Archive | May 8th, 2017

The McCarthyism of Russia-gate

NOVANEWS
 

Congressional demands for personal and business information from several of Donald Trump’s campaign advisers demonstrate how the Russia-gate investigation continues to spill over into a new breed of McCarthyism infringing on civil liberties, including freedom of speech and freedom of association.

The original thinking had been that congressional and other investigations would concentrate on specific concerns from alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, such as whether a Trump intermediary somehow conveyed purloined Democratic emails to WikiLeaks for publication on the Internet.

WikiLeaks denies getting the leaked emails from Russians and the Trump campaign denies colluding with Russians, but President Obama’s intelligence chiefs claimed that Russian agents hacked the emails and then used intermediaries to get the material to WikiLeaks – although no real evidence of that has been presented publicly.

Former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

However, instead of zeroing in on that central question, the Senate investigation appears engaged in a fishing expedition looking at virtually every contact between Trump advisers and Russians, who may or may not have ties to the government. The demands are so broad that they could entrap the targets for perceived obstruction of an official investigation if some name or contact is left off, intentionally or by accident.

For instance, the Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded from ex-Trump foreign adviser Carter Page, who has extensive business dealings and personal contacts in Russia, the names and details of pretty much anyone he contacted over an 18-month period who could be a Russian official or somehow connected to a Russian business.

In a letter dated April 28, the committee’s top Republican, Richard Burr of North Carolina, and top Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, gave Page until May 9 to provide:

“A list of all meetings between you and any Russian official or representative of Russian business interests which took place between June 16, 2015, and January 20, 2017. For each meeting listed, please include the date, location, all individuals present, and complete copies of any notes taken by you or on your behalf.”

Meetings with Campaign

Further, the committee set a deadline of May 19 for Page to also supply:

“A list of all meetings of which you are aware between any individual with the Trump campaign and any Russian official or representative of Russian business interests which took place between June 16, 2015, and January 20, 2017. For each meeting listed please include the date, location, and all individuals present.”

By the same deadline, the committee demanded:

“All communications records, including electronic communications records such as e-mail or text messages, written correspondence, and phone records of communications which took place between June 16, 2015, and January 20, 2017, to which you and any Russian official or representative of Russian business interests was a party.

“All communications records, including electronic communications records such as e-mail or text message, written correspondence, and phone records, of communications related in any way to Russia, conducted between you and members and advisors of the Trump campaign.

“All information regarding your financial and real estate holdings related to Russia between June 16, 2015, and January 20, 2017, including those financial securities or real estate holdings which you sold or from which you divested in that time period.”

Similar information requests reportedly have been sent to other Trump campaign advisers, including Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn.

Given the extent of Page’s dealings in Russia, which included having lived there for several years, the broad information demand amounts to a perjury trap because even if Page tried his best to supply all the personal, phone and email contacts, he would be sure to miss something or someone, thus setting him up for prosecution for obstructing an investigation or lying to investigators.

A FISA Warrant

Also, since the Obama administration reportedly obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant against Page last summer, the U.S. government may well have more complete records of Page’s contacts and communications than he would, thus putting him into even greater legal jeopardy for an omission.

The FISA warrant was allegedly obtained, in part, because of a speech that Page delivered in Russia on July 7, 2016, that was mildly critical of U.S. foreign policy toward the countries of the former Soviet Union. Beginning in late July, that FBI investigation then expanded into a much wider probe of people connected to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign with possible links to Russia.

In an article about the origins of the investigation of Page and other Trump advisers, The New York Times characterized Page’s July speech to the New Economic School in Moscow as critical of “American policy toward Russia in terms that echoed the position of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.”

The Times then quoted one line from the speech in which Page said,

“Washington and other Western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change.”

The Times article by Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti and Adam Goldman added:

“His [Page’s] remarks accorded with Mr. Trump’s positive view of the Russian president, which had prompted speculation about what Mr. Trump saw in Mr. Putin — more commonly denounced in the United States as a ruthless, anti-Western autocrat.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (right) talks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, with John Brennan and other national security aides present. (Photo credit: Office of Director of National Intelligence)

In reality, Page’s speech was much more nuanced than the Times presented. His central point was that the hasty transformation of the former Soviet Union from state-controlled to free market economies led to unintended consequences, including increased corruption.

“As the state remained dominant and new markets were simultaneously established following the breakup of the Soviet Union, members of these societies devised other methods and means of survival through corruption,” Page said, adding that the West was not entirely innocent of similar problems:

“These approaches mirror several corrupt tendencies at times found in Western societies. Some may be clear-cut such as the Bernard Madoff scandal in financial markets and Enron in the energy sector, while others are more subtle such as the perceived societal injustices highlighted by the Occupy Wall Street movement.”

In other words, Page’s comments fell well within a reasonable assessment of the troubles that have occurred within the countries of the former Soviet Union. Page also recognized that the West – despite its sometimes holier-than-thou attitude toward less-developed nations – has its own problems with both criminal corruption and the more subtle variety of Wall Street machinations. After all, the 2008 financial crisis stripped common citizens of both America and Europe of trillions of dollars in lost assets and costs from government bailouts.

Echoing Putin?

But note how The New York Times characterized Page’s remarks as having “echoed the position of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia,” suggesting that Page, a former U.S. Navy officer, was somehow demonstrating disloyalty.

The Times also suggested that Page’s opinions as expressed in his speech contributed to the Obama administration’s decision to seek and obtain a FISA warrant that allowed the U.S. government to monitor his communications as a suspected foreign agent.

Normally, such intrusive government action against a citizen for expressing his opinions – whether they “echoed” the views of President Putin or not – would alarm defenders of civil liberties. However, since Page briefly served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump – and much of the civil liberties community has enlisted in the #Resistance to Trump over his presumed threats to civil liberties – there has been extraordinary silence about the McCarthyistic treatment of Page and other Trump advisers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, following his address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 28, 2015. (UN Photo)

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who served briefly as President Trump’s national security adviser, has already had a taste of how the U.S. government’s surveillance powers can entrap a citizen in a “process” crime, such as lying to investigators or obstructing justice.

On Dec. 29, 2016, several weeks before Trump’s inauguration, Flynn – while vacationing in the Dominican Republic – took a phone call from Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which they apparently discussed mounting tensions between Washington and Moscow, as U.S. intelligence officials surreptitiously listened in.

Because Flynn was not officially part of the government at the time of the call, Obama administration appointees at the Justice Department created a pretext for a criminal investigation by citing the Logan Act, a law enacted in 1799 to prohibit private citizens from negotiating with foreign adversaries but never used to convict anyone, ever. The law also is of dubious constitutionality and was surely never intended to apply to a president-elect’s advisers.

However, based on that flimsy pretext, FBI agents – with a transcript of the electronic intercept of the Kislyak-Flynn phone call in hand – tested Flynn’s memory of the conversation and found his recollections incomplete. Flynn also has come under criticism for giving a paid speech in 2015 to a dinner in Moscow honoring the tenth anniversary of the Russian television station, RT. Under mounting media and political pressure, President Trump fired Flynn.

The New McCarthyism

So, while one can legitimately criticize Flynn’s judgment, the larger civil-liberties issue surrounding the Russia-gate investigation is the prospect of criminalizing otherwise innocuous contacts with Russia and punishing American citizens for resisting the New Cold War.

Many Democrats, liberals and even some progressives appear excited over the prospect of wielding this new McCarthyism against Trump’s advisers with the hope that Russia-gate can be built up into a case for Trump’s impeachment.

