Category Archives: Abject stupidity

World faces ‘impossible’ task at post-Paris climate talks


Now comes the fun part. As the evidence for climate change continues to pile up, some of the more enlightened among us are beginning to wonder, "Just how big is the problem? And how much will this really cost to fix?" Of course, these are exactly the questions that should have been asked in 1988 when James Hanson provided us with his rocket science version of how bad it already was. Too bad the evidence had to be overwhelming to get to where we should have been in 1988.

World faces 'impossible' task at post-Paris climate talks

By FRANK JORDANS and MONIKA SCISLOWSKA | Associated Press

KATOWICE, Poland – Three years after sealing a landmark global climate deal in Paris, world leaders are gathering again to agree on the fine print.

The euphoria of 2015 has given way to sober realization that getting an agreement among almost 200 countries, each with their own political and economic demands, will be challenging — as evidenced by President Donald Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris accord, citing his "America First" mantra.

"Looking from the outside perspective, it's an impossible task," Poland's deputy environment minister, Michal Kurtyka, said of the talks he will preside over in Katowice from Dec. 2-14.

Top of the agenda will be finalizing the so-called Paris rulebook, which determines how countries have to count their greenhouse gas emissions, transparently report them to the rest of the world and reveal what they are doing to reduce them.

Seasoned negotiators are calling the meeting, which is expected to draw 25,000 participants, "Paris 2.0" because of the high stakes at play in Katowice.

Forest fires from California to Greece, droughts in Germany and Australia, tropical cyclones Mangkhut in the Pacific and Michael in the Atlantic — scientists say this year's extreme weather offers a glimpse of disasters to come if global warming continues unabated.

A recent report by the International Panel on Climate Change warned that time is running out if the world wants to achieve the most ambitious target in the Paris agreement — keeping global warming at 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit). The planet has already warmed by about 1 degree since pre-industrial times and it's on course for another 2-3 degrees of warming by the end of the century unless drastic action is taken.

The conference will have "quite significant consequences for humanity and for the way in which we take care of our planet," Kurtyka told the Associated Press ahead of the talks.

Experts agree that the Paris goals can only be met by cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050.

But the Paris agreement let countries set their own emissions targets. Some are on track, others aren't. Overall, the world is heading the wrong way.

Last week, the World Meteorological Organization said globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide reached a new record in 2017, while the level of other heat-trapping gases such methane and nitrous oxide also rose.

2018 is expected to see another 2 percent increase in human-made emissions, as construction of coal-fired power plants in Asia and Africa continue while carbon-absorbing forests are felled faster than they can regrow.

"Everyone recognized that the national plans, when you add everything up, will take us way beyond 3, potentially 4 degrees Celsius warming," said Johan Rockstrom, the incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

"We know that we're moving in the wrong direction," said Rockstrom. "We need to bend the global carbon emissions no later than 2020 — in two years' time — to stand a chance to stay under 2 degrees Celsius."

Convincing countries to set new, tougher targets for emissions reduction by 2020 is a key challenge in Katowice.

Doing so will entail a transformation of all sectors of their economies, including a complete end to burning fossil fuel.

Poor nations want rich countries to pledge the biggest cuts, on the grounds that they're responsible for most of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Rich countries say they're willing to lead the way, but only if poor nations play their part as well.

"Obviously not all countries are at the same stage of development," said Lidia Wojtal, an associate with Berlin-based consultancy Climatekos and a former Polish climate negotiator. "So we need to also take that into account and differentiate between the responsibilities. And that's a huge task."

Among those likely to be pressing hardest for ambitious measures will be small island nations , which are already facing serious challenges from climate change.

The U.S., meanwhile, is far from being the driving force it was during the Paris talks under President Barack Obama. Brazil and Australia, previously staunch backers of the accord, appear to be following in Trump's footsteps.

Some observers fear nationalist thinking on climate could scupper all hope of meaningful progress in Katowice. Others are more optimistic.

"We will soon see a large enough minority of significant economies moving decisively in the right direction," said Rockstrom. "That can have spillover effects which can be positive."

Poland could end up playing a crucial role in bringing opposing sides together. The country has already presided over three previous rounds of climate talks, and its heavy reliance on carbon-intensive coal for energy is forcing Warsaw to mull some tough measures in the years ahead.

The 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP24 as it's known, is being held on the site of a Katowice mine that was closed in 1999, after 176 years of coal production. Five out of the city's seven collieries have been closed since the 1990s, as Poland phased out communist-era subsidies and moved to a market economy.

