It’s Time to Talk About the Media

MSNBC-PutinTrump-Power-Play--1491941048

(Putin/Trump Power Play.  Screenshot: MSNBC; https://theintercept.com/2017/04/12/msnbcs-rachel-maddow-sees-a-russia-connection-lurking-around-every-corner/)

With the CIA chief Michael Pompeo announcing last week that the agency is looking into bringing charges against Wikleaks founder Julian Assange and the publication of an expose at The Intercept quantifying just how much Rachel Maddow – who used to be a decent journalist – has now jumped the shark with respect to her obsession with hammering away on the Russia-Trump conspiracy – even though there is still no evidence of such 6 months after the election – it’s time to talk about the problem with the mainstream corporate media.

First of all, when it comes to Assange and Wikileaks, I’m amused at how people go from loving them to hating them and back depending on how they are perceived to be somehow helpful to Trump or not. Many liberals and lefties years ago were singing Wikleaks’ praises when it was exposing the crimes of the Bush administration.   Many of these same liberals turned on Assange/Wikileaks like a mad dog when they started exposing material that made Clinton look bad and was perceived to somehow be helping Trump.  Trump himself, and later Pompeo, praised Wikileaks when its published materials were perceived to be in their political interests.  Now Trump’s CIA has declared war on the organization for releasing a trove of CIA documents that reveal the extent of its’ ability to illegally spy on Americans and conduct cyber warfare in such a way as to make it look like it is originating from a foreign government (Russia or China) – i.e. false flag attacks that can lead to a dangerous escalation of tensions between nuclear-armed powers.

Of course, anyone who has done their homework on the history of the CIA’s machinations since the end of WWII will not be surprised at any of this, only the technology has changed and makes things even more dangerous.

It seems to me that if Assange and Wikileaks is able to piss off all sides, then that proves their independence which is something that real journalistic outlets are supposed to practice:  report and expose without fear or favor.

Here is what James Goodale, attorney who represented the New York Times in the case of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, had to say in his 2013 book, Fighting for the Press, about the implications of the U.S. government prosecuting Assange (thanks to Alex Emmons for drawing attention to this on his Twitter feed recently):

Assange sought out secret information by setting up a private website for the anonymous transmission of information to him.  Journalists asking sources to reveal secrets is the essence of journalism.  The only thing that has changed is that online chats and a digital submissions system have replaced meeting over a cup of coffee and a P.O. Box.  Charging Julian Assange with conspiracy to commit espionage could be more accurately characterized as charging him with a conspiracy to commit journalism.

While Assange’s role may seem to be passive compared with the image of hard-driving reporters of the past, journalism is quite different today.  News is gathered through the use of the Internet with reporters sitting at their desks.

This is in contrast to someone like Rachel Maddow – a sad figure because it is clear from her past journalism that she knows better.   Her reporting on the Flint water crisis and other issues showed that she had the skills and intelligence to be a great investigative journalist.   Now she has sunk to appearing as an obnoxious smirking sock puppet on behalf of the Hillary wing of the Democratic Party by using her MSNBC show as a platform from which to obsessively pontificate on innuendo about Russia and its alleged compromise of the Trump presidency.  It might be different if there was actually some substance to what she says and the nefarious connections she draws, but there isn’t and Aaron Mate at The Intercept has quantified just how much time she has spent beating the Russia drum:

The Intercept conducted a quantitative study of all 28 TRMS episodes in the six-week period between February 20 and March 31. Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent of these broadcasts.

That figure is conservative, excluding segments where Russia was discussed, but was not the overarching topic.

Maddow’s Russia coverage has dwarfed the time devoted to other top issues, including Trump’s escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants (1.3 percent of coverage); Obamacare repeal (3.8 percent); the legal battle over Trump’s Muslim ban (5.6 percent), a surge of anti-GOP activism and town halls since Trump took office (5.8 percent), and Trump administration scandals and stumbles (11 percent).

People in Flint, Michigan still don’t have clean water, half of Americans are effectively poor, 1/3 of Millenials are living with their parents due to economic stress, even when they have an education, more oil and gas pipelines are failing and spilling fossil fuels into America’s waterways, and we’re still illegally involved in military interventions in at least 7 nations.   Trump not only has the lowest approval ratings of any US president this early into his term, but recent polls show that people think the Democratic Party is even more out of touch than Trump. Yet Maddow spends over half of her time flogging conspiracy theories about Russia:

Maddow has acknowledged that allegations of Trump-Russia collusion are unverified. But she has ignored claims that cast them in a more skeptical light. For instance, James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, told NBC News on March 5 that U.S. intelligence has “no evidence” of collusion between Trump and Russia. On March 15, former CIA Director and Hillary Clinton surrogate Michael Morrell said “there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all.” Those statements have gone unmentioned.

Considering how much Maddow and other liberal pundits hate Trump – and there is plenty of reason to despise many of his policy positions – the anti-Trump rhetoric was finally muted when he had American missiles fired illegally into a sovereign nation earlier this month on the pretext of a chemical weapons attack in Idlib province blamed on Assad.  Adam Johnson at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a left-leaning media watchdog, counted how many editorials in major corporate media outlets criticized the airstrikes within days of the event:

Of the top 100 US newspapers, 47 ran editorials on President Donald Trump’s Syria airstrikes last week: 39 in favor, seven ambiguous and only one opposed to the military attack.

In other words, 83 percent of editorials on the Syria attack supported Trump’s bombing, 15 percent took an ambivalent position and 2 percent said the attack shouldn’t have happened. Polls showed the US public being much more split: Gallup (4/7–8/17) and ABC/Washington Post (4/7–9/17) each had 51 percent supporting the airstrikes and 40 percent opposed, while CBS (4/7–9/17) found 57 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed.

A list of the editorials with quotes showing support or opposition can be seen here. The list of the top 100 editorial boards in the country was taken from a 2016 Hill piece (10/5/16) on presidential election endorsements.

Eight out of the top ten newspapers by circulation backed the airstrikes; the Wall Street Journal (4/7/17), New York Times (4/7/17), USA Today (4/7/17), New York Daily News (4/8/17), Washington Post (4/7/17), New York Post (4/10/17), Chicago Sun-Times (4/7/17) and Denver Post (4/7/17) all supported the strikes with varying degrees of qualification and concern.

The San Jose Mercury News (4/7/17) and LA Times (4/8/17) were ambiguous, highlighting Trump’s past opposition to bombing Syria and insisting, in the Mercury News’ words, that he get “serious about setting policies and pursuing diplomacy.”

The one editorial that expressly opposed the attack, in the 15th-ranked Houston Chronicle (4/7/17), did so mainly on constitutional—not moral or geopolitical—grounds, writing, “As we said a year-and-a-half ago, the president cannot and should not use military force against Syria without a legislative framework.”

The Chronicle—like all of the editorials on the list—accepted the government of Bashar al-Assad’s guilt in the April 4 chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, omitting qualifiers such as “alleged” or “accused.”

A consistent theme in the bulk of the editorials was that the airstrikes were necessary, but Trump needed a broader strategy as well as a constitutional or congressional “framework.” As FAIR (4/7/17) noted last week, the editorial and op-ed pages of top five newspapers in the country were uniformly in support of the airstrikes in the day after the attack, offering up 18 positive columns and zero critical.

Some spoke in emotional or visceral terms, most notably the New York Times (4/7/17), which insisted “it was hard not to feel some sense of emotional satisfaction” at the attack. “The US decision to launch cruise missiles at Syrian President Bashar Assad’s airfield felt good,“ the Denver Post (4/7/17) wrote.

This emotional satisfaction was presumably in response to Assad’s alleged atrocity of gassing civilians, including children.  These victims needed to be avenged and the moral balance restored, the thinking went.   However, as political comedian Jimmy Dore points out, terrorists (called rebels by western media outlets) lured and bombed up to 80 children in an atrocity last week in Syria.   Dore points out how the western media treats this intentional atrocity against children with far less outrage and no retaliatory moves being suggested for Washington to establish moral balance in the universe.   Any group or individual who intentionally targets children cannot be called a rebel but is more appropriately labeled a terrorist.  However,  Dore shows examples of western journalists refraining from using the term terrorist and insisting on referring to the perpetrators as “rebels.”    Furthermore, calls are made to wait for further investigation of the incident.

Why are these incidents treated so differently by the mainstream western press?   To watch the video, go here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xIXiSq3K_c

There are explanations for why these incidents would be treated differently and they require an understanding of how the corporate MSM works in the U.S.   Below I reprint an article I wrote for OpEd News a while back on the topic:

American Propaganda and the Mass Media

By Natylie Baldwin

Edward Bernays and the Manipulation of the Public Mind

 

Edward Bernays was the nephew of pioneering Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud.  His parents had settled in the U.S. and Bernays grew up American, but came to be deeply influenced by his uncle’s ideas about the unconscious, its role as the repository of repressed sexual and aggressive impulses and its potential use as a means of manipulating the masses.  Bernays was also influenced by social psychologist Wilfred Trotter’s theories on crowd psychology and the “herd instinct.”

