Opposition Violence, Two Deaths Mark Day of Youth in Venezuela
Violent opposition groups attacked government buildings and civilians, and clashed with police and government supporters following peaceful marches commemorating the Day of Youth.
The violence has claimed two deaths and left 23 injured across the country. Thirty arrests have been made according to government sources.
Venezuela commemorates the day of the youth on 12 February each year in memory of the role of young people in the decisive independence battle in La Victoria in 1814. Today marked the bicentenary of the historic battle.
In mid afternoon President Nicolas Maduro delivered a speech in Caracas, praising the morning’s marches as peaceful. However, shortly later one Chavista was reported to have been killed amid clashes involving opposition activists. Juan Montoya, also known as Juancho was shot. He was a community leader in the Chavista stronghold, Barrio 23 de Enero. This afternoon National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello condemned the shooting, and accused armed right-wing groups of “hunting down” Montoya.
“They are fascists, murderers, and then they talk about dialogue,” Cabello stated, referring to armed right-wing activists. The AN head called for calm, and urged against reprisals.
Juan Montoya, on the right, talking to El Universal in August last year
Violent opposition groups also attacked the attorney general’s office in Carabobo Park, Caracas. Photographs of the scene indicate the building’s exterior was damaged.
A building belonging to the government owned Fundacaracas organisation was also attacked by opposition groups. A few hours later the mayor of Caracas’s Libertador municipality, the PSUV’s Jorge Rodriguez also reported that the judicial offices in Chacao, Miranda, were also attacked. Later in the night the National Guard were deployed to the state owned VTV offices in Los Ruices. Disturbances had been reported in the area, though no further details were available at the time of writing.
In the evening, President Nicolas Maduro stated that violent opposition groups had also set fire to five police patrol vehicles. He also stated that a group of around two hundred violent activists had attempted to attack Miraflores Palace after the attorney general’s office.
After weeks of small, violent protests in Merida, there was a large march by government supporters in one part of the Andean city, and a larger march by opposition supporters elsewhere. Both were observed to be peaceful by Venezuelanalysis. However, violence began shortly after the opposition march finished. Clashes took place in Merida’s streets after individuals began burning garbage in intersections and erecting barricades.
A larger confrontation took place at a major intersection in the city’s north. Witnesses told Venezuelanalys.com that they saw men in balaclavas occupy a number of apartments, and fire live ammunition into the streets below. Riot police blocked the intersection. Hundreds of government supporters gathered a few hundred metres behind the police lines.
“We’re defending the city centre,” one supporter told Venezuelanalysis.
The Pro-Government March
At the pro-government march in the morning, Roger Zurita told Venezuelanalysis.com, “I’m worried about confrontations but I’m marching because today is the day of the youth, to celebrate the battle of La Victoria, not because of the opposition march. We have to organise ourselves around our values. We’re celebrating with happiness and peace the youth who struggle, our independence, the struggle for political power. Today we have an anti-imperialist youth and people are waking up, we’re not going to fall for the right wing’s games.”
“I’m marching for various reasons, mainly because I still believe in the project of our country, which still hasn’t been fully realised, but if we work just a bit harder we can do it, we have a lot to do. Also because it’s important to show that we are many, there are a lot of people who believe in this. What’s been happening in Merida is sad, regrettable. It’s a shame that they [violent sectors of the opposition] can’t propose anything without violence. We shouldn’t respond with violence. But the only proposal they seem to have is to get people into power who have never cared about the people, they just want to sell our country to the [US] empire,” Raquel Barrios told Venezuelanalysis, referring to the last four days of violence in Merida.
“I’m marching to commemorate the battle of La Victoria, but they [the opposition leadership] are manipulating the youth of Merida and parts of the opposition, they want to put an end to everything we’ve achieved, but they won’t be able to, because we’re peaceful people but ready for any necessary battle,” said Douglas Vasquez told Venezuelanalysis.
“Basically I’m marching to rescue Merida. We can’t let Merida be in the hands of violent people. I’m a teacher at the University of Los Andes (ULA), and I feel very ashamed that the recent violent incidents are mostly promoted by people from the ULA, who hope to create discomfort in the people in order to overthrow a consolidated and democratically elected government,” Katania Felisola said to Venezuelanalysis.
The Opposition March
The opposition march started at the ULA and went down the Americas Avenue after a last minute redirection.
Fernando Peña, a chemical engineering student at the ULA told Venezuelanalysis’s Ewan Robertson, “The students have felt the need to show themselves against [the goverment], because they have taken students prisoner in Mérida and Táchira just for expressing their right to protest. Right now feelings are very tense, because the people are tired of the government, [and] the students are the centre of the mobilisation throughout the country. The people now deeply disagree with the decisions that the government makes…living in Venezuela has become ever more difficult”.
Jan Carlos Lopez, worker in the Medical Faculty of the ULA told VA, “Some of the main reasons [for the march] are the shortages that are being experienced in the country, criminality, and insecurity. There isn’t an organisation that can protect us at night time so that we can go out. That’s what we’re asking for, security so that all Venezuelans can live in peace.”
Other opposition marchers told Robertson that they blamed the government for the violence, for “sending out motorbikes to attack students”.
In the violence after the marches, two people have been reported as injured, both shot in the legs. One of those was Jilfredo Barradas, a state government photographer.
“It’s a show, everyone knew it would turn out like this, it was planned,” one Merida activist told Venezuelanalysis, referring to the violence both in the Americas intersection as well as on Avenue 3.
Further, Gustavo Bazan told Venezuelanalysis, “On Friday they [violent opposition sectors] wanted to store Molotov cocktails [in the apartment where Bazan lives] and break up bricks in order to have rocks. I stepped out of line a bit and I told them that here they weren’t protesting against the government but rather against their own neighbours. I challenged them to take off their balaclavas and said to them they weren’t capable of coming over and having a conversation. They jumped over the fence and three of them started to beat me up. A friend and a building security guard saved me. I filmed them while they prepared the Molotov cocktails”.
Electricity minister Jesse Chacon informed through his Twitter account that “violent groups” surrounded an electric substation in San Cristobal and threw Molotov cocktails at it.
According to AVN there was also violence in Aragua and Carabobo states “which left material damage”.
The governor of Carabobo state, Francisco Ameliach said that “violent groups burnt a truck with liquid asphalt”. Ameliach alleged that the head of the MUD in the state, Vicencio Scarano had financed the crimes.
The minister for internal affairs, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, said that violent groups had tried to set the Aragua state government building on fire.
Tonight Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz informed the public that so far there have been a total of two deaths, 23 injured, and thirty arrests. Along with Montoya, student Basil Da Costa died after suffering a gunshot. She added though that public lawyers were investigating and visiting hospitals to determine the exact number. According to Maduro the two men were both shot in the head, “like the sharp shooters who murdered [people] on 11 April ”.
Ortega also said that four CICPC (Scientific Crime Investigation Body) vehicles were set on fire, as well as other private vehicles.
Regarding the march in Caracas, she said “they were guaranteed security from Plaza Venezuela to the Attorney General’s Office, there was nothing to impede them”.
Maduro also warned tonight that “whoever protests or marches without permission will be detained”.
“These are trained groups who… are prepared to overthrow the government in a violent way, and I’m not going to allow this, so I call on Venezuela to be peaceful,” Maduro said.
Foreign minister Elias Jaua alleged that Leopoldo Lopez was the “intellectual author of the deaths and injuries in Caracas”.
The Ecuadorian government emitted a statement today condemning the “acts of violence and vandalism by irresponsible members of the opposition”.
“We hope for the prompt reestablishment of social peace in our brother country and because respect for the government and its legitimately constituted institutions has precedence”.
