Joseph Mallord William Turner Teasing the Donkey 1827
So we’re going to do this all over again? Well, not if I can help it. Not that I have much hope that I can, mind you. As the bastions of war chime on, my voice, like so many others, will be drowned out. The military industrial complex knows how to do propaganda, better than anyone. But I’ll try.
Vietnam gave the US its biggest ever defeat, both militarily and morally, and yet mere years after its deeply humiliating withdrawal was put into action, the country was back at sending its promising young boys and girls not to its school systems, but to far away battle fields to be crippled, traumatized and slaughtered.
I know, I know, the UK and France do that too, but few other places do. Russia today uses its troops to defend its territory, China has yet to reveal its intentions. But the intentions of the US have been known ever since WWII ended.
In 1956, president Eisenhower, himself a longtime military man, warned the country upon taking leave of office, of the military-industrial complex that was threatening to take over its government. Less than 10 years later, that’s exactly what the complex did, and it’s never looked back.
And I’m thinking: you never learned anything at all? Not from Ike, not from Vietnam, not from the non-existent Iraqi WMD, and not from Libya or Syria? How is that even possible? Oh wait, I know, because the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN et al is where you get your so-called news. That’s why. Gotcha.
Today, May 26 2019, and I’m deeply ashamed to say it, I have two stories, one concerning a speech by VP Mike Pence at West Point, the other from Caitlin Johnstone about a Twitter thread initiated by the US military itself. Pence’s speech is heart breaking in its ignorance of US history, Caitlin’s is heart wrenching in its acknowledgment of that same history, and what it does to young Americans.
Now, I think this is not about Trump, as many will undoubtedly claim, it’s about Trump and Pelosi and Pence and McCain and Bolton and Hillary and Pompeo and Obama and all of the people hanging around both administrations. Let’s see what YOU think.
Vice President Mike Pence told the graduating class of the West Point Military Academy on Saturday that the world is “a dangerous place” and they should expect to see combat. “Men and women of West Point, no matter where you’re deployed, you will be the vanguard of freedom, and you know that the “soldier does not bear the sword in vain.” The work you do has never been more important. America will always seek peace, but peace comes through strength. And you are now that strength. It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life. You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen.
Some of you will join the fight against radical Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of you will join the fight on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific, where North Korea continues to threaten the peace, and an increasingly militarized China challenges our presence in the region. Some of you will join the fight in Europe, where an aggressive Russia seeks to redraw international boundaries by force. And some of you may even be called upon to serve in this hemisphere. And when that day comes, I know you will move to the sound of the guns and do your duty, and you will fight, and you will win. The American people expect nothing less.”
Mike Pence is a very dangerous person. He’s planning to send American children into endless wars once again, 45-odd years after Vietnam and 20-odd years after Iraq. And there’s no-one left to stop him, other than Trump, Not exactly a solid guarantee. The Democrats will cheer this on, and their media will too. They always have.
Now, I’m not old enough to remember the whole story of the US involvement in Vietnam, but I do recall this 1985 video from Paul Hardcastle, which stated that the average age of the US soldier in Vietnam -towards the end- was 19. I have also seen Coppola’s movie “Apocalypse Now”, and many others, and yes, I’m wondering where today’s versions of these movies are.
Because, you know, when I read the Twitter thread picked up by Caitlin Johnstone listing what was supposed to be a promo thing from the army, my heart sinks and hurts and in the end is downright defeated. It’s like reading the accounts from Vietnam, and nothing has changed in 50+ years. How can that be? Says innocent me.
But religious nut Mike Pence has the guts to present this as some sort of heroic thing. For young Americans to go die in a desert for nothing at all other than Exxon’s access to oil and the profits of Boeing and Raytheon. And of course they’ve been setting this up for decades, that young kids -certainly blacks- who have no shot at a proper education, can get one only if they agree to become cannon fodder.
That’s ‘Nam, guys, that’s the 1960’s, history. And just look at how terribly that failed. Well, Mike Pence would like to repeat that failure.
After posting a video of a young recruit talking to the camera about how service allows him to better himself “as a man and a warrior”, the US Army tweeted, “How has serving impacted you?” As of this writing, the post has over 5,300 responses. Most of them are heartbreaking. “My daughter was raped while in the army,” said one responder. “They took her to the hospital where an all male staff tried to convince her to give the guy a break because it would ruin his life. She persisted. Wouldn’t back down. Did a tour in Iraq. Now suffers from PTSD.”
“I’ve had the same nightmare almost every night for the past 15 years,” said another. Tweet after tweet after tweet, people used the opportunity that the Army had inadvertently given them to describe how they or their loved one had been chewed up and spit out by a war machine that never cared about them. This article exists solely to document a few of the things that have been posted in that space, partly to help spread public awareness and partly in case the thread gets deleted in the interests of “national security”.
“my grandpa served in vietnam from when he was 18–25. he’s 70 now and every night he still has nightmares where he stands up tugging at the curtains or banging on the walls screaming at the top of his lungs for someone to help him. he refuses to talk about his time and when you mention anything about the war to him his face goes white and he has a panic attack. he cries almost every day and night and had to spend 10 years in a psychiatric facility for suicidal ideations from what he saw there.”
“My best friend joined the Army straight out of high school because his family was poor & he wanted a college education. He served his time & then some. Just as he was ready to retire he was sent to Iraq. You guys sent him back in a box. It destroyed his children.”
“My best friend from high school was denied his mental health treatment and forced to return to a third tour in Iraq, despite having such deep trauma that he could barely function. He took a handful of sleeping pills and shot himself in the head two weeks before deploying.”
If you got the stomach for it, guys, do read it. But I got to tell you, I find it hard.
The US killed millions of people and maimed ten times that in Vietnam, and that very much includes its own young and promising American citizens, and they did it again in Iraq. Mike Pence wants to repeat that in Iran and other theaters. Supported by Pelosi, Pompeo, Schumer, Bolton etc. Shame for them John McCain passed.
There’s only one US presidential candidate who’s explicitly spoken out against this mad repeat of Vietnam, and that’s Tulsi Gabbard, who actually “served” in Iraq. So she will be pushed aside by the DNC. Who are funded by the military industrial complex, don’t you know. Must serve the machine. We have a long way to go.
I always thought that Springsteen talking about Vietnam from Born In The USA is sort of like a haiku, encompassing the essence in just a few words, even if he doesn’t catch all the misery and bloodshed and mental anguish and broken lives and all of it (but how could you?):
I had a brother at Khe San;
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
I know people older than me have many more examples of this and from the time when the ‘war’ was actually ongoing. Eve of Destruction? Creedence? Please send suggestions.
But also, please recognize the similarities in the madness then and now.
And let’s try and make it stop.
Let’s try and stop history from even rhyming, let alone repeating.
Nassim Taleb likes to point out that in olden days those who declared wars would also be first in line to fight them. By design. The fair thing to do.
Let’s send Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump and Chuck Schumer and Mike Pompeo and John Bolton and all of their families into Iran first. And then we can talk.