 

During WWI, which threw Freud into a deep depression because he saw it as confirmation of his worst fears about human behavior, Bernays was working as a press agent and was asked to assist the war effort by participating in the American government’s committee on public information, known as the Creel Committee.  His great contribution was effectively promoting president Woodrow Wilson’s narrative of the war as a fight to spread democracy to Europe.  During the Paris Peace Conference, Bernays would see first-hand the success of his propaganda efforts as the Paris crowds greeted Wilson as “a liberator of the people.  The man who would create a new world in which the individual would be free.”

 

Inspired by the achievements of propaganda during wartime, Bernays, looking to make his fortune, set to work on turning Americans from citizens into passive consumers who would be controlled by channeling their unconscious desires into a constant quest for goods and services that they would associate with their deepest yearnings for beauty, freedom and fulfillment.  Bernays would come up with tactics to bombard the public with messages that would cement this objective.

 

One of his first successes involved helping the tobacco industry expand their market by breaking the taboo against women smoking in public.  After soliciting the advice of the top psychoanalyst in America who told him that cigarettes were a phallic symbol and represented male sexual power, he realized that if cigarettes could be associated with challenging men’s power, women would respond positively to smoking as it would be connected to the ideas of freedom and rebellion – two of the most common marketing concepts to this day.

 

At the annual Easter Day Parade in New York City, Bernays staged a memorable event in which a group of “rich debutantes” lit up cigarettes in theatrical fashion at Bernays’ pre-arranged signal.  He had tipped off the media that a group of “suffragettes” would be lighting up what they called “torches of freedom.”  As Bernays knew, who could argue against freedom in America?  By associating cigarettes with freedom to women, Bernays had helped the tobacco companies hit the jackpot.

 

Bernays and his insights soon became indispensable to corporate America, which was worried that consumer demand for their products would plateau as mass production had been mastered and people at the time tended to buy goods based on need and durability.  Only a small group of wealthy people could buy a significant number of luxury items.  Consequently, to continue growing their markets, they needed to “transform the way the majority of Americans thought about products” as Paul Mazen, a Leahman Brothers Wall Street banker said.  Mazen turned to Bernays for implementation of this transformation.

 

As Peter Solomon, investment banker for Leahman Brothers, said about Bernays in the documentary film Century of the Self:

“Prior to that time there was no American consumer, there was the American worker.  And there was the American owner.  And they manufactured and they saved and they ate what they had to and the people shopped for what they needed.  And while the very rich may have bought things they didn’t need, most people did not.  And Mazen envisioned a break with that where you would have things that you didn’t actually need, but you wanted as opposed to needed.”

 

As the New York banks financed the spread of chain department stores across the country to serve as oases of consumerism, Bernays came up with many methods of product promotion that would become pervasive later on, such as linking products with movie stars who were also his clients, adorning those same movie stars in clothes and accessories made by other corporate clients during public events, and prominently placing products in films.

 

He also paid psychologists to issue reports claiming that certain products and services were good for people’s well-being and celebrities to push the idea that clothes were not merely necessities but a means of self-expression.  This became known as the “third party technique” of conferring legitimacy by what appears to be a disinterested party or an authoritative source.

 

The dramatic growth in consumerism that Bernays actively facilitated contributed to the stock market boom.  After it crashed in 1929, however, challenges were presented to the idea that Americans were consumers rather than citizens as the consumer boom could no longer be sustained and Franklin Roosevelt’s administration actively lobbied against it as part of the New Deal program.   Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter in a letter to Roosevelt described Bernays and his PR colleagues as “professional poisoners of the public mind, exploiters of foolishness, fanaticism, and self-interest.”  Unlike Bernays, Roosevelt and his colleagues believed that people could be trusted to make rational decisions if their fears, desires and insecurities were not manipulated in other directions as reflected in Roosevelt’s famous admonition, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

 

Bernays eventually saw his ideas transferred into the realm of political philosophy as renowned political writer and repentant former socialist Walter Lippmann, who had served with Bernays on the Creel Commission, began to apply Freud’s ideas to a need to control the masses politically, viewing the Russian Revolution as an example of the dark forces of the rabble being unleashed.  Bernays was intrigued by Lippmann’s interpretation of his uncle’s ideas – contained in Freud’s books which Bernays professionally promoted in the U.S.  Lippmann had begun to openly question the feasibility of democracy:

 

The lesson is, I think, a fairly clear one.  In the absence of institutions and education by which the environment is so successfully reported that the realities of public life stand out sharply against self-centered opinion, the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality.

 

In his 1922 book, The Phantom Public, Lippmann stated plainly:  “The public must be put in its place [so that we may] live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.”

 

In 1930’s Germany, the Nazis were also asserting that democracy was not feasible and Joseph Goebbels, who emerged as the Nazis’ pre-eminent propagandist, had taken note of Bernays methods of public manipulation based on Freudian theory as a way to channel the desires of the population in a particular direction favored by the leaders.  Goebbels reportedly admitted putting Bernays’ book Crystallizing Public Opinion to use in the regime’s genocidal campaign against the Jews in terms of creating a public environment of hatred and scapegoating.

 

Having honed his propaganda skills since WWI, Bernays would once again provide his services on behalf of the martial ambitions of the U.S. government.   He served as an advisor to Eisenhower and believed that the best way to deal with Americans’ fear of Communism and the nuclear arms race was to manipulate those fears to support America’s mobilization in the Cold War.

 

In 1954, Bernays assisted the CIA’s overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected leader, Jacobo Arbenz, a democratic socialist with no ties to the Soviet Union.   The CIA had a propaganda program in place called Operation Mockingbird, in which numerous journalists and editors – both paid and unpaid – published and broadcast stories sympathetic to the increasingly aggressive and unaccountable agency.  Led by Frank Wisner, Operation Mockingbird was also used to suppress reporting that would expose the agency’s nefarious covert activities or present them in a negative light.

 

Bernays’ role was to create a narrative that portrayed the coup as the popular overthrow of a Communist dictator and puppet of Moscow whose removal represented the spreading of democracy.  In reality, Arbenz’s ouster was to preserve the profits of United Fruit Company, a company that Bernays had worked for in a PR capacity since the 1940’s while the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, had made investments in United Fruit in his earlier years as a lawyer at the Sullivan and Cromwell firm which served as United Fruit’s corporate counsel.

 

Bernays exploited the ignorance of most Americans in relation to foreign affairs as well as the Red Scare of the McCarthy era by planting false stories in American newspapers and magazines, providing phony “intelligence” sources to the media, and bringing members of the press on a carefully orchestrated “fact-finding” mission to Guatemala paid for by the United Fruit Company.

 

As PR Watch noted in a 2010 article, “Bernays’ carefully planned campaign successfully created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in the U.S. about the Guatemalan government, compelling a U.S. intervention that advanced Chiquita’s [then known as the United Fruit Company] interests and was internationally condemned.”

 

Bernays biographer, Larry Tye, commented in Century of the Self:

 

“[Bernays] totally understood that the coup would happen when conditions in the public and the press allowed for a coup to happen and he created those conditions.  He was totally savvy in terms of just what he was helping create in terms of the overthrow.  But ultimately he was reshaping reality, and reshaping public opinion in a way that’s undemocratic and manipulative.”

 

Bernays’ propaganda narrative, combined with CIA director Allen Dulles’ ability to restrict the travel of independent journalists to Guatemala, ensured the success of the coup.  Arbenz’s overthrow led to a decades-long civil war that resulted in 200,000 dead and 100,000 disappeared.

 

Bernays rationalized his work at manipulating the masses – or “engineering consent” as he referred to it – as necessary to control what he saw as the dangerous and irrational forces that guided human behavior, particularly in large groups.  Bernays’ daughter, Ann, said the following about her father in Century of the Self:

 

“What my father understood about groups is that they are malleable.  And that you can tap into their deepest desires or fears and use that to your own purposes.  I don’t think he felt that all those publics [sic] out there had reliable judgment; that they may very easily vote for the wrong man or want the wrong thing.  So they had to be guided from above.”

 

Subsequent psychological studies as well as observation of humans throughout history demonstrate that they are indeed malleable and capable of a wide range of behaviors; but there is nothing indicating that humans are doomed to act like brutal mobs or genocidal maniacs unless they are led in that direction by powerful social forces.

 

Bernays’ work and the philosophy underpinning it have paved the way for the cynical use of grand ideas like freedom, democracy and human rights to sell mindless consumption, wars, coups, color revolutions (i.e. contrived regime changes under the pretense of spreading democracy or “western values”), and instability – all in the service of a small group of people who benefit.

