G7

This Week in Doom June 10, 2018


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on June 10, 2018

“It’s like these guys take pride in being ignorant.” ― Barack Obama  


This was a week in which The Orange Turd blasted our allies and trading partners, gave aid and succor to Russia, declared himself above the law and that he can pardon himself, called the special counsel unconstitutional and otherwise appealed to his rump base of hard core supporters and tagalong stupids. This stuff would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous. Anti-intellectualism has been the glue holding together the Republican platform, and is normalized for a third of the electorate, such that we are unequipped to deal with the complex problems we hasten to create all over the world. 

Right-wingers label intelligence and being well-informed as “elite,” implying that ignorance is somehow both valuable and under attack, because a sense of continued victimhood  is necessary to stoke the flames of grievance.  Richard Hofstadter described our anti-intellectualism as “older than our national identity” in his 1963 classic, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Observers from Tocqueville on noted American ignorance as an essential element of the national character, never found far from its running buddy, nativism. Yet our founders established a form of government that requires an informed citizenry. Hard to do when television prefers simplistic arguments, solutions, answers, and a story arc that resolves in 22 minutes. And even TV is losing the attention battle to the smartphone.

We can't agree on what constitutes a "fact." Trump's War on Truth starts with "No Collusion," and proceeds to denying climate change, asserting widespread voter fraud, and asserting evidence doesn't matter. Evidence-based communities are under attack — the intelligence community, law enforcement, think tanks and journalists. Such attacks come in various forms — disregard for data, ad hom attacks on messengers and motives, deflections and false analogies. And outright lying. Now any theory is valid if it sells books, earns ratings, or moves units, anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough, and fact is whatever enough people believe, determined by how fervently they believe it. Praise Jesus.

American 15-year-olds rank 24th out of 29 countries in math literacy, and their parents are as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution; roughly 30 to 40 percent believe in each. Almost half of Americans can’t name even one of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. 35 percent think gay people can choose to become straight. 29 percent say that a bloody fight against the U.S. government “isn’t just imminent but imperative.” A late-night comic interviewed a Georgia Rep about the bill she co-sponsored  that would require display of the Ten Commandments in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. When asked, she couldn't actually name the commandments. Apparently we don't need to know anything because, hey, we can look it up on the Internet.

Just don't lose your phone.


Trump cuts and runs from G7. End of the world order?

The G7 (G6?) is in apparent disarray after Trump rejected a joint communique and attacked Canada's Justin Trudeau as 'weak.' In a PR offensive meant to bring his low IQ voter base of to full erection, The Orange Lout managed to threaten new trade wars, insult our friends, coddle our enemies and call for Russia to be reinstated to the G7. He arrived late to a meeting on human rights, signaling his disdain for the proceedings, and then left early in case anyone missed the point.

Yet for all that, the US had appeared to agree a version of a draft statement on contentious issues thanks to an all-night negotiating session by officials from all sides. But then Trump's personal Iago, John Bolton, went to work on his erratic, easily swayed charge.

But after leaving for Singapore, Trump tweeted personal attacks on Trudeau and said that he had told his representatives not to sign the summit communique, turning what had already been a tense meeting of the world’s leading industrialized democracies into a fiasco.

A few minutes before Trump sent out his inflammatory tweets, his hawkish national security security adviser, John Bolton, appeared to anticipate them by sending a tweet of his own, deriding the G7 summit he had just attended.

“Just another G7 where other countries expect America will always be their bank. The President made it clear today. No more,” Bolton said.

On meeting Trump, Trudeau made a gift of a framed photo of The Orange Turd's  grandfather’s Canadian brothel in British Columbia, where Friedrich Drumpf made the fortune that was the foundation of the Trump family real estate empire. Orange Julius seemed happy with the gift, even bragging about it on Twitter. Some speculate it was a brilliant troll. 

Apparently this was not the only viral slight from Trudeau to Trump. In the released photo of the world leaders together, the two leaders also stood side-by-side and clearly showed that Trudeau is visibly taller than The Orange Lout. Trudeau is listed as 6-foot-2 while Trump was comically listed on his official White House physical as 6-foot-3. Compared to Trudeau, he appears to be at least two inches shorter than his listed height, which would classify him as obese.

It is not known whether the point of the gift slowly dawned on The Orange One only later, or whether that helped fuel his tantrum. In a related rumor, Vladimir Putin was heard singing a happy tune.


How Singapore, Astana and St Petersburg preview a new world order

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a meeting of a diffreent kind took place. Pepe Escobar outlines how Russia-China are now well-placed to have Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India join them along with the central Asian stans, in a new mega trading bloc, even as the  US/Japan/EU western bloc is collapsing and divided.

The Astana Economic Forum in Kazakhstan centered on how mega-partnerships are changing world trade. Participants included the president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Eurasian Development Bank, the president of the EU Commission, the deputy director-general of the WTO, and academics. You may ask, "who cares?" 

