Sioux can stop the Pipeline

SUBHEAD: The Standing Rock Sioux protest is about competing ideas for the future of the planet. They have the high ground.

By mark Trahant on 22 August 2016 for Yes Magazine -
(http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/3-reasons-the-standing-rock-sioux-can-stop-the-dakota-access-pipeline-20160822)


Image above: President Obama visits Standing Rock Sioux in 2014 and poses with a number of Native American youth. Would he betray their future? From (http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/02/02/president-obama-wants-1-billion-indian-education-158971).

America has more than 2.5 million miles of oil and gas pipelines crossing the country in every direction. So plans to construct the 1,172-mile Dakota Access pipeline from oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Patoka, Illinois, were supposed to be a nonevent. The regulatory process was largely through state commissions and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and far less stringent than the successfully opposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Just one more pipeline.

On July 25, the Army Corps granted authorization for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River and Lake Oahe, and developers hoped to open the pipeline sometime later this year. It would transport some 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day—roughly half of the Bakken daily oil production—on treaty lands a half-mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe objected. The pipeline route threatens the tribe’s drinking water and would disturb sacred and cultural sites, and so the tribal government has opposed the project since 2014.

A couple hundred tribal members went to the construction site on Aug. 12 with a vow to stop the pipeline. And to make that point clear, Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault chose to be arrested after crossing into the construction zone.

Since that day, hundreds of Native Americans and allies from across the country have been camped near the Missouri River to join the protest. For now, construction has ceased while a court hears the tribe’s suit against the Army Corps for failing to comply with environmental and historic preservation laws.

The tribe makes a strong case based on its treaty and U.S. policy. But no matter what happens in court, there are three reasons the tribe and its allies can stop this pipeline.

First, people are more powerful than dollars.

Through social media, hundreds and perhaps thousands of people from Indian Country and beyond are making plans to travel to Standing Rock to be on that defense line. This is the power of social media, of people in numbers: There will always be more allies.

One Facebook post goes up and more people arrive. Everyone who shows up knows that they could be arrested and are willing to be. How many arrests, and how much will that cost the state and the developer?

A local county sheriff has warned of violence. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple already issued an emergency declaration to give state agencies funding for “public safety,” which is estimated to cost as much as a million dollars.

But the state is missing the point; this protest is about a competing idea for the future of the planet—and waves of people will show up to make that point.

Second, the Sioux Tribe clearly has the moral high ground. 

An earlier proposal for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River north of Bismarck, North Dakota, was scrapped because it threatened the capital's water supply. So the very decision to move the route south was to sacrifice Native communities. A decade ago, even a couple of years ago, that might have worked. But not in the era of social media. People of goodwill easily recognize this injustice.

Third is that this is The Moment. 

This is the most important reason the tribe and its allies can stop this pipeline.
 
There has been for a long time a growing recognition that more oil, gas, and coal need to be left in the ground. Although Keystone was defeated by popular resistance, there were many opportunities in its regulatory path for that to happen.

 The Dakota Access pipeline is different because the government so easily flipped on the green light. Standing Rock represents the first opportunity people have to take a stand and disrupt business-as-usual.

Once there was a case to be made for pipelines, but that moment was in our history and is now irrelevant. Many hoped there would be an easy transition away from fossil fuels to future sources.

But easy transitions rarely happen in history. Instead, industry is hit by a disruptive force that changes everything, and today its name is the Standing Rock Sioux.


.

Healthy Climate - No lifestyle changes

SUBHEAD: This techno-optimistic agenda requires little or no lifestyle adjustments - just a high-tech boondoggle for $trillion$.

By Bruce Melton on 27 August 2016 for Truth Out -
(http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/37394-we-can-have-a-healthy-climate-with-zero-warming-in-our-lifetimes)


Image above: A healthy climate is not always as it seems. Redkill Lodgepole Pine stand behind a field of Douglas' Sunflower at Steamboat Lake State Park, Colorado. Less than 0.7 degree Celsius of average warming across the globe was responsible for allowing the native mountain pine beetle to kill 20 percent of western US forests between the late 1990s and 2010. The attack continues today with the addition of spruce and fir beetles to the infestation. Photo by Bruce Melton. From original article.

[IB Publisher's note: Below is the second half of a long article on how to save our world from Global Warming. Click on link above for full piece. The first half of the article dealt primarily identifying the problem and with efforts to date. Bruce Melton show he understands the problem. However, he seems blind to the solution.
The second half, below, offers high-tech countermeasures we could use to counter damaging the environment further.  But the counter measures are without requiring much change in our lifestyles. In other words, he offers ways to keep industrialism and big-ag supplying a large human population with a consumerist society with a technical "fix". What could possibly go wrong?]


Zero Warming -- a Primer
This brings us back to that question: How do we move forward?

Some of the tools for getting us there are widely known: efficiency increases, alternative energy, agriculture improvements, reforestation, electric cars, smart grids, DC power transmission, showering with a friend. These are all important and critically so, because of the great risk of further increasing extremes.

But these tools all allow warming of double to more than triple our current level before the temperature begins to very, very slowly cool. Emissions reductions help -- in that they reduce the amount of CO2 that we are releasing into the sky -- but even with aggressive emissions along the lines of the greatest reductions feasible, our climate continues to warm for at least 50 years.

What is needed, if we are going to leave our children a healthy climate, are tools that can immediately begin to reduce the very long-lived CO2 that is already in our sky.

Fortunately, science has advanced a bit over the past 20 years. There is now a set of technologies out there that have been proven to do the job of atmospheric carbon removal. For $21 trillion (the cost of US health care from 2000 to 2009), we could create an infrastructure that would remove 50 ppm CO2 from our sky and make a huge dent in the atmospheric loading that is causing the warming. This cost is about $200 per ton of CO2. Newer technologies hold even more exciting prospects cost-wise.

The best estimates for new technologies are at $20 per ton for capture and 20 percent more for disposal. The company, Global Thermostat, in Menlo Park, California, has a full-scale industrial pilot project that uses waste heat and is reportedly capturing CO2 at $10 per ton.

Some of the new technologies are even more compelling. One new line of research shows that CO2 captured directly from the sky can be used to create carbon nanofibers, a very advanced material that could be used to build almost anything from automobiles to homes. Production costs are similar to that of aluminum and the carbon fibers have a value 1,000 times that of aluminum.

There is a fuel cell technology that can capture carbon dioxide from direct fossil fuel generation emissions that does not require additional energy and actually increases the generation capacity of the energy facility.

Then there are the solar radiation management technologies (SRM), such as injecting sulfates or tiny mirror-like particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight. There is some very important work ongoing in this field of geoengineering that could be revolutionary as well. But whereas the climate pollution removal techniques described above are relatively simple, the implications of SRM are no less significant than the greenhouse gas experiment we have been implementing for centuries.

Take sulfate injection, for example. This technique is often suggested to have grave acid rain consequences but the amount of sulfates used is 100 times less than what is required to create significant acid rain.

Maybe more importantly, once sulfate injection ceases, impacts to the atmosphere are completely gone after two years or less. The bottom line, however, is that atmospheric geoengineering is little studied and fraught with challenges, and far more work needs to be done before implementation is seriously considered.

The Next Steps to a Healthy Climate
We need to give ourselves permission to go beyond emissions reductions alone and seek a healthy zero-warming climate. A group of dedicated academics and climate science outreach specialists are doing just that. The Healthy Climate Project is the first to approach the issue of a zero-warming healthy climate.

What we can do as individuals is vitally important because policy grows from public will. Discuss healthy climate goals with your peers. Mainstream the concept. We need to fund development and increased research for even more compelling technologies than already exist, build a safety monitoring organization (like the Food and Drug Administration, but for carbon removal), and scale up these technologies.

The Healthy Climate Project is the first of its kind. Its "Declaration" asks President Obama to authorize research to complete the industrialization of new atmospheric CO2 removal and storage technology and commit to a healthy climate for America.

We have the tools. Now we need to allow ourselves to go beyond emissions reductions alone, in order to leave our children a planet free from dangerous climate change.

Note: Detailed references for the claims in this article can be found here.

Bruce Melton is a professional engineer, environmental researcher, filmmaker, author and CEO of the Climate Change Now Initiative in Austin, Texas. The Climate Change Now Initiative is a nonprofit outreach organization reporting the latest discoveries in climate science in plain English. Information on his book, Climate Discovery Chronicles, can be found along with more climate change writing, climate science outreach and critical environmental issue documentary films at www.climatediscovery.org. Images copyright Bruce Melton and the Climate Change Now Initiative except where referenced otherwise.

.

TPP won't get Senate vote now

SUBHEAD: Republicans will not seek lame duck vote on Trans Pacific Partnership. Thank God!

