Archive | December 6th, 2016

The Crisis Is Over. Prepare the Ground for the Next One

Adelina Marini

Do you remember what the first thing was that European leaders did following the outbreak of the financial crisis in the euro area in 2009? A discussion was started on new rules for tightening of the fiscal discipline, for not long after the start of the crisis an agreement was reached that it is a debt one – meaning it was caused by extensive accumulation of public debt in some member states of the common currency zone. First, there was talk of a “Euro +” pact, then of a fiscal pact, while in the meantime there was an ongoing overhaul of secondary EU legislation, institutions and structures were being created. All went under the headline of a “reform of the EU’s economic governance. Everyone joined voices in promising each other that they will not do this again – not following the rules.

Even prior to a full rotation of the economic cycle, however, election cycles began in key economies for the crisis (both creditors and borrowers). An ideology war broke out between austerians and spenders. While the crisis was still smoldering in some of the most affected member states in the form of high unemployment, high prices of debt on financial markets, unfinished bailout programme, bank troubles, et cetera, spenders were forced to comply with the will of creditors. After the announcement of the end of the crisis, however, and following the outburst of populist and Eurosceptic parties, a rebellion against the rules began. Even the José Manuel Barroso (Portugal, EPP) Commission, soon after the coming into force of the new economic governance, began stretching the rules and granting concessions to countries, which were violating the fiscal discipline.

Jean-Claude Juncker’s (Luxembourg, EPP) Commission, in turn, stated from day one that it will be a political one and  took steps undermining rules and their credibility. One of the first measures of the European Commission was the interpretation of fiscal rules flexibility, which granted the opportunity to make new concessions to countries stepping outside fiscal restraints. This autumn, the EC went even further by presenting on November 16 a new strategic document which suggests putting an end to austerity and going fully

Towards a “positive fiscal stance” in the euro area of 0.5% of GDP and from 2017 at that

The Commission believes that the time is just right for giving up on fiscal consolidation for growth, despite modest, is sustainable; unemployment, although high in some parts of the currency club, is dropping; the aggregate budget deficit is dropping (for the entire euro area as a whole) – down to 2.1% from 6.2% 6 years ago – as well as the average debt, which is currently around 90% of GDP. They also believe in Berlaymont that in a moment of global uncertainty it is better that the euro area adopts an expansionist fiscal policy, for it will primarily rely on domestic consumption. Among the arguments in the document is also that, opposite to fiscal policy, monetary policy has been supporting growth over the last few years. In the period of 2011-2013 the aggregated fiscal position (the common one) has been contracted, because most member states entered into a fiscal consolidation regime so as to protect their access to markets.

This, according to the EC, has been hobbling growth. During the 2014-2015 period, the common fiscal position went to neutral and slowly began to expand in 2016, but is expected to remain neutral throughout 2017. According to many, financial markets are far more resilient and not as susceptible to shocks, seeing how they took relatively well the Brexit and the election of Donald Trump for US president. Another argument of the EC is that the euro area does not have a common finance minister anyway and consequently cannot implement a common fiscal policy. The only framework it employs is the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), which was created with the purpose of preventing excessive levels of deficit and government debt. It is also a problem, that if viewed as a single entity, the euro area hides the unequal fiscal distribution between member states.

The EC believes that there is also the need and the possibility now to act at the fiscal front. Its proposal is for a fiscal expansion of 0.5% of GDP in the euro area in general for the year 2017. The number is the result of an assessment of the situation at economic activity level, free capacity, unemployment, and inflation. Such expansion will lower the unused production capacity in the euro area and will support monetary policy, while at the same time avoid overheating the economy. The EC also believes that this will be a step towards achieving the goals set in the five presidents’ report.

First reactions to the proposal are mixed. The boss of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, who has for years now been repeating every month the need for the bank’s monetary policy being supported by policies on other levels as well, during his regular hearing in the European Parliament’s economic committee last week, supported the Commission’s idea, but did warn that fiscal policies need to take into account the Union’s fiscal rules. “The concept of the euro zone fiscal stance, if correctly interpreted, can be a useful input to our policy discussions. However, it is not a legally binding constraint on member states, which continue to be bound by the Stability and Growth Pact”.

A day after the dialogue with Mario Draghi, MEPs of the economic committee were faced by Eurogroup boss Jeroen Dijsselbloem (The Netherlands, Socialists and Democrats), who sent out sharp criticism against the EC’s proposal. He also admitted that the aggregated euro area data masks great discrepancies between member states, while some of them still need convincing progress in preserving the sustainability of their public finances and enhancing their capacity for shock absorption. “Therefore it is essential that the agreed fiscal rules are upheld and applied constantly. The Pact is the anchor of stability for the euro zone”, said Mr Dijsselbloem. In the name of joint credibility it is important that the euro area is consistent. He also paid attention on something else. In the country-specific recommendations, which the EC publishes every spring within the scope of the European semester, there are specific fiscal requirements being set, based on the SGP.

This means that the agreed country-specific recommendations this year need to be implemented in the 2017 budgets. With its proposal for a budget expansion, starting as early as 2017, the EC is practically giving up on its recommendations, went the interpretation of the Dutch finance minister. He also reminded that the main task of the Commission is guaranteeing that member states follow the rules. He believes that the euro area is still not stable enough to begin such measures. There are countries, who can afford to loosen the belts, but there are still quite a few countries that do not possess the necessary fiscal space to do so. Addressing some populist reactions in the economic committee Jeroen Dijsselbloem stated that he is “this tough Calvinist guy from the Netherlands”, but he also reminded that he is Catholic. “I know from experience in the past how important it is to preserve the credibility of the Pact. And the temptation to be easy on these rules and regulations in the good times and then to find out, [when] the economic bad times hit, that we should have taken more seriously. That’s the lesson from the past”, he reminded.