Still, in another part of the city, some 1,500 miners continue to extract thousands of tons of coal daily.

Poland intends to send a signal that their future, and by extension that of millions of others whose jobs are at risk from decarbonization, isn't being forgotten. During the first week of talks, leaders are expected to sign a Polish-backed declaration calling for a 'just transition' that will "create quality jobs in regions affected by transition to a low-carbon economy."

Then, negotiators will get down to the gritty task of trimming a 300-page draft into a workable and meaningful agreement that governments can sign off on at the end of the second week.

"(I) hope that parties will be able to reach a compromise and that we will be able to say that Katowice contributed positively to this global effort," Kurtyka said. more

World faces ‘impossible’ task at post-Paris climate talks


Now comes the fun part. As the evidence for climate change continues to pile up, some of the more enlightened among us are beginning to wonder, "Just how big is the problem? And how much will this really cost to fix?" Of course, these are exactly the questions that should have been asked in 1988 when James Hanson provided us with his rocket science version of how bad it already was. Too bad the evidence had to be overwhelming to get to where we should have been in 1988.

World faces 'impossible' task at post-Paris climate talks

By FRANK JORDANS and MONIKA SCISLOWSKA | Associated Press

KATOWICE, Poland – Three years after sealing a landmark global climate deal in Paris, world leaders are gathering again to agree on the fine print.

The euphoria of 2015 has given way to sober realization that getting an agreement among almost 200 countries, each with their own political and economic demands, will be challenging — as evidenced by President Donald Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris accord, citing his "America First" mantra.

"Looking from the outside perspective, it's an impossible task," Poland's deputy environment minister, Michal Kurtyka, said of the talks he will preside over in Katowice from Dec. 2-14.

Top of the agenda will be finalizing the so-called Paris rulebook, which determines how countries have to count their greenhouse gas emissions, transparently report them to the rest of the world and reveal what they are doing to reduce them.

Seasoned negotiators are calling the meeting, which is expected to draw 25,000 participants, "Paris 2.0" because of the high stakes at play in Katowice.

Forest fires from California to Greece, droughts in Germany and Australia, tropical cyclones Mangkhut in the Pacific and Michael in the Atlantic — scientists say this year's extreme weather offers a glimpse of disasters to come if global warming continues unabated.

A recent report by the International Panel on Climate Change warned that time is running out if the world wants to achieve the most ambitious target in the Paris agreement — keeping global warming at 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit). The planet has already warmed by about 1 degree since pre-industrial times and it's on course for another 2-3 degrees of warming by the end of the century unless drastic action is taken.

The conference will have "quite significant consequences for humanity and for the way in which we take care of our planet," Kurtyka told the Associated Press ahead of the talks.

Experts agree that the Paris goals can only be met by cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050.

But the Paris agreement let countries set their own emissions targets. Some are on track, others aren't. Overall, the world is heading the wrong way.

Last week, the World Meteorological Organization said globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide reached a new record in 2017, while the level of other heat-trapping gases such methane and nitrous oxide also rose.

2018 is expected to see another 2 percent increase in human-made emissions, as construction of coal-fired power plants in Asia and Africa continue while carbon-absorbing forests are felled faster than they can regrow.

"Everyone recognized that the national plans, when you add everything up, will take us way beyond 3, potentially 4 degrees Celsius warming," said Johan Rockstrom, the incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

"We know that we're moving in the wrong direction," said Rockstrom. "We need to bend the global carbon emissions no later than 2020 — in two years' time — to stand a chance to stay under 2 degrees Celsius."

Convincing countries to set new, tougher targets for emissions reduction by 2020 is a key challenge in Katowice.

Doing so will entail a transformation of all sectors of their economies, including a complete end to burning fossil fuel.

Poor nations want rich countries to pledge the biggest cuts, on the grounds that they're responsible for most of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Rich countries say they're willing to lead the way, but only if poor nations play their part as well.

"Obviously not all countries are at the same stage of development," said Lidia Wojtal, an associate with Berlin-based consultancy Climatekos and a former Polish climate negotiator. "So we need to also take that into account and differentiate between the responsibilities. And that's a huge task."

Among those likely to be pressing hardest for ambitious measures will be small island nations , which are already facing serious challenges from climate change.

The U.S., meanwhile, is far from being the driving force it was during the Paris talks under President Barack Obama. Brazil and Australia, previously staunch backers of the accord, appear to be following in Trump's footsteps.

Some observers fear nationalist thinking on climate could scupper all hope of meaningful progress in Katowice. Others are more optimistic.

