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Surly Newz / Home of the Brave, Land of the Free™
« on: January 11, 2018, 05:13:46 PM »
The net effect of 40 years of relentless class war.

"Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"

Social media fury follows video of dazed woman put out in cold by Baltimore hospital

Social media fury follows video of dazed woman put out in cold by Baltimore hospital

January 11 at 7:40 PM

The man hurried up the Baltimore sidewalk with a camera in his hand as four black-clad hospital security guards walked toward him, then past him. One of them was pushing an empty wheelchair.

“So wait, y’all just going to leave this lady out here with no clothes on?” said Imamu Baraka, referring to a dazed woman wearing only a thin hospital gown who they had left alone at a bus stop Tuesday night in mid-30s temperatures. Her face appeared bloody, her eyes empty.

It was the latest incident of “patient dumping” that has sparked outrage around the country — one that, according to an expert, probably violated a 1986 federal law that mandates hospitals release those in their care into a safe environment.

“This kind of behavior is, I think, both illegal and I’m sure immoral,” said Arthur L. Caplan, founding head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine. “You don’t just throw someone out into the street who is impaired and may have injuries. You try to get them to the best place possible, and that’s not the bench in front of the hospital.”

The phenomenon was pervasive two decades ago, when the law was largely unenforced, Caplan said, but remains a problem from California to Virginia.

On Tuesday, the woman left outside the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus could barely walk and seemed unable to speak.

Still filming, Baraka turned and followed the guards back to an entrance.

“That is not okay,” he shouted.

“Due to the circumstances of what it was,” one of them said.

“Then you all need to call the police,” replied Baraka, a licensed counselor.

At the doorway, Baraka asked for a supervisor, demanding to know why they were leaving her outside.

“She was . . . medically discharged,” one of the guards said, before the camera captured them walking into the hospital, their backs turned.

What Baraka filmed next — the woman, staggering and screaming into a night so cold that the sidewalk remained speckled with salt and bits of unmelted snow — has been viewed more than 1.4 million times on Facebook, triggering a cascade of online fury and an apology from the hospital.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, the hospital’s chief pledged to investigate what he described as “a failure of basic compassion and empathy.” He said it represented a wrenching departure for a widely respected medical institution — one that has embarked on a major expansion in Prince George’s County and southern Maryland.

“We firmly believe what occurred Tuesday night does not reflect who we are,” said Mohan Suntha, the hospital’s president and chief executive. “We are trying to understand the points of failure that led to what we witnessed on that video.”

Suntha would not provide details on the personnel involved, saying the review of the woman’s experience from arrival to discharge had just begun. Nor would he speak to her condition or treatment because of patient confidentiality, but he asserted that her care before being led into the cold was adequate and complete.

Suntha, who cited the hospital’s 136-year history of providing indigent care in Baltimore, said the woman’s insurance coverage or ability to pay played no role in the decision to discharge her.

“I share the community’s shock and anger at what occurred,” he said, although shock and anger haven’t ended patient dumping in the past.

Last year, court records show, a man sued Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia for $100 million after alleging that he had been prematurely discharged on a cold winter night — and was subsequently hit by car.

The suit, filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court, alleged that Donald Paul Ryberg came to Inova just after noon on Jan. 29, 2015, a day when temperatures barely edged above freezing.

Ryberg, then a 46-year-old diabetic, had a history of alcohol abuse that had led him to the emergency room before.

The complaint alleges that Ryberg was so weak that he couldn’t stand or walk. When hospital staff discharged him around 7 p.m. — without a diagnosis and over his daughter’s objections — Ryberg was alone and confused, the complaint said, but had been given bus tokens and directions home. He then stumbled into the street, where a car smashed into him.

An Inova spokesman declined to comment.

His daughter, Tabatha Ryberg, said she spent the final years of her high school career caring for her father, who fractured his skull and remained in a coma for weeks after the accident. He continues to have mobility and memory problems, she said, and he lost his job as a laborer at an engineering firm.

“My dad has just lost everything,” she said. “I want to bring some attention to this because this is ridiculous. . . . They didn’t contact us. If they had, we would have had a ride for him. This has ruined so many people’s lives.”

In California, a 78-year-old man, disoriented and suffering from arthritis, was discharged from a Sacramento hospital and sent in a taxi to a homeless shelter that had no room for him, the Sacramento Bee reported. A year ago, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, former patients at a state-run hospital in Nevada filed a federal lawsuit after they and others were allegedly placed on Greyhound buses and sent out of state.

In the Baltimore case that went viral this week, much remains unknown: Who the woman is, why she was hospitalized, what led staff to discharge her when she appeared to be incoherent and where she is now.

Baraka has not responded to multiple requests for comment or posted an update on his Facebook page, but he gave a short interview to CBS Baltimore, saying he had just left his office across the street when he came upon the scene and began filming.

The video’s release was just the latest in a string of painful moments for Baltimore, still reeling from the 2015 death of Freddie Gray and the riots that followed. The city endured 343 homicides last year, making it the bloodiest year, per capita, in its history.

Last week, amid a stretch of frigid weather, images spread of Baltimore students bundled in coats in unheated schools. One teacher described students shivering and able to see their own breath.

“Things are so broken here, so broken,” said Bronwyn Mayden, a Baltimore native and executive director of Promise Heights, an initiative established by the University of Maryland School of Social Work. “It’s like dominoes — one just knocks down the other. Can it get any worse, y’all?”


The city’s struggles have reached a point where there’s no outrage, she said. Instead, there’s simply acceptance.

“I think,” Mayden concluded, “people are numb in Baltimore.”


Steve Hendrix and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

Surly Newz / "Fire and Fury": A Book Review
« on: January 11, 2018, 01:58:06 AM »
Reading this now.

"Fire and Fury": A Book Review

Written by

This book is a must-read for all Americans, especially those who vote.

I was anxious to get a copy. As soon as I had one, I finished reading it in one scoop - The book is fantastically well written, both in form and in content!

Please share this article - Go to very top of page, right hand side, for social media buttons.

Here is my overall assessment of the book:

1) The book damages President Trump, hugely.

2) The book was written largely from Steve Bannon's viewpoint, with a large amount of details about, and from, Mr. Bannon.

Why is there such a "nasty" book? Two main reasons:

1) Blame Mr. Bannon! After decisively helping Donald Trump win the Presidency, Mr. Bannon wanted to be the de facto President by all means, including inviting author Michael Wolff to be a long-time guest inside the White House, with no purpose other than writing favorably about Mr. Bannon.

2) Blame the President! The White House was indeed in total chaos. As a result, not only was Mr. Wolff's sneaky presence allowed, he eventually published this "insider" book.

I will highlight the book in four points as follows:

1) Three ideological branches.

2) "Let the kids go home".

3) Bannon on the Trump Presidency.

4) Bannon on himself.

Let me elaborate on each ...

1. Three ideological branches

The book is at its best in depicting the constant in-fights among the three ideological branches inside the White House: the alt-right represented by Steve Bannon, the New York Democrats represented by the "first children" (i.e. Kushner and Ivanka), and the Republican establishment represented by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnel via Reince Priebus.

As a result, the President, who is responsible for the set-up and apparently enjoys being the power broker (or "the king"), has been almost totally consumed, unfortunately for America ...

2. "Let the kids go home"

Mr. Bannon hated the "first children" and wanted them to go home. I agree, for a reason different from Mr. Bannon's though.

Mr. Bannon wanted the "kids" to go home because they were competing for influence (and often winning). I want them to go home as a principle: we are a republic, not a monarchy. Below is an excerpt from the book (page 28):

His sons, Don Jr. and Eric—jokingly behind their backs known to Trump insiders as Uday and Qusay, after the sons of Saddam Hussein.

Need I say more?

3. Bannon on the Trump Presidency

Below is an excerpt from the book (page 206):

Steve Bannon was telling people he thought there was a 33.3 percent chance that the Mueller investigation would lead to the impeachment of the president, a 33.3 percent chance that Trump would resign, perhaps in the wake of a threat by the cabinet to act on the Twenty-Fifth Amendment (by which the cabinet can remove the president in the event of his incapacitation), and a 33.3 percent chance that he would limp to the end of his term. In any event, there would certainly not be a second term, or even an attempt at one.

I agree with this assessment.

4. Bannon on himself

Below is an excerpt from the book (page 206):

Less volubly, Bannon was telling people something else: he, Steve Bannon, was going to run for president in 2020. The locution, "If I were president ..." was turning into, "When I am president ..."

Still wondering "why and how" about this book?

5. Summary

Overall, this book has simply further confirmed what many have worried about President Trump: lack of experiences in public office or military before taking the top job in the nation!

The image below is worth more than 1,000 words. For more, read: Trump Administration 2.0.

Mr. Bannon is the primary source of this book, which is hugely damaging to the President. Yes, Mr. Bannon has totally betrayed the President! No, he must not be forgiven, no matter how hard he apologizes now (Steve Bannon issues lengthy apology walking back his explosive comments in the tell-all book)!

Here is the latest news: Bannon out at Breitbart. Bannon has got what he deserves!

6. Discussion

Not only did I vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, I also spelled out the path to historic greatness for him (An Open Letter To President-Elect Donald Trump). Unfortunately, he has not listened, yet.

No question, Donald Trump ran a brilliant campaign to win the American Presidency. But governance has proven much harder …

More broadly, this book further demonstrates the hopelessness of the American Presidency. Three informative readings:

1) American Presidency: Starting at Age 55-65!

2) Let's Redefine the American Presidency, Now (Version 3)!

3) American Presidency: Is It a Joke (III)?

7. Closing

Once again, this book is a must-read for all Americans, especially those who vote.

I continue to wish the best for President Trump ...

Page Code: 203 Count: 452

Some time ago RE wrote something about preps to lay up in a storage unit for barter after TSHTF. This article reminded me of that.

Liquor for Preppers: Which liquors are best to stockpile for preparedness

Robert Richardson Food & Water, Survival 0

During a long-term disaster situation, liquor will be a precious resource. From bartering and economic reasons to health and medicinal uses, alcohol is one of those items that should be part of any good preparedness stockpile.

Prepper Liquor

5 Preparedness Reasons for Stockpiling Liquor

Liquor for Bartering

When things go wrong, people are going to be looking for an escape. Even a cheap bottle of alcohol could have tremendous value during a crash. Desperate people will be willing to trade just about anything for a chance to escape their situation. Alcohol is one of those items that there will always be a market for and one of those things that people will always need.

Liquor for your Health

A whiskey a day keeps the doctor away. Even during prohibition, Whiskey was legal to import because it was considered a medicine. In fact, whiskey, when consumed in moderation, can have many health benefits. And when you’re battling a cold or allergies, alcohol can dilate your blood vessels, making it easier for mucus membranes to deal with the infection.

Whiskey, Honey, and Lemon make an excellent cough suppressant.

Liquor as a Stress Reliever

While drinking yourself into a stupor isn’t going to help you survive anything, being able to take the edge off during a stressful situation is something that can go a long way to ensuring your mental health.

Liquor as an Antiseptic/Cleaner

Liquor with a high enough alcohol content can be used in a wide variety of cleaning and first-aid applications. Just make sure the alcohol content is above 60%.

Liquor for Preservation

Not only is liquor called for in a number of recipes, but it can be used to preserve herbs, fruits, and plants. Soaking herbs in alcohol like vodka or rum can make tinctures or extracts, making them more efficient and longer lasting.

How long does stockpiled Booze last?

Bottle of Scotch

Spirits last the longest – in most cases they will last indefinitely.

How long your liquor lasts depends on what type of booze you’re stockpiling. In general, spirits with a higher alcohol content will generally last the longest amount of time. In fact, most spirits will last indefinitely – although their flavors may change over time.

Liqueurs are a little bit trickier.

In general, you shouldn’t have to worry about spoilage if the alcohol content is around 17% or above. The exception to this rule is any type of cream liqueur. Most cream liqueurs will have a shelf life stamped on the bottle, so keep that in mind when stocking up on liqueurs like Baileys.

Wines and Vermouths

Most wine is meant to be opened within 12-18 months of purchase; once opened it rapidly starts to go bad. If unopened and stored right, at about 55-60 degrees, wine can last for about 5-10 years.

Beers are on the bottom of the list

It pains me to say this, but beer is going to be the first thing to go. Most beer will last for about 6-9 months beyond dates on the label, but anything beyond that you are going to be tasting some nasty stuff.

Don’t ever run out of Booze: Learn to Make your Own

A preponderance of

Since we are talking about prepping, nothing says being prepared like having the ability to make your own homemade liquors and wines. While I’m partial to moonshine, that takes a little more work and equipment than the average person probably has on hand. But nothing is stopping you from brewing up a good ol’ batch of Hillybilly Wine!

Drop-Dead Easiest Homemade Wine Recipe:

There are a million and one homemade wine recipes out there, so I’m not going to share every single way to make it, just one drop-dead easy way that will get you started. Once you learn the process, you can experiment and start making your own fruit juices.

What you need:

  • 5 – 64 oz bottles of grape juice. Heat to 115F in a big ass pot (don’t go beyond that or you will kill the yeast, you just want it warm enough to dissolve the sugar).
  • Add about 6 ¼ cups of sugar and mix
  • Pour into a large container
  • Add one pack of wine yeast – you can also use regular baking yeast
  • Gently Stir and cover with a towel; rubber band the towel around the bottle and let it sit for five days.
  • On the fifth day siphon the liquid into another clean container and place an airlock on the bottle and let it sit for another 14 days (the airlock keeps bacteria out of the bottle while letting the gas out at the same time). Repeat this step of the process one more time and let sit for another 14 days. This helps you get a cleaner wine and keeps all the crap at the bottom of the old container.
  • Drink up!

Surly Newz / Surviving the Future in America
« on: December 27, 2017, 06:23:12 AM »
Fascinating article, and right on time.

Surviving the Future in America

By Erik Lindberg, originally published by

  • December 26, 2017

Nonetheless, the tide is flowing. The direction is mapped, very simply, in those little hexagons of the Wheel of Life. Localization stands, at best, at the limits of practical possibility, but in has the decisive argument on its side that there will be no alternative.–David Fleming

To recline on a stump of thorn in the central valley of Egdon, between afternoon and night, as now, where the eye could reach nothing of the world outside the summits and shoulders of heathland which filled the whole circumference of its glance, and to know that everything around and underneath had been from prehistoric times as unaltered as the stars overhead, gave ballast to the mind adrift on change, and harassed by the irrepressible New.–Thomas Hardy

I recently had the pleasure of reading Shaun Chamberlain’s selections from David Fleming’s Lean Logic, organized into an indispensable volume entitled Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy—a book, I should say, that sits on the top of my “must read” list for this year. As I was reading, my mind kept wandering back to my multiple trips to Europe as a child growing up in a Europhile academic family (my father was a historian of ancient and medieval science). What, I started asking myself, was the great lure of Europe for Americans, and why was I wondering about it right now?

