Record 10.7 Billion Trips Taken On U.S. Public Transportation In 2013

In 2013 Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation, which is the highest annual public transit ridership number in 57 years, according to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). This was the eighth year in a row that more than 10 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems nationwide. While vehicle miles traveled on roads (VMT) went up 0.3 percent, public transportation use in 2013 increased by 1.1 percent. Since 1995 public transit ridership is up 37.2 percent, outpacing population growth, which is up 20.3 percent, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which is up 22.7 percent.

React to the killing of innocents in Middle East

Also boycott following Israeli related companies

Intel, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard (HP),, IBM, Pampers, Coca-Cola, Caterpillar
GAP, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, BOSS, M&S, DKNY which uses Delta-Galils textile
Gillette, Head & Shoulders, Vicks, Old Spice, Procter & Gamble (P&G), Johnson & Johnson, Revlon, McDonald’s, Nestle, Milkmaid, Maggi, KitKat, L’Oréal

Please reduce oil use as energy source as well as fertilisers, plastics etc in the chemical industry.
This list is not complete.

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Learning Capital 12

Learning Capital 11

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Piketty’s Wealth Tax Won’t Hurt Investment

Note that Amar Bhide comes to conclusions on Piketty similar to Cameron Murray’s, aka Rumplestatksin, from a very different starting point. From Bhide’s new article in Quartz:

Partisans argue that financial systems that channel savings into risky investments are an essential feature of an advanced economy: compare, they say, the US economy with China’s or Russia’s. The US financial system is certainly more sophisticated, but it has long been so. And, the expansion of finance in recent decades doesn’t seem to have turbo-charged the economy; as financiers have channeled more funds into risky investments, growth in overall incomes and productivity has if anything flagged, while the compensation of financiers, never paltry, has unmistakably jumped…

The US Federal Reserve’s failure to control inflation in the 1970s eroded investors’ faith in bonds and bank deposits while pension rules and regulators encouraged a shift to stocks and other higher risk assets. Until 1968, for example, public funds in California and 15 other states did not own any stocks. The state laws prohibiting stock purchases were then repealed. Rules intended to ensure that pension plans were properly funded encouraged state and other pensions to buy stocks that are thought to have greater upside than bonds. Now, 65% of public funds are invested in stocks, real estate and other alternative investments.

Securities laws enacted during the New Deal and their vigorous enforcement have made buying and trading stocks respectable. Previously and for much of America’s history, “the public reaction to the stock market was one of general distrust.” Shady activities were rampant through the nineteenth century, and in the early twentieth century, the stock market was still “a shadow world in which only the initiated could find their way.”

The Fed, established to prevent collapses in old-fashioned bank loans, has also become a stalwart supporter of stocks. Chairman Alan Greenspan created the impression that the Fed would do everything it could prevent stock prices from falling.

Government mortgage guarantees and purchases of mortgage-backed securities have turned millions of the not particularly well off into leveraged speculators in real estate. Earlier, bank regulators frowned upon mortgage lending, so until 1930 banks extended mortgages to borrowers who could pay off their loans in three years or less, while demanding 50% down payments.

These interventions may have been well-intentioned efforts to bring everyone into the miraculous transformation of good economic growth into great wealth. But far from spreading the riches around, the government has bestowed great fortunes on a few who would otherwise merely have been prosperous. And promoting Wall Street’s self-serving fantasies has jeopardized the legitimacy of a capitalist system that provides great reward for great contribution.

By Rumplestatskin, a professional economist with a background in property development, environmental economics research and economic regulation. Follow him on Twitter @rumplestatskin. Cross posted from MacroBusiness

As I explained last week, saving by an individual is usually achieved by buying monopoly assets from others, forgoing consumption in order to capture a future flow of income for oneself.

This usual way to save is merely a transfer of assets whose value equals the difference between income and spending. Someone gets richer, others poorer. But importantly, the rate of saving of an individual, when understood in this manner, bears no relation to investment in the quantity of new capital goods in the economy generally and can’t be related to the rate of growth of the economy.

Transfers don’t matter for investment, and most savings are transfers.

Yet it is very common to hear that rich individuals, because less of their spending goes towards consumption items, are able to save more, leading to greater levels of investment in new capital goods and higher future productive capacity.

While many economists profess a degree of caution in such analysis when challenged, the very notion that saving at an individual level equates to a proportional level of investment in new capital at a national (or global) level is embedded in the economic way of thinking.

Here’s Tyler Cowen making the point implicitly:

Stocks of wealth stimulated invention by liberating creators from the immediate demands of the marketplace and allowing them to explore their fancies, enriching generations to come.

And here’s Karen Dynan et al.

…active saving corresponds to the supply of loanable funds for new investment and therefore may be helpful in gauging the effect of a redistribution of income on economic growth.

But since saving at an individual level is almost solely about buying monopoly assets from others, this claim simply cannot be made. Saving at an individual level is nothing more than a transfer of ownership of existing wealth.

When I buy some Apple shares in order to save, I merely buy from the current owner, changing absolutely nothing in terms of Apple’s intentions to invest in new production machinery and equipment.

If saving is as I described, the fact that the wealthy have a lower propensity to consume, and therefore a higher marginal propensity to save, merely implies increasing wealth inequality, as assets accumulate in the hands of the already wealthy; a trickle-up effect if you will.

This is particularly relevant to current debates about how to address inequality. Would a wealth tax on the rich decrease overall investment? Not at all. The tax would be a transfer of ownership of resources, just like the saving of the rich is a transfer of assets and unrelated to investment in new capital equipment.

It is possible under very specific circumstances for an individual’s savings to exactly match investment. For example, if I buy a specific financial instrument that pools my funds with others to finance construction (but not land purchase) of a new building. But that is a rare case that proves the general point that there is no proportional matching of saving and investment at an individual level.

While I have said nothing that contradicts economic theory, I do find it frightening that experts in the field have such contrasting views on the matter.

— source

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The History of America’s Death Squads

The Establishment of Death Squads in Iraq

US sponsored death squads were recruited in Iraq starting in 2004-2005 in an initiative launched under the helm of the US Ambassador John Negroponte, [image: right] who was dispatched to Baghdad by the US State Department in June 2004.

Negroponte was the “man for the job”. As US Ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. Negroponte played a key role in supporting and supervising the Nicaraguan Contras based in Honduras as well as overseeing the activities of the Honduran military death squads.

“Under the rule of General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, Honduras’s military government was both a close ally of the Reagan administration and was “disappearing” dozens of political opponents in classic death squad fashion.”

In January 2005, the Pentagon, confirmed that it was considering:

” forming hit squads of Kurdish and Shia fighters to target leaders of the Iraqi insurgency [Resistance] in a strategic shift borrowed from the American struggle against left-wing guerrillas in Central America 20 years ago”.

Under the so-called “El Salvador option”, Iraqi and American forces would be sent to kill or kidnap insurgency leaders, even in Syria, where some are thought to shelter. …

Hit squads would be controversial and would probably be kept secret.

The experience of the so-called “death squads” in Central America remains raw for many even now and helped to sully the image of the United States in the region.

Then, the Reagan Administration funded and trained teams of nationalist forces to neutralise Salvadorean rebel leaders and sympathisers. …

John Negroponte, the US Ambassador in Baghdad, had a front-row seat at the time as Ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85.

Death squads were a brutal feature of Latin American politics of the time. …

In the early 1980s President Reagan’s Administration funded and helped to train Nicaraguan contras based in Honduras with the aim of ousting Nicaragua’s Sandinista regime. The Contras were equipped using money from illegal American arms sales to Iran, a scandal that could have toppled Mr Reagan.

The thrust of the Pentagon proposal in Iraq, … is to follow that model …

It is unclear whether the main aim of the missions would be to assassinate the rebels or kidnap them and take them away for interrogation. Any mission in Syria would probably be undertaken by US Special Forces.

Nor is it clear who would take responsibility for such a programme — the Pentagon or the Central Intelligence Agency. Such covert operations have traditionally been run by the CIA at arm’s length from the administration in power, giving US officials the ability to deny knowledge of it. (El Salvador-style ‘death squads’ to be deployed by US against Iraq militants – Times Online, January 10, 2005, emphasis added)

While the stated objective of the “Iraq Salvador Option” was to “take out the insurgency”, in practice the US sponsored terror brigades were involved in routine killings of civilians with a view to fomenting sectarian violence. In turn, the CIA and MI6 were overseeing “Al Qaeda in Iraq” units involved in targeted assassinations directed against the Shiite population. Of significance, the death squads were integrated and advised by undercover US Special Forces.

Robert Stephen Ford –subsequently appointed US Ambassador to Syria– was part of Negroponte’s team in Baghdad in 2004-2005. In January 2004, he was dispatched as U.S. representative to the Shiite city of Najaf which was the stronghold of the Mahdi army, with which he made preliminary contacts.