Venezuela’s embattled leader, Nicolás Maduro, has warned Donald Trump he will leave the White House “stained with blood” if he insists on pursuing what he called a “dirty” imperialist conspiracy to overthrow him. “Stop. Stop, Trump! Hold it right there! You are making mistakes that will leave your hands covered in blood and you will leave the presidency stained with blood,” Maduro warned during a combative interview with the Spanish journalist Jordi Évole. “Why would you want a repeat of Vietnam?” He also rejected European calls for elections, saying: “We don’t accept ultimatums from anyone. I refuse to call for elections now – there will be elections in 2024. We don’t care what Europe says.” He added: “You can’t base international politics on ultimatums. That’s the stuff of the empire, of colonial times.”
Tens of thousands of Venezuelan protesters streamed through the capital, Caracas, on Saturday to demand the exit of a president who has led the oil-rich South American nation into economic collapse and humanitarian crisis. [..] in his television interview Maduro – who came to power after the 2013 death of his political mentor, Hugo Chávez – signalled that he had no plans to go anywhere. “If the north American empire attacks us, we will have to defend ourselves … We aren’t going to hand Venezuela over,” Maduro said. The UN estimates that more than 3 million Venezuelans have fled overseas in recent years to escape hyperinflation, shortages of food, medicine and healthcare and chronic insecurity. That number is expected to rise to more than 5 million this year.
A major bloc of Latin American nations and Canada will discuss on Monday how to maintain pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to hold new elections as he faces widespread calls to resign after last year’s disputed presidential vote. Sources briefed on the matter said that the 14-nation Lima Group looked set, though, to hold off imposing further sanctions on the Maduro government when it meets in Ottawa. Most group members say Maduro should quit in favour of opposition leader Juan Guaido – who declared himself interim president last month – and are calling for a new presidential election in the troubled OPEC nation.
The United States, which is not a member of the group, also wants Maduro gone. “How can we continue to support the opposition to keep the pressure up on the regime and push for new elections? Certainly that’s something we’ll be looking at,” said a Canadian government official. Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse and the exodus of millions of Venezuelans, said in an interview that aired on Spanish television channel Antena 3 on Sunday: “We don’t accept ultimatums from anyone,” adding: “I refuse to call for elections now – there will be elections in 2024.” [..] Trudeau spoke on Sunday to Guaido and the two “discussed the importance of the international community sending a clear message regarding the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime,” Trudeau’s office said.
Welfare cuts and other austerity measures implemented under the Conservatives pushed vital swing voters to back Brexit and won the EU referendum for the Leave campaign, according to a new report. Research published by the Social Market Foundation suggests the best indicator of a person’s referendum vote was not age or education, but happiness or sadness about their personal finances – with unhappy people tending to vote Leave and contented ones preferring Remain. The report, which analysed the level of cuts in each area of the UK alongside each area’s growth in support for Ukip, argues that had it not been for austerity, the referendum would not have turned out the way it did.
It found that in districts that received the average austerity shock, Ukip vote shares were on average 11.62 percentage points higher in the most recent local elections prior to the referendum than in districts with little exposure to austerity. As well as area-level analysis, the report looked at individual-level data and found that some people directly affected by welfare cuts shifted their political support to Ukip and rejected the political establishment. “Households exposed to the bedroom tax increasingly shifted to support Ukip and experienced economic grievances as they fell behind with their rent payments due to the cuts,” the paper stated.
As much as 9 percentage points of the 52 per cent support for Leave – around 3 million votes – was decided by concern about austerity and related issues, the researchers estimated. It suggests that without the effect of the “austerity shock” on welfare and public services, the Leave share of the referendum vote could have been as low as 43 per cent, delivering a comfortable win for Remain.
Hard Brexiters have warned Theresa May that the only proposal they are likely to support to break the Brexit impasse is a version of the “Malthouse compromise”, which envisages removing the backstop from the draft European Union exit treaty. Steve Baker, vice chair of the European Research Group, said that he and other Conservative Eurosceptics could not support the alternative they believed Theresa May favoured – an addendum to the existing EU withdrawal agreement. Baker is one of five backbench MPs who will meet Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, on Monday, in the first meeting of a new working group aimed at examining whether technological solutions could eliminate the backstop.
The “Malthouse compromise” – named after the junior minister, Kit Malthouse, who brokered it – is a proposal to replace the unpopular backstop with alternative technological arrangements to prevent the return of a hard border in Ireland. It is supported by Baker, other Eurosceptics and the pro-remain former ministers Nicky Morgan and Damian Green, both of whom will attend further meetings with Barclay on Tuesday and Wednesday. “As far as I’m concerned the Malthouse compromise is the only game in town if we’re going to reach an agreement in Brussels,” Baker said, indicating that only rewriting the draft withdrawal agreement to remove the backstop would satisfy Tory Brexiters.
Last week MPs voted in favour of an amendment in the name of Sir Graham Brady, a senior Conservative, to examine the possibility of new customs arrangements but it is unclear that the necessary technology exists. May also instructed Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, to examine two other proposals that could be taken to Brussels – whether it would be possible to time-limit the backstop or to introduce a unilateral exit mechanism for the UK.
Theresa May has been accused of “wasting valuable time” in the countdown to Britain’s exit from the EU as she announced plans to establish a Commons group probing alternative plans for the Irish border post-Brexit. Despite the prime minister’s hopes of reopening the withdrawal agreement already being dashed by EU leaders with just 53 days to go until Brexit, the new committee made up of senior Tory MPs will meet for the first time on Monday. Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay is expected to attend the sessions, alongside support from officials at HM Revenue and Customs, the Cabinet Office, and No 10. The group will aim to provide “alternative arrangements” to the backstop – the EU’s insurance policy in the withdrawal agreement that aims to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
[..] But the EU’s deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, has already dismissed using existing technology as an alternative solution to the question of the Irish border. “We looked at every border on this Earth, every border the EU has with a third country – there’s simply no way you can do away with checks and controls,” she said last week. Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney also rubbished the idea of “alternative arrangements”, adding in The Sunday Times: “This is not a new concept. The EU is committed to trying to agree alternative arrangements to replace the backstop. We want a comprehensive future relationship in place by the end of 2020 so the backstop is never used.
Sajid Javid has said “the last thing we want is a general election”, emphasising that the government is still hoping to secure a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism for the Irish border backstop. The home secretary dismissed newspaper reports that Downing Street strategists were considering holding a snap general election on 6 June, if Theresa May cannot get her Brexit deal through parliament before the 29 March deadline. “The last thing we want is a general election, the people will never forgive us for it,” Javid told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show. “They want politicians to get on with the job. They have been given a very clear mandate, now it’s our job to get on with it.”
There are signs that the Conservatives have started to gear up for a possible snap election, with the party’s chief executive, Sir Mick Davis, placing the Tories on a “war footing” last week and increased fundraising activities under the cover of the local elections in May. A poll by Opinium for the Observer showed the Conservatives seven points ahead of Labour on 41%, but few people believe the party would risk going to the country under May’s leadership after the disaster of 2017, when its overall majority was lost. “I know that Conservative party headquarters is planning on only one set of elections, which is the local government elections. The last thing this country wants is an election; they want parliament to deliver Brexit in an orderly way,” Javid said.
Who is at fault for Yellow Vest protests raging in France since November? For President Emmanuel Macron it’s not actual economic problems or his own decisions, but the right, the left, social media and, of course, “Russes.” Macron blasted the nation’s mainstream media for failing to control the narrative and argued that social networks and “the Russians” are driving all content instead, with traditional outlets falling into line. The president’s calculated outburst was published by the weekly Le Point on Friday, just before the Yellow Vests officially marked the 12th consecutive week of staging large-scale protests against the government.
