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The Desperate Plight of Petro-States

With a Busted Business Model, Oil Economies Head for the Unknown

by Michael T Klare

TomDispatch (May 26 2016)

Pity the poor petro-states. Once so wealthy from oil sales that they could finance wars, mega-projects, and domestic social peace simultaneously, some of them are now beset by internal strife or are on the brink of collapse as oil prices remain at ruinously low levels. Unlike other countries, which largely finance their governments through taxation, petro-states rely on their oil and natural gas revenues. Russia, for example, obtains about fifty percent of government income that way; Nigeria, sixty percent; and Saudi Arabia, a whopping ninety percent. When oil was selling at $100 per barrel or above, as was the case until 2014, these countries could finance lavish government projects and social welfare operations, ensuring widespread popular support. Now, with oil below $50 and likely to persist at that level, they find themselves curbing public spending and fending off rising domestic discontent or even incipient revolt.

At the peak of their glory, the petro-states played an outsized role in world affairs. The members of OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, earned an estimated $821 billion from oil exports in 2013 alone. Flush with cash, they were able to exert influence over other countries through a wide variety of aid and patronage operations. Venezuela, for example, sought to counter US influence in Latin America via its Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (“ALBA”), a cooperative network of mostly leftist governments. Saudi Arabia spread its influence throughout the Islamic world in part by financing the efforts of its ultra-conservative Wahhabi clergy to establish madrassas (religious academies) throughout the Islamic world. Russia, under Vladimir Putin, used its prodigious oil wealth to rebuild and refurbish its military, which had largely disintegrated following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lesser members of the petro-state club like Angola, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan became accustomed to regular fawning visits from the presidents and prime ministers of major oil-importing countries.

That, of course, was then, and this is now. While these countries still matter, what worries these presidents and prime ministers now is the growing likelihood of civil violence or even state collapse. Take, for example, Venezuela, long an ardent foe of US policy in Latin America, but today the potential site of a future bloody civil war between supporters and opponents of the current government. Similar kinds of internal strife and civil disorder are likely in oil-producing states like Algeria and Nigeria, where the potential for the further growth of terrorist violence amid chaos is always high.

Some petro-states like Venezuela and Iraq already appear to be edging up to the brink of collapse. Others like Russia and Saudi Arabia will be forced to reorient their economies if they hope to avoid such future outcomes. Whatever their degree of risk, all of them are already experiencing economic hardship, leaving their leaders under growing pressure to somehow alter course in the bleakest of circumstances – or face the consequences.

A Busted Business Model

Petro-states are different from other countries because the fates of their governing institutions are so deeply woven into the boom-and-bust cycles of the international petroleum economy. The challenges they face are only compounded by the unnaturally close ties between their political leaderships and senior officials of their state-owned or state-controlled oil and natural gas industries. Historically, their rulers have placed close allies or even family members in key industry positions, ensuring continuing government control and in many cases personal enrichment as well. In Russia, for example, the management of Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas company, and Rosneft, the state-owned oil company, is almost indistinguishable from the senior leadership in the Kremlin, with both groups answering to President Putin. A similar pattern holds for Venezuela, where the government keeps the state-owned company, Petroleos de Venezuela, SA (PdVSA), on a tight leash, and in Saudi Arabia, where the royal family oversees the operations of the state-owned Saudi Aramco.

In 2016, one thing is finally clear, however: the business model for these corporatized states is busted. The most basic assumption behind their operation – that global oil demand will continue to outpace world petroleum supplies and ensure high prices into the foreseeable future – no longer holds. Instead, in what for any petro-state is a nightmarish, upside-down version of that model, supply, not demand, is forging ahead, leaving the market flooded with fossil fuels.

Most analysts, including those at the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”), now believe that increases in energy efficiency, the spread of affordable alternative energy sources (especially wind and solar), slowing worldwide economic growth, and concern over climate change will continue to put a damper on fossil fuel demand in the years ahead. Meanwhile, the oil industry – now equipped with fracking technology and other advanced extractive techniques – will continue to boost supplies. It’s a formula for keeping prices low. In fact, a growing number of analysts are convinced that world oil demand will in the not-so-distant future reach a peak and begin a long-term decline, ensuring that large reserves of petroleum will be left in the ground. For the petro-states, all of this means persistent pain unless they can find a new business model that is somehow predicated on a permanent low-oil-price environment.

These states vary in both their willingness and ability to respond to this new reality effectively. Some are too deeply committed to their existing business model (and its associated leadership system) to consider significant changes; others, increasingly aware of the need to do something, find almost insuperable structural roadblocks in the way; and a third group, recognizing the desperate need for change, is attempting a total economic overhaul of its oil economies. In recent weeks, examples of all three types – Venezuela for the first, Nigeria the second, and Saudi Arabia the third – have surfaced in the news.

Venezuela: A Nation on the Brink

Venezuela claims the world’s largest proven reserves of petroleum, an estimated 298 billion barrels of oil. In past decades, the exploitation of this vast fossil fuel patrimony has ensured incredible wealth for foreign companies and Venezuelan elites alike. After assuming the presidency in 1999, however, Hugo Chavez sought to channel the bulk of this wealth to Venezuela’s poor and working classes by forcing foreign firms to partner with the state-owned oil firm PdVSA and redirecting that company’s profits to government spending programs. Billions of dollars were funneled into state-directed “missions” to the poor, lifting millions of Venezuelans out of poverty. In 2002, when the company’s long-serving managers rebelled against these moves, Chavez simply replaced them with his own party loyalists and the diversion of funds continued.

In the wake of the ousting of that original management team, the country’s oil production began to decline. With prices running at or above $100 per barrel, this initially seemed to make little difference as money continued to pour into government coffers and those missions to the poor kept right on going. What Chavez didn’t do, however, was create the national equivalent of a rainy-day fund. Little of the oil money was channeled into a sovereign wealth fund for more problematic moments, nor was any invested in other kinds of industries that might in time have generated streams of non-fossil-fuel income for the government.

As a result, when prices began to drop in the fall of 2014, Chavez’s presidential successor, Nicolas Maduro, faced a triple calamity: diminished revenues for social services, scant savings to draw upon, and no alternative sources of income. Not surprisingly, as a new impoverishment spread, many former Chavistas lost faith in the regime and, in last December’s parliamentary elections, voted for emboldened opposition candidates.

Today, Venezuela is a nation living under an officially declared “state of emergency”, politically riven, experiencing food riots and other violence, and possibly on the brink of collapse. According to the IMF, the economy contracted by 5.7% in 2015 and is expected to diminish by another eight percent this year – more, that is, than any other country on the planet. Inflation is out of control, unemployment and crime are soaring, and what little money Venezuela had in its rainy-day account has largely been spent. Only China has been willing to lend it money to pay off its debts. If Beijing chooses to hold back when the next payments come due this fall, the country could face default. Opposition leaders in the National Assembly seek to oust Maduro and move ahead with various reforms, but the government is using its control of the courts to block such efforts, and the nation remains in a state of paralysis.

Nigeria: Continuing Disorder

Nigeria possesses the largest oil and natural gas reserves in sub-Saharan Africa. The exploitation of those reserves has long proved immensely profitable for foreign companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron and also for well-connected Nigerian elites. Very little of this wealth, however, has trickled down to those living in the Niger Delta region in the south of the country where most of the oil and gas is produced. Opposition to the central government in Abuja, the capital, to which the oil income flows, has long been strong in the Delta, leading to periodic outbursts of violence. Successive federal administrations have promised a more equitable allocation of oil revenues, but a promise this has remained.

From 2006 to 2009, Nigeria was wracked by an insurgency spearheaded by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a militant group seeking to redirect oil revenues to the country’s impoverished southern states. In 2009, when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua offered the militants an amnesty and monthly cash payments, the insurgency died down. His successor, Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, promised to respect the amnesty and channel more funds to the region.

