“In capitalism economic activity, success, material gains, become ends in themselves… Man became a cog in the vast economic machine – an important one if he had much capital, an insignificant one if he had none – but always a cog to serve a purpose outside of himself.” ~Erich Fromm; Escape from Freedom (1941)
“Capitalism is a development by refinement from feudalism, just as feudalism is development by refinement from slavery. Capitalism is but the gentlemen’s method of slavery.” ~Kwame Nkrumah
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” ~Naomi Klein
Painting “Your Own Personal Slaves” by Daniel Garcia Art
Iran’s foreign minister says fresh claims of a chemical attack by the Syrian government and threats of a military response to the alleged incident are yet another attempt by the US and its allies to boost the morale of terror groups, which are taking heavy blows on the battlefield in the Arab state.
Mohammad Javad Zarif made the remarks on Tuesday upon his arrival in Brazil from Senegal, on the second leg of his tour of four African and Latin American states. Uruguay and Namibia will be his next stops.
Asked about Israel’s recent missile attack on a Syrian air base, the top Iranian diplomat said it was not unprecedented.
“The situation of US-backed terrorists is Syria is not good and every day they are suffering new blows. The Zionist regime and the US have in different stages rushed to the scene to boost the morale of terrorists,” he said.
“Whenever the terrorists face defeats, the Zionist regime launches operations and so do the Americans,” he added.
The suspected chemical weapons attack hit Douma late on Saturday. It reportedly killed at least 60 people and wounded more than 1,000 others.
The Western countries rushed to blame the incident on the Syrian government. Damascus rejected the accusations as “chemical fabrications,” which were made by the terrorists themselves in a bid to halt pro-government forces’ advances.
Syria, backed by the Russian air force, has already liberated almost all Eastern Ghouta and has reached an evacuation deal with the terrorists to leave Douma, their last stronghold in the suburban area near Damascus.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Zarif warned of the repercussions of the “dangerous” policies adopted by Washington and Tel Aviv in the region, among them the relocation of Daesh terrorists.
The Iranian minister described the terrorists as a highly dangerous American “investment,” saying, “There is authentic intelligence that the US is relocating the Daesh terrorists” to use them in different regions.
“These policies are very dangerous and their outcome will be dangerous for both regional and international peace and security as well as the US itself,” he added.
Asked about an alleged gas attack on the militant-held Syrian town of Douma last weekend, Zarif reiterated Iran’s opposition to any use of chemical weapons by any party, adding, however, “We think the US government is seeking a pretext for intervention.”
In the pre-dawn hours Monday, Israeli F-15 warplanes carried out strikes via Lebanese air space on T-4 air base in Syria’s Homs Province, killing and wounding several people.
US President Trump, however, warned that Russia, Iran and Syria will have a “big price to pay” following the suspected chemical attack, saying his administration will soon be making “some major decisions” on Syria.
Citing unnamed US officials, Reuters reported Monday that Trump is weighing a multinational military response to the purported poison gas attack.
Twenty-five years ago, when I was a second-year graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, I overheard a conversation between an instructor and an undergraduate student who had recently served during the Gulf War in 1991. The young veteran expressed disappointment that the powers-that-were had curtailed the military offensive, limiting the US-led blitzkrieg to Kuwait and southern Iraq. What he said to the instructor next had my ears burning. “We [the US military] should’ve turned the whole place [the Middle East] into a nice sheet of glass!” the young man said with glee.
While the instructor let go this student’s quip about how the US and its Western allies should’ve considered nuking as many as 100 million humans as an alternative to Operation Desert Storm, I couldn’t. It has always amazed me how easily Americans of every stripe could so easily write off people’s lives the world over. And it’s as true in 2018 as it was in 1993, as President Trump’s newly appointed National Security Adviser John Bolton recently made the “legal case” for a pre-emptive attack against North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
The world needs to understand the historical and psychological motivations behind the imperialism that drives American geopolitics and allows Americans to devalue so many lives. The forces that have dictated America’s domestic and economic desires are the same ones that drive its foreign policy and its military interventions. America’s racism has allowed it to continually discount the people it has killed in the name of freedom and democracy in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East as merely “collateral damage”. America’s narcissism has enabled it to see the world as valuable only when it can obtain specific natural resources. Both have allowed its leaders to make the world a playground for its weapons.