By Deidre Fulton on 26 August 2016 for Common Dreams -
(http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/08/26/good-news-says-sanders-mcconnell-signals-no-lame-duck-vote-tpp)


Image above: People attend a rally protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Maui, Hawaii, the United States, July 29, 2015. From (http://thebricspost.com/if-tpp-fails-us-will-cede-trade-leadership-role-to-china-us-trade-rep/#.V8M86LUnqe8).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that the U.S. Senate will not vote on the 12-nation, corporate-friendly Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) this year, buoying progressive hopes that the trade deal will never come to fruition. 

Responding to the news, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—whose opposition to the TPP was a hallmark of his presidential campaign—said: "This is good news for American workers, for the environment, and for the ability to protect public health."

McConnell told a Kentucky State Farm Bureau breakfast in Louisville that the agreement, "which has some serious flaws, will not be acted upon this year."

Grassroots groups have led a concerted campaign to prevent a vote during the so-called "lame-duck" session of Congress, after the November election and before President Barack Obama leaves office in January. The White House recently vowed to wage an "all-out push" in favor of such a vote.

"We never thought we would agree with Mitch McConnell on something, but we do agree on not bringing the TPP to a vote in the lame-duck session," said Adam Green, Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder, on Friday. "There's widespread, bipartisan opposition to the corporate-written TPP and an unaccountable, lame-duck Congress voting on it."

However, The Hill reports, "McConnell said that while the trade agreement won't get approved in its current form, it could pass next year with some changes."

"It will still be around," said the Republican from Kentucky. "It can be massaged, changed, worked on during the next administration."

Both Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton say they're against the deal, but that opposition isn't guaranteed. And that's why opponents need to keep the pressure on.

Indeed, added Sanders: "This treaty is opposed by every trade union in the country and virtually the entire grassroots base of the Democratic Party.

In my view, it is now time for the leadership of the Democratic Party in the Senate and the House to go on the record in opposition to holding a vote on this job-killing trade deal during the lame-duck session of Congress and beyond."

To that end, Reuters notes that earlier this month, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan "said he saw no point in bringing up the TPP deal for a vote in any 'lame duck' session of Congress later this year because 'we don't have the votes.'"

.

TTIP talks fail in Germany

SUBHEAD: They failed because we Europeans did not want to subject ourselves to American demands. Thank God!

By Tyler Durden on 28 August 2016 for Zero Hedge -
(http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-08-28/german-economy-minister-ttip-talks-have-failed)


Image above: Germans protest TTIP trade deal. From original article.

In the latest blow for Obama's global trade agenda, German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that free trade talks (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP) between the European Union and the United States have failed, citing a lack of progress on any of the major sections of the long-running negotiations.

"In my opinion the negotiations with the United States have de facto failed, even though nobody is really admitting it" ZDF quoted the minister, according to a written transcript of the interview to be aired on Sunday. “[They] have failed because we Europeans did not want to subject ourselves to American demands.”

He added that in 14 rounds of talks, the two sides haven't agreed on a single common item out of 27 chapters being discussed. Among the stumbling blocks is a US objection to opening public tenders to European companies. “For me, that goes against free trade," Gabriel previously commented regarding the issue.

But more than just disagreement on general principles, Gabriel singled out the US as the party making strong demands with no concessions: "We mustn't submit to the American proposals," said Gabriel, who is also the head of Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party.
Gabriel accused Washington of being "angry" about the deal that the EU struck with Canada, known as CETA, because it contains elements the U.S. doesn't want to see in the TTIP.

Despite strong misgivings among many EU member states over the TTIP, especially by farmers in the European block, both Washington and Brussels had pushed for a deal by the end of the year.

As AP reports, Sigmar Gabriel compared the TTIP negotiations unfavorably with a free trade deal forged between the 28-nation EU and Canada, which he said was fairer for both sides.

As AP adds, Gabriel's ministry isn't directly involved in the negotiations with Washington because trade agreements are negotiated at the EU level.

But such a damning verdict from a leading official in Europe's biggest economy is likely to make further talks between the EU executive and the Obama administration harder. Surprisingly, Gabriel's comments contrast with those of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said last month that TTIP was "absolutely in Europe's interest."

European critics of the TTIP have claimed that the treaty is dangerous as it could place the interest of international corporations above those of the nations they operate in, and undermine European standards for labor and environmental protections. Germany, where support for the TIIP has plunged over the past year, has seen a number of popular protests demanding that the TTIP never be implemented.

A recent survey, conducted by YouGov for the Bertelsmann Foundation, showed that only 17 percent of Germans believe the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a good thing, down from 55 percent two years ago.

Even in the US, support for Obama's trade agenda has tumbled, with only 18% supporting the deal compared to 53 percent in 2014.

The European public has been unhappy with TTIP as the contents of the deal remain largely secret. However, recent leaks suggest that it will affect food safety laws, environmental legislation, banking regulations and open the EU for GM crops.

Opponents of the deal have been staging protests in a number of European cities. The most recent one took place in Berlin last weekend, with activists calling for a nationwide demonstration on September 17th.

With Gabriel saying the TTIP is effectively dead, Germany joins France, whose president Hollande said in early May that the "TTIP is doomed" adding that France "will never accept" challenges to its farming and culture in exchange for better access to U.S. markets.

"That's why at this stage, France says no," the Socialist leader said at a conference on left-wing politics. French Trade Minister Matthias Fekl then said that negotiations "are totally blocked" and that a halt to talks "is the most probable option."

"Europe is giving a lot ... but receiving very little in return," he concluded. Which, incidentally, is precisely how the US wanted it. It remains to be seen if the US will offer concessions to Europe now that the TTIP debate is all but finished, or if the US will demand strict adherence to rules that now clearly benefit mostly US corporations.

.

A Thousand Balls of Flame

SUBHEAD: A whiff of World War III as anti-Russian rhetoric emanates from the Clinton campaign.

By Dmitry Orlov on 23 August 2016 for Club Orlov -
(http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2016/08/a-thousand-balls-of-flame.html)


Image above: Illustration of Putin and Russian bear fishing as missiles are launched behind them. From original article.

A whiff of World War III hangs in the air. In the US, Cold War 2.0 is on, and the anti-Russian rhetoric emanating from the Clinton campaign, echoed by the mass media, hearkens back to McCarthyism and the red scare.

In response, many people are starting to think that Armageddon might be nigh—an all-out nuclear exchange, followed by nuclear winter and human extinction. It seems that many people in the US like to think that way. Goodness gracious!

But, you know, this is hardly unreasonable of them.

The US is spiraling down into financial, economic and political collapse, losing its standing in the world and turning into a continent-sized ghetto full of drug abuse, violence and decaying infrastructure, its population vice-ridden, poisoned with genetically modified food, morbidly obese, exploited by predatory police departments and city halls, plus a wide assortment of rackets, from medicine to education to real estate… That we know.

We also know how painful it is to realize that the US is damaged beyond repair, or to acquiesce to the fact that most of the damage is self-inflicted: the endless, useless wars, the limitless corruption of money politics, the toxic culture and gender wars, and the imperial hubris and willful ignorance that underlies it all… This level of disconnect between the expected and the observed certainly hurts, but the pain can be avoided, for a time, through mass delusion.

This sort of downward spiral does not automatically spell “Apocalypse,” but the specifics of the state cult of the US—an old-time religiosity overlaid with the secular religion of progress—are such that there can be no other options: either we are on our way up to build colonies on Mars, or we perish in a ball of flame.

Since the humiliation of having to ask the Russians for permission to fly the Soyuz to the International Space Station makes the prospect of American space colonies seem dubious, it’s Plan B: balls of flame here we come!

And so, most of the recent American warmongering toward Russia can be explained by the desire to find anyone but oneself to blame for one’s unfolding demise. This is a well-understood psychological move—projecting the shadow—where one takes everything one hates but can’t admit to about oneself and projects it onto another.

On a subconscious level (and, in the case of some very stupid people, even a conscious one) the Americans would like to nuke Russia until it glows, but can’t do so because Russia would nuke them right back.

But the Americans can project that same desire onto Russia, and since they have to believe that they are good while Russia is evil, this makes the Armageddon scenario appear much more likely.

But this way of thinking involves a break with reality. There is exactly one nation in the world that nukes other countries, and that would be the United States.

It gratuitously nuked Japan, which was ready to surrender anyway, just because it could.

It prepared to nuke Russia at the start of the Cold War, but was prevented from doing so by a lack of a sufficiently large number of nuclear bombs at the time.

And it attempted to render Russia defenseless against nuclear attack, abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, but has been prevented from doing so by Russia’s new weapons.

These include, among others, long-range supersonic cruise missiles (Kalibr), and suborbital intercontinental missiles carrying multiple nuclear payloads capable of evasive maneuvers as they approach their targets (Sarmat).

All of these new weapons are impossible to intercept using any conceivable defensive technology. At the same time, Russia has also developed its own defensive capabilities, and its latest S-500 system will effectively seal off Russia’s airspace, being able to intercept targets both close to the ground and in low Earth orbit.

In the meantime, the US has squandered a fantastic sum of money fattening up its notoriously corrupt defense establishment with various versions of “Star Wars,” but none of that money has been particularly well spent.

