Is Bitcoin a Reaction to US Dollar Hegemony?

by Federico Pieraccini

Strategic Culture Foundation (January 17 2018)

Blockchain technology and the birth of the so-called cryptocurrencies finds deep roots in three contributing factors: the advance of technology: the manipulation of global economic and financial rules; and the persistent attempt to weaken the national economies of countries that geopolitically challenge the US power system. In this first article, I address these issues from a financial point of view, in the next analysis, I intend to dive into the geopolitical aspects and broaden the perspective on how Russia, China, and other nations are taking advantage of a decentralized financial system.

Many national economies seem to have begun the process of protecting themselves from what seems like an inevitable economic trend. De-dollarization – dumping dollars for other goods of value – has become popular not only with countries but also with ordinary individuals as a result of global technological growth and increasing access to the Internet. The financial markets are generally reflecting this same trend.

The US dollar is the world’s most dominant reserve currency. The planning and financial rules that accompany this situation are decided in the United States for the benefit of Washington and a few of her allies. This has been reflected in the creation of the petrodollar, the abolition of the gold standard, and the most recent financial crisis of 2008, with the senseless process of quantitative easing. All these economic decisions have been made with the precise aim of prolonging American domination of the global economy, artificially propping up an unsustainable financial system.

The practical consequences of this unsustainability have led over time to thoughts of a practical alternative, both to escape from the domination of the dollar and to re-anchor the economy to real value. The need to circumvent this situation has become especially urgent for countries with a large amount of dollar-denominated debt, or where they face the prospect of being excluded from the SWIFT international payment system.

It is therefore not accidental that countries like Iran and Venezuela, but also Russia and North Korea, have resorted to alternative methods to operate in the global economic space. Washington’s political decision in 2012 to remove Iranian banks from SWIFT immediately set off alarm bells for several countries. The need to escape from the possibility of being excluded from SWIFT became urgent for countries under the threat of Washington. An alternative payment system was thus born in 2015, christened the Cross-Border Interbank Payments System (“CIPS“), unsurprising founded by China. Basically a copy of the SWIFT system, it serves the role of being a backup system should the Americans seek to exclude from SWIFT recalcitrant countries. A more radical solution has been sought by Venezuela, with the country creating its own virtual currency. President Maduro has announced the creation of a crypto state currency based on the value of oil and supported by barrels of oil worth over five billion dollars. Venezuela has been forced to take this step because of a scarcity of US dollars in the country brought on by the economic warfare visited on it by Washington, which has succeeded in driving the country into a deep crisis.

This search for fresh liquidity is a gamble for Maduro, who even hopes to be able to trade with allied countries in the new currency, thus circumventing international bans. Even North Korea is said to operate in bitcoin, thereby circumventing the international system of prohibitions and blockades.

The sanctions on Russia, and the influence that Washington exerts with the dollar on the global economic system, has led Moscow and Beijing to a de-dollarization agreement, establishing the yuan gold standard. Russia sells hydrocarbons to China, which pays for them in yuan, then Russia immediately converts the yuan into gold at the Shanghai Gold Exchange, in the process bypassing Washington’s sanctions.

This situation is being replicated in country after country. The United States increases financial and economic pressure on countries through such international bodies as the IMF and the World Bank, then these countries organize amongst themselves to push back against the interference. Technology has facilitated this strategy of decentralization against the center that is London and Washington, the financial heart and primary cause of manifold global problems. Firstly, the possibility of the unlimited printing of dollars has distorted global economies, inflating stock markets and causing national debts to grow out of control. Even the gold markets are manipulated by virtue of the abundance of easy money and such Ponzi-scheme tools as derivatives and other forms of financial leverage. All too predictably, as seen in 2008, if it all comes crashing down, the central banks are going to bail out their partners through the mechanism of quantitative easing, guaranteeing unlimited cash flow and leaving taxpayers, along with the small players in the financial markets, to carry the burden.

It is probably too early for the common man to understand what is happening, but in fact, the dollar is depreciating in relation to some more tangible assets. But gold continues to be corralled by parallel financial mechanisms and other financial instruments created for the sole purpose of manipulating the financial markets on which the common man depends in search of modest gains. As with others, the gold market suffers from the combined power of the US dollar, centralized financial institutions, and market manipulation. Entities such as the US Federal Reserve (and its owners), criminally colluding and working with private banks, hedge funds, rating agencies, and audit companies, have made immense wealth by driving the world into a debt scam that has stripped normal citizens of their future.

What is happening in the cryptocurrency markets in not only occurring in parallel with the spread of the Internet, smartphones, and the increasing ability to operate in the digital world, but is also seen as a safe haven from centralized financial regulators and central banks; in other words, from the dollar and fiat currencies in general. Whether Bitcoin will prove to be a wise long-term investment is yet to be seen, but the concept of cryptocurrencies is here to stay. The technology behind the idea, the blockchain, is a definitive model for decentralized economic transactions without any intermediary that can manipulate and distort the market at will. It is the antidote to the debt virus that is killing our society and spreading chaos around the world.

Washington is now left to deal with the consequences of its demented actions against its geopolitical adversaries. The decision to remove Iran from the SWIFT system, and the ongoing economic war against Russia and Venezuela, have pushed the People’s Republic of China to obviate any direct attacks on its financial system by creating an alternative economic system. The goal is to warn the United States and her allies that an economic alternative exists and is already operational, ready to oppose the Euro-American system if necessary. Washington does not seem to want to renounce the role of manipulator and ruler of world speculative finance, and the obvious result of this is the creation of a financial system that is slowly working against the current one. Lack of anonymity and the centrality of systems seem to be the two fundamental elements of the current financial system that orbits around London and Washington. An anonymous, decentralized, and technologically reliable system could be exactly what Washington’s geopolitical adversaries have been looking for to end the US-Dollar hegemony.


Republishing is welcomed with reference to Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal

Will China BRI Cause East-West Rupture in EU?

by F William Engdahl

New Eastern Outlook (January 29 2018)

On 27 November Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, already at odds with the unelected bureaucrats of the European Union over his insistence on the right to decide whether Brussels or nationally elected governments shall be allowed to become citizens in Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis, waved another red flag, this potentially a future game-changer for the EU as it exists today. Orban hosted the 6th annual meeting of the China-Central and Eastern European Countries (“CEEC“) “16+1” summit in Budapest with China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang. The event got barely a mention in western mainstream media despite the fact that it may have set the seeds for a divide within the EU within the coming months between a French-German-dominated federal EU run by Brussels and a more free, nation-based EU on the model of Hungary, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, and other east members of the EU.

