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- The American people are increasingly waking up to the fact that nothing ever seems to change in Washington D.C. no matter which political party is in power. In fact, as you will see later on in this article, an all-time high 53 percent of all Americans believe that neither party “represents the American people”. Over the past several decades, we have sent a Bush, a Clinton, another Bush and an Obama to the White House, but the policies coming out of Washington have remained pretty much the same the entire time. The mainstream media would have us believe that the Republicans and the Democrats are constantly fighting like cats and dogs, but the truth is that the Republicans want to take us to the same place that the Democrats want to take us – just a little more slowly perhaps. And behind the scenes, Republicans and Democrats have a good time with one another and they are ultimately controlled by the same set of oligarchs. The Americans people are really starting to recognize what a sham our system has become, and the numbers show that they are quite fed up with it.
- I truly wish that things were different. When I was much younger, I was actively involved in politics and I enthusiastically campaigned for certain candidates. But then when they got to Washington D.C., they never did most of the things that they promised to do during their campaigns.
- I was quite bewildered by this. At the time, I concluded that we just needed to send even more “good politicians” to D.C. and then things would finally turn around.
- But things never did turn around. No matter which party had the upper hand, the same garbage continued to spew forth from Washington.
- Ultimately, like millions of other Americans, I have come to see that there is not really much of a difference between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi on one side, and John Boehner, John McCain, Mitch McConnell and Jeb Bush on the other side.
- Sure, if you listen to their campaign speeches you might be tempted to think that they were polar opposites, but when you watch what they actually do there is not that much that really separates them.
- Fortunately, large numbers of Americans are starting to see through this disgusting charade. Most of our politicians are con men that tell us what we want to hear during their campaigns, and then after they are elected they forget all about us. Dissatisfaction with these politicians has risen to unprecedented levels in recent years, and that could be a good thing. The following are 12 numbers which prove that Americans are sick and tired of politics as usual…
- #1 A national Rasmussen Reports survey has found that an all-time high53 percent of all Americans believe that neither major political party “represents the American people”.
- #2 According to a Real Clear Politics average of national polls, only 29 percent of Americans believe that the country is heading in the right direction.
- #3 According to a Real Clear Politics average of national polls, Americans disapprove of the job that Barack Obama is doing by a 52.2 to 43.7 percent margin.
- #4 According to a Real Clear Politics average of national polls, Americans disapprove of the job that Congress is doing by a 77.6 percent to 14.2 percent margin.
- #5 52 percent of Americans “do not think the economy is fair to those willing to work hard”.
- #6 65 percent of Americans are dissatisfied “with the U.S. system of government and its effectiveness”. That is the highest level of dissatisfaction that Gallup has ever recorded.
- #7 Only 4 percent of Americans believe that it would “change Congress for the worse” if every member was voted out during the next election.
- #8 An all-time low 31 percent of Americans identify themselves as Democrats.
- #9 An all-time low 25 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republicans.
- #10 An all-time high 42 percent of Americans identify themselves as Independents.
- #11 60 percent of Americans report feeling “angry or irritable”. Two years ago that number was at 50 percent.
- #12 70 percent of Americans do not have confidence that the federal government will “make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014″.
- Of course at the heart of much of this dissatisfaction is the continuing problems in our economy. For example, check out the Gallup daily employment tracking survey that you can find right here. As you can see, the payroll to population number (those Americans working 30 hours a week or more) has been flatlining in the low forties for more than four years now. The truth is that there never has been an employment recovery in this nation since the last recession. For much more on all this, please see my previous article entitled “This Is What Employment In America Really Looks Like…”
- The last wave of the economic crisis really devastated the middle class, and as a result record numbers of Americans have become dependent on the government. As I mentioned in one recent article, ten years ago the number of women working outnumbered the number of women on food stamps by more than a 2 to 1 margin. But now the number of women on food stamps actually exceeds the number of women that have jobs.
- No wonder so many Americans are so angry. Things are not nearly as good as they used to be.
- Unfortunately, even though so many people are angry and frustrated, there is very little consensus on the solutions to our problems.
- Many Americans even want to throw out the principles that this country was founded upon entirely. For example, one recent survey discovered that 59 percent of all Americans believe that the U.S. Constitution is “outdated”.
- That is a very chilling number. We live at a time when Americans are becoming increasingly ignorant about who we are, where we came from and how we get here.
- And a lot of our fellow citizens do not even know how our system of government works. One survey actually found that only 25 percent of all Americans knew how long U.S. Senators are elected for (6 years), and only 20 percent of all Americans knew how many U.S. senators there are (100).
- In the final analysis, it is hard to be optimistic about a political solution to any of our major problems in the near future. Most of our politicians are deeply corrupt, the American people are incredibly angry and are deeply divided, and the vast majority of campaigns for federal office are won by the candidate that raises the most money.
04.24.14 - Economists “Stunned” By Housing Fade
- Since 2012, almost every economist has predicted that the housing recovery would continue into each coming year and would be a key driver of economic growth. That was again the plan for 2014, but with the housing recovery now on the ropes those same economists are perplexed as to why. Yet, “hope” remains that the recent slowdown is just a “weather related” casualty.
- For me, I now get to say “I told you so.” The slowdown in housing is not due to the “weather.” It began prior to the onset of the recent winter blasts. Nor will reduced distressed sales, delinquencies, negative equity or rising inventories salvage the predictions. These are all indicators “OF” the housing market, but not what “DRIVES” the housing market. The real answer to the slowdown in housing is not so difficult to comprehend and is something I have argued heavily in past missives as listed below:
- • Housing, Is It Really Recovering?
- • Housing, Is It Just The Weather?
- • Is Housing Set To Lift Off?
- • Rising Rates Squash Housing Recovery?
- • Housing Recovery, What Has Been Forgotten?
- The housing market is driven by what happens at the margins. At any given point, there are a finite number of people wanting to “buy” a home and those that have a “for sale” sign in their yard. As with all markets, changes in the housing market are driven by the “supply/demand” equation. There is notably five important points that should be considered.
- 1) What is forgotten by the majority of economists and analysts is that individuals buy “payments,” not “houses.” Incremental increases in interest rates have a direct effect on a buyer’s “willingness” and “ability” to make certain monthly payments. Since, the majority of American’s are already primarily living paycheck-to-paycheck, any increase in the monthly payment may change both affordability and qualification for a loan.
- 2) Since individuals are “backward looking,” increases in interest rates may put a hold on activity as they “hope” that the payment, mortgage rate or home price they just missed out on will be available again soon. While individuals will eventually adjust upward, it will take some time for them to become “convinced” that a change has permanently occurred.
- 3) Many of the homes that have been purchased to date were by “all cash” buyers and institutions for conversions to rental properties. Now, with “price-to-rent” ratios reach levels of low profitability – the demand for that activity is decreasing. As I stated last year: “We are likely witnessing the beginning of that slowdown.” Furthermore, with institutions now moving to liquidate their rental investments either through direct sale or IPO – the increase in supply without an increasing pool of available and willing buyers could intensify downward pressure.
- 4) In order to continue to drive the housing recovery forward you need fresh entrants into the housing market in the form of household formations. As discussed by Walter Kurtz recently:
- “The biggest issue, however, remains household formation. As of the end of last year, for example, the number of American households was not growing at all. This is likely due to record low marriage rates as well as a slew of other factors (lack of employment, wage growth, etc.). Whatever the reason, household formation needs to stabilize before we see stronger results in the US housing market.”
- 5) Lastly, with the Federal Reserve now tapering it ongoing stimulative activities and the government support programs either ended (cash for houses) or losing effectiveness (HAMP, HARP) the support for housing activity is fading.
- The chart below shows the Total Real Estate Sales Activity Index (TRESAI), which is a composite of the seasonally adjusted new and existing home sales data. For the purpose of this article, which is focusing on the actual buy and sell of homes, this is the most appropriate index.
- This index clearly shows that the downturn began in August of 2013 well before the“polar vortexes” made their appearance at the end of the year. However, the real culprit to the decline in housing activity, as discussed above, is shown clearly in the next chart.
- The shaded areas show when 30-year mortgage rates have risen. As you can see it only takes small adjustments in interest rate levels to cause either stagnation or declines in home buying activities.
- The point here is that while the housing market has recovered from the financial crisis lows, it has primarily been a function of speculation, historically low interest rates and massive amounts of government support. However, it is in this nascent recovery that we should recognize the true state of the average American family.
- Without such massive interventions, it is unlikely the housing market would be showing much of a recovery considering the decline in real wages, and household incomes, over the last five years. Furthermore, while there has been much written about the deleveraging of the household balance sheet - the latest quarterly report shows that the only real decline in debt occurred in the mortgage segment. What wasn’t discussed by the Fed is HOW the deleveraging was accomplished which was done though serial refinancing (I am a prime example of 4 times in the last 3 years), foreclosures, short sells, and write downs. Not exactly a bullish commentary of the strength of the average American household.
