We didn’t believe it at first, but it’s true: Russia’s Defense Ministry says it will target any aircraft from the US-led coalition flying west of the Euphrates.

In the areas of combat missions of Russian air fleet in Syrian skies, any airborne objects, including aircraft and unmanned vehicles of the [US-led] international coalition, located to the west of the Euphrates River, will be tracked by Russian ground and air defense forces as air targets,” the Russian Ministry of Defense stated.

The announcement comes after the US shot down a Syrian jet near Raqqa. Washington says the Syrian jet had dropped bombs near US-backed forces, but Damascus insists the plane was downed while flying a mission against Islamic State militants.

This basically means that Russia is now taking complete control of most of Syria’s airspace:

03a5ed3d265b46dc14f15a48141d71e5.jpg

Moscow has also cut its military communication line with the US in Syria.

We hope Washington gets the memo this time. Because it doesn’t sound like Russia is bluffing. Planes will be “painted”. And is the US prepared to risk it?

Featured image: Russia Insider

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The ICC Should Be on Trial Not Saif Gaddafi

June 20th, 2017 by Richard Galustian

The International Criminal Court has demanded that Libya hand over former leader Muamar Gaddafi‘s son Saif after his release by an armed militia last week, but it is the Court, not Saif, which should be on trial.

One word tells you all you need to know about the ICC, and that’s ISIS: These terrorists have perpetuated the most appalling crimes in Libya, not least the ritual execution — filmed and uploaded onto its website — of Egyptian Coptic Christians on a beachfront two years ago. The result? No indictments from the ICC.

The ICC is a kangaroo court if ever there was one, and its pursuit of Saif smacks of politics. Consider that for years he pushed for reforms in Libya, and consider also that he commanded no military nor police units. Indeed he was not in a position to commit war crimes. And yet the Hague wants him for crimes against humanity.

As to the Saif prosecution, where is the evidence? Leaked emails show his role in trying to hold back the fighting in the 2011 revolution.

One of the leaked Hillary Clinton emails “UNCLASSIFIED U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05792027 Date: 01/07/2016 RELEASE IN PART B6 states:

From: [email protected]

Sent: Sunday, February 27, 2011 10:10 AM “The moderates, led by Saif al-Islam Qaddafi favor aggressive police anti-riot tactics but are opposed the use of deadly force. Saif is also calling for negotiations with tribal leaders in the East, including members of the former royal family.”

Additionally, consider how the ICC treated Abdullah al Senussi, Gaddafi senior’s former intelligence chief, who was also charged by the ICC. However, the ICC agreed Libya could try him, and raised no objections when that “trial” degenerated into a free for all with militias guarding the courtroom and intimidating witnesses.

That Tripoli “trial” went from bad to farce when the militia group Zintan, who to be fair never mistreated Saif, refused to hand him over to Tripoli. So instead, Tripoli court officials arranged for a video link with Zintan so he could be “tried.” That video link broke down multiple times and in the end Saif and Zintan just refused to take part.

No matter; the Tripoli judges sentenced him to death, with no public evidence ever produced.

Detractors argue correctly that the ICC is “Africa-focused” and ignores Syrians, Iraqis, Sri Lankans, Israelis, British and Americans who are deemed “safe.”

After all, you don’t hear of the ICC considering bringing Tony Blair to justice!

Clearly, the ICC is broken. Outside legal interference by a moribund ICC is negative, and supporters of such a move are exhibiting exceedingly poor judgment.

This is not an academic matter because Saif Gaddafi, newly free and at an undisclosed location in Libya, has a part to play in ending the civil war.

The ICC pursuit of Saif is a travesty of justice. The only reason ICC judges make outrageous rulings is because it is in effect ruling against Africa; because against Africans, you can do anything without fear of a backlash. The Hague-based bogus ICC is a dishonourable court doing dishonourable things. What a tragedy for international criminal justice.

It has been said that the ICC is a political court; a political court that must be fought politically. The ICC has nothing to do with international criminal justice. It is a “kangaroo” court covertly receiving direct instructions from powerful Western neocolonial powers that jokingly don’t themselves accept the rulings of the ICC.

Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp (Source: Wikipedia)

In a way, the ICC is Europe’s equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. A court – calling itself such in name only. Its judges, prosecutors et al, should resign instead of shamelessly drawing huge salaries and engaging in outrageous, procedural, racist, illegal, unnecessary and meaningless activities, which are politically motivated.

Several newspapers, including Reuters, reported on or about the 20th of February 2011, that Saif Gaddafi advocated holding back in fighting with rebels in Libya and of his hopes for a ceasefire.

Saif may well help unify Libya and bring peace to the war-riven country. He should be free of meddling by the Hague and Western powers to do so if he so chooses.

The US is not a party to the Rome Statute. Therefore the ICC cannot conduct investigative activities in the United States of America nor have any real jurisdiction over its citizens except under extraordinary circumstances which to date has never occurred.

The seven countries that voted against the treaty were China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar, the United States and Yemen. Following 60 ratifications, the Rome Statute entered into force on 1st July 2002 (their 15th Anniversary is coming soon) when the International Criminal Court was formally established. The UK’s position as regards the ICC is selective and ambiguous.

So in conclusion in the name of justice, the ICC must be reformed and restructured, because it is there where the core problem lies.

Featured image: The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity

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Our last summary said that the end of the war in Syria is now in sight:

Unless the U.S. changes tact and starts a large scale attack on Syria with its own army forces the war on Syria is over.

There are a few civilian lunatics in the White House who push for widening the war on Syria into an all out U.S.-Iran war. The military leadership is pushing back. It fears for its forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the larger area. But there are also elements within the U.S. military and the CIA that take a more aggressive pro-war position.

Yesterday a U.S. F-18 jet shot down a Syrian air force bomber near the city of Raqqa. The U.S. Central Command ludicrously claims that this was in “self defense” of its invading forces and its Kurdish proxies (Syria Democratic Forces – SDF) within a “deconflicting zone” after the SDF was attacked in the town of Jardin.

Those were lies. Neither is there any agreed upon “deconflicting zone” in the area nor was the town of Jardin held by SDF forces at the time of the attack. The attack was clearly illegal:

The U.S.[…] has no legal right to protect non-state partner forces who are pursuing regime change or other political objectives. There is no right of collective self-defense of non-state actors, …

The Syrian government as well as witnesses on the ground refute the U.S. claims. The Syrian Observatory in Britain, often cited as authoritative about events in Syria, says no Syrian attack on the SDF took place. The U.S. jets attacked the Syrian one in support of Islamic State forces:

A regime warplane was targeted and dropped in the skies of the al-Resafa area […] the warplane was shot down over Al-Resafa area of which the regime forces have reached to its frontiers today, and sources suggested to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that warplanes of the International Coalition targeted it during its flight in close proximity to the airspace of the International Coalition’s warplanes, which caused its debris to fall over Resafa city amid an unknown fate of its pilot, the sources confirmed that the warplane did not target the Syria Democratic Forces in their controlled areas located at the contact line with regime forces’ controlled areas in the western countryside of Al-Tabaqa to the road of Al-Raqqah – Resafa.

Here is an overview of the situation in south-east Syria:

Map via Peto Lucemsee bigger picture here

On the bottom left is the area of Palmyra on the right is Deir Ezzor, at the top is Raqqa. The dark areas are occupied by the Islamic State. A hundred thousand civilians and a small Syrian army garrison in Deir Ezzor is besieged by the Islamic State. The Syrian army is moving east from two directions to relieve the city. One thrust is from the Palmyra area along the road towards the north-east to Deir Ezzor. The distance still to go is about 130 kilometer and a major Islamic State held city, Al-Sukhnah, will have to be taken before the advance can proceed.

A second thrust is from the south of Raqqa.

UPDATE: The evil SDOC aka Weekend Warrior created this excellent map of what reminds him of World War II “island hopping”. The eastern Syrian desert has few inhabited places connected by roads which are of upmost important to control the huge areas in between. It shows the potential of the thrust axes and the importance of Resafa which was the focus of yesterday’s incident.

Map via Weekend Warrior – see bigger picture here

[End update]

Raqqa is currently besieged by the U.S. supported Kurdish forces of the SDF. Those forces (yellow) have taken parts of the southern bank of the Euphrates around the city of Tabqa. The Syrian army is moving to the south of these forces from west towards the east. Its current target is the town of Resafa at the crossing of road 6 and road 42. If it takes the crossing it can move south-east along the major roads towards Deir Ezzor. It will also cut off a retreat route for Islamic State forces who are fleeing south to escape the Kurdish Raqqa attack. The distance to go to Deir Ezzor is about 100 kilometer and there are no major impediments along the way. Taking the crossing is immensely important for the relieve operation of the besieged eastern city.

see bigger picture here (Source: Moon of Alabama)

Raqqa is to beyond the upper right of this detail map of the Tabqa area. The Kurdish forces are marked in yellow, the Syrian army in red. The Syrian army was moving very fast towards the east to capture the three-way crossroads at Resafa (mid-right on the map). A few hours before the Syrian jet was shot down it had already taken the town of Jardin:

Yusha Yuseef ??‏Verified account @MIG29_
Breaking , SAA Tiger Forces liberate Jaadeen جعيدين village North of Al-Easawii South #Raqqa CS
3:36 PM – 18 Jun 2017

The U.S. killing of the Syrian jet occurred hours later:

Dr Abdulkarim Omar‏ abdulkarimomar1
International coalition drops a military aircraft to the Syrian regime in the Raqqa after bombing the sites of S D Forces In the Tabqa area
5:18 PM – 18 Jun 2017

Yusha Yuseef ??‏Verified account @MIG29_
I can confirm that we lost Syrian Jet East of Rassafeh and Far of SDF Points
No more info if US do it
6:14 PM – 18 Jun 2017

The U.S. now claims that the Syrian jet attacked Kurdish forces in Jardin. But there were none left there when the incident happened. The town was already confirmed to be in the hands of the Syrian army. The Syrian jet attacked Islamic State forces near Resafa. The Syrian army was in the process of taking the town Resafa from the Islamic State and to reach the crossroad that would allow it to proceed to the ISIS besieged Deir Ezzor. The Syrian air forces jet bombed Islamic State forces in Resafa. The U.S. shot the jet down falsely claiming that it attacked its Kurdish proxy forces.

One can only interpret this as an attempt by the U.S. to prevent or hinder the Syrian forces from reliefing Deir Ezzor as soon as possible. The U.S. is, willingly or not, helping the Islamic State forces who are engaged in heavy attacks on the besieged Deir Ezzor garrison. The Russian government called the U.S. attack an “act of aggression” in “breach of international law” and in “assistance for the terrorists” of the Islamic State. It will halt its air space coordination with the U.S. operations command in Syria. Additionally:

In the areas of combat missions of Russian air fleet in Syrian skies, any airborne objects, including aircraft and unmanned vehicles of the [US-led] international coalition, located to the west of the Euphrates River, will be tracked by Russian ground and air defense forces as air targets,” the Russian Ministry of Defense stated.

If I were a U.S. pilot, I would try to avoid the area …

Whatever the U.S. intent was it did not stop the Syrian army. Resafa has just now been taken (map) by the Syrian army forces. The shot down pilot, Ali Fahed, has been extracted from behind enemy lines by a team of the Syrian Tiger Force.

***

Independent of the events near Raqqa the Iranian Revolutionary Guard launched medium range ballistic missiles from within Iran on Islamic State forces near Deir Ezzor in Syria. The distance was about 600 kilometers. The launch was billed as revenge for the June 7 terrorist attacks on the parliament in Tehran, Iran. The missiles hit their targets.

The message sent with them was larger than just a pure revenge act. Iran demonstrated that it can reliable hit far away targets from within its own state. The Wahhabi Persian Golf states and all U.S. forces in the area will have to take note of this. They are not safe from Iranian retaliation even when no Iranian forces are nearby. Iran emphasized that it can repeat such attacks whenever needed:

“The Saudis and Americans are especially receivers of this message.” Said [Revolutionary Guard Gen. Ramazan] Sharif. “Obviously and clearly, some reactionary countries of the region, especially Saudi Arabia, had announced that they are trying to bring insecurity into Iran.”

***

As described in our last summary U.S. forces are occupying the border station of al-Tanf between Syria and Iraq in the south-east of Syria. The station and the U.S. trained Arab “rebels” there were stopped from moving further north by a Syrian army push towards the border with Iraq. From the Iraqi side militia under the command of the Prime Minister joined in and al-Tanf is now isolated. Several reports yesterday claimed that the U.S. has flown in Kurdish proxy forces from the north-east of Syria to defend al-Tanf. It obviously does not trust the Arab “rebel” forces it had trained for occupying south-east Syria. A few hundred Kurdish forces do not change the tactical situation. There is no reasonable use for those forces and the U.S. (supported) contingent will eventually have to move out and retreat towards Jordan.

***

Israel has long supported al-Qaeda “rebels” in the south-west of Syria near and on the Golan heights. This has been known at least since 2014 and the Israeli support was even documented by UN observer forces in the area. But somehow U.S. media “forgot” to report it and the Israelis were reluctant to comment on it.

That has changed. There is now a flood of reports about Israeli support and payments to “rebels” in the Golan next to the Israeli occupied parts of Syria. Few mention though that the forces Israel supports are al-Qaeda terrorists. There are also Islamic State groups in the area who “apologized” to Israel after a clash with Israeli forces. It is clear that Israel is now openly supporting the terrorists.

Someone is intentionally pushing out these reports. I presume that Israel does this in preparation of the political landscape for an even large occupation of Syrian land. The reports compare the Israeli maneuvers with the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon in the 1980s and 90s. They neglect to tell the whole story. The Israeli occupation of south-Lebanon led to the growth of Hizubullah and the eventually defeat of the Israeli forces. By the year 2000 they had to retreat from the occupied land and Hizbullah is now Israels most feared enemy. It seems that Israel wants to repeat that experience.

Featured image: Business Insider

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The last thirty days have shown another kind of world that is engaging in cooperation, dialogue and diplomatic efforts to resolve important issues. The meeting of the members of the Belt and Road Initiative laid the foundations for a physical and electronic connectivity among Eurasian countries, making it the backbone of sustainable and renewable trade development based on mutual cooperation. A few weeks later, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Astana outlined the necessary conditions for the success of the Chinese project, such as securing large areas of the Eurasian block and improving dialogue and trust among member states. The following AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) meeting in ROK will layout the economical necessities to finance and sustain the BRI projects.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have many common features, and in many ways seem complementary. The SCO is an organization that focuses heavily on economic, political and security issues in the region, while the BRI is a collection of infrastructure projects that incorporates three-fifths of the globe and is driven by Beijing’s economic might. In this context, the Eurasian block continues to develop the following initiatives to support both the BRI and SCO mega-projects. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO) is a Moscow-based organization focusing mainly on the fight against terrorism, while the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is a Beijing-based investment bank that is responsible for generating important funding for Beijing’s long-term initiatives along its maritime routes (ports and canals) and overland routes (road, bridges, railways, pipelines, industries, airports). The synergies between these initiatives find yet another point of convergence in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Together, the SCO, BRI, CTSO, AIIB, and EEU provide a compelling indication of the direction in which humanity is headed, which is to say towards integration, cooperation and peaceful development through diplomacy.

On the other side we have the “old world order” made up of the IMF, the World Bank, the European Union, the UN, NATO, the WTO, with Washington being the ringmaster at the center of this vision of a world order. It is therefore not surprising that Washington should look askance at these Eurasian initiatives that threaten to deny its central and commanding role in the global order in favor of a greater say by Moscow, Beijing, New Delhi and even Tehran.

One of the most significant and noteworthy events in the last month, or even in recent years, has been the admission into the SCO of India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers with a history of tension and conflict between them. These two countries are critical to the peaceful and fruitful integration of Eurasia. The slow, two-year process of India and Pakistan’s admission into the SCO benefited greatly from China and Russia’s mediation, culminating in the historical agreement signed by Modi, Sharif, Putin and Xi. This is not to mention Afghanistan’s Ghani being at the same table with Modi and Sharif, representing one of the most infamous locations where Eurasian powers have clashed with each other, acting as an obstacle to the integration and development of the region. The main goal of the new SCO organization is a peaceful mediation between New Delhi and Islamabad, and certainly to reach a wider agreement that can include Afghanistan. Kabul is a good example of how the SCO can offer the ideal framework for achieving a definitive peace settlement. This reflects the sentiment that was expressed during the meeting that took place a few weeks ago in Moscow between Pakistan, India, China, Russia and Afghanistan over the complicated situation in the country. Clearly there are conflicting interests, and it is only through the mediation of Beijing and Moscow that it will be possible to reach a wider agreement and end the 16-year-old conflict.

Afghanistan is a good example of how the SCO intends to support the BRI. In this sense, it is important to note that Moscow and Beijing have decided to engage in a partnership that looks more like an alliance with long-term projects planned deep into 2030. The extent to which Russia and China are committed to common initiatives and projects can be seen in the BRI, SCO, AIIB and CTSO.

Security and Development

Beijing is fully aware that it is impossible to defeat terrorism without laying the foundation for economic growth in underdeveloped countries in Africa, Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. Terrorist organizations are generally better able to recruit from populations suffering from low income and poor schooling. The SCO is required to manage and control its members’ most unstable areas (Central Asian republics, Afghanistan, India-Pakistan border, Beijing-New Delhi relations) and mediate between parties. The BRI and SCO go hand in hand, one being unable to operate without the other, as Xi and Putin have reiterated.

(credits to the owner of the photo)

The SCO and BRI are both capable of meeting the challenges of economic growth through development and progress. Just looking at the BRI’s major projects helps one understand the level and extent of integration that has been agreed. The Eurasian Land Bridge begins in Western China and ends in Western Russia. The China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor begins in Northern China and arrives in Eastern Russia. Central Asia will be connected to Western Asia, which practically means China linking with Turkey. The China-Indochina corridor runs from Southern China to Singapore; and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor starts in Southern China and arrives in India. The nearly completed China-Pakistan corridor starts in south-western China and reaches Pakistan. Finally, the maritime route running from the Chinese coast through to Singapore will reach the Mediterranean in Greece or, in the future, Venice.

What is evident is that countries like India, Singapore, Turkey and Myanmar, just to name a few, do not wish to miss the opportunity to join this initiative that promises to revolutionize trade and globalization as we know it. Today’s main economic problems, as well as the problem posed by terrorism, stems from the lack of economic growth brought on by a globalization that enriches the elites at the expense of ordinary people. The BRI aims to reinvent globalization, avoiding the protectionist drift that many countries today adopt in response to an aggressive and failed approach to globalization. Beijing intends to bring about a radical change to its industries by restructuring its production and boosting its investment in technology, generating more internal consumption, and becoming a country that offers services and not only manufacturing. For this process to be successful, it will be fundamental to reorganize the regional supply chain by transferring production to more competitive countries that will play important roles in sectors such as agriculture, energy, logistics and industrial projects. Southeast Asia in particular seems to offer ideal destinations for transferring Chinese industries.

In this process of transforming a good part of the globe, some countries currently outside of the SCO organization are nevertheless fully part of the integration schemes and will play a decisive role in the future. In particular, Iran, Turkey and Egypt are the main focus when one looks at their geographical position. The importance of these three countries vis-a-vis the SCO arises mainly from the need of the organization to pursue its work of political expansion and, in the future, to counter militarily the problem of terrorism and its spread. Naturally, countries like Iran and Egypt already devote a large part of their resources towards counteracting the terrorist phenomenon in the Middle East and North Africa. Their entry into the SCO would be seen by many protagonists of the BRI, especially China, as providing the opportunity to expand their projects in areas in North Africa and the Middle East that are currently tumultuous.

This should not come as a surprise, since even countries like Jordan and Israel have been taken into account by Beijing for important infrastructure projects related to the transport of desalinated water to regions with a high rate of drought. With Israel, the Chinese partnership is stronger than ever, counting on various factors such as technological development and the expansion of several Israeli ports to connect more Chinese maritime routes with destinations in the Mediterranean like Piraeus in Greece and probably Venice in Italy. Turkey’s entry into the SCO is mainly aimed at gathering the region’s major oil and gas suppliers and consumers under a single umbrella guaranteed by the SCO. These operations take time and a degree of cooperation that is hard to maintain, although the resolution of the situation in Syria, in addition to the crisis in the Gulf between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, could accelerate synergies and easily facilitate them.

The entry of Iran, Egypt and Turkey into the SCO is inevitable, receiving the strong encouragement of China and Russia, especially as regards the future connection between BRI and other infrastructure projects that are part of the EEU. The advantages are quite obvious to everyone, bringing about greater integration and infrastructure links, the increase of trade between nations, and general cooperation in mutual development. Products can travel from one country to another based on conditions determined bilaterally, something that often favors bigger nations rather than smaller ones. The intention of ​​China’s Globalization 2.0, coupled with a Eurasian revival of the EEU, is to change the future of humanity by shifting the global pole of globalization and development towards the east. The BRI is immense and mind boggling in its scope, given that it embraces realities ranging from Panama (focused on the extended channel and the Nicaragua project for a new channel) to Australia, passing through Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Persian Gulf.

Naturally, in this delicate balance, Europe is called on to play a decisive role in the future. The United States, with its “America First” policy, has already burned bridges with the Chinese BRI revolution, and indeed hopes to throw a spanner in China’s works. European countries including England, France, Germany and Italy have already begun to sign onto various Chinese proposals. It looks as if America’s allies are no longer listening to their former boss. The European Central Bank has for the first time diversified $500m into Yuan currency, and London, together with Rome, Berlin and Paris, was present in Beijing for the launch of the BRI. France, Germany and England sent high-level representations and delegations, Italy directly the Prime Minister. For Europe, the largest exporter to China and the second-largest regional block importing from China, it is inevitable that it will be an integral part of the BRI, looking to reach Iran, Turkey and Egypt for energy supplies and diversifying sources, all within the framework of the BRI.

In this process of Eurasian integration, there are some key countries to keep in mind, but the first steps have already been made with almost indissoluble ties having been made between Moscow and Beijing, as well as the monumental inclusion of Pakistan and India at the same table. With an understanding between India, Russia and China, as well as a lack of hostility to the project in Iran, Israel, Germany, England, Turkey and Egypt, it will be possible to speed up this global change, bringing it to the African countries, Gulf monarchies, South Asian countries, and even South and Central America. Even Washington’s historic allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia and the EU vacillate in the face of such an opportunity to broaden their horizons with significant gains. As far as their alliance with the United States, in this world rapidly heading towards a multipolar world order, not even Riyadh, Tel Aviv or London can afford the luxury of ignoring the project that perhaps more than any other will revolutionize the future of humanity in the near future. Not being a part of it is simply not an option.

The United States has two diametrically opposed options before it. It can operate alongside the BRI project, trying to fashion its own sphere of influence, albeit smaller than the countries residing within the Eurasian continent; but of course for Washington, simply being part of a grand project may not be enough, since it is used to getting its own way and subordinating the interests of other countries to its own. If the US decides to try and sabotage the BRI with their normal tools like terrorism, it is very likely that the countries historically aligned with Washington in these affairs (such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) will be subjected to Chinese economic pressure and encouraged to instead participate in a more positive manner.

Cooperation against Threats

The main question is the extent to which Chinese economic persuasion will succeed in overcoming US military threats. In this respect the SCO will be a decisive factor as it expands its influence beyond the Eurasian bloc into Africa and the Middle East. To date, the SCO cannot be considered a military bloc opposed to NATO. Everything will depend on the pressures that the United States will bring to bear on participating countries. Therefore, it is likely that the SCO will evolve to include a strong military aspect in order to counter American destabilization efforts.

Source: International Man

It is difficult to predict whether the US will be neutral or belligerent. But considering recent history, American hostility is likely to force Moscow and Beijing into an asymmetric response that will hit Washington where it hurts most, namely its economic interests. Aiming at the dollar, and in particular the petrodollar, seems to be the best bet for advancing the BRI, threatening a massive de-dollarization that would end in disaster for Washington. This is the nuclear option that Beijing and Moscow are looking into, with more than a desire to accelerate this economic shift.

The future of humanity seems to be changing in exciting and unprecedented ways. The full integration of the Eurasian bloc will eventually end up changing the course of history, allowing nations that are currently weak and poor to withstand colonial pressures and broaden their cooperation and dialogue. Peace as a method for developing synergies and prosperity seems to be the new paradigm, contrasting with war and destruction as has been the case in the last decades.

Federico Pieraccini is independent freelance writer specialized in international affairs, conflicts, politics and strategies.

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Russia Halts Cooperation with US in Syrian Airspace

June 20th, 2017 by Stephen Lendman

In response to the US-led coalition downing of a Syrian Su-22 warplane in its own airspace, a lawless aggressive act, Russia’s Defense Ministry issued the following statement:

“As of June 19 this year, the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation has ended its interaction with the US side under a memorandum for preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria, and demands that the US command carry out a careful investigation and report about its results and the measures taken.”

“The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-state are a flagrant violation of international law, in addition to being actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Strong stuff, badly needed, the ministry adding:

“Any aircraft, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected in the operation areas west of the Euphrates River by the Russian air forces will be followed by Russian ground-based air defense and air defense aircraft as air targets.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov minced no words, saying Sunday’s downing of a Syrian aircraft is “another act of defiance of international law by the United States.”

“What was it if not an act of aggression? It was also an act of assistance to those terrorists whom the United States is ostensibly fighting against.”

CENTCOM didn’t use the communication channel with Russia – established to avoid incidents like the Sunday downing of a Syrian aircraft, a flagrant violation of what both countries agreed to.

Henceforth, Russia’s sophisticated S-300 and S-400 missile defense systems will intercept foreign aircraft and drones operating in areas where it’s conducting combat missions in Syrian airspace.

Russia is committed to continue combating the scourge of terrorism in Syria, wanting it prevented from operating in its own territory.

Unlike America, Moscow respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations. Part of its mission is preserving them in Syria.

Its military operations scrupulously try avoiding confrontation with US-led coalition warplanes and ground forces.

Repeated US incidents of naked aggression against Syria’s military and its civilian population head things toward Pentagon warplanes potentially clashing with Russia’s – risking possible war between the world’s dominant nuclear powers.

A Final Comment

On June 16, Foreign Policy magazine, owned by a neocon/CIA-connected Washington Post division, said two Trump administration officials urge escalating US military operations in Syria more than already.

National Security Council senior director for intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick and the NSC’s top Middle East advisor Derek Harvey want greater US military operations in southern Syria.

So far Defense Secretary Mattis and Pentagon commanders haven’t upped the stakes this much – maintaining the fiction of focusing operations on combating ISIS, the scourge Washington supports.

In the wake of Sunday’s downing of a Syrian warplane in its own airspace while striking ISIS targets, it’s unclear if America intends getting more aggressive in northern and southern parts of the country than already.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected].

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman)

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

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On June 18, 2017, the Syrian Army General Command announced that U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet had shot down one of aircraft the Syrian Air Force fighter jet. Syrian Ministry of Defense also stressed that the incident had taken place near a village called Rasafah while the aircraft had been carrying out a combat mission against ISIS terrorists.

In their turn, the representatives of the Coalition Command traditionally said the jet had dropped bombs near the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

It should be mentioned that it isn’t the first time when the U.S.-led Coalition attacks the government forces in Syria. Over the past month, the U.S. Air Force has struck at the pro-government forces for three times in the city of At-Tanf.

In this regard, the Coalition is accused of supporting terrorists. Besides, it seems quite strange that since the beginning a ‘counter-terrorist” operation in Raqqa, ISIS terrorists often hand over occupied areas to the SDF and the U.S. Special Forces without any fight, and then they freely go towards the Syrian Army’s positions.

Syrian Ministry of Defense also claimed that the U.S. aggression confirmed that Washington supported terrorism and, at the same time, tried to weaken the capability of the Syrian Army (SAA), which together with its allies was the only effective force fighting terrorism in the country.

It is noteworthy that not only Damascus strongly criticized the actions of the U.S.-led Coalition. Despite all the statements of the Central Command, Iran and Russia said that the Western Coalition prevented the prompt destruction of ISIS terrorists.

Nowadays, it becomes obvious that the U.S. main aim is not elimination of the terrorists. Washington intends to take full control over Raqqa. Providing terrorists with the right to leave the city is another confirmation of that.

According to many Syrian experts, if Washington manages to capture Raqqa, it will be able to justify an impressive number of civilian casualties suffered as a result of the Coalition’s indiscriminate air strikes.

Moreover, to achieve its main goal Washington uses the SDS troops. However, the question arises – what price of such cooperation will be for Kurds?

According to sources, carrying out the U.S. orders, the SDS units intend to cut the Syrian Army off from the road to Deir ez-Zor. They plan to launch an offensive from the town of Resafa. This will make it more difficult for the government forces to attack positions of ISIS terrorists.

In addition, clashes between the Syrian army and the Kurdish units of the SDF also take place in the Jaidin village south of Raqqa.

Most likely, Washington plans to turn the government forces and SDF against each other. Certainly, it will help terrorists in strengthen their capability and escalate the situation not only in Syria, but throughout the Middle East.

Anna Jaunger is a freelance journalist at Inside Syria Media Center.

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Following Theresa May’s loss of majority the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, from Northern Ireland has suddenly come to international prominence. Who are they, what do they want, and what does their propping up of a UK government mean for that country and all the others who have to deal with it?

Very few people in mainland UK could answer these questions. Everyone has a vague idea about Northern Ireland being divided into Protestant and Catholic, Loyalist and Republican, but few want to know any more because everyone of voting age has lived through The Troubles and their aftermath.

For most people living in the UK Northern Ireland equals violence, terrorism, extremism and intractable political differences. But few nowadays want to think about Northern Ireland, because it is too complicated to understand and too unpleasant to try to understand. However now they are being forced to, as their futures are bound up with whether the DUP reaches an agreement with the Conservatives, and if so, what these Northern Ireland people will want in return from a country already long sick of them.

It is impossible to summarise what the DUP are, and why they have come to prominence, in one article. But whatever you try and say, it doesn’t look good. The very existence of the DUP is an admission of failure on behalf of the British government and of humanity. May now finds a common language with a coalition with homophobic, racist, anti-abortion, and in simple language, “anti-women rights bigots” and that is just for starters.

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Former Austrian Politician Jörg Haider (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Bedfellows of convenience do make for a witches brew. For instance, when Jörg Haider turned the Austrian Freedom Party into a neo-fascist organisation and it became part of that country’s government the world said “how on earth did this happen?” Well it happened in Northern Ireland long ago, and many of its voters have little choice but to support it because no one else even vaguely speaks for them – not because the locals are extreme or bigoted, but because so many people have got so much wrong for so long that the emergence of the DUP is the natural consequence of an obscene record of failure.

Living history with all its claws

A quick recap: when the whole of Ireland was ruled by the British the ruling class were almost entirely Protestant and everyone else Catholic. The official religion of the UK as a whole had swung between Catholic and Protestant several times before the Church of England gained the upper hand. The English conquest of Ireland took place around the same time, but Ireland remained Catholic regardless, and was thus thought to be a backward region that needed to be civilized.

As part of this civilizing process Protestants from Scotland and England were financed to take land in Ulster, provided they spoke English and only allowed other English-speaking Protestants to live and work on their land. This separate transplanted community saw itself as British, not Irish, and obviously sought to maintain the privileged position into which it had been put. We are going back to the early seventeenth century, but Northern Irish politics is still deeply bound up with events of that era and before.

Very few of these Loyalists supported Irish Home Rule, which became a big issue in the nineteenth century. Both sides developed paramilitary forces to try and impose their opinion on the other, and both accused the British of being sympathetic to the other for not stopping such activity. This was the start of a long tradition of fighting violence with violence, which each side justified by saying that if the other side gave up murder, so would they.

Home Rule for Ireland passed the UK parliament in 1914, over the armed objections of these “Ulster Unionists” as they became known. The First World War prevented Home Rule from being implemented, but the end result was an independent Irish Free State. When this was formed by an act of the UK parliament, the devolved Parliament of Northern Ireland was given the right to opt out of the new state if it asked the British monarch for permission to do so, which it did on the first day it could. This established the principle that Northern Ireland will remain in the UK for as long as the majority of its people want that.

The new dominion of Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom, but with certain local quirks designed to pacify the majority. Catholics were discriminated against in jobs and public housing, and the electoral system was rigged to produce eternal Protestant majorities even in majority Catholic areas. It had the same political parties as the rest of the UK, but with a local slant – the Labour Party was the Catholic party, while the “Conservative and Unionist Party” (which is what the UK Conservatives are still officially called) represented Protestants, although Labour Unionists also existed.

Northern Ireland now has different parties because its own local parliament tried to address this discrimination. The more radical Protestants, led by the Rev. Ian Paisley and his very small Free Presbyterian Church, saw granting Catholics civil rights as a threat to their community’s supremacy, while the Catholics felt that only uniting with the Irish Republic would give them any guarantees. Both sides developed paramilitary groups to protect them from the other, and these groups came to be seen as terrorist.

Consequently Irish politics split into independent, right-wing Unionist parties with local concerns, effectively divided by how far they supported paramilitary activity, and localised left-wing Catholic parties, such as the SDLP and Sinn Fein, which were divided in the same way. The DUP was the most radical of the Protestant parties. It was Ian Paisley’s creation, and emerged from another brainchild of his, the Protestant Unionist Party, whose name demonstrates where he saw mainstream Unionism heading.

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Northern Ireland’s DUP leader and Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church Rev. Ian Paisley interupts Pope John Paul II at the start of his allocution at the European Parliament in Stasbourg, France, Oct. 11, 1988. (Source: Anorak)

The DUP has long had a common membership with terrorist paramilitary groups. Paisley and many of his followers were arrested many times for public order offences concerning protests against Catholics, and against the authorities and police for defending Catholics. On one famous occasion Paisley, by this time both an MP and MEP, interrupted a speech Pope John Paul II was making to the European Parliament by shouting “You are the Antichrist” and was removed from the chamber with difficulty.

During The Troubles it was the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party which dominated. As soon as peace was finally agreed Northern Ireland did not return to its previous, extension-of-the-UK political pattern. Instead the DUP, and its Catholic counterpart Sinn Fein, became the dominant parties within their respective communities. Now they weren’t killing each other, each community wanted the more radical parties to give them the strongest possible voice in the new, very separate, reality, such was the common alienation from what the British had done in Northern Ireland, whichever way that was seen.

Now the DUP is dictating the future of the UK, and possibly Europe. We all deplore the fact that Al Capone ran the government of Chicago at one time. What sort of world are we living in when the UK government depends for its survival on the DUP?

Leopards who are all spots

As you might expect, the DUP regards itself as “socially conservative”. It opposes abortion and homosexuality, promotes Creationism and denies climate change. Many Conservative MPs and members share these views. But on other questions the two parties are fundamentally opposed.

The DUP is pro-Brexit but entirely against a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. As many Unionists cross that border daily for work or family reasons this is not surprising. But it is now in a position were it can demand the measures its supporters want most before agreeing to prop up Theresa.

The Conservatives say they want a “hard Brexit” but have consistently refused to say exactly what that means. The DUP may well want an explicit, public guarantee on the border question, which Theresa is unlikely to give them, even behind closed doors.

More importantly, the DUP is big on welfare. Unlike in the rest of the UK, it seems to regard the poor and elderly as an important constituency, and is determined to ensure that pensions rise, and a range of social services are provided for its often older, working class supporters.

Theresa is happy to tell users of food banks that there is no “magic money tree”. This is not surprising, as for many years her party has had no social welfare dimension whatever: it says in effect that if the economy is right social welfare measures aren’t necessary. Theresa is no more likely to agree to welfare expansion, in the part of the UK which already receives more public money than any other, than she is to jump off Westminster Bridge.

The DUP also staunchly defends traditions which have been the focus of endless problems. One of these is marches held by the Orange Order, and similar institutions which celebrate the Protestant supremacy. These annual marches through towns, and sometimes Catholic residential areas, with banners flying and pipes and drums playing are seen as triumphalist by the Catholic community, and many have been banned as a result. But they are seen as a fundamental expression of civil rights by the DUP, and banned marches will have to be reinstated for the DUP to convince its members that they are getting something out of a deal with the British government.

No UK government would agree to these terms in other circumstances. During the election the Conservatives sought to capitalise on Jeremy Corbyn talking to the IRA during The Troubles, and probably did gain some votes by linking him with terrorists in this way. They will soon discover however that it is involvement with Northern Irish politics which turned the public off, not the spectre of terrorism, which people want to believe has vanished from the place they don’t want to think about.

Shooting herself in other people’s feet

Despite all this, Theresa needs to cut a deal with the DUP to “govern in the national interest”, she says. First it was “Brexit means Brexit”, then it was “strong and stable”. What does “govern in the national interest” actually mean?

Under the Good Friday Agreement which ended The Troubles, the UK and Irish governments act as “honest brokers” in Northern Ireland, both able to make suggestions about how the place should develop and mediate between the sides. They also agreed that they would be entirely impartial in Northern Ireland, and not align themselves with any one side against another.

If the UK government reaches an agreement with the DUP, and not all Northern Ireland parties working together, to stay in power it is in breach of the peace accords. Is starting all the violence in Northern Ireland again “governing in the national interest”?

The number of people in either Northern Ireland or mainland UK who think that the breakdown of peace in Northern Ireland is in the “national interest” is very small. If this is the scenario which unfolds, and there are those on all sides who also secretly harbour such ambitions, it will take a long time before the global public forgives Theresa for allowing this to happen

Most of Northern Ireland’s politicians still have intractable positions. However they get on personally in most cases. The power-sharing executive set up after the peace agreement saw Ian Paisley installed as First Minister with Sinn Feiner Martin McGuinness as his deputy. Though diametrically opposed politically, the two men worked so well together they became known as “the Chuckle Brothers” for their obvious delight in each others’ company .

If violence breaks out again after such a beginning to the peace era, it will be hard to blame “those bigots in Northern Ireland” as usual. Though there are those who might want to sacrifice peace, Theresa’s actions in calling the unnecessary UK election, and then talking to the DUP in defiance of the peace agreement, would be more responsible than anything else, and the world would know it.

Not in anyone’s name

The electors of Northern Ireland have the right to vote for the DUP. Their opinion should be respected. But very few DUP voters would have ever wanted a situation to exist where this party was the nearest thing they had to an expression of their opinions.

Only about 1% of Northern Ireland’s population were members of Ian Paisley’s church. Yet he exercised such huge influence on Northern Irish affairs that his followers, who were originally all obliged to belong to this church, have now become the local majority. After all Northern Ireland has seen, the DUP he founded, with 10 out of 650 seats in the UK parliament, is being given the chance to do the same to the whole UK it so vocally supports.

The distinguished art critic Peter Brooke was brought up in Northern Ireland just prior to The Troubles. He has said,

“Our generation thought that these Protestant-Catholic divisions were a thing of the past. Then some atrocity was committed and my Catholic friends would interpret it one way and I would interpret it another. So we wouldn’t talk about that issue for fear of arguing, but soon we couldn’t talk to each other at all, about anything!”

The DUP was happy to help create this process. That’s who Theresa is happy to work with, at just the time she is trying to renegotiate the UK’s post-Brexit relations with the rest of the world. Most countries would consider this their worst nightmare, and here it is, in broad daylight, with this once-great superpower seemingly unable to do anything about it.

Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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The Federal Prison Industries (FPI) under the brand UNICORE operates approximately 52 factories (prisons) across the United States. Prisoners manufacture or assemble a number of products for the US military, homeland security,and federal agencies according to the UNICORE/FPI website. They produce furniture, clothing and circuit boards in addition to providing computer aided design services and call center support for private companies.

UNICORE/FPI makes its pitch for employing call center support personnel to firms thinking about off-shoring their call center functions. The logic is that, hey!, they may be prisoners, but it’s keeping the jobs in the USA that matters. Fair enough. That approach cuts out the middleman though, those Americans desperate for any kind of work but, through no fault of their own, are not behind prison bars and employable by UNICORE/FPI.

Sure, it seems a heartless statement and there are any number of angles to take on why the USA is the world’s number one incarcerator: Capitalism, racism, social and political injustice, a pay-as-you-go legal system, bone-headed policy makers, prison lobbyists, the death penalty, employment/unemployment, drugs, gangs, costs/prices and a host of behavioral, psychological and environmental issues that I have missed.

Inevitably the black hole that is money eventually sucks in and corrupts everyone from those in local communities desperate for the work a prison facility provides to those investors who profit from the prison industry. They earn their livelihoods and take their profits from the misery and labor squeezed from theirhuman property–those prisoners who self-destructed and others who are serving terms way too long for the crime committed.

For the Love of Money

From October 2016 through March 2017, UNICORE/FPI sold $252,414,987 million worth of goods and services.

The prison labor industry is very keen on promoting its role in assembling the US military’s widely used Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS). In January defense contractor Harris Corp. was awarded a $403 million contract by the US Defense Logistics Agency for spare parts supporting tactical radio systems, which includes SINCGARS.

“UNICOR/FPI is a major supplier of SINCGARS radios, mounts, antennas, and installation and repair kits and when hard-mounted, our SINCGARS equipment meets rigorous military standards for shock and vibration in aircraft and tactical vehicles, such as Bradley’s and Humvees. Through our nationwide network of factories and trained technicians, we have successfully met aggressive production and distribution needs for this crucial communication equipment in Middle East military operations.”

Some of the purchases by the US Department of Defense include $14.8 million for electronic components, $887 thousand for communications equipment, $26.7 million for office furniture, $27.1 million for special purpose clothing and $7.5 million for body armor. The Department of Homeland security spent $372,255 on administrative support. The Executive Office of the US President spent $389 for signs and identification plates.

Source: Ray Downs

Fight Fire with Inmates

According to a Mother Jones article in 2015 somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of California’s forest firefighters are state prison inmates with some 4,000 working at any one time on fire lines. So dependent on the inmates was California that prison reforms that would see the release of some of the incarcerated firefighters were put on hold for fear of losing the manpower to fight California blazes. Then California attorney general Kamala Harris, now a US Senator, was behind the effort to keep the “cheap” firefighters behind bars,

“Prison reform advocates have raised concerns that the state is so reliant on the cheap labor of inmate firefighters that policymakers may be slow to adopt prison reforms as a result. The concern was magnified last fall, when lawyers for state Attorney General Kamala Harris argued that extending an early prison-release program to “all minimum custody inmates at this time would severely impact fire camp participation—a dangerous outcome while California is in the middle of a difficult fire season and severe drought.” Harris has since said she was “troubled” by the argument, and the state has ruled that minimum custody inmates, including firefighters, are eligible for the program so long as it proves not to deplete the numbers of inmate firefighters.”

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detains women, men, children, and LGBTQI individuals in over 200 county jails and for-profit prisons, according to the grass roots group CIVIC. Some of these individuals include legal permanent residents with longstanding family and community ties, asylum-seekers, and victims of human trafficking.

It was former President Bill Clinton (Democrat) who started to load up detention centers and jails with immigrants, CIVIC noted.

“In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which doubled the number of people in immigration detention from 8,500 each day in 1996 to 16,000 in 1998.Today, the detention population has increased fourfold to approximately 34,000 individuals each day, due in part to a congressionally mandated lock-up quota”

President Donald Trump’s (Republican) animosity to immigrants is well known. He and his aptly named attorney general Jefferson Beauregard Sessions will make sure detention centers and prisons are overfilled with men, women and children from Mexico, Central and South America. Trump and Session’s maniacal quest wage war on crime, drugs and terrorism will likely ensure that many thousands more will find themselves locked away and working for UNICORE/FPI or lining the pockets of private prison company owners.

Immigrants Too

The non-profit group Towards Justice reported that a lawsuit is moving forward pitting private prison corporation against immigrants who were forced into labor while in detention.

“For the first time in history, a federal court allowed a class of immigrant detainees to jointly proceed with forced labor claims against the country’s second-largest private prison provider. Judge Kane in the District of Colorado certified a class of between 50,000 and 60,000 current and former immigrant detainees held at GEO’s Aurora, Colorado detention facility since 2004. These individuals, some of whom were found to legally reside in this country after months in detention, allege that they were forced to clean the detention center without pay and under threat of solitary confinement. This practice allowed GEO to reduce labor costs at the Aurora facility, where it employs just one custodian to maintain a detention center that houses up to 1,500 people at a time.”

Everyone Has Their Hands in the Pie

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Source: ThinkProgress

In January 2017, the Prison Policy Initiative (prisonpolicy.org) worked up a study titled Following the Money of Mass Incarceration. It shines the light on some of the unsettling reasons why the USA will never be able to reduce its reliance on mass incarceration. Those who depend on money that the prison industry provides will never give it up. It’s not just private companies but local communities, bondsmen, unions all the way up to the US Department of Defense who collect fees or purchase UNICORE/FPI products and services at dirt cheap prices.

Bail bond companies that collect $1.4 billion in nonrefundable fees from defendants and their families actively work to block reforms that threaten its profits, even if reforms could prevent people from being detained in jail because of their poverty. Specialized phone companies win monopoly contracts and charge families up to $24.95 for a 15-minute phone call. Commissary vendors that sell goods to incarcerated people — who rely largely on money sent by loved ones — is an even larger industry that brings in $1.6 billion a year. 38 towns and cities in the U.S., more than 10% of all revenue is collected from court fines and fees. In St. Louis County, five towns generated more than 40% of their annual revenue from court fines and fees in 2013.”

The over-incarceration of Americans is just one more vexing issue, piled on many—Afghanistan, Syria, education, Trump, Clinton’s, health care, taxes–in which US citizens find themselves trapped and unable to reach across the pro/con divide and cause change.

John Stanton can be reached at jstantonarchangel.com.

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Trump Cuba Policy: What Will Happen in Coming Months?

By Arnold August, June 20, 2017

The official June 16 statement was barely uttered when the majority nationwide opposition to the Trump Cuba policy was once again reignited. Indeed, it was already extremely active and vocal before the Little Havana, Miami venue and date were announced on June 9. By stage-managing the event in Little Havana, Trump was preaching to the choir, one that does not even include the rest of Florida, where the majority of Cuban-Americans oppose the blockade, or at least support the Obama policy of making the blockade somewhat more flexible.

Behind the London Tower Block Fire Which Left Many Dead, Injured and Displaced

By Abayomi Azikiwe, June 20, 2017

Residents through their organizations had complained for several years about concerns related to the lack of sprinklers, fire alarms and effective maintenance of the structure. Apparently these complaints were not addressed by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) Council which is said to be the owners of the flats.

Upping the Stakes in Syria. Towards Military Confrontation with Russia?

By Stephen Lendman, June 20, 2017

Russia’s only response so far was Sergey Lavrov calling on the Trump administration to respect Syrian territorial integrity and refrain from unilateral actions in the country – comments falling on deaf ears in Washington.

Downing a Syrian warplane after earlier US attacks on its military ups the stakes in the country, escalating conflict Russia continues going all-out to resolve diplomatically.

UK and France Propose Automated Censorship of Online Content

By Ed Johnson-Williams, June 20, 2017

Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron’s plans to make Internet companies liable for ‘extremist’ content on their platforms are fraught with challenges. They entail automated censorship, risking the removal of unobjectionable content and harming everyone’s right to free expression.

The Ineffable Reality of American Democracy. Who is Interfering in US Politics? Russia or Israel?

By William Hanna, June 20, 2017

Part of the ineffable reality of American democracy as Helen Thomas — American reporter, author, and longtime front row member of the White House press corps — once observed, is that “you cannot criticise Israel in this country and survive.”

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UK and France Propose Automated Censorship of Online Content

June 20th, 2017 by Ed Johnson-Williams

The Government announced this morning that Theresa May and the French President Emmanuel Macron will talk today about making tech companies legally liable if they “fail to remove unacceptable content”. The UK and France would work with tech companies “to develop tools to identify and remove harmful material automatically”.

No one would deny that extremists use mainstream Internet platforms to share content that incites people to hate others and, in some cases, to commit violent acts. Tech companies may well have a role in helping the authorities challenge such propaganda but attempting to close it down is not as straightforward or consequence-free as politicians would like us to believe.

First things first, how would this work? It almost certainly entails the use of algorithms and machine learning to censor content. With this sort of automated takedown process, the companies instruct the algorithms to behave in certain ways. Given the economic and reputational incentives on the companies to avoid fines, it seems highly likely that the companies will go down the route of using hair-trigger, error-prone algorithms that will end up removing unobjectionable content.

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French President Emmanuel Macron and British PM Theresa May (Source: BT.com)

May and Macron’s proposal is to identify and remove new extremist content. It is unclear whose rules they want Internet companies to enforce. The Facebook Files showed Facebook’s own policies are to delete a lot of legal but potentially objectionable content, often in a seemingly arbitrary way. Alternatively, if the companies are to enforce UK and French laws on hate speech and so on, that will probably be a lot less censorious than May and Macron are hoping for.

The history of automated content takedown suggests removing extremist content without removing harmless content will be an enormous challenge. The mistakes made by YouTube’s ContentID system that automate takedowns of alleged copyright-infringing content on YouTube are well-documented.

Context is king when it comes to judging content. Will these automated systems really be able to tell the difference between posts that criticise terrorism while using video of terrorists and posts promoting terrorism that use the same video?

There are some that will say this is a small price to pay if it stops the spread of extremist propaganda but it will lead to a framework for censorship that can be used against anything that is perceived as harmful. All of this might result in extremists moving to other platforms to promote their material. But will they actually be less able to communicate?

Questions abound. What incentives will the companies have to get it right? Will there be any safeguards? If so, how transparent will those safeguards be? Will the companies be fined for censoring legal content as well as failing to censor illegal content?

And what about the global picture? Internet companies like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube have a global reach. Will they be expected to create a system that can be used by any national government – even those with poor human rights records? It’s unclear whether May and Macron have thought through whether they are happy for Internet platforms to become an arm of every state that they operate in.

All this of course is in the context of Theresa May entering a new Parliament with a very fragile majority. She will be careful only to bring legislation to Parliament that she is confident of getting through. Opposition in Parliament to these plans is far from guaranteed. In April the Labour MP Yvette Cooper recommended fines for tech companies in a report she headed up on the Home Affairs select committee.

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The Canadian Network On Cuba (CNC) denounces the violation of the sovereignty of Canada by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Treasury Department. OFAC fined the American Honda Finance Corporation (AHFC) $87,255 for approving and financing between February 2011 and March 2014 the leasing by Honda Canada Finance Inc. of 13 cars to the Embassy of Cuba in Canada.

This is an unambiguous act of hostility against Cuba carried out within Canada by Washington. The extraterritorial application of the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba targets not only Canada, as the AHFC is a subsidiary of the American Honda Motor Company, which is itself owned by Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and based in Japan, not the U.S.

Because Honda Canada Finance Inc. is a majority-owned subsidiary company of American Honda Motor Company, Washington insists that it follow U.S. law as demanded by the 1992 Torricelli Act and the 1996 Helms-Burton Act.

In short, U.S. law supplants Canadian law within Canada!

Not only is this a violation of the sovereignty of Canada, it contravenes the Canadian Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act (FEMA).

In response to the Torricelli Act and the Helms-Burton Bill, the Government of Canada specifically amended FEMA in order to protect Canada against the increasing extraterritorial nature of the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba. Thus, FEMA prohibits Canadian corporations from complying with the extraterritorial measures of U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba

This violation of Canadian sovereignty by the U.S. Treasury Department illustrates that Washington not only wages an economic blockade against Cuba but also a diplomatic and political blockade.

Is this extraterritorial interference in Canadian sovereignty a warning that Canada-Cuba relations is now a direct target of the Trump administration?

The CNC calls on the Government of Canada to uphold the country’s sovereignty and reject this or any other effort to implement in Canada the internationally condemned and illegal U.S. economic blockade of Cuba.

The CNC urges the Canadian government and parliamentarians not to allow Canada’s policy towards and relations with Cuba to be targeted or undermined.

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Recent developments in Serbia and Poland have prompted many in the Alt-Media Community to rethink their attitude towards each respective government.

Serbian Surprise

Governments don’t always represent the people, and nowhere is this clearer nowadays than in Serbia. Pro-Western Prime Minister-turned-President Alexander Vucic just appointed a Croatian and former USAID employee, Ana Brnabic, to run the government, pending her expected confirmation by parliament next week. This completely contradicts the conservative values-based and multipolar identity that the majority of Serbs adhere to. In an of itself, Brnabic’s ethnicity, gender, and sexual identity are her personal affairs, with only her political views and work history being most directly relevant to the majority of Serbs due to her proposed leadership position, but nevertheless, the ‘full package’ is concerning to many because of what it represents.

Ana Brnabic (Source: Oriental Review)

Disregarding the dogma of “political correctness”, the fact is that Brnabic’s nomination shocked many Serbs because of how radical it is in the symbolic – and possibly soon, substantial – sense. Some people fear that the alignment of her sexual identity, work history, and political views with the preferences of the ruling EU elite (her gender and ethnicity aren’t an issue to the average person) will lead to the accelerated imposition of neoliberal “values” on Serbia, thereby completing the post-communist transformation of the country into the West’s archetype vassal state. In addition, Serbia has rightly been regarded for a long time as the center of gravity in the region, and Vucic’s nomination of Brnabic as Prime Minister sends the very strong message that she’s the sort of politician who Brussels wants to rule over the rest of the Balkans.

Polish Populism

What’s taking place in Serbia is nothing short of tragic from the perspective of the country’s conservatives, though interestingly enough, individuals of the said ideological-value predisposition are experiencing an unexpected renaissance of sorts in Poland, of all countries. The Law and Justice Party, popularly known by its abbreviation PiS, swept to power in late-2015 in an unprecedented parliamentary landslide and gained full control of the country. The new government swiftly moved to emulate Hungarian Prime Minister’s conservative agenda, which instantly prompted the country’s identity crisis to go international after the emergence of large-scale pro-EU protests and Western liberal condemnation. In defense of PiS, the new government is simply implementing the forgotten will of the people, the very same socio-economic and cultural populism which had been trampled upon by former premier and current EU Council President Donald Tusk’s pro-Brussels Civil Platform (PO) party.

It’s very curious that Poland has risen as a conservative icon in Europe given its historical tutelage as a pro-American military proxy in Eastern Europe, but this just goes to prove how suddenly things are changing in the world. At the time of the party’s reentrance into power, it stood in stark opposition to the Obama-led neoliberal transatlantic order, though following Trump’s inauguration, Warsaw is more in tune with Washington’s socio-cultural wavelength. Poland’s post-communist governments, and especially PiS, have always been heavily in favor of limitless NATO involvement in the country, so that’s certainly a point of variance with most people in the Alt-Media Community. Even so, Warsaw’s tremendous progress in restoring traditional religious-based values, promoting a mild form of economic populism, and resisting the existential transformation of the state via the uncontrollable influx of civilizationally dissimilar “Weapons of Mass Migration” throughout the Immigrant Crisis has earned it loud praise in the very same Alt-Media circles.

Comparing Apples and Oranges?

As for Serbia, the situation is somewhat different. Genuine anti-imperialists all across the world laud the country for its proud history of resisting external dominance and fighting against all odds, and they generally saw Serbia as a pillar of Orthodox values in spite of its pro-Western government. While the wholehearted respect for Serbia’s history and people still remains, their support of the nation’s government has seriously eroded over the past couple of years, with Vucic’s nomination of Brnabic being the last straw.

While it can be said that Serbia isn’t a NATO member like Poland is, and certainly isn’t anywhere near as Russophobic, it shouldn’t be overlooked that Belgrade agreed to a controversial Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the bloc in 2016 which allows for the free movement of troops and vehicles through the country, among other unilateral concessions. Therefore, while Serbia is legally a militarily neutral country, it’s in fact moved to more closely associate itself with NATO.

The difference between Poland and Serbia’s NATO relationships is obvious – Warsaw is much more important for Washington’s military strategies vis-à-vis Moscow because it can more directly threaten Russia’s national security, while Belgrade is nowhere near as significant in this regard because no direct (key word) Russian interests are threatened by SOFA. Moreover, the scale of cooperation is qualitatively different, since Poland is NATO’s frontline launching pad in Eastern Europe and is hosting part of the so-called “missile defense shield’, while Serbia has no such relationship to NATO and could only realistically function at this point as a highway between Croatia & Hungary to Albania & Greece (potentially even the Republic of Macedonia if its de-facto coup government joins the bloc in the coming year or two). Therefore, if one evaluates Poland and Serbia back-to-back, then Belgrade is infinitely more attractive than Warsaw if NATO cooperation is the only form of criteria.

Serbians protest against SOFA (Source: Oriental Review)

Nonetheless, other factors of comparison are certainly in play because socio-cultural principles are now becoming just as important as military posturing to many people, which holds the potential of reversing the status of Poland and Serbia in the Alt-Media Community when it comes to how others assess their governments. In that case, Poland’s authorities are much more appealing than Serbia’s in light of PiS’ defense of traditional socio-cultural values and Vucic’s undeclared opposition to them. Neither country is friendly to civilizationally dissimilar illegal immigrants, but Serbia has been pressured into the position of becoming a temporary “parking lot” for some of them, whereas Poland ardently refused to accept even a single one and is now being sanctioned by Brussels because of it. However, it must be said that the Polish authorities have no qualms about irresponsibly facilitating the massive migration of Ukrainians to their country, which in spite of this group’s civilizational similarity could still pose a looming and very dangerous threat in the long run.

Apart from that, another point of contrast between the two states is that everyone took for granted that Poland’s government will always be pro-Western, which is why it came as a pleasant surprise that its new authorities clashed with Obama and Merkel, although they do admittedly have a lot in common with Trump nowadays. From the other side, it was a disappointment to many that Serbia’s government kowtowed to the West as quislings in spite of their proud national history of resistance, and Brnabic’s nomination is understood by some Serbs as an unforgettable self-inflicted humiliation to the highest degree and even an outright capitulation to the (failing) neoliberal world order.

Comparatively, however, Poland’s government is still much more pro-American than Serbia’s, though this too becomes a matter of moral subjectivity when considering that Belgrade is a lot closer to the EU. From the multipolar perspective, both are undesirable, but Trump’s America is championing conservative values at home (though not necessarily abroad, as Macedonia proves), while the EU is forcing its underlings to submit to neoliberal ones just like Serbia did. If one had to choose, the socio-cultural positions being promoted by Poland are more attractive than those being forced upon Serbia.

Concluding Thoughts

All in all, this thought exercise isn’t meant in any way whatsoever to justify or whitewash either country’s (especially Poland’s) relationship to the unipolar forces of NATO, the US, and the EU, nor to attack Brnabic’s personal affairs or infer anything negative about the nationwide constituency which she’s slated to represent, but just to demonstrate the increasing complexity of International Relations in the present time and show how difficult it is for observers to “support” one actor or another entirely. There’s no such thing as a “perfect government” or “perfect politician”, and there will always be elements in both which clash with one’s principles, but the important thing is to differentiate between the state and the citizenry, and never judge either of them based on the other.

That being said, while the vast majority of sincere anti-imperialists in the Alt-Media Community will always stand with the Serbian people and respect their government’s nominal non-alignment in military affairs, there’s an unmistakable tendency to distance themselves from its present government because of the embarrassment that it’s become and to instead recognize the defense of socio-cultural values undertaken by Poland’s, however unexpected that may sound at first. This doesn’t mean that such individuals “support” PiS in the conventional sense of the word, but just that they are gaining more respect for its principled position against the illegal immigration of civilizationally dissimilar individuals and Brussels’ neoliberal “values”, though of course consistently condemning Warsaw’s frontline position in NATO, Polish society’s widespread Russophobia, and the government’s short-sighted policy towards Ukrainian migration.

Therefore, what it ultimately comes down to then is whether an individual feels more strongly about a given country’s/government’s role in NATO or its position on socio-cultural values and the Immigrant Crisis. If it’s the former, then Serbia and its authorities are rightly heralded as having a much milder position than Poland’s, though if it’s the latter, then Warsaw is regarded as progressive whereas Belgrade is perceived as rapidly moving down the path of regression.

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The official June 16 statement was barely uttered when the majority nationwide opposition to the Trump Cuba policy was once again reignited. Indeed, it was already extremely active and vocal before the Little Havana, Miami venue and date were announced on June 9. By stage-managing the event in Little Havana, Trump was preaching to the choir, one that does not even include the rest of Florida, where the majority of Cuban-Americans oppose the blockade, or at least support the Obama policy of making the blockade somewhat more flexible. Trump’s  trademark manner of hand-picking events to spread the word across the country will not work. His Cold War rhetoric will not detract the forces that want to increase trade and travel to Cuba. 

However, Trump’s policy is not yet set in stone. According to the June 16 White House Fact Sheet on Cuba Policy, the Treasury and Commerce Departments will begin the process of issuing new regulations only in 30 days. His policies cannot take effect until the new regulations are established, a process that, according to the Fact Sheet, “may take several months.” A lot can happen within this time frame.

Why Now? 

In order to evaluate the current situation, we need to backtrack. Trump had a lot on his domestic and international agenda in the first 100 days and could not deal with Cuba. This country was and is very controversial. There are contradictions within his own party. A large number of Republican members of Congress, politicians at the state and municipal levels as well as Republican voters support the Obama policy and even want to go further in opening trade and travel. This has been and still is a formidable obstacle for Trump.

Thus, it was only last month, on May 3 (six months into his mandate), that he convened a special meeting on Cuba at the White House, including his top officials and Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart whom initially favoured breaking diplomatic relations with Cuba and shutting down the U.S. Embassy in Havana. In this meeting, it was clear that the upper-level civil servants at Homeland Security and the State Department wanted to continue the Obama policy. In fact, State Department Secretary Rex Tillerson, during his January 2017 Congressional confirmation hearing, was quite ambiguous with regard to any major change to the Obama policy. In another hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, just last June 13, Tillerson was likewise obscure regarding a major rollback in Cuba policy. According to some American press sources, Tillerson has privately expressed support for the Obama policy.

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Sen. Marco Rubio and Pres. Donald Trump (Source: Pinterest)

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and the White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus agreed with the Trump/Rubio “from the top-down approach” to by-pass opposition. Thus, Trump handed over the task of drafting the policy to the White House staff and National Security Council whose advisor H.R. McMaster also agreed with the Trump/Rubio orientation (instead of entrusting Homeland Security Secretary John Kelley and  Tillerson’s State Department), with Marco Rubio  and Diaz-Balart as the main advisors. Now, how did Marco Rubio go from “Little Marco,” as Trump ridiculed him during the primaries, to Big Marco the Playmaker on Cuba policy? The Senator sits on the Congressional Intelligence Committee and was one of the few who exonerated Trump during the Comey hearings earlier this month. Is this one of the reasons that Rubio was provided this privileged position? How indispensable will Rubio be in the next few months?

Trump’s Policy Is a Compromise Between Hardliners and Anti-Blockade Forces 

Despite Rubio and Miami’s Little Havana Batista followers wanting to break relations, it did not happen, and no one complained. Although Trump previously alluded to an about-face on diplomatic relations, he did not announce the breaking of relations, even though it is a cornerstone of the Obama policy. This is very good. However, to compensate for this, Trump substantially ratcheted up the rhetoric against Cuba and introduced important restrictions in trade and travel for Americans that roll back the Obama initiative. This is his compromise. Nevertheless, now that Trump is back in Washington and back to earth, he has to face the widespread opposition to his Cuba policy across the country, in diametrical opposition to Little Havana.

Some Economic Contradictions That the Trump Administration Must Confront 

One of rollbacks concerns the right of Americans to travel to Cuba as long as they do so in one of 12 categories, such as for religious or cultural purposes. Obama loosened that restriction by allowing the Americans to do so in good faith. Under the Trump policy, they will have to prove it before leaving and travel as part of a group. This complicates the matter not only for U.S. citizens but also for the Treasury Department. How is it going to enforce this, especially at a time when Trump wants to cut back on this type of expense? According to White House sources who were permitted to brief reporters on the condition of anonymity, other categories of authorized travel will remain open to individuals. Is Trump caught in a bind, or is he showing some light between Rubio and himself?

Rubio, in promoting the Trump policy, gave the example that they are trying to enforce the patronization of privately owned bed-and-breakfast establishments rather than state-run hotels. However, if, in a few months’ time, the Trump policy is allowed to complicate travel to Cuba, how will these potential B&B customers get there? In addition, the powerful accommodations-networking firm Airbnb is not expected to take this lying down, nor are the major U.S. airlines companies or the giant online travel company Expedia, which just concluded a deal with Cuban hotels.

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Four Points Sheraton Havana: The Only US Branded Hotel in Havana, Cuba (Source: TravelUpdate)

With regard to the new Trump policy of outlawing stays at hotels owned by the Cuban Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA, Spanish acronym), what will the drafters of the new rules do over the next several months? Hotel giant Starwood recently opened a Sheraton Four Points Hotel in Havana in collaboration with Gaviota, one of the Army’s main tourist companies. (The Four Points Hotel is 49% Hyatt-owned and 51% Gaviota-owned.) If the eventual new rules effectively annul this deal, Robert Muse, one of the most important American lawyers dealing with the blockade, contends they will be in contravention of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It stipulates that no one can be deprived of property without compensation. Perhaps Trump is seeing the writing on the wall, as it seems that he is not going to interfere in this transaction. Even if the hotel is allowed to continue operating as it does now, Trump will be faced with the ridiculous spectacle of Americans being barred from staying at the only American hotel in Cuba!

Likewise, what would the U.S. Treasury Department do if American visitors were to enjoy a snack or a drink at the iconic Sloppy Joe’s Bar or the equally emblematic Floridita in Old Havana, unaware that they are both run by the Army enterprise group? If Treasury foolishly goes through with Trump’s June 16 directive, the U.S. will be depriving American visitors from access to these landmark restaurant/bar reminders of U.S. presence in Havana before the Revolution.

While the Rubio-fuelled new Cuba policy is destined to gain support from Cuban-Americans, GAESA also controls much of Cuba’s finances, including remittances. Thus, inadvertently, Trump can even face off against some Cuban-Americans who were charmed by the Trump Cuba policy as announced on June 16, but will wake up soon to find that it even goes against their own family interests.

