Politics

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.

 

 

The Great Nausea

Big Bother gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Anthony Freda                       

 

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation March 28, 2016


Historians of the future, roasting rat kabobs over their campfires, will look back at the year 2016 and marvel at the death throes of the zombie republic that died eating its own brains. This grotesque Deep State lumbers from one misadventure of governance to the next consuming its prospects for a plausible future in a fugue of autophagy, inducing the great nausea that now settles over the land.

President Trump — really? We would be lucky if it only resulted in a revolt of the generals, and there goes 200-plus years of institutional heritage. Yet it cannot be denied that the Deep State needs to be kicked to the curb, stomped, water-boarded, and hung out to dry. The sad part is that the job might have been done by men of character, but incredibly the long-vaunted baby boomer generation did not manage to produce any, nor the so-called Gen-X now coming into its own power. And if such hypothetical figures do exist, why are they hiding in the thickets of public life?

Well, there is Bernie, after all. Credit must be given to this lone crusader for at least opposing the avatar of the Deep State, she whose “turn” must not be denied in the rotating management of rackets-and-grift that our politics have sunk to. He thrashed her roundly in the three primary contests over the weekend — so badly in the vote count that she may be suffering an existential hangover as I write. The fabled Democratic Party super-delegates may also be going through a dark night of the soul as they study the intractable anti-charisma of Hillary. Much as I admire Bernie’s chutzpah, his particular Old Left theories of wealth redistribution do not convince me — though the management of our dwindling capital surely lies at the heart of our problems. His nomination would go down in the Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not annals of the world’s greatest improbabilities.

Otherwise, the latest meme spreading across the web wires is how deeply the voters divide by sex: men flocking around Trump (or Machine Gun Ted Cruz), and the ladies standing at each mighty column of Hillary’s azure pant-suit. Yes, a national war of the sexes. Just what we need with all our shit falling apart. This sorry diversion results not from the triumph of feminism, as widely believed, but actually from the failure of American manhood. Proof of that, of course, is the ascendance of Trump, this punch-line of a political leader with all the gravitas of a hood ornament. History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce — thank you, Karl Marx, O peevish mischief-maker squirming upon your fabled boils!

Finally, what will take the Deep State down is not some lance-wielding armored savior on a white horse but the awful undertow of financial implosion that awaits as the seasons of 2016 turn. When faith in our money and the instruments represented in it goes, look out below. There are so many rifts in the international banking system that the vista begins to look like the spring ice break-up on the Lake of Nations. When the grifters can’t cash their checks — or move their pixels into the accounts receivable column — they will be immobilized. Of course, if that happens, so will everything else, including your ability to buy any more frozen pizzas.

Trump, Cruz, Hillary, and Bernie are signs that this poor paralyzed country needs to go through a convulsion to flush out all the toxic idiocy of this historical moment. Trigger warning: it may be the messiest revolution in history when it finally comes, there is so much dross to clear out of the system. Trump and Hillary are like two giant fistulas obstructing the national bowel. Of course, a lot of sentient Americans do not want their nation dying on the toilet like Elvis. The indignity of it! In the name of the founding fathers, please, someone, fetch the enema bag.

Events still lie hidden like bear traps on the path to “Decision 2016” as they like to say on the cable networks. Somewhere in London, Singapore, Shanghai, or New York, a 25-year-old coked-out Forex trader is going to tap the untoward keystroke that brings down a derivatives avalanche… or two brothers of Allah in some Berlin row-house will go forth one bright morning in vests of Semtex… and finally enough will be enough.


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

Patriotism’s Game

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on March 17, 2016

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Once again in election season the drums of patriotism are being beaten. Politicians on the stump and their Madison Avenue flacks are exhorting us to rally around the tattered flag. Their drumming sounds feeble and hollow, though, like cheerleaders trying to rouse the fans while our military team goes down to defeat, bringing the economy with it.

 

The drummers persist because their patriotic noise drowns out the voices of those asking disturbing questions: Why are we playing this losing game to begin with? Why are we bankrupting the country with endless war? How can we love a nation that slaughters millions of our fellow human beings? These questions endanger the game, and the game must go on.

 

Patriotism keeps us in the game. It's an instrument of control that's cultivated in us as children through emotional rituals designed to make us identify our nation with our family and with some higher power. These rituals create a bond of feeling linking God the Father, the Founding Fathers, and our own fathers into a patriarchal hierarchy that rewards us if we're obedient and punishes us if we're rebellious. It's a tool for keeping us in our place.

 

Patriotism exploits the love we have for our parents by projecting it onto the nation. We love our country, so we react to criticism of it as an attack on our family. This criticism hurts our feelings on a deep personal level, so we reject it. It's too threatening to us. The emotionality of patriotism keeps us from thinking about what the USA is actually doing in the world: dominating other countries through economic, political, and military aggression.

 

Patriotism gives us the illusion that we're part of the system rather than victims of it. It helps us feel good about ourselves, a defense against the low self-esteem that this hypercompetitive society instills in us. Instead of personal pride, we are offered national pride, and we cling to that because it's all we've got. That's one reason poor whites are often so aggressively patriotic. They're desperate to feel like winners. The poor minorities know better.

 

If we can see that patriotism has been indoctrinated into us, we'll be a step closer to reclaiming our minds and freeing ourselves from these internalized control mechanisms that make us subservient to the corporate state and its owners. We will no longer be their loyal and obedient populace generating profits for them. When we finally evict them from their positions of power in our minds and in the world, we'll then be able to build a country we really could be proud of.

 

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William T. Hathaway is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. His new novel, Lila, the Revolutionary, is a fable for adults about an eight-year-old Indian girl who sparks a world revolution for social justice. Chapters are posted at www.amazon.com/dp/1897455844. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.

Worse Than 1860

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation January 18, 2016
 

The lost story-line amid the food-fights and boasting contests that the “debates” have turned into is the destruction being wreaked on the two major parties themselves. I don’t see how either the Republicans or Democrats get out of this thing alive. The primary season now upon us is the event horizon that sucks these two purposeless clubs into the bottomless hole of historical bad memories. Both parties have failed so fundamentally to represent or even apprehend the interests of the nation that they are now merely obstacles to any sort of plausible future, two infernal machines blocking the road, shaking themselves to death.

The Republican Party may be closer to outright blowup since the rank and file will never accept Donald Trump as their legitimate candidate, and Trump has nothing but contempt for the rank and file. If Trump manages to win enough primaries and collect a big mass of delegate votes, the July convention in Cleveland will be the site of a mass political suicide. The party brass, including governors, congressmen, senators and their donor cronies will find some device to deprive Trump of his prize, and the Trump groundlings will revolt against that move, and the whole nomination process will be turned over to the courts, and the result will be a broken organization. The Federal Election Commission may then have to appeal to Capital Hill to postpone the general election. The obvious further result will be a constitutional crisis. Political legitimacy is shattered. Enter, some Pentagon general on a white horse.

Parallel events could rock the Democratic side. I expect Hillary to exit the race one way or another before April. She comes off the shelf like a defective product that never should have made it through quality control. Nobody really likes her. Nobody trusts her. Nobody besides Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Huma Abedin believe that it’s her turn to run the country. Factions at the FBI who have had a good look at her old State Department emails want to see her indicted for using the office to gin up global grift for the Clinton Foundation. These FBI personnel may be setting up another constitutional crisis by forcing Attorney General Loretta Lynch either to begin proceedings against Clinton or resign. Rumors about her health (complications from a concussion suffered in a fall ) won’t go away. And finally, of course, Senator Bernie Sanders is embarrassing her badly at the polls.

The Democrats could feasibly end up having to nominate Bernie on a TKO, but in doing so would instantly render themselves a rump party peddling the “socialist” brand — about the worst product-placement imaginable, given our history and national mythos. In theory, the country might benefit from a partial dose of socialism such as single-payer Medicare-for-all — just to bust up the odious matrix of rackets that medicine has become — but mega-bureaucracy on the grand scale is past its sell-by date for an emergent post-centralized world that needs its regions to get more local and autonomous.

The last time the major political parties disintegrated, back in the 1850s, the nation had to go through a bloody convulsion to reconstitute itself. The festering issue of slavery so dominated politics that nothing else is remembered about the dynamics of the period. Today, the festering issue is corruption and racketeering, but none of the candidates uses those precise terms to describe what has happened to us, though Sanders inveighs against the banker class to some effect. Trump gets at it only obliquely by raging against the “incompetence” of the current leadership, but he expresses himself so poorly in half-finished sentences and quasi-thoughts that he seems to embody that same mental incapacity as the people he rails against. Corruption and racketeering go unobserved and unchallenged. Even the amazing effrontery of Ted Cruz failing to report his Goldman Sachs campaign contributions to the FEC (with his wife employed as a managing director of that company!) hardly made an impression on public opinion last week.

Political uncertainty has never been so dangerously high in this country since the election year of 1860. Even the Watergate years pale against today’s sick scene because for all of Richard Nixon’s turpitudes and evasions in the White House, the institutions of democracy elsewhere were sound and worked impressively well. The senate committee steadfastly and systematically uncovered the crimes of Nixon and his cohorts over two years of hearings, and the House judiciary committee chugged efficiently through the preparatory work of impeachment — and then, old Tricky Dick boarded his helicopter to San Clemente with a ragged smile and a wave.

Nobody knows where the shit show of 2016 is leading. The uncertainty around it is helping to sink what remains of the old economy, and one can easily discern a very dangerous set of feedbacks creeping into place.

 

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

What is Really Behind the Refugee Crisis in Europe?

gc2smOff the keyboard of George Mobus

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Published on Question Everything on September 11, 2015

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The Resource Crisis and Climate Change

Back in July, 2013 I wrote this post, MENA – A Model of the Future? in which I dug deeper into the then crisis transpiring in Egypt where a revolt against the Morsi government was being spurred by the fact that the dwindling natural resources per capita (especially energy) were fundamentally unsolvable by any government. The people were unhappy because they thought that by voting in a new government democratically they would solve their problems (jobs, food, water, fuel, etc.) But it didn't happen for the simple reason that the resource pie was shrinking faster than any government actions (say attracting some kind of investment in the country) could counter. Things got worse and people once again took to the streets. Today, two years later, things have gotten considerably worse under the military regime that kicked out Morsi and took over. As I claimed then and reiterate, it is a matter of plain and simple physics, not politics. You cannot legislate resources into existence.

People have gotten used to thinking that solutions come from politics – having the right officials in place means that they will solve the problems. People everywhere pretty much assume this is the case, even in the US where the freak show called the presidential campaign is off and running. No doubt many republicans in the US sincerely believe that Donald Trump will solve all the problems and everything will be right as rain once again ("Make America great again").

But politicians are not miracle workers. They cannot feed the multitudes from a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. What they have become, however, right along side their neoclassical economics allies, are fair magicians — prestidigitators. They know how to manipulate smoke and mirrors and conjure economic spells. They are nothing more than snake oil con men (and women). The irony is that they actually believe what they say and are convinced they know how to really make good stuff happen. They are a testament to the capacity of the less-than-sapient mind's ability to double think.

The simple truth is that when you find yourself in deep resource depletion and high population no amount of financial hocus pocus or political posturing or brute force can fix anything. The Morsi government nor the military junta before and after could ever possibly satisfy the needs of the people. No government could. Nor could there be massive aid influx to ease the situation. The other nations of the world are all much poorer than they will admit. They cannot pump enough resources into the region to solve the problems. There is no scenario in which this comes out well.

Our talking heads continue to evaluate the “causes” of the mass exodus from the MENA region as due to the political unrest growing more violent by the day. For example they look at Syria and blame the problems, initially, on Asad and the rebellion/civil war that threatens so many civilians. Then the US government focuses on the ISIS threat as causing so many people to want to leave. These destructive acts are merely proximate causes. The rebels against Asad are basically repeating the story in Egypt. They claim that bad government (Asad) is the cause of the problems experienced by the people. Replace the government and problem solved! Right? Much the same story is being repeated through out the other failed states in the region.

The civil wars and lawlessness (e.g. Boko Haram) are driven by the rapid decline of resources compounded now by climate consequences, drought and severe temperatures. People are fighting for dwindling resources in increasingly unlivable conditions. The citizens of these states are responding most immediately to the violence, and claiming political asylum on that basis. But make no mistake. They are ultimately climate and resource refugees. And there is no policy or plan that will correct the situation. The lucky ones will escape (if they don't die on the journey) to Europe and possibly to the US. But that will simply cause resource strains in those areas where they settle. Nor will the flood taper off until the region is mostly emptied.

MENA is just the first example of what is happening in the world. As the climate situation worsens, and we now know that it is and will further, affecting every continent on the planet, and as resource depletions grow acute in various focused locations, we will see this same scenario played out again and again. Political upheaval based on the belief that the government's ineptitude, or corruption, or whatever, is responsible for the problems that ensue (food shortages, fuel shortages, unemployment, etc.) will give over to violence. Regimes will change, but the problems will just grow worse.

Perhaps the US and some of the remaining western “rich” nations will try to help, intervene to reduce violence, or attempt to aid relocations. But their capacity to afford such actions are growing weaker with every day that passes. At some point the wealthy nations will no longer be truly wealthy and will decline to try to help. They will, in fact, be starting to feel the same effects themselves. Already we see the discord and extreme polarizations taking place in many western polities. In the US we tend to blame the congress for its deadlocked inability to pass laws that will effect economic change (and assumed progress). Neither side gets a thumbs-up on its economic ideas. In any case both sides firmly believe that economic growth is the solution to all problems and neither recognizes that we've used up all of the resources that we need to do so. They are so blind to reality that all they can really do from now on is exacerbate the problems. In the US we are in a situation that only the most blind persons even seek political position. They are so stupid and ignorant that they cannot even conceive that problems have real physical roots. Pity.

All over the world, right now, you can find cases of pockets of affected areas where people are starting to move out seeking somewhere where they can find work and resources. Within nations like Brazil, China, Russia, and even the United States there are instances of people becoming refugees. The Dust Bowl events in the US are another model for what is happening. Right now, in each of these countries the migrations are within the borders (except in Mexico and other Latin American countries) and so don't show up in “official” statistics.

Certainly there have been relocation migrations throughout humankind's history. We've always managed to deplete local resources forcing people to abandon a region, for example areas in the Middle East were once far more productive than in recent history before ungulate grazing changed the region's climate. And there have been many cases of people simply seeking better conditions (e.g. the American West promised great possibilities, especially during the Gold Rush). What is different about the current situation is that we are looking at a global phenomenon. Resources have been depleted just about everywhere. Climate is changing everywhere and at a breath-taking rate. The regions that are experiencing the worst effects are now quite obvious. The MENA region is probably the most dramatic. For example, by contrast, island nations being threatened by sea level rise and Arctic regions being impacted by loss of ice have fewer people affected and so do not rise to the level of global-level stress. Nevertheless the people effected in these regions are beginning to plan their escapes from their situations.

Right now in China there are many local emigrations taking place due to combinations of insufficient resources and climate change consequences. There is also a fair amount of unrest brewing in various areas. These are not as dramatic (yet) as the case in the MENA region. And internal migrations, as I said, are not depicted in the same manner as the refugee flood from the MENA to Europe. In fact it might be even worse in China than we know. The country is so much larger, the populations involved so much larger, and the information flow coming out of the country is subject to so much filtering that we might not get a good idea of what is happening there until significant violence breaks out that can't be hidden. But based on China's geographical conditions, and its potential susceptibility to climate disruptions, and the distributions of its huge population, I expect to soon see a situation similar to the MENA refugees become obvious in China.

India might erupt before China. The Indian subcontinent's orientation (North-South axis), its reliance on the snow falls and ice reservoirs in the Himalayas and its proximity to the equator make it a candidate for significant climate disruptions. It is already suffering changes in its monsoon patterns at the same time the huge population is withdrawing more water from its limited resources. However, in India I would not be surprised to see a somewhat different response from the populace. The vast majority of people in the country do not have mobility resources in the same way many Chinese do. It would not surprise me if a significant portion of the Indian population simply succumbed in place rather than trying to trek out. The distances are too great and the conditions along the way are likely to not provide support. There is no other large body of land nearby for those in the costal regions to escape to.

As the MENA refugee crisis unfolds this fall we will have a good view of what to expect world-wide. Right now a fair amount of European sentiment is in support of the migrants (I know there is a technical difference between a migrant and a refugee, but as I claimed above, these refugees are really climate-escape migrants). As more and more pour into the continent we will see how long this sentiment carries. There are many anti-migrant advocates already making noises and trying to get more political purchase. A lot will depend on the economic strength of the countries taking in the migrants — will the local natives be able to get jobs? — and the behavior of the immigrants. There is a real danger of culture clash based on the religious backgrounds of Muslim immigrants and secular (or Christian) natives. I refuse to predict anything on this count. The situation is too chaotic.

What I will predict is that the phenomenon will grow and worsen over the next decade. This is a one-way street we are on and no U-turns are possible. You can't un-deplete resources, especially fossil fuel energy. Readers of my biophysical economics writings will know how dim a view I have of the prospects of alternative energies replacing fossil fuels even if we were to undertake a huge reduction in net energy use. Alternatives might ease the pain a bit, for a while, but they cannot provide the long term flows of high power energy that it takes to drive our modern technologies. Magical and wishful thinking cannot change that fact. Alternative energy capture and conversion equipment (i.e. wind towers and solar arrays) are still built, installed, and maintained using fossil fuel power. It is quite doubtful that they will ever be self-sustaining to the extent of providing adequate net energy for economic uses.

If you want to consider your own future, imagine yourself in the shoes of one of the MENA refugees right now. Many of the ones who are making the trip had some basic monetary resources to afford the passage. But look at what they were reduced to in doing so. Imagine yourself now in a situation where the local stores are no longer stocked with food and other necessaries. Imagine your electricity being intermittent, maybe only on ten percent of the day. Imagine transportation breakdowns, perhaps gas is no longer delivered to your gas station. Imagine communications breakdowns. No Internet. No telephones (cell or land lines). What will you do?