"We will soon see a large enough minority of significant economies moving decisively in the right direction," said Rockstrom. "That can have spillover effects which can be positive."

Poland could end up playing a crucial role in bringing opposing sides together. The country has already presided over three previous rounds of climate talks, and its heavy reliance on carbon-intensive coal for energy is forcing Warsaw to mull some tough measures in the years ahead.

The 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP24 as it's known, is being held on the site of a Katowice mine that was closed in 1999, after 176 years of coal production. Five out of the city's seven collieries have been closed since the 1990s, as Poland phased out communist-era subsidies and moved to a market economy.

Still, in another part of the city, some 1,500 miners continue to extract thousands of tons of coal daily.

Poland intends to send a signal that their future, and by extension that of millions of others whose jobs are at risk from decarbonization, isn't being forgotten. During the first week of talks, leaders are expected to sign a Polish-backed declaration calling for a 'just transition' that will "create quality jobs in regions affected by transition to a low-carbon economy."

Then, negotiators will get down to the gritty task of trimming a 300-page draft into a workable and meaningful agreement that governments can sign off on at the end of the second week.

"(I) hope that parties will be able to reach a compromise and that we will be able to say that Katowice contributed positively to this global effort," Kurtyka said. more

Lots of folks dare call it treason


Trump really laid a turd in the punch bowl when he announced to the world that he trusted the word of Vladimir Putin over his own "intelligence" experts on Russiagate. The defenders of the conventional wisdom will be shaking with rage over that one for a long time—with "Progressives" leading the charge. Robert LaFollette (one of the founders of the Progressive movement) had his political career destroyed because he voted in the Senate against the USA entry into WW I. Pretty sure he would not have approved of the current war-mongering lynch mob.

For a guy with a reputation for lying, this was as close to the unvarnished truth as we have heard from a USA president since at least Carter. The Empire runs on lies—can't let any honesty creep into the conversation. And I am not sure what came over Trump but I'll chalk it up to Finland—the Nordics are notoriously honest and uncorrupt so maybe the air helped.

Because there is absolutely no hard evidence to back up the Russiagate claims, I always assumed that the backers of the narrative would eventually see the light and sheepishly re-enter a world where evidence still means something. But it hasn't happened yet and the unfounded accusations have been going on for almost two years.

Treason? Get A Life!

July 17, 2018, Raúl Ilargi Meijer

Yeah, just keep ’em coming, right, so that when the last one falls flat on its face people will have already forgotten about it and instead focus on the new one. It’s been the modus operandi of the US MSM ever since Donald Trump emerged as an actual presidential candidate, and they haven’t let go.

They realize by now that it divides the nation, it costs them a large chunk of their potential readers and viewers, and creates chaos all around, but the bottom line is it makes them money. Because those people who fall into the echo chamber trap, tumble into it fast and furious, and will gladly pay to read yet another installment of how bad the man really is.

But it is getting out of hand, guys and gals, it is becoming a real and present danger to the -formerly- United States. The anti-Russia propaganda machine far predates Trump, but manufacturing an ever closer link between the two has proven to be a masterstroke of media genius.

That Vladimir Putin is an existential threat to the US and indeed the entire western world is a narrative taken straight out of Edward Bernays’ playbook. And it works like a charm. The problem is, it is also the biggest threat to peace anywhere on the globe that we have ever seen since WWII.

Putin is a patriot who came to the fore in mostly unexplained ways, named by American puppet Boris Yeltsin as his successor, only to save his country from US-induced plundering and restore Russia as a functioning country. Far from perfect, but functioning. Don’t forget that Russian life-expectancy fell by many years in the post-Gorbachev era. And then look now.

Yes, Putin uses some hard-handed tactics from time to time. He has no choice: the US threat to Russia is an ongoing one. There’s still a huge economic threat, of which US sanctions are but a minor part, there’s an intelligence threat, there’s NATO encroaching upon Russia’s borders.

Thus far, Putin has been able to counter them all. And his popularity among Russia’s population is far higher than that of any western politician. His people understand and recognize what he’s done and why he’s done it. He refuses for his country to be overrun and sold off to the highest bidders.

Just a few of the points of contention: Crimea – The US tried to take away Russia’s only warm water port. Putin countered with what through non-western eyes was tactical masterpiece; no violence, no shots fired, an election that saw an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to (re-)join Russia.

Connected to Crimea is Ukraine. Putin had -and has- to protect Russian-speaking people in the region. Who were going to be under threat from the very dubious, neo-nazi linked government installed by the US after the coup. All Putin has been able to achieve so far is a very brittle stand still. But ‘his’ people in Eastern Ukraine have strong links to the Russian area just across the border. He’s not going to sell them out.

