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TBR News June 7, 2018

Jun 07 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. June 7, 2018:” Growing overpopulation, the development of robotic devices in production, the sharply increasing price of housing and serious unemployment on a domestic level coupled with senseless aggression, and threats of aggression, on a global level are ruining the structure of American domesticity and setting the stage for serious revolt on the part of the electorate. Washington is a closed shop, interested only in the trappings of power and the economic benefits of association with profitable business entities. Their interest in public welfare is, at best, trivial and periodic, especially at voting times but neither before nor after. Eventually, and no one can tell exactly when, a long-suffering electorate will rise up in its collective wrath and wreak havoc on the executive and legislative branches of government and, at least for a time, the Augean stables will be clensed.”

The Table of Contents

  • Billions in U.S. solar projects shelved after Trump panel tariff
  • Putin tells Europe on U.S. trade threat: ‘I told you so’
  • Propaganda 101: How To Defend A Massacre
  • ‘Catastrophic disaster’: Aircraft hack only matter of time, US agencies warn
  • US embassy pulls more China staff over mystery illness
  • Cuba acoustic attack: What is a covert sound weapon?
  • ‘I deliver to your house’: pot dealers on why legalization is doomed

 Billions in U.S. solar projects shelved after Trump panel tariff

June 7, 2018

by Nichola Groom

Reuters

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s tariff on imported solar panels has led U.S. renewable energy companies to cancel or freeze investments of more than $2.5 billion in large installation projects, along with thousands of jobs, the developers told Reuters.

That’s more than double the about $1 billion in new spending plans announced by firms building or expanding U.S. solar panel factories to take advantage of the tax on imports.

The tariff’s bifurcated impact on the solar industry underscores how protectionist trade measures almost invariably hurt one or more domestic industries for every one they shield from foreign competition. Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs, for instance, have hurt manufacturers of U.S. farm equipment made with steel, such as tractors and grain bins, along with the farmers buying them at higher prices.

White House officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump announced the tariff in January over protests from most of the solar industry that the move would chill one of America’s fastest-growing sectors.

Solar developers completed utility-scale installations costing a total of $6.8 billion last year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Those investments were driven by U.S. tax incentives and the falling costs of imported panels, mostly from China, which together made solar power competitive with natural gas and coal.

The U.S. solar industry employs more than 250,000 people – about three times more than the coal industry – with about 40 percent of those people in installation and 20 percent in manufacturing, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“Solar was really on the cusp of being able to completely take off,” said Zoe Hanes, chief executive of Charlotte, North Carolina solar developer Pine Gate Renewables.

GTM Research, a clean energy research firm, recently lowered its 2019 and 2020 utility-scale solar installation forecasts in the United States by 20 percent and 17 percent, respectively, citing the levies.

Officials at Suniva – a Chinese-owned, U.S.-based solar panel manufacturer whose bankruptcy prompted the Trump administration to consider a tariff – did not respond to requests for comment.

Companies with domestic panel factories are divided on the policy. Solar giant SunPower Corp (SPWR.O) opposes the tariff that will help its U.S. panel factories because it will also hurt its domestic installation and development business, along with its overseas manufacturing operations.

“There could be substantially more employment without a tariff,” said Chief Executive Tom Werner.

LOST PROFITS, JOBS

The 30 percent tariff is scheduled to last four years, decreasing by 5 percent per year during that time. Solar developers say the levy will initially raise the cost of major installations by 10 percent.

Leading utility-scale developer Cypress Creek Renewables LLC said it had been forced to cancel or freeze $1.5 billion in projects – mostly in the Carolinas, Texas and Colorado – because the tariff raised costs beyond the level where it could compete, spokesman Jeff McKay said.

That amounted to about 150 projects at various stages of development that would have employed three thousand or more workers during installation, he said. The projects accounted for a fifth of the company’s overall pipeline.

Developer Southern Current has made similar decisions on about $1 billion of projects, mainly in South Carolina, said Bret Sowers, the company’s vice president of development and strategy.

“Either you make the decision to default or you bite the bullet and you make less money,” Sowers said.

Neither Cypress Creek nor Southern Current would disclose exactly which projects they intend to cancel. They said those details could help their competitors and make it harder to pursue those projects if they become financially viable later.

Both are among a group of solar developers that have asked trade officials to exclude panels used in their utility-scale projects from the tariffs. The office of the U.S. Trade Representative said it is still evaluating the requests.

Other companies are having similar problems.

Scott Canada, senior vice president of renewable energy at solar project builder McCarthy Building Companies, said his company had planned to employ about 1,200 people on solar projects this year but slashed that number by half because of the tariff.

Pine Gate, meanwhile, will complete about half of the 400 megawatts of solar installations it had planned this year and has ditched plans to hire 30 permanent employees, Hanes said.

The company also withdrew an 80-megawatt project that would have cost up to $150 million from consideration in a bidding process held by Southern Co (SO.N) utility Georgia Power. It pulled the proposal late last year when it learned the Trump administration was contemplating the tariff.

“It was just not feasible,” Hanes said.

STOCKPILING PANELS

For some developers, the tariff has meant abandoning nascent markets in the American heartland that last year posted the strongest growth in installations. That growth was concentrated in states where voters supported Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

South Bend, Indiana-based developer Inovateus Solar LLC, for example, had decided three years ago to focus on emerging Midwest solar markets such as Indiana and Michigan. But the tariff sparked a shift to Massachusetts, where state renewable energy incentives make it more profitable, chairman T.J. Kanczuzewski said.

Other developers are forging ahead, keen to take advantage of the remaining years of a 30-percent federal tax credit for solar installation that is scheduled to start phasing out in 2020.

Some firms saw the tariff coming and stockpiled panels before Trump’s announcement. 174 Power Global, the development arm of Korea’s Hanwha warehoused 190 megawatts of solar panels at the end of last year for a Texas project that broke ground in January.

The company is paying more for panels for two Nevada projects that start operating this year and next, but is moving forward on construction, according to Larry Greene, who heads the firm’s development in the U.S. West.

Intersect Power, a developer that cut a deal last year with Austin Energy to provide low-cost power to the Texas capital city, is also pushing ahead, said CEO Sheldon Kimber. But the tariff is forcing delays in buying solar panels.

The 150-megawatt project is due to start producing power in 2020. Waiting until the last minute to purchase modules will allow the company to take advantage of the tariff’s 5-percent annual reductions, he said.

‘A LOT OF ROBOTS’

Trump’s tariff has boosted the domestic manufacturing sector as intended, which over time could significantly raise U.S. panel production and reduce prices.

