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Month: October 2016 (page 1 of 2)

The DN Deets for 19 September 2016

Back in the saddle, my friends. Here is the first installment of DN Deets*, an update on the activity associated with Doubtful News, your skeptic-at-large Editor, Sharon Hill (@idoubtit), and interesting things you may want to check out.

I appeared on this week?s The Skeptic Zone ? the Australian podcast for Science and Reason ? talking about the return of Doubtful News, scary clowns and upcoming events. Direct download of MP3 here. Check it out.

Pick up the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer with my name on the cover with all those other more famous people. I contributed an essay for the 40th anniversary of the magazine on the current state of the skeptical community. Hint: it needs a REBOOT.


Those within driving distance to Washington, D.C., join me with the National Capital Area Skeptics on a walking tour of the city highlighting some spooky stories just in time for Halloween. Check out SkepTours and RSVP to join us on the evening of October 20 for the I Ain?t Afraid of No Ghost Tour.

Looking for some cryptozoological comedy? Check out the return of (one of my fave actors) Rhys Darby and David Farrier as the put up a new podcast episode of The Cryptid Factor. And don?t take it seriously. Listen here.

Also recommended is The Folklore Podcast, a series that has an academic but entertaining flavor with coverage of Victorian ghost hoaxes, black dogs, Slenderman and more.

Stay tuned as DN staff gets their shiz together for a new project coming soon. Delays, delays?Marvin

If you are new to Doubtful News check out a presentation by me from 2014.

?Deets?, meaning ?details?. Definition here.

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European Commission rules Poland has to suspend new retailer tax


The European Commission has opened an investigation into Poland?s new retailer tax and issued an injunction stating that Poland has to suspend it as sees the progressive rate of the tax and varying tax-free amounts for different-size retailers as inadmissible state aid.

?The Commission has opened an in-depth investigation into a Polish tax on the retail sector,? the statement said. ?The Commission has concerns that the progressive rates based on turnover give companies with a low turnover a selective advantage over their competitors in breach of EU state aid rules.?

For the full story, please visit The Warsaw Voice.

(Photo: Carlos Sillero/



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Bulgarian President Plevneliev: Battle for UN Secretary-General post ?unpredictable?

plevneliev un photo un photo Cia Pak

Bulgaria?s battle for the post of United Nations Secretary-General is extremely difficult and currently unpredictable, President Rossen Plevneliev said in New York at a meeting with the Bulgarian community.

Plevneliev is in New York for the opening session of the UN General Assembly, which he is due to address on September 22, four days before the UN Security Council holds its fifth ?straw poll? on the candidates to head the world body.

He was speaking close to a week after Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said that, in spite of media reports, Irina Bokova remained Bulgaria?s candidate. However, Borissov said, if Bokova did not win one of the top two places in the straw poll on September 26, his government would reconsider the question.

Within Bulgaria and elsewhere in Europe, there is significant backing for replacing Bokova with Kristalina Georgieva, the Bulgarian vice-president of the European Commission, or possibly nominating Georgieva, in the name of countries other than Bulgaria, as an alternative candidate.

Bokova has done poorly in the first four straw polls, gaining at best a joint third position. In the most recent vote, she placed fifth.

Plevneliev told the Bulgarian community in New York that Bulgaria had a ?worthy candidate? and was supporting that candidate in this race.

On September 16, in an interview with public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, Plevneliev ? asked about the Bulgarian candidacy for the UN job ? said that it was up to the Bulgarian government to decide on the candidate.

?The Bulgarian government has said very clearly who the candidate is, and the entire Bulgarian candidate is standing behind (that candidate) and working for (the candidate),? Plevneliev said.

He said that Bokova was the Bulgarian candidate. ?The government has its candidate, and I am working with that candidate. As head of state, I will work to the very last second with the Bulgarian candidate for the UN,? Plevneliev said.

(Photo: UN Photo/Cia Pak)



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News Briefs: This week?s Clown Show

wasco clownMy stars, it was a busy news week! We can?t cover all the doubtful news rolling out every day. Here are a few extra links from the Doubtful News Twitter and Facebook feeds related to themes and past stories we?ve featured. Feel free to throw in additional information in the comments. Send suggested stories to or on via Twitter @doubtfulnews. Thanks for your support. It?s good to be back.

The threatening clowns reported by witnesses in three southern US states have yet to be verified as real but copy cats have been caught playing up the fears on social media, even to the point of disrupting schools.  Hale County schools on soft lock down due to clown threats on social media and Teens found with clown mask in McDuffie helps put community at ease.

The clown show of US Presidential politics continues as Trump admits Obama was born in U.S., but falsely blames Clinton for starting rumors. Trump FINALLY admitted there was no basis to the ridiculous Bircher allegations but then backpedals on his newly acquired admissions of truth by asserting Hillary Clinton started the rumors. Many media outlets have checked on this assertion in the last few years and found no substantiation of that statement. Trump?s pants frequently seem to be on fire.