- Lastly, while residential construction only makes up slightly more than 2.5% of GDP, there is a limit to how much further the current recovery will go. The decline in housing reached extreme levels during the crisis and was due for a bounce back to normal activity levels. We are rapidly approaching an equilibrium of current supply and demand in the market. According to David Rosenberg:
- “We estimate that the builders have caught up about 90% of the way with the recent improvement we have seen in the underlying demographic demand. There may be more upside in terms of pricing ahead. But it is going to be limited and we are not far off seeing some plateau until we start to see the demand indicators improve more forcefully, especially from the first-time buyer, who has been quite dormant during this nascent turnaround in the housing sector.”
- It is important to understand that housing will recover – eventually. However, the reality of that recovery could be far different than what the current media and analysts predict. In an economy that is expected, according to the Federal Reserve, to have a long term economic growth trend of 2.1% – a recovery to historical norms, much less the pre-crisis peak, is highly unlikely.
- The current decline in housing is not a “weather related” anomaly but a function of “real” affordability. I say “real” affordability, because buying a house is not just about the price, but the ability for a family to qualify for and pay the mortgage. Unfortunately, despite the ever ebullient hopes of mainstream analysis, the core requirements of rising wage growth, full-time employment, loan qualification and the ability to save a downpayment keeps home ownership elusive for many. That is unlikely to change anytime soon. Of course, I have already told you that previously.
- A special operation against pro-federalization protesters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk has been put on hold, Ukrainian media said Thursday citing law enforcement sources.
- Kiev Post said the decision was made by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), and the authorities are now revising the plan of the operation.
- The Kiev-based paper also said that at least seven people were killed in the crackdown on protesters, who have been demanding greater autonomy for their regions since late March.
- Federalization supporters in the eastern cities of Kharkov, Donetsk, Gorlovka, Slavyansk and Kramatorsk have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the current Ukrainian government and have demanded a Crimea-style referendum on the status of their regions.
- In response to pro-federalization rallies Kiev’s interim government has launched a special operation in crackdown on protesters. Following deadly attacks on activists last Sunday, Slavyansk has remained a hotspot for demonstrations despite the Kiev interim government’s vow to crack down on the pro-federalization drive inspired by last month’s referendum in Crimea.
- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Thursday that Kiev has ordered the Ukrainian army to launch a major crackdown on protesters in southeastern Ukraine involving thousands of troops and heavy military equipment. Russia will conduct military drills in response to the developing situation in Ukraine’s southeast, where a special operation has targeted the country’s own citizens, the minister said.
- Russia has begun extensive military exercises on its Ukrainian border following the escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine.
- “The order to use force against civilians has already been given, and if this military machine is not stopped, the amount of casualties will only grow,” Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said during an official meeting in Moscow.
- “War games by NATO in Poland and the Baltic states are not helping the normalization of the situation. We are forced to react to the situation.”
- Shoigu said that the drills involve march and deployment exercises by forces in the southern and western military districts, and separate Air Force maneuvers.
- Shoigu said that 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers, 160 tanks, 230 armored carriers and at least 150 artillery pieces are involved in the operation against anti-Kiev activists.
- “National guard units and Right Sector extremists are fighting against the peaceful population, as well as a volunteer Donbass ‘anti-terrorist’ unit. Also security and internal forces transferred to Lugansk and Donetsk from other areas of the country are suppressing dissent,” the minister said.
- He added that Ukrainian sabotage units have been deployed near the Russian border.
- In contrast, Shoigu said that the pro-Russian self-defense units number about 2,000 and have about 100 guns between them, which have mostly been taken from local police stations.
- Unknown gunmen have attacked a checkpoint near Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine. Two people were killed, local self-defense forces spokesperson Stella Horosheva told RT.
- “Unfortunately, the reports of a shooting have been confirmed,” Horosheva said. “Every night some sort of an incident takes place at one of our checkpoints. This time suspicious armed people were passing by and the self-defense members approached them to check their IDs. But the gunmen opened fire.”
- Horosheva said that self-defense forces were investigating the incident, trying to find out who was behind the attack.
- Almost simultaneously there appeared reports of unknown gunmen opening fire in the city of Artyomovsk, Donetsk Region.
- “Artyomovsk is not calm now, there’s shooting. No information yet of casualties or injured,” a representative of the self-defense forces told Interfax over the phone.
- Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, meanwhile, says about a hundred unidentified militants attacked a military unit near Artyomovsk.
- “Attackers were shooting with machine-guns, grenade guns and were active in using fragmentation hand grenades,” the ministry’s statement says, adding that Ukrainian troops managed to repel the attack.
- On Wednesday, authorities in Kiev announced they were resuming a military operation against protesters in eastern Ukraine, which they describe as an ‘anti-terrorist’ initiative.
- Ukrainian security force officers walk past a checkpoint set on fire and left by anti-goverment protesters near Slavyansk April 24, 2014 (AFP Photo / Gleb Garanich)Ukrainian security force officers walk past a checkpoint set on fire and left by anti-goverment protesters near Slavyansk April 24, 2014 (AFP Photo / Gleb Garanich)
- “Law enforcement agencies are working on the eradication of all groups currently active in Kramatorsk, Slavyansk and other cities of the Donetsk and the Lugansk Regions,” coup-appointed First Vice-President Vitaly Yarema told journalists.
- Protesters have pointed out the move was contrary to the agreement on de-escalation reached in Geneva.
- The same day, the Ukrainian radical neo-fascist Right Sector group announced that it is moving its main headquarters from Kiev to Dnepropetrovsk to “closely monitor” developments in the east.
- “I moved my headquarters to Dnepropetrovsk. The purpose is to prevent the spread of the Kremlin infection,” Ukrainian presidential candidate and Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh said.
- Yarosh, placed by Russia on an international most wanted terrorist list, also announced that he had begun to establish a special squad of fighters called ‘Donbass’.
- “We coordinate all of our actions with the leadership of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Security Service of Ukraine,” Yarosh said.
- The similarities between 2007 and 2014 continue to pile up. As you are about to see, U.S. home sales fell dramatically throughout 2007 even as the mainstream media, our politicians andFederal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernankepromised us that everything was going to be just fine and that we definitely were not going to experience a recession. Of course we remember precisely what followed. It was the worst economic crisis since the days of the Great Depression. And you know what they say – if we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. Just like seven years ago, the stock market has soared to all-time high after all-time high. Just like seven years ago, the authorities are telling us that there is nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, just like seven years ago, a housing bubble is imploding and another great economic crisis is rapidly approaching.
- Posted below is a chart of existing home sales in the United States during 2007. As you can see, existing home sales declined precipitously throughout the year…
- Now look at this chart which shows what has happened to existing home sales in the United States in recent months. If you compare the two charts, you will see that the numbers are eerily similar…
- New home sales are also following a similar pattern. In fact, we just learned that new home sales have collapsed to an 8 month low…
Sales of new single-family homes dropped sharply last month as severe winter weather and higher mortgage rates continued to slow the housing recovery.
New home sales fell 14.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 385,000, down from February’s revised pace of 449,000, the Census Bureau said.
- Once again, this is so similar to what we witnessed back in 2007. The following is a chart that shows how new home sales declined dramatically throughout that year…
- And this chart shows what has happened to new homes sales during the past several months. Sadly, we have never even gotten close to returning to the level that we were at back in 2007. But even the modest “recovery” that we have experienced is now quickly unraveling…
- If history does repeat, then what we are witnessing right now is a very troubling sign for the months to come. As you can see from this chart, new home sales usually start going down before a recession begins.
- And don’t expect these housing numbers to rebound any time soon. The demand for mortgages has dropped through the floor. Just check out the following excerpt from a recent article by Michael Lombardi…
One of the key indicators I follow in respect to the state of the housing market is mortgage originations. This data gives me an idea about demand for homes, as rising demand for mortgages means more people are buying homes. And as demand increases, prices should be increasing.
But the opposite is happening…
In the first quarter of 2014, mortgage originations at Citigroup Inc. (NYSE/C) declined 71% from the same period a year ago. The bank issued $5.2 billion in mortgages in the first quarter of 2014, compared to $8.3 billion in the previous quarter and $18.0 billion in the first quarter of 2013. (Source: Citigroup Inc. web site, last accessed April 14, 2014.)
Total mortgage origination volume at JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE/JPM) declined by 68% in the first quarter of 2014 from the same period a year ago. At JPMorgan, in the first quarter of 2014, $17.0 billion worth of mortgages were issued, compared to $52.7 billion in the same period a year ago. (Source: JPMorgan Chase & Co. web site, last accessed April 14, 2014.)
- It is almost as if we are watching a replay of 2007 all over again, and yet nobody is talking about this.