Opposition statements and response
“This a call put out by the students and supported by the Democratic Unity [MUD opposition coalition], this march on the day of the youth is taking place when the government is repressing, with jail, with torture,” Leopoldo Lopez told CNN yesterday, in anticipation of today’s events.
“The government has an agenda of violence and as they control the monopoly [sic] over communication in Venezuela they hide it…the call that has been made is to be in the street,” he said, blaming the violence over the last week in Merida and Tachira on the government.
Speaking tonight on Noticias 24, Lopez blamed the national government for today’s violence and deaths. “Who is generating the violence? The government… repression by the national guard, the police,” he said.
Some of the top tweets by the opposition at the moment also blamed the Tupamaros groups. The Tupamaros are now quite small, but are often blamed for any violence that takes place. They support the national government.
“They (Tupamaros) are animals and they should all die,” wrote Daniel Garcia.
“Hitler, come back and put all the Tupamaros in gas chambers” wrote Andreina Leonett.
“When the first student dies all the streets of Venezuela will burn,” wrote Jose Gamboa.
Over the last week far right opposition leaders such as Leopoldo Lopez have been calling for people to “go out into the street” in order to achieve an “exit” of the national government.
Chinese capital markets are quietly turmoiling as debt issues are delayed and demand for “Trust” products – the shadow-banking-system’s wealth management ‘investments’ – is tumbling. AsNikkei reports, since January, 9 companies have postponed or canceled issuance plans (around $1 billion) and is most pronounced in privately-owned companies (who lack an implicit government guarantee). This, of course, is exactly what the PBOC wanted (to instill some fear into these high-yield investors – demand – and thus slow the supply of credit to the riskiest over-capacity compenies) but as non-performing loans in China surge to post-crisis highs, fear remains prescient that they will be unable to “contain” the problem once real defaults begin (as opposed to ‘delays of payment’ that we have seen so far).
Chinese banks’ bad loans increased for the ninth straight quarter to the highest level since the 2008 financial crisis, highlighting pressures on asset quality and profit growth as the world’s second-largest economy slows.
Non-performing loans rose by 28.5 billion yuan ($4.7 billion) in the last quarter of 2013 to 592.1 billion yuan, the highest since September 2008, the China Banking Regulatory Commission said in a statement on its website yesterday.
Chinese banks are struggling to keep soured loans in check and extend earnings growth as the slowing economy and government efforts to curb shadow financing make it harder for borrowers to repay debt.
“China’s economic growth turned downward with the new leadership switching policy focus to reform and risk management from emphasizing stable expansion,” said Wang Yichuan, a Wuhan-based analyst at Changjiang Securities Co. “Naturally the bad loans will increase along with the change. We expect the deterioration to continue for two more years.”
Chinese banks added 89 trillion yuan of assets, mostly through loans, in the past five years, equivalent to the entire U.S. banking industry’s, CBRC data show. By comparison, U.S. commercial banks held $14.6 trillion of assets at the end of September, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Investors are increasingly concerned that China’s investment through borrowing since 2008 may trigger a financial crisis
Concerns over potential defaults on high-yield financial products are making Chinese companies put some debt issues on hold due to wary investors, as well as posing a potential new risk to the global economy.
Since January, nine companies have postponed or canceled issuance plans for a total of 5.75 billion yuan ($948.24 million) in bonds and commercial paper, equivalent to about 2% of the debt issued over the period.
This is most pronounced among privately operated companies, whose lack of government backing has meant less interest from potential investors than hoped.
Demand has been dulled by worries over defaults on so-called wealth management products, a feature of China’s shadow banking system.
Broader credit risks have driven interest rates up, and the gap between corporate debt and more-creditworthy government bonds is widening. Average yields on AA-rated seven-year corporate bonds reached 8.44% in mid-January.
So even if companies offer bonds, they will be unable to raise money if they cannot pay these higher rates.
“There’s a possibility that the Chinese government will step in to keep the negative impact from spreading,” says Hiromichi Tamura, chief strategist at Nomura Securities, “but if these types of repayment delays continue, they could trigger a global stock market downturn.”
(February 14, 2014)
When it comes to complex systems and unintended consequences, the key phrase is “be careful what you wish for.”
A lot of people are remarkably certain that their understanding of how systems will respond in the future is correct. Alan Greenspan was certain there was no housing bubble in 2007, for example (or he did a great job acting certain). There is no shortage of people who are certain the U.S. dollar is doomed to collapse, but only after losing the reserve currency status.
Other people are certain China can launch a gold-backed currency that will replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.
Some are certain the U.S. stock market is going to crash this year, while others are equally certain that stocks will continue lofting higher on central bank tailwinds.
Being wrong about the way systems responded in the past doesn’t seem to deter people from being certain about the future. Those who were certain there was no bubble in 2007-8 were wrong, and those (myself included) who saw the can being kicked down the road were wrong in not anticipating that global stocks would not just recover their pre-crash heights but go on to new nominal highs, based on the excellence of the can-kicking skills of central states and banks.
Complex systems don’t act in the linear way our minds tend to work. Humans are built to distill a chaotic array of sensory data into a narrative that simplifies decision-making and risk assessment (for example, “us good, them bad”). We prefer our chains of causality to have a few big links we can follow without difficulty. We find systems with multitudes of ambiguous inputs tiresome and so we invent ideologies (“us good, them bad”) and very occasionally, elegant mathematical statements that reduce the chaos of data to predictable causal chains.
We are built to cling very stubbornly to certainty once we reach a conclusion, because ambiguity and having to constantly change our assessments of inputs and causality are big drains on our energy and mental capabilities. It’s “cheaper” in terms of energy and anxiety to just stick with the story we grew up with or the one we chose after a bit of looking at what our mates think/believe/claim is true.
Certainty has another advantage: it’s more persuasive than hedged hesitancy.Leadership tends to fall to those without hesitation, the bold ones with the powerful rhetoric of certainty, confidence and optimism. We don’t want the narrative muddled with hedges–maybe “them” are not necessarily evil, dangerous enemies, etc.–and so we shout down, ridicule or ignore those who are circumspect about how systems will respond in the future.
Politicians have of course mastered the art of distilling narratives to the desired state of certainty, confidence and optimism, and in repeating the story often enough that mere repetition lends it credence.
The problem is simplistic, linear narratives don’t map complex systems. All sorts of unexpected and unintended things happen in complex systems when you change the inputs and try to control the output.
We have a name for systems where the inputs are all tightly controlled to yield a simplistic desired output: they’re called monocultures, and monocultures are exquisitely vulnerable to unintended consequences and “leaks” from the outside world. Though monocultures look robust, they are actually quite fragile, because the natural feedbacks and redundancies of natural systems have been eradicated to make the desired yield the primary output.
This is why politicians cannot deal with either complex systems or unintended consequences. As a result, they have to act as if complex systems and unintended consequences don’t exist.
Thus Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen sticks to the simplistic narrative that the economy is flourishing and so the Fed can “taper” its money-creation/asset-buying operation, but she is careful not to mention the unintended consequences of the Fed’s monoculture: to mention just one, that since the Federal deficits are shrinking rapidly, if the Fed didn’t reduce its $1 trillion a year program, it would soon end up owning the entire Treasury market.
Since there could be unintended consequences of that, the Fed chair doesn’t mention the topic.
The narrative that printing money destroys the currency being printed is appealing on many levels. It makes sense, and history is replete with examples of just this narrative.
But the system isn’t quite as linear as we might wish. If $10 trillion in dollar-denominated value is wiped out in write-downs triggered by marking phantom assets to market, and $1 trillion is printed, the system still lost $9 trillion. As correspondent David C. observed:
Destruction of dollar *value* means that surviving dollars become more *valuable.*
If stocks, bond, real estate, Beanie Babies, etc. decline in VALUE, it means they are worth fewer dollars-per-unit. This means that dollars are, by definition, rising in value per unit, and this absolutely confounds those who believe the next big thing is inflation/hyperinflation.