World Famous Exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth Dies at 91. Amorth performed over 70,000 exorcisms in his career and was often asked by the media to comment on cases about exorcisms. He was the Catholic Church?s leading cheerleader for the use of exorcisms. Amorth was a controversial figure, obviously, declaring that Harry Potter and yoga were evil and that the devil was at work in the Vatican itself. He was sometimes referred to an ?official ? exorcist of the Vatican but was only serving in capacity of the diocese of Rome.

50 Years Ago, Sugar Industry Quietly Paid Scientists To Point Blame At Fat. In a scenario that sounds reminiscent of the tobacco and fossil fuel industries, the sugar industry plotted to influence scientists and research studies to suggest sugar wasn?t as bad for you as it actually is.

Sorry David Attenborough, we didn?t evolve from ?aquatic apes? ? here?s why. Nature documentarian Sir David Attenborough buys into pseudoscientific theory that man evolved from aquatic apes. It?s a 55 year old idea that has overwhelming evidence against it and has been long-discarded as viable by evolution researchers.

Chinese actress Xu Ting dies of cancer after opting for alternative medicine instead of chemotherapy. Cupping, acupuncture and skin scraping shouldn?t be viable options for cancer treatment but they are and people die. Xu Ting was only 26 and died from lymphoma, which is treatable with chemotherapy. She wasn?t stupid, she was deeply misinformed about the efficacy of these nonsense treatments.

A movie is in the works about the famous Winchester family, in which the heiress of the rifle family business is haunted by people killed by the firearm. Jason Clarke to Star Opposite Helen Mirren in Thriller ?Winchester?.

Sweden?s self-described witch hunter caught. A man who escaped a psychiatric ward and plotted to kill his brother in law and dozens of other people, has been caught.

Finally, Uri Geller wants attention so bad, he put out a silly idea about why Donald Trump will be the next president, using incredibly irrational and goofy numerology. But, hey, at least it?s not Donald J. Trump. So we can rest easier.


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Shop Till You Drop

For a small but fervid subset of Americans, weekends are devoted to preparing for the end of weekends. Whether it?s canning vegetables, stocking the bunker, or drilling the kids in target practice, survivalists maintain a constant state of readiness for whatever doomsday scenario?zombie attack, electromagnetic pulse, coordinated FEMA takeover?they believe will bring about the end of the world as we know it. It?s a pastime that rewards obsessives: Every detail, no matter how small, could wind up being a matter of life and death. ?You can readjust the cans on your shelf, count the cans on your shelf,? says Richard Mitchell, a sociologist who has been studying survivalist subcultures since the 1980s. ?Counting is very popular. Everybody loves to count.?

From the start, survivalism has been infused, either implicitly or explicitly, with a criticism of modern society. The movement?s first wave was sparked in the early 1970s by the Arab oil embargo and the growing fear of nuclear war. Since then, survivalism has been fueled by everything from avian flu and the Y2K computer bug to September 11 and climate change. The shared belief is that civilization faces imminent collapse; the shared goal is to survive the chaos and be in the best position to recover. It?s a story of doom, but also of hope: Survivalists, in the end, are the heroes who emerge to rebuild our shattered world. ?Survivalism confronts modernity and finds trouble,? Mitchell writes in his study Dancing at Armageddon, ?but trouble with possibilities.?

Now, however, survivalism itself is being exploited by the very forces it seeks to escape. In recent years, a growing number of companies have rushed to capitalize on the deep-seated fears that drive survivalists, hoping to cash in on the end of the world. Anxiety, after all, is one of the most fundamental drivers of commerce?and who?s more anxious than someone who is convinced that doomsday is near?

Survivalism?s push into the mainstream picked up steam in 2012, when the National Geographic Channel premiered Doomsday Preppers, a reality show centered on Americans preparing for what?s known as a shtf (shit-hits-the-fan) scenario. Preppers quickly became the most-watched show in the channel?s history, and spawned popular spin-offs like Doomsday Bunkers (think home-renovation show, but with armored blast doors instead of open-plan kitchens). The shows were part of a wave of entertainment that took a decidedly apocalyptic turn, from movies like The Road and World War Z to television shows like The Walking Dead and The Last Man on Earth, which depicts the lighter side of what survivalists call TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World As We Know It).

?Preppers,? as National Geographic dubbed them, are more of a market than a movement. If being a survivalist is about acquiring skills, whether it?s starting a fire without matches or defending yourself against marauding enemies, then being a prepper is about accumulating stuff. Ambient, insatiable anxiety makes preppers ideal consumers; they?re always scrambling to achieve a better state of preparedness.