But more than that, imagine that you decide to escape. Where will you go. The MENA refugees have Europe, ostensibly, to escape to. They expect their problems to be greatly reduced in these new lands. After all, the North is rich. Where will you go? What country will you escape to? Maybe some Americans are thinking they will go to Canada! But do they actually understand what the climate changes are going to mean for all of North America?

I doubt there will be any real escape. The best a sapient being can do is find a location that looks like it will be least impacted by climate, get situated and hunker down. With luck, you might just make it.

BRICS/SCO sow panic in Exceptionalistan

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Originally published in RT on July 13, 2015

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As austerity-ravaged Europe watches its undemocratic “institutions” grapple with the Greek tragedy, and the US backtracks on a fair nuclear deal with Iran, geopolitical tectonic plates are shifting in the Urals.

Can you feel an inchoate multipolar world? Well, just look right here at the BRICS 2015 Ufa declaration. The EU is hardly featured in the BRICS declaration and not by accident.

Forget about the dead on arrival G7. This – the joint BRICS/SCO summit – is the real deal in 2015. Russia’s diplomatic masterstroke was to merge two summits – BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – with a third, informal meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). 

After all, some nations with leaders present in Ufa are members of at least one of these organizations. But the absolute key point is that getting BRICS, SCO and EEU leaders in one place packs a graphic punch about the emergence of a coordinated, Eurasia-wide, and in some aspects worldwide drive towards a more equitable world order not dictated by exceptionalists.

And then there’s Iran. President Rouhani met President Putin in Ufa to discuss a formidable range of topics. Not least the coming acceptance of Iran as a member of the SCO, assuming there is a deal in Vienna and after UN sanctions are lifted. 
Right on cue, and also not by accident, US President Barack Obama issued marching orders to Secretary of State John Kerry to backtrack from some positions the entire Iran/P5+1 diplomatic corps was already taking for granted – as a top Iranian negotiator confirmed to me in Vienna.

So here’s the not-so-veiled message to Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif: Iran will be “punished” for getting too close to Moscow.

Have strategy, will travel


Only Russia is a member of all three organizations – BRICS, SCO and EEU. Russia and China are key members of two – BRICS and SCO. The Russia-driven EEU is slowly but surely merging with the China-driven New Silk Roads. The key structural framework is the ever-solidifying Russia-China strategic partnership.

As the Pentagon remains self-absorbed in its 2002-concocted Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine, Russia and China counterpunch with full spectrum cooperation on politics, economics, finance, diplomacy and defense.

The endgame – which will be the apex of the current New Great Game in Eurasia – is a new global geopolitical structure anchored on Eurasian integration. Thus the importance of Iran: no matter what happens in Vienna, Iran is the vital hub/node in Eurasia.

The road has been long for the SCO. I remember when Euro-bureaucrats only a few years ago dismissed it as a mere talk shop. What started as a security forum to integrate the Central Asian “stans” so they would not be ravaged by terrorism and extremism evolved into a serious economic/political organization.

So now the SCO is starting to add to, and draw upon, the BRICS’s ever expanding economic cooperation, which features two essential pillars: the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICS’s New Development Bank (NDB). As for the EEU, it is also indirectly linked to China, as part of the Russia-China strategic partnership.

This will all translate in the next few years into a complex maze of economic and trade/commerce networks traversing Eurasia. Call it the road map of the myriad New Silk Road(s).

Faster! Dust up our war plans!

Here’s just a sample of what has been decided in Ufa: Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping actively discussed, face-to-face, interlinks in the New Silk Road(s); India will become a full member of the SCO next year; Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov was appointed chairman of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB), which will finance infrastructure projects not only in the five BRICS countries, but in other developing nations as well. And all that based in their own currencies, bypassing the US dollar.

The NDB has the potential to accumulate as much as $400 billion in capital, according to bank head KV Kamath. The parent capital is $100 billion.

Currency swaps are the way to go. It already applies to Russia and China on trade in futures, and Putin has dubbed its expansion to other nations as “interesting.”

A strategy for BRICS economic partnership has been devised that “touches upon the responsibility of different ministers and requires high-level coordination,” according to Russia’s Economic Development Minister Aleksey Ulyukaev, which means in essence easier trade between BRICS nations.

Both the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the NDB are headquartered in China. However, they won’t compete with each other; they will add to and complement one another.

Russia’s Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) signed a memorandum of understanding with the other BRICS. Significantly, China’s Silk Road Fund and India’s IDFC (Infrastructure Development Finance Company) are key partners.

Russia will lift restrictions on Chinese banks working in Russia, accelerating Beijing’s drive to invest in all sectors of the Russian economy.

Russia proposed a roadmap for investment cooperation. Crucially, that includes the possibility of an energy association, according to Putin, as well as an international energy research center.

The subject of energy brings us to Greece. Russia’s Turkish Stream pipeline – yet another diplomatic/energy counterpunch after the EU scored a proverbial own goal by scotching the South Stream – will be linked to Greece.

No wonder that elicited panic in Exceptionalistan. What if Syriza’s “flirting with Moscow” becomes a strategic shift, thus causing NATO’s eastern flank to fall to pieces?

It doesn’t matter that Russia wants a strong EU – and the EU won’t be strong without Greece, as Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized in Ufa.

So what does NATO propose to seduce anyone across Eurasia away from all the frantic BRICS, SCO and EEU politico/economic activity? Nothing less than an obsession with a “strategy rethink.” In other words, detailed “secret” scenarios for a war on European soil.

That’s all one needs to know about who wants what in the new, emerging geopolitical order.


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

What it really takes for a US-Iran deal

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Originally published in Ron July 1, 2015

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U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (L-3rd L) meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd R) at a hotel in Vienna, Austria June 28, 2015 (Reuters / Carlos Barria)

 

 

The next important step is what happens at the UN Security Council (UNSC). All the concerned parties at the UNSC will endorse a declaration, and a resolution – which is still being negotiated – will render null and void all previous sanctions resolutions.

As it stands, all the parties – except the US government – want to go to the UNSC as soon as possible. Washington remains, at best, reticent.

Iranian negotiators have made it very clear at the table that Tehran will start implementing its nuclear restriction commitments – removal of a number of centrifuges, removal of the core of Arak’s reactor, disposal of uranium stock, etc. – immediately. The IAEA will be constantly checking Iran has complied with an extensive list.

But it has to be a parallel process; the US and the EU must for their part and “take physical action”, tackling the complex mechanism of lifting all economic sanctions. Once again; a UNSC signature instantly erases all previous sanctions.

And here is something crucial; all of this has been agreed in Lausanne. The work must be simultaneous, as stressed, in tandem, by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU representative Federica Mogherini.

Those fateful parameters

Meanwhile, we have the media centrifuges spinning like mad, as I described here. On the negotiating table, there are still skirmishes related to the US desire in trying to “prove a negative” – as in the “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program. Logically, you don't need to be a neo-Wittgenstein to see that’s impossible.

The deadline extension from June 30 to July 7 is mostly about finding – rather, finding again – a “reasonable common narrative” inbuilt in the Lausanne framework, and even before.

This means Washington should make the political decision to tone down repeated attempts to introduce new demands. Iranian officials admit, “we may have had disagreements on how we do simultaneous work,” but that’s part of Lausanne. New demands are not.

In Lausanne, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif agreed on a “set of parameters” – after an excruciating nine hours of debate. They also agreed, crucially, that both sides would refrain from humiliating one another publicly.

The recent record shows that’s been the case – as far as negotiators and diplomats are concerned. On the other hand, US corporate media predictably has been wreaking the proverbial havoc.

Which brings us to the clincher; Iranian negotiators have yet to detect a readiness of the US government to really change the “culture of sanctions” in the UNSC. And here a diplomatic consensus emerges, involving, very significantly, Russia and Germany; this agreement will be made – or broken – on one crucial point; whether the Obama administration wants to lift the sanctions or keep them.

Watch the BRICS front

The least one can say about what’s really happening in the Palais Coburg since this past weekend is that the Obama administration’s position is oscillating wildly. There seems to be – finally – some movement on the American side in the sense they feel a strategic interest in changing the situation.

That will depend, of course, on the Obama administration’s evaluation of all factions operating in the Beltway establishment. Diplomats in Vienna agree Kerry is personally involved in trying to change the equation. So this means the ball is really in the US court.

But all’s still murky; even oscillating wildly; the Americans continue to entertain what an Iranian official described to me as “buyer’s remorse” regarding what they agreed on Lausanne in the first place.

Serious, key sticking points remain. The duration of the sanctions; confidentiality issues – as in the US, especially, respecting terms of access to Iranian military installations; and what’s defined as “managed access” under certain conditions.

Also very crucial is the BRICS front at the P5+1. Neither China nor Russia wants to see any exacerbation of tensions, in Southwest Asia and beyond, because a deal is not clinched. The bottom line; with their eye in the Big Picture – as in Eurasia integration – both are committed to facilitate a deal.

Until next Tuesday, all remains in play. Obama has been spinning he doesn’t want a “bad deal”. That’s not the issue. The issue is Obama himself making the fateful political decision of abandoning the weapon of choice of US foreign policy; sanctions. Has he got what it takes to pull it off?


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

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.

Civilization Collapse 3.0

Off the keyboard of George Mobus

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Published on Question Everything on May 17, 2015

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What is Working?

I started a kind of list. I had been tracking a number of institutions (like higher education) and organizations (like the US government) and casually chronicling their growing dysfunction. The list was getting long and the seriousness of the dysfunctionalities was getting extreme. It occurred to me that it would be easier to keep a list of those institutions and organizations (including geo-political and economic regions, countries, cities, etc.) where things seemed to be going well.

I define “ well” as conditions where the processes of the systems seem to be functioning and the people involved are happy and productive. What has become disconcerting for me is that I am having problems finding examples to add to this list. In fact, the list has exactly zero items on it. My initial assumption was that we would find the number of dysfunctional items would exceed the number of functional ones, which would suggest that the net of human happiness would probably be negative; a finding consistent with the hypothesis that civilization is in the throes of collapse, but still at an early stage.

In addition to a simple additive list, we should probably weight the items by the magnitude of their impact on individuals' lives. For example, a commercial organization where the real wages of workers have been going down while the work load put on those workers has been increasing would have a direct and clearly felt impact on those individuals, whereas a dysfunction in city government that affected garbage collection might be an annoyance but not a cause for deep concern in the short run. The US Congress is possibly one of the most dysfunctional governance institutions/organizations on the planet (followed all too closely by the Supreme Court and the Presidency) given its enormous resources and historical context. Their inability to grasp the real nature of the economic woes and to find solutions that will help, for example, the working poor, is having a major negative impact on human happiness, but it is insidious and subtle in how it plays out. Discerning exactly how it works is a lot like trying to ascertain how global warming is “causing” any particular weather catastrophe. We know the causal links exist but tracing them through all of the connections in a complex network of relations is a daunting task.

When I started enumerating institutions and organizations at multiple scales that were showing clear evidence of dysfunction it became clear that I would be at it indefinitely. So I started to search for evidence of non-dysfunctional instances. With the exception of a few well-run corporations that are in still high demand markets and where their CEOs are not taking exorbitant paychecks at the expense of the workers, I was having trouble coming up with any truly good examples. A few Northern European countries still seem stable and their citizens seem, on the whole, to be content. But even there there are ominous clouds gathering. For example the rise of extreme right-wing political parties that have found a platform on anti-immigration responses to the increasing influx of Islamic refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa (designated as the MENA region) portends power struggles within the governments of those countries. There have already been civil unrest incidents and some violence that has been linked to anti-immigrant sentiments.

So I am rather at a loss to say much about where things are going well. I cannot find much that is working. But that may just be me. One could reasonably argue that I am, after all, biased and will tend to ignore evidence against my basic hypothesis, that civilization must necessarily collapse due to the decline of net free energy (i.e. peak oil combined with declining energy return on investment — EROI — and still growing populations). I am probably not immune to such selective bias. Thus I put it to you, the readers, to let me know of any evidence of some reasonably impactful institutions or organizations that seem to be working and contributing positively to human happiness (please also include estimates of the magnitude of such impact). As I was writing this one possible example did come to mind, if I allow that some kinds of religious experiences are positive (and I do even if I do not believe in most of what religions teach about an ethereal world). The current Pope of the Catholic faith (Francis), it seems to me, has done some worthwhile things that could have a positive impact on the followers of that religion, if not on other states owing to their leaders paying deference to what the Holy See says (e.g. calls for peace). But I reserve judgment of the effectiveness of his reign on the Church. For example, will he ferret out gross behaviors like child sex abuses or financial corruption in the Vatican's dealings?

If you have any contributions please make them in comments here. Let's see what sort of list we come up with. But please do not post examples of dysfunction. We already know so many it would be an act of waste of bandwidth.

Economists' View the “New Normal”

Meanwhile if we just examine the state and trends of the global economy we get a basic picture of the developing collapse. An article in today's New York Times Business section by Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University “Signs of a Shakier New Normal”, May 17, 2015, brought into focus a variety of comments made by a number of neoclassical economists of late (including, from time to time, the titular representative of ‘liberal’ economists, Paul Krugman) that we have entered a new kind of economic situation that they don't quite understand but have labeled “the new normal.” I suppose they are trying to subtly say that they expect the current set of conditions to continue indefinitely into the future. But, their reasons for saying so have nothing to do with their understanding the dynamics of the real economy and making predictions based on their bogus models. They are just tacitly admitting that something unusual is happening and it has persisted long enough now to be acknowledged as possibly permanent.

While the US government and a variety of media talking heads are hailing the “recovery” the reality of life for the vast majority of Americans does not demonstrate recovery. They continue to grow poorer, budgets are stretched even for those who have jobs, the real cost of living is still going up even in spite of the recent relief in energy costs, in short for most people there is no recovery. And that is what these economists are referring to (academically) as the new normal.

If the old normal was living a life in which incomes grew and outpaced inflation, material wealth grew and made life more enjoyable (questionable), and the future looked brighter still for the next generation, then indeed the current outlook is “new.” For most of the last 300 years life for western/northern economies, fueled by increasing access to fossil energies, has generally always looked to be improving. Now that energy is in decline we have a new reality to face. My children are struggling now to keep their heads above water and have dim prospects for ever rising to the upper middle class status that would have been their “birthrights” (please note the scare quotes!) due to my status from the mid twentyth century rapidly growing wealth production and the sheer luck of having been born into the white middle class that had grown out of the economic expansion after WWII.

Unless humanity discovers a new high-EROI source of energy with the right power and convenience properties sans the pollution problems associated with fossil fuels the future is not bright for anyone (no pun intended).

The “Why” Hasn't Changed

I have been writing about the problem we face for many years now. While the signs of a collapse scenario are now coming into sharp relief throughout the world, the basic fundamental reason for the collapse of global civilization that I have belabored over that time has not changed. Civilization is facing increasing declines in net free energy per capita. Free energy (also called exergy) is that which enables useful economic work, i.e. producing food, shelter, etc. Of course it can also be used to build frivolous products and services (e.g. i-Pads, phones, watches, giant home entertainment centers, etc.) Many people today will not see these as frivolous (must have my ability to send an instant tweet) until they think about how the energy used has been diverted from doing useful work, like getting food to those who have little. The problem for us is that we live with a shrinking pie, not a growing one. So each new slice takes away some from others. We are in a zero-sum game with an increasing number of players entering all the time. And yet we believe we are still rich. We fully believe we can put that iPhone on our credit card with impunity. That is we do until it is time to pay the bills.

In spite of my writing (which includes work in my new book on systems science) about this fundamental problem the idea doesn't seem to get much purchase with the politicians and neoclassical economists who still see the world economy as being able to grow exponentially (meaning compound) measured in dollar value of gross domestic product, GDP, (or gross global product, GGP, once all these trade deals are in place!) To me this has always been an astounding example of sheer idiocy and complete ignorance of how the Universe works. Nothing grows infinitely. Not even cancers can grow forever because they destroy their host bodies in trying to do so. How, I wonder, did these supposedly smart people ever get so stupid. Economists are supposed to learn a form of calculus and they certainly have access to all of the literature of system dynamics. How then can they just ignore basic physics and systems theory to continue to believe that a growing economy is a healthy economy? Of course I've answered my own question with my work on the nature of sapience and the lack of wisdom in our species Homo sapiens.

Perhaps it has to do with another reality that seems more immediate. The other part of the problem of per capita decline in energy is the increase in population that drives the “need” for growth of the economy. The simple fact is that as long as we keep making more people while working hard to prevent their demise the population will continue to grow and put increasing stresses on the resources we extract from the Earth. Look at what we are doing in the extraction of tight oil (fracking shale deposits), bituminous (tar) sands (mining), and mountain top removal for coal. These are very expensive and very low EROI operations (not to mention environmentally destructive) that clearly indicate how desperate we are for fossil energy. But we need that energy to support growing more jobs to accommodate the increasing number of people who need work. Population growth is also subject to limits but crashing into those is almost always painful for any species that reaches or exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment. And while we humans have seemingly moved our carrying capacity upward through technology, that route has its own limits as well. You can't apply Moore's law to energy or general equipment. And even Moore's law has practical limits. Any study of the current situation with respect to drinking water, soil erosion, mineral supplies, etc. will show that we have, in fact, reached very close to natural limits in several different areas.

Lower per capita energy translates into lower per capita real wealth since less real work can be accomplished per unit of time. For a brief time from the mid 1900s to the crash in 2008-9 we fooled ourselves into thinking we had somehow transcended the need to produce real wealth with the explosion of the use of credit to finance current consumption. This move is tricky and does not immediately appear to be problematic. Everyone basically understands the use of credit in monetary terms. You borrow an amount of money to finance something and you pay back the principal with interest to pay for the use of someone else's money over time. The theory has always been that you use the money to invest in some money-making or money-saving venture and because the economy is growing you will be earning more than enough to pay it back with interest. But the notion that this same mechanism could be applied to strictly consumption behaviors (trading up to bigger houses, buying bigger cars, and lots of fun stuff) was novel and completely unexamined critically. We jumped into it just because we could. Or at least we thought we could.