Secretary of State Tillerson may not be the only one in the Trump Cabinet who seems to be in at least partial contradiction with the new policy. As recently as May 17, 2017, after the May 3 White House meeting, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue pledged his support for expanding agricultural trade with Cuba at a House Agricultural Committee hearing. Secretary Perdue has long been a supporter of expanding agricultural trade to Cuba, having expressed his support at his Senate confirmation hearing as well as during his time as Governor of Georgia following a trade delegation trip to Cuba. This is just part of a larger picture whereby Midwestern farm states that voted for Trump also want to seek out the Cuban market for their exports.

GAESA also controls the new modern Mariel container port on Cuba’s north west shore. Meanwhile, U.S. Gulf Coast ports and the Port of Virginia have signed letters of intent to work with this new terminal. What will they do? 

And the Political Inconsistencies 

Trump insisted on June 16 on the need to strictly enforce U.S. legislation on the blockade. He is undoubtedly referring to, among others, the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, signed by Bill Clinton. It extended the blockade even further toward being extra-territorial than its 1992 predecessor, the Torricelli Act. The 1996 act punishes third countries that deal with Cuba, as seen recently, for example, by the Trump Administration’s fining of Honda Canada for dealing with Cuba, thus challenging Canada’s sovereignty.

President Bill Clinton signs the Helms-Burton Act into law in 1996. (Source: cubaninsider)

However, the Helms-Burton Act also stipulates that the U.S. government cannot reach any agreement with Cuba while Fidel or Raúl Castro is in power. Well, Raúl is Head of State; does this mean that Trump is violating this piece of legislation? While this is a tongue-in-cheek question, the situation shows that the Trump policy is a compromise and that he is on the defensive, camouflaged by his rhetoric. Perhaps the most obvious political contradiction is that if the Cuban regime is so terrible, as he went over the top to describe it, why maintain diplomatic relations and an Embassy in Havana and even invite Cuba to the negotiating table, no matter how this reeks of hypocrisy?

On June 16, Trump made a point to single out Venezuela as well. It was another instance of gross interference in the internal affairs of a Latin American country, as he did with Cuba. The Organization of American States (encompassing all 35 countries in the hemisphere except Cuba) is meeting June 19–21 in Cancun, Mexico. It is a regular session of all foreign ministers, thus the U.S. is being represented by Secretary of State Tillerson. What will the reaction of the member states be? Will Trump’s arrogant outpouring on June 16 push more and more countries against U.S. interference in the region and thus have a boomerang effect on Trump’s announcement? On June 18 it was announced on that Tillerson himself is not attending the OAS Summit in Cancun. He is being replaced by Kevin Sullivan, U.S. Interim Representative to the Organization of American States and Michael J. Fitzpatrick, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Andean, Brazilian, and Southern Cone Affairs.

One should recall that the unanimous opposition by Latin American and Caribbean nations to the decades-long U.S. Cuba policy was one of the factors that pushed Obama to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba in December 2014. During the June 16 Trump performance in Miami, the body language of Tillerson in listening to Trump seemed to indicate a very reluctant approval of the new Cuba policy. Did he have in mind the Cancun meeting and what he may face as a result of Rubio’s ill-advised Cuba policy?

Still Time to Act 

As soon as the Trump speech was over, Engage Cuba, the main coalition against the blockade with the backing of bipartisan political and business support across the nation, issued a statement. It concluded, “Today was the speech. Tomorrow we get back to work.” This is the main message of my words today, as a very initial reaction to Trump policy. The forces in the U.S. – from business to the travel industry, and from scholars/educators, community and politicians to the grass roots – still have several months to strive to influence the situation in favour of more open travel and trade with the goal to lift the blockade altogether. It can be carried out by taking advantage of the contradictions within the Trump Administration and his entire party, and be inspired by the across-the-board majority American opposition to the blockade. This is supported by peoples around the world who support Cuba’s right to self-determination and sovereignty. They strongly oppose the U.S. attempt to interfere in Cuba’s internal affairs to force it to “change” in conformity with U.S. desires.

In the meantime, only several hours after Trump’s announcement, the Cuban government issued a strong statement that indicates, as it has since 1959, that Cuba refuses to bow to U.S. threats. The government also said that it is willing to continue a respectful dialogue with the U.S. on topics of mutual concern on the basis of mutual respect. This option of sitting down at the table would not have been possible if Trump were not forced to compromise, and thus maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba. Furthermore, Cuba being very aware of American domestic politics, did not single out Trump, but rather mentioned that he was once again ill-advised.

On June 19, at a special Press Conference from Vienna where he was visiting, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez passionately detailed the real terrorist nature of those Cuban Americans from Miami lauded by Trump. He stated that the Trump policy “will reinforce our patriotism, dignity and determination to defend national independence in the spirit of José Martí, Antonio Maceo and Fidel Castro.” However, he reiterated that Cuba will continue to deal with the U.S only on the basis of mutual respect.

This situation of possible dialogue and the fact that the process will take several months in the face of increasing anti-blockade pressures are the positive points on an otherwise very bleak June 16.

Arnold August is a Canadian journalist and author of three books on Cuba, the most recent being Cuba–U.S. Relations: Obama and Beyond, which includes an analysis of the unfolding Trump Cuba policy. www.CubaUSRelations.com.

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A US Navy F-18 shot down a Syrian military aircraft over Syrian territory Sunday, marking the first time the US has engaged in air to air combat since the US attack on Yugoslavia in 1999. US claims that the Syrians were targeting US-backed rebels were undermined by reporting by the generally pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which stated that according to its sources on the ground the Syrian aircraft was not attacking US-backed anti-government forces. The Russians, who also had military aircraft near the shot down Syrian jet, claim the US did not provide warning via the hotline to prevent accidents between the US and Russia. As a result, the Russian defense ministry announced that it would track any flying object flying in its area of operations as potential targets. How high will this new tension rise? Tune in to today’s Liberty Report:

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Authorities in London, England announced on June 19 that 79 deaths have been officially recorded resulting from a fire which quickly swept through the Grenfell housing complex in North Kensington on June 13-14.

Immediately after the fire erupted many media outlets began to raise serious questions about the level of safety and preparedness inside the building.

Residents through their organizations had complained for several years about concerns related to the lack of sprinklers, fire alarms and effective maintenance of the structure. Apparently these complaints were not addressed by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) Council which is said to be the owners of the flats.

Hundreds of residents and their supporters attempted to storm the RBKC Council proceedings on June 16 demanding answers to their questions. The doors of the building where the Council was meeting were locked as demonstrators rallied outside.

Residents and their family members who were interviewed by the press spoke to the abject failure of the owners and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization which was supposed to oversee the conditions in the building. These entities did not provide proper fire prevention and rescue operation protocols at Grenfell Towers. After the fire started some residents reported that they were instructed by municipal employees to remain within the building.

Nonetheless, hundreds of the residents were able to escape without being severely injured. Others remain in hospital with some under critical care.

Later people rendered homeless went to makeshift relief centers seeking food, clothing, water, blankets and counseling. Volunteers from throughout the community donated supplies and food to the affected residents.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan visited the area of the fire the following day and was met with loud protests by residents and community members. The criticism centered on the absence of information related to transitional housing, clothing and food. Other concerns voiced by residents were the desire of many who were burned out that they could remain in the same neighborhood. Impacted tenants felt that these issues were not satisfactorily addressed by municipal and national governmental officials.

Grenfell Tower Council protest on June 16, 2017 (Source: Abayomi Azikiwe)

British Prime Minister Theresa May was admonished as well for failing to meet with residents and their families. She did visit the fire scene however the prime minister only spoke with firefighters and the police. Later she visited some of the injured victims in hospital.

Eyewitnesses, Community Organizations and Experts Blame Authorities for Disaster

Even the state-sponsored British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) could not conceal or minimize the culpability of the municipal officials in creating the conditions for the fire and subsequent deaths. Although North Kensington is considered a high-income area of London undergoing rapid gentrification, there are still large numbers of marginalized residents many of whom are from people of color communities with heritages in Africa, the Caribbean, South Asia, and the Middle East.

This racialized aspect of the disaster at Grenfell Tower became evident to readers and viewers of the media since a disproportionate number of people being interviewed were from nationally oppressed groups and the lower rungs of the working class. Anger is burgeoning among these groups who are saying the fire, its swift expansion, and the resulting injuries and deaths, were unnecessary. The general consensus is that if adequate safety precautions had been taken the fire may have never started or been confined to a small area of the housing block.

According to a post on the Grenfell Action Group website hours after the fire erupted, it says:

“Watching breaking news about the Grenfell Tower fire catastrophe. Too soon (5am) to even guess at numbers of casualties and fatalities. Our heartfelt and sincere condolences (go out) to all who have perished, to the injured, to those who are bereaved or are still searching for missing loved ones. Regular readers of this blog will know that we have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in RBKC. ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.” (www.grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com)

The channeling of marginalized and oppressed groups into what is called “social housing” in Britain is clearly a manifestation of the class and racial oriented approach to urban planning that permeates London and other major cities. Many of these social housing complexes are located in ageing buildings which have been refurbished in recent years utilizing substandard materials creating a tinderbox.

Experts have cited the use of cladding at Grenfell Tower as a possible cause of the rapid spread of the fire. With this being a 24-story building firefighters did not have the equipment to reach the higher levels of the structure leaving people helpless in the face of imminent death.

Although higher-income housing developments are within the same general area as Grenfell Tower, the safety of the poor and working class residents are not treated with the same sense of urgency and necessity. Despite the fact that residents had repeatedly expressed their fears related to structural problems within the block no serious efforts by the municipal authorities were enacted.

Bloomberg, one of the world’s most widely-read financial publications, admitted in a report written by Leonid Bershidsky on the tragedy at Grenfell Tower that:

“As in much of Europe, the use of tower blocks as public housing in the U.K. began in the 1950s with a decision to provide public subsidies based on building height. The 1965 Housing Subsidy Act spawned 4,500 tower blocks by 1979. It wasn’t a great idea for a lot of social reasons. By the end of the 1970s, a growing body of research showed that the social alienation of living in a high-rise increased psychological stress, that toxic materials used in industrial construction and insufficient thermal insulation led to health problems, and that widespread crime and disaffection was linked to the faulty urban planning.” (June 16)

Placing low-income residents from oppressed groups in high-rise tower blocks serves two obvious purposes. The buildings serve as a mechanism to contain the demographic shift of British and other European municipalities restricting the geographic spread of people of color communities.

From a financial perspective, by concentrating African, Asian, Middle Eastern and other working class residents in confined spaces where maintenance and safety costs are de-emphasized, it provides the capacity for urban governments to channel tax revenue as incentives for private housing and commercial developments which is far more lucrative for corporations which specialize in these projects. What remains to be seen is whether the British government will learn from this calamitous event providing policy imperatives to construct housing units which are safer and more humane for the working poor and immigrants.

Tower Block Fire Compounds Political Crisis for the Conservative Government

Prime Minister Theresa May had good reason not to want to meet residents of Grenfell Towers and their neighbors. A recent election in the country, which many political pundits say was unnecessary, resulted in the Conservative Party losing its absolute majority in parliament forcing the ruling group to seek an alliance with the small Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order to form a government. The prime minister could not afford to be seen on British and world television being heckled and denounced.

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Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to members of the fire service as she visits Grenfell Tower (Source: New Statesman)

It is questionable whether May will be able to survive in her position in the coming weeks and months. Britain has been the site in recent months of several high-profile terrorist attacks in London and Manchester where many people have died.

On June 18, a crowd of Muslims coming from the Finsbury Park Mosque in North London were targeted by a white racist who drove his van into pedestrians. One person died in the attack and several others were seriously injured. People in the area said the assailant remarked that he was intent on killing Muslims.

The following day on June 19, Britain began negotiations with the European Union (EU) over its delinking from the continental organization. Brexit stemmed from another miscalculated election in June 2016 where the voters decided to withdraw from the EU, costing former Prime Minister David Cameron his position and triggering a recession inside the country due to the economic uncertainty going into the future.

Britain along with other western capitalist states will continue to experience political instability in light of the growing class and sectional differences among the populations. As long as the wealthy elites enhance their status with disregard for the majority of the people within society, the mounting social contradictions will undoubtedly prompt further economic turbulence and protracted ideological conflict.

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On Sunday, a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 warplane near Ja’Din in the western part of the province of Raqqah. Ja’Din is located in the area south of the town of Tabqah controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The Su-22 was supporting the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) advance towards the ISIS-held town of Resafa located at the Ithriyah-Resafa-Raqqa road.

“At 6:43pm, a Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Tabqah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a US F/A-18E Super Hornet,” the US-led coalition said in a statement on the issue.

In turn, the Syrian Defense Ministry said that the attack was attempt to undermine the SAA effort against ISIS.
The US attack came amid the rapid SAA advance in the Resafa area. With the liberation of Resafa, the SAA controls one of the important roads heading to Deir Ezzor besieged by ISIS terrorists. In this case, the US move is another attempt to draw red lines for the internationally recognized government of Syria. Washington sees successful SAA operations against ISIS as a threat to the US influence in the war-torn country.

Following the incident, the Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) launched medium-range ground-to-ground missiles at ISIS targets in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. According to the IRGC, the missiles were launched from the western Iranian provinces of Kermanshah and Kordestan, flied through Iraq’s airspace and hit terrorists targets in Syria. Iran reportedly used Zolfaqar missiles.

The IRGC statement said that the missile strike was a response to the recent ISIS-claimed terrorist attack in Tehran. However, it’s clear that this missile strike was a message to the US-led coalition and US-backed forces in Syria. The missile strike shows that Iran is capable to conduct a missile strike on joint garrisons of the US-led coalition forces and US-backed militant groups located near the villages of At Tanf and al-Zquf at the border with Iraq.

Meanwhile, according to some sources, sporadic firefights appeared between the SAA and the SDF south of Tabqah after the SDF had opposed government forces attempt to conduct a pilot rescue operation in the area.

Reports also appeared that US-led coalition forces are setting up a military facility in the town of Tabqah. US forces are reportedly aiming to build a command center and residential buildings for its troops. According to opposition sources, the US wants to adopt the new base as a long-term base in Syria.

Despite tensions with the US-led coalition, the SAA continued operations against ISIS in the eastern Hama countryside where government forces liberated Jab al-Saad, Rasm Amoun, Hanita and Hassou al-‘Albawi and continued advancing with aim to shorten the frontline in the area.

The recent events show that the US and its allies lost a tactical initiative in the conflict and now they are attempting to stop ongoing or prevent expected SAA operations in the provinces of Raqqah and Deir Ezzor, and along the border with Iraq.

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After over six years of US aggression in Syria, falsely called civil war, nothing surprises.

On Sunday, Syria’s military said the so-called US-led “international coalition” downed one of its warplanes during a combat mission against ISIS terrorists about 30 km south of Raqqa.

The pilot is missing. It’s unknown if he’s alive or dead. A Syrian military statement said the following:

“The attack stresses coordination between the US and ISIS, and it reveals the evil intentions of the US in administrating terrorism and investing it to pass the US-Zionist project in the region.”

“Such aggressions would not affect the Syrian Arab army in its determination to continue the fight against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist organizations and to restore security and stability to all Syrian territories.”

A US-controlled so-called Operation Inherent Resolve statement lied, saying

“a Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Tabqah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a US F/A-18E.”

The action was the latest US-led lawless attack on Syria’s military, fighting to liberate the country from US-backed terrorists – ISIS and all other anti-government forces. No so-called “moderate rebels” exist.

Syrian forces expanded operations in northern areas, liberating three villages near the Atreya-Resafa-Raqqa highway.

Washington wants Syrian sovereignty destroyed, the country balkanized, northern and southern areas separated from Damascus under US control.

Sergey Lavrov (credits to the owner of the photo)

Russia’s only response so far was Sergey Lavrov calling on the Trump administration to respect Syrian territorial integrity and refrain from unilateral actions in the country – comments falling on deaf ears in Washington.

Downing a Syrian warplane after earlier US attacks on its military ups the stakes in the country, escalating conflict Russia continues going all-out to resolve diplomatically.

On Monday, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, international affairs advisor to Iranian parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, blamed Saudi Arabian security services for the June 7 terrorist incidents in Tehran, saying:

“The existing documents are proof of the US and Saudi Arabia’s continued manipulation of terrorism in the region and the world. Their strategy and policy (are) to draw out regional crises in order to carry out their own agendas…”

After the Tehran incidents, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said his country’s intelligence shows Riyadh “actively” supports terrorist groups along Iran’s eastern and western borders.

In retaliation for the June 7 attacks, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) launched ground-to-ground missiles, targeting an ISIS Deir Ezzor command post.

An IRGC statement said

“(t)he spilling of innocent blood will not go unanswered. (N)o efforts (will be spared) to defend (Iran’s) national security and obviate plots as well as anti-security phenomena.”

Along with Russia, Iran actively aids Syrian and allied forces combat the scourge of US-backed ISIS and other terrorist groups in the country.

Self-defense is a universally recognized right – naked aggression the highest of high crimes. America and its rogue allies stand guilty as charged. Their alliance is humanity’s greatest threat.

On Monday, Almasdar News reported “(i)ntense clashes…between” Syrian and US-backed forces west of Raqqa, saying:

Government troops “attempted to cross (their) front lines…to rescue their fallen pilot (if alive). (T)hey were turned” back.

Fierce fighting is ongoing between both sides “near the key town of Resafa in western Al-Raqqa.”

Hawkish generals running Trump’s military operations in Syria and elsewhere want endless wars continued – at some point, risking direct confrontation with Russia.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected].

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

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Part of the ineffable reality of American democracy as Helen Thomas — American reporter, author, and longtime front row member of the White House press corps — once observed, is that “you cannot criticise Israel in this country and survive.”

Thomas was subsequently obliged to step down from her job as a columnist for Hearst News after a rabbi and independent filmmaker videotaped her outside the White House calling on Israelis to get “out of Palestine.” It is equally true that while the imposing United States Capitol Complex on the left is theoretically the seat of the U.S. government, it is in fact in the building on the right at 251 H St. NW — the soon to be dramatically expanded American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) headquarters — where much of America’s domestic and foreign policy is determined.

(http://www.countercurrents.org/hanna200814.htm)

This unmentionable reality was highlighted by a recently published article in The Duran, which reported that during an interview on The Late Show by host Stephen Colbert, Oliver Stone remarked that Israel had far more influence over U.S. elections than any of the surmised influence Russia may have had. When Stone referred to the  alleged and yet to be substantiated Russian interference: 

“Israel had far more involvement in the U.S. election than Russia, why don’t you ask me about that?”

Colbert — who also hypocritically sniped about Vladimir Putin’s alleged suppression of press freedom in Russia — abruptly ended that topic of conversation by saying:

“I will ask you about that when you make a documentary about Israel.”

Though Stone’s above assertion was valid and irrefutable, it was — in keeping with the best of the American media’s relentless quest for, and reporting of, the truth — nonetheless censored and omitted from the actual broadcast.

(http://theduran.com/oliver-stones-israel-remarks-censored-by-stephen-colberts-late-show/)

This was particularly hypocritical considering that since the issue of the Trump team’s connections to Russia — and that country’s alleged interference in the U.S presidential election — The Late Show and Colbert have enjoyed a surge in ratings by constantly harping on the issue of “Russian skulduggery” while as always failing to mention the subversive influence on America of the all-powerful and well funded pro-Israel lobby. Despite his undoubted talent and popularity, Colbert nonetheless failed during the interview to disguise the hypocrisy of his subservient silence — the hallmark of the “free” American press — with regards to Israel’s subversive activities and  violations of international law including crimes against humanity with arrogant impunity.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6XQOD-7VhA&t=3s)

In the meantime, while an endless saga including the Russian “threat” to an American democracy that is a sham; the firing of former FBI Director James Comey; and the appointment of a special council is dominating the news, the pro-Israel lobby’s undemocratic efforts to influence U.S. lawmakers at federal, state and local levels —with generous financial incentives, political intimidation, and expense-paid trips to Israel — have continued unmentioned and unabated. 

Such tactics have resulted in the Israeli government reportedly committing 100 million shekels (about $26 million) to fight BDS on as many fronts as possible with emphasis on the targeting of academic institutions and legislative bodies at the national, state and local levels; Congressional rejection of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which declared that “the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law . . . ”; and a proliferation of laws, bills and non-binding resolutions — particularly in U.S., Canada, and the UK — against the global Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement which according to numerous international academics and legal experts is “lawful exercise of freedom of expression.”

(http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/israel-boycott-bds-movement-lawful-exercise-freedom-expression-lawyers-academics-human-rights-a7466501.html)

Israel’s ability to control the media dialogue with an endless stream of propaganda lies — otherwise known as Hasbara and meaning “explanation” — has been successful only because the U.S. corporate media has simply followed the example of the U.S government by also accepting without question or conscience the heinous propaganda from an Israel which has no qualms about stooping to any level in its rejection of Palestinian identity, history, and presence in Palestine as is evident from the following Israeli government video: 

(http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/israels-latest-propaganda-video-is-offensive-it-paints-a-dark-picture-of-the-governments-views-a7363021.html)

The apparently successful, illegal, and brutal occupation of Palestinian land by an Apartheid Jewish state has only been possible as a consequence of Israel’s total but unmentionable occupation of the American mind . . . The extent of that occupation is made evident in The Occupation of the American Mind documentary narrated by Roger Waters as outlined is this short video clip.

William Hanna is a freelance writer with published books the Hiramic Brotherhood of the Third Temple, The Tragedy of Palestine and its Children, and the forthcoming Hiramic Brotherhood: Ezekiel’s Temple Prophesy. Purchase information, sample chapters, other articles, and contact details at (http://www.hiramicbrotherhood.com/)

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How Hillary Clinton May Find Her Way to Jail

June 20th, 2017 by Ekaterina Blinova

Hillary Clinton may find herself behind bars sooner than anyone expects; however, it’s not her private email server or much discussed “pay-to-play” scheme that is her main Achilles’ heel.

The financial and founding documents of the Clinton Foundation are most damning.

“Let’s start from the very beginning,” Charles Ortel, a Wall Street analyst who has been investigating the alleged charity fraud for about two years and publishes his findings on his website, says.

How It All Began

“The United States has precise rules governing how ‘charities’ spring into life legally and then operate. Most charities are organized in a given US state (or Washington, D.C.) as nonprofit corporations. After completing this step, they frequently apply for federal tax exemption – here, they must complete a detailed application truthfully that explains, among other things, the specific purposes they intend to carry out,” Ortel explained in an interview with Sputnik.

“These ‘purposes’ must, in fact, be tax-exempt in line with statutory provisions that define which purposes serve the public, and which may not,” he stressed.

“The William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation, Inc. is somewhat different in that it was organized to comply with the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955, as later amended, to house ‘Presidential Records’ (this is a statutorily defined term that means items created or received during Bill Clinton‘s presidential terms that ran from January 20, 1993, through January 20, 2001), to operate a research facility for those who wish to study these records, and to raise a capital endowment,” Ortel clarified.

In addition, to operate a charity lawfully across the US or the whole world, one must comply with solicitation requirements in each of our 50 states and in certain other jurisdictions, which require charities to register and report before raising funds.

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Wall Street Analyst Charles Ortel (Source: Youtube / CGTN America)

The analyst underscored that many states and places levy taxes on charities and their potential donors, who are not exempt unless state and local registrations are completed truthfully.

“Long before 2002, when Bill Clinton, Ira Magaziner and others illegally began soliciting funds, allegedly to ‘fight HIV/AIDS internationally,’ the original Clinton Foundation failed to register truthfully in numerous states and localities. In addition, the Clinton Foundation filed raise and materially misleading federal tax forms concerning the status of their state and local filings, and other matters,” the analyst highlighted.

He emphasized that under applicable rules a “charity” must be organized lawfully and then operated lawfully at all times thereafter.

“So, material defects in public filings for the Clinton Foundation – which was founded on October 23, 1997, in Arkansas – began long before 2002, and have escalated right to the present,” Ortel told Sputnik.

Audit Problems

Yet another problem brought to light by the analyst is that the Clintons’ charity has never been audited in full compliance with the law.

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In this Sept. 22, 2014 file photo, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton address the audience at the annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York City. (Source: PolitiFact)

Thus, from December 31, 1997, through December 31, 2009, the Clinton Foundation attempted to pass off accounting work performed by a firm called “BKD, LLP” as “audits,” Ortel recalled, stressing that BKD couldn’t be considered “independent” since it had certain ties to the charity.

“Afterwards, from December 31, 2009, forward, no purported ‘audit’ prepared by any accounting firm for any part of the Clinton Foundation opens with a formal ‘audit’ of the starting position on December 31, 2009. This may be because no part of the Clinton Foundation was lawfully organized by December 2009,” Ortel pointed out and added that, in his opinion, “the financial statements put into the public domain by Clinton Foundation trustees define reckless misconduct and seem actionable to me, on many levels.”

Indeed, the charity’s financial documents contain suspicious gaps and omissions.

Commenting on the foundation’s international activities, Ortel noted that what is missing is “granular information required on the local currency results of the Clinton Foundation and currency translation rates into US dollars for each of these foreign operations.”

“Also missing is proof that each of these foreign operations was registered lawfully in any foreign nation where the Clinton Foundation operated or solicited donations,” he highlighted.

What Lies at the Root of the Gaps and Omissions in the Documents

The question then arises what lay behind these obvious discrepancies and negligence.

Is it ignorance of the law on the part of the Clintons? Unlikely.

According to the analyst, one could not exclude that these discrepancies point to potential fraud and mismanagement of funds.

For example, back in 2015, Charles Ortel exposed the scheme, which was potentially used by the Clinton Foundation to defraud air travelers within the framework of the charity’s HIV/AIDS initiative. According to the analyst, the Clintons could have defrauded an unsuspecting international public of hundreds of millions of dollars for personal gain.

This is big, the analyst notes, calling attention to the fact that “the penalties under the US state and federal law for charity fraud, particularly involving disaster relief, are incredibly stiff.”

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Rep. Corrine Brown with Hillary Clinton (Source: The American Mirror)

One of the shining examples is Rep. Corrine Brown‘s case: the 69-year-old Democrat has been recently indicted for a $800,000 charity fraud including mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, obstruction and filing of false tax returns. She is facing decades in jail.

“Normally, the IRS and Department of Justice look at the public filings to determine how much ‘private benefit’ may have been generated through the operation of a supposed ‘charity’ – this test is performed on a ‘collective’ basis. In other cases, a collective private benefit of $1,000 or more has been held to be disqualifying,” the analyst explained.

What Prevents IRS, FBI From Catching the Clintons Red-Handed

So, what prevented the IRS and FBI from catching the Clintons given their suspicious charity record?

“Normally, the IRS holds enormous power when it chooses to investigate a charity whose public filings seem suspect,” Ortel noted, adding that, similarly, the FBI has enough sophisticated resources to “scan” a charity.

There were reports that the Clinton Foundation had been investigated by the IRS and FBI but, surprisingly, these inquiries have not borne any fruit.

“The first investigation of the Clinton Foundation that I find mentioned in the public domain was conducted by the FBI from 2001 through 2005. … During this time, two gentlemen now in the news were involved: James Comey was US attorney and then deputy attorney general of the Justice Department, while Bob Mueller was head of the FBI,” Ortel said.

Maybe here is the answer to the question.

“The Clintons have had decades to insert their allies into the IRS, the FBI and Justice, as well as into key state government positions,” the analyst noted, “So, until now, the Clintons, the Obamas and others have been able to blunt comprehensive inquiries that likely will expose bipartisan wrongdoing.”

In this light, Donald Trump’s words that former FBI Director Comey was “the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton” acquires a new meaning.

That also means that the Clintons charity case could become especially explosive given the fact that so many operatives, trustees, donors, companies and even foreign government officials could have been involved in the suspected fraud.

How the International Community May Contribute to the Charity Probe

To tackle the issue and conclude an investigation into the Clintons’ alleged charity fraud one needs to “clean the house” first, the analyst stressed. According to Ortel, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the best-qualified official to carry out this work.

Furthermore, the international community can also join the effort and contribute to the investigation.

“I am already in contact with certain governments concerning the apparent legal status of the Clinton Foundation and the nature/amount of sums solicited and received by Clinton interests, supposedly for charitable pursuits,” the analyst said.

“Around the world, the Clintons claim to have operated their charities towards noble-sounding aims. I would be most grateful to receive any information concerning potential infractions,” Ortel stressed.

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According to local sources, US-led coalition forces have begun setting up a new military base in Tabqah town in the province of Raqqah.

The new base will be located in the military housing area, the Mohammed Fares school as well as the military and security buildings in the third district of the town. US forces reportedly intend to build a command center and residential buildings for its troops. According to opposition sources, USA wants to adopt the new base in Tabqah town as a long-term base in Syria.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports from Kurdish sources appeared arguing that a new agreement between the USA and YPG was made. The agreement will allegedly allow the US military to stay in the YPG-held areas for 10 years. In turn, the US will continue providing military aid to YPG. However, no official sources have reported about this.

US Setting Up Military Facility In Tabqah Town In Syrian Province Of Raqqah

Source: South Front

The Turkish News Agency Anadolu announced that Washington has supplied YPG and YPJ Kurdish forces in Syria with modern weapons within the last ten days. On June 16 , 50 trucks loaded with weapons arrived through Kurdistan Region border crossings. On June 5, 60 trucks loaded with arms arrived to the SDF-held areas. 20 more trucks arrived on June 12, according to the agency.

According to the Anadolu report, the Kurds received: 12,000 rifles, 6,000 machine guns, 3,500 machine guns, 3,000 RPG-7 bombers and 1,000 grenade launchers of the AT-4 type produced by the United States and LNG grenades, besides near 235 mortar rounds, 100 sniper rifles and 450 7PV night vision sights.

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An American fighter jet on Sunday shot down a Syrian warplane that the US-led coalition said attacked its allies in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in the war-torn country.

The escalation comes as Syria’s six-year-old war becomes ever more complex, with US forces and their allies converging on the northern IS bastion of Raqqa in close proximity to Russian-backed government troops.

Further complicating matters, Iran said it launched missile strikes on Sunday against “terror bases” in Syria’s northeastern Deir Ezzor province in revenge for deadly attacks on its capital claimed by IS.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces – an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters – is battling to oust the militants from Raqqa, and broke into the IS stronghold city last week.

Government forces are not involved in the battle for Raqqa, but they are advancing in an area southwest of the city, skirting around SDF fighters, their eyes set on the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor.

“Aircraft from the ‘international coalition’ targeted one of our fighter planes in the Resafa region of southern Raqqa province this afternoon while it was conducting a mission against the terrorist Islamic State group,” the Syrian army said.

It warned of “the grave consequences of this flagrant aggression”.

The US-led coalition later confirmed it shot down the Syrian warplane that it said had dropped bombs near SDF forces.

“At 6:43 pm (1743 GMT), a Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters… in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of Coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a US F/A-18E Super Hornet,” the Combined Joint Task Force said in a statement.

It said that two hours earlier, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had attacked the SDF in Jaaydine, south of Tabqa, “wounding a number of SDF fighters and driving the SDF from the town”.

Coalition aircraft stopped the advance of Syrian pro-government troops with a “show of force,” the coalition added.

Before it downed the plane, the coalition had “contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established ‘de-confliction line’ to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing.”

The coalition does “not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces” but would not “hesitate to defend itself or its “partnered forces from any threat,” the statement said.

The US-led coalition has in recent weeks escalated its aerial bombing campaign in northern Syria and Raqqa province.

The Syrian army said the “aggression” against it came as government troops and their allies made up ground in the battle against IS “on several fronts in the badiya“.

It was referring to a large stretch of desert that extends over some 90,000 square kilometres from central Syria to the borders with Iraq and Jordan to the east and southeast.

Since 2015, much of the badiya has been held by the militant group, but Syria’s army has been chipping away at it for months.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting broke out in two villages, Jaaydine and Shouwayhane, some 40km south of Raqqa.

The Observatory said the clashes came after government troops had reached the edges of Resafa, also in the same area, as part of an offensive to reach Deir Ezzor.

“The regime is trying to reach the oil province of Deir Ezzor through Raqqa,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The regime has lost control of many oil and gas fields since the start in 2011 of Syria’s conflict, especially in the provinces of Homs and Deir Ezzor.

Most of the province is held by IS, including parts of the provincial capital, Deir Ezzor city, and the militants are besieging government-held parts of the city.

SDF fighters entered Raqqa on 6 June after months of heavy clashes to encircle it, and the US-led coalition has been backing them with air strikes, equipment and special forces advisers.

Since then they have seized a few neighbourhoods, including one in the east and one in the west, and are battling to push into the Old City of Raqqa.

The Syrian army has also taken territory from retreating IS militants in the western Raqqa countryside and seized back some oil fields and villages that had been under the militants’ control for almost three years.

An estimated 300,000 civilians were believed to have been living under IS rule in Raqqa, including 80,000 who fled there from other parts of the country.

IS seized Raqqa in 2014, transforming it into the de facto Syrian capital of its self-declared “caliphate”.

More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011 before turning into a complex war involving regional and international players.

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The Only Way to Defeat Terrorism

June 19th, 2017 by Stephen Lendman

ISIS, al-Qaeda and like-minded groups thrive from foreign support – from America, NATO, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and other regional rogue states.

Washington created these groups, supports their fighters with funding, weapons, munitions, training and direction, deploys them to its war theaters as imperial foot soldiers.

They can show up in any nation Washington targets for regime change – most recently in the Philippines, perhaps for that purpose.

America’s so-called war on terror is a fabricated hoax. Its alleged anti-ISIS campaign supports the scourge it claims to oppose.

A Free Syrian Army trainer addresses fellow fighters as he conducts a demonstration on how to use anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons at a training camp in the northern countryside of Aleppo March 31, 2014. (credits to the owner of the photo)

In Mosul, it provided a corridor to redeploy thousands of its fighters to Syria. In nothern Syria, something similar appears planned to facilitate a southern withdrawal from Raqqa to a new location.

According to Tass,

“(c)ommanders of the Russian group of forces in Syria ha(ve) taken measures to avert the withdrawal of the Islamic State militants from Raqqa (southward) towards Palmyra.”

“The terrorists have received an opportunity for unimpeded withdrawal on the condition they will head toward Palmyra.”

On Friday, Sergey Lavrov blasted Trump administration policy in Syria, saying

“(t)he US-led coalition is behaving the same way it did under President (Barack) Obama’s administration.”

It’s “doing everything to shield Jabhat al-Nusra from strikes. This is a very alarming issue. We often ask about this during our contacts with American partners (sic), and we don’t get any clear answers, but would like to have them.”

US and Russian objectives are world’s apart – America waging war OF terror, claiming otherwise, supporting ISIS, al-Nusra and similar groups.

Russia alone among major powers is combating terrorism in Syria effectively – respecting the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity Washington and its rogue allies want destroyed.

On Friday, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov criticized US reluctance to cooperate with Russia in combating terrorism. Instead of a common struggle against a universal scourge, both nations are on opposite sides of the war in Syria.

On May 28, Russian warplanes struck an ISIS command post in northern Syria where its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and others in his chain of command were discussing exit routes for its fighters from Raqqa through a southern corridor.

According to Russia’s Defense Ministry, al-Baghdadi is believed to have been “killed in the airstrike” along with other high-ranking ISIS commanders and hundreds of its fighters.

Sergey Lavrov said he hasn’t gotten “100% confirmation” of al-Baghdadi’s death. Earlier reports of his elimination proved untrue, Lavrov adding:

“(A)ll examples of…actions to ‘decapitate’ terror groups had always been presented with great enthusiasm and pomp, but experience shows that later these groups restored their combat capabilities”

They and their “numerous reincarnations are still active” – because of support from Washington and its rogue allies. Without it, these groups can’t exist.

Their heavy weapons, munitions and other material support come from foreign sources. They need regular resupply to sustain themselves like all fighting forces.

Cut it off entirely and these groups will wither and fade away – the only way to defeat them.

As things now stand, they remain a serious threat to all countries where they’re deployed, with or without al-Baghdadi and other commanders like him – because Washington wants them used to serve its imperial interests.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected]net.

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

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More Evidence of US Support for ISIS

June 19th, 2017 by Stephen Lendman

Straightaway after Trump’s January 20 swearing in ceremony, a White House statement said defeating ISIS and other terrorist groups is the administration’s “highest priority,” adding:

“To defeat and destroy these groups, we will pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations when necessary.”

“In addition, the Trump Administration will work with international partners to cut off funding for terrorist groups, to expand intelligence sharing, and to engage in cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable propaganda and recruiting.”

Instead of “defeat(ing) and destroy(ing) these groups,” the Trump administration actively supports them.

Photographic evidence shows ISIS firing US-made TOW-guided anti-tank missiles against government forces.

In last year’s battle for Aleppo, al-Nusra terrorists used these weapons, according to Russian General Sergei Rudskoi – supplied by the Obama administration.

ISIS was earlier supplied with shoulder-launched, man-portable, easy to operate, surface-to-air missiles (SAMS), able to down helicopters and low-flying aircraft.

These weapons are still likely being supplied to the group and other anti-government forces. Washington and its rogue allies covertly support the scourge they claim to oppose.

Numerous times Bashar al-Assad accused Western and regional countries of supporting ISIS and other terrorist groups combating government forces.

On Saturday, his political and media advisor Bouthiana Shaaban accused Washington of arming and financing ISIS, flagrantly violating Security Council Resolution 2253 (December 2015) – sponsored by Russia and America, unanimously adopted.

It covers an asset freeze, travel ban, arms embargo and lists criteria for designating ISIS, al-Qaeda, and “associated individuals, groups, undertaking and entities” as terrorist groups.

It states parties responsible for committing, organizing or supporting terrorist acts must be held accountable. It called on member states to cooperate fully in investigating incidents involving these groups.

It stressed the obligation of member states to prevent their nationals or persons in their countries from aiding them economically and/or militarily.

Russia and Iran scrupulously observe its principles. America and its rogue allies repeatedly violate them.

Separately, according to Libya’s Al-Manar TV, Iraqi forces regained control of the strategically important al-Waleed checkpoint on the Syria border – located near the al-Tanf border crossing, along the important Syrian/Iraqi/Jordanian triangle.

Last week, Syrian Defense Ministry officials held talks with their Iraqi counterparts in Baghdad on coordinating border security and combating “a common enemy, which is the terrorist Daesh (ISIS) organization,” adding:

“We discussed holding Syria-Iraq borders to maintain pressure on the terrorist enemy and establishing a joint operations center through which both sides can coordinate.”

On Saturday, Syrian General Mohammad Issa said

“(s)ending US missiles to al-Tanf is (part of a) US (plan) to create a small ISIL state along the Syrian, Iraqi and Jordanian borders to separate Syria from Iraq and Iran, and turn it into a marginalized country which doesn’t play any role in the region.”

A similar scheme is planned for northern Syria to separate it from Damascus control – part of a diabolical US plot to destroy the country’s sovereignty.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected].

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

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Grenfell Is a Monument to Tory Britain

June 19th, 2017 by John Wight

Neither oversight, negligence, nor malfeasance lies at the root of the Glenfell Tower fire in West London. Strip away the sickening obfuscation and platitudes, peddled by the usual coterie of confected politicians, and the roots of this disaster lie in the virulent disdain, bordering on hatred, of poor and working class people by the rich in a society which in 2017 is a utopia for the few and a dystopia for far too many.

What will future historians say about a culture in which there is more than enough money to pay for nuclear weapons, to finance the bombing of other countries, to fund tax cuts for the rich, but not enough to provide decent housing for people whose only crime is that they happen to be poor and on low incomes? Given the scathing nature of the evidence, it’s a fair bet that the verdict issued will be a scathing one —and rightly so.

If this mind numbingly awful event do not mark the end of 7 long years of callous cruelty that describes the previous and current Tory government — unleashed in obeiscance to the god of austerity — then nothing will and we deserve to end up in the abyss where, make no mistake, we are headed unless we rise up with a collective and resounding cry of “No more!”

No more living in a country in which cruelty has been raised to the level of a virtue and compassion relegated to the status of a vice, in which foodbanks, benefit sanctions, zero hours contracts, homelessness, and crumbling public services are justified on the basis of moral rectitude and fiscal responsibility, when in truth they are symptoms of the class war unleashed by the Tories on working people and which up to now working people have been losing.

The hollowing out of the state, deregulation, the near free rein accorded to property developers and private landlords, all at the expense of people’s wellbeing and safety, is tantamount to a crime committed by the rich people who govern us in the interests of other rich people. Don’t politicise the Grenfell Fire, they tell us. Are they serious? Are they having a laugh? This event is verily dripping in politics. Indeed it could not be any more political, coming as it does as the logical conclusion of decades of under investment in social housing that is a badge of shame and refutes any claim by Brexit Britain to the status of a civilised country.

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Theresa May speaking to emergency services personnel at the Grenfell Tower scene on Thursday. (Source: BuzzFeed)

The one hope we can cling onto is that despite the inordinate and sustained efforts by the Tories and their rancid media cohort to pit working and poor people against one another in recent years — Muslim against non-Muslim, low waged against unwaged, migrant against non-migrant, refugee against native — it has failed. Out of Grenfell, along with the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, has come incontrovertible evidence of the innate solidarity of people of every background, ethnicity, faith, and creed when the chips are down. The outpouring of kindness, support, and humanity in response stands as a rebuke to those who want us to believe there is no such thing as society, that we are not connected by a common humanity but instead are merely a vast agglomeration of individuals, just like so many atoms spinning in the air.

Then, too, as a further rebuke to these rotten Tory values we have our emergency services. Made up of men and women who have no hesitation in risking their lives when tragedy strikes, they deserve better than a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich — and so do we. They stand in sharp contrast to a Prime Minister who cannot even summon the decency to face angry and traumatised residents during her recent visit to the scene of what bears all the hallmarks not of a disaster or a tragedy but a crime.

In memory of those who perished and whose deaths are indistinguishable from the fact they were poor and working class, let Grenfell be the line over which Tory greed and mendacity does not pass.

Yes Theresa May you are right: enough is enough.

John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1.

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Nudging to War: U.S. Shoots Down Syrian Army Fighter Jet

June 19th, 2017 by 21st Century Wire

Yesterday a US F/A-18E Super Hornet is reported to have shot down a Syrian Army SU-22 jet near the village of Rasafah, south of Raqqa. Washington claims it was an act of ‘collective self-defense’ because the Syrian jet had dropped bombs “near US-backed forces.” Syrian officials in Damascus deny the US claims, stating that their plane was downed while conducting a strike on an ISIS position. 

According to a statement released by Damascus, the US act of aggression in Syria airspace was a

 “flagrant attack was an attempt to undermine the efforts of the army as the only effective force capable with its allies… in fighting terrorism across its territory.” Officials added that, “this comes at a time when the Syrian army and its allies were making clear advances in fighting the (ISIS) terrorist group.”

US officials are claiming that “pro-Syrian regime forces” on the ground attacked the US-backed Kurdish militias under the ‘SDF’ brand (Syrian Democratic Forces) near Tabqa outside Raqqa, after which time the US-led Coalition planes engaged Syrian military. US officials then claim that a Syrian planes “dropped bombs near the US-backed forces.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issue this statement:

“We call on the United State and all others who have their forces or advisors on the ground [in Syria] to ensure the coordination in our work. Zones of de-escalation are one of the possible options to jointly move forward. We call on everyone to avoid unilateral moves, respect Syrian sovereignty and join our common work which is agreed with the Syrian Arab Republic’s government.”

21WIRE reported earlier this week how the presence of US and UK troops on the ground inside of Syrian sovereign territory may be provoking an escalation of an already tense situation in both Raqqa and in the region around al-Tanf. US-led coalition forces are supposedly there to train and assist ‘anti-ISIS’ militias, but also anti-Assad ‘rebel’ militias too. The US also also trying to impose self-styled ‘deconfliction zones’ around al-Tanf.

In recent months, the Syrian Army have been making huge advances against ISIS positions. This latest US attack on Syria indicates that the US do not want the Syrian Army involved in the liberation of Raqqa – presumable to be able to stage-manage and control the operation and media coverage for its global audience, as the US did previously with Mosul in Iraq.

A clear pattern has emerged with almost every US strike against Syrian forces inside of Syria – in each and every instance, the main beneficiary appears to be ISIS.

Based on past incidents where US forces have attack Syrian military assets, in each instance the US attacks have benefited ISIS on the ground – leading many to conclude that the US Coalition forces are helping ISIS to gain strategic advantage against the Syria Army on the ground.

Back in September 2016, US had attacked and massacred over 80 Syrian military soldiers after a ‘Coalition’ airstrike on Dier Azor – a US attack which allowed ISIS to strategically advance past Syrian Army defensive positions. In addition to aiding ISIS on the ground, this act by the US also ruined any chance of a viable ceasefire agreement with Russia and Syria at the time.

A similar events took place on June 5, 2017 when US-led coalition forces attacked what they called “pro-Syrian regime forces” near the town of al Tanf in southeast Syria, claiming the Syrian forces including some 60 troops, had somehow entered what the US claim was a “well-established de-confliction zone.” The US strike helped to take pressure off of a retreating ISIS in the region.

In addition to this, the US cruise missile strike Syria’s Sharat airbase near Homs killed some 80 people, supposedly in response to an alleged ;chemical weapons attack at Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province.

According to Aleppo MP Fares Shehabi, the US missile attack should be viewed as “… an act against an airport that is solely dedicated to fighting ISIS in Syria. And this attack is illegal, it’s stupid.”

As it stands the US presence in Syria is in violation of both US and International Law.

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In a series of tweets Friday morning, President Trump confirmed that he is under investigation by the special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, appointed by his own Department of Justice to look into allegations of collusion between the Trump election campaign and Russian government officials.

Trump seemed to threaten the Justice Department official who appointed Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, tweeting,

“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.”

The president was referring to the fact that Rosenstein drafted a memo on why FBI Director James Comey should be fired, and that special counsel Mueller is reportedly including the firing of Comey within the scope of his investigation, as an instance of possible obstruction of justice.

Trump’s latest tweets suggested that the raging conflict within the American ruling class—spawned by differences over foreign policy, in relation to the Syrian war but more generally involving US-Russian relations—could be reaching a new point of explosion.

The conflict between Trump and his own Justice Department has become increasingly tense and public. Last week, it was widely reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had offered to resign because of Trump’s criticism of his decision to recuse himself from all investigations related to the Russia and the Trump election campaign, in which Sessions had played a prominent role.

The recusal by Sessions left decision-making authority in the hands of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. Eight days after Trump fired Comey, Rosenstein named Mueller special prosecutor, giving him significant independent resources to continue the Russia investigation.

It was widely reported Thursday that Mueller has expanded the scope of the investigation beyond the question of possible collusion between Trump campaign aides and alleged Russian involvement in hacking attacks on the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

The Washington Post reported that Mueller had sought the testimony of several top intelligence officials, including Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, about Trump’s requests that they intervene with Comey to block the Russia investigation.

The New York Times reported that former members of Trump’s transition team were given “preservation orders” Thursday to safeguard documents, including electronic records like email, related to the ongoing Russia investigation. A memo from the general counsel of the transition team, cited by the Times, required preservation of records relating to Russia, Ukraine and five former Trump aides, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign manager Paul Manafort. It was not clear whether these records would be sought by Mueller, or the various Senate and House committees investigating alleged Russian interference in the US election, or all of these.

The Post also reported that Mueller was looking into possible financial connections between Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a top White House adviser, and a Russian bank, as well as other financial dealings with Russia on the part of others in the Trump entourage.

Trump’s thinly veiled attack on Rosenstein could be a precursor either to Trump demanding that Rosenstein fire Mueller—which he would likely refuse—or Trump’s firing Rosenstein himself. Or Rosenstein might seek to forestall such a confrontation by recusing himself from further involvement in the Mueller-led probe, on the grounds that his own actions in firing Comey were now a subject of the investigation.

Any of these alternatives would have the same outcome: decision-making authority over Mueller and the Russia investigation would pass into the hands of the third-ranking official in the Department of Justice, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, a former Bush administration official who later served as chief counsel for the US Chamber of Commerce.

There were several unconfirmed press reports Friday, citing unnamed sources in the Justice Department, that Rosenstein was preparing to recuse himself. ABC News reported that Rosenstein had already notified Brand that she would take over if he did so.

Right-wing media backers of Trump have been preparing the ground for Trump to fire Rosenstein, Mueller or both. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich this week called Mueller

“now clearly the tip of the deep state spear aimed at destroying or at a minimum undermining and crippling the Trump presidency.”

The Republican National Committee denounced the Washington Post report on Mueller now targeting Trump for a potential obstruction of justice charged, declaring,

“This story is nothing more than an example of even more leaks coming out of the FBI and special counsel’s office in an effort to undermine the President.”

President Trump cannot invoke executive privilege in relation to the Mueller investigation because it is being conducted by the Justice Department, an arm of the executive branch itself. As determined by the Supreme Court during the Watergate crisis of 1973-74, executive privilege can only be cited in relation to congressional investigations, since it stems from the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Trump’s only recourse is to dismiss Mueller outright.

Senior congressional Republicans, alarmed that Trump might touch off a new political firestorm, have warned him against firing Mueller. These included House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Republican senators John Thune, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins.

Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel in the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigation that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, wrote in an op-ed column in the Washington Post,

“Mueller should be allowed to do his work unhindered and unimpeded. Absent the most extreme circumstances, the president would be singularly ill-advised to threaten, much less order, Mueller’s firing.”

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Do not underestimate the capacity of the US to maintain its “superpower” status. It is committed to exhaust whatever means to achieve its ends. From its unsolicited military intervention in Syria to economic sanctions imposed in Russia and Cuba, Global Research brings to your attention the following articles on US international relations.

The global media — to their credit – are focusing on the brutality of the US-backed Raqqa campaign, though they’re avoiding any serious reporting about how and why the Kurds are ethnically cleansing Arabs from Raqqa. (Andrew Korybko)

*     *     *

US Backed YPG Kurds Are Ethnically Cleansing Arabs From Raqqa, and the World Is Silent

By Andrew Korybko, June 19, 2017

Combined with the heavy and indiscriminate airstrikes being carried out against the city, 160,000 civilians have been forced to become refugees and flee their homes as internally displaced people. This works out to more than half of the city’s pre-war population of 220,000, and it confirms what independent journalist and associate editor at 21stcenturywire.com Vanessa Beeley told RT just recently about how the US is making no attempt whatsoever to protect civilians.

Trump Reaffirms the Blockade, Takes US Policy Towards Cuba One Step Back

By ACN, June 19, 2017

Although diplomatic relations – re-established on July 20, 2015 – will continue, the new actions of the Trump administration are a step backwards towards the normalization of bilateral ties, and come loaded with old anti-Cuban rhetoric.

Trump to Reverse Cuba Policy, Reinstate ‘Regime Change’ Goals

By Telesur, June 19, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to fulfill his campaign promise to curtail the 2014 re-engagement deal between Washington and Havana, tightening pressure on Cuba and dashing the hopes of those who had hoped for a thaw in relations between the two neighbors.

US to Send Up to 5,000 More Troops to Afghanistan

By Jordan Shilton, June 19, 2017

Secretary of Defence James “Mad Dog” Mattis is set to announce the deployment of up to 5,000 additional troops to wage war in Afghanistan in the coming weeks, following a decision Tuesday by President Trump granting Mattis authority to set troop levels.

Germany Issues Stinging Rebuke of US Sanctions Against Russia

By Johannes Stern, June 18, 2017

Republicans and Democrats agreed almost unanimously, by 97 votes to 2, to impose new sanctions on Russia in the Senate on Wednesday. The Senate justified the measure as a punishment for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the US presidential election, the annexation of Crimea and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The bipartisan bill was “the package of sanctions the Kremlin deserves for its actions,” said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

*     *     *

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Mahatma Gandhi, We Need Your Voice Today!

June 19th, 2017 by John Scales Avery

If humans are ever to achieve a stable global society in the future, they will have to become much more modest in their economic behavior and much more peaceful in their politics. For both modesty and peace, Gandhi is a useful source of ideas. The problems with which he struggled during his lifetime are extremely relevant to us in the 21st Century, when both nuclear and ecological catastrophes threaten the world.

Avoiding escalation of conflicts

Today we read almost every day of killings that are part of escalating cycles of revenge and counter-revenge, for example in the Middle East. Gandhi’s experiences both in South Africa and in India convinced him that such cycles could only be ended by unilateral acts of kindness and understanding from one of the parties in a conflict. He said,

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.

Ends and means

To the insidious argument that “the end justifies the means”, Gandhi answered firmly:

”They say that ‘means are after all means’. I would say that ‘means are after all everything’. As the means, so the end. Indeed, the Creator has given us limited power over means, none over end… The means may be likened to a seed, and the end to a tree; and there is the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree. Means and end are convertable terms in my philosophy of life.”

Steps towards a nonviolent world

Image result for mahatma gandhi

23rd April, 1930, Indian spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi accompanied by Mrs. Sarojini Naidu at Dandi, India en route to breaking the Salt Laws at the end of his long march to inaugurate the Civil Disobedience campaign against the British rule in India (Source: Pinterest)

Gandhi’s advocacy of non-violence is closely connected to his attitude towards ends and means. He believed that violent methods for achieving a desired social result would inevitably result in an escalation of violence. The end achieved would always be contaminated by the methods used. He was influenced by Leo Tolstoy with whom he exchanged many letters, and he in turn influenced Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

The power of truth

Gandhi was trained as a lawyer, and when he began to practice in South Africa, in his first case, he was able to solve a conflict by proposing a compromise that satisfied both parties. Of this result he said,

“My joy was boundless. I had learnt the true practice of law. I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men’s hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder.”

When Gandhi became involved with the struggle for civil rights of the Indian minority in South Africa, his background as a lawyer once more helped him. This time his jury was public opinion in England. When Gandhi led the struggle for reform, he insisted that the means of protest used by his followers should be non-violent, even though violence was frequently used against them. In this way they won their case in the court of public opinion. Gandhi called this method of protest “satyagraha”, a Sanscrit word meaning “the power of truth”. In today’s struggles for justice and peace, the moral force of truth and nonviolence can win victories in the court of world public opinion.

Harmony between religious groups

Gandhi believed that at their core, all religions are based on the concepts of truth, love, compassion, nonviolence and the Golden Rule. When asked whether he was a Hindu, Gandhi answered,

“Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew.”

When praying at his ashram, Gandhi made a point of including prayers from many religions. One of the most serious problems that he had to face in his efforts to free India from British rule was disunity and distrust, even hate, between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Each community felt that with the British gone, they might face violence and repression from the other. Gandhi made every effort to bridge the differences and to create unity and harmony. His struggles with this problem are highly relevant to us today, when the world is split by religious and ethnic differences.

Solidarity with the poor

Today’s world is characterized by intolerable economic inequalities, both between nations and within nations. 18 million of our fellow humans die each year from poverty-related causes. 1.1 billion people live on less than $1 a day, 2.7 billion live on less than $2. Gandhi’s concern for the poor can serve as an example to us today, as we work to achieve a more equal world. He said,

“There is enough for every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed.”

Voluntary reduction of consumption

After Gandhi’s death, someone took a photograph of all his worldly possessions. It was a tiny heap, consisting of his glasses, a pair of sandals, a homespun cloth (his only garment) and a watch. That was all. By reducing his own needs and possessions to an absolute minimum, Gandhi had tried to demonstrate that the commonly assumed connection between wealth and merit is false. This is relevant today, in a world where we face a crisis of diminishing resources. Not only fossil fuels, but also metals and arable land per capita will become scarce in the future. This will force a change in lifestyle, particularly in the industrialized countries, away from consumerism and towards simplicity. Gandhi’s example can teach us that we must cease to use wealth and “conspicuous consumption” as a measure of merit.

Gandhian economics

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi says:

“Three moderns have left a deep impression on my life and captivated me: Raychandbhai (the Indian philosopher and poet) by his living contact; Tolstoy by his book ‘The Kingdom of God is Within You’; and Ruskin by his book ‘Unto This Last’.”

Ruskin’s book, “Unto This Last”, which Gandhi read in 1904, is a criticism of modern industrial society. Ruskin believed that friendships and warm interpersonal relationships are a form of wealth that economists have failed to consider. He felt that warm human contacts are most easily achieved in small agricultural communities, and that therefore the modern tendency towards centralization and industrialization may be a step backward in terms of human happiness. While still in South Africa, Gandhi founded two religious Utopian communities based on the ideas of Tolstoy and Ruskin, Phoenix Farm (1904) and Tolstoy Farm (1910).

Because of his growing fame as the leader of the Indian civil rights movement in South Africa, Gandhi was persuaded to return to India in 1914 and to take up the cause of Indian home rule. In order to reacquaint himself with conditions in India, he travelled tirelessly, now always going third class as a matter of principle.

During the next few years, Gandhi worked to reshape the Congress Party into an organization which represented not only India’s Anglicized upper middle class but also the millions of uneducated villagers who were suffering under an almost intolerable burden of poverty and disease. In order to identify himself with the poorest of India’s people, Gandhi began to wear only a white loincloth made of rough homespun cotton. He traveled to the remotest villages, recruiting new members for the Congress Party, preaching non-violence and “firmness in the truth”, and becoming known for his voluntary poverty and humility. The villagers who flocked to see  him began to call him “Mahatma” (Great Soul).

Image result for mahatma gandhi

1940, Gandhi is seen weaving thread on a spinning instrument (Source: PatnaBeats)

Disturbed by the spectacle of unemployment and poverty in the villages, Gandhi urged the people of India to stop buying imported goods, especially cloth, and to make their own. He advocated the reintroduction of the spinning wheel into village life, and he often spent some hours spinning himself. The spinning wheel became a symbol of the Indian independence movement, and was later incorporated into the Indian flag.

The movement for boycotting British goods was called the “Swadeshi movement”. The word Swadeshi derives from two Sanskrit roots: Swa, meaning self, and Desh, meaning country. Gandhi described Swadeshi as

“a call to the consumer to be aware of the violence he is causing by supporting those industries that result in poverty, harm to the workers and to humans or other creatures.”

Gandhi tried to reconstruct the crafts and self-reliance of village life that he felt had been destroyed by the colonial system.

“I would say that if the village perishes, India will perish too”, he wrote, “India will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost. The revival of the village is only possible when it is no more exploited. Industrialization on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation of the villagers as problems of competition and marketing come in. Therefore we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use. Provided this character of the village industry is maintained, there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines that they can make and can afford to use. Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation by others.”

“You cannot build nonviolence on a factory civilization, but it can be built on self-contained villages… Rural economy as I have conceived it, eschews exploitation altogether, and exploitation is the essence of violence… We have to make a choice between India of the villages that are as ancient as herself and India of the cities which are a creation of foreign domination…”

“Machinery has its place; it has come to stay. But it must not be allowed to displace necessary human labour. An improved plow is a good thing. But if by some chances, one man could plow up, by some mechanical invention of his, the whole of the land of India, and control all the agricultural produce, and if the millions had no other occupation, they would starve, and being idle, they would become dunces, as many have already become. There is hourly danger of many being reduced to that unenviable state.”

In these passages we see Gandhi not merely as a pioneer of nonviolence; we see him also as an economist. Faced with misery and unemployment produced by machines, Gandhi tells us that social goals must take precedence over blind market mechanisms. If machines are causing unemployment, we can, if we wish, and use labor-intensive methods instead. With Gandhi, the free market is not sacred; we can do as we wish, and maximize human happiness, rather than maximizing production and profits.

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu extremist on January 30, 1948. After his death, someone collected and photographed all his worldly goods. These consisted of a pair of glasses, a pair of sandals, a pocket watch and a white homespun loincloth. Here, as in the Swadeshi movement, we see Gandhi as a pioneer of economics. He deliberately reduced his possessions to an absolute minimum in order to demonstrate that there is no connection between personal merit and material goods. Like Veblen, Mahatma Gandhi told us that we must stop using material goods as a means of social competition. We must start to judge people not by what they have, but by what they are.

Mahatma Gandhi, Great Soul Gandhi, we need your voice today!

This article is a chapter of John Avery’s new book “We Need Their Voices Today”. Rest of the chapters can be read HERE.

John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.  In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/ordbog/aord/a220.htm.

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Mahatma Gandhi, We Need Your Voice Today!

June 19th, 2017 by John Scales Avery

If humans are ever to achieve a stable global society in the future, they will have to become much more modest in their economic behavior and much more peaceful in their politics. For both modesty and peace, Gandhi is a useful source of ideas. The problems with which he struggled during his lifetime are extremely relevant to us in the 21st Century, when both nuclear and ecological catastrophes threaten the world.

Avoiding escalation of conflicts

Today we read almost every day of killings that are part of escalating cycles of revenge and counter-revenge, for example in the Middle East. Gandhi’s experiences both in South Africa and in India convinced him that such cycles could only be ended by unilateral acts of kindness and understanding from one of the parties in a conflict. He said,

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.

Ends and means

To the insidious argument that “the end justifies the means”, Gandhi answered firmly:

”They say that ‘means are after all means’. I would say that ‘means are after all everything’. As the means, so the end. Indeed, the Creator has given us limited power over means, none over end… The means may be likened to a seed, and the end to a tree; and there is the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree. Means and end are convertable terms in my philosophy of life.”

Steps towards a nonviolent world

Image result for mahatma gandhi

23rd April, 1930, Indian spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi accompanied by Mrs. Sarojini Naidu at Dandi, India en route to breaking the Salt Laws at the end of his long march to inaugurate the Civil Disobedience campaign against the British rule in India (Source: Pinterest)

Gandhi’s advocacy of non-violence is closely connected to his attitude towards ends and means. He believed that violent methods for achieving a desired social result would inevitably result in an escalation of violence. The end achieved would always be contaminated by the methods used. He was influenced by Leo Tolstoy with whom he exchanged many letters, and he in turn influenced Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

The power of truth

Gandhi was trained as a lawyer, and when he began to practice in South Africa, in his first case, he was able to solve a conflict by proposing a compromise that satisfied both parties. Of this result he said,

“My joy was boundless. I had learnt the true practice of law. I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men’s hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder.”

When Gandhi became involved with the struggle for civil rights of the Indian minority in South Africa, his background as a lawyer once more helped him. This time his jury was public opinion in England. When Gandhi led the struggle for reform, he insisted that the means of protest used by his followers should be non-violent, even though violence was frequently used against them. In this way they won their case in the court of public opinion. Gandhi called this method of protest “satyagraha”, a Sanscrit word meaning “the power of truth”. In today’s struggles for justice and peace, the moral force of truth and nonviolence can win victories in the court of world public opinion.

Harmony between religious groups

Gandhi believed that at their core, all religions are based on the concepts of truth, love, compassion, nonviolence and the Golden Rule. When asked whether he was a Hindu, Gandhi answered,

“Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew.”

When praying at his ashram, Gandhi made a point of including prayers from many religions. One of the most serious problems that he had to face in his efforts to free India from British rule was disunity and distrust, even hate, between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Each community felt that with the British gone, they might face violence and repression from the other. Gandhi made every effort to bridge the differences and to create unity and harmony. His struggles with this problem are highly relevant to us today, when the world is split by religious and ethnic differences.

Solidarity with the poor

Today’s world is characterized by intolerable economic inequalities, both between nations and within nations. 18 million of our fellow humans die each year from poverty-related causes. 1.1 billion people live on less than $1 a day, 2.7 billion live on less than $2. Gandhi’s concern for the poor can serve as an example to us today, as we work to achieve a more equal world. He said,

“There is enough for every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed.”

Voluntary reduction of consumption

After Gandhi’s death, someone took a photograph of all his worldly possessions. It was a tiny heap, consisting of his glasses, a pair of sandals, a homespun cloth (his only garment) and a watch. That was all. By reducing his own needs and possessions to an absolute minimum, Gandhi had tried to demonstrate that the commonly assumed connection between wealth and merit is false. This is relevant today, in a world where we face a crisis of diminishing resources. Not only fossil fuels, but also metals and arable land per capita will become scarce in the future. This will force a change in lifestyle, particularly in the industrialized countries, away from consumerism and towards simplicity. Gandhi’s example can teach us that we must cease to use wealth and “conspicuous consumption” as a measure of merit.

Gandhian economics

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi says:

“Three moderns have left a deep impression on my life and captivated me: Raychandbhai (the Indian philosopher and poet) by his living contact; Tolstoy by his book ‘The Kingdom of God is Within You’; and Ruskin by his book ‘Unto This Last’.”

Ruskin’s book, “Unto This Last”, which Gandhi read in 1904, is a criticism of modern industrial society. Ruskin believed that friendships and warm interpersonal relationships are a form of wealth that economists have failed to consider. He felt that warm human contacts are most easily achieved in small agricultural communities, and that therefore the modern tendency towards centralization and industrialization may be a step backward in terms of human happiness. While still in South Africa, Gandhi founded two religious Utopian communities based on the ideas of Tolstoy and Ruskin, Phoenix Farm (1904) and Tolstoy Farm (1910).

Because of his growing fame as the leader of the Indian civil rights movement in South Africa, Gandhi was persuaded to return to India in 1914 and to take up the cause of Indian home rule. In order to reacquaint himself with conditions in India, he travelled tirelessly, now always going third class as a matter of principle.

During the next few years, Gandhi worked to reshape the Congress Party into an organization which represented not only India’s Anglicized upper middle class but also the millions of uneducated villagers who were suffering under an almost intolerable burden of poverty and disease. In order to identify himself with the poorest of India’s people, Gandhi began to wear only a white loincloth made of rough homespun cotton. He traveled to the remotest villages, recruiting new members for the Congress Party, preaching non-violence and “firmness in the truth”, and becoming known for his voluntary poverty and humility. The villagers who flocked to see  him began to call him “Mahatma” (Great Soul).

Image result for mahatma gandhi

1940, Gandhi is seen weaving thread on a spinning instrument (Source: PatnaBeats)

Disturbed by the spectacle of unemployment and poverty in the villages, Gandhi urged the people of India to stop buying imported goods, especially cloth, and to make their own. He advocated the reintroduction of the spinning wheel into village life, and he often spent some hours spinning himself. The spinning wheel became a symbol of the Indian independence movement, and was later incorporated into the Indian flag.

