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Learning to live with ecological uncertainty — Transition Voice

Learning to live with ecological uncertainty — Transition Voice.

roller coaster

In the age of catastrophic climate change, and two years following the horrifying meltdown of reactors at Fukushima’s nuclear power plant, we realize that both phenomena are profoundly impacting our species and the earth community.

What we don’t know with certainty is the exact extent of the damage being done.

In Alex Smith’s recent Radio Ecoshock interview with Robert Way of the University of Ottawa, Way explained that official figures greatly underestimate global heating. In his groundbreaking new paper, Way asserts that the EPA has low-balled methane emissions in the U.S. by half. Way’s findings were also published by the Guardian in a November 13 article “Global Warming Since 1997 More Than Twice As Fast As Previously Estimated.”

More recently the Japanese government has sought to pass a state secrets law that would place severe penalties on leakers of government secrets and journalists who might attempt to dig deeper than official government reports regarding the status of Fukushima.

As one who has been following updated reports on Fukushima for months, I can attest to what appears to be a dramatic decrease of coverage.

For example, only two weeks ago Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) informed the world that it would be attempting to remove some 1500 damaged fuel rods from Reactor 4 — a highly delicate and daunting task which some observers speculated could result in the breakage of rods and result in massive doses of radiation escaping.

Yet, we have heard little about how the procedure is unfolding, and overall, coverage of the state of the Fukushima plant for nearly three years has been sparse, with little attention being paid to it by mainstream media.

As with the more specific aspects of catastrophic climate change, the most significant details of the consequences of the Fukushima disaster are not available to us unless we dig deeply for them, and even then, it seems obvious that many pieces of the puzzle are just simply missing. Thus we are confronted with two issues that are probably the most life-threatening to our planet, but we sit with more unknowns than knowns. Indeed the most torturous aspect of any life-threatening situation is not knowing.

Parable of the lost dog

Recently, my friend Mike Ruppert lost his dog Rags.

During that time Mike was frantic to find his beloved companion, and all of us who love both of them were deeply pained by their separation. Where was Rags? Who knew? Mike had scoured the region where he lives but to absolutely no avail. Had Rags been devoured by coyotes, mountain lions, bears — had he been hit by a car or perhaps stolen?

For me, it’s one thing to be separated from my forever canine friend, and quite another not to know where or how he is. If he becomes ill and has to be put down, at least I know. But oh the heartache of losing a pet and not knowing where or how they are! Fortunately, Mike found his dog in a few days.

No more not knowing, but the torture of not knowing is inexplicable.

With catastrophic climate change we do know two things: We know that it is progressing with unimaginable speed, and we know that if it continues to do so, there will be few habitable places on earth by mid-century. Yet what else are we not being told? Does the silence matter? Will it make a difference ultimately?

With Fukushima, however, we know so much less. How much radiation has already been released? How much is being released every day? How much radiated water is actually being dumped into the Pacific Ocean every day? What is the actual size of the radiation plumes that are moving eastward in the Pacific toward the West Coast of North America? Specifically how are these affecting sea life and human life? What is the relationship between environmental illnesses or the incidence of cancer and Fukushima?

And the questions exacerbate and spin and swirl in our minds.

The absolute bottom line with both catastrophic climate change and the consequences of Fukushima: We simply don’t know most of the information we should know about these two horrific realities.

This is especially frustrating because industrial civilization has socialized us to know things.

Knowledge is power

All of our educational systems dictate that information, particularly accumulating as much as possible, is the brass ring. You either know or you don’t know, and if you don’t know, you are dis-empowered because, we are incessantly told, “knowledge is power.”

So in this culture, if you don’t know and can’t find out, then your best course of action is to ignore, deny, or pretend there’s nothing to know. Hence the dearth of reporting on either of the two life-threatening issues I’m addressing here. Most human beings on this planet cannot bear to know that the game may be over by mid-century or that they may develop cancer as a result of Fukushima radiation.

The paradigm of the scientific revolution, and ultimately of industrial civilization as a whole, left no room for uncertainty.

