Aug 052018
 
 August 5, 2018  Posted by at 1:19 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali Spain 1936-38 (Spanish civil war)

 

Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-semite. Julian Assange is a rapist, a Russian agent and a terrorist. Donald Trump is an anti-semite, a rapist AND a Russian agent. Vladimir Putin wants to invade and enslave the entire western world and to that end employs Assange, Trump, maybe also Corbyn(?), as well as thousands upon thousands of hackers and murderers who make people vote for whoever Putin chooses, and poison former Russian agents on western soil.

These allegations, and there’s many more of them, have a number of things in common. Most importantly, they serve to change your mind. They serve to change your perception of reality. They seek to whip up your support for the very people and forces that launch them into the media.

Something else they have in common is that none of them has ever been proven, even though some of them are getting on in years. But they were never meant to be proven, simply because they don’t have to be. If your mind is a fertile breeding ground for such allegations, all that needs to be done is plant a seed, and plant another, and then water them day after day by repeating the allegations and make them ‘yummier’, until they sprout a plant or a tree ‘spontaneously’.

A third feature the allegations have in common is that as they change your perception of reality, you will be -more- inclined to support those who invented them for that exact purpose, so you will not oppose their -further- grab for power and wealth.

That Jeremy Corbyn would hate Jews goes against the man’s entire life history. But he’s been exceedingly weak in defending himself, and his Labour Party, against the accusations of anti-semitism, so the label sticks and has been very successful. Instead of explaining his position in the face of the unfolding and increasingly disastrous Brexit proceedings, all Corbyn gets to do is utter some feeble defence about his history with Jewish people. On Brexit, he’s been all but silenced. Even his own party merrily goes along with the smear.

 

The accusations concerning Assange in the Swedish rape ‘case’ are, if possible, even more preposterous, even if they have also ostensibly been even more successful. The Swedes, British and Americans involved in the narrative knew beforehand that all they needed was to plant a fragile seed. Julian had historically enjoyed a lot of support from women, and that was over in a heartbeat.

Sweden’s female(!) prosecutor, Marianne Ny, refused for 4 years to talk to Assange one on one and when she finally did, dropped the case right after. But that’s 4 years of allegations hanging over him, easily enough to serve the purpose of those allegations: plant a seed of doubt. By then, another -hollow- tree had sprouted: Assange was accused of working directly with the Kremlin.

He always denied this, but after negotiations with the US Justice Department in early 2017 were abruptly halted by then FBI-head James Comey and US Senator Mark Warner (D.-VA) as Assange offered to prove that it wasn’t Russians who provided him with files from the DNC server(s), Robert Mueller felt free to accuse him of working with Russia once again in his indictment of 12 Russians last month. Not only could Assange not defend himself by then, since he had been totally silenced, but Mueller didn’t even attempt to provide evidence.

And I’ve said this numerous times before, but I still think it bears repeating: WikiLeaks is based on one underlying principle above and beyond anything else: trust; which means uncompromising honesty. WIthout that, no-one would ever again offer them any files. WikiLeaks doesn’t reveal sources, and it doesn’t redact things out of files other than to protect people’s lives.

In that sense it’s interesting that even with the Vault7 CIA files, after Comey had betrayed Assange, the latter still held back from publishing certain pages, just so CIA operatives wouldn’t be exposed. If Assange is caught in just one lie, be it about rape or about Russia, WikiLeaks is done, and so is he and his life’s work. So what do you do about someone who doesn’t lie? You spread lies about him.

But, again, that’s not what people see, because that’s not what their media report. Papers like the New York Times and the Guardian, who were more than happy to share, and profit from, WikiLeaks files before, have turned on Assange with a vengeance. Journalists are more than willing to throw a fellow journalist under the bus and then turn around and accuse Donald Trump of endangering journalists when he says they spread fake news. Well, they do, that’s what Assange’s case proves without a doubt.

 

That brings us to Trump, a ‘case’ that has much in common with Assange -even if the men themselves don’t-, but is also very different. Trump doesn’t seem to shy away from the odd white lie or embellishment. And sure, that may be putting it mildly. But both journalists and their viewers and readers need to keep one thing in mind: their work does not consist of spouting allegations. They need to provide proof.

And in the 18 -or 24- months since Trump prominently rose upon the Washington scene, precious little has been proven. Robert Mueller has alleged plenty, but proven next to nothing. It’s fair to say after all that time that he’s fishing. Sure, Paul Manafort will likely go to jail, but his case has nothing to do with Russia collusion, at least not in any way that Mueller has evidence for (we would have known if he did).

And you know, if you spend so much time, and resources, trying to find something, trying to find proof, and you have failed to find it, you have to acknowledge just that. Maybe not halt the investigation entirely, but go public and state that you haven’t been able to find what you thought you would or could. The country deserves that, The American people deserve it, and yes, Donald Trump does, too.

But the whole country now lives on a narrative. Media left and right profit from it, each to feed their audience the ‘latest’ 24/7. And there’s nothing really, so they have to make it up in order to continue profiting from the whipped-up attention. One side tells you how evil Trump is, the other how great he’s doing. The truth is always in the middle, but America has no middle left.

 

I said before that Donald Trump is portrayed as an anti-semite, a rapist AND a Russian agent. As for the first bit, I covered that a few days ago in “Globalist”. Does Trump hate Jews? Even if he does, he hides it pretty well. He’s always done business with Jewish people (hey, this is New York!), there are plenty Jews in his government, and in his own family. Calling someone an anti-Semite is a very serious thing, not a detail to be thrown around at will. Prove it or hold your tongue.

Is Trump a rapist, like what Assange is accused of? You can certainly find no shortage of people willing to state that in both cases. But again, no evidence. And with the fame and glory awaiting anyone who does prove it in either case, you would think by now someone would have found something. Again, prove it or hold your tongue.

Thirdly: is Trump a Russian agent? Look, if Robert Mueller hasn’t been able to prove that he is after two years and tens of millions spent, at least get off your high horse and focus on something else for a bit, if you want to be taken serious as a journalist. Russia, and Putin, are America’s favorite bogeyman today, and about the only thing that still unites the country.

So find something instead that unites you that is not your enemy. Find common cause. Find what makes you proud to be America. Are you all going to be proud if Assange is dragged into some place like Gitmo? Then you have completely lost what it is that should make you proud citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Because no matter how you may twist it, Julian Assange is braver than any of you, and braver than all of you put together too. But no, he’s not free. He gave up his freedom so you would know what it means to be free. Free from manipulation, free from people making up your minds for you, free from indoctrination, free from the forces that take more of your freedom away every day.

You see, Julian Assange is not free. But neither are you. He’s a prisoner of the very people who are taking your freedom away, day by day, step by step. That’s why you should stand up for him. And of course, it’s not just your freedom that’s at stake, it’s your humanity, it’s the very essence of what makes you human, the difference between a life worth living and a life wasted by complacency and cowardice.

Anything else is just narrative. It’s not life.

 

 

And yes, the title is from Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.

 

 

 

 

Jun 072018
 
 June 7, 2018  Posted by at 2:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh The good Samaritan (after Delacroix) 1890

 

UK House Prices Have Soared 100-Fold Since 1966 (CityAM)
No Need To Buy US Gas At Triple The Price, Will Buy From Russia – Austria (RT)
European Businesses Advised To Avoid Using British Parts Ahead Of Brexit (Sky)
Volatility May Hit Wall Street As Alphabet, Facebook Leave Tech Sector (R.)
China’s Debt Default Avalanche (ZH)
Turkey Escalates Row With Greece Over ‘Putschist’ Soldiers (G.)
Merkel Backs Macron’s European Defense Force Initiative (RT)
Airbnb Culls Japan Listings Ahead Of New Rental Law (AFP)
Whoever Controls The Narrative Controls The World (CJ)
How Humanity Could Become Impossible To Propagandize (CJ)
Study Warns Of Alarming Decline In Australian Fish (AFP)

 

 

Shifting priorities. Homes are no longer places to live.

