On fools and memory loss

I had a bit of an epiphany the other night. Few would deny (aside from the ignorant themselves) that deep ignorance is taking hold in this country at a truly frightening rate. This ignorance covers a vast swath of issues and it’s getting more difficult by the day to find subject areas that are unaffected by it. As I was reading some laughably foolish anti-vaccer rant, it occurred to me that all forms of this ignorance stem from the same problem: utter lack of historical perspective. Given the American public’s fifteen minute memory, this should come as no surprise. Remember when Ebola was going to kill us all – people were ranting all over social media about the impending apocalypse, need for immediate border closings, and Faux News was calling for the impeachment of the president over it? Me neither. Oh wait, was that just last summer? I got it confused with this time in 1995, never mind, I mean 1990... no wait, make that 1976. Every time as if it’s the first time ever. Why? Because when you have no memory, all events are unprecedented.

After thinking about this phenomenon for some time, there wasn’t a single ignorance movement in the US that I couldn’t relate back to a lack of knowledge of history. The anti-vaccers seem to have no knowledge of the 350+ million people killed by smallpox or the fact that polio used to affect 350,000 people annually and now affects less than 1,000. It’s easy to be anti-vaccines when, in your fantastical world, those diseases never did any harm and maybe never even existed. People constantly parroting the “terrorists hate us for our freedoms” and “Muslims are violent, evil people” lines are oblivious to over a century of Western imperialism and the West’s own terrorism. They seem to have totally forgotten about the Crusades and the Inquisition, and all manner of other Christian lead terrorist actions. While decrying ISIS beheadings they ignore US torture than happened just a few short years ago. They bemoan troops killed by the Taliban, not even realizing they were killed by weapons we supplied the Taliban with. It’s easy to see third-world peasants and Muslims as the aggressors when you’ve forgotten about everything that lead up to the conflicts we’re in today. Then of course there’s some of my favorite ignorant people: the champions of deregulation. They’re demanding the gutting of Dodd-Frank because their memories have failed them on the 2009 financial crisis and its lead up that was caused by the destruction of Glass-Steagall. Hell, most of them probably don’t even remember Glass-Steagall existing. They want the EPA closed down and the FDA shuttered. Why? Because they have no idea what life was like when people were choking on black clouds of pollution in cities, waterways were brown with sewage, food poisoning was a routine occurrence, cholera was the cool thing to have, and people had no information on the content of their food or drugs. In their small minds with memories that only extend as far back as today’s breakfast, none of this ever occurred. If you can’t even remember why regulation was put in place to begin with, of course you’re going to see it as superfluous and want it removed. We also can’t forget the close cousin of the deregulation fool: the “free market” fool. These are the people beating the drums for the removal of all workers’ protections and a return to feudal times. These people have no idea that this country’s organized labor movement (not the benevolence of corporations) is what gave us things like overtime pay, paid vacation, paid sick leave, maternity leave, equal hiring, child labor laws, minimum wage, healthcare benefits, unemployment insurance, social security, and pretty much anything else benefiting workers. We would have none of the labor laws we take for granted today if it were not for strong unions and the workers’ right movement petitioning the government for change. Yet these anti-labor people want the government out of business. They want to break “evil” unions. They want to undo everything the American worker fought hard for. Why? Because they don’t have even the slightest clue that the American worker fought for it. They have no concept of history. They have no idea what working in a 1920s factory or mill was like. They forget that huge, government stimulus packages are why we have an interstate highway system and hydroelectric dams. They think because things are this way today, surely they were this way always. Trickle down economics was tried and failed – but they don’t know this because they don’t know or understand anything that happened prior to fifteen minutes ago. When so many people’s minds are blank slates like this, the ground is ripe for the seeds of rewritten history to be sown – which is exactly what we see happening today, championed by the leaders of the ignorance movement.

This all left me with the conclusion that the best way to reverse this country’s rapidly growing ignorance problem is not to educate people on current events (as I had previously believed), but to educate them on history. Current events are meaningless if they are not put in historical context. People must understand how we arrived at where we are. They need to understand why things are the way they are today and what life was like in years past (in some cases even reminders of forgotten events that occurred in their own lifetimes). Only then will the spread of ignorance slow and, hopefully, reverse.