But the precedents that are being set could be very dangerous for the long term. If Americans can be put under invasive FISA warrants for going abroad and criticizing U.S. policies or if intercepted phone calls can be used to test the memories of citizens during FBI interviews, many of the warnings from civil libertarians about the dangers of “war on terror” surveillance powers being applied more broadly may be coming true.

Green Party leader Jill Stein and retired Lt. General Michael Flynn attending a dinner marking the RT network’s 10-year anniversary in Moscow, December 2015, sitting at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After receiving the sweeping congressional demands for documents and other data, Carter Page, who is an oil industry consultant with numerous foreign contacts including in Russia, responded by taking note of the reported FISA surveillance of him, writing to Senators Burr and Warner:

“I remain committed to helping the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in any way that I can. But please note that any records I may have saved as a private citizen with limited technology capabilities will be miniscule in comparison to the full database of information which has already been collected under the direction of the Obama Administration during last year’s completely unjustified FISA warrant that targeted me for exercising my First Amendment rights, both in 2016 as well as in years prior.

“As a starting point for this latest step in the witch hunt which you suggested per the cumbersome chores defined in your … letter, I would request that you please begin by sharing [with me] the same information which you currently have … Based on the database of my personal information already collected during the Obama Administration’s domestic political intelligence operations which reportedly began at some point last year, it seems clear that many of the weighty task[s] you assigned will have already been largely completed.

“As a lone individual, I can assure you that my personal administrative capabilities pale in comparison to the clerical juggernaut represented by the numerous staff in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. Government which have heretofore been allegedly involved in this unscrupulous surveillance for many months on end.”

Whether justified or not, the FISA surveillance of Page – and thus likely others whom he contacted – may create the basis for some kind of criminal charges against him. Other Trump advisers may be tripped up on various process crimes, such as failure to report properly under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, another law that gets enforced selectively mostly against people without political pull.

In an interview on Friday, Page told me that he was a small player who was innocent of violating any laws but who became an “obvious” target for the Obama administration’s effort to undermine the Trump campaign.

“I don’t have [political] protection and I have genuine, deep Russian connections,” he said, adding that compliance with the Senate’s demands would require him reviewing “thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls. … It defies all logic and common sense.”

But the reality of Official Washington is that once momentum builds up around a “scandal,” someone has to get convicted of something – or all the Important People who have weighed in on the “affair” will look stupid. In Russia-gate, however, important principles about the right to dissent, the right to privacy and the right to associate freely are getting trampled.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Did-You-Talk-to-Russians Witch-hunt.”]

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US Congressional Bill Calls for Inspections of Russian Far East Seaports, Sanctions against North Korea

On May 4, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to impose new sanctions on North Korea targeting its shipping industry and slave labor among other things as tensions continued to mount over North Korea’s advancing nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The Korean Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act (H.R. 1644) is designed to undercut North Korea’s economy by cracking down on the network of banks and industries that help it avoid Western sanctions. In particular, it cracks down on North Korean shipping and use of international ports.

The bill bars ships owned by North Korea or by countries that refuse to comply with UN resolutions from operating in American waters or docking at US ports. The legislation also targets those who employ North Korean slave labor. Anyone who uses the slave labor that North Korea exports to other countries would be subject to sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The Act also requires the Trump administration to determine within 90 days whether North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism. Such a designation would trigger more sanctions, including restriction on US foreign assistance.

The bill includes “inspection authorities” over Chinese, Iranian, Syrian and Russian ports. The latter include the ports of Nakhodka, Vanino and Vladivostok.

No UN Security Council’s resolution delegated the authority to inspect foreign seaports to the United States. The inclusion of such measures is seen as a hostile act. The legislation is a flagrant violation of international law.

Perhaps, the US lawmakers have not been informed that inspections of ships in Asia-Pacific are regulated by the Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control in the Asia-Pacific Region, known as the Tokyo MOU, which has been in force since April 1994. Its section 3 called Inspection Procedures, Rectification and Detention describes in detail the procedures of ships inspections. Under the document, the US has no special rights to inspect foreign ships.

Suppose Russia or China introduced a special legislation foreseeing “inspection authorities” regarding US merchant vessels and specific American seaports, would the Congress accept it? Would the US administration and lawmakers put up with it? Do the representatives not realize that the bill violates the concept of international security and will be met with an adequate response?

The text of the bill calls for compliance with the UN resolutions but no Security Council resolution ever mentioned Russian seaports. Do the lawmakers not understand that the idea of inspecting Russian seaports and ships is as realistic as dogs complying with barking ban? It’s surprising that the bill in question was approved by such overwhelming majority without much debate regarding the consequences if it becomes law.

The previous Congress went to any length to spoil the bilateral relations with Russia. The current Congress is doing the same thing. As soon as the prospects for improving the Russia-US relations open up, Congress steps in to create artificial hurdles on the way. Always the same song and dance.

Here is another example. On May 3, the House of Representatives passed the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) for Fiscal Year 2017. The bill envisions the creation of a new powerful committee across the security to thwart “covert Russian political interference around the world”. The new body would bring together the representatives of the FBI, State Department, Pentagon, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Justice Department, Treasury Department, the 16 intelligence agencies and any other agency, if the president deems it necessary.

Its activities can be broadened to include “such other duties as the president may designate” what constitutes a potentially expansive mandate. The bill requires the committee to prepare an annual report to key congressional panels on anti-Russian efforts. So, there will be a new committee created to duplicate the work of other agencies. This is a good example of what bloated bureaucracy means.

The bill would also restrict Russian diplomats from traveling more than 50 miles from official embassies and consulates without the effective permission of the FBI Director.

The Russian and US presidents talked on the phone on May 2, discussing the prospects for cooperation on such burning problems as North Korea and Syria. Neither can be solved without coordination of activities between the two great powers. The issues are hot on the world agenda and the interest is common. If the abovementioned bill becomes law, confrontation would be unavoidable. Nobody will win, everyone will lose. Hopefully, Senate and President Trump would be reasonable enough to prevent it from happening.

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The Universal Lesson of East Timor

NOVANEWS
 

Filming undercover in East Timor in 1993 I followed a landscape of crosses: great black crosses etched against the sky, crosses on peaks, crosses marching down the hillsides, crosses beside the road. They littered the earth and crowded the eye. 

The inscriptions on the crosses revealed the extinction of whole families, wiped out in the space of a year, a month, a day. Village after village stood as memorials. 

Kraras is one such village. Known as the “village of the widows”, the population of 287 people was murdered by Indonesian troops.

Using a typewriter with a faded ribbon, a local priest had recorded the name, age, cause of death and date of the killing of every victim. In the last column, he identified the Indonesian battalion responsible for each murder. It was evidence of genocide. 

Image result for kraras

Kraras massacre

I still have this document, which I find difficult to put down, as if the blood of East Timor is fresh on its pages. 

On the list is the dos Anjos family. 

In 1987, I interviewed Arthur Stevenson, known as Steve, a former Australian commando who had fought the Japanese in the Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1942. He told me the story of Celestino dos Anjos, whose ingenuity and bravery had saved his life, and the lives of other Australian soldiers fighting behind Japanese lines. 

Steve described the day leaflets fluttered down from a Royal Australian Air Force plane;

“We shall never forget you,” the leaflets said.

Soon afterwards, the Australians were ordered to abandon the island of Timor, leaving the people to their fate.

When I met Steve, he had just received a letter from Celestino’s son, Virgillo, who was the same age as his own son. Virgillo wrote that his father had survived the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, but he went on:

“In August 1983, Indonesian forces entered our village, Kraras. They looted, burned and massacred, with fighter aircraft overhead. On 27 September 1983, they made my father and my wife dig their own graves and they machine-gunned them. My wife was pregnant.” 