Connected to Ukraine is MH17. The Netherlands commemorates the victims of the shooting down again today. Several years of investigating have come up with no conclusive proof, even if they say it has. The problem is that the investigation was -is- led by The Netherlands itself. You don’t let the biggest victim conduct an investigation.

What’s worse: the Ukraine was actively involved in the investigation, even when it was a potential culprit. Try to write that scenario into the plot of one of your favorite TV crime series. Won’t fly.

Then the novichok ‘events’ in the UK. Again, no evidence, but tons of allegations. And if Russia says it’s not guilty, everyone says and writes: of course they would say that. They get accused anyway. Still, no evidence is no evidence. the time that intelligence agencies were believed on their word is over. And they did it to themselves.

In the regard, it’s useful to see that Robert Mueller was one of the people who ‘swore’ that the Weapons of Mass Destruction ‘evidence’ against Saddam Hussein was real. We now know it was complete and utter fiction. Intelligence has overplayed its hand, and they won’t get it back for a long time.

People now realize they cannot be trusted. Well, not those who read and view the MSM, but then that’s sort of the entire point, isn’t it? That’s where the dividing line is being drawn. The CIA, FBI et al present a view of the world in concoction with the media that they think a sufficient number of people will swallow, and that’s really all they care for.

And boy, it is successful. The vitriol spewed over the Helsinki summit is something to behold. #TreasonSummit was a trending hashtag. For a meeting that was long overdue and aimed at calming down tensions. The by now very poorly named ‘social’ media play an ever bigger role in these things.

People can say whatever they want on them, without feeling they’ll ever actually be tested on their claims. One after the other, and each one trying to outdo the last. It all leads up to one particular worldview at the exclusion of all others. And again, that is very dangerous.

Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russians, which just happened to coincide with the first meeting of American and Russian presidents in an exceptionally long time, has been shot full of holes by many commentators, see for instance Adam Carter and Aaron Mate, but those views won’t make it to CNN or the NYT.

But despite the fact that the indictment is hollow and riddled with holes, it’s been a large part of why people call Trump a traitor for meeting with Putin. It ties together their opinions, carefully built along Bernays principles over the past two years. It’s a Matrix, it’s a trap. But then they throw in another story, of a 29 year-old Russian(!) girl arrested for allegedly setting up links between Russia and the NRA when she was 24 or so, and that replaces the Mueller indictment in most attention spans. And so the carrousel goes on. The torture never stops.

See, the idea is that you get yourself informed and then form your own opinion. Not that you let others pre-cook and pre-chew your opinions for you. Still, once you’re inside the deafening echo chamber, that’s what inevitably happens. Because there’s so much one-sided innuendo in there, your head aches and you just give up all resistance. Just to have a quiet moment.

And so very many Americans end up believing that indeed their president is guilty of treason. Because so many pundits claim that he is. But how many of them understand what treason really is, how serious an allegation it is? Is doesn’t really matter anymore, does it? Because all those others say he is, and they can’t all be wrong. And the echo chamber gives you a headache.

This is where I should say that somebody better do something about this, but it’s hard to see what. The divide has grown into a chasm. And that both sides are equally to blame for that doesn’t excuse either side’s wilful blindness. But yes, I hear you, it makes them money.

Still, if a US president can no longer talk to another president without being accused of treason, you’re in a scary predicament.

At some point you’re going to need real proof. And Bob Mueller is not going to get it for you. That’s what his indictment of the 12 Russians, as well as the moment he released it, makes abundantly clear. Mueller is -forever- going to hide behind the ‘Trust me, I’m the FBI’ line. Well, he betrayed you before. Wisen up. Demand evidence.

We know Mueller betrayed America when he made false claims over WMD. We have no evidence that Trump betrayed his country, we have only allegations. He may be a poor choice for president, but that’s not the same thing. more

Flat earth believers


Tony sent me this link. He probably thought I needed help getting going. He understands the "value" I put on folks who spread pure nonsense. Actually, the flat earth crowd doesn't even enter my radar because unless they are employed setting airline routes, it hardly matters what folks believe about the shape of the earth.

However, the sort of "thinking" that goes into this quite-common behavior is downright dangerous. And it is sadly not confined to the lunatic fringe. As pointed out below, this sort of thinking is quite common in the social sciences—Michel Foucault claimed that what the author wrote was nearly irrelevant compared to the power relationships that impacted his writing. Pontius Pilate had a French philosopher asking "what is truth?" I went through a period where the ability to quote Foucault was a sign of intellectual seriousness.

