Archive | August 8th, 2017

Philippines DENIES reports that US may intervene in Marawi against ISIS

NOVANEWS
By Adam Garrie

Defence officials in Philippines deny reports from the United States that American military contingents are examining the possibility of a military intervention in the country due to the war with ISIS aligned terrorists and other insurgents on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao and specifically the besieged city of Marawi.

US based NBC news earlier reported that Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis stated that the US will shortly make an announcement on whether US bombers will commence military strikes in Philippines.

This recent development would imply that the US is considering and indeed may be planning a strike on targets in Philippines that may be illegal according to international law.

Sputnik reports,

“According to Philippine Star media outlet, the country’s Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Eduardo Ano said that US Air Force engagement in military operations in the Philippines was impossible, and that Washington’s direct involvement in the Marawi siege was beyond discussion.

The military officials stressed that the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty entails direct military support only in the case of a military invasion by a third party country. However, they also expressed their gratitude toward the United States for backing the Philippines in their fight against terrorism.

In late July, the United States supplied the Philippines with two new Cessna 208B Grand Caravan intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, 1,040 rocket motors and 992 rockets to fight against terror. In addition, Manila is expected to receive 250 rocket-propelled grenade launchers from Washington.

The so-called Marawi siege started on May 23, when the Philippine security forces stormed the city seeking to prevent two IS-affiliated groups from meeting, which sparked up a full-scale armed conflict. On May 25, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao, which is often subjected to attacks by IS-linked terror groups. So far, over 500 militants and 122 government forces servicemen have been killed in the Marawi battle”.

Existing treaties between  Manila and Washington explicitly prohibit unauthorised US military action under the present circumstances. If the US does conduct illegal strikes in Philippines, this will be the second time in recent months that the US has acted unilaterally in its former colony.

In June of 2017, it was reported that Philippines had requested assistance from the United States in its battle against terrorists, but this claim was later totally refuted by President Rodgiro Duterte.

Duterte’s relationship with America has been a tenuous one ever since his election in July of 2016. Duterte has embarked an independent foreign policy that seeks to build historically good relations with both China and Russia. Duterte also has engaged cooperatively with China over the disputes in the South China Sea, a policy that is at odds with the provocative US policy of molesting Chinese water rights, a policy that Washington misleadingly calls ‘freedom of navigation’.

Meanwhile, Duterte has refused to travel to the United States in response to members of the US Congress questioning his war on drugs which remains popular among the vast majority of Filipinos.

Many in the US are eager to retain a foothold in Philippines at a time when Philippine public opinion is strongly with the independence minded President Duterte.

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Over 100 Trucks With US Supplies Cross Into Kurdish-Controlled Syrian Territory

NOVANEWS

The United States delivered 112 trucks with supplies, including military equipment, to the Kurdish-controlled areas of northeastern Syria, Turkish media reported Tuesday.

The Anadolu news agency reported that the media outlet’s correspondent had seen the convoy crossing into the territory of the Syrian Hasakah province on Monday night.

The news outlet added that the convoy included trucks, fuel tankers and low-loaders transporting Humvee vehicles and aimed to support the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Ankara considers to be a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), outlawed in Turkey.

This is not the first batch of US aid to the Kurdish groups, as over 900 trucks were already sent to the Kurdish-held areas of Syria on Monday, the news agency added.

Within the framework of the Syrian civil war, the Kurdish groups have been controlling vast parts of Syria in such provinces as Hasakah and Raqqa, after driving jihadists from those areas.

On May 9, US President Donald Trump approved a plan to arm Kurdish groups fighting the Daesh (outlawed in Russia). The Turkish government has protested the move as Ankara believes the Kurdish fighters can use the weapons against Turkey.

Posted in USA, SyriaComments Off on Over 100 Trucks With US Supplies Cross Into Kurdish-Controlled Syrian Territory

Military Base Attacked in Venezuela, Two Dead

NOVANEWS
By Katrina Kozarek and Rachael Boothroyd Rojas

The 41st Armored Brigade of Fort Paramacay in Carabobo State was attacked by civilians and ex-military officials in the early hours of Sunday morning as part of an unsuccessful attempt to provoke a military rebellion, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has confirmed.

According to the president, the attack occurred at 3:50 am when 20 armed men entered the facilities and headed directly for the arms depository, where a confrontation ensued until approximately 8am. The confrontation left two dead and one injured. A further ten have been arrested in connection with the attack.

Moments before the coordinated assault, flyers were dropped outside the military base referring to the action as ‘Operation David’ and calling for all members of the armed forces to join the “military rebellion”. The messages also told the soldiers who refused to mutiny against the government that they should consider themselves a “military objective” and “face the consequences”.

The attack was also accompanied by a video released on social media by former military commander Juan Caguaripano Scott, who had reportedly fled the country during the 2014 opposition protests known as the guarimbas and has since lived between Miami, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia.

“We declare ourselves in legitimate rebellion, united today more than ever, with the brave Venezuelan people, to refuse to recognize the murderous tyranny of Nicolás Maduro. This is not a coup d’état, this is a civic and military action to restore order and to save the country from total destruction,” states Caguaripano in the video.

It is not clear when nor where the video was recorded.

Though Caguaripano and several international media sources have referred to the attack as a civic-military rebellion, the majority of those captured were not active military personnel. One of the detained men was identified as ex-lieutenant Oswaldo José Gutiérrez Guevara who deserted the military after being investigated for theft. The remaining nine were paid civilians recruited from the states of Zulia, Yaracuy and Lara, and all had criminal records, said the Ministry of Defense. They were aided and abetted by First Lieutenant Yefferson Gabriel García Dos Ramos, who was in charge of the fort’s weapons depository.

Authorities are yet to release the names of the two fatalities, but it is known that both Caguaripano and Dos Ramos were on the ground at the time of the attack and managed to evade capture.

Government officials have since described the offensive as a terrorist attack as opposed to a military rebellion, citing the lack of serving military officials involved in the operation.

According to a tweet from Vice Minister of International Communication, William Castillo, the attack was a “propaganda operation” with “civilians disguised as current and former military officials”.

The Minister of Information and Communication Ernesto Villegas also announced that opposition forces in Venezuela were attempting to create and circulate “fake news” about the country, as well as “trying out the formula [used in] the Ukraine.”

Sunday’s assault on the military fort follows a helicopter attack against the Supreme Court by former investigative police official Oscar Pérez in June. Perez also called on the military to rise up against the Maduro government, echoing similar demands voiced by opposition spokespeople for the past 18 months. Over 120 people have also been killed in violent opposition-led unrest since the beginning of April.

On Sunday, Minister of Defense Padrino Lopez released an official communique on behalf of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) in relation to the incident. Lopez said that although the group had been “immediately repelled” by army personnel, some of the attackers had managed to steal weapons from the fort’s depository and were currently at the centre of a manhunt by state security agencies.

The communiqué also stated that those responsible for the attack will face military charges.

“We will not accept under any circumstances the violation of our sovereignty, and even less that the social gains achieved for the benefit of the great majorities are undermined,” reads the statement.

The document finished by calling on the men and women of Venezuela to work together to find solutions to the current turmoil in the country within a legal framework.

Posted in VenezuelaComments Off on Military Base Attacked in Venezuela, Two Dead

Dozens Reported Killed in US Airstrike on Iraqi Paramilitary Anti-Terror Force

NOVANEWS
Sputnik 

The US air force has carried out an airstrike on an Iraqi militia unit called Seyid Suheda, which belongs to Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). The airstrike took place in Anbar province, close to Iraq’s border with Syria, Rudaw reports.