My most memorable moments were of course filtered through my parents’ commentary and responses, and subsequent slide shows, but are personally vivid nonetheless. They include little, almost unremarkable moments, like the way we would stop the car so a shepherd and his sheep could slowly make their way up the country road from one pasture to another, or the one-lane tracks winding through the hedgerows of Devonshire, and the way one car would back up to reach a suitably wide point at which they might pass. My memories include the 16th century Inn with floors so slanted the rolling suitcases might end up at the far end of the room. I have images of strong and wizened old woman in babushkas tossing hay, of the parked moped beside the highway and the old man in the beret collecting young dandelions. I recall an occasional oxcart, and the small towns of the Dordogne river valley in France, winding in impossible labyrinths around the steep riverside cliffs. I hear the tinkling cowbells at dusk and recall the musty scent of hand-pulled draught ale or cork-bottled cider. When I lived in Oxford in 1978, our very typical house had a fridge small by the standards of college dorm rooms today, so that supper meant a separate daily stop at the baker, the butcher, the green-grocer, and sometimes the fishmonger too, each stop punctuated by lavishly reserved rituals of politeness. “Mmm quite, quite nice, really, this. Thank you. Ta. Good day. Cheers.”

Europe, for us, was, I believe, what Italy was for E.M. Forster in novels like A Room with a View and Where Angels Fear to Tread. What we might refer to as “charm” is, or was, the remaining vestiges what Fleming refers to as a slack economy, something that is all but non-existent in the United States, the land of the super-taut. Our taut American economy paid for these trips (guided by Frommer’s Europe on Ten Dollars a Day), in which we gazed in wonder at the rustic beauty of life as it seemed meant to be lived–were it not for the barriers erected by our cosmopolitan worldliness and greater expectations that pulled us back to the land of giant fridges and weekly trips to the supermarket in our truck-sized station wagon.

One of Fleming’s predominant themes as he imagines a post-market economy, is a return to a slack economy. The slack or lean economy is a central feature of his broader vision of energy descent, part of the “this steep winding down of the size of the industrial economy.” The slack economy “strips away its burdens and complications, nurses the human ecology back to health, builds local competence and discovers a sense of place.” As most readers of Resilience know, “The descent itself is inevitable, as is the breakage that follows, and yet,” says Fleming, “this is managed descent, in contrast with descent that forces itself on an economy blindly straining for growth” (4). A slack economy is one that services needs, both economic and other, and thus must protect itself from the tightening forces of competition. It is “held together by richly-developed social capital and culture, and is organized around the rediscovery of community” (19). It is “protectionist” as in “an act of caring for something which you value, or for which you are responsible” (21). It has an insulating quality, it does not offer free entry but requires a cultural conversion. It does not equate freedom with the elimination of prohibitions on consumption or the escape from bonds of family or community.

The most prominent setting for the lean, slack economy is the village, and the presence of the English village can be felt throughout Chamberlain’s remarkable collection. Although I recommend the book without hesitations, I must provide one cautionary remark: it is a very British book; but in that it may work to remind Americans of the short and depthless history of white people on this continent, and perhaps also our role as followers in the coming descent.

Picture by Saffron Blaze

Fleming is overt about the role of the village at times. When, for instance, he expresses the plausibility of an economy not driven by taut market pricing and intensification, he writes: “the ‘normal’ state of affairs, before the era of the great civic societies, and in the intervals between them, has consisted of political economies—perhaps better known as villages—where the terms on which goods and services were exchanged were not based on price” (16).

When, thereafter, the book talks about the local, the small, or community “and its reciprocal obligations” that join it together, the image of the village is never far away. This imagery is enhanced by a phrase here, or an aside there, throughout the book, or by the way he contrasts a slack economy to “urban economics” and even more so by the extended discussion of Carnival. One needn’t explain to the reader that the carnivals in question have little to do with those urban productions put on today for the passive consumption of modern urban dwellers, complete with costumed actors, fried foods spiced in only in a slightly different manner and a variety of musical performances that may or may not have any cultural significance.

When Fleming discusses carnival as “the shared ritual [that] is crucial for social cohesion,” he is talking about the local and particular in ways that reminded me of scenes from the novels of Thomas Hardy and his vivid descriptions of local, often festive, culture. And as Fleming writes, “celebrations of music, dance, torchlight, mime, games, feast and folly have been central to the life of community for all times other than those when the pretensions of large-scale civilization descended like a frost on public joy” (53).

Like the Transition Movement that has taken much of its inspiration from Fleming’s articulation of the local and the sort of cultural change required for a successful energy descent and return to local resilience, Fleming is not naively Romantic about the past, though that is always a risk, and we may wish to think of him as a conservative if we can clear our minds of images of Tories and Republicans. This is true even, or especially, as he revives the middle ages, reminding us that they “were also a time of inventive joy, an age of art, participation and festivals” (62).

As Fleming points out, we are taught to despise the Middle ages since finding value in it “violates our right to feel smug about the wonders of modernity,” but in the Middle Ages, an age where social bonds were enjoyed in a world of carnival rather than one bound only by the cash nexus, there was indeed a legitimate model of the village community which few people had any desire to escape. Although the hierarchies of Medieval life rub our modern egalitarianism the wrong way, from our perspective we may forget a few things. Most important may be that from within a market economy, equality may be absolutely necessary for a “good life” as moral philosophers are apt to call it (I would not contest this), because there are few obligations, not to mention nurturing relationships, within its competitive, often manipulative social order. To express it with a skepticism towards modernity (and a bit of tongue in cheek) that is rarely uttered, freedom and equality is really the most we could hope for within the cold, taut, and impersonal drive for maximization.

But absent the callous demands of market competition, the security of a social role had an entirely different affective aspect. Most people neither saw nor felt anything wrong with it, but rather would, if given the opportunity, have chosen it. As philosopher and historian of ethics Alasdair MacIntyre reminds us, medieval hierarchies contained an equally strong set of obligations and reciprocity. Moreover, the autonomous and freedom-seeking “I” simply did not exist in the way we understand it until market forces dissolved communal bonds and cast people into competitive relationships as their traditional guilds and roles dissolved. As MacIntyre puts it, “in much of ancient and medieval worlds, as in many other premodern societies, the individual is identified and constituted in and through certain of his or her roles, those roles which bind the individual to the communities in and through which alone specifically human goods are attained. . . . There is no ‘I’ apart from these” (After Virtue 172).

A deep historical sense, like this, helps prevent Fleming from lapsing into hazardous nostalgia. More significant than the way he, like MacIntyre, helps us learn not to despise the Middle Ages, is the simple fact that the coming cultural contraction he predicts will also be a time “of famines, plagues and wars,” the main variable being the degree to which we participate in a “managed descent.” For, as he points out, our current interval, in which we believe ourselves to have mastered nature and tyranny with our “great civic societies” is just that—a brief anomaly. Villages, recall, represent the “normal” state of affairs and have the “decisive argument” of inevitability. Cities, and their worldly and cosmopolitan draw are but a blip on the more meaningful scale of history.

It may be true that the aspect of the village strikes me with particular poignancy because of my time spent in England, and largely with parents who were in fact besmitten with hazardous levels of nostalgia. As a family, we spent an inordinate amount of time in places like the Cotswolds or Hardy’s Wessex, where at least in 1978, even the petrol stations had the look of limestone permanence. The notion that our fleeting fashions and temporary structures are a passing moment of change amidst a great deal of permanence is given perpetual visual reminder in the shadow of a towering cathedral or when juxtaposed to the irregular solidity of an ancient half-timber public house. I don’t know if natives are conscious of this or not, or what exactly they make of our tawdry neon physical landscape of perpetual movement and rebuilding, of burnt-out cities and abandoned ghost towns, when they visit North America. But as a visitor to the British Isles and the rest of Europe, the possibility of viable premodernity is reinforced with great and humble structures alike. Villages predating the taut economy remain. As Nate Hagens has recently remarked, when future people look back on our age and what we used our immense wealth of energy to build, the answer will be nothing—for none if it will still be standing.

So amidst this sense of permanence in all its rustic and well-crafted solidity, we might be reminded that there is a vast premodernity in which people enjoyed life, thrived, experienced joy and meaning, where the local culture could supply everything people truly needed, where the rural world wasn’t always crippled by a stunted contrast to cosmopolitan centers towering over consciousness with their precarious piles of manufactured wants held together by the strains of never-ending competition. Eustacia Vye may have longed for “what is called life—music, poetry, passion, war, and all the beating and pulsing that is going on in the great arteries of the world” (from Return of the Native Book Fourth), but, Hardy argues, she is chasing fantasy and illusion. As Clym Yeobright would respond, “but the more I see of life the more do I perceive that there is nothing particularly great in its greatest walks, and therefore nothing particularly small in mine of furze-cutting. . . . So I sing to pass the time.” As Fleming might add, “you cannot argue with a song” (115).

None of this is available to most Americans and for a very simple reason: there never was a pre-market America. This is visible on our landscape and palpable in our culture and sense of historical possibility. And market growth and development in the Americas was accompanied and made manifestly possible by more violence than even jaundiced and skeptical American social critics are apt to remember. I have been reading a lot of American history lately and have realized that it is not only in critical retrospect that we focus on issues such as slavery, “Indian removal,” land grabs, and ethnic mobs battling each other. This was also what was on people’s minds at the time. Uprooting, moving on, getting ahead–if not killing or removing–is the most consistent theme of our 19th century history. Ours is a history of bloody, strong-armed robbery committed on both private and official levels. Prior to becoming one of the Presidents most responsible for western expansion and Indian removal, Andrew Jackson led a number of illegal, but unpunished, massacres in his role as an officer in the U.S. army, presaging two hundred more years of illegal territorial expansion and CIA led coups.

Ours has likewise always been a history of movement and impermanence. Like our current strip malls and poorly built McMansions, designed for a mere 40-year lifespan, our built landscape has always been thrown up in a great flurry of opportunism, perhaps to intersect the coming railroad or to house frenzied gold seekers.

Photo by Masjas

Oklahoma City was surveyed and plotted-out in a day, with the onslaught of tens of thousands of prospectors racing ahead as part of the Great Oklahoma Land Rush. None of these buildings of course survive today. We didn’t build stone villages with slate roofs, we threw-up rough wooden shacks. American literature has no corollary to Thomas Hardy and nostalgia, here, is reserved for fools.

Because our national agriculture policy was so quick to embrace commodities and exports to fill the national treasury, often in order to protect the young republic from British and French aspirations it is true, we don’t have the same sort of tradition of self-sufficient villages that had at one point dotted all of Europe. This isn’t to say that American pioneers couldn’t take care of their almost every need. But it is to say that their hopes and aspirations almost always turned to the market, if they weren’t trained towards the West, and the trading of food for money so that they could buy vestiges and trinkets of a European commercial middle class. I’m not saying that this didn’t become increasingly similar among European rural people, but that they have a visible history that predates the subsequent marketization of everyday life.

Foreigners, and now social-psychologists, have, beginning with de Tocqueville, noted that extroversion is valued more in America than most places. We are a nation of fast-talking deal-makers, whose credibility was maintained by the sort of friendly extravagance F. Scott Fitzgerald created in his Gatsby. Fitzgerald reminds us that although taking place on Long Island, his was a story of the West. We are by the same token the land of branding and marketing, where the recognition of a symbol is our only marker of quality and consistency amidst the sea of unfamiliar faces, most of whom have no bond of obligation other than to their own self-maximization. This may be true in the market economy wherever it has flourished, but America, as I reflect upon it, has been dominated by manipulative relationships from the very moment white people stepped ashore. This is the land of winners and losers that has maintained its social fabric by dehumanizing and incarcerating the losers and expanding fast enough, at least until now, to let the winners form a majority just large enough to keep the whole circus rolling along. The notion of the circus is more than a metaphor for our current politics. We are not a land of carnival; we have long been the land of the sideshow, the boardwalk, Barnum and Bailey.

This isn’t to say that there weren’t strong counter-vailing influences in America, nor to dismiss their partial triumph. American Christianity, then and now, could be as jubilant a participant in the economy of manipulation; but ours has also a country of betterment organizations and philanthropy. We are nation of “Societies”–ones devoted to improving social conditions, alleviating poverty, abolition, enfranchisement, temperance, often led by the ministers and theologians who held a biblical mirror up to the American Republic, before they gave way to more secular progressives. For every Andrew Jackson and William Armstrong Custer, there was also a William Ellery Channing and a Jane Addams.

The idea of the local was not, of course, absent from American political and social life. Rather, it has always carried a weight of oppression absent, I think, from European local culture—though it would be prudent to recall the demographics of Hitler’s supporters. Indeed, the antebellum debates between the Whig party (in many ways a predecessor to Lincoln’s Republicans) and the Democrats were divided over local versus national. Nineteenth-century Democrats, following Jefferson and then Jackson, were committed to state’s rights and local decision-making as well as a more explicit commitment to white supremacy and imperial expansion. Whigs, in contrast, were more interested in internal developments (banking, infrastructure, transportation) that would unify the nation into a more tightly knit whole. The Democrats were more agrarian and rural, while the Republicans more urban and commercial, with a greater gravitation towards canals, railroads, a common set of laws enforced by federal authority.

In this divide, we can see the difficulty of finding an American parallel to British and European localization or any reclaiming of village culture. There are of course exceptions, but the forces of justice and common good have mainly been nationalistic, cosmopolitan, and universalizing, while the local has far too often been the seat of the tyranny of a majority, the scene of racist uprisings and lynchings, often lying outside of the explicit laws of the nation, governed instead by local violence. Though they were motivated principally by their opposition to slavery, progressives of that age, like ours, were suspicious of localism. As William Ellery Channing, a prominent Minister with a decidedly Whig orientation explained in an 1841 lecture entitled “The Present Age,” “in looking at our age, I am struck immediately with one commanding characteristic,” he states hopefully, “and that is the tendency in all its movements to expansion, to diffusion, to universality.” He contrasts the universal, progressive, and modern, to the local and rural, even to the sort of “protectionism” (and thus micro-monopoly) that Fleming attributes to the slack economy: “This tendency is directly opposed to the spirit of exclusiveness, restriction, narrowness, monopoly, which has prevailed in past ages” (The Complete Works of William Ellery Channing, Volume 5, pp. 150-1).

Progressive politics employs the same metaphors and divisions today—and not without substantial merit. For as long as the context is exclusively that of a market society, institutions that were modern, expansive, and universal were the place one might also find emancipatory energy. As with Channing, we are not always wrong to talk of narrow-mindedness, backwards, rural, and racist in a single breath. But when a market society was able to universalize and expand, Channing believed, science, art, and commerce might enhance “the grand doctrine, that every human being should have the means of self-culture, of progress, in knowledge and virtue, of health, comfort, and happiness, of exercising the powers and affections of a man” (151).

