Why is so much attention focused on the Greek elections?

It may seem surprising that an election in a small country of less than 12 million people could create high anxiety in government ministries in Berlin and Paris and at the European Union (EU) headquarters in Brussels. But as the Russian revolutionary Lenin once wrote, the chain of imperialism is only as strong as its weakest link, and Greece certainly fits that description.

The crisis in Greece emerged in the aftermath of the financial panic of October 2008, when the government was no longer able to make payments on its outstanding debts. The European Commission – the executive arm of the EU – stepped in, along with the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Known collectively as the “Troika,” they agreed to bail out the Greek financial system, but only if the country slashed government employment and salaries, made deep cuts in social spending, and privatized government services. At the same time, regressive taxes that hit workers hardest were actually increased. The revenues going to the government immediately flowed out of the country to repay foreign debt.

Austere Bailout

The austerity-mongers insisted that these methods would work by lowering labour costs in Greece, which would, they said, revive investment in the Greek economy. It didn’t work. The first bailout had to be followed by a second. A third bailout was under discussion when the conservative government of Antonis Samaras unraveled in December. The money was needed simply to enable the Greek government to keep its debt payments flowing. Greece’s economy plunged in a way unseen since the Great Depression, even as the amount of debt continued to increase relative to the size of the economy, reaching 175 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 and remaining at 168 per cent today.

In 2012, the specter of Greece’s potential exit from the euro – the common currency shared by 19 countries – created waves of financial panic when Syriza nearly won national elections.

Greece’s economy is fairly small by European standards, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $242-billion in 2013, compared to $2.1-trillion for Italy or $1.4-trillion for Spain, countries also mired in low growth. A run on Greek banks or a default on Greece’s debt could have had a domino effect on other European banks and lead investors to dump Italian or Spanish government bonds, creating huge problems for those countries.

More recently, the Greek economy has seen a small recovery from its catastrophic collapse, achieving what’s known as a “primary surplus” – economists’ jargon for a government budget surplus prior to the repayment of debt. European banks and their regulators at the European Central Bank now claim that they’re far healthier and thus no longer at risk of a possible “Grexit” from the euro. But the bankers can’t be trusted. This is the same bunch who told the world that everything was sound just before the financial crash of 2008. Given the interconnectedness of international finance, there’s no way to know just how banks would be affected by Syriza’s demand to renegotiate the debt.

There’s another big worry for EU bureaucrats and European corporate bosses: The possibility that Greece could set a precedent for other countries by encouraging further left-wing protest against austerity policies that have seen governments across the EU slash budgets and push the costs of the economic crisis onto working people.

More than six years into the economic crisis, most European economies are stagnating. The political fallout has hit establishment parties of the center left and center right – for example, with the National Front making huge electoral gains amid dissatisfaction with the Socialist Party government of François Hollande. Far right and nationalist groups in other countries have also gained in recent elections by scapegoating immigrants in general, and Muslims in particular.

In Spain, by contrast, the left-wing Podemos party, barely one year old, emerged as the most popular party in that country as the result of popular anger against the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. A Syriza victory would boost Podemos’ prospects and revive the left across the continent.

As the major economic power in the EU, the German capitalist class and its supporters claim that Greece brought the crisis on itself by lying about the weakness of its economy and failing to live “within its means.” Is this true?

The Greek crisis is the extreme form of a crisis at the heart of the European Union – and, within it, the German capitalist class’s attempt to drive the economic organization of the EU.

The European common currency, the euro, was launched in 1999. German capitalists favoured the move, since it consolidated the continent as an export market for German business and rationalized a fragmentary financial system anchored by the biggest European banks, along with the newly created European Central Bank. As a currency, the euro was weaker than Germany’s former currency, the deutschmark, would have been on its own. This made German exports cheaper to the rest of the world outside the EU. The problem was that the ECB lacks anything like the powers of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. While the Fed can basically print money to cover U.S. government debts, the ECB can’t do this – and German officials would be against it if it could.

But if the ECB lacks power, the central banks of the individual EU governments have even less. Previously, a country with big debts to pay would slash interest rates and devalue its currency to make its economy more competitive on the world market. Greece – like other euro countries – lacks that power under the terms of its agreement to participate in the eurozone.

Instead, austerity was supposed to achieve a kind of “internal devaluation” – a drastic cut in living standards that would rekindle economic growth, with lower costs of production attracting new investment.

Just how bad is the social and economic crisis in Greece today?

We know the horror stories of social collapse caused by wars and military invasions in countries like Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria. But Greece has endured an almost unimaginable amount of privation without any such armed conflict.

Although the Greek economy returned to growth for the first time in six years in 2014, the economy remains 30 per cent smaller than it was six years ago. In human terms, that translates to millions of lives shattered – and a whole generation of young people deprived of any prospect of a stable and secure life.

According to researchers for the Greek parliament, some 2.5 million people (in a total population of 11 million, remember) live under the poverty line, with another 3.8 million at risk for doing so. Some 26.6 per cent of people are jobless – and for those aged 15 to 24, the figure is 52 per cent. Wages have fallen by 5 per cent every year since 2009.

Poverty and unemployment are only part of the suffering of the Greek working-class. According to researchers from the British medical journal The Lancet, some 47 per cent of Greeks say they could not obtain medically necessary treatment. Public education has been savaged, too, with a 33 per cent cut in education spending between 2009 and 2013 and a further 14 per cent cut scheduled by 2016. Thousands of teachers have lost their jobs, and class sizes have exploded.

During recent winters, a large number of people died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to the use of wood stoves – since heating has become unaffordable for millions. Countless numbers of people struggle to make do with a barter system, offering whatever skills or services they can in exchange for other services – or merely for food. There has been nothing like this in the economically advanced world since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

How did Syriza succeed in moving from the left margins of politics to being poised to be the leading party of Greece?

Syriza is an expression of the mass sentiment against austerity that has shown itself in wave after wave of popular struggles since the crash of ’08. These are movements that were rooted in previous traditions of popular resistance. To understand why, it’s useful to look at Greece’s political history of intense political polarization in the 20th century.

In the 1930s, the military dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas served as a prelude to a Nazi occupation (Metaxas still has his admirers). In the aftermath of the Second World War, the country exploded into a civil war that pitted the Greek hard right against the left – with the Communist Party (KKE, according to its initials in Greek) playing the leading role in the resistance.

In 1967, another military dictatorship subjected a new generation of leftists and working-class militants to murderous repression. But a popular protest movement and a wave of strikes in 1974 overthrew the dictatorship and opened the door for the election of the center-left party PASOK in 1981. PASOK maintained a firm basis in the trade unions even as it moderated popular demands in the name of stabilizing Greek capitalists. For their part, Greek bosses, in the aftermath of the dictatorship, were compelled to make significant concessions to the working-class, including a reduction in the workweek from 48 to 40 hours and the introduction of paid vacations.

Unlike most Western European countries, the Greek left and organized labour remained vigorous and influential after the collapse of the USSR in 1991 disoriented Communist Parties internationally, and industrial restructuring and pro-market neoliberal policies hammered union strength. Nevertheless, the Greek left remained fragmented. PASOK, which alternated in government with the conservative New Democracy party, retained the support of a large section of the unions. For its part, the KKE remained an old-school Stalinist formation, disdaining any united front with others on the left and abstaining from any struggles that it did not control. (The exception was the KKE’s formation of a brief government in coalition with New Democracy in the 1990s in the name of opposing corruption in PASOK).

Over the past decade, however, new currents on the Greek left emerged – some from a split in the KKE, others drawn to activism in the global justice movement of the early 2000s, and still others from struggles involving labour unions and immigrant rights. Syriza (the acronym stands for Coalition of the Radical Left) became the vehicle for these currents, which include the ex-KKE activists in the Synaspismos group, always the largest component of Syriza, along with disaffected PASOK members and Trotskyists such as the Internationalist Workers Left (DEA). Syriza’s best-known leader Alexis Tsiprsas was trained in the KKE’s youth group before rejecting the party’s sectarianism and organizing with its “eurocommunist” split.

For several years after its formation in 2004, Syriza remained relatively small. But the explosive strikes and protests since 2008 opened up a new audience for its radical, anti-austerity program. The dominant PASOK and New Democracy parties had both pushed the bailout deal with the IMF-ECB-EU troika. Since 2012, the two parties have been governing in coalition to keep Syriza out of office. This is the context in which working people involved in the dramatic general strikes and popular mobilizations a few years ago have now thrown their weight behind Syriza, turning it into an electoral voice of the popular resistance.

In May 2014, Syriza won the most votes in elections for European parliament. It was an electoral expression of years of struggle, including 16 general strikes and a diverse series of mass social struggles. As Sotiris Martalis, a member of DEA and a figure on the left wing of Syriza, said following those election results:

“The political crisis and the rise of the left are not just a product of the economic crisis, but also the result of two years of hard-fought workers’ and social struggles. It is also a result of certain political choices. This can explain why working people chose Syriza as a ‘tool’ to express themselves, and not the Democratic Left [a split from PASOK], the Communist Party or ANTARSYA.”

The neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn suffered a series of arrests after its thugs murdered a popular musician. Does the far right remain a threat in Greece?

The rise of Syriza has its counterpart on the right in the rise of Golden Dawn, which got 6.9 per cent of the vote and 18 seats in the last parliamentary election. Unlike far right politicians like Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, Golden Dawn is a straightforward Hitlerite organization, from its swastika-type insignia to its deadly racist attacks on immigrants.

Golden Dawn’s popularity has declined since one of its members murdered rapper Pavlos Fyssas, and the government veered from a tolerance of the neo-Nazis to a crackdown on the organization and the arrest of all of its members of parliament.

But Golden Dawn is likely to get seats in the next parliament and will remain an ominous force, thanks to its well-documented connections to establishment right-wingers and military figures. Right-wing authoritarianism and fascism have deep roots in Greece, and these neo-Nazis will continue to present themselves as an alternative to people driven to desperation in the crisis.

What will happen in Greece if Syriza wins, and what will it mean for the left?

There are significant forces on the Greek left – the KKE and the far-left electoral coalition known as ANTARSYA – which claim that Syriza will seize the first opportunity to collaborate with Greek capital. Panos Garganas, an activist in the Greek Socialist Workers Party (SEK, by its initials in Greek), which is part of ANTARSYA, wrote that Syriza is “appeasing the bankers while appealing to voters.” The KKE is even more direct, accusing Syriza of being “the left reserve force of capitalism.” This is a mistaken and sectarian position. There is no question that the Greek and European capitalist class is hostile to Syriza and the working-class and popular forces that it represents.

The Economist magazine, a mouthpiece for European business, voiced hope that what it saw as a moderation and professionalism among Syriza’s top officials would make it possible for a mild readjustment of Greece’s debt repayment and a limited rollback of austerity. A Syriza victory “need not be a disaster,” the magazine said. “Still, Europe’s establishment is right to worry,” the Economist continued, warning that Syriza’s left would push back at any compromise, and the expiration of the bailout package and looming debt repayments come soon after the election.

Despite the tactful approach outlined by the Economist, employers will use all available means to sabotage a Syriza government from the moment it takes office. The capitalist class controls the capitalist state machine, no matter what government is in office. Syriza will indeed be pressured to compromise on the program that has excited large sections of the Greek capitalist class. To survive – let alone advance its program of reversing austerity – Syriza will have to depend on popular mobilization and working-class struggle.

The activists in the KKE and ANTARSYA could and should play an important role in mobilizing for the defense of Syriza’s program against the inevitable backlash. Syriza’s influential Left Platform – an organized presence within the party, representing a significant section of members and well-known leading figures – is organizing against any retreat from the party’s program. It argues that struggle in the workplace and the streets will be key.

Tsipras has already made it clear that a Syriza program will continue to make payments on the Greek government’s massive debt, even as it tries to negotiate relief. Even so, the party’s program is unmistakably left wing and will lead to a head-on collision with the EU institutions and big business. It involves a ‘haircut’ – a negotiated partial default – for the holders of bonds issued by the Greek government; free electricity for the poorest households in the country; subsidized food and rent; a return to free health care; increased funding for pensions; and a vast jobs creation program. To pay for all this, the government plans to tax the wealthy oligarchs who have long hid their wealth overseas.

“The coalition is demanding things from the ECB and European Union that it simply won’t do (like fund its programs),” wrote Business Insider journalist Mike Bird. “That means that for the first time, there may be an entire EU member state just refusing to go along with European policy, which is a massive challenge for the whole continent.”

There is no close historical precedent in Europe for a Syriza victory – although there are some parallels with the 1970 election of a socialist government led by Salvador Allende in Chile.

But in the years following the Russian Revolution, there was a valuable discussion of the prospects for just such a development in the Communist International – the international alliance of revolutionary organizations formed in the wake of the revolution. This debate centered on whether revolutionary socialists should participate in workers government – that is, a government of radical or revolutionary parties to the left of traditional social democratic parties.

The debates at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International – annotated minutes of the proceedings were recently republished by Haymarket Books – focused on how workers who were not yet prepared to take power by revolutionary means could nevertheless give their electoral support to workers’ parties. Antonis Davanellos, a leading figure in DEA and in Syriza’s Left Platform, discussed the relevance of that debate in today’s Greece:

“The criteria for its program must be bound – mostly or exclusively – to the needs of the working-class and the popular classes, and not to some cross-class vague concepts such as ‘the country’ or the ‘productive reconstruction of the economy.’ The criteria on its alliances must be confined to workers’ parties and organizations, and not extend to broad alliances that sacrifice the clear sociopolitical orientation for the sake of parliamentary efficiency. The criteria on the prospects of a left-wing government must be understood as a transitional step toward socialist rupture, and not as a final destination that will ‘save the country.’”

The key question was what such left-wing parties will do in office to mobilize workers struggles against a hostile state bureaucracy and capitalist class, with strikes, factory occupations, sit-ins at government ministries and the like. Such struggles are essential to fortify revolutionary and working-class organization in what is certain to be a series of high-stakes confrontations with capital.

What can the left in the U.S. and the rest of the world do in solidarity?

A Syriza government will have to contend not only with the Greek bosses, but with the international capitalist class.

As the elections neared, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European heads of state were keeping their cards close to their vest. One can expect a mixture of bribery and bullying, in the hopes of driving a wedge into Syriza and demoralizing its electoral base. According to this scenario, New Democracy will wait for a Syriza government to implode and make a triumphant return, with an even harsher austerity program.

That’s why international solidarity with the Greek left and a defense of the Syriza government will be crucial. From public meetings explaining what’s happening to organizing campaigns against governments and bankers to protest the efforts to bleed Greece dry, the left can play an important role.

At a time when mainstream parties worldwide continue to squeeze workers to protect the profits and privileges of a tiny minority, a Syriza victory will give voice to the left-wing alternative that we urgently need.

Here’s the situation in a nutshell: Kiev is sending poorly trained, fresh recruits into battle. They are shelling civilian areas (e.g., Gorlovka) but not providing cover, recon, or reinforcements to the men actually doing the fighting against the NAF. And the Novorossiyans are repelling whatever is thrown at them, taking out entire tank companies. Kiev’s troops basically have two options: surrender or die. 

Here a few highlights from the last couple days. First, a Ukrainian unit was sent to the Donetsk Airport with instructions to transport their wounded out of the terminal – thinking their forces still controlled it. This is the same terminal that has been under the control of Donetsk battalions for a week. Only upon encountering “Givi’s” ambush did they realize they’d been sent like lambs to the slaughter, probably as a distraction in order for tanks to encircle the airport – tanks that were destroyed by Donetsk forces. As J. Hawk writes for Fort Russ, “It’s one thing for Kiev TV stations to continue claiming the airport is held by Ukrainian formations. It’s something else altogether for local commanders to not know what the situation on the ground is.” The video below of Givi and Motorola with the POWs is priceless.

 

Oleg Mikats

The bald one is Colonel Oleg Mikats, commander of the 93rd Brigade (here’s an article with a link to him threatening to personally kill any journalists he sees in the village of Sands).

This is the same surly man visible in the video of Motorola’s infamous handshake with the ‘commander’ of the 93rd Brigade, callsign “Kupol”, back in December. Motorola, injured, had been ordered to meet with the Ukrainians in control of the terminal at the time in order to effect a troop rotation for the Ukrainians holed up in the New Terminal, monitored by the OSCE. (Was Kupol really the commander? He’s clearly taking orders for Mikats in the video.

It’s possible Kupol was replaced by Mikats – the handshake prompted soldiers of the 93rd to sign a petition to remove Kupol from his post for sullying his pure Ukrainian hands by touching the “bandit” Motorola.) You can watch the video of the ‘dirty handshake’ here. Here’s Mikats the ‘negotiator’ from that encounter, in the red circle.

Oleg Mikats

Now Mikat has been captured by the NAF. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I’m sure he feels full of that “Glory to Ukraine!” spirit after being sent to his almost-certain death by his superiors. Here’s a report of their capture from Russian TV:

 

 

 

Donetsk’s prime minister, Alexandr Zakharchenko, gave a press conference on the results of the fighting over the past two days. As usual, Kiev is denying any heavy casualties, this despite the fact that they’ve lost hundreds of men, including an entire tank company (around 200 men) in a single day, and an entire infantry company (around 100, nearly all killed). For the few that survived and the bodies of those killed, Zakharchenko is allowing their families to claim them without having to wait for an official prisoner exchange. Following up on his offer to negotiate with Poroshenko in the Donetsk Airport, Zakharchenko had this to say:

Esteemed Mr. President, I summoned you to the airport. There is a certain distance from the airport to Kiev, but from Peski the distance is shorter. I will summon you again from Peski. Every time we take a new town I will tell you how many kilometers to your residence. I don’t know how long this continue, but our meeting will take place, I promise you that.

Now Poroshenko is between a rock and a hard place: continue sending out his troops as cannon fodder, or negotiate a real ceasefire, in which case he will be at the mercy of the “true patriots” (i.e., Nazis) that want war, war, and more war.

Here are some highlights from the press conference:

Harrison Koehli hails from Edmonton, Alberta. A graduate of studies in music performance, Harrison is also an editor for Red Pill Press and has been interviewed on several North American radio shows in recognition of his contributions to advancing the study of ponerology. In addition to music and books, Harrison enjoys tobacco and bacon (often at the same time) and dislikes cell phones, vegetables, and fascists.

Since coming to power on May 14, 2011, President Michel Martelly has managed to avoid holding elections in Haiti. This has brought on a political crisis that is upending Haiti’s democratic institutions and people’s daily lives. It has resulted in a rising cost of living, devaluation of the Haitian gourde, Parliament’s dissolution, and crazily arbitrary judicial actions and maneuvers.

Now finally the crisis has led to the formation of a de facto government, led by a new and thoroughly illegal prime minister, perennial opportunist politician Evans Paul, known as Konpè Plim or K-Plim.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, who resigned in the face of popular protests on Dec. 13, is suspected by many of having embezzled or stolen millions of dollars while in power. However, there has been no accounting done of his regime’s management. The people demand accountability, and if necessary, the arrest of Lamothe.

Martelly’s unilateral choice of Paul to be PM is an affront. Although the former playwright had credentials as an anti-Duvalierist artist and activist and was the manager of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s successful 1990 presidential campaign, he became a bitter Aristide opponent in later years and helped lead the Feb. 29, 2004 coup d’état against his former political ally.

On Jan. 1, 2014 in Gonaïves, Paul outraged his former comrades by joining former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and neo-Duvalierist former general and dictator Prosper Avril in celebrating the 210th anniversary of Haiti’s independence with President Martelly. In 1989, Avril’s soldiers had severely beaten Paul and two other activists and then broadcast their bruised and bloody faces on national television.

In the lead-up to the current crisis, some political actors had called for a political agreement and a consensus government of public salvation. This might have resulted from good-faith negotiations with the opposition political parties and other state institutions. However, Martelly’s intransigence and arrogance torpedoed any such negotiations. He unilaterally chose Evans Paul as prime minister and then installed him on Jan. 16 without Parliament’s approval, as required by the Constitution.So K-Plim has become another de facto prime minister, just like Gérard Latortue, who Washington installed in power in Haiti following the 2004 coup against Aristide.

“I did not campaign for the candidate Martelly, and I did not vote for him either,” Paul said at his installation. “He campaigned with a political program. Today, I have become his prime minister, so I have to respect his program. I’m not the prime minister of a political party. My government has two specific objectives: to create the conditions for holding elections and to ensure the continuity of the state.”

Do you hear that? To those who are calling for a consensus government, Evans Paul is telling you that is not his agenda. He intends to “ensure the continuity” of Laurent Lamothe’s regime, which was characterized by political corruption, the looting of state resources, lies, and subservience to the U.S. and its allies.

Faced with this reality, the Dessalines Children Platform (PPD), the Lavalas Family party (FL), Patriotic Movement of the Dessalinien Opposition (MOPOD) continued their mobilization in the capital Port-au-Prince and other cities on Jan. 16, 17, and 20, calling for Martelly’s resignation and the formation of a provisional government. Organizations like the Dessalines Coordination (KOD) also stress the need to demand the immediate departure of the 7,500 United Nations troops (MINUSTAH) presently occupying Haiti.

“Down with Martelly! Down Evans Paul! Down with de facto power! Down with occupation!” the demonstrators chant. “Long live free elections without foreign interference! We do not want decrees, Martelly must go!”

The protesters also condemned the U.S., France, Canada, MINUSTAH, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the European Union for supporting Martelly in his establishment of a de facto regime. Demonstrators denounced the unjustifiable presence at the Haitian Parliament on the night of Jan. 11, 2015 of U.S. Ambassador Pamela White, Canadian Ambassador Paula Valdwell St-Onge, MINUSTAH chief Sandra Honore, and OAS representative Frédéric Bolduc. They pressured Haitian lawmakers to extend their mandate in defiance of the Constitution.

During the second day of protest, Jan. 17, violence flared. Government agents infiltrated the crowd to provoke and steal from protestors. In front of the headquarters of the social-democratic party Fusion, which is allied with Martelly, protestors were met by stone-throwing regime partisans and responded with rocks. Police officers began firing with leveled weapons at the demonstrators. Among the wounded were Mario Jean Musca, from the Carrefour neighborhood. Angelo Adrien, secretary general of the popular organization “Embark for Change,” was wounded by several bullets in the neck. Jean Jacques Jean Claudel, from the Solino neighborhood, was shot in the leg by police in a vehicle registered as CIMO 1-618. Former political prisoner Jean Robert Vincent received a bullet in the arm. Pastor Semereste was shot in the nose. Another protester who goes by the name “Nickenson of Haiti” was arrested and beaten by police officers, and taken to the Canapé Vert police station. Also injured were Julmus Pierre, Jean Bernard Fils-Aimé, and a man known only as Legros. Pictures of the wounded demonstrators have circulated widely on the internet.

Despite this repression, another massive anti-Martelly anti-MINUSTAH march took place in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 20. Opposition leaders continue to call for popular resistance to stand up to the Martelly/Paul de facto regime as well as to the imperialist nations which support it against the manifest will of Haiti’s majority.

Originally published by WhoWhatWhy 

President Obama proposed new laws to protect Americans and “especially our kids” from hackers during his State of the Union address. Swaddled in that almost tender-sounding language, though, was a plan that would strengthen the government’s ability to go after journalists like Barrett Brown.

In fact, the new cybersecurity legislation would further criminalize the kind of activity for which Brown is due to be sentenced in Dallas federal court on Jan. 22. Judge Sam A. Lindsay will decide whether to let Brown, 33, off with time served for the more than two years he’s already spent behind bars, or imprison him for a maximum of eight-and-a-half years. Brown struck a deal to plead guilty to, among other charges, a Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) felony.

That particular element of the case against Brown demonstrated how he, as a journalist, worked with hackers to expose corporate behavior. The CFAA violation involved his efforts to shield one of his sources, Anonymous hacktivist Jeremy Hammond, from prosecution. Hammond, a self-described anarchist based in Chicago, broke into the computer systems of the private intelligence firm Stratfor hoping to expose wrongdoing and corporate malfeasance.

Brown’s prosecution fits a pattern that has seen the U.S. government treat online journalists, crusading bloggers and idealistic hacktivists as enemies more than new-style investigative reporters. Already, his sentence stands to chill those who would emulate him in conducting real-time, public research into leaked data troves. At the last hearing in Brown’s case, in December, journalist Quinn Norton testified that his prosecution was “absolutely chilling” to 21st Century journalism.

Easier Prosecutions

With President Obama’s legislation, it will become easier for prosecutors to pursue such people. The proposals would, among other things, broaden the meaning of “unauthorized access” such that the Department of Justice could more easily turn the sharing of hyperlinks into illegal “trafficking” as they see fit. Prosecutors accused Brown of that but dropped nearly that entire indictment amid sharp criticism that they were bending the law and attacking free speech.

Brown’s guilty plea allowed him to escape an indictment that construed the sharing of a hyperlink as identity theft. The opening for prosecutors was that the file was said to contain canceled credit card data and user password material hacked out of Stratfor’s servers.

One crucial difference was that Brown had no plans to profit from the sharing of the link, precisely the kind of criminal fraud the law was drafted to stop. Instead, he thought the information might aid his virtual research syndicate ProjectPM, which was investigating shadowy cybersecurity contractors that work for law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Indeed, he publicly criticized hackers who spilled the personal data of innocent bystanders.

That difference won’t matter under the new proposals. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, under which Brown will be sentenced, would be amended to define unauthorized access as something done “for a purpose that the accesser knows is not authorized by the computer owner,” a practically limitless definition. The law will also make hacking that’s now a misdemeanor a felony.

Cybercosa Nostra?

The proposed legislation will also give federal prosecutors authority to use the most powerful weapon in their arsenal against hackers: The Racketeer and Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, known commonly as RICO. The government would then have the discretion to pursue hackers and hacktivists alike with the same tools used to dismantle the mafia and drug cartels.

The government already seems to consider people like Brown a threat. Consider the effort they have poured into his case alone: the prosecution tried to take away funds donated for his defensegaggedhim from speaking out about his case, fished for the names of ProjectPM members, pursued a case against his mother, and argued that he and Anonymous “secretly plotted the overthrow of the government.”

In other words, prosecutions like that pursued against Barrett Brown, may well become more common. They will certainly be easier to bring forward. And the government will have even more authority to rein in alliances between journalists and hacktivists, and other previously unheard voices exposing how governments and corporations work together in the dark corners of cyberspace.

Barely a week ago, an estimated 1.6 million people in France took part in a record-breaking rally for national unity after the attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store.

The scene of millions of French waving flags and carrying placards with words of patriotism and hope was familiar, a kabuki play seen after terrorist attacks from New York to Boston and all points in between. The message was that it’s time to heal, now that the perpetrators of the French attacks appear to be dead and buried.

But once again, the big feel-good show hid a dangerous piece of the iceberg under the waterline. And it is the part of the equation most likely to stoke fear and extremism on either side of the Islam vs. the West narrative that has suffused most media coverage of the Paris attacks.

Despite the message of unity, the extreme right wing political party that may represent as much as a fourth of France’s electorate, the National Front, wasn’t invited. François Lamy, the organizer of the event for the ruling left-wing Socialist Party, was widely quoted as saying the National Front had no place at the rally, since they “divide the country and stigmatize our fellow citizens because of their ethnic origin and religion.”

A History of Exclusion

Indeed, the party known by its French acronym FN has a history of intolerance which now manifests itself in anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, and has included anti-Semitism in the past. So while it may seem fitting that France’s most exclusionary party was excluded, it is the political faction most likely to benefit from the anti-Muslim sentiments the Charlie Hebdo attacks have produced.

“What has happened is dangerous is because, although this demonstration presents the image of national unity, the 25 percent of the population who vote for the National Front weren’t invited,” Erwan Jule, who attended the Jan.11 rally, told WhoWhatWhy. That will probably mean more votes for the FN that cannot be ignored, he said.

Already, the FN’s leader, Marine Le Pen, has seized on the events to present herself as the emissary of the average Frenchman and to advance her anti-immigration platform. While French President Francois Hollande carefully avoided blaming militant Islam as the ideology behind the Charlie Hebdoattacks, Le Pen has explicitly called it the culprit. She even has attempted to woo some French Jewish voters by portraying Islam as France’s enemy.

Le Pen is known for her anti-Muslim rhetoric, having once compared Muslims praying in French streets to the Nazi occupation. Her attacks on France’s immigration policies are gaining traction among French voters: in last year’s nationwide elections for the European Parliament in Brussels, the FN surprised everyone by winning an unprecedented 25 percent of the votes.

Creating More Victims

Violence against French Muslims has risen since the attacks that began on Jan. 7. Since the events, the National Observatory Against Islamophobia has reported more than 50 anti-Muslim incidents in France (excluding Paris) and there are indications the number may be much higher.

At the Jan. 11 unity rally in Paris, one Muslim woman wearing a veil and a French flag draped over her shoulders, called the attackers “imbeciles” who, paradoxically, created more victims in the Muslim community they purported to be protecting. “We are against what has happened and we are angry. We are already victims of this event because we are Muslim, especially as all Muslims are placed together into one group,” Mme. Ben Salaam told WhoWhatWhy. She and her husband both attended the rally and declined to give their first names out of fear of retribution.

Who Is French?

“We are French,” said Mr. Ben Salaam. “But at times like these, we are reduced to our ethnic origins.”

France has struggled with discrimination against immigrants from its former African colonies since the 1960s. While it is difficult to ascertain their exact number (because it is illegal to record statistics on religion and race), Muslims are estimated to represent about 8 percent of France’s population.

The Jan.11 unity march in Paris

The Jan.11 unity march in Paris. By Adrien le Coarer.

For many in France, the immigration debate touches on the always-sensitive issue of French identity. Mainstream political parties have generally talked around the issue, preferring to pay lip service to an inclusive vision of French society free of racial division.

However, the likeliest outcome of the attacks is that efforts to fight extremism of any stripe will be matched by increased xenophobia, said Laurent Chalard, an expert on French political demographics at the European Centre for International Affairs. “There is a sizable part of the French population who can almost no longer accept the presence of Muslims…We will also have more and more Islamophobic reactionaries among the extreme right wing.”

If that becomes a reality, then the politics around the record-breaking rally will have unwittingly placed France further from the ideals espoused in its national motto: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.” (Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood).

Israel’s claims of an imminent threat of Hizballah attack are not credible. More likely it wants to subdue the Lebanese militia so that it has a free hand to manipulate the Syrian battlefield to its advantage.

Israel has good reason to fear that the Lebanese militia Hizballah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard will seek dramatic revenge for the killing of 12 senior figures from the two organisations in an air strike in Syria on Sunday.

Israel’s concerns were underscored on Wednesday by the decision of its military chief of staff, Benny Gantz, to cancel a trip to meet his European counterparts, as the Israeli army remained on high alert.

Earlier, on Monday, Israel moved an Iron Dome anti-missile battery to the northern border, in case of rocket fire from Hizballah. That is precisely what Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah had vowed only last week if Israel continued to launch attacks on Syrian soil.

“We consider that any strike against Syria is a strike against the whole of the resistance axis, not just against Syria,” he said, adding that he had many long-range Iranian rockets that could reach deep into the Galilee.

General Ali Jafari, commander of the Revolutionary Guard, echoed that warning on Tuesday, saying Israel should wait for “devastating thunderbolts”, and that Israel’s air strike had created “a new beginning point for the imminent collapse of the Zionist regime”.

Rhetoric aside, however, Hizballah and Iran are likely to try to avoid the inevitable direct military confrontation with Israel that would follow a decision to fire some of Hizballah’s thousands of rockets into the Galilee.

That certainly appears to have been Israel’s calculation in launching the attack.

Hizballah and Iran – both stretched militarily in Syria as they try to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s regime from the threat posed by various opposition and extremist groups – have no interest in opening an additional front, this time with Israel.

In addition, Iran is suffering economically from a US-Saudi engineered fall in oil prices and cannot risk an intensification of sanctions – currently being advanced in the US Congress – by being blamed for a major escalation of hostilities with Israel.

Likewise, Iran will be averse to falling into a trap set by Israel, aggravating tensions with western powers as Tehran tries to negotiate a deal with them on its nuclear programme. Israel would be only too delighted to see the talks collapse.

And Iran has invested heavily in arming Hizballah with rockets and missiles to provide a deterrent against Israel launching a strike on Iran. Using that arsenal now, as one Israeli analyst surmised, would be “wasting [it] on border skirmishes that have no strategic significance for Iran”.

Hizballah, meanwhile, will be reluctant to fire rockets for fear of weakening its domestic political position. It has no popular mandate – explicit or implicit – to drag Lebanon into another devastating confrontation with Israel, like the one in 2006, in retaliation for military losses it sustained on Syrian rather than Lebanese soil.

Boutros Harb, Lebanon’s telecoms minister, warned as much: “It’s not in anyone’s interest for a front to be opened [with Israel] and for Lebanon to enter a war.”

More likely Iran and Hizballah will seek revenge at a later time, either by attacking Israel from Syria or by hitting a high-level target abroad. Such a strike could itself escalate into a wider conflict, as occurred both in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza with Hamas last summer.

Power vacuum

It is not surprising that Quneitra province, the area of southern Syria next to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights where Israel’s air strike occurred, has become a flashpoint. Israel, on the one hand, and Hizballah and Iran, on the other, have been sucked into the relative power vacuum created there since the Syrian army lost its grip on the territory last summer.

Al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, is reported to have strongholds in the area and controls the Quneitra crossing on the 1967 ceasefire line with the Golan Heights.

Israel has engaged in a range of activities in the Quneitra region in support of the rebel groups.

It appears to have been quietly trying to gain a foothold by recruiting collaborators among the local population, in what Hizballah fears may eventually become a replication in Syria of the South Lebanon Army, a militia Israel created to help destabilise southern Lebanon throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Israel has also assisted rebel groups, including al-Nusra Front, allowing its wounded fighters to access its medical services, as a report last month by United Nations monitors in the area confirmed. Israel is also said to have been arming and training these groups, and providing them with maps and intelligence. The strong suspicion is that Israel is trying to forge links with these fighters to help them attack Hizballah and the Syrian army.

According to some reports, Israel’s downing of a Syrian military aircraft over the Golan Heights in late September was intended to aid al-Nusra Front as it fought for control of Quneitra crossing.

And most visibly, Israel has carried out a series of air strikes against targets in Syria, of which Sunday’s was only the latest. The Israeli media have claimed that the earlier attacks were designed to stop Syria and Iran transferring weapons to Hizballah to strengthen its fighters as they take on opposition forces. However, there are also reports that Israel is trying to weaken Syria’s military infrastructure to assist the rebels and give its own aircraft unhindered access to Syria’s skies.

However unlikely the alliance may seem, there are strategic reasons why Israel might wish to help al-Nusra Front and even the more extremist fighters of the Islamic State group.

Israel appears to prefer that the Syrian army, Hizballah and Iran remain trapped in an endless struggle against the opposition – whatever their hue – that saps their resources and military strength, leaving Israel to control the playing field.

Nasty wake-up call

Hizballah, by contrast, has every reason to want to cement its position in southern Syria. Nasrallah and Assad received a nasty wake-up call last summer when the rebels seized Syrian positions in the Quneitra area.

Sunni opposition forces thereby gained control both of the border with the Golan Heights, giving them access to Israel, and moved into position next to south Lebanon, home to much of Lebanon’s Shia majority and Hizballah’s heartland.

For this reason, Israeli leaks to the media that Hizballah and Iran have been trying to establish missile bases in the Quneitra area cannot be discounted.

However, claims from Israel that it was under imminent threat of a Hizballah attack from the Quneitra area – justifying the strike – are implausible. If Hizballah is now averse, as seems to be the case, to hitting Israel after it killed so many of its commanders, why would it have been preparing to attack Israel before the strike, when it had far less cause?

Israel appears to prefer that the Syrian army, Hizballah and Iran remain trapped in an endless struggle against the opposition.
More likely, the team were there to assess ways to tighten their hold on the area, compensating for Syria’s weakness, to prevent both further territorial losses to opposition forces and Israel’s continuing military interference.

Veteran Israeli military analyst Alex Fishman observed: “The Iranians and the Syrians reached the conclusion that Israel is no longer deterred on the Syrian front and is carrying on uninhibited.” For this reason, they are under pressure to create a new “balance of deterrence” with Israel.

Israel’s Channel 2 TV quoted Lebanese sources on Tuesday confirming that the team were establishing missile bases in southern Syria, presumably with Assad’s assent. If that was the case, then most likely the goal was to create a stockpile of rockets similar to the one that exists in south Lebanon to deter Israel both from striking in Syria and from helping rebel groups.

Israel’s desire to stop Hizballah and Iran’s counter-move – and thereby keep its free hand in Syria, launching attacks when it pleases – seems a more probable explanation for its attack on Sunday.

As you now know, Europe is set to announce a new QE program.  I wish these money printing rocket scientists would call it like it really is, outright monetization but then again the average non thinking person might ask questions?  The leak yesterday said the size would be 50 billion euros per month, or more (it turned out to be 60 billion).  Thinking about this from a far away view, we can glean a few hilarious aspects.

First, let’s look at “size”.  If the program is “only” (more was expected) 60 billion euros per month, this will amount to around 720 billion additional euros outstanding a year from now.  From a “money perspective”, this amount is far less than the QE 3 the Fed just publicly (privately maybe not) ended and smaller than the current Japanese operation.  The markets may view this as “smaller than hoped for”, I of course have a different perspective.  If we add up the production of all gold globally from the mines, we come to a ballpark number of a whopping $100 billion.  Compare this to the (newly devalued) figure of 720 billion euros and we can round this off to just over $900 billion.  So, in just one year, Europe will create nine times the amount of trash currency as the entire world creates of gold …in one year!  The ECB plans to purchase this amount of debt for two years, nearly $2 trillion worth!

Going just a step further, let’s look at this $100 billion worth of gold which is produced annually.  I am going to tell you that as far as the “world” is concerned, there is NO new gold produced!  How can I say this?  All you need to do is look at how much gold just China and India combined take off the markets each year.  The answer is “all of it”!  Actually, that’s not true unless we add the phrase “and then some”!  So from a size standpoint, Europe is proposing to create nine times the amount of currency as new gold is produced, yet none of the gold even hits the market to add to the current stock.  Yes I know, there will be those amongst you who say this is wrong.  But is it really wrong if 100%+ of new gold supply gets devoured and vaulted by China and India never to see the light of day again?  Yes it is “stock” but it will never in our lifetimes “flow”!

Let’s now look at few of the other “little snags” in this European brainchild.  First, can Europe handle more debt collectively and what about the ones who cannot?  The ECB is proposing a “one for all and all for one” strategy when it comes to responsibility to this debt, will the Germans agree to this?  What will happens when push comes to shove and countries with no financial wherewithal just shrug their shoulders when they cannot make the debt service payments?  Does this mean that Germany becomes the “one for all”?  Wasn’t it just a couple of years ago the PIGS debt was on the verge of collapse and rates were skyrocketing?  Have they really healed their balance sheets or do they now have MORE debt and HIGHER debt ratios?  Are we to believe they are now safer?  One last thought, the ECB is the central bank to Europe, should they really be prompting their flock into issuing more of the poison that caused the problem in the first place?

Another question becomes, what about Greece?  Will the ECB purchase their bonds?  What if Greece’s elections finish and the winning party decides to hold the ECB ransom “restructure our debt or we will default …or just take our ball and leave”?  How is this going to be handled?  Another aspect going back to “size” is that the 720 billion euro QE will be three times or more the size of current issuance, isn’t this the reason the Fed was more or less forced to stop QE …because they were taking too much collateral out of the system?  Will this force banks to purchase lower credit quality debt in their reserves or does it just mean interest rates all throughout Europe will be negative?  Does this mean investors will “pay” interest to insolvent deadbeat nations like Portugal, Spain and Italy amongst others?  I know it sounds quite strange to have to pay interest on your lent money to an insolvent entity, but this is where we are headed!

While we are on the topic, what about “negative interest rates”?  To begin with, if you think about it negative interest rates cannot last forever or even for a long time because it means the lenders in the end will lose all their money.  (From a humorous standpoint, maybe this is a good thing because at least they lose all their money “slowly” rather than all at once!)  Also from a Mother Nature standpoint, only the very best money does not need to pay interest, all the rest do and the interest rate is decided by the risk of creditworthiness and strength of currency.  In this instance, they are all the same sloppy currency but Greece is not Germany even if they do both begin with a G.  If negative interest rates were normal, borrowers would end up with everything and lenders would become extinct.

Also, wouldn’t this hurt the banking sector in another way than just making collateral impossible to find?  Wouldn’t the smart ones just go into their bank and withdraw everything and hoard the cash which wouldn’t require the constant haircut of negative rates?  What does this say about velocity?

 All of the above questions and thoughts were things the Swiss have thought about for years.  The “commonality” was a problem for them and they decided not to join the EU in the first place.  Now, the Swiss National Bank has looked at this current scheme and decided to cut their losses.  Why should they continue to purchase euros if they know the official policy is to debase and ultimately ruin them?  The Swiss have made a decision, my topic for tomorrow will be “The ‘neutral’ Swiss seem to have chosen sides” as they announced a new renmimbi hub based in Zurich.  Do you think they might have known about this last Thursday when they pulled the plug (peg) on the euro?

One more question or two before we finish, why does Europe even need to do this now anyway?  Hasn’t their currency already substantially weakened versus the rest of the world and grossly versus the Swiss?  Isn’t this “REALLY” what QE is all about?  Weakening your currency faster than your neighbor so you can steal his market share of exports?

In reality, Europe is playing Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun!  Their currency is already weak, yet they want it weaker.  They are already broke, yet they want to become broke(r).  Rates are already substantially negative but apparently not negative enough.  Good (if you want to call it that) quality collateral is already scarce, yet they want to take more from the banking and shadow banking systems.  Germany is already not in such a good mood as to what has already been done, yet the ECB wants to rub salt in the wound of the very core of Europe.

In my opinion, this announcement of QE is a very bad choice and very poor experiment.  QE has not worked anywhere else in the world, why will they be any different?  Before they even announced this they had already received two very important and fully negative votes.  The Swiss have abandoned them and gold has exploded higher and broken out to the upside.  Maybe they are more fearful of the market hearing Mr. Draghi say “we were just kidding”?  He has promised this bazooka for several years and jawboned the markets higher each time it looked like fullout collapse was imminent.  Now they will fire this so called bazooka, the worst possible immediate outcome would be for their markets to spasm downward in response.  Speaking of “response”, isn’t it curious the ECB “leaked” 50 billion euros yesterday?  I am here to tell you, they floated that trial balloon because they were fearful of the response.  When the market didn’t go spastic, they upped it another 10 billion for good measure!  The ECB is in a panic, otherwise no “leak” would ever have appeared.  They have lost control, they know it, it is only a matter of time before the markets realize it.

We have already experienced huge volatility which has certainly made some participants insolvent.  As I see it, this new episode lays the track towards even more volatility.  High volatility in a system that’s quite low on liquidity and quality collateral in the first place is a toxic recipe.  This will definitely not end well though it may end very abruptly when it does!

Charlie Hebdo and the “Wild West”

January 22nd, 2015 by Douglas Valentine

Innumerable Hollywood films begin with or contain scenes that can be roughly described as follows: family of settlers (whether pastorally or agriculturally engaged) are found dead, including women and children of course. Indications of “native” activity, i.e. arrows are found either in the corpses or in various places in the set. (Atrocities have been committed: women raped, men scalped, babies impaled on stakes.) Often flames or smouldering ruins appear.

Then someone with authority enters the scene to summarise the events making it clear that “Indians” have attacked and murdered an innocent settler family. This inevitably leads either to police, military and or vigilante retribution.

What is almost always omitted from these films is the fundamental fact that “settlers” were invaders in foreign territory. They were seldom unarmed, even if such weapons as they possessed were more suited for hunting and self-defence than offensive action. Their presence was deliberate and provocative. They were civilians but invaders nonetheless. However their civilian status and the naïve assumption that civilians are per se non-combatants is essential for the narrative that propels events in such films, namely the violent attacks against the indigenous population who in fact were the defenders of their own land and resources from “white” invasion.

The recent events in Paris are not unlike the Hollywood narrative above. A tiny group of “settlers”, let us call them journalists, are found dead in their urban log cabin by police officers. They were merely producing propaganda for the armed forces of their country, when a pack of “natives” (if any credence can be lent to the official story) swooped down on their homestead and killed them, omitting the flaming arrows. What is missing in the story is what these “settlers” were doing in fact.

Amidst all the hypocrisy about engaging in free speech and other slightly protected privileges derived from the West’s ostensible embrace of so-called Enlightenment values, the fact remains that both the style and content of the magazine were racist and incendiary. According to the liberal version of this story journalists and publishers if not all citizens are entitled to publish even racist speech or attacks on religion or other cultures. To attack people who are merely exercising their civil rights is not only wrong but also a criminal violation of those rights. While it is true that the support for Charlie Hebdo is hypocritical—given the statutory bars against anti-Jewish speech—this is not the most important issue raised by the deaths in the magazine’s editorial offices. (Israeli Jews as archetypal settlers, carriers of the arc wherever they go.)

The West—that is NATO and its neo-colonial allies—has been waging war against what can be roughly called the Muslim world for decades. (Of course the war against Islam predates NATO by at least a thousand years.) No later than the beginning of Brzezinski’s war against the secular Afghanistan government, under US President Jimmy Carter, did this war become part of the West’s “total war”, which after the destruction of the New York World Trade Center became the “global war on terror” (GWOT in US military parlance). This global war is quite like the endless wars described in Orwell’s 1984. Essential to that war effort were the “hate” sessions in front of the “telescreen”. At the operational level however, the deliberate use of obscenity, racism, and cynicism in barracks humour is an essential part of maintaining soldiers’ indoctrination and the requisite “hateful” attitude toward the enemy. This is particularly true in imperial wars where the objective is to control resources, land, the political and social movements, and labour of populations defined as inferior.

The political leadership of the West—its elected and appointed functionaries—have insisted since 11 September that it is engaged in a total war in which the loyalty and vigilance of the entire (Western) population is indispensible. In other words the white population of Europe and North America have been recruited into the auxiliaries. They are civilians but only nominally non-combatants in this world war. Moreover, to oppose the eternal war, to be for peace and reconciliation, is criminalized as treachery.

The Hollywood “Western” depicts the lone settler on the frontier who is attacked by Indians. This is made to appear as an invasion or act of aggression by maintaining silence as to the true invader, the settler. This ‘sin of omission’ metastisizes into the Lie in the Soul, as Plato called it. The settler can no longer appear the invader because when this film genre emerged, “Whites” could safely assume that North America belonged to them (just as Palestine belongs to the Jews, or Algeria to the French). The Indian had in fact disappeared as a threat. The real story, the propaganda at the core of “Westerns” was not directly against the Native American but against the external enemies of American capitalism in whatever form (the Other), but especially communism. The story in short was that peaceful, entrepreneurial settlers were being threatened by violent foreign invaders whose culture was violently opposed to that of the peaceful white folk on the prairie.

This is the story propagated by Charlie Hebdo and similar publications and broadcasts throughout the West. The proper perspective from which to understand the Charlie Hebdo phenomenon actually needs no reference to a possible act of vengeance. Charlie Hebdo and in fact most of what comprises “satire” or humour today is actually a part of the war propaganda effort. Anyone who has served in the armed forces knows what functions this language and caricature has in the ranks. What most commentaries miss is that since the “war on terror” is a global and total war, the civilian population (mainly white) constitutes the auxiliary to the armed troops at the asymmetrical (as the military calls it) “front”. The fact that the magazine is now openly subsidised now only underlines the fact. Insulting and denigrating the “enemy” in all its forms is an essential part of waging war in the West. Hence, assuming that the perpetrators were Muslims, the magazine was certainly a military target.

Such attacks are the essence of “selective terrorism,’ the military tactic used by those whose lands are being invaded, those who are outgunned and outlawed in their own land, those who can’t bring to bear the “state terror” of drones and nuclear subs, of aircraft carrier fleets and skewed judicial systems – of structural terror. Selective terrorism is designed for maximum publicity, to let the oppressor know the oppressed can attack its “soft targets” at will, and that collaborators will be made to pay a price

Given the dearth of living witnesses, there is every reason to doubt the official narrative. But just assuming that the events transpired as they were reported– a very big if– then this was still not a civilian casualty by Western definition. It was a military action at least as legitimate as bombing Serbian national television (see Bill Blum’s comparison this week in Anti-Empire Report).

The European colonisation of Africa and the Middle East was actually promoted by supporting the most conservative and even reactionary religious groupings/ authorities and permitting them to exercise “tribal rule”. Colonial powers resisted the liberation or modernisation trends among the colonised (Islam had its own Enlightenment quite independent of Western authority) in order to deprive the colonised of political control by subjecting them to religious authorities—e.g. French policy in Algeria. The Western colonial powers never consistently supported modernisation or “enlightenment” waves in their colonies when there was a reactionary religious force available. Where indigenous religion was deemed unreliable Christian missionaries filled the gap. The wave of reactionary Islam that surged from the end of the 70s, e.g. US funding of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, not to mention Anglo-British establishment and support for the Saudi tyranny, was consistently funded by the West as a way to defeat secular nationalism that might align with the Soviet Union or not at all.

US support for reactionary religious leaders and movements enjoys a long domestic tradition. The so-called “religious right” is big business. Corporate support for the Ku Klux Klan is neither seldom nor an extreme example of how business and religion ally. Corporate executives and reactionary religious leaders are essentially the same type of person (in the US this can be seen in the “religion business”). Secular states admit competing interests, which may quickly compete with those of corporations. Religious states (like the US itself) divide the power: corporations get the wealth and “churches” get the souls. Seen on a global scale– in proportion– the US and Saudi Arabia are made of identical stuff.

The image of the fanatical Muslim “Indians”—on the warpath—attacking a tiny, helpless intellectual family in the Parisian prairie is pure fantasy cultivated by the mass media presentation of events. It relies on the reinforced belief that, still mainly Roman Catholic, secular France is being invaded by foreign reactionary religious fanatics. Furthermore one must believe that Muslims are per se foreigners in Europe. European politicians regularly reiterate the claim that Christianity is Europe’s core culture (as if the crimes of the Christendom were something of which to be proud). The Hollywood story is given a French glacé. Yet it remains essentially the narrative of the US-led GWOT.

The deaths in the offices of Charlie Hebdo were civilian casualties but in a war where NATO and its allies have declared that the front is everywhere, these were casualties of that war inflicted on civilian combatants. The only way to end such deaths is to end the war.

Tuesday night, in his next-to-last State of the Union address, President Obama flashed the suckers a bag of tricks that has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Congress, but will allow his apologists to claim that the genuine, more progressive Obama is revealing himself in his final two years in office. Of course, the final-years Obama could have accomplished his modest 2015 agenda, and much more, back in 2009 and 2010, when Democrats dominated both the House and the Senate and the Republicans were in despair and disarray. Which is precisely why Obama chose, instead, to put his party’s perishable congressional majorities at the service of bankers, Wall Street, private insurers and Big Pharma. Now that Democrats are the endangered species on Capitol Hill, Obama hangs a piñata of subsidized community college education, additional tax deductions for child care, seven days paid sick leave, higher capital gains taxes on the wealthy, and billions in fees on casino bankers.

On closer examination, his grab bag of bills and requests for legislation contains even less than advertized – a vapor-thin rhetorical veneer for a center-right presidency whose real accomplishment has been to re-inflate the Wall Street casino, flush the last vestiges of secure employment out of the economy, and put the imperial war machine back on the offensive. Corporate pundits describe Obama’s antics as an appeal to his party’s “base.” In a world in which words actually mean something, a politician’s base would be composed of the people whose interests he actually serves, rather than those he victimizes. But, such logic does not apply in late capitalist America, where both parties cater to the needs of the moneyed classes; one, shamelessly, without inhibition, the other through deployment of talented liars like Obama.

“The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong,” said Obama, reflecting the corporate consensus that the rich can safely get on with the business of appropriating to themselves the wealth of the world. “Over the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs,” he said, failing to clarify that the vast majority of these jobs are low wage and highly insecure, or that five million workers have dropped out of the job market – half a million in December, alone. The economy inhabited by the vast majority of Americans grows smaller and more cutthroat, with nearly all the new wealth accruing to the rich. Yet, “the shadow of crisis has passed….”

Obama celebrated the “resilience” of the “strong, tight-knit” American family, exemplified by a Minneapolis couple that have both regained employment. “Our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999,” said Obama – bad jobs, in a nation of growing inequality. For Blacks, wages relative to whites have regressed to 1980 levels, and Black household wealth has collapsed so completely there is no statistical possibility of ever reaching parity with whites under the existing economic system – period.

The modern State of the Union address is designed to showcase the transparency of U.S. governance, with all three branches of the American State scrunched together in the space of a TV screen, applauding the leader. But late stage capitalism dare not reorder the world in the light of day. Since almost the beginning of the 21st century, lawyers and lobbyists for the global corporate class have been hammering out the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), sometimes called “NAFTA on steroids,” in total secrecy. Speaking to the American people, last night, President Obama feared to utter the treaty’s name. Instead, he asked “both parties to give me trade promotion authority” – ‘fast track’ passage of the legislation, unread by lawmakers – “to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.” If it were fair, of course, they wouldn’t keep it secret. By now, even the illiterate know that NAFTA and other “free trade” pacts smoothed the way for the export of U.S. jobs to the Global South and China, 20 years ago. But Obama inferred to the nation that the new deal will have the opposite effect. “More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.”

For the record, there is no reason to believe that TPP will cause jobs to flow back to the U.S. from China – quite the opposite. But then, Obama didn’t exactly say that the jobs flow would be reversed; like the worst kind of liar, he only inferred it.

What a farce the whole exercise of bourgeois democratic capitalism has become. The world is made to turn under our feet, in secret, while politicians of the two corporate parties allude to the real substance of economic restructuring only in coded language.

China, having served Obama’s speechifying purposes as the jobs-stealing boogeyman, then becomes a prop for presidential self-congratulation on the environment. “In Beijing,” he said, “we made an historic announcement. The United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions.” This is Obama, Enviro-Man. But, wait! Here comes Obama as Frack-Man, who has overseen the hyper-production of U.S. oil and gas and turned the White House into PR central for the fracking industry. “We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. And today, America is number one in oil and gas.” One million new barrels of U.S. oil per day have flooded world markets, further encouraging fossil fuel-intensive development and global warming. He is a super-fracking enviro-marvel.

Weaponized U.S. oil production threatens to destabilize Russia, Iran and Venezuela – and possibly the entire global economy, which is slumping and does not need the extra fuel. But oil warfare is clearly Obama’s purpose. Sanctions are just gravy. “We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small by opposing Russian aggression and supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies,” he said, celebrating his alliance with Ukrainian Nazis.

