Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

When Washington Assured Russia …

… Nato Would Not Expand

by Andrew J Bacevich

The American Conservative (December 20 2017)

Statecraft is a complicated business, but the criteria by which we judge statesmen turn out to be less so. The central question reduces to whether those charged with formulating policy succeed in enhancing the power and security of the nation they lead.

Yet near-term advantage does not necessarily translate into long-term benefit. With the passage of time, a seemingly clever gambit can yield poisonous fruit. So it is with the way the George Herbert Walker Bush administration managed the end of the Cold War.

From a geopolitical perspective, the Cold War from the very outset had centered on the German question. Concluding that conflict necessarily required resolving Germany’s anomalous division into two halves, with West Germany a key member of Nato and East Germany occupying a similar status in the opposing Warsaw Pact. Of course, no such resolution could be possible unless the victors of World War Two, primarily the United States and the Soviet Union, but also Great Britain and France, all concurred.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev provided the necessary catalyst to make agreement possible. Gorbachev’s bold effort to reform and thereby save the USSR, launched in the mid-1980s, converted the belt of Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe from a source of strategic depth to a collection of liabilities. When Gorbachev signaled that unlike his predecessors he had no intention of using force to maintain the Soviet Empire, it almost immediately disintegrated. With that, momentum for German reunification became all but irresistible.

By the end of 1989, the issue facing policymakers on both sides of the rapidly vanishing Iron Curtain was not whether reunification should occur, but where a reunited Germany would fit in a radically transformed political landscape. Already possessing the biggest economy in all of Europe, Germany seemed certain to become even more of a powerhouse once it had absorbed its formerly communist eastern precincts. No one – including German Chancellor Helmut Kohl – thought it a good idea to allow this new Germany to become a free-floater, situated in the center of Europe but untethered from the sort of restraints that the Cold War had imposed.

For Washington, London, and Paris, the solution was obvious: keep the Germans in a warm but firm embrace. Ensuring that a united Germany remained part of Nato would reduce the likelihood of it choosing at some future date to strike an independent course.

The challenge facing the Western allies was to persuade Gorbachev to see the wisdom of this proposition. After all, twice within memory, Germany had invaded Russia, inflicting almost unimaginable damage and suffering. That the Soviets might view with trepidation the prospect of a resurgent Germany remaining part of an explicitly anti-Soviet military alliance was not paranoia. It was prudence.

To make that prospect palatable, the Bush administration assured the Soviets that they had nothing to fear from a Western alliance that included a united Germany. Nato no longer viewed the USSR as an adversary. Apart from incorporating the territory of former East Germany, the alliance was going to stay put. Washington was sensitive to and would respect Russia’s own security interests. So at least US officials claimed.

Thanks to newly declassified documents {1} published by the National Security Archive, we now have a clearer appreciation of just how explicit those assurances were. Among the documents is the transcript of an especially revealing conversation between Gorbachev and Secretary of State James Baker in Moscow on February 09 1990.

The discussion touched on several topics but centered on the German question. As Baker framed the issue, history was now handing the victorious allies an opportunity to correct the mistakes they had made in the wake of World War Two. “We fought alongside with you; together we brought peace to Europe”, Baker told Gorbachev. “Regrettably, we then managed this peace poorly, which led to the Cold War”, he continued.

“We could not cooperate then”, he said.

Now, as rapid and fundamental changes are taking place in Europe, we have a propitious opportunity to cooperate in the interests of preserving the peace. I very much want you to know: neither the president nor I intend to extract any unilateral advantages from the processes that are taking place.


Washington’s intentions were friendly. Gorbachev could absolutely count on the Bush administration to support his perestroika and glasnost initiatives. “In a word, we want your efforts to be successful”, Baker insisted. Indeed, he continued, “if somewhere in the course of events you feel that the United States is doing something undesirable to you, without hesitation call us and tell us about it”.

By extension, there was no need for Gorbachev to trouble himself about Nato. The alliance provided “the mechanism for securing the US presence in Europe”, which, Baker implied, was good for everyone. Keeping GIs in Europe would prevent Germany from once more becoming a troublemaker, benefiting all parties to include the USSR.

“We understand”, Baker continued, “that not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of Nato, not an inch of Nato’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction [emphasis added]”. Indeed, the proposed US approach to negotiating terms for ending Germany’s division would “guarantee that Germany’s unification will not lead to Nato’s military organization spreading to the east”.

The secretary of state then posed a hypothetical. “Supposing unification takes place”, he asked Gorbachev, “what would you prefer: a united Germany outside of Nato, absolutely independent and without American troops; or a united Germany keeping its connections with Nato, but with the guarantee that Nato’s jurisprudence [jurisdiction?] or troops will not spread east of the present boundary?”

The issue was one he wished to discuss with his colleagues, Gorbachev replied, remarking only that “it goes without saying that a broadening of the Nato zone is not acceptable”.

To which Baker responded: “We agree with that”.

Later that very year German reunification became an accomplished fact. By the end of the following year, Gorbachev was out of a job and the Soviet Union had become defunct. Before another twelve months had passed, Baker’s boss lost his bid for a second term as Americans elected their first post-Cold War president. By this time, countries of the former Warsaw Pact were already clamoring to join Nato. The administration of Bill Clinton proved more than receptive to such appeals. As a consequence, the assurances given to Gorbachev were rendered inoperative.

Nato’s eastward march commenced, with the alliance eventually incorporating not only former Soviet satellites but even former Soviet republics. In effect, US policymakers responded favorably to the aspirations of Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians while disregarding Russian security interests, apparently assuming that Kremlin leaders had no recourse but to concede.

