If you don’t think there’s a conspiracy, you’re not paying attention

An interesting article I came across in Time Magazine: “Why Smart People Still Believe Conspiracy Theories”

wall street conspiracyA coterie of academic stooges set out to prove that people who believe in “conspiracy theories” are of sub-normal intelligence. Unfortunately for them, their findings did not confirm their initial hypothesis – so they had to come up with another one, ie people believe what they want to believe. Which is probably equally true of people who insist that there is no conspiracy.

The researchers’ fundamental error was to assume that people who believe there is a conspiracy have no solid evidence to support their belief. Not true, guys and girls.

  • Take a look at the Roman Catholic Church. One huge international conspiracy to keep the poor in slavery.
  • Take a look at Wall Street and the world of international banking and finance. Another monumental conspiracy to hide the truth behind global economic imperialism.
  • Take a look at the United States political system. Another major conspiracy aimed at convincing poor Americans that they actually have a say in how their government rules the country.

trumps-favorite-mcdonalds-meal-is-a-catholic-conspiracyA few extracts from the Time article:

“Millions of Americans believe in conspiracy theories — including plenty of people who you might expect would be smart enough to know better.

Despite mountains of scientific evidence to the contrary, at least 20% of Americans still believe in a link between vaccines and autism, and at least 37% think global warming is a hoax*, according to a 2015 analysis. Even more of us accept the existence of the paranormal: 42% believe in ghosts and 41% in extrasensory perception. And those numbers are stable. A 2014 study by conspiracy experts Joseph Uscinski of the University of Miami and Joseph Parent of Note Dame University surveyed 100,000 letters sent to the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune from 1890 to 2010 and found that the percentage that argued for one conspiracy theory or another had barely budged over time.

Now, a study published online in the journal Personality and Individual Differences provides new insights into why so many of us believe in things that just aren’t true: In some cases, we simply want to believe.

The second study was similar but also sought to correlate belief in conspiracy theories and the paranormal with overall cognitive ability. To determine this, the people answered a number of questions that measured their numeracy — or basic mathematical skills — and their language abilities.

us democracyWhat’s most troubling — and a little mystifying — is the fact is that so many people in the studies score high on all of the rational and intellectual metrics and yet nonetheless subscribe to disproven theories. That’s the case in the real world too, where highly educated people traffic in conspiratorial nonsense that you’d think they’d reject. In these cases, the study concluded, the reason may simply be that they’re invested—emotionally, ideologically—in believing the conspiracies, and they use their considerable cognitive skills to persuade themselves that what’s untrue is actually true. If you want to believe vaccines are dangerous or that the political party to which you don’t belong is plotting the ruination of America, you’ll build yourself a credible case.”

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*Interestingly US presidents and CEOs of large corporations seem to subscribe to this one!

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Economic gobbledegook – and why the world is going to hell on a fast train

This is by some guy called Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Well, with a name like that you wouldn’t imagine he’d have missed too many meals in his life. He’s probably right in picking that it’s not a good sign for the future of the world when someone can pay $450 million for a painting, even if Leonardo da Vinci did paint it. Reading between the lines of overblown pretentious verbiage, I reckon he’s saying the world is in for another major financial crash, engineered by the same grotesquely over-paid, grasping, selfish “financiers” that brought us the last one.

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$46 million painting by Cy Twombly

Leonardo da Vinci has special cachet. What is striking about the Christie’s soiree in New York last week was not so much the US$450m ($661m) paid for his rediscovered Salvator Mundi but the prices fetched by everyone else.

Buyers forked out $46m for vermilion spirals from the Bacchus series by Cy Twombly, executed 12 years ago with a paint-drenched brush on a pole. Soothing sands called Saffron by Mark Rothko fetched US$32m.

The week’s haul at Christie’s and Sotheby’s topped US$1.5 billion, with Asian buyers snapping up Monets. Fernand Leger’s abstract Contrastes de Formes fetched US$62m.

It screams late-cycle liquidity, recalling Japan’s impressionist fever in the late Eighties before the Nikkei collapsed and the bottom fell out of the art market.