Obama urged Congress to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, while Havana’s neighbor and number one ally, Venezuela, is struck with the one-two punch of U.S. sanctions and the oil glut.

He asks permission from Congress to wage a wider war against the Islamic State, whose rise is the direct result of U.S. and Saudi Arabian nurturing of the international jihadist network for more than three decades. But, he is also training more fighters – inevitably, jihadists – to topple the secular government in Syria.

Thousands of U.S. troops now man the machinery of war in Iraq, where the U.S. was compelled to withdraw, five years ago.

Obama has no plans whatsoever to leave Afghanistan, where about 10,000 U.S. troops, largely Special Forces, remain on indefinite assignment. Yet, he begins his State of the Union address with the lie: “Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.”

What is over – kaput! – is the U.S.’s ability to compete in a world that is breaking the chains of Euro-American imperial bondage. Washington can muster no response, except war. Neither can it maintain living standards for the vast majority of its own people, whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the financial ruling class to whom the Democrats and Republicans answer.

As he prepares for transition, two years from now, to more lucrative position in service of the Lords of Capital, Obama harkens back to his national television debut, at the Democratic convention, in 2004. “I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn’t a liberal America, or a conservative America; a black America or a white America — but a United States of America.”

He was lying back then, just as he lied Tuesday night when he promised “to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.”

So said the man who gave the final coup de grace to due process and the rule of law with his preventive detention bill, his Tuesday assassination sessions, and his ever expanding Kill List.

The State of the Union, is lethal.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].

Israeli Strike in Syria Threatens Wider War

January 22nd, 2015 by Bill Van Auken

In the wake of last Sunday’s Israeli air strike inside Syria’s Golan Heights, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have moved armor, troops and elements of the “Iron Dome” anti-missile system up to Israel’s northern borders in anticipation of retaliatory military action. The IDF blocked the Galilee Highway south of the border with Lebanon, and Lebanon has reported increased overflights by Israeli jets from the border area up to the capital of Beirut.

Sunday’s missile strike near the village of Mazari’ al-Amal in Syria’s Quneitra Province claimed the lives of Iranian Revolutionary Guards general Mohammed Ali Allahdadi and six senior officers of the Lebanese Shia militia, Hezbollah. Among the dead were Jihad Mughniyeh, the 25-year-old son of former Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated by Israel in Damascus in 2008, as well as top officers in Hezbollah’s Raduan Force, considered its most elite unit.

Tehran has vowed to hit back at Israel in response to the air strike. The Revolutionary Guards commander, Major General Ali Jafari, declared at a funeral held for Allahdadi, “The Zionists should await destructive thunderbolts.” Thousands of Iranians accompanied the slain general’s casket in a funeral procession in Tehran, chanting “Death to Israel” and burning two Israeli flags.

While Hezbollah has not issued a specific threat of retaliation, Lebanese sources indicated that the movement would have to respond, although they said it was not likely to seek an escalation of the conflict.

Nonetheless, Lebanon’s Daily Star reported Wednesday that the tensions provoked by the Israeli air strike have “revived fears of a new Lebanese-Israeli war.” The last such war, in 2006, killed at least 1,200 Lebanese, the vast majority of them civilians, and left much of the country in ruins.

Tel Aviv has yet to officially acknowledge its attack. However, in an apparent attempt to dial down the confrontation with Iran and Hezbollah, an Israeli security official, speaking to the media on condition of anonymity, claimed that the IDF had not known the Iranian general had been traveling in the convoy that it struck inside Syria.

“We thought we were hitting an enemy field unit that was on its way to carry out an attack on us at the frontier fence,” the security official said. “We went on the alert, we spotted the vehicle, identified it as an enemy vehicle and took the shot,” he said. “We saw this as a limited tactical operation.”

This justification, which may well have been made at Washington’s demand in an attempt to defuse a confrontation that could derail upcoming nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 Western powers, is hardly credible.

While the official stated that the air strike was carried out by an Israeli helicopter, both Lebanese and United Nations peacekeeping forces reported that pilotless drones were seen heading to the scene of the attack and then returning to Israel afterward.

The attack has all the earmarks of an assassination strike. While in the past, Israel has justified bombings inside Syria on the grounds that they were attacking convoys transporting arms to Hezbollah, those hit on Sunday were clearly not engaged in such activity. Nor were they even remotely within striking distance of the Israeli border.

Some, both in Israel and in Lebanon, have linked the strike to elections scheduled for March, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking to reverse his declining popularity by provoking a new military confrontation in the region. Also possible is an Israeli provocation designed to upend the moves toward negotiated settlement on the Iranian nuclear program.

What is clearly involved, however, is the Israeli regime’s determination to bolster the Islamist “rebels” that are fighting Syrian government forces. The Iranian-Hezbollah contingent was in the Golan Heights as part of an effort by Damascus to wrest the area from the control of the al-Nusra Front, Syria’s Al Qaeda affiliate.

The Israeli daily Haaretz Wednesday acknowledged the extensive alliance between Israel—which regularly attempts to discredit Hamas and all forms of Palestinian resistance to occupation by equating them with Al Qaeda—and al-Nusra.

“Israel is suspected of providing assistance to the Nusra Front, which is on the list of terror organizations, and is also thought to be getting help in return from that group,” the Israeli daily reported.

“Specifically, according to reports on rebel websites, anti-Assad fighters in the Syrian Golan Heights provide ongoing intelligence information to Israel, and also receive help from the latter in the form of weapons and military training. One website even said that Israel is establishing the counterpart in the Syrian Golan of Israel’s old militia ally in Lebanon, the South Lebanon Army, and that the new entity relies on support from the rebels.”

The South Lebanon Army was a quisling force funded, supplied and armed by Israel, which helped it to control a “security zone” in southern Lebanon from the 1980s until 2000, when it collapsed in the face of a Hezbollah offensive and a popular uprising following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the zone.

Tel Aviv appears to be attempting to field the same kind of force inside the Syrian-controlled section of the Golan Heights, using the Al Qaeda-linked forces as its proxies. Israel seized most of the Golan Heights in its 1967 and 1973 wars and effectively annexed the occupied territory in 1981. Syria has continued to demand a full Israeli withdrawal and the return of the territory.

The Haaretz article confirms numerous reports that have documented Israel’s aid to al-Nusra, including the provision of arms and supplies and the transfer of wounded Islamist fighters to Israeli hospitals to be treated and then sent back into the fighting in Syria.

The episode has exposed once again the glaring contradictions and hypocrisy that pervade the US-led “war on terrorism” in Iraq and Syria, with Washington’s closest ally in the region, Israel, openly backing al-Nusra, the Al Qaeda-affiliated militia that has been attacked by US warplanes.

As for the government of President Bashar al-Assad, on the very day of the missile strike in Quneitra, its minister of information told Lebanon’s Al-Manar television, “What Israel has to realize is that the cost of preserving regional stability is far less than the cost of letting things get out of hand.”

In other words, the overriding aim of the bourgeois regime in Damascus is to cling to power at whatever price, including by offering itself as a guarantor of the security of Israel’s elastic borders. As its actions show, however, the Zionist regime has no interest in such stability, but is rather driven by its own internal contradictions to continuous military provocations and aggression against the peoples of both occupied Palestine and the entire region.

What’s under your kitchen sink? Charles Schumer and the government want to know, just in case you were radicalized by al-Qaeda and might be a lone wolf terrorist.

Schumer, a top ranking Democrat Senator from New York, said people can too easily make bombs from household items such as chemicals from ice packs, nails and ball bearings, in addition to black powder and fireworks.

Schumer wants legislation making it illegal to mix chemicals together that may produce an explosive.

“Because it’s so easy to obtain the rudimentary devices, people can make these things in their homes relatively easily,” Schumer said. “If they’re caught simply making explosive devices in their home, they haven’t done anything illegal.”

In short, if Schumer’s proposal becomes law, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials will arrest and charge people who have not committed a crime beyond mixing household chemicals together. A trip to a fireworks store on the Fourth of July might make an individual a person of interest for the BATF and the FBI.

“As potential terrorists are incited by al-Qaida and others to act more individually, to act as lone wolves, our legal system and law enforcement tools must keep up,” Schumer said.

Schumer cited the arrest of Christopher Lee Cornell, an Ohio man with a history of mental illness who told an FBI informant he wanted to bomb the U.S. capitol. The FBI said he planned to manufacture pipe bombs, although he had not purchased bomb components and apparently had no knowledge on how to build a pipe bomb.

Schumer’s bill will allow the government to claim suspects were planning to manufacture bombs if they had household chemicals or fireworks in their possession.

In the future, this will make FBI entrapment schemes more effective and will bolster the government claim there are al-Qaeda or ISIS sleeper cells in the United States plotting to kill Americans with ice packs and fireworks.

Boko Haram and the Return of German Imperialism to Africa

January 22nd, 2015 by Johannes Stern

The government plans to expand Germany’s military engagement in Africa. Earlier this week, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Germany would be supporting the fight against Boko Haram.

Germany is prepared to offer financial aid in the struggle against the terrorist militia, Merkel declared following a meeting with the Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama on Monday in Berlin. The West African country wants to fight Boko Haram with a regional military force. “Ghana can provide troops for this”, explained Mahama. The plans for the operation will be discussed at the next summit of the African Union.

Merkel promised financial support for the planned troop deployment, and spoke of “terrible, brutal crimes that are being conducted against the civilian population in Nigeria, but also in Cameroon.” However, there were no current plans for a direct military intervention by the European Union, Merkel said.

Since the beginning of the year, Boko Haram has brought large areas of northern Nigeria under its control and has penetrated into neighbouring Cameroon. On January 4, militia fighters took over a military base of the Multinational Task Force in Baga, in the Nigerian state of Borno.

According to media reports, the city was completely destroyed and up to 2,000 people killed. Baga was the last district in the northeast of the country still controlled by the central government and has repeatedly been the scene of bitter fighting. The Nigerian army was responsible for a massacre of the civilian population in Baga in 2013, which left more than 200 dead.

In addition to Baga, many other towns in the region are no longer under the control of the Nigerian government of President Goodluck Jonathan, including Damasak, Gubio, Kukawa, Mafa, Bama and Konduga. The area at least partially under the control of Boko Haram reportedly covers more than 50,000 square kilometres and extends from Machena on the border with Niger to Damaturu and up to Yola on the Cameroonian border.

Merkel’s support for the fight against Boko Haram sends a signal. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, Berlin is preparing to pursue Germany’s imperialist interests in Africa with increasingly military means. The Bundeswehr (Armed Forces) is already working closely with the Ghana Armed Forces and is supporting them in building a Pioneer Regiment as part of a task force of the African Union.

The German offensive in Africa has been planned long beforehand and is part of the return of Germany to an aggressive foreign policy. In mid-May last year, the cabinet approved the “government’s African policy guidelines”, which read like a strategy paper regarding the exploitation of the resource-rich continent by German imperialism in the twenty-first century.

When presenting the paper, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier declared, in the best German great power manner, that Germany must raise its gaze to Africa and “adapt its political instruments to the diversity of Africa”.

In the first section of the guidelines, under the heading “Current situation: Africa’s growing relevance to Germany and Europe”, it states:

“Africa’s potential stems from its demographic development and the fact that it is a huge market of the future with strong economic growth, rich natural resources, a great potential for increasing agricultural production and food security by its own efforts…. African markets are developing dynamically and—beyond the extractive industries—will be of growing interest to German business.”

The second section, “Our engagement in Africa”, demands “Germany’s engagement in Africa in the spheres of politics, security and development policy has to be strengthened in a targeted fashion”. The federal government “aims to act early and swiftly, in a decisive and substantive manner which is based on values and human rights.” This also includes military interventions. The government wants “to use the whole spectrum of means available to it in the fields of politics, security, development and regional policy, business, academia and culture” (emphasis in original).

The German government officially rejected the NATO bombing of Libya in 2011, but since then, under the guise of fighting terrorism, is increasingly returning to the traditional areas of influence of German imperialism in Africa. In early 2013, the German parliament agreed to support the French military intervention in Mali and to send soldiers to the country. In 2014, the mission was expanded. More German contingents are currently in Senegal, in Central Africa, in the Horn of Africa, the Western Sahara, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia.

The return of the Bundeswehr to Africa, like the confrontation with Russia last year and the intervention of Bundeswehr in the Middle East, is in keeping with the traditions of German great power politics.

When the Kaiser’s German Empire, in pursuit of a new world policy as a nation that had apparently “come too late”, for the first time sought its own “place in the sun” (according to the later Reich Chancellor von Bülow on December 6, 1897, before the German parliament), it was above all a matter of possessing colonies in Africa.

Although Germany was never able to match the leading colonial powers of France and England, the so-called German protectorates at the beginning of the First World War formed the fourth largest colonial empire on earth. This included German Southwest Africa (today’s Namibia), German West Africa (today’s Togo, the eastern part of Ghana, Cameroon, the eastern part of Nigeria, parts of Chad, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo and Gabon), German East Africa (today’s Tanzania and Rwanda) and German Witu (today’s southern Kenya).

After Germany lost its colonies following defeat in the First World War, the German elite under Hitler dreamed anew of a German colonial empire in Africa. It would serve as a “tropical extension” to a Europe dominated by Germany.

In a memorandum dated July 1940, the then director of the Deutsche Bank and director of the Nazis’ Colonial Policy Office, Kurt Weigelt, summarised the war aims of the Third Reich as follows:

“Seen economically, the countries on the Guinea coast are of the highest worth. Based on our old local possession (Togo and Cameroon), the Gold Coast-Togo-Dahomey-Nigeria-Cameroon form the ideal central element of Germany’s African possessions. With well over 30 million inhabitants, this area is not only the optimum of the tropical extension but with a few exceptions (copper), provides all the nationally important economic needs of the homeland.”

He continued:

“With the inclusion of French Congo, it is completed from a forestry products perspective, whereby it also extends to the Belgian Congo, which would also meet the need for copper. On the way to this area lie the iron ore reserves of Conakry and phosphates of French Marocco (special arrangements), as well as air and marine bases at Bathhurst and Dakar.”

As in the past, the new “scramble for Africa” threatens not only to bring terrible suffering to the African masses but also to intensify conflicts between the imperialist powers.

Early last week, an article in the political weekly Die Zeit left no doubt that the German elites are increasingly prepared to engage in confrontation with their nominal allies in order to pursue their own geo-strategic and economic interests. Under the headline “We need more Germany in Africa”, the paper asked: “Is it really enough to just contribute enough so that Paris is not annoyed? Certainly not, and there are good reasons for a stronger engagement in Africa on our own part.”

You know that “36,000″ number the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is constantly throwing around as the number of people in the U.S. who supposedly die every year from influenza? It’s completely made up, and its purpose is to sell more flu vaccines, as evidenced by actual mortality data showing that only a few hundred people at most die from influenza annually.

As highlighted by the American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN), government claims that tens or even hundreds of thousands of people are dying left and right because they aren’t getting their flu shots is total bunk. Data pulled from death certificates and the U.S. National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) reveal that very few people die from the flu, suggesting that it really isn’t much of a threat.

Compared to almost every other potential cause of death out there, the flu hardly even ranks as a threat. If you’re a woman, the data shows that you’re more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than from the flu. At most, only about 500 people die every year from the actual flu, and a study published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) suggests that even this number is far too high.

Meanwhile, heart disease and cancer together kill more than 1.1 million people annually, and the government is doing nothing to go after the causes of these deaths. Processed foods, refined sugar, crop pesticides, statin drugs and a host of other legal and subsidized poisons are just a few examples of what really threatens public health, not influenza.

“U.S. data on influenza deaths are a mess,” reads a 2005 paper published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) titled “Are U.S. flu death figures more PR than science?”

Most alleged cases of flu death are actually caused by secondary pneumonia

What the CDC isn’t telling the public with its grossly overinflated flu death statistics is that most cases of supposed flu death are actually caused by secondary pneumonia infection. The aforementioned study highlights this, questioning why the government seems to tie these two conditions together when there are numerous other causes of pneumonia.

“[W]hy are flu and pneumonia bundled together?” asks the article. “Is the relationship so strong or unique to warrant characterizing them as a single cause of death?”

ASRN responds to these questions with a resounding no, pointing out that things like stomach acid-suppressing drugs are more likely to cause pneumonia than influenza. And yet the latter is what ends up plastered across headlines every year during flu season, an obvious ploy to sell more useless and potentially life-threatening vaccines.

“People don’t necessarily die, per se, of the [flu] virus — the viraemia,” said Dr. David Rosenthal, director of Harvard University Health Services. “What they die of is a secondary pneumonia.”

CDC’s shady flu death statistics similar to alleged raw milk deaths

Obfuscating the truth to push an agenda isn’t new to the CDC, which plays the same deceptive number tricks with raw milk. Back in 2007, the CDC issued a joint report with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which claimed that raw milk was responsible for dozens of outbreaks and more than 1,000 cases of illness. But as we reported back in 2011, the figures in this report were completely fabricated.

“[I]t’s important for the sake of the public record that the CDC’s systematic campaign of half truths (that’s really what propaganda is) be challenged,” wrote David Gumpert for The Complete Patient

Sources:

http://www.asrn.org

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca

http://www.wtsp.com

http://thecompletepatient.com

The economic burden of Western sanctions has pushed Russia to the east in search of business opportunities. Judging by the outcome of President Putin’s visit to India – 20 high-profile deals struck – Moscow’s ‘pivot to Asia’ is getting a warm welcome.

Russian President Vladimir Putin achieved this during his visit to India spanning 23 hours and 15 minutes and at a summit meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that lasted barely a few hours.

By the time the two leaders finished their business in New Delhi’s Hyderabad House, 20 pacts were signed in the presence of Putin and Modi on 11 December and the two sides ended with US$100 billion commercial contracts.

Rich pickings by both sides included deals worth $40 billion in nuclear energy, $50 billion in crude oil and gas and $10 billion in a host of other sectors, including defense, fertilizers, space, and diamonds.

All these deals are long-term in nature. For example, India and Russia agreed that Russia would be constructing 12 new nuclear reactors for India and India would soon be identifying a second site to host these plants, apart from Kudankulam in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Each of the new nuclear reactors will cost $3 billion apiece, triple the amount India spent on the two Kudankulam plant units which each cost just a billion dollars. The sharp hike in the costs is because of tough nuclear liability laws that the Indian parliament enacted four years ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) speaks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at The World Diamond Conference at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on December 11, 2014. (AFP Photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) speaks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at The World Diamond Conference at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on December 11, 2014. (AFP Photo)

No foreign power has invested even a single dollar since the new Indian nuclear liability laws came into force. However with Russia wading into the vast Indian nuclear market despite its liability laws means that nations like the US, the UK, France and Canada will be in line.

Indians will have to thank the Russians for that. But then Russia too has got the advantage of being the early mover in this regard.

The $40 billion expenditure for construction of 12 new nuclear plants in India will be spaced out over two decades.

Even then this is big money, and more so for Russia at this point of time when Russia is hemmed in by the West and isolated because of sanctions enforced by the West against Russia. An Asian country like Japan, the world’s third biggest economy, too has joined the West in implementing sanctions on Russia. The Western sanctions left little room for Russia and practically forced it to divert its direction of trade and business to Asia which offers far bigger and untapped markets.

Putin’s just-ended India trip constitutes a major foreign policy success for the Russian President as he has successfully teamed up with China and India, Asia’s number one and third economies respectively. Earlier this year, Putin had signed a whopping $400 billion 30-year contract with China for Russian energy exports to China.

The stellar role played by Russia in the making of modern India post-independence was rightly emphasized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his media statement while pointing out that when President Putin and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee launched the annual Summit process in 2000, and when Vajpayee went to the second summit in Moscow in November 2001, he was there to sign the sister-state agreement between Gujarat and Astrakhan.

AFP Photo/Deshakalyan ChowdhuryAFP Photo/Deshakalyan Chowdhury 

Sample the following remarks from Modi: “The steadfast support of the people of Russia for India has been there even at difficult moments in our history. It has been a pillar of strength for India’s development, security and international relations. India, too, has always stood with Russia through its own challenges. The character of global politics and international relations is changing. However, the importance of this relationship and its unique place in India’s foreign policy will not change. In many ways, its significance to both countries will grow further in the future.”

The two sides have also decided to revive their good old defense partnership, albeit in a new avatar. Not too long ago Russia used to command an over 80 per cent share of India’s defense arsenal. Today it has fallen to just about 60 per cent. The US has already taken over as India’s number one defense supplier, nudging Russia to the second position.

The new Indo-Russian initiative involves Russia producing state-of-the-art multi-role helicopters in Indian factories to cut down on costs and time overruns. This deal, for which the two principals gave their approval on Thursday, will be worth $3 billion once formally signed.

This will be the first major defense project under Prime Minister Modi’s pet scheme ‘Make-in-India’. What sweetens the deal further for India is that India will be at liberty to export these helicopters to third countries. The Indian Prime Minister assured that his government will follow up on the helicopter project quickly.

Modi put Russia’s significance in Indian defense in perspective as follows: “Russia has been India’s foremost defense partner through the decades. My first visit outside Delhi as Prime Minister was to our new aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya. It sails our seas as a great symbol of our defense cooperation. Even as India’s options have increased today, Russia will remain our most important defense partner. We have conducted joint exercises across all three wings of the Armed Forces in the last six months. President Putin and I discussed a broad range of new defense projects. We also discussed how to align our defense relations to India’s own priorities, including ‘Make in India’.”

In conclusion, one can say that Putin’s visit to India would rank at the very top in the list of incoming Prime Ministerial and Presidential visits to India in the year 2014.

Most importantly, the just-concluded 15th India-Russia annual summit has laid out a specific decadal roadmap for bringing about a complete transformation in the Indo-Russian bilateral ties and taking them to a much higher trajectory than ever before.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

In case you need a refresher, here’s the text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Apparently, this doesn’t apply to the Mayor of Boston when it comes to silencing the speech of public employees who may not like that the Olympics may be coming to town.

The Boston Globe reports that:

If you’re a Boston city employee, there’s now an official decree: don’t badmouth the Olympics.

Documents obtained by the Globe through a public records request to City Hall show Mayor Martin J. Walsh has signed a formal agreement with the United States Olympic Committee that bans city employees from criticizing Boston’s bid for the 2024 Summer Games.

The “joinder agreement” forbids the city of Boston and its employees from making any written or oral statements that “reflect unfavorably upon, denigrate or disparage, or are detrimental to the reputation” of the International Olympic Committee, the USOC, or the Olympic Games.

So supporting the Olympics is now a matter of national security. How cute.

Unfortunately, this is only one example of local authoritarians acting to curtail the free speech of the plebs. The Daily Beast reported on a very disturbing law that easily passed in Pennsylvania. Here are some excerpts:

Last Thursday – against the somber backdrop of an unfolding global dialogue on the sanctity of free expression – I joined a small group of fellow journalists, academics, prison reform advocates and ex-offenders in a lawsuit challenging an assault on the First Amendment taking place in my home state of Pennsylvania.

Dubbed the “Revictimization Relief Act” by its sponsors – but more appropriately referred to as the “Silencing Act” by the attorneys who crafted our complaint – the law provides for the suppression of public speech by Pennsylvanians who have been convicted of a personal injury crime if that speech is deemed to cause victims or their families “a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.”

Never mind that the Supreme Court has ruled on numerous occasions that the mere incitement of emotional distress is insufficient grounds for quashing protected speech – the Silencing Act goes even further. It violates constitutional prohibitions against prior restraint by censoring speech that has yet to be uttered based solely on the criminal histories of those planning to utter it.

As if that’s not bad enough, what about the implications for journalism generally?

Given the intimate link between free speech and a free press, it doesn’t take much effort to connect the dots and see how the Silencing Act will impact the journalism profession. For reporters who cover the criminal justice system, the law amounts to a standing gag order on an entire population of potential sources.

As a lawyer for the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee explained during a hearing on the bill prior to its passage: “[T]he court would have broad power to stop a third party who is the vessel of … [offender] conduct or speech from delivering it or publishing that information.”

Those third-party vessels include not only local and state-based news outlets in Pennsylvania, but national publications like this one that print articles from writers like me that shine a light on the commonwealth’s criminal justice system.  

To avoid the law’s reach, journalists working on stories that involve sources who have been convicted of a violent crime will now face the additional burden of not only ascertaining the potential impact of that source’s testimony on their victims, but determining whether their victims are still alive and/or whether or not they have family members who might find the public testimony distressing. Added to that will be the ethical dilemma of deciding whether to notify inmates or ex-offenders who are unaware of the Silencing Act that what they are saying could be grounds for a lawsuit, or whether to contact victims for comment on a story knowing that they may take an adversarial position against publication of the final product.

In signing the Silencing Act into law, Governor Corbett (who was defeated in November and is now counting down his final days in office) has placed the state of Pennsylvania in the unenviable position of defending a law that violates the very principles its largest city played host to creating.

With all of this in the background, management at everyone’s favorite forum for sharing idiocy, Facebook, has decided that it’s contempt for users runs so deep that it must implement a tool for filtering out “fake news.” Because figuring things out for yourself with a quick google search is too much of an insurmountable task for the average Facebook user.

CNN reports that:

You’ve seen them in your feed: false reports of celebrity deaths, conspiracy theories presented as real news, promises of free iPads if you share a link, quotes attributed to the Pope that he never said.

Facebook hasn’t hired a team of dedicated fact checkers to read every article. Instead, it’s outsourcing the task to community members with a new feature that lets anyone report news in their feed as a “false news story.” The more frequently a particular news story is reported, the less it will appear in anyone’s feed on Facebook.

The new expanded menu appears when you click the arrow in the top right corner above a post. In addition to reporting “purposefully fake or deceitful news, a hoax disproved by a reputable source,” you can flag stories as spam, pornography, annoying, against your personal views, or violent.

Naturally, one person’s reputable source is another person’s hoaxer. As CNN notes…

Putting power in the hands of the people has the potential to backfire. Facebook users could band together and report true stories that they disagree with as false.

This is so obviously a stupid idea, that even the founder of fact-checking site Snopes, think it’s a bad idea.

“I prefer allowing Internet users to have access to everything available without filtering (save for material deliberately intended to be harmful, such as scam- or malware- related posts) and let them decide how they want to deal with it,” said David Mikkelson, co-founder of Snopes.com, one of the go-to sites for debunking hoax articles.

People tend to fact check their friends in the comments when they see hoaxes, Facebook said in a blog post announcing the new feature. The social network found that embarrassed users were twice as likely to go back and delete a post after friends called it out as wrong. That could be a sign that the current system takes care of hoaxes naturally.

“A good many people circulating them genuinely have doubts about their authenticity and simply want the reality check of seeing their falsehood confirmed by someone else,” said Mikkelson, “Because plenty of seemingly unbelievable news stories do turn out to be true.”

Indeed.

This morning January 22nd at 8:30 local time in Donetsk the Ukrainian army fired what appear to be 82mm shells at buses and tram near the center of the city.

The targets were located within roughly a 25 meter radius of each other. The OSCE is investigating.

The terrorist strike on the bus shown above claimed the lives of 13-15 people including children. There are reported to be over 20 other critically injured, many with blast amputations. The driver of a car next to the blast burnt to death. The blast was large enough to blowout 2nd story windows in an apartment across from it and stopped the clock at 8:30.

Donetsk Defense Minister Vladimir Kononov gave a statement that a group of terrorists launching attacks on civilians have been caught and are Ukrainian military operatives. Small teams of Ukrainian army/terrorists have been perpetrating random drive by shootings with automatics in Donetsk since the Ukrainian army reignited the hot war eleven days ago.

In another development on Slavakaya St. which is located on the outskirts of Donetsk, a local resident noticed an improvised trip mine pictured above. The DNR(Donetsk Peoples Republic) army responded by sending an explosives team to defuse it. The mine was set up on a pathway to a children’s playground.

In the town of Stahanovo today a Grad and Hurricane rocket and missile attack left three children’s kindergartens entirely destroyed this morning. Three more pre-school facilities were targeted and partially destroyed. So far casualty reports are 8 civilians dead including at least 2 children and over 20 wounded. The attacks on civilians are escalating.

Sources are reporting that the attack this morning is only the beginning of a much larger one. Ukraine’s Donbas Battalion is moving military equipment into Artemovsk flying DNR flags and wearing DNR uniforms. Artemovsk is in the control of the Ukrainian army.

The latest attacks on civilian targets in Donetsk show a blatant pattern of criminal murder that has come to define the Ukrainian Government in Kiev throughout the war. Like the other bus attack near Volonovaha where the Ukrainian army fired Grad rockets at one of their own checkpoints this attack shows the open criminality of the Poroshenko regime.

In developed countries governments that give their army units orders to murder other army units and their own civilians are criminals. Every official that could have influence and stop the crimes are held accountable. Most developed countries also adhere to laws of war that makes the purposeful targeting of civilians an international crime. Leaders of countries that order crimes of this magnitude are prosecuted either internally or in an international forum like the War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremburg. After WW2, a guilty verdict meant the responsible leaders were hung.

Why is this openly Nazi government instead rewarded?

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, U.S. Army, is head of Allied Land Command (LANDCOM) for NATO was in Kiev yesterday and awarded US Army Europe medallions for excellence to the Ukrainian army’s wounded. General Hodges shook one Ukrainian soldiers hand and stated he was “proud of his service to his country.”

 

-

At Debalsevo and the Donetsk airport where these wounded soldiers are coming from the Ukrainian army has been targeting civilians for several months. The US Army head of LANDCOM takes pride in this? As an American I have never felt this much shame for my country. Just the sight of this man who is in the position of knowing exactly who he is dealing with shames the memory of my own grandfather and uncle who fought in WW2 against ultra-nationalism.

My grandfather and uncle would not thank openly nazi governments for receiving him on “such short notice.” They were proud to be American.

Monsanto’s Herbicide Chemical Damages DNA: New Study

January 22nd, 2015 by Christina Sarich

A new peer-reviewed scientific study has found that soybean workers exposed to glyphosate suffer from DNA damage and elevated cell death. Adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T) are the components of nucleic acid that make up DNA, and biotech is making these important parts of our biology a mash-up that no sane person would ever want to experience.

Soybean workers in Brazil exposed to fungicides herbicides and insecticides (the main three chemical classifications used extensively by the biotech farming model) experienced an elevated level of cellular apoptosis, as well as remarkable DNA damage according to the Elsevier published, Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis.

The research concentrated on Glyphosate and 2,4-D, two chemicals that practically cover all of the US farming landscape. Glyphosate alone is used doubly as often as it was five years ago, with more than 185 million pounds of glyphosate-based and Round Up ready chemicals sprayed on our crops annually. Most GM crops were made, in fact, to withstand Round Up chemicals specifically. (Interestingly, the USDA won’t even test for glyphosate regularly because it’s ‘too expensive.’)

The herbicide 2,4-D has been used even longer than glyphosate – since the 1940s in fact – so there is no telling just how saturated our soil, and water is with this particular chemical. (Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam war contained 2,4-D.)

Danieli Benedetti and others found that the widespread cultivation of GM soybeans in the State of Rio Grande do Sul (RS, Brazil), especially in the city of Espumoso is particularly toxic to farm workers there.

They find:

“. . .the comet assay in peripheral leukocytes and the buccal micronucleus (MN) cytome assay (BMCyt) in exfoliated buccal cells were used to assess the effects of exposures to pesticides in soybean farm workers from Espumoso.A total of 127 individuals, 81 exposed and 46 non-exposed controls, were evaluated. Comet assay and BMCyt (micronuclei and nuclear buds) data revealed DNA damage in soybean workers.

Cell death was also observed (condensed chromatin, karyorhectic, and karyolitic cells). Inhibition of non-specific choline esterase (BchE) was not observed in the workers. The trace element contents of buccal samples were analyzed by Particle-Induced X-ray Emission (PIXE). Higher concentrations of Mg, Al, Si, P, S, and Cl were observed in cells from workers. No associations with use of personal protective equipment, gender, or mode of application of pesticides were observed.

Our findings indicate the advisability of monitoring genetic toxicity in soybean farm workers exposed to pesticides.”

It isn’t just farm workers that need to be concerned, though. Research in the German journal Ithaca stumbled upon significant concentrations of glyphosate in the urine samples of city dwellers. Many of the participants in this study showed glyphosate levels in their blood and urine that were up to 20 times the allowable levels in drinking water.

Other Studies Agree – Pesticide Chemicals Damage DNA

Multiple studies prior to the Brazilian research just conducted have shown cytotoxic and DNA-damaging effects of glyphosate exposure. In one study, Koller and his colleagues found that:

“. . . lymphocytes and cells from internal organs indicate that epithelial cells are more susceptible to the cytotoxic and DNA-damaging properties of the herbicide and its formulation. Since we found genotoxic effects after short exposure to concentrations that correspond to a 450-fold dilution of spraying used in agriculture, our findings indicate that inhalation may cause DNA damage in exposed individuals.”

As Natural Society previously reported, another study found that it only takes 57 parts per million for Round Up to completely destroy human kidney cells. We kind of need our kidneys. Agricultural levels of glyphosate are often more than 200 times this level.

You have to assume Monsanto knew that its RoundUp chemicals would damage DNA. After all, they’ve hidden toxicity results before, saying that they were a ‘commercial secret.’

Approximately 92% of all soybeans grown in the US are GMO, which means they are grown with Round Up or glyphosate-containing chemicals, and the Koller study found that even smaller concentrations (.02%) of Monsanto’s best seller sprayed on our crops causes DNA damage.

That means you can dilute Round Up more than 98% and it will still damage your cells.

In what country is a company allowed to knowingly, purposefully, scientifically kill human DNA (and thus humans) and not be charged with murder, treason, or at the bare minimum the withholding of information? Oh, that’s right – America.

Sure, biotech companies will tell you that DNA gets damaged all the time – from UV rays, oxidation, medical X-rays, even environmental toxins which biotech doesn’t create, but hen they systemically market a product(s) that kills your cells – shouldn’t they be stopped?

Damaged DNA leads to cancer, faster aging, neurological disease and the break down of our organs. There are hundreds of pathological conditions which are caused by damaged DNA, not that we can’t take proactive steps to heal our DNA, but agencies which allow these products to stay on the market are an abomination.

Even 9th graders understand the importance of DNA, and while the human genome project that sequenced more than 100,00 genes stilldidn’t explain the whole picture of our genetic make-up, DNA is an essential part of it, and shouldn’t be damaged. You can revisit the basics of DNA, here.

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Whither Cuba-US Relations?

January 22nd, 2015 by Arnold August

In Part 1, author Arnold August discussed the relationship between anarchists and communists in revolutionary Cuba as well as the development of democracy in Cuba. In December, the Obama administration made an overture toward Cuba by releasing the last of the Cuban Five and signalling a change in the relationship. Some Cuba followers are skeptical of this apparent thaw in relations.1 In the conclusion to the interview, August gives his take take.

KP: What is your take on the seeming rapprochement between the United States and Cuba?

AA: I was overjoyed to hear that the three Cuban Five who remained in U.S. prisons were released as part of a prisoner swap. On that aspect of the December 17, 2014 U.S.–Cuba agreements, I immediately wrote an article. That was the easy part. Also relatively simple was a shout of victory: at long last, the unconditional establishment of diplomatic ties and embassies was assured for the first time since the U.S. had broken off diplomatic relations with Havana in 1961. In addition, Cuba is to be removed from the U.S. arbitrary list of countries sponsoring terrorism. These decisions represent a clear victory for Cuba. The policies that President Obama is to introduce as part of the common accord consists of encouraging and widely expanding business investments, commerce, tourism and family remittances to family in Cuba. Half a million self-employed Cuban individuals are targeted as among the main beneficiaries of some of these policies. These plans and many similar ones have been requested by Cuba along with the full lifting of the blockade, which is in the hands of the Congress and not Obama. These new policies can contribute toward the improved performance of the Cuban economy and thus to the economic and social well-being of the Cuban people. In addition, the potential success of these U.S. policies from the point of view of U.S. interests may act as a lever to force Congress to allow Obama or his 2016 successor to completely lift the blockade by repealing some or all of the features that require Congressional approval.

The new Obama policies are to flourish side by side with the U.S. democracy promotion programs that remain intact; their continuation is emphasized by the fact that, in his December 17 announcement, Obama mentioned “democracy” in relationship to Cuba four times and alluded to political freedom and human rights several other times. This statement was accompanied by another document released by the White House that day that spelled out even further their plans for democracy promotion in Cuba. In both these statements quoted above, the White House notes that the “Castros and the Communist Party still govern Cuba.” Taken together, these converging yet conflicting factors create a very complex situation for Cuba.

On that December 17, the situation caused me to think of the public statement Fidel Castro made to his followers on January 8, 1959, just eight days after the triumph of the Revolution: “This is a decisive moment in our history: The tyranny has been overthrown, there is immense joy. However, there is still much to be done. Let us not fool ourselves into believing that the future will be easy; perhaps everything will be more difficult in the future” (my translation). I realize that one cannot at all compare the January 1, 1959 victory with the one on December 17, 2014; in the same manner, the tenuous situation existing in 1959 and the early 1960s characterized by open U.S.-sponsored terrorist attacks and the Playa Girón invasion cannot be correlated to the post-December 17 situation as it is evolving so far.

However, I continue to follow events and reactions from all over the world and the full political spectrum from left to right. And I am thus forced to remember the statement by Fidel that initially and spontaneously sprung to mind on December 17, 2014. That day ushered in an “immense joy” in Cuba and among many people in the world, and rightly so, as David was finally rewarded after more than five decades of persistent and heroic struggle against Goliath. It is this “immense joy” that at times can camouflage the adversities that in principle are supposed to have been alleviated but that in fact contain the seeds of even more difficult challenges. I believe that the situation points to the notion that “everything will be more difficult in the future.” Watersheds in the history of a country can be contradictory.

The U.S. has changed its tactics while the objective remains the same: to bring Cuba into the realm of the U.S.-defined and acceptable states characterized by being capitalist and thus ipso facto devoid of its sovereignty. The soul of the danger lies in illusions about Obama and the U.S. two-party system as a vehicle for changes in the long-term objective or strategy toward Cuba as part of the overall goal of U.S. foreign policy. Kim, you have written extensively on the trap of the lesser of two evils (the Democrats and the Republicans), such as in the 2007 policies on Iraq and on Obama in 2012. You and many of theDissident Voice readers are thus aware of this problem. I deal with it extensively in my Obama case study. I bring the “lesser evilism,” as you describe it, it to its logical conclusion by taking a page out of Black Agenda Report (California). Obama is not only the lesser of two evils, but the mosteffective of two evils in applying the needs of the ruling circles (Cuba, 25–44).

Since December 17, I have communicated by telephone and email with some of my social science colleagues in Cuba to receive input from them as professionals well as from the grassroots, of which they are part. One of the most frequent reactions has consisted in proclaiming (somewhat warily) that “we have to keep our eyes open.” This reflection is put forward in the sense that there is more than meets the eye in the U.S.’s vastly increased resumption of diplomatic and commercial penetration. One person referred to my analysis of Obama in my book, for the first time admitting to fully appreciating my point on the inner workings of democracy in the U.S., when she said that Obama is indeed the most dangerous of the alternatives.

These compliments aside, I would be amiss if I were not to share with readers a transparent examination of the following. Here I am talking about Obama not only not being the lesser of two evils, but the most effective of two evils, while he has just brokered a historic change with Raúl Castro in the latter’s favour and for the best interests of Cuba. Was I wrong on this issue of the two evils? This is what I wrote in late fall of 2012, when I was putting the finishing touches on my book that was released in January 2013:

Obama’s differences with past U.S. policies did not consist of opening up any meaningful change toward normalization of relations. His role, based on the illusions created regarding the two-party system, was to change the tactics because they had “failed to reach the same goal of regime change.” (Cuba, 36)

At the time of writing in the fall of 2012, there was no indication that some steps toward normalization were in the works. The different factors started to converge only in 2013 to contribute toward normalization in U.S.-Cuba relations. So, in a technical sense, I was wrong, as there are very meaningful steps now taking place toward normalization. Did the U.S. change itsobjectives to one that fully recognizes Cuban self-determination? Did Obama adopt the change by openly acknowledging the Cuban government as defined by its own legitimate constitutional order as sanctified by the 1976 referendum that institutionalized the socio-cultural political system in Cuba? Did the U.S. carry out an explicit and abrupt halt in its democracy promotion programs?

The answer is no to all three questions. If the U.S. did this, then my error would have been fatal in the sense that doubt would be cast on this Chapter 2 of my book on democracy in the U.S. I would, of course, gleefully welcome such a change of orientation in the U.S. objective, but this is not what is unfolding. As long as Cuba develops as a socialist country with its own political system, there will be no explicit recognition of Cuba’s constitutional order. U.S. imperialism remains U.S. imperialism. It does not soften on the long-term objective of world domination. On the contrary, the statements from the Obama administration indicate clearly that there is a change intactics, as the old tactics, promoted by the Republicans and by the Democrats before him, did not work. Thus, normalization of relations is relative. Compared to the situation existing before December 17, 2014, the current context is a qualitatively different one in favour of Cuba. However, as the U.S. strives to use the democracy promotion lever, the quality of the normalization of relations remains in jeopardy. This is where the situation will be “more difficult in the future.”

I cannot stress enough that the change is in tactics, not goals. At the same time, Raúl Castro and the Cuban government are absolutely right in striving to take advantage of this change in tactics, as they brilliantly did through the December 17 events. Here is what I wrote in my book about the U.S. wealthy few:

The elites clearly saw (better than the Cuban-American Republicans themselves) the need to renovate a series of tactics. The ruling circles believed that they would be more efficient in reaching the goals (in this case) regarding Cuba. The 2008 McCain–Palin Republican team and their Republican supporters from Miami did not obtain the elites’ approval. They desperately needed new tactics and a new image to fix the Cuba policy, which was “not working.” Herein resides the danger of being in any way blinded by U.S.-centric, preconceived notions that the U.S. two-party system can bring about change to improve relations with Cuba. At the same time, the Cuban government, for its part, is correct in attempting to introduce the possibilities of better relations with the U.S., a goal that the majority of the people in the U.S. desire. These contingencies, even if very remote, appear to a certain extent when these tactics change. For example, when Obama alters tactics, there may seem to be an opening in the eyes of U.S. public opinion, which Obama must take into account. (Cuba, 38)

This is what Raúl Castro and the government did when they saw some differences between the old tactics and the new ones. It would have been foolhardy not to take advantage of the situation. In fact, the Cubans were the ones who had been proposing these changes all along. Relations are improving to the extent that the measures taken by both sides involve tactics and not long-range principles or strategy. The U.S. still wants to usher in change in Cuba that involves a different type of regime, but by doing it softly and smoothly, whereas before the use of force and chaos was never ruled out. For its part, Cuba has not given in one iota to its right to self-determination and sovereignty. This was reiterated by Raúl Castro on December 17 and again on December 20, when he added that there is no possibility at all that the main means of production will ever be privatized, thus remaining in the hands of the state.

Thus, both sides are encamped on their respective principles and long-term strategies. The complicated and more difficult future will be faced mainly by Cuba. Almost all the inroads go one way, from the U.S. into Cuba.

The first difficulty to be faced is the cultural intrusion by the expected large quantity of American visitors through the wide-ranging types of visits now allowed thanks to the Obama executive orders. I have always noticed in Cuba that there is a weak spot among not insignificant sections of the youth, intellectuals and artists in favour of U.S. culture and virtually all things “American.” This fatal attraction is bound to be amplified as the visitors carry out the Obama program of increased number of visitors whom he hopes will be the best ambassadors for the American way of life, as they, according to the U.S. president, “represent America’s values.” Here we are not talking merely about tactics but rather about how a change in tactics is geared to bring about the objective of doing away with revolutionary Cuba as we know it today.

It is all about objectives and principles. The political basis of this cultural blindness in Cuba is the festering illusion that the U.S. two-party system ushered in a new era with Obama. In conversation with my Cuban colleagues, one jokingly asked (perhaps with some justified apprehension) whether the streets of Havana will be the scenes of people carrying placards of Obama. Argentinian political scientist Atilio Boron echoed this foreboding note when he declared, in reference to the U.S. change in tactics, that Latin America does not need another “Obamamania.” He concludes his outstanding article (which to date has been published only in Spanish) by saying that we cannot – as Che Guevara had declared – trust imperialism “one single iota, not at all!” And this is the path Raúl Castro is following; while being flexible on tactics, he and his government and the vast majority of people are not conceding one single iota to the U.S. on questions of principle. Based on my experience in Cuba, this orientation is being pursued by the vast majority of the Cuban people, who are politically conscious and cultivated. They will not fall for the American way of life and thus respond positively to the plans of the U.S. to turn back the clock on Cuban history. Notice that I say the “vast majority”; does this mean that a small minority has a penchant for the American way of life, including capitalism? Yes, and this is bound to increase under the new conditions and thus act as fertile ground among some youth, intellectuals and artists for the realization of the U.S. objective. This is a danger that can be thwarted only by the political action of the majority.

The second difficulty that I foresee is based on the Obama administration’s tactic to single out the 500,000 people involved in the burgeoning private business sector as an excellent target of capital through the U.S. government and businesses as well as Cuban-American families. The concern about growing inequality, indicated in one of your previous questions on that theme and in my corresponding response, has the potential to worsen with the 500,000 individuals (and growing) having an edge over others in the society.

What would putting the brakes on this potential for even further inequality depend on? I would say that this is where the need for enhanced participatory democracy comes in, as outlined in my answers to your earlier questions. These private businesses and small farmers are a source of new wealth being produced; however, the goal of the Cuban socialist system requires that part of this wealth be distributed and reinvested in basic services such as health, education and increased salaries for the state sector. This is so in order to continue being as faithful as possible to the Cuban ideal of equality. Simply put, the new wealth has to be spread around, mainly through taxes. Is this being carried out? According to Raúl Castro, this was already a challenge even before December 17, 2014, as he indicated in a speech on December 20, 2014:

… a series of steps have been taken to improve tax control against indiscipline and tax evasion by both juridical and natural persons.

In this regard, we should not only penalize those who fail to comply with their duties, since impunity would be an encouragement to the infringement of the legal norms in force. We have also considered it to be necessary to promote among all institutions, enterprises, cooperatives and self-employed workers a culture of civic behavior towards taxation as well as the view that taxes are the main formula to re-distribute national income in the interest of all citizens.

In the new situation of U.S.–Cuba relations, I would like to close with a note on an issue that has emerged in some sectors of the left in the U.S. and elsewhere. Assata Shakur describes herself as “a 20th-century escaped slave. Because of government [U.S.] persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the U.S. government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.” Her cause has won wide support. The U.S. wants to get her back from Cuba. What does Cuba say? The young Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, head of the Cuban foreign ministry’s United States desk, stated:

Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted…. We’ve explained to the U.S. government in the past that there are some people living in Cuba to whom Cuba has legitimately granted political asylum…. We’ve reminded the U.S. government that in its country they’ve given shelter to dozens and dozens of Cuban citizens, some of them accused of horrible crimes, some accused of terrorism, murder and kidnapping, and in every case the US government has decided to welcome them.

If Cuba were capitulating to the U.S. as a result of the December 17 agreements, as some on the left would suggest, Cuba would not have taken this stand on Assata Shakur. David still stands up to Goliath, as Cuba has done since 1959. The statement by Josefina Vidal also serves to support my response to your very first question on Castrocentrism. Josefina Vidal, whom I have known since 1999 as a stalwart defender of Cuba’s sovereignty and independence, is one of the 115 or so members of the Communist Party of Cuba’s Central Committee. Cuba is far from being a one-man show; there has been a tradition of collective leadership in Cuba since the inception of the current struggle in the late 1950s and which has been further developed by Raúl Castro. The words of Josefina Vidal with regard to the Assata Shakur issue are proof of this collective leadership and the capacity of many individuals to think and act on their own to defend their country and its system in this new post-December 17 situation.

*****
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 the U.S., Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Arnold can be followed on Twitter @Arnold_August.

Notes

  1. See, e.g., author Ron Ridenour’s “US-Cuba Policy Change: Score 11-1, US Wins,” Dissident Voice, 20 December 2014. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at:[email protected]Read other articles by Kim.

“The 50 million people that the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition claims to be lifting out of poverty will only be allowed to escape poverty and hunger if they abandon their traditional rights and practices and buy their life saving seeds every year from the corporations lined up behind the G8.” – Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement, member of AFSA, September 2014

A battle is raging for control of resources in Africa – land, water, seeds, minerals, ores, forests, oil, renewable energy sources. Agriculture is one of the most important theatres of this battle. Governments, corporations, foundations and development agencies are pushing hard to commercialise and industrialise African farming.

Many of the key players are well known.1 They are committed to helping agribusiness become the continent’s primary food commodity producer. To do this, they are not only pouring money into projects to transform farming operations on the ground − they are also changing African laws to accommodate the agribusiness agenda.

Privatising both land and seeds is essential for the corporate model to flourish in Africa. With regard to agricultural land, this means pushing for the official demarcation, registration and titling of farms. It also means making it possible for foreign investors to lease or own farmland on a long-term basis. With regard to seeds, it means having governments require that seeds be registered in an official catalogue in order to be traded. It also means introducing intellectual property rights over plant varieties and criminalising farmers who ignore them. In all cases, the goal is to turn what has long been a commons into something that corporates can control and profit from.

This survey aims to provide an overview of just who is pushing for which specific changes in these areas – looking not at the plans and projects, but at the actual texts that will define the new rules. It was not easy to get information about this. Many phone calls to the World Bank and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) offices went unanswered. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) brushed us off. Even African Union officials did not want to answer questions from – and be accountable to – African citizens doing this inventory. This made the task of coming up with an accurate, detailed picture of what is going on quite difficult. We did learn a few things, though:

• While there is a lot of civil society attention focused on the G8′s New Alliance for Food and Nutrition, there are many more actors doing many similar things across Africa. Our limited review makes it clear that the greatest pressure to change land and seed laws comes from Washington DC – home to the World Bank, USAID and the MCC.

• Land certificates – which should be seen as a stepping stone to formal land titles – are being promoted as an appropriate way to “securitise” poor peoples’ rights to land. But how do we define the term “land securitisation”? As the objective claimed by most of the initiatives dealt with in this report, it could be understood as strengthening land rights. Many small food producers might conclude that their historic cultural rights to land – however they may be expressed – will be better recognised, thus protecting them from expropriation. But for many governments and corporations, it means the creation of Western-type land markets based on formal instruments like titles and leases that can be traded. In fact, many initiatives such as the G8 New Alliance explicitly refer to securitisation of “investors’” rights to land. These are not historic or cultural rights at all: these are market mechanisms. So in a world of grossly unequal players, “security” is shorthand for market, private property and the power of the highest bidder.

• Most of today’s initiatives to address land laws, including those emanating from Africa, are overtly designed to accommodate, support and strengthen investments in land and large scale land deals, rather than achieve equity or to recognise longstanding or historical community rights over land at a time of rising conflicts over land and land resources.

• Most of the initiatives to change current land laws come from outside Africa. Yes, African structures like the African Union and the Pan-African Parliament are deeply engaged in facilitating changes to legislation in African states, but many people question how “indigenous” these processes really are. It is clear that strings are being pulled, by Washington and Europe in particular, to alter land governance in Africa.

• When it comes to seed laws, the picture is reversed. Subregional African bodies – SADC, COMESA, OAPI and the like – are working to create new rules for the exchange and trade of seeds. But the recipes they are applying – seed marketing restrictions and plant variety protection schemes – are borrowed directly from the US and Europe.

• The changes to seed policy being promoted by the G8 New Alliance, the World Bank and others refer to neither farmer-based seed systems nor farmers’ rights. They make no effort to strengthen farming systems that are already functioning. Rather, the proposed solutions are simplified, but unworkable solutions to complex situations that will not work – though an elite category of farmers may enjoy some small short term benefits.

• Interconnectedness between different initiatives is significant, although these relationships are not always clear for groups on the ground. Our attempt to show these connections gives a picture of how very narrow agendas are being pushed by a small elite in the service of globalised corporate interests intent on taking over agriculture in Africa.

• With seeds, which represent a rich cultural heritage of Africa’s local communities, the push to transform them into income-generating private property, and marginalise traditional varieties, is still making more headway on paper than in practice. This is due to many complexities, one of which is the growing awareness of and popular resistance to the seed industry agenda. But the resolve of those who intend to turn Africa into a new market for global agroinput suppliers is not to be underestimated. The path chosen will have profound implications for the capacity of African farmers to adapt to climate change.

This report was drawn up jointly by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and GRAIN. AFSA is a pan-African platform comprising networks and farmer organisations championing small African family farming based on agro-ecological and indigenous approaches that sustain food sovereignty and the livelihoods of communities. GRAIN is a small international organisation that aims to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.

The report was researched and initially drafted by Mohamed Coulibaly, an independent legal expert in Mali, with support from AFSA members and GRAIN staff. It is meant to serve as a resource for groups and organisations wanting to become more involved in struggles for land and seed justice across Africa or for those who just want to learn more about who is pushing what kind of changes in these areas right now.

Initiatives targeting both land and seed laws

G8 New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition2

• Initiated by the G8 countries: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and US

• Timeframe: 2012-2022

• Implemented in 10 African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania

The G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched in 2012 by the eight most industrialised countries to mobilise private capital for investment in African agriculture. To be accepted into the programme, African governments are required to make important changes to their land and seed policies. The New Alliance prioritises granting national and transnational corporations (TNCs) new forms of access and control to the participating countries’ resources, and gives them a seat at the same table as aid donors and recipient governments.3

As of July 2014, ten African countries had signed Cooperative Framework Agreements (CFAs) to implement the New Alliance programme. Under these agreements, these governments committed to 213 policy changes. Some 43 of these changes target land laws, with the overall stated objective of establishing “clear, secure and negotiable rights to land” − tradeable property titles.4

The New Alliance also aims to implement both the Voluntary Guidelines (VGs) on Responsible Land Tenure adopted by the Committee on World Food Security in 2012, and the Principles for Responsible Agriculture Investment drawn up by the World Bank, FAO, IFAD and UN Conference on Trade and Development.5 This is considered especially important since the New Alliance directly facilitates access to farmland in Africa for investors. To achieve this, the New Alliance Leadership Council, a self-appointed body composed of public and private sector representatives, in September 2014 decided to come up with a single set of guidelines to ensure that the land investments made through the Alliance are “responsible” and not land grabs.6

Proposed changes to seed policy are over-simplified, unworkable solutions that will ultimately fail – though an elite group of farmers may enjoy some small short term benefits.Proposed changes to seed policy are over-simplified, unworkable solutions that will ultimately fail – though an elite group of farmers may enjoy some small short term benefits.