As long as Russia remained weak, that may well have been the case. As if to press home the point, Clinton’s successors even toyed with the idea of inviting Georgia and Ukraine to join Nato – more or less the equivalent of incorporating Cuba and Mexico into the Warsaw Pact back in the bad old days.

At that point, a Kremlin leader less trusting of the West than Gorbachev had been decided that enough was enough. Vladimir Putin, a very nasty piece of work but also arguably a Russian patriot, made it clear that Nato’s eastward expansion had ended. Putin’s 2008 armed intervention in Georgia, annexation of the Crimea in 2014, and multiple incursions into Ukraine beginning that same year elicited howls of protest from the Washington commentariat. Putin, they charged, was trampling on the “norms” of international conduct that were supposed to govern behavior in the post-Cold War world.

But Putin was not wrong to observe that the United States routinely exempted itself from any such norms when it perceived its own vital interests to be at stake. For roughly a quarter century, the United States had paid no price for picking Gorbachev’s pocket back in 1990. Indeed, nations once unhappily lodged within the Soviet sphere had thereby benefited greatly. Nato became a club open to everyone but Russia. In Washington’s favored formulation, Europe thereby became “whole and free”. Now, however, the bills incurred by this feckless policy are coming due and Europeans are looking to the United States to pay them.

Today’s Nato consists of 29 nations, nearly double what its membership was when Secretary Baker promised Gorbachev that the alliance would not advance a single inch eastward. When it comes to paying for the collective defense, few of those nations contribute their required share. In effect, America’s allies expect it to do the heavy lifting. The United States has thereby incurred burdensome obligations without accruing any obvious benefit. Once more, over seventy years after World War Two, the United States is sending its troops to defend Europeans fully capable of defending themselves. Donald Trump has charged, not without cause, that our allies are playing us for suckers.

In today’s Washington, where Russophobia runs rampant, it has become fashionable to speak of a New Cold War, provoked by Putin’s aggressive actions. Yet if we are indeed embarking upon a new age of brinksmanship, we can trace its origins to 1990 when Putin was merely a disgruntled KGB colonel and we were playing the Soviets for suckers.

In his meeting with Gorbachev, Baker expressed regret about the victorious allies mismanaging the opportunity for peace created by the end of World War Two. A similar judgment applies to the opportunity for peace created by the end of the Cold War. Upon reflection, the United States might have been better served had it honored its 1990 commitment to Gorbachev.


Andrew J Bacevich is The American Conservative’s writer-at-large.






Copyright (c) 2011 The American Conservative. All rights reserved.

Categories: Uncategorized

It’s All Putin’s Fault …

… But Still, He Wins

For all the western narrative about Russia’s “autocracy”, Putin is arguably as popular at home as Xi Jinping is in China

by Pepe Escobar

Asia Times (March 16 2018)

Vladimir Putin fires a sport gun at a sports complex outside Sochi on March 9, 2012. Photo: AFP/Ria Novosti/Alexey Druzhinin

As a counterpoint to the 24/7 Russophobia oozing out of the US and the UK, Vladimir Putin is all but guaranteed to be re-elected for a fourth presidential term this Sunday.

Beyond the foregone conclusion, what’s really hanging in the balance is the seventy-seventy equation: whether Putin can be assured of a seventy percent voter turnout and win roughly seventy percent of the vote. That would represent a firm endorsement of his domestic and foreign policy plans up to 2024.

Although Beijing does not provide official numbers, Putin is arguably as popular in Russia as Xi Jinping is in China – even with Xi being derided by the usual Western suspects as “the new Mao”. Under the framework of the Russia-China strategic partnership, geopolitically this is, and will continue to be, the Putin-Xi era.

Putin’s domestic popularity is confirmed by a Levada poll according to which seventy percent of those surveyed {1} say the annexation of Crimea has been good for Russia. Overall support for Crimea rejoining Russia after a referendum stands at a whopping 86%.

On the Russian presidential race, the West has only paid attention to Alexei Navalny – whose candidature was rejected. Navalny called for a boycott of the polls.

The Communist Party candidate, Pavel Grudinin, may end up getting around seven percent of the votes. The perennial Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a hardcore nationalist from the LDPR party, may get just over five percent. And Ksenia Sobchak, the Liberal candidate – and a self-described standard-bearer of the protest vote against everybody – will muster barely 1.5%.

Sobchak, a political novice, did strike a few moves – for instance wearing a sweatshirt with a big anti-war script to emphasize her take on Putin as the representative of the War Party.

Echoing Bernie Sanders, Sobchak insisted defense spending should be redirected to building domestic infrastructure. But then she blasted the “illegitimate” Russian “occupation” of Crimea. That did not go down well: eighty percent of the electorate said they would never vote for her. Sobchak at least managed to start positioning herself for the 2024 elections.

Back to the Great Game

Russia’s presidential campaign has been lively – belying the Western infowar barrage blasting the country’s “autocracy”. Observers such as Gilbert Doctorow have managed to offer balanced {2} overviews.

Western-style debates were broadcast on the two leading news channels – Rossiya-1 and Pervy Kanal – and also on the less watched, state-run ORT and TVT. No holds were barred when denouncing the gap between Moscow and other regions enjoying budget surpluses, the best salaries, and good public services, compared to the so-called “deficit regions”.

Same for the “gasification” of the Russian countryside – as in Gazprom earning US$740 billion in the past decade, mostly from exports, but investing only $12 billion in bringing gas to Russian households.

Putin benefitted from the release onto Russian social networks Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, at the last stage of the campaign, of two slick new documentaries, one crammed with good political soundbites and the other centering on his family history. Both were hits, with millions of views.

