Rise of the Bullshit Job

by Leith van Onselen

Macro Business (August 22 2013)

Back in the early-1930s, renowned economist, John Maynard Keynes, predicted that technical innovations and rising productivity would mean that advanced country workers would be able to work only fifteen hours and still enjoy rising living standards.

In a highly amusing, but also somewhat depressing article in Strike! Magazine {1}, David Graeber asks why Keynes’ prophecy has not come true and instead we find ourselves working a range of meaningless “bullshit jobs” that many of us hate:


There’s every reason to believe he [Keynes] was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.


Graeber goes on to describe how these so-called “bullshit jobs” are concentrated in “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers”:


Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers” tripled, growing “from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment”. In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away …

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations …

These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs”.

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen.


As for the reasons behind these “bullshit jobs”, according to Graeber:


The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger …


My view is that there is light at the end of the tunnel in all of this. Many of the manual jobs that have been replaced by technology and robots were downright tedious and often dangerous, and arguably the administration jobs that have replaced them – the 21st century equivalent of last century’s production lines – are safer and easier. Real wages and living standards are arguably higher for lower paid workers today than were seventy years ago, even if inequality has risen.

That said, I strongly believe that most people work longer hours than they should and consume too much, and many would benefit from increased free time to spend with family or relaxing. It is also a reason why I am such a strong advocate for more affordable housing, principally through freeing-up the supply-side. It would be a lot easier for people to cut back on work if they weren’t burdened paying-off some of the world’s biggest mortgages or paying high rents.


Leith van Onselen writes as the Unconventional Economist. Leith is an economist that has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs. Leith can also be found on twitter: twitter.com/leithvo. A full list of his posts is available at



{1} http://www.strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/


There is a class warfare …

… and the workers are not winning

by Bill Mitchell

billy blog (August 29 2013)

The Politics of Envy – that old chestnut from the neo-liberals – is bandied around every time there is any insinuation that the capitalist system produces distributional outcomes that are not remotely proportional to the effort put into production. Whenever governments challenge the distributional outcomes – for example, propose increasing taxes on the higher income recipients (note I don’t use the word “earners”) there is hell to cry and the defense put up always appeals to the old tags – “socialist class warriors undermining incentive”, “envy”, et cetera. In the 1980s, when privatisation formed the first wave of the neo-liberal onslaught, we all apparently became “capitalists” or “shareholders”. We were told that it was dinosauric to think in terms of the old class categories – labour and capital. That was just so “yesterday” and we should just get over it and realise that we all had a stake in a system where reduced regulation and oversight would produce unimaginable wealth, even if the first manifestations of this new “incentivised” economy channelled increasing shares of real income to the highest percentiles in the distribution. No worries, “trickle-down” would spread the largesse. We know better now – and increasingly the recognition, exemplified in 2006 by Warren Buffett’s suggestion that “There’s class warfare, all right … but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning” {1}, is that class is alive and well and in prosecuting their demands for higher shares of real income, the elites have not only caused the crisis but are now, in recovery, reinstating the dynamics that will lead to the next crisis. The big changes in policy structures that have to be made to avoid another global crisis are not even remotely on the radar.

I have focused on the distribution shifts characteristic of the neo-liberal period before. Please read my February 2009 blog – “The origins of the economic crisis” – for an early discussion on this point {2}.

One of the defining characteristics of the neo-liberal period has been the relentless attack on the capacity of the workers to translate productivity growth into real wages growth.

I recently gave a talk in Darwin about this and the working paper to support the presentation is available {3} – “Full employment abandoned: the triumph of ideology over evidence”.

The deregulation in the labour markets not only created increased job instability and persistently high unemployment but also led to large shifts in national income from wages to profits.

A recent ILO Report written by Englebert Stockhammer – “Why have wage shares fallen? A panel analysis of the determinants of functional income distribution” – reports similar trends in other advanced OECD nations {4}.

First, the wage share in national income has fallen significantly over the last 35 years in most nations.

Second, in the Anglo nations, “a sharp polarisation of personal income distribution has occurred” (Stockhammer, 2013: 2), with the top percentile and decile of the personal income distribution substantially increasing their total shares. The munificence gained at the expense of lower-income workers manifested, in part, as the excessive executive pay deals that emerged in this period.

Up until the early 1980s, real wages and labour productivity typically moved together. As the attacks on the capacity of workers to secure wage increases intensified, a gap between the two opened and widened. The widening gap between real wages and productivity growth manifested as the rising profit share.

In 1975, the Australian wage share was around 62.5 per cent of factor income. By the end of 2012, it was around 54 per cent. Australian government aided this redistribution in a number of ways: privatisation; outsourcing; harsh industrial relations legislation to reduce union power; National Competition Policy and such.

We know what happened next. Imbued with the, now discredited, efficient markets hypothesis, promoted by University of Chicago economists, policy makers bowed to pressures from the financial sector and introduced widespread financial deregulation and reduced their oversight on the banking sector.

This not only led to a massive expansion of the financial sector, but also, set the stage for the transformation of banks from safe deposit havens to global speculators carrying increasing, and ultimately, unknown risks. The massive redistribution of national income to profits provided the banks and hedge funds with the gambling chips to fuel the rapid expansion of the ‘global financial casino’ expanded.

Increasingly, the Gordon Gekkos strutted the stage as celebrities and were cast as important wealth generators. Private returns were high and the lemming rush unstoppable.

But the reality was different. The vast majority of speculative transactions that occur every day in the financial markets are unproductive, in that they are unrelated to the real economy and advancing our welfare.

A substantial portion of the “wealth” generated was illusory and we subsequently discovered that the socialised losses were enormous as the huge, unregulated gambling casino collapsed under its own hubris, criminality and incompetence.

But the two arenas of deregulation created a new problem – one that Marxists would call a “realisation” problem. The capitalist dilemma was that real wages had to typically grow in line with productivity to ensure that the goods produced were sold.

So how does economic growth sustain itself when labour productivity growth outstrips the growth in capacity to purchase (the real wage)? This was especially significant in the context of the increasing fiscal drag coming from the public surpluses, which squeezed private purchasing power in many nations during the 1990s and beyond.

The neo-liberal period found a new way. The ‘solution” was found in the rise of so-called ‘financial engineering’, which pushed ever increasing debt onto households and firms. The credit expansion not only sustained the workers’ purchasing power but also delivered an interest bonus to capital while real wages growth continued to be suppressed. Households, in particular, were enticed by lower interest rates and the vehement marketing strategies of the financial engineers. It seemed too good to be true and it was.

The increasing private sector indebtedness – both corporate and household – is another marked characteristic of the neo-liberal period.

In Australia it manifested mostly as increasing household indebtedness. The debt to disposable income ratio stood at 69.1 per cent in March 1996 and by September 2008 had risen to a staggering 153.1 per cent.

Governments, their central banks, and so-called financial industry experts played down any sense of alarm during the pre-crisis period claiming that wealth was growing along with the debt. When the debt bubble burst, significant proportions of the ‘wealth’ vanished leaving many borrowers with massive debts but few assets.

At that point, there should have been a “proletarian” revolt – perhaps via our ballot boxes – to demand that governments stopped acting as agents of capital and, instead, moved back to the role they played during the full employment era as mediators in the class conflict.

