Algeria Army Chief Demands Two-Decade Ruling President Step Down

Algeria is now a month in to mass “Arab Spring”-style protests, which have brought a record number of people into the streets demanding the removal of ailing 82-year old president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and now it appears the military is prepared to act against the two-decade long ruler who has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.

In a dramatic development on Tuesday, Algeria’s army chief has called for the invocation of a constitutional clause declaring the office of the presidency vacant

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Algeria April 9, 2018. Image source: Reuters

General Ahmed Gaid Salah, who also serves as the country’s deputy defense minister, said in a live speech broadcast on private television station Ennahar that the protesters’ demands that he not run for a fifth term were “legitimate”.

This includes a demand that he vacate altogether, given it’s widely perceived that he’s physically unable to carry out presidential functions, and has not given a public address to the nation in over five years

“To resolve the crisis [in the country] right now, the implementation of article 102 is necessary and is the only guarantee to maintain a peaceful political situation,” Gen. Salah said according to CNN. “These protests have continued up till now in a peaceful and civilized way … and could be exploited by parties with bad intentions inside and outside of Algeria,” the general added.

Mass protests have destabilized the country and grabbed international headlines ahead of upcoming April 18 elections. President Bouteflika has refused to relinquish power thus far, but as demonstrations consistently overtook entire city centers this month during demonstrations, especially in the capital of Algiers, he agreed to not seek a fifth term. 

Mass protests in Algeria have shaken the ruling class over the month of March, via Africa Feeds

However it remains that

Article 102 stipulates that in the case of the president’s inability to carry out his duties due to a serious or chronic illness, the head of the national assembly should take his place for a period of no more than 45 days.

Algerians have grown increasingly frustrated that an apparently incapacitated Bouteflika has allowed the country to be ruled by an unelected civilian-military elite.

The protests have now apparently been given official sanction by the army, which is a huge milestone likely to push Bouteflika out of power. According to The New York Times:

There were signs that the country’s institutions were reacting with alacrity to the general’s call, unsurprising given the preponderant role the army has always played in the country’s politics. On Tuesday afternoon, Algerian television reported that the constitutional council, which as a first step would have to declare the president unfit, was already meeting in a special session.

Even Bouteflika’s own party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), has gone from mocking the initial demonstrations to reportedly giving expressions of support for their overall aims. 

Hong Kong-based fintech startup Qupital raises $15M Series A to expand in mainland China

Qupital, a fintech startup that bills itself as Hong Kong’s largest trade financing platform for SMEs, has closed a $15 million Series A led by CreditEase FinTech Investment Fund (CEFIF), with participation from returning investors Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund and MindWorks Ventures, both participants in its seed round. To date, Qupital has raised $17 million, including a seed round two years ago, and will use its latest funding to expand its supply chain financing products, launch in mainland Chinese cities and hire more people for its tech development and risk management teams.

CreditEase, which provides loans and other financial services for SMEs in China, will act as a strategic investor, aiding with Qupital’s geographic expansion. Existing investor Alibaba has already helped Qupital reach small businesses on its platform. Qupital will open branches in Chinese cities including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, along with setting up a new technology center in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area for talent and tech development. In total, it will hire about 100 people for its Hong Kong office this year.

Founded in 2016, Qupital offers lending for SMEs that frequently have cash flow issues because they are in a cycle of waiting for invoices to be paid. Qupital’s loans cover most of the value of an invoice, then matches that with investors and funders who cover the cash with the expectation of a return. The company makes money by charging SMEs a service fee that is a fixed percentage of the total invoice value and then a discount fee, and taking a percentage of net gains made by investors.

Qupital has now processed 8,000 trades, totaling HKD $2 billion in value. It won’t disclose how many SMEs it has worked with, but co-founder and chairman Andy Chan says that number is in the hundreds.

Chan tells TechCrunch that in China, Qupital will not compete directly against traditional financial institutions, because it focuses on financing the Hong Kong business entities of Chinese companies in U.S. and Hong Kong currency, instead of onshore renminbi. It will also target SMEs underserved by traditional lenders, by using alternative data sources to determine their creditworthiness.

In a prepared statement, CEFIF managing director Dennis Cong said “The growing volume of SME and cross-border trading drives a huge demand for alternative financing for SME’s who are underserved in the market and opportunities for investors to earn a decent risk-adjusted return. We look forward to working with Qupital to broaden its source of capital base and create unparalleled investment opportunities for CreditEase.”

An Iran-Syria ‘Belt & Road’: A Far-Reaching Geopolitical Strategy Unfolds

Authored by Alastair Crooke via the Strategic Culture Foundation

As the US tries to consolidate its strategy for weakening and confronting Iran, the contours of an important geopolitical strategy, launched by Syria and Iran, are surfacing. On the one hand, it consists of a multi-layered sewing together of a wide ‘deterrence’ that ultimately could result in Israel being pulled into a regional war – were certain military trip wires (such as air attacks on Syria’s strategic defences) – to be triggered. Or, if the US economic war on Iran crosses certain boundaries (such as blockading Iranian tankers from sailing, or putting a full stranglehold on the Iranian economy).

To be clear, the aim of this geo-political strategy is not to provoke a war with the US or Israel – it is to deter one. It sends a message to Washington that any carelessly thought-through aggression (of whatever hybrid nature) against the ‘northern states’ (from Lebanon to Iraq) might end by putting their ally – Israel – in full jeopardy. And that Washington should reflect carefully on its threats.

