Archive | September 4th, 2019

Strangelove Redux: US Experts Propose Having Artificial Intelligence (AI) Control Nuclear Weapons

By Matt Field

Global Research,

Hypersonic missiles, stealthy cruise missiles, and weaponized artificial intelligence have so reduced the amount of time that decision makers in the United States would theoretically have to respond to a nuclear attack that, two military experts say, it’s time for a new US nuclear command, control, and communications system. Their solution? Give artificial intelligence control over the launch button.

In an article in War on the Rocks titled, ominously, “America Needs a ‘Dead Hand,’” US deterrence experts Adam Lowther and Curtis McGiffin propose a nuclear command, control, and communications setup with some eerie similarities to the Soviet system referenced in the title to their piece. The Dead Hand was a semiautomated system developed to launch the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal under certain conditions, including, particularly, the loss of national leaders who could do so on their own. Given the increasing time pressure Lowther and McGiffin say US nuclear decision makers are under,

“[I]t may be necessary to develop a system based on artificial intelligence, with predetermined response decisions, that detects, decides, and directs strategic forces with such speed that the attack-time compression challenge does not place the United States in an impossible position.”

In case handing over the control of nuclear weapons to HAL 9000 sounds risky, the authors also put forward a few other solutions to the nuclear time-pressure problem: Bolster the United States’ ability to respond to a nuclear attack after the fact, that is, ensure a so-called second-strike capability; adopt a willingness to pre-emptively attack other countries based on warnings that they are preparing to attack the United States; or destabilize the country’s adversaries by fielding nukes near their borders, the idea here being that such a move would bring countries to the arms control negotiating table.

Still, the authors clearly appear to favor an artificial intelligence-based solution.

“Nuclear deterrence creates stability and depends on an adversary’s perception that it cannot destroy the United States with a surprise attack, prevent a guaranteed retaliatory strike, or prevent the United States from effectively commanding and controlling its nuclear forces,” they write. “That perception begins with an assured ability to detect, decide, and direct a second strike. In this area, the balance is shifting away from the United States.”

History is replete with instances in which it seems, in retrospect, that nuclear war could have started were it not for some flesh-and-blood human refusing to begin Armageddon. Perhaps the most famous such hero was Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet lieutenant colonel, who was the officer on duty in charge of the Soviet Union’s missile-launch detection system when it registered five inbound missiles on Sept. 26, 1983. Petrov decided the signal was in error and reported it as a false alarm. It was. Whether an artificial intelligence would have reached the same decision is, at the least, uncertain.

One of the risks of incorporating more artificial intelligence into the nuclear command, control, and communications system involves the phenomenon known as automation bias. Studies have shown that people will trust what an automated system is telling them. In one study, pilots who told researchers that they wouldn’t trust an automated system that reported an engine fire unless there was corroborating evidence nonetheless did just that in simulations. (Furthermore, they told experimenters that there had in fact been corroborating information, when there hadn’t.)Timeline of the Doomsday Clock. The Dangers of Nuclear War

University of Pennsylvania political science professor and Bulletin columnist Michael Horowitz, who researches military innovation, counts automation bias as a strike against building an artificial intelligence-based nuclear command, control, and communications system.

“A risk in a world of automation bias is that the Petrov of the future doesn’t use his judgment,” he says, “or that there is no Petrov.”

The algorithms that power artificial intelligence-systems are usually trained on huge datasets which simply don’t exist when it comes to nuclear weapons launches.

“There have not been nuclear missile attacks, country against country. And so, training an algorithm for early warning means that you’re relying entirely on simulated data,” Horowitz says. “I would say, based on the state-of-the-art in the development of algorithms, that generates some risks.”

Mostly, Horowitz thinks the United States wouldn’t develop an artificial intelligence-based command, control, and communications system because, even if there may be less time to react to an attack in this era than in earlier decades, the government is confident in the military’s second-strike capability.

“As long as you have secure-second strike capabilities, you can probably absorb some of these variations in speed, because you always have the ability to retaliate,” he says.

Lowther and McGiffin point out that a second strike means there’s already been a first strike somewhere.

The "Doomsday Machine" in the movie Dr. Strangelove shares some similarities with a system the Soviet Union actually set up. Photo via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

The “Doomsday Machine” in the movie Dr. Strangelove shares some similarities with a system the Soviet Union actually set up. Photo via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

There is some precedent for the system proposed by the War on the Rocksauthors, who have served in government or in the military in nuclear-weapons-related capacities. In the fictional world of Hollywood, that precedent was established in Stanley Kubrick’s nuclear satire Dr. Strangelove and called the “Doomsday Machine,” which author Eric Schlosser described this way for The New Yorker:

“The device would trigger itself, automatically, if the Soviet Union were attacked with nuclear weapons. It was meant to be the ultimate deterrent, a threat to destroy the world in order to prevent an American nuclear strike. But the failure of the Soviets to tell the United States about the contraption defeats its purpose and, at the end of the film, inadvertently causes a nuclear Armageddon. ‘The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost,’ Dr. Strangelove, the President’s science adviser, explains to the Soviet Ambassador, ‘if you keep it a secret!’”

About two decades later, satire became closer to reality with the advent of the Soviet Union’s semiautomated Dead Hand system, formally known as Perimeter. When that system perceived that the Soviet military hierarchy no longer existed and detected signs of a nuclear explosion, three officers deep in a bunker were to launch small command rockets that would fly across the country initiating the launch of all of the Soviet Union’s remaining missiles, in a sort of revenge-from-the-grave move. The system was intended to enhance deterrence. Some reports suggest it is still in place.

The possibility that taking humans out of the loop might lead to an accidental launch and unintended nuclear war is a main element in US Naval War College Prof. Tom Nichols’ harsh characterization of the Dead Hand system in a 2014 article in The National Interest: “Turns out the Soviet high command, in its pathetic and paranoid last years, was just that crazy.”

But Lowther and McGiffin say a hypothetical US system would be different than Dead Hand because “the system itself would determine the response based on its own assessment of the inbound threat.“ That is to say, the US system would be better, because it wouldn’t necessarily wait for a nuclear detonation to launch a US attack.

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The US Economic War on France

By Terje Maloy

Global Research,

“France does not know it, but we are at war with America. Yes, a permanent war, a vital war, an economic war, a war seemingly without dead. Yes, they are very hard the Americans, they are voracious, and they want an undivided power over the world. It’s an unknown war, a permanent war, apparently without death and yet a war to the death.“ François Mitterrand, French president 1981-1995

And moreover, France is clearly losing this war. Officially, the United States and France are allies through the NATO military pact. When they in partnership instigate wars and regime changes around the world, they share the spoils. But when we look at “the hands, not the mouth”, we can plainly see a long term US project to subjugate France as a great power. With the recent French leadership ideologically tied to a dead end neoliberalism, French corporations, some of them once world leaders in their field, are being picked off one by one.

So while France is one of the most ruthless powers in the world against smaller and poorer countries, she has in turn problems when being attacked by a bigger fish.

Lawfare Through the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

In 1977, the United States introduced a law with insidious consequences, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. With the declared best of intentions, to prohibit United States companies from influencing foreign officials with any personal payments or rewards, i.e. bribes, the law has taken on a life of its own. With the clause in the law that the corruption does not require a physical presence in the US, the federal government has used its muscles to claim extraterritorial jurisdiction over all foreign companies doing any of their business transactions with US means; In particular this is the use of the US dollar as a means of trading, in practice used in all international business transactions. The frequency in the use of this law has markedly gone up for each decade since it was introduced.

