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Zero Hedge

Superbugs & The Ultimate Economic Weapon: Food

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

The food-exporting superpowers are easy to identify.

As my esteemed colleague Michael Snyder chronicled in a recent Zero Hedge post, world agricultural production is under assault from extreme weather and diseases such as African swine fever. Floods & Drought Devastate Crops All Over The Planet; Is A Global Food Crisis Be Coming?

Everyone understands extreme weather is a danger to food production. The overuse of antibiotics is less well understood. As this article explains, most antibiotics are given to livestock, which then become breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant microbes, which are known as superbugs once they develop immunity to all conventional antibiotics.

Are antibiotics turning livestock into superbug factories?

Almost 80% of all antibiotics in the United States aren’t taken by people. They’re given to cows, pigs, and chickens to make them grow more quickly or as a cheap alternative to keeping them healthy. These drugs could give rise to superbugs—bacteria that can’t be treated with modern medicine—and things are only getting worse. In 2013, more than 131,000 tons of antibiotics were used in food animals worldwide; by 2030, it will be more than 200,000 tons.

Here's the problem with superbugs: you can't kill them with standard-issue antibiotics. They spread like wildfire through monoculture crops and livestock yards and kill with indiscriminate alacrity.

The only solution, poor as it is, is to kill every animal that might be infected--tens of millions or hundreds of millions in the case of African swine fever.

Pigs and chickens are breeding grounds for diseases that jump the low barrier between livestock and humans. So the superbug that starts out killing animals can, with generally modest genetic modifications via variability, start infecting and killing humans with the same alacrity.

Super scary: animal agriculture linked to global 'superbug' threat

How industrial farming techniques can breed superbugs

Superbugs to Kill More People than Cancer if Industrial Agriculture Doesn't Ditch Antibiotics and Pesticides

How Drug-Resistant Bacteria Travel from the Farm to Your Table Antibiotic-resistant bacteria from livestock pose a deadly risk to people. But the farm lobby won't let scientists track the danger.

A Mysterious Infection, Spanning the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy The rise of Candida auris embodies a serious and growing public health threat: drug-resistant germs.

While these articles focus on the dangers of superbugs to livestock and humans, superbugs are equally dangerous to cereal and other commodity crops. Blights, fungal pathogens and other plant disease vectors can arise that cannot be controlled by herbicides. Insects undergo genetic modification and become resistant to pesticides. As pesticides become more toxic, more systemic and more ubiquitous, they start killing or weakening the "good" insects global agriculture depends on--the pollinating insects.

Superbugs don't respect national or ideological borders. Every agricultural economy based on monocultures and mass use of antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides is vulnerable to superbugs.

As I've often noted here, centralization itself creates systemic vulnerabilities.A handful of industrial-scale super-farms raising monoculture crops and livestock are exquisitely vulnerable to the rise of superbugs. A thousand smaller farms and livestock operations that manage diseases without antibiotics and chemicals are more resilient, just as matter of distance from each other and the variability of genetic lineages in their crops and livestock.

As many others have pointed out, oil and food production are now essentially one system: industrial-scale agriculture depends on industrial fuels and petrochemical fertilizers; no oil and natural gas, no food.

But we can't eat oil. A nation might have the financial means to buy energy or be blessed with energy resources within its borders, but if superbugs wipe out much of its cereal and other commodity crops and its livestock, its people will go hungry.

And hungry people topple governments. Governments can lie about all sorts of statistics such as unemployment, GDP, inflation and so on, but a government that claims food is abundant when it is actually scarce is a government on its way to the dustbin of history.

The Bastille was torn down by a raging mob in Paris as bread prices skyrocketed beyond the reach of the poor.

So let's project what happens when some nations don't have enough food and others manage to have a surplus. Food becomes the ultimate economic weapon, as long as there's still enough energy to transport it from exporter to importer and distribute it to the hungry mobs.

As this chart from the World Bank shows, the world has enjoyed steadily increasing yields of cereals. Nobody expects a decline back to the levels of 20 years ago, but extreme weather and a handful of superbugs could very quickly reverse this upward trend.

The majority of many commodity crops feed livestock, not humans, and as a general rule it take five or more kilos of grain to produce one kilo of meat. No corn and soybeans, no meat.

Wheat and rice are staples of the human diet, and the exportable surpluses of wheat are concentrated in a few hands.

The same is true of soybeans, a source of protein in Asia and livestock feed everywhere. This chart shows the top producers and the top consumers.