In his opening keynote speech, Hungary’s Viktor Orban noted that Europe’s most competitive investment environment has come into being in Central and Eastern Europe. Noting that not too long ago Asia depended on the west for investment in modernization, that today, “the star of the East is now in the ascendant”, and we live in an era marked by the rise of Asia – and within it China. “We are at the beginning of a period in which the further development of Europe will be dependent on the technological and financial involvement of the East”.

Orban stressed the summit was not against the EU. He stressed that the “16+1” format not only serves the best interests of China and the sixteen Central and Eastern European countries, but also the whole of Europe and the European Union. He then announced Hungary would begin public procurement tender for upgrading the Budapest-Belgrade railway line – including funding from China. The cost of the project is 2.4 billion euros, with 85% to be provided by Export-Import Bank of China. The project is the first European project involving an EU member, Hungary, a non-EU member Serbia, and China. It will create a major modern freight route to Western Europe through Central Europe. Strangely enough, this is not being greeted with joy in Brussels, rather the opposite.

The China-CEEC or 16+1 annual summit was launched in 2012 before formal inauguration of the Belt, Road Initiative (“BRI“) by China in late 2013. Until this year it had little to present in terms of results. It served as a vehicle for China and the countries of Central and East Europe, the newest EU member states as well as applicant non-members to exchange information but little concrete. The BRI developments over the past year are beginning to radically change that.

In his speech to the summit, Prime Minister Li Keqiang proposed more rail lines be launched by China Railway Express and more direct flights between China and Europe. He declared that China would like to set up a logistics center in the CEE region, likely in Hungary, a main China investment focus to date. He also announced the establishment of China-CEEC Inter-Bank Association and the second phase of China-CEEC Investment Cooperation Fund. The China Development Bank will provide funds equivalent to two billion euros ($2.4 billion) through development-oriented loans to the China-CEEC Inter-Bank Association, which was officially established at the summit, Li said. And he announced that the second phase of the China-Central and Eastern Europe Investment Cooperation Fund, totaling $1 billion, will be mainly spent in the sixteen European countries. Li noted the strong growth of agriculture imports from the region to China, rising by fourteen percent this year. Then he called for a feasibility study on extending to Austria a railway line linking the Greek port of Piraeus with Budapest.

Since 2012 China investment in the sixteen countries rose by 300% from $3 billion to over 9 billion US dollars.

One-on-One Economic Diplomacy

The focus on the countries of Eastern and Central Europe by Beijing is a result of the ice-cold response to date of the EU in Brussels and especially by the German and French governments. For them, China’s Belt, Road Initiative, sometimes called the New Silk Road, is a threat to their domination of the EU. The recent railroad by the decision of the German Agriculture Minister, to grant a new five-year approval for the toxic glyphosate against the wishes of the majority of EU states is but an example of the heavy-handed Brussels methods, becoming more rigid as the resistance against heavy-handed Brussels refugee policies and countless other issues grows.

The sixteen countries in the China-CEC group after the latest meeting all have formally signed on to participate in the China BRI on a one-by-one basis. The countries include Poland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia, Albania, and Bulgaria.

Greece, not formally a member of the 16+1 is already a major infrastructure focus of Chinese state investment in the EU. While Brussels and especially Germany offer Greece only more savage austerity demands since the Greek crisis in 2010, China offers investment. China has invested more than $500 million in the privatized Greek Port of Piraeus using the state shipping group, COSCO, turning it into the busiest Mediterranean port today. China has been operator of the Piraeus Port since 2008 and this April bought 67% ownership for $8 billion to the Greek government including the $500 million for modernization. The China Piraeus Port will serve as the gateway for Chinese seaborne freight into the EU, China’s largest trade partner. Now with the agreement by Hungary to complete the Belgrade-Budapest rail link, the trade flows could become major for both China and EU countries of the CEE.

Greece took part in the founding meeting in May 2017 of the Belt, Road Initiative and signed major economic agreements with Beijing.

EU Begins Counter-Offensive

Rather than greet the Chinese investment in the ailing economies of Eastern and Central Europe, the Brussels EU Commission, dominated by Germany, is preparing to pass strict new investment rules. In September EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, one who owes his job to Germany’s Angela Merkel, announced a proposal for a new EU rule to centrally control foreign investments into EU member states, another attempt to rob what little remains of member national sovereignty over their national economic development. The Juncker proposal, titled “Investment Screening”, if passed by member states, would require special scrutiny and approval from Brussels when a foreign state-owned enterprise wants to invest in EU ports, energy infrastructure, or defense industries. Germany, France, and Italy immediately praised the Juncker proposal. Here we see the fault lines that will only become more obvious as EU economic strains grow in coming months.

Austria could play a determining role in such a shift. In October the conservative Austrian People’s Party (“OVP“) won a victory making Sebastian Kurz prospective Chancellor in a coalition with the euro-skeptic, anti-refugee Freedom Party (FPO). Hungary’s Orban has welcomed Kurz as a “close ally”. For the Austrian economy, to orient towards the neighboring countries of Eastern Europe, especially Hungary now that the two are closer on resisting forced refugee policies and other heavy-handed moves of Brussels, could initiate a major tectonic shift in the political weight inside the EU.

For Austria the cooperation with China’s Belt, Road Initiative makes huge sense. For Austria, engagement with China and the BRI is clear given the country’s strong economic relations with Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans. The countries of CEEC have major infrastructure deficits and Austrian industry could play a constructive partner role to the Chinese investment, what the Chinese like to call win-win. Clearly, the present direction of the German-French-domination of the EU cannot continue as it has. The fault lines are too great.

The Danish Saxo Bank head of macro-analysis, Christopher Dembik, in a recent assessment of these growing fault lines predicts:

The divide between old core EU members and the more skeptical and newer members of the bloc will widen to an impassable chasm in 2018 and will shift the center of gravity from the Franco-German axis to Visegrad-and-friends (Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia).


Dembik suggests that the French Macron “EU reform” plans to integrate further and create a joint treasury and a common defense budget, more top-down rule, will push the countries of the CEEC, and likely Austria and also Italy to create a new coalition of thirteen EU countries to form a blocking minority at the European Council within the EU states that will push the EU to abandon the disruptive German refugee policies and austerity in favor of economic stimulus. That indeed would be a refreshing change for millions of Europeans. An outrageous prediction? Perhaps not so unlikely at present.


F William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.