In a nutshell; this New Great Game installment revolves around “Russia’s strategy to enhance its bargaining power with the West by pivoting to the East.”


While Putin's Man in the White House left the G7 early in a snit, he  left behind a giant turd in the punch bowl, demanding that Russia be re-admitted to the G-7. 

Cui bono?

Join now in another rousing chorus of "No Kollusion!"

As the New Silk Road initiative continues, along with mega-partnerships changing world trade, meetings like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) occurring soon, the US is quickly becoming a pariah state.

Cui bono?

Maybe you missed this as well:

Add to the debate the crucial Astana headline, ignored by Western corporate media: Iran signed a provisional free-trade-zone agreement with the EAEU, lowering or abolishing customs duties, and opening the way for a final deal in 2021. For Iran, that will be a golden ticket to do business way beyond Southwest Asia, integrating it further with Russia and also Kazakhstan, which happens to be a key member of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The rest of the world is going its own way, and will be doing so without the US. Let's review the bidding: Trump hollows out the State department, and surrounds himself with "my generals." Military acumen replaces statecraft. Ambassadorships go unfilled. Wary of "globalists," the US retreats from the world, and China rushes in the fill the vacuum. Trump picks unnecessary fights with allies, who consider other trade and strategic options. Putin and Xi offer options. America become increasingly isolated as Trump Makes China Great Again.

Once again: cui bono?

We all like to forget that "the American standard of living" is financed by foreign debt, backed by the full faith and credit of the US nuclear arsenal and delivery systems. Which mean less ability to burden the rest of the world with all those troublesome dollars, and when all that debt comes home to roost, great will be the hue and cry therefrom. The "average American" will suffer a bigly shock to his and her standard of living, and our children might be able to afford a chicken for Sunday Dinner luxury once a month… Maybe only then will we put all the goddamn phones down.


Trump: 'I have the absolute right to pardon myself'

It's hard to think back thus far and realize that this happened within this week, such are the serial insults to our attention, but the Orange Lout continue to make his above-the Law-assertions that he could, indeed, pardon himself. He was quick to add that He didn't need to do that, because he had done nothing wrong. Just ignore all those indictments…

The DOJ ruled 44 years ago that the president cannot pardon himself

Trump took to Twitter on Monday to claim his "absolute right" to grant himself a presidential pardon, though he said it would be unnecessary as he has "done nothing wrong." He cited "numerous legal scholars" to back his claim.

However, as Bloomberg reporter Steven Dennis pointed out, that wasn't the case at the end of former President Richard Nixon's time in office. "Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the president cannot pardon himself," the Department of Justice declared in 1974. The DOJ spelled it out just four days before Nixon resigned, explaining that the president's pardoning power "does not extend to the president himself."

Even his designated TV legal rodeo clown, Rudy "9-11" Giuliani, added that Trump pardoning himself is "unthinkable" and "would lead to probably an immediate impeachment."

As we have already seen,the fact that this course of action may be illegal in no way precludes Trump from taking it and saying, in effect, "What are you going to do about it?" The Republican majority has proven themselves to be as craven a bunch of lickspittles as ever gathered together to submit to serial forcible sodomy, so expect no "rule of law" relief from that quarter.

Along those lines, Charlie Pierce submitted an article, Trump Has Access to Everything a Dictator Could Want, in which he outlines how Trump consolidates power based on deceit at an alarming rate, and is becoming more popular for doing so among the only voters that matter to him. They care only about winning at all costs, and immiserating godless "libruls" is just an added lagniappe.

The president*, installed at least in part by ratfckers in the employ of a former KGB thug now running a murderous kleptocracy, has at his easy disposal everything a dictator could possibly want. He has combined an instinctive contempt for democratic government with a swindler’s nose for easy cash and a junkie knifepoint robber’s reckless disregard for consequences. He has a tight, loyal cabal of flunkies who’d be chasing ambulances if it weren’t for their talents as sycophants. He has a largely impotent political opposition and a largely supine congressional majority. He is one vote away from a rubber-stamp Supreme Court…

The prion disease began when the party ate the monkeybrains provided by Ronald Reagan, who served up crackpot economics leavened with a cynical alliance with splinter American Protestantism. It has gathered strength within the party, its symptoms becoming more and more obvious year after year. 

Iran-Contra. Willie Horton. Atwater. Rove. Falwell. Graham. Luntz. Bauer. Gingrich. The Impeachment Kabuki. Florida. The lies undermining the Iraq War. Gay-baiting in the 2004 elections. The U.S. Attorneys scandal. Phony charges of voter fraud. The barbaric use of Terri Schiavo for political gain. The unprecedented obstruction, based in overt racism, of Barack Obama. The tolerance of Louie Gohmert, Steve King, Blake Fahrenhold, and Michele Bachmann. The endless flogging of the events at Benghazi. 

