Chris Hedges: America’s Mania for Positive Thinking and Denial of Reality Will Be Our Downfall

The ridiculous positivism, the belief that we are headed toward some glorious future, defies reality.
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The naive belief that history is linear, that moral progress accompanies technical progress, is a form of collective self-delusion. It cripples our capacity for radical action and lulls us into a false sense of security. Those who cling to the myth of human progress, who believe that the world inevitably moves toward a higher material and moral state, are held captive by power. Only those who accept the very real possibility of dystopia, of the rise of a ruthless corporate totalitarianism, buttressed by the most terrifying security and surveillance apparatus in human history, are likely to carry out the self-sacrifice necessary for revolt.

The yearning for positivism that pervades our corporate culture ignores human nature and human history. But to challenge it, to state the obvious fact that things are getting worse, and may soon get much worse, is to be tossed out of the circle of magical thinking that defines American and much of Western culture. The left is as infected with this mania for hope as the right. It is a mania that obscures reality even as global capitalism disintegrates and the ecosystem unravels, potentially dooming us all.

The 19th century theorist Louis-Auguste Blanqui, unlike nearly all of his contemporaries, dismissed the belief, central to Karl Marx, that human history is a linear progression toward equality and greater morality. He warned that this absurd positivism is the lie perpetrated by oppressors: “All atrocities of the victor, the long series of his attacks are coldly transformed into constant, inevitable evolution, like that of nature. … But the sequence of human things is not inevitable like that of the universe. It can be changed at any moment.” He foresaw that scientific and technological advancement, rather than being a harbinger of progress, could be “a terrible weapon in the hands of Capital against Work and Thought.” And in a day when few others did so, he decried the despoiling of the natural world. “The axe fells, nobody replants. There is no concern for the future’s ill health.”

“Humanity,” Blanqui wrote, “is never stationary. It advances or goes backwards. Its progressive march leads it to equality. Its regressive march goes back through every stage of privilege to human slavery, the final word of the right to property.” Further, he wrote, “I am not amongst those who claim that progress can be taken for granted, that humanity cannot go backwards.”Blanqui understood that history has long periods of cultural barrenness and brutal repression. The fall of the Roman Empire, for example, led to misery throughout Europe during the Dark Ages, roughly from the sixth through the 13th centuries. There was a loss of technical knowledge (one prominent example being how to build and maintain aqueducts), and a cultural and intellectual impoverishment led to a vast historical amnesia that blotted out the greatest thinkers and artists of the classical world. None of this loss was regained until the 14th century when Europe saw the beginning of the Renaissance, a development made possible largely by the cultural flourishing of Islam, which through translating Aristotle into Arabic and other intellectual accomplishments kept alive the knowledge and wisdom of the past. The Dark Ages were marked by arbitrary rule, incessant wars, insecurity, anarchy and terror. And I see nothing to prevent the rise of a new Dark Age if we do not abolish the corporate state. Indeed, the longer the corporate state holds power the more likely a new Dark Age becomes. To trust in some mythical force called progress to save us is to become passive before corporate power. The people alone can defy these forces. And fate and history do not ensure our victory.

Blanqui tasted history’s tragic reverses. He took part in a series of French revolts, including an attempted armed insurrection in May 1839, the 1848 uprising and the Paris Commune—a socialist uprising that controlled France’s capital from March 18 until May 28 in 1871. Workers in cities such as Marseilles and Lyon attempted but failed to organize similar communes before the Paris Commune was militarily crushed.

The blundering history of the human race is always given coherence by power elites and their courtiers in the press and academia who endow it with a meaning and coherence it lacks. They need to manufacture national myths to hide the greed, violence and stupidity that characterize the march of most human societies. For the United States, refusal to confront the crisis of climate change and our endless and costly wars in the Middle East are but two examples of the follies that propel us toward catastrophe.

Wisdom is not knowledge. Knowledge deals with the particular and the actual. Knowledge is the domain of science and technology. Wisdom is about transcendence. Wisdom allows us to see and accept reality, no matter how bleak that reality may be. It is only through wisdom that we are able to cope with the messiness and absurdity of life. Wisdom is about detachment. Once wisdom is achieved, the idea of moral progress is obliterated. Wisdom throughout the ages is a constant. Did Shakespeare supersede Sophocles? Is Homer inferior to Dante? Does the Book of Ecclesiastes not have the same deep powers of observation about life that Samuel Beckett offers? Systems of power fear and seek to silence those who achieve wisdom, which is what the war by corporate forces against the humanities and art is about. Wisdom, because it sees through the facade, is a threat to power. It exposes the lies and ideologies that power uses to maintain its privilege and its warped ideology of progress.