Today the same grand doctrine may find its highest home in Manhattan or San Francisco and find its most fearful enemies in West Virginia hamlets or the small tar-paper towns of Alabama and Mississippi. There is of course lies the rub, one which Fleming articulates as well as anyone—that this grand doctrine may also require permanent economic growth and expansion, and a sort or surplus that only an ever-intensifying and taut economy can provide, its ecological unsustainability notwithstanding and its end coming into clear view. As Fleming remarks, again showing his freedom from nostalgia, “when this relatively short-lived market-society is gone, we will miss its essential simplicity, its price mechanism, its self-stabilizing properties, its impersonal exchanges, the comforts it delivers and the freedom it underwrites” (180). He mourns the loss of the market, but is, it seems, buoyed by vistas of pre-modern solidity and thus possibility.

During its run, the taut market economy did have great emancipatory success, these freedoms it underwrites. Our current divide between north and south, urban and rural, commercial and agrarian, modern and traditional, progressive and conservative is nowhere as vividly evident as in the life, views, and works of Abraham Lincoln. The Civil War was of course a war that further universalized the pronouncements of the Declaration of Independence and did so by insisting in the inviolability of a national union with a single set of laws and standards. This was not only a war of northern white Protestants, with strong backing from the bourgeoning manufacturing class, against the south, it was a war against localism, against the repeated insistence of the slave states that slavery was an issue to be determined locally by white slave owners and their fearful neighbors.

But long before he was forced to confront Southern seccession and rebellion, Lincoln embraced positions that we might think of as cosmopolitan and thus a rejection of the small, local, and static. Just as he pulled himself from a log cabin in the woods to the growing city of Springfield, Lincoln was a strong advocate of a tendency towards universalization and modernization. As Daniel Walker Howe describes it in his admirable overview of the first half of the nineteenth century:

Within an economically developed and integrated nation, Lincoln believed, individual autonomy could flourish as never before. As his biographer David Donald sums it up, the Whig Party embodied for Lincoln ‘the promise of American life,’ and opportunity for people to make something of themselves. For Whigs like Lincoln, this meant more than material betterment or upward social mobility. It meant a whole new kind of life away from the farm, the chance ‘to escape the restraints of locality and community,’ as the historians Allen Guelzo puts it, ‘to refashion themselves on the basis of new economic identities in a larger world of trade, based on merit, self-improvement, and self-control.’ (What God Hath Wrought 597)

Fredrick Douglass likewise found solace and freedom in the city: “’Going to live in Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity’” (Howe 646). As Howe notes, the modern and technological revolution of transportation and communication allowed Douglass, as the abolition movement in general, to become part of a growing national movement.

We may be required to localize in the future as Fleming and the Transition Movement have articulated, but in America, the idea of re-localization doesn’t quite fit. Our local cultures were, often for no fault of their own, the place where the dirty work of American continental imperialism was performed, while emancipatory relief has, from the civil war through the civil rights movement and beyond, been the work of national cosmopolitanism, serviced by advances in communication and travel. Local resilience, from the perspective of American history, carries a lot of local prejudice. And even if we were able to separate it from violence and hate, most remnants of a local past have been bulldozed many times over for the latest market trend. We have no intact and standing models from which we might begin. True, there is a strong, though now almost lost, tradition of self-reliance in America–of hacking a life out of wilderness with nothing more than a mule-load of tools and provisions. But as far as a culture of peace and empathy and the sort of slack economy free from a bottom-line in the effort always to get ahead, we have very little to fall back upon.

This is not to ignore America’s small-town culture, especially in the North East, but it is to say that having never had a pre-market era, here in the United States, the village has been, in the balance, more of an outpost than a home. We don’t have a strong village culture distinct from our frontier mentality of perpetual motion famously described by Frederick Jackson Turner and his “frontier thesis of American history.” Because emancipation in a market economy requires autonomy and individual self-expression, the “narrowness” of the small town is something, Lincoln understood, we have always had a strong urge to escape. As MacIntyre explains it, “for liberal individualism a community is simply an arena in which individuals each pursue their own self-chosen conception of the good life, and political institutions exist to provide that degree of order which makes such self-determined activity possible” (After Virtue 195). This pursuit is more easily accomplished in the anonymity of the metropolis. Indeed it most easily accomplished in the absence of inherited community altogether, while for someone like Douglass, or indeed any freed or escaped slave, the idea of safe local culture would have been beyond any consideration. Native Americans had a strong local, village culture, but we know what fate befell it.

In our taut economy, it is difficult to accept a sense of moral good rooted in anything other than me and my autonomous goals, and this has been reinforced and been overdetermined by American history. But this is thus to say that American history is limited by its youth and by the time and place in which it was born. We are like children born in a refugee camp or in war-torn region and know nothing else. So we ignore, out of our inability to form meaningful contrasts, the collateral damage—the alienation, the identity crises, the epidemic of teen suicides, caused largely by the sense of an unsuccessful quest for one’s own true, yet socially acceptable self in a market straining with tautness, groping for economic growth.

As Americans thinking about surviving the future, we must perhaps forego the habit of looking to our past for answers. While Fleming, with his English village, provides a sort of true conservativism, one that includes the notion of conserving and preserving, of communing and caring, an American conservative is one who favors a more restrictive and less egalitarian version market economy, and thus is barely worth considering. But amidst the limestone cottages of the Cotswolds, the narrow lanes and thatched houses of “Wessex,” or the sheep-dotted dales of Yorkshire, it possible to imagine, perhaps even reinhabit in some small ways, a conservativism that is rooted in obligation and loyalty, place and person, and the participation in a rich and full culture of food, drink, and festival. But even then, American history may be of use as a reminder of the perils of localism from within the now inherited context of the globalized taut market.

Good insights int the way the game was/is played, and how it got that way.

Exclusive: China Syndrome – Xi and Putin Partnered in U.S. Election Interference


By Peter Evans

Most are now well aware of Russia’s attack on the US Electoral process. Current ongoing investigations , both Congressional and by the Special Counsel are almost daily revealing the breadth and depth of Russian operations against the United States. Many have referred to the Russia’s Gerasimov Doctrine, more commonly known as Hybrid War, as the operational basis behind the Strategic Planning that Putin has and is utilizing in his ongoing “Shadow War” against the Western Allies.

Russian doctrine in this space is somewhat similar to the old Soviet Operational planning in this area but with some key differences. Hybrid War doctrine tries to avoid actual armed conflict to achieve national objectives , stressing the coordinated use of all levers of Government be that Diplomatic, Economic, Intelligence, Technical & Informal personal relationships to “shape the battlespace” and to surreptitiously penetrate a target country with the aim of

  • Gaining Information
  • Spreading Disinformation
  • Influencing key Governmental & Economic persons, agencies or companies
  • Moulding public opinion in a target country to support aims beneficial to Russia
  • Influencing decisions of a target Country Government to align with Russia’s aims

This is Asymmetrical Geopolitical warfare using conventional and unconventional methods to achieve national outcomes that, in this case, are for the ultimate benefit of Vladimir Putin and those close to him.

But what else is Russia up to? And more importantly with whom?

Russia, more than most, does things strategically. It has always placed great importance on long term planning. Operationally they coordinate all aspects of planning and they integrate all operations they carry out to their strategic objectives.

The attack on the 2016 US Election was not just an isolated operation in response to US sanctions of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

And in this Putin had a partner in crime.

In 2010 the then Vice President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, visited Moscow at the express invitation of then Prime Minister Putin. Xi was slated to take over as China’s President in 2012. Putin was due to stand for “election” to become Russia’s President at about the same time. Both were deeply concerned about the direction of the Obama Administration’s towards their respective countries. The two men by all accounts formed a close and warm relationship from the outset.

Both Xi and Putin talked extensively about global power moving from a Unipolar World (read US leadership) to a Multi Polar World (Russia & China leading with some minor other players). Both men made it clear they were against what they saw as American values (liberal Democracy) being pushed unfettered around the world. They saw these values as neither universal nor applicable to them or their Governments.

In December 2010 a series of uprisings, beginning in Tunisia and spreading to Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain occurred. This became known as the Arab Spring. Protests occurred in a number of other Arab countries also, notably Saudi Arabia, Lebanon & Iran.

But what rattled leaders in the Middle East was President Obama’s support of the uprisings in Egypt ,Syria and Libya.

China and Russia both were against the US supporting these uprisings with Russia describing it as “Western Belligerence”. Leaders across the Arab world became nervous about US policy to their own regimes, particularly after close US Ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt was seen by many Arab leaders to have been “abandoned” by Obama in favour of the will of the Egyptian people.

Both Russia & China subsequently increased their diplomacy & presence in the Middle East via economic and in Russia’s case , military footprint in Syria. The message to the Arab Leaders was clear. You have alternatives to America. Relations with the Obama administration continued to erode with both Russia and China.

In 2012 Congress passed the Magnitsky Act which President Obama signed. This directly affected for the first time the illegal financial activities of Putin and the Oligharchs that supported him. Vladimir Putin saw this as a direct assault on himself by President Obama & Secretary of State Clinton.

Similarly, the Chinese Government had much to be annoyed about with US policy. Obama, at the urging of SecState Clinton, had begun the Asia Pivot, a refocusing of American economic and military power in the Western Pacific Asia area. China saw this as an attempt to keep them from their rightful place as a Great Power.

In late 2012 Xi Jinping was confirmed as President of China. His first overseas trip was to Russia in early 2013. By this time Vladimir Putin was again President of Russia.

At this point Hillary Clinton had resigned as Secretary of State and President Obama had just started his second term. It must have been obvious to both men that she was preparing to run for President in 2016. This was the nightmare they faced. An American administration that would continue with Obama’s policies of supporting Democracy movements and resisting China and Russia’s ambitions. The genesis of the idea may have started in the years before when they first met. Certainly by 2013 Xi and Putin, I put to you, agreed to work together to actively undermine the United States political process, if for nothing else, to prevent a Democratic successor to Obama. It is important to note that from this time onward Russia and China agreed to dramatically increase cooperation in all areas including Military & Intelligence sharing.

Putin by this time was already well aware that Republican strategist Paul Manafort was working for the then Russian supported Ukraine dictator Viktor Yanukovych. Putin would have also known about Donald Trump and the birther claims he made against Obama and how Obama had humiliated him at the 2011 Press Correspondents Dinner. By Donald Trump’s own admission, he was phoned by Putin in Nov 2013. We don’t know if there was contact between the two men prior to that.

Trump and his adult children had extensive business contacts and interests in both Russia and China. There were multiple leverage points on Trump and his children. Putin also knew Trump had extensive shadow relationships to Russian mobsters. The mark was chosen.

Putin and Xi would have seen the original success of President Obama in the 2008 election was derived in a great part , by the online campaign the Obama Team was able to formulate and that massive influence internet operations had to Obama’s success. This was Putin and Xi’s way in, they saw. A low risk, high gain Hybrid War Operation.

At this point it is instructive to illustrate how China has conducted itself internationally in its own “Hybrid War” tactics, especially since Xi came to power.

Both US and Australian Intelligence agencies have stated that Chinese Intelligence organs use China’s international businesses and nationals to conduct intelligence operations against the West. This includes theft of information and intellectual property, penetration of databases, and influence operations. In the Australian context, this included hacks into several Australian Government databases and servers, use of Chinese students studying in Australia to promote Chinese Government objectives and attempts to influence Australian Government policy through political donations or payments via third parties. In a recent case a member of the Australian Parliament, Sam Dastyari , was found to have received payments from a Chinese national in order to support the Chinese Governments position regarding the South China Sea dispute.

Since Xi came to power these types of operations have been stepped up exponentially.

So, one may ask, how sure am I China that was part of the 2016 US Election attack? The most prominent give away was Donald Trump’s opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP. The TPP was not just an economic pact, it would have also effectively been a security pact against Chinese economic hegemony across the Asia-Pacific. It would have protected smaller nations from economic pressure that China could exert on them and the Pact specifically excluded China. Xi complained loud and hard about the TPP. The TPP would have actually protected American jobs and economic power in the long term. It was not just Steve Bannon, who only officially came to the campaign in August 2016, who opposed it. Trump was opposing it as early as late 2015. For an international businessman it was a stunning policy to have. But not if he was following Russia & China’s wishes.

Furthermore, what have we seen since Trump was inaugurated on January 20th? China has launched its own version of the TPP, the New Silk Road and Belt, a development that will see roads, ports, rail links and oil & gas pipelines stretching from Central Europe and Russia, through Turkey, Iran and Central Asia to China. Additionally the ocean side of this, the “Belt” will link to Malaysia, Pakistan and Kenya with a rail line running through Kenya to East Africa.

Oil & Gas from Russian and Arab countries will run directly to China over land through pipelines. Strategically that would somewhat nullify the US Navy’s ability to interdict or blockade Oil and Gas supplies to China in any future conflict.

We have also seen China & Russia accelerating business investments in the Middle East, with Russia playing a lead political role with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Under Trump, America is slowly losing influence in the Middle East and appears to be in lockstep with Russian & Chinese political & economic objectives for the area. And Arab leaders appear to be going along with it

The fact of the matter is this. China had as much to lose , if not more, had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 Election. Putin and Xi planned this operation together. Russia took the lead as it had the most contacts with the American players on Trump’s side. China provided technical and general intelligence support to the Operation.

The international intrigue we are seeing now over with North Korea is nothing but a Kabuki Dance designed to confuse and distract the Western public from what is really going on. North Korea would not scratch its nose without China & Russia’s say so, let alone fire missiles.

Fact is that the biggest geopolitical heist in history occurred when Donald J Trump was elected as President. Because he was elected not by the people, for the people, but by and for the interests of the Russian Federation – and the People’s Republic of China.

"We're again' it" seems to be all they've got. That, and moar guns. Becuz freedom.

What Right-Wing Militants Are Hoping for After a Government Collapse

We talked to Three Percenters and experts on the modern militia movement about their nebulous vision of a future many Americans want nothing to do with.

Mark Hay

Mark Hay

Oct 18 2017, 1:30pm

Chris Hill of the Georgia III% Security Force. Photo by Matt Seger

Even before a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, devolved into deadly chaos this summer, many attendees couldn't help noticing hordes of camouflage-attired, heavily armed men roaming the city's streets. Sprinkled among them were members of a loose coalition of paramilitary types who call themselves Three Percenters, a reference to the widely debunked belief that only 3 percent of American colonists actively fought in the Revolutionary War. Often spotted on the periphery of far-right events in recent months, Three Percenters tend to sport military fatigues—and lots of guns. In fact, like a healthy number of other paramilitary groups in modern America, where gun laws are looser than virtually anywhere else on Earth, Three Percenters have a knack for being better-armed than local police.

Also like some other militia-style groups, Three Percenters claimed their only goal in Charlottesville was to help keep the peace. Alex Michael Ramos, who was arrested in connection with an attack on a 20-year-old black man at the protest, was said to at least once have been a member of the group. But Three Percenters were careful to put out a stand-down order after Charlottesville explicitly disavowing white supremacy—and calling on backers to avoid alt-right and Antifa combat. Meanwhile, there does not appear to be any connection between Three Percenters and James Alex Fields Jr, the man charged with murdering 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring many others with his car at the protest.