The Kraras list is an extraordinary political document that shames Indonesia’s Faustian partners in the West and teaches us how much of the world is run. The fighter aircraft that attacked Kraras came from the United States; the machine guns and surface-to-air missiles came from Britain; the silence and betrayal came from Australia. 

The priest of Kraras wrote on the final page:

“To the capitalist governors of the world, Timor’s petroleum smells better than Timorese blood and tears. Who will take this truth to the world? … It is evident that Indonesia would never have committed such a crime if it had not received favourable guarantees from [Western] governments.” 

As the Indonesian dictator General Suharto was about to invade East Timor (the Portuguese had abandoned their colony), he tipped off the ambassadors of Australia, the United States and Britain. In secret cables subsequently leaked, the Australian ambassador, Richard Woolcott, urged his government to

“act in a way which would be designed to minimise the public impact in Australia and show private understanding to Indonesia.”

He alluded to the beckoning spoils of oil and gas in the Timor Sea that separated the island from northern Australia.

Image result for general suharto

General Suharto 

There was no word of concern for the Timorese.

In my experience as a reporter, East Timor was the greatest crime of the late 20th century. I had much to do with Cambodia, yet not even Pol Pot put to death as many people – proportionally — as Suharto killed and starved in East Timor. 

In 1993, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Australian Parliament estimated that “at least 200,000” East Timorese, a third of the population, had perished under Suharto. 

Australia was the only western country formally to recognise Indonesia’s genocidal conquest. The murderous Indonesian special forces known as Kopassus were trained by Australian special forces at a base near Perth. The prize in resources, said Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, was worth “zillions” of dollars.

Image result for Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy

In my 1994 film, Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, a gloating Evans is filmed lifting a champagne glass as he and Ali Alatas, Suharto’s foreign minister, fly over the Timor Sea, having signed a piratical treaty that divided the oil and gas riches of the Timor Sea. 

I also filmed witnesses such as Abel Gutteras, now the Ambassador of Timor-Leste (East Timor’s post independence name) to Australia. He told me,

“We believe we can win and we can count on all those people in the world to listen — that nothing is impossible, and peace and freedom are always worth fighting for.” 

Remarkably, they did win. Many people all over the world did hear them, and a tireless movement added to the pressure on Suharto’s backers in Washington, London and Canberra to abandon the dictator. 

But there was also a silence. For years, the free press of the complicit countries all but ignored East Timor. There were honourable exceptions, such as the courageous Max Stahl, who filmed the 1991 massacre in the Santa Cruz cemetery. Leading journalists almost literally fell at the feet of Suharto. In a photograph of a group of Australian editors visiting Jakarta, led by the Murdoch editor Paul Kelly, one of them is bowing to Suharto, the genocidist. 

From 1999 to 2002, the Australian Government took an estimated $1.2 billion in revenue from one oil and gas field in the Timor Sea. During the same period, Australia gave less than $200 million in so-called aid to East Timor. 

In 2002, two months before East Timor won its independence, as Ben Doherty reported in January,

“Australia secretly withdrew from the maritime boundary dispute resolution procedures of the UN convention the Law of the Sea, and the equivalent jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, so that it could not be compelled into legally binding international arbitration”. 

The former Prime Minister John Howard has described his government’s role in East Timor’s independence as “noble”. Howard’s foreign minister, Alexander Downer, once burst into the cabinet room in Dili, East Timor, and told Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri,

“We are very tough … Let me give you a tutorial in politics …” 

Today, it is Timor-Leste that is giving the tutorial in politics. After years of trickery and bullying by Canberra, the people of Timor-Leste have demanded and won the right to negotiate before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) a legal maritime boundary and a proper share of the oil and gas. 

Australia owes Timor Leste a huge debt — some would say, billions of dollars in reparations. Australia should hand over, unconditionally, all royalties collected since Gareth Evans toasted Suharto’s dictatorship while flying over the graves of its victims. 

The Economist lauds Timor-Leste as the most democratic country in southeast Asia today. Is that an accolade? Or does it mean approval of a small and vulnerable country joining the great game of globalisation? 

For the weakest, globalisation is an insidious colonialism that enables transnational finance and its camp-followers to penetrate deeper, as Edward Said wrote, than the old imperialists in their gun boats. 

It can mean a model of development that gave Indonesia, under Suharto, gross inequality and corruption; that drove people off their land and into slums, then boasted about a growth rate. 

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The people of Timor-Leste deserve better than faint praise from the “capitalist governors of the world”, as the priest of Kraras wrote. They did not fight and die and vote for entrenched poverty and a growth rate. They deserve the right to sustain themselves when the oil and gas run out as it will. At the very least, their courage ought to be a beacon in our  memory: a universal political lesson. 

Bravo, Timor-Leste. Bravo and beware.

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French Presidential Election 2017: Nothing Succeeds Like Success. Macron “Selected”. Billionaires and Bankers Rejoice

NOVANEWS
 

There is great rejoicing tonight in places accustomed to rejoicing. The best champagne must be flowing in places that have plenty of it, chez Bernard Arnault, for example, first fortune in France (eleventh in the world), owner among so much else of the newspapers Parisien, Aujourd’hui France and Echos, all fervent supporters of Emmanuel Macron. The glasses should be clinking also wherever the peripatetic billionaire Patrick Drahi finds himself, born in Morocco, double French-Israeli nationality, resident of Switzerland, owner of a vast media and telecom empire, including the epitome of post-May ’68 turncoatism, the tabloid Libération, which ran a headline calling on voters to cast their ballots for Macron a day after the public campaign was legally over.

The list is long of billionaires, bankers and establishment figures who have a right to rejoice at the extraordinary success of a candidate who got elected President of the French Republic on the claim to be “an outsider”, whereas nobody in history has ever been so unanimously supported by all the insiders you can name.

There should also be satisfaction in the embassies of all the countries whose governments openly interfered in the French election – the U.S. of course, but also Germany, Belgium, Italy and Canada, among others, who earnestly exhorted the French to make the right choice: Macron, of course. All these champions of Western democracy can all join in gloating over the nonexistent but failed interference of Russia – for which there is no evidence, but part of the fun of a NATOland election these days is to accuse the Russians of meddling.

As for the French, abstention was nearly record-breaking, as much of the left could not vote for the self-proclaimed enemy of labor law but dared not vote for the opposition candidate, Marine Le Pen, because one just cannot vote for someone who was labeled “extreme right” or even “fascist” by an incredible campaign of denigration, even though she displayed no visible symptom of fascism and her program was favorable to lower income people and to world peace. Words count in France, where the terror of being accused of sharing World War II guilt is overwhelming.

Surveys indicate that as much as 40% of Macron voters chose him solely to “block” the alleged danger of voting for Marine Le Pen.

Others on the left voted for Macron vowing publicly that they will “fight him” once he is elected. Fat chance.

There may be street demonstrations in coming months, but that will have little impact on Macron’s promise to tear up French labor law by decree and free labor and management to fight it out between themselves, at a time when management is powerful thanks to delocalizations and labor is disorganized and enfeebled by the various effects of globalization.

As Jean Bricmont put it, outgoing French President François Hollande deserves a Nobel Prize for political manipulation.

At a time when he and his government were so unpopular that everyone was looking forward to the election as a chance to get rid of them, Hollande, with zealous assistance from of the major media, leading banks and oligarchs of various stripes, succeeded in promoting his little-known economic advisor into the candidate of “change”, neither left nor right, a totally fresh, new political star – supported by all the old politicians that the public wanted to get rid of.