For a while, high oil prices enabled Jonathan to make good on some of his promises, even as entrenched elites in Abuja continued to pocket a substantial percentage of the country’s petroleum income. When prices began to plummet, however, he was confronted with mounting challenges. Pervasive corruption turned people against the government, feeding recruits into Boko Haram, the terror movement then growing in the country’s northern reaches; money intended for soldiers in the Nigerian army disappeared into the pockets of military elites, subverting efforts to fight the insurgents. In national elections held a year ago, Muhammadu Buhari, a former general who vowed to crack down on corruption, rescue the economy, and defeat Boko Haram, took the presidency from Jonathan.

Since assuming office, Buhari has demonstrated a grasp of Nigeria’s structural weaknesses, especially its overwhelming dependency on oil monies, along with a determination to overcome them. As promised, he has launched a serious crackdown on the sort of corruption that is a commonplace feature of petro-states, firing officials accused of blatant thievery. At the same time, he has stepped up military pressure on Boko Haram, for the first time putting a crimp in that group’s brutal activities. Crucially, he has announced plans to diversify the economy, placing more emphasis on agriculture and non-fossil-fuel-related industries, which might, if pursued seriously, help diminish Nigeria’s increasingly disastrous reliance on oil.

In the cold light of day, however, the country still needs those oil revenues for the lion’s share of its income, which means that in the current low-price environment it has ever less money to fight Boko Haram, pay for social services, or pursue alternative investment schemes. In addition, Buhari has been accused of disproportionately targeting southerners in his fight against corruption, sparking not just fresh discontent in the Delta region but the rise of a new militant group – the Niger Delta Avengers – that poses a threat to oil production. On May 4th, the Avengers attacked an offshore oil platform operated by Chevron and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, forcing the companies to shut down production of about 90,000 barrels per day. Add that to other insurgent attacks on the country’s oil infrastructure and the Nigerian government is expected to lose $1 billion in May alone. If repairs are not completed on time, it may lose an equal amount in June. It remains a nation on edge, in danger of devastating impoverishment, and with few genuine alternatives available.

Saudi Arabia: Seeking a New Vision

With the world’s second largest reserves of oil, Saudi Arabia is also the planet’s leading producer, pumping out a staggering 10.2 million barrels daily. Originally, those massive energy reserves were owned by a consortium of American companies operating under the umbrella of the Arabian-American Oil Company (“Aramco”). In the 1970s, however, Aramco was nationalized and is now owned by the Saudi state – which is to say, the Saudi monarchy. Today, it is the world’s most valuable company, worth by some estimates as much as $10 trillion (ten times more than Apple), and so a source of almost unimaginable wealth for the Saudi royal family.

For decades, the country’s leadership pursued a consistent political-economic business plan: sell as much oil as possible and use the proceeds to enrich the numerous princes and princesses of the realm; provide lavish social benefits to the rest of the population, thereby averting popular unrest of the “Arab Spring” variety; finance the ultra-conservative Wahhabi clergy so as to ensure its loyalty to the regime; finance like-minded states in the region; and put aside money for those rainy-day periods of low oil prices.

Saudi leaders have recently come to recognize that this plan is no longer sustainable. In 2016, the Saudi budget has, for the first time in recent memory, moved into deficit territory and the monarchy has had to cut back on both its usual subsidies to and social programs for its people. Unlike the Venezuelans or the Nigerians, the Saudi royals socked away enough money in the country’s sovereign wealth fund to cover deficit spending for at least a couple of years. It is now, however, burning through those funds at a prodigious rate, in part to finance a brutal and futile war in Yemen. At some point, it will have to sharply curtail government spending. Given the youthfulness of the Saudi population – seventy percent of its citizens are under thirty – and its long dependence on government handouts, such moves could, in the view of many analysts, lead to widespread civil unrest.

Historically, Saudi leaders have been slow to initiate change. But recently, the royal family has defied expectations, taking radical steps to prepare the country for a transition to what’s being termed a post-petroleum economy. On April 25th, the powerful Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, unveiled “Saudi Vision 2030”, a somewhat hazy blueprint for the kingdom’s economic diversification and modernization. Prince Mohammed also indicated that the country will soon begin to offer public shares in Saudi Aramco, with the intention of raising massive funds to invest in and create non-oil-related Saudi industries and revenue streams. On May 7th, the monarchy also abruptly dismissed its long-serving oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, and replaced him with the head of Saudi Aramco, Khalid al-Falih, a figure deemed more subservient to Prince Mohammed. Falih’s job title was also changed to minister of energy, industry, and mineral resources, which was (so the experts speculated) a signal from the monarchy of its determination to move beyond exclusive reliance on oil as a source of income.

This is all so unprecedented that there is no way of predicting whether the Saudi royals are actually capable of bringing anything like Saudi Vision 2030 to fruition, no less moving away in a serious fashion from its reliance on oil. Many obstacles remain, including the possibility that jealous royals will push Prince Mohammed (and his vision) aside when his father, King Salman, now eighty, passes from the scene. (There are regular rumors that some members of the royal family resent the meteoric rise of the 31-year-old prince.) Nevertheless, his dramatic statements about the need to diversify the kingdom’s economy do show that even Saudi Arabia – the petro-state par excellence – now recognizes that some kind of new identity is now a necessity.

The Stakes for Us All

You may not live in a petro-state, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a stake in the evolution of this unique political life form. From at least the “oil shock” of 1973, when the Arab OPEC members announced an “oil boycott” against the US for its involvement in the Yom Kippur War, such countries have played an outsized role on the world stage, distorting international relations, and – in the Greater Middle East – involving themselves (and their financial resources) in one conflict after another from the Iran-Iraq War of 1980~1988 to the wars in Yemen and Syria today.

Their fervent support for and financing of favored causes – whether it be Wahhabism and associated jihadist groups (Saudi Arabia), anti-Westernism (Russia), or the survival of the Assad regime in Syria (Iran) – has provoked widespread disorder and misery. It will hardly be a tragedy if a lack of funds forces such states to pull back from efforts of this sort. But given the centrality of fossil fuels to our world for the last century or more, the chaos that could ensue in the oil heartlands of the planet from low oil prices and high supply is likely to create unpredictable new nightmares of its own.

And the greatest nightmares of all lurk not in any of this but in the inability of these states and those they supply to liberate themselves from reliance on fossil fuels fast enough. Looking into the future, the demise of petro-states as we’ve known them could have a profound impact on the struggle to avert catastrophic climate change. Although these states are not primarily responsible for the actual combustion of fossil fuels – that’s something we in the oil-importing countries must take responsibility for – their pivotal role in fueling the global petroleum economy has made them largely resistant to international efforts to curb emissions of carbon dioxide. As they try to repair their busted business model or collapse under the weight of its failures, we can only hope that the path they follow will entail significantly less dependence on oil exports as well as a determination to speed up the conclusion of the fossil fuel era and so diminish its legacy of climate disaster.

_____

Michael T Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left (2012). A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil (2005) is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead (2016), and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (2014).

 

Copyright 2016 Michael T Klare

(c) 2016 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.

http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176145/

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“Networks are Colluding” …

… to Declare Clinton the Overall Winner Before California Polls Close

by Gaius Publius

Naked Capitalism (May 28 2016)

 

The writer of the quoted part of the headline above is Shaun King. Here’s the quote in full and in context.

 

When a grown man tells you he is about to start trouble, believe him.

What followed, if Matthews is to be taken at his word, is clear evidence that television networks are colluding together to call the primary for Hillary Clinton before she reaches the delegates needed to claim victory. By doing so, they will absolutely suppress the vote in the final states that will be cast ballots in the Democratic primary. Even by mentioning it now, that the networks have already set the date and time they are calling the race for Hillary, what Matthews has done runs the very real risk of suppressing voter turnout. It’s disgusting.

 

That date and time is 8:00 pm Eastern time, 5:00 pm Pacific time, on June 7, the night of the California primary. (Also the night of five other primaries or caucuses and the last-but-one night of Democratic Party voting.)

