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Category Archives: World

Downtown Seoul this week, from uncharacteristic monsoon-like weather

With permission of the author, John Englander, ( I repost the item below on likely ocean levels in the coming decades and centuries.  The article I think gives a clear and concise explanation, rooted in scientific evidence.   While I am myself far from a scientist, I am a little less sanguine about the suggestion here that sea levels will begin to rise in another decade or so at the rate indicated here – 1 to 5 (3 – 15 feet) meters by the end of the century; my modestly educated guess is it will be much more, as numerous elements collide in a catastrophe-theory scenario, in which there is a harsh rupture (already indicated here in the 20,000 times faster than historical precedent in the build-up of of CO2) in many of the balancing structures previously present – such as the sudden release of CO2 stored in arctic tundra, a similar release as forest fires expand from drought and the death of forests (presently in the US West thanks to pine beetle infestation caused by warmer summers, not to mention the man-made destruction of rain forests in S America and Asia.)  And as well I see very little sign that we will collectively put our foot on the brakes of CO2 emissions at the level required to slow the human industrial input of CO2 into the atmosphere.  If anything it is likely to rise sharply in the next decade or two.   I am fearful it will take a truly major catastrophe to slam some sense into our communal minds, and before we rationally address the matter, we seem far more likely to engage in wars for access to water, minerals, food production areas, and so on.  This is already aggressively occurring under the mask of  “globalization” in which monetary wealth is license to buy up South America and African farmland and evict the natives to grow food for China, S Korea and others.   This process is only beginning and is sure to produce politically volatile situations in which warfare will be the resort.   Modern warfare injects a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, not to mention other highly toxic elements.  We might note that the US military is the largest single user of carbon-based fuels in the world.

As waters rise, and coastal areas, usually the most densely populated regions in most countries,flood,  populations will forced inland to survive, sparking mass migrations and accompanying conflict.  Also much rich farmland is located in alluvial coastal plains and these will be lost.  The confluence of these, and other aspects, are likely to produce highly aggravating situations resulting in famines and other forms of pestilence as populations grow denser under less and less organized circumstances.  Refugee camps are not usually paragons of health, and we are talking of millions and billions of refugees (for example Bangladesh will be inundated and those 100 millions will flee inland to… jam-packed India.)  Similarly higher temperatures will produce far greater moisture in the atmosphere resulting in greater snow packs in mountain areas and monsoon-type weather seen this year in the American mid-west.  Higher summer temperatures will result in a fast run-off of the snowpack, resulting in the flooding seen on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, or in the floods in Korea.  These shifts are happening so rapidly that they are overwhelming the flood control systems predicated on an entirely different basis than what is probable to be the new norm in the immediate years to come.  The result will be a global breakdown in infra-structures designed for utterly different “norms.”  Again, the consequences will lead to socio-political upheavals of major proportions.    The consequences are unlikely to be handled in a sane, rational manner.



Why Sea Level will Rise for Centuries; ultimately 100 feet +

By John – Posted on 20 July 2011

Just 5 illustrations show why sea level will almost certainly rise for centuries; the STUNNING levels of historical change; and even why society generally doubts that it will ever happen. Articles about sea level rise  (SLR) somewhere on the planet are appearing almost daily. (I track this stuff for my forthcoming book “High Tide on Main Street”.) I am glad to see at least this modest increased awareness about a HUGE problem.

The chart to the right shows sea level change over the last 24,000 years, taken from the geologic record. It is in meters, the standard measurement in science. (For approximate # of feet, multiply by 3.)

There are 4 things to note:

1.  Less than 20,000 years ago the ocean was down almost 400 feet below the current sea level. A HUGE change in sea level, and not that long ago. This is based on geologic records that have been known and taught for the better part of a century.

2.  Nearly all 130 meters of rise (400 feet) happened between 20,000 years ago, at the peak of the last ice age, and about 6-8 thousand years ago; in other words over about just 12,000 years.

3.  For about the last 6,000 years, sea level has hardly changed at all. That is about the age of our earliest written records, and more or less the span of human civilization. No wonder that we believe sea level to be rather fixed in place. 

4.  It is also worth noting that about 14,000 years ago, long before any human impact, that the ice sheets melted quickly, causing what the geologists call a ‘meltwater pulse.’ The ocean rose about 65 feet in just 4 centures, averaging more than a foot a decade– hard to imagine! (Might that sudden rise be the basis for stories of the biblical flood, or Atlantis?)

Amazingly, sea level has regularly cycled up and down about 120 meters, or almost 400 feet on a regular cycle, pretty much every 100,000 years. That has been going on for at least 2.7 million years. If you want to see the chart showing that pattern, look back at my last post “SPIEGEL missed Explaining wide range of 3-16 feet of SLR forecasts”; the lower yellow/blue graph there shows an expanded view of the last 140,000 years of sea level, and a larger view of more than 800,000 years.  (Again, the vertical scale is in meters, so for those who use feet, MULTIPLY BY 3, approximately.)

While that huge cycle of sea level change is likely very surprising, it ties into something you likely do know about: the ice ages, when North America and Europe were regularly covered in ice more than 3 km (2 miles) deep. As the ice melted, the water flowed into the sea, raising the level of the ocean. (As the sea level changes, of course, the shoreline moves — a LOT.) Not only can scientists calculate the thickness of that ice and how much water would have been added to the ocean, but we can actually see very distinct ancient beaches and shorlines now more than 300 feet underwater, as further proof. (I have personally seen them from research submarines.) So, there is no question that sea level changes.

Scientists look for causes, relationships, and corroboration to prove hypotheses (theories). With temperature, CO2 (carbon dioxide) and Sea Level, the historical records of geology fit together neatly.

Temperature in the atmosphere correlates almost directly with the amount of CO2, due to a principle of basic physics and chemistry. Long before Al Gore, it was proven that CO2 (carbon dioxide) was colorless, and transmitted light VERY well, but that it trapped heat VERY WELL too.

Today we call that the greenhouse effect, as it describes how a glass greenhouse enables keeping warmer temperature in a colder climate.  Glass has those same properties as CO2 gas.

As the planet warms, the ice sheets melt, raising sea level; there are three things that move in close synchonization. The attached graph shows temperature in RED, CO2 in GREEN, and sea level in BLUE, for the last 420,000 years.

The problem we face becomes apparent when we update the CO2 level, as shown in the graph on the left, with 2 lines of Temperature (RED) and CO2 – NOW shown in BLUE).

CO2 has gone up like a rocket, and corresponds to such things as the coal and petroleum that we have burned over the last century.

We have to note that these graphs showing hundreds of thousands of years, compress the horizontal time scale. It is not possible to see a specific year, or even a decade. Even a century would be a speck, when the smallest division on the graph at the left is 50,000 years. But it does show a “big picture” with GREAT clarity. What you can’t tell from such a graph is how many years temperature and CO2 changes might lag each other. (And interestingly, sometimes one leads, and sometimes the other.  That’s worthy of a separate post.)

The fact is that we don’t know how quickly temperature will follow the vertical line of CO2 increase.  That is the extremely important question that different teams of scientists are trying to figure out with supercomputers — to project how quickly our atmosphere and ocean will warm as CO2 levels continue to increase.

CO2 is now at 394 ppm; about 40% higher than at any time in millions of years. It ranges from about 180 – 280 ppm with each ice age cycle as shown in that 2 line, Red-Blue graph above. (For the latest actual number, see the little blue graphic in the right hand column of my home page.)

Just two more images wrap up the sea level story.

The oceans and atmosphere have warmed globally over the last century. This is the 130 year reconstruction of the average annual land-sea temperatures over the entire planet. It shows a change from a low of almost minus 0.4 from a norm, to a positive 0.6 — just under a degree Celsius over the 130 year graph, or about 0.8 degrees C (about 1.4 degrees F) over the last century.

So we already have most of the pieces of the sea level puzzle.

  • Sea Level has changed repeatedly by almost 400 feet.
  • It logically goes up and down, in opposite direction of the changing ice sheets over the last 3 million years
  • The ice sheets slowly adjust to global mean temperature, which follows CO2 levels in close parallel.

Got it?: CO2; average global temperature; ice sheets, and sea level are all locked together in a physical relationship.

The last correlation is a stunner; at least it stunned me, when I stopped to let it sink in.

