Thursday, July 13, 2017

Magnitsky, Browder and Russia-gate.

Remember the Magnitsky case and the US Magnitsky Act which imposed sanctions upon a number of Russians associated with the Putin government? 

Magnitsky died in custody in Russia and US hedge fund operator William Browder brought the case to Western attention alleging that Magnitsky died at the hands of corrupt Russian officials, who were involved in fraudulently stealing assets from Browder's hedge fund.  Browder' claims were quite widely aired and it all added to the ramping up of US-Russia tensions and the demonization of Putin. I recall seeing an extended piece on the subject on CBC's flagship news program The National.  It was followed by an interview with Browder, who presented himself as a friend of Magnitsky, outraged by his treatment, and seeking justice. It was all quite convincing.  

Well it seems that things may not be quite the way Browder claimed.  Indeed it may have been Browder himself who was acting fraudulently.   This was alleged in a film made by Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, a known critic of Vladimir Putin.  He intended to make a film about the affair, which would indict Putin and his allies.  To quote from an article by Robert Parry: 

However, the project took an unexpected turn when Nekrasov’s research kept turning up contradictions to Browder’s storyline, which began to look more and more like a corporate cover story. Nekrasov discovered that a woman working in Browder’s company was the actual whistleblower and that Magnitsky – rather than a crusading lawyer – was an accountant who was implicated in the scheme.

So, the planned docudrama suddenly was transformed into a documentary with a dramatic reversal as Nekrasov struggles with what he knows will be a dangerous decision to confront Browder with what appear to be deceptions. In the film, you see Browder go from a friendly collaborator into an angry adversary who tries to bully Nekrasov into backing down.

But not many people have seen the film.  It has been so far fairly successfully repressed by Browder's lawyers and other players in the US including the Washington Post.  The full details can be found in Parry's article.

But what is interesting is that this story intersects with the so-called Russia-Gate Trump story, in that Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr.  was also involved in the Magnitsky story.  So more may be coming out about the Magnitsky case.

I have no idea about what really happened with Browder, Magnitsky and the Russian authorities,  but I have an uncomfortable feeling that once again we are being sold a bill of goods by the corporate media.  They have certainly failed to present both sides of the story.  

More can be found on Nekrasov's film here in an article by Gilbert Doctorow.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Jane Jacobs' Warning.

In 2004 at age eighty-eight, Jane Jacobs published her last completed book.  It was a jeremiad entitled Dark Age Ahead.  I was reminded of this last week when I read the following article by Robert Parry

which deals with the corrosive effects of careerism in the world of journalism, government and international bureaucracies.  

One might at first think from the title of Jane Jacobs' book, that it is about the serious threats that were emerging at the time of writing, such as the perils of terrorism and its effects on liberal democracies, or about the persisting threats of global climate change or nuclear war.  But that is not what Jacobs was writing about.  She was concerned with threats to society arising from within. 

What she meant by a 'dark age' was a a 'cultural dead end', a time when people could no longer remember what they had lost.   In the book she identifies five pillars of society whose failure could be  leading us into a new dark age:

Families;   Education;    Science;   Taxes;   and Professional accountability.

While Ms. Jacobs insisted that the failures were interconnected, she seems to have been particularly prescient with respect to last of these - professional and personal standards and accountability.  The failure of professional self-policing has become more and more common since her death. The consequences have been more serious than their immediate impacts might suggest, and are perhaps leading us toward a dark age as outlined by Jacobs.  More on this later but first a few reminders of the failures.

The accountancy profession was seriously compromised in the Enron and other scandals in the 90s.  Wall St. and the banking profession were even more tarnished in the unravelling of the financial crisis of 2008 and in the LIBOR rate fixing scandal a few years later.  Banks, mortgage lenders and ratings agencies were revealed to have egregiously violated their positions of trust.  Apart from a very few scapegoats, the perpetrators walked away better off than before.  The fact that governments bailed out banks without anyone facing criminal charges, has left the industry perhaps more vulnerable than ever to the temptations f moral hazard.  

Another profession which has in many cases lost the public trust is that of policing.  Police forces have always been notoriously self-protective. But in recent times this seems to have become even worse, to the extent that (in the USA) officers filmed shooting unarmed suspects, or in a mob killing an unarmed suspect in a choke-hold, have walked away, with little more than a slap on the wrist.  What kind of message does this send to young officers joining a police force?  