Knowledge does not lead to wisdom. Knowledge is more often a tool for repression. Knowledge, through the careful selection and manipulation of facts, gives a false unity to reality. It creates a fictitious collective memory and narrative. It manufactures abstract concepts of honor, glory, heroism, duty and destiny that buttress the power of the state, feed the disease of nationalism and call for blind obedience in the name of patriotism. It allows human beings to explain the advances and reverses in human achievement and morality, as well as the process of birth and decay in the natural world, as parts of a vast movement forward in time. The collective enthusiasm for manufactured national and personal narratives, which is a form of self-exaltation, blots out reality. The myths we create that foster a fictitious hope and false sense of superiority are celebrations of ourselves. They mock wisdom. And they keep us passive.

Wisdom connects us with forces that cannot be measured empirically and that are outside the confines of the rational world. To be wise is to pay homage to beauty, truth, grief, the brevity of life, our own mortality, love and the absurdity and mystery of existence. It is, in short, to honor the sacred. Those who remain trapped in the dogmas perpetuated by technology and knowledge, who believe in the inevitability of human progress, are idiot savants.

“Self-awareness is as much a disability as a power,” the philosopher John Gray writes. “The most accomplished pianist is not the one who is most aware of her movements when she plays. The best craftsman may not know how he works. Very often we are at our most skillful when we are least self-aware. That may be why many cultures have sought to disrupt or diminish self-conscious awareness. In Japan, archers are taught that they will hit the target only when they no longer think of it—or themselves.”

Artists and philosophers, who expose the mercurial undercurrents of the subconscious, allow us to face an unvarnished truth. Works of art and philosophy informed by the intuitive, unarticulated meanderings of the human psyche transcend those constructed by the plodding conscious mind. The freeing potency of visceral memories does not arrive through the intellect. These memories are impervious to rational control. And they alone lead to wisdom.

Those with power have always manipulated reality and created ideologies defined as progress to justify systems of exploitation. Monarchs and religious authorities did this in the Middle Ages. Today this is done by the high priests of modernity—the technocrats, scholars, scientists, politicians, journalists and economists. They deform reality. They foster the myth of preordained inevitability and pure rationality. But such knowledge—which dominates our universities—is anti-thought. It precludes all alternatives. It is used to end discussion. It is designed to give to the forces of science or the free market or globalization a veneer of rational discourse, to persuade us to place our faith in these forces and trust our fate to them. These forces, the experts assure us, are as unalterable as nature. They will lead us forward. To question them is heresy.

The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, in his 1942 novella “Chess Story,” chronicles the arcane specializations that have created technocrats unable to question the systems they serve, as well as a society that foolishly reveres them. Mirko Czentovic, the world chess champion, represents the technocrat. His mental energy is invested solely in the 64 squares of the chessboard. Apart from the game, he is a dolt, a monomaniac like all monomaniacs, who “burrow like termites into their own particular material to construct, in miniature, a strange and utterly individual image of the world.” When Czentovic “senses an educated person he crawls into his shell. That way no one will ever be able to boast of having heard him say something stupid or of having plumbed the depths of his seemingly boundless ignorance.”

An Austrian lawyer known as Dr. B, whom the Gestapo had held for many months in solitary confinement, challenges Czentovic to a game of chess. During his confinement, the lawyer’s only reading material was a chess manual, which he memorized. He reconstructed games in his head. Forced by his captivity to replicate the single-minded obsession of the technocrat Czentovic, Dr. B too became trapped inside a specialized world, and, unlike Czentovic, he became insane temporarily as he focused on a tiny, specialized piece of human activity. When he challenges the chess champion, his insanity returns.

Zweig, who mourned for the broad liberal culture of educated Europe swallowed up by fascism and modern bureaucracy, warns of the absurdity and danger of a planet run by technocrats. For him, the rise of the Industrial Age and the industrial man and woman is a terrifying metamorphosis in the relationship of human beings to the world. As specialists and bureaucrats, human beings become tools, able to make systems of exploitation and even terror function efficiently without the slightest sense of personal responsibility or understanding. They retreat into the arcane language of all specialists, to mask what they are doing and give to their work a sanitized, clinical veneer.

This is Hannah Arendt’s central point in “Eichmann in Jerusalem.” Technocratic human beings are spiritually dead. They are capable of anything, no matter how heinous, because they do not reflect upon or question the ultimate goal. “The longer one listened to him,” Arendt writes of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann on trial, “the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and presence of others, and hence against reality as such.”

Zweig, horrified by a world run by technocrats, committed suicide with his wife in 1942. He knew that from then on, the Czentovics would be exalted in the service of state and corporate monstrosities.

Resistance, as Alexander Berkman points out, is first about learning to speak differently and abandoning the vocabulary of the “rational” technocrats who rule. Once we discover new words and ideas through which to perceive and explain reality, we free ourselves from neoliberal capitalism, which functions, as Walter Benjamin knew, like a state religion. Resistance will take place outside the boundaries of popular culture and academia, where the deadening weight of the dominant ideology curtails creativity and independent thought.