But the determination of the elites to stay partying has been profound and governments have generally bowed to the pressure and reinforced the policy structure that helped create the crisis.

In the last week, several articles have appeared in different newspapers, which are picking up on this theme. In the Sydney Morning Herald, for example, the economic’s editor Ross Gittins’ article (August 28 2013) – Rich win big with class warfare in session – argued that the view that “the age of ideology is long gone” does not represent “the whole truth”.

He wrote {5} that:


If you think the class war is over, you’re not paying enough attention. The reason the well-off come down so hard on those who use class rhetoric is that they don’t want anyone drawing attention to how the war’s going … The workers are too busy watching telly to notice the ways they’re being got at …


The article was written in the context of the federal election campaign that is now in its last week. The contention was that, while it’s hard to differentiate between the two major parties in terms of economic policy, the fact remains that the conservatives are pursuing their traditional agenda to redistribute national income, with the assistance of the state, to the upper of the distribution.

I will spare you the detail of the specific policies that justify his conclusion. In closing, Ross Gittins says that once the conservatives are re-elected on September 7, the revisions to national policy will ensure that;


The disadvantaged will soon be back at the back of the queue where they belong.


There was also an interesting article some days ago in the UK Guardian (August 20 2013) – “How low can you get: the minimum wage scam” – which focused on the plight of minimum wage earners in the US {6}.

The article noted the irony of a nation that “prides itself on its economic leadership” and eulogises itself as the land of the free but then, increasingly, produces minimum-wage jobs that deny the workers access to a living wage, access to basic health care, and a viable retirement pension.

We read that:


… the federal minimum wage keeps an entire class of people trapped in economic servitude, focusing their attention on survival rather than growth, barring their ability to save enough or pay for education that would allow them to rise to the middle class.


The article points out that because of the appalling remuneration of low paid workers in the US, the provision of safety nets in the form of food stamps et cetera, means:


… that the government is paying to subsidize company profits: as businesses pay a minimum or near-minimum wage, their workers are forced to turn to government programs to make ends meet.


The author says that with the majority of jobs now being created in the US being low-wage, there is a real need to “raise the minimum wage, and benefits, and so reduce government benefit spending”.

Increasing the minimum wage would not only “boost the economy” but will also redistribute real income to those most in need.

The US data is alarming. Over the last month or so, I’ve been examining employment trends and access to benefits in a number of advanced nations. So this sort of discussion is very apposite.

There has been some very interesting work done by the research economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco on employment trends. Some of that work was reported in this Washington Post article (February 28 2013) – “How the recession turned middle-class jobs into low-wage jobs” {7}.

A recent article in the FRBSF journal Economic Letters (August 26 2013) – “What’s Behind the Increase in Part-Time Work?{8} – is also interesting {8}.

This article investigates the idea that the rising part time share in total employment in the US “represents a ‘new normal’ in the labor market”.

The following graphs use data available from the – US Bureau of Labour Statistics {9}.

The BLS define two groups of part-time workers (those who work “one to 34 hours per week”) {10}:

1. Those who are happy to work part-time – part-time for “noneconomic reasons”, which include “include medical conditions, child-care needs, other family or personal obligations, school or training, and retirement”. Economists consider these workers to be voluntarily working part-time hours.

2. Involuntary part-time or part-time for “economic reasons” which “includes persons who indicated that they would like to work full time but were working part time (one to 34 hours) because of an economic reason, such as their hours were cut back or they were unable to find full-time jobs.”

The first graph shows three ratios – that part-time to total employment ratio, the involuntary part-time ratio, and the voluntary part-time ratio – for the period May 1955 to July 2013. The shaded bars denote NBER recession dates.

The pattern is shared by most advanced nations. First, there has been an increasing part-time share in total employment overall. Second, within that steady upward trend there is a visible cycle, during recessions, firms shed full-time jobs and the part-time share rises (generally sharply).

To summarise what was going on during the recessionary periods shown I produced the following table. It shows the percentage point change in the part-time ratio from peak to trough in each of the recessions.

The severity of the 2007-2009 recession is clear enough.

The FRBSF article says that:


Most part-time work is for noneconomic reasons. However, the incidence of this category has been trending down over time. By contrast, part-time work for economic reasons has a substantial cyclical component, rising in recessions and falling in recoveries. The increase in the most recent recession was especially large.


Further, the involuntary part-time employment share has “remained high” and is mostly driven by a lack of hours being offered by the US labour market.

The FRBSF conclude “that general labor market slack remains the key factor keeping part-time employment high”.

There overall conclusion is that while the part-time ratio is trending upwards, the elevated incidence of “part time for economic reasons reflects a slow recovery of the jobs lost during the recession rather than permanent changes in the proportion of part-time jobs”.

The distributional consequences of this drawn out “recovery” are significant.

The Guardian article draws attention to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics – Employee Benefits Survey {11} – which provides detailed breakdowns “on the incidence (the percentage of workers with access to and participation in employer provided benefit plans) and provisions of selected employee benefit plans”.

The most recent recent – Employee Benefits in the United States – March 2013 – (July 17, 2013) paints an ugly picture {12}.

It shows that:


Employer-provided medical care was available to 85 percent of full-time private industry workers in the United States in March 2013 … By contrast, only 24 percent of part-time workers had medical care benefits available …

Retirement benefits followed a similar pattern as medical care benefits. In private industry, 74 percent of full-time workers had access to a retirement plan, significantly higher than 37 percent of part-time workers.


But if you dig further, you will see how stacked the odds are against the low-paid part-time workers, which are an increasing proportion of the total part-time employment pool in the US.

The data tells us that the elite workers, many of who would be described (in old/new class warfare terminology) as occupying a “contradictory class location”, are doing well enough.

But at the other end of the spectrum – nothing good can be seen. And it has been getting worse.

The BLS report that:

1. “In private industry, 64 percent of employees had access to retirement benefits, significantly less than the 89 percent of state and local government employees with access” but “only 49 percent of private industry employees actually participated in a retirement plan”.

2. “Retirement and medical care benefits were offered to 99 percent of state and local government workers while only 74 percent of full-time employees in private industry had access to retirement benefits and 85 percent to medical care coverage”.

3. “For private industry employees in the lowest ten percent of average earnings, employers paid 71 percent of the single coverage medical plan premium. For employees in the highest ten percent of average earnings, the employer share of the premium was 81 percent.”

4. “Paid holidays were available to 97 percent of management, business, and financial employees in private industry. In contrast, only 53 percent of service employees in private industry were provided paid holidays.”

If we breakdown those aggregates a bit more we find that:

For private-sector workers in the lowest ten per cent in the average wage distribution, only 28 per cent had access to retirement benefits but only ten per cent actually took them up.

By contrast, for private-sector workers in the highest ten per cent, 87 per cent had access and 78 per cent participated.

In terms of medical care benefits, twenty per cent of the lowest ten per cent in the wage distribution had access and only ten per cent participated. This is compared to 94 per cent of the top ten per cent cohort having access and 74 per cent taking the benefits up.

The UK Guardian article summarises the data in this way:


The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics employee benefit survey illuminates how minimum-wage workers make just enough money to survive, but nothing more. Just over a tenth of low-paid workers participated in any kind of healthcare benefits, for instance, and roughly the same amount had life insurance or participated in any kind of retirement plan. One-fifth took sick leave, and only 39% took any kind of vacation.