They simply can’t see that if people become poorer (as their stocks, bonds, homes, etc. fall in value), and especially if the banks begin to fail in a wave too large to bail and take deposits into monetary nothingness, the most likely outcome is that those who retain access to dollars will see their dollars rises dramatically in purchasing power, the exact opposite of the last 82 years of experience.
I’ve encountered few people who can accept this paradoxical analysis.
Our fully fiat-money system enabled the embrace of illusions so pervasive that people simply can’t see how much “value” today rests on cross-linked IOU’s. When those IOU-dollars begin to evaporate in earnest, desperation for the underlying “asset” (a dollar, as perverse as that seems given that the dollar is backed by nothing and preceded by no production of value) should skyrocket.”
As for China launching a gold-backed currency that acts as the reserve currency–it isn’t quite as simple and tidy as it appears. Triffin’s Paradox is based on a peculiar characteristic of a reserve currency: it serves both a domestic market and a global market, and the two have different dynamics.
A reserve currency must be available in size in global markets, which means the issuing nation must export its currency in size so others have enough of it to fill their reserves and grease their trade exchanges. The issuing nation can simply helicopter drop the equivalent of several trillion dollars of currency into other nations (something that hasn’t been tried), or it has to run trade deficits, i.e. it buys more goods and services from other nations than it exports to them, and so it exports its currency to other nations to use as a reserve currency.
This means nations that run enormous trade surpluses can’t issue a reserve currency, because they’re not exporting currency, they’re importing other nations’ currency and having to “sterilize” it into their own domestic economy or buy something denominated in the imported currency.
There’s another paradox. Let’s say China became a net importer on a grand enough scale to issue a reserve currency. The one example we have of a nation issuing gold-backed currency that was also the reserve currency based on that nation running large trade deficits is the U.S. in the late 1960s. What happens in this circumstance is those holding the gold-backed currency decide to trade the currency for gold, and the issuing nation soon runs out of gold.
This sets up a paradox: net exporting nations cannot issue a reserve currency, fiat or gold-backed, for the simple reason they are importing currency, not exporting it for others to use as a reserve currency.
Any nation that does run a trade deficit large enough to enable a reserve currency and backs that currency with gold will see its gold reserves vanish as holders of their currency trade its currency for gold.
I have addressed a few of the complexities of reserve currencies and trade before:
The Impossibility of China Issuing a Reserve Currency (October 14, 2013)
Why the Shrinking Trade Deficit Will Choke U.S. Corporate Profits (August 8, 2013)
Understanding the “Exorbitant Privilege” of the U.S. Dollar (November 19, 2012)
When it comes to complex systems and unintended consequences, the key phrase is “be careful what you wish for.”
February 13th, 2014
This morning Reuters obtained a leaked proposal disclosing that European Union officials are looking for new and innovative ways to fund their immense debt levels. As noted by Zero Hedge, they’re no longer turning exclusively to central bankers to simply print more money as needed. Because last year’s bank bail-in forcing the confiscation of funds from average depositors in Cyprus worked so well, EU regulators and bankers have determined that they’ll use a similar method to fund their future endeavors.
In a nutshell, and in Reuters’ own words, “the savings of the European Union’s 500 million citizens could be used to fund long-term investments to boost the economy and help plug the gap left by banks since the financial crisis, an EU document says.”
The solution? “The Commission will ask the bloc’s insurance watchdog in the second half of this year for advice on a possible draft law “to mobilize more personal pension savings for long-term financing”, the document said.”
Mobilize, once again, is a more palatable word than, say, confiscate.
This is what happens when governments run out of money.
But if you think this is limited to just Europe, then consider the words of President Barack Obama in his recent State of the Union address.
For all intents and purposes, a similar groundwork is being laid right here in America.
They’ve already taken over the health care industry… why not nationalize our retirement savings while they’re at it?
This is basically the offer that the President of the United States floated last night.
And like an unctuously overgeled used car salesman, he actually pitched Americans on loaning their retirement savings to the US government with a straight face, guaranteeing “a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in. . .”
This is his new “MyRA” program. And the aim is simple– dupe unwitting Americans to plow their retirement savings into the US government’s shrinking coffers.
We’ve been talking about this for years. I have personally written since 2009 that the US government would one day push US citizens into the ‘safety and security’ of US Treasuries.
Back in 2009, almost everyone else thought I was nuts for even suggesting something so sacrilegious about the US government and financial system.
But the day has arrived. And POTUS stated almost VERBATIM what I have been writing for years.
The government is flat broke.Even by their own assessment, the US government’s “net worth” is NEGATIVE 16 trillion. That’s as of the end of 2012 (the 2013 numbers aren’t out yet). But the trend is actually worsening.
In 2009, the government’s net worth was negative $11.45 trillion. By 2010, it had dropped to minus $13.47 trillion. By 2011, minus $14.78 trillion. And by 2012, minus $16.1 trillion.
Here’s the thing: according to the IRS, there is well over $5 trillion in US individual retirement accounts. For a government as bankrupt as Uncle Sam is, $5 trillion is irresistible.
They need that money. They need YOUR money. And this MyRA program is the critical first step to corralling your hard earned retirement funds.
At our event here in Chile last year, Jim Rogers nailed this right on the head when he and Ron Paul told our audience that the government would try to take your retirement funds:
I don’t know how much more clear I can be: this is happening. This is exactly what bankrupt governments do. And it’s time to give serious, serious consideration to shipping your retirement funds overseas before they take yours.
As former Congressman Ron Paul notes, the government will stop at nothing.
“They’ll use force and they’ll use intimidation and they’ll use guns, because you can’t challenge the State and you can’t challenge the State’s so-called right to control the money,” warns Paul. “It’s already indicated that they will confiscate funds and they will [confiscate] pension funds.”
This didn’t just happen over night. The move to make this reality has been going on for quite some time. The first time it was mentioned publicly in any official capacity was at a 2010 Congressional hearing:
Democrats in the Senate on Thursday held a recess hearing covering a taxpayer bailout of union pensions and a plan to seize private 401(k) plans to more “fairly” distribute taxpayer-funded pensions to everyone.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee heard from hand-picked witnesses advocating the infamous “Guaranteed Retirement Account” (GRA) authored by Theresa Guilarducci.
In a nutshell, under the GRA system government would seize private 401(k) accounts, setting up an additional 5% mandatory payroll tax to dole out a “fair” pension to everyone using that confiscated money coupled with the mandated contributions. This would, of course, be a sister government ponzi scheme working in tandem with Social Security, the primary purpose being to give big government politicians additional taxpayer funds to raid to pay for their out-of-control spending.
You’d think that such an idea would be immediately dismissed by the American public, but it has only gained steam since, as evidenced by a 2012 hearing held at the U.S. Labor Department:
The hearing, held in the Labor Department’s main auditorium, was monitored by NSC staff and featured a line up of left-wing activists including one representative of the AFL-CIO who advocated for more government regulation over private retirement accounts and even the establishment of government-sponsored annuities that would take the place of 401k plans.
“This hearing was set up to explore why Americans are not saving as much for their retirement as they could,” explains National Seniors Council National Director Robert Crone, “However, it is clear that this is the first step towards a government takeover. It feels just like the beginning of the debate over health care and we all know how that ended up.”
…Such “reforms” would effectively end private retirement accounts in America, Crone warns.
A few years ago the government of the United States of America nationalized nearly 1/6th of our economy when they took over the health care system with forced mandates. In the process they essentially took control of $1.6 trillion in yearly industry revenues.
But that’s nothing compared to private savings. The total amount of retirement assets in America, including 401k, IRA and savings accounts is around $21 trillion. With our national debt coincidentally approaching the same, the government sees big money and potentially a way out of our country’s fiscal disaster.