Turning the collapsing Russiagate script upside down, many in Russia are interpreting it as direct UK interference in the Russian presidential campaign

And by the way, his full, unedited {3} interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly was a completely different animal compared with the heavily-cut twenty-minute version shown to American viewers. No question the interview burnished {4} his presidential credentials with Russian voters.

But then came the Salisbury poisoning-of-a-double-agent fiasco – a John le Carre plot gone bonkers. Turning the collapsing {5} Russiagate script upside down, many in Russia are interpreting it as direct UK interference in the Russian presidential campaign.

The UK government’s version of Russian culpability has been challenged {6} by independent sources.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (“OPCW“) had previously been clear about the “completed destruction {7} of Russia’s entire chemical weapons program, including of course its nerve agent production capabilities”.

The OPCW – which includes both the UK and the US – even doubted {8} “Novichoks” {9} as chemical weapons actually exist.

Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, trying to dissect the riddle, emphasized {10} how he “witnessed personally in Uzbekistan the willingness of the UK and US security services to accept and validate intelligence they knew to be false in order to pursue their policy objectives”.

Sound questions have been asked about what’s really been happening to MI6 assets {11} on British soil as London plays an ultra-high stakes geopolitical game with a foreign traitor despised by Russia and passed on by the US as part of a spy swap.

The New Chessboard

For all the hysteria, the Salisbury saga has done little to offset Putin’s game-changing speech {12} on March 1 outlining, in detail, not only his domestic agenda but also how Russia is ready to rearrange the geopolitical chessboard.

He stressed how “Russia must firmly assert itself among the five largest global economies, and its per-capita GDP must increase by fifty percent by the middle of the next decade”.

He extolled Eurasian integration – as in the development of “large Eurasian transport corridors”, especially the “Europe-Asia-Pacific corridor” being built by China, Russia, and Kazakhstan, as well as “the capability of the Baikal-Amur Mainline and the Trans-Siberian Railway”.

“Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, weapons of short, medium, or any range at all, will be considered as a nuclear attack on this country. Retaliation will be immediate, with all the attendant consequences”.

He also stressed how the Northern Sea Route, from Murmansk to the Bering Strait, “will be the key to developing the Russian Arctic and Far East”, as well as being one-third faster in moving cargo from Asia to Europe.

Russia will invest tens of billions of dollars by 2030 to develop ships, shipbuilders, and ports along the Northern Sea Route – with cargo expected to grow tenfold {13} by 2025.

And that happens to be the strategic Arctic priority for China as well – as the Polar Silk Road has now been totally integrated into the Belt and Road Initiative (“BRI“).

Then there’s the Yamal Peninsula {14} mega-project, centered on low-cost gas enabling Russia to at least double its share of the global market in liquefied natural gas (“LNG“) by 2020.

For all the pull of Gazprom, Putin managed a counterbalance:

The dependence of the economy on hydrocarbon prices has been substantially reduced. We have increased our gold and currency reserves. Inflation has dropped to a record low level – just over two percent.


MAD is Back

Then came the stormer.

Putin detailed how MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) is now back with a vengeance – implying that the whole US missile defense apparatus may be, by now, useless.

And this had absolutely nothing to do with “Russian aggression”, as the usual suspects spin it. This was Moscow’s response to over two decades of Nato encroaching on Russia’s borders.

In Putin’s own words:

I will speak about the newest systems of Russian strategic weapons that we are creating in response to the unilateral withdrawal of the United States of America from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the practical deployment of their missile defense systems both in the US and beyond their national borders.


Putin first announced his intention to respond no fewer than eleven years ago. {15}

Naval analyst Andrei Martyanov has thoroughly dissected {16} what all of this implies. The major take away, however, was another chilling announcement by Putin:

Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, weapons of short, medium, or any range at all, will be considered as a nuclear attack on this country. Retaliation will be immediate, with all the attendant consequences. There should be no doubt about this whatsoever.


So MAD 2.0 is the new normal. Professor Stephen Cohen’s assessment {17} is fundamentally correct.

By now the “Putin As The Ultimate Bogeyman” narrative has spiraled totally out of control. Even Sweden is nurturing a scheme to “mobilize” {18} its society against Russia. The cartoonish narrative is mutating towards Russia as a rogue state threatening the whole world with chemical weapons.

Where Xi Jinping will concentrate on a complex internal tweaking of the Chinese model while continuing his multi-layered connectivity drive via BRI, Putin must concentrate on getting the Russian economy back on track while solidifying Russia’s position in the concert of powers.

Plenty among the Atlanticist elites disregard Xi and Putin as “dictators”. As far as Eurasian integration – the real deal in the 21st century New Great Game – is concerned, that is absolutely irrelevant.




















Categories: Uncategorized

Harvard Investigation Shows …

… Doctors are Paid Huge Sums to Prescribe Addictive Opioids

by Phillip Schneider

The Daily Bell (March 17 2018)

In 2010, it was found that roughly 100,000 Americans die each year from prescription drugs alone. When it comes to opioids, the number of deaths is in the tens of thousands while a quarter of patients who were given a short-term prescription transitioned to long-term use.

Now, according to a recent Harvard University analysis, doctors who prescribe these pain-killers are being paid huge sums of money from their manufacturers.

The research, which was conducted by Harvard scientists and CNN, discovered that in 2014-2015 thousands of doctors were paid over $25,000 from opioid manufacturers and hundreds more were rewarded with six-figure sums. Also, the more opioids that were prescribed, the larger the reward.

It smells like doctors are being bribed to sell narcotics, and that’s very disturbing.