Behind the “terrorism” narrative

Like most of the rest of the world, I’ve been watching the Charlie Hebdo situation unfold. It was a horrific, indefensible act and the overwhelming outpouring of support and massive rallies around the world were heart-warming. It’s nice to see that a large portion of the population are good people at heart and feel the pain of others. Every day I question whether this is still the reality, so it’s nice to see it on display as a reminder – if only it was under better circumstances. It’s unfortunate that people can’t come together like this and show empathy without a body count. But what I find most unfortunate and what paints the bleakest picture for the world’s future is the continued apathy of the vast majority of people when it comes to seeking out and understanding the causes of “terrorism”. I wrote a post awhile ago about how the average person is becoming too lazy to take the time/effort to understand the world around them, instead buying into simplistic (and just plain wrong) narratives that are spoon fed to them. The situation is no different when it comes to “terrorism”.

I keep putting “terrorism” in quotes for a reason – because I haven’t defined it yet. When Westerns hear the word “terrorism” today, the narrative of radical Islam put forth after 9/11 is by far and away the primary association in most minds. Why is that? If you asked an Irish citizen what terrorists are, they might tell you it’s the IRA. If you asked a German citizen in the 1940’s they’d tell you it’s the Jews. If you asked a British citizen in the 1700’s they’d tell you it’s George Washington and the US colonists – ultimate irony. If you asked most the current third-world, they’d tell you it’s NATO. Dictionary.com defines “terrorism” like so:

The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes

Let’s be honest when applying that definition. A LOT of that occurs around the world, perpetrated by a vast number of different parties. So why are guys in turbans from the Middle East the first thing that comes to mind? Aside from the media propaganda barrage that reinforces this belief, maybe it’s that people lack perspective. Maybe people need to zoom their lenses out and get a higher level view of things. The best place to start is the realization that the world’s premier terrorist organization over the past century is not ISIS, not al-Qaeda, and not the Taliban… it’s the Western world, lead by the United States. That’ll come as a shock to people who have never read a history book (which encompasses a large swath of the US population), so let’s walk through a quick history lesson. Keep in mind, the world is coming together to mourn the murder of twelve people at Charlie Hebdo.

Starting right off in 1901, 315 US Marines were sent into the town of Balangiga in the Philippines where they slaughtered an estimated 2,500 civilians in retaliation for a successful uprising at a US military run labor camp. Their orders were to kill everyone over the age of ten years old. If you’re one of those people who don’t own a history book, you’re probably wondering what the Marines were doing in the Philippines and why the US was running a labor camp. They were there suppressing a major uprising of Philippine citizens fighting for independence from the US. Seems oddly backwards, doesn’t it? That was a long time ago though, maybe it’s not relevant to our current situation. Maybe something more recent? In 1965 the US was trying to purge communism out of Indonesia. For those that don’t remember, communism was the West’s official bogeyman and global war/murder justification before it moved on to Islam. As is typical, the US backed a far right-wing commandant – a guy named General Suharto. He was supplied with weapons, training, and funding, then visited by president Ford and secretary of state Kissinger the day before he staged a coup against the Indonesian government. During and after that coup, General Suharto butchered 500,000 people in a genocidal purge of communists and alleged communists. The US government and media reacted with widespread praise. In 1973 the US, through the CIA, was again backing a far right-wing, pro-US military dictator named Pinochet in a coup against a democratically elected government in Chile. The coup was very quick with a low body count, but Pinochet made up for this after the coup as he rounded up alleged communists, pro-labor folks, and union leaders to the tune of 3,000+ murdered and over 29,000 brutally tortured. Starting in 1975 and continuing all the way until 2002, the Angolan Civil war was yet another war in which the US backed a far right-wing regime with weapons and funding. Use of torture was widespread. Causalities are estimated at 750,000, 500,000 of which were innocent civilians. 500,000. Let that number sink in. In 1989, the US directly engaged in an invasion of Panama under the pretext of “defending democracy” and stopping drug trafficking. Results? 2,500-3,500 dead, only 205 of which were military – the rest civilian. This action was widely condemned by the UN and a resolution to label it as a gross violation of international law and human rights was passed by a huge margin… then vetoed by the US, UK, and France. Then there are events that really hit home… Those al-Qaeda guys? They were US agents before they were suddenly put on the “terrorism” list. Those evil Mujahideen that are killing all our troops in Afghanistan? In the 1980’s they were having tea with Reagan in the White House. That Saddam bogeyman guy? The US trained his troops, supplied him with weapons, donated him money, shared intelligence, and even made him an honorary citizen of Detroit. Of course, the US was sure to remove Iraq from the state sponsors of terrorism list before giving it all this support – you know, just so everything was on the up-and-up and we weren’t supporting terrorists. I could keep going with this list – Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iran, neo-Nazis in Ukraine, the M.O. is always the same: US sponsored, brutal, human rights violating, murdering (but pro-US!) regime overthrows a stable and/or democratically elected (but anti-US) government. Let’s also not forget the recent coming-to-light of the US’s widespread torture program (the tiny portion the Senate report revealed to us, anyway) – a gross violation of international law, human rights, and simple ethics. Of course, very few Americans and even fewer Western governments care about the US’s atrocities spelled out in the torture report, much less condemn them as terrorism. Never mind that we executed German officers for lesser crimes after WWII.