This is quite an amazing demonstration of the power of “communications” in contemporary society, a triumph for the advertising industry, mainstream media and the billionaires who own all of that.

France was perceived as a potential weak link in the globalization project of eliminating national sovereignty in favor of the worldwide reign of capital. Thanks to an extraordinary effort, this danger has been averted. At least for now.

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United States Says ‘Yes’ to Nuclear Weapons Tests, ‘No’ to a Nuke Ban Treat

NOVANEWS

US military: “We are prepared to use nuclear weapons”

 

Twice in seven days the United States shot nuclear-capable long-range missiles toward the Marshall Islands, but the same government refused in March to join negotiations for a new treaty banning nuclear weapons.

Tests conducted April 26 and May 3 from Vandenberg Air Force Base launched modernized Minuteman-3 ballistic missiles, and the US Air Force said in a statement that such tests ensure

“the United States’ ability to maintain a strong, credible nuclear deterrent as a key element of US national security…”

A Taurus rocket carrying the ROCSAT-2 satellite lifts-off from Vandenberg AFB

A Taurus rocket carrying Taiwan’s ROCSAT-2 satellite lifts-off from Space Launch Complex 576E at Vandenberg AFB.
Image courtesy U.S. Air Force.

In late March, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley explained why the US would boycott the “treaty ban” negotiations that began March 27 at the UN in New York City. Haley said about nuclear weapons,

“[W]e can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them, and those of us that are good, trying to keep peace and safety not to have them.”

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US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley

North Korean president Kim Jong-un could have said the same thing about his seven nuclear warheads, especially in view of US bombs and missiles currently falling on seven countries — Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya — and engagement in massive war games off the Korean peninsula.

Ambassador Haley managed to avoid being two-faced on one level. Joining the ban treaty talks would have been openly hypocritical while her colleagues in the war department were preparing both new nuclear weapons production and a series of test launches. Another April test, at the Tonopah bombing range in Nevada, dropped a so-called “B61-12” the newest US H-bomb now in development and scheduled to go into production after 2022.

Jackie Cabasso, of the Western States Legal Foundation, explained April 20,

“In 1997… President Bill Clinton signed Presidential Directive-60, reaffirming the threatened first use of nuclear weapons as the ‘cornerstone’ of US national security.… President Obama left office with the US poised to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to maintain and modernize its nuclear bombs and warheads…. Over the past couple of years, the US has conducted a series of drop tests of the newly modified B61-12 gravity bomb…. Each new bomb will cost more than twice its weight in solid gold.”

Of the 480 B61s slated to become B61-12s, about 180 are scheduled to be placed at six NATO bases in Europe.

US military: “We are prepared to use nuclear weapons”

As it did Feb. 21 and Feb. 25, 2016, the Air Force regularly tests Minuteman-3s. Deputy Pentagon Chief Robert Work explained before the Feb. 25 launch that the US had tested “at least” 15 since January 2011,

“And that is a signal … that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country if necessary.”

This is a Big Lie. To “use” nuclear weapons produces only massacres, and massacres are never defensive.

Jason Ditz put the rocket tests in context for Antiwar.com:

“Everywhere and (mostly) without exception, the test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) would be angrily condemned by the United States as a dangerous provocation, and the firing of a nuclear-capable rocket would be treated as tantamount to an act of war. Not today [April 26], of course, when the missile in question was test-fired from California by the United States flying some 4,000 miles before hitting a test target near the Marshall Islands. The missile was identified as a Minuteman III, a nuclear-capable weapon of which the US has 450 in service.”

The two times Haley flubbed her March 27 “peace and safety” speech were alarming. Haley stumbled once saying,

“We would love to have a ban on nuclear treat… nuclear weapons.”

A ban on nuclear treaties is clearly what Haley’s bosses do want. So she didn’t correct herself when she said,

“One day we will hope that we are standing here saying, ‘We no longer need nuclear weapons.’”

Translation: today the US does not even hope to get rid of nuclear weapons.

Instead, the United States is simultaneously bombing and rocketing across the Middle East, hitting civilians with drones, Cruise missiles, depleted uranium, and even a 21,600-pound “Massive Ordnance Air Blast” or MOAB bomb, also tested April 13, destroying caves in Afghanistan. This giant “thermobaric” or “fuel-air” explosive (FAE) has the mass of five Lincoln Continentals, and reportedly killed 95 people including a teacher and his son. Such is the peace and safety delivered by “those of us that are good.”

One Defense Intelligence Agency report uncovered by Human Rights Watch said that because

“shock and pressure waves cause minimal damage to brain tissue…it is possible that victims of FAEs are not rendered unconscious by the blast, but instead suffer for several seconds or minutes while they suffocate.”

On March 29, two days after her UN speech Haley spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations and cleared up any confusion the Pentagon’s bombing spree might cause. Haley declared,

“The United States is the moral conscience of the world.”

Well, “And I,” Dorothy Parker said, “am Marie of Romania.”

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The US Without NATO Could Mean No Wars and Terrorism in the World

NOVANEWS
 

NATO was primarily founded by the US with then-12 members in 1949 as a bulwark against Soviet aggression. NATO’s mission terminated following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of Warsaw pact in 1991. At that time, there was no giant beyond Soviet Union to take up position, though the US scrambled to keep NATO running, otherwise the disbandment of NATO could mean a recipe for the US’s shrinking of supremacy over the world.

The other advantage by maintaining NATO is that it is a combined force that allows US to hold an overall grip on the European region. NATO involves 25 European member states among others while the European Union and the NATO have 22 members in common. In this row, France, Britain and the US are nuclear powers.

According to NATO treaty’s article 5,

if a member of the organization faces direct incursion from outside powers, the rest of members shall spring into its defense.

The most spectacular example and the only tragedy ever seen that represents this article was 9/11 attacks. The NATO powers were, indeed, on their own to go for helping the US, yet the enormity of world trade center’s havoc earned their sympathy to join US forces in the invasion of Afghanistan.

NATO’s latest mission began in 2003 in Afghanistan where it deployed thousands of troops through International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). By the term NATO, the finger is pointed at those few member states that really run things and hold a massive stake on the ground. The US and UK are the only two spearheads when it comes to the Afghan war. The rests below these two in the list are just operating under NATO with far fewer troops or some may even contribute to appease the US.

The US deployed NATO forces in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Indian Ocean, of which Uzbekistan demanded several million dollars as payment for exploitation of its soil against Afghanistan.

The second to US at the helm of NATO is the UK. This leading NATO member played more like an influential conduit for the passage of NATO’s proposals and plans into the European Union. But this trend seems to start faltering after the revolutionary Brexit referendum in the UK last year. Although the NATO and UK officials have ruled out a likely split of UK from the NATO following Brexit, it is presumed that the deadlock would start to loom in the longer term – if not in near one.

NATO binds its members to dedicate at least 2 percent of their GDP for defense spending, while only five members including the US, the UK, Greece, Poland and Estonia are less or well above the target. Amazingly, the powerful economies such as Germany and France are falling short in this area.

As aftereffect of the Brexit referendum, the UK could lose the most senior military position of Deputy Supreme Allied Commander which it held for more than 60 years. The deputy leadership among other key roles could possibly slip to France.

The other turning point triggered by Brexit is the EU’s intention to speed up the creation of independent military headquarters outside NATO. This idea, however, was frequently downplayed and turned down by the UK which it saw as a threat to the role of NATO. The UK had said last year it would veto such a proposal, because it may possibly undercut UK’s vigorous engagement in NATO.

