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OPCW investigation of Khan Sheikhoun attack collapses before it starts

With the stakes impossibly high and an independent investigation compromised before it starts by Western declarations of President Assad’s guilt, the OPCW investigation into the Khan Sheikhoun attack is already the subject of recrimination and conflict between the Western Powers and Russia.

Alexander Mercouris

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Ever since President Trump of the United States declared President Assad of Syria guilty of the Khan Sheikhoun attack within hours of it happening and before any investigation had taken place, I have said that any investigation of the attack had been fatally prejudiced.

Especially after the US missile attack on Al-Shayrat air base, which resulted in people being killed, the honour and prestige of the President of the United States and of the Western alliance is bound up with a finding that President Assad and the Syrian military were guilty of the Khan Sheikhoun attack.  Given the stakes involved, and given the enormous power of the US President and of the Western alliance, any truly independent and objective investigation of the Khan Sheikhoun attack is now impossible.

The Khan Sheikhoun attack took place on 4th April 2017, ie. 17 days ago.  To date no independent investigator has visited the scene, and no attempt has been made to secure the crime scene to prevent tampering.  Following the attack on the humanitarian convoy in September 2016, this is what I said about the importance of this

It is sometimes possible to infer the truth of who was behind a particular attack by looking at the evidence, but can it actually be done in this case?  The short answer I would say is no. 

Since the attack is being called by some a war crime, it would seem a basic step first to secure and inspect what in that case would be a crime scene before drawing any inferences and making any accusations.  Almost a week after the attack not only has that not been done, but no one seems to be in any hurry to do it.

With the crime scene not secured, the possibility of contamination or outright manipulation of the evidence is very real, especially given the strong incentive to do so of the Jihadi fighters who are in physical control of it.  After all that is what many claim the Jihadi fighters did to the scene of the chemical attack on Ghouta in August 2013. 

The Syrians have offered the OPCW inspectors access to the Al-Shayrat air base from where the US claims the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun was launched.  The OPCW investigators have however declined to go there, and nor have they gone to Khan Sheikhoun itself, which is under Jihadi control.  A joint Russia-Iranian proposal for the OPCW to set up a new inquiry, which would immediately despatch investigators to Al-Shayrat air base and Khan Sheikhoun, ran into opposition from the Western powers and was voted down by the OPCW Board yesterday.

There might be legitimate fears preventing the investigators going to Khan Sheikhoun, which is under Jihadi control, though the Jihadis did permit a journalist from the Guardian to travel there within days of the alleged chemical attack.  However there can be no such fears about going to Al-Shayrat air base, which is firmly under the Syrian government’s control.  The UN investigators who eventually investigated the attack on the humanitarian convoy in September 2016 ran into delays getting visas from the Syrian government to travel to Syria.  The same is obviously not true in this case, with the Russians, the Iranians and the Syrians seemingly pulling out the stops to get the OPCW investigators to Al-Shayrat air base as soon as possible.  In the event they are not going there, and there seems no wish or desire for them to go.  Nor does there seem to be any rush to get the Jihadis who control Khan Sheikhoun to provide guarantees of access to the OPCW investigators so that they can visit the actual site of the alleged attack.

In the absence of any actual inspections of the scenes of the alleged crime, it looks like we are going to have another investigation carried out remotely, from the comfort of the OPCW’s headquarters in The Hague or from some other Western capital, as happened in the case of the investigation of the attack on the humanitarian convoy.

That this is highly unsatisfactory hardly needs to be said.  Here however is what I said about it in connection with the investigation into the attack on the humanitarian convoy in September 2016, which was also carried out remotely

The Board of Inquiry’s findings are open to challenge.  This is because of the delay in setting up the inquiry and the failure to secure the crime scene.  As a result the Board of Inquiry was unable to carry out a physical inspection of the crime scene.  Here is what the report says about this

The Board was not allowed to visit the scene of the incident in Urem al-Kubra, the [Syrian] Government stating that it was unable to ensure the safety of the Board, given the ongoing military operations at that location. In this regard, the Board noted that 11 weeks had already elapsed by then since the date of the incident, by which time damaged vehicles had been removed and some destroyed structures had been repaired or rebuilt. Subsequent actions had therefore adversely affected the integrity of the site of the incident and consequently the availability of physical evidence. A visit to the site might therefore not have yielded commensurate results.  The Board accordingly developed alternative methods of evidence collection.