And, finally, confronted with genuine, uncut, unfiltered, un-consulted authoritarianism, these people affect surprise that their party was ready for this president* or someone like him? Or that their party was helpless to stop him, or to confront him once in office? The Republican party abandoned its political innocence long ago. It’s only now just noticing.

This administration is the culmination of 40 years of conservative Republican politics melded with an atavistic, fringe Christopathy. The executive is accumulating unchecked power at a breakneck pace, and it is debatable whether he can even be stopped. If you don't like it, get thee to the polls in November. And if you DO like it, eat a bullet.


Suicide Is Painless

The deaths by suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have called attention is rising suicide rates in The Home of the Brave, Land of the Free. NBC reports that US suicide rates are up 30 percent since 1999, according to the CDC. Only half of people who died by suicide had diagnosed mental health conditions.

That may be in part because it’s so difficult to get mental health care, said Dr. Jack Rozel, medical director of the Allegheny crisis services facility in Pittsburgh and president-elect of the American Association for Emergency Psychiatry.

“I run a major crisis center. We have 150 staff. We provide almost 150,000 services every year,” Rozel, also a psychiatry professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said.

Yet even his team sometimes has problems finding help for people.

“I think I am reasonably well-connected. About a year ago a friend of mine reached out to me. He was feeling more sad, more anxious, than usual," Rozel said.

"It took me days to get him an appointment with someone. It’s a problem.”

AA calls suicide a "permanent solution to a temporary problem." Who among us really knows what the other guy is going through?

A couple of trends here: In the Reagan years, we de-funded and closed mental hospitals, and in one fell swoop created a homeless problem of off-their-meds schizophrenics wandering the streets, to swell the ranks of other unfortunates. Which was then exacerbated by a casino economy that picks winners, and criminalizes poverty. (Being poor in America is really the only unforgivable sin. My city has jerked up benches in almost every park , even at the airport, and recently fenced off a vacant lot in which Food Not Bombs fed the homeless.)

Another trend has been the pharmacologing of mental illness. Therapists are expensive; pills are cheap. No paychecks needed for pills, which we can make for $.05 and sell for $10 the each. And who gives a fuck about the problems of a handful of muppets? Bad for profits.

Who knows what private torments someone otherwise enjoying the fruits of fame may suffer. But when you look behind the headlines, many thousands of people suffer with depression, with mental illness, and other ills, and our solution is to throw medications at them to paper over the problem, and then blame them for "being weak." Weakness being a sin almost  as unforgivable as poverty.

In the search for answers, we'll look it up on the Internet on our phone. Everywhere except in a mirror. 



banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere. He lives a quiet domestic existence in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary. Descended from a long line of people to whom one could never tell anything, all opinions are his and his alone, because he paid full retail for everything he has managed to learn.

American Dreaming – From G1 To Bilderberg

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar

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Published on Russia Today on June 11, 2015

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What’s the connection between the G7 summit in Germany, President Putin’s visit to Italy, the Bilderberg club meeting in Austria, and the TTIP – the US-EU free trade deal – negotiations in Washington?

We start at the G7 in the Bavarian Alps – rather G1 with an added bunch of “junior partners” – as US President Barack Obama gloated about his neo-con induced feat; regiment the EU to soon extend sanctions on Russia even as the austerity-ravaged EU is arguably hurting even more than Russia.

Predictably, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande caved in – even after being forced by realpolitik to talk to Russia and jointly carve the Minsk-2 agreement.

The hypocrisy-meter in the Bavarian Alps had already exploded with a bang right at the pre-dinner speech by EU Council President Donald Tusk, former Prime Minister of Poland and certified Russophobe/warmonger: “All of us would have preferred to have Russia round the G7 table. But our group is not only a group (that shares) political or economic interests, but first of all this is a community of values. And that is why Russia is not among us.”

So this was all about civilized “values” against “Russian aggression.”

The “civilized” G1 + junior partners could not possibly argue whether they would collectively risk a nuclear war on European soil over a Kiev-installed ‘Banderastan’, sorry, “Russian aggression.”

Instead, the real fun was happening behind the scenes. Washington factions were blaming Germany for making the West lose Russia to China, while adult minds in the EU – away from the Bavarian Alps – blamed Washington.

Even juicier is a contrarian view circulating among powerful Masters of the Universe in the US corporate world, not politics. They fear that in the next two to three years France will eventually re-ally with Russia (plenty of historical precedents). And they – once again – identify Germany as the key problem, as in Berlin forcing Washington to get involved in a Prussian ‘Mitteleuropa’ Americans fought two wars to prevent.

