trade war

This Week In Doom, July 8


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on July 8, 2018

“The world that you see is being configured to a probable reality that you haven’t yet chosen.”

 ― Douglas Rushkoff  


What occasioned some collapse-related noise this week on the Diner Forum was an article penned by Douglas Rushkoff entitled, Survival of the Richest–The wealthy are plotting to leave us behind. Worth a peek.

Rushkoff is a writer, documentarian, and lecturer whose work focuses on human autonomy in the digital age.  (See his website. ) He had been invited to an exclusive resort to deliver a keynote speech to investment bankers on the subject of “the future of technology.” The fee was un-turn-down-able for a university professor–he described it as  "about half his annual professor’s salary ."

After he arrived, he was ushered into a room he thought might have been the green room, but was instead the setting for him to meet his REAL audience: five super-wealthy hedge fund bankers with questions of their own.

Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis: New Zealand or Alaska? Is Google really building Ray Kurzweil a home for his brain, and will his consciousness live through the transition, or will it die and be reborn as a whole new one? Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked, “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?”

The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.

This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless?

Yes, the rich are different from you and me. They have private security. Plus they know we're doomed and have absolutely no intention of doing anything aside from saving their own skins. This should surprise no one. For them, a "talk about the future of technology" is really about

…preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape. 

There was a time within recent memory when the future seemed inventable and accessible, in Rushkoff's words, " a playground for the counterculture, who saw in it the opportunity to create a more inclusive, distributed, and pro-human future." Now, when Elon Musk is launching cars into space, Peter Thiel reversing aging, or Ray Kurzweil uploading his mind, they saw a digital future with far less to do with making the world a better place than with transcending the human condition altogether.

It's been obvious for years that our technology has far outstripped our ethics, this since the moment the Enola Gay released her cargo. At a time when everything that can be commoditized will be, and all transactions, including moral, ethical, and spiritual, are filtered through the logic of the spreadsheet, we should expect nothing else.

Now we wrestle with the ethical dilemmas presented by unchecked technological development at the behest of corporate capitalism. Dreamed-of digital utopias have waxed into marketplaces that have become exploitative and extractive. Bots and algorithms, and even conversations overheard by your cell phone prompt offers of new deals just over the digital horizon. Workplaces for suppliers become increasingly dehumanized and automated (think Amazon). We collectively wring our hands with each story about jobs lost, exploitations of the gig economy, and collapse of local retail. And tthose about the rest of the world, where we export our trash and poisons, create toxic waste dumps in third world countries picked over by peasant children and their families, who sell recovered materials back to the manufacturers. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Our extractive culture exports our problems: out of sight, out of mind. And once out of sight, we escape to fantasies afforded by new tech baubles and toys– VR fantasy worlds, shooter games, movie franchises based on comic heroes and 3D animation, zombie apocalypses, and so on. The zeitgiest is fairly shrieking at us. Ours is the logic of the junkie: we believe that the next tech fix is just around the corner.

When the hedge funders asked Rushkoff how to best maintain authority over their security forces after “the event,” He suggested should treat those people really well, right now, engage with their security staffs as they would family members. And extend an "ethos of inclusivity" to  business practices, supply chain management, sustainability efforts, and wealth distribution…

They were amused by my optimism, but they didn’t really buy it. They were not interested in how to avoid a calamity; they’re convinced we are too far gone. For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future. They are simply accepting the darkest of all scenarios and then bringing whatever money and technology they can employ to insulate themselves.

We should take them at their word.


Short takes:

EPA chief Scott Pruitt resigns amid scandals, blames critics 

Pruitt's 14 scandal investigations finally became too much of a burden even for The Orange Lout to take, and Pruitt did an el-foldo, blaming everyone else on the way out the door. Crying the obligatory "witch-hunt," and pour everyone a round. Pruitt's successor promises to be Pruitt without the serial grifts.