The movement for boycotting British goods was called the “Swadeshi movement”. The word Swadeshi derives from two Sanskrit roots: Swa, meaning self, and Desh, meaning country. Gandhi described Swadeshi as

“a call to the consumer to be aware of the violence he is causing by supporting those industries that result in poverty, harm to the workers and to humans or other creatures.”

Gandhi tried to reconstruct the crafts and self-reliance of village life that he felt had been destroyed by the colonial system.

“I would say that if the village perishes, India will perish too”, he wrote, “India will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost. The revival of the village is only possible when it is no more exploited. Industrialization on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation of the villagers as problems of competition and marketing come in. Therefore we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use. Provided this character of the village industry is maintained, there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines that they can make and can afford to use. Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation by others.”

“You cannot build nonviolence on a factory civilization, but it can be built on self-contained villages… Rural economy as I have conceived it, eschews exploitation altogether, and exploitation is the essence of violence… We have to make a choice between India of the villages that are as ancient as herself and India of the cities which are a creation of foreign domination…”

“Machinery has its place; it has come to stay. But it must not be allowed to displace necessary human labour. An improved plow is a good thing. But if by some chances, one man could plow up, by some mechanical invention of his, the whole of the land of India, and control all the agricultural produce, and if the millions had no other occupation, they would starve, and being idle, they would become dunces, as many have already become. There is hourly danger of many being reduced to that unenviable state.”

In these passages we see Gandhi not merely as a pioneer of nonviolence; we see him also as an economist. Faced with misery and unemployment produced by machines, Gandhi tells us that social goals must take precedence over blind market mechanisms. If machines are causing unemployment, we can, if we wish, and use labor-intensive methods instead. With Gandhi, the free market is not sacred; we can do as we wish, and maximize human happiness, rather than maximizing production and profits.

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu extremist on January 30, 1948. After his death, someone collected and photographed all his worldly goods. These consisted of a pair of glasses, a pair of sandals, a pocket watch and a white homespun loincloth. Here, as in the Swadeshi movement, we see Gandhi as a pioneer of economics. He deliberately reduced his possessions to an absolute minimum in order to demonstrate that there is no connection between personal merit and material goods. Like Veblen, Mahatma Gandhi told us that we must stop using material goods as a means of social competition. We must start to judge people not by what they have, but by what they are.

Mahatma Gandhi, Great Soul Gandhi, we need your voice today!

This article is a chapter of John Avery’s new book “We Need Their Voices Today”. Rest of the chapters can be read HERE.

John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.  In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/ordbog/aord/a220.htm.

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Belgium Extends Air Force Mission against Syria

June 19th, 2017 by nsnbc international

Michel said the decision would be formally confirmed during the next session of the Council of Ministers in Brussels. The small European country has earmarked another 17 million euro for the operation.

The current mission mandate was coming to a close in June, but it will be extended for another six months. Under the new mandate, some 100 personnel and four fighter jets will be stationed in Jordan.

Michel said this would show that Belgium is

“a reliable partner in the fight against terrorism”. He added: “This is a strong signal towards our partners. Belgium is a reliable partner in an international coalition. We also want to show we are operational. After the NATO summit, this proves we are taking up our responsibility within Europe.”

The Belgian government and military have, not unlike its “partners” been ambiguous about the legal mandate for the mission. The deployment of Belgian troops was approved by the Belgian parliament, but questions about the status of the mission under international law remain unanswered.

Belgium has no mandate from the Syrian government – at least no overt mandate. Belgium has no mandate based on a UN security Council resolution either. In this regard it can be interesting to look at how the Norwegian government “constructed the legality” of Norwegian troops role in Syria.

A document from Norway’s Ministry of Defense from April 29, 2016, entitled contribution of Norwegian forces to the fight against ISIL in Syria – a memo on international law states that:

  • Iraq, in 2014, had requested help from the UN Security Council to combat ISIL, including attacks by ISIL launched from Syrian territory. Moreover, it states that the Norwegian presence in Iraq today is based on the Iraqi request for help based on the UN Charter’s Article 51 on collective self-defense.
  • That ISIL can’t be defeated by limiting the fight to Iraq.
  • That UN Security Council resolution 2249 from November 20, 2015 concludes that ISIL poses an extraordinary threat to international peace and security.
  • That the UNSC called on its members to fight ISIL everywhere, including its enclaves in Syria.
  • That self-defense against non-state actors who operate on the territory of another state while this state is unwilling or incapable of combating such non-state actors, is legal and covered by the provisions of UNSC resolution 2249.

Moreover, there is a press release from Norway’s Defense Ministry quoting Defense Minister Eriksen Søreide repeating the above mentioned. The third document is a memo styled to the Foreign Ministry’s Foreign Affairs Council, repeating the same arguments UNSC resolution 2249  UN Charter Article 51 and the claim of self-defense against ISIL because Syria is unwilling or incapable. The document is from January 20, 2016. The fourth and final clue is another press release from March 27, 2017, in which Norway’s Defense Ministry announced that it has extended its operations against ISIL.

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These videos explore the situation of Canadian contract academic faculty and compares their situation to the even poorer conditions American contract faculty face, highlighting the need to more firmly address working conditions in Canada. The second film, “Contract Faculty: Injustice in the University,” focuses on not only the injustice faced by contract faculty but the implications of this injustice for students, the University and higher education in general. The story is primarily told through the words of contract faculty themselves. Where there is injustice there is usually both tragedy and dark humour and the film presents both.

Sources

Links to educational and activist resources

Tracy MacMaster, “Shaking Off the Part-Time Blues: Fighting for the Rights of Ontario College Workers,” The Bullet No. 1117, 18 May 2015.

#StrikeTown: Why Are Toronto University Workers On Strike?,” The Bullet No. 1091, 19 March 2015.

David Bush and Doug Nesbitt, “Austerity Strangles Ontario: the TA strikes in Context,” The Bullet No. 1088, 6 March 2015.

Alan Sears and James Cairns, “Austerity U: Preparing Students for Precarious Lives,” The Bullet No. 932, 29 January 2014.

David Mandel, “The Struggle Has Its Own Dynamic: The Professors’ Strike at the Université du Québec à Montréal,” The Bullet No. 223, 4 June 2009.

Tyler Shipley, “Demanding the Impossible: Struggles for the Future of Post-Secondary Education,” The Bullet No. 215, 10 May 2009.

Besmira Alikaj, “Labour Turmoil and the Fight for Public Education,” The Bullet No. 168, 19 December 2008.

Eric Newstadt, “The Neoliberal University: Looking at the York Strike,” The Bullet No. 165, 5 December 2008.

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At Saturday, the 17.06.2017, a new group of plaintiffs, consisting of the human rights activist (according to UN resolution 53/144) Sarah Luzia Hassel-Reusing, Gabriela Schimmer-Göresz, and Wolfgang Effenberger, has filed a constitutional complaint against the resolution by the Bundestag (lower house of the German national parliament) of the 09.11.2016 (file number 18/9960) on the prolongation and extension of the Syria deployment of the Bundeswehr (German army). The Federal Government, the fractions of the Bundestag, and the Constitutional Court have already been informed at the 07.04.2017 regarding this constitutional complaint.

The complaint wants to prevent the escalation of the Syria conflict to thermonuclear war and to reach the prohibition of the circumvention, by means of “humanitarian interventions”, of the prohibition of aggressive war.

In addition to that, it wants to put through, that two biased judges move aside to achieve an orderly procedure.

The escalation to thermonuclear war is currently impending particularly by the one-sided illegal no-fly zones / safety zone, which the USA are trying to establish starting from the Syrian-Jordanian border town Al-Tanf. For that purpose, the international alliance in the fight against Isis has, in May and in June 2017, already made two airstrikes against the Syrian army and its Shiite allies, which are progressing towards Al-Tanf. The ad hoc alliance international alliance in the fight against Isis has been created for the fight against Isis, not to attack the Syrian army. And now the Bundeswehr even shall be relocated from the Turkish Incirlik to Jordan. So the direct involvement of the Bundeswehr with ground forces, with reconnaissance for airstrikes of the international alliance in the fight against Isis, and by means of joint staffs, into the escalation at Al-Tanf is impending.

Particularly, as the Iranian news agency Farsnews is worrying, if it comes to a bigger invasion by USA, Great Britain, and Jordan at Al-Tanf. The current American behaviour gives the impression not to have been discussed with His Excellency, US President Donald Trump – similarly to the attempt by general John Allen (CNAS and then coordinator of the international alliance in the fight against Isis) in July 2015 for a no-fly zone in the North of Syria.

The papers by the think tanks CNAS (“Defeating the Islamic State – A Bottom-Up Approach”) and Brookings Institution (“Deconstructing Syria – Towards a regionalized strategy for a confederal country”) and the article “The Right Way to Create Safe Zones in Syria” of the 11.05.2017 in Foreign Affairs (the magazine of the think tank CFR) are advertising (whilst downplaying the escalations risks) for no-fly zones / safety zones directed to escalation. Also the deescalation zones settled by Russia, Iran, and Turkey mean an escalation risk, because it is unclear, in how far the other countries involved in the Syria conflict will respect them.

Airstrike in Syria (credits to the owner of the photo)

The enforcement of any of these zones means in last consequence the downing of those fighter jets, which disrespect them, up to the danger of direct escalation with Russia respectively with the USA. Already in October 2016, there have been deliberations in the National Security Council of the USA, to abuse the international alliance in the fight against Isis for attacks against the Syrian army. Also the threat by Russia in October 2016, to down planes which are threatening the Russian troops in Syria, show the escalation risk.

Isis and Al Qaida, which have received their Armageddon ideology from the Muslim Brotherhood, are striving for the escalation of the Syria conflict to world war, because they regard themselves as chosen to provoke the final battle described in the Islamic Revelation, in order to bring about this way until 2020 the global caliphate, which also the Muslim Brotherhood is striving for. And it is completely obscure, which State and / or private actors really command Isis and Al Qaida. In addition to that, there are significant publicly visible pieces of evidence signalling, that the extortion networks (organized via human trafficking) of the international “deep state”, with its branches into secret services, into organized crime, into jihadism, into banks, and into armageddon-believing and occult groups, are able, to pressure also Western security policy deciders into the escalation of this conflict. Furthermore, the escalation of the Syria conflict is impending by attempts to split the country, and by the lacking coordination of the countries, which are militarily involved in Syria, with each other and particularly with the Syrian government. The nuclear powers USA, Russia, Great Britain, France, Israel, Saudi-Arabia, and China, are involved in the conflict, with different interests and to different extents. Also the joining of NATO into the international alliance in the fight against Isis has increased the escalation risks. Escalations risks originating from Germany, are also deployment of German soldiers in the Kurdish areas of Syria (which has been prohibited by the Syrian government) and the two biased constitutional judges.

The constitutional complaint shows these escalation risks for the German Syria deployment.

The Syria conflict has, already several times, nearly escalated, among them the prevention just in time at the 31.08.2013 and the proposal by Saudi-Arabia in February 2016 (rejected by NATO) to invade into Syria and Iraq with an international Sunni ad hoc alliance.

And the repeated airstrikes by the international alliance in the fight against Isis against Syrian troops and Shiite troops allied with them, which are progressing towards Al-Tanf, seem to be short before escalation.

The deployment violates objectively the prohibitions of aggressive war and disturbs the peaceful coexistence of the peoples (art. 26 Basic Law, art. 2 par. 4 UN Charter). See also the definition of “aggression” in the resolution by the UN General Assembly of the 14.12.1974. In June 2016, the protest by the Syrian government has proven, that it rejects also the German deployment, which has neither been requested by it nor been coordinated with it. The parliamentary reservation (art. 115a Basic Law) is violated, because the consent of the Bundestag also had to be requested for before the case of mutual defence resolution at the EU level of the 16./17. 11.2015 (file number 14120/15).

The EU clause on mutual defence (art. 42 par. 7 TEU) is still invalid, because, as the Lisbon Judgment of the 30.06.2009 has decided, the EU would have to decide before, that it wants a common defence policy, which then would have needed the consent by all national parliaments of the EU member states (art. 42 par. 2 subpar. 1 TEU); at least the latter has never taken place. In addition to that, the EU is, without a valid clause on mutual defence, (in contrast to NATO) no system of mutual collective security; the Bundeswehr may be used for combat deployments only for the defence of the own country and within system of mutual collective security (art. 24 par. 2 Basic Law). And the international alliance in the fight against Isis is an ad hoc alliance without any ratified treaty and so obviously without any clause on mutual defence. Also the Syria resolutions by the UN Security Council do not legalize the deployment, since they just do NOT state according to art. 42 UN Charter, that peaceful means were unsuccessful or without any chance, and so they do NOT authorize military means, since they in the contrary set on negotiations and on ever harder sanctions against Isis, against Al Qaida, and against ever more groups of their supporters.

The terrorist attacks at Paris of the 13.11.2015 have remained below the treshold of a militarily armed attack. The resolution on the case of mutual defence has only disattracted the attention from the fact, that the Syria deployment is a military intervention for values and interests (art. 42 par. 5 TEU) and for crisis intervention (art. 43 par. 1 TEU) – according to the ideology of the “humanitarian intervention”. That ideology has developed from the study “Self Determination in the New World Order” of the year 1992 by the think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and it provenly aims at making circumventable the prohibition of aggressive war (art. 2 par. 4 UN Charter) and the responsibilities of the UN Security Council. It abuses the human rights against peace and so violates art. 29 no. 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ideology of the “humanitarian intervention” has been, in the latest 24 years, responsible for “regime changes” called “colour revolutions” and for wars (with the Kosovo war as the first bigger experiment) including the nearly escalation of the Syria conflict to thermonuclear war, which has been narrowly prevented at the 31.08.2013. And the escalation attempts are still going on, as the current aggravating situation at Al-Tanf shows.

The resolution by the Bundestag of the 09.11.2016 and the resolution by Their Excellencies, the Defence Ministers of the EU member states, of the 16./17.11.2015, have disregarded the provisions of the Lisbon Judgment for the interpretation of the Common Foreign and Safety Policy (CFSP) of the EU into conformity with the UN Charter. Thus the constitutional complaint applies, in order to reach legal safety for the peace order of the United Nations and for the existence of the European Union, to oblige the Federal Government to apply in the UN General Assembly for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the following question:

“How exactly has the interpretation of the norms of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) on military interventions for values and interests (art. 42 par. 5 TEU), on military interventions for interference into crises (art. 43 par. 1 TEU), and the EU clause on mutual assistance (art. 42 par. 7 TEU), which is still not ratified according to art. 42 par. 2 subpar. 1 TEU, each to be limited into conformity with the UN Charter and with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), in order to completely exclude any possibility to violate art. 2 par. 4 UN Charter, art. 103 UN Charter, or art. 29 no. 3 UDHR, by means of these norms, and in order to, at the same time, exclude the risk of voidness of the TEU according to art. 53 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties because of incompatibility with the UN Charter and with the UDHR, which belong to the ‘jus cogens’ ?”

Bundeswehr (Source: Zeit Online)

The constitutional complaint applies to prohibit the Syria deployment of the Bundeswehr, because it violates the human dignity in connection with the peace principle (art. 1 par. 1+2 Basic Law) and the basic right to vote (art. 38 Basic Law) (because of the missing legal bases for large parts of the deployment). The peace principle (art. 1 par. 2 Basic Law), which is formulated as a confession of the German people, is entrenched in the human dignity (art. 1 par. 1 Basic Law) and has been included into the Basic Law inspired by the famous “speech of hope” of His Excellency, the then US Foreign Minister James F. Byrnes. In order to ensure, that there will be never again world war, and that Germany never again contributed to the increase of world war risks, all Germans have been, by means of the confession in art. 1 par. 2 Basic Law, obliged and entitled to peace by the Parliamentarian Council, which has concluded the Basic Law. The existence of the peace principle has been confirmed by the Lisbon Judgment of the 30.06.2009 of the Constitutional Court.

The constitutional complaint applies, in view of the undemocratically big influence of the think tank SWP and, besides that, of the Bilderberg conference, on the German position on Syria, to exclude think tanks from international conferences with German participation on foreign and safety policy, and to allow the counselling to German institutions regarding foreign and safety policy only to those think tanks, whose recommendations do neither violate the Basic Law nor the UN Charter, with particular attention to the prohibitions of aggressive war and its preparation (art. 26 Basic Law, art. 2 par. 4 UN Charter) and to the inviolable peace principle (art. 1 par. 2 Basic Law), and which do not at the same time counsel other countries.

The constitutional complaint applies, that the Constitutional Court has to make provisions, as far as foreign and safety policy are concerned, for the application of the conscience of the members of the parliament, which is included in the basic right to vote (art. 38 par. 1 s. 2 Basic Law). Also before the resolution of the 09.11.2016 (file number 18/9960), the legal bases and the world war risks of the Syria conflict have still not been carefully investigated by the members of the parliament.

The constitutional complaint explains legal question furthering the constitutional jurisdiction, showing that the hitherto interpretation by the Constitutional Court of the norms on bias (art. 18 and 19 of the law on the Constitutional Court) is intenable and is an open door for lobbyists even up to possible endangering of the Basic Law, because it, in contrast to the wording of the law, defines bias much narrower, and it allows, in contrast to the wording of the law, judges to participate in decisions on rejections directed against themselves.

The complaint invokes the violation of the human dignity (art. 1 par. 1 Basic Law) in connection with the peace principle (art. 1 par. 2 Basic Law), of the basic right to vote (art. 38 Basic Law), of the basic rights to life, to physical integrity, and to freedom (art. 2 Basic Law), and of the basic right to function reservation (art. 33 par. 4 Basic Law), as well as the violation of the universal human rights to security (art. 9 ICCPR), to health (art. 12 CESCR), and to prohibition of war propaganda (art. 20 ICCPR).

The constitutional plaintiffs and their representative applied for in the constitutional complaint according to art. 22 par. 1 s. 4 BVerfGG, are available for interviews to domestic and foreign, conventional and alternative, media.

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GM crops in Argentina are approved by people from the same companies that produce and market them, a new investigation by the journalist Dario Aranda reveals.

The agency in which these people are collected is called the National Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology (Conabia). According to Aranda, it is composed of representatives of Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Indear/Bioceres, Pioneer/DuPont, Don Mario, ASA (Seed Companies’ Association), Aapresid (Association of No-Till Producers – farmers who grow GM crops and use herbicide applications to control weeds), Argenbio and INTA (National Institute of Agricultural Technology). Out of 34 members, 26 belong to the same companies that produce seeds or are scientists with conflicts of interest.

Aranda writes that Conabia is a select and secretive group that decides which seeds are approved yet avoids responsibility for the resulting impacts: massive use of agrochemicals, land clearance, evictions, and health conditions. They are presented as “scientists”, “technicians” or “experts”, and hide their links with the companies that produce transgenics.

This corrupt system is having a devastating impact on the environment and the health of rural populations – just to supply GMO animal feed to factory farms in Europe.

Secrets

Conabia was created on October 24, 1991, when the government of Carlos Menem made the decision to introduce GM crops in Argentina. It defined its profile as “scientific-technical”. Its composition was kept secret until 2014, when the information was leaked to MU, the magazine of the cooperative organization Lavaca. Of 47 members, more than half (27) were employed by GMO seed companies and had conflicts of interest.

An example was Martin Lema, the head of Conabia and current director of Biotechnology in the Ministry of Agriculture, who published scientific papers with the very same companies that Conabia was supposed to be regulating: Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF and Dow Agroscience.

This news was not taken up by any of the hundreds of agricultural journalists, who recycle information from those same companies and often repeat the slogan “GM crops are safe”.

Intacta

Those within Conabia felt exposed for the first time: they refused to give interviews, nor did they attempt any explanation. The revelations impacted a legal case brought by the NGO Naturaleza de Derechos (Natural Rights) over the approval of Monsanto’s Intacta GM soybeans. The lawyer Fernando Cabaleiro was able to show that Conabia worked for two decades without internal regulations and without the participation of citizens, who had objected to the whole procedure.

Last year the Commission celebrated its 25th anniversary. As part of the festivities, they announced “the approval of two biotechnological events”, according to a notice put out by the Ministry of Agroindustry on November 2, 2016.

The Secretary for Added Value [sic. – El secretario de Agregado de Valor], Néstor Roulet, stressed “the contribution of Conabia to the technological development of agricultural activity”. The celebration was held at the Buenos Aires Cereals Exchange. There they approved new soybean and corn seeds tolerant to the herbicides 2,4-D, glyphosate and glufosinate ammonium. The beneficiary was the US company Dow AgroScience.

“No recording”

Martín Lema, director of Biotechnology in the Ministry of Agroindustry, and head of he Conabia, has three points in common with the Minister of Science, Lino Barañao: they are strong proponents of the GMO model; they have links with, and work with, companies in the sector; and both moved from positions in the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to that of her successor, Mauricio Macri.

Lema does not talk to the press. MU attempted to interview him repeatedly, but only once did he propose a meeting, specifying that there must be no recording or note-taking. “I want to clarify some things”, he said. MU insisted that it would only agree to meet for the purposes of an interview. The meeting was never held.

Lema did speak with the rural supplement Clarín on November 4, 2016. The article was titled: “Argentina is a world benchmark in agricultural biotechnology”. Lema stressed that Conabia

“guarantees the safety for the environment and for people of all products used in the Argentine countryside”.

He said that the criticisms of GM crops originate from “those who spread disinformation because they serve various interests and have a political agenda”.

Lema welcomed the fact that Argentina is the third biggest grower of GMOs after the United States and Brazil.

“This week two more soybean events were approved. Close to 40 have been authorized in the country, a third of them under my mandate,” he said. And he described the future: GMO “trees that produce better wood, improved flowers, more nutritious rice and plants resistant to drought”.

Image result for conabia

Conabia Conference (Source: INTA)

The winners

Through a former member of Conabia, MU was able to access an updated list of the current members. To the old squad have been added other officials with conflicts of interests:

* Natalia Ceballos Ríos. General Coordinator of the Biotechnology Group or “Bio Group”, which includes and is financed by seed companies, cereal firms and agrochemical companies such as Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dow, and Pioneer/DuPont, among others.
* Alejandro Tozzini, former manager of Monsanto, currently of Syngenta.
* Gustavo Abratti, head of “regulatory” affairs for DuPont-Pioneer.
* Miguel Rapela and Fabiana Malacarne (Asociación de Semilleros de Argentina/Association of Seed Companies of Argentina, which brings together all the multinational companies that market GM seeds).
* Gabriela Levitus of Argenbio, a scientific and political lobbying organization founded by Syngenta, Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Bioceres, Dow, Nidera and Pioneer.
* Claudio Gabriel Robredo, Monsanto’s “director of regulatory affairs” between 2000 and 2011. He currently owns his own company, AgroReg, where he provides “advisory and management services in the crop and seeds regulatory area”. AgroReg is a member of ASA (Asociación de Semilleros Argentinos/Association of Seed Companies of Argentina).
* Silvia Lede, from the multinational BASF.
* Mariano Devoto, agricultural engineer and professor of botany at the Faculty of Agronomy of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). He works within the framework of an agreement with Syngenta in the research project, “Pollination of soybeans: a study at different scales”.
* Jorge Zavala, agricultural engineer and professor of biochemistry. He works alongside Eduardo Pagano, the former vice-dean and one of the representatives of agribusiness in the Faculty of Agronomy at the UBA. Zavala is also deputy director of the Institute of Research in Agricultural and Environmental Biosciences (INBA, of Fauba), where he and Pagano work in collaboration with GMO companies.
* Santiago D’Alessio, director of wildlife at the Undersecretariat of Planning and Environmental Policy of the Nation.
* Abelardo Portugal. Agronomist, former president and representative of Aianba (Association of Agronomic Engineers of Buenos Aires North) and part of the organization Maizar, in which all the companies in the sector participate. Aianba is sponsored by Bayer, Dow and Monsanto, among other companies.
* Mauro Meier, of the Argentine Cooperatives Association (la Asociación de Cooperativas Argentinas), which defines itself as “one of the main grain operators in the country in the commercialization of cereals and oilseeds”. It’s part of the GMO industry.
* Elba María Pagano is another INTA representative, responsible for the promotion of transgenics. Linked to Red Bio Argentina (Biotechnology Network of Argentina), a forum where scientific-technical agribusiness drivers converge.
* Mariano Podworny, of the Coordination of Special Projects of Biotechnology at the National Institute of Seeds (Inase).

Old acquaintances

The following people continue to occupy their seats in Conabia:

* Dalia Marcela Lewi (INTA). Part of the Institute of Genetics of INTA. Author of the book Biotechnology and Plant Breeding II, with co-author Clara Rubinstein of Monsanto Argentina. He also investigated the resistance of transgenic maize to cold and salinity together with the agribusiness company Bioceres and was a member of ILSI’s Biotechnology Committee, along with researchers from Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Agrosciences.
* Miguel Alvarez Arancedo, director of regulatory affairs at Monsanto.
* Magdalena Sosa Beláustegui, manager of regulatory affairs and seeds for Bayer Cono Sur.
* Mirta Antongiovanni, regulatory affairs manager for the seed company Don Mario.
* Gerónimo Watson, technology director of Bioceres/Indear, where Gustavo Grobocopatel (chairman of Grupo Los Grobo, one of the largest agribusiness companies in Argentina) is a Board Member. Víctor Trucco (honorary president of Aapresid) is director and the chief executive officer at Bioceres.
* Fernando Bravo Almonacid (Conicet) is an independent researcher at the Conicet Institute of Research in Genetic Engineering and Molecular Biology (Ingebi-UBA) and works on the genetic improvement of the potato. After six years of work, in 2013 he developed a new variety which is intended to be more resistant to viruses. In 2015 he obtained the approval of Conabia – of which he is himself a member – for a potato resistant to a virus. The company in charge of the transgenic potato is Tecnoplant, part of the Sidus Group.
* Monica Liliana Pequeño Araujo and Ana Vicario (for Inase).
* Silvia Passalacqua and Leonardo Gorodsky (Senasa, the Argentine National Food Safety and Quality Service).
* Gustavo Schrauf, from the Faculty of Agronomy at the UBA.
* Sara Maldonado (Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences at the UBA).
* Hugo Permingeat, of the Faculty of Agrarian Sciences of Rosario. As secretary general of the Faculty and along with the dean (Liliana Ramirez), he openly justified the private presence in the public university: “Monsanto trains its employees here. They are agronomists who provide them with postgraduate training and Monsanto values ​​the training we offer.” This was the way he justified the fact that Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta had “donated” a laboratory of biotechnology to the Faculty, along with equipment worth USD 300,000.
* Lucas Lieber, of the Faculty of Agrarian Sciences of the University of Rosario. His CV details his work at the Indear/Bioceres company.
* Andrés Venturino, from the Center for Research in Environmental Toxicology and Agrobiotechnology at the University of Comahue.
* Atilio Castagnaro is an expert at the Estación Experimental Agro industrial Obispo Colombres (EEAOC). In 2011 he was part of a team of Mercosur scientists who created a robot that looks for those soybean plants that best withstand drought. Two companies participated in the working group (and patenting): Nidera (one of the big agro-multinationals) and Indear/Bioceres (Rosario Agrobiotechnology Institute).
* Alejandro Petek, of the business organization Aapresid (Association of No-Till Producers), a lobbying forum that promotes the GMO model of agriculture. He now has a position in the Ministry of Agroindustry.
* Luis Negruchi, also from Aapresid.

No critical voice

In 2017 Conabia, which according to its official announcements supports “transparency”, has 34 members for the approval of GMO seeds. A large majority of them – 26 – belong to companies that produce GM crops or are scientists/entrepreneurs with conflicts of interest.

That is: they sit on both sides of the counter, both as a regulator and as a part of the industry that directly benefits from a favourable opinion on the GM crop.

The body responsible for releasing seeds of soybeans, maize, cotton, potatoes and sugar cane and for the growing crops has no scientist critical of the development of GMOs. It also has no representatives of civil society.

In private hearings and without public records, 34 people decide that the future of 24 million hectares will be to grow GM crops that involve the massive use of pesticides.

They also conceal the approval dossiers for these GM crops.

If a university, research institute, social organization or journalist wants to access the approval dossiers for soybeans, maize, cotton or transgenic potatoes, they cannot: they are “confidential”.

The results are well known: since 1996, 41 GM soybean, maize, cotton and potato “events” have been approved in Argentina. The beneficiaries were Syngenta, Monsanto, Bayer, Indear, Dow, Tecnoplant and Pioneer and Nidera, among others – the very same companies that dominate Conabia.

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Democracy Is a Front for Central Bank Rule

June 19th, 2017 by Dr. Paul Craig Roberts

Several years ago when the Federal Reserve had its Fed funds rate at zero to 25 basis points (one-quarter of one percent—0.25%), there was a great deal of talk, somehow presented as urgent, whether the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates.

RT asked me if the Fed was going to raise interest rates. I answered that the purpose of low interest rates was to restore the solvency of the balance sheets of the “banks too big to fail” by raising debt prices. The lower the interest rate, the higher the prices of debt instruments. The Fed drives bond prices up by purchasing bonds, and the Fed raises interest rates by selling bonds, or by purchasing fewer of them than previously.

I told RT that a real increase in interest rates would undercut the Fed’s policy of rescuing the balance sheets of the big banks whose balance sheets were loaded up with bad debt that desperately needed a rise in debt prices for the banks to remain solvent.

When shortly thereafter the Fed raised the overnight funds rate, it blew my credibility with RT. RT did not understand that real interest rates had not increased. Indeed, two days after the “rate increase” the nominal interest rate had not changed. It was still 18 basis points. The announced rate had gone from the old range of zero to 25 basis points to a new range of 25 basis points to 50 basis points. The former max was the current minimum.

Moreover, over the long time period in which there was such well marketed concern over whether such an inconsequential interest rate rise would occur, inflation had risen, making the real interest rate negative well below the 18 basis points official interest rate. By the time the Fed raised the nominal rate, the real rate was already more negative. Thus, there was no rise in real interest rates.

The financial press did not explain this, either from incompetence or collusion. RT accepted the fake news as reality and wrote off my credibility. I am often interviewed by RT, but no longer on economic matters, about which I know the most.

A couple of days ago, after a long period of waiting for another interest rate rise, an announcement from the Fed, amidst further indication of US economic decline, announced another 25 basis point increase in the target range for the Fed funds rate.

Inflation aside, in fact interest rates declined, as my sometime co-author Dave Kranzler reports. http://investmentresearchdynamics.com/has-the-fed-actually-raised-rates-this-year/
Despite this publicized “rise” of the Fed funds rate, the 10-year interest rate on Treasuries “has declined 30 basis points this year. Thus for certain borrowers, the Fed has effectively lowered the cost of borrowing.”

Kranzler goes on to point out that

“the spread between the 30-day Treasury Bill and the 10-yr Treasury has declined this year from 193 basis points to 125 basis points – a 68 basis point drop in the cost of funding for borrowers who have access to the highly engineered derivative products that enable these borrowers to take advantage of the shape of the yield curve in order to lower their cost of borrowing.”

Kranzler provides a chart that shows that the spread between the 30-day Treasury bill and the 10-year Treasury bond is narrowing. As the short-term rate rises, the long term rate is falling, and the spread between the long and short rate has declined 68 basis points from almost two percentage points to one and one quarter percentage point.

Clearly, this is not a rise in interest rates.

Clearly also, a rise in the Fed funds rate no longer signals a rise in all interest rates.

Why is the Fed raising short rates when the long rates are falling?

Why do “democratic Western democracies” have central banks that do nothing except protect big banks at the expense of the people?

How long will the insouciant peoples of the West continue to conspire in their own demise?

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At his 90th birthday, Fidel Castro wrote that for three years after going away for first grade, no one took him to the movies. Cinema was a novelty. Keeping young children from culture is the greatest damage that can be done to them, Castro remarked. He regretted not having written about this. 

The anecdote introduces Ernesto Limia’s Cuba: the end of history? It is discussed at concerts across the island by beloved musician, Raúl Paz. 1 The final book presentations – with theatre, dance and visual arts – occurred in Havana, June 8, 9 and 14. They are “wandering dialogues: for connection with feelings”.

Ernesto Limia’s Cuba: the end of history? (Source: Cubadebate)

Limia argues that the international left has failed to replace post modernism. It justifies globalized greed, claiming there’s no truth, just myths and fictions. As long as my life feels right to me, I am living well. After all, “there’s only one life.”

James Williams (Oxford University), winner of the prestigious Nine Dots Prize in Information Technology, argues that the goal of new technologies is to distract us. 2 That’s what they compete to do: dominate our attention. Yet if asked, no one admits wanting their attention so dominated.

We might wonder why this argument is novel.

One of the first acts of the new revolutionary government in Cuba, after taking power in 1959, was to create an institute for film and television. People had to see themselves, to tell their own stories. Since the start of the Cuban Revolution, culture, including philosophy, has had priority.

The insight is that without cultivating sensitivity and critical awareness through culture, our thinking is dominated by forces we don’t understand, or even identify. Castro said in Caracus 1998,

“They discovered smart bombs. We discovered that people think and feel.”

He didn’t mean short-lived feelings of pleasure generated by trillion dollar industries promoting glamour and sensuality.

Post-modernist culture takes feelings at face value. It ignores, as Limia, argues, that every new bit of fun and pleasure carries with it deadeningly dehumanizing values: consumerism, exaltation of self-image, gain as the measure of all things.

Williams quotes Aldous Huxley: Defenders of freedom in the US ignored our almost infinite appetite for distraction. José Martí, leader of Cuba’s last independence war against Spain, didn’t ignore it. He couldn’t, knowing imperialism as he did.

But it wasn’t just appetite for distraction he worried about. It was Liberalism’s glorification of appetite into a view of freedom. In his famous “Our America”, Martí claimed a bigger barrier to independence (than the colossal neighbour to the north) was a false idea of what it means to learn. Writing books is relatively easy. The harder task, Martí wrote, is forming people.

It is done through cultural institutions, the creation of humanist values like solidarity. It is what the wandering dialogues are advocating. Martí said elsewhere that the only way to be free to realize unique human potential is through culture, in his broad sense, including education toward sensitivity.

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Cuba 2017 International Book Fair opens in Havana (Source: CubaSi)

This year, at the iconic Havana Book Fair, there were brand-name T-shirts. Despite a culture of anti-capitalist resistance developed for 60 years, Cuba cannot escape the onslaught of capitalist values. The point to note, though, is that there are questions: Such values are discussed, and seriously challenged.

Students and teachers at the wandering dialogues want the educational system to better use students’ creativity to counter the smothering apathy of elite pseudo-culture. They want to take up the reins of transformative culture that can nurture young people toward genuine human response.

In a square near the University of Havana is a large replica of Don Quixote. Some on the left say Cuba should now give up chasing windmills. Cubans should not bear the “burden” of keeping impossible dreams alive.

Cuba: the end of history? shows the “burden” is more than two centuries old. Féliz Varela, a priest, began transforming the educational system in the early nineteenth century. He insisted on observation, experience and creativity as foundations for philosophy. He wanted independence for Cuba.

Cuba has resisted world empires. In Varela’s time, there were four: Spain, the UK, the US and the “necessary evil” of slavery. Varela inspired generations of students to take seriously, for politics, the need to create philosophy, from experience. Otherwise, imperialism would think for them.

This is what Cuban students discussed in the wandering dialogues. It is expression of a centuries-old struggle for freedom. It opposes the distorted liberal/libertarian view that individuals somehow, mythically, “seize our destiny”, by looking “within”, following dreams, because they’re ours.

For some, persuaded there are only myths and fictions, none true just all different, the wandering dialogues are like Don Quixote’s strange mixture of “madness and intelligence”. And they’ll decide, as many did about the man of the Mancha, that it is more madness than intelligence.

But the domination of liberalism and post-modernism, infecting even much feminism, queer theory and academic marxism, means there is not a lot to choose from in what is considered philosophy in the distracted, dominated, “developed” North. It might not be so bad to consider windmills.

Susan Babbitt is author of Humanism and Embodiment (Bloomsbury 2014) and José Martí, Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Global Development Ethics (Palgrave MacMillan 2014).

Notes

1. “Conectados, dialogando”, http://lajiribilla.cu/articulo/conectados-dialogando

2. CBC FM 1 “Spark”, June 7 2017

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Speaking to the media in his latest tour to the US, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister insisted that there was no blockade of Qatar, yet he insisted that the latter was not allowed to use their, as also of their allies’, air space and territorial waters. Standing next to the rather reticent US secretary of the state, Rex Tillerson, he said that “Qatar was free to go” and yet the Qatar airways was not allowed to use Saudi air space. Whereas the delicate difference the Saudis seem to be making between their policy and those of other countries, who the former would have wanted to impose identical restrictions on Qatar, is a reflection of Saudia’s limits, it also shows that the House of Saud has rather shot itself in the foot by opening a solo-front against Qatar, a country that nevertheless has a big American military base and has on its side a powerful Arab ally, Turkey. What the whole episode has brought unmistakably to the forefront is that there exist a number of countries within the “Sunni coalition” who do not see eye to eye with Saudi policies and are more comfortable in following rather independent course of action.

Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (credits to the owner of the photo)

Apart from Turkey, whose president Erdogan went to the extent of relating the Qatar-blockade to a “death sentence”, a number of other countries both from Asia and Africa have refused to follow the House of Saud in its footsteps, marking yet another defeat for the king-to-be prince Muhammad bin Salman, who is not only known to have masterminded the Yemen war but also known particularly for injecting a new ideological framework to Saudi Arabia’s regional ambitions, a framework premised upon surgical weakening of countries that have the potential to challenge Saudi hegemony. This is becoming evident from the way people in Turkey have started to point fingers to UAE for spending US$3 billion for funding coup attempt in Turkey, a possible scenario which certainly points to the increasing Saudi dissatisfaction with the way regional politics has tilted to its disadvantage.

The list of countries who have joined Turkey in openly defying the House of Saud has expanded. As such, out of the six African countries (Senegal, Chad, Niger, Comoros, Mauritius, and Djibouti), who were on top of the Saudi expectation to boycott Qatar, only Mauritius severed its diplomatic ties with Qatar. Senegal, Chad, Niger and the Comoros restricted themselves to recalling their ambassadors from Doha while Djibouti, like Jordan, simply reduced the level of its diplomatic relations. Countries like Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan and Somalia have so far rejected Saudi overtures and instead called for dialogue between Qatar and its detractors.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Source: VOA News)

Somali media moreover reported that President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed had rejected a Saudi offer of $80 million in return for his government breaking off diplomatic relations with Qatar. Somali planning, investment and economic development minister Jamal Mohamed Hassan announced nonetheless this week that Saudi Arabia had agreed to increase Somalia’s haj quota by 25 percent. Somalia’s strategic importance to the Gulf in commercial as well as military terms would seem to be the only logical explanation for it being rewarded despite refusing to join the Saudi-UAE campaign.

Kuwait, far from cutting relations with Qatar, is now acting as a peacemaker between Qatar and the Saudis and Emiratis. The emirate of Dubai is quite close to Iran, has tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates, and is hardly following Abu Dhabi’s example of anti-Qatari wrath. Oman was even staging joint naval maneuvres with Iran a couple of months ago. And now it has opened its ports to Qatari shipping that no longer can access key Saudi and UAE ports. Qatar, as such, continue to maintain its access to international shipping lanes and can refuel its LNG vessels at alternative ports, including Singapore.

Pakistan had long ago declined to send its army to help the Saudis in Yemen, because the Saudis had asked for only Sunni soldiers, thus outraging the Pakistan army who saw in it a Saudi attempt to sectarianize its military personnel. Besides it, Pakistan’s former army commander, General Raheel Sharif, is rumoured to be on the brink of resigning as head of the Saudi-sponsored Muslim alliance to fight “terror”.

Turkey and Iran are helping Qatar meet its food and water needs after Saudi Arabia closed the two countries’ land border, preventing one third of the Gulf state’s food and water imports from reaching it. Turkey, moreover, is sending troops to Qatar, which is home to the largest US military base in the Middle East, shedding light on the possible reason for the US’ potential reluctance to go beyond mere verbal support for Saudi Arabia against Qatar and explaining how Saudi Arabia fell a prey to its wrong assessments about its supposed allies’ response to their call for Qatar’s boycott.

What the countries’ response shows is that there are more countries on the opposing side of Saudia than those standing with it in supporting its regional games, the roots of which go as deep inside the rift piercing through the “Sunni coalition” as in the role such competing states as Saudia and Qatar are playing in regional conflict zones, such as Syria.

Some reports have already appeared claiming Qatar’s plan to extend its influence to the post-war Syria by funding its post-war reconstruction. Such a plan not only takes Qatar potentially beyond the redundant question of Assad’s stay or exit from power, but also allows it to tap into the reconstruction opportunity to keep the ‘new Syria’ in its own regional axis. This would simply mean that Qatar would not only extend its largesse to the Syrian territories, but would also allow it to accommodate various oil companies who would like to use it as a pipeline route from the Gulf to Europe via Turkey, or via tankers from the Syrian port of Lattakia.

What, in this context, the Saudi blockade of Qatar has done is that it has unwittingly injected strength in the opposition block within the otherwise “Sunni coalition” and allowed its members to drift further towards the arch Saudi rival, Iran.

Nothing else perhaps could have explained the drastic failure yet another Saudi plan has faced within days of its execution. The big question, therefore, is: how far can the Saudis go before the list of its allies shrinks down to a handful of tiny Gulf States? There is no way that the House of Saud, along with its allies, can sustain a long-drawn game of isolation or even draw Qatar into a conflict. Muslim world’s general response has effectively eroded whatever the possibility of conflict had existed earlier. Time for the Saudis to do a deep re-think over the extent to which their influence goes, or doesn’t go, in the Muslim world!

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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Tillerson Calls for Regime Change in Iran

June 19th, 2017 by Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani

The new U.S. policy towards Iran includes regime change, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson was asked on Wednesday whether the United States supports regime change inside Iran. He replied in the affirmative, saying that U.S. policy is driven by relying on “elements inside of Iran” to bring about “peaceful transition of that government.”

He made the comments in a hearing on the 2018 State Department budget before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) asked Tillerson about U.S. policy towards Iran, including whether the U.S. government would sanction the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and whether the U.S. supported “a philosophy of regime change.”

“They are doing bad things throughout the world, on behalf of terrorism and destroying human rights of many people,” Poe said, referring to the IRGC. “I’d like to know what the policy is of the U.S. toward Iran. Do we support the current regime? Do we support a philosophy of regime change, peaceful regime change? There are Iranians in exile all over the world. Some are here. And then there’s Iranians in Iran who don’t support the totalitarian state. So is the U.S. position to leave things as they are or set up a peaceful long-term regime change?”

“Well our Iranian policy is under development,” Tillerson replied. “It’s not yet been delivered to the president, but I would tell you that we certainly recognize Iran’s continued destabilizing presence in the region, their payment of foreign fighters, their export of militia forces in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, their support for Hezbollah. And we are taking action to respond to Iran’s hegemony. Additional sanctions actions have been put in place against individuals and others.”

“We continually review the merits both from the standpoint of diplomatic but also international consequences of designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in its entirety as a terrorist organization,” he added. “As you know, we have designated the Quds [Force]. Our policy towards Iran is to push back on this hegemony, contain their ability to develop obviously nuclear weapons, and to work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government. Those elements are there, certainly as we know.”

Trump’s foreign policy team is filled with hawks on Iran, but Tillerson is the first administration official to advocate for regime change in his official capacity.

The Iranian government was quick to condemn Tillerson’s remarks. On Thursday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi called Tillerson’s comments “interventionist, in gross violation of the compelling rules of international law, unacceptable and strongly condemned.”

“Since the 1950s, the United States tried to meddle in Iranian affairs by different strategies such as coup d’état, regime change, and military intervention.” Qassemi said, referring to U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup in Iran, dubbed Operation AJAX by the CIA.

These efforts have all failed, Qassemi said, adding that the new U.S. government was “confused” and could be “easily manipulated by wrong information.”

Tillerson’s focus on nuclear weapons in his comments on Wednesday are notable, given that he has previously acknowledged that Iran is in full compliance with the Iranian nuclear agreement (as has the International Atomic Energy Agency).

Last week, Iran suffered an attack claimed by the Islamic State that killed at least 17 people and injured dozens. The White House response implied that Iran deserved the attack.

“We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times,” the statement read. “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”

The next day, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a vocal Trump supporter, praised the attack in Tehran and suggested that the United States should work with the Islamic State to counter Iran.

On Thursday, the Senate passed an Iran sanctions bill, despite former Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning that new sanctions could threaten the Iranian nuclear agreement.

Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani is an associate editor at ThinkProgress.

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Trump Takes Aim at Obama’s Détente with Cuba

June 19th, 2017 by Prof. Marjorie Cohn

HAVANA — Making good on his deal with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Florida), President Donald Trump announced Friday that he plans to roll back some of the steps Barack Obama took to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba.

In 2015, Obama weakened restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and eliminated some of the economic prohibitions between the two countries. He removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and loosened the export of US internet hardware and telecommunications. He also set up increased cooperation in intelligence-gathering, drug interdiction, scientific research and environmental protection.

Obama made it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. Nearly everyone can now visit Cuba without applying for a specific license. US airlines can fly there directly with cheaper fares; only general licenses are required for most travel to Cuba.

In his Presidential Policy Guidance on Cuba, Trump reinstituted some restrictions on US travel to Cuba and US business relations with the island. He did not touch Obama’s loosened limits on Cuban-American travel and remittances to Cuba, however, because that would anger a significant voter base in Florida.

Trump also left in place the US embassy in Havana and the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC, that Obama established. And Trump did not end direct flights to Cuba by US airlines.

Trump’s Restrictions Will Hurt Americans and Cubans Alike

On June 1, Engage Cuba released a report concluding that a reversal of Obama’s Cuba policies could cost the US economy $6.6 billion and affect nearly 13,000 jobs during Trump’s first term. Obama’s 2015 policies have led to significant economic growth and job creation throughout Cuba. So much for the dealmaker-in-chief’s commitment to creating jobs.

René Esquivel, who sang with the Buena Vista Social Club, is a bellhop at the Havana Libre hotel. Esquivel told Truthout he couldn’t believe Trump would jeopardize the US economy to the tune of $6 billion.

Darian Hernandez Rojas, a Cuban law student at the University of Artemisa, concurs.

“I thought that since Trump is a businessman, he would not step back from the progress of the Obama administration, that he would seize the Cuban market.”

In an interview with Truthout, he added,

“The initiative that Obama and [Cuban president] Raul Castro took on December 17, 2014, was a breakthrough. But to make a deep transformation, two years is not enough time. The new hotels and stores are not meant for the Cuban people; they are meant for tourists. But it helps the economy and that should help the Cuban people to develop. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Cuban law professor Gabriela Torres Romulo, who teaches at University of Holguín, informed Truthout that increased currency from tourism helps Cubans because there is more money in the country for social programs, such as education, health, culture, sports and scientific research.

Cubans who run private restaurants called “paladares” and Airbnbs will be hurt by Trump’s crackdown.

“In short, many Cubans believe that the Trump administration’s new policy will hurt those it is ostensibly meant to help: the average Cuban who has struggled under the weight of a battered economy for decades,” according to the New York Times.

“Since 2015, American companies have undertaken significant efforts in identifying opportunities and cultivating appropriate connections in Cuba. Many are now well positioned to take advantage of continued relaxations in restrictions and further market openings,” according to Louis A. Dejoie, chairman of the International Law Practice Group at McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC. “To reverse course at this point would only benefit our foreign competitors, none of whom are under the same restraints. If the Trump Administration truly wants to put Americans first, the choice seems clear.”

When Truthout informed Alejandro, a 26-six-year-old Cuban taxi driver, about Trump’s changes, he said,

“Things got better for Cuba; now they will get worse.”

Last year, the US and Cuba signed a bilateral agreement to respond to oil spills and hazardous pollution in the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

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Cuban President Raul Castro tries to lift up the arm of President Obama at the conclusion of their joint news conference in Havana, Cuba in 2016. (Source: NPR)

Since Obama’s détente with Cuban President Raul Castro, US airlines, hotel chains and cruise ship lines have started doing business in Cuba. Agricultural producers in Kansas and Louisiana have exported tons of goods to Cuba. And Cuban people have obtained access to the internet.

According to a Pew Research Center poll, 75 percent of people in the US support the policies Obama instituted. Those changes have created jobs and income for the US economy. Last year, more than 60,000 Americans visited Cuba, an increase of 34 percent over 2015. US airlines and cruise lines now travel directly to Cuban cities.

“Airbnb also now lists hundreds of privately owned houses where open-minded Americans can stay and interact with locals, and last week it said its connections have helped place $40 million in the pockets of Cuban owners of private bed-and-breakfasts,” Christopher Sabatini wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

Since 2015, individual Americans have been able design their own trips under “people-to-people” educational exchanges that no longer need to be organized by a US organization. Under Trump’s new rules, Americans must qualify under one of 12 permitted travel categories. The Trump administration will also tighten enforcement of travel under the authorized categories.

These categories include professional research or attendance at professional meetings relating to the traveler’s profession, professional background or area of expertise; educational, religious, humanitarian, journalistic, athletic or artistic activities; visiting a relative in Cuba; support for the Cuban people; business visits for exchanges of information, telecommunications and Internet hardware and software, and exportation of agricultural products and building materials; foundations, research or educational institutions interested in international relations collecting information about Cuba; and official US government business, including visits to Cuba by foreign diplomatic staff residing in the United States.

Trump’s order prohibits American travelers and businesses from participating in financial transactions with entities owned or largely controlled by the Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA (GAESA), a holding company run by the Cuban military, which poses no threat to US security. Now Americans will be barred from spending money in state-run hotels or restaurants connected with GAESA.

“This is a new way to enforce the old embargo,” John S. Kavulich, president of US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, told Politico. He says about 60 percent of the Cuban economy and 80 percent of Cuba’s tourism economy are controlled by GAESA.

The new rules will not apply to travelers who have booked trips or to business deals already concluded with the military. But Americans will be barred from staying at new properties such as the Gran Hotel Manzana, which is managed by Kempinski Hotels but owned by Gaviota, a Cuban military-run company.

Trump wrote that his policy “will be guided by key US national and security interests and solidarity with the Cuban people.” His changes, however, have nothing to do with national security and will only hurt the Cuban people.

“We must ensure that US funds are not channeled to a regime that has failed to meet the most basic requirements of a free and just society,” Trump’s directive says.

Trump’s Human Rights Hypocrisy

Trump’s rollbacks of Obama’s policies are ostensibly aimed at improving human rights in Cuba, which is curious in light of Trump’s treatment of “human rights considerations as an impediment to trade and partnerships that create jobs in the United States,” Julie Hirschfeld Davis wrote in the New York Times.

Indeed,

“given [the Trump administration’s] complete lack of concern for human rights around the world, it would be a tragic irony if [they use] that to justify policies that harm the Cuban people and restrict the freedom of Americans to travel and do business where they please,” Benjamin Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to Obama who negotiated the 2014 deal with Raul Castro, told the Times.

For example, Trump is enamored of Saudi Arabia. Critics of the Saudi government and clerics have been tortured, beheaded, crucified and lashed. Even lawyers who question government policy are imprisoned. In spite of its egregious human rights violations, Trump sold a record $110 billion in arms to the monarchy.

In fact, Cuba has surpassed the United States in its guarantee of economic, social and cultural rights, which constitutes a category of human rights under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Cubans enjoy universal health care, free education, equal pay rates and paid maternity leave.

Unlike in the United States, health care is considered a human right in Cuba. Universal health care is free to all. Cuba has the highest ratio of doctors to patients in the world at 6.7 per 1,000 people. The 2014 infant mortality rate was 4.2 per 1,000 live births — one of the lowest in the world.

In Cuba, free education is a universal right up to and including higher education. Cuban law guarantees the right to voluntarily form and join trade unions. Unions have the right to stop work they consider dangerous and the right to participate in company management. Women make up the majority of Cuban judges, attorneys, lawyers, scientists, technical workers, public health workers and professionals.

As of 2018, the date of the next general election in Cuba, there will be a limit of no more than two five-year terms for all senior elected positions, including the president. Anyone can be nominated to be a candidate.

Trump and Rubio: The Quid Pro Quo

But Trump’s cutbacks really constitute a thank you to some Cuban-American lawmakers for their support of his policies, including repealing Obamacare and shielding the president from consequences for his malfeasance.

Notably, Rubio’s questioning of former FBI director James Comey during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing was designed to undercut Comey’s testimony that implicated Trump in wrongdoing.

“I am confident the president will keep his commitment on Cuba policy,” Rubio declared after the hearing.

Trump’s rollbacks of some of Obama’s Cuba policies were developed during several meetings between the president and Rubio.

In addition, Trump thinks the Cuban-American vote in Florida was key to his election victory, although many have disputed its significance. In 2015, Trump had supported Obama’s overtures to Cuba, telling The Daily Caller,

“I think it’s fine. I think it’s fine, but we should have made a better deal. The concept of opening with Cuba — 50 years is enough — the concept of opening with Cuba is fine. I think we should have made a stronger deal.”

The 57-Year-Old US Economic Blockade of Cuba Remains

President Bill Clinton signs the Helms-Burton Act into law in 1996. (Source: cubaninsider)

Obama was unable to lift the longstanding US economic blockade of Cuba because Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, which codified the blockade so that only Congress could revoke it. Díaz-Balart’s brother, Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, was instrumental in securing Bill Clinton‘s signature on the Act.

The US embargo of Cuba, now a blockade, was initiated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the Cold War in response to a 1960 memo written by a senior State Department official. The memo proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the [Castro] government.” That purpose was never realized.

Nevertheless, USA Today reports,

“Supporters of Trump’s changes said they are designed to hurt Cuba’s communist government economically, and encourage people to rise up against the regime that has been in power since 1959.”

Don’t hold your breath.

The US blockade has hurt the Cuban people. They are unable to obtain equipment to test pregnant women for birth defects and medicines for children with liver disease. Cubans are also denied access to life-saving medical equipment, such as kidney dialysis machines, and antibiotics.

And Cubans have trouble getting new software. Liober Rodrigues Guerra, a 29-year-old educational video games designer, told Resumen Latinoamericano,

“it is difficult to keep updated with the latest software we need for work. When we try to download these updates, our access is denied with a message that says it is not available because we come from, ‘a region under an embargo.'”

Moreover, the blockade also hurts people in the US. Cuba has developed pioneering medicines to treat and prevent lung cancer and diabetic amputations. Because of the blockade, however, we in the United States cannot take advantage of them.

Esquivel joked that when Obama was president, he used to call Esquivel every day and tell him to “take care of my people.” But when Trump became president, Esquivel quipped, Trump called him every day and told him to be on the lookout for Americans who come to Cuba against the blockade, gather their particulars, and send them to Trump so he could arrest them. Trump has no feeling for what it means to be human, Esquivel added.

There is a long history of friendship between the Cuban and American people that neither Trump nor anyone else can destroy, according to Esquivel. He suggested that one of the most significant cultural/historical exchanges between the two peoples would be for the US to help Cubans repair the vintage US cars some still drive. It’s not an economic issue, Esquivel said, but would be an important cultural interchange between the two countries.

Writing in The Nation, Cuba expert Peter Kornbluh cites a recent study concluding that the US travel industry stands to lose $3.5 billion and more than 10,000 jobs as a result of increased travel restrictions. Kornbluh notes:

Trump is threatening to undermine years of concerted effort — inside and outside of government — to establish a civil, peaceful coexistence with an island neighbor after more than a half century of intervention, embargoes, and assassination plots. At stake is a model of responsible US foreign policy — to be emulated, not repudiated.

Most people in the US, including 6 in 10 Republicans, favor expanded travel and trade with Cuba. A new Morning Consult national poll found 65 percent of US voters support Obama’s Cuba policy. Sixty-four percent of Republicans support relaxed travel and trade restrictions. And 61 percent of US voters favor a total end to the blockade.

A Florida International University biannual poll published in September 2016 found that 63 percent of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, historically the center of opposition to engagement with Cuba, support lifting the blockade.

Esquivel said Cubans love Americans. But of everyone he has encountered from the United States in the course of his employment, not one supports Trump’s policies.

In order to establish complete normalization of relations, Cuba would require lifting the blockade and returning Guantánamo to Cuba. Trump’s new order is a step backward, not forward.

The future of real progress toward normalization of US-Cuba relations, which will help people in both countries, lies with Congress. Several bills have been introduced in the legislature to challenge the blockade. The Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act (S.1287) would guarantee Americans the right to travel to Cuba. The bill already has 55 co-sponsors, including nine Republicans.

Legislators respond to public pressure. Calls, letters, emails and demonstrations aimed at improving the United States’ Cuba policy can be most effective. Contact your congress members and demand that they vote to lift travel restrictions on Cuba and end the US blockade.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her books include The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse; Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Visit her website: MarjorieCohn.com. Follow her on Twitter: @MarjorieCohn.

Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

Featured image: Al Drago / The New York Times via Truthout

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China’s Migrant Worker Poetry

June 19th, 2017 by Megan Walsh

This essay examines a relatively new genre in Chinese literature: migrant worker poetry. These are poems written by rural migrant workers who have, since the economic reform and opening up of the early 1980s, moved to China’s booming cities in search of work in factories, mines and construction. The difficulties that these workers face are manifold, from exploitation of their labor and lack of welfare protection to an inability to make their voices and hardships heard. How best to represent this vast and oppressed demographic (an estimated 280 million rural migrants) has been at the heart of China’s social and political debate for the last 30 years. I argue that migrant worker poetry has been both overlooked and underestimated, not only for its emergent quality, but for its ability to address problems of representation – these worker poets eloquently represent themselves.

By making use of online platforms they not only bear witness to the damaging myth of social mobility that motivates so many to seek work on the assembly lines, but they are able to challenge it directly, publishing their own sublimated suffering for each other and for society at large. The scope of this study is limited to the poems in Iron Moon, a 2017 anthology of migrant worker poems translated into English by Eleanor Goodman; it excludes novels, short stories or autobiographies by migrant workers that could be included in the wider genre of “worker literature”. I hope, however, that an examination of these poems demonstrates that the simultaneous emergence of the internet with China’s rapid industrialization has both created and enabled a vital new movement in the history of China’s working-class literature.

It’s hard to think of anywhere in the world where becoming a poet is a canny career move, but this is especially true for the poorest and most disadvantaged trying to gain a foothold in the factories of China’s frenzied special economic zones.

There have been a flurry of documentaries in recent years highlighting the hardships of China’s migrant workers, but the 2015 film Iron Moon drew attention to a very specific figure: the migrant worker poet. It follows several young writers battling economic and cultural prejudice in their attempts to sublimate 14-hour shifts on assembly lines into lines of poetry.

We see the young, tender-minded Wu Niaoniao (whose given name means Blackbird) wandering from stand to stand in Guangzhou’s vast strip-lit Southern China Job Market, enquiring about editorial positions on internal factory newspapers. With a knowing mix of fatalism and hope that seems to permeate the poetry of China’s migrant workers, he reads a poem and awaits their responses with a sheepish smile.

“I know young people want to follow their dreams, but…” says one cynical recruiter without finishing the sentence. Another peers over his glasses and enquires “but what do you do? You can make a lot of money with an education. Without an education you can’t do business, get it?”

One recruiter simply wonders if Wu ever considered writing things that were a little more upbeat.

While no one would expect construction and factory tycoons to be on the look out for the next Charles Bukowski, their collective response, paying lip service to impersonal pragmatism and business savvy, inadvertently reinforces Wu’s humble, unprofitable ambitions.

The plight of rural migrants is not new to Chinese fiction. The New Culture Movement of the 1910s and 20s, driven by concerns about how to modernize China and highlight those marginalized by the old feudal society, inspired Lu Xun, arguably the greatest Chinese writer of the 20th century, whose pioneering use of vernacular Chinese in The Real Story of Ah Q detailed the life of a rural peasant in the city. He was followed by Lao She’s rural orphan in Beijing in Rickshaw Boy and Zhang Leping’s long-running cartoon serialization of the “aimless drifter” San Mao in the 30s and 40s. And yet, these were still migrant stories written at a remove. And even though the three decades of revolution that followed enforced the centrality of the worker, peasant and soldier in fiction, it produced for the most part a state-controlled literature that did little to convey the lived experiences of those it claimed to represent.

That all changed in the 1980s. Since China’s reform and opening era of agricultural de-collectivization, privatization of industry and the formation of a self-styled socialist market economy, it is estimated that 274 million Chinese migrants have moved from the countryside to work in mines, construction sites, and urban assembly lines. It is not surprising, therefore, that the migrant worker has also become the central protagonist in China’s New Left Critique in which the term “subaltern” or diceng (i.e. “lower strata”) specifically focuses upon this new post-socialist figure: the rural-worker-in-the-city who lives on the sharp edge of market capitalism.

Once celebrated by the Communist revolution, political terms such as “the working people” (laodong renmin), the working masses (laodong dazhong) or simply workers (gongren) have been replaced by increasingly pejorative nomenclature. The migrant worker (mingong, yimingong, nongmingong) is someone who does not belong. This “floating population” (liudong renkou) by definition lacks agency. With mass layoffs in state enterprises in the late 1990s, growing numbers of rural migrant workers and disadvantaged urban workers have again become people who “work for the boss” (dagongzai, dagongmei – male and female workers respectively), a retrograde step in the quest for subjectivity and autonomy.

This rapid degradation of the laborer’s (laodongzhe) status, stripped of lifetime employment and bereft of many of the welfare benefits and the security of an earlier generation of state workers, is skillfully captured in a poem by former construction worker Xie Xiangnan. Here a young migrant compares the glorious image of “Lenin on the Rostrum” from his school days with the sight of forlorn hordes of migrants at the Guangzhou railroad station, carrying their possessions in plastic bags “like packages of explosives.” And again in the last lines of Ji Zhishui’s “Old World” in which “freedom’s great victory/in the end meant having nothing.”

Zheng Xiaoqiong’s “In the Hardware Factory” addresses directly the absurdity of old hopes and dreams:

I haven’t made it to the 21st century’s low slope of prosperity

the mountains are so high, but the body rots; how many years will it take

to reach utopia, I pity myself as I age

unable to squeeze aboard communism’s last train

but living in a scorching workshop in a sweatshop

(…) time begins to defect

it laughs at our memories and enthusiasm as they slip away

In the early post-socialist years, such disenchantment wasn’t always there. Migrant worker literature and poetry (which must not be confused with the official “worker poetry” of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution) was one of many genres to sprout in the cultural wasteland following Mao’s death in 1976. But unlike the better-known elite (and beguilingly named) genres of “scar literature” and “misty poetry”, it’s one that, until recently, has been largely overlooked.

Early migrant worker literature mainly reflected a continued allegiance to state policy. In the early 80s, this meant formulaic self-help narratives of success-through-hard work in line with the government’s drive towards urbanization, of which Anzi’s Posthouse of Youth: The True Life of Migrant Women in Shenzhen is perhaps the most impressive. (Anzi became a model female migrant worker, whose entrepreneurial success in Shenzhen, site of the first China’s Special Economic Zone, codified the urban dream as reality.) Her legacy has been so influential that some critics have prematurely concluded that working girl (dagongmei) fiction such as this proves that women workers do not in fact lack agency. Unsurprisingly, these autobiographies and stories of social mobility in Shenzhen were also embraced by newspapers and state-run TV channels as handy proof that those rural workers who bore the heaviest burdens of the country’s early economic transformation were also its beneficiaries.

In 2004, the migrant worker-turned-writer Sheng Keyi transformed these narratives of plucky dagongmei ambition into one that upset government censors with its racy content and scenes of forced sterilizations in her critically and commercially acclaimed autobiographical novel Northern Girls. The headstrong albeit naïve protagonist, 16-year-old Qian Xiaohong, whose large breasts and demanding libido make her the target of unwanted male attention, courageously fights exploitative employers, corrupt policemen and crooked officials, refusing to let her body be appropriated or commodified. Despite staying true to her resolute moral code as she works her way up from salon girl to hospital administrator, the emotional and near metaphysical collateral damage of these years in Shenzhen leaves a heavy cloud hanging over the novel’s final pages. In the work of most recent migrant poets, this fatalistic bleakness is there from the start.

As Xie Xiangnan laments in his poem “Production, the Middle of Production, Is Soaked by Production,” reality doesn’t accord so neatly with one’s hopes:

This is a rectangular dream

Which inevitably brings forth a rectangular waiting

a floating country can’t pillow a broken dream

and I’ve never dared say goodnight to this enormous world.

Today the most famous migrant worker poet is 24-year-old Xu Lizhi who committed suicide in 2014. He worked at the Foxconn electronics mega-factory in Shenzhen famed not only for manufacturing Apple products and those of other international electronic giants, but for a spate of suicides in 2010 that exposed the sinister myth of opportunity and social mobility on the assembly line: “To die is the only way to testify that we ever lived,” wrote one blogger at the factory. (Foxconn subsequently erected netting to prevent not the despair but the death toll.) But when Xu threw himself from the seventeenth floor of a building four years later, having published much of his work online, it was not his death that made headlines, but his achievements as a poet.

Time magazine published his brief life story alongside his work under the headline: “The poet dying for your phone”. In China, the host of a national culture show marveled at the depths of this uneducated worker’s feelings. In giving shape to his experiences through poetry, Xu highlighted our own automated disconnect from the people who manufacture the clothes we wear and the electronics we consume, as conveyed in the final lines of his poem “Terracotta Army on the Assembly Line”:

 (…) these workers who can’t tell night from day

wearing

electrostatic clothes

electrostatic hats

electrostatic shoes

electrostatic gloves

electrostatic bracelets

all at the ready

silently awaiting their orders

when the bell rings

they’re sent back to the Qin.

In 1956 Erich Fromm warned that “the danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots.” Robot-like human slaves—dubbed iSlaves—are fueling the growth of Apple and other transnational corporations. Migrant workers in Xu’s poetic universe represent both the entombed foot soldiers of the ancient Qin dynasty and, when at work, the automata of the future. They have become the dehumanized, chillingly synchronized embodiment of Fritz Lang’s once futuristic Metropolis.

