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Life, the Sea and Big Oil

Life, the Sea and Big Oil

Photo by Glenn Beltz | CC BY 2.0

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist: the threat is rather to life itself.”

– Rachel Carson

When I learned about the oil giant BP’s plan to drill off the coast of my home, my heart felt like it dropped out of my chest. As I write this the West Aquariusrig is well on its way to the Nova Scotian Shelf. By the time this is published, it might have already arrived. My thoughts went immediately to those oil sullied shorelines in the Gulf of Mexico, and to the fishermen there whose families and livelihoods were shattered to pieces, and the countless species of fish, mammals and marine birds suffocated in the earth’s primordial blood. BP forever damaged that region and not only in an environmental way. The scars, the untraceable diseases, the suicides and domestic conflicts induced by despair, the financial ruin, displacement and alienation persist to this day.

Many of my ancestors were fishermen here in Nova Scotia for generations. They negotiated the treacherous storms endemic to the North Atlantic and many of them perished in the icy waters which surround this rocky, unforgiving peninsula. I’ve several relatives whose livelihoods are still dependent upon the ocean. But it is more than just a job. The sea is entwined with one’s heart here. It informs the culture, the food, the language. The life of this province cannot be separated from it.

Until settlers stole their ancestral lands, Mi’kmaq, the region’s First People, lived in balance and harmony with this sea for thousands of years, carefully studying its character and respecting its surly and churlish mood swings.

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The Simulation of Democracy

The Simulation of Democracy

One of the most complicated and frustrating aspects of operating a global capitalist empire is maintaining the fiction that it doesn’t exist. Virtually every action you take has to be carefully recontextualized or otherwise spun for public consumption. Every time you want to bomb or invade some country to further your interests, you have to mount a whole PR campaign. You can’t even appoint a sadistic torture freak to run your own coup-fomenting agency, or shoot a few thousand unarmed people you’ve imprisoned in a de facto ghetto, without having to do a big song and dance about “defending democracy” and “democratic values.”

Naked despotism is so much simpler, not to mention more emotionally gratifying. Ruling an empire as a godlike dictator means never having to say you’re sorry. You can torture and kill anyone you want, and conquer and exploit whichever countries you want, without having to explain yourself to anyone. Also, you get to have your humongous likeness muraled onto the walls of buildings, make people swear allegiance to you, and all that other cool dictator stuff.

Global capitalists do not have this luxury. Generating the simulation of democracy that most Western consumers desperately need in order to be able to pretend to believe that they are not just smoothly-functioning cogs in the machinery of a murderous global empire managed by a class of obscenely wealthy and powerful international elites to whom their lives mean exactly nothing, although extremely expensive and time-consuming, is essential to maintaining their monopoly on power. Having conditioned most Westerners into believing they are “free,” and not just glorified peasants with gadgets, the global capitalist ruling classes have no choice but to keep up this fiction. Without it, their empire would fall apart at the seams.

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A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis

A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis

Art by Willy Stöwer | CC BY 2.0

You’re a passenger on the Titanic on its fateful maiden voyage in 1912. As it draws away from the dock at Southampton you get a premonition that things are going to go severely pear-shaped, and that the ship is never going to make it to New York. Maybe you’re an engineer and your spidey senses are telling you that the captain and crew are far too cocky for their own good considering that the ship can only sustain damage to four of the 12 bulkheads. Maybe it’s not anywhere near as unsinkable as the White Star Line are making out in the name of PR hype…

But you don’t say anything because you know what people are like when you try to tell them things they don’t want to hear—they get defensive and shoot the messenger. Why are you being so negative on such a joyous occasion, who pissed in your bucket such that now you have to go and piss in everyone else’s? Maybe you should get some professional help. You know how it goes. So after briefly considering making a fuss and demanding the boat be turned around, or just jumping over the side and swimming back to shore, you sit back and say to yourself, fuck it, I’m in first class, if something happens I’ll get priority for getting off the boat…

But here’s the rub, because what you don’t know is that the White Star Line skimped on the lifeboats because they took up room, and they detracted from the claims about the ship being unsinkable anyway. So, when the ship eventually hits the iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland, you get a nasty shock in discovering just how shit out of luck you really are.

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Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State

Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State

Since the “Russiagate” probe began, US president Donald Trump and his supporters have used lots of bandwidth raging against what they refer to as the “Deep State.” Does the Deep State exist? If so, what is it, and are its forces arrayed specifically against Donald Trump and  his administration?

Yes, the Deep State exists — probably more so at one end of its numerous definitions and less so at the other, but to some degree at both ends.