The president dismissed Eric Drouet, the 33-year-old trucker who emerged as a prominent figure in the protests, as “a media product, a product of social networks,” and claimed that the demonstrators are being “advised from outside,” without elaborating. He argued that 90 percent of the chatter online about the Yellow Vests comes from the “[far] rightists, leftists, and the Russians.” Yet, 18 months after bending the French party system to his will and his triumphant win against bien-pensant pariah Marine Le Pen, Macron’s excuses for disappointing expectations are running thin. His first cannonade in what was intended to be a sweeping march of modernity, was a labor reform that he claimed would help small businesses. It was met with protests from unions, public sector workers who said it made firing easier, and those fearing loss of benefits.
In a preview of what has now become the norm, Macron dismissed the opponents of his policies as “slackers.” [..] The government has already suspended the fuel tax hike that caused the traffic law-mandated vests to be put on in the first place, while the president has promised to raise the minimum wage. But for many demonstrators these actions are belated, and do not address underlying issues. “It’s not enough. We still have to fight the current taxes, the ones that have been in place for years. We should have woken up years ago, and now we have to make up for the years we missed,” one of the original and most popular Yellow Vests, Ghislain Coutard, told Deutsche Welle, adding that Macron should “come out of his hole and face” the people.
NBC News published a predictably viral story Friday, claiming that “experts who track websites and social media linked to Russia have seen stirrings of a possible campaign of support for Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.” But the whole story was a sham: the only “experts” cited by NBC in support of its key claim was the firm, New Knowledge, that just got caught by the New York Times fabricating Russian troll accounts on behalf of the Democratic Party in the Alabama Senate race to manufacture false accusations that the Kremlin was interfering in that election. To justify its claim that Tulsi Gabbard is the Kremlin’s candidate, NBC stated: “analysts at New Knowledge, the company the Senate Intelligence Committee used to track Russian activities in the 2016 election, told NBC News they’ve spotted ‘chatter’ related to Gabbard in anonymous online message boards, including those known for fomenting right-wing troll campaigns.”
What NBC – amazingly – concealed is a fact that reveals its article to be a journalistic fraud: that same firm, New Knowledge, was caught just six weeks ago engaging in a massive scam to create fictitious Russian troll accounts on Facebook and Twitter in order to claim that the Kremlin was working to defeat Democratic Senate nominee Doug Jones in Alabama. The New York Times, when exposing the scam, quoted a New Knowledge report that boasted of its fabrications: “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the [Roy] Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.’”
[..] In any event, NBC News, to smear Gabbard as a Kremlin favorite, relied on a group that it heralded as “experts” without telling its audience about the major fraud which this firm just got caught perpetrating in order – on behalf of the Democratic Party – to fabricate claims of Kremlin interference in the Alabama Senate race. That’s because the playbook used by the axis of the Democratic Party, NBC/MSNBC, neocons and the intelligence community has been, is and will continue to be a very simple one: to smear any adversary of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party – whether on the left or the right – as a stooge or asset of the Kremlin (a key target will undoubtedly be, indeed already is, Bernie Sanders).
Tulsi Gabbard: The US should not be in the business of intervening in Venezuela and picking who should lead the country. And we certainly should not be threatening military action. The US needs to stay out of Venezuela and let the Venezuelan people determine their own future. pic.twitter.com/v5wW7lPdL3
The Australian government is due to release on Monday the final recommendations of the independent inquiry that exposed systemic wrongdoing in Australia’s financial sector last year, likely leading to sweeping changes to the country’s banking industry. The big banks, insurers, pension funds and regulators who oversee the financial industry are bracing for a brutal summary of their misdeeds and weaknesses, and a list of tough recommendations including possible criminal charges. The Royal Commission was a quasi-judicial independent body led by a former high court judge that was tasked by the government, reluctantly at first, with investigating financial sector misconduct following a string of banking scandals.
For 11 months its public hearings shocked the country and wiped more than A$60 billion ($43.4 billion) from top financial stocks as investors factored in the prospect of tougher regulation, higher compliance costs and thinner margins. Regulators were also grilled by the commission’s barristers about why they seemed reluctant to crack down on wrongdoing, sometimes penalizing firms with little more than a mildly worded press release. “There will be nothing positive in the recommendations because the banks have clearly breached various obligations in the laws, and obligations to good customer service,” said Matthew Wilson, a banking analyst at Deutsche Bank.
We should know by now that the heart of the 21st Century Great Game is the myriad layers of the battle between the United States and the partnership of Russia and China. Even the U.S. National Defense Strategy says so: “The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by … revisionist powers.” The recently published assessment on U.S. defense implications of China’s global expansion says so too. The clash will frame the emergence of a possibly new, post-ideological, strategic world order amidst an extremely volatile unpredictability in which peace is war and an accident may spark a nuclear confrontation.
The U.S. vs. Russia and China will keep challenging the West’s obsession in deriding “illiberalism,” a fearful, rhetorical exercise that equates Russian democracy with China’s one party rule, Iran’s demo-theocracy and Turkey’s neo-Ottoman revival. It’s immaterial that Russia’s economy is one-tenth of China’s. From boosting trade that bypasses the U.S. dollar, to increasing joint military exercises, the Russia-China symbiosis is poised to advance beyond political and ideological affinities. China badly needs Russian know-how in its military industry. Beijing will turn this knowledge into plenty of dual use, civilian-military innovations.
The long game indicates Russia and China will break down language and cultural barriers to lead Eurasian integration against American economic hegemony backed by military might. One could say the Eurasian century is already upon us. The era of the West shaping the world at will (a mere blip of history) is already over. This is despite Western elite denials and fulminations against the so-called “morally reprehensible,” “forces of instability” and “existential threats.” Standard Chartered, the British financial services company, using a mix of purchasing power exchange rates and GDP growth, has projected that the top five economies in 2030 will be China, the U.S., India, Japan and Russia. These will be followed by Germany, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and the UK. Asia will extend its middle class as they are slowly killed off across the West.
[..] Beijing is realizing it can’t meet its geo-economic goals on energy, security, and trade without bypassing the U.S. dollar. According to the IMF, 62 percent of global central bank reserves were still held in U.S. dollars by the second quarter of 2018. Around 43 per cent of international transactions on SWIFT are still in U.S. dollars. Even as China, in 2018, was the single largest contributor to global GDP growth, at 27.2 percent, the yuan still only accounts for 1 percent of international payments, and 1.8 per cent of all reserve assets held by central banks.
How did East Asians come to be referred to as yellow-skinned? It was the result of a series of racial mappings of the world and had nothing to do with the actual colour of people’s skin. In fact, when complexion was mentioned by an early Western traveller or missionary or ambassador (and it very often wasn’t, because skin colour as a racial marker was not fully in place until the 19th century), East Asians were almost always called white, particularly during the period of first modern contact in the 16th century. And on a number of occasions, even more revealingly, the people were termed “as white as we are”. The term yellow occasionally began to appear towards the end of the 18th century and then really took hold of the Western imagination in the 19th.
