespassers who don’t go along with the program of exorcisms. A comprehensive history of this unfortunate campaign has yet to be written, but by the time it is, higher education may lie in ruins. It is already burdened and beset by the unintended consequences of the financial racketeering so pervasive across American life these days. But in promoting the official suppression of ideas, it is really committing intellectual suicide, disgracing its mission to civilized life.

I had my own brush with this evil empire last week when I gave a talk at Boston College, a general briefing on the progress of long emergency. The audience was sparse. It was pouring rain. The World Series was on TV. People are not so interested in these issues since the Federal Reserve saved the world with free money, and what I had to say did not include anything on race, gender, and white privilege.

However, after the talk, I went out for dinner with four faculty members and one friend-of-faculty. Three of them were English profs. One was an urban planner and one was an ecology prof. All of the English profs were specialists in race, gender, and privilege. Imagine that. You’d think that the college was a little overloaded there, but it speaks for the current academic obsessive-compulsive neurosis with these matters. Anyway, on the way to restaurant I was chatting in the car with one of the English profs about a particular angle on race, since this was his focus and he tended to view things through that lens. The discussion continued at the dinner table and this is what ensued on the Internet (an email to me the next morning):

On Oct 29, 2015, at 4:37 PM, Rhonda Frederick <rhonda.frederick@bc.edu> wrote:

This is what I posted on my social medias, am sharing with you and your agent.

Yesterday, novelist/journalist James Howard Kunstler was invited to give a talk at BC (see his bio at http://www.bc.edu/offices/lowellhs/calendar.html#1028).

At the post-talk dinner, he said “the great problem facing African Americans is that they aren’t taught proper English, and that … academics are too preoccupied with privilege and political correctness to admit this obvious fact.” No black people (I presume he used “African American” when he meant “black”) were present at the dinner. I was not at the dinner, but two of my friends/colleagues were; I trust their recollections implicitly. Whether Kunstler was using stereotypes about black people to be provocative, or whether he believed the ignorance he spouted, my response is the same: I cannot allow this kind of ignorance into my space and I am not the one to cast what he said as a “teachable moment.” I do think there should be a BC response to this, as the university paid his honorarium and for his meal. Here’s some contact information for anyone interested in sharing your thoughts on how BC should spend its money:

Lowell Humanities Series at Boston College (http://www.bc.edu/offices/lowellhs/about.html)

+++++++++++++++++

Rhonda—

That is not quite what I said.

I said that teaching black Americans how to speak English correctly ought to be the most important mission of primary and secondary education for blacks in order for them to function successfully in our economy. Moreover, I said that anyone mounting an argument against this was hurting the very people they pretend to help.

I stand by those statements.

Your attempt at Stalinist thought policing is emblematic of something terribly wrong in higher education, especially since you were not present.

Jim
James Howard Kunstler
“It’s All Good”

So I was subjected to attempted character assassination via social media by this Rhonda Frederick person — faculty or student, she did not say — who admits to not having been present at the incident in question. This is the new fashion in academia: slander by Twitter and Facebook. It is fully supported by the faculty and administration. While they have been super-busy constructing speech codes and sex protocols, it seems they haven’t had any time for establishing ethical norms in the use of the Internet. As it happened, I offered to come back and publically debate my statements about the benefits of teaching spoken English to black primary and secondary students — they’d have to pay me, of course — but received no reply on that from Rhonda Frederick. I also received no reply from James Smith (smithbt@bc.edu), director of the Lowell Lecture Series, when I emailed my objection to being vilified on the Web by his colleague.

Now, as to the substance of what I said to this table of college professors. I’ve written before in books and blogs about the issue of spoken English and the black underclass, but for the record I will try to summarize some of my thoughts about it (trigger warning).

True, there are various dialects of English among us, but it must be obvious that they have different merits and disadvantages. There is such a thing as standard grammatical English. It evolves over generations, for sure, but it shows a certain conservative stability, like the rule of law. It tends to be spoken by educated people and by people in authority. This implies people in power, of course, people who run things, but also people at large in the professions (medicine, engineering, etc.) and the arenas of business and government. Standard grammatical English tends to be higher status because competence in it tends to confer the benefits of higher living standards.

It also must be self-evident that there is such a thing as a black English dialect in America. With perhaps a few lingering regional differences, it is remarkably uniform from Miami, Florida, to Rochester, New York, to Fresno, California. It prevails among the so-called black underclass, the cohort that continues to struggle economically. Despite its verve and inventiveness, this black dialect tends to confer low status and lower standards of living on those who speak it. In popular mythology and culture, it is associated with violent criminality and other anti-social behaviors. If you don’t believe this, turn on HBO sometime.

I argue that black people who seek to succeed socially and economically would benefit from learning to speak standard grammatical English, not solely because it is associated with higher status and living standards, but because proficiency with grammar, tenses, and a rich vocabulary helps people think better. After all, if you employ only the present tense in all your doings and dealings, how would you truly understand the difference between now, tomorrow, and yesterday? I submit that it becomes problematical. You may not be able to show up on time, among other things.

Some of my auditors have argued that “code switching” allows black Americans to easily turn back and forth for convenience between two modes of speech, black and “white” (i.e standard grammatical English). I’d argue that this is not as common as it is made out to be. Not everybody has the skill of entertainer Dave Chapelle, a master amateur linguist (whose parents were both college professors).

It’s my opinion that American primary and secondary education does not put enough emphasis on teaching standard spoken English to those deficient in it. The pedagogues have been hectored and browbeaten by the hierophants in higher ed not to press the matter. It is not regarded as important (probably because the task seems too painful and embarrassing and may hurt some feelings). The results are plain to see: academic failure among black Americans. (Not total but broad.) Instead, we concoct endless excuses to explain this failure and the related economic failures, the favorite by far being “structural racism” (despite having elected a black president who speaks standard grammatical English).

Now to the touchier question as to why this is. After all, other ethnic groups in America are eager to fully participate in the national life. For example, I gave a talk to a large honors freshman class at Rutgers University a year ago. Due to the current demographics of New Jersey, the class was overwhelming composed of Indian (Asian, that is) youngsters, many of them as dark-skinned as Americans of African ancestry. They had uniformly opted to speak standard grammatical English. They were all succeeding academically (it was an honors class, after all). They were on a trajectory to succeed in adult life. What does this suggest? To me it says that maybe some behavioral choices are better than others and the color of your skin is not the primary determinant in the matter.

Here’s what I think has happened to get us where we are today (second trigger warning). I think the civil rights victories of the mid 1960s generated enormous anxiety among black Americans, who were thereby invited to participate more fully in the national life after many generations of hardship and abuse. (If you argue that this was not the sum, substance, and intention of the Voting Rights Act and Public Accommodations Act of 1964-65, then you are being disingenuous.) However, they were not comfortable with the prospect of assimilating into the mainstream culture of the day. They either didn’t believe in it, or feared it, or despised it, or worried about being able to perform in it.

Many would attribute this anxiety to the legacy of slavery. Can a people get over a particular historical injury? American blacks are not the only group traumatized by circumstance. When do you decide to move forward? Or do you nurse a grievance forever? Anyway, it was not a coincidence that in the mid 1960s a new wave of black separatist avatars arose around the time of the civil rights legislative victories. Malcolm X, Stokely Charmichael, the Black Panthers, to name a few. That was the moment when much of the black population slid into what has become essentially an oppositional culture, determined to remain separate. Language is part of that picture.

The diversity cult of the day is a smokescreen to disguise this fundamental fact of American life: much of black America has simply opted out. They don’t want to assimilate into a common culture — so common culture has been deemed dispensable by the confounded keepers of the common culture’s flame, the university faculty. Much of black America doesn’t want to play along with the speech, manners, rules, or laws of whatever remains of that common culture after its systematic disassembly by the professors, the deans, and their handmaidens in progressive politics — heedless of the damage to the basic social contract. We remain very much a house divided, as Lincoln put it, and he could see clearly what the consequences would be.

Is it racist to try to air these abiding quandaries in the public arena? Apparently so. And why is that? Because of the awful embarrassment of political progressives over the disappointing outcome of the civil rights project. Black news pundits such as Charles Blow of The New York Times constantly call for “an honest conversation about race,” but they don’t mean it. Any public intellectual who ventures to start that conversation is automatically branded a racist. Hey, I couldn’t even have a conversation at a private dinner on the merits of speaking standard English with three college professors whose life-work centers on race. They had a melt-down and used a proxy (who wasn’t even there) to slander me on the Internet.

They are cowards and I am their enemy.

 

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

The Quality of Compassion

That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Ben fields

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on November 1, 2015


“The highest form of wisdom is kindness."
 
 –The Talmud


A man with whom I have crossed rhetorical swords many times over the past several years, a frequent contributor to the Diner Forum, recently made an important point that this week's news reaffirms: it's essential to look beyond the surface to get at the truth of a given set of news reports. Events of this past week bear this out.

In an age of bloggers, self-defined citizen journalists, paid shills, and clickbait sites that proliferate like mushrooms after a summer rain,  this is good advice. And anyone who has forwarded a Facebook meme only to be chastened to find it's a scurrilous rumor has lived to regret it, and learned from the experience.

This week, the big newz was the story of the cop in a Spring Valley, South Carolina classroom ejecting a black female student. By now you know the story and the upshot, which will not be improved by further retelling.

 

It appears that by any reasonable standard, the violence that the cop used in this situation was over-the top and disproportionate to the situation. Criticism went viral, and consequences for the deputy involved, Ben Fields, were quick to follow.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announces the firing of Ben Fields, a senior deputy who forcibly removed a female student who refused to leave her high school math class at Spring Valley High School on Monday.

Reaction was swift. As NPR reported,

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has fired Senior Deputy Ben Fields over the white deputy's violent arrest of a black student at a South Carolina high school, which was filmed by several students. Lott said Fields broke department policy in the arrest.

"It's not what I expect from my deputies, and it's not what I tolerate from my deputies," Lott said.

The story goes in in a revealing fashion:

The teacher and administrator who were in the classroom during the altercation supported Fields, as did at least one student, Lott said, adding that they felt the deputy acted appropriately.

"They supported his actions," Lott said, adding, "even the physical part. They had no problems with the physical part."

"I'm the one who had problems with it," the sheriff said.

 

We're sure Sheriff Lott did. Bad optics coupled with national notoriety can lead to political retribution in the absence of swift action along the lines of, "If you don't get rid of him, we'll hire someone who will." 

And we learn that Fields had some previous complaints about excessive force in his record. One might wonder, given that record, what qualified him to be a school resource officer?  And we learn that the teacher and the principal, who had lost control of the classroom situation, were all in favor of Ben Fields' assault on the girl and her forcible removal. And people still wonder how Hitler came to power. Clearly, many Murkins agree.

Spoiler alert: if you do not agree from the video footage that Ben Fields' use of violence against a passive young woman was over-the-top and disproportionate, you should probably stop reading now; there is nothing for you here. The white/black issue wraps the entire episode in the ever present social layer of racial politics. Would a white child have been thus forcibly removed?

And as a topper, then Niya Kenny, the young woman who videotaped the incident was arrested and charged with "disrupting schools" and released on bond. This could only happen in the insane state of South Carolina, home to American sedition and east-coast distributor for authoritah-loving right wing insanity. A prediction: in the fullness of time, the Spring Valley school board will forbid possession of video recording-equipped technology on school grounds, for the "safety and integrity of the educational process, blah blah."  Videos of school violence making the system look bad? Outlaw the videos.

Many of us have teachers in our families, and get a birds-eye view of just how difficult it is to manage a classroom while preparing lesson plans, grading papers, and trying to outsmart young, media-savvy recalcitrants who know that if they get into "trouble" at school, their parents will come to the school and take their side of the argument against the teacher. There was a time when the social contract had the teacher and parent allied on the same side in a partnership to educate the child. That ship has sailed– one of many reasons why the average length of a public school teacher's career is five years. 

A Facebook friend from childhood who now lives in South Carolina offered this opinion:

Total disrespect for her elders. If you watch the video closely there is a black adult (probably either the teacher or the principal) standing there watching. They had a defiant incorrigible teen that was disrupting class that needed to be extricated from the class. When she wouldn't leave at the request of the teacher, then the principal and finally the policeman he had little choice but to extricate her physically. Yes he could have probably tried to extricate her less violently out of the chair and gotten himself into a wrestling match with both her and the chair at greater danger to himself… Kids these days are becoming more and more incorrigible and have no respect for their elders. Fire the officer? I say expel the student… When I was in high school or junior high you'd get your ass whipped if you came to school with a transistor radio. Now kids think they have some god given right to text and play with their IPhone in class… That officer could use a little well deserved support from the principal, the teacher, the other students whose education was being disrupted, and the officer's boss.