Dr. David Archer, an eminent scientist (and author of THE LONG THAW) looked at the work of another eminent glaciologist, Dr. Richard Alley, and produced the simple graph at the left. It plots a few known ancient sea levels against ancient temperatures. Admittedly the numbers are approximate.

It graphs 5 different points of historic sea level: 40 and 3 million years ago, 120,000 and 20,000 years ago, and the present day.

They fall reasonably on a straight line, which is what is expected if the amount of ice on the planet will change proportional to the average temperature on the planet. It cannot predict how quickly the adjustment will happen. (It might help to understand that  200,000 years is considered a “brief period” by geologists.)

What is stunning is the angle or correlation of the graph trend line. It indicates that with each degree C of change in the global mean temperature, that sea level changes by about 20 meters (65 feet). Just think about that; and recall that we have already had almost a degree of warming over the last hundred year, with lots more on the way. The current forecast is for a MINIMUM of 2 degrees C warming by end of century and most models show that we will get 4-5 degrees C, if we don’t take drastic steps to reduce greenhouse gases very soon.

Again, it could take centuries for that amount of ice melting to happen. The long periods of ice formation and melting happen over thousands of years. We are now definitely in a warming period as proven by the shrinking glaciers and melting Arctic ice cap, and the Greenland ice sheet. It is predicted that the Arctic Ocean will be ice free, some time in about two decades.  That has not occurred for at least 7,000 years and perhaps not in the last three million years. The added greenhouse gases are warming the planets temperature above the usual top end of the ice age cycle.

According to the pattern of last three million years (shown on that previous blog post) we would have started the long cooling phase towards the next ice age. Instead we are warming. If we melt all the ice on the planet( which has happened before, but not for about 40 – 50 million years), then global sea levels would be approximately 80 meters (265 feet) higher than today. That would swamp every coastal city. What we do not yet know is whether that will take hundreds of years, or thousands.  Presently the forecasts for this century range from as low as a meter (3 feet) of SLR, to as much as 5 meters (16 feet). There are two reasons that scientists cannot yet accurately predict how fast the ice will melt.

First, the geologic record is not accurate down to the level of individual years as mentioned above.

The second challenge is that we are now warming MUCH faster than during previous periods of abrupt climate change. According to our leading climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, the Earth has warmed 20,000 times faster over the last century, than during the abrupt change 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs were wiped out, likely as a result of an asteroid impact. While the cause of that mega extinction was different than the present situation, the rate of warming is the relvant comparison that he makes.

In other words. because the current warming, caused by the rapid rise in greenhouse gases, is happening 20,000 times faster than in nature, it is hard to say how fast the ice will melt, and the ocean will rise. There is no accurate precedent. But the models are getting better rather quickly, due to increasingly accurate measurements of how the ice is actually melting.

What the latest models do show is that sea level will continue to rise for at least 500 years, even if we stopped all CO2 emissions immediately.

While that 500 year lag time, may seem surprising, the earth’s systems move slowly, like changing course or stopping a big ship. One of the reasons that heat and ice melt will not stop for at least 500 years is that it takes up to 700 years for the oceans to fully change temperature, due to the fact that the oceans’ average depth is a few miles/km, and goes as deep as 35 thousand feet (12,000 km). The heat layers segregate, slowing change to a new surface temperature.

In effect, the ocean acts like a giant storage battery for heat. It has absorbed most of the extra heat, trapped by the greenhouse gases. That is a key reason that the ice will melt, and the oceans will rise, for centuries, or longer.

What we do over the decades ahead will slow or increase the rate of warming, and the rate of sea level rise. and can make a big difference for generations to follow.

New Orleans in the past and futureMonk by the Sea, Caspar David Friedrich


Stepin Fetchit with his friends

As our world does its curious minuet of collapse, the Great Dark Hope of 2008 has – for those who hadn’t noticed it already – fully shown he’s a 100% somewhat right-wing Republican with a tan to beat Boehner’s. (Have fun with puns there!)   It seems to be his modus-operandi, a kind of rope-a-dope routine in which he lets the supposed opponents shove the goal-posts a mile or two, then surveys the situation and offers still another 10 yards or more, and announces he’s made the needed compromise that gave the supposed opposition a bit, but not everything, and wasn’t that a sage thing to do as the sky did not fall as it otherwise would have.   A smooth operator as they might say, a real good one put over on America’s liberals et al.  Genuine Kabuki theater, though at this point the process has become as formally ritualized as said theater, the roles fixed in amber.

Big Timers indeed !

In the last few years there has been a cottage industry of books and articles analyzing the formative background of Mr. Obama, along with the shrill screeches from the Right – seemingly now a purposeful feint to distract from the con being pulled, as good old American liberals fell into line to protect their guy from these awful racist assaults – though in all the verbiage I saw, in PC America, I don’t recall any suggestions of Uncle Tom, or any of the other deep American places for what used to be called “the house nigger.”   It’s considered impolite to suggest that Colin Powell or now Obama have dutifully filled these historical shoes just as they are supposed to.   But Obama has certainly done so, and a simple glance at his background explains it readily:  he negotiated his black-white family circumstance, sorted out his adolescent identity crisis briefly with an Afro and supposed community organizing, and while opting visually for his black side, ideologically and politically he opted for the white.  Harvard, where he minded his manners and zipped into a nice job at the University of Chicago, did lawyering with a white firm, and got the nod to let his dark-skinned eloquence work its magic at the 2004 Democratic Convention.   It was all, well, kind of magical.

Listen up, Stepin !

And so this tabula rasa, with a perfect fill-in-the-blanks-yourself PR slogan, promised Change You Can Believe In, and was inserted into the White House, an antidote to the Bush trauma which sucked in the entire center-left-progressive spectrum of the country like a Hoover.  Confronted in 2008 with the banker’s self-made crisis, he backed Bush’s deal with The-Sky-Is-Falling Hank Paulson’s demand for 800 billion instant and unaccountable greenbacks, and once in office did whatever tap dance the Wall Street gang demanded.  After all, those he appointed to guide him were all from the offices of Goldman Sachs etc.    The alleged urgency of the moment masked this rightward lunge, and he carried on the Fred Astaire routine with his marks, the great unwashed American public, left side, which so wanted a resolution to the traumatic Bush years that they eagerly overlooked all the signs that their great hope was Bush squared.  They’ve continued this delusion up until very recently, though as Obama hints at succumbing to so-called Republican demands for shaving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, it seems even the most ardent of Obama fans are realizing they got taken to the cleaners in one of the slickest political scams of our history: there are no Democrats, the entire party has been bought, and, like Jews in Inquisition Europe, they’ve converted to being Republicans, and if they have any Democrat tendencies they keep them secret.

Fun in Athens

Meantime, on the other side of the pond, another Greek drama is playing out, and as any good Greek tragedy, the end is foretold and it is the playing out knowing the conclusion which makes it tragic.   There, following the clever set-up which Goldman Sachs (yes, them again… are the dots connecting yet?) engineered with the previous right-wing government to hide the country’s indebtedness (a sleight-of-hand bit of bookkeeping fraud which Goldman is apparently expert in doing) so they could join the Euro Community, things are now falling apart.  Pumped with Euro funds from the more or less healthy economies to the north, Greece went on a banker-encouraged spending boom, running up mountains of communal and personal debt, suckered into the wonderful consumer fantasy-land of the West, while the interest rates climbed.  And now, if they did little else than work their butts to the bone, they will never pay off the interest, not to mention the principle, on the loans so sweetly given to them.   Today, the banks want their pound of  Greek lamb and some nice embellishments to boot.  And they sent their poodle, Standard and Poors, allegedly a disinterested ratings agency, to inform the EU that the holy banks would not tolerate having to absorb any losses, period.  Or else, as in 2008, the sky would fall !   And promptly the politicians scrambled to please these monetary masters of the universe.   Of course, next in line for this treatment are Portugal (bonds last week reduced to “junk”), Ireland, Spain, and Italy.

All of this is occurring thanks in part to the introduction of the trans-European monetary unit, the Euro, which doesn’t allow individual countries devalue their currency, but sticks them all with the same “value.”   Interestingly, I met, about a decade ago, one of the originators of this idea – Robert Mundell, Nobel Prize winning economist, University of Columbia professor, who, along with some others cooked up the logic for having a single currency.

