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Dark Age America: The Rising Oceans

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (August 06 2014)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

The vagaries of global climate set in motion by our species’ frankly brainless maltreatment of the only atmosphere we’ve got, the subject of last week’s post here, have another dimension that bears close watching. History, as I suggested last week, can be seen as human ecology in its transformations over time, and every ecosystem depends in the final analysis on the available habitat. For human beings, the habitat that matters is dry land with adequate rainfall and moderate temperatures; we’ve talked about the way that anthropogenic climate change is interfering with the latter two, but it promises to have significant impacts on the first of those requirements as well.

It’s helpful to put all this in the context of deep time. For most of the last billion years or so, the Earth has been a swampy jungle planet where ice and snow were theoretical possibilities only. Four times in that vast span, though, something – scientists are still arguing about what – turned the planet’s thermostat down sharply, resulting in ice ages millions of years in length. The most recent of these downturns began cooling the planet maybe ten million years ago, in the Miocene epoch; a little less than two million years ago, at the beginning of the Pleistocene epoch, the first of the great continental ice sheets began to spread across the Northern Hemisphere, and the ice age was on.

We’re still in it. During an ice age, a complex interplay of the Earth’s rotational and orbital wobbles drives the Milankovich cycle, a cyclical warming and cooling of the planet that takes around 100,000 years to complete, with long glaciations broken by much shorter interglacials. We’re approaching the end of the current interglacial, and it’s estimated that the current ice age has maybe another ten million years to go; one consequence is that at some point a few millennia in the future, we can pretty much count on the arrival of a new glaciation. In the meantime, we’ve still got continental ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland, and a significant amount of year-round ice in mountains in various corners of the world. That’s normal for an interglacial, though not for most of the planet’s history.

The back-and-forth flipflop between glaciations and interglacials has a galaxy of impacts on the climate and ecology of the planet, but one of the most obvious comes from the simple fact that all the frozen water needed to form a continental ice sheet have to come from somewhere, and the only available “somewhere” on this planet is the oceans. As glaciers spread, sea level drops accordingly; 18,000 years ago, when the most recent glaciation hit its final peak, sea level was more than 400 feet lower than today, and roaming tribal hunters could walk all the way from Holland to Ireland and keep going, following reindeer herds a good distance into what’s now the northeast Atlantic.

What followed has plenty of lessons on offer for our future. It used to be part of the received wisdom that ice ages began and ended with, ahem, glacial slowness, and there still seems to be good reason to think that the beginnings are fairly gradual, but the ending of the most recent ice age involved periods of very sudden change. 18,000 years ago, as already mentioned, the ice sheets were at their peak; about 16,000 years ago, the planetary climate began to warm, pushing the ice into a slow retreat. Around 14,700 years ago, the warm Bolling phase arrived, and the ice sheets retreated hundreds of miles; according to several studies, the West Antarctic ice sheet collapsed completely at this time.

The Bolling gave way after around 600 years to the Older Dryas cold period, putting the retreat of the ice on hold. After another six centuries or so, the Older Dryas gave way to a new warm period, the Alleröd, which sent the ice sheets reeling back and raised sea levels hundreds of feet worldwide. Then came a new cold phase, the frigid Younger Dryas, which brought temperatures back for a few centuries to their ice age lows, cold enough to allow the West Antarctic ice sheet to reestablish itself and to restore tundra conditions over large sections of the Northern Hemisphere. Ice core measurements suggest that the temperature drop hit fast, in a few decades or less – a useful reminder that rapid climate change can come from natural sources as well as from our smokestacks and tailpipes.

Just over a millennium later, right around 9600 BC, the Boreal phase arrived, and brought even more spectacular change. According to oxygen isotope measurements from Greenland ice cores – I get challenged on this point fairly often, so I’ll mention that the figure I’m citing is from Steven Mithen’s After The Ice, a widely respected 2003 survey of human prehistory – global temperatures spiked seven degreees Celsius in less than a decade, pushing the remaining ice sheets into rapid collapse and sending sea levels soaring. Over the next few thousand years, the planet’s ice cover shrank to a little less than its current level, and sea level rose a bit above what it is today; a gradual cooling trend beginning around 6000 BCE brought both to the status they had at the beginning of the industrial era.

Scientists still aren’t sure what caused the stunning temperature spike at the beginning of the Boreal phase, but one widely held theory is that it was driven by large-scale methane releases from the warming oceans and thawing permafrost. The ocean floor contains huge amounts of methane trapped in unstable methane hydrates; permafrost contains equally huge amounts of dead vegetation that’s kept from rotting by subfreezing temperatures, and when the permafrost thaws, that vegetation rots and releases more methane. Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it’s also much more transient – once released into the atmosphere, methane breaks down into carbon dioxide and water relatively quickly, with an estimated average lifespan of ten years or so – and so it’s quite a plausible driver for the sort of sudden shock that can be traced in the Greenland ice cores.

If that’s what did it, of course, we’re arguably well on our way there. I discussed in a previous post here credible reports that large sections of the Arctic ocean are fizzing with methane {1}, and I suspect many of my readers have heard of the recently discovered craters in Siberia {2} that appear to have been caused by methane blowouts from thawing permafrost. On top of the current carbon dioxide spike, a methane spike would do a fine job of producing the kind of climate chaos I discussed in last week’s post. That doesn’t equal the kind of runaway feedback loop beloved of a certain sect of contemporary apocalypse-mongers, because there are massive sources of negative feedback that such claims always ignore, but it seems quite likely that the decades ahead of us will be enlivened by a period of extreme climate turbulence driven by significant methane releases.

Meanwhile, two of the world’s three remaining ice sheets – the West Antarctic and Greenland sheets – have already been destabilized by rising temperatures. Between them, these two ice sheets contain enough water to raise sea level around fifty feet globally, and the estimate I’m using for anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions over the next century provides enough warming to cause the collapse and total melting of both of them. All that water isn’t going to hit the world’s oceans overnight, of course, and a great deal depends on just how fast the melting happens.

The predictions for sea level rise included in the last few IPCC reports assume a slow, linear process of glacial melting. That’s appropriate as a baseline, but the evidence from paleoclimatology shows that ice sheets collapse in relatively sudden bursts of melting, producing what are termed “global meltwater pulses” that can be tracked worldwide by a variety of proxy measurements. Mind you, “relatively sudden” in geological terms is slow by the standards of a human lifetime; the complete collapse of a midsized ice sheet like Greenland’s or West Antarctica’s can take five or six centuries, and that in turn involves periods of relatively fast melting and sea level rise, interspersed with slack periods when sea level creeps up much more slowly.

So far, at least, the vast East Antarctic ice sheet has shown only very modest changes, and most current estimates suggest that it would take something far more drastic than the carbon output of our remaining economically accessible fossil fuel reserves to tip it over into instability; this is a good thing, as East Antarctica’s ice fields contain enough water to drive sea level up 250 feet or so. Thus a reasonable estimate for sea level change over the next five hundred years involves the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic sheets and some modest melting on the edges of the East Antarctic sheet, raising sea level by something over fifty feet, delivered in a series of unpredictable bursts divided by long periods of relative stability or slow change.

The result will be what paleogeographers call “marine transgression” – the invasion of dry land and fresh water by the sea. Fifty feet of sea level change adds up to quite a bit of marine transgression in some areas, much less in others, depending always on local topography. Where the ground is low and flat, the rising seas can penetrate a very long way; in California, for example, the state capital at Sacramento is many miles from the ocean, but since it’s only thirty feet above sea level and connected to the sea by a river, its skyscrapers will be rising out of a brackish estuary long before Greenland and West Antarctica are bare of ice. The port cities of the Gulf coast are also on the front lines – New Orleans is actually below sea level, and will likely be an early casualty, but every other Gulf port from Brownsville, Texas (elevation 43 feet) to Tampa, Florida (elevation 15 feet) faces the same fate, and most East and West Coast ports face substantial flooding of economically important districts.

The flooding of Sacramento isn’t the end of the world, and there may even be some among my readers who would consider it to be a good thing. What I’d like to point out, though, is the economic impact of the rising waters. Faced with an unpredictable but continuing rise in sea level, communities and societies face one of two extremely expensive choices. They can abandon billions of dollars of infrastructure to the sea and rebuild further inland, or they can invest billions of dollars in flood control. Because the rate of sea level change can’t be anticipated, furthermore, there’s no way to know in advance how far to relocate or how high to build the barriers at any given time, and there are often hard limits to how much change can be done in advance: port cities, for example, can’t just move away from the sea and still maintain a functioning economy.

This is a pattern we’ll be seeing over and over again in this series of posts. Societies descending into dark ages reliably get caught on the horns of a brutal dilemma. For any of a galaxy of reasons, crucial elements of infrastructure no longer do the job they once did, but reworking or replacing them runs up against two critical difficulties that are hardwired into the process of decline itself. The first is that, as time passes, the resources needed to do the necessary work become increasingly scarce; the second is that, as time passes, the uncertainties about what needs to be done become increasingly large.

The result can be tracked in the decline of every civilization. At first, failing systems are replaced with some success, but the economic impact of the replacement process becomes an ever-increasing burden, and the new systems never do quite manage to work as well as the older ones did in their heyday. As the process continues, the costs keep mounting and the benefits become less reliable; more and more often, scarce resources end up being wasted or put to counterproductive uses because the situation is too uncertain to allow for their optimum allocation. With each passing year, decision makers have to figure out how much of the dwindling stock of resources can be put to productive uses and how much has to be set aside for crisis management, and the raw uncertainty of the times guarantees that these decisions will very often turn out wrong. Eventually, the declining curve in available resources and the rising curve of uncertainty intersect to produce a crisis that spins out of control, and what’s left of a community, an economic sector, or a whole civilization goes to pieces under the impact.