At the seemingly more benign end, the Deep State is simply what one might think of as the “permanent government” — the army of bureaucrats and functionaries whose careers span multiple administrations. Like all career employees of large organizations as groups, they tend to fear and resist change, and their sheer mass has an inertial effect. They energetically do things the old way and drag their feet on new things.

At the end dismissed by mainstream commentators as “conspiracy theory,” the Deep State is an invisible second government which acts in a coordinated manner to protect its prerogatives and advance its interests and favored policies versus changes supposedly demanded by “the people” via their elected representatives in Congress and the presidency. The premier example of this view is the claim that John F. Kennedy was assassinated by the CIA and the military industrial complex because (in one version) he was about to get the US out of Vietnam.

If that end of the spectrum sounds crazy to you, consider:

Former FBI attorney Lisa Page and former FBI deputy counterintelligence chief Peter Strzok, while working on a pre-election investigation into alleged collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government, exchanged text messages with incendiary content such as “there’s no way [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk.”

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What’s Wrong With the United States?

What’s Wrong With the United States?

Photo source jqpubliq | CC BY 2.0

Despite the myth perpetrated by United States spokespersons, the country is not, and never has been, a beacon of peace and freedom, the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’, or a democracy that is the envy of the word. It is, and always has been, a racist, imperialist society, an oligarchy and, as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.

Today it is living up to violent, bloody truths that comprise its existence. We will look at just a few of the circumstance today that embody that violence.

+ The U.S. has just violated an international treaty, by withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement also signed by Russia, China, England, France, Germany, the European Union and Iran. The purpose of this agreement was to regulate Iran’s nuclear ambitions (such as they are), in return for the lifting of sanctions imposed upon that country. The JCPOA was signed by the U.S under President Barack Obama, but it was not an agreement between him and the other nations; it was a binding agreement under international law. By violating it, the U.S. has send a strong message to the world that its word cannot be relied upon; has betrayed some of the country’s closest and oldest allies, and may even sanction them if they continue to do business with Iran, which each of the other signatories says they will do, since Iran is and has been in complete compliance with the agreement.

Additionally, the U.S., which has been at war for 225 years of its 242 year history, and which is currently bombing seven countries and supporting terrorist groups in Syria, accuses Iran, which has not invaded another country since 1798, of being the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism. This is Orwellianism at its best.

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Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste

Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste

Photo by Iwan Gabovitch | CC BY 2.0

Last month’s explosive news from the safe, reliable nuclear deterrence folks is that at least four barrels of military radioactive waste either burst or exploded somewhere inside the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), near Idaho Falls, April 11. INL officials said the “ruptured” barrels reportedly contained a sludge of fluids and solvents sent from the long-shuttered Rocky Flats plutonium weapons machining site near Denver. The officials did not describe which radioactive materials were in the sludge.

The accident was reported by ABC News, the Associated Press, the Seattle Times, the Japan Times, Industrial Equipment News, and Fox Radio among others. Laboratory spokespersons said a 55-gallon drum, or two, holding radioactive sludge “ruptured.” Energy Department (DOE) spokesperson Danielle Miller wrote April 12 that, “Later, there were indications that a third drum may have been involved.” On April 25 Erik Simpson, a spokesman for DOE contractor Fluor Idaho, told the AP that four barrels had burst. Simpson said the “ruptures” (i.e. explosions) were heard outside the building where they took place.

The DOE’s Miller called the prompt deconstruction of the rad waste barrel(s) an “exothermal event” — a pseudonym for “bomb” that means “a chemical reaction accompanied by a burst of heat.” The phrase harks back to the officially described “gaseous ignition event” involving hydrogen gas in a loaded high-level rad waste cask at Wisconsin’s Point Beach reactor site in May 1996. The cask contained 14 tons of highly radioactive used reactor fuel, and the explosion (a word avoided only by agency public relations linguistic gymnastics) blew the high-level waste cask’s 4,000-pound lid right off.

One theory about the cause of the accident is that “radioactive decay made the barrel[s] heat up and ignite particles of uranium,” the AP reported. Unfortunately for the first responders, “When the firefighters left the building emergency workers detected a small amount of radioactive material on their skin,” the AP reported April 12.

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Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly 

Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly 

Photo by Joka Madruga | CC BY 2.0

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”

— US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, 1970

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is the frontrunner in the presidential elections scheduled for May 20. If past pronouncements and practice by the US empire are any indication, every effort will be made to oust an avowed socialist from what is considered the US’ “backyard.”