And of course there is the journalistic profession.  In  Robert Parry's article (link above) he  details how 'careerism' has done serious damage to the credibility of the profession. Not surprisingly he points to the massive failure in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003. He particularly points to the failures of the Washington Post and New York Times in simply accepting and parroting the line being spun by the Bush Administration. He points out how New  York Times’ Pentagon correspondent Michael R. Gordon who was the lead writer on the infamous “aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges” story which got the ball rolling for the Bush administration’s rollout of its invade-Iraq advertising campaign in September 2002, still covers national security for the Times – and still serves as a conveyor belt for U.S. government propaganda.  And the Washington Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hyatt who repeatedly informed the Post’s readers that Iraq’s secret possession of WMD was a “flat-fact,” is still the Post’s editorial page editor, one of the most influential positions in American journalism.  Meanwhile whistleblowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are persecuted and forced into exile.  Parry asks what kind of example does this set for aspiring journalists?  And he answers "The lesson that any careerist would draw from the Iraq case is that there is almost no downside risk in running with the pack on a national security issue. Even if you’re horrifically wrong — even if you contribute to the deaths of some 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — your paycheck is almost surely safe."

The failure of the journalistic profession relates to, and is perhaps a consequence of, the mendacity of the political class.  Politicians have always lied and stretched the truth.  But it has traditionally been considered the role of the journalistic profession to challenge and expose such behaviour.  Politicians no longer seem to have to really pay a price for their lies and crimes.  Those in the administration of George W. Bush, including torturers and war criminals, who broke international law and violated the Constitution faced no real sanction. In the UK Tony Blair faced several inquiries, the most complete several years after he had left office, and though he was criticized, never faced any legal sanction or penalty.  

Now it seems that the worst penalty that a politician may face if his or her delinquencies are exposed is a short time-out.  Examples in the UK are Peter Mandelson (former Labour cabinet minister) and Liam Fox (Conservative cabinet minister).  The former actually was forced to resign twice over financial malfeasance, but after a brief time out was reinstated twice.  Liam Fox, when in the shadow cabinet was found to have a huge over-claim on expenses, and was forced to repay a large amount.  In spite of this he was appointed by David Cameron as Minister of Defence, but was forced to resign when it was revealed that he had given close friend and lobbyist Adam Werrity access to the Ministry of Defence and had allowed him to join official trips overseas.  But in spite of all this he was reinstated as a minister in Theresa May's new cabinet after the Brexit vote.  

What kind of example does all of this send to young people?  As with the crimes and misdemeanours of banks and financial institutions, the message is that cheating and unethical behaviour are OK, and if you get caught, it will just delay your rise by a year or two - just a slide down a snake, but there are still lots of ladders to help you back up.   Even athletes caught doping face longer suspensions that some of these dishonest politicians.  

How does all of this relate to Jane Jacobs' warning of a coming dark age?  Well I think that all of the mendacity, careerism and professional malfeasance that we have seen since Jacobs wrote her book, have led to a situation in which people have lost trust in their institutions.  This I am afraid has helped paved the way for Donald Trump and this, I fear, will become the new normal.  

Trump has been able to get away with his egregious behaviour by blaming his opponents, in particular the press, but also the 'elites' at large, for disseminating 'fake news'.  Many people believe this because they have lost all trust in the mainstream media - a well-justified belief in my opinion.  But in place of a trusted media we get even worse lies and distortions by unscrupulous players like Trump and Breitbart.  And people are now forgetting the way it once was - a time when public figures were held accountable for their actions; when there was a clear distinction between truth and falsehood;  and when there was more trust in what politicians and journalists were saying.  

It seems too that now governments can act in violation of international law, and even of their own Constitution.  Whether or not you believe that the Syrian Government was responsible for the gas attack in March, the response of President Trump, in launching a Tomahawk missile attack, without Congressional approval, was clearly a violation of both international and US law. 

Could the Trump phenomenon have happened prior to the press scandals following the illegal invasion of Iraq?  Would Trump have got away (indeed be widely praised for) with his missile strike, without the precedent of Bush's illegal invasion?  Crimes and delinquencies left unpunished inevitably lead to further such actions.  Jane Jacobs realized this,and she didn't like what she saw.  

She claimed that the five failing pillars were interconnected.  For example the weakening of family and community structures has made the transmission of moral values and ethical behaviour more difficult. In a similar fashion, the way in which, in her view, universities have prioritized credentialism over teaching critical thinking, has made it all the easier for dishonest and unethical behaviour to thrive.  

Many countries in the world suffer from endemic corruption - Italy, Russia, Ukraine, China and much of Africa and Latin America immediately come to mind.   In spite of serious efforts to curb this behaviour, it persists.  Once corruption becomes accepted as normal, it becomes extremely difficult to remove.  People can no longer imagine a society free from corruption.  

The same is true for 'corruption' of the type engendered by careerism and the violation of professional standards which go unpunished.  The prevalence of  'lawyer jokes' reveals the way the public views that profession.  Banking has justifiably earned a similar reputation.  Now journalism has become similarly tarnished to the extent that Trump can call the press 'the enemy' of America and not be laughed off the platform.  People do not know who to trust, and are asking, like Pilate, "What is truth?"  

All of this makes it easier for charlatans like Donald Trump to thrive. Are we already forgetting how a functioning liberal democracy operates?  Jane Jacobs saw it as a real possibility, and I fear that since her death we have moved a long way down the path she predicted.    