It’s not too hard to anticipate how that will play out in the century or so immediately ahead of us. If, as I’ve suggested, we can expect the onset of a global meltwater pulse from the breakup of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets at some point in the years ahead, the first upward jolt in sea level will doubtless be met with grand plans for flood-control measures in some areas, and relocation of housing and economic activities in others. Some of those plans may even be carried out, though the raw economic impact of worldwide coastal flooding on a global economy already under severe strain from a chaotic climate and a variety of other factors won’t make that easy. Some coastal cities will hunker down behind hurriedly built or enlarged levees, others will abandon low-lying districts and try to rebuild further upslope, still others will simply founder and be partly or wholly abandoned – and all these choices impose costs on society as a whole.

Thereafter, in years and decades when sea level rises only slowly, the costs of maintaining flood control measures and replacing vulnerable infrastructure with new facilities on higher ground will become an unpopular burden, and the same logic that drives climate change denialism today will doubtless find plenty of hearers then as well. In years and decades when sea level surges upwards, the flood control measures and relocation projects will face increasingly severe tests, which some of them will inevitably fail. The twin spirals of rising costs and rising uncertainty will have their usual effect, shredding the ability of a failing society to cope with the challenges that beset it.

It’s even possible in one specific case to make an educated guess as to the nature of the pressures that will finally push the situation over the edge into collapse and abandonment. It so happens that three different processes that follow in the wake of rapid glacial melting all have the same disastrous consequence for the eastern shores of North America.

The first of these is isostatic rebound. When you pile billions of tons of ice on a piece of land, the land sinks, pressing down hundreds or thousands of feet into the Earth’s mantle; melt the ice, and the land rises again. If the melting happens over a brief time, geologically speaking, the rebound is generally fast enough to place severe stress on geological faults all through the region, and thus sharply increases the occurrence of earthquakes. The Greenland ice sheet is by no means exempt from this process, and many of the earthquakes in the area around a rising Greenland will inevitably happen offshore. The likely result? Tsunamis.

The second process is the destabilization of undersea sediments that build up around an ice sheet that ends in the ocean. As the ice goes away, torrents of meltwater pour into the surrounding seas, and isostatic rebound changes the slope of the underlying rock, masses of sediment break free and plunge down the continental slope into the deep ocean. Some of the sediment slides that followed the end of the last ice age were of impressive scale – the Storegga Slide off the coast of Norway around 6220 BCE, which was caused by exactly this process, sent 840 cubic miles of sediment careening down the continental slope. The likely result? More tsunamis.

The third process, which is somewhat more speculative than the first two, is the sudden blowout of large volumes of undersea methane hydrates. Several oceanographers and paleoclimatologists have argued that the traces of very large underwater slides in the Atlantic, dating from the waning days of the last ice age, may well be the traces of such blowouts. As the climate warmed, they suggest, methane hydrates on the continental shelves were destabilized by rising temperatures, and a sudden shock – perhaps delivered by an earthquake, perhaps by something else – triggered the explosive release of thousands or millions of tons of methane all at once. The likely result? Still more tsunamis.

It’s crucial to realize the role that uncertainty plays here, as in so many dimensions of our predicament. No one knows whether tsunamis driven by glacial melting will hammer the shores of the northern Atlantic basin some time in the next week, or some time in the next millennium. Even if tsunamis driven by the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet become statistically inevitable, there’s no way for anyone to know in advance the timing, scale, and direction of any such event. Efficient allocation of resources to East Coast ports becomes a nighmarish challenge when you literally have no way of knowing how soon any given investment might suddenly end up on the bottom of the Atlantic.

If human beings behave as they usually do, what will most likely happen is that the port cities of the US East Coast will keep on trying to maintain business as usual until well after that stops making any kind of economic sense. The faster the seas rise and the sooner the first tsunamis show up, the sooner that response will tip over into its opposite, and people will begin to flee in large numbers from the coasts in search of safety for themselves and their families. My working guess is that the eastern seaboard of dark age America will be sparsely populated, with communities concentrated in those areas where land well above tsunami range lies close to the sea. The Pacific and Gulf coasts will be at much less risk from tsunamis, and so may be more thickly settled; that said, during periods of rapid marine transgression, the mostly flat and vulnerable Gulf Coast may lose a great deal of land, and those who live there will need to be ready to move inland in a hurry.

All these factors make for a shift in the economic and political geography of the continent that will be of quite some importance at a later point in this series of posts. In times of rapid sea level change, maintaining the infrastructure for maritime trade in seacoast ports is a losing struggle; maritime trade is still possible without port infrastructure, but it’s rarely economically viable; and that means that inland waterways with good navigable connections to the sea will take on an even greater importance than they have today. In North America, the most crucial of those are the Saint Lawrence Seaway, the Hudson River-Erie Canal linkage to the Great Lakes, and whatever port further inland replaces New Orleans – Baton Rouge is a likely candidate, due to its location and elevation above sea level – once the current Mississippi delta drowns beneath the rising seas.

Even in dark ages, as I’ll demonstrate later on, maritime trade is a normal part of life, and that means that the waterways just listed will become the economic, political, and strategic keys to most of the North American continent. The implications of that geographical reality will be the focus of a number of posts as we proceed.

_____
John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {3} and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

Links:

{1} http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/04/seascape-with-methane-plumes.html

{2} http://www.nature.com/news/mysterious-siberian-crater-attributed-to-methane-1.15649

{3} http://www.aoda.org/

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.jp/2014/08/dark-age-america-rising-oceans.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Beware the World’s Leading War-Monger and Terrorist Organization

The United States

by Dave Lindorff

CounterPunch (August 11 2014)

There’s an old adage that goes: “You can judge a man by the company he keeps”.

If that’s the case, then applying it to nations, the world has to judge the US to be a truly wretched and repugnant country, and should be steering clear of it.

Look at the company we Americans are “keeping” these days:

* In Ukraine, the US is backing a thuggish regime, installed through a bloody coup that overthrew a democratically elected government. That regime, since taking power, been indescriminately shelling cities, and using fascist thugs re-classified as National Guardsmen to slaughter civilians and separatist rebels in the eastern part of the country. It is also becoming increasingly clear, as even the main English-language newspaper in Malaysia is reporting, that this thuggish regime based in Kiev was likely responsible for the deliberate downing of a Malaysian airline which killed all 283 passengers and crew (though the Obama administration continues to claim, on the basis of no evidence, that it was the separatists’ doing).

* In Israel, we have a government and the ironically named Israeli Defense Force (IDF) slaughtering nearly 2000 Palestinians – over 400 of them children – trapped in the massive open-air prison and ghetto called Gaza. For over a month, the IDF has been relentlessly bombing, shelling and rolling tanks and bulldozers over the world’s most crowded prison camp and its 1.8 million people, deliberately shelling schools, hospitals, sewage treatment and water plants, and the only power generating facility, creating an incomprehensible humanitarian crisis. Israel is the single largest recipient of US financial and military aid, and most of the death and destruction in Gaza is the direct result of US-provided arms – weapons that include flesh-shredding anti-personnel shells and bombs, toxic gas and illegally used white phosphorus incendiary weapons. In fact, the US rushed more such deadly weapons to Israel as the IDF ran its stocks down in this one-sided assault on the walled-in Gaza-wide free-fire kill zone.

* Over in Syria, where the US has been covertly supplying arms to an assortment of fanatic Islamic jihadists intent on overthrowing the dictator Bashar al Assad, we now know that it was those very jihadists, and not the Assad government, that cooly launched a deadly Sarin gas attack on a suburb of Damascus last year, killing hundreds. They did this monstrous crime in an attempt to throw blame on Assad and lure the US into joining the war against his regime – and came within a day of succeeding. More recently we learn that those jihadists, many of whom were trained by the CIA at secret camps in Jordan, have been stoning women in Syria to death for “adultery”, often forcing local villagers unwilling to participate in such horrors to watch this medieval atrocity.

* Those same jihadis, trained by the US, are also sweeping across much of Iraq now, taking control of even large cities like Mosul, and slaughtering many of those in areas they conquer. There the US has been forced by this “blow-back” from its earlier support to turn on its trainees, much as it had to do a decade ago in Afghanistan, to begin bombing its wayward proteges to slow their advance. But let’s not forget that the people the US is now attacking in Iraq are the very people whom it earlier armed and trained to fight against Assad in neighboring Syria.

Of course, the US has many other vicious and unsavory “friends” all around the globe, in Venezuela, Cuba and Ecuador and Bolivia, Honduras and Colombia for example. But just judging by these three groups that it is backing – the Ukraine government, the Israeli government and the Islamic rebels in Syria – one can only conclude that the US is a truly global menace and leading source of international mayhem and terror.

The countries of Europe that are still part of the anachronistic, Cold War-era North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should listen to the growing voices of anger and alarm among their citizens who recognize that the United States, far from providing them with security, is stirring up conflict all around the globe (not to mention spying on, and probably extorting, their compromised leaders). Particularly in Ukraine, along Russia’s southern border, and in Palestine, these actions pose threats that could ultimately drag Europe into violent conflagrations that have not been seen since the end of World War Two, nearly seventy years ago.

Israel’s ongoing slaughter of the Palestinians in Gaza, and its continued brutal occupation and usurpation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, will surely lead to a new explosion of violence and anger across the Middle East, which will almost certainly spill over into Europe. Meanwhile, one push too far – and we may be nearing that point – and the US and it’s “friends” in Kiev may trigger a Russian invasion of Ukraine in defense of the embattled Russian minority in that country. With over 20,000 heavily mechanized and well-trained Russian troops already on the border with Ukraine, and a huge modern airforce at the ready, the stage is set for such a cross-border action. If the US and its NATO “allies” were to attempt to block such a Russian action, World War Three would be just one incident away.

