Democracy

Hot Brain, Cool Brain

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Published on Peak Surfer on June 12, 2016

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  Lion and wolf cubs, when they learn to stalk prey, learn fairly quickly that they must delay the urge for immediate gratification if they are to be successful. They have to cultivate patience.

 

 
Babies who are taken to their mother's breast whenever they cry do not learn this as early. Those allowed milk only after they stop crying, and maybe even then not right away, learn patience.
 
Last month Walter Mischel gave a Long Now talk that eventually found its way to our earbuds as we bicycled through Amish country in Southern Tennessee.
 
It is wheat harvest time here and Amish men are out scything the sheaves, tying bundles, and forming them into shocks to field dry in the sun. When the wheat has cured, the shocks will be collected by horse wagon and carried back to the barn for threshing. The Amish abide in the Long Now.
 

Walter Mischel’s psychology experiment at Stanford in the 1960s took students from the Bing Nursery School, put them in a room one-by-one, gave them a choice of a cookie, mint, pretzel, or marshmallow and the following deal: they could eat the treat right away, or wait 15 minutes until the experimenter returned. If they waited, they would get an extra treat. 

Michel and his team then went behind the one-way glass and filmed for 15 minutes.

Footage of these experiments, which were conducted over several years, is poignant, as the kids struggle to delay gratification for just a little bit longer. Some cover their eyes with their hands or turn around so that they can’t see the tray. Others start kicking the desk, or tug on their pigtails, or stroke the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal. One child, a boy with neatly parted hair, looks carefully around the room to make sure that nobody can see him. Then he picks up an Oreo, delicately twists it apart, and licks off the white cream filling before returning the cookie to the tray, a satisfied look on his face.
— Jonah Lehrer, The New Yorker 


The genius of the experiment was not in discovering what percentage of children delayed gratification and how that might correlate to sex, age, race, ethnicity or income, but in following the children with a longitudinal study for the rest of their lives.

 

As they matured and became adults, the kids who had shown the ability to wait got better grades, were healthier, enjoyed greater professional success, and proved better at staying in relationships—even decades after they took the test. They were, in short, better at life.
— Drake Bennett, Bloomburg 

 

Mischel showed that a child’s ability to delay eating the first treat predicted higher SAT scores (by 210 points) and a lower body mass index (BMI). They got paid more, lived longer, and had fewer divorces. 

 

 
In 2012, researchers at the University of Rochester added more nuance to the original work.  In "Rational snacking: Young children’s decision-making on the marshmallow task is moderated by beliefs about environmental reliability," Celeste Kidd, Holly Palmeri and Richard N. Aslin tested children who had little reason to trust that the scientists would return in 15 minutes versus a control group of children who were more likely to have trust. Children raised in homeless shelters or alleys, for instance, have much less faith in the reliability of their environments, or adult authorities, than children who are raised in stable family settings surrounded by environmental constancy.
 
What do children plucked from bus station bathrooms do when told that if they delay gratification they will get a bigger reward? They eat the treat right away. While the study is too recent to track those kids for a lifetime, the long term effects of mistrustful childhood do not require a leap of imagination.
 
Kidd et al report:
The results of our study indicate that young children’s performance on sustained delay-of-gratification tasks can be strongly influenced by rational decision-making processes. If self-control capacity differences were the primary causal mechanism implicated in children’s wait-times, then information about the reliability of the environment should not have affected them. If deficiencies in self-control caused children to eat treats early, then one would expect such deficiencies to be present in the reliable condition as well as in the unreliable condition. The effect we observed is consistent with converging evidence that young children are sensitive to uncertainty about future rewards.
***
To be clear, our data do not demonstrate that self-control is irrelevant in explaining the variance in children’s wait-times on the original marshmallow task studies. They do, however, strongly indicate that it is premature to conclude that most of the observed variance—and the longitudinal correlation between wait-times and later life outcomes—is due to differences in individuals’ self-control capacities. Rather, an unreliable worldview, in addition to self-control, may be causally related to later life outcomes, as already suggested by an existing body of evidence.
 
There is also an existing body of evidence that tells us that humans are predisposed to disbelieve scientific facts, or even their own experiences, if they conflict with strongly held beliefs. This is likely the phenomenon most responsible for our failure not merely to make the cultural changes required of us to avert climate Armageddon and Near Term Human Extinction – even simple lifestyle changes like eating lower on the food chain, cutting discretionary travel, living in a smaller house and having no more than one child – but our failure to even acknowledge, as individuals or collectively, that we have a problem. We have chosen instead, to use the words of Dr. Kidd, an unreliable worldview.
 
As John Michael Greer says, human beings are like yeast. They respond to increased access to food and energy with increased reproduction. In other words, marshmallows make us horny.
 
Our cockeyed worldview has a concatenation of causes. We are products of the religious views of our parents. We inhabit a globalized culture that infantilizes us while it trains us to become dedicated followers of fashion.  We like hearing the sound of our "own" voice in our heads. Add all that up and it amounts to simmering distrust. We are not at all prepared to delay gratification. The average child in Kidd's study waited only 6 minutes.
 
In his Long Now talk and in his book, The Marshmallow Test,  Walter Mischel spoke of our internal dialog in terms of a conflict between the "hot brain" that wants to operate on impulse and take what is right in front of it, and "cool brain," that is willing to wait, willing to trust, and then to reap the greater rewards.
 
Those who find themselves more often on the winning side – whether in athletics, business, politics or relationships – are those who have cool brains. They play the long game.
 
All too often they use the inabilities of opponents to see that long game to pad their advantage. That is how they get ahead.
 
Climate change and the existential threat it holds cannot even be perceived without a long view. It needs a cool brain, not a hot one. But there is a self-reinforcing feedback being played out here that does not work in favor of our species. Climate change weirds the normal course of things. It makes the environment for everyone unreliable. It seeds distrust. It makes brains hot.
 
The question then becomes, how can we develop cool brains? Mischel suggests several techniques of ideation that can help build self-control. What is clear, however, is that the best self-control starts early in life and is built upon a foundation of trust. The environment a child experiences will affect how much trust they can invest in adults, their culture — its rules and social responsibilities — and their future. Take away stability and trust from children and the effects of that loss ripple out to very large consequences for everyone.
 
"By changing cognitive skills and motivation, we can use the cool system to regulate the hot system," Mischel says. "Is it all pre-wired? My answer is an emphatic no."
Attention control strategies and cognitive transformations/reappraisals can 'cool' the immediate temptations and 'heat' the delayed consequences is what's important.
***
The point I am trying to make is that if we are going to talk seriously about taking long term consequences like climate change into account, we've got to make the consequences hot. We have to really make them hot. And that's not easy to do.
 
One of the reasons that it is not easy to do is because that limbic system, that hot system that activates automatically when you have high stress, is there for good reason.
 
We have often wondered whether continuing to write scary tomes about our future is an effective strategy. Mischel says it is and we need more of it. But we also need to cool our brains once they have grasped hot consequences.
 
His advice is to narrow the economic class divide, teach self-control in schools, assume everyone is capable of improving their skills, and stop creating new victims of biological and social biographies.
Mischel’s main worry is that, even if his lesson plan proves to be effective, it might still be overwhelmed by variables the scientists can’t control, such as the home environment. He knows that it’s not enough just to teach kids mental tricks—the real challenge is turning those tricks into habits, and that requires years of diligent practice. “This is where your parents are important,” Mischel says. “Have they established rituals that force you to delay on a daily basis? Do they encourage you to wait? And do they make waiting worthwhile?” According to Mischel, even the most mundane routines of childhood—such as not snacking before dinner, or saving up your allowance, or holding out until Christmas morning—are really sly exercises in cognitive training: we’re teaching ourselves how to think so that we can outsmart our desires. But Mischel isn’t satisfied with such an informal approach. “We should give marshmallows to every kindergartner,” he says. “We should say, ‘You see this marshmallow? You don’t have to eat it. You can wait. Here’s how.’ “
— Jonah Lehrer
 
From the presidential campaign now playing out in the United States and similar dramas in Brazil, Philippines and elsewhere, we can surmise that a cool brain standard is not in the immediate offing. It is easy to see the distinctions between the many hot brain / instant gratification candidates and constituencies, whose policies would widen the class divide, rekindle the Cold War and heat the planet, and the rare cool brain / calm and steadfast candidates and constituencies, who want to end divisive rhetoric, level the playing field, and pursue a path to real progress in peace, justice and transformative change.
 
Voting these days is like choosing between the hot faucet and the cold faucet, but only the hot faucet works.
 
Watching the Amish gather in the sheaves we see a culture that invests in trust. Children grow up relying on adults to be steadfast, seasons to come and go, and the good earth to provide. They learn self-denial and delayed gratification early. It becomes a joyful practice because it underpins a greater love of community, and the return of community love for each member.
 
Humans are capable of these things. We are capable of designing entire societies that function this way. Whether we choose to act rationally, with self-control, and not on impulse, is simply a matter of choice.

Trump, the Unavoidable

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on May 2, 2016

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Is Political Polarization Destroying Democracy?
 

 

 

Image from Pew Research Center. The increasing polarization of the US electorate has destroyed all the previous certitudes in politics, generating the unavoidable rise of Donald Trump.

 

 


The hurricane named Donald Trump has taken everyone by surprise by going against all the established rules in politics. So far, candidates were always trying hard to avoid taking extreme positions; aiming for the center of the political spectrum was seen as the way to win, and it worked. But Trump has taken exactly the opposite strategy, always aiming to positions that not long ago would have been seen as extreme and even unspeakable. But he is having success. How can that be?

 

For everything that exists, there must be reasons for it to exist, and this universal rule must be valid also for Donald Trump. And, indeed, the rise of Trump should be seen not only as having reasons to exist, but even as unavoidable. Let me try to explain why.

In 1929, Harold Hotelling developed a model of spatial competition among firms that today is still well known and takes his name. The idea is sometimes described in terms of what the best location for selling ice cream on a beach. Assuming that customers are distributed evenly along a linear beach, it turns out that the best position for all of them is to cluster exactly at the center. Something similar holds in politics: it is called the Hotelling-Downs model. It says that, in a political competition, the most advantageous position is at the center. This is a well known and traditional political strategy; those who are at the center win elections.
 

 
So, did Donald Trump disprove the Hotelling-Downs model with his strategy based on taking extreme position? No, but all models work only within the limits of the assumptions that produced them. If the assumptions change, then the models change as well. The Hotelling-Downs model, as it is commonly described, works on the assumption that voters' preferences tend to cluster in the middle of the spectrum of political views, something like this
 
 

Image source

Imagine that the horizontal axis describes the voters' preferences about, say, war and peace. At the two extremes of the diagram there are absolute warmongers and absolute pacifists, At the center, there is a majority that takes an intermediate position; preferring peace but not ruling out war.

This was the situation up to not long ago for most issues. But the recent data indicate a remarkable ongoing transformation, something more like this:
 

(image from Pew research center)

 
You see how the preferences among American voters are splitting into two halves. Liberals and conservatives are becoming more and more different, a split that may increase in the future.

In a previous post of mine, I interpreted this trend as the result of the growing impoverishment of society, a phenomenon that increases the competition for the remaining resources. The increased polarization derives from the fact that some categories or social classes tend to find it easier to gather resources by stealing them from those who have them rather than creating them out of natural resources (e.g. banks vs. citizens or the elites vs. the middle class). If this interpretation is correct, political polarization is here to stay with us for a long time.

 

The problem is that polarization has deep political consequences. If society is split into two ideologically incompatible halves then the mechanism of the "primaries" enhances the split even more. The Hotelling-Downs model still holds, but separately for the two halves. At this point, in order to win votes, a candidate may be better off by aiming for one of the two peaks, either at the left or at the right; a position that's in practice obligatory with the primaries, where voters are split into two halves as well.

Indeed, Donald Trump has been playing king of the hill in the republican hump while pushing most of the other candidates in the Republican desert of the center. The only Republican rivals that survived Trump's onslaught are those, like Ted Cruz, who are competing with him for the same rightmost peak. Something similar has generated the relative success of Bernie Sanders on the opposite side of the political spectrum; even though that may not lead him to the nomination. So, Donald Trump was really an unavoidable phenomenon.

And now? It seems increasingly likely that Trump will obtain the Republican nomination by means of his successful polarizing tactics. But, in order to win the presidency, Trump should abandon the safe but limited hill on the right and try to conquer the center. But can he really do that after such an aggressive and divisive nomination campaign? Trump has nearly supernatural communication skills, but this may be too much even for him. The problem is that the President of the United States is supposed to be the president of everyone, not just of those who voted for him. But, we already saw a dangerous crack in this arrangement with President Obama, when a considerable number of people seemed unable to accept the idea of having a black president. As president, Donald Trump would be likely to generate similar reactions from a different section of the public. That could produce a split in society that, euphemistically, we could define as a little difficult to manage.

But, again, Trump is not the cause of anything, he is just the unavoidable result of the rising internecine competition within an increasingly poorer society. He may fail in his bid for the presidency, but the social and political factors that created him will remain. And these factors might easily lead to something much worse than Trump if the economic situation deteriorates further, as it probably will.

So, where is the institution we call "democracy" going? It is difficult to say, but, in order for democracy to exist, there must exist certain conditions, in particular a reasonably equitable distribution of wealth in society. And this is something that we are rapidly losing. As we slide down the Seneca Cliff, democracy may be rapidly lost as well.

 

 

Hillarism

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Published on Peak Surfer on April 24, 2016

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"The Irish Water crisis, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, offshore tax-avoidance havens, the collapse of ecosystems, Occupy Hong Kong, Australian greedy banks, and the rise of Donald Trump link to a single bad gene in our political DNA."

 


It is the political silly season, although these days it never seems to be otherwise. Delma Rouseff, Brazil’s heroic anti-establishment, anti-corruption President, has been impeached by the lower house on (dubious) charges of corruption, but the former, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called it more accurately a "coup d’état.”

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned after it was revealed he owned an offshore company with his wife to channel millions of kroner. British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he owned shares in a Bahamas-based trust up until 2010. In Malta, protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat for the same tax-avoidance activities.

Scores of countries will hold national elections in 2016. In January, Portugal elected Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, former leader of the Social Democratic Party and supported by the Social Democratic Party and the CDS – People's Party. Portugal, which rationalized recreational drug policy in 2001, tilted left.

Ireland, which has a gender neutral election law, requiring any election to be supported by at least 30% male and 30% female voters, in February elected a right-leaning Dáil Éireann (parliament). Sadly the coalition is still too fractious to choose a Taoiseach (prime minister)

In 2013 Ireland consolidated separate county and local water authorities into a single national utility, which proceeded to install meters everywhere and raise rates. In 2014 and 2015 local protests blocked meter installers. Four percent of Ireland's population showed up at one demonstration in Dublin. Irish Water is a wedge between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, so no prime minister for Ireland.

Legislative elections for 450 Duma seats will be held in Russia on 18 September. Polls April 10th give Dmitry Medvedev’s conservative United Russia 46%, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s right-wing anti-communist Liberal Democratic Party 11%, Gennady Zyuganov’s left-wing Communist Party 9%, A Just Russia People's Freedom Party 5% and the remainder to 10 other parties, including the Greens led by Oleg Mitvol.

In Peru, the first round on April 10th narrowed the field to Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, of the Popular Force party, and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski candidate of the Peruvians for Change party. Fujimori has a healthy lead and the second round of voting comes June 5th. Peru is interesting if for no other reason than the names of its political parties (as translated): 

Popular Force
Peruvians for Change
Broad Front
Alliance for Progress
Popular Alliance
Popular Action
Direct Democracy
Possible Peru
Hope Front
Order Party
Developing Peru
Everybody for Peru

These names seem like something you might read on post-its on the wall of the “creatives” room in an ad agency.

In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last November: "I would say around September–October is when you should expect the next election to be.” However, when parties predictably deadlocked over bills to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a bone of contention for the opposition Labor Party, Turnbull this week announced he would dissolve Parliament on May 3 and call for new elections July 2. Turnbull himself is well known to Australians and his party the clear frontrunner. But lately he has been losing ground to Labor leader Bill Shorten in the polls. Labor needs to win 21 seats to take power, a swing of 4.3%. BBC reports:

“Mr Turnbull will attempt to paint Mr Shorten as a union lackey who cannot manage the economy; Mr Shorten will say Mr Turnbull is an out-of-touch protector of greedy banks leading a divided party that stands for nothing.”

The Philippines just concluded its presidential debate cycle and is headed to national elections May 9th. At the top of the ballot is the election for successor to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. The leading candidate is the current VP Jejomar Binay. His opponents include Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago (People's Reform Party) who is suffering from stage 4 lung cancer. Called "the Iron Lady of Asia,” she was the widely expected winner of the 1992 Philippine Presidential Elections, but lost after an inexplicably unscheduled power outage during the counting of votes. The Supreme Court of the Philippines recently declared optical scanner counting devices “corrupt” and forced precincts to return to hand counts.

Santiago announced her candidacy for president in the launch of her book, Stupid is Forever, on October 13, 2015.

Other candidates include Rodrigo “Courage and Compassion” Duterte (PDP–Laban), Grace "Government with a Heart” Poe (Independent) and Mar "Continue the Straight Path” Roxas (Liberal).

While the People’s Republic of China will not be holding national elections this year, what is brewing at the grass roots in Hong Kong is QI — quite interesting.  Wikipedia reports:

The emergence of new political groups led by young activists is set to shake up the political landscape of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Indigenous, a pro-independence localist group, faired well in the February New Territories East by-election by receiving more than 66,000 votes, coming third after pan-democratic Civic Party and pro-Beijing DAB, gaining about 15 percent of the total votes. A day after the election, localist groups including Wong Yuk-man's Proletariat Political Institute, Wong Yeung-tat's Civic Passion and Chin Wan's Hong Kong Resurgence Order announced a plan to field candidates in all five geographical constituencies.