 

The CIA, NED and Democracy Promotion

 

The CIA, in fact, engaged in numerous covert actions in the decades following WWII to effect what is now referred to as regime change – assassinations, coups, civil wars and destabilizations – throughout the third world as historian and former State Department official, William Blum, has documented in several books and essays, along with other researchers and CIA whistleblowers.   These actions involved killing, torture, destruction of infrastructure, delayed development, and impoverishment in the target countries.  In most cases, the victims were guilty only of supporting policies that were anathema to the American political class, such as socialism, economic populism and national sovereignty in terms of control of natural resources and financial assets.

 

Congressional hearings in the 1970’s, led by Frank Church, combined with a brief window of relative media openness, exposed some of this ugly program to the American people.  Rather than cease these kinds of actions, the American political establishment’s response to the negative publicity was to create a separate entity that would take over for many of these covert operations.  An entity that would obscure the nature of its activities under the guise of spreading democracy and would be funded by the U.S. Congress.  In 1983, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was born and Allen Weinstein, who helped write the legislation that brought it into existence, admitted in 1991, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

NED funds many innocuous sounding groups, both domestic and foreign.  One such domestic group is Freedom House.  While receiving the majority of its funding from NED, Freedom House presents itself as an objective nonprofit interested in freedom, democracy and human rights and publishes regular reports rating various countries on these supposed criteria.  However, upon closer examination, the ratings tend to reflect well on those countries aligned with U.S. economic and geopolitical interests and poorly on countries that are rivals.  Freedom House’s assessment of the American media’s coverage of the Tet offensive during the Vietnam War and its recent assessment of post-coup Ukraine are evidence of its lack of credibility in measuring a free and democratic media, among other issues

In the international arena, NED has funded numerous “opposition” and “democracy” groups in Russia (before being booted out by the government), Venezuela and pre-coup Ukraine.  These groups are not funded out of the goodness of the U.S. government’s heart to advance human rights and authentic democracy but to create tension that is to be ratcheted up in the hopes of culminating in a coup, civil war or other destabilization to remove or undermine governments that are viewed as a threat to the interests of the oligarchy that, according to a 2014 academic study, now officially governs the U.S.

For all of uncle Freud’s faults – such as his stultifying preoccupation with sex and violence – he never intended for his theories to be used in this fashion, serving as the basis for justifying a never ending sequence of actions that caused him so much worry for mankind:  war.  Freud, who did not like American culture, expressed disgust when Bernays encouraged him to write articles for clients in the popular media, which Freud perceived as a cheapening of his work.

 

Bernays, on the other hand, was a manipulative, arrogant and self-aggrandizing man who essentially believed that humans were too stupid and too dangerous to be trusted with the truth or self-governance.  He was an elitist who was right at home with the oligarchs and hawks of his day and their agenda of control, consumerism, militarism and ignorance.  What’s more, he was paid handsomely for his work, in both money and stature.

 

It should be noted, of course, that fear of the rabble was articulated centuries prior to Freud, Trotter and Bernays – although its underlying psychological dynamics may not have been clearly understood.  This included a segment of the founding fathers like Alexander Hamilton and John Jay whose ideas justified an effective rule by the elite.

 

Going back even further, David Hume made observations in the 17th century about the need to control the opinions of the masses to protect the rule of the few in light of the English political upheaval which saw demands for universal education, democratization of the law, and social protections.  Noam Chomsky has delineated the line of political thought stretching from Hume to John Locke to today:

 

“In the contemporary period, Hume’s insight has been revived and elaborated, but with a crucial innovation:  control of thought is more important for governments that are free and popular than for despotic and military states.  The logic is straightforward.  A despotic state can control its domestic enemy by force, but as the state loses this weapon, other devices are required to prevent the ignorant masses from interfering with public affairs, which are none of their business.  These prominent features of modern political and intellectual culture merit a closer look. (emphasis in original)”

 

French writer and political analyst, Jean Bricmont, expounded on the dynamics of this strategy of propaganda control in the seemingly free and open societies of today in his 2007 book Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War:

 

“Today’s secular priesthood is made up of opinion makers, media stars of all kinds, and a considerable number of academics and journalists.  They largely monopolize public debate, channeling it in certain directions and setting the limits on what can be said, while giving the impression of a free exchange of ideas.  One of the most common ideological reinforcement mechanisms is to focus debate on the means employed to achieve the supposedly altruistic ends claimed by those in power, instead of asking whether the proclaimed aims are the real ones, or whether those pursuing them have the right to do so.”  (p. 32)

 

The Mass Media – Who’s Platform?

 

That secular priesthood with its opinion makers, academics and journalists must have an effective and pervasive platform through which to inculcate and constantly reinforce their message on behalf of the oligarchy that now effectively controls all substantive public policy in the U.S. while the populace is reduced to participating in dog and pony show elections at regular intervals.

 

Award winning journalists Robert Parry, Chris Hedges and Paul Craig Roberts have been marginalized by the corporate mass media after refusing to go along with the false narratives presented in connection with economic and foreign policy.  They each tell a similar story in terms of their exile after refusing to toe the line on U.S. support for violent militias and destabilization in Central America in the 1980’s, the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 and the misrepresentation of economic conditions in the U.S..  Their experiences indicate there are three things that a journalist who wants to have a long-term and lucrative career will generally not report on:  1) stories that will offend the corporate media owners, 2) stories that will offend the corporate media advertisers, and 3) stories that will jeopardize their relationships with those in power.

 

Enabled by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which saw a major deregulation of mergers in the media industry, 90% of what most people read, watch, or listen to in the U.S. comes from an entity that is owned by 1 of 6 corporate conglomerates:  Comcast, Disney Company, News Corporation, Time Warner, Viacom and CBS Corporation. Each of these six conglomerates, in turn, has financial relations through boards of directors who have ties to other corporate interests, namely the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC), Fossil Fuels, Banking, Big Ag, and Big Pharma. A few examples include:  Disney has relations with Boeing and City National Bank; NBC with Honeywell, Chase Manhattan, and New York Stock Exchange; Viacom with Honeywell, Bear Stearns, Chase Manhattan, Morgan Chase and Pfizer; CNN/Time with Chevron, Citigroup, and Pfizer; News Corporation with Phillip Morris, Rothschild Investments and New York Stock Exchange; New York Times Company with Alcoa, Bristol Myers Squibb, Carlyle Group, Chase Manhattan, Lehman Bros., and Texaco; Wall Street Journal with Clear Channel, Pfizer, Texaco and Shell Oil; Knight Ridder with Bank of America, Eli Lilly, GE, Raytheon and Phillips Petroleum.

 

 

The Mass Media – Mechanisms of Control

 

The experiences of journalists like Hedges, Perry and Roberts should come as no surprise according to the propaganda model outlined by analysts Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in the seminal 1988 book Manufacturing Consent:  The Political Economy of the Mass Media.  Their model identifies five sets of filters that represent the methods by which a private and reputedly “free” media actually serve as the means by which the population is conditioned to believe what the elites who control American society want them to believe:  that America is governed by a fair, democratic and legitimate system, despite actual evidence to the contrary.  We will focus on the first three filters below.

 

The first filter, which we’ve already discussed, is the corporate ownership of the mass media.  The corporate boards hire and/or approve editors who will enforce acceptable narratives based on their interests.

 

A second filter of corporate control related to profit motive that is less obvious is the media’s reliance on advertising to make money rather than selling a quality news product.  Newspapers, magazines, broadcast and internet programming make most of their money from selling space to corporate advertisers, which consequently drives the motivation to produce content that will grab people’s attention in order to attract advertising dollars. Thus, the emphasis is on sensationalist stories focused on sex, violence and celebrities. According to the Pew Research Center’s Journalism & Media project, “69% of all domestic news revenue is derived from advertising.”

 

The third filter involves the reliance by journalists on representatives of the government and corporate elites as sources of inside information, along with “experts” who often represent elite interests in the tradition of those created by Edward Bernays.   As Chomsky and Herman state:

 

“The mass media are drawn into a symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information by economic necessity and reciprocity of interest.  The media need a steady, reliable flow of the raw material of news.  They have daily news demands and imperative news schedules that they must meet.  They cannot afford to have reporters and cameras at all places where important stories may break.  Economics dictates that they concentrate their resources where significant news often occurs, where important rumors and leaks abound, and where regular press conferences are held.  The White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department, in Washington D.C., are central nodes of such news activity.  On a local basis, city hall and the police department are the subject of regular news beats for reporters.  Business corporations and trade groups are also regular and credible purveyors of stories deemed newsworthy.”    (pp. 18-19)

 

Government Elites

 

With respect to government and military elites, numerous “news” shows allow a bevy of retired military leaders – many of whom have financial relationships with defense contractors – to provide commentary and analysis in connection with foreign policy, commentary and analysis that inevitably rationalizes a military solution of some sort with most “debate” turning on just how much military power or which military tactics to use.  Very seldom are academics, activists or journalists allowed to air alternatives to militarist policy, despite the availability of people who could articulate the benefits of such policies while providing historical, cultural and geopolitical context that is often missing in a typical broadcast of shallow and self-serving sound bites.