America’s malignant racism and narcissism explain why President Donald Trump can get away with crass phrases like “America first” and “sh****le countries”. Both narcissism and racism account for why the US has cared more about what happened to four Americans in Libya in 2012 than it has about Boko Haram in Nigeria or Syrian forces bombing innocent children in Eastern Ghouta. America’s racism is at work when the US turns a blind eye to atrocities such as the humanitarian crisis born of Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of some 700,000 Rohingya now in Bangladesh. America’s narcissism is why is there such a stark distance between America the ideal superpower, who claims to be “the leader of the free world,” and America the narcissistic superpower, who only cares about herself.
This uniquely American mix of self-aggrandisement to materially benefit a select few on the basis of Whiteness has evolved over centuries. The tree of America as an empire grew out of its 170-year-long roots as a British colony. One where a class of nouveau riche plantation slave owners thought themselves the equals of their English counterparts in the House of Lords. The idea of empire sprouted as the new US declared itself the protector of Western Hemisphere via the Monroe Doctrine. All while using the idea of Manifest Destiny as the impetus for taking half of Mexico’s original territories, not to mention invading Haiti and depriving Cuba of both fair trade deals and an unencumbered democratic process. Native Americans faced the same double-dealing for more than a century, as the US government nullified treaty after treaty in favour of railroad companies, mining interests, and a genocidal policy of “Indian removal”.
World War II, though, was America’s coming-out party as a freshly minted superpower. For so many Americans, Pearl Harbor wasn’t just a sneak attack; it was the ultimate betrayal. Japanese atrocities at Bataan and elsewhere helped further Americans’ lack of empathy towards Japanese civilians. Add to Pearl Harbor and Bataan America’s pre-war anti-Japanese racism and the zero-sum brutality with which both the US and Japanese militaries fought each other. When Gallup’s pollsters asked Americans about what should happen to Japan and the Japanese at the end of the war, American attitudes had hardened over time. While 29 percent of Americans wanted Japan “destroy[ed] as a nation” in the 1942 poll, by December 1944, the number had grown to 33 percent. Another 13 percent wanted to “kill them”. The US paved the road to dropping WMDs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and killing 250,000 civilians with its own narcissistic belief that it was an innocent bystander whom “them Japs” drew into war.
The nearly two-decade-long US military involvement in Southeast Asia serves as another example of the ease with which Americans have denied the humanity of people of colour. American leaders narcissistically believed in their own good intentions, all while often indiscriminately killing Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, and Hmong peoples. According to the BMJ, as many as 3.8 million Vietnamese died during the US-inspired conflict between North and South Vietnam. General William Westmoreland (one of the architects of the Vietnam War) defended the hefty death and destruction, saying, “They are Asians who don’t think about death the way we do”. America’s imperialistic policies, performed in the name of anti-communism, led to an almost complete lack of empathy among ordinary American soldiers, who narcissistically dehumanised their “enemy” as “gooks” in order to “win.”
However, with the end of the Cold War in 1989, and more so since 9/11, a key part of American military interventions the globe over has been an increasing insistence on injecting American-style democracy into allegedly less civilized parts of the world. It no longer matters if there’s a bigger enemy like Japan or if there’s Soviet aggression to fight. As then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on NBC’s Today Show in reference to Iraq in March 1998, “if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall, and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”
Albright’s statement is an indispensable and utterly narcissistic one to the point of delusions of god-like powers. The “indispensable nation” is also a wonderful way of saying that the US is #1, come heaven, hell, or high water, or rather, Iraq and Afghanistan. Drones and missiles have mostly replaced tanks and armies in the years since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, to be sure. But like narcissists, who believe that they are “extraordinary and exceptional,” America continues to believe itself to be a superpower who’s a “global force for good,” as Keith David narrated in “America’s Navy” commercials in 2014.