The battle with anti-factologists has begun

More and more often the European political scene is the arena of verbal clashes between post-factologists and fact-backed (mainstream) politicians. The dialogue with Jeroen Dijsselbloem of November 29 was no exception. Cause for the clash was the statement of German MEP Joachim Starbatty of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, who blamed the euro for all problems in the euro area. This is something that could often be heard over recent years in the plenary of the European Parliament and in other European forums, but not always got a reply. Now, after seeing the possible effect of words not supported by facts, European politicians started serious work on disproving the myths. This was the answer of the Eurogroup boss:

“There is a tendency – not just in Europe but worldwide – for factual policies and if you don’t like the facts you simply ignore them and state the opposite. The fact is that for the 4th year in a row the growth in the euro zone is improving. The fact is that a number of countries are showing very strong growth but there are still major differences. The fact is that on average growth is 1.6%, but it’s probably too low. And the fact is that deficits will go down below 2% on average in the euro area. It’s not true that we have the lowest growth in the world. I know that you’d like to say that because you’d like to say in a following sentence that it’s all due to the euro. I don’t think it’s the right analysis to blame all the different problems of the member states on the euro. The right analysis is that we have competitiveness problems in many of our countries, that we were hit by a major financial sector crisis which we are still getting out of – the process of rebuilding and reopening of our banks for business is still continuing. But I think all of these factors are moving in the right direction. If you want to blame the euro, very well, but you have to realise that monetary stability, economic stability before the euro wasn’t exactly perfect in Europe but it seems our memory is so short. Let’s stay closer to the facts”, were Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s words.

This battle seems to have a predetermined outcome – victory for factologists. The problem is that it wastes time when there are truly important debates in the EU and the euro area in particular.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Weeks Before He Died, Fidel Built a Soccer Field For Poor Kids

  • People walk on a street in Jaimanitas where Cuba

    People walk on a street in Jaimanitas where Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro lived in Havana, Cuba, Dec. 2, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Fidel was a sports fan and believed in the importance of promoting free access to it across Cuba.

Fidel Castro, the late leader of the Cuban Revolution, built a soccer field for poor kids of the neighborhood he lived in just two weeks before his death.

RELATED: Raul Castro Reveals Fidel’s Final Dying Wish

Fidel, who led Cuba’s 1959 revolution and for five decades defied U.S. efforts to topple him, died on Nov. 25 at age 90.

He lived on the western edge of Havana in a house adjacent to a typical Cuban neighborhood called Jaimanitas.

One of Fidel’s final acts was to order a soccer field built for the youth in Jaimanitas, where he periodically stopped to talk with the people, according to neighbors.

According to several people, Fidel stopped his car in the neighborhood to greet kids playing soccer who told him there were no places to play.

“He was interested in this, asking, ‘What do you mean there’s nowhere to play soccer?’ And the next day they were clearing the field,” said neighbor Rafael Sierra.

Yossiel Calvo, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, grew excited when talking about his brush with the late Cuban revolutionary leader.

“I spoke with him about a month ago,” he said. “He said he was going to make a soccer field for us, and he did it. They’re working on it now.”

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Trump Picks Ben Carson to Lead US Housing Department

  • Dr. Ben Carson and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump
    Dr. Ben Carson and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump | Photo: Reuters
Like Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has no experience in government.

U.S president-elect Donald Trump tapped retired neurosurgeon and former Republican rival Ben Carson Monday to serve as his head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

OPINION: Was the United States Election Stolen …Yet Again?

“Dr. Carson is a distinguished national leader who overcame his troubled youth in the inner city of Detroit to become a renowned neurosurgeon who served as the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland,” said Trump’s transition team in a statement announcing Carson’s nomination.

Carson, who, like Trump, garnered criticism during the Republican primary for his lack of government experience as someone who has never held a position in public office, accepted Trump’s appointment.

“I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly by strengthening communities that are most in need,” Carson said.

In the weeks leading up to the appointment, Carson wrote on his Facebook page that if he were selected as the chief of Housing and Urban Development, he would work toward making “inner cities great for everyone.” But he also recently said he would not take on a position in Trump’s administration due to his lack of experience in government.

Trump praised his former rival-turned-supporter, welcoming him to a growing team that has sparked controversy for being stacked with wealthy corporate elites and anti-immigrant reactionaries.

“Ben Carson has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities,” said Trump in Monday’s statement.

The largest Muslim civil rights in the United States, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, on the other hand, raised concern over how Carson’s past shows of Islamophobia may affect Muslim employees in his department as well as Muslim people seeking support from the federal agency.

“Dr. Carson’s views on Islam, American Muslims and the world are dangerously ill-informed and could negatively impact any government agency he heads,” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a statement Monday.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development that Carson will head is a federal agency focused on helping middle- and low-income people find homes while working to use housing to boost quality of life and the well-being of communities. It is also charged with strengthening the housing market and overseeing mortgage lending, among other programs.

Donald Trump’s cabinet is one of the wealthiest in modern U.S. history.

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New Navy Ship Leaking Tax Dollars


Exclusive: The New Cold War with Russia provides a stronger budgetary lifeline for the Military-Industrial Complex than the War on Terror does while helping to quiet critics of wasteful spending, as Jonathan Marshall describes.

By Jonathan Marshall

The world’s mightiest navy is at risk of being sunk — not by a superior enemy, but by its own inability to acquire ships that work at a price that even the richest military on the planet can afford.

The U.S. Navy today has only 272 deployable warships — a decline of more than 50 percent in just the last three decades — of which fewer than a third put to sea at any given time. Although the U. S. Navy remains by far the strongest force of its kind, current fleet trends call into question its future ability to meet inflated global missions that include tracking Russian submarines in the Arctic, patrolling the Persian Gulf, and defeating China on its home seas.

Warships of the U.S. Navy. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

Warships of the U.S. Navy. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

Rather than rethink those missions, the Navy is clamoring for more appropriations to pay for budget-busting weapons systems. For example, the Navy wants a dozen new ballistic-missile-carrying nuclear submarines at an estimated cost of about $140 billion. A single new Ford Class nuclear aircraft carrier will cost taxpayers nearly $14 billion — and that doesn’t include the inordinately expensive aircraft it will carry or the support ships needed to help protect it.