The two installations in Europe of Aegis Ashore (completed in Romania, planned in Poland) won’t help against Kalibr missiles launched from submarines or small ships in the Pacific or the Atlantic, close to US shores, or against intercontinental missiles that can fly around them.

The THAAD installation currently going into South Korea (which the locals are currently protesting by shaving their heads) won’t change the picture either.

There is exactly one nuclear aggressor nation on the planet, and it isn’t Russia. But this shouldn’t matter. In spite of American efforts to undermine it, the logic of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) remains in effect.

The probability of a nuclear exchange is determined not by anyone’s policy but by the likelihood of it happening by accident.

Since there is no winning strategy in a nuclear war, nobody has any reason to try to start one. Under no circumstances is the US ever going to be able to dictate its terms to Russia by threatening it with nuclear annihilation.

If a nuclear war is not in the cards, how about a conventional one? The US has been sabre-rattling by stationing troops and holding drills in the Baltics, right on Russia's western border, installing ABM systems in Romania, Poland and South Korea, supporting anti-Russian Ukrainian Nazis, etc. All of this seems quite provocative; can it result in a war? And what would that war look like?

Here, we have to look at how Russia has responded to previous provocations. These are all the facts that we know, and can use to predict what will happen, as opposed to purely fictional, conjectural statements unrelated to known facts.

When the US or its proxies attack an enclave of Russian citizens outside of Russia's borders, here are the types of responses that we have been able to observe so far:

  1. The example of Georgia. During the Summer Olympics in Beijing (a traditional time of peace), the Georgian military, armed and trained by the US and Israel, invaded South Ossetia. This region was part of Georgia in name only, being mostly inhabited by Russian speakers and passport-holders. Georgian troops started shelling its capital, Tskhinval, killing some Russian peacekeeping troops stationed in the region and causing civilian casualties.

    In response, Russian troops rolled into Georgia, within hours completely eliminating Georgia’s war-making capability. They announced that South Ossetia was de facto no longer part of Georgia, throwing in Abkhazia (another disputed Russian enclave) for good measure, and withdrew. Georgia’s warmongering president Saakashvili was pronounced a “political corpse” and left to molder in place.

    Eventually he was forced to flee Georgia, where he has been declared a fugitive from justice. The US State Department recently gave him a new job, as Governor of Odessa in the Ukraine. Recently, Russian-Georgian relations have been on the mend.
  2. The example of Crimea. During the Winter Olympics in Sochi, in Russia (a traditional time of peace) there occurred an illegal, violent overthrow of the elected, constitutional government of the Ukraine, followed by the installation of a US-picked puppet administration. In response, the overwhelmingly Russian population of the autonomous region of Crimea held a referendum.

    Some 95% of them voted to secede from the Ukraine and to once again become part of Russia, which they had been for centuries and until very recently. The Russians then used their troops already stationed in the region under an international agreement to make sure that the results of the referendum were duly enacted. Not a single shot was fired during this perfectly peaceful exercise in direct democracy.
  3. The example of Crimea again. During the Summer Olympics in Rio (a traditional time of peace) a number of Ukrainian operatives stormed the Crimean border and were swiftly apprehended by Russia's Federal Security Service, together with a cache of weapons and explosives. A number of them were killed in the process, along with two Russians.

    The survivors immediately confessed to planning to organize terrorist attacks at the ferry terminal that links Crimea with the Russian mainland and a railway station. The ringleader of the group confessed to being promised the princely sum of $140 for carrying out these attacks.

    All of them are very much looking forward to a warm, dry bunk and three square meals of day, care of the Russian government, which must seem like a slice of heaven compared to the violence, chaos, destitution and desolation that characterizes life in present-day Ukraine.

    In response, the government in Kiev protested against “Russian provocation,” and put its troops on alert to prepare against “Russian invasion.” Perhaps the next shipment of US aid to the Ukraine should include a supply of chlorpromazine or some other high-potency antipsychotic medication.

    Note the constant refrain of “during the Olympics.” This is not a coincidence but is indicative of a certain American modus operandi. Yes, waging war during a traditional time of peace is both cynical and stupid. But the American motto seems to be “If we try something repeatedly and it still doesn't work, then we just aren’t trying hard enough.”

    In the minds of those who plan these events, the reason they never work right can’t possibly have anything to do with it being stupid. This is known as “Level III Stupid”: stupidity so profound that it is unable to comprehend its own stupidity.
  4. The example of Donbass. After the events described in point 2 above, this populous, industrialized region, which was part of Russia until well into the 20th century and is linguistically and culturally Russian, went into political turmoil, because most of the locals wanted nothing to do with the government that had been installed in Kiev, which they saw as illegitimate.

    The Kiev government proceeded to make things worse, first by enacting laws infringing on the rights of Russian-speakers, then by actually attacking the region with the army, which they continue to do to this day, with three unsuccessful invasions and continuous shelling of both residential and industrial areas, in the course of which over ten thousand civilians have been murdered and many more wounded. 
In response, Russia assisted with establishing a local resistance movement supported by a capable military contingent formed of local volunteers.

This was done by Russian volunteers, acting in an unofficial capacity, and by Russian private citizens donating money to the cause. In spite of Western hysteria over “Russian invasion” and “Russian aggression,” no evidence of it exists.

Instead, the Russian government has done just three things: it refused to interfere with the work of its citizens coming to the aid of Donbass; it pursued a diplomatic strategy for resolving the conflict; and it has provided numerous convoys of humanitarian aid to the residents of Donbass.

Russia’s diplomatic initiative resulted in two international agreements—Minsk I and Minsk II—which compelled both Kiev and Donbass to pursue a strategy of political resolution of the conflict through cessation of hostilities and the granting to Donbass of full autonomy.

Kiev has steadfastly refused to fulfill its obligations under these agreements. The conflict is now frozen, but continuing to bleed because of Ukrainian shelling, waiting for the Ukrainian puppet government to collapse.

To complete the picture, let us include Russia’s recent military action in Syria, where it came to the defense of the embattled Syrian government and quickly demolished a large part of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/Islamic Caliphate, along with various other terrorist organizations active in the region. The rationale for this action is that Russia saw a foreign-funded terrorist nest in Syria as a direct threat to Russia’s security.

Two other notable facts here are that Russia acted in accordance with international law, having been invited by Syria’s legitimate, internationally recognized government and that the military action was scaled back as soon as it seemed possible for all of the legitimate (non-terrorist) parties to the conflict to return to the negotiating table.

These three elements—using military force as a reactive security measure, scrupulous adherence to international law, and seeing military action as being in the service of diplomacy—are very important to understanding Russia’s methods and ambitions.

Turning now to US military/diplomatic adventures, we see a situation that is quite different. US military spending is responsible for over half of all federal discretionary spending, dwarfing most other vitally important sectors, such as infrastructure, public medicine and public education. It serves several objectives.

Most importantly, it is a public jobs program: a way of employing people who are not employable in any actually productive capacity due to lack of intelligence, education and training.

Second, it is a way for politicians and defense contractors to synergistically enrich themselves and each other at the public’s expense.

Third, it is an advertising program for weapons sales, the US being the top purveyor of lethal technology in the world.

Last of all, it is a way of projecting force around the world, bombing into submission any country that dares oppose Washington’s global hegemonic ambitions, often in total disregard of international law. Nowhere on this list is the actual goal of defending the US.

None of these justifications works vis-à-vis Russia. In dollar terms, the US outspends Russia on defense hands down. However, viewed in terms of purchasing parity, Russia manages to buy as much as ten times more defensive capability per unit national wealth than the US, largely negating this advantage.

Also, what the US gets for its money is inferior: the Russian military gets the weapons it wants; the US military gets what the corrupt political establishment and their accomplices in the military-industrial complex want in order to enrich themselves.

In terms of being an advertising campaign for weapons sales, watching Russian weaponry in action in Syria, effectively wiping out terrorists in short order through a relentless bombing campaign using scant resources, then seeing US weaponry used by the Saudis in Yemen, with much support and advice from the US, being continuously defeated by lightly armed insurgents, is unlikely to generate too many additional sales leads.

Lastly, the project of maintaining US global hegemony seems to be on the rocks as well. Russia and China are now in a de facto military union.

Russia’s superior weaponry, coupled with China’s almost infinitely huge infantry, make it an undefeatable combination. Russia now has a permanent air base in Syria, has made a deal with Iran to use Iranian military bases, and is in the process of prying Turkey away from NATO.

As the US military, with its numerous useless bases around the world and piles of useless gadgets, turns into an international embarrassment, it remains, for the time being, a public jobs program for employing incompetents, and a rich source of graft.

In all, it is important to understand how actually circumscribed American military capabilities are. The US is very good at attacking vastly inferior adversaries. The action against Nazi Germany only succeeded because it was by then effectively defeated by the Red Army—all except for the final mop-up, which is when the US came out of its timid isolation and joined the fray.

