For better or worse, we live in interesting times. That phrase conjures up images of Chinese sages and Oriental inscrutability here in America, but there is no evidence that the expression May you live in interesting times has any historical connection to China or Chinese philosophy or religion. So says the great sage Google.
This apocryphal phrase does have a clear connection to the turbulent, conflicted, scary period of cultural revolution and potential World War Americans experienced in the Nineteen Sixties.
Two years before his assassination, on June 6, 1966, U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy gave a historically important speech at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, on the University's Day of Reaffirmation of Academic and Human Freedom. Kennedy spoke eloquently about the evils of apartheid and about the growing civil rights movement in America and about the need for individual courage and collective action to address the growing cries for justice in racist, unjust and unequal societies around the world.
Kennedy's speech at that crucial time in world history speaks directly to the needs, the concerns, the ideals, the goals and the fears of all people in the 21st Century, and sounds the keynote for the Aquarian Spiritual Festival during this month of February, 2019, and for the initiation of the Piscean Spiritual Festival February 18, 2019.
"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice," Kennedy proclaimed. "He sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance."
Kennedy said there were four main dangers we each must confront on the road to a more equitable global society. The first, a sense of individual futility, the second a belief that idealistic goals must take a back seat to immediate necessity, the third timidity on the part of those seeking to change existing systems, and finally a desire for comfort on the part of each and every one of us.
"[Comfort] is not the road history has marked out for us," Kennedy proclaimed. "There is a Chinese curse which says May he live in interesting times. Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged - will ultimately judge himself - on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort."
Lightworkers, spiritual seekers and meditators have always had an ambivalent attitude toward involvement in politics, and even toward journalism and staying informed about pressing environmental, social justice, economic and cultural issues.
This of course is in stark contrast to the billions of religious fundamentalists around the world who embrace a toxic fusion of bellicose, reactionary, right wing, often racist and sexist politics and rigid hierarchical Piscean Age religious practices.
It is hard to concentrate on subtle energies, maintain a precarious mental, emotional and physical equilibrium, and elevate your spiritual practice while engaging in the time consuming, emotionally draining and energy sapping discipline of becoming well informed citizens.
We are required to sift through the barrage of propaganda, social media marketing, fake news and outright lies we encounter on TV, radio, and the Internet, and in our favorite newspapers and magazines as well, separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Becoming well informed is really hard work. We have to hold our noses and dive deep into the details of complex issues that the powerful politicians and media barons would prefer we ignore, so they can pursue their self serving agendas without interference from the "little people".
But unfortunately, we live in interesting times, and extraordinary efforts are required if we are to fulfill our dharma as global citizens in a time of planetary environmental emergency, simmering regional and civil, religious, resource and economic wars of choice, runaway technophilia and soulless rational materialism.
Our goal in these newsletters is to be your human news filter, providing links and key quotes to important news stories about topics of global interest from this former journalist who has extensive training in academic research methods in the humanities, and extensive experience as a financial, political, cultural and lifestyle publisher, editor and writer.
Jane and I hope that this service will be empowering for those who would like to stay well informed about the burning issues of the day, and help the spiritual community to engage more directly in political issues on behalf of social justice, financial democracy, and environmental resilience. We consider this work to be part of our spiritual practice and we hope to reach a virtual community of like minded spiritual people who will participate in the creation of a new post-carbon post-capitalist global society for the Aquarian Age.
Our work is just to light a single candle in the night. We prefer to light one candle than to curse the darkness. Our hope is that the flame of this candle can serve to light more candles and thus the light will spread in an ever expanding spiral of love and light.
If you know people who might enjoy these newsletters please forward them freely. We do this work as a service, and we are always delighted to share with a larger audience!
Global News RoundupLast month, we sounded the alarm about potential new European Union copyright laws that might make it illegal to link to news stories from blogs like this one. Now there is good news about this power play designed to turn the Internet into a global censorship machine. There's still a long fight to come to prevent implementations of new iterations of this draconian law, so if you want to stay informed and join in that fight bookmark the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and visit frequently for guidance on how to become more involved.
EU Cancels ‘Final’ Negotiations On EU Copyright Directive As It Becomes Clear There Isn’t Enough Support , TechDirt, January 18, 2019
So, this is certainly unexpected. Just hours after we pointed out that even all of the lobbyists who had written/pushed for Article 13 in the EU Copyright Directive were now abandoning their support for it (basically because the EU was considering making it just slightly less awful), it appears that Monday's negotiations have been called off entirely:
. . .this does not mean that the Copyright Directive or Article 13 are dead. They could certainly be revived with new negotiations (and that could happen soon).
Google Warns News Sites May Lose 45% of Traffic if EU Passes Its Copyright Reform, NextWeb, by Mar Masson Maack, February 8, 2019
The EU is still plowing ahead with its highly contested Copyright Reform. Trilogue negotiations between the union’s pillars have started again to reach an agreement on the finalized version, and pass the law in March or April this year.
A myriad of EU politicians and companies are troubled by parts of the reform, including big players like Google. Kent Walker, Google‘s SVP of Global Affairs, laid out Google’s opposition and called for a fix before it’s too late. Google warns Article 11 and Article 13 could have catastrophic effects on the creative economy in Europe by hampering user uploads and news sharing.
Article 11 in its current form will limit news aggregators’ abilities to show snippets of articles. According to Google‘s own experiments, the impact of it only showing URLs, very short fragments of headlines, and no preview images would be a “substantial traffic loss to news publishers.”
“Even a moderate version of the experiment (where we showed the publication title, URL, and video thumbnails) led to a 45 percent reduction in traffic to news publishers,” Walker explained. “Our experiment demonstrated that many users turned instead to non-news sites, social media platforms, and online video sites — another unintended consequence of legislation that aims to support high-quality journalism.”
Opponents of the current proposal argue that Article 11 (a.k.a. link tax) would force anyone using snippets of journalistic online content to get a license from the publisher first — essentially outlawing current business models of most aggregators and news apps.
Article 13 is the other huge concern opponents have about the proposal. It’s argued Article 13 will lead to ‘censorship machines’ as platforms will be made responsible for monitoring user behavior to stop copyright infringements before they happen — possibly preventing content like Miley Cyrus wishing her husband a happy birthday.
This basically means only huge platforms will have the resources to let users comment or share content. Despite that, Google opposes Article 13’s implementation as it could have dire unintended consequences — although the company says it supports the “goals” of the article.
There’s a real worry that Article 13 could lead to broader censorship, leaving free speech vehicles — like parody, satire, or even protest videos — potentially untenable under this system. Similar legislation was trialed in Spain and Germanyin 2014 and failed — but opposing sides argue over what exactly led to the failure.
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet at the 2017 G-20 Hamburg Summit, Kremlin.ru [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)]
Gallup Poll: Animosity Toward Trump, Putin ‘Must Worry All of Us', Die Welt
[Editor's Note: This month we take a look at the end of year 2018 Gallup poll, showing that the popularity of world leaders is plummeting. This is unprecedented. Ruling elites throughout the world are proving incapable of addressing the pressing issues of our time and their efforts to unite their countries through fear, scapegoating and warmongering have so far failed. Only an Aquarian swelling of popular movements can bring about the change we need in the world today. However, growing animosity between the general populations of America, Russia and China, fed by ceaseless propaganda in all three countries, constitutes a major threat to world peace.]
The Gallup International Association publishes an annual global survey on the popularity of world leaders.
The 2018 End of Year Survey was conducted across 45 countries between October 2018 and January 2019 and included almost 47,000 respondents.
Die Welt: Mr. Stoychev, which takeaway of this year's End of Year Survey surprised you the most?
Kancho Stoychev: It's surprising that for the first time we are registering a downtrend in the ratings for all major political leaders in the world. This has never happened before. Normally some leaders go up and some go down for various reasons, but all of them going down together compared to last year and previous years — this is really without precedent. Something is happening in the world. It's not only about the famous gap between elites and masses, between leaders and voters, it appears that there are deeper reasons, that the world we are living in is in a period of transition.
It's not only political leaders that are losing support. Even Pope Francis is becoming less popular. Is this trend a result of the challenges some of the individual leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron or Russia's President Vladimir Putin face at home, or does it indicate a growing mistrust in political leadership in general?
I think it is the latter. Yes, the national problems reflect the image of the respective leader, but we are talking about global data. Obviously we know that the rating of President Macron is going down in France, but it is also declining around the world. The same goes for many other leaders, including [Angela] Merkel, who is still the most trusted and positively evaluated leader not only in Europe but around the world, and who is also losing a serious amount of support. It is not only about domestic issues, it's about the global atmosphere. We saw during the last year a growing confrontation on an international level, which reflects the ratings of the global leaders.
In my opinion, the biggest part of the problem is their inability to deal with the problems facing the world today. The world order which was established after the Second World War seems to be unstable. We neither live in a Cold War situation with two big camps or configurations of countries, nor are we really in a situation like the one we had for 10 or 15 years when we had only one big superpower, the US. We live in a multipolar world, the whole picture is becoming more complicated. And it's especially complicated in Europe due to the problems we as are facing here.