With a week to go to the election, the leftist president of Bolivia Evo Morales tweeted: “Before the elections they (US and allies) will carry out violent actions supported by the media and after the elections they will try a military invasion with Armed Forces from neighboring countries.” All signals from the Trump White House and the Pentagon are that Evo is on target.

US antipathy towards the Venezuelan government started with the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998, followed by a brief and unsuccessful US-backed coup in 2002. Chávez made the magnanimous, but politically imprudent, gesture of pardoning the golpistas (coup perpetrators), who are still trying to achieve by extra-parliamentary means what they have been unable to realize democratically. After Chávez died in 2013, the Venezuelans elected Maduro to carry on what has become known as the Bolivarian Revolution.

The Phantom Menace

In 2015 then US President Obama declared “a national emergency” posed to the security of the US by Venezuela. Understand that the US has military bases to the west of Venezuela in Colombia and to the east in the Dutch colonial islands. The US Fourth Fleet patrols Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. Yet somehow in the twisted logic of imperialism, the phantom of Venezuela posed a menacing “extraordinary threat” to the US.

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Argentina’s Peso Crisis, Capital Flows and Financial Fragility in Emerging Markets 

Argentina’s Peso Crisis, Capital Flows and Financial Fragility in Emerging Markets 

On May 4, the Banco Central de la Republica Argentina, the country’s central bank, raised policy interest rates to a whopping 40 percent to stem the rapid depreciation of the national currency, the peso. The surprise rate increase was the third in a week after the central bank failed to halt the decline in the peso by spending $4.3 billion of foreign exchange reserves in just one week. In addition, the Argentine authorities reduced fiscal deficit target and announced new measures to calm the markets.

Market observers were confident that rapid-fire rate hikes and other measures will restore currency stability, but the Argentine peso plunged more than 5 percent to a new all-time low at 23.5 against the US dollar on May 8, thereby prompted the government to seek financial support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It is yet unclear what kind of financial support will be sought from the IMF, but it may entail substantial political cost as many Argentines blame the IMF policies for exacerbating the financial crisis of 2001 which deepened the recession and triggered social unrest and political instability. Since the IMF loans usually come with tough conditions and policy surveillance, the Macri government will find it hard to garner popular support given the widespread scepticism in the country towards the IMF.

However, one thing is clear: the impacts of rates hike would be immediately felt by the real economy in terms of higher financing costs and contraction of economic activity in Argentina for some time.

What Caused the Currency Crisis? 

The current bout of currency volatility in Argentina was triggered by a surge in the US dollar along with market expectations that the Federal Reserve might raise interest rates more aggressively than previously expected ‒due to rise in bond yields and poor US inflation data. To some extent, the imposition of 5 percent capital gains tax on LEBACs (peso-denominated central bank notes) held by foreigners also added a downward pressure on the Argentine peso.

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Climate Crisis Clobbers Trump Denials

Climate Crisis Clobbers Trump Denials

Harken! A Trump appointee agrees that climate change is not a hoax. Granted, that is unimaginable, but it is the real thing. An ongoing climate crisis in America’s Southwest brings this rare specimen into the limelight.

The climate crisis star of the year is Brenda Burman, commissioner of The Bureau of Reclamation, a division of the Department of Interior, who, in her confirmation hearings said: “I believe that climate change is not a hoax.” After all, in her youth she did serve as a park ranger at Grand Canyon National Park; she’s an outdoorsperson.

She comes to the forefront via an ongoing dire ultra scary southwestern drought. According to The Bureau of Reclamation (Trump’s Bureau) it’s the worst drought in over 1,200 years. (Source: Eric Holthaus, Look! A Federal Agency is Pushing for Urgent Climate Action, Grist.org, May 10, 2018)

There is plenty of concern and compelling issues/dangers supporting Burman’s push for a solution to water shortages for one of the country’s major regions, and it is a pressing issue for the near future, involving (1) the livelihood of 40 million people, (2) growth of major cities, like Phoenix, and (3) saving America’s breadbasket.

Here’s what Commissioner Burman says about the climate crisis: “We need action and we need it now… We can’t afford to wait for a crisis before we implement drought contingency plans,” Ibid.

She specifically references the Colorado River System, which has been in crisis mode for some time now, which has everything to do with too much anthropogenic (human-caused) CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.

One answer to Commissioner Burman’s plea of “we can’t afford to wait for a crisis before we implement drought contingency plans” is for Trump to quit goosing up exploration of fossil fuels at the expense of installing renewable energy throughout the country, coast-to-coast. That’s one implementation that can be started overnight with his signature.