The asymmetry between exporters and importers delineates the power implicit in food. Those with surpluses to sell hold power over those who need the surpluses to feed their restive, hungry populations.

The food-exporting superpowers are easy to identify: The U.S., Russia, Ukraine, France, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and weather permitting, Australia. This reduces down to three superpower regions: North America at the top, Russia and Ukraine, and Brazil and Argentina, with France replacing Germany as the continental superpower once food matters.

As for rice, the top exporters are India, Thailand and Vietnam. Recalibrate their potential power in the era of food scarcity accordingly.

It only seems farfetched to say that food will, with energy, redefine political power in the decades ahead because the superbugs haven't yet devastated global tradable food. Rivals without enough food will surrender power to those with scarce surpluses to use to reward allies and cripple enemies.

*  *  *

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Iran's Leadership "At Highest Level" Ordered Attacks On Pipeline, Tankers: Pentagon

The Pentagon says "the leadership of Iran at the highest level" ordered a spate of disruptive attacks over the past two weeks including attacks on an Aramco Saudi oil pipeline and pumping facilities, the recent sabotage of four tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, as well as a May 19 lone rocket attack on the US embassy in Baghdad's protected Green Zone. 

However, the Pentagon statements issued by Adm. Michael Gilday, director of the Joint Staff, on Friday offered absolutely nothing in terms of hard proof. That still didn't stop the war rhetoric from continuing: "Even more troubling: We have had multiple credible reports that Iranian proxy groups intend to attack U.S. personnel in the Middle East," Gilday said.

File photo of US troops positioned at Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq.

The military analysis site, Task & Purpose in a follow-up pressed the Pentagon to cite some level of evidence that Iran did indeed order attacks "at the highest levels." The response was issued as follows

"The Iranians said they were going to close the Strait of Hormuz," Gilday said. "The Iranians struck those tankers. The Iranians struck the pipeline facility in Saudi Arabia through their proxies in Yemen. We know they're tied directly to those proxies. We know they're tied directly to the proxies in Iraq that launched the rocket."

The Pentagon statements came on the heels of a Washington Post report saying the White House has agreed to send "roughly 2,000" additional troops to the Middle East to help protect American forces in the region and "monitor Iran" — as prior reports suggested in the days leading to Trump's Thursday meeting with Defense Department leaders. Follow-up statements have put the number at 1,500.

Trump met with Pentagon leaders Thursday evening where they decided to move ahead with the troop deployment to CENTCOM, which oversees all American troops in the Middle East.

“The deployment will include approximately 1,500 U.S. military personnel and consist of a Patriot battalion to defend against missile threats, additional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft, an engineer element to provide force protection improvements throughout the region and a fighter aircraft squadron to provide additional deterrence and depth to our aviation response options,” acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said in a written statement Friday.

Importantly, Adm. Gilday said Iran's series of attacks last week went straight to the top: “We believe with a high degree of confidence that this [recent attacks] stems back to the leadership in Iran at the highest levels,” he said.

However, given the original Pentagon plan reportedly pitched a total troop deployment of up to 10,000 additional forces to counter Iran in the Middle East, Trump's agreeing to a much humbler 1,500 appears a meager attempt to merely pacify the hawks without actually changing the playing field significantly.

Or rather, to put up the pretense and appearance of "doing something" without actually substantively escalating at all.

The president himself seemed to all but admit this in passing remarks to reporters as he left the White House for a trip to Japan: “We want to have protection in the Middle East. We’re going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective,” Trump said. “Some very talented people are going to the Middle East right now. And we’ll see what happens,” he added.

However, troop build-up in the region to any degree could prove explosive and extremely dangerous for the prospect of a broader conflagration, considering both the IRGC's recent terror designation, as well as Iran ally Syria coming under new chemical weapons scrutiny over fresh claims it used poison gas in a battle near Idlib on Sunday. 

Trump Strikes Back

Authored by James Howard Kunstler via Kunstler.com,

Not long ago, few Americans of the thinking persuasion might have imagined that such a well-engineered republic, with its exquisite checks and balances, sturdy institutions, and time-tested traditions would end up as so much smoldering goop in a national dumpster fire, but such is the sad state-of-the-union moving into the fateful summer of 2019. The castle of the permanent bureaucracy is about to be torched by an uprising of deplorable peasants led by a Golden Golem made furious by relentless litigation. It’s Game of Thrones meets the Thermidorian Reaction with a Weimar-flavored cherry on top — really one for the ages!