If one looks at the remarkable list below, it is hard to maintain that this is not part a hostile strategy to subjugate a foreign power:

  • Alstom, ($772 million, more on this incredible story later in the article)
  • Technip (fined $300 million over Brazil, Iraq bribes)
  • Total, ($398 million, 2013)
  • Societe Generale, ($1.3 billion to settle allegations of breaching US unilateral sanctions in 2018)
  • BNP Paribas (fined $ 9 billion in 2014 for failing to comply with the US embargo on Cuba and Iran)
  • Crédit Agricole, ($800 million, 2015)
  • The nuclear power company Areva (tbd, a whopping $24 billion mentioned!)
  • Alcatel ($137 million, 2010)
  • The most recent case under investigation is the European Airbus corporation (investigation still in progress)

In addition we have things such as:

  • Big agricultural losses because of sanctions war with Russia
  • Non-delivery of Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia (full refund to Russia + $2 billion in damages)
  • Huge losses for French car makers, banks, oil companies because of sanctions on Iran 2012
  • Huge losses for French car makers, banks, oil companies because of new sanctions on Iran 2016-

This is by no means a complete list, but in total, more than $40 billion have been extracted in fines from European companies, often French companies (Germany being the other big punching bag), for breaches of unilateral US law or sanctions. Most of these cases have in common that they never happened anywhere near US soil.

The Incredible Alstom Case

In September 2015, after a real political-judicial thriller, the American company General Electric took control over the energy division in the French engineering company Alstomthus creating one of the worst strategic setbacks in 150 years of French industrial history.

A decade ago, Alstom was one of France’s national champions. It’s boiler division was the world’s leading supplier of turbines for nuclear power plants, and the company was one of the market leaders in services such as in nuclear plant maintenance More than 30% of nuclear power plants operating today use Alstom-made equipment, including the large majority of the ones in France.

Alstom had achieved significant technological advantages over its main competitors, German Siemens or Japanese Hitachi (which later merged with General Electric). Not only the «Arabelle» turbines, which will equip future nuclear power plants using French reactors, but also power plants based on Russian VVR reactor technology, thanks to at a joint venture with Rosatom. These turbines are essential to enable France to continue to be able to offer comprehensive nuclear power plant deals based on French technology for export, without having to ask for Washington’s approval.Collateral Damage: U.S. Sanctions Aimed at Russia Strike Western European Allies

In December 2014, the French company is notified by the US Department of Justice to pay a record fine of 772 million dollars for corruption charges in Asia. At the same time as this judicial process, Alstom is bought by the American corporation General Electric, winning over the German competitor Siemens (also convicted for corruption by US courts just before, but that is a different story).

In the United States, the fusion between big companies and the state goes deeper than in most countries. Corporate profits and the government’s pursuit of dominance over all rival powers are seen as two sides of the same coin. For example, the US government injected $139 billion into General Electric in 2008 to save the company from the subprime crisis. And when the company later set eyes on Alstom’s boiler division, the long reach of the US justice system was used to further both corporate and strategic aims.

Frederic Pierucci’s Story

Until 2013, Frederic Pierucci was an executive officer at Alstom. After finally being released from jail in September 2018, he is now telling his incredible story (Figaro interview) in the book «The American trap» (English edition Nov. 2019).

On April 14, 2013 he was arrested by the FBI when he arrived in New York, by order of the US Department of Justice: “I was stopped when I arrived at JFK in April 2013, before they passed chains around my feet and hands, like a prisoner of organized crime.”

The prosecutor’s office informs him that Alstom has been under investigation for three years for violation of the US Foreign Corrupt Practice Act (FCPA), that the company so far hasn’t cooperated and that they now have lost patience.

As soon as I refuse to be a mole for the American justice system, they refuse my release the next day. A release on bail that had been granted to Bernard Madoff or OJ Simpson … It’s pure intimidation: a magistrate refuses my release on bail, the marshals put chains around my hands and feet and transfer me in an armored van to one of the worst US high security prisons, Wyatt in Rhodes Island.

Why him? Pierucci explains:

“I get arrested because I am close to Patrick Kron, CEO of Alstom. But above all for another reason: I had been appointed to lead the boiler division of Alstom and the public strategy was to create a 50/50 joint venture by marrying the division I headed with that of our great Chinese competitor Shanghai Electric. And as the boss of the Alstom Boiler Division, I led the transfer of our headquarters to Singapore and was appointed to lead the future alliance. But this rapprochement with the Chinese did not at all please our great American competitor General Electric who had coveted Alstom for ages…

In August 2012, I arrive in Singapore; in November 2012 I am indicted, without my knowing it. Because the DOJ was afraid that if I knew of my indictment, I would take refuge in France and escape them. So they waited until I arrived in the United States, and I fell into the mouth of the wolf on April 14, 2013.”

Pierucci is abandoned by his own bosses and colleagues, who try to save their own skin.

“But from the moment I’m arrested and imprisoned, [Alstom CEO] Patrick Kron understands that he must cooperate, because he is next on the list and he too risks ending up in US high security jails next to psychopaths and other hit men. Therefore, from a status of non-cooperation with the US Department of Justice, it has moved to a status of full cooperation with this same department….Patrick Kron understands that the only solution for him to get by is simple: sell Alstom to General Electric. And he made contact with them via his loyal lieutenant, Gregoire Poux-Guillaume, in the summer of 2013.

It was only after a year in prison that Pierucci realized that his continued incarceration was related to this acquisition, when it was on TV that GE planned to buy Alstom, and that DOJ has no intention of letting him go. He is used as a means to keep up the pressure on the Alstom leadership.

Then, on December 19, 2014, a shareholders’ meeting was held in Paris: the shareholders voted to sell Alstom to General Electric, on the recommendation of the board. On both sides of the Atlantic, everything is synchronized. The DOJ’s deal with Alstom is signed the same day the shareholders approve the sale of 70% of Alstom to General Electric. General Electric, the US company, bought the energy division of the French corporation for 12.35 billion Euros (8.35 billion Euros after tax deductions). Interestingly, at the at the time the offer was made, the amount of the fine was still unknown, since it would not be revealed until six months later, at the end of December. Pierucci points out:But what boss can get his board to sign such a blank check without knowing the amount of the fine, which could vary several hundred million? [the press talks of up to $1.5 billion] To know even an estimate, one had of course to participate in negotiations between Alstom and the DOJ. Despite this, Jeffrey Immelt, the boss of General Electric says that he will pay …

For the next few years, Pierucci goes in and out of jail. Notably he is stuck incommunicado there in 2017 even though he is eligible to be transferred and serve the last part of the sentence in France. He meets all the criteria, but the DOJ refuses the transfer. Because at the same time, a parliamentary commission of inquiry on the acquisition of Alstom by General Electric opens in Paris and the DOJ did not wish to see me questioned by our deputies.

Pierucci is devastating in his judgement:

The dismantling of the Alstom group with the complicity of the French state and some high political leaders at the time who, instead of preserving this industrial jewel from General Electric’s predation, preferred to give in to American pressure by selling one of the pillars of our energy independence that France had taken half a century to build and which was the envy of many of our foreign competitors.