On 10 April 2016. six post-Occupy organisations, Youngspiration, East Kowloon Community, Tin Shui Wai New Force, Cheung Sha Wan Community Establishment Power, Tsz Wan Shan Constructive Power and Tuen Mun Community, political groups formed after the Umbrella Revolution, formed an electoral alliance planned to field candidates in four of the five geographical constituencies with the agenda to put forward a referendum on Hong Kong's self-determination. Hong Kong Indigenous and another new pro-independence Hong Kong National Party also stated that they will run in the upcoming election.

On the same day on 10 April 2016, the student leaders in the Umbrella Revolution, Joshua Wong, Oscar Lai and Agnes Chow of Scholarism and Nathan Law of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) also formed a new party Demosisto which was inspired by Taiwan's New Power Party which was formed by the Sunflower Movement leaders and fared well in the 2016 Taiwanese legislative election. The new party calls for referendum on Hong Kong's future after 2047 when the One Country, Two Systems is supposed to expire. The party aimed at fielding candidates in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon East, facing competitions from other new political groups while posing challenge to the traditional pan-democracy camp.

Finally, turning to the USA: With Bernie Sanders’ inability to unset the Hillary Clinton base in New York (Manhattan 66% – 33%; Westchester County 67% – 32%) on Tuesday, it looks more and more like a Clinton victory at the convention is a lead pipe cinch. Who knows? She might even have the team to out-Diebold the Trump machine. In Brooklyn, tens of thousands of voters discovered too late that they were ineligible to vote. The New York City Elections Board confirmed that more than 125,000 Brooklyn voters had been scrubbed from the voter rolls and the NY Attorney General's office is on the case. Clinton can now win less than half of the remaining primaries and still gain the required number of delegates.

Can she throw some kind of a aikido move on the Trump steamroller? We don’t yet know who controls the machines, but it is a pretty good bet it ain’t the Donald.

This past week George Monbiot penned one of the best essays of his career, although it was actually a teaser for his new book, How Did We Get into This Mess? published by Verso for £12.99.

In naming Neoliberalism as the root of all our problems, Monbiot linked the Irish Water crisis, the slow collapse of public health and education, rigged Philippine elections, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, offshore tax-avoidance havens, the collapse of ecosystems, Occupy Hong Kong, Australian greedy banks, and the rise of Donald Trump to a single bad gene in our political DNA.

Monbiot writes:

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

When George W. Bush attributed the rise of Islamic jihadis to “they hate our freedom,” what he was doing was reinforcing the neoliberal meme. As Monbiot puts it:

Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.

Hillary Clinton likes to tell audiences that because of the Affordable Care Act, "We now have driven costs down to the lowest they've been in 50 years.” Actually, health spending in the United States is higher than it's ever been, so the statement on its face is inaccurate. The U.S. spends more per capita than every other country in the OECD; and twice as much per capita as the system in France, with considerably worse average outcomes.

Monbiot writes:

The privatisation or marketisation of public services such as energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and prisons has enabled corporations to set up tollbooths in front of essential assets and charge rent, either to citizens or to government, for their use. Rent is another term for unearned income.

Unearned income is what buys elections, and not just in the United States.

What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. And that is what none of the elections in 2016 seem to be doing.

The Human Extinction Survey

SURVEY SUBMISSIONS TO DATE: 277

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on May 17. 2015

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human-extinctionEarly on when I began my journey into the World of Collapse, probably the biggest and most contentious issue that got kicked around on the Collapse forums and blogs was whether the monetary system would collapse in Hyperinflation or Deflation.  In fact here on the Diner itself this remains one of the most popular threads, with more than 30 pages of posts at this point.

Lately however, the Doom community has become more Doomerish, and what is being kicked around now is whether Homo Saps are bound for Extinction, not in some long distant future but in the Near Term.  In fact, some folks like Guy McPherson of Nature Bats Last are predicting this Extinction Level Event will occur as early as 2030, only 15 years down the line from present day.  Obviously, if you are in the process of going Extinct, the monetary issues pale before that one!  LOL.  For the purposes of this survey though, we will consider anything under a Century as "Near Term".

In an effort to get a better clue on what people think will occur here (and WHEN!?) as we move along the Collapse Highway, I worked up a little Survey utilizing yet another of the numerous Plugins I have installed lately to spruce up the Diner before I Buy My Ticket to the Great Beyond TM. 🙂

Before you take the Main Survey, if you haven't done so already here on the Diner, you may want to place yourself in on our Taxonomy of Doomer Types Survey.  If you have already done this survey before, don't do it again, it will skew the results.  I haven't got a way yet to stop Duplicates out by User.  I don't want to require email addys or any identification for these polls, as I think that would discourage readers from responding to them.

I came up with this taxonomy back in my days Blogging on The Burning Platform with Jim Quinn.  I had just 2 categories for it back then, now I am up to 4 with it.  Here's the old table though for some descriptions.  This goes back to 2011 BTW.

Topic

Doom Lite

Full Doom

 Dollar & Monetary System  We can fix the monetary system and rehabilitate the Dollar if we STOP PRINTING, feed Helicopter Ben to the Lions, Slash Spending, allow TBTF Banks to FAIL, Incarcerate the Criminal Banksters and use Precious Metals to underpin the currency.  The monetary system cannot be rehabilitated by any means, there will be a complete collapse of ALL Fiat money and financial instruments and commerce will for quite some time be mainly Barter.  PMs will only retain value in areas where there is a surplus of basic commodities.
Inflation, Hyper-Inflation, Deflation, Stagflation, DICK UP YOUR ASSFLATION WTF CARES ANYMORE?  WE ARE TOAST NO MATTER HOW IT COLLAPSES. WTF CARES ANYMORE?  WE ARE TOAST NO MATTER HOW IT COLLAPSES.
Energy To resolve our Energy problems, we must IMMEDIATELY begin building more Nukes, Drill Baby Drill for more Local Oil and build more Hydro Plants and Wind Farms, and eventually pick up the slack from lost energy from Imported Oil sources. Lost Energy from depleted Oil is Irreplaceable and it is far too late to stop an extensive Power Down throughout society which will halt most of our Transportation methods and bring down the Electrical Grid.  Our only choice is to prepare for a Low Energy footprint in the future.
 Goobermint  We can fix Da Goobermint if we Vote Out all the scumbag CONgress Critters and replace them with Honest Politicians who cannot be Bought who all demonstrate the Wisdom of the Founding Fathers and abide by the Constitution.  Said new Goobermint will be made much smaller with fewer Regulations and less Taxation, allowing Commerce to revive as the Free Market takes over.  Da Goobermint is inherently unfixable and corrupt and cannot be rehabilitated via the Ballot Box.  Only a Revolution can remove the current power structure, and the results of a Revolution will likely bring a new Goobermint as bad or WORSE than the current one.  The failure of the monetary sytem and energy systems will eventually render all large scale Goobermints unable to function, with the power vacuum filled by local Warlords and Dictators in most places.
Jobs We must stop the offshoring of Productive Jobs and rebuild our Manufacturing Base in order to build an export based Mercantilist economy with a Trade Surplus. The Industrial Model is FINISHED, even if we could rebuild Factories here in the FSofA, we wouldn’t have the Oil to run them anyhow, and there won’t be anyone here or abroad who could afford the products we build with them anyhow, because of the upward spiraling cost of energy measured in EROEI.
 Immigration  We must Seal the Borders and deport all Illegal Aliens and get FSofA Citizens to work at all the scut jobs at below Minimum Wage they currently fill to reduce Unemployment and reduce the liabilities of Aliens who are soaking up free Medical Care in the Emergency Rooms of our Hospitals.  We can TRY to seal the borders and deport the Illegal Aliens, but they will just be replaced by more home grown Citizens who are falling off the economic cliff and will be just as big a drain on the Medical System.  Besides that, at least on the Border with Mejico,  it will likely create an ever growing Shooting War with a Tsunami of Wetbacks seeking to escape an even worse situation in Mejico.
 Imperialism & Foreign Wars  We must STOP trying to be the World’s Policeman, bring all our Boys & Girls HOME and reduce the outrageous COST of maintaining the Big Ass Military.  As soon as we STOP running all our Imperialist adventures, we will basically be CUT OFF from the Foreign Oil still making its way across the Sea Lanes to our Refineries.  We also will crash just about the only type of “productive” thing we build here anymore, which are the Weapons of War and we will bring back a whole new crew of people to put on the Unemployment line.
 Free Shit Army & 30 Blocks of Squalor  We must end all transfer payments, all Welfare, Social Security and Medicaire which are all unfunded Liabilities we cannot afford.  Former Welfare recipients will be FORCED to go back to work and become Productive Citizens rather than Useless Eaters.  Old Folks will rely on their Savings and their Extended Families to take care of them in their dotage.  The minute we knock down all these social support mechanisms is the minute we turn into Egypt or Libya or all the rest of the 3rd World countries where the people with Nothing Left to Lose go BERSERK.  We don’t HAVE jobs these people could do, even if they were qualified to do any job, which they are not for the most part.  Most Old Folks have no savings, and the Extended Family died back in the 1950s for the most part.  The Medical Industry as a whole would COLLAPSE without Goobermint input, putting the Doctors, Nurses and Medical Records folks on the UE lines also.

China

 China will succeed long term because they are net creditors, have most of the Industrial infrastructure and have more Science and Math geniuses studying at Elite Universities.  China is TOAST because of outrageous Population Overshoot, a depleted Water Supply, insufficient arable land and insufficient local supplies of remaining Fossil Fuel energy.

 

FINAL

SOLUTIONS

 Boomers should be EXTERMINATED  Pigmen should be EXTERMINATED

 

The latest Compact Description of each of the new categories is below, and you can go HERE to take that Survey if you have not done so already.  However, don't navigate away from this page until you take the Survey below, which is much more comprehensive.

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the-apocalypse11

RE

To Disobey and Get Away

Off the keyboard of td0s

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Published on Pray for Calamity on November 29, 2013

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Part 1 of a Conversation with td0s


For those unaware of my biases going into this piece, I would like to lay them bare.  For one, I believe human industrial activity is destructive to life globally, through the addition of toxins to ecosystems and organisms, to deforestation, climate change, etc.  I believe that unless human industrial activity is halted, the mass extinction that this activity has already set underway, will cause ecosystem collapse and likely human extinction as well.

I also believe that human political systems and economic systems have been designed to contain within them no “legal” means of dismantling them.  This is to say for instance, that the U.S. government as it is laid out does not contain a legal and accessible path for the so-called citizens of the United States to unmake the U.S. government.  The only power “citizens” of the United States have is to vote (so long as they have not been convicted of a felony, are not in prison, have a valid address, and are above the age of eighteen) for politicians and to ask these politicians to act in a certain manner.  One cannot vote to end the U.S. government.  One cannot vote to abolish the congress or the presidency, etc.  This is the bind most people find themselves in around the globe.  National governments are allied in purpose and practice with capitalist business enterprises which all seek to exploit the natural world and the labor of the masses for profit.

If the premises I laid out are true — that human industrial activity is destructive to life on Earth, and that this activity is supported and promoted by governments which cannot by any “legitimate” methods be unmade — then people who struggle against this system must break the law; that, or acquiesce to the fate laid out for them.  My personal preference is the struggle, and this has been a topic of discussion lately in more and more mainstream circles.  Even actor Matt Damon, reading a speech by deceased historian Howard Zinn on civil disobedience, recently aired this conclusion.

In radical anti-capitalist circles, the system at large which combines state and private wealth, force, and power is often referred to as “the machine.”  It is an apropos description in that interworking human organizations are a technology of sorts, and that as in a machine, no one part is responsible for the machine’s total behavior, yet each part is necessary for it to function.

If the situation we find ourselves in which I described above is accurate, where then in this machine should those who resist it, strike?  Which “gear” as it were, would be the most vulnerable to pressure, allowing those who would fight to save the living planet and human dignity even a remote chance at success?

Often, in conversation at various levels, the “consumer” is blamed for the ills of the world.  It is the “consumer” who drives demand for petroleum products.  It is the “consumer” who purchases sweat shop labor products from low wage paying big box retailers.  This is the argument put forth by those who sit in the upper echelons of the social hierarchy, blaming those in the classes beneath them for “demanding” that corporations set out to drill new deep water wells in the ocean or blow up the mountaintops that sit above coal deposits.

It’s not surprising that those who are rewarded handsomely for sitting in a controlling position at a corporation that is responsible for massive ecological damage would shift the responsibility from themselves to those who ultimately buy their products.  It’s more disheartening when those who are themselves a part of the underclasses of society accept this blame and hand it out horizontally.

What this myth of consumer responsibility actually accomplishes is not only to create a self-chastizing public that refuses to apportion responsibility to those who actively decided to engage in destructive practice, but it also generates a motive to seek products that are supposedly less harmful in their creation.  This is the force behind “green capitalism.”  With this mode of thinking in place, capitalism is safe to continue on it’s way, and the masses who are concerned with the continually growing pace at which ecosystems are destroyed will be convinced that the solution is not in resistance to capitalism, but is in fact on a store shelf waiting to be purchased.  This is of course, ludicrous.

Capitalism has as it’s founding motivation, profit.  Profit requires growth.  As all production is sourced in the natural world, growth necessarily requires larger and larger swathes of the natural world be destroyed so they can be made into commodities to be sold for profit.  It doesn’t matter at all if the cars coming off of assembly lines are hybrids, they still require vast mining operations to access the raw materials from which they are made, they still require energy drawn from fossil fuels to be assembled and distributed, they still require for construction a vast workforce fed by mono-crop petroleum based agriculture, and they still require a large quantity of purchasers who acquire the currency for said purchase through labor in the growth based paradigm.

The argument placing the bulk of the responsibility for the destruction of capitalist enterprise on the “consumer” (in quotes because I do not find it wise to condense people to beings whose sole function is to consume) is absurd for a multitude of other reasons.  The most glaring, is that not purchasing a product will not necessarily make it disappear.  Vegans and vegetarians could easily contest to the fact that their refusal to purchase meat hasn’t actually shut down a single slaughterhouse or feedlot.  Their choice to abstain from purchasing product from an industry they despise may make them feel better, but it is not harming that industry.  Also, certain industries are backed financially by the state.  As airlines have found themselves less and less financially stable over the past decade, the U.S. government has stepped in to keep them afloat.  The arms industry is another great example of this.  Consumers do not buy depleted uranium munitions, fighter jets, or nuclear missiles, yet they exist in great numbers.  The corporations that produce them reap billions and never once have to concern themselves with public perception.  The same is true with petroleum companies who receive billions of dollars in subsidies from the U.S. government.  If a massive boycott were to commence against oil companies, the U.S. government would deem them “too big to fail,” and would step in and support them financially, as the U.S. government itself is dependent upon a petroleum driven military apparatus and economy.

Less obvious, is that the organization of society itself requires that people utilize certain products in order to survive, primarily, petroleum.  Using the U.S. as a template, before petroleum the physical layout of towns and cities was far different than it is today.  Mostly due to the age of oil, the creation of the highway system, and with the implementation of zoning concepts, people’s lives and the necessities of life became more and more spread out geographically.  The homes were built in one place, the food was grown in another place, and the jobs where people could labor to acquire currency were in another place.  A reliance on cars and semi-trucks (a reliance intentionally manufactured by for profit entities such as Standard Oil, General Motors, and Firestone Tire with the aid of government) has built in a requirement for people to depend on the internal combustion engine.  Even living in an urban area, where one may predominantly ride a bicycle (ignoring for a moment where that bicycle came from) the food people eat is grown an average of fifteen-hundred miles away from them on petroleum dependent farms, and trucked about the country until it reaches their nearest grocery store.  This is true for the clothing they wear, the water they drink, the medicines they take; it all comes from somewhere else and becomes accessible to them via a hydrocarbon.  This was a system designed for maximum profit, and no “consumer” can un-design it.  To abstain from it would mean death, or at least destitution.  The destitute fall victim to the police.

Even if we pushed on our “consumer” and barked, “Go live in the woods if you want to stop the machine of industrial capitalism!  Stop supporting it!”  Where would they go? Capitalism has sliced and diced all the land and sold it to those with access to capital, or the state has taken it for their own, so they can slowly sell it to industry.  There is no place one can legally, permanently settle without first acquiring capital, which requires participation in the system.  Not to mention, the surface water is now all poisoned with agricultural run off, mercury from coal fired power plants, etc. so even attempting to live in national parks, hiding from the park staff becomes mostly untenable, and leaves one prey for the state.

It is extremely common for people who have come to recognize the many political, economic, and cultural calamities we face to believe solutions will come from the top of the social hierarchy.  The status quo meme is that by pressuring those with political and economic power, the masses can influence the decisions made in governments and businesses for the better.  While this may occasionally be true on small issues, these issues are usually symptomatic of the greater malaise of industrial capitalism, and thus they are band aid measures only.  If we are talking about actually taking apart the power structures that are rapidly bringing us closer and closer to our demise (and simultaneously existing on a foundation of human misery) then appealing to those in power is pointless.  If they had any conscience to appeal to, they likely wouldn’t be actively making unconscionable choices to begin with.  Beyond that, even from within the system the system cannot be demolished.  The President does not have the power to unmake the executive branch of government.  The congress cannot — and would not — abolish capitalism.  It’s silly to even pontificate on how the rich and powerful would decide that they should no longer be rich and powerful, let alone go through the process of making this delusion a reality.