This will start voluntarily with the MyRA and other state-sponsored programs. But when not enough Americans are making it their patriotic duty to turn over their funds to their government, they’ll mandate compliance with the stroke of a pen just as they did with thePatient Affordable Care Act.
And just like Obamacare it will be enforced by the barrel of a gun. Failure to comply will mean confiscation without recourse and prison time.
All they need now is a trigger.
And that trigger will likely come in the form of another stock market collapse. Wipe out Americans’ in a stock market crash and scare the heck out of them with more economic bad news, and millions of our countrymen will be all too willing to hand it over to Uncle Sam. Panic is a powerful motivator and what better way to get people on board than by threatening them with squalor and destitution in their old age if they don’t go along with it?
Government officials have been actively working to make this a reality for years. The Europeans are doing the same.
You can put your head in the sand or cover your ears and pretend this is not happening, but that won’t change the outcome.
They will take everything they can get their hands on.
We now have an answer to why global temperatures have risen less quickly in recent years than predicted in climate change models. (It’s necessary to add immediately that the issue is only the rate of that rise, since the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998.) Thanks to years of especially strong Pacific trade winds, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change, much of the extra heat generated by global warming is being buried deep in ocean waters. Though no one knows for sure, the increase in the power of those winds may itself have been set off by the warming of the Indian Ocean. In other words, the full effects of the heating of the planet have been postponed, but are still building (and may also be affecting ocean ecology in unpredictable ways). As Matthew England, the lead scientist in the study, points out, “Even if the [Pacific trade] winds accelerate… sooner or later the impact of greenhouse gases will overwhelm the effect. And if the winds relax, the heat will come out quickly. As we go through the twenty-first century, we are less and less likely to have a cooler decade. Greenhouse gases will certainly win out in the end.”
Despite the slower rate of temperature rise, the effects of the global heating process are quite noticeable. Yes, if you’re living somewhere in much of the lower forty-eight, you now know the phrase “polar vortex” the same way you do “Mom” and “apple pie,” and like me, you’re shivering every morning the moment you step outside, or sometimes even in your own house. That southern shift in the vortex may itself be an artifact of changing global weather patterns caused at least in part by climate change.
In the meantime, in the far north, temperatures have been abnormally high in both Alaska and Greenland; Oslo had a Christmas to remember, and forest fires raged in the Norwegian Arctic this winter. Then, of course, there is the devastating, worsening drought in California (and elsewhere in the West) now in its third year, and by some accounts the worst in half a millennium, which is bound to drive up global food prices. There are the above-the-normtemperatures in Sochi that are creating problems keeping carefully stored snow on the ground for Olympic skiers and snowboarders. And for good measure, toss in storm-battered Great Britain’s wettest December and January in more than a century. Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, there’s heat to spare. There was the devastating January heat wave in Australia, while in parts of Brazil experiencing the worst drought in half-a-century there has never been a hotter month on record than that same month. If the rains don’t come relatively soon, the city of São Paulo is in danger of running out of water.
It’s clear enough that, with the effects of climate change only beginning to take hold, the planet is already in a state of weather disarray. Yet, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare points out today, the forces arrayed against dealing with climate change couldn’t be more powerful. Given that we’ve built our global civilization on the continuing hit of energy that fossil fuels provide and given the interests arrayed around exploiting that hit, the gravitational pull of what Klare calls “Planet Carbon” is staggering.
Recently, I came across the following passage in Time of Illusion, Jonathan Schell’s 1976 classic about Nixon administration malfeasance. Schell wrote it with the nuclear issue in mind, but today it has an eerie resonance when it comes to climate change: “In the United States, unprecedented wealth and ease came to coexist with unprecedented danger, and a sumptuous feast of consumable goods was spread out in the shadow of universal death. Americans began to live as though on a luxuriously appointed death row, where one was free to enjoy every comfort but was uncertain from moment to moment when or if the death sentence might be carried out. The abundance was very much in the forefront of people’s attention, however, and the uncertainty very much in the background; and in the government as well as in the country at large the measureless questions posed by the new weapons were evaded.” Tom
The Gravitational Pull of Planet Carbon
Three Signs of Retreat in the Global War on Climate Change
By Michael T. Klare
Listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address, it would have been easy to conclude that we were slowly but surely gaining in the war on climate change. “Our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet,” the president said. “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.” Indeed, it’s true that in recent years, largely thanks to the dampening effects of the Great Recession, U.S. carbon emissions were in decline (though they grewby 2% in 2013). Still, whatever the president may claim, we’re not heading toward a “cleaner, safer planet.” If anything, we’re heading toward a dirtier, more dangerous world.
A series of recent developments highlight the way we are losing ground in the epic struggle to slow global warming. This has not been for lack of effort. Around the world, dedicated organizations, communities, and citizens have been working day by day to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the use of renewable sources of energy. The struggle to prevent construction of the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline is a case in point. As noted in a recentNew York Times article, the campaign against that pipeline has galvanized the environmental movement around the country and attracted thousands of activists to Washington, D.C., for protests and civil disobedience at the White House. But efforts like these, heroic as they may be, are being overtaken by a more powerful force: the gravitational pull of cheap, accessible carbon-based fuels, notably oil, coal, and natural gas.
In the past few years, the ever more widespread use of new extractive technologies — notably hydraulic fracturing (to exploit shale deposits) andsteam-assisted gravity drainage (for tar sands) — has led to a significant increase in fossil fuel production, especially in North America. This has left in the dust the likelihood of an imminent “peak” in global oil and gas output and introduced an alternative narrative — much promoted by the energy industry and its boosters — of unlimited energy supplies that will last into the distant future. Barry Smitherman of the Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates that state’s oil industry) was typical in hailing a “relatively boundless supply” of oil and gas worldwide at a recent meeting of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.
As oil and gas have proven unexpectedly abundant and affordable, major energy consumers are planning to rely on them more — and on renewable sources of energy less — to meet their future requirements. As a result, the promises we once heard of a substantial decline in fossil fuel use (along with a corresponding boom in renewables) are fading. According to the most recent projections from the U.S. Department of Energy, global fossil fuel consumption is expected to grow by an astonishing 40% by 2035, jumping from 440 to 615 quadrillion British thermal units.
While the combined share of total world energy that comes from fossil fuels will decline slightly — from 84% to 79% — they will still dominate the global energy marketplace for decades to come. Renewables, according to these projections, will continue to represent only a small fraction of the total. If this proves to be accurate, there can be only one plausible outcome: vastly increased carbon emissions leading to rising temperatures and the sort ofcatastrophic climate change scenarios that now seem almost impossible to imagine.
Think of it this way: in our world, the gravitational pull of carbon exerts itself every minute of every day, shaping the energy decisions of individuals, companies, institutions, and governments. This pull is leading to defeat in the global struggle to slow the advance of severe climate change and is reflected in three recent developments in the energy news: a declaration of surrender by BP, a major setback in the European Union, and a strategic end-run by Canadian tar sands companies.
BP Announces the Defeat of Renewables
Every year, energy giant BP (once British Petroleum) releases its “Energy Outlook” for the years ahead, an analysis of future trends in global production and consumption. The 2014 report — extending BP’s energy forecast to the year 2035 — was made public on January 15th. Typically, its release is accompanied by a press conference in which top BP executives offer commentary on the state of world energy, usually aimed at the business media. This year, the company’s CEO, Bob Dudley, spoke with unbridled optimism about the future market for his company’s energy products, assuring his audience that the global supply of fossil fuels would remain substantial for years to come. (Dudley took over the helm at BP after his predecessor, Tony Hayward, was dumped in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.)
