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Capitalist Breakdown and the Drive to War

by Nick Beams

World Socialist Web Site, wsws.org (September 06 2014)

The most striking aspect of this week’s meeting of the governing council of the European Central Bank (“ECB”) was not the decisions it took to further reduce official interest rates and initiate the purchase of asset-backed securities, significant as they were.

Rather, it was the deep sense of malaise that hung over the meeting as the financial powers-that-be confronted the fact that six years after the breakdown of the global financial system in 2008, not only are they no closer to finding a set of policies to bring about economic “recovery”, the situation is worsening.

With output in the euro zone still below its level in 2007, the dismal outlook was reflected in the remarks of ECB President Mario Draghi. He referred to “downside risks”, “a loss of cyclical growth momentum”, and a “lack of confidence in the future”. As if to underline these comments, a report published the following day revealed that investment in the euro area had fallen in the second quarter.

The worsening trends in the European economy are only the most graphic expression of global developments. In Japan, the world’s third largest single-nation economy, “Abenomics”, which was supposed to have provided a boost through a fiscal and monetary stimulus plan, is widely acknowledged to be “running out of steam”.

China, the world’s second largest economy, is said to be “unravelling” as concerns mount over the instability of the financial system, amid falls in the property market and real estate investment, which provided much of the economic expansion after 2008.

The fact that the United States economy, where economic growth has been only one percent overall for the first half of this year, is regarded as a “bright spot” is indicative of the worsening global economic outlook.

These facts and figures make clear that the financial collapse of September~October 2008 was not a conjunctural event, but the start of what has become an ongoing disaster.

The extent of the breakdown was revealed in evidence presented on August 22 in a US court hearing. In a document filed with the US Court of Federal Claims, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve during the height of the crisis, stated:

September and October 2008 was the worst financial crisis in global history, including the Great Depression. Of the thirteen most important financial institutions in the United States, twelve were at risk of failure within a period of a week or two.

The far-reaching consequences of the breakdown can be seen in every aspect of economic, social and political life.

Having no economic solution to the crisis of the profit system, the ruling elites worldwide are stepping up their attacks on the working class, determined to crush any resistance by military means, as the events in Ferguson, Missouri so clearly demonstrate.

Social inequality is widening, as evidenced by data from the US Federal Reserve that shows median American incomes declined by five percent from 2010 to 2013, during the so-called economic “recovery”.

The geo-political situation is characterised by ever-increasing militarism, bringing the prospect of another world war closer than at any time since 1939.

Analysing the underlying reasons for the outbreak of World War One in 1914, Leon Trotsky drew out the connection between the crisis of the world economy and the turn to militarism. His remarks have lost none of their relevance for today.

The years leading up to the outbreak of World War One, like the period prior to 2008, were marked by stormy economic growth. But by 1913~1914, the limits to that growth had been reached and the world economy experienced a fundamental shift.

From the middle of the 1890s, Trotsky explained, the basic curve of capitalist development climbed steeply upwards. But this very upswing created the conditions for a breakdown.

“In 1914”, Trotsky wrote, “a crisis broke out which marked not merely a periodic oscillation, but the beginning of an epoch of prolonged economic stagnation. The imperialist war was an attempt to break out of the impasse.”

Further economic development at the pace of the previous period was “extremely difficult”, as the bourgeoisie “flinched against the limits of the market”.

“This created class tensions, made worse by politics, and this led it to war in August 1914”.

History, of course, does not repeat itself. But the parallels between the period leading up to 1914 and our own times are nonetheless striking. In 2006, barely a year before the financial system began to experience increasing turbulence, the world economy enjoyed its highest level of growth in more than three decades.

According to the official version of events, the American economy was characterised by a “great moderation” in which the problems it had confronted in the 1970s and 1980s had finally been overcome. China and the so-called “emerging markets” were providing a new foundation for the world economy. Even Africa was viewed as a new basis for global capitalist expansion.

However, the expansion was based on quicksand – the exponential growth of financial speculation and parasitism. Like a tuberculosis victim, capitalism had acquired rosy cheeks before plunging into a disaster.

The ruling classes have no way out, other than the provision of endless supplies of cash to financial markets that are terrified of the consequences of being cut off, coupled with the intensification of militarism as each of the capitalist great powers seeks a solution at the expense of its rivals.

The drive to war is also being fuelled by the rise of class conflict at home, as governments attempt to deflect tensions outwards while creating a police-military state apparatus to defend the capitalist order against the coming social explosion produced by worsening social conditions and rising inequality.

The only way forward for the international working class – the producers of the economic wealth that could provide a decent future for all – is the development of a mass anti-war movement based on the program of socialist internationalism. The working class must take the wheel of political power in its own hands and turn it towards the reconstruction of the world economy based on human need, not the dictates of profit. There is no other way out of the catastrophe into which global capitalism is plunging mankind.

Copyright (c)1998-2016 World Socialist Web Site – All rights reserved

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/09/06/pers-s06.html

Categories: Uncategorized

The Disturbing Signs …

… of Global Conflict Continue to Gather Pace

by Graham Vanbergen

Strategic Culture Foundation (September 09 2016)

 

The signs are ominous, the rhetoric constant. Whichever way you look at it, the world is slowly descending into an ever greater spiral of conflict. We all know that the current wars raging in the Middle East have the potential to go catastrophically wrong and pull the super-powers into something much bigger.

You also know things are not good when the so-called ‘conspiracy theories’ from alternative media outlets eventually goes mainstream, and there’s no shortage:

* http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/14/heres-how-world-war-three-could-start-tomorrow/

* http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/13/opinion/13FRIE.html

* http://www.globalresearch.ca/world-war-iii-in-the-pipeline-us-and-european-allies-threaten-russia-americans-need-to-wake-up/5537436

* http://www.australianetworknews.com/world-war-3-update-us-warns-china-at-g20-summit/

* https://www.rt.com/op-edge/358379-china-russias-g20-message/

* http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2016/08/17/480468/US-Donald-Trump-Police-Shooting-Lendman

* https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/25/spie-f25.html

To confirm the state of the world today, the Global Peace Index states, and I quote – “There are now only ten countries in the world that are free from conflict”.

The Independent has a forty second video {1} of these ten countries, it’s worth watching, you’ll be surprised.

Some believe World War Three has already started, most dispute that. It takes no more than a spark to light the fire and currently there are a lot of sparks flying around. Even political instability in the European Union as a result of a refugee crisis is a cause for concern. Pew Research, published just last month, confirmed that European’s fear a wave of refugees will mean more terrorism and fewer jobs {2}. Violent protests have broken out, politician’s are worried. The Vice President of the International Relations Committee at Hungary’s parliament, Jobbik Member Marton Gyongyosi was supported by other EU leaders when he has suggested that “physical protection of our borders” is required. He went further:

 

 

The US caused this (refugee) problem in the neighborhood of Europe and then leans back criticizing European countries for not dealing with the problem efficiently.

 

 

In that context, a few EU leaders are calling for an EU wide army and its own intelligence service. It seems America and therefore Nato are not as trusted as they once were. The US/EU trade deal TTIP, the largest deal in the history of humanity, is reported as being over. Is this evidence of the widening gap of disagreement, maybe.

The outcome is a changing political landscape. Before the European Union was created by the Maastricht Treaty on November 1st 1993 there were just 25 nationalist political parties. Since the birth of the formalised EU there has been a 150 per cent rise in political parties on the extremes of the political spectrum, now totalling 64. One of them was Ukip that focused on immigration and subsequently produced the “Brexit” protest vote that now threatens to tear the EU project apart.

North Korea is a wild card scenario – anything could happen, but if South Korea was attacked, America would have no option but to step in. And what would China do – it’s anyone’s guess.

Tension has substantially risen around the world over USA and Russia/China relations, the South China Sea, Ukraine and Crimea, multiple Mid-East conflicts, north Africa and South America. One should not forget currency wars, economic and political sanctions adding to the global strain. John Pilger’s interview on the Threat of World War Three {3} leaves the viewer in no doubt as to where he lays blame, and if anyone knows about war, he should, he’s covered most of them since Vietnam.