Now soaring costs and operating snafus are crippling a class of vessels the Navy was counting on to bulk up the fleet at relatively low cost: the littoral combat ship (LCS). A senior Pentagon official just admitted to Congress that ill-managed attempts to fast-track the design and construction of the LCS have all but “broke the Navy.”

The LCS began entering the fleet in 2008 for various missions in coastal waters. With high performance engines and fast hull designs, the ships were meant to outrun speedy patrol boats. With a modular design, they could be reconfigured for different missions, including surface combat, mine-sweeping and hunting submarines. Smaller and less heavily armored than a frigate, they were supposed to be highly affordable.

Crippled Ships

But over the past 12 months, five of the eight LCS ships acquired so far have been crippled by construction defects, design errors, or crew mistakes. The USS Milwaukee broke down just 20 days after putting to sea and had to be towed back to Virginia. The USS Freedom limped back to port after seawater leaks rusted its engine during a 26-nation exercise in the Pacific. The USS Fort Worth crawled back to San Diego from Singapore after discovering a mechanical fault.

U.S. Navy's Littoral Combat Ships. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

In August, the Navy ordered all LCS ships to “stand down” for 30 days and focus on evaluating crew training and operating practices. Even so, the USS Coronado broke down that month en route to Singapore. In September, the USS Montgomery suffered engine problems just three days after it was commissioned, forcing it to head back to Florida for repairs.

That was the backdrop for more bad news delivered Dec. 1 to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Paul Francis, an expert for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reported that the cost per ship has more than doubled, from $220 million to $478 million, since the early days of the program. Delivery is running about nine years behind schedule. The LCS fails to meet Navy objectives for speed and range and its mission capabilities “remain largely unproven.”

He explained that the Navy, rushing to acquire the ships, adopted a “buy before you fly” approach, committing to a large number of ships (originally 55, now 40) before the design was complete and the kinks had been worked out.

“The miracle of LCS didn’t happen,” Francis testified. “We are 26 ships into the contract and we still don’t know if it can do its job . . . Once the money wheel starts to turn, the business imperatives of budgets and contracts and ship construction take precedence over acquisition and oversight principles.”

At the same hearing, the director of the Pentagon’s weapons testing office delivered a devastating, 30-page assessment. The LCS, he said, “has not yet demonstrated effective war-fighting capability in any of its originally envisioned missions: surface warfare, mine countermeasures, and antisubmarine warfare . . . Furthermore, all of the ships have suffered from significant and repeated reliability problems. . . . Unless corrected, the critical problems . . . will continue to prevent the ship . . . from being operationally effective or operationally suitable in war.”

Near Zero Chance

Based on current performance, he added, the ships “have a near-zero chance of completing a 30-day mission (the Navy’s requirement) without a critical failure of one or more . . . subsystems essential for wartime operations.”

An array of U.S. naval and air power. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

An array of U.S. naval and air power. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

He also warned that the thinly armored aluminum ship is vulnerable to being knocked out of commission by a single enemy hit. Its one onboard gun defends poorly against aircraft or swarming patrol boats, and to date the LCS has “no capability to detect or defend against torpedoes.”

No problem; the Navy just “defined down” the ship’s mission. In 2012, the chief of naval operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, said he planned to keep the LCS out of a shooting war — using them instead for peacetime exercises, port visits, humanitarian assistance, and fighting pirates. By sending them to such relatively safe venues as Latin America and Africa, he explained, the Navy could free up more capable warships for riskier theaters.

The latest Navy plan is to buy 14 more of the ships, on top of the 26 already delivered or under contract, and to call a dozen of them frigates. The GAO’s expert asked the committee, “does a program that costs twice as much but delivers less capability than planned still warrant an additional investment of nearly $14 billion?”

You can be sure that Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and other military contractors with a stake in the program, will insist yes, of course.

So will the Navy, which hates losing battles of the budget as much as those at sea. Indeed, a joint statement to the committee by an assistant secretary of the Navy and the commander of naval surface forces insisted that the LCS “is of critical importance to our Navy,” provides “increased warfighting flexibility to our Fleet,” and offers “game changing [anti-submarine warfare] capability at an affordable cost.”

Although some members of Congress in both parties decry the program’s dismal record, most just want the pork to keep on coming. When the Pentagon last December proposed cutting the LCS program to 40 ships, hawks cried foul.

“Our Navy is at risk across the world and the weak and impotent Obama Administration seeks to further undermine our position with this ill-considered decision,” thundered Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “Make no mistake about it, from Mobile to Marinette, from San Diego and Jacksonville, the bell has rung, and those in the Pentagon need to hear that this will not stand.”

With the GOP soon to be in charge of both the White House and Congress, the Navy will likely get what it wants in the short term. Why “drain the swamp” when you can sail right through it? But if current budget trends continue, the math will inevitably defeat even the Navy’s greatest champions and force a fundamental reexamination of how it does business.

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Publish, Punish, and Pardon: Nine Things Obama Could Do Before Leaving Office


In less than seven weeks, President Barack Obama will hand over the government to Donald Trump, including access to the White House, Air Force One, and Camp David. Trump will also, of course, inherit the infamous nuclear codes, as well as the latest in warfare technology, including the Central Intelligence Agency’s fleet of killer drones, the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance and data collection apparatus, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s enormous system of undercover informants.

Before the recent election, Obama repeatedly warned that a Trump victory could spell disaster. “If somebody starts tweeting at three in the morning because SNL [Saturday Night Live] made fun of you, you can’t handle the nuclear codes,” Obama typically told a pro-Clinton rally in November. “Everything that we’ve done over the last eight years,” he added in an interview with MSNBC, “will be reversed with a Trump presidency.”