The plight of young rural migrants has not been ignored by the country’s higher profile authors. At the heart of recent critical literary debates in China have been the imperatives of “working class literature” or diceng wenxue – fiction that is both concerned with the conditions of ordinary people and takes a critical stance towards the society that oppresses them. Wang Anyi for example, one of the many young intellectuals to be sent down to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, is an author whose focus has historically been largely about people like herself, other intellectuals (notably in The Song of Everlasting Sorrow and Love in a Small Town). But in 2000 she shifted focus to those on the periphery with her Shanghai migrant narrative Fuping. Can Xue, a writer best known for her experimental narrative style and subject matter also changed tack with her story The Migrant Worker Corps (mingongtuan). Both writers broke rank with their usual experimental narrative modes, resorting instead to a realism in keeping with a tradition set in motion by the May Fourth Movement as the literary technique that could most accurately convey social transformation and lower class lives.

However, when it comes to debates regarding who can and can’t speak on behalf of the diceng or lower classes, even intellectuals and authors who wish to contribute to this particular genre can still, as Gayatri Chakravorky Spivak argues, be complicit in “the muting” of worker voices. Which is what makes migrant worker poetry so valuable – as literature by and about workers that conveys a sense of their struggles, hopes and torments.

In spring 2017 the first translated anthology of migrant worker poetry was published. The book, also called Iron Moon, was compiled to accompany the documentary, both of which were curated by the poet and critic Qin Xiaoyu. Expertly translated by Eleanor Goodman (whose translations have been used for this essay), the collection includes work by 31 poets drawn from more than 100 in the Chinese original. These young migrant poets debunk the myth of social mobility; they are aware of their own exploitation. Since the mid-90s, their experience of powerlessness has fortified their literature with a fresh, compelling strength and honesty. The title, a visual metaphor taken from one of Xu Lizhi’s most well-known poems:

I swallowed iron
they called it a screw

I swallowed industrial wastewater and unemployment forms
bent over machines, our youth died young

I swallowed labor, I swallowed poverty
swallowed pedestrian bridges, swallowed this rusted-out life

I can’t swallow any more
everything I’ve swallowed roils up in my throat

I spread across my country
a poem of shame

Given the primacy of the moon in classical Chinese poetry ­– as an image of solitude, of longing, of romance, of companionship – linking it with iron, says Goodman, conjures “a head-on collision of traditional Chinese culture with an explosion of capitalism, of humanity with mechanization, romance with an unromantic world – it becomes an amalgam of extremes. And these poets are dealing with this very consciously.” They are using poetic imagery, in line with China’s most treasured and esteemed classical art form, to counter the brutalizing experience of modernity.

More than a thousand years ago two of China’s most beloved Tang dynasty poets, Li Bai and Du Fu, pondered the moon’s ability to evoke a longing for home and distant family in “Quiet Night Thought” and “Moonlit Night”. Today, for several of these migrant poets, its eerie illumination during ghostly nightshifts becomes an equally melancholy companion. In Hubei Qingwa’s “Moon’s Position in the Factory,” it’s an inhuman co-worker: “under the moon,” he writes, “I regret my entire life.” Alu sees the moon as a “chunk of homesick iron”, a kindred loner, longing for its origins. Zheng Xiaoqiong sees it as a lonely light that obscures rather than exposes suffering:

And the tears, joy, and pain we’ve had

our glorious or petty ideas, and our souls

are all illuminated by the moonlight, collected, and carried afar

hidden in rays of light no one will notice.

Zheng, one of the finest poets in the collection, has pioneered her own distinctive “aesthetic of iron”, a peculiarly expansive and pliable metaphor to convey a life that is mercilessly cold and hard. Having worked for years in a die-mold factory and as a hole-punch operator, it is clear from the opening lines of “Language” how seamlessly she forges the physical and intellectual symbiosis of man and metal:

I speak this sharp-edged, oiled language

of cast iron–the language of silent workers

a language of tightened crimping and memories of iron sheets

a language like callouses fierce crying unlucky

hurting hungry language back pay of the machines’ roar occupational diseases

language of severed fingers life’s foundational language in the dark place of unemployment

between the damp steel bars these sad languages

……….. I speak them softly

It’s a theme that pervades the collection, including miner Chen Nianxi’s “Demolition’s Mark,” in which he writes,

“I don’t often dare look at my life/it’s hard and metallic black/angled like a pickaxe.”

Just as there is a noticeable splicing of rich, sophisticated imagery in some poems and a lean, resolute use of the vernacular in others, there are fascinating common themes: a nostalgia for a life not lived, the futility of language (“we can’t bear to put our tears and pain into our letters…. The blank spaces of years” writes Xie), a mourning for lost limbs and one’s truncated youth: “My finest five years went into the input feeder of a machine,” Xie records.

“I watched those five youthful years come out of the machine’s/asshole – each formed into an elliptical plastic toy.”

Just as the industrial revolution in England enforced a whole new concept of time, severing workers from seasonal rhythms, so these poets speak of disrupted menstrual cycles, damaged fertility, the blurring of night and day and the sense of unbelonging, where both countryside and city are rendered uninhabitable (several refer to themselves as “lame ducks”, maimed and unable to complete their journey back home).

The missed youth of their children, left behind with grandparents in country villages while they futilely try to make their way in the city haunts several of the poets. Chen Nianxi splices beautifully the small distances he covers down a mineshaft with the vast expanse his work puts between him and his family:

your dad is tired

each step is only three inches wide

and three inches take a year

son, use your math to calculate

how far your dad can go

At times, there is no greater reminder of solitude than an application form. Without a credible address or residence permit, without qualifications, connections or verifiable recommendations, this blank page is a visual exaggeration of their hopelessness. Alu writes of the feelings hidden behind tyrannical facts:

Ideas: He suddenly thinks of fire. The shadows penetrate his thoughts.

Education: The shadows begin to flee. The stars twinkle.

Place of birth: He shuts the window, hides in a suitcase and sobs.

Language is often, ironically, perceived as an insufficient tool. Of the poets who write about the severing of limbs – seven in total in this collection – all evoke the silent fatalism with which injury is experienced. Pain, both physical and emotional, leaps out from these pages.

Of course, migrant worker writers are not the only ones concerned with the spiritual vacuum of China’s brutish capitalist economy or the devastating destruction of the environment, but what makes their poetry so vital is that they are not writing from a distance, but at the coalface, at the cutting edge of the assembly line.

They work hellish hours without job security, drink water from rivers infused with pollutants, inhale air fouled by poisonous gases. They risk injury from merciless, vampiric machines that consume not only their youth, but their body parts (with numerous incidents of severed fingers). And they find the time outside of the interminable shifts and the space in their crowded dorm rooms to engage, to write about their lives and publish online using a basic cell phone (of the many forums they use, the most established is the Worker’s Poetry Alliance.) The internet has not only helped to raise awareness of what is happening to them, it has galvanized them to take action and make others aware of their adversity. In April 2017, I am Fan Yusu, a memoir published by a female migrant worker in Beijing on the online platform Noonstory.com became an overnight sensation, praised for the ability of its “sincere and simple words” to resonate with ordinary people. Having left her daughters in Hubei to work as a nanny for a rich tycoon’s mistress she wonders how the children of migrant workers can be protected from becoming “screws in the world’s factory” and being “lined up like Terracotta warriors, leading a puppet-like life” (translation from What’s on Weibo). Although the life stories of the rich and famous such as Alibaba magnate Jack Ma still monopolise the nonfiction market, Fan Yusu’s candid account, shared more than 100,000 times within 24 hours of posting before being deleted, could suggest that people’s awareness is also broadening to those on the margins. What’s indisputable is that the confluence of China’s industrialization with easy internet access has created an unprecedented opportunity for the creation and dissemination of working class literature, a literature by and for workers.

“No one, of course, would envy this opportunity. Xu Lizhi’s father, who still mourns his son’s death three years on, has little faith in the ability of poetry to improve the lives of the lower classes – spiritually or economically: “If this [his death] hadn’t happened,” he says tearfully in the documentary, “we wouldn’t” know he wrote poetry. But I don’t think there’s any future in poetry. It can’t compare with science and technology. Poetry was important in dynastic times, when it was part of the civil service exam… you could be an official if you wrote good poetry. But society has changed a lot. It’s not that I don’t support him, but in today’s world if you don’t have money or power it’s really hard.”

As Goodman points out, these poets not only face discrimination as unskilled workers, they are up against “a really deep prejudice that someone who doesn’t have a formal education can’t write poetry. Poetry has always been an essential part of the formal education structure; it was part of the civil service exams. When you talk to people in China there is a sense that someone is cultured or not-cultured – to broader society these workers are “uncultured.”’ Yet some of these worker poets are gaining a wide audience among workers and beyond.

The more “intellectual” writers of the Chinese avant-garde such as Mo Yan, Han Dong, Su Tong, Yu Hua, and Can Xue have turned to a Kafka-esque surrealism or magical realism to broach thorny subjects.

By contrast, in reading Iron Moon, one realizes how intimate and personal these young migrant writers can be, even when their writing is at its most dispassionate and restrained. In “Obituary for a peanut” Xu Lizhi’s presentation of the label on a jar of peanut butter becomes metamorphic in light of its title. For others, the language is wonderfully evocative, whether it’s Alu recalling his childhood (“The quiet nights/ were like a pine cone lying in the grass”) or Chi Moshu’s depiction of perverted circadian rhythms: “The stars are all asleep/and the 24-hour machines are still there/like sleeping babies shaken awake.” Their micro-narratives of mechanization, as self-identified screws, filaments, nails, discarded rocks, atoms of dust, unite as a powerful chorus. For they are, as Xie contends below, writing for themselves and each other:

Let’s have more

poets like Xie Xiangnan

they don’t come from storm clouds above

but from the belly of the earth

from those workers just stopping for the day

carrying shovels and hammers, from that sloppily dressed

group of men.

Their poems offer a deeper and more meaningful connection between the grand narrative of economic prosperity and the unheard stories of the millions who sacrifice their health, youth and sanity for our benefit.

One of the most forgiving and hopeful of the migrant worker poets is Wu Xia, whose disarming benevolence towards beneficiaries of her labor is heartbreaking:

I want to press the straps flat

so they won’t dig into your shoulders when you wear it

and then press up from the waist

a lovely waist

where someone can lay a fine hand

and on the tree-shaded lane

caress a quiet kind of love

last I’ll smooth the dress out

to iron the pleats to equal widths

so you can sit by a lake or on a grassy lawn

and wait for a breeze

like a flower

The very act of writing these poems is a way for those without a voice to counter the detachment they feel from each other, from their work, from the things they make, and to reclaim their own sense of humanity. It is also a communicative act, a cri de coeur, a call for social action. The personal is political: these poems can be read as searing critiques of an alienated epoch in which the state has sold out the rights of working people in return for foreign-investment fueled growth, in which labor and social protections are sacrificed. The poems also provide an opportunity for us not to lazily point fingers at China’s human rights abuses, but to think about our own casual complicity in these workers’ hardship. Their eloquent commitment to poetry and to life provides another way of understanding the cost of sweatshop labor that stretches beyond cold, unfeeling economics.

Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Migrant Worker Poetry

Ed.: Qin Xiaoyu, Trans.: Eleanor Goodman White Pine Press, Buffalo New York

Iron Moon documentary (also known as The Verse of Us) dir. Qin Xiaoyu and Wu Feiyue

This is an expanded version of an essay that originally appeared on lithub.com

All images in this article are from the author except for the featured image which is from Oberlin College.

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In the Wake of UK Elections: Mrs May Shambles

June 19th, 2017 by Matthew Jamison

The General Election in Britain is over. After less than a year in the job of Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party; with a working majority of 12 in the House of Commons (the first Tory majority secured since 1992) and stratospheric opinion polls recording Conservative leads of between 20-22%, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party the Rt. Hon. Mrs. Theresa May MP and her Downing Street/campaign team managed to some how squander one of the biggest leads in modern British opinion polling and go from a working majority in their own right to no majority with a split Parliament and the Labour Party under the remarkable leadership of Jeremy Corbyn resurgent, breathing down their neck. How could this have happened?

This was a General Election the Prime Minister did not need to call. One was not legally scheduled until 2020. Mrs. May repeatedly said over and over again after taking the keys of Downing Street last July that there would be no snap election. That the country – already in a deep mess and badly divided and exposed after the ghastly EU Referendum – needed a period of stability and to get on with delivering the near split decision of the British electorate to cut off their nose in order to spite their face by quitting the European Union.

Image result for margaret thatcher

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Source: Wikipedia)

Yet despite her pathetic attempts to compare herself to the true Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, Mrs. May has displayed a tendency to continue to flip-flop, doing U-turn after U-turn and going back repeatedly on her word and on stated positions. She also displayed a remarkable lack of ease with the British people and lack of spine in refusing to take part in debates with her opponent Mr. Corbyn. Mrs. May called this pointless, needless General Election ostensibly because she said she wanted “strong and stable” Government heading into the Brexit negotiations when in reality her party and Government’s position was fine in the House of Commons and no matter what the size a British Government’s majority in the House of Commons is, it is Brussels who hold all the cards in the impending divorce talks.

No, the real reason Mrs. May called this dreadful election was because she and her toxic advisors, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, were punch drunk on here today gone tomorrow opinion polls; power crazed, arrogant and hubristic and decided to put short term party political power grabs ahead of the national and international interest. So strange for a Leader whose mantra was that politics was “not a game” and that she liked nothing more than to just “get on with the job“. Yet, they did not seem to understand the forces they were grappling with and the political law that once you call an election you simply cannot control what happens and the outcome, no matter how much of a control-freak one may be in Downing Street. As the excellent former Director of Communications for Mrs. May, the lovely Katie Perrior, who quit the day she called the election put it:

“I have written before about a whiff of arrogance emanating from No 10. It turns out the public couldn’t just detect a whiff, the place bloody well stank”.

So have other like minded people such as myself who been writing exactly the same thing for months now.

It has backfired on Mrs. May, her party and her advisors in spectacular fashion and has not only damaged Mrs. May’s credibility and that of her clique of immature, conflict driven apparatchik advisors, but it has once again as with the monstrous EU Referendum, damaged the country, badly divided it and left it in a mess just as it is embarking a year on after the ridiculous EU Referendum with the biggest constitutional, economic, political enterprise since Britain went into what was then called the EEC or perhaps even since the onset of World War II. Mrs. May and her advisors managed to do something quite astonishing in modern British politics: turn a Commons majority secured less than two years ago in their own right into no majority. They managed to destroy a massive lead in the opinion polls to the point were in terms of the national share of the vote the Labour Party are only 2% behind and have improved massively their share of the vote under Jeremy Corbyn at 40% unlike the 35% under Tony Blair in 2005, 29% under Gordon Brown and 35% under Ed Miliband.

The whole message, theme and overarching rationale of the May/Timothy/Hill 2017 General Election was to deliver “strong and stable” Government. Yet they have in fact delivered the opposite. Now the Conservatives are a minority Government – the largest single party – but with no working majority of their own and reliant on the truly nightmarish, ghastly, sinister crackpots of the fascist, antediluvian, stone age DUP who are some of the most uneducated, un-intellectual, crude, primitive, provincial bigots in the UK if not Europe. The DUP are well and truly modern day peasants and it is they that the British Conservative Government of Theresa May and her Tory Party will now be reliant on.

Former Chancellor George Osborne (Source: International Business Times)

As the brilliant former Chancellor George Osborne put it Mrs. May is a: “dead woman walking“. It is now only a question of not if but when her party chuck her out. What a laughing stock she is and what a laughing stock she has made the UK in the eyes of the EU and the World, which it had already become after the horrendous EU Referendum and its pathetic result. So much for strong and stable leadership. So much for that massive 100-seat majority she thought she was going to grab. A split Parliament with no one party in over all control during what was already a shambles of self-induced Brexit madness! What a mess. What chaos. Brexit Britain in further chaos. Theresa May will be gone by the autumn. The Tory Party are the most ruthless political party in Britain if not Europe. They will now turn in on themselves and once the Summer Parliamentary Recess kicks in the anti-May rebels will move against her.

You see the problem is the issue of loyalty and how you treat people. Loyalty is a two way street. From the moment she entered Downing Street Theresa May started wielding an axe and treating people with such contempt and such nastiness. This is why none of her Ministers or Backbenchers will show any loyalty to her and she will not be able to count on her Cabinet colleagues. Because she showed no loyalty to them and treated them so poorly. Very English. Yet when you treat people so badly, sooner or later, they will turn on you and administer a dose of the same medicine which had been administered to them. As Nick Clegg put it:

“When you live by the sword, you die by the sword”.

So where Britain now for? A split Parliament with a strengthened Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party which picked up seats for the very first time in rock solid, true blue places like Canterbury and Kensington and a badly weakened and diminished Tory Party in office but not in power beholden to the wack jobs of the DUP. It has been nearly a year since the result of the EU Referendum and yet the British Government is no further on in sorting out its negotiating position. A soft Brexit? A Nick Timothy Hard Brexit? To stay in the Single Market or not to stay? What on earth is it to be? How ironic for all the anti-European, anti-Brussels propaganda of the Leavers that the EU is so slow, inefficient and incoherent it is now the Brits who are rightly seen as the inefficient, confused and incoherent.

The clock is ticking thanks to Mrs. May and her advisors. She has triggered Article 50 and there is no going back. We all know thanks to the EU when the negotiations will end. Yet no one because of the procrastinate, arrogance and obfuscation of the British Government know when the talks will start. They where due to start on June 19th but we shall see. A lot of us in Britain have been extremely angry and concerned at the direction the country has been headed in. Hopefully this election result will put paid to any notions of a Hard Brexit and any “cheap talk” of “no deal is better than a bad deal“. Perhaps thanks to some of us, this whole Brexit madness may even be stopped firmly in its tracks. Or not.

What is clear is that the Conservative Party and the British Government need a new leader. Someone with real life experience outside of the Westminster village who have their finger on the national pulse and is intellectually and politically confident enough to think on their feet and does not need to completely rely on two dead weight toxic know nothings such as Timothy and Hill. A Leader who understands foreign policy and international relations and is not in the pocket of MI5. As Phillip Stevens writing in the Financial Times put it recently: “In Whitehall code Mrs. May is more 5 than 6“. This means she is guided by, if not controlled, by people who know little about and do not understand the world and life beyond Britain or even the Home Counties and are not the most highly educated and cosmopolitan of individuals.

We must have a British Prime Minister who is more MI6/Foreign Office and is advised by MI6/Foreign Office. A Prime Minister who will smooth relations with the European Union and negotiate the best possible deal in good faith and amicably with Britain’s European friends and partners, her brothers and sisters . A Prime Minister who will reinvigorate the “Golden Age” in relations between the UK and the amazing China, the second largest economy in the world, a fabulous country who are so keen to partner with Britain and work closely with Britain based on mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual cooperation. George Osborne understood this with his strategically brilliant geopolitical policy of becoming China’s “best friend in the West” and moving closer to China which would lead to greater inward investment into Britain at a time the UK so desperately needs critical foreign investment and enhanced trading relationships.

If Britain is to leave the EU Single Market and Customs Union then a new geo-strategic economic framework could be the full participation and engagement with the wonderful President Xi Jinping‘s visionary project of the New Silk Road: the Belt and Road Forum. This is a fantastic project and Britain could reap great benefits from it. And the Chinese really want Britain to be a strong and full partner on this project. As the splendid Chinese Ambassador to London recently wrote in the Telegraph:

“for more than 2,000 years, the Silk Road has borne witness to exchange and friendship between the East and West. With its tales of trade and travel down the ages, the route has traditions that have become a source of inspiration for those who seek new opportunities for common development. Now, China is looking to work with Britain in a new partnership, on a new Silk Road for today: the Belt and Road Initiative”.

This project of President Xi Jingping (one of the greatest leaders on the planet today) aims to harness the potential of countries on the old Silk route – countries in Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe – to develop economic and trading partnerships through greater infrastructure and cultural links. Some of the fruits of this approach can already be seen with the first freight train from China’s eastern town of Yiwu arriving in London in January, extending the Belt and Road (B&R) to the far western end of Europe. This was something Mrs. May heavily influenced by her xenophobic, Sinophobic toxic advisor Nick Timothy simply did not understand or was too MI5 prejudiced to see the bigger global strategic picture and the enormous benefits it could bring to Britain. The toxic Timothy went out of his way with some help from his friends in the Home Office/MI5 to do everything possible to undermine, if not destroy, George Osborne’s excellent work on strengthening UK-China relations and taking them to a new level in the “Golden Age”.

After writing the most ridiculous and appalling Manifesto for the Conservatives 2017 General Election which helped ruin their chances it should be remembered that it was Nick Timothy, a Home Affairs advisor, who wrote the biggest load of rubbish I have ever read regarding China and the Golden Age in relations between the UK and the PRC. It was also Nick Timothy who nearly scuppered the Hinkley Point C deal. Well, at least now he is gone. But it remains to be seen if a new Conservative leader and Prime Minister will pick up where George Osborne left off regarding the critically important strategic relationship for Britain with the Chinese. Perhaps Mr. Osborne should reconsider his departure from front line politics and return in a by-election? I’m sure that could be arranged.

Matthew Jamison is a Senior Parliamentary Researcher at the House of Commons. He holds two degrees from Cambridge University.

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Time to Revitalize the Anti-War Movement

June 19th, 2017 by Canadian Union of Postal Workers

Justin Trudeau certainly did not run on a military-strength platform. Nowhere on the campaign trail did Liberals talk about increasing military spending or using “hard power” abroad. The recent speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, alongside the announced 70% increase in military spending should ring alarm bells. Stephen Harper wouldn’t have dared such an announcement. Canadians wouldn’t have accepted it. Not with our hospitals, schools and infrastructure in such sorry shape. Not with indigenous communities left abandoned by our entire economic system. Not without real action on climate change. Harper couldn’t have gotten away with shovelling an extra $14-billion a year into military spending. Why should we let Trudeau?

The recent revelation that the Liberals planned their “international pivot” before they even took office serves as a stark example of what this government represents. They knew they would make this turn, but kept it secret from the public. The reason for this is obvious. Nobody would have believed the Liberal “sunny ways” if they knew the truth: that the Liberals planned to massively increase military spending and project military power around the globe. How can anyone that believes in democracy justify keeping such a major shift in policy secret? The Liberals should not be trusted.

Iron Fist of the Ruling Class

A government that prioritizes military spending is a government that intends to use it. Nobody elected Liberals to run military adventures. But the writing is on the wall. It is a matter of time before the Liberal government begins sending Canadian troops abroad to fight in wars that have nothing to do with defending this country from invasion. Freeland admitted as much in her speech.

Beneath the velvet glove of the Liberal government lies the iron fist of the Canadian ruling class… the same people that Harper worked for, the same interests that try to push down wages and working conditions, the same corporate elite that destroys our environment, violates treaties with indigenous nations and ruthlessly exploits working people around the globe. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The proposed $14-billion a year increase in military spending is money directly taken from urgently needed social spending. This money could provide free university education to every student. This money could provide clean drinking water to every reserve. This money could take every homeless person off the street. But the priorities of the government are clear.

Those who stand for peace and justice must seriously think of revitalizing the anti-war movement. It is clear that it will be needed.

Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) is a public sector trade union representing postal workers employed at Canada Post as well as private sector workers outside Canada Post. This article was first published on their website.

Featured image: Socialist Project

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Famine and Cholera Stalk Yemen

June 19th, 2017 by Stephen Lendman

No country on earth is more devastated by US imperial viciousness – complicit with Saudi Arabia doing its dirty work.

Yemenis are threatened by endless war, famine, cholera, and other horrendous issues, the lives of millions endangered.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), famine conditions approach “biblical proportions.”

After visiting Sana’a, Aden and Amran, NRC’s Secretary General Jan Egeland expressed

“shock to my bones by what I have seen and heard here…”

“The world is letting some 7 million men, women and children slowly but surely, be engulfed by unprecedented famine” – a “man-made” preventable catastrophe, adding:

“This is a gigantic failure of international diplomacy. Men with guns and power inside Yemen as well as in regional and international capitals are undermining every effort to avert an entirely preventable famine, as well as the collapse of health and education services for millions of children.”

“Nowhere on earth are as many lives at risk.”

Land, sea and air blockade caused economic collapse and catastrophic conditions “in a country of 27 million people.”

The world community failed to intervene responsibly to stop what’s going on and deliver enough crucial to survival humanitarian aid to its long-suffering people.

Yemen is the “largest food security crisis in the world…An entire civilian population” is being “strang(led),” Egeland stressed.

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Boys eat at a rubbish dump outside Yemen’s Red Sea port city of Houdieda © Abduljabbar via RT

Cholera continues raging out of control. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 140,000 cases were identified from April 27 through June 14, numbers rising exponentially.

The agency said suspected cases reached 151,000. The outbreak affected 20 of Yemen’s 22 governorates in seven weeks.

Over 1,000 deaths are known, likely many more not reported. Lack of access for millions to clean, safe water and proper sanitation are responsible for the massive outbreak – sure to grow and cause many more deaths.

“Countries facing complex emergencies and particularly vulnerable to cholera outbreaks,” the WHO explained – none more disastrous than conditions in Yemen.

Using money from its emergency fund, UNICEF is paying Yemeni doctors, nurses and other health workers salaries they haven’t received for months to help combat cholera.

Its regional director Geert Cappalaere called the outbreak “massive” in a country never before experiencing something this severe.

Cappelaere and others predict the disease could affect 300,000 or more Yemenis in the coming weeks.

UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Jamie McGoldrick called what’s happening “heartbreaking…Humanity is losing out to politics,” he explained.

Conditions are devastating for millions in a nation on the verge of collapse.

Less than half of its hospitals are operating. They face shortages of everything, unavailability of much of what’s needed to treat illnesses, diseases and injuries.

America’s war on Yemen, complicit with Riyadh, bears full responsibility – Trump escalating what Obama began.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected].

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

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Negotiations to agree Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union are to officially begin tomorrow. In a joint EU and UK statement issued late last Thursday, officials said: “Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s Chief Negotiator and David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, agreed today to launch the Brexit Article 50 negotiations on Monday June 19.”

The Government have confirmed that Brexit Secretary David Davis will be in Brussels at the start of the week for meetings with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

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European Commission’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier (Source: EL PAIS)

Ministers had simply said that talks are expected to start this week, but with uncertainty over the stability of the Government in the wake of the election they had held back from confirming an actual date of initial talks.

Contrary to ministerial leaks and political soundbites, Brexit talks will be kicked off with three major stumbling blocks.

Euractiv reports that

The EU will open the historic divorce talks with the United Kingdom by discussing the size of the bill London will have to settle, the rights of EU and UK citizens and the bloc’s new external border in Northern Ireland.

During the complex talks, the two sides will also have to negotiate a new customs and trade regime between the single market and the UK. May has said she wants a new customs union deal with the bloc, an idea EU officials have snubbed so far.

However, Britain’s approach to Brexit negotiations has been considerably weakened since Theresa May’s unexpected election debacle. There are considerable rumours swirling around Conservative circles that another election may be called as early as September. Should this happen and there is a change of leader, or indeed a change of government, all negotiations would likely take a different focus.

The Times leads with the headline: Tories Tell May: You have 10 Days. The Sun and Citywire lead with the same giving May just 10 days to ‘shape up or ship out’. The Sunday Telegraph leads with “May faces threat of stalking horse leadership challenge”. The Observer says that “Big business leaders press PM on rethink of hard Brexit.” These are the headlines of those that smell blood on the floor already.

Conservative headquarters let the cat out of the bag when they sent a notice to say all candidates needed to be ready for 10th July, suggesting that another election could be called as early as September.

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Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis (Source: ITV.com)

And on that note – fancy yet another election? Yes you do! This is according to a YouGov poll, which found that 43% of the UK wants another general election this autumn.

In the meantime, Britain’s negotiators are facing some tough times ahead.

That Divorce Bill

What do we know about it so far? Not much is the answer. It could be anywhere between zero and ¢100 billion euros or about £85 billion. A House of Lords report called ‘Brexit and the EU Budget‘ says the bill will be zero because Britain will not be a member of the EU and therefore it cannot be enforced.

The Guardian reports that the ‘Divorce Bill’

is vigorously contested by most other EU governments, who insist all financial obligations must be met before they will agree to any future trade deal. The figure of €100bn is the latest in a series of back-of-the-envelope estimates by journalists and thinktanks who have attempted to tot up those obligations. Previously the consensus among the same experts was €60bn.”

This initial opening round will be important as the majority of the remaining 27 nation bloc feel that Britain should pay its fair share of agreed obligations. The main problem is that there are many spending programmes, particularly so-called “cohesion” funds. These are designed, for instance, to help weaker economies in the East or pensions liabilities for EU civil servants. These are planned over the decades ahead and Brussels argues that all commitments to which Britain is committed to ought to be honoured.

The problem is that Theresa May didn’t help matters by stating this figure should be nil during the recent election fiasco and this seems to have done nothing but angered European leaders, motivating them to demand payment agreement first. Success for Britain at this stage will be crucial.

Rights of EU Citizens

In what many might call a U-Turn, David Davis will open divorce talks in Brussels next week with an offer to allow the three million European Union citizens living in Britain the same rights that they have now, the Financial Times reported (paywall) on Wednesday 14 June. This should considerably sweeten the aforementioned divorce bill talks. The date of closing the border to new EU nationals will be contentious itself but will end up somewhere between Britain’s demand of 29th March this year and the EU’s demand of when Britain leaves the EU, expected to be 2019. And for the sake of that divorce bill, Britain will likely accede to the latter.

The FT, citing anonymous officials, said Davis would offer to guarantee the rights that EU citizens currently have in Britain, such as the freedom to move and work in the country, and aim to treat them “as fairly as they have been to this point”.

According to sources in Brussels though, Brexit negotiators will face “extraordinarily complex” talks over the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British expats in Europe.

Just one aspect of those complications will be rules guaranteeing, for example, access to social security and health care and welfare payments, including marriage provisions and aggregate pensions built up in other EU countries.

Those complications then extend further when considering EU citizens benefitting from the right to family reunification: this allows an EU citizen to bring a dependent from a third country – a grandmother, for example, – to live with him or her.

The EU expects the UK to grant the right of return for those who have previously lived in the UK.  And again, to be extended to current and future spouses and dependants to join those already in the country. Citizens’ rights would apply, ideally for life, and also to any children. The exact cut-off date will be finalised during the negotiations assuming the divorce bill settlement has not proved to be unsurmountable for both sides.

In a rather crass attempt to show some leadership in the matter, Theresa May attempted to strike a deal on citizens’ rights last December but those efforts were rebuffed by the EU-27, led by the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

That Northern Ireland Border

The Northern Irish border with EU member Ireland remains a continual headache for Brussels.

The Commission has stated that one of its priorities in Brexit talks was the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland in the late 1990s. The last thing the EU wants now is more violence on its territory.

The reason for such controversy when Theresa May decided to jump into bed with the DUP is the the EU calls on the governments in London and Dublin to be neutral in their dealings over Northern Ireland. But the new alliance between May and a pro-Union party like the DUP will no doubt undermine the confidence of Northern Ireland’s Catholics in the process and revive tensions in an area bordering the EU. Those tensions were already being reignited is recent months but this particular alliance could make matters much worse.

And finally …

As if to throw the initial negotiations into confusion the EU negotiators, who don’t forget have had 40 years of negotiating trade deals with the rest of the world, only offered Britain talks in the first place on a future free trade pact on the grounds that London must first agree to EU demands on the terms of Brexit.

So not only did that start with that divorce settlement, leading on to the rights of EU citizens and the Ireland issue but it also spelled out EU resistance to Britain scrapping whole swathes of tax, environmental and labour laws if it wants to have an eventual free trade pact.

About 44% of UK exports in goods and services went to the EU in 2016—£240 billion out of £550 billion total exports. It is critical to the health of every British citizen that a satisfactory trade deal is done because if the vision that Theresa May has put forward, that no deal is better than a bad deal comes true, Britain’s economy will crash and burn practically overnight.

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Nel 1917, contro la volontà della schiacciante maggioranza della popolazione americana, gli Stati Uniti fanno il loro ingresso nella guerra a fianco dell’Intesa e contro la Germania. Non lo fanno per gli attacchi dei sottomarini tedeschi contro le navi come il «Lusitania» e ancor meno per difendere la causa della democrazia contro la dittatura e l’ingiustizia. Lo fanno perchè l’élite americana – al pari delle élite europee nel 1914 – si aspettava da questa guerra ogni sorta di vantaggi, ad esempio, enormi profitti aggiuntivi e maggiore docilità da parte dei lavoratori …

Il 1917 non fu un anno buono per nessuno dei paesi belligeranti ma, per i membri dell’Intesa fu il più catastrofico di tutti. Le ragioni principali furono gli ammutinamenti nell’esercito francese, che accrebbero particolarmente la precarietà della situazione militare sul fronte occidentale, oltre alla doppia rivoluzione in Russia che minacciava di mettere fuori gioco questo paese in quanto alleato. Aggiungete il fatto che molti soldati e civili sia in Francia che in Gran Bretagna ne avevano abbastanza di questo conflitto e che volevano la pace a qualsiasi prezzo e si capirà che le autorità politiche e militari di Londra e Parigi non facevano male a preoccuparsi. Queste avevano voluto questa guerra e ne avevano sperato molto, volevano vincerla assolutamente per questo avevano bisogno del sostegno della popolazione e certamente anche dei loro alleati. Nel 1917,tuttavia, la vittoria non era ancora in nessun modo in vista. La sensazione era di essere ancor lontani da una conclusione. Cosa sarebbe successo se non si fosse vinta la guerra? Una risposta stava arrivando dagli avvenimenti in Russia e sotto forma di un macabro auspicio: la rivoluzione! La sola buona nuova, nel 1917, almeno dal punto di vista dell’Entente, fu che in aprile di quell’anno, gli Stati Uniti avevano dichiarato guerra alla Germania, cosa che si sperava da molto tempo sia a Parigi che a Londra. Si doveva, comunque, aspettare dell’altro tempo ancora prima che le truppe americane potessero sbarcare in Europa di modo che la marea si potesse invertire a favore dell’Intesa, ma almeno la speranza di una vittoria finale poteva riaccendersi. Per la schiacciante maggioranza della popolazione degli Stati Uniti, l’entrata in guerra del loro  paese non presentava la benchè minima speranza di cose buone. La gente era perfettamente al corrente di come il conflitto in Europa fosse una catastrofe e che i civili e i soldati dei paesi belligeranti non desideravano altro che il ritorno della pace. Se gli europei volevano uscire da questa guerra il più rapidamente possibile, allora perchè gli americani volevano entrarci? Il fatto che molti americani si ponessero questa domanda era dovuto ai seguenti fattori. Da molto tempo, gli Stati Uniti intrattenevano relazioni molto buone con i tedeschi. Non era la Germania, ma la Gran Bretagna il nemico tradizionale e il grande rivale dell’Uncle Sam (Zio Sam). I britannici erano i vecchi padroni coloniali contro i quali, nel decennio 1770, si era condotta una guerra d’indipendenza e con cui, più tardi, dal 1812 al 1815, si era stati ancora impegnati in un conflitto. (Questa guerra del 1812 era finita con un trattato di pace concluso a Gand.) Ancora successivamente nel XIX secolo, era sorte tra americani e britannici delle tensioni sia a proposito delle frontiere con l’America del Nord britannica, chiamata Canada a partire dal 1867, che sull’influenza e sul commercio nell’Oceano Pacifico, in America del Sud e nei Caraibi ed anche per le simpatie britanniche verso gli Stati confederati durante la guerra di Seccessione. Fino alla vigilia della Seconda Guerra mondiale, a Washington ci furono sempre dei piani pronti per una eventuale guerra contro la Gran Bretagna. Gli americani non vedevano affatto nei britannici dei simpatici fratelli gemelli «anglo-sassoni», come talvolta ci si vorrebbe far credere. La maggioranza degli americani – contrariamente all’élite del nord-est del paese, costituita in gran parte da WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant, bianchi anglo-sassoni protestanti ) – non era assolutamente «anglo-sassone», ma originaria di ogni paese europeo e soprattutto dell’Irlanda e della Germania. Nel 1914, quando scoppiò la guerra in Europa, questi americani di origini irlandesi o tedesche avevano buone ragioni di incrociare le dita per la Germania e di desiderare una sconfitta britannica. Altri americani, tuttavia, erano di ascendenza inglese e di conseguenza simpatizzavano per gli alleati. Per quanto riguarda la Francia, dopo la loro dichiarazione di guerra, i soldati d’oltre Atlantico sarebbero sbarcati sventolando la bandiera al motto di «Lafayette, eccoci!». Con questo si voleva alludere all’aiuto francese agli americani all’epoca della loro guerra d’indipendenza contro la Gran Bretagna, aiuto impersonificato dal marchese di Lafayette. Quello slogan voleva far comprendere che gli Stati Uniti erano venuti a restituire ai francesi il servizio che dovevano loro. Perchè, tuttavia, non si erano affrettati a venire in aiuto dei loro cari amici francesi già nel 1914? In realtà, la riconoscenza vera o presunta nei confronti dei francesi non aveva nulla a che fare con l’entrata in guerra degli americani, tanto più che molti di loro erano molto religiosi e provavano poca o nessuna simpatia per quella repubblica gallica atea o perlomeno anticlericale. I protestanti americani propendevano per la Germania, diretta dagli Hohenzollern, dei luterani, mentre i cattolici avevano un debole per l’Austria-Ungheria, la cui dinastia regnante, gli Asburgo, era passata fin dall’epoca della Riforma (e dell’imperatore Carlo V) ad essere il grande campione del cattolicesimo. L’impero russo, d’altronde, era considerato da molti americani come un bastione delle monarchie autocratiche fuori moda e quindi il contrario della repubblica democratica che, almeno in teoria, erano gli Stati Uniti. Numerosi americani erano peraltro dei rifugiati provenienti dall’impero degli zar, ad esempio ebrei e ucraini che, nei confronti dei russi in generale e dello zar e del suo regime in particolare, provavano pressochè gli stessi sentimenti di avversione degli irlandesi verso i britannici. Negli Stati Uniti, non si dimostrava nei confronti della Germania la medesima ostilità e neppure rivalità o avversione e numerosi americani, come Theodore Roosevelt, che ritenevano di far parte della «razza nordica», si sentivano vicini e amici di questi tedeschi «ariani» presunti superiori. Il fatto che la Germania non fosse una democrazia non costituiva un problema per personalità che apprezzavano e sentivano di far parte delle classi «superiori» come Roosevelt che, quanto alle masse popolari, non provava sentimenti particolarmente caritatevoli. Gli americani meno elitisti o quanto meno più favorevoli alla democrazia, anch’essi, su questo piano non si formalizzavano sulle condizioni esistenti in Germania. Con la sua legislazione sociale e il suffragio universale, il Reich era sotto numerosi aspetti più democratico della Gran Bretagna, ad esempio, ed anche degli Stati Uniti. La democrazia americana era, in effetti, una sorta di «democrazia dei signori» da cui erano risolutamente esclusi gli indiani e i neri che, insieme, costituivano una percentuale considerevole della popolazione. In questa «democrazia per pochi» (democracy for the few), come l’ha definita il politologo e storico Michael Parenti, regnava una sorta di apartheid anticipato, dove i neri venivano sottoposti a linciaggio e gli indiani erano tenuti a distanza in miserabili riserve. In confronto, la Germania di Guglielmo II era un paradiso sulla terra. Non solo l’affermazione del presidente Woodrow Wilson secondo cui gli Stati Uniti erano andati a combattere per la democrazia, una affermazione alla quale si é sempre accordato troppo credito – anche attualmente – era completamente falsa, ma anche ridicola. Se Wilson avesse veramente voluto promuovere la democrazia, avrebbe potuto iniziare dal proprio paese dove, su questo piano, c’era ancora molto da fare. Si può dire che all’inizio del 1917, la popolazione americana era divisa riguardo alla guerra. Alcuni americani – e soprattutto i già citati WASP e altri americani di origine inglese – incrociavano le dita per l’Entente, altri simpatizzavano per le potenze centrali. Molti, invece, non avevano probabilmente alcuna opinione su quello che succedeva nella lontana Europa. La simpatia, comunque, è una cosa, partire per combattere un’altra. La schiacciante maggioranza degli Yankees erano senza dubbio contrari all’entrata in guerra del loro paese ed era di tendenza pacifista e «isolazionista» e non voleva avere nulla a che fare con la guerra in Europa. Fu in questo contesto che già nel 1915 era nata una canzone che ebbe grande successo anche in Gran Bretagna, ma che, negli Stati Uniti, divenne il simbolo musicale del pacifismo e dell’isolazionismo, ossia I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier, già menzionata. La canzone fece arrabbiare in particolare gli americani che erano ferventi partigiani di un intervento in guerra, quel genere di americani di cui «Teddy» Roosevelt era la figura di punta. Le elezioni presidenziali del 1916 furono vinte da Wilson, il presidente già in carica, che era considerato un partigiano della pace, contrario all’entrata in guerra. Come avviene abbastanza spesso per numerosi presidenti americani, Wilson fece esattamente il contrario di quello che ci si aspettava da lui: il 2 aprile 1917, convinse il Congresso a dichiarare guerra alla Germania. Le ragioni avanzate dal presidente furono che la guerra avrebbe potuto significare la fine della civiltà «occidentale» e minacciare persino la sopravvivenza dell’umanità se gli Stati Uniti non fossero intervenuti per rimettere le cose a posto. Una volta che gli Stati Uniti vi fossero coinvolti, fece sapere, la guerra diventava una «guerra per la democrazia», una «guerra che avrebbe messo fine alle guerre». È a giusto titolo che gli storici non prendono molto sul serio queste dichiarazioni di Wilson e cercano altrove le ragioni che l’hanno spinto a coinvolgere gli americani a malincuore nella guerra. Abitualmente, si getta la colpa sulla Germania perchè, a partire dal 1917, il Reich reagì al blocco navale britannico – e al fiasco della battaglia dello Jutland nel 1916 – con una intensificazione nella guerra sui mari mediante l’uso dei sottomarini. Con questo nuovo genere di guerra Berlino sperava di poter fare capitolare i britannici in sei mesi. Tra il gennaio e l’aprile del 1917, i tedeschi affondarono un importante tonnellaggio di naviglio britannico ma, dopo che in maggio Londra introdusse il sistema dei convogli, le perdite diminuirono nettamente. La guerra dei sottomarini, tuttavia, danneggiava anche le potenze marittime neutrali, compresi gli Stati Uniti e inasprì le relazioni tra Washington e Berlino. È in questo modo che numerosi storici tentano di spiegare l’entrata in guerra degli Stati Uniti. In questo contesto, di solito si fa il nome del Lusitania. Questo grande piroscafo britannico, partito da New York per Liverpool, era stato fatto colare a picco dai tedeschi e questo dramma aveva provocato vittime americane. Negli Stati Uniti, questo fatto aveva fortemente riattizzato i sentimenti anti-tedeschi. L’attacco portava acqua al mulino degli «interventisti», i partigiani dell’entrata in guerra, e avrebbe così inesorabilmente condotto a una dichiarazione di guerra americana alla Germania. Il problema con questo scenario è che il Lusitania era stato affondato il 7 maggio 1915, cioè pressochè due anni prima che Washington dissotterrasse l’ascia di guerra. E, tra le 1198 vittime, c’erano non più di 128 americani. Il resto erano britannici e canadesi. Inoltre, il Lusitania trasportava munizioni e materiale bellico, cosa che, secondo i criteri giuridici del diritto internazionale dell’epoca, autorizzava i tedeschi ad affondarlo. Il consolato tedesco di New York aveva d’altronde avvertito i potenziali passeggeri che questo evento avrebbe potuto accadere. Infine, è molto verosimile che le autorità britanniche, tra cui Churchill, avessero intenzionalmente fatto caricare la nave con delle munizioni nella speranza che, per questa ragione, i tedeschi l’affondassero e ciò provocasse l’entrata in guerra degli americani. Si comprende come, in circostanze tanto dubbie, il governo americano non si sia lasciato tentare da una dichiarazione di guerra alla Germania. All’inizio del 1917, l’atteggiamento statunitense verso la Germania si inasprì, naturalmente, per l’intensificazione da parte di Berlino della guerra sottomarina, ma non è quantomeno per questa ragione che Wilson fece la sua dichiarazione di guerra in aprile. Non era il popolo americano, ma piuttosto l’élite degli Stati Unti, di cui Wilson era un rappresentante tipico, che voleva la guerra, e più precisamente una guerra contro la Germania. La ragione stava nel fatto che, nel 1917, anche questa élite, al pari di quelle europee nel 1914, pensava di potersi aspettare vantaggi considerevoli da una guerra contro la Germania e credeva allo stesso tempo di poter scongiurare in questo modo anche un grande problema che la minacciava. In primo luogo, gli Stati Uniti, esattamente come Gran Bretagna, Francia, Russia e Germania, erano una grande potenza imperialista. Con una piccola differenza, ma non senza importanza, che consisteva nell’aver sviluppato una nuova strategia imperiale: il neocolonialismo. Con questa nuova modalità la potenza imperialista tenta di acquisire materie prime, mercati di sbocco, mano d’opera a buon mercato, non attraverso un controllo coloniale diretto, ma mediante una penetrazione indiretta, innanzitutto economica, di questi paesi, che veniva fatta andare di pari passo con una sorta di influenza egemonica che richiedeva la collaborazione delle élite locali. Agli Stati Uniti, in questo modo, non servivano più le colonie e i protettorati che le potenze europee continuavano ad utilizzare. La Grande Guerra si riassunse in un conflitto tra grandi potenze imperialiste. Era chiaro che quelle che ne fossero uscite vittoriose sarebbero state anche, inevitabilmente, le vincitrici sul piano degli interessi imperialisti. Era anche evidente che, esattamente come in una lotteria, chi non giocava non avrebbe potuto vincere. È molto probabile che, nel momento della sua dichiarazione di guerra alla Germania, il governo statunitense si sia posto sul piano della dichiarazione fatta poco prima, ossia il 12 gennaio 1917, dal primo ministro francese, Aristide Briand, dopo averla accuratamente meditata e averne tratto le conclusioni. Facendo chiaramente allusione agli Stati Uniti, Briand aveva fatto sapere che «sarebbe stato auspicabile, nella futura conferenza di pace, escludere le potenze che non avevano partecipato alla guerra». Si prospettava, di contro, che molto avrebbe avuto da guadagnare chi avesse partecipato a quella conferenza. I vasti possedimenti dei perdenti sarebbero stati divisi come il mantello di Cristo, ad esempio, i possedimenti «immobiliari» tedeschi in Africa e soprattutto le ricche regioni petrolifere dell’Impero ottomano. Era in gioco anche l’influenza sulla Cina. Tutti gli attori imperialisti avevano messo gli occhi su questo paese gigantesco, ma enormemente debole ed erano interessati ad essere presenti nel momento in cui ci sarebbero state concessioni da ricevere, diritti di sfruttamento minerario, permessi di posa di linee ferroviarie e, comunque, possibilità di penetrazione economica nei modi più vari. Su questo piano, il Giappone aveva già scoperto le sue carte facendo man bassa delle concessioni tedesche in Cina. Il paese del Sol levante aveva già cominciato a delinearsi come un piccolo rivale, che si pretendeva fosse di razza inferiore, ma che comunque si dimostrava aggressivo e pericoloso per gli interessi degli Stati Uniti nell’Estremo Oriente. Grazie alla loro recente guerra contro la Spagna, questi ultimi erano riusciti a mettere piede in quella parte del mondo con una sorta di tutela sulle Filippine che avevano «liberato». Se gli Stati Uniti fossero rimasti fuori dal conflitto e non fossero, quindi, stati presenti alla distribuzione dei premi in Cina, il pericolo sarebbe stato che il Giappone, attraverso una versione asiatica della dottrina dell’americano Monroe, potesse monopolizzare la Cina sul piano economico e che di conseguenza gli uomini d’affari americani non vi avessero trovato la «porta aperta» che fortemente desideravano. A questo proposito, su Wikipedia si può leggere: Se gli alleati avessero vinto la guerra senza l’aiuto americano, il pericolo sarebbe stato che questi si sarebbero spartiti il mondo tra loro senza prendere in considerazione gli interessi commerciali dell’America. Con la sua dichiarazione di guerra alla Germania nell’aprile del 1917, Wilson eliminava esattamente questo pericolo. Successivamente, durante gli anni trenta, una commissione d’inchiesta del Congresso americano sarebbe giunta alla stessa conclusione, ossia che la dichiarazione di guerra di Wilson alla Germania fu motivata dal desiderio di essere presente quando fosse giunto il momento «della spartizione dei possedimenti imperiali». (Gli Stati Uniti entrarono in guerra non esclusivamente, ma di sicuro certamente, e probabilmente soprattutto, al fine di poter trarre vantaggio, dopo la guerra, della spartizione del bottino tra le potenze imperialiste. Rimanere neutrali, non voleva dire solo non poter approfittare della vittoria, ma comportava anche il rischio di diventare vittima dell’appetito imperialista dei vincitori. Il 9 marzo 1916, il Portogallo decise di entrare in guerra a fianco dell’Intesa al fine di evitare che i suoi possessi coloniali diventassero preda delle potenze vincitrici. I portoghesi avevano soprattutto paura dei britannici, che in effetti avevano questa intenzione e cercavano, di conseguenza, di mantenere il Portogallo fuori dal conflitto. La partecipazione alla guerra, cui la gran parte della popolazione era assolutamente contraria, costerà al Portogallo 8.000 morti, 13.000 feriti e 12.000 prigionieri di guerra, ma non portò al paese alcun beneficio. Gli altri paesi, dunque, dovevano ben riflettere sui vantaggi e gli svantaggi della neutralità. L’Olanda poteva attendersi, come gli Usa, che l’abbandono della neutralità portasse dei vantaggi. D’altronde, come per il Portogallo, il suo governo poteva temere che mantenerla potesse essere dannoso per il paese. Schierandosi a fianco della Germania, i Paesi Bassi potevano forse guadagnare le Fiandre, idea che veniva incoraggiata da Berlino attraverso la sua ambivalente «politica fiamminga» (Flamenpolitik) nel Belgio occupato. Per contro, restare neutrali avrebbe potuto significare che, dopo la guerra, si sarebbe stati costretti dai vincitori a cedere delle colonie o una parte del proprio territorio. Durante la guerra e nel corso della Conferenza di pace di Parigi alcuni politici belgi proposero in effetti – anche se invano –l’annessione della Fiandra zelandese e del Limburgo olandese.) Una seconda ragione spiega perchè l’élite americana che, vale sottolinearlo, era costituita pressochè esclusivamente di grandi industriali e banchieri del nord-est del paese, voleva la guerra. Negli anni precedenti il 1914, gli Stati Uniti erano stati colpiti da una pesante recessione economica. La guerra scoppiata in Europa, tuttavia, aveva fatto arrivare ordini per materiali di ogni tipo e a causa di questa crescita della domanda, la produzione e i profitti erano cresciuti parecchio. Tra il 1914 e il 1917, la produzione industriale aumentò del 32 per cento e provocò una crescita del PIL di almeno il 20 per cento mentre le esportazioni americane verso i paesi belligeranti salivano vertiginosamente. Si esportavano, naturalmente anche dei prodotti agricoli, ma erano soprattutto gli industriali americani – per farla breve, i capitalisti – a guadagnare fortune in questa guerra che stava sconvolgendo l’Europa e che pareva voler durare indefinitamente. Cos’è che poteva andare bene per loro in questa guerra dove, ogni giorno, 6.000 uomini in media perdevano la vita e innumerevoli altri restavano mutilati? I profitti, che erano diventati faraonici. Per illustrarlo, si possono indicare il guadagno (in dollari) realizzati da molte grandi imprese americane all’inizio e alla fine della Grande Guerra:

Impresa: Profitti prima della guerra Profitti alla fine della guerra
DuPont 6.000.000 58.000.000
Betlehem Steel 6.000.000 49.000.000
US Steel 105.000.000 240.000.000
Anaconda 10.000.000 34.000.000
International Nickel 4.000.000 73.000.000

Già fin dall’inizio della guerra, nel 1914, si era visto che, a causa del blocco navale britannico, erano meno gli affari che si realizzavano con l‘Austria-Ungheria mentre, al contrario, le cifre dei contratti che si stipulavano con i paesi dell’Intesa, e soprattutto con la Gran Bretagna, stavano segnando dei continui record. Tra il 1914 e il 1916, le esportazioni americane verso la Gran Bretagna e la Francia passarono da circa 800 milioni di dollari a 3 miliardi, mentre il volume di quelle verso la Germania e l’Austria-Ungheria precipitavano a un magro milione o due di dollari. L’embargo imposto dai britannici in pratica impediva di continuare a sviluppare affari con le potenze centrali, anche se lo si sarebbe fatto di buon grado. Alla fine, cosa importava, da questo punto di vista, che il cliente fosse un vecchio amico o un nemico, un paese democratico o autocratico, un parente «anglo-sassone» o meno? C’era, comunque, anche un piccolo inconveniente. Si facevano affari con i britannici e, in misura minore, con i francesi, ma una grande parte di questi acquisti venivano pagati con dei crediti concessi agli europei da banche americane. Nel 1917, gli istituti di credito Usa avevano già accordato crediti per un totale di 2,3 miliardi di dollari. I prestiti alla sola Francia sarebbe aumentati in modo spettacolare nel corso della guerra, dai 0,05 miliardi di franchi francesi nel 1914, ai 1,9 nel 1915, 1,6 nel 1916, 7,5 nel 1917, 5,3 nel 1918 e 9,2 nel 1919. Cruciale in questo contesto fu il ruolo della J. P. Morgan & Co., banca che veniva indicata anche con il nome di House of Morgan (Casa Morgan). Con filiali a Londra e a Parigi, questa società di Wall Street occupava una posizione ideale per finanziare gli affari transatlantici e, già nel 1915, Morgan venne designato come agente unico per l’acquisto a nome della Gran Bretagna di prodotti come munizioni, derrate alimentari, ecc. negli Stati Uniti. (Inoltre, i britannici compravano negli Stati Uniti anche per conto dei loro alleati, soprattutto francesi e russi.) In questo modo, sorse negli Stati Uniti una specie di «circolo di amici» di Morgan, costituito da imprese come DuPont e Remington, che tramite Morgan si accapparravano molti contratti e guadagnavano delle fortune. Morgan si metteva in tasca il 2 per cento di commissione su tutti gli acquisti. (Dato che nel 1917, il totale di questi acquisti raggiunse i 20 miliardi di dollari, è facile calcolare quanto guadagnò Morgan.) Fu, d’altronde, in questo modo che gli Stati Uniti diventarono sempre più forti sul piano finanziario, anche più della Gran Bretagna, e che Wall Street di New York avrebbe sostituto la City di Londra come capitale finanziaria del mondo mentre il dollaro avrebbe detronizzato la sterlina britannica. Per Wall Street, la guerra poteva ancora durare a lungo ma, ai suoi occhi, diventava sempre più importante che l’Intesa vincesse la guerra. Detto diversamente, «gli interessi economici schieravano chiaramente gli Stati Uniti nel campo alleato». Si può anche dire che gli accordi finanziari citati in precedenza equivalevano ad una violazione di fatto della legislazione americana sulla neutralità, come avevano sottolineato certi politici pacifisti americani e come avrebbe riconosciuto la Commissione Nye (Nye Committee) del Congresso negli anni trenta. È in ogni caso comprensibile che la Germania, visto come andavano le cose, dimostrasse una crescente ostilità nei confronti degli Stati Uniti. Morgan non se n’era mai impensierito ma, a Wall Street, già nel 1916, ci si era iniziati a preoccupare per il volume sempre crescente dei debiti britannici. All’inizio del 1917, la situazione appariva veramente inquietante. Con la rivoluzione in Russia era venuto alla luce lo spettro di un ritiro dei russi dalla guerra, probabilmente seguito da una vittoria tedesca. In questo caso, la Gran Bretagna non avrebbe verosimilmente potuto rimborsare i suoi debiti, cosa che, per Morgan, avrebbe significato una catastrofe finanziaria. Divenne, pertanto, sempre più chiaro che solo un’entrata in guerra degli Stati Uniti a fianco dei britannici avrebbe potuto scongiurare una tale catastrofe. Nel marzo del 1917, l’ambasciatore degli Stati Uniti a Londra, avvertì Wilson che «la crisi imminente» costituiva una grande minaccia per Morgan e che «una dichiarazione di guerra alla Germania era probabilmente l’unico modo per preservare l’eccellente situazione commerciale e di prevenire il panico». Morgan e la sua potente cerchia di amici, naturalmente, cominciarono anch’essi ad esercitare pressioni nella stessa direzione. Qualche settimana più tardi, ad inizio aprile del 1917, gli Stati Uniti dichiararono guerra alla Germania e , così, lo scopo della potente lobby di Wall Street era raggiunto. «Il denaro parla» (Money talks), dicono gli americani: nel 1917, fu questo che effettivamente fece e il presidente Wilson l’ascoltò. I critici radicali di Wilson erano già convinti all’epoca che «la vera ragione per cui gli Stati Uniti erano entrati in guerra per aiutare gli alleati a vincere, era quella di assicurare che i massicci crediti di guerra americani a Gran Bretagna e Francia sarebbero stati rimborsati». Con questa decisione, ha scritto Niall Ferguson, Wilson salvò non solo la Gran Bretagna e l’Intesa in generale, ma anche e soprattutto Casa Morgan. Il fatto che i sottomarini tedeschi infrangessero le regole della neutralità servì semplicemente da paravento per nascondere l’immoralità della verità. D’ora in avanti, Morgan avrebbe potuto guadagnare ancora attraverso la vendita delle obbligazioni di guerra (war bonds, chiamate con un eufemismo liberty bonds) il cui volume, nel giugno del 1919, si sarebbe attestato a 21 miliardi di dollari. Al contrario dell’élite industriale e finanziaria del paese, il popolo americano non dimostrò il minimo entusiasmo per la guerra. Soprattutto i neri americani «esitavano a dare il loro appoggio ad un progetto che consideravano ipocrita». Uno di loro, un residente del quartiere newyorkese di Harlem, dichiarò sarcasticamente che «i tedeschi non mi hanno mai fatto niente di male e se, per caso, me l’avessero fatto, li perdono». Alludendo allo slogan di Wilson, il quale pretendeva che l’entrata in guerra degli Stati Uniti avesse lo scopo di ristabilire la democrazia dovunque nel mondo, alcuni leader neri gli chiesero pubblicamente di pensare di «cominciare ad introdurre la democrazia in America». Pochissimi furono i volontari che si presentarono per servire da carne di cannone sull’altra sponda dell’Atlantico. Le autorità avevano previsto che sarebbero accorsi ad arruolarsi almeno un milione di uomini, invece furono solo 73.000. Di conseguenza, già il 18 maggio, venne votata una legge, il Selective Service Act o Selective Draft Act, che introduceva un sistema di servizio militare obbligatorio selettivo, il draft. Anche così non si riuscì a reclutare il numero di soldati neccessari. Al draft, comunque, molti si opposero e più di 330.000 persone sarebbero state classificate come draft evaders, vale a dire, renitenti al servizio. Non ci deve, in ogni caso, sorprendere il fatto che i membri delle classi superiori, oltre agli operai qualificati, di cui si poteva difficilmente fare a meno nelle fabbriche, erano in gran parte esentati dal draft. Furono soprattutto i poveri ad essere reclutati, dato che si considerava la loro presenza non necessaria. Come in tutti gli altri eserciti dei paesi belligeranti, gli effettivi statunitensi provenivano in grande maggioranza dalle classi inferiori della popolazione. Si trattava soprattutto di neri, di immigrati arrivati di recente, di anafabeti, di altre persone con poca o nessuna istruzione, ecc. I neri furono reclutati in gran numero, ma dovettero prestare servizio soprattutto in battaglioni di lavoro distinti, di modo che i soldati bianchi non dovessero mai considerarli loro eguali. Ricevevano anche vestiario, vitto e alloggio di qualità nettamente inferiore. Dei 370.000 afro-americani in servizio nell’esercito, 200.000 furono in Europa, ma solo 40.000 di loro ebbero delle armi e fecero parte di una delle due divisioni da combattimento nere. Fu in questo modo che venne messo insieme un esercito che si pretendeva andasse in guerra per la democrazia. Che l’America partisse in una crociata a favore della democrazia e/o a una guerra che mettesse fine a tutte le guerre, questo era quello che Wilson voleva fare accettare al popolo americano e al mondo intero. Per portare a termine con successo questo progetto, venne messa in piedi un’enorme macchina propagandistica che utilizzava articoli di stampa, oratori, manifesti, produzioni hollywoodiane, ecc., per far entrare questo messaggio nelle famiglie americane. Il centro nevralgico di questa macchina fu quella che si chiamò con un eufemismo il Committee on Public Information (CPI – Commissione di informazione pubblica), diretta dal giornalista presunto «progressista» George Creel. Si trattava di rendere gli americani inclini – o addirittura entusiasti – a una guerra che non volevano, da cui non avrebbero ricavato il minimo vantaggio, ma che avrebbero pagata a caro prezzo, in termini di sangue e denaro, o detto in modo diverso, di arrivare a «potersi compiacere dell’approvazione e dell’accordo» della pubblica opinione. Un collaboratore di Creel, il giornalista Walter Lippmann, battezzò l’iniziativa «manifacture of consent» (la fabbrica del consenso) – un’espressione che sarebbe stata ripresa in seguito da Noam Chomsky. Quello che si doveva fare, prima di tutto, era suscitare nell’opinione pubblica un sentimento anti-tedesco e per fare questo ci si ispirò all’esempio britannico che si basava soprattutto sull’atrocitymongering, vale a dire su una vergognosa esagerazione delle atrocità commesse dai tedeschi nel 1914, nel piccolo Belgio. Creel e il suo gruppo fecero un lavoro eccellente e ben presto si radicò nel paese una vera isteria anti-tedesca. Il cavolo, che si chiama in inglese e anche in tedesco Sauerkraut e che era molto popolare all’epoca sia negli Stati Uniti che in Germania, venne ribattezzato freedomcabbage, «cavolo della libertà» e la malattia virale rosolia, che si chiamava anche Germanmeasles, «rosolia tedesca», diventò liberty measles, «rosolia della libertà». Hollywood venne indotta a produrre una collezione di film propagandistici tra i quali, ad esempio, una grossa produzione dal titolo eloquente fu Il Kaiser, la bestia di Berlino. (Più tardi, altri nemici degli Stati Uniti come Saddam Hussein e il Colonnello Gheddafi saranno «demonizzati» allo stesso modo.) Più grave, tuttavia, fu il fatto che gli americani di origine tedesca vennero obbligati a portare un segno distintivo giallo e che, in molti casi, i loro averi furono confiscati, una sorte che, più tardi, sarebbe toccata agli ebrei nella Germania nazista. Anche le chiese facevano propaganda a favore della guerra. Soprattutto le chiese protestanti proclamavano che il conflitto era una «crociata» contro la Germania imperiale. La chiesa cattolica si dimostava un po’ meno entusiasta in questo senso, perchè il Vaticano simpatizzava discretamente con le potenze centrali e soprattutto con l’impero asburgico. Inoltre la Chiesa non si permetteva di turbare i numerosissimi americani cattolici di origine tedesca o irlandese, perchè era chiaro che sostenevano l’asse Berlino-Vienna. C’era ancora un’altra ragione per la quale l’élite americana aspirava fervidamente alla guerra nel 1917. Esattamente come le élite europee nel 1914, l’élite americana nel 1917 si era convinta che una guerra avrebbe rafforzato il suo potere e il suo prestigio, avrebbe bloccato e forse anche fatto arretrare la tendenza alla democrazia del XIX secolo e, infine, eliminato davvero – probabilmente – il pericolo di cambiamenti rivoluzionari. In effetti, anche negli Stati Uniti, gli anni precedenti il 1914 avevano visto l’élite assai preoccupata per le gravi tensioni sociali, i numerosi scioperi e la crescita apparentemente irresistibile del Socialist Party e del sindacato militante IWW. Queste agitazioni raggiunsero un punto culminante in aprile del 1914 con quello che si chiamò il «massacro di Ludlow». Un accampamento di scioperanti vicino a una miniera di carbone dei Rockefeller a Ludlow (Colorado) era stato attaccato dall’esercito e più di venti persone erano state ammazzate, tra cui mogli e bambini degli scioperanti. Tutto il paese ne era stato turbato e, a Denver, un’unità di soldati aveva rifiutato di venire impegnata contro gli scioperanti. Fortunatamente, l’attenzione dell’opinione pubblica potè essere rapidamente sviata dalla decisione del presidente Wilson il quale ritenne di colpo necessario – con un ridicolo pretesto – di far bombardare il porto messicano di Vera Cruz e di condurre una piccola guerra contro questo paese vicino dove, inoltre, era in corso una rivoluzione. Lo storico Howard Zinn ritiene che ciò non avvenne per caso e suggerisce che «il patriottismo e il militarismo rimisero nuovamente nell’ombra la lotta di classe», che «il rombo dei cannoni sviò l’attenzione» e che «un nemico esterno assicurava l’unità del paese». Zinn conclude affermando che l’aggressione contro il Messico «fu una reazione istintiva del sistema, con l’obiettivo di ricostruire l’unità in seno a un popolo lacerato dai conflitti interni». La guerra contro il Messico può in definitiva essere considerata come un episodio della lotta di classe. Si trattava, in effetti, di un conflitto tra due «classi» del paese, che rifletteva l’oppressione e lo sfruttamento di un paese povero e impotente da parte di un paese ricco e potente. In ogni caso, la dichiarazione di guerra di Wilson alla Germania si può ritenere, allo stesso modo, come una maniera di rinsaldare la pace sociale interna con una guerra all’esterno. Wilson non è certamente entrato in guerra per questa ragione, ma ha avidamente approfittato dell’occasione che gli venne offerta per reprimere ogni forma di radicalismo in parole ed atti – a profitto dell’élite disturbata dal radicalismo – per governare in modo molto più autoritario e meno democratico. In effetti, Wilson, un «democratico» esclusivamente nel significato di appartenenza al Partito democratico, si attribuì ogni sorta di poteri speciali che gli permisero, in un modo che si pretendeva legale, di mettersi sotto i piedi i diritti democratici degli americani. Nel maggio 1917 venne promulgata una severissima legge sullo spionaggio (Espionage Act), un provvedimento ufficialmente destinato a combattere lo spionaggio tedesco e, nel 1918, il Congresso avrebbe conferito ulteriori poteri speciali al presidente con la «legge anti-sedizione» (Sedition Act). Queste leggi rimarranno in vigore fino nell’estate del 1921, vale a dire sino al momento in cui gli Stati Uniti concluderanno ufficialmente la pace con la Germania. Alcuni storici hanno detto che queste leggi facevano parte della «legislazione più repressiva del paese», che si trattava di misure «quasi totalitarie che ridicolizzavano la pretesa di far credere che eravamo entrati in guerra per la libertà». Da allora in avanti, il governo poteva censurare a suo piacimento, chiudere giornali, arrestare e incarcerare, con la ragione che si stava facendo guerra a un nemico particolarmente malvagio il quale poteva disporre di ogni sorta di spie e agenti negli Stati Uniti. Chi si opponeva alla guerra, si opponeva all’America, in altri termini, era «anti-americano» (un-American). Da allora il pacifismo e il suo gemello, il socialismo, venivano catalogati come i nemici dell’«americanismo». Queste leggi, comunque, miravano chiaramente a inculcare nel popolo americano la paura e la pressione per vincere la guerra, a reprimere ogni dubbio sulla legittimità del conflitto, ad eliminare ogni protesta e l’evasione dal servizio militare (draft). Con questa legislazione, diventava un reato parlare «in modo sleale, cattivo o offensivo» del governo, della bandiera e dell’esercito degli Stati Uniti. Era rischioso non essere d’accordo con la politica messa in atto dal governo Wilson. Anche l’espresione di una critica moderata alla sua politica di guerra poteva concludersi con la prigione. (L’EspionageAct venne emendato molteplici volte dopo la guerra, ma mai completamente soppresso; Chelsea/Bradley Manning – per le rivelazioni che mettevano in guardia sui pericoli connessi alla macchina spionistica Usa – è stato accusato sulla base di codici militari che, almeno in parte, si basano su quella legge.) Durante la Prima Guerra mondiale, più di 2.500 americani furono presi di mira dalla giustizia sulla base di queste leggi draconiane e circa un centinaio di loro vennero condannati a pene tra i 10 e i 20 anni di prigione. Non si tratta indubbiamente di un grande numero in rapporto alla popolazione, ma il fatto importante è che la paura di un procedimento giudiziario a proprio carico fece disimparare alla gente a pensare e a esprimersi (oralmente e per iscritto) in modo critico, a vantaggio di un conformismo miope – e ciò nel paese ove si è sempre molto glorificato dell’«individualismo totale» (rugged individualism). In questo modo, innumerevoli giornalisti finirono per autocensurarsi per timore della propria sicurezza. La legislazione repressiva venne utilizzata in modo selettivo, soprattutto contro i radicali e i dissidenti appartenenti alle classi inferiori, la versione americana delle «classi pericolose», e in particolare i neri e gli ebrei. I radicali e dissidenti per eccellenza erano i socialisti americani, all’epoca ancora numerosi e militanti, che operavano in favore di riforme democratiche rivoluzionarie e che erano, allo stesso tempo, oppositori della guerra. Esattamente come i loro compagni riformisti in Europa, certi socialisti americani si schierarono a favore del conflitto, ma la maggior parte dei socialisti rimasero nondimeno pacifisti convinti, cosa che pagheranno a caro prezzo. La grande figura di punta dei socialisti americani, Eugene Debs, si espresse apertamente contro la guerra e incoraggiò i suoi partigiani a fare lo stesso. Nel giugno 1918, sulla base dell’EspionageAct, sarebbe stato gettato in prigione e la stessa sorte capitò a centinaia di altri socialisti in quanto colpevoli di tradimento, incitazione alla rivolta, spionaggio, ricorso alla violenza, ecc. I grandi sindacati, ad esempio l’American Federation of Labor (AFL), erano tradizionalmente alleati del Partito democratico di Wilson e, in quanto presidente, quest’ultimo aveva difeso fino ad un certo punto i loro interessi in cambio del loro sostegno. Con loro non ci furono difficoltà nel 1917, essi sostennero la sua guerra esattamente come nel 1914 i sindacati dei paesi europei avevano sostenuto i loro governi quando questi erano entrati in guerra. Su questo piano, il celebre dirigente sindacale Samuel Gompers si rivelò un alleato particolarmente utile a Wilson e collaborò strettamente con Creel e la sua Commissione d’informazione pubblica. C’era, tuttavia, anche un’altro sindacato, presso il quale Wilson non godeva  di grande successo, quello radicale e persino rivoluzionario dell’IWW, già citato in precedenza. Il suo capo, «Big Bill» Haywood finì in prigione, come Debs, per aver osato criticare la guerra. Da parecchio tempo, l’IWW costituiva un fastidioso problema per l’establishment americano, che approfittò della guerra per distruggere questo nido di rivoluzionari attraverso attacchi lanciati contro il loro quartier generale, sequestri di documenti, arresti arbitrari di dirigenti e loro condanne sulla base di prove fabbricate di sana pianta, ecc. Negli Stati Uniti, come anche in Europa, il socialismo, almeno nella sua versione radicale, non riformista, andava mano nella mano con il pacifismo. La maggior parte dei socialisti erano dei pacifisti e una percentuale importante dei pacifisti erano socialisti. Non tutti i pacifisti erano socialisti, c’erano anche innumerevoli pacifisti borghesi di convinzioni progressiste o – come si dice negli Stati Uniti – liberals. Anche tra loro c’erano persone coraggiose che si esprimevano apertamente contro la guerra di Wilson e che, in molti casi, la pagheranno molto cara, perdendo il lavoro o anche il seggio nell’assemblea legislativa del loro stato. Paul Jones, un vescovo protestante (episcopale) dello Utah, venne destituito dalla sua alta carica ecclesiastica perchè si era espresso contro la guerra. Nelle università, che si riveleranno dei «focolai d’intolleranza», la libertà accademica tanto lodata fu de facto soppressa per tutta la durata della guerra e i professori pacifisti vennero sistematicamente allontanati dalle loro cattedre. Gli Stati Uniti sono il paese della libera impresa, cosa che significa che lo stato crede, almeno in teoria, ai benefici del tradizionale approccio liberale del lasser-faire e che, di conseguenza, interviene il meno possibile nella vita economica e sociale e «lascia fare» il più possibile a quello che si chiama settore privato. Nel contesto dell’entrata in guerra degli Stati Uniti nel 1917, ciò significava che la repressione nei confronti di pacifisti, di socialisti, di dirigenti sindacali, ecc. era stata «privatizzata», almeno in parte, vale a dire lasciata a persone e gruppi favorevoli alla guerra che, in generale, erano allo stesso tempo anti-democratici, anti-socialisti, anti-semiti e anti-camiti (ostili ai neri) e si presentavano come i campioni dell’«americanismo». Ben noti, tra questi gruppi, figuravano l’American Patriotic League (Lega patriottica americana), il Patriotic Order of Sons of America (Ordine patriottico dei figli dell’America), i Knights of Liberty (Cavalieri della Libertà), una branca del Ku Klux Klan. Tra i mezzi utilizzati da questi vigilantes si trovano le denuncie, le bastonature, la tinteggiatura in giallo delle case dove viveva un pacifista, angherie corporali consistenti ad esempio nel cospargere i corpi delle vittime di catrame e piume (tarring and feathering) e le esecuzioni illegali o linciaggi (lynchings). Questi vigilantes prendevano di mira soprattutto i Wobblies (membri del sindacato IWW): uno dei loro dirigenti, Frank Little, venne linciato nel Montana nell’agosto 1917. Sull’altra sponda dell’Oceano Atlantico imperversava, pertanto, una sorta di guerra gemella, che consisteva, da una parte, in una guerra «verticale», nella quale gli Stati Uniti in quanto stato se la prendeva con la Germania e, dall’altra, una guerra «orizzontale», in cui le due grandi classi della società americana – l’élite e i proletari – si affrontavano reciprocamente. Per quanto riguarda quest’ultimo fronte, l’élite, guidata da Wilson, passò immediatamente all’offensiva e attraverso le leggi repressive e le organizzazioni «vigilanti», respinse le forze proletarie esattamente come i tedeschi nel 1914 avevano respinto i francesi e i britannici. La lotta, comunque, non era ancora terminata, ma vedremo tra breve come si sviluppò nel seguito. Per quanto riguarda la guerra «verticale» contro la Germania, l’élite pareva avere meno fretta e si dovette attendere ancora qualche tempo, ossia l’inizio del 1918, prima che le truppe americane sbarcassero in numero consistente sul fronte occidentale e cominciassero realmente a fare la differenza.