According to reports, 35 fighters were killed and 25 were injured in the airstrike on Monday night. PMU commanders are reportedly among the dead.

PMU commander Ali Hasim Huseyni confirmed the incident in conversation with Sputnik Turkiye.

“US planes bombed fighters of the Seyid Suheda unit. The wounded have been taken to various hospitals in Iraq for treatment. Some of them are in a serious condition. The region in which they were attacked is located on the Iraqi-Syrian border, 20 km from the city of El Baac. We strongly condemn this deliberate attack.”

The recent airstrike is not the first time that US forces have bombed pro-government fighters in Iraq. In October, an airstrike conducted by the US-led coalition in Iraq “most likely” killed around 20 pro-government Sunni tribal fighters south of Mosul, a defense official told AFP.

Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units, or Hashd al Sha’ abi, comprise approximately 100,000 fighters who are mostly Shia. They have played a vital role in anti-terrorist operations in Mosul and elsewhere.

In November 2016, the Iraqi parliament gave the PMU the power of law enforcement agencies, which basically provides the militia with the same powers as the government army and police.

Last week, the PMU assisted the Iraqi army in launching an operation to retake the northwestern city of Tal Afar. Mostly populated by Sunni Turkmen, the city is the Daesh terrorist group’s last remaining stronghold in the country.

The US has also bombed militia fighting Daesh in neighboring Syria. On June 8, the US-led coalition bombed pro-Assad militia near al-Tanf in the area of a deconfliction zone following an alleged attack by a combat drone resulting in no coalition forces’ casualties. It was the third attack by the coalition on Damascus’ allies in the area. The coalition targeted a drone and trucks with weapons.

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Shall We Fight Them All?

NOVANEWS
By Pat Buchanan 

On Saturday 29 of August, Kim Jong Un tested an ICBM of sufficient range to hit the U.S. mainland. He is now working on its accuracy, and a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop that missile that can survive re-entry.

Unless we believe Kim is a suicidal madman, his goal seems clear. He wants what every nuclear power wants — the ability to strike his enemy’s homeland with horrific impact, in order to deter that enemy.

Kim wants his regime recognized and respected, and the U.S., which carpet-bombed the North from 1950-1953, out of Korea.

Where does this leave us? Says Cliff Kupchan of the Eurasia Group, “The U.S. is on the verge of a binary choice: either accept North Korea into the nuclear club or conduct a military strike that would entail enormous civilian casualties.”

A time for truth. U.S. sanctions on North Korea, like those voted for by Congress last week, are not going to stop Kim from acquiring ICBMs. He is too close to the goal line.

And any pre-emptive strike on the North could trigger a counterattack on Seoul by massed artillery on the DMZ, leaving tens of thousands of South Koreans dead, alongside U.S. soldiers and their dependents.

We could be in an all-out war to the finish with the North, a war the American people do not want to fight.

Saturday, President Trump tweeted out his frustration over China’s failure to pull our chestnuts out of the fire: “They do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem.”

Sunday, U.S. B-1B bombers flew over Korea and the Pacific air commander Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy warned his units were ready to hit North Korea with “rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force.”

Yet, also Sunday, Xi Jinping reviewed a huge parade of tanks, planes, troops and missiles as Chinese officials mocked Trump as a “greenhorn President” and “spoiled child” who is running a bluff against North Korea. Is he? We shall soon see.

According to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump vowed Monday he would take “all necessary measures” to protect U.S. allies. And U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley bristled, “The time for talk is over.”

Are we headed for a military showdown and war with the North? The markets, hitting records again Monday, don’t seem to think so.

But North Korea is not the only potential adversary with whom our relations are rapidly deteriorating.

After Congress voted overwhelmingly for new sanctions on Russia last week and Trump agreed to sign the bill that strips him of authority to lift the sanctions without Hill approval, Russia abandoned its hopes for a rapprochement with Trump’s America. Sunday, Putin ordered U.S. embassy and consulate staff cut by 755 positions.

The Second Cold War, begun when we moved NATO to Russia’s borders and helped dump over a pro-Russian regime in Kiev, is getting colder. Expect Moscow to reciprocate Congress’ hostility when we ask for her assistance in Syria and with North Korea.

Last week’s sanctions bill also hit Iran after it tested a rocket to put a satellite in orbit, though the nuclear deal forbids only the testing of ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. Defiant, Iranians say their missile tests will continue.

Recent days have also seen U.S. warships and Iranian patrol boats in close proximity, with the U.S. ships firing flares and warning shots. Our planes and ships have also, with increasingly frequency, come to close quarters with Russian and Chinese ships and planes in the Baltic and South China seas.

While wary of a war with North Korea, Washington seems to be salivating for a war with Iran. Indeed, Trump’s threat to declare Iran in violation of the nuclear arms deal suggests a confrontation is coming.

One wonders: If Congress is hell-bent on confronting the evil that is Iran, why does it not cancel Iran’s purchases and options to buy the 140 planes the mullahs have ordered from Boeing?

Why are we selling U.S. airliners to the “world’s greatest state sponsor of terror”? Let Airbus take the blood money.

Apparently, U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia are insufficient to satiate our War Party. Now it wants us to lead the Sunnis of the Middle East in taking down the Shiites, who are dominant in Iran, Iraq, Syria and South Lebanon, and are a majority in Bahrain and the oil-producing regions of Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. military has its work cut out for it. President Trump may need those transgender troops.

Among the reasons Trump routed his Republican rivals in 2016 is that he seemed to share an American desire to look homeward.

Yet, today, our relations with China and Russia are as bad as they have been in decades, while there is open talk of war with Iran and North Korea.

Was this what America voted for, or is this what America voted against?

Posted in North KoreaComments Off on Shall We Fight Them All?

Going Soft on Corporate Crime a Bipartisan Affair

NOVANEWS
By Russell Mokhiber 

Donald Trump is not a fan of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the law that says it’s illegal for any person — corporate or human — to bribe overseas.

Trump has called the FCPA “a horrible law” and has said that the law “puts us at a huge disadvantage.”

And you could argue that the Trump Justice Department’s first two FCPA enforcement cases reflect Trump’s point of view.

Both were declinations — despite the fact that the companies disclosed illegal overseas payments and agreed to disgorge illegally gained proceeds.

Some are using the cases to ask the question — is Trump soft on corporate crime?

As the lawyers say, let’s stipulate for the record that he is.

But let’s also remember that going soft on corporate crime was perfected by the Democrats.

The Obama Justice Department, for example, regularly used declinations — five in Obama’s last year in office — and non prosecution agreements — 22 over the eight years of his administration — to settle corporate FCPA matters.

And since September 2015, when the Obama administration put out the Yates memo calling for more prosecutions of individual executives, there have been 20 FCPA corporate prosecution agreements — yet not one individual has been charged in connection with those cases.

There are those in the get tough on corporate crime camp — like David Uhlmann, former head of the Environmental Crimes Section at the Justice Department and now a University of Michigan Law professor — who argue that if a corporation commits a serious crime, then a corporation should be convicted.

We’re talking guilt — as in guilty pleas.

For environmental crimes, that has been the practice.

Over the past fifteen years, 93 percent of major corporate criminal environmental cases ended with public companies pleading guilty to their crimes.

Same for antitrust corporate crimes.