“The picture in terms of resources in the ground is a good one,” he noted. “It’s very different to past concerns about supply peaking. The theory of peak oil seems to have — well — peaked.”
This, no doubt, produced the requisite smiles from Dudley’s oil-friendly audience. Then his comments took a darker turn. Can we satisfy the world’s energy requirements with fuels that are sustainable, he asked. “Not at the moment,” he admitted. Because of a rising tide of fossil fuel consumption, he added, “carbon emissions are currently projected to rise — by 29% by 2035, we estimate in the Outlook.” He acknowledged that, whatever good news might be found in that document, in this area “steps are needed to change the forecast.”
Next, Dudley tried to put a hopeful spin on the long-term climate prospect. By replacing coal-fired power plants with less-carbon-polluting natural gas, he indicated, overall greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced. Increasing the efficiency of energy-consuming devices, he added, will also help. All of this, however, adds up to little when it comes to the big picture of carbon emissions. In the end, he could point to few signs of progress in the struggle to slow the advance of climate change. “In 2035, we project that gas and coal will account for 54% of global energy demand [and oil another 27%]. While renewables will grow rapidly, their share will reach just 7%.”
Most of the media coverage of Dudley’s appearance focused on his expectations of long-term energy abundance, not what it would do to us or our planet. Several commentators were, however, quick to note how unusual it was for an oil company CEO to address the problem of carbon emissions at all, no less express something verging on despair over the prospect of making any progress in curbing them.
“[Dudley] concludes… [that] the world is still a long way from delivering the peak in greenhouse gas emissions many scientists advise has to be achieved within the next decade to minimize the risk of dangerous climate change,”observed energy analyst James Murray at businessGreen.com.
The member states of the European Union (EU) have long exercised global leadership in the struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the pace of climate change. Under their justly celebrated 20-20-20 plan, adopted in December 2008, they are committed to reducing their emissions by 20% over 1990 levels by 2020, increasing their overall energy efficiency by 20%, and achieving 20% reliance on renewables in total energy consumption. No other region has embraced goals as ambitious as these, and none has invested greater resources in their implementation. Any wavering from this path would signal a significant retrenchment in the global climate struggle.
It now appears that Europe is preparing to rein in the pace of its drive to slow global warming. At issue is not the implementation of the 20-20-20 plan, which is well on its way to being achieved, but on the goals that should follow it. Climate activists and green energy entrepreneurs have been calling for an even more ambitious set of targets for 2030 and beyond; many manufacturers and other major energy consumers have been pushing for a slower pace of change, claiming that increased reliance on renewables is driving up energy prices and so diminishing their economic competitiveness. Already, it appears that the industrialists are gaining ground at the expense of climate action.
At stake is the EU’s climate blueprint for 2030, the next major threshold in its drive to slow the pace of warming. On January 22nd, the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission (EC), released its guidelines for the new plan, which must still be approved by the EU Parliament and its member states. While touted by some as a sign of continued European commitment to decisive climate action, the EC’s plan is viewed as a distinct setback by many environmental leaders.
At first glance, the plan looks promising. It calls for a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 — a huge drop from the 2020 requirement. This is, however, less dramatic than it may appear, analysts say, because energy initiatives already under way in Europe under the 20-20-20 plan, coupled with a region-wide economic slowdown, will make a 40% reduction quite feasible without staggering effort. Meanwhile, other aspects of the plan are downright worrisome. There is no mandate for a further increase in energy efficiency and, far more important, the mandate for increased reliance on renewables — at 27%, a significant gain — is not binding on individual states but on the EU as a whole. This makes both implementation and enforcement questionable matters. Jens Tartler, a spokesperson for the German Renewable Energy Federation (which represents that country’s wind and solar industries), calledthe lack of binding national goals for renewables “totally disappointing,” claiming it would “contribute to a marked reduction in the pace of expansion of renewables.”
To explain this evident slackening in Europe’s climate commitment, analysts point to the immense pressures being brought by manufacturers and others who decry the region’s rising energy prices caused, in part, by increased subsidies for renewables. “Behind the heated debate in Brussels about climate and renewable energy targets, what is really happening is that concern over high energy prices has taken precedence over climate concerns in Europe,” saysSonja van Renssen, the Brussels correspondent for Energy Post, an online journal. “Many [EU] member states and industry fear that a strong climate and energy policy will be bad for their economies.”
In arguing their case, proponents of diluted climate goals note that EU policies have raised the cost of producing a metric ton of aluminum in Europe by 11% and that European steel companies pay twice as much for electricity and four times as much for natural gas as their U.S. counterparts. These, and similar phenomena, are “dragging the EU economy down,” wrote Mark C. Lewis, former head of energy research at Deutsche Bank.
Not surprisingly, many European manufacturers seek to reduce subsidies for renewables and urge greater reliance on less-costly fossil fuels. In particular, some officials, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, are eager to follow the U.S. lead and bring advanced technologies like hydro-fracking to bear on the extraction of more oil and natural gas from Europe’s domestic reserves. “Europe’s hydrocarbons production is in decline,” noted Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency, but “there may be some opportunities… to slow down and perhaps reverse some of these trends” — notably by imitating the “revolution in hydrocarbon production” now under way in the United States.
Read this another way and a new and truly unsettling meaning emerges: the “shale gas revolution” being promoted with such fervor by President Obama as a “bridge” to a more climate-friendly energy system in the United States is having the opposite effect in Europe. It is weakening the EU’s commitment to renewable energy and threatens to increase Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Canada’s End-Run Around Keystone XL Pipeline Opposition
Much to the surprise of everyone, climate activists in the United States led by environmental author and activist Bill McKibben and the action group he helped to found, 350.org, have succeeded in delaying U.S. government approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for more than two years. Once considered a sure thing, the pipeline, if completed, will carry 830,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen (“syncrude”) some 1,700 miles from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. It has, however, been held up by detailed environmental impact studies and other procedural steps ordered by the U.S. State Department. (Because the pipeline will cross an international boundary, it requires approval from the Secretary of State and, ultimately, the president, but not Congress.)
Opponents of the pipeline claim that by facilitating the exploitation of particularly carbon-dense Canadian tar sands, it will substantially increasegreenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The use of this bitumen-based fuel releases more carbon per unit of energy than conventional petroleum and its energy-intensive extraction generates additional carbon emissions. Should all of the bitumen in Canada — the equivalent of 1 trillion barrels of oil — be consumed, it’s “game over for the climate,” as former NASA climate scientistJames Hansen has famously written.
How the Obama administration will come down on Keystone XL is still unknown. In a speech on climate policy last June, the president indicated that he would give highest priority to climate considerations when deciding on the pipeline. “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest,” he said. “And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” At the time, his comments raised the hopes of climate activists that Obama would ultimately decide against the pipeline. More recently, however, an environmental assessment conducted at the behest of the State Department and released on January 31st cast doubt on this outcome. The report’s reasoning: even though the exploitation of Canada’s tar sands will increase the pace of carbon emissions, their extraction and delivery to refineries is assured by alternative means — mainly rail — if the pipeline isn’t built and so its construction will not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.
While this is certainly a uniquely sophistic (and shaky) argument, it is important to note that the Canadian producers and their U.S. partners are indeed attempting to stage an end-run around opposition to the pipeline by increasing their reliance on rail cars to deliver tar sands.
“The indecision on Keystone XL really spawned innovation and mobilized alternatives, and rail is a clear part of the options available to our industry,”observed Paul Reimer, senior vice president in charge of transport at Cenovus Energy, a Canadian oil company planning to increase rail shipments from 7,000 barrels a day to as many as 30,000 barrels a day by the end of 2014. Other Canadian firms have similar expansion plans. All told, the Canadiansclaim that, over the coming years, they will be able to increase rail-carrying capacity from the current 180,000 barrels per day to as much as 900,000 barrels, or more than would be carried by the pipeline.