– Dr Andrew Kolodny, Executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing


The Harvard/CNN analysis found that the five percent of doctors who prescribed opioids at a volume which was higher than that of the average physician were paid twice as much money from manufacturers. Likewise, doctors in the top one percent were paid four times as much.

For the top tenth of one percent, that number increased nine-fold. To put this in perspective, roughly 54% of doctors who wrote prescriptions to Medicare patients, which numbers more than 200,000, received payment from pharma companies which manufacture opioids.

The correlation you found in very powerful … What’s amazing about the findings is not simply that money counts, but that more money counts even more.

– David Rothman, director of the Center on Medicine as a Profession at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons


It is not legal for doctors to prescribe drugs in exchange for compensation from the drug companies, and it is also not provable that most of these doctors were paid in reward for prescribing opioids or if the prescription of opioids attracted the money from pharmaceutical companies.

However, there is nevertheless a clear financial incentive for doctors to continue to prescribe opioids, even when it isn’t in the best interest of the patient.

It’s not proof positive, but it’s another very significant data point in the growing evidence base that marketing payments from drug companies are not good for medicine and more good for patient care.

– Dr Daniel Carlat, former director of the Prescription Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts


The effects of opioid addiction can be extremely damaging. One patient who was prescribed a mega-powerful opioid (fifty to 100 times more powerful than morphine) known as Subsys claims that the drug placed her in a “zombie-like” state, where she would sometimes wake up on the front lawn or kitchen floor in need of more else she would experience uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea.

When eventually asked to switch medications away from opioids, her doctor became belligerent, she claims.

He said it was Subsys or nothing … I trusted my doctor as you trust the police officer that’s directing traffic when the light is out.

– Angela Contone


A number of patients have filed lawsuits against their doctors for prescribing opioids for the indented purpose of receiving payments and kickbacks, against the interest of the patient.

Carey Ballou, a patient who was prescribed opioids, recalls her doctor bragging about being flown across the country to lecture other doctors, all paid for by drug companies.

He said he was going to Miami, and they were going to give him a convertible, and he was going to stay in the best hotel and eat the best Cuban food he’d ever had.

– Carey Ballou


Carey has since filed a lawsuit against Dr Steven Simon, who was paid over one million dollars by opioid companies according to the federal Open Payments database.

As more patients become aware of the way doctors prescribe opioids and to their effects, the number of patients who become addicted, or worse, will inevitably drop.

This is the first time we’ve seen this, and it’s really important.

– Dr Andrew Kolodny



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Categories: Uncategorized

Should We Be Worried?

Tech Gebuyses Fret that AI is Gonna Kill Us All – Soonish

According to one author, our civilization has only 730 years left. Sorry. But you’ve been warned.

by Nick Bilton

Vanity Fair (March 16 2018)

“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” (c) MGM/Photofest.

Earlier this week, I attended a dinner party hosted by the Edge Foundation, an association that fosters conversation between science and tech intellectuals, in which I found myself seated among a group of physicists, astrologists, historians, philosophers, technologists, and futurists of various varieties and pedigrees. Given the august and diverse group, I decided to ask a provocative question that seemed likely to bridge their manifold disciplines, and possibly elicit some tragicomic debate, too. In short, would artificial intelligence (“AI“) lead to the end of the human race? This was not an idle query. Over the last decade, we’ve given over our lives to computer networks and smart devices. Every aspect of human civilization, from our phones to farms, electric grids and stock markets, cars and missile-guidance systems, have been intertwined with lines of code. The great infrastructure of our existence has never been so vulnerable to manipulation by outside forces – or, one day soon, perhaps, to manipulating itself.

I was stunned by two aspects of their response. First, no one at the table appeared taken aback, surprised, or flummoxed by the question. Second, they all answered immediately, and in unison, “yes”, as if singing the same low note in a choir. This synoptic answer was followed by a moment of self-reflective silence around the table as if the inevitable had already happened and we were now paying cerebral tribute to those who had perished during the end of civilization. I wasn’t sure how to respond, myself, so I asked someone to explain further. Are we really going to be killed by technology, I wondered? And I then launched into a number of frenzied follow-ups: How? When? A historian and philosopher sitting to my left, while scooping fried Brussels sprouts onto his plate, offered a pithy affirmation as the discussion turned to the possibility that a future AI could go rogue and wipe us out. “Yes”, he said, passing the sprouts my way.

As of this moment, it’s still unclear precisely how we might destroy ourselves. Nevertheless, it is something that the country’s smartest minds are correctly consumed with. And many, it appears, are pessimistic about the possible outcomes. We are not far from the day when we could build armies of sophisticated robots – or drones, or nanorobots – that could be unleashed on the world. Nor is it a leap to imagine how these robots could intentionally be designed to destroy, or how seemingly “good” AI (programs designed to help humans) could be turned “bad” by rogue hackers who might, say, instruct swarms of UPS-delivery drones or robotic dog-walkers or fleets of driverless taxis to mercilessly punish us. (These are among the nightmares that haunt Elon Musk, Silicon Valley’s leading AI doomsayer, who in 2015 co-founded the nonprofit OpenAI to help research safeguards as the technology progresses. “With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon”, Musk told Vanity Fair last year. “You know all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and he’s like, yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon? Doesn’t work out.”)

One common fear among technologists is what could happen if Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong Il used software to shut off our power grid, decimating our food supply, heat, and logistical network. It’s hardly a hypothetical concern: In December, the White House said that North Korea had been behind a ransomware infection that temporarily brought the British health system to its knees. On Thursday, the Trump administration accused Russia of having infiltrated American nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, giving hackers the ability to shut them down at will. A congressional report in 2008 predicted that if the power were to go out, ninety percent of the population would die within a year, at best (or worst depending on how you see it) two years, unable to survive off the land, without running water and electricity.