It’s also more expensive to be poor than it is to be middle-class or rich. If low-wage workers do want to have healthcare, they pay more, relative to their salaries, for medical care premiums.


And when the US President put forth the Obamacare package to reduce some of this inequity, you can recall the scream from the elites.


The public debate about deficits has been dominated by futuristic predictions that the US (and other nations) will run out of money because of the increasing demands on the health and pension systems as a result of the ageing society.

The US federal government, like all currency issuers, does no face a financial constraint on its ability to spend in US dollars.

In meeting the future demand for pensions and health care, it faces a different constraint – the availability of real resources.

As long as there are real resources available, the US federal government will be able to buy them for use in the future. There will never be a financial constraint stopping this. The question about what will be made available in the future and to whom, assuming there are real resources, is a political one and will be resolved accordingly.

But the availability of real resources in the future depends crucially on what happens today.

First, deficit spending now is crucial to create full employment and to fund our educational institutions properly so that productivity growth is not undermined and few workers in the future will be able to produce more environmentally-sustainable output to cope with the rising dependency ratios.

Second, forcing an increasing number of workers into financial oblivion now is not the way to develop a highly productive future workforce.

The trends in the recent decades where the elites have pocketed higher shares of real income are not sustainable. Nothing productive comes from that.

That is enough for today!


{1} http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/business/yourmoney/26every.html?_r=0

{2} http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=277

{3} http://e1.newcastle.edu.au/coffee/pubs/wp/2013/13-02.pdf

{4} http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_protect/—protrav/—travail/documents/publication/wcms_202352.pdf

{5} http://www.smh.com.au/comment/rich-win-big-with-class-warfare-in-session-20130827-2so67.html

{6} http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/20/minimum-wage-scam

{7} http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/28/how-the-recession-turned-middle-class-jobs-into-low-wage-jobs/

{8} http://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/publications/economic-letter/2013/august/part-time-work-employment-increase-recession/

{9} http://www.bls.gov/

{10} http://www.bls.gov/cps/lfcharacteristics.htm

{11} http://www.bls.gov/ncs/ebs/

{12} http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ebs2.pdf

(c) Copyright 2013 Bill Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.


Pinching Pensions …

… to Keep Wall Street Fat and Happy

by Dean Baker

Truthout | Op-Ed (August 26 2013)

The debate over public pensions shows clearly the contempt that the elites have for ordinary workers. While elites routinely preach the sanctity of contract when it works to benefit the rich and powerful, they are happy to treat the contracts that provide workers with pensions as worthless scraps of paper.

We see this attitude on display currently in the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings. It is even more clearly on display in efforts by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to default on the city’s pension obligations.

The basic story in both cases is that the contracts that workers had labored under are being laughed at by the elites because they find it inconvenient to carry through with the terms. In the case of Detroit, public sector workers face the loss of much of their pension as a result of the city’s effort to declare bankruptcy.

These workers could be forgiven for laboring under the illusion that they would see the pensions for which they worked. These obligations were actually guaranteed under the state’s constitution.

But Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevin Orr, thinks a constitutional guarantee is just a joke that you tell people to trick them into working. Even though the City of Detroit is legally a creation of the state of Michigan, Orr believes that he can ignore the state constitution and pursue a federal bankruptcy that could have workers’ pension cut by as much as ninety percent.

As bad as the story is in Detroit, there is the reality that the city really does face an economic crisis. Its population has shrunk more than sixty percent from its heyday in the 1950s. At the national level, Detroit has been the victim of policies designed to weaken US manufacturing to the benefit of finance, like an over-valued dollar. At the state level, it has suffered from an urban policy that invited middle class people to escape from Detroit’s social and fiscal problems by stepping over the city line.

Chicago presents a qualitatively different picture. It is a vibrant city with a diversified economy. While large chunks of Detroit have been nearly abandoned, developers are moving to build on long abandoned railroad yards and factory sites in Chicago. In Detroit, paying for pensions or anything else without outside assistance poses a real problem. In Chicago, the cost of the city’s pensions is an inconvenience.

While media like to play the scary number game – $20 billion in unfunded pension liabilities – this comes to about to about 0.5 percent of the city’s GDP over the next thirty years, the time period in which the shortfall would have to be made up. The city could of course raise this much revenue, but the current mayor Rahm Emanuel thinks it would too inconvenient. And hey, these are just contracts with workers, not obligations to people who really matter.

Emanuel’s cavalier attitude towards contracts with the city’s workers apparently does not apply to its other contracts, for example its deal with Morgan Stanley to lease its parking meters for 75 years. The city arguably received less than half the market price for this long-term lease, but Emanuel apparently thinks the city can still afford to honor its contract with the huge Wall Street bank.

Contracts with Wall Street types always seem to draw more respect than contracts with workers. Folks may recall that when AIG was bankrupt and effectively a ward of the government, we were told by the Obama administration (where Emanuel was then chief of staff), that it had to pay out $165 million in bonuses to its senior staff. Many of the AIG employees, who had taken the company into bankruptcy, pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from these bonuses.

By contrast, the pensions for Detroit’s retirees average just over $18,000 a year. That means many AIG executives got a larger bonus from their bankrupt company in 2009 than Detroit workers will collect over their whole retirement. (Chicago’s average pension is somewhat higher at $33,500, but workers do not get Social Security, an important fact left out of most reporting.)

The other notable instance where we have gotten lectures recently about the sanctity of contracts has been with underwater mortgages. Most lenders have been very reluctant to do write-downs, even though it is unlikely that they will ever collect the full amount from these mortgages.

Several cities, most importantly Richmond, California, are making plans to seize underwater mortgages through the use of eminent domain. This would then allow them to issue new mortgages to homeowners based on the current market value of their house.

It is important to remember that in such cases the holders of the mortgages are still entitled to the fair market value and can sue in court if they don’t consider the city’s offer fair. Nonetheless, we are still getting lectures about sanctity of contract. In fact, the federally controlled purchasers, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Authority have openly threatened to use their dominance in the secondary mortgage market to punish any city that goes this route.

So there is a clear lesson on morality in modern America. Contracts are sacred when respecting them works to the benefit of the rich and powerful. Contracts that imply obligations to workers, like pension commitments, are a joke. Got that?

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.


Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University. He is a regular Truthout columnist and a member of Truthout’s Board of Advisers.

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Our Orgastic Future

by Jack Hitt

Lapham’s Quarterly (Spring 2013)

Precisely when the ancient primates who preceded us Homo sapiens actually turned the corner to become human is one of those running battles in anthropology. Theorists scrutinize the long arc of gradual evolution to find a slight nick in the curve and there, it’s argued, our glorious ascent begins: when we began to walk upright, when we grunted out the first phonemes of speech, when we fabricated the earliest tools. Simply invoke the phrase “savannas of Africa” and inside our minds blooms a tiny movie, the tale of humanity’s bloody contest with and eventual triumph over nature somewhere around the time we left the security of dense jungles for the more progressive world flourishing at the forest’s edge.