UK House Prices Have Soared 100-Fold Since 1966 (CityAM)

UK house prices are 106 times higher than they were when England won the World Cup in 1966, according to research from online mortgage broker Trussle. Average house prices have gone up from £2,006 to £211,000, the company found, while wages have risen at around a third of the rate, moving from £798 to £26,500. But for the country’s footballers, the story is somewhat different. On average Premier League footballers earn 1,136 times more than top-flight stars like Bobby Moore and George Best did back in 1966. It’s estimated that the average wage of the current England squad is just below £80,000 per week – more than 3 times the annual UK average wage.

Ishaan Malhi, CEO and founder of Trussle, said: “A lot of has changed since England won the World Cup. We’ve put a man on the moon, invented the internet and we’ve seen technology transform almost every aspect of our lives. “We’ve also seen the UK housing market change dramatically. Prices have soared in the last 52 years, wages have struggled to keep pace and for young people, the chances of getting on the property ladder today will feel a lot slimmer than they did in 1966.” The research from Trussle comes as analysis from trade union GMB published yesterday showed that rents in London are far outpacing wage growth. Analysing data from the Valuation Office Agency, GMB found that between 2011 and 2017, rent prices for two-bedroom flats in London increased by 25.9%, whilst over the same period, monthly earnings increased by just 9.1%.

Read more …

European ties to Russia are old and deep.

No Need To Buy US Gas At Triple The Price, Will Buy From Russia – Austria (RT)

The US is force-feeding Europe its liquefied natural gas, which is three times more expensive that buying it from Russia, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said after signing a gas-supply contract with Moscow until 2040. While US politicians are accusing Europe of being dependent on Russian gas, they forget that “American liquefied gas is two or three times more expensive than Russian gas. Under such circumstances, it makes little sense in purely economic terms to replace Russian gas with American LNG,” Van der Bellen said at a press conference after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vienna on Tuesday.

Putin noted that Austria is a major transportation hub for Russian gas being exported to Europe. “Austria has become one of the key, if not to say, one of the most important units of Russian gas transportation to Western Europe and plays an important role in ensuring the energy security of the entire European continent,” Putin said. He recalled that Russia has exported more than 200 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Austria in the past 50 years. After the meeting, Russia’s Gazprom and Austria’s OMV signed a gas supply contract until 2040.

Read more …

Trade deals can be bitches.

European Businesses Advised To Avoid Using British Parts Ahead Of Brexit (Sky)

European governments are advising businesses not to use British parts in goods for export ahead of Brexit, Sky News has established. In its advice rolled out to all Dutch businesses, the Dutch government has told its exporters that “if a large part of your product consists of parts from the UK” domestic exporters may lose free trade access under existing deals. The advice says: “Brexit will have consequences for exports outside the EU. “After Brexit, parts made in the UK no longer count towards this minimum production in the European Union.” This is a reference to what are known as “rules of origin” and “local content” under international trade rules. In order to qualify for EU free trade deals, a certain proportion, typically 55% of a product’s parts, needs to come from the EU.

The Dutch government says UK parts “no longer count towards EU origin” in its official “Brexit impact scan” advice to Dutch businesses. That warning has also been underpinned by the EU’s own technical notice on this issue. “As of withdrawal date, the UK becomes a third country. UK inputs are considered ‘non-originating’,” it says. A leading car industry executive told Sky News that not using UK parts for EU exports would be a “catastrophe” for the British industry. “The hard Brexiteers have built a bomb under the UK automotive industry and the EU have lit it,” said one chief executive. Sky News has also heard of major UK automotive suppliers now ceasing UK supply of major components to cars for export to countries currently covered by EU Free Trade Areas – countries such as South Korea, South Africa and Canada.

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A new day.

Volatility May Hit Wall Street As Alphabet, Facebook Leave Tech Sector (R.)

Volatility could well be in the cards for Wall Street again early this fall, but not for the same reason stocks got rattled in February. This time the culprit would be the largest-ever shakeup of the stock market’s broad business sectors, which will mean some of the hottest stocks, like Facebook and Google parent Alphabet, will shift from their traditional homes in the top-performing technology sector and into a deepened pool of telecommunications and media stocks. The sweeping reorganization of the Global Industry Classification Standard, or GICS, means that funds tracking the telecom, tech and consumer discretionary sectors will be forced to trade billions of dollars of stock to realign their holdings by a Sept. 28 effective date.

While the choppiness many investors expect to see is unlikely to hit stocks in quite the same way that wave of the global uncertainty did in early 2018, the fact that so much money must be shifted among index funds in a short time will cause a stir. In a bid to ensure a smooth transition, leading fund provider Vanguard Group has have already started adjusting its sector exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, while State Street Global Advisors is launching an entirely new fund. Other investors predict price swings and commotion on trading desks if last-minute sales of Alphabet and Facebook shares by heavyweight technology index funds dwarf demand from a handful of telecom funds buying those stocks.

“There’s probably going to be net selling,” said Andrew Bodner, president of Double Diamond Investment Group in Parsippany, New Jersey. “That will be a temporary scenario, and it could be a good buying opportunity for a lot of those stocks.” Maintained by S&P Dow Jones Indices and MSCI since 1999 and widely used by portfolio managers, the GICS classifies companies across 11 sectors. The newest, real estate, was split off from financials in 2016. The upcoming changes, which have yet to be finalized, are meant to reflect evolving industries. Facebook and Alphabet will move from information technology and sit alongside AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications in a broadened telecommunication services sector that will be renamed communications services.

Read more …

Who’s the boss in China? Xi or the shadows?

China’s Debt Default Avalanche (ZH)

[..] what if the first domino to fall in the coming corporate debt crisis is not in the US, but in China? After all, as part of China’s aggressive deleveraging campaign, there has already been a spike of corporate bankruptcies as banks shed more of their massive note holdings and de-risk their balance sheets. According to Logan Wright, Hong Kong-based director at research firm Rhodium, there have already been least 14 corporate bond defaults in China in 2018; a separate analysis by Economic Information Daily, as of May 25, there had already been no less than 20 corporate defaults, involving more than 17 billion yuan, a shockingly high number for a country which until recently had never seen a single corporate bankruptcy, and a number which is set to increase as Chinese banks pull pull back from lending to other firms that use the funds to buy bonds, exacerbating the pressure on the market.

“You have seen banks redeeming funds placed with non-bank financial institutions that have reduced the pool of funds available for corporate bond investment overall,” Wright told Bloomberg, adding that additional bond defaults are especially likely among those property developers and local-government financing vehicles which have relied on shadow banking sources of funds. As we discussed last year, as part of Beijing’s crackdown on China’s $10 trillion shadow banking sector, strains have spread from high-yield trust products to corporate bonds as the lack of shadow funding has choked off refinancing for weaker borrowers. Separately, Banks’ lending to other financial firms, a common route for funds and securities brokers to add leverage for corporate bond investments, declined for three straight months, or a total of 1.7 trillion yuan ($265 billion), since January according to Bloomberg calculations.

The deleveraging campaign is also depressing bond demand: “Unlike the U.S., where the majority of buyers of bonds are mutual funds, individuals and investment companies, in China, the key holders of bonds are bank on-and off-balance sheet positions,” said Jason Bedford at UBS, who noted that Chinese banks are buying far fewer bonds as a result. Putting the number in context, according to Bloomberg, China’s four largest banks held about 4.1 trillion yuan in bonds issued by companies and other financial institutions at the end of 2017, nearly 20% below 5.1 trillion yuan a year earlier; all Chinese banks held about 12 trillion yuan of corporate bonds on or off their balances sheets, some 70% of outstanding issuance, according to Citic.

It is therefore hardly surprising to see that Chinese corporate bonds, especially riskier issues, have been getting slammed in recent weeks. According to Chinabond data, as noted first by Bloomberg, the yield premium of three-year AA- rated bonds over similar-maturity AAA notes has blown out 72 bps since March to 225 basis points, the highest level since August 2016, an indication of the recent pressures on weaker firms. One can imagine what is going on with deep junk-rated corps.

Read more …

Under heavy police protection in Greece. Because the Turks may come and get them. Elections June 24.