All this is true but it is also deeply regrettable.  As I said in my article of 26th September 2016 (see above) securing the crime scene immediately following the attack ought to have been the immediate priority.  Realistically that would have required cooperation by all the Great Powers (including the US, Russia, Syria and Turkey) and probably a Resolution of the UN Security Council.  The way the Western powers politicised the incident and sought to make political capital out of it made all that impossible, which is why an inspection of the crime scene has never happened.

Unfortunately without a proper inspection of the crime scene the Inquiry report is incomplete, and its findings open to challenge.

The bitter truth is that by now, 17 days after the attack, the crime scenes at both Khan Sheikhoun and Al-Shayrat air base have almost certainly been far too contaminated already to make fully secure findings possible.  In the case of Al-Shayrat air base, the fact that immediately following the alleged chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun it was itself the subject of a missile attack by the US military, will of course have contaminated it further.

Alongside the OPCW’s failure to despatch investigators to the crime scene, the Russians are alleging that an attempt is underway to pack the OPCW investigation with Western investigators, with the Russians complaining that two Britons have been appointed to senior posts in the investigation.

I know nothing of these people and it may be that the Russian criticism of them is unfair.  However I wonder what Western governments and the Western media would say if instead of Britons the OPCW had appointed Russians.

The Russians are now hinting that they are so dissatisfied with the way the OPCW investigation is being conducted that they are going to set up a parallel investigation of their own, though it is difficult to see how such a Russian investigation could gain access to Khan Sheikhoun unless it is recaptured by the Syrian army, which by the way is possible.

The Russians have conducted their own investigations of these sort of incidents in the past, and the results of any parallel investigation they set up into the Khan Sheikhoun affair should not be automatically discounted in advance.  A Russian investigation into the Sarajevo market bombing of 1994, and one carried out by the Russian missile Almaz-Antey into the shooting down of MH17, both produced interesting results, though the Western media and Western governments and the ‘official’ investigations have either ignored them or suppressed or distorted their findings.

However those who will criticise any Russian decision to set up a parallel investigation into the Khan Sheikhoun attack as politicised and self-serving are of course right.  That criticism does not however address the larger truth, which is that following the rush to pronounce President Assad and the Syrian military guilty within hours of the Khan Sheikhoun attack before any investigation had taken place, any investigation of the Khan Sheikhoun attack, irrespective of who carries it out, is now hopelessly prejudiced and politicised before it starts.

In the case of the attack on the humanitarian convoy in September 2016 the Board of Inquiry UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon set up at least tried to do a proper job, even though its failure to inspect the actual crime scene means its conclusions are incomplete and open to challenge.

However the report of that inquiry shows that it came under intense pressure behind the scenes from the Western powers to implicate the Russians in the attack.  That it refused to do so, and (unlike the MH17 inquiry) refused to accept the US’s word about ‘evidence’ the US refused to show to it, or to rely on ‘evidence’ obtained via social media or the internet, was almost certainly due to the toughness and integrity of the inquiry’s chairman, an Indian military officer, who proved impervious to Western pressure, and who seems to have been determined that his inquiry would do a proper and honest job.

An OPCW inquiry staffed by citizens of the Western powers may not be so resistant to pressure.  Even if the people who staff it are honest and decent, they will inevitably be concerned about the future of their careers if they produce a report that contradicts what was said by the President of the United States supported by all the other Western governments, especially over an issue where so much now is at stake.

In conclusion, the prospects of any sort of truly impartial and independent investigation taking place into what happened in Khan Sheikhoun on 4th April 2017 are now vanishingly small, and the failure to inspect the crime scene may have already made it physically impossible.  The blame for that must rest with the President of the United States and with Western governments, who ignoring basic principles of due process, made a pronouncement of guilt before any investigation had taken place.

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Ukraine President Poroshenko moves to steal Russian Orthodox Church property

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 84.