Yet, just days after Obama made those comments and Trump triumphed, the Guardian reported that his administration was deeply involved in planning to give Trump access not just to those nuclear codes, but also to the massive new spying and killing system that Obama personally helped shape and lead. “Obama’s failure to rein in George Bush’s national security policies hands Donald Trump a fully loaded weapon,” Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, observed recently. “The president’s failure to understand that these powers could not be entrusted in the hands of any president, not even his, have now put us in a position where they are in the hands of Donald Trump.”

In many areas, it hardly matters what Barack Obama now does. In his last moments, for example, were he to make good on his first Oval Office promise and shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Trump could reverse that decision with the stroke of a pen on January 20, 2017.

So, at this late date, what might a president frightened by his successor actually do, if not to hamper Trump’s ability to create global mayhem, then at least to set the record straight before he leaves the White House?

Unfortunately, the answer is: far less than we might like, but as it happens, there are still some powers a president has that are irreversible by their very nature. For example, declassifying secret documents. Once such documents have been released, no power on earth can take them back. The president also has a virtually unlimited power of pardon. And finally, the president can punish high-level executive branch or military officials who abused the system, just as President Obama recalled General Stanley McChrystal from his post in Afghanistan in 2010, and he can do so until January 19th. Of course, Trump could rehire such individuals, but fast action by Obama could at least put them on trial in the media, if nowhere else.

Here, then, are nine recommendations for action by the president in his last 40 days when it comes to those three categories: publish, punish, and pardon. Think of it as a political version of “publish or perish.”


1. Name innocent drone victims: Last July, the Obama administration quietly released a statement in which it admitted that it had killed between 64 and 116 innocent people in 473 drone strikes in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen between January 2009 and the end of 2015.  (Never mind that the reliable Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in Britain, has recorded a total closer to 800 innocent deaths from the same set of strikes.)

President Obama should immediately name those innocent people his administration has admitted killing, while providing the dates and locations of the incidents, where known. There is a precedent for this: on April 23, 2015, Obama apologized for the deaths in a drone strike in Pakistan of Giovanni Lo Porto and Warren Weinstein, an Italian and an American held captive by Al Qaeda, whom he identified by name. Why not release the names of the rest?

Faisal bin Ali Jaber, a Yemeni engineer, has been asking for just such a response. His brother-in-law Salem and nephew Waleed were killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2012. Yemeni officials gave Jaber $100,000 in cash that they swore was compensation from the U.S. government, but if so, Washington has not acknowledged what it did. Reprieve, a British-based group that supports drone victims, has sued President Obama to get a public apology for Jaber.

2. Make Public Any Reviews of Military Errors: When Obama apologized for the killings of Lo Porto and Weinstein, he said that he had ordered a full review of any mistakes made in that drone strike. “We will identify the lessons that can be learned from this tragedy and any changes that should be made,” he announced. Until January 20th, he has the power to make such documents public and prove that lessons have actually been learned. (The only document available on the subject to date is the $1.2 million settlementagreement between Lo Porto’s parents and the U.S. embassy in Rome published by Stefania Maurizi in the Italian newspaper L’Espresso.)

There is precedent for such publication. The Pentagon released transcripts and data from an airstrike that resulted in the killing of 23 Afghan villagers on February 21, 2010, in Uruzgan Province after a drone crew mistook them for Taliban militants. Documents relating to U.S. air strikes against a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz on October 3, 2015, have also been released.

How many similar military investigations (known as AR 15-6 reviews) have been conducted into accidental killings in the war on terror? According to Airwars, another British-based organization, we know, for instance, that the U.S. is looking into a strike that killed at least 56 civilians in Manbij, Syria, this past July. There are guaranteed to be many more such investigations that have never seen the light of day.

The Obama administration consistently claims that groups like Airwars and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism do not have the full story. This flies in the face of multiple reports from Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights WatchAl-Karama, researchers at Stanford and Columbia universities, and even the United Nations, all of whom have investigated and identified a growing number of drone-strike deaths among those without any links to terror or insurgent movements. If evidence to the contrary really exists, this would be the moment for Obama to prove them wrong, rather than simply letting more “collateral damage” be piled on his legacy.

3. Make Public the Administration’s Criteria for Its “Targeted Killings”: In July and August, under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Obama administration released a series of documents revealing the procedures it uses to identify and target for assassination individuals responsible for terrorist activities in much of the world — and the way it has justified such killings internally. If anything, however, those documents (known as the presidential policy guidance, or PPG) have merely suggested how much of the process still remains beyond public view.

“Frustratingly, too much remains secret about the program, including where the PPG actually applies, what its general standards mean in practice, and how evidence that those standards have been met is evaluated — in addition to who the government is killing, and where,” writes Brett Max Kaufman, an ACLU staff attorney.

When Donald Trump first sends out a CIA drone to kill someone chosen by his White House, he will be able to claim that he is doing so under the secret system set up by Obama. Without access to the procedures that Obama pioneered, we will have no way of knowing whether Trump will be telling the truth.

None of these three suggestions would be difficult or even controversial (though don’t hold your breath waiting for them to happen).  With each, Obama could increase transparency before he inevitably hands over control of the targeted-killing program to Trump. None of this would even faze a future Trump administration, however.  So here are a few suggestions of things that might matter for all of us if Obama did them before Trump enters the Oval Office.


4. Disclose Mass Surveillance Programs: Even though Senator Obama opposed the collection of data from U.S. citizens, President Obama has vigorously defended the staggering expansion of the national security state during his two terms in office. “You can’t have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said in 2013, days after Edward Snowden leaked a trove of National Security Agency data that transformed our view of what our government has collected about all of us. “You know, we’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”

Thanks to Snowden, we also now know that the U.S. government secretly received permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to collect all U.S. telephone metadata via programs like Stellarwind; created a program called Prism to tunnel directly into the servers of nine major Internet companies; tapped the global fiber optic cables that lie on the ocean beds; collected text messages via a program called Dishfire; set up a vast database called X-Keyscore to track all the data from any given individual; and even built a program, Optic Nerve, to turn on users’ webcams, allowing for the collection of substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (For a searchable index of all such revelations so far, click here.)