Turkey Escalates Row With Greece Over ‘Putschist’ Soldiers (G.)

Turkey has sent fighter jets roaring into Greek airspace as tensions mount between the two neighbours following the release from pre-trial detention of eight Turkish army officers described as traitors by Ankara. Formations of F-16s flew at low altitude over Aegean isles for more than 20 minutes on Tuesday as Turkey furiously accused Greece of sheltering terrorists. Ankara vowed to trace the commandos who it claimed participated in the failed July 2016 coup against the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government. “It is our duty to find these ‘putschist’ soldiers wherever they are, pack them up and bring them to Turkey,” the country’s deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag, said late on Monday.

He personally criticised the Greek prime minster, Alexis Tsipras, for failing to hand the soldiers over to Turkey after they flew into Greek airspace. “From statements made in Greece by its prime minister right after the coup, we were of the positive opinion that they would be extradited to Turkey,” he said. “We thought that Mr Tsipras would keep his word. With time, though, we saw that the judicial authorities were mobilised and these ‘putschists’ were not extradited.” The fate of the eight has been in Greek hands ever since the army officers took local authorities aback, landing their helicopter outside the northern border town of Alexandroupolis a day after the abortive coup.

[..] On Monday Greek authorities moved the military personnel out of police custody; following expiry of the 18-month pre-trial period they are legally allowed to be detained while they apply for asylum. They have been placed in top-secret locations under heavy police protection. “Given Turkey’s mindset, the situation is very dangerous,” said a senior judicial source. “But this is an issue of justice and we feel strongly that we must stand up for it.”

Read more …

Competition for NATO?!

Merkel Backs Macron’s European Defense Force Initiative (RT)

Chancellor Angela Merkel has supported “in principle” the idea of a joint European Defense Force proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron. Germany’s opposition had been the main stumbling block for the much-discussed project. “I am in favor of President Macron’s proposal for an intervention initiative,” the German chancellor told Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper on Sunday. “However, such an intervention force with a common military-strategic culture must fit into the structure of defense cooperation,” she said. Merkel said that the German military, the Bundeswehr, “must, in principle, be part of such an initiative,” but added that her statement “doesn’t mean that we are to be involved in every mission.”

During his key speech at Sorbonne University last September, Macron proposed a European military “intervention force” that would protect the continent by taking action in hotspots around the globe. It’s a crucial element of the French leader’s defense reform, which is aimed at integrating European defense capacities. But the talks on implementing the European Defense Force have so far been complicated due to Berlin’s cautions approach to the initiative. “European defense cooperation is very important. Of the 180 weapon systems that currently co-exist in Europe, we must move to a situation like the United States, which has only about 30 weapons systems,” Merkel said.

Read more …

Still a pretty weak law.

Airbnb Culls Japan Listings Ahead Of New Rental Law (AFP)

Rental platform Airbnb has suspended a large majority of its listings in Japan ahead of a new law that goes into effect next week regulating short-term rentals in the country. The law, which will comes into force on June 15, requires owners to obtain a government registration number and meet various regulations that some have decried as overly strict. “This weekend we reached out to those hosts who have not yet obtained their notification number to let them know that they will need this to accept any new bookings,” Airbnb spokesman for Asia-Pacific Jake Wilczynski told AFP. “We have informed those hosts that we are in the process of turning off future listing capabilities.”

He declined to confirm the exact number of listings affected, but local media reports and sources put the figure at about 80 percent of the rentals available on the site across Japan. Wilczynski said many Airbnb hosts had already obtained their registration, and others were “going through or finalising” the process. “We are on course to register tens of thousands of new listings in Japan in the months ahead,” he added. [..] The law limits stays to 180 days a year, and allows local governments to impose additional restrictions, with the tourist magnet of Kyoto only permitting rentals in residential areas between mid-January and mid-March, the low season for tourists.

Read more …

Two excellent pieces from Caitlin Johnstone.

Whoever Controls The Narrative Controls The World (CJ)

MSNBC host Joy Reid still has a job. Despite blatantly lying about time-traveling hackers bearing responsibility for bigoted posts a decade ago in her then-barely-known blog, despite her reportedly sparking an FBI investigation on false pretenses, despite her colleagues at MSNBC being completely fed up with how the network is handling the controversy surrounding her, her career just keeps trundling forward like a bullet-riddled zombie. To be clear, I do not particularly care that Joy Reid has done any of these things. I write about war, nuclear escalations and the sociopathy of US government agencies which kill millions of people; I don’t care that Joy Reid is or was a homophobe, and I don’t care that she lied to cover it up.

The war agendas that MSNBC itself promotes on a daily basis are infinitely worse than either of these things, and if that isn’t obvious to you it’s because military propaganda has caused you to compartmentalize yourself out of an intellectually honest understanding of what war is. What is interesting to me, however, is the fact that Reid’s bosses are protecting her career so adamantly. Both by refusing to fire her, and by steering the conversation into being about her controversial blog posts rather than the fact that she told a spectacular lie in an attempt to cover them up, Reid is being propped up despite this story constantly re-emerging and making new headlines with new embarrassing details, and despite her lack of any discernible talent or redeeming personal characteristics. This tells us something important about what is going on in the world.

It is not difficult to find someone to read from a teleprompter for large amounts of money. What absolutely is difficult is finding someone who is willing to deceive and manipulate to advance the agendas of the privileged few day after day. Who else would be willing to spend all day on Twitter smearing everyone to the left of Hillary Clinton while still claiming to stand on the political left? Who else would advance the point-blank lieabout “17 intelligence agencies” having declared Russia guilty in US election meddling months after that claim had been famously and virally debunked? Who else would publicly claim that Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks did not benefit anyone besides Russia? Who else could oligarchs like Comcast CEO Brian L Roberts, whose company controls MSNBC, count on to consistently advance his agendas?

While it’s easy to find someone you can count on to advance one particular lie at one particular time, it is difficult to find someone you can be absolutely certain will lie for you day after day, year after year, through election cycles and administration changes and new war agendas and changing political climates. A lot of the people who used to advance perspectives which ran against the grain of the political orthodoxy at MSNBC like Phil Donahue, Ed Schultz and Dylan Ratigan have vanished from the airwaves never to return, while reporters who consistently keep their heads down and toe the line for the Democratic establishment like Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid are richly rewarded and encouraged to remain.

Read more …

It’s just that I’m asking myself if maybe the notion that ‘we can change and be better people’ is itself a narrative?!

How Humanity Could Become Impossible To Propagandize (CJ)

Narrative rules our world today, from our most basic concepts about ourselves to the behavior of nations and governments. Right now your direct experience of life is little more than the air going in and out of your respiratory system, your gaze moving from left to right over this text, and perhaps the sensation of your bum in a chair or sofa; without any narrative overlay, those experiences are all you are in this moment. Add in mental narrative and all of a sudden you’re a particular individual with a particular name and a particular story, who has perhaps some concerns about the future and regrets about the past, with all sorts of desires and goals and fears and aversions. As far as your actual present experience is concerned, all that stuff is pure mental noise. Pure narrative.

The same is true of things like power, money, and government. There is nothing grafted onto the electrons of the universe which says that the world needs to be mostly ruled by a few billionaires and their lackeys. Only the made-up rules about how power, money and government operate cause that to be the case, and those rules are only as true as we all collectively agree to pretend they are. They are all mental constructs that people made up, and we can therefore change them whenever we want to. Which is why so much plutocratic effort goes into making sure that we don’t.

Narrative dominates our society from top to bottom, which means that all someone has to do to control society is control its narratives. If people are sick, hungry, or poor, you don’t have to give them medicine, food or money to pacify them; you can just give them a narrative instead. If you can get them subscribed to the notion that attempts to rectify these problems with economic justice ought to be rejected and avoided by all hardworking Americans, you can have them defending the plutocracy and advocating their own poverty without giving them a thing. In a society where power is relative and money equals power, the rich are necessarily incentivized to keep everyone else poor in order to retain power, so using narrative control to pacify the masses is a common and useful tactic.

Read more …

Wherever you look, life itself appears to be exiting the planet. Rapidly.