In January 2005, Robert S. Ford’s was appointed Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the US Embassy under the helm of Ambassador John Negroponte. He was not only part of the inner team, he was Negroponte’s partner in setting up the Salvador Option. Some of the groundwork had been established in Najaf prior to Ford’s transfer to Baghdad.

John Negroponte and Robert Stephen Ford were put in charge of recruiting the Iraqi death squads. While Negroponte coordinated the operation from his office at the US Embassy, Robert S. Ford, who was fluent in both Arabic and Turkish, was entrusted with the task of establishing strategic contacts with Shiite and Kurdish militia groups outside the “Green Zone”.

Two other embassy officials, namely Henry Ensher (Ford’s Deputy) and a younger official in the political section, Jeffrey Beals, played an important role in the team “talking to a range of Iraqis, including extremists”. (See The New Yorker, March 26, 2007). Another key individual in Negroponte’s team was James Franklin Jeffrey, America’s ambassador to Albania (2002-2004). In 2010, Jeffrey was appointed US Ambassador to Iraq (2010-2012).

Negroponte also brought into the team one of his former collaborators Colonel James Steele (ret) from his Honduras heyday:

Under the “Salvador Option,” “Negroponte had assistance from his colleague from his days in Central America during the 1980′s, Ret. Col James Steele. Steele, whose title in Baghdad was Counselor for Iraqi Security Forces supervised the selection and training of members of the Badr Organization and Mehdi Army, the two largest Shi’ite militias in Iraq, in order to target the leadership and support networks of a primarily Sunni resistance. Planned or not, these death squads promptly spiralled out of control to become the leading cause of death in Iraq.

Intentional or not, the scores of tortured, mutilated bodies which turn up on the streets of Baghdad each day are generated by the death squads whose impetus was John Negroponte. And it is this U.S.-backed sectarian violence which largely led to the hell-disaster that Iraq is today. (Dahr Jamail, Managing Escalation: Negroponte and Bush’s New Iraq Team,., January 7, 2007)

“Colonel Steele was responsible, according to Rep. Dennis Kucinich for implementing “a plan in El Salvador under which tens of thousands Salvadorans “disappeared” or were murdered, including Archbishop Oscar Romero and four American nuns.”

Upon his appointment to Baghdad, Colonel Steele was assigned to a counter-insurgency unit known as the “Special Police Commando” under the Iraqi Interior Ministry” (See ACN, Havana, June 14, 2006)

Reports confirm that “the US military turned over many prisoners to the Wolf Brigade, the feared 2nd battalion of the interior ministry’s special commandos” which so happened to be under supervision of Colonel Steele:

“US soldiers, US advisers, were standing aside and doing nothing,” while members of the Wolf Brigade beat and tortured prisoners. The interior ministry commandos took over the public library in Samarra, and turned it into a detention centre, he said. An interview conducted by Maass [of the New York Times] in 2005 at the improvised prison, accompanied by the Wolf Brigade’s US military adviser, Col James Steele, had been interrupted by the terrified screams of a prisoner outside, he said. Steele was reportedly previously employed as an adviser to help crush an insurgency in El Salvador.” (Ibid, emphasis added)

Another notorious figure who played a role in Iraq’s counter-insurgency program was Former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik [image: Bernie Kerik in Baghdad Police Academy with body guards] who in 2007 was indicted in federal court on 16 felony charges.

Kerik walks amidst a phalanx of bodyguards during visit to the Police Academy in Baghdad, July 2003.

Kerik had been appointed by the Bush administration at the outset of the occupation in 2003 to assist in the organization and training of the Iraqi Police force. During his short stint in 2003, Bernie Kerik –who took on the position of interim Minister of the Interior– worked towards organizing terror units within the Iraqi Police force: “Dispatched to Iraq to whip Iraqi security forces into shape, Kerik dubbed himself the “interim interior minister of Iraq.” British police advisors called him the “Baghdad terminator,” (Salon, December 9, 2004, emphasis added)

Under Negroponte’s helm at the US Embassy in Baghdad, a wave of covert civilian killings and targeted assassinations had been unleashed. Engineers, medical doctors, scientists and intellectuals were also targeted.

Author and geopolitical analyst Max Fuller has documented in detail the atrocities committed under the US sponsored counterinsurgency program.

The appearance of death squads was first highlighted in May this year [2005], …dozens of bodies were found casually disposed … in vacant areas around Baghdad. All of the victims had been handcuffed, blindfolded and shot in the head and many of them also showed signs of having been brutally tortured. …

The evidence was sufficiently compelling for the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), a leading Sunni organisation, to issue public statements in which they accused the security forces attached to the Ministry of the Interior as well as the Badr Brigade, the former armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), of being behind the killings. They also accused the Ministry of the Interior of conducting state terrorism (Financial Times).

The Police Commandos as well as the Wolf Brigade were overseen by the US counterinsurgency program in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior:

The Police Commandos were formed under the experienced tutelage and oversight of veteran US counterinsurgency fighters, and from the outset conducted joint-force operations with elite and highly secretive US special-forces units (Reuters, National Review Online).

…A key figure in the development of the Special Police Commandos was James Steele, a former US Army special forces operative who cut his teeth in Vietnam before moving on to direct the US military mission in El Salvador at the height of that country’s civil war. …

Another US contributor was the same Steven Casteel who as the most senior US advisor within the Interior Ministry brushed off serious and well-substantiated accusations of appalling human right violations as ‘rumor and innuendo’. Like Steele, Casteel gained considerable experience in Latin America, in his case participating in the hunt for the cocaine baron Pablo Escobar in Colombia’s Drugs Wars of the 1990s …

Casteel’s background is significant because this kind of intelligence-gathering support role and the production of death lists are characteristic of US involvement in counterinsurgency programs and constitute the underlying thread in what can appear to be random, disjointed killing sprees.

Such centrally planned genocides are entirely consistent with what is taking place in Iraq today [2005] …It is also consistent with what little we know about the Special Police Commandos, which was tailored to provide the Interior Ministry with a special-forces strike capability (US Department of Defense). In keeping with such a role, the Police Commando headquarters has become the hub of a nationwide command, control, communications, computer and intelligence operations centre, courtesy of the US. (Max Fuller, op cit)

This initial groundwork established under Negroponte in 2005 was implemented under his successor Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Robert Stephen Ford ensured the continuity of the project prior to his appointment as US Ambassador to Algeria in 2006, as well as upon his return to Baghdad as Deputy Chief of Mission in 2008.

Operation “Syrian Contras”: Learning from the Iraqi Experience

The gruesome Iraqi version of the “Salvador Option” under the helm of Ambassador John Negroponte has served as a “role model” for setting up the “Free Syrian Army” Contras. Robert Stephen Ford was, no doubt, involved in the implementation of the Syrian Contras project, following his reassignment to Baghdad as Deputy Head of Mission in 2008.

The objective in Syria was to create factional divisions between Sunni, Alawite, Shiite, Kurds, Druze and Christians. While the Syrian context is entirely different to that of Iraq, there are striking similarities with regard to the procedures whereby the killings and atrocities were conducted.

A report published by Der Spiegel pertaining to atrocities committed in the Syrian city of Homs confirms an organized sectarian process of mass-murder and extra-judicial killings comparable to that conducted by the US sponsored death squads in Iraq.

People in Homs were routinely categorized as “prisoners” (Shia, Alawite) and “traitors”. The “traitors” are Sunni civilians within the rebel occupied urban area, who express their disagreement or opposition to the rule of terror of the Free Syrian Army (FSA):

“Since last summer [2011], we have executed slightly fewer than 150 men, which represents about 20 percent of our prisoners,” says Abu Rami. … But the executioners of Homs have been busier with traitors within their own ranks than with prisoners of war. “If we catch a Sunni spying, or if a citizen betrays the revolution, we make it quick,” says the fighter. According to Abu Rami, Hussein’s burial brigade has put between 200 and 250 traitors to death since the beginning of the uprising.” (Der Spiegel, March 30, 2012)

The project required an initial program of recruitment and training of mercenaries. Death squads including Lebanese and Jordanian Salafist units entered Syria’s southern border with Jordan in mid-March 2011. Much of the groundwork was already in place prior to Robert Stephen Ford’s arrival in Damascus in January 2011.

Ford’s appointment as Ambassador to Syria was announced in early 2010. Diplomatic relations had been cut in 2005 following the Rafick Hariri assassination, which Washington blamed on Syria. Ford arrived in Damascus barely two months before the onset of the insurgency.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA)

Washington and its allies replicated in Syria the essential features of the “Iraq Salvador Option”, leading to the creation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and its various terrorist factions including the Al Qaeda affiliated Al Nusra brigades.