Twentieth-century physicists such as Einstein, Bohr, Planck, Schrodinger, and Heisenberg then pulled the rug out from under “certainty” with concepts such as “uncertainty,” “relativity,” and “wave mechanics.” These physicists plumbed the depths of ambiguity in the atomic particle and revealed to us the un-certainty with which it behaves. Nevertheless, tenacious attachment to certainty remained the mainstay of modern education.

From my perspective the root of modern humanity’s fundamental inner turmoil is the tension of these opposites: certainty and uncertainty. And while the study of relativity may be fun and fascinating, the mind demands answers, especially when confronted with the possibility of its own demise. When experts on nuclear radiation articulate grave concerns about the amount of radiation to which we are being exposed, we either turn a deaf ear or demand “proof.” How then is it possible to live with the uncertainty of our fate?

Comfortable with Uncertainty

Our ancient ancestors had much more experience with navigating uncertainty than we have. From their perspective, the greater wisdom is not to flee uncertainty or deny it, but rather immerse ourselves in it. Verbalizing a piece of this wisdom, in her book Comfortable With Uncertainty, Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön writes that “Sticking with uncertainty is how we learn to relax in the midst of chaos, how we learn to be cool when the ground beneath us suddenly disappears.”

In other words, Pema advises us to willingly enter the uncertainty and abide there, allowing the tension, fear, sorrow, and extreme vulnerabililty.

“We practice dropping whatever story we are telling ourselves,” she says, “and lean into the emotions and the fears…We make the choice, moment by moment, to be fully here.”

Why do we do this? Because the uncertainty, the fear, the vulnerability, the grief, and yes, the seeming unfairness of it all have something to teach us about being human — about being part of, not separate from, this extraordinary planet. And they have something to teach us about connecting with our own and other species. The ultimate lesson is one of compassion: for ourselves, for other species and other humans. Compassion means that I see your darkness, and you see mine, and as a result, we can be more present with each other. “Compassion becomes real,” according to Chödrön, “when we recognize our shared humanity.”

Openness to uncertainty may also allow us to explore other ways of knowing that are neither rational nor linear, yet reveal what is so.

My friend Mike is a tracker and has learned to honor myriad methods of knowing. At his wit’s end, he called a friend who called another friend living in India who has extraordinary psychic abilities, and that friend described the area in which Mike’s dog was wandering.

Mike drove there, and voilà! Dear old Rags.

The great vanishing

Opening to uncertainty guarantees that sooner or later, the heart will open, and when it does, we get to love and be loved — in spite of our bewildering fallibility. The playing field is leveled, no one gets to be special or exempt from the suffering inherent in the human condition. We discover that we need each other despite our inordinate obsession with independence. So much of what mattered before in our prison of certainty matters so little now. Or as Chödrön summarizes it: “Never underestimate the power of compassionately recognizing what’s going on.”

In times of extreme uncertainty such as we are currently experiencing — in times of wandering through the maze of conflicting facts and theories, one of our most trusted allies may be poetry — reading it, writing it, and reciting it to others by heart. Yes, “by heart” which is another way of saying “from the heart.” Prose is linear and more aligned with certainty whereas poetry values our uncertainty and the twists and turns of our frail human condition.

The poet Jane Hirshfield captures our predicament in “Against Certainty”:

When the cat waits in the path-hedge,
no cell of her body is not waiting…

I would like to enter the silence portion as she does.

To live amid the great vanishing as a cat must live,
one shadow fully at ease inside another.

Hirshfield gives us a priceless phrase, “the great vanishing,” which succinctly captures the fundamental essence of the time in which we live.

Clean air, pure water, unadulterated food, and 200 species per day — all vanishing.

And we along with them. Perhaps like the cat, we are all in the process of learning how to “completely disappear.” Like the cat we are waiting, but hopefully not simply to disappear. Our disappearance must serve a purpose, and in order for that to happen, we are waiting and working, waiting and loving, waiting and making amends, waiting and making the demise of other species less agonizing.