Even basic resources are a cause for concern. Natural water for one, food scarcity, food security and environmental disasters all add to a backdrop where global terrorism is massively on the rise, global debt is now a third bigger than prior to 2007, mass protests due to political instability, such as South America (Brazil being a new hotspot) all adding to increasing tension.

The geo-political situation is now characterised by ever-increasing militarism across the world, bringing the prospect of another world war closer than at any time since 1939.

Scrutinising the underlying issues and causes for the devastating outbreak of World War One in 1914 which ended up killing seventeen million {4}, Leon Trotsky laid bare the startling similarities between the crisis of the world economy at the time and the turn to militarism. Historical records display a relevance for today that should serve as an advance warning of the horrors that extreme neoliberalism and globalisation offers up if we do not make efforts to pull back from the brink.

From WSWS in an article entitled “Capitalist breakdown and the drive to war”, comparisons are made between the extreme economic conditions just prior to the first world war and today:

 

 

The years leading up to the outbreak of World War One, like the period prior to 2008, were marked by stormy economic growth. But by 1913~1914, the limits to that growth had been reached and the world economy experienced a fundamental shift. From the middle of the 1890s, Trotsky explained, the basic curve of capitalist development climbed steeply upwards. But this very upswing created the conditions for a breakdown. “In 1914”, Trotsky wrote, “a crisis broke out which marked not merely a periodic oscillation, but the beginning of an epoch of prolonged economic stagnation. The imperialist war was an attempt to break out of the impasse.” Further economic development at the pace of the previous period was “extremely difficult”, as the bourgeoisie “flinched against the limits of the market”. “This created class tensions, made worse by politics, and this led it to war in August 1914. {5}

 

 

Corrupt bankers represent a threat not only to those they directly rip off but also potentially the entire global financial system the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has warned.

The parallels are striking, particularly as the financial crisis forced upon us in 2007~2008 by an out of control banking system, that benefited a tiny elite, caused wave after wave of economic turbulence, austerity and the dismantling of the social democratic movement that itself was born from the wreckage of World War Two. Peoples across the world are getting angry as inequality worsens.

Mark Carney has written a very strongly worded letter, in his capacity as chair of the Financial Stability Board (“FSB”) to a global forum of national regulators, financial ministries and central banks – to the G20, which is currently meeting in China.

“The incidence of financial sector misconduct has risen to a level that has the potential to create systemic risks” he says. The message is quite clear. Carney believes there is another systemic crisis centred around financial markets. Even he believes and openly stated that corrupt bankers now represent a threat not only to those they directly rip off but also to the entire global financial system. Last year, just four of Britain’s banks were fined well over fiftu billion GBP ($67 billion) for their egregious acts of criminality {6}. Prison beckoned for no-one, whilst poverty soared. Don’t forget the London riots. Spreading like wildfire, the resulting chaos generated looting, arson, and mass deployment of police and resulted in the death of five people. In just three days, a dozen towns and cities were no-go areas of violence, 3,443 crimes reported, over a thousand arrests – from an unrelated spark.

According to Jim Rickards, the CIA’s Asymmetric Warfare Advisor, the probability of a new global conflict is rising every day. In a startling interview from last year he reveals that all sixteen US Intelligence Agencies have begun to prepare for World War Three {7}. Richards is predicting the fall of the dollar with the result of “an extended period of global anarchy”.

In the meantime, Russia is preparing to be attacked by Nato and America. Global Research reports that Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, President of the International Centre of Geopolitical Analysis explained in an interview to KP, that

 

 

… if data on Russia-Nato power balance at the Western direction is analyzed, as well as military activity build-up rate at our borders, scale of combat equipment deployment, if the grade of Russia’s demonization is estimated, one can say that preparation to a real war is taking place, as such acts are usually undertaken at the forefront of a war {8}.

 

 

Russia, so threatened by the West, it is now building huge nuclear bunkers {9} around Moscow to protect itself at a time when financial resources are at best ‘stretched’.

As TIME reports,

 

 

The South China Sea has instantly become uncharted waters for the globe’s two most-powerful nations. The ruling from the Netherlands, while legally binding, has no mechanism for enforcement. That means negotiations will be required to ease the growing territorial tensions in and around the South China Sea. If talks don’t happen, or go nowhere – and China continues to refuse to back down – a military clash could occur. {10}

 

 

Dr Paul Craig Roberts quite firmly believes a Third World War is currently being fought. How long before it moves into its hot stage he asks:

 

 

Washington is currently conducting economic and propaganda warfare against four members of the five bloc group of countries known as BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Brazil and South Africa are being destabilized with fabricated political scandals. Both countries are rife with Washington-financed politicians and Non-Governmental Organizations (“NGOs”). Washington concocts a scandal, sends its political agents into action demanding action against the government and its NGOs into the streets in protests.

We have already seen what the New World Order has done with Islam. As Pope Francis says, they have used it to foment a crisis, a clash of civilisations

 

 

Even The Pope believes the start of World War Three is underway – “To be clear, when I speak about war, I speak about real war. Not a war of religion. There is a war of interests. There is a war for money. There is a war for natural resources. There is a war for domination of peoples” Pope Francis said, alluding to globalisation and the goals of the so-called New World Order of complete and total control over every human being on the planet.

Already, the world has more displaced people than at any time during the course of either World War One or Two. The fight for resources as a direct result of globalism now threatens peace on every continent in the world.

The Doomsday Clock is an internationally recognised design that conveys how close we are to destroying our civilisation with dangerous technologies of our own making, nuclear weaponry by far our most dangerous experiment, makes the clock tick each year. It puts the current time of war at 23.57 – just 120 seconds left.

The current position of the Doomsday Clock is the closest it has been since 1984 and is actually a few clicks closer to reaching a global extinction event for humans than in 1962 when the Cuban missile crisis had twitchy American and Russian fingers on red buttons. What a cataclysmic ending for humanity, bombed back into the stone age. For what?

Links:

{1} http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/global-peace-index-2016-there-are-now-only-10-countries-in-the-world-that-are-not-at-war-a7069816.html

{2} http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/07/11/europeans-fear-wave-of-refugees-will-mean-more-terrorism-fewer-jobs/

{3} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahEdcuxlN1o

{4} https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties

{5} http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/09/06/pers-s06.html

{6} http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-3184282/Britain-s-big-four-banks-rack-50bn-fines-financial-crisis-HSBC-set-pay-500m-rigging-foreign-exchange-markets.html

{7} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAyhqEl5WRQ

{8} http://www.globalresearch.ca/us-nato-prepares-for-war-against-russia-washingtons-objective-create-divisions-between-europe-and-russia/5533377

{9} http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/707195/Vladimir-Putin-russia-top-secret-nuclear-bunkers-moscow-world-war-three-Mount-Yamantau

{10} http://time.com/4402562/south-china-sea-hague-ruling/

{11} http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2016/04/25/world-war-iii-has-begun-paul-craig-roberts/

{12} http://yournewswire.com/pope-francis-vatican-acknowledges-world-war-3-has-begun/

_____

Republishing is welcomed with reference to Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal http://www.strategic-culture.org.

http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2016/09/10/disturbing-signs-global-conflict-continue-gather-pace.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Time to Mandate a Return to Paper Ballots Nationwide

by Dave Lindorff

CounterPunch (September 19 2016)

Politicians of both major parties love to boast that the US is the world’s oldest democracy and of course a “model for the world”. Putting aside the matter of whether or not that is even true (US “democracy” cannot really be said to have begun until women got the vote in 1920, and maybe until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made voting by blacks truly a reality in parts of the country, and meanwhile Iceland’s Althing or parliament dates to 930 AD), the use of electronic voting machines in many jurisdictions has made any such claims a complete joke.

These needlessly confusing, often malfunctioning, and easily hackable devices, which have demonstrably done things like switch whole voting records from one candidate to another, or simply erased all votes cast in a day, and which are so costly that they are used as an excuse to provide only minimal opportunity to vote in many “undesirable” election districts, leading to lines that can require waiting hours outdoors just to get to cast a ballot, belie the claims made for the US to be a beacon of liberty and democratic governance.

