May 282019
 


Photo: Steve Biro

 

 

Abuses Show Assange Case Was Never About Law (J. Cook)
Rumors of War (Kunstler)
In Honor Of Memorial Day, John Bolton Announces 7 New Wars (Babylon Bee)
A Million Americans Could Lose Their Pensions (HP)
Michael Avenatti To Face 2 Arraignments In One Day (Fox)
Canada’s Ontario Province Says Will Sue Opioid Makers (AFP)
Macron and Merkel At Odds Over EU Top Jobs After European Elections (G.)
Ireland Likely To Back Barnier As Head Of European Commission (IT)
Greek PM Comes Unstuck Over Macedonia, Austerity In European Vote (R.)
Icebreakers And The Arctic Power Play (SF)
German Woman With 1,800 Cows Allowed To Stay In India (AFP)
Where Are All The Insects Gone? My Unease Deepens Year By Year (Viney)

 

 

“From the start, Assange faced political persecution.”

Abuses Show Assange Case Was Never About Law (J. Cook)

What is so striking in the Assange coverage is the sheer number of legal anomalies in his case – and these have been accumulating relentlessly from the very start. Almost nothing in his case has gone according to the normal rules of legal procedure. And yet that very revealing fact is never noticed or commented on by the corporate media. You need to have a blind spot the size of Langley, Virginia, not to notice it. If Assange wasn’t the head of Wikileaks, if he hadn’t embarrassed the most important western states and their leaders by divulging their secrets and crimes, if he hadn’t created a platform that allows whistleblowers to reveal the outrages committed by the western power establishment, if he hadn’t undermined that establishment’s control over information dissemination, none of the last 10 years would have followed the course it did.

[..] Assange has been under some form of detention since 2010. Since then, his ability to perform his role as exposer of serial high-level state crimes has been ever more impeded – to the point now that he may never be able to oversee and direct Wikileaks ever again. His current situation – locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison, in solitary confinement and deprived of access to a computer and all meaningful contact with the outside world – is so far based solely on the fact that he committed a minor infraction, breaching his police bail. Such a violation, committed by anyone else, almost never incurs prosecution, let alone a lengthy jail sentence.

So here is a far from complete list – aided by the research of John Pilger, Craig Murray and Caitlin Johnstone – of some of the most glaring anomalies in Assange’s legal troubles. There are 17 of them below. Each might conceivably have been possible in isolation. But taken together they are overwhelming evidence that this was never about enforcing the law. From the start, Assange faced political persecution.

Read more …

Starting energy wars just as you run out of energy.

Rumors of War (Kunstler)

China compressed its version of the industrial revolution into a few decades, catching up to a weary, jaded West that took two hundred years achieving “modernity,” and now it is seeming to surpass us — which is the reason for so much tension and anxiety in our relations. The real news is: we’re all already in the climax of that movie. Nobody will surpass anyone. The reason is the decline of affordable energy to run the stupendously complex systems we have come to rely on. China never had very much petroleum. They import over 10 million barrels a day now, and most of that comes from far far away, having to pass through some very hazardous sea lanes like the Straits of Hormuz and Molucca.

They run things mostly on coal, and they’re well past peak — and let’s not get into the ecological ramifications of what they’re still burning. Even some intelligent observers in the West think that the Chinese have made gigantic strides in alt-energy, and will soon be free of old limits, but that’s a pipe dream. They have met the same disappointments over wind and solar as we have. Alt-energy just doesn’t pencil out money-wise or physics-wise. Plus, you absolutely need fossil fuels to make it happen, even as a science project. The US is smugly and stupidly under the impression that the “shale oil miracle” has put an end to our energy worries.

That comes from a foolish nexus of wishful thinking between a harried populace, a dishonest government, and the aforementioned brain-damaged news media. We want, with all our might, to believe we can keep running the interstate highways, WalMart, Agri-Business, DisneyWorld, the US Military, and suburbia just as they are, forever. So, we spin our reassuring fantasies about “energy independence” and “Saudi America.” Meanwhile, the shale oil companies can’t make a red cent pulling that stuff out of the ground. For the moment, ultra-low interest rate loans, riding on the back of all that wishful thinking, keep the racket going and sustain America’s illusions.

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Wish this was only funny.

In Honor Of Memorial Day, John Bolton Announces 7 New Wars (Babylon Bee)

In a moving speech to honor Memorial Day, National Security Advisor John Bolton announced seven new wars the U.S. will launch in the coming months. It’s customary for military leaders to say a few words on Memorial Day, sometimes thanking past soldiers for their sacrifice or reminding Americans of the price of freedom. This year, Bolton is going above and beyond, actually announcing new unnecessary wars as a special gift to the country on this solemn occasion. Bolton teased wars on Canada, Mexico, England, France, Russia, India, and California, all in honor of the memory of soldiers who have died in past American wars.


The national security advisor said that he selected these countries “kind of at random,” picking the names out of a MAGA hat. “The best way we can remember the fallen is to launch a bunch of new wars and make more fallen,” he said solemnly. “Remember the sacrifice of the soldiers who fought in foreign wars, so that we would have the freedom to launch more foreign wars. They died for your freedoms, they died for your sins. They died so we could attack Iran again.” “Amen.”

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Many millions.

A Million Americans Could Lose Their Pensions (HP)

The mining work also assured him security in old age through retiree health coverage and a defined-benefit pension – crucial perks that made the dangerous work and risk of black lung disease worth undertaking for Brown, who was one of just a few African Americans in his mine. When his injuries forced him into early retirement and onto disability in 2002, the benefits became even more vital. “It was in writing that the pension would be secure,” Brown, now 78, said on a recent afternoon, taking a break from remodeling his bathroom. “A pension ’til I pass away – that was the deal.”

But the pension plan through the United Mine Workers of America that Brown and 86,000 other retirees rely on is on track to be insolvent in about three years, which could result in deep cuts to once-guaranteed monthly payments. A growing number of plans are in similarly bad shape. If nothing is done, the coming rash of insolvencies could torpedo part of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, or PBGC, the government-run corporation that insures defined-benefit pensions. Brown’s is what’s known as a multiemployer pension plan. Anywhere from a handful to hundreds of companies contribute funds to these plans on behalf of their workers, with payments negotiated through union contracts.

The plans are common in the construction, transportation and service sectors, providing a portable benefit in cyclical industries where workers frequently change jobs. But many plans have run into trouble, losing their stream of income, as industries change and unionized employers go out of business. While most of the 1,400 multiemployer plans in the U.S. are not in any danger, some 130 plans are projected to be insolvent within 15 to 20 years. The PBGC’s multiemployer insurance program, which would need to step in to help cover pension payments for those plans, is expected to go under by 2025 if lawmakers don’t intervene with a plan to save it.

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Do the MSM have anything on their former princeling?

Michael Avenatti To Face 2 Arraignments In One Day (Fox)

Embattled attorney Michael Avenatti will have a busy day in Manhattan federal court Tuesday afternoon — but as a defendant, not as counsel. Avenatti, 49, is scheduled to be arraigned on charges that he stole nearly $300,000 from adult film actress Stormy Daniels, the client who rocketed him to national prominence. Approximately three-and-a-half hours later, Avenatti is scheduled to be arraigned on charges that he tried to extort up to $25 million from athletic apparel giant Nike by threatening to expose claims that the shoemaker paid off high school basketball players to steer them to Nike-sponsored colleges.