The best action to take when someone is known to consort with thuggish or unsavory friends is to cut off contact with that person. Likewise, it would be wise for the nations of the world, and especially those currently linked to Washington through membership in NATO, to cut their ties with the world’s leading terror organization and perpetrator of violence: The United States of America.

_____

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press, 2012).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/11/beware-the-worlds-leading-war-monger-and-terrorist-organization/

Categories: Uncategorized

My Money’s on Putin

The Latest in the New Cold War

by Mike Whitney

CounterPunch (August 12 2014)

 

History shows that the United States has benefited politically and economically from wars in Europe. The huge outflow of capital from Europe, following the First and Second World Wars, transformed the US into a superpower … Today, faced with economic decline, the US is trying to precipitate another European war to achieve the same objective.

-  Sergey Glazyev {1}

 

 

The discovery of the world’s largest, known gas reserves in the Persian Gulf, shared by Qatar and Iran, and new assessments which found seventy percent more gas in the Levantine in 2007, are key to understanding the dynamics of the conflicts we see today. After a completion of the PARS pipeline, from Iran, through Iraq and Syria to the Eastern Mediterranean coast, the European Union would receive more than an estimated 45 percent of the gas it consumes over the next 100 to 120 years from Russian and Iranian sources. Under non-conflict circumstances, this would warrant an increased integration of the European, Russian and Iranian energy sectors and national economies.

-  Christof Lehmann {2}

 

The United States failed operation in Syria, has led to an intensification of Washington’s proxy war in Ukraine. What the Obama administration hoped to achieve in Syria through its support of so called “moderate” Islamic militants was to topple the regime of Bashar al Assad, replace him with a US-backed puppet, and prevent the construction of the critical Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline. That plan hasn’t succeeded nor will it in the near future, which means that the plan for the prospective pipeline will eventually go forward.

Why is that a problem?

It’s a problem because – according to Dr Lehmann – “Together with the Russian gas … the EU would be able to cover some fifty percent of its requirements for natural gas via Iranian and Russian sources”. As the primary suppliers of critical resources to Europe, Moscow and Tehran would grow stronger both economically and politically which would significantly undermine the influence of the US and its allies in the region, particularly Qatar and Israel. This is why opponents of the pipeline developed a plan to sabotage the project by fomenting a civil war in Syria. Here’s Lehmann again:

 

In 2007, Qatar sent USD 10 billion to Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davotoglu to prepare Turkey’s and Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood for the subversion of Syria. As we recently learned from former French Foreign Minister Dumas, it was also about that time, that actors in the United Kingdom began planning the subversion of Syria with the help of “rebels”. {2}

 

In other words, the idea to arm, train and fund an army of jihadi militants, to oust al Assad and open up Syria to western interests, had its origins in an evolving energy picture that clearly tilted in the favor of US rivals in the region. (Note: We’re not sure why Lehmann leaves out Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or the other Gulf States that have also been implicated.)

Lehmann’s thesis is supported by other analysts including the Guardian‘s Nafeez Ahmed who explains what was going on behind the scenes of the fake civil uprising in Syria. Here’s a clip from an article by Ahmed {3}:

 

 

In May 2007, a presidential finding revealed that Bush had authorised CIA operations against Iran. Anti-Syria operations were also in full swing around this time as part of this covert programme, according to Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker. A range of US government and intelligence sources told him that the Bush administration had “cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations” intended to weaken the Shi’ite Hezbollah in Lebanon. “The US has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria”, wrote Hersh, “a byproduct” of which is “the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups” hostile to the United States and “sympathetic to al-Qaeda”. He noted that “the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria” …

 

According to former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009: “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business”, he told French television:

 

“I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria.”

 

…  Leaked emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor including notes from a meeting with Pentagon officials confirmed US-UK training of Syrian opposition forces since 2011 aimed at eliciting “collapse” of Assad’s regime “from within”.

 

So what was this unfolding strategy to undermine Syria and Iran all about? According to retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark, a memo from the Office of the US Secretary of Defense just a few weeks after 9/11 revealed plans to “attack and destroy the governments in seven countries in five years”, starting with Iraq and moving on to “Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran”. In a subsequent interview, Clark argues that this strategy is fundamentally about control of the region’s vast oil and gas resources. {3}

 

 

 

Apparently, Assad was approached by Qatar on the pipeline issue in 2009, but he refused to cooperate in order “to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally”. Had Assad fallen in line and agreed to Qatar’s offer, then the effort to remove him from office probably would have been called off. In any event, it was the developments in Syria that triggered the frenzied reaction in Ukraine. According to Lehmann:

 

The war in Ukraine became predictable (unavoidable?) when the great Muslim Brotherhood Project in Syria failed during the summer of 2012 … In June and July 2012 some 20,000 NATO mercenaries who had been recruited and trained in Libya and then staged in the Jordanian border town Al-Mafraq, launched two massive campaigns aimed at seizing the Syrian city of Aleppo. Both campaigns failed and the “Libyan Brigade” was literally wiped out by the Syrian Arab Army.

 

It was after this decisive defeat that Saudi Arabia began a massive campaign for the recruitment of jihadi fighters via the network of the Muslim Brotherhoods evil twin sister Al-Qaeda.

 

The International Crisis Group responded by publishing its report “Tentative Jihad”. Washington had to make an attempt to distance itself “politically” from the “extremists”. Plan B, the chemical weapons plan was hedged but it became obvious that the war on Syria was not winnable anymore”. {4}

 

There were other factors that pushed the US towards a conflagration with Moscow in Ukraine, but the driving force was the fact that US rivals (Russia and Iran) stood to be the dominant players in an energy war that would increasingly erode Washington’s power. Further economic integration between Europe and Russia poses a direct threat to US plans to pivot to Asia, deploy NATO to Russia’s borders, and to continue to denominate global energy supplies in US dollars.

Lehmann notes that he had a conversation with “a top-NATO admiral from a northern European country” who clarified the situation in a terse, two-sentence summary of US foreign policy. He said:

 

American colleagues at the Pentagon told me, unequivocally, that the US and UK never would allow European – Soviet relations to develop to such a degree that they would challenge the US/UK’s political, economic or military primacy and hegemony on the European continent. Such a development will be prevented by all necessary means, if necessary by provoking a war in central Europe.

 

This is the crux of the issue. The United States is not going to allow any state or combination of states to challenge its dominance. Washington doesn’t want rivals. It wants to be the undisputed, global superpower, which is the point that Paul Wolfowitz articulated in an early draft of the US National Defense Strategy:

 

Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.

 

So the Obama administration is going to do whatever it thinks is necessary to stop further EU-Russia economic integration and to preserve the petrodollar system. That system originated in 1974 when President Richard Nixon persuaded OPEC members to denominate their oil exclusively in dollars, and to recycle their surplus oil proceeds into US Treasuries. The arrangement turned out to be a huge windfall for the US, which rakes in more than $1 billion per day via the process. This, in turn, allows the US to over-consume and run hefty deficits. Other nations must stockpile dollars to purchase the energy that runs their machinery, heats their homes and fuels their vehicles. Meanwhile, the US can breezily exchange paper currency, which it can print at no-expense to itself, for valuable imported goods that cost dearly in terms of labor and materials. These dollars then go into purchasing oil or natural gas, the profits of which are then recycled back into US Treasury bonds or other dollar-denominated assets such as US stocks, bonds, real estate, or ETFs. This is the virtuous circle that keeps the US in the top spot.

As one critic put it:

 

World trade is now a game in which the US produces dollars and the rest of the world produces things that dollars can buy.

 

The petrodollar system helps to maintain the dollar’s monopoly pricing which, in turn, sustains the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. It creates excessive demand for dollars which allows the Fed to expand the nation’s credit by dramatically reducing the cost of financing. If oil and natural gas were no longer denominated in US dollar, the value of the dollar would fall sharply, the bond market would collapse, and the US economy would slip into a long-term slump.

This is one of the reasons why the US invaded Iraq shortly after Saddam had switched over to the euro; because it considers any challenge to the petrodollar looting scam as a direct threat to US national security.

Moscow is aware of Washington’s Achilles’s heel and is making every effort to exploit that weakness by reducing its use of the dollar in its trade agreements. So far, Moscow has persuaded China and Iran to drop the dollar in their bilateral dealings, and they have found that other trading partners are eager to do the same. Recently, Russian economic ministers conducted a “de-dollarization” meeting in which a “currency switch executive order” was issued stating that “the government has the legal power to force Russian companies to trade a percentage of certain goods in rubles”.

Last week, according to RT:

 

The Russian and Chinese central banks have agreed a draft currency swap agreement, which will allow them to increase trade in domestic currencies and cut the dependence on the US dollar in bilateral payments. “The draft document between the Central Bank of Russia and the People’s Bank of China on national currency swaps has been agreed by the parties … The agreement will stimulate further development of direct trade in yuan and rubles on the domestic foreign exchange markets of Russia and China”, the Russian regulator said.

 

Currently, over 75 percent of payments in Russia-China trade settlements are made in US dollars, according to Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper. {5}

 

The attack on the petrodollar recycling system is one of many asymmetrical strategies Moscow is presently employing to discourage US aggression, to defend its sovereignty, and to promote a multi-polar world order where the rule of law prevails. The Kremlin is also pushing for institutional changes that will help to level the playing field instead of creating an unfair advantage for the richer countries like the US. Naturally, replacing the IMF, whose exploitative loans and punitive policies, topped the list for most of the emerging market nations, particularly the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) who, in July, agreed to create a $100 billion Development Bank that will will counter the influence of Western-based lending institutions and the dollar. The new bank will provide money for infrastructure and development projects in BRICS countries, and unlike the IMF or World Bank, each nation has equal say, regardless of GDP size.