Panel manufacturers First Solar (FSLR.O) and JinkoSolar (JKS.N), for example, have announced plans to spend $800 million on projects to increase panel construction in the United States since the tariff, creating about 700 new jobs in Ohio and Florida. Just last week, Korea’s Hanwha Q CELLS (HQCL.O) joined them, saying it will open a solar module factory in Georgia next year, though it did not detail job creation.

SunPower Corp, meanwhile, purchased U.S. manufacturer SolarWorld’s Oregon factory after the tariff was announced, saving that facility’s 280 jobs. The company said it plans to hire more people at the plant to expand operations, without specifying how many.

But SunPower has also said it must cut up to 250 jobs in other parts of its organization because of the tariffs.

Jobs in panel manufacturing are also limited due to increasing automation, industry experts said.

Heliene – a Canadian company in the process of opening a U.S. facility capable of producing 150 megawatts worth of panels per year – said it will employ between 130 and 140 workers in Minnesota.

“The factories are highly automated,” said Martin Pochtaruk, president of Heliene. “You don’t employ too many humans. There are a lot of robots.”

Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Brian Thevenot

 

Putin tells Europe on U.S. trade threat: ‘I told you so’

June 6, 2018

by Andrew Osborn and Polina Nikolskaya

Reuters

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that he had warned European countries years ago about the risk of the United States imposing its rules on others, and that they were now paying the price for ignoring him.

Speaking during a live television phone-in with the Russian people that lasted over four hours, Putin likened the tariffs that Washington imposed last week on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union to economic sanctions.

“It appears our partners thought that this would never affect them, this counterproductive politics of restrictions and sanctions. But now we are seeing that this is happening.”

The president said he had warned in a speech in Munich in 2007 about a growing U.S. sense of exceptionalism and the risk of it imposing its own rules on other countries.

“That is exactly what is happening now. Nobody wanted to listen, and nobody did anything to stop this from developing. Well, there you go, you’ve been hit. Dinner is served … please sit down and eat.”

Putin also accused the United States of upsetting the strategic nuclear balance, and said nobody should take any hasty steps: “The understanding that a third world war could be the end of civilization should restrain us.”

He put neighboring Ukraine on notice that if it tried to make any military moves against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine while Russia hosted the soccer World Cup this summer, Ukraine would suffer:

“I hope that there won’t be any provocations, but if it happens I think it would have very serious consequences for Ukrainian statehood in general.”

Putin also said Russian forces would stay in Syria for as long as it was in Russia’s interest.

AUDIENCE WITH PETITIONERS

Putin, who easily won re-election in March, has since 2001 used the annual phone-in to cast himself as a decisive troubleshooter on the home front and a staunch defender of Russia’s interests on the world stage.

Critics say the event, being held a week before the World Cup starts, is a stage-managed piece of theater designed to let Russians let off steam and fleetingly feel as if they can influence a bureaucratic, top-down system. Putin, 65, and his aides say it is an indispensable tool to gauge public sentiment and learn about people’s real problems.

Kremlin-watchers often liken his performance, which this year spanned almost 80 questions, to that of a tsar listening to his petitioners as he promises to fix individuals’ problems.

On Thursday, he granted Russian citizenship to a Ukrainian woman who lost a hand and leg when her home in Syria was bombed, scrapped a tax on air tickets between Moscow and Russia’s Far East, pledged action to reduce petrol prices, and said he would look into a woman’s complaints about her ramshackle home.

Putin had another “I told you so” message for Russian businessmen, saying he had previously warned them about the risks of keeping their assets abroad, and that they were now being persecuted by countries such as Britain.

Putin had been asked about the visa problems being experienced by billionaire Roman Abramovich in Britain.

“I warned them that this situation, which we see today, could develop. I … recommended at the time that our business keep its capital in Russia, in the motherland,” said Putin.

“Who is going to help them abroad? They are just persecuted there. Conditions are created to make their work impossible.”

AWKWARD QUESTIONS

At the start of a new presidential term and on a drive to improve living standards, Putin also used the event to try to reassure Russians about the economy.

“Overall, we are heading in the right direction,” he said. “We have started on the trajectory toward robust economic growth in Russia. Yes, this growth is modest, small, but it is also not a fall.”

The Russian central bank forecasts economic growth at between 1.5 and 2 percent this year.

This year, Putin dispensed with his usual studio audience, fielding questions asked by text message and video. He referred some questions to regional governors, government ministers and state company heads who were shown on giant TV monitors sitting at their desks across Russia, waiting to be quizzed.

Members of the public submitted over 2.5 million questions, state TV reported, some of them flashed up on a giant screen close to Putin.

Some of those questions, which Putin did not attempt to answer, were politically awkward.

One asked why opposition leader Alexei Navalny had not been allowed to register as a candidate in the presidential election, another why there was money for the military but not ordinary people, and another asked whether Russia was a banana republic.

“Life is getting worse and worse,” read another. “It’s in the Kremlin where everything is wonderful.”

Additional reporting by Christian Lowe, Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, Polina Ivanova, Denis Pinchuk, Vladimir Soldatkin, Tom Balmforth, Maria Tsvetkova, Katya Golubkova, Daria Korsunskaya, Maria Kiselyova, Polina Devitt; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Kevin Liffey

 

 

Propaganda 101: How To Defend A Massacre

An introductory course in massaging your crimes and dehumanizing your enemies…

May 21, 2018

by Nathan J. Robinson

Current Affairs

f you are a human being, as you probably are, you might think it would be difficult to explain away the massacre of several dozen people. And you might think that it would be difficult to get justifications for mass murder printed in one of the world’s leading newspapers. You would, however, be mistaken. Propaganda defending murder is both simple to produce and alarmingly common in major media outlets.

In order to understand how people can defend acts that should shock the conscience, today we’re going to examine and dissect a particularly galling example. Last week, 60 Palestinians were killed, and 1700 wounded (including being permanently disabled) by the Israeli military during the Nakba protest, when Palestinians attempted to breach the fortified wall surrounding Gaza. Much of the news coverage in the New York Times was already disturbingly one-sided, and the paper ran a front-page story on how Palestinians’ deaths made Israelis feel (they “hoped every bullet was justified”) while suggesting that Gazans exploit their own suffering for “political” ends (it’s a place “where private pain is often paraded for political causes”). But yesterday, the paper topped itself, running an op-ed from Jewish Journal editor Shmuel Rosner entitled “Israel Needs to Protect Its Borders. By Whatever Means Necessary.”

Rosner fully justifies the massacre, with no apologies, regret, or second thoughts. He believes the killing of these Palestinians was correct, and that they deserved to die. Now you might, as I do, think this attitude is so self-evidently barbaric that even to debate it is to surrender a little bit of one’s humanity. But Rosner’s position is not a fringe one, and the good liberals at the New York Times consider it within the boundaries of reasonable discourse, so unfortunately we have not yet achieved the kind of world in which such thinking is “self-evidently” immoral. (This reflects very badly on all of us.) I’d like, then, to go through Rosner’s argument paragraph by paragraph, to show how he constructs his defense of murder, why it might be persuasive to people, and why it fails and should horrify everyone.