America’s Syrian Humiliation …

… is worse than it looks

Turkey’s attack on US-backed Kurds this week comes as a new set of economic relationships emerges to bankroll Ankara’s regional ambitions

by David P Goldman

Asia Times (January 26 2018)

Turkey’s “Olive Branch” incursion against Kurdish positions in Northern Syria this week looked bad for Washington. It’s worse than it looks: Turkey cemented a new set of strategic and economic relationships after defying the United States, its erstwhile main ally. Ankara now has financial backing from China and Qatar and the strategic acquiescence of Russia and Iran. Most of all, it has the financial backing to pursue its regional ambitions.

Turkey reportedly killed several hundred Kurdish and allied Arab fighters this week, reducing an American-supported force that had done most of the fighting against ISIS in Syria. US-Turkish relations are at an all-time nadir, but Turkey’s financial markets remain unruffled. Washington has hard words for Turkey, but no sticks and stones.

Money is the decisive variable for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose domestic position depends on his ability to hand out economic benefits in the traditional style of third-world dictators. During 2016, Erdogan spurred Turkish banks to increase their lending to business and consumers, and set in motion a credit boom that inevitably led to a bigger trade deficit.

Import booms driven by credit-fueled demand have been the undoing of Turkish markets in the past. This time is different. Turkish stocks have risen during the past month, right through the week of the “Olive Branch” offensive, and the cost of hedging the Turkish currency’s exchange rate has remained relatively low. The US-traded Turkish equity exchange-traded fund (“ETF“), TUR, has climbed back to just below its high point of last August, while the cost of options on the Turkish lira (or implied volatility) remains at the low end of the range.

The correlation of forces, as the defunct Soviet Union liked to call it, has shifted since last August, when the US and Turkey entered a diplomatic standoff over two relatively minor issues. Turkey arrested a Turkish national employed by America’s embassy in Ankara, and the US suspended the issuance of entry visas to Turkish citizens in retaliation. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in New York tried and convicted a vice-chairman of Turkey’s Halkbank with close ties to the Erdogan government. Turkish stocks plunged and the cost of currency hedging jumped in response.

With the attack on the American-allied Kurdish YPG militia in the northern town of Afrin last week, Turkey undertook a major military action in open defiance of Washington, and the markets didn’t notice. On the contrary, Turkish stocks rallied right through the offensive. Money is Erdogan’s scarcest strategic resource, and the continued flow of capital into Turkish markets is an important gauge of Turkey’s power.

On January 24, Donald Trump used the harshest language that a US president has ever directed against a Nato ally, expressing “concern about destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey, and about United States citizens and local employees detained under the prolonged State of Emergency in Turkey”, and warning Turkey “to de-escalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees”. Turkish stocks were unchanged.

In the background to the Syrian incursion, Turkey flaunted its ties to its most important sources of money, namely Qatar and China. Qatar is the largest foreign investor in Turkey with more than $20 billion in commitments, with another $19 billion in the pipeline for 2018. Meanwhile, Turkey has become the guarantor of the Qatari royal family’s security, with a new military base in the tiny country. Turkey backed Qatar during last year’s Gulf States boycott, airlifting food after Saudi Arabia closed its border.

Qatar meanwhile has started to buy large quantities of Chinese arms, especially missiles that could be directed against Saudi Arabia, and has brought People’s Liberation Army personnel to train its armed forces, a relationship put on display at a December military parade in the Qatari capital of Doha. That is noteworthy given the presence of America’s largest air force installation in the region, the Al Udeid Air Base, the principal US hub for US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Turkey meanwhile has reached a strategic accommodation with Russia over the future division of Syria: Turkey will abandon Sunni rebels whom it supported in the past in return for Russia’s forbearance while Turkey reduces Kurdish forces friendly to the United States. According to a January 22 TASS press summary, Kirill Semenov, the head of the Islamic Research Center of the Institute of Innovative Development, explained:

Turkey’s operation in Afrin could have only happened as a result of agreements with the Russian side, particularly taking into account the fact that the Turkish air force used the Syrian airspace.

Moscow’s permission should have been obtained to avoid incidents. Moscow had no commitments to the Kurds. The fact that the Russian military deployed observers in the area of Afrin earlier was a move for a further bargain with Ankara. Back then Turkey’s operation was not beneficial for Moscow, while now it can fault the United States for funneling weapons to the Kurds, turning them into an instrument of the American influence.


China’s One Belt, One Road project acts like a magnetic field on the region: All of the players are lining up towards China, where Turkey and Iran see their economic future. China’s direct investment in Turkey remains relatively small, but Turkey will be a key node in China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. China is building new railway links to Turkey via Iran, and the Bank of China is financing infrastructure projects inside Turkey. China’s second-largest telecom equipment provider ZTE plans to make Turkey its regional technology hub.

Police Shoot More Than Twice …

… as Many Americans as Previously Understood

VICE News (December 20 2017)


Until now, there has never been a national reckoning of police shootings that includes Americans who are shot by cops and survive.

Police shoot far more people than anyone realized, a VICE News investigation reveals.

An exclusive analysis of data from the fifty largest local police departments in the United States shows that police shoot Americans more than twice as often as previously known.

Police shootings aren’t just undercounted – police in these departments shoot black people at a higher rate and shoot unarmed people far more often than any data has shown. Recent reform efforts have already worked to bring down police shootings, our investigation shows. Yet Attorney General Jeff Sessions is moving away from these reforms, to the dismay of advocates, experts, and some local law enforcement officials.

VICE News examined both fatal and nonfatal incidents to determine that cops in the fifty largest local departments shot at least 3,631 people from 2010 through 2016. That’s more than 500 people a year. On more than 700 other occasions, police fired at citizens and missed. Two-thirds of the people cops fired at survived.

In Los Angeles, an officer shot a thirteen-year-old boy playing with a replica gun, leaving him paralyzed. In Philadelphia, an off-duty cop shot his own son. Officers in Baltimore killed an off-duty colleague and struck three women with errant bullets while responding to a fight outside a nightclub. A cop in Seattle accidentally shot a teenage girl in the leg while drawing his gun; the teen was promptly arrested and jailed on an outstanding warrant.

Police shootings on the whole are rare, but experts say nonfatal shootings are just as important to understanding police violence as fatal encounters are.

“We should know about how often it happens, if for no other reason than to simply understand the phenomenon”, said David Klinger, a former Los Angeles police officer and a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis. “How often is it that police are putting bullets in people’s bodies or trying to put bullets in people’s bodies?”

After the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and other high-profile cases where police shot and killed unarmed black men, The Washington Post and The Guardian began keeping a running tally of fatal incidents. Then-FBI Director James Comey called the lack of federal data on police killings “embarrassing” and committed the agency to a new initiative to collect statistics from police departments. A handful of state and local agencies also made their data public. The Tampa Bay Times and the Texas Tribune counted all police shootings in Florida and the major cities in Texas.