Robert Mundell, Nobel Laureate, chameleon

I met Mr Mundell in Rome, somewhere back in the late 1990’s or 2000 or so.  One thing led to another, and I was introduced to a friend of his who wanted to do a film based on the painter Masaccio – a Renaissance period piece.  The guy gave me his script, which was a turgid piece of utter tripe.  But I did get to visit Mundell’s new home, an old castle a short way out of  Siena.  He was thinking of making the former horse-stable/barn area into a kind of studio.  I think I saw him 3 or 4 times.  Each time he was what I would charitably call “drunk.”  I know in scientific statistical terms this is not a fair sampling, but on the more flexible standard of human observation, I’d have to guess this was kind of normal.   At all events, he was/is considered the founder of the Euro, and I would be curious to see what his view on this is now.   Given his apparently lousy sense of dramaturgy, his evident gullibility to the kinds of people who show up when riches fall in your lap and his liquid habits, I certainly would not give his intellectual ideas too much credibility, Nobel or no.  (We note Mr Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner….)

My guess is that the Euro and the EU are a kind of intellectual/Ivory Tower construct, a nice theoretical idea which in some kind of perfect world seems a good idea.  In post-WWII Europe something that would entice these differing countries to fight less and get along more must have been a nice lure.  Certainly from the pedestrian tourist viewpoint it is nice not to have to change money at every border, and on a vast business scale it also makes big money shifts easier and less costly.  However the idea was more that by having a shared currency everyone would (have to) behave similarly.  Anyone who has lived in Spain or Italy or Portugal or Greece would know that shifting the coinage in your pocket is not going to change your cultural behavior and turn you into a German.  But, behind the idea of the Euro that was the idea.  And it has foundered on the rocks of reality.  Of course that reality is also rather distorted by the manipulations of the bankers, who for now have figured out how to squeeze blood money out of the rocky terrain of Greece.

And so anger flows on the streets of Athens and Thessalonika, and it builds in the solid burghers of Germany who figure they are the ones paying for this folly.   And, if the bankers get their way, as in the S&P notice, they will.  However, whether the twists and turns take some more weeks or some more months, it appears the most likely outcome is that Greece will default on its debts, leave the Euro, and we’ll have another major economic crisis as the banks absorb their losses.  If you don’t know, if we “follow the money” we find that German and French banks are deeply tied up in the Greek crisis, having loaned them multiple billions of Euro.  They did so by borrowing money from American banks, who were flush with their 800 billion bail-out of 2008, and also a Federal “preferred” window in which they were able to obtain money at a half a point interest rate and turn around and loan it to European banks for 4 or 6%.  Not a bad deal.  But that means that the Greek crisis, zipping through Germany and France (as well as other Euro banks), then moves across the Atlantic to American banks.  Hence the stamping of banker feet insisting they will not take a hair-cut.  What goes round, comes round, but bankers in this day insist on privatizing massive profits and socializing massive losses.   They got away with it in 2008, and they are trying again now.

At the rate things are going, it would seem Mr Mundell’s dream is turning into a nightmare, and soon the Euro will come crashing to the ground, as a sequence of debt-ridden countries, the dubiously coined PIGS, default and pull out of the Euro-zone or are kicked out.

Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel, Firenze

The story is more or less unchanged in history.  I figure I am the figure here, to the lower left, and off screen there are billions of others with me.   While for most of us it seems fantastical, our “currency” is merely a symbol, be it dollars or yen or renminbi or drachmas or Euros.  What it symbolizes is a mode of social trust, and when that trust evaporates – as it did, for example in Weimar Germany, not so long ago, or the Soviet Union much more recently, the money means nothing, and a wheel-barrel of cash can’t buy a loaf of bread.  Our societies are rapidly eroding that trust, as we see bankers who for their “work” make 4.9 billion dollars in a year, while those who “work” at less abstract levels all day long, make barely enough to survive – whether in rich western and Asian countries, or those mired in poverty in Africa, areas of Asia and South America.

Ancient Greek warriorModern day Greek warriors

[Little note:  Mr Obama is said to be a student of Lincoln, but perhaps it is Lincoln Perry, a.k.a. Stepin Fetchit who is his mentor rather than the other one we were led to believe it was.  I can say this: Barry ain’t no Abraham.]

Tower Bridge, London

London.  Jet-lagged.  The view out my friends’ penthouse shows the four-year lapse since I was here: to one side, beyond Tower Bridge and the now dwarfed London City building, rises a Renzo Piano skyscraper, to be the tallest in London, a thousand and some feet.    Out another window in the City is the nearly-completed foil to Foster’s Ghurkin, a vertical slab to counter its bulbous form.  And there are too many other leaps of hyper-modernity to tally.  The South Bank, a dank and presumably dangerous area of my youthful stays in London – 1963 –  and still similar when I stayed in in 1978 and then again in 80-81 – then a place of abandoned warehouses, narrow alleys, cheap working-class pubs and drugs has been subject to total urban renewal and is now home to swank apartment buildings,renovated warehouses with costly lofts, glittering office towers, boutiques, classy restaurants, and a generalized Disneyfication which runs from the London Eye ferris wheel across from the Houses of Parliament all the way down river past Tower Bridge to the failed Millennium Dome.   It is a place of mass tourism, with such gems as the National Theater (an architectural bit of 1970’s ugly “brutalism”), the Tate Modern made of the revision of a massive mid-20th century power station, the hokey half-timber replica (sort of) of Shakespeare’s Globe theater, and endless pubs, restaurants, shopping malls and the like lined up along the Thames, crowded with tourists and Londoners.  The only risk of the neighborhood remaining is of joining the lemming herd buying the costly baubles on offer:  15,50 sterling to enter the Tate’s Miro exhibit, 3.75 quid for a beer, or 4 for a Brit style hot-dog.  A one-day Tube pass for Central London runs 6.50 Sterling, or 10 bucks.  Though it would cost more if you merely took 2 short rides.   (A pound is $1.40 or so these days.)  Everything else is similarly scaled, meaning to enter into the consumerist wallow assumes a very healthy income, or a willingness to run up a pile of debt.  I suspect it is this latter, which merely emulates what the large scale economy did on a personal level. I took a long walk today, a Sunday, and avoided buying anything, though mingling with the many tongued mass was inescapable.  Elsewhere across the city – in Chelsea and South Kensington near the mythic consumer temple of Harrods, or in Oxford Circus, or Soho, or Portobello Road, or myriad other magnets of this vast city, similar hordes checked out the things on offer, usually for a stiff price.   Thankfully the major museums remain, as yet “free” though large signs urge that you donate 10 Pounds or so at each doorway.  Few seem to do so.

On the way back, after a calming stop at Southwark Cathedral during a service, I passed over the once-wobbly Foster-design Millennium footbridge towards St. Paul’s done, and on then through parts of the Sunday becalmed City, the financial district.   It is surely this area which has accounted for the flush of wealth which saw this transformation of London come to pass.  Frankly Britain doesn’t make much anymore – it’s industrial base is withered, a ghost of its once busy self (something readily noticed in the cities of the Midlands and north) and while tourism is a major economic factor in London’s economy, it doesn’t nearly make the kinds of money which has essentially rebuilt the city in the last 2 decades or so.  It has been the financial industry which did it – though as elsewhere this rickety house of cards, though capable of generating wealth, does so in curious ways which seem to side-step most of the community.  And it does as elsewhere in the world, warping the economy so that prices shift to match the sudden new wealth, however unevenly distributed.  So that a friend of mine, living in her family’s house in the Portobello area, which some decades ago was run-down, a haven for artists, musicians, drug-users and the like, now finds herself surrounded by investment bankers and their BMW’s and other accoutrements.  The area is now busy with fancy restaurants, costly antique stores, boutique fashions and the rest of what the wealthy new inhabitants “need.”   The locals who previously were the neighborhood find themselves forced out by a silent economic dictum.  And now, with the new government of Cameron and Clegg, local amenities like the public library, swimming pool and other “commons” are being closed down or privatized.  Luckily my friend, at least for the moment, can hold on to her house, the value of which has sky-rocketed, as property taxes for residences in London have a cap on them, such that whatever the market value, the top rate is as if it were worth 350,000 pounds.  Or if unoccupied then it is zero.  So for the moment she is able to manage, though, as she has no job and lives frugally, friends suggest she should sell out.  I suppose her place is “worth” some million and more quid.  She insists on staying.