Over the past fifteen years, 74 percent of major corporate criminal antitrust cases ended with public companies pleading guilty to their crimes.

But only 29 percent of corporate criminal FCPA cases were settled with guilty pleas.

And only 8 percent of securities fraud cases have been settled with guilty pleas.

Why?

You might ask — maybe these corporations weren’t guilty?

Not likely, because in almost every one of these cases — no matter the type of soft settlement — deferred prosecution, non prosecution, declination — the company admits to illegal wrongdoing.

The companies admit to their criminal wrongdoing in documents that are now publically available on a new web site — the Corporate Prosecution Registry — created by University of Virginia Law School Professor Brandon Garrett.

And what do we learn from this comprehensive corporate crime database?

That there is a two tier system of corporate criminal justice — one for the smaller, politically less well connected companies — which generally are forced to plead guilty to their crimes — and one for large, politically well connected public companies — which generally enter into softer alternative resolutions — declinations, non prosecution agreements and deferred prosecution agreements.

Or if they are forced to plead guilty, it’s not the parent forced to plead guilty but some unit that won’t be adversely affected by any debarment or other collateral sanction that might follow.

The dominant corporate narrative —  driven by the corporate crime defense law firms — is that big public companies — especially banks and financial institutions — even if they commit the crimes, can’t withstand the brunt force trauma of a guilty plea.

They say — the company will be driven out of business. Innocent shareholders will lose money and innocent workers lose their jobs. A corporate guilty plea is the equivalent of the corporate death penalty.

Not true.

Top corporate crime prosecutors and defense attorneys — they’re interchangeable and regularly swap places via the revolving door — are expert at crafting guilty pleas that avoid these consequences.

That’s why when prosecutors want to, they can get guilty pleas — even for big banks — who for years dodged any personal or corporate criminal liability for causing the 2008 financial collapse.

Burned by that public criticism, the Obama Justice Department in May 2015, thought it was necessary to throw the public a bone.

And they did just that by forcing Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, The Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS and Barclays to plead guilty to felonies in connection with a conspiracy to fix foreign exchange markets.

Why doesn’t the Justice Department demand felony guilty pleas from parents in more big corporate crime cases?

Power and money. The big companies don’t want to plead guilty even when they are guilty. They have corporate reputations to protect. And they have the power and money to hire the best corporate criminal defense law firms to get the job done.

The lawyers’ marching orders?

For the corporate parent, anything but a guilty plea.

Move down the corporate crime ladder from guilty plea to deferred prosecution to non prosecution to declination.

In the parallel Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) case, move down the ladder from admission to no admission with a neither admit nor deny consent decree.

In a World Bank proceeding, move down the ladder from a debarment to a reprimand or a conditional non-debarment agreement.

Some say that it was Obama’s slippery slide down the corporate crime ladder — he hit bottom with not one executive or bank criminally charged for the 2008 financial meltdown — that fueled the populist revolt that helped Trump take the White House.

We don’t want to become Brazil, a country battered by wave after wave of corporate crime and corruption.

It’s time to restore a modicum of corporate criminal justice that will deliver tangible deterrence.

Let’s start by moving back up the ladder of corporate justice.

If a company commits a felony, it should plead guilty to a felony.

No more deferrals, non prosecutions and declinations in major corporate crime cases.

 

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‘No Time For Shallow Diplomacy Christians’ In The Religious War On Churches In The Holy Land

NOVANEWS
By Stuart Littlewood 

A month ago, after reading a desperate cry for help from the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP) addressed to the World Council of Churches, I emailed eight churches in my locality asking whether that heart-rending appeal had trickled down to them at parish level.

If not, I hoped to find out where the break in communications occurred, as this wasn’t the first time churches in the Holy Land had sought support from Western Christendom. Previous appeals were largely ignored and left to civil society for action.

Now, say the Palestinians, the situation is “beyond urgent”. So had the NCCOP’s latest plea actually arrived on the desks of parish priests in my neighbourhood? And if so, how were grass-roots Christians responding?

I included a link to the actual crisis document, which should have made every churchman sit up, and a gentle reminder that their faith and their job of work are rooted in the Holy Land. “So what are the chances, I wonder, of seeing concerted action from Western churches before it’s too late? And what part can local parishes play?

The key point was this: it’s beyond urgent. So are our spiritual leaders, those upstanding ‘men of the cloth’, mobilising their troops?

Only one of the eight replied — the local Catholic vicar-general — who dismissed the subject in two sentences. So there you have it. If this local bunch are representative of the Christian community in the UK, they don’t give a four-X for their brothers and sisters in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. And they are utterly indifferent to the fact that the place where Christianity was born is being stolen from under their noses.

If that’s a wrong interpretation, and Christians in the West do actually wish to help, the issue is straightforward enough. Churches in Palestine are asking churches here to call things as they are: to recognize Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law and the UN report which says so. They are concerned that States and churches are still dealing with Israel on a business-as-usual basis, as if the situation were normal, and ignoring the criminal reality of military occupation.

Churches came together in opposition to apartheid in South Africa and helped end it. Why haven’t they done the same in Palestine?

They ask us to unequivocally condemn the Balfour Declaration as unjust, and they rightly demand that the UK asks forgiveness and compensates the Palestinian people for their losses. Theresa May’s government, however, plans to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration “with pride” and has invited Mr Netanyahu to the fun.

Clearly Mrs May, God-fearing churchgoer that she is, needs to feel the heat of His wrath. The woman is so arrogant that her government intends to appeal against the recent decision by the Royal Courts of Justice defending our right to boycott Israel.

End the ‘Ecumenical Deal’, put interfaith dialogue through the wringer

The Palestinians want us to take the strongest possible stand against any theology or group that seeks to justify the occupation. That means of course challenging our religious dialogue partners and withdrawing from those partnerships if they won’t condemn Israel’s brutal occupation.

But I can hear our canting clerics muttering: “Oh dear, no, no, no. We mustn’t upset our interfaith colleagues. That would never do.”

Churches that sell their holdings or otherwise divest from companies that profit from the occupation of Palestinian lands often take years of agonising confab to reach such a commonsense position. But they needn’t think just moving their money is enough. A recent example is the Mennonite Church USA, where it took (they say) a three-person writing team and a 10-member reference group working intensely during the past two years and consulting widely across the church and with Palestinian and Jewish partners, to come up with a modest proposal. And to sugar the divestment pill they declared that “the legacy of Jewish suffering is intertwined with the suffering of Palestinians”. What the Palestinians had to do with Jewish suffering or ever did to deserve having their lands and homes confiscated, isn’t explained. But it is used to provide an excuse to call on Mennonites to strengthen relationships with Jewish communities.

Why? Can they not understand that you have to be consistent in boycotting Israel? It involves boycotting the people who also support and advocate for Israel including those who fail to condemn the Zionist regime’s vile policies that hurt our Palestinian friends. As George Galloway has said, you simply don’t engage with them.

Christians who cannot grasp what is really going on out there, and don’t see what is needed to stop it, might find Robert Cohen’s excellent article Brace Yourselves for Costly Palestinian Solidarity helpful in pointing towards proper, meaningful action.

He explains why the Christian-Jewish dialogue needs re-setting. Central to the problem is the so-called Ecumenical Deal, a reluctance to question Jewish support for Israel for fear of unpicking decades of interfaith reconciliation following the Holocaust.  We appear to have cast ourselves in the self-defeating role of repenting for age-old Christian anti-Jewishness. Breaking out of it and criticising Israel would be seen as a re-emergence of that anti-Jewishness.