The deterrence consists at the top-level of Syrian S300 air defences over which Russia and Syria have joint-key control. The aim here, seems to be to maintain strategic ambiguity over the exact rules of S300 engagement. Russia wants to stand ‘above’ any conflict that involves Israel or the US – as best it can – and thus be positioned to act as a potential mediator and peace-maker, should armed conflict occur. In a sense, the S300s represent deterrence of ‘last resort’ – the final option, were graduated escalation somehow to be surpassed, via some major military event.

Amendment

At the next level down, deterrence (already well signalled in advance) is focussed on halting Israeli air attacks on either Iranian or Syrian infrastructure (in either state). Initially, air attacks would be countered by the effective (80%) Syrian, Panzir and BUK air defence systems.

More ‘substantive’ attacks will be met with a proportionate response (most probably by Syrian missiles fired into the occupied Golan). Were this to prove insufficient, and were escalation to occur, missiles are likely to be fired into the depth of Israel. Were escalation to mount yet further, the risk would be then of Iranian and Hizbullah missiles entering into the frame of conflict. Here, we would be on the cusp of region-wide war.

Of course Hizbullah has its own separate rules of engagement with Israel, but it is a partner too, to the wider ‘resistance movement’ of which the Supreme Leader spoke after his meeting in Tehran with President Assad. As Israel knows, Hizballah possesses ‘smart’ cruise missiles that can cover the length and breadth of Israel. And, it has well experienced ground-forces that can be directed into the Galilee, as well.

But were we to leave matters there – as some responsive deterrence plan – this would be to miss the point entirely. What has been happening at these various meetings amongst military and political leaders in the north is the unfolding of a much wider, forward looking, strategy to frustrate US objectives in the Middle East.

What has emerged from the key visit of President Rouhani to Iraq is something much larger than the military alliance, alluded to above: These states are unfolding a regional ‘Belt-and-Road’ trading area, stretching from Lattakia’s port on the Mediterranean (likely contracted out to Iranian management) across to the border with Pakistan (and perhaps ultimately to India, too).

What is so significant arising from Rouhani’s recent visit to Iraq is that Iraq, whilst wanting to keep amicable relations with Washington, rejects to implement the US siege on Iran. It intends to trade – and to trade more – with Iran, Syria and Lebanon. One major strand to the agreement is to have a road and railway ‘belt’ linking all these states together, for trade.

But here is the bigger point: This regional ‘Belt and Road’ is to be unfolded right into the heart of the Chinese BRI project. Iran always has been envisaged as a – if not ‘the’ – key pivot to China’s BRI in the region. As China’s Minister of Commerce, Zhong Shan, underlined this week: “Iran is China’s strategic partner in the Middle-East and China is the biggest trade partner and importer of oil from Iran”. A senior Chinese expert on West Asia plainly has taken note: Rouhani’s visit has “long-term geopolitical implications” in terms of expansion of Iran’s regional influence.

And here is a second point: The unfolding of this ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, effectively marks the end of the Belt & Road members’ looking to Europe as a principal trading partner. EU equivocation with the US over the JCPOA by trying to tie conditions to their SPV, and by holding reconstruction aid for Syria hostage to their ‘transition’ demands, has back-fired. Together with the US, the EU has become tainted through its efforts to mollify Washington – in the hope of avoiding being tariffed by Trump.

How will the US respond? Well, Secretary Pompeo is about to arrive in the region to threaten Lebanon (as it has already threatened Iraq) with tough sanctions. Russia, Iran and Syria, of course, are already under harsh sanction.

Will it work? Mr Bolton presently is trying to weaken Iran – surrounding it with US special forces hubs, placed in proximity to Iran’s ethnic minority populations, in order to de-stabilise the central authority. And Pompeo is about to land in the Middle East threatening all around with sanctions, and still ‘talking the talk’ of reducing Iranian oil sales to zero, as US oil waivers expire on 1 May.

Of course, zero waivers were never likely, but now with the new trade ‘Belt and Road’ alliance unfolding, the stakes for US foreign policy are doubled: Syria will find investors in its reconstruction precisely because it – like Iran – is a pivotal ‘corridor’ state for trade (and ultimately for energy). And Iran will not be brought to capitulation through economic siege. What Pompeo risks, through his belligerency, or clumsiness, rather, is to lose both Iraq and Lebanon.

In the former, ‘losing Iraq’ could entail the Iraqi government demanding US troops leave Iraq. In the latter case, ‘loosing’ Lebanon, translates into something more sinister: To sanction Lebanon (in order to ‘hurt’ Hizbullah) actually means putting Lebanon’s entire economic stability into play (as Hizbullah is an integral part to Lebanon’s economy – and the Shi’a compose some 30-40% of the population. They cannot be somehow ‘filtered out’, as if some stand-alone sanctions target). Instability in Lebanon is never far away, but to induce it, is crazy.

Wherever Pompeo travels on his journeys through the region, he cannot fail but to notice that US policies – and the constancy of such policies – are not trusted (even this week, ‘old US ally’ Egypt has turned to Russia for the purchase of military aircraft, and India is defying the US over its oil imports from Venezuela).

It is against this background, that the earlier intelligence service quotes in the NY Times, and its Editorial (i.e. not an op-ed article): Shedding Any Last Illusions about Saudi Arabia, might be understood. US policy across the entire Middle East, and by extension, much of its leverage over Russia and China, stands on extremely weak foundations. The débacle of the US-sponsored Warsaw conference, which was supposed consolidate support for America’s anti-Iranian ‘war’ – and the silence with which VP Mike Pence’s address at Munich was received – provide clear evidence for this.