Ironically, a report from the FBI that was finally published in April 2015 shows that this vast effort was largely useless in identifying terrorists. “In 2004, the FBI looked at a sampling of all the [Stellarwind] tips to see how many had made a ‘significant contribution’ to identifying a terrorist, deporting a terrorism suspect, or developing a confidential informant about terrorists,” wroteNew York Timesreporter Charlie Savage who spent years fighting for access to the documents. “Just 1.2 percent of the tips from 2001 to 2004 had made such a contribution. Two years later, the FBI reviewed all the leads from the warrantless wiretapping part of Stellarwind between August 2004 and January 2006. None had proved useful.”

These days smart criminals and terrorists use encryption or other means like burner phones to make sure that they can’t be followed. The only senior operatives being hacked these days seem to be Democratic Party officials like John Podesta and millions of ordinary citizens whose data is stolen by criminals. So why not reveal just what programs the government used in these years, what was done with them, why it failed, and what lessons were (or weren’t) learned? Evidence of the national security state’s massive waste of time and resources might indeed be useful for us to have as we think about how to improve our less than 100% privacy and security. Such disclosures would not imperil the government’s ability to seek warrants to lawfullyintercept information from those suspected of criminal wrongdoing or terrorism.

5. Make Public All Surveillance Agreements With Private Companies: To this day, the U.S. government has secret agreements with a variety of data companies to trawl for information. Some companies are deeply uneasy about this invasion of their customers’ privacy, if only because it probably violates the terms of service they have agreed to and could cause them to lose business (given that they face competition from non-U.S. companies and more secure alternatives).

Take Yahoo, for example. The Justice Department obtained a court order in 2015 to search all users’ incoming emails for a unique computer code supposedly tied to the communications of a state-sponsored “terrorist” organization. The company has requested that the government declassify the order to clear its name. It has yet to do so.

Of course, not all companies are as eager to see their government deals revealed.  Consider AT&T, the telecommunications giant. Police departments across the country pay it as much as $100,000 a year for special access to the telephone records of its clients (without first obtaining a warrant). The program is called “Hemisphere” and the company requires buyers to keep its existence secret.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based activist group, calls this “evidence laundering.” As Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s civil liberties team, puts it: “When police hide their sources of evidence, the accused cannot challenge the quality or veracity of the government’s investigation, or seek out favorable information still in the government’s possession. Moreover, hiding evidence from individuals who are prosecuted as a result of such surveillance is antithetical to our fundamental right to an open criminal justice system.”

Surely such an argument ought to convince a former law professor? President Obama could easily strike a major blow for fair trials by revealing the extent and the details of these local police contracts, which are essentially an open secret, as well as any other agreements the national security state has with private companies to spy on ordinary citizens. Once again, this would not hamper the government’s ability to seek warrants when it can convince a judge that it needs to intercept individual communications.

6. Make Public All Secret Law Created in Recent Years: The last thing we’d want would be for Donald Trump and his future White House adviser, white nationalist Steve Bannon, to enter the Oval Office and start making secret law by wielding executive powers to, say, round up Muslims or deny women their rights.

Stopping Trump from taking this route and creating his own body of secret law is going to be hard indeed, given that Obama has probably signed more secret orders than any previous president. As Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, noted in a recent report, the Obama administration has failed to release a minimum of 74 of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel opinions and memos that have been the secret basis for government actions on national security issues — including detention, interrogation, intelligence activities, intelligence-sharing, and responses to terrorism. In addition, as many as 30 rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court between 2003 and 2013 have not been made public. And an astonishing 807 international agreements, including bilateral ones to control the transportation of narcotics, signed by the U.S. between 2004 and 2014 have never seen the light of day.

Trump, of course, has refused even to publish his tax returns (previously a presidential campaign ritual), so if Obama doesn’t come clean, don’t expect Trump to release any of the secret law his predecessor made in the next four years. This moment, then, represents a unique opportunity for the president to fulfill his promise of 2009 to create the most open presidency of all time. Sadly, no one expects him to do so. The Obama administration has apparently “abandoned even the appearance of transparency,” according to Anne Weisman, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan NGO that tracks government accountability.

Since it’s very unlikely that Obama will reverse course on surveillance and secret law in the next 40 days, here at least are some suggestions on what he might still accomplish as the nation’s chief law enforcer.


7. Punish Anyone Who Abused the Drone or Surveillance Programs: We don’t really know who ordered the drone strikes that knocked off so many innocent peopleBut the names of the architects of the program are known and, more importantly, the president undoubtedly has all the names he needs.

And if Obama does want to clean house before Trump takes over, why not identify and dismiss the individuals who designed the NSA’s surveillance programs that infringed in major ways on our privacy without uncovering any terrorists?

8. Punish Those Responsible for FBI Domain Management Abuses: Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the FBI has developed a network of more than 15,000 informants as part of its Domain Management program. Many of them were recruited to infiltrate Muslim communities to identify terrorists. For the last 15 years, this vast sting program has been used to round-up Muslims — those dumb enough to fall for FBI enticements at least — and put them in prison.

In the process, plenty of “terror operations” were created, but few real ones broken. We already know the details of many of the abuses involved. Back in 2011, for instance, a Mother Jones investigation found that 49 “successful” prosecutions of “terrorists” were the result of sting operations set up by FBI agents provocateurs. “You realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts,” Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch wrote in a report on the program in 2014.

Whistleblowers have come forward to expose the abusive tactics employed by the FBI in such cases. Take Craig Monteilh, an ex-convict hired by the Bureau to infiltrate mosques in southern California. After he had a change of heart, Monteilh helped local Muslims sue the agency. The case was, in the end, reluctantly dismissed by District Judge Cormac Carney who wrote that “the state secrets privilege may unfortunately mean the sacrifice of individual liberties for the sake of national security.” Other informants, like Saeed Torres, have since come forward to expose other aspects of the program. The government has never acknowledged any of this.