- Everyone wants to believe that this time will be different.
- The human capacity for self-delusion is absolutely amazing.
- There are a lot of other similarities between 2007 and today as well.
- Just the other day, I noted that retail stores are closing in the United States at the fastest pace that we have seen since the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
- Back in 2007, we saw margin debt on Wall Street spike dramatically and help fuel a remarkable run in the stock market. Just check out the chart in this article. But that spike in margin debt also made the eventual stock market collapse much worse than it had to be.
- And just like 2007, consumer credit is totally out of control. As I noted inone recent article, during the fourth quarter of 2013 we witnessed the biggest increase in consumer debt in the U.S. that we have seen since 2007. Total consumer credit in the U.S. has risen by 22 percent over the past three years, and 56 percent of all Americans have “subprime credit” at this point.
- Are you starting to get the picture? It is only 7 years later, and the same things that happened just prior to the last great financial crisis are happening again. Only this time we are in much worse shape to handle an economic meltdown. The following is a brief excerpt from my recent article entitled “We Are In FAR Worse Shape Than We Were Just Prior To The Last Great Financial Crisis”…
None of the problems that caused the last financial crisis have been fixed. In fact, they have all gotten worse. The total amount of debt in the world has grown by more than 40 percent since 2007, the too big to fail banks have gotten 37 percent larger, and the colossal derivatives bubble has spiraled so far out of control that the only thing left to do is to watch the spectacular crash landing that is inevitably coming.
- For a long time, I have been convinced that this two year time period is going to represent a major “turning point” for America.
- Right now, 2014 is turning out to be eerily similar to 2007.
- Will 2015 turn out to be a repeat of 2008?
04.24.14 - This Is How Empires Collapse
- Before an empire collapses, it first erodes from within. The collapse may appear sudden, but the processes of internal rot hollowed out the resilience, resolve, purpose and vitality of the empire long before its final implosion.
- What are these processes of internal rot? Here are a few of the most pervasive and destructive forces of internal corrosion:
- 1. Each institution within the system loses sight of its original purpose of serving the populace and becomes self-serving. This erosion of common purpose serving the common good is so gradual that participants forget there was a time when the focus wasn’t on gaming the system to avoid work and accountability but serving the common good.
- 2. The corrupt Status Quo corrupts every individual who works within the system.Once an institution loses its original purpose and becomes self-serving, everyone within either seeks to maximize their own personal share of the swag and minimize their accountability, or they are forced out as a potentially dangerous uncorrupted insider.
- The justification is always the same: everybody else is getting away with it, why shouldn’t I? Empires decline one corruptible individual at a time.
- 3. Self-serving institutions select sociopathic leaders whose skills are not competency or leadership but conning others into believing the institution is functioning optimally when in reality it is faltering/failing.
- The late Roman Empire offers a fine example: entire Army legions in the hinterlands were listed as full-strength on the official rolls in Rome and payroll was issued accordingly, but the legions only existed on paper: corrupt officials pocketed the payroll for phantom legions.
- Self-serving institutions reward con-artists in leadership roles because only con-artists can mask the internal rot with happy-story PR and get away with it.
- 4. The institutional memory rewards conserving the existing Status Quo and punishes innovation. Innovation necessarily entails risk, and those busy feathering their own nests (i.e. accepting money for phantom work, phantom legions, etc.) have no desire to place their share of the swag at risk just to improve sagging output and accountability.
- So reforms and innovations that might salvage the institution are shelved or buried.
- 5. As the sunk costs of the subsystems increase, the institutional resistance to new technologies and processes increases accordingly. Those manufacturing steam locomotives in the early 20th century had an enormous amount of capital and institutional knowledge sunk in their factories. Tossing all of that out to invest in building diesel-electric locomotives that were much more efficient than the old-tech steam locomotives made little sense to those looking at sunk costs.
- As a result, the steam locomotive manufacturers clung to the old ways and went out of business. The sunk costs of empire are enormous, as is the internal resistance to change.
- 6. Institutional memory and knowledge support “doing more of what worked in the past” even when it is clearly failing. I refer to this institutional risk-avoidance and lack of imagination as doing more of what has failed spectacularly.
- Inept leadership keeps doing more of what once worked, even when it is clearly failing, in effect ignoring real-world feedback in favor of magical-thinking. The Federal Reserve is an excellent example.
- 7. These dynamics of eroding accountability, effectiveness and purpose lead to systemic diminishing returns. Each failing institution now needs more money to sustain its operations, as inefficiencies, corruption and incompetence reduce output while dramatically raising costs (phantom legions still get paid).
- 8. Incompetence is rewarded and competence punished. The classic example of this was “Good job, Brownie:” cronies and con-artists are elevated to leadership roles to reward loyalty and the ability to mask the rot with good PR. Serving the common good is set aside as sychophancy (obedient flattery) to incompetent leaders is rewarded and real competence is punished as a threat to the self-serving leadership.
- 9. As returns diminish and costs rise, systemic fragility increases. This can be illustrated as a rising wedge: as output declines and costs rise, the break-even point keeps edging higher, until even a modest reduction of input (revenue, energy, etc.) causes the system to break down:
- A modern-day example is oil-exporting states that have bought the complicity of their citizenry with generous welfare benefits and subsidies. As their populations and welfare benefits keep rising, the revenues they need to keep the system going require an ever-higher price of oil. Should the price of oil decline, these regimes will be unable to fund their welfare. With the social contract broken, there is nothing left to stem the tide of revolt.
- 10. Economies of scale no longer generate returns. In the good old days, stretching out supply lines to reach lower-cost suppliers and digitizing management reaped huge gains in productivity. Now that the scale of enterprise is global, the gains from economies of scale have faltered and the high overhead costs of maintaining this vast managerial infrastructure have become a drain.
- 11. Redundancy is sacrificed to preserve a corrupt and failing core. Rather than demand sacrifices of the Roman Elites and the entertainment-addicted bread-and-circus masses to maintain the forces protecting the Imperial borders, late-Roman Empire leaders eliminated defense-in-depth (redundancy). This left the borders thinly defended. With no legions in reserve, an invasion could no longer be stopped without mobilizing the entire border defense, in effect leaving huge swaths of the border undefended to push back the invaders.
- Phantom legions line the pockets of insiders and cronies while creating a useful illusion of stability and strength.
- 12. The feedback from those tasked with doing the real work of the Empire is ignored as Elites and vested interests dominate decision-making. As I noted yesterday in The Political Poison of Vested Interests, when this bottoms-up feedback is tossed out, ignored or marginalized, all decisions are necessarily unwise because they are no longer grounded in the consequences experienced by the 95% doing the real work.
- This lack of feedback from the bottom 95% is captured by the expression “Let them eat cake.” (Though attributed to Marie Antoinette, there is no evidence that she actually said Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.)
- The point is that decisions made with no feedback from the real-world of the bottom 95%, that is, decisions made solely in response to the demands of cronies, vested interests and various elites, are intrinsically unsound and doomed to fail catastrophically.
- How does an Empire end up with phantom legions? The same way the U.S. ended up with ObamaCare/Affordable Care Act. The payroll is being paid but there is no real-world feedback, no accountability, no purpose other than private profit/gain and no common good being served.
- That’s how empires collapse: one corrupted, self-serving individual at a time, gaming one corrupted, self-serving institution or another; it no longer matters which one because they’re all equally compromised. It’s not just the border legions that are phantom; the entire stability and strength of the empire is phantom. The uncorruptible and competent are banished or punished, and the corrupt, self-serving and inept are lavished with treasure.
- This is how empires collapse: one complicit participant at a time.
- With revelations that the National Security Agency has collected some20 trillion phone calls and emails via an expansive nationwide surveillance network, most Americans have already come to the realization that everything they do is being monitored.
- But many shrug off Big Brother’s prying eyes by suggesting that, since they aren’t doing anything wrong, they have nothing to worry about.
- That may have been true several years ago, but the digital surveillance systems of today are far more advanced than most people understand. No longer are these machines simply recording the data and storing them in some historical archive to be pulled at a later date should the government ever have reason to take a closer look at your personal life.
- The next generation of systems are being used to actively monitor your digital interactions, surfing habits, conversations and daily sentiment in an effort to predict your future behavior. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the systems currently operating within the social media sphere.
- Researchers at the University of Virginia funded by the U.S. Army recently demonstrated that they can not only gather information from your personal Twitter account just like the NSA, but also aggregate and analyze that information with advanced predictive algorithms designed to determine what you’re going to do next. In this case, the researches focused specifically on predicting crime by individuals, as well as in crime “hot spots” around the country.
- Here’s the kicker. The algorithms being used don’t just look for obvious keyword phrases associated with criminal activity like “I’m going to kill you” or “meet me later and we’ll give him a beat down,” but focus in on routine activities, geo-location, and aggregate historical information to calculate the chance of a particular individual being involved in a crime at some point in the future.