Well, the pivot for countering this unfavourable US conjuncture rests on one man: MbS. America’s entire foreign policy, and that of its ally, Israel, has pivoted around this erratic, highly-flawed, psychologically-impaired figure. The NYT leak from CIA officials, with its unqualified endorsement through a NYT board editorial, suggest that the CIA and MI6 have concluded that US global interests cannot be left in such unreliable, unsafe hands.

What this ultimately might mean is unclear, but such a leak would suggest that it stems from a concerted CIA professional assessment (i.e. that it is not just a partisan party warfare). Trump may not concur, or like it much, but the CIA when it does form such a definitive view, is no force to be lightly trifled with.

CIA-Backed Startup Builds ‘Bots For The Next Generation Of ETFs

The Central Intelligence Agency was one of the early backers of an AI startup company called Kensho Technologies, once focused on analyzing North Korean missile launches, earthquakes and elections – at least, until 2014. That’s when John van Moyland joined the company and its focus pivoted to finance, according to a new Bloomberg article

S&P Global wound up buying the company last year and is now using it for yet another cause: developing the next generation of index funds. According to van Moyland, who’s title is now “managing director and global head of S&P Kensho Indices”, machines can design better indexes used as underlying products for passive investment vehicles like ETFs, which among other passive investment instruments, manage about $7.3 trillion in the U.S. 

van Moyland told Bloomberg:

 “We’re doing what a lot of research shops have done with humans in the past — and doing it at scale, in a highly predictable, highly automated, efficient way. Why would you ever limit yourself to aged financial data when there’s a sea of information out there?”

van Moyland (Source: BBG)

And so begins the race to create “robotic ETFs”, which are essentially a bet that humans would rather trust their money to machine-picked passive instruments instead of human-picked ones. The robotic instruments are created using “far-flung data digested with natural-language processing, machine learning and AI,” according to the article. 

As of today, there are more than 2,000 ETF products on U.S. exchanges, meaning that every next one needs to stand out from the crowd more than the last. It’s also a catch 22 for some fund issuers: the money lost from people turning to passive investing needs to be made up in ETF fees, which can only be justified from specialized products. While a normal ETF collects fees of as little as $0.20 on every $1,000 invested, AI designed ETFs can justify fees as large as $1.80 to $8 on that same $1,000 investment.

Kensho’s machines help S&P develop ways to identify relevant stocks. They capture all the ways an industry may be described while adding related industries to an instrument at the same time. For example, bots would combine stocks involved with self-driving cars and automated vehicles with the stocks of companies that deal in lithium batteries. Natural language processing is then used to help determine how to weight the index. 

van Moyland is admittedly aware of these ETFs becoming more “marketing than substance”. He notes that these bots require “expertise and discipline if you’re going to produce a quality product.”

Peter Zangari, MSCI’s global head of research and product development, claims that human analysis can’t be replaced. He said: 

“None of this stuff is, you hand it over to a machine and you’re done with it. But increasingly you will see this machine learning, AI, whatever we call it, play an increasingly important role in the investment process.”

And of course robots are great at mining data where humans may not be. They are thorough, persistent and capable of processing huge quantities of information. At least 20 funds now claims to use AI as a building block. One AI-driven ETF has already shuttered after failing to drum up interest. 

Art Amador, co-founder of EquBot, which runs two ETFs that use IBM’s Watson platform told Bloomberg: “A lot of times, institutions are saying that they’re using AI and really all they’ve done is automate some process. It takes away from everything we’re doing.”

Some hedge funds and robo-advisors like Betterment LLC and Wealthfront Inc. have been trying to use technology to undercut rivals. Now, well known and established companies like Blackrock are trying to follow their lead. 

Jeff Shen, co-chief investment officer of active equity and co-head of systematic active equity at BlackRock said: “It’s an extraordinary and exciting time. Nobody really has completely figured it out yet. The time is now.”

Debunking The Disaster Myth Narrative: No One Panics, No One Loots, No One Goes Hungry

Authored by Daisy Luther via The Organic Prepper blog,

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”  ~ George Orwell

I was recently doing some research about the aftermath of some natural disasters that took place here in America. I was shocked to find that the articles I was looking for – ones that I had read in the past – were pretty hard to find, but articles refuting the sought-for pieces were rampant.  Not just one event, but every single crisis aftermath that I looked up, had articles that were written after the fact stating in no uncertain terms that the hunger, chaos, and unrest never happened.

Apparently we, the preparedness community, are all wrong when it comes to the belief that after a disaster, chaos erupts and civic disorder is the rule of the day.

According to “experts” it never happens.

Panic?  What panic?

According to newspaper articles written after Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast and after Hurricane Katrina caused countless billions in damage in New Orleans, people were calm, benevolent and peaceful.  Heck, they were all standing around singing Kumbayah around a campfire, sharing their canned goods, calming frightened puppies, and helping the elderly.

Apparently studies prove that the fear of anarchy, lawlessness, and chaos is nothing but the “disaster myth”.  Reams of examples exist of the goodness and warmth of society as a whole after disaster strikes. All the stories you read at the time were just that – stories, according to the mainstream media:

Yet there are a few examples stubbornly fixed in the popular imagination of people reacting to a natural disaster by becoming primal and vicious. Remember the gangs “marauding” through New Orleans, raping and even cannibalizing people in the Super-Dome after Hurricane Katrina? It turns out they didn’t exist. Years of journalistic investigations showed them to be racist fantasies. They didn’t happen. Yes, there was some “looting” — which consisted of starving people breaking into closed and abandoned shops for food. Of course human beings can behave atrociously – but the aftermath of a disaster seems to be the time when it is least likely. (source)

The Disaster Myth

The Disaster Myth is a narrative created by the establishment and delivered by their stoolies in the mainstream media.  The Disaster Myth points fingers at many of the things that are commonly believed to be true by the preparedness community.  Included in this narrative:

  • People do not panic after a disaster – instead, they pull together.