I’m not aware of Christian anti-Jewishness although continuing failure on the part of Jewish leaders to condemn the cruel policies of the Israeli regime, aka ‘the Jewish State’, is surely asking for it. Does anyone inside or outside the bubble of the Church seriously buy into this repentence stuff? From outside, among people who would never set foot in a church again but still call themselves Christians because they were brought up according to the Christian code, it looks pathetic.

Christians in Palestine, says Cohen, despair of our Church leaders’ endless hiding behind the cover of political neutrality and their unwillingness to offend their religious dialogue partners. Consequently, he predicts, Jewish-Christian dialogue “is about to go through the wringer”.

Time for some ‘really uncomfortable conversations’

Pressing the re-set button means “refusing to allow your local Jewish communal leadership to set the boundaries of permissible debate on Israel”. It also means “listening to the Christian voice under occupation before the Jewish voice living comfortably, with full equal rights, many thousands of miles from that same occupation”.

Operating the wringer, of course, will be followed by a distinct chill in relationships forcing Church leaders, local ministers and their congregations, as well as the Jewish leaders they have dialogue with, out of their comfort zone. Good. As Rebecca Vilkomerson, Jewish Voice for Peace, recently wrote in Haaretz, after 70 years of dispossessing and expelling Palestinians, 50 years of Israeli military occupation and 10 years of blockading Gaza, it is time for Jewish communities “to have some really uncomfortable conversations”.

Palestinians say no to ‘shallow diplomacy’ but it’s all they’re likely to get

How does the World Council of Churches react to those urgent pleas from Palestine?

They will study and analyse. “As we at the WCC consider our plans for 2018 and beyond, we want churches in Palestine to know that their perspective is heard and it is vitally important,” said the WCC’s general secretary. “We will continue with the same passionate spirit to work on specific objectives, strategies and partners for advocacy to end the occupation and to work for just peace in Palestine and Israel.”

The WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs has been asked to contribute a thorough analysis of the changing political landscapes and dynamics in the Holy Land with an eye toward developing a more specific advocacy strategy that works through nations and organizations with significant influence.

WCC has also started an online campaign, Seek #JusticeAndPeace in the Holy Land, which features profiles of peacemakers and various cries for justice.

WCC also plans to “explore theological reflections, studies and projects that will bring a perspective on just peace in the Holy Land from all parts of the world”, and strengthen communication about the situation in Palestine so that it can “help churches and other ecumenical partners address their constituencies and governments in a more systematic way”. This includes developing a set of principles and practices of responsible pilgrimages of justice and peace to the Holy Land.

Will the Palestinian churches be impressed? Their cry for help stated specifically: “We stand in front of an impasse and we have reached a deadlock. Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leader’s callings, Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality.”

They stressed that religious extremism is on the rise, with religious minorities paying a heavy price. “We need brave women and men who are willing to stand in the forefront. This is no time for shallow diplomacy Christians.”

When I called the Church of England press office yesterday they didn’t think any response had been made. Such concern, then. And when I ran through the members of the WCC’s Central Committee I noticed the two representatives from the Church Of England were both based in Europe. How helpful is that?

The power of hope

Christianity sometimes has great trouble telling right from wrong and doing something about it. The Holy Land is a case in point. Evil reigns there. Christianity across the world cowers. What would Christ say to that?

I know what Michel Sabbah says. He is a former Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, a courageous man of the front line and one of the great heroes of the struggle.

“The current situation is hopeless. In reality, there are no signs of hope at all for the Palestinian people. In spite of that, we hope.

We hope because we are Christians, and God is present.
We hope because we believe in the fundamental goodness of the human being, Israeli and Palestinian. Human goodness will prevail at the end upon the human power of evil.

We hope because Palestinians are persevering in claiming their rights.
It is a source of hope that we never gave up….

We hope because among Israelis, there are people who are trying to work with Palestinians for what is right. And there are an increasing number of movements for peace, strong in will….

If we had no hope we would not live. Hope is life, and history gives us hope. What is right will prevail.”

Michel Sabbah
Catholic Patriarch Emeritus

I fear that if he pins any hopes on the wets of the Western churches he’ll be disappointed. But he already knows that, surely.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZIComments Off on ‘No Time For Shallow Diplomacy Christians’ In The Religious War On Churches In The Holy Land

The NYT’s Grim Depiction of Russian Life

NOVANEWS

Sakhalin, Russia: photo by Lesya Kim, 19 August 2016
By Gilbert Doctorow 

Our five-week stay at our home in the Russian countryside was approaching its conclusion when I got an email from a friend in France asking me to comment on an article in The New York Times entitled “Russia’s Villages, and Their Way of Life, Are ‘Melting Away’.”

The article surely met the expectations of its editors by painting a grim picture of decline and fall of the Russian countryside in line with what the author sees as very unfavorable demographic trends in the Russian Federation as a whole. The fact that his own statistics do not justify the generalization (a net population loss of a few thousand deaths over live births in 2016 for a population of 146 million) does not get in the way of the paint-by-color canvas.  Nor does the author explain why what he has observed in a village off the beaten track in Northwest Russia, in precisely the still poor region of Pskov, gives an accurate account of country life across the vast territory of Russia, the world’s largest nation-state.

As the author notes, the main source of income from the land of the town he visited was – in the past – linen. That cultivation turned unprofitable and was discontinued. Consequently, the able-bodied part of the population has been looking for employment and making their lives elsewhere (a process of internal migration common all over the world, including the United States).

The author fails to mention that linen production is not a major agricultural indicator in Russia today, whereas many other crops are booming. Linen goes into the lovely traditional handicraft tablecloths and napkins sold to tourists at riverboat landings, and that is the extent of demand.

I could respond to the overriding portrait of countryside decay in the Times article by drawing on my observations a year ago from the deck of one of those riverboats navigating the canals and rivers connecting St. Petersburg and Moscow. From that deck and from the experience of walking around the little picturesque towns where we made stops, I understand that growing domestic Russian tourism has pumped financial resources into historic centers, like Uglich. They are coming alive, with infrastructure improvements and reviving trade.

But tourist sites are not going to be representative of the country at large, either. So I will instead use two sources of information that I am confident have greater relevance to the issue at hand. The first, and surely the most politically significant, comes from a couple of family friends who for nearly 50 years have spent summers at a parcel of land deep in the hinterland, 280 kilometers southeast of St. Petersburg, close to regional industrial center of Pikalyovo, (Leningradskaya Oblast) with its train station along the line linking the northern capital to Vologda.

My Own Eyes

The second source is my own experience in and around our property in Orlino, a hamlet numbering 300 inhabitants in the Gatchina district, also Leningradskaya Oblast, but 80 kilometers due south of St. Petersburg.

The homesteads around Pikalyovo were always hard to get to, with very poor local roads. There was no commercial infrastructure, so the bold and determined vacationers coming here had to bring most provisions for their stay with them. They were rewarded for their efforts by the produce grown in their gardens and by foraging for berries and highly desirable boletes and other wild mushrooms in the surrounding forests.

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Russian economy followed suit in the 1990s, the Pikalyovo region suffered the kind of economic misery and population loss that the Times describes today in the Pskov region. Our friends saw that normal folks left, and the concentration of drunkards and thieves rose proportionately. The theft of anything of value in common space became acute when scrap metal scavengers pulled up kilometers of electrical cables for their copper content, leaving swathes of the district temporarily without electricity.