Here’s the Matthews quote from the video above:

 

MATTHEWS: This what I call “trouble”, [what] I’m about to start [saying or asking] here.

I’m told by the experts on numbers around here on NBC and elsewhere that come June 7, the day of the California primary – which your candidate [pointing to Jeff Weaver], I totally understand, wants to get to and maybe has a chance to knock off Hillary at that event, a big last hurrah – that at 8:00 that night Eastern time, that the networks will be prepared, including this one, to announce that Hillary Clinton has gotten over the top, that she will have won the nomination in numbers. It’s done.

What will that do to turnout, if that’s 5:00 Pacific time with three more hours to vote in California? Who will be least likely to vote, Sanders people from five to eight [o’clock] or Hillary. I’ve heard both theories.

 

Weaver answers the question in the only way that makes sense – that the announcement will be wrong, because the superdelegates don’t vote until the convention.

But that’s not the point here. Forget Matthew’s foolish question (“What will that do to turnout?”) and read the introduction to it.

If Matthews is right, so is my headline, and so is Shaun King. The establishment, corporate-owned “networks are colluding” to declare Hillary Clinton the overall Democratic winner before California polls close. And they know it will affect turnout; they just aren’t sure whose.

An Establishment-Rigged System

After explaining in full what Weaver said above in short, King closes with this:

 

What the Democratic Party, and apparently the television networks, do not want people to know is that superdelegates, and not the American voters, are going to choose who this nominee is …

This – all of this – is why supporters of Bernie Sanders so often say the system is rigged. It clearly looks that way.

 

It’s not just the Democratic Party that is tilting the table in Clinton’s direction, though. Notice, if Matthews is right, what the establishment networks are planning to do. Even Politico gives the game away (my emphasis):

 

Clinton could lose California, where the polls close three hours later, after she has already won the nomination [with the delegates won in New Jersey].

 

Whatever possessed Matthews to admit to all this? And will they carry through, the networks? Maybe not, after this. But still, maybe so. Either way, you have been warned. The networks are talking about, once again, making news, not just breaking it. What they will be breaking instead is their reputations as news organizations.

With every Sanders Democrat and independent watching … very very closely.

_____

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. Originally published at http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.jp/2016/05/networks-are-colluding-to-declare.html.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/05/gaius-publius-networks-are-colluding-to-declare-clinton-the-overall-winner-before-california-polls-close.html

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Six Giant Corporations Control the Media …

… and Americans Consume Ten Hours of ‘Programming’ a Day

by Michael Snyder

The Economic Collapse (May 26 2016)

If you allow someone to pump hours of “programming” into your mind every single day, it is inevitable that it is eventually going to have a major impact on how you view the world.  In America today, the average person consumes approximately ten hours of information, news and entertainment a day, and there are six giant media corporations that overwhelmingly dominate that market.  In fact, it has been estimated that somewhere around ninety percent of the “programming” that we constantly feed our minds comes from them, and of course they are ultimately controlled by the elite of the world.  So is there any hope for our country as long as the vast majority of the population is continually plugging themselves into this enormous “propaganda matrix”?

Just think about your own behavior.  Even as you are reading this article the television might be playing in the background or you may have some music on.  Many of us have gotten to the point where we are literally addicted to media.  In fact, there are people out there that become physically uncomfortable if everything is turned off and they have to deal with complete silence.

It has been said that if you put garbage in, you are going to get garbage out.  It is the things that we do consistently that define who we are, and so if you are feeding your mind with hours of “programming” from the big media corporations each day, that is going to have a dramatic affect on who you eventually become.

These monolithic corporations really do set the agenda for what society focuses on.  For example, when you engage in conversation with your family, friends or co-workers, what do you talk about?  If you are like most people, you might talk about something currently in the news, a television show that you watched last night or some major sporting event that is taking place.

Virtually all of that news and entertainment is controlled by the elite by virtue of their ownership of these giant media corporations.

I want to share some numbers with you that may be hard to believe.  They come directly out of Nielsen’s “Total Audience Report”, and they show how much news and entertainment the average American consumes through various methods each day …

Watching live television: 4 hours, 32 minutes

Watching time-shifted television: 30 minutes

Listening to the radio: 2 hours, 44 minutes

Using  a smartphone: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Using Internet on a computer: 1 hour, 6 minutes

When you add all of those numbers together, it comes to a grand total of more than ten hours.

And keep in mind that going to movie theaters, playing video games and reading books are behaviors that are not even on this list.

What in the world are we doing to ourselves?

The combination of watching live television and watching time-shifted television alone comes to a total of more than five hours.

If you feed five hours of something into your mind day after day, it is going to change you.  There is no way around that.  You may think that you are strong enough to resist the programming, but the truth is that it affects all of us in very subtle ways that we do not even understand.

And as I mentioned above, there are just six giant corporations that account for almost all of the programming that we receive through our televisions.  Below is a list of these six corporations along with a sampling of the various media properties that they own …

COMCAST

NBC
Telemundo
Universal Pictures
Focus Features
USA Network
Bravo
CNBC
The Weather Channel
MSNBC
Syfy
NBCSN
Golf Channel
Esquire Network
E!
Cloo
Chiller
Universal HD
Comcast SportsNet
Universal Parks & Resorts
Universal Studio Home Video

THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

ABC Television Network
ESPN
The Disney Channel
A&E
Lifetime
Marvel Entertainment
Lucasfilm
Walt Disney Pictures
Pixar Animation Studios
Disney Mobile
Disney Consumer Products
Interactive Media
Disney Theme Parks
Disney Records
Hollywood Records
Miramax Films
Touchstone Pictures

NEWS CORPORATION

Fox Broadcasting Company
Fox News Channel
Fox Business Network
Fox Sports 1
Fox Sports 2
National Geographic
Nat Geo Wild
FX
FXX
FX Movie Channel
Fox Sports Networks
The Wall Street Journal
The New York Post
Barron’s
SmartMoney
HarperCollins
20th Century Fox
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Blue Sky Studios
Beliefnet
Zondervan

TIME WARNER

CNN
The CW
HBO
Cinemax
Cartoon Network
HLN
NBA TV
TBS
TNT
TruTV
Turner Classic Movies
Warner Bros.
Castle Rock
DC Comics
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
New Line Cinema
Sports Illustrated
Fortune
Marie Claire
People Magazine

VIACOM

MTV
Nickelodeon
VH1
BET
Comedy Central
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Home Entertainment
Country Music Television (CMT)
Spike TV
The Movie Channel
TV Land

CBS CORPORATION

CBS Television Network
The CW (along with Time Warner)
CBS Sports Network
Showtime
TVGN
CBS Radio, Inc.
CBS Television Studios
Simon & Schuster
Infinity Broadcasting
Westwood One Radio Network

Fortunately, those enormous media conglomerates do not have quite the same monopoly over the Internet, but we are starting to see a tremendous amount of consolidation in the online world as well.  Just check out these numbers …

 

Overall, the top ten publishers – together owning around sixty news sites – account for 47% of total online traffic to news content last year, with the next-biggest 140 publishers accounting for most of the other half, SimilarWeb found.

The biggest online news publisher for the  US  audience was MSN, owner of MSN.com, with just over 27 billion combined page views across mobile and desktop, followed by Disney Media Networks, owner of ESPN and ABC News, with 25.9 billion.

 

 

The battle for the future of this nation is a battle for the hearts and minds of individuals.

And it is hard to see how things will be turned in a dramatically different direction as long as most of us are willingly feeding our hearts and minds with hours of “programming” that is controlled by the elite each day.

The good news is that there are signs of an awakening.  More Americans than ever are becoming disenchanted with the mainstream media, and this is showing up in recent survey numbers.  Here is one example …

 

Trust in the news media is being eroded by perceptions of inaccuracy and bias, fueled in part by Americans’ skepticism about what they read on social media.