Even North Korea and Vietnam proved too tough for it, and even there its poor performance would have been much poorer were it not for the draft, which had the effect of adding non-incompetents to the ranks, but produced the unpleasant side-effect of enlisted men shooting their incompetent officers—a much underreported chapter of American military history.

And now, with the addition of LGBTQ people to the ranks, the US military is on its way to becoming an international laughing stock. Previously, terms like “faggot” and “pussy” were in widespread use in the US military’s basic training. Drill sergeants used such terminology to exhort the “numb-nuts” placed in their charge to start acting like men.

I wonder what words drill sergeants use now that they’ve been tasked with training those they previously referred to as “faggots” and “pussies”? The comedic potential of this nuance isn’t lost on Russia’s military men.

This comedy can continue as long as the US military continues to shy away from attacking any serious adversary, because if it did, comedy would turn to tragedy rather quickly.
  • If, for instance, US forces tried to attack Russian territory by lobbing missiles across the border, they would be neutralized in instantaneous retaliation by Russia’s vastly superior artillery.
  • If Americans or their proxies provoked Russians living outside of Russia (and there are millions of them) to the point of open rebellion, Russian volunteers, acting in an unofficial capacity and using private funds, would quickly train, outfit and arm them, creating a popular insurgency that would continue for years, if necessary, until Americans and their proxies capitulate.
  • If the Americans do the ultimately foolish thing and invade Russian territory, they would be kettled and annihilated, as repeatedly happened to the Ukrainian forces in Donbass.
  • Any attempt to attack Russia using the US aircraft carrier fleet would result in its instantaneous sinking using any of several weapons: ballistic anti-ship missiles, supercavitating torpedos or supersonic cruise missiles.
  • Strategic bombers, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles would be eliminated by Russia’s advanced new air defense systems.
So much for attack; but what about defense? Well it turns out that there is an entire separate dimension to engaging Russia militarily. You see, Russia lost a huge number of civilian lives while fighting off Nazi Germany. Many people, including old people, women and children, died of starvation and disease, or from German shelling, or from the abuse they suffered at the hands of German soldiers.

On the other hand, Soviet military casualties were on par with those of the Germans. This incredible calamity befell Russia because it had been invaded, and it has conditioned Russian military thinking ever since.

The next large-scale war, if there ever is one, will be fought on enemy territory. Thus, if the US attacks Russia, Russia will counterattack the US mainland. Keeping in mind that the US hasn’t fought a war on its own territory in over 150 years, this would come as quite a shock.

Of course, this would be done in ways that are consistent with Russian military thinking. Most importantly, the attack must be such that the possibility of triggering a nuclear exchange remains minimized.

Second, the use of force would be kept to the minimum required to secure a cessation of hostilities and a return to the negotiating table on terms favorable to Russia.

Third, every effort would be made to make good use of internal popular revolts to create long-lasting insurgencies, letting volunteers provide the necessary arms and training.

Lastly, winning the peace is just as important as winning the war, and every effort would be made to inform the American public that what they are experiencing is just retribution for certain illegal acts.

From a diplomatic perspective, it would be much more tidy to treat the problem of war criminals running the US as an internal, American political problem, to be solved by Americans themselves, with an absolute minimum of outside help.

This would best be accomplished through a bit of friendly, neighborly intelligence-sharing, letting all interested parties within the US know who exactly should be held responsible for these war crimes, what they and their family members look like, and where they live.

The question then is, What is the absolute minimum of military action—what I am calling “a thousand balls of fire,” named after George Bush Senior’s “a thousand points of light”—to restore peace on terms favorable to Russia? It seems to me that 1000 “balls of fire” is just about the right number. These would be smallish explosions—enough to demolish a building or an industrial installation, with almost no casualties.

This last point is extremely important, because the goal is to destroy the system without actually directly hurting any of the people. It wouldn’t be anyone else’s fault if people in the US suffer because they refuse to do as their own FEMA asks them to do: stockpile a month’s worth of food and water and put together an emergency evacuation plan.

In addition, given the direction in which the US is heading, getting a second passport, expatriating your savings, and getting some firearms training just in case you end up sticking around are all good ideas.

The reason it is very important for this military action to not kill anyone is this: there are some three million Russians currently residing in the US, and killing any of them is definitely not on strategy. There is an even larger number of people from populous countries friendly to Russia, such as China and India, who should also remain unharmed. Thus, a strategy that would result in massive loss of life would simply not be acceptable.

A much better scenario would involve producing a crisis that would quickly convince the Russians living in the US (along with all the other foreign nationals and first-generation immigrants, and quite a few of the second-generation immigrants too) that the US is no longer a good place to live.

Then all of these people could be repatriated—a process that would no doubt take a few years. Currently, Russia is the number three destination worldwide for people looking for a better place to live, after the US and Germany. Germany is now on the verge of open revolt against Angela Merkel’s insane pro-immigration policies.

The US is not far behind, and won’t remain an attractive destination for much longer. And that leaves Russia as the number one go-to place on the whole planet. That’s a lot of pressure, even for a country that is 11 time zones wide and has plenty of everything except tropical fruit and people.

We must also keep in mind that Israel—which is, let’s face it, a US protectorate temporarily parked on Palestinian land—wouldn’t last long without massive US support. Fully a third of Israeli population happens to be Russian. The moment Project Israel starts looking defunct, most of these Russian Jews, clever people that they are, will no doubt decide to stage an exodus and go right back to Russia, as is their right.

This will create quite a headache for Russia’s Federal Migration Service, because it will have to sift through them all, letting in all the normal Russian Jews while keeping out the Zionist zealots, the war criminals and the ultra-religious nutcases. This will also take considerable time.

But actions that risk major loss of life also turn out to be entirely unnecessary, because an effective alternative strategy is available: destroy key pieces of government and corporate infrastructure, then fold your arms and wait for the other side to crawl back to the negotiating table waving a white rag. You see, there are just a few magic ingredients that allow the US to continue to exist as a stable, developed country capable of projecting military force overseas.

They are: the electric grid; the financial system; the interstate highway system; rail and ocean freight; the airlines; and oil and gas pipelines. Disable all of the above, and it’s pretty much game over. How many “balls of flame” would that take? Probably well under a thousand.

Disabling the electric grid is almost ridiculously easy, because the system is very highly integrated and interdependent, consisting of just three sub-grids, called “interconnects”: western, eastern and Texas.

The most vulnerable parts of the system are the Large Power Transformers (LPTs) which step up voltages to millions of volts for transmission, and step them down again for distribution. These units are big as houses, custom-built, cost millions of dollars and a few years to replace, and are mostly manufactured outside the US.

Also, along with the rest of the infrastructure in the US, most of them are quite old and prone to failure. There are several thousand of these key pieces of equipment, but because the electric grid in the US is working at close to capacity, with several critical choke points, it would be completely disabled if even a handful of the particularly strategic LPTs were destroyed.

In the US, any extended power outage in any of the larger urban centers automatically triggers large-scale looting and mayhem.

Some estimate that just a two week long outage would push the situation to a point of no return, where the damage would become too extensive to ever be repaired.

Disabling the financial system is likewise relatively trivial. There are just a few choke points, including the Federal Reserve, a few major banks, debit and credit card company data centers, etc. They can be disabled using a variety of methods, such as a cruise missile strike, a cyberattack, electric supply disruption or even civil unrest.

It bears noting that the financial system in the US is rigged to blow even without foreign intervention. The combination of runaway debt, a gigantic bond bubble, the Federal Reserve trapped into ever-lower interest rates, underfunded pensions and other obligations, hugely overpriced real estate and a ridiculously frothy stock market will eventually detonate it from the inside.

A few more surgical strikes can take out the oil and gas pipelines, import terminals, highway bridges and tunnels, railroads and airlines.

A few months without access to money and financial services, electricity, gasoline, diesel, natural gas, air transport or imported spare parts needed to repair the damage should be enough to force the US to capitulate. If it makes any efforts to restore any of these services, an additional strike or two would quickly negate them.

The number of “balls of flame” can be optimized by taking advantage of destructive synergies: a GPS jammer deployed near the site of an attack can prevent responders from navigating to it; taking out a supply depot together with the facility it serves, coupled with transportation system disruptions, can delay repairs by many months; a simple bomb threat can immobilize a transportation hub, making it a sitting duck instead of a large number of moving targets; etc.

You may think that executing such a fine-tuned attack would require a great deal of intelligence, which would be difficult to gather, but this is not the case. First, a great deal of tactically useful information is constantly being leaked by insiders, who often consider themselves “patriots.” Second, what hasn’t been leaked can be hacked, because of the pitiable state of cybersecurity in the US.

Remember, Russia is where anti-virus software is made—and a few of the viruses too. The National Security Agency was recently hacked, and its crown jewels stolen; if it can be hacked, what about all those whose security it supposedly protects?

You might also think that the US, if attacked in this manner, could effectively retaliate in kind, but this scenario is rather difficult to imagine.

Many Russians don’t find English too difficult, are generally familiar with the US through exposure to US media, and the specialists among them, especially those who have studied or taught at universities in the US, can navigate their field of expertise in the US almost as easily as in Russia.