So where does this leave us?  If the individual’s lifestyle choices have no ability to dismantle industrial capitalism, and if even the people who hold high offices in either state or capital cannot (and absolutely would not) dismantle industrial capitalism, then are we to believe that there is absolutely no method by which this destructive system can be dismantled?  That does not seem possible.  Systems of human organization are constructs that exist in human minds only.  These constructs are made to seem real by the violence perpetuated against those who violate the edicts of the system, but they are indisputably imaginary.  We cannot accept that the systems humans invented are permanent and fixed and we are resigned to allow them to play out to their cataclysmic conclusions.

The police, I would like to offer, are one of (if not the) largest obstacles to dismantling the overarching systems of state, capital, and culture which we must remove and replace if we are to survive, and to survive with dignity.  I suggest this because without the police the system of capital could not stand.  As it exists now, the world is extremely stratified as far as wealth and access to resources are concerned.  Obviously, the wealth gap between the west and the global poor is enormous to the point of being disgusting.  Even within the west, the wealth gap is quite significant we all know.  This wealth gap is maintained they will say, by law, and law is maintained by the force of police and the penal system.  I may be belaboring this point, but for a very specific reason, namely that my stated premise at the outset of this essay is that there is no legal method of dismantling the political or economical systems.  At the very bottom of our understanding we must embrace the conclusion that the law must be broken, and that the police are the primary hurdle to strategic law breaking.

During the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement, multiple attempts were made across the United States to occupy not only parks, but buildings.  in other words, to move the struggle from public space (which was still met with violence) to “private property.”  The most notable attempt to occupy “private property” was arguably Occupy Oakland’s attempt to occupy a vacant convention center with the intent to create a community center to house the homeless, among other goals.  The police in Oakland, working on behalf of the local government in one regard, but working on behalf of the entire system of capitalism and “private property” in another, used swift and brutal violence to beat back would be occupiers.

It seems obvious to me that the point of fracture that must be exploited is at the level of the police.  Look at any resistance movement, whether a direct resistance to the claims of the owner class, a resistance to the ecological destruction and genocide of fossil fuel extraction, or even the small and constant unarticulated resistance of life in poverty (whether squatting, stealing to survive, being evicted, selling drugs, breaking zoning laws to garden, etc.) and you will find in every instance, the police are called in to exert violence against the so called “perpetrators.”  People have been throwing their bodies into the gears of the machine for generations.  Whether striking coal miners and autoworkers in the early part of the twentieth century, or environmental activists who defend forests from the canopies or who set bulldozers on fire, the will to resist capitalism’s immiseration of themselves and their communities has always been and is still real and present.

What there isn’t, at least at this time, is a willingness to overwhelm the police with a greater violence than they mete out, at least not in the comfortable west.  Perhaps at this time, this unwillingness to go on the attack against the police is wise.  After all, the consequences of failure are severe.  In time, the consequences of not going on the attack against the police may become more readily severe and thus change this attitude, but right now, other strategies to sap the police of their power should be employed.

It’s common parlance when speaking of revolution to reference the pillars of power – the ideological and social foundations which hold up any system of power – and how successful revolutions must knock out these supports.  In a popular web video called “Revolution, an Instruction Manual,” that was recently released, these pillars are referenced:

“There are three stages of revolution. They are sequential, and they correlate directly with the three pillars of power.  The first is the ideological revolution. This is where we undermine the belief systems which support their control, this is where we systematically erode at their illusion of legitimacy, their aura of power. We expose these criminals for the scoundrels that they are and we inspire discontent among those who the state depends on for its functioning. If you’re new to this, welcome to the party. It’s already in full swing, and guess what we’re winning. The powers that be have lost control of the dialogue, and they know it.  The second phase is of the revolution is strategic non-compliance or more accurately defiance. This can take many forms, and multiple approaches can be used at the same time. The goal of strategic non-compliance is to interrupt the chain of obedience for as long as possible as many times as possible, to publicize that interruption on as large a scale as possible, to document the police and or military brutality that follows and to distribute that footage far and wide. The purpose of this is to damage the ruling party’s image, because power is all about image. It’s all smoke and mirrors.”

There have been many instances in history where leaders have been overthrown.  There have been very few, if any, in which a total revolution has occurred.  Rulers and politicians have been ousted, new constitutions written, but almost all political revolutions have left some form of capitalism in their wakes, including the communist revolutions which never dissolved their states, and ultimately turned to state capitalism.  It should be stated though, that in the instances where governments have been toppled, it has often been the case that the police and security forces have eventually capitulated to the will of the masses, in essence, ceasing to fight them and either fighting alongside them, or stepping aside altogether.  This was the case in East Germany before the collapse of Soviet Communism and it was the case in Egypt before the ouster of Mubarak.  It should be noted that in the latter case, anti-Mubarak demonstrators did burn police stations, free prisoners, and take the weaponry abandoned there.

According to Mohamed Gamal Bashir, who participated in the revolution:

“Let’s not forget what happened in the days between 25 January and 28 January, this glossed over part of history,” he says. “There were constant clashes in Omraneya for example, and there were people in Talbiya trying to get to the Foreign Ministry. The fighting continued long after the political elite were tear-gassed out of the square on 25 January.” Bashir speaks of the “harafish,” whom he defines as youth with no prospects who often skirt the edge of the law. He claims that their actions led to the revolution’s success. He says that they burnt police stations in their neighborhoods in response to decades of oppression by police against the poor. “The power of this revolution came from these harafish burning police stations and from the collapse of the Interior Ministry. That was utilized by the political elites who centralized the struggle in Tahrir Square. Without this confrontation, the revolution wouldn’t have been possible, and every police station was burnt to the ground because people have been dying inside them for years.”

Delegitimizing the police sounds like a monumental task, especially in countries of privilege and propaganda such as the US.  In the US, Hollywood has carried water, so to speak, for the police for the better part of a century.  TV shows and films have consistently presented the police as selfless heroes, who even when they break the law only ever do so for the greater good of the innocent.  Reality television shows such as “C.O.P.S.” present a narrative of law breakers never getting away from the police, which not only adds to the mystification of the role of police, but makes law breaking seem impossible to get away with.  Media outlets, pundit talk shows and the like, always present police and law as sacrosanct and unquestionable, shouting down anyone who suggests that police are violent or unnecessary.  Even in cases of blatant abuse and brutality, media outlets run straight faced and supposedly “level-headed” statements about investigations into said abuse, asking the public for patience while the facts of the case are brought to light.  Usually, after such statements in which police higher ups defend actions of brutality as “justified,”  the case is swept from public view and the offending officer is returned to station.

Again, confronting the police then in the US and similar states not only means confronting their truncheons, but confronting their image.  Cop watching is an amazing tool in this regard, as more and more people post to the internet videos of police acting out violently.  But this is not enough.  It’s not enough to witness abuse of power if it is not contextualized.  The media, doing the work of the social hierarchy, will always blanket the police and their actions no matter how egregious under the context which preserves the system.  Derrick Jensen describes this very well in EndGame with his fourth premise:

“Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.”

The long and short of this premise is, “Cop hits you, he gets away with it.  You hit cop, you do time.”  There may be no immediate way to eliminate the legal consequences of defending oneself against a police officer, but the social context which surrounds this premise can change with concerted effort.

We must also acknowledge that it is not enough to decry the police for perceived misuses of their power, because this allows the police as an institution to remain valid in the eyes of the public.  Police in general must be delegitimized.  The very idea that a small group of primarily white males can use violence against anyone else, and that no one is allowed to defend themselves against this violence must be shown for the grotesque perversion that it is.  Unfortunately, the status quo perception of society requires police to maintain it, so delegitimizing the police as an institution often first requires delegitimizing society itself.  This is a difficult Mobius strip of reasoning to have to impart.  Humans left free to associate and organize as they please do not require police to maintain their social structures unless these social structures create social strata of “haves” and “have nots.”  I think it’s reasonable to assert that no person will voluntarily arrange themselves as a “have not,” and would instead leave a social organism that would make them “lesser” than others, ultimately meaning such social organisms would not exist, or would not exist for very long.  Er go, truly liberated societies axiomatically are societies which do not need police and could not have them.  Societies that require police to maintain themselves are not free societies, and are thus bound by violence.

This point is succinctly made by Earth First! Journal editor Panagioti in his essay, “The Ecology of a Police State.

He starts off by stating, “Imagine being an environmental activist in a world where police can get away with killing young people for vandalizing a fast food joint; where a government’s local law enforcers are collaborating with giant energy corporations to stifle opposition; where a sheriff demands funding for a program urging neighbors to snitch on anyone who says they hate said government.  Sadly it doesn’t take much imagination, does it? In case you weren’t inspired to click the embedded links above, they reference recent stories of these things occurring in the US.  In light of this reality, it’s crystal clear that global ecology will never be stabilized as long as the police have anything to do with it.

Further into his essay Panagioti references practical methods and attempts at weakening local police forces:

I know, many of you are nauseous just reading the words “vote” and “election,” but I’m not saying you shouldn’t be sick to your stomach. I’m saying suck it up and learn what’s going on around you. If you avoided every bathroom that smelled like shit, you’d be in a lot of pain and doing possible damage to your excretory system. Likewise, if you ignore what your enemies are doing because its unsavory to your senses… maybe you’re more of a liberal yuppie than you realized.  So hold your nose and try going to some City or County Commission meetings for starters. If you live in the New England area, local budgets might actually be something people are already organizing around. If you live anywhere else, it will probably be you and a few other Libertarian Party wingnuts in the crowd. Try and make friends with them, even if they’re drooling on themselves or foaming at the mouth. Chances are they can explain to you in simple terms how the budget works and who the players are. Oh, and try to look half-way decent. Most of these things are televised, and, for better or worse, its likely that someone will approach you in a local bar and say they saw you on the TV.

What this boils down to is finding ways to make the police less effective.  Whether through sticker and wheat paste campaigns using humor as the Otpor! movement in Serbia did, or through local referendums concerning police budgets, or sabotaging police equipment, the time to whittle away at police power is in between flare ups of massive social anger and action, so when it is crucial, police are weaker in the streets, and fewer and further between in the rural areas where devastating infrastructure usually is built.

Which tactic is best employed at which time is a decision to be made by individuals, the larger take away here being that the police and the penal system are the thin blue line between the will to move beyond capitalism, and the ability to do so.  While frightening, is there any other conclusion when one recognizes the need for disobedience?  When it becomes an accepted reality that laws must be broken for our continued survival, is it not cognitive dissonance to think attacking the law enforcement structure is unnecessary?

We won’t shop our way to a livable planet.  We won’t vote our way to a livable planet.  We won’t garden our way to a livable planet.  We will not maintain a livable planet hiding in our homes, waiting for those with power and wealth to make it so.  We will not survive if we are obedient to those who run the machine.  To be sure, even outright attacking the industries that kill the living planet may not be enough.  There is no reason to hope, only a roll of the dice that is heavily weighted against us.  But we have allies.  Hurricanes and droughts and wildfires and all of the other natural forces of destruction will grow in frequency as human civilization further destabilizes the climate.  We can let the juggernaut of calamity bowl over us, primarily the least among us, or we can act strategically to save habitat, to save life, and maybe, just maybe, have something make it to the other side of the bottleneck.

A Better Plan

Off the keyboard of John Ward

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Published on The Slog on March 27, 2015

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AD 2015: LABOUR ELECTION SLOGAN BRINGS 1972 ROBERT REDFORD SATIRE TO REALITY

LabourplanThe most vapid slogan since Cameron made ‘Change’ his slogan in 2010

“Everything – no matter how unlikely – will happen in the end,” said Marshall McLuhan nearly half a century ago. Today, the Labour Party fulfilled his prophecy; and in doing so, its leaders showed themselves to be as bereft of culture, sensitivity, creativity and sagesse as their allegedly sworn enemies, the Conservative Party.

There are two film-makers in the US I admire more than most – and it’s typical of me (the impossible to pigeon-hole nuisance) that they are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. The first – Clint Eastwood – made a movie seven years ago called The Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie. It was I think Jolie’s finest hour to date: a magnificent piece of acting about the instincts surrounding being a mother. And it was also typical of Eastwood (often branded a neo-fascist but actually just a bloke who asks questions that make pc-ers feel uncomfortable) in that it was a clinical examination of one-rotten-apple syndrome. As a study in how cultures turn to mire, its as non-didactic as anything I’ve yet seen in the cinema – apart from Ralph Fienne’s performance in The Duchess of Devonshire.

The second is Robert Redford. In 1972 he made The Candidate, in my estimation easily the most perspicacious film ever made about how the Big Party Machine grinds principled wannabe politicians into so much infertile dust. Redford is a liberal who carries the Party card on his person at all times, but so predictive has this movie been over the last 43 years, you have to admire it.

Now what both these actors-turned-directors have is searing, subtle intelligence. And both the films I’ve chosen above have things to teach the British Labour Party. The one rotten apple that sent Labour down into the sewers of tentative trimming was without question Tony Blair. And the line so amusingly parodied in Redford’s film – “A better Way” – has finally been almost exactly reproduced by the current Labour leadership as “A better plan”. More than anything I’ve seen since this ‘election’ got going, the adoption of such brainlessly insubstantial generality shows Labour up for what it is: an irrelevant grab-bag of hopelessly dumbed-down process.

Before Left-wingers switch off, let me make it clear that Labour’s wishfully unthinking wanking still has more appeal to me than the Tory sociopathy that pervades all their policies, obfuscations and Cabinet members. The thing that makes me want to slap The Ed Miller Band is their abject failure to provide The Resistance to a Tory belief system that is the side of a Kansas barn when it comes to political critique.

What are we, the electorate, to make of “A Better Plan”? Better than what? And what is the plan? When Barack Obama was first elected, I ridiculed his “Yes we can” with a post headed ‘Where’s the beef?’ It got me banned (for life, it seems) from Huffington Post…that right-on site whose owner trousered $50m and refused to pay off all those interns who’d made her rich. And I have no doubt that the Left’s tribalists will dump me once more for pointing out just how unutterably banal this latest bromide strapline is.

Prithee tell me: whatever happened to ‘Labour: your friend in tough times’? It fell by the wayside friends: I can hear the spin-doctor’s critique now:

“It’s good Ed, don’t get me wrong – I like it. But where’s the brighter future, eh, eh, eh? I mean, do you want a friend to be some kind of eunuch sympathising with you in Egyptian bondage, or do you need a tough leader taking the sort of tough decisions to get us up there in the sunny uplands of a vibrant economy competing in the globalist economy which is our inevitable fate, eh, eh, eh? Don’t be a tree-hugger Ed: be the tough guy with a better plan than Osborne but FFS steer clear of ever getting bogged down in what the plan is. I mean, am I right or am I right?”

God help us all from besuited barrow-boys like Grant Shapps.

To all those who attack my current position of ‘don’t vote’ in a UK context, I say “Name me one Party vying for my support next May that (a) grasps the cultural nature of Britain’s problem (b) has radical educational ideas that chuck away the old discredited shibboleths (c) rejects globalism (d) wants to scale down and localise the State (e) is prepared to name and shame the EU/ECB/EC axis as a bullying corporacratic perversion of the European idea, and (f) wants to legislate all the crooked lobbying money out of UK politics within a month of being elected”.

Answers on the head of a pin please to Sloggers’ Roost, somewhere in France. (The pinhead should provide ample space for your answers).

The Anti-Empire Report #134

From the Keyboard of William Blum
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Published originally in The Anti-Empire Report November 19, 2014

Russia invades Ukraine. Again. And again. And yet again … using Saddam’s WMD

“Russia reinforced what Western and Ukrainian officials described as a stealth invasion on Wednesday [August 27], sending armored troops across the border as it expanded the conflict to a new section of Ukrainian territory. The latest incursion, which Ukraine’s military said included five armored personnel carriers, was at least the third movement of troops and weapons from Russia across the southeast part of the border this week.”

None of the photos accompanying this New York Times story online showed any of these Russian troops or armored vehicles.

“The Obama administration,” the story continued, “has asserted over the past week that the Russians had moved artillery, air-defense systems and armor to help the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk. ‘These incursions indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely underway’, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said. At the department’s daily briefing in Washington, Ms. Psaki also criticized what she called the Russian government’s ‘unwillingness to tell the truth’ that its military had sent soldiers as deep as 30 miles inside Ukraine territory.”

Thirty miles inside Ukraine territory and not a single satellite photo, not a camera anywhere around, not even a one-minute video to show for it. “Ms. Psaki apparently [sic] was referring to videos of captured Russian soldiers, distributed by the Ukrainian government.” The Times apparently forgot to inform its readers where they could see these videos.

“The Russian aim, one Western official said, may possibly be to seize an outlet to the sea in the event that Russia tries to establish a separatist enclave in eastern Ukraine.”

This of course hasn’t taken place. So what happened to all these Russian soldiers 30 miles inside Ukraine? What happened to all the armored vehicles, weapons, and equipment?

“The United States has photographs that show the Russian artillery moved into Ukraine, American officials say. One photo dated last Thursday, shown to a New York Times reporter, shows Russian military units moving self-propelled artillery into Ukraine. Another photo, dated Saturday, shows the artillery in firing positions in Ukraine.”

Where are these photographs? And how will we know that these are Russian soldiers? And how will we know that the photos were taken in Ukraine? But most importantly, where are the fucking photographs?