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The global media — to their credit – are focusing on the brutality of the US-backed Raqqa campaign, though they’re avoiding any serious reporting about how and why the Kurds are ethnically cleansing Arabs from Raqqa.

The Race for Raqqa is over, and the US-backed “Syrian Democratic Forces”, the majority of which are comprised of the Kurdish YPG militia, are on the verge of capturing Daesh’s self-declared “capital”. The operation is proceeding at a lightning pace after the Pentagon and its proxies carefully squeezed the terrorists for months, but it must also be said that the rapid battlefield “successes” are also due in part to the Kurds cutting a deal with Daesh. This isn’t a fringe conspiracy theory either, but a documented fact reported by Sergey Surovikin, the commander of Russia’s forces in Syria, who told the media just last week that

“According to available reliable information, in early June ISIL terrorists entered into collusion with the command of the Kurdish armed units, which are part of the Democratic Forces Union, left the populated localities of Tadia and al-Hamam located 19 kilometers southwest of Raqqa offering no resistance and headed toward Palmyra.”

I wrote about this relationship in my article about the Kurdish-Daesh-Saudi connection in Syria and Iran, which also makes it abundantly clear that my professional use of the word “Kurd”, unless otherwise and explicitly specified, always refers solely to Kurdish militant groups, NOT the peaceful and law-abiding majority of this demographic.

Chemical Weapons And Ethnic Cleansing

Alleged sarin attack in Khan Sheikhoun (A White Helmets photo, credits to the owner)

Taking into account the logical limits of what’s being referred to when I talk about the “Kurds”, it’s now time to take a closer look at their role in the US’ Raqqa campaign. Reports have come out that the US is supporting the SDF-YPG through the illegal use of white phosphorus, which is a banned chemical weapon. Combined with the heavy and indiscriminate airstrikes being carried out against the city, 160,000 civilians have been forced to become refugees and flee their homes as internally displaced people. This works out to more than half of the city’s pre-war population of 220,000, and it confirms what independent journalist and associate editor at 21stcenturywire.com Vanessa Beeley told RT just recently about how the US is making no attempt whatsoever to protect civilians. In fact, it can be cynically suggested, the large-scale population exodus taking place in Raqqa is actually a deliberate ethnic cleansing of the majority-Arab population of the city on a much larger scale than any of the similar crimes that the Kurds have been accused of before.

This conclusion isn’t as far off as one might initially think since the Kurds proudly proclaimed before the battle started that they will annex the city to their self-proclaimed “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria” once it’s in their hands. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone because the Kurds have been openly talking about their plans for months. In fact, I’ve been writing about the Kurdish-American unipolar strategy to internally partition Syria for over the past year and a half, and I listed off 13 of my most relevant articles in a piece that I wrote in January about the Russian-written “draft constitution” for Syria. The reader is strongly encouraged to check out those articles if they’re unfamiliar with what the Kurds have been plotting this entire time, as it’s really important to learn the background context about what’s motivating these “Neo-Marxists” to cooperate hand-in-hand with the US and geopolitically re-engineer a “New Middle East”.

“Hacked Elections” In “Kurdistan”

To get back to the urgent issue at hand – the ethnic cleansing of over half of Raqqa’s majority-Arab population – this is a “godsend” to the Kurds’ plans to “Balkanize” Syria through the expansion of their “federation”. It’s extremely doubtful to imagine that Arabs of any political disposition would rather live in a Kurdish-dominated statelet as second-class citizens than as equal ones within the Syrian Arab Republic, so the chances of the Kurds peacefully annexing Raqqa into their “federation” via a plebiscite are close to nil. However, if the Arabs were forced out of their homes due to egregious war crimes by the US such as indiscriminate bombing and the widespread use of chemical weapons, then it becomes much easier to “hack the vote” and create a public/international pretense of “legitimacy”.

The proportion of Arabs in the city would dramatically drop, which could comparatively increase the ratio of Kurdish inhabits which choose to stay. Moreover, many of the fleeing Arabs might be replaced by settler Kurds from the north, which could come to Raqqa to colonize it or simply do as emigrated Albanians frequently resort to in the Republic of Macedonia and arrive only long enough to vote before departing once again. Either way, the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Raqqa works in favor of the Kurds’ geopolitical designs for Syria, which in turn advance the joint American-“Israeli” Yinon Plan of dividing and ruling the Mideast along a modified “Identity Federalism” form of Ralph Peters’ 2006 “Blood Borders”. Most fleeing Arabs would naturally feel unsafe reentering to their home city and living as second-class apartheid citizens in a minority-dominated “federation”, so they’ll probably relocate elsewhere for their own safety and make the Kurdish colonization of Raqqa a fait accompli.

Speaking of colonization, the abovementioned developments vindicate all those – include the author himself – who previously warned that the Kurds were carving a “second geopolitical ‘Israel’” in the heart of the Mideast out of the territories of neighboring states, strategically employing “Weapons of Mass Migration” just like “Israel” did during the advent of its massive post-World War II colonization of Palestine. The only difference between what the Kurds are doing nowadays in Raqqa and the “Israelis” did in Palestine is that the former had been present in Syria for decades longer than the latter before they made their geopolitical power play. Apart from that, the “Kurdistan” and “Israel” models are identical and they also serve the same grand strategic goals of promoting unipolarity in the tri-continental pivot space of West Asia. Nevertheless, for as obvious as this is to any objective observer, it’s failed to generate any significant media attention, whether from the Mainstream Media or even its Alternative counterpart, and this deserves some further elaboration.

“See No Evil”

Regarding the Mainstream Media, they’re coy about recognizing the fact that the US is midwiving the de-facto birth of “Kurdistan” in Syria because Washington formally agreed to UNSC Resolution 2254 which nominally respects the territorial integrity of the war-torn country. This explains why any Kurdish statelet in Syria would remain sub-national for the time being and not lead to any formal independence such as what appears to be imminent in Iraq later this year following Erbil’s promised referendum. At the same time, however, this hasn’t stopped the US from promoting the “federalization” of Syria as a ploy to achieve the same outcome in form before the fact. Everything that the US is doing is an “open secret”, yet Washington has yet to give the signal to its media proxies that it’s time to “let the cat out of the bag” and officially declare the plan for what it is.

As for Alt-Media in general (key qualifier), there’s a certain embarrassment inherent with openly calling things for what they are because it would confirm that Russia was caught flat-footed in stopping this geopolitical plot. There are many reasons why Russia has been unable to prevent the internal fragmentation of Syria, but the most reasonable ones are that Moscow is strictly abiding by its military mandate to solely fight terrorism, its leadership has no political will to commit the forces necessary for reversing the political realities on the ground in northeastern Syria (which would ultimately lead to a tense standoff with the US that the Kremlin is doing everything in its power to avoid), and that there are certain unstated geopolitical “benefits” that Russia might be hoping to reap from the Kurds.

Each of these factors could take entire articles to explain, but thankfully for the reader, I ended up writing about this on several occasions in the past. My two articles about the Russian-written “draft constitution” for Syria, my piece about how Russia’s “de-escalation zones” are laying the groundwork for Syria’s “decentralization”, and my analysis about Russia’s energy diplomacy in the Mideast should hopefully answer any questions that the reader might have about these three motivations. To succinctly summarize, Russia adheres to its military mandate in order to avoid what its leadership seriously fears could become another Afghan-like mission creep, and it also doesn’t want another Caribbean Crisis (known as the “Cuban Missile Crisis” in the West) to develop over Syria. In addition, some in Russia (naively?) believe that leveraging Moscow’s historical relations with the Kurds could lead to their country fulfilling its grand strategy of becoming the ultimate balancing force in Eurasia.

Concluding Thoughts

Smoke rises after what activists said were airstrikes by forces loyal to Syria’s President Assad in Raqqa, which is controlled by the Islamic State (credits to the owner of the photo)

There’s no “delicate” way to say it – what’s happening in Raqqa right now is the large-scale ethnic cleansing of the city’s majority-Arab population through chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombing in order to create the on-the-ground conditions for “legitimizing” the expansion of the Kurds’ “federalized” statelet (the “second geopolitical ‘Israel’”). The Mainstream Media is holding back from openly announcing the obvious in a frail attempt to obscure its grand strategic plans until the day arrives when they’re undeniable, but also of course out of the self-interested pursuit to avoid being implicated in worsening the Immigrant Crisis.

As for most of the Alt-Media, they’re very reluctant to recognize that Russia’s policy of engagement with the Syrian Kurds has totally failed to pry them away from the Pentagon, so there’s a certain degree of wounded pride involved which is taking some time to overcome. Furthermore, by recognizing the US-Kurd campaign in Raqqa as ethnic cleansing, it would put enormous pressure on Russia to stage a “humanitarian intervention”, which to remind the reader, is beyond Moscow’s military mandate and could dangerously draw it into an Afghan-like quagmire and potentially lead to nuclear brinksmanship with the US, both of which the Kremlin will do anything to avoid.

Sadly, what this translates to in reality is that the Arab cleansing of Raqqa will probably go unnoticed in most of the global media, though it might emerge as a politicized subject after the campaign is completed. For now, however, it seems like both the Mainstream and Alternative Medias are content with only discussing the US’ chemical weapons use and indiscriminate bombing during this campaign, which is interesting to note because Western Mainstream Media usually never talks about such truths. Therefore, this in and of itself should be a glaring indication for all observers that the West is desperately trying to deflect from the ongoing ethnic cleansing that’s happening on the ground, though hopefully, Alt-Media will call them out on it sooner than later.

Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, journalist and a regular contributor to several online journals, as well as a member of the expert council for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Predictions at the People’s Friendship University of Russia. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia.

Featured image: Global Village Space

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The Abandonment of a Community

Initially, I wasn’t going to write anything on this tragedy, I figured there would be plenty of analysis as to the whys and the wherefores of a building turned into a funeral pyre but I’ve yet to see the word Austerity used once, just once, in connection with this tragedy, which as usual in this world always impacts the most on working class communities, especially the poor, wherever it occurs.

Instead, we got endless hours, days of BBC hand-wringing, focusing almost exclusively on the (heroic) efforts of a devastated community, ignored and forgotten by their council and the government, with those damn cameras peering into peoples’ grief and ultimately, anger, made all the worse by the state’s total indifference to this calamity.

It took three days for the Prime Minister, Theresa May to visit the site and she had to do it under police guard! It’s only today, now four days later, that the government has finally set up some kind of command centre to deal with distraught relatives and friends of the dead, injured and missing (estimates now put the number of dead as at least 70).

If there’s anything that illustrates the murderous endgame of neoliberalism and what it does to people, this is it! But this is also Baghdad and it’s Damascus and a dozen other places around the globe getting a dose of democracy. Here it’s simple neglect powered by greed but it’s committed by the same governments, the same people who have abandoned wholesale, millions of people in their own backyards and slaughtered millions around the planet.

It’s no accident that the (former) inhabitants of Grenfell Tower are mostly people of colour and the deadly irony of their location is that they’re surrounded by people who live in properties worth millions, in one of the richest boroughs in the country, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Years of neglect, starved of funding at virtually every level, with cutbacks to the Fire Service, the closure of fire stations, massive cuts to councils, the privatisation of publicly owned housing maintenance and refurbishment, handing over public housing to so-called housing associations. It’s been feast for business but death for the recipients of their ‘largesse’.

Sitting on top of it all is a remote and indifferent maze of digital bureaucracy that walls itself off behind a defensive shield, many layers deep, of computerised answering machines and online websites that never do what they’re intended to to do. Cut off from the cause of the pain, people eventually explode.

THERE IS SOMETHING SERIOUSLY WRONG WITH A BUREAUCRACY THAT IS INCAPABLE OF REACTING TO SERIOUS NEGLIGENCE, AFFECTING FIRE SAFETY IN A DENSELY OCCUPIED TOWER BLOCK, WITH ANY SENSE OF URGENCY .

DOES ANYONE ACTUALLY GIVE A DAMN? – Grenfell Action Group, 5 March 2013

Obviously not and that was four years ago and it’s only got worse in the interim as Austerity bites deeper and deeper into peoples lives. The newly ‘refurbished’ building (at a cost of ten million quid) went up like a torch in less than an hour. Ten million pounds? They could have put up a new one for that price!

This is gangster capitalism, where money is God and the people are ignored when they don’t have any, as is the case with the hapless (former) tenants of this monumental mausoleum to greed.

And the state and its media mouthpiece, the BBC, wonders why the citizens are angry, indicative of the fact that the media vultures too, are totally divorced from the reality that millions of people have to suffer through every day of their lives. Treated like criminals, the poor have to justify their existence to  remote and antagonistic private corporations that peer into their lives without comprehension or caring, guided only by computerised forms; do you meet the criteria?

Whose High Rise is Flammable?

Cranes

Where I live in South London, on the horizon in all directions, the cranes are flying! At least thirty are visible to me as I write. (Photo: © 2015 William Bowles)

Currently, there are some 220 high rise apartment buildings either finished or under construction in London. All are expensive, the former inhabitants of Grenfell Tower wouldn’t be able to afford them and note that nobody seems concerned about the safety of these towers. Perhaps because they are all built to high standards and have adequate fire safety systems? Some their inhabitants would have been close enough  to see Grenfell Tower burn from their (fireproof) apartments.

I’ve kept the original sources.

Grenfell Action Group

ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time. Below is a list of links to previous blogs we posted on this site trying to warn the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who own this property, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation who supposedly manage all social housing in RBKC on the Council’s behalf:

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/fire-safety-scandal-at-lancaster-west/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/kctmo-playing-with-fire/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/more-on-fire-safety/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/another-fire-safety-scandal/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/kctmo-feeling-the-heat/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/why-are-we-waiting/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/grenfell-tower-from-bad-to-worse/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/more-trouble-at-grenfell-tower/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-disempowered-of-grenfell-tower/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/tmo-still-asleep-at-the-wheel

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HAVANA, Cuba, Jun 16 (ACN) US President Donald Trump today unveiled a new US policy toward Cuba from the southern state of Florida that reinforces the extraterritorial economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by that government on the island.

The president signed a document setting out the priorities of his government, including compliance with US law on the Cuban nation, in particular the provisions that govern the blockade and the prohibition of the citizens of that country to visit Cuba.

Trump “laid the foundations” for supposedly “empowering the Cuban people and developing greater economic and political freedom,” regarding the prohibition of companies from that nation to establish business with Cuban state companies.

Although diplomatic relations – re-established on July 20, 2015 – will continue, the new actions of the Trump administration are a step backwards towards the normalization of bilateral ties, and come loaded with old anti-Cuban rhetoric.

He reinstated the ban on individual travel by Americans to Cuba, and those who venture to do so will have to do so-as during George W Bush Administration-through non-governmental organizations and in groups.

Meanwhile, it leaves intact what Barack Obama has established that Cubans living in that country can visit their family on the island without restrictions and send remittances.

The blockade is reaffirmed, said the president in his speech in Miami, while he ignored the calls at the United Nations and other international forums for the termination of extraterritorial politics, which in 2016 had at the UN with the support of all the member countries of that body and where for the first time the United States and Israel themselves abstained.

Donald Trump, in a unilateral and interfering attitude, conditioned the improvement of relations to the “will of the Cuban government to improve the lives of the people, including the promotion of the rule of law, respect for human rights and economic freedoms.”

In the policy memorandum signed by the President, the Treasury and Commerce departments are instructed to begin the process of issuing new regulations within the next 30 days.

The White House clarified that the policy changes will not take effect until the corresponding Departments publish the new regulations, a process that can take time.

While the Americans are still banned from touring on the largest island in the Caribbean, the expansion of the categories that the Obama administration led to an impressive increase in the number of trips to Cuba.

Some 284,997 Americans visited the island in 2016, for a 74 percent growth over the previous year, according to official figures.

The trend for growth has been maintained during 2017, and by this date of the year the figure is around the same amount as in the previous calendar.

The decline in ties comes despite the overwhelming support of the Americans for their right to visit Cuba, and the recent filing of a bill sponsored by 55 senators that defends the freedom to travel to the neighboring nation.

The adoption of this position by the US government reaffirms the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, which the administration of Barack Obama declared at the time as a failed and inoperative policy, after more than half a century since its establishment.

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Trump plans to announce the policy change at a Miami theater named after Manuel Artime, a Cuban exile leader of the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to fulfill his campaign promise to curtail the 2014 re-engagement deal between Washington and Havana, tightening pressure on Cuba and dashing the hopes of those who had hoped for a thaw in relations between the two neighbors.

Trump will lay out the new U.S. policy on Cuba Friday in a Miami speech that will convey a reinforced ban on U.S. tourism to Cuba and strengthened vetting of travelers to the Caribbean nation within authorized categories, according to officials. The plan will also restate the regime change goals of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. According to Politico, Trump plans on announcing the policy change at a Miami theater named after Manuel Artime, a leader of Brigade 2506 that attempted to overthrow the Cuban Revolution during the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion.

The Bay of Pigs Veteran Association backed Trump in last year’s election in hopes that he would reverse President Barack Obama‘s policies, the first such endorsement in the organization’s history.

Washington’s policy reversal has also been pushed by right-wing Republican politicians like Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, along with other members of a shrinking Cuban exile community in South Florida who remains bent on overthrowing Cuba’s socialist government. According to Rubio, the policy change is meant to set back those advocating for the lifting of the 56-year-old blockade against Cuba.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the head of USAID will be instructed to review so-called “democracy development programs” in Cuba to ensure compliance with U.S. federal law, potentially meaning a renewed push for regime change funding by the agencies.

The policy will also outlaw trade with the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group, the holding company of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces. The new policy may mean that companies such as the Marriott will no longer be allowed to complete their Obama-era business deals with GAESA, such as the purchase of the Havana Hotel.

“This new policy reverses the Obama administration’s support for the communist Castro regime and its military apparatus, and instead aligns the United States with the Cuban people,” a summary provided Thursday by the White House said.

Earlier this month before the National Assembly of People’s Power, Cuban President Raul Castro denounced the use of “arbitrary and unjust” sanctions levied by Washington against socialist governments in Cuba and Venezuela, noting that such “aggression” represents “imperial political and economic interests (trying) to prevent the exercise of self-determination by its people.”

While normalization will be frozen, U.S. officials say that Trump will stop short of shuttering embassies and breaking off the diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after over half a century of hostilities from the U.S. White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders was unaware of whether Trump would nominate an ambassador.

The resumption of direct U.S.-Cuba flights will also continue, although the newly restrictive policy will likely staunch the flow of tourists to the country.

According to Cuba’s National Office of Statistics and Information, in the month of May, nearly 285,000 U.S. citizens visited Cuba under the 12 protected permit categories established by the Obama administration, roughly equaling the total number of visitors in the entire year 2016.

Trump’s justification of the partial reversal will hinge on Washington’s human rights claims against the government, and the claim that the easing of restrictions hasn’t had the desired “regime change” effects desired by anti-Cuban elements on Capitol Hill.

The Cuban government has long faced alleged human rights complaints from the White House for its rejection of Washington’s dictates in the field of politics, economy, social policy and foreign relations.

On Tuesday, 14 Democratic senators sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging the White House to consider expanding normalization efforts with Havana, noting the economic and national security benefits of warmer relations with Cuba.

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US to Send Up to 5,000 More Troops to Afghanistan

June 19th, 2017 by Jordan Shilton

Secretary of Defence James “Mad Dog” Mattis is set to announce the deployment of up to 5,000 additional troops to wage war in Afghanistan in the coming weeks, following a decision Tuesday by President Trump granting Mattis authority to set troop levels.

The move will mark a dramatic escalation of the longest war in US history, which has already claimed the lives of thousands of US troops and hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians, and is increasingly developing into a wider regional conflict.

The additional forces are desperately needed to prop up Washington’s crisis-ridden puppet regime in Kabul, which is facing an ever-expanding insurgency led by the Taliban. According to conservative estimates, the Islamist group controls around 40 percent of Afghan territory and is initiating new offensive operations.

Mattis acknowledged in congressional testimony this week that the outlook for US imperialism in Afghanistan is bleak.

Secretary of Defence James Mattis (credits to the owner of the photo)

“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, before vowing to change that “as soon as possible.” In what was clearly a criticism of the Obama administration’s drawdown of troops in Afghanistan to the current level of some 9,800, Mattis went on, “It’s going to require a change in our approach from the last several years.”

As well as sending more US forces, Washington is expected to urge its NATO allies to step up their troop commitments. There are currently approximately 5,000 NATO forces deployed in the country.

The corrupt, widely-hated government of President Ashraf Ghani is barely able to exert its authority outside the capital, and even there suicide bombings and other militant attacks occur regularly. A massive suicide bomb exploded two weeks ago, claiming the lives of at least 90 people in the embassy district of Kabul.

On Thursday, a suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in the capital claimed a further two lives.

The Afghan armed forces, which has been trained and equipped at a cost of billions of dollars, is struggling to cope with the insurgency. Last weekend, three American soldiers died when a Taliban sympathizer, who had infiltrated the army, opened fire on them during a training exercise.

Casualty rates among Afghan troops are high, as shown by figures documenting over 800 deaths in the first two months of 2017. In April, the Taliban launched its bloodiest attack since the beginning of the war, killing some 200 Afghan military personnel at an army base in the north of the country.

While the additional US troops to be deployed will be officially designated as “advisers” to the Afghan forces, it is clear that they will increasingly engage in combat operations. A New York Times report on Tuesday noted that proponents of the deployment hoped that the personnel increase would enable US forces to “advise” their Afghan counterparts closer to the frontline of battle. They are also urging an expansion of the use of US air power to strike more targets.

In Iraq and Syria, similar special forces “advisers” have directed fighting and conducted artillery barrages, including with illegal weapons such as white phosphorus, on civilian centers such as Raqqa and Mosul, leading to the deaths of thousands of innocent residents. Trump’s decision earlier this year to grant more latitude to commanders on the ground to carry out operations is now being repeated in Afghanistan and will have similar results.

The expansion of the air war can only add to the carnage. Just two months ago, the US dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on a remote mountainous region in the east of the country in what was clearly meant as a warning to its geopolitical rivals and a sign of its determination to use all methods to retain its control over Afghanistan. The bomb was dropped on the eve of Russian-sponsored peace talks with the Taliban.

According to US Air Force statistics, the pace of air strikes has already intensified. More strikes have been conducted over the past four months than at any time since the summer of 2014.

Launched in the wake of 9/11 under the bogus pretext of the “war on terror,” Washington intervened in Afghanistan above all to cement its geostrategic hegemony in the strategically crucial Central Asian region. Control over Afghanistan places the US in close proximity to the energy-rich former Soviet republics to the north, and within striking distance of its main rivals for regional dominance: China, Russia and Iran.

These broader considerations were underscored in an interview given to PBS by retired General David Petraeus, who served as commander of US forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He referred to news of the latest troop deployment as “heartening,” before insisting that the US had to remember why they had intervened.

“This is a generational struggle. This is not something that is going to be won in a few years,” he declared, before making a comparison with the US presence in Europe following World War II or in Korea following the Korean War.

The New York Times, in a typical war-mongering editorial, urged Trump to assume responsibility for the 16-year-old conflict, declaring,

“Mr. Trump, Afghanistan is your war now.”

The imminent escalation of the Afghan war will only lead to a deepening of the crisis confronting US imperialism. Even pro-war stalwarts like Republican Senator John McCain were compelled to point out during Mattis’s Senate testimony earlier this week that the Trump administration has yet to present a strategic plan for Afghanistan.

Taliban gunmen attacked a military compound in the northern province of Balkh (Source: The Shia Post)

Mattis vowed to present the strategy by mid-July, but promised to take interim measures, which could include the troop deployment, to halt what he referred to as a Taliban “surge.”

The Times noted that the development of an Afghan strategy is being complicated because discussions in Washington have been widened to include the US stance towards neighbouring Pakistan, which has long provided a safe haven for Taliban fighters and other Islamist militants like the Hakani Network.

Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan are high. In May, at least a dozen people died when clashes broke out between the two countries over their disputed border. Without citing evidence, Afghan officials accused Pakistan of being involved in the Kabul suicide bombing that killed 90 earlier in June. Kabul and Islamabad have traded accusations of backing terrorist groups, with Afghanistan accusing Pakistan of assisting the Taliban-aligned Hakani Network. In turn, Islamabad has charged that the Pakistan Taliban enjoys aid from its neighbor.

At the same time, Washington’s relations with Pakistan, which were close throughout the Cold War, have deteriorated as the US has moved over recent years to woo India as a strategic partner as it seeks to encircle and isolate China in the Asia-Pacific. This has included partnership agreements between the US and Indian militaries and efforts to encourage New Delhi to assert its regional authority. Pakistan has reacted with deepening concern and increasingly looked to China for economic and trading relations. Tensions have surged between India and Pakistan over recent months, raising the danger of war between south Asia’s nuclear rivals.

The Trump administration’s strategic review, according to the Times, has thus also had to consider how Washington can manage tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi, with the result that “the Afghan review has turned into a larger review of American policy towards Southwest Asia.”

This only underscores the reckless character of US imperialism. As it escalates the conflict in Afghanistan, plans are already well advanced to ensure it can retain its unchallenged hegemony throughout Central and South Asia, a strategy which raises the prospect of a wider military conflagration, potentially with nuclear-armed adversaries.

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O discurso cada vez mais difundido – e agressivo – de que progressistas o são por terem sido “doutrinados” é insustentável por motivos bastante simples, tão simples quanto a baixa estatura intelectual dos setores reacionários, particularmente no Brasil (não que nossa “esquerda” seja uma grande coisa, dona de grandes engenharias intelectuais e morais: pelo contrário).

Sem entrar no mérito da questão progressista, ou mais precisamente da visão de políticas focadas na inclusão social, a primeira grande imbecilidade do mencionado discurso reside no óbvio fato de que elas vão na mais absoluta contramão da “visão” predominante, no Brasil e em praticamente todo o mundo ocidental, contaminado pela grande mídia de idiotização das massas.

O discurso corrente trata de alegar uma tal “liberdade” através do modelo de diminuição do Estado em favor do livre-mercado, a ditadura do capital, e de ridicularizar e até agredir opiniões divergentes.

Portanto, andar em sentido contrário já evidencia, por si só, conscientização e não um cérebro lavado: geralmente, e justamente pela mídia e materiais didáticos predominantes (estes últimos também, nenhuma novidade, elaborado pelas oligarquias nacionais mundo afora, cujos métodos e histórias são ditados pelos donos do poder), dá-se exatamente o oposto, mais uma inversão de papeis neste mundo que prima pela distorção dos fatos.

Neste universo, a posição mais cômoda, evidentemente, é manter-se adequado à “visão” preponderante, sendo o contrário uma árdua tarefa que vale adjetivos pejorativos e, não raras vezes, muita agressão (repita-se: não se trata, até aqui, de uma defesa de nenhum dos espectros políticos).

Assim, pode e deve haver certo número dos chamados doutrinados (popularmente, “cabeça feita”) no campo oposto, mas a porcentagem é sem dúvida nenhuma muito inferior, por questões lógicas, à dos doutrinados pelo discurso predominante, principalmente quando se leva em conta quem lava seus cérebros: uma grande mídia sabidamente desinformativa, e métodos de “ensino” projetados, nas palavras de Noam Chomsky, para imbecilizar indivíduos, preparados apenas para votar e não incomodar os porões do poder. Jamais este sistema visa à formação de cidadãos, na acepção do termo.

Agora sim, aprofundando-se na atmosfera conservadora e progressista, um exemplo de irracionalidade pode facilmente ser observado nos discursos reacionários – e o Fez-se buque do Zückerberg, laranja da CIA, pode ser uma útil ferramenta na checagem do pé que anda a estupidez reaça tupiniquim.

A lista do cúmulo da ignorância neste sentido é vastíssima, portanto fiquemos com uma das últimas postadas pelas “cabeças mais pensantes” da direita tupinica, exatamente os que acusam seus “inimigos”, assim considerados abertamente por eles, de serem sem exceção vítimas de “doutrinação”: O Brasil é comunista, e quem, para ela, iniciou este processo de “comunização” à brasileira? Prepare a gargalhada: nada menos que ele, Fernando Henrique Cardoso!

Para completar esta “análise” que anda difundida, a solução, é claro, não poderia ser outra: intervenção militar já! O que evidencia outra imbecilidade neste festival da ignorância: essa mesma ditadura esteve por 21 anos no Brasil, sem trazer o avanço democrático prometido, sem educar e politizar a sociedade como prometiam em sua “Revolução Democrática” iniciada com o golpe contra o então presidente João Goulart, em 1964. Se a ditadura fosse eficiente, hoje esses mesmos setores reacionários não estariam rosnando tão ferozmente contra a sociedade e a política brasileira.

Outra difundida postagem (in)digna de menção pela inigualável estupidez, alega que após o final da ditadura todos os governos brasileiros foram incompetentes e corruptos (o que não se trata de mentira, é verdade), com a devida foto dos presidentes da República sendo o primeiro da fila nada menos que ele: José Sarney, presidente exatamente da Arena, da mesma ditadura que os mais incautos agora defendem! Parece piada, não? É a direita brasileira “apolítica”, “não-doutrinada”!

Mais uma dentre as inúmeras evidências do “quem é quem” nesta questão, a qual a direita tenta a todo custo transformar em belicista a começar pela difusão da ideia de que progressistas arquitetam aprovação de uma PEC para trocar as cores da “sagrada” bandeira nacional, do “amado” verde e amarelo pelo vermelho “do demônio”, é que os capitalistas defendem concorrência e acúmulo de bens, onde valha a lei do mais forte e poderoso, enquanto os “comunistas comedores de criancinhas” (para eles, qualquer um que defenda políticas sociais), esperam nada mais que um mundo em que haja solidariedade e não competitividade, igualdade e não uns com excesso e outros na miséria (essência do capitalismo).

Diante desse “resumo da ópera”, que cada um possa tirar suas conclusões – que se não forem tiradas por si só, diante desses fatos que falam muito por si mesmos – de nada adiantará se estender em mais análises sócio-econômicas.

Nada disso, contudo, é uma defesa da “esquerda” brasileira de péssimo gosto, em grande parte a outra face de uma mesma moeda politiqueira, demagoga, esquizofrênica, ignorante e corrupta em relação à direita nacional. E aí está a realidade, de novo, para não nos deixar mentir…

Porém, outro Brasil é possível – ainda uma bela utopia sem luz no final do túnel, sem nada em que se apoiar concretamente sendo necessário o que, em inglês, diz-se “OK to be OK”, ou seja, uma grande transformação que torne possível uma profunda mudança nas relações de poder do País e, consequentemente. na estrutura social; mas é possível…

Edu Montesanti

Fonte da foto : http://zonacurva.com.br/sim-outro-brasil-e-possivel/

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Germany’s Foreign Ministry published a sharply-worded press release Thursday from Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (Social Democrats, SPD) and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern (Social Democrats, SPÖ) denouncing the United States’ foreign and economic policies.

Republicans and Democrats agreed almost unanimously, by 97 votes to 2, to impose new sanctions on Russia in the Senate on Wednesday. The Senate justified the measure as a punishment for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the US presidential election, the annexation of Crimea and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The bipartisan bill was “the package of sanctions the Kremlin deserves for its actions,” said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

Gabriel and Kern brusquely rejected the US Senate’s measure. The bill was really about “the sale of American liquefied gas and the sidelining of Russian gas supplies in the European market,” according to the two social democratic politicians. That emerges from the text “particularly explicitly.” The goal was “to secure jobs in the American oil and gas industries.”

The US and Europe had since 2014 “side by side and in close joint consultation answered Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which is illegal under international law, and its actions in eastern Ukraine. … But the threat to impose extraterritorial sanctions which violate international law on European companies participating in the expansion of European energy supplies” could not be tolerated. Europe’s energy provision was “a European affair, and not one for the United States of America!”

Gabriel and Kern went on to warn,

“Instruments of political sanctions should not be connected with economic interests.”

Threatening European companies “in US markets with punishments” if they participate in or finance projects like the Nord Stream II oil pipeline with Russia would introduce “an entirely new and extremely negative quality to European-American relations.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel explicitly backed her Foreign Minister on Friday. There was “very strong agreement in terms of content with Gabriel’s statement,” stated government spokesman Stefan Seibert.

“It is, to put it mildly, an unconventional action by the US Senate.”

It was troubling that European businesses were being targeted by sanctions to punish Russian behaviour.

“That cannot be allowed,” added Seibert.

The bipartisan action by the US Senate and the sharp response from the German government make clear that the conflicts between the US and Germany are not simply intensifying as a result of President Donald Trump, but have deep objective roots. Twenty five years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the conflicts between the major imperialist powers, which resulted in two world wars during the 20th century, are erupting into the open once again.

Following the G7 summit three weeks ago, Merkel, in a speech delivered in a Munich beer tent, called into question the alliance with the United States, which formed the basis of Germany’s foreign policy in the post-war era.

“The times in which we could completely depend upon others are long past,” she stated and advanced on this basis the demand, “We Europeans really have to take our fate into our own hands” and “fight for our own future.”

The German government has since worked systematically to expand its global political and economic relations. After Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Berlin at the beginning of the month, and Merkel visited Argentina and Mexico last week, the government organised a major conference on Africa in Berlin earlier this week.

As Berlin moves to fulfil Gabriel’s pledge to “use the spaces vacated by America,” the tensions with Washington are rising. Already last week, Gabriel criticised the US-backed action taken by Saudi Arabia against Qatar, which is aimed above all at Iran. In a statement, Gabriel defended the emirate and warned against a “Trumpification” of relations in the region. The “latest gigantic arms deals between US President Trump and the Gulf monarchies” intensified “the danger of a new arms race.” This was “a completely wrong policy, and certainly not Germany’s policy.”

Gabriel, Kern

Gabriel, Kern © EXPA / Michael Gruber via kleinezeitung.at

Gabriel’s statements against the United States have nothing to do with pacifism. He is not concerned with “peace,” but the enforcement of German imperialist interests, which are increasingly at odds with those of the United States. While the United States under Trump is ever more openly heading in the direction of war with Iran, the German government is striving for a further opening up of the country’s economy to secure new markets for German corporations in the Middle East and new investment opportunities for German capital.

The same applies to Russia. Although the German government supported the right-wing coup against Viktor Yanukovitch alongside the US in Ukraine in 2014, and stationed troops on the Russian border, it opposed open conflict with Russia over Ukraine. In his new book “Remeasurements,” Gabriel boasts that “with the Minsk Accord, France and Germany, on behalf of Europe, while not resolving an escalating conflict, curbed it significantly for the first time,” and had done so “without the United States.”

Washington, at that time, had been “close to…supplying weapons to Ukraine,” the Foreign Minister stated.

“With the cynical idea that although Russia could not be defeated militarily, it would be pressurised into peace talks more rapidly if it paid a high ‘price in blood’. The war in Ukraine would have become a war over Ukraine.” But Europe was “grown up enough…to foresee this and to let Germany and France negotiate.”

Following Brexit, the election of Trump and the victory of pro-European President Emmanuel Macron, Berlin seemingly feels it is “grown up enough” to increasingly distance itself from the US and to press ahead with the construction of a European army under German leadership.

“Europe’s security is Europe’s own responsibility,” noted Gabriel in his book. “We must become capable of acting strategically in foreign and security policy, because we don’t do so enough. That includes us defining our European interests and articulating them independently of the US. This obstinacy requires to some extent an emancipation from the direction adopted in Washington.”

He goes on,

“Whoever has their own goals also should develop their capabilities to achieve them. The EU needs to see itself as a greater security policy power. Our defence budgets must be adjusted accordingly. The armaments of the European armies need to be modernised, made operationally deployable and reoriented to military tasks.”

Gabriel’s declared goal is the building of a veritable European combat power capable of enforcing its global imperialist interests independently of NATO and the US, and, if necessary, against them. The issue is not “just to buy new weapons. It is about integrating the arms industry more in Europe and pooling forces. It is about creating a joint European security identity, which opens the way to a European army through ever more closely integrated structures.”

This policy, which is supported by all of Germany’s parties, from the CDU/CSU to the SPD, Greens and Left Party, has an irresistible logic. As in the first half of the 20th century, the deepening rivalries between the imperialist powers over raw materials, markets and geostrategic influence are leading once again to a war between the great powers, unless the working class intervenes on the basis of its own socialist strategy.

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The latest bulletins concerning the health of ex-president Mohamed Morsi of Egypt are terrible.

Morsi has been held in custody since the July 2013 military coup which saw him overthrown and brought Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to power.

In cases criticised by Western governments, human rights groups and the UN, Egyptian courts have handed him lengthy prison sentences several times, including on charges of spying for Qatar and Hamas and killing protesters during demonstrations in 2012.

The former president is suffering from fainting fits and has twice collapsed into a comaHis health is severely damaged and I am told there is even reason to fear for his life.

This news has just emerged. Last week, his family visited for first time in four years and were shocked by what they saw – and so should we all be.

But I’m also shocked by the inertia of the British government.

Where is the protest?

Three hundred years ago, the English diplomat Sir Henry Wotton declared:

 “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”

But John Casson, the British ambassador to Egypt, is stretching this advice rather too far. 

I can assure Casson that he has not been sent abroad to betray everything that Britain stands for: tolerance, decency, freedom, the rule of law.

Three years have passed since Casson was dispatched to Egypt as British ambassador.

As far as I can discover, he has not yet described the military takeover of Egypt by Field Marshall Sisi as a coup d’etat, which is what it was.

I have examined Casson’s record. I can find no complaints about the mass murder of Egyptian citizens by the Sisi regime. I can find no protests about torture and rape of political prisoners in Egyptian prisons.

At one I assume satirical moment, Casson praised Sisi’s Egypt for “building a more stable, more prosperous and more democratic future”. 

Soon after the Rabaa Massacre in August 2013, when Egyptian security forces violently cleared two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo killing at least 1,000 protesters, the UK government suspended 49 military export licenses to prevent British military goods from being used to repress Egyptians.

An Egyptian riot policeman points his gun at stone-throwers during clashes that broke out as Egyptian security forces moved in to disperse supporters of Egypt’s ousted president Mohamed Morsi by force in a huge protest camp near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque. (Source: Middle East Eye)

“As a result of the developing situation in Egypt, we have agreed with EU partners in this instance to go further and suspend all export licences for goods which might be used for internal repression,” Vince Cable, UK’s business secretary, said at the time.

“By acting together, we want to send a clear signal that we condemn all violence in Egypt.”

Slowly but surely, this stance has eroded as Britain has quietly resumed arms deals.

Time to speak out

Even if we accept – and we should not – that Britain, for cynical, base, amoral, commercial reasons, is unable to confront any of the above actions, we return to the basic humanity of the situation.

Ex-president Morsi is ill. He is not receiving proper medical attention. He desperately needs help. Britain should do everything it can to ensure he gets it, including speaking out publicly and putting harsh pressure on the regime.

On Tuesday, I spoke at an emergency press conference called by the Egyptian Revolutionary Council to draw attention to the plight of Mohamed Morsi.

My fellow speakers spoke eloquently.

Anas Al-Tikriti, founder of the Cordoba Foundation, pointed out that Britain is “a nation which prides itself on the values of human rights and freedoms” adding that “it is irresponsible of our government…to be absolutely dismissive and silent on the horrendous abuses committed on a daily basis.

“Not only in the prisons, but on the streets of Egypt every day. The closing down of media outlets, of free speech, of political dissent, and the crushing of any popular movement that might air a trace of dissent against the ruling military regime. “

The renowned British lawyer Toby Cadman pointed out that deprivation of medical treatment under international law is equivalent to torture. It is time, he said, to contemplate sanctions against the regime in Cairo, adding that

“Egyptian leaders when they travel to Britain should be arrested.”

It is time for the British government to ponder such measures.

A matter of indifference

We are guilty of gross double standards.

When Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi was illegally held under house arrest, British diplomats pressed for her release.

But when ex-president Morsi is deprived of medical attention he needs, this is apparently a matter of indifference to Her Majesty’s Government.

Of course, Egypt is not the only place where Britain seems to have forgotten our fundamental values. We are deeply complicit in the tragedy in the Yemen, for exactly the same reasons.

In the Yemeni conflict, as in Egypt, we are pathetically beholden to Saudi Arabia. It’s time Britain remembers we are a great country, with proud values and one that stands up for decency.

That means lifting a finger for Mohamed Morsi, the democratically elected president of Egypt.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in 2017 and was named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He also was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.

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Oliver Stone’s documentary series on Vladimir Putin, you would think, is required viewing for Western audiences looking to see beyond the crude caricature of Russia’s president in order to gain an insight into his worldview.

Indeed, surely such an insight is absolutely necessary, what with Russia being the biggest country in Europe, a major nuclear power, and with the deepening tensions arising from Russia’s geostrategic differences and rivalry with Washington in recent years.

Yet for the Western liberal commentariat, condemnation rather than understanding is the order of the day, evidenced in the barrage of criticism with which Stone’s documentary series on the Russian leader has been received in the Western mainstream.

The interview the filmmaker did with liberal US talk show host Stephen Colbert on his project is a prime example.

Colbert’s line of questioning amounted to a regurgitation of the very caricature that Stone had set out to move beyond in over 20 hours of interviews on an abundance of topics with Putin – his upbringing, family history, career, thoughts on leadership, the challenges Russia faced during the dark days of the 1990s, his relations with various US presidents, NATO, and so on.

Yet for the likes of Mr. Colbert it’s much easier to go with the official narrative, contained in his first question of the interview:

What do you say to people who say that yours [Oliver Stone’s] is a fawning interview of a brutal dictator?

Not only the question, but also the casual and insouciant way in which it was delivered, confirmed the dumbing-down of news information, analysis and commentary that has been underway in the United States over decades.

The result is a culture so intellectually shallow it is frightening to behold, one in which ignorance is celebrated rather than scorned, in which national exceptionalism and arrogance is exalted rather than rejected. And woe betide anyone, such as Oliver Stone, who dares try to penetrate this fog of ignorance and sense of exceptionalism that has so corroded US cultural values.

Listening to Colbert’s studio audience laugh at Stone in response to his statement that Putin had been unfairly treated and abused by the US media, I was minded of the treatment meted out to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. Such a comparison is not as outlandish as some may think on first impressions.

Think about it: for daring to question the prevailing orthodoxy, received truths, and dominant ideas the philosopher was lampooned, ridiculed and ultimately condemned to death by the powers that be in Athens, considered at the time to be the home of democracy and liberty, just as Washington is – or to be more accurate claims that it is – in our time.

Interestingly, the clamor to condemn Socrates took place when tensions between Athens and its Greek city-state rival and adversary, Sparta, were still high just a few years after the end of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC).

As everybody knows, in times of war – whether cold or hot – a nation’s tolerance for dissent, for daring to swim against the cultural tide, evaporates, even though it is precisely at such times when dissent is most necessary. After all, in the case of the rising tensions that we have witnessed between Russia and the US recently, it is not people like Stephen Colbert who will be sent into combat should those tensions spill over into direct military conflict.

With this in mind, perhaps it would have been more to the talk show host’s benefit to have listened carefully to a man, in Oliver Stone, who has experienced combat, and who does have first-hand experience of a devastating war unleashed in the cause of the very national exceptionalism previously described.

As a filmmaker, Oliver Stone’s body of work, reaching all the way back to the 1980s, is a testament to his integrity both as an artist and as a human being. From ‘Salvador’ in 1986, an unflinching expose of covert US support for right-wing death squads in El Salvador, all the way up to his latest movie ‘Snowden’ in 2016, which tells the story of US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden, this is a filmmaker with a fierce passion for truth. As such, it is a fair bet that in generations to come his works will still command respect and serious analysis. Could we say the same about Stephen Colbert’s body of work?

To ask the question is to answer it.

Carthago delenda est’ – Carthage must be destroyed. These words of Cato the Elder, which the Roman statesman and orator is said to have repeated at the conclusion of every one of his speeches, is the sentiment behind the campaign of demonization against Vladimir Putin that is a feature of Western cultural life.

It has become so pervasive and obsessive you would think that it was the Russian leader who had the destruction of entire countries on his record and conscience – i.e. Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya – and that it was his foreign policy that had killed more people and sown more chaos than at any time since World War II.

Oliver Stone is to be commended for trying to wake America up to the damage it does and has done around the world over many decades. Those who would attack and laugh at him for doing so merely confirm the degeneration of a culture built on foundations not of wisdom, but of crass ignorance.

John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1.

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Puppet of History: Panama’s Manuel Noriega

June 18th, 2017 by Dr. Binoy Kampmark

“Bush appeared on television to praise the invading troops and to say his cowardly vision – all that a wimp with an inferiority complex could be capable of.” Manuel Noriega on George H. W. Bush

The late General Manuel Antonio Noriega has done more to demonstrate the bipolar nature of US foreign policy in the Americas than any single, historically anointed individual. In its tendency to veer between outraged morality and cynical cold steel Realpolitik, US foreign policy found in Noriega a thermometer of sorts, though the temperature readings were often confused.

When it suited Washington, Noriega was the CIA’s man in Panama, a glorified errand boy who got above his station. Then, the winds turned, leaving Noriega high and dry. It was not that he wasn’t a serial human rights abuser, though this was used against him in due course. (The role of the US School of the Americas, located in Panama till 1984, remains a memorably disturbing stain behind various Latin American death squads.)

What mattered was his cultivation, in time, of a network of power interests and influences across Latin America, including Havana. His lukewarm response to assisting Washington in that dirty conflict against Nicaragua with the aid of the Contra army sounded another nail into coffin. Then came the drugs and the dance with the Colombian cartels.

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Col. Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran/Contra Affair during the Reagan and Bush years. (Source: Independence Day)

Noriega would subsequently claim in his memoirs that Colonel Oliver L. North had requested he mine Nicaraguan harbours as a willing servant of Washington’s interests. The General preferred to ignore him. He was no longer in favour in the morally weary halls of Washington. He had to be gotten rid off.

The US invasion of Panama in December 1989 was typically imperial: brute force masquerading as moral mission. The ground had been softened by a massive campaign singling out Noriega’s human rights abuses, and the threat to American lives. Provocations by US soldiers were initiated. Few media outlets in the United States bothered to question the accounts, humming to the sound of government press releases.

Noriega, and Panama, had become symbols of convenient outrage and props for the projection of US power in the closing chapters of the Cold War. (The previous month, the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Iron Curtain rapidly parting.)

In purely power terms, the General had stepped out of turn, having helped himself to the largesse of US interests and Latin American favour. He would simultaneously supply secrets about Cuba to US authorities while happily selling Fidel Castro thousands of Panamanian passports to be used by Cuban agents.[1]

Murray Kempton captured this predicament well:

“To feed off the United States is to subject yourself to all sorts of inconveniences from a Senate where Jesse Helms arraigns your friendship with Fidel Castro one day and Christopher Dodd your human records the next.”

These subtleties evaporate before the decision to transact with the Medellín and Cali cartels, liberating the subject “from even the lightest chains of ideology.”[2]

Would this caricatured, cartoon villain be able to withstand the US? Initial suggestions were made that Noriega might manage to bring about another quagmire for US forces. The “Dignity Battalions” were taken as representatives of genuine patriotic worth. But there was little getting away from the fact that an Uncle was providing some stern discipline for a pygmy relation. The invasion resulted in a good deal of slaughter.

The Medellín temptation was powerful, assuming a galloping temptation that supplied Noriega with cash and power broking prestige. The Senate subcommittee on narcotics and terrorism fielded material about Noriega’s conversion to the narcotics market in the late 1980s. The tainted Ramon Lillian Rodriguez was a source of ratting inspiration, explaining to the Committee chaired by Senator John Kerry that Noriega had assumed money laundering responsibilities while also supplying Panamanian security forces to the cartels. The golem had gotten out hand.

The more astute operatives would have worked out that he was never controllable in the least. Furtive sexual encounters do not necessarily suggest understanding, let alone influence. Links forged in 1976 with George H. W. Bush, who was then the director of Central Intelligence, were not blood insured covenants, but understandings of interest. But no US leadership can keep unctuousness out for long. There is always an understanding about who sets the terms.

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Archbishop Jose Sebastian Laboa (Source: Times of Malta)

After the invasion commenced, Noriega fled to the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See. A reluctant Monsignor Jose Sebastian Laboa relented to the imposition, having had next to no time to consult the higher-ups in the Vatican. US special forces, in the meantime, were charged with the task of capturing the diminished, fleeing figure.

What followed was an ignominious effort to force Laboa’s hand. The State Department hectored him for granting refuge to a criminal; military operatives rained psychological warfare upon the compound. Laboa, in time, decided that the church’s promise of sanctuary needed to be reneged – by dissimulation if necessary. Surrender was a foregone, bitter conclusion.

Noriega would subsequently face a farcical and poorly conducted trial. (Resorting to 40 convicted drug traffickers as witnesses for the prosecution is treacherous ground indeed.) In 1992, he was sentenced to 40 years in Florida as prisoner No. 41586, convicted on cocaine trafficking charges, racketeering and money laundering.

Subsequent in absentia trials took place in Panama (the execution of soldiers in the 1989 coup attempt) and France (money-laundering). His early release in the US led to extradition battles that landed him first in France, then back in Panama.

The moral in all of this? No sadistic showman is ever indispensable when dealing with hegemons and the exercise of cynical foreign policy interests. Ultimately, the puppet can never be permitted to be the puppet master.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [email protected].

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The Myth of Hiroshima

June 18th, 2017 by Peter Van Buren

With rare exception, the question of whether the atomic bombs were necessary to end World War Two is debated only deep within the safety of academic circles.

Could a land invasion have been otherwise avoided? Would more diplomacy have achieved the same ends without the destruction of two cities? Could an atomic test on a deserted island have convinced the Japanese? Was the surrender instead driven primarily by the entry of the Soviets into the Pacific War, which, by historical accident, took place two days after Hiroshima—and the day before Nagasaki was immolated?

But it is not only the history of the decision itself that is side stepped. Beyond the acts of destruction lies the myth of the atomic bombings, the post-war creation of a mass memory of things that did not happen.

The short version of the atomic myth, the one kneaded into public consciousness, is that the bombs were not dropped out of revenge or malice, immoral acts, but of grudging military necessity. As a result of this, the attacks have not provoked or generated deep introspection and national reflection.

The use of the term “myth” is appropriate. Harry Truman, in his 1945 announcement of the bomb, focused on vengeance, and on the new, extraordinary power the United States alone possessed. The military necessity argument was largely created later, in a 1947 article defending the use of the atomic bomb, written by former Secretary of War Henry Stimson, though actually drafted by McGeorge Bundy (later an architect of the Vietnam War) and James Conant (a scientist who helped build the original bomb). Conant described the article’s purpose at the beginning of the Cold War as

 “You have to get the past straight before you do much to prepare people for the future.”

The Stimson article was a response to journalist John Hersey’s account of the human suffering in Hiroshima, first published in 1946 in the New Yorker and later as a book. Due to wartime censorship, Americans knew little of the ground truth of atomic war, and Hersey’s piece was shocking enough to the public that it required that formal White House response. Americans’ general sense of themselves as a decent people needed to be reconciled with what was done in their name. The Stimson article was quite literally the moment of creation of the Hiroshima myth.

The national belief that no moral wrong was committed with the atomic bombs, and thus there was no need for reflection and introspection, echoes forward through today (the blithe way Nagasaki is treated as a historical after thought – “and Nagasaki, too” – only drives home the point.) It was 9/11, the new Pearl Harbor, that started a series of immoral acts allegedly servicing, albeit destructively and imperfectly, the moral imperative of saving lives by killing. America’s decisions on war, torture, rendition and indefinite detention are seen by most as the distasteful but necessary actions of fundamentally good people against fundamentally evil ones. Hiroshima set in motion a sweeping, national generalization that if we do it, it is right.

And with that, the steps away from the violence of Hiroshima and the shock-and-awe horrors inside the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib are merely a matter of degree. The myth allows the world’s most powerful nation to go to war as a victim after the tragic beheadings of only a small number of civilians. Meanwhile, the drone deaths of children at a wedding party are seen as unfortunate but only collateral damage in service to the goal of defeating global terrorism itself. It is a grim calculus that parses acts of violence to conclude some are morally justified simply based on who held the knife.

We may, in fact, think we are practically doing the people of Afghanistan a favor by killing some of them, as we believe we did for tens of thousands of Japanese that might have been lost in a land invasion of their home islands to otherwise end World War Two. There is little debate in the “war on terror” because debate is largely unnecessary; the myth of Hiroshima says an illusion of expediency wipes away any concerns over morality. And with that neatly tucked away in our conscience, all that is left is pondering where to strike next.

Japan, too, is guilty of failing to look deep into itself over its own wartime atrocities. Yet compared to the stunning array of atrocities during and since World War Two, the world’s only use of nuclear weapons still holds a significant place in infamy. To try and force the Japanese government to surrender (and no one in 1945 knew if the plan would work) by making it watch mass casualties of innocents, and then to hold the nation hostage to future attacks with the promise of more bombs to come, speaks to a cruelty previously unseen.

For President Obama to visit Hiroshima without reflecting on the why of that unfortunate loss of lives, acting as if they occurred via some natural disaster, is tragically consistent with the fact that for 71 years no American president felt it particularly important to visit the victimized city. America’s lack of introspection over one of the 20th century’s most significant events continues, with 21st century consequences.

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Fathers, Sons, and Blood Sacrifices

June 18th, 2017 by Edward Curtin

“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.” – James Baldwin

For years I’ve been haunted by the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Why, I’ve wondered, would a father be willing to sacrifice his son because he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to do so? Isn’t that something crazed murderers say: that God or the devil told them to kill, to take the knife and cut up their victims?

When I was growing up the catechism told me that sacrifice was “the most perfect way for man to worship God.” We were taught that Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac was a sign of his obedience and a prefiguring of the death of Jesus, the son of another father, who was well-pleased with his son’s obedient sacrifice. But even as a youngster I could read the words and clearly understood  that Abraham had tricked and lied to Isaac, and that Jesus was a free rebel dangerous to the Roman authorities, who put him to death for his revolutionary message. But church fathers and theologians later preferred to emphasize his execution as the act of a son obeying his father rather than the result of non-violent resistance to the authorities of church and state. Obedience became the justification for millennia of sacrificial victims and their compliant killers.

“I carried out the orders I was given, and do not feel wrong in doing so,” said Lt. William Calley about the grotesque slaughter of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai.

Why all this need for blood, this need to prove obedience to a father God? It gradually grew on me that there was something perversely macho in all this, the kind of thinking that would encourage fathers to send their sons off to war, what the pundits like to call “the ultimate sacrifice,” and for sons to obediently march off to kill and be killed in a sacrificial bloodbath to appease the fathers.

But being an only son myself (with seven sisters) and coming from a patriotic milieu, it also seemed “natural” to me that sons had to be sacrificed on the battlefields for the sake of God and country. If not, the communists or Canaanites would seize our new Promised Land.

But a little voice and the tale of Abraham and Isaac kept speaking to me. I never went off to war, but I was in the Marines and quickly came to see the immorality of the war against Vietnam – the madness of war in general – and applied for a discharge as a conscientious objector. My father, a WW II era guy who tried to volunteer when he had five children but was refused for that reason, disagreed with me, but he supported me fully, and I was eventually honorably discharged. It was for me a harsh introduction to a world in which the group mentality holds sway and the individual is made to seem mad if he doesn’t obey the bloodthirsty impulses of society. And made to seem less than a man for rejecting the “manly” ethos epitomized in the Marine slogan, “My Rifle is My Life.”

It wasn’t mine, and I have an ironic memento of that truth. It’s a photo of my parents, who gave me life and sustained me, when they came to Parris Island for my graduation from boot camp, standing in front of, and partially blocking, a large red and gold sign ablaze with those egregious words resonating with a double entendre lost only on one totally unfamiliar with the Marines’ obsession with rifles and “guns” – as the other unofficial slogan hammered into us recruits put it:

“This is for killing and this is for fun.”

Fun with all the Suzie “rotten-crotches” we could find, as we were repeatedly told was a perk that came with the equally enjoyable opportunity to kill all the “gooks “we could find once we got to Vietnam.

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio, in the Baroque tenebrist manner (Source: Wikipedia)

Last week I was rereading a book when I again thought of these issues of socially-sanctioned violence passed down the male line. The book was Philip Roth’s The Counterlife and images of Abraham holding that knife to his son appeared to me. Perhaps it was Caravaggio’s painting that I saw. Or an image living in my imagination since I first heard that story that haunted me. Or was it Wilfred Owen’s words from The Parable of the Old Man and the Youngforming on my lips?

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,

And took the fire with him, and a knife.

And as they sojourned both of them together,

Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,

Behold the preparations, fire and iron,

But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?

Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,

and builded parapets and trenches there,

And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.

When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,

Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,

Neither do anything to him. Behold,

A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;

Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him. 

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

I can’t say. But Roth’s story concerned another knife wielded by fathers against their sons, one Abraham was intimately familiar with.

Roth ends his novel with his alter ego Nathan Zuckerman arguing that circumcision is good because it immediately lets the baby boy know the world is a place of violence, not peace and love. Also, “circumcision makes it clear as can be that you are here and not there, that you are out and not in – also that you’re mine and not theirs….confirms that there is an us, and an us that isn’t solely him and me.” In other words, the painful act of cutting the skin off the end of an innocent boy’s penis to better make it resemble a weapon is good for the young whippersnapper, for it tactilely teaches him the need for pain and violence and the division of the world into us and them, good guys and bad.

“The heavy hand of human values falls upon you right from the start,” Roth writes approvingly, “marking your genitals as its own.”