So what’s the deal with these machines? Why do we even have them?

The goal of any voting system should be accuracy, not speed of counting, and yet we see state after state and county after county getting sold on electronic equipment that is costly, error-ridden, failure prone, and unnecessary. For centuries, people in democracies have voted by raised hands or with paper ballots, with minimal problems given good official and volunteer oversight.

What is driving the switch to machines in the US is the media. The same corporate media that have turned campaigns into battles over soundbites, “gotcha” questions, and a focus on non-issues like whether a candidate’s hair is silly looking or whether he/she believes in God.

For the corporate media, Election Day and Election Night are all about money – specifically a race to “call” election results. Who will be first to announce a winner as the votes are tallied? In an industry that has been paring down news budgets year after year to the point that little serious reporting gets done, vast sums are spent having people stationed at polling places everywhere calling in the tallies as they get read out of the machines.

But why should we care – particularly when it comes to national races – when newly elected, or re-elected, members of Congress, and the president, are not actually installed in office until January, more than two months after the voting is over and done with?

There is plenty of time to get it not first, but right, and that would be true even if we were to use paper ballots and count them by hand, as used to be the standard procedure.

Many countries that have fallen for the lure of electronic voting have later seen the error of their ways and have gone back to paper ballots, precisely for that reason. Some jurisdictions in the US have recently gone back to paper ballots, too. Their people want to make sure that votes are tallied properly, and that in the case of close races, the count can be checked accurately. Out of eight European countries that experimented with electronic voting machines, six have rejected the idea and have gone back to paper ballots. We saw that system at work earlier this year in the bitterly fought and unexpectedly close “Brexit” vote that saw a narrow majority of Britons vote to have the UK leave the Eurozone.

As a Fulbright journalism professor in residence at Sun Yat-Sen National University in Kaohsiung, I witnessed and reported on a hard-fought election in Taiwan in 2004 that showed just how reliable paper ballots can be. On that island, where democracy is a recent and enthusiastically practiced affair following decades of a nasty dictatorship under Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo, there was a fierce election contest between the incumbent president of the Democratic Progressive Party (“DPP”) and the candidate of the old Kuomintang (“KMT”) founded by Chiang. The big issue, as always in Taiwan, was relations with the People’s Republic of China, which doesn’t recognize Taiwan’s independence and considers it a province of China and China’s “largest island”. The DPP favors open independence and a standoffish approach to China, while the KMT typically wants better relations and closer economic ties.

In 2004 the race was unusually tight. Then, a week before the voting, both President Chen Shui-bian and his running made, VP Annette Lu, running on the DPP ticket, were hit by an apparent assassin’s bullet during a motorcade. Chen’s abdomen was grazed, leaving a horizontal gash across his abdominal muscles, while Lu’s kneecap was struck. There was a huge dispute over whether the shooting was staged or a real assassination attempt, though the path of the bullet, which entered through the front windshield of the jeep carrying the two candidates, followed a remarkable, ricocheting course hitting but only wounding both Chen and Lu (it was reminiscent of the “magic bullet” that is said to have killed JFK and wounded then Texas Governor John Connally). Turnout on election day after that incident was a record, with the final tally being 50.11% for the DPP candidates and 49.89% for the KMT slate. That was a margin of about 0.23%, out of 12.9 million votes cast. Talk about Florida in 2000!

Naturally, the KMT demanded a recount. There were battles in the courts and in the legislative Yuan over whether and how to do it, but ultimately the president agreed to a recount. I, along with most of the Taiwanese people, then watched in astonishment on television as bales of ballots were painstakingly hand counted in each voting district, each paper ballot passing from the hand of a representative of one party to the hand of a representative of the other party and then to a neutral judge before being counted. It was a grindingly slow process that took over a week to complete. In the end, Chen and the DPP still won the election, though his margin of victory slipped slightly from an original 29,518 votes, or 0.2291% of the total, to just 25,563 votes, or 0.2289%.

After all that effort, in other words, out of 12.9 million votes cast (about one tenth of the number cast in US presidential elections), the difference between the initial count and the recount was only 3955 votes.

Try to imagine a recount in any major election in the US coming out that close to the original count – especially in an election that close that included an assassination attempt! Many election districts in the US wouldn’t even be able to recount their votes, because their electronic machines have no paper record of individual votes – just the recorded totals – if that. In fact, according to one expert, electronic machines, which all have documented error rates, some as high as five percent of votes cast, because of both human error and inevitable internal glitches, mean that a recount of a really close race where the margin of victory was within that error rate wouldn’t prove anything.

Clearly, paper ballots work. They don’t provide a rapid result, which means that the ratings and the ad revenue from bleary-eyed voters watching endless blather on the tube interspersed with commercials for drugs, reverse mortgages and Ginsu knives, will plummet, but if the goal of a voting system is to get it right, paper ballots win by a landslide.

Why doesn’t the US go back to paper ballots?

Ask your local media.

Maybe someone should do a poll of us voters, and ask whether we want our elections to be fraud-free, or just want fast counting and a quick answer to who won. I suspect the fraud-free option would win hands down.

Of course, there can be fraud with paper ballots, but it’s a hell of a lot harder to stuff ballot boxes with paper ballots (there are, after all, records of how many people voted, so you’d have to steal away an equal number of cast ballots to make that work), or to alter a large number of cast ballots, or to steal and “lose” cartons of ballots. And it’s also easier for voting officials to put physical security around paper ballots until they are counted and until any recount has been done, than to guard against software viruses or hacks. For one thing, the competing parties’ officers and volunteers can physically verify the presence of secure guard personnel over cast paper ballots, while there’s no easy way to verify that proper measures are being taken to protect electronic systems and electronic records of votes cast.

The US has a long way to go to before it can make a credible claim to be one of the world’s leading democracies, even if not the oldest. Returning to paper ballots, and requiring all jurisdictions to have a long period before election day during which people can mail them in, would be a good start.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/19/time-to-mandate-a-return-to-paper-ballots-nationwide/

Categories: Uncategorized

Just Quit Calling It Democracy Already

by Elliot Sperber

CounterPunch (September 15 2016)

You know that we don’t live in a democracy, right? and that, except for a few, fleeting historical moments, there’s never been democracy, right?

You know that, for instance, there was no democracy in ancient Athens (where women were treated like property, and slavery was rampant, and only property-owning male citizens had any social power), right?

And you know that, as a matter of fact, there’s been no democracy in the USA for most of its history, too, right? That, as a matter of logic, there was no democracy when chattel slavery was widespread, and that democracy was nothing but a racist, sexist fiction when women were essentially the property of men, and all but wealthy, white men were excluded from participating in decision making, right?

Yes, you knew that. How could you not? But did you know that, in spite of the above, democracy has, on occasion, emerged in the USA as well? Well, it has. The social, political, and economic gains achieved by working people, the poor, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, and everyone else who’s managed to shake off some of the weight of the literal and metaphorical chains of the reigning order have been accomplished by democratic deviations from the norm (by breaking the rules, not to mention the laws). That’s where your democracy resides – as an exception to the rule, a rupture in the fabric of the generally anti-egalitarian social order.

As opposed to national histories, one can view this tendency as central to human history itself. As central as it is ubiquitous, one sees it emerging all over. Just look at Standing Rock, North Dakota, the ongoing national prison strike against slave labor, and the Black Lives Matter movement. That’s where democracy is – not to mention in Colin Kaepernick’s spreading disobedience (and in Edward Snowden’s and Chelsea Manning’s resistance, as well as in the millions of other, less visible, refusals occurring all over the planet). Those are the places where democracy lives – not in the rule, but in the egalitarian exception.

In spite of the many generations of egalitarian refusal and resistance, though (resistances that have in many respects brought us to, or created, the present moment), the fact of the matter is that we still inhabit a wholly plutocratic reality. How else is it the case that though a super-majority of people think that the USA should join the rest of the so-called developed world and extend universal healthcare to all we still have a for-profit health care system? Why’s this so? Who does it benefit? Isn’t it because of the golden rule? You know the golden rule, right? I think it’s in the bible: those with the gold (and the weapons, and the influence it buys) make the rules. Isn’t this the holding in Citizens United? Also known as plutocracy – the rule of the ploutos (the rich) – our “representative democracy” represents just this.