Let’s begin:

ROSNER: It is customary to adopt an apologetic tone when scores of people have been killed, as they were this week in Gaza. But I will avoid this sanctimonious instinct and declare coldly: Israel had a clear objective when it was shooting, sometimes to kill, well-organized “demonstrators” near the border. Israel was determined to prevent these people — some of whom are believed to have been armed, most apparently encouraged by their radical government — from crossing the fence separating Israel from Gaza. That objective was achieved.

A few notes about what Rosner does here. First, he says that while it would be “customary” to sound apologetic about a massacre, he will avoid the “instinct” to be “sanctimonious” and admit that Israel had a “clear objective,” which it “achieved.” I put these words in quotes because each serves a particular function: “customary” makes it sound as if regret over deaths is mere arbitrary tradition rather than a humane reaction to suffering, “instinct” suggests that being saddened by suffering is irrational sentimentality, to be contrasted with cool reason. “Sanctimonious” suggests that feeling bad when your country murders people is mere self-interested virtue-signaling instead of the basic response of a moral human being. “Achieving objectives” is bureaucratic language, business language, a softer way to describe Israel’s actions that sounds rational (far more so than “shooting people through the neck,” which is what actually happened). We see, then, that in propaganda, as many words as possible should be carefully shaded in order to leave the impression that one is simply being reasonable and cool-headed, as opposed to the touchy-feely saps who cry when they see people being shot.

Propaganda Suggestion #1: You are not ideological, you are just following Reason where it leads you. Those who disagree with you are soft, irrational, emotional, feminine.

Elsewhere, we see other manipulative rhetorical tactics: “demonstrators” in quotes, and phrases like “believed to have been armed” and “apparently encouraged by their radical government.” “Apparently” and “believed to” are good ways to avoid having to present actual evidence; it doesn’t matter whether something was true if it was “believed to have been true.” “Radical” is another good propaganda word: You don’t actually have to analyze whether the other party has sound claims under moral principle and international law. It’s enough to say that they are “radical.” It’s an empty term, though: Radical just means “far away from mainstream orthodoxy.” If mainstream orthodoxy turns out to be horrendous, the radicals are correct. (The Radical Republicans, for instance, were vindicated by history.)

Propaganda Suggestion #2: You are being undermined and assaulted by radicals. It is said that the radicals are violent. It is believed that they are deranged and must be stopped.

ROSNER: Of course, the death of humans is never a happy occasion. Still, I feel no need to engage in ingénue mourning. Guarding the border was more important than avoiding killing, and guarding the border is what Israel did successfully.

“Ingénue”: grief is weakness, femininity, naïveté. Grief makes you a little French girl. Notice that the effects here are not achieved through arguments, but through subtle subconscious word association. Then, a false dichotomy: Either you believe in guarding the border, or you believe in “avoiding killing.” But there is no actual explanation of why those who crossed the border couldn’t have been arrested. Imagine if our own Border Patrol simply started shooting everyone in the head the moment they crossed into the United States. I dearly hope we would instantly recognize that “Well, guarding the border was more important than avoiding killing” would be no defense at all. In fact, Rosner’s op-ed is terrifying because the New York Times is presenting as reasonable an argument that, if accepted, could easily be used to justify the mass killing of undocumented people trying to cross into the United States. “Security” is so powerful and vague an idea that it can be used to justify absolutely anything.

ROSNER: Why so many thousands of Gazans decided to approach that fence, even though they were warned that such acts would be lethal, is beyond comprehension. Excuses and explanations are many: The event was declared a “march of return,” supposedly an attempt by Palestinian refugees to return to their places of origin within Israel; it was tied in many news reports to the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem; it was explained by referring to undesirable living conditions in Gaza and the lack of prospects for improvement; it was explained as related to intra-Palestinian political conflict and to the need of Hamas, the terrorist group that runs Gaza, to divert the attention from its many failures. All of those things may have some degree of validity, but they don’t explain why people joined these demonstrations.

Gazans’ actions are apparently “beyond comprehension.” This single phrase is worth dwelling on. One step in dehumanizing people is setting them beyond our capacity to empathize with, whether it’s “animal” gang members or those with a “disease of the Arab mind.” Once people are placed “beyond reason,” then violence against them is easier to justify, because it’s The Only Language They Can Possibly Understand. This is constantly happening with Palestinians and Arabs generally: They are treated as unfathomable and fanatical, irrational monomaniacs without human complexity. Notably, Rosner sees his lack of comprehension as a sign of Gazans’ failure to be comprehensible rather than his own failure to comprehend them. Usually, motives are not totally inscrutable when we exercise empathy, as everyone is human, but propaganda is constantly attempting to portray the Enemy as fundamentally different from us, unreasoning brutes and barbarians who do not have sophisticated reasons for what they do.

Propaganda Suggestion #3: The enemy is not reasonable like you. They cannot be understood, for their motives are not rational. They are dark, violent, terrifying, deranged, You only have two options: Kill or be killed. Any killing you do is therefore necessary by definition.

We can also note, in this paragraph, a bit of nakedly fallacious reasoning: From the fact that there were several causes of the Palestinian protests, Rosner concludes that they are inexplicable and that the proffered causes must be “excuses.” Then there’s his statement that none of the listed factors “explain why people joined these demonstrations.” Unlivable conditions in Gaza combined with the anniversary of Palestinians’ expulsion from their ancestral land certainly seems enough to me, but those things make Palestinians sound quite rational so naturally they can’t be accepted as explanations.

ROSNER: Obviously, the people of Gaza weren’t seriously thinking that Israel would give them a “right of return” if they only marched in numbers large enough. And they probably realized that United States [sic] would not rescind its decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem, either. And they knew that for the economic situation to improve something more systematic must take place than protests. So why did they march, and why were some of them killed? They marched because they are desperate and frustrated. Because living in Gaza is not much better than living in hell. They marched against Israel because they dislike Israel, and because they cannot march against anyone else. Israel puts Gaza under siege, bombs it occasionally, and is still remembered as an occupying power and as the country whose establishment made many Palestinians consider themselves refugees to this day. They marched to Israel because the alternative to marching against Israel would be to march against Hamas, a regime whose actions and policies make Gaza suffer. But if people had dared do that, their government would no doubt have killed scores of them without much hesitation.