But just 35 police departments participate in the federal initiative today, out of 18,000 US law enforcement agencies. And as VICE News found, some departments don’t have systems in place to track nonfatal shootings by their own officers. Others wouldn’t provide data on demographics or whether the people they shoot are armed, making it hard to judge why and how often cops use deadly force or the efficacy of reforms.

Until now, there has never been a national reckoning of police shootings that includes Americans who are shot by cops and survive.

VICE News’ investigation is the first attempt to count both fatal and nonfatal shootings by American police in departments across the country. The data isn’t comprehensive – it covers about 148,000 police officers who serve more than 54 million Americans – but it offers the most complete picture yet of when cops shoot and who they shoot. The national tally of police shootings beyond our data is likely far higher.

Key Findings

VICE News sought records on officer-involved shootings from the country’s fifty largest local police departments; 47 responded with data sufficient for analysis. Many fought hard to keep the information secret, and some responded to our requests only under threat of legal action. One department sent a CD-ROM containing a single spreadsheet file through the mail. Another wanted to charge us thousands of dollars unless the records were inspected in person.

In all, our dataset includes information on 4,099 incidents and 4,381 subjects over seven years.

Many people were unarmed. Twenty percent of the people police shot were unarmed. That’s quadruple the unarmed rate The Washington Post found for the country as a whole in fatal incidents.

In roughly eight percent of cases, departments didn’t say whether the subject was armed. About half of shootings occurred when officers encountered a subject with a gun. Another twenty percent of subjects were armed with a knife or something else.

Black people were shot more often and at higher rates than people of any other race. Police shot at least 1,664 black people from 2010 through 2016, 55 percent of the total and more than double the share of the black population in these communities. That’s a 28 percent higher rate than what The Washington Post found for fatal shootings in the same communities.

Black subjects shot by police were more likely to be shot during incidents that began with routine traffic or pedestrian stops. They were more likely than whites to be armed with a gun but less likely to be armed with a weapon overall.

Total police shootings are down across these departments. That’s mostly a function of the big-city departments reducing their number of nonfatal shootings, perhaps in response to pressure from activists or because of stricter federal oversight. In smaller departments, police shootings are flat or down slightly.

Trump is walking away from effective reforms. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice (“DOJ“) has stopped pursuing efforts that led to dramatic drops in police shootings. Cities that adopted these reforms, including improved training and new policies around use of force and accountability, saw their number of police shootings decline by about 29 percent on average.

Beyond the numbers, interviews with dozens of current and former police officers, shooting survivors, activists, and independent experts described the devastating impact of police shootings on families and communities – even when the incidents don’t end in death.

“They often have the same impact on that community as a fatal shooting”, said Christy Lopez, who served in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Obama.



They will see that they will be talking about that, hear the stories for years about what happened. The person will be the living testament to that shooting.


Officers are hardly ever charged with a crime or even found liable in these incidents. Instead, many of the wounded end up facing charges – some even spend time in jail while still recovering from their injuries. In some rare cases, they’re able to sue and win settlements. A few become the focus of protests demanding reforms or turn to activism themselves. But most – hundreds of people nationwide each year – just go on living, carrying their trauma in obscurity.

One of the most urgent questions about police shootings – and one of the hardest to answer – is what role racial bias plays when cops pull the trigger. Nonfatal shootings are key to answering that question.

Racial Disparity

More than a dozen departments did not release data on race or said they did not keep it. Race information was available for about 68 percent of incidents and 3,032 subjects.

This data shows a much graver impact on black people than previous efforts to track police shootings have shown. Police shot black people two and a half times more often than white people.

Police shot Hispanics slightly more often than whites, and Asians far less often than any other race. (Keep in mind that more people of color live in these communities than in the country as a whole, so rates are likely to be higher.)

Cases where cops shoot unarmed people often draw outrage and looking only at fatal shootings excludes many of these. Nearly 400 unarmed people were shot by cops in this data.

In another eight percent of cases, there was no information about whether the subject was armed, but these people were probably unarmed, since police have good reason to record every armed subject. (Twelve departments, including Chicago and Los Angeles, didn’t reliably provide the armed status of the people police shot, so they weren’t included here.)

Police shot black people two and a half times more often than white people.


Nearly half of the unarmed people shot – 44 percent – were black.

Police officers and some academics say shootings reflect local crime rates or how often police come into contact with certain groups, not racial bias. In their view, it’s not fair to look at use of force by population alone.

Nick Selby, a Texas police detective and author of In Context: Understanding Police Killings of Unarmed Civilians (2016), said it’s important to take into account the socioeconomic factors underlying crime and policing as well as the circumstances of each encounter.

“Deadly force has a disproportionate effect on nonwhite people, that’s true, but nonwhite people disproportionately engage in behavior that is criminal and dangerous”, Selby said. (Blacks and Hispanics are arrested at higher rates than whites for both violent and nonviolent crimes, but the research is unclear on whether they are more likely to commit them.)

Information about the circumstances of police shootings usually comes directly from departments, which have the opportunity to exaggerate or omit key details. “As we’ve seen, that account has many times been called into question”, said Samuel Sinyangwe, a co-founder of Campaign Zero, a group that advocates for police reform.

In one notorious case, the Chicago police officers involved in the shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014 said the black teen assaulted them with a knife. That version of events was accepted until dashcam footage released the following year showed that McDonald was walking away when an officer shot him sixteen times.

Nearly half of the unarmed people shot – 44 percent – were black.


Not every department kept descriptions or full narratives of officer-involved shootings, but information was available on more than 1,800 incidents. One-fifth of the shootings of black people began as relatively innocuous pedestrian or traffic stops, compared to sixteen percent for white people. On the other hand, blacks shot by police were more likely to be committing a robbery or involved in a shooting. Whites were more often involved in suicide attempts or domestic violence incidents and other serious crimes.

Black subjects also tended to be younger, and ten percent were under eighteen, compared with less than two percent of whites.

“It is a complex picture, but what’s clear is that black people are more likely to be unarmed and that more of these sort of low-level incidents escalate to shootings”, Sinyangwe said.

Ron Davis, who until earlier this year headed the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (“COPS“), which works with departments to review their policies, said activists, cops, and experts can argue all they want over the best way to prove or disprove bias. It doesn’t matter much to the people who get shot.

“From the community that’s receiving it”, he said, “it doesn’t feel like disparity. It feels like bias – it feels like racism.”