But by the 17th century, the Chinese and Japanese were “darkening” in published texts, gradually losing their erstwhile whiteness when it became clear they would remain unwilling to participate in European systems of trade, religion, and international relations. Calling them white, in other words, was not based on simple perception either and had less to do with pigmentation than their presumed levels of civilisation, culture, literacy, and obedience (particularly if they should become Christianised). Swedish botanist and physician Carl Linnaeus decided that varieties of homo sapiens could be similarly separated into four continental types, one of which was called homo asiaticus. The colour of that group, he said, was fuscus, which can be best translated as “dark”. This was in 1735.
Evidently there was some difficulty deciding on a precise colour for Asian Man, since the other three types, European, African, and American, could be “unproblematically” identified according to already accepted stereotypes of white, black, and red. In the tenth edition of Linnaeus’ taxonomy, however, published in 1758, fuscus was silently changed to luridus, meaning “lurid”, “sallow”, or “pale yellow”. The reasons for this alteration were never explained, although luridus also appeared in several of Linnaeus’ botanical publications to characterise unhealthy and toxic plants. Was Asian Man also to be viewed as sickly or dangerous?
Wildlife and pets are under increasing threat from plastic waste and litter, according to new data from the RSPCA, which shows the number of incidents of animals hurt by plastic litter has risen sharply on previous years. Plastic litter led to 579 cases of damage to wildlife or pets that were reported to the animal charity in England and Wales in 2018, up from 473 in 2015. That rise came against a background of falling damage to animals from other forms of litter, down from 4,968 reported incidents in 2015 to 4,579 last year. Water birds and marine animals were particularly at risk, with 28 incidents involving seals hurt by plastic litter in 2018, compared with five in 2015. Among birds, swans were among the worst affected, followed by geese and gulls.
Plastic has become an increasing focus of concern, as it does not break down in the natural environment and can continue to cause problems in waterways for years. The government has increased charges on disposable plastic bags to discourage their overuse, and businesses from supermarkets to consumer goods companies are changing their practices to use less plastic packaging in response to public concerns. But the biggest source of damage to wildlife from litter comes from angling, according to the RSPCA’s findings, with discarded equipment such as lines, nets and hooks causing more than 3,200 of last year’s reports.
“[Fishing] lines can wrap around necks, causing deep wounds in flesh and cutting off the blood supply,” said a spokeswoman for the charity. “Hooks can pierce beaks or feet, become embedded in skin or get caught in the bird’s throat, and weights can be swallowed causing internal injuries and blockages.”
Plastic in the oceans is being turned into an even greater threat to small sea creatures than previously thought because bacteria are sticking particles of it together, scientists have discovered. Glue-like substances secreted by bacteria are sticking tiny bits of plastic to form larger clusters that marine animals could mistake for food, experts fear. They also worry that the clumping could divert the natural flow of food from the ocean surface to the seafloor, leading to deep sea creatures being starved. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh staged experiments with seawater, adding plastics in conditions simulating the ocean surface. Within minutes, the minuscule pieces of plastic grouped together with bacteria, algae and other organic particles to form larger clumps.
The scientists are said to have been surprised to discover that large masses of biopolymers – molecules made by organisms – formed the bulk of the plastic clusters. About eight million tonnes of plastic are thrown into the ocean each year, research shows. Team member Stephen Summers said: “This is a first step towards understanding how nanoplastics interact with natural biopolymers throughout the world’s oceans. “This is very important, as it is at this small scale that much of the world’s biogeochemistry occurs.” The clumps became visible to the naked eye. “The fact that these agglomerates become large enough to see raises concern, as they are likely to be seen as a food source by small marine animals,” he said.
The consensus forecast by economists predicted that the US economy would grow at an rate of 2.2% in the fourth quarter, as measured by inflation-adjusted GDP. The forecasts ranged from 1.5% to 2.8%. The New York Fed’s “Nowcast” pegged it at 2.1%, and the Atlanta Fed’s “GDPNow” at 2.9%. And today, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that growth in the fourth quarter was a measly 1.9%. That was down from 3.5% in the third quarter, a spurt that had once again given rise to the now gutted hopes that the US economy would finally emerge from its stall speed. But instead it has slowed down. For the year 2016, the growth rate dropped to 1.6%. It was worse even than 2013, when GDP growth tottered along at 1.7%. And it matched the growth rate in 2011. Both 2016 and 2011 were the worst since 2009 when the US was in the middle of the Great Recession:
In fact, over the past 50 years, anytime the economy grew less than 2% in a year, it was either already in a recession for part of the year, or there’d be a recession the following year. Hence “stall speed” – a speed that is too slow to keep the economy from stalling altogether. [..] So stall speed for the year. But this time it’s different. This is the third year since the Great Recession when GDP growth dropped below 2%. The Fed’s policies of eight years of cheap credit have entailed soaring debt levels among companies, governments, and consumers – money borrowed from tomorrow that was spent today. Borrowing for productive investment is one thing. Borrowing for consumption is another: it boosts GDP but creates a debt overhang with no productive assets that generate income to service that debt in the future; that debt service for prior consumption then acts as a burden on future consumption.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average provides us with some pretty strong evidence that our “stock market boom” has been fueled by debt. On Wednesday, the Dow crossed the 20,000 mark for the first time ever, and this comes at a time when the U.S. national debt is right on the verge of hitting 20 trillion dollars.
Is this just a coincidence? As you will see, there has been a very close correlation between the national debt and the Dow Jones Industrial Average for a very long time.
For example, when Ronald Reagan took office in 1991, the U.S. national debt had just hit 994 billion dollars and the Dow was sitting at 951. And as you can see from this chart by Matterhorn.gold via David Stockman, roughly that same ratio has held true throughout subsequent presidential administrations…
During the Clinton years the Dow raced out ahead of the national debt, but an “adjustment” during the Bush years brought things back into line. The cold hard truth is that we have been living way above our means for decades. Our “prosperity” has been fueled by the greatest debt binge in the history of the world, and we are greatly fooling ourselves if we think otherwise.We would never have gotten to 20,000 on the Dow if Barack Obama and Congress had not gotten us into an extra 9.3 trillion dollars of debt over the past eight years. Unfortunately, most people do not understand this, and the mainstream media is treating “Dow 20,000″ as if it is some sort of great historical achievement…
“The average began tracking the most powerful corporate stocks in 1896, and has served as a broad measure of the market’s health through 22 presidents, 22 recessions, a Great Depression, at least two crashes and innumerable rallies, corrections, bull and bear markets. The blue chip reading finally cracked the 20,000 benchmark for the first time early Wednesday. During the current bull market, the second longest in history, the Dow has more than tripled since March 2009.”
Since Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, the Dow has now climbed by approximately 2150 points. And it took just 64 calendar days for the Dow to go from 19,000 to 20,000. That is an astounding pace, and financial markets around the rest of the planet are doing very well right now too. In fact, global stocks rose to a 19 month high on Wednesday. So where do we go from here? Well, if Donald Trump wants to see Dow 30,000 during his presidency, then history tells us that he needs to take us to 30 trillion dollars in debt.