Pikalyovo came to the attention of national news during the 2008-2009 financial crisis when its three main industrial enterprises shut down, causing widespread misery. The best known of these enterprises, a clay processing plant owned by the oligarch Oleg Derispaska’s conglomerate Basic Element, caused a major scandal when state television carried reports on how the factory had not paid its employees for months while the boss was seeking and obtaining government assistance with repayment and rescheduling of his foreign loans. In the spring of 2009, there were protest demonstrations in Pikalyovo that resulted in both Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin personally entering the dispute to pressure Deripaska to do the right thing.

The economic woes of the regional economic hub did nothing to improve the living conditions in nearby hamlets like the one where our friends have their parcel. Our friends started cutting back on their visits and missed a year or two altogether. All of this would seem to confirm the storyline of the Times reporter, but the latest word from Volodya and Tamara overturns the storyline completely.

A Revival

A few weeks ago, our friends decided to go back to the property to prepare it for sale. They had had enough, they thought. However, once there, they discovered things were definitely looking up. A newly completed 35 kilometer highway makes their settlement much more accessible.

But, more importantly, the neighbors have changed – for the better. A retired colonel moved in a couple of years ago and started raising pigs, cows and chickens, offering meat, eggs and dairy products for sale, thereby ending our friends’ need for brought-in provisions. His example attracted others. New and dynamic settlers are putting into practice the “return to the land” trend that is an undeniable feature of current Russian social life. Our friends have decided not to sell, and to spend more time on their property.

In legal terms, the parcel of land my wife owns in the hamlet of Orlino (population 300) is categorized as a “subsistence farm.” The nature of the farming to be done there even features in the plan attached to the cadastral registry: the 700 square meters where the house was built facing the “Central Street” can be used for fruit trees and vegetable garden; the back field of another 700 square meters is allocated for potatoes, cabbage and similar crops.

In the vernacular, however, together with the two-story planed log house we built here five years ago, the property is considered a “dacha,” a summer residence. Nearly one in two urban Russian households has a dacha.

Young people think of dachas as weekend getaway locations to hold a barbecue for friends and family. If they have a feeling for Russian traditions, it is where they take their Saturday banya, or sauna in dedicated outhouses heated by wood burning stoves and then socialize over a beer. Older folks and pensioners find this frivolous. In their view, the dacha is not so much a place to idle time away as it is a place of honest toil, working the land and communing with nature. And even some of the younger generation buys into the concept of growing their own organic foods on their land, thus getting along without industrially farmed supermarket produce, whether domestic or imported.

One hundred years ago, Orlino was populated mostly by wealthy merchants whose businesses were in the extended district. They lived here year-round in substantial houses, some of which have survived to this day. To the back of the houses, what were essentially barns were built on, and there they kept some small livestock. No one in Orlino today keeps chickens, pigs, goats, not to mention cows. But they do till the land with great enthusiasm and look after their fruit trees and red berry shrubs.

The notion of subsistence farming suggests border-line poverty. But Orlino was never poor, and its residents are not indigent today. Oldsters whose pensions are inadequate are supported by their children or nephews/nieces’ families living in the local towns, in the district capital of Gatchina 50 kilometers away, or even in St. Petersburg. In return, these relatives visit in the summer to spend some days of vacation and take advantage of the large lake on the edge of the hamlet, which is lovely for swimming or boating when the weather is cooperative.

Good Use of Land

The notion of subsistence farming also suggests tough practicality. But making good use of the land does not exclude aesthetic pleasures, and every parcel of land in the hamlet is decorated by flower beds showing great ingenuity and effort.

Similarly, in the last year the Orlino farmers have all gone the way of their brethren across Russia and invested in greenhouses made of pre-formed polycarbonate walls, most commonly resembling hoops in profile. Here they put in tomatoes, cucumbers and other highly prized vegetables for their dining table which do not do well in the short growing season of the North, and in the very adverse climatic conditions which were exemplary this year in terms of cool temperatures and incessant rains. Given the expense of these greenhouses, the investment is not so much economically justified as it is a point of pride in self-sufficiency and green-thumb skills.

Electricity is the only utility that spells dependency for Orlino residents. Otherwise, each household has its own well, its own septic tank system, its own gas cylinder for the cooking stove and its own supply of birch logs for a wood-burning stove that is the mainstay of heating.

Many households have cars. The most recent arrivals, being by far the most prosperous, often have four-wheel-drive utility vehicles. This is a valuable benefit given the deplorable condition of many local roads. But then there is a significant minority who depend on the local bus system to get around. It is cheap, runs to schedule and gets you from point A to point B without fuss. The hamlet has a couple of grocery stores, so that staples are always available within easy walking distance.

An Economic Hub

For luxuries, there is the town of Siversk 10 kilometers away. Numbering perhaps 10,000 people, it is the local economic hub, with several factories, including a manufacturer of good quality upholstered furniture.

Siversk has a train station with hourly connections to Gatchina and St. Petersburg. It also has several supermarkets run by major national retail chains, so that you will find exactly the same product assortment as in St. Petersburg or Moscow. And there are a number of high quality specialty food stores and at least one bakery which is indistinguishable from what you might find in Vienna or Frankfurt.

In the not so distant past, even urban Russians had not much interest in salads or in fish. Chicken legs or sausages or pork cutlets for the barbecue were what folks shopped for as main courses. Now even our Siversk stores offer pre-packaged mixed lettuce salads or rucola coming from greenhouse complexes in Greater St. Petersburg.

And the leading fish store offers not only salmon steaks from Scandinavian producers, but several varieties of delicacy fish from Europe’s largest fresh water lake, situated 50 kilometers to the east of St. Petersburg. Still more impressive is the assortment of fish coming down each day from Murmansk: excellent flounder and superb gorbusha, a wild salmon usually considered to be a Pacific Ocean variety but also available in the waters north and west of Siberia. For those with deeper pockets, the fish vendor in little Siversk occasionally offers a fresh sterlet, the magnificent 1 kilogram-size representative of the sturgeon family that is farmed on the Volga in Astrakhan, far to the South.

I offer these observations from shopping to make the following point about the Russian country life as I see it: a lively economy with a population growing ever more sophisticated and aspiring to the good life.

The Lower Strata

When I shared these thoughts with my friend in France, he shot back: what about the lower strata of society? How are they faring?

My ready response draws on my five-year acquaintance with our “average Joe” neighbor in Orlino, Sergei. When we settled here five years ago, he drilled our artesian well, installed the electric pump and all sanitary plumbing in our house. Now he winterizes the house each year and keeps an eye on the property when we are away, for compensation to be sure, but more out of friendship, because he has other, more lucrative sources of income as a subcontractor or day worker on local construction projects. There is a lot of work of this kind now that Orlino’s fallow fields are slowly being converted into housing estates.

Sergei is a master of several building trades. He also drives a tractor. He is mechanically gifted.

Sergei is about 55, the father of a grown son and daughter, the grandfather of two. When we first met, he was living in an apartment in a multi-unit wooden house dating back 60 or 70 years that was neither comfortable nor attractive. In the past three years he has realized a long time dream and built for himself a two-story cement block house, now clad in siding. The interior space is perhaps 250 square meters. When you pass it from the road, in a row of several other very substantial recent houses, you would place it as solidly upper-middle class. And next to his house Sergei has put up a very fine and large greenhouse. Beyond that is an extensive field of splendid potatoes and vegetables.