Die Welt - US President Donald Trump remains unchallenged at the bottom of the ranking. Have you observed any changes in his popularity in certain regions?
What is interesting is that his acceptance in Russia is continually declining, which was not the case one year ago when public opinion of him was much higher in Russia. Now, about 70 percent of Russians have a negative opinion of him. The same is happening with respect to the opinions of Americans about the Russian President, Putin: Exactly 70 percent of Americans have a negative opinion of him, which is a big problem. It means that the confrontation between the US, Russia and China is reflecting on a level of mass opinion.
This is bad for the stability of the world, because the populations of these superpowers are getting a negative opinion of the adversary. To me, this is very dangerous because it is not only about politicians speaking back to one another or being in conflict. Now, this conflict is spread among people from both sides of the ocean. The US and Russia are great nations and that attitude towards the leader of the other nation is something that must worry all of us.
Trump, Nixon and The SUPER BLOOD WOLF Moon Eclipse, Ed Tamplin, January 2019
[Ed. Note: Astrologer Ed Tamplin sees eerie similarities between the present moment and the period just prior to the fall of Richard Nixon. Will Donald Trump also be forced to abdicate the Presidency?]
The Lunar Eclipse is culminating exactly over Washington DC, a destination that is already about as polarising as it gets. And it gets far more interesting. There is a clear connection of this eclipse with presidential inaugurations. They take place on January 20. The eclipse reaches its totality barely a quarter hour into the 21st.
The relevance being that the Sun position of this lunar eclipse is conjunct the Sun position of the last inauguration of Donald Trump. So close in fact that there is only one minute of arc separating the two. The Moon in opposing the Sun, identifies with the public mood and in particular females.
Is this celestial symbolism mirroring the stand-off between the male President, Donald Trump and the female Leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi? Is it timing the President's dwindling public support? Polls have drifted to a 15% negative margin since the President orchestrated the partial government shutdown. Just who might be baying for blood under this Wolf Moon? There's much more to this eclipse.
This Lunar Eclipse of January 21, opposes the leader's inauguration, or the moment that the individual is legally sworn in as President. Without getting too far ahead here, the next Solar Eclipse will occur July 2 2019, effectively eclipsing the USA's birth Sun. So the general idea is of the leadership is being eclipsed – at least from the astrological perspective.
The next move is to look at a bigger picture. Eclipses tie in with larger time cycles. The first three eclipses of 2019 match closely those of 1973. It's not only the eclipses doing that, but so does the planet Mercury. Headlining Mercury will appear in the same signs on virtually the same days, plus turn retrograde and direct in a duplicate pattern to 1973. This year's news cycle will be very similar to 1973.
That's where things get extremely interesting in Washington. Four days following the January 4 1973 Solar Eclipse, five men pleaded guilty to the burglary of the Democrat headquarters at Watergate. Then Richard Nixon was sworn in for a second term two days after the January 18 1973 Lunar Eclipse, but with public opinion gradually turning against him.
On February 8 1973, a special Senate Committee was formed to investigate the President's re-election team. Note that coincidentally on February 7 this year, Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen is due to appear before a congressional panel, as part of the investigations into the legitimacy of the current President.
1973 wasn't the best year for Trump either. It's when the Department of Justice decided to bring charges against the Trump Management Corporation, for racial discrimination re their rental accommodations. But back to this Lunar Eclipse. It has much more to offer the theory of history repeating – albeit with different actors playing lead roles.
The Moon position of this Lunar Eclipse is 00LEO51. It matches the Sun position of July 23 1973, the day when President Richard Nixon refused to hand over White House tapes containing clear evidence of his obstruction of justice. And that's despite eighteen and a half minutes of conversation between Nixon and his Chief of Staff, Harry Haldeman, being conveniently erased.
Will that history repeating theme equate to Trump not releasing requested information or refusing the invitation for a Mueller interview? No doubt Mueller's questions would be far removed from the sycophantic Sean Hannity or Jean Pirro of Fox News. Nixon's tapes were eventually subpoenaed, when he refused to co-operate. They became the smoking gun that took him out.
Lee Harvey Oswald, from the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States Federal Government under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.
KENNEDY, KING FAMILIES TO CONGRESS: REOPEN PROBES, WhoWhatWhy, January 19, 2019
. . .The joint statement calls for Congress to establish firm oversight on the release of all government documents related to the Kennedy presidency and assassination, as mandated by the JFK Records Collection Act of 1992. This public transparency law has been routinely defied by the CIA and other federal agencies. The Trump White House has allowed the CIA to continue its defiance of the law, even though the JFK Records Act called for the full release of relevant documents in 2017.
The group statement also calls for a public inquest into “the four major assassinations of the 1960s that together had a disastrous impact on the course of American history.” This tribunal — which would hear testimony from living witnesses, legal experts, investigative journalists, historians and family members of the victims — would be modeled on the Truth and Reconciliation hearings held in South Africa after the fall of apartheid. This American Truth and Reconciliation process is intended to encourage Congress or the Justice Department to reopen investigations into all four organized acts of political violence.
Signers of the joint statement, who call themselves the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, are also seeking to reopen the Robert F. Kennedy assassination case, stating that Sirhan Sirhan’s conviction was based on “a mockery of a trial.” The forensic evidence alone, observes the statement, demonstrates that Sirhan did not fire the fatal shot that killed Senator Kennedy — a conclusion reached by, among others, Dr. Thomas Noguchi, the Los Angeles County Coroner who performed the official autopsy on RFK.
The joint statement — which was co-written by Adam Walinsky, a speechwriter and top aide of Senator Kennedy — declares that these “four major political murders traumatized American life in the 1960s and cast a shadow over the country for decades thereafter. John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were each in his own unique way attempting to turn the United States away from war toward disarmament and peace, away from domestic violence and division toward civil amity and justice. Their killings were together a savage, concerted assault on American democracy and the tragic consequences of these assassinations still haunt our nation.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Committee views its joint statement as the opening of a long campaign aimed at shining a light on dark national secrets. As the public transparency campaign proceeds, citizens across the country will be encouraged to add their names to the petition. The national effort seeks to confront the forces behind America’s democratic decline, a reign of secretive power that long precedes the recent rise of authoritarianism. “The organized killing of JFK, Malcolm, Martin, and RFK was a mortal attack on our democracy,” said historian James Douglass, author of JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. “We’ve been walking in the valley of the dead ever since. Our campaign is all about recovering the truth embodied in the movement they led. Yes, the transforming, reconciling power of truth will indeed set us free.”
President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, at his inauguration, Presidencia El Salvador [CC0],
via Wikimedia Commons
In Venezuela, US Forgets What Century It Is, Consortium News, Patrick Lawrence, February 5, 2019
[Ed. Note: The Neocons in the Trump administration have gone public with a plan to pursue regime change in three countries constituting a new "Axis of Evil" in Latin America. Trump pulls troops from Afghanistan, says he wants to keep them in Iraq "to watch Iran", and now is ready to foment wars across Latin America as well as in the Middle East and Africa. This is not what Trump promised the people who voted for him. He was against all this Imperial warfare. But that was then, and Geminis do often change their minds.]
The Venezuela crisis worsens by the day. Early last week the U.S. sanctioned PdVSA, the state-owned oil company, by sequestering income from U.S. sales in a blocked bank account. On Sunday President Donald Trump confirmed in a television interview that deploying American troops is “an option.”
Little of what Washington has done in the weeks since it recognized an opposition legislator, Juan Guaidó, as Venezuela’s “interim president” has any basis in international law. But there is much worse to come and much more at risk if the U.S. follows through with its recently disclosed plans to reshape Latin American politics to its neoliberal liking.
Administration officials now advertise the effort to depose the government of Nicolás Maduro as merely the first step in a plan to reassert American influence among our southerly neighbors. The next two targets, Cuba and Nicaragua, are what John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, calls the continent’s “troika of tyranny.”
“The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the triangle fall—in Havana, in Caracas, in Managua,” Bolton said in a not-much-noted speech in Miami late last year. “The troika will crumble.” There is cold comfort to derive from knowing this forecast reflects the single most deranged worldview of anyone now active in the Trump White House.
US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader, Gray Zone, Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal, January 29, 2019.
Before the fateful day of January 22, fewer than one in five Venezuelans had heard of Juan Guaidó. Only a few months ago, the 35-year-old was an obscure character in a politically marginal far-right group closely associated with gruesome acts of street violence. Even in his own party, Guaidó had been a mid-level figure in the opposition-dominated National Assembly, which is now held under contempt according to Venezuela’s constitution. But after a single phone call from from US Vice President Mike Pence, Guaidó proclaimed himself president of Venezuela. Anointed as the leader of his country by Washington, a previously unknown political bottom-dweller was vaulted onto the international stage as the US-selected leader of the nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.