While the creation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was announced in June 2011, the recruitment and training of foreign mercenaries was initiated at a much an earlier period.

In many regards, the Free Syrian Army is a smokescreen. It is upheld by the Western media as a bona fide military entity established as a result of mass defections from government forces. The number of defectors, however, was neither significant nor sufficient to establish a coherent military structure with command and control functions.

The FSA is not a professional military entity, rather it is a loose network of separate terrorist brigades, which in turn are made up of numerous paramilitary cells operating in different parts of the country.

Each of these terrorist organizations operates independently. The FSA does not effectively exercise command and control functions including liaison with these diverse paramilitary entities. The latter are controlled by US-NATO sponsored special forces and intelligence operatives which are embedded within the ranks of selected terrorist formations.

These (highly trained) Special forces on the ground (many of whom are employees of private security companies) are routinely in contact with US-NATO and allied military/intelligence command units (including Turkey). These embedded Special Forces are, no doubt, also involved in the carefully planned bomb attacks directed against government buildings, military compounds, etc.

The death squads are mercenaries trained and recruited by the US, NATO, its Persian Gulf GCC allies as well as Turkey. They are overseen by allied special forces (including British SAS and French Parachutistes), and private security companies on contract to NATO and the Pentagon. In this regard, reports confirm the arrest by the Syrian government of some 200-300 private security company employees who had integrated rebel ranks.

The Jabhat Al Nusra Front

The Al Nusra Front –which is said to be affiliated to Al Qaeda– is described as the most effective “opposition” rebel fighting group, responsible for several of the high profile bomb attacks. Portrayed as an enemy of America (on the State Department list of terrorist organizations), Al Nusra operations, nonetheless, bear the fingerprints of US paramilitary training, terror tactics and weapons systems. The atrocities committed against civilians by Al Nusra (funded covertly by US-NATO) are similar to those undertaken by the US sponsored death squads in Iraq.

In the words of Al Nusra leader Abu Adnan in Aleppo: “Jabhat al-Nusra does count Syrian veterans of the Iraq war among its numbers, men who bring expertise — especially the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — to the front in Syria.”

As in Iraq, factional violence and ethnic cleansing were actively promoted. In Syria, the Alawite, Shiite and Christian communities have been the target of the US-NATO sponsored death squads. The Alawite and the Christian community are the main targets of the assassination program. Confirmed by the Vatican News Service:

Christians in Aleppo are victims of death and destruction due to the fighting which for months, has been affecting the city. The Christian neighborhoods, in recent times, have been hit by rebel forces fighting against the regular army and this has caused an exodus of civilians.

Some groups in the rugged opposition, where there are also jiahadist groups, “fire on Christian houses and buildings, to force occupants to escape and then take possession [ethnic cleansing] (Agenzia Fides. Vatican News, October 19, 2012)

“The Sunni Salafist militants – says the Bishop – continue to commit crimes against civilians, or to recruit fighters with force. The fanatical Sunni extremists are fighting a holy war proudly, especially against the Alawites. When terrorists seek to control the religious identity of a suspect, they ask him to cite the genealogies dating back to Moses. And they ask to recite a prayer that the Alawites removed. The Alawites have no chance to get out alive.” (Agenzia Fides 04/06/2012)

Reports confirm the influx of Salafist and Al Qaeda affiliated death squads as well as brigades under the auspices of the Muslim Brotherhood into Syria from the inception of the insurgency in March 2011.

Moreover, reminiscent of the enlistment of the Mujahideen to wage the CIA’s jihad (holy war) in the heyday of the Soviet-Afghan war, NATO and the Turkish High command, according to Israeli intelligence sources, had initiated”

“a campaign to enlist thousands of Muslim volunteers in Middle East countries and the Muslim world to fight alongside the Syrian rebels. The Turkish army would house these volunteers, train them and secure their passage into Syria. (DEBKAfile, NATO to give rebels anti-tank weapons, August 14, 2011).

Private Security Companies and the Recruitment of Mercenaries

A Secret Army of Mercenaries for the Middle East and North AfricaAccording to reports, private security companies operating out of Gulf States are involved in the recruiting and training of mercenaries.

Although not specifically earmarked for the recruitment of mercenaries directed against Syria, reports point to the creation of training camps in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In Zayed Military City (UAE), “a secret army is in the making” operated by Xe Services, formerly Blackwater. The UAE deal to establish a military camp for the training of mercenaries was signed in July 2010, nine months before the onslaught of the wars in Libya and Syria.

In recent developments, security companies on contract to NATO and the Pentagon are involved in training “opposition” death squads in the use of chemical weapons:

“The United States and some European allies are using defense contractors to train Syrian rebels on how to secure chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria, a senior U.S. official and several senior diplomats told CNN Sunday. ( CNN Report, December 9, 2012)

The names of the companies involved were not revealed.

Behind Closed Doors at the US State Department

Robert Stephen Ford was part of a small team at the US State Department team which oversaw the recruitment and training of terrorist brigades, together with Derek Chollet and Frederic C. Hof, a former business partner of Richard Armitage, who served as Washington’s “special coordinator on Syria”. Derek Chollet has recently been appointed to the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (ISA).

This team operated under the helm of (former) Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.

Feltman’s team was in close liaison with the process of recruitment and training of mercenaries out of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Libya (courtesy of the post-Gaddafi regime, which dispatched six hundred Libya Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) troops to Syria, via Turkey in the months following the September 2011 collapse of the Gaddafi government).

Assistant Secretary of State Feltman was in contact with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim. He was also in charge of a Doha-based office for “special security coordination” pertaining to Syria, which included representatives from Western and GCC intelligence agencies well as a representative from Libya. Prince Bandar bin Sultan. a prominent and controversial member of Saudi intelligence was part of this group. (See Press Tv, May 12, 2012).

In June 2012, Jeffrey Feltman (image: Left) was appointed UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, a strategic position which, in practice, consists in setting the UN agenda (on behalf of Washington) on issues pertaining to “Conflict Resolution” in various “political hot spots” around the world (including Somalia, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Mali). In a bitter irony, the countries for UN “conflict resolution” are those which are the target of US covert operations.

In liaison with the US State Department, NATO and his GCC handlers in Doha and Riyadh, Feltman is Washington’s man behind UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahmi’s “Peace Proposal”.

Meanwhile, while paying lip service to the UN Peace initiative, the US and NATO have speeded up the process of recruitment and training of mercenaries in response to the heavy casualties incurred by “opposition” rebel forces.

The US proposed “end game” in Syria is not regime change, but the destruction of Syria as a Nation State.

The deployment of “opposition” death squads with a mandate to kill civilians is part of this criminal undertaking.

“Terrorism with a Human Face” is upheld by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which constitutes a mouthpiece for NATO “Humanitarian Interventions” under the doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P).

The atrocities committed by the US-NATO death squads are casually blamed on the government of Bashar Al Assad. According to UN Human Rights Council High Commissioner Navi Pillay:

“This massive loss of life could have been avoided if the Syrian Government had chosen to take a different path than one of ruthless suppression of what were initially peaceful and legitimate protests by unarmed civilians,” (quoted in Stephen Lendman, UN Human Rights Report on Syria: Camouflage of US-NATO Sponsored Massacres, Global Research, January 3, 2012)

Washington’s “unspeakable objective” consists in breaking up Syria as a sovereign nation –along ethnic and religious lines– into several separate and “independent” political entities.

— source By Prof Michel Chossudovsky

Posted in Terrorism, ToMl, USA | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Revolving door between the U.S. government and Human Rights Watch

One of the world’s largest and most influential human rights organizations is facing an unusual amount of public criticism. Two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire, and a group of over a hundred scholars have written an open letter to Human Rights Watch criticizing what they describe as the group’s close ties to the U.S. government.

The letter claims there is a revolving door between the U.S. government and Human Rights Watch and that it has impacted the organization’s work in certain countries, including Venezuela. It cites the example of Tom Malinowski. In the 1990s he served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and as a speechwriter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Then he became HRW’s Washington advocacy director. Then, last year, he left the organization after being nominated as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor under John Kerry. The letter also notes a former CIA analyst named Miguel Díaz who sat on a Human Right Watch advisory committee from 2003 to 2011. Díaz is now at the State Department. The letter urges Human Rights Watch to bar those who have crafted or executed U.S. foreign policy from serving as staff, advisers or board members.

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth has defended his organization’s independence. In a recent letter to the Nobel laureates, Roth wrote, quote, “We are careful to ensure that prior affiliations do not affect the impartiality of Human Rights Watch’s work.”

Roth went on to highlight the group’s history of criticizing the U.S. human rights record. Roth wrote, quote, “We routinely expose, document and denounce human rights violations by the US government, including torture, indefinite detention, illegal renditions, unchecked mass surveillance, abusive use of drones, harsh sentencing and racial disparity in criminal justice, and an unfair and ineffective immigration system.”