  • The official government response is always speedy and appropriate.

  • You will be taken care of if you simply comply peacefully with authorities.

  • There is little increase in post-disaster crime.

Looting?  Only hungry people getting food from unmanned stores. Who wouldn’t do that?

Beatings and assaults?  Didn’t happen. Disturbed people made these stories up for attention.

Gang rapes?  No way. You watch too much Law and Order: SVU.

Murder, mayhem, and gangs of youth on the streets?  Silly readers – we just made that up.

However, these statements all stand in direct opposition to the stories we hear from news sources duringthe crisis.

Remember this?

We heard terrible stories from eyewitnesses who suffered from hunger, thirst, and unsanitary condition in the Superdome after Katrina.  We heard about citizens being robbed of their 2nd Amendment rights by police after the crisis, and we heard about gang rapes, looting, and mayhem.

Fast forward to Sandy where people were defecating in the hallways of their high rise apartments and digging through garbage to find food just a few days after the storm.  As for the official response, who can forget the FEMA shelter that closed because of inclement weather?  Of course, the weather was inclement – it was a freaking weather-related disaster!

Here’s how bad it got.

Mac Slavo of SHTFplan wrote of the unrest, discomfort, and mayhem after Superstorm Sandy ransacked the East Coast:

For tens of thousands of east coast residents that worst case scenario is now playing out in real-time. No longer are images of starving people waiting for government handouts restricted to just the third-world.

In the midst of crisis, once civilized societies will very rapidly descend into chaos when essential infrastructure systems collapse.

Though the National Guard was deployed before the storm even hit, there is simply no way for the government to coordinate a response requiring millions of servings of food, water and medical supplies

Many east coast residents who failed to evacuate or prepare reserve supplies ahead of the storm are being forced to fend for themselves.

Frustration and anger have taken hold, as residents have no means of acquiring food or gas and thousands of trucks across the region remain stuck in limbo.

Limited electricity has made it possible for some to share their experiences:

Via Twitter:

  • I was in chaos tonite tryin to get groceries…lines for shuttle buses, only to get to the no food left & closing early (link)
  • I’m not sure what has shocked me more, all the communities around me destroyed, or the 5 hour lines for gas and food. (link)
  • Haven’t slept or ate well in a few days. Hope things start getting better around here soon (link no longer available)
  • These days a lot of people are impatient because they’re used to fast things. Fast food, fast internet, fast lines and fast shipping etc. (link)
  • Glad Obama is off to Vegas after his 90 minute visit. Gas lines are miles long.. Running out of food and water. Great Job (link)
  • Went to the Grocery store and lines were crazy but nail salon was empty so I’ve got a new gel manicure and some Korean junk food (link)
  • So f*cking devastated right now. Smell burning houses. People fighting for food. Pitch darkness. I may spend the night in rockaway to help (link)

At the time of the event, even the mainstream reported on the affluent East Side residents dumpster diving in search of food. Was this NBC report, complete with video, a work of salacious fiction?

As far as civil unrest is concerned, the “Twittersphere” was jammed with people planning looting spreesin the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.  Those who were already of criminal leanings saw the disaster as a great opportunity. In the great North American Edit, however, these tweets are said to be part of the myth – apparently they were just kids playing around Some reports pooh-poohed the very idea that looters had run amok.

This article from Prison Planet refutes all of the refuting and says that the civil unrest DID occur and that it generally does, given evidence from past events.

Legends from the past? Every single extreme weather event in recent years in the United States has been followed by looting.

As MSNBC reported at the time, looting during Hurricane Katrina was so prevalent that it “took place in full view of police and National Guard troops.”

Residents described the scenes as being like “downtown Baghdad” as looters filled garbage cans full of stolen goods and floated them down flooded streets.

As Forbes’ Erik Kain points out, “looting and rioting…occur after most natural disasters,” including after Hurricane Irene as well as Hurricane Isaac.

Looters also targeted victims of the Colorado wildfires earlier this year.

But again and again, we’re told that none of it happened.

Here’s a sampling of articles and studies supporting the Disaster Myth Narrative:

Does this sound familiar?

This revision of inconvenient history will sound quite familiar to anyone who has read George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984 (which was not meant to be an instruction manual, by the way.)

In the novel, the main character, Winston Smith, worked for the Ministry of Truth, which was actually a department of propaganda whose job it was to rewrite any faction of history that did not make the government look omniscient.

In George Orwell‘s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Ministry of Truth is Oceania‘s propaganda ministry. It is responsible for any necessary falsification of historical events. The word truth in the title Ministry of Truth should warn, by definition, that the “minister” will self-serve its own “truth”; the title implies the willful fooling of posterity using “historical” archives to show “in fact” what “really” happened. As well as administering truth, the ministry spreads a new language amongst the populace called Newspeak, in which, for example, truth is understood to mean statements like 2 + 2 = 5 when the situation warrants.