If this were to happen, count on one thing: rail transport will turn out to have itsown problems — and its own opposition. Not surprisingly, then, Canada’s oil industry still craves approval for Keystone XL, as it would allow even greater tar sands exports and legitimize the use of this carbon-heavy fuel. But the growing reliance on rail transportation does once again demonstrate the powerful gravitational pull of Planet Carbon. “At the end of the day, there’s a consensus among most energy experts that the oil will get shipped to market no matter what,” says Robert McNally, a former energy adviser to President George W. Bush.
Reducing Carbon’s Pull
These three recent encounters in the historic struggle to avert the most destructive effects of climate change tell us a great deal about the nature and terrain of the battlefield. Climate change is not the product of unfortunate meteorological phenomena; it is the result of burning massive quantities of carbon-based fuels and spewing the resulting gaseous wastes into the atmosphere. As long as governments, corporations, and consumers prefer carbon as an energy source, the war on climate change will be lost and the outcome of that will, in turn, be calamitous.
There is only one way to avert the worst effects of climate change: make the consumption of carbon unattractive. This can be accomplished, in part, by shaming — portraying the producers of carbon-rich fuels as the enemies of human health and survival. It’s an approach that has already achieved some modest successes, as in the prevention, until now, of Keystone’s construction. Withdrawing funds from fossil fuel firms, or disinvestment, is another useful approach. Many student and religious groups are attempting to hinder oil drilling activities by pushing their colleges and congregations to move their investment funds elsewhere.
But shaming and disinvestment campaigns are insufficient; much tougher sanctions are required. To stop the incineration of our planet, carbon must be made expensive — so costly, in fact, that renewables become the common fuel of choice.
There are at least two ways to move toward accomplishing this: impose a tax on carbon emissions, raising the cost of fossil fuels above those of renewables; or adopt a universal cap-and-trade system, forcing major carbon emitters to buy permits (at ever-increasing cost) in order to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Both measures have been advocated by environmentalists and some attempts have been made to institute each of them. (Both California and the European Union, for example, are implementing cap-and-trade systems.) There may be other approaches to the problem that could prove even more effective, but the most essential thing is to recognize that genuine progress on climate change will not be possible until carbon fuels lose their financial allure. For this to happen, as BP’s Dudley begrudgingly acknowledged on January 15th, “you need carbon pricing. Universally accepted carbon pricing.”
The gravitational pull of carbon is immensely powerful. It cannot be overcome by symbolic gestures or half measures. The pressures to keep burning fossil fuels are too great to be overcome in piecemeal fashion. Rather, these forces must be met head-on, with the institutionalization of equally powerful counter-forces that make fossil fuels economically unattractive. We humans have a choice: we can succumb to carbon’s gravitational pull and so suffer from increasingly harsh planetary conditions, or resist and avoid the most deadly consequences of climate change.
Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.
Copyright 2014 Michael Klare
New TEPCO Report Shows Damage to Unit 3 Fuel Pool MUCH Worse Than That at Unit 4
The True State Of The Economy: Record Number Of College Graduates Live In Their Parents’ Basement | Zero Hedge
Scratch one more bullish thesis for the housing recovery, and the economic recovery in general.
Over the past several years, optimists had often cited household formation as a key component of pent up demand for home purchases. So much for that.
Recall that last August, the WSJ noted that in a report on the status of families, “the Census Bureau said 13.6% of Americans ages 25 to 34 were living with their parents in 2012, up slightly from 13.4% in 2011. Though the trend began before the recession, it accelerated sharply during the downturn. In the early 2000s, about 10% of people in this age group lived at home.” It concluded, quite logically, that “the share of young adults living with their parents edged up last year despite improvements in the economy—a sign that the effects of the recession are lingering.”
Of course, the “improvements in the economy” were once again confused with the ongoing Fed- and corporate buyback-driven surge in the stock market, which has since been refuted to have any relationship to underlying economic conditions, and instead is merely the key factor leading to record class disparity – a very heated topic among both politicians and economists in recent months.
But going back to the topic of Americans living with their parents, today Gallup reported that 14% percent of adults between the ages of 24 and 34 – those in the post-college years when most young adults are trying to establish independence — report living at home with their parents. By contrast, roughly half of 18- to 23-year-olds, many of whom are still finishing their education, are currently living at home.
While this is an approximation of the Census Bureau’s own results which should be released in a few months, a 14% print in the critical 24-34 age group means that the percentage of college grads (or those otherwise falling into this age group even if uneducated) living in their parents basement has hit a fresh all time high.
As a reminder, this was the most recent visual update from the WSJ as of last year:
Here is what Gallup had to say about this distrubing result:
An important milestone in adulthood is establishing independence from one’s parents, including finding a job, a place to live and, for most, a spouse or partner, and starting one’s own family. However, there are potential roadblocks on the path to independence that may force young adults to live with their parents longer, including a weak job market, the high cost of living, significant college debt, and helping care for an elderly or disabled parent.
A statistical model that takes into account a variety of demographic characteristics indicates that three situational factors are most likely to distinguish the group of 24- to 34-year-olds living at home from their peers:
- They are much less likely to be married.
- They are less likely to be working full time and more likely to be unemployed or underemployed.
- They are less likely to have graduated from college.
Being married may better explain why young adults move out of their parents’ home than why single adults live at home. For those living at home, their situation may have more to do with their job or income status than their marital status. Being single, however, may make living with parents a more feasible option for young adults than it would be if they were married.
Employment status ranks as the second-most-important predictor of young adults’ living situation once they are beyond college age. Specifically, 67% of those living on their own are employed full time, compared with 50% of those living with their parents.
The unemployment rate, as calculated by Gallup, among those in the workforce is twice as high for post-college-aged adults living with their parents as it is for their counterparts who are not living with their parents, 14.6% vs. 7.1%.
The underemployment rate, which combines the percentage unemployed with the percentage working part time but wanting full-time work, is 32.8% among those living at home and 15.4% among those living on their own. In other words, among young adults who live with their parents and are working or actively looking for work, nearly one in three are in a substandard employment situation.
The employment observations are not surprising: after all, one would never voluntarily live with their parents into their thirties, unless one was pathologically lazy and unwilling to branch out on their own of course, if the labor situtation in the economy permitted getting a job which allowed one to at least afford rent.
Neither is it surprising that college grads, saddled with a record amounts of student debt, now well over $1 trillion, or more than the total US credit card debt outstanding, is also crushing college graduate confidence about being able to be cash flow positive once they seek to start lives on their own with the associated cash needs.
However, the marriage observation is more disturbing, and goes to the argument of incremental household formation: namely there is none. In other words, that missing link that at least superficially would provide for some semblance of justification for the rise in house prices that had nothing to do with investor demand and offshore illicit cash laundry using US real estate, is gone.
And while this conforms with Gallup’s own implications of these data, there is more bad news:
A 2012 report from Ohio State University sociologists showed that it is increasingly common for young adults to live at home with their parents. The high costs of housing and a relatively weak job market are key factors that may force, or encourage, young adults to stay at home.… The biggest impetus for leaving home seems to be marriage, easily the strongest predictor of one’s living arrangement among those between the ages of 24 and 34. This indicates that if the marriage rate increases in the future, the percentage living with their parents may decline. Earlier Gallup research suggests that most unmarried Americans do have a goal of getting married someday.
Also, those who have secured full-time employment or have earned college degrees are more likely to have gotten a place of their own to live. An improving job market and economy should lead to a decrease in the percentage of young adults living with their parents.
To sum it up: a record number of college grads are optin not to start a household and instead live with their parents, and just as relevant:
“An improving job market and economy should lead to a decrease in the percentage of young adults living with their parents.“
Considering that the percentage of young adults living with their parents is now an all time high, what does that say about the true state of the job market?