092216-best-paidBitcoin clinches the argument. It has risen more than 1,200 per cent over the past year to more than US$8000 – five times an ounce of gold – on a “greater fool” presumption.

This is not a criticism of blockchain technology. It will flourish. But you cannot yet buy and sell things in any meaningful way with cryptocurrencies worth US$180b.

Bitcoin will end badly, either when the Chicago Mercantile Exchange launches its futures contracts in two weeks and allows traders to short it, or when the global cycle turns. A runaway asset boom can last a long time when the G4 central banks are holding real interest at minus 1.5 per cent and spending US$2 trillion a year soaking up “safe assets”

And here’sAcademic bulls say the stock of central bank assets is still growing. Market bears counter that the flow is falling, which matters more to them. Hence the recent rout in high-yield credit. Junk bond funds saw the biggest outflows since 2014 last week.

A parallel retreat is under way in East Asia where US$800m of bond sales in steel, solar and palm oil were cancelled. These are minor tremors. What threatens the universe of stretched asset values is the return of US inflation. The boom is built on the premise that the Fed will bathe the global system with ample liquidity.

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2015 figures for the UK

Yet that is precisely what is now in doubt as US unemployment drops to a 17-year low and the dormant Phillips curve reawakens. The New York Fed’s underlying inflation gauge has jumped to a post-Lehman peak of 2.96 per cent.

All it will take from now on is a single piece of hard data to confirm this trend and the markets will reprice interest rate futures abruptly, shaking the whole edifice of global risk appetite.

Staccato rate rises by the Fed would ignite a dollar surge, squeezing an estimated US$10.7t of offshore dollar debt. There is a further US$14t of global dollar debt hidden in derivatives and FX swap contracts, pushing the total to US$25t.

The Wolf of Wall Street

“Watching with wolfish concentration . . . “

I didn’t want to upload the whole pretentious, jargon-loaded article – just give you a taste – but here’s Evans-Pritchard’s conclusion:

“Major players in the City are watching with wolfish concentration. Bank of America says the air is getting thinner for risk assets but tells clients to stay with the “Icarus trade” as long as you can still breathe.

Mark Haefele, investment chief at UBS, says it is too early to bail out but the coming inflection point is “something we think about a lot”.

Inequalities are a result of low wages, based on big profits, financial swindles, multi-trillion dollar public handouts and multi-billion-dollar tax evasion

If you still have illusions about the American dream, thanks to sojourner for this:

Image: http://www.commondreams.org …Inequality is not a result of ‘technology’ and ‘education’- contemporary euphemisms for the ruling class cult of superiority – as liberals and conservative economists and journalists like to claim. Inequalities are a result of low wages, based on big profits, financial swindles, multi-trillion dollar public handouts and multi-billion-dollar tax evasion… …US corporations in […]

via How Billionaires Become Billionaires | Global Research – Centre for Research on Globalization — An Outsider’s Sojourn II (The Journey Continues)

Saudi royals holidaying in Turkey

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So why do you need 30 bicycles?

According to our local newspaper, Saudi Arabian Prince El Velid bin Tallal is currently holidaying in Bodrum with his wife and daughters. He has been spotted cycling around the streets near his hotel of accompanied by several large bodyguards.

The royals are staying in a luxury hotel in the Göltürkbükü area much loved by local glitterati and the paparazzi who make a living photographing and writing about them. Prince El Velid is not the richest guy in the world, but with a wealth estimated at $32 billion, he’s definitely up there with the big guns. He and his family and carers arrived at Bodrum Milas Airport on the royal Boeing 747where their 300 suitcases and 30 bicycles took several hours to unload.

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The prince’s private jet and holiday luggage

It seems a bay near their hotel has been closed of for their exclusive use, where they can swim, sunbathe and anchor their 87-metre yacht Kingdom KR5. In case the hotel’s facilities are not up to expected standards, the yacht apparently has a swimming pool of its own.

Who knows – maybe we’ll bump into them at our next concert.