Those of us of a certain age recall the days when we walked to and from school, uphill in both directions, and a school environment far more ready to bring physical force to bear "in loco parentis." That was also a time when spanking was an accepted part of childrearing, and talking back to an adult was virtually unthinkable. Any incorrigibility at school was met with paddling, a punishment both swift and certain, often wielded by a strapping teacher who had drilled holes in the instrument, the better to hasten its decent and increase the pain upon the recalcitrant butt. But then the partnership between teacher and parent was more secure, and if you got in trouble at school you'd get it twice as bad at home. And your mother would be waiting for you there, having already received the evil news, and prepared to administer additional torments for one's moral uplift.

But those days are gone, times have changed, and kids are different. The legal environment is different. Parents are not to spank children anymore, and should an adult lay his hands on your little perfect snowflake? Unpossible! Deal with it.

In Spring Valley, none of us were there in the classroom. Yet one wonders how the incident came to be, and whether any of the adults nominally in charge asked any questions of the young woman, or simply took her behavior as an affront to authoritah, and manhoods. Compare Spring Valley with this response from a young student teacher to a similar incident:

One wonders if a little human compassion, or at least a question, might not be indicated before grabbing the truncheons? And all we know about the young woman in South Carolina is that she was devastated and traumatized by everything that's happened to her, and that she was recently orphaned and in foster care. We're gratified that in a different circumstance, at least one young teacher-in-becoming had enough courage of her convictions to ask a question, learn what was happening, and perhaps change a life. (H/t Katherine Bushman.)

We read of other ways of de-escalating tense circumstances, like the DC police officer who convinced some girls resistant to dispersing after a fight the chance to participate in a dance-off; absolutely inspired police work. 

On Monday afternoon, D.C.. police officers broke up two groups of fighting teenagers. A few minutes later, a female officer approached the lingering crowd and told the teens to disperse.

That’s when Aaliyah Taylor, a 17-year-old senior at Ballou High School, walked up to the officer and started playing “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” on her phone. Then she did the Nae Nae dance.

The officer, according to Taylor, laughed and said she had far better dance moves than that.

What happened from there on the 200 block of K Street SW was a rather impressive dance-off between the police officer and the teen, and an example of positive community policing at a time when national attention is focused on discriminatory and abusive police tactics. The onlooking teens caught the dance battle on their cell phones while a song by rapper Dlow played in the background.

My wife Contrary has been involved with a group working to gather signatures to present a petition to suggest better policing methods and accountabilities in our community, the better to forestall episodes like Ferguson, Cleveland and New York City from happening here. I was part of a retinue of souls who appeared at a City Council meeting this past week to speak in favor of this petition, which had garnered hundreds of signatures. The leader of the group spoke first and presented the petition. She told council that while she was outside the chambers, someone came up to her and asked, "Why do you hate the police?" The irony is that most have us have many friends and close relatives who do police work. Few good cops oppose increased accountability. But the reflexive response to anything that threatens the status quo of thin blue line is, "Why do you hate the police?"

At the same meeting another of our number mentioned the fact that many troublesome cases police encounter involve mental health issues, and that officers need additional training in de-escalation. Even as a reasonably scrawny worker in a mental health facility, he had been trained to defuse potentially troublesome situations involving persons much larger. Why does the first response have to be violence?

Find the answer in the front page of your Sunday paper, which offers the prospect of boots on the ground in Syria, along with Naval dickwaving in the South China Sea. Even looking down the barrel of doom in the form of climate change, financial uncertainty and unrestrained war, we have to believe that it is still possible to make a difference in the lives of others. A little compassion and a bit of patience might go a long way to defusing tensions. Indeed, of all the qualities we would want to teach children or grandchildren, would not compassion be at the top? Our leaders won't do it; it has to start with us.

 


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, posts, comments, interjections, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, who quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement during its ten minutes of notoriety. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and has an adult daughter that is, as of this writing, free on her own recognizance. He remains grateful for the life he has, the people in it and for the fact that he is not yet taking a dirt nap. 

 

The Caliph at the Gates of Vienna

Abu-Bakr-al-Baghdadi-300x183gc2smOff the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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AbuBakr_alBaghdadi-020515

Originally published in Asia Times on October 29, 2015

 


History has a jolly habit of repeating itself as surrealist farce. Is it 1683 all over again, with the Ottoman Empire laying siege to Vienna just to be defeated by the “infidels” at the last minute?

No; it’s 2015 and a Caliph simulacrum – Ibrahim, a.k.a. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — has prompted a gaggle of world powers, lesser powers and assorted minions to converge to Vienna to discuss how to defeat him.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Westphalians, we got a problem. None of this makes any sense if Iran is not at the table discussing a solution for the Syrian tragedy. Moscow knew it from the start. Washington — reluctantly — had to admit the obvious. But the problem was never Iran. The problem is the ideological matrix of goons who metastasize into Caliphs: Saudi Arabia.

Back — inevitably — to surrealism. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir stated, “The view of our partners … was that we should test the intentions of the Iranians and the Russians in arriving at a political solution in Syria, which we all prefer.”

Translation: “Our partners” means “His Masters’ Voice,” Washington; and the beheading-addicted oil hacienda does not “prefer” a political solution; they want regime change and a House of Saud satrapy.

Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, the EU, France and even Qatar — whose mini-emir wanted to launch his own military campaign for regime change before someone told him to shut up — are keeping company to Iran in Vienna, alongside the US, Russia, Turkey and the House of Saud.

Talk about parallel lives. One thing is a polite altercation inside a gilded Vienna palace. The shifting military sands across a Sykes-Picot-in-shambles “Syraq” tell a very different story.

Beware the new Global Jihad

The ideal solution is tempting; Russia dispatches the Spetsnaz and some extra commandos; beheads the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh goons from a C4i point of view; surrounds them; and wipes them out.

Yet it won’t happen, as long as Sultan Erdogan in Turkey, petrodollar GCC minions and the CIA persist to “support” and/or weaponize assorted Salafi-jihadi goons, “moderate” or otherwise.

The fake “Caliphate” will be a very tough nut to crack because they don’t – and won’t – care about their own mounting casualties. The “4+1” alliance – Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq plus Hezbollah – already knows it, and has already experienced trouble in their ranks.

Hezbollah took casualties. So did Iran’s Quds Force – as in reliable mid-level commanders. Iran has around 1,500 fighters on the ground – many of them Afghans – on the “4+1” side. On the opposite side we have the House of Saud funneling a lot of cash and TOW anti-tank missiles to the Army of Conquest, which is nothing but an al-Qaeda-led coalition of the willing displaying relatively overlapping agendas (first regime change, then Caliphate or Muslim Brotherhood reign).

There’s no evidence – yet – that ISIS/ISIL/Daesh has been depleted of the bulk of their shoulder-fired anti-aircraft plus anti-tank guided missiles.

So while Vienna talks, what is ISIS/ISIL/Daesh really up to?

They are about to choose between two different strategies.

  1. They dig in in Raqqa – the former capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, before Baghdad – waiting for a Mother of All Battles. After all they can’t afford to lose it, as Raqqa, geostrategically, is the ultimate crossroads in Syria. Former Ba’athist military and a cluster of Arab nationalists are lobbying for this strategy.
  1. Forget about digging in. The best is to expand the frontline, into the deeper desert, to the max. This means no clusters of targets available to the Russian Air Force, with the added benefit of the “4+1” – as in the Syrian Arab Army (SAA)/Iran/Hezbollah ground units supported by the Russian Air Force — overextending their lines of communication/supply and being faced with extra logistical problems. Hardcore Turks, Chechens, Uyghurs and Uzbeks are lobbying for this strategy.

Arguably the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh command is leaning towards option 2 – because of the Jihad Inc. component. At least 2,000 fake “Caliphate” goons – most of them from Chechnya, Turkey, Central Asia and Xinjiang – were killed in Kobani, which, unlike Raqqa, had no strategic value. The Jihad Inc. gang now wants to expand all the way to Central Asia, Xinjiang, Russia and, if they manage to find an opening, Europe and the US.

Option 2 also carries the added benefit, for fighting purposes, of extra support for “moderate jihadis” (not “rebels”), which means more interaction with Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, a few Army of Conquest factions, the Islamic Front and a bunch of Turkmen Salafi groups. None of these, by the way, are “moderate rebels”.

All these outfits would perfect mesh into an ISIS/ISIL/Daesh “expanding frontline” strategy, defended, among others, by one Muslim Shishani, Chechen commander of the Jund al-Sham, which is currently fighting around Latakia.

Shishani, significantly, told al-Jazeera Turk, “Fronts [such] as Raqqa and Aleppo will have no significance in a ground war against the Russians. The real war will be on the Tartus-Latakia front line. Jihad must be moved to that area.”

So imagine all of these outfits coalescing on an internal jihad plus global jihad platform, and still flush with cash. It’s no secret that Russian intel is alarmed by the high number of Chechens in the fake “Caliphate” ranks, not to mention Chinese intel regarding the Uyghurs. These may find very hard to return to Xinjiang; but the Chechens will be back in the Caucasus. That’s the famous “Aleppo is 900 km away from Grozny” syndrome.

To add to the royal mess, FSB director Alexander Bortnikov has already warned about a concentration of Taliban – many of whom pledged allegiance to the fake “Caliphate” — at Afghanistan’s northern borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. For Putin and the Russian intel apparatus, the situation in Afghanistan is “close to critical”. A jihad spillover across Central Asia is all but certain.

The bottom line, thus, is stark. Move over, al-Qaeda; ISIS/ISIL/Daesh is using the “4+1” offensive to forge its identity as the leader of a Global Jihad. Saudi imams anyway have already declared jihad against Russia. And the decrepit Al-Azhar in Cairo is about to do the same thing.

Check the Iranian game

There’s no evidence the Obama administration is about to admit all “moderate rebels” are, after all, jihadis. The ISIS/ISIL/Daesh command, anyway, is waiting; were that to happen – as in Washington sharing Moscow’s analysis – all outfits will switch to Global Jihad mode, led by the fake “Caliphate.”

Russian airstrike against ISIS in Syria

 

 

 

 

Russian airstrike against ISIS in Syria

It’s already murky enough as it stands. The mix of Syrian/Iranian ground intel plus the Russian air campaign have to make sure not only that ISIS/ISIL/Daesh does not have the hardware nor the manpower to defend Raqqa; they also need to cut off all their communication/supply lines with those jihadis who are fighting the “4+1” in western Syria.

Even under attack by the Russian Air Force, which forced a large number of goons and their families to flee Syria for the Western Iraq desert, ISIS/ISIL/Daesh managed to make progress in southern Aleppo, infiltrating al-Safira, and keeping control of at least 10 checkpoints along the crucial supply line that runs from Hama, through Salamiyeh, Ithriyah and Khanaser, all the way to Aleppo. The SAA simply cannot afford to lose this corridor; now that’s priority number one. Hundreds of thousands of Aleppo civilians, meanwhile, are trying to survive as de facto hostages.

It’s crucial to check out the Iranian game on the ground. The best source so far has been the deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Brig. Gen. Husayn Salami, who talked extensively to the Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 2.

Salami – that’s the IRGC speaking – frames Syria as the “focal point of strategic efforts made by an international coalition” to implement a “destructive political scheme in the Islamic world.” By “international coalition” he means NATO plus the Saudis. Iran’s role is “guaranteeing the political, psychological, economic and military stability of the Syrian system.”

He frames Iran’s role on four levels. “On a strategic level, we support the Syrian government, nation and army politically and psychologically. As advisors, we transfer our war experiences to top commanders in the Syrian army. Actually, we are helping them modernize and rebuild the structure of the Syrian army … When it comes to the operational level, we are helping brigade commanders for example … This is why a number of our commanders are there and are helping in planning and devising operational strategies.” Iran also helps at a tactical and technical (logistic) level.

And here’s something absolutely key – as well as anathema for the House of Saud; “Our national security is intertwined with the security of important parts of the Islamic world, the national security of Syria. This is the main philosophy behind our presence [in Syria].” The nuance that US Think Tankland is incapable of spotting is this doesn’t have anything to do with keeping Assad in power forever, as Iranian diplomats are now saying on the record.

Salami also stressed Russia went into Syria because otherwise it would have to fight jihad at home (that’s exactly what the Chechens at ISIS/ISIL/Daesh want). Putin’s Syria strategy, by the way, has been fully supported by the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, who was a key guest at the Valdai summit last week.