Just six percent of people say they have a lot of confidence in the media, putting the news industry about equal to Congress and well below the public’s view of other institutions.

 

As Americans (and people all over the world) have lost confidence in the mainstream media, they have been seeking out other sources of news and entertainment.  This has greatly fueled the rise of the alternative media, and the dozens of websites all over the Internet where this article will ultimately be published are examples of this explosion.

You can only enslave people for so long.  Ultimately, they will want to break free of the chains that are holding them back and they will want to find the truth.

In this day and age, it is absolutely imperative that we all learn to think for ourselves.  If you find that you are still addicted to the “programming” that the giant media corporations are feeding you, I would encourage you to start unplugging from the matrix more frequently.

In the end, you will be glad that you did.

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2016/05/6-giant-corporations-control-the-media-and-americans-consume-10-hours-of-programming-a-day.html

Categories: Uncategorized

What It Takes …

… to be President of the American Police State:

Anti-Big Money, Anti-War, Pro-Constitution, Freedom-Loving Candidates Need Not Apply.

by John W. Whitehead

Battlefield America – A Government of Wolves (May 23 2016)

 

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.

– Edward R Murrow

 

 

 

The qualifications for president seem to be that one is willing to commit mass murder one minute and hand presidential medals of freedom to other war criminals in the next. One need only apply if one has very loose, flexible, or non-existent morality. {1}

– Author and activist Cindy Sheehan

 

 

Long gone are the days when the path to the White House was open to anyone who met the Constitution’s bare minimum requirements {2} of being a natural born citizen, a resident of the United States for fourteen years, and 35 years of age or older.

Today’s presidential hopefuls must jump through a series of hoops aimed at selecting the candidates best suited to serve the interests of the American police state. Candidates who are anti-war, anti-militarization, anti-Big Money, pro-Constitution, pro-individual freedom and unabashed advocates for the citizenry need not apply.

The carefully crafted spectacle of the presidential election with its nail-biting primaries, mud-slinging debates, caucuses, super-delegates, popular votes and electoral colleges has become a fool-proof exercise in how to persuade a gullible citizenry into believing that their votes matter.

Yet no matter how many Americans go to the polls on November 8, “we the people” will not be selecting the nation’s next president.

While voters might care about where a candidate stands on healthcare, Social Security, abortion and immigration – hot-button issues that are guaranteed to stir up the masses, secure campaign contributions and turn any election into a circus free-for-all – those aren’t the issues that will decide the outcome of this presidential election.

What decides elections are money and power.

We’ve been hoodwinked into believing that our votes count, that we live in a democracy, that elections make a difference, that it matters whether we vote Republican or Democrat, and that our elected officials are looking out for our best interests. Truth be told, we live in an oligarchy {3}, and politicians represent only the profit motives of the corporate state, whose leaders know all too well that there is no discernible difference between red and blue politics, because there is only one color that matters in politics – green.

As much as the Republicans and Democrats like to act as if there’s a huge difference between them and their policies, they are part of the same big, brawling, noisy, semi-incestuous clan. Watch them interact at social events – hugging and kissing and nudging and joking and hobnobbing with each other – and it quickly becomes clear that they are not sworn enemies but partners in crime, united in a common goal, which is to maintain the status quo.

The powers-that-be will not allow anyone to be elected to the White House who does not answer to them.

Who are the powers-that-be, you might ask?

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People {4} (2015), the powers-that-be are the individuals and corporations who profit from America’s endless wars abroad and make their fortunes many times over by turning America’s homeland into a war zone. They are the agents and employees of the military-industrial complex, the security-industrial complex, and the surveillance-industrial complex. They are the fat cats on Wall Street who view the American citizenry as economic units to be bought, sold and traded on a moment’s notice. They are the monied elite from the defense and technology sectors, Hollywood, and Corporate America who believe their money makes them better suited to decide the nation’s future. They are the foreign nationals to whom America is trillions of dollars in debt.

One thing is for certain: the powers-that-be are not you and me.

In this way, the presidential race is just an exaggerated farce of political theater intended to dazzle, distract and divide us, all the while the police state marches steadily forward.

It’s a straight-forward equation: the candidate who wins the White House will be the one who can do the best job of ensuring that the powers-that-be keep raking in the money and acquiring ever greater powers. In other words, for any viable presidential candidate to get elected today that person must be willing to kill, lie, cheat, steal, be bought and sold and made to dance to the tune of his or her corporate overlords.

The following are just some of the necessary qualifications for anyone hoping to be appointed president of the American police state. Candidates must:

Help grow the military–industrial complex: Fifty-five years after President Dwight D Eisenhower warned about the growth of the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address, the partnership between the government, the military and private corporations has resulted in the permanent militarization of America {5}. From militarized police and the explosive growth of SWAT teams to endless wars abroad, the expansion of private sector contractors, and never-ending blowback from our foreign occupations, we have become a nation permanently at war. As the New York Times pointed out, “the military is the true ‘third rail’ {6} of American politics”. The military-industrial complex understands the value of buying the presidency, and has profited from the incessant warmongering of Obama and his predecessors. If money is any indicator of who the defense industry expects to win this November, thus far, Hillary Clinton is winning the money race, having collected more campaign contributions from employees with the fifty largest military contractors {7}.

Police the rest of the world using US troops: The US military empire’s determination to police the rest of the world has resulted in more than 1.3 million US troops being stationed at roughly 1000 military bases in over 150 countries around {8} the world, including 48,000 in Japan, 37,000 in Germany, 27,000 in South Korea and 9800 in Afghanistan. That doesn’t include the number of private contractors pulling in hefty salaries {9} at taxpayer expense. In Afghanistan, for example, private contractors outnumber US troops three to one {10}. Now comes the news that the US is preparing to sendtroops to Libya on a long-term mission {11} to fight ISIS.

Sow seeds of discord and foment wars among other nations under the guise of democracy: It’s not enough for the commander-in-chief to lead the United States into endless wars abroad. Any successful presidential candidate also needs to be adept at stirring up strife within other nations under the guise of spreading democracy. The real motive, of course, is creating new markets for the nation’s #1 export: weapons. In this way, the US is constantly arming so-called “allies” with deadly weapons, only to later wage war against these same nations for possessing weapons of mass destruction. It happened in Iraq when the US sold Saddam Hussein weapons {12} to build his war machine. It happened in Syria when the US provided rebel fighters with military equipment and munitions, only to have them seized by ISIS and used against us {13}. Now comes the news that President Obama has agreed to sell weapons to Vietnam {14}, lifting a decades-long embargo against the nation whose civil war claimed the lives of more than 90,000 Americans {15}.

Speak of peace while slaughtering innocent civilians: Barack Obama’s campaign and subsequent presidency illustrates this principle perfectly. The first black American to become president, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize {16} long before he had done anything to truly deserve it. He has rewarded the Nobel committee’s faith in him by becoming one of the most hawkish war presidents to lead the nation, overseeing a targeted-killing drone campaign that has resulted in thousands of civilian casualties {17} and deaths. Ironically, while Obama has made no significant effort to de-escalate government-inflicted violence or de-weaponize militarized police, he has gone to great lengths to denounce and derail private gun ownership by American citizens.

Prioritize surveillance in the name of security over privacy: Since 9/11, the Surveillance State has undergone a dramatic boom, thanks largely to the passage of the USA Patriot Act and so-called “secret” interpretations of the mammoth law {18} allowing the NSA and other government agencies to spy on Americans’ electronic communications. What began as a government-driven program under George W Bush has grown under Obama into a mass surveillance private sector {19} that makes its money by spying on American citizens. As Fortune reports, “In response to security concerns after 9/11, Americans witnessed the growth of a massive domestic security apparatus, fueled by federal largesse {20}”. That profit-incentive has opened up a multi-billion dollar video surveillance industry that is blanketing the country with surveillance cameras – both governmental and private – which can be accessed by law enforcement {21} at a moment’s notice.