This did work as long as the economy was expanding and there would be more profit in the future. But what happens when you take out loans that either do not go to investments in profit-making or saving ventures but to finance frivolous entertainments? Or what happens when even investments in profit-making ventures fall flat because of higher than anticipated costs and thus lower profits?

Recessions happen because some of these credit financed investments have failed to provide the expected return on investment and thus investors and bankers become leery (rightly so) and withhold capital at a time when the economy has come to rely on credit to keep things going. Depressions happen when everybody loses confidence in everything.

The relation of credit and energy is a little harder to grasp. But that is only because credit also distorts the relation between money and energy. As I have written many times, the origin of money was as an information carrying token system used to regulate the flow of exergy into desired work processes. When you buy something with real money (however tokenized) you are directing the current or future flow of energy into the process that produced that something. The banking credit system, however, distorts the size of the money supply through fractional reserve banking practices that artificially inflates the supply, at least for a while. The less actual reserves are required the more distorted the money supply becomes and the illusion of having more energy available encourages investment in those frivolous efforts. But since costs (in both money terms and energy terms) are real in any work process, and profits derive from driving down costs, there has been a concerted effort to reduce them by shifting costs to externalities (pollution) and off-shoring labor (to lower energy lifestyle populations) all conveniently enabled by technologies in transportation (container ships) and telecommunications (off-shoring service jobs). By finding cheaper alternatives to getting work done, our high-energy civilizations have been able to hide the declining local net energy and continue to borrow against the future, even while that future will never support paying off the debts.

This strategy, not entirely unconsciously developed, could not hold. The costs of energy have been steadily climbing since the 1980s due to declining EROIs. Some of this has been masked by the very same debt-based financing practices applied to the extractive industries. But even that charade is rapidly coming to exposure. When the fracking revolution flooded the US markets with oil and drove the price of oil downward it did so rapidly leaving the financial condition of oil producers exposed. The costs of producing the next barrel of oil was too high to allow sustaining further exploration and drilling. Moreover already producing wells were declining much more rapidly than happens in conventional wells, with total output much less per well than with conventional wells. Companies have been diminishing their development and capital expenditures are down significantly in the oil and gas businesses and as there will be rapid diminshment of supply before much longer you can imagine what this will ultimately do to the prices for oil and gas. What has seemed like a reprieve from high energy prices will come to a crashing halt as energy prices reflect rapidly depleting supplies. Of course with a return to very high prices, the extractive companies that managed to survive will try to get back into the business (say in the Arctic Ocean), but the continuing decline in EROI of those plays will simply cause the same feedback phenomena to recur. This roller coaster ride will end more likely with the cars going off the tracks than a gentle stop.

One more clever but very unwise invention has masked the real story on the economy and the relation between money and energy. Over the last several decades we have witnessed what has been called the financialization of the economy. This really means the growth of speculative investments through bonds and stocks (initially) and more recently by a slew of “instruments” that purport to provide value through the management of portfolio risk. The fundamental belief in financialization is that money begets more money directly. In theory you no longer have to wait for profits to be made by productive enterprises; you can reap a reward by just moving funds around between stocks — buy low, sell high. Well, as I said above, investment in productive processes either do generate more energy per unit time or help us save energy leading to the effects of profit. The original stock and bond markets were set up to facilitate this kind of investment. But of recent times the stock market, in particular, has turned into a casino where gamblers are paid to gamble with other peoples' money. Returns on investment no longer depend on companies making profits and paying dividends. Money is made on trades. GDP increases with transactions even when no real wealth is produced. As with fractional reserve banking this whole business tends to distort the relation between energy and money making it seem that you really don't need to produce anything (other than financial services), you can gamble your way to wealth.

The financial markets have turned into a giant Ponzi scheme. There is no real wealth at the base. Profits are created out of smoke and mirrors. The financial sector crash of 2009 was nothing more than a bursting of the bubble with one important difference. In this case the power of the financial giants was such that they could, without shame, go to the government with hands out and argue that they were too big to fail; that failure would bring the whole economy down. So they were bailed out. People worse than robber-barons walked away with fortunes under the protection of the United States government and the Federal Reserve (in collusion) while the rest of the nation anted up to pay the bills. And what is now different as a result? What lessons did we learn about this shady industry? Apparently none. The recent “Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act” has been severely criticized for its ambiguity and weakness that essentially lets Wall Street firms pretty much do as they please still (one of those examples of an institutional failure writ large).

An interesting question that a number of people who see this charade for what it is ask, “Why aren't people up in arms about this nonsense?” Why are we not lynching the hyper-robber-barons? One possible answer is that we have been conditioned so deeply to believe in the neoliberal capitalism model and believe that we, ourselves, might one day be a beneficiary of its largess so that we are prevented from seeing the evils it fosters. We want ours too.

In truth the bandits were probably right to claim that collapse of the banking system would lead to a collapse of the economy. The government acted to prevent another depression to avert the kind of suffering that took place in the 1930s. Were they right to do so? It is the terrible irony of our situation that by preventing such a situation they have merely put off the inevitable for a short time more. In reality there is suffering now. It is perhaps more diffuse and lower key than what was seen in the 1930s but it is still happening. Moreover, by kicking the can down the road they have simply ensured that the next bubble burst, and there will be one before much longer, will be even worse.

The problem with our politicians, economists, and basically just about everyone else, is that they just can't get their heads around the reality of what the economy actually is and what rules truly govern it. They have grown so used to thinking in neoclassical economics, neoliberal capitalistic, and ideological terms that they simply have no way to recognize reality when it slaps them in the face. They will continue to want to return to a “healthy” growth-based economy where it is possible in theory for everyone to get rich. And so they (which includes everyone who buys into this claptrap) will never do the right things to transition societies into low-energy, simpler lifestyles consistent with diminishing energy. They will never introduce notions of population control geared to humanely reduce the size of the population commensurate with a minimum acceptable per capita share of net free energy. And so we can expect chaos to ensue as the reality pounds our civilization further into oblivion.

Advice

I'm afraid I have little to give. Who would take it anyway? My guess is that younger families should probably try to decouple from society as best they can. Grow your own food, and all of that. I've given suggestions in the past about what sort of plan might succeed, but it is based on radical decoupling that most people will simply not believe is necessary. For myself I am too old to worry about it. I'll just observe for as long as I can. My kids (the ones struggling to stay afloat) never listen to my advice anyway so they're going to have to find their own way.

Just keep monitoring the major trends in the major institutions and organizations. Use your best judgment as to when you should take action, if any. Think now about what action you might be able to take and how you can maximize your success (whatever that is going to mean).

And good luck.

 

The German question

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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question.si

Originally published in Ron May 8, 2015

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Seventy years after the end of World War II, and twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany is once again under the grip of ‘sturm und drang’, but this time barely registered in either East or West.

Without a serious attempt at myth busting, it’s impossible to discern what could be interpreted as a new, discreet German attempt at hegemony.

Contrary to a myth currently propagated by US ‘Think Tankland’, political Berlin under Chancellor Merkel is not a mediator between a still hegemonic US and an “aggressive” Russia.

The reality is Berlin, at least for the moment, would rather give the impression of singing Washington’s tune – with minor variations – while chastising Russia. That’s the case even when we consider the solid energy/trade/business ties with Moscow, as in Germany importing a third of its natural gas, and German industry/companies/corporations hugely invested in Russia.

Contrary to a second myth, political Berlin does not seek “stability” in Europe’s eastern borderlands, but rather outright vassalage. The relentless Eastern European integration to the EU, led by Berlin, was as much a strategy to open new markets for German exports as to erect a buffer between Germany and Russia. As for the Baltic States, they are already vassals; Germany is the largest trading partner for all three.

Yet another myth is that Berlin cannot lift – counterproductive – sanctions against Moscow as long as “security” of Central and Eastern Europe is not assured. The reality is that Germany would rather exert total political/economic control over the periphery of the former USSR.

As for the EU itself, now mired in a post-democratic, un-egalitarian, austerity-ravaged toxic environment, with no discernible way out, Germany already rules, politically and economically.

Deutschland under control?
Amidst the current EU intellectual quagmire where, to quote Yeats, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” – think puny neoliberal ideologues scurrying under their sinecures in that Kafkaesque temple of mediocrity, Brussels – a modern Diogenes would be hard pressed to find an informed observer capable of seizing up Germany’s game.

Thus the glaring exception of historian and anthropologist Emmanuel Todd, author of the seminal 2002 essay After the Empire which showed no mercy in its cartography of American decline. In a long 2014 www.les-crises.fr interview, centered on Germany, Todd hits the geopolitical ball out of the park.

Todd deeply worries about the West’s dysfunction – manifested at its prime in Europe being “virtually at war with Russia”. He sees the anxious, sick West’s “fixation” on Russia as the search for a scapegoat, or better, “the creation of an enemy, necessary to maintain a minimal coherence of the West. The European Union was created against the USSR; it cannot do without Russia as an adversary.”

And yet, behind the EU, there’s the real deal; the German project, which Todd identifies as a project of power, driven “to compress demand in Germany, to enslave the debt-ridden countries of the South, to put to work the Eastern Europeans, to throw some peanuts to the French banking system.” And that project of power could not but open the ominous door to Germany’s “immense potential for political irrationality” – a theme very much prominent now with all those rehashes of the fall of the Reich.

Todd identifies what Lacan would dub the great European non-dit (“not enunciated”); “The key to the control of Europe by the United States, which is the inheritance of the victory of 1945, is the control of Germany.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet now the control is dissolving, albeit chaotically, and that means “the beginning of the dissolution of the American imperium.” And imperial decline – visible in myriad declinations – leads Todd to a bombshell; the real threat to the US, much more dangerous than Russia – “which is external to the empire” – is Germany.

And what about the threat to Russia from Germany? Todd strongly implies the populations of Russian language, culture and identity are being attacked in Eastern Ukraine with "the approval and support" of the European Union – which is a fact. At the same time, he interprets the Russian "silence" about it not "as in the French and the American case, a refusal to see reality,” but as good diplomacy; "They need time. Their self-control, their professionalism, compels admiration." Try finding this kind of analysis in CIA-infested European corporate media.

“Europe” out, Germany in
So what Todd is essentially gaming here is “the emergence of a new face-to-face between two great systems: the American continent-nation, and this new German empire, a political-economic empire which people continue to call ‘Europe’ out of habit.” And yes, he’s got a compelling case.

Using a political science concept coined by Belgian anthropologist Pierre van den Berghe, Todd qualifies the German system as “un-egalitarian domination”; whatever equality is left concerns only the dominant, as in German citizens. Welcome, then, to Herrenvolk democracy – the “democracy of the master people.”

Todd bolsters his case by pointing to the dynamism of the German economy as based in the former USSR satellites; “Part of the success of our German neighbors stems from the fact that the communists were much interested in education. They left behind them, not only obsolete industrial systems, but also populations that were remarkably well educated.”

So “annexing” the populations of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, etc, meant Germany reorganizing its industrial base using low-cost labor. But then there’s a major “if”; Todd believes Germany might also “annex” an active population of 45 million in Ukraine, “with its good level of training inherited from the Soviet period.”

Not only that’s extremely unlikely; Moscow has been explicit this is a red line. Moreover, “Ukraine” is a failed state in terminal disintegration, now a lowly, de facto, IMF colony, whose only interest for the “West” is rich agricultural land to be plundered by Monsanto and cohorts.

“He hasn’t seen Germany coming”
The fun really starts when Todd examines the mess “classical American geopoliticians of the ‘European’ tradition,” are in. He had to be talking mostly about notorious Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski; “Obsessed by Russia, he hasn’t seen Germany coming.”

Todd correctly notes how Dr. Zbig “has not seen that the American military might, by extending NATO all the way to the Baltic States, to Poland… was in fact cutting out an empire for Germany, at first economic, but at present already political.” And in parallel to what I have been examining for years now, he hints that “the extension of NATO to the East could in the end bring about a version B of Brzezinski’s nightmare: a reunification of Eurasia independently of the United States.”

The clincher is to be savored like the best Armagnac; “Faithful to his Polish origins, he feared a Eurasia under Russian control. He is now running the risk to go down in History as another one of these absurd Poles who, out of hatred of Russia, have insured the greatness of Germany.”

For the moment, political Germany – but not its industrialists – has chosen to continue to be subjugated to the US/NATO as Chancellor Merkel appears to be enforcing the encircling of Russia.

The Reichstag building, the seat of the German lower house of parliament Bundestag (Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Todd nailed it, Germany painstakingly organized its EU hegemony on the basis this disparate basket of nations would provide Berlin with the economy of scale to win against its main industrial competitor, the US. Yet Germany lacks energy – oil and gas. Supply from Africa and the Middle East is inherently unstable.

So this is how we come to another scenario circulating among what Bauman called “nomad elites of liquid modernity”; not think tanks or Western intel agencies.

According to this scenario, instead of a EU trying to work with Russia, we have Berlin trying to undermine Moscow to ultimately seize financial control of Russia’s immense resources; back to those good old disaster capitalism Yeltsin days, when everything was collapsing other than Russia’s natural resource production.

After all the ‘New Great Game’ is mostly about control of the natural gas, oil and resources of Russia and Central Asia. Will they be controlled by oligarch fronts supervised by their masters in London and New York, or by the Russian state? And once Russia had been subdued, then the Central Asian “stans”, especially gas republic Turkmenistan, would also be free to do Germany’s bidding.

But for the moment, it’s all shadow play. Merkel utters platitudes about the Minsk ceasefire – when every serious player knows Kiev breaks it on an everyday basis. Berlin works backstage to keep the proverbial “reluctant players” – Italy, Greece, Hungary – on board with sanctions on Russia while spinning it’s doing its best to contain hysterical Poland and Lithuania.

Merkel is very much aware the US prosecutes much of its drone war out of Germany while the BND – German intel – spies for the NSA on the French, the European Commission (EC) and even German industry.

So she will never directly antagonize Washington – as she in fact mostly fears German Atlanticists, while posing about Putin and the Kremlin living “in a different world.” Berlin and Moscow continue to talk diplomatically, but the mood tends to the tone deaf.

The new exceptionalism
Todd is one of the few who at least are setting alarm bells ringing. As in this formulation: “German culture is un-egalitarian: it makes difficult the acceptance of a world of equals. When they are feeling that they are the strongest, the Germans will take very badly the refusal of the weaker to obey, a refusal which they perceive as unnatural, unreasonable.”

Once again, we’re in the realm of exceptionalism, but now with the added, historically troubling German penchant for political irrationality. The new, remixed lebensraum may revolve around an ever-expanding export powerhouse – adding on global trade by using educated, low-cost labor. While the Reich disintegrated in a larger than life folly seventy years ago, the new deal accomplished a dream; as Todd characterizes it, there are two great “developed industrial worlds” today, America and “this new German empire.”

He sees Russia as a “secondary question” and he has not examined China’s long game; thus he’s not focused – as in my own case – on myriad moves toward Eurasia integration. But what he’s concentrating on is no less than a thriller for the ages, a “completely different future for the twenty years to come, other than the East-West conflict;” Germany rising – and the US and Germany inevitably clashing, all over again. History may yet repeat itself as (lethal) farce after all.


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

Vote for the POP

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

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Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on May 6, 2015

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Lloyds of London after its refit following a POP victory

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I normally avoid talking about politics, but seeing as there is an election here in two days and everyone else is talking about nothing else, well …

All indications are that there won't be an overall winner after voting takes place on May 7th. The Conservatives seem to have managed to convince voters that the jerry-rigged GDP figures are real and that an economic recovery is underway (it is, if you're in the top echelons) and are hammering home the message that Labour would ruin everything if they got into power. The Labour Party are being forced to dance to the same tune, having sold themselves out under Blair and Brown, and are a sad caricature what they once stood for i.e. a fair deal for the working classes.

In the middle we have the probable king-makers the Liberal Democrats – who are also a sad parody of what they once stood for – making all three main parties more or less the same in their untrammelled pursuit of economic growth, jobs, opportunities yadda yadda yadda.

Then we have the other potential king-makers the Scottish National Party, who are not just popular in Scotland but also south of the border. Now that the penny has dropped that they were suckered by Westminster during the recent referendum to quit the UK, most Scots have dropped the Labour party quicker than a flaming caber.

Next up is UKIP – the United Kingdom Independence Party – lead by the charismatic rogue Nigel Farage – the mere mention of whose name can have most liberals frothing at the mouth and screaming 'fascist'. UKIP seem to be getting a lot of support from the disenfranchised who have been manipulated by the right wing media into thinking that waves of immigrants are bleeding the country dry. UKIPpers tend to be ruddy faced, beer-loving folks who 'aren't afraid to speak the truth'.

And finally, traditionally in last place (if mentioned at all), is the Green Party. In a blind survey of policies people picked the Green's policies as being best. If the election was decided purely on policy then the Green's would win it. Alas, we have an unfair system, which means they will only get a seat or two in parliament, even if they do get up to 10% of the vote. I've always voted Green – I even have an election poster up in my window (along with lots of other Green posters in the centre of Penzance where I live) – as all the other parties have psychopathic policies, in my humble opinion. For some reason I was picked to attend a lunch with the leader Natalie Bennett, a couple of months back. I can report that she is entirely unlike most other politicians, and actually seems to have her head screwed on.

Still, the Greens are probably only enjoying their modest current success because they have become by default the only left wing party there is. They have many good policies, but it's somewhat dismaying to see them pledge to build half a million new houses in a country that's already way over-built. Last week, I noticed, Natalie Bennett put a link on social media to an article pointing out that up to a fifth of all species on Earth faces imminent extinction. She immediately faced angry and hostile comments from Green supporters telling her to 'get a grip' and 'talk about real issues such as jobs'. So it goes, a paler shade of green.