 

As for the Russians – from President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov downwards – a consensus has emerged; it’s pointless to discuss anything substantial considering the pitiful intellectual pedigree – or downright neo-con stupidity – of the self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” Obama administration policy makers and advisers. As for the “junior partners” – mostly EU minions – they are irrelevant, mere Washington vassals.

It would be wishful thinking to expect the civilized “values” gang to propose alternatives for the overwhelming majority of citizens of G7 nations getting anything other than Mac-jobs, or barely surviving as hostages of finance-junkie turbo-capitalism which only benefits the one percent.Rather easier to designate the proverbial scapegoat – Russia – and proceed with NATO-infused fear/warmongering rhetoric.

Iron Lady Merkel also found time to pontificate on climate change – instilling all and sundry to invest in a “low-carbon global economy.” Few noticed that the alleged deadline for full “decarbonization” was set for the end of the 21st century, when this planet will be in deep, deep trouble.

 

G7 summit at the Elmau castle in Kruen near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany (Reuters / Christian Hartmann)

 

 

 

 

 

G7 summit at the Elmau castle in Kruen near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany (Reuters / Christian Hartmann)

 

Achtung! Bilderberg!

Obama’s neocon-induced newspeak continues to rule that Russia dreams of recreating the Soviet empire. Now compare it to what President Putin is telling Europe.

Last week, Putin found time to give an interview to the Milan-based Corriere della Sera at 2 am; the interview was published as the Bavarian Alps show went on, and ahead of Putin’s June 10 visit to Italy. Russia’s geopolitical interests and US- Russia relations are depicted in excruciating detail.

So Putin was a persona non grata at the G1 plus junior partners? Well, in Italy he visited the Milan Expo; met Prime Minister Renzi and Pope Francis; reminded everyone about the “privileged economic and political ties” between Italy and Russia; and stressed the 400 Italian companies active in Russia and the million Russian tourists who visit Italy every year.

Crucially, he also evoked that consensus; Russia had represented an alternative view as a member of the G8, but now “other powers” felt they no longer needed it. The bottom line: it’s impossible to have an adult conversation with Obama and friends.

And right on cue, from Berlin –where he was displaying his sterling foreign policy credentials, Jeb Bush, brother of destroyer of Iraq Dubya Bush, fully scripted by his neocon advisers, declared Putin a bully and rallied Europe to fight, what else, “Russian aggression.”

 

 

The rhetorical haze over what was really discussed in the Bavarian Alps only began to dissipate at the first chords of the real sound of music; the Bilderberg Group meeting starting this Thursday at the Interalpen-Hotel Tyrol in Austria, only three days after the G1 plus junior partners.

Possible conspiracies aside, Bilderberg may be defined as an ultra-select bunch of elite lobbyists – politicians, US corporate honchos, EU officials, captains of industry, heads of intelligence agencies, European royals – organized annually in a sort of informal think tank/policy-forming format, to advance globalization and all crucial matters related to the overall Atlanticist agenda. Call it the prime Atlanticist Masters of the Universe talkfest.

To make things clear – not that they are big fans of transparency – the composition of the steering committee is here. And this is what they will be discussing in Austria.

Naturally they will be talking about “Russian aggression” (as in who cares about failed Ukraine; what we need is to prevent Russia from doing business with Europe).

Naturally they will be talking about Syria (as in the partition of the country, with the Caliphate already a fact of post-Sykes-Picot life).

Naturally they will be talking about Iran (as in let’s do business, buy their energy and bribe them into joining our club).

But the real deal is really the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – the alleged “free trade” deal between the US and the EU. Virtually all major business/finance lobbyists for the TTIP will be under the same Austrian roof.

And not by accident Bilderberg starts one day before “fast track” presidential authority is to be debated at the US Congress.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets Pope Francis during a private meeting at Vatican City, June 10, 2015 (Reuters / Gregorio Borgia)

 

 

 

 

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets Pope Francis during a private meeting at Vatican City, June 10, 2015 (Reuters / Gregorio Borgia)

 

WikiLeaks and a ton of BRICS

Enter WikiLeaks, with what in a fairer world would be a crucial spanner in the works.

The fast track authority would extend US presidential powers for no less than six years; that includes the next White House tenant, which might well be ‘The Hillarator’ or Jeb “Putin is a bully” Bush.

This presidential authority to negotiate dodgy deals includes not only the TTIP but also the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).

WikiLeaks, just in time, published the Healthcare Annex to the secret draft “Transparency” chapter of the TPP, along with each country’s negotiating position. No wonder this draft is secret. And there’s nothing “transparent” about it; it’s an undisguised hold-up of national healthcare authorities by Big Pharma.

The bottom line is that these three mega-deals – TTP, TTIP and TiSA – are the ultimate template of what could be politely described as global corporate governance, a Bilderberg wet dream. The losers: nation-states, and the very concept of Western democracy. The winners: mega-corporations.