Keane Bhatt talking:

The concern is that the revolving-door process that we delineated in the letter leads to a perverse incentive structure. That is to say, if you are a Human Rights Watch staff member and you are to criticize harshly and in principled terms actions by the U.S. government, one shouldn’t have in the back of his or her mind the possibility of actually working for that government. And we think that that possibility of looking at the U.S. government, which, you know, Human Rights Watch should be antagonistic towards, along with any other government, one should not see that as a possibility for future career advancement. And that generates perverse incentives. The revolving-door process is something that’s quite clearly understood in other industries, like the financial sector, in which you have a revolving door there. So we are simply saying that in the case of Human Rights Watch, which stands by its independence, that it should demonstrate that independence further by implementing an actual policy to have either a cooling-off period before and after HRW associates go into the U.S. government, or that they simply bar those who have created or executed U.S. foreign policy, given that the U.S. foreign policy establishment in the U.S. government is a routine human rights violator.

what we’re talking about is both working for the U.S. government before and after Human Rights Watch. In all of the countries that you’ve listed, I’m not aware of people who have worked in that government, then in Human Rights Watch and then back into government. And that’s the revolving-door phenomenon. So, if you have credible evidence of those people, we would probably oppose that, as well.

But the second point about focusing on the United States is that, as opposed to Peru or Mexico or Brazil, the United States is the world’s largest military hegemon. And as the world’s sole superpower, which has committed, you know, various human rights violations on an order of magnitude far beyond the scope of anything that could be accused upon Mexico or another country, this is really the core issue. And I just want to ask you, if it’s only two people—Miguel Díaz from the CIA, who is now an interlocutor—

if the advisory committee is simply an honorary title, what kind of message is that sending to the world that somebody who has worked at the CIA, perhaps the world’s greatest institutional human rights violator in the past half-century, is there as a way for—as a kind of a form of credentials? You know, what does that—what does that symbolize to the rest of the world when you talk about your independence? And then, secondly, when he goes into the State Department and his job title is explicitly serving as an interlocutor before the intelligence—between the intelligence community and non-government experts, namely Human Rights Watch and other organizations, what does that signal to the international community? So, let’s not even dispute the question of whether HRW’s advocacy is aligned with U.S. foreign policy. The very appearance, the very fact that we’re having this debate, is indicative of the need of having some kind of a policy—

This is not a question of left or right. This is a question of people who are associated with leading human rights violators working there. What can he bring to the table? What can he advise upon on human rights, when he has worked at the CIA.

I would dispute the contention that this is simply an effort by Venezuela supporters to try to tarnish HRW’s good name. Again, Reed Brody is not addressing the core issue here about a revolving door that’s taking place.

Tom Malinowski is an interesting case. He worked at the White House National Security Council for Bill Clinton as its senior director when Bill Clinton initiated the Yugoslavia bombings, which Human Rights Watch itself classified as committing violations of international humanitarian law. Secondly, he was a speechwriter for Madeleine Albright when she made the infamous comments that the price is worth it, in terms of imposing U.S. sanctions that may have killed a half a million Iraqi children. Malinowski then worked at Human Rights Watch as its lead lobbyist and then, immediately after, became the assistant secretary of state. You know, and so, the kinds of comments that he made, for example, in reference to Libya after the NATO intervention, are completely unalloyed in their—in their support. And so, when Tom Malinowski is strongly supportive of NATO interventions and then goes on to work at the Obama administration, which is a human rights violator—for example, you know, the secret kill list in which Obama has the right to murder anyone on the planet based on a, you know, secret order without any judicial oversight—these are the kinds of problems that exist. And whether or not—whether or not the advocacy is tarnished, the appearance of this revolving door should be addressed.

if criminal investigations should be launched against the Bush administration, then clearly the continuation of CIA renditions, the use of torture in Bagram and in Somalia, which Jeremy Scahill quite clearly demonstrated on this broadcast, the fact that Amrit Singh from the Open Society Justice Initiative was also on this program discussing the continuous use of renditions—again, a level of human rights violation that’s perhaps, you know, unparalleled, a secret kill list to kill anyone on the planet—all of these instances demand criminal investigations. And the fact that they haven’t been pushed by Human Rights Watch for Clinton, where Tom Malinowski once worked, and Obama, where he now works, is indicative of this issue.

And secondly, I think that the core issue here is that when HRW makes criticisms toward NATO, what signal does that send the international community when NATO’s former secretary general, Javier Solana, is on the board of directors at HRW? This is somebody who HRW itself criticized for presiding over violations of international humanitarian law. So, why don’t we make a simple policy? Those who bear direct responsibility for human rights violations should not be on the board of directors of an independent human rights organization.

We should have an immediate removal of Javier Solana from the board of directors, given that his power includes being able to remove staff at HRW. That’s what board of directors at nonprofits do.

when HRW documents atrocities committed by NATO, but then does not carry them to their logical conclusion that leads the international community to question the independence.

The United States is considered by the world, in a recent poll, to be the greatest threat to world peace today by three times the margin of the second runner-up. So what does it say to the world when HRW has somebody who has presided over a military organization? What does he bring to the table? What can he actually provide in terms of his insights and knowledge of human rights, when he’s somebody who presided over the bombing of civilian targets, the use of cluster munitions and so on?

because Chávez and Maduro have nowhere near the human rights record of the Obama administration [ HRW haven’t called for the prosecution of Chávez and of Maduro.]. And secondly, that’s the core question, is whether or not HRW chooses to operationalize its relatively tepid criticisms of Obama, given the severity of those human rights violations. Let’s take the case of drone strikes in Yemen, for example. What Human Rights Watch is advocating is not for the immediate cessation of drone strikes, which have killed hundreds of civilians around the world. What they’re asking for is greater transparency on the legal rationale for continuation of those drone strikes. So, the idea that the United dates can treat the entire planet as a legitimate battlefield is simply unquestioned.

And secondly, would HRW ask for the legal rationale from the Cuban government for why it carried out a drone assassination against Luis Posada Carriles? No, of course, it would immediately denounce a violation of that sovereignty, the issue of that, and they wouldn’t be asking the Justice Ministry of Cuba to justify its use of missile strikes on Florida.

that’s another issue, which is that the parameters for HRW are narrow, such that, you know, violations of international law, such as the threat or use of force, are outside of HRW’s purview. What that means is that the lone military superpower in the world, which has violated international law on many occasions—for example, in the case of Iraq, which led to the deaths of perhaps one million Iraqis, perhaps the greatest, you know, human rights catastrophe of the 21st century—because HRW’s purview does not allow it to oppose, you know, violations of international law, such as the threat or use of force, you know, we think that that’s a defect.

But what I’m saying is a narrower point, which is that if HRW has a stated policy of neutrality, then Tom Malinowski should not be endorsing and praising Libya, the Libya strikes by NATO, in pieces in Foreign Policy, and it should not be—

documentation is different from advocacy and operationalizing that research. And when Tom Malinowski completely omits the findings of HRW itself on the cases of 72 civilians killed in eight missile strikes by NATO in Libya in his extensive pieces

When Tom Malinowski, as the Washington advocacy director, simply omits that finding from his piece on NATO’s role in Libya, what that does is it raises reasonable suspicions that this person is thinking about possibilities of working within the Obama administration. And sure enough, by having a completely unconditional support and saying that what Libya shows is that Obama should be further engaged in the Arab Spring, what that does is it creates reasonable suspicions. And that’s why it’s crucial for HRW to impose some kind of a cooling-off period. There’s 15,500 people who have signed our petition at demanding for just a basic cooling-off period. Whether—we can go back and forth all day discussing HRW’s policy priorities, but if it doesn’t affect HRW’s advocacy, then there should be no problem implementing such a proposal. It’s a very commonsense proposal that’s understood in any other industry. The human rights industry should be no different.

Human Rights Watch, you know, with its endowment, a $100 million endowment from George Soros, is the leading human rights organization in the world, and it sets an agenda for other organizations. It also has, you know, an outsize influence in Congress, and it has a very powerful network within the media to get its message out. And we think that if it were more independent, that it would be leveraging those very important assets towards, you know, doing more effective human rights advocacy.

So, in the case of Aristide in 2004, Human Rights Watch barely lifted a finger in the face of massive atrocities, perhaps the worst human rights situation in the hemisphere at that time, in the Western Hemisphere. You know, HRW could have simply, you know, positioned op-eds in The Washington Post or The New York Times or elsewhere, demanding the immediate restitution of the constitutional government of Aristide and denouncing the atrocity that took place. Why didn’t that happen? You know, the Bush administration literally kidnapped Aristide, as viewers of Democracy Now! know from that reporting, and flew him to the Central African Republic. You know, in that context, under a coup government in which thousands of people were being slaughtered in Port-au-Prince alone, you know, HRW should have taken a stronger approach. And we don’t think that it’s coincidental that, you know, the U.S. role in that coup and the subsequent atrocities that took place had a role in HRW’s relative silence.