Three Percenters are just one slice of the modern American militia movement that began to emerge in the 1990s, continuing a sort of national tradition of military-style organizing around fringe beliefs. Movement adherents often take pains to eschew the outright racism endemic to the tradition of legacy militia groups (think the KKK and other white supremacist organizations), even as some remain fond of, say, neo-Confederate imagery. Most seem to believe that nebulous, sinister forces are corrupting American governance and actively eroding freedom. They form militias to push back against anything they see as an encroachment on their rights—and to prepare for what many increasingly see as an impending apocalyptic clash in defense of freedom.

Unlike plenty of outwardly similar groups formed in recent decades, however, Three Percenters—who first popped up around 2008—tend to be proactive. Which is to say they often mobilize around major public events rather than just spouting ideas and quietly organizing. Many of their members believe that if—really, when—that clash comes, true believers in the Constitution will inevitably win, and a pure and free democratic state will rise from the ashes.

"When a ruler becomes tyrannical, we the people have the right to abolish government and institute new government based on the ideals that make us free," said Chris Hill of the Georgia III% Security Force, where he goes by the title General Holy War and the code name Blood Agent.

But Three Percenters do not often broach how that ideal new state would come together, or what it would actually look like. So we wrangled the leaders we could for a sense of just what Three Percenters think is coming—and the challenges they anticipate in a future many Americans hope never comes to pass.

For his part, Hill insisted most Three Percenters want peace, and that they will never strike the first blow against anyone. Of course, individual members may not agree with him; some followers even seem to believe the war has already begun. In August, an Oklahoma man espousing explicitly Three Percenter beliefs was caught in an alleged attempt to detonate a bomb as an act of violence against the government; Three Percenters aggressively tried to distancethemselves from him after the arrest.

In the Three Percenters' worldview, post-conflict America would have to wipe its governmental slate clean, building a new system from scratch based on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights alone. "We've got to go back to the basics," said Dan Kish, commanding officer of the Ohio III% Security Force. "It's just like football… We need to go back to where we started and start over again," to make sure we're secure in the fundamentals of our ideals, he added.

The leaders we canvassed did not offer a clear vision for how Americans would build a new system in the wake of a government-collapsing conflict. Hill suggested there would have to be some kind of conference of states to work things out, and Kish stressed that everyone in the nation would need to be involved somehow to grant any new government legitimacy. They did not have much to say about how this conference would be organized, or how Three Percenters could be sure the state that resulted would cohere with their interpretation of the Constitution. Nor did they address how minority groups or beliefs would factor into this state-building project. Mark Pitcavage, an expert on militias at the Anti-Defamation League, argued this is because many members believe most Americans share their views—or will, once they're awakened from the spell sinister forces and corrupted governments spin over them.

Lane Crothers, an expert on right-wing social movements at Illinois State University, agreed. "Once people are no longer corrupted," the militias largely believe "that we will just pop out on the other side as new, democratic people," he told me .

When I asked Three Percenters about the role of militias in forming and running a new state built around their interpretation of the Constitution, there wasn't much in the way of even internal consensus. Hill suggested they should and would bow out and let the people hash out a new system on their own; paramilitary troops would just be ready to confront any new perceived threat to their freedoms thereafter. Kish, meanwhile, argued that Three Percenters ought to play a major role in guiding any government forming process. "Any patriot or Three Percenter would have a better shot at following the Constitution and making sure it sticks, and bringing back America again," he said.

Kish could even envision the Three Percenters forming a political party. How they'd do so is unclear, as even members tend to admit they splinter all the time. They've also differed in their stances on major national events and over issues as fundamental as whether or not they should even call themselves militias. But Kish had faith they could get together and hash out some kind of functional consensus. He also suggested the new state should mobilize them as paramilitary force, with some kind of relationship to the military, resulting in a sort of quasi-military political party.

The commanders we spoke to cautioned their future state would have to add some new amendments to the Constitution from the get-go to prevent a repeat of the corruption they bemoan today. Hill and Kish agreed, for instance, that all politicians should have firm term limits and that there should be more direct democratic controls and referenda. Among other things, Hill proposed preventing judges from breaking with what he sees as self-evident constitutional values by allowing people to vote them out of office. 

Some of the Three Percenters' ideas sound like libertarianism: force the government to stay small and out of people's business, so as to guarantee as much freedom as possible. That makes sense to Pitcavage, who described some strands of the modern militia movement as, basically, "libertarians plus guns plus conspiracies."

"We have the right to be freed from things that we don't want to be tied up with," Hill told me. "You just can't force your system of belief on other people."

But while there was some agreement in the abstract about the benefits of a small state, Kish's desire to ensure a new government doesn't go awry seemed to clash with that. He'd make it illegal to disrespect the flag by kneeling, for instance, which certainly appears to run afoul of the Three Percenters' stated belief in absolute free speech. He also suggested the new government should put tight restrictions on states and cities to prevent them from going astray. "It's the chain of command," he said. "It's like being at work. You screw up, and your boss is going to step in and micromanage and be on you all day long."

Pitcavage is not surprised by the lack of detail and the crossed signals in Three Percenters' visions. "Like a lot of extremist movements, the militia movement defines itself more in terms of what it wants to take down and get rid of than what it wants to set up," he told me. "They've probably never really thought about it… They're more men of the deed than men of the word. And when they do think about things, it's more about conspiracy theories" than future visions.

"The point of the existence of the movement … is to have the revolution," added Crothers. "I've certainly never seen an honest-to-god articulation" of what would happen after that conflict, he noted.

For a movement that largely views itself as a defensive project, perhaps that's only natural. Three Percenters are preoccupied with survival and preservation, dealing with the evils they see in the here and now and operating on faith that once it is vanquished, commonsense and self-evident good will triumph.

"It's not going to be a perfect system," Hill said of whatever might rise out of America's ashes. But that's ultimately OK by him. He called American Democracy a "tree of liberty," and claimed the right move is to "keep watering that motherfucker until we get it right." And if the public gets it wrong and sinister forces corrupt the system anew, well, the militias will always be there to set things right—to wipe the slate clean again and give everyone another crack at a proper state.

The Three Percenters, in other words, reserve the right to oppose any government they deem tyrannical—even one they might, in some distant future, help create.

Follow Mark Hay on Twitter.

Surly Newz / The Future Sucks
« on: October 21, 2017, 08:31:32 AM »
The Future Sucks

The Future Sucks

The Old Guys™ discuss the biggest letdowns of our adult lives.

OCT 20, 2017

The future sucks. By the future we mean the present, of course, because the data isn’t in yet on tomorrow or 10 years from now. (If we make it that far.) But considering things from the perspective of our younger selves, the future-present, it’s pretty safe to say, is not how any of us envisioned it.

When we thought about the future back then it all seemed so much more transportation-based in terms of hypothetical advances, right? Spaceships and hover-skateboards. Instead, we got dating apps where nobody ever meets and a Nazi reunion tour. What happened? Esquire's resident Old Guys™ discuss.


None of us anticipated any of the current signifiers of technological progress we take for granted now, like the depression computer in our pocket. Where did you think we’d be by now Dave? Living on the moon?


I for sure thought space travel would be a thing by now, or that at the very least, contact with beings from other planets. And honestly, I had no idea that I would want to leave Earth’s atmosphere as much as I currently do.

The thing from The Jetsons that I always found most fascinating was communication via view-screen. I grew up in a time of landlines and Kodak cameras, so the idea of communicating via video was enticing. And now we have that! We have the ability to communicate via text or video with just about anyone anywhere in the world! And we’re using it to yell at each other. Technology is way more advanced, but people are still dicks.

Also, I guess, food pills.


That just triggered a very vivid memory for me, of standing in front of my parents’ wall-mounted rotary phone, probably calling a girlfriend, and longing for the Jetsonsvideo phone to be real. It seemed like such a futuristic thing; I never imagined it would be possible. I still don’t even understand how old-timey phones work, so the fact that we can do this now is a miracle that I totally take for granted. By the way, it seems like that whole thing, FaceTime and so on, really just sort of arrived one day without much fanfare, and we all played it super chill. There should have been an international day of observance.

I am completely disinterested in space travel to the point of annoyance at any efforts to make it a reality. It will never happen in our lifetime, and whenever I see Elon Musk or whoever dumping tens of millions of dollars into testing rockets, I’m like, motherfucker, I can’t afford to go to the dentist. This shit should not be anyone’s priority in terms of spending at the moment. People are living in poverty, can we put the brakes on the underground train or whatever it is now?


I am sort of skeptical about technological advances that do actually seem to be coming soon too. I do not believe driverless cars will ever be a thing. It will simply require too much of a cultural shift, and a complete rewriting of the ways we travel and think about travel, to ever be feasible on a large scale. Have you been in one yet?


I have not, and the only reason I cannot picture it is that I don’t know where I’d focus my rage. When I’m in a Lyft and the driver is pokey or aggressive or trying to make an ambitious left, I silently seethe at them. But if it’s just a machine, I suppose I would have to turn my anger inward, which, you know, I have experience with.


What about clothing? I feel like that’s another area—well-trod by comedians of course—that old-timey futurist stuff really got wrong. We pictured a future of sleek jumpsuits and instead we got cargo shorts and XXXL t-shirts.


I think the last technological clothing advance was Hypercolor, the shirts that would change color in your torso’s hottest spots. So for like three months in 1991, everyone was walking around with blue shirts that went purple around the armpit and underboob areas. After that, we kinda just kept our apparel analog.

I also for sure did not think I’d be worried about some genius maniac 3-D printing a machine gun, but here we are. Didn’t you think we’d be past world hunger by now?


I don’t believe in 3-D printers either. Don’t ask me to expand on that. I am sort of surprised Hypercolor didn’t come back in the whole normcore thing a few years ago. Big time wasted nostalgia marketing opportunity if we’re being honest.

I don’t remember what I thought about world hunger back then. It seems like, if anything, technology as it applies to the production of food has taken us backwards in terms of health, considering factory farming "advances" and GMOs and such. That sort of futurism is probably going to lead to our undoing rather than saving us. I did expect a cure for cancer by now.

One of the factors that is probably holding a lot of things back is that we have so many of our Tech Brain Geniuses spending all their time inventing phone apps and rediscovering services and products that already exist, like buses, and hotels, and vending machines, instead of working on the damn cancer-curing flying car. Does that sort of thing piss you off?


I mean, yeah, but then I pull out my phone and numb myself with those sweet, sweet apps.

What I do find annoying is this: A product like Soylent comes along, and it’s immediately marketed to like, people who don’t have time for lunch. Finally, a product for the person who takes no pleasure from eating! And nobody, as far as I know, is figuring out a way to get a balanced-meal-in-a-bottle to people who are literally starving to death. I know it’s not a lucrative market, but you’d think we could get a box of that shit down to Puerto Rico or something, instead of into the hands of some wealthy tech bro who doesn’t like tastes.


Again, the bug in the system is us. You know how when you make a goal for your future, you imagine that when that thing happens, it will happen to a better, sharper, future version of you? Like: I will get that job, and when I get that job, I will be a different, more disciplined me. And then you get that job, and you’re still just the crummy old you. I think that’s what we’ve done with our advances in tech: We are at our imagined future, where we can share and communicate and bring this world together for once, but we’re still just us, so we’re spending our day looking for Pokémon and blowjobs.


If you told past me about the brave new future of Pokémon and blowjobs, I probably would have imagined it being a lot cooler than it actually turned out to be.


I don’t know, I just made this GIF of Mick Jagger, so maybe we’re going to be okay.


Surly Newz / America's Many Divides Over Free Speech
« on: October 09, 2017, 04:03:38 AM »
America's Many Divides Over Free Speech

I consider myself to be better-than-average when it comes to being informed about American History. But I must confess I never heard of this story. Who knew? Maybe K-Dog...

It comes from Atlas Obscura, a delightful site full of little known and obscure stories, and worth a visit for those who like to uncover the little known and... obscure.

In 1859, the United States and Britain Almost Went to War Over a Pig

Hundreds of soldiers and sailors faced off over one tiny island in the Pacific Northwest.

The site of the American camp, as a farm in the 19th century.
The site of the American camp, as a farm in the 19th century. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

SAN JUAN ISLAND IS, BY any account, a small piece of land—19 miles long and seven miles wide—just off the coast of Washington state. Today farms spread over the island, and a ferry brings tourists ready to soak in the vibes of the Pacific Northwest. It’s not an obvious site for an international conflict between the United States and England. But in 1859, both countries were amassing troops here, ready to start a war over the rights of the farmers who had settled here. It is known today as the Pig War, but before any pigs were involved, there was a fight over sheep.

The Belle Vue Sheep Farm, 1859.
The Belle Vue Sheep Farm, 1859. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

The Pig War began with a problem specific to the Age of Exploration: A number of different countries had sent men in boats to sail along the western coast of North America and map parts of the interior. Those countries all believed, by virtue of this act, that this large stretch of land now belonged to them. (The people who had been living in these lands before they were “discovered” by European powers were not considered in this political calculus.) In the early 19th century, Britain, the United States, Russia, and Spain all had designs and claims on what was called Oregon Territory, which stretched from what’s now the southernmost border of Alaska, down to California, and east to the Rocky Mountains.

Over time, the United States and Britain convinced Russia and Spain to back off their claims, and through the 1840s agreed to a joint occupation that left the issue unpressed for a spell. As white settlers began to arrive in greater numbers, though, this uncomfortable arrangement became a problem. In 1846 the Treaty of Oregon drew a line along the 49th parallel, cutting the territory into two and creating what’s now the U.S.-Canada border.


But at the edge of mainland, the border went down, according to the treaty, “to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver Island and thence southerly through the middle of the said channel.”

This is the flashpoint of the Pig War. Even when the treaty was signed, the negotiators knew there was a problem: There was more than one channel this line could describe. One, the Rosario Strait, was closer to the mainland and granted San Juan Island to the British. The other, the Haro Strait, was farther west and gave San Juan Island to the United States. It’s easy to guess which country favored which interpretation. For the next few years, this ambiguity remained an abstract problem—until settlers started edging closer to the contested island, at which point a British official sent in the sheep.

The American camp, 1859.
The American camp, 1859. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

James Douglas had risen through the ranks of Britain’s colonial hierarchy to become governor of British Columbia, and he was determined that San Juan Island would remain a British possession. British-held Vancouver Island, valued for its climate, water power, coal, and fisheries, lies just across the Haro Strait from San Juan Island, and controlling both would mean control of access into the Strait of Saint George, and the city of Vancouver. But the political and strategic implications went further. Both sides, writes historian Scott Kaufman in his book, The Pig War: The United States, Britain, and the Balance of Power in the Pacific Northwest, 1846-1872, “believed that whichever country possessed the island would have the upper hand in the balance of power in the Pacific Northwest, with enormous implications for both countries’ regional economic and military interests.”