Image result for jens stoltenbergGiven the pre-emptive use of force, NATO’s chief Jens Stoltenberg last year in a meeting in Brussels urged allies to keep anti-Russian sanctions alive. He said:

“The international community must keep pressuring Russia to respect its obligations”.

If it sees all this allegations to be hurled at Russia over Ukraine’s standoff, then NATO too has to end a protracted and costly war in Afghanistan, which Russia terms as “offensive”.

It was until Russia’s annexation of Crimea when NATO and Russia led easy marriage and would strike several cooperation deals. In the wake of Crimea’s annexation – whose reason was inferred as Russia’s fear over NATO’s plan to build military headquarters there – the organization froze relationship with Russia.

As a major determinant of NATO, Germany press for exercising of sanctions against Russia at a time this country is Russia’s largest trade partner, followed by France and Italy. By all this, we discover that the NATO and the EU go on the same trajectory after the latter approved anti-Russian bans and embargoes over Ukraine’s crisis which was sparked by NATO in the first place. While others believe the EU is NATO in the guise of a Union.

Given the EU’s drastic need for Russia’s energy resources as well as the broad Russian markets for European products, the EU, more or less, is eager to cut the intensity of sanctions and edge it towards the end. Moreover, the German businessmen and economists have vocalized opposition to further and tougher sanctions on Russia.

On the heyday of NATO deployments and engagements in Afghanistan, some wrecked sectors of this victimized country were shared out among a number of members for the purpose of revival. The US assumed the training and strengthening of the Afghan Army, Japan was handed over the “Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration” (DDR) project, Germany undertook training of the Afghan police, the UK picked war on narcotics and stationed only in southern Helmand province despite having second highest number of troops following the US, and Italy took on the responsibility of the justice sector reform.

Fewer would fit into their tasks, as Japan had no servicemen or armed forces at the time to forcefully disarm the militias. And the UK’s failure to tackle narcotics is largely on display in the eyes of world as Afghanistan still ranks the first for feeding world habits of addiction, let alone the booming drug business worldwide. Lastly, Italy was a poor choice for the justice sector’s reform thanks to being a big law-breaker and Mafia country in the Europe.

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On the Syrian side, the latest chemical attack bears out the fact on the collusion and conspiracies of critical NATO members behind peppering of blames on Assad’s regime. First the US used every effort at disposal to direct the blame on Syrian government. Later the UK’s – also first in toeing the US’s line – foreign minister Boris Johnson meaninglessly called off an official trip to Russia allegedly over this country’s involvement in Syria and the gas attack. In third place, France inconsiderately released a report blaming Syrian government for chemical gas attack without a shred of evidence.

All these concurred attacks come as the international neutral investigators as well as Russian team sought to inspect the chemical attack for findings, but they said the US blocked them from participating in a formal investigation.

If it was not for NATO or concerted conspiracies, the UK’s Boris Johnson or French report had nothing to do with a far-regional chemical weapon attack, even if it was perpetrated by very Assad’s government.

The NATO’s pro-war European members are the cornerstone of the US’s decision-making process on waging a war or invading a country. North Korea, for example, might be on the brink of bursting into a war with US. Apart from South Korea’s opposition to the US-DPRK’s likely armed strife, the US might still strongly hesitate to instigate another endless conflict without consent of leading NATO members, importantly because it is unwilling to bear the brunt of costs and arms alone, and that’s why compelling of the NATO members to raise defense spending matters.

Back in 2003, France and Germany stood critical to the US war plans against Iraq. The Wall Street Journal at that time accused Germany of actively promoting American defeat. It concluded by declaring

“What President Bush calls ‘a coalition of the willing’ will become America’s new security alliance”, even though the two states continued to take several diplomatic initiatives to avert a military strike against Iraq which were not well covered in media.

The same year, French president Jacques Chirac and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin presented a joint declaration by France, Germany and Russia calling for extended weapons inspections in Iraq. It said:

“There is still an alternative to war. The use of violence can only be the last resort”.

It was a riposte to President Bush’s remarks just a week earlier that said,

“The game is over”.

After NATO representatives from Germany, France and Belgium vetoed military preparations for the protection of Turkey in case of war in Iraq, President Bush publicly accused Berlin, Paris and Brussels of “damaging NATO”.

Most NATO allies were distaste to the US’s invasion of Iraq, because the ploy to draw them into this [Iraq] war was not as elaborate as that of Afghanistan [9/11 attacks] and unconvincing for the European members. More than a decade later now, we notice a U-turn or a fair degree of rotation in some European and NATO members’ posture towards globalization of war and warmongering. It can be concluded that if major aides of the US – the UK, France and Germany – withhold military and non-military support to this superpower, the peace may descend into the earth over the long haul.

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After The South Korean Election: The Movement That Ousted Park Cannot Rest

NOVANEWS
 

War threats before a major political election had been effective in the past in swinging the South Korean electorate to the right, but not this year. The conservative camp is battered and split into two warring parties following the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye. The general public—its collective consciousness heightened through the mass protests that successfully ousted Park—is no longer rallying behind hawkish candidates who fan public paranoia to garner votes.

Barring a last-minute surprise upset, liberal democrat Moon Jae-in will be the next president of South Korea. But does he truly represent the interests of the millions who took to the streets to unseat Park and demand systemic change? And what are the tasks facing the left vis a vis the new administration? These are the questions this article will discuss, but first, let’s quickly review the field of candidates.

A Brief Run-down of the Candidates

Moon Jae-in

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Front-runner Moon Jae-in is arguably the greatest beneficiary of the mass protests that led to Park’s impeachment. Widespread discontent against Park and her party as well as the public’s desire for political change have catapulted Moon of the main opposition Minjoo Party to the front of the pack with a significant lead over all other candidates.

Moon was the Chief of Staff for the late former President Roh Moo-hyun, who ruled from 2003 to 2008 and continued his predecessor Kim Dae-jung’s “sunshine policy” of engagement and economic cooperation with North Korea. If elected, Moon will likely reverse South Korea’s policy toward North Korea to one of engagement. He has pledged to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex—the joint inter-Korean economic project that was the last remaining hallmark of peaceful North-South engagement before it was shut down by the Park Geun-hye administration in 2016.

The question is, if Moon is elected, will the United States be willing to recalibrate its strategy to allow Moon to lead? And if not, how much will Moon stand up to the United States to chart an independent path?

Ahn Cheol-soo

Image result for Ahn Cheol-sooThe runner-up, according to polls, is Ahn Cheol-soo, who defected from the Minjoo Party to establish the centrist People’s Party in the lead-up to the 2016 general election. His public branding as a successful entrepreneur and political outsider had once made him wildly popular among young people. But his rightward shift in an attempt to court the conservative vote in the aftermath of Park’s impeachment has estranged him from his former fans. He promotes strengthening South Korea’s alliance with the United States and expanding it to a “comprehensive strategic alliance” that includes closer cooperation not just militarily but also in the areas of politics, economy and culture.

Hong Jun-pyo 

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Neck and neck with Ahn is Hong Joon-pyo, the governor of South Gyeongsang province and the candidate of the Liberty Korea Party, the right-wing faction of the conservative split. Hong has appealed to South Korea’s far right by doubling down on his conservative positions and slinging mud at his liberal opponents. He has said he wants to bring U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea and has blamed gay people for the spread of HIV/AIDS. 