A growing number of companies have rushed to capitalize on the deep-seated fears that drive survivalists.

Mass marketers have taken notice. Prepper-centric shows don?t just feature survival gear?they directly profit from it. Doomsday Preppers, for example, is sponsored by Wise Food Storage, a purveyor of freeze-dried meats and other ?emergency foods.? On the show?s web site, there?s a quiz that purports to tell you how long you can expect to survive in a SHTF world based on how many MREs you?ve stockpiled and whether or not you have body armor. Even the advanced-level preppers featured on the show are never ready enough: At the end of each segment, they?re graded on their preparedness level, and few score more than 80 out of 100.

While many prepper products offer buyers the feeling of being prepared, their actual utility in a post-disaster world is questionable. The prepper?s essential accessory is the ?bug-out bag??a backpack you keep stocked with everything you?d need to survive for 72 hours. A cheap one that retails for $25 might come with an emergency blanket, ear plugs, and a fishing line. High-end ones, which can set you back as much as $700, include a Bear Grylls?brand fire starter, a crank radio, and a pocket chainsaw. If you want to stock your own bug-out bag, you can opt for gas masks from China that cost less than $20, or pay at least 20 times that much for one that ostensibly protects against nuclear agents. There are heated debates within the prepper community about what actually counts as a necessity. A lengthy article on recommends stocking a bug-out bag with a computer tablet and micro-SD cards loaded with books and movies, because ?survival is boring.?

The intrusion of corporate interests into the survivalist scene hasn?t pleased those who take their doomsday scenarios seriously. Rob Richardson, a self-styled survival expert based outside of Las Vegas, founded the web site Offgrid Survival in 2007. Over the next six years, he built Offgrid into one of the most popular survivalist sites, offering practical, real-world tips like ?How to Protect Yourself from Violent Mobs of Criminals.?

Then, in 2013, a Los Angeles?based media conglomerate called The Enthusiast Network?the publisher of Motor Trend and Surfer?launched a glossy quarterly called Offgrid Magazine. On Richardson?s Offgrid site, TEOTWAWKI involves FEMA and Obama and Muslim terrorists. In Offgrid Magazine, all political content has been neatly excised. Its imagined Armageddons involve bipartisan disasters like alien attacks and plane crashes?the better to sell expensive water filters to consumers of all political persuasions.

Richardson took his corporate rival to court, claiming copyright infringement. As he sees it, the brand he built over the years with calls to prepare for martial law is being capitalized on?and watered down?by a bunch of urban wannabes who don?t even give good survival advice. ?If you look at the magazine,? he fumes, ?you can tell it?s written by people who have no clue about preparedness for survival.?

Richardson isn?t the only survivalist using the legal system to wage war against corporate intruders. Cody Lundin, a survival instructor, is suing the Discovery Channel for defamation after he was kicked off the show Dual Survival as a co-host. As Lundin explained to TV Guide, ?You?re dealing with people who have no experience in my profession who are making a show on survival skills.?

But stoking people?s fears is what capitalists do best?even if they wind up scaring themselves in the process. The CEO of told BuzzFeed last year that he has a 30-day food supply and $10 million in precious metals hidden away near the company?s Utah headquarters, just in case the U.S. economic system suffers a total meltdown.

Whatever the prepper industry is selling?mini-crossbows, sailboats to withstand an electromagnetic pulse, a simplified fantasy of control in an increasingly complex world?people are buying. At a recent prepper trade show in Irving, Texas, hosted by the National Self-Reliance Organization, staff coordinators had to turn away would-be vendors due to overwhelming demand for space. ?People are loving this stuff,? says Taylor McClendon, the group?s event management coordinator. ?We emptied all the ATMs in the building.?

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Indonesian Medco Energi Acquires 40% Stake in Natuna Sea Block

September 19th, 2016 2:45pm Posted In: Natural Gas News, News By Country, Corporate, Exploration & Production, Natural Gas News Asia, Indonesia

Indonesia?s Medco Energi Internasional has signed a share sale and purchase agreement to acquire ConocoPhillips Indonesia and ConocoPhillips Singapore Operations, both subsidiaries of ConocoPhillips.

ConocoPhillips Indonesia is the operator of the South Natuna Sea Block B PSC (SNSB) with a 40% working interest and is the operator of the West Natuna Transportation System (WNTS). ConocoPhillips Singapore Operations operates the onshore receiving facility (ORF) in Singapore. ?The WNTS infrastructure together with the Malaysian pipeline is, and will continue to be the focal point for the commercialisation of existing discoveries and ongoing exploration activities within the Natuna area. The transaction is expected to complete in Q4 2016,? Medco said September 19.