 

Other pundits and journalists will sound articulate and provide a compelling narrative, but due to the fact that the average American doesn’t know much about countries like Vietnam in the 1960’s or today’s Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Russia, they won’t know enough to realize what they’re being told is false or seriously distorted.

 

One case in point is the Ukraine crisis which touched off a civil war in early 2014.  The American media narrative relied upon the repetition of two main ideas:  1) the portrayal of the color revolution instigated by the West – with Neo-Nazis as the muscle and an Association Agreement from the EU filled with empty promises as the catalyst – as aggression by Russia; and, 2) the demonization of Russian president Vladimir Putin, mostly based upon distortions, exaggerations, innuendo and outright falsehoods.  Victoria Nuland and her NED cronies, who helped shape the narrative in western Ukraine during the color revolution and have contributed to shaping it in the western media ever since, have taken Bernays’ playbook and refined it.

 

One of the mass media’s favorite authorities on the topic of Russia and Ukraine is Anne Applebaum.  By way of background, Applebaum is a widely published author and columnist, formerly with the Neocon think tank American Enterprise Institute, and has worked with NED – an organization she describes as “independent.”  She has also taken a position with the Legatum Institute in London where she churns out anti-Russia propaganda with her Neocon playmates Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss.  Legatum was founded by Christopher Chandler, who made billions off of the corrupt voucher program in Russia during the Yeltsin years.  Applebaum is also the wife of Radoslaw Sikorski, who was the foreign minister of Poland until last year.  Sikorski gained notoriety when he told Politico reporter Ben Judah that he overheard a 2008 conversation between Putin and the Polish leader in which Putin suggested that Ukraine be divided up between Russia and Poland.  It didn’t take long for Sikorski’s story to fall apart and he was forced to publicly retract the allegation and apologize to the Polish government.

As Moscow based investigative journalist John Helmer has reported, there is controversy in Poland surrounding Applebaum’s income shooting up from $20,000 in 2011 to $565,000 in 2013 with no details provided as to where the surge in income came from and whether it was related to her husband’s political activities.  Helmer’s Polish sources express a suspicion that Applebaum is receiving money from revived US government programs that have as their objective the dissemination of anti-Russia material.  Helmer’s attempts to find out from Applebaum’s publishers and the Legatum Institute if the significant income increase was attributable to their compensation were stonewalled.

 

Notorious Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s family nonprofit, Institute of Modern Russia, has admitted that it is working with Applebaum through the Legatum Institute on a “series of studies” on Applebaum’s persistent themes relating to Russia, including its “postmodern dictatorship.” The papers were used as the foundation for public panels, including one in Washington D.C. co-sponsored by NED.   Several scholars and writers who specialize in Russia and geopolitics have expressed concern about one of the papers that was hailed at these panels, “The Menace of Unreality,” which attempts to legitimize what amounts to censorship of any reporting or analysis of Russia and related issues that does not adhere to the narrative outlined by government officials and their mass media lapdogs.

 

Applebaum flogged the same anti-Russia and Putin demonization themes during the Munk debates in Canada in April of this year.  In arguing on behalf of the position that the West should continue to keep Russia in the naughty corner and eschew engagement, Applebaum turned reality on its head.  In regards to Putin’s relations with the West, notably the U.S., she claims that the West bent over backwards to welcome Putin and Russia into its paradise of peace, prosperity and democracy only to have Putin cheat, steal and aggress on his neighbors – accusations that take particular temerity given the enriching schemes by the Legatum Institute’s founder in the 1990’s, an era that Applebaum thinks was better for Russia.  The truth, as documented by Stephen F. Cohen (one of her opponents in the Munk debate), Jack Matlock, and Angus Roxburgh (among others) is that Putin made numerous attempts to have a mutually respectful and cooperative relationship with the U.S. and received little for his efforts except for several swift kicks to the shins in the form of NATO expansion, unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, provocations on his borders and interference in Russia’s internal affairs on a level that would never be tolerated by the U.S.  Despite Applebaum’s gross distortions, her side swayed the audience and won the debate.

 

In addition to NED darlings like Applebaum, there is a possibility that the CIA has revived or never really shut down its Operation Mockingbird program.  A recent book by Dr. Udo Ulfkotte, the former editor of a major German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has stated that numerous journalists and editors in the German – as well as other European – mass media are on the payroll of the CIA.  He describes how he put his name to and published articles that were actually penned by the CIA, articles that pushed whatever militarist narrative the U.S. political elites and security apparatus wanted.  The book, Bought Journalists, has been a best-seller on Amazon but the mass media in both the US and Western Europe have dummied up instead of reporting on the book or its allegations.  One is left to look to the independent and non-western media to learn about its existence.

 

Corporate Elites

 

“Marketing is a battle of perception, not products.  The truth has no bearing on the issue.  The role of public relations is to deliver the exact same thing as advertising.”

-Jack Trout, advertising executive

In terms of the separate but often related interests of corporate elites, Investigative journalists John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, in their book Trust Us, We’re Experts, discuss what could best be described as corporate prostitutes serving as experts and the methods they use in framing Americans’ understanding of a range of issues affecting their health, finances and public policy.

 

Corporations and the PR firms they hire make abundant use of the “third party technique” pioneered by Bernays. One of the most common tactics is the use of astroturf organizations that confuse the public with names that sound like they represent the public interest but are actually front groups for corporations.  These front organizations often do their work with the assistance of mass media outlets that disseminate their propaganda by citing their biased and bogus data, without always disclosing that corporations are really behind the groups.

One of the earliest examples of this type of entity was the Air Hygiene Foundation (later known as the Industrial Hygiene Foundation and then the Industrial Health Foundation).  The foundation was initiated in 1935 by Andrew and Richard Mellon in the aftermath of the Hawk’s Nest scandal to counter the exposure of the deadly effects of silicosis on the health of workers and the potential for financial accountability in the form of lawsuits and regulatory changes.  Leading scientists and public officials were recruited as members and trustees of the foundation and were quoted in trade publications and the media, lending a veneer of legitimacy to their agenda.

The Hawk’s Nest scandal saw the death of up to 2,000 poor black workers from silicosis through the reckless working conditions of Union Carbide in a West Virginia project involving the digging of a tunnel through a mountain that was almost pure silica.  The negligence was compounded by the company doctors’ refusal to disclose what ailment the workers had contracted after the development of symptoms.  The dangers were well known to the company as engineers and managers regularly took precautions while in the tunnels, such as wearing masks or respirators.

During Roosevelt’s administration, the court system had finally begun to shift away from its early bias by which employees were rarely able to effectively hold their employers legally accountable, even for the most egregious abuses.  The industry begrudgingly began to limit some of the worst abuses.  As Stauber and Sheldon state:

“With the Air Hygiene Foundation, industry had found an effective propaganda formula:  a combination of partial reforms with reassuring “scientific” rhetoric, under the aegis of an organization with a benevolent, independent-sounding name….By 1940, the AHF had 225 member companies, representing such major polluters of the day  as American Smelting and Refining, Johns-Manville, United Steel Company, Union Carbide, and PPG Industries….In 1941, it changed its name to the Industrial Hygiene Foundation, broadening its agenda beyond dust-related diseases to encompass other industrial health issues.  By the 1970’s, it had more than 400 corporate sponsors, including Gulf Oil, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Kawecki Berylco Industries, British Beryllium, Consolidated Coal, Boeing, General Electric, General Mills, Goodyear, Western Electric, Owens-Corning Fiberglass, Mobil Oil and Dow Chemical.” (p. 79)

Similar campaigns were run by industry with regard to asbestos and leaded gasoline and, more recently, with genetically modified foods and pesticides.  In each case, industry knew full well the serious dangers associated with their products and practices.

In addition to the use of astroturf groups, PR firms often provide a range of services with the goal of using various tools in the art of deception to protect and/or further the interests of their corporate clients.  These include advising clients how to evade substantive interaction with the public and questioning by journalists or activists, and how to mislead based on the avoidance of words that the public reacts unfavorably to – in other words, obfuscating to the point of rendering the truth irrelevant.  Some firms even conduct spying operations on genuine public interest groups and advocates with the goal of blackmailing them or attacking their credibility.

But one shouldn’t underestimate the mileage PR firms get out of more mundane methods, such as inundating media outlets with press releases that portray their corporate clients in the best possible light.  Instead of being treated with sufficient skepticism, corporate and PR press releases are often used as the basis of articles and reports as newsrooms cut back their staff and budget for investigative reporting.  As a 2014 survey by Business Wire revealed, the vast majority of journalists rely on press releases to provide them with breaking news (77%) and factual support for articles (70%).

