North Korea Punished for Helping Liberate Africa

March 18th, 2016 by Andre Vltchek

Soon, most likely, there will be new brutal sanctions imposed against North Korea. And there will be massive provocative military exercises held, involving the US and South Korean (ROK). In brief, it is all ‘business as usual’: the West continues to torture DPRK; it is provoking it, isolating, demonizing and dehumanizing it, making sure that it wouldn’t function normally, let alone thrive.

The submissive Western public keeps obediently swallowing all the shameless lies it is being served by its mainstream media. It is not really surprising; people of Europe and North America already stopped questioning official dogmas long time ago.

North Korea (DPRK) is depicted as some insane, starving, subnormal and underdeveloped hermit state, whose leaders are constantly boozing and whoring, murdering each other, and building some primitive but lethal nukes, in order to destroy the world.

Those of us who are familiar with DPRK know that all this is one bundle of fat, shameless lies. Pyongyang is an elegant, well functioning city with great public housing, excellent public transportation, public places and recreational facilities, theatres, sport facilities and green areas. And despite those monstrous sanctions, the countryside is much more prosperous than what one sees in the desperate Western ‘client’ states like Indonesia and Philippines.

DPRK free public housing - is it what the West hates about DPRK?

DPRK free public housing – is it what the West hates about DPRK?

DPRK traffic controller now

DPRK traffic controller now

one of hundreds free public spaces in DPRK

one of hundreds free public spaces in DPRK

one of many Pyongyang theatres copy

one of many Pyongyang theatres

At least there is something; there have at least been a few decent reports that have been written about those grotesque lies and the Western propaganda.

But the essential question remains: ‘Why is the West so obsessed with demonizing North Korea?’

And the answer is simple: Like Cuba, North Korea dared to step on the toes of Western colonialism and imperialism. Sacrificing its sons and daughters, it helped to liberate many African countries, and it provided assistance to the most progressive forces on the most plundered and devastated continent.

This is one thing that the West never forgives. It lives off the unbridled plunder of all continents; it essentially thrives by looting its colonies. Those countries that assisted the liberation struggles, those nations that fought for freedom of the colonized world – Soviet Union/Russia, China, Cuba and the DPRK – were designated by Western ideologues as the most ‘dangerous’ and ‘evil’ places on Earth.

In Europe and North America, conditioned masses (they have been actually profiting from the colonialism and neo-colonialism for decades and centuries), are stubbornly refusing to comprehend this main reason why the Empire has made the people of North Korea suffer so terribly for years and decades.

*

My comrade, Mwandawiro Mghanga, Chairperson of SDP and also a Member of the Executive Committee of Africa Left Networking Forum (ALNEF) based in Dakar Senegal, wrote for this essay:

 “The Social Democratic Party of Kenya (SDP) condemns the unjustified sanctions against North Korea (DPRK) instigated by imperialism led by the United States of America. We are aware that imperialism has never stopped its cold and hot war against DPRK that through one of the greatest patriotic, heroic and revolutionary anti-colonial and anti-imperialist national liberation armed struggles succeeded in winning true independence in the northern half of Korea. When it invaded North Korea, US imperialism like Japanese colonialism earlier, suffered one of the most humiliating military defeats it will never forget in its reactionary history. We also know that the US and the West hates DPRK with venom for refusing to be a puppet of imperialism like South Korea. A dirty false propaganda war is waged against DPRK for refusing the capitalist and neo-colonial path of slavery, under-development and exploitation of person by person and instead choosing the path of development for freedom and humanity, socialism.

 We in Africa will not accept to be cheated by imperialists who have always been part and parcel of our problems. Imperialism is not and has never been a friend of Africa but its enemy. African patriots and revolutionaries will never allow imperialism to tell us who our friends are. For we know whom our friends are! And North Korea has always been Africa’s true friend. When the whole of the African continent was under Western colonialism, Korea under the revolutionary leadership of comrade Kim Il Sung was fighting Japanese colonialism and showing solidarity with Africa at the same time. After DPRK, in the name of socialist internationalism increased its moral, military and other material support to African countries in their struggle for liberation from colonialism, imperialism and apartheid. Immediately after independence from colonialism in the 1960s, thousands of Africans, including Kenyans, received free higher, technical and specialised education in the DPRK. DPRK not only offered arms, finance and other material solidarity to Namibia, South Africa, Angola and Mozambique in the war against apartheid and imperialism, but it also actually sent internationalist revolutionaries to Africa to fight side by side with Africans for Africa. DPRK fought with Egypt and Africa during the 1967 war against the brutal Zionist regime of Israel supported by the Western countries. Today DPRK is together with African countries in the demand for a new just international order. In this DPRK is blamed by imperialism and imperialist puppet regimes for being in the forefront and showing by its own example that a new just international order cannot be but anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, it must be socialist.”

North Korean internationalism is legendary, just as Cuban internationalism is. And this is the least that we can do right now, when the country is facing new tremendous and brutal challenges – to recall how much it gave to the world; how much it had already sacrificed for the sake of humanity!

I spoke to people in Windhoek, who with tears in their eyes recalled North Korea’s struggle against (South African) apartheid-supported regimes in both Namibia and Angola. Naturally, South African apartheid used to enjoy the full support of the West. To repay that favor, South African troops joined the fight against North Korea and China during the Korean War.

As mentioned by Mwandawiro Mghanga, North Korea fought against Israel, its pilots flew Egyptian fighter planes in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. DPRK took part in the liberation struggle in Angola and it fought in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Lesotho, and Namibia and in the Seychelles. It provided assistance to the African National Congress and its epic struggle to liberate South Africa from apartheid. In the past, it had aided the then progressive African nations, including Guinea, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Mali and Tanzania.

Arthur Tewungwa, Ugandan opposition politician from the Uganda People’s Congress Party (UPC) compares the involvement of the DPRK and the West in his country and the African Great Lakes region:

 “Uganda benefited from its relationship with North Korea in the 1980s when it helped the government to fight against the Museveni rebels who were supported by the US and UK. Morally, compared to the DPRK, the latter two have no leg to stand on with all the bloodshed they triggered in the Great Lakes Region.”

*

Has North Korea been fully abandoned, left to its fate? Has it been ‘betrayed’?

Christopher Black, a prominent international lawyer based in Toronto, Canada:

 “…The fact that the US, as part of the SC is imposing sanctions on a country it is threatening is hypocritical and unjust. That the Russians and Chinese have joined the US in this, instead of calling for sanctions against the US for its threats against the DPRK and its new military exercises, which are a clear and present danger to the DPRK, is shameful. If the Russians and Chinese are sincere why don’t they insist that the US draw down its forces there so the DPRK feels less threatened and take steps to guarantee the security of the DPRK?  They do not explain their actions but their actions make them collaborators with the USA against the DPRK.”

The situation is bleak, but most likely not fatal; not fatal yet.

Jeff J Brown, a leading China expert based in Beijing, does not hide his optimism when it comes to the Sino-Russian relationship with the DPRK:

“There is not a lot that North Korea does in the international arena, that Baba Beijing does not have its hand in. They are two fraternal communist countries and 65 years ago, the Chinese spilled a lot of blood and treasure to save North Korea from the West. Mao Zedong’s son died on the Korean War battlefield, fighting against Yankee imperialism. There are two million ethnic Koreans living along the border with North Korea and another half a million Northerners living and working in China. Koreans are a recognized minority in China. No other country in the world understands North Korea like China does. This closeness is emblematic of their common border, the Yalu River, which is so shallow, you can wade across it. They also share boundaries with another key ally, Russia. China is North Korea’s very, very big brother and protector. Frankly, vis-à-vis the upcoming UNSC sanctions against North Korea, I think the West is getting played like a drum, and it is the drum that gets the crap pounded out of it.”

Of course both China and Russia have their long land borders with North Korea -roads and railroads inter-connecting all three countries. According to my sources in Moscow and Beijing, it is highly unlikely that the two closest allies of the DPRK would ever go along with the new sanctions, whether they are officially ‘supporting them’, or not.

But the logic used by Christopher Black is absolutely correct: it is the West that should be suffering from the toughest sanctions imaginable, not DPRK.

It is the West, not North Korea, which has murdered one billion human beings, throughout history. It is the West that colonized, plundered, raped and enslaved people in all corners of the planet. What moral mandate does it have to propose and impose sanctions against anyone?

We are living in a twisted, truly perverse world, where mass murderers act as judges, and actually get away with it.

North Korea spilled blood for the liberation of Africa. It showed true solidarity with robbed, tortured people, with those whom Franz Fanon used to call the “Wretched of the Earth”. That is why, according to perverse logic (which has roots in the Western religious and cultural fundamentalism), it has to be punished, humiliated, and even possibly wipe off the face of the earth.

Not because it did something objectively ‘bad’, but because the objectivity lost its meaning. Terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are now determined by only one criterion: ‘good’ is all that serves the interests of the Western Empire, ‘bad’ is what challenges its global dictatorship.

If you save the village that had been designated by the Empire as a place to be raped and pillaged, you will be punished in the most sadistic and brutal manner. North Korea did exactly that. Except that it did not save just one village, but it helped to liberate an entire continent!

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and  Fighting Against Western Imperialism.  Discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western TerrorismPoint of No Return is his critically acclaimed political novel. Oceania – a book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about Indonesia: “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Press TV. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.

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North Korea Punished for Helping Liberate Africa

March 18th, 2016 by Andre Vltchek

Soon, most likely, there will be new brutal sanctions imposed against North Korea. And there will be massive provocative military exercises held, involving the US and South Korean (ROK). In brief, it is all ‘business as usual’: the West continues to torture DPRK; it is provoking it, isolating, demonizing and dehumanizing it, making sure that it wouldn’t function normally, let alone thrive.

The submissive Western public keeps obediently swallowing all the shameless lies it is being served by its mainstream media. It is not really surprising; people of Europe and North America already stopped questioning official dogmas long time ago.

North Korea (DPRK) is depicted as some insane, starving, subnormal and underdeveloped hermit state, whose leaders are constantly boozing and whoring, murdering each other, and building some primitive but lethal nukes, in order to destroy the world.

Those of us who are familiar with DPRK know that all this is one bundle of fat, shameless lies. Pyongyang is an elegant, well functioning city with great public housing, excellent public transportation, public places and recreational facilities, theatres, sport facilities and green areas. And despite those monstrous sanctions, the countryside is much more prosperous than what one sees in the desperate Western ‘client’ states like Indonesia and Philippines.

DPRK free public housing - is it what the West hates about DPRK?

DPRK free public housing – is it what the West hates about DPRK?

DPRK traffic controller now

DPRK traffic controller now

one of hundreds free public spaces in DPRK

one of hundreds free public spaces in DPRK

one of many Pyongyang theatres copy

one of many Pyongyang theatres

At least there is something; there have at least been a few decent reports that have been written about those grotesque lies and the Western propaganda.

But the essential question remains: ‘Why is the West so obsessed with demonizing North Korea?’

And the answer is simple: Like Cuba, North Korea dared to step on the toes of Western colonialism and imperialism. Sacrificing its sons and daughters, it helped to liberate many African countries, and it provided assistance to the most progressive forces on the most plundered and devastated continent.

This is one thing that the West never forgives. It lives off the unbridled plunder of all continents; it essentially thrives by looting its colonies. Those countries that assisted the liberation struggles, those nations that fought for freedom of the colonized world – Soviet Union/Russia, China, Cuba and the DPRK – were designated by Western ideologues as the most ‘dangerous’ and ‘evil’ places on Earth.

In Europe and North America, conditioned masses (they have been actually profiting from the colonialism and neo-colonialism for decades and centuries), are stubbornly refusing to comprehend this main reason why the Empire has made the people of North Korea suffer so terribly for years and decades.

*

My comrade, Mwandawiro Mghanga, Chairperson of SDP and also a Member of the Executive Committee of Africa Left Networking Forum (ALNEF) based in Dakar Senegal, wrote for this essay:

 “The Social Democratic Party of Kenya (SDP) condemns the unjustified sanctions against North Korea (DPRK) instigated by imperialism led by the United States of America. We are aware that imperialism has never stopped its cold and hot war against DPRK that through one of the greatest patriotic, heroic and revolutionary anti-colonial and anti-imperialist national liberation armed struggles succeeded in winning true independence in the northern half of Korea. When it invaded North Korea, US imperialism like Japanese colonialism earlier, suffered one of the most humiliating military defeats it will never forget in its reactionary history. We also know that the US and the West hates DPRK with venom for refusing to be a puppet of imperialism like South Korea. A dirty false propaganda war is waged against DPRK for refusing the capitalist and neo-colonial path of slavery, under-development and exploitation of person by person and instead choosing the path of development for freedom and humanity, socialism.

 We in Africa will not accept to be cheated by imperialists who have always been part and parcel of our problems. Imperialism is not and has never been a friend of Africa but its enemy. African patriots and revolutionaries will never allow imperialism to tell us who our friends are. For we know whom our friends are! And North Korea has always been Africa’s true friend. When the whole of the African continent was under Western colonialism, Korea under the revolutionary leadership of comrade Kim Il Sung was fighting Japanese colonialism and showing solidarity with Africa at the same time. After DPRK, in the name of socialist internationalism increased its moral, military and other material support to African countries in their struggle for liberation from colonialism, imperialism and apartheid. Immediately after independence from colonialism in the 1960s, thousands of Africans, including Kenyans, received free higher, technical and specialised education in the DPRK. DPRK not only offered arms, finance and other material solidarity to Namibia, South Africa, Angola and Mozambique in the war against apartheid and imperialism, but it also actually sent internationalist revolutionaries to Africa to fight side by side with Africans for Africa. DPRK fought with Egypt and Africa during the 1967 war against the brutal Zionist regime of Israel supported by the Western countries. Today DPRK is together with African countries in the demand for a new just international order. In this DPRK is blamed by imperialism and imperialist puppet regimes for being in the forefront and showing by its own example that a new just international order cannot be but anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, it must be socialist.”

North Korean internationalism is legendary, just as Cuban internationalism is. And this is the least that we can do right now, when the country is facing new tremendous and brutal challenges – to recall how much it gave to the world; how much it had already sacrificed for the sake of humanity!

I spoke to people in Windhoek, who with tears in their eyes recalled North Korea’s struggle against (South African) apartheid-supported regimes in both Namibia and Angola. Naturally, South African apartheid used to enjoy the full support of the West. To repay that favor, South African troops joined the fight against North Korea and China during the Korean War.

As mentioned by Mwandawiro Mghanga, North Korea fought against Israel, its pilots flew Egyptian fighter planes in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. DPRK took part in the liberation struggle in Angola and it fought in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Lesotho, and Namibia and in the Seychelles. It provided assistance to the African National Congress and its epic struggle to liberate South Africa from apartheid. In the past, it had aided the then progressive African nations, including Guinea, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Mali and Tanzania.

Arthur Tewungwa, Ugandan opposition politician from the Uganda People’s Congress Party (UPC) compares the involvement of the DPRK and the West in his country and the African Great Lakes region:

 “Uganda benefited from its relationship with North Korea in the 1980s when it helped the government to fight against the Museveni rebels who were supported by the US and UK. Morally, compared to the DPRK, the latter two have no leg to stand on with all the bloodshed they triggered in the Great Lakes Region.”

*

Has North Korea been fully abandoned, left to its fate? Has it been ‘betrayed’?

Christopher Black, a prominent international lawyer based in Toronto, Canada:

 “…The fact that the US, as part of the SC is imposing sanctions on a country it is threatening is hypocritical and unjust. That the Russians and Chinese have joined the US in this, instead of calling for sanctions against the US for its threats against the DPRK and its new military exercises, which are a clear and present danger to the DPRK, is shameful. If the Russians and Chinese are sincere why don’t they insist that the US draw down its forces there so the DPRK feels less threatened and take steps to guarantee the security of the DPRK?  They do not explain their actions but their actions make them collaborators with the USA against the DPRK.”

The situation is bleak, but most likely not fatal; not fatal yet.

Jeff J Brown, a leading China expert based in Beijing, does not hide his optimism when it comes to the Sino-Russian relationship with the DPRK:

“There is not a lot that North Korea does in the international arena, that Baba Beijing does not have its hand in. They are two fraternal communist countries and 65 years ago, the Chinese spilled a lot of blood and treasure to save North Korea from the West. Mao Zedong’s son died on the Korean War battlefield, fighting against Yankee imperialism. There are two million ethnic Koreans living along the border with North Korea and another half a million Northerners living and working in China. Koreans are a recognized minority in China. No other country in the world understands North Korea like China does. This closeness is emblematic of their common border, the Yalu River, which is so shallow, you can wade across it. They also share boundaries with another key ally, Russia. China is North Korea’s very, very big brother and protector. Frankly, vis-à-vis the upcoming UNSC sanctions against North Korea, I think the West is getting played like a drum, and it is the drum that gets the crap pounded out of it.”

Of course both China and Russia have their long land borders with North Korea -roads and railroads inter-connecting all three countries. According to my sources in Moscow and Beijing, it is highly unlikely that the two closest allies of the DPRK would ever go along with the new sanctions, whether they are officially ‘supporting them’, or not.

But the logic used by Christopher Black is absolutely correct: it is the West that should be suffering from the toughest sanctions imaginable, not DPRK.

It is the West, not North Korea, which has murdered one billion human beings, throughout history. It is the West that colonized, plundered, raped and enslaved people in all corners of the planet. What moral mandate does it have to propose and impose sanctions against anyone?

We are living in a twisted, truly perverse world, where mass murderers act as judges, and actually get away with it.

North Korea spilled blood for the liberation of Africa. It showed true solidarity with robbed, tortured people, with those whom Franz Fanon used to call the “Wretched of the Earth”. That is why, according to perverse logic (which has roots in the Western religious and cultural fundamentalism), it has to be punished, humiliated, and even possibly wipe off the face of the earth.

Not because it did something objectively ‘bad’, but because the objectivity lost its meaning. Terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are now determined by only one criterion: ‘good’ is all that serves the interests of the Western Empire, ‘bad’ is what challenges its global dictatorship.

If you save the village that had been designated by the Empire as a place to be raped and pillaged, you will be punished in the most sadistic and brutal manner. North Korea did exactly that. Except that it did not save just one village, but it helped to liberate an entire continent!

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and  Fighting Against Western Imperialism.  Discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western TerrorismPoint of No Return is his critically acclaimed political novel. Oceania – a book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about Indonesia: “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Press TV. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.

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“The Russian Air Force tracked and targeted a long column of terrorists crossing Turkish border to join their comrades in Northern and Northwestern battlefields in Syria.”

“The terrorists, that were mainly Turkmen, were caught by the Russian Air Force’s reconnaissance planes attempting to enter the Lattakia province from one of the Turkish border-crossings near Yayladagi.”

“Upon the entry of Jeish al-Turkmen and al-Nusra Front into Syria, the Russian air fleet struck their convoy of vehicles in the Furniluk Forests, ending in the rebel fighters scattering around the border in order to evade the powerful aerial assault.”

“When the Russian warplanes backed off, the Syrian Air Force launched their own airstrikes over the Furniluk Forests, keeping up the pressure on the trapped rebel fighters.”

FARS seems to be the only news agency, reporting on this western organized aggression. – The reasons may be obvious. As Russia is ‘pulling out’, a huge regiment of Islamic terrorists, whatever they are called (names are unimportant; they are just used to confuse) found it opportune to advance from Turkey over the Syrian border, camouflaged by a dense forest, or so they thought.

Does anybody think that this would be allowed to happen without Erdogan having a clear go-ahead from his US Masters? – Turkey being a NATO protected US stooge, who got her marching orders from Washington. This is the prescription and scheme for the “Syrian Peace Talks” – taking otherwise place in an ambiance and environment of extreme hostility, Geneva, Switzerland, where the Swiss news blast day in, day-out lies and negative propaganda against Russia and Syria. – What hope? These Peace Talks (sic) are a farce if there has ever been one.

On Monday, 14 March, at a Kremlin meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, President Putin announced to the surprise of many, especially the western media, partial withdrawal of Russian military presence from Syria, effectively declaring the end to the five-and-a-half-month Russian air campaign.

Mr. Putin said:

“With participation by Russian troops and Russian military grouping, the Syrian troops and Syrian patriotic forces, we were able to radically change the situation in fighting international terrorism and take initiative in nearly all areas to create the conditions for the start of a peace process, as I said.”

“I feel that the objective set before the Defense Ministry and the Armed Forces is generally fulfilled, so I order the Defense Ministry to begin withdrawing the main part of our military group from the Syrian Arab Republic beginning tomorrow. I ask the Foreign Ministry to intensify the Russian Federation’s participation in organizing the peace process to resolve Syria’s problems.”

“At the same time, our base points – our maritime base in Tartus and our aviation base at the Hmeymim airbase – will function as before. They must be protected securely from land, sea and air.”

“I hope that today’s decision will be a good signal for all conflicting sides. I hope that this will significantly lift the level of trust between all participants in the Syrian peace process and promote resolving the Syrian issue via peaceful means.”

Before the announcement, Mr. Putin reassured the Syrian leader in a phone conversation that Russian presence in Syria will continue with a defense force at the two bases and in particular with the cutting edge S-400 defense system in place to guard against air intrusion particularly from Turkey.

According to Al-Jazeera, Mr. Assad’s office confirmed the gist of the conversation, referring to the Russian ‘pull-out’ rather as a ‘scaling back’ of Russian forces. The statement clearly rejected speculations that the withdrawal decision reflected a rift between the allies, Syria and Russia. Mr. Assad said the Russian decision stressed the “successes” the two armies have achieved during fighting in Syria and restoring peace to key areas of the country.

The Russian air campaign combined with the Syrian army on the ground and troops from Hezbollah and Iran have allowed Damascus to retake control over some 10,000 km2. A position that strengthens President Bashar al-Assad’s regime before the talks in Geneva. Of course, western media are propagating the decimation of ISIS and related terror groups as an US achievement.

Given the continued presence of Russian troops in Syria, ‘scaling back’ is perhaps more appropriate than ‘withdrawal’. It was never clear how many Russian troops were actually in Syria. Some estimates put them between 3,000 and 6,000. Some of them will certainly stay to observe and monitor the fragile ‘cease fire’ that has been officially in place since 26 February.

The timing of the Russian ‘withdrawal’ was strategically perfect, as the so-called Peace Talks in Geneva were to start on Monday, 14 March, but so far didn’t really get off the ground. Why would they? Warrying factions sitting around the same table for the first time – and with the scenario as mentioned before – large numbers of terrorists attempting to cross the Turkish-Syrian border at the time the talks were to begin, and the western media’s non-stop Putin-Assad bashing – the signals are not positive.

But most importantly, Washington and its NATO allies do not want peace. They want, as they wanted from day one of the US / NATO instigated 2011 ‘civil war’, a ‘regime change’ – meaning Mr. Assad must go. This has not changed in the minds of the hawks of Washington, including Obama, who are under strong pressure from Israel – which together with the Zionist led Israeli lobby group, AIPAC, controls the US Congress and White House.

‘Regime Change’ is Washington’s target. As we know from experience around the world – they, the exceptional country and super power, will not let go. Washington’s tenacity on Syria to fall is part of their Plan for a New American Century (PNAC). The US may make believe they are ready for negotiations, but they have no intentions whatsoever, never do, to adhere to any negotiated settlement. Eventually, there are always lies and pretexts, supported by the western presstitute media to break an agreement.

The planned decimation and partition of Syria is a mere continuation of what Clinton started in Yugoslavia in the 1990, as was and is the destruction and partition of Iraq and Libya. So far the US / NATO evil forces have relented on Iran which is also conditioned to fall under the PNACs objectives, but the war games haven’t ended yet. As I said many times before, the US and her western vassals will not surrender or agree to a peaceful settlement until their last breath – which we can only hope, will come soon – for the sake of humanity.

To remind readers, this western initiated 5-year active war – was in fact planned since 2007 with the CIA identifying terror groups in the region that could be trained and supported as ‘opposition’ to the Bashar al-Assad regime once the trigger for war was pulled at the opportune moment. The opportune moment was the so-called Arab Spring, also planned and instigated years ahead by Washington. It engulfed the Middle East, starting in late 2010 in Tunisia, and continued in 2011 with Syria among many other Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries – and is ongoing.

In the meantime, the 5-year Syria war has claimed close to half a million lives, and according to UNHCR, out of a population of 22.1 million, 6.5 million are internally displaced, half of whom are children, and over 3 million (some estimates say 4 million) have fled Syria for neighboring countries, mainly Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

At the end of 2015 almost 2 million Syrian refugees lived in Turkish refugee camps. They were part of some 4 million refugees lodged in relatively well organized camps. They started fleeing to Europe, when Turkey opened its floodgates in the fall of 2015, on orders of Washington. The refugees were to be used as a destabilizing weapon in Europe. About a million were absorbed in 2015 by Germany.

Did Obama and Putin communicate before the Geneva talks? – Yes they did. Was there a bargain behind closed doors? – Perhaps so. But Vladimir Putin, the geopolitical chess player par excellence and Man of the Year, to whom humanity can be thankful that WWIII has so far been avoided – he is aware that Obama may not be trusted. The warlord number One, instigator of seven wars throughout the world and personal approver of every atrocious, illegal drone killing around the globe can certainly not be trusted ever, but must rather be despised.

How must it feel in Obamas skin, knowing that he is one of the most hated men in the world, that he is a criminal, a spineless stooge of the western oligarchs, that he deserves to be judged by a Nuremberg-type tribunal, that once he leaves office he must be afraid to leave the country for fear of being arrested as a war criminal anywhere in the world? – Has his brain become so callous and insensitive that he can still sleep at night? – I often wonder, what does a man of this caliber do with the rest of his sorry life? The man who lied to the world proclaiming change from the Bush horrors, propagating “Yes we can!”, evoking tears in millions of his admirers during his inauguration ceremony in January 2009 – how can he live if he has just a grain of consciousness left?

Given the ‘ceasefire’ the Geneva talks which require friendly faces by the Washington handlers, did Washington make some obfuscated agreements with Turkey, or even blackmailed sultan Recep Erdogan and the Saudis into ‘collaborating’, while the US military and NATO stay quiet for a while? – A make-believe propaganda stunt for the Geneva “Peace Negotiations”?

Turkey being a NATO country must follow the Master’s orders, or else. Turkey has spent billions in arming and supporting ISIS and Co. and in fighting the Syrian army, in setting up military bases in Syria’s Turkmenistan. They have also made billions by stealing Iraq’s and Syria’s petrol, selling it to Israel and other rogue states.

Ironically, this ‘official’ Russian pull-out also coincides with Ankara’s ‘unofficial’ invasion of Northern Syria; and this just on the eve of the Geneva peace talks in which both Russia and Turkey are participating in. This looks and sounds like a “Theater of the Absurd”. However, Moscow’s withdrawal at the time Turkey invades Syria, might be a smart move to avoid a confrontation. Under NATO’s collective security rule (Article 5) an ‘attack’ on one NATO country equals an attack on all NATO members. And Turkey might have just been in Russia’s way, had Putin not pulled out at the right time his diplomatic joker, possible sidelining another US / NATO WWIII provocation.

The Saudis are in a similar position. They spent billions in support for the ‘terrorists’, called ‘rebels’ by the western propaganda liars. While the US’s make-believe display of good-will in Geneva, their semi-clandestine Plan B envisages after a short regrouping of the terror forces – that Ankara’s and Riyadh’s army will play proxy for US – NATO, attacking Syria’s army in an attempt to retake the lost territory – and always, always in an attempt to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime.

This would be a new provocation for Russia to intervene – Putin has not ruled out a come-back – with the US / NATO watching, just ready to launch an attack on Russia – meaning an attack on the world – WWIII. No worries, such a move to the detriment of humanity would be well supported and sold as justified by the western presstitute media, to the point that the western populace would want even more US / NATO aggression on Russia and by then even on China to defend their western comfort and ‘freedom’ from the eastern monsters. They cannot imagine that their paradise will eventually go up in flames – and they with it.

This all demonstrates that the Geneva gambit is yet another expensive farce funded by the citizens of the world to boost the good image of the Master and its puppet allies in Europe – NATO and the lackluster European nations behind it. Never mind that “the two presidents expressed the hope that the full-format talks between Syrian Government officials and opposition representatives under UN aegis in Geneva will produce concrete results.”

And again, peace will not happen, because peace is unaffordable by the Masters of the Universe whose economies depend on wars fueled by their horrendous and horrendously lucrative weapons industry.

Peter Koenig is an economist and geopolitical analyst. He is also a former World Bank staff and worked extensively around the world in the fields of environment and water resources. He writes regularly for Global Research, ICH, RT, Sputnik, PressTV, CounterPunch, TeleSur, The Vineyard of The Saker Blog, and other internet sites. He is the author of Implosion – An Economic Thriller about War, Environmental Destruction and Corporate Greed – fiction based on facts and on 30 years of World Bank experience around the globe. He is also a co-author of The World Order and Revolution! – Essays from the Resistance.

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Serious Systematic Human Rights Violations Against the People of Yemen

March 18th, 2016 by Arabian Rights Watch Association

IDO, together with Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, and Arabian Rights Watch Association, express our utmost concern over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its Coalition’s (the “Saudi-led Coalition’s”)

a) ongoing serious and systematic violations of rights in Yemen, including political, economic, human, and humanitarian rights.  These ongoing and systematic violations come in the form of:

i) airstrikes on civilian targets that include the use of internationally banned cluster munitions and

ii) a comprehensive indiscriminate land, air, and sea blockade. We also express our deep concern with the Saudi-led Coalition’s

b) continued lack of cooperation with the United Nations (UN).  The Saudi-led Coalition, along with Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s Yemeni government in exile, does not cooperate with the UN. This has been observed in their: i) designation of the OHCHR representative as persona non grata;

ii) non-observance and non-implementation of recommendations made in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR);

and iii) the inability of Hadi’s exiled government’s national commission to investigate the violations of the laws of war by any party to the war on Yemen.

We bring to your attention that political negotiations were ongoing in Yemen and would have led to a power-sharing government inclusive of all Yemeni parties and factions but for the Saudi-led war, which interfered with that political dialogue and, in effect, the rights of the Yemeni people to self determination. We continue to warn that as a consequence of the Saudi-led Coalition’s war, al-Qaeda was able to reclaim territory it had previously lost to the Yemeni army and popular committees. Prior to the war’s outbreak, al-Qaeda controlled only one small desert city, Mukalla.  However, due to the war, al-Qaeda now operates freely in many southern areas, where it commits systematic human rights violations, such as in the port city of Aden and recently in Lahj.

a)  Ongoing Violations of the Laws of War, Human Rights Law, Humanitarian Law

i) Airstrikes on civilian targets that include the use of internationally banned cluster munitions

In the first 300 days of the war, a total of 8,143 civilians were documented to have been killed by Saudi-led Coalition airstrikes.  4,628 were men (56%), 1,519 were women (19%), and 1,996 were children (25%).  The total number of civilians wounded due to the indiscriminate airstrikes exceeds 15,000. 512 bridges were destroyed along with 125 power plants, 164 water stations, 167 telecom stations, 14 airports, 10 sea ports, 325,000 residential homes, 238 hospitals and clinics, 39 colleges and universities, 569 schools and causing 3,750 others to close down.

In addition to the indiscriminate use of air power to attack civilian populations, the Saudi-led coalition has also been documented to have used internationally banned cluster munitions in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality, and military necessity.

Cluster Munitions

The Saudi-led Coalition’s repeated use of internationally banned cluster munitions in civilian areas may indicate a degree of intent to harm civilians, a threshold that, when passed, amounts to war crimes. Throughout the last year, 5 different types of cluster munitions have been documented to have been used by the Saudi-led Coalition in civilian areas. Between April and July 2015 the Saudi-led coalition forces used cluster munitions in at least seven attacks in Yemen’s northwestern Hajja governorate, killing and wounding dozens of civilians.  More recently, in the early morning of January 6, 2016, the Saudi-led coalition dropped cluster bombs in heavily populated residential neighborhoods of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, including Madbah, Sawad Hanash, Al-Sunaina, Hayel Street, Al-Rabat Street, Al-Ziraa zone, Kuwait Street, Tunis Street, the university zone, and Bir Al-Shaif.

The cluster bombs killed at least one child, injured ten others, and damaged residential property and cars in the vicinity.  A school for girls was also partially damaged.  The areas the Saudi-led Coalition bombed are densely populated with civilians living in close proximity to schools, hospitals, and markets.  They have no military protection.

ii) Imposition of a comprehensive indiscriminate land, air and sea blockade by the Saudi-led Coalition

The Saudi-led Coalition has abused the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) Resolution 2216 to justify its blockade of Yemen.  UNSC Resolution 2216 is an arms embargo on named individuals.  It does not sanction the withholding of food, medical, and fuel supplies from Yemen by a warring party who has committed, and continues to commit, serious and gross violations of the laws of war, human rights, and humanitarian law.  Given the UNSC’s mandate to maintain peace, stability, and security among nation-states, the UN should extend the embargo to the member states of the Saudi-led Coalition.

The Saudi-led Coalition’s abuse of Resolution 2216 has played an integral role in the food insecurity of an estimated 14.4 million Yemenis, 7.4 million of whom are severely food insecure. Moreover, hundreds of hospitals and clinics have shut down due to the Saudi-led Coalition’s airstrikes and blockade.  The blocking of critical fuel and medical supplies is causing an estimated 15 million Yemeni people to be without adequate access to basic healthcare needs.

b)       Lack of Cooperation With UN

i) Lack of cooperation with OHCHR Representative

We bring to your attention our continued concern with the Hadi government in exile’s lack of cooperation with George Abu al-Zulof, the OHCHR representative in Yemen, by recently designating him as persona non grata due to his documentation of human rights violations in Yemen.  It is concerning that the High Commissioner for Human Rights had to emphatically remind Hadi and the Saudi-led Coalition that the UN’s job “is not to highlight violations committed by one side and ignore those committed by the other.”  The UN Human Rights Council tasked the same person who deemed the OHCHR representative persona non grata with implementing a resolution adopted by consensus that calls for the National Commission to investigate the crimes being committed by all parties to the war in Yemen.  Despite Hadi’s subsequent retraction, his status as part of the Saudi-led Coalition, coupled with his statements and actions, makes him unfit for the position as a neutral arbiter with respect to the crimes being committed.

ii) Non-observance or implementation of the UPR recommendations

We express our concern with Hadi’s inability to implement the UPR recommendations, namely the ratification of the Rome Statute by Parliament.  The Rome Statute is critical to seeking redress for the crimes in the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction that were, and continue to be, committed against civilians in Yemen.  Because there is no functioning government on the ground, Hadi will not be able to complete the ratification process nor would it be in his interest to do so if he actually had a functioning government since he is an integral accomplice to the commission of crimes in Yemen and cannot be reasonably expected to prosecute himself nor the Coalition he is a part of.

iii) Inability of Hadi’s national commission to investigate the crimes being committed in Yemen

We express our deep regret and sincere disappointment with the decision to withdraw the draft resolution tabled by the Netherlands in the 30th Session.  Our reservations with the Resolution tabled by Saudi Arabia and that was adopted by consensus (A/HRC/30/L.1/Rev.2) include, but are not limited to, the acknowledgement of Hadi’s Presidential Decree No. 13, which calls for the establishment of a National Commission that will not meet international standards.  Moreover, there are no legal grounds for the establishment of a National Commission by a government in exile.  The legislature, the judiciary, and the executive, should facilitate the implementation of these obligations.   Given that the Hadi government is not functioning in Yemen, it cannot carry out its duty of investigations in Yemen. In addition, the National Commission is biased.  This is demonstrated by the decree itself, the purpose of which is to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by local parties without reference to the crimes being committed by the Coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

Recommendation

At the 31st Session of the Human Rights Council, IDO together with Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, and Arabian Rights Watch Association, urge UN Member States to renew their calls to:

  • Set up an independent international commission of inquiry into the crimes being committed by any party to the war on Yemen.
  • Call for the imposition of an arms embargo on the Saudi-led Coalition.
  • Call for an end to the war on Yemen both the airstrikes and the blockade and full withdrawal of all foreign forces from the territory of Yemen.
  • Facilitate humanitarian access to impoverished areas.
  • Provide support to Yemen in its struggle against violent extremist forces.
  • Facilitate Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue without foreign intervention.
Arabian Rights Watch Association (ARWA) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization based in the District of Columbia and is comprised of global members including human rights activists, lawyers, professionals and academics of diverse backgrounds and nationalities.
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Human Rights Hypocrisy: US Criticizes Cuba

March 18th, 2016 by Prof. Marjorie Cohn

In advance of President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba on March 20, there is speculation about whether he can pressure Cuba to improve its human rights. But a comparison of Cuba’s human rights record with that of the United States shows that the US should be taking lessons from Cuba.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains two different categories of human rights – civil and political rights on the one hand; and economic, social and cultural rights on the other.

Civil and political rights include the rights to life, free expression, freedom of religion, fair trial, self-determination; and to be free from torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention.

Economic, social and cultural rights comprise the rights to education, healthcare, social security, unemployment insurance, paid maternity leave, equal pay for equal work, reduction of infant mortality; prevention, treatment and control of diseases; and to form and join unions and strike.

These human rights are enshrined in two treaties International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The United States has ratified the ICCPR.

But the US refuses to ratify the ICESCR. Since the Reagan administration, it has been US policy to define human rights only as civil and political rights. Economic, social and cultural rights are dismissed as akin to social welfare, or socialism.

The US government criticizes civil and political rights in Cuba while disregarding Cubans’ superior access to universal housing, health care, education, and its guarantee of paid maternity leave and equal pay rates.

Meanwhile, the US government has committed serious human rights violations on Cuban soil, including torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention at Guantanamo. And since 1960, the United States has expressly interfered with Cuba’s economic rights and its right to self-determination through the economic embargo.

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 goal has failed, but the punishing blockade has made life difficult in Cuba. In spite of that inhumane effort, however, Cuba guarantees its people a remarkable panoply of human rights.

Healthcare

Unlike in the United States, healthcare is considered a right in Cuba. Universal healthcare 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.

Healthcare in Cuba emphasizes prevention, rather than relying only on medicine, partly due to the limited access to medicines occasioned by the US blockade. In 2014, the Lancet Journal said, “If the accomplishments of Cuba could be reproduced across a broad range of poor and middle-income countries the health of the world’s population would be transformed.” Cuba has developed pioneering medicines to treat and prevent lung cancer, and prevent diabetic amputations. Because of the blockade, however, we in the United States cannot take advantage of them.

Education

Free education is a universal right up to and including higher education. Cuba spends a larger proportion of its GDP on education than any other country in the world. “Mobile teachers” are deployed to homes if children are unable to attend school. Many schools provide free morning and after-school care for working parents who have no extended family. It is free to train to be a doctor in Cuba. There are 22 medical schools in Cuba, up from only 3 in 1959 before the Cuban Revolution.

Elections

Elections to Cuba’s national parliament (the National Assembly) take place every five years and elections to regional Municipal Assemblies every 2.5 years. Delegates to the National Assembly then elect the Council of State, which in turn appoints the Council of Ministers from which the President is elected.

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. It is not required that one be a member of the Communist Party (CP). No money can be spent promoting candidates and no political parties (including the CP) are permitted to campaign during elections. Military personnel are not on duty at polling stations; school children guard the ballot boxes.

Labor Rights

Cuban law guarantees the right to voluntarily form and join trade unions. Unions are legally independent and financially autonomous, independent of the CP and the state, funded by members’ subscriptions. Workers’ rights protected by unions include a written contract, a 40-44-hour week, and 30 days’ paid annual leave in the state sector.

Unions have the right to stop work they consider dangerous. They have the right to participate in company management, to receive management information, to office space and materials, and to facility time for representatives. Union agreement is required for lay-offs, changes in patterns of working hours, overtime, and the annual safety report. Unions also have a political role in Cuba and have a constitutional right to be consulted about employment law. They also have the right to propose new laws to the National Assembly.

Women

Women make up the majority of Cuban judges, attorneys, lawyers, scientists, technical workers, public health workers and professionals. Cuba is ranked first in Save the Children’s ‘Lesser Developed Countries’ Mother’s Index. With over 48% women MPs, Cuba has the third highest percentage of female parliamentarians in the world. Women receive 9 months of full salary during paid maternity leave, followed by 3 months at 75% of full salary. The government subsidizes abortion and family planning, places a high value on pre-natal care, and offers ‘maternity housing’ to women before giving birth.

Life Expectancy

In 2013, the World Health Organization listed life expectancy for women in Cuba at 80; the figure was 77 for men. The probability of dying between ages 15 and 60 years per 1,000 people in the population was 115 for men and 73 for women in Cuba.

During the same period, life expectancy for women in the United States was 81 for women and 76 for men. The probability of dying between 15 and 60 per 1,000 people was 128 for men and 76 for women in the United States.

Death Penalty

A study by Cornell Law School found no one under sentence of death in Cuba and no one on death row in October 2015. On December 28, 2010, Cuba’s Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of Cuba’s last remaining death row inmate, a Cuban-American convicted of a murder carried out during a 1994 terrorist invasion of the island. No new death sentences are known to have been imposed since that time.

By contrast, as of January 1, 2016, 2,949 people were on death row in state facilities in the United States. And 62 were on federal death row as of March 16, 2016, according to Death Penalty Information.

Sustainable Development

In 2016, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a leading global environmental organization, found that Cuba was the only country in the world to have achieved sustainable development. Jonathan Loh, one of the authors of the WWF report, said, “Cuba has reached a good level of development according to United Nations’ criteria, thanks to its high literacy level and a very high life expectancy, while the ecological footprint is not large since it is a country with low energy consumption.”

Stop Lecturing Cuba and Lift the Blockade

When Cuba and the US held talks about human rights a year ago, Pedro Luis Pedroso, head of the Cuban delegation, said:

“We expressed our concerns regarding discrimination and racism patterns in US society, the worsening of police brutality, torture acts and extrajudicial executions in the fight on terror and the legal limbo of prisoners at the US prison camp in Guantanamo.”

The hypocrisy of the US government in lecturing Cuba about its human rights while denying many basic human rights to the American people is glaring. The United States should lift the blockade. Obama should close Guantanamo and return it to Cuba.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor 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 most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Follow her on Twitter at @marjoriecohn.

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Last Saturday on a warm early spring day on Samos it was a delight to meet Mamoud whilst he was cutting up broccoli and potatoes ready for the evening meal which was being prepared at the Open Border kitchen at the top side of the Camp. Mamoud, a graduate in English has traveled with five friends from Sialkot which is a Punjabi city close to the Indian border. He thought we might have heard of Sialkot as it is the place where over half of the world’s footballs are made. But this was news to us. A quick google search revealed that Sialkot is considered to be one of the more successful and peaceful cities in Pakistan. A large manufacturing base, plenty of jobs and a developed infrastructure including an international airport. This is where Mamoud and his friends lived and from where they left to make an expensive and hazardous journey through Iran and Turkey before the risky night time boat ride to Samos. He arrived 5 days ago after 20 days traveling.

“Corruption” was his spontaneous response to our question as to why he and so many left their homes. He continued by detailing the ways in which everything in his city favoured a wealthy minority leaving the majority to suffer. So he said there were no teachers in their schools and colleges, no doctors in the public hospitals; there was an international airport but this was private and only for business use. Wages were minimal and often not paid in full. Without a personal connection the chances of a decent job were non existent. Corruption he said was the entire system – no part was untouched. “Of course we don’t want to leave our families, friends and home. Who does? But there is no chance for life in Sialkot. If you are not rich and connected you live in a society which is closed off. We are kept out and we are kept down” Mamoud told us.

Living in Samos we know about corruption. We know that this is not some isolated problem but is in fact the system here. It drives and shapes so much of our daily realities. And this is what we hear from nearly all those labelled as ‘economic migrants’ from throughout north and west Africa as well as from Pakistan. All, without exception, identify the corruption of their societies, as the key factor in making them leave. Moreover, in their accounts they highlight how corruption creates societies which subjugate and almost suffocates the majority of the people.

Invariably systemic corruption gives rise to what many Algerians describe as ‘Mafioso politics’ which is violent, unaccountable, arbitrary and immune from any sanction. They witness the extreme robbery of their countries’ rich material resources such as gas in Algeria and oil in Nigeria with no come back for those who thieve and yet long prison sentences for the poor who have been caught for the most minor of offences. They daily experience public indexhospitals and schools with no resources but see the rich fly out on private planes to get their health care and schooling for kids in Europe and north America. And these systems of deep corruption are usually protected by aggressive state violence through the police, the judiciary and prisons.

These and many other factors combine to make for intolerable societies and especially for the young people who make up such high proportions of their urban populations. Mamoud told us that he thought around 70% of the population of Sialkot was under the age of 30 years. In fact, it is a common feature of nearly all the main sources of ‘economic migrants’ (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Pakistan) that they come from societies in which over 50% of the population is under 30. And so not surprisingly the overwhelming majority of refugees from these countries are both young and often male. Young women in many of these places due to various conservative social attitudes have few possibilities to leave. This is a big issue for the consequences are enormous for many women. In Sialkot for example, it would seem that young women have been recruited to replace child labour and form a growing part of the super-exploited workers in that city. Here on Samos it is nearly always refugees fleeing war (Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq) who come in family groups of all ages including girls and women.

These young people might live in societies which exclude them and close them out but they are more ‘connected’ (via the internet) to the world than ever before. However distorted they see other, more seducing possibilities for happiness than is on offer at home, many have friends, family and Facebook friends in Europe who reinforce these messages.

Such ‘pull’ factors when combined with the push of corruption are what lead young men like Mamoud and his friends to take the road out. And what a road. Some idea of how bad was revealed when Mamoud described the Camp in Samos as the best place they had stayed in since leaving home! They paid to cross Iran crowded 20- 30 at a time in the back of a pick up. Turkey they described as a nightmare with constant beatings from the police and border guards. All of them had been battered in the 12 days they had been in Turkey. Mamoud told us of a group of young Pakistani men they met on the route who had been forced by the Turkish guards on the border with Iran to fight with a group of Afghani refugees to decide who would go through. It became a vicious fight with many injuries. But for the guards it was just sadistic theatre and in the end they let none of them through.

Mamoud’s stories are common. We hear many times about the ‘hell of Turkey’, the endless threat of violence and abuse of all kinds. As one refugee said ‘ I died a thousand times in Turkey’. Yet Turkey is the country the EU is now turning to in order to control the refugee exodus to Europe. Turkey has now been ‘designated’ a safe country for refugees by Greece and from the beginning of March there have been buses taking refugees from the closed Detention Centres here back to Turkey. The vast majority to date of the 2-300 who have been returned this month are from north Africa. We heard this week that they are held in an horrendous prison camp on their return to Turkey and told to phone their families in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to get them to send money for the flight back to their countries. Until they get the fares they remain incarcerated.

But ignoring the voices and experiences of the refugees is common practice for the authorities in Europe. They are helped in the process by the governments of the refugees which with few exceptions have simply abandoned their citizens to their fate. There will be no protests from Algeria or Morocco about the abuse of their people wherever they might be.

Yet there is almost certainly going to come a time, sooner rather than later, when the refusal to consider the welfare of the refugees is going to blow. Despite all the efforts of the authorities to divide and rule the refugees by offering preferential treatment to some such as the Syrians there have been relatively few outbreaks of violence between the refugees. But they do occur especially in the massively overcrowded and degrading conditions in some of the camps and around Athens and Pireaus and on the borders with Macedonia. What is much more common, but not newsworthy to much of the mainstream press are the solidarities and support systems across the range of refugees without which life would become impossible for some. As Mamoud told us,’ we know that they want to divide us and we hate it. Look at us in this camp, it does not matter where you are from, we all suffer. We are in the same place. We won’t fight each other. We won’t give them this gift. Anyway’, he continued, ‘look at Macedonia. Now it is no longer good enough to be a Syrian if you want to pass. If you come from Damascus for example, they refuse you.’

The term ‘economic migrant’ has been a key weapon in the authorities’ war against refugees. It hides much more imagesthan it reveals and those revelations which focus on a singular reality that a better job and wages is all that drives the refugees to places like Europe reflect the lens through which the elites view the world. That is personal gain. It distorts and hides one of the key factors which unites all refugees namely that they are all in one form or another victims of a global system based on greed and pillage to the benefit of a tiny minority at the expense of humanity and our environment. It is system which thrives on wars and weapons, which plunders the wealth of the globe and which has seeded corruption as the mode of governance in their client states. Slicing refugees up into different groups simply masks this truth and more dangerously permits whole groups of people to be treated as if they were outside humanity. On Samos now we see this clearly in the ways in which North African and Pakistani refugees are being randomly arrested and locked in the police cell. Yesterday 10 Pakistanis were arrested and detained. No reason given. Mamoud and his friends are very worried and rightly so. Those arrested are almost certainly going to be forceably deported. They have no lawyers and seemingly no rights.

Yet despite all the difficulties and dangers the sheer determination to get through is what comes over and over again when we speak together. We have not met any refugees who have arrived in the past month who were not aware of the closing of the borders blocking their routes out of Greece. They all knew of the difficulties facing them in Athens and beyond but nearly all were anxious to get their papers so they could move on from Samos to what we consider as a worse hell. But as Mamoud told us, we will find a way, even though it is likely to be more dangerous, exhausting and expensive.

It is a determination that will make any attempt to remove thousands of refugees currently stuck in Greece back to Turkey very difficult for the authorities. The majority will not co-operate. There is one thing transporting a few bus loads from the closed detention centres in Athens to Turkey but quite another to remove thousands of others; against their will. Sadly, as we see the razor wire fencing being fixed this week around the about to be opened hotspot on Samos we fear that the authorities are preparing for a tough strategy of removal. It is what we have come to expect.

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Kurds Declare Autonomous “Federal” System in Syria

March 18th, 2016 by Brandon Turbeville

Kurds in Northern Syria are expected to declare a federal system in Syria, with the areas they have seized in the northern part of the country acting as an autonomous zone. The announcement is expected to come in a matter of hours according to media sources on the ground in the Kurdish-controlled areas. According to these reports, a conference to declare the federation of three Kurdish entities in Syria will take place in Rmelan.

Kurdish journalist, Barzan Iso, confirmed the rumors to RT when he reported that

“Now the conference has just started in Rmelan, about 200 representatives of Rojava have joined [the event]. They represent different ethnicities and nationalities. There are Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Syriacs, Turkomans, Armenians, Circassians and Chechen. Also we have representatives from the Syrian democratic forces, YPG, women defense units. This conference is supposed to announce a federation as a political project for Rojava region in northern Syria.”

The “new project” would replace the currently autonomous zone of Rojava by formally creating a Federation of Northern Syria incorporating the 250 miles of Kurdish-held territory along the Syria-Turkey border with the section of the northwestern border near the Afrin area. At least, this is the plan as relayed by Idris Nassan, an official working in the Foreign Affairs Directorate of Kobane (Ayn al-Arab). The new system would entail “widening the framework of self-administration which the Kurds and others have formed,” he said.

Rojova only received a degree of autonomy in 2013, when Syrian forces were overwhelmed by Western-backed terrorists and were forced to abandon much of the territory now occupied by Kurdish militias such as the YPG and others. In place of the SAA, the NDF and other Syrian patriot militias, as well as Kurdish forces, remained and fought terrorists gallantly to the point of securing large swaths of border territory.

Before 2013, Rojova was never an autonomous region nor was there a separate Kurdish entity in Syria. After all, the “Kurdish” areas are occupied by many more religions and ethnicities than Kurds, including Syrian Arabs, Assyrians, and Turkmen. In January 2014, however, the PYD (Democratic Union Party) declared all three “Rojovan” cantons autonomous. This included Afrin, Kobane, and Jazira. The Rojova “interim Constitution,” known as the Charter of the Social Contract, came immediately after. The charter called for the peaceful coexistence of all religious and ethnic groups residing under its jurisdiction and reaffirmed that Rojova would remain part of Syria.

Still, the representative of the PYD party in Moscow, Abd Salam Ali, told RIA Novosti that “Within days, probably today, self-governing [bodies] of three Kurdish cantons in Syria’s north will declare a federation.” But Ali pointed out that autonomy did not mean separation from Syria, merely the establishment of a looser centralized governing system and the “federalization” of the Kurdish area. He said that the new “Kurdistan” will remain part of Syria.

Turkey, of course, opposes the move fearing both that the Syrian Kurds will begin to represent a significant threat on its borders and that, more importantly, the Syrian Kurds will unite with the Turkish Kurds and begin to wrest territory from Turkey itself. Ironically, the Kurdish announcement resulted in Turkey laughably suggesting that it “supports Syria’s national unity and territorial integrity.” Indeed, if Turkey has finally come around to supporting Syria’s national sovereignty, it is a revelation had by Turkish leaders only hours ago.