Because I had formulated my facts-as-building-blocks approach to epistemology before I had ever heard of Foucault, I pretty much dismissed him as another typical Leisure Class thinker. If you live in a world where being right or wrong is not terribly important, you tend to skip over learning the skills an aero engineer must learn to design something that punches a 550 mph hole in the air and the biggest problems for the passengers are crying babies and bad food. Anyway, Michel, there are many writers who are scrupulously concerned about being absolutely accurate—some even go so far as to provide illustrations.

This is just another way to avoid doing homework.  IF you know the science or other important facts, coming to a conclusion about the accuracy of another's testimony is routine. If you do not have the background to evaluate the information, you must fall back on judging the speakers based on his or her dress, hairdo, necktie, sexual history, political party, etc. Or the power arrangements.

That's the problem with climate science. The folks collecting data on the front lines have no doubts about whether climate change is real. The rest of us must either evaluate the data from second-hand sources with the required scientific (high school chemistry) background or else from random decisions based on sociology, rumor, or slander. In this way, the climate doubters have managed to stalemate an incredibly important public debate even though the facts are overwhelmingly against them.


I watched an entire Flat Earth Convention for my research – here’s what I learnt


Harry T Dyer, May 2, 2018
Lecturer in Education, University of East Anglia

Speakers recently flew in from around (or perhaps, across?) the earth for a three-day event held in Birmingham: the UK’s first ever public Flat Earth Convention. It was well attended, and wasn’t just three days of speeches and YouTube clips (though, granted, there was a lot of this). There was also a lot of team-building, networking, debating, workshops – and scientific experiments.

Yes, flat earthers do seem to place a lot of emphasis and priority on scientific methods and, in particular, on observable facts. The weekend in no small part revolved around discussing and debating science, with lots of time spent running, planning, and reporting on the latest set of flat earth experiments and models. Indeed, as one presenter noted early on, flat earthers try to “look for multiple, verifiable evidence” and advised attendees to “always do your own research and accept you might be wrong”.

While flat earthers seem to trust and support scientific methods, what they don’t trust is scientists, and the established relationships between “power” and “knowledge”. This relationship between power and knowledge has long been theorised by sociologists. By exploring this relationship, we can begin to understand why there is a swelling resurgence of flat earthers.

Power and knowledge

Let me begin by stating quickly that I’m not really interested in discussing if the earth if flat or not (for the record, I’m happily a “globe earther”) – and I’m not seeking to mock or denigrate this community. What’s important here is not necessarily whether they believe the earth is flat or not, but instead what their resurgence and public conventions tell us about science and knowledge in the 21st century.

Multiple competing models were suggested throughout the weekend, including “classic” flat earth, domes, ice walls, diamonds, puddles with multiple worlds inside, and even the earth as the inside of a giant cosmic egg. The level of discussion however often did not revolve around the models on offer, but on broader issues of attitudes towards existing structures of knowledge, and the institutions that supported and presented these models.The cosmic egg theory explained.

Flat earthers are not the first group to be sceptical of existing power structures and their tight grasps on knowledge. This viewpoint is somewhat typified by the work of Michel Foucault, a famous and heavily influential 20th century philosopher who made a career of studying those on the fringes of society to understand what they could tell us about everyday life.

He is well known, amongst many other things, for looking at the close relationship between power and knowledge. He suggested that knowledge is created and used in a way that reinforces the claims to legitimacy of those in power. At the same time, those in power control what is considered to be correct and incorrect knowledge. According to Foucault, there is therefore an intimate and interlinked relationship between power and knowledge.

At the time Foucault was writing on the topic, the control of power and knowledge had moved away from religious institutions, who previously held a very singular hold over knowledge and morality, and was instead beginning to move towards a network of scientific institutions, media monopolies, legal courts, and bureaucratised governments. Foucault argued that these institutions work to maintain their claims to legitimacy by controlling knowledge.

Ahead of the curve?

In the 21st century, we are witnessing another important shift in both power and knowledge due to factors that include the increased public platforms afforded by social media. Knowledge is no longer centrally controlled and – as has been pointed out in the wake of Brexit – the age of the expert may be passing. Now, everybody has the power to create and share content. When Michael Gove, a leading proponent of Brexit, proclaimed: “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts”, it would seem that he, in many ways, meant it.

It is also clear that we’re seeing increased polarisation in society, as we continue to drift away from agreed singular narratives and move into camps around shared interests. Recent PEW research suggests, for example, that 80% of voters who backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election – and 81% of Trump voters – believe the two sides are unable to agree on basic facts.