According to RT:

 

The big launch of the BRICS bank is seen as a first step to break the dominance of the US dollar in global trade, as well as dollar-backed institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, both US-based institutions BRICS countries have little influence within …

“This mechanism creates the foundation for an effective protection of our national economies from a crisis in financial markets”, Russian President Vladimir Putin said. {6}

 

It’s clear that Washington’s aggression in Ukraine has focused Moscow’s attention on retaliation. But rather than confront the US militarily, as Obama and Company would prefer, Putin is taking aim at the vulnerabilities within the system. A BRICS Development Bank challenges the IMF’s dominant role as lender of last resort, a role that has enhanced the power of the wealthy countries and their industries. The new bank creates the basis for real institutional change, albeit, still within the pervasive capitalist framework.

Russian politician and economist, Sergei Glazyev, summarized Moscow’s approach to the US-Russia conflagration in an essay titled “US is militarizing Ukraine to invade Russia”. Here’s an excerpt:

 

To stop the war, you need to terminate its driving forces. At this stage, the war unfolds mainly in the planes of economic, public relations and politics. All the power of US economic superiority is based on the financial pyramid of debt, and this has gone long beyond sustainability. Its major lenders are collapsing enough to deprive the US market of accumulated US dollars and Treasury bonds. Of course, the collapse of the US financial system will cause serious losses to all holders of US currency and securities. But first, these losses for Russia, Europe and China will be less than the losses caused by American geopolitics unleashing another world war. Secondly, the sooner the exit from the financial obligations of this American pyramid, the less will be the losses. Third, the collapse of the dollar Ponzi scheme gives an opportunity, finally, to reform the global financial system on the basis of equity and mutual benefit.

 

Washington thinks “modern warfare” involves covert support for proxy armies comprised of Neo Nazis and Islamic extremists. Moscow thinks modern warfare means undermining the enemy’s ability to wage war through sustained attacks on it’s currency, its institutions, its bond market, and its ability to convince its allies that it is a responsible steward of the global economic system.

I’ll put my money on Russia.

Links:

{1} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWT5HM_NMlI

{2} http://routemag.com/2013/08/13/interview-with-dr-christof-lehmann-editor-in-chief-of-independent-on-line-newspaper-nsnbc-international/

{3} http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/aug/30/syria-chemical-attack-war-intervention-oil-gas-energy-pipelines

{4} http://journal-neo.org/2014/07/30/the-atlantic-axis-and-the-making-of-a-war-in-ukraine/

{5} http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-08-09/de-dollarization-accelerates-chinarussia-complete-currency-swap-agreement

{6} http://rt.com/business/173008-brics-bank-currency-pool/

_____

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press, 2012). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/12/my-moneys-on-putin/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=my-moneys-on-putin

Categories: Uncategorized

Putting the Dollar in Jeopardy

For seventy years, a key element of American power has been the dollar’s standing as the world’s premier currency. But Washington’s repeated use of economic sanctions as a foreign policy weapon has encouraged China and other powers to consider financial alternatives.

by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

Consortium News (August 01 2014)

Since World War Two, America’s geopolitical supremacy has rested not only on military might, but also on the dollar’s standing as the world’s leading transactional and reserve currency. Economically, dollar primacy extracts “seignorage” – the difference between the cost of printing money and its value – from other countries, and minimizes US firms’ exchange rate risk.

Its real importance, though, is strategic: dollar primacy lets America cover its chronic current account and fiscal deficits by issuing more of its own currency – precisely how Washington has funded its hard power projection for over half a century.

Since the 1970s, a pillar of dollar primacy has been the greenback’s role as the dominant currency in which oil and gas are priced, and in which international hydrocarbon sales are invoiced and settled. This helps keep worldwide dollar demand high. It also feeds energy producers’ accumulation of dollar surpluses that reinforce the dollar’s standing as the world’s premier reserve asset, and that can be “recycled” into the US economy to cover American deficits.

Many assume that the dollar’s prominence in energy markets derives from its wider status as the world’s foremost transactional and reserve currency. But the dollar’s role in these markets is neither natural nor a function of its broader dominance.  Rather, it was engineered by US policymakers after the Bretton Woods monetary order collapsed in the early 1970s, ending the initial version of dollar primacy (“dollar hegemony 1.0″). Linking the dollar to international oil trading was key to creating a new version of dollar primacy (“dollar hegemony 2.0″) – and, by extension, in financing another forty years of American hegemony.

Gold and Dollar Hegemony 1.0

Dollar primacy was first enshrined at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, where America’s non-communist allies acceded to Washington’s blueprint for a postwar international monetary order.  Britain’s delegation – headed by Lord Keynes – and virtually every other participating country, save the United States, favored creating a new multilateral currency through the fledgling International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the chief source of global liquidity.

But this would have thwarted American ambitions for a dollar-centered monetary order. Even though almost all participants preferred the multilateral option, America’s overwhelming relative power ensured that, in the end, its preferences prevailed. So, under the Bretton Woods gold exchange standard, the dollar was pegged to gold and other currencies were pegged to the dollar, making it the main form of international liquidity.

There was, however, a fatal contradiction in Washington’s dollar-based vision. The only way America could diffuse enough dollars to meet worldwide liquidity needs was by running open-ended current account deficits. As Western Europe and Japan recovered and regained competitiveness, these deficits grew. Throw in America’s own burgeoning demand for dollars – to fund rising consumption, welfare state expansion, and global power projection – and the US money supply soon exceeded US gold reserves.

From the 1950s, Washington worked to persuade or coerce foreign dollar holders not to exchange greenbacks for gold. But insolvency could be staved off for only so long: in August 1971, President Richard Nixon suspended dollar-gold convertibility, ending the gold exchange standard; by 1973, fixed exchange rates were gone, too.

These events raised fundamental questions about the long-term soundness of a dollar-based monetary order. To preserve its role as chief provider of international liquidity, the US would have to continue running current account deficits.

But those deficits were ballooning, for Washington’s abandonment of Bretton Woods intersected with two other watershed developments: America became a net oil importer in the early 1970s; and the assertion of market power by key members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1973 and 1974 caused a 500 percent increase in oil prices, exacerbating the strain on the US balance of payments. With the link between the dollar and gold severed and exchange rates no longer fixed, the prospect of ever-larger US deficits aggravated concerns about the dollar’s long-term value.

These concerns had special resonance for major oil producers. Oil going to international markets has been priced in dollars, at least since the 1920s – but, for decades, sterling was used at least as frequently as dollars in order to settle transnational oil purchases, even after the dollar had replaced sterling as the world’s preeminent trade and reserve currency.

As long as sterling was pegged to the dollar and the dollar was “as good as gold”, this was economically viable. But, after Washington abandoned dollar-gold convertibility and the world transitioned from fixed to floating exchange rates, the currency regime for oil trading was up for grabs.

With the end of dollar-gold convertibility, America’s major allies in the Persian Gulf – the Shah’s Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia – came to favor shifting OPEC’s pricing system, from denominating prices in dollars to denominating them in a basket of currencies.

In this environment, several of America’s European allies revived the idea (first broached by Keynes at Bretton Woods) of providing international liquidity in the form of an IMF-issued, multilaterally-governed currency – so-called “Special Drawing Rights” (SDRs). After rising oil prices engorged their current accounts, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab allies of the United States pushed for OPEC to begin invoicing in SDRs. They also endorsed European proposals to recycle petrodollar surpluses through the IMF, in order to encourage its emergence as the main post-Bretton Woods provider of international liquidity.

That would have meant Washington could not continue to print as many dollars, as it wanted to support rising consumption, mushrooming welfare expenditures, and sustained global power projection. To avert this, American policymakers had to find new ways to incentivize foreigners to continue holding ever-larger surpluses of what were now fiat dollars.

Oil and Dollar Hegemony 2.0

To this end, US administrations from the mid-1970s devised two strategies. One was to maximize demand for dollars as a transactional currency. The other was to reverse Bretton Woods’ restrictions on transnational capital flows; with financial liberalization, America could leverage the breadth and depth of its capital markets, and it could cover its chronic current account and fiscal deficits by attracting foreign capital at relatively low cost. Forging strong links between hydrocarbon sales and the dollar proved critical on both fronts.

To forge such links, Washington effectively extorted its Gulf Arab allies, quietly conditioning US guarantees of their security to their willingness to financially help the United States. Reneging on pledges to its European and Japanese partners, the Ford administration clandestinely pushed Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab producers to recycle substantial parts of their petrodollar surpluses into the US economy through private (largely US) intermediaries, rather than through the IMF.

The Ford administration also elicited Gulf Arab support for Washington’s strained finances, reaching secret deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for their central banks to buy large volumes of US Treasury securities outside normal auction processes.

These commitments helped Washington prevent the IMF from supplanting the United States as the main provider of international liquidity; they also gave a crucial early boost to Washington’s ambitions to finance US deficits by recycling foreign dollar surpluses via private capital markets and purchases of US government securities.

A few years later, the Carter administration struck another secret deal with the Saudis, whereby Riyadh committed to exert its influence to ensure that OPEC continued pricing oil in dollars. OPEC’s commitment to the dollar as the invoice currency for international oil sales was key to broader embrace of the dollar as the oil market’s reigning transactional currency.

As OPEC’s administered price system collapsed in the mid-1980s, the Reagan administration encouraged universalized dollar invoicing for cross-border oil sales on new oil exchanges in London and New York. Nearly universal pricing of oil – and, later on, gas – in dollars has bolstered the likelihood that hydrocarbon sales will not just be denominated in dollars, but settled in them as well, generating ongoing support for worldwide dollar demand.

In short, these bargains were instrumental in creating “dollar hegemony 2.0″. And they have largely held up, despite periodic Gulf Arab dissatisfaction with America’s Middle East policy, more fundamental US estrangement from other major Gulf producers (Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran), and a flurry of interest in the “petro–Euro” in the early 2000s.