Researchers at the University of Virginia demonstrated tweets could predict certain kinds of crimes if the correct analysis is applied.
A research paper published in the scientific journal Decision Support Systems last month said the analysis of geo-tagged tweets can be useful in predicting 19 to 25 kinds of crimes, especially for offenses such as stalking, thefts and certain kinds of assault.
The results are surprising, especially when one considers that people rarely tweet about crimes directly, said lead researcher Matthew Gerber of the university’s Predictive Technology Lab.
Gerber said even tweets that have no direct link to crimes may contain information about activities often associated with them.
Gerber said Twitter data can be relatively easy to use because tweets are publicly available, and many of them are tagged with location information.
In addition, researchers, themselves, do not need to go into the high-crime areas to study the information.
Instead, “I send our algorithms to these locations and see what people are talking about,” Gerber said.
“The computer algorithm learns the pattern and produces a prediction.”
The study was funded by the US Army, which Gerber said uses similar techniques to determine threats in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
- It’s no surprise then, that police departments all over the country are interested in the new technology. The New York Police Department has already showed asked for a demonstration.
- To give you an idea of how this technology can be used to not only predict traditional crimes but domestic terrorism related activity, consider an earlier report out of Auburn, NY which indicates that the Department of Homeland Security is asking local businesses to keep an eye out for terrorists going so far as to provide retailers with ashopping list of possible items a terrorist might purchase such as MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat), flashlights and other products readily available at local surplus shops and camping stores. The implications of these new algorithms, which will be taught that anyone discussing the purchase or ownership of these types of items should be flagged for review and visited by Homeland Security personnel as a person of interest, are staggering.
- With the definitions for domestic terrorism being expanded to include everyone from kids making gun-like gestures with their hands to Americans joining a large protest against government over-reach, it’s only a matter of time before just about every American with a gripe or opposing view is flagged, investigated and incarcerated for a “crime” that they “may” commit in the future.
- Though the notion may seem far fetched to some, this technology is being designed for a reason. Given the ever expanding intervention and interference of government into our lives on every level by way of relentlessly supplanting our protections under the U.S. Constitution, are we to believe these developing technologies won’t be used strike fear and compliance into the hearts and minds of Americans?
- A day after the New York Times published a front-page report purporting to show the involvement of Russian Special Forces in protests in east Ukraine, its report, titled “Photos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Russia,” has been exposed as a blatant fabrication.
- The Times printed low-resolution pictures of fighters—allegedly wearing Russian insignia while in Georgia, and then later as protesters in east Ukraine—asserting they were the same men, thus proving the existence of an armed Russian intervention in Ukraine. It was based on a crude trick first noted by a commenter on a link posted on Reddit. The photos in the Times were down-sampled versions of higher-resolution images circulating online, which show that the men in the different pictures are in fact not the same.
- Images from the New York Times with text and captions:
Original images posted on reddit:
- It very rapidly became clear that the Times ’ claims to have proven that Russian soldiers were driving the east Ukraine protests against the pro-Western regime in Kiev were complete rubbish.
- The BBC compared the high-resolution pictures of two bearded men theTimes falsely asserted were the same fighter. It concluded, “In the 2014 photos, the man’s greying beard appears to be black, while in Georgia six years ago, the slimmer-looking man shown has a reddish beard.”
- It also noted that Russian Special Forces patches on the men’s uniforms, highlighted by the Times as proof that they are Russian troops, “can be bought on the Internet for less than $5.”
- Asking whether the pictures “prove anything,” the BBC concluded: “It cannot be said for sure that they are actual Russian Special Forces, as the Ukrainians argue.”
- In publishing the false allegations, the Times worked closely with the US government, which received the photos from the unelected pro-US regime in Kiev and “endorsed” them before passing them on. At a press briefing, however, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, whom the New York Times quoted in its article, indicated that the administration was well aware that the photos did not constitute proof of what was being claimed.
- Pressed about whether she was certain the pictures showed individuals linked to Russia, Psaki replied: “What we see in these photos that have been, again, in international media, on Twitter, and publicly available, is that there are individuals who visibly appear to be tied to Russia. We’ve said that publicly a countless number of times. I will let you draw all the conclusions yourself as to whether these are individuals who look similar or not to other events.”
- A journalist at the briefing objected to calling this “evidence,” and asked, “Do you think this is evidence that would stand up in a court of law?”
- Psaki replied, “I don’t think it’s a legal—we’re not making a court-of-law case here. We’re just showing that this is photographic evidence that indicates the connection we’ve been talking about for weeks now.”
- The journalist asked, “You think it is proof of connection, or it’s just—or you’re just alleging that it’s another sign of this?”
- Psaki replied, “It’s another sign.”
- In fact, the Times has worked to mislead its readers, uncritically presenting concocted photos delivered by its contacts in the State Department.
- Washington, as it passed the pictures on to the Times, knew very well that they did not constitute evidence of anything, but were simply a new propaganda point supporting its as-yet unsubstantiated accusations of Russian involvement in Ukraine. The Obama administration relied on theTimes to publish the pictures, fanning the flames of the media campaign to denounce Russia, without doing any due diligence to check that its materials were accurate or that proved anything at all.
- A decade ago, Times journalist Judith Miller was the conduit for broadcasting lies that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD), touching off a huge media campaign that set the stage for the US invasion of Iraq.
- Today, the lies the Times is palming off as news could provoke a war with Russia, a nuclear-armed power. By fabricating evidence of Russian involvement in east Ukraine, the Times was providing political ammunition for calls in Ukraine and in the Western imperialist powers for a military crackdown against protests in east Ukraine, a region with a large Russian population. This could lead to a military intervention by Moscow in eastern Ukraine to break up the crackdown, and a clash between Russia and Ukraine drawing in the Western powers.
- The Times ’ fabrications also served to obscure the fact that this conflict arose out of the decision of Washington and its European allies to topple Ukraine’s previous, Russian-aligned regime in a fascist-led putsch in February. The unelected pro-Western regime in Kiev has now encountered significant popular opposition in pro-Russian regions of eastern Ukraine. It is this aggressive policy of the Western powers that is driving the explosive standoff in eastern Ukraine.
- The employees of the Times who were involved in producing this article, like Judith Miller before them, reflect the growing integration of the media and the state.
- Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon, intervened personally four years ago to try to obtain a Chinese visa for the lead author of the Times article, Andrew Higgins. Higgins has been refused entry into China ever since 1991—when, after reporting on the Tiananmen Square massacre, he was found traveling with Chinese state documents in his briefcase and expelled from the country.
- Higgins’ reporting on Ukraine in the current crisis has been largely oriented to downplaying the dangers posed by the fascist forces Washington and its European allies put in power in Kiev, and demonizing Russia. One particularly foul piece published on April 8, “Among Ukraine’s Jews, Bigger Worry is Putin, Not Pogroms,” attacked the idea that these groups posed any danger to Ukraine’s Jewish population.
- The Right Sector militia and the fascist Svoboda party occupy key posts in the unelected Kiev regime and glorify World War II-era fascist forces, such as the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists of Stepan Bandera, who allied with the Nazis during the Ukrainian Holocaust. Yet, according to Higgins, such organizations are far less dangerous to the Ukrainian people that the Russian government.
- “Even Right Sector, a coalition of ultranationalist and in some cases neo-Nazi organizations, has made an effort to distance itself from anti-Semitism,” Higgins wrote. “In late February, its leader, Dmytro Yarosh, pledged during a meeting with Israel’s ambassador in Kiev to fight all forms of racism.”
- Higgins’ attempt to whitewash the right-wing character of the Kiev regime is of a piece with the current concocted denunciations of Russia by the Times, shamelessly supporting Western imperialism’s intervention in Ukraine.
- Kiev authorities must “immediately” deescalate the situation in southeast Ukraine by withdrawing its troops from the region, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said, adding that Kiev must start nationwide talks and stop “distorting” the Geneva agreement.
- “The Russian side once again insists on an immediate deescalation of the situation in the southeast of Ukraine, the withdrawal of divisions of the Ukrainian Army and the start of a real inter-Ukrainian dialogue including all the regions and political entities of the country,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.
- Moscow is “surprised” by Kiev’s interpretation of the four-sided Geneva agreement adopted by Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU on April 17, it added.
- Despite the call for disarmament of “all the illegal armed groups” specified by the agreement, Kiev, Washington and a number of European leaders “keep harping on the necessity to ‘hand over weapons’ [referring] only to the Ukrainian citizens defending their rights in southeastern Ukraine.” With that, the Western powers “are turning a blind eye to the ongoing provocative actions of the gunmen of the far-right groups, including that of the so-called Right Sector.”
- Such actions, which have been taking place in both the capital, Kiev, and in southeastern Ukrainian cities, “have already led to death of people overnight into April 20,” the ministry said.