Echoing the Washington consensus, the New York Times editorial board hailed Guaidó as a “credible rival” to Maduro with a “refreshing style and vision of taking the country forward.” The Bloomberg News editorial board applauded him for seeking “restoration of democracy” and the Wall Street Journal declared him “a new democratic leader.” Meanwhile, Canada, numerous European nations, Israel, and the bloc of right-wing Latin American governments known as the Lima Group recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. While Guaidó seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, he was, in fact, the product of more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the US government’s elite regime change factories.
Alongside a cadre of right-wing student activists, Guaidó was cultivated to undermine Venezuela’s socialist-oriented government, destabilize the country, and one day seize power. Though he has been a minor figure in Venezuelan politics, he had spent years quietly demonstrating his worthiness in Washington’s halls of power.
Read more …
US Sanctions On Venezuela Are Killing Citizens – Former UN Rapporteur, UK Independent, by Michael Selby-Green, January 26, 2019
The first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years has told The Independent the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law. Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans. The comments come amid worsening tensions in the country after the US and UK have backed Juan Guaido, who appointed himself “interim president” of Venezuela as hundreds of thousands marched to support him. European leaders are calling for “free and fair” elections. Russia and Turkey remain Nicolas Maduro’s key supporters.
[Ed. Note: Editors at Naked Capitalism Picked up the following numbers last week on Twitter. Chavez announced cancer in late 2012, died early 2013. Oil prices only explain a small part of it. Economic warfare does the rest.]
Mr De Zayas, a former secretary of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and an expert in international law, spoke to The Independent following the presentation of his Venezuela report to the HRC in September. He said that since its presentation the report has been ignored by the UN and has not sparked the public debate he believes it deserves. “Sanctions kill,” he told The Independent, adding that they fall most heavily on the poorest people in society, demonstrably cause death through food and medicine shortages, lead to violations of human rights and are aimed at coercing economic change in a “sister democracy”. On his fact-finding mission to the country in late 2017, he found internal overdependence on oil, poor governance and corruption had hit the Venezuelan economy hard, but said “economic warfare” practised by the US, EU and Canada are significant factors in the economic crisis.
In the report, Mr de Zayas recommended, among other actions, that the International Criminal Court investigate economic sanctions against Venezuela as possible crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. The US sanctions are illegal under international law because they were not endorsed by the UN Security Council, Mr de Zayas, an expert on international law and a former senior lawyer with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said. “Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns. “Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees,” Mr de Zayas said in his report.
@spectatorindex – Venezuela GDP growth.
Venezuela: The US’s 68th Regime Change Disaster (AntiWar), by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies, February 6, 2019
In his masterpiece, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II, William Blum, who died in December 2018, wrote chapter-length accounts of 55 US regime change operations against countries around the world, from China (1945-1960s) to Haiti (1986-1994). Noam Chomsky’s blurb on the back of the latest edition says simply, “Far and away the best book on the topic.” We agree. If you have not read it, please do. It will give you a clearer context for what is happening in Venezuela today, and a better understanding of the world you are living in. Since Killing Hope was published in 1995, the US has conducted at least 13 more regime change operations, several of which are still active: Yugoslavia; Afghanistan; Iraq; the 3rd US invasion of Haiti since WWII; Somalia; Honduras; Libya; Syria; Ukraine; Yemen; Iran; Nicaragua; and now Venezuela.
William Blum noted that the US generally prefers what its planners call “low intensity conflict” over full-scale wars. Only in periods of supreme overconfidence has it launched its most devastating and disastrous wars, from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. After its war of mass destruction in Iraq, the US reverted to “low intensity conflict” under Obama’s doctrine of covert and proxy war. Obama conducted even heavier bombing than Bush II, and deployed US special operations forces to 150 countries all over the world, but he made sure that nearly all the bleeding and dying was done by Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis, Libyans, Ukrainians, Yemenis and others, not by Americans. What US planners mean by “low intensity conflict” is that it is less intense for Americans.
[..] While Venezuelans face poverty, preventable diseases, malnutrition and open threats of war by US officials, those same US officials and their corporate sponsors are looking at an almost irresistible gold mine if they can bring Venezuela to its knees: a fire sale of its oil industry to foreign oil companies and the privatization of many other sectors of its economy, from hydroelectric power plants to iron, aluminum and, yes, actual gold mines. This is not speculation. It is what the US’s new puppet, Juan Guaido, has reportedly promised his American backers if they can overthrow Venezuela’s elected government and install him in the presidential palace.
Trump’s Brilliant Strategy to End U.S. Dollar Hegemony, Michael Hudson, Naked Capitalism, 2/1/2019
[Ed. Note: Economist Michael Hudson explains that Trump's isolationist, unilateralist, bellicose foreign policies are driving away American allies, and incentivizing America's rivals to create alternatives to the dollar denominated global economy. If, over time, the dollar's role as the de facto single world currency is seriously eroded, America's empire will crumble, its ability to finance its global network of military bases will collapse, and America could risk becoming a pariah state in a multi-polar world.]
The end of America’s unchallenged global economic dominance has arrived sooner than expected, thanks to the very same Neocons who gave the world the Iraq, Syria and the dirty wars in Latin America. Just as the Vietnam War drove the United States off gold by 1971, its sponsorship and funding of violent regime change wars against Venezuela and Syria – and threatening other countries with sanctions if they do not join this crusade – is now driving European and other nations to create their alternative financial institutions.
This break has been building for quite some time, and was bound to occur. But who would have thought that Donald Trump would become the catalytic agent? No left-wing party, no socialist, anarchist or foreign nationalist leader anywhere in the world could have achieved what he is doing to break up the American Empire. The Deep State is reacting with shock at how this right-wing real estate grifter has been able to drive other countries to defend themselves by dismantling the U.S.-centered world order. To rub it in, he is using Bush and Reagan-era Neocon arsonists, John Bolton and now Elliott Abrams, to fan the flames in Venezuela. It is almost like a black political comedy. The world of international diplomacy is being turned inside-out. A world where there is no longer even a pretense that we might adhere to international norms, let alone laws or treaties.
The Neocons who Trump has appointed are accomplishing what seemed unthinkable not long ago: Driving China and Russia together – the great nightmare of Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. They also are driving Germany and other European countries into the Eurasian orbit, the “Heartland” nightmare of Halford Mackinder a century ago.
The root cause is clear: After the crescendo of pretenses and deceptions over Iraq, Libya and Syria, along with our absolution of the lawless regime of Saudi Arabia, foreign political leaders are coming to recognize what world-wide public opinion polls reported even before the Iraq/Iran-Contra boys turned their attention to the world’s largest oil reserves in Venezuela: The United States is now the greatest threat to peace on the planet.
. . .Perhaps the problem had to erupt as a result of the inner dynamics of U.S.-sponsored globalism becoming impossible to impose when the result is financial austerity, waves of population flight from U.S.-sponsored wars, and most of all, U.S. refusal to adhere to the rules and international laws that it itself sponsored seventy years ago in the wake of World War II.. . .the major cyber connections [in the post World War II American global order] are financial money-transfer ones, headed by SWIFT, the acronym for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which is centered in Belgium.
Russia and China have already moved to create a shadow bank-transfer system in case the United States unplugs them from SWIFT. But now, European countries have come to realize that threats by Bolton and Pompeo may lead to heavy fines and asset grabs if they seek to continue trading with Iran as called for in the treaties they have negotiated.
On January 31 the dam broke with the announcement that Europe had created its own bypass payments system for use with Iran and other countries targeted by U.S. diplomats. Germany, France and even the U.S. poodle Britain joined to create INSTEX — Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges. The promise is that this will be used only for “humanitarian” aid to save Iran from a U.S.-sponsored Venezuela-type devastation. But in view of increasingly passionate U.S. opposition to the Nord Stream pipeline to carry Russian gas, this alternative bank clearing system will be ready and able to become operative if the United States tries to direct a sanctions attack on Europe.
I have just returned from Germany and seen a remarkable split between that nation’s industrialists and their political leadership. For years, major companies have seen Russia as a natural market, a complementary economy needing to modernize its manufacturing and able to supply Europe with natural gas and other raw materials. America’s New Cold War stance is trying to block this commercial complementarity. Warning Europe against “dependence” on low-price Russian gas, it has offered to sell high-priced Liquid Natural Gas from the United States (via port facilities that do not yet exist in anywhere near the volume required). President Trump also is insisting that NATO members spend a full 2 percent of their GDP on arms – preferably bought from the United States, not from German or French merchants of death.
The U.S. overplaying its position is leading to the Mackinder-Kissinger-Brzezinski Eurasian nightmare that I mentioned above. In addition to driving Russia and China together, U.S. diplomacy is adding Europe to the heartland, independent of U.S. ability to bully into the state of dependency toward which American diplomacy has aimed to achieve since 1945.
The Price of Empire: Why America and Britain Are Self-Destructing (And What the World Can Learn From it) Medium, by Umair Haque, January 11, 2019
It’s a striking fact of today’s world that the two rich societies in shocking, swift, sharp decline are America and Britain. Nowhere else in the world, for example, are real income, life expectancy, happiness, and trust all plummeting, apart from maybe Venezuela (No, “but at least we’re not Venezuela!” is not the bar to aim for, my friends.) Their downfall is, of course, a self-inflicted catastrophe. But the interesting question is: why? And what does it tell us about what it takes to prosper and thrive in the 21st century, which is something that America and Britain clearly aren’t doing, and maybe aren’t capable of doing?