In the torture of not knowing, we are “challenged to stay in touch with the heart-throbbing quality of being alive,” says Chödrön, because “things are as bad and as good as they seem.”

This piece originally appeared on Speaking Truth to Power.

– Carolyn Baker, Transition Voice

 

 

Egypt police arrest students in fiery clashes – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Egypt police arrest students in fiery clashes – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

A new law allows police to clamp down on all but interior ministry-sanctioned demonstrations [AFP]
Police have arrested 144 protesters over violent clashes at a university in Cairo that left five students injured, one critically, Egypt’s ministry of interior has said.

The ministry said that the critically injured student was in intensive care with a bullet wound to the chest after the clashes at Al-Azhar University  on Monday.

Riot police fired tear gas at protesters at Al-Azhar University and a security official said several police cars were set on fire and petrol bombs thrown at officers in fresh clashes.

The students, supporters of ousted former president Mohamed Morsi, have held persistent protests since the start of the academic year in September.

The clashes came as Mohamed Badie, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, appeared in court for the first time since he was arrested in a state crackdown on the group following the army overthrow of Morsi.

Mahmoud Subeiha, the head of university security, told Egypt’s private CBC TV that he asked the police to enter the  campus Monday to put down the protests, which have frequently descended into clashes with police.

The students had rallied on Sunday against the referral of 21 of their colleagues to trial for earlier protests.

Meanwhile, Brotherhood General Guide Badie, 70, denied his group had perpetrated any violence, speaking from the cage reserved for defendants where he appeared with other prominent Islamists, including Mohamed el-Beltagi and Essam el-Erian.

Badie murder probe call

“Why aren’t you investigating the murder of my son, and the burning of my house and the groups’ offices?” said  Badie, referring to his 38-year old son killed in August 17 protests ignited by the violent dispersal of Brotherhood
sit-ins.

The case being heard on Monday relates to violence that flared in mid-July near a Brotherhood protest camp at Cairo University. Badie faces charges including inciting the violence.

Morsi’s downfall triggered the worst bout of internal strife in Egypt’s modern history.

The security forces killed hundreds of Morsi’s supporters during protests and some 200 soldiers and policemen have been killed. The army deposed Morsi on July 3 following mass protests against his rule.

Most of the Brotherhood’s leadership has been arrested since then.

Morsi is himself standing trial on charges of inciting the killing of protesters during violence outside the presidential palace a year ago. His trial began on November 4.

The defendants interrupted Monday’s session with chanting against generals whom the Brotherhood says have stolen power from the country’s first freely elected head of state.

“Down with military rule,” shouted Beltagi, leading the other defendants in chants.

The men on trial in the case include Bassem Ouda, the former minister of supplies.

 

Canada set up spy posts for U.S., new Snowden document shows – Politics – CBC News

Canada set up spy posts for U.S., new Snowden document shows – Politics – CBC News.

Canada set up spy posts for U.S.

Canada set up spy posts for U.S. 4:18

Canada has set up spying posts and conducted espionage at the request of the U.S. National Security Agency, according to top secret documents retrieved by US whistleblower Edward Snowden and reported exclusively by CBC News.

The information is contained in a four-page document marked Top Secret by the NSA and dated April 3, 2013. This makes it one of the freshest documents available in a trove of over 50,000 pages.

CBC has decided not to publish much of the information in the document because the information would be harmful to Canadian national security.

The document, a briefing note prepared for a senior leader at the NSA, describes the nature of the intelligence relationship between the United States’ largest spy agency and its Canadian partner, the Communications Security Establishment Canada.

It makes clear for the first time the intricate and intimate relationship between Canadian and American spy agencies that was formed in a secret agreement more than six decades ago.

The document goes further to show that a number of Americans are working at CSEC and Canadians are working at the NSA’s top-secret facility in Maryland.

In the document, the NSA depicts CSEC as a sophisticated, capable and highly respected intelligence partner involved in all manner of joint spy missions.