Aside from the ridiculous claim that Turkey respects Syria’s territorial integrity, the Turks reiterated their position that any “administrative restructure” must come via the adoption of a “new constitution” for Syria.

The legitimate Syrian government is also rejecting any federation plans for obvious reasons. Bashar Jaafari, head of the Syrian government delegation at the United Nations’ Geneva talks, was quoted as stating that “Drawing any lines between Syrians would be a great mistake.” He also pointed out that Syrian Kurds are an important part of the Syrian people.

It should be noted that the Kurdish move comes as it becomes clear that the Kurds will not be included in the Geneva talks. While Turkey is obviously pleased at the exclusion of the Kurds, the Russians have repeatedly contended that they should be involved in the process. Even Staffan de Mistrua, the UN Envoy to Syria, has agreed that the Kurds should be included.

Rodi Osman, head of the Syrian Kurdistan Office in Moscow, implied that the declaration of the federalized Kurdish territory may have been a response to having been excluded from the peace talks. He stated to RIA Novosti:

The second round of inter-Syrian talks is underway in Geneva, but Syrian Kurds were not invited. It means that the future of Syria and its society is decided without Kurds. In fact, we are pushed back into a conservative, old-fashioned system which does not fit well with us. In light of this, we see only one solution which is to declare the creation of [Kurdish] federation. It will serve the interests of the Kurds, but also those of Arabs, Turks, Assyrians, Chechens and Turkomans – all parts of Syria’s multinational society. Given the complicated situation in Syria, we would become an example of a system that may resolve the Syrian crisis.

Syrian Representative to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari stated that the talks should not have begun with the “absence of half or two thirds of all the opposition” since doing so has left the talks “very weak.”

Kurdish exclusion from political negotiations, however, is not the only possibility as to why the Kurdish federalism has been announced, since the idea is the very concept proposed by the United States only weeks ago.

Brandon Turbeville – article archive here – is the author of seven books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom7 Real ConspiraciesFive Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 and volume 2The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria, and The Difference it Makes: 36 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President. Turbeville has published over 650 articles on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville’s radio show Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST at UCYTV. His website is BrandonTurbeville.com He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.

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The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) repelled the al-Nusra offensive aimed to cut-off the main supply route from Sweida to Damascus. Al-Nusra militants attempted to advance East from the al-Lajat Plateau in the Dara’a province towards the Khalkhalah Military Airport. However, militants were unable to bypass the SAA’s defenses near Dama.

We remember, on Mar.14, al-Nusra militants advanced on Jabal Waqa’at near the town of Al-Tal clashing with the pro-government forces. The SAA and its allies repelled this attack killing eight militants before the group retreated towards the village of ‘Ein Mineen.

The SAA and its allies supported by the Russian Air Force are continuing to advance on Palmyra clashing with ISIS militants. At the moment, the Syrian froces are in about 6 km from Palmyra’s southwestern gates. The main clashes are ongoing in the area of ISIStraining camp at the Qatari Royal Villa.

Separately, Russian warplanes targeted ISIS oil facilities near the strategic town of Al-Sukhanah in the province of Homs.

On Wednesday, an Iraqi military plane went down near the city of Hawija in the Kirkuk province. While Iraqi officials have blamed the incident on “technical problems,” ISIS claimed the plane was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile. The area of Hawija has been the site of repeated clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIS.

A joint offensive to reclaim Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul from ISIS has begun. The Shia-dominated Popular Mobilization Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga are supporting the Iraqi security forces in this attempt. The US-led coalition is providing an air cover for the operation.

Iran may deploy commandos and snipers in Iraq and Syria as military advisers, Deputy Chief Liaison of the Army’s Ground Force General Ali Arasteh told reporters on Mar.16. He added the first group of commandos and snipers are being trained for the purpose and the country might decide to send them to Iraq and Syria in the near future.

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Naming Crimes: The Use, Misuse and Omission of Genocide

March 18th, 2016 by Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Hollow words run the world of diplomatic exchange. Such counterfeit currency is fundamental to understanding humanitarian law, where political figures stumble or walk tall depending on whether they should condemn, let alone combat, certain catastrophes. 

The decision to use the “genocide” term to describe the operations of the Islamic State/Daesh forces provides another instance of how an important, though oft abused term, is used. The word’s very lexical origins were based on a neologism of contrivance, however brilliant it might have initially seemed.  Bibliophile Raphael Lemkin gave it much thought, hitting upon the idea that eliminating races had been a historically neglected facet of international criminal law.

In 1946, Lemkin, writing in The American Scholar (Spring, 1946), expressed the view that “mass murder” would not be “adequate” to describe what Winston Churchill had claimed was “a crime without a name.”  Terms such as “denationalization” were also deemed inadequate, since they did not “connote biological destruction”. It was thus necessary to come up with a word “made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, clan) and the Latin suffix cide (killing).”

The UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on December 9, 1948.  The diplomatic tug-of-war in the discussions are themselves an object study about how problematic the use of the word would become.  Reluctance to embrace its implications was everywhere.

Countries, in other words, were far more interested in narrowing its application than fulfilling a larger scope intended by Lemkin. The Soviet Union wished to cull the crime of its political implications; the United States feared home-grown legal insurrection by its black population over segregation and the history of slavery.  The latter would only ratify the Convention in 1987 via President Ronald Reagan’s signing of the Proxmire Act at O’Hare Airport in Chicago.

Attempts to enshrine the targeting and preventing of genocide have not historically gone well, beginning with the very premise of whether one could name it or not. The copy book on punishing this particular crime has been blotted by such non-efforts in Africa, which registers customary outrage among former imperial powers who only failingly intervene to rebottle the terrorist genie or pursue a relevant resource interest.  Humanitarianism is only ever donned as a necessary costume to assuage populations back home that wrong is being set right by moralists with weapons.

Omitting the “G” word was very much on the political programs of states when it came to Rwanda in 1994.  Then, when it started being used, it was segmented and qualified.  US State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly has become the poster girl for such behaviour, showing in June 1994 a conscious tip-toeing around questions by Reuters correspondent Alan Elsner on the erroneous difference between “genocide” and “acts of genocide”.  “How many acts of genocide,” asked Elsner in vain, “does it take to make a genocide?”

Slaughter was permitted to take place without any systematic position.  This was a backyard brawl that would sort itself out.  It might even be subjected to Milan Kundera’s observation of an event “airbrushed out of history,” a point that Adolf Hitler was supposed to have made describing the previous fate of the Armenians before a group of commanders in 1939. “Who, after all, speaks today about the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Using the word can itself be a moral assertion, and with that assertion comes the requisite action.  At least this is the theory – words generate expectations and the need for a physical component.

Designating a conflict as genocidal triggers a range of obligations, as implied by the Genocide Convention itself.  The lawyers have to be mobilised; the police and military arms of the state must be readied for capturing the offenders, and more importantly, the imperative to take humanitarian measures might involve the use of armed force.

While the Clinton administration in the early 1990s showed reluctance to designate the entire nightmare of Rwanda to be genocidal, it was decidedly feverish with enthusiasm in using the “G” word regarding Serbian policies towards other groups as the former Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia crumbled.

Messianic sabre rattling, done ostensibly to target practices of genocide, would be repeated in subsequent theatres of conflict, depending on the alignment of various interests. In Libya, the Qaddafi regime was accused, rather unconvincingly, of perpetrating genocide on its population after its troops opened fire on protesters.  According to Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya’s deputy UN representative, the regime was committing “a real genocide against the Libyan people.”[1]  The killing of members of the population had suddenly become a biologically charged mission, irrespective of evidence or assessment.

Secretary of State John Kerry has now shifted his attention to openly claiming that:

“in my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.”

For Kerry, the very organisation was “genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions – in what it says, what it believes, and what it does.”[2]

The assertion is complicated, not by the fact that Islamic State, or Daesh, as various western states have been advised to call it, are angels of international law, but by Kerry’s own admission that the evidentiary apparatus is incomplete.

Instead of wearing a legal hat, Kerry is distinctly taking the road of a political spouter:

 “I say this even though the ongoing conflict and lack of access to key areas has made it impossible to develop a fully detailed and comprehensive picture of all that Daesh is doing and all it has done.”

This may well be in keeping with a fine imperial tradition exemplified by a certain inability to identify weapons of mass destruction when needed, or verify instances of provocation in the Gulf of Tonkin which were subsequently proven to be false.  Murderous as this looming entity is, the use of the term genocide to cover its actions seems neatly convenient, designed to exert pressure rather than assert an unconfirmed, legal reality.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [email protected]

Notes:

  1. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/article24612940.html
  2. http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2016/03/254782.htm
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The real crisis is not the influx of refugees to Europe per se but a toxic combination of destabilising foreign policy agendas, economic austerity and the rise of right-wing nationalism, which is likely to push the world further into social and political chaos in the months ahead.

Razor-wire fences, detention centres, xenophobic rhetoric and political disarray; nothing illustrates the tendency of governments to aggressively pursue nationalistic interests more starkly than their inhumane response to refugees fleeing conflict and war.

With record numbers of asylum seekers predicted to reach Europe this year and a morally acceptable humanitarian response nowhere in sight, the immediate problem is more apparent than ever: the abject failure of the international community to share the responsibility, burden and resources needed to safeguard the basic rights of asylum seekers in accordance with international law.  

Of immediate concern across the European Union, however, is the mounting pressure that policymakers are under from the far-right and anti-immigration groups, whose influence is skewing the public debate on the divisive issue of how governments should deal with refugees and immigrants. With racial intolerance steadily growing among citizens, the traditionally liberal attitude of European states is fast diminishing and governments are increasingly adopting a cynical interpretation of international refugee law that lacks any sense of justice or compassion.

The 1951 Refugee Convention, which was implemented in response to Europe’s last major refugee crisis during World War II, states that governments need only safeguard the human rights of asylum seekers when they are inside their territory. In violation of the spirit of this landmark human rights legislation, the response from most European governments has been to prevent rather than facilitate the arrival of refugees in order to minimise their legal responsibility towards them. In order to achieve their aim, the EU has even gone so far as making a flawed and legally questionable deal with President Erdogan to intercept migrant families crossing the Aegean Sea and return them to Turkey against their will.

Instead of providing ‘safe and legal routes’ to refugees, a growing number of countries on the migration path from Greece to Western Europe are adopting the Donald Trump solution of building walls, militarising boarders and constructing barbed wire barriers to stop people entering their country. Undocumented refugees (a majority of them women and children) who are trying to pass through Europe’s no-longer borderless Schengen area are at times subjected to humiliation and violence or are detained in rudimentary camps with minimal access to the essentials they need to survive. Unable to travel to their desired destination, tens of thousands of refugees have been bottlenecked in Greece which has become a warehouse for abandoned souls in a country on the brink of its own humanitarian crisis.

Ostensibly, the extreme reaction of many EU member states to those risking their lives to escape armed conflict is tantamount to officially sanctioned racial discrimination. Unsurprisingly, this unwarranted government response has been welcomed by nationalist parties who are now polling favourably among voters in the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Poland. The same is true in Hungary, where the government has even agreed Nazi-era demands to confiscate cash and jewellery from refugees to fund their anti-humanitarian efforts.

There can be little doubt that the European response to refugees has been discriminatory, morally objectionable and politically dangerous. It’s also self-defeating since curtailing civil liberties and discarding long-held social values has the potential to destabilise Europe far more than simply providing the assistance guaranteed to refugees under the UN convention. Albeit unwittingly, the reactionary attitude of governments also plays directly into the hands of Islamic State and other jihadi groups whose broader intentions include inciting Islamophobia, provoking instability and conflict within western countries, and recruiting support for terrorism in the Middle East and across Europe.

Dispelling nationalist myths of the far-right

With the public increasingly divided about how governments should respond to the influx of people escaping violent conflict, it’s crucial that the pervasive myths peddled by right-wing extremists are exposed for what they are: bigotry, hyperbole and outright lies designed to exacerbate fear and discord within society.

Forced migration is a global phenomenon and, compared with other continents, Europe is not being subjected to the ‘invasion of refugees’ widely portrayed in the mainstream media. Of the world’s 60 million refugees, nine out of ten are not seeking asylum in the EU, and the vast majority remain displaced within their own countries. Most of those that do settle in Europe will return to their country of origin when they are no longer at risk (as happened at the end of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s when 70% of refugees who had fled to Germany returned to Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Albania and Slovenia).

The real emergency is taking place outside of Europe, where there is a desperate need for more assistance from the international community. For example, Turkey is now home to over 3 million refugees; Jordan hosts 2.7 million refugees – a staggering 41 percent of its population; and Lebanon has 1.5 million Syrian refugees who make up a third of its population. Unsurprisingly, social and economic systems are under severe strain in these and the other countries that host the majority of global refugees – especially since they are mainly based in developing countries with soaring unemployment rates, inadequate welfare systems and high levels of social unrest. In stark comparison (and with the notable exception of Germany), the 28 relatively prosperous EU member states have collectively pledged to resettle a mere 160,000 of the one million refugees that entered Europe in 2015. Not only does this amount to less than 0.25% of their combined population, governments have only relocated a few hundred have so far.

The spurious claim that there are insufficient resources available to share with those seeking asylum in the EU or that asylum seekers will ‘take our homes, our jobs and our welfare services’ is little more than a justification for racial discrimination. Aside from the overriding moral and legal obligation for states to provide emergency assistance to anyone fleeing war or persecution, the economic rationale for resettling asylum seekers throughout Europe (and globally) is sound: in countries experiencing declining birth rates and ageing populations – as is the case across the EU as a whole – migration levels need to be significantly increased in order to continue financing systems of state welfare.

The facts are incontrovertible: evidence from OECD countries demonstrates that immigrant households contribute $2,800 more to the economy in taxes alone than they receive in public provision. In the UK, non-European immigrants contributed £5 billion ($7.15 billion) in taxes between 2000 and 2011. They are also less likely to receive state benefits than the rest of the population, more likely to start businesses, and less likely to commit serious crimes than natives. Overall, economists at the European Commission calculate that the influx of people from conflict zones will have a positive effect on employment rates and long-term public finances in the most affected countries.

A common agenda to end austerity

If migrant families contribute significantly to society and many European countries with low birth rates actually need them in greater numbers, why are governments and a growing sector of the population so reluctant to honour international commitments and assist refugees in need? The widely held belief that public resources are too scarce to share with asylum seekers is most likely born of fear and insecurity in an age of economic austerity, when many European citizens are struggling to make ends meet.

Just as the number of people forcibly displaced from developing countries begins to surge, economic conditions in most European countries have made it politically unfeasible to provide incoming refugees with shelter and basic welfare. Voluntary and compulsory austerity measures adopted by governments after spending trillions of dollars bailing out the banks in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis have resulted in deep spending cuts to essential public services such as healthcare, education and pensions schemes. The resulting economic crisis has led to rising unemployment, social discontent, growing levels of inequality and public services that are being stretched to breaking point.

The same neoliberal ideology that underpins austerity in Europe is also responsible for creating widespread economic insecurity across the Global South and facilitating an exodus of so-called ‘economic migrants’, many of who are also making their way to Europe. Economic austerity has been central to the ‘development’ policies foisted onto low-income countries for decades by the IMF and World Bank in exchange for loans and international aid. They constitute a modern form of economic colonialism that in many cases has decimated essential public services, thwarted poverty reduction programmes and increased the likelihood of social unrest, sectarian violence and civil war. By prioritising international loan repayments over the basic welfare of citizens, these neoliberal policies are directly responsible for creating a steady flow of ‘refugees from globalisation’ who are in search of basic economic security in an increasingly unequal world.

Instead of pointing the finger of blame at governments for mismanaging the economy, public anger across Europe is being wrongly directed at a far easier target: refugees from foreign lands who have become society’s collective scapegoats at a time of grinding austerity. It’s high time that people in both ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ countries recognise that their hardship stems from a parallel set of neoliberal policies that have prioritised market forces above social needs. By emphasising this mutual cause and promoting solidarity between people and nations, citizens can begin overturning prejudiced attitudes and supporting progressive agendas geared towards safeguarding the common good of all humanity.

From a culture of war to conflict resolution

It’s also clear that any significant change in the substance and direction of economic policy must go hand-in-hand with a dramatic shift away from aggressive foreign policy agendas that are overtly based on securing national interests at all costs – such as appropriating the planet’s increasingly scarce natural resources. Indeed, it will remain impossible to address the root causes of the refugee crisis until the UK, US, France and other NATO countries fully accept that their misguided foreign policies are largely responsible for the current predicament.

Not only are many western powers responsible for selling arms to abusive regimes in the Middle East, their wider foreign policy objectives and military ambitions have displaced large swathes of the world’s population, particularly as a consequence of the illegal occupation of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan and the ill-conceived invasion of Libya. The connection between the military interventions of recent years, the perpetuation of terrorism and the plight of refugees across the Middle East and North Africa has been succinctly explained by Professor Noam Chomsky:

“the US-UK invasion of Iraq … dealt a nearly lethal blow to a country that had already been devastated by a massive military attack twenty years earlier followed by virtually genocidal US-UK sanctions. The invasion displaced millions of people, many of whom fled and were absorbed in the neighboring countries, poor countries that are left to deal somehow with the detritus of our crimes. One outgrowth of the invasion is the ISIS/Daesh monstrosity, which is contributing to the horrifying Syrian catastrophe. Again, the neighboring countries have been absorbing the flow of refugees. The second sledgehammer blow destroyed Libya, now a chaos of warring groups, an ISIS base, a rich source of jihadis and weapons from West Africa to the Middle East, and a funnel for flow of refugees from Africa.”

After this series of blundered invasions by the US and NATO forces, which continue to destabilise an entire region, one might think that militarily powerful nations would finally accept the need for a very different foreign policy framework. No longer can governments ignore the imperative to engender trust between nations and replace the prevailing culture of war with one of peace and nonviolent means of conflict resolution. In the immediate future, the priority for states must be to deescalate emerging cold war tensions and diffuse what is essentially a proxy war in the Middle East being played out in Syria. Yet this remains a huge challenge at a time when military intervention is still favoured over compromise and diplomacy, even when common sense and experience tells us that this outdated approach only exacerbates violent conflict and causes further geopolitical instability.

Sharing the burden, responsibility and resources

Given the deplorably inadequate response from most EU governments to the global exodus of refugees thus far, the stage is set for a rapid escalation of the crisis in 2016 and beyond. Some ten million refugees are expected to make their way to Europe in 2016 alone, and this figure is likely to rise substantially with population growth in developing countries over the coming decades. But it’s climate change that will bring the real emergency, with far higher migration levels accompanied by floods, droughts and sudden hikes in global food prices.

Although largely overlooked by politicians and the mainstream media, the number of people fleeing conflict is already dwarfed by ‘environmental refugees’ displaced by severe ecological conditions – whose numbers could rise to 200 million by 2050. It’s clear that unless nations collectively pursue a radically different approach to managing forced displacement, international discord and social tensions will continue to mount and millions of additional refugees will be condemned to oversized and inhumane camps on the outer edges of civilisation.

The fundamentals of an effective and morally acceptable response to the crisis are already articulated in the Refugee Convention, which sets out the core responsibilities that states have towards those seeking asylum – even though governments have interpreted the treaty erroneously and failed to implement it effectively. In the short term, it’s evident that governments must mobilise the resources needed to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to those escaping war, regardless of where in the world they have been displaced. Like the Marshall Plan that was initiated after the Second World War, a globally coordinated emergency response to the refugee crisis will require a significant redistribution of finance from the world’s richest countries to those most in need – which should be provided on the basis of ‘enlightened self-interest’ if not from a genuine sense of compassion and altruism.

Immediate humanitarian interventions would have to be accompanied by a new and more effective system for administrating the protection of refugees in a way that is commensurate with international refugee law. In simple terms, such a mechanism could be coordinated by a reformed and revitalised UN Refugee Agency (the UNHCR) which would ensure that both the responsibility and resources needed to protect refugees is shared fairly among nations. A mechanism for sharing global responsibility would also mean that states only provide assistance in accordance with their individual capacity and circumstances, which would prevent less developed nations from shouldering the greatest burden of refugees as is currently the case.

Even though the UN’s refugee convention has already been agreed by 145 nations, policymakers in the EU seem incapable and unwilling to demonstrate any real leadership in tackling this or indeed any other pressing transnational issue. Not only does the resulting refugee fiasco demonstrate the extent to which self-interest dominates the political status quo across the European Union, it confirms the suspicion that the union as a whole is increasingly devoid of social conscience and in urgent need of reform.

Thankfully, ordinary citizens are leading the way on this critical issue and putting elected representatives to shame by providing urgent support to refugee families in immediate need of help. In their thousands, volunteers stationed along Europe’s boarders have been welcoming asylum seekers by providing much needed food, shelter and clothing, and have even provided search and rescue services for those who have risked their lives being trafficked into Europe in rubber dinghies. Nowhere is this spirit of compassion and generosity more apparent than on Lesbos and other Geek islands, where residents have been collectively nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for their humanitarian efforts.

The selfless actions of these dedicated volunteers should remind the world that people have a responsibility and a natural inclination to serve one another in times of need – regardless of differences in race, religion and nationality. Instead of building militarised borders and ignoring popular calls for a just and humanitarian response to the refugee crisis, governments should take the lead from these people of goodwill and prioritise the needs of the world’s most vulnerable above all other concerns. For European leaders and policymakers in all countries, it’s this instinctively humane response to the refugee crisis – which is based firmly on the principle of sharing – that holds the key to addressing the whole spectrum of interconnected social, economic and environmental challenges in the critical period ahead.

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Restructuring the US-NATO Chain of Command

March 18th, 2016 by Manlio Dinucci

There is a new Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti (image left), chosen according to NATO’s democratic process.

President Barack Obama — who is head of state, head of government and commander in chief of the armed forces – has appointed General Scaparrotti commander of the European Command of the United States, a position that entitles him to simultaneously taking over as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. The North Atlantic Council, composed of representatives of the 28 member states, then approved the appointment.

This continues the “tradition” that the Supreme Commander in Europe must always be a general or admiral of the United States, which can thus monitor NATO through its own chain of command. The other key commands are also in the hands of the United States.

In Afghanistan, U.S. General Jack Nicholson took over the command of the NATO “Resolute Support” mission replacing U.S. General John Campbell. At the same time, NATO has signed a “Transit Agreement” with Kuwait, which allows it to create the first “hub” (for airport transit) of the Atlantic Alliance in the Gulf.

This will serve not only to increase the ability to send troops and military equipment to Afghanistan, but also ” the NATO-ICI (Istanbul Cooperation Initiative) Regional Centre will be a hub for NATO’s practical cooperation with Kuwait and other ICI partners, as well as Saudi Arabia and Oman.” (nato.int, Feb. 29) The U.S. secretly supported these partners in the war that is slaughtering civilians in Yemen.

The March 14 New York Times reports that per a Pentagon plan approved by President Obama — a planning team made up of 45 U.S. officers, under U.S. Marine General Carl Mundy (image right): it provides Saudi Arabia and its allies with information collected by drones that spy on targets to hit in Yemen, and its Special Forces troops trains amphibious units of the Emirates for a landing in Yemen.

Of particular importance in this framework is President Obama’s decision put General Joseph Votel (left), head of U.S. Special Operations Command, in as the head of the U.S. Central Command, whose “area of responsibility” includes the Middle East, Central Asia and Egypt.

This confirms – as underlined by the Washington Post in 2012 – “the preference of the Obama administration for spying and covert action rather than the use of conventional forces.”

  It is the same President of the United States – the New York Times reported in 2012 in an investigative article, which it confirmed in a subsequent April 25, 2015 article, who approved the continuously updated “kill list.”

This list includes people from all over the world who have been judged harmful to the United States and its interests; they are secretly sentenced to death on charges of terrorism.

 

Although with the interview in the April issue of The Atlantic, Obama claimed to have avoided greater damage with his Syria strategy, there remain the greater crimes that weigh on his administration, as on the previous ones.

Among them, as shown by Hillary Clinton’s email, is Obama’s secret authorization for covert action in Libya, coordinated with the NATO attack from the outside. Its real purpose was to stop Gadhafi’s plan to create an African currency as an alternative to the dollar and the CFA franc, which would harm the interests of Western multinationals and financial groups.

The order to demolish the Libyan state came first from the president of the United States and from the leaders of its allies, from the summit of the economic and financial power of the 1% that own more than the remaining 99% of the world’s population.

Article in italian : http://ilmanifesto.info/la-catena-di-comando/

Translation: John Catalinotto

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Selected Articles: What Future for Palestine?

March 17th, 2016 by Global Research News

israeli-apartheid-wallThe BDS Movement: Israeli Apartheid and Canada’s Duplicity

By Mark Taliano, March 12 2016

If Canada were to support real, productive change, it would support rather than condemn peaceful citizen initiatives such as the Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Israel toxicIsraeli Aircrafts Drop Toxic Materials on Jordan Valley’s West Bank

By The Palestinian Information Center, March 13 2016

Poisonous substances were dropped from Israeli aircrafts in Palestinian agricultural and residential areas in the Jordan Valley on Friday, according to local sources.

Oil pump jacks pump oil in Al-Jbessa oil field in Al-Shaddadeh town of Al-Hasakah governorateIn Alliance with Al-Qaida, Israel Is Stealing Syria’s Oil

By Uprooted Palestinians, March 13 2016

Israel is moving forward with plans to drill for oil in the occupied Golan Heights, despite warnings that the move violates international law.

AIPACDoes Congress Represent American Citizens or Israeli Settlers?

By Anthony Bellchambers, March 15 2016

Congress comprises the House of Representatives with 435 members plus 100 members in the Senate.

permanent_court_arbitrationPalestine Becomes A Full Member Of “The Court Of Arbitration”

By IMEMC, March 15 2016

On Monday, Palestine was awarded a full membership in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, after 57 countries votes in favor, 24 abstained and zero voted against.

Palestine-SchoolIsrael Forces Routine Attacks against Palestinian Schools. Disabling the Educational Process

By The Palestinian Information Center, March 16 2016

The Israeli violations practiced against the Palestinian educational process had notably increased in 2015.

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An ever-deepening militarization threatens to hollow out democracy and leave the country isolated and bankrupt, morally and economically.

George Washington could hardly be called naive about the use of military power. Yet, in his presidential farewell address, the general-turned-political leader issued a warning that would be wise to reconsider since the United States began pursuing a foreign policy based on preventive war and a crusade to spread democratic capitalism worldwide. Citizens should be wary, Washington explained, of “those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.”

While he considered a respectable army essential to national well-being, Washington also believed that an overgrown military establishment in the New World would replicate the errors of the Old one. Unfortunately, this concern – considered superfluous in 1796 – has been largely ignored in the two centuries that have seen the United States transform itself from a revolutionary experiment into the world’s only superpower.

As Andrew J. Bacevich has argued in The New American Militarism, the roots of the change go deep and cannot be traced a single political party or administration. Yet, the problem was intensified by the disorientation that followed the Vietnam War, as well as illusions about the invulnerability provided by technology and a neoconservative argument that military power provides the “indispensable foundation” for the nation’s unique role in the world.

Coming from a left-leaning writer, such a conclusion would not be surprising. But Bacevich is a West Point graduate, veteran of Vietnam, and former Bush fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. As such, he has watched the evolution of what he describes as an “ever-deepening militarization of U.S. policy” that threatens to hollow out democracy and leave the country isolated and bankrupt, both morally and economically.

Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan made a similar case in Where the Right Went Wrong (2004), his book on how neoconservatives hijacked the Bush presidency. Calling the post 9/11 Bush Doctrine “democratic imperialism,” he warned that it would:

“bleed, bankrupt, and isolate this republic. This overthrows the wisdom of the Founding Fathers about what America should be all about. This is an American version of the Brezhnev Doctrine, wherein Moscow asserted the right to intervene to save Communism in any nation where it had once been imposed. Only we Americans now assert the right to intervene anywhere to impose democracy.”

However, while Buchanan sees Ronald Reagan as a true conservative who would not have countenanced “regime change” and preventive war unless the evidence of an imminent attack was absolutely solid, Bacevich argues that Reagan romanticized the U.S. military in order to boost defense spending and confront the Soviet Union, setting the stage of future militarization. More than anyone else, he writes, Reagan “conjured up the myths that nurtured and sustain present-day American militarism” and made military might “the preferred measure for gauging the nation’s strength.”

On the other hand, the shift was underway before Reagan. Bacevich sees Jimmy Carter’s failures – including entreaties to end the U.S. addiction to imported oil and turn toward self-sufficiency, as well as a disastrous covert mission to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran – as inadvertent persuasions, convincing people that a weak military was intolerable and thus playing into the agenda of the neoconservative movement.

After Reagan, Bill Clinton aided the project by backing military enhancements like “smart weapons” and “flexible power projection capabilities,” as well as intervening “with great frequency in more places for more varied purposes than any of his predecessors.”

Although neoconservatism can be traced back to 1960s attacks on the New Left and counterculture by Norman Podhoretz and others, it didn’t gain much traction until the Reagan years. The argument begins with the assertion that “evil” will prevail if those who confront it flinch from duty. The primary example used before 9/11 was appeasement of Hitler by Britain and France, combined with U.S. isolationism before World War II. The only effective response, they conclude, is military power, not vague and unrealistic international negotiations. In this regard, the United States has no choice but to assert global leadership, and the mission is open-ended. Neoconservatives leave no room for pessimism or self-doubt; in fact, they consider such thinking close to treasonous.

At home, concervatives defined a set of related threats, among them sexual license, vulgarity, an absence of standards, and the decline of institutional legitimacy. In response, they have been impelled to discredit 1960s legacies such as multiculturalism, affirmative action, feminism, and gay rights, while promoting “traditional values” and so-called beleaguered institutions, notably marriage and the nuclear family.

Furthermore, conservatives claim that the crisis is permanent and dire, and the only antidote is a heroic form of leadership Bacevich defines as a “weird homegrown variant of the Fuehrer Principle.” He holds back from using the word fascist, but as Willhelm Reich explained in The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933/1946), identification with a “Fuehrer” forms the psychological basis of national narcissism. In pre-war Germany, “The structure of the fascist proved to be characterized by metaphysical thinking, piety, and the belief in the abstract ethical ideas and the Divine mission of the ‘Fuehrer’,” Reich explained. “These traits rested on a basis of a strong authoritarian fixation to a Fuehrer-ideal or the nation.”

In the United States, other factors assisting the rise of militarism include Hollywood and evangelical religion. The entertainment industry’s contributions include a series of influential films that have etched a romanticized vision of the military into popular consciousness. Bacevich focuses on three: An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), which suggests that becoming an officer is the way to move from a dead-end existence to status and respectability, “up where we belong;” the Rambo series (1982-88), which argues that soldiers aren’t given the respect they deserve at home and should be set loose to win abroad by any means; and Top Gun (1986), a feature-length recruitment poster that made combat look clean, technologically sophisticated, and highly cool.

Since then Hollywood’s war narrative has become slightly more complex, but no less romantic. Dozen of major war films have been released in the last two decades, many of then looking back at World War II as a violent crucible that nevertheless reflects noble national ideals. Other films support neoconservative arguments about the dangers of a half-hearted response to evil and how political considerations threaten humanitarian missions.

As far as religion is concerned, a chapter titled “Onward” opens with the bold statement that the United States remains, “as it has always been, a deeply, even incorrigibly, Christian nation.” Noting that about 100 million people in this country define themselves as evangelicals, he states bluntly that they tend to be conservative and vote Republican.

Beyond that, evangelical Christians also celebrate the military as a bastion of the values needed to stop the current slide toward perdition and thus have provided religious sanction to militarization. This links up nicely with neoconservative logic, offering support for the idea of striking the first blow. Books like The Church and the Sword and One Nation Under God replace the “just war” idea with a “crusader theory of warfare.” As Hal Lindsey, author of The Late Great Planet Earth, argues, “The Bible supports building a powerful military force. And the Bible is telling the U.S. to be strong again.”

With evangelicals leading the way, both within the military chaplaincy and the GOP, “Conservative Christians have conferred a presumptive moral palatability on any occasion on which the United States resorts to force,” Bacevich concludes. “They have fostered among the legions of believing Americans a predisposition to see U.S. military power as inherently good, perhaps even a necessary adjunct to the accomplishment of Christ’s saving mission. In doing so, they have nurtured the preconditions that have enabled American infatuation with military power to flourish.”

Bacevich also posits that the world is in the midst of World War IV, and argues that this battle to guarantee U.S. citizens “ever-increasing affluence” actually began when Jimmy Carter declared in January 1980 that, “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” That was called the Carter Doctrine.

Once the “Doctrine” was in effect, Reagan ramped up the military’s ability to actually wage the new world war, thus cocking the trigger that George W. Bush ultimately pulled. What has allowed the crusade to proceed, Bacevich argues, is a combination of self-induced historical amnesia and a momentum for militarization that has built since the national trauma induced by defeat in Vietnam .

Although suggesting that the country may be stuck with a “misbegotten crusade,” he does offer a series of alternative principles that might mitigate the effects. The list includes restricting military actions to those that truly reflect what the U.S. Constitution calls “common defense,” forcing Congress to exercise its oversight concerning war, renouncing preventive war in favor of force as a last resort, limiting U.S. dependence on foreign resources, reorganizing the military around defense rather than power projection, basing the U.S. military budget on what other nations spend (rather than a fixed percent of GDP), and more fully funding diplomacy to better communicate with the rest of the world.

He finishes with three ideas for reforming the military itself. Favoring the idea of “citizen soldiers,” Bacevich suggests that the current all-volunteer force should actually “mirror society” rather than becoming increasingly “professionalized.” Specifically, he calls for shorter enlistments, more generous signing bonuses, flexible retirement options, and free college education for anyone who serves. If the military is rooted among the people, problems that develop in any future interventions are more likely to be identified early and corrected. At least that’s the hope.

Bacevich also calls for a reexamination of the role of the National Guard, along with its expansion. “We need more citizen-soldiers protecting Americans at home even if that means fewer professional soldiers available to assume responsibility for situations abroad.” And finally, he urges an end to the current painful and dangerous separation between the military profession and the rest of society. As a former military man, he sees war as part of the human condition. But he wants to bind the profession to the “outside world” rather allowing it to keep the world at bay.

Greg Guma has been a writer, editor, historian, activist and progressive manager for over four decades, leading progressive organizations in Vermont, New Mexico and California. He worked with Bernie Sanders in Burlington and wrote The People’s Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution

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A spate of mega-regional trade agreements with strong investment protection standards have been recently concluded or are currently under negotiations. The TPP (Transpacific Partnership) and TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement) are prime examples of this growing trend. Way back in 1959, Germany and Pakistan signed the first Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) in the world. Without knowing, they marked a new era as many countries have followed their example since then. Currently, the international legal system that governs international investment flows consists of about 3000 BITs and other international investment agreements (IIAs).

In recent years, however, a large number of countries have faced costly international investment treaty claims on matters of economic policy, financial stability, and environmental and health regulation. This in turn has sparked many governments to rethink and revisit their current bilateral investment treaties regime. Serious questions are being raised by citizens and their representatives about the legitimacy and effectiveness of the BIT regime. The ongoing policy debates on reforming the multi-layered investment treaty regime call for collective thinking and constructive engagement by all stakeholders – governments, inter-governmental organizations, the private sector, civil society, think-tanks and academia.

A new book published by Both ENDS, Madhyam and SOMO takes stock of current developments and explores alternative approaches to reform investment treaties. It provides an up-to-date account of the model BIT reviews undertaken by South Africa, India and Indonesia. Some of the authors have suggested a broad gamut of useful policy solutions. The book attempts to launch a dialogue among government officials, legal experts drawn from academia, international organizations and civil society groups to address the systemic shortcomings of the current BIT regime.

“Almost all investment treaties include a so-called ‘Investor to State Dispute Settlement mechanism’ (ISDS), allowing investors to sue their host state when changes to regulations threaten to reduce profits. Many countries have already faced unexpected claims against them, because they wanted to implement new laws or rules to ensure financial stability, or to protect the environment or the health of their people,” – Kavaljit Singh, director of Madhyam, New Delhi.

“In recent years the awareness about the implications of prior little know international investment agreements has been growing significantly, and the call to roll back their regime is getting stronger. Several developing countries already terminated their BITs or are in the process of doing so. But also in the northern hemisphere the negotiations of new transatlantic trade and investment agreements (CETA and TTIP) have led to a fast growing opposition against the ISDS-system amongst citizens as well as politicians.” – Burghard Ilge of Both ENDS, the Netherlands

The free-to-download ebook contains 19 distinct analyses by leading experts in the field, covering both national and international perspectives. Some contributions are written by current or former government officials, others are written by legal experts, researchers and economists based in academia, think tanks and NGOs. It is very rare to find contributions by authors from such diverse backgrounds in a single publication. The book covers a wide range of topics – from current trends in investor-state arbitration to the wider ramifications of investment treaties on sovereign debt restructuring, the extractive industry, intellectual property rights and human rights.

The book fills an important void in our understanding of bilateral investment treaty regime that has evolved over the decades. I hope that this free-to-download publication will trigger a constructive public debate on the nature and the quality of cross-border investments. I am sure that such a debate will facilitate cross-border investment flows which are benign and consistent with the interests of the people at large in the recipient countries” – E. A. S. Sarma, Former Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Government of India.

This book will be of prime interest to anyone concerned with issues surrounding bilateral investment treaties and international law. In particular, the book will be useful to policymakers, parliamentarians, private sector companies, NGOs, academics, lawyers, scholars and journalists.

For further information, contact:

Madhyam (New Delhi): Kavaljit Singh, +91-11-43036919, [email protected]

Both ENDS (Amsterdam): Burghard Ilge, +31-205306600, [email protected]

SOMO (Amsterdam): Roos van Os, +31-206391291, [email protected]

Book Announcement

Rethinking Bilateral Investment Treaties: Critical Issues and Policy Choices

Edited by Kavaljit Singh and Burghard Ilge

The cross-border investment flows are currently governed by bilateral and regional investment treaties. Today, more than 3,000 BITs are in existence globally. However, there are signs of growing unease with the BIT regime across countries and regions. The growing number of investor claims against sovereign states challenging a wide array of public policy decisions and regulatory measures has evoked deep concerns about the potential costs associated with such treaties.

A number of countries have been revisiting their BITs program since the early 2000s. In recent years, a backlash against BITs has gained momentum in the global South, particularly in the Latin America. Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Nicaragua have all rolled back their BIT commitments. South Africa has replaced its BITs regime with a new domestic legislation that aims to protect investor rights while safeguarding policy space to regulate in the public interest. In Asia, several countries are taking steps to protect themselves from costly investor-state arbitration. All these important developments call for collective thinking and constructive engagement by all stakeholders – governments, inter-governmental organizations, the private sector, civil society, think-tanks and academia.

This free-to-download ebook takes stock of current developments and explores alternative approaches to reform investment treaties. The book covers a wide range of topics – from current trends in investor-state arbitration to the wider ramifications of investment treaties on sovereign debt restructuring, the extractive industry, intellectual property rights and human rights. It provides an up-to-date account of the model BIT reviews undertaken by South Africa, India and Indonesia. Some of the authors have suggested a broad gamut of useful policy solutions. The book presents a debate that is very relevant to the ongoing initiatives to reform the BITs regime. It raises some critical policy issues which are missing in the current debates. The book attempts to launch a dialogue among government officials, legal experts drawn from academia, international organizations and civil society groups to address the systemic shortcomings of the current BIT regime.

The book contains 19 distinct analyses by leading experts in the field, covering both national and international perspectives. Some contributions are written by current or former government officials, others are written by legal experts, researchers and economists based in academia, think tanks and NGOs. It is very rare to find contributions by authors from such diverse backgrounds in a single publication.

This book will be of prime interest to anyone concerned with issues surrounding bilateral investment treaties and international law. In particular, the book will be useful to policymakers, parliamentarians, private sector companies, NGOs, academics, lawyers, scholars and journalists.

Contributors: Sarah Anderson, Brook K. Baker, Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder, Martin Dietrich Brauch, Xavier Carim, Lorenzo Cotula, Patrick Dumberry, Pia Eberhardt, Michael Ewing-Chow, Kevin P. Gallagher, Saurabh Garg, Katrina Geddes, Burghard Ilge, Abdulkadir Jailani, Junianto James Losari, Cecilia Olivet, Manuel Pérez-Rocha, Prabhash Ranjan, Sudhanshu Roy, Kavaljit Singh, Ishita G. Tripathy, Gus Van Harten, Roos Van Os, Zoe Phillips Williams and James X. Zhan.

“The authors deserve special congratulations for bringing out this much needed well debated treatise, knitting together various strands of the subject. The bilateral investment treaties are unknown to the people, although they affect their lives substantially and for a long time to come. This book will help place the subject on public anvil for debate.” – P. B. Sawant, Former Judge, Supreme Court of India

“The book fills an important void in our understanding of bilateral investment treaty regime that has evolved over the decades. I hope that this free-to-download publication will trigger a constructive public debate on the nature and the quality of cross-border investments. I am sure that such a debate will facilitate cross-border investment flows which are benign and consistent with the interests of the people at large in the recipient countries.” – E. A. S. Sarma, Former Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Government of India

“A comprehensive, critical and competent treatment of important aspects of bilateral investment treaties, particularly their provision of investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, at a time when the current regime has come in for severe contestation on social,     economic and environmental grounds, by governments and civil society organisations in both developed and developing countries, and alternative approaches are being seriously explored.” ‒ Muchkund Dubey, Former Foreign Secretary, Government of India

“Rethinking, reforming, and where necessary terminating bilateral investment treaties is an imperative because of superior treaty obligations under the UN Charter and human rights conventions. This book tackles such complex issues in a lucid and readable style. Highly recommended.” – Alfred de Zayas, Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, Human Rights Council, UN

“Pertinent and urgent! This collection of contributions on the complex dangers of investor-state arbitration and a wide range of new attacks on the state’s legal order by transnational corporations should trigger academic, policy-makers and citizens’ mobilization for systemic reform.” – Pedro Páez, Superintendent for Market Power Control (Ecuador) and Former Minister for Economic Policy Coordination

 Free Download of Ebook (PDF)

Free Download of Ebook (EPUB)

Free Download of Ebook (Kindle)

Free Download of Ebook (MOBI)

Published: March 2016

Pages: 295

Printed copies are available on request.

Jointly Published by Both ENDS, Madhyam and SOMO

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The Ever-Curiouser MH-17 Case

March 17th, 2016 by Robert Parry

The curious mystery surrounding the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, gets more curious and more curious as the U.S. government and Dutch investigators balk at giving straightforward answers to the simplest of questions even when asked by the families of the victims.

Adding to the mystery Dutch investigators have indicated that the Dutch Safety Board did not request radar information from the United States, even though Secretary of State John Kerry indicated just three days after the crash that the U.S. government possessed data that pinpointed the location of the suspected missile launch that allegedly downed the airliner, killing all 298 people onboard.

Although Kerry claimed that the U.S. government knew the location almost immediately, Dutch investigators now say they hope to identify the spot sometime “in the second half of the year,” meaning that something as basic as the missile-launch site might remain unknown to the public more than two years after the tragedy.

The families of the Dutch victims, including the father of a Dutch-American citizen, have been pressing for an explanation about the slow pace of the investigation and the apparent failure to obtain relevant data from the U.S. and other governments.

I spent time with the family members in early February at the Dutch parliament in The Hague as opposition parliamentarians, led by Christian Democrat Pieter Omtzigt, unsuccessfully sought answers from the government about the absence of radar data and other basic facts.

Dutch parliamentarian Pieter Omtzigt.

Image: Dutch parliamentarian Pieter Omtzigt.

When answers have been provided to the families and the public, they are often hard to understand, as if to obfuscate what information the investigation possesses or doesn’t possess. For instance, when I asked the U.S. State Department whether the U.S. government had supplied the Dutch with radar data and satellite images, I received the following response, attributable to “a State Department spokesperson”: “While I won’t go into the details of our law enforcement cooperation in the investigation, I would note that Dutch officials said March 8 that all information asked of the United States has been shared.”

I wrote back thanking the spokesperson for the response, but adding:

“I must say it seems unnecessarily fuzzy. Why can’t you just say that the U.S. government has provided the radar data cited by Secretary Kerry immediately after the tragedy? Or the U.S. government has provided satellite imagery before and after the shootdown? Why the indirect and imprecise phrasing? …

“I’ve spent time with the Dutch families of the victims, including the father of a U.S.-Dutch citizen, and I can tell you that they are quite disturbed by what they regard as double-talk and stalling. I would like to tell them that my government has provided all relevant data in a cooperative and timely fashion. But all I get is this indirect and imprecise word-smithing.”

The State Department spokesperson wrote back, “I understand your questions, and also the importance of the view of these families so devastated by this tragedy. However, I am going to have to leave our comments as below.”

Propaganda Value

This lack of transparency, of course, has a propaganda value since it leaves in place the widespread public impression that ethnic Russian rebels and Russian President Vladimir Putin were responsible for the 298 deaths, a rush to judgment that Secretary Kerry and other senior U.S. officials (and the Western news media) encouraged in July 2014.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Once that impression took hold there has been little interest in Official Washington to clarify the mystery especially as evidence has emerged implicating elements of the Ukrainian military. For instance, Dutch intelligence has reported (and U.S. intelligence has implicitly confirmed) that the only operational Buk anti-aircraft missile systems in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, were under the control of the Ukrainian military.

In a Dutch report released last October, the Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) reported that the only anti-aircraft weapons in eastern Ukraine capable of bringing down MH-17 at 33,000 feet belonged to the Ukrainian government.

MIVD made that assessment in the context of explaining why commercial aircraft continued to fly over the eastern Ukrainian battle zone in summer 2014. MIVD said that based on “state secret” information, it was known that Ukraine possessed some older but “powerful anti-aircraft systems” and “a number of these systems were located in the eastern part of the country.”

The intelligence agency added that the rebels lacked that capability:

“Prior to the crash, the MIVD knew that, in addition to light aircraft artillery, the Separatists also possessed short-range portable air defence systems (man-portable air-defence systems; MANPADS) and that they possibly possessed short-range vehicle-borne air-defence systems. Both types of systems are considered surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Due to their limited range they do not constitute a danger to civil aviation at cruising altitude.”

One could infer a similar finding by reading a U.S. “Government Assessment” released by the Director of National Intelligence on July 22, 2014, five days after the crash, seeking to cast suspicion on the ethnic Russian rebels and Putin by noting military equipment that Moscow had provided the rebels. But most tellingly the list did not include Buk anti-aircraft missiles. In other words, in the context of trying to blame the rebels and Putin, U.S. intelligence could not put an operational Buk system in the rebels’ hands.

So, perhaps the most logical suspicion would be that the Ukrainian military, then engaged in an offensive in the east and fearing a possible Russian invasion, moved its Buk missile systems up to the front and an undisciplined crew fired a missile at a suspected Russian aircraft, bringing down MH-17 by accident.

A Malaysia Airways' Boeing 777 like the one that crashed in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. (Photo credit: Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland)

Image: A Malaysia Airways’ Boeing 777 like the one that crashed in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. (Photo credit: Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland)

That was essentially what I was told by a source who had been briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts in July and August 2014. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “Flight 17 Shoot-Down Scenario Shifts” and “The Danger of an MH-17 Cold Case.”]

But Ukraine is a principal participant in the Dutch-led Joint Investigative Team (JIT), which has been probing the MH-17 case, and thus the investigation suffers from a possible conflict of interest since Ukraine would prefer that the world’s public perception of the MH-17 case continue to blame Putin. Under the JIT’s terms, any of the five key participants (The Netherlands, Ukraine, Australia, Belgium and Malaysia) can block release of information.

The interest in keeping Putin on the propaganda defensive is shared by the Obama administration which used the furor over the MH-17 deaths to spur the European Union into imposing economic sanctions on Russia.

In contrast, clearing the Russians and blaming the Ukrainians would destroy a carefully constructed propaganda narrative which has stuck black hats on Putin and the ethnic Russian rebels and white hats on the U.S.-backed government of Ukraine, which seized power after a putsch that overthrew elected pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, 2014.

Accusations against Russia have also been fanned by propaganda outlets, such as the British-based Bellingcat site, which has collaborated with Western mainstream media to continue pointing the finger of blame at Moscow and Putin – as the Dutch investigators drag their heels and refuse to divulge any information that would clarify the case.

Letter to the Families

Perhaps the most detailed – although still hazy – status report on the investigation came in a recent letter from JIT chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke to the Dutch family members. The letter acknowledged that the investigators lacked “primary raw radar images” which could have revealed a missile or a military aircraft in the vicinity of MH-17.

Russian-made Buk anti-aircraft missile battery.

Image: Russian-made Buk anti-aircraft missile battery.

Ukrainian authorities said all their primary radar facilities were shut down for maintenance and only secondary radar, which would show commercial aircraft, was available. Russian officials have said their radar data suggest that a Ukrainian warplane might have fired on MH-17 with an air-to-air missile, a possibility that is difficult to rule out without examining primary radar which has so far not been available. Primary radar data also might have picked up a ground-fired missile, Westerbeke wrote.

“Raw primary radar data could provide information on the rocket trajectory,” Westerbeke’s letter said. “The JIT does not have that information yet. JIT has questioned a member of the Ukrainian air traffic control and a Ukrainian radar specialist. They explained why no primary radar images were saved in Ukraine.” Westerbeke said investigators are also asking Russia about its data.

Westerbeke added that the JIT had “no video or film of the launch or the trajectory of the rocket.” Nor, he said, do the investigators have satellite photos of the rocket launch.

“The clouds on the part of the day of the downing of MH17 prevented usable pictures of the launch site from being available,” he wrote. “There are pictures from just before and just after July 17th and they are an asset in the investigation.” According to intelligence sources, the satellite photos show several Ukrainian military Buk missile systems in the area.

Secretary of State John Kerry denounces Russia's RT network as a "propaganda bullhorn" during remarks on April 24, 2014.

Image: Secretary of State John Kerry denounces Russia’s RT network as a “propaganda bullhorn” during remarks on April 24, 2014.

Why the investigation’s data is so uncertain has become a secondary mystery in the MH-17 whodunit. During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on July 20, 2014, three days after the crash, Secretary Kerry declared, “we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”

But this U.S. data has never been made public. In the letter, Westerbeke wrote, “The American authorities have data, that come from their own secret services, which could provide information on the trajectory of the rocket. This information was shared in secret with the [Dutch] MIVD.” Westerbeke added that the information may be made available as proof in a criminal case as an “amtsbericht” or “official statement.”

Yet, despite the U.S. data, Westerbeke said the location of the launch site remains uncertain. Last October, the Dutch Safety Board placed the likely firing location within a 320-square-kilometer area that covered territory both under government and rebel control. (The safety board did not seek to identify which side fired the fateful missile.)

By contrast, Almaz-Antey, the Russian arms manufacturer of the Buk systems, conducted its own experiments to determine the likely firing location and placed it in a much smaller area near the village of Zaroshchenskoye, about 20 kilometers west of the Dutch Safety Board’s zone and in an area under Ukrainian government control.

Westerbeke wrote,

“Raw primary radar data and the American secret information are only two sources of information for the determination of the launch site. There is more. JIT collects evidence on the basis of telephone taps, locations of telephones, pictures, witness statements and technical calculations of the trajectory of the rocket. The calculations are made by the national air and space laboratory on the basis of the location of MH17, the damage pattern on the wreckage and the special characteristics of the rockets. JIT does extra research on top of the [Dutch Safety Board] research. On the basis of these sources, JIT gets ever more clarity on the exact launch site. In the second half of the year we expect exact results.”

Quinn Schansman, a dual U.S.-Dutch citizen killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014. (Photo from Facebook)

Image: Quinn Schansman, a dual U.S.-Dutch citizen killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014. (Photo from Facebook)

Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to stonewall a request from Thomas J. Schansman, the father of Quinn Schansman, the only American citizen to die aboard MH-17, to Secretary Kerry to release the U.S. data that Kerry has publicly cited.

Quinn Schansman, who had dual U.S.-Dutch citizenship, boarded MH-17 along with 297 other people for a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014. The 19-year-old was planning to join his family for a vacation in Malaysia.

In a letter to Kerry dated Jan. 5, 2016, Thomas J. Schansman noted Kerry’s remarks at a press conference on Aug. 12, 2014, when the Secretary of State said about the Buk anti-aircraft missile suspected of downing the plane:

“We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this aeroplane disappear from the radar screens. So there is really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.”

Although U.S. consular officials in the Netherlands indicated that Kerry would respond personally to the request, Schansman told me this week that he had not yet received a reply from Kerry.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon andbarnesandnoble.com

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US Senator to Saudis: Stop Bombing Civilians in Yemen

March 17th, 2016 by Stephen Snyder

A senator from Connecticut is raising big questions about America’s unwavering support for Saudi Arabia. His comments come as the Saudis and their Arab allies begin a second year at war in Yemen. Fighting there in the past year has killed more than 3,000 civilians, many with US-made weapons.