The Ministry of Truth is involved with news media, entertainment, the fine arts and educational books. Its purpose is to rewrite history to change the facts to fit Party doctrine for propaganda effect. For example, if Big Brother makes a prediction that turns out to be wrong, the employees of the Ministry of Truth go back and rewrite the prediction so that any prediction Big Brother previously made is accurate. This is the “how” of the Ministry of Truth’s existence. Within the novel, Orwell elaborates that the deeper reason for its existence is to maintain the illusion that the Party is absolute. It cannot ever seem to change its mind (if, for instance, they perform one of their constant changes regarding enemies during war) or make a mistake (firing an official or making a grossly misjudged supply prediction), for that would imply weakness and to maintain power the Party must seem eternally right and strong. (source)

But….WHY????

So why the vast effort to expunge tales of mayhem and to make it seem like our own national disasters really weren’t that bad? Why does the government and the media want us to think everything is just fine?

I can think of no other reason than their own irrelevance.

Remember when the Cajun Navy began rescuing people from floods and they ran into all sorts of legal issues? The did a better and more efficient job than officials and the people “in charge” just wouldn’t have it.

If you don’t NEED them, then there is no leverage to force you into compliance.  You don’t NEED to go to Camp FEMA in order to have 3 squares a day.  You don’t NEED to give up your guns in order to have a roof over your head and government-supplied security.  You don’t NEED to get some kind of chip implanted in your arm to be scanned in order to receive “benefits” like medical care, food, and even money.

Self-sufficiency means freedom.  When you can feed yourself, clothe yourself, shelter yourself, and protect yourself, you are far less likely to need to cede your freedoms in order to stay alive. And in a nation governed by those who are frantically trying to withdraw our constitutional rights, this just won’t do.  They need leverage.

So the establishment has created a narrative that tells us what we are doing is silly and unnecessary.

They are rewriting history (and not just about disasters) even though we only lived that history in the past decade.  Even though we know the truth of the matter because we watched it live, they are changing the facts to make us doubt our own perceptions.

To give credit where it’s due, the current head of FEMA seems to be doing things a little differently. But don’t expect the media and Congress to follow suit.

But we know the civil unrest is really occurring.

If this civil unrest is not occurring, why is the National Guard called to keep the peace?  Why are state police riding around on tanks wearing body armor? Why were the guns of law-abiding citizens taken away in the aftermath of Katrina?

My family and I have opted to be prepared with food, water, a self-defense strategy, and home security.  We believe that when bad things happen, worse things often follow before order is restored.  We won’t be lining up to get an MRE and a bottle of water to share amongst us. We won’t require a cot at Camp FEMA.  We won’t need to give up our firearms in order to get our next meal.

Which reality are you going to believe?

Are you going to believe the one that you witnessed or the perverted rewrite that the mainstream media is trying to push upon you?

Cancer Cluster At California Elementary School Results In Removal Of Sprint Cell Phone Tower

A Sprint cell phone tower will be removed from a California elementary school after four students and three teachers were diagnosed with cancer. 

A cellular phone tower is pictured at Weston Elementary School in Ripon, Calif. on Tuesday March 12, 2019. 

Weston Elementary School in Ripon, CA went on high alert after the controversy erupted two years ago – with some parents even pulling their children from school over the tower which Sprint has been paying the school $2,000 per month to place on its property.

The Ripon Unified School District initially defended the cell phone tower earlier this month, with board president Kit Oase saying tests done on the tower had found it was operating within safety standards. 

Monica Ferrulli, whose son was treated for brain cancer in 2017, said RUSD has cited an obsolete American Cancer Society study in keeping the tower in place since the controversy erupted two years ago. “It is just denial,” Ferrulli told the board. She vowed that parents will continue to fight and keep their children out of the school. –Modesto Bee

Around 200 parents attended a meeting after a fourth student was diagnosed with cancer on March 8. 

Richard Rex, whose family lives across the street from Weston School, said a bump appeared on his 11-year-old son’s abdomen a month ago. He said his son’s classroom is near the tower.

The parents first thought it was a skating injury. Instead of going to science camp, 11-year-old Brad was taken to doctors for examinations and tests that found a tumor wrapped around his liver. The boy now has a portal for starting cancer treatment, the parents said.

Richard Rex said he’s hearing different options for treating the cancer. “They said they can shrink it and cut it out. They’re also talking liver transplant. It is very scary,” Rex said. –Modesto Bee

Sprint representative Adrienne Norton said that the company has been “working with the community in Ripon to address their concerns.” 

The potential negative health effects from electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emitted by cell towers or transmission lines have been long debated. While the National Cancer Institute cites studies which conclude that EMFs are a possible human carcinogen based on research which focused on childhood leukemia. The institute’s website says there are no increased risks from brain tumors or other cancers based on European epidemiological studies.

According to notices posted by RUSD, the school district hired engineers for an evaluation in 2018 on the cell tower’s compliance with guidelines for limiting human exposure to electromagnetic radiation. The testing found exposure levels for people nearby were below the federal standard, the notices says.  –Modesto Bee

So while parents are blaming the Sprint cell phone tower is responsible for the cancer cluster at Weston Elementary School – it’s entirely possible that other environmental factors are at play.  

…And Now For Confrontation In Space

Authored by Brian Cloughley via Strategic Culture Foundation

There was much international news in mid-March, although little of it was encouraging for those who prefer peace to war, handshakes to sabre-rattling, and cooperation to confrontation.

But there was one item of good cheer which showed that friendly cooperation between the US and Russia continues, albeit unobtrusively. It concerned the International Space Station, about which it was reported on March 15 that “A Russian Soyuz rocket carrying NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch along with Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin lifted off as planned from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan… Their Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft reached a designated orbit about nine minutes after the launch, and the crew reported they were feeling fine and all systems on board were operating normally.”