The acquisition will add substantial gas and liquids reserves and increase company?s daily production by over 35%. It did not disclose any financial details of the deal. Other partners in the SNSB are Japan?s Inpex and Chevron.

Five fields in SNSB, which is located off the northwest coast of Borneo, produce natural gas, and two fields produce crude oil. Net daily production during 2015 averaged 5,000 barrels of liquids and 66mn ft ³of natural gas, according to Chevron?s website.

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Humber monster surfaces in the media to attract tourists

This week?s media monster is the Humber monster, a Nessie-type creature (aren?t they all) that is being featured in the usual array of tabloids and on clickbait mystery sites. I?m not sure why it?s shown up now (silly summer season?) but I?d bet it?s deliberate. There is no new or good evidence that there ever was a ?monster? or sea serpent in the area. It?s just a good old typical monster tale.

The legend of the animal of River Humber in Hull, East Yorkshire, in the north of England, describes the creature with ?a head the size of an elephant?s, six humps and terrifying flashing eyes?. Whatever. There is no animal that resembles that description.

Mike Covell of the Museum of Hull has done some research on the topic.

Between the years of 1920 and 1936, the Hull press was full of newspaper reports of sea monsters in the Humber and along the East Yorkshire Coast!  For the past decade I have been collating these reports and studying the sightings, which were probably mistaken for whales and porpoises, but they make for interesting reading, especially when you realise that playing a central part in the story, and using the ?Sea Serpent Scare? to boost tourist figures in the Hull Museums was Thomas Sheppard.

A more colorful version of Covell?s blog is available here.

The legend first appeared in public in the May 1886 Hull Daily Mail. When sea serpents and the Loch Ness Monster were all the rage, Hull capitalized on its own beastie. The Humber monster today follows the same well-worn path of water critters, used to drum up attention and tourism for its host town.

Thomas Sheppard, first curator of the Hull Municipal museum, assumed the role (sometime after 1938) that Marmaduke Wetherell made famous at Loch Ness in 1933 ? that is, foot print hoaxer for media attention. Sheppard used an elephant?s foot waste basket to make prints in the shore sand to garner media attention and, ultimately attract interest in the Hull museums. Wetherell had used a hippo-foot umbrella stand to make prints at Loch Ness. Sheppard?s elephant foot is on display at the Hull Museums.

So, we can see this story is neither new nor original. It?s the typical local monster template complete with exaggerated headlines that periodically appear during slow news times and the usual guy who wants to bring tourists to town.

Google news results today for Humber Monster.

Google news results today for Humber Monster.

In the recent set of articles (all regurgitating the same stuff), Covell, who didn?t seem at all convinced the Humber creature was any unusual animal, is playing along, setting up the ?Humber Monster Watch group to patrol the river?s shores in a new hunt for the monster.? Good luck with that. Note that Hull has been named the UK City of Culture for 2017, a means to improve social and economic benefits for the area. It needs a resident monster tale to make it more dramatic, I guess.

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All the Rage

On November 9, the day after this year?s election, Donald Trump may well join Bernie Sanders as a footnote to U.S. history. But that doesn?t mean that their candidacies will vanish without a trace. In a decade or two, American politics may look as strange to us as the conservative politics of the 1980s looked from the liberal vantage point of the 1960s. And part of the reason will be Trump and Sanders, and what they revealed about the soft underbelly of our political system.

Trump and his followers are regularly denounced as fascist, nativist, misogynist, and racist. ?We want him off the stage,? political scientist Peter Dreier declared in August, ?and we want his racist followers to know that they represent a tiny sliver of America.? Sanders was dismissed by Clinton backers and Republicans as a ?utopian socialist? whose supporters were ?naïve idealists.? But such simplistic dismissals overlook something essential about both men?s campaigns?and about the impact they are likely to have.

Leaving aside his bilious nature, his preening self-absorption, and his casual bigotry, Trump represents a tradition of American populism that dates back to the 1880s. So does Sanders. And in America, populist campaigns, movements, and parties have played a vital role: Their ascendancy serves as an early warning signal that the political consensus uniting the country?and the leadership of both major parties?is breaking up. Populist campaigns have prefigured, provoked, and sometimes precipitated political realignments. To understand why the forces unleashed by Trump and Sanders will outlast their campaigns, you have to understand American populism.

There are as many meanings of populism as there are of liberalism and conservatism. Sometimes the term is simply used as a synonym for popularity. Sometimes business lobbies like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity borrow populism?s language of anti-elitism to camouflage their self-interest. But there is a political tradition in America that begins with the Farmers? Alliances of the 1880s and the People?s Party of 1892 (whose adherents coined the term populist) and extends down through Huey Long and George Wallace, to Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan, to the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, and finally to Trump and Sanders.