Saudi Arabia buys more US weapons than any nation in the world. US support does not end at weapons sales. The United States military advises the Saudi-led coalition as it conducts its air war in Yemen.

Listen to the story here (audio interview) 

Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asks why the US has stood by while the Saudi-led coalition of Arab air forces has pounded Yemen daily since March 26, 2015.

“It’s hard for me to figure out what the US national security interests are inside the civil war in Yemen,” says Senator Murphy.

Fighting in Yemen involves local militias, separatist groups, a Saudi-backed political elite and a well-organized rebel force, known as the Houthis, which seized control of the country in early 2015. While the politics of the Yemen war are murky, the toll on Yemeni civilians is clear.

Saudi Arabia buys more US weapons than any nation in the world. US support does not end at weapons sales. The United States military advises the Saudi-led coalition as it conducts its air war in Yemen.

Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asks why the US has stood by while the Saudi-led coalition of Arab air forces has pounded Yemen daily since March 26, 2015.

It’s hard for me to figure out what the US national security interests are inside the civil war in Yemen,” says Senator Murphy.

Fighting in Yemen involves local militias, separatist groups, a Saudi-backed political elite and a well-organized rebel force, known as the Houthis, which seized control of the country in early 2015. While the politics of the Yemen war are murky, the toll on Yemeni civilians is clear.

On Tuesday, March 15, jet fighters from the Saudi-led coalition struck a crowded marketplace at midday in Khamis, a village north of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières reports “Khamis was full of people who had gathered for the weekly market day. Dozens of civilians were present at the time of the airstrike, including women, children and the elderly, and many were injured or killed in the attack.” There are no military targets in Khamis.

“It appears that our support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign is killing a lot of civilians,” says the senator. “It is leading to a humanitarian disaster, and strengthening the very groups that we say are our priority to defeat in the region.”

The chaos of war has opened opportunities for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS to expand their areas of control and strike targets without being challenged by either the Yemeni Houthis or the Saudis, who remain focused on fighting each other. Senator Murphy thinks US support for the Saudi campaign, which includes targeting assistance and mid-air refueling of fighter jets, is undercutting America’s true objectives in Yemen, to reduce the threat of AQAP, which has launched several failed attacks on mainland US targets.

In the past year alone, the United States has agreed to resupply Saudi Arabia with $1.29 billion in bombs that have been expended in daily airstrikes on Yemen.

Read here the Defense Security Cooperation Agency News Release on Saudi Air-to-Ground Munitions

Senator Murphy wants to examine such deals, and place conditions on the sale of weapons to hold the Saudis accountable. What kind of conditions?

“That they stop using cluster bombs, that they commit to not purposely targeting civilians, that they allow for humanitarian relief to reach displaced populations, that they make a commitment not to in any way directly coordinate with Sunni extremist groups,” he says. “These are the kind of conditions that we have so far been unwilling to put to the Saudis. I think it’s time we do it.”

Murphy is one of very few politicians in Washington calling on the US to hold the Saudis to higher standards. “I mean, right now I’m, I think, the loudest voice here. There are a handful of members of the House who’ve raised similar objections and I’ve been talking to my colleagues both on the Republican and Democratic side as well.”

The Senator says his office has heard from the Saudi Embassy. “The Saudis obviously don’t like what I’m saying, but I’m not talking about walking away from this alliance. I’m just talking about putting some higher-level conditions upon the arms that we provide them.”

Yemenis have been calling on the US, since the beginning of the war, to reign in the Saudis. In recent months, activists have openly blamed the US for the unrelenting air strikes.

“So, if I’m listening to Yemenis on the ground,” says Murphy,

“I think one of their first requests is for this relatively indiscriminate bombing campaign by the coalition to stop. And right now the US is facilitating that bombing campaign, leading to the destruction of cities, the deaths of civilians, and a growing humanitarian catastrophe inside Yemen.”

Screen shot of article

But it’s not easy to explain the Yemen story to Murphy’s Connecticut constituents.

“I think there is a real lack of recognition of what’s happening inside Yemen today, and certainly there’s a lack of recognition that the United States is playing a very large role in supporting the Saudi campaign there,” he observes. “I mean, I don’t know what terminology you put on this, but the United States certainly has weighed in on one side a war inside Yemen today, between the Saudis and the Iranians, and their proxy forces therein.”

Senator Murphy says the Yemen war, though not a focus for people in his state, is nonetheless the kind of potential quagmire they would want to avoid. “What people in Connecticut tell me is they want us to learn from the mistakes of Iraq: that they want America to have a little bit less hubris about our ability to try to influence events on the ground in the Middle East with the blunt force of American military might.”

Among Murphy’s constituents are two big arms makers who do business with Saudi Arabia: Pratt & Whitney, which makes and maintains jet engines, and Sikorsky which produces the Blackhawk helicopter. Senator Murphy says he must balance the interests of everyone in his state.

“Ultimately I’m tasked with creating jobs in Connecticut,” he says,

“but first and foremost I’m tasked with keeping America safe from attack and keeping my state safe from attack. And so the most sacred obligation you have, right now as a member of Congress, is to prevent another 9-11 attack from happening. And so, to me, the way in which we have sold arms to the Saudis without requiring them to be a true lasting daily partner in the fight against extremism really puts our country’s national security in jeopardy. And so, yes, sometimes you have to make tradeoffs between, you know, economic security and physical security for the nation. But the latter has to triumph when there’s a conflict.”

“And, again,” he adds, “I’m not talking about stopping these arms sales. I’m just talking about raising the stakes and forcing the Saudis to step up to the plate and be a better partner as a condition of moving these sales forward.”

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The Russian air grouping in Syria will continue to conduct air strikes against terrorists, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov said on Mar.15. The air defense systems including S-400 anti-aircraft missiles also remain at the air base and the Russian naval grouping is located near Syria’s shore.

The very same day, Russian and Syrian warplanes intensified their air raids against ISIS in nearby areas around Palmyra inflicting a heavy damage to the militants’ military equipment and positions while the Tiger Forces of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) continued an advance in west Palmyra taking control of Jabal Hayyal. Now, the SAA and its allies are advancing in the direction of the ISIS training camp in Qatari Royal Villa.

Meanwhile, the clashes erupted between the SAA and ISIS near the Tishrin power plant in the Southern areas of the Damascus province. The SAA artillery shelled the al-Ghyath region south to the powerplant where ISIS militants gathered to launch an offensive operation in the area.

At the Deir Ezzor front, the Syrian forces have launched a counter attack against ISIS militants and captured the Turda Mountain and a part of the road heading to Deir Ezzor. Now, the Syrian troops are developing the attack in the direction of the Thayyem Oil Field.

Thus, the SAA and its allies supported by a significant number of Russian warplanes which remain in Syria are continuing active actions against terrorists excluded from the ceasefire agreements. SouthFront also received information that Putin’s decision of the partial withdrawal from Syria concided in time with a regular rotation of the aircraft involved in the Russian operation in Syria. The Russian Aerospace Forces rotate aircraft at the Hmeymim airbase regularly because of a high number of combat sorties conducted by them.

By this decision, Russia is also holding an initiative at the diplomatic field. This fact is confirmed by US Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to visit Russia next week to discuss the Syria crisis.

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In the light of Turkey’s crucial role in NATO’s five-year-long genocidal covert war on Syria, it truly beggars belief that only five weeks before the launch of this war in March 2011, Turkey’s then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (now President) was still fully engaged in ensnaring Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad with an utterly treacherous “friendship” discourse. In fact, 4 months after a foundation stone laying ceremony of a “friendship dam” held at the border between Turkey’s Hatay province and Syria’s Idlib province; the same border area was used by NATO’s mercenary-terrorists to perpetrate their first large-scale massacre in Syria. 

Türkiye, 7 February 2011

headline: Friendship without borders

Turkey and Syria laid the foundation stone of the ‘Friendship Dam’. Further steps which will transform the border [between Turkey and Syria] into a nominal one are due to follow… caption: Messages of fraternity: Thousands of Turkish and Syrian people took part in the foundation stone laying ceremony in Hatay [province]. [Turkey’s] Prime Minister Erdogan and Syria’s Prime Minister Otri (whom Erdogan calls “my precious friend”) waved to the crowds by holding each other’s hands. Both prime ministers stated that the exemplary friendship and cooperation between their countries will continue by reinforcing further.

sidebar: The agenda in Aleppo is the flame of rebellion After the foundation stone laying ceremony, [Turkey’s] Prime Minister Erdogan went to Aleppo to meet Syria’s leader Bashar Assad. The two leaders discussed the developments in Egypt and Lebanon and pointed out that they will be undertaking joint efforts to meet the demands of the people of Egypt and to restore stability to Lebanon.

Today, we are conducting here in Hatay [province], and will be conducting in a short while across [the border] in Syria’s Idlib city [i.e. province], a very important foundation stone laying ceremony which will literally change the course of the history. In fact, from today onwards, the Orontes River will be transformed from a river that separates us from each other, that draws a borderline between us, into one that joins us together, that enables us to embrace each other. […] Eight years ago we called for a ‘zero problem [policy] with the neighbours’ as we are sincerely believe that to the extent that Syria is peaceful, Turkey will also be equally peaceful; to the extent that Turkey achieves prosperity, Syria will achieve equal prosperity. Because the [course of] history rendered us [two] brotherly nations. […] In fact, 1000 […] years ago, all the nations of this Region, we fought shoulder-to-shoulder [against the Crusades]. […] Not only during the Crusades, but during the following 1000 years we have always been together in these territories, we had fraternity with each other. […] We have always wholeheartedly said “Al-jaar qabla al-dar” [in Arabic], which means “Choose your neighbors before choosing your home”. In fact, today we are fulfilling what this proverb of our ancestors, this heritage of our civilization requires. Together with my brother Assad, with my brother Naji Otri, we elaborated one by one all those artificial problems between Turkey and Syria and started resolving them: We removed visas [respectively], began clearing landmine-ridden territories [on both sides of the border], launched respective train journeys, encouraged bilateral trade [and] mutual tourism. [….] Now Syria is winning, Turkey is winning, peace, friendship and fraternity is winning. […] Everyone should rest assured that peace is the only thing Turkey desires in this Region. […] Turkey and Syria’s friendship over the past 8 years constitutes a role model for the entire Region. […] May this Dam [project] prove to be a symbol of friendship [and] fraternity between us. […] Long live Turkey’s friendship with Syria! [Speech by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Friendship Dam to be built on the Orontes River between Turkey’s border village of Ziyaret (Hatay province) and Syria’s border village of al-Allani (Idlib province), Hatay, 6 February 2011.]

source: Transcribed and translated from a video (in Turkish) of Mr Erdogan’s speech. editorial note: Apart from Prime Minister Erdogan, the following ministers have attended this ceremony: *  Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz and Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin *  Syria’s Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otri, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and Minister of Irrigation George Malki Soumi

Sabah, 7 February 2011

headline: Turkey serves as role model for a solution [in Egypt]

sub-headline: A report by NATO [Defense] College and an analysis in the New York Times both came up with the same conclusion: ‘Turkey should serve as a role model for Egypt’.

sidebar: ‘Lessons must be drawn from what is being experienced [in Egypt]’ Yesterday, [Turkey’s] Prime Minister Erdogan met with Syria’s leader Assad in Aleppo. At the meeting where the developments in Egypt were discussed, Erdogan told Assad “Lessons must be drawn from what is being experienced [in Egypt]”. Assad, in turn, stated that they will expand the reforms [in Syria]. caption (smaller photo at the bottom): An agreement “to undertake joint efforts to meet the expectations of the people of Egypt” was reached during Erdogan’s meeting with Assad at the presidential palace [in Aleppo]. [hyperlinks and emphasis added] editorial note: With hindsight, this front page is highly revealing of the real agenda behind Turkey’s “friendship without borders” discourse. 

Sabah, 26 April 2011

headline: Secret deployment of the CIA chief

sub-headline: In order to evaluate the Arab revolts with Turkey, CIA Director General Leon Panetta has spent five full days in Ankara.

excerpts from: CIA Baskani’ndan ‘cok gizli’ ziyaret [CIA Director’s ‘top secret’ visit]

[emphasis added]

Sabah obtained important details of highly critical consultations held in Ankara at a time when Arab revolts [sic] engulfed Syria as well. The Director of U.S. ‘Central Intelligence Agency’ (CIA) Leon Panetta paid a surprise visit to Ankara at the end of March [2011]. (*) Panetta’s five-day-long visit to Ankara was kept secret from the public opinion. […] Apart from the Director of MIT [i.e. Turkey’s ‘National Intelligence Directorate’] Hakan Fidan Panetta held consultations with the officials from the Government and from the General Staff [of Turkish Armed Forces]. […] [At the meeting], it was concluded that Syria is “at a critical threshold” […] [and] unless Assad takes urgent steps, the country will rapidly fall into civil chaos. Details of what Turkey designates as a “classified” [plan] about Syria were also discussed. It was pointed out that the “classified” [plan] consists of a regime change in Syria and of ensuring life safety of the Assad family. (*) NATO’s covert war on Syria was launched on March 15th, 2011. 

Sabah, 27 April 2011

headline: Plan B for Syria is ready

sub-headline: In the face of the escalation of violence in the neighbouring Syria, Ankara elaborates its “classified” Plan B.

excerpts from: Suriye icin B plani hazir [Plan B for Syria is ready]

[emphasis added]

Turkey, which has warned Syria’s head of state Bashar Assad against using arms on its own people, elaborates its “classified Plan B” in the face of expansion of incidents into a wider area in the country and increasing number of deaths. [Turkey’s] “Plan A” was based on Assad administration remaining in power and on the country’s transition to democracy, whereas “Plan B” entails the possibility of “chaos, civil war and migration in Syria”. “Plan B” will be on the agenda of [Turkey’s] National Security Council meeting tomorrow. […] Describing [a prospective] wave of [Syrian] immigrants [to Turkey] as “intense”, […] [“Plan B”] entails [setting up] pilot hospitals as well as two reception camps in Hatay and one each in Sanliurfa, Kilis and Mardin [border provinces]. editorial note: It is important to bear in mind that the first violent incident in northern Syria occurred 40 days after the publication of this news report: On June 5th, 2011, NATO’s mercenary-terrorists who infiltrated from Turkey’s Hatay province brutally massacred 120 Syrian police officers and soldiers in Jisr al-Shoughour town which is located 14 kilometres from the border. In the same month, Mehmet Ali Ediboglu, the then MP from Hatay province of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), revealed the details of a confidential briefing to Hatay’s top local authorities and bureaucrats held by the then governor of Hatay Celalettin Lekesiz: Expecting an influx of up to 350,000 Syrian “asylum seekers” to Hatay province, the authorities were making preparations to host them between 6 months to 5 years. (source: Siginmacilara is ve ev vaadi iddiasi, SES, 20 June 2011)

Fast forward to February 2016:

If today there is a genuine moderate opposition in Syria, this is thanks to Turkey’s support. If today the Regime is not capable of controlling all of its territories, this is thanks to the support of Turkey and certain other states. […] If we were to launch a military intervention on Syria, who would guarantee that Arab countries will defend and support us? [Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s interview (in Turkish) with al-Jazeera Turk (Turkish edition of al-Jazeera), 23 February 2016]  [emphasis added]

In order to fight against the threats it faces, Turkey reserves the right to launch all sorts of operations it sees necessary within Syria and anywhere terrorist organizations incubate. This has nothing to do with [i.e. does not violate] the sovereignty rights of the states that are incapable of maintaining their territorial integrity. […] It is rather farcical that those who come from another end of the world [i.e. Russia] to defend the bloody-handed Regime under the guise of fighting DAESH try to constrain Turkey within its borders despite all the threats and attacks it has been subjected to. […] When we are in a position of self-defence, whoever comes into our path we will see them as a terrorist and will treat them accordingly. (*)  [Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speech (in Turkish) at an event to celebrate the inclusion of Gaziantep city on the list of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, Ciragan Palace Kempinski hotel, Istanbul, 20 February 2016]  [emphasis added]

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Smart Power and “The Human Rights Industrial Complex”

March 17th, 2016 by Patrick Henningsen

Human rights in the West: does the reality live up to the rhetoric? On the surface, the cultural narrative seems innocent enough: billionaire philanthropists, political luminaries and transnational corporations, along with legions of staff and volunteers – all working together in the name of social justice, forging a better, fairer and more accountable world.

The story reads well on paper, and well it should. After all, the 20th century saw a string of failures by various governments to curb and halt some of the most horrific exhibitions of genocide and crimes against humanity.

The door has been opened for many charities and human rights organizations to play a bigger role in moderating international affairs. Upon more rigorous inspection, however, what emerges is one of the most unfortunate realities of 21st century geopolitics. Though many human rights charities still market themselves as ‘neutral’ and ‘nonpartisan’, the reality is something very different. With public skepticism at an all-time high, the danger is clear: if conflicts of interest are not addressed in a serious way, they threaten to undermine the credibility of the entire non-governmental organization (NGO) sector internationally.

One difficult aspect in analyzing this struggle for ‘perception management’ is that most human rights and aid organizations are staffed and run by good, hard-working and extremely well-educated individuals, many of whom carry out their roles with an altruistic heart and with the best of intentions. For the most part, many remain unaware or uninterested in who actually funds their organisations and what those financial strings mean in terms of the what a given organisation’s stance will be on any range of geopolitical issues or military conflicts. It’s certainly true that over the years, sincere and dedicated campaigning by organisations has helped to free individuals who where unjustly imprisoned and achieved due process and justice for the dispossessed. It’s also true that many of these same organizations have helped to raise awareness on many important social and environmental issues.

Due to increased funding from corporate interests and direct links to government and policy think tanks in recent years, these organisations have become even more politicised, and more closely connected with western ‘agents of influence.’ As a result, an argument can be made that, on many levels, these ‘human rights’ organisations may be contributing to the very problem they profess to be working to abate: causing more suffering, death and instability worldwide through their co-marketing of the foreign policy objectives of Washington, London, Paris and Brussels.

The problem is both systemic and institutional in nature. As a result, many of the western world’s leading human rights organizations based in North America and Europe have become mirror reflections of a western foreign policy agenda and have become virtual clearing houses for interventionist propaganda.

Writer Stephanie McMillan describes the new role of the non governmental organizations in the 21st century:

Along with military invasions and missionaries, NGOs help crack countries open like ripe nuts, paving the way for intensifying waves of exploitation and extraction.

Outsourcing Consensus Building

Shaping western public perception and opinion on major international issues is essential if major world powers are to realise their foreign policy goals. Not surprisingly, we can see that many of the public positions taken by NGOs are exactly aligned with western foreign policy. In the Balkans War of the 1990’s, human rights groups supported partitioning. In the Ukraine in 2014 and with both Syria and Yemen in 2016 they supported regime change. In each instance NGOs function as public relations extension to a United Nations western member Security Council bloc, namely the US, UK and France. This collusion is manifest throughout the upper echelons of these organizations whose streamlined agenda conforms through a lucrative revolving door which exists between a cartel of western NGOs, government and media.

As western governments find themselves more heavily involved in long-term conflicts around the globe, the need to outsource their ethics and morals to NGOs becomes more apparent. Continuity between these symbiotic entities is essential if governments are to successfully frame the geopolitical narratives on which international human rights organizations so often derive their own public relations and fundraising campaigns. Together, all of these things converge to form a highly efficient, functioning alliance which could be described as a type of ‘government-media-human rights’ industrial complex.

Nowhere is this complex more evident than with the United States-led foreign policy towards Syria. By framing the Syrian Conflict (2011 to present) as a “civil war”, both western media and human rights organizations did their part in propping-up an important western foreign policy narrative. Inaccurate and distorted, this narrative has helped shield the US-led clandestine proxy war which has been allowed to carry on almost unimpeded below the surface narrative of western public perception. For mainstream US audiences, if truly known, the reality of Syria might be too much to bear – a US-backed guerrilla war where Washington and Ankara, along with NATO and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies, flooding Turkey and Syria with weapons, cash, equipment, social media teams, military trainers and foreign fighters from as a far away as Pakistan. When analyzed from this wider perspective, very little is ‘civil’ about the Syrian Conflict.

The Human Rights Industry

What was once a 20th century adjunct to an emerging international progressive movement has since mushroomed into a 21st century multi-billion dollar, internationalised ‘third sector’ concern – underwritten by some of the world’s leading transnational corporations. This impressive labyrinth is led by organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Worldwide Human Rights Movement (FIDH). Each of these organisations has well-developed links leading directly into central governments, and perhaps more surprisingly, links leading straight into the heart of the military industrial complex. Safely cloaked under the official guise of ‘charity organisation’, many of these entities push a political agenda and effectively serve as public relations outlets for US and NATO forward military planning.

Working behind the public-facing human rights industrial complex is another key component which helps set the geopolitical agenda. Leading western governmental efforts are the White House and the US State Department. Behind the political facade, however, is where the real work takes place; a myriad of think tanks which serve as an unofficial academic-like support structure for managing policy planning, rolling out grand strategies and other big ideas. Some recognisable names in this industry are the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Brookings Institute, Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and Foreign Policy Initiative (the heir apparent to PNAC). These think tanks and foundations are also referred to as ‘policy mills’ because of their ability to churn-out volumes of policy ‘white papers’, surveys and strategic studies which are then disseminated through various industry journals and at functions, conferences and events in Washington DC and New York City. Certain think tanks, like the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf, were set-up in the 1990’s to push through specific foreign policy objectives – like kick-starting the war in Iraq. Where you find a war, you most certainly will find a think tank advocating behind it.

Follow the Money

To find the common thread between think tanks, foundations and human rights charities, one needs only to follow the money.

Many of these entities receive large portions of their funding from the same sources – transnational corporations. One large contributor of annual funding for human rights organisations, including HRW, is Wall Street billionaire George Soros, through his NGO the Open Society Institute. Other human rights organisations like FIDH which draw together some 178 organizations from 120 countries, receives funding from the US State Department by way of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Here we have a direct financial link which forms a ring connecting western governments, NGOs and charities.

One can argue, and successfully, that this nexus ensures that the output, ideas and marketing messages of each leg of a human rights campaign conforms to western foreign policy language and objectives.

Smart Power: Formerly of the US State Dept., now an NGO luminary, Suzanne Nossel

Washington’s HR Revolving Door

It’s no secret that a revolving door exists between the US State Department and many of the western world’s leading human rights organisations. That relationship can be gleaned from this CFR policy paper which states:

To advance from a nuanced dissent to a compelling vision, progressive policymakers should turn to the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism, which posits that a global system of stable liberal democracies would be less prone to war … Washington, the theory goes, should thus offer assertive leadership – diplomatic, economic, and not least, military – to advance a broad array of goals: self-determination, human rights, free trade, the rule of law, economic development, and the quarantine and elimination of dictators and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

That passage, taken in the context of the Syrian conflict, reveals a stark picture of how Washington really works. It was written by Suzanne Nossel, one of Washington’s most high-profile humanitarian advocates who managed to transition seamlessly from her position as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organisations at the US State Department – directly into an executive director position at Amnesty International USA in 2012. Prior to the State Dept., Nossel was also served as chief operating officer for Human Rights Watch, vice president of strategy and operations at the Wall Street Journal and a media and communications consultant to CFR founding corporate member, law firm McKinsey & Company.

Here we see a powerful public relations resumé, combined with established links to Washington’s foreign policy core, and at a time where multiple Middle Eastern nations states, like Libya and Syria, were being forced into submission under the yoke of US-led international pressure. Projecting Washington’s preferred narrative is paramount in this multilateral effort and Nossel would be a key bridge in helping to project US foreign policy messaging internationally through top tier NGO Amnesty.

2012 Amnesty International USA PR campaign.

Around this time, Amnesty USA launched a new PR campaign aimed at millennials and selling the following geopolitical narrative: “NO MORE EXCUSES: Russia has vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions while continually supplying arms, causing the violence to worsen.”

This digital and print campaign was also backed by rallies and other live events used to promote their anti-Russia and Anti-Syria PR effort. At one event in 2012, young school children in Nepal could be seen holding up signs that read, “Russia: Stop Arms Transfer to Syria!”.

When you consider its mirror reflection of foreign policy lines emanating from the US State Dept., it’s easy to see how this catchy slogan had little if anything to do with human rights, but but could easily be viewed as trying to isolate both the Russian and Syrian governments geopolitically.

In truth, Amnesty’s narrative was a complete inversion: while attempting to lay the blame on Russia as being responsible for the escalation and sustained violence in Syria, the country was being over-run by tens of thousands of foreign terrorist militants, illegally trafficked weapons, along with CIA and other foreign assets, as part of the wider US-led Coalition presently waging a proxy war in Syria.

Soft Power vs Smart Power

Despite its foreign policy aspirations, the West still needs public opinion backing for any military action. While the public are none the wiser, blinded by the fog of mass media coverage and bombarded with faux moral imperatives and ‘ticking bomb’ style scenarios demanding that, “we must act now to save innocent lives” – soft power agents have provided the crucial communication bridge for most interventions.

Both media and NGOs fall under the classification of ‘soft power’, and it is this soft power complex which provides the soft cushion upon which soft-sounding foreign policies like “humanitarian intervention” and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) can comfortably rest on in western discourse. In reality, these foreign policies are anything but soft, and in the absence of declaring war between nation states – these policies now serve as the tip of an imperialist spear. If you surveyed any of the millions of Middle Eastern residents on the receiving end of the west’s recent humanitarian interventions they will tell you it was anything but soft – especially for the people living in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Yugoslavia and Iraq.

Inside Washington’s inner sanctum, ‘soft power’ has given way to Smart Power. Indeed, it was Susan Nossel who coined the term “Smart Power” while working alongside US humanitarian hawks like Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and Susan Rice, and also with Washington’s lesser known Atrocity Prevention Board, all of whom worked to successfully implement this new range of intervention marketing concepts including humanitarian intervention and R2P.

In this age of professionally staged colour revolutions and ‘Arab Springs’, and wars fought by proxies and front organizations – vaunted human rights organisations should really acknowledge that there are nation-states and central governments who are not long for this world, and who are literally fighting for their survival. Governments who find themselves under the western hammer cannot always afford the luxury of settling internal disputes nicely, or putting down armed rebel factions and terrorists with all affordable due process. If these rebels or terrorists are western-backed, or GCC-backed, then this condition becomes more acute. Certainly, the United States and its NATO allies, or Israel for that matter, do not afford such civility for any of its victims of collateral damage’ or during a protracted ‘humanitarian intervention’.

‘Agents of Change’ & Emotive Appeals

By now, it’s also a well-documented fact that America’s CIA and Pentagon intelligence departments have used an array of charities, aid organisations, and even religious missionary organisations as fronts for conducting espionage overseas, and with the prime directive of to further foreign policy objectives.

In recent years, however, under the banner of ‘human rights’, the US has developed some new and innovative methods of intelligence gathering and achieving an increased military footprint in new countries.

To reach these objectives, western governments enlist ‘change agents’.

No story serves as a better example of how a human rights organisation can be applied as a sharp tool of foreign policy than Kony 2012, described by the Atlantic Magazine as a viral video campaign which “reinforces a dangerous, centuries-old idea that Africans are helpless and that idealistic Westerners must save them.”

As viral social media campaigns go, Kony 2012 set a new standard for speed and efficiency in penetrating the western youth market. This effort was not with out help from mainstream corporate media in the US, and also from the US government in Washington DC.

Here, soft power was applied in order to manufacture public consent through an emotive public appeal which was eventually exposed as a gross distortion of reality. In this case, the antagonist was the illusive warlord Joseph Kony, leader of the Lords Resistance Army. According to their campaign, if the president could send a military force to “find Kony”, then many children would be saved in the process.

The only problem was that no one had actually seen Kony in over 6 years, with rumors abound that Kony may even have died years earlier. This did not deter the campaign though, as organisers pressed ahead, raising millions along the way. The human rights charity which fronted the project, Invisible Children, actually targeted their viral campaign and fundraising drive at under aged American school children, and even drafted primary school students to raise money on the charity’s behalf. In the end, the project collapsed, but the ultimate objective was achieved: culminating with a successful public relations event and photo opportunity at the White House, and under cover of the Kony 2012 media campaign – President Barack Obama publicly deployed US military assets to Uganda under an expansion of US AFRICOM operations in Africa.

Trapped inside their own ideological controlled environment where every decision is a virtual fait accompli, western media and government officials will routinely refer to the human rights industry in order to provide a necessary moral back-stop for any foreign policy objective. This same practice is also repeated by the United Nations too, which often cites the very same statistics and reports used by Washington to back-up its foreign policy moves.

Independent human rights activist Rick Sterling explains this all too familiar cycle in today’s international affairs:

There is a pattern of sensational but untrue reports that lead to public acceptance of US and Western military intervention in countries around the world: In Gulf War 1, there were reports of Iraqi troops stealing incubators from Kuwait, leaving babies to die on the cold floor. Relying on the testimony of a Red Crescent doctor, Amnesty International ‘verified’ the false claims. Ten years later, there were reports of ‘yellow cake uranium’ going to Iraq for development of weapons of mass destruction. One decade later, there were reports of Libyan soldiers ‘drugged on Viagra and raping women as they advanced.’ In 2012, NBC broadcaster Richard Engel was supposedly kidnapped by ‘pro-Assad Syrian militia’ but luckily freed by Syrian opposition fighters, the “Free Syrian Army”. All these reports were later confirmed to be fabrications and lies. They all had the goal of manipulating public opinion and they all succeeded in one way or another. Despite the consequences, which were often disastrous, none of the perpetrators were punished or paid any price.

Strange Bedfellows: NATO, Amnesty and HRW

It’s no coincidence that nearly every foreign policy front the US State Department has prioritised is mirrored by Amnesty International USA. The US State Department together with the Pentagon, will also utilise social justice issues in order to advance a foreign policy objective. The most potent of these has to be gender identity politics, seen through the western lens as “woman’s rights”. By projecting this issue on to a non-favoured’ nation, western war planners can quickly construct an important leg in foreign policy messaging.

In 2012, Amnesty International USA ran a national billboard campaign with images depicting Afghan women and girls, accompanied by the slogan: “NATO: Keep the Progress Going.” Not surprisingly, at this same moment, western media were referring to NATO’s military operation in Afghanistan as “the first feminist war.” In its totality, this is one example of near perfect streamlined marketing campaign which tied together all branches of the interventionist network – the US State Department, the Pentagon, the mainstream media and Amnesty International. This cynical attempt to manipulate public opinion by Amnesty International, on behalf of the Pentagon and Brussels, could be traced back to one Amnesty patron, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who in the 1990’s, famously remarked, “We think the price is worth it,” referring to the death of a half million Iraqi children as a result of crippling US economic sanctions.

In early 2015, Ken Roth, Director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted out an aerial image purporting to be from Kobane, Syria, showing a neighborhood reduced to rubble which he described as, “a drone’s eye tour of what Assad’s barrel bombs have done to Aleppo.” It turned out that Roth’s tweet was a forgery. The image he used was actually taken from Gaza the previous summer, showing the destruction of Palestinian neighborhoods at the hands of Israel’s IDF. This was another example of slipshod propaganda disseminated by high profile human right organization – expressly designed to demonise a foreign government that Washington nation builders are seeking to overthrow. It’s no surprise then that HRW would also appoint CIA operative Miguel Diaz to serve on its advisory board, or that Javier Solana, former Secretary General of NATO and architect of the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia (a war which HRW itself condemned in 2000) also serves on HRW’s board of directors.

Beyond the slick marketing and celebrity endorsements, in all actuality HRW is nothing more than a Cold War era propaganda relic which has been retrofitted to serve a 21st century Atlanticist geopolitical agenda. According to Washington DC-based transparency advocate Keane Bhatt, “HRW was originally called Helsinki Watch. It was created in 1978 during the Cold War to scrutinize and criticize the crimes that were being committed by the USSR and its allies. That Cold War ideology has long played a role in the kinds of priorities and advocacy that HRW engages in”.

Syria’s NGO Kaleidoscope

One of the most egregious examples of a NGO being used to reinforce a US-led geopolitical narrative is the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), created in 2006. Beyond the grandiose name, this ‘organisation’ is basically a one-man show which until recently, was run out of a one bedroom apartment in Coventry, England. SOHR is run by a Syrian dissident named Osama Ali Suleiman, commonly known in the media as “Rahmi Abdul Rahman”. The SOHR has played the key role in developing the all-important “facts on the ground” story for the Washington-London-Paris Axis seeking to topple the government in Damascus through its stoic policy of ‘regime change’ in Syria. When it comes to ‘official’ death toll numbers out of Syria, almost every mainstream report in the US and Europe has cited the SOHR as its data source with hardly a passing thought as to either the accuracy or the credibility of its numbers, and under which category death tolls are counted.

Despite the fact that the SOHR is closely affiliated with the US and UK-backed Syrian opposition, its data sets will often include casualty figures of ‘rebel forces’ (which will often include known foreign terrorist fighters) within its civilian casualty figures. These dubious figures are also used by a number of UN agencies, as well as leading human right organisations. Similarly, US, UK and European officials will frequently attribute a figure of 250,000 ‘Syrian deaths’ to civilians killed by “the regime” embodied by President Bashar al Assad. One week, a western official will quote a number of 150,000, and the next week it will be 350,000. As a result, most mainstream reports of Syria’s casualty figures are rife with bias and methodological inconsistencies, and as a result no one really seems to know the real figure. The larger the number, the more passionate the plea for western military intervention. Even the Council of the Foreign Relations is on record stating that the numbers being cited by the likes of John McCain simply don’t add up. Micah Zenko and Amelia M. Wolf of the CFR admitted in 2014 that, “most of the reported deaths in Syria have not been committed by forces under Bashar al-Assad’s command.” Meanwhile, western media, politicians and human rights organisations routinely ignore the fact that over 100,000 deaths since 2011 have been Syrian Army and Security personnel killed by foreign-backed militants and terrorists. Zenko later added that, “the types of interventions that proponents have endorsed for Syria … have almost nothing to do with how Syrian non-combatants are actually being killed.”

While the Syrian Conflict is a messy and tragic affair, with brutality and violence affecting every side of the fighting, readers should note exactly how this subtle, yet relentless western campaign of disinformation feeds neatly into the western policy of regime change embodied in the rhetorical demand that “Assad must go.” John Glaser from Antiwar.com adds here:

A common policy proposal to mitigate the mass suffering in Syria is for the U.S. to help the rebels and undermine the Assad regime, a scheme that just becomes ludicrous after looking at the data.

It should also be noted that the SOHR receives its funding directly from the EU, and also enjoys substantial support from the British Foreign Office – both of whom are actively seeking to overthrow the government in Syria through guerrilla proxies. At the very least this could be described as a conflict of interest. The SOHR is hardly ‘non partisan’ and more likely to be used as a tool to manufacture consensus for humanitarian intervention in Syria.

Intervention Digital Marketing

They say that ‘the road to tyranny is paved with good intentions’. That old adage couldn’t be more true today, despite all of our seemingly wonderful internet tools and ‘activist’ platforms online.

A key set piece in any nation building or humanitarian intervention is the ‘No Fly Zone’. Made famous during NATO’s Balkans War in Yugoslavia, the US-led Gulf Wars for Iraq, and later with NATO Libya, securing a No Fly Zone is essential for dictating the terms and conditions of any interventionalist program. The term has since developed an elastic quality and has been subtly altered into what many now refer to a “Safe Zone”, the idea being that by securing the skies above with western air power, the people below will be ‘safe.’

However, it’s still become a hard-sell because of negative connotations associated with past unpopular operation that have been viewed western wars of aggression. New technology is needed in order to repackage and market this damaged brand.

The internet and social networking have provided just that, where a myriad of social networking online petition web portals have been launched in recent years, the most prominent of which is the online organization Avaaz.org was co-founded in 2007 by Res Publica and moveon.org, and whose funding sources include the George Soros’ Open Society umbrella foundation network. Key founders and players include Tom Perriello, Ricken Patel, Tom Pravda, Jeremy Heimans, David Madden, Eli Pariser and Andrea Woodhouse, each of whom have working relationships with the UN and World Bank, and coordinate with US-controlled institutions like the UN Security Council and UN Human Rights Council.

According to the Avaaz website, their mission is to “organise citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want.”

Non-profit Avaaz works closely with its for-profit arm, New York City-based PR firm Purpose, which refers to itself as a “proud public benefit corporation.”

It is important to understand that by their own admission, these organizations are not meant to be purely altruistic, but rather are enterprise businesses. In her article entitled “The Rise of the Movement Entrepreneur and its Impact on Business”, writer Allison Goldberg explains the ‘big idea’ which is used a wrapping for their self-styled social license:

The rise of new technology has drastically lowered the barrier to movement creation while providing an alternative to established institutions, formerly seen as the route to reform. Instead of relying on government bodies or other established organizations often weighed down by bureaucracy, entrepreneurs are utilizing the power of social media to mobilize the masses in favor of large-scale change. As a result, organizations have arisen such as Avaaz.org, which defines itself as “the campaigning community bringing people-powered politics to decision-making worldwide.” Avaaz now boasts seven million members worldwide.

Together, Avaaz and Purpose create the language and the online consensus-building tools. While maintaining the illusion of grassroots activists advocating for human rights, the core function of their public relations campaigns are outcome-based, or to help herd public opinion in order to provide a pretext for multilateral institutions like the the IMF and NATO to implement programs like economic sanctions, or  military intervention.

One of the Avaaz ‘Safe Zone’ campaigns for Syria in 2012-2013

In 2012 and 2013, Avaaz campaigns featured a number of large online petitions which demanded that international bodies (like the UN) send “3,000 international monitors” into the country, and that Western military powers (like NATO) impose a ‘No-Fly Zone’ over the entire country in order to “save innocent lives.” One petion read as follows:

To the Arab League, European Union, United States, and Friends of Syria: As global citizens, we call on you to take immediate action to stop the deadly terror in Syria. Enough is enough. We ask you to immediately demand a ceasefire to stop the bloodshed so that parties can come to the negotiating table to agree on a way forward. Until a ceasefire is reached, we call on you to work together and with the international community to enforce a no fly zone to stop the bombardment of Syria’s civilians and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those most in need.

Again, another NGO public relations messaging campaign mirroring foreign policy planks from the US State Department and Washington’s defense community.

On Avaaz’s website you can often find a number of sensational claims. During their No-Fly-Zone campaign cycle this statement appeared:

The Syrian air force just dropped chlorine gas bombs on children. Their little bodies gasped for air on hospital stretchers as medics held back tears, and watched as they suffocated to death.

Unfortunately, the incident in question never actually happened.

Rick Sterling explains:

Many well-intentioned but naive members of the U.S. and international public are again being duped into signing an Avaaz petition based on fraud and misinformation. If the campaign succeeds in leading to a No Fly Zone in Syria, it will result in vastly increased war, mayhem and bloodshed.

The following illustration outlines to sequence of events that eventually lead to Avaaz calling for a ‘No Fly Zone’ in Syria.

One organization championed in Avaaz marketing campaigns is a ‘neutral’ organization called the Syrian Civil Defense also known as the ‘White Helmets‘.

Writer Vanessa Beeley explains the all-too familiar funding sources for the White Helmets in her article entitled, Syria’s White Helmets: War by Way of Deception – Part I:

The White Helmets were established in March 2013, in Istanbul, Turkey, and is headed by James Le Mesurier, a British “security” specialist and ‘ex’-British military intelligence officer with an impressive track record in some of the most dubious NATO intervention theatres including Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. Le Mesurier is a product of Britain’s elite Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, and has also been placed in a series of high-profile pasts at the United Nations, European Union, and U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The origins of The White Helmet’s initial $300k seed funding is a little hazy, reports are contradictory but subsequent information leads us to conclude that the UK, US and the ‘Syrian opposition’ (or Syrian National Council, parallel government backed an funded by the US, UK and allies) are connected. Logistical support has been provided and given by Turkish elite natural disaster response team, AKUT. A further $13 million was poured into the White Helmet coffers during 2013 and this is where it gets interesting. Early reports suggest that these “donations” came from the US, UK and SNC with the previously explored connections to George Soros in the US. However, subsequent investigations reveal that USAID has been a major shareholder in the White Helmet organisation. The website for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) claims that, “our work supports long-term and equitable economic growth and advances U.S. foreign policy objectives by supporting: economic growth, agriculture and trade; global health; and, democracy, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance.” In a USAID report update in July 2015 it is clearly stated that they have supplied over $ 16m in assistance to the White Helmets.

Regarding USAID, Beeley adds that:

The USAID track record as a primary US Government/CIA regime change facilitator is extensively documented. From South America to the Ukraine and in the Middle East, USAID serve a malevolent and ultimately destructive role in the dismantling of sovereign nations and their reduction to western hegemony vassal states, as always, all in the name of freedom and democracy.

Even more crucial in this case, is evidence that links the White Helmets to militant fighting groups in Syria, including al Nusra Front (al Qaeda in Syria). While this does not prove anything beyond association between members of both organizations, it’s significant when one considers that both organizations are receiving material and financial support from the same member nations of the US-led Coalition.

Geopolitically Correct

For all practical purposes, as a moral and ethical tenet, ‘human rights’ is an anomaly in any western military action.

How one frames a story determines its thesis. In the 21st century, the concept of human rights has been weaponised, pointed at nonaligned and independent nation-states who are seen as obstacles to American and European market-makers and nation builders. A number of target states not geopolitically aligned with the US, NATO or the GCC, are yet to be absorbed, seduced, conquered, or as in the case of Libya, completely collapsed, or in the case of Syria – completely dismembered. These include states listed by former US General and NATO Supreme Commander, Wesley Clark, in his Commonwealth Club speech in San Francisco in 2007. During the event, Clark intimated a conversation he had after a classified defense briefing where a Pentagon source had told him weeks after 9/11 of the Pentagon’s plan to attack Iraq, as well as a “coup” being plotted by Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz along with “a half dozen other collaborators from the Project for the New American Century”. According to Clark, his told him about seven countries which were slated for overthrow: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.

It should also be noted that both Wesley Clark and George Soros serve on the board of trustees of The International Crisis Group.

For any of these unlucky states, a sustained US or ‘Coalition’ military campaign means that a nation can be under attack 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and yet, that nation and its residents are given no quarter by western human rights organizations, governments or media. A perfect example of this is Saudi Arabia’s highly illegal undeclared war of aggression against its neighbor Yemen which began in the spring of 2015.

It’s worth noting here, that despite its own hotly contested human rights record, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was somehow managed to get elected to the UN’s prestigious Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Evidence suggests that this appointment was facilitated in part by British officials as part of a larger quid pro quo arrangement. According to classified Saudi foreign ministry files that were passed to Wikileaks in June 2015, and translated by Geneva-based UN Watch and revealed how UK initiated the secret negotiations by asking Saudi Arabia for its support. Eventually, both countries were elected to the 47 member state UNHRC. The following passage from the leaked cables reveals how a clear deal was struck:

The ministry might find it an opportunity to exchange support with the United Kingdom, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would support the candidacy of the United Kingdom to the membership of the council for the period 2014-2015 in exchange for the support of the United Kingdom to the candidacy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

According to The Guardian another cable revealed a Saudi Arabia transfer of $100,000 for “expenditures resulting from the campaign to nominate the Kingdom for membership of the human rights council for the period 2014-2016”. At the time of their report, no one knows how this money was spent.

In addition, it was later shown that Saudi Arabia pledged $1 million to UNHRC prior to winning the its seat. Then rather amazingly (or not), in the fall of 2015, the UN appointed Saudi as Chair of the UNHRC.

When pressed on the matter, a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said, “as is standard practice with all members, we never reveal our voting intentions or the way we vote.”

This was followed by a standard, throwaway PR platitude:

The British government strongly promotes human rights around the world and we raise our human rights concerns with the Saudi Arabian authorities.

While its commendable that Saudi officials would want to take a leading role in advocating for international human rights, one cannot ignore the political hypocrisy at play considering Riyadh’s own soiled laundry regarding this issue which includes, among other items, the sanctioning of more than a 150 beheadings in 2015 – a number believed to be even higher than Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS).

To make matters worse, the controversial Saudi appointment also took place amid the a new diplomatic row over a lucrative UK prison building contract in the Kingdom and the proposed execution of 17 year old Shia student activist, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was sentenced to ‘death by crucifixion’ for joining an anti-government demonstration.

Consider the amount of political and media campaigning against the government of Syria over numerous and largely unfounded allegations, where an international network comprised of the US State Department, UK Foreign Office, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) lobby, HRW and humanitarian interventionist luminaries are all backing a policy of regime change in Syria – and then contrast this with Saudi Arabia’s proven record on human rights and abuse of power. It’s impossible not to see the double standard.

As far as the Western political establishment are concerned, if there are any human rights violations or any local casualties mounting in one of its many dirty wars, geopolitical correctness dictates that these are either ignored or neatly filed away as an inconvenient consequence of America’s ‘national security’ or an unfortunate byproduct “collateral damage” along the road to international progress, peace and prosperity (democracy). Because it crosses swords with the US State Department, or NATO HQ, pubic pressure by humanitarian organizations like HRW and Amnesty USA is relatively nonexistent.

Outside of the theater of combat, the international community is also faced with the inconvenient dilemma of illegal detentions of supposed ‘enemy combatants’, ‘enhanced interrogation’ (torture) and ‘extrajudicial killings’ (assassinations). These are the politically correct terms for the age of western militarisation.

Again, because of “bad optics” in Washington DC very little attention or pressure is applied by marquee international human rights charities.

The human rights industry also has its own politically correct lexicon and identifiers like ‘defectors’, ‘detainees’, ‘activists’ and a new emerging category of ‘activist-journalists’. Sometimes these terms can be accurate, but in a war theater like Syria, they are often euphemisms for actors in full spectrum information warfare. In the case of Syria, this information warfare is designed to embolden a foreign-backed opposition, but more importantly, to apply sustained public relations pressure towards an end goal of regime change.

The WMD Ritual

Conjuring a ‘WMD’ subplot in order to trigger a humanitarian intervention has become commonplace in western foreign policy. After being exposed as a momentous lie in Iraq in 2003, this set-back did not stop Washington from aggressively  pursuing the same narrative in Syria in 2013. Fortunately, the Syrian WMD narrative collapsed in the aftermath of a failed false flag Sarin gas attack that turned out to be orchestrated by US Coalition-backed ‘moderate’ rebels52. It was hardly a coincidence then to discover that HRW was the NGO tasked with providing the ‘smoking gun’ Washington and London needed to make their R2P case in August 2013.

Elizabeth Palmer reported for CBS News at the time, “on Tuesday, the group Human Rights Watch issued a report that said evidence strongly implies that Syrian government troops’ firing of rockets containing a nerve agent into a Damascus suburb on August 21 that the U.S. said killed over 1,400 people.” In the end, this turned out to be another epic lie.

While the US-led ‘Coalition’ is quick to seize upon spurious WMD narratives against its geopolitical targets, it will routinely ignore common Geneva Convention violations like Israel’s use of deadly white phosphorous in Gaza, the use of depleted uranium munitions by American military units in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabian cluster bombs being dropped on Yemeni civilians.

Western Institutionalised Bias

Wars, whether conventional or covert, are a dirty business.

One argument that the western human rights industry judicially avoids is that an armed opposition cannot rightly be classified as a ‘political opposition’, so long as it is armed. This could certainly be the case in Syria. Syrian president Assad explained this dilemma during his 2015 interview with CBS News anchor Charlie Rose, stating that “whenever you hold a gun, and kill people, and destroy public buildings, destroy private properties, that’s terrorism.”

Although most foreign policy officials in Washington DC would beg to differ, especially if the opposition in question is receiving weapons, cash or logistical support from the US or its allies. Assad futher clarifies the position and also exposes the fallacy in western rhetoric, explaining:

The word opposition, everywhere in the world, including your country, is a political opposition. Do you have military opposition in the United States? Would you accept it? You wouldn’t, and we wouldn’t. No-one accepts military opposition.

During his speech at Columbia University in 2006, Australian journalist and filmmaker John Pilger explained:

The oldest cliché is that truth is the first casualty of war. I disagree. Journalism is the first casualty. Not only that: it has become a weapon of war, a virulent censorship that goes unrecognized in the United States, Britain, and other democracies; censorship by omission, whose power is such that, in war, it can mean the difference between life and death for people in faraway countries.

Pilger’s reference can especially be applied to the institutional media bias that has underpinned the long running international war which the Middle East and Central Asia finds itself currently embroiled in. Some might argue that even if western human rights organisations could somehow be cured of their systemic bias towards Washington and CFR foreign policy narratives –  their needs to be an overhaul in defining the concept and the context of what ‘human rights’ are in real terms. A fresh look needs to take into account a level of western subterfuge which maybe western politicians and media are not yet ready  to acknowledge.

In Conclusion

Indeed, it was ‘human rights’ campaigning which led directly to the illegal bombing of Libya (NATO’s aggressive bombing campaign in Libya was not authorized in the UNSC Resolution 1973 which only called for a ‘No-Fly Zone’, and should therefore be considered illegal under international law), where the West’s sole intent was to topple the government of Muammar Gaddafi. Regrettably, thousands of innocent civilians died in the process and the nation state of Libya quickly collapsed, separating into sub-regional, tribal and lawless militant enclaves.

The lesson of Libya was stark. The world should have taken note, but unfortunately it did not. Instead, onlookers saw then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, when asked during a CBS News interview about the removal of the Libyan president, could only cackle and laughingly joke, “we came, we saw, he died.”

Is this the new tone of humanitarianism?

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch regularly solicit support from Hollywood celebrities and international recording artists, and spend millions of dollars per year producing films which depict situations around the world through their own political lens. To date, they have yet to produce a film showing the other unsavory side of the ‘rebel insurgency’ in Syria. Is this because that might undermine the entire US and NATO member foreign policy?

The public and private sponsors of NGO’s like HRW and Amnesty have invested, not donated, hundreds of millions collectively into these organisations so that they can portray world events in such a way that will enable their own corporate aspirations to be met. No matter how idealistic the rhetoric might sound coming from leading human rights organisations, the money could stop flowing if they discontinued manufacturing consent for wars.

This also raises the question of whether or not a non-governmental organisation that champions the issue of human rights can remain apolitical – as many such organizations claim to be. What would happen should such an organisation dare to adopt a truly righteous geopolitical (not political) stance advocating opposition to destructive western imperialist policies? Would western governments move to withdraw their 501c3 or tax exempt status which allows these charities to maintain their viability as a nonprofit organisation?

Once again, if conflicts of interest and revolving doors between government and charities are not properly addressed, it could eventually undermine the integrity of the entire NGO sector internationally. Corruption at the top of the pyramid also threatens to damage countless other small to medium sized organisations who do not have access to the US State Department or Hollywood, but who are still performing important services and engaged in real civic aid projects.

For human right organisations to be in lock-step with the US State Department, or hiring military operatives as board members and chief executives, is simply inexcusable by any social standard.

If the international community is to advance beyond defunct neocolonialist paradigms, it will need to place compassion ahead of policy, and humanity ahead of profits. Only then can the reality live up to the rhetoric.

 Patrick Henningsen is founder and editor of the news and analysis website 21st Century Wire, and is an independent foreign and political affairs analyst for RT International. He is also the host of the SUNDAY WIRE radio program which airs live every Sunday on the Alternate Current Radio Network. Find out more at: www.patrickhenningsen.com

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Urgent: Mumia Abu-Jamal is Incredibly Sick

March 17th, 2016 by Prison Radio

We are concerned about Mumia’s deteriorating health, as has been witnessed in recent weeks by his visiting doctor, clergy, counselors, teachers, family and friends.

Evidence of intensifying hepatitis C symptoms and possible development of the diabetes that nearly killed him a year ago calls for immediate and appropriate treatment.

Help Mumia’s lawyers prepare to demand access to Mumia’s medical records from court!

Sign the Petition now to demand Mumia’s right to life-saving hepatitis C care.

Call, fax and email with the following demands: 

  • Immediate provision to Mumia of anti-viral treatment to cure his Hepatitis C condition that is, as his doctor testified in court, the persistent cause of worsening skin disease, almost certain liver damage, now extreme weight-gain and hunger, and other diabetic-like conditions.
  • Immediate release of all recent blood test results to Mumia’s attorneys.
  • Vigilant monitoring of Mumia for signs of diabetes, especially of his blood sugar level, since a diabetes attack nearly killed Mumia last Spring of 2015.

Tom Wolf, PA Governor 
Phone  717-787-2500
Fax 717-772-8284                                            
Email [email protected]

John Wetzel, PA Department of Corrections Secretary
Phone:  717-728-2573717 787 2500
Email:  [email protected]

Theresa DelBalso, SCI Mahanoy Prison Superintendent
Phone: 570-773-2158

Dr. Paul Noel, Director of Medical Care at the PA Dept of Corrections
Phone:  717-728-5309 x 5312
Email:  [email protected]

Dr. Carl Keldie, Chief Medical Officer of Correct Care Solutions
Phone:  800-592-2974 x 5783

Sign the Petition now to demand Mumia’s right to life-saving hepatitis C care.