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Cui Bono? The Rush to Condemn - The Rush to War?

The Daily Mail is a scurrilous British tabloid rag and a fierce promoter of Brexit and other right wing causes.  But its columnist Peter Hitchens, has I think, a much better perspective on the recent Syrian chemical weapons attack, than his colleagues in newspapers of supposedly greater repute, like the New York Times or Washington Post.

Hitchens, by the way, is the younger brother of the late Christopher Hitchens, journalist, alcoholic, former Trotskyist turned gung-ho backer of the 2003 Iraq invasion. The younger Hitchens describes himself as an Anglican Christian and Burkean conservative.

Unlike most of the mainstream media, rather than leaping with moral outrage to condemn Assad for the heinous murder of innocent children, Hitchens steps back and asks why Assad would engage in such an attack, given that, with Russian help, he has been winning the war, and that Trump has stated that regime change is no longer a US goal.   Is he so stupid to jeopardize all of that for the sake of removing a few rebel fighters from an apparently insignificant village?  

Very few people, excepting the perpertrators, know who was really responsible for the outrage.  Nevertheless this has not stopped much of the Western political establishment, and the mainstream media leaping to the conclusion that the Assad regime was behind it, and with anguished cries of moral outrage, demanding that 'something be done'.  Exceptions to this, I am relieved to say, are CBC News in its initial coverage, whose reporter pointed out that all of the reports and footage came from rebel sources, and that no independent journalists dare venture into the region, which is controlled by al Qaeda; and also Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freedland (who I don't normally hold in high regard) who advocated waiting until evidence came in, before jumping to conclusions.

But of course that didn't stop the usual suspects - Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Francois Hollande, John McCain etc - piling on the invective about the brutality of the Assad regime.  And then yesterday Donald Trump joined in, wringing every ounce of pathos out of the situation by describing the murder of babies, as he held his hands 12 inches apart, and repeated "killing babies" several times.  More ominous was the fact that he said the act had crossed many lines - red lines!  

But looking at the situation dispassionately, does it really make any sense that the Assad regime was behind the attack?  Assad has been winning the war, with Russian help.  The US and UK governments had recently said that they no longer considered regime change a priority. Would Assad jeapordize all of that for the sake of killing a few al Qaeda fighters in an apparently insignificant village? From a cui bono point of view it seems to me much more likely that one of the many factions who are opposed to the regime are behind the outrage.  UN jurist Carla Ponte has asserted that some of the rebel groups have, and have used poison gas.  There also seems to be a strong body of evidence pointing to anti-Assad rebels (with Turkish help) being behind the earlier gas attack at Gouta, near Damascus.  But this all gets lost in the rush to condemn the villainous al Assad and demand Western intervention.   

As Peter Hitchens says "You are being assailed through your emotions, to act first and think long after, and far too late."   To Hitchens, and to me, this all has the smell of a setup.  Let's hope it doesn't lead to more foreign intervention in this shameful and vicious war.  

Read what Hitchens has to say:  "Its WMD All Over Again. Why Don't You See It."  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Constitutional Amendments Anyone?

Here is something to really scare Americans already overwhelmed by Donald Trump and the Republican domination of all branches of government. How about a right wing re-write of the constitution?  

There are three ways in which the constitution can (constitutionally) be amended.  The first is the one that has been used in all of the 27 successful amendments to date, i.e. Congress proposes an amendment, which must be passed by a super-majority in both Houses; it is then sent to the states, and if three quarters of their legislatures approve the proposal, the amendment takes effect.

The second way starts with the states - if three quarters of them, 38, each pass a proposal with a majority vote, then it does not need to go to Congress.  It takes effect as an amendment to the Constitution.

The third way uses Article V and involves calling a Constitutional Convention.  To do this two thirds of the states (34) need to pass resolutions calling for such a convention.  If this is achieved, the proposal for a convention must then be ratified by three quarters of the states (38).  If successful the Convention can then change the Constitution in any way it chooses and Congress, the President and the Courts can do nothing about it.

But this will never happen you may say - voices of reason and moderation would surely prevail.  But then Trump could never become President. Except of course that he did and is.  And if you still pooh pooh the idea you might be interested to know that there is a well-funded organization called Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG) which is campaigning for a Constitutional Convention to be called and seems to be quite successful so far.  It is led by  Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots.  One of its directors is Eric O'Keefe, a former leader of the Libertarian Party.  O'Keefe has strong ties to the Koch bothers and a history of backing business-friendly right-wing causes. The Wikipedia entry
on the CSG contains the following. 

In December 2013, nearly 100 legislators from 32 states met at Mount Vernon to talk about how to call a convention of states. … In February 2014, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn announced that after his retirement from Congress, he would focus on promoting the Convention of States to state legislatures.

In December 2015, Marco Rubio endorsed CSG's efforts to a call an Article V Convention. In January 2016, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called for a Convention of States to restrict the power of the federal government.