- Russia continues to believe that the Western partners are “earnest” in their stated commitment for the peaceful resolving of the Ukrainian crisis, the statement said. However, the facts “regretfully speak to the opposite,” it added. Kiev has not moved to enter a dialogue with the regions of Ukraine protesting against its rule, while the US officials have apparently chosen not to discourage the coup-imposed authorities in their “strongarm ambitions.”
- Immediately after US Vice-President Joseph Biden ended his April 21-22 talks and left the Ukrainian capital, Kiev announced the renewal of the so-called “anti-terrorist operation” in eastern Ukraine, the statement noted. Previously, CIA director’s John Brennan’s April 13 visit to Kiev coincided with the start of the same military operation, it said.
- The coup-appointed Kiev government’s order to use force against Ukrainian citizens is “criminal,” the Russian Foreign Minister told RT. He also denied claims that there is Russian military presence on Ukrainian territory.
- In an interview with RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze, Sergey Lavrov called acting Ukrainian President Alexander Turchinov’s order to reinitiate an anti-terror operation in East Ukraine, a criminal act.
- Referencing the four-sided talks between the EU, the US, Russia and Ukraine that took place in Geneva on April 17, Lavrov accused Kiev’s coup-appointed government of going back on its pledge to put a stop to all violence.
- “In Geneva we agreed there must be an end of all violence. Next afternoon [interim Ukrainian President Aleksandr] Turchinov declared almost a state of emergency and ordered the army to shoot at the people.”
- Turchinov announced the resumption of the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday. Moscow has decried the operation and urged the Ukrainian government to refrain from using force on civilians living in the region.
- The Russian Foreign Minister said the buildup of troops on the border with Ukraine was within the bounds of international law and denied the presence of Russian troops in East Ukraine. Lavrov said the troops were participating in routine military drills, something that has been verified by international inspectors.
- Describing a worst case scenario in the Ukrainian crisis, Lavrov said Russia would be forced to respond if it were attacked.
- “If we are attacked, we would certainly respond. If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law,” he said.
- “Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation,” he told RT.
- Referencing Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s trip to the Vatican on Wednesday, Lavrov said the acting Prime Minister would do better to visit the South of Ukraine and actually meet with the anti-Maidan protesters.
- The foreign minister also spoke about American involvement in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, accusing Washington of trying to manipulate the situation.
- “There is no reason not to believe that the Americans are running the show,” said Lavrov, referencing US Vice-President Joe Biden’s visit to Kiev and its coincidence with the renewed counter-terror operation on activists in eastern Ukraine.
- “It’s quite telling they chose the moment of the Vice President of the US’ visit to announce the resumption of this operation because the launching of this operation happened immediately after [head of the CIA] John Brennan’s visit to Kiev,” said Lavrov.
- The situation in Ukraine is just another example of Washington trying to gain ground in the geopolitical fight, the minister said.
- “Ukraine is just one manifestation of the American unwillingness to yield in the geopolitical fight. Americans are not ready to admit that they cannot run the show in each and every part of the globe from Washington alone,” said Lavrov, adding Washington’s “ready-made solutions” cannot remedy a crisis that it does not understand.
- The Russian government does not recognize Kiev’s interim government, which took power on February 22 following weeks of deadly protests ending with the ouster of President Victor Yanukovich.
- The FBI used a no-fly list to recruit four US Muslims as informants, violating their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, association and religion. That’s the claim being made by four US Muslims in a New York federal court Tuesday.
- Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, Naveed Shinwari and Awais Sajjad, who are between them either US residents or permanent US residents, are demanding that the FBI remove them from the no-fly list which contains the names of people who are not permitted to board a commercial aircraft for travel in or out of the United States, according to threat and intelligence reporting.
- “This impermissible abuse of the No Fly List has forced Plaintiffs to choose between their constitutionally-protected right to travel, on the one hand, and their First Amendment rights on the other,” says the lawsuit.
- One of the plaintiffs, Awais Sajjad, a lawful permanent US resident, learned that he was on a No Fly List in 2012 when he tried to board a flight to Pakistan. The FBI agents questioned Sajjad at the airport before releasing him. Soon they returned with an offer: he could work as an FBI informer and in return the agency would give him citizenship and compensation, the Washington Post reported.
- When he refused, the bureau “kept him on the list in order to pressure and coerce Mr. Sajjad to sacrifice his constitutionally-protected rights,” says the lawsuit.
- Meanwhile, three other complainants – Tanvir, Algibhah and Shinwari – said they were added to the list immediately after they refused to work as FBI informants for religious reasons.
- Shinwari, a legal US resident from Omaha, Nebraska, said that after his arrival from his native country, Afghanistan, in 2012, he was twice detained and questioned by FBI agents who wanted to know if he knew anything about national security threats. He was soon put on the No Fly List, though he has never been convicted of a crime or posed a threat to national security, according to his lawyers.
- In one of their visits, FBI agents wanted to know about the “local Omaha community, did I know anyone who’s a threat?” he says.
- “I’m just very frustrated, [and I said] what can I do to clear my name?” says Shinwari. “And that’s where it was mentioned to me: you help us, we help you. We know you don’t have a job; we’ll give you money,” The Guardian reported him as saying.
- AFP Photo / Kevin WolfAFP Photo / Kevin Wolf
- Though Shinwari was allowed to fly within the United States in March, he still fears that if he flies to Afghanistan to see his wife and family, whom he hasn’t seen for at least two years, he might not be able to return.
- “Defendants’ unlawful actions are imposing an immediate and ongoing harm on Plaintiffs and have caused Plaintiffs deprivation of their constitutional rights, emotional distress, damage to their reputation, and material and economic loss,” adds the lawsuit.
- According to Jameel Algibhah, from the Bronx, New York, the FBI asked him to get access to a Queens mosque and even pose as an extremist in online forums.
- “We’re the only ones who can take you off the list,” an unnamed FBI agent told him, Algibhah told The Guardian.
- The fourth plaintiff, Muhammad Tanvir, started taking action against the FBI in October 2013, after he refused to spy on his local Pakistani community. Now he can’t visit his ailing mother.
- Ramzi Kassem, associate professor of law at the City University of New York, told the Washington Post that “the no-fly list is supposed to be about ensuring aviation safety, but the FBI is using it to force innocent people to become informants.”
- Meanwhile, the lawsuit seeks not only the plaintiffs’ removal from the no-fly list but also the establishment of a more robust legal mechanism to contest placement upon it.
- “This policy and set of practices by the FBI is part of a much broader set of policies that reflect over-policing in Muslim-American communities,” said Diala Shamas, one of the lawyers for the four plaintiffs.
- The FBI has not commented on the lawsuit.
- Meanwhile, this is not the first No Fly List-related lawsuit against the FBI. In 2010 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attempted to sue US Department of Justice and the FBI over their barring of American citizens, including several veterans of the US military, who ended up on the No Fly List and have been denied entry to their own country.
- The No Fly List was created by the US government’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. In 2012, the list was extended to around 21,000 individuals.
- The list, including US citizens and residents as well as foreigners, has been repeatedly criticized on civil liberties grounds, due to ethnic, religious, economic, political and racial discrimination. It has also raised concerns about privacy and government secrecy.
- The ACLU called inclusion on a list a potentially “life-altering” experience, adding that “it is not at all clear what separates a ‘reasonable-suspicion-based-on-a-reasonable-suspicion’ from a simple hunch.”
- Until March, no one had successfully convinced a court to force authorities to take them off the No Fly List. Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian architect, became the first person ever removed from the notorious list after the managed to force officials to admit she had been placed on the list due to an error by the agency.
- American workers who previously made up the wealthiest middle class in the world have lost that distinction, according to new research that attributes the economic stagnation on rising income inequality in the US.
- Economic growth in the US continues to be as strong if not stronger than other developed nations, although fewer Americans are reaping the benefit of their hard work. An analysis of income and spending numbers published Tuesday by the New York Times indicated that the wealthiest tax brackets are enjoying more financial growth, while the lower and middle income tiers are now lagging behind their counterparts throughout the world.
- Median income in Canada tied with median income in the US in 2010 and has likely surpassed that number since, according to the Times. Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, and a number of Western European countries still trail US median income, although the margin is much narrower than any forecasters had previously predicted.
- The numbers were assembled from surveys taken over a 35 year period in the US and elsewhere throughout the world. The Luxembourg Income Study Database (LIS) first compiled the data before turning it over to the New York Times and independent economists.
- “The idea that the median American has so much more income than the middle class in all other parts of the world is not true these days,” Harvard economist Lawrence Katz told the newspaper. “In 1960, we were massively richer than anyone else. In 1980, we were richer. In the 1990s, we were still richer.”