China and Russia hit back at Trump tariffs

45 launched his "easy-to-win" trade war this week. China's commerce ministry lodged a new complaint with the WTO. Russia announced extra duties on US imports in retaliation. Beijing accused the US of starting the "largest trade war in economic history". Evidence mounts that Trump's trade fights will be most harmful to the people who voted for him, especially in states with large exports of soy.

It Was Absurdly Hot in North Africa Thursday

The entire globe is in the grips of an unusual heat wave. Following sweltering temperatures in the U.S. and a hot, smoky Siberia (with temps above 90 degrees F at the Arctic Circle), we have what may be the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Africa. The heat dome over Algeria and the rest of North Africa was “3.5 to 4 standard deviations from normal, meaning highly unusual.”

Intense heat wave shattering temperature records in Iran and the Caucasus

An intense heat wave has shattered temperature records in Iran and the Caucasus nations of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, causing power shortages. Weather experts said the heat wave is the result of a high-pressure dome that formed over the Eurasian region and reaches as far north as southern Russia.


Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere. He lives a quiet domestic existence in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary. Descended from a long line of people to whom one could never tell anything, all opinions are his and his alone, because he paid full retail for everything he has managed to learn.

This Week in Doom June 10, 2018


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on June 10, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

Just don't lose your phone.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Cui bono?

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

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

Cui bono?

Maybe you missed this as well:

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

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

Once again: cui bono?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Suicide Is Painless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

This Week In Doom, April 8, 2018


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on April 8, 2018

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

 ― Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  


It was a week much like any other week in the Age of Trump. We've been desensitized by the antics of the Tantrumish Manbaby in the White House, and the chaos comes so hard and so fast there is barely time to make sense of it. We saw the full-bore co-optation of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his murder…  the full-bore breakdown and digestion of the retail sector as the Trump Economy takes hold, the end products of digestion to eventually fill those MAGA hats…an on-again, off gain Trade War depending on who you talk to… Trumptantrums re Amazon… dark turns in AI including Killer Robots… and we're drowning in our own crap. Another perfect week.


White Martin

This week saw the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sarah Huckabee Sanders commemorated the occasion by by profaning the memory of the murdered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by reading at few paragraphs of his “mountaintop” speech on Wednesday.

It should be noted that Dr. MLK Jr. was a socialist and a real radical, although his legacy has been sufficiently stripped, sanitized and dry-cleaned for consumption by white America as to be unrecognizable. It is sufficient to remember that even his sharp criticism of the War in Vietnam, which alienated and frightened many of his supporters, was not enough to get him killed.

The estimable Charlie Pierce has it best:

Watching SHS, functioning as the official voice of a president* who started his road to the White House by spreading lies and slander about the first African-American president, reading those words in her dead-eyed Weekend-Anchor-in-Fort-Smith voice was enough to make me feel radically non-non-violent, which really is not the proper way to feel on this solemn occasion.

When King started talking economic issues and organizing Poor People, he moved into that column of those that had to be silenced and removed. The income inequality King decried today operates at crisis levels, unleavened by morality or human decency. One can criticize war with impunity, but risk not one word against Profits. Let's give Pierce the last word:

(King's) whole philosophy was based on breaking unjust laws. His whole career was made up of acts of lawbreaking. That’s who he was. That was his job. That was his mission, and that should be his memory. Non-violence is not the opposite of anger. It never has been. It is the repurposing of anger to constructive purpose, and that constructive purpose was the destruction of systems of oppression. If that’s a profound contradiction then, dammit, this country came into being as a profound contradiction. "How is it," sniped Samuel Johnson, "that we hear the loudest yelps for liberties from the drivers of negroes?" We are a people of contradictions. So was Martin Luther King, Jr. We should make the most of that.


Brick & Mortar Retail Meltdown, March Update

More bad news this week from the retail sector of the American economy, where bricks-and-mortar stores and chains that own them endure economic peristalsis as they are digested by the inexorable forces of automation. The mom and pop stores of youth have been gone ever since they built the mall in the 80s. We're now seeing the medium sized fish that ate the smaller fish turn up in the nets. Wolf Richter reports:

March was a busy month for the brick-and-mortar retail meltdown which kicked off in 2015 and has since picked up speed. We’ve followed this progression from the early days. This year, there was a brutal January, an even more brutal February, and here’s March.