This little drama, our secular genesis myth, divides early humanity into male hunter-gatherers and fireside female domestics. The men boldly marched out each morning with their spears and clubs to bring down a mammoth, while the women tended the fire and kept up the stores of food and clothing. Some twenty thousand years ago, life was basically the painting Neanderthal by Frank Frazetta. It’s so easy to flatter ourselves with this cartoon – hunting aurochs and taking down mammoths sounds strong and macho, but alternate theories have long suggested that a great deal of early protein probably came from more manageable prey, like vermin or deer. Spearing rabbits wouldn’t inspire Frazetta, nor, apparently, the Paleolithic artists at Lascaux, either. Which is why we’ve been spinning some version of this PR story ever since the Aurignacian-Perigordian people of southern France first scratched the smooth walls of a cave with a piece of bone.

A recent theory from Robert Sussman and Donna Hart holds that perhaps a great deal of our finest human traits may well have been refined by our ability to “evade predators”. According to scientific estimates, Sussman and Hart argue, some “six to ten percent of early humans were preyed upon according to evidence that includes teeth marks on bones, talon marks on skulls, and holes in a fossil cranium into which sabertooth cat fangs fit”, and so we were under intense evolutionary pressure to develop a different kind of skill: running away. “Many of our modern human traits, including those of cooperation and socialization”, may have come from escaping predators, not hunting them. The glorious history of Homo sapiens may have less in common with the feral troglodytes found in The Clan of the Cave Bear than with Brave Sir Robin from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The sequel to the savannas-of-Africa story is, as any grade-schooler knows, the “fertile crescent of Mesopotamia”, where humanity lays down the foundation of modern civilization. Throughout these little narratives, we enjoy looking back smugly at capitalized Nature and in particular the other primates – the chimpanzees, the gorillas, the orangutans – to marvel at the superiority of our evolutionary state and the hideous detritus we left behind on our way upward. Among the many signposts in our smooth, progressive arc away from all the fur, tails, and knuckle dragging is the ennobling shift to marriage and monogamy. We possess a higher sense of spiritual grace in our couplings, we are told, not merely because we have escaped the primal rut that defines the life and death of other mammals, but also because this lofty claim to love prevents society from collapsing into what the Puritans would have called a seething pit of sin and debauchery. But what if even that noble tale is, like the heroic epic of the mammoth hunter, a kind of Pleistocene PR spin, obscuring a sex life that, truth be told, is far more frisky, kinky, promiscuous, and hilarious than our cover story suggests.

In the heart of Africa, in a swamp forest near Lake Tumba in the Congo, a frolicking species of ape called the bonobo has long upset the Frazetta picture of our past. These apes, who, along with chimpanzees, share up to 98 percent of our DNA, confounded the first primatologists who observed them. Over time, they have created a colony far different from that of their intensely competitive, often violent, chimpanzee cousins. Bonobo society is based on cooperation and empathy; the culture is a matriarchy where competition is redirected into a communitarian sexual appetite. Bonobos also shocked these earliest scientists because they possessed a cheerful sense of general promiscuity, weaving wanton sex into their society, and they boasted a sexual repertoire once thought to be the exclusive property of Homo sapiens – deep kissing, foreplay, oral sex, homosexuality, and polyamory.

Which is why bonobos have gained a certain notoriety in the animal kingdom and are so often bracketed by a kind of ridicule whenever some story about them appears in the paper. “Hippie apes”, one headline will read; another is bemused by “swinger” primate – the suggestion always that what you are about to read is obviously some peripheral fluke in the otherwise bloody contest for resources and mates. And yet, some of the recent work in evolutionary biology suggests that bonobos reveal not some comically marginalized human trait but, possibly, the very mark on the long arc that leads to our humanity.

No description, academic or otherwise, can quite do justice to the comedy that is bonobo sex. On a hilarity scale of one to ten, most animal sex trends quickly toward ten. Bonobo sex goes to eleven. Throughout the day, males and females, adolescents and elders alike greet one another sexually for apparently almost any reason – and do so with everything from a quick feel, to porn-style choreographies, to elaborately athletic couplings. This feature – the variety of their easygoing sex life – is what led Duke primatologist Vanessa Woods to cheekily title her book about them Bonobo Handshake. Bonobos have deployed their elaborate sexual toolkit to ease all kinds of social transitions – ranging from saying good morning to giving the blessing before dinner to expressing a hearty welcome to a new member of the group. Females will casually present themselves to males. The male will walk right up to a female without any hesitation. All bonobos frequently have homosexual sex – the males being quite fond of hanging upside down, face to face, from a tree and engaging in what the gay community calls frottage (some primatologists call it “penis fencing”; to most teenagers it’s better known as dry humping.)

A brief visit through YouTube’s bonobo-tagged videos provides a sense of what Planet of the Apes might have looked like had it been directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. And even though there’s been some pushback on the subject – some theorize that bonobos have more sex in captivity than in the wild – certain realities prevail: bonobos have a lot more sex and a lot more different kinds of sex than all their nonhuman cousins. And they have it outside the hormonal and biological command of estrus, the periodic season of heat that signals to most mammals that it is time to rut. This sense of freedom is what really puts them in a category quite different from the other primates and, like us, from so much of nature. And it’s not just the sex. Observers in the jungles have seen them cry and, on occasion, console a fellow bonobo in distress. In between the sexual escapades captured on YouTube, one will notice that the adults often break out of the shoulder-rolling simian swagger and walk as upright and briskly as a Manhattanite heading to the subway. Even their temperament seems closer to ours. During World War Two, when the Allies bombed Munich, the city’s zookeepers are said to have reported that the chimpanzees survived the trauma of the nearby destruction. The bonobos all died of heart attacks.

That bonobos share so many of our nonviolent tendencies and yet have flourished in a Nature that we so glibly insist is defined by blood and mayhem – is why they seem so late to the primate-studies scene. Most of us grew up learning the names of Jane Goodall, who popularized chimpanzee studies, and Dian Fossey, who studied gorilla groups, and Birute Galdikas, who worked with orangutans. All of them got their start in the 1960s and early 1970s when primate studies gained a kind of celebrity and popular following. While bonobos had been identified as a separate species from chimpanzees back in 1933, the bonobo story remained untold throughout the primate studies renaissance. Goodall became famous, in part, because she chronicled the horrific violence that characterized the life of the chimpanzee – engaging in murder and infanticide as part of the alpha male’s rise to dominate the troop and insure that he had a harem of fertile females to carry forward his DNA.

As Emory primatologist Frans de Waal has explained, Goodall’s work fed the narrative that as humans, “we were inborn killer apes”. When the bonobo story finally broke, though, it was decades later, and it was treated almost contemptuously, in particular because it challenged the easy assumptions that went with the prevalent sense that human nature was, like all of Nature, as Alfred, Lord Tennyson put it, “red in tooth and claw”. And science did what most of us do when confronted by evidence that contradicts the cliches by which we live. “It was totally ignored”, de Waal has explained. “When something doesn’t fit your thinking, the best way to deal with it is to shove it out the window and ignore it, and that’s what the scientific community did for about twenty years”.