Study Warns Of Alarming Decline In Australian Fish (AFP)

Conservation experts warned Wednesday of alarming falls in Australian fish populations and called for more marine reserves and better management to halt the decline. A 10-year study, looking at nearly 200 species at 544 sites, found the main cause was overfishing, with climate change also contributing, although the organisation that manages the nation’s fisheries disputed the findings. The research, in the decade to 2015 by the University of Tasmania and Sydney’s University of Technology, indicated that the numbers of large fish species – over 20 centimetres (eight inches) – had decreased by about 30 percent.

Claimed to be the first independent assessment of the size and abundance of coastal fish species off the Australian continent, it used frequent underwater surveys by divers along blocks of reef. Researchers compared areas where fishing was allowed with marine parks where it was limited or not permitted at all. “We found consistent population declines amongst many popular commercial and recreational fishes, including in marine parks that allowed limited fishing, while numbers increased within no-fishing reserves,” said lead author Graham Edgar. The study, published in the journal Aquatic Conservation, warned that the present situation globally — with more than 98 percent of seas open to some form of fishing — needed “immediate multinational attention”.

Read more …

Mar 292018
 
 March 29, 2018  Posted by at 1:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn Christ In The Storm On The Sea Of Galilee 1633
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered

 

I am gullible. Very. I betcha I am more gullible than you. And that tells you something, because you know how gullible you are. Or so you think. Still, as bad as I got it, something physically snapped in the back of my head this morning, I could hear it snap, when I saw this Guardian headline:

Skripals Poisoned From Front Door Of Salisbury Home, Police Say

Detectives investigating the attempted murders of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal have said they believe the pair were poisoned with a nerve agent at the front door of his Salisbury home. Specialists investigating the poisoning of the the Skripals have found the highest concentration of the nerve agent on the front door at the address, police said. Counter-terrorism detectives will continue to focus their inquiries on the home address for the coming weeks, and possibly months…

See, because of my gullibility, I’ve decided that if I’m to have any idea of what really goes on around me, I’m condemned to reading a lot. Obviously, like you, I’ve found that the vast majority of what passes for news is as fake as it gets. More so by the day. So we have to read between the lines all the time. It’s what it is. But this…

If these two people have actually been poisoned, that’s a really terrible thing. But maybe lying about such things is much worse. And I doubt that anything at all we’ve been told about the Skripal case is true. Not because I don’t want to believe it, but because the storytellers plant so many trees they’re getting lost in their own forest.

Today the British press reports that the Skripal father and daughter pair were poisoned “from their front door”. They do that with the same level of certainty that just a few days ago they used in telling us they were poisoned through the air vents of the dad’s BMW. Exact same story, just a different location. And that’s after a by now long sequence of headlines that claimed it had happened inside the home, or in a bar, a pizzeria, or on the parkbench they were ostensibly ‘found’ on.

What that headline above, and all others on the topic that came before it, tells me is that evidently the hundreds of ‘experts’ involved in the case have not yet been able to locate the ‘nerve agent’. They’re still just guessing, even 25 days after the incident is supposed to have happened. How would that be done? I have no idea, but I’m surely thinking that after almost 4 weeks it’s essentially a pure guessing game, and nothing more than that.

Does the alleged nerve agent leave traces after all that time? I don’t have a clue, but I do know from what I’ve read that it’s apparently so toxic (as in lethal) that even very faint traces of the stuff are, well, lethal. So when I first read the BMW air vent theory last week I was thinking: did the guy who towed that car to the police station wear a full hazmat suit? He would have had to if he’s still alive.

And where is that car anyway? Come to think of it, where are the Skripals? And how is it possible that they survived the ‘attack’? Were they given a full blood transfusion? Are they being treated 24/7 by dedicated personnel in hazmat suits? There are too many questions for me to answer. And that goes for you too. And for Boris Johnson. And Donald Trump. And the governments of the 30-or-so nations that nevertheless expelled well over a hundred Russian diplomats.

 

Now, I’m not a chemist, let alone an organic chemist. So perhaps I should consult with my friend Dave Collum, who is. But I was going to write this from memory, not go back and find all those headlines, or ask around. This is not about me being 100% correct, it’s about the ‘news reports’ being so far off the truth.

Here’s what I have picked up about the nerve agent. The press calls it “Novichok“ (Russian for newbies), but Novichok is not a nerve agent, it’s a group of them. In the Skripal case, the journalists -who I can only hope are not as gullible as I am- behind all the ‘news’ have been told by ‘authorities’ that we’re dealing with A-234, which is a novichok nerve agent.

Developed by Russia a long time ago, but no longer produced in Russia after 1993, as the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winning Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has confirmed. Its chemical formula has been made public, which means that at least in theory anyone could produce it.

Russia would seem to be the last country to try that, because it would point straight to them. And they haven’t stood still for 25 years, they can make Novichok 2.0 if they want. Not that they appear to have much if any reason to poison the Skripals, there are quite a few parties that have at least as much incentive to do that.

 

Wait, before I forget, there was a policeman who allegedly ‘treated’ the Skripals first, and was himself ‘poisoned’ in the act and hospitalized, but was released a few days ago. What exactly happened to him? How did the A-234 not kill him? Did he receive such a faint trace that he was ‘cleaned’ within days? Where is he now? Why has he not released any statement? Doesn’t he strike you, too, as being a little bit pregnant?

But, again, I’m not a chemist. Collum, who I can’t really claim as a friend anymore, because he’s everybody’s friend these days, tweets a hint:

Hey organic chemists: the Novichuk nerve agents are like those below. [..] You could just use the racemate with plenty of effect. Unlike drugs, the goal here is to kill the recipient.

From what I understand, A-234, like all novichoks, is just a pesticide with a fancy dress on. Not terribly unique or special, and not terribly Russian after 25 years either. Just terribly lethal. Which by the way is saying something about how we produce our food, too. Can we blame Putin for losing our insects as well, please? It’s so much easier that way.

 

But I digress. As I started out saying, it’s the ‘news’ that yet another ‘location’ for the ‘nerve agent’ had been discovered after 25 days and hundreds of specialists, at the bleeping front door of the ‘victims’ home, as if nobody ever thought of looking there, that snapped that thingy in my head. Location, location, location.

Still, when I venture beyond what can be or has been proven, which is about as near to zero Kelvin as I even want to think about, there was this other thing this morning. Julian Assange has been cut off from the internet by his gracious Ecuadorian hosts in their London embassy. And I betcha that’s because he dared question Britain in the Skripal case, on Twitter.

Here’s my theory, borne off my gullibility in all its glory: Theresa May and her government have been stumbling from disaster to catastrophe over the Brexit calamity for months now, and they needed some relief. But they themselves are not smart enough to provide it. So someone got it for them.

They’re keeping Labour boss Jeremy Corbyn occupied for all he’s worth with a cocked-up narrative of him being an antisemite. Stupid as can be story, but it works for as long as they need it to. The other day the BBC photoshopped a Russian hat on Corbyn’s face; that stuck less than the Jew-hater tale, so they went with that one. Some UK parliamentary fake news committee wants to talk to Zuckerberg, but they should look closer to home. If fake news is what they’re really after.

So anyway, they all went with the Novichok concocted thing, and boy did that ever catch on. Even every western politicians’ pet hamsters have now sent their Russian caregivers packing. And you know what it is, even if May and Boris had any proof of Russian involvement, all those countries certainly do not. Even if they had the evidence, they’re not going to send it around to dozens of countries. Just not.

Boris Johnson couldn’t resist comparing Putin to Hitler. You can’t fall any lower than that. Or can you? The diplomats were all expelled on a day that Russia was lamenting the death of 64(?) victims (mostly children) in a shopping mall fire, in what they declared a day of national mourning. You think Boris sent his condolences?

 

I can write about this all day long, and weekends too. You know, Crimea, Ukraine, MH17, the new cold war narrative has been well prepared. And now John Bolton, who may well be the deadliest cartoon character we’ve ever seen -let alone imagined-, is all set to score the easy tip-in. But that is possible only because all of you are as gullible as I am. Don’t forget that. They’re blinding you with silence, with stupidity, with your own lack of neuron activity.