The Leadership Is Well Rewarded for the Magically Disappearing Sovereignty

What was the role of Emmanuel Macron – appointed minister of finance in August 2014 – in the sale? It is worth remembering that Macron was chosen a ‘Young Leader’ in 2012 by the French-American Foundation, four years before he became president. The Young Leader program has as its stated purpose togroom foster “a strong network of transatlantic leaders… The program takes small groups of carefully selected up-and-coming leaders in government, business, media, military, culture, and civil society” […] we see the ‘magic’ in the connections that are formed.”  While Macron realized what was going on with Alstom, having stated: “On a personal note, I was myself convinced of the causal link between this investigation and the decision of Mr. Kron, but we have no evidence …” he also said, when he worked as presidential advisor in 2014 that “it is not legitimate that we intervene, we are not in a controlled economy, we are not in Venezuela”.

Alstom CEO Patrick Kron left the company with a bonus of 4 million Euros and a retirement cap of 10 million Euros, and is now head of the private equity fund “Truffle Capital”. Despite pleading guilty in December 2014 to having paid 75 million dollars in bribes, no investigation has been opened against him in France. Kron denies he ever was pressured.

Another central actor in this intrigue, Hugh Bailey, was Emmanuel Macron’s industrial affairs advisor when he oversaw the sale of Alstom’s Energy business to General Electric. He was appointed general manager of General Electric France on April 22, 2019.

Posted in USA, France0 Comments

Venezuelan Usurper Guaido to be Charged with High Treason?

By Stephen Lendman

Global Research,

Nicolas Maduro is Venezuela’s democratically elected and reelected president — an indisputable hard truth Trump regime hardliners want erased. The Bolivarian Republic’s electoral process is “the best in the world,” Jimmy Carter earlier explained.

It’s scrupulously open, free and fair, affirmed by independent monitors every time elections are held — polar opposite the money controlled US system. One party with two right wings wins every time, what political dirty business as usual is all about — fake democracy, never the real thing, a notion the US ruling class abhors.

If voting changed anything in the US it would be banned. The nation’s founders created a system to be run exclusively of, by, and for its “rich, well-born and able,” John Adams explained.

Alexis de Tocqueville was wrong. Hypocrisy, not democracy, defines how America is governed – an increasingly totalitarian plutocracy, oligarchy and kleptocracy.

Rule of the people always meant its privileged class. The Constitution’s general welfare clause (Article I, section 8) applies to them exclusively — at the expense of most others.

Democracy in America is fake, elections farcical when held. The world’s richest nation doesn’t give a hoot about its ordinary people, exploiting them for profit.

The supreme law of the land deters no US president or sitting government from doing whatever they please, inventing reasons as justification. Ordinary people have no say over how the country is run — for powerful interests at their expense.

Venezuelans have the real thing — democracy the way it should be, a model for other nations to emulate. It’s why dark US forces want it eliminated, plotting for tyrannical pro-Western puppet rule to replace it.

Guaido is the latest in a long line of US-designated puppets, a usurper in waiting if Trump regime hardliners prevail over Bolivarian equity and justice.

Most Venezuelan resources are used for social benefits — a system Republicans and undemocratic Dems want eliminated.

Planned long in advance by his US handlers, Guaido, a political nobody artificially elevated to prominence illegally, self-declared himself interim Venezuelan president last January.

Nothing in Venezuela’s Constitution permits it. Article 233 was illegally used, stating the following:

“The President of the Republic shall become permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.”

“When an elected President becomes permanently unavailable to serve prior to his inauguration, a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days. Pending election and inauguration of the new President, the President of the National Assembly shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic.”

Nothing stated above applies to Maduro, his legitimacy as Venezuela’s president affirmed judicially. The Trump regime’s attempt to replace him constitutes a flagrant breach of international and US constitutional law.

No nation may legally interfere in the internal affairs of others, how the US operates worldwide, seeking control over other countries, their resources and populations — what the scourge of imperialism is all about.

Most world community nations reject Guaido’s illegal power grab, his coup attempt supported by right-wing Latin American and European regimes, as well as several others — pressured, bullied, and/or bribed to go along with the flagrant breach of international and Venezuelan constitutional law.

Over eight months since Guaido’s unlawful self-declaration, Maduro remains Venezuela’s legitimately elected president.

Until now, his government failed to hold Guaido accountable for sedition and treason, the highest of high crimes against the state.

On Friday, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek Saab said the following:

“We have initiated an investigation (into) an illegal negotiation behind the country’s back (by Guaido) that intends to withdraw the historical claim our country has on the territory of Essequibo. The facts imply a crime of treason.”

Preceding his remarks, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez accused Guaido of being part of a “criminal organization” — aiming to hand Bolivarian territory and resources to foreign corporations, including ExxonMobil.

In April, Guaido’s parliamentary immunity was lifted. He faces various charges, including “usurping the functions of the president.”

On Thursday, Maduro asked prosecutors to charge him with treason, urging “(t)he Public Ministry and the Attorney General’s Office have to act expeditiously because pretending to deliver the Essequibo is a crime of treason to the Fatherland.”

Maduro urged Venezuelans to defend the nation’s “legitimate and non-renounceable” territorial rights over the Essequibo region.

Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino defended his country’s claim to the territory, saying:

“The Sun of Venezuela is born in the Essequibo.”

The territory is located in southeastern Venezuela. It’s rich in oil and other natural resources. It links the Caribbean Sea with the Orinoco River.

Venezuelan authorities have audio recordings between illegitimate Guaido envoy to Britain Vanessa Neumann and his “outside advisor” Manuel Avendano to “deliver the Essequibo” to ExxonMobil and other corporate interests, Rodriguez saying:

“The criminal organization headed by Juan Guaido had initiated concrete actions to illegally appropriate Venezuela’s assets, financial resources, Venezuelan gold, Venezuelan debt, to enrich themselves and to serve transnational interests.”

It’s Venezuelan territory. In 1899, a US/UK grand theft scheme handed it to Guyana.

In 1966, weeks before country became independent from Britain, the Treaty of Geneva stipulated that Venezuela, the UK, and then-British Guiana would resolve Venezuela’s claim that the “Arbitral Award of 1899 about the frontier between British Guyana and Venezuela is null and void.”

What’s likely next? Will Guaido be formally charged with treason, arrested, jailed and prosecuted?

He was guilty of the highest of high political crimes against the state by illegally self-declaring himself interim president in January — attempting to illegally usurp power in cahoots with the Trump regime.

Accountability for his criminal actions is long overdue!

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Could Brexit Leave the UK Vulnerable to Pressure from U.S. Hawks? Titanic Shift in Global Alliances

It’s supposed to make Britain more independent. But it might put her at the mercy of Mike Pompeo’s Iran policy.

By Barbara Boland

Global Research,

By unyoking London from Europe, a no deal Brexit would unleash a titanic shift in global alliances that could strengthen Washington’s hand and help it achieve its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

That’s an ironic turn of events for populists in the United Kingdom, who support Brexit because it will allow the British people to determine their own fate.

But for some in Washington, Brexit represents a golden opportunity to negotiate with a United Kingdom unencumbered by Europe. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted as much when he was asked whether our relationship with the UK will be strengthened by Brexit.

“I think it’s the case,” Pompeo said Thursday on the Hugh Hewitt Show. “We’ll have a clear line with [the UK]. We won’t have the EU as a middleman that has put constraints on our capacity to do lots of good things across not only the economic sector but the security sector and the diplomatic sector as well.  … I’m confident that that very special relationship will continue to grow.”

Note that Pompeo specifically mentioned “the security sector” when listing how Brexit will help the U.S. That’s of particular importance now because the Trump administration has been pressuring European nations to back its withdrawal from the Iran deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran. So far, they have been reluctant to do so.