As global capitalism disintegrates, the heresy our corporate masters fear is gaining currency. But that heresy will not be effective until it is divorced from the mania for hope that is an essential part of corporate indoctrination. The ridiculous positivism, the belief that we are headed toward some glorious future, defies reality. Hope, in this sense, is a form of disempowerment.

There is nothing inevitable about human existence except birth and death. There are no forces, whether divine or technical, that will guarantee us a better future. When we give up false hopes, when we see human nature and history for what they are, when we accept that progress is not preordained, then we can act with an urgency and passion that comprehends the grim possibilities ahead.

Nuclear Weapons Proliferation: Made in the USA

Who Will Hold the US Accountable for Violations of the NPT?

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by JOHN LaFORGE

The United States is perhaps the principle nuclear weapons proliferator in the world today, openly flouting binding provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Article I of the treaty forbids signers from transferring nuclear weapons to other states, and Article II prohibits signers from receiving nuclear weapons from other states.

As the UN Review Conference of the NPT was finishing its month-long deliberations in New York last week, the US delegation distracted attention from its own violations using its standard Red Herring warnings about Iran and North Korea — the former without a single nuclear weapon, and the latter with 8-to-10 (according to those reliable weapons spotters at the CIA) but with no means of delivering them.

The NPT’s prohibitions and obligations were re-affirmed and clarified by the world’s highest judicial body in its July 1996 Advisory Opinion on the legal status of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The International Court of Justice said in this famous decision that the NPT’s binding promises not to transfer or receive nuclear weapons are unqualified, unequivocal, unambiguous and absolute. For these reasons, US violations are easy to illustrate.

Nuclear Missiles “Leased” to British Navy

The US “leases” submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles (SLBMs) to Britain for use on its four giant Trident submarines. We’ve done this for two decades. The British subs travel across the Atlantic to pick up the US-made missiles at Kings Bay Naval base in Georgia.

Helping to ensure that US proliferation involves only of the most verifiably terrible nuclear weapons, a senior staff engineer at Lockheed Martin in California is currently responsible for planning, coordinating and carrying out development and production of the “UK Trident Mk4A [warhead] Reentry Systems as part of the UK Trident Weapons System ‘Life Extension program.’” This, according to John Ainslie of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which closely watchdogs the British Tridents — all of which are based in Scotland, much to the chagrin of the Scots.

Even the W76 warheads that arm the US-owned missiles leased to England have parts made in United States. The warheads use a Gas Transfer System (GTS) which stores tritium — the radioactive form of hydrogen that puts the “H” in H-bomb — and the GTS injects tritium it into the plutonium warhead or “pit.” All the GTS devices used in Britain’s Trident warheads are manufactured in the United States. They are then either sold to the Royals or given away in exchange for an undisclosed quid pro quo.

David Webb, the current Chair of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament reported during the NPT Review Conference, and later confirmed in an email to Nukewatch, that the Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico announced, in March 2011, that it had conducted “the first W76 United Kingdom trials test” at its Weapons Evaluation and Test Laboratory (WETL) in New Mexico, and that this had “provided qualification data critical to the UK [United Kingdom] implementation of the W76-1.” The W76 is a 100 kiloton H-bomb designed for the so-called D-4 and D-5 Trident missiles. One of the centrifuges at Sandia’s WETL simulates the ballistic trajectory of the W76 “reentry-vehicle” or warhead. This deep and complex collusion between the US and the UK could be called Proliferation Plus.

The majority of the Royal Navy’s Trident warheads are manufactured at England’s Aldermaston nuclear weapons complex, allowing both the Washington and London to claim they are in compliance with the NPT.

US H-bombs Deployed in Five NATO Countries

An even clearer violation of NPT is the US deployment of between 184 and 200 thermonuclear gravity bombs, called B61, in five European countries — Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Turkey and Germany. “Nuclear sharing agreements” with these equal partners in the NPT — all of whom declare that they are “non-nuclear states” — openly defy both Article I and Article II of the treaty.

The US is the only country in the world that deploys nuclear weapons to other countries, and in the case of the five nuclear sharing partners, the US Air Force even trains Italian, German, Belgian, Turkish and Dutch pilots in the use of the B61s in their own warplanes — should the President ever order such a thing. Still, the US government regularly lectures other states about their international law violations, boundary pushing and destabilizing actions.

With so much a stake, it is intriguing that diplomats at the UN are too polite to confront US defiance of the NPT, even when the extension and enforcement of it is on the table. As Henry Thoreau said, “The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it.”

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/05/27/nuclear-weapons-proliferation-made-in-the-usa/

NSA affair creates tensions between Berlin and Washington

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By Gustav Kemper
27 May 2015

Tensions have been growing between Berlin and Washington and within the German ruling coalition since it became known at the end of April that the German foreign intelligence service (BND) had spied on European politicians, businesses and individuals for the American National Security Agency (NSA). In particular, the demand of the Bundestag (parliamentary) NSA committee of inquiry for the list of so-called selectors–the phone numbers, names and keywords by which digital communications were searched–has led to fierce conflicts.