Why else is it the case that monetary considerations prevail over all others in this society? Or that, though most in the US don’t want the Trans-Pacific Partnership to be signed into law, and have succeeded in pressuring even Clinton and Trump into rejecting it, Obama nevertheless recently vowed that he would attempt to push it through Congress? Is that democratic? No, it isn’t. It’s plutocratic, though – through and through. So, here’s my question: why don’t we do ourselves a favor and quit referring to this society as democratic? It only makes us sound like fools.

_____

 

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber

More articles by Elliot Sperber: http://www.counterpunch.org/author/es/

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/15/quit-calling-it-democracy/

Categories: Uncategorized

The Mounting Threat to Climate Progress

Will Trumpism, Brexit, and Geopolitical Exceptionalism Sink the Planet?

by Michael T Klare

TomDispatch (September 15 2016)

In a year of record-setting heat on a blistered globe, with fast-warming oceans, fast-melting ice caps, and fast-rising sea levels, ratification of the December 2015 Paris climate summit agreement – already endorsed by most nations – should be a complete no-brainer.  That it isn’t tells you a great deal about our world.  Global geopolitics and the possible rightward lurch of many countries (including a potential deal-breaking election in the United States that could put a climate denier in the White House) spell bad news for the fate of the Earth. It’s worth exploring how this might come to be.

The delegates to that 2015 climate summit were in general accord about the science of climate change and the need to cap global warming at 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius (or 2.6 to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit) before a planetary catastrophe ensues.  They disagreed, however, about much else. Some key countries were in outright conflict with other states (Russia with Ukraine, for example) or deeply hostile to each other (as with India and Pakistan or the US and Iran). In recognition of such tensions and schisms, the assembled countries crafted a final document that replaced legally binding commitments with the obligation of each signatory state to adopt its own unique plan, or “nationally determined contribution” (“NDC”), for curbing climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, the fate of the planet rests on the questionable willingness of each of those countries to abide by that obligation, however sour or bellicose its relations with other signatories may be.  As it happens, that part of the agreement has already been buffeted by geopolitical headwinds and is likely to face increasing turbulence in the years to come.

That geopolitics will play a decisive role in determining the success or failure of the Paris Agreement has become self-evident in the short time since its promulgation. While some progress has been made toward its formal adoption – the agreement will enter into force only after no fewer than 55 countries, accounting for at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions, have ratified it – it has also encountered unexpected political hurdles, signaling trouble to come.

On the bright side, in a stunning diplomatic coup, President Obama persuaded Chinese President Xi Jinping to sign the accord with him during a recent meeting of the G-20 group of leading economies in Hangzhou. Together, the two countries are responsible for a striking forty percent of global emissions.  “Despite our differences on other issues”, Obama noted during the signing ceremony, “we hope our willingness to work together on this issue will inspire further ambition and further action around the world”.

Brazil, the planet’s seventh largest emitter, just signed on as well, and a number of states, including Japan and New Zealand, have announced their intention to ratify the agreement soon.  Many others are expected to do so before the next major UN climate summit in Marrakesh, Morocco, this November.

On the dark side, however, Great Britain’s astonishing Brexit vote has complicated the task of ensuring the European Union’s approval of the agreement, as European solidarity on the climate issue – a major factor in the success of the Paris negotiations – can no longer be assured. “There is a risk that this could kick EU ratification of the Paris Agreement into the long grass”, suggests Jonathan Grant, director of sustainability at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The Brexit campaign itself was spearheaded by politicians who were also major critics of climate science and strong opponents of efforts to promote a transition from carbon-based fuels to green sources of energy. For example, the chair of the Vote Leave campaign, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, is also chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think-tank devoted to sabotaging government efforts to speed the transition to green energy. Many other top Leave campaigners, including former Conservative ministers John Redwood and Owen Paterson, were also vigorous climate deniers.

In explaining the strong link between these two camps, analysts at the Economist noted that both oppose British submission to international laws and norms:

 

Brexiteers dislike EU regulations and know that any effective action to tackle climate change will require some kind of global cooperation: carbon taxes or binding targets on emissions. The latter would be the EU writ large and Britain would have even less say in any global agreement, involving some 200 nations, than in an EU regime involving 28.

 

Keep in mind as well that Angela Merkel and François Hollande, the leaders of the other two anchors of the European Union, Germany and France, are both embattled by right-wing anti-immigrant parties likely to be similarly unfriendly to such an agreement.  And in what could be the deal-breaker of history, this same strain of thought, combining unbridled nationalism, climate denialism, fierce hostility to immigration, and unwavering support for domestic fossil fuel production, also animates Donald Trump’s campaign for the American presidency.

In his first major speech on energy, delivered in May, Trump – who has called global warming a Chinese hoax – pledged to “cancel the Paris climate agreement” and scrap the various measures announced by President Obama to ensure US compliance with its provisions. Echoing the views of his Brexit counterparts, he complained that “this agreement gives foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use on our land, in our country. No way.” He also vowed to revive construction of the Keystone XL pipeline (which would bring carbon-heavy Canadian tar sands oil to refineries on the US Gulf Coast), to reverse any climate-friendly Obama administration acts, and to promote the coal industry.  “Regulations that shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants and block the construction of new ones – how stupid is that?” he said, mockingly.

In Europe, ultra-nationalist parties on the right are riding a wave of Islamaphobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, and disgust with the European Union. In France, for instance, former president Nicolas Sarkozy announced his intention to run for that post again, promising even more stringent controls on migrants and Muslims and a greater focus on French “identity”. Even further to the right, the rabidly anti-Muslim Marine Le Pen is also in the race at the head of her National Front Party.  Like-minded candidates have already made gains in national elections in Austria and most recently in a state election in Germany that stunned Merkel’s ruling party.  In each case, they surged by disavowing relatively timid efforts by the European Union to resettle refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries. Although climate change is not a defining issue in these contests as it is in the US and Britain, the growing opposition to anything associated with the EU and its regulatory system poses an obvious threat to future continent-wide efforts to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

Elsewhere in the world, similar strands of thinking are spreading, raising serious questions about the ability of governments to ratify the Paris Agreement or, more importantly, to implement its provisions.  Take India, for example.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (“BJP”) has indeed voiced support for the Paris accord and promised a vast expansion of solar power.  He has also made no secret of his determination to promote economic growth at any cost, including greatly increased reliance on coal-powered electricity. That spells trouble.  According to the Energy Information Administration of the US Department of Energy, India is likely to double its coal consumption over the next 25 years, making it the world’s second largest coal consumer after China. Combined with an increase in oil and natural gas consumption, such a surge in coal use could result in a tripling of India’s carbon dioxide emissions at a time when most countries (including the US and China) are expected to experience a peak or decline in theirs.

Prime Minister Modi is well aware that his devotion to coal has generated resentment among environmentalists in India and elsewhere who seek to slow the growth of carbon emissions. He nonetheless insists that, as a major developing nation, India should enjoy a special right to achieve economic growth in any way it can, even if this means endangering the environment. “The desire to improve one’s lot has been the primary driving force behind human progress”, his government affirmed in its emissions-reduction pledge to the Paris climate summit. “Nations that are now striving to fulfill this ‘right to grow’ of their teeming millions cannot be made to feel guilty [about] their development agenda as they attempt to fulfill this legitimate aspiration”.

Russia is similarly likely to put domestic economic needs (and the desire to remain a great power, militarily and otherwise) ahead of its global climate obligations. Although President Vladimir Putin attended the Paris summit and assured the gathered nations of Russian compliance with its outcome, he has also made it crystal clear that his country has no intention of giving up its reliance on oil and natural gas exports for a large share of its national income. According to the Energy Information Administration, Russia’s government relies on such exports for a staggering fifty percent of its operating revenue, a share it dare not jeopardize at a time when its economy – already buffeted by European Union and US sanctions – is in deep recession. To ensure the continued flow of hydrocarbon income, in fact, Moscow has announced multibillion dollar plans to develop new oil and gas fields in Siberia and the Arctic, even if such efforts fly in the face of commitments to reduce future carbon emissions.