Even if this is a story with too many holes in it to qualify as Swiss cheese. The story doesn’t make any sense? Who cares, really, all the front pages shout it out in bold print. And if you get tired of it: where’s the remote, Mildred?

 

British politician and former candidate for mayor of London, George Galloway, on Twitter, says it so much better than I ever could, and shorter too, which is why I quote him at the end of this article:

Why do I not believe you? Let me count the ways. You’re not looking for anyone in connection with the attack on the Skripals. There is no manhunt, no all points alert, no description, no identikit drawing, no CCTV. No suspects. That means you already know what happened. #Russia

We know Facebook is trying to screw with your brains. Well, they’re not the only ones. Your government -and ‘intelligence’ services- want the monopoly on that, too.

I can not make this a definitive, or final, or complete story. Because nobody can. But I can tell you this: if you think that Russia or God forbid Putin, ‘poisoned’ the Skripals, you’re so wrong you’re beyond salvation. Not because it may or may not be true, but because you have seen no evidence. And you still go with it. Where’s the remote, Mildred?

 

 

Jan 222018
 
 January 22, 2018  Posted by at 7:27 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Winslow Homer Mending the nets 1881

 

Yes, it’s 10 years ago today, on January 22 2008, that Nicole Foss and I published our first article on the Automatic Earth (the first few years on Blogger). And, well, obviously, a lot has happened in those 10 years.

For ourselves, we went from living in Ottawa, Canada to doing a lot of touring starting in 2009, to support Nicole’s DVDs and video downloads. We visited Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Austria, Denmark, US of course, with prolonged stays in France, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, times that I miss a lot here and there, to now with Nicole settled in New Zealand and my time divided between Athens, Greece and the Netherlands.

We met so many people both online and in the flesh in all these countries it’s impossible to remember everyone of them, and every town we found ourselves in. Overall, it was a humbling experience to have so many people share their views and secrets, especially since we never stayed at hotels (or very rarely), we were always invited to stay with our readers. Thank you so much for that.

Since we started publishing 8 months before the fall of Bear Stearns, and we very much predicted the crisis that followed (we had been doing that before as well, since 2005 at the Oil Drum), we were the first warning sign for many people that things were going off the rails.

There are still to this day people expressing their gratitude for that. Others, though, not so much. And that has to do with the fact that governments, media and central banks came together to create the illusion of an economic recovery, something many if not most people still believe in. Just read the headlines and the numbers, on housing markets, stocks, GDP, jobs. Unfortunately, it was an illusion then and it still is now.

 

To get back to 10 years ago: Nicole and I decided to leave the Oil Drum because they didn’t want us to write about finance. Given what happened with Lehman while we were leaving, and as said with Bear Stearns later, it would appear that finance was indeed the hot issue back then, more than peak oil or associated themes.

The main reason we wanted to focus on finance was that we realized it was the most imminent of all the crises mankind faced and still faces. Energy and environmental issues are real and threaten our way of life, but before they hit us, the mother of all financial crises will.

What has changed, and increased, a lot over the past decade is the media. They have moved, more than before, into a kind of la la land where narratives are invented and presented with the express intention of keeping people feeling good about themselves in the face of all the distortion and disasters they face.

The big move in energy is not so much peak oil, but a meme of moving away from oil. ‘Renewable energy’ is all the fad, and it works, because it holds the promise that we can maintain our levels of energy consumption, and our lifestyles in general, pretty much up to some undefined moment in the future. For all you know, a seamless transition.

It’s a nonsense narrative, which originates not just in wishful thinking, but much more than that in widespread ignorance about what energy actually is and does, and what qualities oil and gas bring to the table that no other energy source can.

We must have written a hundred articles about such themes as energy return on energy invested (EROEI), and that the EROEI on renewables doesn’t allow for our present complex societies to continue as they are. Renewables are not useless by any means, but switching to them from oil will mean a huge simplification from our present lives. More than anything, probably, we have to ask if that would be such a bad thing.

But that is a question we avoid at all costs, because it is a threatening one. It implies we may have to do with less, and that’s not what we’re hardwired to do. Like any other species, we always want more. This is so ingrained in our world that our economies depend squarely on a perpetual need to strive for more tomorrow than we have today. Not as individuals, perhaps, but certainly as a group.

More trinkets, more gadgets, more energy. And for a -relatively- long time, more people. Relatively, because population growth is a recent phenomenon. It started at the very moment we began to have sources of ‘free’ or ‘surplus’ energy. Give any species a source of ‘surplus’ energy, and it will use it up as fast as it can, and proliferate to achieve that, until the surplus is gone. We are no different.

 

Of course, as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics holds, the use of energy produces waste. More energy use produces more waste. One source may be slightly less polluting than another, but it’s thermodynamics that dictates the limits here. No energy source is fully renewable, and clean energy is just an advertizing term. And with an energy return too low to run complex societies on, those are hard limits. The only way out is to use less energy, but our economic models are geared towards the opposite, as are our brains.

Meanwhile, we’re saddling our children with the consequences of our prolific use of energy. Species extinction runs a hundred or a thousand times faster than is ‘natural’, ever more of our arable land is too polluted or wasted to produce food, and the grand mass of plastics in our oceans exceeds that of the living creatures that fed us for a very long time, taking the numbers of these creatures down so fast our grandchildren will have to eat jellyfish.

Ironically (and there’s lots of irony in the story of our tragic species), we produce more food per capita today than ever before, but its distribution is so warped that one group of us throw away more than we consume, while another goes hungry. And to top it off, much of what we eat lacks nutrition, and is often even downright toxic for us; it makes us fat and it makes us sick.

Then again, our entire environment is also fast becoming toxic. We’re a bloated, obese, asthmatic, allergic and cancer-riddled species, and yet we call ourselves a success. It’s all about the narrative.

 

But as Nicole and I said 10 years ago, and still do, it’s finance that will be the first crisis to hit. It will hit so hard it’ll make any other crises, environment and energy, feel like an afterthought. Pension plans across the board will prove to be a Ponzi, housing will collapse, shares will crumble, scores of people will lose all their savings and their jobs, their homes.

This is because, in an ostensible effort to ‘save’ our societies and economies, our -central- bankers and politicians decided to put everything on red, and loaded another $20 trillion into the upper shelf of the financial world, the very shelf that was most rotten to begin with in more than one sense of the word. And they’re not the ones paying the heftiest price for this stupidest bet of all times, you are.

 

All in all, the only possible conclusion we can draw is that in the past 10 years, things have indeed changed. Thing is, they have changed for the worse. Much worse. And the recovery narrative can’t and won’t hold. Question is who realizes this, and what they are planning to do with the knowledge.

Friend of the Automatic Earth Nomi Prins said recently that in her view, the Fed is scared to death of causing a global financial crash. I think they may have recognized the inevitability of that crash quite a while ago, and they’re working to minimize the impact on themselves and their buddies and masters.

A global central bank tightening looks an easy sale now that people have swallowed the recovery myth whole. The crash that will lead to might take long enough to develop for them to deny any responsibility.

And then we’re all on our own. The political ramifications will be gigantic. Because the incompetence and corruptness of incumbent politicians will be exposed, and governments overthrown.

Nothing we couldn’t have, and didn’t, see coming in January 2008. Best advice today, as it was back then: get out of debt.

And thank you so much for 10 years of reactions, responses, comments, your hospitality, and all other forms of support -including financial of course.

 

 

Oct 102016
 
 October 10, 2016  Posted by at 6:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Elliot Erwitt New York 1955

If the US presidential debate last night showed anything, it must be that just about everyone has dug themselves into their trenches and had no desire whatsoever to ever came out.

This seemed especially clear on the Hillary side, which appeared to include -to an extent- ‘moderators’ Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, judging from their interruptions. But, granted, they were the only biased side in the discussion, so we don’t really know what trenches the Republicans have dug.