Southbank shopping arcade Millennium Pedestrian Bridge

Curiously on arriving here my hosts had just returned from the Edinburgh Film Festival, since a few years moved from its old slot in the midst of the August Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which in the decades since I was there last has ballooned into a massive affair in which the film folks seem to have gotten lost.  They now do their thing in June.  My friends brought with them a DVD of a film they hadn’t managed to catch, Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job.  It is a very well done “talking head” film, cross cutting nicely done such heads, aerial over-views of the canyons of Manhattan, and news footage (most more talking heads, though some of prostitutes and coke snorting), all done in a brisk manner, quickly delineating this heist of the new century.   It back-tracks in history to the Reagan first steps towards deregulation of our economic mechanisms, all in the name of the theory that the “free market” is self-correcting, and in effect always comes up a winner.   Then to the Clinton-signed nullification of the Glass-Stegal Act which long ago – in the 30’s – limited the kinds of investments banks could make.  And then on through the wild west ride of the last several decades, with bubbles growing and bursting – etc. – on up to the 2008 housing mortgage bust.  The main characters are put in the place – Greenspan, Bernanke, Paulson, Geithner (the whole revolving-door system in which members of Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street titans go in and out of government service to the Fed or Treasury, rigging things for themselves) – and the steps by which the end-times Bush collapse came to be.  Then Paulson, Sec. of the Treasury, announced with a trembling Bush at his side that the global economy would simply collapse if the Federal government didn’t pony up a mere 800 billion dollars to the banks. Now!  No questions asked!   He did as commanded, and his successor, Mr Obama has done likewise, acquiescing to every wish of our financial titans.   The reason is simple: the financial community some time ago simply bought the entire governmental system – the Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary.  Hence, though as Inside Job clearly points out, while vast frauds and crimes were the root source of the economic crisis of 2008, virtually no one has been prosecuted or imprisoned, short of the sacrificial goat of Bernie, a small-fry Ponzi-schemer with good connections.   On watching the film clips of the sweaty, inarticulate likes of Angelo Mozilo (head of Countrywide mortgage outfit), or Lloyd Blankfein (CEO Goldman Sachs) during the mild Congressional questioning one could only think of mafioso dons, who these characters looked like, and seemed to act like, with their hands caught in the Fed’s fat cookie jar.   However, today they still masquerade in the same banker’s pin-stripes rather than in the other kind they properly should be wearing in the Big House.

Southwark Cathedral

Today, across the English Channel, comes the news that the French government is busy scrambling to salvage the nation’s banks from the effects of the looming Greek default.  As it happens they (along with other European banks, and by extension America’s – since the US banks loaned heavily their cheap .5% Fed loans to them for a far higher rate, a true cash-cow if ever there were one) are deeply enmeshed in the Greek situation, and should Greece default rather than bend to the extortionist’s demands of the banks, suddenly many a European bank will be minus hundreds of billions of Euro.  Poor dears.  Of course it is supposed to be that we should tremble at this word.   (Note:  Goldman Sachs was deeply involved in teaching the at-that-time right-wing/conservative government of Greece how to cook the books to meet EU community entry requirements.  Doubtless the same Goldman Sachs, knowing the truth, bought insurance on the collapse and will make a bundle when it happens.)  So the dominoes hidden from sight continue to tumble and the bankers and governments scramble to keep the illusion afloat.  And perhaps for some more months, or even a year or two, they’ll manage to juggle enough to do so.  Or perhaps not.

When it is all done, perhaps the Tube will cost a lot less since it is difficult to extract money from those with none of it.  Unless, of course, you’d like to borrow as some pleasant rate.

While there is little here which is new, I print below in full an editorial from the New York Times, printed today, which merely underlines that the United States of America has devolved into a full-fledged “legal” police-state.  To say, as described below, the President of the Nation may, on whatever evidence, however flimsy and false, declare some person a terrorist, or some other word, and on this assertion that person may be kidnapped by agents of the State, deposited in some secret place, tortured (or killed) and gosh darn, it’s all OK, legal, and the Supreme Court says that’s the way it is.  The cover for this is “state secrets” and of course anything illegal/horrendous/criminal which the State does falls under this curtain.  So it’s official, out-in-the-open, and declared by the Supreme Court of America, one of the alleged institutionalized systems of  “checks and balances” which we claim is a hallmark of our “democracy.”   America, beacon to the world, shining city on a hill, “the beautiful”, is a police-state, no different than Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Third Reich, or any other tin-pot dictatorship where your life is tolerated on the whim of a bureaucrat and a “leader,” whichever title they are accorded.   That it hasn’t reached you just yet is your luck or acquiescence or participation.

Malign Neglect

Published: May 21, 2011

President Obama has adopted the same legal tactic of using the secrecy privilege to kill lawsuits. So the only hope was that the courts would not permit these widely known abuses of power to go unchecked.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court abdicated that duty. It declined to review a case brought by five individuals who say — credibly — that they were kidnapped and tortured in overseas prisons. The question was whether people injured by illegal interrogation and detention should be allowed their day in court or summarily tossed out.

The court’s choice is a major stain on American justice. By slamming its door on these victims without explanation, it removed the essential judicial block against the executive branch’s use of claims of secrecy to cover up misconduct that shocks the conscience. It has further diminished any hope of obtaining a definitive ruling that the government’s conduct was illegal — a vital step for repairing damage and preventing future abuses.

The lead plaintiff, an Ethiopian citizen and resident of Britain named Binyam Mohamed, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. The C.I.A. turned him over to Moroccan interrogators, who subjected him to brutal treatment that he says included cutting his penis with a scalpel and then pouring a hot, stinging liquid on the open wound.

After the trial court gave in to the secrecy argument, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the case should proceed. It said the idea that the executive branch was entitled to have lawsuits shut down with a blanket claim of national security would “effectively cordon off all secret actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the C.I.A. and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.”

Last September, the full appeals court, ruling en banc, reversed that decision by a 6-to-5 vote. The dissenters noted that the basic facts of the plaintiffs’ renditions were already public knowledge. But the majority gave in to the pretzel logic shaped by the Bush administration that allowing the torture victims a chance to make their case in court using nonsecret evidence would risk divulging state secrets.

The Supreme Court allowed that nonsense to stand.

It is difficult to believe there are legitimate secrets regarding the plaintiffs’ ill treatment at this late date. Last year, a British court released secret files containing the assessment of British intelligence that the detention of Mr. Mohamed violated legal prohibitions against torture and cruel and degrading treatment.

The Supreme Court should have grabbed the case and used it to rein in the distorted use of the state secrets privilege, a court-created doctrine meant to shield sensitive evidence in actions against the government, not to dismiss cases before evidence is produced.

But this is not the first time the Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility to hear cases involving national security questions of this sort. A year ago, the Supreme Court refused to consider the claims of Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian whom the Bush administration sent to Syria to be tortured. In 2007, the court could not muster the four votes needed to grant review in the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen subjected to torture in a secret overseas prison.

As President Obama’s first solicitor general, Justice Elena Kagan was in on the benighted decision to use overwrought secrecy claims to stop any hearing for torture victims. She properly recused herself from voting on the case. Surely among the eight remaining judges there was at least one sensitive to the gross violation of rights, and apparently law. We wish they would have at least offered a dissent or comment to let the world know that the court’s indifference was not unanimous.

Instead, what the world sees is rendition victims blocked from American courts while architects of their torment write books bragging about their role in this legal and moral travesty. Some torture victims bounced from American courts, including Mr. Mohamed and Mr. Arar, have received money from nations with comparatively minor involvement in their ordeals.

The Supreme Court’s action ends an important legal case, but not President Obama’s duty to acknowledge what occurred, and to come up with ways to compensate torture victims and advance accountability. It is hard, right now, to be optimistic.

And so, as America goes about the world loudly preaching “freedom” and “democracy” its Executive and Legislative bodies, along with its final Judicial organ, all accept and authorize what is nothing but a police-state.   This once was done somewhat covertly, in “black sites” and hidden behind euphemisms such as “state secrets.”   It is now done openly, with the judiciary behaving like good Nazi judges, doing what was “legal.”  Under Obama’s administration this continues and is amplified:  Guantanamo remains open for business;  Bradley Manning, alleged source of Wikileaks State Department cables, is kept in inhumane conditions clearly designed to break him and the President signs off on it as “proper.”  Whistle-blowers are imprisoned.