At least they are the only party that has mentioned environmental issues in this election.

Incidentally, the local Liberal Democrat MP rang my doorbell last week and harangued me for displaying said Green Party poster. "They're all hypocrites who take skiing holidays in Canada," was what he said. He went on to portray himself as a true guardian of all that is green and good. "Why," I asked him "did he vote in favour of fracking in the House of Commons?" He was a bit stumped by this but hastily explained that fracking is "kind of like geothermal" which somehow makes it 'green'.

So, the bottom line is that there probably won't be an overall winner as such. Coalition horse trading will probably go on for a while. The bottom bottom line is that we are entering into a period of political paralysis symptomatic of the peaking of energy supplies and the ongoing deflation of the (real) economy. Cheap oil gave everyone a few decades to be happy. Elaborate political structures could be created and everyone seemed to get their share of the cake. Sure, there was a bit of moaning about this or that government or party, but generally everyone got to chow down on the benefits of a techno consumer economy awash in credit and fiat money.

But that model is now broken. Anyone with any wealth in this country now knows that the only way they can hold onto it is by throwing those less well off under the bus. That's why, when I drive around some of the nearby villages here, all the tacky and ugly houses have Conservative placards stuck in the lawns next to their fake Chinese lions. These people see a massive and bloated welfare state (in Cornwall, the second poorest region in western Europe, four out of five families are on benefits) that needs to be cut back down to size. They see the cash-sucking National Health System as a threat that needs to be neutralised and they want the 'scroungers' to be taught a lesson and forced to work.

On the other team, Labour supporters want a continuation of welfare provision – even if, confusingly, their party also seems intent on austerity policies and clamping down on immigration.

So, we have gridlock. We'll be the new Greece before too long. Won't that be fun? To that end I've decided to form my own political party – the Peak Oil Party (tongue firmly in cheek).

The POP's slogan will be:

'Vote for us for a slightly less worse future than the others will give you'.

Its main policies include:

– All remaining North Sea oil reserves will be dedicated to building a national renewable energy sector
– Car journeys to be rationed to one day a week per driver
– All chemical pesticides and herbicides to be phased out over a ten year period
– All immigration controls will be lifted – people will be free to come or leave as they please (many will choose to leave)
– All able-bodied unemployed people to be recruited to a Land Army or face starvation
– All people working in the finance industry to be recruited to the Land Army. The City of London to be converted into a large-scale vertical agriculture experimentation zone
– All workers will be given two minutes to describe their job to selected panels of six-year-olds. If, after that, a majority on the panel do not understand the function of your job it will be liquidated and you will be placed in the Land Army. Bribery with sweets/toys will be punishable by permanent job allocation of Gong Farmer
– Defence budget to be cut by 90%, including a phase out of nuclear weapons
– All gold bullion held by the Bank of England to be sold to China or swapped for solar panels and bicycles
– The Royal Family and all their possessions to be sold to America or exchanged for cattle feed and LNG
– All corporate farms, grouse shooting moors, golf courses and stately homes to be nationalised with 50% given over to intensive organic agriculture and 50% allowed to revert back to wilderness
– All airports to be shut down after the last corporate jet has fled the country
– Everyone who successfully completes three years in the Land Army having amassed a variety of agricultural skills to be freely given an acre of arable land, a bicycle, a cow and a sum of money with which to build a dwelling of their own design
– After a stabilisation period of ten years all forms of national politics to be liquidated. Great Britain to be renamed The Britlands and broken up into small autonomous bio-regions not worth invading

Who knows, if I can raise a deposit in the next two days POP might be in with a chance. On the other hand …

On Belief

Off the keyboards of Geoffrey Chia & Rebecca Willis

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on April 15, 2015

the thinker

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ON THE NATURE OF BELIEF or:

Why do people believe what they believe (or claim to believe) ?

G. Chia & R. Willis April 2015

INTRODUCTION

In our previous essay, Thinking about thinking we described the characteristics of dysfunctional (or unhealthy) and eufunctional (or healthy) thinking. We dispensed with the notion of “normal” thinking, because this term is essentially meaningless and unhelpful. If normal thinking is defined as the mode of thought adopted by the majority of a population, it is possible, indeed common, for “normal” thinking to be utterly dysfunctional and destructive, as shown by the many examples of mass delusions leading to chaos and warfare not only in history, but in our present day. As such, it may actually be a very bad thing to be “normal”, to run with the herd. We previously described the techniques by which the media, corporations and governments systematically exploit the infantile and reptilian aspects of our brains to impose particular views and values on the masses who lack the faculties of critical thinking. It turns out you can actually fool most of the people all of the time. Such social manipulation leads to the perversion of democracy.

Seminal publications such as “Irrationality” by Stuart Sutherland and “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre have elucidated the mechanisms of flawed thinking and the tactics of pseudoscientific fraud in detail. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway wrote the landmark book “The Merchants of Doubt” which described the origins of systematic global warming denialism, perpetrated by a few so-called “free” market ideologues funded by billionaire fossil fuel oligarchs. Notwithstanding her outstanding research and scholarship, Oreskes in this podcast interview

https://soundcloud.com/inquiringminds/43-naomi-oreskes-the-collapse-of-western-civilization/sets

could not fully explain why such blatantly fraudulent denial continues to be so readily accepted by large sections of society. She criticises the scientists for not being more forceful in opposition to such deceit.

The “new Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris were active some years ago in debunking the nonsensical foundations for supernatural religious myths. They too did not provide a comprehensive explanation as to why many if not most members of society are unwilling or unable to shed the brain virus of religion (apart from stating that innate obedience to authority by children has historical survival value).

In this essay we assess the nature of human beliefs and try to explain the “stickiness” of nonsensical ideas which may have little or nothing to do with reality. The key question is this: what purposes do such false beliefs serve?

Belief refers to the acceptance of, or claimed acceptance of a particular paradigm. In theory, there might be some difference between sincere belief and proclaimed (but insincere) belief, however in practice there is little difference in real world outcomes (see next paragraph). Therefore we will not distinguish between the two for the purposes of this essay. Furthermore as behavioural psychologists assert, it can be difficult if not impossible to determine what is really going on in a person’s mind1. Hence empirical science focuses on measurable actions, deeds and outcomes.

Twenty years ago when most people may not have personally been experiencing the effects of anthropogenic global warming or AGW (apart from seeing photographs of melting glaciers retreating all around the world), it was conceivable that many global warming denialists, unable to comprehend the science, sincerely believed that AGW was not true. Nowadays with exponential changes and extreme weather events occurring all round the world far exceeding the IPCC projections, rendering the fact of AGW indisputable, global warming denialists face a rearguard action. Those who remain intransigent cannot truly believe their position unless they are insane or stupid. Yet they persist in their purported belief that AGW is a hoax. If they are not insane or stupid, we can only conclude that their proclaimed “belief” is insincere and is cynically being used to serve their personal agendas and short term vested interests. Whether a result of stupidity (inability to see the overwhelming evidence for AGW) or mendacity (realising the truth of AGW but refusing to admit it), the outcome is the same, ie opposition to the reduction of GHG emissions, opposition to the adoption of renewable energy initiatives and continuation of business as usual to the point of annihilation.2

A paradigm may be accepted at emotional and/or intellectual levels. Generally, emotion tends to have a much stronger grip over people than intellect. This is because the majority of homo sapiens are not, in fact, sapient, but are driven primarily by their reptile brains. This fact was comprehensively demonstrated by the remarkably effective propaganda campaigns perpetrated by Bernays in the US and Goebbels in Germany, which were described in our previous essay3.

PART 1: THE NINE MAJOR FUNCTIONS OF FALSE BELIEFS

We assert that beliefs should be based on truth. What is truth? It is that paradigm which provides the closest approximation to reality. We know a belief is most likely to be true when it is backed up by evidence and reason, stands up to empirical validation and resists falsifiability. The belief passes the tests of scientific scrutiny, offers the best explanation for the circumstances being investigated and has useful predictive value. We assert that such reality based thinking should be the only valid reason for holding any belief4. All else is speculation or delusion. Unfortunately it appears that reality based thinking may actually be the least common reason for holding beliefs.

Why then do so many supposedly mentally “normal” people subscribe to non-reality based (ie false) beliefs? We assert that many, (probably most) people tend to seek out world views which:

  1. justifiy the pursuit of their self interest
  2. represent the easy option, the path of least resistance, which requires minimal intellectual, social, physical or financial investment or effort on their part. Ideas requiring sacrifice or hard work tend to be rejected.5
  3. cast themselves in a positive light to impress others (especially to gain favourable treatment or special dispensation from others or advantage over others)
  4. cast themselves in a postive light to boost their own egos. They subscribe to self-flattering narratives which elevate their status, which portray themselves as “special” or “exceptional” or “superior to” the rest of humanity and to the rest of creation (ie views which verify their infantile predisposition to believe they are the centre of the universe).
  5. cast others in a negative light to justify the belittlement, ostracism, subjugation, oppression, exploitation and/or murder of “the other”.
  6. cement the bonds of belonging, solidarity and pride within their social group or tribe. This is of important survival value to the individual, because historically, membership to a group or tribe was essential for material sustenance. Expulsion from the group, being left to fend on your own, could lead to death. One useful tool to bond tribal members is that of camaradarie resulting from being part of the same sporting team or fan club. If we regard the Nation as an extended tribe, this can take the form of overt displays of fanatical support for National sports teams or sportsmen. Hence former PM John Howard, despite himself being physically inept and hopelessly uncoordinated, took every opportunity to promote to the public his image as a “cricket tragic”. He even insisted that prospective Australian citizens learned the history of Donald Bradman, no matter that such useless pablum did nothing to educate them about core Australian values such as the Rule of Law, separation of powers, liberal democratic principles and freedom of (responsible) speech.

Tribal solidarity, even if based on imaginary myths (such as the Jews being the “chosen” people of God), has historically been of critical survival value to the group, as the members had to stick together to compete against or defend themselves from other groups.

  1. offer psychological comfort, emotional solace and hope, particularly during difficult times. This is comforting function is exemplified in the famous passage from Psalm 23 of the Bible, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”. Religion in particular can reassure the believer that “everything will be alright” no matter how dire and depressing their actual reality. This mindset can also confer survival value, because even if a situation poses a 99.99% likelhood of death, which a “rational” person may deem hopeless and therefore give up hope and perish, the “irrational” optimist, comforted by their ideology, will seize that 0.01% likelihood of survival. Hence in a mass die-off of a million people with a 99.99% death rate, the 100 or so people who do manage to survive against all the odds may mostly be those with “optimism bias”, who eventually propagate this trait to future generations. This may explain why “optimism bias” may be hard wired into human populations, as our distant ancestors have in fact faced mass die-offs more than once.
  2. confer upon the believer a sense of schadenfreude smugness, a sense of satisfaction that somehow in the long run, their enemies will inevitably face horrible violent retribution in this life or the next.
  3. offer simplistic pseudoexplanations which are easy to grasp (but are wrong). Most people are unable to comprehend complex ideas and therefore gravitate towards infantile scenarios or myths which superficially or intuitively “make sense” to them, but have no evidential or rational basis. For example, their “explanation” for human existence is that a supernatural father figure called God created everything just for us. Beyond this myth, the thoughts of the faithful congregation are then censored, they are not allowed to ask the next logical question, which is “who or what then created God?” because that would be blasphemy.

There is of course a tenth possible reason for holding a false belief, which is organic brain disease. We mentioned unusual conditions such as Capgras syndrome in our previous essay. Schizophrenia is characterised by “thought disorder” and deluded beliefs such as aliens broadcasting messages into one’s brain. Temporal lobe epilepsy can create hallucinations of an intensely religious nature. This essay on belief however focuses on the factors affecting belief in people without organic brain disease, hence here we will only apply the nine major factors described above and ancillary factors mentioned in parts 2 & 3, when analysing the nature of false beliefs.

Unfortunately the inevitable conclusion we must reach if the nine factors are indeed true, is that most human beings are self serving, lazy, boastful, egocentric, xenophobic, tribal, fearful, mean spirited and simple minded. The profusion of brutal human conflicts and Machiavellian behaviour in history can indeed be best explained by these traits. Some pundits such as Steven Pinker have argued that there has been a trajectory of increasing peace, diminishing violence and greater social enlightenment in human societies over the past couple of hundred years (which they expect will continue into the indefinite future). Such pundits invariably write from the perspective of (and within the cocoon of) rich industrial societies, which over the past two hundred years have accumulated immense material wealth derived from our ability to harness fossil fuels. However we would argue that such diminished violence is not due to greater enlightenment nor wisdom in the population, but due to the hugely abundant resources available per capita in rich societies in contemporary times. Unrest, dissatisfaction and violence are quelled when an abundance of resources are available. When per capita resources become scarce (due to increasing populations, climate devastation and diminishing supply of high net energy sources ie Peak Oil) as is happening now in more vulnerable countries, revolution erupts among the deprived who are unable to obtain sufficient food or clean water. Deprivation was the root cause of the “Arab Spring” revolutions of 2011 (extending into 2012, when Syria thoroughly disintegrated), not the pursuit of greater freedom nor human rights nor democracy among those populations. As the rest of the world experiences worsening deprivation, we will see many more such revolutions erupt around the world, with the inevitable imposition of martial law. We witnessed this unfold in Egypt. After Mubarak was deposed, the subsequent democratically elected government was also unable to provide the resources demanded by the population, resulting in ongoing unrest. The only way order could be restored was by a military takeover. The military government will of course be no better at delivering resources to the people than any other government. They merely serve to maintain order by brutally suppressing dissent6.

Using the criteria above we can immediately understand why certain religious and political myths have such a strong hold over the human psyche, despite having no basis in reality. Let us examine the mindset of right wing Christian “patriotic” Americans, such as US Republican Tea Party members or the Republican Neoconservatives, with regard to the nine points above. Their typical beliefs, which are held to a greater or lesser degree among the faithful are:

  1. The “exceptionalism” of the USA, that they are entitled to do anything, anywhere, to anyone in the world (eg invade Iraq), using any fabricated excuses. They make up the rules and everyone else has to comply (or face trade sanctions, a CIA backed coup or invasion). American exceptionalism means that International Law does not apply to the USA or its citizens eg they can kidnap anyone arbitrarily and render them to prisons without trial and subject them to torture. Habeus corpus does not apply to “alien” nationals.
  2. The renewable energy option is just too much hard work and involves too much sacrifice. Much better to deny that global warming or Peak Oil exist, so they can blissfully continue their easy, comfortable fossil fuel based American way of life forever, a lifestyle which is “non-negotiable” (as famously declared by George HW Bush). Hence their favourite catchphrase “drill baby, drill”.
  3. The USA is the “last best hope” for the world, a beacon of freedom, liberty and democracy for a glorious future, which everyone else, everywhere else, will do well to emulate. They conveniently ignore the fact that the USA since World War II has a track record of actually undermining freedom, liberty and democracy around the world. They have a prolific history of corrupting governments to enslave their people to the service of American profits, or of overthrowing democratically elected governments, from Guatemala to Iran to Chile to name a few, then installing murderous despotic puppet leaders who offer sweetheart deals to predatory US corporations.
  4. They (the good Christian Neocons) were created in the image of God who has given them dominion over all creation to do with as they please.
  5. The “other” represent the forces of evil, whether it was Reagan’s view of “the evil empire” of the Soviet Union or Bush’s “crusade” against Saddam Hussein the “terrorist”, (even though Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 and actually opposed Al Qaeda and it was in fact the US destruction of a functioning Iraq which turned it into a hotbed of terrorism and a breeding ground for ISIS). In preparation for the US invasion of Iraq, grunts in boot camp training were encouraged to denigrate Iraqis as “towel heads” or “sand niggers” to facilitate the indiscriminate oppression or murder of innocent people.
  6. The common views and values of the GOP faithful reinforce their prejudices and serve as social glue between them. “Patriotism” and “Nationalism” are regarded as lofty virtues, just as the Nazis promoted such unquestioning mindless conformity. (We see a similar mindset with Tony Abbott’s “team Australia”). Those who exposed or undermined illegitimate or murderous US government practices, such as Aaron Swartz or Edward Snowden, were labelled as traitors. The vicous pursuit of Swartz and Snowden by the US government illustrates that the Obama administration is, in this respect, no different in practice to the rabid, foaming at the mouth Republicans.
  7. God is on their side and as “good” Christians in the “end times”, they will be magically levitated to paradise in the Rapture and enjoy heavenly bliss forever.
  8. Everyone else in the “end times” will die and suffer excruciatingly in the fires of hell. Unbelievers and non-Christians will get their just desserts in the form of relentless torture for all eternity. Furthermore these good Christians hold the view that Jihadi suicide bombers, who believe they will be rewarded with 72 virgins in Muslim heaven, are utterly deluded.
  9. Global warming is a hoax, it is far to complicated to understand and must therefore be a greenie conspiracy. Evolution is a hoax, it is far to complicated to understand and must therefore be an atheist conspiracy. They cannot imagine a world 4.5 billion years old nor the gradual movement of continents across the face of the planet, however a 6000 year old world with fixed continents is easier to grasp by the simpleminded and therefore must be true.

Australia has its own share of lunatics who hold similar Imperialistic and religious views to varying degrees, from the Rinehart funded racist hack Andrew Bolt, to politicians such as the execrable Cory Bernardi and the anti-science Prime Monster Tony Abbott. It is fair to describe them as self serving, lazy, boastful, egocentric, xenophobic, tribal, fearful, mean spirited and simpleminded. Our most powerful tool to oppose such corrosive, indeed downright evil characters, is the weapon of ridicule. For any talented satirists out there, here is a suggested title for a series of political cartoons: The Madventures of Phoney Rabbit AKA Malice in Plunderland. Abbott is portrayed as a long eared, rodent-like creature (akin to his “conservative” predecessor, the lying rodent war criminal) whose only ideas about national policy are to abuse refugees (including children7) and to seek out money by digging holes in the ground.