Why am I so cynical? Because the Ukrainian and US governments have been feeding us these scare stories for eight months now, without clear visual or other evidence, often without even common sense. Here are a few of the many other examples, before and after the one above:

  • The Wall Street Journal (March 28) reported: “Russian troops massing near Ukraine are actively concealing their positions and establishing supply lines that could be used in a prolonged deployment, ratcheting up concerns that Moscow is preparing for another [sic] major incursion and not conducting exercises as it claims, US officials said.”
  • “The Ukrainian government charged that the Russian military was not only approaching but had actually crossed the border into rebel-held regions.” (Washington Post, November 7)
  • “U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove told reporters in Bulgaria that NATO had observed Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems and Russian combat troops enter Ukraine across a completely wide-open border with Russia in the previous two days.” (Washington Post, November 13)
  • “Ukraine accuses Russia of sending more soldiers and weapons to help rebels prepare for a new offensive. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied aiding the separatists.” (Reuters, November 16)

Since the February US-backed coup in Ukraine, the State Department has made one accusation after another about Russian military actions in Eastern Ukraine without presenting any kind of satellite imagery or other visual or documentary evidence; or they present something that’s very unclear and wholly inconclusive, such as unmarked vehicles, or unsourced reports, or citing “social media”; what we’re left with is often no more than just an accusation. The Ukrainian government has matched them.

On top of all this we should keep in mind that if Moscow decided to invade Ukraine they’d certainly provide air cover for their ground forces. There has been no mention of air cover.

This is all reminiscent of the numerous stories in the past three years of “Syrian planes bombing defenseless citizens”. Have you ever seen a photo or video of a Syrian government plane dropping bombs? Or of the bombs exploding? When the source of the story is mentioned, it’s almost invariably the rebels who are fighting against the Syrian government. Then there’s the “chemical weapon” attacks by the same evil Assad government. When a photo or video has accompanied the story I’ve never once seen grieving loved ones or media present; not one person can be seen wearing a gas mask. Is it only children killed or suffering? No rebels?

And then there’s the July 17 shootdown of Malaysia Flight MH17, over eastern Ukraine, taking 298 lives, which Washington would love to pin on Russia or the pro-Russian rebels. The US government – and therefore the US media, the EU, and NATO – want us all to believe it was the rebels and/or Russia behind it. The world is still waiting for any evidence. Or even a motivation. Anything at all. President Obama is not waiting. In a talk on November 15 in Australia, he spoke of “opposing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine – which is a threat to the world, as we saw in the appalling shoot-down of MH17”. Based on my reading, I’d guess that it was the Ukranian government behind the shootdown, mistaking it for Putin’s plane that reportedly was in the area.

Can it be said with certainty that all the above accusations were lies? No, but the burden of proof is on the accusers, and the world is still waiting. The accusers would like to create the impression that there are two sides to each question without actually having to supply one of them.

The United States punishing Cuba

For years American political leaders and media were fond of labeling Cuba an “international pariah”. We haven’t heard that for a very long time. Perhaps one reason is the annual vote in the United Nations General Assembly on the resolution which reads: “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”. This is how the vote has gone (not including abstentions):

Year Votes (Yes-No) No Votes
1992 59-2 US, Israel
1993 88-4 US, Israel, Albania, Paraguay
1994 101-2 US, Israel
1995 117-3 US, Israel, Uzbekistan
1996 138-3 US, Israel, Uzbekistan
1997 143-3 US, Israel, Uzbekistan
1998 157-2 US, Israel
1999 155-2 US, Israel
2000 167-3 US, Israel, Marshall Islands
2001 167-3 US, Israel, Marshall Islands
2002 173-3 US, Israel, Marshall Islands
2003 179-3 US, Israel, Marshall Islands
2004 179-4 US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau
2005 182-4 US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau
2006 183-4 US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau
2007 184-4 US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau
2008 185-3 US, Israel, Palau
2009 187-3 US, Israel, Palau
2010 187-2 US, Israel
2011 186-2 US, Israel
2012 188-3 US, Israel, Palau
2013 188-2 US, Israel
2014 188-2 US, Israel

This year Washington’s policy may be subject to even more criticism than usual due to the widespread recognition of Cuba’s response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa.

Each fall the UN vote is a welcome reminder that the world has not completely lost its senses and that the American empire does not completely control the opinion of other governments.

Speaking before the General Assembly before last year’s vote, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez declared: “The economic damages accumulated after half a century as a result of the implementation of the blockade amount to $1.126 trillion.” He added that the blockade “has been further tightened under President Obama’s administration”, some 30 US and foreign entities being hit with $2.446 billion in fines due to their interaction with Cuba.

However, the American envoy, Ronald Godard, in an appeal to other countries to oppose the resolution, said:

The international community … cannot in good conscience ignore the ease and frequency with which the Cuban regime silences critics, disrupts peaceful assembly, impedes independent journalism and, despite positive reforms, continues to prevent some Cubans from leaving or returning to the island. The Cuban government continues its tactics of politically motivated detentions, harassment and police violence against Cuban citizens.

So there you have it. That is why Cuba must be punished. One can only guess what Mr. Godard would respond if told that more than 7,000 people were arrested in the United States during the Occupy Movement’s first 8 months of protest in 2011-12 ; that many of them were physically abused by the police; and that their encampments were violently destroyed.

Does Mr. Godard have access to any news media? Hardly a day passes in America without a police officer shooting to death an unarmed person.

As to “independent journalism” – What would happen if Cuba announced that from now on anyone in the country could own any kind of media? How long would it be before CIA money – secret and unlimited CIA money financing all kinds of fronts in Cuba – would own or control most of the media worth owning or controlling?

The real reason for Washington’s eternal hostility toward Cuba has not changed since the revolution in 1959 – The fear of a good example of an alternative to the capitalist model; a fear that has been validated repeatedly over the years as many Third World countries have expressed their adulation of Cuba.

How the embargo began: On April 6, 1960, Lester D. Mallory, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, wrote in an internal memorandum: “The majority of Cubans support Castro … The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. … every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba.” Mallory proposed “a line of action which … makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

Later that year, the Eisenhower administration instituted its suffocating embargo against its everlasting enemy.

The United States judging and punishing the rest of the world

In addition to Cuba, Washington currently is imposing economic and other sanctions against Burma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, China, North Korea, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Turkey, Germany, Malaysia, South Africa, Mexico, South Sudan, Sudan, Russia, Syria, Venezuela, India, and Zimbabwe. These are sanctions mainly against governments, but also against some private enterprises; there are also many other sanctions against individuals not included here.

Imbued with a sense of America’s moral superiority and “exceptionalism”, each year the State Department judges the world, issuing reports evaluating the behavior of all other nations, often accompanied by sanctions of one kind or another. There are different reports rating how each lesser nation has performed in the previous year in areas such as religious freedom, human rights, the war on drugs, trafficking in persons, and sponsors of terrorism. The criteria used in these reports are often political. Cuba, for example, is always listed as a sponsor of terrorism whereas anti-Castro exile groups in Florida, which have committed literally hundreds of terrorist acts over the years, are not listed as terrorist groups or supporters of such.

Cuba, which has been on the sponsor-of-terrorism list longer (since 1982) than any other country, is one of the most glaring anomalies. The most recent State Department report on this matter, in 2012, states that there is “no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.” There are, however, some retirees of Spain’s Basque terrorist group ETA (which appears on the verge of disbanding) in Cuba, but the report notes that the Cuban government evidently is trying to distance itself from them by denying them services such as travel documents. Some members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been allowed into Cuba, but that was because Cuba was hosting peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government, which the report notes.

The US sanctions mechanism is so effective and formidable that it strikes fear (of huge fines) into the hearts of banks and other private-sector organizations that might otherwise consider dealing with a listed state.

Some selected thoughts on American elections and democracy

In politics, as on the sickbed, people toss from one side to the other, thinking they will be more comfortable.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

  • 2012 presidential election:
    223,389,800 eligible to vote
    128,449,140 actually voted
    Obama got 65,443,674 votes
    Obama was thus supported by 29.3% of eligible voters
  • There are 100 million adults in the United States who do not vote. This is a very large base from which an independent party can draw millions of new votes.
  • If God had wanted more of us to vote in elections, he would give us better candidates.
  • “The people can have anything they want. The trouble is, they do not want anything. At least they vote that way on election day.” – Eugene Debs, American socialist leader (1855-1926)
  • “If persons over 60 are the only American age group voting at rates that begin to approximate European voting, it’s because they’re the only Americans who live in a welfare state – Medicare, Social Security, and earlier, GI loans, FHA loans.” – John Powers
  • “The American political system is essentially a contract between the Republican and Democratic parties, enforced by federal and state two-party laws, all designed to guarantee the survival of both no matter how many people despise or ignore them.” – Richard Reeves (1936- )
  • The American electoral system, once the object of much national and international pride, has slid inexorably from “one person, one vote”, to “one dollar, one vote”.
  • Noam Chomsky: “It is important to bear in mind that political campaigns are designed by the same people who sell toothpaste and cars. Their professional concern in their regular vocation is not to provide information. Their goal, rather, is deceit.”
  • If the Electoral College is such a good system, why don’t we have it for local and state elections?
  • “All the props of a democracy remain intact – elections, legislatures, media – but they predominantly function at the service of the oligarchy.” – Richard Wolff
  • The RepDem Party holds elections as if they were auctions; indeed, an outright auction for the presidency would be more efficient. To make the auction more interesting we need a second party, which must at a minimum be granted two privileges: getting on the ballot in all 50 states and taking part in television debates.
  • The US does in fact have two parties: the Ins and the Outs … the evil of two lessers.
  • Alexander Cockburn: “There was a time once when ‘lesser of two evils’ actually meant something momentous, like the choice between starving to death on a lifeboat, or eating the first mate.”
  • Cornel West has suggested that it’s become difficult to even imagine what a free and democratic society, without great concentrations of corporate power, would look like, or how it would operate.
  • The United States now resembles a police state punctuated by elections.
  • How many voters does it take to change a light bulb? None. Because voters can’t change anything.
  • H.L. Mencken (1880-1956): “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
  • “All elections are distractions. Nothing conceals tyranny better than elections.” – Joel Hirschhorn
  • In 1941, one of the country’s more acerbic editors, a priest named Edward Dowling, commented: “The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first, the widespread delusion among the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it.”
  • “Elections are a necessary, but certainly not a sufficient, condition for democracy. Political participation is not just a casting of votes. It is a way of life.” – UN Human Development Report, 1993
  • “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain!” I reply, “You have it backwards. If you DO vote, you can’t complain. You asked for it, and they’re going to give it to you, good and hard.”
  • “How to get people to vote against their interests and to really think against their interests is very clever. It’s the cleverest ruling class that I have ever come across in history. It’s been 200 years at it. It’s superb.” – Gore Vidal
  • We can’t use our democracy/our vote to change the way the economy functions. This is very anti-democratic.
  • What does a majority vote mean other than that the sales campaign was successful?
  • Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius: “The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.”
  • We do have representative government. The question is: Who does our government represent?
  • “On the day after the 2002 election I watched a crawl on the bottom of the CNN news screen. It said, ‘Proprietary software may make inspection of electronic voting systems impossible.’ It was the final and absolute coronation of corporate rights over democracy; of money over truth.” – Mike Ruppert, RIP
  • “It’s not that voting is useless or stupid; rather, it’s the exaggeration of the power of voting that has drained the meaning from American politics.” – Michael Ventura
  • After going through the recent national, state and local elections, I am now convinced that taxation without representation would have been a much better system.
  • “Ever since the Constitution was illegally foisted on the American people we have lived in a blatant plutocracy. The Constitution was drafted in secret by a self-appointed elite committee, and it was designed to bring three kinds of power under control: Royalty, the Church, and the People. All were to be subjugated to the interests of a wealthy elite. That’s what republics were all about. And that’s how they have functioned ever since.” – Richard K. Moore
  • “As demonstrated in Russia and numerous other countries, when faced with a choice between democracy without capitalism or capitalism without democracy, Western elites unhesitatingly embrace the latter.” – Michael Parenti
  • “The fact that a supposedly sophisticated electorate had been stampeded by the cynical propaganda of the day threw serious doubt on the validity of the assumptions underlying parliamentary democracy as a whole.” – British Superspy for the Soviets Kim Philby (1912-1988), explaining his reasons for becoming a Communist instead of turning to the Labour Party
  • US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1856-1941): “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”
  • “We don’t need to run America like a business or like the military. We need to run America like a democracy.” – Jill Stein, Green Party presidential candidate 2012

Notes

  1. Democracy Now!, October 30, 2013
  2. Huffingfton Post, May 3, 2012
  3. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume VI, Cuba(1991), p.885 (online here)
  4. For the complete detailed list, see U.S. Department of State, Nonproliferation Sanctions
  5. U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2012, Chapter 3: State Sponsors of Terrorism,” May 20, 2013

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others.

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

 

BREAD, CIRCUSES & BOMBS – DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE – PART TWO

Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on November 9, 2014

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In Part One of this article I discussed the similarities between the Roman Empire and the American Empire at a high level. In this article I’ll delve into some specific similarities and rhymes between the fall of the Roman Empire and our modern day empire of debt, decay and decline. I’ll address our expansive level of bread and circuses and how defects in our human nature lead to people willingly sacrificing their liberty for promises of safety and security. All empires decline due to the same human failings and ours is no exception. If anything, ours will be far more spectacular and rapid due to our extreme level of hubris, arrogance, willful ignorance and warlike preference for dealing with foreign powers.

It seems there were a few visionary thinkers in the late 1950s who foresaw the dire course our former Republic was setting. Their writings were a prophecy and a warning. There was still time to change course and avoid the pitfalls that led to the Roman Empire collapse. In Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley warned against allowing a few amoral men using propaganda, scientific advancements, technology, brainwashing, and economics to control and manipulate a willfully ignorant populace into a dystopian dictatorship. The Soviet and Chinese dictatorships of the late 1950s are long gone, but Huxley foresaw how modern propaganda techniques would be used by the state to drown the masses in a sea of triviality, irrelevance, and consumerism.

“In their propaganda today’s dictators rely for the most part on repetition, suppression and rationaliza­tion — the repetition of catchwords which they wish to be accepted as true, the suppression of facts which they wish to be ignored, the arousal and rationaliza­tion of passions which may be used in the interests of the Party or the State. As the art and science of manip­ulation come to be better understood, the dictators of the future will doubtless learn to combine these tech­niques with the non-stop distractions which, in the West, are now threatening to drown in a sea of irrele­vance the rational propaganda essential to the mainten­ance of individual liberty and the survival of demo­cratic institutions.”

Another man of vision was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. As someone who understood the military industrial complex and the world of politics and power, he knew the danger of allowing the arms industry to dictate the foreign policy of the country. Maintaining a military empire bankrupted Rome and it is bankrupting the American empire. Eisenhower’s warning was unheeded.

“We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.”

When I was researching the similarities between the fall of the Roman Empire and our American Empire fall in progress, I stumbled across an essay written in 1956 by Ben Moreell called Of Bread and Circuses  

Toxic Bread, iGadgets, Circuses, & Zoloft

“The evil was not in bread and circuses, per se, but in the willingness of the people to sell their rights as free men for full bellies and the excitement of the games which would serve to distract them from the other human hungers which bread and circuses can never appease. The moral decay of the people was not caused by the doles and the games. These merely provided a measure of their degradation. Things that were originally good had become perverted and, as Shakespeare reminds us, ‘Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.’”Ben Moreell – 1956 – Of Bread and Circuses

There is nothing inherently evil about food, iPhones, professional sports, television, computers, music or medicine. Human beings need food to sustain them, entertainment to provide relaxation and diversion from their daily labors, and medicine to alleviate illness and prolong their lives. Only when the people allow themselves to be lured into servitude by malevolent purveyors of bread and circuses does the perversion of seemingly harmless things begin to fester and overwhelm a nation with the fetid stench of decay and decadence. The moral degeneration of the American populace, like the Roman people before them, happened slowly over time as they sold their liberty, freedom, and self-respect for full bellies, an endless array of modern day distractions, and promises from their highly educated rulers they would be taken care of and protected from all threats to their well-being, whether foreign, domestic, physical, mental, or social.

It did not happen all at once. It happened gradually over time. We allowed the weaker facets of our human nature to succumb to the pleasurable promises of a minority of power seeking manipulative men who always attempt to control and influence the majority because they believe they are wiser and deserving of riches, glory and supremacy. The greediest, most arrogant, ambitious and well educated amongst us tend to rise to the top in all societies. As Ben Franklin stated, only a virtuous people can keep sociopaths from gaining control of our political, economic and financial systems and perverting a republic built upon a foundation of free markets, liberty, and self-sufficiency.

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”Benjamin Franklin

Historian Tacitus noted, as Rome became more and more corrupt, the number of laws grew rapidly. The Roman aristocracy, through corruption and thievery achieved lofty status in Roman society. Senators and wealthy knights engaged in extensive practices of conspicuous consumption, creating palatial town houses and monumental “art villas” to demonstrate their high rank in society. The peasants sank into poverty, while being satiated with bread and circuses. And it was all done legally, just as it is being done legally today by our beloved aristocracy and their minions.

“The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” – Tacitus – The Annals of Imperial Rome

Has the proliferation of laws, rules, and regulations over the last century made us freer, safer and less corrupt?

The virtue of the American people has dissipated rapidly over the last century through their willful ignorance, laziness, apathy, vanity, greed and covetousness, while the true ruling power has consciously and intelligently manipulated the masses without them being aware they were being molded, controlled, dominated and influenced by Ivy League educated men of no conscious, empathy, or sense of decency. The paragraph below, written in 1928 by Edward Bernays, reveals the true nature of our “democracy” and our real masters:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” – Edward Bernays – Propaganda

Bernays and his disciples believed the American citizenry nothing more than a herd of irrational animals that needed to be led by enlightened despots like him and other highly educated wealthy men who knew what was best in a democratic society. The term propaganda developed negative connotations after some Germans used it so effectively during the 1930s, so modern American despots changed the term to public relations. It’s all about the message. As media tools have become more technologically advanced and the study of human psychology perfected, the members of the invisible government have achieved their goal of governing, molding, and pulling the wires that control the public mind in a way that enriches them and their benefactors while satisfying the base needs of the masses and keeping them distracted with trivialities, technological wonders, and a myriad of bogeyman threats. These men have contempt for the common man. They have contempt for the U.S. Constitution. They have contempt for free markets. And they have control of our country.