The mission was successful, technically and professionally, but did not in any way diminish Washington’s anti-Russian bias or its determination to militarize space.

A forecast for the second quarter of 2019 by the analytical think-tank STRATFOR reflects the Washington Establishment’s line that “Military competition between the United States and Russia will prevail…” but does not record that the military budget of the United States is vastly more than that of Russia, or that, as headlined in the 2018 Report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world defence expenditure “falls sharply in Russia, but rises in Central and Western Europe.” As is well-known, the US will spend 716 billion dollars on its military in 2019, but what is not publicised by the Western media is that Russia’s 2019 outlay is 45 billion dollars.

The word ‘competition’ (“the activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others”) is hardly appropriate when the figures involved are 716 compared to 45 whether these be dollars or coconuts, but the competition myth continues, supported energetically by Washington’s military-industrial complex – and especially by the generals, spurred on by the lure of lucrative post-retirement jobs with manufacturers of military systems. Stars and Stripes records that “major US defense contractors have hired hundreds of former high-level government officials in recent years, including at least 50 since Trump became president. The report lends new visibility to long-standing concerns about a revolving door between the government agencies that award massive contracts for military supplies and services and the businesses that profit from those contracts.”

Which leads us to General “Fighting Joe” Dunford, who at his Senate hearing for appointment as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said “my assessment today, Senator, is that Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security.” In October 2018 he reiterated that “the Russian challenge is not isolated to the plains of Europe. It is a global one” requiring the armed forces of the United States “to be able to project power to an area… and then once we’re there we’ve got to be able to freely manoeuvre across all domains… sea, air, land, space, and cyberspace.”

Naturally he didn’t mention that at the very time he uttered his confrontational challenges there was close cooperation in air, land and space between the US and Russia whose astronauts were “able to freely manoeuvre” in harmony, adding to world knowledge and engendering trust by jointly conducting research projects in the International Space Station.

This is in accord with the United Nations ‘Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space’, otherwise known as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which, among other things “establishes basic principles related to the peaceful use of outer space. This includes that the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries…”

It is the wish of the world – or most of the world – that space should be forever free of weapons. The Treaty lays down that “States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.”

But although the United States signed and ratified the Space Treaty in 1967, it strongly objected to later attempts to refine it. In February 2008 the New York Times reported that “The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V Lavrov, presented a Russian-Chinese draft treaty banning weapons in space to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, an idea that was quickly rejected by the United States.”

Space

It is a difficult to imagine why there could be any objection to a treaty aimed at “prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space,” but the White House responded that it opposes any treaty that seeks “to prohibit or limit access to or use of space.” Indeed the White House said that such a treaty would be impossible to enforce because “any object orbiting or transiting through space can be a weapon if that object is intentionally placed onto a collision course with another space object. This makes treaty verification impossible.” The US continues to be resistant to any treaty forbidding deployment of weapons in space.

It was therefore unsurprising when Trump put forward his plan for militarising space in March last year, and in August tweeted “Space Force All the Way!” Then he declared on February 19 that “we’re investing in new space capabilities to project military power and safeguard our nation’s interests, especially when it comes to safety and defense” and signed a directive ordering the Pentagon to create a Space Force as the sixth branch of the military.

The result of his brainwave is that the US is going to “project military power” in space, which is directly contrary to “the basic principles related to the peaceful use of outer space” noted in the Outer Space Treaty.

The US refuses to move onwards from the original treaty, and on March 20 Newsweek summed up Washington’s policy by noting that “the United States has blamed Russia and China for militarizing space, while refusing to sign their joint proposal against placing weapons there.”

On February 19, while preparations were in full swing for launch of the joint Russia-US mission to the International Space Station three weeks later, the White House announced that “President Donald J Trump’s Space Policy Directive-4 is a bold, strategic step toward guaranteeing American space dominance” by establishing the United States Space Force which among other tasks will “organize, train and equip our space warfighters with next-generation capabilities.”

In the words of the US Administration, “space is now a warfighting domain just like the air, land and sea” so it’s goodbye to a future of harmonious exploration and scientific research in the regions beyond our globe. It had been hoped that the Treaty would go far to assist in “maintaining international peace and security and promoting international co-operation and understanding” but Washington has no intention of agreeing to any international law that would prohibit extra-terrestrial weaponisation, and Trump’s Space Directive has now set the seal on Washington’s preparedness to confront in space as well as by land and sea and in the air. Stand by for Space War.

AMERICA 2050: Inequality Crisis, Automation Threat, Debt Shock

Pew Research Center published a report last week that reveals how pessimistic Americans are about the country’s future.

“When Americans peer 30 years into the future, they see a country in decline economically, politically and on the world stage,” the report warned.

A narrow 56% of Americans believe the country will be made great again over the next three decades. However, optimism drops when respondents were asked about some of the specific ways in which the country might change. An overwhelming majority of Americans predict that, by 2050, the income inequality crisis will expand, the economy will deteriorate, the national debt will be unserviceable, artificial intelligence and automation will threaten the workforce, political division domestically will intensify, and the American empire will be nearing collapse.

Seventy-three percent of respondents said the inequality crisis would increase by 2050. This includes 75% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans – a notable area of agreement between party lines.

Forty-four percent of respondents said the standard of living for Americans would decline in the next three decades.  Only 20% believe it will get better and about 30% think there will be no change.

Many believe retirement could be unattainable in 2050. Fifty-seven percent said ages 65 and older would see a drop in the standard of living. About 72% said older adults three decades from now would have depleted retirement accounts which could make their golden years financially impossible. Eighty-three percent believe most people will have to work well into their 70s to afford retirement.