Sim Sang-jung

Image result for Sim Sang-jungSupport for Sim Sang-jung of the left-leaning Justice Party climbed to a record 11.4 percent in the week leading up to the election. Disaffected voters disappointed by Ahn Cheol-soo’s rightward shift are turning to Sim whose progressive and principled stance on issues such as LGBT rights appeals to young voters seeking change. After splitting off in 2012 from the Unified Progressive Party, which was forcibly dissolved a few years later by Park Geun-hye, the Justice Party has embraced pragmatism over left ideology and rebranded itself as a reformist party to appeal to a broader public. The leaders of the party will likely take official positions in the new liberal democratic administration. Whether the party can consolidate forces on the left to build on the momentum of the mass movement that ousted Park and push for systemic change remains doubtful. 

Yoo Seong-min

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Trailing far behind the rest of the pack is Yoo Seong-min, who represents the moderate, anti-Park faction of the conservative camp. He once served as Park Geun-hye’s chief of staff when she was a lawmaker in the National Assembly. But the two grew apart when his open criticisms of her policies drew her ire and he was excluded from the Saenuri Party’s nomination process in the 2016 general election. During Park’s political scandal, Yoo left the Saenuri Party to help found the splinter Bareun Party. His strongest base is in the conservative stronghold of Daegu and North Gyeongsang province.

Whoever is President, the Mass Movement Cannot Rest

Park’s historic impeachment, which created the opportunity for the upcoming election, did not come about through the political strength or deft maneuvering of the opposition parties. It was the organized power of millions of ordinary people, who rejected Park’s corrupt rule and took to the streets week after week, that pushed the wavering opposition parties into action. 

And that mass movement has now just about handed the presidency to Moon Jae-in. As a liberal democrat, Moon is far better than Park whose authoritarian rule rolled back decades of gains made by the country’s pro-democracy forces. But his party has done little to challenge the previous administration’s labor market reform initiative or block the ongoing deployment of a controversial U.S. missile defense system in Seongju. South Korean progressives note with bitterness that negotiations on the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, which has led to privatization of public services, such as healthcare, began when Moon was in the Blue House as the chief of staff for former President Roh Moo-hyun. 

Clearly, the mass movement that ousted Park cannot rest after May 9 if it wants real change. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this year’s election is that while people power created a historic opportunity for change, there is no political party that can consolidate that power and build on its momentum to fight for issues that are important to the broad majority of working people.

A decade of conservative rule—from Lee Myung-bak to Park Geun-hye, who jailed many opposition leaders, including Han Sang-gyun, the president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, and forced the dissolution of the opposition Unified Progressive Party—has battered and fragmented South Korea’s organized left. Whoever is president after May 9, the left has a lot of ground to regain.

The Rise and Fall of the Democratic Labor Party

The South Korean left’s entry into the political arena has its roots in the mass uprisings of 1987, a pivotal year for the country in many regards. The decades-long South Korean struggle for democracy culminated in the June people’s uprising of 1987 and finally put an end to a succession of U.S.-backed military dictatorships. The following months of mass labor strikes in industrial manufacturing zones across South Korea laid the groundwork for the eventual formation of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. And for the first time since the division of Korea in 1945, masses of South Koreans openly called for reconciliation towards peaceful reunification. The formation of the National Council of Student Representatives (Jeondaehyeop) led to South Korean participation in the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in Pyongyang in 1989 and the historic, defiant crossing of the DMZ by the late Reverend Moon Ik-hwan and then-student activist Lim Su-kyung

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1987, paradoxically, also marked the year that South Korea’s economy, once tightly controlled by an autocratic state, began its transition to a neoliberal market economy modeled after Reagonomics. Thus, the South Korean political forces post-1987 comprised of a political and economic ruling class that embraced neoliberalism and trampled on the rights of workers in the name of “globalization,” on the one hand, and a new democratic force borne out of militant resistance against the system of national division and capitalist exploitation on the other.

Despite major political differences on questions of strategy, the forces at the helm of the pro-democracy struggle, labor unions and social movement organizations joined together in 1987 to form the People’s Victory 21, which became the foundation for the establishment of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) in 2000. The DLP went on to garner 13% of the general vote and gain ten National Assembly seats to become the third largest political party in South Korea in 2004. Its success in 2004 was due in part to a change in election law, which, for the first time, allowed proportional representation, but it would not have been possible without disparate political forces reaching beyond their differences to come together in a united front.

For a relatively small party, the DLP played a key role in South Korean politics from 2000 to 2008. Through direct democracy, the party kept itself firmly rooted in the struggles of workers, farmers and the urban poor, who made up the majority of its membership. Its principled and persuasive positions on behalf of politically marginalized sectors forced the established parties to adopt progressive reforms and had the effect of pulling South Korea’s entire political spectrum to the left. Before its forced dissolution in 2014, the DLP’s heir, the Unified Progressive Party was the most vocal opponent of Park Geun-hye’s policies on a range of issues, from privatization of public services to her hostile stance towards North Korea. 

In the last two decades, South Korea’s political and economic system began to show signs of faltering. The inter-Korean summits between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il in 2000 and Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il in 2007 shook the very foundation of South Korea’s decades-old political system based on national division. South Korea’s economy, which once grew rapidly through neoliberal policies that forced its workforce to tighten their belts and endure longer and harsher working conditions, faced persistent crises, and its core, festering with corrupt collusion between the country’s largest conglomerates and the government, is now laid bare for the entire world to see. 

The mass candlelight protests of 2008—which brought out tens of thousands to protest the reversal of a U.S. beef import ban as part of South Korea’s free trade negotiations with the United States—and the recent protests to oust Park Geun-hye were the embittered expressions of a populace frustrated with the country’s outdated political and economic system and in search of an alternative. The words to their anthem, sung in unison at every candlelight protest, is article one of the constitution: “The Republic of Korea is a democratic republic. All state authority shall emanate from the people.” More than just expressions of discontent over rotten beef or the president’s secret shamanic advisor scandal, the protests raised a fundamental question: the meaning of true sovereignty.

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The left, unfortunately, has not provided an answer. Friction due to political differences on questions of strategy led to a split in the DLP in 2008 and created deep rifts within the South Korean left. 2008 also marked the beginning of a decade of conservative rule, which systematically eroded the gains made by the pro-democracy forces in the previous decades. The previous Park Geun-hye administration’s transgressions against the people—from its mishandling of the Sewol Tragedy to its backdoor deal with the Japanese government to silence the former “comfort women” who endured sexual slavery by the Japanese imperial army during WWII—are too many to enumerate. What’s more egregious is the incompetence of the existing opposition parties that have failed to stand up to these overt acts of authoritarianism. The undisguised degeneration of South Korean politics and the rightward shift of the opposition parties are a direct result of the marginalization and isolation of the organized left following the DLP’s break-up.

Time to Regain Lost Ground

The South Korean people, who declared “Basta ya!” and gave Park Geun-hye the boot are still fighting—in the melon fields of Seongju, by the watery grave at Paengmok Harbor and on picket lines small and big across the country. Whoever wins the election on May 9, the mass movement that ousted Park will need to build on the momentum of its victory and keep the pressure on in a number of fronts.

Image result for Park Geun-hye

Former President Park Geun-hye

The most pressing task for the new administration will be to mediate the current crisis between the United States and North Korea. Despite Trump’s declared willingness to sit down with Kim Jong-un, no one—not even China—is able to broker such a meeting. That has to be the task of the incoming South Korean leader. For reconciliation with the North and permanent peace on the peninsula, the South Korean people will need to press the new administration to stand up to the Trump administration and chart an independent path. Demanding the United States end its provocative war exercises in exchange for a freeze of North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests and withdraw its dangerous missile defense system in Seongju is now more urgent than ever.