 

There is even a term now for this kind of press release-based reporting, “churnalism.”  In fact, it was recognized as a serious enough problem by the Media Standards Trust to motivate the creation of a website, churnalism.com, which provides a “churn engine” that viewers can paste press releases into and find articles in the database that quote directly from or heavily rely upon “reproduced publicity material,” receiving a high score on the churnalism meter.

 

As Chomsky and Herman point out, all of this reliance upon elite sources and “experts” is cost-effective, not only in terms of newsrooms starved of staff and resources to perform due diligence and provide a truthful and balanced journalism, but also in terms of the media protecting themselves from powerful moneyed interests who can afford to punish media outlets through libel litigation or government agencies that can suspend licenses and permits for broadcasters to operate.  All of the aforementioned mechanisms contribute to perverting what journalistic “objectivity” means in practice.

 

Americans’ Growing Distrust of the Mass Media

 

Ironically, those bombarded constantly with propaganda, especially when it becomes more and more obvious as reflected in numerous reports over the past 18 months originating from official government sources that Russia had invaded Ukraine only to have the photographic evidence debunked within days or even hours, are bound to reach a point of distrust.  According to a September 2014 Gallup poll, Americans’ trust in the mass media is at an all time low of 40%.  Moreover, British studies requested by Sputnik News reveal that most westerners, including Americans, are suspicious of mass media’s coverage of the Ukraine war and would like to be provided with alternative media sources.  This probably explains why RT’s YouTube channel was leaving Al Jazeera, CNN, and BBC in the dust by 2012 and by the end of 2014 had been viewed over 2 billion times – triple that of CNN or Euronews, even though it has a smaller budget than the Western international media outlets, despite histrionic claims to the contrary.

 

This sentiment no doubt reaches beyond foreign policy as more Americans recognize that the narrative being pushed on them by the mass media doesn’t resemble what they see and experience on a daily basis:  increasing economic insecurity, a degraded environment, spending on more wars than they can keep up with, and the social and cultural decay that inevitably emerges with rule by a militarist oligarchy.

Experts: “In a nuclear war between the US and Russia, everybody in the world would die.”

Nuclear blast obliterates a city. There won’t be any time to react.

 

Due to the gravity of the issue and the corporate and alternative media’s general silence on it, I am re-posting this interview from the Greanville Post (reproduced from the original on the World Socialist Website) with two nuclear experts on the implications of the current geopolitical tensions and the consequences should a nuclear exchange occur between Washington and Moscow.

This is all the more relevant given the Pentagon’s testing of a more usable nuclear weapon last week as reported here

-Natylie

By Bryan Dyne and Barry Grey

World Socialist Website

Since the April 6 cruise missile strike by the Trump administration against a Syrian airbase, tensions between the United States and the European powers and Russia are at their highest level since the cold war. The rhetoric from the US and its allies has centered on defending the unprovoked attack while Russia has responded by increasing its military support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

 

The most recent escalation of these tensions is the dropping of a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) by the US military in Afghanistan. A MOAB is a 21,600 pound bomb, the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the US military’s arsenal. It has never before been used in combat.

While the official target was an ISIS cave and tunnel complex in Nangarhar Province, the real aim was to demonstrate to Iran, Russia, Syria, North Korea, China and any other nation that gets in the way of American imperialism’s global interests that there are no limits to the violence the US military is prepared to unleash on those it considers its enemies.

What is striking about the media coverage of the increasingly acute geopolitical crisis is the lack of discussion–whether it be the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, MSNBC or CNN–of the consequences of a nuclear exchange. The next step up from a MOAB is a low-yield tactical thermonuclear warhead, a weapon that is at least an order of magnitude more destructive. Yet no one in the corporate media has asked: What would happen if such weapons were used in Syria, Iran or North Korea, let alone Russia or China?

This raises two further questions: How close is the current situation to one in which there is a clash and military escalation between the US and Russia that leads to nuclear war? How many people would die in such a conflict?

To shed light on these question, the World Socialist Web Site spoke separately with two experts on the dangers of nuclear war, Steven Starr and Greg Mello.


Steven Starr is a senior scientist at Physicians for Social Responsibility and an associate with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His articles on the environmental dangers of nuclear war have appeared in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and the publication of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies.

World Socialist Web Site: In your opinion, how real is the danger of a military conflict between the US and Russia over Syria or with China over North Korea?

Steven Starr: I think there is a very significant danger of that happening. The Russians are allied with [Syran President Bashar al-]Assad and have been beating ISIS. They’ve won back Aleppo and it’s made the US media and political establishment hysterical, because that’s not how they wanted the war to end. Trump campaigned for a detente with Russia, for a non-interventionist policy. When [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson was in Turkey, he said that Assad could stay. But five days after that, the US launched cruise missiles at Syria.

As a result of the attack of 59 cruise missiles by the US on a Syrian airbase, we’ve basically destroyed relations with Russia. We’ve crossed the Rubicon. Russia has suspended the 2015 aviation safety memorandum that had provided 24/7 communication channels aimed at preventing dangerous encounters between US and Russian aircraft. This will give the Russians in Syria the right to decide whether to shoot or not to shoot at US planes. The Russians already own the Syrian airspace and they have stated that they are going to increase Syrian air defense capacity. What happens when US planes start getting shot down by the Russians?

WSWS: One thing worth contrasting is the completely dishonest and false reporting by the corporate media and the scale of the consequences of the policies being pursued. As bad as it is to pump out propaganda on behalf of the American political establishment, when you are pursuing a policy that will result in the destruction of the planet, it assumes a new dimension.

SS: From my perspective, the international “news” published by the papers of record has mostly become propaganda, especially after the events in Ukraine and Crimea in 2014. While you always expect bias in each country’s news reporting, Western media no longer seems constrained by the need to provide hard evidence to support their arguments and allegations. There has been no investigation about the chemical attack in Syria–Trump launched the missile strike before any investigation could be carried out.

The CIA is deeply involved in this process. There are only six megacorporations that control 90 percent of US and Western media, and they do not publish stories that are contrary to Washington’s official party line. Censorship by omission with no dissent permitted is the defining characteristic of what we hear today. The use of “official sources” without supporting factual evidence creates a false narrative that is used to support US military actions.

As a result, there has been a deafening silence in the media about what the consequences of what a war with Russia might mean. When have you heard mainstream media have any discussion about the consequences of a nuclear war with Russia?

WSWS: What would happen if there was another US attack on Syria, perhaps following another manufactured chemical weapons attack?

SS: The situation could escalate very quickly, especially since relations between the US and Moscow have deteriorated to their worst state in history. One report I’ve read is that there are plans to deploy 150,000 US troops to Syria. Given that there are Russian and Iranian troops in Syria (at the request of the Syrian government), it would be an incredibly stupid decision for the US to send large military forces to Syria. It would be very hard to avoid WWIII.

If the US and Russia get into a direct military conflict, eventually one side or the other will start to lose. They either then admit defeat or they escalate. And when that happens, the possibility of using nuclear weapons becomes higher. Once nukes start going off, escalation to full-scale nuclear war could happen very quickly.

WSWS: How catastrophic would that be?

SS: The US and Russia each have about 1,000 strategic nuclear weapons of at least 100 kilotons, all ready to launch within two to 15 minutes. Since it takes about nine minutes for a missile from a US submarine to hit Moscow, this means that the Russian government could retaliate. And these are only the missiles that are on a hair trigger alert.

The US and Russia have 3,500 deployed and operational strategic nuclear weapons (each with a minimum explosive power of 100,000 tons of TNT) that they can detonate within an hour. They have another 4,600 nuclear weapons in reserve, ready for use. There are about 300 cities in the US and about 200 cities in Russia with populations greater than 100,000 people. Given how many nuclear weapons there are, it’s a large chance that most large cities would be hit.

Probably 30 percent of US and Russian populations would be killed in the first hour. A few weeks after the attack, radioactive fallout would kill another 50 percent or more.

Nuclear winter, one of the long-term environmental consequences of nuclear war, would probably cause most people on the planet to die of starvation within a couple years of a large US-Russian nuclear war. The global stratospheric smoke layer produced by nuclear firestorms would block most sunlight from reaching the surface of earth, producing Ice Age weather conditions that would last for at least 10 years.

Another rarely discussed consequence of nuclear war is high altitude electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. A large nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude (100-200 miles high) will produce an enormous pulse of electrical energy, which will destroy electronic circuits in an area of tens of thousands of square miles below the blast. A single detonation over the US East Coast would destroy the grid and cause every nuclear power plant affected by EMP to melt down. Imagine 60 Fukushimas happening at the same time in the US.

Greg Mello is the secretary and executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, an organization that has researched the dangers of nuclear war and advocated for disarmament since 1989. His research and analysis have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and Issues in Science and Technology.

WSWS: What role have the Democrats played in the increased tensions between the US and Russia over Syria?