It is very likely that this same group will be called upon to support Donald Trump’s orders if a Muslim registry is ever set up. So this would be the moment for Obama to crack down in some fashion on this hapless system of profiling and entrapment before the Trump administration can expand it.


9. Pardon Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and the other whistleblowers: Last but not least, why not pardon Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and the other whistleblowers who served the public good by letting us know what the president wouldn’t? As of now, Barack Obama will go down in history as the president who prosecuted more truth-tellers, often under the draconian World War I-era Espionage Act, than all other presidents combined. Stephen Kim, Jeffrey Sterling, John Kiriakou, and Thomas Drake were government officials who talked with journalists. They were subsequently jailed or had their lives turned upside down. Others like Chelsea Manning and Barrett Brown have been jailed for hacking or for the release of documents relating to surveillance, U.S. wars abroad, and other national security matters.

Gabe Rottman of the ACLU sums the situation up this way: “By my count, the Obama administration has secured 526 months of prison time for national security leakers, versus only 24 months total jail time for everyone else [who ever leaked] since the American Revolution.”

On this issue, Obama has already made his position clear enough. Of Snowden, in particular, he toldDer Spiegel earlier this month, “I can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves.”

For a constitutional law professor, that’s a terrible argument. “The power of pardon conferred by the Constitution upon the President is unlimited except in cases of impeachment,” the Supreme Court ruled in 1866. “It extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment. The power is not subject to legislative control.”

It also flies in the face of history and of the president’s own actions. “Richard Nixon hadn’t even been indicted when Gerald Ford issued a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon,” comments the Pardon Snowden campaign. “Nor had the thousands of men who had evaded the Vietnam War draft, who were pardoned unconditionally by Jimmy Carter on his first day in office. President Obama himself pardoned three Iranian American men earlier this year in the framework of the nuclear deal with Iran. Like Snowden, the three had been indicted but hadn’t stood trial when they were pardoned.”

Given how rarely Obama has issued presidential pardons, it seems unlikely that he will act. “He’s pardoned fewer people than any president since James Garfield, who was fatally shot in 1881 after less than three months in office,” writes Steven Nelson at U.S. News & World Report. Indeed, Bush pardoned twice as many people as Obama in his first seven years in office, a record that he might want to ameliorate. (In fairness, it should be noted that Obama has set a record for commuting jail sentences.)

Will Obama act on any of these nine recommendations? Or will he simply hand over the vast, increasingly secretive national security state that he helped build to a man whom he once declared to be “unfit” not just for the presidency but even for a job at a retail store. “The guy says stuff nobody would find tolerable if they were applying for a job at 7-Eleven,” Obama toldan election rally in October.

Now, it’s his move. Forget about 7-Eleven; Obama will not have to apply for, or campaign for, his next well-paid job, whatever it may be. But there is the little matter of his legacy, of truth, and oh, yes, of the future security of the country.

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The Pentagon’s “2015 Strategy” for Ruling the World


On Wednesday, the Pentagon released its 2015 National Military Strategy, a 24-page blueprint for ruling the world through military force. While the language in the report is subtler and less incendiary than similar documents in the past, the determination to unilaterally pursue US interests through extreme violence remains the cornerstone of the new strategy. Readers will not find even a hint of remorse in the NMS for the vast destruction and loss of life the US caused in countries that posed not the slightest threat to US national security. Instead, the report reflects the steely resolve of its authors and elite constituents to continue the carnage and bloodletting until all potential rivals have been killed or eliminated and until such time that Washington feels confident that its control over the levers of global power cannot be challenged.

As one would expect, the NMS conceals its hostile intentions behind the deceptive language of “national security”. The US does not initiate wars of aggression against blameless states that possess large quantities of natural resources. No. The US merely addresses “security challenges” to “protect the homeland” and to “advance our national interests.” How could anyone find fault with that, after all, wasn’t the US just trying to bring peace and democracy to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria?

In the Chairman’s Forward, Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey attempts to prepare the American people for a future of endless war:

Future conflicts will come more rapidly, last longer, and take place on a much more technically challenging battlefield. … We must be able to rapidly adapt to new threats while maintaining comparative advantage over traditional ones … the application of the military instrument of power against state threats is very different than the application of military power against non state threats. We are more likely to face prolonged campaigns than conflicts that are resolved quickly … that control of escalation is becoming more difficult and more important. (Document: 2015 U.S. National Military Strategy, USNI News)

War, war and more war. This is the Pentagon’s vision of the future. Unlike Russia or China which have a plan for an integrated EU-Asia free trade zone (Silk Road) that will increase employment, improve vital infrastructure, and raise living standards, the US sees only death and destruction ahead. Washington has no strategy for the future, no vision of a better world. There is only war; asymmetrical war, technological war, preemptive war. The entire political class and their elite paymasters unanimously support global rule through force of arms. That is the unavoidable meaning of this document. The United States intends to maintain its tenuous grip on global power by maximizing the use of its greatest asset; its military.

And who is in the military’s gunsights? Check out this excerpt from an article in Defense News:

The strategy specifically calls out Iran, Russia and North Korea as aggressive threats to global peace. It also mentions China, but notably starts that paragraph by saying the Obama administration wants to “support China’s rise and encourage it to become a partner for greater international security,” continuing to thread the line between China the economic ally and China the regional competitor.

None of these nations are believed to be seeking direct military conflict with the United States or our allies,” the strategy reads. “Nonetheless, they each pose serious security concerns which the international community is working to collectively address by way of common policies, shared messages, and coordinated action. (Pentagon Releases National Military Strategy, Defense News)

Did you catch that last part? “None of these nations are believed to be seeking direct military conflict with the United States or our allies. Nevertheless, they each pose serious security concerns.”