- That change seems to have been caused by a variety of factors, with education chief among them. Americans between 16 and 24 years old rank behind the same demographic in Canada, Australia, Japan, and Scandinavia in literacy, math, and technology performance. Young Americans still rank alongside citizens in Italy and Spain, although elderly US nationals lead the world in the same categories.
- Another, perhaps more substantial factor, is how companies compensate American employees. CEOs in the US make far more than those in Europe, and the poor earn far less. The minimum wage in America is lower than in other developed countries and labor unions have been weakened in recent decades, unlike on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
- Median income in the US, after taxes, is approximately $74,000 for a family of four. Income levels rose by about 20-percent between 1980 and 2000 but have remained largely unchanged since then. Canadians, on the other hand, enjoyed an income increase of 20-percent between 2000 and 2010 alone.
- Several experts, affiliated and not affiliated with LIS, told journalists David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy that governments in Canada and throughout Western Europe also do far more to redistribute vastly uneven incomes.
- Meanwhile, a mere one-third of the US population thinks the nation is moving in the right direction. Poll numbers indicate that families begin worrying about college costs when their children are increasingly young. Many of those same families think their own parents enjoyed more advantages than they do at the same point in their life.
- “Things are pretty flat,” Kathy Washburn, a Iowa resident who has worked at Ace Hardware for more than 20 years but still makes an annual $33,000, told the Times. “You have mostly lower level and high and not a lot in between. People need to start in between to work their way up.”
- This analysis is just the latest in a number of studies that document the increasingly difficult financial burdens so many Americans are up against. A 2012 Pew Research study identified middle class citizens as anyone who earned between $39,000 and $118,000 and found that, for the first time since the end of World War II, the number of Americans who fit into that category shrunk.
- The years between 2000 and 2010 included two damaging recessions and, for middle class earners, have been described as the worst decade in modern history. By contrast, income for the wealthiest 400 Americans quadrupled during the same time.
- The US Defense Department is developing a method of autopilot that may allow the military to reduce air flight crews to a fraction of their current size. This announcement comes after officials worried that a reduced military would be less effective.
- The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s research and development department said Tuesday that, over the next 50 years, it will work to introduce automated flight systems in aircraft.
- While military planes and aviation vehicles would still be flown by a pilot, that soldier would serve as a high-level “mission supervisor” who issues commands through a touch screen. The technology could replace five members of a flight crew, according to a statement.
- “Our goal is to design and develop a full-time automated assistant that could be rapidly adapted to help operate diverse aircraft through an easy-to-use operator interface,” Daniel Pratt, a program manager at DARPA, said in the notice published this week. “These capabilities could help transform the role of pilot from a systems operator to a mission supervisor directing intermeshed trusted, reliable systems at a high level.”
- The plan is officially known as the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit automation System (ALIAS) and will act essentially as an autopilot program that will help with every aspect of the flight. As currently advertised, ALIAS will be involved with takeoff, landing, and even in-flight emergencies. It may also have a hand in any number of smaller tasks, such as aircraft maintenance.
- ALIAS will be designed with a pilot in mind, although DARPA also said it will be capable of completing every aspect of a mission if pre-programmed.
- “ALIAS should present a high-level, latency-tolerant interface to a human supervisor to enable operation and foster effective human-machine collaboration,” the statement went on. “For example, simple touch and voice interfaces may enable supervisor-ALIAS interaction.”
- US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced in February of this year that the Obama administration would work to shrink the size of the US Army to its smallest size since before World War II. Citing the federal government’s budgetary concerns and the winding down of the wars in the Middle East, Hagel deemed it necessary to reduce the military personnel and lingering, expensive equipment costs.
- He said in a speech that cutting the current level of 522,000 soldiers was necessary “to protect critical capabilities like Special Operations Forces and cyber resources.”
- “We are repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future: new technologies, new centers of power, and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and in some instances more threatening to the United States,” he said, as quoted by USA Today.
- How much involvement ALIAS will have in a less expensive, more agile military remains to be seen, although the autopilot project is far from the only project DARPA is known to be researching.
- A Space.com report from earlier this week revealed that DARPA is also dedicating resources to a foldable space telescope that could someday provide detailed, high resolution images at a relatively cheap price. The Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE) may someday orbit the planet at an altitude near where telecommunications satellites currently float.
- Whether MOIRE is in fact cheaper than the image technology currently in use is unknown, although Lt. Col. Larry Gunn, a MOIRE program manager, implied that an initial investment could yield high dividends in the future.
- “Membrane optics could enable us to fit much larger, higher-resolution telescopes in smaller and lighter packages,” he said. “In that respect, we’re ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ that traditional materials impose on optics design. We’re hoping our research could also help greatly reduce overall costs and enable more timely deployment using smaller, less expensive launch vehicles.”
- The catastrophic effects of an electromagnetic pulse-caused blackout could be preventable, but experts warn the civilian world is still not ready.
- Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, both congressional advisory boards, said the technology to avoid disaster from electromagnetic pulses exists, and upgrading the nation’s electrical grid is financially viable.
- “The problem is not the technology,” Pry said. “We know how to protect against it. It’s not the money, it doesn’t cost that much. The problem is the politics. It always seems to be the politics that gets in the way.”
- IT’S STOPPABLE: Peter Vincent Pry says technology exists to protect against the damage from electromagnetic pulses.
- He said the more officials plan, the lower the estimated cost gets.
- “If you do a smart plan — the Congressional EMP Commission estimated that you could protect the whole country for about $2 billion,” Pry told Watchdog.org. “That’s what we give away in foreign aid to Pakistan every year.”
- In the first few minutes of an EMP, nearly half a million people would die. That’s the worst-case scenario that author William R. Forstchen estimated in 2011 would be the result of an EMP on the electric grid — whether by an act of God, or a nuclear missile detonating in Earth’s upper atmosphere.
- An electromagnetic pulse is a burst of electromagnetic energy strong enough to disable, and even destroy, nearby electronic devices.
- The scenario sounds like something in a Hollywood film, but the U.S. military has been preparing its electronic systems for such an event since the Cold War. The protective measures taken to harden facilities against a nuclear attack also help in some cases to protect against EMPs.
- The civilian world is another story.
- States have been working to fill in the legislative and regulatory gap left by Congress, as previously reported by Watchdog.org, and private companies have been developing technologies that would protect against EMPs.
- In 2011, state utilities commissioners recognized the need to invest in equipment that could help protect the power grid, but experts continue to warn that time to do so is running out.
- Much focus during the past several years has been placed on society’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Sophisticated computer hackers working in secret, most likely sponsored by nation-states, can steal identities, money and even potentially hijack airplanes.
- National Geographic, in the movie American Blackout, explored the catastrophic effects a cyberattack on the grid would have on society.
- The movie premiered in October 2013 at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., accompanied by a panel of national security experts from the U.S. intelligence community.
- Cyberattacks against the grid are possible. Stuxnet, the computer virus developed by the United States and Israel to sabotage Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, demonstrated that such an attack is not only possible, it can be done.
- Computer viruses are software programs designed to attack specific entities. But even computers need electricity, otherwise they are little more than expensive paper weights.
- Electricity is the lifeblood of the modern world. Food, transportation, medical facilities and communication systems all need it to function.
- An EMP attack from a nuclear missile launched by a country like North Korea, on the other hand, would indiscriminately cripple whole regions.
- Unlike nation-states, which can be deterred through diplomacy and force, however, the universe acts of its own accord.
- An EMP from a super solar flare would behave similarly to one generated by a nuclear missile that detonated in Earth’s upper atmosphere.
- Solar flares are explosions on the surface of the Sun; coronal mass ejections (CME), a solar flare’s accompanying EMP, can disturb the space weather around the Earth and affect communications signals traveling through the upper atmosphere.
- On multiple occasions during the past 155 years, large enough CME’s have disrupted electrical systems on Earth. One of the largest recorded solar flares happened in 1859. The CME, called the Carrington Event, disrupted telegraph systems in Europe and North America, and lit up the evening sky.
- A solar flare in 1989 caused a blackout in Quebec that lasted more than nine hours, and systems as far away as New Jersey were also damaged. In 2013, Space.com ranked the solar storm that caused the blackout as the fourth worst in history.
- Space.com ranked a solar storm in December 2006 as the worst, and U.S. government officials reported that the event disrupted satellite communications and GPS signals for about 10 minutes and damaged the satellite that took the picture of the storm.
- A joint study published in 2013 by researchers at Lloyd’s of London and Atmospheric and Environmental Research found that a similar event today would cost the world economy $2.3 trillion.
- Risk of another Carrington-class solar flare is expected to peak by early 2015. In the summer of 2012, Earth narrowly missed one estimated to have been more powerful than the Carrington Event and 35 times the size of Earth.
- Russian permanent envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin doubts that the agreements on the crisis in Ukraine concluded recently at a Geneva meeting would be implemented anytime soon. “Surely, it would be naive to expect that all this would happen quickly,” Churkin said in an interview on Rossiya-24 news television channel.