That nations tend to only care about what happens to their own isn’t news. Humans “are naturally more concerned with domestic issues than [with] what is happening elsewhere around the world,” an editor once told me regarding the insular tendencies of news coverage. Sure, the British promoted their brand of imperialism as one that “civilized” the world. But no nation in modern history has been as good as promoting itself and its projection of power as a sign of its unselfish goodness as the US. America’s racism and narcissism, well-honed over the previous four centuries, is the reason why its foreign affairs are a mere projection of America’s domestic ills. They will continue to be for as long as the US remains a world power because America cannot get over itself.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
by James Corbett
April 7, 2018
Tariffs, counter-tariffs and headlines about trade wars are flowing like wine as the long-anticipated Trump campaign against China is finally shaping up. Given that futures are tumbling, the US trade deficit has just hit a decade low, and, oh yeah, we haven’t seen market volatility like this since the crash of ’87 you might think we have enough ominous financial storm clouds to worry about at the moment. But (if you listen to Reuters) you’d be wrong.
“China, holding Treasuries, keeps ‘nuclear option’ in U.S. trade war” blares their headline from this past Wednesday. Ah yes, the old “nuclear option” canard.
So what’s China’s so-called “nuclear option?” Well, it starts with a chart showing China as the largest foreign holder of US Treasuries.
…and it proceeds with the insinuation that China could dump all of its Treasuries on the market at once, causing (you guessed it!) a total obliteration of the market and a crisis for Uncle Sam and his almighty dollar.
That’s the theory, anyway. But is it really true? Could China really deploy its “nuclear option,” cause a market panic and sink the dollar? Of course not. At least, not in the way the headline writers want you to believe.
In fact, Reuters even admits this a few paragraphs into their own attention-grabbing clickbaity article:
Jeffrey Gundlach, the chief executive of DoubleLine Capital LP, said China can use its Treasury holdings as leverage, but only if they keep holding them.
It is more effective as a threat. If they sell, they have no threat,” said Gundlach, known as Wall Street’s Bond King.
“It would only escalate the situation and eliminate their leverage.”
Well, I don’t expect that I would agree with the CEO of DoubleLine Capital on many things, but he’s not wrong here. Much like the thousands of nuclear warheads that could destroy the planet many times over, this “nuclear option,” too, is more of a bluff than a card that can be played. The first and foremost victim of a panic in the Treasuries market would be the People’s Bank of China, who would stand to lose USD$1.2 trillion all at once.
Beyond that, it’s an open question in this black-is-white, bad news is good news “new normal” economy whether China dumping its Treasuries would even crash the market. After all, people have worried about China’s declining reserves in the past, but those sales obviously did not curb the world’s appetite for Uncle Sam’s debt.
Besides, remember when it was suddenly “revealed” (read: admitted) that Saudi Arabia had $750 billion in Treasuries as a result of the decades-old petrodollar arrangement that has only recently been acknowledged? And remember when there was then a lot of hand-wringing about whether the Saudis would react to the release of the 28 pages by holding a Treasury fire sale? Well, as I noted at the time, it’s by no means clear that the market (as it stands today) wouldn’t be able to absorb the selling. In fact, at that time (i.e. 2016) the Treasury market had already absorbed China’s 20% reduction in holdings without missing a beat.
Remember, this is all a con game. Literally. A confidence game. As long as people believe in the US dollar, then the dollar is “sound.” As long as people believe that Washington will be able to make good on its debts, then that debt has “value.” So if nothing else changed, it’s conceivable that a sell-off of Treasuries, even a massive dumping, would only be seen as a buying opportunity by others. And, if not, there’s always the Fed to come along and buy the Treasuries directly, right?