I never knew that. I was under the impression that my genitals were mine; were me, just as my hands and brain are. Roth’s argument struck me as strange coming from a writer who made his reputation by being the Jewish malcontent. It seemed that Roth was offering this justification for circumcision – which Jews and Muslims trace back to Abraham, as another sign of his obedience to God – as a token of guilt redemption for all his criticism of fellow Jews. The wayward son, the creator of Jewish masturbators and fornicators, was finally seeing the wisdom of the father, Abraham. Father knows best, after all.

But our essential problem is obedience, not circumcision, which is just one symptom of a deeply rooted mindset in which we have confused honor and respect for fathers with mindless obedience. Obedience comes from a Latin verb – obedire, to listen to – and whether one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, non-religious, etc., we have listened far too long to those calling for blood sacrifices. Howard Zinn advised as much:

Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.

Nothing could be truer.

Suppose a father was circumcised. Should he submit his son to the knife? Whom is he listening to? His father? Let us say the wife asks, “Why should Jeff be circumcised?” Many men might respond: “Because I was.” Tradition. Some would say that, although I suspect they’re the same people who justify much cruelty with the words, “I went through it and it didn’t do me any harm. So should he.” (Just substitute military service and war.) If not, they argue, the poor boy, looking different from his father, will grow up with some kind of penis complex.

This obsession with alikeness bespeaks a great fear of individuality, as if manhood were dependent on the look of your penis, its similarity to your father’s. Do some father’s say to their sons, “Take a look at mine, little boy, some day ….”? This is my rifle, this is my gun, this…

It’s quite funny, except that it’s serious. Back in the 1890s when circumcision became popular in the U.S., it was touted as the cure for many ailments – asthma, epilepsy, alcoholism, etc. – and for the treatment and prevention of masturbation, which, as everyone knew, especially medical authorities, led to insanity. Thomas Szasz, in The Manufacture of Madness, offers an explanation that makes sense to me and brings my reflections full circle. Masturbation, he writes,

“symbolizes the individual’s separateness from, or rejection of, the group. This is why, psychologically, it is the gravest of all ‘crimes.’ Hence too, I surmise, its remarkable neglect in belles lettres.”

Back to Abraham. Both Jews and Muslims, the two main groups that practice religious circumcision, trace it to this patriarch. Christians have adopted the practice as well, despite no obligation to do so, just as they have joined the other religions in the martial spirit and have supported wars, massacres, and holocausts down through the centuries. Support is too mild a word – waged brutal and bloody wars and reveled in the mayhem as a sign of God’s blessing is the truth, always finding justifications.

“Isaac’s Circumcision”

“Isaac’s Circumcision,” from the Regensburg Pentateuch (c. 1300) (Source: Haaretz.com)

Seemingly just an issue of tradition and, in modern times, one of health, circumcision is actually rooted in an obedience that rewards the spirit of war and killing; obedience to God who tests you by seeing if you will obey and kill your son, and who tells you that if you circumcise yourself and all males it will result in a conqueror’s booty. As a reward for his obedience, we are told, Abraham was promised many descendants who would defeat their enemies, take their women, raze their towns, kill their children, and establish powerful kingdoms.

Cut off the foreskins, sacrifice your sons, and you’ll be powerful, goes the message: you’ll conquer the world. Any uncircumcised male will be cut off from his people. (I guess God checks up on this.) He will stand outside the social circle, looking in. He will be a pariah, an enemy, an other. He will go insane.

I am not suggesting that women are immune from the urge for bloody war and sacrifice. History teaches otherwise. And we have some recent stellar examples, led by Hillary Clinton and her ilk, to whom I offer my humble apologies for leaving them out of these ruminations. Medea, after all, killed her children, and it’s said that she too was a feminist who took charge of her own life in a male-dominated world. Perhaps next Mother’s day I can take up that theme.

But this is Father’s Day, and there is a strange long cultural blood link through fathers to sons to fathers to sons to fathers down through the millennia that occurs to me now.

When I turned from being one of the “few good men,” my father, although he didn’t agree with my refusal since he felt it could lead me to jail, supported me completely. He understood that conscience supersedes blood, and that a father’s love means never sacrificing anybody’s son on the altar of old men’s wars or that of a savage God demanding grotesque sacrifices. For that and many other things, I celebrate my father today. He was a rare man and I was a lucky son.

Someday soon, I hope, sons and daughters around the world will celebrate their fathers for not sacrificing them to the gods of war, those fiends who sit in government offices throughout the world, knives held high above their victims as they await the word from on high to plunge it deep and watch the blood flow.

That will be a very Happy Father’s Day, a different kind of Sunday than the one we hear now, and have been hearing for eons. It will require revolutionary non-violent resistance, the refusal to shed others’ blood. It will be born of disobedience.

Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely.  He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/

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First published by Global Research in February 2008

This article discusses the potential health risks of genetically engineered foods (GMOs). It draws on some previously used material because its importance bears repeating. It also cites three notable books and highlights one in particular – Jeffrey Smith’s “Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods.” Detailed information from the book is featured below.

Genetically engineered foods saturate our diet today. In the US alone, over 80% of all processed foods contain them. Others include grains like rice, corn and wheat; legumes like soybeans and soy products; vegetable oils, soft drinks; salad dressings; vegetables and fruits; dairy products including eggs; meat, chicken, pork and other animal products; and even infant formula plus a vast array of hidden additives and ingredients in processed foods (like in tomato sauce, ice cream, margarine and peanut butter). Consumers don’t know what they’re eating because labeling is prohibited, yet the danger is clear. Independently conducted studies show the more of these foods we eat, the greater the potential harm to our health.

Today, consumers are kept in the dark and are part of an uncontrolled, unregulated mass human experiment the results of which are unknown. Yet, the risks are enormous, it will take years to learn them, and when we finally know it’ll be too late to reverse the damage if it’s proved conclusively that genetically engineered foods harm human health as growing numbers of independent experts believe. Once GM seeds are introduced to an area, the genie is out of the bottle for keeps. There is nothing known to science today to reverse the contamination already spread over two-thirds of arable US farmland and heading everywhere unless checked.

This is happening in spite of the risk because of what F. William Engdahl (right) revealed in his powerfully important, well documented book titled “Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation.” It’s the diabolical story of how Washington and four Anglo-American agribusiness giants plan world domination by patenting animal and vegetable life forms to gain worldwide control of our food supply, make it all genetically engineered, and use it as a weapon to reward friends and punish enemies.

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Today, consumers eat these foods daily without knowing the potential health risks. In 2003, Jeffrey Smith explained them in his book titled “Seeds of Deception.” He revealed that efforts to inform the public have been quashed, reliable science has been buried, and consider what happened to two distinguished scientists – UC Berkeley’s Ignacio Chapela and former Scotland Rowett Research Institute researcher and world’s leading lectins and plant genetic modification expert, Arpad Pusztai. They were vilified, hounded, and threatened for their research, and in the case of Pusztai, fired from his job for doing it.

He believed in the promise of GM foods, was commissioned to study them, and conducted the first ever independent one on them anywhere. Like other researchers since, he was shocked by his findings. Rats fed GM potatoes had smaller livers, hearts, testicles and brains, damaged immune systems, and showed structural changes in their white blood cells making them more vulnerable to infection and disease compared to other rats fed non-GMO potatoes. It got worse. Thymus and spleen damage showed up; enlarged tissues, including the pancreas and intestines; and there were cases of liver atrophy as well as significant proliferation of stomach and intestines cells that could be a sign of greater future risk of cancer. Equally alarming, results showed up after 10 days of testing, and they persisted after 110 days that’s the human equivalent of 10 years.

Later independent studies confirmed what Pusztai learned, and Smith published information on them in his 2007 book called “Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods.” The book is encyclopedic in depth, an invaluable comprehensive source, and this article reviews some of the shocking data in it.

Compelling Evidence of Potential GMO Harm

In his introduction, Smith cites the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) policy statement on GM food safety without a shred of evidence to back it. It supported GHW Bush’s Executive Order that GMOs are “substantially equivalent” to ordinary seeds and crops and need no government regulation. The agency said it was “not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” That single statement meant no safety studies are needed and “Ultimately, it is the food producer” that bears responsibility “for assuring safety.” As a consequence, foxes now guard our henhouse in a brave new dangerous world.

FDA policy opened the floodgates, and Smith put it this way: It “set the stage for the rapid deployment of the new technology,” allowed the seed industry to become “consolidated, millions of acres (to be) planted, hundreds of millions to be fed (these foods in spite of nations and consumers objecting, and) laws to be passed (to assure it).” The toll today is contaminated crops, billions of dollars lost, human health harmed, and it turns out the FDA lied.

The agency knew GM crops are “meaningfully different” because their technical experts told them so. As a result, they recommended long-term studies, including on humans, to test for possible allergies, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems. Instead, politics trumped science, the White House ordered the FDA to promote GM crops, and a former Monsanto vice-president went to FDA to assure it.

Today, the industry is unregulated, and when companies say their foods are safe, their views are unquestioned. Further, Smith noted that policy makers in other countries trust FDA and wrongly assume their assessments are valid. They’re disproved when independent studies are matched against industry-run ones. The differences are startling. The former report adverse affects while the latter claim the opposite. It’s no secret why. Agribusiness giants allow nothing to interfere with profits, safety is off the table, and all negative information is quashed.

As a result, their studies are substandard, adverse findings are hidden, and they typically “fail to investigate the impacts of GM food on gut function, liver function, kidney function, the immune system, endocrine system, blood composition, allergic response, effects on the unborn, the potential to cause cancer, or impacts on gut bacteria.” In addition, industry-funded studies creatively avoid finding problems or conceal any uncovered. They cook the books by using older instead of younger more sensitive animals, keep sample sizes too low for statistical significance, dilute the GM component of feeds used, limit the duration of feeding trials, ignore animal deaths and sickness, and engage in other unscientific practices. It’s to assure people never learn of the potential harm from these foods, and Smith says they can do it because “They’ve got ‘bad science’ down to a science.”

The real kinds show GMOs produce “massive changes in the natural functioning of (a) plant’s DNA. Native genes can be mutated, deleted, permanently turned off or on….the inserted gene can become truncated, fragmented, mixed with other genes, inverted or multiplied, and the GM protein it produces may have unintended characteristics” that may be harmful.

GMOs also pose other health risks. When a transgene functions in a new cell, it may produce different proteins than the ones intended. They may be harmful, but there’s no way to know without scientific testing. Even if the protein is exactly the same, there are still problems. Consider corn varieties engineered to produce a pesticidal protein called Bt-toxin. Farmers use it in spray form, and companies falsely claim it’s harmless to humans. In fact, people exposed to the spray develop allergic-type symptoms, mice ingesting Bt had powerful immune responses and abnormal and excessive cell growth, and a growing number of human and livestock illnesses are linked to Bt crops.

Smith notes still another problem relating to inserted genes. Assuming they’re destroyed by our digestive system, as industry claims, is false. In fact, they may move from food into gut bacteria or internal organs, and consider the potential harm. If corn genes with Bt-toxin get into gut bacteria, our intestinal flora may become pesticide factories. There’s been no research done to prove if it’s true or false. Agribusiness giants aren’t looking, neither is FDA, consumers are left to play “Genetic Roulette,” and the few animal feeding studies done show the odds are against them.

Arpad Pusztai and other scientists were shocked at their results of animals fed GM foods. His results were cited above. Other independent studies showed stunted growth, impaired immune systems, bleeding stomachs, abnormal and potentially precancerous cell growth in the intestines, impaired blood cell development, misshaped cell structures in the liver, pancreas and testicles, altered gene expression and cell metabolism, liver and kidney lesions, partially atrophied livers, inflamed kidneys, less developed organs, reduced digestive enzymes, higher blood sugar, inflamed lung tissue, increased death rates and higher offspring mortality as well.

There’s more. Two dozen farmers reported their pigs and cows fed GM corn became sterile, 71 shepherds said 25% of their sheep fed Bt cotton plants died, and other reports showed the same effects on cows, chickens, water buffaloes and horses. After GM soy was introduced in the UK, allergies from the product skyrocketed by 50%, and in the US in the 1980s, a GM food supplement killed dozens and left five to ten thousand others sick or disabled.

Today, Monsanto is the world’s largest seed producer, and Smith notes how the company deals with reports like these. In response to the US Public Health Service concerning adverse reactions from its toxic PCBs, the company claims its experience “has been singularly free of difficulties.” That’s in spite of lawsuit-obtained records showing “this was part of a cover-up and denial that lasted decades” by a company with a long history of irresponsible behavior that includes “extensive bribery, highjacking of regulatory agencies, suppressing negative information about its products” and threatening journalists and scientists who dare report them. The company long ago proved it can’t be trusted with protecting human health.

In his book, “Seeds of Destruction,” Engdahl names four dominant agribusiness giants – Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Agrisciences and Syngenta in Switzerland from the merger of the agriculture divisions of Novartis and AstraZeneca. Smith calls these companies Ag biotech and names a fifth – Germany-based Bayer CropScience AG (division of Bayer AG) with its Environmental Science and BioScience headquarters in France.

Their business is to do the impossible and practically overnight – change the laws of nature and do them one better for profit. So far they haven’t independent because genetic engineering doesn’t work like natural breeding. It may or may not be a lot of things, but it isn’t sex, says Smith. Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist involved in human gene therapy, explains that genetic modification “technically and conceptually bears no resemblance to natural breeding.” The reproduction process works by both parents contributing thousands of genes to the offspring. They, in turn, get sorted naturally, and plant breeders have successfully worked this way for thousands of years.

Genetic manipulation is different and so far fraught with danger. It works by forcibly inserting a single gene from a species’ DNA into another unnaturally. Smith puts it this way: “A pig can mate with a pig and a tomato can mate with a tomato. But this is no way that a pig can mate with a tomato and vice versa.” The process transfers genes across natural barriers that “separated species over millions of years of evolution” and managed to work. The biotech industry now wants us to believe it can do nature one better, and that genetic engineering is just an extension or superior alternative to natural breeding. It’s unproved, indefensible pseudoscience mumbo jumbo, and that’s the problem.

Biologist David Schubert explains that industry claims are “not only scientifically incorrect but exceptionally deceptive….to make the GE process sound similar to conventional plant breeding.” It a smoke screen to hide the fact that what happens in laboratories can’t duplicate nature, at least not up to now. Genetic engineering involves combining genes that never before existed together, the process defies natural breeding proved safe over thousands of years, and there’s no way to assure the result won’t be a deadly unrecallable Andromeda Strain, no longer the world of science fiction.

The industry pooh-pooh’s the suggestion of potential harm, and unscientifically claims millions of people in the US and worldwide have eaten GM food for a decade, and no one got sick. Smith’s reply: How can we know as “GM foods might already be contributing to serious health problems, but since no one is monitoring for this, it could take decades” to find out. By then, it will be too late and some industry critics argue it already may be or dangerously close.

Today, most existing diseases have no effective surveillance systems in place. If GM foods create new ones, that potentially compounds the problem manyfold. Consider HIV/AIDS. It went unnoticed for decades and when identified, many thousands worldwide were infected or had died.

Then there’s the problem of linkage. In the US and many countries, GM foods are unlabeled so it’s impossible tracing illness and diseases to specific substances ingested even if thousands of people are affected. It can plausibly be blamed on anything, especially when governments and regulatory agencies support industry claims of reliability and safety.

It’s rare that problems like the L-Tryptophan epidemic of the late 1980s are identified, but when it was thousands were already harmed. L-Tryptophan is a natural amino acid constituent of most proteins and for years was produced by many companies including Showa Denko in Japan. The company then got greedy, saw a way to increase profits from a product designed to induce sleep naturally, and gene-spliced a bacterium into the natural product to do it. The result was many dozens dead, over 1500 crippled, and up to 10,000 afflicted with a blood disorder from a new incurable disease called Eosinophilia Myalgia Syndrome or EMS.

It’s a painful, multi-system disease that causes permanent scarring and fibrosis to nerve and muscle tissues, continuing inflammation, and a permanent change in a person’s immune system. It cost the company two billion dollars to settle claims. Hundreds have since died, in all likelihood from contracting EMS.

This is the known toll from a single product. Consider the potential harm with Ag biotech wanting all foods to be unlabeled GMOs worldwide and governments unable to balk because WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) and Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules deny them. They’re also prevented under WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS). It states that national laws banning GMO products are “unfair trade practices” even when they endanger human health. Other WTO rules also apply – called “Technical Barriers to Trade.” They prohibit GMO labeling so consumers don’t know what they’re eating and can’t avoid these potentially hazardous foods.

The 1996 Biosafety Protocol was drafted to prevent this problem, and it should be in place to do it. Public safety, however, was ambushed by Washington, the FDA and the agribusiness lobby. It sabotaged talks and insisted biosafety measures be subordinate to WTO trade rules that apply regardless of other considerations, including public health and safety. The path is thus cleared for the unrestricted spread of GMO seeds and foods worldwide unless a way is found to stop it.

Independent Animal Studies Showing GMO Harm

Rats fed genetically engineered Calgene Flavr-Savr tomatoes (developed to look fresh for weeks) for 28 days got bleeding stomachs (stomach lesions) and seven died and were replaced in the study.

Rats fed Monsanto 863 Bt corn for 90 days developed multiple reactions typically found in response to allergies, infections, toxins, diseases like cancer, anemia and blood pressure problems. Their blood cells, livers and kidneys showed significant changes indicative of disease.

Mice fed either GM potatoes engineered to produce Bt- toxin or natural potatoes containing the toxin had intestinal damage. Both varieties created abnormal and excessive cell growth in the lower intestine. The equivalent human damage might cause incontinence or flu-like symptoms and could be pre-cancerous. The study disproved the contention that digestion destroys Bt-toxin and is not biologically active in mammals.

Workers in India handling Bt cotton while picking, loading, weighing and separating the fiber from seeds developed allergies. They began with “mild to severe itching,” then redness and swelling, followed by skin eruptions. These symptoms affected their skin, eyes (got red and swollen with excessive tearing) and upper respiratory tract causing nasal discharge and sneezing. In some cases, hospitalization was required. At one cotton gin factory, workers take antihistamines daily.

Sheep grazing on Bt cotton developed “unusual systems” before dying “mysteriously.” Reports from four Indian villages revealed 25% of them died within a week. Post mortems indicated a toxic reaction. The study raises questions about cottonseed oil safety and human health for people who eat meat from animals fed GM cotton. It’s crucial to understand that what animals eat, so do people.

Nearly all 100 Filipinos living adjacent to a Bt corn field became ill. Their symptoms appeared when the crop was producing airborne pollen and was apparently inhaled. Doing it produced headaches, dizziness, extreme stomach pain, vomiting, chest pains, fever, and allergies plus respiratory, intestinal and skin reactions. Blood tests conducted on 39 victims showed an antibody response to Bt-toxin suggesting it was the cause. Four other villages experienced the same problems that also resulted in several animal deaths.

Iowa farmers reported a conception rate drop of from 80% to 20% among sows (female pigs) fed GM corn. Most animals also had false pregnancies, some delivered bags of water and others stopped menstruating. Male pigs were also affected as well as cows and bulls. They became sterile and all were fed GM corn.

German farmer Gottfried Glockner grew GM corn and fed it to his cows. Twelve subsequently died from the Bt 176 variety, and other cows had to be destroyed due to a “mysterious” illness. The corn plots were field trials for Ag biotech giant Syngenta that later took the product off the market with no admission of fault.

Mice fed Monsanto Roundup Ready soybeans developed significant liver cell changes indicating a dramatic general metabolism increase. Symptoms included irregularly shaped nuclei and nucleoli, and an increased number of nuclear pores and other changes. It’s thought this resulted from exposure to a toxin, and most symptoms disappeared when Roundup Ready was removed from the diet.

Mice fed Roundup Ready had pancreas problems, heavier livers and unexplained testicular cell changes. The Monsanto product also produced cell metabolism changes in rabbit organs, and most offspring of rats on this diet died within three weeks.

The death rate for chickens fed GM Liberty Link corn for 42 days doubled. They also experienced less weight gain, and their food intake was erratic.

In the mid-1990s, Australian scientists discovered that GM peas generated an allergic-type inflammatory response in mice in contrast to the natural protein that had no adverse effect. Commercialization of the product was cancelled because of fear humans might have the same reaction.

When given a choice, animals avoid GM foods. This was learned by observing a flock of geese that annually visit an Illinois pond and feed on soybeans from an adjacent farm. After half the acreage had GM crops, the geese ate only from the non-GMO side. Another observation showed 40 deer ate organic soybeans from one field but shunned the GMO kind across the road. The same thing happened with GM corn.

Inserting foreign or transgenes is called insertional mutagenesis or insertion mutation. When done, it usually disrupts DNA at the insertion site and affects gene functioning overall by scrambling, deleting or relocating the genetic code near the insertion site.

The process of creating a GM plant requires scientists first to isolate and grow plant cells in the laboratory using a tissue culture process. The problem is when it’s done it can create hundreds or thousands of DNA mutations throughout the genome. Changing a single base pair may be harmful. However, widespread genome changes compound the potential problem manyfold.

Promoters are used in GM crops as switches to turn on the foreign gene. When done, the process may accidently switch on other natural plant genes permanently. The result may be to overproduce an allergen, toxin, carcinogen, antinutrient, enzymes that stimulate or inhibit hormone production, RNA that silences genes, or changes that affect fetal development. They may also produce regulators that block other genes and/or switch on a dormant virus that may cause great harm. In addition, evidence suggests the promoter may create genetic instability and mutations that can result in the breakup and recombination of the gene sequence.

Plants naturally produce thousands of chemicals to enhance health and protect against disease. However, changing plant protein may alter these chemicals, increase plant toxins and/or reduce its phytonutrients. For example, GM soybeans produce less cancer-fighting isoflavones. Overall, studies show genetic modification produces unintended changes in nutrients, toxins, allergens and small molecule metabolism products.

To create a GM soybean with a more complete protein balance, Pioneer Hi-Bred inserted a Brazil nut gene. By doing it, an allergenic protein was introduced affecting people allergic to Brazil nuts. When tests confirmed this, the project was cancelled. GM proteins in other crops like corn and papaya may also be allergenic. The same problem exists for other crops like Bt corn, and evidence shows allergies skyrocketed after GM crops were introduced.

Another study of Monsanto’s high-lysine corn showed it contained toxins and other potentially harmful substances that may retard growth. If consumed in large amounts, it may also adversely affect human health. In addition, when this product is cooked, it may produce toxins associated with Alzheimer’s, diabetes, allergies, kidney disease, cancer and aging symptoms.

Disease-resistant crops like zucchini, squash and Hawaiian papaya may promote human viruses and other diseases, and eating these products may suppress the body’s natural defense against viral infections.

Protein structural aspects in GM crops may be altered in unforeseen ways. They may be misfolded or have added molecules. During insertion, transgenes may become truncated, rearranged or interspersed with other DNA pieces with unknown harmful effects. Transgenes may also be unstable and spontaneously rearrange over time, again with unpredictable consequences. In addition, they may create more than one protein from a process called alternative splicing. Environmental factors, weather, natural and man-made substances and genetic disposition of a plant further complicate things and pose risks. They’re introduced as well because genetic engineering disrupts complex DNA relationships.

Contrary to industry claims, studies show transgenes aren’t destroyed digestively in humans or animals. Foreign DNA can wander, survive in the gastro-intestinal tract, and be transported by blood to internal organs. This raises the risk that transgenes may transfer to gut bacteria, proliferate over time, and get into cells DNA, possibly causing chronic diseases. A single human feeding study confirmed that genes, in fact, transferred from GM soy into the DNA gut bacteria of three of seven test subjects.

Antibiotic Resister Marker (ARM) genes are attached to transgenes prior to insertion and allow cells to survive antibiotic applications. If ARM genes transfer to pathogenic gut or mouth bacteria, they potentially can cause antibiotic-resistant super-diseases. The proliferation of GM crops increases the possibility. The CaMV promoter in nearly all GMOs can also transfer and may switch on random genes or viruses that produce toxins, allergens or carcinogens as well as create genetic instability.

GM crops interact with their environment and are part of a complex ecosystem that includes our food. These crops may increase environmental and other toxins that may accumulate throughout the food chain. Crops genetically engineered to be glufosinate (herbicide)resistant may produce intestinal herbicide with known toxic effects. If transference to gut bacteria occurs, greater problems may result.

Repeated use of seeds like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans results in vicious new super-weeds that need far greater amounts of stronger herbicides to combat. Their toxic residues remain in crops that humans and animals then eat. Even small amounts of these toxins may be endocrine disruptors that can affect human reproduction adversely. Evidence exists that GM crops accumulate toxins or concentrate them in milk or animals fed GM feed. Disease-resistant crops may also produce new plant viruses that affect humans.

All type GM foods, not just crops, carry these risks. Milk, for example, from cows injected with Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone (rbGH), has much higher levels of the hormone IGF-1 that risks breast, prostate, colon, lung and other cancers. The milk also has lower nutritional value. GM food additives also pose health risks, and their use has proliferated in processed foods.

Potential harm to adults is magnified for children. Another concern is that pregnant mothers eating GM foods may endanger their offspring by harming normal fetal development and altering gene expression that’s then passed to future generations. Children are also more endangered than adults, especially those drinking substantial amounts of rbGH-treated milk.

Conclusion

The above information is largely drawn from Smith’s “Genetic Roulette.” The data is startling and confirms a clear conclusion. The proliferation of untested, unregulated GM foods in the span of a decade is more a leap of faith than reliable science. Microbiologist Richard Lacey captures the risk stating: “it is virtually impossible to even conceive of a testing procedure to assess the health effects of (GM) foods when introduced into the food chain, nor is there any valid nutritional or public interest reason for their introduction.” Other scientists worldwide agree that GM foods entered the market long before science could evaluate their safety and benefits. They want a halt to this dangerous experiment that needs decades of rigorous research and testing before we can know.

Unchecked and unregulated, human health and safety are at risk because once GMOs enter the food chain, the genie is out of the bottle for keeps. Thankfully, resistance is growing worldwide, many millions are opposed, but reversing the tide won’t be easy. Washington and Ag biotech are on a roll with big unstated aims – total control of our food, making it all genetically engineered, and scheming to use it as a weapon to reward friends and punish enemies.

Smith is hopeful that people will prevail over profits. Hopefully he’s right because human health and safety must never be compromised. Resistance already halted the introduction of new crop varieties, and Smith believes that with enough momentum existing ones may end up withdrawn. He cites an example he calls a “Shift away from GM foods in the United States” in 2007. Leading it is an initiative launched last spring to remove GM ingredients from the entire natural food sector. It’s led by a coalition of natural food products producers, distributors and retailers along with the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT). It’s called the Campaign for Healthier Eating in America, and its aims are big – to educate consumers about GM food risks and promote healthy alternatives through shopping guides.

A Pew survey reported that 29% of Americans, representing 87 million people, strongly oppose these foods and believe they’re unsafe. That’s a respectable start if backed up with efforts to avoid them, and more information how is at ResponsibleTechnology.org. Jeffrey Smith founded IRT in 2003 “to promote the responsible use of technology and stop GM foods and crops through both grassroots and national strategies.” It seeks safe alternatives and aims to “ban the genetic engineering of our food supply and all outdoor releases of (GM) organisms, at least until (or unless scientific opinion) believes such products are safe and appropriate based on independent and reliable data.”

IRT urges consumers to become educated about the risks, mobilize to combat them and act in our mutual self-interest. It’s beginning to happen, and Smith believes “there is an excellent chance that food manufacturers will abandon GM foods in the near future” if a public groundswell demands it. He ends his book saying: “Although GMOs present one of the greatest dangers, with informed, motivated people, it is one of the easiest global issues to solve.” Hopefully he’s right.

Global Research Associate Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected].

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com 

Video: Direct Line with Vladimir Putin on Russia’s Economy

June 17th, 2017 by Pres. Vladimir Putin

The annual special Direct Line with Vladimir Putin was broadcasted live by Channel One, Rossiya 1, Rossiya 24 and Russia Today TV channels, and Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii radio stations.

Full Transcript:

Tatyana Remezova: Good afternoon, we are live. This is Direct Line with Vladimir Putin, a joint project by Channel One and Rossiya 1 TV channels. You can also watch the broadcast live on Rossiya 24, and listen to a live radio broadcast on Mayak, Vesti FM and Radio Rossii radio stations.

The anchors of Direct Line are Tatyana Remezova and Dmitry Borisov.

Dmitry Borisov: Good afternoon,

First of all, I would like to introduce our colleagues who will be helping us today. Maria Gladkikh and Natalya Yuryeva are in the call centre; and here in the studio we have Vera Krasova, Nailya Asker-zade, Olga Pautova and Olga Ushakova.

They are surrounded by people who were in the spotlight of the last year’s most dramatic news reports, people who arguably have shaped today’s Russia in one way or another.

Now to Tatyana Remezova.

Tatyana Remezova: President of Russia Vladimir Putin is here, in the studio, live.

Maria Gladkikh: Good afternoon,

We are in the call centre, which plays a key role in Direct Line. Our centre has already received 1.1 million calls. You can submit your question to Vladimir Putin right now. The telephone number has not changed: 8 (800) 200 4040. You can also use 04040 for SMS and MMS messages.

Natalya Yuryeva: In addition to SMS messages and telephone calls, our operators also accept video questions that can be submitted either from the moskva-putinu.ru website or by using a special mobile application called Moskva Putinu (Moscow to Putin).

You can also submit questions using the programme’s official accounts on the VKontakte and Odnoklassniki social networks. For the first time, you can talk to the head of state by direct video link via OK Live, as well as the Moskva-Putinu application. This way, not only will the President hear you, but he will also be able to see you.

Go ahead, make a call. We will be taking questions until the end of the broadcast. You still have time. Maybe it will be your question that Vladimir Putin answers.

Maria Gladkikh: Another innovation in this year’s Direct Line is the SN Wall communications platform that enables us to monitor, in real time, how the audience is discussing the programme on social media. More than 300,000 comments have already been posted on Facebook, VKontakte, Instagram and Twitter.

Those who need sign interpretation can watch the broadcast on Public Television of Russia and on our website.

Dmitry Borisov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Dmitry Borisov: Our call centre has been receiving phone calls for 12 days, and 2 million messages of various kinds have been received to this point. The top five of the most sensitive issues for Russians includes growing prices, declining living standards, housing and utilities, healthcare and of course, there are many personal requests.

Tatyana Remezova: That said, I would like to highlight a major difference from previous Direct Lines.

Most of the messages we have received are not about the present, but about the future: how will our country live in the years to come, what will its relations with other countries be like? This could be due to the fact that we are in a pre-election year, when people have more questions to their leaders, to you primarily, of course.

Dmitry Borisov: However, before we start talking about the future, let me begin with the present.

We have been hearing many optimistic assessments of the state of the Russian economy lately. Can we say, would it be right to assume that the economic crisis is over?

Vladimir Putin: You have started with a core question, whether the economic crisis is over. I would very much like to give an affirmative answer, thereby sending a positive signal to the people. However, in the back of your mind you cannot stop thinking that something could still go wrong, something could happen.

Nevertheless, when it comes to drawing conclusions of this kind we should be guided by objective data. What are the hard facts telling us? They are telling us that the Russian economy has overcome the recession, and moved into a growth trend. I will get back to this later to explain how this conclusion can be reached and on what data it is based.

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

But I would like to start by making a different point and highlighting the most pressing issues that have yet to be resolved. You mentioned them in your question, by the way. What are these issues all about? Real incomes have been declining over the last several years, and what is even more alarming is the growing number of people below the poverty line with incomes below the minimum living wage.

In this regard, Russia hit a low in the early and mid-1990s, when almost one third of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, almost 40 percent or 35 to 37 percent, according to various estimates, almost 40 million people. This was the all-time low, while the highest indicators in this respect were reported in 2012.

In 2012, 10.7 percent of the population was below the poverty line. Unfortunately, since then this number has reached 13.5 percent. It may not seem like a lot, just a few percentage points, but we are talking about tens, and hundreds of thousands of people, their lives, so this is a matter of serious concern.

There are economic issues that have still to be addressed, above all regarding real incomes. What are these issues? They have to do with the structure of the economy that we find unsatisfactory. In this connection I have to mention low labour productivity. There will be no new jobs, and incomes will not increase, unless we improve labour productivity. This is a major issue.

We will most definitely come back to these matters and I am 100 percent certain that people will have further questions and we will go into greater detail and look further at all that makes it possible for me to say now that the recession is over and we have seen economic growth for three quarters in a row now. GDP growth is modest, but it has nonetheless held steady from one quarter to the next.

GDP growth was plus 3 percent at the end of the fourth quarter of 2016, plus 5 percent in the first quarter of this year, and up 1.4 percent in April this year. This makes for GDP growth of 0.7 percent overall for the first four months of 2017.

Industrial production is also on the rise. We had growth of 0.7 percent in the first quarter of this year. I have brought along some of the latest figures, so as not to forget anything, and I can share them with you too. These are the latest statistics.

Investment into capital assets is up 2.3 percent. We see an increase in car sales and mortgage loans, which all economies consider a clear sign of growth, and non-resource and non-energy exports are up by 19 percent.

Finally, another important macroeconomic indicator is inflation, and we have brought it down to a record low in modern Russian history. The figure today is 4.2 percent. This is an unprecedented result and it gives us reason to expect that we will reach our target figure of 4 percent by the end of the year.

The Central Bank’s gold and foreign currency reserves, our international reserves, are growing. We started 2016 with $368 billion and ended the year with $378 billion. Today, the figure is $407 billion. One of the most significant indicators that I must mention is investment into capital assets, which is growing at a faster pace than the economy as a whole.

The economy grew by 0.7 percent over the first four months of this year, while investment into capital assets was up by 2.3 percent. What does this mean in simple terms? It means that investment in developing production facilities is up by 2.3 percent, and this is laying the foundations for growth in the short term. This, of course, is a positive development that will have an impact on various aspects of the social sector too.

Which aspects? The main social sector achievement that I want to mention once again is the substantial drop in infant and maternal mortality. Infant mortality has undergone a three-fold decrease since 2000, and maternal mortality has seen a close to four-fold drop. Probably no other country’s social sector has achieved such results. This has contributed to increased life expectancy as well. The figures here are now up from just over 70 years to 72 years. Overall, these results give us reason to say that we have overcome the crisis.

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

Tatyana Remezova: Mr President, you yourself spoke about people’s declining real incomes, and the official statistics confirm this. When will people feel the benefits of the reviving economy?

Vladimir Putin: You know, the decline was rather steep, and so it will take some time before people will feel an improvement. As I said at the beginning, I consider this to be the most important and serious problem.

Real wages started increasing in July or August 2016 and increased 0.7 percent by the end of the year. This increase is rather difficult to see, although it reached 2.3 or 2.4 percent in April this year.

As you know, we made lump sum payments of 5,000 rubles to pensioners early this year and increased pensions for non-working pensioners by 5.4 percent starting from February 1 and later brought the overall figure to 5.8 percent. We have also indexed social pensions.

We are working with employers to increase the minimum wage. We increased it by over 20 percent last year and have also raised it this year. Overall, we are working at this so that people can feel the improvements.

Tatyana Remezova: Still, many people complain about low wages. Here are many text messages and photos of wage slips. For example, a preschool teacher at Kindergarten No. 111 in Astrakhan is paid 7,935 rubles. The slip is for May 2017. Can you live on this wage?

A medical nurse at the Vostochny Space Launch Centre received 10,246 rubles in May.

“Should a firefighter risk his life for 8,000 rubles a month?” asks Alexander Melnikov, head of a fire team from the Saratov Region.

“When will postal workers’ wages be raised? You cannot live on 3,600 rubles.”

Vladimir Putin: We will have to check the situation with salaries of 3,600 rubles to understand how this is possible. After all, there is a minimum wage in Russia, and it is more than 3,600 rubles. However, all the people you have mentioned are public sector employees who did not benefit from the wage increases under the May 2012 executive orders.

As for public sector employees who did benefit from these increases, their salaries are going up as planned, more or less. In other public sector jobs that were not covered by the May 2012 executive orders, the situation is more challenging. Their salaries were not adjusted for inflation, even though prices have gone up, and the inflation rate was quite high at 12.9 percent in 2015. Still, their wages were not adjusted for inflation. If you are telling me that this is not fair, I agree. I have raised this issue with the Government, and issued instructions to this effect. These salaries will be adjusted for inflation starting January 1, 2018.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you.

Dmitry Borisov: We have received many calls on this subject. Let us ask the call centre to join our conversation.

Natalya, you have the floor.

Natalya Yuryeva: Mr President, we have just received a call from a medical nurse in Primorye who asked how she could survive on her salary. Socioeconomic issues are always the most sensitive, and they worry Russians the most.

I also see a question on another sensitive issue, the low salaries of teachers in the regions.

Here with us, via video conference, we now have Alyona Ostaltsova from Irkutsk.

Alyona, good afternoon, you are on, you can ask your question.

Alyona Ostaltsova: Hello, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Alyona Ostaltsova: My name is Alyona Ostaltsova, and I am calling from the city of Shelekhov, Irkutsk Region. The question I have is quite common. Why are teachers paid so little? I am an elementary school teacher. I have been working for one year, but my salary has never exceeded 16,500 rubles per month. I have not received the allowance young teachers are entitled to. I love my job, and I love working with children, but with a salary like this, I have no choice. How can I live on it? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Alyona, you are from Irkutsk Region, is that right?

Alyona Ostaltsova: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Shelekhov is probably a small town. I do not know whether your school is fully staffed. You and I know, and so do all other teachers across the country, that there is an objective to bring teachers’ salaries up to the regional average. If I am not mistaken, since I may not recall the exact figures, the average salary in Irkutsk Region is slightly above 30,000 rubles. The average salary in Irkutsk Region is above 30,000 rubles. And teachers’ salaries are even slightly higher in Irkutsk Region.

What happens in reality? The teachers’ money and the level of wages are managed by the school itself, and it determines the payroll and extra payments in addition to the salary. The school itself does this. Again, the payroll and additional payments. It is clear that young specialists, and you are a young specialist, usually make somewhat less than experienced teachers with longer service and all. It is unclear though why it is so much less, 50 or 70 percent – I do not understand this either. I hope that the region’s administration, the authorities that supervise education, will pay attention to this.

This is what I’m thinking: as I said, such a difference in income is unacceptable. Therefore, if this is happening, it would probably be reasonable to establish a minimum wage or a minimum ratio between the income level of young specialists and those who have a long record of service. We probably need to think about this.

Alyona Ostaltsova: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: About 11,000 rubles, it is certainly strange. I repeat: wages should not differ so dramatically. We will deal with your specific case.

Tatyana Remezova: Before this broadcast, we talked to people who sent in their complaints, including complaints on this issue. Indeed, the situation is very different in various regions and largely depends on who is in charge of the region.

Over the past year, many changes have taken place in the leadership of Russian regions, something that never happened before: Buryatia, Kaliningrad, Karelia, Kirov, Mari El, Novgorod, Perm, Ryazan, Sevastopol, Tver, Tula, Udmurtia, and Yaroslavl. Why? Are all the newly appointed governors coping with their duties?

Vladimir Putin: You know, in many places the governors’ tenure in office simply ended, as many of them had worked for 10 and even more years. Frankly, it was their own idea to try working in other areas.

In other regions, we just felt that people want change, and therefore initiated the process. As to whether they are competent or not, this is primarily a question for the local people. Some of the elected regional leaders had already served for six months or a year before running for the position, so when they did, people voted for them because they knew they could trust them with managing the region, so we can say that people – the voters – believe these candidates were doing a good job. But, of course, any election, the results of any election are an upfront trust given to candidates for leadership at any level at the beginning of their work at this new high office.

Whether they succeed or not – I will return to this subject now. They have to succeed, they have everything to make it despite the fact they are relatively young. They have extensive state work and life experience; of course, you can blame it all on them – but the financial situation is not easy in the regions.

In this regard, the Federation helps for them, supports them. To solve these social issues and level wages, 40 billion rubles have been allocated in this year’s federal budget. What is more, I asked the Government to provide additional finances, and they have allocated another 10 billion rubles. Therefore, they have the support; they also have their own social programmes. They have to work and achieve results.

Tatyana Remezova: We received the following question online: ”Two weeks ago, Europe extended the anti-Russia sanctions for another year. Do you think we are ready to live under these sanctions for decades?”

Vladimir Putin: In fact, the history of Russia shows that we have usually lived under sanctions whenever Russia started to become independent and feel strong. Whenever our partners in the world saw Russia as a serious rival, they imposed various restrictions under various excuses; this has been the case throughout our history, not just in Soviet times; this was the case even before the 1917 revolution. So no surprises here.

We now know that the US Senate has drawn up another draft law on toughening these sanctions. What are the reasons for this? Nothing extraordinary is taking place. Why have they started talking about sanctions again, for no particular reason? This, of course, testifies to the ongoing domestic political struggle in the United States. In any case, this is happening and I can see no real reason for it. If it had not been Crimea or some other issue, they would still have come up with some other way to restrain Russia. The policy of containing Russia has always been presented like this.

So, what is the situation with these sanctions and what impact, if any, have they had on us? They have had an impact. Has this been fundamental in nature? I do not think so. We have been affected more by the global situation and the drop in prices for our main traditional goods – oil, gas, metals, chemicals, and so on. What view do our partners take?

The US State Department believes that these sanctions have lowered our GDP by 1 percent, the Europeans give a slightly higher figure, and the UN has calculated that we lost around $50–52 billion, and that the countries that imposed the sanctions have lost $100 billion. In other words, sanctions have proven to be a double-edged sword and harm everyone, including those who impose them.

Strange though it might sound, however, there have been advantages too. What are they? For a start, we were forced to concentrate our intelligence, talent and resources on key areas and not simply rely on oil and gas revenue. What result has this brought? We have seen real production growth in important and complex economic sectors.

We have rebuilt substantially our skills in the radio-electronics sector, and we made good progress in aircraft engineering, rocket building, pharmaceuticals, and in heavy engineering. That is not to mention agriculture. We all know that agriculture has posted growth of around 3 percent and Russia is now a leader in exports of grain and wheat. That is the result we have to show.

We have reduced substantially imports and developed our own production of pork and poultry and cover practically our entire consumption needs. What’s more, we are now looking for sales markets abroad.

We are in talks with our Chinese friends on opening the Chinese market to our pork and poultry producers. So, there are positive aspects in this situation.

But this is not a normal situation, of course. All of these restrictions do not produce anything good, and we should work towards a global economy that functions without these restrictions.

Dmitry Borisov: If possible, I would like to return to the issue of public opinion on the performance of regional authorities. We have been collecting questions for the past 12 days and have noticed that journalists have used some of these questions as themes for their reports, citing people’s complaints and requests. Miraculously, asphalt was laid, walls painted and building facades repaired the next day after the stories appeared on Channel One or Rossiya. This seems to have solved the problem, or has it?

And there is also a different trend. Tatyana Remezova can correct me if I am wrong, because this story was aired on her show. It is about people complaining over long queues in outpatient clinics while doctors say that this is not true. Then, there is the issue of pseudo-assistance, when people pretend that there is no problem, and simultaneously, the issue of the pseudo-problem, when people try to make a mountain out of a molehill.

I would like to say that we record all these cases. Mr President, we will forward the list of issues that have been allegedly resolved and also pseudo-problems to you and the Presidential Executive Office.

Vladimir Putin: It looks as though holding this event once a year is useful after all. Those who were sitting on their hands will do something good, like build a road or settle matters with healthcare or social facilities. But these are only separate elements. What matters for me is the ability to gauge the public mood, to see what worries people most, the whole range of issues. Of course, it is impossible to answer every question. It would be unrealistic to even try. But we can answer some of them today – I can do this with your help. And this will help us – me, the Government and the Presidential Executive Office – to see the main, and I would even say the most glaring issues, which we must deal with as a priority. I would like to thank our television audience, and those who sent their requests online, for taking part in this work.

Tatyana Remezova: I know that the subject of sanctions has found a response among the guests in this studio.

Olga Pautova has the floor.

Olga Pautova: Mr President, there are many agribusiness representatives in this room. They are more concerned with our response to the sanctions and the related import replacement.

Standing next to me is Sergei Korolev, head of the National Vegetable Union. He says the past three years have taught our farmers to grow delicious and, most importantly, wholesome tomatoes and cucumbers.

Mr Korolev, do we have productive harvests?

Sergei Korolev: We are growing by about 20–30 percent a year.

Mr President, you mentioned the sanctions earlier. We see the measures introduced against Russia as a gift and an additional tool to support our agro-industrial sector. The retaliatory measures that were introduced have produced an effect.

Vegetable production is growing at a rate unprecedented both in the Soviet Union and in recent history. I can tell you that we grew by 50 percent over the year when the retaliatory measures were introduced. We have invested 150 billion rubles in vegetable farming. You mentioned these figures today – 150 billion over a short period – [as an example] of growing investment. This is without a precedent. More than 10,000 new jobs have been created. And we are certainly ready to continue this work.

But all of us are concerned with the following issue. The US Senate adopted a decision yesterday, and Europe declared that their sanctions would be extended and even expanded. Will we extend our counter-sanctions in response to the West’s decisions?

And a second question: When, God forbid, their sanctions are called off, can we hope for your support in protecting the domestic market, as was the case with Turkish tomatoes, for which Russian vegetable growers owe you a special thanks?

Vladimir Putin: This is not a peripheral question, since it is relevant to the whole country. Why? Two years ago, as you and I know all too well, vegetable and fruit production was the most challenging issue. Prices jumped which could not help but affect household incomes. In fact, we blocked or substantially reduced imports, but were unable to meet the needs of Russian consumers on our own. We did everything we could, and I will not go through the whole list of initiatives we undertook. You know them better than I do, and I hope that you have benefited from them. These initiatives were aimed at helping our producers expand vegetable and fruit production, primarily vegetables. Two years ago, the inflation rate reached 12.9 percent, and vegetable and fruit prices were one of the main reasons behind this surge, although there were other reasons that also pushed the inflation rate up.

What we believed was that Russian agricultural producers, meat producers and those growing fruit and vegetables, needed to expand their operations to such an extent as to be able to satisfy domestic demand. You have been successful at this, and I would like to thank you. Not only you, but all those who live in rural areas.

The inflation rate is now at just 4.1 percent. This is a tangible result that benefits the entire industry. After all, almost one third of the country’s population lives on agriculture, if we include the rural population working in social services. This is a very positive development. You were right to say that your products have superior quality.

The Government has extended the sanctions until the end of 2017, to December 31. We will see how our relations evolve with the countries that imposed these restrictions on the Russian economy.

As for the question of keeping the restrictions in place indefinitely, if our partners lift the sanctions they imposed on us, we will have to do the same. Otherwise, Russia will face issues in the WTO. What I want to say is, first, we need to promote competition on the domestic market so that it benefits consumers, including those who live in major cities. Secondly, we very much hope that you will succeed in expanding your operations and enhancing your competitiveness, and we are doing everything we can to help you succeed. If you reach the same level of quality and labour productivity as your competitors, you will always have an advantage on the domestic market due to lower logistics costs. For this reason, we are providing indirect support, which is not prohibited under WTO rules. As a matter of fact, there are many loopholes that can be used, and we will continue to do so. However, you should not expect any massive, direct, or, should I say, aggressive support measures from us. Now is the time when you have to do everything it takes in order to become competitive in the near term.

Tatyana Remezova: Let’s cross to the call centre and hear a telephone call. Maria, you have the floor.

Maria Gladkikh: Yes, thank you.

Mr President, many people call about issues that they have been attempting to resolve at the local level for a long time. Finally, when they get desperate, they turn to you in a bid to get something done quicker. We have a call now from Trans-Baikal Territory.

Hello, you are on air. Please introduce yourself.

Natalya Kalinina: Hello,

Mr President, I am Natalya Kalinina, a resident of Olovyanninsky District, Trans-Baikal Territory. My village, Shiviya, was burned down entirely on April 29, 2015. I remain homeless to this date.

We were offered housing, but it was unfit for habitation. I have a small child and am a single mother. I have turned to all possible levels of authority, but have received no response anywhere. Our district officials have taken no action at all.

My daughter is set to begin school this year, but we have no place of residence registration. We are living in an old abandoned house. Mr President, please help us to obtain a decent place to live.

Thank you very much. God bless you.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Kalinina, please stay on the line. Which region are you in?

Natalya Kalinina: Olovyanninsky District, Trans-Baikal Territory.

Vladimir Putin: Trans-Baikal Territory? This is strange.

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

Yes, Trans-Baikal Territory was indeed hit by fires in the summer of 2015, and we disbursed in full federal money for providing the fire victims with new housing.

I do not remember the exact figure now, but I think it was a bit over half a billion rubles that we allocated, including over 300 million for resolving these housing problems, and this money was to have been spent on either buying housing or on building new homes for families such Ms Kalinina’s.

The region has a new governor, true, she arrived only in 2016. I will ask her to look into this situation and will also ask the prosecutor’s office to investigate where the money went and how it was spent. Whatever the case, we will resolve your problem. This is the state authorities’ duty. We promised to provide everyone affected by the fires with housing, and we will do this.

Dmitry Borisov: Maria, what are the updates? How many calls per minute is the call centre receiving? How busy is the line?

Maria Gladkikh: Of course, Dmitry, I can give you the updates. But first, I would like to show you how questions for the Direct Line are taken. Our operators fill in forms for every caller with their name, gender, age, occupation and, of course, their question.

For example, here we have a form for Ella Pavskina from Moscow Region who asked a question about kindergarten waiting lists. Every minute we receive 106 SMS and MMS messages. Our operators take around 127 calls per minute. The line’s maximum capacity is up to 456 calls.

Right now, we have a call from Ivan Tarkin in Vladivostok. Good evening to you, since it is already evening in your city. You are on. Please ask your question.

Ivan Tarkin: Mr President, this is Ivan Tarkin from the free city of Vladivostok.

Mr President, can you explain what is going on with the One Hectare programme? Mockery is the only word that describes it. You have to spend months on the website to register your plot and nothing happens, the website crashes all the time.

By the skin of my teeth, I managed to get a cadastral number, print the contract, sign it and submit it to the Vladivostok Land Committee, last February.

Since then, I have not been able to get it back for ever new reasons. A hundred years ago, Stolypin with his primitive tools never made such mistakes. Why is that?

Vladimir Putin: The Stolypin reference is appropriate here, of course. Do not forget that there were also so-called Stolypin trains that people were forced onto, and so-called Stolypin ties, which were nothing but gallows. But it is true; we must remember all the positive things that Stolypin did for our country. This is why there is a monument to him outside the Government House in Moscow. We do not have a death penalty now as you know, although sometimes, you know what I mean.

As concerns the hectare programme: first of all, the programme is going fairly well overall. I will speak about this in a minute. Primorye Territory is struggling with it the most, I will explain why.

Last February, we made a decision that any Russian citizen who wants to move to the Far East will be given one hectare.

The number of applications rose immediately. There are 92,000 applications now. Even the system that was designed to process them has glitches. About 27,000 of the 92,000 applications have been granted, which is more than a third. This is the first thing.

The second. In the European part of Russia, it takes up to three years to obtain a land plot, as disappointing as this sounds, while in the Far East it takes a little over two months to get this one hectare.

Your case is, of course, discouraging. What could be the matter is beyond my knowledge, but we will certainly try to help you. I am sure that the relevant ministers in the region are listening, as is Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev. They will certainly respond.

What is the problem? The problem is that they do not have a proper cadastral register. This is their first problem.

The second problem is that too much land belongs to official agencies, like the Defence Ministry, the Academy of Sciences and all the departments involved in environmental protection. And so we have one figure on paper and a different one in reality. You have been issued a cadastral number, but when you started checking the data you found a disparity, and now you need to settle it with various departments.

I will try helping you in this. I will try helping my colleagues, the governors, coordinate these issues so that nobody else has these problems. I am sure that you will receive your hectare of land. Good luck.

Tatyana Remezova: We do receive many complaints from the Far East about the allocation of land under the One Hectare programme. At the same time, people from other regions demand to know when this programme will be spread around Russia. Vasily Denisov from the town of Blagoi in the Tver Region wonders if the One Hectare programme will also be applied in other regions, which must surely have unused land too.

Vladimir Putin: There is enough unused land in Russia. For example, over 43 million hectares of farmland is not being used for its intended purpose. This is a huge amount.

But first we need to complete the experiment in the Far East. As you can see, there are some problems, such as the one we heard about on the phone, although the situation is mostly favourable. In other words, we first need to test this process in the Far East. And we also need to settle the problem of cadastral registers.

Overall, I believe that the person who asked this question is right, and we do need to make use of this land. However, we should do it carefully so as not to create a secondary market for the land we allocate under the One Hectare programme because our people are very creative, you know: they can take several hectares first, then there will emerge a secondary market, and we end up with those hectares being resold many times without any tillage. Although the corresponding law says it all. This land is not being allocated as property. The land holders must show good result during the first five years, after which they will be able to receive either a long-term lease for this land or appropriate it. But they may not sell it to foreigners. In short, we need to test every detail of this programme in the Far East. But overall, it is the right idea.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you.

Dmitry Borisov: This year, the call centre editors, and all of us working on the Direct Line, selected a number of questions not only to let a person ask it live over the phone, or to record a video message, but to immediately send a film crew to the scene to see with our own eyes, through the eyes of our colleagues, what is happening there, on site. The first such place is Balashikha, outside Moscow. Our colleague Dmitry Kaistro is there now.

Dmitry Kaistro: Hello!

It is raining today and visibility is not great, but giant rubbish heaps are clearly visible in the heart of this neighbourhood of Balashikha. This dump has been here for more than 50 years, poisoning everything around it, and rubbish trucks bring more all the time, day and night. This dump is even visible from outer space – it takes up about 50 hectares and is closing in on the surrounding houses.

We have worked here for several days, but when we arrived at the landfill, strong young people emerged wearing “environmentalist” T-shirts with ‘Environmental Control’ written on them. They showed us some kind of facility for processing rubbish, even decorated with balloons in the colours of the Russian flag – it looked like some proactive move. This was a perfect illustration of the place and the disaster that has rallied tens of thousands of people here. We did not even have to ask – people came to us to talk about the burning matter and ask their questions.

Yelena Mikhailenko: Hello!

We live here in the neighborhood of Kuchino, in Balashikha, and some of us are from Olgino and Pavlino. The situation here is terrible, simply unbearable in fact. There is a huge landfill, the biggest in Moscow Region, within our town, just 200 metres from residential areas, kindergartens and clinics, and only 20 kilometres from the Kremlin. This is a violation of Federal Law No. 89.

Fires occur on the landfill daily; it is impossible to breathe, and there is a constant release of gases, methanethiol and sulphur dioxide. They become converted to hydrogen sulphide, and we breathe it. Many suffer from nausea and vomiting, all the time. It is unbearable.

We have appealed to many government agencies at various levels, receiving only formal and noncommittal replies; we have it all documented. We do not know what to do. This is not only our problem; it is a problem for the whole country. We do not know what to do in this situation. Turning to you is our last hope.

Vladimir Putin: This is a very sensitive and complicated issue. I know full well what you are talking about. I have seen this waste disposal site. As the reporter said, it has been there for 50 years. By the way, I see that you are standing by a building that was clearly built less than 50 years ago. Someone did decide to build housing near a waste disposal site that has been there for 50 years. So let’s not forget the people who took the decision to build residential buildings in this area. The dump has been there for 50 years. Nevertheless, we have what we have, and it is our duty to respond. Of course, we are aware of the problem. There is special urgency to deal with it in the Moscow Region, Tatarstan, Tula and a number of other regions.

What measures will be taken? First, a decision was made to build recycling plants. Four of them will be erected in the project’s initial phase, and three of them will be located in the Moscow Region. By the way, advanced Japanese technology will be used, provided by Hitachi, if I am not mistaken, and the Rostec Corporation will be in charge of building these units. This should be done as quickly as possible. This is the first point.

The second point is that 5 billion rubles were allocated from the federal budget, which is a substantial amount, to resolve the most pressing issues we are currently facing in this area. This is clearly your case. I will ask the Governor of the Moscow Region and the federal Government to use these allocations to resolve the most pressing issues like the one you are facing. I hope that this will be done.

The law on waste management was adopted quite a while ago, but its enactment has been delayed time and again. I think now it is expected to come into force on January 1, 2019. Why was it rolled back? Because manufacturers have to pay recycling fees under the law, so during the crisis, manufacturers asked us to postpone these fees in order to lessen the burden on the economy. This is the first thing I wanted to say about this law.

Secondly, with regard to individuals, this law stipulates that certain environmental fees must be paid by individuals as well. However, the effect of paying these fees will not be visible right away, because it is first necessary to build something using these funds, after which the effect will become visible. All this time we had doubts: will the people understand this, and should it be done at all? I want to ask everyone who will engage in this work or is already engaged: the people will certainly understand if they see where the money is going, and to make sure they do, we need public oversight in place.

By the way, I would like to thank Russian Popular Front, which created the corresponding map. Hundreds of people are already working on this as they identify the most critical issues. With regard to Balashikha, we will look into this issue separately and try to fix it. I can understand perfectly the critical importance of this problem. It has been building up over decades. We will try to fix it as soon as possible.

Dmitry Borisov: By the way, Balashikha is one of the places I was talking about. We were choosing locations in the regions for these reports and these questions arrived on every one of the 12 days that we were taking messages from different regions. We chose Balashikha, and went there. You can see everything and get a good sense of what is going on.

Vladimir Putin: Well, of course. People are standing there, and it stinks to high heaven.

Dmitry Borisov: Unfortunately, the screen cannot convey the smell. You just saw what Dmitry Kaistro showed us. It looks like they have spruced things up a little, and built some kind of a line there in one day. However, we have a photo taken the day before. I just want to show it to you, if I may.

This is modern-day Balashikha, the picture was taken yesterday. In a matter of one day, the balloons suddenly appeared. It looks like the matter is being addressed. They are saying there is no problem whatsoever.

Tatyana Remezova: We now have Irkutsk Region online. Lake Baikal and its biggest island, Olkhon Island. Our colleague Pavel Zarubin joins us from there.

Pavel Zarubin: Hello, Moscow! Olkhon Island sits in the middle of Lake Baikal. Look how beautiful it is here. Shamanka Rock is one of the main attractions of the lake.

Later, we will see that almost all trees here are covered with beautiful ribbons, as, according to local legends, Shamanka Rock and Cape Burkhan are believed to be a special sacred place, a place of worship.

Of course, many tourists come to the Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal. Just imagine that 10 years ago there was no electricity in Khuzhir, from which we are broadcasting now, while now this town with a population of 1,500 has two or three thousand tourists every day in the summer – every single day!

The Yordynsky Games have begun in the Olkhon District. The games are a beautiful ethnic and cultural festival. Let’s take a few seconds to watch and listen.

Foreign tourists flock here to see the festival by the thousands; there are so many of them around! But the locals have complained that they live as if in a reservation.

The Russian nature conservation legislation was seriously tightened several years ago. The water conservation zone of Lake Baikal has been expanded inland by dozens of kilometres, and locals say that they will be unable to do anything here if they comply with the law.

They say that it is a major problem. Nearly all the residents of this town have said so, but Viktor was especially expressive.

Viktor, over to you.

Viktor Vlasov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Let us begin with the road. The road from the ferry to Khuzhir is so bad that it is almost non-existent. Many people come here by car, and these are expensive cars, and so people drive off from the road, trampling vegetation so that it will take a decade for grass to grow here again.

Nobody takes care of this road. The last time the road was filled was 10 or 15 years ago. Local and regional officials always fly in by helicopter, and so they do not see the road and do not know what it means to drive on a road on which vehicles easily turn upside down.

Pavel Zarubin: Indeed, the regional bosses arrived here by helicopter an hour ago. There it is, the helicopter, you can see it.

Viktor Vlasov: A few words about the water. We live on water. Look how much water there is all around us, but we get our drinking water from wells. It is incredibly bad! You fill a three-litre kettle and think that it is full of water, but it turns out there is a layer of hard water build-up two fingers thick in the kettle. Our drinking water is not filtered, and they cannot even build a good water tower.

Pavel Zarubin: As I understand it, you cannot build a road there, or can you?

Viktor Vlasov: No, we cannot build a road because the law prohibits quarrying on the island. Quarrying is allowed only on the mainland. But it would be impossible to transport all the materials by ferry, which runs strictly on schedule.

Pavel Zarubin: So, is it also because of this law that you cannot build a road?

Viktor Vlasov: When the Baikal National Park was established, a reserve was set up on our island. When we met at the club with the representatives, they promised us the moon and said that no one was going to infringe on our rights and nothing bad would happen.

In reality, everything happened: we are not allowed into the forest, not allowed into the fields, and things have reached a point where even our cattle are arrested and we are told that if we let this happen again, our cattle will be shot.

Vladimir Putin: We were in Balashikha only recently and we saw there the conditions in which people are living. This is the result of the fact that environmental norms were ignored at one point and people built housing in places where this should not have been done.

We certainly must resolve this situation now. I would like to get back, because what I have seen made an impression and we must do everything possible to help Balashikha and help the people living there.

Your situation is the other side of the coin, but these are two sides of the same matter. You said that environmental norms and legal provisions were toughened, but these territories are no doubt protected by our international obligations as well.

What can I say here? Of course, everything should be within reasonable limits. The protected water reservoir zone that you speak of should conform to Baikal’s status and significance and meet the needs and demands of the people living in the area.

Of course, we cannot force people to carry buckets and cans of water for several kilometres. Water quality should be guaranteed and roads should be built. We must amend the current regulations and laws in such a way as to allow for economic activity, coordinated with the environmental organisations, in order to ensure normal and civilised conditions for the people living in these areas.

We need to make amendments to these laws. I have taken note of the matter. We will work together with you. I will say again that together with the environmental organisations we should do everything to ensure that things stay within reasonable limits. This is definitely necessary work.

I do not think this will have any negative impact on our commitments to international organisations. These organisations make people the primary focus of their work, so why should we not do the same? I see no reason not to. We will address this problem.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you, Olkhon.

We received many questions from young mothers. This is why we went to a perinatal centre that has recently opened in the Republic of Bashkortostan, where our colleague Ivan Prozorov is working.

Ivan Prozorov: Colleagues, good afternoon,

We are in the Mother and Child clinic, a state-of-the-art multi-purpose centre, where high-technology surgery is performed, including under government quotas.

Of course, the main purpose of this centre is obvious from its name, Mother and Child. We are now in a ward for newborns, where mothers take care of their babies. By the way, we know that this mother and her child are about to leave the clinic. They will be home in a matter of hours.

This child was born less than two days ago. Both the mother and the child feel great, which should be credited among others to Ruslan Garifullin, who is an obstetrician-gynaecologist. He has been working at this centre since its first day.

More than 2,000 babies were born here in almost three years. Doctor Garifullin submitted a written question to Direct Line, and now he can ask it himself.

Doctor Garifullin, go ahead.

Ruslan Garifullin: Good afternoon, Mr President.

I am an obstetrician-gynaecologist, and have been working in maternity centres for 15 years. During my career, I had a chance…

Ivan Prozorov: Excuse me, my colleague is telling me that behind us you can see a ward where a young father has just entered with a newborn. Is that right?

Ruslan Garifullin: Yes, his child was born only a few moments ago.

Ivan Prozorov: Sorry for improvising. We knew that the operation was underway, but did not expect it to happen when we would be live.

Hello, you may not believe it, but this is Direct Line with Vladimir Putin. Millions of people can now see you. Congratulations on behalf of all of them. This is an incredible moment. What is your name, and how do you feel?

Artyom Sukharev: Hello, my name is Artyom Sukharev. This is actually my second child. He was born only 20 minutes ago, and I got to hold him right away. My wife is still in the intensive-care ward, while I get to know my child.

Ivan Prozorov: Were you nervous just as with your first child? Or was it less dramatic?

Artyom Sukharev: You know, I was less nervous, although there were still a lot of emotions.

Ivan Prozorov: Is it a boy or a girl?

Artyom Sukharev: It’s a boy. This is the second boy in the family.

Ivan Prozorov: Great, congratulations! What is his weight and height?

Artyom Sukharev: He is 3.8 kilograms and 54 centimetres long.

Ivan Prozorov: Have you chosen a name?

Artyom Sukharev: Yes, his name will be Mikhail.

Ivan Prozorov: Amazing. Can you show us the baby? Is he sound asleep right now?

Artyom Sukharev: No, he is trying to open his eyes. Everything is interesting for him.

Ivan Prozorov: Thank you, and once again congratulations. Please send our well-wishes to your spouse. We will not disturb you any longer. Thank you, and congratulations.

(Applause)

We are returning to the question. Ruslan, I am sorry we were interrupted. Can you repeat your question?

Ruslan Garifullin: This was a good reason for interrupting, great news. I will continue.

Mr President, here it goes. Over the 15 years of my career, I have seen the birth rate both in decline and on the rise, the latter in the past seven or eight years. However, right now we are actually afraid that the birth rate will begin to drop again as a backwash of the birth rate drop in the 90s. There are literally fewer women these days who are ready to have children.

In this regard, my question is, will the maternity capital programme, which expires in 2018, be extended? And will it cover the birth of a third child and further children?

Also, our new mothers are certainly concerned with the child allowance they receive once the child turns 18 months. At the moment they get paid a pathetic 50 rubles. It think it is a measly amount. Will anything change?

Vladimir Putin: First, I would like to congratulate Mikhail and his parents on his birth and the boy himself on coming into this world. It is a wonderful event for his family. We wish the parents and the child the best of luck and happiness.

Now to the demographics. Indeed, we have done a lot to turn the demographic trends towards stable growth. We have achieved a very positive result.

The birth rate in Russia is growing faster than across Europe. When I say that, many of my counterparts are surprised and honestly happy for us. Now, what I want to say about the trends is the following.

Russia suffered the biggest loss in terms of population and demographic development during the Great Patriotic War in 1943 and 1944. In 1943, the birth rate fell by 60 percent compared to the pre-war years.

During that time, fewer than one million children were born in Russia, in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. In the 1990s, also due to difficult events, we had 1.2 million children borne, which is similar to the demographic loss during the war. The drop was around 50 percent.

Surely, we must take into account that the second case was also a repercussion of the Great Patriotic War to an extent, added to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the social welfare system, the drop in the quality of life, and massive unemployment. All these factors together resulted in a catastrophic birth rate decline, and it comes back every 25 years.