The biggest problem with biased moderators is that people notice their bias. Not those who are on one side already, it passes them by. But others do. And perhaps more importantly, -in this case-, Hillary’s team loses its ability to adopt a neutral view. And she will therefore hear so much praise that she can’t figure out if she’s not done too well.

To illustrate that point: the main takeaway must be that Trump won the debate hands down, but that’s the opposite of what Hillary sympathizers concluded and what various polls said. It’s still true though, if only for one simple reason. That is, for 48 hours straight all talk and ‘reporting’ had been about Trumps lewd ‘words’ on the Access Hollywood tapes.

Trump really was cornered, and he knew it, everyone knew it. But after the second debate, and within 90 minutes, most of the talk turned towards how he ‘threatened’ to jail Hillary. Now, that’s not what he said, but even if he had, it’s something a lot more people sympathize with than with his language on the tapes. That’s a lot of territory ‘conquered’.

Meanwhile, even the likes of Paul Ryan don’t seem to grasp what happened overnight (he apparently think Hillary already won). What he doesn’t appear to see is, again, that Trump looked completely lost for 48 hours, but doesn’t look so lost now. There are 4 weeks and a day left in the campaign, and a lot can still happen.

Look, Trump is a buffoon. The word could have been invented specifically to define him. And it would be a very bad idea to make him president of the US. But that doesn’t mean the idea of making Hillary president is any better. It may well be worse, for a variety of reasons.

What the debate made clear once more is that America stands face to face with itself, it’s looking in a giant mirror, one which -only- in choice moments does not contort its own image, and America finds there’s nothing to like about what it sees in those brief moments in that mirror. And then therefore immediately proceeds to contort that image like it’s used to doing.

America may not like to look at its own stone cold hard reality, but it’s better than any culture ever in painting a picture of itself that it does like. In fact, it’s the first nation ever that made exactly that its main goal in life.

The Brits, the French and the Dutch try to hide their dark colonial and slave trading pasts, but America built an entire culture around contorting its history, right there in Hollywood, with ‘stars’ like John Wayne and John Ford being celebrated for movies that celebrate the annihilation and violent submission by the white man of both Native Americans and African slave populations.

In that same vein, the ‘heroic exploits’ of US soldiers in Muslim countries from Libya to Afghanistan in the past decades are now a major topic for the next generation of twisted history in movies and other media, in which invasions, drone killings and carpet bombings are portrayed as acts of bravery that warrant Purple Hearts. While the people whose lives and cultures are destroyed are swept under the first available carpet.

 

But that’s another story for another time. Back to last night’s debate. Trump may have won big, but he left some substantial scraps on the table that he may yet come to regret. Perhaps he was too focused on digging himself out of the ‘grab that pu**y’ hole -and yes, that is foul- to notice he was already out. Hard to say. He has the intuition, but does he have the brain?!

The first thing either The Donald or one of his team members must hammer down, urgently, is the way past stupid narrative of Russia’s involvement in US politics. Hillary repeatedly brought it up again, and it’s cheap fare for her, she can say anything she likes on the issue, no-one will contradict her or check any facts.

There were all these alleged fact-checkers ‘active’, but they dare not check the facts on this (there are none). Anything the Democratic Party wants to hide, it is free to hide behind Putin. No questions asked. That is insane at best, and Trump should have halted the narrative.

As should Cooper and Raddatz, and the army of fact checkers, but the fix was in. The low point must have been the allegation that Wikileaks is linked to Putin. Really? Come with facts, or forever hold your tongue. Too much cheap fare, hollow as can be, and Hillary build much of her story on it. Not good on the part of the Trump people.

I was reading an August 2 piece by Timothy O’Brien at Bloomberg the other day on Trump’s Russian connections, and Tim seems to start off with good hope of ‘inking the deal’, but ends up admitting there’s no there there.. The entire narrative of Trump’s Russian connections is as false as John Wayne’s heroism in slaughtering Native Americans. He should have cut that tale short in the debate, He didn’t.

Hillary gets to say, without any interruption or fact checking that “Russia has decided who it wants to be president, and it’s not me.” and that is way beyond any comprehension, really. There is zero proof of that, as there is of everything the US claims about Russia.

For all we know, Putin would much prefer Hillary to be president, because he sees Trump as a much stronger opponent when the chips are down. Hillary’s allegations are just a narrative she thinks will appeal to voters. She’s wrong. At least when it comes to those who wouldn’t have voted for her regardless of the narrative.

 

The second issue Trump desperately needs to put to bed is the one of his taxes. And mind you, I did say Trump should not ever be president of the US. That’s my perspective.

Hillary again last night painted a picture of Trump leaving US veterans out in the cold by not paying enough taxes. Trump retorted by saying Buffett (not Jimmy) and Soros do the same. But that’s a huge missed opportunity.

Paying taxes in America, and in any western nation, is not some voluntary exercise; there are laws, and they are some of the most stringent and most punishable there are. You cheat on your taxes, and the IRS or their equivalent in other countries have the power to go after you like no other government institution. Tax cheats very often go to jail.

That none of this has happened to Trump means, it’s that simple, that he did not break the law. He has used to the law to his advantage, just like everyone else who could, sure, But there’s not an inch of evidence, not even a hint, that he did anything illegal.

Hillary’s campaign is well aware of this, so the issue gets presented as some -pretty opaque- moral issue: ‘You didn’t do well by our veterans’. But what could he have done? Should Trump be the only American, or only western citizen, to tell the IRS to please take another extra $10 million or so, or $100 million, after they were done auditing him? So he wouldn’t be attacked 20 years on when running for office? It makes no sense in any sense.

And yes, the situation is very different if you’re on a payroll for some company, you can’t deduct what Trump could. But he’s not alone in that; in fact, all American entrepreneurs are in the same boat, and they will all try to swing that boat in the direction that fits them best. And Hillary loves these entrepreneurs as much as anyone when it suits her purposes. And her accountants do the same thing, they follow the same principle. Perhaps for lesser amounts, but that’s not the point.

Trump’s taxes are a non-issue, a brainless narrative. Not something for Hillary or anyone else to use as some innuendo-laden topic, anymore than Trump can use Hillary’s tax files against her in an ‘innuendo illegal’ way. Any judgment on that is up to the IRS, not either the Republican or Democratic campaigns. It’s ridiculous that Hillary can use that in a debate, and Trump and his people should have shut that venue down long ago.

But anyway, we have that 4 weeks and a day to go, and there’ll by much more to ‘enjoy’. Still, Trump came back last night from very very far away. No matter what CNN and other polls may say. Those polls are as biased as the night’s moderators.

It might be a good idea to realize that a year ago nobody ever gave Trump a shot at the gold medal, and his support never came from the people who conform with CNN (which nobody watches stateside anyway) or ABC.

We’ll talk again soon. Meanwhile, I’m with Susan Sarandon, who says bring it on, bring on Trump, because she despises Hillary, and because:

Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately; if he gets in then things will really explode.”

Sort of like what I wrote before, that if you must choose between two very bad options, might as well pick the worst and get it over with:

 

 

 

Nov 152015
 
 November 15, 2015  Posted by at 8:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Osama Hajjaj Madeleine Pleure 2015

9/11, 3/11, 7/7, 11/13 = New York, Madrid, London, Paris

Better to wait a day before writing, after a night like that. What does one write after such a night anyway? And why write anything at all if you can be dead sure to always antagonize some one on some side of some spectrum, ideological or not, no matter what you write, unless you tag some safe official line, and even then, or especially then?

Better to soak in what the official media have to say, or so one might think. After all, they got all the resources and the reporters and the analysts and -access to- the politicians, and most of all the attention of the people.

Unfortunately, all that firepower -pun intended- is used only to tag official lines. To provide air space to ‘leaders’ who profess their utmost grief and sadness and anger and solidarity over barbarous criminal “acts of war” that they swear will be avenged with all the power they have. It’s so predictable it’s like all of their spin doctors have been sent on a Caribbean holiday at the same time, and together.

Still, it also doesn’t seem very appropriate to address the economic issues we usually talk about, at least not at first glance. Respect for victims and families must come first, that is a given. Then again, it does seem appropriate, out of that very same respect, to get to the bottom of what’s behind these attacks that will at final count leave perhaps 200 people dead on what started as a nice and balmy autumn evening in the city of lights. And the politicians’ truisms and platitudes don’t exactly help.