Despite early claims, from as far back as HG Well’s “world brain” essays in 1936, that a worldwide shared resource of knowledge such as the internet would create peace, harmony and a common interpretation of reality, it appears that quite the opposite has happened. With the increased voice afforded by social media, knowledge has been increasingly decentralised, and competing narratives have emerged.

This was something of a reoccurring theme throughout the weekend, and was especially apparent when four flat earthers debated three physics PhD students. A particular point of contention occurred when one of the physicists pleaded with the audience to avoid trusting YouTube and bloggers. The audience and the panel of flat earthers took exception to this, noting that “now we’ve got the internet and mass communication … we’re not reliant on what the mainstream are telling us in newspapers, we can decide for ourselves”. It was readily apparent that the flat earthers were keen to separate knowledge from scientific institutions.

Flat earthers and populism

At the same time as scientific claims to knowledge and power are being undermined, some power structures are decoupling themselves from scientific knowledge, moving towards a kind of populist politics that are increasingly sceptical of knowledge. This has, in recent years, manifested itself in extreme ways – through such things as public politicians showing support for Pizzagate or Trump’s suggestions that Ted Cruz’s father shot JFK.

But this can also be seen in more subtle and insidious form in the way in which Brexit, for example, was campaigned for in terms of gut feelings and emotions rather than expert statistics and predictions. Science is increasingly facing problems with its ability to communicate ideas publicly, a problem that politicians, and flat earthers, are able to circumvent with moves towards populism.

Again, this theme occurred throughout the weekend. Flat earthers were encouraged to trust “poetry, freedom, passion, vividness, creativity, and yearning” over the more clinical regurgitation of established theories and facts. Attendees were told that “hope changes everything”, and warned against blindly trusting what they were told. This is a narrative echoed by some of the celebrities who have used their power to back flat earth beliefs, such as the musician B.O.B, who tweeted: “Don’t believe what I say, research what I say.”

In many ways, a public meeting of flat earthers is a product and sign of our time; a reflection of our increasing distrust in scientific institutions, and the moves by power-holding institutions towards populism and emotions. In much the same way that Foucault reflected on what social outcasts could reveal about our social systems, there is a lot flat earthers can reveal to us about the current changing relationship between power and knowledge. And judging by the success of this UK event – and the large conventions planned in Canada and America this year – it seems the flat earth is going to be around for a while yet. more

The power of conventional wisdom


One of the smartest men I know once assured me that the "Zeitgeist cannot be changed—that's what makes it the Zeitgeist." OK. Except I know better. I grew up in the world created by the Keynesians of the Ken Galbraith variety. I watched it just disappear in the wake of the 1973 Arab oil embargo to be replaced by people who believed in ideas that supposedly had been forever discredited by the Great Depression. I still gasp at the sheer audacity of it all. It helped immeasurably that we had become a land of historical illiterates (The United States of Amnesia--Gore Vidal) so forgetting economic history was a trivial problem. And so the Zeitgeist changed from the Keynesians to the Monetarists in an historical eye-blink. Maoists become central bankers. And no, I most certainly do NOT believe all this happened by accident.

Even so, this was much easier than anyone could have imagined (or at least me.) The family business was running a church where I learned just how difficult it is to get folks to change their minds. Turns out well-funded think tanks can change quite a few minds. Jason Hirthler lays out a believable explanation for how and why this happened. Interesting reading.

Colonizing the Western Mind


by JASON HIRTHLER, MARCH 2, 2018

In Christopher Nolan’s captivating and visually dazzling film Inception, a practitioner of psychic corporate espionage must plant and idea inside a CEO’s head. The process is called inception, and it represents the frontier of corporate influence, in which mind spies no longer just “extract” ideas from the dreams of others, but seed useful ideas in a target’s subconscious. Inception is a well-crafted piece of futuristic sci-fi drama, but some of the ideas it imparts are already deeply embedded in the American subconscious. The notion of inception, of hatching an idea in the mind of a man or woman without his or her knowledge, is the kernel of propaganda, a black art practiced in the States since the First World War. Today we live beneath an invisible cultural hegemony, a set of ideas implanted in the mass mind by the U.S. state and its corporate media over decades. Invisibility seems to happen when something is either obscure or ubiquitous. In a propaganda system, an overarching objective is to render the messaging invisible by universalizing it within the culture. Difference is known by contrast. If there are no contrasting views in your field of vision, it’s easier to accept the ubiquitous explanation. The good news is that the ideology is well-known to some who have, for one lucky reason or another, found themselves outside the hegemonic field and are thus able to contrast the dominant worldview with alternative opinions. On the left, the ruling ideology might be described as neoliberalism, a particularly vicious form of imperial capitalism that, as would be expected, is camouflaged in the lineaments of humanitarian aid and succor.