To paraphrase George Costanza: It’s not toilet paper if you believe in it.
But with this realization we discover the status quo’s real Achilles heel. It’s not the pull-the-plug-on-the-bathtub “nuclear option” of a Treasury fire sale that keeps Uncle Sam and his henchmen up at night. It’s the idea of filling up another bathtub.
What if, instead of dumping all their reserve holdings and shooting themselves in the economic foot, Beijing was instead building up an alternative global trading system. One built on an infrastructure funded by China with the excess reserves from its vast trade surplus with the US? One involving dozens of other nations in trade agreements based on “win-win” development projects? One where those trading partners increasingly agreed to trade in local currencies and bypass the dollar?
This is the real “nuclear option.” Not the fiery explosion of economic Armageddon, but the slow and painstaking creation of an alternative system (Mandatory caveat: “alternative” system). And if this project comes to fruition, then it won’t even matter if China sells or holds its US Treasuries. They will be irrelevant.
Now obviously we’re still a long way off from that point, and China, for its part, is at least putting on an outward show of rejecting the “nuclear option” strategy. In a briefing this week, the country’s Vice Finance Minister, Zhu Guangyao, told a Wall Street Journal reporter that “China is a responsible investor in the global capital market” and stressed that Beijing is only interested in safeguarding the value of those reserves. And in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last Thursday, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi placed the blame for all this chaos squarely on Washington, calling for a joint effort by the world community to protect the global(ist) free trade system.
But this is the type of “let’s all play by the global(ist) rules, gang!” pep talk that plays in Peking a lot better than it plays in Peoria, and at the end of the day, it’s just that: talk. Actions speak louder than words, and no one can deny that China’s actions are toward the creation of a US dollar alternative.
So, in short, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over the thought of a Chinese fire sale of US Treasuries. But the prospect of the slow and inevitable erosion of US hegemony and the inevitable collapse of confidence in the dollar that will follow that? Or the prospect of the US heading that off at the pass with a trade war that escalates into a real war? Well, that might be worth thinking about.
Renowned trends researcher Gerald Celente says the trade war President Trump is starting against China must be fought for America to survive. Celente explains,
“We have lost 3.5 million jobs (to China). Some 70,000 manufacturing plants have closed. Why would anybody be fighting Trump to do a reversal of us being in a merchandise trade deficit of $365 billion? Tell me any two people that would do business with each other and one side takes a huge loss and keeps taking it…
So, why would people argue and fight and bring down the markets because Trump wants to bring back jobs and readjust a trade deficit that, by any standard, is destroying the nation?”
Who’s to blame for the lopsided trade deficits destroying the middle class of America? Look no further than the politicians and corporations buying them off. Celente charges,
“They sold us out. The European companies and the American companies sold us out, and the people fighting Trump are also the big retailers because they’ve got their slave labor making their stuff over there. They bring it back here and mark up the price, and they make more money. If they have to pay our people to do that work, they have to pay them a living wage and they can’t make enough profit. That’s who is fighting us…
You go back to our top trend in 2017, and it was China was going to be the leader in AI (artificial intelligence) now and beyond, and that is exactly what happened. All the corporations have sold us out. . . .The murderers and the thieves sold out America.”
Celente thinks the odds are there will not be a financial crash in 2018 “because they are repatriating all that dough from overseas at a very low tax rate and because of the tax cuts from 35% to 21%. These are the facts. In the first three months of this year, there have been more stock buybacks and mergers and acquisitions activity than ever before in this short period of time because of all that cheap money going back into the corporations. That’s what’s keeping the markets up.”