From Reform and Renewal to Rivalry

Such nationalistic exceptionalism could become something of the norm if Donald Trump wins in November, or other nations join those already eager to put the needs of a fossil fuel-based domestic growth agenda ahead of global climate commitments. With that in mind, consider the assessment of future energy trends that the Norwegian energy giant Statoil recently produced.  In it is a chilling scenario focused on just this sort of dystopian future.

The second-biggest producer of natural gas in Europe after Russia’s Gazprom, Statoil annually issues Energy Perspectives, a report that explores possible future energy trends. Previous editions included scenarios labeled “reform” (predicated on coordinated but gradual international efforts to shift from carbon fuels to green energy technology) and “renewal” (positing a more rapid transition). The 2016 edition, however, added a grim new twist: “rivalry”. It depicts a realistically downbeat future in which international strife and geopolitical competition discourage significant cooperation in the climate field.

According to the document, the new section is “driven” by real-world developments – by, that is, “a series of political crises, growing protectionism, and a general fragmentation of the state system, resulting in a multipolar world developing in different directions.  In this scenario, there is growing disagreement about the rules of the game and a decreasing ability to manage crises in the political, economic, and environmental arenas.”

In such a future, Statoil suggests, the major powers would prove to be far more concerned with satisfying their own economic and energy requirements than pursuing collaborative efforts aimed at slowing the pace of climate change. For many of them, this would mean maximizing the cheapest and most accessible fuel options available – often domestic supplies of fossil fuels. Under such circumstances, the report suggests, the use of coal would rise, not fall, and its share of global energy consumption would actually increase from 29% to 32%.

In such a world, forget about those “nationally determined contributions” agreed to in Paris and think instead about a planet whose environment will grow ever less friendly to life as we know it.  In its rivalry scenario, writes Statoil, “the climate issue has low priority on the regulatory agenda. While local pollution issues are attended to, large-scale international climate agreements are not the chosen way forward. As a consequence, the current NDCs are only partly implemented. Climate finance ambitions are not met, and carbon pricing to stimulate cost-efficient reductions in countries and across national borders are limited.”

Coming from a major fossil fuel company, this vision of how events might play out on an increasingly tumultuous planet makes for peculiar reading: more akin to Eaarth – Bill McKibben’s dystopian portrait of a climate-ravaged world – than the usual industry-generated visions of future world health and prosperity. And while “rivalry” is only one of several scenarios Statoil’s authors considered, they clearly found it unnervingly convincing. Hence, in a briefing on the report, the company’s chief economist Eirik Wærness indicated that Great Britain’s looming exit from the EU was exactly the sort of event that would fit the proposed model and might multiply in the future.

Climate Change in a World of Geopolitical Exceptionalism

Indeed, the future pace of climate change will be determined as much by geopolitical factors as by technological developments in the energy sector. While it is evident that immense progress is being made in bringing down the price of wind and solar power in particular – far more so than all but a few analysts anticipated until recently – the political will to turn such developments into meaningful global change and so bring carbon emissions to heel before the planet is unalterably transformed may, as the Statoil authors suggest, be dematerializing before our eyes. If so, make no mistake about it: we will be condemning Earth’s future inhabitants, our own children and grandchildren, to unmitigated disaster.

As President Obama’s largely unheralded success in Hangzhou indicates, such a fate is not etched in stone. If he could persuade the fiercely nationalistic leader of a country worried about its economic future to join him in signing the climate agreement, more such successes are possible. His ability to achieve such outcomes is, however, diminishing by the week, and few other leaders of his stature and determination appear to be waiting in the wings.

To avoid an Eaarth (as both Bill McKibben and the Statoil authors imagine it) and preserve the welcoming planet in which humanity grew and thrived, climate activists will have to devote at least as much of their energy and attention to the international political arena as to the technology sector. At this point, electing green-minded leaders, stopping climate deniers (or ignorers) from capturing high office, and opposing fossil-fueled ultra-nationalism is the only realistic path to a habitable planet.

_____

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

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

 

Copyright 2016 Michael T Klare

(c) 2016 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.

http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176186/

Categories: Uncategorized

Fifteen Years Later

Physics Journal Concludes All Three WTC Towers Collapsed on 9/11 Due to Controlled Demolition

by Jay Syrmopoulos

CounterCurrents (September 17 2016)

Over the past fifteen years many highly respected academics and experts have come forward to challenge the official narrative on the collapse of the World Trade Center (“WTC”) towers forwarded by the US government. The official government position holds that the collapse of all three towers was due to intense heat inside of the buildings.

But a new forensic investigation into the collapse of the three World Trade Center towers on 9/11, published in Europhysics News {1} – a highly respected European physics magazine – claims that “the evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that all three buildings were destroyed by controlled demolition”.

While many in the mainstream have attempted to label anyone questioning the official narrative as “tin foil hat” conspiracy theorist, many highly respected experts have come forward to lampoon the idea that the buildings collapsed due to the intense heat and fires following two terrorist-directed plane crashes.

“Given the far-reaching implications, it is morally imperative that this hypothesis be the subject of a truly scientific and impartial investigation by responsible authorities”, the four physicists conclude in the damning report.

The new study is the work of Steven Jones, former full professor of physics at Brigham Young University, Robert Korol, a professor emeritus of civil engineering at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, Anthony Szamboti, a mechanical design engineer with over 25 years of structural design experience in the aerospace and communications industries and Ted Walter, the director of strategy and development for Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, a nonprofit organization that today represents more than 2,500 architects and engineers.

The comprehensive study in Europhysics Magazine directly challenges the official narrative and lends to a growing body of evidence {2} that seriously questions the veracity of the government narrative.

In 2002, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) remarked that the case was exceptionally bizarre. There were no other known cases of total structural collapses in high-rise buildings caused by fires and so it is deeply unusual that it should have happened three times in the space of one day, noted NIST.

Official investigations have never been able to thoroughly and coherently explain how this might have happened and various teams tasked with examining the collapse have raised difficult questions about the veracity of the government’s story {3}.

Perhaps most damning of all, the experts claimed that after a thorough forensic analysis of video footage of the building’s collapse, it revealed signs of a controlled implosion. Additionally, Jones has co-authored a number of papers documenting evidence of unreacted nano-thermitic material in the WTC dust.

The authors of the study note that the buildings fell with such speed and symmetry that they there was no other feasible explanation for the sudden collapse at free fall speeds – directly refuting studies that attempted to debunk the idea that the building fell without resistance. These respected experts’ new forensic analysis only adds to the growing movement of people calling for a new and impartial investigation into the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Revealing the scope and breadth of public disbelief in the official government narrative surrounding the events of 9/11, even presidential candidate Jill Stein has recently called for a new investigation {4}.

Links:

{1} http://www.europhysicsnews.org/articles/epn/pdf/2016/04/epn2016-47-4.pdf

{2} http://www1.ae911truth.org/home/653-debunking-the-real-911-myths-why-popular-mechanics-cant-face-up-to-reality-part-5-nanothermite-in-the-towers.html

{3} http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2013/09/07/why-the-nist-report-on-the-world-trade-center-towers-is-false/

{4} http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/295266-stein-calls-for-new-9-11-investigation

The original source of this article is http://themindunleashed.org/2016/09/15-years-later-physics-journal-concludes-all-3-wtc-towers-collapsed-due-to-controlled-demolition.html

Copyright (c) Jay Syrmopoulos, The Mind Unleashed, 2016

http://www.countercurrents.org/2016/09/17/fifteen-years-later-physics-journal-concludes-all-three-wtc-towers-collapsed-on-911-due-to-controlled-demolition/

Categories: Uncategorized

Google Search Bias and Upcoming Election

Harvard PhD Explains How Google Search Bias Could “Shift three Million Votes” in Upcoming US Presidential Election

Published Exclusively for Sputnik

Zero Hedge (September 12 2016)

by Dr Robert Epstein, a Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, in Vista, California {1}

In this exclusive report, distinguished research psychologist Robert Epstein explains the new study and reviews evidence that Google’s search suggestions are biased in favor of Hillary Clinton. He estimates that biased search suggestions might be able to shift as many as three million votes in the upcoming presidential election in the US.

