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Conspiracy Theory

by Paul Craig Roberts

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org (August 25 2017)

In the United States “conspiracy theory” is the name given to explanations that differ from those that serve the ruling oligarchy, the establishment, or whatever we want to call those who set and control the agendas and the explanations that support the agendas.

The explanations imposed on us by the ruling class are themselves conspiracy theories. Moreover, they are conspiracy theories designed to hide the real conspiracy that our rulers are operating.

For example, the official explanation of 9/11 is a conspiracy theory. Some Muslims, mainly Saudi Arabians, delivered the greatest humiliation to a superpower since David slew Goliath. They outsmarted all seventeen US intelligence agencies and those of Nato and Israel, the National Security Council, the Transportation Safety Administration, Air Traffic Control, and Dick Cheney, hijacked four US airliners on one morning, brought down three World Trade Center skyscrapers, destroyed that part of the Pentagon where research was underway into the missing $2.3 trillion, and caused the morons in Washington to blame Afghanistan instead of Saudi Arabia.

Clearly, the Saudia Arabians who humiliated Ameria were involved in a conspiracy to do so.

Is it a believable conspiracy?

The ability of a few young Muslim men to pull off such a feat is unbelievable. Such total failure of the US National Security State means that America was blindly vulnerable throughout the decades of Cold War with the Soviet Union. If such total failure of the National Security State had really occurred, the White House and Congress would have been screaming for an investigation. People would have been held accountable for the long chain of security failures that allowed the plot to succeed. Instead, no one was even reprimanded, and the White House resisted all efforts for an investigation for a year. Finally, to shut up the 9/11 families, a 9/11 Commission was convened. The commission duly wrote down the government’s story and that was the “investigation”.

Moreover, there is no evidence to support the official conspiracy theory of 9/11. Indeed, all known evidence contradicts the official conspiracy theory.

For example, it is a proven fact that Building 7 came down at freefall acceleration, which means it was wired for demolition. Why was it wired for demolition? There is no official answer to this question.

It is the known evidence provided by scientists, architects, engineers, pilots, and the first responders who were in the twin towers and personally experienced the numerous explosions that brought down the towers that is described as a conspiracy theory.

The CIA introduced the term “conspiracy theory” into public discourse as part of its action plan to discredit skeptics of the Warren Commission report on the assassination of President John F Kennedy. Any explanation other than the one handed down, which is contradicted by all known evidence, was debunked as a conspiracy theory.

Conspiracy theories are the backbone of US foreign policy. For example, the George W. Bush regime was active in a conspiracy against Iraq and Saddam Hussein. The Bush regime created fake evidence of Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction”, sold the false story to a gullible world and used it to destroy Iraq and murder its leader. Similarly, Gaddafi was a victim of an Obama/Hillary conspiracy to destroy Libya and murder Gaddafi. Assad of Syria and Iran were slated for the same treatment until the Russians intervened.

Currently, Washington is engaged in conspiracies against Russia, China, and Venezuela. Proclaiming a non-existent “Iranian threat”, Washington put US missiles on Russia’s border and used the “North Korean threat” to put missiles on China’s border. The democratically elected leader of Venezuela is said by Washington to be a dictator, and sanctions have been put on Venezuela to help the small Spanish elite through whom Washington has traditionally ruled South American countries pull off a coup and re-establish US control over Venezuela.

Everyone is a threat: Venezuela, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, tribes in Pakistan, Libya, Russia, China, North Korea, but never Washington. The greatest conspiracy theory of our time is that Americans are surrounded by foreign threats. We are not even safe from Venezuela.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NPR, and the rest of the presstitutes are quick to debunk as conspiracy theories all explanations that differ from the explanations of the ruling interests that the presstitutes serve.

Yet, as I write and for some nine months to date, the presstitute media has itself been promoting the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump was involved in a conspiracy with the president of Russia and Russian intelligence services to hack the US presidential election and place Trump, a Russian agent, in the White House.

This conspiracy theory has no evidence whatsoever. It doesn’t need evidence, because it serves the interests of the military/security complex, the Democratic Party, the neoconservatives, and permits the presstitutes to show slavish devotion to their masters. By endless repetition a lie becomes truth.

There is a conspiracy, and it is against the American people. Their jobs have been offshored in order to enrich the already rich. They have been forced into debt in a futile effort to maintain their living standards. Their effort to stem their decline by electing a president who spoke for them is being subverted before their eyes by an utterly corrupt media and ruling class.

Sooner or later it will dawn on them that there is nothing they can do but violently revolt. Most likely, by the time they reach this conclusion, it will be too late. Americans are very slow to escape from the false reality in which they live. Americans are a thoroughly brainwashed people who hold tightly to their false life within The Matrix.

For the gullible and naive who have been brainwashed into believing that any explanation that differs from the officially-blessed one is a conspiracy theory, there are available online long lists of government conspiracies that succeeded in deceiving the people in order that the governments could achieve agendas that the people would have rejected.

If liberty continues to exist on earth, it will not be in the Western world. It will be in Russia and China, countries that emerged out of the opposite and know the value of liberty, and it will be in those South American countries, such as Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia that fight for their sovereignty against American oppression.

Indeed, as historians unconcerned with their careers are beginning to write, the primary lesson in history is that governments deceive their peoples.

Everywhere in the Western world, government is a conspiracy against the people.

Copyright (c) 2016 PaulCraigRoberts.org. All rights reserved.

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2017/08/25/conspiracy-theory/

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The Rise of the Killer Robot

by Binoy Kampmark

CounterPunch (August 25 2017)

 

As companies building the technologies in artificial intelligence and robotics that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, we feel especially responsible in raising this alarm.

– Open Letter to the UN on Autonomous technology, August 2017

 

Melbourne.