In the Nike case, Avenatti is charged with one count of extortion, one count of sending interstate communications with intent to extort and two counts of conspiracy. In the Stormy Daniels case, he is charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. If convicted on all counts, Avenatti could face a total of 69 years in prison. Avenatti repeatedly has denied any wrongdoing and is expected to plead not guilty to all charges. [..] Avenatti was indicted formally in the Nike matter this past Wednesday. That same day, prosecutors indicted him in the Daniels case, in which they claimed Avenatti stole two payments totaling $297,500 from an advance Daniels was supposed to receive from a book deal in the summer of 2018.

Court documents said Avenatti gave Daniels’ literary agent a doctored letter with her signature directing the agent to divert the money to an account controlled by Avenatti. The lawyer then allegedly spent the money “on airfare, hotels, car services, restaurants and meal delivery, online retailers, payroll for his law firm and another business he owned, and insurance.”

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“More than 10,000 Canadians have died of opioid-related overdoses since 2016..”

Canada’s Ontario Province Says Will Sue Opioid Makers (AFP)

Canada’s most populous province of Ontario on Monday announced plans to sue opioid makers to recover health care costs related to the deadly addiction epidemic. Ontario’s attorney general, Caroline Mulroney, said the province will join a lawsuit launched last year by British Columbia against more than 40 opioid manufacturers and wholesalers. “The opioid crisis has cost the people of Ontario enormously, both in terms of lives lost and its impact on health care’s front lines,” Mulroney said. She unveiled legislation to set up the legal action “to battle the ongoing opioid crisis and hold manufacturers and wholesalers accountable for their roles in it.”


More than 10,000 Canadians have died of opioid-related overdoses since 2016, according to government figures. Combatting the crisis is estimated to have cost Ottawa nearly Can$400 million (US$300 million). Historically, opioid overdose deaths — mainly from the powerful painkiller fentanyl — were concentrated among drug addicts. But many victims became addicted to prescribed painkillers before turning to street drugs and others were experimenting with recreational drugs for the first time.

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Lobby. Trade. Compromise.

Macron and Merkel At Odds Over EU Top Jobs After European Elections (G.)

Paris and Berlin appear on a collision course over the replacement of Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European commission after poor results for the centre-right in the European elections damaged Angela Merkel’s choice for the post. The German chancellor’s backing for the German MEP Manfred Weber, who leads the European People’s party of which her CDU party is a member, is facing tough resistance from the French president Emmanuel Macron in the post-election jockeying for top jobs. The EU heads of state and government, including Theresa May, are due to meet on Tuesday night to kickstart their discussions over the leadership of the bloc’s institutions after a set of election results that weakened the grip of the traditional centrist parties on the levers of power in Brussels.


The European People’s party (EPP) remains the largest in the parliament, but during a disappointing night its haul of seats plummeted from 221 in 2014 to 180, prompting Weber to concede that the “centre is shrinking”. The Socialists and Democrats group’s 191 seats five years ago fell to 145 despite surprisingly strong results in Spain and the Netherlands, where they topped the polls. It is the first time in 40 years that the two groups are not able to form a stable majority to allow them to carve up the top jobs and set the legislative agenda. The member states choice for commission president also requires endorsement by a majority in the parliament.

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Macron got rid of Weber. So why would they give him Barnier?

Ireland Likely To Back Barnier As Head Of European Commission (IT)

The [Irish] Government is likely to back Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier as the next head of the European Commission if, as expected, the bid of German Manfred Weber falters in the face of French opposition. EU leaders meet in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss who should lead the commission and also the Council of EU leaders for the next five years, while the next head of the European Central Bank will also be discussed. No decisions are expected that evening. Officially, the Government is backing Mr Weber “to the hilt”, says a spokesman, and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has repeatedly expressed his support. But privately senior officials acknowledge that his chances are falling away.

Mr Weber is the candidate of the European People’s Party, to which Fine Gael is attached, and under the system known as “spitzenkandidaten” the largest group in the European Parliament should nominate the incoming head of the European Commission. However, it is the Council of EU leaders which actually makes the appointment – to be confirmed by a vote of the parliament – and French president Emmanuel Macron has made his opposition to Mr Weber clear. Though the EPP remains the largest party in the new European Parliament, it suffered significant losses in the elections – a development which will damage Mr Weber, already considered a weak candidate to head the commission, when current president Jean Claude Juncker retires in the autumn.

The commission is the EU’s civil service and its policymaking engine. It is also charged with protecting the treaties. Mr Macron has been lobbying EU leaders on appointments to the EU’s top jobs and dined in Paris last night with the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez. Though other candidates, such as current competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, the Dutch socialist Franz Timmermans or Belgian prime minister Charles Michel may be considered, Mr Macron is expected by many to back Mr Barnier, who is also French and a former EPP politician.

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The man who says Yes to everything. Once too often.

Greek PM Comes Unstuck Over Macedonia, Austerity In European Vote (R.)

His leftist Syriza, which stormed the Greek political stage in 2015 on the back of a popular backlash against painful economic reforms, suffered its first major defeat in years to the opposition conservative New Democracy party. Smarting from the fallout, Tsipras has called snap elections, speculated to take place by June 30 at the earliest. The full term of his administration ends in October. In his first appearance after calling the snap poll, a sombre-looking Tsipras told Syriza party faithful on Monday evening: “The crucial thing in life is not if you will fall, but if you will get up.” “I want to ask you all, today, to get up, and regroup, and fight. We very well know we can do it. Because our main strength is that we are defending what is just: our values, the values of the democratic faction and of the left.”

Tsipras is the longest-serving Greek prime minister since the country lurched from crisis to crisis from the onset of financial turmoil in 2010. Political analyst Theodore Couloumbis said that while Tsipras may be hurt, he is not a spent force. “(Syriza) will still remain at the forefront as the second-largest party,” he said. Another analyst, pollster Costas Panagopoulos from ALCO Research, said political parties that do well in European Parliament elections would do better in the national vote, meaning a projection of victory for New Democracy. Once a leftist firebrand, Tsipras, 44, built his career as the crowd-pleaser who stood up to creditors and their austerity demands. But he was forced into a painful new bailout in 2015 months after sweeping to power, when Greece was confronted with a choice of that or being turfed out of the euro zone.

His U-turn went down badly with many voters. A subsequent, deeply unpopular agreement that resolved a long-running country name dispute with North Macedonia also upset many Greek voters. Tsipras signed the so-called Prespes accord last year agreeing to a name change for its Balkan neighbor, resolving a decades-old wrangle which kept Macedonia out of the European Union and NATO. But for many Greeks, it was an unacceptable national defeat and an appropriation of Greek national heritage. A former associate said the Prespes accord was Tsipras’ nemesis. “It was probably one of the most important factors (in the European election outcome),” the former associate said on condition of anonymity.

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Lest we forget.