- Russian Foreign Minister “Sergei Lavrov’s talks with [US Secretary of State] John Kerry were not in vain, and the Americans are perceiving the incentives coming from Moscow and understand that, in order to prevent the crisis from deepening, some sensible steps should be taken,” he said.
- In particular, Churkin mentioned the need to confiscate 3 million firearms that are in the wrong hands in Ukraine now. “The weapons are in the hands of radical nationalists. If we talk about the disarmament of supporters of federalization and decentralization in eastern Ukraine, then will these radicals who have sometimes been declared the National Guard and so granted official status will be disarmed as well?” he said.
- Another question is “what the current Ukrainian authorities have in the pipeline regarding a constitutional reform,” he said.
- Prospect of UN peacekeeping operation in Ukraine unreal – Russian diplomat
- A UN peacekeeping operation in Ukraine is unreal, Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said. “I think that this is completely unreal. The UN and peacekeeping operations are unreal,” Churkin said in an interview with the Rossiya 24 (Russia 24) TV channel.
- “The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) presence is quite enough,” he said. “It is important that they realize in Kyiv that it is necessary to implement the Geneva documents and they take real steps to disarm the Right Sector and real steps regarding constitutional reform, then the situation should de-escalate by itself and no peacekeepers will be needed,” Churkin said.
- “For now, the UN has not been very successful in Ukraine. It got involved with its human rights structures and started to write reports on the state of human rights in Ukraine and imposed the situation in Crimea in this report, while the political status of Crimea has changed,” Churkin said.
- “We will have to work with them to explain the situation better,” he said. “It seems to me that it is important that people hear that such an organization exists and so that they may address their concerns to this structure, so that the next report they [the UN mission] are to present in May is more objective,” Churkin said.
- Members of the United States intelligence community must now operate within the boundaries of a new media policy, as contact with a journalist without prior approval can now be considered a fireable offense, their boss said on Sunday.
- Director of National Intelligence James Clapper signed on Sunday a directive which outlines new restrictions that intelligence analysts must consider before speaking to the press about both classified and unclassified information.
- “No substantive information should be provided to the media regarding covered matters in the case of unplanned or unintentional contacts,” the directive states, defining “covered matters” as “intelligence-related information, including intelligence sources, methods, activities, and judgments.”
- Any contact between intelligence employees and media figures on such issues “must be authorized by their IC [intelligence community] element,” such as the agency chief or another official. “Unplanned or unintentional contact with the media” also must be filed with a relevant public affairs office.
- Employees who offer an unauthorized disclosure of classified information to a journalist are open to criminal prosecution, according to the new rules. Even if there is no classified information passed in the process of contact, violating the policy “at a minimum…will be handled in the same manner as a security violation.”
- “IC [intelligence community] employees who are found to be in violation of this IC policy may be subject to administrative actions that may include revocation of security clearance or termination of employment.”
- But who is a member of “the media,” according to the directive? “Any person…engaged in the collection, production, or dissemination to the public of information in any form related to topics of national security” is sufficient.
- The new policy is intended “to mitigate risks of unauthorized disclosures of intelligence-related matters that may result from such contacts.”
- The guidelines come about 10 months after the initial publication of leaked documents, supplied by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, which revealed the NSA’s global spying operations.
- Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Clapper, said the rules are a consolidation of existing policies within various intelligence agencies, intended to prove the intelligence community can “police ourselves,” the Guardian reported.
- Turner denied the guidelines were connected to the Snowden leaks.
- Essentially, the new rules mean that any information on US intelligence given to reporters will be authorized from above, observers say, further straining the relationship between members of the press and their government sources.
- “The new policy is likely to be effective in reducing the quality, independence and critical content of intelligence-related information that is available to the press and the public,” wrote Stephen Aftergood, an intelligence analyst at the Federation of American Scientists.
- Turner disputed the view that the directive would significantly curb intelligence journalism.
- That assertion “would only have merit if this policy required a practice that’s not already in place,” he said.
- The directive is not as clear on what happens with an authorized disclosure of classified information, a tactic often used by high-ranking officials to yield an agreeable or positive story in the press.
- The policy does not alter any current guidelines regarding internal government whistleblowers who speak up about waste, fraud, or abuse. The new rules state that “appropriate” contact with the press is “encouraged.”
- Stephen Harper’s embarrassing behaviour regarding the crisis in Ukraine — demonizing Vladimir Putin and upping the rhetoric — must be welcomed in the U.S. which created the crisis in the first place and apparently believes it still has something to gain by isolating Russia. But it is not clear that Harper even realizes — or cares — what the larger game is.
- And that game may include a Russia-driven shift in global currency allegiance that could devastate the economies of the U.S. and Canada.
- The generals surrounding Harper in the ridiculous war-room setting where he announced Canada was sending six fighter jets to bolster NATO’s military buildup in eastern Europe looked very uncomfortable. Who likes being used as a prop for a faltering politician? The setting was a bad case of over-acting — as if we were joining the Allies in another world war rather than engaging in what one expert called “incremental posturing.”
- Is Harper just a useful idiot to the U.S. — ranting and raving about Russian expansionism and imperialism so that the U.S. position looks more reasonable by comparison? He declared:
- “When a major power acts in a way that is so clearly aggressive, militaristic and imperialistic, this represents a significant threat to the peace and stability of the world, and it’s time we all recognized the depth and the seriousness of that threat.”
- It is difficult to know what is going on in the fevered imagination of the prime minister, but this time one has to really wonder if he has become genuinely unhinged — always a possibility with someone both paranoid and narcissistic. While it is clear that genuine foreign policy execution always plays a distant second role to micro-managing the electorate, it is still possible that Harper’s domestic framing of foreign policy vis-a-vis Ukraine could inadvertently play a role that he didn’t intend.
- It is interesting that Harper virtually never talks about what is actually happening in Ukraine. The notion that Russia wants to occupy Ukraine or even invade it to protect ethnic Russians is far from the mark. The last thing Russia wants is responsibility for one of the worst basket cases in all of Europe. Ukraine is a nearly-failed state, all of its politicians are corrupt to a greater or lesser degree, it is bankrupt, has no effective police force and is held down by crumbling infrastructure, a decrepit industrial base, massive unemployment and a dysfunctional legal system. Putin is likely delighted to see the whole mess dumped into the lap of the U.S. and EU to try to sort out — a process that will take a decade and tens of billions of dollars just to tread water.
- In its current state Ukraine will never be invited to join the EU because then the EU would be directly responsible for bailing it out. And trying now to bring Ukraine into NATO would be seen everywhere as madness — a provocation to which Russia would reply by cutting off gas to western Europe. So Putin will watch with the comfort of an oligarch as the IMF puts the fiscal boots to a country already on its knees. And, of course, he can play mischief with gas prices any time he wants. The IMF prescription of drastic cuts to government programs could well cause widespread social unrest — and play into the hands of the fascist parties given new prominence by the U.S.-inspired coup. It could also turn many ethnic Ukrainians against the West, making its task of establishing stability that much more difficult.
- It is extremely unlikely that Putin will intervene to protect ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, either, unless there is virtual bloodbath. He will calculate that even a few hundred deaths of Russian separatists will simply reinforce his public relations victory over the West — confirming his framing of the issue as the ineptness and brutality of an illegal Kyiv government that hates Russia and Russians. It makes far more sense for him to let the U.S. and EU deal with such a crisis and damage what’s left of NATO’s shaky credibility than it is to be the bad guy and intervene militarily.
- In the meantime, the demonization of Putin and Russia is having a major influence on an issue that has barely been mentioned in the media: Putin’s plan to create the petroruble and decouple Russia’s energy exports from the dollar.
- It is arguable that push for the petroruble is a global issue many times more important to the U.S. than anything that happens in the Ukraine, but American efforts to isolate Russia is actually accelerating the process. The desire is also driving Russia to look to the east instead of Europe for its future prosperity — aligning with China as both a market for its gas and a partner in undermining the petrodollar. China is already headed there. Its yuan is the second most used currency, ahead of the euro, in international trade settlements. China recently “opened two centers to process yuan-denominated trade flows, one in London and one in Frankfurt.”
- The emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are grouped under the acronym BRICS. According to journalist Peter Koenig: “Other countries, especially the BRICS and BRICS-associates (BRICSA), may soon follow suit and join forces with Russia, abandoning the ‘petrodollar’ as trading unit for oil and gas. This could amount to tens of trillions in loss for demand of petrodollars per year.” In which case, “leaving an important dent in the U.S. economy would be an understatement,” says Koenig. “Along with the new BRICS(A) currency will come a new international payment settlement system, replacing the SWIFT and IBAN exchanges, thereby breaking the hegemony of… the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basle.”