In recent months, the U.S. has claimed that Iran was responsible for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz and the downing of an American surveillance drone. At Washington’s urging, the British Royal Navy seized an Iranian oil tanker entering the Mediterranean. The U.S. then unsuccessfully maneuvered to prevent the UK from releasing the vessel.

After the government of then-prime minister Theresa May missed two deadlines to negotiate an exit deal with the EU, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was elected on a promise that he would finally deliver on the June 2016 referendum and withdraw the UK from the European Union, deal or no deal.The Geopolitical Implications of a No Deal Brexit

Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament last Wednesday makes the current Brexit deadline of October 31 look inevitable, because he has effectively reduced his opponents’ ability to reverse the referendum via legislation by running out the clock.

Brexiteers have long argued that London will have far greater freedom to negotiate its own trade pacts after it leaves the 28-nation European Union. But they may be in for a surprise: if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, it will likely find itself more susceptible to American leverage.

That’s because, without an agreement, the UK will need to quickly secure a trade deal with the U.S. That deal is likely to come with strings attached—Washington may request that Britain take a harder line against Iran, or cooperates with efforts to squeeze Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which the U.S. deems a national security risk.

While it’s still unclear how Johnson will navigate foreign policy, there are early indications that London will toe Washington’s line.

In early August, Johnson’s government agreed to join the U.S. in Operation Sentinel, a mission that’s supposed to provide freedom of navigation for commercial shipping and “deter provocations” in the Strait of Hormuz, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

“The UK is determined to ensure her shipping is protected from unlawful threats and for that reason we have today joined the new maritime security mission in the Gulf,” British Defense Minister Ben Wallace told reporters.

“The mission will see the Royal Navy working alongside the U.S. Navy to accompany merchant vessels through the Strait of Hormuz,” the British government claimed in a statement, adding that British forces will play a “leading role” in the operation.

The UK also called for other governments to cooperate, labeling it a “truly international problem.” In a sign that may presage trouble, the mission is already being “rebranded” in the hopes of encouraging more participation. So far, only Australia and Bahrain have joined in support.

The possibility that Brexit will force London will give in to Washington on foreign policy is being seriously considered by multiple European diplomats, British politicians, and foreign policy experts at the core of Brexit and Iran policymaking.

Undoubtedly aware of how Brexit will increase Washington’s leverage, notorious Iran war hawk and Trump national security advisor John Bolton voiced the administration’s full-throated support of even a no-deal Brexit, adding that “we are prepared to proceed as rapidly as the Brits are.”

While Parliament is recessed, there is a small window wherein Johnson’s government could assist in deescalating tensions with Iran. The UK could attempt to convince the Islamic Republic not to drastically exceed their agreed-upon uranium enrichment levels. That’s what France and Germany are urging.

But if there’s an irreparable break in talks with the EU, it’s much more likely that Britain will find herself even more deeply wedded to the “special relationship” with the United States—with all that entails for foreign policy.

Posted in USA, UK0 Comments

Financial Warfare: Mastercard Blocks Two Venezuelan Banks as Inflation Rises

A Chinese contractor has also suspended work on an oil expansion project.

By Ricardo Vaz and Lucas Koerner

Global Research

US-based financial services company Mastercard has cut service to two Venezuelan banks sanctioned by the Donald Trump administration.

Effective this past Wednesday, clients of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces Bank (BANFANB) and the Agricultural Bank of Venezuela have been cut off from Mastercard’s international payment platform.

The move comes just weeks after a US executive order freezing Venezuelan government assets in the United States and prohibiting all dealings with the Venezuelan state and its associated entities. The decree authorizes Mastercard, Visa, and other financial service firms to continue activities in Venezuela until March 22, 2020. Mastercard has yet to issue a public statement regarding its unilateral decision.

For its part, BANFANB issued a statement Wednesday accusing Mastercard of committing a “flagrant violation of our clients’ human rights.”

The state bank further announced that as of Wednesday evening it had succeeded in reconnecting its credit cards to 60 percent of the Venezuelan banking system.

The Agricultural Bank of Venezuela has yet to issue a public statement.

Earlier this year, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) likewise sanctioned Venezuela’s Central Bank and three other state banks.

In response to Mastercard’s pull-out, Venezuela’s National Superintendence of Banks held meetings Wednesday with banking and financial service representatives to discuss progress in building an independent financial infrastructure. Several payment platforms are under development, including the Suiche Nacional and the C2P, while a biometric payment system is currently in a trial period.What’s the Deal with Sanctions in Venezuela, and Why’s It So Hard for Media to Understand?

Mastercard’s decision came on the heels of a Chinese oil contractor halting expansion work in Sinovensa, a joint venture between Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and its Chinese counterpart, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). China Huanqiu Contracting and Engineering Corporation, an affiliate of the CNPC, reportedly notified Sinovensa it was suspending work from September 3, citing US $52 million in unpaid invoices.

Sinovensa had recently announced plans to expand a crude blending facility by 57 percent, to a total output of 165,000 barrels per day (bpd). The joint venture is located in Venezuela’s Orinoco Oil Belt. At the time of writing there has been no official confirmation from PDVSA or the CNPC.

Venezuela’s oil industry has seen output decline sharply in recent months as a result of corruption, brain drain, a lack of maintenance and mismanagement, and especially US sanctions.

An oil embargo imposed in late January blocked all imports of Venezuelan oil by US refineries, leading output to fall by over a third in February and March. The embargo was expanded in August to all sectors of the Venezuelan economy, with the US Treasury also threatening secondary sanctions against foreign companies that trade with Caracas.

The latest measures have resulted in the CNPC cancelling three oil shipments in August, reportedly worth around 5 million barrels. A joint venture involving US oil giant Chevron is likewise in danger, with a sanctions waiver due to expire in October.

The fallout from the latest sanctions coincided with a report from the opposition-controlled National Assembly that monthly inflation was 65.2 percent in August.

According to the legislative body’s finance commission, inflation crept back above the 50 percent hyperinflation threshold for the first time since February. The country had previously suffered 16 consecutive months of hyperinflation. The Venezuelan Central Bank released figures in May after a three-year hiatus, likewise dating the end of hyperinflation in March, but no further statistics have been released since.

August’s price rises came alongside an over 100 percent devaluation of the bolivar, both in the black market and the official exchange rate. The Venezuelan Central Bank lifted foreign exchange controls in May, allowing banks to set up “exchange tables,” but the measure has not deterred the continued devaluation of the official currency.

The liberalization of exchange controls, alongside a constriction of the quantity of bolivars in circulation, have been credited for the slowdown of inflation in the first half of 2019. However, some economists have warned that the measures have led to a contraction of demand, resulting in longer-term stagnation.

Posted in China, Venezuela0 Comments

Nestlé and the Privatization of Water

Nestlé’s Power within the Swiss Government. Swiss Development Aid

By Franklin Frederick

Global Research

Last February, the Government of Switzerland announced the creation of a Foundation in Geneva, under the name ‘Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator’ (GSDA). The purpose of this new foundation is to regulate new technologies, from drones and automatic cars to genetic engineering, which are examples mentioned by the Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis at the public launch of this initiative. According to Cassis, new technologies are developing very fast and this Foundation must ‘anticipate’ the consequences of these advances for society and politics. The Foundation will also be a bridge between the scientific and diplomatic communities, hence its strategic placement in Geneva, which houses several international organizations, from the UN to the World Trade Organization.