The central feature of all these populist campaigns has been the attempt to champion ?the people? against an elite or establishment. But how the people and the elite are defined has changed with the campaigns. The People?s Party represented ?the plain people? against the ?plutocracy,? Huey Long the ?poor man? against the ?money power,? Wallace ?the man in the street? against ?big government,? Trump the ?silent majority? against the ?special interests,? and Sanders ?we the people? against the ?billionaire class.?

But there is another element of populism that is less understood, one that divides the tradition into two distinct political strains. In the left-wing strain, epitomized by Long, Perot, Occupy Wall Street, and Sanders, populists champion the people against the elites. In the right-wing strain, it?s also the people versus the elites?but the elites are attacked for coddling and subsidizing a third ?out group,? such as African Americans (Wallace) or immigrants who have entered the country illegally (Buchanan, the Tea Party, and Trump).

What distinguishes populists from conservatives and liberals? It?s all in the kind of demands they make. Conservatives and liberals advocate for incremental changes that are subject to negotiation and compromise?raising the minimum wage by $2 an hour, say, or eliminating the Affordable Care Act?s tax on medical devices. Populists, by contrast, make demands that would be turned down flat by the country?s current political leadership. Long wanted to create a guaranteed annual income. The Tea Party wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Trump wants a 45 percent tariff on goods from runaway shops. Sanders wants ?Medicare for all.? By their very nature, such immediate, unrealizable demands create a divide between the people and the powers that be.

Most of the time, the American electoral system works to ensure that political demands remain both incremental and negotiable. Our winner-takes-all approach discourages third parties, and the two-party system rewards candidates who move to the center in national races. The center itself is usually defined by a broad consensus that delineates the relationship between the government and the economy, as well as America?s place in the world. After the Civil War, for instance, a consensus that government should chiefly promote industrial expansion persisted, with some deviations, from 1872 to 1932; after the New Deal, a consensus on welfare capitalism endured until 1980. A consensus lasts as long as it fulfills a promise of peace and prosperity. Once it does not, the United States enters a political crisis.

The rise of populist movements indicates that a prevailing world view is breaking down. Ignited by the farm crisis that swept the South and West in the 1880s, the original People?s Party defied the laissez-faire consensus of the day, demanding that the railroads be nationalized and farm debt reduced. At the onset of the Great Depression, Long?s demands for economic equality pressured Franklin Roosevelt into undertaking the second New Deal, which established the modern welfare state. In the ?60s, Wallace attacked the extension of public benefits and civil rights to blacks, precipitating the end of the consensus in Washington about civil rights, welfare, and taxes, and bringing about the realignment of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

So what world view is under assault by populism today? Trump and Sanders both reflect the growing public dissatisfaction with the political consensus that supplanted New Deal liberalism after Ronald Reagan?s landslide victory in 1980. In Europe, it?s called ?neo-liberalism.? In the United States, it might more accurately be called ?market liberalism.? Forged in reaction to the protracted economic slowdown that began in the 1970s, it has prioritized growth over equity?with the promise, as Reagan put it, that a ?rising tide would lift all boats.? It has promoted free trade and capital mobility (including outsourcing), labor mobility (including immigration), tax reductions on business and the wealthy, deregulation of finance, and fiscal restraint (to keep taxes down). It has retained, but punched large holes in, the ?safety net? created under the prior New Deal consensus.

The consensus of market liberalism was put in place by Reagan and a new generation of Republican conservatives, backed by traditional GOP business interests and members of the white working class. Although many Democrats initially resisted market liberalism, the ?new Democrats? led by Bill Clinton soon embraced the emerging consensus on business tax cuts, free trade, increased immigration, and financial deregulation. American politics entered a new stage of normalcy.

The first populist rebellion against market liberalism came in the wake of the 1990?91 recession and the weak recovery that followed. Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire, promised ?to make America work again.? He attacked the North American Free Trade Agreement for inducing U.S. corporations to move south of the border. ?We must stop shipping manufacturing jobs overseas,? Perot declared, ?and once again make the words ?Made in the USA? the world?s standard of excellence.? In June 1992, Perot led both George H.W. Bush and Clinton in presidential polls, but he undermined his own campaign by withdrawing and then re-entering the race with only a month to go.

While Perot arose from the center-left of the political spectrum, another rebellion was brewing on the right. In the 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns, former Reagan aide Pat Buchanan railed against illegal immigration and condemned ?the hired men of the Money Power? for NAFTA, runaway shops, and globalization. ?What has global competition done for the quality of life of Middle America?? Buchanan asked. ?What, after all, is an economy for, if not for its people??