When Police Can Shoot

When deciding whether a police shooting was justified, prosecutors weigh whether the cop felt a threat – not necessarily whether the threat was real. Laws dictating how and when a cop can shoot vary from state to state, but under a 1989 Supreme Court ruling, police force should be “judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight”, with an “allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments”.

In theory, most officer-involved shootings should be fatal. Cops aren’t supposed to fire their weapons unless they feel they’re facing a serious threat, and they’re trained to stop that threat. There’s a common misconception that police will try to disable a suspect by aiming for the legs or arms, but they’re typically taught to shoot at the center of the target, which often means they aim for the torso.

Cops and criminal justice experts emphasized that policing is an extremely dangerous profession and said it’s important to note that police shootings of any kind are rare.

“The average number of OIS [officer-involved shootings} for an officer over the course of an entire career is literally close to zero”, said Mark Iris, a lecturer at Northwestern University and a former head of Chicago’s police review board.

Cops are typically taught to shoot at the center of the target, which often means they aim for the torso.


In our data, big departments with the most shootings had on average 32 per year, and smaller departments had as few as three. For cops and some analysts, that’s strong evidence that police use deadly force with caution.

Selby said the overwhelming majority of police shootings are justified. “Some officers are dicks, and if they hassle people, intentionally put the cuffs on too tight, or throw an extra punch or body slam, it’s really hard to prove, but every shooting is investigated”, he said. “We know cops shoot and kill around 1,000 people per year. I’d say 950 of those are justified, fifty are questionable, and twenty are really bad.”

Yet activists and some experts point out that it’s largely the police who decide which shootings are bad or questionable. The problem with the “reasonable officer” standard is the numerous cases that fall into a gray area. In these instances, a subject may be holding some type of weapon, but there’s no imminent threat to the officer’s safety. In others, cops may think someone is armed, only to discover he’s not.

Bruce Franks Jr, a protester in Ferguson who now serves as a Saint Louis representative in the Missouri legislature, said cops in his city shoot first and come up with reasons later. Saint Louis had the highest per capita rate of police shootings among the fifty departments we analyzed but provided scant details for shootings that happened after 2014. (A spokeswoman for the department said all shootings were investigated fairly.)

State Representative Bruce Franks Jr said cops in his city shoot first and come up with reasons later.


“There doesn’t have to be a gun involved. We see these cases where somebody has a cell phone or somebody makes the wrong move”, Franks said. “There’s a million reasons they give so it ends up being justified”.

In the years since Ferguson, the total number of police shootings has fallen by about twenty percent.

That trend can be traced to a handful of large departments, including Philadelphia, Chicago, and Las Vegas, that enacted reforms. In fact, seven of the ten cities with the largest reductions in police shootings had one thing in common: federal intervention.

Cities that voluntarily adopted DOJ-recommended reforms saw a 32 percent decline in officer-involved shootings in the first year. The police departments that were forced to take on reforms through binding agreements with the DOJ saw a 25 percent decline that year, including Baltimore, whose agreement began this year. In Chicago, shootings by cops dropped by more than fifty percent after McDonald’s death, an incident that prompted a DOJ investigation and a package of recommended reforms.

While the remedies varied from city to city, many were the same: Create a civilian review board to provide independent oversight, improve officer training, update use-of-force policies to stress the importance of de-escalation and the sanctity of life.

In the years since Ferguson, the total number of police shootings has fallen by about twenty percent.


Despite these remarkable successes, Attorney General Sessions has announced his intention to “pull back” from federal interventions and effectively gutted the COPS office Davis used to run. Sessions has said that the feds shouldn’t meddle with local police affairs, but Davis said that approach is tantamount to “incompetence” and “malpractice”.

“I think it’s dangerous”, he said. “Not only is that an ideological response; it’s one that’s absent of science and one that ignores evidence”.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the record or to make any officials available for an interview.

For survivors of police shootings, reform – no matter how it is accomplished – can’t come soon enough. While academics, police officials, and politicians debate the merits of federal intervention or improved training, they live every day with the knowledge that what happened to them could happen to somebody else. Some live in fear of being shot again.

Ishmael Gough, a 27-year-old black man from Louisville, Kentucky, was shot in 2012 by a cop who was drunk and off duty. Gough was unarmed. The bullet passed straight through his leg, leaving him with a wound that still hurts when it’s cold. He lost his job as a security guard and his medical bills piled up. He used to have what he called “a basic, normal life” Like many of the survivors who spoke with VICE News, he said when he goes out now, he’s “stressing, watching behind me, thinking something is going to happen”.

“I want to put it behind me, but I can’t stop fighting”, Gough said. “I was shot for no reason. It’s wrong that this could happen to anybody. Something needs to be done so it can’t keep happening.”


Rob Arthur, Taylor Dolven, Keegan Hamilton, Allison McCann, and Carter Sherman reported and wrote this story. Kathleen Caulderwood produced the videos. Morgan Conley, Josh Marcus, and Diamond Naga Siu contributed research and reporting. Adam Arthur and Dylan Sandifer contributed research. Illustrations by Xia Gordon. Design by Leslie Xia. Graphics by Allison McCann.

Read more about how we collected and analyzed the data:

UN Shocked by Level of Poverty in Alabama

“We Haven’t Seen This in the First World”

“The hope is that we’ll bring attention to these problems just like we bring attention to people who are being tortured”

by Andrew Buncombe

The Independent (December 12 2017)

The historic city of Selma also suffers from considerable poverty – Getty

The US state of Alabama – which is holding a much-watched special election – has some of the worst conditions of poverty in the developed world, according to a visiting United Nations official.

Philip Alston, whose job takes him around the planet to look at conditions of extreme poverty, said some of the things he saw in parts of Alabama so-called Black Belt, particularly in regard to sewage disposal, were unprecedented in the West.

“I think it’s very uncommon in the first world. This is not a sight that one normally sees”, said Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. “I’d have to say that I haven’t seen this”.

Mr Alston made his comments to while touring parts of Butler County and Lowndes County, where he met a man who had unreliable electricity and a septic tank that no longer worked.

People in the region frequently suffer from E Coli and hookworm, a disease associated with extreme poverty and which was thought to have been eradicated in the US more than 100 years ago but which was recently found to persist in pockets of Lowndes County, located just twenty miles from the state capital, Montgomery, where many residents are too poor to afford a septic system and make their own sewer lines using PVC piping. The lines run from the people’s homes some thirty feett above the ground before emptying into ditches or waste ground.