We can now understand why such people reject (and are downright hostile toward) world views which:

  1. Reveal that their agendas are self serving with utter disregard for any people outside their circle of insular tribalism.
  2. Require they adopt a difficult path of hard work and sacrifice.
  3. Reveal that they are actually morally deficient or morally bankrupt.
  4. Reveal that they are not particularly special and are in fact inextricably related to that which they have regarded as inferior or repugnant or “separate”. For example, they regard the environment as “separate” from human beings and “separate” from economics, they believe the environment is an infinite resource and a limitless toilet that they can use and abuse forever. Hence they reject the views that we originate from, are part of and are dependent on the environment for our survival, labeling such views as “leftie/greenie” propaganda8.
  5. Reveal that the groups they have previously reviled, “the other”, are in fact just ordinary human beings not too different from themselves. Indeed “the other” may well be morally superior to them in many respects and certainly do not deserve to be exploited and killed.
  6. Require them, for ethical or other honourable reasons, to break away from their traditional social support group or tribe or nation, an emotionally gutwrenching act which they cannot contemplate.
  7. Reveal the reality of the situation is far worse than they ever imagined, with little or no hope for the future. This can lead to disruptive psychological and emotional distress and even despair (eg awareness of the guaranteed self-destruction of industrial civilisation and the possibility of human extinction as a result of climate devastation)
  8. Reveal that not only will there be no future paradise for them but their enemies will not get any particular “comeuppance”. Everyone is in the same boat.
  9. Are too complex for them to understand9

We can now also see why it is difficult if not impossible to pry people away from their religious and political beliefs and why logical argument using irrefutable evidence is generally ineffective. Nothing short of a monumentally traumatic upheaval (eg the arbitrary death of their own child, perhaps from an extreme weather event) which forces them to try to make sense of the situation and to confront their false beliefs, may possibly have any effect. Even despite such an event, many will still go to their graves persisting in their denial of reality, as their mindset is too firmly entrenched. They simply cannot give up the phoney edifice, the false image, that they have constructed of themselves, for themselves.

PART 2: OTHER FACTORS INFLUENCING BELIEFS (or proclaimed beliefs):

  1. The blame game: avoiding or laying blame:

a. Avoiding blame: You will recall the trial of Oscar Pistorius (the bilateral amputee athlete nicknamed “the blade runner”) in 2014 for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. According to neighbours the couple had a loud argument lasting more than an hour late at night, just prior to the shooting. Pistorius pleaded not guilty, his defence in court being that he believed her to be a burglar in the washroom, a burglar who had decided to linger about and partake in bodily ablutions (as desperate criminals are wont to do) before sauntering off with any booty. Quite rightly, the judges dismissed Pistorius’ absurd proclaimed “belief” for the contrived nonsense it was.

b. Laying blame:

To blame others in order to “make sense” of a devastating event (“something bad happened, it must be someone’s fault”) or assuage their own sense of guilt (eg their child being afflicted with autism), or to extort financial compensation. Two examples here:

      1. Blaming the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine for autism:

This scare was manufactured by the fraudster Andrew Wakefield in an anecdotal compilation of twelve cases published by the respected medical journal the Lancet in 199810. The concerns raised were taken seriously by the Medical community. In subsequent years, at least 120 studies were conducted in different countries involving huge numbers of children – the Danish cohort study alone, by Madsen et al, followed up more than half a million children. Multiple meta-analyses of the numerous independent studies were performed by different bodies (eg. the US CDC, UK MRC, NHS and Cochrane collaboration to name a few) and no convincing statistical association between MMR and autism could ever be demonstrated. It was conclusively found that the benefits of the MMR vaccine overwhelmingly exceeded any risks. Yes, the vaccine could have side effects, but catching the infections was many magnitudes worse (particularly in malnourished children in poor countries). Wakefield was investigated and was discovered to have committed scientific fraud for pecuniary gain and was deregistered by the General Medical Council of the UK in 2010. The Lancet itself eventually retracted Wakefield’s paper, denouncing it as a fraudulent submission. The mainstream media on the other hand had no interest in hard data. Sensationalism is what sells the tabloids. They chose scientifically illiterate journalists to continue perpetrating Wakefield’s fraud according to the time honoured tactic of Goebbels (if you repeat a lie often enough, people will come to believe it). As a result, there remains no shortage of people who still “believe” this fabricated lie and think that the medical establishment are involved in a conspiracy to cover up any MMR/autism link (if so, why did the Lancet publish it in the first place?). This has resulted in many children not being vaccinated over the years, loss of herd immunity and the eruption of various viral epidemics. Wakefield, the scurrilous mainstream media and their gullible readers have been responsible for the death and disability of many unvaccinated children. This is an ongoing issue, the most recent measles epidemic occurring among visitors to Disneyland in December 2014. This is but one example of the deceit perpetrated by antivaccination zealots who have mounted scare campaigns against other vaccines such as whooping cough. In 2012, more than 48,000 cases of whooping cough and 20 deaths were reported to the US Centers for Disease Control, the greatest number since 1955. Even though many of these antivaccination nutcases may be wealthy middle class Americans or Australians, their mentality is the same as that of the Islamic fundamentalists or the Taliban who killed polio vaccinators working in Nigeria or Pakistan 11. Hence the one great chance humanity had to eradicate another viral blight (other than smallpox) from the face of the Earth has now been lost due to stubborn and vicious human ignorance. Unfortunately it is the children who suffer the most, at the hands of those who claim to act in their best interests.

      1. Blaming silicone breast implants for rheumatological or autoimmune diseases:

The assertion, over many years, that silicone breast implants caused rheumatological or autoimmune diseases, was conclusively disproven by several studies including those by the Mayo Clinic (NEJM 1994) and a Harvard Nurses study (NEJM 1995). No significant association could be found. Even though many lawsuits against implant manufacturers were subsequently dismissed, courts still sporadically found in favour of litigants despite the absence of scientific evidence eg in late 1998 the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a compensatory damage award of $41 million against Dow Chemical to Charlotte Mahlum for her multiple-sclerosis-like symptoms. In January 1999 a jury in a Washington Federal court awarded $10 million in compensatory damages against Bristol-Myers-Squibb to an attorney who claimed her implants caused scleroderma. Such verdicts show that the Law can indeed be an ass.

It is not our intention to defend any corporations or establishment organisations. It is our intention to promote the use of evidence, reason and fairness as the bases for belief and action, no matter what individuals or groups are in question. This should be equally applicable to our dealings with the “evil” corporations.

  1. The 6 P: The proposition of predisposition to a paradigm based on politics, personality or profession:

This is idea that people seek belief systems which happen to align with their political prejudices (eg right wing conservatives vs left wing, small “l” liberals), their innate personality (eg pessimist vs optimist) or their professional background (reflecting the ingrained mindset and experiences of the profession they were trained in). It is a highly prevalent idea popularised by the mainstream media, but has weak explanatory power and can be misused. It is such a large topic that it requires considerable elaboration in appendix 1 to this article.

PART 3: FACTORS WHICH GENERATE AND PROPAGATE BOGUS PARADIGMS

  1. Childhood indoctrination is probably the most powerful factor. Richard Dawkins himself alluded to the fact that children will uncritically accept the edicts of authority figures, which certainly has survival value when there is legitimate transfer of worthwhile practical knowledge from old to young. However, like many human traits, this process is open to abuse by those in power. Childhood indoctrination with nonsensical ideas can be particularly difficult to shake off and may require many decades of critical re-evaluation by the thinking individual before being shed, if at all. As the Jesuits famously claimed “give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” 12. They had certainly figured out how to brainwash children.
  2. The “might equals right” paradigm, which is generally framed in this way: God is on my side. I have triumphed over my enemies. That proves God is on my side. Consider groups A to E, which each believe in “different” gods, however thay all adopt the exact same paradigm mentioned above. In battles between the groups, group A eventually triumphs and dominates groups B to E (one group or another is bound to win, eventually). Group A then claims in retrospect they have “proven” god A is the only true god and the other groups also end up subscribing to this view, seeing as how their own gods have abandoned them to defeat (never mind the fact that none of these gods ever existed in the first place). In reality any other group, eg group B, could well have triumphed (depending on all sorts of factors including military intelligence, superior technology, better organisation and most important, sheer luck eg weather which favoured them on the day of battle). Triumphant group B would then claim their god B is the only true one and the others would buy into it. Such a retrospective claim does not however prove the validity of any god nor the existence of any god. It is a post hoc pseudoproof with no basis in reality, however it is a powerful propaganda tool which can be used to persuade the unthinking masses.
  3. Extreme conviction. Strongly held beliefs may sometimes be defended to the death. However just because an individual is willing to die for their belief (eg Christian martyrs in pagan Rome) does not mean that their belief is true. It merely reflects an intractable delusion (which in some cases may be the result of temporal lobe dysfunction or schizophrenia, organic brain abnormalities which are completely impervious to logical persuasion). Matyrdom however tends to be a rather convincing act of commitment, which may therefore serve to recruit naive onlookers as new followers.

PART 4: DENIALISM VS SKEPTICISM, ANALYSING THE ANALYSTS

Global warming denialists insist they should be called skeptics and resent being called denialists. The fact is they are not skeptics and are unworthy of such a title. The only proper, correct and accurate term for them is denialists.

A skeptic is one who debunks nonsensical beliefs (ie. ideas not based on evidence and reason). A true skeptic will therefore debunk the idea that global warming is a hoax rather than promote it.

Even though the skeptic habitually debunks silly ideas, this does not mean the skeptic does not believe in anything. In fact, a true skeptic is also a rationalist, who accepts paradigms based on evidence and reason, while simultaneously allowing for the possibility that such science based paradigms may be need to be modified or even abandoned if better evidence and reason subsequently come to light.

The astounding effectiveness of the Scientific Method which has transformed our modern lives is undeniable proof that Objective Truth exists. All of our modern inventions, innovations and complex systems (eg computer software) originating from scientific discoveries, logic and rationality are predicated on the fact that Objective Truth exists, that outside our tiny little minds there is an external reality which operates on hard mathematical principles and a logical framework. Mathematics is the language of the universe. Only ivory tower philosophers13 and humanities graduates educated to the highest level of stupidity will attempt to deny the fact of Objective Truth14, even as they type out their drivel on their electronic computers.

Absolute Truth however is something we can never achieve. Even in the “hard” science of Physics, truth is highly contextual. For example, Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation, strictly speaking, are not absolutely “true” but are merely extremely accurate in the context of the medium scale (the magnitudes of mass, speed, acceleration etc familiar to our human scale). However Newtonian physics needs to be modified or abandoned in favour of Einstein’s theories of relativity in the situations of extreme mass, relative speeds or acceleration eg when making satellite GPS calculations or in the vicinity of a black hole. Furthermore Newtonian and gravitational considerations vanish at the level of subatomic particles where Quantum mechanics must be adopted. Each of these Physics paradigms, applied in the appropriate context, is objectively true (often to a mindbogglingly high level of mathematical precision), but in a different context the paradigm may have to be modified or even disregarded. None of those Physics paradigms represents Absolute Truth. Indeed, in Quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle provides mathematical proof that Absolute Truth is absolutely unattainable.

All statements about truth are actually statements about probability, about what we deem to be correct beyond any reasonable doubt. This applies to the context of a rocket scientist who calculates the trajectory of a spacecraft and makes judgements about where it is and where it is headed, which, although highly accurate, are always prone to margins of error. It applies to the context of the climate scientists who collate data from multiple sources and make judgements about the current state of global warming and where we are headed, which are also prone to margins of error, but represent the most reliable information we can possibly achieve. The denialists who demand absolute precision about the present, absolute certainty about the future and “absolute truth” about everything are merely demonstrating that they are utterly ignorant as to how Science and reality work.

Skeptical thinking requires both intellectual flexibility and humility. Humility to admit error when the evidence indicates one is wrong and humility to be able to examine one’s own beliefs. Even the famous quip by Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living”, itself requires examination. What was the basis of Socrates’ belief ? Was it founded on some sort of empirical observation, population survey or cohort study? Or did it merely stem from intellectual arrogance: “I am a grey haired philosopher therefore my life is more worthwhile than yours” (reflecting belief functions 4 and 5)?

Using the Socratic method itself, we ourselves should ask Socrates: What is an unexamined life and what is an examined life? Is there a hard boundary between the two categories or a gradual fuzzy transition? At what level of fuzzy transition does a life suddenly become worthwhile? Is navel gazing the only criterion by which we should measure the value of a life?

Consider children with Down’s syndrome, who tend to be good natured, gentle, generous and loving. They have a great capacity to derive joy from simple everyday life and can also generate great joy for others, especially their parents. However they lack the ability to indulge in complicated philosphical musings. Does that mean their lives are not worth living?

Consider philosophers such as Otto Weininger or intellectuals such as Sylvia Plath, who deeply examined their own lives, wallowed in existential angst and eventually committed suicide, the ultimate declaration that their examined lives were not worth living.

We agree that those who can attain a deeper understanding of life, the universe and everything can also gain a higher level of appreciation regarding our existence. The intermittent “eureka” moments enjoyed from achieving profound comprehension of various aspects of Reality while muddling through this journey of life, certainly add greatly to the richness of our life.

Is it however better to be a contented cow, blissfully ignorant as you are being led along the ramp to the slaughterhouse; or a sentient being, fully aware and utterly terrified of your impending demise as you trundle towards the abbatoir? Perhaps it is best to strive to be a sentient being who can sieze control of your own destiny and escape from the abbatoir. This is what we advocate to our readers: get off this fatal path now, before it is too late. It is no longer possible to “save humanity” but you may be able to save yourselves, to survive at least a few decades beyond the general die-off, by establishing an offgrid permaculture community in a high latitude remote location.

PART 5: REASSESSING “CHICKEN AND EGG” ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT BELIEF

Neurophysiological studies have discovered this bizarre, counterintuitive finding: that the electrical trigger in the motor cortex to perform an action precedes the electrical activity in the frontal cortex indicative of our conscious awareness to perform that act. The neurological impulse to, say, pick up an object activates a split second before the awareness we have made such a decision surfaces. Our brain triggers the action first, then we make up reasons as to why we acted later.

Using that as an analogy, let us also consider this possibility: that we instinctively understand what behaviours are required to advance our self interests (at least in the short term), such as seizing the resources of other people. Only after we have commited ourselves to behave in a particular way do we then make up “beliefs” to justify our heinous actions, eg the Neoconartists proclaimed “belief” that Saddam had WMDs in Iraq, evidence be damned. Here is another example: I know my luxurious lifestyle depends on my profligate combustion of fossil fuels, which I therefore choose to continue unabated. Only after I have made that choice, do I then profess my belief that AGW must be a hoax, evidence be damned.

Hence rather than belief giving rise to behaviour (as is generally assumed), we assert that in many cases the decision to pursue a course of self serving behaviour is made first and only subsequently is a purported “belief” then fabricated. This would explain why so many purported beliefs are patently absurd and are unrelated to any real world evidence. Contrived “beliefs” tend to lack any logical consistency, apart from the finding that they benefit the “believer” and are used to justify their despicable behaviour.

CONCLUSION

Before attempting to analyse others, it is important we analyse ourselves. Are our beliefs based on reality and truth (as they should be), or are they contrived and based on or influenced by the self serving elements outlined in our essay?

We contend that our exposition regarding the nature of human belief provides the best explanation as to why supposedly sane people without any known brain damage, such as members of the US Republican Tea Party or Australian “conservative” politicians (and those who voted them in), can subscribe to beliefs which are demonstrably false, irrational and ludicrous.

Never has the phrase “knowledge is power” been so starkly relevant, as when applied to the understanding of the psychological mechanisms which underpin human behaviour. Freud was the first to describe how the reptilian and infantile aspects of our brains tend to dominate over the rational and restrained “superego”. His nephew Edward Bernays applied this knowledge to devastating effect, with astoundingly successful US government and commercial propaganda campaigns which reaped vast wealth for himself.

If you are among the tiny fraction of the human population who are interested in these matters and have managed to read and understand this article up to this point, you will now also have acquired the knowledge by which you can gain power over others. You will now know how to manufacture an ideology which panders to the nine factors which promote adherence to false beliefs. You will grasp the means by which you can indoctrinate gormless people, who constitute the majority of the population, into your ideology. With a little charisma and marketing, you too can be the next L. Ron Hubbard or Sun Myung Moon, reaping vast wealth for yourself.

Or you can try to do some good in the world instead, by teaching others how to think critically, avoid false beliefs and resist bullshit.

Proximate Planetary Problems Caused by: Caused by: UNDERLYING CAUSES of Planetary Problems
– Mass extinctions due to– Ecosystem destruction due to– Global warming and – Pollution – Overharvesting of Nature’s Capital and – Fossil Fuel extraction and combustion – Overconsumption & excessive waste production by– Excessive numbers of homo stupidus – Bad human behaviour due to Dysfunctional thinking (eg delusional “infinite” economic growth on a finite planet) and Bogus beliefs (eg a God given sense of entitlement)

Medical principles specify that true cures for diseases can be only achieved by elimination of the underlying causes of those diseases. True cures for our planetary problems can only be achieved by elimination of the underlying causes of those problems, ie human beings who behave badly. By necessity, this will take the form of either complete human extinction, or the massive dieoff of humanity leaving only a tiny handful of survivors who are able to behave properly, who can exert a light ecofootprint without destroying the very life support systems which sustain us. Such remaining sapient humans can then pass on the qualities of eufunctional thinking and reality based beliefs to future generations. Failure to achieve sapience among surviving humans will inevitably lead to complete human extinction. The Planet will rid itself of parasitic human activities one way or another.

Attributions: Geoffrey Chia: inflammatory language, Rebecca Willis: quality control.