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Modernity’s Long Twilight 

Modernity’s Long Twilight 

Photo source wongaboo | CC BY 2.0

While Marx expected the industrial proletariat to spearhead the socialist revolution, it is now left to those who resist the burning of the last of the planet’s fossil fuel – which continues to engorge the hyper-capitalism of the early twenty-first century – to usher us into the gloaming: the dappled shadowland of Modernity’s long twilight where we begin to make living arrangements that fully recognize the critical symbioses of the human and nonhuman.

Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG.org) in Ventura County in Southern California is fighting big, medium and little oil as they rapaciously squeeze the last reserves of an oil-rich county by drilling, fracking, and even tar-sands extraction right in the middle of the Oxnard plain, one of the richest row-crop regions in the state. There is, at this point, no such-thing as responsible oil and gas. But as CROG’s executive director, Kimberly Rivers, explained to me, this milquetoast designation is necessary to maintain ‘a seat at the table’. This is a table that is sliding irrevocably into the trash-heap of history. But for now, attendance at the last supper of the depraved predation of the earth’s crust provides a few scraps of satisfaction in the reining in of the worst acts of malfeasance by the County and oil industry cabal.

CFROG are fighting oil interests on the basis of their bureaucratic over-reach facilitated by a County Planning Department long used to the laissez-faire, rubber-stamp continuance of long-ago conditional-use permits extended time and time again often covering new methods of monsterish extraction, flaring and waste-water re-injection without enforcing the terms of the California’s Environmental Quality Act – because the original permits pre-date the passing of the legislation signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1970. Oil drilling, oil spills and resistance to the environmental damage they cause have a long history in Southern California.

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Trump’s Decision on Iran Deal Spells Disaster for the Middle East 

Trump’s Decision on Iran Deal Spells Disaster for the Middle East 

Photo by The U.S. Army | CC BY 2.0

President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal with Iran creates, unnecessarily, a new source of tension in a region besieged by conflicts. Given the level of legal troubles that President Trump is facing now, his decision could be based to some extent in creating the conditions to fog his personal drama.

President Trump’s move was heartily supported by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and opposed by all other governments that are part of the deal. In March 2015, in front of both houses of the U.S. Congress, Netanyahu said, “We’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.”

For the last several decades, relations between the U.S. and Iran and between Iran and the West have been shrouded in misconceptions and prejudices. They have done nothing to achieve a peaceful relationship with that country, and only led to a permanent state of distrust that can lead to war at any moment.

Conflicting relations with Iran can be traced to a large extent to 19 August 1953, when both the United Kingdom and the U.S. orchestrated a coup that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh. The reason: Mossadegh was trying to audit the books of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), a British corporation, to change the terms of that company’s access to Iranian oil.

Following the refusal of AIOC to cooperate with the Iranian government, the Iranian parliament voted almost unanimously to nationalize AIOC and expel its representatives from Iran. The anti-government coup that ensued led to the formation of a military government under General Fazlollah Zahedi, which allowed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to return and rule the country as an absolute and ruthless monarch.

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The U.S. Just Declared War on Iran

The U.S. Just Declared War on Iran

Against all common sense, moral considerations and international law, U.S. President Donald Trump tonight decided to place the United States outside the international so-called community and isolate itself, not Iran.

He withdrew the United States from what is one of the most important negotiated peace-oriented agreements that have ever been signed: the one that prevents Iran (if it has ever wanted to) from acquiring nuclear weapons: The Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action, JCPOA, of July 2015 – all about this agreement and its text here).

Noteworthy is that the nuclear deal is incorporated into international law by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, even though the U.S. already at that point stated – as an exceptionalist state – that it did not consider the deal binding for it.

With the exception of Germany, the deal was negotiated – cynically, of course – by countries which have themselves thousands of nuclear weapons.

It never mentioned the only state in the region that possesses them, against international law in the form of UN resolutions and, additionally, has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). That state is Israel whose nuclear weapons Western politicians and their loyal, politically correct media omit mention of – as systematically and uniformly as if orchestrated by an invisible hand from above.

Back in 2014-15, many of us stated that the alternative to a negotiated deal would be war. I am still of the belief that President Trump’s announcement tonight will turn out to be a declaration of war on Iran. A series of developments since then in the Middle East point dangerously in the same direction.

Towards the end, his speech was extremely bellicose and one long systematic violation of the UN Charter’s Article 2.4 that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

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Trump and Netanyahu May Not Want War With Iran, But They May Fall Into One Anyway

Trump and Netanyahu May Not Want War With Iran, But They May Fall Into One Anyway

Photo source StateofIsrael | CC BY 2.0 by Addy Cameron-Huff | CC BY 2.0

Iran has an exaggerated reputation in the Middle East for Machiavellian cunning and an ability to outmanoeuvre its enemies. Britain used to be regarded in the same light in the region: its most ill-considered actions were admired as devilishly clever plots when all it was doing was taking advantage of the blunders of its opponents.