Southeastern Grocers, parent of Winn-Dixie, filed for bankruptcy on March 28. It’s buckling under its debts…Michaels Companies, largest US crafts retailer with about 1,300 stores in the US and Canada, announced on March 22 that it would shutter all its 94 Aaron Brothers framing and art supplies stores… Claire’s Stores filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 19, suffocating under $1.9 billion in debt… Toys “R” Us filed for liquidation… Bon Ton stores faces liquidation if it cannot find a buyer… Guitar Center is buckling under its debts… Signet Jewelers, whose brands include Kay Jewelers, Zales, and Jared, announced on March 14 that it would close 200 Stores over the next 12 months… Foot Locker, with over 3,300 stores globally, announced on March 2 that it plans to close about 110 stores this year…

And in the centerpiece of hedge-fund vulture capitalism, Eddie Lampert, the billionaire majority shareholder of Sears and Kmart who married the two brands together in 2003, ostensibly to run them but now seemingly stripping them for parts. Under Lampert's management the number of Sears and Kmart stores nationwide has shrunk to 1,207 from high of 5,670, and at least 200,000 Sears and Kmart employees have lost their jobs. He's sold off signature brands like Kenmore, Craftsman, and DieHard, as well as Lands’ End, Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores, Sears Canada, and Orchard Supply. The sales have generate cash, which Lampert has generously returned to the shareholders.

Guess who owns 60 percent of Sear Holdings stock?

Of course, if you a a wretch who works in the hell-on-earth that is retail sales, you deserve your ignoble fate, unlike those Favored by God, the investor class. How are they doing? The Sears Holdings stock price has slumped to $2 a share, down from a high of $134 per share 11 years ago.  Wolf Richter:

Sears Holdings is reporting ever more horrid quarters. On March 14, it reported results for Q4, ended February 3, which covered the crucial holiday sales period. Revenues plunged 28% year-over-year to 4.4 billion. According to my projections and my beautiful chart, at the rate of declines over the past four years, revenues will drop below zero in 2020, even as CEO and hedge-fund owner Eddie Lampert is still touting “progress” in SEC filings. This thing is cooked and waiting to be carved up.

Some observers think that Sears Holdings is “a total shit show” that is in “secret liquidation” mode. For more, see the Vanity Fair article and profile of Eddie Lambert. Good stuff.

The demise of retail dovetails with the demise of the middle class into poverty as we increasingly struggle to pay for the necessities of life with salaries and savings are eroded by inflation and debasement of the money via debt. It is one sign that collapse is already in progress, and that we are frogs being slowly cooked. It will remain imperceptible to most for a long time until it's not, and then it's going to get ugly.


Trade War? Is there is or is there ain't?

Trump: Trade Wars Are Easy to Win. Also Trump: We Lost the Trade War with China.

Remember who said how easy trade wars are to win? It was the same guy who said we already lost. We're getting killed by Mexico,  We're getting "raped" by China. And recall when he told Justin Trudeau the US was running a trade deficit even though he knew otherwise? Oh, what a great kidder. On Tuesday Trump announced tariffs on Chinese products to the tune of $50 billion that include "robotics, information technology, communication technology and aerospace." China responded  the next day with $50 billion in tariffs on 106 different U.S. products, including cars, chemicals, and ag products including soy. China's selections seemed precisely calibrated to affect Trump country.

Not surprisingly, the market was off 500 points the next day, and another 600 the day after tht, before a rally to close higher as Trump's smoothers and handlers were our whispering sweet nothings in the ears of Real Money about how this was a "negotiation." They woke Wilbur Ross and wheeled him out to defend the moves, saying Trump is a lifelong deal maker" and China's tariffs are not the "first controversy he's gone into," Ross said. "This is not World War III."