Dmitry Babich

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The press service of the Patriarch of All Russias announced that the first person in the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, will visit Istanbul on August 31, 2018, for a “very important talk” with his colleague, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

All Russia and all of Ukraine will be watching this meeting with their hearts beating. Bartholomew, even though not playing in the Orthodox world the same role as the Pope plays in the Catholic one, is in a “make or break” position now. Bartholomew has been asked by the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to separate the Ukrainian “sister church” from the Moscow Patriarchate. The problem is that Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox believers belonged to the same church since Russia’s baptism in 988 AD, which makes it more than 1000 years. (Kirill is traditionally called the Patriarch of All Russias, meaning the White Russia, i.e. Belarus, and Small Russia, i.e. Ukraine.)

The head of the un-recognized pro-Poroshenko “alternative” Ukrainian church, Filaret Denisenko, said that Bartholomew’s agreement will mean an immediate confiscation of all the temples, chapels and monasteries in the country from the “pro-Moscow” church to the newly formed Unified Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which president Poroshenko announced would be founded right after getting Bartholomew’s eventual permission. Bartholomew’s response is awaited in September, so the visit of the Russian Patriarch to Bartholomew’s office in Istanbul has an urgent character. In Ukraine, several deputies warned of “bloody consequences” if the buildings of prayer start to be taken away from the traditional church.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Political Analyst with Sputnik International, Dmitry Babich, discuss the move by Ukraine President Poroshenko to divide the Russian Orthodox Church and execute a massive land grab against the Russian Church that would be historic in size and scope.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.


TURMOIL AROUND THE ANNIVERSARY

In The end of July 2018, on the eve of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus, an Eastern Slavic proto-state, on whose territory the three modern states of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are located today, the events of that long past epoch were suddenly echoed by some very modern pains. The authorities in Kiev, the site of baptism performed by prince Vladimir in 988 AD and currently the capital of Ukraine, spread fears among believers. Fears unheard of since Christianity was de facto “rehabilitated” in the former Soviet Union during the celebrations of the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism – under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988.

The heads of Ukrainian transportation companies said in their many conversations with Ukrainian priests that they got “recommendations” from the authorities not to provide buses at the request of  peripheral parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (UPTsMP in the local abbreviation). The aim of the authorities was to prevent UPTsMP from busing the believers into Kiev and holding a mass march there. Since UPTsMP openly condemns the ongoing civil war in Ukraine, refusing to call it a “Russian aggression” and retaining the word “Moscow” in its name, the authorities’ concerns are easy to explain. They were afraid that the march could be seen as a sign of the believers’ opposition to certain policies of the ruling regime in Ukraine. Namely, the policies aimed at total cut of ties to Moscow, advocated by the ruling regime in Ukraine.

PROBLEMS OF TRANSPORTATION

“We called dozens of various [transportation] companies and everywhere we heard total refusal. In the end, one of the heads of these companies confessed: they were unofficially prohibited to transport the believers to Kiev under threat of a physical violence,” the official site of the Ukrainian church quoted archpriest Oleg Dominsky as saying. Dominsky represented the Ovruch diocese of UPTsMP. https://ria.ru/religion/20180726/1525416709.html

Ovruch is located in the north-west of Ukraine, a few hundreds of miles away from Kiev. Similar complaints came from the Odessa, Nezhin and Chernovtsy regions of Ukraine. The metropolitan of the Ovruch diocese Vissarion said in an interview to the Kiev-based Ukrainian television channel  112UA: “Not only the transportation companies, but even simple believers face obstacles [on their way to Kiev]. People are… intimidated, some of them face threats of having problems with their jobs,” Vissarion said on 112UA channel. https://ria.ru/religion/20180726/1525416709.html

“SEPARATISTS” IN THE MAJORITY

However, on July 27, the UPTsMP’s  march in honor of the 1030th anniversary did take place, with about 250 thousand people attending it, according to the church’s own estimates. The deputy of Ukraine’s interior minister, Sergei Yarovoi, came with a much more modest estimate, telling the journalists that “about 20 thousand people took part” in the march of the church which the pro-government Ukrainian nationalist organizations often accuse of being “a pro-Moscow group of separatists in priests’ attire.”