Just because the stock market is near all-time highs doesn’t mean there is no risk from a black swan. Celente says,
“I want to tell everyone what our major signal that we are watching closely that is going to determine where the markets are going. It’s the signal. It’s a signal that you will know whether to bail out or stay in, and that’s gold prices. With all of this volatility going on, gold prices have not moved much. They are still stuck in the $1,300 to $1,350 (per ounce) range. Even on Friday, with all the volatility, gold only moved up a couple of bucks. That is the indicator to watch, and here is our forecast. Gold has to break above $1,385 per ounce. It has been unable to get near there…
The next big number will be $1,450. When it solidifies over that, we forecast a jump to the $2,000 range. Gold is the ultimate safe haven asset. It has not been acting like that during this market shift.”
On the recent poll where 77% of people thought the MSM was putting out so-called “Fake News,” Celente says, “It’s not only “Fake News, it’s junk news, and that is why people are tuning out.” Expect the trend to continue.
Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One with Gerald Celente, Publisher of “The Trends Journal.”
Pitted against the glacial pace of the UN’s discussion process, activists hoping for an international ban on killer robots have repeatedly been left fuming and frustrated.
Pitted against each other in the battlefield, lethal autonomous weapons systems — or LAWS — could in short order cause “absolute devastation,” according to one of those activists.
That scenario, says the activist, Prof. Noel Sharkey of the University of Sheffield, isn’t as farfetched as it might have been even five years ago, when he helped found the Coalition to Stop Killer Robots, a group of 64 NGOs dedicated to the cause.
And it’s that belief that brings him and other academics, scientists and activists back to Geneva this week to yet more discussions involving more than 80 countries.
Their hope is that the UN process moves from discussion to formal direct negotiations by next year to produce a pre-emptive treaty banning killer robots by 2019.
The activists’ chief concern isn’t the military’s delegation of tasks to autonomous machines — which can be useful in search and rescue and bomb disposal and myriad other tasks too dangerous or too onerous for humans.
Instead, the coalition and others pushing for a treaty specifically want to ban LAWS with the “critical functions” of selecting a target and then killing, without meaningful human control.
“I think it’s very urgent that we do this now,” says Sharkey, describing the UN process as “frustrating.” Countries that don’t want a ban just keep slowing it down, he says.
“Our mandate is to get a treaty for emerging weapons … so if they slow us down long enough, they’ll have emerged and we’ll have no chance.”
Thus far, no fully autonomous weapons are known to have been unleashed in the battlefield, although the development of precursors is well underway, with growing degrees of autonomy and intelligence — even the ability to learn.
In this video below, the Coalition to Stop Killer Robots make its case to ban autonomous weapons.
Recently, such development has stirred controversy. At Google, staff wrote an open letter last week to management demanding they suspend work on a U.S. military project that involved drones and artificial intelligence capability.
And also last week, dozens of scientists and academics wrote a letter to the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Seoul threatening a boycott for a project developing artificial intelligence for military use. The university has since promised it would not produce LAWS.
Still, Sharkey goes as far as describing what is happening now as a new arms race underway as militaries and companies compete to acquire increasingly autonomous and smarter weapons.
Since the UN discussions started back in 2014, lightening-fast advances in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence have made it possible to build LAWS in short order, according to experts.
“You could build an autonomous weapon system with open source technology now — the question is if it’s good enough to meet our standards as advanced nations,” says Ryan Gariepy, CEO of Clearpath Robotics, a Canadian firm that was the first company to endorse a ban on killer robots.
So the near future, says Sharkey, could see wars starting automatically with battlefields too fast for the pace of human decision-making, where “war starts automatically, 10 minutes later, there’s absolute devastation, nobody’s been able to stop it.”
That’s most dangerous of all, he says.
“I’m not talking about science fiction here. I’m not talking about AI [artificial intelligence] suddenly becoming conscious,” he said in an interview.
“I’m talking about stupid humans developing weapons that they can’t control.”
There are ample examples out there of the growing role of autonomous functions in military and policing.
Put aside for a moment the Terminator idea of human-like soldiers and consider the Samsung Techwin SGR-A1.