Inception 1971

In a short span of time in the 1970s, dozens of think tanks were established across the western world and billions of dollars were spent proselytizing the tenets of the Powell Memo in 1971, which galvanized a counter-revolution to the liberal upswing of the Sixties. The neoliberal economic model of deregulation, downsizing, and privatization was preached by the Reagan-Thatcher junta, liberalized by the Clinton regime, temporarily given a bad name by the unhinged Bush administration, and saved by telegenic restoration of the Obama years. The ideology that underlay the model saturated academia, notably at the University of Chicago, and the mainstream media, principally at The New York Times. Since then it has trickled down to the general populace, to whom it now feels second nature. Today think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institute, Stratfor, Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, Carnegie Endowment, the Open Society Foundation, and the Atlantic Council, among many others, funnel millions of dollars in donations into cementing neoliberal attitudes in the American mind.

The ideological assumptions, which serve to justify what you could call neocolonial tactics, are relatively clear: the rights of the individual to be free of overreach from monolithic institutions like the state. Activist governments are inherently inefficient and lead directly to totalitarianism. Markets must be free and individuals must be free to act in those markets. People must be free to choose, both politically and commercially, in the voting booth and at the cash register. This conception of markets and individuals is most often formulated as “free-market democracy,” a misleading conceit that conflates individual freedom with the economic freedom of capital to exploit labor. So when it comes to foreign relations, American and western aid would only be given on the condition that the borrowers accepted the tenets of an (highly manipulable) electoral system and vowed to establish the institutions and legal structures required to fully realize a western market economy. These demands were supplemented with notions of the individual right to be free of oppression, some fine rhetoric about women and minorities, and somewhat more quietly, a judicial understanding that corporations were people, too. Together, an unshackled economy and an unfettered populace, newly equipped with individual rights, would produce the same flourishing and nourishing demos of mid-century America that had been the envy of humanity.

A False Promise

This ‘Washington Consensus’ is the false promise promoted by the West. The reality is quite different. The crux of neoliberalism is to eliminate democratic government by downsizing, privatizing, and deregulating it. Proponents of neoliberalism recognize that the state is the last bulwark of protection for the common people against the predations of capital. Remove the state and they’ll be left defenseless. Think about it. Deregulation eliminates the laws. Downsizing eliminates departments and their funding. Privatizing eliminates the very purpose of the state by having the private sector take over its traditional responsibilities. Ultimately, nation-states would dissolve except perhaps for armies and tax systems. A large, open-border global free market would be left, not subject to popular control but managed by a globally dispersed, transnational one percent. And the whole process of making this happen would be camouflaged beneath the altruistic stylings of a benign humanitarianism.

Globalists, as neoliberal capitalists are often called, also understood that democracy, defined by a smattering of individual rights and a voting booth, was the ideal vehicle to usher neoliberalism into the emerging world. Namely because democracy, as commonly practiced, makes no demands in the economic sphere. Socialism does. Communism does. These models directly address ownership of the means of production. Not so democratic capitalism. This permits the globalists to continue to own the means of production while proclaiming human rights triumphant in nations where interventions are staged. The enduring lie is that there is no democracy without economic democracy.

What matters to the one percent and the media conglomerates that disseminate their worldview is that the official definitions are accepted by the masses. The real effects need never be known. The neoliberal ideology (theory) thus conceals the neoliberal reality (practice). And for the masses to accept it, it must be mass produced. Then it becomes more or less invisible by virtue of its universality.

A Pretext for Pillage

Thanks to this artful disguise, the West can stage interventions in nations reluctant to adopt its platform of exploitation, knowing that on top of the depredations of an exploitative economic model, they will be asked to call it progress and celebrate it.

Washington, the metropolitan heart of neoliberal hegemony, has numerous methods of convincing reluctant developing nations to accept its neighborly advice. To be sure, the goal of modern colonialism is to find a pretext to intervene in a country, to restore by other means the extractive relations that first brought wealth to the colonial north. The most common pretexts for intervention depict the target nation in three distinct fashions.