The Saudis, especially, have vigorously defended exclusive pricing of oil in dollars. While Saudi Arabia and other major energy producers now accept payment for their oil exports in other major currencies, the larger share of the world’s hydrocarbon sales continue to be settled in dollars, perpetuating the greenback’s status as the world’s top transactional currency.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab producers have supplemented their support for the oil-dollar nexus with ample purchases of advanced US weapons; most have also pegged their currencies to the dollar – a commitment which senior Saudi officials describe as “strategic”. While the dollar’s share of global reserves has dropped, Gulf Arab petrodollar recycling helps keep it the world’s leading reserve currency.

The China Challenge

Still, history and logic caution that current practices are not set in stone. With the rise of the “petroyuan”, movement towards a less dollar-centric currency regime in international energy markets – with potentially serious implications for the dollar’s broader standing – is already underway.

As China has emerged as a major player on the global energy scene, it has also embarked on an extended campaign to internationalize its currency. A rising share of China’s external trade is being denominated and settled in renminbi; issuance of renminbi-denominated financial instruments is growing.

China is pursuing a protracted process of capital account liberalization essential to full renminbi internationalization, and is allowing more exchange rate flexibility for the yuan. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) now has swap arrangements with over thirty other central banks – meaning that renminbi already effectively functions as a reserve currency.

Chinese policymakers appreciate the “advantages of incumbency” the dollar enjoys; their aim is not for renminbi to replace dollars, but to position the yuan alongside the greenback as a transactional and reserve currency. Besides economic benefits (for example, lowering Chinese businesses’ foreign exchange costs), Beijing wants – for strategic reasons – to slow further growth of its enormous dollar reserves.

China has watched America’s increasing propensity to cut off countries from the US financial system as a foreign policy tool, and worries about Washington trying to leverage it this way; renminbi internationalization can mitigate such vulnerability. More broadly, Beijing understands the importance of dollar dominance to American power; by chipping away at it, China can contain excessive US unilateralism.

China has long incorporated financial instruments into its efforts to access foreign hydrocarbons. Now Beijing wants major energy producers to accept renminbi as a transactional currency – including to settle Chinese hydrocarbon purchases – and incorporate renminbi in their central bank reserves.

Producers have reason to be receptive. China is, for the vastly foreseeable future, the main incremental market for hydrocarbon producers in the Persian Gulf and former Soviet Union. Widespread expectations of long-term yuan appreciation make accumulating renminbi reserves a “no brainer” in terms of portfolio diversification.

And, as America is increasingly viewed as a hegemon in relative decline, China is seen as the preeminent rising power. Even for Gulf Arab states long reliant on Washington as their ultimate security guarantor, this makes closer ties to Beijing an imperative strategic hedge. For Russia, deteriorating relations with the United States impel deeper cooperation with China, against what both Moscow and Beijing consider a declining, yet still dangerously flailing and over-reactive, America.

For several years, China has paid for some of its oil imports from Iran with renminbi; in 2012, the PBOC and the UAE Central Bank set up a $5.5 billion currency swap, setting the stage for settling Chinese oil imports from Abu Dhabi in renminbi – an important expansion of petroyuan use in the Persian Gulf.

The $400 billion Sino-Russian gas deal that was concluded this year apparently provides for settling Chinese purchases of Russian gas inrenminbi; if fully realized, this would mean an appreciable role for renminbi in transnational gas transactions.

Looking ahead, use of renminbi to settle international hydrocarbon sales will surely increase, accelerating the decline of American influence in key energy-producing regions. It will also make it marginally harder for Washington to finance what China and other rising powers consider overly interventionist foreign policies – a prospect America’s political class has hardly begun to ponder.

Links: The original version of this article, at the URL below, contains links to further information not included here.

_____

Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W Bush’s National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and –  from 2001 to 2003 –  was one of only a few US diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. They are authors of Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran (2013).

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/08/01/putting-the-dollar-in-jeopardy/

Categories: Uncategorized

New World Disorder

Emerging Division Between East and West Threatens to Plunge the Globe into Chaos

by Michael Snyder

The Economic Collapse (July 21 2014)
     

In general, over the last several decades the world has experienced an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity.  The opening up of relations with China and the “end of the Cold War” resulted in an extended period of cooperation between east and west that was truly unique in the annals of history.  But now things are shifting.  The civil war in Ukraine and the crash of MH17 have created an enormous amount of tension between the United States and Russia, and many analysts believe that relations between the two superpowers are now even worse than they were during the end of the Cold War era.  In addition, the indictment of five PLA officers for cyber espionage and sharp disagreements over China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea (among other issues) have caused US relations with China to dip to their lowest point since at least 1989.  So could the emerging division between the east and the west ultimately plunge us into a period of global chaos?  And what would that mean for the world economy?

For as long as most Americans can remember, the US dollar and the US financial system have been overwhelmingly dominant.  But now the powers of the east appear to be determined to break this monopoly.  Four of the BRICS nations (China, Russia, India and Brazil) are on the list of the top ten biggest economies on the planet, and they are starting to make moves to become much less dependent on the US-centered financial system of the western world.  For example, just last week the BRICS nations established two new institutions {1} which are intended to be alternatives to the World Bank and the IMF …

 

So in their summit, from July 14 to 16, the five BRICS announced two major initiatives aimed squarely at increasing their power in global finance. They announced the launch of the New Development Bank, headquartered in Shanghai, that will offer financing for development projects in the emerging world. The bank will act as an alternative to the Washington, DC-based World Bank. The BRICS also formed what they’re calling a Contingent Reserve Arrangement, a series of currency agreements which can be utilized to help them smooth over financial imbalances with the rest of the world. That’s something the IMF does now.

Clearly, the idea is to create institutions and processes to supplement – and perhaps eventually supplant – the functions of those managed by US and Europe. And they would be resources that they could control on their own, without the annoying conditions that the World Bank and the IMF always slap on their loans and assistance.

 

This comes at a time when both China and Russia are seeking to emphasize their own currencies and move away from using the US dollar so much.

Even in the western media, it is being admitted that China’s yuan is “a growing force in global finance” {2}, and according to CNBC {3} the use of Chinese currency in international trade is growing very rapidly …

 

Of the German companies profiled, 23 percent are using the renminbi to settle trades, up from nine percent last year, while usage in Hong Kong rose to 58 percent from fifty percent and to seventeen percent from nine percent in the US.

Usage of the renminbi among French companies – a new addition to this year’s list – was high at 26 percent.

 

And of course Russia has been actively pursuing a “de-dollarization strategy” for months now.  Each new round of economic sanctions pushes Russia even further in the direction of independence from the US dollar, and Gazprom has been working hard to get large customers to switch from paying for natural gas in dollars to paying for natural gas in euros and other currencies.  For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “Russia Is Doing It –  Russia Is Actually Abandoning The Dollar” {4}.

At this point, it seems clear that Russia plans to permanently decouple from the US economy and the US financial system.  Just today we learned that Vladimir Putin plans to make Russia less dependent on US companies such as IBM and Microsoft {5}, and any future rounds of sanctions are likely to cause even more damage to US firms that do business in Russia.

But potentially much more troubling for the US economy is the startling deterioration in the relationship between the Obama administration and China.  Some analysts are even describing this as “a tipping point” {6} …

 

One day, the United States indicts five PLA officers for cybercrimes; the next, the United States claims victory in WTO disputes over car tariffs and rare earth minerals. All this is happening while the United States promises enduring support for Asian allies, and it has moved openly to challenge the legitimacy of Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, China is busy creating facts on the ground and water {7}. Last month, a $1 billion Chinese oil rig set up operations in territorial waters claimed by Vietnam. In the East China Sea, Chinese SU-27 fighter jets have come within 100 feet of Japanese surveillance aircraft {8}.

This was all capped at the recent Shangri-La Asian Security dialogue in Singapore (Asia’s annual defense-ministers meeting): Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel bluntly described China’s behavior as “destabilizing, unilateral actions”. The PLA deputy chief of staff, Lieutenant General Wang Guanzhong, accused the United States of “hegemonism”.

The mood has soured, more than the usual ups and downs of big-power relationships. The question now is not whether a “new type of relationship” is in the offing, but rather, whether US-Chinese relations have reached a tipping point.

 

Most Americans could not care less about what China is doing in the South China Sea, but to the Chinese this is a very, very big deal.  In fact, China just sent a surveillance vessel {9}to Hawaii as a bit of payback for what they regard as US “provocations” in the region.

In the old days, China would have probably never have done such a thing.  But China is gaining confidence as the gap between the US military and the Chinese military rapidly closes {10} …

 

Away from the Chinese military’s expanding capabilities in cyberspace and electronic warfare, Beijing is growing the size and reach of its naval fleet, advancing its air force and testing a host of new missiles, the Pentagon said Thursday.

An annual report to Congress on China’s evolving military capability concluded that the modernization was being driven in part by growing territorial disputes in the East and South China seas, as well as by Beijing’s desire to expand its presence and influence abroad.

 

In fact, the Chinese military has grown so powerful that we are now seeing headlines such as this one in The Week: “China thinks it can defeat America in battle”.

And the Russian military has made tremendous strides as well. Putin has been working hard to modernize the Russian nuclear arsenal, the Russians now have a “fifth generation” fighter jet {11} that is supposedly far superior to the F-22 Raptor, and they have nuclear submarines that are so incredibly quiet that the US Navy refers to them as “black holes” {12}.

If Russia and China stay united, they are more than capable of providing a counterbalance to US power around the globe.

But even if military conflict is not in our immediate future, the breakdown in relations between east and west could still have a dramatic impact on the global economy.

Over the years, the US and China have developed a highly symbiotic relationship that fuels a tremendous amount of economic activity all over the planet.  Each year, we buy hundreds of billions of dollars of products from the Chinese.  Just imagine what our stores would look like if we took everything that was “made in China” out of them.  And after we send them giant piles of our money, we beg the Chinese to lend it back to us at ultra-low interest rates.  This arrangement has allowed China to become extremely wealthy and it has allowed Americans to enjoy a massively inflated standard of living fueled by ever increasing amounts of debt.