“This seems safe to [the residents]”, Rojelio Mejia, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at the Baylor College of Medicine who led the study that discovered the continued existence of hookworm in Alabama, told NPR.
Roy Moore’s wife claims he can’t be antisemitic because ‘one of our attorneys is a Jew’

“But Alabama is very hilly and any drizzle of rain causes flooding, so whatever they delivered to the site spreads to the entire area, including their neighbours’ area”.

Across the world, hookworm infects a total of 740 million people



The Black Belt of Alabama was originally named for its rich top soil but took on another meaning after the establishment of slave plantations. It has long suffered from poverty and racial discrimination.

Mr Alston, whose is carrying out a fifteen-day tour of the US to produce a report on poverty and human rights, was also taken to a property in Lowndes County where five people, including two youngsters and a teenager with Down Syndrome, live in a home where the sewage is discharged into open pools that flood when it rains.

In Butler County, Mr Alston reportedly told one resident: “The hope is that we’ll bring attention to [these problems], just like we bring attention to people who are being tortured”.

The special election, being held to fill the senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he joined Donald Trump’s cabinet, has featured debate about poverty, jobs, and economic growth in the state.

However, the contest between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore, has been largely dominated by allegations of sexual abuse and assault levelled at Mr Moore by a series of women. He has adamantly denied the claims.

Bumpy Ride

Why America’s Roads Are in Tatters

by Dale Maharidge

Harper’s Magazine (November 2017)

One sunny winter afternoon in western Michigan, I took a ride with Leon Slater, a slight sixty-four-year-old man with a neatly trimmed white beard and intense eyes behind his spectacles. He wore a faded blue baseball cap, so formed to his head that it seemed he slept with it on. Brickyard Road, the street in front of Slater’s home, was a mess of soupy dirt and water-filled craters. The muffler of his mud-splattered maroon pickup was loose, and exhaust fumes choked the cab. He gripped the wheel with hands leathery not from age but from decades moving earth with big machines for a living. What followed was a tooth-jarring tour of Muskegon County’s rural roads, which looked as though they’d been carpet-bombed.

Slater’s 1997 pickup has 200,000 miles on it and countless scars from the obstacle course of Brickyard Road. “My wife keeps yelling at me, ‘Buy another truck!’ ” he told me. “I’d hate to drive a new car on this road”.

Speaking over the rattling of the truck, Slater pointed to the spot where an Amish woman had been driving a buggy when her horse stepped into a deep pothole and injured its leg. (Patches, age eleven, had to be put down after the incident, she later told me.) He showed me where he’d watched a school bus tilt sideways as the driver struggled to get out of a massive crater in the middle of the road. After the incident, Slater hauled in fifty cubic yards of clay and sand with a dump truck and filled the pit himself.

Like thousands of other secondary roads in the country, Brickyard Road is transforming into gravel and dirt. {1} Before my visit, Nancy, Leon’s wife, had emailed me pictures of the street. If the photos had been black and white, it would have been easy to imagine they were from a hundred years ago.

Things were even worse back then. In the summer of 1919, the US Army wanted to see if it was possible to move tanks and trucks from Washington, DC, to San Francisco, a distance of 3,251 miles. More than half the route was dirt track. Slowed by sand and “gumbo mud”, the convoy managed an average speed of 6.07 miles per hour. The journey took two months. A young lieutenant colonel named Dwight D Eisenhower was on the mission; it made him a lifelong advocate for good roads.

After Eisenhower became president, he signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which established funding for what became known as the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. {2} Thus began decades of work on the 42,000-mile system, which was declared finished only on October 14 1992, with the completion of a section of I-70 in the Colorado Rockies.

Long before Eisenhower, others had pushed for change. In 1880, when the bicycle was becoming popular, roads were crude and even major routes were often impassable. Cyclists formed the League of American Wheelmen to lobby for improvement but saw little success. In the 1920s and 1930s, the mantra became “Get the farmer out of the mud”, and the advent of the automobile brought rural America to the cause.

The pavement on Brickyard Road. All tintype photographs from Michigan by David Emitt Adams

Brickyard was one of those muddy roads. On a map from 1877, it appears as an anonymous dirt route. It was named after a brickmaking operation on land owned by Slater’s great-great-grandfather, John L Slater, who emigrated from Prussia. The movement didn’t spread out to Michigan until the 1950s. At that time, a hot liquid form of petroleum called bitumen was sprayed on the surface, and crushed stone was spread to a depth of some three-quarters of an inch over the soil, which was then compacted. This process is called chip sealing. Slater, born in 1953, remembers the new paving from when he was a child.

The blacktopping of Brickyard Road was an unremarkable event in the history of the betterment of the 2.6 million miles of road that existed in America when Eisenhower made his journey. Now, though, Brickyard is unremarkable for a different reason – it’s one of countless failed roads, ranking at the bottom of the 10-point Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating scale used by road engineers.

Some experts have concluded that it’s better to “depave” and let failing asphalt roads return to gravel. With budgets tight, their reasoning goes, this would at least provide motorists with a better driving experience than would a broken-down paved road. Also, a gravel road is cheaper to maintain than a paved road. Studies by more than a dozen different agencies around the nation show the range for gravel maintenance costs: from $2,000 to more than $8,000 per mile annually. And for pavement: from $13,000 to $37,000.

Brickyard is among the roads that the Muskegon County Road Commission has slated to be turned to gravel, twenty-eight miles in all. Brunswick Road, which intersects Brickyard about a half-mile north of the Slaters’ house, was the first to go, in 2008. Residents complained bitterly about health issues and dust after it was ground up, so the county halted the depaving. But there’s no money to refurbish all the damaged roads that are paved in name only.

It would be comforting to think of these roads as aberrations that plague one isolated place in economically depressed Michigan. But they’re not. I’ve been road-tripping around the country, shunning interstates, since the Seventies, and I’ve noticed a sharp decline in the quality of our secondary roads – especially over the past ten years. According to TRIP, a nonprofit transportation research group, more than half of the nation’s major rural routes are in “fair”, “mediocre”, or “poor” condition. We as a nation are on a journey down regression road. Roads symbolize one of the fundamental contracts between a government and its citizens. They are among the most direct and regular relationships people have with the state. If the roads are failing, it means government is failing.

Ken Skorseth began his road-construction career in South Dakota in the early Seventies, as a private highway contractor. His training embraced a dogma that hadn’t changed in half a century: roads went from dirt or gravel to asphalt. Period. “I got in on the latter part of the interstate highway construction era”, he told me. “County commissioners would tell you they had a goal to make all county roads ‘black’. In other words, asphalt.”