Julian Assange, in a statement, succinctly nailed itIt is a mistake to think of the TPP as a single treaty. In reality there are three conjoined mega-agreements, the TiSA, the TPP and the TTIP, all of which strategically assemble into a grand unified treaty, partitioning the world into the West versus the rest. This 'Great Treaty' is described by the Pentagon as the economic core to the US military's 'Asia Pivot.' The architects are aiming no lower than the arc of history. The Great Treaty is taking shape in complete secrecy, because along with its undebated geostrategic ambitions it locks into place an aggressive new form of transnational corporatism for which there is little public support."

 

So this is the real Atlanticist agenda – the final touches being applied in the arc spanning the G1 + added junior partners to Bilderberg (expect a lot of crucial phone calls from Austria to Washington this Friday). NATO on trade. Pivoting to Asia excluding Russia and China. The West vs. the rest.

Now for the counterpunch. As the show in the Bavarian Alps unrolled, the first BRICS Parliamentarian Forum was taking place in Moscow – ahead of the BRICS summit in Ufa next month.

Neocons – with Obama in tow – knock themselves out dreaming that Russia has become “isolated” from the rest of the world because of their sanctions. Since then Moscow has signed major economic/strategic contracts with at least twenty nations. Next month, Russia will host the BRICS summit – 45 percent of the world’s population, a GDP equivalent to the EU, and soon bigger than the current G7 – as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, when India and Pakistan, currently observers, will be accepted as full members.

G1 plus junior partners? Bilderberg? Get a job; you’re not the only show in town, any town.

 

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

This Week in Doom June 8, 2015

That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964
Off the keyboard of Surly1
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on June 8, 2014

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


"Katrina washed away a lot of veils and took a lot of face masks off. Your politics cannot be bigger than your humanity. And in this case, we didn't need politics. We needed humanity." 

 ― Oliver Thomas

We always need more humanity, as events from Ferguson to Baltimore have shown, humanity is in short supply. We have used up our domestic sources, and replacements have not arrived in West Coast ports en route from China. As we dither, thousands are fleeing the conflicts in the Global South, some of them of our creation, others less so, and seeking refuge on the shores of Southern Europe. We think ourselves immune from their plight, but continuing drought makes our own day of reckoning more likely. It has not been so long since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s touched off our own internal migrations, with their own lack of humanity in response; recall the iconic photo of the message, "Jobless Men, keep going. We can't take care of our own," a message befitting Chambers of Commerce everywhere. Humanity is lacking in the meat suit known as extremist fanatic Ted Cruz, who has demonstated not only a lack of common decency but a tin ear for the moment that should disqualify him for not only pursuit of higher office, but also sitting at the adult table at dinner. And the G7 meets in some heavily guarded German village, discussing whatever the G7 discusses, casting lots for Greece's garments, and if humanity is mentioned, it's only on the menu.


Ships rush to rescue thousands of migrants stranded in Mediterranean

Even as I write this, ships from European navies and NGOs are working to locate and rescue migrants migrating from the global South to Europe. Federico Soda, a spokesman for the international organization for migration told CNN on Sunday, "the numbers are high and they are rising."

Calm seas and good sailing weather spurred a fresh wave of ships crossing from Libya to Italy. Nearly 3500 migrants were rescued on Saturday alone.

A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said naval ships from Italy and Spain were also involved in the effort to rescue migrants on Sunday, along with the Italian coast guard.
The Italian coast guard has received requests for help from 14 vessels in distress, carrying an estimated 1,500 refugees and migrants, the UNHCR's William Spindler said.

They have rescued migrants from 11 vessels, and operations to find the other three boats and rescue those on board continue.

Desperate people from impoverished and conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea have put their lives

in the hands of human traffickers, and taken to sea to reach Europe in search of a better life. 

Those possessed of any empathy or human decency whatever can see in this issue a harbinger of things to come. Right now these migrants are landing in Italian ports, from Lampedusa to Sicily, from Reggio Calabria to Taranto. Many others have landed in Greece. The UN estimates that, as of the end of May, 90,000 refugees and migrants had crossed the Mediterranean into Europe this year. Just over half landed in Italy, with roughly 42,000 in Greece and the rest recorded in Spain and Malta. Some estimates have it that about 1,850 have died or were missing at sea.

This is a human migration unprecedented in recent times, and invites some questions,  namely, what would we do if faced with the same influx of migrants? The miserable wretches seeking succor or on Europe's shores are safely Over There, and not browning up our comfortable suburban neighborhoods. Yet that question has already been asked and answered Over Here with a depressing certainty.