The paper that arguably broke the news of the bonobos’ unlikely habits was coauthored in 1978 by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh. Reading Savage-Rumbaugh’s study, even today, one cannot help but sense the author’s shock despite the staid prose of an academic research paper. Writing in the Journal of Human Evolution, she published “Socio-sexual Behavior in Pan paniscus and Pan troglodytes: A Comparative Study”, a straight-up comparison of bonobos and chimpanzees. Observing bonobos in captivity, Savage-Rumbaugh probably expected to find a violent social regime similar to the one made famous by Goodall.

But as her first sentence reports, she had found “important and unexpected behavioral differences between these two closely related species”. In just about any paragraph, one comes upon a sentence where the unwritten sentiment lurking just outside the restrained and jargon-clotted syntax is “holy shit!” Perusing this paper is like watching George Will attempt a Chris Rock routine. “The external genitalia of the female Pan paniscus is rotated anteriorly, copulation takes place throughout the cycle in Pan paniscus, and homosexual copulation is a common occurrence”, she writes. Bonobos kiss while having sex, and they commonly have intercourse face to face, aka “ventro-ventral positioning”. They gaze directly into each others’ eyes, preferring, in fact, to make eye contact as often as possible. Even when they take up the classic Darwinian position – the male mounting the female from behind, aka “ventro-dorsal”, they will twist their heads to look at each other.

And bonobos do all this … a lot. Among the chimpanzees, sex occurred exclusively during estrus, that is, when female hormones signaled to the male that it was time. The male chimp sometimes fingers a female, sniffs his finger to determine if the timing is right, and if the hormonal signal is positive, then rutting commences. Otherwise the male is not at all interested. Bonobos, on the other hand, have moved way past those hormones. They would “copulate during all phases of the female’s menstrual cycle” – a human tendency as well, and one rendered crisply in the literature as “continuous receptivity”.

In the zoo where chimpanzees were caged next to bonobos, Savage-Rumbaugh observed, the male bonobo would come on to the female chimpanzees all the time. And the female chimps “responded to his soliciting gestures during all phases of their cycles by pressing their genitals close to the wire”. Since there was frequent homosexual as well as heterosexual “bouts”, a great deal of the chatter that took place among the bonobos involved deciding on a position: “Copulatory positioning among Pan paniscus is marked by considerable variability”, and a variety of signals and postures served “to communicate desired copulatory positions of each participant”.

The sheer variety of bonobo sex puts the Kamasutra to shame and Savage-Rumbaugh is at her wit’s end trying to taxonomically describe the numerous positions of standing, sitting, prone, upright. Coming up with distinctions can be fatiguing when, for instance, one of the favored bonobo positions can only be described this way: the “male would at times thrust briefly during a ventro-dorsal prone bout then, while maintaining intromission, begin to walk, pushing against the female with his pelvis and moving her across the ground as she lay on her back, sometimes turning her in a complete circle before pausing to resume thrusting”. What to call that one?

The novelty and innovation never seems to end among bonobos, even after the group had been together for what in bonobo time is long past the seven-year itch: “Observations nine months later indicated that there was still no tendency toward ‘normalization’ of position or time of copulation”. Savage-Rumbaugh also chronicles the various sounds that the bonobos make while having sex. Chimps make one sound. The bonobos have a variety of cries (naturally), including one known as the “long modulated squeal”. With as much sobriety as Savage-Rumbaugh can muster, she writes,

It changes pitch and phonetic aspect at least once, sometimes twice, and is rather poorly represented as ‘we ee e‘.

To this day, no bonobo research grant is complete without some insane story about life among the bonobos. Vanessa Woods cheerfully described the media uproar she once caused when she confessed to the Canberra Times that she had touched the penis of a male bonobo to get him to participate in an experiment involving eating bananas. “He thrust his penis toward me”, she explained in a talk at the ScienceOnline2010 conference, “and, like, his penis is disgusting – it’s this long”. She gestured and then carried on, “So long and thin it droops toward the end like a piece of licorice. He’s refusing to do the test until I, like, touch it, and the reason why I know this is what he wants – is because men have done this to me before, maybe without the vocalizations.” The audience roared.

“And finally I’m like, all right, fine. And I touch it, like that. Instantaneous calm, and he sits down and starts eating the banana like nothing happened”. The punch line of the story is her shock that this newspaper reporter concluded that “I am masturbating bonobos to get them to do my test”.

In any human boy’s development, there comes a moment when he jokes with his friends about how weird it would be if instead of shaking hands, we just walked up to one another and handily rubbed each other’s crotches. Everybody laughs – that’s crazy. But that’s essentially what the bonobos do. Human society is replete with displays of near intimacy and suggestive touching. We have developed customs of opposite-sex and same-sex hugging and kissing, handshaking, and back patting. And all of them serve as tokens of affection, perhaps with some subtle intimation that the encounter might develop into something else. Bonobos essentially went there and then kept going. On the long arc of sexual development as primate culture, maybe we’re the missing link on the way to bonobos.

These primates so easily undermine our African genesis story, not merely by revealing that cooperation was key to our evolutionary progress but also by showing that somehow pleasure played a crucial part all along. It’s another reason why the media seem to get squeamish whenever bonobos make it into a headline. The popular press cannot be expected to seriously ask the obvious questions posed by the existence of our genetic cousins. I mean, what does it suggest that homosexuality is enjoyed with as much lustiness as heterosexuality? And what to make of the sheer casualness and breathtaking fun of their sex? A bonobo who finds a new fruit tree will report back, at which point an orgy breaks out, and then after everyone shares in the bounty, another orgy occurs as some kind of digestif. (A chimpanzee, on the other hand, might gorge itself on the fruit, guard the tree, and share only with reluctance.)

As much as our pop culture perpetuates the simple story of Charles Darwin – natural selection equals survival of the fittest – the reality is that there are numerous pressures in the Darwinian system, and the bonobos’ existence outs us all for oversimplifying the entire business of Nature and our nature. One new study that tries to look at some of these other pressures was coauthored by Brian Hare, a Duke primatologist who happens to be married to bonobologist Vanessa Woods. His argument is that there also exists in bloody nature, besides survival of the fittest, a “selection against aggression”. He writes that “differences in morphology and behavior between bonobos and chimpanzees are analogous to differences between domesticates and their wild ancestors”. In other words, there are some animals out there whose evolutionary arcs are defined by a pressure toward “self-domestication”.

What Hare has documented, though, is that certain other traits appear to accompany the shift toward domestication. For instance, domesticated animals become smarter, so to speak, improving their “problem-solving abilities”. They retain more of the juvenile traits into adulthood, such as head shape. They are more prone to play and grooming. Domestication is also accompanied by a series of physical changes, too. For foxes that have been selected against aggression in experiments, their stiff ears go floppy, and the tails become curly or shortened. There are certain depigmentations that occur, changes in teeth (reduction in fang size), even changes in brain size.

One of the apparent physical changes in this “selection against aggression” is an inclination toward sex unattached to procreation, a wide-ranging sense of sexual being that often embraces homosexual and heterosexual urges, masturbation, and frottage. The bonobo handshake, it turns out, is a fundamental part of domestication. In dogs, Hare notes, one of the earliest clues for a tendency toward self-domestication is a degree of sexual indulgence: a “more subtle indication that dogs are less aggressive than wolves is that dogs tend to tolerate the inspection of their anogenital region by a stranger, while wolves can become aggressive even toward group members that attempt anogenital inspections”.