He became superintendent of the Deuel County Highway Department in 1981. His focus was on maintaining low-volume roads, those (paved or unpaved) with few passenger miles – fewer than 250 vehicles a day. Soon enough, the principles he had learned earlier in his career were turned upside down: flat budgets, rising costs, and heavier farm equipment meant that keeping roads paved was increasingly impossible. Desperate to keep such routes passable, he quickly turned his attention to gravel. It wasn’t as if he had a choice – if he wanted to stay on budget, he needed stone, not asphalt. He left the county and took a job as the manager of a transportation program at South Dakota State University, and his reputation spread. He began getting calls from all over the world. In 2000, he was the lead author of the Federal Highway Administration’s Gravel Roads Maintenance and Design Manual. He became known as the “gravel-roads guru”.

A damaged tire outside Leon Slater’s workshop

Around the country, many roads were paved that should have remained gravel. It was an easy decision in the prosperous post-World War Two years, when the petroleum products used in asphalt were cheap and labor costs were relatively low. But by the Nineties, even as the economy boomed on the coasts, the middle of the country was entering a de facto depression. At the same time, the cost of asphalt escalated. Skorseth was the man for the moment. Techniques such as chip sealing, as was done on Brickyard Road, were doomed propositions. There the local soil is clay, which holds water. Without a more substantial foundation, paving over clay will lead to potholes.

“I never dreamed that by the end of my career we would be talking about having to go back to gravel”, Skorseth said. Road engineers and politicians often sought him out for advice, but when he urged depaving roads he encountered “extreme” resistance.

“Early on we were kind of the bad guys”, he said. “We were telling people, ‘Look at the condition of your system, all the roads built in the Sixties and Seventies. How are you going to rehabilitate those with current budgets?’ It’s astounding how much it changed, particularly after 2008.” The recession that began that year has theoretically ended, but many local and state road budgets have not recovered. Suddenly Skorseth went from pariah to visionary.

The trend toward gravel caught the attention of the Transportation Research Board (“TRB“), part of the National Academy of Sciences, which commissioned a report. Converting Paved Roads to Unpaved was released in early 2016; Skorseth was among the authors. The TRB collected data from 139 roads departments (a fraction of the thousands in the country) and found that agencies in twenty-seven states had depaved some roads, most in the past few years. Agencies in other states were in denial, Skorseth said, about the need to move to gravel.

“It was an eye-opener even to me”, Skorseth acknowledged. “Politicians talk about ‘preserving their pavement’. I laugh at that term. The road is so bad, there’s nothing here to preserve.”

He told me that gravel is often better on a low-volume road because unlike pavement, it can be maintained by one operator with a single machine, a grader with a wide blade that makes it smooth. “I call it upgrading to gravel”, he said, since “many failing pavements are actually more dangerous to drive on than untreated gravel surfaces”.

Eventually, however, if you drive on gravel roads on a daily basis, your windshield breaks, your tires wear out, your front end goes out of whack. A 2013 study by the Lyles School of Civil Engineering at Purdue University said,

The estimated cost for operating a vehicle on a gravel road is 14.33 cents per mile higher than on a paved road … Although this cost is significant, it is borne by vehicle owners and not the agency.

It’s another example of the death of the commonweal in favor of privatization.

I’ve paid for bad roads. When I used to travel to my house in rural northern California, the trip was an expensive ordeal. The county paved some of the gravel road at the base of a nearby mountain in the Nineties. But a few years ago officials reversed course and returned that section to gravel. Oddly, a creek that once was piped beneath the road was left to flow over the top. Last winter, after a storm, that “creek” became a raging river I had to ford, and the car barely made it through. For forty-five miles on the remaining allegedly paved road, I often went no faster than fifteen miles an hour because it was pocked with craters. (Despite crawling along, I hit the mother of all potholes.) It turned out that on the trip, I had cracked a tire rim that cost $108.50; part of the axle system was damaged, too, which set me back $518.40.

Crumbling asphalt and rain-filled potholes in front of the Slater family’s dairy farm

Each American driver pays about $450 per year toward roads, according to the Journal of Infrastructure Systems. Europeans fork over on average two to 3.5 times as much – the difference is largely in fuel taxes. Americans have always resisted giving such financial support for infrastructure projects. In the 1800s, farmers labored for free on road crews in lieu of paying taxes, and in 1913, Missouri governor Elliot Major led 50,000 citizens on a volunteer effort to fix an “ocean of mire” in the state. A gasoline tax was not implemented until the 1920s, and only then did roads begin improving methodically. But, nearly a century later, a gulf has opened up between tax revenue and the cost of materials and labor. The federal gas tax, 18.4 cents per gallon, was last raised in 1993 and has since lost more than one-third of its purchasing power. Only three states currently index their gas tax to inflation.

Tire tracks in a pothole filled with sand and clay

Despite the declining condition of our roads, conservatives have long wanted to cut their funding, terming this “devolution”. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing think tank, offers a ready-made bill called the Devolution of State Highway Systems Study Act, which proposes turning over the maintenance of state roads to local agencies. In 2009, a state representative, Glenn Vaad, put forth such a proposal in the Colorado legislature. The movement reached the federal level in 2013, when a Georgia Republican, Tom Graves, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would lower the federal tax to 3.7 cents per gallon and let the states control that diminished revenue.

That bill went nowhere, but our infrastructure continues to crumble. Bridges are part of the equation. While a bad surface can merely damage your car, a failed bridge can be fatal. In 2015, a bridge on I-10 near Palm Springs, California, collapsed. It had been deemed “functionally obsolete” in the 2014 National Bridge Inventory. And ten years ago in Minneapolis, a bridge collapse on I-35 killed thirteen and injured scores. Some 63,000 bridges, about ten percent of the US total, are “structurally deficient”, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

Candidate Donald Trump pointed this out in one of the Republican presidential debates in early 2016: “We’ve spent four trillion dollars trying to topple various people”, he said. “If we could’ve spent that four trillion dollars in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges … we would’ve been a lot better off”. Yet as president, he has been vague about his infrastructure plans. All that can be gleaned from his tweets is that he wants to privatize the main highways. This won’t help secondary roads.

Americans are in an anti-tax mood these days, too. In early 2015, Muskegon County voters, by a two to one margin, turned down a ballot measure to raise road taxes. It’s hard to blame them. The county, which hugs the shore of Lake Michigan, has lost tens of thousands of well-paid manufacturing jobs in recent decades. That drew me here in 2009 when I interviewed people at the Fifth Reform Church, about a dozen miles from Brickyard Road, where a Feeding America network truck was giving away food to 224 residents, most of whom wore clothes that made them appear to be comfortably middle class. When I interviewed them, however, I found that many were desperate for food.