Where were you in 2004 after the coup? Why did HRW send a letter to Colin Powell, not urging for the immediate restitution, the immediate reinstatement of Aristide, but simply asking Colin Powell, the Bush administration, which kidnapped Aristide, to put pressure on the coup government—that it installed—to prosecute both paramilitary leaders who precipitated that coup and deposed officials of the constitutional government? This is a warped idea of evenhandedness, and this is exactly the kind of issue that we’re talking about. The closeness of HRW with the U.S. government creates these completely bizarre forms of evenhandedness, which at, you know, first blush may seem speciously independent, but, you know, on closer inspection are completely fraudulent.

I find it very curious that Human Rights Watch will appeal to the OAS Democratic Charter in the question of Chávez’s court packing in Venezuela but would not appeal to the OAS Democratic Charter in the case of Aristide’s ouster, an unconstitutional ouster committed by the U.S. government, putting him on a plane and kidnapping him in Africa—and sending him to Africa. Why didn’t it invoke the U.N.—the OAS Charter?

I think that in 2008 a hundred academics clearly denounced what they called, you know, flimsy and inaccurate evidence. You know, HRW is entitled to its advocacy, but you can’t make up facts. And the core issue there was that, in one instance, HRW referred to the systematic discrimination and the provision of social services based on political affiliation. They literally had one case, and that was based on hearsay. That was based on a phone call with somebody who had a 98-year-old grandmother who was denied service. I mean, this is a level of scholarship that would not be admissible, you know, at high school level.

It suggests that the revolving-door issue with HRW

María Corina Machado appeared on Televen, OK, a prominent opposition leader, and referred to the Venezuelan government as a dictatorship, said that there was no democracy, accused it of various human rights abuses, and then said that there was a legitimate case to—you know, to use the constitution to push for the ouster of the elected government. These are the kinds of comments that, you know, no senator or congressmember in the United States could ever make at ABC or NBC. Could he say that the United States is a dictatorship?

this is the kind of expression, the freedom of expression that exists in Venezuela, where, you know, somebody, a prominent opposition leader, can refer to an elected government as a dictatorship.

— source

Keane Bhatt, lead organizer of the letter alleging a revolving door between the U.S. government and Human Rights Watch.

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The Rise of the Ultra-Right is the Left’s Fault

Europe’s appalling handling of a euro crisis that was always going to happen, given its faulty architectural design,[1] has triggered an electoral result in the recent European Parliament elections that is a clarion warning that Europe is decomposing. And it is decomposing precisely because of the Left’s spectacular failure to intervene both during the construction phase of Europe’s economic and monetary union and, more poignantly, after the latter’s crisis had begun.

The international press has summed up the 2014 European Parliament election outcome as a sign that the economic crisis plaguing Europe has caused voters to be lured by the two ‘extremes’, meaning the ultra right and the extreme left. This is a verdict that the European elites, whose shenanigans are responsible for Europe’s deconstruction, are comfortable with. They see it as evidence that, despite ‘some errors’, they are on the middle road, with some wayward voters straying off the ‘right’ path both to the left and to the right. And they hope that, once growth picks up again, the ‘strays’ will return to the fold.

This is a misrepresentation of current economic and political reality. Europeans were not lured by the two extremes. They drifted to one extreme: that of the racist, xenophobic, anti-European right. Extreme, anti-European, leftwing parties saw no surge in their support anywhere in Europe.[2] For four years now, European institutions are the field on which incompetence and malice compete with one another in a bid to win the prize for the most inconspicuous obfuscation of the truth: (a) that the Eurozone’s construction was faulty; and (b) that, once the never-ending crisis had began, the elites were solely interested in shifting banking losses from the banks’ asset books onto the shoulders of the weaker citizens.

If the financial sector has been stabilised, it is because the combination of massive central bank liquidity and stringent austerity propped up finance, shielded bankers (without cleansing the banks), and reflated many of the burst bubbles. And this at the cost of untold damage on Europe’s real economy, social fabric, and democracies. The interesting question, however, is: Why has the Left not benefitted from the trials and tribulations of the Eurozone’s neoliberal design and from the great pain inflicted upon the majority by the neoliberal ‘cure’?

The obvious reason is that, prior to 2008, Europe’s ‘official’ Left had invested considerable energy so as to be… co-opted into the neoliberal cabal that designed and implemented the faulty Eurozone architecture. Post-2008, once the neoliberal design began to crumble, the parties carrying the torch of the social democratic tradition did not recoil from playing an enthusiastic role as enforcers of ruthlessly reactionary economic policies. It is, therefore, not a great wonder that they are now paying the electoral price.

The Greek socialist party, whose government sought out and celebrated the first Eurozone ‘bailout’ (which was to act as template for Ireland’s and Portugal’s ‘bailouts’, not to mention the fiscal straightjacket and labour market reforms that followed elsewhere, especially in Spain and Italy), has been diminished from 43% of the popular vote to less than 8%. Spain’s PSOE and the Portuguese socialists were similarly beaten into a pulp by a despondent electorate that refuses to vote for them even though the conservative governments that took over in 2011 are even more despised. Ireland’s Labour Party is in strife for having legitimised the wholesale ransacking of the Irish people by unscrupulous European bankers, under the brutal watch of the ECB and the troika. Holland’s Labour Party, engenderer of the ‘Polder Model’ and guarantor of Dutch social democracy for fifty years, is languishing at 10% of electoral support.

Austria’s and Germany’s social democrats are equally incapable of speaking out against self-defeating austerity or in serious defence of their constituents. As for the French socialists, the less said the better: Having made a song and dance about the need for a European New Deal, Mr Holland capitulated to Mrs Merkel before one could say ‘fiscal compact’. Tragically, the day after his party collected a pitiful 15% of the votes in the 2014 European election, to the National Front’s worrying 25% (!), Mr Holland’s Prime Minister promised… tax cuts to a baffled socialist party audience.

Be that as it may, the question remains: Why? What explains European social democracy’s slide into reactionary policies and, thus, oblivion? My answer is that, some time in the 1990s, Europe’s ‘official’, social democratic Left fell into the trap of believing that the welfare state need no longer be financed from a portion of profits exacted by political means from industry and commerce. Instead, they could finance the welfare state by tapping into the rivers of privately minted money that the financial sector was printing (while waged labour was being squeezed and real estate prices soared).

Rather than constantly clashing with industrialists and merchants in order to extract from them a share of their profits, social democratic parties of government believed that a Faustian bargain with financiers could: (a) yield more funds for social programs, (b) end their conflict-ridden relationship with industry, and (c) allow them to hobnob with the rich and powerful, as partners, while still lavishly funding public hospitals, schools, unemployment benefits, the arts etc. It seemed like a dream come true for suited men who did not want to abandon the working class to its own devises but who had had enough of… class struggle.

Faustian bargains come, alas, with clauses written in blood. Europe’s social democrats, lured by the cacophony of money-making in the financial sector, numbed by the myth of some ‘Great Moderation’, and excited by the mystical notion of ‘riskless risk’, agreed to let finance free to do as it pleased in exchange for funds with which to prop up welfare states that were relics of a bygone post-war social contract. That was the social democrats’ game. At the time, it seemed to them a better idea, more fathomable, than having to be constantly in conflict with industrialists, seeking to tax them to redistribute. In contrast, they found a cosy relationship with bankers more amenable and easy going. As long as the ‘leftist’ politicians let them do as they pleased, the financiers were happy to let them have some crumbs off their gargantuan dinner table.

Alas, to be allowed these crumbs, social democrats had to swallow financialisation’s logic hook, line and sinker. Including the Eurozone’s neoliberal design. And so, when in 2008 the tsunamis of capital produced by Wall Street, the City and Frankfurt evaporated, Europe’s social democratic side of politics did not have the analytical tools, or moral oeuvre, with which to subject the collapsing system to critical scrutiny. They were, thus, ripe for acquiescence, for total capitulation, to the toxic remedies (e.g. the ‘bailouts’) whose purpose was to sacrifice working people, the unemployed, and the weak on the altar of the financiers. Indeed, they even volunteered to implement the ‘necessary’ cruel policies as if in denial of their acquiescence to a Faustian bargain that was to prove their demise.


European social democracy cannot survive its pre-2008 historic analytical error and its post-2008 complicity in organised misanthropy.

Europe, at the same time, cannot be saved without a revival of a Left capable of subjecting the Eurozone’s construction to critical reason.