I’m the Caliph; hear me roar

Faced with the Russian/Iranian strategy, what is the Empire of Chaos to do?

Murk the already murky sands, what else? That sorry lot that passes for Obama’s “senior national security advisers” has recommended positioning US Special Forces closer to ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in Syria.

This special “guidance” is supposed to help the coalition known as Democratic Forces of Syria – which is led by the YPG Kurds – to take Raqqa. But that does not necessarily mean US Special Forces will be fighting alongside the “4+1” towards the same objective. After all, we’re always thrown back deep into Geopolitics Surrealistan – where the US-led Coalition of the Dodgy Opportunists (CDO) totally ignores what the “4+1” are doing. And don’t forget intra-coalition hatred — as in Ankara abhorring the US insistence on working with Syrian Kurds.

As for Iraq, the Obama administration and the Pentagon now barely qualify as the butt end of running jokes. Sunnis in Anbar province are furious that the mightiest satellite surveillance system in history simply failed to register ISIS/ISIL/Daesh’s advances, from Tikrit to Ramadi and environs.

To add a final insult to (repeated) injuries – as in the “4+1” intel center in Baghdad, excluding the US, plus the authorization for Russia to bomb fake “Caliphate” convoys trying to cross from the Syrian desert – Baghdad and the EU have just agreed to set up yet another intel center to exchange data on ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. The bottom line is the Obama administration is absolutely terrified that the EU is inclined to support the Russian campaign – increasingly regarding the CDO for what it is; a joke.

The near future offers even more dangerous surrealist instances; think of the Obama administration helping Shi’ite militias to take Mosul in Iraq back from ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, and at the same time helping Kurds in Syria to take back Raqqa, an Arab city. All hell is bound to break loose between Sunnis across “Syraq” and Americans – and ISIS/ISIL/Daesh will mightily profit from it.

As it stands, there’s not going to be a frontal attack on Aleppo by the SAA and Iran/Hezbollah, covered by the Russian Air Force; instead, the “4+1” strategy will be to disrupt to the max the logistical supply routes to all Salafi-jihadi outfits, which implies trying to cut off the flux of cash and weapons smuggled via Turkey.

But once again; what about the Empire of Chaos?

The Obama administration is essentially fighting — sort of — ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in Iraq, where Washington lost a multi-trillion dollar war. Team Obama never bothered to fight the fake “Caliphate” in Syria — because they were contributing to the “Assad must go” agenda.

Sultan Erdogan – with Ankara at the table in Vienna – is still allowed to have a free-for-all border out of which ISIS/ISIL/Daesh profits handsomely. And the paranoid, Shi’ite-hating House of Saud – with Riyadh at the table in Vienna – is still allowed to shower all manner of Salafi-jihadi goons with all manner of weapons. This is what passes for Obama’s policy in Syria, as the Caliph’s roaring laughter can be heard all the way to Vienna.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Something Happened

Bernankgc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Bernank
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation October 26, 2015
 

Ben Bernanke’s memoir is out and the chatter about it inevitably turns to the sickening moments in September 2008 when “the world economy came very close to collapse.” Easy to say, but how many people know what that means? It’s every bit as opaque as the operations of the Federal Reserve itself.

There were many ugly facets to the problem but they all boiled down to global insolvency — too many promises to pay that could not be met. The promises, of course, were quite hollow. They accumulated over the decades-long process, largely self-organized and emergent, of the so-called global economy arranging itself. All the financial arrangements depended on trust and good faith, especially of the authorities who managed the world’s “reserve currency,” the US dollar.

By the fall of 2008, it was clear that these authorities, in particular the US Federal Reserve, had failed spectacularly in regulating the operations of capital markets. With events such as the collapse of Lehman and the rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it also became clear that much of the collateral ostensibly backing up the US banking system was worthless, especially instruments based on mortgages. Hence, the trust and good faith vested in the issuer of the world’s reserve currency was revealed as worthless.

The great triumph of Ben Bernanke was to engineer a fix that rendered trust and good faith irrelevant. That was largely accomplished, in concert with the executive branch of the government, by failing to prosecute banking crime, in particular the issuance of fraudulent securities built out of worthless mortgages. In effect, Mr. Bernanke (and Barack Obama’s Department of Justice), decided that the rule of law was no longer needed for the system to operate. In fact, the rule of law only hampered it.

Mr. Bernanke now says he “regrets” that nobody went to jail. That’s interesting. More to the point perhaps he might explain why the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission did not make any criminal referrals to the US Attorney General in such cases as, for instance, Goldman Sachs (and others) peddling bonds deliberately constructed to fail, on which they had placed bets favoring that very failure.

There were a great many such cases, explicated in full by people and organizations outside the regulating community. For instance, the Pro Publica news organization did enough investigative reporting on the racket of collateralized debt obligations to send many banking executives to jail. But the authorities turned a blind eye to it, and to the reporting of others, mostly on the web, since the legacy news media just didn’t want to press too hard.

In effect, the rule of law was replaced with a patch of official accounting fraud, starting with the April 2009 move by the Financial Accounting Standards Board involving their Rule 157, which had required banks to report the verifiable mark-to-market value of the collateral they held. It was essentially nullified, allowing the banks to value their collateral at whatever they felt like saying.

Accounting fraud remains at the heart of the fix instituted by Ben Bernanke and the ploy has been copied by authorities throughout the global financial system, including the central banks of China, Japan, and the European Community. That it seemed to work for the past seven years in propping up global finance has given too many people the dangerous conviction that reality is optional in economic relations. The recovery of equity markets from the disturbances of August has apparently convinced the market players that stocks are invincible. Complacency reigns at epic levels. Few are ready for what is coming.

 

 

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Moscow doubles down on Washington

 putin obamagc2smOff the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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putin obama

Originally published in Ron October 15, 2015

 


History may eventually decide the ‘New World Order’ started on September 28, when Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama had a 90-minute face off at the UN in New York.
 

Irrespective of spin – “productive” according to the White House, “tense”according to a source close to the Kremlin – facts on the ground accumulated almost immediately.

Putin did press Obama for the US to join Russia in a real grand coalition bent on smashing ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. The Obama administration, once again, relented. I detailed here what happened next: an earth-shattering game-changer in the ‘New Great Game’ in Eurasia, straight out of the Caspian Sea, that caught the acronym fest of US intelligence – not to mention the Pentagon – completely off-guard.

So this was Putin’s first message to Washington, and the Pentagon/NATO combo in particular; your fancy ideas of stationing tactical nuclear weapons or expanding missile defense to Eastern Europe, or even Asia-Pacific, are just a mirage. Our cruise missiles are capable of wreaking real effective havoc; and soon, as this piece argues, there will be more hypersonic, high-precision long-range missiles added to the mix.

Old habits don’t die hard – they remain in a coma forever. The Pentagon’s response to the facts launched from the Caspian Sea was to conduct an airdrop of light weapons to “a select group of vetted leaders and their units,” as in those famously non-existent Syrian “moderate rebels.” The weapons will inevitably be captured by assorted Salafi-jihadi goon outfits in no time.

Then the British government was forced to deny a Murdoch-controlled Sunday Times “report” that British Tornadoes in Syria are now armed with air-to-air missiles to counter potential Russian aerial “attacks.”

And to top it off, the proverbial “military experts” infesting US corporate media started spinning that we are only 30 seconds from World War III.

The Glazyev nuclear plan

A still apoplectic Pentagon will take time to absorb the new military facts on the Syrian ground – and skies. That will add to the utter desperation displayed by the ‘Masters of the Universe’ in the Washington/Wall Street axis – itching to break the China-Russia strategic partnership by all means necessary. Quite a feat when the Pentagon is still fighting World War II, with its weapons, ships and monster aircraft carriers displayed as sitting ducks against Russia’s new batch of missiles.

But then there’s also Putin’s second – silent – message to Washington, which didn’t even have to be delivered in person to Obama. US intel though may have a hint about it, as they closely follow Russian media.

It’s about Sergey Glazyev’s (presidential aide) plan for Russia’s immediate economic future here is a summary of the plan, in Russian. The plan was formally proposed to Russia’s Security Council. Here is a very good summary on how Russia’s Security Council works.

There are at least three absolutely key points in Glazyev’s plan. We may summarize them like this:

1. If the emerging trend of freezing private assets of Russian legal entities and individuals continues, Russia should consider full or a partial moratorium on the servicing of loans and investment from the countries involved in the freezing.

2. The amount of foreign currency assets of the Russian Federation located in the jurisdiction of NATO countries accounts to more than $1.2 trillion, including short-term debt of about $800 billion. Their freeze may be partially offset by retaliation against NATO assets in Russia, which amounts to $1.1 trillion, including over $400 billion long-term. So this threat would be neutralized if Russian monetary authorities organized a timely withdrawal of Russian short-term assets in the US and the EU.

3.  Glazyev is adamant that the Russian Central Bank continues to serve the interests of foreign capital – as in the financial powers in London and New York. He contends that the high interest rates practiced by the Russian Central Bank led Russian oligarchs to borrow more cheaply from the West, making the Russian economy dependent, a debt trap which the West used to slowly squeeze Russia. Then the rigged Western oil and ruble collapse increased the pressure as debt service in ruble cost and interest doubled.

Sergei Glazyev, Presidential Advisor for Regional Economic Integration © Ramil Sitdikov

Sergei Glazyev, Presidential Advisor for Regional Economic Integration © Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti

 

Essentially, once again, a Russian default on a $1 trillion-plus debt to private Western parties remains a possible scenario discussed at the highest level – assuming Washington will persist in its anti-Russia demonization campaign.

 

It’s clear the squeeze Russia is feeling has less to do with sanctions than the grip maintained by Western financial powers over the Russian Central Bank. The Russian Central Bank did create a debt trap by maintaining high interest rates in Russia while the West was lending at low interest rates.

Needless to add, such a default, if it ever happened, would collapse the entire Western financial system.

One should never forget the Big Picture; the Syria/Ukraine/sanctions saga runs in parallel to Russia-China and closer BRICS integration shifting the balance of geopolitical power. For the ‘Masters of the Universe’, this is beyond anathema. Enter, for instance, the use of cash settlement through their Wall Street proxies to raise the A shares of China to hysterical highs and then try to crash their entire stock market by a reverse cash settlement rig as in 1987.

China is moving toward their own SWIFT payment system, not to mention a whole new Chinese-led set of international institutions independent of US control. Russia, for its part, recently passed a bill that would allow the seizing of foreign assets if Russian assets in the West are seized. As Glazyev pointed out, investment in Russia by the West are more or less equivalent to investments of Russia in the West.

The ‘Masters of the Universe’ may keep insisting on using financial weapons of mass destruction. Russia, silently and with a few key facts in the Caspian Sea, is letting them know it’s ready for whatever scenario they can come up with.

A less apocalyptic ending may be healthy. So here’s a popular joke in Moscow nowadays, as told by William Engdahl. Putin is back in the Kremlin after his meeting with Obama in New York. He tells an aide he invited Obama for a game of chess. And then he tells it how it works: “It’s like playing with a pigeon. First it knocks over all the pieces, then it shits on the board and finally struts around like it won.”

 


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Open Letter to President Putin

Anthony-Freda_empty-kingdomFrom the keyboard of Morris Berman
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Anthony-Freda_empty-kingdom

Published on Dark Ages America on October 17, 2015


Dear Mr. President:

Gaspadin:

I am writing in response to your remark–accurate in the extreme, in my opinion–that members of the American government have mush in their heads instead of brains. Indeed, Mr. Obama has no coherent foreign policy, is basically adrift, and as you have no doubt figured out long ago, is a political and intellectual lightweight. He has no idea at all of what he is doing, and this applies to the majority of American politicians. 

However, what you wrote about the members of the American government also applies to members of the country at large: they have gavno inside their heads; they are a collection of duraki. After all, as a famous American comedian once remarked, our leaders come from the people; they don't originate on Mars. The remarkable thing is that in the US, even the smart ones are dumb, due in large part to our remarkable system of brainwashing. Let me remind you of that hilarious exchange you and Mr. Obama had a while back, regarding American "exceptionalism." Your response to his speech on this topic was to rebuke him, pointing out that regarding oneself as exceptional was a potentially destructive position to take. His response–I told you, he's not very smart–was more exceptionalist propaganda. The problem is that roughly 99.99% of the American public believes this nonsense, that we were chosen by God to lead the world by example. (A bit ironic, considering the fact that that example has not been very exemplary.) There is a knee-jerk reaction in this country, whenever we have a conflict with any other country, that we are good (always innocent) and they are evil, or at the very least misguided. We don't have a great talent for looking within, and the only president who asked us to do that–Jimmy Carter–is regarded by most Americans today as a loser and a fool.