As to seeds, all of the participating states, with the exception of Benin, agreed to adopt plant variety protection laws and rules for marketing seeds that better support the private sector. Despite the fact that more than 80% of all seed in Africa is still produced and disseminated through ‘informal’ seed systems (on-farm seed saving and unregulated distribution between farmers), there is no recognition in the New Alliance programme of the importance of farmer-based systems of saving, sharing, exchanging and selling seeds.

African governments are being co-opted into reviewing their seed trade laws and supporting the implementation of Plant Variety Protection (PVP) laws. The strategy is to first harmonise seed trade laws such as border control measures, phytosanitary control, variety release systems and certification standards at the regional level, and then move on to harmonising PVP laws. The effect is to create larger unified seed markets, in which the types of seeds on offer are restricted to commercially protected varieties. The age old rights of farmers to replant saved seed is curtailed and the marketing of traditional varieties of seed is strictly prohibited.

Concerns have been raised about how this agenda privatises seeds and the potential impacts this could have on small-scale farmers. Farmers will lose control of seeds regulated by a commercial system. There are also serious concerns about the loss of biodiversity resulting from a focus on commercial varieties.

Annex 1 details specific plans and actual changes accomplished in each country so far Land legislation and new regulations are being drafted or adopted in most participating countries, with a view to generalising land certificates and eventually land titles. In the seed sector, policy reforms are under way to create a larger role for the private sector as the state pulls out. Finally, farmland is being allocated to foreign and domestic corporations under the banner of both the World Bank and the FAO guidelines on responsible land investing.

The World Bank

The World Bank is a significant player in catalysing the growth and expansion of agribusiness in Africa. It does this by financing policy changes and projects on the ground. In both cases, the Bank targets land and seed laws as key tools for advancing and protecting the interests of the corporate sector.

The Bank’s work on policy aims at increasing agricultural production and productivity through programmes called “Agriculture Development Policy Operations” (AgDPOs).

Understanding AgDPOs

Understanding AgDPOs requires an understanding of Development Policy Operations (DPOs) often used by multilateral development banks in their assistance to countries. A DPO is aimed at helping a country achieve “sustainable poverty reduction” through a programme of policy and institutional actions, such as strengthening public financial management, improving the investment climate, diversifying the economy, etc. This is supposed to represent a shift away from the short-term macroeconomic stabilisation and trade liberalisation reforms of the 1980s and 1990s towards more medium-term institutional reforms.7

The Bank’s use of DPOs in a country is determined in the context of the Country Assistance Strategy, a document prepared by the Bank together with a member country, which describes the Bank’s intervention and the sectors in which it intervenes. The Bank makes funds available when the government being assisted meets three conditions: (1) maintenance of an adequate macroeconomic policy framework, as determined by the Bank with inputs from International Monetary Fund assessments; (2) satisfactory implementation of the overall reform programme for which assistance is needed; and (3) completion of a set of agreed policy and institutional actions.

DPOs work as a series of actions organised around prior actions, triggers and benchmarks. “Prior actions” are are a set of mutually agreed policy and institutional actions that are deemed critical to achieving the objectives of the programme supported by a DPO.They form a legal condition for disbursement which a country agrees to undertake before the Bank approves the loan. Triggers are planned actions in the second or subsequent years of the programme. Benchmarks are the progress markers of the programme, which describe the content and results of the government’s programme in areas monitored by the Bank.

In Africa, AgDPOs support the National Investment Plans through which countries are implementing the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP, adopted in Maputo in 2003). As of July 2014, three countries have been granted World Bank assistance though AgDPOs: Ghana, Mozambique and Nigeria.

Besides financing AgDPOs, the World Bank directly supports agriculture development projects. Some major World Bank projects with land tenure components are presented in Annex 2, with a focus on the legal arrangements developed to make land available for corporate investors. These projects are much more visible than the AgDPOs and their names are well known in each country: PDIDAS in Senegal, GCAP in Ghana, Bagrépole in Burkina. These programmes make large amounts of funding available to enable foreign investors to get large scale access to African farmland – similar to the G8 New Alliance projects but without the political baggage of intergovernmental relationships.

Initiatives targeting land laws

Planting rice in Mali: the common trend, across numerous initiatives to change land laws, is towards titles that will allow communities and small landholders to sell or lease land to investors. (Photo: Devan Wardell/Abt Associates)Planting rice in Mali: the common trend, across numerous initiatives to change land laws, is towards titles that will allow communities and small landholders to sell or lease land to investors. (Photo: Devan Wardell/Abt Associates) 

African Union Land Policy Initiative8

• Proponents: African Union, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, African Development Bank• Funding: EU, IFAD, UN Habitat, World Bank, France and Switzerland• Timeframe: 2006-

The African Union (AU), together with the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), has been spearheading a Land Policy Initiative (LPI) since 2006. Mainly a response to land grabbing on the continent, the LPI is meant to strengthen and change national policies and laws on land. It is funded by the EU, IFAD, UN Habitat, World Bank, France and Switzerland. LPI is expected to become an African Centre on Land Policies after 2016.

The LPI is designed to implement the African Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges, adopted by the AU Summit of Heads of State in July 2009.9 This summit also endorsed the Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa (F&G) previously adopted by African ministers responsible for agriculture and land in March 2009.10 The Declaration presents African states with a framework to address land issues in a regional context, while the Framework outlines and promotes specific processes to develop and implement land policies at the national level. Neither of these documents go so far as to prescribe what kind of land rights should be promoted (collective vs individual, customary vs formal, etc).

One important undertaking of the LPI is the development of a set of Guiding Principles on Large-Scale Land-Based Investments (LSLBI) meant to ensure that land acquisitions in Africa “promote inclusive and sustainable development”. The Guiding Principles were adopted by the Council of agriculture ministers in June 2014, and are awaiting endorsement by the AU Summit of Heads of States and government.

The Guiding Principles have several objectives, including guiding decision making on land deals (recognising that large scale land acquisitions may not be the most appropriate form of investment); providing a basis for a monitoring and evaluation framework to track land deals in Africa; and providing a basis for reviewing existing large scale land contracts.11

The Guiding Principles draw lessons from global instruments and initiatives to regulate land deals including the Voluntary Guidelines and the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investments in the Context of Food Security and Nutrition. They also take into account relevant human rights instruments.12

But because the Guiding Principles are not a binding instrument and lack an enforcement mechanism, it is far from certain that they will prove any more effective than other voluntary frameworks on land. They are, however, widely accepted and supported on the continent as the first “African response” to the issue of land grabbing.

ECOWAS (West Africa Land Policies Harmonisation Framework)13

• Proponent: Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

In 2010, ECOWAS, in collaboration with the LPI Secretariat, prepared a single regional framework to harmonise land policies in West Africa. The framework will implement the 2009 AU Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges, taking into account other on-going initiatives in the region, particularly the WAEMU rural land observatory, the FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines, and the LPI Principles on LSLBI. It also endorses the Inter State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) land charter, a proposed policy framework to establish common principles on land governance in the Sahel and West Africa, expected to be adopted in 2015.14

The main goal of this bid to harmonise land policies is to get a Regional Directive on Rural Lands adopted. This directive will be a legally binding instrument for ECOWAS member states, allowing some flexibility in implementation. The directive will cover land policy development, land conflict management, transboundary issues and how to promote land investments including large scale land deals. According to an ECOWAS report to the 2014 World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, a draft of the Directive has already been circulated among Member States for comments.

European Union15

• New (2014) programme to strengthen land governance in Africa

▪ Ten target countries: Angola, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan and Swaziland

▪ Budget: €33 million

▪ Will apply to 14 ECOWAS member states: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

In April 2014, the EU launched a new programme to improve land governance in Sub-Saharan Africa. It aims to apply principles stemming from the FAO Voluntary Guidelines at the country level. Ten countries are covered by this initiative: Angola, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan and Swaziland. Three of them (Ethiopia, Niger and South Sudan) are also part of the G8 land partnerships described further below.

The programme will be implemented at the national level in partnership with FAO. According to the press release announcing its launch, the programme will:

▪ develop new land registration tools and digital land registry techniques such as satellite images

▪ support local organisations and civil society groups in making farmers “aware” of their land rights

▪ formalise land rights in order to make land use “legitimate”, specifically through the provision of property deeds and relevant documentation to recognise land rights in selected countries

As part of the initiative, FAO will carry out an in-depth assessment of land rights in Somalia, and set up strategies on land management. It will also review the national strategies, policies and legislation required to strengthen of institutions in Kenya.

Parliamentary Assembly of La Francophonie (Assemblée Parlementaire Francophone or APF)

The Parliamentary Assembly of La Francophonie, an association of Parliaments from French-speaking countries, has been working to promote a new construct called the “simplified secure title” (titre simplifié sécurisé, or TSS) to resolve the problem of unclear rights to land for farming or housing in Africa. The TSS is an official land title, but in a simplified form, somewhat like a land certificate. It is the brainchild of Cameroonian notary Abdoulaye Harissou, a member of the International Union of Notaries. Harissou argues that African states must abandon the principle of state ownership of land, and decentralise land administration and management to municipalities. His idea is to have TSS co-exist with the formal land titling system.

TSS would have a clause which precludes sale of land to people from outside of the municipality where the land is located. This means, for example, that farmers would not be able to sell land to outside investors, except (maybe) with government intervention. This clause sets the TSS apart from alternatives currently being pushed by donors: he current trend is towards land titling for local communities and small landholders precisely to allow them sell or lease land to investors. Will the inalienability clause survive this trend if states do adopt the TSS? That is a big question.

The TSS was endorsed by the APF at its 32nd session in July 2013 in Abidjan. The Union is backing a proposal from its African section to establish a commission in charge of drafting a framework law on TSS.16 This commission, once established, will present a draft framework law within 18 months.17 The Parliamentary Assembly of La Francophonie will then design a plan to get this law adopted by two Regional Economic Communities – the Central African Economic Community and the West African Economic and Monetary Union – with the ultimate goal of getting national legislatures in all Francophone countries to do the same. The next step would be to submit the TSS framework law to the African Union for adoption across the continent.

G8 Land Transparency Initiative18

▪ Timeframe: 2013-

▪ Implementing “land partnerships” in 7 African countries: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan and Tanzania.

▪ Global Donor Platform for Rural Development serving as information gateway

The Land Transparency Initiative was launched in June 2013 by the G8 to support greater transparency in land transactions, responsible governance of land tenure and to build capacity on these issues in developing countries. It is being implemented through “partnerships” between G8 members and African countries together with corporations, farmers and civil society. The partnership documents state that they will also implement the FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines at the national level. No details are available on how this is taking place.

Information about, and accountability for, the land partnerships is handled by the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development (Donor Platform), a network of 37 financing institutions, intergovernmental organisations and development agencies created in 2003.19The Donor Platform has three activities on land: managing a database of more than 400 land projects funded by its members, operating a Global Donor Working Group on Land and serving as communication hub for the G8 LTI.20

There is significant overlap between the G8 LTI and the Donor Platform. Six of the eight G8 members are part of the Donor Platform: France (AFD), Italy (Cooperazione Italiana), Canada (Foreign Affairs), Germany (Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development), the UK (DFID) and the US (USAID). The people or agencies representing three of those countries within the Platform are the same ones that lead their countries’ G8 land partnerships. But the Donor Platform is not responsible for the LTI: its secretariat just provides information about it on the G8′s request.

But there is a clear relationship between the G8 land partnerships and the G8 New Alliance framework agreements when it comes to their implementation in African countries that are part of both initiatives. This relationship is most apparent when the G8 country is the same lead country for both programmes. In Ethiopia, for example, the land partnership is framed as a “continuation” of the commitments made under the G8 New Alliance. The partnership may also have links with other activities of the donor state in the African partner. In Burkina Faso, for example, the partnership with the US builds on the MCC’s support to implementation of the country’s Rural Land Act.

No further details could be obtained from the platform secretariat or individuals in charge of coordinating specific partnerships, much less the budget.

The G8 land partnerships21

Burkina Faso-US22

The BF partnership aims at supporting the implementation of Burkina’s 2009 Rural Land Law. It builds on the MCC programme in the country and is led by MCA Burkina for the Burkinabé government, and by MCC and USAID for the US government. The Partnership will also promote adherence to principles outlined in the VGs.

Suzanne Ouedraogo, a farmer from Burkina Faso: her government is being urged to transform and absorb customary land and agriculture systems into Western-style markets. Who will benefit? (Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam)

Suzanne Ouedraogo, a farmer from Burkina Faso: her government is being urged to transform and absorb customary land and agriculture systems into Western-style markets. Who will benefit? (Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam)

The priorities for 2014 are: completion of the Land Governance Assessment Framework for Burkina Faso, a World Bank project; design and launch of a national land observatory; finalisation of a pilot project to track and enhance transparency of land transactions; provision of resources to ensure that gender equity is incorporated into all efforts; and a multi-stakeholder dialogue. The expected outcomes are: reduced land conflicts, increased recognition of land rights, expanded access to land rights by women, and improved transparency and efficiency in land transactions.Ethiopia-UK, US, Germany

The Ethiopia partnership was agreed to in December 2013. It is supposed to serve as a continuation of the commitments made under the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. No further information is available.

Niger-EU

The land partnership between the EU and the government of Niger will focus on a review of land policy under Niger’s Rural Code and harmonisation with the FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines and the African Framework on Land Policy.

Nigeria-UK

The Nigeria partnership aims to increase, by mid-2015, the transparency and reliability of land titling in Nigeria, and to stimulate investment in agriculture. The UK government is providing an international expert in land titling and land tenure assessments, as well as expertise from FAO. Other resources such as geographic information system equipment and satellite imagery have also been provided to do initial titling work in 2014.

Senegal-France

The Senegal partnership focuses on helping Senegal “get the best out of commercial land deals”. Specifically, in 2014-2015, the initiative will support the National Commission on Land Reform (established in March 2013), the creation of a Land Observatory, training on land conflict prevention and resolution, and public awareness-raising about the Voluntary Guidelines as international standards.

South Sudan-European Union

The South Sudan partnership will establish a land governance system through implementation of the 2013 USAID-assisted Land Policy, which is supposedly in line with the Voluntary Guidelines and the African Framework on Land Policy. The EU will support the drafting and adoption of a Land Act and necessary regulations for its implementation, as well as the creation of a digital land registry within the Ministry of Land. An action plan on administration, regulation and allocation of land for agricultural investment will also be developed.

Tanzania-UK

The land partnership aims to strengthen land governance in Tanzania, stimulate investment in productive sectors and strengthen land rights for all Tanzanians. These objectives are set to be achieved by mid-2015. Besides the UK, the Tanzania partnership involves kthe World Bank, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the EU, the US, representatives of transnational business (i.e. BP, BG Group), and civil society (i.e. Oxfam, Concern). The partnership will be implemented through a Land Tenure Unit in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development.

Concrete actions towards implementation of the Tanzania partnership include: piloting of systematic regularisation of land tenure nationwide; design and operationalisation of open data systems for all land investments above 50 hectares; development and funding of 5-year national investment plan in land titling.

US Millennium Challenge Corporation

▪ Proponent: US government
▪ Format: 5-year programmes to fight poverty in countries that qualify for funding

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is a US aid agency that was created by the US Congress in 2004 with a mandate to promote free market reforms in the world’s poorest countries. The MCC’s works towards this goal by providing least developed countries with grants (or at least the prospect of grants) for large projects that they and the MCC identify in exchange for the adoption of free market reforms. The projects are implemented and overseen by agencies known as Millennium Challenge Accounts (MCA).

The MCC first evaluates whether a country is eligible for assistance based on a set of its own criteria. If deemed eligible, the MCC and the government negotiate a generous 5-year programme known as a Compact. If a country is deemed ineligible, the government has to implement a number of reforms identified by the MCC to be considered for funding. Countries that come close to meeting MCC criteria and commit to improving their performance may be awarded smaller grants known as threshold programmes..

Land in both urban and rural areas is a major target of the MCC programmes. To date, it has invested almost US$260 million in property rights and land policy reforms through 13 of its 25 Compacts.23

The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s land policy programmes are often closely connected to major infrastructure development projects – also financed by the MCC – designed to support agricultural commodity markets, such as dams, roads, irrigation and ports.

The MCC’s various land reform efforts in Africa have consistently sought to formalise customary or informal land systems; map out and divide lands with the use of new cadastral and mapping technologies; allocate individual titles to lands; simplify and facilitate land transfers; and promote and facilitate agribusiness investment.

The approach is not to completely sidestep customary forms of land management or local participation. The MCC typically integrates some basic elements of local practices to map out and allocate lands as a means to then establish forms of title that can be transferred (i.e. sold). As MCC puts it, “Formalisation of existing practices and rules is a way to make them more compatible with modern economies and production systems.”24

The MCC’s projects often work at two levels: through specific land allocation and securisation projects that can serve as models, and through land policy processes, where the MCC often plays a direct role in high-level government processes to reform land legislation.

Details of the MCC’s involvement in nine African countries are presented in Annex 3. What they show is a deep and powerful engagement by the US government to transfer and transform customary systems of land management and control (in)to formal markets and private property. Deep, because the MCC’s in-country work has changed not only laws but the institutional fabric to administer new land rights. And powerful because they have been very effective.

In Benin, for example, the MCC’s work to rewrite the country’s land law in favour of strong property titles at the expense of customary rights met resistance from farmers organisations and civil society, but still managed to achieve most of its objectives. In Burkina, its work to transform and absorb customary systems into Western-type markets is making headway and being carried further by the US government within the context of the G8 Land Transparency Initiative. In Ghana and Mozambique, the MCC has been quite effective in getting land titles distributed to replace traditional systems.

Initiatives introducing seed laws

Tending seedlings in Kenya: future prisoners of plant variety protection laws? (Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP)Tending seedlings in Kenya: future prisoners of plant variety protection laws? (Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP)

Under the rubric “seeds laws” there are various types of legal and policy initiatives that directly affect what kind of seeds small scale farmers can use. We focus on two: intellectual property laws, which grant state-sanctioned monopolies to plant breeders (at the expense of farmers’ rights), and seed marketing laws, which regulate trade in seeds (often making it illegal to exchange or market farmers’ seeds).25

Plant Variety Protection

Plant variety protection (PVP) laws are specialised intellectual property rules designed to establish and protect monopoly rights for plant breeders over the plants types (varieties) they have developed. PVP is an offshoot of the patent system. All members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are obliged to adopt some form of PVP law, according to the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). But how they do so is up to national governments.

African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) draft PVP Protocol

• Draft PVP Protocol to be implemented in the 19 ARIPO member states: Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

ARIPO is the regional counterpart of the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) for Anglophone Africa. It was established under the Lusaka Agreement signed in 1976. In November 2009, ARIPO’s Council of Ministers approved a proposal for ARIPO to develop a policy and legal framework which would form the basis for the development of the ARIPO Protocol on the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (the PVP Protocol). Adopted in November 2013, the legal framework was formulated into a Draft PVP Protocol in 2014 during a diplomatic conference.26

The Draft PVP Protocol establishes unified procedures and obligations for the protection of plant breeder’s rights in all ARIPO member states. These rights will be granted by a single authority established by ARIPO to administer the whole system on behalf of its member states.

The Protocol is based on the rules contained in the 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention. It therefore establishes legal monopolies (“protection”) on new plant varieties for 20-25 years, depending on the crop. Farmers will not be able to save and re-use seed from these varieties on their own farms except for specifically designated crops, within reasonable limits, and upon annual payment of royalties. Under no circumstances will they be able to exchange or sell seeds harvested from such varieties.

In April 2014, the ARIPO Draft PVP Protocol was submitted to UPOV for examination of its conformity to UPOV 1991. The UPOV office concluded that “once the Draft Protocol is adopted with no changes and the Protocol is in force,” ARIPO and its member states will be in a position to join UPOV.27

The Protocol is hotly contested by civil society. 28 AFSA, for instance, is on record for vehemently opposing the ARIPO PV Protocol on the grounds that it, inter alia, severely erodes farmers’ rights and the right to food. On the other hand, industry associations have been consulted extensively in the process of drafting the ARIPO PVP Protocol. The International Community of Breeders of Asexually Reproduced Ornamental and Fruit Varieties (CIOPORA), African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA), the French National Seed and Seedling Association (GNIS) and foreign entities such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the UPOV Secretariat, the European Community Plant Variety Office have all had input.

At a regional workshop on the ARIPO PVP Protocol in Harare, Zimbabwe, at the end of October 2014, member states unanimously endorsed the need for further consultations to be held at national levels and for an independent expert review of the draft ARIPO PVP Protocol to be conducted prior to any adoption of the instrument.

Organisation Africaine pour la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI) revised Bangui Agreement

• The revised Bangui Agreement (Annex X) has been in force in OAPI member states since 2006: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

OAPI is the regional intellectual property organisation for 17 mainly Francophone African countries. It was established in 1977 by the Bangui Agreement, and revised in 1999 to align it with the WTO TRIPS Agreement. The revised Bangui Agreement entered into force in 2006. It made OAPI the first African organisation to establish a PVP system based on UPOV 1991.

Annex X of the Revised Bangui Agreement focuses on plant variety protection. Similar to the ARIPO Draft PVP Protocol, it confers on breeders an exclusive right to “exploit” new plant varieties for 25 years. Farmers are nonetheless allowed to save and re-use seed from protected varieties on their own farms − for any crops and without paying successive royalties. But like all UPOV-modelled laws, the Bangui Agreement makes it illegal for farmers to share, exchange and selling farm-saved seeds of protected varieties outside their own farms.

In June 2014, OAPI became a member of UPOV.29 This means that in the future it is likely that the rights of breeders in the OAPI member states will get stronger and those of farmers will get weaker, because the purpose of UPOV is to protect breeders against competition from farmers.

It should also be noted that there is currently a proposal to merge OAPI and ARIPO to form a single Pan African Intellectual Property Organisation (PAIPO).30 This would take place in the larger context of the creation of a continental Free Trade Agreement in Africa.31

Southern African Development Community (SADC) draft PVP Protocol

• Draft PVP Protocol to be implemented in SADC member states: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Click to enlarge

The SADC draft PVP protocol, like the equivalent legal instruments of ARIPO and OAPI, intends to establish a protection system modelled after UPOV 1991 in the SADC region. The main features of this protocol are the same as those of the ARIPO and OAPI, with the exception of the farm-saved seeds provision. Farmers in the SADC region will be able to save and re-use seeds only on their own farms, and only by paying royalties. Table 1 compares the three regional laws.

All SADC countries, except Angola, are members of ARIPO. This means that the PVP protocols of both organisations will apply in eight countries. It is not clear whether seed companies will be able to get double protection on their varieties under the two instruments simultaneously or have to choose one or the other. The economic implications for farmers in terms of their right to save and re-use seeds depending on either outcome will be quite serious.

The chief concern for AFSA members is that UPOV 1991, on which the SADC protocol is based, is a restrictive and inflexible legal regime that grants extremely strong intellectual property rights to commercial breeders and undermines farmers’ rights. Such a regional law will most certainly increase seed imports, reduce breeding activity at the national levels, facilitate monopolisation of local seed systems by foreign companies, and disrupt traditional farming systems upon which millions of African farmers and their families depend for their survival.

AFSA has also raised serious concerns about the lack of consultation with smallholders and civil society regarding the modelling of the draft SADC PVP Protocol on UPOV 1991. It is true that SADC has agreed to incorporate provisions on “disclosure of origin” and “farmers’ rights” which now render the protocol technically non-compliant with UPOV. However, SADC members who are also member states of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) will now opt to ratify the ARIPO PVP Protocol. It is revealing that money is now being poured into the ARIPO process, while there are scant resources available to push forward with the adoption of SADC’s protocol.

US and European free trade agreements

Since the late 1990s, the US and Europe have been pushing bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) into Africa as tools to gain market advantages for their transnational corporations. This affects seeds. Bilateral FTAs tend to set standards that go beyond the global standards set, for example, at the World Trade Organization. The WTO TRIPS Agreement, which most African countries are party to, says that members do not have to grant patents on plants and animals. But it does require that members implement some kind of intellectual property protection on plant varieties without stipulating what form this should take.

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Not content with the terms of the TRIPS Agreement, the US and Europe have been going further and signing bilateral trade deals with African states that specifically require the signatory governments to implement the provisions of UPOV or, worse, to become member of the Union. Some FTAs even require full-fledged industrial patenting of seeds. The table below summarises the current situation.

Presently, the EU is also negotiating comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with most of sub-Saharan Africa as well as Deep and Comprehensive FTAs with the southern Mediterranean countries that are expected to further expand intellectual property rights for corporations over seeds. That means that they will impose UPOV and/or patenting. This is to ensure that companies get a return on their investment by obliging farmers to pay for seeds – including farm-saved seeds.

Seed marketing rules

The second category of seed laws consists of rules governing seeds marketing in and among countries. A number of current initiatives aim to harmonise these rules among African states belonging to the same Regional Economic Community. But through harmonisation, states are actually being encouraged to “liberalise” the seed market. This means limiting the role of the public sector in seed production and marketing, and creating new space and new rights for the private sector instead. In this process, farmers lose their freedom to exchange and/or sell their own seeds. This legal shift is deliberately meant to lead to the displacement and loss of peasant seeds, because they are considered inferior and unproductive compared to corporate seeds.

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was established in 2006 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. It is currently funded by several development ministries, foundations and programmes, including DFID, IFAD and the Government of Kenya. AGRA’s objective is to “catalyse a uniquely African Green Revolution based on smallholder farmers so that Africa would be food self-sufficient and food secure.”32AGRA focuses on five areas: seeds, soil health, market access, policy and advocacy and support to farmers’ organisations.

On seeds, AGRA’s activities are implemented through the Programme for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS). PASS focuses on the breeding, production and distribution of so-called “improved” seeds. AGRA’s action on seeds policies and laws, however, is carried out through its Policy Programme, whose goal is to establish an “enabling environment”, including seed and land policy reforms, to boost private investment in agriculture and encourage farmers to change practices. This specifically includes getting the public sector out of seed production and distribution.

AGRA’s seed policy work aims to strengthen internal seed laws and regulations, reduce delays in the release of new varieties, facilitate easy access to public germplasm, support the implementation of regionally harmonised seed laws and regulations, eliminate trade restrictions and establish an African Seed Investment Fund to support seed businesses.

In Ghana, for example, AGRA helped the government review its seed policies with the goal of identifying barriers to the private sector getting more involved. With technical and financial support from AGRA, the country’s seed legislation was revised and a new pro-business seed law was passed in mid-2010.33 Among other things it established a register of varieties that can be marketed. In Tanzania, discussions between AGRA and government representatives facilitated a major policy change to privatise seed production. In Malawi, AGRA supported the government in revising its maize pricing and trade policies.34

AGRA is also funding a $300,000 seeds project for the East African Community that started in July 2014 and will be implemented over the next two years. Its objective is to get EAC farmers to switch to so-called improved seeds and to harmonise the seed and fertilizer policies of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

With this AGRA project, the EAC joins the other African Regional Economic Communities that have jumped on the bandwagon to harmonise seed trade rules in Africa. This is part of a coordinated action by all these key players − the World Bank, the G8, AGRA, the seed industry, and development cooperation ministries − to use RECs as means of realising their objective of changing African seed laws to set up a profitable market for private corporations involved in seed production and distribution, and to dismantle the role of the State in both the seed and fertiliser sectors (see below).

Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) seed trade harmonisation regulations

• Since 2013

• 20 COMESA member States: Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, South Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The COMESA seed trade regulations were drawn up with the help of the African Seed Trade Association and approved in September 2013 by the COMESA Council of Ministers.35 Their main objective is to facilitate seed trade among the 20 member states of COMESA by pushing these states to adopt the same standards for seed certification and phytosanitary rules, and by establishing a regional variety catalogue containing the list of authorised seeds to be marketed and grown in the region. The standards promote only one type of plant breeding, namely industrial seeds involving the use of advanced breeding technologies.

Like in other regional seed harmonisation initiatives, the COMESA seed regulations make transboundary movement of non-registered seeds illegal. Only approved varieties (that are distinct, uniform and stable, the same criteria used for PVP) can move from one country to another. Farmers’ seeds, local varieties and traditional materials will fall outside this net and be marginalised. The regulations will therefore have the effect of entrenching existing bans in many countries on the marketing of both farmer and unregistered varieties within national boundaries.

The COMESA seed trade regulations will be implemented by eight member states which are simultaneously members of SADC, which has also adopted a set of Technical Agreements on Harmonisation of Seed Regulations. This set of Agreements differs from the COMESA regulations in aspects relating to the registration of traditional varieties and the registration of genetically modified (GM) varieties. The incompatibility between these regulations may raise practical difficulties “and will no doubt give rise to a great deal of anomalies and confusion”.36

The COMESA seed regulations are binding on all COMESA Member States in terms of article 9 of the COMESA Treaty. Yet there is no evidence to demonstrate the involvement of and consultation with the citizens in COMESA countries, particularly small-scale farmers, despite numerous pleas to COMESA to consult with small farmers.

ECOWAS seeds regulation

• Since 2008

• Applies to ECOWAS countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

The ECOWAS seeds regulation was adopted in May 2008 in Abuja, Nigeria.37 It harmonises the rules governing quality control, certification and commercialisation of seeds and seedlings in ECOWAS member states. The main objective is to facilitate seed trade among member states. To achieve harmonisation, the regulation sets out principles and leaves it up to the states to adopt their own standards on the basis of internationally accepted ones.38

For the purpose of organising the common market between ECOWAS member states, seeds are allowed to move freely in the ECOWAS zone once they meet the standards applicable in that zone. These standards require that member states certify seeds on the basis of ECOWAS specifications and anchor their technical regulations on international standards. Therefore, seeds released in one country can be freely marketed in any other country of the common market (except for GM seeds which can only be released nationally until there is a regional biosafety framework in place).

The ECOWAS regulation also set up a West African Catalogue of Plant Species and Varieties. Each member state is also obliged to establish a national catalogue and a national seed committee. The regional catalogue contains the list of all varieties registered in the national catalogues of member states. Only seeds registered in these catalogues are authorised to be commercialised in the territory of ECOWAS.

As of 2013, only eight countries had initiated the process of reviewing their national seed regulatory framework to conform with the ECOWAS common rules: Benin, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Gambia. For this reason, a separate project was created to boost its implementation and improve the level of use of certified seeds within the region. That project, supported by USAID, is described below.

Southern African Development Communities (SADC) technical agreements on harmonisation of seed regulations39

• In force in SADC members states since 2008: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Adopted in 2008, the SADC Technical Agreements on Harmonisation of Seed Regulations focus on variety release, seed certification and phytosanitary measures for the movement of seeds. The objective of the agreements is to facilitate seed trade in the SADC states and increase the availability of so-called improved seeds from the private sector.

Through the variety release system, a SADC seed catalogue has been established, just like in the ECOWAS and COMESA regions. Seed of varieties listed in the catalogue can be traded in all SADC member states with no restrictions. A variety cannot be listed in the regional catalogue until it is released nationally in at least two SADC countries. And it must meet the test of distinctness, uniformity and stability (as for PVP), plus value for cultivation and use.

For farmers who are used to working with traditional seeds of local varieties, this represents a very complex system. Given that the harmonisation aims at generalising the use of industrial and uniform seeds, the informal seed system of farmers will be in jeopardy. SADC does aim to document traditional varieties in its seed database but the Agreements are silent on who is entitled to register these materials and the objective of such registration.

It is noteworthy that the SADC harmonisation agreements do not allow for the release of GM seeds. These varieties will be authorised once a common position is reached among the SADC members on biosafety and the use of GMOs. 40

USAID West African Seed Project (WASP)41

▪ Proponent: US Agency for International Development

▪ Timeframe: 2012-2017

▪ Budget: US$8million

▪ 7 ECOWAS countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal

The West Africa Seed Program is a five-year initiative funded by USAID and implemented through the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development. Its purpose is to help countries implement the ECOWAS seed regulations. It specifically targets increasing the use of certified seeds (in place of traditional farm-saved seeds) from its current level of 12% to 25% by 2017.42 It focuses on seven ECOWAS countries (Benin, Burkina Faso Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal) while its policy activities cover all ECOWAS states plus two CILSS countries, Chad and Mauritania.

WASP first aims to restructure the West African seed sector. It will create an Alliance for Seed Industry in West Africa (ASIWA) and a West Africa Seed Committee (WASC/COASem). These two bodies are be established in 2014.43 ASIWA will promote industrial seed distribution and marketing in the region. As for the WASC, it will oversee the implementation of the seed regulation through the ECOWAS zone, as described in the section above.

WASP’s second objective is to improve implementation of the ECOWAS seed regulation to boost trade in commercial seeds in West Africa and enhance the participation of the private sector in the seed industry. WASP specifically aims to help revise national laws and align them on the basis of C/Reg.4/05/2008 and create a seed committee which will develop a seed catalog for all seven countries of implementation. Once seeds are listed in this catalog, any country can produce and sell them.

A third target is to enhance private sector engagement in the seed sector in West Africa. WASP intends to strengthen the capacities of National Seed Trade Associations through training. Seed production plots will be established by the private sector groups involved in the programme, and demonstration plots will be created to showcase new varieties and organise field days for farmers to learn new techniques. The WASP and its private partners will also train small-scale farmers to produce new seeds. These farmers will participate in continued trainings to learn new techniques, experiment with producing hybrid seeds, and contribute their ideas to a wider network of producers. The WASP’s plan is to make these farmers “individuals whom other farmers seek out for advice about new seed varieties, access to those seeds, and cultivation.” 44

This approach is highly similar to AGRA’s actions in the seed sector in Africa. The WASP mentions AGRA amongst organisations with which it is partnering in the implementation of its action plans. No further details are provided on the “how” of this partnership. It will not be surprising to see AGRA play a role in WASP’s implementation, specifically in building ASIWA and getting the private sector involved in seed production and distribution.

This is all the more important given that AGRA is already implementing projects in some WASP countries. In Mali, for example, AGRA is trying to get farmers to use so-called improved seeds and fertilisers to improve productivity.45


Annex 1: G8 New Alliance plans and impacts so far

Benin46

The government has agreed to extend the rural land ownership plan (Plan Foncier Rural or PFR), already in force within its legislation, to cover the entire country by December 2018. The PFR is an instrument introduced in some West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire) in the late 1980s to formalise land tenure. It introduces surveying and mapping of agricultural fields, identification and registration of customary rights of possession (formal list of landholders), and the creation and archiving of written documents of land transactions (land sale contracts and agreements of tenancy and subordinate use) in every single village.47 As of September 2014, 386 villages in 45 communes had been covered.

Under the New Alliance, Benin has made no commitment to change its seed laws.

Burkina Faso48

On seeds, the government of Burkina Faso pledged to revamp the national seed legislation to clearly define the role of the private sector in the breeding, production and marketing of certified seeds by December 2014. According to a May 2013 progress report, Burkina Faso’s Seed Act and regulations were being revised to conform with regional standards, i.e. the laws and regulations adopted by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU).

The ECOWAS seed regulation sets out rules for seed certification and registration, modelled on European law. Any seed that is not listed in the official catalogue of registered varieties cannot be traded across borders in the ECOWAS states. Burkina will now have to establish the same system at the national level. Burkina is also member of the African Intellectual Property Organisation (OAPI) and therefore subject to OAPI’s new plant variety protection (PVP) system as entrenched in the revised Bangui Agreement. This new law is modelled on the convention of the Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plant (UPOV), a kind of patent system for plants which also originates in Europe.49

On land, several measures to formalise tenure and document rights are under way:

▪ The government agreed to take actions to clarify the conditions for developing, occupying and using State or local government-developed lands. Three decrees were passed in September 2012 to regulate the occupation and use of land for rain fed agriculture, family plots and commercial agriculture.

▪ The government also committed to adopt, by December 2013, a policy framework for the resettlement of farmers affected by development projects. The Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), the implementing agency for the MCC programme in Burkina, suggested using the World Bank’s Involuntary Resettlement Policy50 as a basis. According to the New Alliance’s May 2013 progress report, this was accepted and would be applied in the Bagré Growth Pole, a project supported by the World Bank.

▪ Another commitment concerns stepping up implementation of law N° 034-2009 and its decrees on rural land tenure and the delivery of land certificates at village level. Three measures are being taken: a national committee on rural land tenure is up and running along with 13 regional committees; rural land agencies are being set up in the country’s 302 rural districts (pilot operations in 66 municipalities); and village land commissions (1171 so far) and village land conciliation commissions (419 to date) are being established nationwide. These commissions are being established in the areas where MCA Burkina operates.

▪ Finally, the G8 agreement obliges the government of Burkina Faso to draft procedures for access to state land by December 2014; demarcate and register developed land areas; and issue land-use rights documents in all developed areas. The progress report states that this process is ongoing in the World Bank-funded Bagré Growth Pole where, as of July 2014, the government had allocated 13,023 hectares of land to 108 investors (5% of them foreigners).

Côte d’Ivoire51

The government of Côte d’Ivoire committed, under the G8 New Alliance, to accelerate the demarcation of village lands and the issuing of land certificates by June 2015 under its Rural Land Act. It also agreed to extend and operationalise its land information system across the entire country and adopt specific measures to increase access to land in rural areas for women and young people. Another commitment was to adopt a law on transhumance by December 2013, which as of July 2014 had been drafted but not adopted.

In January 2013 the government announced that as part of its partnership with the G8, it was giving the French agribusiness titan Louis Dreyfus Commodities (LDC) 100,000 to 200,000 hectares in the north of the country to grow rice. The government stressed that this land would not be taken from farmers, as Ivorian law does not allow foreigners to own farmland (only rent it from the state). Instead, the farmers would work as contract labourers for LDC. By June 2014, LDC said it was abandoning the project, as the government was not following through on its pledge.52

Abidjan also agreed to adopt a new seed law in line with the regional legislation drawn up through WAEMU and ECOWAS, and simplify procedures for the approval and registration of plant varieties in the official catalogue.

Ethiopia53

For the G8 New Alliance, the Ethiopian government committed to approving a new seed law to increase private sector participation in seed development, multiplication and distributionA new seed proclamation was duly adopted in January 2013, and the Ministry of Agriculture has drafted the implementing regulations.54 It sets rules for the certification and marketing of seeds, but does not apply to farm-saved or farmer-exchanged seeds. It is worth nothing that both the G8 and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supported this process.

On land tenure, the government of Ethiopia committed to extending land certification to all rural landholders, initially focusing on zones hosting Agricultural Growth Programmes. According to the New Alliance progress report of May 2013, almost 90% of households in these zones were registered and more than 70% of them received first-level landholding certificates.55 According to the 2014 progress report, the government had issued certificates to 98% of rural households in the four main regions that have local land proclamations (Amhara, Oromiya, SNNPR and Tigray). In 2014, a start was made to issue second-level land certificates in eight woredas in each of the same regions.

The government pledged to take several other measures to strengthen land rights for investors. Addis agreed to revise the land law by December 2013 to encourage long-term leasing and to strengthen contract enforcement for commercial farms. The federal proclamation on land administration (456/2005), adopted in 2005, sets the rules for land ownership and leasing in Ethiopia.56 This law had already been used in the four aforementioned regions to develop regional proclamations. According to the New Alliance , three other regions (Afar, Gambella and Somali) also issued regional land laws based on the new statute.

Ethiopia also agreed to develop and implement guidelines for corporate responsibility for land tenure and responsible agricultural investment. The 2014 progress report states that the government envisages adopting the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on land tenure for this purpose. The EU, through the German agencies BMZ and GIZ, is exploring the potential to assist the Ethiopian Land Investment Agency with this.

Ghana57

In its G8 New Alliance framework agreement, Ghana committed to adopting policy that would encourage the private sector to develop and commercialise so-called improved seeds. To achieve this, the government agreed to draw up regulations to implement new seed legislation adopted in 2010. This would provide for the establishment of a seed registry system; the development of protocols for variety testing, release and registration; authorisation to conduct field inspections, seed sampling and seed testing; and the setting of standards for seed classification and certification.

Another policy action pledged by the government was the adoption of a new agricultural input policy that would specifically define the role of government in seed marketing, and that of the private sector in plant breeding. It should be noted that in the World Bank’s Agricultural Development Policy Operations (AgDPO) of Ghana, it clearly states that the government will pull out of the production and distribution of seeds.

On land, the government agreed to support the private sector by establishing a database of lands suitable for investors. The database was to register 1,000 hectares by December 2013, 4,500 hectares by December 2014, and 10,000 by December 2015. Pilot model lease agreements will be developed for 5,000 ha land deals by December 2015. These agreements will focus mainly on outgrower schemes and contract farming.

For traditionally-held lands included in the database, the government will conduct “due diligence” and “sensitisation” activities in nearby communities in order to clarify the rights and obligations of customary rights holders under the lease agreements they will be “entitled” to sign with investors.

It’s important to note that the government’s land commitments towards investors are also included in the Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project (GCAP), a project funded by the World Bank and USAID independently of the G8 New Alliance. The Ghana AgDPO, financed by World Bank, also specifies that access to land will be provided to private investors through GCAP.

Malawi58

With the G8 New Alliance, the government of Malawi has committed to giving private investors improved access to land, water, farm inputs and basic infrastructure. To achieve this, it will adopt a new land bill and conduct a survey to identify unoccupied land under both customary ownership and leasehold, as well as determine crop suitability, with the view to setting aside 200,000 hectares for large scale commercial agriculture by 2018. The 2014 Progress Report on Malawi confirms that a new land bill was passed by parliament.59However, it was then subjected to comments by civil society and the president returned it to parliament for review instead of endorsing it. The report says that some pilot investment schemes have been set up and that the private sector is advocating for scaling these up as a basis for the overall 200,000 ha.

On seeds, Malawi pledged to implement the Southern African Development Communities (SADC) and Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Seed Harmonisation Regulations by 2015. This would require enactment of a plant variety protection law (Malawi’s Plant Breeders’ Right Bill has been concluded and is awaiting enactment), amendment of the phytosanitary legislation (Malawi Plant Protection Act, 1969), review of the national seed certification system (Seed Act, 1996) and review of the current Pesticide Act.

According to the New Alliance’s 2014 progress report, the PBR bill will be tabled at the next session of parliament. The amended Plant Protection Act was submitted to cabinet for endorsement before being passed by parliament. With regards to seed certification, a new Seed Act, drafted with inputs from the private sector, is expected by end of 2014 or early 2015. The Pesticide Act that was scheduled for review by June 2014 underwent revision and the draft bill is with the Ministry of Justice.

Mozambique60

Under the New Alliance, the government of Mozambique committed to adopting policies and regulations that promote the role of the private sector in agricultural input markets. In addition to the revision of its seed policy, the government pledged to “systematically cease distribution of free and unimproved seeds, except for pre-identified staple crops, in emergency situations”. Another commitment was to implement approved regulations on PVP law by June 2013, and to align the country’s national legislation on seed production, trade, quality control and seed certification with SADC regulations by November 2013.

The New Alliance’s progress report published June 2014 states that the government has passed Decree 12/2013 which establishes the regulatory framework for production, trade, quality control and seed certification in line with SADC. The process of developing a plant variety protection law and corresponding regulatory framework is also underway. It is expected that this will create conditions for international seed companies to participate in the national seed market. However, an analysis conducted by USAID suggests that the draft PVP regulation will not be effective in the short and medium term due to the fact that 90% of Mozambican farmers are small subsistence producers and 91% of the seed production and trade in the country takes place in the informal sector.61

In terms of land, the government of Mozambique agreed to reform the land use rights system and accelerate issuance of land use certificates (DUATs) to promote “security” for small landholders and agribusiness investment. Specific actions would include reducing processing time and cost to get rural land use rights (by March 2013), and passing regulations and procedures that allow communities to engage in partnerships through leases or sub-leases (by June 2013). According to the first progress report (May 2013), procedures for areas under 10 hectares had been drafted and are being piloted in targeted communities. The Ministry of Agriculture also produced and published a statement (in August 2012) on simplification in the transfer of DUATs in rural areas.

Regarding allowing communities to lease and sublease their lands, the 2014 progress report states that regulations have been drafted and are being examined by stakeholders before proceeding to legislation. However, due to the October 2014 elections in October 2014, the legislation was not expected to be presented to the cabinet before the end of 2014.

Nigeria62

Nigeria pledged to pass and implement a new seed law that supports the role of the private sector in seed development, multiplication and sale, and assigns the public sector a merely regulatory role in conformity with the ECOWAS seed law. This was accomplished with the amendment of the National Agricultural Seeds Act in 2011, and the adoption of a seed policy in 2012. An implementation plan was also adopted in 2013 though it remains to be carried out.

The government also agreed to new measures regarding land tenure. It committed to adopt, between December 2013 and June 2014, a Systematic Land Titling and Registration (SLTR) regulatory framework that “respects” the CFS Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGs). No further detail is given on how the SLTR will do this, but it can be interpreted to mean that the key principles of the VGs will be written into the SLTR regulatory framework. The SLTR will be extended to all Nigerian states by 2016.

It is worth mentioning that under the G8 New Alliance the government also committed to set up and operate Staple Crop Processing Zones (SPCZs). The SCPZs are zones of intensive cultivation of agricultural produce, where agribusiness companies would be incentivised to set up processing facilities. A total of 14 SCPZs will be set up across Nigeria for rice, sorghum and other grains, cassava, fisheries, horticulture and livestock. The Government planned to develop a Master Plan to stimulate private sector investment in the SCPZs by April 2014. In February 2014, the first SCPZ was launched in Kogi State but no information is yet available on how land will be made available to investors in the zones.

Senegal63

Under the New Alliance, the government of Senegal committed to facilitate access to land for private investors and to implement the country’s seed legislation in favour of private companies. As part of the plan, the government will define and implement land reform measures to increase private sector investment, and these measures will likely amount to redefining rights to land in Senegal.

Tanzania64

Tanzania committed to adjust its seed policies to encourage greater corporate participation in the domestic and regional seed markets. Significantly, its seed act was revised in November 2012 to align the country’s plant breeder’s rights legislation with the 1991 Act of the Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV). The government also worked with Zanzibar to pass similar legislation in order to join UPOV. The UPOV Secretariat has recommended to Council that Tanzania be admitted.65

According to AFSA, Tanzania’s new PVP Act will likely increase seed imports, reduce breeding activity at the national level, facilitate monopolisation of local seed systems by foreign companies, and disrupt traditional farming systems upon which millions of smallholder farmers and their families depend for their survival. The entire process of drawing up these laws has been non-participatory, shutting out the very farmers that the laws will purportedly benefit. Neither farmers’ organisations nor relevant civil society organisations have been consulted on these laws.66

Under the rules of the World Trade Organisation Least Developed Countriess are exempt from putting any PVP Law in place until July 2021. Should Tanzania ratify the UPOV 1991 Convention it will be the only LDC in the world to be bound by UPOV 1991.

On land, Tanzania pledged to improve land rights − granted or customary, for both small holders and investors − by means of certificates. To that end, all village lands in Kilombero were to be demarcated by August 2012, and all land in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) demarcated by June 2014.

The Tanzanian government also plans a land bank, through which land is granted to the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) which then leases it through “derivative rights” to investors for a specific amount of time not exceeding 99 years.67 This is important because foreigners cannot be granted land in Tanzania – the assigning of derivative rights through the TIC is now the only means by which investors can gain access to land.68

The TIC serves as the government agent in managing land allocated to investors. The Ministry of Lands remains the sole body with the ability to issue title to land. It is now developing guidelines for accessing land, and working with development agencies to clarify and implement its “land for equity” policy which would allow investors to access land by granting shares to the government (for state lands) or communities when the land belongs to them.69

Annex 2: World Bank country programmes and impacts

Ghana AgDPO70

The Ghana AgDPO was designed as a three-year programme (three grants of US$ 25 million each) to support the country’s Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy beginning in 2008. The development objectives of the grants were to increase agriculture’s contribution to growth and poverty reduction while improving the management of soil and water resources.

The “prior action”, or condition, for AgDPO3 (2011) was that Ghana pass a new seed law to allow for the implementation of the 2008 ECOWAS regional seed harmonisation regulation. A new national plants bill had already been passed by parliament under AgDPO1 in June 2010 (Ghana Plants and Fertiliser Act). It accommodates the 2008 ECOWAS seed harmonisation regulation, the WTO Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Agreement, and the International Plant Protection Convention, and thus creates opportunities for the introduction of new seed technology. The World Bank concluded that “implementation of the new legislation is expected to make it attractive for international seed companies to invest in Ghana.”

Actions to take before AgDPO 4 (triggers) were as follows: the establishment and operationalisation of the institutional framework for the implementation of seed law (National Seed Council, Plant Protection Advisory, Council and National Fertiliser Council) and the design of a programme that promotes fertiliser use in conjunction with certified seed and extension.

These two triggers were also met. The three Advisory Councils were established in 2011, and funded through the 2012 budget, to oversee the development of a new technical regulatory framework. They play key roles in the development and implementation of regulations, the facilitation of a new inputs policy, the organisation of council and committee meetings, and the completion of a new seed laboratory. The government also transformed its existing fertiliser subsidy program into a comprehensive agricultural input support programme and opened it to the seed industry and service providers. This will eventually result in the provision of seed technology with fertiliser and agrochemicals as a package to farmers, via a private sector network of some 2,900 agro-input dealers trained by AGRA and IFDC.

Under AgDPO4 (2012), the government was expected to launch local land bank initiatives for the identification of land for outgrower investments with the goal of integrating small farmers into commercial value chains. As this action and the subsequent contract farming and out-grower arrangements overlap with GCAP land activities, the design of land bank activities and the outgrower investment framework are to be accomplished with technical assistance under GCAP and the World Bank-supported Land Administration Project.

Another action to be implemented ahead AgDPO5 focused on the adoption of an Agricultural Input Policy, which would be reflected in subsequent input support programmes. The input policy aims at clarifying the role of the private sector in technology development, seed multiplication, distribution, and knowledge transfer, and clarifying the role of the government regarding the regulatory environment, promotional programmes such as the fertiliser and seed subsidy program.

This implies the adoption of an institutional reform plan for Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research as well as its Grains and Legumes Board to reflect their new mandates under the new seed law. The two public agencies will give up their roles in seed breeding and in foundation seed production to create space for more private sector intervention, “which was stifled by this public monopoly” according to the Bank.

Mozambique AgDPO71

Mozambique’s current AgDPO (AgDPO2) was approved in March 2013 with a US$50 million budget. The objective is to promote private sector-led agricultural growth in order to achieve food and nutrition security. It is articulated around the pillars of the World Bank’s Africa strategy for agriculture, in which land and seeds are given high importance. It supports the country’s poverty reduction strategy and is aligned with the government’s medium-term agricultural sector investment plan (PNISA), recently developed under the country’s CAADP Compact and signed in December 2011.

The government of Mozambique agreed to implement several prior policy actions as a legal condition to its credit approval. These actions include approval of SADC-compliant national seed regulations governing production, trade, quality control and certification of seeds, and the adoption of regulations concerning the fertiliser sector, completed in February 2013. A third action taken was the August 2012 publication – in national newspapers – of new rules to simplify and speed up the transfer of rural land user rights (DUATs) for parcels measuring less than 10 hectares.

In 2013, the government planned to implement further actions as triggers for AgDPO3. On seeds, the trigger is the implementation of the plant breeders’ rights decree. As mentioned in the section on the G8 New Alliance, the process of developing a PVP legislation and the corresponding regulatory framework are both under way in Mozambique. On land, the trigger is the adoption of operational procedures for communities seeking to enter into an agreement with a third party over the use of land for which the community holds the use rights. The regulations on this have been drafted and are being examined by stakeholders before proceeding to legislation.72

Actions to be implemented in 2014 under AgDPO3 include the revision of official texts governing the roles and responsibilities of the National Seeds Committee and an updated list of seed varieties authorised for release.

Nigeria AgDPO73

The Nigeria AgDPO was approved in June 2013. It started as the first of two policy operations and is aligned with the Federal Government of Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA). The ATA represents the government’s commitment to developing the farming sector – the main economic sector after oil − under CAADP, which the country joined in 2009.

According to programme document approved by the World Bank Board of Directors, the overall orientation of the ATA, and the policy reform agenda of AgDPOs 1 and 2, is to promote private sector investment in, and the development of, commercially viable “value chains”.

For the approval and funding of AgDPO1, the government of Nigeria had to undertake several policy reforms, including in the seeds and fertiliser sector. These reforms aimed at transferring responsibility for the production and distribution of agricultural inputs to the private sector, with the government to withdrawing from physical procurement, distribution and market participation to focus on planning and regulating the sector.

The first action focused on the approval of a new seed policy that puts the private sector in charge of technology development, seed multiplication and marketing, and the public sector in the role of the regulator. Nigeria has completed this task. In 2011 the Parliament passed an amendment bill to the National Agricultural Seeds Act of 1992. The amendment removed the state monopoly on the production of breeder and foundation seeds, and promoted private investment in seed production, multiplication, and distribution. To support the implementation of the amendment bill, the government adopted a new seed policy, in April 2012, which is in line with the ECOWAS 2008 Seed Regulations. It spells out the roles of the public and private sector, and refers to the relevant legal texts.

As triggers for AgDPO2, the first Agricultural DPO pushed the government of Nigeria to address weak regulatory enforcement and to scale up adoption of seed technologies. To achieve this, the government adopted, in 2013, an implementation plan that reflects the amended Seed Act and the Seed Policy, with a focus on seed technology dissemination and awareness campaigns, and regulation of seed production and distribution.

The Nigerian AgDPO has a large focus on seeds, but does not make much mention of land. To understand the full extent of land issues in Nigeria, one must look at the plans for Staple Crop Processing Zones bring promoted through the G8 New Alliance.

Projet de Développement Durable et Inclusif de l’Agro-industrie au Sénégal (PDIDAS)74

▪ Country: Senegal

▪ Timeframe: 2014-2019

▪ Budget: $86 million

The Sustainable and Inclusive Agribusiness Project in Senegal, commonly known as PDIDAS, seeks to develop “inclusive” commercial agriculture and sustainable land management in specific areas of Senegal. This will be done through investments in infrastructure (irrigation, in particular), technical assistance to public institutions (rural communities in particular), and support to the private sector (including small scale farmers) along the agribusiness value chain.

PDIDAS focuses on two zones, the Ngalam Valley and the Lac de Guiers in the regions of Saint Louis and Louga. These areas were chosen for their fertile soils, access to water, the alleged availability of land parcels of 15 000 and 40 000 hectares suitable for commercial farming, good access to internal and external markets (Port of Dakar) and strong demand from the private sector.