Image result for Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

The Swiss Foreign Ministry will contribute 3 million Swiss francs – just over 3 million dollars – to the Foundation’s initial phase from 2019 to 2022. The city and the Canton of Geneva will each contribute 300,000 Swiss francs for the same period and contributions from the private sector are also expected.

As President of this new Foundation, the former CEO of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe (image right) was chosen. The Vice-President is Patrick Aebischer, the former President of the Lausanne Federal Institute of Technology – EPFL is the French acronym. Patrick Aebischer has also been a member of the Nestlé Health Science Steering Committee since 2015, founded in 2011 by Nestlé and located right on the EPFL campus.

The choice of Peter Brabeck and Patrick Aebischer – both with strong connections to Nestlé – to run this new foundation has a very clear rationale. It primarily represents the recognition of Nestlé’s power within the Swiss Government – a former Nestlé CEO is, by definition, competent to drive this initiative. More upsettingly, Peter Brabeck’s choice is yet another example of the ever-closer “partnership” between governments and large transnational corporations, leading to the establishment of an international corporate oligarchy that is gradually taking over power within Western democracies.

Amply documented, Nestlé as a private corporate entity has battled various form of State regulation, the best-known case being the regulation of infant food marketing standards, particularly milk powder. The conflict between Nestlé under the direction of Peter Brabeck and the IBFAN – International Baby Food Action Network – is well known. (See the Muller report)

But the biggest irony – and the biggest danger – is that Brabeck’s choice to chair this Foundation indicates that the real purpose of this initiative is precisely to prevent any form of regulation by the government that might impose  limits on profits from the technological advances of the private sector.

It is also not expected that this Foundation will defend any protection of the public sphere or the environment against possible threats posed to society by new technological advances. On the contrary, Brabeck’s choice indicates that this Foundation’s primary objective is to defend and support  the private sector. What can be expected from this Foundation are proposals for self-regulation by the private sector in  cases of overly explicit conflicts, which is nothing effective. Since this Foundation is an initiative of the Government of Switzerland – certainly after talks with the private sector – and is located in Geneva, it will have an enormous influence  and I believe that organized social movements must carefully follow the future steps of this Foundation, as it embodies a huge threat to democracy.

Image result for Christian Frutiger

Just a few months after the launch of this new Foundation, the Government of Switzerland announced that Christian Frutiger (image left), Nestlé’s current Global Head of Public Affairs, will soon take over the Vice-Presidency of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation – SDC – which is the Swiss Government Agency responsible for development aid projects in other countries. Another example of the growing collaboration between the private sector and the government, but this time in a much more sensitive area: development cooperation.

This constitutes yet another example of the growing influence and presence  of Nestlé within the Government of Switzerland. This presence is neither new nor recent, and it is important to remember that the SDC not only supported the creation of the Water Resources Group – WRG – the initiative of Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Pepsi to privatize water, topics on  which I’ve written a few articles – (see this) as the SDC Director himself is a member of the WRG Governance Board.

The contradiction of the fact that Switzerland has one of the best public sanitation and water distribution services in the world, but uses Swiss citizens’ tax money to support water privatization in other countries through the SDC partnership with Nestlé, does not seem to be a problem.

The budget of Switzerland’s international cooperation for the period 2017-2020 is around 6.635 billion francs – a little over 6.730 billion dollars. As Deputy Director, Christian Frutiger will have a great deal of influence over decisions regarding the application of part of this budget. Most importantly, as Deputy Director, Frutiger will be directly responsible for the SDC’s ‘Global Cooperation’ Division and for the WATER program. Christian Frutiger started his career at Nestlé in 2007 as a Public Affairs Manager after working at the International Red Cross.

In 2006, Nestlé’s “Pure Life” bottled water brand became its most profitable brand and in 2007, with the purchase of the Sources Minérales Henniez S.A. group,

Nestlé became the leading company in bottled water within the Swiss market. In 2008, just a decade after its release, “Pure Life” became the world’s top-selling brand of bottled water. Within this context, it was only natural that Christian Frutiger’s work at Nestlé should focus on the topic of WATER.

In 2008, the Nestlé espionage scandal broke out in Switzerland. A  Swiss TV journalist denounced in a program that Nestlé hired security firm SECURITAS to infiltrate spies within Nestlé-critical groups within Switzerland, particularly the ATTAC group. Proven espionage took place between 2002 and 2003 but there is evidence of spying until 2006. ATTAC filed a lawsuit against Nestlé and SECURITAS, and in 2013, the Swiss court finally condemned Nestlé for organizing this espionage operation, indicating the involvement of at least four company directors in the operation.

The fact that Nestlé organized an illegal espionage operation within Switzerland and was condemned by the Swiss courts for doing this had no effect on the company’s relations with the Swiss Government and especially with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, as one would expect. No one asked Nestlé’s CEO Peter Brabeck then if his company was capable of such actions within Switzerland itself, what could we expect from the behaviour of the same company in other countries of weaker democratic guarantees?

Infiltrating undercover agents under  false identitites to spy the ATTAC gorup is, to say the least, grossly unethical. But it seems that ethics was not one of the criteria that the SDC took into account when hiring Christian Frutiger who, throughout this episode, kept silent, never apologized to the people who were spied on by the company he worked for, and did everything to minimize the impact of the problem, which means that he complied with his employer’s lack of ethics. But the appointment of Frutiger as Deputy Director of the SDC points to much deeper and far-reaching problems, especially with regard to WATER, as it seems clear to me that his choice for this position is all about this topic.

Peter Brabeck’s appointment to chair the new foundation of the Swiss Government in Geneva and Christian Frutiger’s appointment as Vice-President of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation reveal a link between the private sector and the Swiss Government to deepen the privatization policies – especially water – and corporate control over public policies. But this articulation goes beyond the Government of Switzerland, it will take place above all at the level of the international agencies and organizations present in Geneva as Christian Frutiger will be responsible for the contacts with many of these organizations. These new roles also indicate that the transnational corporate sector is very consciously organizing and articulating itself at various government levels to ensure that its demands and policy proposals are met.

Not much reaction from the major Swiss NGOs should be expected in the face of all this, especially as SDC is the main financier of almost all of them, which explains the deep silence around Nestlé and its actions within Switzerland. A recent example of this silence occurred in Brazil at the World Water Forum held in Brasilia in March 2018. Since this Forum is in fact the Forum of large private enterprises,

Nestlé and WRG were present within the official Swiss pavilion, along with organizations such as HELVETAS, HEKS/EPER and Caritas Switzerland, three of Switzerland’s largest private development agencies and all supported by SDC. HEKS/EPER – which are German and French abbreviations – is linked to the Protestant Church of Switzerland, as Caritas Switzerland is linked to the Catholic Church.

During the Forum, 600 women from the Landless Movement occupied Nestlé’s premises in São Lourenço, Minas Gerais for a few hours, to draw attention to the problems caused by the company and the water bottling industry. None of these Swiss organizations expressed any solidarity with the Landless Movement, none condemned Nestlé’s practices, nor did they even mention on their return to Switzerland that this occupation had taken place. But HEKS/EPER and Caritas Switzerland claim to fight for the human right to water and “support” social movements – but not when they stand against Nestlé. In São Lourenço, located in the Circuito das Águas region in MG, and in many other places in Brazil, there are problems with Nestlé’s exploitation of water and citizen’s movements trying to protect its waters. HEKS/EPER has an office in Brazil but has never approached the groups that fight Nestlé in Brazil.