In other words, none of these countries wants to fight the United States, but the United States wants to fight them. And the US feels it’s justified in launching a war against these countries because, well, because they either control vast resources, have huge industrial capacity, occupy an area of the world that interests the US geopolitically, or because they simply want to maintain their own sovereign independence which, of course, is a crime. According to Dempsey, any of these threadbare excuses are sufficient justification for conflict mainly because they “pose serious security concerns” for the US, which is to say they undermine the US’s dominant role as the world’s only superpower.

The NMS devotes particular attention to Russia, Washington’s flavor-of-the-month enemy who had the audacity to defend its security interests following a State Department-backed coup in neighboring Ukraine. For that, Moscow must be punished. This is from the report:

Some states, however, are attempting to revise key aspects of the international order and are acting in a manner that threatens our national security interests. While Russia has contributed in select security areas, such as counternarcotics and counterterrorism, it also has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors and it is willing to use force to achieve its goals. Russia’s military actions are undermining regional security directly and through proxy forces. These actions violate numerous agreements that Russia has signed in which it committed to act in accordance with international norms. (2015 NMS)

Russia is an evildoer because Russia refused to stand by while the US toppled the Ukrainian government, installed a US stooge in Kiev, precipitated a civil war between the various factions, elevated neo Nazis to positions of power in the security services, plunged the economy into insolvency and ruin, and opened a CIA headquarters in the Capital to run the whole shooting match. This is why Russia is bad and must be punished.

But does that mean Washington is seriously contemplating a war with Russia?

Here’s an excerpt from the document that will help to clarify the matter:

For the past decade, our military campaigns primarily have consisted of operations against violent extremist networks. But today, and into the foreseeable future, we must pay greater attention to challenges posed by state actors. They increasingly have the capability to contest regional freedom of movement and threaten our homeland. Of particular concern are the proliferation of ballistic missiles, precision strike technologies, unmanned systems, space and cyber capabilities, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) technologies designed to counter U.S. military advantages and curtail access to the global commons. (2015 NMS)

It sounds to me like the Washington honchos have already made up their minds. Russia is the enemy, therefore, Russia must be defeated. How else would one “counter a revisionist state” that “threatens our homeland”?

Why with Daisy Cutters, of course. Just like everyone else.

The NMS provides a laundry list of justifications for launching wars against (imaginary) enemies of the US. The fact is, the Pentagon sees ghosts around every corner. Whether the topic is new technologies, “shifting demographics” or cultural differences; all are seen as a potential threat to US interests, particularly anything related to the “competition for resources.” In this skewed view of reality, one can see how the invasion of Iraq was justified on the grounds that Saddam’s control of Iraq’s massive oil reserves posed a direct challenge to US hegemony. Naturally, Saddam had to be removed and over a million people killed to put things right and return the world to a state of balance. This is the prevailing view of the National Military Strategy, that is, that whatever the US does is okay, because its the US.

Readers shouldn’t expect to find something new in the NMS. This is old wine in new bottles. The Pentagon has merely updated the Bush Doctrine while softening the rhetoric. There’s no need to scare the living daylights out of people by talking about unilateralism, preemption, shrugging off international law or unprovoked aggression. Even so, everyone knows that United States is going to do whatever the hell it wants to do to keep the empire intact. The 2015 National Military Strategy merely confirms that sad fact.

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UN General Assembly Recognises Health Risks from Depleted Uranium


The UN General Assembly has backed a new resolution on DU weapons by 151 votes to 4. The resolution, which highlights the ongoing concerns of affected states and communities, health experts and civil society over the potential health risks from DU exposure, is the sixth to be adopted since 2007. The text also recognises that countries affected by the use of DU weapons face considerable technical and financial barriers in dealing with DU contamination to internationally recognised radiation protection standards.

“While we welcome the fact that governments have finally acknowledged that those affected by the use of DU weapons have serious concerns over the risks they pose, we have seen little to suggest that states are willing to act,” said ICBUW Coordinator Doug Weir. “Resolutions alone will not clear land or assist communities, and it is high time that governments commit to delivering clear obligations that tackle the post-conflict legacy of DU weapons.”

Although an overwhelming majority of states vote in favour of the resolutions, a minority still abstain. Around half are EU members, all of whom have been urged to vote in favour by the European Parliament. Germany, which supported the resolutions until 2014, has been singled out for particular criticism over its efforts to weaken the resolution’s language and encourage others to abstain. Meanwhile, hopes were high this year that Canada would vote in favour for the first time. In opposition Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party had been publicly opposed to DU weapons but this policy appears to have been quietly dropped in government.

As usual, the resolution was opposed only by the US, UK, France and Israel. Unusually, Montenegro, which voted in favour in the first round of voting in November abstained in the later plenary vote. Similarly South Sudan, which didn’t vote in November voted in the second round, abstaining for the first time. ICBUW will check to confirm that both Sudan and Montenegro’s votes were intentional.

The first round of voting on the resolution came just days after the US confirmed that it had used DU in Syria, sparking parliamentary interest in several of the countries that are part of the Operation Inherent Resolve military coalition, including Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the UK. Russia appeared to delight in the propaganda value of the disclosure, although as it has its own stocks of DU weapons, once again abstained on the resolution.

UN’s Sixth Committee debates principle on toxic remnants of war

In a move that could have ramifications for the development of post-conflict obligations for DU clearance, the toxic and hazardous remnants of war were also on agenda of the UN General Assembly’s Sixth Committee. While the DU resolution was being dealt with by the General Assembly’s First Committee, its Sixth Committee, which considers legal matters, was debating the legal principles that should govern the protection of the environment after armed conflicts.

draft principle on the management of toxic remnants of war that was proposed by the International Law Commission was backed by a number of states, although the US, Israel and the Netherlands registered objections to any attempt to expand the definition of remnants of war beyond explosive remnants of war. Two other principles, on post-conflict remedial measures and on information sharing were also on the agenda, both of which could help inform DU clearance practice in future.