Help Mumia’s lawyers prepare to demand access to Mumia’s medical records from court!

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Five years after Japan’s natural and nuclear disasters of March 11, 2011 (3-11), few observers can find a positive legacy among the irradiated ruins. Fukushima rightly remains an icon of the folly of building fragile large-scale power and other lifeline systems in the face of patent threats. Indeed, Japan has become a byword for failure, whether at Fukushima or in its “Abenomics” growth strategy.

But in point of fact, 3-11 has made Japan a world leader in building resilience – in critical energy, water, transport and other lifeline infrastructures – against increasingly frequent disasters confronting Japan, the Asia-Pacific and the world. Though little known, even in specialist circles, Japan’s deeply institutionalized and well-funded programme of “National Resilience” (kokudo kyoujinka) is far more advanced than its counterpart initiatives in North America, the EU and elsewhere. As we shall see below, Japan’s resilience programme, including both public and private sector spending, totaled over JPY 24 trillion (USD 210 billion) in 2013 and is projected to grow dramatically by 2020. Moreover, Japan’s disaster resilience centres on renewable energy, storage and efficiency, and has become a core element of Abenomics.

Japan’s National Resilience

First, let us present the evidence. The governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politicians and disaster-resilience technocrats in the Cabinet Secretariat’s National Resilience Council (hereafter, NRC)1, the Association for Resilience Japan (hereafter, ARJ)2, and other new institutions are building an economic paradigm based on National Resilience. As part of the resilience project, the NRC undertook a survey of private-sector firms’ current and projected spending in late 2015. The survey determined that private-sector spending on resilience was about JPY 11.9 trillion (USD 105 billion) in 2013. That total can be broken down into “core” market segments (goods and services) that are directly focused on resilience, and “related” market segments (again, goods and services) that address aspects of resilience. The survey found that the core markets totaled roughly JPY 8 trillion (USD 71 billion) and the related markets a further JPY 4 trillion (USD 35 billion). (Note that as of this writing, JPY 1 trillion=USD 8.78 billion.)

The NRC’s analysis also estimated that the core and related markets would likely double in size by 2020.3 As can be seen in the figure “Japan’s Private-Sector Spending in Core and Related Resilience Markets, 2013-2020,” the three biggest (core and related) sectors are:

1) electric vehicles, at JPY 2.6 trillion in 2013 and projected to be JPY 6.13 trillion in 2020

2) renewable energy (solar), at JPY 2.26 trillion in 2013 and JPY 3.88 trillion in 2020 (high estimate)

3) power generation and transmission bolstering, JPY 958 billion in 2013 and JPY 1.02 trillion in 2020

The figure shows that if one excludes electric vehicles and other “related” market segments, then renewable energy is the largest market in Japan’s private-sector spending. And renewable energy-related spending is even larger than the solar numbers indicate. This is because the JPY 2.26 trillion spent on solar systems in 2013 was accompanied by JPY 59.5 billion on biomass, JPY 23.5 billion on geothermal, and JPY 22.3 billion on wind power, for a total of JPY 2.37 trillion on renewable energy generation systems. In addition, batteries and other energy storage equipment totaled just over JPY 103 billion, while efficiency-enhancing energy management systems amounted to just under JPY 334 billion.

Moreover, using the NRC’s high estimate of JPY 3.88 trillion for the solar market in 2020, Japan’s total resilience-centred renewable market is projected to increase to JPY 4.04 trillion by 2020. In addition, the markets for batteries and other storage equipment are slated to expand to JPY 469 billion. And spending on energy management systems is expected to grow to just under JPY 570 billion.

In other words, Japan’s total private-sector investment in disaster-resilient renewable energy, storage and energy management is estimated to be a JPY 4.92 trillion market by 2020. That figure is likely to be an underestimate, in light of global trends, but even so it is an impressive increase from the JPY 2.81 trillion in 2013. Note also that the NRC also projects that the core market in National Resilience will total between JPY 11.8 and 13.5 trillion in 2020. Thus, renewable energy generation, storage and management are estimated to be between 36% to 42% of core markets in Japan’s private-sector expenditures on National Resilience by 2020.

The NRC’s documents also reveal that public-sector spending on National Resilience totaled JPY 12.4 trillion in 2013, or slightly more than the JPY 11.9 trillion in private sector investment. Much of the public-sector investment was also devoted to renewable-energy generation, transmission and storage, in Japan’s profusion of smart communities, disaster-relief shelters, and other applications.4 It is therefore clear that in post 3-11 Japan, building resilience in both the public and private sectors has become explicitly and powerfully linked to renewable energy systems and their enabling storage and transmission technologies. Indeed, Furuya Keiji, the LDP’s first cabinet minister of National Resilience and Disaster Reduction (2012-2014) devoted an entire section of his June 2014 book on National Resilience to renewable energy.5

Returning to the attached figure on private-sector National Resilience spending, we can see that other core markets include earthquake-proofing of building and equipment, reinforcement of transport systems (roads and railroads), disaster-relief robotics, communications resilience, and training of specialist leadership. In addition to electric vehicles, the related markets include insurance, information security, and the linear bullet train (in development). It is debatable that the latter will bolster disaster resilience, but the LDP’s rationale for including it is that it encourages the distribution of people and facilities away from the undeniably excessive over-concentration of population and core business and government functions in Metropolitan Tokyo, perhaps the most disaster-threatened megacity on the planet.6 In any event, apart from the linear bullet train and several roads and seawalls, most of the rest of the investment does appear likely to increase resilience in the face of disasters and other patent threats (such as cyber-attack or supply shocks of energy and other materials).

Fiji After Cyclone Winston

Miami experiencing climate change

Moreover, Japan’s public- and private-sector investments in resilient infrastructures and services could lead to significant export sales. One reason is irrefutable local evidence of climate threats. The evidence includes such phenomena as the unprecedentedly large Cyclone Winston that hit Fiji on February 20 this year. Winston killed 40 and left 350,000 (40% of the population) in need, including 250,000 who lack access to water and sanitation and 112,800 in need of shelter.7 Other evidence includes sea-level rise, such as that affecting the cities in Florida that are desperate to get the attention of Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and the other denialist Republican candidates for the Presidential nomination. As the March 4 Reuters reports, “[m]ayors of 21 cities in Florida on Friday [March 4] called on the moderators of next week’s presidential debates in Miami to ask candidates how they would deal with rising sea levels caused by climate change, a concern of the state’s coastal communities.”8

Another reason overseas resilience markets are likely to expand is a growing international consensus on the urgent imperative of building robust critical lifeline infrastructures. For example, resilient infrastructure received an enormous boost from the COP21 climate talks in Paris last December.9 In late January of this year, the Davos Summit of the World Economic Forum recognized that the global risk with the greatest potential impact was recognized failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation.10 The costs are mounting, and being quantified. In its 2015 report on the “Triple Dividend of Resilience,” the World Bank Group warned that annual losses from natural disasters were roughly USD 50 billion in the 1980s, but have climbed to between USD 150-200 billion per year at present, and are shortly expected to deliver over USD 300 billion in damage, annually, to the built environment alone.11 And there is a rapidly increasing volume of built environment: Estimates suggest that global infrastructure investment between 2010 and 2030 will be close to USD 100 trillion.12 If this infrastructure – comprising power generation, transport, buildings, water services, and other essential items – is not resilient to climate change-driven ravages, then a lot of lives will be lost or impoverished.

National Resilience as a Narrative

Japan’s National Resilience initiative has received scant attention, not only in English but also in Japanese. Many observers have simply dismissed the institutions and policies associated with National Resilience as wasteful public works.13 For others, unfamiliar with the pace of climate change, in addition to the enormous scale of built infrastructure and the implications of its vulnerability to disasters, National Resilience likely appears to be a distraction from the business of reigniting Japan’s sputtering economic growth.

But Japanese disaster experts’ job is to pay serious attention to threats, and in the wake of 3-11 they have gained increasing influence in policymaking. This fact is no surprise: their country was hit with history’s costliest natural and nuclear disaster on 3-11. Japanese governments, businesses and the public (especially in the Tohoku and Kanto areas) endured months of damaging power outages following the disaster. The protracted, indeed, continuing crisis, delivered a powerful lesson on the vulnerability of conventional, centralized power systems and other critical infrastructures. The evidence shows that post-311 Japan has become a world leader in reassessing the costs and benefits of distributed power and other robust, lifeline infrastructure.14

The Aftermath of 3-11 in Japan

Japan’s Institutions of National Resilience

Driven by the lessons of 3-11 and its aftermath in their own country, Japanese engineers, urban planners, energy experts and other actors have become part of a global discourse and rapidly expanding practice of resilience. This global project is not simply about technology. It also includes new modes of financing, governance and other elements relevant to reshaping core infrastructures crucial to our daily lives.15 After 3-11, this international movement has been further galvanized by Superstorm Sandy’s blow to New York City in late October of 2012, Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation of a large swathe of the Philippines in November of 2013, and Cyclone Winston’s destruction of Fiji last month. In tandem with these major disasters, bouts of intense rain and other extreme weather regularly overwhelm power, transport, waterworks, and other systems.16 Building resilience has thus become a priority for key international organizations. One of these is the “Critical 5” member nations (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States), where resilience is described as a “shared narrative.”17

The striking fact is that Japan’s National Resilience initiative is bigger and better-funded than its counterparts overseas, which are hindered by climate denial, fiscal austerity, inadequate resources, and other hurdles. Japan’s programmes do not have such hurdles, and it involves the nation’s most prominent experts on energy, disaster studies, engineering, spatial planning, and other critical areas of expertise. Within Japan, these world-class experts are increasingly networked in new interdisciplinary governmental and quasi-governmental institutions, such as the NRC and the ARJ noted earlier. For example, the ARJ was formally inaugurated on July 1, 2014, and includes 16 working groups in which politicians, bureaucrats, academics, business and representatives from subnational governments collaborate. These working groups address the myriad aspects of resilient communities, from smart energy systems through to building sustainable and equitable local economies.18

The February 20 “kickoff meeting” of the National Resilience Community

The ARJ also organizes civil society, such as the “National Resilience Community” that had its kickoff meeting on February 20 of this year (as shown in the above photo). In addition, the ARJ holds regular, well-attended, conferences open to all. The most recent was the February 2, 2016, “Advanced Energy Local Government Summit 2016,” which highlighted local projects on solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, small hydro and other resilient, local clean power and energy efficiency. The event also included a presentation by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which oversees local governments, on the important role of local-government-led energy.19 The ARJ also confers awards for especially noteworthy resilience projects. On March 15, for example, the ARJ will present the “Advanced Energy Local Government Award” to one of 18 contenders. A leading candidate is Setouchi City’s massive 230 megawatt (MW) megasolar project (depicted below).20 Moreover, the ARJ’s work is very explicit that resilience is a growth paradigm, and a core element of Abenomics.21

Setouchi City’s 230 MW Solar Project, Contender for Resilience Japan’s March 15, 2016
“Advanced Energy Local Government Award”

There is much to be lamented about the Abe regime’s politics and policies, including its response to Fukushima, its revisionist history, and its anti-democratic instincts. And there are aspects of the National Resilience package that need to be revised. But in an era of accelerating climate change and other threats, Japan’s institutions and policies for promoting resilience deserve serious attention as a global benchmark. Not only does Japanese resilience centre on clean energy, it also bolsters local governments, the keystone for reviving democratic politics. For these and other reasons, Japan’s “National Resilience” is a very promising legacy of 3-11.In short, none of this institution-building and impressive activism has been hidden; it has simply been overlooked due to the focus on failure at Fukushima as well as the neoliberal dominance of the discourse on economic policy options. As to the latter, none of the advocates of “blood on the floor” structural reform in Abenomics have noticed that resilient communities have become an increasingly salient theme. For example, prominent keywords in the 138-page (in English) June 2013 Revitalization strategy – the 3rd arrow of Abenomics – were “energy,” “big data,” “ICT,” “disaster” and “resilient infrastructure.”22 Subsequent iterations of the growth strategy, among the central agencies, have since seen increased emphasis on these critical elements.23 Other programmes and budgets have expanded at the national and subnational levels, and with a focus on resilience through distributed energy and the associated infrastructure.24 Surely there is no bigger or more urgent structural reform than bolstering the resilience of the built environment.

Notes

1See the Cabinet Secretariat’s National Resilience Council’s website.

2See the Association for Resilience Japan website.

3See (in Japanese), “Concerning the size and estimates for the private-sector market in national resilience,” February 1, 2016, Cabinet Secretariat’s National Resilience Council, p. 5.

4On the public-sector spending, see Andrew DeWit, “Japan’s “National Resilience Plan”: Its Promise and Perils in the Wake of the Election”, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 51, No. 1, December 22, 2014.

5See (in Japanese), Furuya Keiji, “National Resilience: the Challenges of Transitioning to a Resilient Society,” June 2014, PHP Books, pp. 157-70.

6For a comparison the scale of the threats confronting Tokyo, see the last section of Andrew DeWit, “Japan’s Resilient, Decarbonizing and Democratic Smart Communities”, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 50, No. 3, December 15, 2014.

7See “Fiji and UN appeal for $38 million to relieve ‘catastrophic loss’ after Cyclone Winston,” UN News Centre, March 4, 2016.

8See Valerie Volcovici, “Florida mayors press presidential debate moderators for climate airtime,” Reuters, March 4, 2016.

9For example, building resilience was a key theme for subnational governments. See “Cities and Regions Launch Major Five-Year Vision to Take Action on Climate Change,” UNFCCC Newsroom press release, December 8, 2015.

10See Oliver Cann, “What are the top global risks for 2016?” World Economic Forum, January 14, 2016.

11See “The Triple Dividend of Resilience,” The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, World Bank Group, 2015.

12See the relevant section in the World Economic Forum’s 2013 “The Green Investment Report”.

13For example, see (in Japanese) “PM Abe’s Big Treat to his Region,” Sentaku, March 2013.

14For an overview, see Andrew DeWit, “3.11 and Japan’s Shift to Smart, Distributed Power,” Asia Policy 17, January 2014.

15See, for example, Michael Puckett “Financing the Next Generation of Resilient Power,” Clean Energy Finance Forum, November 25, 2014.

16One example was the August 20, 2014 mudslides in Hiroshima, which were part of a protracted period of very unusual rainfall. See Andrew DeWit, “Hiroshima’s Disaster, Climate Crisis, and the Future of the Resilient City”, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 35, No. 2, September 1, 2014.

17See “Role of Critical Infrastructure in National Prosperity: Shared Narrative,” Public Safety Canada, October 15, 2015.

18The list of the Association for Resilience Japan’s 16 working groups, their membership, and related information, is available (in Japanese) here.

19list of the February 2 event’s panels (in Japanese).

20Information on the event (in Japanese) is here.

21See, for example, Andrew DeWit, “Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience as Structural Reform in Abenomics,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue 1, No. 3, January 5, 2015.

22See “Japan Revitalization Strategy,” Japan Cabinet Office, June 14, 2013.

23One recent example is the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) May 30, 2014 discussion (in Japanese) of its “Distributed Energy Infrastructure Project”.

24For example, see the fiscal and other data in Andrew DeWit,

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Five years after Japan’s natural and nuclear disasters of March 11, 2011 (3-11), few observers can find a positive legacy among the irradiated ruins. Fukushima rightly remains an icon of the folly of building fragile large-scale power and other lifeline systems in the face of patent threats. Indeed, Japan has become a byword for failure, whether at Fukushima or in its “Abenomics” growth strategy.

But in point of fact, 3-11 has made Japan a world leader in building resilience – in critical energy, water, transport and other lifeline infrastructures – against increasingly frequent disasters confronting Japan, the Asia-Pacific and the world. Though little known, even in specialist circles, Japan’s deeply institutionalized and well-funded programme of “National Resilience” (kokudo kyoujinka) is far more advanced than its counterpart initiatives in North America, the EU and elsewhere. As we shall see below, Japan’s resilience programme, including both public and private sector spending, totaled over JPY 24 trillion (USD 210 billion) in 2013 and is projected to grow dramatically by 2020. Moreover, Japan’s disaster resilience centres on renewable energy, storage and efficiency, and has become a core element of Abenomics.

Japan’s National Resilience

First, let us present the evidence. The governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politicians and disaster-resilience technocrats in the Cabinet Secretariat’s National Resilience Council (hereafter, NRC)1, the Association for Resilience Japan (hereafter, ARJ)2, and other new institutions are building an economic paradigm based on National Resilience. As part of the resilience project, the NRC undertook a survey of private-sector firms’ current and projected spending in late 2015. The survey determined that private-sector spending on resilience was about JPY 11.9 trillion (USD 105 billion) in 2013. That total can be broken down into “core” market segments (goods and services) that are directly focused on resilience, and “related” market segments (again, goods and services) that address aspects of resilience. The survey found that the core markets totaled roughly JPY 8 trillion (USD 71 billion) and the related markets a further JPY 4 trillion (USD 35 billion). (Note that as of this writing, JPY 1 trillion=USD 8.78 billion.)

The NRC’s analysis also estimated that the core and related markets would likely double in size by 2020.3 As can be seen in the figure “Japan’s Private-Sector Spending in Core and Related Resilience Markets, 2013-2020,” the three biggest (core and related) sectors are:

1) electric vehicles, at JPY 2.6 trillion in 2013 and projected to be JPY 6.13 trillion in 2020

2) renewable energy (solar), at JPY 2.26 trillion in 2013 and JPY 3.88 trillion in 2020 (high estimate)

3) power generation and transmission bolstering, JPY 958 billion in 2013 and JPY 1.02 trillion in 2020

The figure shows that if one excludes electric vehicles and other “related” market segments, then renewable energy is the largest market in Japan’s private-sector spending. And renewable energy-related spending is even larger than the solar numbers indicate. This is because the JPY 2.26 trillion spent on solar systems in 2013 was accompanied by JPY 59.5 billion on biomass, JPY 23.5 billion on geothermal, and JPY 22.3 billion on wind power, for a total of JPY 2.37 trillion on renewable energy generation systems. In addition, batteries and other energy storage equipment totaled just over JPY 103 billion, while efficiency-enhancing energy management systems amounted to just under JPY 334 billion.

Moreover, using the NRC’s high estimate of JPY 3.88 trillion for the solar market in 2020, Japan’s total resilience-centred renewable market is projected to increase to JPY 4.04 trillion by 2020. In addition, the markets for batteries and other storage equipment are slated to expand to JPY 469 billion. And spending on energy management systems is expected to grow to just under JPY 570 billion.

In other words, Japan’s total private-sector investment in disaster-resilient renewable energy, storage and energy management is estimated to be a JPY 4.92 trillion market by 2020. That figure is likely to be an underestimate, in light of global trends, but even so it is an impressive increase from the JPY 2.81 trillion in 2013. Note also that the NRC also projects that the core market in National Resilience will total between JPY 11.8 and 13.5 trillion in 2020. Thus, renewable energy generation, storage and management are estimated to be between 36% to 42% of core markets in Japan’s private-sector expenditures on National Resilience by 2020.

The NRC’s documents also reveal that public-sector spending on National Resilience totaled JPY 12.4 trillion in 2013, or slightly more than the JPY 11.9 trillion in private sector investment. Much of the public-sector investment was also devoted to renewable-energy generation, transmission and storage, in Japan’s profusion of smart communities, disaster-relief shelters, and other applications.4 It is therefore clear that in post 3-11 Japan, building resilience in both the public and private sectors has become explicitly and powerfully linked to renewable energy systems and their enabling storage and transmission technologies. Indeed, Furuya Keiji, the LDP’s first cabinet minister of National Resilience and Disaster Reduction (2012-2014) devoted an entire section of his June 2014 book on National Resilience to renewable energy.5

Returning to the attached figure on private-sector National Resilience spending, we can see that other core markets include earthquake-proofing of building and equipment, reinforcement of transport systems (roads and railroads), disaster-relief robotics, communications resilience, and training of specialist leadership. In addition to electric vehicles, the related markets include insurance, information security, and the linear bullet train (in development). It is debatable that the latter will bolster disaster resilience, but the LDP’s rationale for including it is that it encourages the distribution of people and facilities away from the undeniably excessive over-concentration of population and core business and government functions in Metropolitan Tokyo, perhaps the most disaster-threatened megacity on the planet.6 In any event, apart from the linear bullet train and several roads and seawalls, most of the rest of the investment does appear likely to increase resilience in the face of disasters and other patent threats (such as cyber-attack or supply shocks of energy and other materials).

Fiji After Cyclone Winston

Miami experiencing climate change

Moreover, Japan’s public- and private-sector investments in resilient infrastructures and services could lead to significant export sales. One reason is irrefutable local evidence of climate threats. The evidence includes such phenomena as the unprecedentedly large Cyclone Winston that hit Fiji on February 20 this year. Winston killed 40 and left 350,000 (40% of the population) in need, including 250,000 who lack access to water and sanitation and 112,800 in need of shelter.7 Other evidence includes sea-level rise, such as that affecting the cities in Florida that are desperate to get the attention of Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and the other denialist Republican candidates for the Presidential nomination. As the March 4 Reuters reports, “[m]ayors of 21 cities in Florida on Friday [March 4] called on the moderators of next week’s presidential debates in Miami to ask candidates how they would deal with rising sea levels caused by climate change, a concern of the state’s coastal communities.”8

Another reason overseas resilience markets are likely to expand is a growing international consensus on the urgent imperative of building robust critical lifeline infrastructures. For example, resilient infrastructure received an enormous boost from the COP21 climate talks in Paris last December.9 In late January of this year, the Davos Summit of the World Economic Forum recognized that the global risk with the greatest potential impact was recognized failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation.10 The costs are mounting, and being quantified. In its 2015 report on the “Triple Dividend of Resilience,” the World Bank Group warned that annual losses from natural disasters were roughly USD 50 billion in the 1980s, but have climbed to between USD 150-200 billion per year at present, and are shortly expected to deliver over USD 300 billion in damage, annually, to the built environment alone.11 And there is a rapidly increasing volume of built environment: Estimates suggest that global infrastructure investment between 2010 and 2030 will be close to USD 100 trillion.12 If this infrastructure – comprising power generation, transport, buildings, water services, and other essential items – is not resilient to climate change-driven ravages, then a lot of lives will be lost or impoverished.

National Resilience as a Narrative

Japan’s National Resilience initiative has received scant attention, not only in English but also in Japanese. Many observers have simply dismissed the institutions and policies associated with National Resilience as wasteful public works.13 For others, unfamiliar with the pace of climate change, in addition to the enormous scale of built infrastructure and the implications of its vulnerability to disasters, National Resilience likely appears to be a distraction from the business of reigniting Japan’s sputtering economic growth.

But Japanese disaster experts’ job is to pay serious attention to threats, and in the wake of 3-11 they have gained increasing influence in policymaking. This fact is no surprise: their country was hit with history’s costliest natural and nuclear disaster on 3-11. Japanese governments, businesses and the public (especially in the Tohoku and Kanto areas) endured months of damaging power outages following the disaster. The protracted, indeed, continuing crisis, delivered a powerful lesson on the vulnerability of conventional, centralized power systems and other critical infrastructures. The evidence shows that post-311 Japan has become a world leader in reassessing the costs and benefits of distributed power and other robust, lifeline infrastructure.14

The Aftermath of 3-11 in Japan

Japan’s Institutions of National Resilience

Driven by the lessons of 3-11 and its aftermath in their own country, Japanese engineers, urban planners, energy experts and other actors have become part of a global discourse and rapidly expanding practice of resilience. This global project is not simply about technology. It also includes new modes of financing, governance and other elements relevant to reshaping core infrastructures crucial to our daily lives.15 After 3-11, this international movement has been further galvanized by Superstorm Sandy’s blow to New York City in late October of 2012, Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation of a large swathe of the Philippines in November of 2013, and Cyclone Winston’s destruction of Fiji last month. In tandem with these major disasters, bouts of intense rain and other extreme weather regularly overwhelm power, transport, waterworks, and other systems.16 Building resilience has thus become a priority for key international organizations. One of these is the “Critical 5” member nations (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States), where resilience is described as a “shared narrative.”17

The striking fact is that Japan’s National Resilience initiative is bigger and better-funded than its counterparts overseas, which are hindered by climate denial, fiscal austerity, inadequate resources, and other hurdles. Japan’s programmes do not have such hurdles, and it involves the nation’s most prominent experts on energy, disaster studies, engineering, spatial planning, and other critical areas of expertise. Within Japan, these world-class experts are increasingly networked in new interdisciplinary governmental and quasi-governmental institutions, such as the NRC and the ARJ noted earlier. For example, the ARJ was formally inaugurated on July 1, 2014, and includes 16 working groups in which politicians, bureaucrats, academics, business and representatives from subnational governments collaborate. These working groups address the myriad aspects of resilient communities, from smart energy systems through to building sustainable and equitable local economies.18

The February 20 “kickoff meeting” of the National Resilience Community

The ARJ also organizes civil society, such as the “National Resilience Community” that had its kickoff meeting on February 20 of this year (as shown in the above photo). In addition, the ARJ holds regular, well-attended, conferences open to all. The most recent was the February 2, 2016, “Advanced Energy Local Government Summit 2016,” which highlighted local projects on solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, small hydro and other resilient, local clean power and energy efficiency. The event also included a presentation by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which oversees local governments, on the important role of local-government-led energy.19 The ARJ also confers awards for especially noteworthy resilience projects. On March 15, for example, the ARJ will present the “Advanced Energy Local Government Award” to one of 18 contenders. A leading candidate is Setouchi City’s massive 230 megawatt (MW) megasolar project (depicted below).20 Moreover, the ARJ’s work is very explicit that resilience is a growth paradigm, and a core element of Abenomics.21

Setouchi City’s 230 MW Solar Project, Contender for Resilience Japan’s March 15, 2016
“Advanced Energy Local Government Award”

There is much to be lamented about the Abe regime’s politics and policies, including its response to Fukushima, its revisionist history, and its anti-democratic instincts. And there are aspects of the National Resilience package that need to be revised. But in an era of accelerating climate change and other threats, Japan’s institutions and policies for promoting resilience deserve serious attention as a global benchmark. Not only does Japanese resilience centre on clean energy, it also bolsters local governments, the keystone for reviving democratic politics. For these and other reasons, Japan’s “National Resilience” is a very promising legacy of 3-11.In short, none of this institution-building and impressive activism has been hidden; it has simply been overlooked due to the focus on failure at Fukushima as well as the neoliberal dominance of the discourse on economic policy options. As to the latter, none of the advocates of “blood on the floor” structural reform in Abenomics have noticed that resilient communities have become an increasingly salient theme. For example, prominent keywords in the 138-page (in English) June 2013 Revitalization strategy – the 3rd arrow of Abenomics – were “energy,” “big data,” “ICT,” “disaster” and “resilient infrastructure.”22 Subsequent iterations of the growth strategy, among the central agencies, have since seen increased emphasis on these critical elements.23 Other programmes and budgets have expanded at the national and subnational levels, and with a focus on resilience through distributed energy and the associated infrastructure.24 Surely there is no bigger or more urgent structural reform than bolstering the resilience of the built environment.

Notes

1See the Cabinet Secretariat’s National Resilience Council’s website.

2See the Association for Resilience Japan website.

3See (in Japanese), “Concerning the size and estimates for the private-sector market in national resilience,” February 1, 2016, Cabinet Secretariat’s National Resilience Council, p. 5.

4On the public-sector spending, see Andrew DeWit, “Japan’s “National Resilience Plan”: Its Promise and Perils in the Wake of the Election”, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 51, No. 1, December 22, 2014.

5See (in Japanese), Furuya Keiji, “National Resilience: the Challenges of Transitioning to a Resilient Society,” June 2014, PHP Books, pp. 157-70.

6For a comparison the scale of the threats confronting Tokyo, see the last section of Andrew DeWit, “Japan’s Resilient, Decarbonizing and Democratic Smart Communities”, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 50, No. 3, December 15, 2014.

7See “Fiji and UN appeal for $38 million to relieve ‘catastrophic loss’ after Cyclone Winston,” UN News Centre, March 4, 2016.

8See Valerie Volcovici, “Florida mayors press presidential debate moderators for climate airtime,” Reuters, March 4, 2016.

9For example, building resilience was a key theme for subnational governments. See “Cities and Regions Launch Major Five-Year Vision to Take Action on Climate Change,” UNFCCC Newsroom press release, December 8, 2015.

10See Oliver Cann, “What are the top global risks for 2016?” World Economic Forum, January 14, 2016.

11See “The Triple Dividend of Resilience,” The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, World Bank Group, 2015.

12See the relevant section in the World Economic Forum’s 2013 “The Green Investment Report”.

13For example, see (in Japanese) “PM Abe’s Big Treat to his Region,” Sentaku, March 2013.

14For an overview, see Andrew DeWit, “3.11 and Japan’s Shift to Smart, Distributed Power,” Asia Policy 17, January 2014.

15See, for example, Michael Puckett “Financing the Next Generation of Resilient Power,” Clean Energy Finance Forum, November 25, 2014.

16One example was the August 20, 2014 mudslides in Hiroshima, which were part of a protracted period of very unusual rainfall. See Andrew DeWit, “Hiroshima’s Disaster, Climate Crisis, and the Future of the Resilient City”, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 35, No. 2, September 1, 2014.

17See “Role of Critical Infrastructure in National Prosperity: Shared Narrative,” Public Safety Canada, October 15, 2015.

18The list of the Association for Resilience Japan’s 16 working groups, their membership, and related information, is available (in Japanese) here.

19list of the February 2 event’s panels (in Japanese).

20Information on the event (in Japanese) is here.

21See, for example, Andrew DeWit, “Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience as Structural Reform in Abenomics,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue 1, No. 3, January 5, 2015.

22See “Japan Revitalization Strategy,” Japan Cabinet Office, June 14, 2013.

23One recent example is the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) May 30, 2014 discussion (in Japanese) of its “Distributed Energy Infrastructure Project”.

24For example, see the fiscal and other data in Andrew DeWit,

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But unlike America’s in Iraq, Russia actually has accomplished its mission. In what appears to be another carefully planned masterstroke vis-a-vis the US, NATO, and its Persian Gulf allies upon and around the Syrian battlefield, Russia has announced that it is withdrawing its forces after its 5 month long intervention on behalf of the Syrian government in Damascus.

The BBC reported in its article, “Syria conflict: Russia’s Putin orders ‘main part’ of forces out,” that:

In a surprise move, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his military to start withdrawing the “main part” of its forces in Syria from Tuesday.

He said the Russian intervention had largely achieved its objectives.

The comments come amid fresh peace talks in Geneva aimed at resolving the five-year Syrian conflict.

In a hamfisted attempt to mitigate the impact of Russia’s statement, US analysts and commentators among many prominent Western news outlets have attempted to frame the announcement as a ‘cut and run’ move made by Moscow after decimating US-backed “moderate rebels,” and leaving the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS) mainly intact.

Andrew Peek, a former strategic adviser to the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, admitted in his NY Daily News op-ed titled, “Why Putin’s pulling out of Syria: He got what he wanted — which is not what he said he wanted,” that ISIS has lost some 25% of its territory during the Russian intervention.

It should be noted that Russia’s intervention had begun and ended in a fraction of the time the US has been “fighting” ISIS. The US intervention – a much more lengthy military campaign – had overseen not a reduction in ISIS territory, but the vast and otherwise inexplicable expansion of the terrorist organization before Russia’s arrival in Syria.

West Claims That Russia is out of Money 

Another attempt by the West to frame Russia’s announcement as a “failure” for Moscow includes claims that Russia can no longer sustain its operations. Upward estimates of the cost of Russia’s operations in Syria ranged between 1-2 billion USD per year – approximately 1/50 of Russia’s overall annual defense budget.

Again, Western commentators and analysts, in their haste to frame Russia’s latest move as a “failure,” directly contradict their own analysis months ago. Reuters in their article, “U.S. sees bearable costs, key goals met for Russia in Syria so far,” admitted that:

Three months into his military intervention in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved his central goal of stabilizing the Assad government and, with the costs relatively low, could sustain military operations at this level for years, U.S. officials and military analysts say.

Indeed, according to RT itself, Russia’s defense export agency Rosoboronexport alone pulled in over 15 billion USD in 2015, with another 15 billion planned for 2016. While Russia is undoubtedly feeling the pressure of sanctions and the West’s manipulation of energy markets, providing air support to the Syrian Arab Army was – and still is – a very sustainable undertaking.

What Really is Happening

To truly put this announcement in proper context, it helps to understand just what the battlefield looked like in Syria before Russia’s entry into the war and how it looks now.

In approximately mid 2015, it was clear that US-backed terrorists were openly coordinating with groups including Jubhat Al Nusra, a US State Department-listed foreign terrorist organization. Furthermore, this new combined front, primarily operating in northern Syria from Turkish territory, appeared to be coordinating with ISIS in the east.

In fact, a coordinated offensive in the north where logistical lines were shorter and easier to maintain put significant pressure on Damascus to redeploy troops to this front. At the same time, ISIS surged toward Palmyra from the east. Both operations were large enough to implicate significant planning and staging, perhaps even months head of the coordinated, two-front offensive.

Russia intervened at the height of this shift in which Damascus found itself forced to make a series of strategic withdrawals. While the force Russia brought was relatively small compared to typical Western military interventions, operations were intense and undoubtedly effective. Virtually all of the  terrorist gains made during the mid-2015 offensive were rolled back or significantly contested, while logistical lines feeding Western terrorist proxies from Turkey were exposed and destroyed.

With the tide clearly turned, the bulk of necessary combat missions for Russia are indeed over. What is left is monitoring  the ceasefire, continued strikes against ISIS, and the ability if necessary to strike logistical lines leading into Syrian territory if they are reestablished.

But because Russia has announced its withdrawal, and because of the West’s eagerness to pounce on acknowledging it, if only to condemn it as a sign of weakness and failure, the West itself will now have great difficulties if it tries to further perpetuate hostilities on the ground.

Of course, the West fully intends to continue training and equipping terrorists along Syria’s borders and sending them into the country – US generals before the US Congress have recently testified saying as much – and of course Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other US allies in the region plan to continue supporting terrorist groups already operating in Syria – but they all do so in the aftermath of a grand gesture of deescalation by Russia.

And while Russia and even the West have framed this latest move as a “withdrawal,” the reality is that Russia will be maintaining the only two military installations it ever had in Syria.

Russia will continue to maintain enough of a presence to respond effectively to any shift back in favor of the West’s proxies – proxies who are supposed to be observing a ceasefire, and who – if they violate it now in the belief that Russia will no longer respond – will not only expose their own treachery and that of their Western sponsors, but will justify a wide range of retaliatory actions to be taken by Syria and its allies – including Russia.

Russia’s grand gesture is made with the sure knowledge that whatever forces it leaves behind in Syria will be more than adequate to support Syrian troops who are now making huge gains on the battlefield. The initial force needed to reverse the immense, nationwide coordinated offensive undertaken by Western backed terrorists in 2015 is no longer necessary.

Russia will be cutting back on an already cost-effective military campaign, while providing itself and its allies additional credibility during the ceasefire and ahead of peace talks. All the while, it will still be more than capable of responding to any conceivable threat posed to its allies in Damascus.

Tony Cartalucci is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook”.

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Monday night, the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to declare that Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria.

In a unanimous 393-0 vote, the House resolution comes just days before the State Department is legally mandated by Congress to determine whether Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) persecution of minorities in Iraq and Syria – Christians, Yazidis, Sunni Kurds and Shiite Muslims – constitutes genocide, reports RT.

“What is happening in Iraq and Syria is a deliberate, systematic targeting of religious and ethnic minorities. Today, the House unanimously voted to call ISIS’s atrocities what they are: a genocide. We also will continue to offer our prayers for the persecuted,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin; left image) said in a statement.

According to RT, the persecution of Christian minorities in Syria and Iraq has resulted in quickly dwindling numbers. There are roughly 300,000 Christians remaining in Iraq compared to 1.4 million in 2003, according to the UK-based NGO Aid to the Church in Need. In Syria, there are now 500,000 Christians, compared to over 1.25 million in 2011.

Christianity could essentially disappear from Iraq within five years, the report argued, and the religion could face a similar fate in other Middle Eastern countries.

Now that the United States officially recognizes the acts of ISIS as genocide, what do we do next?

Well, the next logical step is to stop them. However, in order to do so, we must first understand where they came from.

As Americans cower in fear over the perceived threat from men, women and children attempting to escape ISIS from war-torn Syria, the majority of people are ignoring the reason there are refugees in the first place.

The US created and funded the terrorist regime in Syria that would be used to destabilize the region and create a specific advantage for American interests over China and Russia.

Prior to 2012, ISIS, as we know them, did not exist. So how did this unknown group of psychopathic killers gain such notoriety so quickly?

Leaked Pentagon documents and News Anchor Ben Swann from WGCL Atlanta, explain exactly what happened.

A plan to create and arm an active resistance to the Assad regime was put in place four years ago, and the result was a radical group of jihadists who, in turn, morphed into ISIS, all thanks to the United States.

These leaked Pentagon documents are not the only evidence that the United States created and aided ISIS either. Just last year, renowned journalist Seymor Hersh interviewed members of the DoD who confirmed the establishment knew about the monster they were creating but chose to conveniently ignore it. According to the report:

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the DIA between 2012 and 2014, confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of classified warnings to the civilian leadership about the dire consequences of toppling Assad. The jihadists, he said, were in control of the opposition. Turkey wasn’t doing enough to stop the smuggling of foreign fighters and weapons across the border. ‘If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic,’ Flynn told me. ‘We understood Isis’s long-term strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria.’ The DIA’s reporting, he said, ‘got enormous pushback’ from the Obama administration. ‘I felt that they did not want to hear the truth.’

But that’s not all. When Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter testified in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in December concerning the U.S. strategy for fighting ISIL, his inept attempt to keep knowledge of the ISIS oil convoy under wraps backfired in a most comical way. John McCain addressed the Defense Secretary in a state of facetious disbelief about the US-allowed and Turkish-protected oil routes from which ISIS earned a large portion of their funding:

“Secretary, you may want to correct the record. We all knew those fuel trucks were moving back and forth. We’ve seen them. We knew it. The decision was not made by the White House to attack them. I think you may want to correct the record,” he added, “because I certainly knew.”

But it doesn’t end there either. The US foreign policy of destabilizing the Middle Eastern region over past decades has led to resentment and hate toward the West. Subsequently, ISIS has no problem filling its ranks with the family members of the victims of the West’s brutal oppression in the region. As we reported last year, the United State’s foreign policy of drone warfare, killing thousands of children, has created a million Osama bin Ladens.

Veterans are also coming forward to confirm this notion. Saying he had “helped create ISIS,” an Iraq War veteran and US Marine bravely spoke out on his role in stoking the ISIS wildfire.

Former Marine Vincent Emanuele’s acknowledgment of responsibility comes in an article that was posted on TeleSUR’s English website, in which he hoped to answer the often raised question of “Where did ISIS come from?”

“I saw my fellow Marines kill innocent people, torture innocent civilians, destroying property, mutilating dead bodies, running over dead corpses, laughing and photographing people while doing so,” he said. “For me it was very simple. I sat there in Iraq and I asked myself ‘How would I behave?’ ‘What would I think if I was in the shoes of the Iraqi people?’”

“I vividly remember the marines telling me about punching, slapping, kicking, elbowing, kneeing and head-butting Iraqis. I remember the tales of sexual torture; forcing Iraqi men to perform sexual acts on each other while marines held knives against their testicles, sometimes sodomizing them with batons,” wrote Emanuele.

“I knew what I was seeing was wrong, I knew it was immoral, I knew it was unjust, I knew it was illegal,” said Emanuele,“and I knew that we would pay severe consequences in the form of the blowback as we are seeing with groups like ISIS. I knew those things were going to happen back then just from being a self-conscious person.”

Only through educating ourselves and others about who is behind this theater of constant war and terror, will we ever begin to stop it. Please share this article with your friends and family so that they may see through the smoke and mirrors that is the military industrial complex.

Matt Agorist is an honorably discharged veteran of the USMC and former intelligence operator directly tasked by the NSA. This prior experience gives him unique insight into the world of government corruption and the American police state. Agorist has been an independent journalist for over a decade and has been featured on mainstream networks around the world.
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While some have become skeptical, there are those – from The Nation via Politico and Tom Cahill (U.S. Uncut) to Robert Reich – who are now saying that this is not the end of the line for Bernie Sanders U.S. presidential bid.

And it is indeed true that we should remind ourselves that ever since the 1980s the Democratic party leadership has scheduled the primary season in ways that voters in more conservative states would go to the polls first in order to prevent leftist grassroots candidates from challenging the neoliberal party establishment. Keeping that in mind, it’s also true that pretty much all the upcoming states are way more favorable to Sanders than most of the ones that have already voted.

And it’s also true that only those will now despair who had somewhat unrealistic hopes with regard to what was actually possible Tuesday night. After all, despite all the Sanders momentum etc., another historic upset like the one in Michigan was unlikely.

Regardless of how critical one is of how the corporate media prefers to talk about polls and electability instead of about actual political issues, regardless of how the 2016 U.S. presidential election is taking place in a highly dynamic and ultimately unpredictable “populist moment” and regardless also of how incredibly wrong therefore FiveThirtyEight and other influential polling institutions were when it came to predicting Michigan, one must admit that the FiveThirtyEight predictions have been quite accurate in most of the previous states so far. And despite the come-from-behind momentum resulting from the Michigan boost, one could simply not expect another upset in the states that voted Tuesday night.[1] FiveThirtyEight’s predictions of Sanders victories, just based on their polls, were <1% in Florida, <10% in Illinois, <1% in North Carolina, only 3% in Ohio and 46% in Missouri. So in a way, it was rather surprising that Sanders even came so close to winning Illinois and Missouri, beating the delegate goals of the Clinton campaign.

End of the Firewall?

All in all, Sanders’ lost by big margins only in the two states where everyone knew he would. And although those two states increase Clintons’ lead by more than 70 delegates, Reich and others are correct when they note that the Democratic primary scheduling “firewall” for Clinton has now come to an end. In the upcoming states the situation looks much better for Sanders with FiveThirtyEight suggesting a Sanders win probability – based on the previous primary elections – of 40% in Arizona, 75% in Idaho, 82% in Utah (March 22), 91% in Alaska, 81% in Hawaii and 85% in Washington (March 26), 61% in Wisconsin (April 5), 80% in Wyoming (April 9) etc.

In other words, unless the corporate media message according to which the presidential bid of the leftist candidate – against whom both the New York Times and the Washington Post have been fighting tooth and nail all along – ended last night leads to disillusionment, even lower millennial and working class voter turnout in the upcoming states etc., a Sanders comeback, which equals a continued presence of his extremely popular left social-democratic message, is not that unlikely and can and should be fought for. And Reich and others are right to point out that the majority of delegates are still in play – with big prizes like California (548 delegates) and Wisconsin (96 delegates) still to come. And if the momentum is back and the movement behind Sanders continues to further effectively deconstruct Clinton’s faux progressivism, “faux feminism”[2] and her zombie-ish electability myth (polls show that the probability of a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz presidency is much higher with a Clinton nomination), etc. then also the super-delegates will find it harder to support Clinton against the popular vote. And the left may find comfort in the fact that Sanders is actually still doing better than he ought to be doing according to at least one of the comprehensive three Sanders victory scenarios outlined by DailyKos last month.

Nevertheless, yesterday obviously made things more difficult. Sanders’ come-from-behind momentum appears to have taken a brunt. And gone is the message that Clinton can only win the solid South (which – with maybe a few exceptions like Florida, Virginia and North Carolina – Democrats are bound to lose in the federal election anyway…) but hardly anywhere else, especially not in the Midwest/rust belt hard-hit by the highly unpopular free-trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and TPP which Clinton embraced until she suddenly and without further explanation changed her mind on the trade issue in a blog post(!). So a successful Sanders nomination as the Democratic candidate in the 2016 presidential elections has become even more unlikely last night, for sure.

However, here’s why beyond this type of reasoning leftists should not be disillusioned. In the very narrow sense of success, i.e. a successful Democratic nomination, a Sanders victory was extremely unlikely from the get-go. No one, not even the wildest optimists among us, expected Sanders to even get this far last year. And this also appears to have been one of the reasons why many of his radical left-wing supporters today were initially very critical of his campaign when it started, not just because of some controversial foreign-policy stances or because of real “social-democratic illusions” (especially with regard to finance and banking reform) but especially because he was considered a catalyst of left-wing, anti-neoliberal grassroots mobilization for an eventual neoliberal Clinton presidential bid.

And even when the campaign developed what Loren Balhorn would have called Sanders’ “WTF?! dynamism” (if only the German publisher had let him get away with that), only the boldest (or most clueless) leftist observers ended up saying last week that they would once and for all declare Sanders to become the Democratic party nominee. Of course, we all have hopes and dreams. We would not be leftists if we didn’t believe in the possibility of sudden unexpected change. If history was left to the pollsters and ‘pundits,’ the October Revolution would never have happened. Still, we must remember that only an incredible mass movement can/could bring Sanders even close to winning the Democratic nomination.

Why Should the Left Rejoice?

First of all, in terms of the narrow question of a presidential bid, there is the fact that because of the far-reaching popularity of his unique left-wing social-democratic message there’s still hope to be generated from the fact that, as the polls show, Sanders still has the capability of building majorities both within the Democratic primary as well as in the federal elections in November. And even though he has commented that he wouldn’t run as an independent candidate because of how it would split the vote and possibly hand the election to the GOP, it is still a possibility. A possibility which presumably would depend on a mixture of how the dynamism plays out in both parties’ primary elections over the course of the next months and maybe also who is pushing Sanders in which direction. Generally speaking, with Trump having moved one step further in the direction of a Republican nomination Tuesday night by winning Florida (albeit losing in Ohio against the establishment’s new favorite candidate, John Kasich, as opposed to the tea party government shutdown leader Ted Cruz…) and with the Republican party establishment apparently being dead set on preventing Trump at whatever political cost, we might even see four presidential candidates in November. And obviously such a split in both parties would be highly beneficial to such a Sanders presidential bid, because otherwise the Ralph Nader 2000 trauma would be reawakened and it would be all Clinton vs. Trump.

However, the point why the global left should rejoice is, secondly, that all of these ifs-and-buts questions are really not even the most important ones. The main reason why the global left should rejoice is because the left in the U.S. will not only have won in case Sanders eventually wins, against all odds, the nomination and the 2016 presidential election (which, given the popularity of his message and the widespread hatred of Trump, he then probably would). The American left has already won no matter what happens next! It has won by how the Sanders campaign politicized the usually completely depoliticized American presidential elections of neoliberal candidates of various shades vaguely promising ‘hope’ and ‘change’ and ‘conservative values’. It has won by enforcing a debate about capitalism and its surface symptomology income and wealth inequality. It has won by pulling it out into the open how this obscene inequality is corrupting liberal democracy, how it has created an oligarchic power structure and how only a comprehensive strategy of conflict-oriented social movements at all levels – the workplace, the street, and the political/parliamentary system, i.e. a revolutionary realpolitik (Rosa Luxemburg) inside and against the state, which is aimed at shifting the balance of forces between capital and labour, can undo it. And it has won by clearly demarcating the divide between the left in the U.S. and the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party.

Despite Sanders’ recent claim that he ran as a Democrat because it would give him greater media exposure and because they had an existing institutional structure, he clearly also did so to drive home just how neoliberal Clinton was and to reveal how a left Democrat could run. A very strong reason to keep hope alive in the Sanders camp is because of how he will continue to reveal this divide in the party. It is a real victory of this campaign in exposing what Sanders, based on decades of dealings with the party knows: that the DP is the main barrier to leftward movement in the U.S. and the true source of the neoliberal hegemony. By showing that it is possible to run as a socialist Democratic candidate and have a chance, Bernie has opened up future possibilities by exposing the rift in the party. In fact, we quite possibly will look back at this as the moment of the break with neoliberalism of the party. And Sanders’ run has also put the left on solid footing of attack if Hillary becomes the president. Again, this will take future work but it will be much harder to pass off future rightward drift as inevitable or just Democratic party business-as-usual with the divide in the party exposed. The background noise of future politics will always be: we had another path but chose this one. Conversely if Trump wins the left will also have a solid foundation to argue that his victory was due to the neoliberal drift of the Democratic Party and only a left Democrat could’ve/can stop the hard right in the future.

And finally, and this may be the most remarkable achievement, the American left has won by establishing Sanders’ concrete left-wing social-democratic and/or transformative transition demands in the American political landscape and imagination: single-payer health care, free public education, a federal living wage of $15/hour, the Workplace Democracy Act facilitating unionization, fundamental banking reform (even if focused on dismantling instead of socialization…). Hence, the American populace is now much more aware about the real tertium-non-datur alternative: A left-wing Social Green New Deal as a general, inclusive and solidarity-based high-road exit strategy from the crisis, which would re-shift the relationship of forces between capital and labour and could function as the most coherent entrance project to a post-capitalist future, or the global neoliberal unity coalition’s low-road exit strategy of austerity with further immiseration, nationalist exclusion and destruction of the public good.

All of this will not go away. Or rather, beyond carrying on the Sanders presidential campaign, the American left now has the opportunity (and, we think, obligation) to not let the Sanders mobilization eventually dissolve but integrate the millions of enthused, but often – not least because of their extremely young age – politically inexperienced Sanders supporters into (the already existing) social movements mobilizing around those concrete demands of “Medicare for all,” “Fight for 15 and a union” etc.

And in all of that, the Sanders movement is also a historic victory not only for the American left. Rather, the American left has given the world the greatest gift. And that is that, because of U.S. hegemony, the entire world has been watching how the anti-neoliberal left is now suddenly capable of building majorities around transformative transition programs. We cannot overestimate and should take pleasure in how this fact would send shivers down the spines of current and former third way social-democratic party leaders all across the core capitalist countries if only the Clintons, Blairs, Schroeders, Jospins, Zapateros, Hollandes, Gabriels, Renzis and Sánchez’ had spines. Yes, the entire world is watching how the anti-neoliberal left is now suddenly even moving into the direction of once again and realistically posing the question of (political) power – and not only in the “imperialist chain’s weakest links,” i.e. economically devastated peripheries with very, very little room for maneuvering such as Greece, but also in the very heart of the core capitalist countries and the American Empire.

Thus, the SYRIZA-Corbyn-Sanders freedom train continues zooming down the tracks. Its path is bumpy. To every up-hill there’s a down-hill. But it’s moving forward, and, despite it all, it’s moving forward fast. •

Brad Bauerly has his Ph.D. from York University and is an instructor in Political Science at SUNY Plattsburgh. His book on agriculture and U.S. state building will be out this summer.

Ingar Solty is a Fellow at the Berlin Institute for Critical Theory and a Fellow at the Institute for Social Analysis at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. His most recent books are The USA under Obama: Charismatic Leadership, Social Movements and Imperial Politics in the Global Crisis (Argument Verlag, 2013), New German Foreign Policy, the Crisis and Left-Wing Alternatives (Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, 2016) and Aesthetics in a Changing Capitalism: Studies on the Politics of Culture in Fascism, Fordism and Neoliberalism (forthcoming, Argument Verlag, 2016 – all in German).

Notes:

  1. It is also unclear what impact the recent violence at Trump rallies had in the primaries outcomes. While those on the left would like to believe that seeing protesters take on and challenge the xenophobic and racist atmosphere of those events we should also be mindful that many would see that violence and the potential for more in the future and run back into the arms of the neoliberal Democrats who they see as able to protect them.
  2. Liza Featherstone, Ed., False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Verso Books, London/New York 2016.
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Will the EU Become a Criminal Union Tomorrow?

March 17th, 2016 by Jan Oberg

The EUropean Union – a criminal?

The EU that has peace as it’s top goal and received Nobel’s Peace Prize? The EU with Schengen and Dublin? The EU with “European” values, humanism and mission civilisatrice that tells others how to live in accordance with international law and in respect for human rights?

We live in times where little shall surprise us anymore. The answer to the question – will EU become a criminal in international law terms? – will be answered on March 17 and 18 when the EU Council meets to decide whether or not to carry through the agreement with Turkey about how to handle refugees.

Amnesty International knows what it is all about. AI uses words such as “alarmingly shortsighted”, “inhumane”, “dehumanising”, “moral and legally flawed” and “EU and Turkish leaders have today sunk to a new low, effectively horse trading away the rights and dignity of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

And “By no stretch of imagination can Turkey be considered a ‘safe third country’ that the EU can cosily outsource its obligations to,” says Iverna McGowan, Head of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

When Amnesty International expresses itself this way, we should listen very very carefully. I do and I’ve signed Amnesty’s Open Letter to Swedish prime minister Löfvénprotesting that Sweden too may join this inhuman and law-violating agreement with Turkey. Hurry up, it is tomorrow!