MBR

Friend of the Diner and cross poster Tom Lewis, who runs a fine blog called The Daily Impact, reminds us of recent history:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, desperate citizens of New Orleans seeking water, food and shelter began streaming by the thousands out of the city on foot over the Interstate 90 bridge across the Mississippi River and into to the city of Gretna, Louisiana. The city had no electricity, no water, no medical services and little in the way of a functioning government. It had been this way for three days when the refugees began streaming in, and unless conditions improved almost immediately, the people were looking at severe privation. So they closed the city. Put a line of armed police across the Interstate Bridge and turned the refugees back.  Sorry. Can’t help you.

The story has haunted me for nearly ten years. Not just because it is one of the gnarliest ethical problems I have ever come across. But also because in the aftermath of the crash of the Industrial Age — perhaps well before the crash, during the current preliminary stresses — every one of us is going to face the kind of decision Gretna had to make. We will be asked to give help to distressed neighbors when giving that help will endanger our own survival. How will we answer?

Most of the current migrations have climate change as a root cause: drought, hunger and thirst, leading to revolution, conflict and chaos.  And before we get too comfortable, consider this: as Lewis points out, the states of California, Nevada and Arizona are slowly baking in the summer sun, snow packs gone, aquifers evaporating, streams parching, and the fruits and vegetables we depend on for summer salads going up in smoke. Lewis asks:

How long will it be before lines of desperate people begin trudging along Interstate 5 into Oregon (nobody in their right mind is going to trudge south, or straight east). And how long before Oregon says, out of the direst of necessities, “Sorry, can’t help you.”

And how long do we suppose it will be before one day, with the power out and the water off and the phones down and the food running out, our neighbor comes to our gate and says, “I’m hungry and I’m thirsty and I need your help.” Okay, that’s one question and it’s fairly easy to handle. Now the next question: what if, in a line behind him, there are a couple dozen more neighbors?

And before you are too quick to answer, remember Gretna Bridge. In separate CBS reporting on this incident, Oliver Thomas, president of the New Orleans City Council, said,

"Katrina washed away a lot of veils and took a lot of face masks off. Your politics cannot be bigger than your humanity. And in this case, we didn't need politics. We needed humanity." 


China Containerized Freight Index Collapses

Most of us who read and follow the Diner realize that the reason economies are stalling all over the world is that Joe Sixpack is tapped out. People in debt are not looking on new ways to spend; rather, they are trying like hell to get out of debt.  Thus, spending is slowing, and a Ponzi economy in which the only "growth" comes from consumer demand is showing weakness. It's only "weakness," if you subscribe to the market-driven philosophy of growth in every quarter, every week, every day. So if demand is down, the rubber has to hit the road somewhere. Wolf Richter noted "where" this week.

One thing the Chinese authorities cannot do is crank up the global economy and demand for Chinese goods. These goods are shipped by container to the rest of the world. But containerized freight rates from China have totally collapsed.

The China Containerized Freight Index (CCFI), operated by the Shanghai Shipping Exchange and sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Communications, has not been put through the beautification wringer that other more publicly visible statistics, such as GDP growth, are subject to. It tracks spot and contractual rates for all Chinese container ports. And it plunged 3.2% this week to a multi-year low of 862, down 20% from February.

The trajectory of this terrible 3-month plunge:

China-Containerized-Freight-index-2015-06-05

For perspective, the index was set at 1,000 on January 1, 1998. Today, the index is 14% below where it was 17 years ago!

Of course, this is a three-month phenomenon, and not necessarily a harbinger of doom so much as a cyclical variation in trade.  Yet if Chinese made goods are not leaving China on freighters destined to your local Walmart so that you can enjoy "low, low prices every day,"  what are the implications?  And how long will this last?

It very well may be a blip in a long-term trend. Many goods formerly targeted for export may indeed be consumed within the Middle Kingdom in the future. Here's one stab at why.

Recently I visited with one of my best friends, a university prof just returned from a teaching gig in China– Xian, home of the terra cotta army discovered by a farmer and excavatied by Chinese archaelogists, in a dig that continues to this day. He and the team he was with were consultants to university professors in Xian, acting as the "pros from Dover" to train these Chinese professors in techniques of innovation. They worked with teams of university profs via interpreters using large group and small group instruction.  

My information is second-hand, conversational, and gained over cocktails, so this is anecdotal at best, representing, as my friend likes to say "an n of 1." By the actions of the Chinese it's unarguable that China wants to be better at innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, recognizing that this is essential for future competition. Seems that innovation is out of culture for the Chinese, who have operated in a top down, do-what-you're-told mode, as befits a centrally-governed people who have occupied the center of the universe for centuries. Those Chinese leaders who see the future clearly realize that they can no longer wait to be told what they need to do: they need to invent it. Hence my friend's trip, and doubtless the teaching trips of other Americans as well,  to try to get the Chinese to be less Confucian and more entrepreneurial in their thinking .