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Terrorists Used Precision Fire on Hospital in Aleppo, They Had Exact Coordinates


The terrorists used precision fire on the Russian Defense Ministry mobile hospital in Syria’s Aleppo, they definitely had its exact coordinates, the Kremlin spokesman said Tuesday.

“Of course, it was precision fire. It confirmed the fact that the militants who shelled [the Russian Defense Ministry mobile hospital in Aleppo] had the exact coordinates,” Dmitry Peskov said.

Moreover, Russia would like to see a more accountable stance on the Aleppo hospital shelling from its Western partners.

“We regret that in fact Russia alone is trying to provide humanitarian aid to the civilians who’re leaving eastern Aleppo trying to escape militant captivity. We would welcome a much more accountable position from our Western partners on this issue,” Peskov said.

On Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that alleged Syrian opposition militants had shelled a Russian military hospital killing a combat medic and injuring two others in Aleppo. One of the injured later also succumbed to her wounds.

“Beyond any doubt, militants of the ‘opposition’ were the ones firing. We understand, from whom the militants received accurate data and coordinates of the Russian hospital admission department,” he said.

The military official pointed out that the responsibility for killing and wounding medics, who were providing aid to Aleppo children, lied not only on those who opened fire.

“The blood of our servicemen is also on the hands of those who ordered the killing … On you, patrons of terrorists from the United States, Great Britain, France and other sympathizing countries,” Konashenkov said. Later he said that those who shelled the Russian hospital in Aleppo and those who ordered the shelling must be held equally responsible. Konashenkov also called on the international community to condemn the attack.

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Russia, China Block UN Security Council Resolution on Aleppo Truce

Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem,Sr

Russia and China have vetoed a UN Security Council resolution which would have mandated a seven-day ceasefire in Syria’s Aleppo.

On Monday, Russia stated that a truce would only permit the militants to regroup and that the subject requires further talks between Moscow and Washington.

The resolution, drafted by New Zealand, Egypt and Spain, was also blocked by Venezuela, while Angola abstained from voting with the remaining 11 members voting in its favor.

“These kinds of pauses have been used by fighters to reinforce their ammunition and to strengthen their positions and this will only worsen the suffering of civilians,” said Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s permanent envoy to the UN.

“The draft resolution contradicts the work of the Council because it was put in a late time today, and it is not possible to vote on it before tomorrow, in addition there was no consensus on this issue,” he added.

He noted the draft resolution also contradicts upcoming talks between Russian and American experts aimed at removal of all militants from eastern Aleppo.

“The draft resolution put for voting today didn’t include any talk about the exit of gunmen from the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, but about an immediate ceasefire, thus, it will be left ten days for the gunmen to mobilize their forces and re-organize their ranks,” he said.

Syria’s envoy to the UN Bashar al-Ja’afari said that the draft resolution had been an attempt by Western countries to support the militants in Aleppo.

He noted that the US, France and Britain, who all voted for the resolution, were turning a blind eye towards the suffering of civilians in Aleppo by supporting the terrorists.

He further vowed that the Syrian army would continue to battle the Saudi Zio-Wahhabi terrorists until they are all destroyed.

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The Bribe of the Century: EU will Give Assad Money if he Allows Al Qaeda to Rule Over Parts of Syria

Assad carte

This may very well be the bribe of the century.

Instead of helping EU citizens suffering from years of austerity, poverty and misery, the EU oligarchs ruling in Brussels prefer to give EU cash on hand to Al Qaeda and ISIS Wahhabi terrorists.

Yesterday The Duran reported on EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, issuing a warning that the fall of Aleppo will not end the war in Syria.

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs was quoted by ITV during a conference in Rome saying…

“I’m convinced the fall of Aleppo will not end the war.”

The Times UK is now reporting that the EU is preparing a sinister offer to Assad, which will be the EU’s special way to “end the war” in Syria, while preserving the huge financial investment the EU globalists committed to funding and training jihadists to overthrow the Assad government.

RT reports on the EU bribe to save Al Qaeda…

The EU is reportedly planning to offer Damascus financial aid in exchange for allowing rebel forces stay in power in some regions of Syria. Brussels is no longer insisting on the retirement of Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to the Times.

The new proposals from the EU were voiced by its foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, at a meeting with opposition leaders two weeks ago, the British newspaper reported. They reflect developments on the ground, as the Syrian Army has scored several victories and is about to take complete control over Aleppo.

A source close to the western-backed Syrian opposition (aka Al Qaeda) told The Times…

“What Mogherini wanted to do was present an EU plan – this is how to solve the conflict.”

“There’s a transition, but the details are vague. In return, if all sides agree and everyone does what the EU says, there’s a huge pot of money.”

RT reports further…

“Political transition” is a term used by all foreign stakeholders in the Syrian conflict to describe an end to hostilities and the forming of a new system of governance in the country, though various parties have vastly different views on what that transition would look like.

The rebels have for years insisted that the transition must include the ousting of Bashar Assad, while their western backers have repeated the mantra “Assad must go.” But the latest European plan no longer mentions the president’s future, the report said.

Brussels now consents to Assad remaining head of the Syrian government, but wants a “devolution of power to Syria’s provinces, which would allow for ‘moderate rebel’ forces to be integrated into local security forces.”

The EU is willing to offer financial aid to both the Syrian government and the rebels to sweeten the deal, the Times said. The report suggested that paying Damascus is preferable to dealing with the continued exodus of Syrian refugees to the EU, which is “contributing to electoral chaos across the continent” and “destroying Europe’s political fabric.”

To summarize. The bankrupt EU is ready to pay Assad money if he gives Al Qaeda autonomy in various parts of Syria.

We are certain that Al Qaeda’s autonomous regions will never try to overthrow the Damascus government. We are also certain that Saudi Arabia, the US, Turkey, and the EU will stop pouring weapons and cash into this Al Qaeda protectorate.

And the real win for the EU…no more migrants pouring into Europe. Mogherini is really onto something here. Its a real win-win for the entire region and continent of Europe (sarcasm folks).

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