The fight against the government’s labor market reform initiative—aimed at turning South Korea’s entire workforce into a disposable pool of temporary and precarious labor and undermining the power of unions—will intensify even with a liberal democrat in the Blue House. Unless the mass movement continues to press the next administration, the corrupt system exposed through the Park Geun-hye-Choi Soon-sil scandal—the cozy back-scratching relationship between South Korea’s largest conglomerates and its political leaders—will remain unchanged.

Abolishing the National Security Law—mainly used to punish political opponents, dissolve social organizations and political parties and suppress progressive voices—is a task that even Moon Jae-in failed to do as Roh Moo-hyun’s chief of staff. It will take an organized fight from the left to overturn the archaic law once and for all.

What the movement to impeach Park Geun-hye laid bare is that South Korea’s current political and economic system is no longer sustainable. It also showed clearly that state power, which confines the democratic aspirations of the people, can also be pushed back by their organized power. The fissures in the political system exposed by their struggle are openings for the broader left. 

But people power does not emerge spontaneously. Only when the people are organized through social movements and have a political party that can fight for their interests can they mount effective and sustained resistance to challenge the status quo. A left political party cannot exercise its power in the political arena without the organized social movement of the disenfranchised, who make up the party’s base. Likewise, without a political party that can fight for their interests in the political arena, social movements can easily be defeated. A unified political party fighting in tandem with a social movement of the organized masses is essential for systemic change.

After May 9, the movement that ousted Park cannot rest, as the South Korean majority seeks, as a matter of survival, a political force that will forge a new path. Creating that force—by building social movements and unifying the left to build political power—should be top on the agenda of everyone on the left. And supporting that effort should be a priority for all those outside Korea who were inspired by the awesome mass protests that toppled Park Geun-hye’s regime.

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France Chooses Banker Macron as President

NOVANEWS

Today France elected Emmanuel Macron, the former banker, as its next president. The voting result was 65% for Macron, a newcomer in the election cycle who didn’t even have a political party, but who did have the massive business backing and traditional political elites united behind him, providing unlimited media and financial assistance to his campaign.

Approximately 25% of all voters in France, the most in nearly fifty years (since 1969), abstained from voting, however. It is also estimated that 25% of Macron’s 65% vote margin were voters who voted ‘against Le Pen’ and the far right national front party, and did not vote ‘for’ Macron. How solid is Macron’s support, and whether the French people support what will be his continuation of European neoliberalism, remains to be seen.

Macron’s victory as an ‘independent’, with no party, just a ‘movement’ called En Marche, was made possible by several unique developments during the recent election cycle.

First was the convenient scandals that early on knocked out of the election cycle his other business-backed challengers, Juppe and Fillon. It appears the political elite may have encouraged the publicizing of the scandals in order to unite business, bureaucracy, traditional elites, and professional classes behind one candidate, the newcomer Macron. Business interests were thus united, while the left and right alternative parties were divided.

Another convenient development enabling Macron’s election victory was the failure of the French left to unite early behind a challenger. The Socialist party’s candidate, Benoit, was burdened with the massive failure of the Socialist Party that ruled France under Francois Hollande, the outgoing president, who leaves office with barely 5% popularity. Benoit’s candidacy in part split the left alternative. The strongest ‘left challenge’ was led by a new face, Melenchon, who started late in the campaign and could not shift the election media-driven message from ‘vote for Macron to stop Le Pen and the far right’. Other left parties failed to unite behind Melenchon as well.

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Source: New York Times

A tactical failure in the campaign appears to have been the ‘leaks’ posted on the internet about Macron’s campaign and backers. Whoever was behind them is unknown, but the leaks appeared just an hour before the ‘black out’ on the election last Friday, not enough time for voters to digest the results. As in the US, the media and Macron are now claiming Russian hackers were behind the leaks.

Other similarities with the US 2016 election are also interesting. US voters last November rejected the US Democrat party’s neoliberal policies advocated and defended by Hillary Clinton, thinking they would get something else in Trump. Trump won by creating the appearance he was against these policies. However, in just 100 days it is now clear Trump represents a continuation of the same US neoliberalism–with a nasty social twist of anti-immigrant, anti-environment, anti-social program overlaid on traditional pro-business tax cuts, deregulation, and bilateral free trade proposals.

Macron further represents a strategy to save European neoliberalism similar to that which Britain and the US economic elites put forward in the 1990s when they put Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in office.–i.e. so-called ‘new democrats’ at the time. Emmanuel Macron is France’s ‘new democrat’, and a reflection of elites in France putting a ‘shiny new young face’ on its prime politician just as UK elites did with Tony Blair and US with Bill Clinton. Macron is thus the ‘Tony Clinton’ (or ‘Bill Blair’ if you prefer) of France. However sustaining a ‘Tony Blair’ or ‘Bill Clinton’ strategy and solution in France may not be possible at this juncture, nor in the case of France in general. Time will tell if the ‘shiny young new face’ solution works in France, given its current discrediting in UK and US.

Macron is also a former banker, and therefore also represents the trend of a deepening influence and control of bankers and finance capitalists in the governments of the advanced economies like the US, UK, Japan and Europe in general.

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In the US, big bankers like Goldman Sachs now run nearly all the key cabinet positions and agencies in the US administration under Trump. Under Obama in 2008, all the recommendations for cabinet-agency positions put forward by the megabank, Citigroup, were eventually adopted by Obama. France 2016 appears a continuation of this trend, as banker-finance capitalists maneuver in new ways to retain their dominance of the political system in the advanced economies in an age of growing economic disruptions.

Macron has promised to pick up the baton of ‘labor reform’ in France introduced by Socialist Party Holland. That means laws that will weaken unions, collective bargaining, allow firing of workers, eliminate strikes, cut social benefits, privatize the healthcare and education systems in France. So now the conflict in France moves from the electoral arena to the workplace. During the recent election cycle shopfloor resistance in France continued to grow rapidly. Many unreported short strikes were called to protest the plans to implement the new anti-worker labor laws. It is not unlike what began to occur in 1967 as DeGaulle and the capitalist parties laid out plans to strip workers of rights and benefits. That plan resulted in nationwide strikes and a shutdown of the economy and widespread protests called ‘May 1968’, which in turn led to the resignation of then president, DeGaulle. Will Macron’s presidency be a repeat? Is France now embarking on the same trajectory with Macron, who like deGaulle, has vowed to aggressively implement the anti labor reform laws? The largest union in France, the CGT, has already called for more intense opposition at the company level and preparation for a general strike. Whether Macron, a champion of the anti-labor laws is willing to stake his presidency on the direct conflict with labor at the economic level will be interesting to watch.

As US workers today cross their fingers and hope that Trump isn’t lying about bringing jobs back to the US (which he is), France’s workers may be preparing for a confrontation in coming months of a more united and militant kind. It will be interesting to see how far the Macron-Business-Banker elites in France are willing to go to face off the growing militancy ‘from below’ in the coming months.

In any event, with the election they have bought themselves some additional time. Watch the stock markets boom in Europe on Monday, as investors intensify their financial bets on the rise in stock markets in France, Europe and elsewhere and cash in on yet more capital gains and financial profits.

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Pentagon Intends Continued Aerial Operations in Syria De-Escalation Zones

NOVANEWS
 

Washington wants war and regime change in Syria rather than conflict resolution. 