Putin closes down Russia’s state news agency – Europe – Al Jazeera English

Putin closes down Russia’s state news agency – Europe – Al Jazeera English.

Putin named a controversial figure as the head of Russia Today news agency [Reuters]
Russia’s president has abolished the country’s state-owned Ria Novosti news agency with no explanation issued to its staff.

Vladimir Putin announced the surprise move on Monday through a decree published on his website, saying the organisation would be replaced by a news agency called “Rossiya Segodnya” (Russia Today).

The new company will focus on “coverage abroad of Russian state policy and public life” with multilingual services as a way of “raising efficiency of state media resources,” the document published on the Kremlin website said.

Putin named Dmitry Kiselyov, a controversial figure often accused of being a propaganda mouthpiece and known for openly anti-gay, anti-American, and anti-opposition views, as the head of Russia Today.

“Restoring a fair attitude towards Russia as an important country in the world and one with good intentions – that is the mission of the new structure that I will head,” Kiselyov told the state TV broadcaster Rossiya 24.

“When this news first appeared, everyone thought it was a joke,” Russian protest leader and widely-followed blogger Alexei Navalny wrote on his Live Journal page. “But no.”

The dissolved agency

The news reportedly came as a shock to the staff of RIA Novosti with one employee, who asked not to be named, saying they found out from the Kremlin’s website.

No explanation was given, with an internal email merely warning that a “liquidation committee” would be formed and asked that everyone remained calm.

“The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape which appear to point towards a tightening of state control in the already heavily-regulated media sector,” RIA said in an English-language article about Putin’s step.

The agency was one of the biggest in the world and was also an official sponsor of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi next February.

It also recently became known for its detailed live reporting from Russia’s most high-profile trials.

RIA Novosti traced its roots to 1941 when the Soviet Information Bureau was established by communist rulers.

 

Thai Prime Minister Dissolves Parliament In Response To Protests, Calls For New Elections | Zero Hedge

Thai Prime Minister Dissolves Parliament In Response To Protests, Calls For New Elections | Zero Hedge.

Moments ago news hit the tape that during a televised speech in Bangkok, Thai Prime Minister has proposed a decree to dissolve parliament and call new elections. This is likely in response to the plans of government protesters, who had planned to march on Government House this morning to pressure Yingluck to step down and hold fresh elections.

BREAKING: Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolves Parliament, calls for elections.

— The Associated Press (@AP) December 9, 2013

Additionally, as VOA reports, a caretaker parliament will be appointed with limited powers.

PM Yingluck: For now caretaker cabinet with limited power. #Thailand

— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) December 9, 2013

The immediate result is that the Thai Baht gains 0.1% to 32.115 against the USD, after being down as much as 0.5% earlier. However, this kneejerk reaction may not last. As VOA also reports…

Ms. Yingluck remaining as interim PM unlikely to mollify anti-gov’t marchers. #Thailand

— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) December 9, 2013

Whether or not this development will be seen as bullish for the EURJPY formerly known as the S&P500, is of course a rhetorical question: if it is a flashing red headline, it is always bullish for stocks.

 

Oil And Gas Lobbying In Canada Overshadows All Other Pressure Groups: Polaris Study

Oil And Gas Lobbying In Canada Overshadows All Other Pressure Groups: Polaris Study.

OTTAWA – Heavy lobbying by the oil and gas industry has far outstripped any other interest group seeking to influence the Harper government over the last four years, according to a new study that examined the lobbyist registry.

The left-leaning Polaris Institute contends that the more than 2,700 meetings between oil and gas lobbyists and federal office holders since 2008 have helped turn Canada into a “petro state.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been promoting Canada as an emerging “energy super power” since coming to office in 2006.

And in the last 18 months, pipeline politics have become an Ottawa preoccupation as major public policy debates erupted in both Canada and the United States over the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf Coast and Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, B.C.

Research by the Polaris Institute suggests that industry lobbying efforts have been gaining steam in lock step.

Using the federal lobbyist registry to track meetings, the study shows that since 2008 oil and gas interests dwarfed contact by other major industry groups, including the mining industry, car makers and the forestry industry.