Biased search rankings can swing votes and alter opinions, and a new study shows that Google’s Autocomplete can too.

A scientific study {2} I published last year showed that search rankings favoring one candidate can quickly convince undecided voters to vote for that candidate – as many as eighty percent of voters in some demographic groups. My latest research shows that a search engine could also shift votes and change opinions with another powerful tool: Autocomplete.

Because of recent claims {3} that Google has been deliberately tinkering with search suggestions to make Hillary Clinton look good, this is probably a good time both to examine those claims and to look at my new research. As you will see, there is some cause for concern here.

In June of this year, Sourcefed released a video claiming that Google’s search suggestions – often called “Autocomplete” suggestions – were biased in favor of Mrs Clinton. The video quickly went viral: the full seven-minute version {3} has now been viewed more than a million times on YouTube, and an abridged three-minute version has been viewed more than 25 million times on Facebook.

The video’s narrator, Matt Lieberman, showed screen print after screen print that appeared to demonstrate that searching for just about anything related to Mrs Clinton generated positive suggestions only. This occurred even though Bing and Yahoo searches produced both positive and negative suggestions and even though Google Trends data showed that searches on Google that characterize Mrs Clinton negatively are quite common – far more common in some cases than the search terms Google was suggesting. Lieberman also showed that Autocomplete did offer negative suggestions for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

“The intention is clear”, said Lieberman. “Google is burying potential searches for terms that could have hurt Hillary Clinton in the primary elections over the past several months by manipulating recommendations on their site”.

Google responded {4} to the Sourcefed video in an email to the Washington Times, denying everything. According to the company’s spokesperson, “Google Autocomplete does not favor any candidate or cause” The company explained away the apparently damning findings by saying that “Our Autocomplete algorithm will not show a predicted query that is offensive or disparaging when displayed in conjunction with a person’s name”.

Since then, my associates and I at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology (“AIBRT”) – a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in the San Diego area – have been systematically investigating Lieberman’s claims. What we have learned has generally supported those claims, but we have also learned something new – something quite disturbing – about the power of Google’s search suggestions to alter what people search for.

Lieberman insisted that Google’s search suggestions were biased, but he never explained why Google would introduce such bias. Our new research suggests why – and also why Google’s lists of search suggestions are typically much shorter than the lists Bing and Yahoo show us.

Our investigation is ongoing, but here is what we have learned so far:

Bias in Clinton’s Favor

To test Lieberman’s claim that Google’s search suggestions are biased in Mrs Clinton’s favor, my associates and I have been looking at the suggestions Google shows us in response to hundreds of different election-related search terms. To minimize the possibility that those suggestions were customized for us as individuals (based on the massive personal profiles Google has assembled for virtually all Americans), we have conducted our searches through proxy servers – even through the Tor network – thus making it difficult for Google to identify us. We also cleared the fingerprints Google leaves on computers (cache and cookies) fairly obsessively.

 

 

Google says its search bar is programmed to avoid suggesting searches that portray people in a negative light. As far as we can tell, this claim is false.

 

 

Generally speaking, we are finding that Lieberman was right: It is somewhat difficult to get the Google search bar to suggest negative searches related to Mrs Clinton or to make any Clinton-related suggestions when one types a negative search term. Bing and Yahoo, on the other hand, often show a number of negative suggestions in response to the same search terms. Bing and Yahoo seem to be showing us what people are actually searching for; Google is showing us something else – but what, and for what purpose?

As for Google Trends, as Lieberman reported, Google indeed withholds negative search terms for Mrs Clinton even when such terms show high popularity in Trends. We have also found that Google often suggests positive search terms for Mrs Clinton even when such terms are nearly invisible in Trends. The widely held belief, reinforced by Google’s own documentation {5}, that Google’s search suggestions are based on “what other people are searching for” seems to be untrue in many instances.

Google’s Explanation

Google tries to explain away such findings by saying its search bar is programmed to avoid suggesting searches that portray people in a negative light. As far as we can tell, this claim is false; Google suppresses negative suggestions selectively, not across the board. It is easy to get Autocomplete to suggest negative searches related to prominent people, one of whom happens to be Mrs Clinton’s opponent.

A picture is often worth a thousand words, so let’s look at a few examples that appear both to support Lieberman’s perspective and refute Google’s. After that, we’ll examine some counterexamples.

Before we start, I need to point out a problem: If you try to replicate the searches I will show you, you will likely get different results. I don’t think that invalidates our work, but you will have to decide for yourself. Your results might be different because search activity changes over time, and that, in turn, affects search suggestions. There is also the “personalization problem”. If you are like the vast majority of people, you freely allow Google to track you 24 hours a day {6}. As a result, Google knows who you are when you are typing something in its search bar, and it sends you customized results.

For both of these reasons, you might doubt the validity of the conclusions I will draw in this essay. That is up to you. All I can say in my defense is that I have worked with eight other people in recent months to try to conduct a fair and balanced investigation, and, as I said, we have taken several precautions to try to get generic, non-customized search suggestions rather than the customized kind. Our investigation is also ongoing, and I encourage you to conduct your own, as well.

Let’s start with a very simple search. The image below shows a search for “Hillary Clinton is ” (notice the space after is) conducted on August 3rd on Bing, Yahoo, and Google. As you can see, both Bing and Yahoo displayed multiple negative suggestions such as “Hillary Clinton is a liar” and “Hillary Clinton is a criminal”, but Google is showed only two suggestions, both of which were almost absurdly positive: “Hillary Clinton is winning” and “Hillary Clinton is awesome”.


To find out what people actually searched for, let’s turn to Google Trends – Google’s tabulation of the popularity of search results. Below you will see a comparison between the popularity of searching for “Hillary Clinton is a liar” and the popularity of searching for “Hillary Clinton is awesome”. This image was also generated on August 3rd. “Hillary Clinton is a liar” was by far the more popular search term; hardly anyone conducted a search using the phrase, “Hillary Clinton is awesome”.

Okay, but Google admits that it censors negative search results; presumably, that is why we only saw positive results for Mrs Clinton – even a result that virtually no one searched for. Does Google really suppress negative results? We have seen what happens with “Hillary Clinton is”. What happens with “Donald Trump is “? (Again, be sure to include the space after is.)

In the above image, captured on August 8th, we again found the odd “awesome” suggestion, but we also saw a suggestion that appears to be negative: “Donald Trump is dead”. Shouldn’t a result like that have been suppressed? Let’s look further.

Consider the following searches, conducted on August 2nd, for “anti Hillary” and “anti Trump”. As you can see below, “anti Hillary” generated no suggestions, but “anti Trump” generated four, including “anti Trump cartoon” and “anti Trump song”. Well, you say, perhaps there were no anti-Hillary suggestions to be made. But Yahoo – responding merely to “anti Hill” – came up with eight, including “anti Hillary memes” and “anti Hillary jokes”.

This seems to further refute Google’s claim about not disparaging people, but let’s dig deeper.

After Mrs Clinton named Senator Tim Kaine to be her running mate, Mr Trump dubbed him with one of his middle-school-style nicknames: “Corrupt Kaine”. Sure enough, that instantly became a popular search term on Google, as this July 27th image from Trends confirms:

Even so, as you can see in the image below, in response to “corrupt”, the Google search bar showed us nothing about Senator Kaine, but it did show us both “Kamala” (Kamala Harris, attorney general of California) and “Karzai” (Hamid Karzai, former president of Afghanistan). If you clicked on the phrases “corrupt Kamala” and “corrupt Karzai”, search results appeared that linked to highly negative web pages about Kamala Harris and Hamid Karzai, respectively.

Oddly enough, both on the day we looked up “corrupt Kaine” and more recently when I was writing this essay, Google Trends provided no popularity data for either “corrupt Kamala” or “corrupt Karzai”. It is hard to imagine, in any case, that either search term has been popular in recent months. So why did the Google search bar disparage Attorney General Harris and President Karzai but not Mrs Clinton?