Behind every refugee stands an arms trade, stands militarism.

A huge majority of the refugees have fled the wars conducted by irresponsible and narrow-minded EU leaders who, thereby, have already violated international law. They continue to do so – Denmark being the latest to join the tragedy.

EU countries combined make up the largest economy in the world. How bizarre that the EU has the resources to fight one war after the other, has huge military budgets and nuclear weapons and puts unlimited resources into wars against terror (that is, to a large extent, a response to U.S./NATO/EU foreign policies) but cowardly believes it can’t find the resources to care for 1,2 million seeking refuge among its 500 million, i.e. 0,24%!

Precisely because EU countries have caused a major part of the refugees to flee, we have a special moral obligation to a) receive them and b) learn to not start wars just like that on somebody else’s territory.

Where there is a will, there is a way. Will the EU anything good, the time is now.

There is no refugee crisis in the EU. There are several other crises: 1) A crisis caused by years of militarism; 2) A crisis of crisis management; 3) A crisis of leadership – or, with the exception of Chancellor Merkel – no leadership for common policies at all; and 4) A crisis of solidarity, humanity and ethics.

You may add a 5) the Euro-racism expressed as Islamophobia. I am pretty sure that the EU would have acted differently if there had been a huge natural catastrophe or a nuclear power plant meltdown in Israel and 1,2 million Jews had come to Europe or if an EU country had experienced something like that in its own midst.

If on March 16-17, 2016, the EU decides to implement this immoral and law-violating agreement with increasingly authoritarian, war-fighting, terror-supporting and refugee-unsafe country Turkey, the moral decay of the Western world will be obvious. If not to itself, then to the 92% of the world’s people living outside it.

And the EU will deserve nothing better than it own dissolution. Because it wasn’t for a better but for a worse world. And technically – what is left when the asylum right, the Schengen and Dublin conventions etc. will be violated by the Council itself?

Either the EU is for a better world or it’s time for another Europe after it!

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There is an undercurrent that links both the conservatives and some on the left who have been keen to see states such as Greece, and more lately Britain, flee the chains of EU financial administration.  “The alternative to remaining in a structurally unsafe building is, of course, walking out,” suggests Daniel Hannan in that long time organ of conservative commentary, The Spectator.[1]

The curious position for such opposition to the Eucrocrat position lies in the fact that Greece was pilloried when it could just as well have undergone a dramatic, albeit painful “de-linking” process.  This could have led to a range of debilitating yet emancipating consequences, though it is hard to see how the country, given its size and vulnerability, could have gone far without eventually falling into further catastrophe.  The tragic result has been capitulation and economic occupation, one that is hardly going to abate till the next round of measures comes up for debate.

The British financiers were hardly the ones to accept that a Greek exit might be warranted to preserve sovereignty and any remote semblance of independence.  The banks needed their greed-induced fill, and the opposition to the EU by their defenders was not based on the prospect of social justice but economic bank balances.

Having said that, a leaked account last year revealed how Britain’s David Cameron had suggested to another EU counterpart that Greece’s exit from the Eurozone “might be better” to enable it to order its own finances.

In the words of the note, “On Greece, the PM wondered if it was wise for Angela Merkel to allow the discussion with Greece to take place at PM level and mused that it might be better for Greece to leave the Eurozone in order to sort its economy out – though also accepted that there were major risks in that too.”[2]

Cameron’s views made sense in the jockeying he was engaged with at the time, hoping to win a more favourable position with Brussels over the issue of renegotiating Britain’s obligations with the EU.  As The Independent noted last July, “officials in London and Brussels believe a Greek exit from the single currency could strengthen Mr Cameron’s hand in his negotiations on new membership terms ahead of the in/out referendum he has promised by 2017.”[3]  The Greeks, in other words, would be the valuable guinea pigs.

Prejudice is, after all, sovereign when it comes to determining such matters.  Britain, suggested Douglas Murray, “should pity most of the other European countries, because they are losing control not just of their borders but of their civilization and culture – the whole caboodle.”[4]  Keep the borders closed to asylum seekers; tighten, if not scupper the humanitarian agenda.  Now, it is Britain which finds itself in a situation Greece did in all its desperation, one that was debated but ultimately ignored: the prospect of leaving the structured, bureaucratic family known as the EU.

Irrespective of whether it is economic pillage or refugee woes, the arguments between Greece and Britain throw up a stock number of points.  The EU cannot be trusted. Its institutions are not accountable.  Sovereignty, if not dead, is at grave risk.

Commentators like Hannan are all too aware about the techniques being deployed by the European establishment.  Fear is fundamental to avoiding change. “Europhiles know that most referendums go the way of the status quo, which is why their campaign is based around conjuring inchoate fears of change.”

Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, had gone to some lengths to appropriate every position of fear he can to convince British voters about impending problems should a pro-exit vote result.  In his budget speech, he cited worries from the Office for Budget Responsibility that “a vote to leave in the forthcoming referendum could usher in an extended period of uncertainty”.

In actual fact, the OBR’s report cited by Osborne is clear that negative or positive outcomes on growth might result.  It notes a study by a think tank, Open Europe, which used  modelling “in which the UK leaves the EU in 2018 and found that GDP could be 2.2 per cent lower or 1.6 per cent higher by 2030, depending on the arrangements for trade and regulation that follow ‘Brexit’.”[5]

The authors of the report do the wise thing and also concede that various “uncertainties” do underlie “our central fiscal forecast”.  Any economic forecast of any quality is bound to be as unreliable, if not more so, than meteorological prediction.

Similarities between the debates on Grexit and Brexit, to that extent, do surface, though they fail to meet at one vital juncture: the central human crisis that Greece faced because of bankster-directed imposition.  Britain, if anything, wishes to avoid the prospect of dealing with any human crisis, notably the refugee one, engulfing Europe.  The sceptred isle wishes to go ostrich on that score, while Greece lacks that luxury.

By way of contrast, Britain advertises itself as a financial centre, when it is no more than a clearing house for various instruments of the economy that have done little for welfare and everything for the creation of fictional wealth. The country that created the National Health Service and Attlee’s post-World War II welfare state has moved somewhat away from a model that places the person before the bank transaction.  But in that discussion lie smidgens of bull dog persuasiveness that may convince other countries that exiting a failed, and crumbling system, may be the first step to reforming it.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email:[email protected]

Notes

[1] http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/01/what-brexit-would-look-like-for-britain/

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jun/26/cameron-told-eu-leader-greek-exit-from-euro-may-be-best-option

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/grexit-could-boost-david-camerons-efforts-to-win-better-deal-for-uk-from-eu-say-diplomats-10358940.html

[4] http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/03/europes-folly-has-made-it-a-civilisation-under-siege/

[5] http://cdn.budgetresponsibility.org.uk/March2016EFO.pdf

 

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Compared to the political/economic rollercoaster in Brazil, House of Cards is kindergarten play.

Only three days after massive street demonstrations calling for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, and less than two weeks after his legally dubious four-hour detention for questioning, former Brazilian President Lula is about to spectacularly re-enter the Brazilian government as a Minister, actually a Super-Minister.

This is Rousseff’s one and only chess move left amidst an unprecedented political/economic crisis. Predictably, she will be accused on all fronts – from comprador elites to Wall Street – of having abdicated in favor of Lula, while Lula will be accused of hiding from the two-year-old Car Wash corruption investigation.

Lula and his protégé Dilma had two make-or-break, face-to-face meetings in Brasilia, Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, discussing the detailed terms of his re-entry. At first, Lula would only accept a post in government if he becomes Government Secretary – in charge of political articulation; he would then be part of the hardcore hub that really decides Brazilian policy.

But then, according to a government minister, who requested anonymity, surged the suggestion of Lula as Chief of Staff – the most important ministry post in Brazil.

What’s certain is that Lula is bound to become a sort of ‘Prime Minister’ – implying carte blanche to drastically change Dilma’s wobbly economic policy and forcefully reconnect with the Workers’ Party’s large social base, which is mired in deep distress under massive cuts in social spending. If Lula pulls it off – and that’s a major “if” – he will also be perfectly positioned as a presidential candidate for the 2018 Brazilian elections, to the despair of the right-wing media-old elite-economic complex.

Lula’s next role, institutionally, will combine coordinating measures to re-start Brazil’s growth while at the same time realigning the government’s base in Brazil’s notoriously corrupt Congress. He will be immune from the Car Wash investigation – but he can still be investigated by the Brazilian Supreme Court.

The comeback kid?

Lula’s task is nothing short of Sisyphean. How much political capital the former most admired politician in the world retains (Obama: “That’s the guy”) is open to serious questioning. Even a whiff of the prime ministerial possibility being floated early in the week was enough to plunge the Sao Paulo stock market and drive the US dollar up again. His fight with the Goddess of the Market will be classic High Noon.

Lula always privileged balanced budgets and the government’s credibility. For instance, as he ascended to power way back in 2003, he placed former BankBoston ace Henrique Meirelles at the Central Bank and immediately went for a fiscal adjustment, sanitizing expenses and taming inflation.

Lula is not against a fiscal adjustment per se – which Brazil badly needs; the problem is Dilma’s own, bumbled adjustment went really hardcore on the Brazilian working classes and lower middle classes, including a raid on unemployment insurance. Lula is essentially against the working classes being excessively punished – which will only depress the economy even further. The proof that what he did in 2003 was the right thing – and was part of a calculated long game – is that Brazil was growing at 7.5 percent a year in 2010.

A media beast as effective as Bill Clinton in his glory days, Lula will also switch to non-stop PR offensive – something that the Dilma administration simply does not master. When in power, he always explained his policies in layman’s terms, for instance exhorting people to go shopping and to use the credit his administration was providing. But these were the good old times; now it’s a toxic environment of no consumption, no investment, and no credit.

Still, Lula is bound to bring Meirelles – a Wall Street favorite – back to the Central Bank. Meirelles has already advanced deeply unpopular reforms are essential if Brazil wants to regain its competitiveness.

All eyes on the Supreme Court

The Lula game-changer is not about to turn the whole complex chessboard upside down; it will instead make it even more unpredictable. The hegemonic judicial-politico-media-old elite-economic complex was screaming for Rousseff’s impeachment as late as last weekend. Yet now nobody knows what post-impeachment Brazil would look like.

Under the current juncture, a Rousseff impeachment – who has not been formally accused on any wrongdoing – translates as a white coup. One of the first acts of ‘Prime Minister’ Lula, a master negotiator, as he seizes the chessboard, will be to offer a – what else – negotiated solution to the crisis, which will imply this administration stays on, including Vice President Temer, whose political party is the PMDB, currently allied with the Workers’ Party.

In parallel, the Brazilian Attorney General has already collected information on the notorious coke snorting loser of the last presidential elections, right-wing opposition leader Aecio Neves, who among other feats maintains an illegal bank account in Liechtenstein under his mother’s name. He’s bound to be fully investigated.

The attorney general – based on the former government leader in the Senate ratting out a smatter of notables – actually is gearing up to investigate a cast of thousands, from Lula and Dilma’s current Vice President Temer to Neves and the current Education Minister.

At the same time the heavily politicized, Hollywood-worthy Car Wash investigation will keep firing on all cylinders even as the chief targets – Rousseff impeached and Lula in chains – become more elusive. Their key strategy is clear; to intimidate virtually everybody. The federal prosecutors behind Car Wash want to blow up any possibility of a political agreement in Brasilia – even at the price of plunging Brazil into civil war mixed with further economic depression.

It’s also clear that without the Brazilian Supreme Court effectively policing the myriad excesses of the Car Wash investigation, there is zero possibility of Brazil emerging from its dire politico-economic crisis.

And all this while impeachment enters ‘Walking Dead mode’. Institutionally, an impeachment fast track could last only 45 days. That’s all the time Lula would have to sew up a grand bargain by proving to the PMDB party that the Rousseff administration has become economically viable.

Before the Lula game-changer, referring to the offensive against Lula, Dilma and the Workers’ Party, crack historian Paulo Alves de Lima told me,

“We’re on the verge of a new stage of a rolling counter-revolution, of an even more restricted democracy, unbearably pregnant with arrogance and institutional violence. We’re closer to Pinochet, to the ideal state enshrined by Friedmanesque neoliberalism. We’re on the verge of mass fascism, which is a big novelty in Brazil.”

The Pinochet specter, of right-wingers seizing power just like in Brazil in 1964 and Chile in 1973, may be partially exorcized – for now. But make no mistake: the next few days are bound to be epic. Judge Moro, Car Wash’s Elliot Ness, allied with the Globo media empire, will go no holds barred to prevent any possibility of a political agreement in Brasilia brokered by Lula. Because this would mean Lula not only as Prime Minister, but as President – again – in 2018. Total war starts now.

Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia Times Online. 

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Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sparred about U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, and particularly Honduras, during the debate in Miami, Florida.

In other debates, they have discussed the Middle East, Libya, Egypt, Russia, China and North Korea, but not Sub-Saharan Africa. Their most noted remarks about that part of the world have been about Rwanda and the so-called U.S. failure to intervene to stop the massacres of 1994. Both echo then Sen. Obama in a 2008 presidential debate with Sen. John McCain:   

If we could have intervened effectively in the Holocaust, who among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in. If we could have stopped Rwanda, surely, if we had the ability, that would be something that we would have to strongly consider and act.   So, you know, when genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening somewhere around the world and we stand idly by, that diminishes us. So I do think we have to consider it as part of our interest, our national interest.   But understand that there’s a lot of cruelty around the world. We’re not going to be able to be everywhere all the time. That’s why it’s so important for us to be able to work in concert with our allies.

Hillary Clinton claims that she urged her husband to intervene in Rwanda, and he backs her up in that claim. Daily Kos writer Shane Hensinger accuses Clinton of lying and cites her White House schedule from the first week of April to mid-July 1994 as evidence.  He says that during the key moments at which U.S. and U.N. policymakers discussed the crisis in Rwanda, First Lady Hillary Clinton was meeting Princess Margaret and attending a Royal Ballet gala, brunching with King Hussein and Queen Noor of Jordan, attending the DNC gala, etcetera, etcetera. Hensinger does not question the narrative about failure to intervene in Rwanda.

In 2015, Vox interviewer Ezra Klein asked Bernie Sanders whether the US should have intervened to stop the Rwandan Genocide.  Sanders responded, ““Yes, but it’s not just America. This is the problem that we face. We are spending more money on the military than the next nine countries behind us. Where is the U.K.? Where is France?   Germany is the economic powerhouse in Europe. They provide health care to all of their people; they provide free college education to their kids. You know what? Germany and France and the U.K. and Scandinavia and the rest of Europe, all of us have got to work together to prevent those types of genocide and atrocities, and we have to strengthen the United Nations in order to do that.”

U.S. policymakers and pundits have repeatedly invoked Rwanda and U.S. responsibility to stop genocide and mass atrocities to justify the U.S./NATO bombing in Libya and Syria. As the U.S. and NATO’s war on Libya began, Pakistani writer Tariq Ali wrote in the Monthly Review,

“The sheer cynicism is breathtaking. We’re expected to believe that the leaders with bloody hands in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are defending the people in Libya. The fact that decent liberals still fall for this rubbish is depressing.”

On the fifth anniversary of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Ali wrote, in one of 90 statements published by the Brussels Tribunal,

“The human cost of this war would, if some other country were doing it, be labeled genocide.”

Writers including Robin Philpot, author of “Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa,” and Ed Herman and David Peterson, authors of “Enduring Lies: Rwanda in the Propaganda System 20 Years Later,” argue that the story of the U.S. and U.N. failure to stop the mass killing in Rwanda is a lie because the U.S. and U.K. in fact supported Gen. Paul Kagame’s invasion to seize power in Rwanda, which included the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Hutu civilians.

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Any business expert will tell you that marketing is not an exact science. The same is true in politics, and even more so in this historic election season.

As the polls closed yesterday, Republican candidate and US Senator Marco Rubio took to the podium to announce he was finally bowing out the GOP presidential primary race. Front runner Donald Trump nearly swept the board starting with Rubio’s home state of Florida, followed by Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri and in US territory Mariana Islands, while Ohio governor John Kasich took the remaining contest winning his first primary in his home state.

With 99 delegates at stake in a winner take all contest, Florida was meant to be Rubio’s gallant last stand. Even though the polls showed Rubio trailing in double digits before Tuesday, Rubio still insisted he was going to win, and even go on to win the nomination too.

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Critics blasted Rubio’s ‘plastic’ smile.

“Quite frankly, I think a lot of people are going to be embarrassed tonight and are going to want refunds from the money they spent on those polls because we’re going to win Florida,” said Rubio. “We feel very optimistic about that.”

When it was all said and done, Trump beat Rubio 46% to 27% in Florida. A blow out.

By the end of his long drive, Rubio had only managed to win one state caucus in Minnesota, leaving him with no real primary victory. To his investors, the truth of matter might be almost too painful to comprehend – that beyond all the hype, their man was really a bottom tier candidate.

Super Tuesday’s humiliating loss was indicative of a Rubio rise… that never rose. Before Tuesday’s defeat, no matter how poorly Florida Senator Marco Rubio showed in previous primary elections, and no matter how badly he was polling in his home state of Florida – the media, led by CNN and FOX News, still covered his campaign like he was winning the election. Clearly, there was a concerted and well-coordinated effort by the Republican establishment and major broadcast media outlets to promote Rubio’s candidacy well above the actual candidate’s weight division.

Three weeks ago, in a last-ditch effort to elevate his poll numbers, Rubio tried to out-Trump Trump, by unleashing his own round of back-ally personal verbal insults at the front runner in the hope of pulling The Donald back down to earth. Rubio began publicly calling Trump a “con man” and asserted that Trump had not achieved anything in his business career and along with fellow competitor Ted Cruz, inferred that the billionaire property and entertainment mogul Trump had inherited $200 million dollars from his late father and therefore was not deserving of any accolades. When Trump would joke about Rubio’s lack of height (Rubio is 5’8″ and Trump is 6’2″), Rubio hit back joking, “look how small Donald’s hands are, and you what they say about men with small hands..” to his crowds roaring with laughter before the Texas primary three weeks earlier.

Trump finally hit back with a moniker that Rubio could never shake, renaming him “Little Marco.”

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LITTLE MARCO: Trump’s crude deconstruction of Rubio delivered the final blow.

Although their cage match pulled more TV airtime and attention away from a Trump-obsessed media, in the end it backfired horribly for Marco, as America got an uncomfortable snapshot of a nasty and desperate Rubio – hardly the look of stability, moderation and “unity” that Rubio marketeers were trying to project, and hardly presidential either.

What was most telling about Rubio’s response to a situation, partly of his own making, was that Rubio shirked any responsibility for ratcheting-up the rhetoric, and instead tried to blame Trump for the degrading ‘tone’ of the election:

“This is a frightening, grotesque and disturbing development in American politics,” Rubio said of the violence. “We are being ripped apart at the seams now,” he continued. “I’m sad for this country. This is supposed to be the example to the world of how a republic functions and instead people are watching third-world images last night coming out of Chicago.”

It was too late. The damage was already done. Some pundits were calling it “political suicide” by Rubio – a gross error of political miscalculation on his part. But this would be missing the point because in reality, beyond all the incredible marketing hype, Rubio’s campaign never achieved any serious market penetration to begin with.

It’s important to remember that the establishment firmly believed, and still to this day, that Marco Rubio could be the Republican Party’s answer to the marketing sensation that was Barack Obama in 2008. By capitalizing on his youth and his Latino profile, the GOP elite saw this as a ‘turn-key’ marketing solution. Just like a soda pop brand, party and media operatives believed that by positioning Rubio’s brand in a highbrow market tier, voters would make the necessary connections and move to act by casting their vote for him.

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DETATCHED: Darryl Issa throws himself under the bus,, desperate to inflate Rubio before Super Tuesday.

On Super Tuesday, the transmission truly fell out of the Rubio marketing machine. After months of boasting about how he would win his home state, Rubio plugger and California Congressman Darryl Issa (R), insisted that, “Marco is leading in early (voting) returns in Florida.”

Seriously, Congressman Issa?

Issa appeared to be carrying water for the GOP establishment by doing the last minute media rounds for kingmaker Mitt Romney, who weeks earlier dropped the gauntlet down on the Trump train during a speech at the University of Utah. Romney,  the former Republican presidential candidate and Massachusetts governor implored his GOP herd to join forces and stop Trump by splitting the votes by voting for Kasich in Ohio, and for Rubio in Florida. Romney’s hoped  that his divide and conquer strategy would rob Trump of the delegate majority needed to secure the GOP nomination before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland Ohio this July.

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JET-SET: Rubio taking instructions from elite off-shoring corporate raider Mitt Romney.

Clearly, Romney had staked his claim behind Marco Rubio then, which means that Rubio’s collapse in Florida has half deflated Romney’s Revolt.

Romney continued to dig a hole for himself in Florida before Super Tuesday by recording an automated “Robo-call” used to phone prospective Marco Rubio voters in Florida, nearly begging voters to cast ballots for, “a candidate who can defeat Hillary Clinton and who can make us proud.”

The recorded message went on: “If we Republicans were to choose Donald Trump as our nominee, I believe that the prospects for a safe and prosperous future would be greatly diminished — and I’m convinced Donald Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton.” 

Making Robo-calls for a candidate who people were already calling “a Robot”, wasn’t exactly a smart move by Romney.

Far from swinging the election towards Rubio, what Mitt Romney really proved was that money and power can’t buy common sense.

Ghost Run

For anyone who actually bothered to look close enough, hints of Rubio’s collapse were everywhere, but you wouldn’t know if from media coverage over the last two months. If not for favorable network face-time on the GOP TV debates, along with Rubio’s elite financier backers like billionaire Paul Singer and Cayman hedge fund raider Romney, it’s safe to say that Rubio’s numbers might had been well below those of his fellow non-starter, Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Rubio-linked multi-million dollar Super PAC funds pulled out all the stops against Trump too, launching a social media tidal wave of anti-Trump messages before the Florida primary:

Last Wednesday, Rubio hired out a football stadium to stage a homecoming rally in his own state. Unfortunately, no one showed up. TV cameras had to be moved forward into a tiny area around the field’s goal posts in order to make the rally look as if more than a few hundred people bothered to show up. Far from jovial and inspirational, the atmosphere was that of deflation and despondency. It was tragic.

And when the cameras zoomed-in, it looked like this:

CNN had dispatched one of its intrepid city-dwelling reporters, Jason Carroll, out to Hialeah, Florida to  cover the event. Carrol tried be nice about it, describing the event as “much, much smaller” than a ‘normal’ Rubio event. So much for Marco’s homecoming, and so much for Mitt Romney’s plan to have Marco win his home state to force a brokered convention in July.

If Romney’s revolt was ever going to happen, it wasn’t going to be in Florida. You’d think Mitt’s people would’ve figured that one out, but there you go (millions are beginning to understand now why Romney performed so poorly in the 2012 election).

Jason Carol’s cameraman delivered a dim shot of the rally. If there was a church BBQ down the road, it would have drawn a bigger crowd than this.

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After this debacle last week, Rubio still found the gumption to go on national TV and more or less instruct his supporters to cast their vote for John Kasich in the Ohio primary. Never before in modern American history have we seen presidential candidates instructing their supporters to vote against them in order to derail the party frontrunner in the hopes of triggering a brokered Republican National Convention in July.

In reality, a brokered convention means that even if Donald Trump wins the popular votes and the collects the most delegates in the GOP primaries – the Republican Party will call for a vote on the convention floor asking for all delegates to vote again, which in this case would mean that if the combined delegates of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich exceeds that held by Donald Trump, then Trump would be dumped by his own party’s establishment insiders at the convention – in favor of another yet to be determined party elite selection. Most likely this would be Mitt Romney’s former running mate, House Speaker Paul Ryan, or one of the other three aforementioned candidates.

Great on Paper

Before he was cast-off by the Tea Party purists in favor of Cruz, Rubio had positioned his brand as one of insurgency, but the crowd didn’t buy it. So the brand was repositioned as a “safe” choice for voters.

When the Rubio vs Trump mêlée first started, I had said that this was the inevitable result of the Republican establishment who were, “going for the mathematical and demographically pragmatic option – which would be Marco Rubio, with Wisconsin’s Scott Walker throwing early innings in the bull pen. Orthodox RNC thinking last spring believed that Rubio, with less than one term in Senate and no leadership experience, would somehow repeat the ‘Obama effect’ of 2008, and finally usher their party into the 21st century. Things looked very different for Hillary last spring too, where she seemed invincible on the Democrat side as well as in national polling. On paper at least, it seems that Rubio would “tick all the right boxes” for the GOP elite presiding over a party in decline and disarray – young (44 years old, although you’d put him at a decade his junior), and even more importantly, Latino, giving the GOP a shot at pulling in a crucial trilateral voter compliment: Hispanic-American, independents and moderate Democrats. On paper this all makes perfect sense, but running for President in the United States of America isn’t simply a case of what looks logical on paper. Case and point: Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson and, of course, Donald Trump.

coke-zero-2015-604-337-4cff837f
It was a truly devastating moment for the Rubio campaign who had raised no less than $70 million so far as part of a desperate establishment bid to market the ‘Rubio brand’. According to a chief strategist for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Rubio has been “more hyped than Crystal Pepsi,” in reference to Pepsi’s 1992 marketing flop.

“Sen. Rubio has been more hyped than Crystal Pepsi, but he has flopped even worse,” said Weaver last week.

“Even a well-conceived, high-financed marketing campaign won’t work if people don’t want to buy the product. That’s the Rubio campaign’s problem…. Behind the nice packaging, voters are discovering there is little substance.”

Not surprisingly, I don’t really like Crystal Pepsi. No one does. But everyone remembers when Coca Cola tried to inflate Coke Zero before it completely flopped. Millions were wasted in vain, and it seems that the only people who really benefited from this exercise in hype were the advertising agencies and the production companies who produced them – and also the media networks who sold the ad space to Coca Cola.

The same could be said with Rubio, and of course with Jeb Bush and a few others, although Rubio may still live to run another day. Even Coke Zero can become a Hero (well, according to Coca Cola, anyway) after years and years of marketing capital is invested into that product which no one was really interested in to begin with.

Billionaire Boys Club

Billionaires love to gamble, especially in politics – and they gambled heavily – and lost, on Marco Rubio. One might question the establishment’s efficacy in leaving an invisible Rubio in a primary race where he’s taking votes away from a more promising challenger in Texas Senator Rafael Edward (Ted) Cruz. Ditto with Kasich.

Maybe it’s the egos, or maybe Trump is actually pulling the master strings. Either way, the establishment’s anti-Trump obsession is tearing the Republican Party apart.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more like a true life black comedy, all three desperate GOP challengers found themselves courting the endorsement of election dropout and former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, on the Thursday before the CNN debate began.

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As sexy goes, this endorsement hardly registers outside of a few select country clubs. If it were an endorsement from 90 year old Barbara Bush then it might mean something.

So poor was Jeb’s showing in the primary contest – even after burning through over $100 million in campaign donations (he raised over $150 million) and received around 7% of the vote – it’s difficult to see why anyone among Rubio, Cruz and Kasich would be offering a stump for Mr. Excitement, a “low energy” dynastic nonstarter.

On balance, this endorsement would probably garner less votes than an endorsement from David Duke. Such is the bizarre and sideshow-like nature of this 2016 presidential election.

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A NEW AMERICAN CENTURY: Rubio uses Neocon’s PNAC and ‘Israel-first’ old marketing slogan.

Why the Elite Loved Rubio

Like his globalist colleague Kasich, and despite his evasive comments on the campaign trail, Rubio seems very committed to Wall Street and Bilderberg principles regarding corporate-brokered trade pacts like TPP, TTIP, GAT, and the WTO.

On foreign policy, Rubio is a pro-war Republican, calling for regime change in Syria, and even made the incredible comment during one of the GOP’s February debates that, “We didn’t overthrow Gaddafi, the Libyan people did…”, having not realized that months of US air bombardment, as well as arming and working with Islamist militants on the ground is what toppled the Libyan state in 2011. Many of these same militants packed up and moved the roadshow to Syria in late 2011 and early 2012. The CIA were active and involved in the repatriation of fighters to Syria and the trafficking of weapons into Syria after the fall of Gaddafi. It would be shocking if Rubio wasn’t aware of any of this, especially if he wants to be president of the United States.

The other obvious, if not bizarre indicator that the globalists’ billionaire, military industrial class are firmly backing Rubio was hidden in plain sight. His campaign slogan was “A New American Century”, and of course, the significance of this was completely lost on the mainstream media. It seemed that Rubio had stolen his campaign slogan from the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton (and Jeb Bush, who also signed the PNAC pledge in 1998) whose neoconservative pro-war think tank, Project for A New American Century (PNAC) was arguably the architect of America’s post-9/11 foreign policy. PNAC was also an extension of Israel’s foreign policy too, which makes sense considering how aggressively Rubio advocates for Israeli interests.

When you actually look at Rubio’s record during his time in the Florida legislature, it does not paint a pretty picture at all.

Without too much effort, any member of the media, including CNN’s Don Lemon, Jake Tapper or Anderson Cooper, could find a substantial trail of dirt behind the young Senator – if only for the fact that Rubio’s record seems to be off limits by the media and newspapers like the New York Times – all of whom are devoted to only running critical exposes on Donald Trump. Rubio’s dubious track record of scandals and other pieces of corruption are well-known in his home state, but almost invisible nationally. Top of that list might be one David Rivera, a long-time political ally and close friend of Marco Rubio – who also happens to be under investigation by the FBI.

That’s only the beginning. One of the most telling scandals involved Rubio selling his home to a lobbyist, and getting way over the asking price. On The Issues reports:

“Rubio’s personal finances were questioned because he made a $200,000 profit selling a house he owned to the mother of a chiropractor who was lobbying for a change in state insurance rules. Rubio had been a holdout, but removed a block on the measure shortly after the home sale and voted for it. Rubio was criticized for failing to disclose a home equity loan he received from US Century Bank, whose chairman, Sergio Pino, was a political supporter. The house had been appraised for $185,000, more than the purchase price just 37 days after he bought it. Rubio’s staff said the value jumped because he’d locked in a lower preconstruction price and made improvements. US Century Bank–a large recipient of federal bank bailout money–denied making a sweetheart deal.”

There are a number of other sketchy scandals linking Rubio to Florida’s organized crime syndicates, ponzi schemes, including shady deals involving cash payouts and dodgy lobbyists, some of which can be read here.

Then there’s the business of Rubio’s “sugar daddy”, Jewish billionaire and Israeli luminary Norman Braman. Not only is Braman bank-rolling the Rubio political machine (in return for…?), but Brahman’s ‘charity’ foundation also employs Marco’s wife Jeanette Rubio too.

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ON BOARD: Rubio with Israeli luminary Shimon Peres.

Brahman is also Rubio’s entrée into the Israeli Lobby. It was Brahman who flew Marco and his family to Israel in 2010 to be inducted into the Israeli mind-set. This is also evident through Rubio’s pro-Israeli rhetoric, where during one debate he proudly announced, “There can be NO negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians right now…”

In another recent speech, Rubio took things a step further by insinuating that anyone who criticizes Israel is racist, insisting that, “All of this anti-Israel action going on globally, it’s anti-Semitism.”

He could easily be speaking as an Israeli envoy, speaking straight off of the lobby’s talking script.

That’s just a snapshot of what sort of political animal Marco Rubio is – not unlike the rest of the pack, and perhaps a lot more shrewd, pushy and cunning that many others. You wouldn’t expect anything less by anyone who believes that they deserve to be elected President of the United States having served less than one term in the US Senate at the age of 44.

It’s not certain yet whether or not Rubio will be able to retain his Florida US Senate seat after announcing he would be campaigning for president last year. Maybe a run for governor in Florida is in the cards.

One thing is certain though, at his young age and with powerful backers like the Israeli Lobby – we have not seen the last of Marco Rubio. His talent and ability as a speaker and his potential for a broad-based appeal is undeniable and you can be certain he will remain a key tool for the establishment for many years to come.

Just like Coke Zero, with enough marketing muscle and money injected into it, every brand can have a second life.

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Putin’s Monday statement that he has ordered majority of Russia’s assets in Syria back home came as a huge surprise to most everyone including myself and has typically been described as a “shock announcement”. In my mind there is little doubt that Putin cherished the shock the announcement caused and certainly staged it in such a way to maximize that effect.

That said can we really let ourselves get off that easy? After all if memory serves the Russians when they announced the (equally surprising) military intervention in Syria clearly and unambiguously said it would only be of a very limited duration.

ReutersRussian air strikes in Syria to last three-four months: Putin ally

“There is always a risk of being bogged down but in Moscow, we are talking about an operation of three to four months,” Alexei Pushkov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, told French radio station Europe 1. He added that the strikes were going to intensify.

Sputnik:

“My words were taken out of context as I wanted to say that the American military operation in Syria has been going on for more than a year. In regard to the Russian military operation, I meant that it would be limited in time and would have a fully defined timeframe.

Going in the Russians did not have a hard time limit, but it was clear they were thinking in terms of months rather than years.

And when exactly would they cease the combat operations they had now undertaken? When Russia’s intervention had done enough to “stabilize” the Syrian government and “create conditions for a political compromise”:

The aim of the Russian military operation in Syria – is the stabilization of the legitimate authority in the country, said Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Our task is to stabilize the legitimate authority and create conditions for a political compromise”, – he said in an interview with the program “Sunday Night with Vladimir Solovyov” on TV channel “Russia-1”.

Since the Damascus government is now no longer losing ground but expanding instead, and there are peace talks that have already produced a partial ceasefire that has held better and longer than anyone expected at its inception the criteria for Russian withdrawal was met.

So why was Monday such a surprise? Because most everyone had refused to take seriously Kremlin’s words that this is a strictly time-limited as well as a goals-limited operation.

These included both those who hoped Russia would become stuck in a quagmire, and those who hoped Moscow would do more to help Syrians defeat the Saudi/Turkish/CIA-backed jihad in their country.

The lesson: If Russians say they’ll do something – they might.

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In a Rose Garden ceremony Wednesday morning, President Barack Obama announced his nomination of Merrick Garland, the chief judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by Antonin Scalia’s sudden death on February 13. If confirmed, Garland would become the 113th Supreme Court justice, bringing the membership to its traditional number of nine.

As expected, within minutes of Obama’s announcement, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, reiterated his earlier vow that there would be no Senate vote on any Obama Supreme Court nominee prior to the presidential election in November.

Because there are not likely to be any Senate confirmation hearings before Obama’s term expires, Garland’s selection is being viewed in large measure as a political maneuver to bolster the Democrats’ electoral fortunes by exposing Republican obstructionism. Obama has named an individual, previously backed by leading Republicans as well as Democrats, who has qualifications and politics that in previous periods would have ensured speedy confirmation by the Senate.

More immediate electoral calculations aside, the choice underscores the essentially right-wing orientation of the Democratic White House.

Garland, 63, is both the oldest and most conventional of those said to have been on Obama’s “short list” to replace Scalia. A descendant of Jewish immigrants from Russia who settled in Chicago, Garland graduated at the top of his class at both Harvard University and Harvard Law School.

He first clerked for federal appellate Judge Henry J. Friendly of New York and then for Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., both appointees of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower during the late 1950s who became noted liberals while on the bench.

Garland spent his first two years in practice as a special assistant to the Carter administration’s last attorney general, Benjamin Civiletti. With the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981, Garland left the government to join Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C., which was then growing into one of the largest law firms in the world by representing corporate clients, including Philip Morris Company, sued for covering up the health consequences of smoking cigarettes.

During his eight years with the firm, Garland represented various business interests and became a published authority on antitrust law. He left private practice in 1989 to spend four years as a federal prosecutor. After rejoining Arnold & Porter briefly, Garland became an official in the Clinton administration’s Department of Justice, where he supervised several high-profile “domestic terrorism” investigations and prosecutions, including those of the “Unabomber” and Oklahoma City federal building bomber Timothy McVeigh.

President Bill Clinton nominated Garland to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1995, but Republican opposition to filling the seat delayed Garland’s confirmation until 1997, when he was finally approved by a vote of 76-23, with 32 Republicans voting in his favor.

For the last 19 years, Garland has been a judge of the DC Circuit, the court of appeals responsible for reviewing a high percentage of cases involving federal criminal prosecutions and disputes with federal regulatory agencies. As a result of a rotation based on seniority, Garland is now the Circuit’s chief judge.

Garland’s reputation is as a polite and skilled judicial “moderate,” which in today’s skewed political terms puts him far to the right of his mentors Friendly and Brennan. Garland’s rulings have evinced some sympathy for civil rights and environmental concerns, and he has not been a knee-jerk defender of corporate interests in regulatory disputes, but he is perceived as tending to side with the prosecution in cases relating to the rights of people accused of crimes.

Preliminary examinations of Garland’s judicial record have provided little indication of how he might vote on so-called hot-button issues such as abortion and affirmative action that have attracted much attention on the Supreme Court over the last several years.

In one notorious case, Garland joined with two other DC Circuit judges to deny habeas corpus to prisoners detained by the United States military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That decision was later reversed by a 6-3 decision of the Supreme Court. In other cases, however, Garland wrote decisions slamming the Central Intelligence Agency for refusing to confirm that it had records of drone assassinations, and ordering the release of an ethnic Uighur from military detention.

In his Rose Garden remarks announcing the appointment, Obama placed heavy emphasis on Garland’s years as a prosecutor and repeatedly referred to past praise lavished on Garland by right-wing Republicans such as Utah Senator Orin Hatch. There was no attempt to portray the nomination as an effort to shift the Supreme Court in the direction of defending democratic rights.

In one particularly telling moment, Obama, rather than referring explicitly to Garland’s tenure with Judge Brennan, who was perhaps the most outstanding judge on the liberal Chief Justice Earl Warren Court of the 1960s, said only that Garland had clerked for “a Republican-appointed Supreme Court judge.”

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Why Ukraine Needs Russia More Than Ever

March 17th, 2016 by Prof. Nicolai N. Petro

In January Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, congratulated the country on surviving its first winter without buying Russian gas. It had instead bought European gas which, as Poroshenko pointed out proudly, was 30% more expensive.

This sums up the core problem facing the Ukrainian economy. It is not corruption, a serious issue about which little can be done in the short term, but the ideologically driven choice to sever all ties with Russia, the country that has historically been its major trading partner and chief investor.

In little over a year, living standards in Ukraine have fallen by half, the value of the currency has slumped by more than two-thirds, and inflation has skyrocketed to 43%. Yet, even as the economy has collapsed, the government has insisted on economic policies that can only be termed suicidal.

By tearing up contracts with Russia in 2014, Ukraine’s defence and aviation industries lost 80% of their income. Once the pride of Kiev, airline manufacturer Antonov went bankprupt and rocket engine producer Yuzhmash is now working just one day a week.

By severing banking ties with Moscow, Kiev has denied itself investment and a vital economic lifeline – the remittances sent back home by zarobitchane, Ukraine’s migrant workers. Up to seven million Ukrainians have sought work in Russia, sending back $9bn in 2014 – three times the total foreign direct investment Ukraine got last year.

Reckless government borrowing has exacerbated the problem. The government was able to write off 20% of its Eurobond debt last October, allowing it to negotiate for the next IMF loan tranche which was expected in December but still not been received.

But the draconian terms imposed for this small beer are often overlooked. Ukraine will be repaying this debt until 2041, with future generations giving western creditors as much as half of the country’s GDP growth, should it ever reach 4% a year.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko followed by Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko and Russian president Vladimir Putin after talks in Minsk

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko followed by Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko and Russian president Vladimir Putin after talks in Minsk. Photograph: Grigory Dukor/Reuters

 

 

There is a common thread that links the government’s irrational economic behavior – the understandable desire to spite Vladimir Putin. Alas, it is the average Ukrainian citizen who pays the price.

There can also be no doubt that Poroshenko approves of this approach. In his first speech of 2016 he announced new priorities for the Ukrainian economy. The government intends to end subsidies to manufacturing and industry, and instead promote investment in information technologies and agriculture.

It is not at all clear, however, where he will sell this produce, since by signing a free trade agreement with the EU, Ukraine lost its preferential access to its largest market, Russia.

Meanwhile, EU rules restrict Ukraine’s exports to Europe, which fell 23% in 2015 despite the preferential tariff regime that was in place for most of last year. For example, only 72 Ukrainian companies are allowed to export food of animal origin to the EU: 39 of the licences are for honey. While that may sound like a lot of honey, Ukraine exported its yearly quota for honey in the first six weeks of 2016. A similar story holds for other commodities.

Nor is it clear how Poroshenko plans to make Ukrainian agriculture globally competitive when, as his own agriculture minister points out, four out of five state-owned agricultural companies are bankrupt. It is also unclear who will pay for agricultural machinery, 80% of which is imported.

Such policies have led to a steady erosion of government popularity, with 70% of Ukrainians saying the country is on wrong track and 85% say they do not trust the prime minister. Poroshenko’s popularity is now lower than that of his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovich, on the eve of the Maidan rebellion that ousted him.

But while less than 2% describe the country as “stable,” a new revolt does not seem imminent. So far, the regime has been able to provide explanations that deflect attention away from its own role in Ukraine’s economic demise.

Man holding a Russian flag during the celebrations for the first anniversary of the annexation of Crimea in Sevastopol.

Man holding a Russian flag during the celebrations for the first anniversary of the annexation of Crimea in Sevastopol. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS

 

 

The first is Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the rebellion in the east, which are commonly cited as reasons for the fall in GDP. While it’s true that these caused significant economic damage, it has been exacerbated by the government’s own policies which, despite insisting Russophone eastern regions are part of Ukraine, has cut them off from economic ties and punished the population for siding with Russia.

Another favourite argument of the current government is that Ukraine simply has no choice but to respond to Russian aggression by imposing its own sanctions. The beauty of this argument is that, while it may not make economic sense, it makes a great deal of political sense for those now in power.

The destruction of Ukraine’s industrial base, which is heavily concentrated in the east, shifts the balance of economic and political power to the western regions, permanently marginalising opposing political voices. The advantages are clear. Fostering a sense of perpetual crisis allows the current government to argue that it must remain in power, to see its policies through. The only uncertainty is whether such a strategy can bear fruit before the country’s economy collapses.

This is not a policy that the west can endorse. Regardless of political sympathies, no western government should tolerate the deliberate impoverishment of the population for political gain. The risks of Ukraine becoming a failed state, and adding millions more to Europe’s burgeoning refugee crisis, are simply too high.

The best way to avoid such an outcome is to recognise that Ukraine’s economic survival depends not on western bailouts but on the renewal of Russian investment there. Western policymakers should insist that economic rationality take precedence over economic nationalism, and make that a condition of assistance.

Until that happens, it is hard to imagine anyone investing in Ukraine’s future, including its own people.

Nicolai Petro is an academic specialising in Russian and Ukrainian affairs, currently professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island. He spent 2013-2104 as a US Fulbright Scholar in Ukraine

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Another Way ‘Democracy’ Is Rigged in America

March 17th, 2016 by Eric Zuesse

Did you know that if a given political party already has an incumbent in a particular political post, it’s standard practice in the United States for a political party to prohibit its voter-list to be purchased by anyone who’s not an incumbent office-holder in that party — including by someone who wishes to challenge or contest within that party the incumbent, in a primary election?

Only incumbents have access to that crucial list — crucial for any candidate in a primary election (unless there is no incumbent who is of that party).

Here’s an example:

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a long-time unquestioningly loyal operative of Hillary Clinton, was selected by the Democratic President Barack Obama (though she had condemned Obama while he was running against Clinton in 2008) to run the Democratic National Committee, so that Obama’s Administration will be continued with little change by his (chosen) successor (just a change of the President’s name, and only a bit more of a neo-conservative on her foreign policies than he was). However, Ms. DWS has a very low approval-rating from her constituents, and a Bernie Sanders supporter wants to contest against her in a Democratic primary. But, he says:

Last week, I called the Florida Democratic Party to request access to the voter file database and software known as VAN that is routinely used by Democratic candidates across the country.

I was told that our campaign would be denied access to this database because I am running against an incumbent Democrat, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I was also told that any Democratic candidate running against an incumbent Democrat would be denied access.

A reader-comment there was:

I’ve learned that this is standard practice in most states, to block challengers from the same party going up against incumbents.

I think it’s bu…hit. I’ve asked people to give me some good reasoning why this is a standard practice, and *crickets*.

In other words: Politicians campaign hypocritically saying they favor ’term-limits’ but universally support the real  reason (which isn’t the lack of term-limits; it’s the lack of fairness, such as this) why even the most vile incumbents get re-‘elected’ time and again: this thuggish custom of the Democratic and Republican political Parties, which blocks challengers from having access to the most crucial tool for becoming a Party’s nominee: the list of that Party’s registerd voters. Only the existing incumbent can buy that list. (Of course, if the ‘opposite’ Party has the incumbent in the contest, then the DNC/RNC will sell the person that list in order to yank the seat to their Party. The most-rigged part of American ‘democracy’ might be primary elections, not  general elections — which is what politicians most discuss in public as being rigged, such as especially both of GWB’s Presidential ‘wins’, which were exceptionally scandalous.)

Among the many ways in which the United States is not a democracy, the operation of primaries by Parties which actually represent their incumbents and not at all the public, is an important one. And the incumbent politicians never publicize it. Only a few aspiring challengers ‘complain’ about it — and the public never likes a ‘complainer.’

What this means is that, if an incumbent serves well the donors who financed his/her campaign, then that person will almost certainly not be effectively challenged in a primary by someone else from that party, because that prospective challenger won’t even have access to the list of registered voted in that party. The only significant chance that the incumbent will be replaced (unless he/she quits and, say, becomes a lobbyist for those donors) is if the ‘opposite’ party can find a suitable person to run against him/her (by serving donors to the ‘other’ party — which donors might also be donors to both parties).

In other words: the political Establishment consists of the aristocracy and its servants — within both parties. Both parties serve the aristocrats, sometimes even the same aristocrats, but, in other matters, serve the agenda that’s shared among the richest people in both parties.

The only scientific study that has been done of the net results from such a system was described and linked-to here. It found that in the U.S., the aristocracy rule; the public do not. And here is a recent former U.S. President saying that his own experience and analysis of the U.S. political system is in accord with those findings.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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The US Federal Reserve said Wednesday it would keep interest rates on hold and scaled backed forecasts for how rapidly it will lift them for the rest of the year. When the Fed increased its base rate in December last year it appeared to be on course for four rate rises over the next 12 months.

On this occasion, the median projection of participants in the Federal Open Market Committee for the movement of interest rates, comprised from the so-called “dot plot” predictions of individual members, saw the Fed base rate at 0.875 percent by the end of the year, compared to the present level of 0.5 percent. The projection was below earlier forecasts and implied no more than two increases this year.

While it had been expected there would be no rate rise this meeting, it was still thought the Fed could move to tighten rates in June. That may still take place, but its probability has been lowered with the timeline for further rate rises pushed out to September or even December.

While last December’s rise of 0.25 percentage points proceeded with little disturbance, in the first two months of this year markets fell sharply and there was criticism that the Fed’s move to higher rates was out of line with what was being revealed by the gyrations of the financial system.

Consequently, yesterday’s indication that four interest rate hikes for this year had been taken off the table was broadly welcomed, though there was one dissenting vote from a member of the FOMC who wanted to see an immediate rate increase.

The overall response to the decision was that the Fed, in the words of one analyst on the CNBC business channel, had moved “to where the market wants it to be.”

A financial analyst cited by the Wall Street Journal remarked: “The Fed and the market being on the same page is somewhat of a relief. It removes one of the tangles we’ve had this year.” Another commented that the announcement “gives some investors a sense of security that they didn’t have.”

In other words, the flow of cheap money, used to finance share buybacks, mergers and acquisitions and other forms of financial speculation is going to continue. The markets duly showed their appreciation as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which has continued to rise in the past month on the growing belief that the Fed would pull back on interest rate rises, closed up 74 points to reach its highest level for the year so far.

This was another expression of the perverse logic which dominates the markets, namely, that bad news on the real economy is good news for finance.

The Fed statement said economic activity in the US had been expanding at a “moderate pace”, which it expected to continue, with the housing sector on the improve and labour market indicators strengthening. “However, global economic and financial developments continue to pose risks,” it continued.

The statement also noted that “business fixed investment and net exports have been soft.”

The former is significant because investment in new plant and equipment, building and construction is the key driver of the real economy. Exports are also crucial because they comprise a major component of the bottom line for major global US corporations. American firms have been experiencing tougher international market conditions because of the rise in the value of the dollar relative to the value of the currencies of their competitors in Europe, Japan and Korea.

It was not referred to in the FOMC statement, but no doubt one of the factors in the Fed’s decision to keep interest rates on hold and slow the pace of further rises was the fear that a move towards tightening would push up the value of the dollar against both the euro and the yen, worsening the position of US firms.

In their recent decisions, both the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan have pushed interest rates to negative levels and increased the supply of cheap money under their respective quantitative easing (QE) programs.

The lowering of currency values is not a stated aim of European and Japanese QE—all countries maintain an official stance against the launching of currency wars—but both the ECB and the BoJ want to see a reduction in the value of the euro and the yen. That has not taken place in the recent period, largely because of the expectation that the Fed would not raise rates on this occasion. However, had it not indicated a shift away from future rate tightening, the dollar may have resumed its rise, and impacted on the position of US firms in increasingly competitive global markets.

The official statement on the international situation was formulated in bland language with the Fed saying that future assessments would be based in part on “readings on financial and international developments.” No doubt behind closed doors, some more pointed language is being used.

The Fed would clearly like to return the US interest rate regime to something resembling what were once regarded as “normal” conditions. But it has been pushed away from that objective by the policies of other major central banks, which are moving further from that situation with expanded financial asset purchases and the introduction of negative interest rates.

In its decision on Tuesday, the Bank of Japan did not further ease its monetary policy, following its surprise decision at the end of January to introduce negative rates. But it did indicate it may go further in that direction later in the year. In his press conference, BoJ governor Haruhiko Kuroda claimed the bank’s policy was working but then gave a downbeat assessment of the future. He said that the pick-up in exports had paused while public expectations of future inflation have “recently weakened.”

As the Financial Times noted: “That language raises the chance of further easing because the BoJ pays close attention to expectations.”

Significantly, for the second time in a row, the Fed did not provide a risk assessment in its official statement. Its omission points to the fact that US and other financial authorities have no idea of where the financial system is heading. After welcoming the relatively calm in response to last December’s decision, they were totally blindsided by the market turbulence in January and February and clearly fear another round of volatility could take place at any time.

Their decisions are being made in a situation where the policies of the key central banks are on diverging paths and there is an undeclared currency war between the major economic powers, official denials notwithstanding.

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In the context of developing Cuba-US relations, on March 2, 2016 in Geneva, the Deputy secretary of State of the US State Department, Antony J. Blinken, issued the National Statement at the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. In this statement he indicated that Obama during his visit to Cuba in March “will emphasize that the Cuban people are best served by an environment where people are free to choose their political parties and their leaders…”

Let us concentrate for the moment on the theme of “choosing their leaders.”

The election of the Council of State and its president: one step

The National Assembly of People’s Power (Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular- ANPP, or Parliament) has a five-year mandate. As a first step before initiating the new sessions, it meets to elect from among its members its officials (president, vice-president and secretary) and then the Council of State.

From among the deputies, the ANPP then elects the Council of State. It consists of the Council of State president and first vice-president, other vice-presidents, a secretary and 23 other members, totalling 31 members. The president of the Council of State is also the head of state and head of government (Council of Ministers). (The current president of these two bodies is Raúl Castro.) Finally, the Constitution states, “The Council of State is accountable for its action to the National Assembly of People’s Power, to which it must render accounts of all its activities.”

Cuba does not have a “presidential system” nor does it pretend to have one. The president of the Council of State is elected from among the deputies, who are elected by the citizens.

Raúl Castro: how was he elected to the parliament?

Let us take the example of Raúl Castro based on a very summary description of some of the steps leading to his election as President of the Councils of State and Ministers. In the last 2013 general elections, he was elected as Deputy to the Cuban ANPP (Parliament) from a municipality in his home province of Santiago de Cuba. While there is only one candidate per seat, a candidate needs at least 50% of the popular vote. In the 2013 general elections, Raúl Castro garnered 98.04% of the vote. This was one of the highest among the 612 Deputies elected.

The Comisión de Candidaturas Nacional (CCN — National Candidacies Commission) is responsible for organizing the nomination and elections of the ANPP’s officials and the Council of State. It initiates consultations with the deputies as soon as they are elected.