State law requires that townships must pay about half the cost of road improvements. Melvin Black, a road commissioner in Muskegon County, told me that Holton Township, which contains Brickyard Road, saves about $10,000 a year for its road budget. “They’d need a hundred thousand a year minimum to gradually bring the roads back”, he said.

Black blamed farmers’ heavy equipment for damaging the roads – that means Leon Slater’s relatives, who are dairy farmers. But Slater pointed out that the farms employ some forty people in a place with few jobs. Also, city residents drink the milk that travels every day on local roads in a huge tanker truck. I wondered aloud to Black: Doesn’t the government have some responsibility? Good roads benefit all of society. Local politics, however, will prevent the most immediate fix: an upgrade to gravel. Brunswick Road was pulverized before Black was appointed to the board. “But let me tell you, I was there to catch the heat. I said, ‘I will never vote to grind up a road’.”

This idea elicited a sigh from Kenneth Hulka, the managing director of the county road commission. “I’m not sure that’s in the best interests of the motorist, because a well-maintained gravel road is much better than what they’re driving now”, Hulka said.

As for Brickyard Road?

A damaged muffler on Slater’s property

“It’s gone”, he said of its existence as a paved road. “There’s nothing you can do to patch it”. To create a solid base and properly asphalt the one-mile stretch in front of the Slaters’ home would, in Hulka’s estimate, cost $300,000. When Hulka started the job in 2003, asphalt cost between $24 and $27 a ton. “We’re seeing sixty-four dollars and up right now”, he said. “And our revenue is almost the same”.

In late 2015, the Michigan legislature passed a 7.3 cent gas-tax increase, and some of that money has reached Hulka’s department. But the fees don’t fully phase in until 2021. Hulka said recently that the funding helped with the upkeep of the main roads and has thrown a little bit of money at the secondary ones. But he fears that contractors will likely raise prices after years of being starved. And some of the future increase will be lost to inflation. None of the new money will go toward fixing township roads such as Brickyard. It won’t be repaved. Nor will it be ground up. It will continue to decompose, like so many of the nation’s roads.

After Slater and I spent most of an afternoon driving around, we hit an especially bad pothole. The old GMC suddenly erupted in an ear-shattering blast.

“I think I just lost my muffler”, Slater announced. A minute later, the engine sputtered out. He fired it up again. The truck took us a few hundred feet. Then it died for good. I walked the quarter-mile back to his house and got my rental car. He chained the GMC to the rental and I towed him in.

“Every day it’s like this”, Slater said. “You can get really shook up”.


{1} In most states, secondary roads are maintained by counties, villages, or townships. Funding comes from property taxes and other revenues. The majority of Americans live and work on secondary roads.

{2} Most people today refer to the “interstate highway system”, forgetting that besides helping the economy, its creation was partly military in nature. In the 1950s, officials wanted these roads to be used for the movement of military equipment and personnel, as well as for evacuation in the event of atomic war. In the early years of construction, a small portion of funding came from the defense budget.


This story was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, a nonprofit devoted to journalism about inequality:

Dale Maharidge is the author of ten books, most recently Bringing Mulligan Home. “Snowden’s Box,” which he co-wrote with Jessica Bruder, appeared in the May 2017 issue of Harper’s Magazine:

(c) 2015 Harper’s Magazine.

China Surges with 52 Gigs of New Solar …

… as Trump Kneecaps US Sector with Thirty Percent Tariffs

by Juan Cole (Januart 25 2018)

Clean Technica reports that China blew the top off expectations for its solar installations in 2017. It put in 52.83 gigawatts.

The incredible 2017 solar surge in China brought its total solar installed capacity up to 130 gigawatts. As a cursory look at these statistics makes obvious, in one year China increased its solar by nearly seventy percent. In short, it wasn’t so far from doubling its ability to generate electricity from solar sources.

Xi Jinping visiting a Chinese solar factory via

The US is a midget in the solar generation game, in contrast.

Seven percent of China’s electricity now comes from solar. Note that not long ago, eighty percent of China’s electricity came from burning coal, the deadliest and most polluting of the fossil fuels. Not only has solar generation increased enormously, but every gigawatt from that source takes coal offline and vastly reduces carbon dioxide emissions, which produce global heating and catastrophic climate change.

Even corporate media, which typically have big investment portfolios in the fossil fuel companies – which influences them to be skeptical of renewables and to avoid reporting on climate change, admitted in shock that global investors put $333 billion into the renewable energy sector in 2017, an increase of three percent. Some forty percent of that investment came from China alone, now the world renewables leader.

The continued strong interest in the sector comes in part from the dramatic price fall in solar and wind installation, which in turn has spurred intense new interest in the global south.

France-based Cap Vert Energie, for instance, just announced $37 million in financing for eleven solar projects in Chile. A new 100-megawatt solar installation just opened near Santiago, allowing sixty percent of the energy needed to run the capital’s metro (subway) to come from renewables – a first for any city in the world. New solar bids in Chile are being offered at 2.5 cents a kilowatt hour, a harbinger of the collapse of energy costs. Coal is usually estimated as generating electricity at five cents a kilowatt hour, though that price ignores its severe environmental and health costs. This kind of incremental spread of solar and wind in the global South is flying under the radar of most analysts.

In the US, there has been a relatively successful corporate resistance to renewables, which is reinforced by measures such as Trump’s support for coal and his recent slapping of a thirty percent tariff on inexpensive Chinese solar panels, as well as by state legislatures’ obstructionism, paid for by ALEC and the Koch brothers. Renewables only account for fifteen percent of US electricity generation, with a lot of that being hydro, despite a massive and expensive crisis of extreme weather and sea level rise. Trump’s tariffs on inexpensive Chinese-made panels will especially hurt people in the Deep South, who have a great deal of sunshine but whose GOP state legislatures have put in punitive measures to keep them from saving money with rooftop solar installations. The tariffs, however, will only slow adoption of solar. I put American-made panels on my home because they are more reliable, and last summer my average electricity bill was $14 a month. Even the more expensive American ones pay for themselves in seven years, less if you use them to power an electric car like a Bolt, Leaf, or Tesla 3. The main problem isn’t the cost of the panels, which will fall rapidly anyway, but the lack of financing and of a favorable policy environment (Governor Richard Dale Snyder of Michigan, a corrupt Koch puppet, slapped property taxes on solar panels).

The Chinese Communist Party is proving itself more rational and a better friend to humankind than the American capitalists. You can’t generalize about these things. The East German Communist Party was a big polluter, and contemporary German capitalism is relatively Green in orientation. The American corporations on the whole, however, are allowing gnawing avarice to turn them into Satan himself.


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