As of 2016, CSG's application for a Convention of States has been passed in eight states: Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Alaska, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.

So they need to get another 26 states on board.  Well it still seems a long way off, but remember the Kochs have very deep pockets, and have a proven track record of steering state policies in directions that favour them and their cronies - especially in the fossil fuel industries. And it is said that elected politicians at the state level are more easily bought than those at the federal level.  Seeing how federal Congressmen and Senators seem to be completely in the pockets of groups such the the armaments lobby, the NRA and the Israel lobby, I wouldn't put much faith in state politicians' belief in the common good, being any sort of protection against a well-funded drive for a Constitutional Convention.  

After November's elections 32 of the state legislatures are controlled by Republicans. And there are 33 state governors who are Republicans plus one who is an independent.  So it is not out of the realm of possibility that CSG can muster the required 34 states to set the process rolling.

If they do pull it off, what specific amendments would they seek?  Well to quote Wikipedia again:

In September 2016, CSG held a simulated convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution in Williamsburg, Virginia. An assembly of 137 delegates representing every state gathered to conduct a simulated convention.

The simulated convention passed amendments relating to six topics, including requiring the states to approve any increase in the national debt, imposing term limits, limiting the Commerce Clause to its original meaning [ending minimum wage, federal right-to-unionize, and child-labor laws], limiting the power of federal regulations [aka 'consumer protections'], requiring a supermajority to impose federal taxes and repealing the 16th Amendment [which legalized federal income taxes], and giving the states the power to abrogate any federal law, regulation, or executive order.

This gives a flavour of the way in which the USA might be changed. There might not be much of a national state left (except of course for the military).   A look at some of the supporters of the project, apart from the Kochs and their billionaire cronies, also gives an indication what to expect.  Public figures in support in include, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, broadcasters Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck; and politicians Sarah Palin, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Allen West, and Greg Abbot.  

Trump seems to have some views in common with this movement - at least in terms of neutering the federal departments and agencies of which he doesn't approve e.g. Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments such as those of Education, Energy and Labor.

I suspect that if CSG were ever successful in getting a Constitutional Convention the temptations for the right wing oligarchs to tilt the table even further in their favour might be just too strong to resist.  So items such as prohibiting federal welfare payments, medical insurance and the like could be included as well as removing federal oversight of things such as pollution, labour standards, etc.  They might also throw a few sops to their right wing backers, which didn't directly benefit themselves, such as prohibitions on abortion, gay marriage and even laxer (if you can believe it) regulation of firearms.  

It all sounds pretty dystopian, and let's hope it never comes to pass. But we are in very unusual times.  Remember just a year ago people were talking about the crisis in the Republican Party and musing whether it could survive.  And here they are controlling both houses of Congress and the Presidency.  

I learned about the danger of this possible attempt on the US Constitution from an article by Thom Hartmann

Hartmann quotes from Franklin D Roosevelt's acceptance speech at the 1936 Philadelphia Democratic Convention - "out of this modern civilization, economic royalists [have] carved new dynasties.... It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction."  I am not sure exactly to what FDR was referring but his running mate (and Oliver Stone hero) Henry Wallace had written of these privileged princes that "they claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection."

I am quite confident that the same drives and desires motivate today's wealthy backers of constitutional change.  I am not saying that it is going to happen.  But it could happen and everyone should be aware of the dangers this project presents.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Trump is awful but so is the opposition - and perhaps more dangerous.

I have only posted one short blog since the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States.  There are plenty of things I could have said about his awful performance to date, but I would just be repeating what many others have said before.  Instead today I want to discuss the opposition to the Trump's presidency, which I view,  in many ways, to be just as bad,   Indeed I view the campaign to smear Trump by association with Vladimir Putin and Russia, as every bit as unscrupulous and lacking in substance as many of the untruths and exaggerations that Trump himself has uttered.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with my concern in the way in which propaganda is readily accepted as fact by many in the mainstream media and how it soon becomes the accepted narrative in public discourse.  Qualifications such as "alleged" or "according to some reports" soon get dropped and reporters, columnists and others are soon talking about 'Saddam Hussein's WMD" or "Russian hacking of the election" as if these are accepted facts.

Whether the media complicity in this process is by intent or through laziness or incompetence, is open question.   I suspect at the top, the level of publishers and editors, it is by intent;  at the level of individual reporters and journalists I suspect that, with a few exceptions, they soon learn what is expected of them, and toe the editorial line, without challenging the underlying assumptions.  No doubt this helps them in career advancement, whereas to challenge the accepted line requires courage and self belief.  

Perhaps the most consequential piece of propaganda that became "received wisdom" was the way in which Iraq was painted as an existential danger to the civilized world, possessing weapons of mass destruction which could bring about another event as cataclysmic as 9-11.  Indeed without the spectre of 9-11 lurking in the background, I doubt if it would have possible for such a propaganda coup to have been foisted on the public.  Be that as it may, I think it is important to remember how it happened.