Taking all the above, which is only a brief glimpse (there is much, much more), along with the dictionary’s definition of terrorism, there is not even the slightest shadow of doubt that the US is one of the world’s premier sponsors and perpetrators of terrorism. But the Charlie Hebdo attack was against France. “They’re not the US,” you say. No, they aren’t the US, but they are NATO/Western (which makes them a US agent state), plus, they aren’t exactly angels themselves. The Charlie Hebdo attackers were Algerian. It seems people have forgotten France’s relationship with Algeria.

In 1954 an Algerian group calling itself the National Liberation Front fought France for the freedom of then colonized Algeria. Like most colonial reigns, France’s was one of violence and brutality, with human rights violations, abductions, and regular use of torture against the Algerian populace dating back to the late 1800’s.

“Whatever the case”, continued Tocqueville, “we may say in a general manner that all political freedoms must be suspended in Algeria.”[10] Historian Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison thus wrote that “From the years 1840 to the 1962 independence, the physical body of the “Arab” has therefore been used as a terror instrument on which the colonial power has never ceased in graving the marks of its almighty power. Torture in Algeria and in the French Empire: an exception limited to wars of national liberation conducted against the metropole? No, the rule.”[11]

Other historians also show that torture was fully a part of the colonialist system: “Torture in Algeria was engraved in the colonial act, it is the “normal” illustration of an abnormal system”, wrote Nicolas Bancel, Pascal Blanchard, and Sandrine Lemaire, who have published decisive work on the phenomena of “human zoos.”[13] From the smokings (enfumades) of the Darha caves in 1844 by Pélissier to the 1945 riots in Sétif, Guelma and Kherrata“, the repression in Algeria has used the same methods. Following the 9 May 1945, Sétif massacres, other riots against the European presence occurred in Guelma, Batna, Biskra, and Kherrata, causing 103 deaths among the colonials. The repression of these riots officially caused 1,500 deaths, but N. Bancel, P. Blanchard, and S. Lemaire estimate it to be rather between 6,000 and 8,000 deaths[13][14]

So although the average American has the “weak, scared French people” meme in their minds, it couldn’t be further from the truth. France was and is engaged in all the same imperialistic pursuits as the rest of the West. Does anyone remember the Vietnam war? No, not the one the US fought, the one that was going on before the US decided to fake a communist attack on a US destroyer near Vietnam to win public support for its involvement. Yes, the original Vietnam war. The one in which we again find a colonized third-world nation trying to win its independence from a French nation they’re being brutalized by. Again, torture and war crimes were rampant. It wasn’t until the French lost the war that the US decided to get itself involved to keep those damn Vietnamese under the thumb of the West… I mean… to spread freedom from communism to Vietnam. Of course, the US involved itself in plenty of war crimes of its own.