Do you leave the gruesome task of killing, pulverising and maiming to robots? The US Defence Department (“DOD”) gave a portion of its report Unmanned Systems Safety Guide for DOD Acquisition (2007) to the possibility of designing functional unmanned weapons systems. Other defence departments, including the UK Ministry of Defence, also see the removal of the human element in the drone killing mechanism as a distinct possibility.

It is these points troubling those at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Melbourne, which opened with a letter authored and signed by 116 figures known for their prowess in the field of robotic and artificial intelligence. Among the penning luminaries were Elon Musk, taking time out from some of his more boyish endeavours to get serious. Serious, that is, about humanity.

Reading the words of the open note, oddly titled “An Open Letter to the United Nations Convention on Certain Chemical Weapons” (since when are conventions recipients?) is to be cast back into an aspirational idyll, thrown into archives of hope that humanity’s insatiable appetite for killing itself might be curbed:

Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought on a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. {1}

 

For the artificial intelligence sage Toby Walsh, a salient figure behind the note and the 2015 open letter which first urged the need to stop “killer robots”, such weapons were as revolutionary as any since the advent of nuclear weaponry {2}. Be aware of “stupid technologies” or, as he puts it, the stupid variant of artificial intelligence.

A central point to bringing robots into the old fray of battle is the notion that machines will be used to target other machines. It is the view of John Canning of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division. The people, in other words, are spared the misfortune of death – except the clever ones who wish to continue targeting each other – while “dumb” robots are themselves neutralised or destroyed by other, similarly disposed weapon systems.

Even more direct is Ronald Arkin, who insists that robots can better soldiers in the business of warfare at first instance while also being “more humane in the battlefield than humans”. The idea of a humane machine would surely be a misnomer, but not for Arkin, who contends that robotic platforms may well have the “ability to better adhere to the Laws of War than most soldiers possibly can” {3}.

Both Arkin and Canning are merely fumbling over notions already hit upon by Isaac Asimov in 1942. Robots, he outlined in a series of robot laws in the short story “Runaround” would not injure human beings, had to obey orders given by humans, except when in conflict with the first law, and had to protect their own existence, as long as neither conflicted with the first two laws. Giddy stuff indeed.

These are not points being cheered on by Musk and Company. At the beginning of an automated robotic creature is a potential human operator; and at its end, another human, with a moral and ethical dimension of such dire consequence that prohibition is the only safe choice.

The obvious point, seemingly missed by these figures, is that the nature of automated killing, the technological distance between the trigger puller and the destroyed target, is an inexorable process that continues the alienation of humans from the technology they use.

“We do not have long to act”, comes the cry. “Once this Pandora’s Box is opened, it will be hard to close”. But this box was prized open with each technological mastery, with each effort to design a more fiendishly murderous weapon. The only limit arguably in place with each discovery (chemical and bacteriological weapons; carpet bombing; nuclear weapons) was the not-so-reliable human agent ultimately behind using such weapons.

The elimination of pathos, the flesh and blood link between noble combatants, was already underway in the last days of George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. To win the battle, the machine imperative became irresistible. It was only a matter of time before the machine absorbed the human imperative, becoming its near sci-fi substitute.

Human stupidity – in the making and misuse of technologies – is a proven fact and will buck any legislative or regulatory trend. Some in the AI fraternity prefer to think about it in terms of what happens if the unscrupulous get hold of such things, that the line can be drawn underneath the inconceivably horrid. But even such a figure as technology investor Roger McNamee has to concede, “bad things are already happening” {4}.

Ultimately, it still takes human agency to create the lethal machinery, to imbue the industrial killing complex with its brutish character. For that very reason, there will be those who think that it is about time machines are given their go. Let the robots, in short, sort out the mess made by human agents. But taking humans out of the business of killing would be a form of self-inflicted neutering. Killing, for all its critics, remains a true human pursuit, the sort of fun some will resent surrendering to the machine.

Notes:

{1} https://www.dropbox.com/

{2} http://www.smh.com.au/

{3} https://www.cc.gatech.edu/

{4} https://www.cnbc.com/

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/08/25/the-rise-of-the-killer-robot/

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If Blockchains Ran the World

Disrupting the Trust Business

The trust business is little noticed but huge. Startups deploying blockchain technology threaten to disrupt it, and much else besides

http://worldif.economist.com (July 06 2017)


 

We like lists because we don’t want to die.

 

What Umberto Eco, an Italian writer, said about human beings applies even more to the institutions they create. Without lists that keep track of people and things, most big organisations would collapse.

Lists range from simple checklists to complex databases, but they all have one major drawback: we must trust their keepers. Administrators hold the power. They can doctor corporate accounts, delete titles from land registries, or add names to party rolls. To stop the keepers from going rogue, and catch them if they do, society has come to rely on all sorts of tools, from audits to supervisory boards. Together, list-keepers and those who watch them form one of the world’s biggest and least noticed industries, the trust business.

Now imagine a parallel universe in which lists have declared independence: they maintain themselves. This, broadly, is the promise of the “blockchain”, the system which underlies Bitcoin, a digital currency, and similar “distributed-ledger” technologies. If blockchains take over, as fans are sure they will, what are the implications of the trust business migrating into the ether?

It would not be the first time a novel form of list-making changed the world. More than 500 years ago a new accounting technique, later known as double-entry book-keeping, emerged in northern Italy. It was a big step in the development of the modern company and economy. Werner Sombart, a German sociologist who died in 1941, argued that double-entry book-keeping marked the birth of capitalism. It allowed people other than the owner of a business to keep track of its finances.

If double-entry book-keeping freed accounting from the merchant’s head, the blockchain frees it from the confines of an organisation. That is probably not what Satoshi Nakamoto, the still-elusive creator of bitcoin, had in mind when he set out on his endeavour. His aim was to create a “purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash”, as he put it in a “white paper” published in 2008. To do so, he created a new type of database, the blockchain. It provides proof of who owns what at any given moment. It contains the payment history of each Bitcoin in circulation; heavy-duty encryption makes it theoretically impossible to alter it once a transaction is registered; copies are spread around the computers, or “nodes”, that form the Bitcoin network so that anybody can check whether something is wrong. A “consensus mechanism”, a complex cryptographic process which replaces the list-keeper, turns the blockchain into an independent entity.