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The Kingdom KR5

End of Labour as a major political force?

The Light Dawns – The Penny Drops!

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It came to me in the bathtub!

It was a favourite saying of my old middle school teacher, Mr Hislop. It was a mildly sarcastic form of congratulations when one, or all of his pupils finally showed signs of understanding something he had been at pains for some time to explain.

The words came to my own lips as I read an opinion piece in New Zealand’s own Herald newspaper/website. The writer was commenting on the woes of the NZ Labour Party in the lead-up to this year’s General Election. The conservative National Party has been in power since 2008. The Prime Minister for most of those years was an unabashedly rich finance mogul whose standard response to news media questions about the numerous scandals that broke during his term of office was, “Oh, nobody cares about that!” New Zealand has a ludicrously inflated housing market, a playground for wealthy local and foreign “investors”. The country has received dishonourable mention in global reports on child poverty and international money laundering.

In spite of that, and more, the main opposition Labour Party is plunging rather than rising in public opinion polls, and the party’s panicked response has been to choose a new leader, four months out from Election Day. It’s the beginning of the end of Labour as an automatic major political force,” says this political commentator.

Interesting choice of words, don’t you think? automatic major political force”? Unfortunately, that’s what it is, and has been for the last 40 years – and not just in New Zealand A brain-dead response by people unhappy with the social injustice created by traditional conservative economics. Political pundits in the UK are desperately trying to convince voters that the local Labour Party has found, in Jeremy Corbyn, a leader to take them back to their roots. The US Democrats managed to sell Barack Obama to their well-heeled, trendy-lefty supporters, and nearly did it again with Bernie Sanders. The sad fact is that Labour Parties (and their alter egos) in these countries and Australia, and others for all I know, are just a construct of the established financial elite who wield the real power while conning a pathetically gullible electorate into thinking they have a choice at the ballot box.

walking dead

Labour back from the dead – again?

Let me quote you some facts and figures. New Zealand voters elected their first Labour Government in 1935, in the depths of the Great Global Economic Depression. That government did actually manage to implement some genuine socialist reforms, on which their successors have been dining out ever since. By 1949, however, they had turned their back on most of their founding principles, got rid of any dissenting voices in their own ranks, and were deservedly thrown out in that year’s general Election.

68 years have passed since then. Conservative National governments have held the reins of power for 47 of those, and pale pinkish-blue pseudo-Labour governments, the remaining 21. The last possibly true old-style Labour Prime Minister, Norman Kirk, was elected in 1972 on the slogan, “It’s time for a change” – which voters were ready to accept after twelve years of National rule. Unfortunately, Big Norm died two years later, and Labour were thrown out in 1975, having failed to achieve much at all.

puppet

Work it our for yourself.

National returned to office and proceeded to make themselves pretty unpopular, nevertheless winning again in ‘78 owing to their own electoral gerrymandering and Labour’s predictable incompetence. Despite NZ’s manifestly unfair first-past-the-post electoral system, a rejuvenated force had appeared on the NZ political scene. The Social Credit Political League began picking up support from voters fed up with the lies and deceit of the two main parties. After giving the National Party two shock defeats in by-elections, Social Credit actually replaced Labour as the country’s preferred opposition party in public opinion polls in 1980.

That was when the business/financial elite showed their true colours. Going against almost total international opinion, the National Prime Minister arranged for the NZ Rugby Union to host a tour of the country by a team from apartheid South Africa. Whatever naïve political writers tell you, it was a deliberately cynical ploy to divide the country along conventional lines, with the rugby-mad and the libertarians supporting the tour, and left-leaning union-leaders, armchair liberals and “intellectuals” coming out strongly against it. The 1981 General Election returned to the same-old-same-old, manipulators-extraordinaire National and a temporarily ideologically renewed Labour.

The victory went again to National, but by 1984 NZ voters had definitely had enough of them. Seeing the writing on the wall, the same business/financial elite set up a well-financed straw party to siphon off the protest vote and ensure that Labour would finally return to office. But what a Labour Government!! Their public relations creation windbag Prime Minister led a government that implemented libertarian reforms drawing inspiration from the UK’s Iron Witch Margaret Thatcher and US Wild West hero Ronald Reagan.

yellowbrickroad

Sorry, folks – Labour won’t take you to the Emerald City.