PFC Dennis Konti, a witness for the prosecution,[35] told about one especially gruesome episode during the shooting, “A lot of women had thrown themselves on top of the children to protect them, and the children were alive at first. Then, the children who were old enough to walk got up and Calley began to shoot the children”.[36] Other 1st Platoon members testified that many of the deaths of individual Vietnamese men, women and children occurred inside My Lai during the security sweep. Livestock was shot as well.[37]

When PFC Michael Bernhardt entered the subhamlet of Xom Lang, the massacre was underway:

“I walked up and saw these guys doing strange things…Setting fire to the hootches and huts and waiting for people to come out and then shooting them…going into the hootches and shooting them up…gathering people in groups and shooting them… As I walked in you could see piles of people all through the village… all over. They were gathered up into large groups. I saw them shoot an M79 [grenade launcher] into a group of people who were still alive. But it was mostly done with a machine gun. They were shooting women and children just like anybody else. We met no resistance and I only saw three captured weapons. We had no casualties. It was just like any other Vietnamese village-old papa-sans, women and kids. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember seeing one military-age male in the entire place, dead or alive.[38]

One group of 20-50 villagers was walked to the south of Xom Lang and killed on a dirt road. According to another eyewitness account of the massacre, Ronald Haeberle’s, in one instance,

“There were some South Vietnamese people, maybe fifteen of them, women and children included, walking on a dirt road maybe 100 yards away. All of a sudden the GIs just opened up with M16s. Beside the M16 fire, they were shooting at the people with M79 grenade launchers… I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.[39]

Three American Servicemen (Hugh Thompson, Jr., Glenn Andreotta, and Lawrence Colburn), who made an effort to halt the massacre and protect the wounded, were sharply criticized by U.S. Congressmen, and received hate mail, death threats, and mutilated animals on their doorsteps.[47]

Of course, nothing mentioned so far will ever be spoke of in the same sentence as “terrorism”, let alone be condemned as such – at least in conversations of the West. Yet, the gunning down of a handful of cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo is strongly condemned as terrorism. Is it Stalin’s famous observation at work? “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” No, the distinction is more intentional than that. It’s something Western governments and media put vast amounts of effort into sustaining. We must acknowledge that in our society, terrorists are only terrorists when they’re killing “us”. When they’re overthrowing anti-Western governments for us and slaughtering our dissenters, they’re “freedom fighters”, not terrorists – even when they’re the same exact people we called terrorists the day before. When it’s us who is bombing, shooting, torturing, and subjugating entire countries of brown people, it’s not terrorism. It’s “defending freedom”, “spreading democracy”, and, most twisted of all, “self-defense” – referring, of course, to the last time the brown people fought back against our imperialism. Ward Churchill, a former professor at UC Boulder, wrote an essay shortly after the 9/11 attacks entitled “On the justice of roosting chickens.” This essay did what no one else dared to at the time. It examined the causes of 9/11. By “causes” I don’t mean airport security issues, government asleep at the wheel, lax immigration laws, or airplane cockpit security. Churchill did the unthinkable and spoke on the same imperialism that I am now. He walked the reader through how the West created a world in which oppressed brown people have become so economically and socially desperate that flying themselves into buildings seems like a viable solution. The essay got him fired from his job at UC Boulder. That’s how strongly the mainstream propaganda machine wants the public to not understand the true causes of terrorism. So when cartoonists are murdered or US embassies are attacked, the public never questions why. They just buy the narrative that Muslims are violent fanatics, jealous of our way of life and attacking indiscriminately.