On Thursday, Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed on creating four de-escalation zones in the Syria, these nations serving as guarantors.

Sergey Lavrov said America

“proposed (the idea) at the beginning of this year, with a view to creating conditions to ensure safety of the civilian population, to stop violence in those regions where fierce fighting was underway between government and armed opposition forces.”

Not exactly following Thursday’s announcement. Washington isn’t part of the agreement. It supports halting all aerial operations in designated zones – except its own.

According to Pentagon spokesman Major JT Rankine-Galloway on Friday,

“the [so-called US-led] coalition will continue to target ISIS wherever they operate to ensure they have no sanctuary,”  adding:

The US continues “to effectively de-conflict coalition operations. However, we are not going to discuss the specifics of how we de-conflict operations in the highly congested and complex battle space in Syria.”

“Opposition groups” haven’t accepted the plan, expressing “fears and doubts.” They reject Iran as a guarantor country.

Their spokesman Abo Zayd called it “incomprehensible (for) Iran (to be involved as) a peacemaker, adding ceasefire is “unsustainable” under these conditions.

US-backed opposition terrorists are preparing a formal response to Russia’s plan – now in effect. In a show of good faith, Moscow ceased all aerial operations in de-escalation zones on May 1.

Kremlin envoy to conflict resolution talks Alexander Lavrentyev said de-escalation zones are now closed to Russian, Syrian, Turkish and US-led coalition aircraft.

“There are absolutely no arrangements for the operation of aircraft, in particular, those of the (so-called US-led) coalition, with or without notification. The subject is closed,” he stressed.

“As guarantors, we will see to it,”  he added.

Monitors will check for violators. The Pentagon supports cessation of Russian, Syrian and Turkish aerial operations, not its own, on the phony pretext of combating ISIS which Washington supports, shows how shaky the agreement is, unlikely to succeed like earlier failed Moscow good faith efforts.

Russia, Syria and Iran can be counted on to refrain from aerial operations in agreed on de-escalation zones. Although Trump expressed support to the plan with Putin by phone days earlier, Washington appears unwilling to go along.

US-supported terrorist opposition groups walked out of the Astana, Kazakhstan signing ceremony, refusing to accept Iran as a guarantor state, a phony pretext to reject the deal, likely to continue hostilities, not end them.

The State Department expressed

“concerns about the Astana agreement, including the involvement of Iran as a so-called ‘guarantor.’”

Russia, Syria and Iran alone are committed to keep working for conflict resolution. Washington and its rogue allies want endless war and regime change.

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Meet The Right-Wing Think Tank Driving Canadian Policy Toward War

NOVANEWS
 

A registered “charity” with buckets of donations from arms manufacturers and other corporate sources is aggressively trying to push Canadian foreign policy further towards militarism and the use of violence.

And the right-wing Canadian Global Affairs Institute seems to be growing in influence, or at least media prominence.

Since last month’s federal budget, senior CGAI analyst David Perry has been quoted throughout the media arguing for increased military spending.

I’m stunned this budget is actually taking money away from the military and pretending to give it back several decades in the future,” Perry told CBC.

In its reports, conferences and commentary, the Calgary-based institute promotes aggressive, militarist positions. In the midst of a wave of criticism towards General Dynamics’s sale of Light Armoured Vehicles to Saudi Arabia, CGAI published a paper titled “Canada and Saudi Arabia: A Deeply Flawed but Necessary Partnership” that defended the $15-billion deal. At least four of the General Dynamics-funded institute’s “fellows” wrote columns justifying the sale, including an opinion Perry published in the Globe and Mail Report on Business titled “Without foreign sales, Canada’s defence industry would not survive.”

Previously, CGAI has called for Ottawa to set up a foreign spy service — think CIA, MI6 or Mossad. At the height of the war in Afghanistan, they commissioned a survey claiming most

Canadians are willing to send troops into danger even if it leads to deaths and injuries as long as they believe in the military’s goals.”

Watch Justin Trudeau’s interview with Huffpost Canada here.

Beyond the media work most think tanks pursue, the institute expends considerable effort influencing news agencies. Since 2002 the institute has operated an annual military journalism course together with the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies. A dozen Canadian journalism students receive scholarships to the nine-day program, which includes a media-military theory component and visits to armed forces units.

The stated objective of the course is “to enhance the military education of future Canadian journalists who will report on Canadian military activities.” But that description obscures the political objective. In an article titled “A student’s look inside the military journalism course,” Lola Fakinlede writes:

“Between the excitement of shooting guns, driving in tanks, eating pre-packed lunches, investigating the insides of coyotes and leopards — armoured vehicles, not animals — and visiting the messes, we were learning how the military operates. … Being able to see the human faces behind the uniform, being able to talk to them like regular people, being able to see them start losing the suspicion in their eyes and really start talking candidly to me — that was incredible.”

Captain David Williams was forthright concerning the broader political objective of the program. In 2010 he wrote,

The intent of this annual visit has always been to foster a familiarity and mutual understanding between the CF and the future media, two entities which require a symbiotic relationship in order to function.”

Along with the Conference of Defence Associations, the institute gives out the annual Ross Munro Media Award recognizing a “journalist who has made a significant contribution to understanding defence and security issues.” The winner receives a handsome statuette, a gala dinner attended by Ottawa VIPs and a $2,500 prize. The political objective of the award is to reinforce the militarist culture among reporters who cover the subject.

Journalist training, the Ross Munro award and institute reports/commentators are a positive way of shaping the discussion of military matters. But CGAI also employs a stick. In detailing an attack against colleague Lee Berthiaume, Ottawa Citizen military reporter David Pugliese pointed out that it’s

not uncommon for the site to launch personal attacks on journalists covering defence issues. It seems some CDFAI [CGAI’s predecessor] ‘fellows’ don’t like journalists who ask the government or the Department of National Defence too many probing questions. … Last year I had one of the CDFAI ‘fellows’ write one of the editors at the Citizen to complain about my lack of professionalism on a particular issue. … The smear attempt was all done behind my back but I found out about it. That little stunt backfired big time when I showed the Citizen editor that the CDFAI ‘fellow’ had fabricated his claims about me.”

The institute has received financial backing from arms contractors.

While it may not have succeeded in this instance, online criticism and complaints to journalists’ superiors do have an impact. If pursued consistently this type of “flack” drives journalists to avoid topics or be more cautious when covering an issue.

While not exactly forthcoming about its funders, the institute has received some military backing. The Canadian Forces identified CGAI’s predecessor, the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, under the rubric of “defence-related organization and defence and foreign policy think tanks.” DND’s Security and Defence Forum provided funding to individuals who pursued a year-long internship with the Institute and CGAI has held numerous joint symposiums with DND, NATO and NORAD.

The institute has received financial backing from arms contractors. General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin Canada, as well as Edge Group, C4i, Com Dev, ENMAX, SMART Technologies, the Defense News Media Group and Canadian Council of Chief Executives have all supported CGAI.

Beyond weapons makers, the institute has wealthy patrons and ties within the corporate world. Rich militarist Frederick Mannix helped found the registered charity, and recent directors include the CEO of IAMGOLD Steve Letwin, Royal Bank Financial Group executive Robert B. Hamilton and ATCO director Bob Booth.

A bastion of pro-corporate, militarist, thinking, the Canadian Global Affairs Institute is increasingly influential in shaping the foreign policy discussion in this country.

Canadians who disagree with militarism, who wish for diplomacy over war, and who support a Do Unto Others as We Would Have Them Do Unto Us foreign policy must raise their voices loudly and clearly so that we, too, are heard by government.

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