Of course it is difficult for most Americans to believe and accept that their “shining city on a hill” and “land of the free, home of the brave” is in fact a police-state, though getting on a flight in the US should serve as a firm hint.  But it is.  Domestically it incarcerates its own citizens (admittedly with a distinct racial bias) in numbers far higher than other nations; it subjects its citizens to endless forms of control and surveillance; abroad it flies robot drones to kill at will, it invades countries on false pretexts, and stations its armed forces around the world.   This is the reality of the United States of America.  It is a militarized police-state acting at the behest of its corporate controllers, internally and externally.

If he had not been joking, Lars von Trier would feel quite at home here, in a country he has always refused to visit.

Randy Savage, dead professional wrestler

Addendum, May 23:  Quoted in the same paper of record, the retiring Secretary of Defense, reiterating that America’s ruling elite is intent on remaining the dominant imperial power for the foreseeable future, all of course, in the name of “national interests.”

“More than any other secretary of defense, I have been a strong advocate of soft power — of the critical importance of diplomacy and development as fundamental components of our foreign policy and national security,” Mr. Gates said. “But make no mistake, the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power — the size, strength and global reach of the United States military.”

He warned, “the lessons of history tell us we must not diminish our ability or our determination to deal with the threats and challenges on the horizon, because ultimately they will need to be confronted.”

The US maintains 700 listed military bases throughout the world; “black” sites are of course a “state secret.”    Military spending as accounted (falsely) by the government consumes about 50 percent of annual expenditures.  I write “falsely” as budgeting deliberately tries to mask some military costs, for example putting our nuclear arsenal – very costly – largely under the Department of Energy budget.  Similarly other such expenses are not placed under the Pentagon’s budget, and of course the burgeoning systems of the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA are separate accounts.  The police-state imperial-minded military-industrial-media complex is alive and well in the America of the 21st century.

New York Times Logo inverted flipped

In response to an Editorial page item on the failure of communications during 9/11, and in their view the failure to fix that since, I wrote this which they declined to print:

The real communications failure of 9/11 was the curious failure of the defense system in the most highly-defended air corridor in the country. Curiously on that very same day it was conducting, under VP Cheney, an exercise in which fictional hi-jacked civilian aircraft were supposedly attacking. The Air Force was busy playing games, and had sent most of its planes far to the North. Confusion reigns. Indeed. Deliberate? The behavior of the government immediately after suggests something: they did not want an investigation; they stone-walled and testified not under oath when forced; they produced a white-wash of a paper that didn’t take testimony from inconvenient people who as engineers and architects questioned the official explanation for the collapse of WTC 1 and 2, and the curious demise of sensitive-office holding WTC 7, only very modestly damaged from the debris of the WTC towers.

This is the communications failure most pertinent to 9/11 and it should be fully and independently investigated so that the full truth of that event is told to the American people.

And another response, which unfortunately I did not save, regarding Israel’s position in current supposed peace efforts was also not printed.  I wrote that Israel exists as a consequence of European maltreatment of the Jewish people for several thousand years, based on Christian mythologies.   After WW2 and exposure of the Holocaust, the bad conscience of Europe off-shored the “problem” to the so-called Holy Lands, dispossessing the inhabitants – Palestinians – of their land and homes to do so.  Resolving this conundrum is really largely the responsibility of Europe and the US which were primarily responsible for inventing Israel as a concrete matter, at the cost of another people’s home.   Evidently for the Times such thoughts are impermissible.

Osama and Obama, dead man, happy man

Seizing the headlines, the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s demise, pre-Twittered into the cyber-sphere, beating the official corporate news by some tens of minutes, and the authorized official Obama statement by an hour or more, has thrown the nation into a tizzy of patriotic gore, with crowds waving flags and chanting USA! USA!  This will be a momentary bit of euphoria, and then once again the steady downward grind of American wealth and its vastly unequal distribution will resume.  However, for the moment Obama has his dim-wit political opposition snookered, with the strident right suddenly stripped of one of their usual bats, unable for the moment to huff and puff about weakness, national defense, and the rest of their usual rhetorical garbage.  Obama clearly knows this, and is doubtless looking forward to the 1012 elections, thinking, “Let the best Republican win!”   He is quite aware that he is the best Republican.  And so our Kabuki politics go.

Bringing out the blood-lust element in American society, we take on the characteristics of those tribal societies we’re inclined to say aren’t up to “democracy,” societies in which honor, revenge and such things take on such dominant qualities.  Of course when one thinks of what America has done while single-mindedly tracking down the master-mind of 9/11 (or at least that’s the story we’ve been told) one has to wonder just which culture is fixated on revenge, or as some of our pundits have pondered, just who has won and who has lost?  Certainly if we add up the real costs which have been inflicted on America and the world in general it must be conceded that Osama bin Laden’s September attack has run up a bill wildly out of proportion to the costs which al Qaeda has shelled out.  Our costs are in the trillion dollar range, and include daily submissions to governmental intrusions on all communications, being manhandled and x-rayed for any flight, and myriad other assaults-by-authority on one’s person, all in the name of  “security.”  Whatever Constitutional rights Americans once imagined themselves to possess, they were shredded promptly in our hot-blooded pursuit of Osama and “safety.”  I won’t here go into the seemingly endless list of affronts which have been “legally” jammed down the throats of American citizens in this endeavor.

Once this testosterone jag subsides, the sad truth is that Americans, and for sure with Mr Obama taking the lead in it, will begin to see fit to truly put 9/11 behind them.  Which is only natural psychologically, but politically it is toxic.  The real story of September 11, 2001, has never been told, or even remotely investigated as it should.  Instead it was immediately subject to a white-wash and to the curious and indicative behavior of the Bush administration.  Subject to the first real attack on American soil in several centuries, the government insisted no investigation should be done at all!  When it was unable to get away with that it stone-walled, and when finally forced into some kind of inquiry and interviews of itself, Bush-Cheney were only interrogated, at their insistence, together, and not under oath.  The 9/11 commission ended issuing a white-wash which posited a transparently fake theory on how the WTC buildings 1 and 2 fell, and ignored the non-impacted, scarcely damaged WTC7 and its curious into-its-footprint collapse.  The list of other strange omissions, willful denial of certain contradicting experts, and all the rest of the Bush administration’s actions point to a very different story than that which the public was asked to swallow.

Bush, in class on 9/11

Look at this video of President Bush when being informed of the attack, and does it not look like a little boy who has been told his deepest evil wish just came true?   All the publicly available information on the events of 9/11, points directly to some kind of collusion and a priori knowledge of the attack.  The government’s behavior immediately after suggests an intention to hide, cover-up and use the event for ulterior political purposes, specifically to attack Iraq in keeping with the plans of he Neo-con group The New American Century, which included Vice-President Cheney, and proposed that America should unashamedly commence acting like an Empire, and do so using a major provocation as the excuse. (Note: the link is to a cached version of the website which the organization took down some time after 9/11 occurred and it had been noted that their program appeared to call for something like that very event as a trigger for their policies to commence.)

And President Obama, as with everything else, doubtless would like us all to put it all behind us.  Because he is part of the same system which runs America, and there are certain things it is better we do not know.  So we are supposed to think.

[Update, May 4, 2011.]

White House spokesperson Mr. Carney, backtracking

The crowds waving flags haven’t yet withdrawn and the White House is already altering its “narrative” of the capture, killing, execution, murder, or whatever the appropriate word is for the demise of Osama bin Laden.  As usual “the fog of war” occludes, even for, and perhaps especially for, those in its midst.   From the more heroic tale of yesterday in which an armed Osama resisted capture though using a woman, his wife, as a “human shield,” and his body duly washed and wrapped in white, per Muslim custom, and then “tipped” into the Arabian sea, today’s news yields another Rashomon-style version.  Now it is said Osama was unarmed but “resisted” and that the wife in question was wounded in the leg, while another woman, unrelated, was killed along with two “couriers.”  And the crucial missing evidence, like Obama’s birth certificate was until recently, remains unseen, doubtless awaiting an opportune moment for unveiling, certainly to be accompanied with some mealy-mouthed net-style words about how distasteful it is to be forced to show “the image.”  Certainly many hours and days of government minds calculating the damage, PR value, political effects, etc. will have gone into the equation before that photo is displayed.  In the meantime the US military or whomever was responsible shows its historical consistency in this little bit, tacked on at the end of a NY Times article today:

“But finally,” Mr. Panetta said, “Admiral McRaven came back and said that he had picked up the word ‘Geronimo,’ which was the code word that represented that they got Bin Laden.”