If you still have doubts about whether Google suggests negative searches for prominent people, see how Senators Cruz, Rubio and Sanders fared in the following searches conducted between July 23rd and August 2nd:

I could give you more examples, but you get the idea.

The brazenness of Google’s search suggestion tinkering become especially clear when we searched for “crooked” – Mr Trump’s unkind nickname for Mrs Clinton – on Google, Bing, and Yahoo on various dates in June and July. On Google the word “crooked” alone generated nothing for Mrs Clinton, even though, once again, its popularity was clear on Google Trends. Now compare (in the image following the Trends graph) what happened on Bing and Yahoo:

No surprise here. Consistent with Google’s own search popularity data, Bing and Yahoo listed “crooked Hillary” near the top of their Autocomplete suggestions.

The weird part came when we typed more letters into Google’s search bar, trying to force it to suggest “crooked Hillary”. On June 9th, I had to go all the way to “crooked H-I-L-L-A” to get a response, and it was not the response I was expecting. Instead of showing me “crooked Hillary”, I was shown a phrase that I doubt anyone in the world has ever searched for – “crooked Hillary Bernie”:

crooked Hillary Bernie? What the heck does that mean? Not much, obviously, but this is something my associates and I have found repeatedly: When you are able to get Google to make negative suggestions for Mrs Clinton, they sometimes make no sense and are almost certainly not indicative of what other people are searching for.

Masking and Misleading

There are also indications that Autocomplete isn’t always pro-Clinton and isn’t always anti-Trump, and in this regard the Sourcefed video overstated its case. While it is true, for example, that “anti Hillary” generated no suggestions in our study, both “anti Clinton” and “anti Hillary Clinton” did produce negative results when we search on August 8th, as you can see below:

At times, we were also able to generate neutral or at least partially positive results for Donald Trump. Consider this image, for example, which shows a search for “Donald Trump” on August 8th:

If you believe Google can do no wrong and that it never favors one candidate over another (even though Google and its top executives donated more than $800,000 to Obama in 2012 and only $37,000 to Romney), so be it. But trying to be as objective as possible in recent months, my staff and I have concluded that when Google occasionally does give us unbiased election-related search suggestions, it might just be trying to confuse us. Let me explain.

When Ronald Robertson and I began conducting experiments {2} on the power that biased search rankings have over voter preferences, we were immediately struck by the fact that few people could detect the bias in the search results we showed them, even when those results were extremely biased. We immediately wondered whether we could mask the bias in our results so that even fewer people could detect it. To our amazement, we found that a very simple mask – putting a search result that favored the opposing candidate into the third search position (out of ten positions on the first page of search results) – was enough to fool all of our study participants into thinking they were seeing unbiased search results.

Masking a manipulation is easy, and Google is a master of obfuscation, as I explained a few years ago in my TIME essay, “Google’s Dance” {7}. In the context of Autocomplete, all you have to do to confuse people is introduce a few exceptions to the rule. So “anti Clinton” and “anti Hillary Clinton” produce negative search suggestions, while “anti Hillary” does not. Because those counter-examples exist, we immediately forget about the odd thing that’s happening with “anti Hillary”, and we also ignore the fact that “anti Donald” produces negative suggestions:

Meanwhile, day after day – at least for the few weeks we were monitoring this term – “anti Hillary” continued to produce no suggestions. Why would Google have singled out this one phrase to protect? As always, when you are dealing with the best number crunchers in the world, the answer has to do with numbers. What do you notice when you look below at the frequency of searches for the three anti-Hillary phrases?

That’s right. “Anti Hillary” was drawing the most traffic, so that was the phrase to protect.

Sourcefed’s video was overstated, but, overall, our investigation supports Sourcefed’s claim that Google’s Autocomplete tool is biased to favor Mrs Clinton – sometimes dramatically so, sometimes more subtly.

Sputnik’s Recent Claims

All of the examples I’ve given you of apparent bias in Google’s search suggestions are old and out of date – conducted by me and my staff over the summer of 2016. Generally speaking, you won’t be able to confirm what we found (which is why I am showing you screen shots). This is mainly because search suggestions keep changing. So the big question is: Do new search suggestions favor Mr Trump or Mrs Clinton.

Recently, Sputnik News reported {8} that Google was suppressing search suggestions related to trending news stories expressing concern about Mrs Clinton’s health. Sure enough, as you can see in the following screen shots captured on August 29th, suggestions on Bing and Yahoo reflected the trending news, but suggestions on Google did not:

And, yes, once again, Google Trends showed a recent spike in searches for the missing search suggestions:

While the news was buzzing about Mrs Clinton’s health, hundreds of stories were also being published about Mr Trump’s “flip flopping” on immigration issues, and that too was reflected on Google Trends:

But, as you can see, Google did not suppress “Donald Trump flip flops” from its suggestions:

Google, it seems, is playing this game both consistently and slyly. It is saving its bias for the most valuable real estate – trending, high-value terms – and eliminating signs of bias for terms that have lost their value.

And that brings me, at last, to a research project I initiated only a few weeks ago. If Google is really biasing its search suggestions, what is the company’s motive? A new study sheds surprising and disturbing light on this question.

How Google’s Search Suggestions Affect Our Searches

Normally, I wouldn’t talk publicly about the early results of a long-term research project I have not yet published in a scientific journal or at least presented at a scientific conference. I have decided to make an exception this time for three reasons: First, the results of the study on Autocomplete I completed recently are strong and easy to interpret. Second, these results are consistent with volumes of research that has already been conducted on two well-known psychological processes: negativity bias and confirmation bias. And third, the November election is growing near, and the results of my new experiment are relevant to that election – perhaps even of crucial importance.

I began the new study asking myself why Google would want to suppress negative search suggestions. Why those in particular?

In the study, a diverse group of 300 people from 44 US states were asked which of four search suggestions they would likely click on if they were trying to learn more about either Mike Pence, the Republican candidate for vice president, or Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate for vice president. They could also select a fifth option in order to type their own search terms. Here is an example of what a search looked like:

Two of the searches we showed people contained negative search suggestions (one negative suggestion in each search); all of the other search suggestions were either neutral (like “Tim Kaine office”) or positive (like “Mike Pence for vice president”).

Each of the negative suggestions – “Mike Pence scandal” and “Tim Kaine scandal” – appeared only once in the experiment. Thus, if study participants were treating negative items the same way they treated the other four alternatives in a given search, the negative items would have attracted about twenty percent of the clicks in each search.

 

 

By including or suppressing negatives in search suggestions, you can direct people’s searches one way or another just as surely as if they were dogs on a leash.

 

 

But that’s not what happened. The three main findings were as follows:

1) Overall, people clicked on the negative items about forty percent of the time – that’s twice as often as one would expect by chance. What’s more, compared with the neutral items we showed people in searches that served as controls, negative items were selected about five times as often.

2) Among eligible, undecided voters – the impressionable people who decide close elections – negative items attracted more than fifteen times as many clicks as neutral items attracted in matched control questions.

3) People affiliated with one political party selected the negative suggestion for the candidate from their own party less frequently than the negative suggestion for the other candidate. In other words, negative suggestions attracted the largest number of clicks when they were consistent with people’s biases.

These findings are consistent with two well-known phenomena in the social sciences: negativity bias and confirmation bias.

Negativity bias refers to the fact that people are far more affected by negative stimuli than by positive ones. As a famous paper {9} on the subject notes, a single cockroach in one’s salad ruins the whole salad, but a piece of candy placed on a plate of disgusting crud will not make that crud seem even slightly more palatable.

Negative stimuli draw more attention than neutral or positive ones, they activate more behavior, and they create stronger impressions – negative ones, of course. In recent years, political scientists have even suggested {10} that negativity bias plays an important role in the political choices we make – that people adopt conservative political views because they have a heightened sensitivity to negative stimuli.

Confirmation bias refers to the fact that people almost always seek out, pay attention to, and believe information that confirms their beliefs more than they seek out, pay attention to, or believe information that contradicts those beliefs.