Or, on a seemingly more prosaic level, what if an adversarial foreign government made the fake news that infected the 2016 cycle seem quaint by comparison. One day, after all, technology will possibly allow a hostile nation to create fake content that perfectly depicts, perhaps, a CNN or Fox News telecast (down to the anchors’ facial tics) instructing American citizens that a revolution is happening in the streets, and that we need to join it or die, overthrow our own government and learn Russian in order to survive. The possibilities are limitless, as we witnessed last year in Hawaii, when a false ballistic-missile alert, pushed to every smartphone on the island, sent thousands of people rushing for their basements. As the scientist puts it in Contact (1997), the film adaptation of the Carl Sagan novel, when passing the cyanide pill to Jodie Foster, “There are 1,000 reasons we can think of to have this with you, but mostly it’s for the reasons I can’t think of”.

There are even scarier prophecies. As Jeff Orlowski, the Oscar short-listed filmmaker told me on the Inside the Hive podcast recently, we are very likely in the midst of the sixth extinction (also known as the Holocene extinction), an event that could lead to a “biological annihilation” of wildlife on Earth, including the extinction of the entire human race, along with most other life on this planet. Not to worry though, given that Earth has been through five mass extinctions before. We might not survive, but the pale blue dot on which we’re screaming through space probably will. (Previous extinctions have killed off almost ninety percent of life on the planet, only to see new species form millions of years later.) Some people suggest a meteor could hit Earth; others think we’re going to be killed off by inhabitants of other planets, whose technology and manifest destiny outpaces our own.

What’s more terrifying than all these possible outcomes, however, is how close we may be to the fatal misstep or misfortune that brings the whole messy experiment to an end. William Poundstone, the well-known skeptic, and author of more than a dozen books, including a biography of Sagan, is currently writing a new book about this very topic based on mathematical equations, and he had a rather epigrammatic answer about how its all going to go down. Poundstone recently told me that there are currently two theories in the scientific community about the extent to which our civilization will last, based on how quickly we manage to get our act together. In short, we either have twenty years, or a million. But, in his opinion, the most accurate prediction is that we have about 730 years of humans left on Earth. In other words, between six and eight generations. So your great, great, great, great, great grandchildren could end up being the last living humans in the universe. Gulp.

How did Poundstone come to that number? He cited the work of the physicist J Richard Gott III, who created a famous mathematical equation that is a variation of the Copernican Principle, called Gott’s Principle, which you can use to predict the length of something by determining where in its lifetime we are currently. So far, Gott’s Principal has accurately been used to predict when the Berlin Wall would fall, the duration of dozens of Broadway shows (with 95 percent accuracy), the lifetime of corporations, and now, how long we will survive as a species.

Shortly before his death in 1955, Albert Einstein wrote about the growing destructive possibilities of war, specifically those surrounding atomic weapons, and the need to eradicate militarism and nationalism on Earth if our species hoped to survive. “As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable”, Einstein wrote, and aptly predicted that, with technology, the potential for destruction only grows more powerful: “That is not an attempt to say when it will come, but only that it is sure to come. That was true before the atomic bomb was made. What has changed is the destructiveness of war.” Stephen Hawking, who passed away this week, echoed something similar about artificial intelligence. “AI could be the worst invention of the history of our civilization, that brings dangers like powerful autonomous weapons or new ways for the few to oppress the many”, Hawking said last year. “AI could develop a will of its own, a will that is in conflict with ours and which could destroy us. In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity.” If the smartest minds in the world keep saying this, maybe it’s something we should be listening to?

Kevin Kelly, a scientist, artist, and author, joined me on this week’s Inside the Hive podcast to try to ease my concerns about my progeny being wiped out by a few lines of code. His theory is that Hollywood tropes of the end of the world have colored our thinking about what could go wrong, and in reality, none of that will ever come to fruition. “I think there are plenty of things to worry about with AI, but they are all very close. [It’s] not this far-away thing of them taking over and killing us all”, he said. “Should we be worried about the things Elon Musk says we should be worried about? Yes, there are some people who should worry about it.” But, not everyone should sit there rocking back-and-forth stressing about a robot knocking down their front door. Kelly likened the threat level to that of an asteroid hitting earth: while it’s possible, and it could happen, it’s mathematically unlikely. “I would say the same thing about robots taking over. There is a chance greater than zero that it could happen, and therefore, we should have some people thinking about this, but it’s so unlikely that we don’t really need to have a national policy or even a corporate policy or even a research policy based on that now.” Let’s hope he’s right. I guess we have about 730 years to find out.


Nick Bilton is a special correspondent for Vanity Fair.

Categories: Uncategorized

US Empire in Decline

by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

CounterPunch (March 19 2018)

US empire is in decline. Reports of the end of the US being the unitary power in world affairs are common, as are predictions of the end of US empire. China surpassed the United States as the world economic leader, according to Purchasing Power Parity Gross National Product, and Russia announced new weapons that can overcome the US defense systems.

What is happening in the United States, in response, is to do more of what has been causing the decline. As the Pentagon outlined in its post-primacy report, the US plan is more money, more aggression, and more surveillance. Congress voted nearly unanimously to give the Pentagon tens of billions more than it requested. Military spending will now consume 57% of federal discretionary spending, leaving less for basic necessities. The Trump administration’s new nominees to the State Department and CIA are a war hawk and a torturer. And the Democrat’s “Blue Wave” is composed of security state candidates.