Given that one of the markers of being tamed is a procreative-free sense of sexuality, then even a dog’s helpless habit of frottaging a visiting dowager’s great and fleshy calf may be understood as a kind of sexual tropism, straining toward that rich and distant horizon we may now properly call bonobotopia.

The singularity of lovemaking is not the miracle of birth that can result from it – because even bees (and educated fleas) enjoy that sacrament. It’s the freewheeling cupidity enjoyed by Nature’s select few domesticates that distinguishes us. Calling it pleasure might be too anthropocentric, but whatever term you wish to summon, there, in the rainforest of the Congo, bonobos reveal that hedonists, gay or straight, constitute a vanguard of Homo sapiens who have progressed the furthest from the dull demands of procreation, representing not a deviation from the norm but an ennobling liberation from it.


Jack Hitt is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and the author, most recently, of Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character (2012).


Has the Shale Bubble Already Burst?

by Igor Alexeev

Naked Capitalism (August 28 2013)

Cross-posted from Oil Price

Just like the famous Gold Rushes of the nineteenth century, US shale gas development is turning out to be a limited and regional market opportunity. Across the Atlantic, the high financial and human costs to fracking also mean that Europe should forget any fantasies about repeating the US shale boom.

Many US shale companies that have been beating the drums of shale “revolution” are now facing oil and gas well depletion. In February 2013 the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) warned {1} that “diminishing returns to scale and the depletion of high productivity sweet spots are expected to eventually slow the rate of growth in tight oil production”. It was a cautious but intriguing statement.

Arthur Berman, a prominent shale skeptic who runs Labyrinth Consulting firm in Sugarland, Texas, is not surprised. “The shale gas phenomenon has been funded mostly by debt and equity offerings. At this point, further debt and share dilution are less feasible for many companies” – he wrote {2} in The Oil Drum blog several months ago.

The average depletion rate of wells in the Bakken Formation (the largest tight oil play in the US) is reported to be 69 percent {3} in the first year and 94 percent over the first five years (37 percent and fifty percent in the Barnett Formation). Due to the lack of reliable data on shale industry many experts (for example, Deborah Rogers from Energy Policy Forum {4}) await possible future write-downs in shale assets. Naturally smaller investors will not hear about the write-downs in the news.

Rock-bottom gas prices on the American market make it extremely difficult to drill more wells and maintain current levels of production, unless technology radically changes.

“The cheap price bubble in the US will burst within two to four years”, believes {5} David Hughes, a geoscientist and former team leader on unconventional gas for the Canadian Potential Gas Committee. “At a high enough price, the supply bubble will burst perhaps ten to fifteen years later, when drilling locations become sparse”.

It means that natural gas market is successfully absorbing shale output for now.

The sharp inflection points for shale gas wells result from a well-known drawback of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies. Production peaks for a year or two but then the initial flow peters out. Overall lifespan of shale wells in Texas is about eight years {6}. Drilling company must continuously invest in the new wells or refrack the old ones. In comparison conventional, vertically drilled wells demonstrate more stable output for twenty to thirty years.

Fracking business model from 2009 to 2012 was based on enormous cashflow from investors attracted by tall promises of natural gas bonanza. At the same time shale wells were considerably underperforming in dollar terms making the whole business a very risky venture. Lack of statistics was sugar coated by lucrative promises.

Will domestic gas prices be high enough to pay for the continuing exploration and development in the coming year? It is hardly probable. Natural gas futures for September and October 2013 slid to the lowest price in more than five months in New York after US stockpiles increased more than forecast last week, Bloomberg reported {7}.

There are also sensational industry reports {8} that reveal how investment bankers promoted shale bubble in order to profit from a short-lived energy boom. Subprime mortgage crisis has shown that the Wall Street is very good at creating financial bubbles.

A lot of the small investors now being solicited by respected investment publications may lose their money, forecasts {9} Professor Robert U Ayres in Forbes. The shale gas boom was profitable in 2009 but now small players are late for dinner.

Europe Must Forget Fantasies About Repeating The US Shale Boom

Strong anti-fracking grassroots movement in Europe proves that people on the continent also understand the hidden dangers of shale gas development. Many countries in continental Europe have shelved unrealistic shale projects despite the fact that European energy prices are double those in the US. Germany set strong barriers against fracking. France’s president Hollande blocked shale initiatives. The Paris-based International Energy Agency has strong doubts about shale gas in Europe pointing to the lack of drilling equipment, higher population density and environmental concerns. The only apologist of fracking in the European Union is Great Britain. London is strongly influenced by US companies trying to sell drilling equipment on the island.

In May 2013 the EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard stressed {10} that geological and geographical factors of Europe shale did not make its large-scale exploitation as cost-effective as in North America. Finally, the Director of Strategy at the European Commission’s DG Environment Robin Meige has recently said that “in the most optimistic case, European shale gas can only compensate for declines in domestic conventional gas”. In other words, Europe must forget fantasies about repeating the US Shale Boom, writes {11} online industry journal OilPrice.com.

Some Eastern European states are pushing forward the shale agenda for purely political reasons disregarding interests of their own population. For instance, the government of Poland has painted itself into a corner by making loud and unsubstantiated statements about shale gas “revolution”. Despite around forty wells being drilled in the country since 2010 by oil majors, no company has announced that it can extract gas for commercial purposes. However heavy pro-fracking lobbying {12} resulted in dramatic corruption scandal {13}. Seven officials were arrested last month in connection with licenses to explore and exploit shale gas deposits.

At the same time Polish farmers have initiated massive protests against shale gas development. It seems they understand the situation far better than many professional energy analysts in London.

“If they go ahead with drilling thousands of meters underground, our water will be affected and there will be no more life in our fields”, villager Stefan Jablonski told {14} IPS during a protest in Warsaw last week. “Not to mention that we might end up with no gas and no water too”.


{1} http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/special/pdf/2013_sp_02.pdf

{2} http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8914

{3} http://shalebubble.org/

{4} http://shalebubble.org/wall-street/

{5} http://www.euractiv.com/energy/expert-cheap-shale-gas-bubble-bu-news-519931

{6} http://www.forbes.com/sites/insead/2013/05/08/shale-oil-and-gas-the-contrarian-view/

{7} http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-01/u-s-natural-gas-futures-decline-on-cooler-weather-more-supply.html

{8} http://shalebubble.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/SWS-report-FINAL.pdf

{9} http://www.forbes.com/sites/insead/2013/05/08/shale-oil-and-gas-the-contrarian-view/2/

{10} http://www.euractiv.com/sustainability/cooperation-shale-answer-europe-news-519803

{11} http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Europe-Must-Forget-Fantasies-about-Repeating-the-US-Shale-Boom.html

{12} http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/polands-shale-gas-bubble-bursting/

{13} http://www.industryweek.com/energy-management/seven-charged-corruption-over-shale-gas-poland

{14} http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/polands-shale-gas-bubble-bursting/


The Anti-Empire Report #119

by William Blum

http://williamblum.org (July 29 2013)

Official website of the author, historian, and US foreign policy critic

That most charming of couples: Nationalism and hypocrisy

It’s not easy being a flag-waving American nationalist. In addition to having to deal with the usual disillusion, anger, and scorn from around the world incited by Washington’s endless bombings and endless wars, the nationalist is assaulted by whistle blowers like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, who have disclosed a steady stream of human-rights and civil-liberties scandals, atrocities, embarrassing lies, and embarrassing truths. Believers in “American exceptionalism” and “noble intentions” have been hard pressed to keep the rhetorical flag waving by the dawn’s early light and the twilight’s last gleaming.