One of the remarkable features of propaganda is that it often contains the seeds of its own refutation. In figuring out that someone is distorting the truth, sometimes you do not even need to have observed the truth with your own eyes, because they have inadvertently revealed it themselves. For example, in a new article on the Vietnam War, I quote extensively from a book defending the war in order to show why it was so immoral, because the book cites numerous examples of Americans committing atrocities (though the author then gives arguments for why these atrocities were justified and legal). Look at this remarkable sentence: “Israel puts Gaza under siege, bombs it occasionally, and is still remembered as an occupying power and as the country whose establishment made many Palestinians consider themselves refugees to this day.” Now, the phrasing here is contorted (“whose establishment made them consider themselves refugees” is a funny way of describing the mass expulsion of 700,000 people and “is still remembered as an occupying power” suggests the occupation is over when it isn’t). But a “siege,” well, that seems like a pretty good reason to be upset! Living in Gaza is not much better than living in hell and it’s under siege by Israel (which “bombs it occasionally”).

One important tool for figuring out how to apply moral principles consistently is imagining how arguments would sound in other analogous situations. I previously recommended examining the case of the Boston Massacre; another instance in which the protesters were violent against an occupying force but that violence in no way justified the killings that resulted. Another important point of comparison in the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which South African police opened fire on a crowd of anti-Apartheid demonstrators, killing 69 people. The crowd there was not entirely peaceful either. But the statement of a South African police commander is instructive: “the native mentality does not allow them to gather for a peaceful demonstration. For them to gather means violence.” We understand, or at least I hope we do, (1) that conditions of Apartheid meant that violence against the state was justified, (2) that small-scale violence by the occupied does not justify mass killing by the occupier (3) that the occupier is inherently in the wrong to begin with, and (4) that generalizations about the inherently violent native mentality are just prejudice, are not supported by evidence, and are used constantly every time one is looking for a reason to keep a group of the powerless and oppressed from storming the gates.

Propaganda Suggestion #4: The Enemy’s violence cannot possibly be a result of your actions. To suggest that you are responsible is to side with the Enemy. Violence directed against you is unjustified. Irrational. Terrorism. Violence directed against them is restrained. Proportionate. Unavoidable. Self-defense.

Reading history is useful for learning to recognize spurious arguments, because the same tactics are invoked by governments over and over. The Civil Rights Movement were constantly being called radicals and agitators. Putting “demonstrators” in quotes is a good way to delegitimize a protest without having to engage its arguments. Rosner says the Palestinians’ actions don’t make sense, since they must have known their demonstration was futile; “you must be irrational, since you can’t possibly win” is another time-honored method for trying to portray dissent as insane.

ROSNER: Israel has a soft belly. Unlike all the other regimes in the Middle East, it accepts basic Western values and thus tries to minimize casualties. It also has an impressive military power, so it’s easy to accuse it of “disproportional response.” And of course, it is the country that could lift the siege on Gaza.

Israel is just a big soft teddy. Here we see a classic technique for justifying crimes by governments: The difference between us and them is that we have values while they don’t. Current Affairs writer Daniel Walden has an article in our new issue on why the whole idea of “the West” and “Western values” is a fiction, which I won’t go into more detail about here. But as Norman Finkelstein has pointed out, even Henrich Himmler used the formulation we kill but we are sad about it and we do it only because we are so good and decent. Himmler said of extermination that “to have executed this ghastly charge and to have remained decent, it has earned us a glorious page in the annals of history. We have the moral right, we have the duty to our people to kill this people who would kill us. We have carried out this most difficult task out of love of our people and we have suffered no defect within us.” I say this not to make comparisons with Nazi actions, but to make a point about how Look-How-Much-We-Care political rhetoric can’t be trusted, because even people who do evil things will make noises designed to show that they are actually virtuous and decent.

Propaganda Suggestion #5: Tell people not to be ashamed of violence against the enemy. Shame is squeamishness, cowardice, betrayal.

The question of whether Israel “minimizes casualties” and engages in “disproportional response” is, of course, a factual one, rather than one that can be settled through arguments like “We have good Western values” and “our military is big so of course people accuse us of being disproportionate.” The first piece of evidence that Israel does not, in fact, attempt to “minimize casualties” is… all the casualties. That doesn’t settle the issue automatically, but for an incredibly thorough look at whether this is true, I strongly recommend Finkelstein’s new book on Gaza. Finkelstein goes through each of Israel’s major operations in Gaza, and examines whether the claim of casualty minimization actually holds up. This is important, because often the argumentation used to defend Israel is circular: Israel must have minimized casualties, because it has the most moral army in the world. Good people do not commit crimes, we are good, therefore we could not have committed a crime. The facts on the ground do not come into it; you don’t need the facts if you know already that good people would never do bad things. But Finkelstein quotes extensively from IDF soldiers who served during Operation Protective Edge and present eyewitness testimony that force was used indiscriminately in a way that was not designed to minimize casualties. (In fact, it’s strange that Rosner says Israel is concerned with minimizing casualties, given that he also insists Israel is more concerned with making sure no Gazan ever sets foot in Israel than with “avoiding killing.”) IDF veteran testimonies from Breaking the Silence reveal “yawning gaps between what the IDF and government spokespersons told the public about the combat scenarios, and the reality described by the soldiers that took part in the operation.” This may be hard to contemplate, if you’re convinced that the World’s Most Moral Army™ could not tell a lie. But you don’t have to think Israel is uniquely duplicitous and malevolent, it’s enough to simply accept I.F. Stone’s warning that all governments lie and Israel is likely to be just as flawed, callous, and unconscious of its own biases as every other powerful state in the history of human civilization.

Propaganda Suggestion #6: The difference between us and them is that we cry when we shoot. With us, killing is the exception, with them it is the rule. We have good civilized values and love life. They have barbaric values and love death.

ROSNER: Critics of Israel tend to mix two types of complaints about its actions in recent days. Why did Israel shoot, rather than use other means of preventing people from crossing the border? And why does Israel isolate Gaza, making its economic situation so dire and its population so desperate? These criticisms must be answered separately, as one — the shooting — is tactical, and the other, the isolation, is strategic.

Just one quick point here: “critics tend to mix.” Rosner could say “there are two main criticisms.” But “critics tend to mix” implies that the critics are confused. Rosner is not “responding to the two major arguments,” he is helping poor naïve, sentimental, baffled people understand reason. Phrases like this may seem trivial, but I want to convey just how important “framing” is (just as much as actual substantive argument) in propaganda. The arguments themselves are often weak, with critical points left unaddressed, but the arguments only do part of the work in persuading the audience. Subtly hinting that everyone who disagrees with you is a confused weepy twerp is equally crucial.

First, let’s begin with undisputed facts: The marches were at least partly orchestrated by Hamas. And according to Hamas, most demonstrators killed by Israel were members of the group. This was not a peaceful act of protest. This was a provocation by an organization known to engage in acts of terrorism. Thus, Israel had no choice but to treat it as an attempt not just to violate its territorial integrity but also to attack it.