So what happens if this relationship starts breaking down?

Without a doubt, it could potentially lead to global chaos.

So keep a close eye on this emerging division between the east and the west.  It could end up being far more important than most Americans would ever dare to imagine.

Links:

{1} http://time.com/3010636/brics-us-dollar-new-development-bank-summit-contingent-reserve-arrangement/

{2} http://news.yahoo.com/chinas-yuan-growing-force-global-finance-172929413.html

{3} http://www.cnbc.com/id/101817736

{4} http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/russia-is-doing-it-russia-is-actually-abandoning-the-dollar

{5} http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/russia-is-doing-it-russia-is-actually-abandoning-the-dollar

{6} http://nationalinterest.org/feature/china-america-dangerous-tipping-point-10632

{7} http://nationalinterest.org/feature/chinas-premature-power-play-goes-very-wrong-10587

{8} http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-east-china-sea-boils-china-japans-dangerous-dance-10599

{9} http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-20/china-sends-spy-ship-as-vessels-join-largest-u-s-naval-drill.html

{10} http://themostimportantnews.com/archives/rising-red-tide-chinas-navy-air-force-rapidly-expanding-its-size-and-reach

{11} http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/06/17/us-russia-fighter-putin-idUSTRE65G64820100617

{12} http://thetruthwins.com/archives/new-russian-submarines-are-so-silent-that-the-u-s-navy-calls-them-black-holes

http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/new-world-disorder-emerging-division-between-east-and-west-threatens-to-plunge-the-globe-into-chaos

Categories: Uncategorized

Permission to Steal Everything

by Dmitry Orlov

Club Orlov (August 13 2014)

There is a convoy of 280 gleaming white trucks moving through Russia toward Ukraine loaded with humanitarian aid for the populations of Donetsk and Lugansk. This isn’t much, considering that well over a million people have been cut off from food, water, electricity and (soon) heat because of indiscriminate artillery bombardment by the Ukrainian military. But it’s a start. But it seems like a rocky start; first, NATO’s mouthpiece Rasmussen tries to characterize this humanitarian mission as a clandestine invasion. Then the Ukrainians start imposing various conditions. Let’s consider these separately.

When was the last time Russia, or, for that matter, USSR, mounted a clandestine invasion?

If you said “Crimea”, then you need to understand that (1) Russian troops have been in Crimea continuously for the past 231 years; (2) they were there under an international treaty; and (3) their troop levels never exceeded the levels this treaty stipulates.

If Russia wanted to invade Ukraine, it simply would. The Ukrainian troops would surrender or run away, but then what? Nobody has an answer to that question, not even the Russians. Aid – yes, invasion – no thanks. The policy of letting Ukraine “stew in its own juices until the meat falls off the bone” (as I put it back in mid-March) is working quite well, with the added bonus that the EU and the US are now at each others’ throats over their self-imposed sanctions. But it will take time, and this means that the population of Novorossiya, where Donetsk and Lugansk are located, and which ended up as part of Ukraine thanks to Lenin, has to be fed and heated through the next winter. Hence the humanitarian mission, which will be, if all goes well, the first of many.

The various Ukrainian conditions have to do with something quite different than countering the threat of a clandestine invasion. First they asked that the convoy pass through Kharkov instead of rolling straight toward Donetsk, making for a big detour. Then they demanded that the goods be offloaded at the border and loaded onto Ukrainian trucks, but they couldn’t come up with enough trucks. Then they demanded that the Russian trucks carry Ukrainian license plates and that each truck carry a Ukrainian representative. Next it will be something else.

You may be confused at what might be behind all of these fairly ridiculous conditions and stalling tactics, so let me explain. The Ukrainians are doing their best to figure out how they can steal the goods from the convoy. Until they can find a way to do that, nothing will move, because nothing ever moves in Ukraine until everybody gets their piece of the action. During their two-decade-plus experiment with Western-style “freedom and democracy”, by which I mean oligarchy and prostitution, Ukraine has bred a subspecies of survivors adept at answering just one question: “Where’s my piece of it?”

Take Arseny Yatsenyuk, the US State Department-assigned Ukrainian Prime Minister. He recently announced that Ukraine was out of money, unable even to pay its soldiers (this, by the way, is disingenuous, because Ukraine hasn’t been paying or feeding its soldiers) and that therefore he is resigning. Ukraine got a couple billion dollars from Russia as a door prize for joining Moscow’s Customs Union, under President Yanukovich, who was subsequently overthrown. Where’s that money? Om-nom-nom, burp! Then, after the coup, the West gave Ukraine some loan guarantees and a few additional billions. Om-nom-nom, burp! So, with nothing left to steal, Yatsenyuk announces his resignation and heads for the airport, on his way to a warm sunny place where he can squander his ill-gotten funds on hookers and blow. His CIA minders had to retrieve him from the airport and frog-march him back to his office. He is not allowed to resign. He can’t live the American Dream just yet – not until some brainless stooge gets to mutter the words “mission accomplished” and the CIA operatives head home, at which point the Ukrainians go back to trying to turn tricks at the Kremlin.

With regard to the convoy, getting the cargo off-loaded and put on Ukrainian trucks would have made stealing it easy, but that couldn’t happen due to lack of trucks. (Remember, Ukrainian officials have been selling off government property and pocketing the proceeds for two decades now, so that very little is now left.) Forcing the trucks to carry Ukrainian license plates is a small concession, since these probably require a bribe (nothing happens there without a bribe) but perhaps they are looking for opportunities to waylay a few of these trucks and break them up for spare parts. Getting a Ukrainian representative on board each truck is another small concession: he will need to be fed, pacified with vodka and given walking-around money. But the main problem – how to steal a substantial portion, ideally all, of the humanitarian aid going to Novorossiya – remains unsolved, and until it is solved there will be deadlock. This makes it difficult to cooperate with Ukrainian officials, who don’t seem to have any trace of human values left and function on a strictly biological level, but the Russians are trying.

How does a country sink to this level of degeneracy in just a couple of decades? Recently, Professor Savelyev, who is an expert on, among other things, human evolution, ventured to explain. Human evolution, he said in an interview, has been primarily the evolution of the brain. In the short time that Homo Sapiens Sapiens has been in existence, its brain size increased dramatically. Although it is possible to declare that intelligence is of direct survival value, there is a more reasoned explanation for the pressure to increase brain size.

Most of the size gains have been in the prefrontal cortex – a part of the brain that does not have a strictly defined function but is implicated in modulating social behavior. Indeed, people with a lobotomized prefrontal cortex go on to function more or less normally (but do sometimes exhibit a startling lack of ethical or moral sense). But a lobotomy is by no means necessary to produce individuals with stunted morals and ethics: there is a critical learning period for developing a conception of the common good, the ability to cooperate with others in absence of selfish motivations, and a morality not directly grounded in biological self-interest. A social environment such as that which has prevailed in Ukraine during its period of “independence”, during which theft and prostitution were prized above all, is not conducive to developing any of these. A case can be made that such an environment exerts the opposite evolutionary pressure: if all desirable women are prostitutes and the only economic opportunities involve theft, then biological survival requires theft. This makes a large prefrontal cortex redundant, and those who have a smaller one perhaps make more efficient criminals. The result is a population dominated by people free of any human values, who pursue strictly biological goals of resource accumulation and reproduction.

My book The Five Stages of Collapse (2013) includes an extensive case study devoted to the Ik, a small tribe of hunter-gatherers in northern Uganda, which, when they were observed by the anthropologist Colin Turnbull in the 1970s, exhibited just such a level of cultural degeneracy. They had reached the sixth stage of collapse: cultural collapse. Turnbull’s prescription was to destroy them as a people by breaking up their society and resettling them. Professor Savelyev has something eerily similar to say: human evolution advances through appalling acts of violence in which the males of culturally degenerate populations, which have lost their human values and conceptions of the common good, are destroyed outright. History is replete with examples of such exterminations (among numerous other ones), and although we may regard them with horror, others may regard them with pride. For instance, Professor Savelyev points out, the French are still quite proud of their revolutionary invention, the guilliotine. To them it was a civilized, efficient way to neatly solve the problem – by neatly slicing off the heads that contained the faulty circuitry.

According to Savelyev, the Ukrainian flag shouldn’t be a field of sunflowers under a blue sky. A sausage impaled on a fork would be much more appropriate. After all, that is what they are fighting for. It’s no point shaming them, for stealing or for lying. To them, telling the truth is a surprising new requirement, they didn’t sign up for it, and they don’t understand why it’s necessary. All they have to do is lie well: “Donetsk is surrounded! We are about to prevail!” they tell you. Sure they are. Ask the rebels where they are going, and they will tell you matter-of-factly: “We are going all the way to Kiev”. Perhaps the French can send an aid convoy of their own, to Kiev, to coincide with the rebels’ arrival. It could include a few guilliotines.

In the meantime, I hope that Uncle Sam is having lots of fun playing with his Ukrainian mail order bride; after all, they have plenty in common.

http://cluborlov.blogspot.jp/2014/08/permission-to-steal-everything.html

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Oil and gas company debt soars …

… to danger levels to cover shortfall in cash

by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

The Telegraph (August 11 2014)

The world’s leading oil and gas companies are taking on debt and selling assets on an unprecedented scale to cover a shortfall in cash, calling into question the long-term viability of large parts of the industry.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said a review of 127 companies across the globe found that they had increased net debt by $106 billion in the year to March, in order to cover the surging costs of machinery and exploration, while still paying generous dividends at the same time. They also sold off a net $73 billion of assets.

This is a major departure from historical trends. Such a shortfall typically happens only in or just after recessions. For it to occur five years into an economic expansion points to a deep structural malaise.