Icebreakers And The Arctic Power Play (SF)

The Arctic remains one of the few areas of the globe with relatively little human activity and therefore limited prospects for international conflict. Even during the Cold War the Arctic remained comparatively under-resourced by both adversarial blocs. The main theater was Europe, supporting theaters included the Mediterranean and the Middle East, but the Arctic was mainly visited by strategic nuclear platforms such as submarines and bombers which rehearsed their WW3 missions there. The end of the Cold War gradually raised the Arctic’s importance, and it did so for two reasons.

The current multipolar power distribution means the addition of two independent or largely independent political actors, namely the EU and China, and the shifting of the global economic “center of gravity” eastward. This development is increasing Russia’s importance as the economic and political link between the EU and China. However, while the European and Asian economic powerhouses are exploring various forms of economic linkages with Russia serving as a vital component of the relationship, United States is actively seeking to drive a wedge between them by isolating the EU from Russia and therefore also China, and fully subordinating Europe to its economic and political interests.

Whether the EU acquiesces to being merely a US protectorate or asserts its independence remains to be seen, however, in the meantime the Arctic is acquiring importance as a trade route linking Europe and Asia. The second reason for the Arctic’s importance is the presence of considerable reserves of energy resources in the region on which the global economy will depend. National control over these resources or lack thereof will in turn determine the power ranking of the country in question.

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From the same world that you live in.

German Woman With 1,800 Cows Allowed To Stay In India (AFP)

It’s a long way from Berlin to India, where Friederike Irina Bruening devotes her life to sick and abandoned cows. Now, after intervention from the Hindu nationalist government, she has been allowed to stay. “Currently we have around 1,800 cows,” Bruening told AFP from outside the holy city of Mathura in northern India where she keeps the animals. “Between five and 15 are brought in every day.” Bruening, 61, had threatened last week to return a top civilian award for cow protection that she won — the Padma Shri award — after her request for a visa extension was denied. This prompted Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to take to Twitter and announce she had “asked for a report”, and on Monday Bruening said she had been issued with a new visa allowing her to remain in India.

Bruening came to India around 25 years ago and says she has since spent around 200,000 euros ($225,000) of her own money over the years on her cow shelter, which costs around $45,000 per month to run. Many of the cows that arrive are blind or have been injured in road accidents, while others are sick from eating the vast amounts of plastic waste littering India. Around half of the new arrivals die. Since coming to power in 2014 one of the signature policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, newly re-elected, has been the protection of cows, which for many Hindus are sacred. Laws against the slaughter and consumption of beef have been strengthened, and lynchings of Muslims and low-caste Dalits — who have traditionally been involved in the sector — have risen.

This has prompted many people to abandon old and infirm cows instead of selling them for slaughter, resulting in more of the animals on the loose, including in cities like Delhi where they are a common sight. But Bruening, who has become a Hindu and is known as Sudevi Dasi, said that allowing the slaughter of old or sick cows is not the answer. “Killing a cow is the worse thing you can do,” she said.

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Agriculture had “the cumulative effect of forcing ancient foragers to spend their days carrying water buckets under a scorching sun”.

Where Are All The Insects Gone? My Unease Deepens Year By Year (Viney)

[..] the new and formidably sourced UN report on the destruction of nature seems to have left the human world largely dumbstruck or indifferent. After so many years of chronicling the trends in this column, species by species and habitat by habitat, I find the new figures properly appalling but their message no surprise. Allowed, in old age, to entertain grand if gloomy explanations, I find what is happening entirely consistent with the basic history of our species. This has been set out quite brilliantly by an Israeli academic, Dr Yuval Noah Harari, in his recent and best-selling book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Bill Gates recommends it, if that counts.

For more than two million years, as Harari reminds us, various breeds of humans fed themselves by gathering plants and hunting animals, their numbers generally in balance with the rest of the natural world. About 10,000 years ago, Homo sapiens in many separate parts of the planet began to spend their time manipulating the lives of a few edible plants and biddable animals and finding the need to settle down. “Scholars once proclaimed,” writes Harari, “that the agricultural revolution was a great leap forward for humanity [in which] evolution gradually produced ever more intelligent people.” He finds no evidence for this. And the extra food “did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather it translated into population explosions and pampered elites.” It had “the cumulative effect of forcing ancient foragers to spend their days carrying water buckets under a scorching sun”.

One chapter, History’s Biggest Fraud, chronicles the traps set by the long-term pursuit of an easier life. When luxuries become necessities, they spawn new and never-ending obligations. “Humanity’s search for an easier life,” he concludes, “released immense forces of change that transformed the world in ways nobody envisioned or wanted.” Among them, as I see it, is a mindset of expectation, entitlement and addiction to unremitting novelty, matched to the siren imperative of “growth”. With the world population nudging 10 billion by 2050, human usage spread across three-quarters of the planet’s land, and a million plants and animals at risk of extinction, the collapse of global ecosystems seems inevitable.

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Feb 062019
 


Salvador Dali Portrait of Gala with Two Lamb Chops Balanced on Her Shoulder 1933

 

 

Ilargi: It’s been quite a while since we last heard from Dr. D. He was probably busy growing stuff. But he’s back now, and with something dear to my heart: the craziness of our food production systems. Answers to which are not always what most people think, to put it mildly.

 

 

Dr. D:

Eat less meat to save the planet – report (1)
The new diet that could save the planet (2)
What to eat to save the planet: Report urges ‘radical changes’ to world’s diet – less meat, more veggies (3)

 

These headlines, likely sourced from a recent article from “The Lancet” (4) are a regular feature of our time, in diet, in environmentalism, and in global warming. They are well-researched, sourced by the world’s experts, and put forward with the highest intentions. However, they are also completely wrong – dangerously, ignorantly wrong.

Like most industries, agriculture and food production is a specialty, with its own language and details. I don’t attempt to tell the Lancet how to perform heart surgery, for to do so would be ridiculous, dangerous, outside of my expertise. I wouldn’t tell a geologist how to interpret the magnetic layers of rock, or how oceanographers should properly interpret sea water samples to guide us on fishing or pollution. Yet this is what they do for farmers.

The primary drive of most such articles is that, with so many people, and so much hunger, we find that it takes “2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of feedlot beef.” that “64% of US cropland produces livestock feed.” (5) That it takes “20 pounds corn [to make] 1 pound beef.” (6) Or that you can get 15lbs of beef per acre, but 263lbs of soybeans. (7) Also that cattle are the primary reason for deforestation, and a major cause of methane.

From these numbers, it’s simple to see that meat, particularly cattle, is anti-environmental, and even anti-human, and it would be the pinnacle of irresponsibility to encourage or even allow them to be eaten. It is a direct affront to the poor, the hungry, and even other citizens in developed countries like ourselves, even though we may be able to afford such things. Simple. A lock. Slam-dunk. No further research required.

Setting aside that we waste half our food, the food we do have is maldistributed, and that we haven’t tapped a fraction of the land we did in say, WWII Britain, setting aside that the water doesn’t vanish, but returns to the water table to be used again, setting aside that the methane released does not contribute to global warming since it is exclusively carbon captured by the grass earlier that year, setting aside that the argument is the same one Malthus had, 250 years wrong, or that removing cattle would amount to the permanent extinction of more than a thousand breeds of animals with a lineage thousands of years old … even all that aside, their argument shows they don’t know anything about land, food, or the process of creating it.