Why was the Ukrainian government so much against the march commemorating something that happened 1030 years ago? “It had been clear long before the anniversary that this march would reveal the spiritual bonds between Ukrainians and Russians, since prince Vladimir during the baptism did not make any difference between these two nations. So, the authorities tried to prevent the march, while giving maximum support to an alternative event, organized by the so called Ukrainian church of Kiev Patriarchate, which is loyal to the authorities and calls the war in Ukraine a ‘Russian aggression,” said Vladimir Sinelnikov, the Ukrainian-born correspondent of the Russian Vesti FM radio station in Kiev. https://radiovesti.ru/brand/61178/episode/1860284/

According to Sinelnikov and several Ukrainian media outlets, the authorities are giving a clear preference to an “alternative” Ukrainian Orthodox church, the so called Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev Patriarchate (UPTs KP), not recognized by any of the world’s Orthodox Patriarchates. This so called “church” is headed by “patriarch” Filaret Denisenko, an excommunicated former member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church who founded UPTsKP on the basis of Ukrainian nationalism and total rejection of any “spiritual communion” with Russia in 1992.

APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION

“We know that participants in the march organized by citizen Denisenko and his followers were bused in to Kiev by none other than the local administrations and other government bodies,” said Alexander Shchipkov, deputy head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s department for relations with society and media. “However, experience shows that excommunicated Denisenko and his so called church never attain the same numbers of supporters as the canonical Ukrainian church, which is officially a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, sharing its apostolic tradition and many hundreds of years of history. For every true believer, this is more important than the government’s graces.”

According to historical records, Kievan Rus was officially baptized by prince Vladimir in the tenth century AD with the support and participation of the Greek Church in Constantinople, then the official church of the East Roman Empire, later referred to by historians as Byzantine. (In reality, the Byzantine emperors and their subjects called themselves Romans and considered their empire the same state as the legendary Roman empire of Julius Caesar. It is from Caesar that the word “tsar” emerged in the Russian language to designate the monarch, while Roman history became the root of the theory of “Moscow as the third Rome,” which presumed Moscow’s succession to the imperial city of Rome and its previous successor of Constantinople, the second Rome, that fell to Turkish hands in the fifteenth century.)

The first Orthodox bishops and metropolitans in Russia were Greeks from Constantinople, who got their “apostolic succession” from Christ’s own disciples, which visited Rome and Greece on many occasions, starting the tradition of “ordaining” new bishops and priests, which lasts to this day. Today, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are in fact celebrating the 1030th anniversary of this unbroken tradition.

UNWANTED SEPARATION

“The strength of the Russian Orthodox Church and its Ukrainian sister UPTs MP lies in the apostolic succession, which the current Ukrainian government can neither provide nor imitate,” Moscow Patriarchate’s Shchipkov said. “The state cannot “create” a church, nor should it aspire to do it. But this is exactly what the Ukrainian authorities are trying to do, urging the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to merge with Denisenko’s entity and asking from the ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople an autocephalous status for this new “united” Ukrainian church of their own invention.” In April this year, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko and the country’s parliament did ask the Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew to give “patriarch” Denisenko and his church an “autocephalous” status, thus breaking the more than 1000 years old link to Russia. Bartholomew is still considering that request. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate protested, saying that it did not empower Poroshenko and Rada to ask Constantinople for any special new status for it. “This initiative is an abuse of power, an interference of state into church affairs,” the Church’s statement said. http://news.church.ua/2018/04/21/zayavlenie-ovcs-ukrainskoj-pravoslavnoj-cerkvi-po-povodu-obrashheniya-prezidenta-ukrainy-k-vselenskomu-patriarxu-varfolomeyu-otnositelno-predostavleniya-tomosa-ob-avtokefalii-pravoslavnoj-cerkvi-v-ukr/?lang=ru

SPIRITUAL LINK

However, besides a purely religious significance, today’s anniversary has an important humanitarian element, which goes far beyond the sphere of religion alone. Joint celebration of the Eastern Slavs’ baptism provides an enduring spiritual link between tens of millions of people, who in the 1990s suddenly became divided by newly emerged borders. Ukraine again gives the most vivid – and dramatic – example of this.

After the Maidan revolution in Ukraine in 2014 and the subsequent crackdown by the new authorities on all things Russian in that country, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (UPTsMP) remained the only public organization in Ukraine which still legally has the word “Moscow” in its name. For millions of Ukrainian citizens, ethnic Russians or not, any kind of legal linkage to Russia is valuable and important. Besides the Cyrillic alphabet, which was given to both Russians and Ukrainians by the saintly teachers Cyril and Method in the 9th century, there are few non-Internet links that remain between the two countries. Already in the beginning of its rule in 2014, the new regime in Kiev terminated air flights between the two countries and banished Russian television and radio from Ukraine’s cable networks. Constant attempts to shut down the Russian embassy and to introduce a visa regime or just to close the borders are made from the Ukrainian side.