Unless a reinvigorated Left, along the lines of Greece’s SYRIZA, can inspire Europeans to challenge the toxic policies at the heart of Europe’s deconstruction, the only winners will be racism, nationalism and the emerging regime that I refer to as Bankruptocracy.

— source

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Air Conditioning Raising Nighttime Temperatures in the U.S.

Researchers in the US have identified a way in which city-dwellers are inadvertently stoking up the heat of the night – by installing air conditioners.

Because the cities are getting hotter as the climate changes, residents are increasingly investing in air conditioning systems − which discharge heat from offices and apartment blocks straight into the city air. And the vicious circle effect is that cities get still warmer, making air conditioning all the more attractive to residents.

According to scientists at Arizona State University, the air conditioning system is now having a measurable effect. During the days, the systems emit waste heat, but because the days are hot anyway, the difference is negligible. At night, heat from air conditioning systems now raises some urban temperatures by more than 1C, they report in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres.

The team focused on the role of air conditioning systems in the metropolitan area of the city of Phoenix, which is in the Sonora desert in Arizona, and conditions in the summertime are harsh there anyway.

But, worldwide, normally warm countries are experiencing increasing extremes of heat, and conditions in cities have on occasion become lethal.

To cap this, cities are inevitably hotspots – and it’s not just because of global warming. The concentration of traffic, commuter systems, street and indoor lighting, central heating, light industry, tarmac, tiles, bricks, building activity and millions of people can raise temperatures as much as 5C above the surrounding countryside.

At present, 87% of US households have air conditioning, and the US – which is not one of the warmer nations – uses more electricity to keep cool than all the other countries of the world combined. To keep the people of Phoenix cool during periods of extreme heat, air conditioning systems can consume more than half of total electricity needs, which puts a strain on power grids.

The Arizona scientists simulated a 10-day period of unusually hot weather between 10 July and 19 July, 2009, and used computer models and detailed readings from weather records to analyze the effect of air conditioning systems on local temperatures. Even though the biggest demand for air conditioning was in the daytime, they found the biggest difference was always at night.

“Our work demonstrates 1C degree local heating of urban atmospheres in hot and dry cities due to air conditioning use at night time,” said Francisco Salamanca, the report’s lead author. “This increase in outside air temperature in turn results in additional demands for air conditioning.

“Sustainable development and optimization of electricity consumption would require turning wasted heat from air conditioning into useful energy, which can be used inside houses for various purposes − including, for example, water heaters.”

Such actions would reduce local air temperatures: in Phoenix alone, they could directly save more than 1200 Megawatt hours of electricity per day.

In 2012, the US experienced a set of record-breaking temperatures, and the US Department of Energy has warned that days of extreme heat are expected to become more frequent and more intense because of climate change.

But this seems already to be a pattern worldwide, according to recent analyses of climate patterns. And the demand for air conditioning is expected to accelerate in India, China and other emerging economies.

— source

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The Metaphysics of Money

Recently I was at a coffee shop, and to test a metaphysical hunch I asked a few of my fellow caffeinated confreres this question: “What is money?” They all gave answers along the following lines. Money is an arbitrary symbol of exchange value that we just make up in order to facilitate trade and investment. Money itself isn’t any thing but it is a collectively believed in fiction which operates as a very useful means of exchange.

This sort of answer confirmed my hunch nicely: us Modern people have no idea how (or even if) money is connected to real wealth. It was Medieval economics that opened my eyes to this fascinating and possibly very important insight.

If you were to ask a medieval person the question “What is money?” they would not tell you that it is simply a made up means of marketplace exchange. They would not say anything like that for a number of interesting reasons. The first of these reasons is that they would assume a “what is… ?” question is a question about something’s essential nature rather than a question about its conventional function or instrumental effect. This assumption reflects a huge difference between Modern and Medieval reality outlooks to start with. To the Medievals, everything has an essential meaning, and accurately discerning true meaning determines right use. To us Moderns, it is the other way around: everything has a use – effective manipulative power, based on a scientific knowledge of how things work, is the criteria of real world truth – and each person can make up whatever meanings and values they like. Indeed, to us, nothing has an essential meaning. To us, use defines value, but value itself has no essential meaning.

Because they were interested in essential meanings the Medievals did not believe in a notion so relativistic and contingent as ‘classical’ supply and demand determined “market value”. Instead, they believed in “true value” where the true (essential) value of anything sold in the market needed to be reasonably reflected in the price if it was to be sold fairly. Here a fair price was seen as a function of properly appreciated real value (knowing what something was really worth). Fair price was a function of the essential value of the traded thing itself and the real value of the skills, labour and pious stewardship of the people who produced and distributed that good. Here also the essential value of the buyer (such as a God-imaged, though poor serf, needing food) must determine the price of, say, bread if that price is to reflect true value. So you would not get an instrumental answer to a “what is?” question of any sort from a Medieval. Further, in relation to the question “what is money?” it would not occur to a Medieval that real wealth, and any means by which wealth is exchanged, would be an arbitrary fiction that had nothing to do with moral and spiritual truths.

Secondly, unlike today, the Medieval person would not think of money as an abstract numerical cypher, but as a tangible physical thing: a certain amount of a particular metal. (The Medievals, you must remember, lived before the birth of the modern nation state, and thus before central banking which guaranteed the wide spread stability of money as paper based notes of credit. ‘Money’ as we know it today first became widely viable in 1694 when the Bank of England was formed in order to fund a war for King William III.) To the Medievals money was no abstract numerical fiction, money was tangibly metallic. Further, metals were analogues of, even ontologically participants in, cosmic and spiritual realities.

To the Medievals, money was always made out of gold and silver – the metals of the Sun and Moon – and other metals. Gold, for example, as the Sun’s metal participates symbolically (and ontologically) in the Sun. The Sun is the physical source of all life, and thus – so Ficino maintained – an analogy of God Himself, the source and giver of life to creation. The Sun is a tangible icon that points us to the intangible God who is the eternal source and final destiny of all that is. Harking back to Plato’s analogy of the sun, the via antiqua metaphysics of the Middle Ages as well as Renaissance Platonism, saw God is the Goodness beyond Being, out of whom all beings come, the glorious source of the real qualitative value of all that is. Gold as incorruptible, and as the lustrous colour of the Sun, speaks to us of the eternal beauty and splendour of God and iconographically points us to the divine source of all true meaning and value. The wealth and splendour of gold is thus a real, though twice analogically reflected, wealth, and the spiritual reality that gold ‘sacramentally’ points to is divine providence, the source and essence of all wealth which is given to creation by God so that creation might flourish.

Reflecting on the theological meaning of money to a Medieval person, we can see that wealth was understood as a real feature of created reality, and that money was physically (though ‘sacramentally’) bonded to wealth. Thus money was not understood in its essence as an artificial, man-made construct. Unlike today, the Medievals could not envision money as an intangible construct to be used for whatever instrumental pursuit of transaction manipulating power the fertile imaginations of high finance simply dream up. No, to the Medievals money was an active function of real wealth, though wealth in no way reduced to human money.

The reason why I have taken you into the exotic realm of Medieval economics is that it shows us how different metaphysical approaches to money can be, and it makes us aware that our Modern understanding of the nature and meaning of money is not a fixed and certain reality. We can now hopefully see that our astonishingly instrumental and abstract assumed metaphysics of money is one option amongst many possible ways of understanding the nature and meaning of money. Modern money is one way of thinking and acting concerning the relations between work, commerce and finance; it is one way of approaching the nature of finance and its (non) relation to wealth, morality, reality and power. Perhaps, even, the abstract and instrumental nature of our assumed metaphysics of money is deeply implicated in the horrifying pathologies of high finance?

Bearing the above question in mind, let us return to gold.

The catastrophic global financial disaster of the Great Depression was in the vivid memories of those who gathered at Bretton Woods in 1944 to plan and set up the architecture for the post-war global economy. They were determined that the final popping of the massive speculative bubbles of the roaring 20s would not be repeated. How, they pondered, could they fix the value of money to reality so that speculative finance did not become the dog that wagged the tail of the real economy? The answer they came back to was gold. Currencies would be tied in value together, and the American dollar would undergird the new global economy by being tied to gold. $US35 per ounce of gold held money to some real wealth anchor and the fascinating thing is that whilst the gold standard lasted, so did the post-war boom. After the collapse of the gold standard in 1971, speculative finance took off again and the real economy started to take a back seat to high finance again. Come 2008 and the spectre of 1929 can again be seen riding its ghostly horse through the economies of Europe. High finance is now inherently unstable and the dynamic of financial implosion could spread to every corner of the globe at any time.

Perhaps we should think again about the metaphysics of money and the need to tie money in some way to real wealth rather than to let it float disconnectedly from the actual production and provision of human needs. For when that happens monetary bubbles are generated without any contact with real wealth, and money without any real wealth cannot fail – sooner or later – to unravel in bubble bursts that are profoundly destructive of real wealth.