The 734 contacts by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association almost doubled the 412 communications by two major mining associations, and almost tripled the 245 contacts by the major forest industry groups. Two groups representing auto manufacturers had 157 recorded contacts over the same four-year period.

A spokesman for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver made no apologies for meeting with industry lobbyists.

“The minister considers it appropriate to meet with a variety of groups, including those from industry, to keep himself informed on issues related to his ministerial responsibilities,” Chris McCluskey said in an email.

Those lobbying efforts redoubled last year. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) had 190 contacts with government officials in 2011, up from 86 in 2010.

“This rapid increase in officially recorded lobbying by CAPP coincides with a major public relations push in print, television and online advertising designed to counter increasing opposition to the tar sands,” says the Polaris report.

In addition to industry advertising, this fall the Conservative government also launched a major television ad campaign, with a budget of $9 million, to pitch Canadians on “responsible resource development.”

Since achieving a majority in the May 2011 election, the Conservative government has been rewriting or repealing laws governing environmental assessments, navigable waterways and other measures it says are an impediment to major resource developments.

The Polaris study contends oil industry lobbyists are behind the policy changes.

“The amount of face time the oil industry gets in Ottawa in personal meetings and other correspondence greatly exceeds the time afforded other major industries in Canada,” Daniel Cayley-Daoust, one of the report’s authors, said in a release.

“No one doubts the hold the oil industry has on this current government, but it is important Canadians are aware that such a high rate of lobbying to federal ministers has strong policy implications.”

The study claims environmental groups have been all but shut out by the Conservative government, judging by lobbyist registry contacts.

That’s not true, said McCluskey, who noted his minister met last week with a coalition of environmental groups representing five different organizations.

He said the Polaris study is based solely on meetings that are reported to the commissioner of lobbying.

“While industry associations report their meetings to the commissioner, in many cases environmental groups do not,” said the government spokesman.

“The minister will continue to assess invitations to meet environmental groups and the natural resources industry — which directly employs 800,000 Canadians and indirectly employs 800,000 more.”

 

 

Canadian Federal Lobbying: Oil, Banking Dominate

Canadian Federal Lobbying: Oil, Banking Dominate.

Oil, gas and mining industry groups were far and away the most active lobbyists in Ottawa over the past year, according to an analysis from Macleans.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the country’s principal lobby group for oil and gas, made 58 lobbying efforts with the federal government over the past 12 months, the most of any group. In second place is the Mining Association of Canada, with 48 lobbying efforts.

The numbers are based on the federal lobbyist registry, which tracks communications between lobbyists and federal government departments, but offers no detail on how a lobbying effort was received by government officials.

The banking industry has also been prominent in its lobby efforts. The Canadian Bankers Association lobbied the Department of Finance 42 times in the past year, and Royal Bank of Canada alone made 27 efforts.

Check out the Macleans infographic here.

Story continues below

Most Active Lobbyists In Canada

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

Among groups that lobbied the Prime Minister’s Office directly, the Mining Association of Canada came first, with 11 efforts, according to Macleans.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Keystone XL pipeline builder TransCanada tied for second, with 10 lobby efforts each. The Small Guys Tobacco Group came in fourth, with nine lobbying efforts.

report from the left-leaning Polaris Institute last year said oil and gas interests outstripped all others when it came to lobbying in Canada in recent years. The analysis of lobby registry entries found more than 2,700 meetings between the industry and government officials — a fact the Institute used to argue Canada is becoming a “petro state.”

 

US Gets Involved In Another Foreign Conflict, Will Support French Troops In Central African Republic | Zero Hedge

US Gets Involved In Another Foreign Conflict, Will Support French Troops In Central African Republic | Zero Hedge.