CHURCH SUCCEEDS WHERE GORBACHEV FAILS

But why does the church endure where diplomacy does not?

In the period of collapse of the Soviet Union as a successor to the Russian empire, which culminated in the country’s dissolution in 1991, the Russian church proved to be much wiser and more flexible than the Soviet state. It succeeded where the last president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev failed.

“Russian Orthodox Church then gave its “periphery” so much autonomy, that this prevented the collapse of the whole structure. The unified state might collapse in tears, but the church did not follow it. It remained alive and did not give up its right to cater to believers on all sides of the newly emerged borders,” explains Yevgeny Nikiforov, the head of the Orthodox-oriented radio station Radonezh and a specialist in Russian church’s history.

Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow Patriarchate allowed the sister churches in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova to have their own budgets, to appoint their own bishops and to run all of their “earthly” activities (education, production of church items, etc.) without consulting anyone in Moscow. In return, the Russian Orthodox Church remained in “eucharistic union” with them, with representatives of these churches participating in the election of the Russian Patriarch of ROC. But what is most important, all believers in these countries and Russia can satisfy their religious needs on equal footing in any of these sister churches.

PATRIARCH IN DREAM OF KIEV

After his election in 2009, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill became much more active than his predecessors in propagating the idea of the “Russian world,” a free spiritual community of the individuals sharing Christian Orthodox values, anchored in Russian culture and having some knowledge (not necessarily proficiency) of the Russian language.

The tragic wars in Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 and 2014, when Christian Orthodox believers killed each other on both sides of the fronts, led to innumerable losses for both the church and its Orthodox parishioners. Dozens of Orthodox priests had to emigrate from Ukraine to Russia because of accusations of being “Moscow stooges.” But this suffering did not shatter the belief of Patriarch Kirill in the feasibility of Russian world and its benign nature.

For Kirill, there is a personal side to these conflicts: the tradition to celebrate the anniversaries of Prince Vladimir’s Baptism of Rus in Kiev, established by Kirill’s predecessors back in 2008, can no longer be continued because of the Ukrainian government’s negative stance towards him personally.

“The Patriarch feels very badly about the fact that the Ukrainian authorities do not let him visit Kiev, the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy,” explained Vladimir Legoyda, ROC’s representative in the Holy Synod’s department on public affairs. “For many centuries, this is the first time that the head of the Russian orthodox Church is facing such a constraint on his movement. But the Patriarch is sure that sooner or later such a visit will be possible again. We don’t support any sides in Ukraine’s war. We just want this war to end as soon as possible.”

Speaking to a convention of the world’s Orthodox churches’ representatives in Moscow on July 27, Patriarch Kirill denounced the attempts to divide and subdue the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, he condemned its discrimination and the attempts to disown it of its most famous  Pochayiv monastery and Kiev-Pechersk one. “For our church, Kiev is the same kind of a holy place as Jerusalem is for Christians of all creeds or Kosovo is for the Serb Orthodox church,” Kirill explained. He also asked the Ukrainian authorities not to “cut away” the Ukrainian church from the Moscow Patriarchate.

But will the official Kiev hear the Patriarch?  It may not, but after all, the link between the Russian and Ukrainian believers is really not of an earthly nature. And what God has tied together, will the governments be able to severe? Every true believer knows the answer to this question.

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Judicial Watch Calls for Re-Opening of Hillary Email Investigation After More Classified Info Found

Judicial Watching is calling for a re-opening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails after finding more classified information on the former Secretary of State’s non-“state.gov” email system.

The Duran

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Authored by Joseph Jankowski via PlanetFreeWill.com,


On Thursday, the watchdog revealed that it had received two batches, 184 pages and 45 pagesof newly uncovered emails belonging to Hillary Clinton from the U.S. Department of State sent and received over her unsecured server.

The emails were uncovered by a FOIA lawsuit filed on May 6, 2015, after the State Department failed to respond to a March 4, 2015 FOIA request seeking all emails sent or received by Clinton in her official capacity as Secretary of State, as well as all emails by other State Department employees to Clinton regarding her non-“state.gov” email address.