I am not suggesting a return to the gold standard. What I am suggesting is that we must come to terms with the obvious fact that our collective metaphysical assumptions about the nature of money are now failing us badly. For today, money has no contact with real wealth, for it has no contact with reality. As Satyajit Das succinctly puts is “money and the games played [by high finance] are intangible, unreal, and increasingly virtual.” This entirely artificial conception of money has deep pathological tendencies which are profoundly destructive of real wealth.

High finance has a frankly criminal tendency such that it facilitates the transfer of real wealth from the public purse – the coffers of states in which wealth is gathered from the people for the common good of the people – into private hands. Yet our banks have this criminal ability because they are tied to our governments (as, since 1694, the big banking players have always been). Astonishingly, after the Federal Reserve Bank of the US poured trillions of tax payer guaranteed money into the private banking sector in 2008, no-one went to jail for extortion even though this is undoubtedly the largest single act of financial extortion in human history. Because global finance is dominated by institutions that are “too big to fail” this means we tax payers must keep them eating our very flesh, and the flesh of our children, in order that the economy – which apparently operates for our welfare (ha!?) – does not implode. Feed us or else we take you all down! This is extortion pure and simple.

Why do we let our governments and our high finance sectors act in so obviously criminal ways? Perhaps it is because we unquestioningly assume that money is an amoral, abstract, artificial and purely instrumental entity that is just made up. For if money is just a number that is ‘produced’ and manipulated by reserve banks and financial specialists, then we naturally assume a bizarre sort of ‘realism’ where entirely artificial finances are seen as the legitimate repositories of right order and real power. Assuming this sort of financial and political ‘realism’, it seems natural to us that our governments have the authority and legitimacy of an economic priest-caste which acts in consort with our magical banking gurus to keep the world as we know it chugging along in proper cosmic harmony

If we are to change this situation, we need to change the way we think about money, wealth and power. This is where the fundamental matters are that will determine our future.

We are not, of course, going to banish extortion or immoral instrumentalism just by having better metaphysics. Criminals, extortionist and abusers of violent power were as common and powerful in the Middle Ages as they are today. Yet if we do not appreciate the relationship between the prevailing order of wealth and power and the metaphysical assumptions which we all share when we engage in the use of money and the practise of politics, then the vital collective sources of our norms and of how power is sustained will be invisible to us. The main game is, indeed, a struggle for our minds. Plato saw this with characteristic insight. As long as we believe that illusions are reality, we are controlled by those who manipulate the collective illusions that structure the operational norms of the world of finance and power as we currently know it.

How do we get money tied to the realities of real human life so that it becomes a fair function of the actual production and distribution of real wealth? How do we re-introduce the idea that finance should be tied in some concrete way to the real world in which actual producing and consuming people live? How can we get finance to serve human (that is political) ends rather than politics facilitating financial ends for high flyers in investment banking? These are the vital questions for us today in the post-2008 world.

— source By Yves Smith

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The Rules of Revolt

There are some essential lessons we can learn from the student occupation of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, which took place 25 years ago. The 1989 protests began as a demonstration by university students to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, the reformist Communist Party chief who had been forced out by Deng Xiaoping. The protests swiftly expanded to include demands for an end to corruption, for press freedom and for democracy. At their height, perhaps a million people were in the square. The protests were crushed on the night of June 3-4 when some 200,000 soldiers, backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, attacked. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed demonstrators were killed.

Lesson No. 1. A nonviolent movement that disrupts the machinery of state and speaks a truth a state hopes to suppress has the force to terrify authority and create deep fissures within the power structure. The ruling elites in China, we now know from leaked internal documents and the work of a handful of historians, believed the protests had the potential to dislodge them from power. Monolithic power, as we saw in China, is often a mirage. Some of the internal documents that exposed the fears and deep divisions within the ruling elite have been collected by the Princeton University Library.

Lesson No. 2. An uprising or a revolution usually follows a period of relative prosperity and liberalization. It is ignited not by the poor but by middle-class and elite families’ sons and daughters, often college-educated, whom Mikhail Bakunin called déclassé intellectuals, and who are being denied opportunities to advance socially and economically.

This is what happened in China. Chairman Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 saw Deng Xiaoping assume leadership. Deng instituted political and free market reforms. The reforms created a new oligarchy. It led to widespread corruption, especially among the party elites. For workers there was a loss of job security and social benefits, including medical care and subsidized housing. University graduates were no longer guaranteed jobs, and many could not find employment.

The political liberalization that followed the terror of the Cultural Revolution expanded internal freedoms. A mixture of declining expectations, especially among college graduates, and the political opening provided the classic tinder for revolt. Political theorists such as James C. Davies and Crane Brinton have found that a period of relative liberalization coupled with declining prospects for advancement commonly precedes revolutions.

Once a regime abolishes civil liberties and acts in the middle of an uprising to restore “order,” resistance becomes more dangerous. The Chinese government, after suffering more than a month of protests, declared martial law on May 20, 1989. Nonviolent mass demonstrations, while costly in human terms, often are more effective in totalitarian societies. Fear and forced submission to power are the only weapons left in the arsenal of the ruling class at such a point; when people are no longer afraid, the regime loses control.

Lesson No. 3. Radical mass movements often begin by appealing respectfully to authority for minimal reforms. The students, gathering in Tiananmen Square to mourn Hu, asked that the Chinese constitution, with its guarantees of rule of law and freedom of speech, be respected. Radicalization within the movement happened in the midst of the demonstrations. Once a movement educates itself about structures of power, and once those in state authority display their indifference to the tepid demands of the demonstrators, a movement becomes bolder and wiser. The Tiananmen Square occupation, begun as a spontaneous reaction to a death, swiftly evolved into a revolt. Students eventually drafted what became known as the Seven Demands. These were:

—Affirm as correct Hu Yaobang’s views on democracy and freedom;

—Admit that the campaigns against spiritual pollution and bourgeois liberalization had been wrong;

—Publish information on the incomes of state leaders and their family members;

—End the ban on privately run newspapers and stop press censorship;

—Increase funding for education and raise intellectuals’ pay;

—End restrictions on demonstrations in Beijing;

—Provide objective coverage of students in official media.

Lesson No. 4. Once déclassé intellectuals make alliances with the working class a regime is in serious danger. The protest by the students resonated throughout China. Thousands of people, many from the working class, held their own demonstrations in cities across the country. Workers in Beijing rallied to the students. The state’s relentless demonization of the protesters, something we saw in the United States in response to actions of the Occupy movement, was aimed primarily at preventing a student/worker alliance. Once the crackdown was complete, many workers who had taken part were executed. Student leaders, who came from families with connections and privilege, were usually given prison sentences.

Lesson No. 5. The most potent weapon in the hands of nonviolent rebels is fraternizing with and educating civil servants as well as the police and soldiers, who even though they suffer from the same economic inequality usually are under orders to crush protest. This demands a counterintuitive response from protesters. They must show respect and even compassion to forces deployed to stop the rebellion. Demonstrators are required to exercise tremendous self-discipline as they endure acts of violence and repression. They must refuse to retaliate. If bonds of sympathy are established between protesters and some of the police and soldiers, the ruling elites are unsure whether they can trust the security apparatus to obey. This engenders paralysis within the centers of power. In China the ruling Communist Party watched in dismay May 20 as the initial military assault to crush the protesters failed. Thousands of people surrounded military vehicles. They spoke to the soldiers about the reasons for the protests. They offered them food and water and invited them into their homes. Friendships were formed. The protesters and their supporters built so much solidarity with the soldiers that the government was forced to withdraw the military from Beijing four days later.

Lesson No. 6. When a major authority figure, even in secret, denounces calls to crush a resistance movement the ruling elites are thrown into panic. Maj. Gen. Xu Qinxian, leader of the 38th Group Army, refused to authorize an attack on the unarmed protesters in the square, saying, “I’d rather be beheaded than be a criminal in the eyes of history,” according to the historian Yang Jisheng. He was stripped of his command and arrested. His refusal sent shock waves throughout the rulers, especially after seven senior commanders signed a petition that called on the leadership to withdraw the troops. In many uprisings the ruling elites, after members of their inner circle defect, see distrust and potential disobedience among other authority figures, even those who are loyal. To protect themselves the elites carry out internal purges, such as those conducted in the Soviet Union by Josef Stalin—purges that are self-destructive. One person in authority saying “no” is an effective form of resistance. The elites know that if enough people refuse to co-operate they are doomed. They cannot let this spread.