Some other major concerns of economists and environmentalists are 1) environmental destruction from drilling 2) peak oil, 3) production of toxic waste, 4) plastics packaging, 5) dependence on imported energy, 6) CO2 from cars and transportation, and 7) BTUs per calorie of food eaten, as popularized in Kunstler’s “3,000 mile Caesar salad” (8) and this is where our story starts.

 


Deck Family Farm

 

On a farm, one of the major input costs every year is fertilizer, nitrogen, and this is presently produced almost exclusively from a feedstock of natural gas. That is to say, food in the modern agricultural system is literally the eating of unsustainable oil wells. And it’s even worse than that: agriculture is so dependent on synthesized, centralized petroleum fertilizer that it’s no exaggeration to say that without massive, uninterrupted supplies of cheap oil and gas there would be no food. Yields could easily drop by 30%, causing an unprecedented human catastrophe.

What’s more, another of the environmentalists’ grave concerns, topsoil loss and soil depletion would immediately come to the fore, as the only thing keeping today’s depleted fields in production are the artificial inputs directly from oil fields, mostly imported. –And that’s ABOVE the oil needed for the tractors, for the harvesters, for the delivery, for the centralized plant, for the parts, the buildings, food wrapping, for the creation of pesticides, herbicides, the centralized seed production, centralized grain mills…no. For the purposes of this article, we are only talking about cows.

Of course, mankind didn’t start this way, unable to eat a lettuce leaf without a 10,000-mile chain of energy use from foreign, occupied nations and the unwavering support of the worldwide industrial society that supports it. Originally the cows stood on the very grass they ate, eating contentedly, and were butchered and sent to market locally, using not a drop of oil. They did not disturb the fields but indeed enriched them with their foot-traffic and manure. So how did we go from a 0 mile, 0 grain, 0 cost, 0 oil food source to a food that reportedly starves continents and will destroy the world? That is, if cows were good and worked before, maybe the problem lies not with the meat or the cow, but with rabid industrialism?

If petroleum-based fertilizer is our major weakness, the single import that can be shut off to kill billions, surely it’s our duty — a national security emergency even — to close this weakness and find ecological alternatives. And for fertilizer, we have two: one, you can rotate crops to keep fields fallow in rotation, or two, you can replace synthetic fertilizer with animal manure. In fact, synthetic fertilizer is but a poor, harmful replacement for the manure farmers have used for 5,000 years – it has only nitrogen, potassium and potash, and nothing of the thousand other nutrients required of healthy soil.

 

It has no biosphere, no heat, no water, and no organic matter. The resulting soil depletion is a prime cause of desertification and topsoil loss, to say nothing of constantly lower yields. Its very use destroys the soil in the way steroids destroy health while giving the illusion of strength. They should probably be banned not for environmental reasons, but for long-term efficiency and national security. And there is only one replacement for this toxic, destructive, unreliable, expensive input: animal manure.

Worse, this cannot be chicken, sheep, or pig, adequate as they are. Pig and chicken are too concentrated and toxic and require other petroleum processes to dilute and deliver. Sheep is too mild and not in quantity, for sheep do not favor containment. Home composting could never produce a fraction of the volume needed for the world’s fields without the same massive petroleum inputs in tractors, trucks, chippers, conveyors, and all the factories, railways, and steel mills that create them. That leaves largely one source: cattle.

So in this new ecological world we imagine, we would have to grow cattle simply for the required fertilizer. And these cattle cannot be far! Unlike synthetic fertilizer, manure is wet, heavy, and dilute. It cannot be centralized into today’s poisonous sewage ponds, nor shipped coast to coast: it must be created near the fields that require it. As the world is enormously varied, you must also have breeds attuned to each locality’s weather and needs, perhaps creating a thousand unique varieties.

Tiny Kerry cattle for the bogs of Ireland, bony Longhorns for the deserts of Texas, Alpine Braunvieh for the steep mountains of Switzerland, or a hearty Fjäll for the frozen lands of Sweden. Nor can the farms be concentrated or specialized: without mass inputs of machinery or petroleum, and lacking harmful dry fertilizer, the farms must be small, dispersed, and varied, local in scope, diverse in production, specializing in their region and feeding only people nearby. Once you can’t ship mass quantities virtually for free, from reliable, nearly free energy, there is no other way.

 


Earth Repair Corps

 

Now you can’t get that fertilizer for nothing, and we don’t get it for nothing now. You have to have input costs for our fertilizer factory. And for cattle that input is grass; fields and fields of it, probably near 1-2 acres per cow. Is that bad? Irresponsible? How does that compare to drilling in ANWAR, and delivering via the Exxon Valdez? How is the sourcing from Iraq, transported via Syria, or the digging of tar with a payloader in the freshwater swamps of Alberta?

Now you can get 1, 2, even 3 cuttings a year of hay in temperate climates, and the cow is happily producing this valuable fertilizer all the time, without embargoes, financial disruptions, or delivery costs. But nevertheless, 25% of your fields will be put out of service in order to environmentally, sustainably source this necessary input for next year’s grain.

But not to fear! You know what? You can EAT the components of this essential, life sustaining fertilizer production factory! Yes, you can! Even better, you can eat butter, cheese, yogurt and yes, even ice cream! These very things you would NOT have without running this fertilizer mill that you would be forced to run even if they did nothing at all. Even more, you can down-stream the whey from your milk-preservative process to feed pigs! I’m not making this up!

Yes, by the very fact of creating fertilizer you had to produce in any case, you can also eat bacon! And you essentially have to, because otherwise this valuable milk-byproduct will go to waste. Nor can the pigs be far. You must have farms that are small in scale, varied in production, and local to the community. This will, of course, make them especially resilient to every challenge: financial, ecological, or human, be it from global warming or global warring.

The diverse, smaller-scale of these farms unfortunately require smaller business units to run them, such as the millions of local families presently unemployed, and sadly force cattle and other animals to free-range on the fields in the sunshine, as their ancestors did. But we all make sacrifices.

 

More, this small, diverse, decentralized food production system cannot aggregate mass quantities for mass market. Cows are not all the same, arriving by tens of thousands in the same 100-acre slaughterhouse, but because dissimilarity hampers assembly-line processes, the food would be produced in smaller batches, closer to home, more directly, without the wasting fuel and CO2 to ship them worldwide, and without the 31 flavors of plastics packaging which don’t make economic sense at this scale. –The French market model, as it were, local in the streets of your own town, fresh and unique.

You see, what they didn’t ask and forgot to research is that in order to grow those 263lbs of soybeans, you have no alternative but to have 1:4 of your fields fallow, resting, doing nothing. That’s now 197lbs per acre. Neither can you do that every year without input, so using another field to add this fertilizer, you have 131lbs/acre, really. The fallow land required of a world without oil inputs means 1/2 of the world’s production is offline at any given time, starving people.