Clever minds quickly saw that such a set-up can be used for things other than money. Different sorts of self-sufficient lists now abound. Prominent among them is Ethereum. Like Bitcoin, it boasts its own cryptocurrency, called “ether”, but it also allows users to add “smart contracts”, code that encapsulates the terms of a business agreement and is executed automatically.

Decentralised Organisations Could Disrupt the Tech Giants

When Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar, wrote the first textbook on double-entry book-keeping in the late 15th century, he could not have foretold what the accounting technique would bring about. But today plenty of start-ups suggest ways that blockchains could change the world.

Everledger, for example, keeps track of valuable assets. The firm has registered the ID of more than one million diamonds, making it easier to check whether gems were stolen or mined in war zones.

Other firms want to help keep track of people. One of the first things done for a baby could be to give the newborn an entry in a blockchain, the crypto-equivalent of a birth certificate. This sounds Orwellian, but it does not have to be. On the contrary, if people’s identity is anchored in one or several blockchains, this would give them more control over it and their personal data. If a potential tenant, for example, wants to prove to a landlord that his income is high enough to pay the rent, he need only disclose that bit of information, instead of allowing access to his entire credit history, as is often the case today.

In a blockchain world, having such a “self-sovereign identity” may well be a fundamental human right. Moxie Marlinspike, an anarchist entrepreneur, and others have already called for the abolition of the “ID-slavery” imposed by current national registration systems. A slew of start-ups, including Evernym, Jolocom, and uPort, are working on services that will allow people to register identities.

Once people are able to manage their identity, other possibilities open up, says Kevin Werbach of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school. People will be able to band together in virtual countries and set their own rules. One such already exists: BITNATION. Anyone can become a citizen by accepting its constitution. To do business in BITNATION, people have to build up a reputation, for instance by trading on the platform.

Chain Reaction

This is also an example of the other big function of such ledgers: they can serve as a source of truth. All kinds of information could be attached to an entry in a blockchain. In the case of a car, say, that could be where it came from, the history of repairs, and even where it was driven. Taken together, these data would form the “truth” about a given vehicle.

Many people are already working on “truth services”. Researchers have proposed creating unique cryptographic identifiers, or “hashes”, of the descriptions of clinical trials and registering them in a blockchain, so they cannot be changed to fit desired results. Georgia, Sweden, and Ukraine are testing the technology as a way of digitising parts of their land registries. And Delaware, the American state which has made a big business out of registering companies from all over the world, is gearing up to allow blockchains for corporate record-keeping.

Transactions on a blockchain could also serve as input for smart contracts. Slock.it, another startup, is developing physical locks which have a digital existence on Ethereum. When it is sent some ether, this smart rental contract opens the lock. This could enable new ways of sharing things. If somebody wanted to rent a car, say, he could simply transfer money to its smart contract and drive away.

Smart contracts promise to change the economy more than any other feature of the blockchain. They could take over most routine business processes. Some companies could be no more than a bundle of smart contracts, forming true virtual firms that live only on a blockchain. Predictably, the first attempt to create such a “decentralised autonomous organisation” ended in disaster. Named “The DAO”, the entity was set up a year ago as a sort of virtual venture-capital fund. It raised more than $160 million, but then hackers siphoned off $60 million, leading to its demise.

Yet simpler versions of such structures, called initial coin offerings (“ICOs”), have since taken off – and created the first bubble of the blockchain economy. In an automated form of crowdfunding, start-ups set up a smart contract on Ethereum and publish a “white paper”, or prospectus. Investors can then send ether to the smart contract, which automatically creates “tokens” that can be traded like shares. More than $550 million has already been invested in ICOs.

Some of these projects are scams. And many honest ones leave outsiders baffled. EcoBit aims to build a market for carbon credits. Aragon wants to use blockchain tools to manage entire organisations, complete with decentralised arbitration courts. SONM is “a decentralised fog supercomputer”: users can either buy computing power with the project’s tokens or earn them by adding their machines to the pool.

Will the Centre Hold?

These efforts give a taste of what will be possible, says Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures (“USV”), a venture-capital firm. He thinks that such decentralised organisations could one day disrupt the tech giants. At their heart, he argues, those tech titans are gigantic centralised databases, keeping track of products and purchase histories (Amazon), users and their friends (Facebook), and web content and past search queries (Google). “Their value derives from the fact that they control the entire database and get to decide who sees which part of it and when”, he says.

USV has invested in decentralised alternatives, such as OpenBazaar, an e-commerce marketplace. Instead of visiting a website, users download a program that directly connects them to other people wanting to buy and sell goods and services. Others have started to build blockchain-based social networks that pay users who contribute content. Steemit is a blogging site that allows authors to earn tokens. Synereo lets users tip individual content-providers.

In a world run by blockchains, decentralisation could be pushed even further, to include objects. Once they have their own identity and can be controlled via a blockchain, it is possible to imagine them becoming, in a way, self-determining. A few years back, Mike Hearn, a former Bitcoin developer who now works for R3, a blockchain consortium, suggested the idea of self-driving cars which are also financially autonomous. Guided by smart contracts, they would stash away some of the digital money they make by ferrying people around, so as to pay for repairs or to replace themselves when repairs are no longer worthwhile. They would put themselves in long-term parking if not enough rides are to be had – or emigrate to another city. They could issue tokens to raise funds and to allow owners to get part of their profits.

If even objects control their own destiny, what is left for governments and the nation state to do? Plenty, it turns out. Despite libertarian dreams of complete decentralisation, in many cases, somebody still has to make sure that the information baked into a blockchain is actually true. In China, for example, regulators are part of a pilot project run by IBM and Walmart to make the retailer’s supply network more transparent, for instance by tracing the provenance of pork and organic food.