According to a report in the Bild newspaper, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper threatened to restrict cooperation with the German secret services, or completely discontinue it, because confidential US documents had been leaked to the media by the parliamentary committee of inquiry. The paper quoted an American intelligence official as saying, “What the German government is organizing is more dangerous than the Snowden revelations.”

Two years ago, whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the close cooperation between the BND and NSA under the code name “eikonal”. Since then, numerous other details have been made public.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the BND tapped into a major telecoms hub in Frankfurt and passed the data through a direct fibre optic cable to Pullach and Bad Aibling in Bavaria. There, digital communications from all over the world were searched by the BND using keywords (selectors) provided by the NSA, and then supplied the data back to the NSA.

There are supposed to be lists with a total of 800,000 selectors. Those affected include not only terrorist suspects, but also European politicians, institutions and companies, including ones in Germany. Among others spied upon were the aerospace and defence company EADS (Airbus Group), its wholly owned subsidiary Airbus Helicopters and Siemens. Via the Frankfurt network node, the NSA and the BND are able to monitor a large portion of the world’s population, including Germans.

This cooperation between the BND and NSA was established in April 2002 under SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the then Chancellery Minister and present Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The BND took over a US monitoring station in Bad Aibling, and in exchange filtered the digital data flow for the NSA.

In the Bundestag investigative committee, not only the opposition Left Party and the Greens, but also the SPD, which is part of the government, are now demanding access to the list of selectors. According to Bild am Sonntag, SPD General Secretary Yasmin Fahimi posed an ultimatum to the Chancellor and loudly demanded “that the chancellor’s office finally provides clarity about how the Bundestag can examine the list of selectors by the parliamentary session next week”.

Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel also called for greater self-confidence. He demanded that the list of selectors be presented to the parliamentary inquiry committee for consideration without US consent, so that it can determine whether more industrial enterprises were affected by the spying. “No Congress and no Senate in the United States would let itself be refused this right to information,” he said. The German parliament should be “at least as confident. We are neither immature nor order takers.”

“What we are experiencing now is an affair, a secret service scandal, which is capable of rendering a very severe concussion,” Gabriel added. He tried to draw the Chancellor into the affair, claiming she had assured him there was no industrial espionage beyond what was previously known. Should this turn out to be false, this would place a heavy “burden on the trust of government action,” he threatened.

Most editorials suggest that Gabriel, who is also SPD chairman, has played up the issue on tactical grounds. The SPD has not yet succeeded in rising above its current 25 percent support in opinion polls. However, the SPD is not seeking a break in relations with Washington.

It is striking that Frank-Walter Steinmeier–who as a former head of the chancellery and long-time foreign minister is deeply involved in the affair–is holding back. In the Welt am Sonntag, SPD parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann promised, “We cannot and will not end cooperation with the American services. The world has not become more secure in recent years. We thank the Americans for important information.”

On the “Berlin Direct” programme of broadcaster ZDF, even Gabriel declared that the functioning of the intelligence services was in the “national interest”.

Chancellor Merkel has kept a low profile, but stressed, “The fitness for purpose of the intelligence services can only be achieved in cooperation with other services. This includes the NSA.” She will only make the selector lists available to the committee of inquiry when the NSA gives its permission.

Testifying before the parliamentary committee of inquiry, the president of the Federal Intelligence Service, Gerhard Schindler, defended the cooperation with the NSA. He said that Germany was dependent on the American service and not vice versa. The NSA did not threaten Germany’s security but protected it.

Schindler warned that the sustainability of the BND was at stake if more details came to light. “First partner services in Europe review the cooperation with the BND,” he said. “The first meetings without the BND” had already occurred at the European level. “The signals we hear are anything but positive.”

Schindler also claimed that the clarification of European objectives–i.e. spying on EU partners–was not contrary to German law. This was immediately contradicted by chancellery chief Peter Altmaier (CDU), responsible for the secret services. Whether the BND should monitor European targets was not a matter of opinion, and “was to be answered by those who are called to serve”, he wrote on Twitter.

However, there are also those who regard the conflict with the NSA as an opportunity to emancipate the German secret services from those of the US. The taking on of more “German responsibility in the world” and the “end of military restraint”, which the Federal President Joachim Gauck and members of the federal government have advocated for a long time, not only demands a stronger army but also more powerful intelligence services. The corresponding demands are being raised in both the ruling parties and in the opposition.

This view is most clearly expressed by Left Party leader Gregor Gysi. He accused the BND of “treason”, a term that the nationalist right uses mostly as a rallying cry against internationalists and socialists. “It’s about treason. It’s about intelligence activity, possibly against German interests, against German companies, at least companies with German participation, against friendly politicians”, Gysi said on Deutschlandfunk.