The US is escalating an arms race with Russia and China. This may create the mirror image of President Reagan forcing Russia to spend so much on its military that it aided in the break-up of the Soviet Union. The US economy cannot handle more military spending, worsening austerity when most people in the US are in financial distress.

This is an urgent situation for all people in the world. In the US, we carry an extra burden as citizens of an empire to do what we can to oppose US imperialism. We must be clear that it is time to end wars and other tools of regime change, to become a cooperative member of the world community and to prioritize the needs of people and protection of the planet.

There are a number of opportunities to mobilize against US empire: the April 14-15 days of action, the Women’s March on the Pentagon in October and the mass protest planned against the military parade in November.

Turmoil in Foreign Policy Leadership

This week, President Trump fired Secretary of State Tillerson, nominated CIA director Mike Pompeo for the State Department and chose Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo at the CIA. As we write this newsletter, National Security Adviser H R McMaster is on the verge of being fired. The deck chairs are being rearranged on the Titanic but this will not correct the course of a failing foreign policy.

The Pompeo and Haspel nominations are controversial. Pompeo believes torturers are patriots. He is a war hawk on every conflict and competing country, including Russia and especially Iran. And, unlike Tillerson, who stood up to Trump on occasion, Pompeo kisses-up to Trump, defending his every move. Haspel led a CIA black site torture center and ordered destruction of evidence to obstruct torture investigations.

The Democrat’s record on torture is not good. President Obama said he would not prosecute Bush-era torturers, infamously saying, “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward”. John Brennan who was complicit in Bush-era torture, withdrew under pressure from becoming CIA director in 2008, instead becoming Deputy National Security Adviser, which did not require confirmation. After Obama’s re-election, Brennan became Obama’s CIA director.

Brennan was inconsistent on whether torture worked. He tried to elevate Haspel, but the controversy around her prevented it. When the CIA spied on the US Senate Intelligence committee over their torture report, Brennan originally lied, denying the spying, but was later forced to admit it. He was not held accountable by either the Democrats or Obama.

Haspel headed a black site in Thailand where torture was carried out. She ordered the destruction of 92 secret tapes documenting torture even though the Senate Judiciary requested the tapes, as had a federal judge in a criminal trial. According to a federal court order, the tapes should have been turned over to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA“) request. Counsel for the White House and CIA said the tapes should have been preserved. Haspel’s actions should lead to prosecution, not to a promotion as head of the agency, as CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who exposed torture and served time in prison for it, reminds us.

The Trump nominations leave the Democrats on the cusp of a complete surrender on torture in an election year. Caving on torture by approving Pompeo and Haspel will anger Democratic voters and risk the high turnout need for their anticipated 2018 “Blue Wave”.

Republican Senator Rand Paul says he will oppose both nominees. If all the Democrats oppose, the Senate will be split fifty-fifty, requiring one more Republican to block the nominees. Fifteen Democrats supported Pompeo’s nomination as CIA director, so Democratic opposition is not ensured. Will Democrats oppose torture or be complicit in normalizing torture?

Democrat’s Security State Blue Wave

Militarism and war are bi-partisan. When Trump submitted a military budget, the Democrats almost unanimously joined with the Republicans to increase the budget by tens of billions of dollars. But, that is not all, a series of investigative reports by the World Socialist website reported the Democratic Party is becoming the party of military and intelligence candidates.

The series identifies more than fifty military-intelligence candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in 102 districts identified by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as targets for 2018. The result, as many as half of all new congressional Democrats could come from the national security apparatus. An example is the victory in Pennsylvania by Conor Lamb, an anti-abortion, pro-gun, pro-drug war, ex-Marine, which is being celebrated by Democrats.

The Sanders-Democrats, working to make the Democratic Party a progressive people’s party, are being outflanked by the military-intelligence apparatus. In the end, Democratic Party leadership cares more about numbers than candidate’s policy positions.

Patrick Martin writes:

If on November 6 the Democratic Party makes the net gain of 24 seats needed to win control of the House of Representatives, former CIA agents, military commanders, and State Department officials will provide the margin of victory and hold the balance of power in Congress. The presence of so many representatives of the military-intelligence apparatus in the legislature is a situation without precedent in the history of the United States.


Just as Freedom Caucus Tea Party representatives hold power in the Republican Party, the military-intelligence officials will become the powerhouse for Democrats. This takeover will make the Democrats even more militarist at a dangerous time when threats of war are on the rise and the country needs an opposition party that says “no” to war.

What does this mean? Kim Dotcom might be right when he tweeted, “The Deep State no longer wants to rely on unreliable puppets. They want to run politics directly now.” What does it mean politically? There is no two-party system on militarism and war. Those who oppose war are not represented and must build a political culture to oppose war at home and abroad.

US Foreign Policy Elites in Denial About Russia’s New Weapons

There is dangerous denial among US foreign policy elites about the Russian weapons systems announced by Putin in his state of the union speech last week. Military-intelligence analyst The Saker compares the US reaction to the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. US elites are in the first two stages.

The US does not have an adequate defense to the weapons announced by Putin. As The Saker writes, “Not only does that mean that the entire ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] effort of the USA is now void and useless, but also that from now US aircraft carrier battle groups can only be used against small, defenseless, nations!” US leadership cannot believe that after spending trillions of dollars, Russia has outsmarted their military with ten percent of their budget.

Former Secretary of Defense William Perry exemplifies this denial, claiming Putin’s weapons are “phony”, exaggerated, and do not really exist. Then he blames the Russians for starting an arms race. Of course, in both the National Security Strategy and Nuclear Posture Review, published before the Putin speech, the US announced an arms race.