That may explain the Washington Post story (July 20) headlined “US asylum-seekers unhappy in Russia”, about Edward Snowden and his plan to perhaps seek asylum in Moscow. The article recounted the allegedly miserable times experienced in the Soviet Union by American expatriates and defectors like Lee Harvey Oswald, the two NSA employees of 1960 – William Martin and Bernon Mitchell – and several others. The Post’s propaganda equation apparently is: Dissatisfaction with life in Russia by an American equals a point in favor of the United States: “misplaced hopes of a glorious life in the worker’s paradise” … Oswald “was given work in an electronics factory in dreary Minsk, where the bright future eluded him” … reads the Post’s Cold War-cliched rendition. Not much for anyone to get terribly excited about, but a defensive American nationalist is hard pressed these days to find much better.

At the same time Team USA scores points by publicizing present-day Russian violations of human rights and civil liberties, just as if the Cold War were still raging. “We call on the Russian government to cease its campaign of pressure against individuals and groups seeking to expose corruption, and to ensure that the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of all of its citizens, including the freedoms of speech and assembly, are protected and respected”, said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary. {1}

“Campaign of pressure against individuals and groups seeking to expose corruption” … hmmm … Did someone say “Edward Snowden”? Is round-the-clock surveillance of the citizenry not an example of corruption? Does the White House have no sense of shame? Or embarrassment? At all?

I long for a modern version of the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954 at which Carney – or much better, Barack Obama himself – is spewing one lie and one sickening defense of his imperialist destruction after another. And the committee counsel (in the famous words of Joseph Welch) is finally moved to declare: “Sir, you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” The Congressional gallery burst into applause and this incident is widely marked as the beginning of the end of the McCarthy sickness.

US politicians and media personalities have criticized Snowden for fleeing abroad to release the classified documents he possessed. Why didn’t he remain in the US to defend his actions and face his punishment like a real man? they ask. Yes, the young man should have voluntarily subjected himself to solitary confinement, other tortures, life in prison, and possible execution if he wished to be taken seriously. Quel coward!

Why didn’t Snowden air his concerns through the proper NSA channels rather than leaking the documents, as a respectable whistleblower would do? This is the question James Bamford, generally regarded as America’s leading writer on the NSA, endeavored to answer, as follows:


I’ve interviewed many NSA whistleblowers, and the common denominator is that they felt ignored when attempting to bring illegal or unethical operations to the attention of higher-ranking officials. For example, William Binney and several other senior NSA staffers protested the agency’s domestic collection programs up the chain of command, and even attempted to bring the operations to the attention of the attorney general, but they were ignored. Only then did Binney speak publicly to me for an article in Wired magazine. In a Q&A on the Guardian Web Snowden cited Binney as an example of “how overly-harsh responses to public-interest whistle-blowing only escalate the scale, scope, and skill involved in future disclosures. Citizens with a conscience are not going to ignore wrong-doing simply because they’ll be destroyed for it: the conscience forbids it.”


And even when whistleblowers bring their concerns to the news media, the NSA usually denies that the activity is taking place. The agency denied Binney’s charges that it was obtaining all consumer metadata from Verizon and had access to virtually all Internet traffic. It was only when Snowden leaked the documents revealing the phone-log program and showing how PRISM works that the agency was forced to come clean. {2}

“Every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs and national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security”, US Secretary of State John Kerry said recently. “All I know is that it is not unusual for lots of nations”. {3}

Well, Mr K, anti-semitism is not unusual; it can be found in every country. Why, then, does the world so strongly condemn Nazi Germany? Obviously, it’s a matter of degree, is it not? The magnitude of the US invasion of privacy puts it into a league all by itself.

Kerry goes out of his way to downplay the significance of what Snowden revealed. He’d have the world believe that it’s all just routine stuff amongst nations … “Move along, nothing to see here”. Yet the man is almost maniacal about punishing Snowden. On July 12, just hours after Venezuela agreed to provide Snowden with political asylum, Kerry personally called Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and reportedly threatened to ground any Venezuelan aircraft in America’s or any NATO country’s airspace if there is the slightest suspicion that Snowden is using the flight to get to Caracas. Closing all NATO member countries’ airspace to Venezuelan flights means avoiding 26 countries in Europe and two in North America. Under this scenario, Snowden would have to fly across the Pacific from Russia’s Far East instead of crossing the Atlantic.

The Secretary of State also promised to intensify the ongoing process of revoking US entry visas to Venezuelan officials and businessmen associated with the deceased President Hugo Chavez. Washington will also begin prosecuting prominent Venezuelan politicians on allegations of drug trafficking, money laundering and other criminal actions and Kerry specifically mentioned some names in his conversation with the Venezuelan Foreign Minister.

Kerry added that Washington is well aware of Venezuela’s dependence on the US when it comes to refined oil products. Despite being one of the world’s largest oil producers, Venezuela requires more petrol and oil products than it can produce, buying well over a million barrels of refined oil products from the United States every month. Kerry bluntly warned that fuel supplies would be halted if President Maduro continues to reach out to the fugitive NSA contractor. {4}

Wow. Heavy. Unlimited power in the hands of psychopaths. My own country truly scares me.

And what country brags about its alleged freedoms more than the United States? And its alleged democracy? Its alleged civil rights and human rights? Its alleged “exceptionalism”? Its alleged everything? Given that, why should not the United States be held to the very highest of standards?

American hypocrisy in its foreign policy is manifested on a routine, virtually continual, basis. Here is President Obama speaking recently in South Africa about Nelson Mandela: “The struggle here against apartheid, for freedom; [Mandela’s] moral courage; this country’s historic transition to a free and democratic nation has been a personal inspiration to me. It has been an inspiration to the world – and it continues to be.” {5}

How touching. But no mention – never any mention by any American leader – that the United States was directly responsible for sending Nelson Mandela to prison for 28 years. {6}

And demanding Snowden’s extradition while, according to the Russian Interior Ministry, “Law agencies asked the US on many occasions to extradite wanted criminals through Interpol channels, but those requests were neither met nor even responded to”. Amongst the individuals requested are militant Islamic insurgents from Chechnya, given asylum in the United States. {7}

Ecuador has had a similar experience with the US in asking for the extradition of several individuals accused of involvement in a coup attempt against President Rafael Correa. The most blatant example of this double standard is that of Luis Posada Carriles who masterminded the blowing up of a Cuban airline in 1976, killing 73 civilians. He has lived as a free man in Florida for many years even though his extradition has been requested by Venezuela. He’s but one of hundreds of anti-Castro and other Latin American terrorists who’ve been given haven in the United States over the years despite their being wanted in their home countries.