Gregg Mello: Even as recently as 2013, when there was a fake chemical weapon attack in Syria, I don’t think the Democrats were as “on board” with war as they are today. But now, as a result of the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, the Russia-baiting and the neo-McCarthyite hyperbole has really ratcheted up, marginalizing even those within the party who express any amount of skepticism about the official story, such as Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. And this is someone who went to Syria to find out what was really going on. She found that the majority of people in Syria want the US to stop funding the rebels and are happy with the Assad government’s efforts to oust Al Qaeda and ISIS. But she’s being silenced.

WSWS: Could you speak on some of the corporate interests involved in this?

GM: Fifty-nine cruise missiles cost a lot of money. Each missile used costs, I guess, between $1 and $1.6 million, so the strike as a whole cost between $60 to $100 million. That doesn’t include the cost of the deployment of the ships and the other elements that make up a strike. It’s probably twice as much, if you include those elements. In terms of the missiles, if they are replaced, that’s income for whatever company replaces them.

Companies also get free advertising from such a strike. I saw the clip from MSNBC’s Brian Williams, who praised the missiles using the Leonard Cohen line, “I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons.” That’s a priceless advertising clip, especially when the same images and videos of the missiles are on primetime news and across the Internet. I’m sure their stock values, literally and figuratively, went up.

But even this is peanuts compared to the really high dollar amounts that come from continued tensions with Russia and the US government’s need to dominate the world. We’re talking not about millions of dollars, but billions–really, trillions. To maintain the idea that we should be in every part of the world, the US spends on all components of national defense about $1 trillion a year. So it really adds up quickly.

And the US military just got an increase to its base budget that is comparable to Russia’s entire defense budget. In the US, we spend way more money on the military than all of our potential adversaries combined. That’s where the real money is.

We get NATO to buy the latest versions of military equipment, compatible with ours. All of those arms sales plus our own national purchases are worth trillions. That’s what this strike upholds. A military spending pattern on a colossal scale.

This goes along with the geopolitical questions you mentioned.

WSWS: Could elaborate on the geopolitical questions?

GM: Well, Trump has said that we won’t go into Syria, but there’s no consistent policy on this. Let’s assume there is another strike, will it involve Russia? Will it kill Russians? What will Putin or any other Russian leader feel he needs to do then?

Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton and New York University, noted that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called American and Russian relations “ruined.” And Medvedev is not a hardliner against the West. For him to say that, you can only imagine what the generals and other hardliners are whispering in Putin’s other ear.

If we make another strike, either with a US airplane or a “coalition” airplane, it could easily be shot down by the high end anti-aircraft weapons that Syria and Russia have deployed. This would lead to an outcry from the US political establishment to do more, to double down on our mistake. All in all, it’s difficult to see how an air campaign could have a decisive effect on the war in Syria without creating an extreme risk of escalation between the US and Russia.

Geopolitically, the situation in Syria has gone so far towards Assad remaining in power and the terrorists being pushed out that a serious US attack on Syria would either fail, or else it would really damage Russian interests, humiliate Russia and kill her soldiers along with Assad’s, and therefore tilt the balance toward WWIII.

The idea that the poisonings in Khan Sheikhoun occurred because of chemical weapons or precursors released by a conventional munitions attack on an Al Qaeda weapons warehouse or workshop, which is the report of the Russian government, makes the most sense given everything we know. The notion that Assad or some rogue element in his army dropped chemical weapons on his own people, just when he is winning militarily and politically, is ridiculous.

Now we see that the US does not want the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons involved in an investigation of the attack. Really?

The OPCW is the world’s policeman for chemical weapons, something the US helped create. They got the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for verifying that all of Syria’s chemical weapons had been destroyed. They destroyed them on a US ship. In this case and in every case, the OPCW would carefully study evidence gathered with chain of custody procedures at an accredited laboratory, all of which are essential when matters of war and peace are at stake. It’s the same way you’d collect evidence in a high-profile murder case.

This hasn’t happened for the most recent chemical weapon attack–and the US doesn’t want it to happen. Instead, the US has recently issued a statement of the “facts,” a piece of paper claiming to be from all 17 intelligence agencies, but without letterheads or signatures, which uses weasel words like “we have confidence.” There is no indication what agencies have signed off on this or what actual evidence has been collected. Moreover, an attack like this takes a few weeks to investigate, not a few days.

This all is happening because Syria is one of the more important crossroads between the hydrocarbons of the Middle East and European customers. If you’re going to get oil and natural gas from Qatar to Europe without going through Iran, you have to have pipelines that go through Syria. This is especially important if you don’t want Europe to be dependent on natural gas from Russia, if you want to prevent Germany and Russia and the rest of Asia from further integration economically. The US government does not want Europe dependent on hydrocarbons supplied by Russia or Iran. (Editor’s Note: And this is not just about denying the Russians some income through their hydrocarbons sales. It’s about weakening Russia strategically and economically, so that eventually the nation can be undermined from within and broken up into much smaller states controlled by US-designated puppet leaders.—PG)

So, really, Syria is a proxy war between the US and other regional powers–Iran, allied with Russia–for control over Europe’s gas and oil. In addition, Israel wants control of the Golan Heights in order to drill in that region.

It’s also worth considering that China’s oil production seems to have peaked. The world’s net exports of oil–that is, the oil that can be bought on the international market–are starting to very slowly decline.

Since a barrel of oil will produce more value in countries such as China and India because the workers are paid so much less, China can always outbid the US and Europe for oil. Given a free market, they will. Alongside this problem, the oil-producing countries are using more oil internally as their populations and economies grow, which will inevitably produce a crisis in the availability and affordability of oil. That crisis will be upon us in the 2020s and it implies the potential for great power conflicts over these resources.

You didn’t have this during the Cold War because the US and Russia each had enough resources, as did our allies. But now, the cheap oil is running out and there are no cheap replacements. The potential for conflict, including between nuclear-armed powers, is rising.

WSWS: How many people would die during the first day of such a war?

GM: To a first approximation, in a nuclear war between the US and Russia, everybody in the world would die. Some people in the southern hemisphere might survive, but probably not even them.

Even a couple of nuclear weapons could end the United States as a government and an economy. It wouldn’t take a great deal to destroy the “just in time” supply chains, the financial markets and the Internet. The whole system is very fragile, especially with respect to nuclear weapons. Even in a somewhat limited nuclear war, say a war where only ICBM silos and airfields were targeted, there would be so much fallout from the ICBM fields alone that much of the Midwest would be wiped out, including places like Chicago.

Then there is the problem of the nuclear power plants, which have stored within them and their spent fuel pools and storage areas truly vast amounts of radioactivity. If their electricity supply is interrupted, these plants are quite susceptible to fires and meltdowns, as we saw at Fukushima.

Keep in mind that nuclear war is not one or two Hiroshima-sized bombs. The imagination cannot encompass nuclear war. Nuclear war means nuclear winter. It means the collapse of very fragile electronic, financial, governmental, administrative systems that keep everyone alive. We’d be lucky to reboot in the early 19th century. And if enough weapons are detonated, the collapse of the Earth’s ozone layer would mean that every form of life that has eyes could be blinded. The combined effects of a US-Russian nuclear war would mean that pretty much every terrestrial mammal, and many plants, would become extinct. There would be a dramatic biological thinning.

I think many parts of the US military just don’t get it. I’ve talked to people on the National Security Council and they have the idea that Russia will back down. I begged them, about 18 months ago, to bring in some Cold War era veteran diplomats from the realist school, people like former ambassador to Russia Jack Matlock, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, to try and convince them that Russia won’t just do what we want, that they have their own legitimate interests that we would do well to understand and take into consideration.

WSWS: What are your thoughts on how to deal with the problem of nuclear war?

GM: I would say that the effort to decrease inequality in the world is at the core of dealing with the threat of nuclear war.* We have to get the military-industrial-financial complex off people’s backs. If you have so much power concentrated in so few hands, and have such high levels of inequality, the people in power are blinded by their position. They are insulated from society’s problems. So gross inequality–economic and especially political–leads to sort of political stupidity. It could lead to annihilation. The ignorant masses are not the problem. It’s the ignorance and hubris at the top. It always is.

[All emphasis in original – NB]

Experts Weigh in on Syria CW Attack; Swedish Human Rights Group Debunks White Helmets Video; “Mother of All Bombs” Dropped in Afghanistan; Russia & China Dispatch Ships to Shadow USS Carl Vinson Near N. Korea

(Photograph of men in Khan Sheikdoun in Syria, allegedly inside a crater where a sarin-gas bomb landed.)