There was of course the official voices making the case - elected leaders such Bush, Cheney and Blair with nearly all members of their governments echoing the claims; and then there were the leaders of the intelligence services - Tenet of the CIA, Scarlett of MI6 et al. brought in to add gravitas.  False stories were leaked about Saddam buying yellowcake uranium ore in Niger, and "intelligence" from the supposed Iraqi defector Curveball.

All of these untrue claims were accepted and promoted by most of the mainstream media, with the Washington Post and New York Times out in front.  Remember Judith Miller of the NY Times.  Remember the evidence, complete with photographs, of mobile chemical weapons labs, that Colin Powell presented at the UN.  

On the basis of these lies, the US, with its "coalition of the willing", illegally invaded another country, essentially destroying it, killing hundreds of thousands of its citizens, and provoking a civil war, and the rise of extreme jihadi groups such as ISIS.  The consequences of this enormous disaster are still being played out, both in Iraq and Syria and even Turkey.  Would the tragedies of Aleppo and now Mosul have occurred if Iraq were not invaded in 2003?  

The costs to the invaders, while small compared with those of Middle Eastern countries, are still significant.  Estimated US troop casualties are around 4,500 dead and 35,000 wounded, not to mention the suicides and domestic tragedies of sufferers of PTSD.  The financial cost to the US was estimated at $1.7 trillion in 2013.  The accumulated costs to the US economy are considered to be considerably higher. 

And all of this was justified by false propaganda!

Shocking as this may seem. it is my opinion that a propaganda operation of similar magnitude is now being foisted on the American public.  The perpetrators belong to both major parties in the US, and as with the Iraq WMD operation, the intelligence services, especially the CIA, are deeply involved, along with the compliant media.  

I am referring to the attempt to smear Donald Trump, as being "compromised" by his association with the Russia of Vladimir Putin. As some commentators have pointed out it is reminiscent of the McCarthy communist witchhunts of the 1950s.  

Russian scholar Stephen Cohen, in an article in The Nation lists six ways in which Trump's name is detrimentally linked to Russia:
1. Trump has lavished praise on Putin, calling him a strong leader and suggesting it would be in US interests to cooperate with Russia.
2. Trump has had business dealings with Russia.
3. His one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was hired as an adviser to Viktor Yanukovych, before his ousting in the Maidan "revolution" of 2014. This in spite of the fact that Manafort apparently advised Yanukovych to tilt towards the EU partnership agreement and away from Russia.  
4.  The dossier, released by BuzzFeed, compiled by a former  MI5 agent, claiming that the FSB held incriminating evidence on Trump (including footage of Trump caught in a "honey trap") which could be used to coerce him.  None of this was ever confirmed.  No evidence was produced. 
5. The claim that Russia helped Trump win the election through the hacking of the Democratic National Convention computers, and the subsequent release of e-mails to WikiLeaks embarrassing to Hillary Clinton.  It was claimed that Russian State actors were involved, with the direct knowledge and authorization of Vladimir Putin.  A report was issued by the intelligence community (CIA-FBI-NSA) supposedly justifying the claims.  But it didn't.  It contained no more proof than did Colin Powell's report to the UN on Saddam's WMD. It comprised "assessments", based on surmised motivations.  Wikileaks has claimed the material was "leaked" (i.e. taken from the computers by an insider) rather than "hacked" from outside.  Also a number of American cyber experts have said that if Russian State hackers were involved they would not have "left fingerprints" as US intelligence officials claimed they did.   The only way US intelligence could know that Vladimir Putin authorized the operation would be if they had done exactly what they accused the Russians of doing i.e. hacked into Russian State computer networks (or possibly had a spy in the Kremlin).  
6.  Before the Trump's inauguration his nominee for the post of National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, had phone conversations (on open lines) with the Russian Ambassador to the US.  He was forced to resign over this, or perhaps, more accurately because he had misled Vice-President Mike Pence over the content of these calls.  But apparently Flynn was doing nothing that other past presidential nominees had done.  Jack Matlock, US ambassador to the USSR under Reagan and George H. W. Bush, has said he arranged meetings in Moscow for Jimmy Carter's transition team, and President Obama's Russian adviser Michael McFaul has said publicly that he visited Moscow in 2008, even before the election in that year, for talks with Russian officials.

So it seems that what is being presented is a farrago of allegations, rumours and "assessments" which somehow link Donald Trump with Russia.  None of these amount to anything.  There is not a shred of real evidence that Trump is in any way compromised by his relationship with Russia.

To my mind all of this is very reminiscent of the WMD misinformation campaign.  The game plan seems to be to keep piling on allegation and innuendo so that people start to think there must be something in it - after all there is no smoke without fire.