The stats may be off, but the gist remains:  ten years ago, there were 7 million Chinese enrolled in higher ed; in ten years they expect three times that many. And they want them ready to play at business on the world stage. Contrast those aspirations for a rising generation with those of the sclerotic FSoA, where we reserve higher ed for those with trust funds or a willingness to mortgage their futures with debt that is non-dischargeable through bankruptcy…

This little peek into China is seen at best through a series of reflections in a hall of mirrors; yet I have to say that the description of China is "toast" is premature and probably wrong. Especially given the success and deployment of renewable energy sources at a time when China's admittedly prodigious use of coal is in decline.

Chinese energy experts are estimating that by 2050 the percentage of China's energy requirements that are satisfied by coal-fired plants will have declined to 30-50% of total energy consumption and that the remaining 50-70% will be provided by a combination of oil, natural gas, and renewable energy sources.

The Chinese are serious about deploying them as a matter of policy, if for no other reason that to clean their air. To the extent that economic "growth" is wholly depended on available energy, the Chinese have a winning strategy using renewables. Plus they possess the political will to order it done. Yet there remains no free press; it remains under state control as immutably as our own remains in the iron grip of corporate collossi. There are likewise no independent Chinese bloggers or alt media. There is no open internet access. The Chinese ruling regime is repressive. My friend put it best when I asked: "Life for the average middle class Chinese is pretty good, as long as you don't make waves, ask too many questions, and are prepared to make do without a few things most of us take for granted. Like rights and freedom."

What seems unknowable is the effect of the sheer mass of numbers on the Chinese and international markets. By 2020 the Chinese will have more college educated graduates in the workforce than the size of the entire US work force. The mind boggles at what this might mean, particularly for a government that can order key investments by fiat.


Tone Deaf and Lacking a Soul

Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, then attorney general of Delaware, addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6, 2012. Biden, the eldest son of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., died of brain cancer, his father announced on Saturday, May 30, 2015. (Photo: Todd Heisler / The New York Times)

This week, the Biden family had the sad obligation to say goodbye to Beau Biden after illness claimed him.  No parent should ever have to bury a child; Joe Biden has had to bury two. No matter where one may fall on the political spectrum, such moments of human pain and suffering call most of us to declare a pause in the name of common decency. Writer William Rivers Pitt wrote an elegy that was deeply moving and cut to the heart of the matter:

It is an old story all too often repeated: the children of the powerful wind up being terrible people. Beau Biden, who succumbed to brain cancer on Saturday at age 46, was a notable and underscored exception to that rule. He served as state Attorney General of Delaware, served in the Delaware Army National Guard's Judge Advocate General Corps, and did a tour in Iraq. In 2008, he introduced his father to the convention in a speech that knocked paint off the walls. He was widely considered to be the front-runner in the Delaware governor's race in 2016 before that wretched disease laid him low. He fought the cancer for two years, and his father's family grave plot has become crowded once again.

Vice President Biden had just been elected to the Senate when the accident in 1972 stole half of his family. He was virtually annihilated by the loss of his wife and daughter. He contemplated suicide … but he still had two young sons, both of whom were injured in the crash and were hospitalized. He rose, and persevered, and raised one hell of a son. Until his boys were healed, he put the Senate second. "As a single parent," recalled Beau Biden during that stirring 2008 convention speech, "he decided to be there to put us to bed, to be there when we woke from a bad dream, to make us breakfast, so he'd travel to and from Washington, four hours a day."

During a speech at Yale University several days ago, Vice President Biden said, "The real reason I went home every night was that I needed my children more than they needed me." Politics is a cynical business – if we all had a nickel for every politician's lie told every day, the recession would be over – but what Mr. Biden said at Yale is as much truth as you will ever hear from an elected official in your whole life…

… Life has beaten Joe Biden with rocks. He has buried a wife and a baby daughter, and now must bury a son. I find this to be purely unfathomable. The passing of Beau Biden – husband, father of two, soldier, public servant – is a loss to the nation, but that pales in comparison to the loss being endured by Joe Biden and his family.

Pitt is the recent father of a baby girl, and draws upon his own love and devotion to his daughter to understand the enormity of the loss the Biden family is feeling. You would think at times like this that common decency would be the order of the day. Ah, not so. Tone-deaf domestic extremist and American Taliban member Ted Cruz proved not only that he is not fit to govern, but is also unfit for the company of decent people:

Cruz, speaking in Michigan, trotted out an old line of his: “Joe Biden … You know what the nice thing is? You don’t even need a punch line. I promise you it works. At the next party you’re at, just walk up to someone and say, ‘Vice President Joe Biden,’ and just close your mouth. They will crack up laughing,” according to reports on MLive.com.

Cruz later apologized. On Facebook.  Politico reports that Detroit News reporter Chad Livengood tweeted he questioned Cruz about the joke immediately after the speech and that “the Texas senator turned and walked away.” Livengood described the reaction to Cruz’s joke as “faint laughter.” Which should tell you everything you need to know about this particular golem, and the people to whom he appeals.