The project’s investment in irrigation will permit the exploitation of 10,000 ha of land divided into 20 lots of 500 ha each. The project is constructed in such a way that rural communities themselves will make the land allocation decisions and enter into direct agreements with investors. The Bank says this is to follow the Principles of Responsible Agricultural Investment that it drew up with UNCTAD, IFAD and FAO, and avoid the project being seen as landgrabbing.75 But the current land legislation in Senegal does not allow direct sale or lease of land by rural communities to investors. So the government had to find the best way possible for investors to get control of the land.

The land chosen for the project, like most farmland in Senegal, is part of the national domain, which represents more than 95% of the country’s area. According to the law of 17 June 1960 on national domain, these lands are managed by rural communities (via their governing bodies, the Communal Councils) and are allocated to “members of the communities.” This allocation confers a use right on the land, but not a property right.

After assessing different options available “within the parameter of the law,” the government opted for a “lease-sublease” approach. Under this system, the government would convert land identified and selected by rural communities from the “national domain” to the “state private domain”, meaning the land is now owned by the state. The government would then lease this land to the rural community under a long-term lease, and the community would sublease it to the investor. The investor will then have a right to the land that confers all the privileges that an ordinary land owner would have − except the right to sell it – for the duration of the sublease. Local villagers currently using the land will undergo a “displacement procedure” to make it available for investors in PDIDAS. This procedure is supposed to safeguard the interests of all involved: the government, the rural communities and their members, and investors.

PDIDAS also includes a component focusing on supporting the land management process in Senegal. Indeed, in addition to the investment schemes, the project will support a review of the policy, legal and institutional frameworks governing the use and allocation of rural land as it relates to agribusiness investment. This will cover reviewing relevant laws and practices taking into account “best practice guidelines” such as the CFS Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Land Tenure and the project’s own Land Framework; identifying reforms that may be needed in these laws; and developing specific instruments such as model leases, platforms for the transparent public display of information concerning investments, local level land administration and mapping tools, etc.

Within participating Rural Communities, the project will also support the updated mapping of agricultural land, the preparation of a cadastral plan showing the allocation of land rights to investors and community members, and the design and implementation of a mechanism by which information concerning land investments are made public.

Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project (GCAP)76

▪ Proponents: World Bank & USAID

▪ Country: Ghana

▪ Timeframe: 2012-2017

▪ Budget $145 million (World Bank: $100m; USAID: $45m)

The Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project was approved by the World Bank Board of Directors in February 2012. The objective is to increase access to land, private sector finance and markets via public-private partnerships in commercial agriculture in two zones, the Accra Plains and SADA zone (northern Ghana).

GCAP focuses on the facilitation of land access for purposes of commercial agricultural investment, including outgrower schemes. A certain amount of land has already been broadly identified as suitable for commercial investment using a public-private partnership model. This is done through a land bank process − also pledged under the G8 New Alliance and the AgDPO as noted above − with detailed technical information on topography, hydrology, soils, infrastructure, and economic and financial feasibility estimates made publicly available to potential investors. This database will be complemented by a mapping of existing rights, the development of a model lease agreement based on so-called best practices, capacity building for communities to negotiate leases and contracts with investors and the creation of a national framework for outgrower schemes and contract farming arrangements

The project implementation will be guided by the World Bank’s Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment which have also been taken into account during its design. The main objective of using these principles is, according to the project document, to foster “socially-inclusive” investments that are beneficial for all: investors, landowners, local communities and the country.

In facilitating land acquisition for commercial farming, the project opts not to use government powers of compulsory acquisition to assemble land for private investment and associated outgrower schemes. Given the predominance of customary landholding in the project zone, and in Ghana in general, direct leasing agreements between customary owners and commercial investors are the only mechanism to make lands available for commercial investment. This direct negotiation is, however, subject to oversight and guidance from the government. And in cases where land belongs to the state, a lease agreement will be signed between investors and the government.

In the same way, GCAP support for investments in large farms will be conditioned upon investor willingness to pursue an investment model that incorporates smallholders as outgrowers. In this arrangement, participating smallholders may continue to use their own land or move to new plots prepared with support from investors and/or GCAP (especially in the case of irrigated land). For that purpose, a process for allocating small irrigated plots within project areas will be designed, and all smallholders will be given a document certifying their rights to sustainably use the land acquired under the investment scheme.77

Bagré Growth Pole Project78

▪ Country: Burkina Faso

▪ Proponent: World Bank

▪ Timeframe: 2011-2017

▪ Budget: $115 million

The Bagré Growth Pole is an agricultural development project initiated by the government of Burkina Faso and readjusted, improved and funded by the World Bank. Its objective is to increase private investment, jobs and agricultural production in the Bagré region – 50,000 hectares where over 40,000 people live.79

The project will reallocate land in the area and intervene in land demarcation, registration, and delivery of both land use rights and ownership titles. It will also promote land leases to private investors.

These land issues will be dealt with under the national legal framework (including the 2009 Rural Land Law) and in accordance with World Bank’s involuntary resettlement policy (OP 4.12).80 Given the anticipated large scale land allocations to private investors via lease arrangements, the project refers to the Bank’s Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment and claims to give affected communities and farmers the “opportunity” to be incorporated in the project scheme as beneficiaries.

The first land allocations under the project focus on lands that have a low operation and maintenance cost, to be allocated in priority to small farmers, fishermen and herders living in the areas, to whom ownership titles will be given. The second category focuses on small and medium agribusiness enterprises and larger agribusiness firms. These areas will be supplied with transport, water and energy facilities. These new agribusinesses will initially be given short three-year probational leases to verify their capacity to develop the land and they will then be provided with long term leases of between 18 and 99 years.

Private Sector Competitiveness Project81

▪ Country: Tanzania

▪ Proponent: World Bank

▪ Budget: $60 million

▪ Timeframe: 2014-2015

In December 2013, the World Bank Group Board of Directors approved an Additional Financing for the Private Sector Competitiveness Project (PSCP, approved in 2005). The objective of this revised project is to strengthen the business environment in Tanzania, including land administration reform.

The new PSCP activities are designed to improve land registration, land use planning and regularisation of tenure rights. This includes intervention on the legal framework in Tanzania, specifically to review, prepare and process legislation such as the Land Acquisition and Compensation Bill, the Property Valuation Bill, and implementing regulations for those laws. Project activities will also try to decentralise land administration and village land registration, and strengthen land tribunals through the country.82

Annex 3: MCC country programmes and impacts

Benin

The MCC’s Compact with Benin (2006-2011) included an ambitious land project.83 Benin’s 2007 Rural Land Act recognised customary rights in land as equal to civil law property rights, and established written documents, like rural landholding maps (plans fonciers ruraux or PFR) and rural landholding certificates, as recognised instruments for the assertion and protection of rights over land. While the law had widespread support, there was a split between those, such as the farmers’ organisation Synergie Paysanne, who saw in the law a means to strengthen customary land management, and those involved in the MCC project, who saw the land certificates and PFRs as stepping stones towards private property rights and land markets.

MCC’s contractor in Benin, Stewart Global, a US land titling company with a track record of developing private property regimes in Latin America and the Caribbean, was brought in to produce an initial White Paper, authored by national land “experts”, as a basis for a national land policy. The policy, approved by the government in 2010, led to a subsequent process to develop a national land code. The MCC played a heavy role here, consistently orienting policy and the new land code towards private property regimes based on land titles and markets rather than land certificates and systems of local community land management. It also directly intervened in the organisation of national consultations and rushed forward the passage of a fiercely contested draft national code by making it a condition for a second round of funding – which was never signed, supposedly because of Benin’s failure to address corruption issues. The new code favours rural land titles and does not reflect the real demands from civil society for tight restrictions on land concentration and land grabbing.84

The MCC, through MCA-Benin, also participated directly in the development of PFRs. By the end of Benin’s Compact, MCA-Benin had developed PFRs for 294 villages (out of a national total of 386 PFRs by March 2012), providing transferable land property certificates to more than 900 rural citizens.85

Burkina Faso

The Burkina Compact (2008-2014) implements a programme with four components, including one on rural land governance.86 The land project aims to increase investment in land through, among other things, legal reform and land tenure interventions in specific municipalities.

A rural land Act (2009) was adopted by Burkina Faso just prior to the signing of the Compact with the MCC. The Compact focuses on defining the law’s implementing regulations, revising elements of the country’s Agrarian and Land Reorganisation legislation, and implementing the 2004 decentralisation law. As part of these activities, the MCC supported the creation of 17 local land charters to formalise and “refashion customary rules into profit-seeking enterprises.”87 The charters introduced a new structure of land governance by way of management committees, described by the MCC as “a marriage of customary authority and economic entrepreneurialism.”88

The MCC has also focused on the promotion of another new form of property right introduced under the 2009 law, the Rural Land Possession Certificate (APFR). According to MCC Property Rights and Land Specialist Kent Elbow, “The APFR provides recognition and protection for existing informal individual and corporate land rights subject to the condition that they have been rigorously vetted and approved by the local community. The holder of an APFR may take the further step of applying for a full land title. It is easy to envision that widespread adoption of the APFR concept by rural populations would eventually lead to a predominantly formal land tenure system and gradual disintegration of customary land tenure.”89 Burkina Faso began serious implementation of the APFRs in 2013.90

A land partnership was signed between Burkina Faso and the US government under the G8 Land Transparency Initiative. This partnership, discussed further in the present report, will build directly upon the MCC Land Governance Project.91

Cape Verde II

Cape Verde signed a second MCC Compact in February 2012 for five years, with a land component entitled Land Management for Investment.92 It seeks to refine the legal, procedural and institutional environment; develop and install a land information system; and clarify rights and boundaries on targeted islands.

Ghana

Signed in August 2006 and completed in 2012, Ghana’s MCC Compact included an Agricultural Development Project with land tenure facilitation activity.93 The objective of the land activity was to improve tenure security for existing land users and to facilitate access to land for commercial crops in three project intervention zones. It aligned with the existing multi-donor-supported Land Administration Project implemented by the government to remedy land governance and land rights problems through a systematic reform of the policy and institutional framework. According to Food Sovereignty Ghana, a member of AFSA, “The LAP of Ghana is mostly geared towards the privatisation or outright handover of state lands to foreign investors without consideration of the local farmers or even the local bourgeoisie for investment purposes. For instance in Northern Ghana, farmers are being driven off huge hectares of land and handed over to Chinese investors for the cultivation of jatropha.”94

According to MCC, the project achieved the following: legal and institutional reform in 2008; the development of a land market information database; the inventory and formalisation of land rights; formal demarcation of parcel boundaries and issuance of registered land titles; and improvement of the courts’ ability to process land disputes.95 Seen from the ground, however, “The Compact only served to open the doors wide with legal instruments to secure lands to investors supported by the G8 New Alliance.“96

Lesotho

Lesotho signed an MCC Compact in July 2007. This programme, completed in September 2013, included a land component aimed at reforming the institutional, legal and policy framework of land governance in the country.97 A new land act was passed in 2010 that established a simplified framework for systematic land formalisation, as well as the registration of land in urban areas and the improvement of rural land allocation processes. The law has so far led to the formalisation and registration of rights of 14,389 parcels.98

Liberia

The MCC signed a Threshold Programme grant agreement with Liberia in 2010.99 The programme has a land component that provides for three main activities: development of a comprehensive reform strategy for land policy and law; enhancement of Liberia’s technical capacity in land administration and surveying, and improving the registration and management of land transactions.100

Mali

The Mali Compact was signed in November 2006 and terminated early, in August 2012, due to the coup that deposed the civilian government of Mali.101 The Compact included an irrigation and land project in the Office du Niger known as the Alatona Irrigation Project, which would develop irrigated land plots and allocate them to small, medium and large-scale farmers. All beneficiaries of the project were provided land titles, which they are expected pay for over a 15-20 year period.102

This was the first instance of private property rights being allocated in the Office du Niger and “the first significant formal ownership of rural land in the country.”103 The project was allowed to operate outside the Office’s system of land governance, with a revised “cahier des charges”, the regulatory document which sets out the rights and responsibilities of land users. Under this revised set of rules, the holders of land titles within the MCC project zone were given the right to sell or lease their land and to grow crops other than rice.104

Mozambique

The Mozambique Compact was signed in July 2007, and came to end in September 2013.105As with other MCC Compacts, the land component had both a “land tenure regularisation” component to issue titles in an area targeted for agribusiness investment and a policy project that engaged in high-level processes to transform national land policy. The land title project in Northern Mozambique registered more than 200,000 parcels (municipal and district combined) and delivered more than 144,000 land titles (DUATs) into the hands of municipal residents and 10,000 DUATs into the hands of rural/district residents.106

On the policy side, the MCC focused much of its efforts on changing land use right transfer procedures. A condition laid down in the MCC Compact was that the Mozambican government would revise its legislation and administrative procedures to allow rural land use rights to be issued and transferred more quickly and cheaply. The MCC set about to guide policy change in this direction through the creation of a consultative land body, the Forum de Consultas sobre Terra (Land Consultative Forum or LCF)This was established by government decree in October 2010 and eventually approved a new transferability regulation in 2013. According to a study produced for the UK’s Overseas Development Institute, “While the LCF met several times at the national and regional level, there was a concern that it had limited civil society participation, had no effective decision-making capacity, was overly ceremonial at times, and had scripted conclusions and agendas.”107

Senegal

In September 2009, Senegal signed a six-year Compact with the MCC (2009-2015).108 It includes an Irrigation and Water Resources Management Project (IWRM) through which the MCC is funding the construction of roads, bridges and irrigation works to expand the area under irrigated agriculture in the Senegal River Valley and attract outside investment into the region. A major component of the project is the Land Tenure Security Activity (LTSA), which seeks to formalise land rights and reallocate and redistribute lands in the project’s target areas of the Delta and Podor.109 According to the MCC, “The existing profile of current land rights holders will need to be adjusted to take advantage of new and more intensive agricultural practices made possible by IWRM improvements.”

LTSA uses a participatory process, managed by MCA-Senegal, to formalise land tenure and establish criteria for land allocation. Those selected for the allocation of lands are awarded land certificates (titres d’affectation). While responsibility for the allocation of land certificates rests with the local rural councils and local communal councils, the LTSA has also created a new agency, the Technical Committee in Support of Land Tenure Security, composed of central government officials and private sector representatives, as well as civil society organisations, to act as an advisory agency to local authorities and oversee land allocations.

The LTSA was designed as a model that could be scaled up and applied elsewhere in Senegal. The government is now applying it to a controversial large-scale land project by the Italian-owned company Senhuile, as well as to the World Bank-funded PDIDAS project, discussed elsewhere in this report.110 MCA-Senegal is involved in both of these projects:

“Preparatory steps for each of these projects are borrowed from LTSA and are being implemented with support from MCA-Senegal, including: locally negotiated site selection of project activities; design and implementation of a public consultation process; proposal and validation of principles and procedures to govern land use; identification and acknowledgement of commitments, responsibilities and expectations on the part of local populations, investors and the government, public approval and acceptance of land management decisions, and formalization of commitments and agreements among partners in writing.”111

Phase 2 of the LTSA, launched in March 2013, will continue with the formalisation of land tenure in the Senegal River Valley. The government has requested that MCA-Senegal preside over a working group convened to develop policy and legislative mechanisms (i.e., reforming existing land tenure legislation) to reproduce these efforts on a national scale.112

Notes

1 The World Bank, the African Development Bank, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Group of 8 wealthiest countries (G8), the African Union, the Bill Gates-funded Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC) and others.

2 See the New Alliance website: http://www.new-alliance.org/

3 General information about the G8 New Alliance can be found from the government of the US (http://tinyurl.com/p836zyf) and the UK (http://tinyurl.com/q9cn58j). Civil society organisations have also produced a number of in depth analyses and critiques. Recent ones (2014) consulted for this paper include reports from the Transnational Institute (“The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition: A coup for corporate capital?”), ACF/CCFD/OxfamFrance (“La faim un business comme un autre“), WDM (“Carving up a continent: How the UK government is facilitating the corporate takeover of African food systems”) and Oxfam France (“A qui profite la Nouvelle Alliance ? La Nouvelle alliance pour la sécurité alimentaire et la nutrition du G8 au Burkina Faso”).

4 Nick Jacobs, “Investment as development”, University of Antwerp dissertation, 2014. On file.

5 The Voluntary Guidelines (http://tinyurl.com/67a7tz5) and the PRAI at (http://tinyurl.com/pqxsy2o) are available online.

7 See World Bank, “Development Policy Operations Frequently Asked Questions”, November 2009.

8 The LPI webpage is http://www.uneca.org/lpi

9 African Union, “Declaration on land issues and challenges in Africa,” July 2009.

10 African Union, “Framework and guidelines on land policy in Africa“, 31 January 2011.

11 These principles include transparency, inclusiveness, and prior informed participation of affected communities, as well as respecting the human rights of communities and women – including customary land rights – and recognising the role of small farmers in achieving food security. For more, see African Union, “Guiding principles on large scale land based investments in Africa”, 2009.

12 These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (1979), the Convention on the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (UNESCO, 1972) and the Right to Food (as recognised by Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

13 See Ernest Aubee, Odame Larbi, Hubert Ouedraogo and Joan Kagwanja, “Framework for harmonized land policies in West Africa: An LPI-ECOWAS partnership”, presentation to World Bank conference on land and poverty, March 2014.

14 Ibid.

16 See APF, “Résolution sur les Titres simplifiés sécurisés (TSS)”, Abidjan, 9-12 July 2013.

18 Online information about the G8LTI here: http://tinyurl.com/kxaywdq

19 Their website is http://www.donorplatform.org/

20 Members of the group are: ADA, AFD, BMELV, BMZ, DFID, EC, GIZ, MFA-Austria, MFA-Denmark, MFA-Finland, MFA-France, MFA-Netherlands, SDC, SIDA, FAO, JICA, IFAD, MCC, USAID, DFATD-Canada, UN-HABITAT, World Bank and the IFC. Germany (BMZ) is the Chair.

23 Please see MCC, Property rights and land policy.

24 Kent Elbow, “Burkina Faso’s Ambitious Experiment in Participatory Land Reform“, Focus on Land in Africa, August 2013.

25 There are also biosafety laws, which stipulate under what conditions genetically modified organisms can be imported into or released in a country.

26 See ARIPO’s Document ARIPO/CM/XIV/8 , available at http://tinyurl.com/p45fcds(downloaded on 30 July 2014)

28 See documents issued by Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and the African Centre for Biosafety.

29 See IP Watch, “OAPI joins UPOV”, 11 June 2014.

30 Sources on OAPI: Accord de Bangui and Membres de l’UPOV and Obtention végétale.

32 See AGRA website: www.agra-alliance.org

33 Plants and Fertiliser Act of 2010 (Act 803)

35 See AFSTA website for background (COMESA harmonised regulations) and the adopted regulations: COMESA Seed trade harmonization regulations, 2014.

38 For marketing, these are standards of the International Seed Testing Association and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

42 CORAF, “A consortium meeting held in Ouagadougou”, 7 January 2014.

43 See “WASP Action plan for 2014”.

45 Daniel Adero, “AGRA has invested over US$ 17.5 million in over 40 projects in Mali“, AGRA, 4 August 2014.

47 See William Valetta, “Rural land tenure security and food supply in southern Benin”, in Knowledge and Innovation Network, Volume II, Issue I, Spring/Winter 2012-2013.

49 UPOV is a legal system very similar to patenting. It promotes high levels of genetic uniformity in farmers’ fields and makes it illegal for farmers to freely save, exchange, sell or re-use seeds they harvest from protected varieties.

50World Bank, “Involuntary Resettlement

52 “Louis Dreyfus en stand-by à Abidjan”, La Lettre du Continent, 6 July 2014.

53 See Ethiopia’s CFA.

54 Proclamation 782/2013 is online at http://tinyurl.com/krxkfb9.

55 First-level certificates rely on neighbours’ recollection and basic plot demarcations to identify landholdings. Second-level certificates rely on more sophisticated measures. Reports indicate that communities are satisfied with first-level certificates while the demand for second-level certificates comes from government with a view to dealing with investors.

61 See USAID, SPEED Program, “2014 New Alliance progress report”, June 2014,http://www.speed-program.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/2014-SPEED-Report-008-New-Alliance-Progress-Report-EN.pdf

65 See the relevant documents on the UPOV website:http://www.upov.int/meetings/en/details.jsp?meeting_id=33384

66 AFSA, “The G8 New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN) and seed policy reform in Africa”, an internal discussion document, November 2014, 26 pp.

67 See model agreement here: http://www.tic.co.tz/media/DERIVATIVE%20RIGHT.pdf

68 For more information on land access for investment in Tanzania, see Amalia S Lui, “Foreigners’ Land Rights in Tanzania – are they there?“, May 2014

69 Find out more about the land for equity policy here:http://www.plaas.org.za/sites/default/files/Parallel7%20Duncan.pdf

72 This is according to the G8 New Alliance 2014 Progress Report

75 See the Bank’s press release announcing the project on 13 December 2013:http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/12/19/world-bank-senegal-agribusiness-sahel. See also the PRAI themselves at http://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/G-20/PRAI.aspx

77 GCAP project document, pp 11-114

79 Oxfam, “À qui profite la Nouvelle alliance ? La Nouvelle alliance pour la sécurité alimentaire et la nutrition du G8 au Burkina Faso”, encadré 1, 2014,http://www.oxfam.org/fr/cultivons/policy/%C3%A0-qui-profite-la-nouvelle-alliance

80 See World Bank, Involuntary Resettlement, http://go.worldbank.org/ZDIJXP7TQ0

84 Camille Saiah. “Le plaidoyer du syndicat béninois Synergie Paysanne sur les questions foncières.” 2013: http://dumas.ccsd.cnrs.fr/dumas-00948184

87 “Burkina Faso’s Ambitious Experiment in Participatory Land Reform”, Focus on Land in Africa, http://www.focusonland.com/fola/en/countries/briefs-burkina-fasos-ambitious-experiment-in-participatory-land-reform/

88 Ibid.

89 Kent Elbow, “Burkina Faso’s Ambitious Experiment in Participatory Land Reform”, Focus on Land in Africa, August 2013: http://www.focusonland.com/fola/en/countries/briefs-burkina-fasos-ambitious-experiment-in-participatory-land-reform/

90 MCA, “Burkina Faso Monitoring and Evaluation Plan: Revision 2″, July 2013:http://www.mcc.gov/documents/data/Burkina_ME_Plan_Revision_2013-_Final.pdf

94 Food Sovereignty Ghana, personal communication, 11 November 2014.

96 Ibidem

103 Leonard Rolfes Jr. and Alfousseyni Niono, “Strengthening land rights and food security in Mali”, MCC, Knowledge and Innovation Network, Winter/Spring 2012-2013,http://www.mcc.gov/documents/press/pub-2013001132901-kin-volume-two-number-one-mali.pdf

104 MCC, “Seeking a fair way to allocate land in Mali,” 31 January 2014:https://www.mcc.gov/pages/povertyreductionblog/entry/blog-013114-seeking-a-fair

106 Anna Locke, “Mozambique land policy case study,” ODI, March 2014:http://dx.doi.org/10.12774/eod_hd.march2014.locke

107 Anna Locke, “Mozambique land policy case study,” ODI, March 2014:http://dx.doi.org/10.12774/eod_hd.march2014.locke

108 See MCC Compact with Senegal: http://www.mcasenegal.org/mca/securisation-fonciere

109 The contract for the LTSA was awarded to a French consortium of consultants −Fit Conseil, Sonede Afrique, and CIRAD.

110 Kent Michael Elbow and Alain Diouf, Achieving Fair and Transparent Land Allocation of High-Value Agricultural Lands in the Senegal River Valley: The Delicate. Question of Selecting Project Beneficiaries, MCC, 2013: https://www.mcc.gov/documents/reports/paper-2013001132001-world-bank-fair-allocation.pdf

111 Kent Michael Elbow and Alain Diouf, Achieving Fair and Transparent Land Allocation of High-Value Agricultural Lands in the Senegal River Valley: The Delicate. Question of Selecting Project Beneficiaries, MCC, 2013: https://www.mcc.gov/documents/reports/paper-2013001132001-world-bank-fair-allocation.pdf

China paid Ukraine $3B two years Ago for grain still not delivered, now demands refund. Another $3.6B that’s owed to China, will probably also default.

Russia’s RIA Novosti News Agency reported, on January 17th, that China is demanding refund of $1.5 billion in cash and of an additional $1.5 billion in Chinese goods that were paid in advance by China (in 2013), for a 2012 Chinese order of grain from Ukraine, which goods still have not been supplied to China.

According to RIAN, “State Food and Grain Corporation of Ukraine (STATE FOOD) supplied grain in 2013, elsewhere, but not to China. The new Kiev authorities had an opportunity to fix the short-sighted actions ‘of the [previous] Yanukovych regime,’ and to present a positive economic image to the Chinese.” But it didn’t happen.

Furthermore: “Prior to the Presidency of Yanukovych [which started in 2010], China’s leadership had simply refused to do business with the pre-Yanukovych Administration’s Yulia Tymoshenko, and they planned to wait until Yanukovych became President. He then came, and since has been ousted, and yet still only $153 million of grain has been delivered.” (None of the $1.5B cash that China advanced to Ukraine to pay for growing and shipping grain has been returned to China, but only the $153M that had essentially been swapped: Chinese goods for Ukrainian grain.) This $153 million was approximately as much as the interest that would be due on China’s prepayment, and so Ukraine still owes China the full $3 billion ($1.5B in cash, + $1.5B that China supplied in goods).

The RIAN report goes on to quote Alex Luponosov, a Ukrainian authority on Ukraine’s banking system, who says, “Ukraine won’t be able to supply the grain to China, because we don’t have it.” The reason he gives is that “there is a big shortage of technicians: combiners, adjusters, mechanics, farm-machinery operators — all of them were taken by the army.” Those men are being required to fight in Ukraine’s ‘ATO’ or ‘Anti Terrorist Operation,’ that’s occurring in Ukraine’s former Donbass region (the far-eastern tip of Ukraine), the place where the residents don’t accept the new Ukrainian Government’s legitimacy, and they are therefore being called ‘Terrorists’ by this new Government, which is thus bombing them, supposedly in order to convince them that this new Government’s authority over them is legitimate (even though the residents there never participated in its selection, and have been cut off even from Ukraine’s social-security payments).

The Russian news report continues by quoting Luponosov again: “If the declaration of mobilization will take place in the planned figures, up to 100 thousand people in three stages, the sowing campaign cannot take place, either on the farms or at the grain traders.”  As part of Ukraine’s military mobilization — the new phase of which which started on January 20 — military offices take first the rural male population of the country, and farm-production must therefore suffer.

Luponosov was quoted: “Now try to tell Parliament to amend the war-legislation so that these people won’t be taken from their villages. No one will deny the military. Parliament thus cannot do anything [to fulfill on Ukraine’s grain-contract with China].”

The RIAN report says that, “China is angry,” and it closes: “By the way, in addition to China’s $3B loan that’s to be repaid with grain [which cannot be supplied], Ukraine also received from China a $3.6 billion loan to pay for the gasification of coal, by Ukraine’s gas company, Naftogaz, which the Ukrainian Government has guaranteed up to 2.3 billion dollars. Information on the implementation of the coal-gasification project has not been made available, but there seems to be a high probability that this matter too will be decided in a court. If China decides to call in that loan, then the result will be the bankruptcy of either Naftogaz, or the Ukrainian Government.”

On January 9th, Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, reassured the IMF, EU, and other investors of all funds that are being loaned to Ukraine, that Ukraine is doing everything possible to fulfill on its financial obligations to all investors:

“I would also like to note that the money that we get in the framework of international financial assistance, does not go to finance the state budget deficit, it does not go to the payment of pensions, it does not go to the payment of wages. All of this is happening in the first place, solely to perform our external obligations.” On 1 May 2014, the IMF (whose money comes from taxpayers in U.S. and the EU, not from the aristocrats whose investments the IMF protects and whom the IMF actually serves) had stated that Ukraine’s first obligation, without which the IMF would lend no more money, is to win the war against Donbass. Yatsenyuk, thus, is here reassuring the IMF, and other investors in Ukraine, that their money will not go to pay for anything but winning this war.

The IMF, and other lenders, require Ukraine to win this war, because, if the Ukrainian Government doesn’t win, then the natural gas and other assets that are in the ground in that region will not become available to be sold off by the Ukrainian Government in order to pay-off those investors; instead, the residents there (the people whom the Ukrainian Government is now trying to eliminate) will control those assets, as being assets of a separate state — one which has not borrowed from these investors. The IMF wants the assets that are in the ground, not the people who are living on it. That is why it demands victory (elimination of the people in Donbass) — or else Ukraine will promptly go bankrupt. (And, perhaps, so too will some of those investors.)

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.

Who Is Going to Auschwitz?

January 22nd, 2015 by Yuriy Rubtsov

General-Lieutenant (two stars) Vasily Petrenko was in charge of 107th infantry division at the time. He remembers what he saw when Auschwitz was liberated, «There were seven and a half people remaining alive on the day I came to Auschwitz on January 18. I saw no normal people. Germans made leave everyone who could walk, only disabled inmates were left. I saw children… what a terrible view! Swollen abdomen, wandering eyes, hands waving uselessly in the air, thin legs, huge heads – other parts of the body did not look real – they appeared to be sown to bodies. Children never produced a sound as they were showing individual inmate identification numbers tattooed on their hands».

People of different nationalities perished in great numbers. The death rate was estimated in dozens of millions. But the triumph of German Nazism happened to be short-lived. Those days are remembered as the most terrible events in European history.

The death camps covered Central and Eastern Europe like bubonic plague sores.  Even according to official data of German Ministry of Interior, the fascist regime built 1634 concentration camps. Besides, there were many other structures created to find the final solution to the problem of «second rate» people or «lower races». Located 70 km from Krakow, Auschwitz was the largest (around 40 square km) network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated by Nazi Germany during WWII. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz II – Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz III – Monowitz (the largest sub-camp of Auschwitz) and satellite camps. The first prisoners came there in June 1940, and there were over 100,000 inmates by 1944. The camp was the place of people’s mass extermination, especially of the Jews. There were inmates from Poland, USSR, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Norway, Romania, Italy and Hungary. For a long time the number of victims was believed to be at least 1, 1 million. In 2010 the Russia’s Federal Security Service declassified the data which showed that more than four million inmates were killed by Nazi. 

There were four crematoriums and two provisional gas chambers. Soviet prisoners and weak inmates were the first to undergo the Zyklon B gas trials in the spring of 1942. At first bodies were buried, then eliminated in crematories and ditches specially dug for the purpose. Inmates underwent medical experiments. The factory of death killed 150 thousand inmates a month. Crematories and fires burning all night eliminated 270 thousand bodies monthly.

The Soviet Supreme Command knew about the existence of the death camps. It ordered the 1st and 4th Ukrainian fronts to liberate Auschwitz during the Vistula–Oder offensive operation. The 100th infantry division led by General Fyodor Krasavin took Auschwitz on January 27, 1945 to save the lives of remaining 7 thousand inmates. The reality was shocking. The machine of extermination was perfect and smooth-running. Here is some evidence provided to Smersh counterintelligence by imprisoned fascist punishers. Elizabeth Gazelow (superintendent in Ravensbrück, Majdanek and Auschwitz) says, «There were 40-45 thousand inmates of different nationalities: Russian, Ukrainians, Poles, Czech, French. It was a camp of extermination. It had crematorium, gas chambers…Children were put into the chambers in front of their parents». 

Willie Steinborn (SS-Rottenführer, a guard) remembers, «A large group of Poles, Russians and other nationalities was to be exterminated. The inmates offered resistance. SS guards let dogs attack them. They enjoyed the picture as live people separated from each other were torn and mangled by dogs».

Alfred Skchipek (in charge of barack N8), «There was a punishment called «steinbunker». 20-30 people were put into a small cell. With such little space they could only stand there. No windows, there was only a few millimeters wide crack in the wall. With no air coming inmates were suffocating. Transported in winter to be exterminated prisoners were made work outside without shoes and clothes on till they died of cold. There were 200-300 victims at a time».

People hold Latvian and Estonian (R) national flags during the annual procession commemorating the Latvian Waffen-SS (Schutzstaffel) unit, also known as the Legionnaires, in Riga.

Image: People hold Latvian and Estonian (R) national flags during the annual procession commemorating the Latvian Waffen-SS (Schutzstaffel) unit, also known as the Legionnaires, in Riga.

There were thousands of such testimonies weird enough to give one the creeps. I’m afraid all these evidence is not enough to make a single tear drop from the eyes of those who today are mourning the dead in Washington, London, Brussels and Warsaw. They say that this is the time to commemorate the victims of gas chambers, but in reality they take the side of punishers, not the victims. In Europe and overseas they speak the right words to remember those who suffered from Holocaust while turning a blind eye on the SS marches that regularly take place in the Baltic States for already 20 years. They nod their heads upon hearing the delirium about the Soviet occupation of East Europe and even Germany and say that the fascist coup in Kiev is nothing else but the expression of people’s will. They say that the Moscow’s support for the compatriots shelled in the Donbass is an aggression. The egregious political intrigue and maneuvering mixed with stone age Russophobia makes Western elite unable to discern the revival of the global evil which would have ruled the world today, if it had not been the Soviet Union and its Red Army which demonstrated unparalleled prowess 70 years ago. Being connived at the evil enjoys the proper environment to make it thrive today.

Vladimir Putin can put up with the fact that he is not invited to the major event at Auschwitz marking 70 years since inmates of the Nazi death camp were liberated by the Red Army. No great pleasure to meet the sycophants who gather millions to take part in the Paris march to protest the death of journalists-provocateurs and watch indifferently as the Khatyn massacre is repeated in Odessa. They have chutzpah to say they don’t want to see in Auschwitz the head of state who ordered the attack against Ukraine. The sponsors of Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi regime believe it’s not expedient to invite the head of state claiming to be the successor of the Soviet Union – the country that liberated Auschwitz and a half of Europe. But they find it expedient to invite the Chancellor of Germany who supports the Nazi regime in Ukraine to prove that it’s too early to affirm that Germans have successfully gone through denazification. They find Nazism unacceptable on their soil but put up with its presence in other countries… 

The organizers want to commemorate the victims of Auschwitz standing side by side with the leaders of Ukraine’s fascist regime (as it was in Paris).

The organizers want to commemorate the victims of Auschwitz standing side by side with the leaders of Ukraine’s fascist regime (as it was in Paris).

The organizers want to commemorate the victims of Auschwitz standing side by side with the leaders of Ukraine’s fascist regime. Could it be any other way? All those kapos (a kapo – a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp assigned by the SS guards to supervise other inmates) and «block-eltesters» (a block-eltester – the eldest man of the block in a concentration camp) – the Banderites and their successors – are spiritual mentors of such gentlemen as Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk, Turchinov and Yarosh. Just ask them and they will willingly tell you a story how they defended the civilized Europe from the hordes coming from the East. They will also tell you how to operate the furnaces of Auschwitz, use people as guinea pigs for experiments with Zyklon B and torture unarmed inmates. Especially in the view of the experience that is remembered as Ukraine conducts the so-called «anti-terror operation» in the east.

The participation in the events of Western leaders who head the states that were the USSR’s allies during WWII is a special case for consideration. The words they say about democratic standards on the territory of Auschwitz sound like mentioning rope in the house of a man who has been hunged. Especially if one remembers how their predecessors – Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill – reacted to the information about what happened in Nazi concentrations camps.

British doctoral student Barbara Rogers has discovered a 20-page document in the Foreign Office archive proving conclusively that Britain and the United States knew about the gas chambers at Auschwitz as early as December 1942. The information was contained in a memorandum passed to the British government and handed to U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Jewish leaders at a White House meeting on Dec. 8, 1942.

While it has been known that the Allies knew then about the «Final Solution» – and even about gas chambers – this is the first time it was demonstrated that the Allies knew in 1942 about the crematoria at Auschwitz. It informed Roosevelt that «centers have been established in various parts of Eastern

Roosevelt was informed about concentration camps in Central and Eastern Europe but he did nothing.

Roosevelt was informed about concentration camps in Central and Eastern Europe but he did nothing.

Europe for the scientific and cold-blooded mass murder of Jews. Polish Christian workers, eyewitnesses, have confirmed reports that concrete buildings, on the former Russian frontiers, are used by the Germans as gas chambers in which thousands of Jews have been put to death.

The memorandum also specifically informed Roosevelt: «The slaughter of trainloads of Jewish adults and children in great crematoriums at Ozwiencim [Auschwitz] near Krakow is confirmed by eyewitnesses in reports which recently reached Jerusalem». There is no information the allies ever reacted. The find reignites debates about why the Allies took no action, such as bombing, to disrupt the operation of Auschwitz. The researcher made precise the reasons why London did not contact Berlin on the matter. The British feared a flood of Jewish emigration from Europe to Palestine (Palestine was then part of the British Empire). The other reason is that they were anxious to avoid a popular backlash if they were perceived to be fighting a «Jewish war».

In other words the whole nations were sacrificed in the interests of the British Empire. Even after the Second Front was open and Anglo-America forces moved to the east and their aviation could easily reach Auschwitz nothing was done to at least interrupt transport routes to the camp and thus complicate the continuation of heinous crimes committed by Germans. No wonder the contemporary successors of Roosevelt and Churchill are prone to hypocrisy.Meeting in Washington on January 16 Barack Obama and David Cameron agreed to keep sanctions on Russia until it stops its «aggression» in Ukraine, «We agree on the need to maintain strong sanctions against Russia until it ends its aggression in Ukraine, and on the need to support Ukraine as it implements important economic and democratic reforms,» Obama said after talks in Washington with the UK Prime Minister. What a striking similarity: some believe that crematoria and gas chambers serve as instruments of purification while others use napalm and multiple launch rocket systems against civilians in the Donbass as the means of implementing «democratic reforms». Don’t get surprised, ladies and gentlemen, if the smell of new crematorium will be felt again in Europe. 

Prof. Yuri Rubtsov is the Ph.D. (History) who lectures at the Military University (Moscow).

Wenige Tage vor der Wahl am 25. Januar intensivieren die Regierungen und die Medien in der Europäischen Union ihre Kampagne gegen Griechenland. Während der IWF alle Zahlungen an Athen ausgesetzt hat und so mit Nachdruck seine Verachtung für demokratische Wahlen demonstriert, weigern sich die Regierungen der Eurozone konsequent, das von Berlin in die Welt gesetzte Gerüchte um eine Entlassung Griechenlands aus der Eurozone und die Wiedereinführung der Drachme zu dementieren.

Wer auch nur annähernd mit der globalen Finanzwirtschaft vertraut ist, weiß, dass es so gut wie unmöglich ist, ein Land mit Staatsschulden in Höhe von fast 330 Mrd. Euro aus der Währungsunion zu entlassen, ohne das globale Finanzsystem in seinen Grundfesten zu erschüttern. Deshalb sollte man Berlins Taktieren nicht für bare Münze nehmen. Allerdings sollte man sehr wohl auf den drohenden Unterton achten, der sich hinter dieser Taktik verbirgt. Die Regierung in Berlin warnt das griechische Volk auf diese Weise nämlich, am 25. Januar auf keinen Fall eine Regierung zu wählen, die es wagen sollte, sich dem Diktat der Troika zu widersetzen.

Fünf Jahre sind vergangen, seit Griechenland unter die Zwangsverwaltung der Troika aus Europäischer Union, Europäischer Zentralbank und Internationalem Währungsfonds gestellt wurde. Nachdem die Eurokrise das Land 2009 getroffen hatte, standen zahlreiche Großbanken des Landes vor dem Zusammenbruch und wurden von der Regierung durch die Weiterreichung von Steuergeldern an die Finanzindustrie gerettet. Die Löcher, die diese Summen in den Staatshaushalt rissen, mussten anschließend gestopft werden. Diese Aufgabe wurde der Troika übertragen, die Athen offiziell durch „Hilfskredite“ wieder auf die Beine bringen sollte.

Den arbeitenden Menschen in Griechenland wurde erzählt, diese Kredite seien aus wirtschaftlicher Sicht unumgänglich und würden auch ihnen langfristig zugute kommen. In Wahrheit aber flossen diese Kredite fast ausschließlich in die Tresore großer Banken. Nur ein Beispiel: Von den 18 Mrd. Euro, die der Europäische Stabilitätsmechanismus (ESM) im Juni 2012 bereit stellte, gingen 6.9 Mrd. An die National Bank, 5 Mrd. an die Piraeus Bank, 4.2 Mrd. an die EFG Eurobank Ergesias und 1.9 Mrd. An die Alpha Bank.

Wie auch in anderen Ländern, in denen die Troika einschritt, ging von ihren angeblichen “Hilfskrediten” nicht ein einziger Cent an die arbeitenden Menschen in Griechenland. Aber damit nicht genug. Obwohl sie mit dem finanziellen Desaster ihres Landes nicht das Geringste zu tun hatten, waren sie es, denen nun die gigantische Aufgabe auferlegt wurde, die Rückzahlung dieser Kredite sicherzustellen. Während diejenigen, die das Chaos verursacht hatten – rücksichtslose Finanzspekulanten – unbehelligt davonkamen, wurde die arbeitende Bevölkerung Griechenlands unter die Zwangsverwaltung der Troika gestellt. Innerhalb von vier Jahren wurden ihr sechs Sparprogramme aufgebürdet, die ihren Lebensstandard von dem eines europäischen Landes auf den eines Entwicklungslandes senkten.

Heute gleicht Griechenland einem sozialen und wirtschaftlichen Trümmerhaufen. Fünf Jahre nach dem Einsetzen der Krise sind mehr als eine Million Rentner gezwungen, von weniger als 500 Euro im Monat zu leben, der Mindestlohn beträgt 586 Euro, die Arbeitslosigkeit liegt bei 26 % und die Jugendarbeitslosigkeit bei fast 60 %. Das Gesundheitswesen liegt in Scherben und soziale Dienstleistungen existieren so gut wie nicht mehr. Die Verzweiflung der Menschen hat zu einer Zunahme von Drogenkonsum und Selbstmorden geführt, die Lebenserwartung sinkt und die Säuglingssterblichkeit nimmt kontinuierlich zu.

Was kommt nach den Wahlen auf Griechenland zu? Nun, sollte das Land allen Wahrscheinlichkeiten zum Trotz tatsächlich zum Verlassen der Eurozone und zur Wiedereinführung der Drachme gezwungen werden, so würde die neue Drachme auf jeden Fall drastisch abgewertet. Das würde zu einem weiteren Kaufkraftverlust führen und vor allem die unteren Einkommensschichten und die Armen mit aller Härte treffen und viele unter das Existenzminimum drücken. Darüber hinaus würde eine Abwertung ausländischen Währungsspekulanten in die Hände spielen, die mit hohen Gewinnen rechnen und diese anschließend zum Aufkauf kleiner und mittlerer griechischer Unternehmen einsetzen könnten. Außerdem würde eine solche Abwertung eine drastische Erhöhung der Staatsschulden bedeuten, die eine Verlängerung der Rückzahlungsfristen bis weit in die nächste Generation notwendig machen würden.

Was aber, wenn Griechenland in der Eurozone verbleiben darf? Könnte das mit einer zumindest teilweisen Aufhebung der Sparmaßnahmen einhergehen? Ganz im Gegenteil: Die Staatsschulden liegen derzeit im Verhältnis zum Bruttoinlandsprodukt um 27 % höher als im Jahr 2010. Um ihre Rückzahlung zu gewährleisten, müssten die neuen Machthaber in Athen sich nicht nur weiter dem Diktat der Troika unterwerfen, sondern den Sparkurs mit Sicherheit noch verschärfen. Das heißt, es kämen weitere Entlassungen im öffentlichen Dienst, eine weitere Senkung der Staatsausgaben (vor allem im sozialen Bereich) und eine weitere Verschärfung der Ausbeutung der Arbeitskraft zwecks „Erhöhung der wirtschaftlichen Wettbewerbsfähigkeit des Landes“ auf die griechischen Arbeitnehmer zu.

Doch auch das wird höchstwahrscheinich nicht ausreichen, um die internationalen Geldgeber zufrieden zu stellen. Deshalb sollte man sich auf weitere, noch härtere Maßnahmen gefasst machen. Es lohnt sich, aus diesem Grunde einen Blick auf das Eingreifen der Troika in Zypern zu werfen, wo der Banken-Bail-out (die Bankenrettung durch Steuergelder) durch ein Bail-In ersetzt und die Banken unter Beteiligung von Einlegern und Kleinsparern gerettet wurden. Außerdem sollte man sich das im Oktober 2013 vom IWF veröffentlichte Papier „Taxing Times“ („Zeit für Steuern“) ansehen, in dem zur Auffüllung der Löcher im Staatshaushalt eine zehnprozentige Vermögenssteuer auf alle privaten Haushalte gefordert wird. In jedem Fall sollte man davon ausgehen, dass es Maßnahmen wie diese sind, zu der die Troika eine zukünftige Regierung in Athen zwingen wird.

Was aber, wenn Syriza die Wahlen am 25. Januar gewinnt? Wäre diese Partei in der Lage, den Forderungen der Troika mit der Unterstützung ihrer Wähler entgegenzutreten und Griechenland aus der Krise zu führen? Ein Blick auf das Parteiprogramm zeigt: Auf der einen Seite wird ein Ende der Sparpolitik, auf der anderen aber der Verbleib in der Eurozone und die weitere Zusammenarbeit mit der EU gefordert – ein gelinde gesagt, höchst widersprüchliches Programm, von dem eines auf jeden Fall vorausgesagt werden kann: Dass es auf den härtesten Widerstand der Troika treffen wird.

Deren Macht aber scheinen sowohl das Führungspersonal als auch die Anhänger Syrizas in höchstem Maße zu unterschätzen. Um es klar und deutlich zu sagen: Die Troika ist als Exekutivorgan des europäischen und des amerikanischen Finanzkapitals derzeit die  mächtigste Finanzorganisation der Welt und erheblich stärker als jede einzelne Regierung dieser Welt. Sollte Syriza tatsächlich an die Macht kommen und auch nur einen Hauch an der bisherigen Sparpolitik ändern, werden die Troika und mit ihr die Finanzmärkte mit Sicherheit umgehend reagieren. Beide zusammen werden die griechische Wirtschaft innerhalb kürzester Zeit in ein Chaos stürzen und Syriza zwingen, sich den Forderungen des internationalen Finanzkapitals zu beugen oder zurückzutreten.

Dies wiederum wird zu heftigen Fraktionskämpfen innerhalb von Syriza, einem Rechtsruck von vielen von ihnen und zu einer Radikalisierung enttäuschter Wähler führen, die in Massen die Durchsetzung der von Syriza gemachten Wahlversprechen fordern werden. Genau dies ist die Entwicklung, vor der sich die deutsche Regierung, die EU und der IWF am meisten fürchten: Dass die arbeitenden Menschen In Griechenland, sobald sich Syriza in den Widersprüchen der eigenen Politik verfängt, auf ihren Forderungen beharren und auf der Einlösung der vor der Wahl gemachten Versprechen bestehen, in Massen auf die Straßen gehen und damit Proteste und Demonstrationen in anderen europäischen Ländern auslösen könnten, die angesichts der schwelenden Wut über den politischen Betrug der vergangenen fünf Jahre ein Ausmaß annehmen könnten, das der Kontinent seit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg nicht erlebt hat.

Ernst Wolff ist freiberuflicher Journalist und Autor des Buches “Weltmacht IWF – Chronik eines Raubzugs”, erschienen im Tectum-Verlag.

Artikel auf English: Global Finance and the Greek Elections: The Political Establishment’s Worst Nightmares

 

Applauding Israel’s Transgressions

January 21st, 2015 by Ahmad Barqawi

Upon returning from  the anti-terrorism rally in Paris, with a focus on “Free Speech”, the first order of business for Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was lambasting the International Criminal Court, for merely entertaining the (anti-Semitic?) notion of investigating “possible” Israeli war crimes in Gaza. (how dare they?)

Going as far as threatening to lobby member-states and allies to cut off funding for the tribunal and practically pull a repeat of the UNESCO farce when the Obama Administration, at the behest and for the benefit of its darling Israel, froze funding for the cultural organization, after granting the Palestinians full membership into the agency, plunging the UN body into the worst financial dire strait in its history.

It is more than likely that Netanyahu will get his way this time too.

The second order of business, however, was sending a military helicopter gunship over to Syrian territory and bombing a convoy belonging to the Lebanese Resistance Movement Hezbollah, killing six operatives including the son of assassinated leader Imad Mughnyyieh and field commander Mohammad Issa in addition to one Iranian General, in the Syrian village of Quneitra close to the border area with Lebanon in the Golan heights.

Business as usual for humanitarian extraordinaire Bibi and Co.

Of course this was no terrorist attack, at least not according to the mainstream media; so you won’t be seeing #jesuishizbollah anywhere on social media and no solidarity marches in real life, just another daily recount of internationally tolerable Israeli shenanigans in the region.

Evidently, unless it involves scraggy young men with weird, unpronounceable Middle Eastern names, wearing Keffiyehs, wielding shabby Kalashnikovs and storming the streets of a western city then it’s not terrorism, and in the case of the latest Israel airstrike in the Syrian Golan heights; it was just a military operation, clean and surgical, according to the BBC at least; not forgetting of course to tail the news with the little tidbit that this is not the first time Israel has conducted air strikes inside Syria, to “prevent the transfer of stockpiles of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah”. So, all should be fine and dandy then.

You see it’s completely acceptable for the BBC to venture justifications on behalf of the Israeli army for its various terrorist operations and transgressions in the region, we’ve seen it before in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon; covering Israeli crimes in the complacent mainstream media usually comes with peppered excuses and rationalizations that supposedly give some sort of subtle credence to any act of aggression committed by the Zionist entity, wrapping it with the usual, tattered caveat of “self-defense”; the AP’s report on the latest attack, for instance, highlighted the fact that Hezbollah had recently boasted of its “ability to hit any part of the Jewish state” with rockets, in reference to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasserallah’s recent interview. Imagine the outrage!

Whereas if one so much as dared to attempt a mildly rational and lucid reading of the Charlie Hebdo massacre; he’d be immediately castigated at best and lumped into the same category as the Kouachi brothers as an Al Qaida sympathizer at worst; that’s the freedom of speech they were marching for in Paris I guess.

Speaking of Al Qaida; do you know who were rubbing their hands with ecstatic glee over the Israeli airstrike against Hezbollah? None other than Al Qaida’s very own Al Nusra Front (or the moderate Syrian opposition force worthy of caches of weapons and funding, according to the west) and other rag-tag, ideologically like-minded militant groups whose evident ironclad alliance with Israel has transcended the widely reported medical assistance and treatment of the injured in Israeli hospitals into providing direct military backing and air cover when needed especially in areas where the Syrian opposition’s tenuous grab is slipping in favor of the Syrian Army along with Hezbollah forces. Areas such as Al Quneitra.

In a sense this latest Israeli attack against a Hezbollah target in Syria serves as a perfect cliff note for the uninitiated to disentangle this seemingly complicated cobweb of alliances in the Syrian war. On the one side you have the Syrian Government of Bashar Al Assad backed by Hezbollah and Iran, while on the other you have a who’s who of the region’s nastiest terrorists; from the mismatched posses of Islamic extremists fighting under the Islamic Army moniker, to ISIS and Al Nusra Front, backed by the deep-pocketed Gulf monarchies along with Erdogan’s Turkey and the U.S., with Netanyahu’s Israel added to the mix for good measure. Talk about a true rogues gallery.

A cursory glance over GCC media and social networks is more than enough to note a certain air of unabashed exuberance over the Israeli airstrike; Syrian “revolutionaries” along with their GCC sponsors could not contain their jubilation as soon as news of the bombing broke; gloating over the assassination and mocking Hezbollah’s rhetoric of vowing vengeance for its slain operatives “at the time and place of its choosing”.

The rotten logic of the “lesser of two evils”, in reference to the Zionist regime, has become such a stable in the armory of the anti-Hezbollah/anti-Iran crowd in the Arab World, invoked every time the Israeli terrorist army commits a new atrocity to soften the impact of its crimes and desensitize the public to Israel’s parasitic existence on Arab lands. And this time was no different; with many reveling in the claim that Hezbollah “had it coming” for backing the government of Bashar Al Assad.

In an article confessedly titled “How Did We End up Applauding for Israel”, published in the Saudi-financed, crude Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, which by the way, itself exhibited an unmistakable celebratory tone while covering the latest Israel strike especially over the slain Iranian General, Saudi writer Abdel Rahman al-Rashed actually “laments” the fact that there are growing cheerleading voices in the Arab world for Israel and that (some) Arabs have become increasingly more vocal in their support for the Zionist entity just out of sheer “spite” for Hezbollah and Iran, especially on social media websites and even among supporters of Islamic Jihadi groups.

Nonetheless, al-Rashed places the brunt of the blame on… yes you guessed it… Hezbollah, Israel’s arch enemy, for ostensibly  transforming poor, gullible Arabs en mass into hordes of hardcore Israel-enthusiasts, through its alleged role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al Hariri (according to a sham international tribunal anyway), and the Lebanese party’s military involvement in the Syrian civil war. Talk about connecting all the wrong dots.

Never mind that the Lebanese movement has been the subject of an unrelenting smear campaign steeped in vile sectarianism, all manner of character assassination and outright fabrications targeting its leaders, and discrediting its military achievements against Israel ever since 2005, courtesy of Saudi Arabia along with the rest of the GCC club (aka Al Rashed’s sole meal tickets) and their labyrinthine network of media outlets including Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper where anti-Shiite sentiments run amok and distinct pro-Israel bias reigns supreme.

Never mind the fact that the Arab public has been bombarded with a nonstop barrage of demonization and vilification sprees directed not only at Hezbollah, but also at any movement, party or political group which just so happens to adopt an anti-Israel stance and/or rhetoric, including the Palestinian movements of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, only with the sole endgame of reshuffling the public’s priorities to accommodate the West’s political agenda in our region where Israel gets to sit snugly and comfortably in our midst all the while Iran is being touted and over-hyped as the biggest threat to the stability of the Arab world.

It’s true; we do applaud for Israel. Its transgressions and air strikes on Arab soil no longer provoke a sense of outrage or even the merest of condemnations, but we only have the GCC to thank for that.

Ahmad Barqawi, a freelance columnist and writer

The Methane Monster Roars

January 21st, 2015 by Dahr Jamail

(Image: Icy watersrising steamgas jets via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)

During a recent hike in Washington State’s Olympic National Park, I marveled at the delicate geometry of frost-covered ferns. White crystalline structures seemed to grow from the green leaves, encasing them in a frozen frame of temporary beauty.