Needs, Wants & Desires

The concept of bread and circuses ties closely to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. The ruling class realizes the masses must be kept fed, clothed and housed or revolution would ensue. The human needs documented by Maslow were satisfied or not satisfied by humans prior to the 20th century. Once the ruling class gained control of the monetary system through their jurisdiction over the Federal Reserve and the fiscal system through their manipulation of taxes and spending, they were able to bribe the masses with their own money. The rise of the welfare state has not reduced poverty or boosted the standard of living of the poor. It has enslaved tens of millions at the basic human needs level. Once those in power had successfully bribed the masses with bread (SNAP), shelter (subsidized housing), subsistence (unemployment compensation & welfare), security (Social Security) and safety (Medicare, Medicaid), it was only necessary to keep them distracted with circuses to efficiently teach them to love their servitude.

“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.” – Aldous Huxley – Brave New World

abraham-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs1.preview.jpg

The invisible governing authorities don’t want the masses to actually satisfy their psychological and self-fulfillment needs. The last thing they want is an educated, aware, critical thinking, independent, courageous, self-reliant, civic minded populace questioning the motivations of their keepers. This is where the corporate fascists who control the mass media propaganda machine and the sickcare industrial complex have combined forces to create a painless concentration camp of prisoners enjoying their servitude and happy to sacrifice their liberty for perceived safety. An uneducated, obese, sickly, depressed, overly-medicated populace is not a threat to the ruling class. They have been conditioned and pharmacologically sedated to such an extent the governing class feels indestructible, displaying arrogance and hubris in dangerous doses.

“There will be in the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it.” – Aldous Huxley

The concept of voluntary servitude has been a constant theme across the ages as most people want to be led, told what to do, and will not question or contest those in authority. Liberty and freedom require effort, sacrifice, honor and a people with a strong moral character. The Roman people succumbed to tyranny by abandoning their liberty to despots for a full belly and grand spectacles. The American people have succumbed to modern day banker, billionaire and politician oligarchs for a belly full of toxic corporate processed food, cable HDTV with 600 stations, iGadgets, a never ending supply of cheap Chinese produced crap at big box retail stores, Facebook, Twitter, 24 hour drive thru Dunkin Donuts joints, and an endless array of professional sporting events, all paid for with an infinite supply of cheap consumer debt from the Wall Street fraud machine. We live in a warfare/welfare surveillance state built on a foundation of debt, consumerism, and delusion, with no tears. We’ve learned to love our servitude.

French philosopher Etienne de La Boetie captured the degradation of the once noble Roman people five centuries ago, and his words ring true today as the American people have foolishly relinquished their liberty to a corporate aristocracy that has bankrupted the nation, debased the currency, pillaged the middle class and set in motion an irreversible decline of the empire.

“Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books. Roman tyrants invented a further refinement. They often provided the city wards with feasts to cajole the rabble, always more readily tempted by the pleasure of eating than by anything else.

The most intelligent and understanding amongst them would not have quit his soup bowl to recover the liberty of the Republic of Plato. Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, ‘Long live the King!’ The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them.” – Etienne de La Boétie – Discourse on Voluntary Servitude – 1548

We are fools to not realize the governing authorities who benevolently distribute bread and entitlements to the masses have already taken the money at gunpoint from the people, while syphoning off their cut, favoring their courtesans and taking away our liberties and freedoms. H.L. Mencken, who could match de La Boetie in contempt for the ignorant masses and corrupt politicians, understood our democracy was destined for the trash heap of history.

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” – H.L. Mencken – Notes on Democracy

In Part Three of this article I will address how the creation of the Federal Reserve has led to a century of currency debasement, mindless consumption and endless warfare, while impoverishing the masses and setting in motion the dynamics of empire collapse.

Fork the Morton! DON’T VOTE!

logopodcastOff the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on November 4, 2014

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What IS a “Morton’s Fork“?

Morton’s Fork is a logical dilemma in which people are faced with two equally bad options. You could think of it as being “between the devil and the deep blue sea,” as the saying goes. Unless the victim of the dilemma manages to find an exception, the outcome of the situation will most probably be undesirable, as there can be no good outcome from any of the choices the victim is faced with. Many people find themselves struggling with Morton’s Fork at some point in their lives.

This term is named after Lord Chancellor John Morton, who worked in England under Henry VII. According to Morton’s logic, wealthy subjects of the Crown obviously had money to be spared for taxes, and poor subjects were clearly sitting on savings, so they could also bear high taxes. Rich and poor alike found themselves at the points of “Morton’s Fork,” paying high taxes.

Like many logical dilemmas, Morton’s Fork can have interesting implications. It sometimes comes up in game theory, with the game of bridge actually having a move called “Morton’s Fork” after the dilemma which inspires it. Mathematicians and people who study human behavior are often interested to see how people respond to such dilemmas, and how they rationalize their behavior if the outcome turns out as poorly as expected.

Mortons-Fork.jpgSnippet:

…Tomorrow is the First Tuesday in November, aka “Election Day” when Amerikans get to pick the scum of choice of the Demopublican Party Machines as their new leaders. I should say new Puppets not Leaders, because every last person with any chance whatsoever of actually getting elected is PWNed by so special interest, and absolutely none of them work in the interest of the people who actually vote for them, they work for whoever it is that pays their campaign bills, which these days are staggering.

About the only people who do well with the election cycle are the media companies, for the last month the Ads have been non-stop up here for the 2 jackasses running for Goobernator, and 2 other jackasses running for Senator.

The ads don’t talk about anything substantive, they are all attack ads on Buzz Issues like Abortion and local Budgets and Taxes, and on the latter 2 you can be sure whoever does get elected will not balance their budget and your taxes will go up too. Why would I vote for any of these guys? They don’t have a shred of credibility, nor does Da Goobermint either State or National.

In fact, I can go right back to before I even was old enough to vote, and back then absolutely nobody running for office was the least bit credible either, so this is nothing new. As a result, I never bothered to vote, it’s a complete waste of your time. It doesn’t matter at all who gets elected, because they don’t run the show, the folks behind the curtain shoveling the money at them run the show.

It’s quite easy to see how utterly stupid the whole process is, good grief we elected an ACTOR (and not a very good one) in Ronald Rayguns TWICE. WTF does an Actor know about Law or Goobermint?

Then you have your Family Dynasty people who get elected Generation after Generation…

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US “Democracy” no different than Chinese “Democracy”

Off the keyboard of Anthony Cartalucci

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Published on Land Destroyer on October 7, 2014

Hong Kong, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

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US-style “Democracy” No Different than Beijing’s Version, US Labor Activist

October 7, 2014 (Tony Cartalucci – LD) – With the “Occupy Central” protests in Hong Kong still ongoing, the movement’s leadership has been exposed as completely backed, funded, and directed by foreign interests, particularly those of the US State Department through its National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its subsidiary the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

At the core of “Occupy Central’s” demands, as articulated by co-organizer Martin Lee during his trip to Washington D.C. with Anson Chan earlier this year, is the belief that Beijing should honor the demands made by parting British occupiers who held Hong Kong territory for nearly a century and a half. This includes the “one nation, two systems” approach that the US and British hope will allow Hong Kong to be used to “infect” mainland China with a Western controlled political orders and institutions.

“Occupy Central” insists that they simply want “universal suffrage” and “total democracy” instead of allowing Beijing to approve who can and cannot run in elections to be held in 2017. This implies that the alternative to Beijing’s arrangements would be “free and fair” elections. In reality this simply is not the case. In reality, instead of Beijing putting up candidates for Hong Kong’s elections, the next most influential political backers would vet and put forward candidates – not the Hong Kong people -but rather those foreign interests in Washington, upon Wall Street, and in the City of London who are currently backing “Occupy Central” and many of the leaders who would contest upcoming elections.

The notion of “free and fair elections” is one of absolute naivety. Former Berkeley labor activist Michael Pirsch now residing in Thailand shared his thoughts on what he sees as somewhat hypocritical or perhaps misguided thinking among “Occupy Central’s” genuine followers – misconceptions “Occupy Central’s” US-backed leadership is all too happy to exploit.

Pirsch first points out the ultimate problem with the US backing political movements in foreign countries, stating:

Are there any foreign countries promoting democracy and human rights inside America? There are none, it is not allowed. However, America, through the National Endowment for Democracy disburses millions of dollars in countries in order to effect regime change to a regime much friendlier to America’s policy goals of controlling the planet. 

Pirsch then compares Beijing’s policy of vetting candidates for Hong Kong’s elections to the US primaries, in which big-business ultimately decides who can and cannot run because of the immense financial means required to stand in an election:

It seems to me, to borrow from Noam Chomsky, China is run by “criminal communists” and America is run by “corporate criminals”. In America we have the hidden (financial) primary. where potential candidates demonstrate their ability to attract millions or hundreds of millions for campaigns ranging from local level to national level. If the candidate is unable to attract shiploads of dollars their candidacy is not viable. Nearly all this money comes from the “criminal capitalists”. We are allowed to choose from only those who swear to protect the financial criminals.

In Hong Kong, the system is much the same, except that it is the “criminal communists” who choose the candidates. Both systems provide the same outcome: there is no benefit to the citizens of either Hong Kong or America.

Ultimately, Beijing’s style of “democracy” is no different than the US-style “democracy” “Occupy Central” protesters are rallying for. Of course, Pirsch is only scratching the surface. Support for US candidates, and in fact the functioning of the whole electoral process also hinges on how that process is presented to the public through the media. The media, just like the American primaries, are tightly controlled by advertisers and sometimes directly by corporate-financier interests themselves – just as Martin Lee and Anson Chan complained was the case in China in regards to Beijing’s control over the political process there.


The Solution is Pragmatic, Not Political 

Indeed, at the end of the day, the only choice Hong Kong seems to have at the moment is a political process manipulated and controlled by foreign interests upon Wall Street and in London, or by Beijing in China. The fallacy of believing “democracy” can bring about progress or power to the people is laid bare by these two relatively lacking choices.

Image: Believe it or not, growing your own food or visiting your local farmers’ market is more revolutionary and constructive than burning down your own city and killing security forces. Real progress stems from pragmatism, not politics. 

The problem ultimately is large monopolies of corporate-financier and political power, be they of a Western nature or of Chinese origin. The solution is not participating in political rackets meant to give the illusion of self-determination, but to diminish and decentralize those monopolies pragmatically and locally so that people can better determine their own lives by directly controlling the infrastructure necessary for modern, peaceful, and prosperous lives.

Monopolies must begin being dismantled globally, regionally, nationally, provincially, and finally locally. For the people of Hong Kong, then, their next move is simple – expose and oppose the global monopolies that seek to co-opt their destiny via their agents leading the “Occupy Central” movement today. Then they can begin dealing with their national problem in Beijing tomorrow – and do so constructively and pragmatically – not divisively and politically.

China, or any other nation for that matter, to move forward pragmatically and progressively, must possess an educated, technically competent, pragmatic population that believes in evolution, rather than city-burning “revolution.” The process of devolving power away from massive monopolies of corporate-financier and/or political power can take the form of an orderly transition, leveraging modern technology and innovative solutions to begin building up local infrastructure as massive monopolies are slowly diminished. It need not manifest itself in protests, referendums, or any other process of selecting representatives to implement solutions the people themselves are more than capable of organizing and executing.

The “Occupy Central” protesters would serve Hong Kong best if they abandoned their clearly compromised, exploitative leadership, their disruptive tactics, and instead set up direct action committees that pursued pragmatic community projects to improve education, infrastructure, business, health, and environmental concerns.

 

Libya’s Destruction a Warning to Egypt, Syria, & Ukraine

Off the keyboard of Anthony Cartalucci

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Published on Land Destroyer on July 27, 2014

Democracy comes to you - bomber

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July 27, 2014 (Tony Cartalucci – NEO) – RT’s article, “90% of aircraft destroyed at Tripoli airport, Libya may seek international assistance,” reported that:

Libya is considering a deployment of international force to re-establish security amid a flare-up of violence in Tripoli which saw dozens of rockets destroy most of the civilian aircraft fleet at its international airport.

“The government is looking into the possibility of making an appeal for international forces on the ground to re-establish security and help the government impose its authority,” a government spokesman, Ahmed Lamine said in a statement.

The “democratic tomorrow” promised by NATO in 2011 has been realized – that is – in the form of predictably fraudulent elections accepted by no one, leaving a power vacuum apparently to be settled through increasingly violent armed conflict. Perhaps most ironic of all is that these conflicts are being waged between NATO’s various armed proxies it used to carry out the ground war while it bombarded Libya from the air over the majority of 2011.

NATO’s Proxies Cannibalize Each Other  

In May 2014, fighting in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi has left scores dead, many more injured, and residents fleeing for their lives as what the Western media called a “renegade general,” waged war on “Islamist militants” within the city. Reuters in its article, “Families evacuate Benghazi as renegade general vows more attacks,” claimed: 

The self-declared Libyan National Army led by a renegade general told civilians on Saturday to leave parts of Benghazi before it launched a fresh attack on Islamist militants, a day after dozens were killed in the worst clashes in the city for months.

The renegade general is Khalifa Haftar (sometimes spelled Hifter), who lived in the United States – outside of Langley Virginia – for years allegedly being groomed by the CIA until his eventual return to Libya in 2011 to lead ground forces in NATO’s proxy invasion. The Business Insider would report in its 2011 article, “Is General Khalifa Hifter The CIA’s Man In Libya?,” that: 

Since coming to the United States in the early 1990s, Hifter lived in suburban Virginia outside Washington, D.C. Badr said he was unsure exactly what Hifter did to support himself, and that Hifter primarily focused on helping his large family. 

So a former Qaddafi general who switches sides is admitted to the United States, puts down roots in Virginia outside Washington, D.C. and then somehow supports his family in a manner that mystifies a fellow who has known Hifter his whole life. Hmm. 

The likelihood that Hifter was brought in to be some kind of asset is pretty high. Just as figures like Ahmed Chalabi were cultivated for a post-Saddam Iraq, Hifter may have played a similar role as American intelligence prepared for a chance in Libya.

The irony is that many of the sectarian militants Hafter was fighting in Benghazi were the same militants Muammar Qaddafi was fighting for decades as leader of Libya, and the same militants that NATO armed and abetted alongside Hafter in the overthrow of Qaddafi in 2011.

Regarding his campaign in Benghazi, Hafter claimed that it would continue until “Benghazi is purged of terrorists,” and that, “we’ve started this battle and will continue it until we have reached our goals. The street and the Libyan people are with us.” Hafter’s sentiments echo those of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, only then, the Western media denied the existence of terrorists that had been based in Benghazi for decades and portrayed Tripoli’s operations there as a “massacre” of “peaceful pro-democracy protesters.”

NATO Destroyed Libya 

The very atrocities cited by NATO to begin their “humanitarian intervention” in Libya in the first place, immediately began unfolding in reality at the hands of NATO and its proxy forces themselves. Entire cities were encircled, starved out, and bombarded by air until they capitulated. In other towns, entire populations were either exterminated, evicted and eventually driven beyond Libya’s borders. The city of Tawarga, home to some 10,000 Libyans, was so utterly uprooted, it was referred to by the London Telegraph as a “ghost town.”
Since the fall of Tripoli, Sirte, and other Libyan cities that resisted NATO’s proxy invasion, little in the way of basic stability, let alone the “democratic revolution” promised by NATO and its collaborators, has returned to Libya. The government in Tripoli remains in chaos, its security forces divided amongst themselves, and now a “rogue” CIA asset is conducting a full-scale military operation against Benghazi, including the use military aircraft, apparently without Tripoli’s approval.
Years after the “revolution’s” conclusion, Libya remains a hobbled nation sliding backwards. The many achievements of Muammar Qaddafi’s government have long since been undone, and it is unlikely they will be restored let alone surpassed in the foreseeable future. NATO has effectively upturned and destroyed an entire nation, leaving it to not only burn while Western corporations pillage its resources, but to use as a template for future extraterritorial adventures in Syria, Egypt, Ukraine, and now Iraq.
The Libyan Model: Egypt, Syria, Ukraine Beware 
Just as in Libya, “revolutions” have tried to take root in Egypt, Syria, and Ukraine. The same narratives, verbatim, crafted by Western policy think tanks and media spin doctors for Libya are now being reused in Egypt, Syria, and Ukraine. The very same non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are being used to fund, equip, and otherwise support opposition groups in each respective country. Terms such as “democracy,” “progress,” “freedom,” and fighting against “dictatorship” are familiar themes. The protests were and are each accompanied by heavily armed militants also fully backed by the West.In Syria, the pretense of protests has been dropped as has the notion of “freedom fighters.” The Western media now spends much of its time spinning and justifying why NATO and its regional partners are funding and arming sectarian militants, including Al Qaeda, in the overthrow of the Syrian government.
In Egypt, there is still some ambiguity, as there was in 2011 regarding Syria, as to who the protesters really are, what they really want, and on which side of the increasingly violent conflict playing out there the West falls. Careful analysis reveals that just as the Muslim Brotherhood was used in Syria to set the stage for the now devastating war raging there, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is doing likewise against Cairo.
Finally, in Ukraine, the “pro-democracy” “pro-European Union” “Euromaidan” protesters have been revealed as Neo-Nazis, ultra-right, and nationalists who regularly resort to violence and political intimidation. Just as in Syria in 2011, and in Egypt now, low intensity armed clashes are increasing in frequency and intensity toward what may end up as a proxy war between NATO and Russia in Eastern Europe.But for these three nations, and the participants on all sides, Libya’s current state must be examined. These “revolutions” have but one logical and predictable conclusion – the plundering, division, and destruction of each respective nation, before it is folded into Wall Street and London’s growing supranational order to be exploited indefinitely as much of the US, UK, and EU already are today. For those wondering what will become of Egypt, Syria, or Ukraine, should NATO succeed, one needs only to look at Libya. And for those that supported the “revolution” in Libya, they must ask themselves if they are they satisfied with its final outcome. Do they wish this outcome upon Egypt, Syria, and Ukraine as well? Do they imagine that NATO’s plans for each of these countries will end any differently? Why?