The simple fact of the matter is those who hold the real power in New Zealand (and other Western pseudo-democracies) want to retain the Labour Party as the main political “opposition” to maintain the illusion that voters have a choice. “The end of Labour as a political force?” Sorry, mate, that happened decades ago. They’ve been dead for years – they just won’t lie down.

I’d like to believe that the light is finally dawning in New Zealand, and the penny will drop to activate the machinery of a new political age – but I don’t hold out much hope. Too many people want to believe in the yellow brick road.

Glenfell Tower Inferno – A deliberate act?

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Death toll likely to rise

At this time the final death toll is unknown, but it will surely rise above the current figure of seventeen. The building, reportedly engulfed in flames within minutes, is now a burnt out shell.

Labour MP David Lammy says Grenfell Tower tragedy is “corporate manslaughter”

The UK’s Telegraph reports that this Labour MP has called the fire an “outrage”, labelling it “corporate manslaughter”, and demanding that arrests be made. David Lammy may be right – and already people who might be deemed responsible are ducking and weaving, looking to shift the blame elsewhere.

My desktop dictionary defines “manslaughter” as the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought, or in circumstances not amounting to murder.” The Farlex Free Legal Dictionary elaborates: “The unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice. The unlawful killing of a human being without any deliberation, which may be involuntary, in the commission of a lawful act without due caution and circumspection.” At the very least, that must fit the bill in this tragic situation.

David_Lammy

Labour MP for Tottenham lost a friend in the inferno

But is it possible that the reality is actually much worse? My desktop dictionary defines “murder” as “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.” Again, Farley is more useful, examining the concept of “malice aforethought”:

“The term malice aforethought did not necessarily mean that the killer planned or premeditated on the killing, or that he or she felt malice toward the victim. Generally, malice aforethought referred to a level of intent or recklessness that separated murder from other killings and warranted stiffer punishment. Express malice exists “when there is manifested a deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow creature.” Malice may be implied by a judge or jury “when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”

I was curious when I read that Glenfell Towers is located in Kensington, West London. Anyone who has been to the UK capital knows that inner west London is the expensive part of town. Yet TV footage showed residents milling around outside the burning tower block who were conspicuously not Anglo-Saxon (or wealthy Arab).

Chelsea house

A nice place in “The Boltons”

I checked the figures – and sure enough, the Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington, overseen by the Conservative Party, is “the most unaffordable borough in London when it comes to renting”. It has “a higher proportion of high earners (over £60,000 p.a.) than any other local government district in the country”. İt is “one of the few areas in the UK where population has dipped during the last ten years”.

A quick glance at property prices turned up a 7-bedroom house in “The Boltons” listed at £57,500,000; a more modest 5-bedroom end-of-terrace house for £35,000,000 – and a host of others in the £20-30 million range. Clearly I’ll need a second mortgage to get into that market – though I could lower my sights and snap up a studio “apartment” for around £1 million.

So what’s the story with Glenfell Towers, whose residents gave the impression of being unlikely to fit comfortably into that housing demographic? Well, apparently North Kensington is something of an anomaly – a picturesque multi-ethnic enclave at the lower end of the socio-economic scale, with a high rate of unemployment and a high proportion of welfare beneficiaries. Possibly not the kind of neighbours who would be the first choice of your average £50 million house owner, despite the contribution they might make to local “colour”.

residents

Local residents near Glenfell Tower

Apparently a company called Rydon “completed a refurbishment of the building in the summer of 2016 for KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation) on behalf of the council”. The refurbishment included affixing plastic and foam insulation panels to the exterior of the tower block at a cost of £9 million. According to that report, Cladding is considered a low cost way to modify the exterior of unattractive buildings and was used on Grenfell Tower so that the building would look better when viewed against the backdrop of conservation areas and luxury flats that surround north Kensington”.