Progressing further up into the mountains, I stopped to lunch and sip hot coffee from a thermos while gazing across a river valley at a snow-covered mountainside, sizing up a frozen waterfall for a possible ice climb in the future. Yet I found myself beginning to wonder how many more winters ice would continue to form there.

The disparity of the beauty before me with my troubled thoughts about the planet has found no reconciliation. I had been collecting data and conducting interviews for articles about methane releases in the Arctic for weeks, and pondering the information through the holidays only led me into depression. Going out into the mountains helped, but also provoked grave concerns for our collective future.

To consider the possibility that humans have altered the atmosphere of the earth so drastically as to put our own lives in danger seems, at least emotionally, unfathomable. Given the scale of the planet, one would think, logically, it might not even be possible. Yet the majestic snow-covered peaks near where I live may no longer have glaciers (or even snow) within my lifetime, according to some of the scientists I’ve interviewed.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

Paul Beckwith, a climatology and meteorology professor at the University of Ottawa, Canada, is an engineer and physicist who researches abrupt climate change in both the present day and in the paleoclimatology records of the deep past.

“It is my view that our climate system is in early stages of abrupt climate change that, unchecked, will lead to a temperature rise of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius within a decade or two,” Beckwith told me. “Obviously, such a large change in the climate system will have unprecedented effects on the health and well-being of every plant and animal on our planet.”

A Very Different Planet

Vast amounts of methane lie frozen in the Arctic. It’s not news that the Arctic sea ice is melting rapidly, and that it will likely be gone for short periods during the summers starting as early as next year. Losing that ice means releasing larger amounts of previously trapped methane into the atmosphere.

Additionally, lying along the Arctic’s subsea continental margins and beneath Arctic permafrost are methane hydrates, often described as methane gas surrounded by ice. In March 2010, a report in Science indicated that these cumulatively contain the equivalent of 1,000 to 10,000 gigatons of carbon.

For perspective, humans have released approximately 1,475 gigatons in total carbon dioxide since the year 1850.

Beckwith warns that losing the Arctic sea ice will create a state that “will represent a very different planet, with a much higher global average temperature, in which snow and ice in the northern hemisphere becomes very rare or even vanishes year round.”

In the simplest terms, here’s what an ice-free Arctic would mean when it comes to heating the planet: Minus the reflective ice cover on Arctic waters, solar radiation would be absorbed, not reflected, by the Arctic Ocean. That would heat those waters, and hence the planet, further. This effect has the potential to change global weather patterns, vary the flow of winds and even someday possibly alter the position of the jet stream. Polar jet streams are fast-flowing rivers of wind positioned high in the earth’s atmosphere that push cold and warm air masses around, playing a critical role in determining the weather of our planet.

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” Beckwith explained. “The rapidly warming Arctic relative to the rest of the planet (five to eight times global average temperature rise) is decreasing the temperature gradient between the Arctic and the equator.”

This decreased gradient is disrupting the jet stream, leading to further warming in the Arctic, forming a runaway feedback loop, which in turn is causing the release of more methane in the Arctic.

And on land, it’s already happening as well. On Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula, mysterious holes in the ground drew international attention before they became not-so-mysterious when Russian researchers found significant amounts of methane inside them. Now, that same area is making news again as researchers have found increasing amounts of methane emissions coming from thawing permafrost there.

“As the methane concentrations increase in the Arctic from the large warming rates there in both the atmosphere and ocean, the jet streams will be greatly disrupted even more than now,” Beckwith said. “Physics dictates that this will continue to increase the frequency, severity and duration of extreme weather events like torrential rains leading to widespread flooding in some regions and droughts in other regions. Needless to say, this causes enormous economic losses and poses a severe and grave threat to our global food supply. Thus, the Arctic can be considered the Achilles heel in our climate system.”

US Navy researchers have predicted periods of an ice-free Arctic ocean in the summer by 2016.

British scientist John Nissen, chairman of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group,suggests that if the summer sea ice loss passes “the point of no return” and “catastrophic Arctic methane feedbacks” kick in, we’ll be in an “instant planetary emergency.”

Why should we be so concerned about methane, when all of the talk around climate disruption seems to focus on carbon dioxide levels?

In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term time scale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide. When it comes to heating the planet, methane is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, per molecule, on a 100-year timescale, and 105 times more potent on a 20-year timescale – and the Arctic permafrost, onshore and off, is packed with the stuff.

According to a study published in Nature Geoscience, twice as much methane as previously thought is being released from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a 2 million square kilometer area off the coast of northern Siberia. The recent study’s researchers found that at least 17 teragrams (17 million tons) of methane are being released into the atmosphere each year, whereas a 2010 study had found only seven teragrams heading into the atmosphere.

To gain a better understanding of the implications of Arctic warming, I interviewed some of the scientists conducting the most cutting edge and current methane studies in the Arctic.

Dr. Leonid Yurganov is a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland Physics Department and the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, and his current research expertise is connected with remote sensing of tropospheric composition and Arctic methane levels. He is a co-author of an upcoming research paper that will show how recent Arctic warming has stimulated speculations about the release of methane from the seabed there and kicked off a new climatic positive feedback loop. Using remote sensing technology, his team has detected long-term increases of methane over large areas of the Arctic.

Yurganov warns of the consequences of a rapidly warming Arctic.

“The difference in temperatures between the poles and the equator drives our air currents from [the] west to [the] east,” he told Truthout. “If this difference diminishes, the west to east transport becomes slower, and north-south currents become stronger. This results in frequent changes in weather in mid-latitudes.”

While Yurganov isn’t seeing “fast and immediate liberation of methane from hydrates” at this very moment, he warned of what would happen if and when it does occur.

“Increased methane would influence air temperature near the surface,” he said. “This would accelerate the Arctic warming and change the climate everywhere in the world.”

Yurganov does not foresee an immediate global collapse within a decade. In his view, the summer Arctic sea ice will continue to shrink in a more linear fashion, but the frequency of extreme weather events and rising sea levels will continue to accelerate. “People should accommodate to climate change and be prepared to a decline in life-level caused by it,” he warned.

Yurganov sees population reduction via people not having as many babies as one answer to our predicament.

“Depopulation, that resolves all the problems,” he said. “The earth with [a] lower global population, say, twice as low, would emit less carbon dioxide.”

Another Russian scientist who has been studying methane releases in the Arctic, however, had even more worrying news.

The Looming Specter of Abrupt Methane Release

Natalia Shakhova is a research associate professor of the University Alaska Fairbanks, International Arctic Research Center, where she focuses on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS). Shakhova believes we should be concerned about her group’s findings from the ESAS, specifically, because that area differs significantly from methane emissions happening elsewhere around the world.

The ESAS is the largest shelf in the world, encompassing more than 2 million square kilometers, or 8 percent of the world’s continental shelf. Shakhova believes it holds an area-weighted contribution to the global hydrate inventory of “at least 10 to 15 percent.”

“These emissions are prone to be non-gradual (massive, abrupt) for a variety of reasons,” she told Truthout. “The main reason is that the nature of major processes associated with methane releases from subsea permafrost is non-gradual.”

This means that methane releases from decaying frozen hydrates could result in emission rates that “could change in order of magnitude in a matter of minutes,” and that there would be nothing “smooth, gradual or controlled” about it; we could be looking at non-linear releases of methane in amounts that are difficult to fathom.

She explained that the transition from the methane being frozen in the permafrost, either on land or in the shallow northern shores of the East Siberian Arctic, “is not gradual. When it comes to phase transition, it appears to be a relatively short, jump-like transformation from one state of the process to another state. The difference between the two states is like the difference between a closed valve and an open valve. This kind of a release is like the unsealing of an over-pressurized pipeline.”

These immediate methane releases in the ESAS could be triggered at any moment by seismic or tectonic events, the subsiding of sediments caused by hydrate decay or sediment sliding due to permafrost degradation and thaw. The ESAS is particularly prone to these immediate shifts because it is three times shallower than the mean depth of the continental shelf of the world ocean.

“This means that probability of dissolved methane to escape from the water column to the atmosphere is from three to 10 times greater than anywhere in the world’s oceans,” Shakhova said. “In the ESAS, methane is predominantly transported as bubbles. Methane bubbles rise to the surface at a speed from 10 to 40 cm s-1; this means that it only takes minutes for methane to reach the water surface and escape to the atmosphere.”

Including all factors, Shakhova estimates that the carbon pool of the ESAS is in orders of magnitude greater than 180 gigatons, and added that “its role will increase over time.”

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature in July 2013 confirmed what Shakhova has been warning us about for years: that a 50-gigaton “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is “highly possible at anytime.” That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide. (Remember, for perspective, humans have released approximately 1,475 gigatons in total carbon dioxide since the year 1850.)

Even the relatively staid Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) haswarned of such a scenario: “The possibility of abrupt climate change and/or abrupt changes in the earth system triggered by climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences, cannot be ruled out. Positive feedback from warming may cause the release of carbon or methane from the terrestrial biosphere and oceans.”

In the last two centuries, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has increased from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7 parts per million. The introduction of methane in such quantities into the atmosphere may, some climate scientists fear, make increases in the global temperature of 4 to 6 degrees Celsius inevitable.

Yet some of the scientists I spoke with warned of even worse consequences.

Global Implications

Ira Leifer, an atmospheric and marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of several Arctic methane studies, told Truthout that the scientific community has learned that methane emissions from the Arctic are already larger than previously thought, and said, “The warming trend in the Arctic is clear.”

The dangers of methane-related warning are staggering, according to Leifer.

“The amount of methane trapped in submerged permafrost is vast, and if even a small fraction reaches the atmosphere on the time scale of a few decades, it would lead to a dramatic increase in warming on a global scale,” he warned. “Furthermore, it could lead to a positive feedback where warming oceans release more methane which warms the Arctic more and leads to more methane release. Worse, the warming only slowly percolates to lower latitudes – and therefore it contributes to the enhanced Arctic warming.”

Just as Beckwith, Yurganov and Shakhova noted, Leifer warned that a warming Arctic has “global implications.”

Earth’s weather is controlled in three cells: the tropics, mid-latitude and polar. So a weakening of the difference in temperature between the pole-equator areas causes an expansion of the tropical cell, which drives desertification in some places and increased flooding in others. All the while, polar weather is expanding, as we’ve been seeing in the United States during recent winters.

While humans can adapt to these new fluctuations in the weather, agriculture and ecosystems cannot.

Like Shakhova, Leifer also expressed concern about the ESAS.

“The potential is there for hydrate emissions to increase with warming oceans due to increased dissociation,” he warned. He also confirmed that his recent studies of methane emissions in the Arctic even found the gas hundreds of miles from the coast. This means that the methane cannot be coming from land sources; Leifer has concluded that his recent studies “confirm a local marine source.”

Meaning, the subsea hydrates are already releasing their methane very far from shore. Beckwith notes that the increasing methane releases in the Arctic and the massive impact they will have on the planetary weather system mean “there will be continuing disruption and fracturing of our weather and climate systems.”

He went on to issue a stark warning. “Further acceleration of these processes is very likely to lead to an ‘abrupt climate change’ system reorganization from a cold, snowy, ice-covered Arctic Ocean to a ‘blue Arctic Ocean’ regime,” he said. “The final state could have a global temperature average being 5 or 6 degrees Celsius warmer and the transition to this state could occur in one to two decades, as has occurred many times in the past as recorded in paleorecords.”

The advent of the “blue Arctic Ocean” Beckwith warns us of is only a matter of time, and will most likely happen before 2020, considering that exponential decline in Arctic summer sea ice volume has already been determined by the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System data and models, which have been corroborated with recent CryoSat measurements, as well as modeling by the Naval Graduate School Regional Climate Models.

Beckwith believes the first of these “blue ocean” events will likely last a few weeks to one month the first time it happens, but then extend to several months just a few years later.

Meanwhile, the IPCC has not addressed Arctic methane releases as a runaway feedback loop, nor has the mainstream media across the political spectrum.

“Then, the greatly increased Arctic warming from albedo collapse would likely result in a year round ‘Arctic blue ocean’ within a decade or two, completing the regime shift to a much warmer climate,” he said.

Thus, Beckwith, like Shakhova, warns of the 50-gigaton methane burst, and fears it is only a matter of time before it occurs.

I asked Leifer if he believed we have already triggered a rapid increase in global temperatures that could lead to the kind of abrupt climate shifts of which Beckwith warns.

“Recently, it has been announced that 2014 is the warmest year ever in the instrumental records,” he said. “A large preponderance of the heat added to the climate system over the last decade or so has gone into heating the oceans and when this heat balance cycles back to the atmosphere we will see a very rapid rise in global average temperatures.”

Another “Great Dying?”

The Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago was related to methane – in fact, the gas is thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of approximately 95 percent of all species on the planet.

Also known as “The Great Dying,” it was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of 6 degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas. Released into the atmosphere, it caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years.

We are already in the midst of what scientists consider the sixth mass extinction in planetary history, with between 150 and 200 species going extinct daily, a pace 1,000 times greater than the “natural” or “background” extinction rate. This event may already be comparable to, or even exceed, both the speed and intensity of the Permian mass extinction. The difference: Ours is human caused. (Plus, it probably isn’t going to take 80,000 years; it has so far lasted just a few centuries, and is now gaining speed in a non-linear fashion.)

It is possible that, on top of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that continue to enter the atmosphere in record amounts yearly, an increased release of methane could signal the beginning of the sort of process that led to the Great Dying.

Some scientists fear that the situation is already so serious and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play that we are in the process of causing our own extinction. Worse yet, some are convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible – in the course of just the next few decades – or, as Beckwith believes, possibly even sooner than that.

Back in Olympic National Park, when I was returning from my hike, I happened upon a small herd of elk. I watched them as they watched me, before they slowly began to retreat further into the forest. As I continued along, I wondered how they are responding to what is happening to the planet. Their habitat is shifting dramatically, as are their food and water sources. Approaching the trailhead, I marveled at green moss-covered trees – and contemplated how the magnificent natural landscape of Olympic National Park will respond as the climate is rapidly disrupted. The Olympic Mountains support the third largest glacier system in the 48 contiguous United States and are rapidly losing their glaciers. And with at least four already endangered species living within the park the impacts are already clear, and are guaranteed to worsen.

I went on to wonder how humanity will respond, but then checked myself with the fact that the Arctic methane feedback loops are most likely already well underway, only an international emergency immediate response to cease all global carbon emissions might slightly mitigate the crisis, and yet most world governments’ responses are laughable.

Naturally, what was left was to ask myself: How am I responding?

How are you?

Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

The campaign to protect the confidentiality of journalistic communications was given an important boost today after the European Court of Human Rights prioritised a legal challenge brought against the UK government by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The court has given a rare “priority” designation to the Bureau’s case filed last September, meaning a judgment is expected within around a year rather than the usual four or five years.

The Bureau maintains that UK legislation governing the country’s mass surveillance and interception programmes does not adequately protect journalists’ sources.

This would be a breach under Article 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Bureau argues.

The Court has just completed its initial examination of the case and has now asked the UK government to submit its view on the merits and admissibility of the arguments by May 6.

Conor McCarthy, a barrister at Monckton chambers, who is acting for the Bureau, said: “The case has been considered sufficiently important to justify it leapfrogging all types of other cases.”

If the court rules in favour of the application the UK will be forced to review the laws governing its collection of communications data.

The judgment is likely to affect how the police as well as intelligence agencies treat journalists’ communications. This is because the court is expected to rule on the adequacy of legal safeguards in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) against unjustified surveillance by all authorities.

The case may also have implications for other types of communications that require special treatment, or are “privileged”, such as those between lawyers and their clients.

Documents leaked by US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed that GCHQ not only collects, stores and scrutinises the content of electronic communications but through a programme known as Tempora also collects large volumes of “metadata” –  details of who is contacting whom and when.

This meta data is a particular threat to press freedom as it enables authorities to identify people who are in correspondence with journalists both in the run-up to a story being published and post-publication.

Newspaper editors and other leading media editors are particularly concerned about how these practices make it very difficult for journalists to protect their sources.

More than 100 editors, including those from all national newspapers and other media organisations, including Rachel Oldroyd, managing editor of the Bureau, this week signed an open letter to David Cameron protesting at the snooping of journalistic communications.

Last October the National Union of Journalists and Press Gazette launched a “Save our Sources” campaign against mass surveillance of the media. This followed disclosures that the police had obtained communications between the Sun’s political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, and his Scotland Yard sources in respect of his investigation into the Plebgate affair involving former Conservative Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell and officers guarding the gates at Downing Street.

The police had secured the journalist’s telephone records by using the RIPA legislation.

If the European court rules in favour of the Bureau’s challenge the government will be forced to amend such legislation, affecting the powers not just of the police but also those of a plethora of other agencies including the intelligence services.

Home Secretary Theresa May is currently considering introducing restrictions on the ability of the police to access privileged communications but a Bureau victory may require her to extend similar or greater protection to the surveillance carried out by other agencies.

New Snowden documents reported by the Guardian yesterday revealed that GCHQ had collected emails to and from journalists working for some of the US and UK’s largest media organisations, including the BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, the Sun, NBC and the Washington Post.

The agency had then shared the correspondence on its intranet as part of a test exercise.

Leading barrister Gavin Millar QC, of Matrix Chambers, who is working on the Bureau’s case said yesterday’s Guardian revelations “support our contention that the digital communications of public interest journalists are being harvested and are of great interest to the state”.

He added: “These are Orwellian times. The state should no longer be allowed to claim an absolute right to silence on such fundamental matters. It must start to admit what it should not be denying.”

The Bureau’s case is expected to be heard in tandem with a similar challenge filed by a group of NGOs in 2013.

Big Brother Watch, the Open Rights Group, English Pen and German activist Constanze Kurz are arguing that unchecked surveillance breaches everyone’s privacy rights.

A Russian surveillance ship has dropped anchor at Havana seaport, RIA Novosti reports. There has been no comment on the purpose of the visit to the Cuban capital of the Viktor Leonov, which previously moored there in February and March of last year.

The Viktor Leonov’s surprise visit comes ahead of Cuban-US talks slated to be held in Havana later today, Agence France-Presse reports.

A Pentagon representative said, meanwhile, that there was nothing unusual about the Russian ship’s arrival in Havana, and that it gave no cause for worry.

There has been no official comment from the Russian Defense Ministry available to RIA Novosti at this hour.

The Viktor Leonov briefly visited the Cuban capital in February and March of 2014 and those calls were not officially announced either.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, will visit Havana January 21-24 for talks to restore long-severed diplomatic relations between the two countries. The sides will discuss technical and material supplies, the embassy, diplomatic staff and visa processing issues. Roberta Jacobson is also scheduled to meet Cuban opposition figures, religious leaders and business representatives. The meetings will be preceded by a new round of bilateral talks on migration-related issues.

The Viktor Leonov, one of the Russian Navy’s seven Project 864 medium-class vessels, was built in Poland in 1988.  She was originally named “Odograf” and was part of the Black Sea Fleet. In 1995, she joined the Northern Fleet and in April 2004 was renamed Viktor Leonov. Her NATO codename is Vishnya. The vessel is armed with 30 mm cannons and air-defense missiles.

“You have to worry: Has the world slipped off its hinges?” – Russell Baker

New York Times columnist Russell Baker may have been referring to the Cold War in observing a dearly departed phenomenon, but his note has broader relevance.  “Where,” he continued, “can we look for assurance that it’s still the same reliably inevitable old world we loved to hate?”

In terms of hate, demographics have continued to prove a catchy number in countries where anxiety receives a spike with each research report on population numbers. According to Pew Research on US population numbers, to take one such example, “non-Hispanic whites, who made up 67 percent of the population in 2005 will be 47 percent in 2050” (Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project, Feb 11, 2008).[1]

In Britain, the conservative think tank Policy Exchange predicted that non-white people would make up between 20 to 30 percent of the population by 2050.  Over the past decade, the white population has remained stable in number, while the minority population had doubled (The Independent, May 5, 2014).

Demographics is an addling phenomenon, allowing policy makers and activists to conceal ideas based on race behind what has been termed by Ta-Nehisi Coates as a more “elegant racism”, one that “disguises itself in the national vocabulary, avoids epithets and didacticism” (The Atlantic, May 12, 2014).[2]

Some prefer to take the plunge into less subtle expressions of the theme, including such figures as David Lane, whose White Genocide Manifesto stresses the threats of disempowerment by untrustworthy whites, enervating Zionism and the gloomy assertion that “the death of our race will be eternal”.

Population numbers do change, but some national groups see genocidal intent behind the increased numbers of other groups, even though such assertions are fanciful, not to mention unprovable, at best. Falling birth rates suggests the terrifying spectre of extinction.  The politics of the birth rate is ever present in some countries, where the fear of being a dying state, or at least one readied for the old people’s home, is all too apparent.

In Europe, the fears are to be found among various groups of the right that find voice in anti-immigration platforms, notably those such as the UK Independence Party.  To the right of UKIP is the British Nationalist Party which has been busy for some years attacking EU immigration policies as promoters of “white genocide”.

There is even a name for one undertaking – the White Genocide Project – which placed an anti diversity bill board along the I-59 in Alabama this month.  The sign made the rather strong statement that “Diversity Means Chasing Down the Last White Person”.  “We started the site,” explained Steve Goode by email to the organisation Hatewatch, “because we wanted to voice our concern about the trends towards a White minority across dozens of White majority countries.”[3]

Don Terry, writing for the Southern Poverty Law Center, suggests that the WGP may well be a product of Louis Beam’s “leaderless resistance” approach, one that resists hierarchy while promoting individual takes on how to spread a message.  Everyone in the movement, claims Goode, is “their own boss”.

The White Resister, a neo-Nazi publication heavy with themes of “white resistance,” saw the removal of the offending billboard as one prompted by threats of violence from various “militant anti-whites”.[4]  (With such logic, any opposition invariably becomes a militant one.)  Dyar Outdoors, the billboard company, stated that it was simply interested in the financial side of things.  Content was less relevant.

The vital point of selling the message of a verifiable, and credible enemy, is to transform it.  Phobias become covers for deep seated persecution complexes, even if that persecution is nigh impossible to identify.  Islamophobia, when flipped, becomes a creature of offensive value – or so the message goes. It is white people who feel that history is taking off, a train with only first class berths.  And they are not on it.  Jelani Cobb, associate professor of history at the University of Connecticut, surmises that the United States is facing new sentiments of “struggling whites” who feel that “they are the primary victims of racism” (New York Times, Jan 19).

This is hardly unique.  Across the pond, the WPG has claimed, for instance, that Britain is besieged by instances of marginalised whites – a form of sublimated segregation.[5]  The account of a “local white resident” in Birmingham discloses such cases as “a road sign in an area with a high Asian population, on which was sprayed the phrase ‘No Whites after 8.30’.”  The observation was taken from a study by the UK Department of Communities and Local Government conducted in 2009, which examined the attitudes of residents in Birmingham’s Castle Vale. In the write-up on the report, the Birmingham Mail (Jan 3, 2009) suggested in nervous tones how “working class Brummies fear parts of their city have become no-go areas for them.”

For the WGP, the implications were clear and extensive.  “This is not happening in just Britain, nor is it happening in just a handful of White countries – it’s happening in just about every White country on the face of the planet” (White Genocide Project, Jan 14).

The figureheads of such white anxiety tend to find voice in the naming strategies of Marine Le Pen of Frances’s Front National, exemplified in her New York Times op-ed on Islamic fundamentalism.[6]  But behind the work of every reactionary on the subject of identity and racial politics usually lies a frantic demographer.

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

Notes

On January 13th in Volnovaha, Donetsk 11 people were killed in what looked like a spectacular rocket attack. Video footage from the scene showed how deadly a Grad rocket (Hail) attack can be. The spread of the rocket attack left small craters on both sides of a highway running through Vonovaha. The camera then turned and showed a medium sized yellow bus that looked like it was hit in the attack.

The governments of Ukraine and the United States immediately called for an investigation while at the same time concluding that the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics were behind the attacks.

“Attacks on the airport of Donetsk and the shelling of the bus, which killed 10 people and injured 13 more, constitute gross violations of the Minsk agreements”, – said Harf.

The OSCE investigated concluded that the GRAD (HAIL) rocket attack came from north north east of the city. According to the OSCE both sides are still accusing each other. In the meantime Ukraine has cleaned up the attack scene and most of the evidence is now moved. Social propagandists are weighing in where ever they will be heard to try to sway opinion.

What’s at Stake

If the propaganda is starting to sound like the Boeing MH-17 attack all over again its because the stakes are that high. If Poroshenko’s government did this, the entire government is discredited. The Ukrainian army attacked its own people on video. Marie Harf placed the moral, political, and diplomatic weight of Barrack Obama’s presidency behind Kiev’s version of events.

The MH-17 Bus- Kiev’s New Opportunity to Justify a Massive Attack

What would have happened if the pilot of Malaysian flight MH-17 had miraculously survived and said exactly what he saw that day? Would anything Russia, Ukraine, or the USA have to say counter that? If he said he saw fighter jets would it matter? If he said it was a BUK missile could anyone argue?

This time the pilot survived. Sergei Cherenko was the bus driver when that bus was attacked in Volnovaha. He not only survived, he tried to help his passengers. Yesterday he gave an interview with Korrespondent.net and told exactly what happened, and the direction he saw the rockets come from. Mr. Cherenko who has worked for 21 years as a bus driver is still working the same route today with no time off in between.

He was driving to Donetsk when they stopped at the checkpoint. On his left was Volonavaha. He stated clearly if a Grad landed near the bus no one would have survived. He saw the Grad rockets coming from his left which was north toward the city. According to his testimony which is in line with other survivors, the Grad attack came from Ukrainian controlled territory.

The passengers were killed by the mine. This time the pilot survived. Will anyone believe him?

Blowback

Will the Ukrainian government admit its guilt in this apparent attack?

Can the US government muster any moral outrage at the thought that Kiev is spending all the good will America may have left in the world for a long time?

Kiev is using the incident as a pretext to level the city of Gorlovka. The Ukrainian military have dropped 250 lb bombs on the city. Shelling, rocket, and missile strikes are leveling portions of it. Across Donbass this is going on. In the small town of Slavanosbersk over 140 homes have been destroyed and the town has no military targets.

Across Donetsk artillery and missile strikes have not ceased and are at levels higher than the last time the war was hot. The attacks on civilian populations is now non stop in the front line cities.

The Danger of an MH-17 ‘Cold Case’

January 21st, 2015 by Robert Parry

Now more than six months after the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine, the refusal of the Obama administration to make public what intelligence evidence it has about who was responsible has created fertile ground for conspiracy theories to take root while reducing hopes for holding the guilty parties accountable.

Given the U.S. government’s surveillance capabilities – from satellite and aerial photographs to telephonic and electronic intercepts to human sources – American intelligence surely has a good idea what happened on July 17, 2014, when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in eastern Ukraine killing all 298 people onboard.

I’m told that President Barack Obama has received briefings on what this evidence shows and what U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded about the likely guilty parties — and that Obama may have shared some of those confidential findings with the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak when they met on Dec. 24 in Hawaii.

But the U.S. government has gone largely silent on the subject after its initial rush to judgment pointing fingers at ethnic Russian rebels for allegedly firing the missile and at the Russian government for supposedly supplying a sophisticated Buk anti-aircraft battery capable of bringing down the aircraft at 33,000 feet.

Since that early flurry of unverified charges, only snippets of U.S. and NATO intelligence findings have reached the public – and last October’s interim Dutch investigative report on the cause of the crash indicated that Western governments had not shared crucial information.

The Dutch Safety Board’s interim report answered few questions, beyond confirming that MH-17 apparently was destroyed by “high-velocity objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside.” Other key questions went begging, such as what to make of the Russian military radar purporting to show a Ukrainian SU-25 jetfighter in the area, a claim that the Kiev government denied.

Either the Russian radar showed the presence of a jetfighter “gaining height” as it closed to within three to five kilometers of the passenger plane – as the Russians claimed in a July 21 press conference – or it didn’t. The Kiev authorities insisted that they had no military aircraft in the area at the time.

But the 34-page Dutch report was silent on the jetfighter question, although noting that the investigators had received Air Traffic Control “surveillance data from the Russian Federation.” The report also was silent on the “dog-not-barking” issue of whether the U.S. government had satellite surveillance that revealed exactly where the supposed ground-to-air missile was launched and who may have fired it.

The Obama administration has asserted knowledge about those facts, but the U.S. government has withheld satellite photos and other intelligence information that could presumably corroborate the charge. Curiously, too, the Dutch report said the investigation received “satellite imagery taken in the days after the occurrence.” Obviously, the more relevant images in assessing blame would be aerial photography in the days and hours before the crash.

In mid-July, eastern Ukraine was a high priority for U.S. intelligence and a Buk missile battery is a large system that should have been easily picked up by U.S. aerial reconnaissance. The four missiles in a battery are each about 16-feet-long and would have to be hauled around by a truck and then put in position to fire.

The Dutch report’s reference to only post-crash satellite photos was also curious because the Russian military released a number of satellite images purporting to show Ukrainian government Buk missile systems north of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk before the attack, including two batteries that purportedly were shifted 50 kilometers south of Donetsk on July 17, the day of the crash, and then removed by July 18.

Russian Claims

Russian Lt. Gen. Andrey Kartopolov called on the Ukrainian government to explain the movements of its Buk systems and why Kiev’s Kupol-M19S18 radars, which coordinate the flight of Buk missiles, showed increased activity leading up to the July 17 shoot-down.

The Ukrainian government countered these questions by asserting that it had “evidence that the missile which struck the plane was fired by terrorists, who received arms and specialists from the Russian Federation,” according to Andrey Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s Security Council, using Kiev’s preferred term for the rebels.

Lysenko added: “To disown this tragedy, [Russian officials] are drawing a lot of pictures and maps. We will explore any photos and other plans produced by the Russian side.” But Ukrainian authorities have failed to address the Russian evidence except through broad denials.

On July 29, amid escalating rhetoric against Russia from U.S. government officials and the Western news media, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity called on President Obama to release what evidence the U.S. government had on the shoot-down, including satellite imagery.

“As intelligence professionals we are embarrassed by the unprofessional use of partial intelligence information,” the group wrote.

“As Americans, we find ourselves hoping that, if you indeed have more conclusive evidence, you will find a way to make it public without further delay. In charging Russia with being directly or indirectly responsible, Secretary of State John Kerry has been particularly definitive. Not so the evidence. His statements seem premature and bear earmarks of an attempt to ‘poison the jury pool.’”

However, the Obama administration failed to make public any intelligence information that would back up its earlier suppositions. In early August, I was told that some U.S. intelligence analysts had begun shifting away from the original scenario blaming the rebels and Russia to one focused more on the possibility that extremist elements of the Ukrainian government were responsible.

A source who was briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts told me that they had found no evidence that the Russian government had given the rebels a BUK missile system. Thus, these analysts concluded that the rebels and Russia were likely not at fault and that it appeared Ukrainian government forces were to blame, although apparently a unit operating outside the direct command of Ukraine’s top officials.

The source specifically said the U.S. intelligence evidence did not implicate Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko or Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk but rather suggested an extremist element of the armed forces funded by one of Ukraine’s oligarchs. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Flight 17 Shoot-down Scenario Shifts”and “Was Putin Targeted for Mid-air Assassination?”]

But then chatter about U.S. intelligence information on the shoot-down faded away. When I recently re-contacted the source who had been briefed by these analysts, the source said their thinking had not changed, except that they believed the missile may have been less sophisticated than a Buk, possibly an SA-6.

What was less clear was whether these analysts represented a consensus view within the U.S. intelligence community or whether they spoke for one position in an ongoing debate. The source also said President Obama was resisting going public with the U.S. intelligence information about the shoot-down because he didn’t feel it was ironclad.

A Dangerous Void

But that void has left the debate over whodunit vulnerable to claims by self-interested parties and self-appointed experts, including some who derive their conclusions from social media on the Internet, so-called “public-source investigators.” The Obama administration also hasn’t retracted the early declarations by Secretary Kerry implicating the rebels and Russia.

Just days after the crash, Kerry went on all five Sunday talk shows fingering Russia and the rebels and citing evidence provided by the Ukrainian government through social media. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” David Gregory asked, “Are you bottom-lining here that Russia provided the weapon?”

Kerry:

“There’s a story today confirming that, but we have not within the Administration made a determination. But it’s pretty clear when – there’s a build-up of extraordinary circumstantial evidence. I’m a former prosecutor. I’ve tried cases on circumstantial evidence; it’s powerful here.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Kerry’s Latest Reckless Rush to Judgment.”]

But some U.S. intelligence analysts soon offered conflicting assessments. After Kerry’s TV round-robin, the Los Angeles Times reported on a U.S. intelligence briefing given to several mainstream U.S. news outlets. The story said,

“U.S. intelligence agencies have so far been unable to determine the nationalities or identities of the crew that launched the missile. U.S. officials said it was possible the SA-11 [a Buk anti-aircraft missile] was launched by a defector from the Ukrainian military who was trained to use similar missile systems.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mystery of a Ukrainian ‘Defector.’”]

In October, Der Spiegel reported that the German intelligence service, the BND, had concluded that Russia was not the source of the missile battery – that it had been captured from a Ukrainian military base – but still blaming the rebels for firing it. The BND also concluded that photos supplied by the Ukrainian government about the MH-17 tragedy “have been manipulated,” Der Spiegel reported.

And, the BND disputed Russian government claims that a Ukrainian fighter jet had been flying close to MH-17 just before it crashed, the magazine said, reporting on the BND’s briefing to a parliamentary committee on Oct. 8, which included satellite images and other photography. But none of the BND’s evidence was made public — and I was subsequently told by a European official that the evidence was not as conclusive as the magazine article depicted. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Germans Clear Russia in MH-17 Case.”]

So, it appears that there have been significant disagreements within Western intelligence circles about precisely who was to blame. But the refusal of the Obama administration and its NATO allies to lay their evidence on the table has not only opened the door to conspiracy theories, it has threatened to turn this tragedy into a cold case with the guilty parties – whoever they are – having more time to cover their tracks and disappear.

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 and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Spying in the German Banana Republic

January 21st, 2015 by Vladimir Platov

A German spy employed by Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) was arrested in Berlin in early July 2014. He was charged with handing out the top secret documents to foreign secret services, namely the CIA. A few days later it was announced that German law enforcement agencies began searching for another US spy that had been stealing information from the The Federal Ministry of Defence.

The general secretary of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Yasmin Fahimi called for the adoption of a list of “effective countermeasures” that would allow Germany to protect its national secrets from being stolen by Washington. Speaking on  national TV Yasmin Fahimi said that: “We are not yet another banana republic.”

The incident involving a CIA spy uncovered within the BND ranks was perceived by most Europeans as total nonsense: a total of 218 top secret documents were stolen from BND by a 31-year-old employee Marcus R. over a period of two years while he was cooperating with the ”friendly” CIA. The White House was paying  “the loyal agent” according to the “banana republic,” rates up to and including 25 thousand euros, omitting glass beads and colored feathers.

However, according to the German newspaper Bild, the investigation found out this January that this double agent had provided the US intelligence with a list of 3,500 of BND employees, all who are currently working across the world. This can hardly be regarded as an expression of Washington’s friendship towards Germany.

Such aggressive US intelligence activities in Germany has become commonplace, but no prominent politician of this vassal state yet has voiced his concerns over this fact. Indeed, within the last few years, according to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, BND has been transferring the personal data of German citizens to the US National Security Agency (NSA), via to the world’s largest center-neutral Internet exchange point DE-CIX in Frankfurt. According to the newspaper, the NSA has been intercepting up to 500 million phone calls and Internet messages in Germany per month. And all this was done despite the fact that private information is protected by the German Constitution, yet it seems that the well-being of its “big brother” is by far more important to German politicians that their own Constitution. In addition, the NSA had made a number of attempts to use DE-CIX to obtain a profile on the European Aerospace and Defense group and its French management, a fact  released by Edward Snowden last year.

According to numerous publications in Bild and Sonntag, more than a dozen employees of German ministries and departments are still working as CIA informants.

One should note that a sharp increase in  US intelligence activities against Germany have been observed as early as October 2013, when Edward Snowden announced that the CIA and NSA tapped all of Angela Merkel’s phones. The scandal was followed by a phone conversation on this matter between the German Counsellor and the US President in January 2014. Shortly after, the US declared a policy of “no spying against the leaders of friendly countries.”

In response to the revealed information about the phone tapping at the end of 2013, Merkel established a committee to investigate foreign electronic surveillance, which included  representatives from the ruling parties – the Conservatives and the Social Democrats along with “green” and “left” opposition figures. However, the latter stated that the committee is not interested in a thorough investigation of all the circumstances of US intelligence activities in Germany due to the desire to avoid the deterioration of relations between “fellow states” – Germany and the United States.

England, speaking as the most loyal vassal of Washington, has been trying to justify recent US intelligence activities in Germany on the pages of the online magazine The Daily Beast, by trying to convince the audience that the need for surveillance over Germany is a must “given its intense business and political ties to Russia and Iran, and Moscow’s decades-long cultivation of intelligence assets and collaborators from the first Cold War up through the current one, American intelligence agencies would be crazy not to conduct intensive espionage operations in Germany. “

Last summer, while referring to the scandal surrounding the activities of US intelligence in Germany, the President of the European Commission , Jean-Claude Juncker in an interview with foreign journalists noted that there may be a crisis of trust between the EU and the US and that authorities must try to explain to their American partners that friends are listening to each other, but don’t wiretap each other. According to Juncker this incident could lead to a crisis of confidence – not only in regards to transatlantic relations, but also among EU citizens.

It’s hard not to sympathize with Germany’s hardships and the lack of decency its citizens face, therefore it’s only natural that anti-American sentiments will grow. According to surveys, more than half of Germans believe in these circumstances that it’s dangerous to cooperate with the US ever more closer and they expect their Chancellor to give Washington a response, the one Angela Merkel had promised to give last year, but never dared.

Still, if Washington has been treating Germany like a regular “banana republic”, one can only imagine what it has been doing to smaller countries in Europe, across the Middle East, and in Southeast Asia as well. And maybe none of these countries are actually aware of what is going on if their citizens have been reading the White House propaganda outlets that haven’t touched upon the illegal activities of American intelligence agencies elsewhere around the world?

Vladimir Platov, Middle East expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

An Israeli air strike in southern Syria on Sunday that killed 12 commanders from the Lebanese militia Hizballah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard follows a long and ignoble tradition in Israeli politics.

Prime ministers facing poor ratings have often been tempted to launch a major military offensive in the middle of an election campaign.

That is certainly how some prominent Israeli observers have viewed the attack in the Quneitra region, close to the 1967 ceasefire line with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

It is still unclear whether Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who presumably approved the operation, knew precisely what he was getting into in hitting the convoy of vehicles.

Initial reports suggested the target was Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Hizballah’s former chief of staff, Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated by Israel in 2008. Jihad, it had been widely reported, was overseeing attacks against Israeli forces in the Golan area in retaliation for Israel’s repeated strikes in Syria.

However, it soon emerged that far more senior figures than Jihad had been killed in the operation. They included Imad Mughniyeh’s successor, Mohammed Issa, as well as Ali Reza al-Tabatabai, an Iranian adviser to Hizballah, and a Revolutionary Guard general, Mohammed Allahdadi, who was reportedly advising the Syrian army.

The strike was not only the biggest against Hizballah since the conflict with Israel in summer 2006, but – more significantly – Israel’s first undisguised military clash with Iran.

Until now, Israel has struck against Iran from afar and through agents in operations it could deny. It efforts have concentrated on assassinations, mainly of nuclear scientists, and infecting computers with viruses – all part of efforts to stop Tehran developing its nuclear energy programme, which Israel claims will be quickly transformed into a military programme.

Danger of escalation

Although Israel has not officially claimed responsibility, its role in this latest attack is not in doubt. As Israeli military analyst Amos Harel observed: “Israel is the only power in the area, apart from Syria, using air power.”

The deaths of such senior figures in Hizballah and the Revolutionary Guard will increase the pressure on both groups to hit back, with the danger of a major military escalation.

Alex Fishman, an Israeli military analyst, accused Israel of committing an act of “pyromania”: “Someone threw a match into a powder keg and is now waiting to see whether it will explode or not.”

On Tuesday Israeli officials offered conflicting reports of the operation to the international media.

The London Times, often used by Israel to plant stories, reported that the air strike was carried out to thwart Iran and Hizballah’s efforts to build four missile bases close to the Golan Heights.

At the same time, an Israeli official told Reuters that Israel had intended only to hit a low-level target and had been unaware of the Iranian general’s presence.

“We did not expect the outcome in terms of the stature of those killed – certainly not the Iranian general,” the source said. “We thought we were hitting an enemy field unit that was on its way to carry out an attack on us at the frontier fence.”

It is possible that the latter report was intended to defuse Iranian anger.

The reports emerged as Israel’s security cabinet convened to discuss a potential escalation of violence on the northern border.

Others have questioned whether the air strike was really needed to stop an imminent threat. They argue that the timing may have been dictated by the Israeli election campaign, which is now in full swing.

The Haaretz newspaper noted that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had used the operation to “buttress [his] image” and send a message that his political rivals lacked “the courage to take such decisions.”

That impression was confirmed by Moshe Yaalon, the defence minister, who argued in the wake of Sunday’s air strike that Yitzhak Herzog and Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu’s main challengers, had contributed nothing to the country’s national security.

Netanyahu’s mouthpiece in the media, Israel Hayom, exploited the operation too to trumpet Netanyahu’s success: “Our forces attacked a cell of senior terrorists in the Syrian Golan.”

The advantage for Netanyahu is that it will be hard for the opposition to challenge him both on whether there was a pressing need for the attack and on whether he had accurate intelligence about the convoy. As usual with military matters in Israel, details of the operation are concealed by a thick fog of non-disclosure and ambiguity.

A Haaretz editorial noted that it would be easy for Netanyahu to cover his tracks. “There will always be the explanation that the enemy was the one to start it and that Israel was only responding to a provocation or heading off a greater danger.”

Gun-sight electioneering

Certainly, Netanyahu would not be the first prime minister to have turned to the gun sight to help win an election. Menachem Begin approved an attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981; Shimon Peres launched Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon against Hizballah in 1996; Ehud Olmert waged an assault on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, in winter 2008-09; and Netanyahu himself struck Gaza again in Operation Pillar of Defence in late 2012.

The suspicion of electioneering was highlighted by Yoav Galant, the general who led Operation Cast Lead. He admitted a strong likelihood that the attack in Syria was “not entirely unrelated to the elections”.

Like many former military commanders, Galant now his own political career to pursue, in his case in Kulanu, a rightwing party challenging Netanyahu’s Likud party. But whatever his motives for speaking out, Galant was refreshingly candid during an interview on Israel’s Channel 2 TV.

He claimed Netanyahu had also sought to manipulate the previous election, in early 2013, by opening Operation Pillar of Defence two months earlier with the assassination of Hamas’ military chief Ahmed Jabari.

Galant added that over the five years he led the southern command: “There were many, many opportunities in which it was possible and necessary to [assassinate Jabari], and I also recommended such action. For some reason, it didn’t happen on those dates.”

Galant immediately faced an onslaught of criticism from military commentators and politicians, and was forced to issue a retraction.

Netanyahu’s decision to approve the strike is not without risk, especially when it is unclear what the consequences could be. Peres lost the election after his 1996 attack on Lebanon, as did Olmert’s party following Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Both were caught out by an unforeseen escalation of hostilities.

Netanyahu, however, suffered no major electoral damage from the relatively minor operation he launched in Gaza in November 2012. He is probably hoping that the fallout from the latest attack will be limited – or sufficiently delayed that the price is paid after polling day – allowing him to bask in the glory during the campaign.

Even Central Bankers Now Admit QE Doesn’t Work

January 21st, 2015 by Washington's Blog

The former head of the Bank of England – Mervyn King – said today that more QE will not help the economy:

We have had the biggest monetary stimulus that the world must have ever seen, and we still have not solved the problem of weak demand. The idea that monetary stimulus after six years … is the answer doesn’t seem (right) to me.

Also today, William White – the brilliant economist who called the 2008 crisis well ahead of time, who is head of the OECD’s Review Committee and former chief economist for BIS (the central banks’ central bank)  slammed QE:

QE is not going to help at all. Europe has far greater reliance than the US on small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) and they get their money from banks, not from the bond market.

***

Even after the stress tests the banks are still in ‘hunkering down mode’. They are not lending to small firms for a variety of reasons. The interest rate differential is still going up.

***

Mr White said QE is a disguised form of competitive devaluation. “The Japanese are now doing it as well but nobody can complain because the US started it,” he said.

“There is a significant risk that this is going to end badly because the Bank of Japan is funding 40pc of all government spending. This could end in high inflation, perhaps even hyperinflation.

“The emerging markets got on the bandwagon by resisting upward pressure on their currencies and building up enormous foreign exchange reserves. The wrinkle this time is that corporations in these countries – especially in Asia and Latin America – have borrowed $6 trillion in US dollars, often through offshore centres. That is going to create a huge currency mismatch problem as US rates rise and the dollar goes back up.”

***

He deplores the rush to QE as an “unthinking fashion”. Those who argue that the US and the UK are growing faster than Europe because they carried out QE early are confusing “correlation with causality”. The Anglo-Saxon pioneers have yet to pay the price. “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings. There are serious side-effects building up and we don’t know what will happen when they try to reverse what they have done.”

The painful irony is that central banks may have brought about exactly what they most feared by trying to keep growth buoyant at all costs, he argues, and not allowing productivity gains to drive down prices gently as occurred in episodes of the 19th century. “They have created so much debt that they may have turned a good deflation into a bad deflation after all.”

The former long-term head of the Federal Reserve (Alan Greenspan) says that QE has failed to help the economy.

The original inventor of QE agrees.

Numerous academic studies confirm this. And see this.

Indeed, many high-level economists – including Federal Reserve economists and the main architect of Japan’s QE program – now say that QE may cause deflation and harms the economy in the long run.

Economists also note that QE helps the rich … but hurts the little guy. QE is one of the main causes ofinequality (and see this and this). And economists now admit that runaway inequality cripples the economy. So QE indirectly hurts the economy by fueling runaway inequality.

A high-level Federal Reserve official says QE is “the greatest backdoor Wall Street bailout of all time”. And the “Godfather” of Japan’s monetary policy admits that it “is a Ponzi game”.

Normally I don’t try to answer the question to a title until the end of a writing and after providing some evidence for the conclusion, I will today.  The answer to today’s title is easy, flat out, when central banks loose trust in each other you can pretty much expect chaos because of the loss of confidence!  Before laying the case out for you, please remember we have been living in a system where “confidence” is not just everything, it’s the ONLY thing! 

Recently we have seen several “coordination” fractures amongst the central banks themselves.  It really started in late 2012 when Germany decided to ask the Banque du France, Bank of England and the Federal Reserve for some of their custodial gold back.  This of course has been followed by the Dutch repatriating 120 tons in November and the Belgians and Austrians pondering the same actions.  Why?  Why are foreign central banks repatriating their gold held in London and New York?  The answer is really simple, “trust”, or lack of it.  You see, they can do math as well as we can.  They know how much gold is produced globally from the mines and they also know how much gold is being taken off the market by China et al.  After doing the most very basic of math, they know the “excess” gold is coming from “somewhere” and as I have been saying for several years now, that “somewhere” has to be the only place it exists in such large quantities …Western vaults!

The Germans who are a very meticulous society announced 85 tons of gold received (repatriated).  In their announcement, they made clear that “all serial numbers matched”, however, they did not specify last year at this time regarding those measly 5 tons received.  They took a lot of heat (including from yours truly) for melting down the bars.  This time around, they assure us the serial numbers all matched and all bars were assayed, weighed and inspected.  Why?  Why such a detailed statement and why bother assaying if the serial numbers matched?  I could write an entire article on this but suffice it to say, they wanted to make sure the “conspiratorial crowd” had no fodder.  But, why include that all bars were inspected and assayed?  Do they not trust the U.S. Fed?  Do they really believe the Fed would go through the trouble of putting correct earmarks and serial numbers on golden covered tungsten?  Do they really not trust the Fed or are they just trying to take any sticking points away …and in the process “implying” they don’t trust the Fed?  Enough said.

Another area where “trust” looks to be breaking down is in the various central bank policies.  Switzerland just broke ranks last Thursday and we received news after the close on Friday that Denmark has followed “negative(r)” interest rates.  What Switzerland just did was what is best for Switzerland, NOT what is supposedly best for the central bank cabal.  In essence, they pushed rates further negative and said we will not be buying any more euros.  In other words, they announced they will no longer underwrite QE for Europe.  Denmark followed and is basically saying the same thing.

We also heard from Japan (who’s economy is definitely in shrinking mode), they will not be employing any further QE than is already in place.  Is this in step with a united central bank front?  Maybe it is because the U.S. Fed wants you to believe they will be tightening later in the year.  Is the plan to have Europe announce further QE monetizing later this week and take the baton from Japan?  I suspect this is the plan but it has the same flaw discovered in the  U.S. and then Japan, they will be taking too much “collateral” (there’s that word again!) out of the system which will actually tighten credit rather than loosen it.  The next question of course is “who is next” with further QE?  This answer is either the U.S. or, more likely ALL central banks still within the ranks!

I do want to mention Russia and more importantly China.  These two have hooked up and in the case of Russia, dollars will no longer be used.  China will have a difficult time avoiding all dollar transactions but they will surely be using less.  As far as their central banks are concerned, they will skip to their own beat and not the one of the IMF nor the BIS.  They will do what is best for them, not what is best for the Western central banks.  Both Russia and China are courting and trying to pick off weak Western allies one by one.  Russia is using energy while China is using other trade.  The important thing to understand is their central banks are not part of the united front and in fact they (Russia in particular) are trying to divide and conquer the front.

I decided to write this piece because a “united front” is what has kept the coalition together for the last 6 years.  The coalition has now been broken by the Swiss (and Danes).  “Trust” and thus confidence are the only things that have held the game together for this long.  The little guy knows “something” is wrong but for most part cannot put his finger on exactly what it is.  If the man in the street begins to see infighting and quarrelling between central banks, he will have a further glimpse as to what is wrong.  More importantly, if the populace sees clearly that trust between central banks is broken, then why should he “trust” also?

Taking this “trust” process just one step further, what will happen in another 2008 scenario?  By this I am asking what will happen when financial institutions distrust one another and credit freezes up again?  The last time around, the central banks stepped in and declared “you can trust US, so you can trust your counterparty”.  I submit to you, another 2008 event is a mathematical certainty with just one caveat …if the central banks do not trust each other and are in an “every man for himself” mode, systemic confidence itself will fail this time around!

Please understand the “whole” of the above is about the creators of currency.  Trust and confidence are necessary for their programs to work.  Gold on the other hand does not have these issues because gold is no one’s liability and not created by man.  Gold (and silver) require real work, real capital and real labor to “make”, once “made”, trust is never an issue!  In fact, with what is surely coming, it is this very topic of “trust” which will separate gold (and silver) from all other monies!

While the Disney measles outbreak is being blamed on the non-vaccinated, the evidence reveals a failing measles vaccine is behind the outbreak.

The latest stratagem to blame a failing measles vaccine on the non-vaccinated is all over the mainstream media, or should we say the marketing and cheerleading arm of the vaccine industry and the medical-industrial complex.

Two years ago, while a similar debacle was being played out, I wrote an article titled, “The 2013 Measles Outbreak: A Failing Vaccine, Not A Failure To Vaccinate,” which deconstructed the myth that the minimally – or non-vaccinated were responsible for outbreaks of measles in highly vaccination-compliant populations. According to the prevailing propaganda it is fringe religious communities, visitors from countries where measles is common, and vaccine objectors within the United States, that are responsible for the failure of the measles vaccine to confer lasting immunity.

Looking at the rising tide of vaccine resistant infectious outbreaks in the U.S. and abroad –chickenpoxshinglesmumpswhooping cough (pertussis)influenzaHPV (Gardasil)hepatitis B, to name but a few — through the lens of the peer-reviewed and published literature on the topic, it is clear that the vaccines, and not those who refuse to subject themselves to them, are at the root of the problem. And nowhere is this more clearly evident than in the measles vaccine.

How do we know this?

Just a few months ago, a study published in PLoS titled, “Difficulties in eliminating measles and controlling rubella and mumps: a cross-sectional study of a first measles and rubella vaccination and a second measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination,” brought to light the glaring ineffectiveness of two measles vaccines (measles–rubella (MR) or measles–mumps–rubella (MMR) ) in fulfilling their widely claimed promise of preventing outbreaks in highly vaccine compliant populations. We dove deeply into the implications of this study in our article titled, “Why Is China Having Measles Outbreaks When 99% Are Vaccinated?

Also, as we have explored in a previous article, “Measles: A Rash of Misinformation,” the measles vaccine is not nearly as safe and effective as is widely believed. Measles outbreaks have consistently occurred in highly immunization compliant populations. Here are just a few examples reported in the medical literature:

1985, Texas, USA: According to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in
1987, “An outbreak of measles occurred among adolescents in Corpus Christi, Texas, in the spring of 1985, even though vaccination requirements for school attendance had been thoroughly enforced.” They concluded: “We conclude that outbreaks of measles can occur in secondary schools, even when more than 99 percent of the students have been vaccinated and more than 95 percent are immune.”1

1985, Montana, USA: According to an article published in the American Journal of Epidemiology titled, “A persistent outbreak of measles despite appropriate prevention and control measures,” an outbreak of 137 cases of measles occurred in Montana. School records indicated that 98.7% of students were appropriately vaccinated, leading the researchers to conclude: “This outbreak suggests that measles transmission may persist in some settings despite appropriate implementation of the current measles elimination strategy.”2

1988, Colorado, USA: According to an article published in the American Journal of Public Health in 1991, “early 1988 an outbreak of 84 measles cases occurred at a college in Colorado in which over 98 percent of students had documentation of adequate measles immunity … due to an immunization requirement in effect since 1986. They concluded: “…measles outbreaks can occur among highly vaccinated college populations.”3

1989, Quebec, Canada: According to an article published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health in 1991, a 1989 measles outbreak was “largely attributed to an incomplete vaccination coverage,” but following an extensive review the researchers concluded “Incomplete vaccination coverage is not a valid explanation for the Quebec City measles outbreak.4

1991-1992, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: According to an article published in the journal Revista da Sociedade Brasileira de Medicina Tropical, in a measles outbreak from March 1991 to April 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, 76.4% of those suspected to be infected had received measles vaccine before their first birthday.5

1992, Cape Town, South Africa: According to an article published in the South African Medical Journal in 1994, “[In] August 1992 an outbreak occurred, with cases reported at many schools in children presumably immunised.” Immunization coverage for measles was found to be 91%, and vaccine efficacy found to be only 79%, leading them to conclude that primary and secondary vaccine failure was a possible explanation for the outbreak.6

These six outbreaks are by no means exhaustive of the biomedical literature, but illustrate just how misled the general public is about the effectiveness of measles vaccines, and the CDC’s vaccination agenda in general. No amount of historical ignorance will erase the fact that vaccination does not equal immunization; antigenicity does not equal immunogenicity.