In some areas, the blockchain may even make life easier for governments. Last year Dubai announced that it wants all government documents secured on a blockchain by 2020, a prerequisite for agencies to become completely paperless. The technology could also be used as a cheap platform to generate what poor countries lack most: more efficient government and trust in contracts. And some hope that the blockchain could make the United Nations work better by helping it keep track of all its programmes, creating transparency, and reducing waste.

Another example, counter-intuitively, is money. Although the blockchain was created to replace them, central bankers have been interested in the technology from the beginning. When banks share a ledger, rather than keeping their information in separate databases, it will be simpler for regulators to observe financial flows. Several central banks are toying with the idea of issuing their own cryptocurrency; the Bank of Canada and the People’s Bank of China are running tests. If digital coins were to replace cash, this would open up new possibilities for monetary policy. To increase demand in an economic crisis, for instance, the coins could be programmed to lose some of their value if they are not spent within a certain time.

Warning: Blockchains Ahead

The technology today is nowhere near being able to support many of these applications. Such ledgers may not be as immutable as they seem, and blockchains have yet to show that they can scale up sufficiently (the Bitcoin system manages seven transactions per second, compared with thousands in a typical credit-card network). But if the history of digital technology is any guide, these barriers will be overcome.

A bigger issue is institutional resistance, as many blockchain enthusiasts are discovering the hard way. Corporate departments are not willing to give up control of their lists because it means a loss of power. In many cases, it is also not clear how much value blockchains actually add. Some centralised systems seem to be doing just fine. For now, conventional payment services appear more efficient than their decentralised counterparts.

Politics will also be a hurdle. The reason many champions of the technology display an almost religious excitement about blockchains is because they believe these replace messy decision-making with clean cryptographic code. But Bitcoin itself shows that even simple technical questions can turn into interminable fights between potential winners and losers. Even after years of discussion, those involved in Bitcoin have yet to agree on how to increase the system’s capacity.

This points to the biggest question of all. Should blockchains run the world? Warning voices are starting to be heard. If distributed ledgers indeed disrupt the trust business, then a lot of administrative jobs will be lost, perhaps even more than through artificial intelligence. Some have called blockchains a libertarian conspiracy. Others fret about a dismantling of institutions humans have painstakingly built. “Each time we use a distributed ledger we participate in a shift of power from central authorities to non-hierarchical and peer-to-peer structures”, researchers at the European Parliament wrote recently. Then there is the concern that hard, cold blockchains and contracts too smart for their own good will ossify society – or make it run amok.

As decentralised list-keeping grows stronger, the list of worries about it is sure to grow longer.

_____

This article appeared in the print edition under the headline “The long arm of the list”.

http://worldif.economist.com/article/13525/disrupting-trust-business

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Pardon Me!

High Crimes and Demeanors in the Age of Trump

Welcome to the Post-American World

by Tom Engelhardt

TomDispatch (August 17 2017)

Let me try to get this straight: from the moment the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 until recently just about every politician and mainstream pundit in America assured us that we were the planet’s indispensable nation, the only truly exceptional one on this small orb of ours.

We were the sole superpower, Earth’s hyperpower, its designated global sheriff, the architect of our planetary future. After five centuries of great power rivalries, in the wake of a two-superpower world that, amid the threat of nuclear annihilation, seemed to last forever and a day (even if it didn’t quite make it fifty years), the United States was the ultimate survivor, the victor of victors, the last of the last. It stood triumphantly at the end of history. In a lottery that had lasted since Europe’s wooden ships first broke out of a periphery of Eurasia and began to colonize much of the planet, the United States was the chosen one, the country that would leave every imperial world-maker from the Romans to the British in its shadow.

Who could doubt that this was now our world in a coming American century beyond compare?

And then, of course, came the attacks of 9/11. A mere $400,000 and nineteen suicidal hijackers (mostly Saudis) armed with box cutters and organized from Afghanistan, a country plunged into an Islamic version of the Middle Ages, had challenged the greatest power of all time. In the process, they would bring down iconic structures in what would soon be known to Americans as “the homeland”, while killing almost 3,000 innocent civilians, acts so shocking that they really did change the world.

Yet even then, a fervor for world-organizing triumphalism only took firmer hold in Washington. The top officials of President George W Bush’s administration almost instantly saw the 9/11 attacks as their very own “Pearl Harbor”, the twenty-first-century equivalent of the moment that had launched the US on the path to post-World War Two superpowerdom. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld instantly told his aides in the rubble of the Pentagon, “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” And indeed they would do just that, seizing the moment with alacrity and promptly launching the “Global War on Terror” – aka, among the cognoscenti, World War Four (the third, in their minds, having been the Cold War).

No simple “police action” against the modest al-Qaeda organization and Osama bin Laden would do (and those who suggested something so pathetically humble were to be laughed out of the room). At that moment, their newly launched “war” was to be aimed at no less than sixty countries. The world was to be swept clean of “terror” and the tool for doing so and for imposing Washington’s version of a world order on much of the planet would be the US military, a force like none ever seen before. It was, President Bush would claim, “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known”. It was, as both he and Barack Obama affirmed, as became gospel on both sides of the aisle in Washington (until Donald Trump arrived in the presidential race of 2016), “the finest fighting force” in history. It was so unquestionably powerful that no enemy could conceivably stand in its path. It would “liberate” not just Afghanistan, but Iraq, a country in the Middle Eastern oil heartlands that had nothing to do with either al-Qaeda or Islamic terror but had a ruler despised in Washington.

And that, mind you, would only be the beginning. Syria and Iran would undoubtedly follow and soon enough the Greater Middle East would be brought under the aegis of a Pax Americana. Meanwhile, globally, no country or even bloc of countries would be capable of rising to challenge the United States into the imaginable future. As Bush put it in a speech at West Point in 2002, “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace”. In that year, the US National Security Strategy similarly called for the country to “build and maintain” its military power “beyond challenge”.