Promote the interests of Corporate America and Big Money over the rights of the citizenry: Almost every major government program hailed as benefiting Americans – affordable healthcare, the war on terror, airport security, police-worn body cameras – has proven to be a Trojan Horse aimed at enriching Corporate America while leaving Americans poorer, less secure and less free. For instance, the so-called “affordable” health care mandated by Congress has become yet another costly line item {22} in already strained household budgets for millions of Americans.

Expand the powers of the imperial president while repeatedly undermining the rule of law: George W Bush assumed near-absolute power soon after the September 11 2001, attacks. Unfettered by Congress or the Constitution, Bush led the “war on terror” abroad and championed both the USA Patriot Act and Homeland Security Department domestically. This, of course, led to the Bush Administration’s demand that presidential wartime powers permit the President to assume complete control over any and all aspects of an international war on terrorism. Such control included establishing military tribunals and eliminating basic rights long recognized under American law.

When Barack Obama ascended to the presidency in 2008, there was a sense, at least among those who voted for him, that the country might change for the better. Those who watched in awe as President Bush chipped away at our civil liberties over the course of his two terms as president thought that perhaps the young, charismatic Senator from Illinois would reverse course and put an end to some of the Bush administration’s worst transgressions – the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, the torture, the black site prisons, and the never-ending wars that have drained our resources, to name just a few. As we near the end of Obama’s two terms in office, that fantasy has proven to be just that: a fantasy. Indeed, President Obama has not only carried on the Bush legacy, but has taken it to its logical conclusion. Obama has gone beyond Guantanamo Bay, gone beyond spying on Americans’ emails and phone calls, and gone beyond bombing countries without Congressional authorization. As journalist Amy Goodman warned {23}, “the recent excesses of US presidential power are not transient aberrations, but the creation of a frightening new normal, where drone strikes, warrantless surveillance, assassination and indefinite detention are conducted with arrogance and impunity, shielded by secrecy and beyond the reach of law.”

Act as if the work of the presidency is a hardship while enjoying all the perks: The race for the White House is an expensive, grueling horse race: candidates must have at a minimum $200 or $300 million or more {24} just to get to the starting line. The total cost for this year’s election is estimated to exceed $5 billion and could go as high as $10 billion {25}. However, for the winner, life in the White House is an endless series of star-studded dinner parties, lavish vacations and perks the likes of which the average American will never enjoy. The grand prize winner will rake in a $400,000 annual salary (not including $100,000 a year for travel expenses, $19,000 for entertaining, $50,000 for “general” expenses and last but not least, $1,000,000 for “unanticipated” expenses {26}), live rent-free in a deluxe, six-storey, 55,000 square foot mansion that comes complete with its own movie theater and bowling alley {27}, round-the-clock staff, florists, valets and butlers. Upon leaving the White House, presidents are gifted with hefty pensions, paid staff and office space {28}, travel allowances and lifetime medical care. Ex-presidents can also expand upon their largesse by writing books and giving speeches (Bill Clinton was given a $15 million advance for his memoir {29} and routinely makes upwards of $100,000 per speech).

Clearly, it doesn’t matter where a candidate claims to stand on an issue as long as he or she is prepared to obey the dictates of the architects, movers and shakers, and shareholders of the police state once in office.

So here we are once again, preparing to embark upon yet another delusional, reassurance ritual of voting in order to sustain the illusion that we have a democratic republic when, in fact, what we have is a dictatorship without tears. Once again, we are left feeling helpless in the face of a well-funded, heavily armed propaganda machine that is busily spinning political webs with which the candidates can lure voters. And once again we are being urged to vote for the lesser of two evils.

Railing against a political choice that offers no real choice, gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson snarled,

 

How many more of these stinking, double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least twenty million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote for something, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?

 

Remember, the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Links:

{1} https://www.facebook.com/cindyleesheehan/posts/893631057429414

{2} http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/elections/candid.html

{3} http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy

{4} http://www.amazon.com/Battlefield-America-War-American-People/dp/1590793099

{5} http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/opinion/the-permanent-militarization-of-america.html

{6} http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/opinion/the-permanent-militarization-of-america.html

{7} https://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/04/01/19496/defense-contractor-employees-give-most-money-hillary-clinton

{8} http://time.com/4075458/afghanistan-drawdown-obama-troops/

{9} http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/05/contractors-385-billion-military-bases

{10} http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/05/29/the-new-unknown-soldiers-of-afghanistan-and-iraq/

{11} http://finance.yahoo.com/news/us-troops-headed-libya-bad-190500765.html

{12} http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/longroad/etc/arming.html

{13} http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/08/politics/amnesty-international-isis-weapons-u-s-/

{14} http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/05/23/obama-lifts-arms-export-embargo-vietnam/84766206/

{15} http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/many-americans-died-u-s-wars/

{16} http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34277960

{17} http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/the-obama-administrations-drone-strike-dissembling/473541/

{18} http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21651817-america-argues-anew-over-how-much-snooping-nsa-can-do-reviewing-surveillance-state

{19} http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/mass-surveillance-is-big-business-corporations-are-as-good-at-spying-as-governments

{20} http://fortune.com/2013/04/26/the-great-surveillance-boom/

{21} https://www.wired.com/2016/05/new-surveillance-system-let-cops-use-cameras/

{22} http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/08/healthcare-obamacare-middle-class-insurance-costs/5265431/

{23} http://www.democracynow.org/2013/2/7/brennan_and_kiriakou_drones_and_torture

{24} http://www.rawstory.com/2015/09/jimmy-carter-says-democracy-is-dead-you-need-at-least-200-million-to-run-for-president-of-us-oligarchy/

{25} http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/230318-the-5-billion-campaign

{26} http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/the-biggest/top-10-most-luxurious-perks-of-the-presidential-first-family/?view=all

{27} http://money.howstuffworks.com/5-presidential-perks.htm

{28} http://money.howstuffworks.com/5-presidential-perks.htm

{29} http://myfirstclasslife.com/hidden-financial-perks-united-states-president/?singlepage=1

_____

https://agovernmentofwolves.com/2016/05/23/what-it-takes-to-be-president-of-the-american-police-state-anti-big-money-anti-war-pro-constitution-freedom-loving-candidates-need-not-apply-by-john-w-whitehead/

Categories: Uncategorized

Retrotopia: A Distant Scent of Blood

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (May 18 2016)

This is the sixteenth installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator, having recovered from a bout of the flu, goes for a walk, meets someone he’s encountered before, and begins to understand why the Lakeland Republic took the path it did …

 

******

 

The next morning I felt pretty good, all things considered, and got up not too much later than usual. It was bright and clear, as nice an autumn day as you could ask for. I knew I had two days to make up and a lot of discussions and negotiations with the Lakeland Republic government still waited, but I’d been stuck in my room for two days and wanted to stretch my legs a bit before I headed back into another conference room at the Capitol. I compromised by calling Melanie Berger and arranging to meet with her and some other people from Meeker’s staff after lunch. That done, once I’d finished my morning routine, I headed down the stairs and out onto the street.

I didn’t have any particular destination in mind, just fresh air and a bit of exercise, and two or three random turns brought me within sight of the Capitol. That sent half a dozen trains of thought scurrying off in a bunch of directions, and one of them reminded me that I hadn’t seen a scrap of news for better than two days. Another couple of blocks and I got to Kaufer’s News, where the same scruffy-looking woman was sitting on the same wooden stool, surrounded by the same snowstorm of newspapers and magazines. I bought that day’s Toledo Blade, and since it was still way too early to put anything into my stomach, I crossed the street, found a park bench in front of the Capitol that had sunlight all over it, sat down and started reading.

There was plenty of news.  The president of Texas had just denounced the Confederacy for drilling for natural gas too close to the Texas border, and the Confederate government had issued the kind of curt response that might mean nothing and might mean trouble.  The latest word from the Antarctic melting season was worse than before; Wilkes Land had chucked up a huge jokulhlaup – yeah, I had to look the word up the first time I saw it, too; it means a flood of meltwater from underneath a glacier – that tore loose maybe two thousand square miles of ice and had half the southern Indian Ocean full of bergs.