The SDC does not consider problems with Nestlé in many parts of the world – not just in Brazil – as a reason to re-evaluate its partnership with the company. There are very well-documented problems with Nestlé’s bottling operations and water pumping in the U.S.A, Canada, and France, for example – countries considered to be established democracies. What is common among all of these countries is that the governments always stand in favor of the company and against their own citizens. In the town of Vittel, France, the situation is absurd: studies by French government agencies indicate that the aquifer from which the Vittel population draws its water and from which Nestlé also collects bottled water as “VITTEL” is at risk of depletion. The aquifer is not in a position to withstand the long-term demands of the local population and Nestlé’s bottling company. The solution proposed by the French authorities: to build a pipeline about 50 km long to seek water in a region neighboring Vittel to meet the needs of the population – leaving Nestlé free to exploit the Vittel aquifer waters!

In Wellington County, Canada, a local group called Wellington Water Watchers was created to protect its waters from Nestlé exploration, which has the support of the local government to renew its permission to continue bottling water. In Michigan, U.S.A, the problem is similar. None of this seems to bother the Swiss Government, the SDC, or Christian Frutiger – and if such problems occur in these countries, what couldn’t happen in countries that are much more fragile in their social and political organization? As current Head of Public Affairs of Nestlé, Christian Frutiger has done his best to ignore completely the problems created by his employer in many countries.

As I write, Europe is suffering from an intense heat wave. There is water rationing in France, and fire hazards in many places. Big cities like Paris suffer from record-high temperatures never recorded before, and water consumption only tends to increase. On the other hand, glaciers are melting at an increasing rate and water is becoming increasingly scarce. Groundwater sources, many of them fossil water, are an important reserve for the future and should remain untouched. But the greed of bottling companies like Nestlé are acquiring more water sources. The picture is the same all over the planet – the remaining unpolluted waters are increasingly in the hands of a few companies.

In Brazil under the Bolsonaro government, the situation is even worse, with an environmental minister whose task is to facilitate the taking of Brazilian natural resources by foreign capital. It is important to remember that the main shareholder of the AMBEV group is the Swiss-Brazilian citizen Jorge Paulo Lemann, who has excellent communication channels with the Swiss Government. AMBEV is also part of the WRG which has already opened its first office in Brazil to support the privatization of SABESP, the public water company in the state of São Paulo. (see more here).

What is happening in Switzerland is just the tip of the iceberg – the visible part is the international articulation of big corporations, and the taking over of public space for political decisions by the world corporate oligarchy. We have to be vigilant and well organized to defend our waters, our earth and our society from the corporate attack on the common good.

Posted in Environment0 Comments

Jeffrey Epstein’s heritage: Zwi Migdal, a Jewish global crime syndicate trafficking Jewish women as sex slaves

By Gilad Atzmon

The story of Jeffrey Epstein has lost its mystery as more and more commentators allow themselves to express the thought that there is a strong possibility that Epstein was connected to a crime syndicate affiliated with a Zionist political organisation or Israel and/or at least a few compromised intelligence agencies.

Jeffrey Epstein and Zvi Migdal

Whitney Web and others have produced superb studies of possible scenarios, I would instead like to tackle the topic from a cultural perspective. Epstein wasn’t the first Jewish sex trafficker. This seems like a good time to look back at Zwi Migdal, a Jewish global crime syndicate that operated a century ago and trafficked tens of thousands of Jewish women and underage girls as sex slaves. According to contemporary Jewish writer Giulia Morpurgo, the Zwi Migdal had turned Argentina “into a nightmare of prostitution and exploitation”.

During the first three decades of the 20th Century Argentina was a rich country. It outgrew Canada and Australia in population, gross and per capita income. Just before World War I Argentina was the world’s tenth wealthiest state in terms of per capita. When Argentina was a rich country, large parts of its economy, culture and politics were controlled by crime syndicates, particularly a Jewish organised crime outfit called Zwi Migdal.

In 2009 the International Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault (JCACA) published a comprehensive article about the Zwi Migdal titled “Understanding the Zwi Migdal Society“, from which I am about to quote extensively.

Zvi Migdal

The Zwi Migdal was an association of Jewish mobsters who were involved in the “sexual exploitation of Jewish women and children, which operated globally”. Apparently, the Zwi Migdal originally picked a pretty innocent sounding name: “Warsaw Jewish Mutual Aid Society”… But the Warsaw Jewish Mutual Aid Society wasn’t innocent at all. It forced thousands of women and girls to become sex slaves and destroyed their lives.

On 7 May 1906 the Jewish syndicate had to change its title after the Polish ambassador to Argentina filed an official complaint to the Argentine authorities regarding the use of the name “Warsaw”. Clearly, the Polish government did not want to be associated with a Jewish crime syndicate. In this regard, it would be appropriate to ask how long it will be before the American government and its politicians insist that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) drop its first initial “A” or before the neocon Project for the New American Century are ordered to drop American from their titles.

“Zwi Migdal means ‘strong power’ in Yiddish and is also a tribute to Zvi Migdal, known as Luis Migdal, one of the founders of the crime organisation.”

The Zwi Migdal organization operated from the 1860s to 1939. In its heyday, after the World War I, it had four hundred members in Argentina alone. Its annual turnover was $50 million in the early 1900s. 

Unlike Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, who allegedly recruited non-Jewish underage women, the Zwi Migdal specialised in trafficking Jewish women. “Most of the Jewish women and children who were kidnapped were taken from impoverished shtetls (Jewish small towns) and brought to Buenos Aires.”

The recently released documents relating to the Jeffrey Epstein affair suggest that Epstein and Maxwell were to be charged with child sex trafficking, and as the alleged procurer of underage girls. It seems none of that is really novel in the Jewish world:

The Zwi Migdal Society lured decent girls and young women from Europe in many inventive and deceitful ways. A very well-mannered and elegant-looking man would appear in a poor Jewish village in places such as Poland or Russia. He would advertise his search for young women to work in the homes of wealthy Jews in Argentina by posting an ad in the local synagogue. Fearful of pogroms and often in desperate economic circumstances, the trusting parents would send their naïve daughters away with these men, hoping to give them a fresh start.

The last line recalls Virginia Giuffre’s account of her encounter with the elegant British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell who allegedly lured her victims to “escape” their misery. 

The JCACA continues:

The girls, aged mostly 13 to 16, packed a small bag, bade their families farewell and boarded ships to Argentina, believing that they were on their way toward a better future. However, they soon learned the bitter truth. Their period of training as sex slaves, which began on the ship, was cruel and brutal. The young virgins were “broken in” – raped, beaten starved and locked in cages.

The Zwi Migdal organisation reached its peak in the 1920s when some 430 rufianos, or pimps, controlled 2,000 brothels trafficking  around 30.000 Jewish women and girls in Argentina alone.

The largest brothels of Buenos Aires housed 60 to 80 female sex slaves. There were brothels all over Argentina, but most of them were in the big city, in the Jewish quarter, on Junin Street.

Apparently,

Prostitutes who failed to satisfy their clients were beaten, fined, or taken to work in provincial houses. Every business transaction was logged. The rufianos “held a meat market” where newly arrived girls were paraded naked in front of traders in places such as Hotel Palestina or Cafe Parisienne.

One may wonder how all of that fit with Judaic tradition and Talmudic law. “In one brothel,” the ACACA reports, “the madam, an observant Jewish woman, would not let her women work on Fridays but instructed them herself in the art of lovemaking”.