The superstitious and ironically non-evidence-based faith in the infallibility of vaccines speaks volumes as to why the growing movement to educate the public about the true nature of vaccines is increasingly labeled “anti-vaccine,” when in fact it is pro-vaccine awareness, namely, making the public aware of vaccine failures and the growing plight of the countless vaccine injured around the world.

UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation can continue to label those who bring the peer-reviewed “evidence” to the public’s attention as “liars” or “child killers,” as Bill Gates did in a CNN interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. But all this does is to increase the public’s suspicion of the real agenda behind their ostensibly charitable plea to save the poor and the needy from the hell of disease, instead of focusing on improving their most basic living conditions, nutrition, sanitation, refrigeration, etc., and making inroads to reduce the geopolitical violence that is ruining the lives of hundreds of millions.

Measles is a real disease with real adverse health effects, some of which can be life threatening in the already immunocompromised (vaccination representing a major cause of TH1/TH2 imbalances). But it is our immune status, as with all infectious diseases, that determines susceptibility and whether or not a disease will be mild or lethal. You can’t vaccinate away conditions that lead to compromised immunity, nor can you ‘immunize’ folks – especially parents – against the desire to pursue the truth about vaccines.

Learn more on our research vaccine database: Health Guide: Vaccine Research.

Notes

1. T L Gustafson, A W Lievens, P A Brunell, R G Moellenberg, C M Buttery, L M Sehulster. Measles outbreak in a fully immunized secondary-school population. N Engl J Med. 1987 Mar 26 ;316(13):771-4. PMID: 3821823

2. R M Davis, E D Whitman, W A Orenstein, S R Preblud, L E Markowitz, A R Hinman. A persistent outbreak of measles despite appropriate prevention and control measures. Am J Epidemiol. 1987 Sep ;126(3):438-49. PMID: 3618578

3. B S Hersh, L E Markowitz, R E Hoffman, D R Hoff, M J Doran, J C Fleishman, S R Preblud, W A Orenstein. A measles outbreak at a college with a prematriculation immunization requirement. Am J Public Health. 1991 Mar ;81(3):360-4. PMID: 1994745

4. N Boulianne, G De Serres, B Duval, J R Joly, F Meyer, P Déry, M Alary, D Le Hénaff, N Thériault.[Major measles epidemic in the region of Quebec despite a 99% vaccine coverage]. Can J Public Health. 1991 May-Jun;82(3):189-90. PMID: 1884314

5. S A de Oliveira, W N Soares, M O Dalston, M T de Almeida, A J Costa. Clinical and epidemiological findings during a measles outbreak occurring in a population with a high vaccination coverage. Rev Soc Bras Med Trop. 1995 Oct-Dec;28(4):339-43. PMID: 8668833

6. N Coetzee, G D Hussey, G Visser, P Barron, A Keen. The 1992 measles epidemic in Cape Town–a changing epidemiological pattern. S Afr Med J. 1994 Mar ;84(3):145-9. PMID: 7740350 

74-year-old Palestinian woman Ghalya Abu-Rida being given water by Israeli troops, minutes before she was executed.

During the Israeli bombardment and shelling of the Gaza Strip last summer, an Israeli soldier approached a 74-year-old Palestinian woman Ghalya Abu-Rida to give her a sip of water. He gave her the water, took a photo with her and then he shot her in the head from a distance of one metre. He then watched as she bled to death, the Palestine Information Centre reported.

This is how Ahmad Qdeh, a journalist in Al-Aqsa TV, described the scene that he witnessed during the latest Israeli aggression. The spokesman of the Israeli army, Avichay Adraee, shared the photo of an Israeli soldier holding the water bottle and helping the old woman drink as an example of the “humanity” of the Israeli army towards the civilians in the Gaza Strip.

The field executions were among the stories Qdeh reported during the Israeli aggression on Gaza Strip. He said: “Ghalya Ahmad Abu-Rida lived in the Khuza’a area in the east of Khan Younis city. I live in that area too and I made a television report on her story after the Israeli soldiers executed her during the aggression.”

“During the aggression, an Israeli soldier approached the old woman and took a photo for another soldier while giving her water. They then executed her by shooting her in the head from a distance of one metre and let her bleed until she died,” he added.

Ghalya was born in 1941. She lived by herself in a room near her brothers’ house in the Abu-Rida neighbourhood of Khuza’a. She had no children. Her neighbourhood was one of the first places invaded by the Israeli army during the aggression.

Field Execution

Majed Abu-Rida, Ghalya’s nephew, confirmed to the media that his aunt was visually impaired and could hardly see. He said that the Israeli army had falsely claimed humanity while executing his aunt in cold blood.

Ghalya, with her weak body and white hair, refused to leave her house after the Israeli army ordered the residents of Khuza’a to evacuate. She thought her old age would protect her from being a target so she stayed in her home and refused to join the majority of the residents who left the area as the invasion began.

On 3 August, the Israeli forces announced a truce and allowed medical staff to reach the Khuza’a area. Ghalya was found dead after she bled to death as she was shot in the head near her house, Al-Aqsa TV confirmed to MEMO. Her brother confirmed that the photo shared by the Israeli army supported the family’s belief that Ghalya was in the hands of the Israeli army. The family also believed that the area in which Ghalya appeared in the photo and in which she was found asserted that the Israeli forces killed her after taking the photo for the media.

Misinformation

Professor of media at the universities of Gaza, Ahmad Al-Farra, said: “The photo the Israeli army spokesman shared is misleading propaganda by the Israeli army to present a humane portrait of its soldiers. It can enhance the opportunity to pursue the Israeli army’s soldiers as war criminals before the International Criminal Court.”

“This photo proves the confusion of the Israeli army spokesman in defending his army. It proves that they killed civilians,” he added.

He continued: “The Israeli occupation lies and misinforms in an attempt to affect international public opinion. It exploits the Arab media and Palestinian diplomacy in exposing the Israeli occupation’s crimes.” He demanded launching a large campaign to expose the Israeli lies and falsifications.

Al-Farra stressed the need for a media enlightenment campaign to go side by side with the field battles to correct the false image that Israel presents about its army and the resistance.

Israel carried out a 51-day war that claimed the lives of around 2,200 Palestinians and wounded around 11,000 others.

Racist Violence, Police Brutality, Black Liberation

January 21st, 2015 by Abayomi Azikiwe

A tremendous series of mass demonstrations across the United States, Canada and the world since last summer against racist violence and police brutality has shaken the corridors of the ruling class. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets from Missouri and California to Boston, Toronto, London and New York City.

What does the brutal police repression of African American and Latinos communities have to do with the economic devastation caused by the banks in the city of Detroit?

Why is the corporate-oriented city administration and governor ordering the shut-offs of tens of thousands of household water services and forcing hundreds of thousands more out of their homes due to unnecessary tax foreclosures?

How can the ruling class backed up by the courts justify the attacks on retirees and the wholesale theft of public assets, while the public sector is being privatized with billions of dollars being turned over to banks and corporations under the guise of an illegal bankruptcy that has further institutionalized national oppression and economic inequality in majority African American cities in Michigan?

Event: The Black Liberation Struggle & the Fight for Socialism
Date: Sat. Jan. 24, 2015, 5:00-8:00pm
Location: 5920 Second Ave. at Antoinette, Near WSU
Speaker: Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor of the Pan-African News Wire and
Contributing Editor of Workers World Newspaper
Sponsor: Workers World Party Detroit Branch
URL: workersworlddetroit.org
Contact: 313-671-3715

To participate in this discussion and answer these burning questions please attend this important meeting this Sat., Jan. 24 from 5:00-8:00pm.

Throughout Europe, there is a concerted campaign to legitimise the most reactionary forces, as the ruling class seeks to promote anti-Muslim racism to justify war abroad and attacks on democratic rights at home. In Germany, this has taken the form of the elevation of the right-wing, chauvinist Pegida movement.

“We are Dresden,” read the title of Reinhard Veser’s lead article in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on Monday. The article addressed the decision by police to cancel a demonstration by Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West) that had been scheduled to take place that same day in the capital of the German state of Saxony.

“Should we replace the slogan ‘I am Charlie’ with ‘We are Pegida’?” Veser asked. Answering his own question, he said, “The same thing goes for the initiators of Pegida and for the Dresden demonstrators as for the satirists of Charlie Hebdo: The attack on their right to free expression is an attack on all of us.”

Veser’s colleague Jasper von Altenbockum declared the next day in the same newspaper that democracy had already suffered a defeat before the demonstration had been forbidden, because “respectable supporters of Pegida had been declared fair game for democratic ‘culture.’ ”

This campaign by the FAZ represents a new stage in its encouragement and support for the Pegida movement. With the phrase “I am Charlie,” the terror attacks on the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo have been exploited in order to defend the newspaper’s anti-Muslim campaign in the name of “freedom of expression.” Now, a supposed terror threat is being used in order to make the racist and extreme right-wing Pegida appear presentable.

This casts more than a little suspicion on the terror warning itself. On Sunday, the Dresden police announced that all demonstrations in the city would be forbidden the next day. The supposed existence of concrete threats against Pegida by Islamic terrorists was used to justify the decision. The police did not provide any further details.

It later emerged that the organisations associated with Pegida had reached an agreement with the police to call off the demonstrations. According to an account published by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, this decision was based on a single Twitter post that vaguely threatened Pegida organiser Lutz Bachmann, along with an unspecified piece of information provided by a foreign intelligence agency. The newspaper based its report on the claims of a high-ranking security official who took part in a conference call with Saxony’s interior ministry.

According to the same source, neither the Common Terrorism Defense Center (GTAZ), which includes representatives of four security agencies, nor the German Federal Police had recommended forbidding the demonstrations. “In the end, Dresden decided,” the security official said. “On this basis, the demonstration was cancelled.”

The Dresden police, which banned all demonstrations with Pegida’s agreement, is known to have ties with extreme right-wing circles. Most recently, it delayed investigating the killing of a refugee following a Pegida demonstration.

The police have failed to explain why the entire demonstration was canceled and why the police forbade all demonstrations—including counter-demonstrations—rather than providing Bachmann with personal protection. Even if one were to take the Twitter post for good coin, the banning of the demonstration as a whole can hardly be justified on the grounds of protecting the demonstrators.

The decision sets a dangerous precedent for banning demonstrations in the future and is a blatant attack on democratic rights.

At the same time, the agreement to cancel the Pegida demonstration is an attempt to turn the aggressors into victims and place the spotlight on them once again. As the FAZ commentary makes clear, the real aim is to downplay Pegida’s hostility to foreigners and their campaign against Islam and make it seem presentable.

The Pegida demonstrations have been staged affairs produced by the media and politicians. Quite small in the beginning, they received disproportionate attention in the press. Politicians from the Left Party to the Christian Social Democrats declared that they understood the “justified concerns” of demonstrators and offered to engage in dialogue.

The sizes of the demonstrations were systematically exaggerated by the police and the media. A research group led by the sociologist Dieter Rucht came to the conclusion that at most 17,000 demonstrators took part last Monday, and not the 25,000 reported by the police. The estimated number of demonstrators in Leipzig, the group reported, had been doubled by the police to 4,000. In reality, only 2,000 had participated.

There is widespread popular opposition to Pegida. On Monday, tens of thousands all over Germany participated in counter-demonstrations. In Munich, there were 12,000 demonstrators, with 10,000 in Wiesbaden and just as many in Bielefeld. Thousands also took to the streets in Magdeburg, Braunschweig, Leipzig and many other cities. The various protests organised by local branches of Pegida, on the other hand, attracted just a few hundred people.

Rucht also concluded that the size of the Pegida demonstrations had already reached its high point. “Pegida became gradually smaller and thinned out,” said Rucht. It is precisely at this moment that the extreme right wingers are being provided with a new platform to promote themselves.

On Sunday evening, Pegida organiser Kathrin Oertel appeared on a leading TV talk show for the first time. The host of the programme, Günther Jauch, gave her ample opportunity to present her fascistic views. She used the interview as an opportunity to proclaim the failure of a light-minded “multicultural” attitude, criticise supposed preachers of hate in Islamic schools and demand a tightening of restrictions on the right to asylum.

The other participants in the discussion were carefully selected. None of them opposed her, even partially. Seated next to her was Alexander Gauland, vice president of the extreme right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD). Gauland said that Pegida was a natural ally of his party and declared that the suspected terror threat against Pegida represented “the beginning of Islamisation.” In this way, he identified Islam with terrorism without further comment.

Former president of the German parliament Wolfgang Thierse (Social Democratic Party, SPD) and 34-year member of parliament Jens Spahn took turns engaging Oertel and offered to enter into discussions. “One can talk about all of the 19 points that form the basis of your demonstrations, but first it would be necessary to sit down together,” said Spahn.

Frank Richter, who leads the state of Saxony’s Center for Political Education, was also invited. Back when the demonstrations were still quite small, Richter had already said they made “strong arguments” and called the right-wing extremists “concerned citizens, who have concerns about their culture and their city.”

Richter went on to attack the other participants in the interview for not backing Pegida more fully. He said it represented “a low point of political culture,” when politicians did not seek dialogue with “concerned citizens.”

The day after the talk show, Richter opened the doors of the Saxony Culture Ministry to Pegida for a press conference. Bachmann and Oertel were given the opportunity to spread their propaganda in a publicly financed arena. They announced here that they would not continue to demonstrate indefinitely, but said they wanted to enter into discussion with politicians in order to consolidate their movement.

This encouragement of extreme right-wing and anti-Muslim racists is a serious warning. Just as French president Francoise Hollande paid court to the extreme right Front National, the most reactionary elements in Germany are being mobilised to carry out an extremely unpopular policy of attacks on social programmes and war abroad.

We are offering a Series of Consensus Points from the 24-member 9/11 Consensus Panel, which presents considerable new evidence about 9/11 in the form of its 44 Consensus Points to date.  The official claims regarding 9/11 are contradicted by facts that have been validated by a scientific consensus process, based on a standard medical model of investigation.

Introduction

At 9:26 AM on 9/11, the Bush-Cheney administration ordered a national ground stop, meaning that no more civil planes were allowed to take off; and at 9:45, all planes already in the air were ordered to land.1 Those orders provided the background for the possibility of an order to shoot down civilian airplanes that violated this order. There has been controversy about whether United 93 (which, the 9/11 Commission claimed, crashed in Shanksville, PA) was shot down.

The Official Account

Vice President Cheney reached the Presidential Emergency Operations Center “shortly before 10:00.”2 At 10:02, he “began receiving reports from the Secret Service of an inbound aircraft – presumably hijacked – heading towards Washington.”3 Although this aircraft was United 93, the Commission said, this was not known at the time, because the military did not learn about the hijacking of this flight until after it had crashed.4

Through a military aide, Cheney gave authorization to shoot civilian airplanes down at “some time between 10:10 and 10:15,” again “probably some time between 10:12 and 10:18,” and then obtained confirmation from President Bush by 10:20.5Reporting that Richard Clarke had “ask[ed] the President for authority to shoot down aircraft,” the 9/11 Commission wrote: “Confirmation of that authority came at 10:25.”6

Shoot-down authorization came, therefore, far too late to affect the fate of United 93, which crashed at 10:03.7

The Best Evidence

Considerable evidence indicates that the shoot-down authorization came not at some time after 10:10 but closer to 9:50, therefore early enough for the military to have shot down United 93:

1. The fullest evidence appeared in counter-terrorism coordinator Richard Clarke’s 2004 book, Against All Enemies.8

  • Just before the Pentagon attack, Clarke wrote, he told Major Michael Fenzel, his liaison to Cheney, that he wanted authorization for “the Air Force to shoot down any aircraft – including a hijacked passenger flight – that looks like it is threatening to attack and cause large-scale death on the ground.”9
  • Fenzel called back rather quickly. (Clarke said: “I was amazed at the speed of the decisions coming from Cheney and, through him, from Bush.”) Fenzel’s call back came after the Pentagon attack but before Air Force One took off from the airport in Florida, which would mean between 9:38 and 9:55.10
  • Fenzel said: “Tell the Pentagon they have authority from the President to shoot down hostile aircraft, repeat, they have authority to shoot down hostile aircraft.” Clarke reported that he then said: “DOD, DOD, . . . the President has ordered the use of force against aircraft deemed to be hostile.”11

2. A 2003 U.S. News and World Report article, discussing “President Bush’s unprecedented order to shoot down any hijacked civilian airplane,” stated: “Pentagon sources say Bush communicated the order to Cheney almost immediately after Flight 77 hit the Pentagon and the FAA, for the first time ever, ordered all domestic flights grounded.”12 This report, reinforced by the previous and following points, would put the shoot-down authorization shortly after 9:45.

3. Barbara Starr, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, said in a 2002 program reliving the events of 9/11: “It is now 9:40, and one very big problem is out there: United Airlines Flight 93 has turned off its transponder. Officials believe it is headed for Washington, D.C. . . . On a secure phone line, Vice President Cheney tells the military it has permission to shoot down any airliners threatening Washington.”13

4. In 2002 and 2003, a number of military leaders stated that they received the shoot-down authorization while United 93 was still aloft.

  • Colonel Robert Marr, the head of NEADS, said: “[W]e received the clearance to kill if need be.”14
  • General Larry Arnold, the commander of NORAD within the Continental United States, said: “I had every intention of shooting down United 93 if it continued to progress toward Washington, D.C.”15
  • Brigadier General Montague Winfield, the deputy director of the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon, reportedly said: “The decision was made to try to go intercept Flight 93. . . . The Vice President [said] that the President had given us permission to shoot down innocent civilian aircraft that threatened Washington, DC.”16

In spite of all of this evidence, The 9/11 Commission Report, published in July 2004, declared: “By the time the military learned about [United 93], it had crashed.”17 On the basis of this claim, the 9/11 Commission declared that the above-cited statements by Marr, Arnold, and Winfield were “incorrect.”18

However, besides contradicting these statements, the 9/11 Commission’s claim conflicts with an FAAmemo to the Commission of May 23, 2003.

  • This memo said that in an FAA teleconference with the military that had begun “minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center” – hence shortly after 8:46 AM – the FAA had “shared real-time information . . . about . . . all the flights of interest,”19 which would have included United Flight 93.20
  • 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, putting the FAA memo in the Commission’s record, said that it provided evidence that the “FAA was providing information as it received it, immediately after the first crash into the Towers.”21 But the 9/11 Commission dealt with this memo by simply omitting any reference to it in The 9/11 Commission Report.

Conclusion

The 9/11 Commission claimed that Cheney did not issue a shoot-down authorization until 10:10 or later, whereas the evidence shows that Cheney gave the authorization by 9:50 – hence at least 20 minutes earlier than the Commission claimed. This 20-minute difference means the difference between whether military pilots could, or could not, have been ordered to shoot down United Flight 93 (which reportedly crashed at 10:03).

The Commission’s claim about the time of the shoot-down authorization was not the only part of the official account of the shoot-down authorization that was problematic: The press focused on the Bush administration’s claim that Cheney had transmitted authorization received from the President (rather than declaring it on his own, which would have been illegal), about which even the 9/11 Commission was skeptical.22

More important to the truth about 9/11, however, was the 9/11 Commission’s claim that the shoot-down authorization was not given by Cheney until 10:10 or later, hence after United 93 had crashed. This claim is contradicted by reports from Richard Clarke, U.S. News and World Report, Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, the FAA, and three military officers: Col. Marr, Gen. Arnold, and Brig. Gen. Winfield.

Moreover, the 9/11 Commission’s 10:10-or-later claim presupposed the Commission’s claim that Cheney did not enter the PEOC, where he took charge, until almost 10:00, and this claim is contradicted by abundant evidence, as shown in Point MC-3.23

Any new investigation needs to ask why the 9/11 Commission made a claim about the time of Cheney’s shoot-down authorization that contradicted a great deal of evidence.

References for Point MC-4

1. The 9/11 Commission Report, 29.

2. Ibid., 40.

3. Ibid., 41.

4. Ibid., 34.

5. Ibid., 41. (The movie United 93, which follows the timeline of The 9/11 Commission Report, says that the shoot-down authorization was given at 10:18.)

6. Ibid., 37.

7. “By 10:03, when United 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, there had been no mention of its hijacking [to the military]” (Ibid., 38).

8. Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror (New York: Free Press, 2004).

9. Ibid., 7.

10. Clarke reported that the call came while the President’s plane was still “getting ready to take off” (ibid., 8).

11. Ibid., 8.

12. Chitra Ragavan and Mark Mazzetti, “Pieces of the Puzzle – A Top-Secret Conference Call on September 11 Could Shed New Light on the Terrorist Attacks,”U.S. News & World Report, 31 August, 2003.

13. “’The Pentagon Goes to War’: National MilitaryCommand Center,” American Morning with Paula Zahn, CNN, 4 September 2002.

14. Quoted in Leslie Filson, Air War over America: Sept. 11 Alters Face of Air Defense Mission, Foreword by Larry K. Arnold [Public Affairs: Tyndall Air Force Base, 2003], 68). Marr also said that, after he received the shoot-down authorization, he “passed that on to the pilots” (“9/11: Interviews by Peter Jennings,” ABC News, 11 September 2002.)

15. Filson, Air War Over America, 71.

16. “9/11: Interviews by Peter Jennings,”ABC News, September 11, 2002.

17. The 9/11 Commission Report, 34.

18. Ibid.

19. 9/11 Commission Hearing, May 23, 2003.

20. The 9/11 Commission acknowledged that FAA headquarters had realized by 9:34 that United 93 had been hijacked (The 9/11 Commission Report, 28). Also, when General Arnold was asked by the 9/11 Commission what NORAD was doing on 9/11 at 9:24 AM, he said: “Our focus was on United 93, which was being pointed out to us very aggressively, I might say, by the FAA” (9/11 Commission Hearing, May 23, 2003).

21. 9/11 Commission Hearing, May 23, 2003.

22. In The 9/11 Commission Report, the Commission’s scepticism is muted, limited to stating that there was no documentary evidence for the call to President Bush that, according to Cheney, he made shortly after entering the PEOC, during which Bush gave him the authorization (pp. 40-41). According to Newsweek magazine, however, this statement was a “watered down” version of an earlier draft, which had reflected the fact that “some on the commission staff were . . . highly skeptical of the vice president’s account.” That earlier draft, which evidently expressed more clearly the belief that the vice president and the president were lying, was reportedly modified after vigorous lobbying from the White House (Daniel Klaidman and Michael Hirsh, “Who Was Really in Charge?” Newsweek, June 20, 2004.

23. See Consensus Point MC-3, “The Claim About the Time of Dick Cheney’s Entry into the White House Bunker.”

Delusion and Deception in Obama’s State of Union

January 21st, 2015 by Patrick Martin

Two weeks ago, the World Socialist Web Site published its initial review of the results of the year 2014 and the prospects for 2015. We wrote, “In examining the strategies and policies of the ruling elites of one or another country, it would be a mistake to either underestimate their ruthlessness or overestimate their intelligence.”

The State of the Union speech delivered by President Barack Obama Tuesday night confirms this assessment in the case of the United States. The US ruling elite exhibits a determination to stop at nothing in the defense of its wealth and privileges, and pig-headed blindness and stupidity, both on a colossal scale.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Obama’s hour-long address, riddled with tired clichés and empty rhetoric, was the sheer unreality of the picture he presented of America, totally at odds with the actual experience of tens of millions of working people: mounting social and economic crisis, escalating attacks on democratic rights and the growing danger of world war.

“The shadow of crisis has passed,” Obama claimed, declaring that the US has successfully emerged from the economic slump that followed the 2008-2009 financial crash. “At this moment, with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production—we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.”

No one not hypnotized by the ever-rising share prices on the New York Stock Exchange can accept that as a serious description of American social reality. A few figures released in the past month make this clear:

* Nine million workers are officially unemployed, another six million have dropped out of the labor force, eight million work part-time when they want full-time jobs and 12 million work for temporary employment agencies.

* Real wages have fallen steadily for American workers since 2007, dropping another five cents an hour in December 2014. The real income of the average working-class family is now back to the level of 2000—15 years of stagnation in living standards.

* The US poverty rate has risen from 12.6 percent in 2007 to 14.5 percent in 2013. Nearly half of all Americans and more than half of all US school children are poor or near poor.

* One fifth of American children do not get enough to eat, while the overall rate of food insecurity has jumped from 11 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2013. One million Americans will be cut off food stamp benefits this year.

Obama evaded any discussion of such figures, substituting instead the proposal for “middle-class economics,” a term deliberately chosen to conceal the ongoing attack on jobs and living standards of American workers. It is the latest brand-name his speechwriters have concocted for the policy of both capitalist parties, Democratic and Republican alike, of promoting the interests of American corporations and banks against their foreign rivals and the working class at home.

The State of the Union speech made a brief reference to the monstrous growth of economic inequality, where “only a few of us do spectacularly well,” but Obama passed over in silence the connection between the growth of the fortunes of the super-rich and his own policies. Skyrocketing wealth for the few and mounting social misery for the many are not merely coincidental. They are product of a deliberate policy, spearheaded by the Obama administration, of handing trillions of dollars to the banks while orchestrating a coordinated attack on jobs, living standards and social programs.

Equally unreal was Obama’s depiction of the state of American democracy. “As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened,” he said, “which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained.”

The formal prohibition of torture, however, has been combined with a lengthy rearguard action against the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, in the course of which Obama blocked any prosecution of the torturers. The White House is directly implicated in illegal activities, including the CIA’s spying on the US Senate and its efforts to withhold documents implicating the highest levels of the state in clear violations of national and international law.

As for “constraints” on the use of drones, there are none. The Obama administration has declared that the president has the unlimited right to order the assassination of any person on the planet, including American citizens, using drone-fired missiles, without any judicial review and without regard to US and international law.

Similarly, Obama claimed that “our intelligence agencies have worked hard … to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse.” In fact, the NSA, CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies carry out unlimited surveillance on the population of America and the world, vacuuming up all electronic communications, telephone and Internet, and creating massive databases and political dossiers.

In the 13 years since the 9/11 attacks, the threat of terrorism has been used as the pretext for building up the structure of a police state in America. This process will only accelerate in the wake of the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the attacks in Paris January 7. Obama declared, “We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we’ve done relentlessly since I took office.”

This was only one of the many occasions in the State of the Union speech where the US president asserted his willingness to use force to insure the primacy of American imperialism over all its rivals. Half his speech was devoted to such threats, including against Russia, a nuclear-armed power, over Ukraine, and against Iran, where Obama, for the second time in five days, threatened to go to war to destroy the country’s nuclear technology program.

Perhaps the bluntest assertion of American supremacy came when Obama discussed negotiations over trade practices within the Asia-Pacific region (including China and Japan, the world’s second-largest and third-largest economies). “We should write those rules,” Obama declared, as though no other country mattered.

While Obama claimed that he had brought the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a close, reducing the total troop deployment in the two countries from 180,000 to 15,000, this represents a shift in focus to a more extensive, not scaled-back, imperialist intervention. The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) deployed forces to 133 countries in 2014, more than two thirds of the globe.

Obama concluded his speech with an appeal to the Republican Party, which now controls a majority of seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, for bipartisan collaboration over the next two years. He warned against “always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision.”

This language was chosen, not so much to urge the Republicans to resist the pressure of their ultra-right Tea Party faction, as to urge the Democrats to get on with devising bipartisan attacks on the working class, regardless of the popular reaction among workers, particularly the poorest and most oppressed who, if they go to the polls, generally vote for the Democratic Party.

Obama proposed a handful of measures aimed at sustaining the threadbare pretense that the Democrats still adhere to policies of liberal reform—free tuition for community college students and a child care tax credit for working families, to be paid for by increased taxes on the wealthy and the banks. But no one in official Washington takes these seriously for a minute. They are window dressing, while the policy of the US ruling elite moves further and further to the right.

Aside from the delusional character of the speech, perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of Obama’s remarks was the fact that, for the vast majority of the population, it was a non-event. Obama stands at the head of a state apparatus that, increasingly, is talking to itself.

Anti-Establishment Movie Director Found Dead

January 21st, 2015 by Adan Salazar

An independent filmmaker and his family were found dead in a Minnesota home over the weekend from what media outlets are describing as an “apparent murder suicide.”

On Saturday, a neighbor alerted authorities after seeing the lifeless bodies of 29-year-old writer, film producer and Army veteran David Crowley, his wife Komel, 28, and their 5-year-old daughter, Rani, laying inside their Apple Valley home.

Neighbor Collin Prochnow was investigating why packages had been sitting on the family’s doorstep for weeks. Prochnow says that after ringing the doorbell he peered through the window and “saw three bodies on the ground with a black handgun next to them,” according to KARE11.

It’s uncertain how long the bodies had been there, but neighbors suspect they died sometime over the Christmas holiday.

Numerous law enforcement agencies are investigating the causes of death, but police have yet to release a statement. They are reportedly treating the death as “suspicious,” notes the Daily Mail.

“Crowley served a tour of duty in Iraq during his five-year stint in the Army and met Komel while stationed in Texas,” reportsNew York Daily News.

Neighbors say they hadn’t taken notice of the family’s absence, but say they’d previously seen Crowley in his yard playing with his daughter.

Though scant details have been made public, reports are already suggesting Crowley may be responsible due to a recent short haircut, recent pictures uploaded to social media and because he “started wearing fatigues” according to the Star Tribune.

Adding to the suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths is the controversial nature of Crowley’s latest project, entitled Gray State, a highly-anticipated independent film envisioning a brutal police state, martial law crackdown, complete with biometric identification, a ubiquitous surveillance state and FEMA stormtroopers rounding dissidents up into camps.

One of the actors appearing in a trailer for Gray State, Charles Hubbell, told Pioneer Press Crowley seemed level-headed and destined to succeed.

“He seemed more grounded and focused than would lend itself to anything chaotic,” Hubbell described. “The entire time I worked with him there was nothing aggressive or chaotic or strange or abnormal. He was one of the ones I was hanging my hat on, one who was going to succeed.”

The film’s Indiegogo campaign met its finance goal in October 2012, raising $61,332 that would go towards “pre-production needs.”

Crowley had also been working on a non-fiction film entitled Gray State: The Rise, “a documentary extolling the beauty of liberty over oppression, slavery, and tyranny,” according to the film’s Facebook page. A message appearing on the page yesterday lamented its director’s loss:

Director David Crowley and Gray State co-producer Danny Mason were interviewed on the Alex Jones Show in September 2012.

According to information published on and then banned from the Internet in Turkey, on Jan. 19, 2014, the prosecutor of an Adana court instructed the Adana Provincial Gendarmerie Command to stop and search three trucks.  (photo by Anonymous)

Secret official documents about the searching of three trucks belonging to Turkey’s national intelligence service (MIT) have been leaked online, once again corroborating suspicions that Ankara has not been playing a clean game in Syria. According to the authenticated documents, the trucks were found to be transporting missiles, mortars and anti-aircraft ammunition. The Gendarmerie General Command, which authored the reports, alleged, “The trucks were carrying weapons and supplies to the al-Qaeda terror organization.” But Turkish readers could not see the documents in the news bulletins and newspapers that shared them, because the government immediately obtained a court injunction banning all reporting about the affair.

New documents have been leaked online, prompting the government to immediately ban reporting on the scandal and order the content deleted.

When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was prime minister, he had said, “You cannot stop the MIT truck. You cannot search it. You don’t have the authority. These trucks were taking humanitarian assistance to Turkmens.”

Since then, Erdogan and his hand-picked new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have repeated at every opportunity that the trucks were carrying assistance to Turkmens. Public prosecutor Aziz Takci, who had ordered the trucks to be searched, was removed from his post and 13 soldiers involved in the search were taken to court on charges of espionage. Their indictments call for prison terms of up to 20 years.

In scores of documents leaked by a group of hackers, the Gendarmerie Command notes that rocket warheads were found in the trucks’ cargo.

According to the documents that circulated on the Internet before the ban came into effect, this was the summary of the incident:

  • On Jan. 19, 2014, after receiving a tip that three trucks were carrying weapons and explosives to al-Qaeda in Syria, the Adana Provincial Gendarmerie Command obtained search warrants.
  • The Adana prosecutor called for the search and seizure of all evidence.
  • Security forces stopped the trucks at the Ceyhan toll gates, where MIT personnel tried to prevent the search.
  • While the trucks were being escorted to Seyhan Gendarmerie Command for an extensive search, MIT personnel accompanying the trucks in an Audi vehicle blocked the road to stop the trucks. When MIT personnel seized the keys from the trucks’ ignitions, an altercation ensued. MIT personnel instructed the truck drivers to pretend their trucks had malfunctioned and committed physical violence against gendarmerie personnel.
  • The search was carried out and videotaped despite the efforts of the governor and MIT personnel to prevent it.
  • Six metallic containers were found in the three trucks. In the first container, 25-30 missiles or rockets and 10-15 crates loaded with ammunition were found. In the second container, 20-25 missiles or rockets, 20-25 crates of mortar ammunition and Douchka anti-aircraft ammunition in five or six sacks were discovered. The boxes had markings in the Cyrillic alphabet.
  • It was noted that the MIT personnel swore at the prosecutor and denigrated the gendarmerie soldiers doing the search, saying, “Look at those idiots. They are looking for ammunition with picks and shovels. Let someone who knows do it. Trucks are full of bombs that might explode.”
  • The governor of Adana, Huseyin Avni Cos, arrived at the scene and declared, “The trucks are moving with the prime minister’s orders” and vowed not to let them be interfered with no matter what.
  • With a letter of guarantee sent by the regional director of MIT, co-signed by the governor, the trucks were handed back to MIT.
  • Driver Murat Kislakci said in his deposition, “This cargo was loaded into our trucks from a foreign airplane at Ankara Esenboga Airport. We are taking them to Reyhanli [on the Syrian border]. Two men [MIT personnel] in the Audi are accompanying us. At Reyhanli, we hand over the trucks to two people in the Audi. They check us into a hotel. The trucks move to cross the border. We carried similar loads several times before. We were working for the state. In Ankara, we were leaving our trucks at an MIT location. They used to tell us to come back at 7 a.m. I know the cargo belongs to MIT. We were at ease; this was an affair of state. This was the first time we collected cargo from the airport and for the first time we were allowed to stand by our trucks during the loading.”
  • After accusations of espionage by the government and pro-government media, the chief of general staff ordered the military prosecutor to investigate,. On July 21, the military prosecutor declared the operation was not espionage. The same prosecutor said this incident was a military affair and should be investigated not by the public prosecutor, but the military. The civilian court did not retract its decision.

The government cover-up

Though the scandal is tearing the country apart, the government opted for its favorite tactic of covering it up. A court in Adana banned written, visual and Internet media outlets from any reporting and commenting on the stopping of the trucks and the search. All online content about the incident has been deleted.

The court case against the 13 gendarmerie elements accused of espionage has also been controversial. The public prosecutor, who in his indictment said the accused were involved in a plot to have Turkey tried at the International Criminal Court, veered off course. Without citing any evidence, the indictment charged that there was collusion between the Syrian government, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS). The prosecutor deviated from the case at hand and charged that the killing by IS of three people at Nigde last year was actually carried out by the Syrian state.

At the moment, a total blackout prevails over revelations, which are bound to have serious international repercussions.

“This is a very serious matter – they will slaughter him.” - (Sabah Al-Mukhtar, President of the Arab Lawyers Association.)

On Saturday 10th January the BRussells Tribunal circulated a Press Release: “Iraq: Mr Uday Al-Zaidi – Appeal of Extreme Urgency.” (1)

It outlined: “an appeal for the immediate and urgent mobilization of (the relevant UN Agencies, Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch and other international NGOs and appropriate legal bodies) in securing the release of the prominent human rights defender, Mr Uday Al-Zaidi.”

The Appeal was necessarily brief, but the wider context is vital to understanding as another life hangs in the balance in the living hell of the Bush and Blair led “New Iraq.”

Mr Al-Zaidi was arrested by Iraqi security forces at 6 pm, local time, on Friday 9th January near Al-Nasriyah in southern Iraq. Al-Zaidi, a respected journalist, is internationally renowned for his courageous advocacy against the sectarian cleansing in Iraq which began with the onset of the “divide and rule” policy of the US-UK invasion, continued under the occupation, their puppet Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and now under his replacement of August 2014, Haider Al-Abadi.

Al-Abadi came in with the US-UK tanks in 2003, having lived in London since 1977, where he was on the Executive of the (Shia) Islamic Dawa Party – which is headed by Nouri al-Maliki. The Prime Ministerial change has all the hallmarks of “same car, new paint.”

The urgency and gravity of Mr Al-Zaidi’s situation cannot be over-stressed. Originally his whereabouts were not revealed, in contravention of all international legal norms.

Under Article 17 of the Geneva Convention: “No one shall be held in secret detention.”

On 19th January it was learned that Uday Al-Zaidi has now appeared before an “investigative Judge” with a lawyer who said that charges against him (details of which still remain to be known) were trumped up, false and irrelevant. He looked “tired and drained.”

Fears during his disappearance were that he would simply vanish and claims be made that he had been “kidnapped” by freelance militia, or that  he had been spirited to a neighbouring country “as has happened to very many before”, according to an impeccable source.  Finally it is established he is being held by the government.

Also now known is that he is being held in prison in Al-Nasiriya, being tortured, interrogated daily and has been on hunger strike in protest at his incarceration and treatment for five days.

In an interview with Al Jazeera (15th December 2014) he described graphically, at length, the reality of the humanitarian catastrophe resulting from the Iraqi government’s brutal systematic sectarian edicts.

Afterwards he said that he was “expecting” anything as a result. Warned to take extreme care in his movements, he determined to attend the funeral of a friend and was arrested.

His witness to Iraq’s ongoing tragedy has been tireless and international. On 19 March 2013 he received the BRussells Resistance Award. (2)

Two months later in May, invited by the Madrid-based State Campaign Against the Occupation and for the Sovereignty of Iraq, talking at venues in a number of cities he showed visuals, the reality of:  “…  killing of children, raping of women and men, secret prisons, daily humiliations”, of families assassinated by U.S bombs over eight grinding years. “An image is worth a thousand words. These images show what the occupation has done for us”, he said. (3) The numbers continue to rise daily.

“Since 2003, there have been a million deaths and four million orphans …  Iraq is a wealthy country. But its people, us, have to dig in the garbage to try and survive.”

He also called courageously for an end to the corruption under Prime Minister al-Maliki – and returned to Iraq.

In January that year in Iraq he addressed the dishonour of the Iraqi people manifested by a government: “ … representing their groups, militias and parties, and their masters abroad.” He talked of the “defilements” of Iraq “in ever deepening crisis” and “tyranny.”

Nouri al-Maliki is now Vice President of Iraq.

Sabah Al-Mukhtar, President of the Arab Lawyers Association and Vice President of the Geneva International Centre for Justice states starkly of Mr Al-Zaidi’s detention:

“This is a very serious matter. They will slaughter him.”

Serious indeed. A March 2013 Amnesty International Report on Iraq’s Human Rights record (5, pdf) is chilling, including:

“Ten years after the US-led invasion that (overthrew) Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains mired in human rights abuses. Thousands of Iraqis are detained without trial or serving prison sentences imposed after unfair trials. Torture remains rife and continues to be committed with impunity, and the new Iraq is one of the world’s leading executioners. The government hanged 129 prisoners in 2012, while hundreds more languished on death row. (Emphasis mine)

“ … even the Ministry of Human Rights has listed methods of torture that detainees reported they were subjected to by Iraqi security forces, recently citing electric shock torture applied to the genitals, partial suffocation by putting a bag over the detainee’s head, threats of rape of detainees’ wives or other relatives, and beatings with cable.

“UNAMI  (United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq) has also reported the use of these and other methods. Amnesty International has also done so.”

Moreover: ‘Lawyers … have told Amnesty International that they no longer take the trouble to seek access to their clients during the initial interrogation phase because they know the detaining authorities will not permit it. Moreover, seeking to do so, it would appear, can sometimes result in action being taken against the lawyers themselves. For example, in February 2012, the Ninewa branch of the Iraqi Bar Association informed UNAMI that five lawyers had been detained by the security forces because they had “attempted to represent individuals detained by the military.”’

Uday Al-Zaidi is the brother of journalist Muntadher Al-Zaidy, who threw “the shoe that went around the world” at George W. Bush on December 14th 2008: “ … for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq.”

In Court he testified that watching the US President he had: “felt the blood of the innocent people bleeding from beneath (Bush’s) feet”, compelling his action. (4.)

Representation to the Iraqi government at the highest level is incumbent on all those to whom humanity and human rights is utmost priority. No time can be wasted. Rivers of blood have bled, literally, from Iraqi feet and bodies, from Abu Ghraib to the innumerable secret prisons. Delay will near certainly be death.

It is also incumbent upon the UN’s relevant organizations, UNAMI and all other relevant international organizations that pressure be brought on the Iraqi Authorities for Mr Al-Zaidi’s immediate release.

It is further, imperative to draw Prime Minister Al-Abadi’s attention to his personal responsibility for the safety of Mr Al-Zaidi and all under government detention. Should human rights and international law in Iraq now count for even less than the woeful post-invasion standing, the Prime Minister will surely eventually be held accountable in international law for the horrifying abuses with his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.

Uday Al-Zaidi symbolizes all condemned to the nightmare of  “freedom and democracy”, justice and Iraq’s jails, secret and overt, in the “New Iraq.”

Notes

  1. http://www.globalresearch.ca/arrest-of-internationally-renowned-iraqi-human-rights-advocate-uday-al-zaidi-appeal-of-extreme-urgency/5424015
  2. http://www.brussellstribunal.org/article_view.asp?id=701
  3. http://warresisters.wordpress.com/iraq-reports-analysis-and-interviews-on-movement-building-now/“we-will-protest-until-the-occupiers-leave-”-an-interview-with-uday-al-zaidi/
  4. http://www.rferl.org/content/icons-iraq-war-shoe-thrower-bush-zaidi/24931805.html
  5. http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE14/001/2013/en/bbd876ee-aa83-4a63-bff3-7e7c6ee130eb/mde140012013en.pdf

Canada has denied rumours that it is averse to host a summit of the North American Free Trade Agreement partners. The office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday clarified that Canada will host the NAFTA annual summit “later this year,” and denied reports that the Summit was in limbo over Canada’s alleged friction with Washington on the issue of Keystone XL pipeline project.

“While no date has been announced for the meeting, we intend to host the North American Leaders’ Summit later this year,” Harper’s spokesman Jason MacDonald told media, reported Terra Daily News. Generally the partners of the NAFTA meet in February or March, for what is known as the “Three Amigos Summit” to discuss trade and security matters. The two decade old NAFTA trade bloc represents 450 million people and produces goods and services worth US$17 trillion, according to the U.S. government’s figures.

But there were reports suggesting that the delay in the United States to grant approval for the cross-border controversial Keystone XL pipeline for moving oil from the Alberta oil sands to refineries along the U.S. Gulf coast, had become an irritant. Despite Republicans in the US House of Representatives pushing for the Keystone XL pipeline project, President Barack Obama had threatened to veto the measure.

Agenda in Progress

The PM’s spokesman added that the agenda for the Summit is being finalised and denied that visa row with Mexico or pipeline issue with the USA had anything to do with the trilateral relationship. White House spokesman Josh Earnest also said: “It is my understanding that the North American summit has been postponed from early this year to later this year.”

The White House official dismissed suggestions that the Keystone project was hurting ties with Canada. He said the relationship with Canada is deeper and broader than the construction project. At the NAFTA Summit, 2014 in Mexico City, the three nations had agreed on issues ranging from trade flow within North America to protecting the region’s Monarch butterfly and enhancing cooperation on security.

Rejuvenating the Bloc

Meanwhile, a Globe and Mail report mentioned two recent studies that called for rejuvenating the “spirit of NAFTA” with steps to augment continental co-operation across the board. The first report was jointly authored by former World Bank president Robert Zoellick and retired general David Petraeus with an ambitious agenda for action to harness the immense energy potential of North America and speedy approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The second study, authored by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, also echoed similar sentiments but skirted the controversial Keystone issue. Both studies acknowledged the subdued state of affairs in the relations with an outlook that little would change in the short term.

(The writer can be reached with feedback at [email protected])

Putin Excluded from Holocaust Commemorations

January 21st, 2015 by Ulson Gunnar

Glancing at the headlines one might believe Russian President Vladimir Putin had inappropriately decided not to attend Holocaust commemorations in Poland.

In one breathtaking display of misinformation, Reuters would report in its article Putin will not attend Holocaust commemorations in Poland that, “Sources told Reuters on Monday that Putin was unlikely to join world leaders gathering at the site of the Auschwitz death camp because distrust caused by the conflict in Ukraine has cast a pall on arrangements.”

In reality, The Russian leader was never invited by Poland, the nation hosting the commemorations.

The geopolitical thrust and accompanying misinformation is designed to reinforce the perception that Russia is now a hegemonic threat, on par with Nazi Germany during World War II. Reality could not contradict this contrived narrative more.

On June 22, 1941, Operation Barbarossa was launched. Three massive German armies moved at lightning speed into the Soviet Union as part of a long anticipated Nazi attempt to conquer Russia. The invasion would quickly overwhelm unprepared Russian forces bringing German armies up to the gates of several major Russian cities, Moscow included.

Along their way, Nazi forces would carry out mass arrests and executions of Eastern European Jews, Slavs, and Russians. The Russian people and their allies fought bitterly at the cost of millions of lives to first slow then stop the invasion, then turn it back before finally reaching the gates of Berlin themselves.

Europe’s Jews, imprisoned and mass murdered by the millions, owe their eventual liberation to the heroic sacrifices of the Russian people who fought the majority of the war in Europe against Germany, years before American boots landed on the beaches of Normandy in 1944.

Thus, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a representative of the nation and the peoples who formed the vanguard against the Nazi scourge and ended the threat of fascism in Europe. While American soldiers were shocked to find Hitler’s death camps upon the conclusion of the war, the Russian people had been living the nightmare of Germany’s systematic regional genocide for years, firsthand. Putin’s exclusion from Holocaust commemorations is more than mere politics, it is a warning sign that an old enemy once again stirs in its dark lair.

Upon the conclusion of World War II, the Americans along with their newly formed NATO alliance, quickly made use of Nazis who surrendered to them rather than face “justice” at the hands of the Soviets for their serial crimes against humanity. The Americans integrated them into some more noble causes such as space exploration, but also among darker networks including intelligence, propaganda and even domestic terror networks (later to be known notoriously as Operation Gladio).

Former Nazis and their ideological allies in Soviet territory like the Ukraine, were continuously backed by NATO at the end of the World War to resist Soviet rule. These networks have survived, continuously, and manifest themselves even today in the form of the current regime in Kiev, which violently overthrew the elected government of Ukraine between late 2013 and early 2014.

Fully backed by NATO, these successors of Nazi collaborators who literally served Adolf Hitler’s catastrophically tragic bid at global domination and assisted in the genocide that accompanied that bid, are carrying out similar dark deeds in eastern Ukraine, albeit on a smaller but no less tragic scale. In true form reflecting the obscenely dishonest narratives woven by Nazi propagandists like Joseph Goebbels, the Western world has sidestepped these historic and current realities and instead insist Russia, not literal fascists carrying Nazi flags, represent the resurgence of a fascist threat in Europe today.

President Putin’s exclusion from Holocaust commemorations is a direct part of forming and reinforcing this narrative. No greater insult could be given to the victims, survivors and heroes who suffered and eventually overcame the Nazi scourge than to twist and intentionally distort history, propping up the successors of villains and condemning those representing the millions of Russian lives lost to confront such villains and a people who are once again ready to confront them again.

Europe once again approaches precariously the precipice of self-inflicted tragedy. Fascism both old and new is festering and spreading in all directions as European leaders and the special interests that direct them seek a familiar ploy used when all else fails to unite and regiment their peoples. Once again Russia seems to be standing alone in the face of this growing menace along their border, and once again the Russian people are quietly preparing to make sacrifices befitting the heroic deeds of their fore-bearers.

Must it come to this? What if people saw and pointed to the gross hypocrisy and betrayal of Poland and the forces of fascism once again festering within that dealt the nation such a tragic blow during the last World War? What if people realized, regardless of their feelings toward Russia, that the path they are on leads only to self-ruination? Could Europeans as a whole realize there is a middle path between the extremes being presented before them? The coming weeks and months will yield these answers. For those who have keenly kept one eye on history, and one on current events today, they must try to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, remembering the lessons World War II has taught them, even if such lessons seem to be lost on everyone else.

Ulson Gunnar, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

After blowing up in spectacular fashion in 2008, receiving the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of modern finance, Citigroup’s FDIC-backed bank, Citibank N.A., is allowing retail customers around the globe to gamble in the high-risk world of currency trading with leverage as great as 50 to 1.

It has been more than four days since wire services reported that Citigroup’s trading desk had lost more than $150 million as a result of Switzerland’s central bank removing the cap on the Swiss Franc’s peg to the Euro. During that time, Citigroup does not appear to have demanded a correction or retraction. Thus, that much of the story has made it into the hands of the public.

What is not widely known is that Citigroup, a global behemoth bank which is on a short tether by the Federal Reserve after failing its stress test last year and in previous years since its crash, is branding itself as the go-to place for retail clients wanting to gamble in the high-stakes world of currency trading with a starting account size as small as $10,000. In addition, the account can be leveraged up on margin provided by Citigroup’s insured banking unit by as much as 50 times.

According to the FDIC’s data as of September 30, 2014, Citibank N.A., the unit of Citigroup offering the currency trading to retail clients, had total assets of $1.377 trillion; domestic deposits of $443 billion; and foreign deposits of $505 billion. In other words, in terms of its deposit base, Citibank is more foreign than it is domestic, but it’s the U.S. taxpayer that will be on the hook if it implodes again.

The last time Citigroup came hat in hand for a bailout, from December 2007 to July 2010, it received $45 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), over $300 billion in asset guarantees, and $2.513 trillion in low-cost loans from the Federal Reserve according to the Government Accountability Office.

With that recent history, why are its regulators allowing it to take on potentially perilous trading activities? When retail clients end up owing money to a bank in a highly leveraged currency trade, the bank can easily end up stuck with the losses. That’s the part of this Swiss Franc story we haven’t yet heard about: how much is Citi on the hook for retail client losses?

There is the additional question as to whether a U.S. subsidized bank that is attempting to restore its reputation after a decade of outrageous missteps should be an enabler to retail clients to engage in a sure-fire way to lose their money.

Read complete article. 

France Under the Influence

January 21st, 2015 by Diana Johnstone

The Charlie Hebdo terrorist assassinations struck France at a moment when it has an unpopular government and a weak President, when factories are closing and jobs are being lost, when French economic policy is determined by Germany via the European Union and its foreign policy is determined by the United States via NATO. Except for the therapeutic moment of togetherness on January 11, the country feels buffeted by winds of conflict it cannot resist.

There is a certain terrible symmetry playing out in France. Israel is deliberately and consistently doing all it can to excite fears among French Jews, in order to lure this desirable population into moving to Israel. Tsahal holds annual support drives in Paris, and a number of French Jews do military service in Israel.

At the same time, the so-called “Islamic State”, as well as “al Qaeda in Yemen” and associated fanatic Islamic groups are working hard to recruit fighters out of the Muslim communities in France and other European countries. Some 1,400 jihadists have traveled to Syria from France to join the Holy War. They are lured by the heroic prospect of helping to “build the Caliphate”, a sort of Israel for Muslims, a holy land restored.

Netanyahu’s recruitment drive enjoys the support of Western media such as Fox News that spread wild tales suggesting that Jews are not safe in France. This in turn threatens France with boycott by American Jews, a potential economic and public relations disaster which no doubt creates panic in French government circles. French leaders are not only closely attached personally to the Jewish community, they also fear the opprobrium of seeing their country slandered as “anti-Semitic”.

Netanyahu forced his way into the front line of the VIPs who came to Paris for the big January 11 tribute to the victims of Charlie Hebdo. Hollande was furious that Netanyahu used the occasion to play Pied Piper, telling French Jews that their only “home” was Israel. Obama certainly shares this anger when he sees Netanyahu getting standing ovations in Congress. But like Obama, Hollande dared not object openly to the intrusion.

For that matter, he dares not object to obscure interference in France by that great oil supplier and arms purchaser, Saudi Arabia, or by that great investor, Qatar, both of them supporters of Islamic extremism.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu came to tell Hollande that he must treat Muslims kindly and protect their mosques. But Turkey also supports the Islamic extremists in Syria that are recruiting Frenchmen to become terrorists, and is scarcely a model of freedom and tolerance. The presence of Petro Poroshenko, who got to be President of Ukraine only because of the disorder created by neo-Nazi snipers in Kiev, was a signal that France must stick to U.S.-imposed anti-Russian sanctions that are contributing to France’s economic meltdown.

Outside pressures are now pushing France into a war in the Middle East that it can neither afford nor win.

The atmosphere of distrust is so thick these days that “false flag” theories are proliferating on the internet, fed by oddities in the official narrative. The report that one of the Kouachi brothers left his ID in the escape car, facilitating rapid identification of the killers, belongs in the “you couldn’t make this up” category, and you would think that any false flagger would have invented something more credible.

On that subject one can observe first, that human incompetence is infinite, and second, that when those in power rush to take advantage of a black swan, that is not proof that they launched it. Those who dictate the narrative have the means to profit from events. As with 9/11, the official story is that the terrorists “want to destroy our freedoms”, as if decades of destruction in the Middle East had nothing to do with it. That is the line that prepares the population to support war.

One of the Kouachi brothers, who shot up Charlie Hebdo, and Amedy Coulibaly, who shot up a Kosher grocery store, gave telephone interviews to BFMTV just hours before being killed by police raids. Kouachi stressed that he was motivated by United States aggression in the Middle East. His conversion to Jihad began watching the U.S. destruction of Iraq and photos of Iraqis being tortured by Americans in Abu Ghraib.

The Kouachi brothers claimed to be acting on behalf of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Coulibaly said he was following orders from al Qaeda in Yemen – site of multiple U.S. drone raids that have killed countless innocent bystanders. Coulibaly said that after serving a term in prison for robbery, he had hung around mosques trying to convert people to Jihad.

It is perfectly conceivable that the basic motive for the attack on Charlie Hebdo was not even to “avenge the Prophet” but to impress, inspire and recruit Muslims to go join the great Jihad to restore the Caliphate in the Middle East. Charlie Hebdo was a soft target with symbolic value. Insofar as the disaster serves to heighten the sense of alienation of young Muslims, the recruitment objective risks being advanced.