There was another report out on the lithium crisis, from another bunch of experts who pointed out yet again that the world was going to run out of lithium for batteries in another half dozen years and all the alternatives were much more expensive; I knew better than to think that the report would get any more action than the last half dozen had.  Back home, meanwhile, the leaders of the Dem-Reps had a laundry list of demands for the new administration, most of which involved Montrose ditching her platform and adopting theirs instead.  There’d been no response from the Montrose transition team, which was probably just as well. I knew what Ellen would say to that and it wasn’t fit to print.

Still, the thing I read first was an article on the satellite situation. There was a squib on the front page about that, and a big article with illustrations on pages four and five. It was as bad as I’d feared. The weather satellite that got hit on Friday had thrown big chunks of itself all over, and two more satellites had already been hit.  The chain reaction was under way, and in a year or so putting a satellite into the midrange orbits would be a waste of money – a few days, a week at most, and some chunk of scrap metal will come whipping out of nowhere at twenty thousand miles an hour and turn your umpty-billion-yuan investment into a cloud of debris ready to share the love with anything else in orbit.

That reality was already hitting stock markets around the world – telecoms were plunging, and so was every other economic sector that depended too much on satellites. Most of the Chinese manufacturing sector was freaking out, too, because a lot of their exports go by way of the Indian Ocean, and satellite data’s the only thing that keeps container ships out of the way of icebergs. Economists were trying to rough out the probable hit to global GDP, and though estimates were all over the map, none of them was pretty.  The short version was that everybody was running around screaming.

Everybody outside the Lakeland Republic, that is. The satellite crisis was an academic concern there. I mean that literally; the paper quoted a professor of astronomy from Toledo University, a Dr Marjorie Vanich, about the work she and her grad students were doing on the mathematics of orbital collisions, and that was the only consequence the whole mess was having inside the Lakeland borders. I shook my head. Progress was going to win out eventually, I told myself, but the Republic’s retro policies certainly seemed to deflect a good many hassles in the short term.

I finished the first section, set down the paper. Sitting there in the sunlight of a clear autumn day, with a horsedrawn cab going clip-clop on the street in front of me, schoolchildren piling out of a streetcar and heading toward the Capitol for a field trip, pedestrians ducking into Kaufer’s News or the little hole-in-the-wall cafe half a block from it, and the green-and-blue Lakeland Republic flag flapping leisurely above the whole scene, all the crises and commotions in the newspaper I’d just read might as well have been on the far side of the Moon. For the first time I found myself wishing that the Lakeland Republic could find some way to survive over the long term after all.  The thought that there could be someplace on the planet where all those crises just didn’t matter much was really rather comforting.

I got up, stuck the paper into one of the big patch pockets of my trench coat, and started walking, going nowhere in particular. A clock on the corner of a nearby building told me I still had better than an hour to kill before lunch. I looked around, and decided to walk all the way around the Capitol, checking out the big green park that surrounded it and the businesses and government offices nearby. I thought of the Legislative Building back home in Philadelphia, with its walls of glass and metal and its perpetually leaky roof; I thought of the Presidential Mansion twelve blocks away, another ultramodern eyesore, where one set of movers hauling Bill Barfield’s stuff out would be crossing paths just then with another set of movers hauling Ellen Montrose’s stuff in; I thought of the huge bleak office blocks sprawling west and south from there, where people I knew were busy trying to figure out how to cope with a rising tide of challenges that didn’t look as though it was ever going to ebb.

I got to one end of the park, turned the corner. A little in from the far corner was what looked like a monument of some sort, a big slab of dark red stone up on end, with something written on it. Shrubs formed a rough ring around it, and a couple of trees looked on from nearby. I wondered what it was commemorating, started walking that way. When I got closer, I noticed that there was a ring of park benches inside the circle of shrubs, and one person sitting on one of the benches; it wasn’t until I was weaving through the gap between two shrubs that I realized it was the same Senator Mary Chenkin I’d met at the Atheist Assembly the previous Sunday. By the time I’d noticed that, she’d spotted me and got to her feet, and so I went over and did and said the polite thing, and we got to talking.

The writing on the monument didn’t enlighten me much. It had a date on it – 29 APRIL 2024 – and nothing else. I’d just about decided to ask Chenkin about it when she said, “I bet they didn’t brief you about this little memento of ours – and they probably should have, if you’re going to make any kind of sense of what we’ve done here in the Lakeland Republic. Do you have a few minutes?”

“Most of an hour”, I said. “If you’ve got the time – ”

“I should be at a committee meeting later on, but there should be plenty of time”. She waved me to the bench and then perched on the front of it, facing me.

“You probably know about DM-386 corn, Mr Carr”, she said. “The stuff that had genes from poisonous starfish spliced into it”.

“Yeah”. Ugly memories stirred.  “I would have had a kid brother if it wasn’t for that”.

“You and a lot of others”. She shook her head.  “Gemotek, the corporation that made it, used to have its regional headquarters right here”. She gestured across the park toward the Capitol. “A big silver glass and steel skyscraper complex, with a plaza facing this way.  It got torn down right after the war, the steel went to make rails for the Toledo streetcar system, and the site – well, you’ll understand a little further on why we chose to put our Capitol there.

“But it was 2020, as I recall, when Gemotek scientists held a press conference right here to announce that DM-386 was going to save the world from hunger”. Another shake of her head dismissed the words. “Did they plant much of it up where your family lived?”

“Not to speak of.  We were in what used to be upstate New York, and corn wasn’t a big crop.”

“Well, there you are. Here, we’re the buckle on the corn belt:  the old states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and across into Iowa and Nebraska. Gemotek marketed DM-386 heavily via exclusive contracts with local seed stores, and it was literally everywhere. They insisted it was safe, the government insisted it was safe, the experts said the same thing – but nobody bothered to test it on pregnant women.”

“I remember”, I said.

“And down here, it wasn’t just in the food supply.  The pollen had the toxin in it, and that was in the air every spring.  After the first year’s crop, what’s more, it got into the water table in a lot of places. So there were some counties where the live birth rate dropped by half over a two year period.”

She leaned toward me. “And here’s the thing. Gemotek kept insisting that it couldn’t possibly be their corn, and the government backed them. They brought in one highly paid expert after another to tell us that some new virus or other was causing the epidemic of stillbirths. It all sounded plausible, until you found out that the only countries in the world that had this supposed virus were countries that allowed DM-386 corn to cross their borders. The media wouldn’t mention that, and if you said something about it on the old internet, or any other public venue, Gemotek would slap you with a libel suit. They’d win, too – they had all the expert opinion on their side that money could buy. All the farmers and the other  people of the corn belt had on their side was unbiased epidemiology and too many dead infants.

“So by the fall and winter of 2023, the entire Midwest was a powderkeg. A lot of farmers stopped planting DM-386, even though Gemotek had a clause in the sales agreement that let them sue you for breach of contract if you did that. Seed stores that stocked it got burnt to the ground, and Gemotek sales staff who went out into farm country didn’t always come back. There were federal troops here by then – not just Homeland Security, also regular Army with tanks and helicopters they’d brought up from the South after the trouble in Knoxville and Chattanooga the year before – and you had armed bands of young people and military vets springing up all over the countryside. It was pretty bad.

“By April, it was pretty clear that next to nobody in the region was planting Gemotek seeds – not just DM-386, anything from that company. Farmers were letting their farms go fallow if they couldn’t get seed they thought was safe. That’s when Michael Yates, who was the CEO of Gemotek, said he was going to come to Toledo and talk some sense into the idiots who thought there was something wrong with his product. By all accounts, yes, that’s what he said.”

All of a sudden I remembered how the story ended, but didn’t say anything.