We are to be reassured because human beings are not dying. Yet.

But not to worry– Mr. He Alone Can Fix It is on the case, and you should remember he had a book written for him entitled "The Art of the Deal." Just remember that everyone who came before Trump was a moron, but he is a business genius. And a stable genius at that.


Take Bezos, Give the Points

In a series of tweets, The Stable Genius picked a fight with Amazon owner Jeff Bezos because he could. Yes, the guy who bragged that he was "smart" for not paying taxes during a presidential debate and who refuses to release his tax returns, as every major-party candidate since Watergate has done, accused Amazon of somehow gaming the US Postal Service. From all accounts, the Amazon contract is profitable for the USPS, and has to be by law. In most Tweets, Trump refers to the "Amazon Washington Post," although Bezos owns The Washington Post outright.

Trump's contempt is is rooted in the fact that the Post has driven Trump to impotent rage with its persistent reporting of facts about him and his administration. 

Trump took to Twitter Wednesday to attack America’s most trusted brand: “Amazon is doing great damage to tax paying retailers. Towns, cities and states throughout the U.S. are being hurt – many jobs being lost!” And, 

Most of the financial sites agree: Donald Trump Will Not Get the Best of Jeff Bezos. Through canny marketing and making the services easy to use,  Bezos has managed to integrate Amazon so thoroughly into the lives of customers that many can’t imagine living without its affordability and convenience. Oh, and lobbying. Virginia Postrel from BloombergView:

In fact, Trump’s irritation isn’t really with Amazon. Rather, he is obsessed with Jeff Bezos, whom he keeps denouncing by name. The guy clearly gets under his skin.

The obvious reason is that Bezos — not Amazon, Mr. President — owns the Washington Post. But Trump’s obsession seems a little too personal to be about the Post alone…

Rather, the very existence of Bezos seems to drive Trump crazy. Trump’s image, to himself and his fans, is that of alpha male — the dominant primate in the room. Simply by going about his business (and largely ignoring Trump), Bezos refutes that claim. He is a far more admired and influential businessman than Trump and, of course, immeasurably richer.

Start with appearance. Trump, who likes his staff to have the right “look,” would never cast a wiry guy who doesn’t hide his lack of hair as a big-time businessman. How can someone only five-foot-nine intimidate people into submission? In Trumpworld, intimidation, not value-creation, is what business is all about.

Bezos also has a sense of humor, often at his own expense, and a famously raucous laugh. Trump is humorless. He certainly doesn’t laugh at himself.

We'll leave consideration of the fine points, such as the probity of a sitting president* using the bully pulpit to damage a private company for pure political gain, as well as direct attacks on the free press and the independent judiciary, to the judgments of history. Which is apparently Bezos' attitude as well. The response from Amazon HQ has been silence. Which will prove to be golden. Amazon shares initially fell but are now trading higher. 


AI: Threat or Menace, Redux

Last week I waxed rhapsodic about Artifical Intelligence. I cited that fact that some Smart People have warned us about the implications. Some scoff and say that macines can never truly be "intelligent" because creativity. To which I reply tht the creativity of artificial intelligence can potentially look very different from that of humans. This week, there's this interview with Sophia, the AI robot that's now a citizen of Saudi Arabia:

Thanks to reader Kim Lambert for this one. And then there's the malign intelligence named "Norman." Meet 'Norman,' the Darkest, Most Disturbed AI the World Has Ever Seen

Housed at MIT Media Lab, a research laboratory that investigates AI and machine learning, Norman's computer brain was allegedly warped by exposure to "the darkest corners of Reddit" during its early training, leaving the AI with "chronic hallucinatory disorder," according to a description published April 1 (yes, April Fools' Day) on the project's website.

MIT Media Lab representatives described the presence of "something fundamentally evil in Norman's architecture that makes his re-training impossible…"

Time to open up another big can of "nothing-to-see-here-citizen," right? And in another light-hearted frolic this week, Elon Musk warns that creation of 'god-like' AI could doom mankind to an eternity of robot dictatorship:

If one company or small group of people manage to develop god-like super intelligence, they could take over the world," Musk said in the film.