Eighty-two percent of respondents expect widespread job loss from artificial intelligence and automation in the future. Many believe that demographics, automation, and inequality could make the economy of 2050 unrecognizable versus today.

Respondents also see the American empire dissolving in the next three decades. Sixty percent of Americans say the country will lose its importance in the world. The respondents were somewhat split on whether China would overtake the U.S. as a superpower. Fifty-three percent said China would overtake the U.S., while 46% believe the West will continue to lead the world.

Americans expect political divisions to intensify, however, Pew didn’t poll respondents on the potential for civil war. About 50% of respondents said they are concerned about the dysfunction in Washington, including 53% of Democrats and 45% of Republicans.

Nearly 50% of respondents said a burgeoning national debt would be likely in 2050. Most understood that in a post-GFC era, massive budget deficits rocketed the national debt higher.

These grim predictions mirror, in part, the current mood of the people. The future of the American empire is in jeopardy, the survivability of this nation is in question. Will America make it to 2050 in one piece?

Three Lessons For The Left From The ‘Failed’ Mueller Inquiry

Authored by Jonathan Cook via ConsortiumNews.com,

What can progressives glean from a major squabble between different wings of the same neoliberal establishment…

Here are three important lessons for the progressive left to consider now that it is clear the inquiry by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia-gate is never going to uncover collusion between Donald Trump’s camp and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential election.

No. 1: Painting the Pig’s face

The left never had a dog in this race. This was always an in-house squabble between different wings of the establishment. Late-stage capitalism is in terminal crisis, and the biggest problem facing our corporate elites is how to emerge from this crisis with their power intact. One wing wants to make sure the pig’s face remains painted, the other is happy simply getting its snout deeper into the trough while the food lasts.

Russia-gate was never about substance, it was about who gets to image-manage the decline of a turbo-charged, self-harming neoliberal capitalism.

The leaders of the Democratic Party are less terrified of Trump and what he represents than they are of us and what we might do if we understood how they have rigged the political and economic system to their permanent advantage.

For them, it may look like Russia-gate was a failure, but it was actually a success. It deflected the left’s attention from endemic corruption within the leadership of the Democratic Party, which supposedly represents the left. It diverted the left’s political energies towards the convenient bogeymen targets of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Caricature of Putin helping Trump win election.  (DonkeyHotey via Flickr)

What Mueller found – all he was ever going to find – was marginal corruption in the Trump camp. And that was inevitable because Washington is mired in corruption. In fact, what Mueller revealed was the most exceptional forms of corruption among Trump’s team while obscuring the run-of-the-mill stuff that would have served as a reminder of the endemic corruption infecting the Democratic leadership too.

An anti-corruption investigation would have run much deeper and exposed far more. It would have highlighted the Clinton Foundation, and the role of mega-donors such as James Simons, George Soros and Haim Saban who funded Hillary’s campaign with one aim in mind: to get their issues into a paid-for national “consensus.”

Further, in focusing on the Trump camp – and relative minnows such as Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – the Russia-gate inquiry actually served to shield the Democratic leadership from an investigation into the much worse corruption revealed in the content of the Democratic National Committee emails. It was the leaking / hacking of those emails that provided the rationale for Mueller’s investigations. What should have been at the front and center of any inquiry was how the Democratic Party sought to rig its primaries to prevent party members selecting anyone but Hillary as their presidential candidate.

So, in short, Russia-gate has been two years of wasted energy by the left, energy that could have been spent both targeting Trump for what he is really doing rather than what it is imagined he has done, and targeting the Democratic leadership for its own, equally corrupt practices.

No. 2: Trump Empowered

But it’s far worse than that. It is not just that the left wasted two years of political energy on Russia-gate. At the same time, it empowered Trump, breathing life into his phony arguments that he is the anti-establishment president, a people’s president the elites are determined to destroy.

Trump: Establishment’s image threat. (Succo from Pixabay)

Trump faces opposition from within the establishment not because he is “anti-establishment” but because he refuses to decorate the pig’s snout with lipstick. He is tearing the mask off late-stage capitalism’s greed and self-destructiveness. And he is doing so not because he wants to reform or overthrow turbo-charged capitalism but because he wants to remove the last, largely cosmetic constraints on the system so that he and his friends can plunder with greater abandon – and destroy the planet more quickly.

The other wing of the neoliberal establishment, the one represented by the Democratic Party leadership, fears that exposing capitalism in this way – making explicit its inherently brutal, wrist-slitting tendencies – will awaken the masses, that over time it will risk turning them into revolutionaries. Democratic Party leaders fear Trump chiefly because of the threat he poses to the image of the political and economic system they have so lovingly crafted so that they can continue enriching themselves and their children.

Trump’s genius – his only genius – is to have appropriated, and misappropriated, some of the language of the left to advance the interests of the 1 percent. When he attacks the corporate “liberal” media for having a harmful agenda, for serving as propagandists, he is not wrong. When he rails against the identity politics cultivated by “liberal” elites over the past two decades – suggesting that it has weakened the U.S. – he is not wrong. But he is right for the wrong reasons.

The corporate media, and the journalists they employ, are propagandists – for a system that keeps them wealthy. When Trump was a Republican primary candidate, the entire corporate media loved him because he was TV’s equivalent of clickbait, just as he had been since reality TV began to usurp the place of current affairs programs and meaningful political debate.