US political and military leadership brought this on themselves. The US leaving the SALT treaty in 2002 and expanding Nato to cover the Russian border led to Russia’s development of these new weapons.

Further, Obama, and now Trump, support spending more than a trillion dollars to upgrade nuclear weapons. Perry falsifies history and blames Russia rather than looking in the mirror since he was defense secretary during this era of errors.

The new Russian weapons systems do not have to lead to an unaffordable arms race. The US should re-evaluate its strategy and find a diplomatic path to a multi-polar world where the US does not waste money on militarism. We can divest from the military economy and convert it to civilian economic investment, as the US has many needs for infrastructure, energy transition, health care, education, and more.

US global dominance is coming to an end. The issue is how will it end? Will the US hang on with an arms race and never-ending wars, or it will it wind down US empire in a sensible way. The Saker writes:

The Russian end-goal is simple and obvious: to achieve a gradual and peaceful disintegration of the AngloZionist Empire combined with a gradual and peaceful replacement of a unipolar world ruled by one hegemon, by a multipolar world jointly administered by sovereign nations respectful of international law. Therefore, any catastrophic or violent outcomes are highly undesirable and must be avoided if at all possible. Patience and focus will be far more important in this war for the future of our planet than quick-fix reactions and hype. The “patient” needs to be returned to reality one step at a time. Putin’s March 1st speech will go down in history as such a step, but many more such steps will be needed before the patient finally wakes up.


As of now, the Pentagon and US leadership are in denial and not ready to face reality. The people of the United States, in solidarity with people of the world, must act now to end the war culture and convince US leadership that a new path is necessary.

Join the days of action!

April 14-15 – National Days of Action to End the Wars at Home and Abroad.

October 20-21 – Women’s March on the Pentagon

November 10-12 – No Trump Military Parade

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Murder Most Foul in Britain

by Eric Margolis (March 17 2018)

What damned cheek to murder a Russian defector and his daughter in the sleepy town of Salisbury! Britain, the US, Germany, and Canada are all blasting Russia for this dastardly act that was apparently committed using a new nerve agent allegedly made in Russia known to the media as “Novichok”.

The victims of the attack, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, are now under intensive care in the hospital and said to be in grave condition. Britain’s embattled Prime Minister, Theresa May, accused Russia of staging an act of war against Britain and vows revenge. Without yet producing any solid proof.

The Salisbury attack has sharply boosted May’s fortunes and her standing with voters. Before the incident, she was sinking in the post-Brexit storm and facing a Tory rebellion.

But moral outrage won’t buy you lunch. Serious observers must begin asking the obvious question, “if the wicked Vlad Putin ordered this crime, why?” A week before Russia’s national elections? At a time when Russia is being badly hurt by US-imposed trade and financial sanctions?

The toxic substance used – if we are to believe the Brits – was reportedly only made in Russia for military use. Russia, by the way, is in the process of destroying its chemical weapons. Why would Russia use an easily-identified, signature weapon instead of bullets, an untraceable lethal spray (ask the CIA about these) or a seeming accident? Why a deadly toxin when a jab in the neck with a needle would do just as well?

To me, a veteran intelligence watcher and the only journalist shown the KGB’s collection of spycraft, I suspect the attack on the Skripals was more likely done by rogue Russian intelligence agents or by an old-boys network of revenge-seeking retired KGB agents. Maybe even to embarrass President Putin on election eve.

Skripal was no innocent lamb. He had secretly worked for British intelligence MI6, betraying fellow Soviet agents, for years across Europe for money. He was given refuge in Britain after the Cold War. There is nothing lower in the intelligence game than an agent who betrays for money – a Judas with his thirty pieces of silver.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, according to the old saying. KGB’s predecessors used to field a special unit called “Death to Spies”, better known as “Smersh” to liquidate traitors and turncoats. Readers of James Bond books will recognize Smersh. Moscow supposedly disbanded this outfit and its poison laboratories at the end of the Cold War. But my information is that it still exists, either officially or under cover.

Former KGB men are in high positions in Moscow. It’s my belief that it was the KGB that overthrew Boris Yeltsin and installed one of its agents, Vladimir Putin, in power. In 1988, I was told this would happen by KGB’s two most senior officials at its Lubyanka headquarters in Moscow.

There are also large numbers of retired “hard men” of the KGB, or “siloviki”, playing chess and missing the good old Soviet days. I have little doubt that an informal group of them could have acquired toxic agents from the old KGB Moscow poison lab, the notorious “Kamera”, as may have occurred in the 2006 poisoning in London of Russian defector, FSB intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko. He was also working for British intelligence and a bitter foe of Vladimir Putin.

London has long been a center for foes of Russia’s government. At KGB headquarters I saw possessions belonging to “Ace of Spies” Sydney Reilly dating from the 1920s when British agent Reilly tried to overthrow the new Soviet government. British intelligence and Russia/Soviet Union were the most bitter of enemies. Moscow called London “a nest of spies” – which, of course, it is. But no longer a haven of security for Russian defectors.

Britain’s current moral outrage over the attempted murder should be tempered by its own sinister record of assassinations, extrajudicial killings, and skullduggery.

British bombs bought by Saudi Arabia are now blasting Yemen, killing thousands. The full story of Secret Air Service (“SAS“) lethal operations in Yemen and Oman remain to be told. People who live in glass houses …

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2018

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Australia’s Dilemma

The Quad or its National Interest

by James ONeill

New Eastern Outlook (March 17 2018)

In 2005 Japan raised the possibility of a separate grouping of four nations, Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, as a potential counterweight to the growing power of China. It was an ill-considered notion then, and nothing has happened since then to make it a better idea. If anything, it is a worse idea now that was twelve years ago.