Now that there has been time to analyze Washington’s purported “evidence” for its contention that the Syrian government (i.e. Assad) was responsible for a recent chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikdoun, for which Washington fired 59 sexualized Tomahawk missiles at the airbase in retaliation, experts are pointing out serious problems that indicate more deception to justify illegal military action in a Middle Eastern country.  As Robert Parry points out, we’ve been down this road before with the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta in 2013 that Washington and its stenographers in the corporate media told us, with righteous certainty, was committed by Assad:

One smug CNN commentator pontificated, “we all know what happened in 2013,” a reference to the enduring conventional wisdom that an Aug. 21, 2013 sarin attack outside Damascus was carried out by the Assad government and that President Obama then failed to enforce his “red line” against chemical weapons use. This beloved groupthink survives even though evidence later showed the operation was carried out by rebels, most likely by Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front with help from Turkish intelligence, as investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported and brave Turkish officials later confirmed.

But Official Washington’s resistance to reality was perhaps best demonstrated one year ago when The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg published a detailed article about Obama’s foreign policy that repeated the groupthink about Obama shrinking from his “red line” but included the disclosure that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had informed the President that U.S. intelligence lacked any “slam dunk” evidence that Assad’s military was guilty.

One might normally think that such a warning from DNI Clapper would have spared Obama from the media’s judgment that he had chickened out, especially given the later evidence pointing the finger of blame at the rebels. After all, why should Obama have attacked the Syrian military and killed large numbers of soldiers and possibly civilians in retaliation for a crime that they had nothing to do with – and indeed an offense for which the Assad government was being framed? But Official Washington’s propaganda bubble is impervious to inconvenient reality.

The first expert debunking Washington’s claims is MIT professor Theodore Postol, reprising his role as debunker from 2013.   More from Parry on what Postol has had to say on Washington’s claims of Assad being definitively the perpetrator of chemical weapons attacks in Syria:

With the U.S. intelligence community effectively silenced by the fact that the President has already acted, Theodore Postol, a technology and national security expert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, undertook his own review of the supposed evidence cited by Trump’s White House to issue a four-page “intelligence assessment” on April 11 asserting with “high confidence” that Assad’s military delivered a bomb filled with sarin on the town of Khan Sheikdoun on the morning of April 4.

Postol, whose analytical work helped debunk Official Washington’s groupthink regarding the 2013 sarin attack outside Damascus, expressed new shock at the shoddiness of the latest White House report (or WHR). Postol produced “a quick turnaround assessment” of the April 11 report that night and went into greater detail in an addendum on April 13, writing:

“This addendum provides data that unambiguously shows that the assumption in the WHR that there was no tampering with the alleged site of the sarin release is not correct. This egregious error raises questions about every other claim in the WHR. … The implication of this observation is clear – the WHR was not reviewed and released by any competent intelligence expert unless they were motivated by factors other than concerns about the accuracy of the report.

“The WHR also makes claims about ‘communications intercepts’ which supposedly provide high confidence that the Syrian government was the source of the attack. There is no reason to believe that the veracity of this claim is any different from the now verified false claim that there was unambiguous evidence of a sarin release at the cited crater. … The evidence that unambiguously shows that the assumption that the sarin release crater was tampered with is contained in six photographs at the end of this document.”

Postol notes that one key photo “shows a man standing in the alleged sarin-release crater. He is wearing a honeycomb facemask that is designed to filter small particles from the air. Other apparel on him is an open necked cloth shirt and what appear to be medical exam gloves. Two other men are standing in front of him (on the left in the photograph) also wearing honeycomb facemask’s and medical exam gloves. [see photo at top of this blog post – Natylie]

“If there were any sarin present at this location when this photograph was taken everybody in the photograph would have received a lethal or debilitating dose of sarin. The fact that these people were dressed so inadequately either suggests a complete ignorance of the basic measures needed to protect an individual from sarin poisoning, or that they knew that the site was not seriously contaminated.

“This is the crater that is the centerpiece evidence provided in the WHR for a sarin attack delivered by a Syrian aircraft.”

No ‘Competent’ Analyst

After reviewing other discrepancies in photos of the crater, Postol wrote: “It is hard for me to believe that anybody competent could have been involved in producing the WHR report and the implications of such an obviously predetermined result strongly suggests that this report was not motivated by a serious analysis of any kind.

(Another photo of the crater containing the alleged canister that supposedly disbursed sarin in Khan Sheikdoun, Syria, on April 4, 2017.)

More directly, Postol told RT the following on April 12th:

“Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real,” he wrote. “No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it.”

Instead, “the most plausible conclusion is that the sarin was dispensed by an improvised dispersal device made from a 122mm section of rocket tube filled with sarin and capped on both sides.”

Similar debunking comes from Scott Ritter.  You may remember him from right before the Iraq war.  He was an official weapons inspector who had been to Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion in March of 2003 and stated that there was no evidence that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  As time wore on, his claims were vindicated.   He published a lengthy and detailed analysis in Truthout in which he states:

The Trump administration has yet to provide specifics of the intelligence it relied on to support the allegations levied against Syria. The Pentagon eventually produced what it claimed to be a radar track of a Syrian aircraft, believed to be an SU-22 fighter bomber, that took off from Shayrat airbase and was over Khan Shaykhun at the time of the alleged chemical attack. This radar track was produced in conjunction with what McMaster called “our friends and partners and allies around the world”, but most likely derived from a NATO AWACS reconnaissance aircraft flying over Turkey at the time. According to other U.S. military sources, the same system used to track the SU-22 aircraft also detected the release of weapons, and the impact of these weapons on the ground, using infrared (IR) sensors that detected the heat signatures associated with both events.

According to McMaster, the intelligence linking this documented airstrike to the chemical incident in Khan Shaykhun was drawn exclusively from images released by rebel-affiliated media activists, including the “White Helmets,” and from media reports about observed symptoms by medical personnel who claimed contact with the victims. At this point, there is no evidence the U.S. intelligence community used any independent information to corroborate the reports out of Syria. Instead, a combination of images and alleged eyewitness accounts from persons under the exclusive control of Tahrir al-Sham and medical evaluation of persons presented to medical authorities by Tahrir al-Sham “confirmed” the use of a nerve agent.

Curiously, McMaster also alluded to the existence of unspecified intelligence information that allowed the U.S. to designate specific areas within the Shayrat air base that were used to store the sarin nerve agent, noting that these areas were deliberately not targeted to avoid an inadvertent release of chemical agents and harm to nearby civilian communities.

As presented to the public, the intelligence McMaster cited is woefully inadequate for making a case that Syria used chemical weapons against Khan Shaykhun. Indeed, the evidence seems to corroborate Syrian and Russian claims that the SU-22 aircraft used against Khan Shaykhun employed conventional weapons, and not the chemical weapons the rebels claimed.

The critical evidence is the IR signatures detected by the U.S. and linked to weapons release over Khan Shaykhun, and to weapons impact on the ground. Rebel sources make specific reference to four “rockets” being fired by the Syrian aircraft. These same sources speak of three explosions, and one “dud-like” noise indicative of a warhead failing to detonate. Video provided by the rebels shows four distinct weapons impacts for these munitions in Khan Shaykhun—three showing signatures associated with high explosive events and one consistent with white smoke.

The use of rockets by the Syrian SU-22 is consistent with the IR sensor readouts relied upon by the U.S.—only the ignition of a rocket motor would provide the kind of weapons-release signature the U.S. claims it observed. There would be zero IR signature associated with the release of a gravity bomb, whether or not it carried a high explosive or chemical warhead. Moreover, a chemical warhead, by design, would not produce an IR signature upon impact. The weapon would either fracture on impact, spreading the agent contained through inertia, or use a small burster charge inside the weapon to split the casing and disperse the agent above ground for maximum effect. In short, it is physically impossible for a chemical weapon to produce the impact IR signatures detected by the U.S. and linked to the Khan Shaykhun attack.

The Syrians have a history of employing air-to-ground rockets against rebel targets from their SU-22 aircraft. Photographs and images from Shayrat clearly show the presence of smaller S-8 rockets, with 3.9 kilogram high explosive warheads, and larger S-24 rockets, with 123 kilogram high explosive warheads. The S-8 rocket also uses a smoke warhead for target designation purposes. The IR data collected by the U.S., when combined with the rebel eyewitness statements and video, provides unequivocal corroboration of the Syrian government’s claim that it employed conventional weapons against Khan Shaykhun.

The video evidence of high-order detonation by at least three of the rocket impacts is proof positive of a high-explosive payload. The white smoke observed in the third impact event is consistent with what one would see from a smoke warhead used to designate the target for attack, a common air-to-ground tactic familiar to any pilot who has used unguided munitions in combat. (I qualified as an aerial observer in U.S. Marine Corps OV-10 and A-4 aircraft, and employed these very tactics when marking targets for aircraft dropping conventional gravity bombs.)

The high velocity associated with these rockets—more than 600 meters per second—and their small warhead size makes them ill-suited for chemical weapons deployment. There is no evidence that either the S-8 or S-24 rockets have ever been fitted with a chemical warhead. For the U.S. case to hold any water, Syria would have had to undertake a covert weapons development program that designed, developed and produced a new class of chemical warhead possessing zero military value (the small amount of agent able to be carried, combined with the high impact speeds, makes no military sense).