He knows the answer.
Update: just hours after we posted this, Gallup released a follow up report that was largely as expected, and confirms the desolate picture beneath the glitzy surface:
Young Adults Living at Home Less Likely to Be “Thriving”
Young adults between the ages of 24 and 34 who live at home with their parents are significantly less likely to be “thriving” than those in the same age group who don’t live with their parents.
These results are based on Gallup Daily tracking interviews conducted from Aug. 7-Dec. 29, 2013, in which adults younger than 35 were asked about their current living arrangements. Fourteen percent of those between the ages of 24 and 34 report that they live at home with their parents.
Gallup classifies Americans as “thriving,” “struggling,” or “suffering,” according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10, based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. People are considered thriving if they rate their current lives a 7 or higher and their lives in five years an 8 or higher.
… even after accounting for marital status, employment, education, and a number of other demographic variables, those living at home between the ages of 24 and 34 still are less likely to be thriving. This suggests that while living with one’s parents may have some benefits for young people who have not yet found their full footing in society, the net effect of living at home lowers young adults’ perceptions of where they stand in life. In other words, even among young adults who have equal status in terms of being single, not being employed full time, and not having a college education, those who do not live at home are more likely to be thriving than those living at home. Something about living at home appears to drive down young adults’ overall life evaluations.
This research on the well-being of young adults living at home with their parents is the first of its kind at Gallup, although research conducted at Ohio State and elsewhere suggests that living at home is increasingly common among those younger than 35 today.
The data show that those between the ages of 24 and 34 who live at home tend to be unattached — in the sense that they are not married and less likely to have a full-time job — and also to be less well-educated. The research reviewed in this report underscores the idea that living at home may have some emotional costs for young adults — particularly in terms of their perceptions that they are not enjoying the best possible life, beyond those associated with being unemployed or unmarried.
Times may change. If marriage rates rebound, if the job market for young adults improves, and if more young Americans go to college, then living at home may be less common in the years ahead, and if that happens, the overall well-being of young Americans may improve.
Yes indeed: times may change if… Then again, when times change they may get far, far worse.
Former Congressman Ron Paul has launched a petition to attempt to garner clemency for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The “Demand Clemency for Edward Snowden” petition includes the clip below, Paul calls on supporters to sign the petition in an attempt to bring Snowden home to the US safely before his temporary visa in Russia expires in July.
On the heels of his son Rand Paul’s lawsuit against the Obama nd the NSA seeking to stop its collection of phone metadata, Ron Paul states “Edward Snowden shocked the world when he exposed the NSA’s illegal and abusive spying program. Instead of applauding him for his bravery and patriotism, the U.S. government labels Snowden a traitor.”
By signing this petition, Paul notes on his Channel’s website, “you are telling the US government that Mr. Snowden deserves the right to come home without the fear of persecution or imprisonment.”
Ron Paul’s petition plea…
Click image below to link to Petition:
Days before Tokyo won its bid to host the 2020 Olympics last September, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe stated that Fukushima contaminated water was “under control.” Now, as Reuters reports, the nation’s nuclear watchdog has uncovered that, following “uncertainty about the reliability and accuracy of the September strontium reading,” which prompted a re-examination of samples, levels of Strontium-90 were five times the levels previously recorded. The Japanese NRA blasted TEPCO, “We did not hear about this figure when they detected it last September. We have been repeatedly pushing TEPCO to release strontium data since November. It should not take them this long to release this information.” One can only wonder why – when the promise of $500 million of government support is on the line… and new cracks are appearing.
Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) is again in the midst of controversy for failing to timely report on record radiation levels at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. It is now blasted for holding back strontium measurements since September.
TEPCO on Wednesday revealed that it detected 5 million becquerels per liter of radioactive Strontium-90 in a groundwater sample taken some 25 meters from the ocean as early as last September, Reuters reports. The legal limit for releasing strontium into the ocean is just 30 becquerels per liter.
Although the reading was alarmingly five times the levels taken at the same spot two months prior to that, TEPCO decided not to immediately report it to the country’s nuclear watchdog. That is despite Strontium-90 being considered twice as harmful to people as Cesium-137, which was also released in large quantities during the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011 caused by powerful earthquake and tsunami.
According to a TEPCO spokesman cited by Reuters, the decision was due to “uncertainty about the reliability and accuracy of the September strontium reading,” which prompted the plant’s operator to reexamine the data.
However, Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) officials say no data came up until now despite repeated demands to TEPCO.
“We did not hear about this figure when they detected it last September. We have been repeatedly pushing TEPCO to release strontium data since November. It should not take them this long to release this information,” Shinji Kinjo, head of the NRA taskforce on contaminated water issues at Fukushima, told the agency.
Top NRA officials, including the watchdog’s chairman, have lashed out at TEPCO for “lacking a fundamental understanding of measuring and handling radiation” while responding to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
“This is not an appropriate way to deal with the desire of the public [for transparency] and in particular, the regulator, which is now very closely regulating issues related to public health, the environment and so on,” Martin Schulz, a senior research fellow at the Fujitsu Research Institute, has said.
On Thursday, fears of new leaks surfaced in Japanese media, as Asahi Shimbun reported two cracks in a concrete floor of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 facility near radioactive water storage tanks. Some contaminated water from the melting snow may have seeped into the ground through the cracks stretching for 12 and 8 meters, TEPCO said.
Earlier last year, TEPCO came under criticism for letting radioactive water leak from a tank at Fukushima and also concealing the fact for some time.
Days before Tokyo won its bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games last September, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed that contaminated water at Fukushima was “under control”and vowed to provide some $500 million to help contain it.
We did get something – a gift – after the election. … It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate. … And our little girl – Tricia, the 6-year old – named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.
– Richard Nixon, “Checkers” speech after accepting illegal campaign contributions
Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit. My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy.
– Barack Obama, 2014 State of the Union address
You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.
– William Jennings Bryan, the Boy Orator of the Platte, 1896 Democratic nomination speech
Every man a king, but no one wears a crown.
– Huey Long, the Kingfish, slogan from 1928 Louisiana gubernatorial campaign
You didn’t build that.
– Elizabeth Warren, slogan from 2012 Massachusetts campaign for US Senate
The play’s the thing. Wherein I’ll capture the conscience of the king.
– Shakespeare, “Hamlet”
As usual, I was struck by the pageantry and sheer theatricality of this Tuesday’s State of the Union address. As usual, you had the props – human and otherwise – on full display. As usual, you had the rhetorical flourishes, the ritualized audience behavior, the talking head performances before and after. Unusual for me, though, was the professionally scripted and rehearsed television broadcast production, such that the cameras were trained on the human props before the President referred to them in his speech. A bravura technical performance, to be sure.
Last week’s note focused on the primal human behavior of dance. This week it’s the primal human behavior of theatre, of the representation of stories, particularly the play-within-a-play…a fundamental trope of human story-telling from Hamlet to The Simpsons.
There’s the ostensible meaning of the spoken words and the performance, and there’s the ostensible audience to whom the words and performance are addressed. But then there’s the real meaning of the words, and the real audience to whom the words are addressed. And then maybe there’s a meaning and an audience beyond that. This is the recursive, strategic nature of public communications. These multi-level games are the beating hearts of both politics and economics, and looking at these behaviors through the lens of game theory can help us both see the social world more clearly and call more things by their proper names.