First the war, then every 25 years, and in the mid-90s the collapse of the Soviet Union and everything it entailed affected the picture. Eventually, we almost fell back to the level of the Great Patriotic War.

And what do we have as a result? The number of young people, primarily women of childbearing age, as professionals say, has plummeted. The generation that was born in the 1990s has entered this age.

The number of young women aged between 20 and 29 has decreased by 34 percent and the number of women aged up to 38 or 39 has dropped by 25 percent. Women aged between 30 and 40 continue to have children, and these are healthy kids. We should be grateful to medical advances for this. But still, the decline is tremendous. The number of people who can become parents has decreased.

We must do something to prevent the demographic gap from becoming wider still. What can we do? First, we have a number of tried and tested systems. You have mentioned one of them – maternity capital. By the way, over 7 million families, over 7 million mothers have received maternity capital, and nearly half of them have used it. This is our first achievement.

Second, allocations for a third child have been introduced in the regions with an unfavourable demographic situation. As a result, the birth rate has increased by 37 percent there. Yes, we have achieved the desired result. Our measures are effective, although they are also expensive. But we are talking about our people, our citizens, and our future. We must analyse all aspects of the problem very carefully. Of course, we must not squander funds, but neither should we be stingy with them. Therefore, we need a set of various measures, such as the extension of the maternity capital programme as it exists or in a new form.

We must think about encouraging young women to have their first babies, probably by allocating funds to them. Why so much attention to young mothers? Because they are still young, and so we should help them by giving them a start in life. We must also think about encouraging older mothers, that is, mothers aged 30 or more, to have their second and third children.

We have resolved the problem of kindergartens for children aged between three to seven. It is a major achievement of our social policy in the past year. As far as I know, there are places for 89 percent of children in this age group in kindergartens. But we do not have enough day nurseries.

We must have nurseries for young mothers who do not wish to interrupt their careers or would like to have one. We need a programme and a package of measures. I can tell you that we have plans for a government meeting to discuss this issue. I will not speak here about the measures we will discuss, but they are on the agenda.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you, Ufa, and congratulations on the birth of a new citizen of Russia. It is a wonderful event. While we were answering your question, we received a question from Tatyana Prokopenko in Kabardino-Balkaria. She is asking about your grandchildren. How old are they, and what are their names?

Vladimir Putin: You know, my children, my daughters, despite all the rumours, live here in Russia, in Moscow. I have grandchildren and they live a normal life too. My daughters are involved in science and education and they stay out of the public eye, out of politics and live normal, everyday lives. As for my grandchildren, one of them is already in kindergarten.

The thing is, you see, I do not want them to grow up like some royal princes. I want them to live like ordinary people, and for this, they need to have a normal environment and ordinary interaction with other children. The minute I give their names and ages, they would be identified immediately and would never be left in peace, and this would be quite simply detrimental to their development. Therefore, everything is fine, and I ask you to understand me correctly and show understanding for this position of mine.

Tatyana Remezova: We understand you and we congratulate you on being a grandfather.

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. My second grandchild was born recently.

Tatyana Remezova: Congratulations!

Dmitry Borisov: You said that the maternity capital programme should be expanded. We have received many messages from mothers in the regions asking for the new law to allow them to spend the maternity capital on purchasing a car, which is often an essential thing for large families.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, there have been frequent discussions on the possibilities of spending the maternity capital, which today comes to slightly more than 450,000 roubles. The maternity capital was not indexed over the last couple of years, the last three years even. This is something we must do and we will come back to this.

As for whether this money could be put towards other purposes, this is something we can reflect on. The only thing that has always worried me is that the money will be simply wasted and the mother, family and children will not receive the benefits of this state effort. This money is destined above all for improving housing conditions. Yes, this money is probably not enough to buy housing, but it can help towards buying it. Young families can also join one of the regional programmes for supporting young families and spend the money through these programmes. Alternatively, it can be spent on health or education. These are the main priorities.

Given the main issue people face today – the drop in incomes – we could perhaps take the simple approach of making it possible for part of the maternity capital to be given directly to the family, only part of it, to support families with two or more children. Perhaps this would be more effective than allowing people to spend it on something that is not a priority and then see it wasted, possibly the item being sold, and even at a loss. Perhaps it would be better to let people have part of the money in today’s circumstances. We will reflect on this.

Dmitry Borisov: Still, maternity capital is a lot of money – 450,000. But child benefits, as they report from various regions, are paltry: 183 rubles or 200 rubles.

Vladimir Putin: I am sorry. One of our colleagues, a doctor, has already asked a question about benefits. Yes, they are small. Indeed, they are, but we had a choice: either to increase the benefits or keep maternity capital. We opted for keeping maternal capital. It is a major financial commitment for the government, but it is a more effective tool. Still, we need to think about benefits, too.

Dmitry Borisov: I would like our guests in the studio to join in the conversation. Nailya Asker-zade. Please go ahead.

Nailya Asker-zade: There are representatives of small and medium-sized businesses among our guests, and they complain about problems with financing. One of the business leaders here, Alexander Kychakov from Novosibirsk, develops residential neighbourhoods.

Mr Kychakov, your question please.

Alexander Kychakov: Hello, Mr President!

The business community is often confronted with one and the same problem: although banks declare interest rates of 11–12 percent, the actual rate in our particular case reaches almost 19 percent – 18.75 – through additional mark-ups and charges required to open credit lines, to maintain limits, or to meet restrictions. With such rates, as I mentioned, we will not be able to build a new economy, and unfortunately, business is unlikely to be as profitable as we would have liked. I would like to ask a question. My colleagues will confirm: we just sat here and talked with Maxim, who owns an equipment-making business. I would like to know: do your ministers report to you on the real state of affairs with the financing of small and medium-sized businesses, and whether the Government plans to do anything with the level of interest rates and take steps towards solving the problem of ensuring growth and access to financing.

Vladimir Putin: Excuse me, what is your name?

Alexander Kychakov: Alexander Kychakov.

Vladimir Putin: Alexander, this, of course, is one of the key problems – the interest rates and the availability of loans. We have the head of the Higher School of Economics here, who would probably explain this to you, even more professionally than I would, especially since he is close to the Governor of the Central Bank.

Why does this happen? Of course, the interest rate always corresponds to the level of economic development. This is one of the key things that affects the country’s macroeconomic stability. We had to act based on inflation, which surged to 12.9 percent. The Central Bank was forced to raise this rate, otherwise it would have sent the economy tumbling, but it is reducing the rate gradually, as you know, it is now 12.5, and the rates of commercial banks are also falling. True, the Central Bank promised us that this year the volume of financing from commercial banks will be increased to around 6 percent.

What is happening today? Today, the average weighted rate for corporate borrowers is 11.5 percent. Small businesses probably have to pay a higher interest rate, 11.5 percent is the average figure. Incidentally, regarding this and other subjects we will be discussing, I would like to apologise right away to people who say, “What does the average weighted indicator mean for us? This is like calculating the mean temperature of hospital patients. Some people have bigger loans or lower incomes, and few are what you call average.” We need some kind of reference point. What does an average weighted interest rate mean to us? Clients whom the banks view as reliable, stable, transparent and with a good credit history can borrow at even lower rates, while at-risk borrowers can take out loans only at a higher interest rate. As I have already said, we are talking about an average interest rate of 11.5 percent for corporate borrowers and 15.5 percent for individuals. Nevertheless, mortgage lending is on the rise, through all the initiatives to facilitate lending.

I very much hope that the Central Bank continues to move cautiously towards reducing the key interest rate.

Why has the Central Bank adopted such a cautious approach? Unfortunately, the Russian economy still depends on oil and gas. The price of natural gas depends on the price of oil, and a special formula is used to calculate it. The price of oil has recently exceeded $50, and today it is only $48, I think. The Central Bank believes that if it declines, the key interest rate would have to be adjusted. What matters most for us right now is not the key interest rate itself, but avoiding any sharp fluctuations in the key interest rate. We need to ensure a stable exchange rate for our national currency, the ruble. This is what underpins the Central Bank’s cautious approach. Some may like it, others may not. I am simply trying to explain the Central Bank’s logic. It deserves respect.

There is no doubt that small businesses should be supported. I will not go through all the mechanisms we have in place for supporting SMEs, you probably know them, and these mechanisms should be further improved.

We also have to create incentives for the banking sector to act more aggressively. One thing to keep in mind is that profits of private banks are on the rise and have exceeded 650 billion, which is a substantial figure. At the same time, this kind of growth does not translate into more lending. In fact, corporate lending has increased by only 0.7 percent. The rise in consumer lending was somewhat more pronounced, but this is not enough. We have to work together and be cautious so as not to shake up the macroeconomic landscape. This is the foundation of Russia’s financial system and its entire economy.

Tatyana Remezova: Let us hear from the call centre. Maria Gladkikh.

Maria Gladkikh: Thank you.

Mr President, the geography of calls is all over the map. We get many calls from the CIS and beyond. Our editors are telling me we have a call from Kiev.

Dmitry, please ask your question.

Question: Good afternoon. My name is Dmitry, and I live in Ukraine.

Why did you abandon us? Not everybody in Ukraine supports Bandera and Shukhevych. We honour the memory of our ancestors. We march with the Immortal Regiment. Why does Russian television smear us all with one colour?

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much for your views and for valuing our shared history. You just mentioned the Immortal Regiment. We do see and appreciate that, believe me. And I cannot agree with you that Russian television smears everybody with the same colour, black.

Overall, we make sure not to paint anyone black. But we are cautious about giving you excessive public support, which could actually harm you. We try not to interfere in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.

Once again, trust me, we can and do highly appreciate your stance. Thank you for your call.

Tatyana Remezova: Mr President, what do your friends say on this topic? For example, Viktor Medvedchuk, who was actively involved in the exchange of POWs in Donbass?

Vladimir Putin: You know that we have many allies in Ukraine. You just mentioned Viktor Medvedchuk. I met him when he was Chief of Staff of President Kuchma’s Administration. He mainly cooperated with Dmitry Medvedev, who was Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Executive Office. They are still on very good terms.

Medvedvchuk has his own beliefs. My opinion is that he is a Ukrainian nationalist but he does not like this description. He considers himself to be an enlightened Ukrainian patriot. It is not a secret that his father was an active member of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists and was convicted by the Soviet court, went to prison and then was exiled to the Krasnoyarsk Territory, where Medvedvchuk himself was later born.

He has his own views on Ukraine’s independence. He is, of course, an ardent supporter of Ukraine’s independence but his belief system is based on fundamental treatises of those whom we can hypothetically describe as Ukrainian nationalists and who wrote their treatises in the 19th century and later on. These are Grushevsky, Franko, Dragomanov and the like. Then comes the man of our time, Chernovol.

All of them – I would like to emphasise that all of them proceeded from the premise that Ukraine should be independent but as a federal state. Moreover, one of them wrote that excessive, “mechanical” centralisation, as he put it, would lead to internal conflicts in Ukraine and this is, actually, what we are witnessing today.

But Viktor Medvedchuk is upholding their view; he is doing this on-the-record in his public speeches and papers. He is involved in scholarly studies. He writes articles and he does all this publicly. Probably, some people in Ukraine do not like this but such is his position.

Incidentally, these fundamentalists of Ukraine’s independence and Ukrainian nationalism – some of them did not see Crimea as part of Ukraine at all, but this is apropos. At any rate, all of them favoured federalisation, greater freedom of the individual and democratic development of the Ukrainian state.

Mr Medvedchuk shares this viewpoint but that said, he stands for very good relations with Russia, for economic integration, if not for some form of union. He says it is absurd to destroy the advantages we inherited from the past, referring to the common infrastructure, common energy grid and common financial and technological potentials and cooperation. It is absurd to destroy all this.

He believes economic cooperation is not only possible but also rational. He is acting or rather formulating his ideas proceeding from the interests of his people, the way he sees them. So he is not alone.

We have just heard from Kiev or from Ukraine anyway, from a man who told us that he is taking part in campaigns linked with our common memory. Such people as Medvedchuk are also doing this. He also thinks we should cherish our common past and all the positive events of the past.

Yes, he is involved in the exchange of detainees, prisoners of war, if we could call them that, and he is doing this on instructions from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Dmitry Borisov: We have a follow-up to the Ukraine theme.

Here is a question that came through VKontakte social network. “Ukraine widely celebrated the beginning of visa-free travel with Europe. President Poroshenko referred to this as bidding the final farewell to the Russian Empire. After that, he quoted Mikhail Lermontov’s poem, “Forever you, the unwashed Russia! The land of slaves, the land of lords …”

Would you like to answer him?

Vladimir Putin: No, I did not see his remarks on this account. However, I was told about them yesterday, I will not hide this fact. Indeed, Mr Poroshenko thought it fit to read this excerpt from Lermontov’s poem, “Forever you, the unwashed Russia! The land of slaves the land of lords, and you, the blue-uniformed ushers, and people who worship them as gods.” First, this tells us that he is familiar with the Russian classical literature, and takes an interest in it. I commend him for that. However, this is not the end of this poem. There is the second part, which runs as follows: “I hope, from your tyrannic hounds to save me with Caucasian wall, from their eye that sees through ground, from their ears that hear all.”

Mikhail Lermontov was a forward-looking man, and he wanted the political situation in Russia to improve. He was smothered by the atmosphere that prevailed in Russia at that time. And he talked about it openly.

First, if it was Mikhail Lermontov who wrote this poem, he wrote it approximately in 1841–1842, if memory serves, when he was headed for the Caucasus to join the active army. He was an officer and defended the interests of his homeland. He was a brave officer.

Further, at that point, the regions that are considered Ukraine today were Russia’s regions, and if the President of today’s Ukraine quotes Lermontov as saying that he is leaving for some other place, Lermontov referred to entire Russia, including the areas that today are known as Ukraine. So, there is nothing special to brag about here.

Also, Lermontov was going to the Caucasus, which was part of the Russian Empire at that time. He moved from one part of the empire, St Petersburg, his native land, to another part of the Russian Empire. He was not going anywhere outside of Russia as a matter of fact.

Perhaps, Mr Poroshenko is thus sending us a message that he is not going anywhere, either. However, he does it so finely, looking over his shoulder at the jingoists and the real nationalists, numbskulls running around waving swastikas. However, he is telling us: guys, I have my interests in Russia, and I am really not going anywhere. This may be the case as well.

Of course, this is nothing but conjecture. In fact, most likely, Mr Poroshenko wanted to show his voters that he is delivering on his promise by making a civilisational choice, as the Ukrainian leadership puts it, by leading the country towards Europe.

By the way, remember the line, “the blue-uniformed ushers, and people who worship them as gods?” The place he is taking Ukraine to has more blue uniforms than our country. So, he should stay alert to keep out of harm’s way and look around carefully.

To be sure, we have nothing against these guys. I want to say: we have nothing against you, live in peace and harmony, and good luck to you, especially with new recruits.

As for the core of the matter, you know that incomes fell here a few years back, and this is something we speak about frankly. Our average wage, if we put it in dollars rather than convert between rubles and hryvnia, was around $540 a month. Wages in Ukraine were similar, with an average of somewhere in the range of $450, $457, or $460. Wages here have not grown much, but they have grown, and the average was $624 a month in April this year, while in Ukraine, they have dropped to $251 a month.

At the same time, gas prices have at least tripled, and households are paying even higher prices. Cold and hot water costs have also risen, by 200 percent each, and pensions have decreased by 45 percent. If this situation continues, many people in Ukraine will face sanitation and hygiene issues.

Who gets to wash, where, and how often will become a big issue. Of course, Russian and Ukrainian literature both offer memorable and blunt examples that I could use to respond to Mr Poroshenko, but I will not do this out of respect for the Ukrainian people and for our common history and common faith.

If someone wants to become a European, they should first close their offshore accounts and then talk about the good of their people. In this respect, one quote comes to mind. I cannot quote it exactly, word for word, but I can convey the message.

Close to 170 years ago, Taras Shevchenko said, “Ukraine has fought to the point where it suffers more at the hands of its own children than it ever did at the hands of the Poles”. I hope that this period in the life of Ukraine and its people will end.

Tatyana Remezova: We have a question from the Stavropol Territory. One of our crews went to the author of this question in Krasnokumskoye, a village that was badly damaged by the May floods this year. We have our colleague Mikhail Akinchenko there.

Mikhail Akinchenko: Good afternoon.

The weather has created many problems for people in the Stavropol Territory. Even today we have been bothered by rain. Of course, it is much lighter than the showers that hit the region in late May and resulted in the worst floods in 50 years. Krasnokumskoye was one village that was badly affected. The overflowing Kuma River flooded some 400 buildings and household plots.

Locals recorded the flood on their smart phones. You can see what happened at the site where we are now. It was flooded for about three days, and the water was about a meter deep or even more. Three weeks later, many people still cannot return to their houses. They are damp and the walls are cracked, so it is unsafe to live in them or even go inside, like this house. The owner, Valentina Sokovskaya, called Direct Line to ask a question. Valentina, what are you doing now?

Valentina Sokovskaya: I am putting away the children’s stuff because it will get more damp and smelly if I leave it here. I will move it to save at least some of it.

Mikhail Akinchenko: Valentina, I know that you have been promised financial assistance for repairing this house or for buying a new one. I see that you are not doing anything yet. Why? You can share your problem with the President, who can see and hear you. Tell him.

Valentina Sokovskaya: Hello, Mr President. There is not much to tell. I have not received any money from the government. The walls are cracking, the ceiling is shifting, and the plaster is crumbling. The house has cracked on all sides.

We are waiting for the inspection commission; we cannot do anything until it comes. But the commission will not come until we pay an architectural fee of 6,000 rubles. Also, we must pay 1,800 rubles for certificates to prove that we have nowhere to live. But there are four owners in this house, which we bought with maternity capital, and the total we have to pay is high, about 15,000 rubles. We don’t know what to do. We are living with friends, and we have sent our children elsewhere. I have three children, but I only have the youngest with me. My daughter is in a health camp and my son is with my relatives. But I don’t know how long this can last. It’s good that it’s summer and we have friends, but what will we do in the autumn and winter? Frankly, we are at a loss.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Valentina Sokovskaya: We hope that maybe you will be able to help us in one way or another.

Vladimir Putin: Excuse me, what was your first name?

Valentina Sokovskaya: Valentina.

Vladimir Putin: Valentina, what you have just said is very strange. I simply cannot get my head around it. Can I ask you whether you received the 10,000-ruble allocation and 50,000 rubles for partial loss of property?

Valentina Sokovskaya: No, we have not received anything so far.

Vladimir Putin: Nothing at all?

Valentina Sokovskaya: I am not the only one in this situation. There was no aid.

Vladimir Putin: This is very strange, since the funds for helping the affected families were transferred from the federal budget to Stavropol Territory. I would like to ask the Governor of Stavropol Territory, where did the money go? This is the first thing.

Secondly, I would like to ask the Prosecutor General’s Office to check how the work is proceeding.

Thirdly, the fact that you are asked to pay fees to architectural agencies or for receiving certificates of some kind is total nonsense.

You are entitled to 10,000 rubles for your immediate needs, another 50,000 rubles for partially lost property, and 100,000 rubles for unrecoverable property. The municipal, city and regional authorities must deliver all the relevant certificates free of charge, without shifting the burden on to you. We have decided on these allocations of 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000 rubles in order to help people, and did not intend to get the money back by charging people for certificates. This is complete nonsense. Be assured that we will look into this.

Valentina Sokovskaya: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: I hope that the Governor visits you as soon as today.

Valentina Sokovskaya: We hope so too.

Vladimir Putin: He should look into this situation.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you very much. We will wait for a response.

We are now travelling from the Stavropol Territory to Rostov-on-Don. Our colleague Anton Vernitsky is reporting from outside the new Platov Airport.

Anton Vernitsky: Platov Airport, which is currently under construction 30 kilometres from Rostov-on-Don, was named after Matvei Platov, a prominent chieftain of the Don Cossack Army and hero of the 1812 war. The airport is 90 percent completed and will receive its first flight in December.

Why is this project unique for Russia? While other Russian airports were upgraded or restructured, this airport was built from scratch. Only three years ago, there was nothing here. Now there is a facility that can receive up to 5 million passengers a year. It is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. Nine jet bridges. Those who saw the old Rostov-on-Don airport where our crew arrived will notice the difference immediately. The old airport does not even compare to this.

Why are we here? Almost 3,000 construction workers and engineers are working here on a daily basis. Alexander Serov is a future member of the staff. He will be receiving passengers. For now, he works at the old airport. He sent his question to Direct Line, and we called him away from his work and invited him here to ask his question to the President in person.

Please, go ahead.

Alexander Serov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Before I ask my question, I would like to invite you to the opening of Platov Airport next December. We really hope that the completion of such an ambitious and perhaps unique project will not go unnoticed by you.

Now, let me ask you a question. My colleagues, my friends, a large number of passengers and I cannot fly directly between Russian cities. The itineraries require transit via Moscow airports. Passengers have to make a stopover in Moscow and lose precious time or instead travel by train or by car. Are there plans to expand the domestic flight network to connect our regions directly?

Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Alexander, you have raised one of the most urgent issues both as regards transport accessibility and preserving the unity of our territory. Our people must have the opportunity to move within regions not via capital cities. You are absolutely right.

However, regrettably, this network collapsed completely here in the 1990s and early 2000s. As you know, for several years we have been working to restore it and put it on an entirely different footing. However, distances in the Far East and Eastern Siberia, where this issue is particularly urgent, are great while the population is not big enough to fill up large airliners. So the economics of interregional flights is difficult. Everything has to be subsidised. But we have set up, I think, seven public enterprises to organise interregional domestic flights. This is the first point. They are operating and I am hoping we will expand their activities and number to other regions of the Russian Federation. This is the first part.

The second is the expansion of the airport system, the number of airports. I think we have 230 or 232 airports in all, and a whole programme to develop the airport network. We will continue working on it and funding it.

The third matter is the availability of adequate equipment because, let me repeat, even if you build an airport… By the way, we will have an absolutely new airport that will be built from the ground up in the open country for the first time in Russia’s recent history. Importantly, it is being built using the latest methods and technology. This is vital for transport infrastructure both at the national and regional levels.

However, for a flight from Rostov to Sochi, for example, neither a Boeing nor Il-96 could be filled up. We need small planes and they must be of different haul – those that cover 400–500 km, 1,000–1,500 km or from 2,000 to 4,500 km. We are now localising the production of small modern aircraft that have earned a good reputation with a view to producing them in Russia.

We also want to bring back a slightly bigger aircraft – the Il-114, I think. Regrettably, the Government did not find the money and I will reprimand them for this. They did not find the funds to develop this aircraft that is critical for us, considering our vast territory.

Nevertheless, we found an opportunity and earmarked several dozen billion from Rosneftegaz for the relevant programme designed for several years. This aircraft will be manufactured at a modern facility in the Moscow suburbs and I hope very much that everything will be done on time. In any event, I am almost certain that we will make it. At any rate, we know about this and will continue working to fulfil this extremely important task.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you, Rostov.

Now let us give the floor to our guests again. Olga Ushakova’s section, please.

Olga Ushakova: Thank you.

Mr President, we have representatives of the creative intelligentsia here today, our favourite actors, directors, who certainly have questions for you, things they want to ask.

I would like to give the floor to Sergei Bezrukov, National Artist of the Russian Federation and artistic director of the Moscow Gubernsky (Provincial) Theatre. Please go ahead.

Sergei Bezrukov: Good afternoon, Mr President!

First, I would like to thank you for your work on children’s issues. On May 29, you signed the Executive Order On the Decade of Childhood. We are grateful for this, and for the support of children’s theatres. We have discussed this at the forum in Omsk. Thank you so much. I hope that it will be annual, because they do need support.

So, the question that really worries us, my colleagues and me, I cannot help but ask it. Something monstrous is happening, as I see it, with regard to Alexei Uchitel’s film – I am sitting next to him, but I will take it upon myself to explain – the film Matilda.

At first, we thought it was a joke. But then, when checks and inspections began, when people who have not even seen it tried to ban it…

Also there was the Gogol Centre and the incident with Kirill Serebrennikov. Kirill’s place was searched, then the theatre, and in no time rumours started about attacks on freedom of speech, freedom of artistic expression, freedom of creativity.

Who needs this? Certainly not you. But it looks like someone is trying to create negative feelings toward the authorities among cultural figures. I would like to hear your opinion on this matter.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: We have a big and complicated country, with many people with various views, various points of view, various assessments. There used to be many films featuring the imperial family in former times, I mean they concerned, in one way or another, the imperial family, Rasputin and so on.

There was a lot of that. Those films were much more hard-edged, I would say, than what your neighbour did, Mr Uchitel. I know him personally, and respect him as a person who is very patriotic, for all I know about his views, and who does very talented things. But I would not like to interfere in his dispute with State Duma deputy Poklonskaya. She also has the right to her point of view.

You said that they are trying to ban the film. No one is trying to ban it. She has a stance, she is trying to defend that stance by appealing to various authorities, but no prohibitive decisions have been made on this matter, as you know.

I am really counting on continued open dialogue in our society, but I urge everyone to maintain dialogue within the bounds of decency and, most importantly, within the framework of the law.

Mr Uchitel wants to say something. Yes, please.

Alexei Uchitel: I will not criticise or praise anyone.

Mr President, the absurdity is that – well, one certainly can express their point of view, when they see something. But when I saw Ms Poklonskaya on June 12, I invited her to see the film. She refused. This is what I see as absurd.

I would think that the Duma has, for example, a Committee on Culture headed by the amazing director, Stanislav Govorukhin, where they could deal with this issue. But sending … Why waste government money on sending the Prosecutor’s Office, the Treasury, the Accounts Chamber to inspect us first? They all do the same thing. We show the document that everything has already been checked and everything is in order, and they are doing the same thing.

I would say incitement to this is unacceptable.

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Dmitry Borisov: Natalia Yuryeva is ready to join us.

Natalia Yuryeva: Thank you colleagues.

This year, for the first time in real time we can see how social network users are reacting to our programme.

NTV launched the hashtag #watching the line a few days before the programme, and we now have 120,000 messages. Another 365 messages have come in as I was speaking.

People say that the internet audience does not watch TV, but we see here that this is just an opinion and nothing more. The most active users live in Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod Region, and Krasnoyarsk Territory.

Let us see now on the screen the post that drew the biggest number of likes. Here it is: Krasnoyarsk residents are waiting to be resettled from khrushchyovki [Khrushchev-era 5-storey apartment blocks]. If Muscovites oppose the plan, try the experiment on us. Hashtag #watching the line.

I suggest we now take a video question that has come to the call centre.

This is a video call via the OK Live service. Hello, you are on. Please put your question to the President.

Question: Hello, Mr President.

I have a category-one disability. My name is Klavdiya and I live in Orel. Could you tell me please why those entitled to federal benefits in this area are not receiving their medicines in full? Why are we forced to fight for our medical provisions in courts? For six months now, I have not been receiving the medicines I need: Cinacalcet, paracalcitol, and mircera.

Vladimir Putin: I heard your question. This is odd to me too, because the federal authorities have ensured full funding for the acquisition of these medicines. There could be some problems related to delayed purchases and delays in…

Remark: I have appealed repeatedly to Vadim Potomsky and Alexander Lyalyukhin, but I am always told that under Federal Law 422, federal beneficiaries will again receive 707 rubles and 22 kopecks and they cannot provide us with the full range of medicines for this money.

Vladimir Putin: We will look into what they can and cannot provide. There are some medicines and some illnesses, the so-called orphan diseases, which I know for certain receive federal funding and are covered in full. Let me say again that there can be glitches due to delays in holding tenders and purchasing these medicines. But there should be enough money for all of these medicines. I promise – the main thing is to remember where you are, I understand that you are in Orel –we will definitely look into this situation.

Remark: Thank you very much.

Can I ask another question?

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Question: Mr President, could you please enact a law so that patients can be transported for haemodialysis from their homes and back?

Vladimir Putin: I remember that this issue was raised last year, including the possibility for providing this treatment at home.

As for transporting patients, I have to be honest that this is the first time that this issue has been put to me this way. I promise you that we will definitely look into it. We will also think about the transport issue. Of course, this will require additional spending, but this is a very sensitive topic and a very important thing for people who are suffering from diseases of this kind. Be assured that we will look into this and do our best to find solutions.

Remark: Thank you very much. It was a great pleasure and honour for me to be able to talk to you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you, Klavdiya, for this call.

Dmitry Borisov: I would like to thank the call centre.

And now we are live at the Baltic Shipyard in St Petersburg with our reporter Dmitry Vitov.

Dmitry Vitov: We are at the Baltic Shipyard’s outfitting quay, where the construction of a unique vessel, the Arktika nuclear icebreaker, is about to be completed. It will be a successor to the legendary Soviet icebreaker which was the first surface ship to reach the North Pole in 1970s. This new icebreaker was floated out last year, and the nuclear reactor has already been installed.

Mr Ryzhov, as you were telling me, what is its overall propulsion power?

Yury Ryzhov: The icebreaker’s overall propulsion power is 60 MW.

Dmitry Vitov: So the foreign newspapers are right when they call it the biggest and the most powerful icebreaker in the world?

Yury Ryzhov: This is the largest and the most powerful icebreaker in the world with the highest icebreaking capability.

Dmitry Vitov: Mr Ryzhov works in the shipbuilding department. I hope that you will not take it as an offence if I call you an elder of this plant. How many years have you been working here?

Yury Ryzhov: I am one of the oldest employees here. I have been working at this plant for about 50 years.

Dmitry Vitov: The history of the Baltic Shipyard goes back 160 years. Your career lasted one third of its history.

Mr Ryzhov has told me that the Baltic Shipyard has always been regarded as a unique experimental facility. It built the first metal ships and the first Russian submarine a hundred years ago. It also built gunboats and battleships. It did not stop working during the Great Patriotic War, when it built barges for the Road of Life. In the 1990s, which was yet another difficult period in Russian history, the shipyard built heavy nuclear-powered missile cruisers such as the Pyotr Veliky, which are serving in the navy.

The people I have talked with told me that the most difficult time in the shipyard’s history was the early 2000s, when private owners almost bankrupted the shipyard, because they only wanted the land on which it stands on Vasilyevsky Island in the centre of St Petersburg. They probably wanted to build luxury housing or malls here. But the government has saved the shipyard. Right?

Yury Ryzhov: Yes, you are right. The early 2000s was probably the most difficult time for the plant and its personnel. The number of people working at the plant dropped from 12,000 at the best of times to 3,000. The shipyard stopped building high-tech nuclear-powered battleships and only turned out unpowered bulk oil barges. The situation is improving now, thanks to the state and the President. We have a thick portfolio of state contracts until 2021.

Dmitry Vitov: Mr Ryzhov, you can ask the President your question.

Yury Ryzhov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Yury Ryzhov: I have a question from the Baltic Shipyard staff and myself. What will happen to the plant? What could we do in light of the Government’s Arctic development plans and Arctic projects? Will you use the shipyard’s rich, unique experience of building nuclear-powered vessels? Do you have modernisation, construction or further development plans for the plant? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: The Baltic Shipyard is a flagship of our shipbuilding industry. You just spoke about the history of the shipyard. I know about the difficulties the plant faced in the 1990s and the early 2000s. When I worked in St Petersburg, we tried to support it and make sure it got orders. By the way, we managed to keep the plant going, and it was also helpful for the Navy. Those rough attempts to privatise the Baltic Shipyard are, thank God, in the past. I am talking about rough and fraudulent schemes.

Nowadays, the United Shipbuilding Corporation is growing, and the shipyard is developing. And it will keep developing. We saw you near the new Arktika nuclear icebreaker. Our plan is to build four icebreakers of this class. I think you know about this. The first one is the Arktika; then there will be the Sibir and the Ural. They all have a high power of 60 MW. By 2025, another icebreaker class will be developed, even more powerful, twice as powerful as those that I just mentioned, one of which you are finishing. The new class will have a power of 120 MW. If the first class breaks ice up to three metres thick, the Lider will be able to deal with unlimited amounts, any thickness. All this is due to the latest technology which the Baltic Shipyard is mastering very fast thanks to its prior experience and the opportunities of modern developments.

Therefore, what can I say? We have included the necessary funds in the budgets. The prospects for the Lider are more distant and the funding options are not yet clear, but I am certain we can accomplish this.

I want to point out that nuclear icebreakers of this class are not built anywhere else in the world. Russia has them because we need to operate in the Arctic. As you said, we need to establish ourselves there, and we will do it. There will be plenty of work for the shipyard. I am certain the plant will not only retain its team but also expand it. I wish you all the best.

Tatyana Remezova: Mr President, I have a question coming from the website of our programme: why are we so focused on the Arctic? For the past 20 years, no one spoke about it, and today we see Arctic troops even at the Victory Day parade. A lot of money is spent on the Arctic. Why is this being done?

Vladimir Putin: While we are on this subject, what else can I say? I have already started talking about this. The Arctic is an extremely important region, which will ensure the future of our country. Mikhail Lomonosov once famously said that Russia would expand through Siberia. I can say with confidence that Russia’s power and capabilities will expand as we develop the Arctic region.

As I mentioned at a meeting held in the Arctic, by 2050 about 30 percent of all hydrocarbons will be produced in the Arctic area. Some of our major projects are already being implemented there with NOVATEK building a plant, a company town, an airfield, and a port in the Arctic zone. Production has already begun in the Arctic.

Therefore, from an economic point of view, this is critically important. Especially so if the climate is going to change. Despite a cold spell in Moscow, the global warming trend will continue, meaning that the navigation period in the Arctic zone will get longer. In turn, this means that the Northern Sea Route will be used much more actively than now. The navigation period will go from the current one or two months to four and even five months.

The so-called non-regional powers are showing an active interest in this region. That is a good thing, and we are willing to cooperate with them, but we must ensure our priority interests.

I went to Franz Josef Land recently. The people who work there told me that many tourists go there, including those from other countries, and some tour guides have already told tourists that these islands used to be part of the Soviet Union.

This should put us on alert, as it is our territory. So, we need to ensure the use of these routes, develop our economic activity in these areas, and ensure our sovereignty over these territories. Let us not forget about the purely military aspect of the matter: it is an extremely important region from the point of view of ensuring our country’s defence capability.

I do not want to stoke any fears here, but experts are aware that US nuclear submarines remain on duty in northern Norway, the time it takes a missile to reach Moscow is 15 minutes, and we need to have a clear idea of what is happening there. We must protect this shore accordingly, and ensure proper border guarding.

On top of everything, from the point of view of strategic weapons, the flight route of the ground-based missiles located in the United States passes precisely above the North Pole. I hope it will never come to that, but since we are aware of it, we just need to make sure that the missile warning system and the missile launch control system are in place.

This is what the Arctic means to us. We had not engaged in this work before not because it is unimportant, but because we were unable to afford it. We just let it go, as, unfortunately, we did many other things that are critically important for our country. Now we are back to it, I hope, for good.

Dmitry Borisov: We can now go back to St Petersburg so that you can ask a second question.

Dmitry Vitov: We have been able to get a glimpse of people working at the plant. These are incredible people. Not everyone would be able to work in these conditions.

For example, welder Alexei Bogdanov has been telling me that while you can learn the welding profession elsewhere, it is only here that shipyard welders work, on the building berths and the outfitting quay.

Apart from professional matters, local workers, just like St Petersburg residents in general, have questions on broader issues. Ivan Brattsev is a worker who builds icebreakers. Ivan, you have a question. Go ahead.

Ivan Brattsev: Good afternoon, Mr President.

We work in the Baltic Shipyard, where we build the most powerful and the largest icebreakers in the world. However, my question is not related to industrial matters. Many residents of this wonderful city, myself included, are eager to hear your personal perspective on the future of St Isaac’s Cathedral.

As someone who was born and grew up in St Petersburg, do you think that it would be right for the city to keep the cathedral and preserve it as a museum and an architectural landmark or transfer it to the Russian Orthodox Church?

Vladimir Putin: I did not expect this question, especially from the Baltic Shipyard.

What I can say is that Russia is a secular state. This is the way it was created, and it will stay this way. This is my first point.

Second, after the October Revolution, the state went to great lengths to destroy our spiritual and religious roots, and was unwavering and cruel in pursuing this objective. Many churches were razed to the ground.

Back then the state attempted to come up with a quasi-religion and replace the Bible with the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism. It did not work. Many cathedrals were demolished; many priests perished, were killed, sent to camps or executed by firing squads.

And the traces of what happened back then are all around us. Here in Moscow, not far from where we now are, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was razed to the ground. It was not uncommon for churches to be used as stables or workshops. Thank God St Isaac’s Cathedral was spared.

You know, of course I looked into this issue. It is true that this cathedral never belonged to the Church. Throughout its history it was operated by the state. However, the Tsar used to be the head of the Church, so if we see it this way, the Church did own the building. It was built as a cathedral, as a church, not a museum. It was intended for worship, for people to pray there.

And what did they do there in the Soviet days? They set up Foucault’s pendulum to demonstrate the rotation of the earth. In fact, it was a museum of atheism, a quasi museum of atheism. In a sense, it was a subtle mockery of people’s religious feelings. However, hundreds of thousands, millions of people, including foreigners, visit it. There is no getting away from this fact.

So yes, we have a law passed, I believe, in 2010 on the transfer of religious buildings to religious organisations, and we are supposed to enforce it. At the same time, we have international obligations and other laws that ban the transfer of architectural landmarks under UNESCO protection. There are some disagreements, but I believe we can easily overcome them if we ensure both museum activity and the exercise of religious beliefs. I do not want to jump ahead of myself, but such solutions have been found in other countries. Say, St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican – people go there and there are guided tours.

Therefore, it is important to depoliticise this problem, to stop thinking about it as such, to respect people’s religious feelings and never forget that this building and structure was built as a church, not as a museum. Nevertheless, it should retain its function as a museum, of course.

How can these interrelations be fostered? As a matter of fact, it is not so difficult. Simply, there should be no agitation, no exploitation of this issue. People should not be provoked and used as a tool in some petty internal political squabbling.

Dmitry Borisov: The call centre again, Maria Gladkikh.

Maria Gladkikh: Yes, colleagues, our statistics show that women are more active: 62 percent of those who have called are representatives of the fair sex. And now an urgent question from Svetlana Romanova in Chelyabinsk.

Good afternoon, you are on. We can hear you.

Svetlana Romanova: Good afternoon, Mr President,

I have a vegetable plot. I have been using it since 1981. A cottage was built there. No construction regulations were violated. A natural gas pipeline is more than 100 metres away from the plot.

In 2014, a bylaw was passed extending the exclusion zone from 100 metres to 150. As a result, many vegetable gardeners received a court summons and were ordered to tear down their houses without compensation. Is that legal? Will there be a law to protect us?

Vladimir Putin: Well, I am returning to the subject of Balashikha once again. Housing was built near the rubbish dump that had been there for decades. Now residential units were built near pipelines. Then they decided to expand the restricted area and are trying to evict residents. Is this fair or not? This is unfair.

I think this law must be changed. In any event, those people that already live in these buildings must be left alone. Of course, it is necessary to do everything for their safety, but they must be left alone.

It is possible to prohibit the construction of new buildings in the 150-metre area, but those who already live in the 100-metre area must be left alone. I will do everything to encourage the adoption of this decision.

Dmitry Borisov: We have been on the air for a third hour running. Natalya Yuryeva is collecting video messages, among other things, in the call centre.

Natalya Yuryeva: Our next question comes from Jeremy Bowling from America, who not only sent it to our editorial office but also posted it on YouTube. There were heated debates in the comments on this video call – will we put it on the air or not. Even bets were placed. I betted on the positive answer. Just kidding. By the way, Jeremy Bowling said himself that we were unlikely to put it on the air. But let us still listen to it.

Jeremy Bowling: Greetings, Mr Putin. My name is Jeremy Bowling. I live in Mesa, Arizona in America. I am a big supporter of you. I am very pro-Russian and I wish you much health and success in your life. My question to you is this. As an American who sits here in America and sees the racist Russian phobia running crazy in my country, what advice would you give me to help set the record straight, to help my fellow Americans understand that Russia is not the enemy?

Vladimir Putin: To begin with, I am very grateful to you for this call. And I can tell you as the current head of the Russian state that I know the attitudes of our people. We do not consider America our enemy. Moreover, twice in history when we were going through very hard times, we pooled our efforts; we were allies in two world wars. In the past, the Russian Empire played a substantial role in helping America gain independence and supported the United States. We see that Russophobia is running high in America and think this is primarily a result of the escalating political infighting.

I do not think I have the right to give you any advice. I simply want to thank you for this stance. We know that we have very many friends in the United States. My American colleagues told me so, and public opinion polls show the same results. At any rate, those polls taken a month ago show that we have many friends there. True, regrettably such hysteria is bound to affect the frame of mind, but let me assure you that there are also very many people in Russia who have deep respect for the achievements of the American people and are hoping that eventually our relations will get back on track, in which both we and the United States are extremely interested.

Tatyana Remezova: People in this studio also have questions about our relations with the United States.

Olga Pautova has the floor.

Olga Pautova: I suggest talking on this subject some more, considering that when we were preparing for this programme and speaking to our guests, it became clear that this is an issue of concern to practically everyone. Even today, shortly before we were to begin, international issues were being discussed up until the last moment.

I am giving the floor to a person whose question is of concern not only to Russians, but to everyone in the world, without a doubt. Konstantin Remchukov, Nezavisimaya Gazeta Editor-in-Chief.

Konstantin Remchukov: Good afternoon, Mr President. I would like to talk about Russian-American relations. One of the current trends, as you and an American guest have said, is that bilateral relations are deteriorating and there is Russo phobia along with daily reports about new anti-Russia initiatives, including sanctions. At the same time, there is a growing demand not only for stabilising but also for improving Russian-American relations.

At a Senate hearing the day before yesterday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said something to the effect that every time he met with his foreign colleagues since his appointment, they asked him to stabilise relations with the Russians. He indicated that his colleagues from the Middle East and Southeast Asia had the same request. This is how he explained the need to act during a hearing on the 2018 State Department budget.

In three weeks’ time, the G20 will convene in Hamburg, where you are to meet with US President Trump. Is it possible that these talks will help prod this negative trend towards a more positive one and possibly even towards a radical improvement in our relationships with the United States? In what areas and on what issues can Russian-US cooperation be productive and mutually beneficial? I believe that these questions are of concern not only to people in Russia and the United States but many other countries as well.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: As someone with experience and well-acquainted with the subject, you know as well as I do the areas in which we can work together with the United States. This includes, above all, control over non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We are the biggest nuclear powers and so our cooperation in this area is absolutely natural. This is an area of crucial importance and concerns not just the North Korean issue but other regions too.

Then there is the fight against poverty, fighting environmental damage and so on. We know the position the current US administration has taken on the Paris Agreement, but President Trump is not rejecting discussion on the issue. Cursing and trading barbs and insults with the US administration would be the worst road to take because we would reach no agreement at all in this case, but it makes no sense to seek agreements without the US, which is one of the biggest emitter countries. We must work together to fight poverty in the world. The number of people earning a minimum income has increased in Russia, but there is a disastrous situation in many parts of the world, and this is one of the sources of radicalism and terrorism, this poverty around the world, and we must decide together how to address this problem. Here, we must work with our other partners too, work with China, India and Europe.

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

By the way, we worked together with the United States to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, and we did reach an agreement, we did find a solution. There are positive examples of cooperation then. The previous US administration directly recognised the substantial role that we played in resolving this issue. We can reach agreements and work together then. Of course we can.

On the Syrian problem and the Middle East in general, it is clear to all that no progress will be made without joint constructive work. We hope greatly too for the United States’ constructive role in settling the crisis in southeast Ukraine. A constructive role, as I said. We see then that there are many areas in which we must work together, but this depends not only on us. We see what is happening in the United States today. I have said before and say again now that this is clearly a sign of an increasingly intense domestic political struggle, and there is nothing that we can do here. We cannot influence this process. But we are ready for constructive dialogue.

Dmitry Borisov: I see someone has a question in Vera Krasova’s sector. Let us go there.

Vera Krasova: Thank you, Dmitry. Russia-US relations are of interest to representatives of the machine-building industry. We have Alexei Bakulin from Volgograd Region in our studio.

Good afternoon, you have the floor.

Alexei Bakulin: Good afternoon, Mr President.

You mentioned the aggravation of the internal political conflict in the United States. Indeed, the world is following the conflict between President Donald Trump and former FBI Head James Comey like a television drama. As is customary, “Russian influence” has been detected. What is your take on this situation, and what are its possible implications?

Vladimir Putin: I am not familiar with the details of Mr Comey’s testimony, but I am aware of certain things, of course. What are my thoughts on it?

The first thing that caught my attention was that former FBI director said that he believes that Russia interfered in the US election process. He did not provide any evidence, as usual, but he said there were attempts “to shape the way we think, vote, and act.” Is that not the way it is all over the world? What about the unending US propaganda and funding of US-oriented NGOs? The funds are allocated directly to this end. Is this not an attempt to influence our minds and our actions during election campaigns? It goes on year after year.

Take a globe, give it a spin, and point your finger randomly. You will point to a place where the United States has interests and has most likely intervened. I know this from my conversations with almost all leaders and heads of state. They just do not want to fall out with the Americans. No one talks about it openly, but everyone is saying the same thing.

Therefore, there is nothing unusual here. What do they want? Do they want everyone to bow down? We have our own opinion, and we openly express it. This is not some kind of subversive activity. We simply express our point of view. This is my first point.

Secondly, he said that he has no evidence of us interfering in the vote count. Thank God for that.

Next, he said quite unexpectedly that he had written down a conversation with the President, and then passed along this conversation to the media through a friend. It sounds and looks very strange when the head of an intelligence agency writes down a conversation with the commander-in-chief, and then passes it to the media through a friend. How then is the FBI director different from Mr Snowden? In that case, he is not the head of an intelligence agency, but a human rights activist who takes a certain position.

By the way, if he is persecuted in any way for this, we will be willing to grant him political asylum in Russia as well. He should know that.

Dmitry Borisov: The call centre is receiving so many questions that I simply have to pass the floor to Natalya Yuryeva.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you.

Our call centre is about to reach its peak capacity. We have received more than 2 million calls. Every minute, our operators receive 1,700 video calls.

Social media is on fire, especially the OK Live service. About one thousand people are watching the live broadcast and waiting for the opportunity to ask the President a question. Here is a question from one of them.

Hello, you are on the air. Please, go ahead with your question, and do not forget to introduce yourself.

Andrei Bol: Hello.

My name is Andrei Bol, and I am from Nakhodka in the Primorye Territory. I am worried about coal dust, since coal is shipped through here in the open. How are we supposed to live?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, this is not good. We have to look at how the work in port facilities is organised. It is probably a tradition to have coal transported through the city from or to the port. We have to look at who owns the port, and how it operates.

Could you please tell me where you are? Where is this place?

Andrei Bol: Near the Primorye Territory.

Vladimir Putin: But what port are you talking about?

Andrei Bol: The one in Nakhodka.

Vladimir Putin: Nakhodka? Very well. We will look into it, and how it all works. We will try to respond in such a way as to minimise impacts on the people and the environment.

What is your name?

Andrei Bol: Andrei.

Vladimir Putin: Ok, Andrei, we will look into it with your help, and get in touch later. Leave your contact details, and you will tell me later what measures were taken and whether people living in the area noticed any difference.

Andrei Bol: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your call.

Natalya Yuryeva: And now let us see what people are writing on the internet with the #СмотрюЛинию [#WatchingLine] hashtag. For example, we already have 171,773 comments on social networks. I will ask you to show one of the most recent posts. Let us take this one, “Reading the #СмотрюЛинию [#WatchingLine], I see how many concerned young people we have, who understand that the social lift is first and foremost an opportunity to be heard and to influence the situation in the country.” User Natalya Pochinok, thank you very much for this comment.

Colleagues, could we now put through a call from Odnoklassniki? Our editors have contacted OK Live users. Let us continue looking at what people are writing on social media.

They will show us another #СмотрюЛинию [#WatchingLine] comment: “I am watching the Direct Line. The President started talking about the main things, but I think there is no topic in today’s Russia more important than fighting corruption; this disease has metastasised and hinders development in many areas.” Colleagues, you have the floor.

Dmitry Borisov: Another important issue that worries our TV viewers is the situation with the so-called optimisation of healthcare, Mr President. We have sent a film crew to one of the people who complained. We will now connect to Murmansk Region.

Oleg Shishkin: We are in the Arctic, in the centre of Kola Peninsula, the town of Apatity in Murmansk Region. The town appeared in the 1960s near a major deposit of apatite ore.

With a population of more than 50,000, the town, according to local residents, is currently struggling with problems of healthcare accessibility, which actually means the inaccessibility of healthcare. A clear example of this is now behind me – the unfinished building of a new hospital.

Physicians were to move here from the old building. This is an abandoned nine-storey building practically in the centre of town, with the walls deteriorating and the floors falling apart, and there is no way the construction could be resumed, but the local residents complain of a shortage of doctors.

I have here Darya Starikova. She is a very courageous young woman. Darya has a serious disease and practically lives off painkillers. Several days ago, Darya wrote to Direct Line, and it was a real cry for help. Naturally, we could not ignore her. So we are here for Darya to directly address the head of state.

Darya, please go ahead.

Darya Starikova: Good afternoon, Mr President.

I am Darya Starikova, and I am 24. I was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Because the original diagnosis was intervertebral osteochondrosis, the time for effective therapy was lost.

As I received treatment for my back, with injections and massage, I ended up in hospital with a haemorrhage. The diagnosis was made at the hospital. Mr President, we have a lack of specialists who can make diagnoses in time.

Our maternity hospital was closed, our surgical department was closed, our cardiology department was closed, and everything was moved to the neighbouring city of Kirovsk. We have to go there to get medical care. On top of that, they send us for complicated operations and tests to the city of Murmansk, which is a five-hour drive from us. Not everyone can afford it, and not everyone can go there.

I am asking not for myself, I am asking for the city, for our residents, for all the people who live here. I am asking you to help restore the hospital, restore everything. You know, sometimes our “emergency medical service” arrives too late. We have only the admission department left. They bring people [to the hospital] too late.

My friend’s mother did not make it to the hospital. She died of a heart attack on the way in an ambulance. She was not even 50. People are worried. This has happened repeatedly. We have often raised the hospital issue.

We are asking you, please help. We want to live, not survive. We are pleading for help. We need everything in our city to get back to normal.

Vladimir Putin: Dashenka, look, I do not usually speak about my personal affairs and my private life, but now, looking at you, I feel that I must tell you that the same thing happened to my father.

He was being treated for back pain. They gave him massages, heat treatment and so on. My mother told me that my dad was crying out in pain at night. It was only then that I had him moved to another hospital. There, he went through everything that you are going through.

But even at that stage, treatment was found. This was many years ago now, but quite effective treatment was found, and he departed this life not because of the illness with which he was diagnosed. So, I urge you not to lose hope. For my part, I will give this my attention and look into what I can do to help you personally.

On the subject of medicine, I can say to you, to all present here, and to all of our citizens, that we are very well aware that there are problems with medicine everywhere, and patients everywhere are critical about what is happening in this area. This is the case practically all around the world.

It was for this reason that the previous US president began carrying out reforms in this sector and passed a law that drew a lot of criticism, and now the new president has essentially repealed this reform. Similar things are taking place in Europe.

Our problems are no fewer, and are perhaps even greater. Nonetheless, over these past three years we have built and opened ten times more new medical facilities, mostly medical centres, than over the previous period. We built 2000 medical facilities over the past three years. There are problems related to a lack of specialists in some areas, and this is why the waiting lists remain.

The queues look different now though, because it is not a case of people queueing up in the waiting room to see the doctor. Rather, they queue for numbers now. This is no better, though, and we need to move over to electronic queues, and make sure that they work in practice.

Finally, most importantly, we must ensure access. This is the top priority for medicine today – to guarantee access to medical aid. In your case, of course, we will take a very close look at the situation. I do not know what the healthcare managers were thinking in this region, including in Apatity.

Apatity is a mining town and it is clear that people work there in difficult conditions and require particular attention from medical personnel. They probably took the purely formalistic view that it was not far to travel from Apatity to Kirovsk.

Nevertheless, people are encountering problems that you have raised. We will definitely look into this. Either we need to build this hospital, or we need to upgrade and reopen the old hospital. I promise you that we will work on this.

Dasha, we will look into the situation with your problem too.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you, Apatity. Let us wish Dasha a swift recovery.

Vladimir Putin: Best wishes to you and get well soon.

Tatyana Remezova: Messages and requests the call centre has received include those from people asking for assistance with joining the army. We have never seen such a surge in the number of people wishing to serve.

Volgograd is on the line but we will come back to it later. We are getting back to the studio and my colleague Nailya Asker-zade.

Nailya Asker-zade: Thank you, Tatyana.

We have young professionals from the WorldSkills movement in the studio. It is an international association that improves professional training standards.

For example, Arkady Bodryagin from Chelyabinsk is 19 years old. He has already received a medal for professionalism in hospitality at a European WorldSkills championship.

Arkady, what is your concern?

Arkady Bodryagin: Mr President, good afternoon. First of all, thank you for supporting our movement. We are cooperating closely with large corporations but we are also interested in working with small and medium-sized businesses.

Can you give us advice on how to establish a reliable channel with them?

And one more question. WorldSkills members are pragmatic people and we care about our future. In light of this, do you plan to increase the retirement age? If yes, when?

Thank you very much.

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Answering the first question about building relationships with small and medium-sized businesses, you know our SMEs are developing despite all the issues that were mentioned before – the gentleman behind you pointed out business loans as one of them. However, they are developing, maybe not as fast as we would hope. It is particularly good that hi-tech SMEs are among them.

We have a new export item, IT technology worth $7 billion, which is unprecedented. Our IT exports used to be zero. This industry is developing at a rapid pace.

Here, first of all we need to pay attention to these successfully developing companies. We have some. This is my first point. They exist by themselves.

Secondly, there is something I would like to draw your attention to, something I could advise. I will say this, and they will now hear it too. Our large companies need to develop whole networks of small and medium-sized enterprises around them. They should not simply buy what they need abroad when they can rely on our small high-tech companies. Therefore, you need to reach out to small and medium-sized businesses through the companies where you work today.

As for the second question, you know that we are actively discussing the possibility of raising the retirement age. Some experts believe that increasing the retirement age is unavoidable, citing other countries’ experience, including neighbouring countries such as Ukraine, and nearly all the others, Belarus for instance, let alone Europe. With Europe, the comparison would be weak, bearing in mind the life expectancy there, so we had better take the neighbouring countries. But they have already made this decision, and we have not. I think the issue should be treated with great care.

In case there are any rumours that the decision has already been taken: no, it has not. However, it is indeed being discussed; it is being discussed at an expert level and at the government level. Experts believe that if we do not do this, the level of pension coverage will go down, meaning pensions will shrink. At the same time, the workforce – workers having to collectively raise money to provide for the pensioners, so to speak – will decline due to demographic problems and structural changes. The number of unemployed will increase, and the number of people with jobs will fall.

These are the realities that we are facing. We must bear this in mind. Yet, such decisions should be made in a balanced manner, without any fuss or haste.

Dmitry Borisov: I must note another issue too. We have had many messages from pensioners who continue to work. They say that if the pension age is suddenly raised, whenever this may be, we should be aware that people are already facing problems now.

One person, aged 52, cannot find work anywhere. This is an appeal from Moscow, a message from a carpenter. Then there is a woman from the Kaluga Region who says that she is 42, but already at this age she is not getting any job offers and she is worried about her future employment prospects.

Vladimir Putin: In this area, we need to find solutions to a different issue, namely, the question of ensuring timely and high quality retraining programmes for people, human resource retraining programmes.

We need to ensure human resource mobility, in other words, give people the opportunity to move from one region to another. But they cannot just arrive and live at the railway station. We must think about where they will live and prepare the relevant infrastructure. This is a big, multi-faceted and multi-dimensional undertaking.

We are aware of this problem and are working on it. It is particularly important in the so-called single industry towns. Plans have already been drafted and are being implemented. Of course, it is clear that we must intensify our efforts in this direction.

Tatyana Remezova: Let’s move from the pension age issue to the question of the military conscription age. When we looked at the messages, we saw cases where people complain that they have been turned down for the military on the grounds of age, but they want to join the army. They ask you, what can they do in this case? There are many people who want to do military service.

We have Volgograd on the line now. Right at this moment, new recruits are taking their military oath, and our colleague Dmitry Petrov is there.

Dmitry Petrov: Hello. We are here at the Mamayev Kurgan, at the foot of the Motherland monument. The remains of 35,000 soldiers and officers killed during the Battle of Stalingrad are buried here. This is sacred soil and a sacred place.

Today, the new recruits of the 20th Guards Independent Carpathian-Berlin Red Banner Order of Suvorov II degree Motor-Rifle Brigade are taking their oath of loyalty. This is a decorated unit with rich military traditions, and, of course, it is a great honour for the young soldiers to take their oath at this site.

We see how the young men come forward and before the ranks pronounce the words of the oath before the Russian Federation flag and the unit’s banner. Gathered here are those who care most about these young men: their parents, relatives, loved ones and friends. They have come from various parts of the country, from wherever the young men have come from. This occasion is tinged with sadness for them, of course, but it is a celebration too.

Let’s meet them. Hello, please introduce yourself, which soldier is yours?

Question: Good afternoon, my name is Vladimir. Today is a notable day. Today, my son is taking the oath of allegiance at this great place. I have come from Sergiyev Posad in Moscow Region. My son made his own decision to serve in the Armed Forces after studying at a medical college – the Third Medical College – for two years, and he declared his wish to serve his Motherland. As a reserve officer, I welcomed his decision.

Dmitry Petrov: Vladimir, this is Direct Line with the President. Moscow can see and hear us, and you can ask the head of state any question.

Question: This is very unexpected, of course. Mr President, as a reserve officer, I am interested to know how our Armed Forces are doing in Syria and would like to ask what lessons our Armed Forces have learned and what the prospects are for our troops there.

Vladimir Putin: First, Vladimir, I would like to congratulate you and your son on taking the oath of allegiance today. This is a great event in the life of any man, any Russian citizen, especially those of us who voluntarily choose this path in life – serving in the Russian Armed Forces and serving our nation.

Now regarding your question. What lessons have been learned, and what have our Armed Forces gained from the operation in Syria? There are several aspects here.

Firstly, this is of great value for our defence industrial sector. The use of the newest weapon systems has made it possible for us to understand how they work on the battlefield and improve the quality of these advanced weapon systems.

We knew that our weapons are good anyway, but when we saw how they perform on the battlefield – this is an entirely different story.

Furthermore, representatives of the enterprises go to places where these weapons are used, see how they work, make adjustments, and this is not just some fine-tuning but serious, thorough work. This is as far as the defence industry is concerned.

Regarding the Armed Forces as such, I can say that this experience in using our Armed Forces in combat conditions and with the newest weapons is precious. I am saying this without any exaggeration.

You know, even our Armed Forces have acquired a new quality. Some subunits were created only recently and were employed for the first time, and they are very effective.

As for what we plan to do there, we are going to foster a peaceful political settlement between all the parties to the conflict. Our task in the near future is to upgrade the level and combat capability of the Syrian Armed Forces and proceed to the facilities that we have created in Syria, including in Hmeimim (Hmeimim airport) and the Tartus naval base, leaving the Syrian forces to operate effectively and achieve required results on their own. However, if necessary, we would be able to provide them with operational support in fighting terrorist groups, including by employing our combat aviation. These are our plans.

Tatyana Remezova: Ok, let us continue. It is time now to go back to the call centre. Maria, how many calls have you received so far?

Maria Gladkikh: As of now, we have received 1,345,000 calls and 474,000 SMS messages for Vladimir Putin. Twenty-five percent of the callers are aged 35 to 55 and 63 percent are over 56.

I do not know the age of the next caller but the editors are telling me he is from Crimea. Alexander Bochkarev has a question that bothers not only Crimean residents but also tourists.

Alexander Bochkarev: Good afternoon, Mr President. This is Alexander Bochkarev. My question is: will the Kerch Strait Bridge be built within the timeframe you promised? It is very important that by the time it is complete there are convenient access roads.

Vladimir Putin: Construction of the Kerch Strait Bridge is going according to schedule and even a little ahead of schedule. I will not go into how far ahead now, but at the moment there is no doubt that the project will be completed on time and with the proper quality, which is most important.

The cost of the bridge is known, it is a bit over 200 billion. But access roads are a separate and pressing issue. We need to make sure that roads are built on the Crimea side, the Kerch side and the Taman side.

The work has begun in general. We will keep a very close eye on it. I hope this project will also be finished successfully. Without access roads it would be ridiculous. The lack of access roads would create a bottleneck on either side. We cannot allow this to happen.

Dmitry Borisov: I see we got a question on Odnoklassniki. Irina Shpakovich from the Khabarovsk Territory is asking: “The bridge over the Kerch Strait is almost finished. Will the bridge to Sakhalin ever be built?”

Vladimir Putin: True, the speculation started long time ago, there were plans back in the 1930s and the 1950s. Under Stalin they were thinking about this and even drew up plans, but they were never acted on.

Now we are reviving these plans and thinking about this issue. Of course, connecting Sakhalin with the continent would be very helpful for restoring the territorial integrity of the country.

It would be possible in this case to organise the movement of goods from Asia to Europe via Russia and thus to enhance the importance of the Trans-Siberian Railway. However, building a bridge is not enough. In this case, it would be necessary to expand the Trans-Siberian Railway although it needs expansion anyway.

Naturally, it is necessary to involve the interested states – and they exist – in funding the project. In general, in tentative estimates the cost should be lower than that of the Crimean Bridge – about 286 billion. These are preliminary estimates. However, this is not enough because apart from a bridge crossing, it is necessary to build access routes and the entire road interchange.

By the way, there were proposals, which are being studied now, to build a tunnel rather than a bridge, and this is also possible. A decision has not yet been made but we are thinking about this.

Dmitry Borisov: Irina got her answer.

Let us continue talking about the issues raised by our television audience

We will now hook up to the remote city of Nyagan in Khanty-Mansi Area. Our TV crew went there in response to a message from Enzhi Barsukova.

Anton Lyadov, please.

Anton Lyadov: Good afternoon, Moscow!

We work in a shift camp in Nyagan. It is hard to believe, but these trailers built for workers in Soviet times as temporary accommodation are not being used as sheds or shacks. They have become permanent homes for whole families. For instance, this one has been here since 1979, that is, for almost 40 years. There is no indoor plumbing. There is an outhouse and the residents had to build each one themselves. They used washtubs or went to their friends’ place for a shower. Today some of them have baths in their trailers but not all. However, there is no sewerage and when they take a shower the water goes right into the ground through wooden boards and their trailers are gradually sinking into the ground.

We are entering this 40-year-old trailer. It has no hot water in summer – only cold water and if you have no filters, it is brownish with rust. Conversely, there is no cold water in winter. The problem is that the two pipes – the heating main and the water pipe – run alongside each other and one warms the other, so sometimes we get boiling water from the tap. Anastasia has lived here since she was two. Recently she gave birth to her baby Arseny. Vladimir and Irina have lived here for 35 years. Enzhi Barsukova who sent the message to you has lived here for 30 years.

Ms Barsukova, in winter temperatures fall to minus 50 C. What do you do not to freeze to death?

Enzhi Barsukova: Come on, I will show you. Residents of our shift camp put blankets on doors, insulate doorways with blankets and old clothes. They use everything they can to keep it warm.

Tatyana Remezova: Unfortunately, we got disconnected.

Vladimir Putin: The equipment fails under the impact of this report.

Tatyana Remezova: Yes, the equipment could not cope with this shocking story but we can see what is happening there. Vladimir Putin: Wait, maybe we can get connected again. No?

Tatyana Remezova: We will try to fix it.

For now, let us switch to another city, where our film crew is also working – they travelled there in response to a complaint sent to you, Mr President.

So, here is Izhevsk and our colleague Pavel Krasnov.

Pavel Krasnov: Good afternoon!

This is the city of Izhevsk. One of the many questions concerning housing and utilities services in general or dilapidated housing in particular arrived from here. How old this housing is, you can see for yourself.

This is a wooden barrack, of which Russia, unfortunately, still has thousands. But this particular barrack in Izhevsk’s Proyezd Chapayeva is really in a terrible state. I think that the camera, the video does not even fully convey how it all looks in reality. This barrack has already been listed as dilapidated, but people still had to complain to Direct Line, to the head of state.

Anastasia, hello!

You asked your question. Please tell us what happened. The President is listening.

Question: Hello, Mr President!

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

My name is Anastasia.

You can see the conditions we live in. These apartments are damp in the summer and cold in the winter. We have to keep the heating stove going around the clock, but warm air still seeps out through the cracks in the walls. Children are constantly ill, and in each apartment there are two or three children. But the worst thing is, we are afraid that the ceiling will collapse, God forbid, on the children, and on adults. Our house was already classified as dilapidated and put on a waiting list for demolition and relocation in 2029. Mr President, how can we live in such conditions for another 12 years?

Vladimir Putin: What can I say? Ridiculous, of course.

Appropriate resources have been allocated from the federal budget for relocation; we have extended this programme for relocating people from dilapidated housing, and yours is clearly dilapidated, so what could I say. I can imagine what is happening in your region, and I know the amount of money allocated for relocating people from dilapidated houses. On the whole, the programme is progressing well around the country, and at a good pace, but it is completely ridiculous and unacceptable to postpone relocation for decades.

I will visit your place. I plan to be in Izhevsk, and I will drop by and see what is happening. We will talk in person there, ok? Agreed. I have a business trip to the region planned, so I will drop by. I was in such houses, as you know. This is a big problem, but for me there is nothing unusual there. This is why we developed the programme for relocating people from dilapidated housing. By the way, we have many such houses, unfortunately. They make up approximately two percent of the country’s total housing stock, about 80 million square metres, as much as the area of new housing built in the whole country every year. This problem is huge and painful, but it needs to be dealt with. And we will continue dealing with it.

I will drop by, and we will talk.

Dmitry Borisov: Such reports are coming not only from Izhevsk, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: I am aware of it.