To be sure, the second story of Sergei’s house still needs work and he and his wife live now only on the ground floor. Moreover, the investment of all spare cash into the house has scuttled other needs. When Sergei’s ancient Toyota pick-up finally rusted into irreparable condition, he found himself without motorized transport. Until further notice, until he can put together the down payment for a new vehicle, he gets around town on a bicycle.

Sergei is no fool. He gripes about local corruption and terrible roads. But on the whole he is satisfied with his lot and optimistic about the future. Any belt-tightening that has been made necessary by Western sanctions he takes in his stride. He is resolutely patriotic.

I realize full well that the observations taken from my personal experience of the Russian countryside and from the experience of close friends is anecdotal and so not statistically significant. But then neither are the observations of The New York Times reporter.

Russia is a vast land and you can pretty much find what you are looking for there. Nonetheless, the gross economic statistics published by Rosstat are upbeat and fully contradict the notion of a country in decline, including its rural component.

Posted in USA, Media, RussiaComments Off on The NYT’s Grim Depiction of Russian Life

A Blacklisted Film and the New Cold War

NOVANEWS
By Robert Parry 

Why is the U.S. mainstream media so frightened of a documentary that debunks the beloved story of how “lawyer” Sergei Magnitsky uncovered massive Russian government corruption and died as a result? If the documentary is as flawed as its critics claim, why won’t they let it be shown to the American public, then lay out its supposed errors, and use it as a case study of how such fakery works?

Film director Andrei Nekrasov

Instead we – in the land of the free, home of the brave – are protected from seeing this documentary produced by filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov who was known as a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin but who in this instance found the West’s widely accepted Magnitsky storyline to be a fraud.

Instead, last week, Senate Judiciary Committee members sat in rapt attention as hedge-fund operator William Browder wowed them with a reprise of his Magnitsky tale and suggested that people who have challenged the narrative and those who dared air the documentary one time at Washington’s Newseum last year should be prosecuted for violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).

It appears that Official Washington’s anti-Russia hysteria has reached such proportions that old-time notions about hearing both sides of a story or testing out truth in the marketplace of ideas must be cast aside. The new political/media paradigm is to shield the American people from information that contradicts the prevailing narratives, all the better to get them to line up behind Those Who Know Best.

Nekrasov’s powerful deconstruction of the Magnitsky myth – and the film’s subsequent blacklisting throughout the “free world” – recall other instances in which the West’s propaganda lines don’t stand up to scrutiny, so censorship and ad hominem attacks become the weapons of choice to defend “perception management” narratives in geopolitical hot spots such as Iraq (2002-03), Libya (2011), Syria (2011 to the present), and Ukraine (2013 to the present).

But the Magnitsky myth has a special place as the seminal fabrication of the dangerous New Cold War between the nuclear-armed West and nuclear-armed Russia.

In the United States, Russia-bashing in The New York Times and other “liberal media” also has merged with the visceral hatred of President Trump, causing all normal journalistic standards to be jettisoned.

A Call for Prosecutions

Browder, the American-born co-founder of Hermitage Capital Management who is now a British citizen, raised the stakes even more when he testified that the people involved in arranging a one-time showing of Nekrasov’s documentary, “The Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes,” at the Newseum should be held accountable under FARA, which has penalties ranging up to five years in prison.

Browder testified: “As part of [Russian lawyer Natalie] Veselnitskaya’s lobbying, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, Chris Cooper of the Potomac Group, was hired to organize the Washington, D.C.-based premiere of a fake documentary about Sergei Magnitsky and myself. This was one the best examples of Putin’s propaganda.

“They hired Howard Schweitzer of Cozzen O’Connor Public Strategies and former Congressman Ronald Dellums to lobby members of Congress on Capitol Hill to repeal the Magnitsky Act and to remove Sergei’s name from the Global Magnitsky bill. On June 13, 2016, they funded a major event at the Newseum to show their fake documentary, inviting representatives of Congress and the State Department to attend.

“While they were conducting these operations in Washington, D.C., at no time did they indicate that they were acting on behalf of Russian government interests, nor did they file disclosures under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. United States law is very explicit that those acting on behalf of foreign governments and their interests must register under FARA so that there is transparency about their interests and their motives.

“Since none of these people registered, my firm wrote to the Department of Justice in July 2016 and presented the facts. I hope that my story will help you understand the methods of Russian operatives in Washington and how they use U.S. enablers to achieve major foreign policy goals without disclosing those interests.”

Browder’s Version

While he loosely accused a number of Americans of felonies, Browder continued to claim that Magnitsky was a crusading “lawyer” who uncovered a $230 million tax-fraud scheme carried out ostensibly by Browder’s companies but, which, according to Browder’s account, was really engineered by corrupt Russian police officers who then arrested Magnitsky and later were responsible for his death in a Russian jail.

Sergei Magnitsky

Browder’s narrative has received a credulous hearing by Western politicians and media already inclined to think the worst of Putin’s Russia and willing to treat Browder’s claims as true without serious examination. However, beyond the self-serving nature of Browder’s tale, there are many holes in the story, including whether Magnitsky was really a principled lawyer or instead a complicit accountant.

According to Browder’s own biographical description of Magnitsky, he received his education at the Plekhanov Institute in Moscow, a reference to Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, a school for finance and business, not a law school.

Nevertheless, the West’s mainstream media – relying on the word of Browder – has accepted Magnitsky’s standing as a “lawyer,” which apparently fits better in the narrative of Magnitsky as a crusading corruption fighter rather than a potential co-conspirator with Browder in a complex fraud, as the Russian government has alleged.

Magnitsky’s mother also has described her son as an accountant, although telling Nekrasov in the documentary “he wasn’t just an accountant; he was interested in lots of things.” In the film, the “lawyer” claim is also disputed by a female co-worker who knew Magnitsky well. “He wasn’t a lawyer,” she said.

In other words, on this high-profile claim repeated by Browder again and again, it appears that presenting Magnitsky as a “lawyer” is a convenient falsehood that buttresses the Magnitsky myth, which Browder constructed after Magnitsky’s death from heart failure while in pre-trial detention.

But the Magnitsky myth took off in 2012 when Browder sold his tale to neocon Senators Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, and John McCain, R-Arizona, who threw their political weight behind a bipartisan drive in Congress leading to the passage of the Magnitsky sanctions act, the opening shot in the New Cold War.

A Planned Docudrama

Browder’s dramatic story also attracted the attention of Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, a well-known critic of Putin from previous films. Nekrasov set out to produce a docudrama that would share Browder’s good-vs.-evil narrative to a wider public.

Nekrasov devotes the first half hour of the film to allowing Browder to give his Magnitsky account illustrated by scenes from Nekrasov’s planned docudrama. In other words, the viewer gets to see a highly sympathetic portrayal of Browder and Magnitsky as supposedly corrupt Russian authorities bring charges of tax fraud against them.

However, Nekrasov’s documentary project takes an unexpected turn when his research turns up numerous contradictions to Browder’s storyline, which begins to look more and more like a corporate cover story. For instance, Magnitsky’s mother blames the negligence of prison doctors for her son’s death rather than a beating by prison guards as Browder had pitched to Western audiences.

Nekrasov also discovered that a woman who had worked in Browder’s company blew the whistle before Magnitsky talked to police and that Magnitsky’s original interview with authorities was as a suspect, not a whistleblower. Also contradicting Browder’s claims, Nekrasov notes that Magnitsky doesn’t even mention the names of the police officers in a key statement to authorities.