Many commentators on the Epstein affair are amazed by the incapacity of America’s law-enforcement bodies, legal system and federal agencies to bring justice to Epstein’s victims, and its failure to lock him up. Once again, that is not new. The JCACA writes of the Zwi Migdal criminality:

These activities went on undisturbed because they were frequented by government officials, judges and reporters. City officials, politicians, and police officers were paid off. The pimps had powerful connections everywhere.

The Jewish community didn’t rush to save their abused daughters. “The prostitutes, who were mostly illiterate, destitute and despised by the mainstream Jewish community, banded together to form their own mutual-aid societies.” However, rarely, some Jewish ethnic activists stood for the abused women and girls. “One night Nahum Sorkin, a well-known Zionist activist, stood outside the theatre and physically stopped the rufianos (Jewish pimps) from entering. Next, they were banned from the synagogues, and to top it all, they were refused burial in the Jewish cemetery.”

From Rachel (Raquel) Lieberman to Virginia Roberts Giuffre

We learn that the rufianos’s audacity eventually led to their demise. “It happened when they refused to forgo their income from the work of one woman, Rachel Lieberman from Lódž, Poland. She, like so many others, was tempted to travel to Buenos Aires answering a matrimonial ad, but was taken to Junin Street where she was forced to prostitute.”

After five years she had enough money to go into the antique furniture business to support herself and her sons but the rufianos made it impossible for her. They did not want her to set an example for their other slaves. But this woman had not been broken.

As was the case with Virginia Giuffre, it needed brave Rachel to come forward.

In desperation, Rachel Lieberman

contacted Superintendent Julio Elsogray. She had heard his name mentioned on the street as one who would not take Zwi Migdal’s money and was actually looking for ways to destroy the organisation. She slipped into his office one day and gave a detailed account of the connections among the various pimps in the organisation management. 

Her testimony led to an extensive investigation. The findings reached Dr Rodriguez Ocampo, a judge who would not take Zwi Migdal bribes either.

The lengthy trial ended in September 1930, with 108 detainees. “The very existence of the Zwi Migdal organisation directly threatens our society,” the judge wrote in his verdict, handing down long prison terms.

As with Epstein and his mobsters friends, things changed quickly and not in favour of justice, let alone being guided by ethical principles. The Zwi Migdal mobsters were at least as well connected as Epstein was to politicians, judges and prosecutors.

While in prison, the pimps pulled some old strings, appealed their sentences in January 1931, and senior Justice Ministry officials left only three of the convicts in jail, discharging the rest.

As was the case with the Miami Herald’s Julie Brown and many of us in the alternative media who didn’t allow the rotten Epstein and his paedophile ring’s crimes to be shoved under the carpet, the 1930s Argentine media didn’t agree to turn a blind eye to the Jewish syndicate’s impunity. 

When the media reported the release of the Zwi Migdal mobsters from jail,

the public was very upset and pressured the authorities to reverse the discharge decision. Thereafter, hundreds of pimps were deported to Uruguay. Over the years, they slowly returned one by one, but the era of the huge brothels ended.

The JCACA sums up the Zwi Migdal saga by stating that the Jewish crime syndicate was “an organisation that traded in women while its members wore tefillin (a Jewish religious garment) and built themselves a synagogue”. I guess the same can be said about Epstein’s ring. They may not be religious, they may not wear tefillin but they are self-identified Jewish Zionists who donate to Israel and vocally support Israel’s criminal policies.

Among those traditions, according to Jewish beliefs as expressed in the Torah, is that it is perfectly fine to keep slaves so long as they are not Jewish. Yet these Zwi Migdal also enslaved Jewish girls and a great many who ran the bordellos were Jewish women.

The JCACA proclaims that the Zwi Migdal’s “history is an embarrassment to all decent Jews. It involved loads of money, corrupt politicians, violent sex, international women trade, hard brutality, rape, and cheating, all lightly spiced with yiddishkeit and God-fearing traditions. Among those traditions, according to Jewish beliefs as expressed in the Torah, is that it is perfectly fine to keep slaves so long as they are not Jewish. Yet these Zwi Migdal also enslaved Jewish girls and a great many who ran the bordellos were Jewish women.” 

I find myself admitting that except for Binyamin Netanyahu, who denounced Ehud Barak for his ties with Epstein for political opportunist reasons, I have yet to see a single Jewish organisation express any embarrassment in regard to Epstein and his sex trafficking operation. On the contrary, Epstein’s lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, announced that he is actually a victim of the #metoo movement. He also occasionally insists that Jews should never apologise for using their strength. Maxwell has kept quiet. Wexner has yet to apologise. Like Dershowitz, he adopted the victim path, announcing that Epstein “misappropriated” a few shekels from his family and he regret being associated with the sex trafficker. The Jewish Voices for Peace that cares so much for Palestinians must be slightly less bothered by Guiffre’s plight. I am left wondering: is it the fact that Zwi Migdal abused Jewish women and girls that provoked Jewish discomfiture? I guess that, at least for the time being, it seems as if Jews do not posses the cultural or psychological means to look reflectively into Epstein and his ring. The only question left open is whether the FBI has the cojones to do its job.

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If Americans want to understand ‘Israel’, they should think of 1950s Alabama, with an air force

OpinionYossi Gurvitz 

“Bull Connor’s Dogs,” a statue outside the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. (Photo: kschlot1/Flickr)

If there’s one thing Israel is good at, it’s public relations. Forget military successes – we’re down to fighting barely-armed teenagers, and not doing all that a good job at it. Forget “Silly-Con Wadi”: Much of what the Israeli hi-tech sector deals in is espionage and monitoring. The orange groves are long gone, too, replaced by pricey apartment buildings.

But we’re really, really good at is PR. None better. Remember Rhodesia? Bet you needed Google for that one. Apartheid South Africa? We started the same year, but they croaked 25 years ago. They died mostly of international hostility. The Zionist state, a good friend of both late regimes, is still around and kicking.

Of course, it wouldn’t be easy with American know-how and experience. Remember the movie Exodus? It painted an unforgettable picture of silent, strong, Aryan-looking Jews fighting the dastardly British (with the aid of an anti-British Irish exile, to boot). Then, once the battle is done, they return to their Kibbutzim. It’s one hell of a piece of a propaganda, touching on all the right themes: Hatred of British imperialism, Westerners fighting Barbarians (perhaps the oldest theme of their old), and the image of the warrior-peasant returning to the field. Shades of Cincinnatus and George Washington.

None of this was true, even at the time. Ari Ben Cannan (Lion Son of Canaan, a name so preposterous even hardcore Zionists would shudder at it), as a topos, may have existed for a while; but he hasn’t been around for 40 years or more.

If you want to think of a better metaphor for Israel, don’t think of Spartan farmer-soldiers, not just because the Spartans didn’t farm and were pretty sucky soldiers (though they did excel at PR – we’re still suffering from it), but because a better metaphor would be 1950s Alabama, with an air force.

The basic premise of Israel, as understood by many Americans, is:

  • It’s a Jewish country fighting for survival.
  • The Jews here kick ass, unlike their pale, nerdy cousins from abroad.
  • You don’t mess with the Zohan.
  • It’s a secular, liberal country.