The current incarnations of populism represented by Trump and Sanders bubbled up with the onset of the Great Recession. In the wake of the financial crash, the first populist rebellion took place among Tea Party activists. Most were small-business owners or members of the white working-class who had escaped the worst effects of the recession, but who bitterly resented policies that forced them to subsidize what they saw as the undeserving poor, including illegal immigrants, as well as reckless speculators on Wall Street and poorly run auto companies in Detroit. At first, the Tea Party targeted the Obama administration. But after it helped elect a Republican Congress?which failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act?the Tea Party?s activists turned their fury on their own party.

On the left, the first populist stirrings were expressed by Occupy Wall Street in the fall of 2011. The movement was composed primarily of college-educated young people, burdened by student debt, uncertain of their future, and angry that Obama had let Wall Street and the wealthy off the hook for the Great Recession. The Occupy movement lasted only a few months, but its attack on economic inequality as an outgrowth of market liberalism had a profound political impact. After the Occupy demonstrations, Obama turned against the precepts of market liberalism. That December, the president began his re-election campaign with a speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, where he took aim at a new ?kind of inequality that we haven?t seen since the Great Depression.?

The two uprisings?Occupy and the Tea Party?typified the left-wing and right-wing strains of populism. An extensive poll in October 2011 found that followers of both movements overwhelmingly agreed that ?government is too controlled by special interests.? But the poll underscored their differences. Eighty-two percent of Occupy supporters agreed that there is ?too much inequality in America,? compared to only 26 percent of Tea Party activists. Occupy viewed equality as a way to redistribute the wealth of the top one percent to everyone else. The Tea Party saw that concern about economic equality as justifying an attempt to equalize income between the rich and poor by taxing the middle. Those two expressions of populism soon found new homes, in the campaigns of Trump and Sanders.

Ever since Trump declared his candidacy, his campaign has regularly been described as ?unprecedented.? But it fits squarely within the American populist tradition. The only thing unprecedented is Trump?s degree of success: He is the first populist since William Jennings Bryan to gain the nomination of a major political party.

Trump?s populism isn?t unprecedented?just the degree of his success.

Trump?s political style is entirely within the populist tradition. Huey Long, George Wallace, and Ross Perot were also compared to fascists and accused of being would-be dictators. Like them, Trump is a charismatic leader who appears to put himself above party, representing himself as the voice of the people against the elite. In a January campaign ad?titled simply ?The Establishment??Trump sits behind a desk. ?The establishment, the media, the special interests, the lobbyists, the donors?they?re all against me,? he declares. ?I?m self-funding my campaign. I don?t owe anybody anything. I only owe it to the American people to do a great job.? In his acceptance speech at the GOP convention, Trump assured ?the forgotten men and women of our country? that ?I am your voice.?

Trump has struck at some of market liberalism?s key tenets. He has attacked NAFTA and other trade deals for sacrificing American jobs, and revived the economic nationalism of Ross Perot?and sometimes the very language he used?by denouncing U.S. corporations for moving overseas. ?Our jobs are being sucked out of our state,? he complained during the New York primary. ?They?re being sucked out of our country, and we?re not going to let that happen any more.?

Even after Trump had wrapped up the Republican nomination in May, and would have been expected to make his peace with the Republican business class, he persisted in attacking market liberalism. In a June speech on ?The Stakes of the Election,? Trump appealed to Sanders supporters to back him:

Because it?s not just the political system that?s rigged. It?s the whole economy. It?s rigged by big donors who want to keep down wages. It?s rigged by big businesses who want to leave our country, fire our workers, and sell their products back into the U.S. with absolutely no consequences for them…. It?s rigged against you, the American people.

Trump?s harsh, nativist views on illegal immigration, Mexicans, and Muslims are also far from unprecedented. In 1894, the People?s Party Paper denounced Chinese immigrants as ?moral and social lepers,? and a year later, Kansas populist Mary Elizabeth Lease warned of a ?tide of Mongols.? In blaming illegal immigration for crime, rising social costs, and declining wages, Trump is following Pat Buchanan and the Tea Party. But he has also drawn attention to market liberalism?s support for low-wage legal immigration, which he promises to reduce, and for high-tech guest workers. Trump has pledged to ?put American workers first.?

Trump?s foreign policy views have been attributed in large part to his affinity for Russian president Vladimir Putin. But as far back as 1987, Trump was urging burden-sharing among America?s NATO allies. His insistence that ?the United States cannot afford to be the policeman of the world anymore,? and that ?we have to rebuild our own country,? echoes both Perot and Buchanan. (?Our highest foreign policy priority is to get our house in order and make America work again,? Perot declared in 1992.) Trump?with considerably less knowledge of its isolationist background?adopted Buchanan?s ?America First? slogan to describe his foreign policy.