The SPD is working on a law that will restructure the BND. It should only collect and pass on data that meet its own task profile. “We need a fundamental new beginning in communications intelligence abroad”, said Christian Flisek, the SPD representative in the NSA committee of inquiry.

The German government also wants to strengthen the BND. Since it became known that the NSA had intercepted the private mobile phone of the German Chancellor, she has repeatedly called for a return to an “equal footing” with the Americans. However, this is difficult.

In 2013, the budget of all American intelligence agencies, with 107,000 employees, amounted to $52.6 billion (at that time about 40 billion euros), many times the nearly 800 million euros allotted to the German secret services in the same year, with a total of about 7,000 employees. The daily Die Weltnames a sum of 496 million euros for the BND, 206 million for the Secret Service and 72 million for the Military Counterintelligence Service.

There is no doubt that the government will massively increase these amounts, as well as funding for the armed forces, at the expense of already reduced social spending.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/27/bnds-m27.html

China warns of war with US in South China Sea

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26 May 2015

In the face of mounting American pressure and provocations in the South China Sea, the Chinese government announced yesterday that it had lodged an official complaint over a highly publicised surveillance flight close to Chinese-claimed territory and urged the US to back off.

Washington’s extraordinarily reckless actions are threatening to plunge the Asia Pacific and the entire world into conflict. From a media campaign condemning Chinese land reclamation in the South China Sea, the US has moved to military challenges. While last week’s reconnaissance flight did not breach China’s 12-mile territorial limit, the Pentagon is preparing plans to do just that under the pretext of defending “freedom of navigation.”

At a press briefing yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying condemned the flight as “utterly dangerous and irresponsible” and declared it was “highly likely to cause miscalculation and untoward incidents in the waters and airspace.”

An editorial in yesterday’s Global Times, a hawkish state-run tabloid, warned: “If the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt its activities, then a US-China war is inevitable in the South China Sea.” The article went on to state that if the US wanted to teach China a lesson by “provoking and humiliating,” then “China will have no choice but to engage.”

The US has deliberately placed the entire region on a knife edge, posing a real and imminent danger of war. An accident or miscalculation by US or Chinese military aircraft or warships in the South China Sea could set in train a series of actions and reactions that would bring the two nuclear-armed powers to blows.

One has only to consider how the US would react to Chinese aircraft or ships engaged in “freedom of navigation” operations near Hawaii or off the coast of California to appreciate the sheer hypocrisy of American propaganda over the South China Sea. These waters are not only essential to Chinese trade but are immediately adjacent to key naval bases on Hainan Island in southern China.

The US has further heightened the risk of war by pushing other claimants in the South China Sea, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, to more assertively press their territorial demands against China. It has also encouraged Japan to conduct its own patrols in the region. All of these steps multiply the danger of an incident, not necessarily immediately involving the United States, precipitating a far broader conflict.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino declared yesterday that his country’s aircraft “will still fly the routes we fly based on international law.” Philippine Air Force spokesman Colonel Enrico Canaya told the media that its planes flew in contested areas, including the route taken last week by the US reconnaissance flight.

Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said he would ask for a “stronger commitment” from the US for assistance to counter Chinese “bullying” when he meets his American counterpart Ashton Carter this week. What the Philippines is seeking is a public pledge that the US will support it in a war with China similar to the guarantee already provided to Japan in its dispute with China over rocky outcrops in the East China Sea.

The looming confrontation in the South China Sea has been long in preparation. The Obama administration’s aggressive stance towards China on every front—diplomatic, economic and military—began in 2009 and was formalised in the “pivot to Asia” in 2011. As part of the “pivot,” the US has engaged in a comprehensive build-up and restructuring of its armed forces in the Indo Pacific, focussed on fighting a war with China.

Throughout Asia, Washington has strengthened its already formidable network of military alliances and partnerships. It has concluded formal basing agreements with Australia, including “rotating” US Marines, warplanes and naval ships through its bases, and with the Philippines, providing virtually unlimited access to that country’s military facilities. The US is repositioning and boosting its forces in Japan and South Korea, has placed warships in Singapore, and is consolidating closer relations with every country on China’s periphery.

Washington has also encouraged closer cooperation between countries it regards as the cornerstones of “the pivot”—Japan, Australia and India. The Australian government has announced that Japanese troops will take part for the first time in the huge biennial Talisman Sabre war games held at locations around Australia and involving up to 30,000 US, Australian and New Zealand troops.

The US is not about to back off its confrontation with China in the South China Sea. To do so would result in a loss of confidence in its strategic commitments among US allies in Asia and around the world. More fundamentally, American imperialism is being driven to increasingly rash military actions as a means of shoring up its hegemony in Asia and internationally.

Washington bitterly resented the decision by Britain in March to ignore its advice and sign up to the China-backed Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The move prompted a rush by other countries to follow suit, undermining the monopoly position of longstanding American-dominated institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. US actions in the South China Sea are, in part, a means of hitting back by underscoring the military vulnerability of China.