In 2013 the elections took place on February 3rd. The electoral process is completed by February 24 when the newly mandated ANPP meets to constitute itself. Each deputy has the right to propose any deputy to any post among the ANPP’s officials and Council of State.

The nomination of deputies to the Council of State

Prior to the February 24 constitution of the new ANPP mandate, the CCN provides each deputy with a tabloid containing the biographies of the 614 elected deputies, as well as those of the outgoing Council of State members (Interview, María Ester Reus González).

This procedure was further explained in a separate interview with the CCN, which, at the time was initiating the process. When the deputy arrives at the CCN office, after having had ample time to review the tabloid, he or she is provided with two blank sheets — one for the Council of State proposals and one for the ANPP’s officials. The person can then elaborate a personal list of suggestions, also including the preferences for specific posts, such as presidents and vice-presidents of the Council of State and officials of the ANPP. The list is unsigned and is deposited in secret (Interview, Pérez Santana, Marchante Fuentes and Fajardo Marin).

Deputy Daniel Rafuls Pineda (at the time) elaborated on this procedure. He reported that the CCN personally provided him with the list of 614 biographies several days before his February 7 appointment at the CCN headquarters. He thereby had “the total freedom to make [his] decision in private” (Daniel Rafuls Pineda, email message to the author, March 15, 2008).

Deputy Jorge Gómez’s opinion regarding this nomination

Deputy Jorge Gómez (director of the musical band Moncada) related his experience on this process. It also provided an interesting inside account of the period from January to February 2008. At that time, Fidel Castro had already temporarily relinquished his presidency position to first vice-president Raúl Castro, in 2006. On February 19, 2008, Fidel Castro publicly released his announcement of the previous day: “I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief”.

According to Jorge Gómez, in his private session at the CCN headquarters, this took place before the above-mentioned announcement by the Cuban leader, thus the deputy had proposed Fidel Castro for president of the Council of State. He also listed the name of Raúl Castro as first vice-president and José Machado Ventura as the next-in-line vice-president, along with his other choices for that body. Jorge Gómez also indicated his choice for the ANPP’s officials on the other sheet handed to him.

Following a question to Jorge Gómez on continuity of the Revolution’s leadership, the non-Communist Party deputy, was of the opinion that, in the absence of Fidel Castro having a formal position in the Council of State, it was necessary to “reinforce the historical leadership of the Revolution.”

On another query as to a February 2008 Granma article reporting that Fidel Castro suggested to the CCN that Machado Ventura be nominated as first vice-president, Gómez responded that this was Fidel’s logical preoccupation. His goal has been to make sure at all times that the essence of the Revolution is not lost. Gómez was of the opinion that Machado Ventura, as one of the historical leaders of the Revolution, with long-standing experience, should be nominated (Interview, Jorge Gómez Barranco).

The role of the National Candidacies Commission

Once all the deputies had gone through this process of proposing candidates for the ANPP’s officials and the Council of State, the CCN then tabulated the ballots on sheets of paper. According to the number of votes, it elaborated the list of 31 Council of State members, including its leading positions. The CCN formulated another list of the three ANPP officials (Interview, Pérez Santana, Marchante Fuentes and Fajardo Marin).

Based on the author’s attendance at the 1998 constitution of the new ANPP mandate at that time and the interviews regarding the 2008 mandate, the final steps of the elections took place in the following manner. On the day of the constitution of the ANPP mandate (February 24, 2008), the President of the Comisión Electoral Nacional (CEN, National Electoral Commission) María Esther Reus González presided over the ANPP until its officials were elected. The list of the three proposed officials was presented to the deputies: Ricardo Alarcón for president, Jaime Alberto Crombet Hernández-Baquero for vice-president and Miriam Brito Sarroca for secretary.

The vote of the deputies

A show-of-hands vote followed to determine whether the deputies agreed with these three nominations or whether they had any other proposals. There were no other proposals. Therefore, the list of three nominees became official. The ANPP session was then adjourned for a secret-ballot vote in the lobby, outside the main meeting hall. Once the three nominees were elected and announced as such by the CEN, the new officials took over the presidency of the ANPP.

The same procedure ensued for the 31 members of the Council of State. Raúl Castro was elected president of the Council of State and ipso facto president of the Council of Ministers, therefore head of state and head of the government (according to Article 74 of the Constitution) (Interview, Balseiro Gutiérrez and Amarón Díaz; Interview, Pérez Santana).

With this, the general elections — which had begun in July 2007 with the municipal first-phase elections — ended on February 24, 2008. The 2012–13 general elections followed the same beginning in July 2012 and ending in February 2013.

The role of the revolution’s leadership

The nominations and elections of the ANPP’s officials and the Council of State may seem quite formal. This is in fact true, especially when compared with the elections to the municipal assemblies and the ANPP itself. It would be naive, however, to believe that the Revolution’s leadership is not involved in choosing the leaders of this highest level of state.

Regarding the roles and positions of Fidel Castro and Raúl Castro themselves, it is also a question of quality and not — as often charged by the U.S. and their dissident spokespersons — a question of nepotism.

Nepotism? No. The example of Raúl Castro

Raúl Castro assumed the leadership on a temporary basis in 2006 when Fidel Castro fell ill. He took up this position, according to the Constitution, as first vice-president of the Council of State. On February 24, 2008, Raúl Castro was elected president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers. Several factors should be taken into account. First, he has been involved in the struggle without let-up since the Moncada attack in 1953. He has made his own innovative contributions, even before the 1959 victory. One such breakthrough was organizing the liberated territories in the II Frente Oriental “Frank País” (Frank País Second Eastern Front). This amounted to a virtual state within the state. It served as a precedent, to a certain extent, for the new revolutionary government established in January 1959.

There have been many other examples of Raúl Castro’s role since that time, such as the institutionalization of the People’s Power system of government in 1974–76. The enterprise improvement system in the 1990s was inaugurated under his leadership through the ministry of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR — Revolutionary Armed Forces), of which he was the minister until 2008. Since his 2008 election as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, and while retaining his position as General of the FAR, he has been further institutionalizing the collegial leadership. He is doing so by holding regular expanded sessions (including other people aside from the official members) of either or both the Council of State and Council of Ministers.

Raúl Castro is also at the forefront in the attempt to put a stop to bureaucracy and high-level, white-collar corruption. At the same time, he is leading, along with others, innovations to preserve and improve socialism.

Against US-centric views

The Cuban political system allows for legal and formal channels so that the people can vote for its leaders. One has to insist that this procedure does not try to conform to the US-centric presidential system that exists in the US and other countries.

The objective of this article is not to offer more details and analysis regarding these general elections. However, this is how Raúl Castro was elected President of the Council of State (and thus, Council of Ministers).

Arnold August, a Canadian journalist and lecturer, is the author of Democracy in Cuba and the 1997–98 Elections and, more recently, Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion. Cuba’s neighbours under consideration are, on the one hand, the US and, on the other hand, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Arnold can be followed on Twitter @Arnold_August.

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Iraq and Najaf’s Forgotten Christian Heritage

March 17th, 2016 by Wassim Bassem

Today, the city of Najaf is a religious tourism hub for Shiites around the world. The city is home to the sacred shrine of Imam Ali ibn Abi-Talib — the fourth of the Rashidun Caliphs — built nearly 700 years ago, and hosts the highest Shiite religious authority in the Muslim world. In this overwhelming Islamic presence, scarce other religious representation can be found in the city, as Muslim clerics ban non-Islamic symbols in holy cities like Najaf, including Mecca and Karbala, where the building of other kinds of places of worship such as Christian churches is prohibited. This is an old phenomenon that emerged with the rise of Islam during the seventh century forbidding the existence of multiple religions in the Arabian peninsula.

However, recent archaeological discoveries following excavation works in 2008 show that this conservative Islamic city so averse to churches is one of the oldest Christian cities in the world. The remains of a church and a monastery are believed to be the oldest Christian monuments in Iraq, dating back to the year 270.

Members of the German Archaeological Institute take part in an excavation in the area of al-Hirah outside the holy Iraqi city of Najaf during a mission to search for Christian artifacts, Oct. 10, 2015. (photo by HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images)

Members of the German Archaeological Institute take part in an excavation in the area of al-Hirah outside the holy Iraqi city of Najaf during a mission to search for Christian artifacts, Oct. 10, 2015. (photo by HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images)

Although Najaf province contains over 30 historic Christian sites excavated by American and German expeditions as well as the Najaf Antiquities Inspectorate between 2007 and 2011, for ideological reasons, this research has failed to promote any tolerance of non-Islamic religious rituals and events that celebrate its ancient history.

For example, in December, Sheikh Ibrahim Saffar, a professor at the Najaf seminary, demanded that a man who wore a Santa Claus costume in Najaf face criminal charges.

In contrast to this rejection of any non-Islamic culture in Najaf, historians highlight the presence of both Christianity and Islam in Najaf. In an interview with Al-Monitor, Najaf history teacher Abd-al-Husayn Ali explained, “This kind of religious extremism toward other religions is limited to a minor social group,” asserting, “The discovery of Christian monuments in famous Islamic cities like Najaf is an example of the shared history of Iraqi Muslims and Christians, proving that Christianity is no stranger to Iraq and Iraqis’ conversion to Islam should not obscure the fact that many of their ancestors were Christians. This [recognition should] promote interactions between Muslims and Christians at a time when the country is facing a fierce sectarian conflict.”

The predominance of Christianity in Najaf before Islam was further supported by the department of antiquities’ discovery of the ruins of a 1,700-year-old monastery in 2012, linked to the Christian monk Abdul-Masih bin-Boqila. The monk’s tomb was found inside the monastery, with an epitaph written in ancient Arabic reading, “May God have mercy on Abdul-Masih.”

Al-Monitor visited the site with Makki Sultani, a writer and researcher specializing in Najaf’s history. During the tour, Sultani told Al-Monitor about a “plan set up by civil activists, academics and volunteering researchers to form a popular committee with the aim of preserving the monuments and heritage of this ancient city, home to several Christian and Islamic sites.”

While taking pictures of this Christian monument reduced to crumbling ruins, blown by the wind and disappearing under the sand, Sultani said, “We rely on activists in the cultural and historical fields to save these important historical edifices that are gradually disappearing and constantly in danger of destruction due to official negligence and individuals’ ignorance of the historical significance of these sites.”

According to Sultani, “The most imminent danger to these historical ruins is the lack of funds to sustain them. And even when they are available, bribery results in corrupt contractors with no experience in preserving historical sites looking to embezzle the money allocated for the efforts through shoddy renovations.”

While guiding the way around the ruins of the monastery, Sultani revealed, “The monastery was turned into a gas station through negligence and corruption.”

Sultani pointed out a Christian cemetery, surrounded by sand and groundwater and left vulnerable to pillagers. He said, “People living in neighboring areas rummage these monuments looking for valuable collectibles like gold coins and ancient artifacts.”

Sultani led us to a Babylonian temple, where he said, “This was authenticated by an inscription that was traced back to Nebuchadnezzar [605-562 BCE]. It was carved in brick, which was stolen by the inhabitants of the area to use in building their houses.”

In another example of the degree of negligence that has befallen these great monuments, Sultani guided our group to a barren area where the ancient city of Al-Hira is believed to have prospered. The site, dating back to the third century, is dotted with holes from illegal excavation work. There were dozens of graves in which dirt and garbage bags have piled up after looters dug into them and left them open.

Next to this lot stands a residential neighborhood. Sultani said, “These houses were built on top of the ruins of the historic al-Sudair castle, erected by al-Numan ibn al-Mundhir between 403 and 430 CE.” The area is covered with hills believed to be remnants of the surroundings of the Castle of Khawarnaq, which was excavated by a British expedition from Oxford University in 1931.

A notable example of Iraq’s Christian religious heritage, this Christian historic site in Najaf is of even greater significance amid a wave of religious extremism fueling violence and threatening coexistence. Just as Muslims enjoy a strong presence in Iraq, these Christian monuments found in an Islamic city stand as an indisputable proof of the shared history of the people of Mesopotamia. Both Muslims and Christians have to work hand in hand to rebuild these sites and promote religious tourism that would attract Muslim and Christian pilgrims from around the world.

As part of a step to rehabilitate these religious and historic sites, in 2012, Iraq’s Endowments of the Christian and Other Religions Divan unveiled a plan to reconstruct historic churches in Baghdad and other provinces. Although a long time has passed since this plan was announced, there are no signs of rehabilitation or reconstruction at Najaf’s historic sites.

Translated by: Mohammad Khalil

Wassim Bassem is an Iraqi journalist who tracks social phenomena in investigations and reports for various media outlets, including Al-Esbuyia, Bab Nour and Elaph.

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Koide Hiroaki has dedicated his career to preventing a nuclear disaster in Japan. That disaster has now happened. As we learn in this wide-ranging and important interview, the accident often referred to as 3/11 was enormous and in many ways unprecedented. The full scope of the disaster is still unknown, but is clearly on the scale of Chernobyl, placing the amount of radioactive material released into the atmosphere possibly up to 1,000 times the Hiroshima bombing of 1945. Professor Koide’s reporting in his many books, interviews, and radio programs is essential reading for anyone wishing to learn the nature and extent of the radiological event of March 2011 and beyond.

But early in the interview we learn something else. For while in ways unprecedented, 3/11 is also a part of a historical series of nuclear exposures from the Trinity test in the New Mexico desert in July 1945, to the Castle-Bravo Lucky Dragon Incident of 1954, to Semipalatinsk, to Chernobyl, and to the next sure-to-happen event.1 In fact, while it is clear that the urgent social, political, and medical task right now is the acute contamination of land, air, sea, and bodies by the Fukushima dai-ichi meltdowns, as Prof. Koide says, as bad as Fukushima is, “a much greater event has already taken place.” His immediate reference is the enormous amount radioactive material released in the atmospheric testing from 1945 to 1980.2

Though many decades in the past, these radioactive releases at the height of the Cold War continue to contaminate the entire globe. Originally, huge amounts of radioactive material, several times greater than Chernobyl or Fukushima, were released into the air and dispersed by the prevailing winds and jet stream before falling on the oceans and land contaminating huge areas of the earth-especially in the main test sites in the South Pacific, the US West, and Kazakhstan. But some of this released material breached the tropopause, the soft barrier between the troposphere and the stratosphere, escaping the troposphere before becoming trapped aloft in the stratosphere. Recently it has been discovered that major spring thunderstorms-and notably the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland- regularly rise high enough to breach the tropopause.

Radioactive particles, mostly plutonium and Cesium-137, now decades old, attach to the storms and fall back to earth as a fresh contamination of material from atmospheric testing.  As prof. Koide points out this means that the entire earth has been and continues to be exposed to radiation from these tests. Following the widely accepted model of radiation exposure as damaging at all levels-the linear, no threshold model (LNT)-it follows that this exposure led to a rise of damage to global health, especially childhood thyroid cancer, leukemia, and other health effects.3

But 3/11 is not only one in a series of radiation contaminations dating back to the birth of the atomic age.

These nuclear disasters are also part of a larger historical series of toxic events dating back to the birth of the industrial age. Prof. Koide himself notes the parallels of his own work with the Japanese anti-pollution activist Tanaka Shōzō’s (1841-1913) fight against the pollution of the Watarase and Tone rivers north of Tokyo by the Ashio Copper Mine in the 1890s. Fukushima must be seen in the context of these other toxic events, one in a series which, though the particular pollutant may have been different, all share a family resemblance: each names a particular site of industrial capitalist production that results in the contamination of a space that in turn requires the sacrifice of that region for future use and the loss of the means of life by any who live in the area. The list of these national sacrifice zones is long and growing: Ashio, Minamata, Grassy Narrows, Ontario, Hinkley, California, the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxic Zone, Bikini Atoll, the “downwind” sections of the Great Basin of eastern California, Nevada, and western Utah,4 Hanford, Washington and Ozersk, Kazakhstan,5 Chernobyl. The list now includes a region some 20km around Fukushima dai-ichi.

Tanaka Shōzō glimpsed the logic of the national sacrifice zone in 1902 when he fought against the Japanese state’s seizing of the village of Yanaka and displacing its residents in order to build a flood control reservoir. For Tanaka, this enormous re-making of the Watarase and Tone rivers signaled no less than converting an entire watershed that had served as a centuries-long source of production and sustenance into a sink of contaminants: “If [the pollution] continues too long, the river’s headwaters will trickle out from a poisoned mountain of foul rocks and polluted soil that wholly penetrates the water, forming a second [toxic] nature (dai ni no tensei o nashi); once this happens there will be no saving anyone.”6 This event was the turning point in Japan’s environmental history, one that was repeated across the globe in the 19-20th centuries. The insatiable drive for more powerful energy sources to fuel more economic growth is everywhere hitting barriers, creating more and more national sacrifice zones on larger and larger scales.

The growing toxicity of daily life stretches from the local and personal in the toxic working environments of computer production and waste disposal to the truly global. With global warming, ocean acidification, bioaccumulation of mercury, desertification, and countless other alarming trends we risk sacrificing the earth itself as these trends combine to make the earth less and less amenable to increased or even stable production of the means of subsistence. 2002 marked an uptick in global food prices that has continued to this day, reversing a centuries long trend of cheaper food-a trend that drove much of the economic progress since the nineteenth century. Global food prices in 2014 were 127% of 20027 and show few signs of stopping their rise. The implications for increasing toxicity and undemocratic politics in an era of unprecedented rising food prices are dire, as the motivation to dig deeper for water and nutrients will require even greater projects that demand ever greater chemical and energy inputs.

The Cosmic Horror of Hoshanō sekai

Even so the nuclear question remains special-a culmination or apotheosis of this longer trend. As we learn in the interview, a nuclear disaster is different from other contaminations. Because of the very nature of radiation, namely its spatial and temporal scales, in many ways we lack a language adequate to a world lorded over by radiation. The literary genre called Cosmic Horror of Algernon Blackwood or H. P. Lovecraft has long attempted to grasp the frightening realities of unleashing a force that operates on such a-human scales and temporalities as plutonium-239 (half-life over 24,000 years) or uranium-235 (half-life over 700 million years). The Horror writer and arch-pessimist Thomas Ligotti perhaps comes closest to describing the implications of unleashing truly astronomical forces into human everyday life when he writes:

“Such is the motif of supernatural horror: Something terrible in its being comes forward and makes its claim as a shareholder in our reality, or what we think is our reality and ours alone. It may be an emissary from the grave, or an esoteric monstrosity…. It may be the offspring of a scientific experiment with unintended consequences…. Or it may be a world unto itself of pure morbidity, one suffused with a profound sense of doom without a name – Edgar Allan Poe’s world.”8

In our present of 2016 the sense of doom does have a name: Hoshanō sekai-Radiation’s World. Radiation’s World announces that the earth-or at least large parts of it-is no longer exclusively ours. We have rendered huge spaces of the planet off limits for time periods beyond any scale of recorded history.9 Parallel to but different than the rapacious depletion of the natural world from forests to cod stocks to fossil fuels that took millennia to build up but are consumed in decades, as we mine deeper temporalities in pursuit of open ended consumption we have also unleashed anti-human temporalities incompatible with continued production or consumption.10 It is these spaces that are now ruled by radiation and are no longer part of human society. Like the old Horror trope, we have unleashed forces that we cannot contain. But unlike Horror, there is no discrete monster to kill at the end.11 Pessimism is surely called for.

Though our world of cosmic horror may have a name, hoshanō sekai likely does not have a politics. At Ashio, Tanaka fought the re-engineering of the watershed by building different relations to the river in the doomed village of Yanaka, a politics he called Yanaka Studies (Yanakagaku). In the post-war period the physician and activist Harada Masazumi called his effort to rebuild the fishing village poisoned by methyl mercury effluent Minamata Studies (Minamatagaku). And globally there is the Salvagepunk movement to reclaim abandoned urban zones by reassembling of collapsing infrastructure from Detroit to the Parisian banlieuses.12 But the very nature of radiation thwarts this process. There cannot be an Atomic Punk. The 20 km zone around the Fukushima plant has been appropriated by radiation and will not be re-appropriated by humans for decades – the site itself remains off limits for much longer. Because the monitoring equipment was destroyed by the accident itself, the oft-cited maximum recorded doses of 25 mSv/yr cover only the first four months of the disaster and only include external radiation. Adding internal radiation through inhaling radioactive dust or consumption of radioactive food and water means the levels are necessarily higher. Further, current readings take only the readings in the air and not in the soil or water.13 A purely technical fix seems unlikely as even robots may not safely venture onto the reactor site, putting a pessimistic spin on the term post-human. The contamination has its own lifespan; it can only be moved and hopefully contained, in some cases for millennia. Populations cannot safely repopulate the area no matter what alternative politics they may practice. As prof. Koide and many others note, there is nothing to do but cede the ground to radiation and relocate.

Though a long planned Cold War prelude to the remilitarization of Japan, the new State Secrets Law of 2014 was predictably used first to control the information on the levels of contamination outside the 20km exclusion zone. And thus the long historical trend linking toxicity and undemocratic politics is renewed and extended. It is likely this very nexus of toxicity and undemocratic politics that is the source of the repetition compulsion at the core of the historical series of national sacrifice zones. Just as the existence of nuclear weapons requires a national security state, the existence of nuclear power presupposes appropriation of the kind resisted since Ashio. In short, the nuclear reactors instantiate a fundamentally untenable social relation to nature-and thus a fundamentally untenable social relation to life itself. What is called for is a new environmental regime based on an ecologically sound everyday life. This is Tanaka’s Yanaka Studies. It is the physician Harada Masazumi’s Minamata Studies, and it is a yet to be formed Fukushima Studies. But a Fukushima Studies must start, as Prof. Koide tells us, with the immediate end to nuclear power.

Though radiation contamination does not have a technical fix, it may have a political one. As Prof. Koide says, Germany has done just this: declared an end to nuclear power.14 This is the necessarily political decision that can then be the basis of a new energy regime. This is not easy, but it is possible. The encouraging grassroots politicization of “electricity conservation” (setsuden) of recent years has shown the feasibility of just such a new energy regime in Japan, one without nuclear power or increased imports of polluting coal and oil. But this trend is countered by others. In the face of strong anti-nuclear protests, the Abe government has already restarted reactors in Kyushu, and just as Prof. Koide feared in his discussion of the 2014 LDP election, the government has plans to restart the others moving towards a Japanese energy regime hardly changed from before the Fukushima disaster. Prof. Koide’s career was not able to prevent the disaster. But his message still points the way to a better future. With the popular mood turned into a political movement-a movement that the 2014 election shows is not yet currently on the horizon-a less toxic, more democratic society is surely possible. More, it is necessary.

Notes

1Charles Perrow, Normal Accidents: Living With High-Risk Technologies (Princeton University Press, 1999); Paul Virilio, “The Primal Accident,” in The Politics of Everyday Fear, ed. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
2The United States and the Soviet Union signed a test ban treaty for 1963, but France continued atmospheric testing until 1974 and China until 1980.
3As the Chernobyl and Fukushima researcher Timothy Mousseau has shown, cancer is only one of the damaging health effects of ionizing radiation. His studies of birds and rodents have shown smaller brain sizes, male sterility, cataracts, and reduced life-spans. Personal communication, February 2016.
4Mike Davis, Dead Cities: And Other Tales (New Press, The, 2003), 33, 40.
5For the shared toxic legacy of both sides of the Cold War see in English Kate Brown, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford University Press, 2015). In Japanese see Suga Hidemi, Han genpatsu no shisōshi: reisen kara Fukushima e (Tokyo: Chikuma shobō, 2012).
6Quoted in Robert Stolz, Bad Water: Nature, Pollution, and Politics in Japan, 1870–1950 (Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society) (Duke University Press Books, 2014), 98.
7Jason W. Moore, “Cheap Food and Bad Climate: From Surplus Value to Negative Value in the Capitalist World Ecology,” Critical Historical Studies Spring (2015), 18-19.
8Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (New York: Hippocampus Press, 2011), 57.
9The failed but instructive Pentagon program to attempt to craft a warning not to open Yucca Mountain that could be understood by any civilization some 10,000 years in the future-beyond the time span of existing human language-immediately runs into Lovecraftian notions of time and ancient angry gods buried in deep in the earth. See Peter van Wyck, Signs of Danger: Waste, Trauma, and Nuclear Threat (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).
10The alien origin of the “black oil” of the X-Files speaks to this cosmic horror while also linking it to fossil fuel consumption. See for example Justin McBrien, “Accumulating Extinction: Planetary Catastrophism in the Necrocene” in Jason W. Moore, ed., Anthropocene or Capitalocene: Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (Oakland: PM Press, forthcoming).
11Susan Sontag, “The Imagination of Disaster,” Commentary October (1965).
12Evan Calder Williams, Combined and Uneven Apocalypse (Washington: Zero Books, 2011), chapter two.
13Hirotaka Kasai: “Kasai: So…about the airborne radiation dosage and the soil contamination, there is a public entity that measures and publishes the airborne levels. But the soil contamination is not measured. I remember reading about Chernobyl that the soil contamination levels are the standard by which one gets the right to evacuation and refuge. But Japan only measures the air.” Unpublished interview with Koide Hiroaki, December 2014. See also, Tessa Morris-Suzuki, “Touching the Grass: Science, Uncertainty and Everyday Life from Chernobyl to Fukushima” in Science, Technology, & Society 19:3 (2014): 331-362.
14Koide: “Take Germany for example. There both the government and industry decided to eliminate nuclear power. When it came to the question of what happens to all the people in that industry the answer led to entirely new jobs being born. In short, if the decision is made to eliminate nuclear power, and the entire society works towards that goal, then I think it can be done – even though people hooked on the drug will truly believe that they will die without it. So the job is to show them that is not the case, that we can build an alternative one piece at a time. Then again, that’s really my responsibility isn’t it?” (Laughs). Unpublished interview December 2014.

Robert Stolz is Associate Professor of History at the University of Virginia and author of Bad Water: Nature, Pollution, and Politics in Japan, 1870–1950. He can be reached at [email protected]

 

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China is Not Leaving the “South China Sea”

March 17th, 2016 by Peter Lee

America is learning that the South China Sea is called the South “China” Sea for a reason, despite patriotic efforts in various nations to rename it the “West Philippine Sea” or “East Vietnamese Sea”.

At his press conference on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress, PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi declared:

China was the first to discover, name, develop, and administer the various islands of the southern seas. Our ancestors have tilled those fields and toiled there amid hardships for generations. We know this place and love this place better than anyone else, and more than any other people we wish for the peace and stability of the southern sea and freedom of navigation.

Wang Yi’s flowery rhetoric about China’s sole historical claim to all the islands of the southern seas and their development is ahistorical nonsense.

But the second part, about the PRC’s paramount interest and growing predominance in the South China Sea is closer to the truth. This is because the PRC is spending a lot of money, effort, and diplomatic capital to make it true.

The People’s Republic of China sails through the South China Sea, flies through it, fishes in it, erects towns and airfields, sends in cruise ships and commercial jet liners on regular schedules, patrols it with an armada of coast guard and naval vessels, maintains forward military bases in it, builds faux islands in it, occasionally prospects with in it with its massive semisubmersible drilling rig, dots it with radar stations and lighthouses, relies for it as a vital energy corridor…

For the United States, the South China Sea seems to exist as a blank slate upon which the US seeks to project its narratives amid an intensifying geostrategic competition with the PRC.

Take the immense uproar in January-February 2016 over the PRC placing surface to air missiles “in the South China Sea”. The report was floated by a source at the Department of Defense through Fox News, endorsed by a spokesman for Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, and was the impetus for a global round of hysterics predicated on the claim that the PRC was repudiating Xi Jinping’s pledge not to militarize islands in the South China Sea and was escalating “tensions” in the SCS.

As it transpired, the surface to air missiles (whose deployment the PRC never confirmed) were sighted on Woody Island. Woody Island is a real island in the Paracels, an archipelagic cluster near Hainan seized from Vietnam in 1974. There’s been an airfield on the base for decades, the PRC expanded it in the last year to host fighter jets on cyclical deployments (permanent basing perhaps exposes the airframes to too much salt-air corrosion) and, indeed, the Admiral of the US Pacific Fleet acknowledged that the PLA put surface to air missiles on Woody Island at least two times previously without the US government raising any objections.

The PRC will never enjoy legal sovereignty over the Paracels since Vietnam will never formally cede them, but Vietnam has swallowed its choler enough to explore joint demarcation marine boundaries with the PRC that de facto acknowledge that the PRC has got the Paracels and isn’t giving them back.

And, when Xi Jinping visited the US in September 2015, he stated China “did not intend” (something less than a pledge, despite some misreporting of his remarks) to militarize the Spratlys, which is the collection of virtually uninhabitable sandbars, reefs, and atolls whose sovereignty is claimed and disputed by almost all countries neighboring the South China Sea and serves as the focus of the PRC’s island-building outrages. He made no pledges, statements of intent, or other representations about the Paracels.

Woody Island is a good 500 miles from Fiery Cross Reef, the enhanced atoll in the Spratlys whose PRC-constructed airfield has occasioned so much dismay and concern.

Indeed, it transpired that the Obama administration was aware of the distinction, as the National Security Council’s Dan Kritenbrink, Senior Director for Asian Affairs, tacitly acknowledged when he subsequently urged extension of the non-militarization pledge to cover the entire South China Seas as well as the Spratlys. The Pentagon, I suspect, was aware of the distinction but not particularly interested in respecting it, particularly if floating the missile story served to diminish the stature of President Obama’s ASEAN summit and the relatively conciliatory diplomacy that underpinned it.

Therefore, PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi understandably responded to the surface-to-air missile frenzy by chastising the media for hyping the story. Unspoken was the PRC’s bemusement that the Western media had, out of ignorance or malice, run with this tale and the Obama White House, blindsided by the Pentagon, had let the firestorm rage instead of knocking it down.

The lesson of this affair is that the South China Sea is a remote body of water that Americans know little about and understand less. US China hawks have exploited this information deficit ever since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rolled out the “pivot to Asia” in 2010, justifying the US injection into the South China Sea issue as a matter of ensuring freedom of navigation in a vital commercial sea lane in the global commons.

It is taken as self-evident that the South China Sea is indispensable to world commerce because “over $5 trillion dollars” worth of goods, including the bulk of Japanese energy supplies, pass through the SCS.

Admiral Harris invoked the $5 trillion dollar figure in his recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Western media reports reproduce it almost as a mandatory piece of journalistic boilerplate when covering the South China Sea.

However, the awkward fact is that the only major power with a vital strategic interest in Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea is the People’s Republic of Chinna.

The website of Marine Traffic, provides some interesting perspective with its mapping of real time and historical ship movements.

Here is the “density map” displaying aggregate movements along the busiest shipping routes (green lines) and in the busiest ports (red blobs) in and around the South China Sea:


Third, the rest of the traffic that transits the SCS pretty is headed for Japan and South Korea. This would seem to support the perception that the economies and national security of Japan and South Korea, core US allies, require assurances against Chinese interdiction of their energy supplies in the South China Sea.Note several features of the marine traffic in the South China Sea. First, much of it goes, unsurprisingly, to the Peoples Republic of China and Hong Kong. Second, Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Philippines are largely served by coast-hugging routes outside the PRC’s dreaded Nine-Dash-Line.

Not quite.

The strategic insignificance of the South China Sea to Japan and the Republic of Korea has been well known since the 1990s, when “energy security” became an explicit preoccupation of Japanese planners.

In 2005, Australian security analyst Euan Graham addressed the issue in his Japan’s Sea Lane Security: A Matter of Life and Death?

The cost to Japan of a 12-month closure of the South China Sea, diverting oil tankers via the Lombok Strait and east of the Philippines, has been estimated at $200 million. A Japanese estimate puts the cost as basically the same to that imposed by a closure of the Malacca Strait, requiring 15 additional tankers to be added to the route, generating an extra $88 million in shipping costs. This is roughly corroborated by the reported findings of a joint study conducted by the JDA and the Indonesian authorities in the late 1980s, which put the number of extra tankers required to divert around the South China Sea via Lombok and east of the Philippines at 18.

…The volume of oil shipped to Japan from the Middle East is evenly split between Lombok and the Straits of Malacca…

What does two extra days on the water mean? In his book, Graham provides a dollar figure:

…Based on an oil import bill of $35 billion in 1997, [a cost of $88 million for diverting through Lombok] accounts for 0.3% of the total.

To update these figures, in an environment of crashing oil prices and spiking shipping rates (as importers rush to obtain cheap supplies and even store them on tankers until onshore facilities open up), assume $30/barrel crude plus $3/barrel shipping costs. Japan imports about 2 billion barrels per year. That’s $6 billion dollars. If we assume the Lombok route adds 10% or $0.30/barrel to the shipping cost, that’s another $600 million dollars against $60 billion in total crude costs. 1%. By coincidence, $600 million is also about 1% of the annual Japanese defense budget. Japan’s GDP: $4 trillion dollars.

So is the threat of closure of the South China Sea an existential threat to Japan requiring a military response? One Japanese authority doesn’t believe so.

CSD [Collective Self Defense] will not allow minesweeping ops in SCS/Malacca Strait as unlike Hormuz there are alternative routes.

That’s a statement that Prime Minister Abe Shinzo made in the Diet, as reported on Corey Wallace’s Twitter feed.

Republic of Korea imports less than 1 billion barrels per annum. Cost of the Lombok detour: maybe $270 million.

In summary, the Malacca/South China Sea route from the Persian Gulf to Japan and South Korea is preferred as the straightest, cheapest, route for crude oil. In fact, ship owners looked at the economics and decided to defer construction of “postMalaccamax VLCCs” (Very Large Crude Carriers) in favor of smaller tankers in order to preserve the option of going through the Malacca Strait and South China Sea.

But if the South China Sea route is obstructed, they can always go via Lombok and the Makassar Sea. Its just a little bit more expensive.

So, the South China Sea is not a critical sea lane for our primary North Asian allies Japan and the Republic of Korea.

As for Australia, the fourth point (together with Japan, India, and the United States) in the emerging Asia Pacific security “diamond”, Graham stated in his book:

Iron ore and coke shipments from Australia account for most of the cargo moved through the Lombok Strait…Lombok remains the principal route for bulk carriers sailing from Western Australia to Japan.

Australian resource exports bypass the South China Sea already.

As to the South China Sea factor, Sam Bateman, a retired Royal Australian Navy commodore now working in a think tank in Singapore, debunked claims of the crucial strategic character of the South China Sea to Australia:

Bonnie Glaser has recently claimed that approximately 60 per cent of Australia’s seaborne trade passes through the South China Sea…

When measured by value, the figure of 60% of our seaborne trade passing through the South China Sea is way off the mark. Based on the latest data for Australia’s overseas trade, it mightn’t even be half that-and about three-quarters of it would be trade to and from China. Thus the notion of a threat to our seaborne trade from China is rather a non sequitur.

In other words, approximately 7.5% of Australia’s total seaborne trade by value passing through the South China Sea isn’t going to the PRC. That represents perhaps A$40 billion, about half of which is back and forth with Singapore, which could be end-arounded by entering the Malacca Strait from the west and avoiding the South China Sea completely. So perhaps A$ 20 billion is theoretically at risk in the unlikely event that the PRC decided to close the SCS completely to Australian shipping. By contrast, Australian two way trade with the PRC is A$152 billion.

It should be clear by now that the South China Sea as a commercial artery and as an energy import channel matters much more to China, than it does to Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the United States. Indeed, the primary global strategic significance of the South China Sea is not as a vulnerable artery for global commerce; it is as a vulnerable bottleneck for Chinese energy imports.

America’s interest in confronting the PRC in the South China Sea predates any Xi Jinping-related arrogance, expansionism, and island-building, indeed it predates the appearance of any PRC Navy worthy of consideration. It can be traced to the Office of Net Assessment’s 2004 report prepared via Booz, Hamilton for Donald Rumsfeld, Energy Futures in Asia. As I do not believe that report has been declassified, interested readers can check a 2010 paper from the US Naval War College titled China’s Oil Security Pipe Dream.

The PRC has been aware of the US government’s interest in the possibility of interdicting PRC energy imports at the Malacca Straits/South China Sea chokehold for many years, and has poured billions of dollars into establishing less vulnerable alternatives for meeting its requirements, through the filling of strategic oil reserves, its ongoing pipeline projects with Russia and energy producers in Central Asia, initiatives to diversify supply lines for Gulf oil with oil and gas pipelines from Burma to Yunnan, and the risky bet on a “China Pakistan Economic Corridor” keyed to the port at Gwadar and crossing the Himalayas to Kashgar

As these massive and risky alternative expenditures by the PRC-and the complete absence of plausible threats to Japan, South Korea, and Australia interests-indicate, the only genuine role the South China Sea played as a strategic chokepoint worthy of US interest is against the PRC.

The PRC has accused the United States of maliciously meddling in the South China Sea not to secure and stabilize an important global commons but to polarize relations between the PRC and its neighbors and create an opening for strategic military cooperation with the Philippines and Vietnam, a point of view I am inclined to agree with.

This state of affairs is probably better appreciated by China’s local trading partners in Australia, South Korea, and Japan than it is in the United States, and governments there are faced with the awkward question of how far to go with “upholding international norms” and “alliance service”, i.e. supporting a U.S. containment strategy by antagonizing the PRC over the South China Sea, a body of water whose control is not a matter of existential interest to them, but is to China.

As the PRC responds to US opposition and ASEAN anger and dismay not by retreating, but by accelerating its development of civilian and dual use infrastructure on its holdings and ramping up its naval and coast guard presence, the realization of the situation seems to be sinking in in the US public sphere as well.

If anybody entertained the wishful thinking that the PRC would respond to the widely expected ruling against its Nine Dash Line at arbitration in The Hague by rolling over for the Philippines and the United States, those dreams are pretty much over.

At his press conference, Foreign Minister Wang Yi employed a litany of pejoratives to characterize the Philippines–“unlawful, unfaithful and unreasonable”-the role of the (unnamed) United States-” behind-the-scenes instigation and political maneuvering”-and the arbitration process itself-” tainted and gone astray, and China is not going to humor it”.

Separately and perhaps significantly, Wang addressed the most contested issue in the South China Sea-the Spratly Islands-by drawing the PRC’s line in the sand:

The Spratly Islands are China’s inseparable territory. Descendants of the Yellow Empire all have the duty to protect this land.

Wang concluded with the statement “The PRC has never and will not make any new territorial demands”. Beyond the unfortunate echoes of Neville Chamberlain, I believe Wang’s words may have been intended as a signal that the PRC regards it infeasible to try to assert an extremely unpopular claim to exclusive sea rights in the contested regions of the SCS if, as expected, the cartographic embarrassment of the Nine Dash Line is declared invalid, especially since hawks in the United States Navy dream of standing between the PRC and the UNCLOS victors seeking to reap the bounty of their expansive South China Sea EEZs.
The PRC can insist on its territorial claims to the various natural and man-made islands and LTE (low tide elevation i.e. covered at high tide) features that it holds or desires, leaving no recourse for other claimants short of military action to evict China from them.If the PRC focuses on asserting its territorial (as opposed to maritime) position in the South China Sea, it will have ample resources for mischief even if the international consensus to order the South China Sea maritime domain on the basis of UNCLOS prevails.

UNCLOS does not cover disputes over sovereignty of islands and indeed there is no accepted international treaty or mechanism for resolving these disputes. And once sovereignty is asserted, even over uninhabitable features, territorial seas can be claimed and sometimes Exclusive Economic Zones as well to a ridiculous degree. The most notorious instance of this practice is Okinotorishima Island, a tiny above-water lump of coral in the Pacific that Japan secured at the cost of over half a billion dollars, and, on this basis, claimed a 200 nautical mile EEZ.

If the PRC inserts fresh territorial, territorial sea, and EEZ claims into the dispute, maps of the South China Sea, which were never particularly straightforward to begin with, are going to get even more complicated.

A current concern is that the PRC may punish the Philippines for any UNCLOS setbacks by developing and permanently occupying the Scarborough Shoal as an island feature. The shoal is a rich fishing ground that is well within any conceivable Philippine EEZ demarcation and is far away from the PRC. Access to the fishing grounds within the shoal is currently controlled by PRC vessels provoking great anxiety and nationalist resentment in the Philippines.

The Chinese government is perhaps looking at the Aegean Sea dispute between Greece and Turkey-a largely frozen conflict that has persisted for forty years-as a precedent for a disputed but de facto functional maritime regime in the South China Sea.

PRC strategists are probably well aware that switching to a territorial instead of maritime focus threatens to dash the hopes of US Navy hawks hoping to force the PLAN into a humiliating confrontation that directly repudiates grandiose PRC claims to sovereignty within the Nine Dash Line.

The US Navy already had its work cut out for it on maritime matters since UNCLOS allows for no enforcement mechanism and, even if the United States wanted to step up and enforce the judgment in its role as benevolent hegemon, it is not even a signatory to the treaty it would be purporting to enforce.

As for territorial disputes, the United States has a long-standing policy, which is close to iron-clad, of not taking positions on sovereignty disputes. Indeed, the default preference of the United States is to “preserve the status quo”, which would make evicting the PRC from the islands and structures it currently occupies extremely awkward, if not impossible.

The combination of PRC actions, investment, and rhetoric, and an apparent local unwillingness to walk the walk on confronting the PRC in the SCS, seems to be convincing US observers that the PRC isn’t going anywhere.

A recent New York Times article was titled: South China Sea Buildup Brings China Closer to Realizing Control. It concludes:

The Obama administration has struggled, however, to come up with a policy to slow or stop what it has called China’s militarization of the South China Sea…

In recent months, the Pentagon has also stepped up “freedom of navigation” patrols in the South China Sea, sending United States warships and aircraft into territory claimed by Beijing to assert Washington’s view that these areas remain international waters and airspace.

But China has responded by using the patrols to argue that it is the United States that is militarizing the South China Sea – and by continuing to build.

“China was the first country to discover, name, develop and manage the South China Sea islands,” the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, told a news conference on Tuesday. “History will prove who is a mere guest and who is a real host.”

Of course, the US Navy isn’t going anywhere either.

If the US wishes to evict the PRC from the South China Sea, it will have to consider stronger, more dangerous, and politically and diplomatically less palatable measures-and a more convincing menace than an imputed PRC threat to commercial freedom of navigation, or even as antagonist to the international norms and laws represented by the UNCLOS ruling.

The US military is now shifting the terms of debate from the shaky premise that the PRC presence in the South China Sea is a threat to global commerce and the world order to a somewhat more realistic anxiety that the PRC will, in the near future, possess sufficient military assets in the South China Sea to challenge and in theory impede or deny military maritime and aviation traffic by other nations.

This strategy is encapsulated in the continued alarms that the PRC is “militarizing” the South China Sea, an accusation that the PRC, particularly after the US Navy sailed a carrier battle group through the SCS in early March 2016, is not inclined to take seriously.

The focus on “militarization” is exemplified by warning the PRC not to announce a South China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ, which would require aircraft flying near and toward the PRC (including its contested SCS facilities) to identify themselves and state their intentions. To knock down a frequently stated canard, an ADIZ is not a declaration of territorial airspace and the ADIZ of various nations can overlap, as the PRC and ROK ADIZs overlap in the East China Sea. One might think that the SCS, with growing military traffic by hostile powers, sorely needs an ADIZ to prevent misunderstandings, incidents, and escalation, but China hawks will try to advance the argument that in this case, as in many matters involving the South China Sea, ordinary logic simply doesn’t apply.

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russia syria flagMoscow Announces “Mission Accomplished”. Russian Forces Withdraw from Syria?

By Prof Michel Chossudovsky, March 14 2016

The announcement indicates that the real “war on terrorism” has largely been won by Syrian government forces with the support of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

putin3Russia’s Military Aims Achieved, Putin Switches to Diplomacy

By Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, March 16 2016

The American presstitutes are captives of their own propaganda and are now surprised at the failure of their propagandistic predictions.

Russia-Syria-Flag-BlendWhat the Russian “Withdrawal” from Syria Means and What It Doesn’t

By Brandon Turbeville, March 16 2016

 At the crux of this opposition to the Russia move, of course, is the fundamental misunderstanding of what the “withdrawal” actually is.

An S-400 air defence missile system is deployed for a combat duty at the Hmeymim airbase to provide security of the Russian air group's flights in Syria. © Dmitriy Vinogradov / SputnikRussia Partially Withdraws From Syria, Reinforces its Strategic and Advisory Capabilities. “Settlement of the Crisis by Peaceful Means”?

By South Front, March 15 2016

Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered on Mar.14 the partial withdrawal of the Russian military from Syria, starting from March 15. The Russian support has given the Syrian government has reversed the militants’ momentum. Now, the pro-government forces have the advantage.…

john_kirbyWashington Will Retain Sanctions Until Russia Returns Crimea. John Kerry Says “We Will Not Accept Redrawing Borders”.

By Sputnik, March 16 2016

Washington will not lift the sanctions imposed after the reunification of Crimea with Russia until Moscow decides to “return Crimea to Ukraine,” the spokesman for the US State Department said.

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The parliament of the Netherlands on Tuesday passed a landmark resolution calling on the government to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, saying it was “guilty of violating international humanitarian law in Yemen”.

The resolution was tabled by the Labour Party, a member of the ruling coalition, and follows a historic vote in the EU parliament at the end of February.

In that vote, 359 MEPs supported a bill demanding a complete arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, with 212 voting against.

The Dutch resolution references a report prepared by a UN panel of experts that was leaked in January, which found that 119 sorties carried out by the Saudi-led coalition had violated international law.

Bystanders look on at the carnage following a suicide car bombing in the Yemeni city of Aden (AFP)

Bystanders look on at the carnage following a suicide car bombing in the Yemeni city of Aden (AFP)

Tuesday’s resolution is the first vote to take place in a national parliament since EU politicians called for the arms embargo.

A majority of MEPs called on EU High Representative Federica Mogherini to:

“launch an initiative aimed at imposing an EU arms embargo against Saudi Arabia, given the serious allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen”.

Hours after the Dutch parliament passed the resolution, eye-witnesses said jets from the Saudi-led coalition struck a civilian market in north-western Yemen, killing up to 100 people according to Houthi sources.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied allegations that its coalition has been involved in strikes causing massive numbers of civilian casualties, including several at weddings, markets and a camp for internally-displaced people.

However, following the leaking of the critical UN report, military commanders said they would launch their own investigation into alleged violations of international law.

Following Tuesday’s vote, Amnesty International’s senior political affairs officer in The Netherlands, Youssef Rahman, said he hoped the Dutch resolution would set a precedent for other European states to begin halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

“Over the last year there has been mounting scrutiny of the way Saudi Arabia is fighting the deadly war in Yemen, and of the legal obligations of countries who sell and transit arms to Saudi Arabia,” Rahman said in a statement.

“We are hopeful that this vote in the Netherlands will be the first of many similar votes in other European countries.”

In 2008, the Dutch government said it had a “restrictive” arms policy towards Saudi Arabia, citing human rights concerns. But between 2001 and 2010, the Netherlands sold arms to Saudi Arabia valued at around $43 million.

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The Free Syrian Army’s ‘spy chief’ told Le Monde his agents had been gathering intelligence from within Islamic State’s ranks since its emergence, but the CIA largely ignored data that could have helped suppress the terror group from the outset.

The Free Syrian Army’s spymaster, code-named “M”, in an exclusive to Le Monde, told the newspaper he had been sending “very detailed reports” on Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), based on field data from his agents, to his CIA contacts for two years.

The intelligence gave critical insight into IS’ pivot to Iraq and Syria, and included GPS coordinates, maps, photographs, phone numbers and even IP addresses, “M” said.

“From the moment Daesh (an Arabic pejorative acronym for IS) had 20 members to when it had 20,000, we have shown everything to the Americans. When we asked them what they did with this information, they always gave evasive answers, saying it was in the hands of decision-makers.”

The FSA’s intelligence chief, “trained abroad” according to the newspaper, had recruited thirty trusted men, who were inserted into IS-held cities in Syria, including Raqqa, Al-Bab, Tel Abyad and others. To finance operations, the spy chief requested $30,000 per month from the Americans, but he says he only received $10,000.

One of M’s most valuable agents was a mole inside Islamic State’s financial unit in Manbij near the Turkish border. A report from him, seen by Le Monde, described payments of $74,000 (€67,000) from a former parliamentarian called Radwan Habib to his brother Ali – an IS “emir” in Maskaneh in Aleppo governorate.

FSA agents and informants conducted various operations, often risky ones. One photo “M” shared with the newspaper showed a training camp north of Latakia province frequented by foreign IS fighters. “Naturally I transmitted this to my Western contacts with the GPS coordinates but got no response,” he was cited as saying.

“My agents also managed to get hold of phone numbers of IS officials, serial numbers of [their] satellite equipment and IP addresses. But once again, zero response.”

Another FSA document accessed by the French newspaper included an order of battle designed to expel IS from Aleppo province in summer 2014. Postponed several times by the Americans, the attack was eventually torpedoed at end of 2014 by a surprise counterattack by Al-Nusra Front.

The Free Syrian Army was founded by a group of deserters, including officers and soldiers from the Syrian Army, in July 2011. It received substantial military aid from the US and Britain for its anti-Assad stance.

In June 2012, the CIA was involved in clandestine operations along the Turkish-Syrian border, according to a Wall Street Journal report. They were identifying rebel groups to give military aid to. CIA operatives also helped opposition forces develop supply routes and provided communications training. Agents also reportedly distributed assault rifles, anti-tank rocket launchers and other ammunition to the Syrian opposition.

Throughout 2013 and 2014, the CIA was said to be training “moderate” Syrian opposition fighters at Jordanian special forces’ bases in anticipation of President Assad’s fall. By 2015, Washington had scaled down most programs to train and equip Syrian rebels.

However, other secret and significantly larger programs run by Langley still continue despite significant cuts, the Washington Post reported.

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For a month now, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been engaged in hosting forces from 20 allied states in what it has dubbed a Saudi-led Islamic Coalition.  Its formation was announced last December in boastful fashion, though the Kingdom’s officials were careful to exclude Shia states from the equation of security.  They were not part of their Islamic world.

In December, the language used was that of an “Islamic Coalition” in the making.  “It is time,” claimed Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, “that the Islamic world take a stand, and they have done that by creating a coalition to push back and confront the terrorists and those who promote their violent ideologies.”[1]  Who those terrorists were was always the open question.

The announcement could barely be taken seriously.  Here, another coalition of the daft and brutal had been created, a situation the Middle East has become accustomed to since President George W. Bush led his charges and satraps (or at the very least pretended to direct them) into the bloody desert sands of Iraq in 2003.  The issue of who was causing the greatest mayhem was in no doubt then, just as it now.  When states band together to bomb in the name of higher values, the bloody muck comes to the surface.

According to Riyadh, this latest massive drill constitutes the largest concentration of military forces in the area since the Desert Storm campaign of 1991 mounted against the Iraqis.  “We are testing our infrastructures, our airports, our seaports, our airbases, to make sure we can host such a coalition,” claims Brig Gen. Ahmad al-Assiri.

The figures for this celebrated coalition vary, though one of 350,000 keeps coming up, a magic reiteration that serves no purpose other than to inflate and confuse.  At no point have massed infantry formations been noted on a scale to justify such a figure, though there is a general sense that the air component is serious enough, backed by tanks and infantry, should the need arise.

According to BBC reporter Frank Gardner, “I watched squadrons of Egyptian, Jordanian and Bahraini F16 warplanes, along with Qatari Mirage jets, training alongside Saudi Typhoons and F-15s [near the town of Hafr Al-Batin].”[2]

As ever, this ramshackle coalition is only as coherent as its objectives, which is, from appearances, one directed at the enemies of Sunni states.  So far, targeting Yemen has been high on the list, with Saudi Arabia taking the main line given its fears about Iranian-sponsored encirclement.  No one can dispute that the Kingdom and its allies have been effective in Yemen, in so far as killing civilians is concerned.  To date, 6,000 people (the Worth Health Organisation figure is 6,200) have perished, a point that made the European Parliament vote by a large majority to apply an EU-wide arms embargo on the Kingdom.

The resolution makes for harrowing reading, noting “multiple reports that airstrikes by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen have hit civilian targets, including hospitals, schools, markets, grain warehouses, ports and a camp for displaced persons, severely damaging essential infrastructure for the delivery of aid and contributing to the severe food and fuel shortages in the country”.[3]

A report yesterday claims that over 40 civilians were killed in a strike on a market place in northern Yemen in yet another Saudi-led strike.  Notwithstanding this, a billion dollar arms purchase by Riyadh is set to take place, one that will involve the sale of over 18,000 bombs and 1,500 warheads.

The targeting of Islamic State targets in Syria is, in the scheme of things, tokenistic despite the group’s various efforts to target the Kingdom.  On that score, the United States retains the lion’s share of that other coalition, though it has been Russian initiatives that have borne more fruit.