Footnotes:

  1. Functional MRI may change this, however such research is beyond the scope of this essay.
  2. Who tends to benefit from such a position? The fossil fuel industry. Who has funded the multibillion dollar disinformation campaign denying AGW? The fossil fuel industry.
  3. For a society to descend into madness, two elements must coexist together: a self-serving, deceitful ruling class and a gullible, compliant population. If one exists but not the other, then sanity may yet prevail. If lying psychopaths somehow seize power but a sensible population are wise to the absurdity of their propaganda, the psychopaths will be ejected in short order. If the population are naive and gullible but are governed by wise and benevolent leaders, then sane policy promoting social justice and peace can prevail, but may be tenuous. The naive population is always vulnerable to the false promises and charisma of duplicitous psychopaths, who may eventually sieze power. The best scenario is of course that of a sapient population who vote into power wise and benevolent leaders to govern them, but this population must not hesitate to depose and prosecute any leaders who engage in egregious acts of betrayal such as railroading the country into war on the basis of lies. The key to social stability therefore has to be the intensive education of the general population in critical thinking, to encourage them to be active politically and to hold their leaders to the highest standards of ethical behaviour. Unfortunately the so-called modern education system is only geared towards churning out clever idiots, useful cogs in the machinery of industrial society who lack the sense or the motivation to question or oppose obscenities such as the invasion of Iraq or the omnicidal agenda of the fossil fuel corporations. Among the clever idiots, I (GC) must include my own Medical Specialist colleagues, in whom I am deeply, deeply disappointed.

It is abundantly clear that the USA of today has tumbled well down into the abyss of insanity, with not much further to go till it implodes catastrophically. It appears that Australia will inevitably follow suit.

  1. http://guymcpherson.com/home/doomstea/public_html/guymcpherson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/WISDOMSeekingTruth-by-Chia-for-NBL.pdf
  2. It has been quipped that the favourite response by a bureaucrat to any request is “NO”, because such a negative answer fulfils two functions: it gives him/her a sense of power over others and enables him/her to avoid doing any actual work.
  3. The Pentagon, in collaboration with major US universities, is in the process of militarising the social sciences, to formulate a systematic action plan which they will ruthlessly implement when civil society inevitably breaks down in the USA. They have titled this “The Minerva Initiative”. Their goal is to maintain, through force, the supply chains of fossil fuels and other critical resources as they become scarce, to preserve the creature comforts and security of the controlling establishment, at the expense of everyone else. Dr Nafeez Ahmed, erstwhile Guardian writer, calls it “a defence manifesto for the one percent”.
  4. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-14/malcolm-fraser-attacks-abbott-treatment-human-rights-commission/6098920
  5. Abbott’s latest manifestation of foot-in-mouth disease was seen in his condescending St. Patrick’s day speech to the Irish on 13/3/15 when he declared it was “the one day of the year when it’s good to be green” before waving his green tie at the camera.

http://www.9news.com.au/national/2015/03/13/12/45/pm-abbotts-patronising-st-patricks-day-message-slammed-by-irish-business-leaders The way this fossil fuel flunky parades his ignorant environmental vandalism as badge of pride continues to be truly nauseating and represents an ongoing malevolent threat to humanity.

  1. Incomprehensible complexity by itself is not a reason to reject a paradigm. It all depends on whether the complex paradigm is based on evidence, reason and proof. I (GC) will be the first to admit I am too stupid to understand Einsteinian or Quantum Physics. I find them incomprehensibly complex. Nevertheless I trust and accept their conclusions, not because they have been advocated by professorial authority figures in white coats, but because they have been amply validated in the real world. Functioning electronics, laser devices and GPS systems to name just a few, are irrefutable proof of the truth of those paradigms. There is a vast difference between trust in Science, which is based on real world validation, and faith in Religion, which is based on gullilbility. On the other hand, many of the financial machinations of bankers and their cronies have deliberately been made incomprehensibly complex and opaque, not because they are based on real mathematical laws of the universe, but because they wish to obfuscate and hide the convoluted pathways by which they funnel vast amounts of money into their pockets. They are parasites on the productive endeavours of society. This explains why poor and middle class people, particularly in the USA, have been going backwards economically over the past few decades despite working longer and harder, but the top 0.1% have seen their bank balances skyrocket despite little or no effort on their part (unless one defines “effort” as creating new “financial innovations” such as subprime mortgage schemes camouflaged by collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps).
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy#cite_note
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poliomyelitis_eradication#Opposition_and_aid_worker_killings
  4. https://breakingspells.wordpress.com/2008/01/01/give-me-a-child-until-he-is-seven-and-i-will-give-you-the-man/
  5. I (GC) define an ivory tower philosopher as a scientifically illiterate pundit who attempts to explain life, the universe and everything by navel-gazing within the vacuum of ignorance. Advice to philosophers: unless you can achieve some level of scientific knowledge and literacy, your pontifications are utterly worthless and any similarity of your ideas to objective reality are purely coincidental. On the other hand, scientifically literate philosophers such as Clive Hamilton are of immense value to humanity. We sorely need their thoughts and advice, as is true for scientifically literate investigative journalists.
  6. The misrepresentation of “cogito er sum” by philosophers and the faulty logic of Pascal’s Wager compared with the good sense of the Precautionary Principle are outlined in appendix 2

Appendices 1 and 2 will be published in another post

Bomb Iran? Not now: bomb Yemen

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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People walk past a car damaged by an airstrike in Sanaa April 8, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

People walk past a car damaged by an airstrike in Sanaa April 8, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Originally published in RT on April 9, 2015


‘Operation Decisive Storm’ – the Pentagon-style House of Saud glorifying of its ghastly ‘Bomb Yemen’ show – could be summed up in a single paragraph.

The wealthiest Arab nation – the House of Saud petro-hacienda – supported by other GCC petro-rackets and also the wealthy “West”, has launched an – illegal – bombing/war/kinetic operation against the poorest Arab nation in the name of “democracy.”

And this absurdity is just the beginning.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, the innocuous as a stale cannoli Federica Mogherini, seems to be mildly alarmed. She remarked that Saudi bombing of hospitals and “deliberate targeting and destruction of private homes, education facilities and basic infrastructure cannot be tolerated.”

Well, the EU tolerates exactly the same thing in Donbass perpetrated by Kiev’s goons – so nothing will come out La Mogherini’s feigned outrage.

The Red Cross and the Russian Federation, for their part, at least are demanding a temporary ceasefire to allow for humanitarian relief. Humanitarian relief is incompatible with the House of Saud’s bloodline. So after two weeks of Saudi ‘Shock and Awe’, the current toll of at least 560 Yemeni civilians dead (and counting), and 1700 wounded – dozens of them children – is bound to increase.

Bab-el-Mandeb me, baby

Bomb Iran? Not now; the new normal is bomb Yemen. But still bomb Iran might be back in a flash. Pentagon supremo Ash Carter confirmed last week “all options are on the table” even if an Iran-P5+1 nuclear deal is finally reached in June. So, for the record, the Pentagon is affirming nuclear negotiations are just white noise unable to deter the tantalizing prospect of yet another nice little Middle East war.

Needless to add, the so civilized ‘West’ didn’t even flinch when “our bastards” the House of Saud invaded and started shockin’ an’awin’ dirt-poor Yemen. No UN Security Council resolution. Not even a mandate from the totally discredited Arab League. Who cares? After all the ‘Empire of Chaos’ has done the same over and over again with total impunity.

Much hysteria has been raging on whether the Houthis are about to take control of the Bab-el-Mandeb – one of the key strategic global energy chokepoints along with the Straits of Hormuz, and as crucial as the Suez Canal. Nonsense. Whatever the House of Saud does, the not so hidden ‘Empire of Chaos’ agenda is never to lose control of the Bab-el-Mandeb, the Gulf of Aden, and the Socotra Islands.

A man reacts as he inspects the damage of a building caused by an air strike in Sanaa April 8, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

A man reacts as he inspects the damage of a building caused by an air strike in Sanaa April 8, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

This is part of what we could dub ‘Chokepointistan’; wars taking place near or around energy bottlenecks, and always narrated in Global War on Terror (GWOT) deceitful terminology. US Think Tankland is more straightforward, carefully following US naval deployments. That’s what this is all about; an Orwellian “freedom of navigation” masquerading a hardcore strategy of shutting out the geopolitical enemy – be it Iran, Russia, China or all of the above.

‘Chokepointistan’ is all over the place: just watch the war or pre-positioning action in the Bab-el-Mandeb (with spillover effects from Yemen to Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti); the Straits of Hormuz (all about Iran); but also the strait of Malacca (all about China), Panama (about Venezuela), the coming Nicaragua canal (about China), the Korean Strait, the Taiwan Strait, the Kuril Islands, and last but not least the Baltic Sea.

A Grand Armada Run Amok

Saudi intel knows the Houthis can’t possibly control the Bab-el-Mandeb – not to mention Washington would never allow it. What freaks the Saudis out is that the Houthi rebellion in Yemen – supported by Tehran – may encourage bright rebellion ideas among the Shi’ite majority in the eastern provinces in Saudi Arabia, where most of the oil is.

And this where the Saudi excuse for war interfaces with the empire’s paranoia of preventing Iran, Russia and/or China from establishing a possible strategic presence in Yemen, at the Bab-el-Mandeb, overlooking the Gulf of Aden.

So we have once again Pentagon supremo Carter insisting, “The United States supports Arab plans to create a unified military force to counter growing security threats in the Middle East, and the Pentagon will cooperate with it where US and Arab interests coincide.” Translation: we gave the green light for our bastards to maintain “stability” in the Middle East.

Yet there’s a spanner in the works; the possible Washington-Tehran rapprochement, assuming a nuclear deal is reached. For the self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” Obama administration, the nuclear deal will be their only foreign policy success. Moreover, without Tehran there’s no meaningful fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in “Syraq”.

None of this mollifies the cosmically paranoid Saudis, who assembled in a flash a Grand Armada Run Amok (GARA) – 100 jet fighters, 150,000 soldiers – respectfully described by US Think Tankland as a “coalition” of 10 countries. Without even blinking at UN norms, the Saudis instantly declared the whole of Yemen as a no-fly zone.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif addresses during a joint statement with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (L) in Lausanne April 2, 2015. (Reuters/Ruben Sprich)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif addresses during a joint statement with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (L) in Lausanne April 2, 2015. (Reuters/Ruben Sprich)

And along with routine bombing of residential complexes, the al-Mazraq camp for the internally displaced in Hajjah, a dairy factory near Hodeida, and other instances, came, what else, hardcore internal Saudi repression, via a crackdown with tanks and indiscriminate shooting in Awamiyah, in the eastern provinces; Shi’ites there can’t even think of organizing protests against the bloodbath in Yemen.

In a nutshell, this is the immensely wealthy, corrupt, medieval Saudi regime busy at war against their own people. The usual hard-line Wahhabi imams are busy working up anti-Shi’ite and anti-Iranian fever everywhere; these are all “apostates” under the takfir doctrine, and Iranians are lowly “Safawis” – a quite pejorative reference to the 16th century Safavid dynasty. It’s crucial to remember that Islamic State treats Shi’tes and Iranians the exact same way. But forget about any of this being reported by Western corporate media.

The General and the Sheikh

The House of Saud insists it wants to reinstall the government-in-exile of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. Or, as Saudi Ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir glowingly put it, “protect the legitimate government of the country.”

Royally paid Saudi lobby hagiographers are once again frantically spinning the Sunni versus Shi’ite sectarian narrative – which totally ignores the mind-boggling tribal/class complexity of Yemeni society. In a nutshell, this laughable Saudi defense of democracy is paving the way for a ground war; a long, bloody and horribly expensive ground war.

And it gets, as expected, even more absurd. Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was recently asked during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing whether he knew of “any major Arab ally that embraces ISIL.” His response: “I know major Arab allies who fund them.”

Translation: the US government not only does not sanction or punish these “allies” (the real fun is to sanction Russia) but showers with logistical and “non-lethal” support the “coalition” that is arguably fighting the same Islamic State they are funding. No one is making this up; this is how the endless war on terra remains the gift that keeps on giving.

It gets even curioser and curioser when we have Dempsey on the same page of Hezbollah’s Sheikh Nasrallah. In this crucial speech, Sheikh Nasrallah offers the most extensive and precise account of the origins and ideology of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. And here he expands on Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

So what we have is the ‘Empire of Chaos’ ‘leading from behind’ in the war on Yemen and also de facto ‘leading from behind’ in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh; the ones doing the heavy lifting are Iraqi militias supported by Tehran. The hidden agenda is always – what else –chaos; be it across “Syraq” or inside Yemen. With an extra bonus; while Washington is engaged on striking a nuclear deal with Tehran, it also turbo-charges an alliance against Tehran using the House of Saud.

Vietnam in the desert

The House of Saud badly wants Pakistan to take no prisoners, supplying bomber jets, ships and lots of ground troops for their war. Riyadh treats Islamabad as a vassal state. A joint session of the Pakistani Parliament will decide what to do.

It’s quite revealing to learn what happened when Pakistan’s most popular private TV channel assembled representatives of all major political parties to explain where they stand. Soon they reached a consensus; Pakistan should be neutral; act as mediator; and commit no troops, unless there was a “tangible threat” to the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, which is far from the case.

The House of Saud remains on overdrive, showering tons of cash over Salafi and Deobandi preachers to bullhorn their war; that includes a delegation of ulema visiting Riyadh. Support has already duly poured from Pakistan-based hardcore groups that trained with al-Qaeda and fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan; after all they are all funded by Wahhabi fanatics.

Followers of the Houthi movement attend a protest against the Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa April 5, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Followers of the Houthi movement attend a protest against the Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa April 5, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Meanwhile, in the front lines, a real game-changer may be ahead, with the Houthis already firing missiles across the border at Saudi oil installations. Then all bets are off – and the possibility that long-range missiles have been pre-positioned becomes quite credible.

That scenario would mean a foreign intel agency luring the House of Saud into its own Vietnam quagmire in Yemen, setting them up for a barrage of missiles hitting their pumping stations and oil fields, with catastrophic consequences for the global economy. It’s crucial to remember that the Grand Armada Run Amok (GARA) assembled by Riyadh happens to account for no less than 32% of global oil production. This cannot possibly end well.

Everyone in Yemen has an AK-47, not to mention RPGs and hand grenades. The terrain is guerrilla heaven. History spells out at least 2,000 years of hardened tribes fighting foreign invaders. Most Yemenis hate the House of Saud with a vengeance; a majority follows what the Houthis announced in late February, that the House of Saud and the US were planning to devastate Yemen.

The Houthi rebellion includes both Sunnis and Shi’ites – thus totally debunking the Saudi narrative. When they captured the Yemeni National Security Bureau, which was basically a CIA station, the Houthis found a wealth of secret documents that “compromised” Washington’s Yemeni chapter of the war on terra. As for the Saudi Army, it’s a joke. Besides, it employs a huge contingent of – you guessed it – Yemeni soldiers.

“Operation Decisive Storm” – yet another Pentagon-style illegal war – has already plunged Yemen into the twin plagues of civil war and humanitarian disaster. The remains of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and most of all ISIS/ISIL/Daesh (who hate the Houthis and all Shi’ites with a vengeance) couldn’t be happier. The ‘Empire of Chaos’ couldn’t give a damn; the more widespread the chaos, the better for the Pentagon-defined Long War (on terra).

Over five years ago I wrote that Yemen is the new Waziristan. Now it’s also heading towards the new Somalia. And soon it may become the House of Saud’s Vietnam.


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

Spring is Springing

Off the keyboard of George Mobus

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Published on Question Everything on March 20, 2015

stonehenge

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Happy Vernal Equinox

At my age, every spring I get to witness is a happy event!

Would that I could say as much for the state of our world. The evidence for the accelerating advance of global warming and the consequences of climate change is mounting. In spite of the drastic cold that much of the Midwest and East experienced in the US this winter, the continent has had one of the warmest winters on record. We have certainly enjoyed the milder climate where I live. Not so much for those in the Southwest where drought is still a major problem.

The only good news (until you think about the causes!) is that CO2 emission levels were stable this last year — they didn’t grow. But one of the reasons they didn’t is that the amount of carbon being burned has not grown. And that is because, in spite of all the clap-trap statistics out of Washington and other capitals, the global economy has not grown. The amount of real economic work (i.e. building things) has not grown. This being true even though the price of oil has plummeted. And that is the real scary part.

To me the notion of the economy not growing would be a good thing if it were done on purpose, i.e. the world governments planned for and intentionally implemented non-growth oriented policies. That would mean that they would be taking into account the potential pain and suffering that might attend non-growth especially for the lower classes. They would invoke policies that made sure that distribution of what was being produced would be equitable. Instead, look what we have. The rich continue to get richer, not because they are producing more real economic value, but because they continue to steal from the rest of society, primarily through the banking systems (thank you Federal Reserve). And the poor and the so-called middle class are getting poorer in the bargain. A non-growing economy simply translates into fewer reasonably paying jobs. The biggest number of new jobs being created, by the way, are ironically in the food services industry (not particularly known for high wages) and that, doubly ironic, is because the people who are getting richer are eating out more! Let’s hope they are giving good tips (Oh wait, I just heard something about a study on the generosity of wealthy people that showed that they were the stingiest tippers!!!)

Instead, the non-growth being experienced now (and by the way don’t be sucked into the numbers China publishes either!) is a natural consequence of having reached the limits of what can be done with financial wheeling and dealing to hide the fact that our net free energy per capita has long since peaked and we are headed toward complete collapse of our civilization’s capacity to support 7.5+ (and counting) billion people. We are not just looking at some kind of adjustment or even a resetting to a “somewhat” lower standard of living for those in the developed countries. Once the collapse starts in earnest it will be catastrophic. For example, we are already seeing a reduction in oil production from both the tar sands in Canada and the shale plays in the US as a result of low oil prices. That unconventional oil is simply too expensive to produce compared to the revenues it generates. The oil producers can only operate at a loss for so long before they fold. And because the financial system is so distorted and full of hot air, there really is no more capital to divert their way to keep them afloat. With so many consumers working at low paying jobs the level of demand needed to boost those gasoline prices, for example, is simply not there. So it is is likely the prices of oil and derivative products will remain too low for unconventional production to be profitable any time in the foreseeable future.