At first, Douglas tried to convince the people of British Columbia to settle San Juan Island, but, Kaufman writes, they were reluctant to leave the town of Victoria for so isolated a place. Instead, at the end of 1853, Douglas had to be satisfied with having the Hudson Bay Company send sheep, more than 1,300 of them, along with one British man, Charles Griffin, to run the island’s newest farm with the help of native shepherds.

This influx did not escape the notice of American officials, and the local collector of customs, Isaac Ebey, decided that Hudson Bay Company, a de facto arm of the British government, should pay taxes on the sheep. He sailed to San Juan Island to present Griffin with a bill and, when it went unpaid, deputized a tax collector, Henry Webber, to oversee the island. When Webber arrived, he set up his camp directly behind Griffin’s cabin and raised an American flag.

The British camp, 1860.
The British camp, 1860. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

That did not sit well with Griffin, who deputized one of the shepherds, Thomas Holland, to arrest Webber. When the newly appointed constable tried to serve the warrant, though, Webber pulled a gun and leveled it at shepherd’s chest. This was first threat of violence in the conflict, but neither side pressed the issue. Griffin had Holland back down, and Ebey ordered Webber to stay on the island and keep track of the taxes Griffin owed without trying to collect them. For a few months, things were quiet.

Later that year, though, another American official, the commissioner of newly formed Whatcom County, William Cullen, took an interest in the sheep. Like Ebey, Cullen believed San Juan to be an American island and decided Griffin owed taxes. Four times, the county sheriff demanded $80.33 in back taxes from the sheep farm, as Mike Vouri writes in The Pig War: Standoff at Griffin Bay, and in March of 1855, when Griffin once again refused to pay, the sheriff brought a group of Americans to the island for a tax sale. They rounded up a portion of the sheep, auctioned them off, and got 34 of them into boats before Griffin and his herders knew what was happening. Griffin called in reinforcements, and a British ship pursued the Americans, in their sheep-filled boats, through the contested waters before giving up the chase.

Officers' quarters after joint occupation that began in 1860.
Officers’ quarters after joint occupation that began in 1860. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

For the next few years, tensions on the island stayed low, as Griffin oversaw the growth of the farm to close to 4,500 sheep, along with pigs and other animals. But in 1859 American settlers started arriving, intent on setting up their own farms. One brought 20 cattle. These newcomers did not take much stock in Griffin’s presence there. One new farm was located smack in the middle of one of Griffin’s best sheep runs.

Despite their best efforts, the humans on the island had managed to avoid direct conflict, but the animals were less discreet. In summer 1859, one of the pigs from Griffin’s farm discovered a plot of tempting tubers on the farm of American Lyman Cutlar and availed himself of the delights. Cutlar, having fended off this same pig before, could not stand for this theft. He shot the pig.

That unceremonious execution quickly escalated. Griffin wanted payment for the dead pig but dismissed Cutlar’s offer of $10. The price, he said, was $100, a bounty Cutlar was unwilling to pay. According to Cutlar’s account, Griffin then lost it, as Vouri recounts in his book. “It is no more than I expected,” Griffin allegedly told him. “You Americans are a nuisance on the island, and you have no business here. I shall write Mr. Douglas and have you removed.”

Cutlar, by his own estimation, stayed cool. “I came here to settle for shooting your hog,” he said, “not argue the right of Americans on the island, for I consider it American soil.”

The Royal Marines in the 1870s.
The Royal Marines in the 1870s. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

To be fair to the poor deceased pig, Cutlar’s decision to fire was not the only source of tension on the island. When General William Harney, who commanded U.S. military forces in Oregon, visited the island, the settlers regaled him with many tales of woe. But the pig story stuck in Harney’s head. After hearing about the settlers’ tensions with the British and native tribes, Harney decided to dispatch a small unit of troops to protect the Americans there—and in his report to his superiors about this decision, the pig incident loomed large.

By the end of July, a unit of 66 American soldiers, led by Captain George Pickett, had settled on the island. The British couldn’t abide this, and two days later a British warship showed up off the coast. Douglas, the governor, urged the Navy to send still more ships and land troops on the island. By August 3, there were three ships off the coast. In a parlay with British naval officer in command, Captain Geoffrey Phipps Hornby, the American Pickett held fast to his position that if British troops attempted to land, he would have to stop them.

Painting of the American camp, by Richard Schlecht.
Painting of the American camp, by Richard Schlecht. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE/RICHARD SCHLECHT

Once again the two sides had come to the brink and cooler heads prevailed. Hornby held back, but both sides built their forces over the next few weeks, until there were hundreds of American soldiers on San Juan, and more than 2,000 British sailors in ships. Meanwhile, the island’s settlements had grown to include more than one groggery, and shacks brought over from an abandoned camp in Bellingham Bay, where soldiers could find whisky and women. Civilians from Victoria also sailed to the island to watch the conflict unfold.

When leaders on both sides heard about what was happening, they immediately decided to to de-escalate the conflict. By the fall, both sides had agreed to draw down their forces, until there was just one company of American soldiers on the island and one British ship off the coast. In March, the two countries agreed to jointly occupy the island, with an American camp on one end and a British camp on the other.

This was the situation for the next 12 years. In 1871, a few years after William Gladstone became Prime Minister of England, the countries agreed to decide their remaining land disputes through arbitration. Both made their cases before a commission appointed by Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm I. The next year, the conflict was finally resolved. The border would go through Haro Strait, and San Juan Island would be American. In the end, the only life that was lost was that of the hungry pig that gave the war its name.

Surly Newz / On climate change and human futilitarianism
« on: September 09, 2017, 08:09:36 AM »
The Baffler is a really excellent magazine.

On climate change and human futilitarianism

Tropical Depressions

On climate change and human futilitarianism



On a wretched December afternoon in 2015, as raindrops pattered a planetary threnody on grayed-out streets, five thousand activists gathered around Paris’s Arc de Triomphe, hoping to force world leaders to do something, anything, that would save the future. Ellie was there. But what she remembers most from that afternoon during the UN’s Climate Change Conference wasn’t what happened in the open, in front of cameras and under the sky. As they took the Metro together, activists commiserated, briefly, before the moment of struggle and the need to be brave, over just how hopeless it could sometimes feel. People talked about bafflement, rage, despair; the sense of having discovered a huge government conspiracy to wipe out the human race—but one that everybody knows about and nobody seems willing to stop.

Twenty meters beneath the Paris streets, the Metro became a cocoon, tight and terrified, in which a brief moment of honest release was possible. Eventually someone expressed the psychic toll in words that have stuck with Ellie since. It was a chance remark: “I don’t know how to be human any more.”

Climate change means, quite plausibly, the end of everything we now understand to constitute our humanity. If action isn’t taken soon, the Amazon rainforest will eventually burn down, the seas will fester into sludge that submerges the world’s great cities, the Antarctic Ice Sheet will fragment and wash away, acres of abundant green land will be taken over by arid desert. A 4-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures would, within a century, produce a world as different from the one we have now as ours is from that of the Ice Age. And any humans who survive this human-made chaos would be as remote from our current consciousness as we are from that of the first shamanists ten thousand years ago, who themselves survived on the edges of a remote and cold planet. Something about the magnitude of all this is shattering: most people try not to think about it too much because it’s unthinkable, in the same way that death is always unthinkable for the living. For the people who have to think about it—climate scientists, activists, and advocates—that looming catastrophe evokes a similar horror: the potential extinction of humanity in the future puts humanity into question now.

Strange Weather

It’s safe to say that we’re already living amid a general crisis of humanity. Little fragments of the coming barbarism slip backward in time. Climate activists can feel dehumanized by the pressures facing them, but there’s also an inhumanity in the mass tendency to simply ignore the pressures facing everyone. When the first refugee boats started sinking in the Mediterranean, killing sometimes thousands of people who only wanted a better, safer life for themselves and their families, people already comfortable in Europe were aghast. When it kept happening, the stories slunk further and further away from the front pages. Many became hardened in their comfort.

In January of this year, a young Gambian man drowned in Venice’s Grand Canal, while tourists in their gondolas laughed and filmed him on their phones. This was inhuman, and it suggests that the most immediate collapse of humanity might come from those places that will feel the physical brunt of climate change least directly. In the UK, which is more likely than most countries to escape desertification and mass famine, official and unofficial plans for the future are informed by the idea of a “Lifeboat Britain.” This ugly diction isn’t meant to suggest that this island could use its relative safety to rescue some of the hundreds of millions fleeing from a brutalized south. Rather, the lifeboat evoked here comes from the grim, self-preserving logic of “lifeboat ethics,” which holds that everyone will be jostling for a place on the raft, and some must not be let in. If the last dying navies start firing on refugee boats, if the tide of corpses reaches the North Sea, will there be any humanity left worth saving?

Climate activism is hard. Its communities are spaces of joy and friendship and common struggle, but it can also be dispiriting; humans against the tide, flesh against weather. Some activists drop out under the pressure of state surveillance and mental exhaustion. Friends and comrades talk of experiencing a kind of grief; grief for the transformations in climate that have already happened, grief for those who will suffer in the short term regardless of what action is taken in the future. Depression can be immobilizing. It can be depleting. But it also forces us to face the question in its most brutal and basic form.

“I don’t know how to be human any more.” Did we ever know how to be human? And as humanity self-destructs in slow motion, wouldn’t knowing how to be human just accelerate our general disintegration?

An Empty World

Many of the climate scientists and activists we’ve spoken with casually talk of their work with a sense of mounting despair and hopelessness, a feeling we call political depression. We’re used to considering and treating depression as an internal, medical condition, something that can be put right with a few chemicals to keep the brain swimming in serotonin; in conceptualizing our more morose turns of mind, modern medicine hasn’t come too far from the ancient idea that a melancholy disposition arises from too much black bile in the body. But when depressives talk about their experiences, they describe depression in terms of a lost relationship to the world. The author Tim Lott writes that depression “is commonly described as being like viewing the world through a sheet of plate glass; it would be more accurate to say a sheet of thick, semi-opaque ice.” A woman going by the pseudonym of Marie-Ange, one of Julia Kristeva’s analysands, describes a world hollowed out and replaced by “a nothingness . . . like invisible, cosmic, crushing antimatter.” In other words, the inward condition of depression is nothing less than a psychic event horizon; the act of staring at a vast gaping absence—of hope, of a future, of the possibility of human life. The depressive peeks into the future that climate change generates. Walter Benjamin, trying to lay out the contours of melancholic experience, saw it there. “Something new emerged,” he wrote: “an empty world.”

Freud diagnoses melancholia as the result of a lost object—a thing, a person, a world—and the fracture of that loss repeats itself within the psyche. It’s the loss that comes first. We do not think of political depression as a personal disorder, the state of being depressed because of political events; rather it’s the interiorization of our objective powerlessness in the world. We all feel, vaguely, that our good intentions should matter, that we should have some power to affect the things around us for the better; political depression is the hopelessness that meets the determination to do something in a society whose systems and instruments are designed to frustrate our ability to act.

Climate change means, quite plausibly, the end of everything we now understand to constitute our humanity.

But it’s not that, like Kafka’s heroes, we’re facing a vast and inscrutable apparatus whose operation seems to make no sense, trembling in front of a machine. What’s unbearable is that it does make sense; it’s the same logic that governs every second of our lives.

At times, the climate movement has insisted on burying this crushing truth under a relentless optimism: the disaster can be averted, all that’s needed is the political will, and we simply have no time to luxuriate in feeling sad. And all this is true. But as activists have begun to acknowledge, there needs to be room for sadness. As the veteran activist Danni Paffard—arrested three times in climate protests, once narrowly avoiding prison after she shut down a runway on Heathrow Airport—puts it to us, “the climate movement has recognized that this is an existential problem and has created spaces for people to talk things through,” to exist within the sense of grief, to work with political depression instead of repressing it. After all, as the writer Andrew Solomon says, “a lot of the time, what [depressives] are expressing is not illness, but insight, and one comes to think what’s really extraordinary is that most of us know about those existential questions and they don’t distract us very much.” There’s a substantial literature on “depressive realism”—the suspicion that depressed people are actually right. In one 1979 study by Lauren B. Alloy and Lyn Y. Abramson, it was found that when compared to their nondepressed peers, depressed subjects’ “judgements of contingency were surprisingly accurate.’”

The depressive is, first of all, one who refuses to forget. In Freud’s account, while mourning is the slow release of emotional ties to something that’s vanished, melancholia is a refusal to let go. It’s not just that climate change is depressing; the determination to stop it has to begin from a depressive conviction: to not just forget that so much has been lost and more is going every day—to keep close to memory. Or as Paffard puts it, “You need to hold what’s at stake in your head enough to remember why it’s important to take action.”

La-La Land

In April this year, the Australian marine biologist Jon Brodie made headlines with his widely publicized despair. In an unprecedented tide, severe coral bleaching had destroyed much of the Great Barrier Reef; for Brodie, what had once been a worst-case scenario took horrifying form. “We’ve given up,” he told the Guardian. “It’s been my life managing water quality, we’ve failed. Even though we’ve spent a lot of money, we’ve had no success.” Brodie had spent decades warning the Australian government—which also funds his efforts—that something like this would happen if serious action didn’t take place, and being repeatedly disappointed as politicians refused to listen.

What do you do after the worst has already happened? He sounds stoic over the phone when we speak to him, as if he’s not fully aware of just how awful everything he says really is. “If you want to see the coral reefs,” he tells us, “go now. It’s got some good bits, but you have to see them now, because they won’t look like that in ten years’ time.”

Hope is difficult. “I work with young people,” Brodie explains. “Even up until five years ago, I felt I could inspire them. But now I have PhD students—I have trouble giving them a feeling that they can still do something. We’re in an era of science denial.” It’s not the inevitability of climate change that’s depressing; rather, it’s precisely the realization that it can be prevented—together with the day-to-day reckoning with the pettiness of what stands in the way. “When I was younger,” Paffard tells us, “I would walk through the City of London and look at people living their everyday lives and think, ‘We’re all just continuing as though everything is normal, as though the world isn’t about to end.’ And that used to freak me out and make me angry. But now it just makes me sad . . . it’s the moments where you let yourself think about it when you get overwhelmed by it.”

For Brodie, political stupidities blend seamlessly into the apocalypse that they create.

When I contrast what we had eighteen years ago to the idiots [in government] today, I feel sad and angry. They keep positing coal as the solution to our energy needs. They’re living in la-la land. In the end, [biological] life will go on. Maybe humans will go on a bit longer, but the Earth will still be here.

For Simon Lewis, an author and climate scientist at University College London, the trigger was palm trees. He had to stop doing fieldwork in Southeast Asia, he explains to us, because it was simply too depressing. “There is very little forest remaining. In Borneo, most of it has been converted into plantations. You fly over the same crop for hours in a plane, and it’s just too depressing to work there. The idea is to just cut down the forest, grow palm oil, and invest the profits; existentially, I just don’t want to have to deal with that.” He now works in the Congo instead. “People ask me why—‘isn’t it really depressing?’—but you feel like it’s all to play for. People [still] have a relationship to the natural environment there.” Lewis tries to account for the lack of meaningful action on climate change: it’s not that people don’t care, but “if we put it out of our minds, it’s not happening . . . we know that society is built on the soil for food, and we know there’s a crisis of soil erosion. But we don’t talk about it.”