When one of the Browder-accused police officers, Pavel Karpov, filed a libel suit against Browder in London, the case was dismissed on technical grounds because Karpov had no reputation in Great Britain to slander. But the judge seemed sympathetic to the substance of Karpov’s complaint.

Browder claimed vindication before adding an ironic protest given his successful campaign to prevent Americans and Europeans from seeing Nekrasov’s documentary.

“These people tried to shut us up; they tried to stifle our freedom of expression,” Browder complained. “[Karpov] had the audacity to come here and sue us, paying high-priced libel lawyers to come and terrorize us in the U.K.”

The ‘Kremlin Stooge’ Slur

A pro-Browder account published at the Daily Beast on July 25 – attacking Nekrasov and his documentary – is entitled “How an Anti-Putin Filmmaker Became a Kremlin Stooge,” a common slur used in the West to discredit and silence anyone who dares question today’s Russia-hating groupthink.

The article by Katie Zavadski accuses Nekrasov of being in the tank for the Kremlin and declares that “The movie is so flattering to the Russian narrative that Pavel Karpov — one of the police officers accused of being responsible for Magnitsky’s death — plays himself.”

But that’s not true. In fact, there is a scene in the documentary in which Nekrasov invites the actor who plays Karpov in the docudrama segment to sit in on an interview with the real Karpov. There’s even a clumsy moment when the actor and police officer bump into a microphone as they shake hands, but Zavadski’s falsehood would not be apparent unless you had somehow gotten access to the documentary, which has been effectively banned in the West.

In the documentary, Karpov, the police officer, accuses Browder of lying about him and specifically contests the claim that he (Karpov) used his supposedly ill-gotten gains to buy an expensive apartment in Moscow. Karpov came to the interview with documents showing that the flat was pre-paid in 2004-05, well before the alleged hijacking of Browder’s firms.

Karpov added wistfully that he had to sell the apartment to pay for his failed legal challenge in London, which he said he undertook in an effort to clear his name. “Honor costs a lot sometimes,” the police officer said.

Karpov also explained that the investigations of Browder’s tax fraud started well before the Magnitsky controversy, with an examination of a Browder company in 2004.

“Once we opened the investigation, a campaign in defense of an investor started,” Karpov said. “Having made billions here, Browder forgot to tell how he did it. So it suits him to pose as a victim. … Browder and company are lying blatantly and constantly.”

However, since virtually no one in the West has seen this interview, you can’t make your own judgment as to whether Karpov is credible or not.

A Painful Recognition

Yet, in reviewing the case documents and noting Browder’s inaccurate claims about the chronology, Nekrasov finds his own doubts growing. He discovers that European officials simply accepted Browder’s translations of Russian documents, rather than checking them independently. A similar lack of skepticism prevailed in the United States.

In other words, a kind of trans-Atlantic groupthink took hold with clear political benefits for those who went along and almost no one willing to risk the accusation of being a “Kremlin stooge” by showing doubt.

As the documentary proceeds, Browder starts avoiding Nekrasov and his more pointed questions. Finally, Nekrasov hesitantly confronts the hedge-fund executive at a party for Browder’s book, Red Notice, about the Magnitsky case.

The easygoing Browder of the early part of the documentary — as he lays out his seamless narrative without challenge — is gone; instead, a defensive and angry Browder appears.

“It’s bullshit,” Browder says when told that his presentations of the documents are false.

But Nekrasov continues to find more contradictions and discrepancies. He discovers evidence that Browder’s web site eliminated an earlier chronology that showed that in April 2008, a 70-year-old woman named Rimma Starova, who had served as a figurehead executive for Browder’s companies, reported the theft of state funds.

Nekrasov then shows how Browder’s narrative was changed to introduce Magnitsky as the whistleblower months later, although he was then described as an “analyst,” not yet a “lawyer.”

As Browder’s story continues to unravel, the evidence suggests that Magnitsky was an accountant implicated in manipulating the books, not a crusading lawyer risking everything for the truth.

A Heated Confrontation

In the documentary, Nekrasov struggles with what to do next, given Browder’s financial and political clout. Finally securing another interview, Nekrasov confronts Browder with the core contradictions of his story. Incensed, the hedge-fund executive rises up and threatens the filmmaker.

William Browder (right) with Magnitsky’s widow and son,
along with European parliamentarians.

“I’d be very careful going out and trying to do a whole sort of thing about Sergei [Magnitsky] not being the whistleblower, it won’t do well for your credibility on this show,” Browder said. “This is sort of the subtle FSB version,” suggesting that Nekrasov was just fronting for the Russian intelligence service.

In the pro-Browder account published at the Daily Beast on July 25, Browder described how he put down Nekrasov by telling him, “it sounds like you’re part of the FSB. … Those are FSB questions.”

But that phrasing is not what he actually says in the documentary, raising further questions about whether the Daily Beast reporter actually watched the film or simply accepted Browder’s account of it. (I posed that question to the Daily Beast’s Katie Zavadski by email, but have not gotten a reply.)

The documentary also includes devastating scenes from depositions of a sullen and uncooperative Browder and a U.S. government investigator, who acknowledges relying on Browder’s narrative and documents in a related case against Russian businesses.

In an April 15, 2015 deposition of Browder, he, in turn, describes relying on reports from journalists to “connect the dots,” including the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which is funded by the U.S. government and financial speculator George Soros. Browder said the reporters “worked with our team.”

While taking money from the U.S. Agency for International Development and Soros, the OCCRP also targeted Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych with accusations of corruption prior to the Feb. 22, 2014 coup that ousted Yanukovych, an overthrow that was supported by the U.S. State Department and escalated the New Cold War with Russia.

OCCRP played a key role, too, in the so-called Panama Papers, purloined documents from a Panamanian law firm that were used to develop attack lines against Russian President Vladimir Putin although his name never appeared in the documents.

After examining the money-movement charts published by OCCRP about the Magnitsky case, Nekrasov notes that the figures don’t add up and wonders how journalists could “peddle these wooly maths.” He also observed that OCCRP’s Panama Papers linkage of Magnitsky’s $230 million fraud and payments to an ally of Putin made no sense because the dates of the Panama Papers transactions preceded the dates of the alleged Magnitsky fraud.

The Power of Myth

Nekrasov suggests that the power of Browder’s convoluted story rested, in part, on a Hollywood perception of Moscow as a place where evil Russians lurk around every corner and any allegation against “corrupt” officials is believed. The Magnitsky tale “was like a film script about Russia written for the Western audience,” Nekrasov says.

But the Browder’s narrative also served a strong geopolitical interest to demonize Russia at the dawn of the New Cold War.

In the documentary’s conclusion, Nekrasov sums up what he had discovered: “A murdered hero as an alibi for living suspects.” He then ponders the danger to democracy: “So do we allow graft and greed to hide behind a political sermon? Will democracy survive if human rights — its moral high ground — is used to protect selfish interests?”

But Americans and Europeans are being spared the discomfort of having to answer that question or to question their representatives about the failure to skeptically examine this case that has pushed the planet on a course toward a possible nuclear war.

Instead, the mainstream Western media has hurled insults at Nekrasov even as his documentary is blocked from any significant public viewing.

Despite Browder’s professed concern about the London libel case that he claimed was an attempt “to stifle our freedom of expression,” he has sicced his lawyers on anyone who might be thinking about showing Nekrasov’s documentary to the public.