You may well wonder how this nation of "individuals" wound up with a completely uniform ideology. The Australian journalist, John Pilger, tells the story–possibly apocryphal, I have no idea–of a project undertaken by America in the wake of Stalin's death in 1953, and the beginning of a thaw or detente between our two countries. The idea was to invite about two dozen apparatchiki over to the US to view a pluralistic society, "democracy in action." They could go anywhere they wanted, unescorted, and they did: the Senate, the Supreme Court, high schools, newspapers, universities–the works. At the end of the two weeks they all convened at the White House, and the official in charge of the project, beaming with pride, said, "Well?" The response was not exactly what he expected. After an embarrassed silence, one of the Russian officials spoke up:

"How do you do it?" he asked. "To get this extreme degree of conformity of opinion, everyone thinking exactly alike, we in the USSR have to beat our citizens, send them to Siberia, put them in psychiatric hospitals and fill them with drugs, shoot them, and so on. Here, in your country, you achieve the results we can only dream about, and with no coercion at all!"

Anyway, I don't mean to condone your own methods. The assassination of critical Russian journalists under your tenures in office is notorious (Anna Politkovskaya, for example), and forgive me, but I suspect your hands aren't completely clean in these abysmal events. So quite obviously, if you want a free society that allows for real dissent, you've got a ways to go. But Pilger's example, even if it never happened, is true to the spirit of how the United States operates, and to the very low level of citizen awareness of what's really going on in the world. All of which is to say that you might as well pursue your own interests (which you are already doing), and not worry too much about what we say, because all we are doing is pursuing our interests, and it is clear enough to most of the world that American "democracy" is a pretext for the projection of power into every corner of the globe, much of it for the purpose of economic gain.

In any case, it's not very likely that you will be reading this, inasmuch as I am a very minor intellectual figure in the US, not really on the radar screen of public discussion. But if you do happen to run across this, and would like to continue the conversation, I would be glad to do so with a nice samovar of tea from Sochi sitting between us. At the very least, I can assure you that it will be a far more interesting discussion than any you have had, or are likely to have, with virtually any American political figure.

Thank you for listening (if you did). Do svidanya, and vsevo haroshevo.

-Morris Berman

 

©Morris Berman, 2015 


Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, the Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992, and the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity (from the Media Ecology Association) in 2013. He is the author of a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness–-The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000)–and in 2000 his Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review.

The Fall of the Colors

gc2smOff the keyboard of Thomas Lewis

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Published on The Daily Impact on October 13, 2015

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Every day, most of us look directly at one of the worst manifestations of global industrial pollution — only one of which is climate change — and yet we do not see it. Especially this time of year, we stare at it, take trips to see even more of it, and marvel to each other about how “gorgeous” it is. We look at the colors of the forest, but we do not see the sickness of the trees. Let me warn you: once you do see, you cannot unsee, although you will wish most fervently that you could.

If we do look just a little more closely at those “spectacular” fall colors, walk up to just about any tree and inspect it, we will see skeletal branches whose leaves have been prematurely lost; leaves that are curled and crisped and spotted and blanched with sickness; more than likely, in a mature tree, a partially rotted-out core; and overall a display of color that pales in comparison with prior years. I wrote about this last year [Falling Colors: The Long Agony of the Trees] and of course nothing has happened since to make it any better.

Forests are in massive decline on every forested continent. And every year we learn that more are dying, and more things are killing them. Of course climate change — specifically, warming temperatures and drought — is a major factor. And as I have learned largely through the efforts of blogger Gail Zawicki at Wits End, the implacable rise of background levels of ozone pollution, primarily from automobile exhaust, is poisoning trees everywhere now, even in remote, pristine locations.

But wait, there’s more! Call right now and we’ll double the number of existential threats to trees and thus humans. Operators are standing by.  

Radioactive emissions from nuclear power plants and nuclear accidents, borne by wind and water, absorbed by soil, affect trees much as does ozone, by administering a low-dose, cumulative, persistent poison that affects the tree and the tree’s ability to resist other threats such as insects and fungi. There is a relentless global increase in these emissions, from accidents such as those at Chernobyl and Fukushima, and from the daily operations of power plants.

And one more thing. When forests that have been absorbing and sequestering radioactivity for decades burn, as they have been doing across vast areas of the northern hemisphere since early spring this year, the radioactivity, still as potent as ever, is released in the smoke, carried by the wind, and redistributed as if all the radioactive emissions of decades were released all over again.

Acid rain is a term we almost never hear these days, as if it were a problem that had gone away. Hardly. While automobile exhaust has been cleansed of much of the nitrogen oxides that are the primary cause of excess acid in the atmosphere, little has been done to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide gas, which is not only a greenhouse gas but also a contributor to acid rain, which continues to damage trees, among other living things, worldwide.

Insects are being unleashed by warming temperatures that allow them to operate at higher altitudes and latitudes. In the American West, for example, beetles preying on conifers for longer periods of time each year, in places they have never been before, have killed an astonishing 70,000 square miles of forest since 2000. And it’s not just because there are more beetles in more places, but also because the trees, are also besieged by ozone, radiation, acid rain and drought.

So take another look at the bleaching colors of fall, and now, see them, how they represent not the ecstatic celebration of nature and the turning of the seasons that was once so reassuring to us; but resemble now the art of the undertaker’s cosmetics that prompt us to say, “Oh, it looks so natural.”  


Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

Bang, You’re Dead

good violence bad violencegc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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good violence bad violence
Illustration by Anthony Freda      
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation October 12, 2015
 

Apropos of the recent Roseburg, Oregon, school massacre that left nine dead, President Obama said, “we’re going to have to come together and stop these things from happening.” That’s an understandable sentiment, and the president has to say something, after all. But within the context of how life is lived in this country these days, we’re not going to stop these things from happening.

And what is that context? A nation physically arranged on-the-ground to produce maximum loneliness, arranged economically to produce maximum anxiety, and disposed socially to produce maximum alienation. Really, everything in the once vaunted American way of life slouches in the direction of depression, rage, violence, and death.

This begs the question about guns. I believe it should be harder to buy guns. I believe certain weapons-of-war, such as assault rifles, should not be sold in the civilian market. But I also believe that the evolution of our Deep State — the collusion of a corrupt corporate oligarchy with an overbearing police and surveillance apparatus — is such a threat to liberty and decency that the public needs to be armed in defense of it. The Deep State needs to worry about the citizens it is fucking with.

The laws on gun sales range from ridiculously lax in many states to onerous in a few. Yet the most stringent, Connecticut, (rated “A” by the Brady Campaign org), was the site of the most horrific massacre of recent times so far, the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting. The handgun law in New York City is the most extreme in the nation — limiting possession only to police and a few other very special categories of citizens. But it took the “stop-and-frisk” policy to really shake the weapons out of the gang-banging demographic. And now that Mayor Bill deBlasio has deemed that “racist,” gang-banging murders are going up again.

Which leads to a consideration that there is already such a fantastic arsenal of weapons loose in this country that attempts to regulate them would be an exercise in futility — it would only stimulate brisker underground trafficking in the existing supply.

What concerns me more than the gun issue per se is the extraordinary violence-saturated, pornified culture of young men driven crazy by failure, loneliness, grievance, and anger. More and more, there are no parameters for the normal expression of masculine behavior in America — for instance, taking pride in doing something well, or becoming a good candidate for marriage. The lower classes have almost no vocational domain for the normal enactments of manhood, and one of the few left is the army, where they are overtly trained to be killers.

Much of what used to be the working class is now an idle class that can only dream of what it means to be a man and they are bombarded with the most sordid pre-packaged media dreams in the form of video games based on homicide, the narcissistic power fantasies of movies, TV, and professional sports, and the frustrating tauntings of free porn. The last thing they’re able to do is form families. All of this operates in conditions where there are no normal models of male authority, especially fathers and bosses, to regulate the impulse control of young men — and teach them to regulate it themselves.

The physical setting of American life composed of a failing suburban sprawl pattern for daily life — the perfect set-up for making community impossible — obliterates the secondary layer of socialization beyond the family. This is life in the strip-mall wilderness of our country, which has gotten to be most of where people live. Imagine a society without families and real communities and wave your flag over that.

President Obama and whatever else passes for authority in America these days won’t even talk about that. They don’t have a vocabulary for it. They don’t understand how it works and what it’s doing to the nation. Many of the parts and modules of it make up what’s left of our foundering economy: junk food, pointless and endless motoring, television. We’re not going to do anything about it. The killing and the mayhem will continue through the process of economic collapse that we have entered. And when we reach the destination of all that, probably something medieval or feudal in make-up, it will be possible once again for boys to develop into men instead of monsters.


James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Human Population Growth: How Human Activity Threatens Our Survival

gc2smOff the keyboard of A. G. Gelbert

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on October 9, 2015
 

Klamath_river_estuary
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
 
“Human Population Growth: The Truth About How Human Activity Threatens
The Condicio Sine Qua Non For Our Survival.”

 


What Is the Greatest Number of Children Born to One Woman?

As of 2014, the greatest number of children born to one woman was 69. Birth records from the 1700s show that the wife of a Russian peasant named Feodor Vassilyev gave birth 27 times — to four sets of quadruplets, seven sets of triplets and 16 pairs of twins. It was reported that 67 of the 69 children survived past infancy. Vassilyev’s second wife reportedly gave birth to 18 children, which would make him the father of 87 children, with all but three surviving infancy. It has not been proved that the records are true, and some people believe that the numbers might be inaccurate. 

More about child birth rates:

Niger is the country with the most births per woman, at an average of 6.16, with more than half of all Nigerian mothers giving birth before age 18.

The greatest number of surviving children born to one woman at one time was eight in 2009 in the United States.

The United Kingdom has the highest rate of childless women older than 45, at more than 20%.

Why Sterilizing the Poorest 50% of Homo Sapdom Won't Solve ANYTHING! 
The "Human Population Must Be Reduced" Propaganda Myth. Why it is a divide and conquer tactic and why it has absolutely no basis in scientific fact. 

The total biomass of all the ants on Earth is roughly equal to the total biomass of all the people on Earth.

"How can this be?! Ants are so tiny, and we are so big! But scientists estimate there are at least 1.5 million ants on the planet for every human being. Over 12,000 species of ants are known to exist, on every continent except Antarctica. Most live in tropical regions. A single acre of Amazon rainforest may house 3.5 million ants."

The Human biomass is tiny compared with thousands of species from insects to spiders to rodents, along with many marine creatures. 

See for yourself the Evidence:

I will provide for you a couple of links for you to research but let me give you a brief introduction to earth's biomass pyramid. 

You have different trophic levels (life forms that eat other life forms to survive). 

The lower you are on the pyramid, the more collective mass you have as a segment of the biosphere. 

Here's a quote so you can see where I'm going with this: 

"An ecological pyramid is a graphical representation that shows, for a given ecosystem, the relationship between biomass or biological productivity and trophic levels.

A biomass pyramid shows the amount of biomass at each trophic level.

A productivity pyramid shows the production or turn-over in biomass at each trophic level.

An ecological pyramid provides a snapshot in time of an ecological community.

The bottom of the pyramid represents the primary producers (autotrophs). The primary producers take energy from the environment in the form of sunlight or inorganic chemicals and use it to create energy-rich molecules such as carbohydrates. This mechanism is called primary production. The pyramid then proceeds through the various trophic levels to the apex predators at the top.

When energy is transferred from one trophic level to the next, typically only ten percent is used to build new biomass. ]The remaining ninety percent goes to metabolic processes or is dissipated as heat. This energy loss means that productivity pyramids are never inverted, and generally limits food chains to about six levels. However, in oceans, biomass pyramids can be wholly or partially inverted, with more biomass at higher levels."

 

Take insects as one example of the Laws of Thermodynamics as applied to life forms in the Biosphere trophic (food chain) pyramids. 

In order for insects to BE food for spiders as well as many other creatures, the biomass of insects has to be much, much greater because of the heat energy losses in transferring energy from the insect to the spider (about 90% is lost in heat). The predators (that's what we are, by the way) are at the top of the pyramid and have the least total biomass of all the life forms. 

Lions, tigers, sharks, whales, bears, wolves, etc. have a tiny planetary biosphere biomass in comparison with ants, earthworms, rodents, and krill (those tiny shrimp like creatures that whales eat). And the krill eat tiny nearly microscopic phytoplankton (that have more biomass than the ubiquitous krill). 