Like Trump, Bernie Sanders does not call himself a populist. While he?s admitted to being a ?democratic socialist,? he prefers to be called a ?progressive.? His proposals were modeled in part on European social democracy and American progressivism, but his approach was fundamentally that of a populist. Unlike traditional socialists, Sanders did not claim to represent ?the working class,? but a broader group; unlike progressives, he did not seek to reconcile class interests within a democratic pluralism. Instead, he advanced demands for Medicare for all, free tuition at public colleges, the reinstatement of Wall Street regulations repealed during the Clinton administration, and public financing for political campaigns?demands that established a sharp divide between ?the people? and political leaders in Washington.

Trump and Sanders remind us that parties inevitably reject their old identities.

Sanders rejected NAFTA and subsequent trade deals, as did Trump, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the Obama administration negotiated and that Hillary Clinton initially backed. ?I do not believe in unfettered free trade,? Sanders explained in a February debate. ?I believe in fair trade that works for the middle class and working families, not just for multinational corporations.? Again like Trump, Sanders also criticized ?corporations that take their jobs to China.? But he diverged sharply from Trump on illegal immigration, supporting a ?path to citizenship? for migrants who entered the country without proper authorization.

Sanders and Trump also differed in their political bases. Most of Trump?s followers are white workers?the same voting bloc that backed George Wallace in 1968 and 1972. Sociologist Donald Warren describes them as ?middle-American radicals? who believe that the establishment has sold them out for those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. Sanders drew his main support from young voters who in the early 2000s had begun voting en masse for Democrats??first over social issues, then over opposition to the war in Iraq, and finally over economics and the Great Recession. They saw in Sanders someone who shared their anger?and who, unlike Hillary Clinton, offered a compelling vision of the future.

Clinton supporters dismissed Sanders?s proposals as politically unrealistic and economically flawed. ?Sanders really does have a singularly naïve and simpleminded understanding of American politics,? scoffed Michael Cohen, a former Clinton-administration speechwriter. (Similar charges have long been made against populists; in 1935, the NEW REPUBLIC rhetorically asked Huey Long, ?Upon what statistics of economic studies do you base your conclusions??) While it was true that the details (and costs) of Sanders?s proposals often didn?t add up, it was certainly conceivable that the United States could enact them?after all, Canada and several European countries have ?Medicare for all.? What made them seem unrealistic was their challenge to the market liberal consensus on fiscal restraint and redistribution.

Unlike Trump, Sanders never contended, as his liberal critics suggested, that if he were elected president, he could enact the changes he advocated. ?If we are going to transform America,? he said last November in Las Vegas, ?we need a political revolution. Millions of people have to stand up and get involved in the political process in a way we have not in many, many years.?

Perhaps ?revolution? was too strong a word. But Sanders?s point was that breaking with market liberalism would require a radical departure from politics as usual. It would require, in short, a populist revolt.

In 1968, George Wallace ran as an independent, siphoning off votes primarily from Democrats in both North and South, and carrying five Southern states. At the time, it was unimaginable that the blue-collar workers who had formed the bulwark of the New Deal majority would bolt from the Democratic Party and help Republicans create a conservative majority for market liberalism. But Wallace?s populist appeal was a sign of what was to come: The parties realigned, and a new world view replaced the old.

Nearly half a century later, are Trump and Sanders playing a similar role? And if so, what will America?s new political parties?and its new political consensus?look like?

The answer, in part, depends on the economy. The first populist assault on market liberalism, championed by the Perot and Buchanan crusades of the ?90s, was beaten back by the internet boom. If today?s mild recovery gives way to another boom, Trump and Sanders?s populism could conceivably retreat into political background noise?waiting to be reawakened, with new political champions, after the next economic plunge.

But a new boom is unlikely. The recovery is fragile. Because market liberalism has left us with huge trade deficits, the United States relies on countries like China, Japan, and Germany to prop up our economy and sustain our financial sector by using their trade surpluses to buy U.S. government bonds or properties. That arrangement, which helped fuel the housing bubble that burst in 2007, broke down after the financial crash. As China?s growth slows, and as Europe fails to bounce back from the Great Recession, the chances of a buoyant American recovery are slim. What?s more likely is another downturn, which will keep the fires of discontent burning brightly well past November.

That discontent will continue to roil both parties. Trump?s candidacy has driven a wedge in the long-standing Republican coalition between business leaders and the white working class. Even if Trump is soundly defeated by Hillary Clinton, the rift he?s opened in the party won?t be magically healed. Business Republicans will try to use his loss to discredit the Trumpian critique of market liberalism, the same way moderate Republicans made the case that Barry Goldwater?s landslide loss in 1964 meant his hard-line conservatism was a nonstarter. The establishment lost that argument, and it could lose again. Trump?s working-class supporters furiously reject the GOP?s support for free trade, overseas investment, and large-scale immigration, and they oppose Republican calls to privatize New Deal programs like Social Security and Medicare. And Trump, like Goldwater, will almost surely inspire less foolish, less unhinged imitators who can rally his troops in future elections and further divide the party.