Despite record U.S. auto sales last year, the number of vehicles on car-dealer lots remains near record highs, and, as J.D.Power analyst Thomas King warned this week, 2016 ended with an inventory “bubble” that will require less production or more incentives to clear. With near record high inventories of 3.9 million vehicles… U.S. auto inventory finished 2016 at about 66 days supply, up from 60 days a year earlier. Inventory would last 2.23 months at the November sales pace, according to the latest available data from the Census Bureau. The stock-to-sales ratio in 2016 is extremely elevated compared to historical norms…
More problematically, King warns, about one-third of inventory were older model-year vehicles, rather than more typical level of less than a quarter. Of course this massive stockpile hits just as President Trump pressures the auto-industry to onshore more jobs and more production… But as the industry automates, factories don’t create jobs like they used to, said Marina Whitman, a professor of business administration and public policy at the University of Michigan. “The American auto industry last year produced more cars than it ever had before, but they did it with somewhere between one-third and one-half the number of workers that they had decades ago,” said Whitman, who was an adviser to President Richard Nixon and GM’s chief economist from 1978 to 1992. “The last thing the auto industry needs is more capacity,” she said.
Donald Trump has a chance to rally his core supporters as well as left-wing Democrats, wrapping himself in the populist flag to take on the politically powerful drug industry. He is vowing to keep a campaign pledge to push legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, a practice currently prohibited by law. Proponents say this would reduce drug prices and Medicare costs for the federal government. Medicare pays for about 29% of prescription drugs in the U.S. and would have considerable leverage. Trump would be taking on the leaders of his own party, starting with House Speaker Paul Ryan. Most Republicans have long argued that giving Medicare such power is tantamount to government price-setting, which ideologically they oppose and which they say would stifle innovation and research in the drug industry.
Many of them receive huge campaign contributions from the industry’s sizable political war chest. There are arguments over the merits and effects, but the politics are clear cut. In a Kaiser Foundation poll last autumn, the public, by 82% to 17%, favored allowing the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices. Huge majorities say costly drug prices – in recent years they have risen about four times the rate of inflation – are a major concern. These costs are felt by some of Trump’s strongest supporters, non-college educated whites. And liberals, led by politicians like Bernie Sanders, champion a robust government role to keep drug prices down.
[..] There was an instructive vote in the Senate this month on a closely related issue, allowing the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. It failed 52 to 46. But it garnered the support of 10 Republicans, including deficit hawks like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Utah’s Mike Lee. However, 13 Democrats, most of them beneficiaries of industry political contributions, voted against the measure. Subsequently, they have gotten a lot of flak from liberal groups, which especially have targeted Cory Booker of New Jersey. He received $49,830 from the industry in the last election. If Trump goes all out on this issue, it will be near impossible for most of these Democrats to side with the industry over a Republican president whom they accuse of representing the interests of the rich. And, knowledgeable Congress watchers say, a number of Republicans, in the face of White House pressure and public opinion, would cave, too.
President Donald Trump on Friday put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries, saying the moves would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks. In the most sweeping use of his presidential powers since taking office a week ago, Trump paused the entry of travelers from Syria and the six other nations for at least 90 days, saying his administration needed time to develop more stringent screening processes for refugees, immigrants and visitors. “I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. Don’t want them here,” Trump said earlier on Friday at the Pentagon. “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people,” he said.
The order seeks to prioritize refugees fleeing religious persecution, a move Trump separately said was aimed at helping Christians in Syria. That led some legal experts to question whether the order was constitutional. One group said it would announce a court challenge on Monday. The Council on American-Islamic Relations said the order targets Muslims because of their faith, contravening the U.S. Constitutional right to freedom of religion. “President Trump has cloaked what is a discriminatory ban against nationals of Muslim countries under the banner of national security,” said Greg Chen of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The bans, though temporary, took effect immediately, causing havoc and confusion for would-be travelers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Trump has long pledged to take this kind of action, making it a prominent feature of his campaign for the Nov. 8 election, but people who work with Muslim immigrants and refugees were scrambling on Friday night to determine the scope of the order. [..] Trump’s order also suspends the Syrian refugee program until further notice, and will eventually give priority to minority religious groups fleeing persecution. Trump said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that the exception would help Syrian Christians fleeing the civil war there. Legal experts were divided on whether this order would be constitutional. “If they are thinking about an exception for Christians, in almost any other legal context discriminating in favor of one religion and against another religion could violate the constitution,” said Stephen Legomsky, a former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration.
The EU is unable to work with global superpowers in addressing conflicts and crises because it lacks leadership, Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis said. “Europe is very slow, very bureaucratic,” Babis said. “The problem is who will sit together at the table” with leaders of the U.S., U.K., Russia “to solve the problem in the Middle East, North Africa, the migration. Europe is always waiting for elections” in countries including Germany and France, he said. The Czech billionaire, whose party leads polls ahead of the fall general elections, has been critical of the bloc his country joined in 2004 and the way it tackled a series of issues, including the migration crisis. He rejected a call from his fellow Czech interior minister to lead separate talks with the U.K. on Brexit, saying the EU needs to stay united in the negotiations. Babis said he was surprised by the announced “hard Brexit,” and urged Britain to activate Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty quickly to speed up the negotiations.
The world today is overwhelmed with problems. Policymakers seem to be confused and at a loss. But no problem is more urgent today than the militarization of politics and the new arms race. Stopping and reversing this ruinous race must be our top priority. The current situation is too dangerous. More troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers are being brought to Europe. NATO and Russian forces and weapons that used to be deployed at a distance are now placed closer to each other, as if to shoot point-blank. While state budgets are struggling to fund people’s essential social needs, military spending is growing. Money is easily found for sophisticated weapons whose destructive power is comparable to that of the weapons of mass destruction; for submarines whose single salvo is capable of devastating half a continent; for missile defense systems that undermine strategic stability.
Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war. In the second half of the 1980s, together with the U.S., we launched a process of reducing nuclear weapons and lowering the nuclear threat. By now, as Russia and the U.S. reported to the Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference, 80% of the nuclear weapons accumulated during the years of the Cold War have been decommissioned and destroyed. No one’s security has been diminished, and the danger of nuclear war starting as a result of technical failure or accident has been reduced. This was made possible, above all, by the awareness of the leaders of major nuclear powers that nuclear war is unacceptable.
I urge the members of the U.N. Security Council — the body that bears primary responsibility for international peace and security — to take the first step. Specifically, I propose that a Security Council meeting at the level of heads of state adopt a resolution stating that nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought. I think the initiative to adopt such a resolution should come from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin — the Presidents of two nations that hold over 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenals and therefore bear a special responsibility.
Tulsi Gabbard is a Democrat. Can we now please finally have a serious conversation about what the US has done to the Middle East/Northern Africa region? How are we ever going to atone for this if we don’t? Or would we rather continue in denial?
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard told CNN that she has proof the Obama administration was funding ISIS and Al-Qaeda.Hawaii Rep. Gabbard went to Syria on a secret fact-finding mission to wade through the lies and propaganda and find out what is really happening on the ground. Immediately on her return CNN booked her for an “exclusive” interview – and Gabbard told them exactly what they didn’t want to hear: she has proof the Obama administration was funding ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Explaining to Jake Tapper that she met people from all walks of life in Aleppo and Damascus, Gabbard said that Syrians “expressed happiness and joy at seeing an American walking their streets.” But they also wanted to know “why is it that the United States, its allies and other countries, are providing support, are providing arms, to terrorist groups like Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, who are on the ground there, raping, kidnapping, torturing, and killing the Syrian people?