Here’s an equally curious observation. America and Britain aren’t just any countries. They are the former hegemons of the world’s most powerful empires. Britain, until the first half of the 20th century, and America, picking up where Britain left off. Is this just a strange cosmic coincidence — that it is the two greatest empires of the most recent past who are the ones seemingly most incapable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century? There aren’t coincidences that great, my friends. Such tides of history always whisper lessons to be learned. What is this one trying to urgently teach us?
That there is a price to empire. A grave and ruinous one. And that price has grown over the centuries — so high that now, it is not worth paying anymore.Let me explain what I mean — because it is not just about spending too much money and grasping too high. Not at all. It is about the kind of a place and people such a country ends up limited to being — and perhaps can then never really easily outgrow.
To be a great empire, you must also be a certain kind of culture, society, place— a people with a certain set of values, a certain kind of attitudes. You must cherish control and prize possession over humanity and empathy and wisdom. You must value brutal competition above all else — and train your children to be little warriors, basically, whether tossing them into seas, like Spartans, or making them do “active shooter drills.” You must be domineering and controlling and vengeful, feared, not loved — you must come to prize anger and rage as the only true or worthy emotions in life, not, say, intelligence gentleness, kindness, or happiness. The primary objective of your institutions, the aspiration of your best and brightest, must be subjugating others, instead of lifting them up — after all, empires are made of subjects, not equals. You must instill in people an admiration for violence — since empires are run with bullets, whether fired from drones or armies. Your science and art and so forth must be dedicated, fundamentally, to the proposition that somehow, you are the natural masters of the world which is your dominion — no matter how they claim to admire freedom and equality and truth. You cannot plan for any kind of long term good — your primary motive is simply to acquire, colonize, plunder, take the next possession.
In other words, to be an empire, you must cultivate the qualities of cruelty, of selfishness, of greed, of tribalism, socially. Of materialism and acquisitiveness and conformity to greed and selfishness, mentally. You must encourage the rise of supremacy and triumphalism and bigotry and misogyny, culturally. You must attach to all human life just one purpose: not happiness, or belonging, or the growth of meaning and purpose, but material gain, whether it’s measured in colonies, protectorates, slaves, bodies, or GDP. Thus, the overarching organizing principle of your entire empire must be just this: the strong survive, and the weak perish. Everyone — even the weak — must come to buy into this principle, treasure it, cheer it, applaud it — even when they themselves are the ones being destroyed. Just think of how Donald Trump embodies all those values to a comical, disgusting degree.
. . .Now, the problem with a colonial mentality, attitude, society, way of life is this. What happens when you run out of stuff to colonize? After all, sooner or later, you’re going to run out of tempting frontiers, helpless savages, Manhattans to trade for beads, fish in the ocean, and so on, right? That day might seem a long way away — but it has to come, after all. Well, then, my friends, you are screwed — if you can’t give up the colonial mindset, then you will have to colonize yourself. What do I mean by this curious phrase, “colonize yourself”? I mean that you will have to exploit your own people the very same way that you exploited others before. You will have to teach them to exploit each other, just the same way that they once exploited poorer people of different “colors” and creeds, when there are no more of those strangers in new frontiers left to conquer, no more fresh mountains left to plunder.
And that is exactly what happened in America and Britain. It’s most obvious in America. When there was no one else left to exploit — first it was slaves, then it was subhuman blacks kept segregated, then it was various countries who were “liberated” by war for their oil and cheap labour — bang! Americans were told to turn on themselves. They obeyed. What else did they know? That is what they’d been told all their lives — that this mindset of exploitation and violence is good. So off the American went to work as a manager at an HMO, where his job was to deny people healthcare, or as a minor-league corporate droid, where his job was to find cleverer ways to jack up profits he never even saw a larger share of.
Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, [Public domain]
Dreams Die Hard, Clusterfuck Nation Blog, James Howard Kunstler, February 8, 2019
America has been blowing green smoke up its own ass for years, promoting oxymorons such as “green skyscrapers” and “clean energy,” but the truth is we’re not going to run WalMart, Suburbia, DisneyWorld, and the interstate highway system on any combination of wind, solar, geothermal, recycled Fry-Max, and dark matter. We’re just running too much stuff at too great a scale for too many people. We’ve blown through the capital already and replaced it with IOUs that will never be honored, and we’re caught in an entropy trap of diminishing returns from all the work-arounds we’re desperately trying. For all that, there are actually some sound proposals in the mostly delusional matrix of the Green New Deal promoted by foxy front-person AOC.
• Revoke corporate personhood by amending our Constitution to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech. Right on, I say, though they have not quite articulated the argument which is that corporations, unlike persons, have no vested allegiance to the public interest, but rather a legal obligation solely to shareholders and their boards-of-directors.
• Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions. A no-brainer.
• Replace big money control of election campaigns with full public financing and free and equal access to the airwaves. Quite cheap and worth every penny.
• Break up the oversized banks that are “too big to fail.” And while you’re at it, resume enforcement of the anti-trust laws.
• Restore the Glass-Steagall separation of depository commercial banks from speculative investment banks. Duh….
There are two kinds of deadly narcissism at work in American culture these days: techno-narcissism — the belief that magical rescue remedies can save the status quo of comforts and conveniences — and organizational narcissism — the belief that any number of committees can lead a march of humanity into a future of rainbows and unicorns. Both of these ideas are artifacts of a fossil fuel turbo-charged economy that is coming to an end. Societies and economies are fundamentally emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing as they respond to the mandates of reality — which are not necessarily consistent with human wishes. Circumstances in the world change and sometimes, when the changes are profound enough, they provoke episodes of flux and disorder. A better index for our journey into the unknown frontier beyond modernity will not be what is “green” and “smart” but perhaps what is “sane” and “insane.”
HAVE WE ALL LOST TOUCH WITH REALITY?, Who. What. Why., January 18,2019
[Ed. Note: Yes, we all create our own reality. And in the 21st Century our minds are overloaded, impairing our ability to successfully synthesize sensory input into a comprehensible picture of our world. The result is that people look to advertising agencies, politicians, billionaires, celebrities, demagogues, and sports stars to construct a consensus reality that becomes the basic common denominator for popular culture, and the primary reality for a majority of the world's citizens, who have given up their precious freedom to create a personal reality, and become slaves to a new class of predators who seek to colonize mass consciousness in pursuit of personal power and profit.]
In many ways, politics has always been about marketing, about deception and in a broader sense, I mean you can go back to the ’50s and Vance Packard writing about the hidden persuaders and Fletcher Knebel in a novel talking about the 480 slicing and dicing America up into its component parts. What’s different today?
Well, what’s different, there are two things that are different. One, the technology we have to do those things you just described is infinitely more powerful, infinitely more available, so the instruments that we have to reach right inside the mind and create visceral experiences, which are the experiences that determine what we really do. It’s not so much our thinking, it’s the way we feel in our body, these bodily states, that are going to shape it.
So with television, as we saw for the first time I think in the Nixon- Kennedy debates in 1960, you could reach right inside a person and give them the experience of calm, cool, handsome John Kennedy and you could contrast that with the experience viscerally of a sweaty, jowly Richard Nixon and the question for the electorate was which experience do you prefer? Lo and behold, they preferred Kennedy for those reasons.
The TV was the first instrument where people could work that kind of mischief directly and move right inside the mind. The technology we’ve got has been greatly expanded. At the same time, the object of that technology, the human mind, or the American mind in this case, has been under a withering assault. That’s what I talk about in State of Confusion, that the amount of pressure on the mind… the mind’s first and most important job is to create our sense of reality.
Now we all think of reality as just something out there that we perceive. But it’s not like that. The mind has to take all of the myriad things that are coming into it and it has to organize it and synthesize it and create a sense of what we prioritize as our reality.When the mind can’t do that, when it’s overloaded with material or when for some other reason it starts to malfunction and we can’t create a reality sense that we trust in, we get very, very anxious. At that point we don’t function as well. We tend to look to some powerful other figure, a demagogue if you will, who will tell us what’s real and what’s not real.
So the mind, as I document in the book, the pace of change that we’ve had to integrate with the amount of dislocation, disruption, and economic fear, the mind has been assaulted. The incidents of trauma in this country, it’s so ubiquitous that we overlook it and say, “Well, it’s just life.”
But 80% of the American public has experienced some form of significant traumatic experience which we can reasonably anticipate will disrupt our effective psychological functioning.
So what’s changed then is you’ve got the mechanisms to work the mischief and the object on which they’re working it, the human mind is, sadly, in much more disarray as the world becomes more complex and as we lose those things that support the mind.