But how does one go about that truth finding? French President Hollande declared eerily early in the ‘game’ he was sure ISIS is behind the tragedy, and ISIS statements seem to confirm that conclusion. But what is ISIS? And where does it come from?

It’s no longer really credible to entirely ignore the role of the west, including France, in the origins of the ‘movement’, if it can be called that. From Al Queda to ISIS, and scores of groups and factions in between and beyond, there is at least some kind of link to western military action in the middle East. And that link goes back quite a few years, if not decades.

So if we really want to pay the kind of respect to the victims that comes with trying to figure out what’s behind these attacks, it would seem that we can’t get it done without a critical look at our own roles in what led up to this. Not to say that we’re the only guilty party, or that the perpetrators are not cuckoos, but to say we’re not credible if we completely ignore our own roles and don’t look in a mirror.

Hence, the first reaction we probably might want to have is that it’s enough alright with the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ meme. Even if, or exactly because, that reaction is, obviously, 180º removed from what the initial reactions to the attacks are, whether they’re provoked by media coverage or not. And they are. It cannot be only ‘us’ vs ‘them’. No black, no white. To understand this world you need a lot more than that.

If we try to phrase it that way, and we’re only halfway decent and honest about it, there’s no escaping that in the final analysis we indeed are them. We’re not like them, we are them. ‘We’ have spread terror, death and mayhem across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions for a long time (to a large extent because that’s where the oil is, but that’s a story for a different day).

And then ‘we’ took it up a notch with the removal of the likes of Saddam and Gaddafi, leaving rudderless societies in their wake.

We can’t pretend to be honest and still ignore the fact that for many people in the Middle East a day like this Friday 13th is their everyday routine. And that that’s what makes them refugees. Many Parisians -or New Yorkers, for that matter- would do the same, get out of Dodge, if this were a common event in their city. Not only because of the danger and the fear, but also because there would be no functioning society or economy left, and hence no future.

No matter how you look at it, there’s no denying it’s kind of ironic that attacks on Beirut that were similar in many regards to the ones in Paris, even took place at the same time, and similar attacks on several other places, receive no media coverage at all in the west, while the Paris attacks dominate all western media.

That is not a coincidence. And it’s not either because most Americans would find it as easy to find Damascus or Beirut on a map as they would Paris. That is, they would not. But still Paris is on American TV about 48/7 (that’s the attention span limit), interrupted only by either a Kardashian body part -or two- or by the single The Donald’s body part that sticks in memory.

And that’s where we find our link to economics, because in geo-politics as in economics, we, all of us, think, talk and live exclusively in narratives. We have stories pre-fabricated for us, and these stories determine how we see the world, and our lives, and other people’s lives and dreams and wishes.

That is to say, whatever it is we want and dream of is per definition just and justified, and other people’s desires are not, as soon as they threaten to interfere with ours. As we read ad nauseam post-Paris in literally countless references to the ‘freedom’ that ‘we’ have and ‘they’ hate, and to ‘our way of life’ that is under threat -with nary a soul knowing what that way is.

We cannot forever fool ourselves and others into believing that we are the good guys and ‘the others’ are the bad guys. It’s tempting, and there’s a whole behemoth media apparatus to confirm it, but it doesn’t get us any closer to what happened, and why, and therefore no closer to paying our full and due respect to those who died in Paris on 11/13.

“They” don’t resent us for our freedom, “they” resent us for not allowing them to have their freedom, too. We need to recognize at some point that we owe our affluence to the misery of others, not to our superior intelligence or morals or religion or way of life. But there’s not a single voice among us which wants to make that recognition happen.

We are not a benevolent force, no matter what we tell ourselves or how many times we repeat it. We are a civilization of oppressors. Just like the Romans and the Mongols and so many others before and after. We seek to uphold our status and our wealth at the expense of others, of strangers, people who live conveniently far enough away in conveniently impoverished conditions.

We have been building our empire this way since well before Columbus, we’ve greatly expanded it over the past 500 years, and we’re now looking at the terminal phase of that empire. Just like the Romans and the Mongols and so many others before and after.

Interestingly enough, it’s our own technological prowess and ‘progress’ that leads us into that phase. The very moment we started exporting our oil drilling technologies, our smartphones, our databases and most of all our modern weaponry to what we still see as colonies, the very foundations of our civilization and our power started eroding.

But that’s getting too philosophical, and it would require too many words and lead us too far astray from Paris and the due diligence we owe those who lost their lives and those who mourn them.

Pope Francis said in a reaction to the Friday 13th attacks: “This is not human”. Unfortunately, 2000 years of Christianity say he’s dead wrong, wrong as he could be. This is very human. It’s as human as feeling an overbearing love for our children. It’s all human.

It’s very human, too, to go for the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ meme. Because it feels good, and you can be sure it makes those around you feel good too. Which is a big help in times of fear and insecurity and not having the answer, not having any other answers than the ubiquitous ones the media feed you.

But that still is not what the dead deserve. They deserve much more. They deserve that we try the best we can, not to settle for the first thing that comes to our reptilian minds. Not to make our entire lives come down to just fight or flight, but to attempt to find that area in between that is as close to truth finding as we know we can come.

To honor the dead, we need to look inside ourselves, and inside the societies we live in. And only when we’ve found, and eradicated, those things that make both us, and our communities, ‘guilty by association’ -for lack of a better term-, will we have paid proper respect to those who lost their lives.

Jun 142015
 
 June 14, 2015  Posted by at 7:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Milton Greene “Actress Marilyn Monroe in bed” 1955

Through the last decades, as we have been getting ever more occupied trying to be what society tells us is defined as successful, we all missed out on a lot of changes in our world. Or perhaps we should be gentle to ourselves and say we’re simply slow to catch up.

Which is somewhat curious since we’ve also been getting bombarded with fast increasing amounts of what we’re told is information, so you’d think it might have become easier to keep up. It was not.

While we were busy being busy we for instance were largely oblivious to the fact the US is no longer a beneficial force in the world, and that it doesn’t spread democracy or freedom. Now you may argue to what extent that has ever been true, and you should, but the perception was arguably much closer to the truth 70 years ago, at the end of WWII, then it is today.

Another change we really can’t get our heads around is how the media have turned from a source of information to a source of – pre-fabricated – narratives. We’ll all say to some extent or another that we know our press feeds us propaganda, but, again arguably, few of us are capable of pinpointing to what extent that is true. Perhaps no big surprise given the overdose of what passes for information, but duly noted.

So far so good, you’re not as smart as you think. Bummer. But still an easy one to deny in the private space of your own head. If you get undressed and stand in front of the mirror, though, maybe not as easy.

What ails us is, I was going to say perfectly human, but let’s stick with just human, and leave perfection alone. What makes us human is that it feels good to be protected, safe, and prosperous. Protected from evil and from hard times, by a military force, by a monetary fund, by a monetary union. It feels so good in fact that we don’t notice when what’s supposed to keep us safe turns against us.

But it is what happens, time and again, and, once again arguably, ever more so. What we think the world looks like is increasingly shaped by fiction. Perhaps that means we live in dreamtime. Or nightmare time. Whatever you call it, it’s not real. Pinching yourself is not going to help. Reading Orwell might.

The Sunday Times ran a story today -which the entire world press parroted quasi verbatim- that claimed MI6 had felt compelled to call back some of its operatives from the ‘field’ because Russia and China had allegedly hacked into the encrypted files Edward Snowden allegedly carried with him to Russia (something Snowden denied on multiple occasions).