He continued: "At least when there is an evil dictator, that human is going to die. But for AI there will be no death, it would live forever and then you would have an immortal dictator from which we could never escape….

We are rapidly heading towards digital superintelligence that far exceeds any human. I think it's very obvious. We have five years. I think digital superintelligence will happen in our lifetime, 100%," Musk said.

And such concerns have informed the consciences of at least some scientists.

'Killer Robot' Lab Faces Boycott from Artificial Intelligence Experts

Nearly 60 AI and robotics experts from almost 30 countries have signed an open letter calling for a boycott against KAIST, a public university in Daejeon, South Korea, that has been reported to be "develop[ing] artificial intelligence technologies to be applied to military weapons, joining the global competition to develop autonomous arms," the open letter said.

To strongly discourage KAIST's new mission, the researchers are boycotting the university until its president makes clear that the center will not develop "autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control," the letter writers said.

But nothing to worry about since AI is "not creative."


Who's crap? Our crap.

And now we're drowning in our own crap as China has decided that they are going to treat our recycled waste like they treat the US Dollar: "We don't want it."

For decades, China has used recyclables from around the world to supply its manufacturing boom. But this summer it declared that this "foreign waste" includes too many other nonrecyclable materials that are "dirty," even "hazardous." In a filing with the World Trade Organization the country listed 24 kinds of solid wastes it would ban "to protect China's environmental interests and people's health."

The complete ban takes effect Jan. 1, but already some Chinese importers have not had their licenses renewed. That is leaving U.S. recycling companies scrambling to adapt…

For decades, China has sorted through all this and used the recycled goods to propel its manufacturing boom. Now it no longer wants to, so the materials sits here with no place to go.

There is no choice for affected Oregon recyclers but to take all of the recycling to the local landfill. Over a dozen Oregon companies have asked regulators whether they can send recyclable materials to landfills, and that number may grow if they can't find eager buyers elsewhere for our recycled products. So as we slowly cook, we can also enjoy drowning in our own garbage. Just another week in Doom.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary and fully expects to be prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.'s Department of Homeland Security.

The US-EU-Russia Sanctions Puzzle

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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Originally published in Global Research on September 18, 2014

Whatever Russia does, doubt does not even enter the equation. The answer is sanctions. So here we go again. The US Treasury-EU latest sanction package targets Russian banking, the energy industry and the defense industry.

The sanctions are mean. The sanctions are nasty. And there’s no euphemism to describe them; they amount to a declaration of economic war.

Sberbank, Russia’s largest won’t be able to access Western capital for long-term funding, including every kind of borrowing over 30 days. And the current 90-day lending bans affecting six other large Russian banks – a previous sanctions package – will also be reduced to 30 days.

On the energy front, what the US-EU want is to shut down new Russian exploration projects in Siberia and the Arctic, barring Western Big Oil from selling equipment and technology to offshore, deepwater or shale gas projects.

This means Exxon and Shell, for instance, are frozen in their operations with five top Russian oil/gas/pipeline companies: Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Lukoil, Surgutneftegaz, and Rosneft.

No one ever lost money betting on the stupidity of the usual, unknown “senior US officials” – who are now spinning the latest sanction package is to force Moscow to “respect international law and state sovereignty.” A cursory examination of the historical record allows this paragraph to be accompanied by roaring laughter.

And then there’s the US Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David Cohen, who insists the package will further “isolate” Russia from the global financial system.

Members of the European Parliament stand to applaud during a voting session on the EU-Ukraine Association agreement at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, September 16, 2014. (Reuters/Vincent Kessler)

Members of the European Parliament stand to applaud during a voting session on the EU-Ukraine Association agreement at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, September 16, 2014. (Reuters/Vincent Kessler)

The package was also described by Western corporate media as capable of “unnerving already jittery financial markets.” Well, they were not exactly “unnerved.” In Russia, the stocks of companies on the sanctions list went up. In the US, energy stocks went down. Short translation; the “unnerved” markets interpreted the latest package as yet another own goal by Washington and Brussels.