The sanctity of the family, the extended family, communities, neighborhoods, schools, even professionalism. All the things that once supported the mind’s ability to construct its reality have been under assault and the price we’re paying is terrible. People are becoming unable. They’re so shaky in their trust in their own reality that when we see someone with a different reality it’s too threatening to us and so we hate them. That’s the real danger in the country.
The Illegal CIA Operation That Brought Us 9/11, TruthDig, by Robert Scheer, January 25, 2019
[Ed. Note: CIA refusal to share information about terrorist operations with the FBI opened the door to the 9/11 attacks on America. More than one book has been written about this. Hulu did a very watchable TV series on the topic, called "The Looming Tower", based on the Pulitzer prize winning book about this intelligence failure and its consequences. Now a new book about the same topic explores the debacle in depth. All this investigation so far raises as many questions as it answers. There appears to be FBI and NSA culpability as well and a mysterious Saudi Arabian connection. But of course! Why is there no Congressional investigation?]
Was it conspiracy or idiocy that led to the failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to detect and prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon headquarters? That’s one of the questions at the heart of “The Watchdogs Didn’t Bark: The CIA, NSA, and the Crimes of the War on Terror,” by John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski. In their careful and thorough investigation of the events leading up to the attacks, the authors uncover a story about the Central Intelligence Agency’s neglect, possible criminal activities and a cover-up that may have allowed al-Qaida to carry out its plans uninhibited by government officials.
RN: This is Ray. The book is largely about looking at this case study of the failure leading up to 9/11, the people who were involved in that failure, how that came about, and how they were successful, to the present day, in managing to obscure the public from really fully understanding that this was, in the words of one of our sources, really just a handful of people. And the most jarring thing is that they’re still, in some cases, working today in I guess Trump’s CIA. And we sort of document through the second half of the book what damage was done to America because they remained in their positions.
JD: This is John. And intelligence was gathered around the time of the millennium that led people in the Bin Laden unit at the CIA to monitor a meeting in Malaysia that was a gathering of these al-Qaida figures. In monitoring this—
RS: That was in the year 2000, right?
JD: Yes. Right at the outset of the year. In monitoring this meeting, they became aware of the fact that one of the attendees had a multiple-entry visa to the United States. That man’s name was Khalid al-Mihdhar. He would eventually be on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon; he was one of the hijackers. So this starts the whole thing there, the fact that the CIA becomes aware of this information; the Bin Laden unit, counterterror center, and then all the way up to George Tenet are aware of this information. There’s a lot of ins, outs, and what-have-yous about where that information goes, but it ultimately does not go over to the FBI’s counterterror division in New York, much to the protest of the FBI agents who were detailed to the CIA’s Bin Laden unit. And it did not make it to the White House counterterror czar, Richard Clarke, who very much finds this to be, like, the crux of the whole story—the fact that this information was kept from his office for basically a year and eight months, up until the success of the attacks. The crux is there, that they had this information, these guys were coming into the country, they had just left the terror planning summit, and this information was being held close by the Bin Laden unit, by the counterterror center, and by George Tenet. The reason for that is unknown; the speculation that Richard Clarke has was that George Tenet and these people in the Bin Laden unit and counterterror center thought having these al-Qaida people in the United States, they could possibly go through Allied proxies in the Saudi intelligence to try to get close to these guys, monitor them, potentially find out information from them or even try to flip them. That’s Richard Clarke’s speculation as to why this was kept from him for so long. Ultimately, the attack was successful; that they all just did their best to bury all this and, you know, hope no one noticed.
RS: Let me just start off with something that was confusing to me in reading your book. Because the FBI generally comes off looking pretty good in your book, and the real problem is with the CIA, and to a lesser degree, with the NSA. And in the San Diego story, and this is covered in the 9/11 Commission Report and others, the two San Diego guys—they are staying at the home of an FBI informant at first. So when you say the FBI was not informed, weren’t some of these calls actually made from the home of an FBI asset?
RN: It’s interesting when you know, A, that according to our NSA sources they were able to be pinged every time that Mihdhar and Hazmi, the two hijackers, called from that house that you mentioned in San Diego, back to Yemen. That somebody in the NSA was getting an alert as that was happening each time, and was aware of those connections.
But that the house that was being used for the phone call was that of an FBI informant, Abdussattar Shaikh. And Abdussattar was somebody the FBI recruited who was inside a popular mosque in San Diego, and who they thought might be able to feed them warnings of anybody who might be a radical Muslim terrorist.
And Abdussattar claims that he simply missed the warning signs of the two tenants that he had in his home. I mean, it’s kind of interesting.
He’s also, he’s not just an FBI informant, he’s also a Saudi, which kind of points to Richard Clarke’s conjecture, which he first laid out to us when we sat down in his office in 2009. And that was that once the CIA monitored the meeting in Malaysia, knew that these two guys were connected to Bin Laden and were of interest, and saw that they were heading to the United States, in Clarke’s words, they might well have thought that the best way to try to recruit these guys to feed information was not to send a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, American CIA agent to go to meet them.
But, instead, to use our partners in Saudi Arabia and Saudi intelligence—which George Tenet, the head of the CIA, happened to be very close with—to try to recruit them.
So I actually focus more on the fact that this guy was introduced to this house by a gentleman who’s been determined to be a Saudi agent, a guy named Omar al-Bayoumi, and that this guy then was perhaps working dually for Saudi intel and as an FBI asset. And everyone sort of focuses on, oh, Abdussattar Shaikh was an FBI asset, so that seems to put blame at the feet of the FBI. Could be; could be, but I would also focus on that Saudi angle, because it recurs so often.
Global Climate Report
[Ed. Note: The eruption of Alexandria Ocasia-Cortes onto the American political scene has set the stage for a once-in-a-generation policy discussion about the need for vast systemic political, economic and cultural change to address the planetary environmental crisis. This is very welcome.]
The Cautious Case for Climate Optimism, New York Magazine, David Wallace-Wells, February 4, 2019
[Ed. note: This article provides a survey of free market, Green New Deal, conservationist and technological Hail Mary solutions to climate change and recommends using them all, right now. Read the full article for details.]
Since I first began writing about climate a few years ago, I’ve been asked often whether I see any reason for optimism. The thing is, I am optimistic. But optimism is always a matter of perspective, and mine is this: No one wants to believe disaster is coming, but those who look, do.
At about two degrees Celsius of warming, just one degree north of where we are today, some of the planet’s ice sheets are expected to begin their collapse, eventually bringing, over centuries, perhaps as much as 50 feet of sea-level rise. In the meantime, major cities in the equatorial band of the planet will become unlivable.
There will be, it has been estimated, 32 times as many extreme heat waves in India, and even in the northern latitudes, heat waves will kill thousands each summer. Given only conventional methods of decarbonization (replacing dirty-energy sources like coal and oil with clean ones like wind and solar), this is probably our best-case scenario. It is also what is called — so often nowadays the phrase numbs the lips — “catastrophic warming.” A representative from the Marshall Islands spoke for many of the world’s island nations when he used another word to describe the meaning of two degrees: genocide.
You do not need to contemplate worst-case scenarios to be alarmed; this best-case scenario is alarming enough. Two degrees would be terrible, but it’s better than three, at which point Southern Europe would be in permanent drought, African droughts would last five years on average, and the areas burned annually by wildfires in the United States could quadruple, or worse, from last year’s million-plus acres.
And three degrees is much better than four, at which point six natural disasters could strike a single community simultaneously; the number of climate refugees, already in the millions, could grow tenfold, or 20-fold, or more; and, globally, damages from warming could reach $600 trillion — about double all the wealth that exists in the world today.
We are on track for more warming still — just above four degrees by 2100, the U.N. estimates. So if optimism is always a matter of perspective, the possibility of four degrees shapes mine.
It is unlikely, I think, that we reach four degrees this century. But this is what it would take to stay under two: a comprehensively decarbonized economy, a perfectly renewable energy system, a reimagined system of agriculture, perhaps even a planet without meat-eaters. We also need overhauls of the world’s transportation systems and infrastructure. Every year the average American emits enough carbon to melt 10,000 tons of ice in the Antarctic ice sheets — enough to add 10,000 cubic meters of water to the ocean. Every minute, we each add five gallons.
If the task of reversing all that seems incomprehensibly big, it is. The scale of the technological transformation required dwarfs every technological revolution ever engineered in human history, including electricity and telecommunications and even the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago.
By definition, it dwarfs them, because it contains all of them — every single sector needs to be rebuilt from the foundation, since every single one breathes on carbon like it’s a ventilator. In October, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world has only a dozen years to halve its carbon emissions to safely avoid two degrees of warming and all those “catastrophic” impacts.
Is it possible? The short answer is, technically speaking, maybe — though just maybe. But speaking practically, and politically, is another matter.
. . .No single solution alone is sufficient, but the solutions, plural, are here already. As climate activists often say, we have, today, all the tools we need to avoid catastrophic change. It’s true: a carbon tax and government action to aggressively phase out dirty energy, even outright ban much of it; a new approach to agricultural practices and a shift away from beef and dairy in global diet; and public investment in green energy and carbon capture. We just need to choose to implement them — all of them — and quite fast. But of course political will is not some trivial ingredient always at hand. We probably have the tools we need to solve global poverty, epidemic disease, and the abuse of women, as well.