All of this builds on a campaign of demonizing Russia over the past few years.  Again the media have been complicit in presenting a false picture.  The "accepted" narrative of the crisis with Russia over Ukraine goes something like this (words of Washington Post's senior foreign affairs writer Karen de Young)  

"That conflict began when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, then backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine in what became a grinding war, despite a deal to end it, called the Minsk agreement, negotiated with Putin by the leaders of France and Germany."

But this synopsis is simply not true.  Russia did not "invade" Crimea. Most of the residents of Crimea are Russian and they did not like the new government in Kiev (one of its first acts was to de-legitimize Russian as an official language declaring Ukranian the only official language).  In a hastily called referendum the citizens of Crimea voted 96% to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia.  There was a similar response in Russian speaking eastern Ukraine (Donbass).  Citizens in Donetsk and Lugansk declared that they no longer recognized the government in Kiev.  The response of the Kiev government was to send tanks and artillery to start shelling the cities.  

The events of the Maidan "revolution" are still subject to dispute.  But they are certainly not as simple as the Western media narrative of "brave unarmed Ukrainians overthrow  Russian backed tyrant, leading to his ouster."  If readers would like a concise summary I think that given by Robert Parry does a good job. 

His alternative to Karen de Young's synopsis goes like this 

“The Ukraine conflict began when U.S. officials supported the violent overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych, prompting Crimea to rejoin Russia and causing ethnic Russians in the east to rise up against the U.S.-backed coup regime in Kiev, which then sought to crush the rebellion. The Kiev regime later torpedoed a peace deal that had been hammered out by Russian, Ukrainian and European negotiators in Minsk.”

And then there is the way Russian involvement in Syria is presented. You know, the way Russian planes were bombing civilians in besieged east Aleppo.   We don't hear much now about how US and NATO planes are bombing west Mosul.  When they do get reported civilian deaths are usually attributed to ISIS hiding itself among the civilian population. So ISIS is responsible.  But not the Nusra front jihadis in Alleppo.  There it was the Russians responsible for indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas.  

Russia and China are the only two countries in the world that come anywhere near to the USA in terms of the power they yield - Russia because of its nuclear weapons and military strength (though still only a fraction the size of the American military) and China because of its size and its industrial might.   To many in the US the very existence of centres of power which are not US controlled, seems to be an affront. They cannot accept that Russia is a country with interests of its own, which sometimes conflict with US interests.  In Syria for example, Russia has a naval base - its only base in the Mediterranean. It certainly didn't want to give up that base - just as it would never give up its Black Sea base in Sevastapol, Crimea.   I am not claiming that Russia is any better, in a moral sense, that the US.  But I would like to see US recognition that there are other countries in the world that do not want to become US tributaries.  

The whipped up hysteria against Russia has travelled beyond the US. The London daily The Independent this week carried a story in which former Labour minister Chris Bryant claimed in parliament that there was "clear evidence" that Russia had interfered in the last UK general election, which Labour lost.  But of course he didn't present any evidence, clear or otherwise, nor did he suggest the form the interference took.  He also alleged Russian interference in France and Germany:
“There is now clear evidence of Russian direct, corrupt involvement in elections in France, in Germany, in the United States of America, and I would argue also in this country”. 

Maybe there is some truth in this, maybe not.  Without specifics and evidence presented it is just impossible to determine.  I suspect one could make a better case of Western interference in Russian elections - indeed Time magazine had a front page story a few years back how American "consultants" had helped Boris Yeltsin get elected. Certainly we know that the NSA tapped Angela Merkel's phone, and that Canadian intelligence hacked into the computers of Brazil's ministry of natural resources.  The reality is that all countries with the capabilities are engaged in electronic spying, on both friend and rival. No doubt malicious acts also occur when the perpetrator feels they can get away with it, e.g. the introduction of the Stuxnet worm into Iranian systems by US and Israeli parties.  

Who is behind this campaign to malign Donald Trump by association with Russia, and beyond that to demonize Russia?

Well, the Democratic Party were stung by their loss in the presidential election, and were quite happy to find an easy excuse, and at the same time discredit Donald Trump.  And quite a few Republicans were unhappy at Trump's takeover of their party.  Hence Republican senators such as John McCain and Lindsay Graham have been amongst the most vocal proponents of Russian involvement. These two have also long been vocal critics of Russia and promoters of a very aggressive foreign policy.  The press by and large were "all in" on supporting the election of Hillary Clinton and like the Democratic party have been happy to find an excuse for La Clinton's loss.  

But I suspect that behind all of this there are "Deep State" actors who do not want at any cost to see a rapprochement with Russia, as Trump has proposed.  I believe that the CIA is  deeply involved in this.   Since at least the time of George W. Bush, many senior positions in the intelligence and foreign policy branches of government have gone to people of a NeoCon persuasion - the State Department's Victoria Nuland of Maidan notoriety is a good example.  These people were counting on a Clinton victory and an aggressive policy towards Russia. Trump's victory disrupted the plans, but they quickly re-grouped and found a way to both pursue a "Cold War 2" at the same time and discredit Donald Trump. 