Lesson No. 7. The state seeks to isolate and indoctrinate soldiers and police before sending them to violently quash any movement. This indoctrination hinges on portraying the protesters as elitists and traitors, often with ties to foreign governments, who do not share the traditional cultural, religious and moral assumptions of the wider population. The Chinese leadership and state press called the demonstrators tools of “bourgeois liberalism.” The government quarantined troops for 10 days outside Beijing and subjected them to daily indoctrination before the final armed attack on Tiananmen Square. State propaganda, while denouncing the protesters as disloyal, portrays the state as the ally of the working class and the defender of traditional values. Any successful mass revolutionary movement, to counter this propaganda, must exhibit respect for the traditional values of society, including religious and patriotic values.

Lesson No. 8. Secrecy is self-destructive to a nonviolent resistance movement. Openness and transparency expose the endemic secrecy and deceit used by regimes to maintain power. Openness inspires confidence in a movement, not only among those within it but among those who sympathize with it. The nature of secrecy is manipulation, the hallmark of despotic power. If people believe they are being manipulated they will distrust a movement and refuse to participate. Secrecy is also an admission of fear, which is what the state wants to instill in those who resist. Finally, the huge resources available to the state to employ informants and carry out surveillance mean that most resistant acts planned in secret are not secret to the state. Only under extreme totalitarian conditions—Nazi Germany or Stalinism—can secrecy be justified by protesters. But even then it rarely works.

Lesson No. 9. The state on the eve of breaking a rebellion with force seeks to make police and soldiers frightened of the protesters. It does this by sending in agents provocateurs to direct acts of violence against symbols of state authority. It is imperative to the state that police and soldiers believe they are in mortal danger, especially when the state is demanding that they use deadly force to quell an uprising. Indoctrinated soldiers sent into Tiananmen Square in June of 1989 believed they would come under fire from armed dissidents or disloyal army units.

Lesson No. 10. After deadly force is used to end a revolt, which happened when Deng Xiaoping sent more than 200,000 soldiers to gun down protesters in Beijing, the state invests tremendous energy to foster historical amnesia. Those in China who seek to remember the uprising—even 25 years later—are silenced. Parents whose sons or daughters were killed in the military assault on Tiananmen Square are forbidden to openly mourn. It is imperative to the ruling elites that the true historical narrative be erased. The use of deadly force against unarmed citizens exposes the tyranny of the state and therefore must be banished from memory.

Lesson No. 11. Once a movement is put down, wholesale retribution occurs. It is estimated that 4 million people were investigated by state security after the Tiananmen Square massacre on suspicion of involvement in the protests. An additional 1 million government employees were investigated. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, were arrested and sent to labor camps. Many were executed.

Lesson No. 12. Nonviolence does not protect demonstrators from violence. It also does not always succeed. Nonviolence requires—despite what those who advocate violence contend—deep reserves of physical and moral courage. State violence is defeated through the refusal to be afraid, even after violence is used by the state to stamp out protests, and through continuing acts of nonviolent resistance. The goal is to show that violence will not work. But like hundreds of protesters in Tiananmen, many in the first generation of rebels may perish in the process. The generation that begins a revolt often does not live to see its conclusion.

— source By Chris Hedges

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Religion is not an escapism from what you have done

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The Wall Street Journal denies the 97% scientific consensus on human-caused global warming

Rupert Murdoch’s The Wall Street Journal editorial page has long published op-eds denying basic climate science. This week, they published an editorial denying the 97% expert scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming. The editorial may have been published as a damage control effort in the wake of John Oliver’s brilliant and hilarious global warming debate viral video, which has now surpassed 3 million views. After all, fossil fuel interests and Republican political strategists have been waging a campaign to obscure public awareness of the expert consensus on global warming for nearly three decades.

The Wall Street Journal editorial was written by Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute political advocacy group of Unabomber billboard infamy, and Roy Spencer of “global warming Nazis” infamy. Spencer previously claimed in testimony to US Congress to be part of the 97% consensus, although his research actually falls within the less than 3% fringe minority of papers that minimize or reject the human influence on global warming.

Spencer’s claim to the contrary was a result of failing to understand the consensus research he referenced. In The Wall Street Journal this week, Spencer and Bast continued that tradition of misunderstanding and misrepresenting the scientific literature on the expert global warming consensus.

For example, in order to reject the findings of the paper my colleagues and I published last year finding a 97% consensus on human-caused global warming in the peer-reviewed literature, Bast and Spencer referenced a critical comment subsequently published by David Legates et al. in an obscure off-topic journal called Science and Education. That paper was based on a blog post written by Christopher Monckton, who’s infamous for calling environmental activists “Hitler Youth.”

Monckton’s blog post and paper tried to deny the consensus by ignoring 98% of the papers that endorse it. He compared only papers that explicitly quantified the human contribution to global warming to the full sample of all peer-reviewed papers that mention the phrases “global warming” or “global climate change.”

By that standard, there’s less than a 1% expert consensus on evolution, germ theory, and heliocentric theory, because there are hardly any papers in those scientific fields that bother to say something so obvious as, for example, “the Earth revolves around the sun.” The same is true of human-caused global warming. That Bast and Spencer refer to Monckton and Legates’ fundamentally wrong paper in an obscure off-topic journal as “more reliable research” reveals their bias in only considering denial “reliable.”

Bast and Spencer didn’t just limit their misrepresentations to our paper; they spread the wealth to all of the big global warming consensus studies. The first was done by Naomi Oreskes and published in Science in 2004, finding that in a sample of 928 peer-reviewed climate research abstracts, none rejected human-caused global warming. Bast and Spencer claimed, “scores of articles by prominent [contrarian] scientists … who question the consensus, were excluded.”

This is inaccurate; their ‘skeptical’ papers simply weren’t represented in Oreskes’ sample of 928 papers, which isn’t surprising since these contrarian papers account for less than 3% of the peer-reviewed global warming research. Oreskes’ sample also didn’t capture tens of thousands of other climate papers that are consistent with the 97% consensus. That’s why it’s called a sample.

Bast and Spencer also argued that abstracts don’t necessarily accurately reflect the content of a complete scientific paper, which could be a weakness in Oreskes’ study, given that she only considered the abstracts. However, our study last year included ratings of over 2,000 full papers by the scientist authors themselves. The result? Once again, a 97% consensus on human-caused global warming.

Next came a survey of Earth scientists by Doran & Zimmerman in 2009, and a survey of public statements made by climate researchers by Anderegg and colleagues in 2010, both again finding a 97% consensus on human-caused global warming among climate experts. In their opinion article, Bast and Spencer tried to reject these studies as having relatively small sample sizes.

However, their results were consistent with those in our study, which had a much larger sample size. We found 10,356 scientists whose published climate research has stated a position on human-caused global warming. Among those 10,356 scientists, 98.4% endorsed the consensus. In addition to these consensus studies, at least 80 National Academies of Science and dozens of scientific organizations from around the world agree with the consensus; none oppose it.

Instead of accepting these consistent results that have been published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals like Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Environmental Research Letters, Spencer and Bast choose to believe some less robust data that they find more convenient.

The first source they cite is a survey of members of the American Meteorological Society, in which only 13% of participants described climate science as their area of expertise. Worse yet, Bast and Spencer also referenced the Oregon Petition, which can be signed by anyone with just about any college science degree, and which has included “signatures” from fictional characters and Spice Girls. After complaining about the relatively small sample sizes of climate experts in previous surveys, Bast and Spencer instead put their trust in two documents that mostly include non-climate experts.

Bast and Spencer also tried to downplay the expert consensus, arguing that climate scientists don’t specify that global warming is “dangerous.” What we each consider dangerous is subjective and not scientific – some people think that driving 100 miles per hour in a rain storm isn’t dangerous. However, if the 97% expert consensus is right, it means we’re in for several more degrees of global warming if we continue on a business-as-usual path.

Climate Science Watch lists some key climate reports that summarize the “disruptive” and “highly damaging” threats we face from the impacts of further global warming. According to the IPCC, over 40% of global species will face increasing risk of extinction in a business-as-usual scenario. Glacier retreats will threaten water supplies in Central Asia and South America. Global sea level will rise in excess of 1 meter. We’re probably currently experiencing global warming at a rate unprecedented for the past 11,000 years. Scientists tend to shy away from making subjective assessments about what’s “dangerous,” but those are the types of threats climate scientists tell us we face from continued global warming.

Bottom line – the 97% expert scientific consensus on human-caused global warming is real. It presents a strong litmus test; those who deny this reality aren’t interested in good faith discussions about climate change. They’re simply in denial. We’re well past the point where we need to stop “debating” established facts like human-caused global warming and the 97% expert consensus. If Murdoch’s The Wall Street Journal keeps publishing editorials that flat-out deny reality, especially from people who compare those they disagree with to terrorists and Nazis, it will lose credibility and fall by the wayside as the rest of the world moves on to debate how to best solve the problem.

— source

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