That the solutions are obvious, and available, does not mean the problem is anything but overwhelming. We may never be quite able to hold in our heads the full scope of climate change, never be quite able to see it all fully, and if global warming continues on anything like its present track, it will come to shape everything we do on the planet, from agriculture to human migration to business and mental health, transforming not just our relationship to nature but to politics and to history, and will prove to be a knowledge system as total as “modernity.”
Photo of thin film solar panel
A Serious Green New Deal Would Take Up 1/3 of the Economy: Are We Ready for That?, Naked Capitalism, 2/2/2019, Yves Smith comments on story by Marshall Auerback
I have to confess to being not keen about various Green New Deal proposals. They feed the idea that we can largely preserve our lifestyles and still make a big enough reduction in greenhouse gas output soon enough to ward off catastrophic outcomes.
There are in my mind, three fallacies here:
1. The fastest and most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas output is radical conservation. The urgency of the challenge means this approach needs to be top of the list. Every year more of status quo or not much different is more greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere. No one is proposing that we even take measures of the sort imposed in the oil crisis, like lowering speed limits and requiring businesses to set their thermostats to 67 in the winter and 77 in the summer. If we were serious, we’d have to be willing to bankrupt the airlines by forcing 90% reductions in flight levels and outlaw private jets.
2. Building green infrastructure has an energy cost, and those costs are seldom incorporated (like the greenhouse gas cost of mining and delivering materials for production of various inputs). They are also not factoring in that some of the materials that are important in current “green” technologies don’t exist in sufficient quantity to satisfy anticipated needs (Jack Lifton has written extensively about lithium). And some materials are costly in environmental terms. See, for example:
Critical minerals scarcity could threaten renewable energy future
We may face a huge shortage of essential raw materials stiffling green energy if governments don’t step up their game ZME Science
3. While Green New Deal approaches would be valuable in conjunction with radical conservation, they aren’t sufficient on their own, if nothing else because they will take too long to be implemented when time is of the essence. And they have a tendency to perpetuate the idea that there will be no or little sacrifice needed in cutting carbon output levels.
People accepted rationing and other forms of sacrifice at times of war. I’d take the Green New Deal people a lot more seriously if they firmly opposed US military activity as a source of greenhouse gases and also opposed non-esssential, energy costly technology planned obsolescence schemes like 5G.
. . .[Auerback] If the political class is serious about a Green New Deal, they must also be honest about the scale of the challenges and the question of a “just transition” for those most affected by the resultant displacement and disruption. Former California governor Jerry Brown, for one, has likened the threat to fighting the Nazis in World War II.
Perhaps this document (most readily associated with the Green Party) won’t be the finished product offered up by our political class, but its very detail highlights the scale of the challenges that match Governor Brown’s analogy, if we’re going to transition to a post-fossil fuels economy. Among the questions raised are the following.
It envisions more than a 40-fold increase in renewables within a decade. But the United States no longer has any significant capacity to produce solar panels or wind turbines and only has an insignificant capacity for batteries, notwithstanding Tesla’s ambitious plans. That means in the first years, all the increase will be supplied by China, Korea, Taiwan and other overseas producers, unless production is re-domiciled (which will take time—a problem given the urgency of the threat).
Seymour Melman and other advocates of what came to be known as “economic conversion” proposed a similar concept for potentially moving workers and engineers from military factories to civilian work. The idea is to set up what Melman called “alternative use” committees in each facility, which would draw up plans for a two-year transition to other lines of work. In the case of the Green New Deal, this should entail plans to facilitate fossil fuel industry workers shifting to specific new renewable energy factories, such as for wind turbines, or in new industrial machinery factories. From a practical standpoint, it would make sense to offer parallel incentives to the fossil fuel investor class; rather than have them drag their heels, why not entice them into a profitable line of business?
Absent this alternative use, the source of the demand will be met by the Far East, and the Green New Deal will become a job creation program for Asia, not the United States (as well as creating huge unemployment). We will therefore face a very difficult trade-off between heavy protectionism (at much higher prices) to stimulate investment in productive capacity in the United States or much larger trade deficits.
. . .The government, therefore, be it Democratic, or Republican, cannot afford to play “small ball” here, a characteristically timid knee-jerk reaction of both parties afflicted by years of deficit hysteria and the corresponding desire to shrink the state. Nor can it rely on “the market” as the optimal means of organizing allocation, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s nonsensical notions to let “Father Greed,” as he puts it, solve the problem, to the contrary. Similarly, economist Paul Krugman wants to provide “positive incentives like tax credits or not-too-onerous regulations,” but those market centered ideas are too late. Or, as Rynn argues, “the government ‘doing something’ should not mean that the government does something to help the marketto do something.” After all, we didn’t subcontract World War II to “the market.”
FDR understood and had the requisite political will and courage when he ushered in his New Deal and shaped the Democrats political legacy for generations. Likewise, in the spirit of JFK’s famous “Moon Speech,” the United States must choose to recognize and embrace the challenges of the Green New Deal “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” Kennedy was frank enough to admit that attaining the moon landing was hard, and a comparable degree of honesty is required from today’s leaders. The goals are not simply ones of relief and recovery (as was the case in the original New Deal), but a wholesale transformation of the U.S. economy, and a reconfiguration of the government’s role in a manner not unlike what occurred during World War II. This will require a permanently larger government role in the economy for many years, not simply as a regulator, “umpire,” or redistributor, but as a builder.
Certainly, it would mark a significant break from the market fundamentalism that has grown to dominate the existing policy framework of the past 40 years. But if the crisis is as great as the science suggests, then the actions must match that degree of urgency, both in terms of scale and equity. The critics might well say it’s pie in the sky. At times, however, leaders need to be aspirational rather than “reasonable” to get anything remotely close to what is required. “Reasonable,” after all, is what got us Obamacare rather than Medicare for All. We need to do better this time. It might be our last chance.
It’s Time to Try Fossil Fuel Executives for Crimes Against Humanity, Jacobin Magazine, Kate Aronoff, February 5, 2019
The fossil-fuel industry is lawyering up.
To date, nine cities have sued the fossil industry for climate damages. California fisherman are going after oil companies for their role in warming the Pacific Ocean, a process that soaks the Dungeness crabs they harvest with a dangerous neurotoxin. Former acting New York state attorney general Barbara Underwood has opened an investigation into whether ExxonMobil has misled its shareholders about the risks it faces from climate change, a push current Attorney General Leticia James has said she is eager to keep up. Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey opened an earlier investigation into whether Exxon defrauded the public by spreading disinformation about climate change, which various courts — including the Supreme Court — have refused to block despite the company’s pleas. And in Juliana vs. U.S., young people have filed suit against the government for violating their constitutional rights by pursuing policies that intensify global warming, hitting the dense ties between Big Oil and the state.
These are welcome attempts to hold the industry responsible for its role in warming our earth. It’s time, however, to take this series of legal proceedings to the next level: we should try fossil-fuel executives for crimes against humanity.
. . .Just one hundred fossil fuel producers — including privately held and state-owned companies — have been responsible for 71 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions released since 1988, emissions that have already killed at least tens of thousands of people through climate-fueled disasters worldwide.
Investing Prophet Jeremy Grantham Takes Aim at Climate Change, Bloomberg, by Ben Steverman, January 17, 2019
Terrifying an audience is one of Jeremy Grantham’s specialties. The legendary investor, co-founder of Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo (GMO), is famous for predicting doom. And he’s famous for being right, with a remarkable record of spotting investment bubbles before they pop, notably the 2000 tech crash and 2008 financial crisis.
These days, the topic of Grantham’s warnings is not financial markets but the environment.
“At universities and investor conferences, gardening clubs and local environmental groups, [Grantham] gives a talk titled “Race of Our Lives”—the one between the Earth’s rapidly warming temperature and the human beings coming up with ways to fight and adapt to climate change…. While capitalism “does a million things better than any other system,” he says, it fails completely on long-term threats such as climate change. “You must not expect unnecessary good behavior from capitalists,” he says. The answer, he adds, is strong regulations: ‘I’m sorry, libertarians, it is the only way.'”
Green technologies, like batteries and solar and wind power, are improving far faster than many realize, he says. Decarbonizing the economy will be an investing bonanza for those who know it’s coming—“the biggest reshuffling of the economy since the Industrial Revolution.” Despite these gains, people are losing the race: Climate change is also accelerating, with consequences so dire that they’re almost impossible to imagine.
Grantham says he’ll devote 98 percent of his net worth, or about $1 billion, to help humans win the race. Currently he and his wife, Hanne, are giving more than $30 million a year to eight large nonprofits and about 30 smaller ones. Beneficiaries include three academic institutes in the U.K. named after him, at Imperial College London, the London School of Economics, and his alma mater, the University of Sheffield.