Dmitry Borisov: We have many from different regions. People live in hazardous wooden houses in Kirov Region, and many others.

We are now back to Nyagan in Khanty-Mansi Area. Let us try again. Are you back, Anton?

Anton Lyadov: Hello, colleagues.

Yes, we can hear you. Indeed, the connection is unstable here.

Ms Barsukova was just telling us how the people manage to survive in 40-year-old trailers in -50C during the winters.

Please continue.

Enzhi Barsukova: We use sawdust as insulating material for our houses. This is our way of keeping the cold out.

Anton Lyadov: You have been trying to resolve this issue for many years now. Now, the President can hear and see you. You can talk to him directly.

Enzhi Barsukova: Thank you.

Mr President,

We have a programme in the area to demolish the trailers and resettle their residents, but it is a fairly drawn-out process. I came here when I was young. I am now retired but still do some work for a living. I raised two children in these harsh conditions. How much longer will the people in the North live in such conditions? We ask you to speed up the demolition and resettlement programme in Nyagan.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I am aware of this problem. You may have noticed that the issue of relocating people from these trailers in the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) area was raised for the first time in 2010, when I was Prime Minister, and then we even had a direct conference call with Tynda. The resettlement programme was adopted, and we resettled, I believe, 9,000 families. Suddenly, we found out that there were 10,000 more. That is the way we crunch the numbers, I guess. Nonetheless, we will continue with this programme.

With regard to trailer parks, the snag is, and you are aware of it, that they are not counted as housing in the books, and that is why they did not make it into the run-down housing relocation programme. Nonetheless, such a programme was put together, and local authorities came up with about 1,500 families. According to my information, more than 500 families have been relocated, and 1,000 plus families await their turn.

Firstly, the Housing programme is properly funded for this, including for 2017. We will keep allocating these funds until we achieve our goal. We will absolutely achieve it, and, of course, we will try to speed it up. What do we need to do, and what will I ask my colleagues in the regions to do? We need to have an accurate assessment of the scope of this plight, and how many people need to be relocated. One and a half thousand is an understatement, I think. We should avoid the situation we had in the BAM area where we originally had 9,000 families and then 10,000 more appeared as if out of nowhere. The funds must be set aside in advance. So, please make sure we have accurate estimates of the number of people who need help and support.

We will continue this programme and try to speed it up. To reiterate, the funds have been allocated.

Dmitry Borisov: Thank you, Nyagan. This city is far away but Channel One viewers, for example, know one of our best KVN (Club of the Happy and Inventive) teams. It competes despite the conditions people live in, and it is one of the jolliest and funniest teams. It has made it to the finals. Evidently our people make very good jokes when life is not so easy. Also, by the way, Maria Sharapova was born there, in Nyagan.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, but I understand she lived mainly in Sochi.

Dmitry Borisov: But she was born there. Nyagan is proud of Maria.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we are all proud.

Dmitry Borisov: As a matter of fact, this year, our channel has received a lot of complaints about dilapidated housing and generally the condition of residential buildings from various regions, and you know what, some people say it in so many words, comparing their problems with what is going on in Moscow.

Some of them write directly, frankly: “We are envious of Moscow’s programme of tearing down five-story walk-ups from the Krushchev era.” As we know, yesterday, the State Duma approved the housing relocation draft law on its third reading. In keeping with your directives, Muscovites’ proposals were taken into account. What do you think about this programme as it stands now?

Vladimir Putin: It is important for me what Muscovites think about it. This is what matters. It is important what people who live in these buildings think about it. And how can that be found out? Through a poll. That is my first point.

Second, it is important for me that citizens’ rights are not violated during the programme’s implementation – above all their property rights.

Third, it is very important how it will be done. The Moscow city authorities tell me they have planned out everything and new buildings will be built within walking distance, practically in the same spots, literally next to them.

However, we know what often happens in practice: the floor is wrong, the windows are on the wrong side, and so on. Of course, you cannot foresee everything. A flexible approach is called for here.

This is what I think and what I urge my Moscow colleagues to do. I get a sense that this is the line the Moscow Mayor intends to take. It is important that he gets his subordinates to follow precisely the same approach.

What about the renovation in general? By the way, I perfectly understand people’s sentiments in other regions. I know this. While preparing for today’s Direct Line I saw many questions from residents of other regions, I have not heard them yet, but maybe I will. I can say even now that I know the sentiment, “Please do it here, Muscovites do not want it, but we do.” This is what it is like. I want it to be clear.

This is about the housing stock in Moscow; 10–15 years from now, it will definitely turn into hazardous housing, and Moscow will be in the same amount of trouble as many other regions.

If we do not start doing this on time, we will face a problem that will be very difficult to resolve, maybe even impossible, and then people will really start to suffer.

We will get a problem right in the centre of Moscow, and it is a huge one. We need to do this in a timely manner. Once again, I want to emphasise, I hope that the programme will be implemented within the framework of the adopted law, and with consideration for people’s specific interests.

However, in some buildings, the majority of residents refuse to participate in this programme. They do not want to, and it is impossible to force people – they cannot be dragged into this programme by force. Where the overwhelming majority agrees, those who disagree should respect the opinion of the majority, I repeat once again, with due respect for their rights and legitimate interests.

Tatyana Remezova: The guests of our studio are ready to join the discussion on renovation. I give the floor to Olga Ushakova.

Olga Ushakova: Thank you. We will gladly join the conversation, because we have among our guests State Duma deputy Galina Khovanskaya who heads the committee on housing policy and housing and utilities services, and sits on a working group that directly monitors the situation around relocation.

In addition, as far as I know, you are a fourth generation Muscovite; you were born here and lived all your life in Moscow. Yet, the Russian capital is not the only place your heart bleeds for.

Galina Khovanskaya: Of course not. Good afternoon, Mr President.

Still, if renovation in Moscow is a success, do you think we need to draft a similar law for the whole country? It could be helpful for those regions that completed the move-out from hazardous housing ahead of schedule, and there are such requests already. What do you think?

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Of course, I would like to do this. But as I said, and you also know what the volume of our hazardous housing is – two percent of the total housing stock, a huge, colossal problem. This is my first point.

Second. Moscow is funding this programme out of its own budget and will spend 100 billion roubles a year. We could tell the other regions: we agree, you go do it. But they would not be able to afford it, since they do not have that kind of money. Therefore, simply saying yes, we agree, just do it, would mean giving people hope and never backing it up with real resources. It would not be fair to people. But it still needs to be done. We need to think about how to approach this. After dealing with the move-out from hazardous housing – and for that we most allocate federal money – we certainly need to think about what you said.

Galina Khovanskaya: I would like to thank you for keeping the renovation issue under control. This would be good for the regions that complete it fast, and yes, we have such top regions. So I will think about this bill.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, you are right, and I am asking you to do this. Only we must bear in mind that your “top regions” have solved the problem with federal money, and we immediately transfer this money to those regions where this problem has not yet been resolved. That is, the money is not released, but transferred to other regions. We just need to keep it in mind. Otherwise, you are right; we do need to think about this.

Dmitry Borisov: Another pressing issue in this field is the work of managing companies in the housing and utilities sector. We have received many complaints. “For the last seven years, our managing company was bankrupt and changed its name three times,” Yelena Ivanova from Irkutsk wrote. “There has been no hot water in 20 buildings for a year already,” Svetlana Kudryavtseva from Murmansk wrote. “We addressed the managing company in 2016, but they did not take any measures and just said that repairs are scheduled for October 2017.” How can we restore order and improve oversight of managing companies?

Vladimir Putin: The problem does exist, and the Government is trying to resolve these issues and improve the entire system. A few years ago, we, including me personally, decided that these companies must undergo certification to get a license.

But the problem is that they should have been licensed by a set deadline, but only 13 percent managed to get a license in the end. It turned out that these managing companies were not ready to properly organise this work.

The first thing to be done is to ensure that the quality of their work meets the requirements. This is the first thing to be done, and it should be done persistently. This applies to the regional, local and federal levels of government. This should be closely monitored. That is my first point.

Second, we even introduced criminal liability for falsifying the minutes of general meetings. So, we introduced criminal liability and imposed big fines for substandard work. And this needs to be followed through on.

But the agenda also includes a number of other issues that should be resolved through governmental instructions and adjusted at the legislative level. I think that we will resolve these issues in the near future. We will not leave this problem without attention and will definitely see it through.

Dmitry Borisov: It is time for us to speak to the westernmost location of our Direct Line – Kaliningrad, where Nikolai Dolgachev is working now.

Nikolai Dolgachev: We are inside the largest and most modern facility of Kaliningrad Region – the centre of the stadium that is being built for the FIFA World Cup. Football matches will take place here in exactly a year.

We see stands seating 35,000 people. Equipment is working on a football field that is covered with a multi-layer fabric. There is a layer of chippings at the bottom, it will be like a layer-cake on the outside, and pipes will be laid inside.

Good afternoon. What are you doing now? Why will pipes be inside?

Remark: We are making a drain system to keep the field dry during matches.

Nikolai Dolgachev: What stage are you at now? When will you finish this work?

Remark: We have done over 80 percent of the total work. I think we will finish it for sure by the end of the year, considering that all that you see now has been done in 18 months.

Nikolai Dolgachev: Thank you. We would also like to talk to the workers.

Good afternoon. Your bosses say that the stadium will be completed soon. What will you do next?

Remark: It would be good to continue working here, to maintain such a great stadium.

Nikolai Dolgachev: Are you from Kaliningrad?

Remark: Yes, I am from Kaliningrad.

Nikolai Dolgachev: Do you have many workers from other regions?

Remark: No, we are all from Kaliningrad.

Nikolai Dolgachev: Thank you.

Indeed, this stadium will create jobs and become one more link for the region that is geographically far from Russia’s mainland.

Today we have invited a volunteer of the future FIFA World Cup who sent several questions to Direct Line.

Good afternoon. Tell us about yourself, please. What are you doing besides being a volunteer?

Andrei Voronin: My name is Andrei Voronin. I am a futsal coach for children with disabilities and orphans. We have been champions at a special futsal tournament for two years running. We won second place at the European futsal championship, representing Kaliningrad Region. As of today, four members of my team are on Russia’s national futsal team at LIN sport [sports for people with intellectual disabilities].

Nikolai Dolgachev: Do you have training facilities? Is the infrastructure ready?

Andrei Voronin: In spring and summer, we have places to train but getting into gyms is not easy.

Nikolai Dolgachev: You can ask the President your question directly. He can see and hear you now, just as the whole nation can. Go ahead.

Andrei Voronin: Mr President, good afternoon. I have a question which concerns not only myself but probably every other resident in the Kaliningrad Region. We are going to host the FIFA World Cup, and we have a wonderful stadium here. Please, tell me what will happen after the World Cup? Will my students also be able to come to the stadium to practice?

Nikolai Dolgachev: To train or to play?

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

A. Voronin: To train, to play or at least to see the three matches that will be played at the stadium. To come and see them, at least.

Vladimir Putin: You see, first of all, I am confident that you will build the facility and you will do it on schedule. By the way, regarding Kaliningrad, we initially thought that the price tag was too high. It is understandable that the leaders of Kaliningrad and the Kaliningrad Region wanted not just to build up the stadium but also develop all the adjoining infrastructure: to erect a new township, a whole residential area, but ultimately, we agreed on the cost of the stadium as well. Everything is going according to schedule, as far as I know. But to be honest, your question is odd. The answer is yes, because the stadium is being built for people to play sports, for fans to come there. I hope we will never allow stadiums to be turned into shopping markets. On the contrary, even in Moscow everything is going back to its normal course. Thank God, sports facilities are being used the way they were intended.

Concerning the facilities and buildings for the Olympics in Sochi, practically everything is being used effectively. We have probably better results than anywhere else, when it comes to the use of sports facilities after large-scale international competitions. The same is true of Kazan after the competition were held there, I mean the Universiade. As for stadiums, they must and can be used as athletic facilities only. This is why I am sure that children will able to practice there. I am sure that fans can rejoice. And the key thing is we will finally be developing football. I hope our players will also perform at a high level, which everyone expects from them.

And I would just wish you success. Thank you very much.

Dmitry Borisov: Nikolai, let us take another question from Kaliningrad.

Andrei Voronin: The Russian national team has not been at its best lately, and no one knows how it will perform during the upcoming world championship. I have a proposal. Perhaps, you could use your influence on them? Perhaps, you could tell them to start really playing ball?

Vladimir Putin: I prompted this question, I think. I am not going to rant and rave or criticise anyone, although, of course, the Russian football fans are expecting a better performance from our national team.

When I speak to specialists at the international level, I ask whether our athletes will play or not. They say no, they will not. I ask them why. They say because … followed by complaints that there are too many foreign players and too little attention paid to training young players.

In other words, very little attention is paid to promoting children’s and youth football. True, there are positive developments. I was in Krasnodar recently, and Mr Galitsky is doing a great job there. It is a private project. He has built a stadium and put together a football school with remarkable students who play not only football, but chess as well. All major clubs have created such systems for training young football players. If this continues, and I believe it will, we will definitely have an efficient national team that will make its fans proud.

Dmitry Borisov: Thank you, Kaliningrad.

Mr President, I would be remiss not to ask you a question today. There is a crisis underway, difficult times for everyone, clearly. The number of disgruntled people is on the rise. Some are protesting in social media, others are taking to the streets. Is that an opposition? Are you prepared to talk to anyone among them?

Vladimir Putin: I am prepared to talk to everyone who really aims to improve people’s lives, to resolve the issues facing the country, but not the ones who use existing difficulties – and there are always enough difficulties anywhere you go – to promote their own political agenda. Using difficulties as a tool for self-promotion and in order to cash in politically, only aggravates them.

We spoke about managing companies. What is one of their key problems today? They are intermediaries in the movement of funds from the state to those who provide additional services. They should be denied the right to mediate cash flows. The same applies to the opposition. Some of them in this sense are no better; they are using difficulties to their own advantage. Instead, they should offer solutions. Those who offer solutions deserve our closest attention. They are entitled to maintain a dialogue with the authorities. This is what we are going to do.

Tatyana Remezova: Mr President, schoolteachers and former students in the village of Krasnopolka in Ulyanovsk Region addressed Direct Line, and our film crew, led by Maria Bondareva, went there.

Maria Bondareva: Good afternoon, Mr President.

How can we possibly do without the topic of education? We are now in Krasnopolka, a village with a population of just a little over 500. Naturally, like in any village, there is just one school here. Such schools are called undersized. There are only 46 students there – up to grade nine. On my right, you can see all those who finished it in 2017 – just four young men. On my left is School Principal Alexei Malin, and he sent in a question, Mr President, to your call centre, because he is concerned not only about his school but also about his students’ future or to be more accurate, about where they will study and according to what curriculum. So we decided to give him an opportunity to ask his question directly.

Alexei Malin: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, Mr Malin.

Alexei Malin: The fact is that Russia lacks a single educational space. Because there are so many textbooks and so many teaching and methodological systems, sometimes students in different regions or even in different districts of the same region study certain school disciplines according to absolutely different programmes. And when they move, they experience considerable difficulties.

So, here is the second part of my question. Textbooks have an established lifespan of five years and have to be discarded while they could still be used, which increases budgetary spending on the procurement of new textbooks even though an old textbook is still good enough. Therefore, I wonder if it could be possible to extend the life of school textbooks and reduce the number of teaching and methodological systems, thus unifying Russia’s educational space.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to say that we are probably one of the few countries where – strange as this may seem to you, even though I largely agree with you, but nevertheless, our single educational space is stronger than elsewhere, than in many other countries. For example, in the United States, almost every state and every university has its own curriculum, and the same goes for Europe. We are probably one of the few countries where we try to preserve this single space even though the problem that you have raised does exist.

An enormous number of new textbooks appeared in our country, especially in the 1990s and 2000s. It almost became a business based on budget funds. Colleagues told me a child switches to another school, and even in Moscow has no idea what materials to study to prepare for exams as there are different textbooks and requirements. Of course, requirements can always differ, yet a single textbook allows a teacher to take a certain creative approach to the learning process. In the Soviet Union, there was a standard textbook, then there were experimental ones and one other, three categories in total. Overall, as experts say, this experience could be used to create a standard textbook. We have to consider this. These decisions cannot be voluntary, but we definitely can consider this. Once again, experts believe that this is quite possible and will not cause any damage to the learning process; it will not worsen its quality.

Should we – and can we – prolong the textbook use period to exceed five years? First, as you know, textbooks must be provided for free. I ask heads of municipalities and regions to carefully monitor this.

Can the five-year period be extended? You know, for some textbooks it can be done, and for some it cannot. I mean, for instance, currently we have in fact an established textbook on physics by a single author. The period of its use could probably be prolonged. I had a look at other textbooks – say, on history and geography. The latter was created in the late 1990s, and it cites data on agricultural development. Today, this is an advanced sector of Russia’s economy, with a three-percent annual growth rate, and it satisfies our needs – as I have mentioned, in poultry, for instance. We have become leaders in producing and exporting wheat, which is unprecedented in Russia’s history, maybe only prior to 1913. Yet, this textbook says our agricultural industry is in decline. What nonsense! What kind of textbook is that and what are they teaching our children there?

By the way, the same applies to housing construction. In 2015, a record 83–85 million square metres of housing was completed, yet the textbook claims the construction industry is in a difficult position. What is written in the textbook in no way reflects reality. So, can the period of using such textbooks be extended beyond five years? Actually, it has been reissued this year the way it was, word for word. One name has been eliminated from the list of its authors, maybe to show that this is a new edition, and the rest remained as it was. So this all has to be closely monitored. I think the use of some textbooks can be prolonged, while other textbooks should be updated.

I want to wish success to you and your graduates.

Tatyana Remezova: Maria, you can ask one more question.

Maria Bondareva: Mr President, having heard that they will be with you today, the guys standing next to me decided to use this opportunity and also ask you a question or rather make a request, if I understand correctly.

Remark: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Remark: We are graduates of the ninth form. We are taking part in the 2017 Graduates contest. We are eager to win it. Could you wish us good luck and give us some good advice?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I wish you good luck and victory in this contest, and here is what I would like to say.

I do talk with people of your age and students, though not as often as I would like to. I know that our young people have enormous potential, really huge. Very many young people understand all the advantages of our country that are embodied in its immense size, incredibly rich cultural code, long history, the unity of our people that we see whenever the nation is facing serious difficulties. This is what our people relied on for centuries if not millennia, and I can see that young people cherish all this. They cherish the diversity of our culture and nature.

I hope you make full use of these advantages upon graduation, to work in order to enjoy life and contribute to Russia’s progress.

Dmitry Borisov: Thank you, Krasnopolka.

Before we move on, here is one more question from children, from among those that were collected before Direct Line. It comes from 12 year-old Veronika Titova from Solnechnogorsk. This is her question: “If you had a time machine, where would you like to go?

Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Actually, this is not a child’s question although it seems to be from the realm of fantasy. We know of many works that involve a time machine. It is essential to decide for oneself: does this time machine go backward or forward? Can you interfere in events and change the future, that is, our present, or is this not allowed?

Dmitry Borisov: And what would you prefer?

Vladimir Putin: I think it is better not to touch anything because whatever will be will be but with unknown consequences. This is the first thing. Most likely, this applies to the past. Although, it would be very interesting to see how our country developed, how St Petersburg was built and how our fathers and grandfathers won the Great Patriotic War…

You know, sometimes tears fill my eyes when I watch documentaries. Do you understand me? Of course, I would like to see this with my own eyes.

I would like very much to feel, hear and see how fateful decisions determining Russia’s path were made.

As for the future, we have a time machine. We do. It is called “history.” We should thoroughly and objectively study history so that we can understand how to act in order to build our future. The future is being created right now. Therefore, if we want to have a prosperous future we must work efficiently today, sparing no effort.

Tatyana Remezova: Now back to our studio. Vera Krasova has the floor.

Vera Krasova: Thank you, Tatyana.

We have representatives of the younger generation in our studio – finalists of the National Engineering Olympiad from Nefteyugansk. I had a chance to talk to them yesterday; it was very interesting. Danila Prilepa has a very serious question. Danila, you have the floor.

Danila Prilepa: Hello, Mr President. The fact that corrupt officials and ministers are in the Government is not news, has not been for a long time; putting them under house arrest for show does not produce results, and you undermine people’s trust by doing so. How are you dealing with this problem now?

The consequences of negligence affect the majority of our country’s population, including my family. Federal Law No. 247 states that every police officer is entitled to a subsidy for the purchase of their own housing.

In Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area, only 90 families have received the money over the past five years. The waiting list includes thousands, and there is practically no progress.

Vladimir Putin: Danila, did you read your question? Did you prepare it in advance or did someone recommend it to you?

Danila Prelepa: Life has prepared me for this question.

Vladimir Putin: Well said!

Let us begin with the provision of housing for the Interior Ministry employees, as I understand, this is what you are asking. I would need to look up how much money is specifically allocated for that purpose, including in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area. I cannot tell you now, but I promise that I will look it up.

The housing issues of Interior Ministry personnel are probably not being solved as quickly as one would like. I am not ready to tell you right now how much housing was actually acquired, but this is one of the most urgent issues. We will see what happens in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area, what else can be done, and increase the funding accordingly.

Now, about corrupt officials. We are aware of this issue, and I believe it is a pressing one. However, the list of questions – I mean the analysis of the list of questions raised during today’s cooperative work, including with you – shows that compared to past Direct Lines – and we are on the 15th event – this issue is not among the top.

Nevertheless, I believe that this issue is important, acute, and it is not a matter of house arrest, not even jailing people, the point is– I sense your family is involved in law enforcement – the point is that no offence should remain without the authorities’ attention and without punishment. That is the most important thing. We need to arrange this mode of operation.

As for house arrest or actual prison terms, this is a question that must be determined by court depending on each specific situation and the guilt of the person who committed the offence. The most recent example is a conviction brought against a former head of the Federal Penitentiary Service, that is, a person who headed the entire correctional system, that is, the system that manages people serving sentences for crimes committed.

However, he broke the law himself, and as far as I know, the court yesterday rendered its verdict. A real term of 8 years in prison is a serious punishment. So, let us rely on the work of the judicial system, which, of course, needs to be improved, but nonetheless, there is no other institution under the Constitution that determines the punishment for those who have committed an offence.

Dmitry Borisov: I see the neighbouring section of our studio with Nailya is ready to join us.

Nailya Asker-zade: Thank you, Dmitry.

Mr President, you have been asked a number of times today about protests in social media but the internet is also used by entrepreneurs. In this connection, Ildar Neverov, chairman of the environmental committee of Delovaya Rossiya has a question to ask.

Ildar Neverov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Last year I was able to ask you a question about waste, and it is meaningful that we are speaking about it in-depth and constructively during the Year of the Environment. However, today my question is not about solid waste but about a different sort of rubbish – information rubbish.

Information war in the business world is a tool of unfair competition. It is hard to treat it with impartiality. At the same time, recently we have seen and heard increasing information attacks on people in power. What do you think about this? Do you look at such materials?

Vladimir Putin: You know, as a rule, I do look at those materials, especially if they concern my colleagues; of course, I have no choice. As well as other information coming not only from the internet but also from TV, newspapers, radio, I always look at it carefully and – I would like to say and assure you – respectfully.

However, a person in my position necessarily has to double-check everything and draw final conclusions relying on objective data only. You and I know only too well that, unfortunately, the media as a whole and the internet are used for fakes, information attacks or just for political combat.

But what can we do about it? This is life; there is nothing unusual about it. However, I always have to crosscheck it with the resources at my disposal, and I have many of them. There is the Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, the FSB, monitoring agencies, the Presidential Control Directorate, which are all agencies, engaged in overseeing the use of budget funds.

So I have plenty of such resources, and before making any conclusion, I always, let me emphasise this, always try to treat people with care, and I first always double check any information.

Tatyana Remezova: Here is an SMS question: “Have you as president ever been cheated? What action did you take against the cheaters?” The question comes from Vladimir Novikov (Krasnoyarsk Territory, the city of Uzhur).

Vladimir Putin: I am looking around at what is coming via SMS and MMS. One question was, should we not reinstate the death penalty and hold a referendum on the issue? I can imagine what the result of that referendum would be. However, the question was, should the death penalty not be applied to murderers?

As for those who cheat or try to cheat. You know, I think everyone among those sitting here has some experience in being a target of cheating. This applies to you, Tanya, and you, Dima, and generally to all – practically all of our country’s citizens. No cheating – it simply does not work that way.

I am also human and sometimes also become a target of such attempts. However, even when I see it I try not to make a fuss. Even if I am certain that there was an attempt to cheat me, before I respond, I will always look to see what that person’s motives are, what they are after, why they wanted to do so and what they were trying to achieve. But I will not forget it.

Tatyana Remezova: Well, it has been a long time since we last heard from our call centre. Natalya Yuryeva please.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you, Tatyana. We have been on the air for 3 hours and 40 minutes. We have received 2.6 million calls. Even though during your previous Direct Line, Mr President, you issued orders that something be done about the deplorable condition of roads in many regions, the number of questions regarding this woe has not declined.

We have received hundreds of MMS graphically demonstrating the sordid condition of roads. There is endless mud and enormous potholes in Samara Region while in the Dagestani village of Madzhalis, despite the fact that there is an asphalt-making plant there, locals say there are practically no paved roads.

Vodyanaya [Water in Russian] Street in Kostroma really lives up to its name: it is full of puddles. I suggest we watch the video question that came from Valery Lebedev in Krasnodar.

Valery Lebedev: Good afternoon, Mr President. This is Valery Lebedev. I am 20. I am a third-year student. I have two and a half years of driving experience. I would like to ask you a question.

I am an ordinary Russian citizen. I always pay my taxes and would like to know why the roads in Krasnodar (Novorossiiskaya Street) are in such a state? Please look at this.

Here is my car and here is the road surface. Is this surface acceptable? Is it up to standard or not? I urge you to take measures. Thank you very much. And all the very best.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you, Mr Lebedev, for your question and for your account.

You asked whether this could really be so. We can see that it can because we have seen it with our own eyes, but this must not be so, and here is what I would like to say in this context.

What is going on with our road construction? Federal roads are being developed and built. About 77 percent of federal roads have already been brought up to standard, and this is appreciable growth. As for local roads, regional roads, unfortunately, growth there is almost negligible: from 36 percent to 42 percent.

Unfortunately, recently, the situation with road construction at the regional and municipal level has deteriorated. This has to do, among other things, with a shortage of resources. I will not go into detail now. We once discussed and did it – we raised excise taxes to improve road construction financing. Some of these resources go to the federal level and some go to the regional level. Just recently, not so long ago – although I assure you, we regularly revisit this issue – I spoke to the Finance Minister. As usual, the Finance Ministry is very careful about the federal part but we will have to take some decisions to boost financing of road construction at the regional and municipal level.

Nevertheless, I would certainly not let regional and municipal authorities off the hook. It is up to them to get their priorities right in allocating financial resources to address particular issues. Still, I promise that we will pay special attention to this at the federal level.

Dmitry Borisov: Mr President, during preparations for Direct Line and even during this show, questions kept coming in. We selected several questions that we would like to ask you in a quick round of questions.

Vladimir Putin: Surely, we will not keep going until morning?

Dmitry Borisov: Not until morning, that is why it is a quick round, so it will be short.

For example, “You often say you grew up in an ordinary family. Do you know how ordinary people live in Russia today?”

Vladimir Putin: I certainly do.

Firstly, we still communicate. Secondly, I recently told my colleagues about my family’s life. I told them how my father would go and read the electric meter, how he counted every kopeck so as to pay for electricity in full and on time. I still have that habit: I cannot leave the lights on. When I leave the room, I always turn the lights off. This is why I know it so well.

Can I ask one lightening round question? I see Mr Gazzaev sitting in front of me. Football is a concern for me too. Will we play football or not? Let him have a microphone, please.

Dmitry Borisov: Valery Gazzaev answering.

Valery Gazzaev: Thank you, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: In advance of the World Cup.

Valery Gazzaev: First of all, thank you for the wonderful infrastructure that will be built, for paying a huge amount of attention to healthy lifestyle and the health of the nation.

As to football, I am myself very much concerned about it. Let us hope the new young national team will play well at the coming Confederations Cup, and we will all enjoy it.

Thank you very much. I know, I recall 2010 when it was you and your authority and attention alone that got us the right to host the World Cup. And now I would like to share something with you, now that I was given a chance to speak.

I have the following question. I wanted to say that ahead of the World Cup the Russian Football Union declared that the success of the national team is impossible to guarantee in football, so it seems reasonable to set the next target – the popularisation of football regardless of the national team’s results.

I think if we set such tasks, then we will definitely achieve nothing. Moreover, this a home World Cup, and I believe we must achieve the best possible result. As it was said here, of course, I would like you to have an impact on the result, especially on the national team.

What do you think, Mr President, what kind of results should our team have and how should it perform at the coming home World Cup?

Vladimir Putin: Mr Gazzaev, I wanted to hear it from you. You are smart to pass the ball to me.

Valery Gazzaev: I can say in earnest that I have the same opinion as you do, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Let us hope that the boys will give it their all like real fighters and athletes, so as to make our fans happy at least by striving for victory. By the way, the recent matches show that the national team still has potential.

Tatyana Remezova: We continue our quick round of questions: “They say you literally lost your head over digital economy. Is that true?”

Vladimir Putin: My head is okay.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank God.

Vladimir Putin: But the digital economy – without it, we will not be able to move on to the next technological level. And without the transition to a new technological model, the Russian economy, which basically means Russia, has no future. Therefore, this is the number one goal in the economy that we must achieve. The main thing is that we do have all the prerequisites in place for this. Thank God, we have preserved a very good school of mathematics; our computer programming is developing very intensively, we just need to provide a market for our software engineers. We have many good technological projects. We can do this.

Dmitry Borisov: We have received texts like this: “Do you really think that people believe these fabricated questions?”

Vladimir Putin: Believe what?

Dmitry Borisov: “Believe fabricated questions.”

Vladimir Putin: “Let us free the world from this evil!” It is not clear what evil. Is this a fabricated question?

“What do you do in your spare time?” I work.

“Why do wages for the same work often differ across the regions, even in public institutions?” Because the subsistence level varies across the regions and local production facilities have been developing at a different pace for decades. In one place, the cost of living is higher than in another, I am talking about the subsistence level. These are interrelated things that have evolved over decades. However, we have to even out the incomes and certainly federal employees have to make roughly the same money across the country. All these questions are always at the focus of our attention. And we will continue working on them.

Therefore, these questions are clearly not prepared in advance. Nor are all the others that were asked here today.

Tatyana Remezova: “Which world leader has the strongest handshake?”

Vladimir Putin: You know, the strength of a leader is not measured by their handshake; it is measured by their attitude towards the work they do, towards the fate of their country and their people, and by their personal commitment and dedication while exercising their powers.

Dmitry Borisov: Another urgent question: “Do your words about ‘never ratting on friends’ apply to bribe takers and corrupt officials?”

Vladimir Putin: I do not consider them my friends.

Tatyana Remezova: “It is rumoured that there will be no indexation of pensions until 2030. Is that true?”

Vladimir Putin: No, it is not true, it is rubbish. We have a law, and in accordance with this law, we will index pensions at least according to the previous year’s inflation rate.

Dmitry Borisov: “How many languages do you speak?”

Vladimir Putin: Russian, thank God, I am also fluent in German, and I can speak a little English.

Tatyana Remezova: “How do you feel about jokes about you?”

Vladimir Putin: It depends on the joke.

Tatyana Remezova: Is there a favourite?

Vladimir Putin: No, I never remember them. Do you think I keep them in mind or something? I have not read a single book about myself, and I certainly never remember jokes.

Dmitry Borisov: Another question: What is the biggest fish you have ever caught?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I know this is a matter of interest for professional and amateur fishermen, I read about it and see it on the internet. Honestly, the fish was weighed in my presence, it was 20 kilograms, although many believe it did not look big enough to weigh 20 kilograms. But this is what I saw. Maybe somebody was standing near with a finger on the scale, but I did not notice anything.

Tatyana Remezova: At Direct Line, we have a tradition we will not break. Usually you yourself pick out some questions you liked or you want to answer, so we are giving you this opportunity.

Vladimir Putin: You know, I do have such questions, I selected them, but I did not take them with me. They are not even questions per se but requests, and sensitive ones. I will not say what they were, but I will do my best to respond to them, all the more so as such requests come from people with special needs.

These requests are not huge, but they are very specific. I will try to do this. However, while I was talking here with you, I looked around, and some questions appeared universal to me. I mean, not universal but important, and some were regional but serious as well.

Here is one of the questions, not a serious one, but nevertheless: When will the Russian President drive a Russian-made car? I hope this will happen soon. This not an idle question.

I once asked the head of a western car manufacturer what car he drove. He said: ”Why, …, of course“ and named the company he worked for. This is natural.

And of course, a country like Russia must produce a line of cars that the country’s top officials will use. We are working on this. I hope that by the end of 2018 this will materialise, and this will be a line of cars not only for top officials, like limos, but it will also include SUVs, minibuses, hatchbacks, and others – that is, it will be a brand new line of domestically produced cars.

”Will the Armed Forces service period be extended?“ The question is not quite clear. If the person asking means conscription service, then of course not; but if the period of service for officers was meant, then this has to be considered.

I know that many officers would like the service period to be extended. This issue has to be examined and taken seriously, with all the pros and cons analysed. Overall, this is possible.

Another question: ”Who do you plan to choose as your successor?“ Firstly, I am still in office. Secondly, I want to say that this is a choice for the voters – the Russian people. Of course, I made my choice a while ago, and I see nothing dishonourable in saying that my preferences are such and such; but ultimately, we should not forget that Russian citizens are the ones to vote, and it is only up to them to determine who will lead a region, a district, a city, an area or the country.

You know, this is a strange question: Governor Merkushkin deprives federal veterans of some allowances. I do not even understand what this is all about. How can any governor, not only Nikolai Merkushkin but also others, stop making payments to federal beneficiaries? I do not get this. I will check on this, by all means. I want you to know that I paid attention to this question.

Finally, this is not a question but a statement. I read it. It says, “Everything will be fine.” This is true. I can confirm it.

Dmitry Borisov: You said that the voters would decide who would be the head of state. Could you predict what challenges the head of state whom they will elect for the next six years will be facing? What priority tasks will the president have to focus on?

Vladimir Putin: We have many tasks. The first and the most important one is to ensure that people’s incomes go up. It is necessary to eliminate poverty, shacks and hazardous housing, but we can achieve this only if we grow our economy at the necessary rates.

In this context, it is necessary to pay attention to labour productivity and increase it, but this is impossible without transitioning to the next technological level, and at this point, we need the digital economy and properly organised work.

We must make substantial adjustments of administrative forms at the level of municipal entities, regions and the entire country.

It is perfectly obvious that we need a serious transformation of management at this point. This is not a big but a very important list of tasks that will be raised in the near future.

Tatyana Remezova: And the final question: Will there be one more Direct Line with Vladimir Putin or is this the last one?

Vladimir Putin: If there is any line, it will be only direct, just as today.

Dmitry Borisov: Thank you. We received answers to a majority of questions. We hope that today’s session will also help resolve many problems raised by our audience.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you, thanks to the anchors and thanks to all citizens of our country who took part in our joint work today.

I would like to apologise if I did not answer all of your questions. Please do not be cross with me. That is impossible to do, and that includes questions from our audience.

However, it is very important for me to hear your opinions, to see what you think about events in the country. It is important for all of us – for the Government, the Presidential Executive Office and for me – to analyse the incoming questions, proposals, requests or critical remarks.

We will take all of them into consideration in our practical work. In any event, we will do so to the best of our abilities.

Thank you very much!

All images in this article are from President of Russia.

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This article examines the forces behind former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purna’s recent imprisonment and the subsequent political upheaval in Indonesia. It delves into the murky ties between President Donald Trump’s most important Indonesian business partner, multi-billionaire Hary Tanoesodibjo and the latter’s relationship with pro-Islamist politicians and the military to evaluate the consequences of political turmoil on the future of Indonesia.

The recent defeat in Jakarta of progressive reformer Basuki Tjahaja Purna (“Ahok”), a Chinese Christian, followed by his imprisonment for blasphemy, has alarmed western observers. Some in the west have attributed it to the increasing influence of Islamic extremism fueled by Saudi wealth. Others have pointed to nativist resentment of Ahok’s Chinese background. Recently Allen Nairn attributed it to a deep-rooted campaign by the once powerful Indonesian military to oust Ahok’s progressive mentor, Indonesia President Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”).

There is merit to all three analyses, which as we shall see are not mutually exclusive. But there is also another force in Indonesia at odds with the progressive reform tendencies represented by both Ahok and Jokowi. Importantly, Jokowi’s taxation and environmental policies have set him on a collision course with Indonesia’s largest foreign investor, the Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan mining company, whose third-largest stockholder, Carl Icahn, is the richest billionaire in the new billionaire Trump White House. We should remember also that Trump’s principal friend and business partner in Indonesia, multibillionaire Hary Tanoesoedibjo, announced a month before Ahok’s defeat that he had decided to back Anies Baswedan, the eventual winner.1

All of these forces against reform in Indonesian are interconnected, and all are enhanced by increasing disparity of wealth in this new Gilded Age. However the fundamental Indonesian reform achieved in 2000, restoring police independence from the military, has not yet been seriously challenged.

Militant Muslim groups have indeed been proliferating in Indonesia. A major reason for this has been the millions of dollars spent by Saudi Arabia, starting about 1980, to promote a more rigorous Salafist Islam among Indonesia’s traditionally tolerant Sunnis. Many scholars feared that traditional Indonesian Islam, represented by the Nahdatlul Ulama (NU) was now losing out to well-funded Salafi extremism. Margaret Scott, for example, warned in the New York Review of Books that it was “far-fetched” to think that Indonesia’s Islamic moderates “can stop Salafi recruitment, much less ISIS recruitment.”2

Some observers have blamed this funding for the riots in 2016-17 protesting the re-election campaign of the Christian Chinese governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purna (“Ahok”).3 Only one person died in these protests, compared to the thousand killed in the riots preceding Suharto’s ouster in 1998. But it was alarming to see hundreds of thousands of Muslims shouting anti-Christian and anti-Chinese slogans, and to see him not only defeated, but convicted on a trumped-up blasphemy charge. (The judges ignored the much more lenient recommendation of Ahok’s prosecutors and capitulated to inflamed public opinion.)

Muslims protest against Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjaha Purnama, who is Chinese Christian in December 2016 

Others saw the Muslim anti-Ahok protests as not so much anti-Christian as anti-Chinese, fueled by resentment that so much of the Indonesian economy was in the hands of the small ethnic Chinese minority. (Ethnic Chinese make up less than five percent of the population, but a 1995 study found Chinese Indonesians in control of 68 percent of the top 300 conglomerates in the country.)

According to Reuters, the National Movement to Safeguard the Fatwas of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (GNPF-MUI) “led the push to jail Jakarta’s Christian [and Chinese] governor.”4 Reuters noted further that

The ethnic wealth gap has long fed resentment among poorer “pribumi”, Indonesia’s mostly ethnic-Malay indigenous people. During riots that led to the fall of Suharto in 1998, ethnic-Chinese and Chinese-owned businesses were targeted, and about 1,000 people were killed in the violence.5

There has been no blood-letting on that scale since then, but tensions have remained. President Joko Widodo was the subject of a smear campaign on the campaign trail in 2014 that falsely claimed he was a Chinese descendant and a Christian.

The MUI leader, Bachtiar Nasir, told Reuters that

“the wealth of Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority was a problem and advocated an affirmative action programme for native Indonesians…. ‘It seems they do not become more generous, more fair,’ the cleric said, referring to Chinese Indonesians,… ‘That’s the biggest problem.’”

Still others claimed that the protests were to be explained, not by those in the street, but by their backers in Jakarta’s power elite who, nostalgic for the Suharto era, were uncomfortable with Ahok’s modernizing campaign against corruption:

“Ahok is a unique case in recent Indonesian politics,” said Jemma Purdey, a research fellow at the Australia Indonesia Center. “He did not rise through the ranks of any party but was an independent, administrator-style politician who was backed by rival major parties to get into the position he is in today.”…. The truth is, Ahok always had a target on his back. His style and policies were a threat to Indonesia’s establishment, and the small circle of political leaders under whom most power still remains….

“The rise of such a virulent campaign against Ahok was surprising when it came, but the intent to find a way to get rid of Ahok had been building for some time,” said Purdey. “Clearly there were significant resources ready and willing to back this campaign when the opportunity arose.”6

According to veteran analyst Allen Nairn, the campaign against Ahok was part of a larger campaign to defeat Jokowi, Ahok’s mentor in the fight against corruption. He claimed that the key figures in this larger campaign were “associates of Donald Trump in Indonesia,…army officers and a vigilante street movement linked to ISIS”: the FPI (Front Pembela Islam, or Islamic Defenders Front).”7

Whereas the MUI was a mass movement, the FPI by contrast was a much smaller disciplined group notorious for hate crimes and religious-related violence in the name of Islam.8 It was founded in August 1998 with military and police backing, and at first served as their proxy to beat up left-wing protesters at a time of transition in Indonesian politics. (According to Ian Douglas Wilson, the FPI was in fact formed in 1997 and first made itself known in the May 1998 riots, when it formed part of the Pam Swakarsa militias “mobilised by Armed Forces Chief General Wiranto and Police Chief Noegroho Djajoesman as a ‘third force’ against the student-led reform movement.”)9 Much like their secular predecessors under Suharto, the Pancasila Youth depicted in Josh Oppenheimer’s film “The Act of Killing,” their raids on nightclubs and brothels “were said to allow the group – and its backers in the security forces – to extort protection payments from the [often Chinese] owners.”10

In essence Nairn laid out a scenario that replicated one that TNI generals, above all Suharto’s one-time son-in-law Prabowo Subianto, were accused of plotting earlier in May 1998 (the riots leading to Suharto’s abdication), when Prabowo’s troops in Kopassus (Special Forces) brought thugs into the capital.11 (Earlier, in response to the 1998 Asian monetary crisis, Prabowo had also “accused Chinese-Indonesian businessmen of economic sabotage as a means of bringing down Soeharto.”)12

A joint fact-finding team (Tim Gabungan Pencari Fakta), which included military and civilian officials, as well as volunteers from human rights and women’s organizations, determined that Prabowo Subianto was a key figure in military involvement with the rioters, after which Prabowo was demoted. He retired, went into business, and became a millionaire, In 2014, backed by parties of the “old forces,” Prabowo ran for the presidency and was narrowly defeated by Jokowi. The FPI backed Prabowo and his party Gerindra in the 2014 election; and in October 2014 it staged a violent rock-throwing protest against Jokowi’s ally and deputy Ahok, who was about to replace Jokowi as governor.13 (Ahok’s opponent in the 2017 campaign, Anies, was an ally of Prabowo, and “ran under the banner of Prabowo’s Gerindra Party…. Many expect Prabowo to take another shot at the presidency in 2019, and already Anies is rumored as a likely running mate.”)14

In 2017, according to Nairn, Prabowo’s forces were again using the FPI to promote unrest in a “coup movement,” in order to weaken and hopefully overthrow Jokowi. Prabowo’s allies told Nairn that they and the army had helped plan and support the massive Muslim protests in Jakarta against Ahok.15 But this time Prabowo was in the background, acting through his 2014 campaign manager Fadli Zon, who “is known for publicly praising Donald Trump and appeared with the candidate at a press conference at Trump Tower during the opening days of the [Trump] presidential campaign.”

All of the preceding analyses of the Ahok protests are essentially compatible, but with differing emphases on the ultimate purpose. Of these analyses, however, Nairn’s is the only one to link the campaign against a progressive leader in Jakarta, Jokowi, to the backers of an anti-progressive leader, Trump, in Washington. Nairn heard, for example, that funds for the coup movement came from Donald Trump’s business partner Hary Tanoe (Hary Tanoesoedibjo, in Chinese, 陳明立), who was repeatedly described to him “by key movement figures as being among their most important supporters.”

Hary Tanoe is a billionaire who is the local partner on two deluxe Trump Organization resorts in Indonesia, one in Bali and one outside Jakarta; and he was the vice-presidential candidate in Prabowo’s failed 2014 campaign.16 Members of the “coup movement” expressed excitement to Nairn

about their closeness to Hary and his personal and financial relationship with President Trump, who along with his son Eric welcomed Hary to Trump Tower and the inauguration. They said they hoped Hary, who is building two Trump resorts in Indonesia, would serve as a bridge between Trump and Gen. Prabowo.17

Indonesian businessman Hary Tanoe with President Trump

Nairn also pointed to the presence at an FPI rally of Munarman, a former Commander of the FPI’s paramilitary group Laskar Islam, whom the Freeport-McMoRan mining company in Indonesia engaged as its attorney. Freeport operates the multi-billion Grasberg gold and copper mine in West Papua, Indonesia, which has responsibility for a wretched history of corruption and environmental devastation. Since 2015 its third-largest shareholder has been Carl Icahn, the wealthiest of the billionaires in the new Trump administration, and the subject of a series of complaints about Icahn’s conflict of interest in actions he has taken as Trump’s economic adviser.18

For years Freeport “assiduously courted Indonesia’s longtime dictator, President Suharto, and his cronies, having Freeport pay for their vacations and some of their children’s college education, and cutting them in on deals that made them rich.”19 In return, Suharto granted Freeport a decade-long tax holiday, as well as a reprieve from paying royalties.20 Meanwhile the company’s security became increasingly dependent on payoffs to the local Indonesian military and police, who were estimated by observers to have killed 160 people between 1975 and 1997.21

Meanwhile the Indonesian government has slowly begun to deal with the human rights and environmental problems created by the mine. In 1991, the company signed a Contract of Work (CoW) which among other things required it to sell 51 percent of its stake to Indonesian entities by 2011,22 but at least through 2016 the company has postponed compliance.23

In general Jokowi is considered friendly to business; but he has been under immense pressure, particularly from Indonesia’s largest Muslim civic organizations, to establish 51 percent Indonesian control over Freeport. In March 2017 the New York Times reported that “The dispute has put the brakes on production at the mine,” and that Icahn, “has brought [the problem] to the attention of the United States government.24

Then in April, as part of the first Trump White House trip abroad, Vice President Mike Pence visited Jakarta. Shortly afterwards Reuters reported that

Freeport McMoRan Inc collected a permit to resume copper exports from Indonesia on Friday after a hiatus of more than three months, hours after a state visit by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who discussed the copper miner’s dispute with Jakarta…. The dispute has cost the company and Indonesia hundreds of millions of dollars. Jakarta has said it would halt exports again if negotiations over sticking points were not resolved within six months.

Freeport has also warned Jakarta, saying it had the right to commence arbitration by June 17 if no agreement was reached.

Pence thanked Indonesian President Joko Widodo for the interim solution to the Freeport dispute on Friday but said more steps were still needed, a White House foreign policy adviser said.

“We told them that there were more steps that needed to be taken,” the adviser said, noting this was the only business issue Pence raised in his meeting with Widodo on Thursday.25

Clearly the new Gilded Age of great wealth disparity is global, playing out in Indonesia as well as in America, Russia, and China. In this new era the superwealthy, including those like Trump who are frequently at odds with the laws and media of their own countries, can reach out and reinforce each other, as well as secure their mutual investments. Both Hary Tanoesoedibjo and Carl Icahn are said to have invested in Trump’s campaign, while through Hary Trump has now “gained access to some of Indonesia’s top political figures, including Setya Novanto, the speaker of the House of Representatives, who was temporarily forced to surrender his leadership post because of corruption allegations in 2015.”26

In this global partnership, the new superwealthy, exemplified by Trump’s many dubious business partners abroad, are united by their search for tax relief and freedom from governmental interference.27 Their combined wealth and influence may do at least as much to account for the ousting of progressive-minded Indonesian political leaders like Ahok, as the Salafist extremist movements that are being funded from the Arabian peninsula.

One should not despair at this development. Indonesia took a major step towards a more open society when, in 2000, reformers separated the police from the military. This has made it possible for those guilty of corruption or official violence to be convicted and punished; and violence in general has abated considerably since the thousand deaths in the 1998 riots.

The future of Indonesia may depend on whether this huge structural reform can remain in place. To appreciate its importance, consider events in Poland in 1981, when the deployment of army units to assist the Interior Ministry in keeping domestic law and order was a necessary prelude to the imposition of martial law and the destruction of the Solidarity Movement.28 Americans in particular should worry more about their own country, where since 9/11 the army, in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, now plays a significant role in homeland security. This includes the surveillance of U.S. citizens, and the permanent domestic deployment since 2008 of a U.S. Army Brigade Combat Team, which can be “called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control.”29 So far Americans seem to be less concerned about the risk of martial law than Indonesians, who still retain such bitter memories of it.

Notes

1On the night of March 8, 2017, after Ahok failed to win an outright victory in the first round of his campaign for the governorship, Anies Baswedan, the ultimate victor, visited the home of Hary Tahoesoedibjo and secured his public support (Saeun Muarif, “Hary Tanoe Resmi dukung Anies, Kenapa FPI Diam?” Seword, March 10, 2017).

2Margaret Scott, “Indonesia: The Saudis Are Coming,” New York Review of Books,” October 27, 2016. Douglas Ramage agreed: “The Indonesia we used to talk about – Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah – their influence has waned a bit” (Douglas Ramage, quoted in Nithin Coca, “The Fall of Ahok and Indonesia’s Future.” The Diplomat, April 21, 2017.

3E.g. Mohshin Habib, “Saudi Arabia’s ‘Lavish’ Gift to Indonesia: Radical Islam,” Gatestone Institute, International Policy Council, April 29, 2017: “Prior to Saudi Arabia’s attempts to spread Salafism across the Muslim world, Indonesia did not have terrorist organizations such as Hamas Indonesia, Laskar Jihad, Hizbut Tahrir, Islamic Defenders Front and Jemmah Islamiyah, to name just a few. Today, it is rife with these groups, which adhere strictly to Islamic sharia law, Saudi Arabia’s binding legal system, and which promote it in educational institutions. Like al-Qaeda and ISIS, they deny women equal rights, believe in death by stoning for adulterers and hand amputation for thieves, and in executing homosexuals and “apostate” Muslims. The most recent example of the way in which this extremism has swept Indonesia took place a mere three weeks after the Saudi king wrapped up his trip. On March 31, at least 15,000 Islamist protesters took to the streets of Jakarta after Friday prayers, calling for the imprisonment of the capital city’s Christian governor, who [was] on trial for ‘blaspheming the Quran.’”

4Tom Allard and Agustinus Beo Da Costa, “Exclusive – Indonesian Islamist leader says ethnic Chinese wealth is next target,” Reuters, May 12, 2017.

5It should be noted that of those 1000, the majority were urban poor non-Chinese, most of whom were trapped in shopping malls that were set on fire.

6Nithin Coca, “The Fall of Ahok and Indonesia’s Future.” The Diplomat, April 21, 2017.

7Allan Nairn, “Trump’s Indonesian Allies in Bed With ISIS-Backed FPI Militia Seeking to Oust Elected President Jokowi,” The Intercept, April 18, 2017; reprinted with Introduction by me, Asia-Pacific Journal, April 27, 2017, here.

8Arya Dipa, 18 January 2017). “Petition calls for disbandment of FPI,” The Jakarta Post, January 18, 2017.

9Ian Douglas Wilson, The Politics of Protection Rackets in Post-New Order Indonesia: Coercive Capital, Authority and Street Politics (New York: Routledge, 2015), 151.

10John T. Sidel, Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006), 139: “In August 2008, activists had founded the FPI with the evident blessing – and rumored active support – of Major General Djadja Suparman, new commander of the Greater Jakarta Regional Army Command…. Clad in body-length white tunics… FPI members would reappear on subsequent occasions in 1999 and 2000, wielding sabers and machetes and claiming to speak in the name of Islam.”

11Susan Berfield and Dewi Loveard, “Ten days that shook Indonesia,” in Edward Aspinall, Herb Feith, and Gerry van Klinken, eds. The Last Days of President Suharto, (Clayton, Victoria: Monash Asia Institute, 1999), 57–58. Cf. Joseph Davies, “Did Prabowo Mastermind the May 1998 Riots?” The Indonesian Army. July 7, 2014: “Starting in the mid-1990s, Prabowo and his henchmen encouraged anti-Chinese and anti-Christian violence to divert attention from internal problems, suppress the ‘openness’ (keterbukaan) movement and, after the monetary crisis, strengthen the regime’s negotiating position with the IMF. Working through his Center for Policy and Development Studies (CPDS) (which he founded with General Hartono) and its progeny, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Prabowo and his shady partners incited anti-Chinese and anti-Christian riots across Java during the late-1990s before the regional economic crisis. They used incendiary rhetoric, anti-minority conspiracy theories and Prabowo’s criminal underlings as paid provocateurs, all as part of a strategy to stunt the budding democracy movement and deflect public dissatisfaction with New Order excesses.”

12Tonny, “Prabowo and his anti-Chinese past?New Mandala, June 2014.

13Sita W. Dewi, “Jakarta Politics Heating Up,” Jakarta Post, October 4, 2014. More than ten police officers were injured in the riot, and at least 20 FPI members were arrested. Nevertheless, “Gerindra Party Jakarta chairman and council deputy speaker M. Taufik, who once spent several years in prison for graft, thanked the group for holding the rally and promised that he would do whatever was necessary to end Ahok’s career.”

14Nithin Coca, “The Fall of Ahok and Indonesia’s Future.”

15Nairn, “Trump’s Indonesian Allies in Bed With ISIS-Backed FPI Militia Seeking to Oust Elected President Jokowi,” The Intercept, April 18, 2017. Admiral Ponto also told Nairn that for the movement’s military sponsors, the Ahok issue is a mere entry point, a religious hook to draw in the masses, but “Jokowi is their final destination.”

16Katie Reilly, “Donald Trump’s Indonesian Business Partner Says He Might Run for President,” Fortune, January 3, 2017.

17Nairn, “Trump’s Indonesian Allies.” Hary’s attendance raised an ethical issue when he told media that “he attended the inauguration on invitation and as a business partner of the Trump organization…. If other people have difficulty getting to [Trump], I can do it easily. I communicate with his children over our businesses. I can meet with his kids anytime. I just need to pick up the phone. My WhatsApp messages are also responded” (Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermot, “Trump’s Indonesian business partner says he attended inauguration as a ‘partner of the Trump Organization’,” CNNMoney, February 10, 2017).

18See e.g. Matt Egan, “Trump adviser Icahn may have broken trading laws: Senators,” CNNMoney, May 9, 2917; Michelle Celarier, “Trump Adviser Carl Icahn Is a Blinding Supernova of Conflicts of Interest,” New York, January 2017.

19Jane Perlez and Raymond Bonner, “Below a Mountain of Wealth, a River of Waste,” New York Times, December 27, 2005.

20Jon Emont, “Foreigners Have Long Mined Indonesia, but Now There’s an Outcry,” New York Times, March 31, 2017.

21Perlez and Bonner, “Below a Mountain:” The tensions erupted in a major riot in 1996, resolved by a high-level meeting which Prabowo reportedly chaired. Subsequently, “from 1998 through 2004, Freeport gave military and police generals, colonels, majors and captains, and military units, nearly $20 million. Individual commanders received tens of thousands of dollars, in one case up to $150,000.”

22Anton Hermansyah, Viriya P. Singgih and Farida Susanty, “Jokowi warns Freeport,” The Jakarta Post, February 24, 2017.

23Richard C. Paddock and Eric Lipton, “Trump’s Indonesia Projects, Still Moving Ahead, Create Potential Conflicts,” New York Times, December 31, 2016.

24Jon Emont, “Foreigners Have Long Mined Indonesia, but Now There’s an Outcry,” New York Times, March 31, 2017. A month later TheMotleyFool reported that Freeport might be “be “on the verge of losing what is arguably its most important asset, as Indonesia prepares to strip ownership from it of the massive Grasberg copper and gold mine” (Rich Duprey, “Indonesia Still Looking to Strip Freeport-McMoRan of World’s Largest Gold Mine,” The Motley Fool, April 20. 2017.

25Fergus Jensen and Bernadette Christina Munthe, “Freeport collects export permit after Pence visit,” Reuters, April 21, 2017.

26Paddock and Lipton, “Trump’s Indonesia Projects, Still Moving Ahead, Create Potential Conflicts.” In 2015, Setya Novanto, the speaker of the House of Representatives, was temporarily forced to surrender his leadership post, because he was heard on an audio recording seeking a $4 billion payment from Freeport

27Hary, already one of Indonesia’s wealthiest men, may even become Indonesia’s Trump. “Like Trump, he built his fortune–an estimated $1.1 billion–in real estate and media on a mountain of debt. He tweets nonstop to more than 1 million followers. He stages beauty pageants. He loves reality TV. He has a glamorous wife. Just as the tabloids boiled down Trump into a first name, The Donald, the Indonesian press likes to refer to Tanoesoedibjo simply as Hary.And Hary doesn’t seem content to stop there. He too has started aspiring to political power–specifically, the presidency of the world’s largest Muslim country, its fourth largest by population and its sixteenth-largest economy by GDP. Like Trump, this billionaire sees the path to power through an antielitist campaign…. “Tanoesoedibjo has the money to finance the electoral machinery and the media to actually influence public opinion,” says Rainer Heufers, cofounder of the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies, a Jakarta-based think tank. “He has, therefore, the potential to become a relevant political player in a relatively short period of time.” To Heufers, Hary gives every sign of moving Indonesia from a participatory democracy to one with a more authoritarian bent” (Abram Brown, “Meet The Donald Trump Of Indonesia: Another Billionaire Who Wants To Be President,” Forbes, March 28, 2017).

28Timothy Garton Ash, The Polish Revolution: Solidarity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 247.

29Peter Dale Scott, The American Deep State (Langham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 9; citing “Brigade homeland tours start Oct. 1,” Army Times, September 30, 2008. Many fear also the risk of their possible internment and confinement, since the Army Field Manual (FM 3.39; 2-40) now envisages “I/R [internment/resettlement] tasks performed in support of civil support operations [that] are similar to those during combat operations” (U.S. Army Field Manual, 3.39, Chapter 2: Internment and Resettlement in Support of the Spectrum of Operations, 2-40). I have argued for a decade that Americans should demand the lifting of the State of Emergency enabling this that was proclaimed in September 2001 (itself now arguably illegal under the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. § 1601-1651; Scott. American Deep State, 40-41).

All images in this article are from the author except for the featured image which is from Pinterest.

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Why Bernie Sanders Is an “Imperialist Pig”

June 17th, 2017 by Glen Ford

The United States is a predator nation, conceived and settled as a thief, exterminator and enslaver of other peoples. The slave-based republic’s phenomenal geographic expansion and economic growth were predicated on the super-exploitation of stolen African labor and the ruthless expropriation of native lands through genocidal wars, an uninterrupted history of plunder glorified in earlier times as “Manifest Destiny” and now exalted as “American exceptionalism,” an inherently racist justification for international and domestic lawlessness.

Assembled, acre by bloody acre, as a metastasizing empire, the U.S. state demands fealty to its imperial project as a substitute for any genuine social contract among its inhabitants – a political culture custom-made for the rule of rich white people.

The American project has been one long war of aggression that has shaped its borders, its internal social relations, and its global outlook and ambitions. It was founded as a consciously capitalist state that competed with other European powers through direct absorption of captured lands, brutal suppression of native peoples and the fantastic accumulation of capital through a diabolically efficient system of Black chattel slavery – a 24/7 war against the slave. This system then morphed through two stages of “Jim Crow” to become a Mass Black Incarceration State – a perpetual war of political and physical containment against Black America.

“The U.S. state demands fealty to its imperial project as a substitute for any genuine social contract among its inhabitants.”

Since the end of World War Two, the U.S. has assumed the role of protector of the spoils of half a millennium of European wars and occupations of the rest of the world: the organized rape of nations that we call colonialism. The first Black U.S. president, Barack Obama, was among the most aggressive defenders of white supremacy in history — defending the accumulated advantages that colonialism provided to western European nations, settler states (like the U.S.) and citizens — having launched an ongoing military offensive aimed at strangling the Chinese giant and preventing an effective Eurasian partnership with Russia. The first phase of the offensive, the crushing of Libya in 2011, allowed the United States to complete the effective military occupation of Africa, through AFRICOM.

The U.S. and its NATO allies already account for about 70 percent of global military spending, but Obama and his successor, Donald Trump, demand that Europeans increase the proportion of their economic output that goes to war. More than half of U.S. discretionary spending — the tax money that is not dedicated to mandated social and development programs — goes to what Dr. Martin Luther King 50 years ago called the “demonic, destructive suction tube” of the U.S. war machine.

Former US President Barack Obama (credits to the owner of the photo)

The first Black U.S. president, Barack Obama, was among the most aggressive defenders of white supremacy in history.”

The United States does not have a national health care system worthy of the name, because it is in the war business, not the health business or the social equality business. The U.S. has the weakest left, by far, of any industrialized country, because it has never escaped the racist, predatory dynamic on which it was founded, which stunted and deformed any real social contract among its peoples. In the U.S., progress is defined by global dominance of the U.S. State — chiefly in military terms — rather than domestic social development. Americans only imagine that they are materially better off than the people of other developed nations — a fallacy they assume to be the case because of U.S. global military dominance. More importantly, most white Americans feel racially entitled to the spoils of U.S. dominance as part of their patrimony, even if they don’t actually enjoy the fruits. (“WE made this country great.”) This is by no means limited to Trump voters.

Race relations in the U.S. cannot be understood outside the historical context of war, including the constant state of race war that is a central function of the U.S. State: protecting “American values,” fighting “crime” and “urban disorder,” and all the other euphemisms for preserving white supremacy.

War is not a side issue in the United States; it is the central political issue, on which all the others turn. War mania is the enemy of all social progress — especially so, when it unites disparate social forces, in opposition to their own interests, in the service of an imperialist state that is the tool of a rapacious white capitalist elite. Therefore, the orchestrated propaganda blitzkrieg against Russia by the Democratic Party, in collaboration with the corporate media and other functionaries and properties of the U.S. ruling class, marks the party as, collectively, the Warmonger-in-Chief political institution in the United States at this historical juncture. The Democrats are anathema to any politics that can be described as progressive.

“Race relations in the U.S. cannot be understood outside the historical context of war, including the constant state of race war that is a central function of the U.S. State.”

Bernie Sanders is a highly valued Democrat, the party’s Outreach Director and therefore, as Paul Street writes,

“the imperialist and sheep-dogging fake-socialist Democratic Party company man that some of us on the ‘hard radical’ Left said he was.”

Sanders is a warmonger, not merely by association, but by virtue of his own positions. He favors more sanctions against Russia, in addition to the sanctions levied against Moscow in 2014 and 2016 for its measured response to the U.S-backed fascist coup against a democratically elected government in Ukraine. Rather than surrender to U.S. bullying, Russia came to the military aid of the sovereign and internationally recognized government of Syria in 2015, upsetting the U.S. game plan for an Islamic jihadist victory.

Back in April of this year, on NBC’s Meet The Press, Sanders purposely mimicked The Godfather when asked what he would do to force the Russians “to the table” in Syria:

“I think you may want to make them an offer they can’t refuse. And that means tightening the screws on them, dealing with sanctions, telling them that we need their help, they have got to come to the table and not maintain this horrific dictator.”

Of course, it is the United States that has sabotaged every international agreement to rein in its jihadist mercenaries in Syria.

“We need a strong military, it is a dangerous world,” Sanders told voters in Iowa.”

NYT Reports Large Crowds for Sanders in Iowa–but Isn’t He ‘Unelectable’?

The New York Times reports that Bernie Sanders is drawing large crowds in Iowa–but warns that Iowans may find him “unelectable.”  (photo: Ryan Hendrikson/NYT)

Sanders is a regime-changer, which means he thinks the U.S., in combination with self-selected allies, is above international law, i.e., “exceptional.”

“We’ve got to work with countries around the world for a political solution to get rid of this guy [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] and to finally bring peace and stability to this country, which has been so decimated.”

During the 2016 campaign, Sanders urged the U.S. to stop acting unilaterally in the region, but instead to collaborate with Syria’s Arab neighbors — as if the funding and training of jihadist fighters had not been a joint effort with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies, all along.

According to Politico, “As late as 2002,” Sanders’ campaign website declared that “the defense budget should be cut by 50 percent over the next five years.” But all the defense-cutting air went out of his chest after Bush invaded Iraq. Nowadays, Sanders limits himself to the usual noises about Pentagon “waste,” but has no principled position against the imperial mission of the United States. “We need a strong military, it is a dangerous world,” Sanders told voters in Iowa, during the campaign.

Like Paul Street said, he’s an “imperialist…Democratic Party company man.”

“A Sanders-led Party would still be an imperialist, pro-war party.”

At last weekend’s People’s Summit, in Chicago, National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro endorsed Sanders for a mission he finds impossible to accept: a run for president in 2020 on the Peoples Party ticket. Sanders already had his chance to run as a Green, and refused. He is now the second most important Democrat in the country, behind the ultra-corrupt Bill-Hillary Clinton machine — and by far the most popular. On top of that, Sanders loves being the hero of the phony left, the guy who gimmick-seeking left-liberals hope will create an instant national party for them, making it unnecessary to build a real anti-war, pro-people party from scratch to go heads up with the two corporate machines.

Sanders doesn’t even have to exert himself to string the Peoples Party folks along; they eagerly delude themselves. However, a Sanders-led Party would still be an imperialist, pro-war party.

The U.S. does need a social democratic party, but it must be anti-war, otherwise it commits a fraud on social democracy. The United States is the imperial superpower, the main military aggressor on the planet. Its rulers must be deprived of the political ability to spend trillions on war, and to kill millions, or they will always use the “necessity” of war to enforce austerity. The “left” domestic project will fail.

For those of us from the Black Radical Tradition, anti-imperialism is central. Solidarity with the victims of U.S. imperialism is non-negotiable, and we can make no common cause with U.S. political actors that treat war as a political side show, an “elective” issue that is separate from domestic social justice. This is not just a matter of principle, but also of practical politics. “Left” imperialism isn’t just evil, it is self-defeating and stupid.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].
Glen Ford’s blog

Featured image: Black Agenda Report

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