What a soaring dream it all was! In response to the destruction of part of the Pentagon and those towers in New York City, a small group of top officials in Washington, long waiting for just such an opportunity, were determined to impose their version of order and democracy, military-first, on significant parts of the planet and no one would be capable of resisting. Not for long anyway.

Almost sixteen years later, you know how that dream of domination turned out, but to Washington’s power players at the time it all seemed so obvious. Except for a few retrograde Muslim rebels, it was clearly no one else’s planet but ours to organize as we wished. The Soviet Union was already an instant historical memory, its empire scattered to the winds, and Russia itself largely immiserated. The Chinese had a capitalist economy of no small means (even if run by a Communist Party), but as a military force, as a great power, they were anything but impressive. And if you looked at the rest of the world, there were no other potential great powers, no less superpowers, on any imaginable horizon.

Given the history of the Global War on Terror and of the stunning inability of the US military to impose Washington’s will, no less its planetary dreams, on more or less anyone, it took an awfully long time for such thinking to begin to die. And before it did, the political class, in a fervor of defensive exaggeration, began insisting in a mantra-like way on the “indispensability” and “exceptionality” of … well, us. It was as if the sense of decline most Americans had started feeling in their bones wasn’t happening. Of course, the constant invocation of the country’s singular specialness should itself have signaled just how wrong things were because when you’re truly indispensable and exceptional you don’t need to repeatedly say so (or even say it at all).

It took a reality TV star with a curious comb-over who had run a set of casinos into the ground to pick up a Reagan-era slogan, “Make America Great Again”, and bodysurf it into the White House. He did so in part on the widespread sense in the American heartland that, a quarter-century after the Soviet Union imploded, the US was indeed in decline, even heading for the exit at a creep, not a gallop. The “again” in that slogan was the telltale signal that the billionaire “businessman” (and classic American huckster) had an intuitive handle on an American world of failed war-making and raging inequality about which both his Republican opposition and his Democratic opponent in election 2016, all still priming the pump of indispensability and exceptionality, seemed clueless.

Who? Us?

Now, here we are on the planet the US was to dominate and run for an eternity with an embattled president surrounded by generals whose skills were honed in America’s losing wars of the twenty-first century. If you want a personal gauge of American decline, consider this: barely half a year into office, Donald J Trump is already threatening to launch a nuclear war and exploring whether he has the power not just to pardon aides, friends, and family, but himself in case of future convictions. With the previous decade and a half in mind, here’s a question for you: Pardon me, but even if he pardons himself, who’s going to pardon the rest of us?

I mean, am I wrong, or aren’t we living in the mess of a world the sole superpower had a major hand in creating and was, once upon a not-so-distant time, all too eager to take credit for? So I find it strange that no one who matters here seems to feel the slightest responsibility for the planet’s dismal state. All the politicians, power players, and pundits in Washington who wouldn’t have hesitated to take complete credit had the US achieved anything like its fantasy of a Pax Americana world, couldn’t be quicker these days to place the blame for what’s actually happened elsewhere.

You know the tale. When it comes to the world’s ills, it’s Vlad the Ukrainian Impaler, or Vlad the Hacker, who’s spoiled so much. Among other things, he had, we’re told, the temerity to mess with the sacrosanct electoral system of the most democratic country on the planet, a place so pure that its denizens had never heard of such a shocking act – except, of course, for the scores of times Washington did exactly that to other countries. (Who in the US these days even remembers “the first 9/11”?) The Russian president now gets much of the blame in Washington for the sorry mess of our world, from Eastern Europe and the unsettled Nato alliance to Syria. As for where the rest of the blame lands: it’s the Chinese, of course, who’ve had the nerve to flex their potential great-power muscles by bulking up their military, building “fake” islands in the South China Sea, and claiming parts of that body of water as their own, while not pressuring the North Koreans harder to stand down. It’s the Iranians who somehow are responsible for much of the mess in the Middle East, along with various jihadi successors and spin-offs from the original al-Qaeda. They take the rest of the blame for the world of chaos that continues to spread across the Greater Middle East, parts of Africa, and now the Philippines (not to mention the refugees fleeing embattled and desperate lands who are, we are regularly assured, threatening the continental US with disastrous harm).

I don’t mean to say that such a crew (refugees excepted) shouldn’t bear some of the blame for our disintegrating world, but just remind me: Wasn’t the Islamic State born in an American military prison in Iraq? Weren’t the Iranian theocrats, those Great-Satan haters, born in the grim crucible of the Shah’s rule (and that of his brutal secret police) after the CIA helped hatch a coup that overthrew the elected prime minister of that country in 1953? Didn’t Washington ignore promises made to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and others and do its damnedest to move Nato’s line of control into parts of the former Soviet empire and associated satellite states?

Didn’t the Bush administration lump North Korea with Iraq, a nation it was eager to invade, and Iran, another it planned to take down sooner or later, in the infamous “axis of evil”, even though the North Koreans had nothing to do with either of those countries? In the most public manner possible, in a State of the Union address to the nation, the American president linked all three of those countries to terrorism and evil in what was unmistakably a “regime change” package. (If you were eager to convince the North Korean leadership that possessing a nuclear arsenal was the only way to go, that certainly was a good start.) In the process, didn’t George W Bush and his officials functionally shred the Clinton-negotiated agreement by which the North Koreans had indeed frozen their nuclear program, in part by listing that country in its 2002 Nuclear Posture Review “as one of the states that might become the target of a preventive strike”?

And that’s just to begin to explore what it meant to be in the world of the sole superpower from 2001 to 2017. Remind me, for example, which country only recently announced its withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, the crucial global architecture for protecting the planetary environment, and so humanity’s future, from a grim kind of dismemberment?