“So he came here – right where we’re sitting now.  The company made a big fuss in the media, put up a platform out in front of the building, put half a dozen security guards around it, and thought that would do the job. Yates was a celebrity CEO – ” Unexpectedly, she laughed. “That phrase sounds so strange nowadays. Still, there were a lot of them before the Second Civil War: flashy, outspoken, hungry for publicity. He was like that. He flew in, and came out here, and started mouthing the same canned talking points Gemotek flacks had been rehashing since the first wave of stillbirths hit the media.

“I think he even believed them.” She shrugged. “He wasn’t an epidemiologist or even a geneticist, just a glorified salesman who thought his big paycheck made him smarter than anyone else, and he lived the sort of bicoastal lifestyle the rich favored in those days.  If he’d ever set foot in the ‘flyover states’ before then, I never heard of it. But of course the crowd wasn’t having any of it. Something like nine thousand people showed up.  They were shouting at him, and he was trying to make himself heard, and somebody lunged for the platform and a security guard panicked and opened fire, and the crowd mobbed the platform. It was all over in maybe five minutes. As I recall, two of the guards survived. The other four were trampled and beaten to death, and nineteen people were shot – and Michael Yates was quite literally torn to shreds. There was hardly enough left of him to bury.

“So that’s what happened on April 29th 2024. The crowd scattered as soon as it was all over, before Homeland Security troops could get here from their barracks; the feds declared a state of emergency and shut Toledo down, and then two days later the riots started down in Birmingham and the National Guard units sent to stop them joined the rioters. Your historians probably say that that’s where and when the Second Civil War started, and they’re right – but this is where the seed that grew into the Lakeland Republic got planted.”

“Hell of a seed”, I said, for want of anything better.

“I won’t argue. But this – ”  Her gesture indicated the monument, and the shadow of a vanished building.  ” – this is a big part of why the whole Midwest went up like a rocket once the Birmingham riots turned serious, and why nothing the federal government did to get people to lay down their arms did a bit of good. Every family I knew back in those days had either lost a child or knew someone who had – but it wasn’t just that. There had been plenty of other cases where the old government put the financial interests of big corporations ahead of the welfare of its people – hundreds of them, really – but this thing was that one straw too many.

“And then, when the fighting was over, the constitutional convention was meeting, and people from the World Bank and the IMF flew in to offer us big loans for reconstruction, care to guess what one of their very first conditions was?”

I didn’t have to answer; she saw on my face that I knew the story. “Exactly, Mr Carr. The provisional government had already passed a law banning genetically modified organisms until adequate safety tests could be done, and the World Bank demanded that we repeal it.  To them it was just a trade barrier. Of course all of us in the provisional government knew perfectly well that if we agreed to that, we’d be facing Michael Yates’ fate in short order, so we called for a referendum.”

She shook her head, laughed reminiscently. “The World Bank people went ballistic. I had one of their economists with his face six inches from mine, shouting threats for fifteen minutes in half-coherent English without a break. But we held the referendum, the no vote came in at 89%, we told the IMF and the World Bank to pack their bags and go home, and the rest of our history unfolded as you’ve seen – and a lot of it was because of a pavement streaked with blood, right here.”

Something in her voice just then made me consider her face closely, and read something in her expression that I don’t think she’d intended me to see. “You were there, weren’t you?” I asked.

She glanced up at me, looked away, and after a long moment nodded.

A long moment passed. The clop-clop of a horsedrawn taxi came close, passed on into the distance.  “Here’s the thing”, she said finally.  “All of us who were alive then – well, those who didn’t help tear Michael Yates to pieces helped tear the United States of America to pieces.  It was the same in both cases:  people who had been hurt and deceived and cheated until they couldn’t bear it any longer, who finally lashed out in blind rage and then looked down and saw the blood on their hands.  After something like that, you have to come to terms with the fact that what’s done can never be undone, and try to figure out what you can do that will make it turn out to be worthwhile after all.”

She took a watch out of her purse, then, glanced at it, and said, “Oh dear. They’ve been waiting for me in the committee room for five minutes now. Thank you for listening, Mr Carr – will I see you at the Assembly next Sunday?”

“That’s the plan”, I told her. She got up, we made the usual polite noises, and she hurried away toward the Capitol. Maybe she was late for her meeting, and maybe she’d said more than she’d intended to say and wanted to end the conversation. I didn’t greatly care, as I wanted a little solitude myself just then.

I’d known about DM-386 corn, of course, and my family wasn’t the only one I knew that lost a kid to the fatal lung defects the starfish stuff caused if the mother got exposed to it in the wrong trimester. For that matter, plenty of other miracle products have turned out to have side effects nasty enough to rack up a fair-sized body count. No, it was thinking of the pleasant old lady I’d just been sitting with as a young woman with blood dripping from her hands.

Every nation starts that way. The Atlantic Republic certainly did – I knew people back home who’d been guerrillas in the Adirondacks and the Alleghenies, and they’d talk sometimes about things they’d seen and done that made my blood run cold.  The old United States got its start the same way, two and a half centuries further back. I knew that, but I hadn’t been thinking about it when I’d sat on the park bench musing about how calm the Lakeland Republic seemed in the middle of all the consternation outside its borders. It hadn’t occurred to me what had gone into making that calm happen.

The breeze whispering past the stone monument seemed just then to have a distant scent of blood on it. I turned and walked away.

_____

John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America – http://www.aoda.org – 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.

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.jp/2016/05/retrotopia-distant-scent-of-blood.html

Categories: Uncategorized

The “System” Won’t Survive the Robots

by Paul Rosenberg via FreemansPerspective.com {1}

Zero Hedge (May 25 2016)

It’s really just a matter of time; the working man’s deal with his overseers is half dead already. But there’s still inertia in the system, and even the losers are keeping the faith. Hope dies slowly, after all.

Nonetheless, the deal is collapsing and a new wave of robots will kill it altogether. Unless the overseers can pull back on technology – very fast and very hard – the deal that held through all our lifetimes will unwind.

We All Know the Deal

We usually don’t discuss what the “working man’s deal” is, but we know it just the same. It goes like this:

 

If you obey authority and support the system, you’ll be able to get a decent job. And if you work hard at your job, you’ll be able to buy a house and raise a small family.

 

This is what we were taught in school and on TV. It’s the deal our parents and grandparents clung to, and it’s even a fairly open deal. You can fight for the political faction of your choice {2} and you can hold any number of religious and secular alliances, just as long as you stay loyal to the system overall.

This deal has been glamorized in many ways, such as, “Our children will be better off than we are”, “home ownership for everyone”, and of course, “the American Dream”. Except that it isn’t working anymore, or at least it isn’t working well enough.

Among current twenty- and thirty-year-olds, only about half are able to grasp the deal’s promises. That half is working like crazy, putting up with malignant corporatism and trying to keep ahead of the curve. The other half is dejected and discouraged, taking student loans to chase degrees {3} (there’s more status in that than working at McDonald’s), or else they’re pacified with government handouts and distracted by Facebook.

The deal is plainly unavailable to about half of the young generation, but as I noted above, hope dies slowly and young people raised on promises are still waiting for the deal to kick in. It’s all they know.

Regardless, the deal has abandoned them. It has made them superfluous.

Here’s Why

Put very simply, the deal is dying because two things can no longer coexist:

1: New technology.

2: A system geared to old technology.

Let’s start with new technology: New machines and methods have made so many jobs obsolete that there aren’t enough to go around. {4} Both North America and Europe are already filled with the unemployed or underemployed children of industrial workers. But at the same time, we are suffering no shortages; we have an overflow of stuff and a double overload of inane ads trying to sell it all. And there’s something important to glean from this:

 

Where goods abound, additional jobs are not required.

 

We don’t need more workers. Machines are producing plenty of stuff for us, and this becomes truer every day.