Most Americans, on the other hand, can barely find Russia on a map, can’t get past the Cyrillic alphabet and find Russian utterly incomprehensible.

Also consider that Russia’s defense establishment is mainly focused on... defense. Offending people in foreign lands is not generally seen as strategically important. “A hundred friends is better than a hundred rubles” is a popular saying.

And so Russia manages to be friends with India and Pakistan at the same time, and with China and Vietnam. In the Middle East, it maintains cordial relations with Turkey, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Iran, also all at the same time.

Russian diplomats are required to keep channels of communication open with friends and adversaries alike, at all times. Yes, being inexplicably adversarial toward Russia can be excruciatingly painful, but you can make it stop any time! All it takes is a phone call.

Add to this the fact that the vicissitudes of Russian history have conditioned Russia’s population to expect the worst, and simply deal with it. “They can’t kill us all!” is another favorite saying.

If Americans manage to make them suffer, the Russian people would no doubt find great solace in the fact they are making the Americans suffer even worse, and many among them would think that this achievement, in itself, is already a victory.

Nor will they remain without help; it is no accident that Russia’s Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, previously ran the Emergencies Ministry, and his performance at his job there won him much adulation and praise. In short, if attacked, the Russians will simply take their lumps—as they always have—and then go on to conquer and win, as they always have.

It doesn’t help matters that most of what little Americans have been told about Russia by their political leaders and mass media is almost entirely wrong.

They keep hearing about Putin and the “Russian bear,” and so they are probably imagining Russia to be a vast wasteland where Vladimir Putin keeps company with a chess-playing, internet server-hacking, nuclear physicist, rocket scientist, Ebola vaccine-inventing, polyglot, polymath bear.

Bears are wonderful, Russians love bears, but let’s not overstate things. Yes, Russian bears can ride bicycles and are sometimes even good with children, but they are still just wild animals and/or pets (many Russians can’t draw that distinction). And so when the Americans growl about the “Russian bear,” the Russians wonder, Which one?

In short, Russia is to most Americans a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and there simply isn’t a large enough pool of intelligent Americans with good knowledge of Russia to draw upon, whereas to many Russians the US is an open book.

As far as the actual American “intelligence” and “security” services, they are all bloated bureaucratic boondoggles mired in political opportunism and groupthink that excel at just two things: unquestioningly following idiotic procedures, and creatively fitting the facts to the politics du jour.

“Proving” that Iraq has “weapons of mass destruction”—no problem! Telling Islamist terrorists apart from elderly midwestern grandmothers at an airport security checkpoint—no can do!

Russia will not resort to military measures against the US unless sorely provoked. Time and patience are on Russia’s side. With each passing year, the US grows weaker and loses friends and allies, while Russia grows stronger and gains friends and allies.

The US, with its political dysfunction, runaway debt, decaying infrastructure and spreading civil unrest, is a dead nation walking. It will take time for each of the United States to neatly demolish themselves into their own footprints, like those three New York skyscrapers did on 9/11 (WTC #1, #2 and #7) but Russia is very patient. Russia is ready to respond to any provocation, but the last thing the Russians want is another war.

And that, if you like good news, is the best news you are going to hear. But if you still think that there is going to be a war with Russia, don’t think “Armageddon”; think “a thousand balls of flame,” and then—crickets!
.

The Broken Chessboard

SUBHEAD: Zbigniew Brzezinski, architect of US hegemony, gives up on American Empire.

By Mike Whitney on 25 August 2016 for Counter Punch -
(http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/08/25/the-broken-chessboard-brzezinski-gives-up-on-empire/)


Image above: Zbigniew Brzezinski (Former United States National Security Advisor; Counselor and Trustee, Center for Strategic and International Studies) at the 50th Munich Security Conference 2014. From original article.

The main architect of Washington’s plan to rule the world has abandoned the scheme and called for the forging of ties with Russia and China. While Zbigniew Brzezinski’s article in The American Interest titled “Towards a Global Realignment” has largely been ignored by the media, it shows that powerful members of the policymaking establishment no longer believe that Washington will prevail in its quest to extent US hegemony across the Middle East and Asia.

Brzezinski, who was the main proponent of this idea and who drew up the blueprint for imperial expansion in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, has done an about-face and called for a dramatic revising of the strategy. Here’s an excerpt from the article in the AI:
“As its era of global dominance ends, the United States needs to take the lead in realigning the global power architecture.

Five basic verities regarding the emerging redistribution of global political power and the violent political awakening in the Middle East are signaling the coming of a new global realignment.

The first of these verities is that the United States is still the world’s politically, economically, and militarily most powerful entity but, given complex geopolitical shifts in regional balances, it is no longer the globally imperial power.” (Toward a Global Realignment, Zbigniew Brzezinski, The American Interest)
Repeat: The US is “no longer the globally imperial power.” Compare this assessment to a statement Brzezinski made years earlier in Chessboard when he claimed the US was ” the world’s paramount power.”
“…The last decade of the twentieth century has witnessed a tectonic shift in world affairs. For the first time ever, a non-Eurasian power has emerged not only as a key arbiter of Eurasian power relations but also as the world’s paramount power. The defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union was the final step in the rapid ascendance of a Western Hemisphere power, the United States, as the sole and, indeed, the first truly global power.” (“The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives,” Zbigniew Brzezinski, Basic Books, 1997, p. xiii)
Here’s more from the article in the AI:
“The fact is that there has never been a truly “dominant” global power until the emergence of America on the world scene….. The decisive new global reality was the appearance on the world scene of America as simultaneously the richest and militarily the most powerful player. During the latter part of the 20th century no other power even came close. That era is now ending.” (AI)
But why is “that era is now ending”? What’s changed since 1997 when Brzezinski referred to the US as the “world’s paramount power”?

Brzezinski points to the rise of Russia and China, the weakness of Europe and the “violent political awakening among post-colonial Muslims” as the proximate causes of this sudden reversal. His comments on Islam are particularly instructive in that he provides a rational explanation for terrorism rather than the typical government boilerplate about “hating our freedoms.”

To his credit, Brzezinski sees the outbreak of terror as the “welling up of historical grievances” (from “deeply felt sense of injustice”) not as the mindless violence of fanatical psychopaths.

Naturally, in a short 1,500-word article, Brzezniski can’t cover all the challenges (or threats) the US might face in the future. But it’s clear that what he’s most worried about is the strengthening of economic, political and military ties between Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and the other Central Asian states. This is his main area of concern, in fact, he even anticipated this problem in 1997 when he wrote Chessboard. Here’s what he said:
“Henceforth, the United States may have to determine how to cope with regional coalitions that seek to push America out of Eurasia, thereby threatening America’s status as a global power.” (p.55)

“…To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.” (p.40)
“…prevent collusion…among the vassals.” That says it all, doesn’t it?

The Obama administration’s reckless foreign policy, particularly the toppling of governments in Libya and Ukraine, has greatly accelerated the rate at which these anti-American coalitions have formed. In other words, Washington’s enemies have emerged in response to Washington’s behavior. Obama can only blame himself.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has responded to the growing threat of regional instability and the placing of NATO forces on Russia’s borders by strengthening alliances with countries on Russia’s perimeter and across the Middle East.

At the same time, Putin and his colleagues in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries have established an alternate banking system (BRICS Bank and AIIB) that will eventually challenge the dollar-dominated system that is the source of US global power.

This is why Brzezinski has done a quick 180 and abandoned the plan for US hegemony; it is because he is concerned about the dangers of a non-dollar-based system arising among the developing and unaligned countries that would replace the western Central Bank oligopoly. If that happens, then the US will lose its stranglehold on the global economy and the extortionist system whereby fishwrap greenbacks are exchanged for valuable goods and services will come to an end.

Unfortunately, Brzezinski’s more cautious approach is not likely to be followed by presidential-favorite Hillary Clinton who is a firm believer in imperial expansion through force of arms. It was Clinton who first introduced “pivot” to the strategic lexicon in a speech she gave in 2010 titled “America’s Pacific Century”. Here’s an excerpt from the speech that appeared in Foreign Policy magazine:
“As the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point. Over the last 10 years, we have allocated immense resources to those two theaters. In the next 10 years, we need to be smart and systematic about where we invest time and energy, so that we put ourselves in the best position to sustain our leadership, secure our interests, and advance our values.

One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region…
Harnessing Asia’s growth and dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests and a key priority for President Obama. Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology…..American firms (need) to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia…
The region already generates more than half of global output and nearly half of global trade. As we strive to meet President Obama’s goal of doubling exports by 2015, we are looking for opportunities to do even more business in Asia…and our investment opportunities in Asia’s dynamic markets.”
(“America’s Pacific Century”, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton”, Foreign Policy Magazine, 2011)
Compare Clinton’s speech to comments Brzezinski made in Chessboard 14 years earlier:
“For America, the chief geopolitical prize is Eurasia… (p.30)….. Eurasia is the globe’s largest continent and is geopolitically axial. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions. ….About 75 per cent of the world’s people live in Eurasia, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for 60 per cent of the world’s GNP and about three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources.” (p.31)
The strategic objectives are identical, the only difference is that Brzezinski has made a course correction based on changing circumstances and the growing resistance to US bullying, domination and sanctions. We have not yet reached the tipping point for US primacy, but that day is fast approaching and Brzezinski knows it.