Who’s Going to Sanction Us?

So here’s my next question: If you’re parceling out blame on this planet of ours, why just dump it on the “evil doers”? What about us? What about the sole superpower, its changing leadership, and the finest fighting force in the history of the universe? Don’t we have any responsibility for the situation we now face globally, from North Korea to the Greater Middle East, Ukraine to Venezuela? Didn’t the actions of America’s leaders and its national security state have anything to do with the world that called forth the Trumpian wave, which could now swamp so many ships of state? Maybe President Trump can indeed pardon himself (an issue being debated at the moment by constitutional scholars), but who pardoned everyone else who lent a hand, large or small, to the creation of what increasingly looks like a failed world?

Are there no high crimes and misdemeanors for which we Americans are responsible on a planet of the otherwise guilty?

Here’s one thing I think about sometimes on bleak nights. I’m sure you remember the way the Bush administration used fraudulent claims about weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs, as an excuse to launch an invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and occupy his country. In fact, there was indeed a weapon of mass destruction in Iraq and no one needed to search for it. I’m talking about the US military.

It was also a weapon of destructive creation. It cracked Iraq open, set Shia and Sunni at each others’ throats, loosed a grim process of religious “cleansing” there and across the region, and so provided fertile ground for the worst of the worst. Its “successful” invasion was the crucial factor in preparing the way for the birth of al-Qaeda in Iraq and then of the Islamic State in a country where no such organizations had previously existed.

In truth, in every land across the Greater Middle East and Africa where that US military has gotten involved in hostilities, from Libya to Iraq, Yemen to Afghanistan, it has left in its wake shaken or failed states, untold numbers of desperate refugees, and spreading terror movements. It has been a major player in a decade and a half of disaster that has helped destabilize significant parts of the planet. And yet when it comes to apportioning blame, the main people tarred with the disaster that’s been the war on terror are those who have been made into refugees in its wake, those who, we are told, would be a mortal danger to us, were we to welcome them here.

And while we’re at it, it might be worth mentioning one other weapon of mass destruction in our world: the rise to glory of the one percent and the widening inequality chasm that’s accompanied their successes. From Ronald Reagan’s presidency on, a series of administrations, Republican and Democratic, have presided over a country and a world growing ever more disastrously unequal, as the rich make staggering gains in income and wealth while the poor and working classes labor ever harder for, relatively speaking, ever less. Consider that but another story of devastation on what reputedly was once an American planet.

In such a global context, our Congress has been eager indeed to sanction the Russians, the Iranians, and the North Koreans for their roles in spreading misery, but who’s going to sanction us? Honestly, don’t you wonder how we got off the hook so easily for the world we swore that we alone would create? Isn’t the US responsible for anything? Doesn’t anyone even remember?

We now have a president with the strangest demeanor imaginable, a narcissistic bully spouting a kind of rhetoric that eerily echoes the bellicose threats of North Korea. However, like the spreading terror movements and failed states of the Greater Middle East, he should be seen as a spawn of the actions, programs, and dreams of the sole superpower in its self-proclaimed glory and of its plans for a military-enforced global Pax Americana. By the time he’s done, President Trump may be responsible for high crimes, including nuclear ones, of a sort that even impeachment wouldn’t cover and who, these days, could ever miss his demeanor?

Blame the evil doers for the devastation visiting this planet? Sure thing. But us? Not for a second.

And while you’re at it, welcome to the post-American world.

_____

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear (2011) as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture (2007). He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (2014).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two (2017), as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands (2016), and Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead (2016).

Copyright 2017 Tom Engelhardt

(c) 2017 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.

http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176319/

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There’s a Reason Why …

… Washington and London Won’t Quit the Business of Killing

by Vladimir Odintsov

New Eastern Outlook (August 25 2017)


The god of war is a greedy beast all right.

On August 23, a coalition of Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, carried yet another barbaric bombardment in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, which resulted in the death of at least 35 people.

On July 18, at least twenty civilians fell victims of a Saudi air strike in the Yemeni Taiz Governorate, as it’s been reported by the Daily Mail with a special reference to the United Nations.

Since the beginning of the civil war in Yemen in 2014, more than 10,000 civilians perished in the poorest country of the Arabian Peninsula, while another three million were displaced. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia unleashed an armed aggression against this state without any sort of approval from the UN, but with an extensive amount of military and political support coming from the United States and Britain. Such acts of aggression have for a long time been a trademark of Washington, but now its allies seem to be willing to follow in its footsteps. The Saudi coalition carries on air strikes against targets of the Houthis resistance to this very day, which results in massive civilian casualties, with hundreds of victims being added regularly to the rising death toll.

As a result of continuous attacks carried out by Saudi armed forces schools, hospitals, and other vital civil infrastructures are being routinely reduced to the ground, while electricity and drinking water supplies are getting increasingly scarce even in large cities. With the silent approval of Washington and London, the Saudi coalition is taking every effort to make sure that no Yemeni national survives this conflict, using tactics that can only be described as genocidal.

And the list of war crimes committed by the Saudi coalition is getting larger by the day largely due to the ever-growing flow of various weapons sold to Riyadh by the United States, Britain, and other Western powers. Today, the British and American arms manufactures receive fabulous profits from their indirect participation in the Yemeni military campaign.

Saudi Arabia alone in recent years received over a hundred billion dollars worth of arms from American military manufacturers, while Donald Trump pledged to carry on the business tactics pursued by his predecessors by signing a deal on the shipment of another 110 billion dollars worth of arms to Riyadh.

The latest annual report issued by the British Committee for Defense and Security shows that in 2016 alone the UK received six billion pounds from the sale of arms, with a half of this some coming from to the Middle East, where violent conflicts are raging. For more than ten consecutive years the UK remains the second largest arms supplier in the world after the United States.