“They asked me why is the United States supporting these terrorist groups who are destroying Syria – when it was Al-Qaeda who attacked the United States on 9/11, not Syria. “I didn’t have an answer for that.“ That was more than Jake Tapper, who was hostile from the beginning of the interview, could handle. His face screwed up, he lashed out, saying, “Obviously the United States government denies providing any sort of help to the terrorist groups you are talking about, they say they provide help for the rebel groups.“ If that was supposed to Tapper’s knockout blow, Gabbard saw it coming a mile away. Without missing a beat, she calmly deconstructed his ideological, and savagely wrong, talking points.
“The reality is, Jake – and I’m glad you bought up that point – every place that I went, every person I spoke to, I asked this question to them. And without hesitation, they said ‘there are no moderate rebels, who are these moderate rebels that people keep speaking of?’ “Regardless of the name of these groups, the strongest fighting force on the ground in Syria is Al-Nusra or Al-Qaeda and ISIS. That is a fact. There are a number of different other groups, all of them are fighting alongside, with or under the command of the strongest group on the ground that is trying to overthrow Assad.”
The World Food Programme (WFP) has slashed food rations distributed to 1.4 million displaced Iraqis by 50% because of delays in payments from donor states. The sharp cutbacks come at a time when a growing number of Iraqis flee the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group. At least 160,000 people have been displaced since October when the Iraqi military, backed by Kurdish forces and Shia militias. launched a military campaign to recapture Mosul from the armed group. WFP spokeswoman Inger Marie Vennize said the UN agency was talking to the United States – its biggest donor, Germany, Japan and others to secure funds to restore full rations.
“We have had to reduce [the rations] as of this month,” she was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying. “The 50% cuts in monthly rations affect over 1.4 million people across Iraq,” she added. The effect is already being felt in camps east of Mosul, ISIL’s last major bastion in northern Iraq. “They are giving an entire family the food supply of one person … we want to go back home,” said Omar Shukri Mahmoud at the Hassan Sham camp. Safa Shaker, who fled with her extended family, said: “We are a big family and this ration is not going to be enough. “We escaped from [ISIL] in order to have a chance to live and now they have cut the aid. How are we supposed to live?” she added.
I wouldn’t shoot from the hip as much as PCR does, but in essence he’s right. Old media, CNN, WaPo, NYT, have wasted so much of their credibility. And they’re not taking any step back from that. it’s till all just echo-chambering.
Stephen Bannon is correct that the US media—indeed, the entire Western print and TV media—is nothing but a propaganda machine for the ruling elite. The presstitutes are devoid of integrity, moral conscience, and respect for truth. Who else but the despicable Western media justified the enormous war crimes committed against millions of peoples by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama regimes in nine countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Palestine, and the Russian areas of Ukraine? Who else but the despicable Western media justified the domestic police states that have been erected in the Western world in the name of the “war on terror”? Along with the war criminals that comprised the Clinton, Bush, and Obama regimes, the Western media should be tried for their complicity in the massive crimes against humanity.
The Western media’s effort to sustain the high level of tension between the West and Russia is a danger to all mankind, a direct threat to life on earth. Gorbachev’s warnings are correct. Yet presstitutes declare that if Trump lifts the sanctions it proves that Trump is a Russian agent. It is paradoxical that the Democrats and the liberal-progressive-left are mobilizing the anti-war movement to oppose Trump’s anti-war policy! By refusing to acknowledge and to apologize for its lies, euphemistically called “fake news,” the Western media has failed humanity in a number of other ways. For example, by consciously telling lies, the media has legitimized the suborning of perjury and false testimony used to convict innocent defendants in America’s “justice” system, which has about the same relation to justice as genocide has to mercy.
If the media can lie about world events, police and prosecutors can lie about crimes. By taking the role of the political opposition to Trump, the media has discredited itself as an honest critic on topics where Trump needs criticism, such as the environment and his tolerance of oppressive methods used by police. The presstitutes have ended all chance of improving Trump’s performance with reports and criticism. Trump needs moderating on the environment, on the police, and on the war on terror. Trump needs to understand that “the Muslim threat” is a hoax created by the neoconservatives and the military/security complex with the complicity of the presstitutes to serve the hegemony agenda and the budget and power of the CIA, Pentagon, and military industries.
If the US stops bombing and slaughtering Muslims and training and equiping forces to overthrow non-compliant Muslim governments such as Syria, Iraq, and Libya, “the Muslim threat” will disappear. Maybe Trump will add to his agenda breaking into hundreds of pieces the six mega-media companies that own 90% of the US media and selling the pieces to seperate independent owners who have no connection to the ruling elites. Then America would again have a media that can constrain the government with truth rather than use lies to act for or against the government.
Tweets on social media say Trump is about to lift the sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama regime. Being a showman, Trump would want to make this announcement himself, not have it made for him by someone outside his administration. Nevertheless, the social media tweets are a good guess. Reports are that Trump and Putin will speak tomorrow. The conversation cannot avoid the issue of sanctions. Trump during his first week has moved rapidly with his agenda. He is unlikely to delay lifting the sanctions. Moreover, there is no cost to Trump of lifting them. The sanctions have no support in the US and Western business communities. The only constituency for the sanctions were the neoconservatives who are not included in the Trump administration.
Victoria Nuland, Susan Rice, Samantha Power are gone along with much of the State Department. So there is nothing in Trump’s way. President Putin is correct that the sanctions helped Russia by pushing Russia to be more economically independent and by pushing Russia toward developing economic relationships with Asia. Lifting the sanctions could actually hurt Russia by integrating Russia into the West. The Russian government should take note that the only sovereign country in the West is the United States. All the rest are US vassals. Could Russia escape the same fate? Anyone integrated into the West is subject to Washington’s pressure. The problem with the sanctions is that they are an insult to Russia. The sanctions are based on lies that the Obama regime told.
The real purpose of the sanctions was not economic. The purpose was to embarrass Russia as an outlaw state and to isolate the outlaw. Trump cannot normalize relations with Russia if he lets this insult stand. Therefore, the social media tweets are likely to be correct that Trump is about to lift the sanctions. This will be good for US-Russian relations, but perhaps not so good for the Russian economy and Russian sovereignty. The Western capitalists would love to get Russia deep in debt and to buy up Russia’s industries and raw materials. The sanctions were a partial protection against foreign influence over the Russian economy, and so the removal of the sanctions is like removing a shield as well as removing an insult.
I like measuring well-being through grain prices, but at the same time I don’t think basic needs should be subject to the same ‘market forces’ as cellphones etc. As growth and globalism vanish, we should all produce out own basics.
Here are the week’s leading indicators. The Dow Jones industrial average topped 20,000 points for the first time. British GDP grew 0.6% in the final quarter of 2016. The FTSE 100 and Germany’s DAX 30 persisted close to record highs, while US GDP softened slightly. Bored yet? I am. As a former financial journalist, I’m well acquainted with the merry-go-round of indicators that blip in and out of our lives like digital dopamine, telling us how well we’re doing. As a human being, I’m increasingly alarmed that these are just irrelevant numbers that have little or no bearing on how well we are really doing. [..] I’d rather suggest a series of other metrics that give a clearer indication of where humanity is at. Perhaps these are the key performance indicators we should hardwire into our reporting calendar:
Inequality ratios One of the lessons of the 20th century was that inequality breeds revolt and revolutions never end well. One of the lessons of the 21st century is that people seem to be determined not to learn the lessons of the 20th century. The Gini coefficient is a crude measure of how unequal societies are becoming. Some economists have been toying with another measure, the Palma ratio, which is better at discerning how much richer the richest cohort are getting, compared with the poorest. Both tell us much about our direction of travel.