In contrast, Clinton is still fully-committed to expanding US hegemony across Asia. She doesn’t understand the risks this poses for the country or the world. She’s going to persist with the interventions until the US war-making juggernaut is stopped dead-in-its-tracks which, judging by her hyperbolic rhetoric, will probably happen some time in her first term.

Brzezinski presents a rational but self-serving plan to climb-down, minimize future conflicts, avoid a nuclear conflagration and preserve the global order. (aka–The “dollar system”) But will bloodthirsty Hillary follow his advice?
Not a chance.

.

French burkini ban

SUBHEAD: Armed French police force woman to remove clothing on public beach. Have they lost their minds?

By Ben Quinn on 23 August 2016 for the Guardian -
(https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/24/french-police-make-woman-remove-burkini-on-nice-beach)


Image above: A ticket given to the woman by police, which said she was not ‘wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism’. Police forced her to remove some clothing. From original article.

Authorities in 15 towns have banned burkinis, citing public concern following recent terrorist attacks in France.

Photographs have emerged of armed French police confronting a woman on a beach and making her remove some of her clothing as part of a controversial ban on the burkini.

Authorities in several French towns have implemented bans on the burkini, which covers the body and head, citing concerns about religious clothing in the wake of recent terrorist killings in the country.

The images of police confronting the woman in Nice on Tuesday show at least four police officers standing over a woman who was resting on the shore at the town’s Promenade des Anglais, the scene of last month’s Bastille Day lorry attack.

After they arrive, she appears to remove a blue long-sleeved tunic, although one of the officers appears to take notes or issue an on-the-spot fine.

The photographs emerged as a mother of two also told on Tuesday how she had been fined on the beach in nearby Cannes wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf.

Her ticket, seen by French news agency AFP, read that she was not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”.

“I was sitting on a beach with my family,” said the 34-year-old who gave only her first name, Siam. “I was wearing a classic headscarf. I had no intention of swimming.”

A witness to the scene, Mathilde Cousin, confirmed the incident. “The saddest thing was that people were shouting ‘go home’, some were applauding the police,” she said. “Her daughter was crying.”

Last week, Nice became the latest French resort to ban the burkini. Using language similar to the bans imposed earlier at other locations, the city barred clothing that “overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks”.

The Nice ban refers specifically to the truck attack in the city on 14 July that claimed 86 lives, as well as the murder 12 days later of a Catholic priest near the northern city of Rouen.

The ban by several towns will come before France’s highest administrative court on Thursday following an appeal by the Human Rights League, a French NGO. It is challenging the decision by a lower court in Nice, which upheld a ban on the outfit by the town of Villeneuve-Loubet.

Villeneuve-Loubet, just west of Nice, was among the first of 15 towns to ban the burkini, triggering a fierce debate in France and elsewhere about the wearing of the full-body swimsuit, women’s rights and secularism.

A Corsican mayor has also banned burkinis, amid tensions on the island and violent clashes between villagers and three Muslim families. Skirmishes at a beach in the commune of Sisco earlier this month left four people injured and resulted in riot police being brought in to stop a crowd of 200 Corsicans marching into a housing estate with a high population of people of North African origin, shouting “this is our home”.

A police investigation is under way to determine the cause of the violent brawl, although there has been no confirmation from authorities as to whether anyone on the beach was wearing a burkini at the time.

Nevertheless the local Socialist mayor, Ange-Pierre Vivoni, banned the garments, describing the measure as necessary to “protect the population”.

The Nice tribunal ruled on Monday that the ban in Villeneuve-Loubet was “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to prevent public disorder after a succession of jihadi attacks in France.

The burkini was “liable to offend the religious convictions or (religious) non-convictions of other users of the beach,” and “be felt as a defiance or a provocation exacerbating tensions felt by” the community, it added.

The ruling by the state council, France’s highest administrative court, will provide a legal precedent for towns to follow around the country.




French divided over burkini ban
SUBHEAD: France's burkini ban row divides government as court mulls legality.


By Angelique Christafis on 25 August 2016 for the Guardian -
(https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/25/frances-burkini-ban-row-divides-government-court-mulls-legality)

France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, has clashed with his education minister amid growing divisions in the government over the controversial burkini bans on some beaches.

The education minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, one of the Socialist government’s leading feminist voices, was highly critical of the growing number of burkini bans, which have provoked debate after women were stopped by police for wearing headscarves and long-sleeved clothing on the beach.

France’s highest court – the state council – began hearing arguments on Thursday from the Human Rights League and an anti-Islamophobia group, which are seeking to reverse a decision by the southern town of Villeneuve-Loubet, near Nice, to ban the full-body swimsuits.

Vallaud-Belkacem, who was born into a Muslim family in rural Morocco before moving to France aged four, told Europe 1 radio the proliferation of burkini bans was not welcome.

She said: “I think it’s a problem because it raises the question of our individual freedoms: how far will we go to check that an outfit is conforming to ‘good manners’?”

She warned that the bans had “let loose” verbal racism. The Socialist party had previously expressed outrage after a 34-year-old French woman was stopped by police on a beach in Cannes for sitting with her children wearing a headscarf and long trousers and was shouted at by a crowd to “go home”.

“My dream of society is a society where women are free and proud of their bodies,” said Vallaud-Belkacem. She warned that with tensions high after a series of terrorist attacks claimed by the Islamic State, “we shouldn’t add oil to the fire” by banning burkinis.

But moments after Vallaud-Belkacem spoke, her comments were flatly contradicted by Valls, who reiterated his support for mayors who have banned the garments. Asked if the decrees amounted to racism, Valls said: “No, that’s a bad interpretation.” He said the full-body swimwear represented “the enslavement of women”.

Valls has said he supports the mayors who have issued local short-term decrees against burkinis, while refusing their demands for nationwide legislation against them.
The state council’s ruling, due shortly, is likely to set a precedent for other towns that have banned the burkini.

The administrative court in Nice ruled on Monday that the Villeneuve-Loubet ban was necessary to prevent public disorder after the Bastille Day attack in Nice and the murder of a priest in Normandy.

 The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, condemned the ban on a visit to Paris on Thursday, his first overseas trip since taking office in May. “I’m quite firm on this. I don’t think anyone should tell women what they can and can’t wear. Full stop. It’s as simple as that.”

Khan’s counterpart in Paris, Anne Hidalgo, hosting London’s first Muslim mayor, called for an end to burkini “hysteria”, saying authorities should instead focus on improving social cohesion.

The former French president Nicolas Sarkozy weighed into the controversy on Wednesday when he called the full-body burkini swimsuit a “provocation” that supported radicalised Islam. He told a TV interviewer: “We don’t imprison women behind fabric.”

This was followed by a rebuke from the woman who created the burkini, the Australian designer Aheda Zanetti, who said Sarkozy had misunderstood what the swimwear represented.

“He needs to go to the beach and maybe ask, what is a burkini swimsuit?” Zanetti said. “Burkini is just a word that describes a full-cover swimsuit, and it doesn’t symbolise anything to do with Muslims. It’s about encouraging our kids and children to learn how to swim.”

The political row over burkinis has intensified after a woman in a headscarf was photographed on a beach in Nice removing a long-sleeved top while surrounded by armed police.

The city banned the burkini on its beaches last week, following about 15 seaside areas in south-east France where mayors had done the same.

The series of pictures, taken by a local French news photographer, showed a woman dressed in leggings, a long-sleeved tunic and headscarf being approached by four officers.

As the police stand around her, she removes her long-sleeved top, revealing a short-sleeved top underneath. It is unclear whether or not the woman was ordered to do so. In another image, a police officer appears to write out a fine.

The Nice mayor’s office denied that the woman had been forced to remove clothing, telling Agence France-Presse that she was showing police the swimsuit she was wearing under her tunic.

Nice’s deputy mayor, Christian Estrosi, from Sarkozy’s Les R√©publicains party, said a municipal police team had “acted perfectly to make sure that [the] decree was respected”. He threatened legal action against anyone disseminating pictures of municipal police. Twenty-four women have been stopped by police in the city since the burkini ban came into force.


The woman in Cannes, a former flight attendant from Toulouse who gave her name only as Siam, said she was wearing clothes and a headscarf when she was approached by police who wrote on her ticket that her clothes did not conform with “good manners” or French secularism.

“I wasn’t in a burkini, I wasn’t in a burqa, I wasn’t naked, so I considered my clothing was appropriate,” she said.

The various mayoral decrees do not explicitly use the word burkini; instead they ban “beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation”, citing reasons such as the need to protect public order, hygiene or French laws on secularism.