Oh boy, look at this chain of reasoning, from “first” to “thus.” From the beginning, “undisputed,” so anyone who argues with anything in this paragraph is an irrational idiot who hates facts. Halfway through, though, we go from facts to inferences and speculation. The marches were partly organized by Hamas. Hamas is not peaceful. Therefore the marches were not peaceful and were a provocation. Therefore they were an attack. Therefore there was no choice but to behave as if the country was under attack. Slippages like this occur a lot in propaganda. You start with an uncontroversial-sounding statement like “Every country has the right to defend itself against violent attacks from outside,” but by giving particular words expansive definitions, you can defend something that is, if analyzed honestly, extremely controversial. If “the right to defend itself” means “use any amount of force it feels is necessary” and “violent attacks” mean “teenagers setting tires on fire” or “people cutting holes in a fence” then the concept of “national self-defense” comes to mean “the mass murder of people who have caused no actual injuries to anyone” without anybody noticing the drift.

Propaganda Suggestion #7: All you want is what any reasonable person would want. You just want to protect yourself. Is this so much to ask?

The facts on the ground disappear so easily. Once we have invoked the word “Hamas,” we need not inquire into how the deaths occurred, whether the rules of engagement were followed, what the 60 people were doing when they died, etc. We can draw inferences that the deaths were justified without knowing exactly what happened. Yet the closer we do get to the actual facts, the less comfortable these inferences seem. Sky News traveled to Gaza and reported that Israel claims the right to “shoot anyone approaching the border fence during the protests, having warned them with leaflets,” though its rules of engagement are secret. A former IDF sniper said that Israeli gunmen were “shooting at unarmed Palestinians when they are 300m away from the fence” and pronounced himself horrified. It’s not enough to simply prove that the dead were “Hamas”; Hamas is the majority government in Palestine and the fact that someone belongs to it does not grant license to murder them. If a person is in Hamas and is firing a gun at you then obviously you have the right of self-defense, but if a person is in Hamas and is walking too close to a wall you do not have the right to snipe them from afar. (However, the widely-repeated claim that 50 of the 62 dead were “Hamas” should be examined critically. Israel points to statements by Hamas itself boasting of the number of its members among the dead—the original quote from a Hamas official was “if 62 people were martyred, Fifty of the martyrs were Hamas and 12 from the people. How can Hamas reap the fruits if it pays such an expensive price?” The number appears to be speculative—“if”—and the official suggests that Hamas is not acting for self-interested reasons because it is sacrificing so much. It should be immediately obvious that both Israel and Hamas have an interest in insisting the dead were Hamas. Hamas wants to prove to the Palestinian people that it is making sacrifices on their behalf, and Israel wants to prove that the dead were terrorists. But the fact that neither is interested in finding out the truth does not make the convenient story the true one, and given its obvious self-interest, Hamas claiming the dead as its own is insufficient evidence.)

ROSNER: Israel had to take precautions against its soldiers and citizens being killed or kidnapped. It had to make sure that thousands of Palestinians did not force a total shutdown of southern Israel until all infiltrators were located and detained. Knowing Hamas and its tactics, Israel assumed — for good reason — that letting the marchers cross the fence and detaining them later would have had worse consequences: Hamas operatives masquerading as demonstrators would hurt Israelis.

Again, slippage: “take precautions” = shoot from afar, make no attempt to arrest. And again, it’s useful to consider a parallel. Imagine that Donald Trump’s border patrol massacre 62 people trying to cross the U.S. border from Mexico. Trump says 50 of the 62 were MS-13. MS-13 agrees. Asked why it was necessary to kill them all in cold blood, Trump says: The U.S. must take precautions, and make sure that an influx of violent infiltrators did not force us to totally shut down the southern half of the country. Knowing MS-13, we assumed that people would get hurt if they crossed. You can see here that none of this answers the actual question posed: “Why were they shot?” Another classic feature of propaganda: Claim that you were “forced” to do something, that you had no agency. Shutting down the entire Southern half of the country because a handful of 19-year-old Gazans wangled their way through a fence would be an insane overreaction, but Rosner suggests it’s what would have to happen.

Propaganda Suggestion #8: There is no alternative. What is the alternative? Can you think of one? No. Because there is none.

ROSNER: Of course, the question of Israel’s larger policy toward Gaza remains. But the answer is hardly a secret: Israel pulled out of Gaza more than a decade ago. All it wants from Gaza is peace and quiet. But what it gets from Gaza is different: It is an attempt by Hamas to build a base for violence against Israel. To prevent this, Gaza must be isolated until its leaders are replaced or until they realize that their war against Israel hurts the population they rule more than it hurts Israel. And yes, this means that people in Gaza suffer more than they should — not because of Israel, because of Hamas.

All Israel wants from Gaza is “peace and quiet” (and to “bomb it occasionally,” remember). Why won’t these rowdy, insane, violent Arabs just be quiet? Again, the answer is in the text itself: Rosner says (1) that Israel pulled out of Gaza and left it to its own devices and (2) that Gaza is under “siege” and that Israel is trying to isolate the population so that it suffers to the point where it will oust its leaders. Rosner knows full well that the United Nations still considers Gaza occupied, because of the degree of control Israel exercises over it. As the Israeli magazine +972 explains: “Israel controls life in the Gaza Strip in an astoundingly diverse array of ways. The Israeli Air Force controls the airspace over Gaza. Israel’s navy controls sea travel to and from the coastal strip. The Israeli army controls all of the currently accessible land crossings and decides who can travel through them. Israel’s army controls the only terminals for commercial imports and exports and it decides what goods, including food items, can be imported and exported through them. Israel controls Gaza’s population registry, and it even controls freedom of movement inside the Gaza Strip. In some cases the army even controls the right to protest inside Gaza.” Even David Cameron, who Haaretz called the most pro-Israel British prime minister ever, called Gaza an “open-air prison,” and if you are keeping people in a prison, it does not matter whether the guards are walking around inside or standing atop the walls. It is clear that Gaza is not being given autonomy, and in that situation one can ask whether “building a base for violence” might be justified. Certainly, if a neighboring country were controlling American airspace and putting us under siege in an attempt to force us to change our leadership, we would feel that violence was defensive rather than offensive.

ROSNER: It would be dishonest for me to pretend that the interests of Palestinians are at the top of the list of my priorities. I want what’s good for Israel and I expect my government to have similar priorities. Nevertheless, I believe Israel’s current policy toward Gaza ultimately benefits not only Israel but also the Palestinians.