Mollusks, as well as ants and several thousand other species have a larger biomass than humans. I bring up the mollusks because they have a HUGE biomass. I studied them in depth in college Zoology. 

The phylum Mollusca: 

"The phylum Mollusca is the second most diverse phylum after Arthropoda with over 110,000 described species. Mollusks may be primitively segmented, but all but the monoplacophorans characteristically lack segmentation and have bodies that are to some degree spirally twisted (e.g. torsion). 

The Phylum Mollusca consist of 8 classes: 
1. the Monoplacophora discovered in 1977; 
2. the worm-like Aplacophora or solenogasters of the deep sea;  
3. the also worm-like Caudofoveata;  
4. the Polyplacophora, or chitons;  
5. the Pelecypoda or bivalves; 
6. the Gastropoda or snails; 
7. the Scaphopoda, or tusk shells; and 
8. the Cephalopoda that include among others squid and the octopus." 

Agelbert Note:  The biomass pyramid in the oceans in regard to mollusks and fish is NOT inverted. The oceanic "confusion" is due to the fact that some mollusks are apex predators like giant squid and the smaller mollusk predators like Octopodes that eat fish. Most mollusks are small to very small and are food for fish. They are the ones (bivalves near Fukushima) that concentrate radionuclides in their tissues that then get in the fish that eat them.  

The smaller mollusks (most of them are less than a foot long) are FOOD for fish. That means there HAS TO BE much more of them than there are fish. And I'm sure you don't believe the human biomass is greater than that of all the fish species, right?  If you do believe that, you have trophic pyramid understanding difficulties.

Now for some biomass weights:

"Human population = 335,000,000,000 kg. This figure is based on an average human weight of more than 100lbs, though (50kg, to be exact).  I don't know how accurate this estimate is, especially considering that about 1/3 of us are children. There are supposedly around 1.3 billion cattle in the world, and, put together, they may weigh almost twice as much as our species.

Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba =  379,000,000,000 kg.

There are more ants than krill. Also, metabolism plays a role along with biomass. A million ruby-throated hummingbirds will consume much more food than one African Elephant, even though both have about the same biomass (3,000kg, or 3.3 US tons).

Thus, ants, as a group, may actually consume more resources per year than Antarctic krill, even though both may have roughly the same biomass, because ants tend to be smaller, and live in warmer environments. Although there may be about 10-15 times the biomass of termites than cows in the world, studies have suggested that termites might produce almost 30,000 times as much methane per year because of their faster metabolism." 

http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/10/do-ants-really-have-the-largest-biomass-of-all-species-on-earth-laurie-usa.html

So how come nobody is hollering about reducing the termite population?  

As the article in the quotes above points out, humans are a huge problem, not because of our biomass, but because of our carbon footprint (I.E. the use of fossil fuels!).
And guess what portion of our population does over 80% of the Fossil Fuel consumption? You guessed it! The upper 20%! 

Who Done it? The Global Compact: 20% using 80% of the Resources
http://www.unep.fr/shared/publications/other/DTIx0601xPA/docs/en/Module2%20-%20Session1.ppt

To ACTUALLY address, confront and STOP the biosphere damage that Homo Sapdom is doing, we must face the scientifically confirmed REALITY that,  if you get rid of the bottom 50% of the human population (the most poor among us), you will, I'm sorry to say, not even dent the pollution and biosphere destruction. 

AS pointed out in the biomass numbers, the amount of people eating and defecating is not the problem, CARBON FOOTPRINT is the threat to a viable biosphere. We must attack that problem by reducing the carbon footprint of the most powerful people on this planet. 

NOTHING ELSE WILL SOLVE THE PROBLEM. The solution, in addition to a 100% transition to Renewable energy, involves eliminating corporate energy welfare queen subsidies for both fossil fuels and nuclear poison. 

Democracy and our responsibility to preserve and protect a viable biosphere requires it from all of us.

The "let's reduce the human population"  baloney is a divide and conquer tactic to avoid billing the top human pigs  for the damage they do, while attempting to give the rest of us a totally unwarranted, with ZERO empirical basis ( but VERY clever), guilt trip. 

It's a lie. Don't buy it. 

What we need to do is transition to 100% renewable energy as within YEARS, not decades. That will give our future generations a chance to live in a viable biosphere. 

If you agree please pass it on. Also, feel free to visit my forum and post on any subject you wish. Thank you. 

Renewable Revolution
http://renewablerevolution.createaforum.com/index.php?action=forum


A. G. Gelbert (agelbert) is a contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He writes peppy posts about Renewable Energy when he is in a good mood. Because of his numerous efforts in that area, he is quite sure that Elon Musk should give him a Tesla. The problem is that Elon Musk remains unconvinced. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site (he copies text from Surly too!), never stops barking about profit over people and planet polluters and dirty energy, but refuses to engage in violence to stop the insane greed driving our human civilization to collapse and possible species extinction. He will be judged by many for not taking up arms in this struggle. But he firmly believes God will support his decision. He shares a manufactured (i.e. he's trailer treasure – be nice) home in Colchester, Vermont with his bride of 23 years, and is grateful that his spirit still finds his body's biochemistry to be a suitable habitat.

Putin and Xi rock da house

Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putingc2smOff the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin

Originally published in Asia Times on September 25, 2015

 


Pope Francis may be the rock star. But once again, the real heart of the action is all about Russia and China — those prime “threats” to Exceptionalistan, according to the Pentagon.

Where’s Benjamin’s Angel of History when we need him? His gaze is now certainly focused on the home of the brave. Francis may have brought the House down in DC, but it’s Xi Jinping who really rocked da house in the West Coast, while Putin gets ready to be crowned the new King of New York. Who’d imagine that the New Great Game in Eurasia could be so fun?

Calling Frank Underwood

Even before Putin talked new world order geopolitical business at the UN, China’s Xi Jinping was talking Silicon Valley business with, well, the whole Silicon Valley elite. It’s all in the photo, delightfully deconstructed by the South China Morning Post.

This is where the action is — much more than in what Xi may have discussed with Obama; cyberspace piracy, spying, new Japanese laws on defense, the environment. China needs top IT to turbo-charge not only the internal market but also key nodes of the New Silk Roads.

Even Facebook was allowed to bow to the Red Emperor. Mark Zuckerberg, in suit and red tie, talked to Xi for less than a minute, in Mandarin, at Microsoft’s campus. Side by side was none other than a smiling Lu Wei – who controls China’s Great Firewall, which blocks, among others, Facebook. As a priceless aside, here’s Internet-alert Lu Wei calling all and sundry to “sail into the future with mutual benefit and win-win.”

Xi and Putin

 

 

Xi and Putin

Barely blinking while he bought 300 Boeings for lunch, Xi’s real howler in the West Coast was his House of Cards gambit.

Referring to Beijing’s massive crackdown on graft, he said, “We have punished tigers and flies … It has nothing to do with power struggles. In this case there is no House of Cards.”

Non-biased China hands all interpret the anti-corruption campaign as essentially a clean up of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) so it may continue to rule ad infinitum. It’s the party, stupid. So obviously there’s a “hard rain’s gonna fall” component, because resistance from powerful interest groups is immense.

The irruption of House of Cards was predictable. Much more than a nod to Netflix, this was about China. According to GlobalWebIndex, no less than over 200 million Chinese have been using VPNs to get to Netflix and watch the season 3 of House of Cards on streaming video.

Frank33Millions among these are Beijing residents, comfortably middle class; and that includes a lot of Party heavyweights – such as the head of the anti-corruption committee, Wang Qishan, a huge fan of Frank Underwood. Check out this priceless  Global Times piece showing how House of Cardsheavily draws from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

On top of it, season 2 of House of Cards was already China-intense, featuring cyber-war, the South China Sea and currency manipulation. Sharp Chinese viewers inevitably compared factional fighting in Washington with Beijing’s anti-graft campaign, which, so far, has nailed 80,000 functionaries, at least 90 high-caliber politicians and 30 PLA generals. China Daily didn’t measure its words — stating that House of cards represents a “mirror” of these Chinese functionaries.

Xi knew exactly who his audience was when he invoked US soft power — tremendously popular in China — to send a message. And he also knew that even when the American system is critically eviscerated — as in House of Cards — the fascination quotient of US soft power remains unbeatable. If you can’t beat them, join them. Why not instrumentalize House of Cards as Beijing deploys its own version of The Art of War?

Start spreading the news…

And now, live from New York, it’s Putin The Great.

Last week on Asia Times we saw how if there’s going to be some solution to the Syrian tragedy, it’s all Putin’s fault. (Not) reacting to it, the Obama administration remained mired in its proverbial bewilderment – or perplexity.

Finally, the White House was forced to announce that the coin finally dropped on Obama, and he will talk to Putin on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Right on cue, a senior adviser to Bashar al-Assad started spinning that the US and Russia had reached a “tacit agreement” on ending the mess in Syria.

Quick recap. Putin started it all by refusing “Assad must go” as a prerequisite for peace negotiations. Then he turbo-charged the military build up in Latakia; proverbially, once again, neither the Pentagon nor the White House ever saw it coming.

So this is what Putin accomplished even before Obama saw the light and decided to talk:

1) Forget about a Libya-remixed NATO war on Syria. 2) Forget about a Sultan Erdogan-driven no-fly zone over areas controlled by Damascus. 3) Out with the old world order. This is how the emerging new world order should work, and Russia is also driving it.

Putin’s speech on Monday at the UN General Assembly will be about “the joint struggle against terrorism” (as branded by TASS). One should expect abundant apoplexy, much more than perplexity, all across the Washington/New York axis.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, last Sunday on Russian TV, already clarified the themes at the heart of the speech; the unipolar world order, and the absolute necessity of the “joint struggle against terrorism,” which” must be waged without double standards.”

Lavrov was very sharp when referring to” unilateral coercive measures” — and not only as far as Russia is concerned. In his own words:

“Nowadays, you know, our Western partners, primarily, under the influence, perhaps, of American mentality, are losing in general the culture of a dialogue and the culture of achieving diplomatic solutions. The Iranian nuclear program was a bright – and even very bright – exception. In most other cases – in conflicts that continue to flare up in the Middle East, in North Africa – they try to resort to measures of military intervention, as was the case in Iraq and Libya, in violation of UN Security Council decisions, or to resort to sanctions.”

Expect Putin to talk about all of it in detail. But the showstopper will be, predictably, Putin on Syria. In Lavrov’s words:

“We have declared that we will be helping the Syrian leaders, as we help the Iraqi leaders, or the leaders of other countries who are facing the threat of terrorism. And our military-technical cooperation pursues exactly these objectives. Of course, the supplies of arms [by Russia], they have been going on, they are going on [now] and they will continue. Their [supplies] are inevitably accompanied by our specialists that help put the according equipment up, help to train Syrian [military] personnel to handle these weapons and there are absolutely no mysteries and no secrets [in all of this].”

cardsAnd yes, Putin will call the usual suspects — from Turkey to the GCC petrodollar gang — to help Assad “without indoctrinations or double standards” in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. And he will demonstrate how the refugee crisis was not created by Assad, but by the fake “Caliphate.” As far as these refugees from the Sykes-Picot-smashed Middle East are concerned, it’s up to the EU to deal with them. In Lavrov’s words:

“Russia has been fulfilling all her obligations under the international conventions. All those who fall under the category of refugees, we take in, and we will take into the Russian Federation, sometimes even going beyond the criteria that is applied. I refer to the refugees from Ukraine, there are about one million [in Russia]. We sympathize with our European neighbors with regard to the problem that they have been facing, and I believe that they will solve it [on their own].”

Last but not least, Putin will make it very clear Russia never again will be fooled into signing dodgy documents such as UNSC Resolution 1973, which legitimized R2P in 2011 via that legendary “no-fly” zone over Libya, with the corollary of NATO bombing the country into a wasteland run by militias. No wonder deranged R2P groupie Samantha Power wants to kick Russia out of the Security Council. Who needs a shoe-banging Khrushchev? Black (Apoplexy) Monday will definitely be a riot.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

The Parties Crawl Off to Die

gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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trumphillbern fltn
 
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation September 14, 2015
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I‘ve alluded to being a registered Democrat now and again, a disclosure that makes some readers go feral with wrath. For years I could only justify it as formal opposition to the cretinous brand of Republicanism that washed over the country like a septic wave with the reign of that sainted pompadour-in-search-of-a-brain, Ronald Reagan, whose “morning in America” bromide was among the biggest whoppers of my lifetime. With Reagan, we got the officially-sanctioned marriage of right wing politics and the most moronic strains of Southland evangelical religiosity. (Ronnie stated more than once his belief that Biblical “end times” were close at hand, which should have raised the question of his actual concern for the nation’s future — did he think it had one? — but nobody ever asked him about it.) George H. W. Bush expressed a similar view, perhaps merely pandering to the dolts of Dixie.