Widespread acceptance of this narrative can only lead to one thing (and has!): more terrorism. When you see the violent attacks coming from desperate third-world people and label them as random, unprovoked first-strikes, it gives justification and free rein for the usual NATO cabal to start bombing some uninvolved, resource rich country. That’s exactly how we were dragged into Iraq and Afghanistan after being attacked by Saudi terrorists on 9/11. Guess what this does? It creates more terrorists. Brown people who are already oppressed and being exploited for their natural resources now have to deal with an occupying army killing their friends and relatives. That’s when they decide to strap bombs to themselves and fight back. When someone attacks the West, they can be assured that their town and every surrounding town will be leveled by cruise missiles before the day is out. But when a US drone strike kills fourteen people at a wedding, not even so much as an “oops, sorry” is offered in return. Where were the international support rallies for these people? Where was the outcry? Where were the people demanding justice? It didn’t matter because it wasn’t “us” that were killed. It was those unpeople, the brown folk. In the twisted minds of so many in the West, it’s believed that this behavior should be able to continue without us suffering any repercussions. We can just continue on arming and supporting brutal dictators that serve our economic interest, while labeling “terrorist” and killing anyone that doesn’t. We can keep waging violent and economic war in order to dominate the natural resources of the third-world, depriving citizens of these countries the right to their own land. All the while, we expect the impoverished, brutalized, people who are on the receiving end of our imperialism to never get fed up and lash out. This belief is beyond absurd.

Now, it must be understood that none of this serves to justify the killing of any innocent people. What happened at Charlie Hebdo is a terrible tragedy and cold-blooded murder. But if we choose to perpetuate the myth that we are some innocent victims, attacked randomly and unprovoked by “radical Muslims” that kill for sport, then we choose to perpetuate these acts. In one of his final tape broadcasts to the world, Osama bin Laden himself directly addressed the use of attacks targeted at what the West sees as “innocent” civilians. As Osama explained, these oppressed, brutalized, desperate brown people do not see our civilians as innocent. They see the populace’s widespread apathy to its government’s atrocities and they label it as an accessory to the crime. Silence is consent. Osama pointed out what we all know is true: only the populations of Western nations have the power to stand up and stop the atrocities their imperialistic governments are perpetrating – thus also putting a stop to the retaliatory terrorism that results from them. These tragedies will not cease until we acknowledge our own prolific terrorism and the pivotal role it plays in feeding the hate directed at us.

 

Oil meltdown: day number… what day is it?

I had no intention of this oil discussion turning into a running series, but it has because the oil price plunge has been a fascinating chess game to watch unfold. Previous posts on oil can be found (in order) here, here, here, and here. Today, there are two points I’d like to talk on. Now, to the Batmobile!

I recently came across an interview with the Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi that took place in mid-December. The interview (not to be confused with the terrible movie of the same name) is confirmation of exactly the strategy I proposed in my original oil post, this time coming straight from the Saudi’s mouths. The full interview is a good read, but I want to pull a few key quotes from it. In my original post on oil, I proposed that OPEC wouldn’t cut production purely because that was the most logical business decision for them; then normal market forces would take the reins from there. Since then, and now with everyone and their mother on the oil talk bandwagon, there’s endless conspiracy theories being thrown around about the US trying to hurt Russia, ISIS flooding the oil market to hurt the US economy, etc. Reality is much simple than that.

Interviewer: 

Will Saudi Arabia not cut production if the Russians do not cut?

Ali Naimi:

First of all, why did we decide not to reduce production? I will tell you why. Is it reasonable for a highly efficient producer to reduce output, while the producer of poor efficiency continues to produce? That is crooked logic. If I reduce, what happens to my market share? The price will go up and the Russians, the Brazilians, US shale oil producers will take my share.

…..

It is also a defense of high-efficiency producing countries, not only of market share. We want to tell the world that high-efficiency producing countries are the ones that deserve market share. That is the operative principle in all capitalist countries.

This was exactly my point from day one. There is no grand conspiracy. Why would OPEC cut production to bolster prices when higher prices will favor the marginal fracking operations in the US and Russia?

Interviewer:

If the price remains at roughly $60/B the call OPEC crude will be 2mn B/D less than current output. If OPEC production does not fall by 2mn B/D, is there some point within the coming year at which OPEC would have to take the decision to cut?

Ali Naimi:

I want to make one thing clear. It is unfair of you to ask OPEC to cut. We are the smallest producer. We produce less than 40% of global output. We are the most efficient producer. It is unbelievable after the analysis we carried out for us to cut.

If the price falls, it falls, you cannot do anything about it. But if it goes down, others will be harmed greatly before we feel any pain.

Interviewer:

Venezuela needs a higher price than you

Ali Naimi:

That is true, but that is not of any use. But all we will do if we allow prices rise as we did in 2008 in Oran [is to raise] the production of marginal barrels. This was less than 1mn b/d [in 2008], today it is around 4mn b/d.