There is absolutely nothing progressive about the response of the Chinese regime, which rests on and defends the interests of a tiny layer of super-rich oligarchs. Deeply hostile to the working class, the Beijing bureaucracy is engaged in a frantic arms race that only heightens the danger of a catastrophic war.

The drive to war is being fuelled by the fundamental contradictions of capitalism expressed in the deepening breakdown of the world economy following the 2008 financial crisis. Whatever the immediate outcome of the present standoff in the South China, war is inevitable if the international working class does not disarm the imperialist war-mongers by means of socialist revolution.

Peter Symonds

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/26/pers-m26.html

Token fines for banks caught rigging foreign exchange markets

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By Andre Damon and Barry Grey
21 May 2015

In yet another wrist-slap settlement for bankers involved in criminality on a massive scale, the US government on Wednesday announced that five major banks had pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy and antitrust charges and agreed to pay a combined total of approximately $5 billion in fines.

The payouts, much of them tax deductible, are a fraction of the combined profits of the banks. The amounts have already been set aside by bank CEOs as the cost of doing business in an environment in which banks routinely break the law, secure in the knowledge that there will be no serious consequences.

The banks—JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, Barclays and RBS—admitted to conspiring to rig global currency exchange rates. They made billions of dollars by illegally manipulating rates affecting countless businesses and individuals around the world. All of the banks were previously implicated in rigging Libor (the London Interbank Offered Rate), the global benchmark used to set short-term interest rates for hundreds of trillions of dollars in loans.

Two of the banks, UBS and Barclays, carried out the foreign exchange fraud in violation of the terms of their non-prosecution agreements with the US government stemming from their involvement in the Libor scandal.

The documents released by the Justice Department in relation to the settlement point to the culture of fraud and criminality on Wall Street. As one Barclays vice president put it, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

Since the Wall Street crash of 2008, these and other major banks have been cited for crimes ranging from fraudulently selling worthless mortgage securities, to laundering money for Mexican drug lords, facilitating Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and concealing billions in speculative losses. For these crimes they have suffered no serious consequences.

Instead, regulators in the US and internationally have crafted settlements in backroom negotiations with the criminals involving token fines that turn out to be significantly smaller than the nominal figures announced by government officials.

“The criminality occurred on a massive scale,” said FBI Assistant Director Andrew McCabe, announcing the foreign exchange fraud settlement on Wednesday. He explained that traders at multiple banks rigged estimates of global currency exchange rates every day for up to five years.

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke of the conspiracy’s “breathtaking flagrancy, its systemic reach, and its significant impact.” Aitan Goelman, the head of enforcement at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, called the five banks a “cabal.”

These statements, meant to give the appearance of government toughness toward the banks, only underscored the gaping discrepancy between the scale of the crimes and the toothless character of the punishment. Wednesday’s announcement was further confirmation that the US and international financial aristocracy is above the law.

Not a single major bank has been closed down or broken up since the 2008 crash, triggered by reckless and illegal speculative activities. Not a single bank CEO or top official has been prosecuted or jailed for crimes that have led to the impoverishment of countless millions of people.

But a petty crime carried out by a US worker or working-class youth brings down the wrath of a so-called “justice system” that is merciless when it comes to the lower social orders. Tens of thousands of workers and poor people are cast into America’s prison gulag every year for offenses that pale in comparison to the crimes carried out by Wall Street CEOs.

Or they are killed outright by the militarized police who occupy America’s working-class neighborhoods. Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed youth, was gunned down last August by a Ferguson, Missouri cop who was tracking him for allegedly stealing a package of cigarillos from a convenience store.

In the deal announced Wednesday, the banks pleaded guilty to felony charges. This is a departure from previous settlements in which the government allowed the banks to avoid any admission of guilt.

But the guilty pleas were part of a scheme worked out between the government and the banks to render the pleas virtually meaningless. The Securities and Exchange Commission issued waivers exempting the banks from the legal repercussions of committing a felony, giving them continued preferential treatment in issuing debt as well as the continued ability to operate mutual funds.

In today’s thoroughly corrupt political environment, totally dominated by corporate money, there is no stigma attached to a bank that effectively admits to being a criminal enterprise. The media pays no attention and the markets could care less. Shares of most of the banks involved in the settlement spiked on Wednesday. UBS and Barclays both rose 3.4 percent. RBS finished the day up by 1.9 percent.

Wednesday’s settlement is further evidence of the reassertion of the aristocratic principle in contemporary capitalist society: there is one set of laws for the vast majority, the working people, and an entirely different legal framework for the financial oligarchs—one that can be summed up with the phrase “Anything goes.”

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/21/bank-m21.html?view=mobilearticle

U.S. Wakes Up to New (Silk) World Order

About Those Missiles…
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by PEPE ESCOBAR

The real Masters of the Universe in the U.S. are no weathermen, but arguably they’re starting to feel which way the wind is blowing.