Item 2 is the system itself; let’s confront that directly too: The system was designed to reap the incomes of industrial workers. Everything from withholding taxes to government schools was put in place to maximize the take from an industrial workforce. Whether purposely or simply by trial and error, the Western world was structured to keep industrial workers moving in a single direction and to reap from them as they went. Call it “efficient rulership” if you like, but the system is a reaping machine.

Technology, however, has advanced beyond the limits of this machine; it has eliminated too many jobs. At the same time, regulations make it almost impossible for the superfluous class to adapt. Nearly everything requires certification and starting a business is out of the question; fail to file a form you’ve never heard of and the IRS will skin you alive.

This system, however, will not change; the big corporations paid for the current regulatory regime, and they still own their congressmen.

Enter the Robots

You may have seen this image (it comes from NPR’s Planet Money {5}), but look again anyway.

I count 28 states in which “truck driver” is the most common job. As inexact as this map may be, it makes a point we can’t really ignore: What happens to all these truck drivers when self-driving trucks pile on to the roads? And you may count on it that they will; automated trucks will be safer and cheaper and will use less fuel. So, millions of truck drivers will be dropped out of the deal, and probably fairly soon.

On top of that, the very last refuge for the superfluous class – fast food – is experiencing its own robot invasion. Wendy’s just ordered 6,000 self-service ordering kiosks {6} to be installed in the second half of 2016, and KFC’s first automated restaurant {7} went live April 25.

Is there an Answer?

“The deal” is very clearly failing. At the same time, the system is utterly unwilling to change; the people in control are making too much money and hold too much power. The impoverishment of a hundred million people in flyover country won’t move them to give it up. Their system, after all, funnels the wealth of a continent to Washington, DC, in a steady stream … and they’ve bought access to that steam. The system will be defended.

So, forget about orderly reform. Certainly there will be talk of reform, and plenty of it … there will be promises, plans, and a small army of state intellectuals dedicated to keeping hope alive. But the system will not reform itself. Did Rome? Did Greece?

If there is to be an answer, it will have to come from the ‘superfluous’ people … but that discussion will have to wait for another day.

Don’t Blame the Robots

One last point: Don’t make the mistake of blaming technology for all of this. Technology is doing precisely what we want it to do: It’s killing scarcity. {8} And that’s a very, very good thing. Without technology, we all go back to low-tech farming. And if that possibility doesn’t alarm you, you really should try it for a month or two.

Technology is moving forward and should move forward. The death of scarcity is to be welcomed. Our problem is that we’re chained to an archaic hierarchy of dominance with a deeply entrenched skimming class. Either we get past it or we go back to serfdom … or worse.

Links:

{1} http://www.freemansperspective.com/system-wont-survive-robots/

{2} http://www.freemansperspective.com/not-support-candidate/

{3} http://www.freemansperspective.com/student-loan-debt/

{4} http://www.freemansperspective.com/never-be-enough-good-jobs-again/

{5} http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2015/02/05/382664837/map-the-most-common-job-in-every-state

{6} http://www.investors.com/politics/policy/wendys-serves-up-kiosks-as-wages-rise-hits-fast-food-group/

{7} http://www.dcclothesline.com/2016/05/08/robots-will-never-take-your-job-new-kfc-restaurant-run-entirely-by-robots-2/

{8} http://www.freemansperspective.com/actual-leader-say/

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-05-25/system-wont-survive-robots

Categories: Uncategorized

AI will create ‘useless class’ of human …

… predicts bestselling historian

Smarter artificial intelligence (“AI”) is one of 21st century’s most dire threats, writes Yuval Noah Harari in follow-up to Sapiens

by Ian Sample Science editor

The Guardian (May 20 2016)

An iCub robot learns how to play from a child. Photograph: Dr Patricia Shaw/EPSRC/PA

It is hard to miss the warnings. In the race to make computers more intelligent than us, humanity will summon a demon, bring forth the end of days, and code itself into oblivion. Instead of silicon assistants we’ll build silicon assassins.

The doomsday story of an evil AI has been told a thousand times. But our fate at the hand of clever cloggs robots may in fact be worse – to summon a class of eternally useless human beings.

At least that is the future predicted by Yuval Noah Harari, a lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, whose new book says more of us will be pushed out of employment by intelligent robots and on to the economic scrap heap.

Harari rose to prominence when his 2014 book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, became an international bestseller. Two years on, the book is still being talked about. Bill Gates asked Melinda to read it on holiday. It would spark great conversations around the dinner table, he told her. We know because he said so on his blog this week.

When a book is a hit, the publisher wants more. And so Harari has been busy. His next title, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, is not out until September but early copies have begun to circulate. Its cover states simply: “What made us sapiens will make us gods”. It follows on from where Sapiens ends, in a provocative, and certainly speculative, gallop through the hopes and dreams that will shape the future of the species.

And the nightmares. Because even as the book has humans gaining godlike powers, that is only one eventuality Harari explores. It might all go pear-shaped, of course: we sapiens have a knack for hashing things up. Instead of morphing into omnipotent, all-knowing masters of the universe, the human mob might end up jobless and aimless, whiling away our days off our nuts on drugs, with virtual reality (“VR”) headsets strapped to our faces. Welcome to the next revolution.

Harari calls it “the rise of the useless class” and ranks it as one of the most dire threats of the 21st century. In a nutshell, as artificial intelligence gets smarter, more humans are pushed out of the job market. No one knows what to study at college, because no one knows what skills learned at twenty will be relevant at forty. Before you know it, billions of people are useless, not through chance but by definition.

“I’m aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It’s basically the boy who cried wolf”, says Harari. “But in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time”.

The way Harari sees it, humans have two kinds of ability that make us useful: physical ones and cognitive ones. The Industrial Revolution may have led to machines that did away with humans in jobs needing strength and repetitive actions. But the takeover was not overwhelming. With cognitive powers that machines could not touch, humans were largely safe in their work. For how much longer, though? AIs are now beginning to outperform humans in the cognitive field. And while new types of jobs will certainly emerge, we cannot be sure, says Harari, that humans will do them better than AIs, computers and robots.

AIs do not need more intelligence than humans to transform the job market. They need only enough to do the task well. And that is not far off, Harari says.

 

Children alive today will face the consequences. Most of what people learn in school or in college will probably be irrelevant by the time they are forty or fifty. If they want to continue to have a job, and to understand the world, and be relevant to what is happening, people will have to reinvent themselves again and again, and faster and faster.

 

Even so, jobless humans are not useless humans. In the US alone, 93 million people do not have jobs, but they are still valued. Harari, it turns out, has a specific definition of useless. “I choose this very upsetting term, useless, to highlight the fact that we are talking about useless from the viewpoint of the economic and political system, not from a moral viewpoint”, he says. Modern political and economic structures were built on humans being useful to the state: most notably as workers and soldiers, Harari argues. With those roles taken on by machines, our political and economic systems will simply stop attaching much value to humans, he argues.

None of this puts us in the realm of the gods. In fact, it leads Harari to even more bleak predictions. Though the people may no longer provide for the state, the state may still provide for them. “What might be far more difficult is to provide people with meaning, a reason to get up in the morning”, Harari says. For those who don’t cheer at the prospect of a post-work world, satisfaction will be a commodity to pay for: our moods and happiness controlled by drugs; our excitement and emotional attachments found not in the world outside, but in immersive VR.

All of which leads to the question: what should we do? “First of all, take it very seriously”, Harari says.

 

And make it a part of the political agenda, not only the scientific agenda. This is something that shouldn’t be left to scientists and private corporations. They know a lot about the technical stuff, the engineering, but they don’t necessarily have the vision and the legitimacy to decide the future course of humankind.

 

View more:

* https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/20/silicon-assassins-condemn-humans-life-useless-artificial-intelligence

Read more:

* https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/11/sapiens-brief-history-humankind-yuval-noah-harari-review

* https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/jul/05/yuval-harari-sapiens-interview-age-of-cyborgs

 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/20/silicon-assassins-condemn-humans-life-useless-artificial-intelligence

Categories: Uncategorized