Brodie seeks to cope with the loss of the coral reefs by creating an ecosystem within his control: “There is a sense of loss, but I do other things to compensate. I live on a large piece of land and I am growing a forest on it, so that gives me a sense of satisfaction—there are birds and butterflies.” You step back; you find other things; the moments we still have. Faced with the vastness of climate change, people reach for what’s smaller. “I keep myself so busy,” Paffard says, “so I don’t think about it on an existential level.” Lewis, who notes that “it’s very hard to plan long term because we live in a capitalist economy,” and that “people hedge their bets by consuming now and worrying about the future later,” says he resorts to similar strategies of full cognitive immersion in the many shorter-term tasks at hand.

Climate activism is hard. Its communities are spaces of joy and friendship and common struggle, but it can also be dispiriting; humans against the tide, flesh against weather.

“People on the outside of science think we sit around all day worrying about these big questions, and we don’t. Scientists are thinking about where their next grant is going to come from. You find intellectual stimulation in your work without thinking about the big picture. Recently I caught myself thinking, when the El Niño happened over the last couple of years, which gave us abnormally high temperatures—brilliant! I get to see what abnormally high temperatures do to the tropical forests I’m studying.”

With this response, Lewis says, he shocked himself. There’s an impersonality to the processes that are destroying our planet. He even has a kind of sympathy for fossil-fuel lobbyists: what they do is evil, but it’s hard to separate from the evil that’s everywhere around us. “A lot of people go in trying to change it on the inside and then end up adopting the culture, and don’t change things. Because it’s very difficult . . . There’s all sorts of psychological tricks people play on themselves to allow them to do things that are incredibly antisocial.” It’s difficult for anyone to change things, and the prospects for substantive change can be as hard for government-funded scientists and battle-hardened campaigners as for anyone else. “Would I want to live like someone in Papua New Guinea to avoid climate change?” Brodie wonders. “Probably not.”

Political depression means staring into a vastness, but one without grandeur or the sublime, one that’s almost invisible. When we wake up with every morning, it’s just there, seeping into our bones. “I am amazed,” Paffard tells us, “by our inability to engage with things that are scary and bigger than us. It’s the minutiae that keep us going . . . it’s too big for us to hold in our minds.” What can we do? We’re only human.

All Too Human?

We’re living in what’s been called the Anthropocene. The name is supposed to describe an era in which humanity—the anthropos—is no longer just another biological presence on the surface of the Earth, but a geological force inscribing itself in the ledgers of time. Human forces distort the climate and the biosphere on multiplying levels; every living thing in the deepest untouched woods and the sunless pits of the oceans is shaped, in some way, by human activity. Whatever happens next, good or bad, the Earth will record our existence for billions of years in a layer of mulched plastic and the detritus of a mass extinction. But the name, Anthropocene, is an uncomfortable one: it implies a humanity triumphant, finally emerging into its destiny as a force among worlds and stars. What it actually means is different: a humanity in excess of itself, a humanity recklessly spilling over beyond its own bounds, at risk of wiping itself out entirely. As soon as this thing called the human fully articulates itself, it threatens to vanish.

Some time in the fourth century BCE, a man threw a plucked chicken onto the floor of Plato’s Academy in Athens. Plato had claimed, to the delight of almost everyone, to have finally discovered a definition of humanity, one of the first in the Western intellectual canon: the human being is described—drum roll—as a “featherless biped.” Diogenes the Cynic, throwing the dead chicken, announced: “Behold! I give you Plato’s man!” In response, Plato updated his definition: the human is “a featherless biped with broad, flat nails.”

You can see the problem: unlike other creatures, the human has a shapelessness to it, at turns admirable and infuriating; as soon as you set down the rules for what it can and cannot be, there will be someone out there disproving them.

There’s an absence within the concept of the human, a silence inside the word: “human” is a crutch, propping up a creature that doesn’t really know what it is. This is why so many definitions of humanity privilege its formlessness: the essential quality of having whatever essential quality. The most influential comes from Plato’s student Aristotle: in his understanding, what sets humans apart from other creatures is their possession of a “rational soul.” Plants are vegetative, knowing how to feed on sunlight and drink from the rain, and animals are instinctual, moving and acting according to the designs of nature. Humans are different. We can create our own designs, and plan for the future; where an animal simply acts, a human first decides what it wants. But there’s no limit to what we might want.

Marx echoes Aristotle: he writes in The German Ideology that “men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like.” But there is a real, material distinction: “they themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence.”

The first thing to go extinct from global warming was Aristotle’s rational animal.

In Marx, the Gattungswesen—species-being or species-essence—is not a prescriptive set of categories to which something must conform to count as human; it consists in production, the transformation of the world, the open-ended mutability of subjects and objects.

Our essence, in other words, is that we have none—but can fabricate one as we go along. Derrida makes a similar move in The Animal That Therefore I Am: there are animals that have sentience, there are animals that talk and parrots that speak English, there are animals that use (by his measure) writing; we may as well say that the real distinction between animals and humanity is that an animal can never really be naked or clothed. “The list of properties unique to man always forms a configuration, from the first moment. For that reason it can never be limited to a single trait and it is never closed; structurally speaking it can attract a nonfinite number of other concepts, beginning with the concept of a concept.”

In the Anthropocene, that silence and that nonfinitude finally takes on form: its silence is really the destruction of everything else. For a popular and vulgar Darwinism, humanity is the point where biology reaches its apotheosis and becomes something qualitatively different, in the same way that life itself is the apotheosis of chemical processes, the transformation of chemistry into something that calls for a new set of rules. The notion of the Anthropocene stands as a twisted mirror in front of Darwinism: humanity comes into its full being only as a geological process, a fossil. Not life exceeding itself, but the agent of the annihilation of all life—the point where it turns back into rock.

But clearly something is wrong with this view. After all, the first thing to go extinct from global warming was Aristotle’s rational animal. We do not think about things and then do them afterward; we do not think at all. We are plunging carelessly and catastrophically into a world created entirely by accident.

The Enemy Within

What’s most dismal about climate change is that absolutely nobody wants it to happen—it’s being engineered by cynical propagandists, frenzied manufacturers, and careless states, but the destruction of billions was never the goal. The future is taking shape out of a grim alliance among the fragility of the earth, the profit motive, the dominance of short-term thinking, and the chaos of complex systems. As everyone we spoke to pointed out, one of the most frustrating aspects of the struggle against climate change is how centerless the opponent is: “there isn’t a single node of power that we can capture and then change,” says Lewis. It lives in office buildings and the halls of government, but also inside our own heads. It’s an inhuman thing residing within humanity: our inability to save ourselves from our own actions.

The most common objection to the theory of the Anthropocene is that this era of collapse isn’t the result of humanity as such, but of the capitalist mode of production, something that emerges out of human activity but not for human ends. This age should be called something else: the Industriocene, the Economicocene, the Capitalocene. Maybe one of those names should take—but it’s still significant that humans are the ones instrumentalized by the necrotizing apparatus of capital. There is, in Marx’s terminology, an Entfremdung, an estrangement or an alienation. This term is most commonly used to discuss the more specific alienation of capitalist production, the way in which workers are ripped from their own labor-power, but it’s undergirded by a far broader form. Alienation is, at root, the alienation from our own species-being—that ability to reshape things according to our desire. Under conditions of alienation, we’re sealed off from the possibilities of what we might become by the brute fact of what we already are. This is why humanity can be so dangerous: it wouldn’t make much sense to think of a rabbit or a whale being alienated from itself; it’s hard to conceive of a way in which a pangolin or a parakeet could be somehow less than it is. Only humans can recede from the brink of themselves. But only humans have a brink to reel back from.

The problem, it turns out, is not an overabundance of humans but a dearth of humanity. Climate change and the Anthropocene are the triumph of an undead species, a mindless shuffle toward extinction, but this is only a lopsided imitation of what we really are. This is why political depression is important: zombies don’t feel sad, and they certainly don’t feel helpless; they just are. Political depression is, at root, the experience of a creature that is being prevented from being itself; for all its crushingness, for all its feebleness, it’s a cry of protest. Yes, political depressives feel as if they don’t know how to be human; buried in the despair and self-doubt is an important realization. If humanity is the capacity to act meaningfully within our surroundings, then we are not really, or not yet, human.

Nothing is assured. Marx locates his vision of an unalienated humanity beyond time; it’s a conceptual state, a possibility buried deep in all the injustices of existing conditions; it doesn’t need to have ever actually happened. Genuine autonomy over ourselves and our actions isn’t waiting for us, already somehow existing in a sunlit future; right now, what lingers over the horizon is death. It’s not a matter of waiting for the inevitable, or assuming that the human spirit will, at the last moment, suddenly shine through. It’s a question of learning. To stop climate change means finally, at long last, learning how to be human—for the first time.

Sam Kriss is a writer who lives in the United Kingdom. His blog is Idiot Joy Showland.

Ellie Mae O'Hagan is a freelance journalist living in London. Her work regularly appears in the Guardian. She has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, the Times of London, and Vice.

Surly Newz / Eclipse 2017
« on: August 23, 2017, 03:48:43 AM »
Traveled to South Carolina to have a shot at getting into the path of totality. Made it. Road construction and wrecks caused by men in too-large trucks bristling with testosterone turned the travel time by 50 per cent. Little time to write, let alone load images. But here are a couple.

First composite.

Diamond Ring.


Geopolitics / This Week In Doom August 6, 2017
« on: August 06, 2017, 06:08:48 AM »

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 August 6, 2017

“Negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting."

 â€• Donald J. Trump  

It's not a premise particularly new or unique, but I will say with some pride that I had it early.

What Donald Trump wants to do above all else is hold onto his base, meaning a roughly 35 per cent approval rating in public polls. No matter how bigly he or his surrogates want to describe his inauguration crowds or his popular vote victory, he is a minority president opposed by well more than half of the country. In that way, he will retain the loyalty of the Congressional "Freedom Causus" of libertarian-tinged free- market fundamentalists, and ride out any legal unpleasantness that may come his way.

Of all the things Trump may or may not be, Trump is most certainly a TV guy. He pays attention to Nielsen ratings, he knows how to promote, to capture attention with outrage, and how to play the media. He made his bones saying,"you're fired!" By now it's axiomatic that every time #TrumpRussia starts to heat up, the the Donald or someone on his staff will drop some fresh outrage in order to change the subject  with a 5 AM shitter tweet.

With Trump and his people, every day is a scrap to win the news cycle. Team Trump only cares about his controlling the daily narrative, and of late is failing badly. This week the Quinnipiac poll had Trump's overall approval rating at 33%. This is an all-time low, and factors in Scaramucci but does not account for other news items that broke later in the week, including Robert Mueller's Grand Jury announcement and the announcement of the subpoena of documents from the White House.

Not a good week for the Trumpkins.

The best article summarizing this miserable week was penned by notorious Republican Rick Wilson in the Daily Beast:

Even before this devastating news, if you wanted to pick a week where the Trump administration got its ass handed to it at virtually every turn, this would be it. At almost every moment in the news cycle, Team Trump was getting beaten like a rented mule. The fallout of the Anthony Scaramucci firing is barely cool to the touch, and already this week’s pile of steaming radioactive waste from this White House is hip-deep.

In the wake of the health care/tax cut bill foundering in the Senate, Trump tweeted his executive displeasure and insisted the solons frog march back to their chambers and get something done. This was met with a collective yawn as Senators prepped for August recess. And as a parting “fuck you” to the White House, they left the Senate technically in session to preclude an untimely recess appointment of, say, a pliant and unrecused attorney general who could spike Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Trump was forced into signing the bipartisan Russian sanctions bill. Passed by overwhelming, veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate, Trump was trapped like a Russian mink in a snare. 

Trump was even trolled on Twitter by Dmitry Medvedev for “total weakness.” In Russia, they murder their opponents and even supporters gone past their sell-by date. Where’s your spine, Donzo? The hits just keep on coming:

Another massive loss for Team Trump: the death of the cruel, phony attempt to frame Hillary Clinton and the Democrats for the murder of Seth Rich. Rich wasn’t killed by the Clintons, but Fox News and the White House were apparently delighted to torture his family. The accusations in a new lawsuit against Fox News and subsequent reporting over the withdrawn story of Seth Rich’s murder have already implicated outgoing White House press secretary Sean Spicer—who met with the investigator working on behalf of Trump superfan Ed Butowsky—but may reach Donald Trump himself.

As much as the blowhard-in-chief likes to proclaim any non-fawning story as “fake news,” here are allegations of some of the genuine article being made by hand in the West Wing. And apparently this wasn’t the first such manufacture:

“Donald Trump was also revealed to have personally written his namesake son’s deceptive and false statement about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians who came to New York to offer the Trump team compromising information on Hillary Clinton. You could almost hear the howls of laughter from the special prosecutor’s SCIF. “

And then there is the War on Leaks, led by the obsequious and eager to please AG Sessions, with rounds of investigation and recrimination.  Say nothing of the incipient White House Civil War between the Generals and the Alt Reich. COS Kelly ousted unfireable mystery man Ezra Cohen-Watnick, he of the handing raw intel to disgraced Congressional shitheel Devon Nunes. In response the Breitbart wing of the party has come gunning for McMasters. Grab the popcorn, but take the Generals and give the points.

And while on the subject of pointless efforts going nowhere, a promised trade bill and a promised bill to limit legal immigration will give true believers a little gristle, but will pass to a soundless and forgettable death in Congress. Although the immigration bill did provide us the Goebbels-esque spectacle of certified mole-person Stephen Miller referring to CNN's Jim Acosta as “cosmopolitan,” a term used by extremists to tag people suspected of extra-national allegiances or insufficient "assimilated" because of how they look, speak or live. (The history-challenged should read Charlie Pierce on the ignoble history of cosmopolitan-as-epithet here.)

But to return to Quinnipiac and the Holy Cause of winning the news cycle, at which Team Trump went winless last week. Rick Wilson again:

Increasing numbers of Americans say they believe Trump isn’t honest or capable. As his numbers pass some critical support thresholds, the magic of 2016 starts to morph into the fear of 2018 in the minds of many elected officials. The Great Distancing has begun. To top it all off, even Matt Drudge helpfully pointed out that Trump’s number is lower than Obama ever received.

So one wonders why Quinnipiac has Team Trump at 33 per cent when the normally less rabid Gallup poll had him at 38? It may be that the Congressional Rs have decided that Trump is unsalvageable, and are hoping to get away from a sinking Titanic before it can suck under their re-election hopes. Several weeks ago observers noted the creation of several million Twitter bots, an alt-Reich social media army ready to deploy at the twitch of a Mercer, the better to influence which stories "trend" on Twitter. Should Team Trump continue to sink, watch for the deployment of zombie-bots Making America Grate Again.

Let's end with the question posed by Charlie Pierce in his week-ending article:

What's the only thing worse than being the target of a grand jury called by Robert Mueller?