Sanders?s campaign has already had a decisive impact on the Democratic Party, driving Hillary Clinton to distance herself from market liberalism. In her acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, she denounced ?unfair trade deals,? promised to ?stand up to China,? and vowed to punish corporations that ?ship their jobs overseas.? But despite such talk, Clinton is hardly a born-again populist, and her presidency won?t reconcile the party?s factions. Sanders himself may exert little personal influence after the election, but prominent Democrats like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown share his populist rejection of market liberalism. That sets up an ongoing struggle with the party?s backers on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.

How will this all shake out? One thing?s certain: There will be no ?populist agenda? that achieves landmark legislation. That?s not what populists do. Instead, they set the broader direction of political reform and realignment. And the movements unleashed by Trump and Sanders suggest that we?re headed toward a rejection of unfettered globalization. That will usher in, among other things, limits on free trade, stricter financial regulations, and more spending on large-scale infrastructure. It could also bring new restrictions on unskilled immigration.

What would this new economic nationalism mean for the political parties? If another downturn causes an even stronger upsurge in populism, it?s not inconceivable that Republican voters could end up driving out the Koch brothers and turning the GOP into a right-wing ?workers party,? as Trump has predicted. Or that the Democrats, even at the risk of alienating Wall Street and Silicon Valley, could embrace Sanders?s vision and once again become a home for the working-class whites who left them in the last great realignment.

It?s easy to throw cold water on such scenarios. Would the Republicans, the party of business for a century and a half, really slough off the bulk of their financial support? Would the Democrats, after years of embracing identity politics, actually be capable of reviving FDR?s universal approach to social and economic legislation?

But it?s always unfathomable, at any given moment, that the current political consensus could suddenly unravel, or that a major political party would dramatically reject its long-standing identity. Trump and Sanders remind us that such radical transformation is not only possible, but inevitable. Back in the 1960s, almost no one imagined, let alone predicted, that FDR?s New Deal legacy would be seized by a Goldwater acolyte like Ronald Reagan and transformed into something entirely new. It shouldn?t be hard to envision that another charismatic TV personality with a frighteningly simpleminded view of global affairs, or even an elderly Vermont socialist, could be harbingers and catalysts of another great crisis in American politics. That?s what populists do. They signal the arrival of the unimaginable.

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Saudi KAD Gets Major Saudi Gas Pipeline Project

September 20th, 2016 9:15am Posted In: Pipelines, Natural Gas News, News By Country, Saudi Arabia, Infrastructure, Natural Gas News Asia

Saudi KAD has been selected as engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning contractor for Saudi Aramco’s several strategic pipeline projects related to the Master Gas Program Phase II and the Fadhili Gas Program. 

When the project is completed in 2018, the Master Gas System capacity will increase to 12.5bn ft³/d, Saudi KAD said September 19.

The scope of these projects will entail the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning of a pipeline network totaling 1,118 km in length. These pipelines are expected to significantly expand Saudi Aramco’s capabilities for delivering sales gas to power plants and petrochemical facilities throughout the Kingdom.

The pipeline sizes will vary, with the biggest diameter reaching 56-inches and extending over a distance greater than 1,000 km. The scope also includes EPC work for valve stations, metering systems, launcher and receiver stations, fibre optic cables, as well as road and rail crossings, KAD said.

Saudi KAD is already engaged in executing Saudi Aramco’s Onshore Maintain Potential Program. The company said that all aspects of these projects will be executed in Saudi Arabia.

Shardul Sharma

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Iran’s Investment Programme Upstream, Downstream

September 19th, 2016 3:05pm Posted In: Natural Gas News, LNG, Featured Articles, Iran, External Analysts, Exploration & Production, Import/Export, Ministries, Regulation, Asia, Natural Gas News Asia

Iran?s oil industry is 108 years-old but it is only this summer celebrating its 50th anniversary. Despite that it accounts for 70% of the country?s primary energy.

Iran produces nearly 735mn m3 of gas/day from 23 gas fields and many more oilfields, most of which needs processing, for example to extract sulphur. The latest statistics put Iran?s annual processed gas production at 190bn m3/yr, or 520mn m3/d.

Iran has 50 independent gas fields, of which 23 are brownfield. The largest, South Pars, it shares with Qatar and accounts for half of both Iran?s gas reserves half its output. South Pars holds 14 trillion m3 of gas.

Since 2008, Iran has added 1.5 trillion m3 of gas to its reserves and has extracted 1.8 trillion m3 to date. There are no new statistics about the details of Iran?s gas reserves, but brownfield reserve and location are as shown in Table 1.

Dalga Khatinoglu, Pooya Nematollahi

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