The handful of corporations that own the U.S. media – and much of corporate America besides – are there both to make ever-more money by expanding profits and to maintain the credibility of a political and economic system that lets them make ever more money.

The “liberal” corporate media shares the values of the Democratic Party leadership. In other words, it is heavily invested in making sure the pig doesn’t lose its lipstick. By contrast, Fox News and the shock-jocks, such as Trump, prioritize making money in the short term over the long-term credibility of a system that gives them license to make money. They care much less whether the pig’s face remains painted.

So Trump is right that the “liberal” media is undemocratic and that it is now propagandizing against him. But he is wrong about why. In fact, all corporate media – whether “liberal” or not, whether against Trump or for him – is undemocratic. All of the media propagandizes for a rotten system that keeps the vast majority of Americans impoverished. All of the media cares more for Trump and the elites he belongs to than it cares for the 99 percent.

Similarly, with identity politics. Trump says he wants to make (a white) America great again, and uses the left’s obsession with identity as a way to energize a backlash from his own supporters.

Just as too many on the left sleep-walked through the past two years waiting for Mueller – a former head of the FBI, the U.S. secret police, for chrissakes! – to save them from Trump, they have been manipulated by liberal elites into the political cul-de-sac of identity politics.

2017 anti-Trump rally, Salisbury, Connecticut. (Corinna Barnard)

Just as Mueller put the left on standby — into waiting-for-the-Messiah mode — so simple-minded, pussy-hat-wearing identity politics has been cultivated in the supposedly liberal bastions of the corporate media and Ivy League universities – the same universities that have turned out generations of Muellers and Clintons – to deplete the left’s political energies. While we argue over who is most entitled and most victimized, the establishment has carried on raping and pillaging Third World countries, destroying the planet and siphoning off the wealth produced by the rest of us.

These liberal elites long ago worked out that if we could be made to fight among ourselves about who was most entitled to scraps from the table, they could keep gorging on the main course.

The “liberal” elites exploited identity politics to keep us divided by pacifying the most marginalized with the offer of a few additional crumbs. Trump has exploited identity politics to keep us divided by inflaming tensions as he reorders the hierarchy of “privilege” in which those crumbs are offered. In the process, both wings of the elite have averted the danger that class consciousness and real solidarity might develop and start to challenge their privileges.

No. 3: The Corbyn Experience

But the most important lesson of all for the left is that support among its ranks for the Mueller inquiry against Trump was foolhardy in the extreme.

Not only was the inquiry doomed to failure – in fact, not only was it designed to fail – but it has set a precedent for future politicized investigations that will be used against the progressive left should it make any significant political gains. And an inquiry against the real left will be far more aggressive and far more “productive” than Mueller was.

Corbyn: First true progressive with shot at power in living memory.(Sophie Brown via Wikimedia)

If there is any doubt about that look to the U.K. Britain now has within reach of power the first truly progressive politician in living memory, someone seeking to represent the 99 per cent, not the 1 percent. But Jeremy Corbyn’s experience as the leader of the Labour Party – massively swelling the membership’s ranks to make it the largest political party in Europe – has been eye-popping.

I have documented Corbyn’s travails regularly in this blog over the past four years at the hands of the British political and media establishment. You can find many examples here.

Corbyn, even more so than the small, new wave of insurgency politicians in the U.S. Congress, has faced a relentless barrage of criticism from across the U.K.’s similarly narrow political spectrum. He has been attacked by both the rightwing media and the supposedly “liberal” media. He has been savaged by the ruling Conservative Party, as was to be expected, and by his own parliamentary Labour Party. The U.K.’s two-party system has been exposed as just as hollow as the one in the U.S.

The ferocity of the attacks has been necessary because, unlike the Democratic Party’s success in keeping a progressive left-winger away from the presidential campaign, the U.K. system accidentally allowed a socialist to slip past the gatekeepers. All hell has broken out ever since.

Corbyn rally in Bristol, 2016. (Wikimedia)

What is so noticeable is that Corbyn is rarely attacked over his policies – mainly because they have wide popular appeal. Instead he has been hounded over fanciful claims that, despite being a life-long and very visible anti-racism campaigner, he suddenly morphed into an outright anti-Semite the moment party members elected him leader.

I will not reprise again how implausible these claims are. Simply look through these previous blog posts should you be in any doubt.

But what is amazing is that, just as with the Mueller inquiry, much of the British left – including prominent figures like Owen Jones and the supposedly countercultural Novara Media – have sapped their political energies in trying to placate or support those leading the preposterous claims that Labour under Corbyn has become “institutionally anti-Semitic.” Again, the promotion of a simple-minded identity politics – which pits the rights of Palestinians against the sensitivities of Zionist Jews about Israel – was exploited to divide the left.

The more the left has conceded to this campaign, the angrier, the more implacable, the more self-righteous Corbyn’s opponents have become – to the point that the Labour Party is now in serious danger of imploding.

Were the U.S. to get its own Corbyn as president, he or she would undoubtedly face a Mueller-style inquiry, and one far more effective at securing the president’s impeachment than this one was ever going to be.

That is not because a leftwing U.S. president would be more corrupt or more likely to have colluded with a foreign power. As the U.K. example shows, it would be because the entire media system – from The New York Timesto Fox News– would be against such a president. And as the U.K. example also shows, it would be because the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties would work as one to finish off such a president.

In the combined success-failure of the Mueller inquiry, the left has an opportunity to understand in a much more sophisticated way how real power works and in whose favor it is exercised. It is a moment that should be clarifying – if we are willing to open our eyes to Mueller’s real lessons.