Technophilia, Deregulation and the New Dystopian Digital Feudalism
Sleuths Scour for Frozen Quadriga Coins in Crypto Drama, Bloomberg News, by Oga Kharif and Doug Alexander, February 6, 2019
[Ed. Note: Investors in crypto currencies need to be clear about what they're doing. Not using a "currency" or betting on appreciation of an asset but rather investing in prosecution futures. Lawyer up and be ready to participate in the big class action lawsuit.]
"The death of a crypto executive trapped C$190 million on a Canadian exchange. Or did it?
"Ever since Quadriga CX revealed last month that founder Gerald Cotten, who died in India in December, was the only person able to access the exchange’s digital ledgers, scores of blockchain analysts, research companies and amateur sleuths have been arguing over whether some of the money has been moving between accounts since he died and even if the coins existed at all.
"Cotten’s widow set off the firestorm by seeking protection from creditors for the Vancouver-based company, saying that her late husband was “very conscious about security” and she didn’t know the password or recovery key of his encrypted laptop nor could she find anything written down despite repeated searches.
"Without the key to the digital accounts, it is extremely difficult to unlock the ledger and move the more than $144 million in coins Quadriga CX had stored on its exchange. While proponents of digital currencies argue that the incorruptible nature of the blockchain is its primary feature, investors in the likes of Bitcoin and Ether have frequently lost their digital codes, locking themselves out of their accounts with little recourse.
"The argument that that’s what happened with Quadriga didn’t pass the smell test for many in the industry who are adept at scouring the anonymous ledgers that underpin the decentralized networks for evidence of where digital coins may be stored.
“The Quadriga story doesn’t make sense,” Emin Gün Sirer, a professor at Cornell University and co-director of the Initiative for CryptoCurrencies and Contracts, wrote in an email Wednesday. “The one amazing thing about blockchains is that anyone can audit, in essence, any company.”
"A judge is scheduled to deal with a motion to appoint lawyers who’ll represent Quadriga account holders at a hearing on Feb. 14 in Halifax Supreme Court, according to a court filing Wednesday. The move comes after some holders asked the courts to have Bennett Jones LLP and McInnes Cooper represent them during the CCAA proceedings.
"Jennifer Robertson, Cotten’s widow, said her husband moved most of the digital assets to cold storage, and experts she brought in to try to hack into his other computers and mobile phone met with only “limited success.” Attempts to circumvent an encrypted USB key have been foiled, she said in the court filing.
“If the funds are frozen and the cold wallet is inaccessible, it should be possible for the exchange to provide the cold wallet addresses so their claims can be verified with the help of the blockchain,” Sirer said.
"Analysis firms such as Elementus say that by examining the blockchain patterns, they can guess which particular wallets holding coins belong to. The researcher says it couldn’t find any cold wallets holding Ether, one of the cryptocurrencies that’s missing. Instead, Quadriga was moving Ether to larger exchanges through mid-January, Elementus said.. . .The virtually unregulated world of digital currencies has been a breeding ground for hacks and thefts since the Bitcoin was invented more than a decade ago. There were at least five major attacks last year, alone, while Japan, home to some of the world’s most active digital-asset exchanges, has also hosted two of the biggest known crypto hacks: the Mt. Gox debacle of 2014 and the theft of nearly $500 million in digital tokens from Coincheck Inc. last January. [Ed. Note: Tokyo based Mt. Gox was the largest Bitcoin based exchange in the world. Gox claimed $2.4 trillion in losses when Mt. Gox went bankrupt and some $91 million in assets have been recovered by Japanese authorities.]
Exploring the Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Ecoystem, Testimony for the Hearing of the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Community Affairs, by Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics, New York University, October 2018
The entire crypto-currency land has now gone into a crypto-apocalypse as the mother and father of all bubbles has now gone bust. Since the peak of the bubble late last year Bitcoin has fallen by about 70% in value (depending on the week). And that is generous. Other leading crypto-currencies such as Ether, EOS, Litecoin, XRP have fallen by over 80% (or more depending on the week). While thousands of other crypto-currencies – literally scam-coins and scam-tokens – have fallen in value between 90% and 99%.
No wonder as a recent study showed that 81% of all ICOs were scams in the first place, 11% of them are dead or failing while only 8% of them are traded in exchanges. And out of this 8% the top 10 coins traded – after Bitcoin – have lost between 83% and 95% of their value since peak with an average loss of over 90%.
This is a true Crypt-Apocalypse. No wonder that a recent study this week argued and conclude that the crypto industry is on the “brink of an implosion”. No asset class in human history has ever experienced such a rapid boom and total utter bust and implosion that includes thousands of different crypto-assets.
As is typical of a financial bubble, investors were buying cryptocurrencies not to use in transactions, but because they expected them to increase in value. Indeed, if someone actually wanted to use Bitcoin, they would have a hard time doing so. It is so energy-intensive (and thus environmentally toxic) to produce, and carries such high transaction costs, that even Bitcoin conferences do not accept it as a valid form of payment. Paying $55 dollars of transaction costs to buy a $2 coffee cup is obviously never going to lead Bitcoin to become a transaction currency.
. . .There is now massive evidence – from serious press investigations and academic studies – that the entire crypto-land is subject to massive, systematic and widespread price manipulation of every sort known in the annals of criminal manipulation: pump and dump schemes, wash trading, spoofing, front-running, serious conflicts of interest between exchanges and their customers, vast insider trading, creation of pseudo stable coins that are rather fiat crypto-currencies that are used only to prop up Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies.
While price manipulation does occur in a variety of financial markets, there are strict laws against it and it is subject to draconian criminal prosecution; thus, it is the exception rather than the rule. While criminal price manipulation and insider trading is systemic in crypto land.
For example, various investigations by the Wall Street Journal have shown that hundreds of criminal “pump and dump” chat rooms exist on the Telegram chat app that are aimed only at systematically manipulating the price of hundreds of crypto-currencies.
In 2018 cryptocurrency values fell by 90% on average from their December peak. They would have collapsed much more had a vast scheme to prop up their price via outright manipulation not been rapidly implemented.
But, like in the case of the sub-prime bubble, most US regulators are still asleep at the wheel while having started investigations months ago. The mother of all manipulations in the crypto land is related to Tether and Bitfinex – a shady crypto exchange – that is its backer. Bitfinex - behind the scammy Tether – has persistently refused to be properly audited and has hopped on four continents changing every season the shady bank that provides it banking service linked to fiat dollars. And the supply of Tether is increased randomly – by hundreds of millions of chunks at a time via pure fiat - as a way to manipulate and prop up the value of Bitcoin and the entire related crypto-currency system.
Tether has already created by fiat billions of dollars of a “stable coin” that has never been audited. The creation of fiat Tether has been systematically used to prop up manipulate upward the price of Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies according to a recent academic paper by a leading scholar at the University of Texas. Without such outright criminal manipulation the price of Bitcoin would now be about 80% lower than its current value, ie about $1200 rather than the current $6500. [Ed. Note: Current value as of February 8, 2019 is now only $3628.82, down about 40% from the October 2018 lows.]
He Hawks Young Blood As A New Miracle Treatment. All That’s Missing Is Proof, HuffPo, by Dana Liebelson and Jesselyn Cook, 12/29/2018.
Jesse Karmazin, the 34-year-old founder of the startup Ambrosia, had a pitch journalists couldn’t resist: For a fee, he could help his clients combat aging and its related ills with infusions of blood plasma from the young.
Teen donors, vampiric undertones, a serious-sounding study, an $8,000-per-person price tag and rumors that venture capitalist Peter Thiel might be interested earned Ambrosia more than 100 press mentions in just two years.
But despite declaring the study a success and announcing plans this week to accept new clients, Karmazin never showed any proof that the transfusions actually helped people….
Ambrosia, which declined to comment on whether the company has any investors, is only one of many firms investigating how to help people feel younger for longer. But Ambrosia’s ability to attract paying clients and years of positive press coverage — without providing scientific data to back up its claims — shows just how easy it can be for promises to outpace the research when Silicon Valley gold-chasing mixes with Americans’ fear of death.
Is Big Tech Merging with Big Brother? Kinda Looks Like It, Wired, by David Samuels, January 23, 2019
A FRIEND OF mine, who runs a large television production company in the car-mad city of Los Angeles, recently noticed that his intern, an aspiring filmmaker from the People’s Republic of China, was walking to work.
WHEN HE OFFERED to arrange a swifter mode of transportation, she declined. When he asked why, she explained that she “needed the steps” on her Fitbit to sign in to her social media accounts. If she fell below the right number of steps, it would lower her health and fitness rating, which is part of her social rating, which is monitored by the government. A low social rating could prevent her from working or traveling abroad.
China’s social rating system, which was announced by the ruling Communist Party in 2014, will soon be a fact of life for many more Chinese.
By 2020, if the Party’s plan holds, every footstep, keystroke, like, dislike, social media contact, and posting tracked by the state will affect one’s social rating.