Being the target of two grand juries called by Robert Mueller!

This being about Doom, etc., here are some short pieces that may amuse while you're waiting for the latest methane hydrate explosion.

Is a Coup Inevitable?

 Yale historian Timothy Snyder, author of the new book "On Tyranny" says we may have one year left to save American democracy…

The fact that democracies usually fail is a rule which”… Americans believe…“can’t apply to us…Donald Trump will have his own version of Hitler’s Reichstag fire to expand his power and take full control of the government by declaring a state of emergency…In an authoritarian regime change, at the beginning the individual has a special kind of power because the authoritarian regime depends on a certain kind of consent. Which means that if you are conscious of the moment that you are in, you can find the ways not to express your consent and you can also find the little ways to be a barrier. If enough people do that, it really can make a difference — but again only at the beginning.

Aaahhhhpocalypse Now!: 10 Dark Visions Headed Your Way

For readers of The Doomstead Diner, Apocalyptic visions-R-Us. Alternet recently gathered some of the best—or  worst—apocalyptic thinking in one place. This list contains plenty of bad news on economic, planetary and political fronts, enough to satisfy the doomiest doomer. Here are 10 visions of the apocalypse—coming soon!

This Big Hole in the Sun is Not a Good Thing

And as we gear up for observing the total eclipse of the Sun on August 21, other heliocentric newz is not so good. The sky monster that will eat a hole in the sun on that date has a partner,

 a 75,000-mile-wide hole that’s big enough to be seen from Earth, big enough to be given a name (AR2665), and potentially big enough to produce ‘M-class’ solar flares which can knock out communications satellites, create radiation storms and cause electronic chaos. This is not a good thing.

And at week's end, some proof that yes, there is a God:

Former drug company executive Martin Shkreli is convicted of fraud

NEW YORK, Aug 4 (Reuters) – Former drug company executive Martin Shkreli was convicted of securities fraud by jurors in a U.S. court in Brooklyn on Friday, after a highly publicized, month long trial.

Federal prosecutors had accused the 34-year-old of defrauding investors in his hedge funds and stealing from his old drug company, Retrophin Inc, to pay them back.

Jurors found Shkreli guilty on two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy, on the fifth day of deliberations. 

Here's hoping the boys in Cellblock D are preparing Shkreli a special welcome.

We end this week secure in the knowledge that Robert Mueller has two grand juries working overtime on the Trump Family Grift kept afloat with laundered Russian oligarch cash, plus obstruction of justice, if not just overall being a dick. Suffice it to say that we are grateful to not have a phalanx of FBI gumshoes and mean-spirited prosecutors with a thirst for vengeance crawling all up in our bidness.

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 is the proud parent of a recent college graduate. He will have failed if not prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.

Surly Newz / What Does Russiagate Look Like to Russians?
« on: August 02, 2017, 06:20:02 AM »
By Matt Taibbi. Thoughtful and thorough.

What Does Russiagate Look Like to Russians?

Russia isn't as strong as we think, but they do have nukes – which is why beating the war drum is a mistake

Putin and Trump Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Last Wednesday, former adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton Paul Begala stepped out of his usual milquetoast centrist costume and made a chest-thumping pronouncement on CNN.

Russiagate and the Magnitsky Affair, Linked Again

Natalia Veselnitskaya being at the center of this week's explosive revelations is the latest indication that Russiagate didn't begin last year – but almost a decade ago

"We were and are under attack by a hostile foreign power," he said. "We should be debating how many sanctions we should place on Russia, or whether we should blow up the KGB."

Begala's is the latest in a string of comments from prominent pols and pundits suggestingwe are (or should be) in a state of war with nuclear-armed Russia.

Former DNC chair Donna Brazile tweetingthis week, "The Communists are dictating the terms of the debate" – and not bothering to delete the error – is another weird example of what feels like intense longing in the Beltway to reignite the Cold War. (Begala wanting to blow up the long-dead KGB is another.)

James Clapper this spring saying Russians are "genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor" also recalled the Sovietology era, when Russians were cast as evil, emotionless manipulators, cold as their icy homeland. CNN reporter Michael Weiss casting suspicion on people with Russian spouses is another creepy recent example.

For journalists like me who have backgrounds either working or living in Russia, the new Red Scare has been an ongoing freakout. A lot of veteran Russia reporters who may have disagreed with each other over other issues in the past now find themselves in like-minded bewilderment over the increasingly aggressive rhetoric.

Many of us were early Putin critics who now find ourselves in the awkward position of having to try to argue Americans off the ledge, or at least off the path to war, when it comes to dealing with the Putin regime.

There's a lot of history that's being glossed over in the rush to restore Russia to an archenemy role.

For one, long before the DNC hack, we meddled in their elections. This was especially annoying to Russians because we were ostensibly teaching them the virtues of democracy at the time. We even made a Hollywood movie on the topic (Spinning Boris, starring Jeff Goldblum and Anthony LaPaglia!).

After Boris Yeltsin won re-election in 1996, Time magazine ran a gloating cover story – YANKS TO THE RESCUE! – about three American advisers sent to help the pickling autocrat Yeltsin devise campaign strategy. Picture Putin sending envoys to work out of the White House to help coordinate Trump's re-election campaign, and you can imagine how this played in Russia.

Former Yeltsin administration chief Sergei Filatov denied that the three advisers did anything of value for Yeltsin. But even if Filatov is right, American interference throughout the Nineties was extensive.

For one thing, the privatization effort under Yeltsin, much of which was coordinated by Americans, helped lead to a little-understood devil's bargain that sealed Yeltsin's electoral victory.

American President Bill Clinton laughs at Boris Yeltsin's jokes during a joint news conference in Hyde Park, New York. | Location: Hyde Park, New York, USA. (Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)President Clinton with Boris Yeltsin Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty

Essentially, Yeltsin agreed to privatize the jewels of Russian industry into the hands of a few insiders – we call them oligarchs now – in return for their overwhelming financial and media support in the '96 race against surging communist Gennady Zyuganov. The likes of Vladimir Potanin, Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky were gifted huge fortunes before bankrolling Yeltsin's re-election bid.

How much of a hand we had in that infamous trade has never been explained. But Americans surely helped usher in the oligarch era by guiding Russia through its warped privatization process. In some expat circles back then, you found Americans who believed that by creating a cadre of super-wealthy Russians, we would create a social class that would be pre-motivated to beat back a communist revival.

This may have prevented a backslide into communism, but a by-product was accelerating a descent into gangsterism and oligarchy.

The West also aided Yeltsin during that election season by providing a $10.2 billion IMF loan that just happened to almost exactly match the cost of Yeltsin's vicious and idiotic invasion of Chechnya. (Yeltsin had been under fire for the cash crunch caused by the war.) Le Monde called the timely giganto-loan "an implicit vote in favor of candidate Yeltsin."

What most Americans don't understand is that the Putin regime at least in part was a reaction to exactly this kind of Western meddling.

The Yeltsin regime, which incidentally also saw wide-scale assassinations of journalists and other human rights abuses, was widely understood to be a pseudo-puppet state, beholden to the West.

The conceit of the Putin regime, on the other hand, was that while Putin was a gangster, he was at least the Russians' own gangster.

It's debatable how much success Putin really had at arresting the flight of Russian capital abroad that began in the Yeltsin years. But the legend that he would at least try to keep Russia's wealth in Russia was a key reason for his initial popularity.

Russians also have an opposite take on their "aggression" in Ukraine and Crimea, one that is colored by a history few in America know or understand.

When asked about the roots of the current Russian-American divide, former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman, the author of excellent books like Whistleblower in the CIA and Failure of Intelligence, points to a 1990 deal struck between Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

The two men brokered a quid pro quo: The Soviets wouldn't oppose a re-united Germany, if the Americans promised not to "leapfrog" East Germany into the Russians' former sphere of influence.

Goodman later interviewed both men, who confirmed the key details. "They both used the word 'leapfrog,'" he says. "The Russians think we broke that deal."

Russia believes the U.S. reneged on the "leapfrog" deal by seeking to add the Baltics, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Georgia and even Ukraine to the NATO alliance.

To Russia, American denunciations of Russian adventurism in Crimea and eastern Ukraine seem absurd, when all they see is NATO leapfrogging its way ever-closer to their borders.

This is not to say that the Russians were right to move into Crimea or Eastern Ukraine. But it's easy to see why Russians would be frosty about America trying to put border states under the umbrella of NATO, or wigged out by Americans conducting war games in places like Latvia. Imagine, for instance, the response here in the States if the Russians conducted amphibious military exercises in the Baja Peninsula after promising to honor the Monroe doctrine. 

As Goodman and others have pointed out, failing to predict the Soviet collapse was probably the biggest intelligence failure in our history. While Ronald Reagan and his cronies politicized intelligence and overhyped the Soviets as a mighty and monolithic force, the on-the-ground reality was that the Soviet Union was a crumbling third-world state besotted with crippling economic and infrastructural problems.

We missed countless opportunities for easier, safer and cheaper relations with the Russians by consistently mistaking their disintegrating Potemkin Empire for an ascendant threat.

It's not exactly the same story now, but it's close. Putin's Russia certainly has global ambitions, just as the Soviets did. But the game now is much more about connections and hot money than about geopolitics or territory. There's evidence that the Russians have tried to burrow their way into America's commercial and political establishment, but by most accounts the main route of entry has been financial.

If indeed Trump was a target of Russian efforts, we'll likely discover that this was not something that was exclusive to Trump but rather just one data point amid a broad, holistic strategy to curry favor and make connections across the American political class.

Still, these efforts are probably far more limited in scope than we've been led to imagine. DNC hack or no DNC hack, Russia is still a comparatively weak country with limited power to influence a nation like the U.S., especially since it's still dogged internally by those same massive economic and infrastructural problems it's always had. Putin's political grip on power at home is also far less sure than our pundits and politicians are letting on.

The generalized plan to create chaos in other industrialized states by seeding/spreading corruption and political confusion – which many in the intelligence community believe is an aim of Russian intelligence efforts – is revealing in itself. It's the strategy of a weak and unstable third-world state looking for a cheap way to stay in the game (and bolster its profile) versus more powerful industrial rivals. Hyping Russia as an all-powerful menace actually plays into this strategy.

But the Russians still have nukes, which is why we have to be very careful about letting rhetoric get too hot, especially with the president we now have.

For all the fears about Trump being a Manchurian Candidate bent on destroying America from within, the far more likely nightmare endgame involves our political establishment egging the moron Trump into a shooting war as a means of proving his not-puppetness.

This already almost happened once, when Trump fired missiles into Syria with Russian troops on the ground, seemingly as a means of derailing a Russiagate furor that was really spiraling that particular week. That episode proved that the absolute worst time to bang the war drum under Trump is when he's feeling vulnerable on Russia – which he clearly is now.

Rising anti-Russian hysteria and a nuclear button-holder in the White House who acts before he thinks is a very bad combination. We should try to chill while we still can, especially since the Russians, once again, probably aren't as powerful as we think.


Surly Newz / 10 Ways Your Tax Dollars Are Paying for War
« on: July 30, 2017, 08:23:09 AM »
10 Ways Your Tax Dollars Are Paying for War

In addition to the budget set for the Department of Defense, there are countless other costs that go into spending on national security. (DoD photo by Airman 1st Class Damon Kasberg, U.S. Air Force)

The Hidden Costs of “National Security”: 10 Ways Your Tax Dollars Are Paying for War

In government terms, make no mistake about it, the Pentagon & Co. are the 1%.


Most taxpayers have no idea that more than a trillion dollars a year is going to what’s still called “defense,” but these days might equally be called national insecurity.

This piece first appeared at Tomdispatch.

You wouldn’t know it, based on the endless cries for more money coming from the militarypoliticians, and the president, but these are the best of times for the Pentagon. Spending on the Department of Defense alone is already well in excess of half a trillion dollars a year and counting. Adjusted for inflation, that means it’s higher than at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s massive buildup of the 1980s and is now nearing the post-World War II funding peak. And yet that’s barely half the story. There are hundreds of billions of dollars in “defense” spending that aren’t even counted in the Pentagon budget.

Under the circumstances, laying all this out in grisly detail—and believe me, when you dive into the figures, they couldn’t be grislier—is the only way to offer a better sense of the true costs of our wars past, present, and future, and of the funding that is the lifeblood of the national security state. When you do that, you end up with no less than 10 categories of national security spending (only one of which is the Pentagon budget). So steel yourself for a tour of our nation’s trillion-dollar-plus “national security” budget. Given the Pentagon’s penchant for wasting money and our government’s record of engaging in dangerously misguided wars without end, it’s clear that a large portion of this massive investment of taxpayer dollars isn’t making anyone any safer.

1) The Pentagon Budget: The Pentagon’s “base” or regular budget contains the costs of the peacetime training, arming, and operation of the U.S. military and of the massive civilian workforce that supports it—and if waste is your Eden, then you’re in paradise.

The department’s budget is awash in waste, as you might expect from the only major federal agency that has never passed an audit. For example, last year a report by the Defense Business Board, a Pentagon advisory panel, found that the Department of Defense could save $125 billion over five years just by trimming excess bureaucracy. And a new study by the Pentagon’s Inspector General indicates that the department has ignored hundreds of recommendations that could have saved it more than $33.6 billion.

The Pentagon can’t even get an accurate count of the number of private contractors it employs, but the figure is certainly in the range of 600,000 or higher, and many of them carry out tasks that might far better be handled by government employees. Cutting that enormous contractor work force by just 15%, only a start when it comes to eliminating the unnecessary duplication involved in hiring government employees and private contractors to do the same work, would save an easy $20 billion annually.

And the items mentioned so far are only the most obvious examples of misguided expenditures at the Department of Defense. Even larger savings could be realized by scaling back the Pentagon’s global ambitions, which have caused nothing but trouble in the last decade and a half as the U.S. military has waged devastating and counterproductive wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere across the Greater Middle East and Africa. An analysis by Ben Friedman of the conservative Cato Institute estimates that the Pentagon could reduce its projected spending by one trillion dollars over the next decade if Washington reined in its interventionary instincts and focused only on America’s core interests.

Donald Trump, of course, ran for president as a businessman who would clean house and institute unprecedented efficiencies in government. Instead, on entering the Oval Office, he’s done a superb job of ignoring chronic problems at the Pentagon, proposing instead to give that department a hefty raise: $575 billion next year. And yet his expansive military funding plans look relatively mild compared to the desires of the gung-ho members of the armed services committees in the House and Senate. Democrats and Republicans alike want to hike the Pentagon budget to at least $600 billion or more. The legislative fight over a final number will play out over the rest of this year. For now, let’s just use Trump’s number as a placeholder. 

Pentagon Budget: $575 billion

2) The War Budget: The wars of this century, from Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond, have largely been paid for through a special account that lies outside the regular Pentagon budget. This war budget—known in the antiseptic language of the Pentagon as the “Overseas Contingency Operations” account, or OCO—peaked at more than $180 billion at the height of the Bush administration’s intervention in Iraq.