Catastrophes are strongly non-linear events, like avalanches and earthquakes. You can’t necessarily predict when such an event will take place. And there are generally a lot of little events (clusters of small avalanches or earthquakes) here and there that portend, but do not provide information on when the big one is going to occur. And they are rapid. Once started, and with the right underlying conditions, they are like explosions. The first occurring parts entail later parts in an amplifying way. The only thing we can say with any certainty is that a major event WILL occur.

The underlying conditions in the case of civilization are several. Basically, as I have been writing about for years the single biggest factor underlying an economic collapse (and as a result a population collapse) is the amount of net energy available to do USEFUL work per capita. As long as that number is going up or is at least steady, everything will be OK. Ideally, it would be steady because 1) the population was not growing, and 2) neither was the extraction of energy and raw material resources. More ideally still would be this steady-state situation would have obtained at a far lower total population size than we have today. In fact, had the human population stabilized at an ecologically balanced size there would have been far less carbon being burned and more trees, etc. to absorb the CO2 that was put into the atmosphere by what was burned.

Which leads me to another underlying condition that has acted as the enabling factor in what has actually happened. Human beings are just not very wise at all. Collective human knowledge had to develop to a point where we could use our intelligence to manage our affairs properly. It is just now getting to that point. Unfortunately our inherent capacity for making veridical judgements — wisdom — or what I call sapience[1], has lagged behind from an evolutionary standpoint. And the better part of wisdom is to not venture forth boldly when knowledge of consequences is lacking. In other words we have been really clever but abysmally foolish. And now that we do know what the situation really is, it is probably too late to apply our intelligence in any meaningful way to correcting our earlier mistakes. Our lust for convenience and conquest over nature, while natural consequences of our biological mandate, have doomed us to this collapse.

The best evidence for my claim that human beings are collectively and individually foolish can be found in the US federal government. The people manning Congress, the Executive, and the Judiciary branches, as well as all of their underlings have made a mockery of the whole notion of representative democracy. The decisions they are making are beyond the pale of foolish. Those who would applaud Mr. Obama’s recent decisions regarding fighting climate change, for example, should consider that he has acted far to late and what he is proposing is far too little to make much difference. Then there is the plain stupidity of people like Mitch McConnell (R, Kentucky), Senate majority leader, who is actively fighting Obama’s plan to have the EPA regulate emissions. Or consider Senator James Mountain Enhofe[2] (R, Oklahoma) who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works committee — throwing a snowball on the Senate floor to prove that climate change is a hoax (he wrote a book about it being a hoax). These people are clearly ignorant or possibly criminally insane to continue to hold such views in light of everything that is going on around them as well as the scientific evidence. But there you have it. Among Republicans there are many more like them. Among Democrats there are many who, while they talk the talk of understanding the threats of climate change, are completely clueless when it comes to making the connection between that and neoliberal capitalism (in which they share the belief with the Republicans). This makes Democrats even more dangerous than Republicans if you think about it. It’s one thing to be ignorant and another to use double-think in your reasoning process. Both lead to disaster.

But here is the thing. We the people put these fools where they are. We voted them into office. We are responsible for what they are doing. We have no one to really blame but ourselves. And the reason is, as I have been asserting, the average Homo sapiens is anything but sapient. The average person’s ability to make wise decisions is practically nil. Part of it is due to the lack of adequate tacit and explicit knowledge. This is a major failing of our cultures and our education systems. But even those are the products of our cravings for cheap and easy. We want profits but don’t want to do the hard work of understanding reality sufficiently well to know what we can and should do to make them (or even what they are).

The Global Vernal Equinox (Spring)

With apologies to my Southern Hemisphere friends!

We’ve seen the so-called Arab Spring in the MENA region. By all accounts the people there were demonstrating, and fighting, for democracy. Or at least that is the prevailing theory. Presumably what has been holding back the peoples of these regions from producing great economic conditions (defined perhaps more by their own cultural interpretations of what those would be) was the repressive regimes that ruled over them. Have a coup or revolution and get rid of those bums and let democracy flourish. Then all would be well.

Except it doesn’t seem to be working out so well after all. Get rid of one set of bums and the next set somehow turns out to be bums as well. How can this be? The answer, and take Egypt for an example, is that the new set starts out with good intentions but soon discovers that the real problems of the region have nothing to do with democracy but with resources (other than oil in some cases). There aren’t any. There are too many people for the natural capacity of the land to hold. There is nothing really there for outside investors to invest in that could draw capital into the region. The problem isn’t a lack of democracy, it is a lack of everything that is vital to life. The people are hungry and they are angry about it. But they haven’t figured out that the problem isn’t some political philosophy. The problem is that the only way to parcel out the inputs of resources from other parts of the world (when they are available) is through a top-down, command and control mechanism (look at Saudi Arabia or Iraq under Saddam Hussein for other examples). If you put in a democracy friendly set of administrators they simply soon discover that they need to do the same things their predecessors did in order to maintain any kind of order at all. But the reality is starting to catch up to the region. Influxes of resources from other regions are diminishing and as they do it is increasingly hard for whoever is in power to keep the machinery running. That is why the discontent is rising again in so many of the MENA countries. They are in an advanced form of collapse and we are witnessing what it will look like everywhere in the world in the coming decades.

But there are certainly many more regions in the world where the same basic phenomenon is playing out. The US and its allies have not yet figured out that the conflicts going on, that they feel compelled to meddle in even though they haven’t a clue what to do, are beyond their ability to resolve. Nor have they come to grips with the fact that they really don’t have the resources to do anything useful anyway. Meanwhile, in the US, the governments (local, state, and federal) are failing to provide basic services to its citizens. Europe has taken in many Middle Eastern refugees in an attempt to assist them have a living. But now the native citizens of those countries are starting to turn negative (hateful actually) and at least some of the emigres are feeling alienated enough to start killing people. The pressure is building and we are seeing little catastrophes play out all over the continent.

Russia may be next. Or Africa. Or… Eventually, however, one of these seemingly local events will lead to a cascade of events that will cover the globe. It is impossible to say when, where, and why (in particular). But the pressure is building ineluctably. There is no escape, no reprieve, no alternatives.

Please enjoy your spring. Ours came earlier than ever this year. So our enjoyment got going a few weeks earlier than usual. That’s a good thing, right?


Footnotes

[1] For those interested, my forthcoming book on sapience is nearly finished. The working title is: Sapience: A Systems Science Approach to Understanding the Mind. I’m in discussions with several publishers now so hopefully it will be published soon, before the collapse!!!

[2] That is right. His middle name is Mountain! The height of absurdity and irony rolled into one large pile of…[you fill in].

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).

Now Eric Garner

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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i.1.s-eric-garner-death-nypd
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation December 8, 2014

The Beauty Shop had barely stopped smoldering in Ferguson, Missouri, when the Eric Garner grand jury decision came down on Staten Island — no probable cause to indict one particular cop for something — manslaughter? — in his choke-hold take-down of the 300-pound cigarette-seller. For my money, they should have indicted the whole gang of cops who were there that day, including the black female NYPD sergeant on the scene ostensibly “supervising” the action, at least for something like negligent homicide, since the infamous video shows them acting cruelly, stupidly, and indifferently as the poor guy just lay dying on the sidewalk.

Worse, the decision only muddied the public’s view of several events in recent years involving black people, police, and standards of behavior so that now a general opinion prevails that all black people are always treated badly for no reason. That was the same week, by the way, that a white Bosnian immigrant named Zemir Begic was bludgeoned to death by three black teenagers wielding hammers who were out beating on stopped cars on a St Louis street — a crime that was barely covered in the news media, and went unprotested outside the immigrant neighborhood where it occurred. It’s hard to blame the public for being confused about what may or may not be happening across the nation, but history will surely judge this as a tragic time for America.

If we can’t or won’t unpack the separate issues in these matters, the country is going to get into a lot more trouble. One issue is whether police forces in the USA are becoming goon squads. The decision by the federal government to offload tactical military equipment, including armored war wagons, on police departments far and wide was disgracefully stupid since it only gives the impression, when hauled out, that the police are at war with the citizenry. There ought to be public discussion of just flat-out taking all that stuff away from them.

Non-black America is constantly being importuned to “talk honestly” about race and then punished when they actually do. I’ll venture here to summarize what I think has actually happened, and I’m sure a lot of people won’t like it, including plenty of white people. I take a historical view. It is at least an interesting coincidence that the climax of the civil rights campaign produced a black separatist movement that has endured for half a century. It emerged at exactly the moment that the two signal civil rights acts passed congress in 1964-65 (the public accommodations act and the voting rights act).

I think the reason for the sudden rise of black separatism was anxiety among black Americans about the prospect of being formally invited to participate in what was then American common culture. By the late 1960s even colleges were chartering new, separate student unions (at the demand of black students). The sad irony of this has been lost to history. But in effect, by that time a large segment of the black population had opted out either actively or mentally from trying to join the then-dominate culture. The gulf between the two cultures has only grown wider since then, egged on by a foolish white-sponsored “diversity” campaign which had imposed the ridiculous idea that a common culture in one nation is unnecessary.

The result is a permanently oppositional black culture with an elaborate ideology of endless grievance and a guilt-tripped white political culture held hostage by it and pandering endlessly to it — and sandwiched in between those two dispositions is a whole lot of really bad behavior. The least you can say about the four incidents involving Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice is that they involved some degree of ambiguity about what was actually going on, and in probably all those cases, at least, death was not caused by sheer malice. The same is not true about the case of Zemir Begic, or of the many people victimized during last year’s “knockout” game fad, or indeed the astounding number of people being gunned down regularly on the streets of Chicago.

I don’t think we’re capable of making these distinctions anymore, and surely not of doing anything constructive about them. Instead, we just appear to be careening toward a new and different kind of civil war.

 

***

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

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.

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…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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For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

Don’t miss the recent Rant on Japanese Monetary Insanity!!

Japan Goes Full Retard

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The Right to Remain Silent…

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The Right to Remain Silent…

 

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on date
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“. . .  What most likely lies ahead is not a series of satisfying American-style solutions to the economic problems of the 99%, but a boiling frog’s journey into a form of twenty-first-century feudalism in which a wealthy and powerful few live well off the labors of a vast mass of the working poor.  Once upon a time, the original 99% percent, the serfs, worked for whatever their feudal lords allowed them to have. Now, Walmart “associates” do the same.”

― Peter Van Buren

 

On Saturday I attended a family reunion for a branch of Contrary’s far-flung, extended German-Irish family. The trip occasioned a full day of travel, but like many family meetings, rewarded with new friends, good food, abundant laughter, and plenty of conversation.

Before we left, Contrary advised me that many of the women in this wing of her family held opinions much like her own, which is to say pretty progressive/left-wing. Whereas the men were very much conservative, and argumentatively so. So before we left I asked Contrary, “If the talk turns to politics and I find myself listening to arrant, right wing claptrap, should I hold my tongue?”  (In spite of what long time readers of this space might think, I am housebroken and DO know how to behave in groups.) Her response: “Why in the world would you do that?”

Fair enough.

Sometimes these things write themselves. In the fullness of time I found myself in the backyard, taking a break from Ghana v. Germany in the World Cup, quaffing a beverage and in the company of Men Discussing Current Events. One of them observed what a blight unions were on the working landscape. He offered a tale about how, supposedly after Hurricane Sandy,  phone company union workers for a  New Jersey resisted working with the nonunion help  from “right to work” states like Virginia. And then came the the piling on. So I asked a question: “Any idea where the phrase ‘right to work’ came from?” No one knew. The answer: “It was the brainchild of the Dallas public relations plan in 1947 to give an fair-sounding name to a campaign of anti-union activities meant to cripple the ability of working people to negotiate their work conditions compensation.”

Oh yeah, what’s your point? I went on:

RemainSilent“Any idea what percentage of the private industrial workforce belongs to a union today? Heads shaken no. “6%,” I replied, “Does it not seem reasonable that the many complaints you hear about how unions are crippling this country are really the complaints of industrialists who, with their boots on the necks of the American worker, don’t yet feel they have enough of an advantage?”

Then a cousin mentioned the minimum wage, as in, there shouldn’t be any.

“Really?” I asked. “Do you have any idea what the 1978  minimum would be if it had kept up with inflation? No idea. “Over $22 per hour.” Well, came the reply, there still shouldn’t be a minimum. Then I made a point that struck home to this group of devoted family men: “Do you remember how it was when we were growing up? The parents of the people in this house, like the one I grew up in, lived a life where the man worked, and supported a family, sometimes running to eight to ten kids.” Point made: Contrary’s family is extremely prolific.  “That’s because a working man could earn enough working a job, sometimes two, to support a family– even a big family. Where are those manufacturing jobs today? They are in Mexico and the Pacific Rim, and the export of those jobs has been subsidized by favorable tax treatment for the industries that moved them. Sound fair?”

Grumblings. Then one of them mentioned “welfare.” As comedian Ron White once said, “I had the right to remain silent, but I did not have the ability.”

“Glad you mentioned welfare. Don’t you just hate welfare queens?” Nods of assent. “Wouldn’t you just love to get the welfare queens off the dole? Don’t you think constant handouts erode self-reliance?” More vigorous nods now. “The biggest welfare queens we pay for are American corporations. The same  ones that export American jobs, bank their earnings overseas, then park their boodle in the Cayman Islands or in Switzerland to avoid American taxes. All while using roads and other infrastructure that you’re paying for. Man, I hate me a bloodsucker like that, don’t you?”

Yeah, but real welfare, food stamps, SNAP… “The SNAP program costs $76 billion a year. And the big food producing companies love it. And banks like JP Morgan make money on both ends of the SNAP card business. On the other hand, corporate tax concessions, givebacks and other forms of legalized bribery cost working folks like you and me $180 billion a year. More than twice SNAP. Sound fair to you?”

That pretty much derailed the political part of that conversation. I’m not sure I’ll be invited back anytime soon.

***

50 years ago, a group of men like that, middle to late middle age (or in my case, rapidly approaching senility), working-class types, would have favored progressive causes. One of the marvels of our age remains how working people have been convinced to vote counter to their self-interest by a consistent torrent of plutocrat propaganda. Within my lifetime the role of government as guarantor of the rights of the little guy has evaporated, as industry has infiltrated and suborned the regulatory apparatus of government. And if you are convinced that your government no longer works for or represents you, the guy who wants to “drown it in the bathtub” is likely to receive a better hearing.

Fortunately for me, before I entered into the above conversation I had perused an article by Peter Van Buren in TomDispatch. Van Buren is the author of The Ghost of Tom Joad,” and his vision of what is happening in the economy would have been excruciatingly familiar to Steinbeck.

 

The striking trend lines of social and economic disparity that have developed over the last 50 years are clearly no accident; nor have disemboweled unions, a deindustrialized America, wages heading for the basement (with profits still on the rise), and the widest gap between rich and poor since the slavery era been the work of the invisible hand. It seems far more likely that a remarkably small but powerful crew wanted it that way, knowing that a nation of fast food workers isn’t heading for the barricades any time soon. Think of it all as a kind of “Game of Thrones” played out over many years. A super-wealthy few have succeeded in defeating all of their rivals — unions, regulators, the media, honest politicians, environmentalists — and now are free to do as they wish. 

 

cigar-infusing-alcoholVan Buren answers the question, “Why Don’t the Unemployed Get Off Their Couches?”\ and Eight Other Critical Questions for Americans.” These are the sorts of questions being discussed by people at, well, family gatherings. And a key issue is that the working people of this country are only receiving one side of the story. It is a good read: you owe it to yourself to give it ten minutes

Van Buren ends his thus:

Once upon a time, the original 99% percent, the serfs, worked for whatever their feudal lords allowed them to have. Now, Walmart “associates” do the same. Then, a few artisans lived slightly better, an economic step or two up the feudal ladder. Now, a technocratic class of programmers, teachers, and engineers with shrinking possibilities for upward mobility function similarly amid the declining middle class. Absent a change in America beyond my ability to imagine, that’s likely to be my future — and yours.

***

Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He has contributed a number of forgettable rants, articles and moments of spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and a shifting menagerie of relatives, some of which may not now come to visit since he opened his big yap at the reunion.

 

Devolution or Life

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Confronting our Toxic System

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I was saddened recently to read of the death of Bob Casale, a guitarist who was an original member of the rock band Devo. I listened to them back in the 1980’s and liked the name of the edgy, socially relevant band. It refers to the concept of de-evolution. Years ago I wrote how our Cannibalist economic system reduces us from higher to lower evolutionary species by replacing our cooperative social nature with the competitive self-centered ethic of “I’ve got mine and to heck with everyone else.” Like lower animals, we snarl over our possessions and are ready to kill each other to defend them, seeing no connection to where they came from or the reality of our interdependence — even on nature. We justify throwing families out into the cold for their inability to pay rent; condemn children to hunger and ignorance. We abandon workers to permanent unemployment and homelessness to further enrich the few, and proudly sacrifice our loved ones to wars we have no real interest in based on the latest flimsy lies. This is, in essence, eating our own kind like the most primitive of animals do.

Among the most primitive of life forms are yeast. I sometimes like to make fruit wines. This process involves ripe fruit, water, sugar and yeast. Yeast are small fungi which break things down. Yeasts process sugar to breathe when their surroundings become oxygen depleted, producing both Co2 and alcohol as waste products. Eventually they are poisoned and die from the alcohol they produce. I find an uncomfortable similarity with our own situation.