Glenn Greenwald’s take down of the whole thing is – for good reasons- far better than I could provide, and it’s blistering, it leaves not a single shred of the article. Problem is, the die’s been cast, and many more people read the Times and all the media who’ve reprinted its fiction, than do read Greenwald:

The Sunday Times’ Snowden Story Is Journalism At Its Worst

Western journalists claim that the big lesson they learned from their key role in selling the Iraq War to the public is that it’s hideous, corrupt and often dangerous journalism to give anonymity to government officials to let them propagandize the public, then uncritically accept those anonymously voiced claims as Truth. But they’ve learned no such lesson. That tactic continues to be the staple of how major US and British media outlets “report,” especially in the national security area. And journalists who read such reports continue to treat self-serving decrees by unnamed, unseen officials – laundered through their media – as gospel, no matter how dubious are the claims or factually false is the reporting.

We now have one of the purest examples of this dynamic. Last night, the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times published their lead front-page Sunday article, headlined “British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese.” Just as the conventional media narrative was shifting to pro-Snowden sentiment in the wake of a key court ruling and a new surveillance law, the article claims in the first paragraph that these two adversaries “have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.”

Please read Greenwald’s piece. It’s excellent. Turns out the Times made it all up. At the same time, it’s just one example of something much more expansive: the entire world view of the vast majority of Americans and Europeans, and that means you too, is weaved together from a smorgasbord of made-up stories, narratives concocted to make you see what someone else wants you to see.

Last week, the Pew Research Center did a survey that was centered around the question what ‘we’ should do if a NATO ally were attacked by Russia. How Pew dare hold such a survey is for most people not even a valid question anymore, since the Putin as bogeyman tale, after a year and change, has taken root in 99% of western brains.

And so the Pew question, devoid of reality as it may be, appears more legit than the question about why the question is asked in the first place. NATO didn’t really like the results of the survey, but enough to thump some more chests. Here’s from an otherwise wholly forgettable NY Times piece:

Poles were most alarmed by Moscow’s muscle flexing, with 70% saying that Russia was a major military threat. Germany, a critical American ally in the effort to forge a Ukraine peace settlement, was at the other end of the spectrum. Only 38% of Germans said that Russia was a danger to neighboring countries aside from Ukraine, and only 29% blamed Russia for the violence in Ukraine. Consequently, 58% of Germans do not believe that their country should use force to defend another NATO ally. Just 19% of Germans say NATO weapons should be sent to the Ukrainian government to help it better contend with Russian and separatist attacks.

Do we need to repeat that Russia didn’t attack Ukraine? That if after all this time there is still zero proof for that, perhaps it’s time to let go of that idea?

Over the past week, there have been numerous reports of NATO ‘strengthening’ its presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. Supposedly to deter Russian aggression in the region. For which there is no evidence. But if you ask people if NATO should act if one of its allies were attacked, you put the idea in people’s heads that such an attack is a real risk. And that’s the whole idea.

This crazy piece from the Guardian provides a very good example of how the mood is manipulated:

US And Poland In Talks Over Weapons Deployment In Eastern Europe

The US and Poland are discussing the deployment of American heavy weapons in eastern Europe in response to Russian expansionism and sabre-rattling in the region in what represents a radical break with post-cold war military planning. The Polish defence ministry said on Sunday that Washington and Warsaw were in negotiations about the permanent stationing of US battle tanks and other heavy weaponry in Poland and other countries in the region as part of NATO’s plans to develop rapid deployment “Spearhead” forces aimed at deterring Kremlin attempts to destabilise former Soviet bloc countries now entrenched inside NATO and the EU.

Warsaw said that a decision whether to station heavy US equipment at warehouses in Poland would be taken soon. NATO’s former supreme commander in Europe, American admiral James Stavridis, said the decision marked “a very meaningful policy shift”, amid eastern European complaints that western Europe and the US were lukewarm about security guarantees for countries on the frontline with Russia following Vladimir Putin’s seizure of parts of Ukraine. “It provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies, although nothing is as good as troops stationed full time on the ground, of course,” the retired admiral told the New York Times.

NATO has been accused of complacency in recent years. The Russian president’s surprise attacks on Ukraine have shocked western military planners into action. An alliance summit in Wales last year agreed quick deployments of NATO forces in Poland and the Baltic states. German mechanised infantry crossed into Poland at the weekend after thousands of NATO forces inaugurated exercises as part of the new buildup in the east. Wary of antagonising Moscow’s fears of western “encirclement” and feeding its well-oiled propaganda effort, which regularly asserts that NATO agreed at the end of the cold war not to station forces in the former Warsaw Pact countries, NATO has declined to establish permanent bases in the east.

It’s downright borderline criminally tragic that NATO claims it’s building up its presence in the region as a response to Russian actions. What actions? Nothing was going on until ‘we’ supported a coup in Kiev, installed a puppet government and let them wage war on their own citizens. That war killed a lot of people. And if Kiev has any say in the matter, it ain’t over by a long shot. Poroshenko and Yats still want it all back. So does NATO.

When signing a post-cold war strategic cooperation pact with Russia in 1997, Nato pledged not to station ground forces permanently in eastern Europe “in the current and foreseeable security environment”. But that environment has been transformed by Putin’s decision to invade and annex parts of Ukraine and the 1997 agreement is now seen as obsolete.

Meanwhile, Russia re-took Crimea without a single shot being fired. But that is still what the western press calls aggression. Russia doesn’t even deem to respond to ‘our’ innuendo, they feel there’s nothing to be gained from that because ‘our’ stories have been pre-cooked and pre-chewed anyway. Something that we are going to greatly regret.

There are all these alphabet soup organizations that were once set up with, one last time, arguably, good intentions, and that now invent narratives because A) they can and B) they need a reason to continue to exist. That is true for NATO, which should have been dismantled 25 years ago.

It’s true for the IMF, which was always only a tool for US domination. It’s true for the CIA and FBI, which might keep you safe if that was their intent, but which really only function to keep themselves and their narrow group of paymasters safe.

It’s also true for political unions, like the US and EU. Let’s leave the former alone for now, though much could be said and written about the gaping distance between what the Founding Fathers once envisioned for the nation and what it has since descended into.

Still, that is a story for another day. When we can find our way through the web of narratives that holds it upright. Like the threat from Russia, the threat from China, the threat from all the factions in the Middle East the US itself (helped) set up.

The EU is much younger, though its bureaucrats seem eager to catch up with America in fictitious web weaving. We humans stink at anything supra-national. We can have our societies cooperate, but as soon as we invent ‘greater’ units to incorporate that cooperation, things run off the rails, the wrong people grab power, and the weaker among us get sacrificed. And that is what’s happening once again, entirely predictably, in Greece.

That Spain’s two largest cities, Barcelona and Madrid, have now sworn in far-left female mayors this week will only serve to make things harder for Athens. Brussels is under siege, and it will defend its territory as ‘best’ it can.

What might influence matters, and not a little bit, is that Syriza’s Audit Commission is poised to make public its findings on June 18, and that they yesterday revealed they have in their possession a 2010 IMF document that allegedly proves that the Fund knew back then, before the first bail-out, that the Memorandum would result in an increase in Greek debt.

That’s potentially incendiary information, because the Memorandum -and the bailout- were aimed specifically at decreasing the debt. That -again, allegedly- none of the EU nations have seen the document at the time -let’s see how the spin machine makes that look- doesn’t exactly make it any more acceptable.

Nor of course does the fact that Greece’s debt could and should have been restructured, according to the IMF’s own people and ‘standards’, but wasn’t until 2012, when the main European banks had been bailed out with what was subsequently shoved onto the shoulders of the Greek population, and had withdrawn their ‘assets’ from the country, a move that made Greece’s position that much harder.

The narrative being sold through the media in other eurozone nations is that Greece is to blame, that for instance German taxpayers are on the hook for Greek debts, while they’re really on the hook for German banks’ losing wagers (here’s looking at you, Deutsche!). And that is, no matter how you twist it, not the same story. It’s again just a narrative.

Once more, and we’ve said it many times before, Brussels is toxic -and so is the IMF- and Greece should leave as soon as possible, as should Italy, Spain, Portugal. And we should all resist the spin-induced attempts to demonize Putin, Athens and China any further, and instead focus on the rotten apples in our own basket(s).

In short, the propaganda we should be worried about is not Russia’s, it’s our own. And it comes from just about every news article we’re fed. We’re much less than six degrees removed from Orwell.