As troop numbers in that country and Afghanistan have plummeted from hundreds of thousands to about 15,000, the war budget, miraculously enough, hasn’t fallen at anywhere near the same pace. That’s because it’s not even subject to the modest caps on the Pentagon’s regular budget imposed by Congress back in 2011, as part of a deal to keep the government open. 

In reality, over the past five years, the war budget has become a slush fund that pays for tens of billions of dollars in Pentagon expenses that have nothing to do with fighting wars. The Trump administration wants $64.6 billion for that boondoggle budget in fiscal year 2018. Some in Congress would like to hike it another $10 billion. For consistency, we’ll again use the Trump number as a baseline.

War Budget: $64.6 Billion

Running Total: $639.6 Billion

3) Nuclear Warheads (and more): You might think that the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal—nuclear warheads—would be paid for out of the Pentagon budget. And you would, of course, be wrong. The cost of researching, developing, maintaining, and “modernizing” the American arsenal of 6,800 nuclear warheads falls to an obscure agency located inside the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA. It also works on naval nuclear reactors, pays for the environmental cleanup of nuclear weapons facilities, and funds the nation’s three nuclear weapons laboratories, at a total annual cost of more than $20 billion per year.

Department of Energy (nuclear): $20 Billion

Running total: $659.6 billion

4) “Other Defense”: This catchall category encompasses a number of flows of defense-related funding that go to agencies other than the Pentagon. It totals about $8 billion per year. In recent years, about two-thirds of this money has gone to pay for the homeland security activities of the FBI, accounting for more than half of that agency’s annual budget.

“Other Defense”: $8 Billion

Running Total: $677.6 billion

The four categories above make up what the White House budget office considers total spending on “national defense.” But I’m sure you won’t be shocked to learn that their cumulative $677.6 billion represents far from the full story. So let’s keep right on going.

5) Homeland Security: After the 9/11 attacks, Congress created a mega-agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It absorbed 22 then-existing entities, all involved in internal security and border protection, creating the sprawling cabinet department that now has 240,000 employees. For those of you keeping score at home, the agencies and other entities currently under the umbrella of DHS include the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, the Transportation Security Agency, the U.S. Secret Service, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), and the Office of Intelligence Analysis (the only one of America’s 17 intelligence agencies to fit under the department’s rubric). 

How many of these agencies actually make us safer? That would be a debatable topic, if anyone were actually interested in such a debate. ICE—America’s deportation force—has, for instance, done far more to cause suffering than to protect us from criminals or terrorists. On the other hand, it’s reassuring to know that there is an office charged with determining whether there is a nuclear weapon or radioactive “dirty bomb” in our midst. 

While it’s hard to outdo the Pentagon, DHS has its own record of dubious expenditures on items large and small. They range from $1,000 fees for employees to attend conferences at spas to the purchase of bagpipes for border protection personnel to the payment of scores of remarkably fat salaries to agency bureaucrats. On the occasion of its 10th anniversary in 2013, Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) excoriated the department as “rife with waste,” among other things, pointing to a report by the DHS inspector general that it had misspent over $1 billion.

DHS was supposed to provide a better focus for efforts to protect the United States from internal threats. Its biggest problem, though, may be that it has become a magnet for increased funding for haphazard, misplaced, and often simply dangerous initiatives. These would, for instance, include its program to supply grants to local law enforcement agencies to help them buy military-grade equipment to be deployed not against terrorists, but against citizens protesting the injustices perpetrated by the very same agencies being armed by DHS. 

The Trump administration has proposed spending $50 billion on DHS in FY 2018.

Homeland Security: $50 Billion

Running Total: $717.6 Billion

6) Military Aid: U.S. government-run military aid programs have proliferated rapidly in this century. The United States now has scores of arms and training programs serving more than 140 countries. They cost more than $18 billion per year, with about 40% of that total located in the State Department’s budget. While the Pentagon's share has already been accounted for, the $7 billion at State—which can ill afford to pay for such programs with the Trump administration seeking to gut the rest of its budget—has not.

Military Aid at the State Department: $7 Billion

Running Total: $724.6 Billion

7) Intelligence: The United States government has 16 separate intelligence agencies: the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); the National Security Agency (NSA); the Defense Intelligence Agency; the FBI; the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research; the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence Analysis; the Drug Enforcement Administration Office of National Security Intelligence; the Treasury Department Office of Intelligence and Analysis; the Department of Energy Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; the National Reconnaissance Office; the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency; Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; Army Military Intelligence; the Office of Naval Intelligence; Marine Corps Intelligence; and Coast Guard Intelligence. Add to these the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which is supposed to coordinate this far-flung intelligence network, and you have a grand total of 17 agencies. 

The U.S. will spend more than $70 billion on intelligence this year, spread across all these agencies. The bulk of this funding is contained in the Pentagon budget—including the budgets of the CIA and the NSA (believed to be hidden under obscure line items there). At most, a few billion dollars in additional expenditures on intelligence fall outside the Pentagon budget and since, given the secrecy involved, that figure can’t be determined, let’s not add anything further to our running tally. 

Intelligence: $70 Billion (mostly contained inside the Pentagon budget)

Running Total: $724.6 Billion

8) Supporting Veterans: A steady uptick of veterans generated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has dramatically increased the costs of supporting such vets once they come home, including the war wounded, some of whom will need medical care for life. For 2018, the Veterans Administration has requested over $186 billion for its budget, more than three times what it was before the 2001 intervention in Afghanistan.

Veterans: $186 billion

Running Total: $910.6 Billion

9) Military Retirement: The trust fund set up to cover pensions for military retirees and their survivors doesn’t have enough money to pay out all the benefits promised to these individuals. As a result, it is supplemented annually by an appropriation from the general revenues of the government. That supplement has by now reached roughly $80 billion per year.

Military Retirement: $80 Billion

Running Total: $990.6 Billion 

10) Defense Share of Interest on the Debt: It’s no secret that the U.S. government regularly runs at a deficit and that the total national debt is growing. It may be more surprising to learn that the interest on that debt runs at roughly $500 billion per year. The Project on Government Oversight calculates the share of the interest on that debt generated by defense-related programs at more than $100 billion annually.

Defense Share of the Interest on the Debt: $100 billion

Grand Total: $1.09 Trillion

That final annual tally of nearly $1.1 trillion to pay for past wars, fund current wars, and prepare for possible future conflicts is roughly double the already staggering $575 billion the Trump administration has proposed as the Pentagon’s regular budget for 2018. Most taxpayers have no idea that more than a trillion dollars a year is going to what’s still called “defense,” but these days might equally be called national insecurity.

So the next time you hear the president, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or a hawkish lawmaker claim that the U.S. military is practically collapsing from a lack of funding, don’t believe it for a second. Donald Trump may finally have put plutocracy in the Oval Office, but a militarized version of it has long been ensconced in the Pentagon and the rest of the national security state. In government terms, make no mistake about it, the Pentagon & Co. are the 1%.


Surly Newz / Being rich wrecks your soul. We used to know that.
« on: July 30, 2017, 12:45:00 AM »
Being rich wrecks your soul. We used to know that.

Being rich may be fun in the short term, but studies suggest it isn’t good for you. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)
 July 28
About the authors 

With a billionaire real estate tycoon occupying America’s highest office, the effects of riches upon the soul are a reasonable concern for all of us little guys. After all, one incredibly wealthy soul currently holds our country in his hands. According to an apocryphal exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, the only difference between the rich and the rest of us is that they have more money. But is that the only difference? 

We didn’t used to think so. We used to think that having vast sums of money was bad and in particular bad for you — that it harmed your character, warping your behavior and corrupting your soul. We thought the rich were different, and different for the worse. 

Today, however, we seem less confident of this. We seem to view wealth as simply good or neutral, and chalk up the failures of individual wealthy people to their own personal flaws, not their riches. Those who are rich, we seem to think, are not in any more moral danger than the rest of us. Compare how old movies preached the folk wisdom of wealth’s morally calamitous effects to how contemporary movies portray wealth: For example, the villainous Mr. Potter from “It’s A Wonderful Life” to the heroic Tony Stark (that is, Iron Man) in the Avengers films.

The idea that wealth is morally perilous has an impressive philosophical and religious pedigree. Ancient Stoic philosophers railed against greed and luxury, and Roman historians such as Tacitus lay many of the empire’s struggles at the feet of imperial avarice. Confucius lived an austere life. The Buddha famously left his opulent palace behind. And Jesus didn’t exactly go easy on the rich, either — think camels and needles, for starters. 

The point is not necessarily that wealth is intrinsically and everywhere evil, but that it is dangerous — that it should be eyed with caution and suspicion, and definitely not pursued as an end in itself; that great riches pose great risks to their owners; and that societies are right to stigmatize the storing up of untold wealth. That’s why Aristotle, for instance, argued that wealth should be sought only for the sake of living virtuously — to manage a household, say, or to participate in the life of the polis. Here wealth is useful but not inherently good; indeed, Aristotle specifically warned that the accumulation of wealth for its own sake corrupts virtue instead of enabling it. For Hindus, working hard to earn money is a duty (dharma), but only when done through honest means and used for good ends. The function of money is not to satiate greed but to support oneself and one’s family. The Koran, too, warns against hoarding money and enjoins Muslims to disperse it to the needy. 

Some contemporary voices join this ancient chorus, perhaps none more enthusiastically than Pope Francis. He’s proclaimed that unless wealth is used for the good of society, and above all for the good of the poor, it is an instrument “of corruption and death.” And Francis lives what he teaches: Despite access to some of the sweetest real estate imaginable — the palatial papal apartments are the sort of thing that President Trump’s gold-plated extravagance is a parody of — the pope bunks in a small suite in what is effectively the Vatican’s hostel. In his official state visit to Washington, he pulled up to the White House in a Fiat so sensible that a denizen of Northwest D.C. would be almost embarrassed to drive it. When Francis entered the Jesuit order 59 years ago, he took a vow of poverty, and he’s kept it

According to many philosophies and faiths, then, wealth should serve only as a steppingstone to some further good and is always fraught with moral danger. We all used to recognize this; it was a commonplace. And this intuition, shared by various cultures across history, stands on firm empirical ground. 

Over the past few years, a pile of studies from the behavioral sciences has appeared, and they all say, more or less, “Being rich is really bad for you.” Wealth, it turns out, leads to behavioral and psychological maladies. The rich act and think in misdirected ways. 

When it comes to a broad range of vices, the rich outperform everybody else. They are much more likely than the rest of humanity to shoplift and cheat , for example, and they are more apt to be adulterers and to drink a great deal . They are even more likely to take candy that is meant for children. So whatever you think about the moral nastiness of the rich, take that, multiply it by the number of Mercedes and Lexuses that cut you off, and you’re still short of the mark. In fact, those Mercedes and Lexuses are more likely to cut you off than Hondas or Fords: Studies have shown that people who drive expensive cars are more prone to run stop signs and cut off other motorists 

The rich are the worst tax evaders, and, as The Washington Post has detailed, they are hiding vast sums from public scrutiny in secret overseas bank accounts. 

They also give proportionally less to charity — not surprising, since they exhibit significantly less compassion and empathy toward suffering people. Studies also find that members of the upper class are worse than ordinary folks at “reading” people’ s emotions and are far more likely to be disengaged from the people with whom they are interacting — instead absorbed in doodling, checking their phones or what have you. Some studies go even further, suggesting that rich people, especially stockbrokers and their ilk (such as venture capitalists, whom we once called “robber barons”), are more competitive, impulsive and reckless than medically diagnosed psychopaths. And by the way, those vices do not make them better entrepreneurs; they just have Mommy and Daddy’s bank accounts (in New York or the Cayman Islands) to fall back on when they fail. 

Indeed, luxuries may numb you to other people — that Louis Vuitton bag may be a minor league Ring of Sauron . Some studies go so far as to suggest that simply being around great material wealth makes people less willing to share . That’s right: Vast sums of money poison not only those who possess them but even those who are merely around them. This helps explain why the nasty ethos of Wall Street has percolated down, including to our politics (though we really didn’t need much help there). 

So the rich are more likely to be despicable characters. And, as is typically the case with the morally malformed, the first victims of the rich are the rich themselves. Because they often let money buy their happiness and value themselves for their wealth instead of anything meaningful, they are, by extension, more likely to allow other aspects of their lives to atrophy. They seem to have a hard time enjoying simple things, savoring the everyday experiences that make so much of life worthwhile. Because they have lower levels of empathy, they have fewer opportunities to practice acts of compassion — which studies suggest give people a great deal of pleasure . They tend to believe that people have different financial destinies because of who they essentially are, so they believe that they deserve their wealth , thus dampening their capacity for gratitude, a quality that has been shown to significantly enhance our sense of well-being. All of this seems to make the rich more susceptible to loneliness; they may be more prone to suicide, as well. 

How did we lose sight of the ancient wisdom about wealth, especially given its ample evidencing in recent studies? 

Some will say that we have not entirely forgotten it and that we do complain about wealth today, at least occasionally. Think, they’ll say, about Occupy Wall Street; the blowback after Mitt Romney’s comment about the “47 percent”; how George W. Bush painted John Kerry as out of touch. But think again: By and large, those complaints were not about wealth per se but about corrupt wealth — about wealth “gone wrong” and about unfairness. The idea that there is no way for the vast accumulation of money to “go right” is hardly anywhere to be seen. 

Getting here wasn’t straightforward. Wealth has arguably been seen as less threatening to one’s moral health since the Reformation, after which material success was sometimes taken as evidence of divine election. But extreme wealth remained morally suspect, with the rich bearing particular scrutiny and stigmatization during periods like the Gilded Age. This stigma persisted until relatively recently; only in the 1970s did political shifts cause executive salaries skyrocket, and the current effectively unprecedented inequality in income (and wealth) begin to appear, without any significant public complaint or lament.

The story of how a stigma fades is always murky, but contributing factors are not hard to identify. For one, think tanks have become increasingly partisan over the past several decades, particularly on the right: Certain conservative institutions, enjoying the backing of billionaires such as the Koch brothers, have thrown a ton of money at pseudo-academics and “thought leaders” to normalize and legitimate obscene piles of lucre. They produced arguments that suggest that high salaries naturally flowed from extreme talent and merit, thus baptizing wealth as simply some excellent people’s wholly legitimate rewards. These arguments were happily regurgitated by conservative media figures and politicians, eventually seeping into the broader public and replacing the folk wisdom of yore. But it is hard to argue that a company’s top earners are literally hundreds of times more talented than the lowest-paid employees.

As stratospheric salaries became increasingly common, and as the stigma of wildly disproportionate pay faded, the moral hazards of wealth were largely forgotten. But it’s time to put the apologists for plutocracy back on the defensive, where they belong — not least for their own sake. After all, the Buddha, Aristotle, Jesus, the Koran, Jimmy Stewart, Pope Francis and now even science all agree: If you are wealthy and are reading this, give away your money as fast as you can.

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