When you apply these two principles to search suggestions, they predict that people are far more likely to click on negative search suggestions than on neutral or positive ones – especially when those negative suggestions are consistent with their own beliefs. This is exactly what the new study confirms.

Google data analysts know this too. They know because they have ready access to billions of pieces of data showing exactly how many times people click on negative search suggestions. They also know exactly how many times people click on every other kind of search suggestion one can categorize.

To put this another way, what I and other researchers must stumble upon and can study only crudely, Google employees can study with exquisite precision every day.

Given Google’s strong support {11} for Mrs Clinton, it seems reasonable to conjecture that Google employees manually suppress negative search suggestions relating to Clinton in order to reduce the number of searches people conduct that will expose them to anti-Clinton content. They appear to work a bit less hard to suppress negative search suggestions for Mr Trump, Senator Sanders, Senator Cruz, and other prominent people.

This is not the place to review the evidence that Google strongly supports Mrs Clinton, but since we’re talking about Google’s search bar, here are two quick reminders:

First, on August 6th, when we typed “When is the election?”, we were shown the following image:

See anything odd about that picture? Couldn’t Google have displayed two photos just as easily as it displayed one?

And second, as reported by the Next Web {12} and other news sources, in mid 2015, when people typed “Who will be the next president?”, Google displayed boxes such as the one below, which left no doubt about the answer:

Corporate Control

Over time, differentially suppressing negative search suggestions will repeatedly expose millions of people to far more positive search results for one political candidate than for the other. Research I have been conducting since 2013 with Ronald Robertson of Northeastern University has shown that high-ranking search results that favor one candidate can easily shift twenty percent or more of undecided voters toward that candidate – up to eighty percent in some demographic groups, as I noted earlier. This is because of the enormous trust people have in computer-generated search results, which people mistakenly believe are completely impartial and objective – just as they mistakenly believe search suggestions are completely impartial and objective.

The impact of biased search rankings on opinions, which we call the Search Engine Manipulation Effect {2} (“SEME”), is one of the largest effects ever discovered in the behavioral sciences, and because it is invisible to users, it is especially dangerous {13} as a source of influence. Because Google handles ninety percent of search in most countries and because many elections are very close, we estimate that SEME has been determining the outcomes of upwards of 25 percent of the national elections in the world for several years now, with increasing impact each year. This is occurring, we believe, whether or not Google’s executives are taking an active interest in elections; all by itself, Google’s search algorithm virtually always ends up favoring one candidate over another simply because of “organic” search patterns by users. When it does, votes shift; in large elections, millions of votes can be shifted. You can think of this as a kind of digital bandwagon effect.

The new effect I have described in this essay – a search suggestion effect – is very different from SEME but almost certainly increases SEME’s impact. If you can surreptitiously nudge {14} people into generating search results that are inherently biased, the battle is half won. Simply by including or suppressing negatives in search suggestions, you can direct people’s searches one way or another just as surely as if they were dogs on a leash, and you can use this subtle form of influence not just to alter people’s views about candidates but about anything.

Google launched Autocomplete {15}, its search suggestion tool, in 2004 as an opt-in that helped users find information faster. Perhaps that’s all it was in the beginning, but just as Google itself has morphed from being a cool high-tech anomaly into what former Google executive James Whittaker {16} has called a “an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus”, so has Autocomplete morphed from being a cool and helpful search tool into what may be a tool of corporate manipulation. By 2008, not only was Autocomplete no longer an opt-in feature, there was no way to opt out of it, and since that time, through strategic censorship {17}, it may have become a tool for directing people’s searches and thereby influencing not only the choices they make but even the thoughts they think.

Look back at the searches I have shown you. Why does Google typically show you far fewer search suggestions than other search engines do – four or fewer, generally speaking, compared with eight for Bing, eight for DuckDuckGo and ten for Yahoo? Even if you knew nothing of phenomena like negativity bias and confirmation bias, you certainly know that shorter lists give people fewer choices. Whatever Autocomplete was in the beginning, its main function may now be to manipulate.

 

 

Without whistleblowers or warrants, no one can prove Google executives are using digital shenanigans to influence elections, but I don’t see how we can rule out that possibility.

 

 

Perhaps you are skeptical about my claims. Perhaps you are also not seeing, on balance, a pro-Hillary bias in the search suggestions you receive on your computer. Perhaps you are also not concerned about the possibility that search suggestions can be used systematically to nudge people’s searches in one direction or another. If you are skeptical in any or all of these ways, ask yourself this: Why, to begin with, is Google censoring its search suggestions? (And it certainly acknowledges {4} doing so.) Why doesn’t it just show us, say, the top ten most popular searches related to whatever we are typing? Why, in particular, is it suppressing negative information? Are Google’s leaders afraid we will have panic attacks and sue the company if we are directed to dark and disturbing web pages? Do they not trust us to make up our own minds about things? Do they think we are children?

Without whistleblowers or warrants, no one can prove Google executives are using digital shenanigans to influence elections, but I don’t see how we can rule out that possibility. There is nothing illegal about manipulating people using search suggestions and search rankings – quite the contrary {18}, in fact – and it makes good financial sense for a company to use every legal means at its disposal to support its preferred candidates.

Using the mathematical techniques Robertson and I described in our 2015 report {2} in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, I recently calculated that SEME alone can shift between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes in the upcoming US presidential race without anyone knowing this has occurred and without leaving a paper trail.

I arrived at those numbers before I knew about the power search suggestions have to alter searches. The new study suggests that Autocomplete alone might be able to shift between 800,000 and 3.2 million votes – also without anyone knowing this is occurring.

Perhaps even more troubling, because Google tracks and monitors us so aggressively, Google officials know {19} who among us is planning to vote and whom we are planning to vote for. They also know who among us are still undecided, and that is where the influence of biased search suggestions and biased search rankings could be applied with enormous effect.

 

 

Postscript: Google declined to comment on the record when queried about some of the concerns I have raised in this article. Instead, on August 17th, a company representative sent me to a blog post released by the company on June 16th; you can read Google’s official position on Autocomplete there. For the record, I am a moderate politically, and I support Hillary Clinton for president. I do not believe, however, that it would be right for her to win the presidency because of the invisible, large-scale manipulations of a private company. That would make democracy meaningless, and that is why I am trying to keep the public informed about my research findings. Also for the record, I have chosen to publish this article through Sputnik News because Sputnik agreed to publish it in unedited form in order to preserve the article’s accuracy.

– Robert Epstein

 

 

Links:

{1} https://sputniknews.com/us/20160912/1045214398/google-clinton-manipulation-election.html

{2} http://www.pnas.org/content/112/33/E4512.full.pdf?with-ds=yes

{3} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFxFRqNmXKg

{4} http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jun/10/google-denies-burying-bad-hillary-clinton-stories/

{5} https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/106230?hl=en

{6} http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/05/10/15-ways-google-monitors-you

{7} http://techland.time.com/2013/03/27/googles-dance/

{8} https://sputniknews.com/us/20160829/1044754163/google-accused-manipulating-results-clinton.html

{9} https://sites.sas.upenn.edu/rozin/files/negbias198pspr2001pap.pdf

{10} http://www.salon.com/2014/07/29/secrets_of_the_right_wing_brain_new_study_proves_it_conservatives_see_a_different_hostile_world/

{11} http://qz.com/520652/groundwork-eric-schmidt-startup-working-for-hillary-clinton-campaign/

{12} http://thenextweb.com/shareables/2015/06/23/poor-old-jeb/

{13} https://aeon.co/essays/how-the-internet-flips-elections-and-alters-our-thoughts

{14} https://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2015/sep/12/nudge-theory-mental-manipulation-wrong

{15} http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/08/how-googles-autocomplete-was-created-invented-born/278991/

{16} https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/jw_on_tech/2012/03/13/why-i-left-google/

{17} http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2016-06-22/google-is-the-worlds-biggest-censor-and-its-power-must-be-regulated

{18} http://digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2530&context=fac_pubs

{19} http://qz.com/669983/maybe-we-should-let-google-vote-for-us/

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-09-12/google-bias

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