The same report goes on to say, “Almost all witnesses said they saw the cladding basically firing up – bits of it were igniting before their very eyes.” Residents described how the foam-filled cladding “went up like matchsticks” as the blaze spread.

floor plan

120 flats – and ONE stairway?

Another report noted: “Renovations of the Grenfell building in North Kensington saw the building not only kitted out in controversial cladding that could have caused the deadly blaze to spread so quickly, but also stripped of two of its fire exits.”

Interesting! Even more interesting will be to follow what happens to the site after the tower block, which seems to be a complete write-off, is demolished. Will the Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington replace it with low-cost housing for the surviving residents of Glenfell Tower? I suspect not. There will be many residents of South Kensington who, while sympathising with the victims of the fire, will be happy enough to see them relocated to a borough more appropriate to their socio-economic status. The value of the cleared land will undoubtedly richly reward developers given the opportunity to construct high-end residences for an influx of more wealthy ratepayers.

Is it possible that the whole business was a deliberate plan to get rid of that eyesore building and its misplaced inhabitants? It wouldn’t surprise me at all. Some might consider that £9 million for flammable cladding to be money well spent.

Birth Rate Falling in Turkey

I recall a few years back Turkey’s Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan getting a lot of stick in certain circles for exhorting families to have three children. At the time, I felt the criticism was a little unfair. Families in poorer regions of the country have traditionally had numerous offspring – and three would be a very moderate number for some. A student once told me she was the seventh child in her family. Her name was “Yeter” – Turkish for “That’s enough”.

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And they’re easier to get rid of when you’re tired of them

On the other hand, more affluent couples, especially in larger cities in the west of the country, are emulating their peers in “civilised” post-modern societies and choosing to limit themselves to one child, or maybe to have none at all.

Fair enough, of course. Far be it from me to interfere with a woman’s right to choose. Nevertheless, it’s common knowledge that that those wealthy post-modern societies in the West have difficult times ahead. Their age/sex pyramids are becoming top-heavy as the baby-boomer demographic moves into the high-maintenance social welfare bracket, collecting old age pensions and demanding more of health services. Younger generations are faced with the prospect of heavier taxation at the same time as burgeoning property prices make it increasingly difficult to put a secure roof over their own heads.

These headlines appeared recently in UK news media:

How Europe is slowly dying despite an increasing world population (Telegraph)

Europe needs many more babies to avert a population disaster (Guardian)

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Looking a few years ahead . . .

The Telegraph reported that “Italy is dying and newborns are not replacing those who die, according to the country’s health minister”; and other European countries face a similar situation. Germany’s population is expected to plunge from 81 million to 67 million by 2060, and an increasing proportion of those will be “grey” voters, turning the country into a “gerontocratic” society – one governed by the old.

The Guardian warned “Europe desperately needs more young people to run its health services, populate its rural areas and look after its elderly because, increasingly, its societies are no longer self-sustaining.”

In 1970, Italy’s predominantly Catholic population was joyously reproducing at a rate of 2.37 babies per woman, comfortably above the number required to maintain a steady population. In 2013 the rate had fallen to 1.39, approaching the figure demographers refer to as “lowest-low fertility”.

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Many a true word spoken in jest

Average fertility rate over the entire European Union is 1.58. Ironically, even this low figure is largely attributable to the tendency of poorer migrants to have larger families. Europe’s determination to shut its doors to migrants and refugees may prove to be costly or even fatal in the long-term.

Well, Turkey is not yet in quite such dire straits, but an article in our English language daily the other day reported:

Turkey’s fertility rate falls to critical level of 2.1 for first time since WWI.

2.1 is generally accepted as the minimum number of live births per woman necessary to maintain a stable population. The figure has been declining steadily in recent years. In 1998 it was 2.8. In fact, forecasts for 2016 had suggested the rate would drop to 1.85 – but apparently the influx of refugees from war-torn Syria, currently producing 70,000 new babies each year, is boosting the national average.

Well, every cloud has a silver lining.