Grain prices If we must focus on financial instruments, edible commodities are surely more interesting than stock and bond prices. You can’t eat a three-month Treasury bill, after all. In 2007/08, a wave of riots swept the developing world as the cost of basic foodstuffs soared. Governments fell. A dotted line joined that manifestation of unrest with the Arab spring four years later. Food matters. We routinely write that as many as a billion people on the planet are hungry, malnourished. That’s far more than the number with Dow Jones tracker funds.
Carbon dioxide, parts per million, in the atmosphere The most scary dataset of all. It goes up every year. And so do global temperatures. If this carries on for another couple of decades, people won’t be inspecting their portfolios – they’ll be foraging in the woods. Has anyone read The Road?
Antidepressant prescriptions A veritable bellwether for so much – from the wretched state we’re in psychologically to the inadequacies of our healthcare systems. Prescriptions have doubled in England in the past decade. An interest to declare: I take them, and believe they work for me. But I also firmly believe they are prescribed far too readily, by overstretched GPs who have only six minutes to speak to patients and little recourse to anything other than pills. Personally, I’d be willing to shave a couple of points off GDP in return for a more comprehensive programme to address this 21st-century epidemic.
Homelessness Not just in the UK, where it’s risen for six years in a row, but in California, Paris, Moscow. Surely, one of the first questions a newly arrived alien might ask upon landing in Britain would be “why do so many of you earthlings live outside?”, and not “how are my BT shares doing?”
Dependency ratio Admittedly, this is not a thrilling one to monitor as it doesn’t move much. But it is moving – and in the wrong direction for lots of developed countries. The dependency ratio is the number of working-age people compared with the number of children and those over retirement age. According to the Resolution foundation, there are currently seven dependants for every 10 working-age Britons, but this will increase to eight in the 2020s and nine by 2050.
Canada is considering contributing to a Dutch-led international fund to support abortion services in developing countries, set up in response to Donald Trump’s order to halt financing of NGOs that support the practice. A spokesman for Canada’s international development minister, Marie-Claude Bibeau, told AFP the minister had spoken with her Dutch counterpart about the fund, and was considering donating an unspecified sum to it or a similar measure that would support “sexual reproductive rights, including abortion” abroad. “Sexual health and reproductive rights will be at the heart of Canada’s new international assistance policy,” spokesman Louis Belanger said in an email.
“We will continue to explore opportunities to work together to advance women’s empowerment by expanding access to sexual and reproductive health services including abortion,” he said. Canada is set to unveil its new foreign aid strategy in the coming weeks. A decision on the fund would either be included or follow soon after that announcement. Trump on Monday signed a decree barring US government funding for foreign NGOs that support abortion. The restrictions prohibit them from also providing abortion information, counseling or referrals, or engaging in advocacy to promote abortion. Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation, said when she announced the new fund that the Netherlands must do everything in its power to offset the US ban so that “women can remain in control of their own bodies”.
Greece’s government debt remains “highly unsustainable,” and will be “explosive” in the longer run, requiring a more credible debt relief plan from Europe, the International Monetary Fund said in a report obtained by AFP. Addressing the debt burden of the beleaguered nation will require “significant debt relief” from European institutions, including dramatically extending the grace periods and maturities of the loans, the IMF said in it’s annual report on the Greek economy, which includes a debt sustainability analysis. The IMF board is due to discuss the report February 6. Even with full implementation of the economic reforms the country has agreed to, “Greece’s debt is highly unsustainable” and “will become explosive in the long run,” as the government will have to replace highly-subsidized official financing with market financing at much higher rates, the IMF said.
The pessimistic report, though in keeping with the fund’s repeated statements on the topic, makes it more unlikely the IMF stays on the sidelines of any new European loan deal for Greece. Months of bickering have delayed progress of Greece’s 86-billion-euro ($92.4 billion) bailout program agreed in 2015 and officials increasingly are worried that elections this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany could further poison any progress. The IMF report says that in order to “provide more credibility to the debt strategy for Greece, further specificity will be needed regarding the type and scope of debt relief to be expected” from Europe. This must include “ambitious extensions of grace and maturity periods, a full deferral of interest on European loans, as well as a locking in of the interest rate on a significant amount of European loans … to put debt on a sustained downward path.”
The IMF calls for extending the grace period until 2040, during which time no debt payments would be required, and extending the maturity of the loans to 30 years in some cases to 2070, dramatically longer than what Europe agreed to in 2012. At the heart of the dispute over the new loan program is a demand by the eurozone that Greece deliver a primary balance, or surplus on public spending before debt repayments, of 3.5% of GDP, far in excess of the 1.5% the IMF says is feasible. The target is very high – and most countries do not even come close – but Germany and other eurozone hardliners are insistent that Greece reach it for several years after its current program concludes in 2018. Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem insisted on Thursday that the IMF remained committed to the Greek bailout program, despite repeated calls by the IMF for more realistic targets and more debt relief.
1) The IMF is to a large extent playing a double role, and is comfortable in that role.
2) Yes, ‘pensions-to-GDP’ is very high in Greece, but that is only because other benefits simply don’t exist. Pensions can only be cut further if an unemployment benefits program is initiated. Everyone involved knows this, it’s just that some (IMF) prefer to act as if they don’t. Because such a program would cost money.
3) The demise of Greece as a nation is as much the shame of the IMF as that of Germany and the EU. The consequences of the demise will be too.
In 2015, Yanis Varoufakis tried to renegotiate the terms of the Greek bailout. He expected his peers in the Eurogroup to treat him as an equal. But they were expecting a repentant supplicant. Greece had sinned, it was receiving just punishment for its sins, and who did Varoufakis think he was, coming along and telling them that the treatment Greece was receiving was unjust and counterproductive? This misunderstanding made a bad situation far worse. It led eventually to Greece’s near-expulsion from the Euro and the breaking of Alexis Tsipras. And, of course, to Varoufakis’s resignation. Now it is the IMF’s turn to misread the psychological framing. This is not a four-handed poker game, it is a duel to the death. And it is not really about Greece. The surface conflict is between Greece and its creditors, but the underlying power struggle is between the German-led creditor bloc and the European Commission.
The eventual outcome will determine the shape of the Eurozone, and indeed the whole EU, in the future. Neither the Greek government nor the European Commission want the IMF involved. The only reason the IMF is still involved is that the creditors want it to be. And the reason the creditors want the IMF involved is that they do not trust the Commission to deliver the harsh penance they have prescribed for Greece. The IMF has been cast in the role of creditors’ second. Unfortunately, this is not how the IMF sees itself. It is still trying to act as a neutral broker, crafting a deal acceptable to both sides. It has repeatedly called for substantial debt relief, and has also demanded deep reforms to the Greek economy. But because it is no longer perceived as neutral, its call for debt relief is ignored while its reform initiative is inevitably seen as a disguised demand for more austerity.
[..] Greece’s pension expenditure as a proportion of GDP is the highest in the EU, even though payments are only about 70% of the EU average. That’s the problem with quoting fixed payments like pensions (and debt service) in relation to GDP: as GDP falls, the cost rises. The Greek economy is now about 27% smaller than it was in 2008, and still shrinking. The IMF’s case is that pension cost as a proportion of GDP is now unsustainable, and further, that the creditors are not going to agree to debt relief while pension cost remains so high. It is probably right on both counts. But once again, what really matters is the psychological framing.