One of the underreported stories from last week, noted here previously, was that quietly, on the day in which French unemployment soared to a new 16 year high, French president Hollande did what every true Keynesian in his position would do and dispatched troops to the Central African Republic due to a “duty to intervene” and stop the “alarming, frightening massacres” taking place there. There were no YouTube clips available to justify said massacres yet: we assume they are being produced currently. A few days later the fighting has begun with Reuters reporting that French troops fought gunmen in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, on Monday as they searched for weapons in an operation to disarm rival Muslim and Christian fighters responsible for hundreds of killings since last week. Shooting erupted near the airport in the morning after gunmen refused to hand over their weapons, and French forces later came under attack by former rebels in the city centre. France said it was prepared to use force if fighters rejected calls to disarm or return to barracks. Paris boosted its military presence to 1,600 troops at the weekend as waves of religious violence swept its former colony.

That’s not news. The news is that the US is once again getting involved in yet another foreign conflict. Also from Reuters:

  • PENTAGON CONSIDERING REQUESTS FOR U.S. MILITARY SUPPORT TO FRENCH AND AFRICAN UNION FORCES IN CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC – U.S. OFFICIAL
  • U.S. MILITARY LIKELY TO PROVIDE SOME LOGISTICAL SUPPORT -OFFICIAL

Some additional detail from the WSJ:

The U.S. will airlift African Union forces to the Central African Republic as part of an effort to aid French troops who are in the country to put down rising violence, defense officials said.

 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel authorized the deployment of the U.S. transport planes and pilots Sunday night, responding to a request for assistance from France. The planes will be used to carry troops from Burundi to the Central African Republic, where France has deployed 1,600 troops to try to quell rising violence.

 

Fighting has increased in the Central African Republic since March when a rebel group seized power. The rebel leader, Michel Djotodia, named himself president.

 

Turmoil has escalated in recent days, claiming 400 lives and prompting the French intervention. On Monday, French soldiers began disarming fighters in the Central African Republic.

And yet something is different about the C.A.R. – drones. From IBTimes:

Drones were deployed over the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Tuesday, marking the first time the United Nations has used unmanned surveillance aircraft in its peacekeeping efforts. A fleet of five unarmed drones will help U.N. troops monitor the vast Central African country of 66 million people, which has been plagued by violent militias for decades.

 

“Such high-technology systems allow a better knowledge of what is happening on the ground, which allows a force to better do its job,” said Hervé Ladsous, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, according to the U.N. News Agency.

 

The new drone program marks another rare initiative for the U.N. It was originally approved by the Security Council in January, due in large part to the conflict in Goma. M23 surrendered last month, but ongoing peace talks in Uganda between the rebels and the Congolese government have reached an impasse over the wording of the final agreement.

Of course, someone must have benefited from the drone “surge.” Indeed, someone did.

The drones for the Congo fleet were purchased from the electronics firm Selex ES, a unit of the Italian industrial and defense company Finmeccanica SpA (BIT:FNC). Deployment was originally planned for August, but a complicated procurement process delayed the launch until this week. If the drones prove effective, the U.N. may consider launching similar initiatives in other countries where peacekeeping operations are under way.

In other words, look for the C.A.R./Congo region to get drastically “destabilized” in the coming weeks, especially with both French and the US forced on the ground, and with hundreds of drones in the air repeating the bang up “peace intervention” job most recently achieved in Afghanistan. Why? Simple – because China has now been actively expanding its sphere of influence in Africa as we have been reporting over the past two years. Indeed as the map below which we posted first over a year ago shows, the Central African Republic is the only place that China does not have a major documented presence yet.

 

So the US (and the west) do the only thing they can: find a pretext to land a military force in order to stake a claim on what they believe are their critical strategic interests before Chinese moneyed-interests decide to do the same.

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Greece Tumbles Into The Deflationary Abyss, While Its Primary Surplus Sounds The “Grexit” Alarm | Zero Hedge

Greece Tumbles Into The Deflationary Abyss, While Its Primary Surplus Sounds The “Grexit” Alarm | Zero Hedge.