Black & White Swan

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

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Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on May 27, 2014

Europe-Night-Space

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A couple of years ago I found myself driving through the industrial wastelands that make up the nexus between Belgium, Holland and Germany. The flat landscape rolled by under a heavy grey sky as I towed a trailer filled with our furniture from one part of Europe to another. I had passed through this area on several occasions before, and it was always my least favourite part of the journey due to the sheer dispiriting glumness of the scenery. It’s a landscape of business parks, factories and factory farms, truck stops and power stations. Rivers are corseted by concrete and horizons are cluttered with the droopy spider webs of power lines. Just to the north lies Rotterdam, Europe’s largest container port and, until recently, the world’s busiest, and to the south is Maastricht, famed as the place where the EU was birthed but nowadays a place where they are developing synthetic meat grown in test tubes. We are, of course, within the magnetic range of Brussels itself and the motorways around it buzz with high powered people driving high powered cars.
From space this region is lit up with a particular intensity. It’s one of the most densely populated and industrialised places on Earth, marking it out as an economic power house. But down at ground level, apart from the occasional bird in the sky, the only other life forms visible in this landscape were some peculiarly muscular cows that stood around dociley in fields besides the motorways. Until I saw the swan. I was queuing up with all the other cars and lorries to pay a tunnel toll when I glanced out of the window and saw it lying in a concrete drainage culvert. It was an adult, perfectly white and immaculate but for a black scorch mark on one of its wings. Above it were the high voltage cables that had ended its life.
For some reason, whenever I think of the the EU I think of that electrocuted swan lying there on the concrete. No doubt, later on, a municipal sanitation operative would have come along with a machine and taken away the dead swan along with the fast food cartons, cigarette butts and bottles of urine that truckers routinely toss out of windows across Europe.
I have been thinking about that black and white swan again recently with all the brouhaha about the latest European elections. There’s been a lot of talk about shocks and landslides and earthquakes, not least here in the UK where the anti-EU UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party) managed to get around a third of the vote from people who could be bothered to turn off their televisions for fifteen minutes, making them the clear winners. Elsewhere across Europe there were more ‘extremist’ wins, including the Front National (FN) in France and the Danish People’s Party (DPP) in Denmark—although to be fair they have been a force for a long time. Across the board, in country after country, voters elected to deliver a blow to the established parties. People, it seems, are pissed off.
And is it any wonder? Day after day we are told by a compliant media that the economy is in great shape—that we’ve never had it so good. And yet day after day more and more people find themselves unable to pay their rent, put food on the table or get a job that pays more than subsistence wages. Even if you manage to get a job, you’ll more than likely be put on a zero hours contract, meaning that you are officially employed but will be unable to claim benefits should your manager decide to put you on one hour a week. Many thousands, if not millions, have tried to escape this new form of slavery and have been forced to declare themselves as self-employed. But being self-employed offers even less of a safety net than a zero hours contract, even though it is good news for the politicians who can crow on about a ‘nation of entrepreneurs’ and falling unemployment statistics.
Anyway, for me, the fascinating thing about this latest election was the way the British media (mis)handled UKIP. The two mainstream media news sources that I read most regularly are the Guardian, which likes to see itself as progressive and attempts to squeeze most news stories through the prism of gender politics, and the Telegraph, which is properly right-wing nasty and sounds like a crazed and drunken homophobic uncle forced to attend a gay wedding on a wind farm. I sometimes read the amusingly-named Independent, if I haven’t anything better to do, and occasionally torment myself by looking at the BBC, whose main objective seems to be to bore you to death. If I watch TV news, it’ll be on Channel 4, which sometimes has some interesting documentaries.
And here’s the amusing thing, every single one of these MSM news sources tried to bring down UKIP, with disastrous results. Just look back at any of the stories published a week or two ago about UKIP or its leader Nigel Farage and you can get your UKIP bingo cards out. The cards feature the following words: racist, fruitcake, sham, anti-gay, xenophobic, fiasco, coward, gaffe, anti-immigrant and farce. It became quickly obvious that the MSM right across the spectrum (with the exception of the populist tabloids such as the Mail and the Sun) were out to get UKIP, which represented a threat to their respective constituencies, and had decided to work as a pack to bring this maverick down. No stone was left unturned to dig up dirt on Nigel Farage, UKIP or and of his merry band of followers, including a dotty Greek billionaire who believed that humankind would perish because women were allowed to wear trousers. Comments sections were flung wide open underneath online articles and much rabid hatred ensued, with ‘fascist’ being the most over-used word.
The thing was, every time such an attack took place, it looked more and more like our Fourth Estate was trying to protect the established powers that be, and the mask slipped just a little bit further. And every time it did so, a few more people concluded that if the media were so anti UKIP then UKIP might just be the party for them. Which begs the question, what is the point of having a media if all it does is amplify the status quo?
Now, at this point, some people might think that I’m a UKIP supporter. I’ll put your mind at rest and reveal that I voted for the Green Party—the only party that offers even an iota of a chance at making our predicament a little less painful. But the same media machine that accidentally propelled UKIP to a win was able to crush the Greens into the dust, as they always do, by never mentioning them. If they ever do get a mention we are effectively told that the Greens are not a serious party because they don’t embrace limitless capitalism. And they only have a single issue, which is, er, everything that’s important.
And so the polite, sandal wearing, permaculture-practicing Greens were once again trounced (although not the one I voted for, who was elected to the European Parliament) and the beery, loud mouthed ‘normal blokes’ UKIP were propelled to victory.
There has been plenty of wailing, but I feel strangely reassured by the result. Democracy seems to be working, for once. I hope I don’t lose any friends for saying this, but I have to say what I believe in. I don’t think it does any good screaming ‘fascist’ at people who voted for UKIP or accusing them of being ‘racists’ for wanting to limit the number of people coming into the UK. To do so is immensely disrespectful of people who have to put up with real fascists and dictators and who live in fear of being dragged from their beds in the middle of the night and disappearing without a sound—a fate that happens to thousands of people around the world every year.
So, I’m not for UKIP, but I am all in favour of calling in the EU and examining what exactly it is that we’re signing up for. I know why a lot of people hate UKIP, and it has more to do with hating the types of people who vote for them than the actual party. Comparisons with Hitler are not particularly useful as anyone with even a scant knowledge of history will know that fascism doesn’t flourish easily on British soil (it prefers continental Europe—one of the reasons I moved back here). The Greens should learn a thing from UKIP and be the ‘nice’ anti EU party, such as Italy’s 5 Star Movement has done.
I haven’t always been against the EU because, like most people, I bought the idea that it was all about peace and stability. More importantly, in the minds of most, it was all about not having to visit a bureau de change when you went on holiday. And I’ve always been utterly European. I’ve lived in five different European countries and speak several of its languages. My family spans three countries and I don’t think I could live on any other continent.
When I was doing my gap year at university in 1992 I worked for the the Treasury in Westminster. I had to write my economics dissertation that year and my tutor suggested I write about monetary union in Europe. The Treasury library was more than happy to order me a load of books (at the taxpayer’s expense) detailing the ‘inevitability’ of full monetary union, and my tutor suggested that he’d give me a good mark no matter how badly I’d written it ‘As long as you conclude the inevitability of full monetary union,’. I did and he did.
Ever since then we’ve been swept along on a railroad of propaganda and fake ‘choices’. The EU does not want member states to hold referendums on important matters as was so clearly demonstrated early on with the Danish referendum where they voted ‘no’ (and the subsequent referendum where they were more or less ordered to vote ‘yes’) and the later enlargement treaties. In fact, it is acting more and more like a federal dictatorship. As far as I’m aware, nobody in the mainstream media has focussed on the fact that the EU effectively got rid of two democratically-elected heads of state (in Greece and Italy) and installed technocratic puppets to enact austerity. The patient and tolerant people in Spain, Portugal and Greece are putting up with the kind of grinding austerity without end that people in northern Europe probably wouldn’t be able to bear (although we’ll soon have to). And I’m still waiting for the media outrage over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between itself and the US which would effectively hand over control of democratic rights to transnational corporations.
That last one bears repeating. The EU and the US are currently trying to impose a trade deal on us in the name of growth that would take away our basic democratic rights. Monsanto will be able to sue your government if they decide to ban roundup. Big pharma will be able to take your country to court if it tries to protect children’s health by, say, reducing the availability of sugary drinks.
Is that the kind of brave new world that we want? It makes my head spin that progressives and people on the left still see the EU as a benign entity that is somehow a force for good. It might have been once, but to think that it still is is to place blind faith in the idea that power does not somehow beget more power. And yet even when it was regarded as ‘benign’ by ‘pro-Europeans’ it was still enacting the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy—possibly two of the most environmentally destructive and famine-inducing policies in world history. We Europeans enjoyed swimming in milk lakes and climbing grain mountains while people in Africa starved as a result and the seas were emptied of marine life.
I, for one, enjoyed the early years of the EU. I remember the joy of getting my first red European passport, and the thrill of passing through an open border without having to show that passport. I also took great delight in seeing some of our home-grown predators have their wings clipped by the EU and seeing victims of power abuse find redemption in the European Court of Human Rights. I proudly called myself a European and fervently hoped that Britain would also adopt the euro currency. You could hop on a sleek train in London and get off in a short time later in Paris. It all seemed so modern and progressive.
There were, of course, some people shouting ‘danger!’ from the rooftops—but I didn’t listen to them. These people got lumped in with the xenophobes, the Little Englanders and the crusty British cargo culters who wore navy blazers and swilled scotch in country golf clubs.
But has the EU now ironically become a threat to Europeans themselves? An optimist would say that it brings people together, promotes growth and acts as a bulwark against other superpowers. But step outside the mainstream media for a moment and you might equally conclude that it has transformed into a morally bankrupt powerhouse of rapacious capitalism—an engine for keeping northern Europe economically afloat at the expense of the southern Europeans. Remember, Mario Draghi pledged to do ‘whatever it takes’ to keep the euro currency from imploding, even if that means toppling democratically elected leaders, pumping billions of euros into bankrupt financial institutions and selling voters to corporate interests for a fistful of dollars. Just what kind of democracy is this?
If Greece, for example, were allowed to leave the euro and bring back the drachma its problems would evaporate almost overnight. Its new (old) currency would be correctly valued by the markets, making its exports much more competitive. Tourists would flock there to get a good value holiday, people would buy Greek products again and, equally importantly, Greeks would feel like they were in charge of their own affairs once more and would not feel compelled to support parties like the Golden Dawn. But, of course, the ECB will not allow that to happen. The euro must not be compromised in any way, shape or form. And so the Greeks get poorer, are forced to sell their beaches and national treasures just to pay the interest on their unpayable loans, and the Germans retain their ability to earn money from China and the media says things like ‘the worst is over’ and ‘the crisis has been resolved’. And the anger and frustration spreads and grows like a cancer.
So people have voted UKIP, FN and DPP out of frustration at not being listened to. These things happen with predicable regularity when the economic conditions turn sour. Charismatic leaders attempt to scapegoat minorities and make all sorts of promises, even if they aren’t able to deliver on them. People are fed up with the usual bunch of clowns harping on about economic recovery and change, egged on by their media lapdogs, and promising nothing more than business as usual while enriching their pals at their expense. And now, in the European Parliament, we have an unholy rabble of people who want to expand the EU standing next to people who want to destroy the EU as well as the usual environmentalists, conservatives, communists and socialists. Talk about an odd mix.
So what do all these ‘political earthquakes’ add up to? Could it be the first faint rumble of the beginning of the end for the grand European project? Was the EU just a freak expansion of power straddling the pinnacle of the age of cheap oil? Will people rise up and claim back their democratic sovereignty before it is too late to do so? We can only hope so because if the EU carries on much longer in its present configuration it can only end in one thing, and that was the very thing its creation was supposed to prevent.

Can Democracy Work in the Absence of Sufficient Sapience?

Off the keyboard of George Mobus

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Published on Question Everything on October 5, 2013

human-evolution

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What is Going On in Washington DC?

If it weren’t so tragic it would be funny. I’m not worried about whether or not the government stays shut down, or even that the US should default on its promises. The return to recession is not going to be prevented by avoiding these possibilities. It is baked into the cake. No, I am worried about the implications of some of the most “powerful” people in the world acting like absolute idiots (on all sides). I see no evidence of even a small smattering of sapience in any of the decisions being made in Washington. In my opinion the Tea Party members of Congress are demonstrating the antithesis of sapience right now. But I see nothing in the balance of the Republicans or the Democratic leaderships either. And the president doesn’t get a pass either. The US government is broken because those people are there because of the democratic process that led to their selection.

What is most worrying about it is that the citizens who sent them to Washington seem not to have a clue. The people get the government they deserve.

In Feb. 2008 I ran a series of posts critiquing democracy and how it works as a system for choosing who will participate in the governance process. The first, “Might we have gotten it wrong about democracy?”, asked that question and examined a microcosm of democratic governance in the form of academic institutions. It considered how real people make decisions in situation where they are expected to have the competence (or so they think) but do not, in fact. I examined the way in which the academy’s “shared governance” model is failing to work. Using this microcosm as an example of the larger problems with democratic (or representative democracies) politics and governance. I concluded: “…government would work if people were wise.” If they were wise they would be able to meet the minimum requirements for an electorate to choose capable people to represent them in their governments.

The second post, “How is representative democracy working out for us in the modern world?,” pointed out some of the cognitive issues that produce obstacles to a viable democratic process. A big problem is the cognitive load, or overload, that modern people under due to the complexity of modern society and especially technology. I said, “The concept of democracy depends on citizens who understand the issues and the way things work.” The modern world is overwhelming to the vast majority of citizens. The coping mechanisms that have been adopted by so many have made it impossible for democracy to work.

Finally, I posted “If not democracy, then what?” In that post I introduced an alternate way to look at governance from the perspective of hierarchical cybernetic theory (and mentioned how it operates in many natural systems). In a separate series of posts, “Sapient Governance,” I followed up with a description of that alternate perspective. In all of these I have given evidence that the current system is failing badly given the context of the modern, technological world, overpopulated world. I have argued that the real underlying cause is that humans only evolved a primitive level of sapience (the attribute that makes us different from all other animals) that is simply inadequate in this world. Democracy depends on capacities in the electorate that are simply not being met, and the people they are sending to office are no better able to make good judgments.

A Knowledgeable, Informed, and Thoughtful Electorate

Democracy can only work if the electorate has these capabilities. Granted that the environment has a lot to do with how these are actualized. For example, to be knowledgeable depends somewhat on the education system. I say somewhat because I know many people who survived the modern school-based education system and came out knowledgeable in spite of it! A fundamental aspect of sapience is sensing that you do not know and then seeking information that helps you self-educate.

Nevertheless, the education system is responsible for literally squashing curiosity in the young minds while training them to simply memorize what will be on the test and calling it education. Notice I said the education system. There are many fine and capable educators out there who understand this problem from personal experience. But the system determines punishments and rewards to teachers. In the university we have student evaluation surveys at the end of each term. Students fill out a bubble sheet of Likert scaled questions meant to evaluate how the teacher has done and the quality of the course. Aside from the many obvious criticisms of this approach (its validity in measuring quality of teaching and curriculum) administrators rely on the outcomes when deciding on those rewards and punishments. The high schools have done a great job of teaching students that the game is actually teach/learn to the test, which is actually fairly straightforward and devoid of any real cognitive work on either the teacher or the student. When they get to college, they expect the same sort of system, one they now know how to game for the coin of the realm – grades. The most common question I get from freshmen is, “Is this going to be on the test?” The most common complaint I get, even from juniors, is that my courses are not structured enough (take a look at my syllabi and tell where they get that notion). The fact is that many of my colleagues seem to have acquiesced to this game and especially in order to get tenure and promotion they teach from the textbook to the tests. Those students generally give better grades to their teachers! Fortunately for me, I got tenure before the No Child Left Behind (at the bottom all alone – keep them all there) mentality with its standardized tests providing the measure of success, had yet had a major impact on students’ attitudes. The student evaluations from that time reflected that many students appreciated the greater rigor of college and expected to have to work at thinking and integrating knowledge. My scores while still an assistant professor reflected that. Even then, administrators were happy to take the expedient path of evaluating teaching on the basis of this one measure.

We now have seen several high school graduating classes come to college after the NCLB-standardized testing (high stakes testing) has left its mark on the culture of high school. And we have seen new junior faculty who need good evaluations in order to get tenured quickly pick up on how to play the game (this also goes for lecturers who have to get their contracts renewed). Indeed some of them actually went to high school as the transition to the game was underway and so know very well what to do.

So just how knowledgeable is the citizenry that has been emerging out of our education system over the last two decades? There are numerous studies now that indicate that most are not very well educated when it comes to critical thinking. Indeed they are not even educated about facts. I asked some freshmen how the three branches of government (US) interacted systemically as we tried to model a governance system. Over half could not remember what all three branches were let alone how they interacted. They would say things like, “the president, the cabinet, and the senate.” I don’t know but that doesn’t sound promising to me. When I corrected them and showed them the model they all then suddenly remembered that they covered something like that in civics courses, but it was so dull they didn’t pay attention. At least they were honest about their experience. But seriously, this same thing has been shown for college graduates and people who have worked for years after college.