First, as an economic basket case, a condition often engineered by the West in what is sometimes called, “creating facts on the ground.” By sanctioning the target economy, Washington can “make the economy scream,” to using war criminal Henry Kissinger’s elegant phrasing. Iran, Syria, and Venezuela are relevant examples here. Second, the West funds violent opposition to the government, producing unrest, often violent riots of the kind witnessed in Dara, Kiev, and Caracas. The goal is either to capsize a tottering administration or provoke a violent crackdown, at which point western embassies and institutions will send up simultaneously cries of tyranny and brutality and insist the leader step aside. Libya, Syria, and Venezuela are instructive in this regard. Third, the country will be pressured to accept some sort of military fettering thanks to either a false flag or manufactured hysteria over some domestic program, such as the WMD restrictions on Iraq, chemical weapons restrictions on Syria, or the civilian nuclear energy restrictions on Iran. Given that the U.S. traffics in WMDs, bioweapons, and nuclear energy itself, insisting others forsake all of these is perhaps little more than racially motivated despotry. But significant fear mongering in the international media will provide sufficient moral momentum to ram through sanctions, resolutions, and inspection regimes with little fanfare.

Schooling the Savages

Once the pretext is established, the appropriate intervention is made. There’s no lack of latent racism embedded in each intervention. Something of Edward Said’s Orientalism is surely at play here; the West is often responding to a crude caricature rather than a living people. One writer, Robert Dale Parker, described western views of Asia as little more than, “a sink of despotism on the margins of the world.” Iran is incessantly lensed through a fearful distrust of the ‘other’, those abyssal Persians. Likewise, North Korea is mythologized as a kingdom of miniature madmen, possessed of a curious psychosis that surely bears no relation to the genocidal cleansing of 20 percent of its population in the Fifties, itself an imperial coda to the madness of Hiroshima.

The interventions, then, are little different than the missionary work of early colonizers, who sought to entrap the minds of men in order to ensnare the soul. Salvation is the order of the day. The mission worker felt the same sense of superiority and exceptionalism that inhabits the mind of the neoliberal. Two zealots of the age peddling different editions of a common book. One must carry the gospel of the invisible hand to the unlettered minions. But the gifts of the enlightened interloper are consistently dubious.

It might be the loan package that effectively transfers economic control out of the hands of political officials and into the hands of loan officers, those mealy-mouthed creditors referred to earlier. It may be the sanctions that prevent the country from engaging in dollar transactions and trade with numberless nations on which it depends for goods and services. Or it might be that controversial UNSC resolution that leads to a comprehensive agreement to ban certain weapons from a country. Stipulations of the agreement will often include a byzantine inspections regime full of consciously-inserted trip wires designed to catch the country out of compliance and leverage that miscue to intensify confrontational rhetoric and implement even more far-reaching inspections.

Cracking the Shell

The benign-sounding structural adjustments of the West have fairly predictable results: cultural and economic chaos, rapid impoverishment, resource extraction with its attendant ecological ruin, transfer of ownership from local hands to foreign entities, and death from a thousand causes. We are currently sanctioning around 30 nations in some fashion; dozens of countries have fallen into ‘protracted arrears’ with western creditors; and entire continents are witnessing huge outflows of capital–on the order of $100B annually–to the global north as debt service. The profiteering colonialists of the West make out like bandits. The usual suspects include Washington and its loyal lapdogs, the IMF, World Bank, EU, NATO, and other international institutions, and the energy and defense multinationals whose shareholders and executive class effectively run the show.

So why aren’t Americans more aware of this complicated web of neocolonial domination? Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, who pioneered the concept of cultural hegemony, suggested that the ruling ideologies of the bourgeoisie were so deeply embedded in popular consciousness that the working classes often supported leaders and ideas that were antithetical to their own interests. Today, that cultural hegemony is neoliberalism. Few can slip its grasp long enough to see the world from an uncolored vantage point. You’ll very rarely encounter arguments like this leafing through the Times or related broadsheets. They don’t fit the ruling dogma, the Weltanschauung (worldview) that keeps the public mind in its sleepy repose.

But French-Algerian philosopher Louis Althusser, following Gramsci, believed that, unlike the militarized state, the ideologies of the ruling class were penetrable. He felt that the comparatively fluid zones of Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) were contexts of class struggle. Within them, groups might attain a kind of ‘relative autonomy’, by which they could step outside of the monolithic cultural ideology. The scales would fall. Then, equipped with new knowledge, people might stage an inception of their own, cracking open the cultural hegemony and reshaping its mythos in a more humane direction. This seems like an imperative for modern American culture, buried as it is beneath the hegemonic heft of the neoliberal credo. These articles of false faith, this ideology of deceit, ought to be replaced with new declarations of independence, of the mind if not the mainstream. more

Jason Hirthler can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com.