While the second-derivative hopers and primary budget surplus believers cling to the faith that Stournaras talking about recovery is enough to bring the depressing Greek nation out of its slumber, the fact is that Greek deflation has never been worse. However, it gets worse… as a recent study by CFR finds that countries are most at risk of defaulting the year they turn a positive primary budget – meaning they are no longer reliant on their creditors. Simply put, the Greek government has far less incentive to pay, and far more negotiating leverage with, its creditors once it no longer needs to borrow from them to keep the country running – this makes it more likely, rather than less, that Greece will default sometime next year. Beggars, once again, become choosers.

 

Less worse un-growth and Hope deflating…

 

Via CFR,

Things are looking up in Greece – that’s what Greek ministers have been telling the world of late, pointing to the substantial and rapidly improving primary budget surplus the country is generating.  Yet the country’s creditors should beware of Greeks bearing surpluses.

 

A primary budget surplus is a surplus of revenue over expenditure which ignores interest payments due on outstanding debt.  Its relevance is that the government can fund the country’s ongoing expenditure without needing to borrow more money; the need for borrowing arises only from the need to pay interest to holders of existing debt.  But the Greek government has far less incentive to pay, and far more negotiating leverage with, its creditors once it no longer needs to borrow from them to keep the country running.

 

 

 

This makes it more likely, rather than less, that Greece will default sometime next year.  As today’s Geo-Graphic shows, countries that have been in similar positions have done precisely this – defaulted just as their primary balance turned positive.

 

The upshot is that 2014 is shaping up to be a contentious one for Greece and its official-sector lenders, who are now Greece’s primary creditors.  If so, yields on other stressed Eurozone country bonds (Portugal, Cyprus, Spain, and Italy) will bear the brunt of the collateral damage.

 

Riots break out in Singapore. Think your country is immune?

Riots break out in Singapore. Think your country is immune?.

December 9, 2013
Santiago, Chile

Mohamed Bouazizi. It’s not a name that means much to most people. But you’ll recall his story.

Frustrated with the absurd amount of regulation and corruption that prevented him from being able to put food on the table for his family, Bouazizi was the 26-year old Tunisian fruit merchant that set himself on fire in 2011.

In doing so, all the pent up frustration across the Middle East and North Africa erupted all at once; the entire region immediately plunged into multi-year revolution which became known as the Arab Spring that has since toppled a number of governments.

Like individual people, societies have their own breaking points. They build up anger and frustration for years… sometimes decades. Then all it takes is one spark. One catalyst. And it all becomes unglued.

Just yesterday, a 33-year old Indian man got hit by the proverbial bus in Singapore’s Little India neighborhood. That was the catalyst. What transpired for the next several hours was a full blown riot… the first of its kind since 1969.

Several hundred rioters stormed the streets. They started off smashing the up the bus that was still on the corner of Hampshire Road and Race Course Road. Then they started throwing objects at the ambulance staff who were unsuccessful in extracting the man in time to save his life.

By the end of the evening, an angry mob had lit five police vehicles on fire, plus the ambulance, leaving the streets in a towering inferno.

Video

The government immediately went into damage control mode trying to explain what happened. But the explanation is really quite simple.

Singapore has had years of tensions building. The wealth gap is growing like crazy. Wealthy people are becoming ultra-wealthy, while the majority of folks see the cost of living rise at an alarming rate.

Strong ideological and ethnic differences are boiling over. And backlash against immigrants, especially from certain countries, is becoming an acute and obvious problem.

These issues are commonplace. Ideological differences. The wealth gap and economic uncertainty. Immigration challenges.

They’re the same issues, for example, that have plunged much of Europe into turmoil, including the rise of a blatantly fascist political party in Greece.

And these same issues exist, in abundance, in the Land of the Free… where a number of serious ideological divides are becoming obvious social chasms.

Printing money with wanton abandon. Racking up the greatest debt burden in the history of the world. Doling out wasteful and offensively incompetent social welfare programs at the expense of the middle class. Brazenly spying on your own citizens. These are not actions without consequences.

And if it can happen in Singapore– one of the safest, most stable countries on the planet, it can happen anywhere. Even in a sterile American suburb.

 

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