Notwithstanding the illogicality and counter-productive nature of the proposal, we see the same four nations yet again raising the possibility of a “Quad” alliance. The one constant factor apart from the profound stupidity of the idea is that having an ambition to constrain China remains at the core. That Australia should even contemplate joining such an ad hoc alliance highlights the fundamental dilemma confronting Australia’s foreign policy.

On the one hand Australian foreign policy and defense commentators, strategists, and politicians constantly reiterate that the United States is the cornerstone or bedrock of Australia’s security strategy. The rhetoric surrounding this reached its apogee last year with Prime Minister Turnbull declaring that Australia and the United States were “joined at the hip” on defense and security issues.

On the other hand, however, not only is Australia geographically located in the Asia-Pacific region, its trade and other relationships are increasingly integrated into what the Australian defense planners used to call “Australia’s Near North”.

The recently released trade statistics for the 2016-2017 calendar years are revealing. Of total exports of $291.4 billion, 71.8% went to the East Asia market (China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan). This compares with just under $19 billion for the whole of the European Union, and less than $17 billion for the whole of the Americas, from Canada to Patagonia. That latter figure was actually a decline of 5.9% over the previous year.

Conversely, trade with China rose 27.1%, Hong Kong 45.7%, Japan 17.4%, and South Korea 15%.

In 2015 Australia signed both a free trade agreement with China and also membership of the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (“AIIB“).

In December 2017 however, Australia was participating in a meeting in India, the so-called Raisina Dialogue, attended by the next US ambassador to Australia, well known Sinophobe Admiral Harry Harris, and the naval chiefs of staff of Japan, India, and Australia.

In addressing the meeting, Harris said “the reality is that China is a disruptive transitional force in the Indo Pacific. They are the owner of the trust deficit that we have spent the last hour or so talking about.”

Harris’s terminology reflected the language of the latest Pentagon defense strategy, released in December 2017, that labels China and Russia “revisionist powers bent on undermining the international rules-based order” and accused China of “predatory economics” that sees its expression in the Belt and Road Initiative (“BRI“).

It was no coincidence that the theme of the Raisina Dialogue was “managing disruptive transitions”. In one sense that is true. The BRI will certainly “disrupt” the existing order, both in trade and geopolitically. Whether or not one sees that as a good or a bad thing, depends in part on one’s view of the existing geopolitical order.

This is the order that western politicians and commentators almost invariably cite as the “rules-based international order”, the standard bearer and upholder of which is also almost invariably cited as the United States.

One of the greatest difficulties in persuading Australians to address the dichotomy between their perceived security interests (US-centered) and their national trade interests (East Asian centered) is to have them understand that the parrot-like recitation of the United States as an upholder of the rules-based international system is based upon a complete fiction.

The United States has been at war for 225 of the 242 years since its independence in 1776. Since 1945 alone it has attacked and in many cases occupied, at least 37 nations, killing more than thirty million people in the process. It has engineered “regime change” in at least as many countries again. It is the single greatest violator of international law of any nation on the planet. Its list of broken international agreements is a major reason why Vladimir Putin described the United States last year as “not agreement capable”.

The BRI, contrary to Harris’s reported comments, is an outstanding example of multilateral peaceful development. Of course, China wants a geopolitical benefit from its huge investments. The outstanding difference with the history of the Western great powers of old, however, is that China does not and never has, sought to subjugate countries that provide its raw materials. Neither has it invaded other countries nor sought “regime change” in governments who failed to comply with its wishes.

The lessons of history are clear for those not blinded by ideology and a fantasy view of reality.

The Quad proposal is as internally inconsistent now as it was when first proposed in 2005. If it was truly a union of democratic forces seeking to provide peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, why then does it not include, for example, Indonesia, Singapore, and South Korea?

The reason should be obvious. Those three countries perceive the Quad for what it is: a thinly veiled anti-China alliance to replace the Obama administrations failed pivot to Asia. They are smart enough not to be associated with a scheme that would upset its most important trading partner and the major power in the region if not yet the world.

There are also doubts about the external consistency of the Quad proposal. When first proposed by Japan’s Prime Minister Abe in 2005, the explicit aim was to assist in Japan in resisting China’s inexorable rise is a geopolitical power in East Asia. Now, although there are some lingering disputes between the two nations, as in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Japan is also actively cooperating with China in the construction of bridge and tunnel links to the Eurasian mainland so that Japan can benefit from the BRI links to European markets.

India similarly has a dispute with China over border issues, but it is also an important member of BRICS, recently became a full member of the SCO, and it is the starting point for the North-South Transportation Corridor via Iran and Azerbaijan to Russia. That development alone could not be seen as consistent with the United States’ geopolitical objectives, which currently demonizes both Iran and Russia on a full-time basis.

That leaves Australia, twisting on the horns of its self-created and unresolved dilemma. Despite the trade figures cited above; despite the apparent support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for Australia to join the BRI following explicit invitations from the government of China and the strong support of a number of business-related groups who see it’s enormous potential; it seems that the real driver of Australia’s foreign and trade policy is the Department of Defense.

The forthcoming ASEAN meeting being hosted in Canberra should be a golden opportunity to address the geopolitical realities. If history is any guide, however, Australia will continue to foster its delusions and cling to the coattails of the United States.

Until the confusion as to what constitutes Australia’s real national interest is resolved, the country will continue to follow the United States and its disastrous path to the detriment of Australia’s economic and political well being.


James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.

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