This Islamic coalition is also being led by a state in crisis.  Oil prices have slumped, with Saudi Arabia still insisting on glutting the market. The effects at home have been telling, with reductions in hiring and contract deals.  Coffers are emptying rapidly.

Nor is Riyadh particularly thrilled with remarks that have come from the White House of late.  President Barack Obama has been pressing for something of a “Syrian-styled” peace deal in Yemen, an approach met with less than a warm response in Saudi Arabia.  This was further aggravated by observations by the President in the Atlantic Magazine that “free riders” irritated him, suggesting that certain coalition partners were not pulling their weight.[4]

Senior Saudi royal Prince Turki al-Faisal, in a letter published across Saudi media channels, felt that the US had accused the Kingdom of “fomenting sectarian strife in Syria, Yemen and Iraq” while also “adding insult to injury in telling us to share our world with Iran, a country that you describe as a supporter of terrorism and which you promised our king to counter its ‘destabilizing activities’.”[5]

As is ever with such complex, ghastly and distorted relationships, Prince Turki ended the letter on a moderate note. Having issued a tongue-lashing, a conciliatory conclusion was in order.  “We will continue to hold the American people as our ally and don’t forget that when the chips were down” Saudi and US soldiers “stood shoulder to shoulder”.  A fine summation of Saudi foreign policy in script and action.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: [email protected]

Notes:

  1. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/12/saudi-arabia-forms-muslim-anti-terrorism-coalition-151215035914865.html
  2. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35785416
  3. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2016-0066+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=ENhttp://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/
  4. http://sputniknews.com/middleeast/20160315/1036351332/saudi-yemen-bombings-market.html
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The Israeli government is having to plan how to deal with a Trump presidency and the loss of $6bn a year in US military equipment, arms, loans, grants and gifts from an AIPAC-led Congress.

Just as Binyamin Netanyahu is wondering how to replace the EU, his primary trading market, in the event that Europe decides to implement sanctions against his continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land, he now faces the possibility of having to deal with a Republican President who will certainly not be a ‘patsy’ in a lobby-controlled White House.

The current global attitude to Israel’s continued illegal settlement policy has now hardened into one of angry impatience at Netanyahu’s obstructive tactics in regard to the establishment of an independent state of Palestine to accommodate a dispossessed, indigenous people of over 5 million.

Also, as a consequence of Israel’s six year blockade of essential medical, food and building supplies into Gaza in close co-operation with the Egyptian dictator, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, 1.8 million civilians are still living in a bombed-out enclave reduced to rubble, and with only enough food to keep the entire population at just above subsistence level: atrocities perpetrated by the Israeli government.

However, there now appears to be the possibility of a consensus for a UN resolution to force Israel to comply with international law and for the imposition of a deadline for compliance, failing which, US and EU bilateral trade with the Israeli state could be drastically restricted.

That there needs to be a paradigm shift in the international attitude towards Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories, is an essential factor in Middle East politics and future peace, and with a Trump Presidency, that will almost certainly become a priority for the United States and for the European Union.

Of course, in the unlikely event of a Clinton presidency, the reverse would be true and we would see the frightening prospect of team ‘Binyamin and Hillary’ running the White House. Heaven forbid!

(C) EUnewsdesk London. 2016

[email protected]

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Washington will not lift the sanctions imposed after the reunification of Crimea with Russia until Moscow decides to “return Crimea to Ukraine,” the spokesman for the US State Department said.

Crimea, which has a predominately ethnically-Russian population, seceded from Ukraine to rejoin Russia two years ago following a referendum on March 16 in which over 96 percent of voters supported the move.

“We will not accept the redrawing of borders by force in the 21st century. Sanctions related to Crimea will remain in place as long as the occupation continues. We again call on Russia to end that occupation and return Crimea to Ukraine,” John Kirby [left image] said in a statement Wednesday.

He added that Washington remains committed to “a united, sovereign Ukraine.”

In 2014, the United States, the European Union and some of their allies imposed a series of economic sanctions targeting key Russian sectors as well as a number of individuals and entities over Russia’s reunification with Crimea and its alleged interference in the conflict between Kiev and independence supporters in eastern Ukraine, denied by Moscow

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With the recent announcement by Vladimir Putin that Russia is beginning a withdrawal of specific military personnel and equipment from Syria on Tuesday, March 15, the Western corporate media has been on fire with speculation that Russia is evacuating the country, retreating, and giving up on its military objectives. Indeed, the Western press is presenting the Russian announcement as a total withdrawal and a quick move out the exit door.

Those who are both pro-Assad and anti-Assad have all shared their opinions, with many even on the pro-Assad/pro-Russian side opposing the Russian scale down of military involvement out of fear that the Russians are abandoning Assad. At the crux of this opposition to the Russia move, of course, is the fundamental misunderstanding of what the “withdrawal” actually is.

The Withdrawal

Despite the presentation of the Russian announcement as a total pullout from Syria, coming with everything except pictures of Syrian civilians hanging on to helicopters and airplanes being dumped at sea, the “withdrawal” is merely the reduction of specific military personnel and equipment. The withdrawal is not really a withdrawal in the sense that most readers would understand it. Instead, it is being presented as such by Western press outlets for propaganda purposes.

Remember, Putin has made it clear that the Tartus port will remain open and that the airbases Russia has previously established and operated from will remain functional. Russia is also continuing to drop bombs on ISIS positions. Indeed, on the night before the “withdrawal” was scheduled to begin, Russian planes obliterated a number of ISIS strongholds near Palmyra.

Thus, it should be understood that the Russian “withdrawal” is not a retreat, but simply a scale down of specific forces and readjustment of strategy.

It should also be pointed out that Russian objectives were never to seize and hold Syrian territory as an occupying force. That was the plan of the Americans. Russian objectives were to disrupt and defeat ISIS and shore up the Assad government. Russia has done that and is continuing to do it.

The Reason For The Withdrawal Announcement

So why would Putin announce a partial “withdrawal,” especially since we can presume that he would be well aware of the way in which he would be represented in the Western press? Why would Putin feel the need to make the announcement public at all? Why not simply make the directive, allow it to be carried out, and maintain the public perception that Russia is still fully involved in Syria?

Most likely, the Russian announcement was more politically based than anything else. For instance, one aspect of the announcement, particularly since it coincides with the new “ceasefire” agreement and the United Nations “peace talks,” is that it allows Russia to appear as the most rational actor in the fight and the side most committed to actual peace in Syria. This has been Russia’s methodology since the beginning of its involvement in the crisis where the United States – when forced to go toe to toe with Russia politically – has ended up with egg on its face every time.

Remember, when the U.S. wanted to invade Syria under the pretext of chemical weapons usage, the Russians swooped in and negotiated a deal to remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. Many had valid arguments against the disarmament, but, politically speaking, Russia came away looking diplomatic and peaceful while the West, especially the U.S., came away looking like the bloodthirsty warmonger that it is.

On numerous occasions, when the U.S. was screaming at the top of its lungs that peace could only come from “rebel” victory or the removal of Assad, the Russians came in and organized “peace talks” of their own. These talks ultimately failed but the result portrayed the Russians as the side leaning toward peace and diplomacy while the U.S. was bent on bloody warfare. Russia has been incredibly shrewd and effective on the political front as well as the military front, and the recent announcement seems to be one more aspect of that strategy.

The second aspect is that, domestically, Russia is now able to tout a “mission accomplished” moment, a sort of victorious military triumph, without actually landing on an aircraft carrier and declaring the mission officially over while troops are engaged in a bloodbath on the ground. Putin is able to have his cake and eat it too by pointing out that some military objectives have been achieved but still not claiming the mission is over and leaving Assad to the wolves. It is both an international stance toward peace and a domestic stance toward victory even if for no other reason than public relations.

Image Credit

Going Forward

As mentioned earlier, Russia has reaffirmed that not only is the airbase in Latakia and the naval facility in Tartus continuing to operate, but that it will continue air operations against ISIS forces in Syria. Only a day after Putin’s announcement, Russian Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov stated that

“Certain positive results have been achieved. A real chance has emerged to put an end to this long-running standoff. But it is still early to talk about victory over terrorism. The Russian aviation group has the task to continue carrying out strikes on terrorist facilities.”

So with the ceasefire agreement barely holding on, the “peace talks” taking place at the United Nations, and the threat of a Turkish/GCC invasion of Syria looming in the background, the question now is whether or not the situation will gradually trend toward peace and de-escalation or whether it will in fact escalate to a wider war between the opposing forces in Syria as well as other interested international actors.

After all, Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for the Syria crisis, has already described the talks as essentially the only thing holding back an even wider full-scale war in Syria. While he made no effort to clarify what he meant by comment, the world outside of the Western countries are generally aware of the American agenda in Syria. Informed observers generally recognize that the NATO bloc, along with Israel and the GCC, are not content to simply admit they have been routed, pick up their ball, and go home. They continue to adapt their own methods in much the same way as the Russians and will respond as soon as they have surveyed the chessboard and have selected their next move.

An adjustment of strategy can take many forms but the most concerning is the possible NATO commitment to some type of gamble where it is believed or assumed that the Russians will indeed retreat instead of fight back in the event of a direct military invasion by the regional players and/or the United States.

If such a catastrophic military move ever happens, it will be one that affects every human being on the planet as it would pit two nuclear powers in conflict with one another.

Conclusion

Regardless, the manner in which the Russian announcement has been portrayed in the corporate Western press has served only to stir up a number of panicked responses from confused onlookers while, at the same time, providing a complete mystification of the true situation on the ground. Thus, it will become even more confusing to any casual observer attempting to gain any accurate representation of the Syrian crisis.

Unfortunately, what makes a leader look weak in the eyes of many Americans may very well make him look honorable in the eyes of the rest of the world, particularly those parts of it continuing to suffer under American imperialism, war, and destabilization.

Brandon Turbeville – article archive here – is the author of seven books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom7 Real ConspiraciesFive Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 and volume 2The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria, and The Difference it Makes: 36 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President. Turbeville has published over 650 articles on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville’s radio show Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST at UCYTV. His website is BrandonTurbeville.com He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.

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Daraa 2011: Syria’s Islamist Insurrection in Disguise

March 16th, 2016 by Prof. Tim Anderson

Five Years ago Daraa, mid-March 2011.

“I have seen from the beginning armed protesters in those demonstrations … they were the first to fire on the police. Very often the violence of the security forces comes in response to the brutal violence of the armed insurgents” – Jesuit priest Father Frans Van der Lugt, January 2012, Homs Syria

“The claim that armed opposition to the government has begun only recently is a complete lie. The killings of soldiers, police and civilians, often in the most brutal circumstances, have been going on virtually since the beginning.” – Professor Jeremy Salt, October 2011, Ankara Turkey

“The protest movement in Syria was overwhelmingly peaceful until September 2011” – Human Rights Watch, March 2012, Washington

Professor Tim Anderson’s book. Click image to order directly from Global Research 

A double story began on the Syrian conflict, at the very beginning of the armed violence in 2011, in the southern border town of Daraa. The first story comes from independent witnesses in Syria, such as the late Father Frans Van der Lugt in Homs. They say that armed men infiltrated the early political reform demonstrations to shoot at both police and civilians. This violence came from sectarian Islamists. The second comes from the Islamist groups (‘rebels’) and their western backers, including the Washington-based Human Rights Watch. They claim there was ‘indiscriminate’ violence from Syrian security forces to repress political rallies and that the ‘rebels’ grew out of a secular political reform movement.

Careful study of the independent evidence, however, shows that the Washington-backed ‘rebel’ story, while widespread, was part of a strategy to delegitimise the Syrian Government, with the aim of fomenting ‘regime change’. To understand this it is necessary to study the outbreak of the violence in Daraa, in March 2011. Central to that insurrection were shipments of arms from Saudi Arabia to Islamists at the al Omari mosque.

In early 2011 Syrians were well aware of a piece of history few western observers would remember: a strikingly similar Islamist insurrection took place in the town of Hama, back in 1982. Yet this was crushed within weeks by the Syrian Arab Army. Reviewing this conflict is useful because of the myths that have grown up around both insurrections.

US intelligence (DIA 1982) and the late British author Patrick Seale (1988) give independent accounts of what happened at Hama. After years of violent, sectarian attacks by Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, by mid-1980 President Hafez al Assad had ‘broken the back’ of their sectarian rebellion, which aimed to impose a Salafi-Islamic state. One final coup plot was exposed and the Brotherhood ‘felt pressured into initiating’ an uprising in their stronghold of Hama. Seale describes the start of that violence in this way:

‘At 2am on the night of 2-3 February 1982 an army unit combing the old city fell into an ambush. Roof top snipers killed perhaps a score of soldiers … [Brotherhood leader] Abu Bakr [Umar Jawwad] gave the order for a general uprising … hundreds of Islamist fighters rose … by the morning some seventy leading Ba’athists had been slaughtered and the triumphant guerrillas declared the city ‘liberated’ (Seale 1988: 332).

However the Army responded with a huge force of about 12,000 and the battle raged for three weeks. It was a foreign-backed civil war, with some defections from the army. Seale continues:

‘As the tide turned slowly in the government’s favour, the guerrillas fell back into the old quarters … after heavy shelling, commandos and party irregulars supported by tanks moved in … many civilians were slaughtered in the prolonged mopping up, whole districts razed’ (Seale 1988: 333).

Two months later a US intelligence report said: ‘The total casualties for the Hama incident probably number about 2,000. This includes an estimated 300 to 400 members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s elite ‘Secret Apparatus’ (DIA 1982: 7). Seale recognises that the Army also suffered heavy losses. At the same time, ‘large numbers died in the hunt for the gunmen … government sympathizers estimating a mere 3,000 and critics as many as 20,000 … a figure of 5,000 to 10,000 could be close to the truth’ He adds:

‘The guerrillas were formidable opponents. They had a fortune in foreign money … [and] no fewer than 15,000 machine guns’ (Seale 1988: 335). Subsequent Muslim Brotherhood accounts have inflated the casualties, reaching up to ‘40,000 civilians’, and attempting to hide the vicious insurrection by claiming that Hafez al Assad had simply carried out a ‘civilian massacre’ (e.g. Nassar 2014). The then Syrian President blamed a large scale foreign conspiracy for the Hama insurrection. Seale observes that Hafez was ‘not paranoical’, as many US weapons were captured and foreign backing had come from several US collaborators: King Hussayn of Jordan, Lebanese Christian militias (the Israeli-aligned ‘Guardians of the Cedar’) and Saddam Hussein in Iraq (Seale 1988: 336-337).

The Hama insurrection helps us understand the Daraa violence because, once again in 2011, we saw armed Islamists using rooftop sniping against police and government officials, drawing in the armed forces, only to cry ‘civilian massacre’ when they and their collaborators came under attack from the Army. Although the US, through its allies, played an important part in the Hama insurrection, when it was all over US intelligence dryly observed that: ‘the Syrians are pragmatists who do not want a Muslim Brotherhood government’ (DIA 1982: vii).

In the case of Daraa, and the attacks that moved to Homs and surrounding areas in April 2011, the clearly stated aim was once again to topple the secular or ‘infidel-Alawi’ regime. The front-line US collaborators were Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. The head of the Syrian Brotherhood, Muhammad Riyad Al-Shaqfa, issued a statement on 28 March which left no doubt that the group’s aim was sectarian. The enemy was ‘the secular regime’ and Brotherhood members ‘have to make sure that the revolution will be pure Islamic, and with that no other sect would have a share of the credit after its success’ (Al-Shaqfa 2011). While playing down the initial role of the Brotherhood, Sheikho confirms that it ‘went on to punch above its actual weight on the ground during the uprising … [due] to Turkish-Qatari support’, and to its general organisational capacity (Sheikho 2013). By the time there was a ‘Free Syrian Army Supreme Military Council’ in 2012 (more a weapons conduit than any sort of army command), it was two-thirds dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood (Draitser 2012). Other foreign Salafi-Islamist groups quickly joined this ‘Syrian Revolution’. A US intelligence report in August 2012, contrary to Washington’s public statements about ‘moderate rebels’, said:

‘The Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq, later ISIS] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria … AQI supported the Syrian Opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media’ (DIA 2012).

In February 2011 there was popular agitation in Syria, to some extent influenced by the events in Egypt and Tunisia. There were anti-government and pro-government demonstrations, and a genuine political reform movement that for several years had agitated against corruption and the Ba’ath Party monopoly. A 2005 report referred to ‘an array of reform movements slowly organizing beneath the surface’ (Ghadry 2005), and indeed the ‘many faces’ of a Syrian opposition, much of it non-Islamist, had been agitating since about that same time (Sayyid Rasas 2013). These political opposition groups deserve attention, in another discussion. However only one section of that opposition was linked to the violence that erupted in Daraa. Large anti-government demonstrations began, to be met with huge pro-government demonstrations. In early March some teenagers in Daraa were arrested for graffiti that had been copied from North Africa ‘the people want to overthrow the regime’. It was reported that they were abused by local police, President Bashar al Assad intervened, the local governor was sacked and the teenagers were released (Abouzeid 2011).

Pro-Government Rally 2014

Yet the Islamist insurrection was underway, taking cover under the street demonstrations. On 11 March, several days before the violence broke out in Daraa, there were reports that Syrian forces had seized ‘a large shipment of weapons and explosives and night-vision goggles … in a truck coming from Iraq’. The truck was stopped at the southern Tanaf crossing, close to Jordan. The Syrian Government news agency SANA said the weapons were intended ‘for use in actions that affect Syria’s internal security and spread unrest and chaos.’ Pictures showed ‘dozens of grenades and pistols as well as rifles and ammunition belts’. The driver said the weapons had been loaded in Baghdad and he had been paid $5,000 to deliver them to Syria (Reuters 2011). Despite this interception, arms did reach Daraa, a border town of about 150,000 people. This is where the ‘western-rebel’ and the independent stories diverge, and diverge dramatically. The western media consensus was that protestors burned and trashed government offices, and then ‘provincial security forces opened fire on marchers, killing several’ (Abouzeid 2011). After that, ‘protestors’ staged demonstrations in front of the al-Omari mosque, but were in turn attacked.

The Syrian government, on the other hand, said that armed attacks had begun on security forces, killing police and civilians, along with the burning of government offices. There was foreign corroboration of this account. While its headline blamed security forces for killing ‘protesters’, the British Daily Mail (2011) showed pictures of guns, AK47 rifles and hand grenades that security forces had recovered after storming the al-Omari mosque. The paper noted reports that ‘an armed gang’ had opened fire on an ambulance, killing ‘a doctor, a paramedic and a policeman’. Media channels in neighbouring countries did report on the killing of Syrian police, on 17-18 March. On 21 March a Lebanese news report observed that ‘Seven policemen were killed during clashes between the security forces and protesters in Syria’ (YaLibnan 2011), while an Israel National News report said ‘Seven police officers and at least four demonstrators in Syria have been killed … and the Baath party headquarters and courthouse were torched’ (Queenan 2011). These police had been targeted by rooftop snipers.

Even in these circumstances the Government was urging restraint and attempting to respond to the political reform movement. President Assad’s adviser, Dr Bouthaina Shaaban, told a news conference that the President had ordered ‘that live ammunition should not be fired, even if the police, security forces or officers of the state were being killed’. Assad proposed to address the political demands, such as the registration of political parties, removing emergency rules and allowing greater media freedoms (al-Khalidi 2011). None of that seemed to either interest or deter the Islamist insurrection.

Several reports, including video reports, observed rooftop snipers firing at crowds and police, during funerals of those already killed. It was said to be ‘unclear who was firing at whom’ (Al Jazeera 2011a), as ‘an unknown armed group on rooftops shot at protesters and security forces’ (Maktabi 2011). Yet Al Jazeera (2011b) owned by the Qatari monarchy, soon strongly suggested that that the snipers were pro-government. ‘President Bashar al Assad has sent thousands of Syrian soldiers and their heavy weaponry into Derra for an operation the regime wants nobody in the word to see’. However the Al Jazeera suggestion that secret pro-government snipers were killing ‘soldiers and protestors alike’ was illogical and out of sequence. The armed forces came to Daraa precisely because police had been shot and killed.

Saudi Arabia, a key US regional ally, had armed and funded extremist Salafist Sunni sects to move against the secular government. Saudi official Anwar Al-Eshki later confirmed to BBC television that his country had sent arms to Daraa and to the al-Omari mosque (Truth Syria 2012). From exile in Saudi Arabia, Salafi Sheikh Adnan Arour called for a holy war against the liberal Alawi Muslims, who were said to dominate the Syrian government: ‘by Allah we shall mince [the Alawites] in meat grinders and feed their flesh to the dogs’ (MEMRITV 2011). The Salafist aim was a theocratic state or caliphate. The genocidal slogan ‘Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave’ became widespread, a fact reported by the North American media as early as May 2011 (e.g. Blanford 2011). Islamists from the FSA Farouq brigade would soon act on these threats (Crimi 2012). Canadian analyst Michel Chossudovsky (2011) concluded:

‘The deployment of armed forces including tanks in Daraa [was] directed against an organised armed insurrection, which has been active in the border city since March 17-18.’

After those first few days in Daraa the killing of Syrian security forces continued, but went largely unreported outside Syria. Nevertheless, independent analyst Sharmine Narwani wrote about the scale of this killing in early 2012 and again in mid-2014. An ambush and massacre of soldiers took place near Daraa in late March or early April. An army convoy was stopped by an oil slick on a valley road between Daraa al-Mahata and Daraa al-Balad and the trucks were machine gunned. Estimates of soldier deaths, from government and opposition sources ranged from 18 to 60. A Daraa resident said these killings were not reported because: ‘At that time, the government did not want to show they are weak and the opposition did not want to show they are armed’. Anti-Syrian blogger, Nizar Nayouf, records this massacre as taking place in the last week of March. Another anti-Government writer, Rami Abdul Rahman (based in England, and calling himself the ‘Syrian Observatory of Human Rights’) says:

‘It was on the first of April and about 18 or 19 security forces … were killed’ (Narwani 2014). Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad, himself a resident of Daraa, confirmed that: ‘this incident was hidden by the government … as an attempt not to antagonize or not to raise emotions and to calm things down – not to encourage any attempt to inflame emotions which may lead to escalation of the situation’ (Narwani 2014).

Yet the significance of denying armed anti-Government killings was that, in the western media, all deaths were reported as (a) victims of the Army and (b) civilians. For well over six months, when a body count was mentioned in the international media, it was usually considered acceptable to suggest these were all ‘protestors’ killed by the Syrian Army. For example, a Reuters report on 24 March said Daraa’s main hospital had received ‘the bodies of at least 37 protestors killed on Wednesday’ (Khalidi 2011). Notice that all the dead had become ‘protestors’, despite earlier reports on the killing of a number of police and health workers.

Another nineteen soldiers were gunned down on 25 April, also near Daraa. Narwani obtained their names and details from Syria’s Defence Ministry, and corroborated these details from another document from a non-government source. Throughout April 2011 she calculates that eighty-eight Syrian soldiers were killed ‘by unknown shooters in different areas across Syria’ (Narwani 2014). She went on to refute claims that the soldiers killed were ‘defectors’, shot by the Syrian army for refusing to fire on civilians. The Washington based group Human Rights Watch, referring to interviews with 50 unnamed ‘activists’, claimed that soldiers killed at this time were all ‘defectors’, murdered by the Army (HRW 2011b). Yet the funerals of loyal officers, shown on the internet at that time, were distinct. Even Rami Abdul Rahman, keen to blame the Army for killing civilians, said ‘this game of saying the Army is killing defectors for leaving – I never accepted this’ (Narwani 2014). Nevertheless the highly charged reports were confusing, in Syria as well as outside.

The violence spread north, with the assistance of Islamist fighters from Lebanon, reaching Baniyas and areas around Homs. On 10 April nine soldiers were shot in a bus ambush in Baniyas. In Homs, on April 17, General Abdo Khodr al-Tallawi was killed with his two sons and a nephew, and Syrian commander Iyad Kamel Harfoush was gunned down near his home. Two days later, off-duty Colonel Mohammad Abdo Khadour was killed in his car (Narwani 2014). North American commentator Joshua Landis (2011a) reported the death of his wife’s cousin, one of the soldiers in Baniyas.

Al Jazeera, the principal Middle East media channel backing the Muslim Brotherhood, blacked out these attacks, as also the reinforcement provided by armed foreigners. Former Al Jazeera journalist Ali Hashem was one of many who resigned from the Qatar-owned station (RT 2012), complaining of deep bias over their presentation of the violence in Syria. Hashem had footage of armed men arriving from Lebanon, but this was censored by his Qatari managers. ‘In a resignation letter I was telling the executive … it was like nothing was happening in Syria.’ He thought the ‘Libyan revolution’ was the turning point for Al Jazeera, the end of its standing as a credible media group (Hashem 2012).

Provocateurs were at work. Tunisian jihadist ‘Abu Qusay’ later admitted he had been a prominent ‘Syrian rebel’ charged with ‘destroying and desecrating Sunni mosques’, including by scrawling the graffiti ‘There is no God but Bashar’, a blasphemy to devout Muslims. This was then blamed on the Syrian Army, with the aim of creating Sunni defections from the Army. ‘Abu Qusay’ had been interviewed by foreign journalists who did not notice he was not Syrian (Eretz Zen 2014).

Journalist Nir Rosen, whose reports were generally against the Syrian Government, also criticised the western consensus over the early violence:

‘The issue of defectors is a distraction. Armed resistance began long before defections started … Every day the opposition gives a death toll, usually without any explanation … Many of those reported killed are in fact dead opposition fighters but … described in reports as innocent civilians killed by security forces … and every day members of the Syrian Army, security agencies … are also killed by anti-regime fighters’ (Rosen 2012).

A numbers game was being played to delegitimise the Syrian Government (‘The Regime’) and the Syrian Army (‘Assad loyalists’), suggesting they were responsible for all the violence. Just as NATO forces were about to bomb Libya and overthrow the Libyan Government, US voices began to demand that President Assad step down. The Brookings Institution (Shaikh 2011) claimed the President had ‘lost the legitimacy to remain in power in Syria’. US Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman said it was time ‘to align ourselves unequivocally with the Syrian people in their peaceful demand for a democratic government’ (FOX News 2011). The big powers began to demand yet another ‘regime change’.

In June, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton dismissed the idea that ‘foreign instigators’ had been at work, saying that ‘the vast majority of casualties have been unarmed civilians’ (Clinton 2011). In fact, as Clinton knew very well, her Saudi Arabian allies had armed extremists from the very beginning. Her casualty assertion was also wrong. The United Nations (which would later abandon its body count) estimated from several sources that, by early 2012, there were more than 5,000 casualties, and that deaths in the first year of conflict included 478 police and 2,091 from the military and security forces (OHCHR 2012: 2; Narwani 2014). That is, more than half the casualties in the first year were those of the Syrian security forces. That independent calculation was not reflected in western media reports. ‘Watchdog’ NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, along with US columnists (e.g. Allaf 2012), continued to claim, well into 2012, that Syrian security forces had been massacring ‘unarmed protestors’, that the Syrian people ‘had no choice’ but to take up arms, and that this ‘protest movement’ had been ‘overwhelmingly peaceful until September 2011’ (HRW 2011a, HRW 2012). In fact, the political reform movement had been driven off the streets by Salafi-Islamist gunmen, over the course of March and April.

In June reporter Hala Jaber (2011) observed that about five thousand people turned up for a demonstration at Ma’arrat al-Numan, a small town in north-west Syria, between Aleppo and Hama. She says several ‘protestors’ had been shot the week before, while trying to block the road between Damascus and Aleppo. After some negotiations which reduced the security forces in the town, ‘men with heavy beards in cars and pick-ups with no registration plates’ with ‘rifles and rocket-propelled grenades’ began shooting at the reduced numbers of security forces. A military helicopter was sent to support the security forces. After this clash ‘four policemen and 12 of their attackers were dead or dying. Another 20 policemen were wounded’. Officers who escaped the fight were hidden by some of the tribal elders who had participated in the original demonstration. When the next ‘demonstration for democracy’ took place, the following Friday, ‘only 350 people turned up’, mostly young men and some bearded militants (Jaber 2011). Five thousand protestors had been reduced to 350, after the Salafist attacks.

After months of media manipulations, disguising the Islamist insurrection, Syrians such as Samer al Akhras, a young man from a Sunni family, who used to watch Al Jazeera because he preferred it to state TV, became convinced to back the Syrian government. He saw first-hand the fabrication of reports on Al Jazeera and wrote, in late June 2011:

‘I am a Syrian citizen and I am a human. After 4 months of your fake freedom … You say peaceful demonstration and you shoot our citizen. From today … I am [now] a Sergeant in the Reserve Army. If I catch anyone … in any terrorist organization working on the field in Syria I am gonna shoot you as you are shooting us. This is our land not yours, the slaves of American fake freedom’ (al Akhras 2011).

Notes:

Abouzeid, Rania (2011) ‘Syria’s Revolt, how graffiti stirred an uprising’,Time, 22 March

Al Akhras, Samer (2011) ‘Syrian Citizen’, Facebook, 25 June, online:https://www.facebook.com/notes/sam-al-akhras/syrian-citizen/241770845834062?pnref=story

Al Jazeera (2011a) ‘Nine killed at Syria funeral processions’, 23 April, online:http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/04/20114231169587270.html

Al Jazeera (2011b) ‘Deraa: A city under a dark siege’, 28 April, online:http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/04/2011427215943692865.html

Al-Shaqfa, Muhammad Riyad (2011) ‘Muslim Brotherhood Statement about the so-called ‘Syrian Revolution’’, General supervisor for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, statement of 28 March, online at: http://truthsyria.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/muslim-brotherhood-statement-about-the-so-called-syrian-revolution/

Allaf, Rime (2012) ‘This Time, Assad Has Overreached’, NYT, 5 Dec, online:http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/02/06/is-assads-time-running-out/this-time-assad-has-overreached

Blanford, Nicholas (2011) ‘Assad regime may be gaining upper hand in Syria’, Christina Science Monitor, 13 may, online:http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0513/Assad-regime-may-be-gaining-upper-hand-in-Syria

Chossudovsky, Michel (2011) ‘Syria: who is behind the protest movement? Fabricating a pretext for US-NATO ‘Humanitarian Intervention’’, Global Research, 3 May, online: http://www.globalresearch.ca/syria-who-is-behind-the-protest-movement-fabricating-a-pretext-for-a-us-nato-humanitarian-intervention/24591

Clinton, Hilary (2011) ‘There is No Going Back in Syria’, US Department of State, 17 June, online: http://www.state.gov/secretary/20092013clinton/rm/2011/06/166495.htm

Maktabi, Rima (2011) ‘Reports of funeral, police shootings raise tensions in Syria’, CNN, 5 April, online: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/04/05/syria.unrest/

Crimi, Frank (2012) ‘Ethnic Cleansing of Syrian Christians’, Frontpagemag,29 March, online: http://www.frontpagemag.com/2012/frank-crimi/ethnic-cleansing-of-syrian-christians/

Daily Mail (2011) ‘Nine protesters killed after security forces open fire by Syrian mosque’, 24 March

DIA (1982) ‘Syria: Muslim Brotherhood Pressure Intensifies’, Defence Intelligence Agency (USA), May, online: https://syria360.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/dia-syria-muslimbrotherhoodpressureintensifies-2.pdf

DIA (2012) ‘Department of Defence Information Report, Not Finally Evaluated Intelligence, Country: Iraq’, Defence Intelligence Agency, August, 14-L-0552/DIA/297-293, Levant report, online at:http://levantreport.com/2015/05/19/2012-defense-intelligence-agency-document-west-will-facilitate-rise-of-islamic-state-in-order-to-isolate-the-syrian-regime/

Draitser, Eric (2012) ‘Unmasking the Muslim Brotherhood: Syria, Egypt and beyond’, Global Research, 12 December, online:http://www.globalresearch.ca/unmasking-the-muslim-brotherhood-syria-egypt-and-beyond/5315406

Eretz Zen (2014) ‘Tunisian Jihadist Admits: We Destroyed & Desecrated Mosques in Syria to Cause Defections in Army’, Youtube Interview, 16 March, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQ8awN8GLAk

FOX News (2011) ‘Obama Under Pressure to Call for Syrian Leader’s Ouster’,29 April, online: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/04/29/obama-pressure-syrian-leaders-ouster/

Ghadry, Farid N. (2005) ‘Syrian Reform: What Lies Beneath’, Middle East Quarterly, Vol 12 No 1, Winter, online: http://www.meforum.org/683/syrian-reform-what-lies-beneath 

Haidar, Ali (2013) interview with this writer, Damascus 28 December. Ali Haidar was President of the Syrian Social National Party (SS NP), a secular rival to the Ba’ath Party. In 2012 President Bashar al Assad incorporated him into the Syrian government as Minister for Reconciliation.

Hashem, Ali (2012) ‘Al Jazeera Journalist Explains Resignation over Syria and Bahrain Coverage’, The Real News, 20 March, online:http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=8106

HRW (2011a) ‘We’ve never seen such horror: crimes against humanity by Syrian Security Forces’, Human Rights Watch, June, online:http://www.hrw.org/reports/2011/06/01/we-ve-never-seen-such-horror-0

HRW (2011b) Syria: Defectors Describe Orders to Shoot Unarmed Protesters’, Human Rights watch, Washington, 9 July, online:http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/07/09/syria-defectors-describe-orders-shoot-unarmed-protesters

HRW (2012) ‘Open Letter to the Leaders of the Syrian Opposition, Human Rights Watch, Washington, 20 March, online:http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/03/20/open-letter-leaders-syrian-opposition

Jaber, Hala (2011) ‘Syria caught in crossfire of extremists’, Sunday Times, 26 June, online: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/world_news/Middle_East/article657138.ece

Khalidi, Suleiman (2011) ‘Thousands chant ‘freedom’ despite Assad reform offer’, Reuters, 24 March, online: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/24/us-syria-idUSTRE72N2MC20110324

Landis, Joshua (2011a) ‘The Revolution Strikes Home: Yasir Qash`ur, my wife’s cousin, killed in Banyas’, Syria Comment, 11 April, online:http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/the-revolution-strikes-home-yasir-qashur-my-wifes-cousin-killed-in-banyas/

Landis, Joshua (2011b) ‘Syria’s Opposition Faces an Uncertain Future’, Syria Comment, 26 June, online: http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/syrias-opposition-faces-an-uncertain-future/

MEMRITV (2011) ‘Syrian Sunni Cleric Threatens: “We Shall Mince [The Alawites] in Meat Grinders”’, YouTube, 13 July, online:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bwz8i3osHww

Nassar, Jessy (2014) ‘Hama: A rebirth from the ashes?’ Middle East Monitor,11 July, online: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/12703-hama-a-rebirth-from-the-ashes

Narwani, Sharmine (2012) ‘Questioning the Syrian “Casualty List”, 28 Feb, online: http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/questioning-syrian-%E2%80%9Ccasualty-list%E2%80%9D

Narwani, Sharmine (2014) Syria: The hidden massacre, RT, 7 May, online:http://rt.com/op-edge/157412-syria-hidden-massacre-2011/

OHCHR (2012) ‘Periodic Update’, Independent International Commission of Inquiry established pursuant to resolution A/HRC/S – 17/1 and extended through resolution A/HRC/Res/19/22, 24 may, online:

http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/PeriodicUpdate24May2012.pdf

Queenan, Gavriel (2011) ‘Syria: Seven Police Killed, Buildings torched in protests’, Israel National News, Arutz Sheva, March 21

Reuters (2011) ‘Syria says seizes weapons smuggled from Iraq’, 11 March, online: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/11/us-syria-iraq-idUSTRE72A3MI20110311?hc_location=ufi

Rosen, Nir (2012) ‘Q&A: Nir Rosen on Syria’s armed opposition’, Al Jazeera,13 Feb, online: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/02/201221315020166516.html

RT (2012) ‘Al Jazeera exodus: Channel losing staff over ‘bias’’, 12 March, online: http://rt.com/news/al-jazeera-loses-staff-335/

Salt, Jeremy (2011) Truth and Falsehood in Syria, The Palestine Chronicle, 5 October, online: http://palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=17159

Sayyid Rasas, Mohammed (2013) ‘From 2005 to 2013: The Syrian Opposition’s Many Faces’, Al Akhbar, 19 March, online: http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/15287 

Shaikh, Salman (2011) ‘In Syria, Assad Must Exit the Stage’, Brookings Institution, 27 April, online: http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2011/04/27-syria-shaikh

Sheikho, Youssef (2013) ‘The Syrian Opposition’s Muslim Brotherhood Problem’, Al Akhbar English, April 10, online: http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/15492

Truth Syria (2012) ‘Syria – Daraa revolution was armed to the teeth from the very beginning’, BBC interview with Anwar Al-Eshki, YouTube interview, video originally uploaded 10 April, latest version 7 November, online:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoGmrWWJ77w

Seale, Patrick (1988) Asad: the struggle for the Middle East, University of California Press, Berkeley CA

van der Lugt, Frans (2012) ‘Bij defaitisme is niemand gebaat’, from Homs,13 January, online: https://mediawerkgroepsyrie.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/bij-defaitisme-is-niemand-gebaat/

Wikstrom, Cajsa (2011) Syria: ‘A kingdom of silence’, Al Jazeera, 9 Feb, online: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/02/201129103121562395.html

YaLibnan (2011) ‘7 Syrian policemen killed in Sunday clashes’, 21 March, online: http://yalibnan.com/2011/03/21/7-syrian-policemen-killed-in-sunday-clashes-report/

 

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Today’s geopolitical struggles entail widespread use of psychological warfare against national elites, even from allied countries. This survey examines psychological techniques, including the use of informal NGO channels, which have been dubbed “organizational weapons.”

Psychological attacks attempt to take the target into veritable “pincers.” They are effective because the target, in the form of a national government, is subjected to pressure from both legitimate and “shadowy” actors, attacking from both above and below.

In order to carry out a pincer attack, the attacker must satisfy five conditions:

1. Establish a psychological pressure environment.

It entails two sets of activities. The first is establishing the pressure from above, in the form of planting “agents of influence” into the government and into associated organizations dealing with analysis and information dissemination, and pressure from below by creating a range of legal and shadowy societal and organization organizations to influence public opinion, organize mass protests, and  coordinate anti-government activities.

2. Implementing the “pressure from below” scenario.

The objective is to provoke mass displeasure with the government through the formation of public opinion by emphasizing government’s failures, including imagined ones. This information campaign then leads to protests, civil disobedience, and other measures to provoke the government into suppressing the demonstrations through the use of violence, which in turn will persuade many individuals to demand the government’s resignation. The goal is to place the government into a stressful situation in which it has to make snap decisions in order to stabilize the political situation and to lessen the psychological assault.

3. Organizing “pressure from above”

This includes using agents of influence to lobby the government to adopt certain decisions. The lobbying accomplishes two things:

The target government leaders are flooded with false information on the unfolding events, with suh information coming from trusted and close sources including even relatives and good friends.

It impresses upon government members the unavoidability of adopting proposed measures.

4. Making the political decision.

Given growing pressure from above and below, the government falls under a psychological sense of emergency, in which it feels it has to make hasty decisions. If the decision does not satisfy the organizers, they step up the level of pressure. Once the government makes the expected decision, the organizers move to the next step.

5. Removing the pressure. Once the decision satisfies the organizers, its widespread and enthusiastic acceptance is organized. The situation returns to normal as the level of organizing activity drops off.

The pincer mechanism works on many levels. It assumes the use of internal and external political forces to exert pressure. It can work on three levels at once—international, internal elite, and regional elite.

The psychological pressure’s effectiveness depends on several factors:

    • Actual social conditions, including mass expectations;
    • The population’s specific psychological factors which are being manipulated;
    • The level of cohesion and professionalism displayed by the “from below” pressure team exerting pressure on the region’s population.

The three-level pressure system includes the following:

a) The official international relations, including the totality of bi- and multi-lateral contacts which the state’s foreign policy organizations maintain, and which can be used to pressure the country’s highest officials responsible for national security and the military, through diplomatic notes, official statements, etc.

b) The “transnational geopolitical pluralism system”, consisting of:

– The global specialized network of international foundations, banks, and humanitarian organizations which provide an appearance of pluralism. This is initiates psychological pressure.

– Multi-national corporations which have offices in most countries.

– Transnational NGOs and unofficial political entities, such as the Trilateral Commission.

– International organized crime and terrorism.

– Interpersonal relations among senior government officials, or the so-called “social network of world elites.”

c) The global public opinion-forming system, including:

– International media and news agencies;

– National media and news services aimed at foreign audiences;

– The Internet.

This system can offer moral support to the protesters and separatists and also pressure national leaders by helping form a corresponding international public opinion.

The internal elite groups exerting psychological pressure include:

  • Members of the ruling elite;
  • The political anti-elite consisting of people who want to join the elite and change the country’s political, financial, legal policies;
  • The political sub-elite, or secondary groups within the elite who are not happy with their status and want to move up.

External forces are far more effective at interfering in domestic politics under conditions of globalization. Terms such as “economics without borders” or “freedom of the press” assumes not only complete freedom for legitimate economic and media actors, but also for shadowy entities which can render financial and moral support of the anti-elites and sub-elites in their confrontation against the ruling elites.

The media play a key role in ensuring the “pincer”. They are used to magnify the political pressure on the leaders and to provide psychological support for the protesters.

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Rough-sleeping on the Rise in England

March 16th, 2016 by Alice Summers

The number of people sleeping rough on the streets in England has risen by 30 percent in a single year, according to a new report from Crisis, a national charity for single homeless people.

The numbers of people making presentations as homeless across the UK has risen by 4 percent in the last year, with annual acceptances by local authority housing departments standing at 54,000. Since 2009/2010 this equates to an increase of 36 percent. The Homeless Monitor concludes that homelessness has worsened considerably in the last five years they have been producing reports.

The numbers of people that are included as part of informal homeless prevention and relief—including statutory homelessness acceptances dealt with by local authority case actions—stands at 275,000 for 2014/2015, a rise of 34 percent since 2009/2010. A third of all local authorities in England have reported an overall service demand for 2014/2015.

According to figures released at the end of February by the Department for Communities and Local Government, there were an estimated 3,569 rough-sleepers on any given night in autumn 2015. This is an increase of 825 people per night since the same period in 2014.

London is particularly affected, with rough-sleepers in the capital constituting 26 percent of the country’s total. Although this is down 1 percent as a proportion of the overall figure for England, in real terms London has seen a 27 percent rise in rough-sleeping, rising from 742 people per night in autumn 2014 to 940 per night in autumn 2015. The London Borough of Westminster is the area with the highest rough-sleeping count of the whole country, at an estimated 265 people. According to the figures, London had 0.27 rough-sleepers for every 1,000 households, compared with a rate of 0.14 per 1,000 in the rest of England.

It is likely that these figures severely underestimate the total number of homeless people sleeping in the streets. The figures are disputed, with the UK Statistics Authority concluding that the official Homelessness Prevention and Relief and Rough-sleeping statistics do not currently meet the required standards of trustworthiness, quality and value to be designated as National Statistics.

In its report, Crisis recognised stagnant real wages, soaring housing prices—particularly in the capital—and government welfare cuts as the principal causes of this dramatic upsurge in numbers of rough-sleepers.

Citing cuts to in-work and housing benefits, the Conservative government’s much-hated “Bedroom Tax” policy and welfare benefit sanctions as the main factors pushing vulnerable people onto the streets, the report is an indictment of years of relentless, vicious austerity measures carried out by successive Labour and Tory governments.

Crisis noted that with the reduction of the total welfare benefit cap introduced in the 2015 budget—to £23,000 a year in London and to £20,000 in the rest of the country—many families will find that “affordable” housing, both privately rented and social, is far beyond their means.

The new Universal Credit benefit system to be rolled out across the UK is expected to further increase homelessness, affecting those tenants in the private sector who have their rent benefits paid directly to them.

The problem of finding affordable accommodation is further aggravated by the government’s social housing privatisation policy. This has set into motion the forced sale of many high-value council properties, the long-term loss of properties via the government’s “Right to Buy” scheme and the reduced investment in new social housing. As indicated in the report,

“While the Government has stated ambitions for this diminished stock to be targeted on those in greatest need, the interaction of their rent-setting and welfare policies runs directly counter to this aspiration.”

Labour’s shadow housing minister, John Healey, posturing as an opponent of the government’s housing policy and the homelessness crisis, said of the figures, “People will find it extraordinary that in England in the 21st century the number of people forced to sleep rough is going up.”

This is pure hypocrisy. Labour has been entirely complicit in imposing the Tory government’s austerity measures across the country, with the Labour-dominated local councils in Bristol, Brighton and Hove and Manchester reporting the second, third and fourth highest rough-sleeping counts after Westminster, at 97, 78 and 70 rough-sleepers per night respectively.

Even these shockingly high figures are a gross underestimation of the number of people actually affected by homelessness. Many people have been forced out of their own homes due to skyrocketing living costs and welfare cuts, but have so far avoided being driven onto the streets. According to Crisis, the vast majority of homeless people do not fall within the government’s narrow classification of being homeless. Many exist out of sight in bed and breakfasts and squats, or are concealed in the households of friends and family members, on the floors or sofas of these often overcrowded homes. Crisis calculates that approximately 2.35 million households in England contain concealed single persons in this way, and that an estimated 3.1 percent of households are overcrowded.

Many other homeless people can fall under the radar and not be included in official estimates, as it is common for rough-sleepers to conceal themselves as a matter of personal security. Rough-sleepers often fall victim to physical, verbal and sexual abuse if they spend the night in visible and exposed locations and so many choose to shelter themselves in places such as commercial recycling bins.

The number of homeless people found spending the night in commercial bins has risen dramatically, according to waste management firm Biffa. In the 12-month period between March 2014 and March 2015, the company found people sleeping in their bins on 93 separate occasions, up from 31 in the previous year. In the current year, which runs to the end of March, the figure already stands at 175.

Sleeping in recycling bins can have grave consequences. Spending the night in a commercial bin can lead to serious injuries and fatalities when the bins are emptied into collection trucks and the waste is crushed. According to the Environmental Services Association, there have been at least 11 fatalities since October 2010 as a result of rough-sleepers sheltering in commercial bins. Such gruesome deaths, allied with prolonged period of sleeping in the cold and damp and enduring a poor diet, are central factors in the average age of death for rough-sleepers being just 47.

Extra precautions have been implemented by many waste management companies in an attempt to prevent these tragic deaths. Most collection lorries now contain cameras inside their compactors that allow the driver to see what is being tipped into them; waste collectors are instructed to bang on the side of recycling bins to alert any rough-sleepers inside and to double-check the contents before allowing the bin to be emptied. Businesses and shops have a responsibility to lock their bins overnight and could be taken to court if they do not. Despite the terrible risks, the relative warmth and security of recycling bins can still be attractive to many rough-sleepers.

The Homeless Monitor report can be accessed here.

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On March 14, so-called proximity talks began in Geneva, pro-Western Syria envoy Steffan de Mistura acting as go-between for opposing sides, not meeting face-to-face, likely to resolve little or nothing.

How long talks continue remains to be seen. They’re scheduled for 10 days. US/Saudi-backed terrorist groups comprise opposition elements, their demands unacceptable.

They want puppet governance replacing Syrian sovereign independence, the nation federalized as a step toward partitioning it into easily controllable mini-states.

Israel wants a regional rival removed, Iran isolated. Longstanding US plans call for regime change, replacing Syrian and Iranian independence with pro-Western proxy states.

The Middle East remains a cauldron of endless wars, violence and chaos. Peace and stability defeat Washington’s agenda.

What strategy is planned to continue Obama’s war on Syria remains to be seen. Imagine the horrors next year if neocon Hillary Clinton becomes America’s 45th president, committed to endless imperial wars, unchallenged US global dominance, more aggressive than any of her rival aspirants.

Russia’s military success in Syria elevated its geopolitical influence, stature and importance. At the same time, US hostility remains unchanged.

State Department spokesman admiral John Kirby reiterated hardline US policy, saying Washington “will not accept the redrawing of borders by force in the 21st century.”

“Sanctions related to Crimea will remain in place as long as the occupation continues. We again call on Russia to end that occupation and return Crimea to Ukraine.”

No occupation exists. Crimeans overwhelmingly voted by national referendum to return to Russia, correcting a historic mistake.

Self-determination is a universally recognized right. Crimeans won’t tolerate foreign interference. The Republic of Crimea is one of nine Russian Federation districts, including the federal city of Sevastopol, home to Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet.

Washington wants all sovereign independent nations replaced by US controlled vassal states, notably Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran and Syria – wars or color revolutions (aka coup d’etats) its strategies of choice.

US and Israeli policymakers want the Middle East map redrawn. The road to Tehran runs through Damascus. Replacing Assad with pro-Western governance isolates Iran, turning a Syrian ally into an enemy.

What’s ahead in Syria remains to be seen. Russia maintains a reduced military involvement, hopefully enough by Putin’s calculation to assure important won gains aren’t lost. Syria is in the eye of the storm. Its liberating struggle remains far from over, conflict resolution nowhere in sight.

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

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

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

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

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The Israeli violations practiced against the Palestinian educational process had notably increased in 2015.

Official statistics, according to a report issued by Quds Press, revealed that 53,998 Palestinian male and female students and 3,840 Palestinian male and female teachers, as well as a number of the staff of the Palestinian Ministry of Education and its institutions, were subjected to attacks by the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) during the last year; these attacks included killing, wounding, arrests and detentions, as well as house arrests, restriction of movement at checkpoints and denial of safe access to schools.

255 Palestinian schools were subjected to attacks by the Israeli occupation and the settlers, the Israelis attacks against Palestinian schools included, incursions, shooting and bomb attacks, causing material losses, in addition to disabling the educational process completely or partially.

Over the last year, 22 students and a Palestinian teacher were killed, in addition to one of the Ministry of Education’s staff, while 265 students, teachers and employees of the ministry from the northern West Bank provinces were arrested, 75 students and 30 teachers were stopped and investigated by the IOF at checkpoints.

The number of the wounded students, teachers and school staff reached 1,019 Palestinians, the causes of their injuries varied between exposure to live or/and rubber bullets, fragments of shells, rockets, severe beatings, and other causes.

With regard to preventing students and teachers from safe access to schools; data released by the Palestinian Ministry of Education showed that, the students of 57 schools were delayed at checkpoints and electronic gates installed on the roads leading to them.

According to the ministry’s data; the IOF imposed house arrest on 17 students from Jerusalem schools, and 15 Palestinian students in Israeli schools in the occupied city of Jerusalem, for various periods of time.

The ministry said in its report that education was partially suspended in 35 schools during last year, for varied reasons, mostly due to the closure of checkpoints or streets leading to the school, firing of sound and tear gas bombs near those schools, settlers’ incursions and other causes.

Regarding the attacks on schools, the ministry data showed that 54 schools had been subjected to the Israeli occupation’s violations, during which tear gas canisters, sound bombs and bullets were fired toward the school yards and classrooms, as well as beating teachers and students severely, and storming the school yards.

The Israeli practices against the educational process in Palestine resulted in, according to the ministry’s report, the cancellation of 9,322 courses, as well as the delivery of orders to stop the work in two schools.

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According to a report from the Yemeni media network “Al-Jabhah News”, the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) has been fighting alongside the Saudi-led Coalition and their mercenaries against the Houthi forces and Yemeni Army in the provincial capital of the Ta’iz Governorate.

ISIS and Al-Qaeda reportedly have a small presence inside the provincial capital; however, they can only be seen fighting against the Yemeni Army’s Republican Guard and their popular committees (including the Houthis).

The bodies of dead Houthi and Yemeni Army soldiers have been videotaped by the terrorist group being dragged in the streets of Ta’iz; this has been the extent of their propaganda in the provincial capital.

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The Nuclear Near East!

March 16th, 2016 by Thierry Meyssan

While the West was applying pressure on Iran to abandon its civilian nuclear programme, the Saudis were buying the atomic bomb from Israel or Pakistan. From now on, to everyone’s surprise, the Near East has become a nuclear zone, dominated by Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In 1979, Israel completed the final adjustments to its atomic bomb, in collaboration with the apartheid régime of South Africa. The Hebrew state has never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has always avoided answering questions about its nuclear programme.

Every year since 1980, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a consensual resolution to make the Near East a region free from all nuclear weapon. This resolution was aimed at encouraging Israel to give up its bomb and to ensure that other states would not enter into an arms race.

Under the Shah, Iran also had a military nuclear programme, but it was pursued only marginally after the revolution of 1979, because of the war started by Iraq (1980-88). However, it was only after the end of war that ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini opposed weapons of mass destruction, and consequently prohibited the fabrication, possession and the use of atomic weapons.