What a drag! But you COULD, if you’re very clever, plant a wild, nitrogen-fixing plant on that fallow ground, creating both green manure for next year’s soybeans, AND running your cattle-driven fertilizer factory at no additional cost! Not only do you get the ONE field green-manured, and ANOTHER field cow-manured, but you could, if you’re very smart, get that otherwise useless, fallow field to grow ANOTHER crop of milk and beef, and downstream, chickens and pigs, absolutely FREE! THREE fields for the price of one.

What would you expect to pay for this richness, this agricultural, ecological magic trick? $1 trillion? $5 trillion for our green-energy, planet-saving, CO2-reducing “Green New Deal”? One that’s proven and can actually work because it follows the laws of thermodynamics? Surely it’s worth any cost if it saves the planet and takes a huge chunk off oil drilling, oil wars, and global warming.

Answer is: nothing. What I’ve just described is western agriculture, as developed since the 1500s. Anyone who’s ever looked at a farm, read a wikipedia entry, or took a history class knows this. Every medieval peasant knows this. Every hillbilly farmer from Iowa knows this. Except for all the modern journalists and The Lancet, all of whom all eat these very foods every day without the slightest spark of where they come from.

 


Night Owl Farm

 

You see, it doesn’t matter if cows are less efficient than soybeans, they exist in a SYSTEM, and that system has many inputs and many parameters. Reading a statistic doesn’t grow a plant to market any more than my reading about scalpels makes me a surgeon. There are many other possibilities, requirements, inputs: they speak of overgrazing, such as dry lands in Africa, when in fact, rotational OVERgrazing replenishes the soil and INCREASES the yields.

What’s more, a very great deal of the reported “arable” land on earth is not productive. It is too dry, such as Texas; too steep, such as Colorado; too variable cold, like Montana; or too far from market, like Afghanistan. You can’t grow soybeans or corn there even if you wanted, and you couldn’t ship kale from Kabul to London at cost, so their “statistics” about arable land and production mean nothing. …Worse than nothing, as they are so misleading as to be completely wrong.

Wrong in the way that enormous, world-changing decisions, subsidies, and wars are made, wrong in the way Stalin thought to modernize and mechanize agriculture in the Ukraine to get it out of the 1500s, and killed 7 million people in a single year. Wrong because not every square mile of land is equivalent, and only the crop that grows and has enough value to ship can be produced there. That’s why they make whiskey in the Appalachians and cheese in the Alps: the value to market has to be so much higher, high enough to transport, or no food will be produced at all.

 

That’s why they grow wild pigs in the Dehesa of Spain: because otherwise those forests would feed no one. But scientists and journalists don’t know this, even though it’s on the Food Channel each night.

What’s more, their scientific white-room system is orders of magnitude less efficient than the medieval method. Hundreds of random foods are wasted on the farm. Should they be dropped, as the labor cost/hour is too high to economically recover them? Should we waste the time and petrol to compost them into biogas? No. Farm waste, and waste through every warehouse, rail car, grocer, and restaurant can be eaten by chickens. Then not only do you get the compost anyway, in manure, not only do you also get a lifetime of eggs, for free, YOU GET A CHICKEN. All from the grass, the seeds, the bugs…and the food waste they already abandon.

But this doesn’t come without a cost. Brace yourself for this, people, because in order to achieve this level of bounty and efficiency, you will have to EAT these animals rather than let them die of old age and disease and be eaten by dogs and beetles. You, yes you, if you want an ecological, happy-animal, local-economy, sustainable, anti-CO2, food-producing world, not only CAN eat meat, but you are REQUIRED to. …As did a thousand generations of your ancestors, back to the very first day of man, slashing and clearing a field so the deer would come.

So try to be at least as smart as an illiterate medieval peasant and grow your food the natural way: locally, seasonally, independently, with happy animals in a rich green world of fields, trees and farms enriched with thousands of subvarieties of biodiversity in hedgerows so rich they have yet to be fully cataloged. A far cry from the hardened, drilled, paved, expensive, destructive, unsustainable, dangerous, lethal, impoverished way promoted by the scientific experts and the journalists who cover them.

 

 

Apr 112015
 
 April 11, 2015  Posted by at 7:08 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


G. G. Bain Goose Creek, houses on the water, Jamaica Bay, Long Island 1910

Euro’s Reserve Status Jeopardized As Central Banks Dump Holdings (Blooomberg)
Why The Euro Could Fall Even Further (CNBC)
Putin’s New Problem Is The Strong Ruble (Bloomberg)
Greece: The Next Deadline Approaches (CNBC)
Greek Finance Minister Steers Debt Talk His Way (NY Times)
100,000 Italians Sign Petition For Eurozone Exit Referendum (RT)
PetroChina Overtakes Exxon Mobil To Become World’s Biggest Energy Company (RT)
China Bears on Wrong End of $4 Trillion Rally Refuse to Go Away (Bloomberg)
WWII Reparations: Rare Footage From Greece’s Occupation By The Nazis (KTG)
EU Leaders Snub Moscow World War II Commemorations (Spiegel)
Obama Says ‘Days Of Meddling’ In Latin America Are Past (BBC)
Sneak Peek At Pope’s Crusade (Paul B. Farrell)
Agriculture Poses Immense Threat To Environment (EurActiv)
California’s New Era of Heat Destroys All Previous Records (Bloomberg)

“As a reserve currency, the euro is falling apart..”

Euro’s Reserve Status Jeopardized As Central Banks Dump Holdings (Blooomberg)

Quantitative easing may be helping Europe achieve its economic targets, but it’s also undermining the long-term viability of the euro by tarnishing its allure as a global reserve currency. Central banks cut their euro holdings by the most on record last year in anticipation of losses tied to unprecedented stimulus. The euro now accounts for just 22% of worldwide reserves, down from 28% before the region’s debt crisis five years ago, while dollar and yen holdings have both climbed, the latest data from the IMF show. “As a reserve currency, the euro is falling apart,” said Daniel Fermon, a strategist at SocGen. “As long as you have full quantitative easing, there’s no need to invest. The problem for the moment is we don’t see a floor for the currency. Money’s flowing out.”

ECB President Mario Draghi has in the past welcomed the drop-off in reserve managers’ holdings because a weaker exchange rate makes the continent more competitive. Yet firms including Mizuho Bank Ltd. warn the currency’s waning popularity reflects a more lasting loss of confidence in an economy that shrank in two of the past three years. “Global reserve managers may be thinking the euro is going to sink economically if it continues this way,” said Daisuke Karakama, the Tokyo-based chief market economist at Mizuho and a former European Commission official. With yen allocations rising, “they may be expecting Japan’s positive economic growth to continue as a result of” that nation’s record stimulus, Karakama said.

The decline in euro reserves suggests other central banks consider the ECB’s €1.1 trillion of QE bond purchases, which started a month ago, to be the biggest threat to the currency’s global status since its 1999 debut. Greece’s debt woes aren’t helping, either. The ECB ramped up the emergency funding available to Greek banks Thursday to alleviate the country’s worsening liquidity issues amid drawn- out negotiations over its bailout. All this is prompting banks from Citigroup, the world’s biggest foreign-exchange trader, to Goldman Sachs to predict the euro will fall below parity with the dollar this year, from a 12-year low of $1.0458 last month and $1.0617 Friday.