We expect this sort of linguistic game-playing in politics. It’s what politicians DO, whether it’s Elizabeth Warren’s “You didn’t build that” speeches putting a modern slant on the same language and imagery of populism and class warfare used by William Jennings Bryan in the 1890’s and Huey “Kingfish” Long in the 1920’s, or whether it’s the entire Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy” of coded language to maintain racist voting blocs post the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you’ve never read political operative extraordinaire Lee Atwater’s infamous interview on the subject, you really should. And yes, I know that Atwater’s point was that overt racist appeals were diminishing in the South as the language changed, but does anyone doubt that Atwater would use language straight from the KKK handbook if he thought it were still an effective campaign tool? It’s not that he thinks racism is wrong or even distasteful in the context of a political campaign, any more than Elizabeth Warren would be opposed to burning Jamie Dimon in effigy (or maybe in person) at her next campaign rally … it’s just an unpopular tactic today, at least in its unvarnished form. But if it works tomorrow? Sure, why not? In the immortal words of Al Davis, “Just win, baby.”
This sort of linguistic game-playing is not a modern phenomenon. It is a quintessential human phenomenon, played just as effectively by Pericles 2,500 years ago as it is by politicians today. My favorite example of a linguistic play-within-a-play was staged 150 years ago by an undisputed American political genius: Abraham Lincoln. We’re all familiar with the Lincoln-Douglas debates as some sort of shining example of civic participation and civil discourse, but few know the politics behind those debates. Lincoln lost that 1858 election to Stephen Douglas for the US Senate (well, he won the aggregate popular vote by a slim margin, but US Senators were still chosen by state legislatures back then, and the allocation of votes within the Illinois legislature gave Douglas a clear victory). But the way he lost that Senate race … the way Lincoln played the game … won him the Presidency in 1860.
Here was the central question of those debates, the way in which Lincoln framed the language of the debate to give himself the best chance of winning the larger political game: should the citizens of a Territory have the right to decide whether or not to allow slavery in that Territory? Every time Douglas tried to move the debate to some other topic (and seeing as how Illinois was, of course, a state rather than a Territory, you can understand why other topics might be of interest), Lincoln moved it right back. Every time the crowd’s attention seemed to wane in the subject, Lincoln would say something certain to inflame his opponents in the crowd, drawing Douglas back into the fight. Lincoln’s position on this question may surprise you. He was adamantly opposed to popular sovereignty in the Territories, even when the majority opposed slavery (like Kansas). Lincoln’s position was not only anti-slavery, but also (and perhaps more importantly to Lincoln from a political game perspective) anti-states’ rights and local sovereignty.
Why? Lincoln’s question was not really directed at Douglas, the immediate audience. Nor was it really directed at the crowds of voters in the various Illinois towns where they debated. Nor was it really directed at the Illinois newspaper reporters who carried the debates across the entire state of Illinois. It was really directed at a national audience of Republican voters, because Lincoln knew that the Illinois Senate race in 1858 was just a warm-up for the Presidential election of 1860. If Douglas agreed with Lincoln on the Territorial sovereignty question, then he would lose the only issue where he was more popular than Lincoln within Illinois … Douglas would lose the Senate race and fatally damage his chances in the national Democratic primary. If Douglas disagreed with Lincoln, then he would probably win the Illinois Senate race and put himself in a reasonable position to win the national Democratic primary, but not without splitting his own party (Southern Democrats wanted slavery legalized in Territories even if the majority voted it down). Lincoln was playing a game four layers deep! He didn’t care about “winning” the debate. He didn’t care about winning the crowd. He didn’t really care about winning the Illinois Senate election. All of those things would be nice, but it was the fourth level – winning the national Republican primary and the national Presidential election of 1860 – where Lincoln was focused.
Lincoln’s multi-level game strategy worked perfectly. The Democratic party split into Northern and Southern factions (really into three factions if you count the Constitutional Union, which drew principally from former Southern Whigs), giving the Republicans a clean sweep of the Northern states and Electoral College domination even though Lincoln received less than 40% of the popular vote nation-wide. Douglas – the candidate of the (Northern) Democratic Party – finished second in the popular vote with 30% of the vote, but carried only one state (Missouri) and ended up with a mere 12 Electoral College votes, compared to Lincoln’s 180. Not bad for a former Congressman from a frontier state who couldn’t even win a Senate seat.
I’m always surprised when people who are quite aware of the linguistic game-playing that creates the fabric of politics are somehow blind to the same linguistic shaping of the fabric of economics and market behavior. I shouldn’t be surprised – as Upton Sinclair said, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it” – but still. We don’t expect our politics to be “scientific” or our politicians to be anything less than fallible humans, but somehow we expect Truth with a capital T when it comes to economics. There’s a tendency to treat economic communications and signals – whether it’s from a Famous CEO, a Famous Investor, a Famous Economist, a Famous TV Personality, or a Central Banker – as somehow less theatrical or less staged for a larger purpose than political speech. But this is a mistake. When Ben Bernanke said that the Fed would increasingly use its communications as a policy tool, he was declaring his intention to start playing a linguistic game. Or rather, his intention to play the game even harder than it had been played in the past. When Jean-Claude Juncker, former Luxembourg Prime Minister and head of the Eurogroup Council, said of European monetary policy “when it becomes serious you have to lie,” he was simply saying what every successful game-player knows: sometimes you have to bluff. Some Central Bankers are pretty good poker players (Draghi, for example); others … not so much. But they are all playing the Common Knowledge Game as hard as they can, they’re getting better at it, and they’re not going to stop. If you don’t understand the rules of this game, if you don’t listen to what is being said in the context of game-playing, then you are placed at a disadvantage versus those who do. You will not understand the WHY that exists behind the public statements.
There’s a slightly different linguistic game going on in the financial media, but no less important for understanding market outcomes. I’ll take CNBC as an example, but it’s just an example…you could make the same observations about any other media outlet. Within CNBC, Jim Cramer is everyone’s favorite whipping boy when it comes to complaints about media theatrics, but this is missing the forest for the trees. At least Cramer lets us in on the play-within-a-play conceit without constantly pretending that a daily price chart or a market “heat map” is anything other than a theatrical prop. If anything, Cramer’s performance is a paragon of honesty compared to the performances of the “news” hosts or the interchangeable “traders” on shows like “Fast Money.” XKCD published this cartoon in reference to ESPN and the like, but it’s even more applicable to CNBC and its ilk. Just to be clear, I’m not slamming these hosts and traders. I’m sure that they are overwhelmingly smart, honest people who believe that what they say are useful truths from their own perspectives. They are not hypocrites. But they are performers. And like any performer, there is a larger game being played with their words.
The larger meaning of the statements made on CNBC has absolutely nothing to do with specific investment advice or news. CNBC really could not care less about the actual content of what is being said. The purpose of CNBC’s game is not to tell you WHAT to think, but HOW to think, that thinking about investing in terms of some sell-side analyst’s anodyne story about fundamentals or some trader’s breathless story about open option interest is smart or wise or what all the cool kids are doing. Why? Because CNBC can create inexpensive content essentially at will to fill this demand, allowing them to sell advertisements and take cable carriage fees. Nothing evil or wrong about this. It’s what for-profit media companies DO. But the content they are producing is no less of a theatrical production than the State of the Union address, no less of a multi-level game, and it needs to be understood as such.
So what’s to be done if all of our leaders and all of our institutions are speaking past us, playing a larger game for power or money or whatever? Do we rage against the machine? Do we wander around like Diogenes, the founder of Cynic philosophy, holding to some absolutist standards of Honesty with a capital H and Truth with a capital T, living in rags and sleeping in a large clay jar? If that’s the price of being a Cynic and constantly fighting the innate fallibility of Man and his works…no thanks. There has to be a middle ground between being a Cynic and a Fool, some way of playing the game without losing one’s soul. Recognizing that all of us human animals, including me and including you, are playing multiple multi-level games … well, that seems like a good start to me. The Truths in life are still death and taxes (and maybe compounding returns). Everything else is theatre, where honesty (with a small h) and truth (with a small t) are probably the best we can achieve. And that’s not so bad.