Whether it will work or not remains to be seen.  The first signs did not look good.  After National Security head Michael Flynn was removed, it seemed that Trump was caving on his policy of rapprochement with Russia - he tweeted how he expected Russia to de-escalate the violence in Ukraine and to return Crimea (one might as well ask Israel to return all of the land it has stolen since the 1967 war!).  But it could be that in Flynn's firing, Trump has only sacrificed a pawn, and that he is now re-grouping in order to take on his 'Deep State' enemies.  It seems that there is a battle royal going on behind the scenes, with Trump's enemies determined to take him down.  This article by former British diplomat and intelligence insider, Alistair Crooke,  analyzes the situation

I am sad to say that I am on Trump's side on this.  If the NeoCon factions win we can expect more of the discredited and disastrous regime-change policy in evidence in the Bush and Obama presidencies, only this time with nuclear-armed Russia in the crosshairs.  That is why to my mind Trump's liberal opponents are mistaken to rally around the "Russian puppet" meme, in order to discredit him.  They themselves are being played as puppets by a very powerful and unscrupulous players. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

World's Number One Sponsor of Terrorism?

Donald Trump is ready to criticize the media for false reporting.  But what about some of the stuff coming from him and his cabinet?  

"Iran is the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world" declared new Defence Secretary, James Mattis. 

His boss, President Trump says "They are the number one terrorist state.  They're sending money all over the place - and weapons.  And they can't do that."

It is true that the mainstream media are ready to parrot this claim endlessly.  But where is the evidence?  Perhaps Trump is right and the media are lying shamelessly.  

It seems to me that the claims about Iran are patently untrue.  I suspect the claims  are based on the fact that Iran supports Hezbollah.  But Hezbollah, while it may have conducted some terrorist acts in the past, is now part of the Lebanese government.  It has a sizeable army which has helped repel Israeli aggression in the south of Lebanon.  And of course, it is now fighting in support of the government of Bashar al Assad, in Syria against such recognized terrorist factions as ISIS and Nusra (al Qaeda).  

If Hezbollah is to be labelled a terrorist group, because of some -past actions, then so should the Likud government of Israel) because of the terrorism of the Haganah, and Sterne Gang out of which it grew), not to mention the ANC government in South Africa, and perhaps even the US government too (no doubt Britain saw the Boston Tea Party as a terrorist act).  

And then there is the supposed support of Houthis in Yemen.  
Saudi Arabia claims that they are backed by Iran, but as far as I can tell have offered no evidence.  The fact that they adhere to some weak form of the Shi'a belief seems to be enough for the claim that they are Iranian puppets.  Besides they are involved in a civil war in which Saudi Arabia has intervened viciously, so the Houthis hardly constitute terrorists.  

And this brings us to the real Champions in the Terrorist Sponsorship League - Saudi Arabia.  Were not 15 of the 9-11 hijackers Saudi nationals?  There have been many allegations that they were supported by members of the Saud royal family.  And of course they have been happily sponsoring jihadi groups in Syria and elsewhere.

So please, don't buy into the propaganda coming from the new US administration - it is the same as much of what was being said by the last government, but I don't think Obama really believed it.  

Of course it is what Israel would like the world to believe (and Saudi).  They failed in stopping the Obama administration reaching a deal with Iran over nuclear weapons.  Now it seems like someone is trying to revive the hostility.

Will Trump go along?  Or will he follow his campaign rhetoric about not getting involved in useless military entanglements in the Middle East.  We have to hope the latter.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Third Way by Which Trump Could be Dumped.

In this blog over the last year I have on more than one occasion mentioned how I thought Trump might be removed from office, at the instigation of what has been called the Deep State.  I first heard the term Deep State used more than a decade ago with reference to those whom wielded the real power in Turkey under the elected government (the one before Erdogan's Islamic party took office).  The Deep State in the present-day USA would be something similar to  President Eisenhower's 'military-industrial complex', but now also including many players from the whole security complex - CIA, FBI, DIA, Homeland Security etc., not to mention the various think-tanks and foundations peopled by neocons from both major parties.  Fellow travellers include some of the editors and columnists of the major media outlets, especially the Washington Post and perhaps not so obviously the New York Times. 

By and large I would say that the Deep State has a strong vested interest in keeping the US involved in conflicts worldwide.  Clearly the Pentagon and the armaments industries do very well out of military conflict, as does the CIA, which is now is almost another independent branch of the military with its own drone program, but with very little oversight and no published rules of engagement. Conflict in Islamic countries and the consequent 'blowback' of terrorism in the West means large budgets for FBI, Homeland Security etc.  