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Plenty reasons.

Why The Euro Could Fall Even Further (CNBC)

It’s been a one-way euro trip lower. The common currency has fallen every day this week, and is now near the lowest levels in 12 years. Now, currency traders are keenly watching American economic data, as better news about the economy could lead the euro drop to intensify. It all comes down to expectations about the Federal Reserve’s next move. Most market participants believe the Fed will raise short-term rate targets this year. That should help the U.S. dollar and hurt the euro, as it means that holding dollars will produce greater returns than holding euros, increasing demand for the greenback.

Expectations about a June Fed move have been tamped down due to a bevy of soft economic readings, most conspicuously the March jobs number. But this week, the Fed minutes and hawkish words from William Dudley have told investors that a June hike is still on the table, according to Boris Schlossberg of BK Asset Management. Dudley, the generally dovish New York Fed president, told Reuters on Wednesday that depending on how the data develops, a June move could be “still in play.” In the week ahead, Schlossberg says the biggest data point he will watch is Tuesday’s retail sales report. If it indicates that “the U.S. consumer finally started to spend, then dollar bulls run wild, and we may see 1.0500 break” on the euro, which is currently a bit below 1.0600 per dollar.

That’s because better data could serve to convince traders that the much-awaited Fed move will come sooner than previously anticipated. However, some traders say the move is overdone. “This short-term move is technical, so I expect to see the euro bounce and the dollar pull back off of the recent move,” said David Seaburg at Cowen.

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Not that big a problem. It allows for the interest rate to come down further.

Putin’s New Problem Is The Strong Ruble (Bloomberg)

Vladimir Putin is facing a problem few could have anticipated: The ruble is becoming too strong. Last year’s worst-performing major currency is this year’s best and while that’s buoying the nation’s bonds, driving yields to the lowest in four months, it’s also crimping Russia’s export revenue. Even though oil is little changed in dollars this year, the price when converted to rubles has plunged to the lowest since 2011. The currency rout in 2014 helped Russia to keep its budget deficit within 1% of GDP as the ruble weakened in lockstep with a 50% slump in oil. Now, with the cease-fire in Ukraine and the allure of higher-yielding assets attracting investors to ruble debt, the government is seeing the opposite effect.

“The current ruble level is already uncomfortable for the budget considering the oil price in rubles is already low,” Vladimir Bragin, head of research at Alfa Capital in Moscow, said by phone on Thursday. “In order to reach macroeconomic stability, Russia needs to limit its budget deficit and a weaker ruble is an easy way to do that.” The ruble’s 14% gain this month is making it easier for central bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina to push ahead with rate cuts this year after she hoisted the benchmark to 17% in December to stem the currency’s slide. Nabiullina lowered the rate by 3 percentage points so far in 2015.

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“The prospect of a negotiated exit within a month is now close to 40%..”

Greece: The Next Deadline Approaches (CNBC)

Greece repaid one of its key loans on Thursday, but with the country’s coffers still close to empty, the government may merely have earned short-term respite. As the holiday of the Orthodox Easter Weekend approaches, newly minted Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis are unlikely to be unwinding for the long weekend. Greece has been given six working days by the euro zone technical staff of the Euro Working Group to come up with proposals for a reform agenda—on which further financial aid is conditional—ahead of a key meeting of euro zone finance ministers on April 24 in Riga, Latvia. The struggling Greek economy still needs financial support. It faces two redemptions of bills for a total of €2.4 billion as soon as April 14 and 17.

“Euro area finance ministers are probably at the end of their tether, after ten weeks of the new government’s foot-dragging and game-playing, and any sympathy for the Greek position has long disappeared,” the economic research team at Daiwa wrote in a research note. Tsipras is barely off the plane from a trip to Russia, which seemed on the surface to have achieved little in terms of concrete promises from Russia to assist Greece in the event of it defaulting on its debt repayments, leaving the euro or losing financial support from its creditors.

Economists are now increasingly taking the possibility of a “Grexit”, deemed incredibly unlikely by many just a couple of years ago. The risk of Greece defaulting on its debt repayments is now 50-50%, according to UBS, although its analysts argue that default does not necessarily mean euro zone exit. The prospect of a negotiated exit within a month is now close to 40%, according to Gabriel Sterne, head of global macro research at Oxford Economics. And capital controls – limits on the amount of money that can be taken out of the country—usually a sign of severe economic distress—are just “one more turn of the financial screw away” he added.

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“After five years of austerity imposed by creditors, “the word ‘reform’ resonates in Greece like the word ‘democracy’ in Iraq,” he said. “It’s a dirty word.”

Greek Finance Minister Steers Debt Talk His Way (NY Times)

You would never know from his demeanor that Yanis Varoufakis, the celebrity Greek finance minister, was carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was his country’s uncompromising creditors who were on the defensive. On Thursday, at a conference of economic luminaries, Mr. Varoufakis was working hard to divert the discussion from Greece’s shrinking financial freedom and fears that it might default. (He had a bit of wind at his back with news that Greece on this same day had just met its deadline for repaying a €460 million, or $491 million, loan installment to the IMF. Rather than concede any Greek missteps, Mr. Varoufakis wanted to assess the flaws of the eurozone that he said had been revealed by the 2008 global meltdown and its aftermath.

“There is no doubt that if we had a federal republic, if we had a United States of Europe, we would not be here discussing the Greek crisis, the eurozone crisis, banking union or anything of the sort,” he said in an onstage conversation with the Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz, at a conference of the Institute for New Economic Thinking. “Unfortunately,” he added, “the way we designed the eurozone, it was crying out for a crisis.” Mr. Varoufakis, as is now well known, became finance minister in January as part of the Syriza-led leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, which came to power promising voters to renegotiate the €240 billion international bailout, whose terms Athens blames for sending the economy into a tailspin and leaving more than 50% of Greek youth jobless.

When Mr. Stiglitz asked him how Greece’s creditors could have repeatedly overestimated the country’s ability to grow under the terms of the bailout, Mr. Varoufakis replied, “I think it’s the politics of denial.” Even making Thursday’s payment to the I.M.F. required scraping together money from the government’s dwindling resources. It staved off a default for now, but did nothing to solve the bigger problem: that the government is running out of cash to meet obligations like paying pensions and the wages of public employees. To obtain another tranche of desperately needed bailout funds, Greece still has to persuade its highly skeptical creditors — which also include the ECB and the European Commission — that Athens has a credible economic overhaul plan. [..]

Mr. Varoufakis, 54, comes across as a sort of debonair Mr. Spock, a financial Vulcan of the eurozone. Dressed in a dark jacket with his trademark casual, open-collared shirt, he speaks clearly about the currency bloc’s awkward truths, avoiding the jargon and evasiveness that normally characterizes the region’s dreary politics. Appearing on a separate panel with Mr. Varoufakis on Thursday, the Irish central bank chief, Patrick Honohan, referred to the “glass being half full” after Ireland’s bailout and tentative recovery. “I don’t like the metaphor,” Mr. Varoufakis said. “In the case of my country, the glass is broken.”

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“..Italy’s debt increased dramatically after the introduction of the euro..”