France is obliged to take measures to stem the round trip traffic between Holy War in Syria and France. There is much talk of restoring authority and “republican values” to the schoolroom. But French leaders need to take a hard look at their own totally incoherent foreign policy, and there is no sign as yet of that happening. By taking the symbolic lead in the regime change war in Libya, France turned that country into a black hole of Islamic extremists. France collaborated in the murder of Gaddafi, whose “Green Book” philosophy was the laughing stock of the West, but which was an attempt to provide a modernizing and moderate version of Muslim principles to combat the Islamic fanaticism that had always been his main domestic enemy and which profited from his demise. The NATO destruction of Gaddafi’s Libya brought France into war in Mali, in pursuit of an elusive enemy that Gaddafi had managed to control.

France like the United States designates Islamic terrorism as its great enemy, while doing everything possible to favor its growth and extension. Constant support for Israel, even during murderous bombings of helpless Gaza, even when Mossad assassinates scientists in Iraq or Iran, or even when Israeli warplanes deliberately sink a U.S. Navy ship, the USS Liberty, makes the United States appear to be manipulated by Israel, while France appears to be manipulated by both Israel and the United States.

For over half a century, the West has systematically opposed the secular nationalist states in the Middle East, starting with Nasser’s Egypt, vainly demanding a Western-style democracy that lacks the appropriate social roots. Israel was always most afraid of Arab nationalism, as it would potentially embrace Palestine. Religious fanaticism has seemed safer. Arab nationalism was the positive political hope of the region, and once that hope is destroyed, Islamic extremism rushes into the vacuum. This struggle continues in Syria, with France taking the lead in opposing Bachar al Assad, which means, in effect, supporting the Islamists just as it prepares to go to war against them.

The evident madness of this situation is the reflection of a French government which no longer seems able to devise a policy in its own national interest, and is floundering in the crosscurrents of “globalization”.

Blasphemy and Pornography

France is ringing with proclamations that we must continue to publish Charlie Hebdo-style cartoons attacking Muslims, or otherwise we shall have surrendered to Islamic demands. To assert our freedom we must prove that we are not afraid to commit blasphemy.

One needs to have a certain religious spirit to take blasphemy seriously. Frankly, the word means next to nothing to me.

Blasphemy means something if you dare anger your own god, who has warned that this will get you into deep trouble.

But insulting somebody else’s god is not blasphemy. It does not affect your relations with god (which is the meaning of blasphemy) but with other people who believe in the god you have insulted.

The notion that it is very daring to commit “blasphemy” against a god in whom you do not believe makes no sense to me. Especially when this is not a god officially worshiped in the society where you live, but is rather the god of a somewhat unpopular minority. Certainly, in the milieu of Charlie Hebdo, insulting Islamic beliefs was the surest way to amuse one’s friends. It was supposed to help sell papers.

On the other hand, drawing cartoons that will infuriate masses of people to the point of murder amounts to taking a dare, rather than “blasphemy”. You are always free to take a dare. But common sense tells you to ask yourself if it is worth it.

Suppose you dislike aspects of a particular religion, and would like to combat such beliefs. Is drawing cartoons that will unite millions in indignation an effective way to combat those beliefs? If not, this is intellectually no more significant than bungee jumping. Whee, look how daring I am. So what?

There are much more effective ways to argue about religion. Take as a model the enlightenment philosophers of the 18th century. Repeated insults are more likely to unite people in defense of their faith. That is just a practical consideration, regardless of “freedom”.

Or on the other hand, the insult could be a provocation intended precisely to make the believers come out in the open, so that they can be attacked. This may be a secret motive for promoting such caricatures. Provoke Muslims into defending their religion, in a way that strikes the majority of our population as totally absurd, so that you can ridicule them still more and perhaps take measures against them – war in the Middle East (alongside Israel), or even expulsion from our countries (an idea now being raised…).

In the specific case of Charlie Hebdo, the vast majority of supposedly “blasphemic” drawings had nothing to do with Muslim beliefs, but were more or less pornographic, featuring sketches of male sex organs. The presence of the phallus was “the joke”. This mixture tends to confuse the issue. Is the problem “blasphemy” or gratuitous insult? One is free to do both, of course, but is this an argument about religion or a bungee jump?

This was apparently true of the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo, published in seven million copies with a subsidy of a million euros from the French government. To this vast public, the cover drawing by the surviving artist Luz (Renald Luzier) was an image of peaceful reconciliation, showing the head of a man wearing a turban, explicitly intended to represent Mohammed, shedding a tear and holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign under the statement, “All is forgiven”. The tear was genuine. Luz was weeping as he drew. As Luz explained in some detail at the January 17 funeral of Charlie’s editor, Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier), he and Charb were lovers. But Luz also wanted to make his colleagues laugh at his cover, and they reportedly laughed. Why? According to internet comments, the drawing was an inside joke, because it included two hidden outlines of penises – Charlie’s trademark.  This was all good dirty fun for the Charlie kids. “We are like children”, said Luz.

As the funeral was being held for Charb in France, riots broke out in front of French embassies in Muslim countries from Pakistan to Nigeria. Mobs burned French flags and rioted in Algiers. I have been to Algiers a couple of times, seeing enough to realize the deep division that exists in that country between a modern, educated secular class of intellectuals who yearn to free their country from the bonds of irrationality, and masses of poorly educated young men faithful to simplistic interpretations of the Koran. There is a deep and dramatic conflict of ideas in Algeria. There are intellectuals with the courage to go so far as to publicly defend atheism, in the hope of influencing their compatriots.

Muslims saw the latest Charlie cartoon as a repetition of obscene insults aimed against their Prophet – not only blasphemy, but a pornographic “in your face”. Their riots represent a danger to  intellectuals in Algiers who are in a position to promote rationality and secularism in their country. Their safety depends on being protected by the Army. Should Islamist rage against the West influence large numbers of ordinary soldiers, the consequences could be dramatic. The Charlie uproar has given a trump card to the Islamist extremists against the forces of enlightenment.

The Charlie Hebdo humorists were a bit like irresponsible children playing with matches who burned the house down. Or perhaps several houses.

Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book, Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton, will be published by CounterPunch in 2015. She can be reached at [email protected]

Why is the Fed threatening to raise interest rates when the economy is still in the doldrums? Is it because they want to avoid further asset-price inflation, prevent the economy from overheating, or is it something else altogether? Take a look at the chart below and you’ll see why the Fed might want to raise rates prematurely. It all has to do with the sharp decline in petrodollars that are no longer recycling into US financial assets. This is from Reuters:

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Petrodollar Exports
Source: Reuters

“Energy-exporting countries are set to pull their ‘petrodollars’ out of world markets this year for the first time in almost two decades, according to a study by BNP Paribas. Driven by this year’s drop in oil prices, the shift is likely to cause global market liquidity to fall, the study showed…

This decline follows years of windfalls for oil exporters such as Russia, Angola, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. Much of that money found its way into financial markets, helping to boost asset prices and keep the cost of borrowing down, through so-called petrodollar recycling.

This year, however, the oil producers will effectively import capital amounting to $7.6 billion. By comparison, they exported $60 billion in 2013 and $248 billion in 2012, according to the following graphic based on BNP Paribas calculations:

‘At its peak, about $500 billion a year was being recycled back into financial markets. This will be the first year in a long time that energy exporters will be sucking capital out,’ said David Spegel, global head of emerging market sovereign and corporate Research at BNP.

In other words, oil exporters are now pulling liquidity out of financial markets rather than putting money in. That could result in higher borrowing costs for governments, companies, and ultimately, consumers as money becomes scarcer.” (Petrodollars leave world markets for first time in 18 years – BNP, Reuters)

Can you see what’s going on?

Now that petrodollar funding has dried up, the Fed needs to find an alternate source of capital to keep the markets bubbly and to shore up the greenback. That’s why the Fed has been talking up the dollar (“jawboning”) and promising to raise rates even though the economy is still pushing up daisies. According to the Fed’s favorite mouthpiece, Jon Hilsenrath:

“Federal Reserve officials are on track to start raising short-term interest rates later this year, even though long-term rates are going in the other direction amid new investor worries about weak global growth, falling oil prices and slowing consumer price inflation…

Many Fed officials have signaled they expect to start lifting their benchmark short-term rate from near zero around the middle of the year. Recent developments in the economy and markets have caused some trepidation among Fed officials and, if sustained, could cause them to delay acting. However several have indicated recently they still expect to move this year and are withholding judgment on delay.” (Fed Officials on Track to Raise Short-Term Rates Later in the Year, Jon Hilsenrath, Wall Street Journal)

And we’re hearing the same from Reuters: “The Federal Reserve is still on track for a potential mid-year interest-rate increase, a top Fed official said on Friday, citing strong U.S. economic momentum and a falling unemployment rate.”

Notice the sudden change in tone from dovish to hawkish? Expect that to intensify in the months ahead as the major media tries to spin the data in a way that serves the Fed’s broader objectives. Like this article in Bloomberg titled, “Yellen Signals She Won’t Babysit Markets in Turmoil”:

“Janet Yellen is leaving the Greenspan ‘put”’behind as she charts the first interest-rate increase since 2006 amid growing financial-market volatility.

The Federal Reserve chair has signaled she wants to place the economic outlook at the center of policy making, while looking past short-term market fluctuations. To succeed, she must wean investors from the notion, which gained currency under predecessor Alan Greenspan, that the Fed will bail them out if their bets go bad — just as a put option protects against a drop in stock prices.

“The succession of Fed puts over the years has led to a wide range of distortions in financial markets,” said Lawrence Goodman, president of the Center for Financial Stability, a monetary research group in New York. “There have been swollen asset values followed by sharp declines. This is a very good time for the Fed to move away.

“Let me be clear, there is no Fed equity market put,” William C. Dudley, president of the New York Fed, the central bank’s watchdog on financial markets, said in a Dec. 1 speech in New York.” (She’s No Greenspan: Yellen Signals She Won’t Babysit Markets in Turmoil)

“There’s no Fed equity put”?

That’s ridiculous. Then how does one explain the way the Fed has launched additional rounds of QE every time stocks have started to sputter? And how does one explain the Fed’s $4 trillion balance sheet all of which was spent on financial assets?

Let’s face it, Central bank intervention has been the only game in town. It’s not just the main driver of stocks. It’s the only driver of stocks. Everyone knows that. Yellen is going to do everything in her power to keep stocks in the stratosphere just like her predecessors, Greenspan and Bernanke. The only that’s going to change, is her approach.

As for the economy, well, just a glance of the headlines tells the whole story. Like this gem from CNBC last week:

“U.S. consumer prices recorded their biggest decline in six years in December and underlying inflation pressures were benign,…The Labor Department said on Friday its Consumer Price Index fell 0.4 percent last month, the largest drop since December 2008, after sliding 0.3 percent in November. In the 12 months through December, CPI increased 0.8 percent…

Darkening prospects for the global economy could also complicate matters for the U.S. central bank.

Inflation is running below the Fed’s 2 percent target, despite a strengthening labor market and overall economy.” (Consumer Price Index drops 0.4% in December, in line with estimates, CNBC)

Think about that for a minute: Consumer prices just logged their biggest drop since the freaking slump of 2008 and, yet, the Fed is still babbling about raising rates.

Talk about lunacy. Not only has the Fed not reached its inflation target of 2%, but it’s abandoned the project altogether. Why? Why has the Fed suddenly stopped trying to boost inflation when the yields on benchmark 10-year US Treasuries have just plunged to record lows (1.70%) and are blinking red? In other words, the bond market is signaling slow growth and zero inflation for as far as the eye can see, but the Fed wants to raise rates and slash growth even more?? It doesn’t make any sense, unless of course, Yellen has something else up her sleeve. Which she does.

Now get a load of this shocker on retail sales in last week’s news. This is from Bloomberg:

“The optimism surrounding the outlook for U.S. consumers was taken down a notch as retail sales slumped in December by the most in almost a year, prompting some economists to lower spending and growth forecasts.
The 0.9 percent decline in purchases …. extended beyond any single group as receipts fell in nine of 13 major retail categories.

Treasury yields and stocks fell as a deepening commodities rout and the drop in sales spurred concern global growth is slowing…

…average hourly earnings falling 0.2 percent in December from the month before in the first drop since late 2012. That limits the amount of spending consumers can undertake without dipping into savings or racking up debt.” (U.S. Retail Sales Down Sharply, Likely Cuts to Growth Forecasts Ahead, Bloomberg)

Remember when everyone thought that low oil prices were going to save the economy? It hasn’t worked out that way though, has it? Nor will it. Falling oil prices usually indicate recession, crisis or deflation. Take your pick. They’re usually not a sign of green shoots, escape velocity, or sunny uplands.

And did you catch that part about falling wages? How do you expand a consumer-dependent economy, when workers are seeing their wages shrivel every month? In case, you haven’t seen the abysmal stagnation of wages in graph-form, here’s a chart from American Progress:

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Negative real wage growth means the amount of slack in the market is still considerable.

So while stock prices have doubled or tripled in the last 6 years, wages have basically been flatlining. That’s a pretty crummy distribution system, don’t you think. Unless you’re in the 1 percent of course, then everything is just hunky dory.

But at least Yellen can find some comfort in the fact that unemployment continues to improve. In fact, just two weeks ago unemployment dropped to an impressive 5.4%, the lowest since 2007. So if we forget about the fact that wages are stagnating, that management has nabbed all the productivity-gains for the last 40 years, and that another 451,000 workers dropped off the radar altogether in December, then everything looks pretty rosy. But, of course, it’s all just a bunch of baloney. Take a look at this from Zero Hedge:

“Another month, another attempt by the BLS to mask the collapse in the US labor force with a seasonally-adjusted surge in waiter, bartender and other low-paying jobs. Case in point… the labor participation rate just slid once more, dropping to 62.7%, or the lowest print since December 1977. This happened because the number of Americans not in the labor forced soared by 451,000 in December, far outpacing the 111,000 jobs added according to the Household Survey, and is the primary reason why the number of uenmployed Americans dropped by 383,000.

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(Labor Participation Rate Drops To Fresh 38 Year Low; Record 92.9 Million Americans Not In Labor Force, Zero Hedge)

So, yeah, unemployment looks great until you pick through the data and see it’s all a big fraud. Unemployment is only falling because more and more people are throwing in the towel and giving up entirely.

Finally, there’s the rapidly-expanding mess in the oil patch where the news on layoffs and cut backs gets worse by the day. This is from Wolf Richter at Naked Capitalism:

“Layoffs are cascading through the oil and gas sector. On Tuesday, the Dallas Fed projected that in Texas alone, 140,000 jobs could be eliminated. Halliburton said that it was axing an undisclosed number of people in Houston. Suncor Energy, Canada’s largest oil producer, will dump 1,000 workers in its tar-sands projects. Helmerich & Payne is idling rigs and cutting jobs. Smaller companies are slashing projects and jobs at an even faster pace. And now Slumberger, the world’s biggest oilfield-services company, will cut 9,000 jobs.” (Money dries up for oil and gas, layoffs spread, write-offs start, Wolf Richter, Naked Capitalism)

And then there’s this tidbit from Pam Martens at Wall Street on Parade:

“In a December 15 article by Patrick Jenkins in the Financial Times, readers learned that data from Barclays indicated that “energy bonds now make up nearly 16 per cent of the $1.3 trillion junk bond market — more than three times their proportion 10 years ago,” and “Nearly 45 per cent of this year’s non-investment grade syndicated loans have been in oil and gas.” Raising further alarms, AllianceBernstein has released research suggesting that the deals were not fully subscribed by investors with the potential that “as much as half of the outstanding financing from the past couple of years may be stuck on banks’ books.” (The perfect storm for Wall Street banks, Russ and Pam Martens, Wall Street on Parade)

How do you like that? So nearly half the toxic energy-related gunk that was bundled up into dodgy junk bonds (and is likely to default in the near future) is sitting on bank balance sheets. Does that sound like a potential trigger for another financial crisis or what?

And, no, I am not trying to ignore the fact that third quarter GDP came in at a whopping 5 percent which vastly exceeded all the analysts estimates. But let’s put that into perspective. According to economist Dean Baker, the growth spurt was mainly “an anomaly” …”driven by extraordinary jump in military spending and a big fall in the size of the trade deficit that is unlikely to be repeated.” Here’s more from Baker:

“As usual, just about everything we’ve heard about the economy is wrong. To start, the 5.0 percent growth number must be understood against a darker backdrop: The economy actually shrank at a 2.1 percent annual rate in the first quarter. If we take the first three quarters of the year together, the average growth rate was a more modest 2.5 percent.” (Don’t Believe What You Hear About the US Economy, Dean Baker, CEPR)

So, the economy is growing at a crummy 2.5 percent, but Yellen wants to raise rates. Why? Does she want to shave that number to 2 percent or 1.5 percent? Is that it? She wants to go backwards?

Of course not. The real reason the Fed wants to raise rates, is to attract foreign capital to US markets in order to keep stocks soaring, keep borrowing costs low, and reinforce the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency. That’s what’s really going on. The petrodollars are drying up, so US markets need a new source of funding. Direct foreign investment, that’s the ticket, Ducky. All the Fed needs to do is boost rates by, let’s say, 0.5 percent and “Cha-ching”, here comes the capital. Works like a charm every time, just ask former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin whose strong dollar policy sent stock prices into orbit while widening the nation’s current account deficit by many orders of magnitude. (We never said the plan didn’t have its downside.)

The Fed’s sinister plan to raise interest rates (sometime by mid-2015) will push the dollar’s exchange rate higher thus triggering capital flight in the emerging markets which are already struggling with plunging commodities prices and an excruciating slowdown. The investment flows from the EMs to US financial assets and Treasuries will offset the loss of petrodollar revenue while expanding Wall Street’s ginormous stock market bubble. As for the emerging markets, well, they’re going to take it in the shorts bigtime as one would expect. Here’s a clip from an article by Ambrose-Evans Pritchard that lays it out in black and white:

“The US Federal Reserve has pulled the trigger. Emerging markets must now brace for their ordeal by fire. They have collectively borrowed $5.7 trillion in US dollars, a currency they cannot print and do not control. This hard-currency debt has tripled in a decade, split between $3.1 trillion in bank loans and $2.6 trillion in bonds. It is comparable in scale and ratio-terms to any of the biggest cross-border lending sprees of the past two centuries…

Officials from the Bank for International Settlements say privately that developing countries may be just as vulnerable to a dollar shock as they were in the Fed tightening cycle of the late 1990s, which culminated in Russia’s default and the East Asia Crisis. The difference this time is that emerging markets have grown to be half the world economy. Their aggregate debt levels have reached a record 175pc of GDP, up 30 percentage points since 2009…”

This time the threat does not come from insolvent states. They have learned the lesson of the late 1990s. Few have dollar debts. But their companies and banks most certainly do, some 70pc of GDP in Russia, for example. This amounts to much the same thing in macro-economic terms. ” (Fed calls time on $5.7 trillion of emerging market dollar debt, Ambrose-Evans Pritchard, Telegraph)

The Fed has been through this drill so many times before they could do it in their sleep. (” U.S. interest-rate hikes in 1980s and 1990s played a role in financial crises across Latin America and East Asia.” Foreign Policy Magazine) They’ve learned how to profit off every crisis, particularly the one’s that they themselves create, which is just about all of them. In this case, most of the loans to foreign businesses and banks were denominated in dollars. So, now that the dollar is soaring, (“The dollar’s value has risen about 15 percent relative to the euro and the yen just since the summer.” NPR) the debts are going to balloon accordingly (in real terms) which is going to push a lot of businesses off a cliff forcing sovereigns to step in and provide emergency bailouts.

Did someone say “looming financial crisis”?

Indeed. Bernanke’s “easy money” has inflated bubbles across the planet. Now these bubbles are about to burst due to the strong dollar and anticipated higher rates. At the same time, the policy-switch will send hundreds of billions of foreign capital flooding into US markets pushing stocks and bonds through the roof while generating mega-profits for JPM, G-Sax and the rest of the Wall Street gang. All according to plan.

Naturally, the stronger dollar will weigh heavily on employment and exports as foreign imports become cheaper and more attractive to US consumers. That will reduce hiring at home. Also the current account deficit will widen significantly, meaning that the US will again be consuming much more than it produces. (This took place under Rubin, too.) But here’s what’s interesting about that: According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis: “Our current account deficit has narrowed sharply since the crisis…The U.S. current account deficit now stands at 2.5 percent of GDP, down from more than 6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2005.” (BEA)

Great. In other words, Obama’s obsessive fiscal belt-tightening lowered the deficits enough so that Wall Street can “party on” for the foreseeable future, ignoring the gigantic bubbles they’re inflating or the emerging market economies that are about to be decimated in this latest dollar swindle.

If that doesn’t make you mad, I don’t know what will.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at [email protected].

Now that he is safely dead let us praise him,
build monuments to his glory,
sing hosannas to his name.

Dead men make such convenient heroes.
They cannot rise to challenge the images
we would fashion from their lives.

And besides,
it is easier to build monuments
than to make a better world.,” — Carl Wendell Hines

“Now That He Is Safely Dead” is the poignant poem that was written by black poet/musician Carl Wendell Hines soon after Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965. The poem has been appropriately – and perhaps more meaningfully – associated with the murder of Martin Luther King and King’s legacy of nonviolent struggle for black liberation, freedom, equality, voting rights, job opportunities, economic justice and the pursuit of happiness.

Ignoring Dr. King’s governing principle of unrelenting struggle against injustice with gospel-inspired, non-homicidal, resistance to evil, America has – since his murder – posthumously awarded him a national holiday, a statue in DC and frequent references to the moving “I Have A Dream” speech from 1963. And in the process, a major point of his mission has been lost.

The establishment, with the help of the deeply ingrained, “institutional” white racism, has managed to keep in check the demands for real reforms for blacks and other minorities by repeatedly focusing on the very worthy Dream speech rather than on King’s more radical messages. One can sense the wink-wink, nod-nod and the tip of the politician’s hat towards lady justice while continuing to delay and deny justice for yet another legislative and Supreme Court session. The congenial Martin Luther King of 1963 is easier to deal with than the fire-breathing, more militant, antiwar King of 1968 who knew he didn’t have all that much time left to teach and preach and inspire.

Hosannas have been dutifully sung and another MLK Day has safely passed – and we are facing a hard right-wing, militarist Congress that is beholden to Wall Street war profiteers and the racist South that are working hard to reverse the gains that King fought and died for.

Peace and justice-seekers who have read Hines’ poem, automatically apply the sentiment to many of the other assassinated liberal and progressive whistle-blowers through history who have been champions of the down-trodden, including this short list: Jesus of Nazareth, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Paul Wellstone. If one was to include the names of the multitude of other courageous antifascists who have been “suicided”, imprisoned, marginalized, made mentally ill, drugged up or otherwise silenced, the list would be thousands of names longer.

Jesus of Nazareth was King’s main mentor and one of the early whistle-blowing tellers of unwelcome truths that threatened the status quo (and the comfort level of the powerful ruling elites of his time) by advocating nonviolent revolution in the universal struggle to relieve human suffering.

King’s ministry as a pastor and his tactics as a civil rights leader were both based on the radical gospel teachings of the Golden Rule and the unconditional love of friend and enemy – although King himself realized that the essence of Jesus’ teachings (in the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5, 6 and 7]) were soon abandoned when Christianity was co-opted by the Roman Empire and made the state religion. The original form of the Christianity of the first century barely survives today in a few small, often discredited, remnants.

King was an easily recognizable echo of the original voice of Jesus, and he had the courage to preach those dangerous truths that threatened the military power of his nation. Dr. King knew all about the power and practicality of the power of love, but he also knew what usually happened to the prophets who preached it, especially in violent, racist, militarized societies like the United States

Purging the Prophets

Both ancient and modern powers-that-be recognize dangerous whistle-blowers when they see them, and they usually don’t waste much time making contingency plans for the “silencing”. That is the function of the national security apparatus of all states and, in King’s era, it was a major function of J. Edgar Hoover, the racist FBI head who was a sworn enemy of King and all that he stood for.

Usually whistle-blowing prophets are ignored early on, but then, if the rabble-rouser doesn’t go away, he is more actively opposed and eventually brought down, by hook or by crook.

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer proclaimed that all great truths are dealt with in three ways: firstly they are ignored, secondly, they are violently opposed and thirdly they are accepted as self-evident.

In our more complicated era where bullies, paid informers, spies, lobbyists, the mass media, megacorporations and politicians use hidden persuasion (propaganda), fear and gun violence to silence the truth-tellers, the first two parts of Schopenhauer’s dictum still hold. But these days there are more sophisticated ways to discredit or silence the prophets and whistle-blowers seem to be delaying the third part. The enemies of truth seem to have perfected the use of dirty tricks, smear campaigns, rumor-mongering, “honey traps”, psy-ops, intimidation, infiltration of the prophet’s movement by agents provocateur, death (or job loss) threats to the whistle-blower (or his family]) the use of right-wing think tanks to spread disinformation and even the arranging of murders that look like accidents or suicides.

A Vocation of Agony

And so it goes. Being a prophet is hazardous duty. King called it “a vocation of agony”.

Whistle-blowers such as King know very well that they are going to pay a heavy price for their refusal to bow down to authority. They know that they will have to endure character assassination and eventually physical assassination if they don’t shut up.

“I Have a Dream” vs “Beyond Vietnam”: A World of Difference

Over the decades we Americans have been indoctrinated in the belief that the essence of King was his “I Have A Dream” speech. The ruling elites allow the repeated airing of that worthy speech but have successfully kept hidden his more powerful anti-war “Beyond Vietnam” speech. They have managed to virtually erase from the history of the civil rights movement the antiwar activism of King’s maturing years and the unshakable commitment to gospel nonviolence that he had had from the beginning.

King’s commitment that “black lives matter” came out of his understanding of the life, mission and gospel ethics of what most Americans were briefly exposed to in Sunday School. King’s commitment to nonviolent societal transformation mirrored the politics, theology and the ethics of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

A testament to the deep truth of King’s message and the likelihood of the success of King’s nonviolent tactics is the fact that his institutional enemies had to conspire to assassinate him in order to stop the movement.

And it was King’s willingness to come out against the dirty war in Vietnam in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech that unleashed the final assassination plot (by hired assassins other than the patsy James Earl Ray) in order to permanently silence him (or so they thought) with a single bullet to the head exactly one year to the day after that speech.. (For the documentation proving the innocence of Ray,listen to Dr William Pepper’s speech at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24-ALnvr4kM or read Pepper’s book – “An Act of State” – that tells.about the Memphis jury trial that exonerated Ray in 1999.)

“The Greatest Purveyor of Violence in the World Today is my Own Government”

William Pepper, in 1967 a free-lance journalist just back from Vietnam, met with King that year and told him the stories and showed him the photos he had taken that proved the truth about the alleged American war crimes, atrocities, torturing and murdering of innocent Vietnamese civilians in that war. King had wept with Pepper over the information; and thus began the new reality for King. He had struggled for months with what he knew was his calling to speak out against the atrocities that deceived American soldiers were perpetrating in Vietnam. Ultimately he realized that he had no choice but to exercise his duty to warn others about what his government had been up to in the fog of war.

He said: 

“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But, they asked, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.”

King saw the connections between the financial, spiritual and psychological costs of participation in the human slaughter in Vietnam and the racial and economic violence that was preventing poor blacks from attaining justice in America. King knew a nation couldn’t adequatly fund both “guns and butter” (the notion that a nation can pay for war and simultaneously provide for its people’s basic human needs simultaneously). They have to make a choice between the two, and America’s politicians, as usual, easily made the choice, and they voted massive funds for the guns and a pittance for the butter.

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied”

The funding was predictably going to go to the war and not the poverty and injustice. Pouring scarce resources into war-making automatically sabotages programs that provide impoverished, suffering people with the basic necessities of life.

President Johnson’s “war on poverty” was lost because American war profiteers and warmongers chose to fight Johnson’s war in Vietnam instead. King understood the incongruities and spoke out about them. He knew that the war in Vietnam trumped freedom for the oppressed back home especially if the uber-patriotic white racists and militarists who controlled Congress had anything to say about it.

Many historians believe that King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech was equivalent to the signing of his own death warrant. The war profiteers, the pro-war pseudo-patriots, the national security state apparatus, the weapons-industry-funded politicians and most of the others in positions of power at the time absolutely could not tolerate and antiwar activism that might interfere with the “golden goose” and “cash cow” that was the Vietnam War.

King was working for justice for all of humankind and definitely not for the ruling elites. King was not only concerned with the oppressed blacks here in America but, being an advocate of gospel nonviolence he felt obligated to speak out in defense of  the defenseless Vietnamese women and children who were being indiscriminately driven from their homes and livelihood and starved, maimed, tortured, bombed and napalmed into homelessness and desperation.

King was likely unaware of the criminality of the massive USAF spraying of Monsanto’s Agent Orange that poisoned forever the soil, water and unborn children of Vietnamese women but, given the fact that King still had an intact conscience, he had no choice but to speak up in opposition to all the varieties of death-dealing weapons that America was wielding all around the world, not just against the varieties of “lynchings” of his fellow blacks back home.

Approaching Spiritual Death

Racist oppressors and racist bullies (including both under-privileged, oppressed poor whites and over-privileged whites who rely on fear and intimidation to maintain their positions of power over poor blacks) naturally fear reprisals from their victims if and when they gain their freedom. But do the oppressors fear for their souls or the souls of their nation? Do they heed King’s warning for America?

In his Beyond Vietnam speech, King proclaimed: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

King pointed out the absurdity of the “guns and butter” myth (that a nation can invest time, mind and money on both simultaneously), and he accused those who quietly went along with the military’s legendary wasting of precious resources on state-sponsored terrorism as being guilty of committing crimes against humanity.

Harry Truman understood that reality when he said, “All through history it has been the nations that have given the most to the generals and the least to the people that have been the first to fall.

The elephant in the room

The elephant in the room that the power elite tries to hide (the naked emperor’s “new” clothes) is the state-sponsored violence that King spoke out against. It is the military spending that keeps justice from being delivered. Reversing poverty and racism will be impossible as long as the Pentagon continues to spend an unaffordable and bankrupting $2,000,000,000 ($2 billion) every day on war, weapons systems and militarism. Every program of social uplift – education, healthcare, good nutrition, safe drinking water, safe air to breathe, living wages, etc, etc) is made unaffordable when military spending is the nation’s top priority.

The spirit of Martin Luther King is not dead, if only we will listen to what he tried to tell us. We need to take his message seriously. The pacifist King accurately echoed what the pacifist Jesus commanded (not requested) his followers to do: “Put away the sword, for those who live by the sword will surely perish by the sword.”

America is doomed to continuing its spiritual starvation (despite America’s legendary obesity epidemic) if it doesn’t stop wasting so much money on inedible weapons and the training of those who are willing to kill those that are fingered as enemies by our political and military leaders. Without serious resistance to America’s unthinking willingness and eagerness to kill imagined enemies there will be no hope of achieving equality, economic sustainability, living wages and an end to racism.

We can’t afford to keep putting King’s message on hold.

Dr Kohls is a retired physician who practiced holistic mental healthcare for the last decade of his career. He is also a peace and justice advocate and writes a weekly column for the Reader Weekly, an alternative newsweekly out of Duluth, Minnesota, USA. The last 3 years of his columns are archived at http://duluthreader.com/articles/categories/200_Duty_to_Warn.

Ukraine’s Lower Class Military

January 21st, 2015 by Global Research News

The following article by Andrey Manchuk was translated from Russian by D. Kolesnik from the original publication on the left-wing Ukrainian website Liva (The Left). The English translation was first posted on Counterpunch 

Recently, there appeared on the Internet an electronic database with photo-documents of Ukrainian military personnel killed in the war in eastern Ukraine. The documents include passports, military IDs, drivers’ licenses, personal files and credit cards. Some papers are half-burned, while others are untouched, as if nothing has happened to their owners. The documents were found with the dead bodies of these people in several areas of the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, near the towns of Saurovka and Illovaisk, close to the cities of Donetsk, Lugansk and Gorlovka. The papers were published at the suggestion of the search teams so that the relatives of those killed could finally find out about their fate of their loved ones. As it happened, the majority were still officially listed as missing. They were also not included in the statistics of losses of the Ukrainian army.

The database is to be updated because not all the papers of deceased soldiers have been collected and scanned for publication.

According to the published scans of passports, the list includes people from many regions of Ukraine, including Khmelnytsky, Cherkasy, Sumy, Poltava, Kherson, Chernihiv, Rivne, and Kyiv regions. But by a startling coincidence, a feature of most of the people recorded on the website is that they are from Zhytomir region. In particular, they are conscript and contract soldiers from Novograd-Volynsk and Chudniv districts of Zhytomir region. That is where my relatives live. The dead soldiers are from the 30th Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian armed forces, which in August was sent by its command into a crazy, suicidal mission. The brigade was ordered to attempt a breakthrough that could lead to capturing the cities of Lugansk and Donetsk by the time of Independence Day in Ukraine, August 24. If the breakthrough succeeded, it would greatly raise the stature of the military leaders and politicians who ordered and approved it.

The soldiers of the brigade were surrounded in the town of Latugino and near the village of Metalist. By official figures, 36 soldiers of the unit were considered missing, and I know that their friends hoped that they were in captivity. But now the fate of many of them appears to be tragically otherwise.

Zhytomyr region is one of the poorest areas of the poorest country in Europe. Its industry and agriculture were so severely destroyed in the 1990’s that today there are virtually no opportunities to find a job and earn money. People live there on subsistence farming, by injuriously cutting down local forests, or they work for pennies for local agricultural ‘landlords’. A salary of $100 to $200 per month is considered a good salary there. Young people ruin themselves with drink, and labour migration has long been commonplace for the whole region. There are villages that have been completely depopulated or that exist with very poor housing conditions, including people living without electricity, heating their houses by burning wood and covering windows with polyethylene film instead of glass. And they don’t send their children to school.

Military service was for many local residents a tool of social mobility. In peacetime, soldiers could at least earn a small paycheque and have guaranteed food and uniforms. Zhytomyr contract soldiers began to die long before the civil war in Ukraine. Twenty two year-old Ruslan Androschuk was killed in Iraq. Earlier, he had worked at a factory in Novograd-Volynsk. Then he joined the army to earn money for his wedding.

Zhytomyr region was drawn fully into the military conscription drive of the Kyiv government last spring and summer. Unknowing residents were called for “assembly” and tricked. They were told by the employees of the military registration office that they were being called for a few days of training only. They were then taken to “the training ground” – which proved to be the front line of the recently declared and expanding war by the Kyiv government (the so-called (“Anti-Terrorist Operation”) in Donbass.

Rumor quickly spread through the region. Soon, people began deserting the army or refusing to show up when called. Not wanting to kill and die, the men began hiding in the woods, just as many of their ancestors did during the German Nazi occupation of 1941-44. Some lived in forest huts with relatives living as foresters or in abandoned farms where, in either case, law enforcement agencies could not (or did not want to) apprehend them. Relatives brought food to them in the forest. All this was happening at a time when Ukrainian nationalists were screaming hysterically on social networks about a “holy war” for the nation and state, or were pompously talking about the “European choice of Ukraine”.

In early May, the military command officially acknowledged mass defections of the residents of Zhytomyr region and demanded punishment for people who, as time has shown, acted to save their lives from a senseless slaughter: “In times when the destiny of Ukraine was being decided, these military men voluntarily left the location of their units, thus showing their indifference to the situation in the state. For purposes of public display of their shameful act, we request to publish the lists of those people in local and regional press, to inform the authorities on the ground”, reported the Ukrainian television channel TSN. Then, in August, when the 30th Mechanized Brigade was surrounded in Donbass, the wives and mothers of soldiers began a desperate protest near the military checkpoint in Novograd-Volynsk, claiming that their sons and husbands had been sent to their deaths. But no one in Kiev paid any attention to them.

In scanning the scanned papers of the dead soldiers, one can clearly see a social portrait of the soldiers of the Ukrainian army. It is ordinary people who were killed on the soil of Donbass. Soldiers and junior officers were mostly from peasant backgrounds. According to questionnaire data, many of them had received vocational training. Two soldiers, children of migrant workers, wrote that their fathers worked abroad as construction workers, most likely in Belarus or Russia. Near one dead body there were found small Orthodox religious icons and the ID card of a tractor driver. A touching letter from a grandmother, sent from her village to the Novograd-Volynsk brigade, tells that she was raising her grandson in care, he drinks only on holidays, has a girlfriend and works as a mechanic and tractor driver. Now her grandson is dead. None of the politicians who seized power in Ukraine thanks to the sacrifices of dead young men like those of Zhytomyr region will give a damn about the fate of this poor woman.

We are often told that everyone is equal in death, but as we clearly see in this example, this is not the case. President Poroshenko, who is directly responsible for the catastrophic losses of the Ukrainian army and the death of civilians in Donbass, hypocritically mourns killed journalists in Paris on January 11 while in Donetsk, innocent people continue to die. Today, we can see that the lives of people from Ukraine, Nigeria, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali and other countries of the Third World are not worth the same as those of citizens of the European Union. The political elites of the world, who now mourn the staff of a French magazine, are quite indifferent to the routine mass killings of the inhabitants of other regions, despite the fact that some European politicians are often directly responsible.

Children of Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs are not lying dead in the lands of Donbass. They enjoy a life full of fun and joy. They don’t fear forced military conscription. The petty, provincial bourgeoisie can relax and pay a bribe so their sons will not be drafted into the army. The corrupt generals cover for such ‘business as usual’. Wealthy chauvinists who work in offices do sometimes enlist in the ‘volunteer punitive battalions – to get their adrenaline pumping and be able to legally terrorize the hated residents of Donbass by searching them at checkpoints… in the rear of the action. But in the Ukrainian regular army, it is mostly the poor who fight and die. Their real enemy is far to the rear of these soldiers forcibly sent to the slaughter. Even in Donbass, the capitalists there have long ago taken their families away to safe places where they will not become victims of Ukrainian army shelling.

Recently, I saw in St. Nicholas Church in the capital city of Estonia, Tallinn, the fragment of the painting Dance Macabre by the famous artist of medieval Germany, Bernt Notke. The Pope, the Emperor, the Empress, the Cardinal and the King dance together with skeletons, to the music of bagpipes played by the dead. This popular story of European iconography represents the temporality of human life for people from different backgrounds. Looking at this old painting, I remembered the fresh, hastily dug graves which we have seen on the sides of Savur-Mohyla [1] in Donbass. I recalled the destroyed houses in residential districts of Donetsk, the Ukrainian army deserters hiding like animals from military conscription in the forests of West Ukraine, and poor families grieving over the soldiers who have died for alien interests.

The victims of this war are almost always from the lower classes. No, not all are equal in death.

The Liva.com website regularly translates and publishes articles in English here.

Andrey Manchuk is a member of the left-wing Ukrainian political association ‘Borotba’ and an editor of the Ukrainian web journal Liva (‘The Left’). Last year, his book examining the Euromaidan movement in Ukraine, titled ‘Blood of the Donbass’, was published in Russia. It is reviewed in English here on Liva.com.

Notes:

[1] Savur-Mohyla [Savur Tomb] is a strategic height in Donetsk region near Russian border. During WWII this height was the point of intense fighting between Soviet and German forces. In 1963 the memorial obelisk was unveiled on the top of the hill. In August 2014 it became the point of the battle between Ukrainian army and Donbass rebels. In result the obelisk was destroyed and the site is full of dead bodies[many of them still not buried] and  mines presenting a serious danger for the locals. Earlier story on Savur-Mohyla by the author, here.

What Game is the House of Saud Playing?

January 20th, 2015 by Pepe Escobar

The House of Saud now finds itself in times of extreme trouble. Their risky oil price war may eventually backfire. The succession of King Abdullah may turn into a bloodbath. And the American protector may be musing a change of heart.

Let’s start with oil – and some background. As much as US supply has increased by a couple of million barrels a day, enough oil from Iran, Kirkuk in Iraq, Libya and Syria has gone out of production; and that offsets extra US oil on the market. Essentially, the global economy – at least for the moment – is not searching for more oil because of European stagnation/recession and the relative China slowdown.

Since 2011, Saudi Arabia has been flooding the market to offset the decrease in Iran exports caused by the US economic war, a.k.a. sanctions. Riyadh, moreover, prevented OPEC from reducing country production quotas. The House of Saud believes it can play the waiting game – as fracked oil, mostly American, is inexorably driven out of the market because it is too expensive. After that, the Saudis believe they will regain market share.

In parallel, the House of Saud is obviously enjoying “punishing” Iran and Russia for their support of Bashar Assad in Damascus. Moreover, the House of Saud is absolutely terrified of a nuclear deal essentially between the US and Iran (although that’s still a major “if”) – leading to a long-term détente.

Tehran, though, remains defiant. Russia brushed off the attack because the lower ruble meant state revenues remained unchanged – so there will be no budget deficit. As for oil-thirsty East Asia – including top Saudi customer China – it’s enjoying the bonanza while it lasts.

Oil prices will remain very low for the time being. This week Goldman Sachs lowered their 2015 WTI and Brent Crude forecasts; Brent was slashed from $83.75 a barrel to $50.40, WTI was cut from $73.75 to $47.15 a barrel. Prices per barrel could soon drop as low as $42 and $40.50. But then, there will be an inevitable “U-shaped recovery.”

Nomura bets that oil will be back to $80 a barrel by the end of 2015.

Reuters / Lucas Jackson

Punish Russia or bust

US President Barack Obama, in this interview, openly admitted that he wanted “disruptions” in the“price of oil” because he figured Russian President Vladimir Putin would have “enormous difficulty managing it.” So that settles the argument about hurting Russia and US-Saudi collusion, after US Secretary of State John Kerry allowed/endorsed King Abdullah in Jeddah to simultaneously raise oil production and embark on a cut price strategy.

Whether Kerry sold out the US shale gas industry out of ignorance or incompetence – probably both – is irrelevant. What matters is if the House of Saud were ordered to back off, they would have to do it in a flash; the ‘Empire of Chaos’ dominates the Persian Gulf vassals, who can’t even breathe without at least an implicit US green light.

What is way more troubling is that the current bunch in Washington does not seem to be defending US national and industrial interests. If humongous trade deficits based on currency rigging were not enough, now virtually the entire US oil industry runs the risk of being destroyed by an oil price racket. Any sane analyst would interpret it as contrary to US national interests.

Anyway, the Riyadh deal was music for the House of Saud’s ears. Their official policy has always been to slash the development of all potential substitutes for oil, including US shale gas. So why not depress oil prices and keep them there long enough to make investments in shale gas a lunatic proposal?

But there’s a huge problem. The House of Saud simply won’t get enough in oil revenues to support their annual budget with oil at below $90 a barrel. So as much as hurting Iran and Russia may be appealing, hurting their own golden pocketbooks is not.

The long-term outlook spells out higher oil prices. Oil may be replaced in many instances; but there isn’t a replacement – yet – for the internal combustion engine. So whatever OPEC is doing, it is actually preserving demand for oil vs. oil substitutes, and maximizing the return on a limited resource. The bottom-line: yes, this is predatory pricing.

Once again, there’s an immense, crucial, complicating vector. We may have the House of Saud and other Persian Gulf producers flooding the market – but its Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Citigroup who are doing the shadow, nasty work via leveraged derivative short futures.

Oil prices are such an opaque racket that only major oil trading banks such as Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley have some idea who is buying and who is selling oil futures or derivative contracts – what is called “paper oil.” The non-rules of this multi-billion casino spell out “speculative bubble” – with a little help from those friends at the Gulf oil pumps. With oil futures trading and the two major London and New York exchanges monopolizing oil futures contracts, OPEC really does not control oil prices anymore; Wall Street does. This is the big secret. The House of Saud may entertain the illusion they are in control. They’re not.

That dysfunctional marriage

As if this was not messy enough, the crucial succession of the House of Saud is propelled to the forefront. King Abdullah, 91, was diagnosed with pneumonia, hospitalized in Riyadh on New Year’s Eve, and was breathing with a tube. He may – or may not, this being the secretive House of Saud – have lung cancer. He won’t last long. The fact that he is hailed as a “progressive reformer” tells everything one needs to know about Saudi Arabia. “Freedom of expression”? You must be joking.

So who’ll be next? The first in the line of succession should be Crown Prince Salman, 79, also defense minister. He was governor of Riyadh province for a hefty 48 years. It was this certified falcon who supervised the wealth of private “donations” to the Afghan mujahedeen in the 1980s jihad, in tandem with hardcore Wahhabi preachers. Salman’s sons include the governor of Medina, Prince Faisal. Needless to add, the Salman family controls virtually all of Saudi media.

To get to the Holy Grail Salman must be proven fit. That’s not a given; and on top of it Abdullah, a tough nut to crack, already survived two of his crown princes, Sultan and Nayef. Salman’s prospects look bleak; he has had spinal surgery, a stroke and may be suffering from – how appropriate – dementia.

It also does not bode well that when Salman was promoted to Deputy Defense Minister, soon enough he was shown the door – as he got himself mixed up with Bandar Bush’s atrocious jihadi game in Syria.

Anyway, Salman already has a successor; second Deputy Prime Minister Prince Muqrin, former governor of Medina province and then head of Saudi intelligence. Muqrin is very, very close to Abdullah. Muqrin seems to be the last “capable” son of Ibn Saud; “capable” here is a figure of speech. The real problem though starts when Muqrin becomes Crown Prince. Because then the next in line will be picked from the grandsons of Ibn Saud.

Enter the so-called third generation princes – a pretty nasty bunch. Chief among them is none other than Mitab bin Abdullah, 62, the son of the king; cries of nepotism do proceed. Like a warlord, Mitab controls his own posse in the National Guard. Sources told me Riyadh is awash in rumors that Abdullah and Muqrin have made a deal: Abdullah gets Muqrin to become king, and Muqrin makes Mitab crown prince. Once again, this being the “secretive” House of Saud, the Hollywood mantra applies: no one knows anything.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.(Reuters / Brendan Smialowski)Left: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.(Reuters / Brendan Smialowski)

Abdullah’s sons are all over the place; governor of Mecca, deputy governor of Riyadh, deputy foreign minister, president of the Saudi Red Crescent. Same for Salman’s sons. But then there’s Muhammad bin Nayif, son of the late Crown Prince Nayif, who became Interior Minister in 2012, in charge of ultra-sensitive internal security, as in cracking down on virtually anything. He is the top competitor against Mitab among the third-generation princes.

So forget about family “unity” when such juicy loot as an oil hacienda impersonating a whole country is in play. And yet whoever inherits the loot will have to face the abyss, and the same litany of distress; rising unemployment; abysmal inequality; horrendous sectarian divide; jihadism in all its forms – not least the fake Ibrahim Caliphate in “Syraq”, already threatening to march towards Mecca and Medina; the unspeakably medieval Council of Ulemas (the lashing/amputating/beheading-loving bunch); total dependency on oil; unbounded paranoia towards Iran; and a wobbly relationship with His Masters Voice, the US.

When will they call the cavalry?

And it so happens that the real ‘Masters of the Universe’ in the Washington-New York axis are debating exactly the erosion of this relationship; as in the House of Saud having no one to talk to but the“puppets”, from Bush Two minions to Kerry at most on occasion. This analysis contends that any promises made by Kerry over the House of Saud “cooperation” to damage Russia’s economy really mean nothing.

Rumbles from ‘Masters of the Universe’ territory indicate that the CIA sooner or later might move against the House of Saud. In this case the only way for the House of Saud to secure its survival would be to become friendly with none other than Moscow. This exposes once more the House of Saud’s suicidal present course of trying to hurt Russia’s economy.

As everyone is inexorably an outsider when faced with the totally opaque House of Saud, there’s an analytical current that swears they know what they’re doing. Not necessarily. The House of Saud seems to believe that pleasing US neocons will improve their status in Washington. That simply won’t happen. The neocons remain obsessed about the House of Saud helping Pakistan to develop its nuclear missiles; some of them – once again, that’s open to speculation – might even be deployed inside Saudi Arabia for “defensive purposes” against that mythical Iranian “threat.”

Messy? That doesn’t even begin to describe it. But one thing is certain; whatever game Riyadh thinks it’s playing, they’d better start seriously talking to Moscow. But please, don’t send Bandar Bush on another Russian mission.

Pepe Escobar’s latest book is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook.

Shia Houthi movement’s Ansarullah fighters in Yemen have reportedly gained full control of the presidential palace in the capital, Sana’a.

According to Saleh al-Jamalani, the commander of the Presidential Protection Force, the fighters made their way into the palace on Tuesday afternoon.

The fighters have also reportedly disarmed two units of the presidential guards.

This comes as earlier reports said Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and a Houthi advisor are holding talks.

According to cabinet spokesman, Rageh Badi, the two sides met on Tuesday to negotiate the composition of an 85-strong commission which is responsible for coming up with the outline of the country’s future federation.

The Houthis have set up checkpoints across Sana’a and close to the premier’s house. They also roam the streets on foot and in pickup trucks armed with anti-aircraft guns.

On Monday, Ansarullah fighters battled soldiers near the Presidential Palace and elsewhere across Sana’a, with gunfire and several explosions being heard around the city while artillery shells hit around the palace. The Shia fighters managed to take control of state media in Sana’a.

Nearly 10 people were killed in the clashes and 67 others injured.

Yemen has been the scene of tensions after the Shia fighters arrested Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, Hadi’s chief of staff, at a checkpoint in the country’s southern district of Hada.

Mubarak is also the secretary general of the national dialogue committee which aims to secure a political transition in the strife-torn country. Ansarullah revolutionaries accuse him of being a foreign agent.

Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari warned Tel Aviv of the devastating response of the regional resistance movements to Israel’s recent air raid on the Syrian Golan Heights that killed several Hezbollah members and an Iranian military adviser.

“The IRGC will remain steadfast for the collapse of the Zionist regime of Israel through its continued support for the Lebanese and Palestinian combatants, but this time it supports will be on a scale larger than its supports during the 33-day and 51-day wars against the Israeli army,” General Jafari said in a message released on the occasion of the martyrdom of an IRGC commander, Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, who was killed in an attack by an Israeli military helicopter in the Golan Heights on Sunday.

The Iranian top commander said resistance groups in the region will soon give a crushing response to Israel’s Sunday raid.

“The Zionists must wait for the devastating thunderbolts of the anti-Israel resistance groups in the region,” the Iranian commander warned.

On Sunday, an Israeli helicopter struk Quneitra in Syria’s Golan Heights, killing General Allahdadi as well as the son of slain Hezbollah top commander Imad Mughniyeh and 5 others.

On Monday, the Lebanese Resistance Movement Hezbollah issued a statement confirming the strike, saying its forces had been martyred during an inspection mission in the Syrian town of Quneitra.

Hezbollah stressed that it would give a crushing and rigid response to the Israeli forces’ Sunday attack.

“The attack against six Hezbollah members will have a painful and unexpected response,” the Hezbollah sources said.

The former head of Britain’s intelligence agency MI5, Lord Evans, has added his voice to demands for a clampdown on the Internet and e-communications in the wake of the terror assaults on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris and a Jewish supermarket, in which 17 people were killed.

His remarks underscore that the British government is leading efforts in Europe and internationally to exploit the events of January 7 in France to significantly strengthen the repressive powers of the state. Under the banner “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) and the supposed defence of free speech, police state measures are being imposed.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Evans claimed that the UK’s existing anti-terror legislation was “no longer fit for purpose” and that new laws were “vital” to enable the state to monitor services such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat, as well as encrypted communications.

His op-ed appeared just two days after Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in Washington alongside President Barack Obama, called for “pressure” to be exerted on Internet companies such as Facebook and Twitter to work more closely with UK intelligence agencies. Cameron has pledged that if the Conservatives return to power after the May General Election, they will press ahead with plans for a “snoopers’ charter” Communications Bill giving the British intelligence agencies MI5, MI6 and the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) the power to access encrypted communications.

Simultaneously, it was announced that Britain’s Intelligence and Security Committee, consisting of nine senior Members of Parliament and peers, would announce plans for sweeping new state powers in the next weeks.

Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind, ISC chairman, backed Cameron’s call for new powers. He told the Sunday Telegraph that the ISC would announce in the next weeks “very radical” reforms of existing anti-terror provisions so as to grant the intelligence agencies new powers to intercept e-communications.

“If as we all accept, the problem is international jihadi terrorism, how do international terrorists communicate with each other?” he asked rhetorically. “They communicate by the Internet, by email, by social messaging. That’s the world we live in.”

Evans and Rifkind both denounced former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden for his exposure of the US and UK’s massive and illegal surveillance operations.

Snowden’s revelations had led to significant public opposition to the government’s original Communications Data Bill, first brought forward in 2012. Evans complained that this had “led to a position where the terrorists and criminals now know enough about interception capabilities to avoid scrutiny, while Internet and communications providers are reluctant to help the authorities as much as they used to in case they suffer commercial disadvantage or media criticism.”

Rifkind complained that Snowden “stole—and I use the word explicitly—he stole a million highly classified documents, top secret documents” and handed them over to “the Guardian or other newspapers.”

That was not “whistleblowing,” but a “political” and “criminal act,” Rifkind said.

Blanket surveillance is not the only draconian state power being brought forward on the backs of the confusion and disorientation created by the Paris killings. According to the Sunday Mirror, “Army chiefs have drawn up plans to deploy 1,900 troops in support of police” anti-terror operations.

The moves came as the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre increased the security threat facing the UK to severe. Steve White, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said, “The level of extreme terrorism we are facing on an international scale cannot be underestimated and the police service and its security partners are doing all they can.”

Home Office officials have claimed the police do not have enough resources to tackle the threat, the Mirror reported. Consequently, officers

“at the military’s Joint Headquarters drafted the plans in Civil Contingency Operations and have asked Army Headquarters in Andover, Hants, to identify available troops.”

The newspaper cited a senior military officer stating,

“The delicate decision for politicians is when and how to use the Army without causing panic. I expect we will see a small number deployed first and if the situation warrants it more will be called out.”

The Mirror continued, “Sources at Army Headquarters in Andover said two battalions could be called out at short notice.”

The moves come after hundreds of police were deployed in Belgium in the wake of raids on a suspected terror cell in the capital, Brussels. In France, 10,000 troops have been deployed around the country.

Since 9/11, successive UK governments have introduced a plethora of “anti-terror” legislation, each more draconian than its predecessor. This has included the adoption of a secretive “shoot to kill” policy that claimed the life of innocent Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, who was murdered in broad daylight on July 22, 2005.