Judicial Watch broke down what they found:

  • On June 7, 2011, Clinton received classified information on her non-secure email account from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, which Blair also forwarded to Jake Sullivan, about Blair’s Middle East negotiations with Israel, the Palestinians and the French
  • On January 26, 2010, Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan sent classified information via his unsecure Blackberry to Huma Abedin’s State Department email account that he’d earlier sent to Clinton’s and Abedin’s non-secure @clintonemail.com email accounts about U.K. negotiations with Northern Ireland.
  • On October 28, 2010, Clinton exchanges information with her friend Marty Torrey – a congressional aide – who asks Clinton in an email if she would advise that Torrey meet with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Clinton responds through her non-secure email account approving the meeting and notes that she is emailing him from Hanoi, Vietnam.
  • An email chain dated April 8, 2010, which contains a memo from Sid Blumenthal to Hillary Clinton related to the change of government in Kyrgyzstan, contains information classified “confidential” and is redacted as “foreign government information” and “foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources.” Blumenthal urges Clinton to “develop relations” with the new government in Kyrgyzstan.

These emails caused Judicial Watch founder Tom Fitton to call for the Department of Justice to re-open the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time in office.

“These emails were undercovered from the emails that Hillary Clinton tried to delete or otherwise hide from the American people,” Fitton said in a video posted Thursday. “These new emails once again show why the Clinton email investigation needs to be re-opened by the Justice Department.”

The batch of emails also disclosed a January 26, 2010, email to Hillary Clinton’s private server from her deputy chief of staff, Jake Sullivan, that is classified “confidential” and contains a “call sheet” that Clinton received prior to a call with Northern Ireland political leaders.

Interesting, but not surprising, is also an email that shows a meeting scheduled between Hillary Clinton and leftwing billionaire George Soros.

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Doug Casey on Social Media: “Facebook enshrines stupidity”

“Just as Myspace was displaced by Facebook, I predict Facebook 2.0 will come along and replace Facebook.”

The Duran

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Authored by Joel Bowman via InternationalMan.com:


Joel Bowman: G’day, Doug. Thanks for speaking with us today.

Doug Casey: No problem, Joel. It’s a pleasure to hear your Australian accent come across the ether from Mexico.

Joel: Let’s dive right in. A week or two ago, Facebook registered the largest single day loss for any one company in stock market history – roughly $122 billion. CEO Mark Zuckerberg lost around $15 billion himself, as much as the annual GDP of several resource-rich, West African nations.

Looking back to 2000, during the go-go days of the dot.com boom, Intel and Microsoft both registered staggering single-day losses, too… $90 billion and $80 billion, respectively. And we know what happened next in that case…

So, investors want to know… is past prologue? What’s next for Silicon Valley’s tech darlings?

Doug: Talking about losing multiple billions in a single day, it’s really a sign of the times. I remember when the only billionaires in the world were Howard Hughes, John Paul Getty and John Beresford Tipton– the mythical billionaire on a 1950’s-era show called “The Millionaire.”

These days, however, it seems everyone’s a billionaire. In fact, there are several thousand billionaires roaming the planet today, with new ones being minted almost every day.

Of course, much of this so-called wealth is just paper. It’s not real. In fact, it’s pretty clear to me that we’re in a stock market bubble. Which is being driven by the bond market hyper-bubble. And that, in turn, is fueling a real estate bubble, which I believe is just now beginning to deflate in major cities around the world.

None of this augurs well for the stock market. You’ve got bubbles all over the place. Except in the resource market. That’s the one place that hasn’t inflated. In fact, it’s been going down since it’s last peak in 2011.

Getting back to Facebook, I hope it goes bankrupt. I hate it as an institution. I hate what it does. I don’t like its policies. I don’t like its management. I don’t like the fact that it’s causing people to destroy whatever privacy they have left. While turning their brains to mush sending out selfies all day.

Joel: You’ve put a lot on the table there, Doug. Let’s unpack a bit of that, starting with the general tendency toward cerebral rot…

Many younger readers may not remember this, but there actually existed a time before everybody knew everything, when people had to read books and discuss them, engage in healthy debate and rigorous dialectic in order to learn and develop intellectually.