The state council’s ruling, due at 3pm (1pm GMT) on Friday, is likely to set a precedent for other towns that have introduced bans.
.

Obama - Kill the pipeline!

SUBHEAD: Indigenous activists urge Obama to ask Army Corp to pull its permits for the project.

By Nadia Prupis on 25 August 2016 for Common Dreams -
(http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/08/25/effort-kill-pipeline-groups-call-directly-obama-oppose-permits)


Image above: Solidarity protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline are growing around the country. Photo by Peg Hunter. From original article.

U.S. Judge James Boasberg said he would make a decision by September 9 on whether to halt work on the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

As Indigenous activists maintained resistance to a proposed oil pipeline in North Dakota this week, allied groups on Thursday sent an open letter to President Barack Obama asking him to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to pull its permits for the project.

"After years of pipeline disasters—from the massive tar sands oil spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2010, to the recent oil pipeline spills in the San Joaquin Valley and Ventura, CA—our organizations and our millions of members and supporters are concerned about the threat these projects pose to our safety, our health, and the environment," reads the letter (pdf), signed by groups such as the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Sierra Club, and 350.org.

The letter was published as a federal judge delayed a decision on allowing the construction to continue.

U.S. Judge James Boasberg said after a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday that he would make a decision by September 9 on whether to halt work on the pipeline, amid a lawsuit filed against the corps by Standing Rock Sioux tribal leaders. Pipeline developers last week agreed to pause construction until the decision.

"Whatever the final outcome in court, I believe we have already established an important principle—that is, tribes will be heard on important matters that affect our vital interests," Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II said Wednesday, according to the Bismarck Tribune.

If the $3.7 billion pipeline is built, it will transport 500,000 barrels of oil a day past the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota and through several rivers—including the Mississippi and Missouri rivers—which supply water to millions of people. It would traverse North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa, before eventually stopping in Illinois.

Camps have sprung up around the contested area, as the action against the pipeline stretches into its third week, and Amnesty International announced Wednesday that it had sent a delegation of human rights observers to the protest site. Opponents say the project would destroy sacred and culturally important lands and threaten their access to clean water.

Angela Bevans, an assistant attorney with Sioux background, told the Guardian on Thursday that "[a]ny delay is a win for us, it will give Dakota Access pause and it puts word out that Standing Rock still needs assistance on this."

"We've suffered incarceration, massacre and internment. This is just another chapter in the government allowing a private company to take something that doesn't belong to them just because they can," Bevans said. "It's not a matter of whether there will be a spill, it's when it will happen.

Everyone knows what is at stake and we won't be sacrificed. We are protecting the lifeblood of our people, these rivers are the arteries of Mother Earth."

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Officials cut water to Sioux 8/23/16


.

The War on Cash

SUBHEAD: A war on independence, privacy, and informal unaccounted personal behavior - all for a small fee.

By Brett Scott on 19 August 2016 for the Long and Short -
(http://thelongandshort.org/society/war-on-cash)


Image above: Aloha Spirits in Hanapepe, Kauai, Hawaii. Cash Only! From (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Ch83WepWEAAAMoM.jpg).

[IB Publisher's note: There is a business in my town that's open 365 days a year from morning until latenight. It's called Aloha Spirits. It's a tiny store, but it provides a wide variety of things people really want - things they have habits for - including beer, liqueur, wine, sodas, cigarettes, vapes, tobacco, condoms, aspirin, decongestants, energy drinks, chips, candy, ice cream, gum and a variety of items that satisfy all the flavor cravings (sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami). Aloha also has some fresh local produce and fruit like eggplants and pineapples. Aloha Spirits only accepts cash and so my secret desires are between us alone.]

Several months ago I stayed in an offbeat Amsterdam hotel that brewed its own beer but refused to accept cash for it. Instead, they forced me to use the Visa payment card network to get my UK bank to transfer €4 to their Dutch bank via the elaborate international correspondent banking system.
I was there with civil liberties campaigner Ben Hayes.

We were irritated by the anti-cash policy, something the hotel staff took for annoyance at the international payments charges we'd face. That wasn't it though. Our concern was an intuitive one about a potential future world in which we'd have to report our every economic move to a bank, and the effect this could have on marginalised people.

'Cashless society' is a euphemism for the "ask-your-banks-for-permission-to-pay society".

Rather than an exchange occurring directly between the hotel and me, it takes the form of a "have your people talk to my people" affair. Various intermediaries message one another to arrange an exchange between our respective banks. That may be a convenient option, but in a cashless society it would no longer be an option at all. You'd have no choice but to conform to the intermediaries' automated bureaucracy, giving them a lot of power, and a lot of data about the microtexture of your economic life.

Our concerns are unfashionable. Without any explicit declaration, the War on Cash has begun. Proponents of digital payment systems are riding upon technology-friendly times to proclaim the imminent Death of Cash. Sweden leads in the drive to reach this state, but the UK is edging that way too. London buses stopped accepting cash in 2014, but do accept MasterCard and Visa contactless payment cards.

Every cash transaction you make is one that a payments intermediary like Visa takes no fee from, so it has an interest in making cash appear redundant, deviant and criminal. That's why, in 2016, Visa Europe launched its "Cashfree and Proud" campaign, to inform cardholders that "they can make a Visa contactless payment with confidence and feel liberated from the need to carry cash."

The company's press release declared the campaign "the latest step of Visa UK’s long term strategy to make cash 'peculiar' by 2020."

There you have it. An orchestrated strategy to make us feel weird about cash. Propaganda is a key weapon of war, and all sides present themselves as liberators. Visa comes across like a paternalistic commander when assuring us that we – like a baby taking first steps – will feel a sense of achievement at liberating ourselves from the burden of cash dependence. Visa's technology offers freedom without dependence or dangers.

Visa is joined by other propagandists. In 2014 Penny for London arrived, an apparently altruistic group set up by the Mayor's Fund for London and Barclaycard, using charity as a hook to switch people to contactless cards on the London Underground. PayPal plastered cities with billboards claiming that "new money doesn't need a wallet", along with a video proclaiming: "New money isn't paper, it's progress".

Astroturfing campaigns like No Cash Day are backed by American Express, highlighting such anti-cash themes as the environmental impact of banknotes. Other tactics include pointing out that criminals use cash, that it fuels the shadow economy, that it's unsafe, and that it facilitates tax evasion.

These arguments have notable shortcomings. Criminals use many things that we keep – like cars – and fighting crime doesn't take priority over maintaining other social goods like civil liberties. The 'shadow economy' is a derogatory term used by elites to describe the economic activities of people they neither understand nor care about.

As for safety, having your wallet cash stolen pales in comparison to having your savings obliterated in a digital account hack. And if you care about tax justice, start with the mass corporate tax avoidance facilitated by the formal banking sector.

The peculiar feature about this war, however, is that only one side is fighting. Very few media champions defend cash. It is like a taken-for-granted public utility, whereas digital payments platforms are run by private companies with an incentive to flood the media with their key messages. When they fight this war, their target is our cultural belief in cash, and the belief that its provision should be a public right.

The UK government does not plan to maintain that right, and is siding with the payments industry. Their position is summed up by economist Kenneth Rogoff in his new book The Curse of Cash.

He argues that, apart from facilitating crime and tax evasion, cash hampers central banks from setting negative interest rates. In the absence of cash, everyone must keep their money in the form of digital bank deposits. During recessions central banks could then use the banking system to deliberately corrode people's deposits via negative charges, 'inspiring' them to spend rather than hoard.

The emergent consensus among economic and political elites is that this is the direction to go in, but to manufacture consent for this requires a drip-drip erosion of public resistance. Hearts and minds must be shown that the change represents inevitable and desirable progress.

Anyone defending cash in this context will be labelled as an anti-progress, reactionary, and nostalgic Luddite. That's why we must not defend cash. Rather, we should focus on pointing out that the Death of Cash means the Rise of Something Else. We are fighting a broader battle to maintain alternatives to the growing digital panopticon that is emerging all around us.

To understand this conflict, we must step back. A monetary transaction involves specific goods or services being exchanged for tokens giving access to general goods and services from others. The pub landlord hands me beer at night if I transfer tokens that allow him to get cigarettes from a shopkeeper in the morning.

There are two ways to implement this though.

The first is to give the tokens a physical form. In this scenario, 'getting rich' means accumulating those physical things and 'making a payment' means handing them over to someone else. They are bearer instruments, which means nobody keeps a record of who owns them. Rather, whoever holds them owns them. This is your wallet with notes in it. This is cash.

Alternatively, you can use a ledger. Someone sets up a database with spaces allotted to different people. This is then used to keep a record of who has tokens. These tokens have no physical form, but are written into existence. They are 'data objects', and they are 'moved around' by editing the record.

The keeper of the ledger thus maintains an account of what money is attributable to you, 'keeping score' of it for you. In this system, 'getting rich' means accumulating a high score on your account.

'Making a payment' involves identifying yourself to the keeper of the ledger via a communications system, and requesting that they edit your account, and the account of whoever you are paying.
Does this sounds familiar? It is your bank account.