Nationalism is an intoxicating drug. It allows us to say things that, from a neutral perspective, would sound morally horrifying, but which seem innocuous. Valuing the lives of your countrymen over others can seem natural and defensible. But the consequences of this thinking are horrific. In the Vietnam War, for instance, Americans valued American lives so much more than the lives of Vietnamese people that many felt almost any amount of Vietnamese deaths were justified if they prevented one American death. Because Americans care less about people in Mexico, we have paid zero attention even as our own country’s actions have contributed to horrific violence south of our border. Prioritizing your own nation’s self-interest is particularly damaging when your nation happens to already be comparatively wealthy and powerful. Rosner’s thinking, which devalues the lives of people who are different from him, is a recipe for the casual infliction of suffering. We can see the fruits of this reasoning in Rosner’s defense of the massacre: Any amount of Palestinian death, however large, was justified to prevent any amount of risk to Israelis, however small.

Of course, it does not benefit the Palestinians who dream about “returning,” or in other words, about eliminating Israel. But it is the only way forward for those who have more realistic expectations. The people of Gaza are miserable. They deserve sympathy and pity. But looking for Israel to remedy their problems will only exacerbate their misery. Expecting Israel to solve their problem will only lead them to delay what they must do for themselves. There are two reasons for that. First, denying Hamas any achievement is the only way to ultimately persuade the Palestinians to abandon the futile battle for things they cannot get (“return,” control of Jerusalem, the elimination of Israel) and toward policies that will benefit their people. If Hamas is rewarded for organizing violent events, if the pressure on it is reduced because of the demonstrations, the result will be more demonstrations — and therefore more bloodshed, mostly Palestinian. Second, only an Israel that has the ability to feel secure about its borders could engage in any serious talks with the Palestinians. As Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and a critic of Israel’s current government, put it, “Those who believe in having separation from the Palestinians, getting into a peace agreement, having borders — you have to make clear that borders are respected.” The Jewish sages had a famous, if not necessarily pleasant, saying that went something like this: Those who are kind to the cruel end up being cruel to the kind. As harsh as this sounds amid the scenes from Gaza, as problematic as this seems to good-intentioned people whose instinct is to sympathize with the weaker side in every conflict, sometimes there is no better choice than being clear, than being firm, than drawing a line that cannot be crossed by those wanting to harm you. By fire, if necessary.

Remember that 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their land. The reason that people like Rosner say that the “right of return” means the “destruction of Israel” is that if Palestinians were allowed to return to the land their families were expelled from, their demographic numbers would prevent Israel from being able to maintain an ethnostate. It is again worth considering a parallel: In South Africa, we would give little credence to the argument “But allowing full integration would destroy the ethnostate.” As a practical matter, of course, the right of return is indeed almost certainly “futile.” But “Under no circumstances are we going to grant your demands” is not the same as “Your demands have no merit,” and note that Rosner evades the question of whether the Palestinians have a just claim and instead addresses whether they have a pragmatic one.

Propaganda Suggestion #9: We have tried everything. We have given everything we can give. Anything more would literally destroy us. Why do they insist on exploiting our generosity? What more could we possibly do?

Propaganda often conflates “can not” with “will not.” “Israel cannot solve this problem for you” is what is said; what is meant is “Israel refuses to solve this problem.” This is what corporations do all the time: “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’m afraid we can’t do that, it’s our policy” just means “We have made a decision not to do that.” Propaganda shifts responsibility, not by providing compelling moral arguments, but merely by declaring over and over that the other party is the one getting in the way.

We have reached the end of Rosner’s defense of murder. It did not succeed in defending murder. We still don’t know why it’s alright to have snipers fire at an occupied people when they try to break out of their festering prison. We certainly know that Shmuel Rosner does not feel bad about it. We also know that “the Jewish sages” sound like their wisdom is overhyped; plenty of people are kind to the cruel and have never ended up being cruel to the kind, this ancient aphorism just sounds good but is actually stupid. But we have not heard any compelling arguments for why a country can lay siege to a million people, “bomb them occasionally,” and then kill them when they show up at the wall to throw rocks.

Propaganda Suggestion #10: The Enemy’s suffering is their fault. They made you hurt them. If they had not provoked you, you would not have had to kill them. In fact, the fact that they made you hurt them makes them even more monstrous.

I need to make a confession to you, though. Let me tell you the honest reason why I have spent so much time pedantically combing through an op-ed that plenty of people would just write off as “disgusting.” I did it because, for a moment, I almost found Rosner persuasive. Or at least, he nearly sounded reasonable; after all, his writing was clear, he had links to sources, he followed the conventions of a Sober-Minded New York Times Op-Ed. And that terrifies me. The truth is, propaganda is effective. The arguments don’t have to stand up to scrutiny; it works in part simply by repeating, over and over, “We are Good, the Evil wants to destroy us, there is no alternative there is no alternative there is no alternative.” Israel-Palestine is not one of the issues that occupies an especially significant part of my time, and ordinarily I would not feel the need to point out at length that yet another human government is abusing people and calling it justice. Rosner’s op-ed, though, gave me the chills. I saw a terrible future in it: If fascism ever comes back full-force, you will see all of these tactics hauled out to justify whatever bloodshed ensues. I don’t think that Mexican border example is too far away from reality. Donald Trump is already doing everything he can to brutalize and devalue immigrants, it’s not unrealistic to me to think that if things got worse, after a few years there could be killings. That’s why it’s so important to figure out how this stuff works, how language is used to present a picture of the world in which things that are horrific in reality become moral in the mind.

 

‘Catastrophic disaster’: Aircraft hack only matter of time, US agencies warn

June 7, 2018

RT

It is “only a matter of time” until a commercial aircraft is hacked, the Department of Homeland Security and other US government agencies have warned. Most planes lack cybersecurity protections to prevent such a hack.

Motherboard obtained internal DHS documents through a Freedom of Information Act request which detail vulnerabilities with commercial aircraft and risk assessments. A number of the documents are still being “withheld pursuant to exemption” of the FOIA.

The release includes a January presentation from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), part of the Department of Energy, outlining the group’s efforts to hack an aircraft via its wifi service as a security test.

The hacking test was to be carried out without any insider help, from a position of public access (for example, a passenger seat or the airport terminal), and without using hardware that would trigger airport security. According to the presentation, the hack allowed the researchers to “establish actionable and unauthorized presence on one or more onboard systems.”

Another document, from 2017, says testing indicates “viable attack vectors exist that could impact flight operations.” A DHS presentation included in the documents says“most commercial aircraft currently in use have little to no cyber protections in place.” It points to the fact that even a perceived successful cyber attack could have an “enormous impact on the global aviation industry.”

The DHS Science and Technology Directorate documents warn that current policies and practices are not adequate to deal with the “immediacy and devastating consequences that could result from a catastrophic cyber attack on an airborne commercial aircraft.”

The threat of airline hacks is something that has been known for some time. In 2015, the FBI warned staff to watch out for unusual behavior after computer security expert Chris Roberts said he accessed aircraft control systems to connect to the in-flight entertainment console as many as 20 times.