At the same time, London keeps training pilots for the Saudi Air Force, the very people that would bomb Yemeni residential areas. The British Supreme Court, which usually defends “human rights”, did not even want to consider the formal appeal issued by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (“CAAT”), which had previously urged the kingdom to put an end to the supply of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

In turn, Amnesty International would accuse the United States and Britain of handing over weapons to Saudi Arabia for it to be able to carry on its aggression against Yemen since March 2015, delivering more than five billion dollars worth of weapons.

The fact that for London any armed conflict is a perfect opportunity to sell its weapons is vividly confirmed by the recently declassified documents of the National Archives of the United Kingdom showing, in particular, that the British government considered the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 to be an “unprecedented opportunity” to obtain super profits from the sale of weapons to the countries of the Persian Gulf . Back in the day, the UK’s Minister for Defence Procurement, Alan Clarke would use the exact same words in his letter to British Prime Minister of the time Margaret Thatcher, noting that this was an “unprecedented opportunity for DESO (the Department of Defense Export Administration)”.

As declassified documents show, “an unprecedented opportunity” for Clark was the expected response of the US and its allies to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the outbreak of military conflict in the region. The fact that wars have always been considered as a chance to sell more arms to other states has recently been confirmed by The Guardian.

Mind you that last May former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted that the US invasion of Iraq launched in 2003 had nothing in common with establishing democracy in this country, the goal was to overthrow Saddam Hussein and establish a pro-Washington regime in this country. This invasion would then result in a civil war that gave birth to ISIS.

From other declassified documents of 1983, it follows that Britain had no interest in stopping Iraqi production of chemical weapons, since British exporters were involved in this trade, according to the documents of the UK Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

So, if for residents of the Middle East wars mean death, poverty, and grief, Washington and London believe that wars are a perfect opportunity to get even richer at the expense of somebody else’s blood!

_____

Vladimir Odintsov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.

https://journal-neo.org/2017/08/25/there-s-a-reason-why-washington-and-london-won-t-quit-the-business-of-killing/

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Out of Control

The Washington War Making Machine

by Phil Butler

New Eastern Outlook (August 24 2017)


Do you trust Trump enough to allow him to start a nuclear war “on an assumption”?

The alleged Democratic National Committee (“DNC”) leaks and the so-called “Russiagate” are a hoax concocted to perpetuate crisis, and nothing more. Most people sense this, but cannot effectively argue with the massive propaganda machine drumming in every American ear. The most powerful country in the world is now a runaway war-making machine. Here’s a new and sentient look at the supposed Russian election meddling.

Washington is “off the reservation” since Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 race for president. The government of the United States is now making policy and law based on what groups of elites want, and not on what is best for the American people. Most of my friends in the US will not even argue this point. We’ve always known that politicians lie, only now have the lies threatened the foundations of liberty. Presenting no tangible evidence whatsoever to the American people, US legislatures ask the people to take on faith allegations that affect billions of people around the world. Corporate, government, and foreign interest corroborate without any shred of proof. If we had not overused the spooky “Big Brother is Watching” message these last few years, then this Orwellian reality could at least have a moniker. The sequence of recent events should have peaked our interest, but they have not. Trump goes to Europe and meets Putin. Immediately afterward Congress is whopped over the head {1} by the Israeli lobby (“AIPAC”) to draft and vote a law lumping Russia in with North Korea and Iran. All the while concrete evidence is withheld from the American people and contravening evidence is ignored. Some even say the presidency has been usurped, and the crisis machine stampedes onward. Russia’s Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev said:

Trump’s administration has demonstrated total impotence by surrendering its executive authority to Congress in the most humiliating way.

 

We should feel as if we are caught on a hamster wheel right now, but somehow the masses move on in numb apathy. The Nation reports on a group of former US intelligence officials saying the hack of the DNC’s computers in 2016 was an inside job, and the mainstream deconstructs. The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, or VIPS, said there was an insider leak that occurred thanks to someone with access to a DNC computer. Quoting author Patrick Lawrence:

The evolution of public discourse in the year since is worthy of scholarly study: Possibilities became allegations, and these became probabilities. Then the probabilities turned into certainties, and these evolved into what are now taken to be established truths. By my reckoning, it required a few days to a few weeks to advance from each of these stages to the next. This was accomplished via the indefensibly corrupt manipulations of language repeated incessantly in our leading media.

 

In short, we accepted the lies and the liars are further emboldened. What else do liars on a mission for themselves do? Authoritative discourse is being shunned in favor of wild speculation and malicious machination. Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi {2} characterizes {3} the whole Russiagate affair and the new Red Scare as “an ongoing freakout” for anyone truly in the know about Russia. His report unmasks the hysterical mind melt surrounding these issues citing people like former DNC chair Donna Brazile tweeting {4} this week, “The Communists are dictating the terms of the debate”. Excuse me, but are American’s really dumber than bread? “The Communists?” Taibbi’s story brings up the likes of Vladimir Potanin, Boris Berezovsky, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which in turn reveals the true motivations behind all the anti-Putin and anti-Russia narrative – financial skullduggery. And we all know it by now. Russiagate is just another part of the globalist battle plan for chipping away at mother Russia for her wealth. But back to cases with no evidence.