The documentary was set for a premiere at the European Parliament in Brussels in April 2016, but at the last moment – faced with Browder’s legal threats – the parliamentarians pulled the plug. Nekrasov encountered similar resistance in the United States. There were hopes to show the documentary to members of Congress but the offer was rebuffed. Instead a room was rented at the Newseum near Capitol Hill.

Browder’s lawyers then tried to strong arm the Newseum, but its officials responded that they were only renting out a room and that they had allowed other controversial presentations in the past.

“We’re not going to allow them not to show the film,” said Scott Williams, the Newseum’s chief operating officer. “We often have people renting for events that other people would love not to have happen.”

In an article about the controversy in June 2016, The New York Times added that “A screening at the Newseum is especially controversial because it could attract lawmakers or their aides.”

One-Time Showing

So, Nekrasov’s documentary got a one-time showing with a follow-up discussion moderated by journalist Seymour Hersh. However, except for that audience, the public of the United States and Europe has been essentially shielded from the documentary’s discoveries, all the better for the Magnitsky myth to retain its power as a seminal propaganda moment of the New Cold War.

After the Newseum presentation, a Washington Post editorial branded Nekrasov’s documentary Russian “agit-prop” and sought to discredit Nekrasov without addressing his many documented examples of Browder’s misrepresenting both big and small facts in the case.

Instead, the Post accused Nekrasov of using “facts highly selectively” and insinuated that he was merely a pawn in the Kremlin’s “campaign to discredit Mr. Browder and the Magnitsky Act.”

Like the recent Daily Beast story, which falsely claimed that Nekrasov let the Russian police officer Karpov play himself, the Postmisrepresented the structure of the film by noting that it mixed fictional scenes with real-life interviews and action, a point that was technically true but willfully misleading because the fictional scenes were from Nekrasov’s original idea for a docudrama that he shows as part of explaining his evolution from a believer in Browder’s self-exculpatory story to a skeptic.

But the Post’s deception – like the Daily Beast’s falsehood – is something that almost no American would realize because almost no one has gotten to see the film.

The Post’s editorial gloated: “The film won’t grab a wide audience, but it offers yet another example of the Kremlin’s increasingly sophisticated efforts to spread its illiberal values and mind-set abroad. In the European Parliament and on French and German television networks, showings were put off recently after questions were raised about the accuracy of the film, including by Magnitsky’s family.

“We don’t worry that Mr. Nekrasov’s film was screened here, in an open society. But it is important that such slick spin be fully exposed for its twisted story and sly deceptions.”

The Post’s arrogant editorial had the feel of something you might read in a totalitarian society where the public only hears about dissent when the Official Organs of the State denounce some almost unknown person for saying something that almost no one heard.

It is also unlikely that Americans and Europeans will get a chance to view this blacklisted documentary in the future. In an email exchange, the film’s Norwegian producer Torstein Grude told me that “We have been unsuccessful in releasing the film to TV so far. ZDF/Arte [a major European network] pulled it from transmission a few days before it was supposed to be aired and the other broadcasters seem scared as a result. Netflix has declined to take it. …

“The film has no other release at the moment. Distributors are scared by Browder’s legal threats. All involved financiers, distributors, producers received thick stacks of legal documents (300+ pages) threatening lawsuits should the film be released.” [Grude sent me a special password so I could view the documentary on Vimeo.]

The blackout continues even though the Magnitsky issue and Nekrasov’s documentary have become elements in the recent controversy over a meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How Russia-gate Met the Magnitsky Myth.”]

So much for the West’s vaunted belief in freedom of expression and the democratic goal of encouraging freewheeling debates about issues of great public importance. And, so much for the Post’s empty rhetoric about our “open society.”

Posted in USA, RussiaComments Off on A Blacklisted Film and the New Cold War

What Mainstream Media Got Wrong About Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly Vote

NOVANEWS

Venezuelans voted Sunday for representatives of the National Constituent Assembly, amid what the government has called a targeted media campaign to destabilize the country and destroy its sovereignty.

International media outlets rushed to discredit the vote, sharing grossly misrepresentative accounts of the historic electoral process.

The U.S. newspaper Washington Post, for instance, wrote “the decision to hold the vote appeared set to prolong and deepen the suffering of the people of Venezuela” — despite assurances from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro that the purpose of the election was to ease economic and political conflicts with the opposition.

The Washington Post also insisted the nation’s 2.8 million state workers “risked losing their jobs if they did not vote.”

The media outlet went even further, claiming the internal and democratic election represented “a direct challenge” to the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump after it demanded that the government cancel the vote.

It said Maduro “defiantly followed through Sunday with his pledge” to hold the election, “creating a critical new stage in a long-simmering crisis that could mint the Western Hemisphere’s newest dictatorship.”

These inflammatory comments, however, do not acknowledge that the right to call a National Constituent Assembly is included in the country’s Constitution and supported by several articles of its text. Indeed the absolute independence of the members of the Constituent Assembly to make changes to the Constitution is protected under these articles.

Germany’s Deutsche Welle meanwhile said the election “will cement a socialist dictatorship” — ignoring the fact that Venezuelans have the right to call for a Constituent Assembly and that the new Constitution will need to be approved by the people.

The British media outlet BBC referenced the recent deaths during violent protests in Caracas, placing the full responsibility for the clashes on security forces.

But Venezuelan Armed Forces have denied these accusations. In a press conference Sunday, Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez said that none of the injuries or deaths could be attributed to the Armed Forces. The article also ignores the eight members of the Armed Forces who were severely injured while protecting Venezuelans’ right to vote.

The CNN, a longtime critic of the Venezuelan government, argued the Constituent Assembly was controlled by Maduro and that the “vote would give the president immense political power.”

This statement fails to take into account that no other state institution may interfere in the new legislative body. Only the 545 officials elected by the citizens from different sectors of society can draft the new Constitution.

CNN also reported that Maduro would replace Venezuela’s National Assembly — a situation that has never been stated in the decree to call for an open and direct vote.

Canada’s Globe and Mail said “voters broadly boycotted” the election, ignoring the numerous of photos and videos of people lining up to vote at dawn and even wading through swamps to reach the voting centers. The article also does not include the countless reports of seniors and people with disabilities eagerly casting votes across the country.

“Caracas was largely shut down with deserted streets and polling stations were mostly empty, dealing a blow to the legitimacy of the vote,” said the Globe and Mail without any evidence.

The Guardian joined the mainstream criticism, calling the election an action that will “seal the demise of the oil-rich nation’s democracy.”

Again, the article failed to acknowledge the thousands of people who fought to earn the opportunity to be candidates in this historical event, including candidates from the LGBT community, student organizations and women and campesino groups.

Finally, the New York Times reported on the election with the headline: “As Venezuela Prepares to Vote, Some Fear an End to Democracy.”

The article reported, “Maduro is pushing a radical plan to consolidate his leftist movement’s grip over the nation,” forgetting that candidates are not voted for according to their political parties but through individual candidacies.

In one of the bluntest accusations, the newspaper argued Maduro “has refused to negotiate with street protesters,” a claim that blatantly ignores Maduro’s ongoing calls for peaceful dialogue and guidance from the Vatican.

It concludes by accusing the president of Venezuela of seeking an “unchecked authority not seen since the juntas that haunted Latin American countries in decades past,” as Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution have vowed to fight the same external interference that brought the U.S. backed dictatorships to the region in the 60s.

Posted in VenezuelaComments Off on What Mainstream Media Got Wrong About Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly Vote


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