In November, DHS official Robert Hickey said the agency successfully hacked the avionics of a commercial Boeing 757 in 2016. He also claimed representatives from American Airlines and Delta Airlines were shocked to learn the government had been aware of the risk of such hacks for so long and hadn’t bothered to let them know.

However, a Boeing spokesperson told the Daily Beast that they witnessed the test and “can say unequivocally that there was no hack of the airplane’s flight control systems.”

In 2014, security expert Ruben Santamarta warned hackers could access a plane’s satellite communications equipment through Wifi and inflight entertainment systems, after he devised a way to do it himself. Santamarta said the vulnerable systems were not only used in airplanes, but also in “ships, military vehicles, as well as industrial facilities like oil rigs, gas pipelines, and wind turbines.”

At the 2018 Black Hat conference, Santamarta will demonstrate how it’s possible to hack an aircraft from the ground, accessing the wifi network and reaching the plane’s satellite communication, which could be weaponized as a radio frequency (RF) tool.

“These are real cases. They are no longer theoretical scenarios,” he told Dark Reading. “We are using [vulnerabilities] in satcom devices to turn those devices into weapons.”

 

US embassy pulls more China staff over mystery illness

June 7, 2018

BBC News

The US has removed several more officials from China over fears they have contracted the same mysterious illness that affected staff in Cuba.

The employees, who were working in the southern city of Guangzhou, had reported hearing odd noises.

Last year, 24 US staff working at the Cuba embassy suffered brain injuries after reporting “auditory sensations”.

The incidents have raised concerns that a government or agency may be targeting the US with a new type of sonic weapon.

The cases come at a time when China-US relations have been strained amid fears of a trade war.

Earlier this month, the State Department issued a health warning to its staff saying an employee in China had reported “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure”.

It said it was taking the reports seriously, but did not yet know the cause, and warned staff to move to a safe place if they encountered any “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises”.

One US official was diagnosed with mild brain trauma, the same injury that affected the Cuban embassy staff.

The State Department has warned that US diplomats should alert their mission’s medical staff “if they note new onset of symptoms that may have begun in association with experiencing unidentified auditory sensations”.

The department said it had sent a team to Guangzhou and set up a task force to oversee the response to the mystery attacks in China and Cuba.

Cuba has denied targeting embassy staff, and the US has not blamed the country’s government for the suspected attacks.

Symptoms of a sonic attack may include dizziness, headaches, vomiting, bowel spasms, vertigo, permanent hearing loss and even brain damage.

“US medical professionals will continue to conduct full evaluations to determine the cause of the reported symptoms and whether the findings are consistent with those noted in previously affected government personnel or possibly completely unrelated,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Comment: What is being used is a form of audio-oscellator which projects sound waves. These can result in feelings of anxiety, involuntary bowel movements, headaches and even serious brain damage. As sound is difficult to focus, these devices have a relatively short range and, it should be noted, are quite easy, and very inexpensive, to manufacture. Ours was made by an employee of Radio Shack for less than $50 and worked  well, causing obnoxious neighbors to immediately move out of the neighborhood. A friend in the upper level of the CIA asked for, and got, the plans to build this device and said later it worked “very well indeed.” Ed.

 

Cuba acoustic attack: What is a covert sound weapon?

August 25, 2017

BBC News

The US state department says its diplomats in Cuba have been suffering symptoms including hearing loss after suspected sonic attacks, some of which were – according to some reports – inaudible to human ears.

The use of sound as a weapon is not new, but what about unheard sound attacks?

What damage can sound do?

If you’ve ever heeded the warning to wear ear plugs to a loud concert, you have been taking care of the hair cells in your inner ear that pick up noise and send it to the brain. You’ve been trying to avoid hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

But sound can have effects that go beyond hearing.

Symptoms of a sonic attack may include dizziness, headaches, vomiting, bowel spasms, vertigo, permanent hearing loss and even brain damage.

How would an inaudible sound weapon work?

There are two options – go low or go high.

Lower frequencies than humans can hear – below 20Hz – are known as infrasound. They’re used by animals including elephants, whales and hippos to communicate.

Infrasound could affect human hearing if very loud, and could cause vertigo and even vomiting or uncontrollable defecation if deployed very intensely.

But Dr Toby Heys has told the New Scientist that an attack using infrasound would rely on “a large array of subwoofers” and “wouldn’t be very covert”.

Given the Associated Press reports embassy staff were targeted at their residences, it’s hard to see how anyone would pull that off without the huge racks of speakers giving the game away.

Ultrasound frequencies above 20,000Hz, or 20kHz, are also inaudible to humans but can damage the parts of the ear, including hairs, that pick up sound.

This is more likely in the Cuban case as ultrasound can be targeted more easily. It has many medical applications so has been at the forefront of research, and directional speakers already exist for home use. These could direct sound through walls.

But any equipment would need to be reasonably large to fit a battery that could power it strongly enough, and an ultrasound attack would place other people in the vicinity – including, potentially, the person carrying out the attack – at risk.

Steve Goodman, author of the book Sonic Warfare, told BBC Radio 4 that it was “not clear” whether inaudible soundwaves could give someone the hearing loss the state department described.

“The information given is so vague it’s hard to say,” he said.

Who has this kind of technology?

Again, it’s not clear. And it’s also not clear who would have carried out such an attack on embassy staff. Cuba has denied involvement and security analysts say it may have been done by a third country, hostile to the US.

Elizabeth Quintana, a senior research fellow at the UK-based military think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), specialises in emerging technologies in the defence world.

“The US have been surprised at the extent to which others have caught up with them in all sorts of technologies,” she told the BBC.

“It’s probably not so much a surprise that the technology exists, more that others are aware of it and using it.”

Has sound been used as a weapon before?

Yes. Sound cannon are used in crowd control by police forces around the world, were fitted to a ship to deter Somali pirates, and were made available for London police during the 2012 Olympics, although not used.

Some versions are capable of producing deafening sound levels of 150 decibels at one metre. They can deafen people within a 15 metre range and some can be heard miles away – not quite the subtle, covert operation supposed to have happened in Havana.

Sound has been used in psychological operations too – the US army played heavy metal and Western children’s music to Iraqi prisoners of war in an attempt to deprive them of rest and make them co-operate in interrogations.

And some shop owners in the UK use so-called Mosquitos, devices that emit high-pitched sounds (15-18kHz) and cannot be heard by people who have turned 25, to try to discourage teenagers from standing around near the entrance to their shops.

But in all of these examples, the person being targeted could hear the sound – a key difference from the incidents said to have happened in Havana.

 

 

‘I deliver to your house’: pot dealers on why legalization is doomed

The success or failure of cannabis legalization comes down to one thing: beating the black market. So what do dealers think?