100,000 Italians Sign Petition For Eurozone Exit Referendum (RT)

Italy’s Five Star Movement (M5S) party has collected more than 100,000 signatures on a petition calling for a law that would allow a referendum on withdrawal from the eurozone. M5S MP Carlo Sibila says he expects a referendum to take place at the start of next year. Though the petition has already surpassed the required amount of signatures needed for the initiative, Sibila said that he hopes it will gather another 50,000 by early May in order to highlight the issue. “Who wants to stay in euro? This is the main question,” Sibila told RT. “But we don’t want to get out just like this – we want a program and a discussion, and then let the citizens decide. It’s really necessary today as the situation in Italy is going from bad to worse where jobs and economy are concerned.” The Italian constitution, however, does not provide for the cancellation of international agreements through referenda.

According to Sibila, Italy’s debt increased dramatically after the introduction of the euro. He also noted that Italy’s unemployment rate hovers around 12.7%, the sixth highest in the EU. “We can’t have our own fiscal policy, but without the euro it is possible in Italy,” Sibila said. The Five Star Movement, formed in 2009 by comedian and activist Beppe Grillo, finished second in the 2014 European Parliament election with 21% of the vote. Sibila stressed that M5S does not seek to leave the European Union, but merely to leave the currency union. “Italian citizens need to have the right to decide if they want to stay inside or outside the monetary union,” Sibila told RT. “We are not questioning the EU, it is only the monetary union.” Italy joined the Eurozone in 1999, and the currency was introduced into circulation three years later.

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“..the Chinese company’s Class-A shares have gained 61% since last April..”

PetroChina Overtakes Exxon Mobil To Become World’s Biggest Energy Company (RT)

The capitalization of China’s biggest oil producer PetroChina reached $352.8 billion during Thursday trading in Shanghai, surpassing ExxonMobil as the world’s most valuable energy company for the first time since 2010. The market cap of America’s Exxon reached $352.6 billion in Shanghai Thursday trading, Bloomberg reports. PetroChina’s market cap has gone up 13.81% in the last 12 months while Exxon’s market value has fallen by 14%, following the slump in oil prices. Moreover, the Chinese company’s Class-A shares have gained 61% since last April. The last time PetroChina was more valuable than Exxon was at the close of trading on June 25, 2010, according to Bloomberg.

“PetroChina has multiple positives at the moment: it’s got a reform story, it’s also listed in Hong Kong, and China has more freedom for mainland fund managers in the works,” said Mark Matthews head of Asia research at Bank Julius Baer & Co. in Singapore. “China is also planning to transfer stakes in state-owned enterprises away from their regulator, which will on the whole be positive for SOEs,” he added. Oil companies across the world have been facing difficult times since crude prices started to plunge last summer. ExxonMobil’s adjusted net income of $6.3 billion in the fourth quarter was the lowest since a loss in the final three months of 2009, according to Bloomberg data. PetroChina’s net profit was $1.8 billion in the same period.

The Shanghai Composite closed at its highest level in seven years on Thursday gaining about 88% over the past year as the best performer among major indexes. Meanwhile, the Chinese yuan has declined 0.1% versus the dollar in the past year. PetroChina is the listed arm of state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), with almost all of its operating profit coming from the exploration and production sector along with a small contribution from its natural gas and pipeline unit.

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Some bubbles these days take on grotesque proportions.

China Bears on Wrong End of $4 Trillion Rally Refuse to Go Away (Bloomberg)

Bull markets are always tough on short sellers. This one in China right now, though, is proving downright brutal. Bearish wagers on the Shanghai Stock Exchange have climbed threefold in the past nine months and reached a record 6.09 billion yuan ($981 million) on Wednesday, a period in which the benchmark equity index jumped 94%. Across the border in Hong Kong, where the Hang Seng Composite Index has surged 7.6% in just the past two days, the gauge’s 20 most-shorted stocks surged 18% on average. The gains show the dangers of betting against a Chinese market where new investors are flocking to stocks at a record pace and traders have taken out an unprecedented 1.06 trillion yuan of debt in Shanghai to amplify their buying power.

While technical indicators show shares in both the mainland and Hong Kong are more vulnerable to a reversal than any other market, Marco Polo Pure Asset Management says bears may be setting themselves up for more losses if China’s stimulus efforts produce an economic recovery later this year. “It’s not a market you want to bet against,” said Aaron Boesky, who oversees about $125 million as the chief executive officer of Marco Polo in Hong Kong. The firm’s Pure China fund was the top performer in the second half of 2014 among China-focused hedge funds tracked by AsiaHedge Intelligence. “I can respect people who might want to stay out of it, because it is a very volatile market, even for local Chinese,” he said. “Staying out is respectable. Shorting it could be suicidal.”

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“Greece lost 13% of its population during WWII..”

WWII Reparations: Rare Footage From Greece’s Occupation By The Nazis (KTG)

Greek Defense Ministry has published a video with rare footage from the occupation of Greece by the Nazis during the World War II. Among others, the footage shows children suffering from malnutrition and emaciated adults, victims of the Great Famine during the Nazi occupation. The video should be seen in the context of the Greek claim of €278.7 billion in WWII reparations from Germany. According to the video voice-over, the Enforced Loan by the Nazis was to blame for the mass starvation of estimated 300,000 people in Athens alone. “The agreement of 14 March 1942 foresaw that Greece paid to its occupiers 1.5 billion drachmas per month, a total of 3.5 billion USD, according to the Dollar value of 1938.

The current value of the enforced loan is 54 billion euro without the interest. The agreement had to be implemented retrospectively as of 1.1. 1942. The agreement was signed by Germany and Italy and Greece was notified later. Two agreement modifications were added on 2. December 1942, with the effect that Germany had to start repaying the loan by April 1943. Germany paid back two installments only. In the Peace Paris Treaties (1947) Greece claimed 14 billion USD in war reparations, but the allies reduced the Greek claim down to 7.1 billion USD.” According to the video “Greece lost 13% of its population during the WWII. One part was lost in the battlefield, but the largest part due to Famine and the Nazis’ atrocities.”

The Great Famine, the period of mass starvation during the occupation of Greece by the powers of Axis – the fascist Italy and the Nazi Germany – hit especially the urban areas and some islands. The Great Famine was initiated by a large scale plunder by the Axis forces and as soon as the German army entered Athens 0n 27. April 1941. The Nazis confiscated fuel and all means of transportation, including fishing boats, preventing any transfer of food and other supplies and seized strategic industries. They proceeded with the wholesale and food looting , unemployment and hyperinflation skyrocketed, the black market flourished. The price of bread was increased 89-fold from April 1941 to June 1942.

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“Since it was declared an official holiday in 1965, May 9, with its spontaneous gatherings of veterans in the streets, public festivals and gun salutes in the evening, has in fact become Russia’s most moving holiday..”

EU Leaders Snub Moscow World War II Commemorations (Spiegel)

This Monday, Russia President Vladimir Putin visited the cemetery in the village of Marfino, not far from the old western Russian city of Staraya Russa, where he placed a bouquet of red roses. Then he met with veterans of the “Great Patriotic War,” the term Russians use to describe their battle against Hitler. It would be hard to find another part of Russia that is as saturated with the blood of that war than the earth around Staraya Russa. Officially, 850,000 soldiers died there during the two-and-a-half-year German occupation. The real figure is probably higher, because the Red Army long attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to fend off repeated attacks by the enemy along the northwestern front.