Protests ahead of G7 meeting

What a meeting of the G7 be without protests? They have become an almost obligatory part of the decor. Once again, the owners have gathered together in a German Alpine resort to compare notes on how their legislation to enact the new world order is faring, faced as it is by the obstinacy of mere proles. And the subject of Greece might arise as well. And once again, mere proles have gathered together to underline their dissatisfaction.

Leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) industrial nations will meet on Sunday in a German Alpine resort town, as thousands protested on the eve of the two-day summit.
There were sporadic clashes with police and several marchers were taken to hospital with injuries, as thousands marched in the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen on Saturday.
Protester Monika Lambert said she had come "to exercise my democratic rights to say that everything the G-7 decides is in the interest of the banks and capitalists".
The Germans have deployed 17,000 police around the former winter Olympic Games venue at the foot of Germany's highest mountain, the Zugspitze. Another 2,000 are on stand-by across the border in Austria.

Anti-poverty charity Oxfam, staged a protest Saturday that depicted G7 leaders with huge heads. Oxfam is urging G7 leaders to find the "right path" to overcome poverty and inequality. Steffen Kuessner, a spokesperson for Oxfam, said social inequality was missing from the leaders' agenda.

We remain shocked, shocked…


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with his new bride Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap.

The Crash of 2015: Going Global

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Published on the Daily Impact on May 26, 2015

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titanic-sinking

Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

Titanic_sinking,_painting_by_Willy_StöwerJust in the past week, the headlines have been coming like triphammer blows: in Bloomberg News, “Something has gone wrong with the global consumer,” (according to JP Morgan); in International Business Times, “G7 Finance Ministers to address faltering global growth;” in London’s Telegraph, “HSBC fears world recession with no lifeboats left;” in OilPrice.com, “Clock running out for struggling oil companies;” and even in the mainstream vanilla Washington Post, a column by Robert Samuelson predicts “China’s coming crash,” then puts a question mark at the end to make sure we don’t worry too much.

When you add these concerns to longer standing ones about wild gyrations in the world’s stock and bond markets; the advent of peak oil in pretty much every oil-exporting country in the world; the onset of the effects of global climate change in California, the Middle East, North Africa, Brazil and elsewhere; it becomes apparent that optimism ought to be listed as a disorder requiring medical intervention.

What’s wrong with the global consumer? In the imortal words of Howard Davidowitz, a leading expert on retail, consumers “don’t have any f’ing money.” It is slowly — way too late — dawning on the Masters of the Universe that unless ordinary people have money to spend — and by that we mean real money, not more credit cards or a third mortgage — the Masters are toast.

According to J.P. Morgan economist Joseph Lupton, “It would be difficult to overstate the recent downside surprise in global consumer spending.” Lower gas prices were supposed to stimulate spending. They didn’t. The high stock markets were supposed to encourage enough job creation to seriously dent unemployment rates and stimulate spending. They didn’t. The lackluster numbers of early spring were supposed to be the result of bad weather. They weren’t. “Clearly,” says Lupton, “something is off track.”

Indeed. International shipping is at historic lows. Energy consumption is declining. In the US, the trucking industry is starting to show weakness. At the same time rail-freight shipments are declining sharply. Retail stores are closing by the thousands. While, obliviously, the stock market soars to new heights.  

Meanwhile, says International Business Times, “Finance ministers from the world’s largest developed economies meet in Germany this week against a backdrop of faltering global growth, scant inflationary pressures and a bond market in turmoil.” They’ll get to all this after they have figured out how to keep Greece from nuking the European Union by defaulting on its obligations because Greece hasn’t got any f’’ing money, either. Even if they can figure out how to amputate Greece without getting an infection, they will still be looking at either anemic growth or actual contraction in the powerhouse economies of the United States, China, Canada and Europe.

Now, even if you believe, as I do, that the notion of infinite growth on a finite planet is ridiculous, and the notion that all growth is always good is suicidal, you still live, as I do, in a system that will crash if its faith on growth is broken. So pay attention to these idiots. They’re driving.

Meanwhile, a report written by and for HSBC, the world’s third largest bank, likens the world economy to the Titanic, “sailing across the ocean without any lifeboats.” In fact the report is titled “The World Economy’s Titanic Problem,” and was written by a writer of financial horror stories appropriately named Stephen King. In his relentless account, the world’s central bankers have expended every bit of ammunition they have to stop the approaching iceberg of debt and depression, and the iceberg is bigger and closer than ever. You will stifle a scream as you read.

This gathering emergency is only invisible to those whose paychecks require that they do not see it. Unfortunately, that includes many journalists and virtually all politicians. The rest of us need to take another look at the pile of boards on the aft deck of the Titanic and get to work on our personal lifeboats. Now.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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