Negotiations then began for the restitution of the 1,180 billion dollars of Iranian investment in the Eurodif complex for the enrichment of uranium at Tricastin. However, the question was never resolved. As a result, during the dissolution of Eurodif in 2010, the Islamic Republic of Iran still owned 10% of the capital. It is probable that it still holds a part of the company for uranium enrichment at Tricastin.

From 2003 to 2005, the negotiations relative to the nuclear litigation were presided for Iran by Sheikh Hassan Rohani, a religious leader close to Presidents Rafsandjani and Khatami. The Europeans demanded the introduction of a passage stipulating that Iran dismantle its system for the teaching of nuclear physics, so as to ensure that they would be unable to relaunch their military programme.

However, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – a partisan for the relaunching of the Khomeinist Revolution – came to power, he rejected the agreement negotiated by Sheikh Rohani and dismissed him. He restarted the teaching of nuclear physics, and launched a research programme which was aimed, in particular, at finding a way of producing electricity from atomic fusion and not nuclear fission, which is currently used by the United States, Russia, France, China and Japan.

Accusing President Ahmadinejad of «preparing the Apocalypse to hasten the return of the Mahdi» (sic), Israël launched an international Press campaign intended to isolate Iran. In reality, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not share the Jewish vision of an evil world which has to be destroyed and then rebuilt, but that of a progressive maturation of collective awareness until Parousia, the return of the Mahdi and the prophets. At the same time, Mossad busied itself with the assassination, one by one, of a number of Iranian nuclear scientists. From their side, the Western powers and the UN Security Council adopted ever more restrictive sanctions until they had completely isolated Iran at the economic and financial level.

In 2013, the Guide of the Revolution, ayatollah Ali Khameinei, agreed to a round of secret discussions with Washington, in Oman. Persuaded that he had to loosen the constraints which were suffocating his country, he considered a provisional ten-year agreement. After a preliminary agreement, Ahmadinejad’s candidacy for the Presidential election was not authorised, and Sheikh Hassan Rohani was elected. He restarted the negotiations that he had abandoned in 2005, and accepted the Western conditions, including the ban on enriching uranium at 20%, which put an end to the research on nuclear fusion.

In November 2013, Saudi Arabia organised a secret summit which brought together members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the friendly Muslim states [1]. In the presence of delegates from the UN General Secretariat, Israeli President Shimon Peres joined them by video-conference. The participants concluded that the danger was not the Israeli bomb, but the bomb that Iran might one day possess. The Saudis assured their interlocutors that they would take the necessary initiatives.

Military cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia is a new phenomenon, but the two countries have been working together since 2008, when Riyadh financed Israel’s punitive expedition in Gaza, known as «Operation Cast Lead» [2].

The 5+1 agreement was not made public until mid-2015. During the negotiations, Saudi Arabia multiplied its declarations that it would launch an arms race if the international community did not manage to force Iran to dismantle its nuclear programme [3].

On the 6th February 2015, President Obama published his new «National Security Strategy». He wrote – «Long-term stability [in the Middle East and North Africa] requires more than the use and presence of US military forces. It demands partners who are capable of defending themselves by themselves. This is why we invest in the capacity of Israel, Jordan and our Gulf partners to discourage aggression, while maintaining our unwavering support for the security of Israel, including the continued improvement of its military capacities» [4].

On the 25th March 2015, Saudi Arabia began its operation «Decisive Tempest» in Yemen, officially aimed at re-instating the Yemeni President, who had been overthrown by a popular revolution. In fact, the operation was the implementation of the secret agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia for the exploitation of the Rub’al-Khali oil fields [5].

On the 26th March 2015, Adel Al-Jubeir, then the Saudi ambassador to the United States, refused to answer a question from CNN concerning the project for a Saudi atomic bomb.

On the 30th March 2015, a joint military Staff was set up by Israel in Somaliland, a non-recognised state. From the first day, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan participated under Israel command.

Two days later, on the 1st April 2015, during the Charm el-Cheick summit, the Arab League adopted the principle of a «Joint Arab Force» [6]. Officially, this was to implement the Arab Defence Treaty of 1950 to fight against terrorism. De facto, the League had validated the new Arab military alliance under Israeli command.

In May 2015, the Joint Arab Force, under Israeli command, used a tactical atomic bomb in Yemen. It may have been used in an attempt to penetrate an underground bunker.

On the 16th July 2015, intelligence specialist Duane Clarridge affirmed on Fox Business that Saudi Arabia had bought the atomic bomb from Pakistan.

On the 18th January 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry affirmed on CNN that atomic weaponry can not be bought and transferred. He warned Saudi Arabia that this would constitute a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

On the 15th February 2016, Saudi analyst Dahham Al-’Anzi affirmed in Arabic on Russia Today that his country has been in possession of an atomic weapon for two years, in order to protect Arabs, and that the major powers know this.

The declarations of Saudi analyst Dahham Al-’Anzi, on the 15th February 2016 on Russia Today – which were immediately translated and broadcast by the Israeli service Memri – raised a considerable echo in the Arab world. However, no international political leader, not even Saudi, made any comment. And Russia Today has erased them from its Internet site.

The declarations of Dahham Al-’Anzi – an intellectual close to Prince Mohamed ben Salman – lead us to think that he was not speaking of a strategic atomic weapon (A-bomb or H-bomb), but a tactical bomb (N-bomb). Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine how Saudi Arabia could «protect Arabs» from the Syrian «dictatorship» by using a strategic nuclear bomb. Moreover, this corresponds to what has already been observed in Yemen. However, nothing is certain.

It is obviously unlikely that Saudi Arabia had built this kind of weapon itself, since it is absolutely bereft of scientific knowledge in the matter. On the other hand, it is possible that it bought the weapon from a state which has not signed the NPT, Israel or Pakistan. If we are to believe Duane Clarridge, it would have been Islamabad which sold its technology, but in this case, the weapon could not be a neutron bomb.

Since Saudi Arabia signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (TNP), it did not have the right acquire the weapon, whether it be a tactical or a strategic bomb. But it would be enough for King Salman to declare that he bought the bomb in his own name to avoid being concerned by the Treaty. We know that the state of Saudi Arabia is the King’s private property, and that his budget only represents a part of the royal coffers. This would mean that we have entered a phase of the privatisation of nuclear weapons – a scenario which until now had been unthinkable. This evolution must be taken most seriously.

Finally, everything leads us to believe that the Saudis acted within the framework of US policy, but that they overstepped themselves by violating the NPT. By doing so, they have laid the foundation for a nuclearised Near East in which Iran could no longer play the role that Sheikh Rohani had hoped to recover, that of «regional police force» for the benefit of his Anglo-Saxon friends.

Thierry Meyssan, French intellectual, founder and chairman of Voltaire Network and the Axis for Peace Conference. His columns specializing in international relations feature in daily newspapers and weekly magazines in Arabic, Spanish and Russian. His last two books published in English : 9/11 the Big Lie and Pentagate.

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“What good fortune for those in power that the people do not think.” — Adolf Hitler

“It also gives us a very special, secret pleasure to see how unaware the people around us are of what is really happening to them.” — Adolf Hitler

“The individual is handicapped by coming face to face with a conspiracy so monstrous he cannot believe it exists.” — J. Edgar Hoover, former head of the FBI and co-conspirator in the JFK and MLK assassinations, as well as other acts of extra-judicial violence.

“The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media.” – William Colby, CIA head during the Nixon and Ford administrations, quoted by David McGowan, in his book Derailing Democracy (2000)

“Through clever and constant application of propaganda people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.” — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1923

“The fascist state must not forget that all means must serve the ends; it must not let itself be confused by the drivel about so-called “freedom of the press”…it must make sure that (the media) is placed in the service of the state.” — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” – Jay Gould, one of the richest capitalists in America (actually a railroad robber baron), as he hired strikebreaker “scabs” (and armed Pinkerton detectives) to defeat a Texas railroad labor union strike over fairer wages, shorter hours and safer working conditions.

“You don’t need to manipulate Time magazine, for example, because there are (CIA) Agency people at the management level.” — William B. Bader, former CIA intelligence officer, briefing members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, The CIA and the Media, by Carl Bernstein

“The Agency’s relationship with the (New York) Times was by far its most valuable among newspapers, according to CIA officials.  (It was) general Times policy … to provide assistance to the CIA whenever possible.” – From The CIA and the Media, by Carl Bernstein

“Fascism should rightly be called corporatism as it is a merger of state and corporate power” — Benito Mussolini

“It is not necessary to bury the truth.  It is sufficient merely to delay it until nobody cares.” —  Napoleon Bonaparte

“First we will kill all the subversives, then we will kill their collaborators, then…their sympathizers, then…those who remain indifferent, and finally, we will kill the timid.” — Iberico Saint Jean (1977), right wing governor of the Province of Buenos Aires, threatening those who failed to show the necessary enthusiasm for Argentina’s newly formed but un-elected government that gained power by coup d’etat.

“Altruism is a great evil…while selfishness is a virtue.” — Ayn Rand, atheist author of Atlas Shrugged, Fountainhead and The Virtue of Selfishness. Rand is thehero of the American Libertarian Party, Tea Party, Republican Party, as well as several ex-presidential candidates such as David H. Koch, Bob Barr, ex-US House member Ron Paul, Senator Rand Paul, and GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.*

*      *      *

Back in 2000 or 2004, when George W. Bush was campaigning in Duluth, the local police, presumably with the help of the US Secret Service, patrolled the area surrounding the venue where Bush was to speak, identifying those that looked like anti-war or anti-tyranny protesters (and who wished to exercise their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech) and escorted them to a place where they could not be seen or heard. In a gleefully sarcastic tone, the authorities called the fenced-in area a “Free Speech Zone”. I don’t recall hearing any local thought-leaders in the press expressing any outrage at the outrageous nti-constitutional characterization.

There are a lot of ways that bullies, tyrants, corporate CEOs, militarists, authoritarian clerics and other assorted sociopathic types through history have silenced the pesky whistle-blowers, truth-tellers and altruistic protesters. Here are just a few that come to mind:

Examples of “Free Speech Zones” Thru History – as Defined by Cynical Tyrants

  • The torture and crucifixion of resisters that were opposed to cruelty, violence, tyranny and militarism during the heyday of the Roman Empire;
  • the hunting down and executions of “witches” by the Roman Catholic church during the Dark Ages. (“Witches” were mainly wise women who had the courage to express unwelcome truths exposing the evils of the male dominated societies of the time.);
  • the guillotining, during the French Revolution, of the oppressed victims of the over-privileged aristocratic and clerical tyrants that were friends of the court of King Louis XV1. (Shortly thereafter some of the same revolutionaries were guillotined by their very leaders.)
  • the genocidal massacres and starvations of aboriginal peoples of North, South and Central America during the governmental/corporate-ordered, church-ordained and military-inflicted theft of their native lands during the 500 years since Columbus and the assorted sociopathic, gold-hungry conquistadors (both ancient and modern day);
  • the lynching of African-Americans during the 300 years of their existence in America;
  • the silencing of anti-slavery abolitionists in the Deep South in the lead-up to the Civil War;
  • the backlash against the “suffragettes” prior to the granting of voting privileges to women;
  • the mental hospital imprisonment and torturing of psychologically- and sexually-traumatized female “hysterics” during the darkest parts of the past history of psychiatry (prominent aspects of which still survive today);
  • the backlash against antiwar activists prior to every regrettable immoral or illegal war in history;
  • the book-burnings and censorship in fascist and fascist-leaning nations;
  • the concentration camp imprisoning of dissidents during America’s war between the states, Nazi Germany’s wars against union organizers, Jews, Slavs, homosexuals, gypsies and other dissidents, Stalinist Russia’s wars and the most recent incarnations at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and the CIAs secret torture sites;
  • and solitary confinement as practiced in the prisons and mental institutions in every developed and developing nation around the world.

These evils mentioned above are all examples of “free speech zones” as cynically defined by some of our right-wing political leaders. These zones are places where nobody can hear the protester who is speaking out in opposition to the tactics of sociopathic, anti-democratic, police state-supported tyrants that somehow have the legal right to silence dissidents in any way possible. America decried it when it happened in Nazi Germany or the USSR, but looks the other way when it happens here.

“Trump may not be good for America, but he’s damn good for CBS”

With the generous help of the media, the corporate perpetrators of what Bernie Sanders calls the “rigged economy” can easily drown out or shout down (a la Donald Trump & Company) the voices of courageous, idealistic protestors. The corporate-owned and CIA-dominated major media (re-read the quotes above) decide what coverage of vital issues will be published or broadcast – or down-played or censored-out – during the next 24 hour news cycle.

The biggest media franchises make a lot of money from exorbitant campaign advertising fees. Therefore the media tries to make every political campaign an exciting horse race to the finish line. No revenue-squashing landslides are permitted even if there is a hopeless candidate and an obstructionist, proto-fascist political party (a la George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the right-wing radicals in the GOP) that wouldn’t be good for America. Photo finishes make the most money for corporate media elites.

Here is a recent example of how Big Media thinks first about its profits and last about the well-being of America and its easily fleeced people:

At a Morgan Stanley investors’ conference recently, CBS’s CEO, Les Moonves, said: “It (Donald Trump’s candidacy) may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” He called Trump‘s presence in the race a “good thing.” “They’re not discussing issues, they’re throwing bombs at each other.”

What the CEO meant was that the increased ad revenues and increased viewership good for business; to hell with the public good. One only has to consider the viewership that is generated whenever there is a close horse race, an over-hyped Super Bowl game or a Trump campaign rally brawl.  In 2003, Moonves said something similar about Super PACs: “ they may be bad for America, but they’re good for CBS!”

In other words typical profit-driven Big Businesses like CBS ignore the destructive, retaliatory dead-locked partisanship in Congress despite the dire problems that may doom the planet and need action (global warming, racism, perpetual war, combat vet suicidality, America’s over-vaccination and over-drugging problems, torture and mass slaughter by the US military overseas, police brutality, poverty, starvation and refugee crises).

“This time we can’t just call up the police ‘cause the criminals got all the cops on a leash” – Songwriter Ethan Miller

In our heart of hearts, we all know that modern day corporate (criminal?) bullies of the wealthy One Percenter persuasion have been dominating America for generations – in one iteration or another – with essential help from the FBI, the Secret Service, the Pinkerton’s, or privatized contract killer/assassin groups like the CIA-affiliated private security corporation, Blackwater. (To learn more than most patriots would want to acknowledge, google “Jeremy Scahill and Blackwater” to learn more about the subject and his ground-breaking book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

It might be helpful to categorize the various groups that comprise the anti-democratic One Percenters that are so ruthlessly controlling America’s political, civil, cultural, financial, nutritional, entertainment and media realities – and therefore us easily brain-washable sheeple, whose spending and voting habits are being manipulated daily by the various wealth extractors listed below.

Here are some suggested groupings that might help clarify the dilemma we all know we are mired in. I left out authoritarian religions, which are surely an important part of the problem. The entities mentioned here are all “too big to fail or jail”, and there is considerable overlap in this admittedly incomplete list.

The Ruthless One Percenters

  1. Corporate [Big Media, Big Advertising, Big Pharma, Big Medicine, Big Chemistry, Big Food, Big Agribusiness and their Lobbyists and legislation-writers];
  2. Financial [Wall Street, Big Banks, the Gambling Industry and their Lobbyists];
  3. Political [Congress, Supreme Court, Executive Branch, Super PACS and their Lobbyists)
  4. Military [War Street, the Pentagon, the weapons manufacturers and their Lobbyists] and
  5. Police state [CIA/FBI/NSA, private security companies (Ex Blackwater} and their Lobbyists]

The Rigged Economy and Organized Crime

Bernie Sanders, the presidential candidate with the fewest fascist traits (in fact, he has none), is an outspoken opponent of the Rigged Economy and its evil twin, Organized Corporate Crime. Every Republican presidential candidate exhibits a number of protofascist traits. (Google “American Friendly Fascism and Gary Kohls” for some of my articles on fascism.)

Singer-songwriter Ethan Miller powerfully fleshes out that reality of the rigged economy and organized crime in his great pro-labor union protest song, Organized Crime. Here are the lyrics:

Organized Crime, by Ethan Miller and Kate Boverman:

“Behind every great fortune, there is a crime” – Balzac

We’ve all seen the movies ‘bout gangsters and thugs
About cunning mob bosses and the lords of the drugs
But listen here closely if you’ve got the time
‘Cause I’d like to tell you ‘bout organized crime

Well the old mafiosos and cinema crooks
They may sport the pinstripes and sinister looks
But you’ll have to look elsewhere if you’d like to find
The real perpetrators of organized crime

So raise up your hands now if you’ve got a job
Making shit wages working until your head throbs
They’re making a profit by robbing you blind
They say it’s just business, but it’s organized crime

And the more the rich got then the more the rich get
While everyone else lives on toil and sweat
The boss makes ten dollars, you just make a dime
It’s not fair compensation, it’s organized crime

Well the tide of prosperity lifts every boat
They say as you fall down and drown in their moat
It’s a game of roulette that you’ll lose every time
This economy’s nothing but organized crime.

Tell me who are the crooks and who’s just getting by?
Who’s doing honest work; who’s working lies?
The real crooks go free while the poor folk do time
If you’re not angry you should be; it’s organized crime

But this time we can’t just call up the police
‘Cause the criminals got all the cops on a leash
We’ll have to take things in our own hands this time
If we’re going to shut down their organized crime

So come on now friends, are you ready to fight?
They’ve stolen our power like it was their right
Let’s take it all back from those blood-suckin’ slime
The real perpetrators of organized crime

Now talk to your neighbors and talk to your friends
Turn off the TV and start organizing
We won’t let them get off so scot-free this time
When we topple their empire of organized crime.

Dr Kohls is a retired physician who practiced holistic, non-drug, mental health care for the last decade of his family practice career. He now writes a weekly column for the Reader Weekly, an alternative newsweekly published in Duluth, Minnesota, USA. Many of Dr Kohls’ columns are archived here 

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Heavily redacted notes from the hospital bed interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were released at the end of February. Most media reports about the documents focus on portions that portray Dzhokhar as having played an active role in building and detonating the bombs that exploded on Boylston St.

But a closer read of the FBI’s summary of Tsarnaev’s statements to his interrogators raises questions about key details of the bombing and its execution.

First off, it is important to note that the interview notes are heavily redacted and therefore incomplete. But some of the things the FBI says Dzhokhar told his interrogators indicate a level of confusion or ignorance, or both, about important facts. They also raise questions about why the FBI has been selectively vague about key details of the case.

Redacted document, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with backpack

Photo credit: FBI

Black/Brown/White Backpack?

According to the interrogation notes, “Jahar carried a brown backpack [emphasis added] while his brother’s backpack was black. After parking, they walked…”

Now the backpack is brown?

The indictment, which was written a month and a half after the bombing, states that both bombs were concealed in black backpacks.

Boston Bombing Shredded Backpack

Boston Bombing black shredded backpack
Photo credit: FBI

In a photograph of the shredded backpack lying in Boylston Street released by the FBI, it does indeed look black.

However, many observers have pointed out that, in surveillance photos, the backpack Dzhokhar can be seen carrying does not look black — or brown for that matter — but mostly white or light gray.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev walking with backpack

Photo credit: FBI

Why the discrepancy? Did the interviewing agent challenge him on this detail? Why is there so much ambiguity around such an important detail?

And there’s another problem: The “smoking gun” video that supposedly proves Tsarnaev placed an explosive laden backpack on Boylston Street. It actually shows very little. His actions are obscured by the crowd of people.

Shouldn’t the government be obliged to prove unequivocally that the exploded backpack found at the scene was at least the same color as the one Dzhokhar was carrying that day?

Strange Redaction Regarding Explosive Powder

Also according to the FBI agent’s notes, Tsarnaev ”stated that he and his brother Tamerlan built two explosive devices in his brother’s home at 410 Norfolk…”

This implies that Dzhokhar took a more active role in constructing the bombs than has been previously described.

But, Dzhokhar’s lawyers showed at trial that none of his fingerprints were found on any of the bomb or bomb-making materials. Tamerlan’s fingerprints were, however.

Dzhokhar also told agents, apparently, that the powder came from $200 worth of fireworks that he and Tamerlan had purchased in New Hampshire about a year prior. But that’s when Tamerlan was in Russia — January to July 2012. Considering Tsarnaev was being interrogated April 21 and 22 , 2013, the time-line can’t be accurate.

Fireworks found in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s room

Fireworks found in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dormitory room.
Photo credit: FBI

At which store, or exactly when these particular fireworks were purchased, is not clear.  But since the bombing, law-enforcement and media reports have consistently referenced a $200 purchase made by Tamerlan at Phantom Fireworks in Seabrook, New Hampshire two months before the bombing. Nothing about Dzhokhar buying fireworks was ever made public.

Most notably, that particular purchase would only constitute a small fraction of the amount of explosive powder needed to produce all the bombs the Tsarnaevs are accused of making and detonating.

According to the owner of Phantom Fireworks, the brothers would have been able to harvest, at most, 1.5 pounds of explosive powder from the $200 purchase.

On the other hand, each pressure cooker bomb that exploded on Boylston Street probably contained anywhere from 8 to 16 pounds of explosive powder, according to testimony from Special Agent Edward Knapp.

The pressure cooker that exploded in Watertown probably contained another 4 to 8 pounds. And in Watertown, three more pounds of powder were found in a Tupperware container, along with a number of pipe bombs each containing yet more powder. That means the Tsarnaevs would have had to collect between 23 and 43 pounds of explosive powder — or more.

Either they made numerous purchases of fireworks or they got explosive powder from another source.

At the very least, Tsarnaev’s statement that they got the explosive powder from $200 worth of fireworks shows his ignorance regarding what it actually took to make them. Either that or he did discuss the provenance of the rest of the explosive powder with his interrogators — was that information in a redacted part?

Why does the FBI continue to withhold information on where the explosives came from?

All of this reveals either a marked level of ignorance or confusion by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev about details of the bombs’ construction — even the color of the backpack. Or, it reveals that the government is still withholding key details about how the bombs came to be. Why is anyone’s guess.

But why do any of these small details matter? Because, as we all know, the devil can be found in the details. And the outcome of a life-and-death prosecution can sometimes hinge almost entirely on such seemingly small details.

Painting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an equal partner in the planning, preparation and execution of the violence that erupted in Boston was critical to the government’s goal of winning the death penalty against the sole surviving brother.

But when close scrutiny has been applied to the government’s case, we continually find troubling inconsistencies that hint at a prosecution hell-bent on winning the case — damn the specifics of who did exactly what and when.

Why Details Matter: See for Yourself with One Click

For instance: in our past reporting we showed how the government claimed Tamerlan drove as Dzhokhar was sitting menacingly behind Dun Meng, the carjacking victim, as they circled around greater Boston in Meng’s stolen Mercedes SUV. But when we see the Mercedes pull up to the gas pump where Meng ultimately gets away, Dzhokhar appears to get out of the front seat — not the back.

As we reported previously:

Officially, by the time the Mercedes SUV can be seen pulling into the Shell station on the video in question, Tamerlan was driving, Danny was in the passenger seat, and Dzhokhar was sitting in the backseat.

In the video, we see the SUV pull up to one of the gas pumps and stop. Strangely, we see Dzhokhar emerge from behind the gas pump, obscuring the front passenger door before he makes his way into the store.

Strange because we were told he was sitting in the backseat. Yet we don’t see Dzhokhar get out of the rear door. Neither do we see him walk from the other side of the SUV.

Did they edit that out? Why?

Was the “escape” story embellished? After all, what cold-blooded criminals would allow a carjacking victim to sit in the back seat to make an easy escape? Or did they let him go? In fact, the carjacking victim’s account changed significantly early on until it finally solidified into what sounded most damning.

Other Little “Details”

And the government’s glossing over of its pre-bombing relationship with the Tsarnaevs, who hail from a geopolitical hotspot on Russia’s southern flank, strongly hints that Tamerlan in particular may have been a pawn in some tangled international intrigue with Russia.

We still don’t know why the family was granted asylum and yet freely returned to the Caucasus region — a reality that has experts scratching their heads.

Instead, what we witnessed was a theatrical effort on the part of the government to portray Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a cartoonish fanatical monster — the enemy of you and me and our way of life. Whipped up into a vengeful frenzy, the public is far less likely to ask questions.

Notably, the caricature of Dzhokhar as a crazed Jihadi fell apart under a mild cross-examination of his twitter feed. The government’s examples of Islamic religious fanaticism turned out to be run-of-the-mill song lyrics that any 19-year-old would be familiar with.

The no-holds-barred prosecution of Tsarnaev looked more like an effort to disguise the backstory of how and why this happened, than an effort to find the truth.

For an intriguing, sinister, and even likely explanation for what that backstory was really about — please go here.

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In the newly released transcript of Sirhan Sirhan’s parole hearing on February 10, we discover why— at nearly 72 years of age — the convicted murderer of Bobby Kennedy “continues to pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society or a threat to public safety and is therefore not suitable for parole.”

Since its landmark opinion in the Lawrence case in 2008, the California Supreme Court has required the parole board to provide “some evidence” that a prisoner is “currently dangerous” when denying parole. This, and pressure to reduce prison overcrowding, has seen parole grant rates for “lifers” jump from 8 percent in 2008 to 33 percent in 2014.

Stanford Law School study in 2011 found that, of 860 murderers paroled in California since 1995, only five reoffended and none were convicted of another murder.

But, as we’ll see, the tortured logic used by one of the commissioners to compute Sirhan’s current threat level gives him little hope of freedom anytime soon.

As described in my previous piece, the hearing was hotly contested. On one side, David Dahle, representing the L.A. County District Attorney’s office, called Sirhan a “terrorist.” On the other, Sirhan’s attorney William Pepper and shooting victim Paul Schrade called him “a political prisoner” and condemned his inhumane treatment.

In his victim impact statement, Schrade criticized Dahle for his “venomous” attack on Sirhan, saying the assassination was a political crime but it’s “also a political crime keeping him in prison.”

Pepper and Schrade were both close to Bobby Kennedy and invoked his name in calling for Sirhan’s release. Pepper, who was Citizens’ Chairman for Kennedy’s Senate run in 1964, said:

If Bob Kennedy were alive and were viewing [the available evidence, he] would urge this Panel to finally grant this man parole.

Schrade apologized to Sirhan for not coming to earlier hearings and presenting evidence “that shows that Sirhan couldn’t and didn’t shoot Robert Kennedy.”

The parole panel normally bars any attempt to “retry” the case but Schrade’s victim rights gave him carte blanche to put the key evidence of a second gun on the record — arguing that the witness testimony, the autopsy report and the only audio recording of the shooting prove an unidentified second shooter killed Kennedy.

Panel members acknowledged that the evidence submitted did raise “provocative questions regarding what exactly transpired” on the night of the shooting, but said they are bound to accept the facts of Sirhan’s conviction.

Sirhan Sirhan

Sirhan Sirhan Photo credit: California State Archives

Sirhan has always said he cannot remember the shooting, and his attorneys claim he was in a hypnotic trance at the time. While Schrade stopped short of saying Sirhan was hypnotized, he does believe Sirhan didn’t know what he was doing and should not be held fully accountable for shooting him and other bystanders, or attempting to shoot Robert Kennedy:

I believe you should grant Sirhan Sirhan parole…in the name of Robert F. Kennedy and in the name of justice…I wanted you to know from me, Sirhan, that I forgive you for shooting me [and] that you did not shoot Robert Kennedy. And you’re being mistreated so long. And I should have been here long ago. And that’s why I feel guilty of not being here to help you and to help me understand what happened.

Sirhan Sirhan, 1968

Sirhan Sirhan June 5, 1968  Photo credit: California State Archives

While Schrade found the proceeding “very abusive,” Sirhan was surprised and thankful that he was treated more respectfully than at his last parole hearing five years ago, when he felt he was “abused” by the commissioners. According to his attorney, he was physically sick after the experience.

This time, the panelists commended Sirhan for being “very cooperative and very restrained.” They also praised his clean disciplinary record and history of positive work evaluations in prison jobs including clerk, yard crew, tram worker, part cleaner, tailor, laundry worker, porter and cook.

Discredited Testimony Resurrected

When it came to recalling the crime itself, Sirhan seemed a little weary of repeating himself, 47 years after the event. He has always claimed he cannot remember the shooting and when the panel resurrected long-discredited claims from convicted burglar Carmen Falzone and trash collector Alvin Clark, Sirhan denied ever telling anybody he had deliberately shot Robert Kennedy.

Falzone had sold a story to Playboy in 1977 in which he claimed Sirhan confessed his guilt about the Kennedy murder and conspired with him to smuggle plutonium to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. This unlikely plot was used as evidence by the state in its successful attempt to rescind Sirhan’s parole date in 1982.

Hopeless Catch 22 Situation

When the panel asked Sirhan why he pleaded guilty at trial, Sirhan repeatedly answered that while he had no memory of the shooting, his trial attorneys had told him that he had been the gunman.

“So what do you take responsibility for, sir?” asked Commissioner Brian Roberts.

“Whatever I’m guilty of in this case…[but] not murder”, replied Sirhan, adding it was for prosecutors to determine what he was guilty of:

“If you don’t believe you’re responsible for shooting somebody…tell me what you think you’re responsible for?”

“It’s a good question. Legally speaking, I’m not guilty of anything…I’m responsible for being there…”

“Anything else that you’re responsible for other than being there?”

“Knowing what I know now about the case, no.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“That I did not commit the crime.”

Sirhan said he had remorse “as far as I am criminally responsible” but seemed to imply that, as he was in a dissociated state at the time, he wasn’t criminally responsible for anything. He later clarified that statement:

I would say that I’m not guilty of murder…I feel that if I had a proper defense at the time that the results would have been quite different than what happened. My trial attorney did not conduct a crime scene investigation. He never really examined any of the witnesses. He conceded everything before even examining the bullets…there was hardly anything that he did other than concede my guilt. And he said that numerous times. And he convinced me of it. He made me guilty without even knowing that I am guilty.

Sirhan expressed “extreme remorse” for the death of Robert Kennedy and “for his family’s loss and for the country’s loss.” In the past, before he knew of evidence exonerating him, he “did take full responsibility” for the murder even though he couldn’t remember the crime:

I thought I was guilty, you know, and it bothered me. And it still bothers me now because I’m still a part of this scene, of this situation. But I don’t really know how to prove [my remorse] to you. It’s too abstract. It’s an internal thing…How do you manifest the illustration of it?…If you want a confession, I can’t make it now.

Sirhan Sirhan, William Pepper

Sirhan Sirhan with his attorney William Pepper at the 2011 hearing
Photo credit: e2filmsrevolution / YouTube

Sirhan’s attorney William Pepper tried to make sense of the fragmented testimony by summing up his client’s dilemma:

The problem that he faces is, he legitimately does not recall what happened. And if he doesn’t recall what happened, he cannot say that he was accountable and legally responsible and therefore he is remorseful. He’s remorseful about what happened to Robert Kennedy.

Pepper quoted Dr. Daniel Brown’s report, which notes Sirhan was in a dissociated state “at the time of the assassination, [so] it should not be assumed at the parole hearing that he should manifest either knowledge or remorse for, or a clear memory for, an event wherein his behavior was likely compulsively induced involuntarily and for which he still has little memory.”

If paroled, Sirhan said he just wanted to “live out my life peacefully and in harmony with my fellow man…[and] I daresay, with respect, that you guys are the obstacle to [those] aspirations.”

Asked for a final comment, Sirhan said: “I think I’m way overdue for parole.” And his closing statement at the end of the hearing was brief and to the point: “Please let me go home. Thank you.”

“However…”

In its decision, the panel acknowledged there were positive factors showing Sirhan’s suitability for parole. He had no criminal record prior to the murder of Robert Kennedy in 1968, and has broken no serious prison rules since 1972.

Sirhan’s age “reduces the probability of recidivism” and he had “made realistic plans for release” and “developed marketable skills” to gain employment and support himself. There is an immigration hold on Sirhan, so, if paroled, he would probably be deported to Jordan, where he has family and is a citizen.

However, the panel continued:

Those positives are far outweighed by other circumstances that tend to show unsuitability for parole and suggest that if released that you would pose a potential threat to public safety.

Chief among these were the “particularly heinous and atrocious and offensive manner” of the murder and the “magnitude of the crime”:

The Supreme Court has ruled that after a long period of time, immutable factors often are no longer relevant. However in your case we believe that the crime committed in this offense is one of a very few and falls into the category that remain relevant today…It was a political assassination on a very viable presidential candidate. It was an attack upon the Democratic system that we reside in and it actually clearly affected the potential of this nation and it remains relevant today.

But, as In re Lawrence notes, “evidence of the inmate’s rehabilitation and suitability for parole” can override “the gravity of the commitment offense” by “indicating the conduct is unlikely to recur.” So Sirhan’s suitability for parole really hinges on his insight into why he committed the crime and here, the panel found him lacking:

Insight is specifically critical in cases such as this where an individual has no prior propensity towards violence…It is critical to have a significant understanding as to why he would resort to violence in this case. While anger appears to be at the core of it, [Sirhan] has yet to make the necessary connections between his anger and his violence… Absent sufficient insight, he cannot develop the necessary or requisite coping mechanisms or skillsets that would assist him in abating this very specific mindset [in the future].

As noted in my preview of the hearing, this presents a number of Catch 22 scenarios for Sirhan: How can you show remorse and insight into the crime when you can’t remember what happened? And how can you accept full responsibility for the crime when you’re still contesting the case — and the courts refuse to hear new exculpatory evidence that supersedes the state’s version of events?

The panel did not find Sirhan’s “claim of memory loss to be credible, given his other testimony, his other recall and the testimony of others”:

We feel that you failed to [show] adequate signs of remorse and to accept full responsibility for your criminal actions. Perhaps you did better at the last hearing. I read in the last hearing you at least accepted responsibility for the shooting of the other victims. And today you didn’t even do that. Today you indicated you were not responsible for anything. And we know those who don’t take full responsibility for their criminal acts and those who do not show adequate signs of remorse, these people are likely to recidivate. And that makes you a current danger to the public safety.

Doctors: Low Risk for Future Violence

The panel considered psychological evaluations from Dr. Daniel Brown and Dr. Nameeta Sahni, who spoke with Sirhan for three to four hours last October.

Dr. Sahni concluded Sirhan did not meet the diagnostic criteria for substance abuse or personality disorder and that his impulsivity had declined with age. And like Dr. Carrera in 2010 and Dr. Brown, she concluded Sirhan had a low risk for future violence.

She felt the most relevant clinical risk was “in the area of a lack of insight and understanding of his crime”:

While he raises points that are the basis for legal appeals and arguments and may be compelling to the court, his perspective also lacks a willingness to take responsibility for any aspect of the crime. He fails to address why he was in possession of a gun at the time of his life crime, why he fired his weapon regardless of his belief that bullets fired from his weapon were not those that killed the victim or why he would have initially entered pleas of guilty when he was arrested if he did not commit the crime.

When asked about these inconsistencies he remained cooperative and willing to discuss the issues but ultimately never presented a reasonable alternative explanation. Known circumstances that would point to his guilt or some culpability for the crime were met with answers from the inmate of, ‘I don’t know.’ He continued to offer a dual perspective on the crime and that encapsulates both guilt and innocence reflecting that he has not truly explored the issue on an emotional level but continues to focus on an intellectual understanding of the crime and his legal pursuits.

However, to his credit he has repeatedly talked about the loss of human life and the impact of the victim’s death on his own family, and on the extended Kennedy family given the loss of the victim’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, several years prior due to an assassination, as well as how the country at large experienced the death of the victim in the controlling offense.

As William Pepper noted at the hearing, this analysis does not factor in Sirhan’s dissociated state at the time of the shooting and his subsequent amnesia for the crime, so extensively explored by Dr. Brown.

While the panel noted that Dr. Sahni’s report “does generally support release”, they gave the issues she raised about “lack of insight and only intellectualized remorse…a different weight than she does”:

It is the Board’s job to assess dangerousness. And in this case, despite Dr. Sahni’s risk assessment, the Panel does not find significant evidence of positive rehabilitation that convinces us that if released Mr. Sirhan would not pose a potential threat to public safety.

Panel’s Lack of Insight

Deputy Commissioner Keith Stanton, a 20-year veteran of lifer hearings, then explained his reasons for voting against Sirhan’s release. He commended Sirhan for remaining disciplinary-free and for “a pretty good work record” and admitted “there’s a lot of controversy regarding evidentiary matters in this [case]”:

But there are a lot of undisputed facts. And that’s where my issues lie for the most part…and that’s what bothered me…in terms of risk to the community if you’re released. And so I looked at the documents that you presented and I thought, well, okay, even if I were to accept that you were not guilty of the murder of Robert Kennedy, there are a couple things that are undisputed.

First of all you were present and you had a gun. According to the witnesses you pulled out the gun and you aimed it at Mr. Kennedy and you shot it multiple times. And you injured multiple people. So at a minimum there was at least an attempt to kill him.

Stanton considered the “question of whether you knew what you were doing, the memory issue and whether you were under coercion or maybe if there was a conspiracy or maybe there was hypnosis involved” and had this exchange with Sirhan during the hearing:

“So you lost your memory sometime probably after having the Tom Collins and then your memory came back at the time that you were being held down and choked. Why do you think your memory came back at that particular moment?”

“Well, I needed to breathe. They almost killed me that night.”

“And was your memory pretty detailed after that from that time on?”

“It’s all vague now. I’m sure you have it all in your record. I mean I can’t deny it or confirm it, you know. But I just wish this whole thing had never taken place.”

Stanton seemed unaware of clear evidence in the record that Sirhan was in a dissociated state in the hours after the shooting. Audiotapes of Sirhan’s first hours in custody clearly establish this, as he asks police officers where he is and why he’s there.

Explaining his vote for denial, Stanton said he accepted “some memory loss possibly from the alcohol” but “there are too many things for me to accept that you would have been hypnotized.”

He was disturbed by the “inordinate amount of time” (six hours) Sirhan spent on a firing range on the day leading up to the shooting; that “the incident took place on the anniversary of the Arab and Israeli war” and that there was such a strong motive — Sirhan’s “deep-seated anger…over Mr. Kennedy’s promise to aid Israel with jets that could attack Palestine”:

You went to the pantry and asked if Kennedy was going to come through the pantry. You were there for, I believe, like a half an hour. The way that you shot, according to what I read, you made a gesture to shake his hand and then pulled out the gun and started shooting and you continued shooting. Your explanation to the doctors was ‘I don’t know why I did it.’

I just personally don’t believe that you were hypnotized. And if you were, I don’t believe it was by someone else. I know from your testimony…that you joined the Rosicrucians and you practiced a lot of self-hypnosis. So there was a lot of evidence that if you were hypnotized it was by yourself. I didn’t see anything that would indicate to me you were hypnotized by another party or someone else that had plans of assassinating Robert Kennedy.

So now I’m thinking, well, okay, if I don’t believe you were hypnotized or intoxicated then you had to know what you were doing…I understand there’s a lot of experts — but I’m not that convinced that you didn’t know or that you don’t remember, to be honest with you.

So if you weren’t hypnotized and if you knew what you were doing and you made an attempt to kill Senator Kennedy, how much different is it whether you’re the person who shot him or not? If you went there with the intent to kill him and you pulled out a gun and shot at him, I don’t really see the big difference in my mind as far as your dangerousness.

Commissioner Roberts pointed out this was carried out in an exceptionally cruel and callous manner. Because this was intended to be an execution that would…cause harm to millions. And you would have known that going in there. So to me, that’s evidence of exceptionally callous disregard for the suffering of countless people.

The overwhelming opinion of the psychologists who have worked most closely with Sirhan over the years is that he was in a hypnotic state at the time of the shooting and that his amnesia for the shooting is genuine. Sirhan consumed four Tom Collins cocktails and the prosecution could never prove he wasn’t intoxicated because LAPD failed to check his blood alcohol level. Stanton blithely dismissed all this.

The last three psychological reports on Sirhan agree he presents a low risk of violence, if paroled. Stanton dismissed those, too, going back 10 years to to a report by Dr. Kuberski, which “put it about as well as I could and maybe better”:

In estimating the risk for violent recidivism in the community, it’s important to recognize that the murder of Senator Robert Kennedy was a politically motivated assassination and terrorist act. Sirhan was interested in changing the course of history and avenging the honor of his people by murdering a man he considered a Hitler for Arabs…If involved in politics, [Sirhan would] be an enormously motivating presence for terror.

Stanton failed to mention that Sirhan had refused to speak to Dr. Kuberski, so the terrorist narrative in Kuberski’s report was entirely based on secondary sources and the prosecution’s reading of the case.

Stanton took it even further:

I’m not surprised at all you do well in prison. Why wouldn’t you? There’s no point in being violent here… it’s like someone who’s going after the head of a snake. Why nip at the body? It’s not going to have any effect…you don’t have a gun and a lot of guys out here are a lot bigger than you…So it’s no surprise to me at all that you do well in prison…I don’t perceive you as someone who’s just a violent person. My perception is someone who is on a mission however long it takes.

So while Stanton agrees Sirhan is low-risk within the structured setting of a prison, if released, he implies Sirhan may resume his life’s mission as a political assassin and go after another head of the snake. It’s frightening to think that this kind of logic has been determining prisoner’s fates for 20 years. He continues:

I don’t see an individual who’s changed or rehabilitated. I see someone who has sat in prison for a long time but is still basically saying I don’t remember, in fact, at this point I don’t even think I did it, I’m not legally responsible for anything. Those are your words not mine. And if that’s the case then you remain as dangerous as the day you came to prison.

I don’t believe that you didn’t know what you were doing at the time. And if you did know what you were doing and you still have the same present state of mind then you really haven’t changed. And to me, then you’d be just as dangerous as when you came to prison. And that’s the reason I didn’t vote for a date. So two reasons, the magnitude of the crime and your present attitude towards the crime, to me, indicate a current dangerousness.

Stanton’s stereotyping of Sirhan as a terrorist on a lifelong mission, dormant in jail but ready to reload at 72 years old if released from prison, betrays the very narrow view of Sirhan’s case taken by those who sit in judgement on him. His opinion is at odds with virtually all psychological reports ever written on Sirhan, most of which argue he has changed significantly and has been rehabilitated.

Dr. Sahni presented a measured account of the serious issues around Sirhan’s insight into the crime that must be weighed by the parole board but Stanton’s opinion showed that no matter how many psychologists recommend Sirhan for release, the parole commissioners or governor can always overrule. In their eyes, as long as he refuses to remember or confess, Sirhan today is the same devious assassin he was 47 years ago.

If Bob Kennedy were alive and were viewing [the available evidence, he] would urge this Panel to finally grant this man parole.

Sirhan’s five-year denial could have been as long as 15 years, but his age, good disciplinary record, family support and parole plans counted in his favor.

The panel recommended that he stay disciplinary-free and engage in self-help programs in anger management and alcohol use, as requested by the previous panel. The Stanford study found a strong correlation between grant rates and inmates participating in a “twelve-steps” program:

159 inmates were asked whether they could identify one or more of the 12 steps. Of the 56 inmates who failed to correctly answer the commissioners’ question, only one was paroled. By contrast, 37 of the 141 who correctly responded to commissioners’ queries received parole — a grant rate double that of inmates who were not asked about their treatment program.

Sirhan’s claim that he didn’t need anger management classes because he had learned to walk away in provocative situations, and his pledge to simply avoid alcohol in the future were not enough:

You were unable to identify skillsets and coping mechanisms…that you could or would use should you find yourself in similar circumstances such as anger and being in a place where alcohol is being used…And absent those skillsets and coping mechanisms we feel you are a current risk of danger to public safety because you are likely to react as you have in the past.

Sirhan can request an earlier hearing within three years if “there’s been a change of circumstance or new information that establishes a reasonable likelihood that you don’t require additional incarceration.”

Sirhan’s attorneys are now taking his case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. One month after the hearing, L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has still not responded to Paul Schrade’s request for a meeting and a new investigation into the case. Her office declined to comment for this piece.

Read the full transcript of Sirhan’s parole hearing here.

Shane O’Sullivan is an author, filmmaker and researcher at Kingston University, London. His work includes the documentary RFK Must Die (2007) and the book Who Killed Bobby? (2008). He blogs on the Sirhan case at http://www.sirhanbsirhan.com

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Hillary Clinton’s Link to a Nasty Piece of Work in Honduras

March 16th, 2016 by Prof. Marjorie Cohn

A critical difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton is their position on whether children who fled violence in Central American countries, particularly Honduras, two years ago should be allowed to stay in the United States or be returned.

Sanders states unequivocally that they should be able to remain in the U.S.

Clinton disagrees. She would guarantee them “due process,” but nothing more.

In 2014 Clinton told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “It may be safer [for the children to remain in the U.S.],” but “they should be sent back.”

By supporting the June 28, 2009, coup d’état in Honduras when she was secretary of state, Clinton helped create the dire conditions that caused many of these children to flee. And the assassination of legendary Honduranhuman rights leader Berta Cáceresearlier this month can be traced indirectly to Clinton’s policies.

Hillary Clinton speaking during a campaign event at Hillside High School in Durham, N.C., last week. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)

During the Feb. 11 Democratic debate in Milwaukee, Clinton said that sending the children back would “send a message.” In answer to a question by debate moderator Judy Woodruff of PBS, she said,

“Those children needed to be processed appropriately, but we also had to send a message to families and communities in Central America not to send their children on this dangerous journey in the hands of smugglers.”

Sanders retorted, “Who are you sending a message to? These are children who are leaving countries and neighborhoods where their lives are at stake. That was the fact. I don’t think we use them to send a message. I think we welcome them into this country and do the best we can to help them get their lives together.”

In the March 9 debate in Miami between the two Democratic candidates, Sanders accurately told moderator Jorge Ramos of Univision, “Honduras and that region of the world may be the most violent region in our hemisphere. Gang lords, vicious people torturing people, doing horrible things to families.” He added, “Children fled that part of the world to try, try, try, try, maybe, to meet up with their family members in this country, taking a route that was horrific, trying to start a new life.”

The violence in Honduras can be traced to a history of U.S. economic and political meddling, including Clinton’s support of the coup, according to American University professor Adrienne Pine, author of “Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras.”

Pine, who has worked for many years in Honduras, told Dennis Bernstein of KPFA radio in 2014 that the military forces that carried out the coup were trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly called the U.S. Army School of the Americas) in Fort Benning, Ga. Although the coup was supported by the United States, it was opposed by the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS). The U.N. and the OAS labeled President Manuel Zelaya’s ouster a military coup.

“Hillary Clinton was probably the most important actor in supporting the coup [against the democratically elected Zelaya] in Honduras,” Pine noted. It took the United States two months to even admit that Honduras had suffered a coup, and it never did admit it was a military coup. That is, most likely, because the Foreign Assistance Act prohibits the U.S. from aiding a country “whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.”

Although the U.S. government eventually cut nonhumanitarian aid to Honduras, the State Department under Clinton took pains to clarify that this was not an admission that a military coup had occurred.

“Hillary Clinton played a huge role in propping up the coup administration,” Pine said. “The State Department ensured the coup administration would remain in place through negotiations that they imposed, against the OAS’ wish, and through continuing to provide aid and continuing to recognize the coup administration.”

“And so if it weren’t for Hillary Clinton,” Pine added, “basically there wouldn’t be this refugee crisis from Honduras at the level that it is today. And Hondurans would be living a very different reality from the tragic one they are living right now.”

In her book “Hard Choices,” Clinton admitted she helped ensure that Zelaya would not be returned to the presidency. She wrote,

“In the subsequent days [following the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico. We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”

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Russia’s Military Aims Achieved, Putin Switches to Diplomacy

March 16th, 2016 by Dr. Paul Craig Roberts

American presstitutes, such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, expressed surprise at Russia’s support for the Syrian ceasefire, which Russia has been seeking, by Putin’s halt to attacks on the Islamic State and a partial withdrawal of Russian forces.  The American presstitutes are captives of their own propaganda and are now surprised at the failure of their propagandistic predictions.  

Having stripped the Islamic State of offensive capability and liberated Syria from the Washington-supported terrorists, Putin has now shifted to diplomacy.  If peace fails in Syria, the failure cannot be blamed on Russia.  

It is a big risk for Putin to trust the neocon-infested US government, but if ISIS renews the conflict with support from Washington, Putin’s retention of air and naval bases in Syria will allow Russia to resume military operations.  Astute observers such as Professor Michel Chossudovsky at Global Research, Stephen Cohen, and The Saker have noted that the Russian withdrawal is really a time-out during which Putin’s diplomacy takes the place of Russian military capability.

With ISIS beat down, there is less danger of Washington using a peace-seeking ceasefire to resurrect the Islamic State’s military capability.  Therefore, the risk Putin is taking by trusting Washington is worth the payoff if the result is to enhance Russian diplomacy and elevate it above Washington’s reliance on threats, coercion, and violence.  What Putin is really aiming for is to make Europeans realize that by serving as Washington’s vassals European governments are supporting violence over peace and may themselves be swept by the neoconservatives into a deadly conflict with Russia that would ensure Europe’s destruction.

Putin has also demonstrated that, unlike Washington, Russia is able to achieve decisive military results in a short time without Russian casualties and to withdraw without becoming a permanent occupying force.

This very impressive performance is causing the world to rethink which country is really the superpower.

The appearance of American decline is reinforced by the absence of capable leaders among the candidates for the Republican and Democratic party nominations for president.  America is no longer capable of producing political leadership as successive presidents become progressively worse.  The rest of the world must be puzzled how a country unable to produce a fit candidate for president can be a superpower.

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. Roberts’ latest books are The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West, How America Was Lost, and The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.

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This past week, the Pew Research Centre released the results of a massive poll of Israeli public opinion — focusing on their attitude towards religion, identity, values and political issues facing their country.

In the days that followed the release, a number of articles appeared in Israel and the US commenting on the study’s findings.

The strangest and most troubling of them was the piece titled “Deep Rifts Among Israeli Jews Are Found in Religion Survey”, printed in the New York Times on March 8, 2016.

Written by Isabel Kershner, the article was a transparent effort to combine straight reporting with tortured apologia.

Kershner began the piece with a simple recitation of a few of the poll’s findings: “A majority of Israeli Jews marry within their own religious or secular groups” and the different sub-groups “largely separate social worlds” and have “starkly contrasting positions on many public policy issues”, like whether West Bank settlements contribute to Israel’s security.

Kershner’s straightforward reporting ended, however, when she came to one of the poll’s more disturbing findings: “nearly half of Israeli Jews said that Arabs should be expelled of transferred from Israel”.

Unable to allow that result to stand on its own, in the same sentence, Kershner added “although Israeli pollsters found the wording of the question problematic”.

The addition of that phrase was a classic example of deflection — a device often used in New York Times’ articles to sow doubt or confusion among readers so as to soften the blow of facts that are damaging to Israel.

Here’s how it works: first the “fact” is stated; then it is quickly followed (usually in the same sentence) by an unsubstantiated remark that questions the “fact”.

The reader is then left confused.

Kershner did not get around to explaining exactly what was “problematic” about the wording of the poll question until she meandered for several paragraphs discussing other results from the poll.

Then she returned to the “transfer” issue, devoting the last full one-quarter of her piece to quotes from Israeli pollsters telling us that “the phrasing of the question is very blunt” or that it is possible that Israeli Jewish respondents may have understood the question to imply that Arabs would “voluntarily” leave or be compensated for leaving [as if that would somehow make it better!].

Kershner quoted another pollster who agonised over the transfer question, saying: “I would feel uncomfortable incriminating the Israeli public based on one question,” adding her fear that this “one question” would “be used as a weapon’ by Israel’s critics”.

Actually, the question was quite clear. And it was not the only question in the poll in which Israelis displayed troubling views.

And, while I might quibble with the term “weapon”, it would be irresponsible not to raise serious questions about what this poll reveals about racism in Israel.

First, let’s look at the “problematic” question and ask whether it was too vague, too blunt or too unclear.

Here is what Israelis were asked: do you agree or disagree with this statement “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel?”

In response to this direct question, 48 per cent of Israeli Jews agreed, while 46 per cent disagreed.

Among Israelis who are religious and those who received a Jewish education, two-thirds agreed with the idea that Arabs should be expelled or transferred.

This is not the only disturbing finding in this poll.

Israeli Jews were also asked if they agreed with the statement “Jews deserve preferential treatment in Israel”; 79 per cent agreed — including well over 95 per cent of those who are religious and those who received a Jewish education.

The bottom line is that Israel’s political culture has become increasingly intolerant.

With eight in ten Israeli Jews supporting preferential treatment for themselves at the expense of the 20 per cent of the population that is Arab, and with almost one-half of Israeli Jews calling for Arab citizens to be expelled or transferred, one can only conclude that this is a society and a political culture that is in trouble.

This dangerous reality needs to be confronted honestly and directly. Whitewashing the situation only allows the danger to grow.

The Times has done Israelis, Palestinians and its readers a disservice.

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