[..] the IMF’s position is untenable. Since it can no longer credibly claim to be neutral, it must explicitly back one side or the other. If it backs neither, it will de facto be seen as supporting the creditors – and that is not consistent with its international mandate, since it effectively means giving up its quest for substantial debt relief (since the creditors have no desire to agree to this). But coming out in support of Greece probably means abandoning its long-standing commitment to ensuring fiscal sustainability through pension and tax reforms. It appears an impossible choice. If the IMF can concede neither of these, then it must do what it should have done long ago. Walk.
Ever since the November 8 election, it’s been hard to write anything that makes actual sense, as evidenced by just about everything I’ve read in the past two weeks, little of which was particularly elevating, because just like before the vote, and just like in pre- and post-Brexit Britain, all there is left in the US are deeply dug-in heels.
Everything and everyone is standing still; dug-in heels do that for you. Problem is, of course, that standing still doesn’t get you anywhere. You’re going to have to move or you’ll be left behind. Somehow it’s wonderfully ironic that Donald Trump is the only main character in this play who’s moving, and he does so in more ways than one. It’s like he’s going head first against the latest braindead internet craze, mannequin. If he does it on purpose, I commend him for it.
Sure, one might say Obama has moved a little too, suggesting that a smooth transition of power is paramount, talking a whole different book from what he said about the Donald before November 8. But then Obama doesn’t have many other options. His job requires him to do it, and say it. Over the past few months, the impression has crept upon me that Obama is a mannequin, though not still and silent, but one machine-trained to say the perfect thing at the perfect moment. And then still lost.
As predicted pre-election by the precious few willing to ponder a view that’s not entirely partisan or one-sided, Trump now rolls back his most extreme views, and is not afraid to revisit climate change, or a potential Hillary investigation, nor does he shy away from denouncing the most outrageous right wing movements and viewpoints among his voters and supporters.
Not even if every single person he talks to as he builds his administration is automatically labeled a racist, or worse, by US media, politicians and others that have gotten lost in their anti-Trump trenches.
Donald Trump will keep doing what he’s always done: throw ideas out there, see where they land and show that he’s flexible about them. In the process he will make many of his supporters more flexible too. He is the leader, he is their leader. When he reconsiders his views of issues, he ‘invites’ them to do the same. As we move forward, we’ll see this attitude shave off a lot of the sharp edges. It’s all entirely predictable, it’s almost a better story than the Pied Piper.
Of course you san say that some of the views expressed by Trump voters, and the acts committed, don’t belong in America. You would be right. But what you can’t say is that Trump is the source of these acts and views. They were there already. They were ignored and left to fester for years, however, and because of that grew sharper and more pronounced as time went on, until someone finally came along and did not ignore them. Talk about predictable.
But without an actual conversation taking place, without people from both sides, gaping as their differences may seem, willing to leave their trenches and talk to Donald Trump, and about him, from something other than the moral heights they have convinced each other and themselves were theirs and theirs alone, without that conversation there’s only so much he can do. They have to move; he already does.
Mind you, he’s got plenty room to maneuver in what he does, because he won the election, and nobody else. He can fill his government with a bunch of weirdos and radicals, he’s got the mandate. But that’s not what he wants. Trump meant it when he said he wants to be a president for all Americans.
The last thing Donald Trump wants is to fail as president. he instead wants to be the best. That requires motion from all sides, though. What Trump wants and needs right now is for people to reach out to him, to tell him they’re willing to talk, that they’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and work with him.
Don’t forget, he has to take on his own right wing camp -which will be a hard enough fight- as much as all those who see themselves as more liberal than he is (liberal is just a word in a country in which there is no left left). While at the same time those ‘liberals’ seem to spend all their waking hours exclusively trying to agree on what to call the people they see as America’s worst: are they neo-nazi’s, racists, white supremacists, bigots?
And as if that is not enough, all this comes with an outspoken implication that Trump is as bad as the worst of his voters. The anti-Trump camp are so busy with this that they fail to see the president-elect has long since moved away from what they thought his position was (was it ever?), and that they are the ones unwilling to talk, not him.
Mind you, this is as true for the right wing as for the left. Trump risks facing a lot of backlash from the right for not investigating Hillary, for softening his climate change view, for keeping some aspects of Obamacare, or some parts of the trade deals he has previously dismissed. He knows the risks.
The extreme right has misunderstood him as much as the ‘extreme liberal’ (a.k.a. the Hillary camp including the media). And if Britain is any guide, where 5 months after Brexit the main dish served is still made up of name calling and various other civilized pastimes, Trump has a long, windy and especially bumpy road ahead of him. America should perhaps count itself lucky that he’s a whole lot more flexible than the clowns performing on all sides of the aisles in the UK.
He’s willing to adapt, but that won’t do a lot of good if the other players are not. People may try to mock him for first bashing the New York Times and then, within 24 hours, calling it “a great great American jewel – world jewel”, but that’s only bad or inconsistent if you refuse to try and think like him.
Of course the New York Times, through history, has been a jewel of global media; it just didn’t act like one in the run-up to November 8. Pointing that out is not inconsistent from Trump’s angle: instead, it’s not difficult to make the case that it’s the New York Times that has been inconsistent, by leaving its journalistic standards -i.e. objectivity- behind to go after Trump.
After all, it’s hard to argue that the New York Times was NOT a partisan channel in the election. That so many other news media took the same position may have made it seem normal, but that doesn’t make it so.
Americans from all corners will have to come down from their morally righteous and politically correct mountains. They will then find that Donald Trump was way ahead of them.
And no, I am not a Trump supporter. But given the alternatives presented, I do find myself wondering if there was a single one amongst them more fit for the job than the Donald. Not that it matters anymore, the election is over and he won, recounts and discussions about electoral collages or not.
Is that really such a bad thing? Trump won. Which means the Democrats and Republicans did not. The Bush dynasty and Clinton dynasty did not. The incumbent elites did not. That is quite the clean up job. Does anyone want to argue such a clean up was not needed? Donald Trump is shaking up a world in which too many people and institutions across the political scene have been able to gain too much power and influence and wealth for too long, and it’s hard to see that as a big negative.
Besides, whether you like it or not, he’s your president. May I humbly suggest y’all make the best of what you got? Perhaps, and I must say perhaps because I should learn more about this, Trump’s talk Monday with Bernie Sanders-territory left-wing Democrat -and Hindu- Tulsi Gabbard, which may well land her a cabinet post, is indicative of what we may expect. So you got someone who’s left-wing, a woman, and very much not Christian. How many prejudices is that?
Gabbard wants the US to stop killing people in Syria. Is that a bad thing, anyone? She broke with the DNC when she figured out then-Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was favoring Hillary and working against Bernie.
If Gabbard’s move is not enough to make you move and un-dig your heels, how about Bernie Sanders himself taking a seat in the Trump government? Would that do the trick? The Donald would love it. Bernie would be told he’s betraying his party, for sure, but we all know the party betrayed him first. He’s either got a few years left to do something real, or he can see himself be betrayed all over again in 2020.
By now, it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities. A National Government is something many nations have tried through history. It might not be a bad idea for the US, because the future sure is not made exclusively of moonshine and roses.
The keyword is flexibility, guys. You have a president-to-be who gets that. How about you?