American officials can spout “American exceptionalism” every other day and commit crimes against humanity on intervening days. Year after year, decade after decade. But I think we can derive some satisfaction, and perhaps even hope, in that US foreign policy officials, as morally damaged as they must be, are not all so stupid that they don’t know they’re swimming in a sea of hypocrisy. Presented here are two examples:

In 2004 it was reported that


The State Department plans to delay the release of a human rights report that was due out today, partly because of sensitivities over the prison abuse scandal in Iraq, US officials said. One official … said the release of the report, which describes actions taken by the US government to encourage respect for human rights by other nations, could ‘make us look hypocritical’. {8}


And an example from 2007: Chester Crocker, a member of the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion, and formerly Assistant Secretary of State, noted that


we have to be able to cope with the argument that the US is inconsistent and hypocritical in its promotion of democracy around the world. That may be true. {9}


In these cases the government officials appear to be somewhat self-conscious about the prevailing hypocrisy. Other foreign policy notables seem to be rather proud.

Robert Kagan, author and long-time intellectual architect of an interventionism that seeks to impose a neo-conservative agenda upon the world, by any means necessary, has declared that the United States must refuse to abide by certain international conventions, like the international criminal court and the Kyoto accord on global warming. The US, he says, “must support arms control, but not always for itself. It must live by a double standard.” {10}

And then we have Robert Cooper, a senior British diplomat who was an advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair during the Iraq war. Cooper wrote:


The challenge to the postmodern world is to get used to the idea of double standards. Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security. But when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era – force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself. {11}


His expression, “every state for itself”, can be better understood as any state not willing to accede to the agenda of the American Empire and the school bully’s best friend in London.

So there we have it. The double standard is in. The Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” is out.

The imperial mafia, and their court intellectuals like Kagan and Cooper, have a difficult time selling their world vision on the basis of legal, moral, ethical or fairness standards. Thus it is that they simply decide that they’re not bound by such standards.

Hating America

Here is Alan Dershowitz, prominent American lawyer, jurist, political commentator and fervent Zionist and supporter of the empire, speaking about journalist Glenn Greenwald and the latter’s involvement with Edward Snowden: “Look, Greenwald’s a total phony. He is anti-American, he loves tyrannical regimes, and he did this because he hates America. This had nothing to do with publicizing information. He never would’ve written this article if they had published material about one of his favorite countries.” {12}

“Anti-American” … “hates America” … What do they mean, those expressions that are an integral part of American political history? Greenwald hates baseball and hot dogs? … Hates American films and music? … Hates all the buildings in the United States? Every law? … No, like most “anti-Americans”, Glenn Greenwald hates American foreign policy. He hates all the horrors and all the lies used to cover up all the horrors. So which Americans is he anti?

Dershowitz undoubtedly thinks that Snowden is anti-American as well. But listen to the young man being interviewed: “America is a fundamentally good country. We have good people with good values who want to do the right thing.” The interviewer is Glenn Greenwald. {13}

Is there any other “democratic” country in the world which regularly, or even occasionally, employs such terminology? Anti-German? Anti-British? Anti-Mexican? It may be that only a totalitarian mentality can conceive of and use the term “anti-American”.


God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of America’s Middle Eastern policy and anyone who wants to mess with that idea is (a) anti-Semitic, (b) anti-American, (c) with the enemy, and (d) a terrorist.

– John LeCarre, London Times (January 15 2003)



{1} White House Press Briefing (July 18 2013)

{2} Washington Post (June 23 2013)

{3} Reuters news agency (July 02 2013)

{4} RT television (Russia Today, July 19 2013), citing a Spanish ABC media outlet

{5} White House press release (June 29 2013)

{6} William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (2005), Chapter 23

{7} RT television (Russia Today, July 22 2013)

{8} Los Angeles Times (May 05 2004)

{9} Washington Post (April 17 2007)

{10} Hoover Institute, Stanford University, Policy Review (June 01 2002)

{11} The Observer, UK (April 07 2002)

{12} “Piers Morgan Live”, CNN (June 24 2013)

{13} Video of Glen Greenwald interviewing Edward Snowden (at 2:05 mark)

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

Books by William Blum:






The US Wastes Enough Energy Each Year …

… to Power the UK for Seven Years

by Yves Smith

Naked Capitalism (August 27 2013)

Yves here. Let me underscore that the source for this article is not a granola-head organization but the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is one of the US national labs, or more formally, the United States Department of Energy national laboratories and technology centers {1}. Per Wikipedia:

The national laboratory system, administered first by the Atomic Energy Commission, then the Energy Research and Development Administration, and currently the Department of Energy, is one of the largest (if not the largest) scientific research systems in the world. The DOE provides more than forty percent of the total national funding for physics, chemistry, materials science, and other areas of the physical sciences. Many are locally managed by private companies, while others are managed by academic universities, and as a system they form one of the overarching and far-reaching components in what is known as the “iron triangle” of military, academia, and industry.

And as for how all this waste cited in the headline comes about, I can give an example in my family. My mother lives in a house built in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1950s. It is not insulated. Electricity was so cheap then that it was seen as cheaper to just heat it more in the winter and cool it more in the summer. And no, it’s not remotely feasible to retrofit it now. She does set her thermostat to eighty degrees in the summer, but that only reduces the amount of energy wastage. I’m sure readers can point to other egregious examples.


The US Wastes Enough Energy Each Year …

… to Power the UK for Seven Years

by James Stafford, editor of OilPrice

Cross posted from OilPrice {2}



Each year the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory releases an analysis of the energy input and energy use {3} of the US economy to determine the energy efficiency.

It might be somewhat surprising to know that in 2012 the US wasted 61% of all energy input into its economy, making it just 39% energy efficient.

Of the 95.1 quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTUs) of raw energy that entered the US economy, only 37.0 quadrillion BTUs were actually used, with the other 58.1 quadrillion BTUs being wasted.

US energy efficiency (LLNL)

In 1970, the US economy actually managed to use more energy than it wasted, using 31.1 quadrillion BTUs and only wasting 30.6 quadrillion BTUs, achieving an energy efficiency of higher than fifty percent. Since then the overall energy efficiency of the economy has steadily fallen as the use of electricity generation and transport has increased.

Power plants and internal combustion engines are notoriously inefficient, and as there use has increased, so the efficiency of the economy has fallen.

Some people even suggest that the 39% energy efficiency stated in the analysis is generous, with physicist Robert Ayres stating that the figure should be closer to fourteen percent.

CleanTechnica show an interesting diagram explaining the amount of energy wasted by the US.

For the past ten years the National Laboratory has calculated the US energy waste to be in the region of fifty percent to 58% {4}, but in 2012 this figure jumped to one of the worst levels in decades.

AJ Simon, a senior researcher at the laboratory explained that the jump was mostly due to a change in the ways that they calculated the end use of the energy for vehicles and households. After separate studies into the efficiency of household energy use in areas such as heating, air conditioning and lighting, the figure was dropped from eighty percent to 65%. Likewise, the efficiency of the internal combustion engine was revised down to 21% from 25%.


{1} http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Department_of_Energy_national_laboratories

{2} http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/The-US-Wastes-Enough-Energy-Each-Year-to-Power-the-UK-for-Seven-Years.html

{3} https://www.llnl.gov/news/newsreleases/2013/Jul/NR-13-07-04.html#.UhuI9CoSE6o

{4} https://www.llnl.gov/news/newsreleases/2013/Jul/NR-13-07-04.html#.UhuI9CoSE6o