The EIA said revenues from oil and gas sales have reached a plateau since 2011, stagnating at $568 billion over the last year as oil hovers near $100 a barrel. Yet costs have continued to rise relentlessly. Companies have exhausted the low-hanging fruit and are being forced to explore fields in ever more difficult regions.

The EIA said the shortfall between cash earnings from operations and expenditure – mostly CAPEX and dividends – has widened from $18 billion in 2010 to $110 billion during the past three years. Companies appear to have been borrowing heavily both to keep dividends steady and to buy back their own shares, spending an average of $39 billion on repurchases since 2011.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/11024845/Oil-and-gas-company-debt-soars-to-danger-levels-to-cover-shortfall-in-cash.html

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The De-industrialization of America

by Paul Craig Roberts, Dave Kranzler, and John Titus

Institute for Political Economy (August 11 2014)

 

On January 6 2004, Paul Craig Roberts and US Senator Charles Schumer published a jointly written article on the op-ed page of the New York Times titled “Second Thoughts on Free Trade” {1}. The article pointed out that the US had entered a new economic era in which American workers face

 

 

… direct global competition at almost every job level – from the machinist to the software engineer to the Wall Street analyst. Any worker whose job does not require daily face-to-face interaction is now in jeopardy of being replaced by a lower-paid equally skilled worker thousands of miles away. American jobs are being lost not to competition from foreign companies, but to multinational corporations that are cutting costs by shifting operations to low-wage countries.

 

Roberts and Schumer challenged the correctness of economists’ views that jobs off-shoring was merely the operation of mutually beneficial free trade, about which no concerns were warranted.

The challenge to what was regarded as “free trade globalism” from the unusual combination of a Reagan Assistant Treasury Secretary and a liberal Democrat New York Senator caused a sensation. The liberal think-tank in Washington, the Brookings Institution, organized a Washington conference for Roberts and Schumer to explain, or perhaps it was to defend, their heretical position. The conference was televised live by C-Span, which rebroadcast the conference on a number of occasions.

Roberts and Schumer dominated the conference, and when it dawned on the audience of Washington policymakers and economists that something might actually be wrong with the off-shoring policy, in response to a question about the consequences for the US of jobs off-shoring, Roberts said: “In twenty years the US will be a Third World country”.

It looks like Roberts was optimistic that the US economy would last another twenty years. It has only been ten years and the US already looks more and more like a Third World country. America’s great cities, such as Detroit, Cleveland, Saint Louis have lost between one-fifth and one-quarter of their populations. Real median family income has been declining for years, an indication that the ladders of upward mobility that made America the “opportunity society” have been dismantled. Last April, the National Employment Law Project reported that real median household income fell ten percent between 2007 and 2012.

Republicans have a tendency to blame the victims. Before one asks, “what’s the problem? America is the richest country on earth; even the American poor have television sets, and they can buy a used car for $2,000″, consider the recently released report {2} from the Federal Reserve that two-thirds of American households are unable to raise $400 cash without selling possessions or borrowing from family and friends.

Although you would never know it from the reports from the US financial press, the poor job prospects that Americans face now rival those of India thirty years ago. American university graduates are employed, if they are employed, not as software engineers and managers but as waitresses and bartenders. They do not make enough to have an independent existence and live at home with their parents. Half of those with student loans cannot service them. Eighteen percent are either in collection or behind in their payments. Another 34% have student loans in deferment or forbearance. Clearly, education was not the answer.

Jobs off-shoring, by lowering labor costs and increasing corporate profits, has enriched corporate executives and large shareholders, but the loss of millions of well-paying jobs has made millions of Americans downwardly mobile. In addition, jobs off-shoring has destroyed the growth in consumer demand on which the US economy depends with the result that the economy cannot create enough jobs to keep up with the growth of the labor force.

Between October 2008 and July 2014 the working age population grew by 13.4 million persons, but the US labor force grew by only 1.1 million. In other words, the unemployment rate among the increase in the working age population during the past six years is 91.8%.

Since the year 2000, the lack of jobs has caused the labor force participation rate to fall, and since quantitative easing began in 2008, the decline in the labor force participation rate has accelerated.

Clearly there is no economic recovery when participation in the labor force collapses.

Right-wing ideologues will say that the labor force participation rate is down because abundant welfare makes it possible for people not to work. This is nonsensical. During this period food stamps have twice been reduced, unemployed benefits were cut back as were a variety of social services. Being on welfare in America today is an extreme hardship. Moreover, there are no jobs going begging.

The graph shows the collapse in the labor force participation rate. The few small peaks above the 65% participation rate line show the few periods when the economy produced enough jobs to keep up with the working age population. The massive peaks below the line indicate the periods in which the dearth of jobs resulted in Americans giving up looking for non-existent jobs and thus ceased being counted in the labor force. The 6.2% US unemployment rate is misleading as it excludes discouraged workers who have given up and left the labor force because there are no jobs to be found.

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Labor-force-part-rate-since-Jan-2000.002-690×388.png

John Williams of Shadowstats.com calculates the true US unemployment rate to be 23.2%, a number consistent with the collapse of the US labor force participation rate.

In the ten years since Roberts and Schumer sounded the alarm, the US has become a country in which the norm for new jobs has become lowly paid part-time employment in domestic non-tradable services. Two-thirds of the population is living on the edge unable to raise $400 cash. The savings of the population are being drawn down to support life. Corporations are borrowing money not to invest for the future but to buy back their own stocks, thus pushing up share prices, CEO bonuses, and corporate debt. The growth in the income and wealth of the one percent comes from looting, not from productive economic activity.

This is the profile of a Third World country.

Links:

{1} http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/06/opinion/second-thoughts-on-free-trade.html

{2} http://www.globalresearch.ca/disastrous-financial-state-of-american-households-result-of-unemployment-low-wages/5395370
Copyright (c) 2013 PaulCraigRoberts.org. All rights reserved.

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/08/11/de-industrialization-america/

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Global Nausea

by James Howard Kunstler

Clusterfuck Nation – Blog (August 11 2014)

 

Any American influence left in Iraq should focus on rebuilding the credibility of national institutions.

- Editorial, The New York Times

 

Gosh, isn’t that what we spent eight years, 4,500 lives, and $1.7 trillion doing? And how did that work out? The Iraq war is just like the US financial system. The people in charge can’t imagine writing off their losses. Which, from the policy standpoint, leaves the USA pounding sand down so many rat holes that there may be no ground left to stand on anywhere. We’ll be lucky if our national life doesn’t soon resemble The Revenge of the Mole People.

The arc of this story points to at least one likely conclusion: the dreadful day that ISIS (shorthand for whatever they call themselves) overruns the US Green Zone in Baghdad. Won’t that be a nauseating spectacle? Perhaps just in time for the 2014 US elections. And what do you suppose the policy meeting will be like in the White House war room the day after?

Will anyone argue that the USA just take a break from further operations in the entire Middle East / North Africa region? My recommendation would be to stand back, do nothing, and see what happens –  since everything we’ve done so far just leaves things and lives shattered. Let’s even say that ISIS ends up consolidating power in Iraq, Syria, and some other places. The whole region will get a very colorful demonstration of what it is like to live under an eleventh century style psychopathic despotism, and then the people left after the orgy of beheading and crucifixion can decide if they like it. The experience might be clarifying.

In any case, what we’re witnessing in the Middle East –  apparently unbeknownst to the newspapers and the cable news organizations –  is what happens in extreme population overshoot: chaos, murder, economic collapse. The human population in this desolate corner of the world has expanded on the artificial nutriment of oil profits, which have allowed governments to keep feeding their people, and maintaining an artificial middle class to work in meaningless bureaucratic offices where, at best, they do nothing and, at worst, hassle their fellow citizens for bribes and payoffs.

There is not a nation on earth that is preparing intelligently for the end of oil –  and by that I mean (1) the end of cheap, affordable oil, and (2) the permanent destabilization of existing oil supply lines. Both of these conditions should be visible now in the evolving geopolitical dynamic, but nobody is paying attention, for instance, in the hubbub over Ukraine. That feckless, unfortunate, and tragic would-be nation, prompted by EU and US puppeteers, just replied to the latest trade sanction salvo from Russia by declaring it would block the delivery of Russian gas to Europe through pipelines on its territory. I hope everybody west of Dnepropetrovsk is getting ready to burn the furniture come November. But that just shows how completely irrational the situation has become … and I stray from my point.

Which is that in the worst case that ISIS succeeds in establishing a sprawling caliphate, they will never be able to govern it successfully, only preside over an awesome episode of bloodletting and social collapse. This is especially true in what is now called Saudi Arabia, with its sclerotic ruling elite clinging to power. If and when the ISIS maniacs come rolling in on a cavalcade of You-Tube beheading videos, what are the chances that the technicians running the oil infrastructure there will stick around on the job? And could ISIS run all that machinery themselves? I wouldn’t count on it. And I wouldn’t count on global oil supply lines continuing to function in the way the world requires them to. If you’re looking for the near-future spark of World War Three, start there.

By the way, the US is no less idiotic than Ukraine. We’ve sold ourselves the story that shale oil will insulate us from all the woes and conflicts breaking out elsewhere in the world over the dissolving oil economy paradigm. The shale oil story is false. By my reckoning we have about a year left of the drive-to-Walmart-economy before the public broadly gets what trouble we’re in. The amazing thing is that the public might get to that realization even before its political leadership does. That dynamic leads straight to the previously unthinkable (not for 150 years, anyway) breakup of the United States.