The encounter near Marfino was one of the events with which the Russian president is preparing his country for May 9, which marks the anniversary of the end of the war with Hitler’s Germany. It is “our country’s most important and most honest holiday,” Putin said in Staraya Russa. “It is the day of the great victory.” The end of the war will be commemorated in Russia for the 70th time this year. Since it was declared an official holiday in 1965, May 9, with its spontaneous gatherings of veterans in the streets, public festivals and gun salutes in the evening, has in fact become Russia’s most moving holiday — and perhaps the only one that has truly united the people. The victory over Hitler happened three generations ago.

Still, during Putin’s visit to Staraya Russa, the veterans reminded him of the words of military commander Alexander Suvorov, who said that a war is not over “until the last soldier has been buried.” Last year, search teams recovered the remains of 12,900 fallen soldiers from swamps near Novgorod, the forests of Smolensk and the region around St. Petersburg.

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Right. Sure.

Obama Says ‘Days Of Meddling’ In Latin America Are Past (BBC)

US President Barack Obama has told Latin American leaders that the days when his country could freely interfere in regional affairs are past. He was speaking just before the seventh Summit of the Americas was due to kick off in Panama City. Mr Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro will meet face-to-face for the first time since a December detente. But their much-anticipated meeting could be overshadowed by tensions between the US and Venezuela. Mr Obama told a forum of civil society leaders in Panama City that “the days in which our agenda in this hemisphere presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past”.

At past Summits of the Americas, which bring together the leaders of North, Central and South America, the US has come in for criticism for its embargo against Cuba and its objection to having Cuba participate in the gatherings. This seventh summit is the first which Cuba will attend and much of the attention will be focussed on the body language between the former foes. The meeting will the be first formal encounter between the leaders of the US and Communist-run Cuba in more than five decades. Mr Obama stressed that he hoped the thaw in relations would improve the lives of the Cuban people. “Not because it’s imposed by us, the United States, but through the talent and ingenuity and aspiration and the conversation among Cubans, among all walks of life. So they can decide what is the best course of prosperity.”

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“If we destroy Creation … Creation will destroy us..”

Sneak Peek At Pope’s Crusade (Paul B. Farrell)

Here’s a sneak peak of Pope Francis’s historic “Climate Change Encyclical,” soon to be released, complete with talking points for his upcoming address to the joint session of Congress. We’ll analyze them: The encyclical’s likely headline: “Safeguard Creation … We are the custodians of Creation … If we destroy Creation … Creation will destroy us,” a public warning often repeated by the pontiff this past year, a message certain to intensify the anger of GOP climate-science deniers, Big Oil, Koch Bros, Exxon Mobil and most fossil-fuel firms, as well as their banks, investors owning their stocks and capitalists everywhere. Here’s why: Pope Francis’s much-anticipated encyclical will be broadcast worldwide to billions, including 5,000 bishops, 400,000 priests and 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church.

He will be encouraging his army of the faithful to take strong action, fight climate change and global warming threats to the environment. The encyclical will also be translated into hundreds of languages and broadcast worldwide. At the same time, Pope Francis will be lobbying heads of state and religious leaders, and inspiring billions of people worldwide, encouraging them to join this revolution. This historic encyclical will also set the stage for everything else Pope Francis has planned in 2015. He’s a man with a mission to save the world from the accelerating threats to the planet’s natural resources. More immediate, the encyclical will serve as major talking points for his address to the joint session of Congress in September, his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York and his December message to the historic UN Climate Conference in Paris. Many of his points on the environment are already well known.

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“.. instead of realising initial plans to stop and reverse the trend of species loss by 2010, more and more species are disappearing from the agrarian landscape..”

Agriculture Poses Immense Threat To Environment (EurActiv)

Conventional agriculture is causing enormous environmental damage in Germany, warns a study by the country’s Federal Environment Agency, saying a transition to organic farming and stricter regulation is urgently needed. EurActiv Germany reports. Spanning over 50% of the country, agriculture takes up by far the biggest amount of land in the country, and is one of its most important economic sectors. But intensive farming still harms the environment to an alarming extent, according to a study conducted by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). The use of pesticides and fertilisers as well as intensive animal husbandry, have a negative impact on humans and nature, the 40-page document indicates. “Over the last 30 years, innovation and technical progress in most sectors has led to great successes in reducing the amount of substance that reaches the environment.

But agriculture emissions show only marginal improvements,” the study’s authors write. One of the most controversial issues concerns greenhouse gas emissions. According to the researchers, the use of moors and clear-cutting for agriculture, as well as fertilisers, soil cultivation and animal husbandry produce a high level of emissions that impact the climate. In 2012, agriculture-related emissions were around 70 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – about 7.5% of the year’s total greenhouse gas emissions. This means that after industry, which made up 84%, agriculture was the second largest emitter in Germany. Biodiversity is also threatened by intensive farming. Agriculture burdens the environment with nitrogen, phosphorus and heavy metals. Broad-spectrum pesticides not only wipe out parasites, but also kill other beneficial insects.

As a result, this has adverse effects on birds and other mammals, who lose their food resources. The unfortunate result is that instead of realising initial plans to stop and reverse the trend of species loss by 2010, more and more species are disappearing from the agrarian landscape. The authors write that excessive nitrogen emissions are still alarmingly high, with 60% of nitrogen emissions originating from agriculture. Still, the country’s nitrogen surplus has been stagnating at a high level for years. At an average of 97 kg per hectare, it exceeds the German government’s target value within the sustainability strategy by almost 20 kg per hectare. As a result, agriculture, with a share of 57%, is the nation’s largest source of nitrogen emissions into the environment.

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A lot more serious than people seem to think.

California’s New Era of Heat Destroys All Previous Records (Bloomberg)

The California heat of the past 12 months is like nothing ever seen in records going back to 1895. The 12 months before that were similarly without precedent. And the 12 months before that? A freakishly hot year, too. What’s happening in California right now is shattering modern temperature measurements—as well as tree-ring records that stretch back more than 1,000 years. It’s no longer just a record-hot month or a record-hot year that California faces. It’s a stack of broken records leading to the worst drought that’s ever beset the Golden State. The last 12 months were a full 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.5 Celsius) above the 20th century average. Doesn’t sound like much? When measuring average temperatures, day and night, over extended periods of time, it’s extraordinary.

On a planetary scale, just 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit is what separates the hottest year ever recorded (2014) from the coldest (1911). California’s drought has already withered pastures and forced farmers to uproot orchards and fallow farmland. It’s costing the state billions each year that it goes on. Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order this month for the first mandatory statewide water restrictions in U.S. history, with $10,000-a-day penalties against water agencies that fail to reduce water use by 25%. California has seen droughts before with less rainfall, but it’s the heat that sets this one apart. Higher temperatures increase evaporation from the soil and help deplete reservoirs and groundwater. The reservoirs are already almost half empty this year, and gone is the snowpack that would normally replenish lakes and farmlands well into June.

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