Apache Chief GeronimoGeronimo, right, with his warriors

There is an anecdote told concerning Sheridan during his campaign against the Indians. Comanche Chief Tosawi, or Silver Knife, reputedly told Sheridan in 1869, “Me Tosawi. Me good Indian,” to which Sheridan is said to have replied, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” This was then misquoted as “The only good Indian is a dead Indian”. Sheridan later denied he had made the statement to Tosawi. Earlier that year, on May 28, Rep. James M. Cavanaugh said in the House, “I have never seen in my life a good Indian … except when I have seen a dead Indian.” That remark may have been mistakenly attributed to Sheridan.  (From Wikipedia.)

As indicated here, the United States Government, and its agencies, have had a long history of wrong-footing themselves in the communications realm.

Geronimo with General Crook

General Phillip Sheridan

Still playing cowboys and Indians.

Ai Weiwei

With no irony intended, two reports regarding Chinese art were made on the same day, one being:

Record price set for Chinese contemporary art

$10 million painting boosts Chinese

contemporary market

While the other was that China’s most famous artist, Ai Weiwei, had been arrested and taken away by the police, whereabouts presently unknown.  They also raided his studio, confiscated many things, and took away 10 assistants who were held and then released.  His top assistant was not released.  See this for more information.

Ai Weiwei piece in London’s Tate Modern Turbine Gallery

Ai Weiwei has recurrently been in the news, for things of various kinds: he was reportedly beaten by Chinese police, causing a brain hemorrhage; his recent installation in the Tate Modern Gallery was closed to its original public you-can-walk-on-it intention when it turned out that as many Chinese products, it emitted toxins; he was partner in designing the Birds Nest Stadium built for the Beijing Olympics, which spectacle he then denounced as a show-biz cover-up of Chinese government oppression.  Following ancient Chinese Confucian traditions, the intellectual/artist speaks truth to power, and as usual, gets in trouble for the bother.

Bird’s Nest by Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Weiwei

While the sale of “Ever Lasting Love”  (which looks a painting of dubious qualities) appears to my eyes to be a probable art market manipulation on the part of Belgian collector Baron Guy Ullens, who happens to have a large collection of contemporary Chinese art and is probably looking to, well, collect on it, is a good demonstration of how capitalism has emerged triumphant in China, it is also ironically an indication of how it has failed.  Can anyone imagine an artist in the Western or Western-oriented capitalist world being such a threat to the establishment that they would be arrested or beaten for making provocative comments about the government or society?  The Western version of capitalist “democracy” is endlessly more effective at co-opting, censoring, or making old Soviet-style “non-persons” of local dissenters.  If an artist does not become filthy rich – usually selling glossy crap – then we simply do not hear of them.

Beautiful Helios Hysteria Intense Painting (with Extra Inner Beauty), 2008

Damien Hirst and costly diamond studded skull

Japan’s Murakami in Versailles

Jeff Koons Jeff Koons, “”Balloon Dog”

In our corrupted culture, those allowed a public face are those who are part and parcel of that culture and their work not only is innocuous, but it celebrates the corruption which is the culture.  Anyone who does not fit into this schema is simply banished, ignored by a corporately owned interlocking system of mass media, museums, universities and other institutional systems which function as censors negatively and as cheer-leaders “positively.”  When we read about the arts it is equivalent to reading the stock market listings for the day: the talk is all about money, and its corruptions, though naturally they do not say it that way.

[Update headline.]

China States Charge Against Artist

In a brief NYTimes item on April 7, 2011, it was announced that the Chinese government has resorted to that old USSR and other dictatorial system standby of charging Ai Weiwei with “economic crimes.”  Which usually translates as not paying taxes, or “laundering money” (Sergei Paradjanov was imprisoned by the Soviets for this alleged crime) or other such often nebulous offenses.  It is clear that the Chinese government simply wants to shut this man up, and so….

Ai Weiwei sculpture

Door of the old NY Times Building

In a few more days the NY Times will put up a “pay wall” for its on-line edition, which has already caused a stink on the net, from those who insist it should be “free.”   At risk of causing some ire here and there, I’d have to say that given the realities of the newspaper business – what is left of it – I think the Times has a good case.  Newspaper readership is, courtesy of the net, way way down.  In turn, so is advertising revenue, the traditional money-maker for newspapers.  It does cost money to have reporters sprinkled around the country and the globe, to organize it all, edit, and publish it.  So until some Valhalla arrives for us all, and money grows on trees instead of on Wall Street, if you use something like the Times, a little pay is in order.  They let you read 20 articles a month “free” and then want $15 a month if you use more.  That’s 50 cents a day.  For one cup.   A visit to your local “coffee” shop for a mug of whatever gets you mugged for 6 to 10 times that.   So I’d say it’s a reasonable price.


Compositor on old-fashioned Adobe Illustrator machine

That said, last week Frank Rich, who used to be their theater critic until the theater of our national politics pulled him toward the less sublime, announced his departure – to do more serious writing he said.  He was one of the best mainstream columnists we have – insightful, a good writer, and able to intelligently go a bit deeper than most in his trade.  Probably has something to do with his training in the arts.   And then this week Bob Herbert, of whom the same could be said, though he tended to be a bit more rough and tumble in the interests of the poor and deprived, announced his departure after 18 years.   Who the Times replaces them with is being interpreted as a reading of political tea-leaves:  lean to the right? the left?   Some have said without these two the pay wall is too high to climb.

At present the right is well represented by two dreadful columnists, David Brooks and Ross Douthat.  Both act as seeming straw-men for those, like myself, who place comments.  Both are by-the-book Republicans (sort of redundant since that is what more or less defines Republicans), though Brooks tries his hardest to play some kind of well-meaning intellectual but almost immediately flounders around as soon as something veers from right-wing assumptions.   And, to put it frankly, while he is among the supposed luminaries of conservative America’s “thinkers” I find him rather stupid, to put it kindly.  He is a perfect example of someone boxed in by his own ideological blinders, so he stumbles forth, not even seeming to note when this or that evidence leads axiomatically to something he does not believe in.

David Brooks, Alfred E. Neuman, Ross Douthat

Mr Douthat (whose name I always subliminally read as Doubt that) is allegedly a youthful rising star of the conservative right.  If he doesn’t watch his eating habits he won’t be rising too much – this is a flattering picture of him. He is the kind of right-winger who seems to know some positions are indefensible and rather than thundering louder as his compatriots would, he stutters and says he’d prefer to not discuss it in public.  Say, gay marriage.   Taken together, if it happened that intellectual capacity – to say the ability to see something, analyze it, articulate what you can see, and draw perhaps a conclusion or two – were of any import in our political dialogue, these two, among the leading lights of the right, suggest it would be no contest in any such a debate.  However because it is not of any import – neither an intellectual capacity, or the honesty to concede a fact is a fact – it means these two, among others, are given time on the national airwaves to press their opinions, as stupid as they are, and to collect doubtless a nice pay-check from the Gray Lady for their weekly scribbles.   Surely some right-wing “think tank” also contributes nicely to their income.

Yesterday, responding to Mr Brook’s column of the day, I wrote the following, which for some reason was not published (usually I do get published, though also yesterday one got censored, I suspect because I used the term “A-hole” and this, for our lady, is evidently beyond the pale.)  His column was on Muammar Gaddafi, and how weird he is, and how weirdness seems to serve tyrants.

“They are untroubled by doubt or concern for the good opinion of others since they already possess absolute truth.”

Hmmm… while perhaps not quite so extreme, wasn’t there someone a little closer to home who was kinda like this, along with some of the other traits you ascribe to good old Muammar? But as I recall you kinda liked that feel-it-in-my-gut guy.

You seem to vacillate like a political weather-vane: when it’s something you like and is close to political home, hey, it’s OK; when not, the very same qualities can become anathema.

Historically there have been a lot of these characters – from Caligula on (and of course, far before him too). It tells you something about the ordinary everyday person’s character, too.

Good old Muammar

Meanwhile the world’s news continues at such a fast clip it’s rather hard to keep up with.  The middle-east continues to erupt, now with the US/NATO playing protectors of the Libyan uprising, not only maintaining a “no-fly” policy, but blasting the hell out of any of Muammar’s armor, cannons, etc.  Sort of, literally and metaphorically, “leveling the playing field.”  This of course has led to a field day of the commentariat of both American right and center talking heads (we don’t really have a left, though that which we have has also fallen into the to do/be or not chorus) who are caught, as usual, talking out of whichever side of the mouth seems convenient at the moment.  Or sometimes both at the same time.  Presidential candidate Grigrich made a 180 degree turn on the matter in two days.   Those who cheered Bush’s bombast, now excoriate Obama.  Or vice versa.  Were there not so many bodies strewn around the theater set, it would be comic, but it is not.