History may signal it all started with this week’s trip to Sochi, led by their paperboy, Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Foreign Minister Lavrov and then with President Putin.

Arguably, a visual reminder clicked the bells for the real Masters of the Universe; the PLA marching in Red Square on Victory Day side by side with the Russian military. Even under the Stalin-Mao alliance Chinese troops did not march in Red Square.

As a screamer, that rivals the Russian S-500 missile systems. Adults in the Beltway may have done the math and concluded Moscow and Beijing may be on the verge of signing secret military protocols as in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The new game of musical chairs is surely bound to leave Eurasian-obsessed Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski apoplectic.

And suddenly, instead of relentless demonization and NATO spewing out “Russian aggression!” every ten seconds, we have Kerry saying that respecting Minsk-2 is the only way out in Ukraine, and that he would strongly caution vassal Poroshenko against his bragging on bombing Donetsk airport and environs back into Ukrainian “democracy”.

The ever level-headed Lavrov, for his part, described the meeting with Kerry as “wonderful,” and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the new U.S.-Russia entente as “extremely positive”.

So now the self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” Obama administration, at least apparently, seems to finally understand that this “isolating Russia” business is over – and that Moscow simply won’t back down from two red lines; no Ukraine in NATO, and no chance of popular republics of Donetsk and Lugansk being smashed, by Kiev, NATO or anybody else.

Thus what was really discussed – but not leaked – out of Sochi is how the Obama administration can get some sort of face-saving exit out of the Russian western borderland geopolitical mess it invited on itself in the first place.

About Those Missiles…

Ukraine is a failed state now fully converted into an IMF colony. The EU will never accept it as a member, or pay its astronomic bills. The real action, for both Washington and Moscow, is Iran. Not accidentally, the extremely dodgy Wendy Sherman — who has been the chief U.S. negotiator in the P5+1 nuclear talks — was part of Kerry’s entourage. A comprehensive deal with Iran cannot be clinched without Moscow’s essential collaboration on everything from the disposal of spent nuclear fuel to the swift end of UN sanctions.

Iran is a key node in the Chinese-led New Silk Road(s) project. So the real Masters of the Universe must have also — finally — seen this is all about Eurasia, which, inevitably, was the real star in the May 9 Victory Day parade. After his pregnant with meaning Moscow stop — where he signed 32 separate deals — Chinese President Xi Jinping went to do deals in Kazakhstan and Belarus.

So welcome to the New (Silk) World Order; from Beijing to Moscow on high-speed rail; from Shanghai to Almaty, Minsk and beyond; from Central Asia to Western Europe.

By now we all know how this high-speed trade/geopolitical journey is unstoppable — spanning the Beijing-led, Moscow-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICs Development Bank. Central Asia, Mongolia and Afghanistan — where NATO has just lost a war — are being inexorably pulled into this trade/geopolitical orbit covering all of central, northern, and eastern Eurasia.

What could be called Greater Asia is already shaping up — not only from Beijing to Moscow but also from business center Shanghai to gateway-to-Europe St. Petersburg. It’s the natural consequence of a complex process I have been examining for a while now — the marriage of the massive Beijing-led Silk Road Economic Belt with the Moscow-led Eurasia Economic Union (EEU). Putin described it as “a new level of partnership.”

The real Masters of the Universe may have also noted the very close discussions between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the deputy chairman of the Central Military Council of China, Gen. Fan Changlong. Russia and China will conduct naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Japan and will give top priority to their common position regarding U.S. global missile defense.

There’s the not-so-negligible matter of the Pentagon “discovering” China has up to 60 silo-based ICBMs – the CSS-4 – capable of targeting almost the whole U.S., except Florida.

And last but not least, there’s the Russian rollout of the ultra-sophisticated S-500 defensive missile system — which will conclusively protect Russia from a U.S. Prompt Global Strike (PGS). Each S-500 missile can intercept ten ICBMs at speeds up to 15,480 miles an hour, altitudes of 115 miles and horizontal range of 2,174 miles. Moscow insists the system will only be operational in 2017. If Russia is able to rollout 10,000 S-500 missiles, they can intercept 100,000 American ICBMs by the time the U.S. has a new White House tenant.

Once again, the real Masters of the Universe seem to have done the math. Can’t reduce Russia to ashes. Can’t win in the New (Silk) World Order. Might as well sit down and talk. But hold your (geopolitical) horses; they might still change their mind.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).  His latest book is Empire of ChaosHe may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

This piece first appeared at Asia Times.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/05/19/u-s-wakes-up-to-new-silk-world-order/

Deadly food poisoning is lurking

A new highly contagious, antibiotic-resistant bug has arrived

A frightening new Scientific American report details the growing threat of shigella across the United States

Deadly food poisoning is lurking: A new highly contagious, antibiotic-resistant bug has arrived
This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific AmericanThe kinds of bacteria that can cause food poisoning lurk all around us. These germs can be especially easy to pick up when traveling internationally as well as in places, such as children’s day cares, which are hard to keep clean. The infections usually clear up on their own but sometimes require hospitalizations and hefty doses of antibiotics to expunge. Unfortunately, the bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment.