Has that point been sufficient reinforced? No conspiracy. No Russian punishment. Turn off the idiots on CNBC. OPEC is on the same page that I was on when I presented what I believed would be their strategy in my original post. It’s simply wise business people looking out for their own interests by making good business decisions.

With that clear, we come to my second talking point. Anyone that’s watched CNBC or read any so-called “expert” analysis has surely heard about this oil glut we have. Supplies are just through the roof and demand is nearly at zero. That’s why we have such low oil prices… except it’s not. In fact, I find this hilarious. As recently as six months ago, we were talking about surging demand in developing markets driving world demand skyward.

Change-in-Oil-Consumption-MMBPD

The conclusion, as recently as last July?

The story of oil in 2013 was one of surging US production and increasing demand in developing countries. The US continues to lead the world in increasing oil production, while developing countries — in particular the Asia-Pacific region — have added the vast majority of oil demand in recent years. Arguably the only thing preventing the world from experiencing oil prices in the $150-$200/bbl range is the continuing shale oil boom in the US.

Yes, that’s right, $100+/barrel was not only reasonable given the supply/demand outlook, but we were barely holding off $150-200/barrel prices. That was in July. Last July. So what’s changed since July? Nothing.

Untitled

Worldwide crude production increased 1.5% from Q2 to Q3 in 2014. A whopping 1.5%. Demand only increased 0.005% during that period, so let’s just say it didn’t increase at all. In Q4 of 2014, demand actually up ticked almost enough to meet production, while production only increased 0.00011% between Q3 and Q4 2014 (per above chart)… yet this is the period of the most drastic plunge in oil prices. There was virtually no change in the oil market between the time people were justifying $100+/barrel oil and the time people were calling for $20/barrel oil. So what gives? Oil is now worth less than half of what it was six months ago. Where are the fundamentals to support this drastic price swing? They don’t exist. Everyone is talking like they exist and “oil glut” is the new buzzword, but where’s the evidence?

It must be the rapidly growing oil stocks... oh wait it's not. We're in the same channel we've been in since 2009 and before.

It must be the rapidly growing oil stocks… oh wait it’s not. We’re in the same channel we’ve been in since 2009 and before.

Yes, there is a relatively small production surplus and it is predicted to grow into the first half of 2015, but we’re talking about a 55% drop in oil prices NOW. The current surplus does not account for a 55% price swing, especially when considering the impending drop in marginal well production at the new, lower oil prices. The facts just don’t agree with the narrative. That leaves us with two possible conclusions: oil was grossly overvalued in the summer of 2014 or oil is grossly undervalued today. If you believe $108/barrel was a reasonable oil price, then the only conclusion you can come to is that oil is currently grossly undervalued. If you believe oil’s current price is reasonable, then you can only conclude that it was grossly overpriced in July 2014. At the time, oil prices of $100+/barrel last summer were justified on the speculation of future shortages (that never panned out). Today we have the opposite. We have a massive plunge in oil prices based on the speculation of future surplus (but will it pan out?). What do those two explanations have in common? Speculation and no basis in our current situation. Lay people often joke about how fickle oil prices are and how they drastically increase seemingly with as little prompting as a change in the wind direction. There’s actually truth to this. I know it’s cliché to blame traders for commodity price swings, but unfortunately it’s also completely accurate. Fundamentals are an afterthought when it comes to prices of equities and commodities traded on the open market these days. Big money plays with the market to create profitable trades and then the “analysts” at CNBC and elsewhere swoop in long after the move to cherry pick fundamentals to mold into a false back story they can sell us on why the price change happened. Any event can be used as an excuse to drive prices up or down by completely unrealistic amounts (relative to fundamentals) in an attempt to make money. This is a fact that’s lost on the average American (like so many facts), but, funny enough, is not at all lost on the Saudi oil minister.

Interviewer:

Were you taken by surprise by how much [the price of oil] fell?

Ali Naimi:

No, we knew the price would go down because there are investors and speculators whose job it is to push it up or down to make money.