And while Libya yanked our attentions from Egypt, there the army goes about clamping down, the mask coming off quickly to show the same old powers-that-be are not going easily and in fact are ready to hop into bed with the not-so-long-ago arch-enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, in order to secure that hold onto power (and all their intertwined businesses).  Presumably the Brotherhood has tested the waters and thinks the game is coming down on the army’s side.   But, next to the airshow next door, this is nada for the news.

Tracers over Tripoli

On with the news:  Saudi troops rolled into Bahrain, (among other things it hosts a large US Naval Base), there to tamp down the Shiite uprising against the Sunni minority ruling class in the interest of next-door neighbor Saudia Arabia, itself also seeming to be infected with the spirit of the middle-east spring.  In Yemen things oscillate back and forth, and now even in hard-nosed Syria the folks are rising up (only to be gunned down while Assad, son of the previous Assad, sends out his spoke’s-lady to claim he ordered no shooting – but the shooting goes on, and another town goes up in protest, and the famed souk in Damascus is filled with rhythmic shouting calling for an end to the regime, and it appears in a few more weeks likely another middle-eastern potentate will come crashing down.  Syria is next door to Iran, where, in a sense we could say all this started some two years ago.  Will it come full circle?  Tune in tomorrow.

Meantime while it has mostly slipped to the back of the line, the post-tsunami nuclear catastrophe in Japan carries on with no evident solution in sight.  Instead, sort of brushed out of sight, it festers and perhaps grows worse.  Radiation spills out, the threat of an imminent melt down in reactor #3 (out of 6) hints at worse to come.  Now the ring of radiation leakage has worked its way all the way to Europe, and food and water in the region is contaminated, and naturally nuclear energy industry speakers come forth to say it’s not that dangerous, and more people are killed and hurt by coal, and it was the tsunami’s fault, and not the industry’s, and other mealy-mouthed defenses.  Money talks, like we said.


Fukushima reactor #3Tsunami

That’s just a little bit of “the news.”  If you lived in other parts you might be concerned with the million refugees from the civil war in the Ivory Coast, or in Portugal with the economy crumbling and imminent “austerity” measures.  Or closer to home the Conservative Canadian government just collapsed owing to corruption scandals (surprise surprise!).  And of course down, way down, south there’s the on-going drug wars.

But here in America, at a Las Vegas trade show for electronics, there was this new toy – a dancing robot you can control with your cell phone or I-pad.  Now there’s something to write home about!

Dancing robots (aka American voters)


Censored by the Times (again).

A little update, March 28:  this weekend sent in early two comments, one to Maureen Dowd, other to the absurd Thomas Friedman.  Seems both were too something for our censors at the Gray  Lady.  Here’s what I wrote – which is nothing that wasn’t said by a lot of others – particularly to Friedman – by responders.  Must be something personal:

It appears Mr Friedman is able – or perhaps compulsively needful – to nurse his delusions forever.

“…..helping Iraqis manage multiple fair elections was that they had a credible neutral arbiter throughout this transition: the U.S. …”

I think there are many, most likely a majority, of Iraqis who would seriously dispute the credibility of America as a “neutral arbiter.”  I do not think one gains such credibility by the actions and behaviors of America in Iraq since, oh well, since Rummy shook hands with his good buddy Sadaam Hussein way back when.  It is only in Mr Friedman’s American imperialist fantasies that such credibility could occur.

Tipping his real hand, Mr Friedman says:

“Democracy requires 3 things: citizens — that is, people who see themselves as part of an undifferentiated national community where anyone can be ruler or ruled.”

This is what an authoritarian like Mr Friedman could think.  No, democracy is not “ruled” by someone; rather someone serves the people. But not in Mr Friedman’s world: it’s rule or be ruled.  This is not the choice a meaningful democracy offers, but it is the choice an autocracy gives.

Mr Friedman persistently demonstrates the he is no qualified to speak about the things he so constant speaks about.


I neglected to save the Dowd response, it was essentially a review of Broadway musical about Mormons, and I suggested there are more serious things going on in the world.  And then I responded to an Editorial Board item, and it too was not printed.

While it will be interesting to see which way the court tilts, it has long been that our legal system tilts – drastically – towards “money.” A real life experience showed me that: while in prison for refusing military service (1965-67) I met a fair number of people doing 5 years for possession of modest amounts of marijuana (those doing time for that now are many more, but mostly not light-skinned). On getting out while living with a very rich young woman her brother was caught on the Mexican border trailing a fancy power boat full of marijuana. After the first judge who was bought inconveniently dropped dead from a heart-attack the second Federal judge gave him 6 months. Money talks – bs walks. The All-American Way!

Ever it always was and will be: legal systems invariably serve the powers that be; the power in America, as always, is money.


The biggest recorded earth-quake arrived off the coast of Japan,  a place much accustomed to such tectonic shifts, sitting as it does directly along the Pacific Rim “Ring of Fire,” and in a handful of minutes unleashed a tsunami of epic proportions.  The news at the moment I write suggests a thousand and some dead, though the images caught by cell phones and little HD cameras surely tells another story, of tens of thousands or perhaps 100’s of thousands.  Meantime two nuclear reactors, sitting on the shoreline, are spewing radioactivity, their cooling systems ruptured.  Authorities tell bland stories seeking to calm the fractured nerves of the populace, though each passing hour seems to betray their assurances.

Japan, historically habituated to the jangled reality of plate tectonics, in some measure has done about as much as possible to deal with the physical effects of earthquakes.  It has strict construction and engineering codes, intended to adequately deal with the motions incurred when a part of the crust of our earth slips against a neighboring piece, and as occurred during this earthquake many of the tall skyscrapers of Tokyo swayed back and forth, built flexibly, like an airplane wing, to absorb the energies unleashed, and to dissipate them in movement.  Doubtless for the occupants of those buildings the effect was nauseous, but far better than were they rigid and had simply broken up and collapsed.

Yet, “in some measure” proves not adequate in the face of what nature can really throw at us once in a while.  The only defense against the tsunami that ravaged the north east coast of Honshu, would simply be to not populate it.  A low lying coastal plain, good for agriculture on a very crowded mostly mountainous island, this was simply not an option.  And even the most solid of seawalls would have done nothing meaningful in the face of the tsunami that hit them.  Cars and trains, whole neighborhoods of houses and factories – all were bandied about by the forces as if playthings.   It is then just a gamble to live there, a gamble the Japanese have little choice about making.

Nuclear plant that was badly damaged

In the 19th century, Japan, previously isolated by choice, in the face of the Western intrusions, chose to compete on Western terms.  It industrialized, and is in this time perhaps the most industrialized area of the world.  The computer I am writing on was made there, as are the cameras I shoot with, and many other things I have come from this powerhouse.  Yet, beyond the energy and discipline of its people, Japan has little to warrant its industrialization in terms of natural resources: it has no oil, its habitable and arable land is very limited by its geography, it lacks many other natural resources which most other industrial nations possess.   Japan must import almost everything except for the labor that goes into its industrial manufacturing.  It was a choice, an elemental one, which has  guided Japanese politics ever since.   It was Japan’s Faustian bargain with the future – to make itself utterly dependent on the import of almost everything it requires to be an industrialized society.  And in turn this guided such decisions as to build nuclear reactors adjacent to the fault-lines which guaranteed major earthquakes would arrive at some time.  As we have seen in the last days, even the most stringent of engineering does not suffice to make such plants “safe” in such conditions.  As the map above shows, Japan is littered with nuclear energy plants.  Nuclear power now provides about 30% of Japan’s energy “needs.”  Most of the rest is from oil (50%) and coal (15%).   Almost all of this must be imported.