So, who in his right mind could have subscribed to that load of bullshit?

Meanwhile, the youthful and magnetic Clintons came on in 1992. They put on a good show of national stewardship in the early going. Bill could speak English fluently, unlike his two predecessors. Hillary’s committee to tackle health care reform came to grief, but the effort at least implied a recognition that medicine was turning into a shameless racket (now fully metastasized). Bill managed to shove through a species of welfare reform — remarkable for a Democrat — that has since deliquesced back into a swamp of disability fraud. But the Clinton turning point was the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which opened the door to an orgy of financial mischief so arrant and awful, and to a plague of corruption so broad and deep, that American life is now pitching into a long emergency.

Add to that now the signal failures of Barack Obama: 1) no prosecution or attempted regulation of widespread financial misdeeds 2) no effort to counter the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to buy elections; 3) no end to dubious military operations in distant lands, and 4) healthcare “reform” that only fortified the existing rackets — take all that together and you can only recoil from whatever it means to be a Democrat.

And now the return of Hillary, gliding above the election arena like Rodan the Flying Reptile — caw! caw! Get me outa here! It’s not just her, of course. It’s the whole disgusting circus parade of identity politics, and PC witch-hunting, and trans-sex drum-beating, and girl-lugging-a-mattress-around-campus idiocy, and blame-it-all-on-Whitey whinging, and drone-strike-du-jour warfare, and out-of-control NSA surveillance monkey business, plus throw in the outrageous scams of “civil forfeiture” under a president who was supposedly a professor of constitutional law — the list of Democratic-sponsored absurdities and turpitudes gives me the vapors.

The New York Times ran a front-page story Sunday saying that the Republican nomination-chasers were sounding too ominous, too dark, about the state of the nation, at least for the purpose of getting elected. As if the Times has an interest in them succeeding. I guess they were “just sayin’.” For my money, you can’t paint a dark enough picture to fully capture the decadence and depravity in the current zeitgeist. This, after all, is the basic appeal of Trump — though a panoramic shot of his supporters in one of those stadium love-fests suggests that their very demeanor is a big part of the problem: crowds of overfed tattooed clowns in nursery togs clamoring for a return to 1956. Good luck with that.

More than once I’ve referred to the earlier period in US history, the 1850s, when the political compass points shook loose and parties died. The Whigs disappeared altogether (and fast!) and the Democrats became a rump party of southern slavers. Well, the two major parties of our time are now perfectly poised to enter the Temple Grandin cattle chute of death. But history doesn’t repeat, of course, it only rhymes, and this time there are no other political parties standing by to take their place, no credible institutions, certainly no one like Lincoln. There are only Bernie Sanders and the execrable Trump.

Sanders functions nicely as a foil to the flying reptile. But the self-labeled socialist has a big problem. The public may be simmering with grievance, but my guess is that they are not especially hot for more redistribution of the national wealth — that is, whatever little remains in the hands of a sore beset former middle class. The absence of any other reputible figure on the Democratic “bench” belies a party now more hollow than a supermarket Easter egg.

What we see gathering is a political storm as perfect as the typhoon that has formed in banking. Surely the financial storm will strike first and it will leave the public stupefied with loss. I would not even bet against the possibility of the 2016 selection being canceled in some manner. Imagine, for instance, what the Pentagon brass thinks of Trump. And what they are planning for him. Just sayin’.

 

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

The Crash of 2015: It’s Here

Off the keyboard of Thomas Lewis

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panic

A CNBC anchor after trying to explain hedging against the volatility of stocks indexed to the Volatility Index. The end is near now.


Published on the Daily Impact on August 31, 2015

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Screw it, I’m calling it. I’ve been watching the so-called “markets” of China, the United States and a couple dozen other countries fall off a cliff, get up, stagger upward, fall off another cliff, and repeat. I’ve been listening to the chattering class say over and over again, this is normal, seen this before, everybody buy the dip. I’ve been watching the zombie oil-fracking revolution in this country go into spasms, jerking a few feet forward, a few feet back, gasping for breath, while the cheerleaders agree: perfectly normal, blood pressure okay, reflexes good, lend them more money. This is not normal, it is not okay, it is the Crash of 2015.

We will not likely agree on this until we stop using wildly different languages with which to discuss it. First of all, to refer to these things as “stock markets,” as if they were places where equities were bought and sold based on the soundness and prospects of the companies listed, is akin to putting your faith in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.

These places are casinos filled with gambling addicts using other people’s money to bet, not on the future of a stock but on the popularity of a stock among the greater fools on whom the gambler must unload the shares of Consolidated Aggregators he just bought on the dip. In this casino, trading in shares themselves is like playing the slot machines, there in the lobby of the casino for the amusement of the little people risking their quarters. The real games are played in private rooms with derivatives, futures, hedges, credit default swaps, junk bonds. The master of the universe are even gambling on the outcomes of corporate lawsuits (and for what reason, do we suppose, has that practice alone drawn the disapproving attention of the drones of Washington?). They are buying hedges against the volatility of securities indexed to the volatility of the market. If you can think about that one for more than 30 seconds without your head exploding, your mellowness index is in the stratosphere. Increasingly the gambling is being done by machines, programmed by the Masters to detect the circumstances under which they are to blow up the world.  

The commerce of the world, like the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean, is slowing down, bestowing unimaginable collateral damage as its does so. The prices of all industrial commodities (not just oil) have tanked, taking down the economies and currencies of the countries who depend for their existence on the exploitation of their natural resources. The volume of stuff being shipped from pace to place has withered. Both commerce and the Gulf Stream are losing the sources of their energy: in the case of the Gulf Stream, it’s temperature differential; in the case of trade, it’s money in the hands of the middle class, being spent on consumer goods.

Money, not credit. The Masters like to pretend they are the same thing but they are not. To issue consumers more credit cards, or more mortgage refi’s, is not the same thing as providing them with a living wage. To inject more money into the equity of banks and corporations, as the central banks have been doing for decades, does not, it turns out, create a tide of well being that lifts all boats. It’s like feeding the cow at the wrong end. No matter how much nutritious food you ram in, it’s just not going to help.

They have got away with this madness — the Masters, the Pundits, the Shills and the Gamblers — largely because decent people cannot believe anyone could possibly be crazy enough to do what they seem to be doing. Decent people tend not to remember the Housing Bubble Crash, the Dot-Com Crash, the Savings and Loan Crash, the Enron Crash, etc. etc.

Even if they’re gambling, surely it’s still true that the house never loses? Yes, that’s still true. As long as there are customers in the house. Look around. The customers are cashing in their chips and leaving China, the emerging markets, the junk-bond markets and the US markets as fast as they can without actually yelling “fire” and trampling each other.

Believe it. They are crazy, and this is the Crash of 2015.

It is not the Crash of the Industrial Age, not yet, although that, too, is ongoing. We will probably emerge from the Crash of 2015 onto the littered, downward slope of depression toward the ultimate collapse, still it seems several uncomfortable years in the future.  But we will have cause to remember the Crash of 2015.


Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

Welcome to the trade deal wars

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Destroying_Chinese_war_junks,_by_E._Duncan_(1843)

Originally published in Asia Times on August 28, 2015

Visit the New Diner News Page for Daily Updates from around the Collapse Blogosphere


 

BANGKOK — China continues to grow at a not too shabby 7%. And yet, because of the yuan devaluation and the sharp drop in the stock market, in most Western capitals the narrative switched to Armageddon descended over an economic model that generated, over the years, six-fold growth in Chinese GDP.

Few are aware that Beijing, simultaneously, is engaged in a thrice titanic task; to shift its growth vector from exports and massive investment to services; to tackle the negative and/or self-satisfied role of state-owned enterprises; and to deflate at least three bubbles — debt, real estate speculation and the stock market — in the context of a virtual global economic stagnation.

All this while there is virtually no Western coverage of the China-led Eurasian trade integration push, which will help to eventually consolidate the Middle Kingdom as the largest economy in the world.

And that brings us to a crucial subplot in the Big Picture: Southeast Asia.

Four months from now, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is bound to become integrated, via the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

AEC is no mean feat. We’re talking about the economic integration of a combined market of 620 million people and a collective GDP of $2.5 trillion.

Of course, this is still a quite divided ASEAN. Roughly, mainland Southeast Asia is closer to China while maritime-border Southeast Asia is more confrontational – not least because of US interference stoking the confrontation. It will be a long haul before there is a South China Sea rules-based code of conduct signed by all participants.

Yet even if mainland and maritime Southeast Asia present a quite contrasted outlook, and their integration might imply more rhetoric than reality – at least short-term – Beijing does not seem to mind the long game. After all, China is inextricably linked with mainland Southeast Asia.

Take Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. That’s a collective market of 150 million people and a GDP of over $500 billion. Include these four in the context of the Greater Mekong sub region, which encompasses the southern Chinese provinces of Guangxi and Yunnan, and we have a market of 350 million people with a GDP of over $1 trillion. The conclusion, as seen from Beijing, is inevitable; mainland Southeast Asia is southern China’s backyard.

TPP vs. RCEP

The US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is widely acknowledged across multiple ASEAN latitudes as a key component of the “pivoting to Asia.”

If ASEAN itself is divided, TPP adds to the division. Only four ASEAN nations – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam — are involved in TPP negotiations. The other six prefer the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

RCEP is an ambitious idea aiming at becoming the world’s biggest free trade agreement; 46% of global population, with a combined GDP of $17 trillion, and 40% of world trade. RCEP includes the 10 ASEAN nations plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Unlike TPP, led by the US, RCEP is led by China.

Even if there is a substantial degree of political will, it will be impossible for these 16 nations to finalize their negotiations in the next four months – and thus announce RCEP simultaneously to the start of AEC. That would be a huge boost to the shared notion of the “centrality” of ASEAN.

Problems, problems everywhere. For starters, the serious China-Japan dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. And the ever-evolving China/Vietnam/Philippines tussle in the South China Sea. Competition and distrust is the norm. Many of these nations see Australia as a Trojan horse. So it’s unlikely consensus will be reached before 2017.

The RCEP idea was born in November 2012 at an ASEAN summit in Cambodia. There have been nine rounds of negotiations so far. Curiously, the initial idea came from Japan — as a mechanism to combine the plethora of bilateral deals ASEAN has struck with its partners. But now China is in the lead.

And if the TPP vs. RCEP competition was not enough, there’s still the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). That was introduced at the APEC meeting in Beijing late last year by – of course – China, to seduce nations whose top trade partner is China anyway from entertaining TPP notions.

Joseph Purigannan of Foreign Policy in Focus has aptly summarized all this frenzy; “If we connect all these developments of ‘mega-FTAs’, what we are seeing is actually the intensification of what we can call a turf war among the big players.” So, once again, this is a China vs. US proxy war.

Big Pharma rules

TPP is spun in the US as aiming at setting common standards for nearly half of the word economy.

And yet TPP – negotiated in utmost secret by hefty corporate lobbies with absolutely no public scrutiny – is essentially NATO on trade (and a close companion of the EU-targeted TTIP). TPP has been developed as the economic/trade arm of the “pivoting to Asia” — with two inbuilt wet dreams; excluding China and diluting the influence of Japan. And most of all, TPP aims at preventing most of Asia – and inside it, ASEAN nations – from reaching any agreement that does not include the US.

China’s reaction is subtle, not frontal. Beijing is betting in fact on multiplying agreements – from RCEP to FTAA. The ultimate objective is to reduce the hegemony of the US dollar (don’t forget: TPP is dollar-based).

Even after securing US Congress approval last month for a fast track leading to a deal, President Obama and the all-powerful TPP business lobby is having a very hard time convincing the 12 TPP – very unequal – partners.

On next generation biological drugs, for instance, TPP privileges Big Pharma such as Pfizer and Japan’s Takeda. TPP goes against state-owned enterprises – very important in economies such as Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam – to the benefit of foreign competitors fighting for government contracts.

TPP wants to get rid of Malaysia’s preferential treatment to ethnic Malays on business, housing, education and government contracts – a staple of Malaysia’s development model.

Under the pretext of cutting tariffs on “sensitive” clothing, big US textile corporations such as Unifil aim to stop Vietnam from selling cheap clothing made in China in the US market.