The Islamic Republic is similarly seen as the sinister hidden hand behind many developments with which it has little to do. It is accused of creating a corridor of pro-Iranian states from Tehran to the Mediterranean, posing an existential threat to Israel and the Gulf monarchies. The Iran nuclear deal of 2015 is to be dropped by Donald Trump because it has supposedly done nothing to avert these dangers, possibly leaving military action as the only option.

Iranian influence has certainly expanded but only thanks to a series of disastrous US-led military interventions since the start of the millennium. In early 2001 Iran was isolated with Afghanistan to the east under the rule of the Taliban, whose Sunni sectarianism inspired them with hatred of Shia  Iran whose diplomats they casually murdered. Iran’s neighbour to the west was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, with whom it had fought a ferocious eight-year war.

All this was to change in two years: in 2001 the US overthrew the Taliban, though it was never able to defeat them permanently or stabilise the rule of its local Afghan allies. In 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq, bringing to power the first Shia government in the Arab world since the days of Saladin and one which inevitably looked to their fellow Shia in Iran.

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“Creating Wealth” Through Debt: the West’s Finance-Capitalist Road 

“Creating Wealth” Through Debt: the West’s Finance-Capitalist Road 

Photo source David Shankbone | CC BY 2.0

Volumes II and III of Marx’s Capital describe how debt grows exponentially, burdening the economy with carrying charges. This overhead is subjecting today’s Western finance-capitalist economies to austerity, shrinking living standards and capital investment while increasing their cost of living and doing business. That is the main reason why they are losing their export markets and becoming de-industrialized.

What policies are best suited for China to avoid this neo-rentier disease while raising living standards in a fair and efficient low-cost economy? The most pressing policy challenge is to keep down the cost of housing. Rising housing prices mean larger and larger debts extracting interest out of the economy. The strongest way to prevent this is to tax away the rise in land prices, collecting the rental value for the government instead of letting it be pledged to the banks as mortgage interest.

The same logic applies to public collection of natural resource and monopoly rents. Failure to tax them away will enable banks to create debt against these rents, building financial and other rentier charges into the pricing of basic needs.

U.S. and European business schools are part of the problem, not part of the solution. They teach the tactics of asset stripping and how to replace industrial engineering with financial engineering, as if financialization creates wealth faster than the debt burden. Having rapidly pulled ahead over the past three decades, China must remain free of rentier ideology that imagines wealth to be created by debt-leveraged inflation of real-estate and financial asset prices.

Western capitalism has not turned out the way that Marx expected. He was optimistic in forecasting that industrial capitalists would gain control of government to free economies from unnecessary costs of production in the form of rent and interest that increase the cost of living (and hence, the break-even wage level).

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Deep State 101: A Primer and Prescription

Deep State 101: A Primer and Prescription

Every nation worth its salt has a deep state, a loose network of rich and powerful players who ratify, veto or formulate state social, economic and military policies. Whether monarchy, dictatorship, or constitutional republic, no government worthy of the name lacks for a shadowy unelected elite with hands on the tiller and in the till, influential persons with inherited or recent wealth, upper crust social connections, and old school ties, often found sitting on boards of directors and golf carts in isolated settings.

Like Sandhill Cranes, they are rare and difficult to spot in their habitats, seamlessly blending as they do with their inaccessible surroundings. Amongst themselves, however, they are highly convivial. Partial to receptions, they bibulate and circulate as they joust over canapés. Not to worry they are but degenerates just killing time, important things get done under the buzz. Small talk can have big consequences and decadent environs make deal-making a sport.

Mostly these birds are captains of industry and lords of finance with close ties to useful acolytes in law enforcement, armed services, academia, NGOs, charities, and publishing and mass media. They vet and replace politicians in so-called democracies, knowing that elected officials are too unreliable and the populace too fickle and ignorant of the ways of the world to perpetuate proper governance on their own.

Meddling in affairs of a deep state by the uninitiated is to be eschewed and may be heavily sanctioned, lest intemperate initiatives capsize the ship of state that for generations has been carefully provisioned and cunningly piloted to transport treasure to home ports. Too, they eschew taxation, preferring to direct their resources to projects that will rebound to their own benefit. Should it take a war to maintain or expand their influence, it can be arranged, followed by a fragile peace to consolidate gains and gird the nation for the next remunerative conflict.

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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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