Nuclear power stations

The US, though on the West coast accustomed to earthquakes, has done far less in legislating construction requirements, or other measures intended to cope with these events and their consequences.  There is no question that an earthquake near the intensity of the in Japan will strike the US, perhaps most likely along the Pacific Coast, but perhaps on the Madrid fault-line in the Mid-West.  With far less precaution taken in engineering, or even utter thoughtlessness in their placement – I recall in the early 70’s construction was begun on a plant in Bodega Bay, the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, on a lovely site overlooking the Pacific, and after they had begun to dig the foundations it was halted, not for being an aesthetic insult, but because it sat directly on top of a major fault-line, one that had jumped laterally 8-12 feet in some places in the San Francisco Earthquake of 1909 – America could expect far more catastrophic consequences both to the nuclear plants, and architecture in general, in an equivalent shake.  However, despite the forewarning provided by this week’s events, one doubts that real measures will be taken to reinforce architecture, or perhaps close down certifiably dangerous power plants, even though there is, in the longer run, a 100% assurance that a catastrophe will strike.

It will be interesting to see if in the coming time the Japanese, being a far more social/collective culture, have second thoughts on their bargain with the future, and begin to dismantle their nuclear stations and perhaps even conclude that the costs of industrialization are in fact fatal for them.  In America, it is almost assured that our capitalist and “individualist” ethic will result in little being done for the communal welfare in this regard: the power stations will remain (or multiply if some have their way); architectural engineering will be as cheap as profit-making allows, and one day the price will be paid.

The San Francisco 1989 earthquake

San Francisco earthquake 1909

San Andreas fault, everything on west side moving to Alaska

In light of the most recent word on the reactors, here is a map of potential fall-out:

See this for a remarkable example of both the technological capacities of our time, and of the power of nature to wash them away.  One day the sun will in its death throws explode and obliterate all the planets spinning around it; we will have very long before departed.  Sic transit etc.

[This item in the NY Times seems to suggest I am not the only one thinking perhaps Japan should consider stepping out of the technological industrial race and trying just to make a society for people to be happy.]

[Little update note, August 24, 2011:  in Paris saw my friend Toshi Fujiwara’s new film, No Man’s Zone, in late editing – he went to the Fukushima area about 3 weeks after the quake, and has made what I anticipate to be a very strong film on the devastation, the effects on local people, the duplicitous ways of government and corporations.]

Following days of equivocation, in which the US administration did the usual rhetorical mouthings about ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ while the backrooms busily calculated the nature of the natives’ uprising and how to deflate it, the sound of foot-dragging became the dominant note of the American political symphony, noted by one and all, and especially those in Egypt who were laying their lives on the line.  No one was deceived as America said order was the need of the moment, and the transfer of power from Mubarak to his right-hand man, Army General Suleiman, Chief of  Intelligence, overseer of torture, disappearances and all the usual practices of tyrants, be they Arabic or American, was the proper thing to do.  Tonight it appears Mubarak is making his move, hauling the $17 or is it $70 billions his family has skimmed off the $2 a day laborers of the Nile, and heading first for well protected Sharm el Sheik, doubtless to scurry off shortly to London or other digs.  Suleiman will take his place, mutter words about accommodating the demonstrators, as the military attempts to consolidate control – the same military which under US tutelage long ago morphed into a corporate system of production, distribution and, of course, bribery and other s.o.p.’s of iron-fisted dictatorships.  Our Barack, Nobel laureate, will sit back to wait for the dust to settle, with his military minions who have paid for and trained their Egyptian counterparts, and as noted by Leon Panella, official mobster-in-chief of the CIA, the shuffle will be done and all are supposed to be fooled.   Doubtless President Obama will mumble some articulate mealy-mouth words about freedom and democracy once again, and they will cross their fingers that the Egyptian people, exhausted, will accept the swift shift of the shells and be happy.

Unlike America’s now “professional” army, that of Egypt is conscripted, and while it offers certain benefits, especially to the higher ranks, it is reliant upon citizen soldiers.  So the question remains whether those citizens will follow unhappy orders, or break ranks.  Doubtless this is a concern of Suileman, now Vice President, as well as others of the Egyptian elite.   One feels the nervous hand of American CIA and military supervision moving the shells, crossing their fingers that the puppet strings still work.  The matter is made more complex by the alleged promise of the King of Saud house to personally put his 1.5 billion on the line in case America tries to cut off the Egyptian buck supply.  And of course the King of  Saudi Arabia has other leverage on his American friends – especially the US military, which is, surprise, surprise, the world’s single largest user of petroleum….

My uneducated guess is that the old invention of the military, the Internet, has opened a Pandora’s Box which will collapse the Empire which it was intended to protect from the communications collapse expected in a nuclear war.  Now it is the social-networking war at which government’s are proving curiously flat-footed.  Just deserves.

Let’s hope the Egyptian people don’t fall for the clumsy bait they’re being offered.  I seriously doubt they will.

White House pool reporters say that President Barack Obama has been watching events during a trip to Michigan. He told reporters, “We’re going to have to wait and see what’s going on.”

As if the US didn’t have direct communications going on with their clients in Egypt, and were not in a large measure calling many shots, even if final control eludes.   This entire sequence of events, if nothing else, has made utterly transparent that Barack Obama is a standard, Harvard-trained, Democrat of the “real politick” school of American imperialism and corporatism, someone who would feel quite at home having dinner with Henry Kissinger.   Anyone fooled any longer is, well, a fool.  Or, of course, a supporter of the corporate control of America and its politics.

The US is ever offering its wonderful lessons to the world, especially the Arabic world.  Perhaps it is long over due that we took some lessons from others.   In the case in Egypt today, one perhaps which our governmental masters in Washington will not like.   Real democracy?  Would that we had it in our Corporate States of America.

Today’s news would seem to confirm the below, mistakenly published on my other blog.   Our puppet met with the not real opposition of the moment, the Muslim Brotherhood, which in a perverse manner is part of the system and was very slow on the uptake in realizing the seriousness of the present uprising, and announced Mubarak would stay until September (translate: imprisoning and killing dissidents until they, as in Iran, subside into a manageable subservience) when new “elections” will be held, all of this under the watchful,  and supportive wing of Washington, for whom “order” is more important than human rights, democracy, or anything else.  Order meaning what appears to be in the interests of US corporations, our military’s oil supply, etc.

[An opinion piece by Ross Douthat, “conservative/right-wing columnist for the NY Times today, Feb 7, confirms the above and below:  Obama, in case anyone has failed to notice it, is a by-the-book hard-core American “real-politick” practitioner in which the nation’s financial and power-oriented interests trump all other objectives.]

Obama Backs Suleiman-Led Transition

Now, the United States and other Western powers appear to have concluded that the best path for Egypt — and certainly the safest one, to avoid further chaos — is a gradual transition, managed by Mr. Suleiman, a pillar of Egypt’s existing establishment, and backed by the military.

NYTimes “news” item with this blatant editorial line.

“The transition to democracy will only happen if it is deliberate, inclusive, and transparent,” she said. “The challenge is to help our partners take systematic steps to usher in a better future, where people’s voices are heard, their rights respected, and their aspirations met.”

Sec of State Hilary Clinton

In case anyone needs translation, General Suleiman was Mubarak’s right-hand man, head of the Egyptian Secret Service, and complicit (being very kind) in the torture and killing of many Egyptians in the last decades; not to mention a participant in American “extreme-renditions.”  Thus, in effect, the US has come down firmly in support of Mubarak by proxy, the military which is funded by America, and the whole panoply of American directed interests.  Any “change” coming to Egypt at the hands of Suleiman is about as credible as the “Change you can believe in” which Mr Obama has delivered to his supporters.

To imagine that the Egyptians are going to buy into this is pure folly, leaving the option of a bloody army-police crack-down clearly supported by US policy.   If this is done, obviously because America’s oil needs are under threat, especially if the uprising in Egypt should spread across the region, it will signal for Muslim’s around the world that when nitty comes to gritty, America’s sole interest is self-interest, and all the blather about “democracy” and “freedom” is kicked out the door once a real threat to our military’s oil supply is present:  the US military is the single world’s largest consumer of petroleum.

If anyone needs further proof that Obama is totally in the pockets of the US corporate ruling elite, which has supported Mubarak for 30 years, and has stood behind endless dictators, constantly feeding weapons, training, and ideological positions in support of America’s interests to the severe detriment of those people who have had to suffer under our choices, Mrs Clinton’s mealy-mouthed quotations seemingly lifted directly from Mubarak’s recent talk in which he said that without him there would be chaos should provide final confirmation.   Along the way, if America had any shred of credibility in the region (why it should is beyond comprehension) the Obama administration just burned it to a crisp with this policy decision.

Co-conspirators in the change you can believe in