Such measures have nothing to do with protecting the public. Rather, fear and panic over Islamic extremism—which British and western foreign policy is largely responsible for creating—is being used, once again, to clamp down on democratic rights and legitimise further imperialist interventions.

It should be noted that it was on Evans’ watch that, in 2010, the UK Court of Appeal found that British intelligence services were complicit in the extraordinary rendition and torture of UK resident Binyam Mohamed in Morocco and Guantanamo Bay between 2004 and 2009. Mohamed, who was eventually released from Guantanamo without charge, was awarded £1 million compensation for his ill treatment.

On Thursday, London is to host an international summit on combating Islamic terrorism. Co-hosted by US Secretary of State John Kerry, a “military coalition” of more than 20 countries is to meet to discuss “the next phase in the armed conflict with the jihadists,” it was announced.

In preparation, the Cameron government has announced it is stepping up operations against Isis forces in Iraq, including the use of extra drones and the despatch of “British experts” to the country. While a planned return of British troops to the country has been delayed—reportedly until after the general election—RAF aircraft continue to carry out bombing raids.

British forces are also to officially begin training Syrian “opposition groups.” The US, UK and others deliberately fomented the civil war in Syria as part of their plans for regime-change. In August 2013, Parliament vetoed plans for British military intervention in the country, but Cameron agreed in his talks with Obama that the UK troops will begin training “by the end of March.”

The UK has also agreed to enhanced cooperation with Yemen “in military fields and combating terrorism,” and the Ministry of Defence is reportedly drawing up plans to increase the number of military personnel for deployment to Nigeria.

Cameron used his Washington appearance to announce the despatch of an extra 1,000 British troops to Eastern Europe, as part of the provocative NATO-led military build-up on Russia’s borders.

The Legitimization of Marine Le Pen

January 20th, 2015 by Joseph Kishore

The international campaign to legitimize the fascistic politics of the French National Front (FN) reached a new stage Monday with the publication in the New York Times of an op-ed piece on the Charlie Hebdo shootings by the party’s leader, Marine Le Pen.

By opening its pages to Le Pen, the Times, the crumbling pillar of American liberalism, is signaling that powerful sections of the American ruling class consider her ideas to be a critical part of the public debate. The Times took the added step of including a simultaneous translation in French, ensuring that the column would receive the widest possible distribution in France itself.

Le Pen is being elevated as part of a broader effort by the ruling elites to play the anti-Muslim race card in the face of entrenched opposition to imperialist operations in the Middle East and social reaction at home. The anti-Muslim cartoons in Charlie Hebdo have been proclaimed symbols of democracy, and now Le Pen is presented as its savior.

Le Pen’s chauvinist arguments in the Times (under the headline “To Call this Threat by Its Name”) are largely drawn from the political arsenal of the US “war on terror.” France, “land of human rights and freedoms, was attacked on its own soil by a totalitarian ideology: Islamic fundamentalism,” she writes.

She then calls for effectively scrapping freedom and human rights in order to wage political war on France’s five-million-strong Muslim population, proposing “a policy restricting immigration,” new policies to strip people of citizenship, and a fight against “communalism and ways of life at odds” with French traditions.

While providing a political platform for Le Pen, the Times does not bother to inform its readers of her political pedigree. The FN was formed in 1972 by former supporters of the World War II Nazi collaborationist Vichy regime and defenders of French colonial rule in Algeria. It is notorious for its anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic racism, its virulent nationalism, and its thuggish attacks on political opponents.

In justifying their decision to publish Le Pen’s column, the editors of the Timesmay argue that whether one likes it or not, Le Pen cannot be ignored. TheTimes and its apologists will probably claim that by providing her with a platform, she is being given the opportunity to expose herself.

This is nonsense. Le Pen is being deliberately legitimized by the Times, just as French President François Hollande increased her stature and that of the FN by inviting Le Pen to the Elysée Palace shortly after the Charlie Hebdoattacks.

The promotion of Le Pen is part of a broader elevation of fascistic and extreme right-wing organizations internationally. Last year, the United States and Germany worked with the Right Sector and Svoboda—organizations that celebrate the Nazi collaborators in Ukraine during World War II—to overthrow the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych, an operation that was presented across the political establishment as a movement for democracy.

In Germany, as the ruling class moves to cast off all restraints imposed on German militarism following World War II, it is working to downplay and justify the crimes of its past. Jorg Baberowski, a leading historian at Berlin’s Humboldt University, recently argued that “Hitler was not cruel,” comparing his actions favorably to those of Stalin and the Soviet leadership.

In a recent speech, Chancellor Angela Merkel referred to the need for Christians to “strengthen their identity” and “speak even more and with self-confidence about their Christian values”—an encouragement of anti-Muslim sentiment calculated to bolster and legitimize the racist agitation of the right-wing Pegida movement in Germany.

As far as growing sections of the corporate-financial aristocracy are concerned, the voices of neo-fascists must be heard. At the same time that her Times column appeared, Le Pen was featured in a glowing interview with the Wall Street Journal. Pointing to the calculations of the ruling class, theJournal argued,

“Once a political outlier, Ms. Le Pen has been gaining prominence as France’s problems—a moribund economy and its un-assimilated Muslim population—have become more acute and seemingly beyond cure by the traditional political class.”

Here the Journal refers to the fact that, under conditions of protracted economic crisis, the political establishment is deeply discredited in France and internationally. In an effort to create support for its rule, the financial elite is seeking to mobilize sections of the petty-bourgeoisie on the basis of extreme nationalism. At the same time, right-wing forces are exploiting the bankruptcy of the “left” to present themselves as an oppositional force.

The logic of developments is following channels traced previously. Contemporary politics assumes more and more the character of the 1930s, when the ruling elites of Europe turned to fascist parties and forces to defend their rule. Today, the promotion of the likes of Le Pen is part of a broader effort to use anti-Muslim racism as a central plank for imperialist operations abroad and a far-reaching assault on democratic rights at home. The ruling classes in France, the United States, Germany, Britain and the other major imperialist powers are plotting and launching new wars in the Middle East and northern Africa.

Domestically, the ruling class is increasingly concerned about the growth of social opposition in the working class. This week, as billionaires gather in Davos for their annual economic forum, a report has come out showing that by 2016, the richest 1 percent of the world’s population will own more than the bottom 99 percent. The richest 80 individuals own as much wealth as the poorest half of the earth’s inhabitants (about 3.5 billion people). Such conditions are unsustainable. Mass social opposition is inevitable.

Together with a vicious campaign against the immigrant population, the ruling class is promoting and legitimizing fascistic and chauvinist movements in order to direct them against the working class as a whole. The basic lesson of the experiences of the 1930s is that the fight against fascism must be waged as a struggle against the capitalist system and all of its political representatives.

I portabandiera della libertà

January 20th, 2015 by Manlio Dinucci

Ha fir­mato il libro delle con­do­glianze per le vit­time dell’attacco ter­ro­ri­stico alla reda­zione di Char­lie Hebdo e, defi­nen­dolo «un oltrag­gioso attacco alla libertà di stampa», ha dichia­rato che «il ter­ro­ri­smo in tutte le sue forme non può essere mai tol­le­rato né giustificato».

Parole giu­ste se non fos­sero state pro­nun­ciate da Jens Stol­ten­berg, segre­ta­rio gene­rale della Nato, l’organizzazione mili­tare che usa come meto­dico stru­mento di guerra l’attacco ter­ro­ri­stico con­tro le reda­zioni radiotelevisive.

Quello con­tro la radio­te­le­vi­sione serba a Bel­grado, col­pita da un mis­sile Nato il 23 aprile 1999, pro­vocò la morte di 16 gior­na­li­sti e tecnici.

Lo stesso ha fatto la Nato nella guerra di Libia, bom­bar­dando nel 2011 la radio­te­le­vi­sione di Tripoli.

Lo stesso nella guerra di Siria, quando nell’estate 2012 com­bat­tenti adde­strati e armati dalla Cia (negli stessi campi da cui sem­bra pro­ven­gano gli atten­ta­tori di Parigi) hanno attac­cato sta­zioni tele­vi­sive ad Aleppo e Dama­sco, ucci­dendo una decina di gior­na­li­sti e tecnici.

Su que­sti attac­chi ter­ro­ri­stici è calato in Occi­dente un quasi totale silen­zio media­tico, e pra­ti­ca­mente nes­suno è sceso in piazza con le foto e i nomi delle vit­time. All’attentato con­tro Char­lie Hebdo è stata invece data una riso­nanza media­tica mondiale.

E, facendo leva sul natu­rale sen­ti­mento di con­danna per l’attentato e di cor­do­glio per le vit­time, Char­lie Hebdo è stato assunto da un vasto arco poli­tico a sim­bolo di lotta per la libertà. Igno­rando il discu­ti­bile ruolo di que­sta rivi­sta che, con le sue vignette «dis­sa­cranti», si col­lo­che­rebbe «alla sini­stra della sinistra».

Nel 1999 il diret­tore di Char­lie Hebdo, Phi­lippe Val, sostiene con una serie di edi­to­riali e vignette la guerra Nato con­tro la Jugo­sla­via, para­go­nando Milo­se­vic a Hitler e accu­sando i serbi di com­piere in Kosovo dei «pogrom» simili a quelli nazi­sti con­tro gli ebrei.

Stessa linea nel 2011 quando Char­lie Hebdo (pur non essen­doci più Phi­lippe Val alla dire­zione) con­tri­bui­sce a giu­sti­fi­care la guerra Nato con­tro la Libia, dipin­gendo Ghed­dafi come un feroce dit­ta­tore che schiac­cia sotto gli sti­vali il suo popolo e fa il bagno in una vasca piena di sangue.

Stessa linea dal 2012 nei con­fronti della Siria quando Char­lie Hebdo, rap­pre­sen­tando il pre­si­dente Assad come un cinico dit­ta­tore che schiac­cia donne e bam­bini sotto i cin­goli dei suoi car­rar­mati, con­tri­bui­sce a giu­sti­fi­care l’operazione mili­tare Usa/Nato.

In tale qua­dro si inse­ri­sce la serie di vignette con cui la rivi­sta ridi­co­lizza Maometto.

Anche se essa fa satira allo stesso tempo su altre reli­gioni, le vignette su Mao­metto equi­val­gono ad altret­tante tani­che di ben­zina get­tate sul ter­reno già infuo­cato del mondo arabo e musul­mano. E appa­iono ancora più odiose agli occhi di grandi masse isla­mi­che per­ché a ridi­co­liz­zare la loro reli­gione e la loro cul­tura sono degli intel­let­tuali pari­gini, imme­mori del fatto che la Fran­cia assog­gettò al suo domi­nio colo­niale interi popoli, non solo sfrut­tan­doli e mas­sa­cran­doli (solo in Alge­ria oltre un milione di morti), ma impo­nendo loro la pro­pria lin­gua e cul­tura. Poli­tica che Parigi pro­se­gue oggi in forme neocoloniali.

Non c’è quindi da stu­pirsi se, nel mondo arabo e musul­mano che ha in mag­gio­ranza con­dan­nato gli attac­chi ter­ro­ri­stici di Parigi, dila­gano le pro­te­ste con­tro Char­lie Hebdo.

A coloro che in Occi­dente ne fanno la ban­diera della «libertà di stampa», va chie­sto: che cosa fare­ste se tro­va­ste affisse per strada vignette porno su vostro padre e vostra madre? Non vi arrab­bie­re­ste, non la defi­ni­re­ste una pro­vo­ca­zione? Non pen­se­re­ste che die­tro c’è la mano di qual­cuno che cerca di aprire una guerra con voi?

Manlio Dinucci,  

Alleged ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Having noted that voter angst has been riled, propagandized, and fear-mongered to the point at which the most pressing priority for Congress is to ‘fix’ terrorism, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that we discover – deep down in the archives – that giving the public someone to ‘hate’ as opposed to something may have been an entire fiction. As The New York Times exposed in 2007Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, the titular head of the Islamic State, according to Brigadier General Kevin Bergner – the chief American military spokesman at the time - never existed (and was actually a fictional character whose audio-taped declarations were provided by an elderly actor named Abu Adullah al-Naima).

Via The New York Times (2007),

For more than a year, the leader of one the most notorious insurgent groups in Iraq was said to be a mysterious Iraqi named Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi.

As the titular head of the Islamic State in Iraq, an organization publicly backed by Al Qaeda, Baghdadi issued a steady stream of incendiary pronouncements. Despite claims by Iraqi officials that he had been killed in May, Baghdadi appeared to have persevered unscathed.

On Wednesday, a senior American military spokesman provided a new explanation for Baghdadi’s ability to escape attack: He never existed.

Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, the chief American military spokesman, said the elusive Baghdadi was actually a fictional character whose audio-taped declarations were provided by an elderly actor named Abu Adullah al-Naima.

The ruse, Bergner said, was devised by Abu Ayub al-Masri, the Egyptian-born leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, who was trying to mask the dominant role that foreigners play in that insurgent organization.

The ploy was to invent Baghdadi, a figure whose very name establishes his Iraqi pedigree, install him as the head of a front organization called the Islamic State of Iraq and then arrange for Masri to swear allegiance to him. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s deputy, sought to reinforce the deception by referring to Baghdadi in his video and Internet statements.

The evidence for the American assertions, Bergner announced at a news briefing, was provided by an Iraqi insurgent: Khalid Abdul Fatah Daud Mahmud al-Mashadani, who was said to have been captured by American forces in Mosul on July 4.

According to Bergner, Mashadani is the most senior Iraqi operative in Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. He got his start in the Ansar al-Sunna insurgent group before joining Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia more than two years ago, and became the group’s “media emir” for all of Iraq. Bergner said that Mashadani was also an intermediary between Masri in Iraq and bin Laden and Zawahiri, whom the Americans assert support and guide their Iraqi affiliate.

“Mashadani confirms that al-Masri and the foreign leaders with whom he surrounds himself, not Iraqis, made the operational decisions” for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Bergner said.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and a Middle East expert, said that experts had long wondered whether Baghdadi actually existed. “There has been a question mark about this,” he said.

Nonetheless, Riedel suggested that the disclosures made Wednesday might not be the final word on Baghdadi and the leaders of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Even Mashadani’s assertions,Riedel said, might be a cover story to protect a leader who does in fact exist.

“First, they say we have killed him,” Riedel said, referring to the statements by some Iraqi government officials. “Then we heard him after his death and now they are saying he never existed. That suggests that our intelligence on Al Qaeda in Iraq is not what we want it to be.”

American military spokesmen insist they have gotten to the truth on Baghdadi.Mashadani, they say, provided his account because he resented the role of foreign leaders in Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. They say he has not repudiated the organization.

Read more here…

Ironman 3 anyone?

*  *  *

So he was a ghost back then…. is he a ghost again, a propaganda test-tube baby designed purely to put a face on ISIS and the biggest bogeyman of the current global anti-terrorist mania, so necessary to boost global QE in lieu of a world war (for now)?

It’s certainly easier for an average joe to ‘hate’ a demonic leader than an amorphous ‘thing’ called ‘Radical Islam’ – just ask President Obama.

It is widely recognized by independent analysts and observers of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) that it is a creature largely of the United States and Britain, established in late 1994 to support the Rwandan dictatorship of Paul Kagame’s Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and that it has imposed a system of “victor’s justice” that is the epitome of injustice.

This is displayed most prominently by the ICTR’s exclusive focus on alleged crimes committed by the Hutu political, military, and civilian leadership of the regime that Kagame’s RPF drove from power by July 1994, and the complete impunity of the members of the RPF, not one of whom has ever been charged with a crime by the ICTR. This is despite the fact that RPF killings of civilians was massive in Rwanda in 1994, just as it has been in the years that followed its conquest.

Thus, in the exceptional case where ICTR Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte opened her “special investigations” of RPF crimes in 2002, with the goal of bringing indictments against members of the RPF, her job was terminated in 2003, and in her memoir of the events, she is unequivocal that the United States and Britain forced her firing in order to preserve the RPF’s impunity at the ICTR.[1]

Similarly, even though Del Ponte’s predecessor at the ICTR, Louise Arbour, had encouraged investigators in 1996 to look into the responsibility for the April 6, 1994 shoot-down of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s jet on its return to Kigali, when Michael Hourigan found credible evidence that Kagame’s RPF was responsible, Arbour suddenly did an about-face, and ordered Hourigan to terminate the inquiry.

Again, this was the result of longstanding U.S. and U.K. political influence at the ICTR, and their commitment to protecting Kagame’s RPF.[2]

In late November 2014, Alex Obote-Odora, a former Chief of Appeals and Legal Advisory Division at the ICTR, took to the Pambazuka News website to challenge our “The Kagame-Power Lobby’s dishonest attack on BBC documentary on Rwanda”[3] on these questions of victor’s justice and RPF impunity, and he offered an across-the-board defense of his former employer.[4] That defense consisted of a stream of misrepresentations and wild accusations without merit, and we will respond to them here.

Obote-Odora claims that there is “no evidence that the RPF” shot down Habyarimana’s jet. But, in fact, a series of former close associates of Kagame have gone on record describing the RPF’s responsibility in detail, despite the threat posed to their lives for challenging the dictator. This group includes former Rwandan Army Chief of Staff Kayumba Nyamwasa, who has survived more than one attempt on his life, and Theogene Rudasingwa, a former ambassador to the United States and former chief of staff to Kagame.[5] Moreover, a several years long investigation by the French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière came to the same conclusion,[6] as did the court of Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu Merelles,[7] both of whom brought charges against the RPF, something the captive ICTR has never done. As noted, the Hourigan investigation that came to the same conclusion was terminated by Louise Arbour almost surely on the advice of her political superiors.

Obote-Odora even makes the amazing claim that at the moment of the shoot-down, the Habyarimana jet was a “legitimate military target” and therefore the shoot-down a legitimate “act of war,” so that “no crimes within the ICTR Statute were committed,” and the ICTR is right not to investigate responsibility for the act.[8] He bases this claim on the fact that the jet was carrying four members of the government who had a military status, including Habyarimana, who then held the title of general in the Armed Forces of Rwanda (FAR). But under the August 1993 Arusha Accords, a ceasefire between the RPF and the FAR was officially in place. Indeed, it was the RPF’s shoot-down of the Habyarimana jet that broke the ceasefire, and it was the RPF that immediately used its successful assassination of Habyarimana to resume the war, launching its final offensive that same evening and eventual seizure of state power over the next 104 days. Does anybody outside the Kagame-Power Lobby honestly believe that if credible evidence could have been found of “Hutu Power” or “Akazu” responsibility for the shoot-down at any time over the past 20 years, the Prosecutor at the ICTR wouldn’t have brought war crime indictments against the Hutus involved? But, since the accumulated credible evidence points at Paul Kagame’s RPF, the Prosecutor “made the correct decision to not proceed with investigations into the matter,” Obote-Odora concludes. Thus is the real culture of RPF impunity preserved at the ICTR.

Obote-Odora’s response has a great deal of sophistry, and misrepresentation like the preceding, but it is also generous with fabricated straw men arguments. In one of the grossest, he alleges that we “conflate the mandate of the ICTR to include Rwanda’s political system, its democratic deficit, alleged abuses of human rights and the prosecution of perpetrators for all manner of crimes.” Of course, Obote-Odora produces not a single quote from our work in which we commit this error. The reason why he doesn’t is that there are no examples. Clearly, Obote-Odora is counting on Pambazuka’s readers taking his word for it, rather than checking his allegation against our work. This may have been a useful strategy in the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICTR, but we hope that it doesn’t work here.

Obote-Odora writes that our article is “untenable with regard to three key legal issues.” We have already addressed the second of these straw men: The ICTR’s failure to follow up on credible evidence long in its possession that Kagame’s RPF shot-down Habyarimana’s jet. We now turn, briefly, to the other two.

Straw Man Two: That we get the ICTR’s legal mandate wrong

Obote-Odora claims that when we write about the actions of the RPF before January 1, 1994, as well as after December 31, 1994, the two dates which mark the beginning and the end of the ICTR’s temporal jurisdiction under UN Security Council Resolution 955,[9] we are arguing that the ICTR is at fault for not prosecuting RPF crimes that fall outside its temporal jurisdiction. Thus, Obote-Odora writes: “Repeated reference to these crimes by Herman and Peterson in their article cannot bring these crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICTR…. For Herman and Peterson to criticise the OTP in particular, and the ICTR in general, for failure to investigate and prosecute acts and omissions that fall outside its mandate is at best based on ignorance of the applicable law, or at worst is a mischievous, disingenuous and irresponsible attack on the integrity of the OTP and the ICTR.”

It is more foolishness for Obote-Odora to throw this straw man at Pambuzuka’s readers, and claim that we have ever contended, in any venue, that the ICTR (not to mention the ICC!) should prosecute alleged crimes that fall outside its temporal jurisdiction. Nowhere in the material that Obote-Odora quotes from us do we ever argue this. Therefore, for Obote-Odora to claim that we do, and to reproduce quotes from our work as if it is evidence that we did, is deeply dishonest. Once again, Obote-Odora is counting on Pambazuka’s readers to take his word for it, rather than carefully checking his allegations against our work.

Straw Man Three: That we get the ICTR’s jurisprudence on the “conspiracy to commit genocide” charge wrong

Obote-Odora writes that “Herman and Peterson are in error to suggest that cases of conspiracy to commit genocide were never fairly adjudicated by the ICTR’s Trial and Appeals Chambers.” He quotes at length from our November 12, 2014 article. But he left out nearly 50 percent of the paragraph from which he quotes, including our reference (note 26) to two sections in our recently published book, Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later,[10] where we direct readers to our treatment of how the “conspiracy to commit genocide” charge has fared in the ICTR’s trial and appeals chambers. In fact, as we show in our book and write in our article for Pambazuka News, “even the U.S.- and U.K.-vetted ICTR uniformly rejects the charge that Hutu political and military figures engaged in a ‘conspiracy to commit genocide’ against the country’s minority Tutsi population prior to the April 6, 1994 shoot-down of the Habyarimana jet” (emphasis added).

Those italicized words are crucial. As we have argued elsewhere, the “conspiracy to commit genocide” charge ought to refer exclusively to a conspiracy among Rwanda’s Hutu political, military, and civilian leadership that existed some time prior to April 6, 1994, as any meaningful plan to exterminate the country’s minority Tutsi population must have been developed before the Habyarimana jet was shot down and before the violence that followed. But in fact all of the findings of “conspiracy” in ICTR proceedings relate to events that occurred after the assassination of Habyarimana, typically falling within a time-frame that ranges from April 8 or 9, 1994, through the months of May and June, 1994. It follows, therefore, that any alleged conspiracy that dates from some time after the assassination falls outside what is properly understood as the Hutu “conspiracy to commit genocide.” In the context of Rwanda 1994, this is a false and fallacious use of the “conspiracy” notion, and ought to be disqualified.

Obote-Odora then proceeds to list seven cases that have been argued before the ICTR. Why he chose these seven is inexplicable, because not one of them contradicts what we have argued. In Appendix I to our book, Enduring Lies, we reviewed the judgments and/or judgments on appeal in no fewer than 24 major cases in which the defendants faced the “conspiracy to commit genocide” charge. In 23 of these, the defendants were either acquitted of the charge or a previous guilty verdict was reversed on appeal; and in the one case in which the defendant was found guilty (i.e., Pauline Nyiramasuhuko), this verdict will likely be reversed on appeal (which is pending). (See the Appendix below, where we analyze the verdicts in the seven cases that Obote-Odora cited.)

Finally, Obote-Odora makes the remarkable claim that “In the conduct of criminal prosecutions, it does not matter how many judgements support a given line of argument. As a matter of practice, the fact that the Appeals Chamber has confirmed two Trial Chamber convictions for conspiracy to commit genocide suffices.”

This is preposterous. Aside from the early coerced and railroaded plea bargains of the type to which the essentially defenseless Jean Kambanda, the prime minister in the post-Habyarimana Interim Government, were subjected, all of the major cases argued before the ICTR led either to acquittals or reversals on appeal on the conspiracy charge. In short, the weight of ICTR jurisprudence lies on our side, not Obote-Odora’s.

Concluding Note

Alex Obote-Odora clearly has a penchant for sophistry, misrepresentation, and outright fabrication. We have no doubt that this trait served him well in his role with the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICTR. Now having read his November 28, 2014 response to our November 12, 2014 “The Kagame-Power Lobby’s dishonest attack on BBC documentary on Rwanda,” he has convinced us more than ever that the ICTR exists to impose “victor’s justice” upon the Hutu remnants of the vanquished former regime, and that the real culture of Rwanda Patriotic Front impunity for the crimes that it committed in Rwanda during 1994 still flourishes.

Notes

[1] See Carla Del Ponte, with Chuck Sudetic, Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity’s Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunity: A Memoir (New York: Other Press, 2009), Ch. 7, “Confronting Kigali 2000 to 2001,” pp. 177-192; and especially Ch. 9, “Confronting Kigali 2002 and 2003,” pp. 223-241. Also see Peter Erlinder, “The Rwanda War Crimes Coverup,” Global Research, September 3, 2009. < http://tinyurl.com/o7z5jk5 >

[2] For copies of documents related to Michael Hourigan’s experience as the head of the National Investigative Team on behalf of the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICTR, see Annexe 49 : Le rapport de Michaël Hourigan, enquêteur du TPIR, à la procureure Louise Arbour sur l’attentat du 6 avril 1994 (janvier 1997). This PDF reproduces partially redacted copies of Hourigan’s original 1997 memorandum to Louise Arbour (pp. 2-5); an August 1, 1997 confidential note in which Hourigan assesses his experiences as the head of the National Team (pp. 6-8); a February 7, 2007 report about Michael Hourigan written by Nick McKenzie for The Age (Australia) (pp. 9-13); and the November 27, 2006 Affidavit of Michael Andrew Hourigan used by defense attorneys before the ICTR (pp. 14-20). < http://tinyurl.com/p437ug5> Also see the “Prepared Statement of Mr. James R. Lyons,” April 6, 2001, as archived by the All Things Pass website. Lyons was Hourigan’s immediate superior at the ICTR. < http://tinyurl.com/ndy7b56 >

[3] Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “The Kagame-Power Lobby’s dishonest attack on BBC documentary on Rwanda,” Pambazuka News (Issue 702), November 12, 2014. < http://tinyurl.com/k5q6v95>

[4] Alex Obote-Odora, “The Kagame-Power Lobby’s dishonest attack on BBC documentary on Rwanda: A rejoinder,” Pambazuka News (Issue 704), November 28, 2014. < http://tinyurl.com/m6oq6lt>

[5] For an account of former close associates of Paul Kagame who have since broken with him and the risks they have faced, see Phillip Reyntjens, Political Governance in Post Genocide Rwanda (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), especially “The RPF Challenged from Within,” pp. 85-96. According to Reyntjens, “knowledge of the RPF’s role in the downing of former President Habyarimana’s plane” is what qualifies someone to be “considered a threat” to Kagame; Kagame’s solution is their physical elimination (p. 91).

[6] See Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, Request for the Issuance of International Arrest Warrants, Tribunal de Grande Instance, Paris, France, November 21, 2006. < http://tinyurl.com/kas5n57>

[7] See “Spain judge indicts Rwanda forces,” BBC News, February 6, 2008. < http://tinyurl.com/qzd9qgq >

[8] Obote-Odora, “A rejoinder.” < http://tinyurl.com/m6oq6lt>

[9] UN Security Council Resolution 955 (S/RES/955), November 8, 1994, para. 1, which states that the ICTR is charged with (among other things) “prosecuting persons responsible for the genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda and…neighboring States, between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994….”. < http://tinyurl.com/lljyu9n >

[10] See Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later (Baltimore, MD: The Real News Books, 2014), Sect. 7, “The alleged Hutu ‘conspiracy to commit genocide’ that never was,” pp. 43-46; and Appendix I, “More on the alleged Hutu ‘conspiracy to commit genocide’ that never was,” pp. 78-82. < http://tinyurl.com/mvafkae >


Appendix: The “conspiracy to commit genocide” charge at the ICTR

As we previewed in our article (above), Alex Obote-Odora claims that the judgments filed by the trial and appeals chambers at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda provide the “necessary legal precedent for prosecution of present and future perpetrators for conspiracy to commit genocide. It is misleading and irresponsible for Herman and Peterson to suggest that ICTR Trial and Appeals Chambers have not fairly adjudicated on cases of conspiracy to commit genocide.”[1]

To the contrary (and the term “fairly” aside), what we have consistently argued is that, “In their judgments, [the trial and appeals chambers] have been either acquitting Hutu defendants on the ‘conspiracy to commit genocide’ charge, or reversing on appeal previous convictions on this charge.”[2]

But as we have also argued in our article, the “conspiracy to commit genocide” charge ought to refer exclusively to a conspiracy among Rwanda’s Hutu political, military, and civilian leadership that existed some time prior to April 6, 1994, as any meaningful plan to exterminate the country’s minority Tutsi population must have been developed before the Habyarimana jet was shot down and before the violence that followed. But in fact all of the findings of “conspiracy” in ICTR proceedings relate to events that occurred after the assassination of Habyarimana, typically falling within a time-frame that ranges from April 8 or 9, 1994, through the months of May and June, 1994. It follows, therefore, that any alleged conspiracy that dates from some time after the assassination falls outside what is properly understood as the Hutu “conspiracy to commit genocide.” In the context of Rwanda 1994, this is a false and fallacious use of the “conspiracy” notion, and ought to be disqualified.

Table 1.The “conspiracy to commit genocide” charge at the ICTR

The Accused [3]  Verdict on the “conspiracy to commit genocide” charge 
 Justin Mugenzi   “Count 1: GUILTY of Conspiracy to Commit Genocide” [4]“The Appeals Chamber reverses…Mugenzi’s… convictions for conspiracy to commit genocide and enters a verdict of acquittal under Count 1 of the Indictment.” [5]

  Prosper Mugiraneza  “Count 1: GUILTY of Conspiracy to Commit Genocide” [6]“The Appeals Chamber reverses… Mugiraneza’s convictions for conspiracy to commit genocide and enters a verdict of acquittal under Count 1 of the Indictment.” [7]

  Ferdinand Nahimana  “Count 1: Guilty of Conspiracy to Commit Genocide” [8]
“REVERSESthe convictions of Appellant Nahimana based on Article 6(1) of the Statute for the crimes of genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and extermination and persecution as crimes against humanity….” [9]  Callixte Nzabonimana  “Count 2: Guilty of Conspiracy to Commit Genocide.” [10]“GRANTS Nzabonimana’s Seventh Ground of Appeal and REVERSES his conviction for conspiracy to commit genocide in relation to events at the Tambwe commune;…AFFIRMS Nzabonimana’s conviction of conspiracy to commit genocide in relation to the Murambi meeting on 18 April 1994….” [11] Pauline Nyiramasuhuko  “Count 1: GUILTY of Conspiracy to Commit Genocide” [12]  Jean Kambanda  Not applicable. [13] Elizer Niyiyegeka “Count Three: Guilty of Conspiracy to Commit Genocide.” [14]

Notes

[1] Alex Obote-Odora, “The Kagame-Power Lobby’s dishonest attack on BBC documentary on Rwanda: A rejoinder,” Pambazuka News (Issue 704), November 28, 2014. < http://tinyurl.com/m6oq6lt>

[2] For our discussion of the alleged Hutu “conspiracy to commit genocide,” see Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later (Baltimore, MD: The Real News Books, 2014), Sect. 7, “The alleged Hutu ‘conspiracy to commit genocide’ that never was,” pp. 43-46; and Appendix I, “More on the alleged Hutu ‘conspiracy to commit genocide’ that never was,” pp. 78-82. < http://tinyurl.com/mvafkae>
[3] The seven accused listed in Table 1, column 1 are drawn from Obote-Odora’s “The Kagame Power Lobby’s dishonest attack on BBC documentary on Rwanda: A rejoinder.” < http://tinyurl.com/m6oq6lt>
[4] Judge Khalida Rachid Khan et al., Judgment, Prosecutor v. Casimir Bizimungu et al., Case No. ICTR-99-50-T, September 30, 2011, Ch. VI, “Verdict,” para. 1988, p. 538. < http://tinyurl.com/mc985pr>
[5] The complete wording here is: “The Appeals Chamber reverses, Judge Liu dissenting, Mugenzi’s and Mugiraneza’s convictions for conspiracy to commit genocide and enters a verdict of acquittal under Count 1 of the Indictment.” Judge Theodor Meron et al., Judgment on Appeal, Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza v. The Prosecutor, Appeals Chamber, Case No. ICTR-99-50-A, para. 94, p. 34. < http://tinyurl.com/mljl4un>
[6] Judge Khalida Rachid Khan et al., Judgment, Prosecutor v. Casimir Bizimungu et al., Case No. ICTR-99-50-T, September 30, 2011, Ch. VI, “Verdict,” para. 1988, p. 539. < http://tinyurl.com/mc985pr>
[7] The complete wording here is: “The Appeals Chamber reverses, Judge Liu dissenting, Mugenzi’s and Mugiraneza’s convictions for conspiracy to commit genocide and enters a verdict of acquittal under Count 1 of the Indictment.” Judge Theodor Meron et al., Judgment on Appeal, Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza v. The Prosecutor, Appeals Chamber, Case No. ICTR-99-50-A, para. 94, p. 34. < http://tinyurl.com/mljl4un>
[8] Judge Navanethem Pillay et al.,Summary of Judgment, Prosecutor v. Ferdinand Nahimanaet al., Case No. ICTR-99-52-T, December 3, 2003, Ch. IV, “Verdict,” pp. 28-29. < http://tinyurl.com/qasq7kn>
[9] Judge Fausto Pocar et al., Judgment on Appeal, Ferdinand Nahimana et al. v. The Prosecutor, Appeals Chamber, Case No. ICTR-99-52-A, November 28, 2007, Ch. XVIII, “Disposition,” p. 346. In the words of the Appeals Chamber’s reversal of the original Judgment: “The Appeals Chamber finds that a reasonable trier of fact could not conclude beyond reasonable doubt, on the basis of the elements recalled above, that the only reasonable possible inference was that the Appellants had personally collaborated and organized institutional coordination between RTLM, the CDR and Kangura with the specific purpose of committing genocide. The Chamber allows this ground of appeal of the Appellants and sets aside the convictions of Appellants Nahimana, Barayagwiza and Ngeze for the crime of conspiracy to commit genocide….” Ibid., “Conclusion,”para. 912, p. 292. < http://tinyurl.com/ljm5lyj>
[10] Judge Solomy Balungi Bossa et al., Judgment, The Prosecutor v. Callixte Nzabonimana, Case No. ICTR-98-44D-T, May 31, 2012, Ch. V, “Verdict,” para. 1800, p. 360. Note well, however, that Nzabonimana’s alleged conspiracy is said to have begun on April 18, 1994; therefore, by its timing alone, it falls outside what is properly understood as the Hutu “conspiracy to commit genocide.” < http://tinyurl.com/lyy9rzp>
[11] Judge Mehmet Güney et al., Judgment on Appeal, Callixte Nzabonimana v. The Prosecutor, Case No. ICTR-98-44D-A, September 29, 2014, Ch. VI, “Disposition,” para. 497, p. 169. < http://tinyurl.com/ktt5uwl>
[12] Judge William H. Sekule et al., Judgment, Prosecutor v. Pauline Nyiramasuhuko et al., Case No. ICTR-98-42-T, June 24, 2011, Ch. V, “Verdict,” para. 6186, p. 1449. < http://tinyurl.com/n6k63xz > It is important to add, however, of the six defendants in the “Butare cases” whose cases had been joined and tried together, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko was the only person among the six defendants whom the court found guilty of the “conspiracy to commit genocide” charge—the other five were found “not guilty” of the charge. As we have argued elsewhere, given the contradictory character of Nyiramasuhuko’s conviction in the context of the five acquittals, does the court expect us to believe that Nyiramasuhuko conspired with her co-conspirators, but her co-conspirators never conspired with her? Note additionally that Nyiramasuhuko’s alleged conspiracy is said to have begun on and after April 9, 1994; therefore, by its timing alone, it falls outside what is properly understood as the Hutu “conspiracy to commit genocide.” Nyiramasuhuko has appealed her conviction on the conspiracy charge, and we fully expect it to be reversed, like the others.
[13] Jean Kambanda served as prime minister of Rwanda’s Interim Government, which was formed on April 8-9, 1994, in the aftermath of the assassination of President Habyarimana, and existed in a largely nominal sense until sometime in July 1994. For reasons related to how Kambanda was badly mistreated and deceived by agents of the ICTR (including by his court-appointed counsel) between the date of his arrest in Nairobi in July 1997, and the date he finally agreed to enter a plea agreement with the Prosecutor at the ICTR, in late April, 1998, we reject any attribution of the “conspiracy to commit genocide” charge to him, and do not believe that his name belongs on this list. (See John Laughland, A History of Political Trials from Charles I to Saddam Hussein (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2008), Ch. 16, “Jean Kambanda, Convicted without Trial,” pp. 207-220.)
[14] Judge Navanethem Pillay et al., Judgment, The Prosecutor v. Elizer Niyitegeka, Case No. ICTR-96-14-T, May 16, 2001, Ch. IV, “Verdict,” para. 480, N.P. Note well, however, that Niyitegeka’s alleged conspiracy is said to have begun on and after April 9, 1994; therefore, by its timing alone, it falls outside what is properly understood as the Hutu “conspiracy to commit genocide.” < http://tinyurl.com/q8nmajq>

Escalated Kiev Aggression on Donbass

January 20th, 2015 by Stephen Lendman

A previous article said Kiev never abided by its ceasefire agreed on terms. Systematically violating them straightaway.

Conflict continues daily. Ongoing since Kiev launched premeditated aggression last April. Mobilizing now for escalated conflict.

Supported by Washington politically, economically and militarily. With heavy weapons supplied covertly. Authorized by the so-called Ukraine Freedom Support Act (UFSA) of 2014.

Illegitimate oligarch president Petro Poroshenko vowed to crush Donbas democracy. Replace it with hardline rule.

Abolish fundamental freedoms. Institute repressive harshness. Several earlier articles warned of all-out war on Donbass.

Naked aggression by any standard. Targeting civilian neighborhoods. Murdering noncombatant men, women and children in cold blood.

Using banned chemical and other illegal weapons. Committing horrific atrocities. With full US support and encouragement.

One fascist regime supports another. Horrific crimes of war and against humanity continue unabated.

On Sunday, RT International reported “massive” Kiev shelling on Donbas.

On orders from Kiev. Poroshenko aide Yury Biryukov announced it early Sunday morning. Saying on his Facebook page:

“Today we will show HOW good we are at jabbing in the teeth.” Later adding “(t)hey are now striking a dot. Uuu.”

Referencing a Tochka-U tactical ballistic missile. RT called it “one of the most powerful weapons Ukraine so far” used against Donbas.

Local reports confirmed heavy fighting. Interfax reported Donbas residents saying “they haven’t heard such intensive shelling since summer.”

Citing Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) military representative Valentin Motuzenko.

Ukraine’s military is “using all kinds of weapons,” he said. Including “(g)rad multiple rocket launchers, mortars,” and tactical ballistic missiles, according to RT’s report.

Plus heavy artillery fire. Indiscriminately targeting civilian neighborhoods. Standard Kiev practice. Murdering noncombatants in cold blood.

DPR Prime Minister Aleksandr Zakharchenko accused Kiev of agreeing to ceasefire terms to regroup. Rearm. Mobilize. Deploy. In preparation for escalating all-out war.

“It’s clear that Kiev is making an attempt to take revenge for the serious military defeat it took from the militia last year,” he stressed.

“Kiev always ignored our numerous suggestions to pull back heavy weapons from the disengagement line.”

“At the moment, we are aware of five civilians killed.” Heavy Kiev shelling continues.

Residential buildings, a shop and bus station incurred heavy damage. Putilovsky Bridge near Donetsk’s airport was destroyed.

Maleevka and nearby villages were attacked. At least one shell struck central residential Donetsk.

Gorlovka’s bus station was targeted. Casualties included two deaths and 16 injuries.

City buildings took direct hits. Including four schools and a kindergarten.

Witnesses said Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-24 warplanes participated in the assault.

Imagine using them to kill civilians. Replicating Israel’s summer genocide in Gaza.

Around 80% of over 2,200 killed and around 11,000 injured were civilians. Willfully targeted. Longstanding Israeli practice.

Kiev operates the same way. One fascist regime like the other.

DPR’s Foreign Ministry called on world leaders to “make every effort to stop unpunished mass murder in the heart of Europe.”

DPR Foreign Minister Aleksandr Kofman was clear and unequivocal saying:

“The People’s Republic of Donetsk again suffered a treacherous and large-scale attack from Ukraine.”

Intended to destroy an entire population and infrastructure. “(B)ear(ing all characteristics of war crimes.”

Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov expressed outrage. Saying “Russia(‘s) side will be expressed.”

“Of course, it involves serious concerns over the resumption of full scale warfare in Donetsk, including shelling of populated residential areas.”

“And, of course, such a state of affairs doesn’t promote the fulfillment of the (September) Minsk agreements and the further search for a peaceful solution.”

Clearly, Kiev spurns one. Prioritizing all-out war. Violence escalated after Kiev’s military targeted a bus near Volnovasha.

Killing 12 civilian passengers. Injuring 18 others. Wrongfully blaming Donbas self-defense forces.

An OSCE observer team concluded otherwise. Saying rockets fireds came from Kiev held territory. Ones used weren’t identified.

On Sunday, Sputnik News quoted Poroshenko vowing not to “yield another inch” of Ukrainian territory.

Saying “(w)e will take back Donbas. We will restore Ukrainian heritage, and we will demonstrate that our unity is another crucial factor in our victory.”

“We will be victorious. There will be peace in Ukraine. We will protect and revive our state.”

Kiev escalated conflict after rejecting Putin’s plan for both sides to halt artillery fire, according to Peskov.

“In recent days, Russia has consistently made efforts to mediate the conflict,” he said.

“In particular, on Thursday night…Putin sent a written message to Ukrainian President Poroshenko, in which both sides of the conflict were offered a concrete plan for removal of heavy artillery.”

Poroshenko got Putin’s letter Friday morning. Rejecting it out of hand. Likely on orders from Washington.

Including wanting conflict escalated. Peskov calling conditions on the ground an “absolute degradation of the situation in the southeast of Ukraine.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused Kiev of using ceasefire agreed on terms to “regroup its forces, trying to take a course for further escalation of the conflict with a purpose to ‘settle’ it in a military way.”

“We are deeply concerned by the fact that the Ukrainian side continues to increase its military presence in the southeast of the country in violation of the Minsk agreements,” it stressed.

Look for naked Kiev aggression to continue. Donbas freedom fighters unfairly blamed.

Expect lots more mass slaughter and destruction. Mostly civilians affected. Suffering most like always in wars.

Especially ones directed against them. Like Israel against Gaza. Kiev against Donbas. Horrific war crimes by any standard.

No end of conflict looms. Fully supported by Washington and rogue NATO partners.

Perhaps wanting Donbass’ entire population exterminated. Genocide is longstanding US-dominated NATO policy. Don’t expect this time to be different.

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. It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs. 

The Syrian conflict continues to develop into a proxy war, pitting various foreign ‘national interests’ against one another, including Iran vs. Israel.

Israel launched its sixth airstrike inside Syria in the last 18 months, in what the local media are describing as a ‘targeted killing’ carried out  Sunday, killing at least 6 members of Hezbollah and al Quds Iranian Guard who were fighting ISIS, al Nusra and others in Syria. Among those killed in the missile attack was Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the former Hezbollah head, Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated by the IDF in Damascus in 2008.

Local media reported that a car with six men on board was en route from Lebanon to Syria when its occupants were killed by a US-made Israeli helicopter.


The Israel raid took place near the Syrian city of Al Quneitra (see map below) near the Golan Heights region. Israel has long sought to forcibly annex Syria’s Golan Heights area and past aggression by Israel forced the UN to intervene by passing UN Resolution 497 in 1981, and placing a UNIFIL international peacekeeping force there until recently, when they were driven out of their position by Jabhat al Nusra terrorist fighters who received strategic, financial and military backing from Israel’s IDF.

Back in Sept., Israel used its IDF Patriot Missile battery to provide air cover to ISIS in the Golan Heights, to shoot down a Syrian MIG21, allegedly because it “violated Israeli airspace”, but the Israeli move aided ISIS in its advance through the area.


In addition, according to Fars News Agency, also killed in the Israeli attack inside Syria was an Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander, Mohammad-Ali Allahdadi, who was fighting alongside Damascus’s anti-ISIS coalition.

#Iran #IRGC Gen. Allahdadi martyred in tonight’s Israeli attack in #Syria along w/ #Hezbollah commanders pic.twitter.com/kSX0TUcQbo

— H.Soleimani (@MashreghNews_ir) January 18, 2015

Lebanon’s Shi’ite-oriented Hezbollah militia force is traditionally backed by Iran. In 2013, the group made it publicly known that they were fighting alongside the Syrian army in order to repel US and Saudi-backed Salafist terrorist groups and other western-backed foreign Islamist militants who have been gradually flooding into Syria since 2011, as part of the Washington-Riyadh-Tel Aviv Axis powers in their plan to topple the al Assad government in Damascus.


Hezbollah has vowed retaliation for Sunday’s Israeli attack. Previously, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (image above) said how an Israeli attack in Syria is equivalent to an attack on Lebanon itself. It’s believed by Hezbollah that Sunday’s strike was the first of many intentional military provocations by Israel, who hope to draw out Hezbollah into a wider conflict, and thus helping ISIS, al Nusra and Washington’s “moderate rebel” FSA forces to over-run the Assad government and his forces in Syria.  It is doubtful however, that Hezbollah will respond any time soon, or open a new military front against Israel in South Lebanon, not least of all because of key domestic Lebanese ‘reconciliation’ talks currently underway across political and religious lines in the country.

Sunday’s attack raises more questions about Israel’s military role in the Syrian conflict, and why they would be providing air cover and official military support to ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups fighting against the Syrian Army and its allies.

As 21WIRE reported back in December after its previous Israeli attack in Syria, contrary to popular belief, Israel is very much involved in the destabilization of Syria, and providing direct support to ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups operating inside Syria.

Under direct pressure from the US, UN Security Council members do not appear to be willing to suggest sanctions, or hold Israel responsible in any way for any its repeated attacks against its neighbors, for fear of what misfortunes and diplomatic difficulties might befall them. As a result, Israel has been acting with impunity in the region. Since 2006, Israel has conducted several air strikes on Syria. Below is a description of those attacks:

Al Quneitra (18 January 2015) – Missile attack near the Golan Heights, killing 6 Hezbollah and Iranian anti-ISIS soldiers, including one al Quds commander.

Damascus and Dimas attack (7 December 2014) – Alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria against a warehouse of advanced S-300 missiles, which were en route to Hezbollah in Lebanon.[25]
Missile Strike at Golan Heights (23 September 2014) - IDF Patriot Missile battery shot down a Syrian MIG21, allegedly because it violated Israeli airspace. 
Beqaa Valley airstrike
 (24 February 2014) – Two airstrikes against an alleged Hezbollah missile base in Lebanon near the border with Syria.[21]
2nd Latakia attack (26 January 2014) – Alleged Israeli airstrike against a Syrian warehouse of S-300 missiles.[20]
Snawbar airstrike (30 October 2013) – Alleged Israeli airstrike at an air defense site in Snawbar.[19]
Latakia explosion (5 July 2013) – Alleged Israeli airstrike on a Syrian depot containing Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missiles.[18]
Airstrikes on Syria (3-5 May 2013) – Airstrikes on Syria against alleged long-ranged weapons sent from Iran to Hezbollah.[16][17]
Jamraya airstrike (30 January 2013) – Alleged Israeli airstrike on a Syrian convoy allegedly transporting weapons to Hezbollah.[14] Other sources stated the targeted site was a military research center in Jamraya responsible for developing biological and chemical weapons.[15]
Operation Orchard (6 September 2007) Israeli airstrike on a ‘suspected’ nuclear reactor[4] in the Deir ez-Zor region[5] of Syria. The Israeli and U.S. governments imposed virtually total news blackouts immediately after the raid that held for seven months.[6]
Ain es Saheb airstrike (5 October 2003) - Israeli Air Force operation against an alleged Palestinian militant training camp in Ain es Saheb, Syria.

Additionally, Israel has attacked Lebanon repeatedly, most notably in 2006 when it slaughtered some 1,500 Lebanoese civilians during it’s indiscriminate bombing raids hitting residential areas and targeting ‘infrastructure’ in neighboring Lebanon:

Operation Just Reward (12 July – 14 August 2006) - Israeli counterattack which began with air force bombing of Hezbollah positions in Southern Lebanon. Israel attacked Lebanon in this bloody siege which ended with 1,191 Lebanese dead in total (including combatants and foreign civilians in Lebanon) with over 4,000 injured. The IDF lost only 121 soldiers, and Israeli civilians said to have died were 43.

A new observational study confirms the hypothesis that Roundup herbicide (glyphosate) is behind the mysterious global epidemic of chronic kidney disease that has taken thousands of lives. 

Back in early 2014, in an article titled “Roundup Weedkiller Linked To Global Epidemic of Fatal Kidney Disease,” we first reported on a paper proposing a causal link between exposure to the world’s most popular herbicide (glyphosate) and a mysterious and deadly kidney disorder afflicting agriculture-intensive areas in Sri Lanka.

The paper would eventually garner such widespread attention that it compelled the Sri Lankan government to order a ban on Roundup in March of 2014, but it has since been reported that it is still being made widely available for purchase.

You can review the study abstract to get further background on their hypothesis:

Abstract: The current chronic kidney disease epidemic, the major health issue in the rice paddy farming areas in Sri Lanka has been the subject of many scientific and political debates over the last decade. Although there is no agreement among scientists about the etiology of the disease, a majority of them has concluded that this is a toxic nephropathy. None of the hypotheses put forward so far could explain coherently the totality of clinical, biochemical, histopathological findings, and the unique geographical distribution of the disease and its appearance in the mid-1990s. A strong association between the consumption of hard water and the occurrence of this special kidney disease has been observed, but the relationship has not been explained consistently. Here, we have hypothesized the association of using glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the disease endemic area and its unique metal chelating properties. The possible role played by glyphosate-metal complexes in this epidemic has not been given any serious consideration by investigators for the last two decades. Furthermore, it may explain similar kidney disease epidemics observed in Andra Pradesh (India) and Central America. Although glyphosate alone does not cause an epidemic of chronic kidney disease, it seems to have acquired the ability to destroy the renal tissues of thousands of farmers when it forms complexes with a localized geo environmental factor (hardness) and nephrotoxic metals.

Since the publication of this paper, critics have argued the hypothesis suffers from a lack of data, and that any discussion of health concerns associated with this herbicide are simply anti-biotech propaganda.

Roundup Linked to Kidney Disease Epidemic In First Observational Study of Its Kind

In answer to critics’ concerns, a newly published study titled “Drinking well water and occupational exposure to Herbicides is associated with chronic kidney disease, in Padavi-Sripura, Sri Lanka,” fills the alleged data gap. Researchers sought to identify risk factors associated with chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) among paddy farmers; a disease which they described as “the most important health issue in the dry zone of Sri Lanka.”

The study method was described as follows:

A case control study was carried out in Padavi-Sripura hospital in Trincomalee district. CKDu patients were defined using health ministry criteria. All confirmed cases (N = 125) fulfilling the entry criteria were recruited to the study. Control selection (N = 180) was done from people visiting the hospital for CKDu screening. Socio-demographic and data related to usage of applying pesticides and fertilizers were studied. Drinking water was also analyzed using ICP-MS and ELISA to determine the levels of metals and glyphosate. [Read the entire study here]

Up to 5 Times Higher Risk of Kidney Disease In Those Exposed To Glyphosate

The study found that the highest risk for CKDu occurred in participants who:

  • Drank well water (2.52 fold increased risk)

  • Had a history of drinking water from an abandoned well (5.43 fold increased risk)

  • Sprayed glyphosate (5.12 fold increased risk)

  • Were male (4.69 fold increased risk versus women)

The researchers also analyzed water samples from the area and found:

Water analysis showed significantly higher amount of hardness, electrical conductivity and glyphosate levels in abandoned wells. In addition Ca, Mg, Ba, Sr, Fe, Ti, V and Sr were high in abandoned wells. Surface water from reservoirs in the endemic area also showed contamination with glyphosate but at a much lower level.

The discovery of higher water hardness, and higher levels of glyphosate and the elements Ca, Mg, Ba, Sr, Fe, Ti, V and Sr, support the hypothesis that the epidemic of kidney damage is being caused by the cumulative and synergistic toxicity of glyphosate and metals in the water these Sri Lankans are being exposed to.

The researchers discussed their findings:

The present study revealed that male farmers from Padavi-Sripura, who spray glyphosate, drink well water and had history of drinking from an abandoned well, are at a significantly higher risk of developing CKDu. This association is evident even after adjusting for all the baseline and exposure variables. This is the first study in Sri Lanka that analyses the association of CKDu among farmers with the type of pesticide and most widely used pesticide during their lifetime.

An explanation was offered for why males were found to be at an increased risk for CKDu:

Due to the strenuous exertion needed for carrying a 16 L or 20 L metal sprayer full of liquid pesticides on their back for several hours, the spraying function has been exclusively delegated to the male farmers.

The researchers concluded:

The current study strongly supports the hypothesis that CKDu in Sri Lanka is a drinkingwater-related disease in farmers who have a history of spraying glyphosate. Further studies should focus the abandoned drinking water sources in areas with high prevalence of the disease and investigate the link between CKDu and glyphosate in particular and heavy metals in drinking water.

Far Bigger Than Just Sri Lanka’s Problem

Now that there is solid observational data to support the hypothesis that glyphosate herbicide is behind the kidney disease epidemic affecting 400,000 Sri Lanka (with an estimated death toll of 20,000 thus far), it should be pointed out that this is not the only region in the world at risk. Similar agricultural regions afflicted with chronic kidney disease of unknown origin exist in India, Egypt and Central America. You can watch the 5-minute documentaries “Mystery in the Fields” and “Cycle of Death” to learn about other afflicted areas.

The reality is that we are all at risk. Anyone exposed to glyphosate — which is anyone who drinks water, breaths the air, or eats non-organic food – could be subject to its kidney-harming effects. In fact, we reported on the alarming increase in kidney disease in the U.S. since the inception of glyphosate-dependent GM farming.

Moreover, glyphosate is a wide spectrum toxicant. We have identified over 27 mechanisms through which it harms mammalian physiology, and published studies on 50 diseases that it may cause or contribute to. Is it any wonder that increasingly people are calling not just for “truth in labeling” initiatives but an outright ban on GMOs and the dangerous chemicals like glyphosate that contaminate them all?