Wrong on all counts, but it does provide a shadow of reality. The average Israeli is xenophobic and racist (it’s a good argument of which derives from which) on a level which would make a Trump rally go pale. The racism comes from the form of Jewish Orthodoxy practiced in Israel, and yes – most Israelis are some shade of religious. Secular Jews here have belatedly understood they’re on their way to becoming an endangered species, which is why anti-secular rabbis are suddenly news. They’ve always been anti-secular, anti-women, anti-gay – but the comfortable world of the secular Jews have been shaken to the core by understanding this may be the last secular generation, so there is much whining and great gnashing of teeth.

Ah, yes – the rabbis have always been anti-Gentile, as well. But, then again, so are most of the great Israeli liberals. A useful acid test is asking them would they approve of their children marrying a non-Jew. Ask it, and wait for the uncomfortable silence. Violating the sacred blood is still taboo, it’s a terribly important one – and it is what leaves our good liberals with no effective anti-toxins against the religious right.

Most Israeli Jews haven’t spoken to an Israeli Palestinian, since we live apart, and the latter face insurmountable hurdles in renting an apartment or finding a job that will treat them decently. Jewish racism is prevalent in everyday life.

The most sacred institute is the army, even as it deteriorates and becomes a national tragedy: the army is too big for the country, and is the main reason why most of us won’t have a chance of social services when we grow old. Why does support for the army grow, even as the army fails time and again, and then demands more money?

An American friend of a friend showed me the light more than a decade ago: When I described how Israelis have been indoctrinated to fear a second Holocaust, and that they have to trust the army to save them, she said simply: “So, criticism of the army is Holocaust denial?” Bingo.

Israeli society has been described by many – including by President Rivlin, the gods preserve him – as not a society but a collective of mutually hostile tribes: Secular Jews, Orthodox Jews, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Palestinians. There are, of course, social tensions as well: A fifth of our children live under the poverty line. Israel is the second-poorest country in the OECD, after Mexico. The levels of inequality are staggering, and one of the major issues of the 2011 social justice movement was the rule of the “18 families” – an oligarchy of robber-barons, who made much of their money by influencing the government to give them all sorts of benefits.

Severe inequality, of course, is not unknown in other would-be democratic countries. The problem here, the ideal was Ari Ben Cannaan: people were supposed to make sacrifices – for instance, be conscripted for three years – but were promised equality. The Jews, anyway. Needless to say, no such equality ever existed; but under Netanyahu and Sharon, not even the illusion of equality remained, and the government stressed a libertarian economy.

But you can’t have both libertarianism and conscription, “each to his own and the devil take the hindmost” economic policy and the demands of a bloated military. So tensions rise. The Jews are then promised by the government that their Jewishness will always secure them a better place, at least officially; that’s what the Nationality Law was all about. And when you have no future and all you have is your Jewishness, racism and xenophobia rise. So does the oppression of the non-Jews. The government is corrupt to the bone? Yes, but it’s anti-Arab.

So, will we see a Palestinian Martin Luther King? Ayman Odeh tried, of sorts, last week. He said he was willing to be a partner in a Blue-White coalition. The offer was immediately shot down by Blue-White: They are going after the average-racist vote, and they can’t be seen to be consorting with Arabs.

Yet, if there will be a Dr. King, he will be facing not some Bull Connor with water hoses and attack dogs, but police and army who have been trained – indeed, raised from birth – that shooting Palestinians is not only okay, but also essential and, to some extent, their destiny. And Alabama, when all is said and done, was a part of the US. Israel is independent. And it’s very likely no one will do much if another massacre takes place.

We will still be the masters of spin, after all.

Posted in USA0 Comments

Jewish socialist philosopher who met with Hamas announces US presidential run

Jerome Segal, who also inspired PLO declaration of independence and is outspoken critic of Netanyahu government, says he can add to political discourse

By:  JOSEFIN DOLSTEN

Jerome Segal announces he is running for president for the party he founded at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Aug. 28, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images via JTA)

JTA — A Jewish socialist philosopher who met with the leader of Hamas is running for president.

On Wednesday, Jerome Segal announced that he would run as the nominee of the Bread and Roses Party he founded last year. The party supports wealth redistribution, as well as guaranteed employment and income.

Segal, 75, is cleared to appear on the 2020 ballot in Maryland, where he lives, and is hoping to qualify in other states.

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He told the Washington Post that he does not “have any fantasies about actually being president” but wants to add “something to the current political discourse that is lacking.”

Segal is an outspoken critic of Israel’s right-wing government and has met with leaders of various Palestinian groups, including the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas.

The PLO even took a significant portion of its 1988 declaration of independence from an op-ed he penned in the eastern Jerusalem daily Al-Kuds.

In 1989, Segal founded the Jewish Peace Lobby as a dovish alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

In 2006, he met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and said he transmitted a letter from Haniyeh to President George W. Bush. The United States, the European Union and Israel classify Hamas as a terror organization.

In a statement Wednesday, Segal said he had been talking with Iran’s government, including its foreign minister, and that he “believes it is possible to achieve a re-set in US/Iran relations and US/Israeli relations.”

Last year, he challenged Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland in the Democratic primary but lost.

Speaking with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, he criticized Cardin, who also is Jewish, for his support of the pro-Israel lobby and for sponsoring a bill to penalize boycotts of Israel.

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Businessman convicted of bribing late Nazi minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer

Avraham Nanikashvili found guilty of giving the former MK $400,000, receiving benefits for his business and affairs in return

By TOI STAFF

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Tel Aviv District Court on Wednesday convicted businessman Avraham Nanikashvili of bribing the late minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, three years to the day after the latter’s death.

Nanikashvili was found guilty of giving Ben-Eliezer a $400,000 bribe in 2011, when Ben-Eliezer led the National Infrastructure Ministry (now the Energy Ministry). In return Ben-Eliezer allegedly helped advance the businessman’s interests in his capacity as minister.

Ben-Eliezer is believed to have made policy decisions that benefited Nanikashvili’s holdings in oil and gas, and provided an affidavit in support of Nanikashvili as part of the latter’s appeal process with tax authorities.

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The money given to Ben-Eliezer is believed to have been used in his purchase of an upscale home in Jaffa.

The funds were documented by Nanikashvili and Ben-Eliezer as a loan, and both claimed as much when questioned on the matter. However prosecutors noted that it was never returned, nor did Nanikashvili ever seek its return. The judge accepted the assertion, saying the connection between the money and Ben-Eliezer’s actions was clear.

Businessman Avraham Nanikashvili seen at the Tel Aviv District Court on January 10, 2017 (Flash90)

Meanwhile a second defendant in the case, Roy Mussaffi, was exonerated of bribing Ben-Eliezer. He had been suspected of gifting the minister with NIS 700,000 (approx. $200,000) in return for Ben-Eliezer helping him obtain Egyptian visas for his employees.

But unlike in Nanikashvili’s case, the judge accepted Mussaffi’s assertion that the money was a loan, noting that the two had been close friends for years and that Ben-Eliezer’s help on obtaining the visas was given three years prior to Mussaffi giving him the money.

He also harshly criticized investigators’ conduct in questioning Mussaffi, ruling they had violated his rights by failing to question him under caution until he had freely provided them most of the information they used to accuse him. The judge accused authorities of acting in bad faith in that regard.

Ben-Eliezer himself was indicted on graft charges involving bribery by several businessman in 2016 but died at the age of 80 before the case could proceed. The former MK, general and defense minister had been a candidate for president in 2014 but was forced to withdraw and quit politics due to the allegations against him.

Three other defendants in the years-long case were convicted of wrongdoing in subsequent years as part of plea deals with prosecutors.

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