June 6, 2018

by Chris Frey

The Guardian

It’s a case of My Guy versus The Man: who will you buy your pot from? As legalization looms, governments across Canada are angling for a generous slice of what was a $5.7bn marijuana business in 2017. The rules vary across the country – some provinces will permit licensed private retailers; others will sell pot exclusively through government stores – but success will ultimately depend on just one thing: beating the black market.

So is that black market worried? Two Toronto-based dealers agreed to speak with us. Gord, 44, has been selling marijuana full-time since he was 16, and his business had the trappings of a retail empire, with business cards advertising Smiley Face Delivery. Ray, 45, who began selling 17 years ago, is more modest in his ambitions. “I have a day job,” he said. “I do this for the extras, so I can take my wife out to an expensive dinner. I don’t really look at it as a serious business. It’s as much a cultural thing.”

How will legalization affect your business?

Gord: Ever since the government started talking about legalization and all these [illegal storefront] dispensaries opened up, the profit margins have decreased. All the years I’ve been selling, the price never changed very much – like around C$250 to $300 per ounce for the really good stuff. Now I’m supposed to lower my prices down to $200 or less. And you have this younger generation coming up that’s used to the idea of stores and getting pot anywhere. In the old days you had a drug dealer and you held on to him. He’s like your doctor or mechanic: once you got a good one you held on to him. The loyalty thing is dead now. So a lot of the bigger dealers are saying: “You know what? My time’s done, it’s time to retire.” The last year I’ve taken a pretty big hit on the finances so I’ve been looking at an exit strategy. Which is kind of just exiting slowly, trimming the fat, only helping out the people who’ve been the most loyal.

Ray: Five years ago, it was different. Some people were definitely making more money, simply because there were fewer people in the industry, but now their income has dropped. I operate at a smaller scale, I do this because I enjoy it and I make some extra money. So for me it’s great that the government is coming in – I’m happy as shit. The reason why is now they’re going to shut down the dispensaries and they’re my biggest competition. Plus, the THC content of the pot the government will be selling is going to be 20% or less. The guys I know selling commercially can’t wait till the government comes in.

What’s the key factor in determining whether the black market will continue? Is it price? Quality? Ease of access? Ministers have discussed $10/g, but the average street price nationally is only $7/g.

Ray: Price is 90% of it. The majority of people aren’t connoisseurs and don’t have a lot of money to spend on pot. They want a good deal and don’t care, or know, much about quality. If the government prices pot too high you’re not giving those people an option, so they will stick with the black market. I’m still going to deal with the regular people I deal with: people who go to work everyday and just want to smoke a little pot, but don’t want to pay the astronomical prices the government is going to charge.

Gord: You got to include all the tax [on government pot] as well. It’ll be like smokes and alcohol: whenever they need more money, “sin taxes” will be the first thing they’ll increase.

What about convenience? Alberta is talking about having 250 storefronts, but Quebec only 15 – to service 8.2 million people.

Ray: We’ve had this period in Toronto where it seemed like illegal dispensaries were opening on almost every block. Now Ontario will have, what, something like 40 [government-operated] stores to start? There’s no way they’ll be as convenient for consumers. Once they shut down the illegal dispensaries it will just level the playing field for dealers like me. And I deliver to your home.

What do expect from the quality of government weed?

Gord: It’s going to be mass produced, like Labatt’s beer or Budweiser, all off-the- shelf, generic, it’ll taste the same every time. It won’t have much strength so it’s like you’re really just buying a flavour. Maybe you can produce an excellent kush that’s 29% THC, but no, they government will tell you, you have to do it this way.

Ray: The stuff the government is going to sell; it’ll be weaker, like the difference between light beer and regular beer, or even liquor.

After all these years of very lax enforcement, does it feel as if pot dealers are about to be recriminalized? Do dealers now have new reason to fear the police?

Ray: I’ve never really had to worry and I’m not worried now. I have friends in law enforcement, and generally they look [at marijuana prohibition] like it’s ridiculous, the dumbest thing ever. They can tell if someone is organized crime or it’s just some local guy growing a basement full of pot and selling to his friends. If it’s organized crime, then OK, that changes everything, but for the local guy? They’d rather leave that guy alone. They have other street drugs to worry about: fentanyl, cocaine … and guns.

Gord: In my experience, the fear only comes when you start to sell the hard, poisonous drugs. I can only think of one time since I started selling at 16 when I was ever really scared, and that was I was driving through [a police drunk-driving checkpoint] with 15lbs of weed in my car. That scared me. But that was the only time.

If the bigger dealers get squeezed out by the market, where will they go?

Gord: I can’t be the only person in this country who’s noticed a direct correlation between the talk of legalization and the increase in fentanyl and heroin and gun violence. You’re already seeing more killings, more problems [associated with harder drugs]. Some of us have our morals and ethics we follow: we won’t go into the stuff that will kill people. Other dealers I know have branched out into other markets.

Ray: For sure you will have some small percentage of dealers – especially those strictly in it for the money – move into harder drugs, but that’s like any industry when you’re getting squeezed out. You become willing to take bigger risks. Everyone in the marijuana business is pretty decent for the most part. Maybe you’ll get the odd guy who wants to be a badass, who thinks marijuana’s too soft and they’re not making enough money. A percentage of those guys will move into selling crack, cocaine, pills, whatever.

Is there as much money to be made in legal pot as everyone now seems to think?

Ray: I don’t really see it. Whether the dispensaries are there, or whether the government comes in, there’s still about the same number of people smoking. Maybe as kids turn 19 and they’re allowed to buy at a government store, you might get a 10% spike in the people who will try it – but not everybody’s going to try it and like it. You’re not going to get this astronomical increase.

Will a diminished black market affect the broader economy?

Gord: Unfortunately, you take away a black market and you hurt the economy, in ways you’ll never understand, because it’s so much easier to spend money that’s not taxed than explain where your money has come from. Our black market money is what stimulated all the fun things in life. The cars and boats nobody could afford to buy otherwise. The dealer never worried about going out for a $400 lunch with his two halfwit buddies because he knew there’d be another $400 later that day.

With the elimination of dispensaries, do you see an opportunity to grow your business?

Ray: I would love to grow my business, but I’m too lazy. Is it really worth the extra dollar to run around and kill yourself that much more? I have one friend who is ambitious about it, he’s working all day and night, driving around. He loves to buy his materialistic things, going on vacation. For dealers like me and most of my friends – if we make a buck today then great. It’s just supplementing our income. I have a day job, I do this for the extras, so I can take my wife out to an expensive dinner. I don’t look at it as business: it’s a cultural thing. If I can make a dollar off it I will – if not, I’m still going to smoke. I mean, a person who smokes pot is pretty chill to begin with.

 

 

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