Personal “creditworthiness” or “trustworthiness” points will be used to reward and punish individuals and companies by granting or denying them access to public services like health care, travel, and employment, according to a plan released last year by the municipal government of Beijing. High-scoring individuals will find themselves in a “green channel,” where they can more easily access social opportunities, while those who take actions that are disapproved of by the state will be “unable to move a step.”
. . .The machines and systems that the techno-monopolists have built are changing us faster than they or we understand. The scale of this change is so vast and systemic that we simple humans can’t do the math—perhaps in part because of the way that incessant smartphone use has affected our ability to pay attention to anything longer than 140 or 280 characters.
As the idea of a “right to privacy,” for example, starts to seem hopelessly old-fashioned and impractical in the face of ever-more-invasive data systems—whose eyes and ears, i.e., our smartphones, follow us everywhere—so has our belief that other individual rights, like freedom of speech, are somehow sacred.
. . .At the same time as Yahoo was feeding user data to the NSA, Google was developing a search engine called Dragonfly in collaboration with the Communist Party of China. In a letter obtained by The Intercept, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told a group of six US senators that Dragonfly could have “broad benefits inside and outside of China” but refused to release other details of the program, which the company’s search engine chief, Ben Gomes, informed Google staff would be released in early 2019.
According to the documents obtained by The Intercept, Dragonfly would restrict access to broad categories of information, banning phrases like “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize” while linking online searches to a user’s phone number and tracking their physical location and movements, all of which will presumably impact social ratings or worse—much worse, if you happen to be a Uighur or a member of another Muslim minority group inside China, more than 1 million of whom are now confined in re-education camps. China’s digital surveillance net is a key tool by which Chinese authorities identify and track Muslims and others in need of re-education.
. . .A national or global surveillance network that uses beneficent algorithms to reshape human thoughts and actions in ways that elites believe to be just or beneficial to all mankind is hardly the road to a new Eden. It’s the road to a prison camp. The question now—as in previous such moments—is how long it will take before we admit that the riddle of human existence is not the answer to an equation. It is something that we must each make for ourselves, continually, out of our own materials, in moments whose permanence is only a dream.
Amazon Can’t Fix Facial Recognition, Bloomberg Opinion, January 24, 2019
A group of Amazon.com shareholders has added a new twist to the concept of corporate social responsibility, asking the company to stop selling its facial recognition service for purposes that might violate people’s civil rights. In doing so, they have raised an important question: Could this be the way to curb the creepy use of new algorithms? By appealing to the enlightened self-interest of their makers?
Sadly, I think not. Relying on companies is a flawed approach, because they typically don’t know — and don’t want to know — how the technology really works.
Like most algorithms being deployed these days, facial recognition is largely a black box. Based on vast databases of faces and its own experience of the most relevant features, a computer identifies a person as, say, your aunt Freda, a suspected criminal, or a target for a drone strike. Users rarely know exactly how it does this — licensing agreements often stipulate that they don’t have access to the source code. Vendors also prefer to remain in the dark. They’re focused on profits, and cluelessness insulates them from responsibility for anything unethical, illegal, or otherwise bad.
In other words, the whole ecosystem of artificial intelligence is optimized for a lack of accountability. Neither the builders nor the users need think too much about the potential consequences of its application, or of mistakes in the code.
This is particularly troubling in the realm of facial recognition, which can easily cross the line between useful and creepy. Airlines can use it to identify frequent flyers or members of terrorist watch lists, retailers for favored customers or known shoplifters, casinos to help gambling addicts or to nab card counters, schools to save time on taking attendance or to monitor students’ whereabouts. It plays an integral role in China’s social credit system.
The creepiness is highly context-dependent. I might like getting offered an upgrade at the airline counter. I wouldn’t enjoy being identified as a shoplifter — particularly if I’d done my time, transgressed as a child or was mistaken for my twin sister.
The consequences can be particularly dire for certain groups of people: One recent MIT study of publicly available facial recognition systems found the error rate for dark-skinned women to be many times higher than for white men.
. . .What to do? Most likely, the government will have to step in with targeted, context-specific regulation. An initiative called the Safe Face Pledge, started by MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini, has begun to sketch out what that might look like. For example, it calls for banning drone strikes based on facial recognition. Similarly, any algorithms that play a role in high-stakes decisions — such as criminal convictions — should be held to a very high standard.
We’ll probably have to go through some iterations to get it right, but we have to start somewhere. Ignorance is certainly no solution.
Driving in traffic with Tesla's autopilot controlling distance from the lead car and centering the vehicle in the lane. Vehicle is a 2017 Model X 75D with dark interior.,Ian Maddox [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
My speech on driverless cars at the Transportation Research Board, Washington DC, 15/1/19 Christian Wolmar. Wolmar is a well-regarded British transportation journalist.
Wolmar: “I will leave you with the words of Michael DeKort: ‘The 20–30-year time period [for the introduction of driverless cars] isn’t remotely close. The real answer is that they will never get remotely close to finishing. Not much farther than the first base they are on now.’”
. . .There is something extraordinary happening out there in relation to driverless cars. But it is not quite what you think – or have been led to believe.
The spending on the development of autonomous vehicles is quite unprecedented. I am not sure in the history of transport whether so much has been spent on a single concept.
We’ve had railway booms, and explosions of road building but nothing on this scale.
The Brookings Institute estimated that between 2014 and 2017, $80 bn had been spent on developing the technology but of course since much is carried out by private companies or simply off the books we have no idea of the total amount. Other estimates therefore suggest $200 bn has been spent so far. Suffice to say, it would probably fund public transit for a year in the top 50 US cities, at a guess. Or build numerous subway systems and a new tunnel into Manhattan.
. . .And of course there is the very wide variety of tests being carried out in the US, mostly with an operator aboard. But nothing that can be considered remotely as a driverless car of Level 4, defined as where there is no need for anyone to pay attention to the road.
The big problem is, in fact, Level 3 where the car drives itself much of the time but requires the driver to stay alert and take over if something goes wrong. Ford began testing Level 3 vehicles and found that the drivers dozed off as they had nothing to do. They tried putting in two test drivers but they, too, dozed off.
Michael DeKort, an aerospace engineer turned whistleblower wrote recently:
‘Handover cannot be made safe no matter what monitoring and notification system is used. That is because enough time cannot be provided to regain proper situational awareness in critical scenarios.’
For driverless cars to achieve their aim of ending road accidents, two conditions have to be met:
- first the cars have to be truly driverless, not merely fitted with driver aids
- and secondly, that all cars have to be driverless and the roads would have to be cleared of everything else: pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, dogs, horses
Berlin Graffiti of Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook, Victorgrigas [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
The Fall of Facebook Has Only Just Begun, ZeroHedge, 1/27/2019
According to data recently released by Statcounter, Facebook’s global social media market share dropped from 75.5% in December 2017 to 66.3% in December 2018. The biggest drop was in the U.S., from 76% to 52%. As Cowen survey results released this week suggest, these engagement declines will continue to depress the company’s earnings. Surveying 50 senior U.S. ad buyers controlling a combined $14 billion in digital ad budgets in 2018, 18% said they were decreasing their spend on Facebook. As a result, Cowen estimates the Facebook platform will lose 3% of its market share.
No doubt Facebook’s struggles are not just about the headline scandals. For years, one innovation priority after another has fallen flat, from VR to its video push to its laggard position in the digital-assistant race. The company’s most significant “innovation” success of the past few years was copying the innovation of a competitor — pilfering Snapchat’s ephemerality for its “moments” feature.
However, it’s the scandals that have most crippled the company’s brand and revealed the cultural rot trickling down from its senior ranks. Consider just the most-sensational revelations that emerged in 4Q18:
Oct. 17: The Verge reports that Facebook knew about inaccuracies in the video viewership metrics that it provided to advertisers and brands for more than a year. “The inflated video views led both advertisers and media companies to bet too much on Facebook video.”
Nov. 14: The New York Times publishes an investigative report that reveals Facebook hired a conservative PR firm to smear competitors and minimize the company’s role in Russia’s 2016 election meddling.
Dec. 5: British lawmakers release 250 pages of internal Facebook emails that show that, “the company’s executives were ruthless and unsparing in their ambition to collect more data from users, extract concessions from developers and stamp out possible competitors,” as The New York Times reported.
Dec. 14: Facebook reveals that a bug allowed third-party app developers to access photos people may not have shared publicly, with as many as 6.8 million users potentially affected.
Dec. 17: Two Senate reports reveal the shocking extent of Russia’s efforts on social media platforms during the 2016 election, including the fact that Instagram was their biggest tool for misinformation.
Dec. 18: The New York Times reports that Facebook gave the world’s largest technology companies far more intrusive access to user data than previously disclosed, including the Russian search firm Yandex.
Dec. 20: TechCrunch reports that, “WhatsApp chat groups are being used to spread illegal child pornography, cloaked by the app’s end-to-end encryption.”
Dec. 27: The New York Times obtains 1,400 pages of Facebook’s moderation guidelines and discovers an indecipherable mess of confusing language, bias, and obvious errors.
Jane and I will be back with you in a little over a week with our regularly scheduled Cosmic Weather Forecast! Until then we send you love and light!