So strike out one for democracy. Over forty percent of the American population don’t “believe” in evolution, as if it was an option to believe in. Though the number is growing smaller, at one point more than half of American citizens didn’t “believe” in human-caused global warming. But now that it is too late to seriously do anything meaningful about it, the freaky weather patterns that are taking over have got more of them believing. The point is that none of these people were in a position to critically evaluate the evidence and the science.

Strike out two — informed electorate. To have an informed electorate you need an information system that actually works. Here I would put much more blame on the modern main-stream media. It is supposed to be their job to detect the changes in our societies, analyze the causes, and report unbiased to the public. How does Fox News measure up to that? But Fox News is an abhorrent example. They are driven by ideology to begin with. The other networks, even including National Public Radio and TV are culpable for a slightly different reason. Their approach to reporting has been shaped by the markets. For-profit networks have to publish what sells to gain eyeballs and thus advertising dollars. PBS and NPR never have sufficient resources and so often rely on commercial news feeds for their content as well.

Let me give you an example of misinformation that has gripped the media of late and has had an influence on public media as well. For the past year or more the ideas of energy independence for the US and vast resources of oil and gas, albeit in tight shale plays, have been filling the papers and airways. The story is downright false. Even as I write this some of the early plays are winding down because the availability of oil or gas was tremendously over hyped in the media by the carbon companies because they needed to attract investment capital to stay in business. Those plays, which we were told by the media, would last a hundred years, are already in serious decline and will fall far short of the promises. The media’s role in this was to simply parrot what the so-called expert talking heads were feeding them. Those folks, in turn, were in the pockets of the major carbon players. But did anyone in the media stop to critically analyze what they were saying? Of course not. They played the game. Sell advertising spots. Sell viewer/listener support. Tell the audience what they WANT to hear. Even while these stories (which are still circulating even as the plays are starting to decline) were being foisted on the public, there were several researchers who had already determined, scientifically, that the tight gas and oil was just a hyped story. They had the data and the models to prove it. But did any of the media want to listen. Hell no. That isn’t the way to sell papers or advertising spots.

So the public’s information channels are simply dysfunctional. More misinformation than information is being spread. And in the area of political information it is even worse. The media people have absolutely no concept of critical thinking when it comes to presenting various ideological views. In the so-called interest of fairness to all sides they present Tea Party nut jobs as somehow equivalent to liberal politicians. Well, I guess, in some sense they are equivalent. But more often the liberals show a bit more respect for facts (and science) than do the right wingers.

Which leads to strike out three: thoughtfulness. We are a hedonistic species. Given the option of reading a knowledge book or a juicy novel, guess which one most people will choose. Given a choice between going to a lecture on the evolution of plants or going to a NASCAR race, again, which one will most people choose? Entertainment rules. And it really isn’t hard to understand why. Start with a pathetic education, a lack of motivation, and a spoiled lifestyle (too many energy slaves) and it isn’t really any wonder that people are basically just entertainment/novelty junkies.We do not teach people how to think. In a sense we really shouldn’t need to teach them. The human brain is a natural learning machine. But what we do is teach them how to not think, how to accept what the talking heads and prominent leaders say is true. Since they can’t evaluate claims for truth of subjects, competing claims cause a deepening division. Conservatives listen only to conservatives and liberals listen only to liberals. It is much easier than being thoughtful about the claims.

The world has become incredibly complex. And in a sense you can’t blame people for wanting to take the easy way out.

All of the institutions that are supposedly there to support citizen development are failing badly. And because they all interact with one another they form a reinforcing loop that is driving us deeper and deeper into ignorance, disinformation, and simple hedonistic responses, the antitheses of what it takes to be successful in democratic governance.

What we have ended up with is a governance system that is broken (in my opinion beyond repair). We get the likes of James Inhofe, senator from Oklahoma as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The guy consistently claims the global warming is the greatest left-wing hoax ever perpetrated on the American public. In order to make that claim work, of course, he has had to accuse the entire legitimate climate science community of lying about climate impacts and change. Explain to me how this could ever happen if our democracy is working.

As another example of the sorry state of affairs in government take a look at this article about Congressman Paul Broun, a member of the House Science Committee dismissing evolution. This is not an aberration, unfortunately. Most of the members of the House and many in the Senate do not understand or believe that evolution is the explanation for all biodiversity and our origins as a species of animal. Please explain to me how this man and others like him (and many her’s such as Michele Bachmann, a Republican representative who rails against homosexuality as being against god’s plan) can make thoughtful and knowledge-based decisions.

 

The Absence of Sufficient Sapience

You cannot point to any one aspect or institution and say, “There, that is the prime cause of everything else going wrong.” Everything ‘causes’ everything else. It is a great recurrent web of interactions and positive feedback loops that exist because the actors in all of these institutions are human beings — Homo callidus (formerly sapiens). We are so clever we can figure out, subconsciously of course, how to avoid facts that don’t support our a priori held beliefs and find pseudo-facts that support them. And therein is the problem. If there is a cause it isn’t the cultural and structural elements of the system, it is the actors and decision makers, and benefactors of the system and their lack of sufficient sapience to deal with this complex world that we have created. The few examples we have of more highly sapient beings are not selfish, hedonistic, narcissistic beings. They are more often cooperative, moral, selfless, and thoughtful. They care about others and they think about the future of everyone. They would desire to help make things better if possible. But they also recognize when the systems aren’t working. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people on this planet are inherently low in sapience and that is why they dominate the system.

But there again it isn’t even our fault! We didn’t decide to be low sapients. Blame evolution. Blame natural selection that led us to agriculture where a different set of selection pressures may have started us losing much of the sapience we had evolved up to that point. It does little good to bemoan our situation. It is what it is. I just would like to understand it better, I guess, to satisfy my curiosity.

I don’t write this stuff to point out what the problems are and thereby find solutions anymore. I have long ago realized that the system simply is what it is and it will continue in a dynamic that was set in motion by the evolution of Homo callidus and will lead to, I think, the evolution of Homo eusapiens in the distant future. You and I and our whole human-culture system are just milestones along the path. We can’t be saved, preserved forever. We should not be saved in the sense of preserving the population and going on with business as usual. The essence of humanness, the sapient, abstract symbol processing, tool making, creatures that evolved on this planet does not depend on the current species existing forever. But that essence needs to be saved (if we can). Some of our kind need to succeed in persisting beyond what will surely be a massive population bottleneck event so that the seed of a new, emergent species will be available when the time is right.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Meanwhile try to enjoy the comedy-tragedy that is Washington DC, and for that matter, every other national capital in the world. Washington is probably just the most dramatic because it was the most powerful capital in history. All good things must come to an end eventually.

Mena- A Model of the Future?

Off the keyboard of George Mobus

Published on Question Everything on July 2, 2013

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Discuss this article at the Podcasts Table inside the Diner

Political Unrest – Why?

It is interesting the way the MSM characterize the unrest going on in Egypt. The typical perspective is that the people of Egypt are unhappy with the way the Morsi government has turned out to be almost as autocratic as the Mubarak regime had been. Morsi was elected in the first “democratic” election in the country’s history, but he recently declared himself to have powers that were not part of the bargain. He is from the Muslim Brotherhood movement, a supposed Islamic political party-like organization that supports Sharia Law as the foundation of governance. A large majority of Egyptians appear to prefer secular laws and thought originally that Morsi would honor that position.

Thus to the MSM the unrest is political in nature. They focus on the notion that the Egyptians want democracy and that Morsi has failed to deliver. But what this perspective fails to take into account is that politics ultimately come down to who controls the resources. The irony in Egypt is that they really haven’t got much in the way of resources. They cannot sustain a program of development because they have nothing to develop and nothing to drive such development (e.g. net energy). So Morsi is actually incapable of delivering any of the demands that the people are voicing. What is more important to the people of Egypt than whether their governance is based on Islamic doctrine or not is that they need to eat. They need to have shelter and some income. And there is no regime that can deliver that. Even if Morsi capitulates and a new government is installed, or perhaps more likely, the military takes over again, the needs of the Egyptian people will never be met.

The unrest is not about democracy. We only characterize it that way because we, in the west, think that we have democracy and that it the reason we’ve been so successful economically. If the MENA states could have democracy, the reasoning goes, they too would become economically successful. What remarkably shallow, indeed empty, thinking this is. Democracy did not produce food on the table and shiny new cars. The fact that communism failed to do so is not a proof that it did. Growing net energy per capita did that. It is easy to support something that looks like democracy and free markets when you have oil gushing out of the ground.

We are observing a model for collapse unfolding as country after country depletes whatever resources they had. The entire North African, Middle East, all the way to Afghanistan and Pakistan, are facing the exact same forces. Political unrest derives from physical stress. What other part of the world with significant populations better fit this model? I suspect that India, parts of China, and Mongolia are close behind.

Unrest Moving West, North and South

The US’s and Europe’s problems appear to be financial because these countries were part of the industrialization growth of the 19th and 20th centuries where rapid developments of fossil fuels mirrored that going on in the US. Indeed England led the pack with the use of coal even earlier. But as the net energy per capita available from fossil fuels started first to decelerate in growth and then, around the 1970s peak, the reliance on debt to finance production took over. During the period of rapid growth in industrialization we observed that wherever one was in time one could reasonably expect that even more wealth would be produced in the future, enough extra to pay back the principal along with interest (rents paid for using the capital). So borrowing against the future made sense. What nobody paid attention to is the fact that this experience of growth was based on increasing net energy flows and that the majority of that net energy came from fossil fuels, particularly oil. Also what everybody lacked was an understanding of the fact that the extraction and processing of fossil fuels would become increasingly expensive (in terms of usable energy required). Nor did most pay attention to the well understood and predicted peaking in gross production due to depletion of finite resources. The latter has accentuated the problem with declining net energy per capita.

The western nations are stagnant or in deep recession with unacceptable (by earlier standards) unemployment rates. The blame is being put on financial institutions, corporations, governing bodies, all of the usual suspects have been lined up. I suppose this is a failure of imagination to think there might actually be a deeper and more dangerous cause. Ignorance must play a major role as well.

Unrest is popping up in the Southern European region. Whereas in MENA states the blame is supposed to go to non-democratic governance, in the west it goes to finance and political battles between conservatism (austerity required) and liberalism (Keynesianism required). The US Federal Reserve Bank has been trying to put a band aid on the financial system by buying bad paper (quantitative easing) and thus creating money, essentially. But this is only going to cause the crash to be more severe when it comes. The underlying cause in the west as well in MENA states is fundamentally the same. We are running out of net energy per capita at an alarming rate. The MENA states had a slight advantage over the west in that their populations had very low net energy per capita needs (same story for China and India where jobs were shipped from the US to save labor costs). They were more in touch, as it were, with the physical realities and did not have this veil of financialization to confound their thinking. Right now they very much realize that they are at the precipice and being pushed off.

States to the further east are soon to follow. China, using their low energy requiring citizens as enticements and some healthy savings, has succeeded in convincing their population that they SHOULD want to consume more energy! And now that work force is starting to demand more in wages so they can do so. Unfortunately China’s leaders did not really understand the net energy per capita source problem. When they became vaguely aware of it they started scrambling to import oil and coal from other regions. Instead of realizing that depletion would soon render that strategy moot, they blindly go ahead with their ambitions because they are trying to avoid the political unrest that will ensue when their people, promised the “good life,” realize they not only won’t achieve that but that life will get worse (especially for the many who gave up farming for the cities).

Russia has never really recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin probably has dreams of glory but he has no investment stream to put into developing what resources they have. Russia does have richer biological and mineral resources but in climate and terrain-challenged areas that would require substantial capital for development. Their oil exporting appears to have peaked and if they allow foreign oil companies to participate in further development they have to realize their revenues from export will drop. They are between a rock and a hard place. Their only possible advantage is that the people have already been through a collapse/contraction and probably don’t have the same kinds of expectations that the Chinese and Indian people have for the future. They may simply resign themselves to a worse future.

Will the Earlier Collapse of MENA Trigger the Rest?

Since ME states like Saudi Arabia are still supplying oil to the west it is very possible that major troubles in that region could disrupt the flow of an already declining one. Any sudden shutting off of the spigot is likely to have devastating effects on the western nations.

A lot of people in the US think they are buffered from such a catastrophe. There is a meme floating around the MSM about how the US (with Canada’s help, of course) will achieve energy independence. The tight oil and gas reserves along with the tar sands in Alberta are touted as providing us with huge energy sources into the future. President Obama is making noises about investing in alternative energies, especially to reduce coal-fired power plants to reduce CO2 emissions. It is all wishful thinking. The production profile on tight oil and gas wells suggests (strongly) that they will never produce the abundance being promised. Moreover all of these non-conventional sources have terrible EROIs that cannot be sustained long. Already the companies exploiting these resources are running into financial problems. They cannot fund further development out of profits because their profits are being squeezed tightly. Costs of development are too high — a reflection of the low EROIs. As long as they can hype the investment community they might eke out a little more working capital, but that will not last very much longer.

There is nothing supporting our huge bubble. All it will take is a trigger event, either like the collapse of MENA states, dragging Europe along, or an internal event in the financial markets. My favorite scenario is that graduates who cannot find meaningful employment will simply stop paying back their education debt. That will burst a 1.2 trillion dollar bubble and could take the rest of the financial system down with it.

It is somewhat ironic that Greece was one of the first EU countries to experience severe hardships and the start of collapse. It gives new meaning to the phrase “Greek Tragedy” that the whole world is now embroiled in a demise crafted by our own flaw in character. We are not bad as a species. But we are clearly merely biological when it comes to trying to obtain more resources and grow. We evolved great clever brains that enabled us to do so with abandon. We did not evolve adequate sapience to moderate that cleverness and dampen the biological mandate. That is the flaw — lack of wisdom in pursuing our future. Now we have none, for the most part.

I still won’t make any predictions as to timing of, say, major events that would be clearly signs of collapse well under way. I think collapse is starting and is gaining momentum as we witness unrest spreading around the globe. Some regions, like MENA, will likely collapse very rapidly, possibly taking others with them in a domino effect. Other regions may drag it out a bit as oh-so-clever masters of the universe try more tricks to keep the dream alive. But they can’t do it forever.

All I will say is that if you want to see what collapse looks like on the ground (and this is for every region eventually) watch what happens in Egypt. And for you American readers, enjoy your celebration of the Fourth of July commemorating winning your democracy!

July 3, 2013

How Long Will it Take for the Egyptians to Realize…

… that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were not the root cause of their problems? Now he is out and the military has taken over. They are claiming they want new elections so are still convinced that a democratic government can somehow fix their broken nation. They still think there is a political solution to a physical problem. If only people are free to make choices and live their lives as they want. If only political stability were to return then investment money would come flowing in and tourists would return to the pyramids.

If there was enough time those magical wishes might actually start to come true! After all there are still much richer people in the world who are always looking for an angle to make a buck or have discretionary funds to go on vacation – at least for a while. Unfortunately I don’t think they have the time. People on the ground are already hurting and need relief now. It takes a long time to set the wheels in motion for establishing a truly stable government, time I don’t think their society has.

It is probably the case that both Mubarak and Morsi made matters worse in being so autocratic at a time when people were expecting some more “freedoms”. But you can’t blame their failures strictly on their incompetence, which extends to corruption and cronyism; those surely didn’t help. But as I said in my prior post Egypt’s and the whole MENA region’s troubles go much deeper than lack of democracy. In fact, ironically it is probably an autocratic rule, which does not automatically mean corruption, etc., that would lessen the woes. Democracies have a great deal of difficulty making timely decisions in this crises world. Look at the US Congress as a prime example of what happens when you let a lot of very foolish people with big egos try to agree on important decisions.

Autocrats, if they are competent and wise, can get the right things done in a more timely fashion. But since there are no philosopher kings in the waiting room… This is what makes this predicament intractable. There are no solutions that don’t involve massive population reductions in short order. If a region cannot support its own population and has absolutely no skills that would add sufficient value to what other regions that can produce food need, well, put bluntly, they are screwed.

How long will it take the Egyptian people to discover that things are not getting better? How long will they, and the rest of the world, continue to blame it on a “stalled revolution?” How long will they continue to belive that democracy and a stable government would save them?

So, keep your eyes on Egypt and carefully observe what transpires. You may be looking at your own situation within the next decade if things devolve at an accelerating rate.

Bayman Beachfront Blues

Off the keyboard of RE

Discuss this article at the Frankenstorm Table inside the Diner

 

As most people are aware by now,  most of the damage caused by Sandy came along the shoreline due to an impressive Storm Surge over a very long stretch of coast, one of the most densely populated coastlines on any continent.

Numerous iconographic Beachfronts were hit, the Boardwalk in Atlantic City basically destroyed and I suspect the newly renovated Coney Island Amusement Park did not fare much better.  The beach in the Rockaways where I made Sand Castles as a kid was hit hard, and many homes and biznesses in this aging beachfront community were simply washed out to sea.

Sandy didn’t just hit the poor and the middle class though, she was equally destructive of the multi-million dollar Mansions in the Hamptons where the Masters of the Universe go to play each weekend, sutffing themselves with Canapes and 500 year old bottles of Pinot Noir while they stuff the noses of Ford Models with coke prior to doing Channel Stuffing they practice on the Stock Market during the week.

Although there is no Beach on the Southern Tip of Manhattan Island, it’s not much more above sea level than the typical Beach is and also went under water for several hours, long enough to fill some Subway Stations and Tunnels with seawater, along with the basement Safes of some Securities firms holding $trillions$ in Stock Certificates in them, with some estimates putting the value of this Toilet Paper in the $36T range.