- The prospect of the U.S. dollar losing its status as the world’s trading currency is far and away the greatest threat to U.S. hegemony in the world as it would turn the country’s $17-trillion (not counting unfunded liabilities) virtual debt problem into a real one. Until now, the huge external demand for U.S. dollars has allowed it to accumulate enormous debts without defaulting. With Russia, China and the rest of the BRICS countries moving in this direction, the U.S is panic-stricken. It used to be said that the U.S. dollar was backed by the Pentagon. Indeed, plans to decouple from the dollar was a common feature of three countries that experienced the wrath of U.S. foreign policy and military intervention. Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi was planning a gold-standard currency for all of Africa; Iraq was planning to quit using the dollar for its oil exports, as was Iran. Sanctions against the latter had as much to do with this plan as any other issue.
- But Russia, China, Brazil and India are countries of a whole different order and out of reach of the Pentagon’s threats. There is virtually nothing the U.S. can do to stop this movement, provoked in part by the massive printing of money in repeated “quantitative easings” and accelerated by NATO’s adventurism.
- If that were not a big enough headache for the U.S., Russia is well placed to detach Germany from the EU and U.S. efforts to isolate Russia. While Russia will suffer economically in the short term from sanctions, the longer term looks brighter. At the same time that BRICSA is planning its new international payment system, China and Germany are negotiating another initiative that guarantees Russia a prominent role in one of the world’s most ambitious economic development schemes: the New Silk Road linking China and Europe. This initiative is intended to provide enormous impetus for development of western China and everything from there to Germany.
- Says Koenig: “Germany, the economic driver of Europe — the world’s fourth largest economy (US$ 3.6 trillion GDP) — on the western end of the new trading axis, will be like a giant magnet, attracting other European trading partners of Germany’s to the New Silk Road. What looks like a future gain for Russia and China, also bringing about security and stability, would be a lethal loss for Washington.”
- So the Russian president, at record highs in public approval and now fully justified in facing east after being provoked by the West, doesn’t have to act. Everything is in motion for advantage Russia. And our war mongering prime minister will continue to aid Mr. Putin by demonizing him and justifying his eastern “pivot.”
- Vice President Jo Biden’s show of support arrival in Ukraine started with a somewhat back-handed statement that left some questioning Biden’s diplomatic skills once again. “You face some very daunting problems and some might say humiliating threats are taking place,” Biden spoke to Ukraine officials, pledging an additional $50 million to help Ukraine’s beleaguered government with political and economic reforms. As CBS reports, The White House has also announced $8 million in nonlethal military assistance for the Ukrainian armed forces, including bomb-disposal equipment, communications gear and vehicles. Biden concluded his oratory with a threat – that seemed oddly worded given the ‘actions’ of the last few days, warning Russia that “it’s time to stop talking and start acting.”
- As CBS reports, in the most high-level visit of a U.S. official since crisis erupted in Ukraine, Biden earlier told leaders from various political parties that he brought a message of support from President Obama as they face a historic opportunity to usher in reforms.
- “The opportunity to generate a united Ukraine and getting it right is within your grasp,” Biden said. “And we want to be your partner and friend in the project. We’re ready to assist.
- Biden met acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov and acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and democracy activists before announcing the new aid.
- “You face some very daunting problems and some might say humiliating threats are taking place,” Biden said.
- And promised more aid – to help the Ukrainians deal with their humilation?
- The vice president also announced the United States would provide an additional $50 million to help Ukraine’s beleaguered government with political and economic reforms.
- The money includes $11 million to help conduct the May 25 presidential election, including voter education, administration and oversight. It also will help fund expert teams from U.S. government agencies to help Ukraine to reduce its reliance on energy supplies from Russia. Other technical advisers will help fight corruption.
- The White House has also announced $8 million in nonlethal military assistance for the Ukrainian armed forces, including bomb-disposal equipment, communications gear and vehicles.
- But the anti-Russia rhetoric was strong…
- In a very loosely veiled reference to the alleged Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, Biden urged Russia to “stop supporting men hiding behind masks.” Russian President Vladimir Putin flatly denied that any of his special forces were in eastern Ukraine in a live television appearance last week, dismissing the claims as “nonsense.”
- Biden told the lawmakers a priority for the U.S. is to help them become independent from Russian energy supplies. “Imagine where you’d stand today if you could tell Russia to keep your own gas,” Biden said.
- Biden added, “You have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now.”
- “I want you to know I do not underestimate the incredible pressure you all are under,” Biden said. “I do not underestimate the challenges you all face. And I do not underestimate the frustration you all must feel when someone like me comes along to say what a great opportunity this is for you all.”
- Frustration indeed. But his final words were for Putin…
- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden warned Russia on Tuesday that “it’s time to stop talking and start acting” to reduce tension in Ukraine.
- Or else…
- In yet another surprising ‘loss’ for the current administration, RT reports a three-judge 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a previous ruling that would have allowed the federal government to keep the rationale behind drone killings classified. The US Department of Justice must turn over important details from a key “White Paper” which the government has used to justify targeted killings across the Middle East. While the document was no secret (with parts leaked before Brennan’s swearing in as CIA chief last year), the judges ruled that “whatever protection the legal analysis might once have had has been lost be virtue of public statements of public officials and official disclosure of the DOJ White Paper.” As the ACLU stated, “This is a resounding rejection of the government’s effort to use secrecy, and selective disclosure, as a means of manipulating public opinion about the targeted killing program.”
- As RT reports, The New York Times – two reporters in particular, Charlie Savage and Scott Shane – fought for the release of a Justice Department “White Paper” that contains a detailed explanation of why the controversial killings were legal.
- Included in the so-called White Paper are details on the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen who intelligence officials have said joined Al-Qaeda and became the terrorist organization’s de facto propagandist.
- The existence of the Justice Department’s White Paper has been no secret, and has been the subject of extensive debate for years. Parts of the memo were leaked before John Brennan was sworn in as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency in March of last year, with lawmakers staging a filibuster that delayed Brennan’s ceremony by 13 hours.
- Savage, Shane, the Times’ legal team, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in an attempt to learn more about Awlaki’s death. The appeals court ruled in their favor, declaring that the Obama administration had undermined its claim that the document could not be made public because of national security concerns, because a number of public officials had spoken publicly about US drone activity.
- “Whatever protection the legal analysis might once have had has been lost be virtue of public statements of public officials and official disclosure of the DOJ White Paper,” Circuit Judge Jon Newman wrote, as quoted by Reuters.
- The decision went on to say that any claim that military plans, intelligence activity, or essential foreign relationships would be damaged is no longer valid.
- The decision did not include any timeline about when the White Paper will actually be released. The Justice Department can still appeal for a ruling either from the full appeals court or the US Supreme Court.
- Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, told the Times that the decision is a clear “rebuff to the administration’s secrecy policy.”
- Yet the 2nd Circuit was careful to note that the plaintiffs were not challenging the legality of the drone program with their FOIA request, only the secrecy surrounding it. Jameel Jaffer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, was jubilant when speaking to the Times.
- “This is a resounding rejection of the government’s effort to use secrecy, and selective disclosure, as a means of manipulating public opinion about the targeted killing program,” he said. “The government can’t pretend that everything about its targeted killing program is a classified secret while senior officials selectively disclose information meant to paint the program in the most favorable light.”
- The euro, the dollar and the pound have been three of the stronger currencies in the world in recent months which has curtailed gains in precious metals in these currencies. This has not been the case for emerging market currencies many of which have fallen sharply and gold has risen correspondingly in value.
- Thus, gold has again acted as a safe haven for millions of investors and savers around the world and protected them from the declining value of fiat currencies.
- This is particularly evident in Ukraine where the economy is nearing collapse and the currency is in free fall. The Hryvnia has been the world’s worst performing currency in 2014.
- The charts below gives an indication as to the terrifying magnitude and speed of the recent decline in the value of the currency. Last week alone the currency fell by 7% against gold or gold per ounce has risen from 15,669 hryvnia per ounce at open on Monday to 16,880 hryvnia per ounce at the end of the week.
- Year to date, gold in hryvnia has surged by 69% from 9,992 per ounce to 16,880 per ounce or to put it more correctly, Ukraine’s national currency has collapsed by 69% against gold in less than four months.
- This has resulted in the cost of food, fuel and basic staples surging for ordinary people in Ukraine.
- People are buying gold, silver, other hard tangible and income generating assets.
- Once again, the lucky few who own physical gold are being protected from the currency collapse. They are in a position to buy food, water, property, land, businesses and other income generating and life sustaining essentials.
- Thereby, once again showing the lack of knowledge and sometimes simple bias of those who claim that gold is not a safe haven and discourage investors from having even a small allocation to gold.
- Gold is protecting people and companies in Ukraine today. It will do the same for people and companies in other countries in the coming months and years.
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