Old banks used actual books to maintain these account ledgers, but modern banks use digital databases housed in huge datacentres. You then interact with them via your internet banking portal, your phone app, or by going into a branch. This is not a minor part of the monetary system. Over 90 per cent of the UK's money supply exists nowhere but on bank databases.

It is upon this underlying infrastructure that payment card companies like Visa build their operations. They deal with situations in which someone with one bank account finds themselves in a shop owned by someone else with another bank account. Rather than the pub landlord giving me his bank details for a manual transfer, my card sends messages through Visa's network to automatically arrange the editing of our respective accounts.

Many fintech – financial technology – startups specialise in finding ways to augment, gamify or streamline elements of this underlying infrastructure. Thus, I might use a mobile phone fingerprint reader to authorise changes to the bank databases. Much fintech 'disruption' merely involves putting slicker clothes on the same old emperor.

The use of high-speed communications systems to rearrange binary code information about who has what money might be new, but ledger money is as old as any bearer form.

The Rai stones of the island of Yap were huge and largely unmovable stones that, while seeming like physical tokens, were a form of ledger money. Rather than being physically moved – like cash would – a record of who owned the stones was kept in people's heads, stored in their communal memory.

If the owners wished to 'transfer' a stone to another, they 'edited the ledger' of who possessed the tokens by merely informing the community. Why physically roll the stone if you can just get everyone to remember that it has 'moved' to somebody else? The main reason that we struggle to recognise this as a form of cashlessness is that the ledger is invisible and informal.

Cashless society, though, is presented as futuristic progress rather than past history, a fashionable motif of futurists, entrepreneurs and innovation gurus. Nevertheless, while there are real trends in behaviour and tastes to be spotted in society, there are also trends in behaviour and taste among trend-spotters.

They are paid to fixate upon change and so have an incentive to hype minor shifts into 'end of history' deaths, births and revolutions.

Innovation communities are always at risk of losing touch within an echo chamber of buzzwords, amplifying one another's speculations into concrete future certainties. These prediction factories always produce the same two unprovable sentences: "In the future we will… " and "In the future we will no longer… ". Thus, in the future we will all use digital payments. In the future we will no longer use cash.

This is the utopia presented by the growing digital payments industry, which wishes to turn the perpetual mirage of cashless society into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Indeed, a key trick to promoting your interests is to speak of them as obvious inevitabilities that are already under way. It makes others feel silly for not recognising the apparently obvious change.

To create a trend you should also present it as something that other people demand. A sentence like "All over the world, people are switching to digital payments" is not there to describe what other people want. It's there to tell you what you should want by making you feel out of sync with them. Here's fintech investor Rich Ricci invoking the spectre of millennials, with their strange moral power to define the future. They are repulsed by the revolting physicality of cash, and feel all warm towards fintech gadgets.

But these are not, on the whole, real people. They are a weapon in the arsenal of marketing departments used to make older people feel prehistoric. We're not pushing this. We're just responding to what the new generation demands.

And so we get Visa's Cashfree and Proud campaign. If people really were ashamed of cash, they wouldn't need ads to tell them. Visa must engineer that shame to teach you that what you want is the same as what they want. And if you don't want it, just remember that cashless society is inevitable. Don't get left behind.

But this system will leave many behind. It is hardwired to include only those with access to a bank account; and bank accounts are hosted by profit-seeking corporations that operate at scale. They have no time for your individual idiosyncrasies. They cannot make profit off anyone who cannot easily be categorized and modeled on a spreadsheet.

So, good luck to you if you find yourself with only sporadic appearances in the official books of state, if you are a rural migrant without a recorded birthdate, identifiable parents, or an ID number. Sorry if you lack markers of stability, if you are a rogue traveller without permanent address, phone number or email.

Apologies if you have no symbols of status, if you're an informal economy hustler with no assets and low, inconsistent income. Condolences if you have no official stamps of approval from gatekeeper bodies, like university certificates or records of employment at a formal company. Goodbye if you have a poor record of engagements with recognised institutions, like a criminal record or a record of missed payments.

This is no small problem. The World Bank estimates that there are two billion adults without bank accounts, and even those who do have them still often rely upon the informal flexibility of cash for everyday transactions. These are people bearing indelible markers of being incompatible with formal institutional space. They are often too unprofitable for banks to justify the expense of setting them up with accounts. This is the shadow economy, invisible to our systems.

The shadow economy is not just 'poor' people. It’s potentially anybody who hasn't internalised the correct state-corporate narrative of normality, and anyone seeking a lifestyle outside of the mainstream.

The future presented by self-styled innovation gurus has no scope for flexible, unpredictable or invisible people. They represent analogue backwardness. The future is a world of endless consumer choice built upon an inescapable digital uniformity of automated rules, a matrix outside which you can neither exist nor think.

Back in Amsterdam I hang out with Ancilla van de Leest of the Netherlands Pirate Party. She only visits establishments that accept cash, true to her political belief in individual privacy from prying eyes.
It would be wrong to assume, however, that Ancilla's primary concern involves surveillance by a Big Brother-style bogeyman. It's true that your spending patterns reveal much about how you actually live, and the privacy implications of having these recorded in searchable database format are only starting to be uncovered.

We know that targeted individual surveillance of payments occurs by the likes of the FBI and NSA, but routinised mass surveillance could become a norm. Imagine automatic flagging systems triggered by anyone engaging in a combination of transactions deemed subversive. Tax authorities are bound to be building systems to flag discrepancies between your spending patterns and your declared profits.

It's also true that at London fintech gatherings the excited visions of cashless society now occasionally come with a disclaimer that we should think about the power granted to those who control the system.

Not only can payments intermediaries see every time you buy access to a porn site, but they have the ability to censor your transactions, like Visa, PayPal and MasterCard attempting to choke WikiLeaks by refusing to process people's donations.

We could imagine some harsh sci-fi scenario in which a theocratic regime issues decrees to payments processors to block anyone buying books deemed sexually deviant. Such decrees could be automatically enforced via code, with subroutines remotely triggering smart locks to place the offending miscreant under house arrest while automatically deducting a fine from their account.

Such automated dystopias should ideally be avoided, so a dose of paranoia about digital payments systems is a healthy impulse, even if it might be unwarranted.

But that isn't really the point. What's more important to Ancilla and me is the looming sense of an external watcher that 'assists', 'guides' or 'helps' you in your life, tracking and logging your moves in order to influence you.

The watcher is not a single entity. It's a collective array being incrementally built in stages by startups and companies around the world as we speak.

We feel it seeping deeper into our lives, a mesh of connected devices, cookies and sensors. Whether we visualise it as the benevolent eyes of a parent, or the menacing eyes of a tyrant doesn't matter. The point is that the eyes have the potential to monitor you, all the time.

The proclaimed Death of Cash is thus an episode in the broader drama that is the Death of Privacy, the death of breathing room, and the death of informal, non-measured, unaccounted-for behaviour. Every action you take must forever be attached to your digital persona, dragging with it a data trail extending back to the day you were born. We face creating an entire generation of people who do not know what it feels like to not be monitored.

For many economists, the War on Cash will be resolved by their favourite mystical demigod, the market. This guiding force prevails when utility-maximising producers and consumers go around making rational choices with perfect information about their options, and with total freedom to choose whether or not to exercise those options. If digital payment transaction costs are lower, then cash will rightly die.

The pristine realm of market theory is unfit to assess the dynamics of this situation. Our sense of what constitutes a legitimate choice does not form in a vacuum. We are born into social power structures that tell us what normality is, and that shame us for not choosing 'correctly'. You might be a rebel who challenges prevailing cultural norms, but those norms are conditioned by those with the greatest financial and media clout.

At this moment the blaring of propaganda extolling the short-term conveniences of digital payment is dulling our critical impulses to rearrange our cultural DNA. Who is thinking about the longer-term implications of building our lives around these systems, and thereby locking ourselves into dependence upon them?

Unlike a battle fought using violence, hegemony is the assertion of power by getting people to believe in it, to see it as inevitable, unassailable and normal. Visa's four-year plan is one such exercise, and once we've internalised it, we'll choose to build their power.

We'll feel strangely comforted by the MasterCard billboard endorsed by the Mayor of London. We'll find ourselves downloading ApplePay like a dazed child accepting a gift.

So, let's prepare for the War on Cash. Remember, this is not about romanticising the £10 notes with the Queen on them. This is about maintaining alternatives to the stifling hygiene of the digital panopticon being constructed to serve the needs of profit-maximising, cost-minimising, customer-monitoring, control-seeking, behaviour-predicting commercial bureaucrats.

And fear not, the Germans are onside, along with the criminals, the homeless, the street-side buskers and an army of people whose lives will never get a five-star rating on a mainstream reputation scoring system.

We will forge alliances with purveyors of non-bank alternative currency systems; and yes, we will maintain the option to use our payment cards. Because what we fight for is precisely that. The option.
.