And the US and Japan remain at serious odds on agriculture and the automobile industry, still debating, for instance, when a vehicle has enough local content to qualify for duty-free.

General Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha is convinced that TPP can make or break Thailand – with an emphasis on “break.” That’s what he told an imposing visiting group of the US-ASEAN Business Council.

Bangkok is terrified that its laws on patent medicine – as in the right to produce generic medicine — will be replaced by mega-restrictive patent laws dictated by the usual suspects: Big Pharma.

One Belt, One Road, one bank

In the end, it all comes back to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s by now legendary I Tai I Lu (“One Belt, One Road”); a.k.a. the New Silk Road(s) strategy, where one of the key components is the export of all manner of Chinese connectivity technology to other ASEAN nations.

That starts with the $40 billion Silk Road Fund announced late last year. But other investment avenues for infrastructure networks — roads, railways, ports — should come via the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

So AIIB may also be interpreted as an extension of China’s export model. The difference is that instead of exporting goods and services China will be exporting infrastructure expertise, as well as its excessive domestic production capacity.

One of these projects is a railway from Yunnan province through Laos and Thailand to Malaysia and Singapore – with Indonesia just a short trip away (where China is already battling Japan for the contract to build Indonesia’s first 160 km high-speed rail between Jakarta and Bandung). China has built no less than 17,000 km of high-speed railway – 55% of the world’s total — in only 12 years.

Washington is not exactly beaming at closer and closer Beijing-Bangkok relations. China, for its part, would like its ties with Thailand to be the prototype for relations with other ASEAN nations.

Thus, the eagerness of Chinese businesses to invest in ASEAN using Thailand as their regional investment hub. That’s all about investing in nations with excellent potential to become Chinese production bases.

In the immediate future real economic integration is inevitable in mainland Southeast Asia. It is already possible to hit the road from Myanmar to Vietnam. And soon by rail from southern China through Laos to the Gulf of Thailand and through Myanmar to the Indian Ocean.

The labor market is increasingly integrated. There are five million people from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos already working in Thailand – most of them legally. Border trade is booming – as institutionalized “borders” don’t mean much in mainland Southeast Asia (as they don’t mean much between Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example).

It’s still a very open game though. It’s about connectivity. It’s about global production chains. It’s about harmonized rules of trade. But most of all it’s a tremendously high-stakes power play; who – the US or China – will eventually set the global rules on trade and investment.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

The Myth of a Russian ‘Threat’

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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myth rusthreat

 

Originally published in Sputnik on August 25, 2015


Not a week goes by without the Pentagon carping about an ominous Russian "threat".

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey entered certified Donald “known unknown” Rumsfeld territory when he recently tried to conceptualize the “threat”; “Threats are the combination, or the aggregate, of capabilities and intentions. Let me set aside for the moment, intentions, because I don’t know what Russia intends.”

So Dempsey admits he does not know what he’s talking about. What he seems to know is that Russia is a “threat” anyway — in space, cyber space, ground-based cruise missiles, submarines.

And most of all, a threat to NATO; “One of the things that Russia does seem to do is either discredit, or even more ominously, create the conditions for the failure of NATO.”

So Russia “does seem” to discredit an already self-discredited NATO. That’s not much of a “threat”.

All these rhetorical games take place while NATO “does seem” to get ready for a direct confrontation with Russia. And make no mistake; Moscow does view NATO’s belligerence as a real threat.

It’s PGS vs. S-500

Pentagon chief Ashton Carter described Russia as a very, very significant threat

The “threat” surge happens just as US Think Tankland recharges the notion of containment of Russia. Notorious CIA front Stratfor has peddled a propaganda piece praising Cold War mastermind George Kennan as the author of the “containment of Russia” policy.

The US intel apparatus don’t do irony; before he died, Kennan said it was now the US that had to be contained, not Russia. 

Containment of Russia – via the expansion of the EU and NATO — has always been a work in progress because the geopolitical imperative has always been the same; as Dr. Zbigniew “The Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski never tired of stressing, it was always about preventing the – threatening — emergence of a Eurasian power capable of challenging the US.

Ultimately, the notion of “containment” can be stretched out towards the dismantling of Russia itself. It also carries the inbuilt paradox that NATO’s infinite expansion eastwards has made Eastern Europe less, not more, safe.

Assuming there would even be a lethal Russia-NATO confrontation, Russian tactical nuclear weapons would knock out all NATO airports in less than twenty minutes. Dempsey – cryptically – admits as much.

What he cannot possibly admit is if a decision had been made in Washington, a long time ago, preventing NATO’s infinite expansion, Russia’s concerted move to upgrade its nuclear weapon arsenal would have been unnecessary. 

Geopolitically, the Pentagon has finally seen which way the – strategic partnership – wind is blowing; towards Russia-China. This major game-changing shift in the global balance of power also translates as the combined military assets of China and Russia exceeding NATO’s.

In terms of military power Russia has superior offensive and defensive missiles over the US, with the new generation surface-to-air missile system, the S-500, capable of intercepting supersonic targets and totally sealing Russian airspace.

Moreover, despite short-term financial turbulence, the Sino-Russian combined strategy for Eurasia – an interpenetration of the New Silk Road(s) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) – is bound to develop their economies and the region at large to an extent that may surpass the EU and the US combined by 2030.

 

Concert to mark 70th anniversary of Victory in 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War

What’s left for NATO is to stage military strength made-for-TV shows such as “Atlantic Resolve” to “reassure the region”, especially hysteria-prone Poland and the Baltics. 

Moscow, meanwhile, has made it clear that nations deploying US-owned anti-ballistic missile systems in their territory will face missile early-warning systems deployed in Kaliningrad.

And Major General Kirill Makarov, Russia’s Aerospace Defense Forces’ deputy chief, has already made it clear Moscow is upgrading its air and missile defense capabilities to smash any – real — threat by the US Prompt Global Strike (PGS).

In the December 2014 Russian military doctrine, NATO’s military build-up and PGS are listed as Russia’s top security threats. Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov has stressed, “Russia is capable of and will have to develop a system like PGS.”

Where’s our loot?

The Pentagon’s rhetorical games also serve to mask a real high-stakes process; essentially an energy war – centering on the control of oil, natural gas and mineral resources of Russia and Central Asia. Will this wealth be controlled by oligarch frontmen “supervised” by their masters in New York and London, or by Russia and its Central Asian partners? Thus the relentless propaganda war. 

A case can be made that the Masters of the Universe have resurrected the same old containment/threat geopolitical alibis – peddled by what we could dub the Brzezinski/Stratfor connection — to cover, or conceal, another stark fact.

And the fact is that the real reason for Cold War 2.0 is New York/London financial power suffering a trillion dollar-plus loss when President Putin extracted Russia from their looting schemes.

And the same applies to the entire Kiev coup — forced through by the same New York/London financial powers to block Putin from destroying their looting operations in Ukraine (which, by the way, proceed unabated, at least in the agricultural domain).

Containment/threat is also deployed on overdrive to prevent by all means a strategic partnership between Russia and Germany – which the Brzezinski/Stratfor connection sees as an existential threat to the US.

The connection’s wet dreams – shared, incidentally, by the neo-cons – would be a glorious return to the looting phase of Russia in the 1990s, when the Russian industrial-military complex had collapsed and the West was plundering natural resources to Kingdom Come.

It’s not going to happen ever again. So what’s the Pentagon Plan B? To create the conditions of turning Europe into a potential theater of nuclear war. Now that’s a real threat – if there ever was one.
 

 


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

 

Worse Than Hitler

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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trump-is-hitler1
 
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation August 24, 2015
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Even the formerly august New York Times grants that Donald J. Trump has ignited a voter firestorm of grievance against a dumb show election process that rewards a craven avoidance of real issues. Immigration is actually a stand-in for the paralysis, incompetence, overreach, and bloatedness of government generally in our time — but it is a good doorway into the larger problem.

Immigration is a practical problem, with visible effects on-the-ground, easy to understand. I’m enjoying the Trump-provoked debate mostly because it is a pushback against the disgusting dishonesty of political correctness that has bogged down the educated classes in a swamp of sentimentality. For instance, Times Sunday Magazine staffer Emily Bazelon wrote a polemic last week inveighing against the use of the word “illegal” applied to people who cross the border without permission on the grounds that it “justifies their mistreatment.” One infers she means that sending them back where they came from equals mistreatment.

It’s refreshing that Trump is able to cut through this kind of tendentious crap. If that were his only role, it would be a good one, because political correctness is an intellectual disease that is making it impossible for even educated people to think — especially people who affect to be political leaders. Trump’s fellow Republicans are entertainingly trapped in their own cowardliness and it’s fun to watch them squirm.

But for me, everything else about Trump is frankly sickening, from his sneering manner of speech, to the worldview he reveals day by day, to the incoherence of his rhetoric, to the wolverine that lives on top of his head. The thought of Trump actually getting elected makes me wonder where Arthur Bremer is when we really need him.

Did any of you actually catch Trump’s performance last week at the so-called “town meeting” event in New Hampshire (really just a trumped-up pep rally)? I don’t think I miscounted that Trump told the audience he was “very smart” 23 times in the course of his remarks. If he really was smart, he would know that such tedious assertions only suggest he is deeply insecure about his own intelligence. After all, this is a man whose lifework has been putting up giant buildings that resemble bowling trophies, some of them in the service of one of the worst activities of our time, legalized gambling, which is based on the socially pernicious idea that it’s possible to get something for nothing.

I daresay that legalized gambling has had a possibly worse effect on American life the past three decades than illegal immigration. Gambling is a marginal activity for marginal people that belongs on the margins — the back rooms and back alleys. It was consigned there for decades because it was understood that it’s not healthy for the public to believe that it’s possible to get something for nothing, that it undermines perhaps the most fundamental principle of human life.

Trump’s verbal incoherence is really something to behold. He’s incapable of expressing a complete thought without venturing down a dendritic maze of digressions, often leading to an assertion of how much he is loved (another sign of insecurity). For example, when he attacked Jeb’s (no last name necessary) statement that we have to show Iraqi leaders that “we have skin in the game,” Trump invoked the “wounded warriors,” saying “I love them. They’re everywhere. They love me.” In the immortal words of Tina Turner, “what’s love got to do with it?”

Trump’s notion that he can push around world leaders such as Vladimir Putin by treating them as though they were president of the Cement Workers’ Union ought to give thoughtful people the vapors. It doesn’t seem to occur to Trump that other countries could easily get pugnacious towards us. He would have us in a world war before the inaugural parade was over.

The trouble is that it’s not inconceivable Trump could get elected. Farfetched, perhaps, but not out of the question. The USA is heading for a very rough patch of history — as those of you with your eyes on the stock indexes lately may suspect. The country stands an excellent chance of waking up some morning soon to discover it is broke and broken. When that happens, all the anxiety and animus will be focused on looking for scapegoats, and they are likely to be the wrong ones. World leaders considered Hitler a clown in the early going, too, you know. But the Germans were wild about him. He pushed a lot of the right buttons under the circumstances. Trump is worse than Hitler. And the American people, alas, are now surely a worse lot of ignorant, raging, tattooed slobs than the German people were in 1933. Be very afraid.

 

 

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

True Believers

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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oil shock for law firms
 
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  August 17, 2015
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There is a special species of idiot at large in the financial media space who believe absolutely in the desperate and tragic public relations bullshit that this society churns out to convince itself that the techno-industrial high life can continue indefinitely, despite the mandates of reality — in particular, the fairy tales about oil: we’re cruising to energy independence… the shale oil “miracle” will keep us driving to WalMart forever… our wells doth overflow as if this were Saudi America… don’t worry, be happy…!

Such a true believer is John Mauldin, the investment hustler and writer of the newsletter Thoughts From the Frontline, who called me out for obloquy in his latest edition. After dissing me, he said:

“I have written for years that Peak Oil is nonsense. Longtime readers know that I’m a believer in ever-accelerating technological transformation, but I have to admit I did not see the exponential transformation of the drilling business as it is currently unfolding. The changes are truly breathtaking and have gone largely unnoticed.”

Mauldin is going to be very disappointed when he discovers that the vaunted efficiencies in shale drilling and fracking he’s hyping will only accelerate the depletion of wells which, at best, produce a few hundred barrels of oil a day, and only for the first year, after which they deplete by at least half that rate, and after four years are little better than “stripper” wells. The PR shills at Cambridge Energy Research (Dan Yergin’s propaganda mill for the oil industry) must have pumped a five-gallon jug of Kool-Aid down poor John’s craw. He believes every whopper they spin out — e.g. that “Right now, some US shale operators can break even at $10/barrel.”