Splitting up Eurasia

As for Russia’s “isolation”, companies are barred from, in Washington-Wall Street newspeak, “important dollar-denominated funding sources.” Or, euphemistically, “Western capital.” This means the US dollar and the euro. Anyone following superimposed moves towards a multipolar world knows Russia does not need more US dollars and euro.

Moscow might use both to cross-purchase goods and services in the US and the EU. Yet these goods and services may be bought elsewhere around the world. For that, you don’t need “Western capital” – as Moscow is fast advancing the use of national currencies with other trade partners. The Atlanticist gang assumes Moscow needs goods and services from the US and the EU much more than the other way around. That’s a fallacy.

Russia can sell its abundant energy resources in any currency apart from US dollars and euro. Russia can buy all the clothing it needs from Asia and South America. On the electronics and high-tech front, most of it is made in China anyway.

Crucially, on the energy front, it would be no less than thrilling to watch the EU – which still does not even have a common energy policy – trying to come up with alternative suppliers. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Qatar, for a number of complex reasons – ranging from insufficient gas to be committed, to an absence of pipelines – are out of the picture.

The Obama administration, for its part, simply won’t allow the EU to start importing energy from Iran like, virtually, tomorrow. Even with a now quite wobbly nuclear deal reached before the end of 2014 – presumably opening the way to an end to sanctions.

The “irrational” markets see what’s really goin’ on; they are not “irrational” but moved by profit derived from realpolitik.

And all this while Moscow has not even counterpunched. And that could be quite lethal – targeting EU exporters to Russia and even energy supplies from Russia. Then the EU will retaliate. And Russia will counter-counterpunch. That’s exactly what Washington wants: a trade/economic war ravaging and splitting up Eurasia.

 

United States President Barack Obama (Reuters/Gary Cameron)

United States President Barack Obama (Reuters/Gary Cameron)

About that $20 trillion…

On the political front, Ukraine and EU had initially agreed to “postpone the EU Association Agreement until the end of 2016.” You can’t make this stuff up; that’s exactly what Yanukovich did last November, as he knew Kiev could not allow itself to lose most of its certified trading with Russia in favor of a vague “free trade” with the EU. This agreement to “postpone” the agreement was in fact overseen by astonishing mediocrity and outgoing European Commission (EC) President Jose Manuel Barroso.

But then the European Parliament, during a plenary session in Strasbourg, hurried up to ratify Ukraine’s Association Agreement as President Petro Poroshenko simultaneously submitted it to the Ukrainian Parliament. This does not mean the agreement goes immediately into effect. Economic “integration”with the EU – a euphemism for a one-way invasion of Ukraine by EU products – will start only in January 2016. And there’s no way a crisis-hit EU will incorporate Ukraine anytime soon – or ever.

On Thursday, Poroshenko meets his master, US President Barack Obama, and addresses a joint session of the US Congress. Expect “evil empire” rhetoric to reach interstellar levels.

But it’s on Saturday in Berlin that the real thing starts unfolding; energy negotiations between Russia, the EU and Ukraine. Needless to say, Moscow holds all the key cards.

Washington’s humongous debt is reaching almost $20 trillion – and counting. With a monster crisis approaching like a tsunami from hell, no wonder Washington had to resort to the perfect diversionary tactic; the return of the “evil empire.” It’s the Marvel Comics school of politics all over again.

Russia has a huge surplus of foreign capital – and is able to weather the storm. Germany – the EU’s top economy – on the other hand, is already suffering. Growth is already at a negative 0.2%. This is the way the hysterical sanction wind is blowing – further derailing EU economies. And no one is betting the EU will have the balls to stand up to Washington. Not in vassal-infested Brussels.

 

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

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