Now that everyone apparently has plenty of time to Instagram their kale salads and “like” one and other’s cat pictures, are we to assume mankind has finally reached the End of Learning…some new Age of Enlightenment?

Or might Facebook and its (anti)social media cousins represent – in addition to the potential fallout for investors – another, hidden cost to society?

Doug: Perhaps humanity is bifurcating into the Morlocks and the Eloi at this point. It’s true that people used to go to libraries. But even the Library of Congress has only a tiny fraction the world’s data available; libraries are quaint and delightful, but they’re dinosaurs.

All the knowledge in the world is now at our fingertips on the Internet. The Internet is one of the greatest inventions in history, on a par with moveable type and the Gutenburg printing press. A few people are using it to educate and better themselves—but relatively few.

Most people just use it for trivial amusement, as you mentioned. Facebook adds very little value to the equation. In fact, I can’t see that it does much that’s productive. It’s basically a vehicle for gossip and watching cat videos.

Joel: And it’s less than that. Aside from the general degradation of public discourse, social media also represents a kind of unalterable historical record of bad jokes and regrettable moments, accessible to anyone who may wish to besmirch one’s character or skittle one’s reputation.

We’ve all said things we wish we hadn’t. To err is to be human, after all. What do you make of a world in which everyone’s worst moments are readily available to everyone else – including potential enemies – at the click of a mouse?

Doug: Facebook enshrines stupidity. A heavy Facebook user is, in effect, saying: “Look at me! I’m a thoughtless person who doesn’t have anything better to do with his time”. That’s on top of the fact that users are exposing their thoughts, actions, and whereabouts to the NSA, the FBI, the CIA and any of a hundred other nefarious agencies. In fact, there are credible allegations that Facebook, along with Google and Amazon, are willing tools of these intelligence agencies. No good can come of being a Facebookista.

But that’s about whether you should use Facebook. Whether you should own Facebook stock is a different question. Even after the recent selloff, Facebook still has a market cap of about $500 billion, which impresses me as a lot for a chat site cum advertising vehicle. Especially one where most of its growth is behind it. A lot of users are getting hip to the fact they’re not customers, they’re the product.

Facebook was a clever innovation ten years ago. But you know, there’s an old saying in the stock market: High Tech, Big Wreck!

Just as Myspace was displaced by Facebook, I predict Facebook 2.0 will come along and replace Facebook. My understanding is that kids now see Facebook as something used by old people– people over 21 years of age. So if it’s going nowhere with the younger generation, where’s it’s future? Maybe it picks up a billion new users in the Third World. Ultimately, what’s that worth?

Facebook may not be a terminal short sale, but I certainly won’t be putting any of my own money into the stock.

Joel: Assuming you’re correct and Facebook 2.0 does displace the current market leader, are you hopeful that such a platform may serve to promote a heightened level of discourse? Perhaps people might find their way into “phyles,” that is, subgroups based on commonly shared values that actually have real world meaning?

Doug: I hope that, in a year or two, International Man itself grows into a community of likeminded people with above average I.Q.s, libertarian values, and real world experience. IM might, itself, even branch off to become its own kind of Facebook. A private version.

I know there’s a lot of talk about regulating FB, or breaking it up. That’s a bad idea; the government should have zero to do with business in general—and areas related to free speech in particular. I’m disgusted by the fact FB has kicked Alex Jones and others off their platform. But they have a right to do so, as a private company. Although, on the other hand, they’re almost a creature of the State.

But that’s not an excuse for the government to “step in”. What will happen is that a newer, better Facebook lookalike—or a dozen of them—will replace them. FB will self-destruct. It’s a non-problem.

To be frank, you and I don’t really have that much in common with most of the 7.3 billion people on this planet. In fact, while I like many individual humans, I despise humanity in general. The more people you put together in a group, the more they act like chimpanzees. Big groups force down the lowest common denominator.

There’s some cause for optimism, but only on a person-to-person basis. I prefer the company of people who value free minds and free markets—and I suspect most people who are reading this now feel the same way.

Joel: That’s probably a very good note to end this conversation on, Doug. Thanks, as always, for taking the time.

Doug: Meanwhile, we’ll look for something with the potential of Facebook in 2008… and stay away from Facebook today.

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