Hindsight is always 20-20 Vision of course, and after the fact here all the talk is about how to Build it Bigger and Better for Next Time, robust enough to fend off the worst that Mother Nature can throw out.

In terms of Large Public Works Projects, some impressive ones are being bandied about.  One is to build a huge underwater Seawall around lower Manhattan and the Port of NY/NJ that would deflect most of the energy of a storm surge.  Said Seawall would have some breaks in it that Tanker Ships could pass through.

This of course is similar to the Dykes built around the Netherlands holding back the Sea there, and overall on the engineering level this is some pretty impressive stuff for sure.  In the Dutch case though, the Dykes were built up over many Centuries of time and the marshy areas which were reclaimed were not very deep.  Although I am sure with modern heavy equipment, lots of Fuel and GOBS of Money the Army Corps of Bozos probably could build something like this it sure would not happen overnight, even if they do Print new Debt Money to do it.  The estimate on cost I read for this brainstorm is around $6B, but I am sure that estimate is made with the assumption Oil stays at $100/barrel for the decade it would take to complete it.

Thing is here, while this might prevent the worst Storm Surge from overrunning Wall Street, the deflected water is going to go somewhere, likely the Jersey shore to the left and the Brooklyn shore to the right.  So they will end up WORSE off after it gets built.

Another somewhat more reasonable Infrastructure Improvement I read about was to put Storm Doors on all the vulnerable Subway entrances and Air Vents and create “plugs” or “corks” to stuff in the ends of tunnels which exit into low lying areas.  Apparently Bangkok has such a system in place which allowed their subway system to keep running even during the regular and heavy flooding events they have been subject to the last few years.

Again though, nobody really explains where all the MONEY is going to come from to make all these improvements or how it would ever be paid off if you issue Debt to do it.  In the case of the Subway improvements, how high do you have to hike the Fare the Straphangers pay to actually pay this stuff off and then maintain it?  The subway system is ALREADY subsidized heavily, by you guessed it BROKE Goobermint.  The reason the system never gets Upgrades is BECAUSE it doesn’t pay for itself already.

Although little Newz is trickling out from the devastated Beachfront communities along the Jersey Shore and Long island, the pictures alone tell you that the rebuild costs are Unimaginable, and Goobernator Chris Christie has already said it will be “a long time” before these communities get their lights back on.  He should have added, “if ever”.

So, SHOULD people actually be LIVING so close to the shore in such vulnerable spots to the destructive Power of Mother Nature?  On the surface Common Sense says no, but there are many reasons why MOST of the population of Homo Sapiens does in fact live close to the shore.

First off, going right back to Ancient Civilizations which first used Boats for fishing and then trade, a large portion of the population has always made its living from the Sea.  So you naturally get towns and cities forming up at locations where boats can port up in relative safety, and in fact the Port of NY/NJ is one of the best protected harbors in the whole world on a geographic level.  That is WHY the Dutch dropped the settlement in New Amsterdam at the bottom of Manhattan Island.

Prior to the Railroads, once you got interior to a land mass to any great degree, any trade goods from other places became quite scarce and expensive.  Evne once you HAVE Railroads though, you need to have substantial numbers of people at the terminal end near the Seaport.  Still, you probably could organize it so only a Skeleton Crew of people are at the shoreline, and most of the people are far enough inland that they won’t get nailed with a Storm Surge.

The problem here is that people LIKE the Ocean.  they like swimming in it, surfing on it, tanning on the beach and Ogling the Girls in their Bikinis also.  Recreation is BIG BIZNESS, and there are Seaside Resorts in just about every Country and Island in the WORLD, and Seaside Communities that grow up around them to service the Tourist trade.  For some places like Hawaii, this Recreational tourist Trade is pretty much the only real economic driver they have, you just don’t earn all that much FOREX growing Pineapples and Macadamia Nuts.

Even for pitiful and aging Seaside Communities like Atlantic City, the Boardwalk and the Beaches are what set it apart from the Indian Reservation Casinos and Las Vegas.  In terms of Tax Revenue, it was a main source for New Jersey and that revenue is not coming back anytime too soon, and not until NJ spends a small fortune to do a rebuild.  Can they ever recoup what the spend in Taxation of a refurbished Atlantic City?  Highly unlikely of course.

Probably the most important econonomic driver for our Industrial Societies centered along the coastlines are all the Refineries and offload points for Tankers carrying the Crude from underneath the Desert Sands of Saudi Arabia and off the shore of Brazil and Venezuela.  The VLCC Super Tankers require specialized deepwater ports like the LOOP to function, and moving heavy unrefined crude through pipelines from them is costly on EROEI.  The closer you can make the Refinery to the offload point for the crude, the more profitable it is.   So you have many FSofA refineries near the shores of Lousiana and Texas, and on the Jersey shore also.  You need workers for those refineries who live nearby them, and again communities sprout up in vulnerable locations.

Trying to move all this infrastructure away from the shorelines is an impossibility as long as you want to maintain this sort of Industrialized culture, and overall most people who live inside such societies want them to continue onward as they have known them.  They want Lights On in their McMansions, they want Running Water in their Toilets.  They want the I-pads, Plasma TVs and SUVs too, but they at LEAST EXPECT that they can live in a heated home with running water.

While it does appear that the NY Shity Subway System has been brought back online for the most part, underplayed in NEWz Reports to date is just how much OTHER infrastructure has not been brought back yet.  As the Major Financial Hub of the Empire, Wall Street is the first one to consider on the Economic Loss level here.  Even though CONedison has brought Power back to Lower Manhattan, MANY Coomercial and Residential Skyscrapers can’t accept that power.  Why?  Because their basements were not hardenned against such a massive Flooding even tlike the Subways are, and most of their Electrics and Heating mechanisms are housed in their BASEMENTS, which in many if not most cases WERE Flooded Floor to Ceiling.  These include buildings like 125 Maiden Land &  55 Water Street, which houses offices for companies like S&P and services like UNICEF and Planned Parenthood:

At 125 Maiden Lane in Lower Manhattan, a 17-story building not far from the East River, a disaster recovery company official involved with work on the building said that it would be months before it could reopen. Like many other buildings in the vicinity, he said, it was flooded and would need new transformers, boilers and other equipment.

Tenants include the United States Fund for UNICEF and the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

 

At 55 Water Street, where Standard & Poor’s has offices, the “restricted use” sign listed “severe flooding in basement, no fire alarm, no power, damaged face brick at loading dock.”

On Sunday night, water gushed from hoses that snaked inside the shuttered towers. Workers scrubbed and mopped lobbies.

Brookfield Office Properties, which operates One New York Plaza near Battery Park, where Morgan Stanley is a tenant, estimated that it would be three to six weeks before the building reopens.

These towers are not all strictly Bizness either, some are residential, often housing Eledrly people:

Many of the residential buildings in Lower Manhattan without heat house significant populations of elderly people, including Smith/Vladeck Houses and Southbridge Towers, a Mitchell-Lama building, according to Julie Menin, former chairwoman of Community Board 1.

A rapid Cleanup for many of these buildings is unlikely, because besides the damage to the electrical and heating systems, they also  have been contaminated with Oil and Gas Seepage from Sunken Carz:

Because cars and other vehicles were submerged, gasoline, oil and other chemicals poisoned the waters that entered the buildings. As a result, the buildings themselves will have to undergo special cleanups before people are allowed in. These cleanups could take weeks.

Precisely where the Management Companies for these buildings is getting the MONEY to do this Cleanup remains unclear.  Also unclear is whether Commercial or Residential Tenants inthese buildings will continue to pay Rent/Mortgages on spaces they can’t Work or Live in.

Larger companies in NY Shity have Multiple Office Spaces distributed through many Towers, so these companies are no doubt shuffling people around to some other spaces they have “doubling up”.  For the smaller companies though, they have to quickly find alternate locations to workout of, or else go Outta Biz.

So beginning with Wall Street on the Economic Level, you have huge hits here in 3 areas, Clean Up cost,  Insurance Liability and Payout and Lost Tax Revenue.  Those spaces don;t come cheap, and there are a lot of them “underwater” here now, around 400 large buildings in this Nabe “Yellow Tagged” by the Department of Buildings as Unsafe.

While Individually  not as costly, the AGGREGATE cost of all the Residential and Comercial Real Estate that went Underwater on Long Island and the Jersey Shore, along with the Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island Real Estate is likely much GREATER than even the cost of Out-of-Service Wall Street buildings.  An important factor to consider is how many people will continue to Pay Mortgages on housing and commercial structures which either no longer EXIST, or have been declared so Unsafe as to be Uninhabitable now.  Would YOU keep paying your mortgage on a McMansion so damaged you cannot live in it anymore?  Many if not most of these folks will eventually here walk away from these Properties.

Calculating the precise total here of lost revenue, lost taxes and cleanup costs is basically impossible at this point, and true Numbers as they come in will certainly never be reported.  The $50B “estimate” for damage here is a crock of shit, it is WAY higher than that, even NOT taking into account the possibility of $Trillions$ in Securities being “lost” in some Basement Safes.

One thing you can be certain of as the Money to Rebuild is distributed out, it will NOT be distributed out to the Individual Homeowners and Small Bizmen who lost their homes and livelihoods here.  The Money will be distributed out to Well Connected Corporations, Big Bizmen & Contractors with good Political Connections who get Cleanup work.  A bit of this will Trickle Down to J6P Construciton Worker who has been UE for a while and now will have Cleanup work for a few months, but once done those jobs will disappear as fast as they appeared here.  Those New Jobs are more than balanced out by the many people who LOSE their jobs here because their workplaces no longer EXIST at all, or the companies they work for are not on the Gravy Train to get the Big Loans to “rebuild”.

What many people on the Jersey Shore and Long Island just found out is that you CAN’T expect that Electric Power and Heat for your Biz or Domicile will remain in place, just as a whole bunch of people found that out when NOLA got hit by Katrina.  If you are not Well Connected enough to get the Big Money Handouts from Da Federal Goobermint to “rebuild” you are basically SOL here.  I am quite SURE S&P will be floated a $100M or $1B Loan from Helicopter Ben to repair THEIR Building, I seriously DOUBT  Emilio or Mohammed gets a $100K loan to repair his Bodega.

So across the board here, we at the very LEAST are looking at a version of Jimmy Kunstler’s Long Emergency, and incremental Spin Down of the quality of life for MANY formerly Middle Class people in the NY Shity Nabe.  Staten Island is QUINTESSENTIAL “Middle Class” Working Man territory in NY Shity, probably half the NYPD, Sanitation Department and NYs Bravest Firefighters live on Staten Island.  These are not “Welfare Leechfucks”, they were hard working people who bought into the Amerikan Dream, now turned Amerikan Nightmare.  Now they ALSO are the Underclass, and will be left Hung Out to Dry as the Big Money is passed out to Big Corporations in the Capitalist system to “rebuild”.So it has always been here in the FSofA, since Alexander Hamilton openned the First Bank of the FSofA, since Andrew Jackson tried to “Kill” the Second Bank of the FSofA and since Paul Warburg and Nelson Aldrich SUCCEEDED in resurrecting said Banking System for the Illumati on Christmas Eve of 1913 with the passing of the Federal Reserve Act after Secret Meetings on Jekyll Island.  Anyone who believes that “Freedom” & “Dmocracy” have EVER existed inside the borders of the FSofA is seriously deluded, victim of 300 years of solid and continuos BRAIN WASHING.

The thing is, once the Coastal Shities fail, the Interior Shitieshere in the FSoA will also FAIL,  though not necessarily from the direct attacks of Mother Nature from Hurricanes and rising Sea levels with bigger Storm surges.  They will fail as the energy supplies they need to operate fail to reach them from the coastline.  They will fail as the huge ports which service the Container Ships are damaged and destroyed by Mother Nature.

Here in Alaska the Port of Anchorage is aging and decaying, it hasn’t been rebuilt or even maintained all that well since the Big Quake in ’64.  Next decent quake we get there, it’s all rubble and I seriously doubt will be rebuilt.

The small Fishing Boats and Kayaks will last a while longer though, and people will still live and work near the Sea, from which ALL LIFE comes, until the Sea itself has life no more.  A dangerous place to be for sure as Mother Earth becomes more Geologically and Atmospherically unstable, you never know if you picked the WRONG day to go out Dip Netting the Kings when the run and a Tsunami comes your way here on the Ring of Fire.

If you do see the tide run out real fast though, drop the dip net, drop the fish and RUN LIKE HELL for the High Ground.  At least it slopes up pretty quick here in most places and you can get up 30 meters pretty quick.  Not so true on Long Island, where you gotta get inside a good mile from the shoreline to be up more than a few feet above Sea Level.

Anyhow, you can second guess all you like all the people who lived once on the Jersey Shore and in Coney Island and Rockaway Beach and on Fire Island too, but who will live there no more even if they did escape with their lives this time.  While you are at it, you might also second guess all the folks who live in Tornado Alley on the Texahoma border.  Not to mention all the folks who live in the Flood Plain of the Mighty Mississippi.  Not to mention all those folks living on top of the San Andreas Fault or in range of Sparks from tinder dry Forests in New Mexico and Colorado.  Wherever you are, eventually the Odds catch up with you, and you never know the day the Big Show will Come to a Theatre Near You.  The odds don’t appear to be improving here either, apparently 500 year floods now arrive 2 or 3 times a decade, and we get a new “Freak” event all the time like “Derechos”, “Haboobs” and “Frankenstorms”.

Perhaps the most IMPORTANT Second Guessing to be done here is WRT the Nuke Plants distributed out worldwide in ALL of these vulnerable locations.  Nuke Plants need a HUGE amount of Water for cooling, so they are always nearby major rivers or near the coast.  The cities and Ag Land these Nuke Plants provide energy for quite often are over geological fault lines and/or subject to drought or flooding.  There is nowhere “safe” to put something that has toxins that will last for Millenia, on a Millenial Timescale just about EVERY neighborhood gets hit with some kind of major disaster.

All Nuke Plants need to be Decommissioned, and all the spent fuel collected and sequestered off where it can do the least damage, perhaps in Antarctica or perhaps by sinking it into a subduction zone around the Marianas Trench, but it MUST be moved BEFORE, not AFTER the disaster strikes.

Will we have to sacrifice the Lights and the Flush toilets?  Most probably so, but at least perhaps then we will survive as a species and eventually come up with some better ways to manage the resources of the Planet we live on, and which gives us ALL life.  Its the only one we got, and we ain’t making out to any Exoplanets anytime too soon either.

RE

Stooge Time: Scripting the Empire

Off the keyboard of Phillip Farruggio

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgaspoard inside the Diner

Memories of the glorious 70s, at least compared to these terrible times, occasionally flow through me. I can recall the manager of the local pub near our small business that would regularly make the same announcement late each afternoon. “Stooge time!!”  He would shout from behind the bar. It was time again for the re-runs of The Three Stooges Show. Well, aren’t we lucky to be able to see stooge time with regularity this election cycle? All one needs to do is tune in any Congressional debate and watch the stooges operate. Last night this writer was channel surfing and caught the debate for Virginal Senator between Allen and Kaine. Once again, the two candidates parroted each of their respective political party’s script on every issue presented to them. What really irritated me was when they discussed, as all debates do, foreign policy and military spending. The Republican candidate will go right to the Fox channel’s retorts about the attack on our embassy in Libya. They will use this to strengthen the argument for increasing our military presence worldwide… to stop the terrorists. Then the Democrat will laud how this president has curtailed Al Qaeda and has them on the run… oh yeah, we finally got Bin Laden under a Democrat’s watch. Then, both candidates will argue as to which party and which candidate is tougher on terrorism and a friend of the Military Empire. And many of you serfs will run out and vote for one of these two gangs of liars, hypocrites and….stooges.

 

In my almost 40 years of sales experience, I know that the old adage of KISS is relevant: Keep it simple stupid. Well, it is quite simple if you really wish to change the direction and conditions of our great nation. Before we can deal with the multitude of peripheral issues, the paramount one is staring us in the face… as this writer has written about perhaps too much. We need to pull back our Military Industrial Empire, drastically cutting the funding first, and then getting the hell out of the over 100 nations with our over 800+ bases. Imagine if instead of the 56 cents of each federal tax dollar sent to Uncle Sam going towards military spending, the figure was dropped to 30 cents. Translated: we would have tens of billions more each year to help our states and cities with the infrastructure upgrades and improvements to soften the blows of any natural disaster. Ask the folks in New Orleans and the NYC metro area about that. Instead we get twiddle dee and twiddle dum vying for your precious votes, and then handing it over to the ‘friends of the Military Empire’. How many weapons systems does one nation need to perform overkill? How many precious lives and precious dollars need we waste in invading and occupying countries that pose NO threat to our survival… only to that of our corporations?

 

Step # 1 is to stop voting for either of these two phony corporate run parties. Step # 2 is to get out regularly and let your neighbors and elected officials know that enough is enough! Do it with love in your heart, but with righteous anger. The more we get to join us, the quicker change may come. The stake of our nation and of the entire planet is dependent upon us.

PA Farruggio

November 4th, 2012

 

 

{Philip A Farruggio is son and grandson of Brooklyn, NYC longshoremen. He is a free lance columnist (found on Information Clearing house, Doomstead Diner, Op Ed News, Dandelion Salad, Activist Post, Dissident Voice and many other sites worldwide). Philip works as an environmental products sales rep and has been an activist leader since 2000. In 2010 he became a local spokesperson for the 25% Solution Movement to Save Our Cities by cutting military spending 25%. Philip can be reached at paf1222@bellsouth.net }

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