Read about the Breakup of the USA here: http://kunstler.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/HistoryoftheFuture_Jpg_small-194×300.jpg

http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/global-nausea/

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How Israel Trashes Judaism

While Official Washington excuses Israel’s latest slaughter of Gazans as justifiable self-defense, many thoughtful Jews are lamenting how the traditional humanism of Judaism is being despoiled by the brutal practices of the Israeli government.

by Danny Schechter

Consortium News (August 08 2014)

When I was growing up in a Jewish community in New York in the late Fifties, there was a predictable collective response to news events that expressed itself in one question: “Is it good for the Jews?”

Many persecuted minorities made up largely of immigrants operate in an inward looking culture characterized by a fear of persecution and, among Jews, there was a desire to keep a low profile for fear of stirring up anti-Semitism or just “trouble”.

Jews who have been victimized throughout history tend to look at the world though the prism of that victimization, even when their own community is being viewed by others as victimizers. Their fears are easily manipulated with appeals to a collective memory.

Back in my youth, every time some big crook’s picture was splashed in the tabloids, I was reassured by being told, “at least he isn’t Jewish”. Although later, I learned about Jewish gangsters like Meyer Lansky who practically ran the Mafia. If you want proof, rent one of those “Godfather” movies.

Later, I learned from YIVO, the Institute for Jewish Research, there had been as many Jewish criminals in our community as in others. Learning about this helped me contextualize what I came to see as a perversion of Jewish values into a dominant Zionist narrative that embraced or ignored crimes from the earliest days of the conquest of Palestine up through the current war on the people of Gaza.

Jewish writers have not downplayed this history, reports the YIVO Encyclopedia that even speaks of Jews from Latin America:

 

Literary stereotypes, exemplified by the refined Jewish pimp in Sholem Aleichem’s short story “A mentsh fun Buenos-Ayres” (“A Man from Buenos Aires”, 1909) created the image of white slavery as a quintessentially Jewish occupation. Scholars remain divided as to the extent to which Jews were disproportionately represented in the trade. The association of Jews with international prostitution prompted energetic communal initiatives in Europe and in the Americas against gangs of Jewish procurers.

 

Once Israel was established after a war of terror against the British, the new government began to eradicate all vestiges of ancient Jewish institutions that represented thousands of years of Yiddish-language culture –  which was viewed as a culture of weakness –  and replaced it with Hebrew and the cult of the macho sabra and military heroism.

This attitude infests the whole society despite formal equality for woman. In a recent interview, Joanne Zack-Pakes, director of Open Door Counseling Centers, the flagship project of the Israel Family Planning Association, speaks of an Israeli Culture “that is very sexual, but specifically a culture shaped by macho sexuality and male power”.

No wonder, soon the Kibbutzim that relied on Jewish labor to avoid exploiting Arabs were gone. The Labor Movement was gone. The Right became ascendant. The seeds of hatred and contempt towards Palestinians were planted and nurtured as their communities were displaced from the own lands by a settler-run almost colonial society, which based its claim to the occupied lands on a questionable biblical mythology. Noam Chomsky says it is not like South Africa’s apartheid. It’s worse.

Now, let’s fast-forward into the present and the era of Wall Street with a disproportionate number of leading Jewish bankers and lawyers. Until recently, that group included Bernard Madoff, who typified the hypocrisy of being a prominent philanthropist while at the same time a skillful and serial financial gangster. He was not above ripping off Jewish charities and the rich and poor alike. He even took money from Eli Wiesel, the pro-Israeli author of prize-winning books on the Holocaust and a backer of the Israeli firsters.

I cite all this not to feed the racist and fabricated conspiracy theorists that have been blaming “the Jews” for everything from time immemorial, from the fraudulent “protocols of Zion” conspiracy through the ravings of Nazis then and now.

My concern is more internal. What has our community done to reinforce our own stereotypes and – actively if not aggressively – cultivated a reputation for “toughness” as an antidote to the well known but misleading image of a people who passively went to the gas chambers?

In some circles, Jews blame themselves while vowing “Never Again” and supporting or rationalizing extreme militarism and systematic human rights abuses in the name of Israel and Jewish survival.

The extremist Jewish right-wing encourages us to be even tougher, to forget about standing up for justice and identifying with oppressed people. An article in leftist-turned-rightist David Horowitz’s website, FrontPage, features a prominent US public relations expert, Ronn Torossian, singing the praises of “the top Ten Living Tough Jews”.

“The list of the Top 10 Living Tough Jews it is not only about brute physical strength”, he writes, “it is about a people who are smart, strong, resilient, rugged, bold and fearless. This is a reflection of good, tough Jews who are positive representations of the Jewish people (no gangsters here) –  don’t let a yarmulke fool you”.

And, yet, who tops his toughness list of role models, the people he wants us to emulate?

1. “Israel Defense Forces: All of the men and women of the Israel Defense Forces –  the holy Jewish army are the toughest (and holiest) Jews one can ever imagine. They protect the people of Israel against tremendous odds, and with Israel’s survival threatened daily these Jews are consummate warriors, fighting not only for a country but for an important ideal.”

Weighing in at number eight is none other the number one funder of America’s right-wing politicians, the man every GOP hopeful sucks up to:  Sheldon Adelson. “The richest Jew in the world, Adelson, is famously resilient, stubborn and focused on winning. The son of Jewish immigrants, Adelson grew up lower-class, dropped out of the City College of New York –  and has built one of the largest casino empires in the world?”

You get the idea. Be tough. Become a zillionaire. And run a country that now has the fourth-largest military in the world (US funded of course) that can target an overcrowded ghetto like Gaza –  not unlike those many Jews were once forced to live in –  turning it into a shooting gallery for the most sophisticated weaponry, all justified as necessary for their country’s survival.

Writer and former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges who reported from Gaza calls Israel’s tough-guy-but-very-slick public relations campaign “the Big Lie”.

“The Big Lie makes it clear to the Palestinians that Israel will continue to wage a campaign of state terror and will never admit its atrocities or its intentions”, he writes.

 

The vast disparity between what Israel says and what Israel does tells the Palestinians that there is no hope. Israel will do and say whatever it wants. International law, like the truth, will always be irrelevant. There will never, the Palestinians understand from the Big Lie, be an acknowledgement of reality by the Israeli leadership.

 

Hedges adds,

 

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, in a Big Lie of his own, said last month at a conference of Christians United for Israel that the Israeli army should be given the Nobel Peace Prize …  a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint … The Big Lie destroys any possibility of history and therefore any hope for a dialogue between antagonistic parties that can be grounded in truth and reality.

 

To Jewish Rabbis like Michael Lerner of Tikkun Magazine, it’s not just the truth that is being trashed. It is Judaism itself. He writes on Salon:

 

… it is the brutality of that assault which finally has broken me into tears and heartbreak. While claiming that it is only interested in uprooting tunnels that could be used to attack Israel, the IDF has engaged in the same CRIMINAL (emphasis mine) behavior that the world condemns in other struggles around the world: the intentional targeting of civilians (the same crime that Hamas has been engaged in over the years in its bombing of Sdeyrot and its current targeting of Israeli population centers, thankfully unsuccessfully, which correctly has earned it the label as a terrorist organization).

Using the excuse that Hamas is using civilians as “human shields” and placing its war material in civilian apartments, a claim that a UN human rights investigatory commission found groundless when it was used the last time Israel invaded Gaza in 2008 and 2009 and engaged in similar levels of killing civilians), Israel has managed to kill over 1,500 Palestinians and has wounded over 8,000 thousand more.

 

On and on he goes, as someone who has backed Israel for years,  excoriating the way Israel’s needs and a Zionist ideology as defined by a harsh right-wing government and a military-dominated security cabinet “has come to speak for and define the needs of Jews in the world”.

Rabbi Lerner realizes that Israel – by its use of military power, political lobbying and media manipulation – now defines the narrative of  what being Jewish is supposed to be. Critics, especially Jews like myself, are dismissed and marginalized, if not attacked violently in Israel and labeled as “self-haters” for not embracing this redefinition of Judaism as militarism. Idealism has become authoritarianism, a new fascism with a Hebrew face.

Rabbi Lerner adds,

 

I’m heartbroken to see the Judaism of love and compassion being dismissed as “unrealistic” by so many of my fellow Jews and rabbis. Wasn’t the central message of Torah that the world was ruled by a force that made possible the transformation from “that which is” to “that which can and should be”? And wasn’t our task to teach the world that nothing is fixed, that even the mountains can skip like young rams and the seas can flee before the triumph of God’s justice in the world?

Instead of preaching this hopeful message, too many rabbis and rabbinical institutions are preaching a Judaism that places more hope in the might of the Israeli army than in the capacity of human beings (including Palestinians) to transform their perception of “the other” and overcome their fears.

 

So whatever Israel is “winning” the Jewish People are losing. The key lesson of the Holocaust was human rights of all peoples need protection. That is not a lesson that the droning on robots of Israel’s Sparta-like Israeli PR Army has any use for. The rest of the world is judging us. Jews have to judge us as well.

Let me close with the words of Ahmad Kathrada who spent 26 years in prison in South Africa alongside Nelson Mandela and was considered his closest comrade. He recently visited Palestine and said it felt all too familiar. He wrote recently:

 

What worries me is the sheer impunity with which Israel acts. It reminds me of the many years that apartheid was allowed to flourish in South Africa with little constructive action on the part of the major powers such as the US, France, Germany and the UK, including some of the leading Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

While writing this, my thoughts go back to August and September of 1951, when I visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. I find myself asking: “Has apartheid Israel so quickly forgotten the millions of Jews, communists and gypsies who were exterminated by the Nazis, that they now commit the same crimes?”

 

Can his observation also be applied to Israel and to all the countries like our own that fall over each other endorsing what Israel says and then ignoring what it does. Among the other more immediate crimes against Palestinians, international law and history, Israel gives Jews a bad name.

Links: The original version of this article, at the URL below, contains links to further information not included here.

_____

News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at newsdissector.net and edits mediachannel.org Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org.

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/08/08/how-israel-trashes-judaism/

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