The election of Donald Trump as President seems a serious threat to the Deep State.  In his campaigning (especially in the Primaries) his stance was orthogonal to that of his rivals, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio et al. in that he spoke against  foreign wars and was in favour of a rapprochement with Russia.  Hillary Clinton was gung-ho for more American involvement in Syria and especially for confrontation with the Russia of Vladimir Putin.  Things looked good for the Deep State. They would have their gal in the White House.  And Congress, even if it were controlled by the rival party, would be safely in the hands of warmongers like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and their like.  But Trump upset all of that.  So what to do?  Somehow Trump had to be gotten rid of.

I think much of the pumped-up  hysteria, first about the supposed Russian hacks of the DNC computers, and then this week about the supposed blackmail material that Russia has abut Trump, was instigated by the Deep State.  The Democratic Party, including President Obama, were happy to endorse this view, because it somehow explained their failure in the election, and at the same time discredited the incoming president.   Many in the Republican party also were onboard - after all they viewed Trump's nomination as hostile take-over of their party.  At the same time 
many liberals who are aghast at the thought of a Trump presidency, seemed happy to echo the charges against the malign influence of Russia. 

It is impossible to know the truth behind these allegations.  But I think that the compromising material from the DNC computers came from leaks rather than hacks (see my previous blog post).  This week's revelations, to me, have too much the smell of a fabrication, but I could be wrong.   Patrick Cockburn of The Independent, who was a Moscow correspondent,  has a piece today in which he compares the document recently made public with some of those released to make the case for the Iraq War.
He says on reading it his skepticism soon 'turned to complete disbelief'.   He gives reasons for this. 

Two questions worth asking about the report are "Who paid for it?" and "Cui Bono?", or who benefits.  According to reports former MI6 operative Christopher Steele, was first commissioned, privately,  by a PAC supporting Jeb Bush in the primaries.  When he dropped out, Steele was subsequently supported by Hillary Clinton supporters in the Democratic Party.  The obvious immediate beneficiaries are Trump's opponents, who are many, including the various intelligence agencies, who would certainly have the ability to pull off something like this.   It is an interesting question to ask, why was this report not leaked prior to the November election?  

It is my opinion that all of these revelations about Trump's supposed Russian connections, serve the purpose of softening up the public for Trump's removal, at a later date - perhaps sooner rather than later. And how would that be accomplished?  Before I have mentioned impeachment, and failing that by assassination.  But yesterday I learned of a third possibility - essentially a palace coup.  

Article 4 of the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution reads: Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

In other words if the VP and a majority of cabinet members certify that the President is unable to discharge his duties, then he can be turfed out - a palace coup.  I wonder if Trump knew of this when he was making his cabinet choices?  

Trump is entering the White House with enemies on all sides, not least from within his own party, which has many neocons and warmongers - Deep State players.  Many at the top of the Democratic Party seem to share similar views. Trump has awarded a lot of cabinet positions to members of the Republican Party, or people have strong ties with it.  A quick look through the list suggests the following have all been elected to one office or another as Republicans:  Elaine Chao, Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Dan Coates, Nikki Haley, Mike Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke.  Can he trust them?  Can he trust Mike Pence, who would gain the biggest prize if Trump were overthrown?  And can he trust Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus?  He was Chair of the Republican National Committee and is known as a deal-maker.  He is said to be close to House Speaker, Paul Ryan, who has no love for Donald Trump.  Could Priebus be the Brutus?  "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown!"  

The notion of Trump being ousted by invocation of the 25th Amendment is explored in some detail by Eric Zeusse here.

Zeusse focusses his arguments around the ongoing campaign to roll back Russia, which claims has been in play  since the fall of the Soviet Union.  

Seeing the precarious position in which Trump finds himself  offers an explanation for how wholeheartedly Trump went back on his primary campaign promises of a more even policy between Israel and Palestinians. With his appointment of the Ambassador to Israel, he seems to have gone all in on backing Netanyahu, the Settlers and the Israeli right wing.  Dismayed, at first I thought that it was more of the usual Trump deception.  

But his vulnerabilities could offer a better explanation. When the crunch comes Trump wants to have Israel and its strong US lobby to have his back.   They say most of the US Congress is in the pocket of Israel.   If there were an attempt by the Republican Party to oust him, would Israel want to give up the most accommodating President it has ever had?  

The whole sad story is depressing.  Trump, for all his faults, has chosen to challenge the consensus in Washington.  He seems in so many ways unsuitable to be President of the United States.  But he did win an election.  And to see him booted out in what would be essentially a constitutional coup, would be very bad for people's faith in their institutions and in democracy.   The US would descend to the level countries like Brazil, who recently ousted their sitting president.  Furthermore the prospect of Mike Pence being president, with Congress backing his Tea-Party views is truly scary. 

If Trump is ousted either though impeachment or the 25th Amendment it could lead to much civil unrest.  Trump's supporters would feel betrayed - 'bigly' as Trump might say.  There would no doubt be street demonstrations - of angry white men, legally carrying assault weapons.  Would the police act against them, seeing as so many in the police publicly supported Trump in the election?  

The future does not look bright for our neighbours to the south.