There’s perhaps a lot to dislike about Donald J. Trump, US President No. 45. Despite all the grooming and tailoring, there’s little savoir faire there. He tweets not like a mellifluous songbird, but in snorts like a rooting aardvark. His every predilection is an affront to the refined Washington establishment: his dark business history, his beloved ormolu trappings, his Mickey-D cheeseburgers, the mystifying hair-doo.

Even so, the bad faith of his antagonists exceeds even Mr. Trump’s defects and vices. The plot they concocted to get rid of him failed. And, yes, it was a plot, even a coup. And they fucked it up magnificently, leaving a paper trail as wide as Interstate-95. Now all that paper is about to fall over the District of Columbia like radioactive ash, turning many current and former denizens of rogue agencies into the walking dead as they embark on the dismal journey between the grand juries and the federal prisons.

Hence, the desperate rage of the impeachment faction, in direct proportion to their secret shameful knowledge that the entire RussiaGate melodrama was, in fact, a seditious subterfuge between the Hillary Clinton campaign and a great many key figures in government up-to-and-including former president Barack Obama, who could not have failed to be clued-in on all the action. Even before the declassification order, the true narrative of events has been plainly understood: that the US Intel “community” trafficked in fictitious malarkey supplied by Mrs. Clinton to illegally “meddle” in the 2016 election.

Most of the facts are already documented. Only a few details remain to be confirmed: for instance, whether international man-of-mystery and entrapment artist Josef Mifsud was in the employ of the CIA, and/or Britain’s MI6, and/or Mrs. Clinton’s Fusion GPS contractor (or Christopher Steele’s Orbis Business Intelligence company, a subcontractor to both Fusion GPS and the FBI). Questions will now be asked — though not by The New York Times.

The evidence already public indicates that Robert Mueller must have known as early as the date of his appointment (and likely before) that the predicating evidence for his inquiry was false. After all, his soon-to-be lead prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, was informed of that in no uncertain terms by his DOJ colleague, Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, in 2016. Justice may seek to know why Mr. Mueller did not inform the target of his inquiry that this was so. The answer to that may be that Mr. Mueller’s true mission was to disable Mr. Trump as long as possible while setting an obstruction of justice trap — which also failed tactically.

Notice that Mr. Mueller declined to testify before the House Judiciary Committee last week. Chairman Jerrold  Nadler (D-NY) was a fool to invite him. Did he not know that minority members of his committee get to ask questions too?

In an interesting turn of the screw last week, polling showed that a majority of those asked were in favor of investigations into the origin of the RussiaGate story. The FBI, being an agency under the direct supervision of the Attorney General, will be hosed out for sure. The CIA, on the other hand, has a sordid history of acting as a sovereign state within the state — hence the derivation of the Deep State. They are renowned for protecting their own. Remember, the Senate Minority Leader, Mr. Schumer, snidely told the incoming President Trump at the get-go that the Intel community “has six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” I guess we’ll finally get to see about that because the CIA’s former director, the wicked Mr. Brennan, is grand jury bound. I suspect he will not be protected by his former colleagues. His downfall may presage a more thorough cleanup, and perhaps a major reorganization, of this monstrous agency.

The indictment of Julian Assange adds a big wrinkle to these upcoming proceedings. Apart for what it means to First Amendment protection for a free press (no small matter), Mr. Assange is the one person who actually knows who handed over the “hacked” DNC emails to Wikileaks. Perhaps getting the answer to that question is the real reason that the DOJ is throwing the book at him. The trial of Mr. Assange is sure to be a humdinger.

I’m convinced, personally, that all this melodrama will play out against the background of a cratering global economy, tanking financial markets, and epic disruption of the established international order. Consider laying in some supplies.

 

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Improving Housing Markets Tally Jumps by Nearly a Quarter

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/First American list of improving markets jumped by a net of 22 metropolitan areas (MSAs) this month, the third consecutive monthly increase in the Improving Markets Index (IMI) which now stands at a total of 125.  The index now includes at least one MSA in each of 38 states and the District of Columbia.  Last month the index represented 33 states plus the District.The IMI identifies markets in which there has been improvement for six consecutive…See More
Nov 7, 2012
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Nov 6, 2012

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Improving Housing Markets Tally Jumps by Nearly a Quarter

Posted on November 7, 2012 at 12:32am 0 Comments

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/First American list of improving markets jumped by a net of 22 metropolitan areas (MSAs) this month, the third consecutive monthly increase in the Improving Markets Index (IMI) which now stands at a total of 125.  The index now includes at least one MSA in each of 38 states and the District of Columbia.  Last month the index represented 33 states plus the District.

The IMI identifies markets in which there has been improvement…

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