The latest bad news came in April when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an outbreak of Shigella sonnei that has become resistant to ciprofloxacin—one of the last remaining medications in pill form that can kill the germ. Since then a Scientific American investigation shows the worrisome strain is still circulating in the U.S. a year after it first emerged.

Shigella bacteria typically cause about 500,000 diarrheal illnesses and 40 deaths in the U.S. every year. Children who are malnourished and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of developing severe cases. Symptoms include diarrhea that is sometimes bloody, fever and abdominal pain, and typically last about a week.

The bacteria occur naturally in the U.S. but, heretofore, people typically caught ciprofloxacin-resistant strains while traveling internationally. In the current outbreak, however, many people who became sick had not recently been out of the country, which proves that the multidrug-resistant bug has now established a firm domestic presence.

The CDC has confirmed 275 cases of ciprofloxacin-resistant shigella across the country from May 2014 to May 2015, according to data obtained exclusively byScientific American (see chart below). Although these figures appear small, they almost certainly represent but a tiny fraction of the true number of ciprofloxacin-resistant cases. Shigella infections are supposed to be reported to the CDC but a lot of people who get sick do not go to the doctor. And those who do are sometimes not tested for the presence of shigella, let alone drug resistance.

Vulnerable populations are some of the hardest hit in this outbreak, including cases linked to a day care center, homeless people in San Francisco and HIV-positive individuals in Philadelphia. As few as 10 shigella germs can cause an infection—making the bacteria virtually undetectable as it quickly spreads in contaminated food and water or from person to person.

Other drugs that the pathogen has overcome in the past include ampicillin, streptomycin and tetracycline. Anna Bowen, a medical officer in the CDC’s Waterborne Diseases Prevention Branch and lead author of the April study, says the CDC has identified some cases in this outbreak that were resistant to all of the oral treatment options currently available. The next line of defense is a broader-spectrum, more expensive antibiotic that must be administered via injection or an intravenous line.

Whereas labs can test for ciprofloxacin resistance, there are currently no standardized tests to identify if a shigella infection is resistant to azithromycin, which is the go-to drug for children. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved ciprofloxacin only for adults.) “Almost no clinical labs are doing this sort of testing,” Bowen says, “and so patients are being treated kind of blindly since the providers don’t know if azithromycin is an appropriate choice or not.”

Lag time in reporting is another issue. San Francisco, for example, is tracking nearly two times the number of cases that the CDC counts as confirmed for the city—228 cases versus 119. Cora Hoover, director of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, says they have slightly different case definitions because as the city agency on the ground investigating this outbreak they want assurance all possible patients are identified; also it takes so long to confirm a case. Public health officials normally follow up with each patient, and lab tests can take weeks.

It can take around a month to confirm a case of shigellosis is both antibiotic-resistant and part of the same outbreak, though it varies. Generally, once a doctor identifies a shigella infection, he or she reports it to the city or state public health agency and sends a stool sample to the lab to confirm the diagnosis. The lab grows or “cultures” the bacteria and reports its findings back to the doctor and agency in about a week. The health agency then reports the case to the CDC, which tests a selection of cases for antibiotic resistance via the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System and its national laboratory network, PulseNet. Results from PulseNet’s genetic testing of sample cases can be complete within a couple of weeks.

By the time the full picture of a single case is confirmed, the patient is usually better. Caroline Johnson, director of the Division of Disease Control at Public Health for the City of Philadelphia, says her division usually suspects that a case is part of an outbreak but does not know for sure until the full results are in.

Peter Gerner-Smidt, chief of the CDC’s Enteric Diseases Laboratory Branch and PulseNet, says labs will gradually move away from having to culture bacteria to identify them. As genetic testing becomes cheaper and more accessible, state labs will eventually be able to get that information by determining the whole DNA sequence of each sample. This approach will hopefully reveal antibiotic-resistance more quickly, he says, but it will likely take years before these tests are widely used.

Because of the increasing threat of multidrug-resistant shigella, the CDC and other health agencies recommend doctors only prescribe antibiotics for severe cases. Shigellosis can actually clear up on its own with proper hydration and rest. Preventionis therefore the best weapon for controlling resistant shigella, Bowen says, particularly because the U.S. cannot regulate antibiotic overuse in other countries, but it still affects patients here.

“Problems with antibiotic resistance anywhere are problems with antibiotic resistance everywhere,” she says. “There are no borders when it comes to antibiotic resistance, and we have all got to be vigilant.”

 

 

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/05/19/deadly_food_poisoning_is_lurking_partner/?source=newsletter