It patrols the South Korean border and has the ability to autonomously fire if it senses an infiltrator. Right now, it prompts an operator first.
Or what about the Russian semi-autonomous T14 Armata tank or the British BAE Systems’ Taranis aircraft, both human-controlled but both also capable of semi-autonomous operation. Kalashnikov has also built some prototypes with “neural networks” modelled on the human brain.
The U.S. military tests relentlessly. The Pentagon has experimented with swarms — drones made to learn to think and react collectively.
Though no country admits actually pursuing LAWS, proponents have several arguments in their favour: they could make wars more efficient and accurate, lowering costs as well as civilian casualties. Delegating killing to machines could ultimately also spare soldiers any moral consequences of killing, even in self-defence, such as PTSD.
“It will spare the lives of soldiers, it will spare conscience of soldiers, it will spare soldiers from the threat of suicide,” said Prof. Duncan MacIntosh, a Dalhousie University philosophy professor who is a leading adviser on the ethics of autonomous weapons. He made the comments in his openings statement during a debate with Sharkey at St. Mary’s University in Halifax last month.
“You can make sure for instance that a machine will not kill from fear, anger lust, revenge, political prejudice, confusion, fog of war.”
Automation used in the “right way could make war more precise and more humane,” says Paul Scharre, a former U.S. Army ranger who is currently at the Center for a New American Security.
That doesn’t help things “for actors that don’t care about civilian casualties, or trying to kill civilians,” says Scharre. But for militaries who “care about humanitarian law and avoiding civilian harm, these technologies can allow them to be more precise and distinguish better between enemy and civilians.”
For example, AI-enabled systems could be used to tell whether someone is carrying a weapon or something that just looks like a weapon.
“We absolutely could do that. In fact we know that we can build machine learning systems today that can identify objects very well and actually beat humans at some benchmark tests for image recognition,” says Scharre, whose book Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War, comes out this month.
For Scharre, it’s too soon to call what is happening now an “arms race.”
He agrees the unchecked proliferation of autonomous weapons should be avoided, but that finding global agreement on a definition of meaningful human control of autonomous weapons is preferable to an outright ban. The U.S. position is to work within existing laws.
Activists say several countries interested in autonomous weapons, such as Russia, China, Britain and Israel, are resistant to an outright ban. Some accuse some of those countries of obfuscation and footdragging — and quibbling over definitions — in UN meetings to prevent progress towards a treaty.
Some officials have insisted you can’t ban something that doesn’t exist, to the exasperation of activists.
“Can we afford incremental movement forward, as technology spirals to God knows where?” asked Canadian Nobel laureate Jody Williams in a statement in 2016.
There are many calls for a killer robot treaty similar to that Williams helped orchestrate to produce a global ban on anti-personnel landmines back in the 1990s — and for Canada to lead the way.
“Canada has already played past leadership roles, most significantly in the control and banning of landmines. I think there’s a very similar role that Canada can play in this discussion as well,” says Gariepy.
Canada is also being pushed to articulate a clear position on killer robots and back the ban.
France, now apparently supported by Germany, is in favour of a compromise that sees a political declaration and international law as preferable to a new treaty. Activists criticize the two countries for failing to stand behind a ban that even Germany’s Angela Merkel once said she supported.
Some 22 countries support an outright ban.
Signatories to the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) held three conferences on the topic of killer robots before appointing a Group of Governmental Experts to discuss them. The first meeting of that group was held last fall.
This week’s meeting is one of two planned for this year.
“There will be some sort of agreement,” says Gariepy, who has attended the UN meetings in the past.
But whether that agreement is in place before these weapons begin to proliferate, and whether it “actually addresses the need to have meaningful human control … is an open question.”
In a letter ahead of this week’s meeting, the Coalition to Stop Killer Robots stressed “the window for credible preventative action in the CCW is fast closing.”
With files from Nadim Roberts and Megan McCleister