In the case against Russia, the world has on the one hand professional liars, AIPAC puppets, military industrial complex pawns, and the same military geniuses that swore Weapons of Mass Destruction existed in Iraq. This side has produced nothing but some drummed-up story that the Romanian hacker “Guccifer 2.0” hacked the election. On the other side there are researchers a plenty including William Binney, formerly the NSA’s technical director for world geopolitical and military analysis and designer of many agency programs now in use; Kirk Wiebe, formerly a senior analyst at the NSA’s SIGINT Automation Research Center; Edward Loomis, formerly technical director in the NSA’s Office of Signal Processing; and Ray McGovern, an intelligence analyst for nearly three decades and formerly chief of the CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch. The latter group, who are joined by the likes of Robert Parry and a cadre of independent investigative journalists, have presented compelling arguments that have never been addressed by Washington. For Parry’s part, this report contains all that is needed to understand the situation. I quote from the letter VIPS sent to President Trump, which was shared by Parry on Consortiumnews {5} concerning a request for proof sent to President Barack Obama:
Addressing this point at his last press conference (January 18), he described “the conclusions of the intelligence community” as “not conclusive”, even though the Intelligence Community Assessment of January 6 expressed “high confidence” that Russian intelligence “relayed material it acquired from the DNC … to WikiLeaks”.
Obviously, this was an effort by the outgoing president to excuse himself should proof against Russiagate be uncovered. In the letter to President Trump, the former spooks of VIPS also warn of CIA and NSA capabilities of astounding capability. Significant in this section of the letter, and from the WikiLeaks Vault 7 revelations, was something called Marble Framework, which is a digital development apparently suppressed by The New York Times and other media. The Marble Framework is a secret anti-forensic Marble Framework, which is basically an obfuscator or a packer used to hide the true source of CIA malware. So, what WikiLeaks revealed about Marble is essentially the CIA framework for framing the Russians or anyone for the agency’s own clandestine efforts. Short version, the CIA probably used Marble to implicate Putin and Russia and nobody in “owned media” broke the story properly. Furthermore, when the news did surface legislators ignored it just as if they were involved in the frame-up.

For the full story on the US intelligence community’s efforts and capability, this Hacker News {6} story provides a wealth of information. What significant here is the fact that Russia has been implicated with no substantial evidence, while there is a mountain of hard proof showing the US intelligence community (and perhaps even the executive branch) have hacked the truth worldwide. In a familiar “pot calling the kettle black” narrative, Washington seems caught on its own “rat wheel” that is spinning out of control. Unbridled Washington politicians would not be so devastating if their capability to destroy us all were not so apparent. I recall a Counterpunch article by Andrew Lavine about all this recently in which the author recollects just how freaky US intelligence operations can be. With regard to US hacking capability and willingness, Lavine recalls:

The best-known example occurred some ten years ago when the United States and Israel introduced the Stuxnet virus into Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, destroying roughly a fifth of that country’s nuclear centrifuges by causing them to spin out of control.

 

Nuclear facilities set to “critical” by the Americans at the behest of the Israelis? Like I said, America is a runaway war-making machine. And only Americans can stop it.

Links:

{1} https://journal-neo.org/2017/08/04/how-donald-trump-threw-peace-and-prosperity-under-an-aipac-bus/

{2} https://www.rollingstone.com/contributor/matt-taibbi

{3} https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/taibbi-what-does-russiagate-look-like-to-russians-w493462

{4} https://twitter.com/donnabrazile/status/887331637998096384

{5} https://consortiumnews.com/2017/07/24/intel-vets-challenge-russia-hack-evidence/

{6} https://thehackernews.com/2017/03/cia-marble-framework.html

_____

Phil Butler, is a policy investigator and analyst, a political scientist and expert on Eastern Europe, exclusively for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.

https://journal-neo.org/2017/08/24/out-of-control-the-washington-war-making-machine/

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Prepare for Negative Interest Rates …

… in the Next Recession, Says Top Economist


Harvard economics professor Ken Rogoff believes central banks will need to cut interest rates into negative territory in the next recession, as QE and forward guidance are not sufficiently powerful tools to boost the economy.CREDIT: ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

by Tim Wallace

The Telegraph (August 13 2017)

Negative interest rates will be needed in the next major recession or financial crisis, and central banks should do more to prepare the ground for such policies, according to leading economist Kenneth Rogoff.

Quantitative easing is not as effective a tonic as cutting rates to below zero, he believes. Central banks around the world turned to money creation in the credit crunch to stimulate the economy when interest rates were already at rock bottom.

In a new paper published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives the professor of economics at Harvard ­University argues that central banks should start preparing now to find ways to cut rates to below zero so they are not caught out when the next ­recession strikes.

Traditionally economists have assumed that cutting rates into negative territory would risk pushing savers to take their money out of banks and stuff the cash – metaphorically or possibly literally – under their mattress. As electronic transfers become the standard way of paying for purchases, Mr Rogoff believes this is a diminishing risk.

“It makes sense not to wait until the next financial crisis to develop plans and, in any event, it is time for economists to stop pretending that implementing effective negative rates is as difficult today as it seemed in Keynes’ time”, he said.

“The growth of electronic payment systems and the increasing marginalization of cash in legal transactions creates a much smoother path to negative rate policy today than even two decades ago”.

Countries can scrap larger denomination notes to reduce the likelihood of cash being held in substantial quantities, he suggests. This is also a potentially practical idea because cash tends now to be used largely for only small transactions. And enforcement officials may also back the idea to cut down on money laundering and tax evasion.

The key consequence from an ­economic point of view is that forcing savers to keep cash in an electronic ­format would make it easier to levy a negative interest rate.

“With today’s ultra-low policy interest rates – inching up in the United States and still slightly negative in the euro zone and Japan – it is sobering to ask what major central banks will do should another major prolonged global recession come anytime soon”, he said, noting that the US Federal Reserve (“Fed”) cut rates by an average of 5.5 percentage points in the nine recessions since the mid-1950s, something which is impossible at the current low rate of interest, unless negative rates become an option.

That would be substantially better than trying to use QE or forward guidance as central bankers have attempted in recent years.

“Alternative monetary policy instruments such as forward guidance and quantitative easing offer some theoretical promise for addressing the zero bound”, he said, in the paper which is titled “Dealing with Monetary Paralysis at the Zero Bound”.

“But these policies have now been deployed for some years – in the case of Japan, for more than two decades – and at least so far, they have not convincingly shown an ability to decisively overcome the problems posed by the zero bound”.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/08/13/prepare-negative-interest-rates-next-recession-says-top-economist/

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