Last month I wrote about how our local health and our future is being sacrificed by the Lamberts Point coal pier and by the constant presence of poison-laden, dust spewing coal trains. As we are learning from the massive coal ash spill into the Dan River, even after burning, coal ash presents an ongoing threat seeping heavy metals including arsenic, mercury, lead, and boron into ground water from storage facilities and potentially being released into water and air. The Dan River storage facility that caused the recent massive spills in North Carolina is one of many dangerous sites across the country, Kara Dodson of Appalachian Voices states that there is evidence that local residents were already getting sick from leaks and contamination from Duke Energy’s ash dumping ground. The Dan River, now heavily contaminated with toxic coal ash sludge, feeds into Lake Gaston where our area gets much of its water.

In our own area “fly ash” storage has been an issue contaminating the Battlefield Golf Course in Chesapeake as well as a the Campostella Square area. City Manager James Baker stated back in 2007, “burying fly ash was common throughout the country at that time, and its toxicity was not yet understood. If we knew then what we know now, the fly ash never would have been accepted.” Surface water samples in the area show elevated levels of aluminum, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, and thallium in one or more on-site samples. Coal ash is another toxic item Norfolk and Southern profits from hauling, as it did from another massive spill and clean up in Kingston Tennessee.

We’ve also seen other superfund sites locally like Portsmouth’s Washington Park housing project built atop an old foundry site. Portsmouth children still show high levels of lead which causes nerve and bone damage as well as reduced intelligence. There is a long history of environmental racism in our country with toxic waste and polluting industries usually located where the poorest and most powerless people live. Today, we are getting to the point of saturation where most of us are exposed to dangerous industrial toxins.

 

Due to the powerful influence of corporate consortia like ALEC and the National Chamber of Commerce, legal loopholes and lax government oversight result in many unregulated industrial chemicals in our environment and in our tap water. I know that locally our water is rated as the fourth best on the country but I’ve also worked in places where I’ve seen chemicals dumped down the sink. The reality is that utilities don’t even know what to test for. A recent article in Scientific American states that “Traces of 18 unregulated chemicals were found in drinking water from more than one-third of U.S. water utilities in a nationwide sampling, according to new, unpublished research by federal scientists. Included are 11 perfluorinated compounds, an herbicide, two solvents, caffeine, an antibacterial compound, a metal and an antidepressant.”

 

Aside from the direct health effects we see from environmental contamination which include cancer, pulmonary disease, diabetes and autoimmune diseases, there are the long term affects on fetal and infant exposure. An important new study on this by Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard School of Public Health and Philip Landrigan, Dean for Global Health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, was published in Lancet Neurology. In it Philip Landrigan writes, “The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis. They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes.” This study follows similar research by the authors in which they reviewed clinical and epidemiological studies and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxins: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic and toluene. Lead, arsenic and mercury are present in our local soil due to the aforementioned ubiquitous coal dust. The rise in autism and attention deficit disorders we are seeing appear to be a result of toxic exposures in the womb.

 

 

Environmental contamination, the poisoning of our water and of our bodes is an essential reality of the fossil fuel industry from coal to natural gas “fracking” and oil drilling. The shale oil being mined in Canada is the most toxic and environmentally destructive fossil fuel yet. Nuclear energy, while not producing carbon, is just as bad, though more insidious, because the radiation is invisible and easier to deny. Short of hydro-electric it seems that in our need for energy we, like yeast, are poisoning ourselves with the toxins we produce.

Of course, most of us would not knowingly do this as individuals. The problem is systemic in our profit based system where money and its corrupting influence drive policy. The Governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, worked for Duke Energy for over 28 years. Efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by further regulating and limiting contamination from industrial waste, fertilizer and sewerage treatment runoff is facing legal opposition from corporate backed leaders of 21 states – mostly Republicans who place private profits ahead of public health. It has become impossible to separate government from the filthy industries which spend billions underwriting political campaigns and legislation. I’ve written before about the vast sums spent by the fossil fuel industry to promote climate denial. This money also funds rhetoric such as the “War on Coal” we hear Republicans accuse others of as well as the non-existent “clean coal” our President promotes. This massive poisoning of our environment for energy production is not even necessary.

The reality is that green energy creates more jobs than the fossil fuel industry. A national study by the Center for American Progress showed that job creation in clean energy outdoes fossil fuels by a margin of 3-to-1. Germany has seen a 4% job growth tied to renewable energy development. We could be developing a hydrogen economy as well as investing is solar and wind energy if our politicians could free themselves from relying on fossil fuel industry backing. That, of course would take real electoral reform along with the legal de-personhood of corporations.

It would be far simpler for us to address the problems we face and to develop clean, renewable energy if we had public utilities. Much of our power grid was built by the government during the last depression and sold off to private companies over time. We could have much more secure, ecologically safe and efficient state and national power grids and more dependable access to water, moving it from flooded areas to drought stricken regions, for far less user expense if utilities were publicly owned and managed.

The power of money that corrupts and cripples our system of governance also undermines its most basic purpose, which is to protect us and provide for our security. Fortunately, unlike yeast, we are self aware. We know, or should know, that we are as much a part of this earth as the soil. We have the ability to change how we live and what we do together as a society and fortunately, there are people organized to do something about the poisoning of our earth. The Sierra Club is a good place to start. As I wrote last month, they can be contacted at coaldust@vasierraclub.org if you choose to get involved locally. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is another important local organization as is Virginia Organizing.

Overcoming the imposed cultural devolution and massive poisoning of the biosphere by this corrupt economic system is no easy task but it is not an abstraction off in some future. It is you and I, here and now. Some of us already suffer the ravages of environmental sensitivity and illness. I certainly do. It is doubtful that our species can save itself without disempowering wealth and reclaiming real, bottom up, ecologically sustainable democracy. We have no other choice if we are not to die off like yeast in our own waste. Apocalyptic thinking is increasingly popular in our culture but our demise is not a certainty. Accepting such an outcome may make it so, but we have a choice. We owe it to ourselves and our children to do what we can to defend life on earth from the insane myopia of systemic greed. We have to start somewhere and our own vulnerable region is a good place to begin.

***

Jaded Prole is the nom-de-plume of a freelance writer and poet as well as a publisher, and philosopher living in Virginia. His blog is hereHe also publishes The Blue Collar Review, a quarterly whose purpose is to expand and promote a progressive working class vision of culture.

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The Week In Doom October 27, 2013

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on October 27, 2013
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Virginia Freak Show, Part 2

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“Black pastors are also going to have to answer whether they serve Jesus or the Democrat Party… The black community will never prosper by betraying God and following leadership that curries the favor of the Democrat Party.” 

“I believe that the Democrat Party has become an anti-God party, I think it’s an anti-life party, I think it’s an anti-family party. And these are all things I think Christians hold to very dearly.”

― E.W. Jackson, candidate for Lieutenant Governor

 

Last week, we examined the candidacy of tea party zealot and noted vaginaphobe Ken Cuccinelli and  his campaign to become Virginia’s next governor. This week’s column we devote to his running mate, Bishop E. W. Jackson, a theocrat whose views are so extreme, so out of touch with the rote conservatism that passes for mainstream thought in the Commonwealth, that even his running mates are sprinting away from him as fast as they can.

Jackson’s opponent is Ralph Northam, and Norfolk physician and member of the Virginia Senate who won his party’s nomination for LG. Northam is a graduate of VMI and a military veteran, and has shown himself to be a pragmatic man as well as a fiscal conservative. (Disclaimer: I have met Ralph Northam and spoken with him, as part of a group representing local Occupy and Virginia Organizing, to lobby for his support against the passage of legislation intended to make uranium mining legal in Virginia’s moist and unpredictable climate. The legislation, which originated in the office of Gov. Transvaginal Ultrasound, never made it to the floor for lack of support.  The health issues of the proposal were immediately obvious to Northam, and his opposition to the proposed legislation was a done deal, probably well before we showed up.)

Thus it will be clear that my sympathies do not lie with the Republican candidate, and as a certified pisser and moaner on these pages, I make no pretense of objectivity. So now, fully disclaimed,  bum wiped, and bib adjusted, let’s take some time to get to know E. W.

Here’s his bio:

Earl Walker Jackson Sr. is the 2013 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia. He was born January 13, 1952 in Chester, Pa. He eventually joined the U.S. Marines where he served for three years. Following the Marines, he entered the University of Massachusetts and graduated in 1975. In 1978, he graduated from Harvard Law School and continued to practice law in the Boston area for 15 years.  In 1996, Jackson joined with the Christian Coalition to head “The Samaritan Project,” an outreach program that distributed $500,000 to churches that were victim of arson. In 1998, he was consecrated a bishop and went on to establish Exodus Faith Ministries. Currently, Jackson is involved in Hampton Roads politics, serving as a member of the Chesapeake Police Advisory Board, a Trustee of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, and a Trustee for Lead Hampton Roads. In 2012, Jackson ran unsuccessfully in the Virginia’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

Let’s allow the candidate to stake out his positions in his own words. Here are some views  that will held you spin up to speed:

1. On gay people: “Their minds are perverted, they’re frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally and they see everything through the lens of homosexuality. When they talk about love they’re not talking about love, they’re talking about homosexual sex.”

2. On gay people (again): “Homosexuality is a horrible sin, it poisons culture, it destroys families, it destroys societies; it brings the judgment of God unlike very few things that we can think of… It’s an authoritarian, totalitarian spirit.”

3. Political predictions: Jackson said a few weeks before the 2012 election that black voters would “overwhelmingly” vote against Barack Obama because he had endorsed marriage equality. Over 90 percent of African Americans voted for the president.

4. On Democrats: “I liken them to slave masters who brag about how good their slaves are and how well-behaved they are but let them try to be free, let them try to escape and then you find out that they don’t really think very much of them.”

5. On Planned Parenthood and the KKK: “Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was. And the Democrat Party and the black civil rights allies are partners in this genocide.”

6. On liberals and the KKK: “Liberalism and their ideas have done more to kill black folks whom they claim so much to love than the Ku Klux Klan, lynching and slavery and Jim Crow ever did, now that’s a fact.”

7. On the Democratic Party’s agenda: “An agenda worthy of the Antichrist.”

8. On Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: “The new Marine motto: ‘The Few, the Proud, the Sexually Twisted.’ Good luck selling that to strong young males who would otherwise love to defend their country. What virile young man wants to serve in a military like that?

9. On boycotting CPAC for being too gay: “The self-proclaimed gay Republicans support hate crime laws (which will be used to bludgeon the church) and oppose the Federal Defense of Marriage Amendment, without which judges will ultimately legislate homosexual ‘marriage’—making the natural family an endangered species… What would Ronald Reagan think of CPAC today?”

10. On Obama’s Muslim sensibilities: “Obama clearly has Muslim sensibilities. He sees the world and Israel from a Muslim perspective. His construct of ‘The Muslim World’ is unique in modern diplomacy. It is said that only The Muslim Brotherhood and other radical elements of the religion use that concept. It is a call to unify Muslims around the world.”

This guy is not your garden-variety right-wing activist; this guy is special.

In his second interview with Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality and pastor John Kirkwood, Bishop E.W. Jackson launched into another blistering tirade against gays and lesbians. The anti-gay activist said that gays and lesbians have “perverted” minds and are “very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally,” and bigoted against African Americans and Christians. […]

Jackson added that homosexuality “poisons culture, it destroys families, it destroys societies” and will lead to God’s judgment.

Thus E.W. Jackson has staked out  what might fairly be called  “fringe positions”  consisting of  utterances and opinions generally heard behind the tobacco barn rather than uttered in public. While it may be unusual to find fringe figures pushing arguments like these in public, it’s even more unusual for such fringe figures to be nominated by a major political party to run for statewide office after compiling such a dossier.  (This is what comes from Virginia Republicans having changed their nominating process to a caucus instead of a convention, so that the two dozen people who show up can choose whoever they want, thus reflecting the views of their joyless, airless worlds.  Never forget that Virginia is Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson country, with their respective grifts and scams generating huge revenues from widows and retirees.)

Believe it or not or not, it gets worse.  Here in the home of Jefferson, author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, there is this: GOP Candidate: Non-Christians Are ‘Engaged In Some Sort Of False Religion’

“Any time you say, ‘There is no other means of salvation but through Jesus Christ, and if you don’t know him and you don’t follow him and you don’t go through him, you are engaged in some sort of false religion,’ that’s controversial. But it’s the truth,” Jackson said at the Restoration Fellowship Church in Strasburg, Va., according to a recording obtained by the Washington Post. “

And then there’s the matter of his record. People always seem to be surprised that, in this age of the intertubez, people would actually check the utterances that you allege are fact when running for public office.  Apparently Jackson claimed he had been the Boston Red Sox chaplain. Uhh ––Not so much.  Also, the allegation that he grew up poor as a foster child, had to carry a chamber pot at night, and when hungry, was happy to feast on the occasional mayonnaise sandwich.  His own foster sister called bullshit:

[V]ivid details of his escape from deprivation in a Chester, Pa., foster home — the emotional core of his stump speech — have been challenged by two women who were there. […]

There was also no indoor bathroom, Jackson said, and as the youngest of the foster children, “I brought the pot down.” He was last in line for the once-a-week bath in a galvanized tub.

“I’m like, ‘What house was he in?’ ” said Nadine Molet, the adopted daughter of foster parents Willie and Rebecca Molet.

Nadine Molet shared the same roof with Jackson and said the bathroom was on the first floor, beyond the well-stocked kitchen. “I never remember missing a meal. We always had fatback, cornbread, pancakes. We always took a lot of food to church.”

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And you may be surprised to learn that government programs have done more harm to blacks in slavery ever did. Slavery denial seems to be richly in vogue  in right wing circles these days,  and clearly blacks, even candidates for office get to play along as well!

“In 1960, most black children were raised in two-parent, monogamous families. By now, by this time, we have only 20 percent of black children being raised in a two-parent, monogamous families with the married man and woman raising those children,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t slavery that did that, it was government that did that. It tried to solve problems that only God can solve and that only we as human beings can solve.”

Over the course of the campaign, the public has learned that Jackson doesn’t believe in evolution, claimed Planned Parenthood “killed unborn black babies by the tens of millions” and thinks President Barack Obama has a “Muslim perspective.”

A lot of these remarkable ideas get tested at the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter Summit”  each year. This is where people who spend eight hours a day watching Fox News, and have Hannity and Rush locked in on their car radios go to congratulate one another on the excellence of their intellectual tailoring, the splendor of their prejudices, and the superb aroma of one another’s farts.

I would love to believe that their time is past.  Consider that this year’s luminaries included Michele Bachmann,  who spoke under the cloud of that little ethics problem stemming from her presidential bid, Bishop Jackson, whose resume we’re discussing here, and star of the moment Sen. Ted Cruz, he of the negative approval ratings. Not to mention Allen West, Mike Huckabee, Glenn Beck, Joseph Farah, and a host of lesser lights whose business plans depend upon the continuous extraction of FRN’s from the gullible. Whatever you may have read about this summit, it was a recitation of the same failed agenda and stale ideas that get recycled every year, but which do really well for fund-raising purposes. Hence their utility. Reporter Paul Rauschenbush put it thus:

But it’s not just the people, it is really the ideas and priorities of the Values Voter Summit that seem tired and tone deaf to the concerns of most Americans. For these faith voters, guns are still really good and gays are still really bad. And yes, again, religious freedom (read Christian privilege) is under attack — which brings us back to the gays and their desire to marry and women’s right to control their own bodies.

Every agenda item has a rehashed ’80s feel about it; and, especially around gay marriage, a sense of inevitable failure and a willful blindness to the recent movement that has happened among faith leaders on gay inclusion. . .

At the time of their expensive and highly produced meeting, there are over 46 million Americans who are living at or below the poverty line, yet the Republican controlled house voted to cut 40 billion dollars from food stamps; there are thousands of law abiding Dreamers who are desperately waiting for immigration reform, yet the Republicans have stalled efforts to welcome them into our country; and during these months when we have gun tragedy over gun tragedy with young people slaughtered with assault rifles, the Republican party stops any effort at sensible gun laws.

The Values Voter Summit doesn’t care about this at all! It is easier to stick with how football is under attack than to deal with the real suffering of Americans who need to hear some hope that we are a moral and just country because right now it is hard to remember that.

It is in this hothouse, where news and opinion is manufactured to order, and where polling firms tell their clients exactly what they want to hear (reality be damned)  that the platform planks of the future of American conservatism are being manufactured. To her credit, Rachel Maddow has done an exceptional job of shining light into these dark and fetid corners,  as the GOP’s policy positions become an obsession with sodomy, voodoo, and Satanism.

This is really is what the Republican Party is like right now. Even after the 2012 elections, and the supposed nationwide tip-to-tail diagnosis that the party needed to re-brand, maybe take it a little easy on the fire and brimstone hot sauce, at least for the next few elections—even after all of that, this is who they are. They are more like this now than they were last year, and than they were the year before that. This is not the Beltway-narrative media about what’s going on in American politics right now, but it is exactly what is going on, if you watch how they behave and who they are and what they say in public.”

This is why what they say matters. Most likely we only have a couple of more weeks to enjoy the candidacy of E. W. Jackson. But it is essential to remember that with every I-can’t-believe-he-said-that statement, with every outrage against decency and good sense, with every assertion that promises intellectual or emotional violence to those who disagree, there is a fifth column within this country who nod in approbation while opening their wallets.  Candidates like Jackson have successfully pushed the bounds of acceptable discourse, not to mention those of decency. And what we should take from Jackson’s candidacy is that he speaks for a sizable minority of culture warriors within this country who promise to do anything, and to use any means necessary, to get their way, witness the tactics of the tea party (read Fascist Front) insurgency in Congress regarding the shutdown.

It remains to be seen whether demography is destiny and if the tide will turn on these people. For now, Jackson represents the true believers. Do not sleep on them.

As a postscript, Alex Seitz-Wald reported in Salon, “Glenn Beck has called E.W. Jackson, ‘one of the biggest truth‑tellers I’ve ever seen, one of the bravest guys I’ve ever seen.’”  Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

 

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