The truth is the shale oil industry couldn’t make a profit at $100/barrel. The drilling and fracking boom that began around 2005 was paid for with high-risk, high-yield junk bond financing and other sketchy, poorly collateralized financing. Most of the earnings in the early years of shale oil came from flipping land leases to greater fools. Now that the price of oil has fallen by more than 50 percent in the past year, the prospect dims for that junk financing to be repaid. Since that was “bottom-of-the-barrel” financing, the odds are that the shale producers will have a very hard time finding more borrowed money to keep up the relentless pace of drilling needed to stay ahead of the short depletion rates. They are also running out “sweet spots” that are worth drilling.

We will look back on the shale oil frenzy of 2005 to 2015 as a very interesting industrial stunt borne of desperation. It gave a floundering industry something to do with all its equipment and its trained personnel, and it gave wishful hucksters something to wish for, but it never penciled-out economically. Shale oil production turned down in 2015 and the money will not be there to get the production back to where it was before the price crash. Ever.

Some additional uncomfortable truths should temper the manic fantasies of hypsters like Mauldin. One is that we are no longer in the cheap oil age. All the new oil available now is expensive oil — whether it’s Bakken shale or deep water or arctic oil — and it costs too much for our techno-industrial society to run on. That is why the world financial system is imploding: we can’t borrow enough money from the future to keep this game going, and we can’t pay back the money we’ve already borrowed. We have to get another game going, one consistent with contraction and with much lower energy use. But that is not an acceptable option to the people running things. They are determined to keep the current matrix of rackets going at all costs, and the certain result will be very messy collapse of economies and governments.

Industrial economies face a fatal predicament: Oil above $75/barrel crushes economies; under $75/barrel it crushes oil companies. We’ve oscillated back and forth between those conditions since 2005. The net effect in the USA is that the middle class is rapidly going broke. All the financial shenanigans aimed at propping up Wall Street and Potemkin stock markets was carried out at the expense of the middle class, now deprived of jobs, incomes, vocations, stability, and prospects. They may already be at the point where they can’t afford oil at any price. That “energy deflation” dynamic, in the words of Steve Ludlum at the Economic Undertow blog, is a self-reinforcing feedback loop that beats a path straight to epochal paradigm shift: get smaller, get local, get real, or get out.

The hypsters and hucksters won’t believe this until it jumps up and bites them on the lips. These are the same idiots who believe we are going to continue Happy Motoring by other means — self-driving, all-electric cars — and who think there is some reason for human beings to travel to other planets when we haven’t even demonstrated that we can plausibly continue life on this one.

As I averred last week, America is at the bottom of a self-knowledge low cycle in which we are incapable of constructing a coherent story about what is happening to us. The techno-industrial fiesta was such a special experience that we can’t believe it might be coming to an end. So, one option is to believe stories that have no basis in reality. As Tom McGuane wrote some forty years ago: “Life in the old USA gizzard had changed and only a clown could fail to notice. So being a clown was a possibility.”


James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

The Crash of 2015: Now Arriving at Gates 3,7,12,19…..

Off the keyboard of Thomas Lewis

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Published on the Daily Impact on August 10, 2015

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If the world economy were an airline, what we’d be seeing now is hundreds of late and cancelled flights, missing airplanes, bankruptcies, thousands of staff layoffs and millions of unhappy customers. (Whoa, that was supposed to be a metaphor!) If we were in a hub airport of this airline, every incoming flight would be a tattered, smoking airplane with flat tires and bullet holes bearing more bad news from shell-shocked passengers. Some examples:

International Arrivals:

From China: The Shanghai Composite Index lost 13.4 percent of its value in July. That’s more than a correction and would have been a crash if the government had not a) halted trading in half the stocks listed, b) forbade the selling of large blocks of shares, and c) bought most of the shares that were sold. To say that these measures are not working (except that they have temporarily frozen the crash at gunpoint) is an understatement. The Chinese Crash of 2015 is well under way. [See: Peak Insanity: Chinese Brokers Now Selling Margin Loan-Backed Securities, and “China’s Hard Landing Suddenly Gets a Lot Rougher,” among many others.

From Greece: With the Grexit crisis declared over, the Greek stock market opened last Monday, and promptly crashed; all stocks down 23 %, bank stocks 30%. By Friday it had clawed back about 20 points but was some 600 points down on the year.

From Puerto Rico: On Monday, Puerto Rico became the first U.S. Commonwealth Territory ever to default on a debt payment.

From Venezuelafood riots are breaking out in the aftermath of the economic devastation wrought by the crash of oil prices.

From Canada: Implosion of the tar-sands-oil patch and a related bursting of the housing bubble has the country in an all-but-declared recession.

From EverywhereCommodities are tanking and taking the currencies of the commodoties-exporting nations with them. As happened just before the crash of 2008, the price of virtually every industrial commodity –not just oil, but copper, coal, steel, lumber, you name it — has crashed because of drastically slowing manufacturing worldwide, especially in China.

Domestic Arrivals:

From North Dakota and Texas: America’s zombie shale-oil frackers are finally running out of gas, so to speak, after being propped up despite the crash of oil prices by 1) an avalanche of investment and credit from money handlers convinced the dip was only temporary, and 2) hedge contracts that meant they were still getting some $90 a barrel when the market was around $50. The avalanche is now going the other way and the hedge contracts are running out. Investopedia lists seven major players on the verge of bankruptcyAccording to Bloomberg Business News, North American oil producers have seen a stunning $1.3 trillion of their equity valuation vanish in one year as a result of the crash in oil prices. The sudden loss in value has hit a multitude of pension funds and insurance companies hard.

From New York: The stock market is on its knees. The Dow Jones Industrial average at the end of the week  down 700 points since July 16, and 900 points off the market peak in May. In addition to oil and energy issues, tech stocks (Apple, Twitter, Yelp, etc.), mainstays of the recent market, are down sharply. As are the up-to-now-reliable cash cows, the media stocks — Disney, CBS, Time Warner etc.

From Washington: In each jobs report the government insists that the unemployment rate is stable and job creation is improving. Look a little further and you see that each month, the number of people leaving the labor force is far larger than the number of jobs created; and that the number of jobs vanishing each month is rising fast; the number of jobs cut in the US in July, 106,000, was the highest monthly total since 2011 and up 136% from the previous month, 125% year-to-year.

From all overFactories’ output  and consumer spending are weakening as oil production drops (as even the Energy Information Administration is now admitting).

This is far from an encyclopedic review of the bad news that arrived at our gates last week. I have been assembling it for a week, and found that by the time a draft got to be a few hours old, much of the bad news had been replaced by worse news. And then of course I was waiting to hear how the Republican candidates for President would deal with these urgent and mounting threats. Still waiting. You heard anything?

Gotta go. New arrival at Gate 78.


Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

Reshuffling Eurasia’s energy deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Originally published in Asia Times on July 31, 2015

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Pipelineistan – the prime Eurasian energy chessboard — never sleeps. Recently, it’s Russia that has scored big on all fronts; two monster gas deals sealed with China last year; the launch of Turk Stream replacing South Stream; and the doubling of Nord Stream to Germany.

Now, with the possibility of sanctions on Iran finally vanishing by late 2015/early 2016, all elements will be in place for the revival of one of Pipelineistan’s most spectacular soap operas, which I have been following for years; the competition between the IP (Iran-Pakistan) and TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipelines.

The $7.5-billion IP had hit a wall for years now – a casualty of hardcore geopolitical power play. IP was initially IPI – connected to India; both India and Pakistan badly need Iranian energy. And yet relentless pressure from successive Bush and Obama administrations scared India out of the project. And then sanctions stalled it for good.

Now, Pakistan’s Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi swears IP is a go. The Iranian stretch of the 1,800-kilometer pipeline has already been built. IP originates in the massive South Pars gas fields – the largest in the world – and ends in the Pakistani city of Nawabshah, close to Karachi. The geopolitical significance of this steel umbilical cord linking Iran and Pakistan couldn’t be more graphic.

Enter – who else? – China. Chinese construction companies already started working on the stretch between Nawabshah and the key strategic port of Gwadar, close to the Iranian border.

China is financing the Pakistani stretch of IP. And for a very serious reason; IP, for which Gwadar is a key hub, is essential in a much larger long game; the $46 billion China-Pakistan economic corridor, which will ultimately link Xinjiang to the Persian Gulf via Pakistan. Yes, once again, we’re right into New Silk Road(s) territory.

Workers in Kazakhstan complete a section of a pan-Central Asian gas pipeline

 

Workers in Kazakhstan complete a section of a pan-Central Asian gas pipeline

And the next step regarding Gwadar will be essential for China’s energy strategy; an IP extension all the way to Xinjiang. That’s a huge logistical challenge, implying the construction of a pipeline parallel to the geology — defying Karakoram highway.

IP will continue to be swayed by geopolitics. The Japan-based and heavily US-influenced Asian Development Bank (ADB) committed a $30 million loan to help Islamabad build its first LNG terminal. The ADB knows that Iranian natural gas is a much cheaper option for Pakistan compared to LNG imports. And yet the ADB’s agenda is essentially an American agenda; out with IP, and full support to TAPI.

This implies, in the near future, the strong possibility of Pakistan increasingly relying on the China-driven Asian Infrastructure Development Bank (AIIB) for infrastructure development, and not the ADB.

Recently, the IP field got even more crowded with the arrival of Gazprom. Gazprom also wants to invest in IP – which means Moscow getting closer to Islamabad. That’s part of another key geopolitical gambit; Pakistan being admitted as a full member, alongside India, of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), something that will happen, soon, with Iran as well. For the moment, Russia-Pakistan collaboration is already evident in an agreement to build a gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore.

Talk to the (new) Mullah

So where do all these movements leave TAPI?

The $10 billion TAPI is a soap opera that stretches all the way back to the first Clinton administration. This is what the US government always wanted from the Taliban; a deal to build a gas pipeline to Pakistan and India bypassing Iran. We all know how it all went horribly downhill.

The death of Mullah Omar – whenever that happened – may be a game changer. Not for the moment, tough, because there is an actual Taliban summer offensive going on, and “reconciliation” talks in Afghanistan have been suspended.

Whatever happens next, all the problems plaguing TAPI remain. Turkmenistan – adept of self-isolation, idiosyncratic and unreliable as long as it’s not dealing with China – is a mystery concerning how much natural gas it really holds (the sixth largest or third largest reserves in the world?)

And the idea of committing billions of dollars to build a pipeline traversing a war zone – from Western Afghanistan to Kandahar, not to mention crossing a Balochistan prone to separatist attacks — is nothing short of sheer lunacy.

Energy majors though, remain in the game. France’s Total seems to be in the lead, with Russian and Chinese companies not far behind. Gazprom’s interest in TAPI is key – because the pipeline, if built, would certainly be connected in the future to others which are part of the massive, former Soviet Union energy grid.

To complicate matters further, there is the fractious relationship between Gazprom and Turkmenistan. Until the recent, spectacular Chinese entrance, Ashgabat depended mostly on Russia to market Turkmen gas, and to a lesser extent, Iran.

As part of a nasty ongoing dispute, Turkmengaz accuses Gazprom of economic exploitation. So what is Plan B? Once again, China. Beijing already buys more than half of all Turkmen gas exports. That flows through the Central Asia-China pipeline; full capacity of 55 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year, only used by half at the moment.

China is already helping Turkmenistan to develop Galkynysh, the second largest gas field in the world after South Pars.

And needless to add, China is as much interested in buying more gas from Turkmenistan – the Pipelineistan way – as from Iran. Pipelineistan fits right into China’s privileged “escape from Malacca” strategy; to buy a maximum of energy as far away from the U.S. Navy as possible.

So Turkmenistan is bound to get closer and closer, energy-wise, to Beijing. That leaves the Turkmen option of supplying the EU in the dust – as much as Brussels has been courting Ashgabat for years.

The EU pipe dream is a Pipelineistan stretch across the Caspian Sea. It won’t happen, because of a number of reasons; the long-running dispute over the Caspian legal status – Is it a lake? Is it a sea? – won’t be solved anytime soon; Russia does not want it; and Turkmenistan does not have enough Pipelineistan infrastructure to ship all that gas from Galkynysh to the Caspian.

Considering all of the above, it’s not hard to identify the real winner of all these interlocking Pipelineistan power plays – way beyond individual countries; deeper Eurasia integration. And so far away from Western interference.

 


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

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