In addition, the images and first-person narrative relied on by the U.S. to sustain its conclusion that sarin was used against Khan Shaykhun directly contradicts the conclusion reached. Victims speak of a “yellow-blue” smoke, and a pungent odor. Sarin is a colorless, odorless liquid. Furthermore, the handling of victims by rescuers, dramatically captured on video by the “White Helmets,” shows personnel without any protective equipment interacting with contaminated individuals. Again, I have received specialized, live-agent training at the U.S. Army facility at Fort McClellan, Ala., where hazardous materials technicians are trained to rescue persons exposed to sarin nerve agent. Any rescuer who handled contaminated persons in the manner shown on the “White Helmet” video would themselves become victims. In other words, the video images relied upon by the Trump administration is actually contraindicative of the presence of sarin nerve agent at Khan Shaykhun.

Any intelligence analyst worthy of the title, drawing on the information cited by McMaster, would have reached similar conclusions—that conventional, high-explosive, air-to-ground rockets were used by the Syrian SU-22 aircraft against Khan Shaykhun, and that there was a low probability that sarin was used on victims from the town. (It should be noted that the images of victims were taken at the “White Helmets” base, after they had been transported there, and not from the alleged site of the chemical attack.)

There is no disputing that a chemical event occurred that resulted in victims, many of them children, being treated at the “White Helmets” base. The evidence used by the U.S. to underpin its assertion that the deaths and injuries were the result of a chemical weapon containing sarin nerve agent employed by a Syrian SU-22 originating from Shayrat, however, does not sustain this allegation. It directly contradicts it.

Russia and Syria have claimed that the Syrian air strike, ostensibly against a weapons storage facility, caused chemical agents in possession of the rebels to leak, and that it was these agents that caused the casualties in Khan Shaykhun. Russia has provided the OPCW with evidence that rebels affiliated with Tahrir al-Sham had operated a chemical weapons manufacturing facility in Eastern Aleppo that produced a chlorine-white phosphorus agent that was used to fill mortar rounds and land mines. To date, the OPCW has not provided an evaluation of this evidence. When Tahrir al-Sham evacuated Eastern Aleppo in late 2016, many of its fighters, including those who had been involved in the chemical weapons manufacturing facility uncovered by the Russians, moved to Idlib province, where Khan Shaykhun is located.

In a similar vein, award-winning investigative journalist Gareth Porter, who specializes in coverage of Iran and Syria, reported that a former U.S. official who had knowledge of the situation had also suggested that Russia’s explanation was credible for what actually happened at Khan Shaykhun.  This is in addition to an “internal administration paper” that had circulated in Washington about the incident – a copy of which Porter had obtained:

The Trump administration officials dismissed the Russian claim that the Syrian airstrike had targeted a munitions warehouse controlled by Islamic extremists as an afterthought to cover up the Syrian government’s culpability for the chemical attack. Moreover, the Trump officials claimed that US intelligence had located the site where the Syrian regime had dropped the chemical weapon.

However, two new revelations contradict the Trump administration’s line on the April 4 attack. A former US official knowledgeable about the episode told Truthout that the Russians had actually informed their US counterparts in Syria of the Syrian military’s plan to strike the warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun 24 hours before the strike. And a leading analyst on military technology, Dr. Theodore Postol of MIT, has concluded that the alleged device for a sarin attack could not have been delivered from the air but only from the ground, meaning that the chemical attack may not have been the result of the Syrian airstrike.

The Trump administration is pushing the accusation that the Assad regime was the force that carried out the highly lethal chemical attack on April 4 very hard, perhaps not so much to justify the already politically popular US strike against the Shayrat airbase on April 6, but rather to buttress a new hardline policy against the Syrian regime.

The two unnamed senior Trump officials who briefed journalists Tuesday sought to discredit the Russian claim that the Syrian airstrike had hit a warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun that was believed to hold weapons including toxic chemicals. One of the two unnamed officials said that a Syrian military source had “told Russian state media on April 4 that regime forces had not carried out any strike in Khan Sheikhoun, which contradicted Russia’s claim directly.”

This Trump administration official appeared to be suggesting that there was no evidence that a weapons storage site had been hit by a Syrian airstrike. But an internal administration paper on the issue now circulating in Washington, a copy of which Truthout obtained, clearly refers to “a regime airstrike on a terrorist ammunition dump in the eastern suburbs of Khan Sheikhoun.”

More importantly, the US military allegedly knew in advance that the strike was coming: Russian military officers informed their American counterparts of the Syrian military’s plan to strike the warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun city 24 hours before the planned airstrike, according to the former US official who spoke with Truthout. The official is in direct contact with a US military intelligence officer with access to information about the US-Russian communications. The military intelligence officer reported to his associate that the Russians provided the information about the strike to the Americans through the normal US-Russian Syria deconfliction telephone line, which was established after the Russian intervention in 2015 to prevent any accidental clash between the two powers. The officer said that Russia communicated to the US the fact that the Syrians believed that the warehouse held toxic chemicals.

That information was considered so politically sensitive that after its initial dissemination, it was available only to a few officials, the US military intelligence officer told his associate.

Despite the US denial of the Russian account of a Syrian strike on a warehouse in the city, an eyewitness account appears to confirm it. A 14-year-old resident told The New York Times she was walking only a few dozen yards away from a one-story building when she saw a plane drop a bomb on it.  The eyewitness reported the explosion created a “mushroom cloud” that stung her eyes.

She added that she then hurried back home and watched as people began to arrive to help others in the neighborhood and were stricken by the toxic chemical in the air.

As for the video and testimonial evidence coming from the White Helmets – among other terrorist-controlled sources – the White Helmets has been debunked by numerous sources such as Max Blumenthal at Alternet and on-the-ground independent journalist Vanessa Beeley.  But there has been another source of discrediting recently as the organization, Swedish Doctors for Human Rights, has published their analysis of videos posted by White Helmets purporting to show medical treatment of victims of an alleged gas attack in Syria in 2015:

Summary. This article reports updated findings I obtained in a further examination of videos published by the White Helmets, and which aimed to represent consequences of an alleged gas attack in Sarmine in March 2015 [See my first report of March 6, 2017]. [1] The videos depict a medical rescuing scenario focused on ‘lifesaving’ procedures on children.

The new findings, which have also been confirmed in second-opinions issued by MD specialists and members of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR) on March 12, 2017, a) demonstrate that the main highlighted ‘life-saving‘ procedure on the infant shown in the second video of the sequence was faked. Namely, no substance (e.g. adrenaline) was injected into the child while the ‘medic’ or doctor introduced the syringe-needle in a simulated intracardiac-injection manoeuvre [See video below with the findings’ synopsis]; b) may bring support to the hypothesis mentioned by doctors in the previous report, referring that the child in question, “if not already dead, might have died because the injection procedure”.

The three children subjected to ‘life-saving’ procedures in the second video were eventually dead, and the cause of death –that according to the White helmets video would be attributed to chlorine gas– has been disputed by other medical opinions independently of the assessments by the Swedish doctors mentioned in the SWEDHR reports. For instance, in the opinion of a UK doctor, the health-status in reference to the above mentioned child could be instead attributed to drug overdose, likely opiates.

The findings in these reports raise serious questions about the ethical integrity of the organization White Helmets, on the anti-medical procedures they advertise in its videos, and the war-criminal behaviour represented by the misuse of dead children with propaganda aims.

A frame by frame analysis is provided at the original link here

Warning:  disturbing images

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It was reported by all major media outlets that on April 13th, the U.S. dropped 22,000 pound bomb, known as the “mother of all bombs” on a tunnel system believed to be occupied by ISIS fighters in Afghanistan.  According to the Washington Post:

U.S. forces in Afghanistan dropped a 22,000-pound bomb on Islamic State forces in eastern Afghanistan Thursday, the Pentagon announced, using the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat.

Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the bomb was “the right munition” to use against the Islamic State because of the group’s use of roadside bombs, bunkers and tunnels.

The bomb, known as the GBU-43, is one of the largest airdropped munitions in the U.S. military’s inventory and was almost used during the opening salvos of the Iraq War in 2003. By comparison, U.S. aircraft commonly drop bombs that weigh between 250 to 2,000 pounds.

I think it’s an insult to nickname the bomb “The Mother of All Bombs.” This morning, as I was speaking to one of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, Ali, he said, “Would any mother do that? Would any mother do that to Mother Earth? Or would any mother do this to any children?” The effect is what the U.S. military or what militaries across the world want to inflict upon ordinary citizens, which is fear, panic, hunger, anger. And I think that’s what they will get.

Looking at the figures from Global Terrorism Index, Americans and people from all over the world should ask why, like Wazhmah had indicated earlier. The Global Terrorism Index indicates that whatever bombs that the Americans have dropped in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world has resulted in terrorism increasing, not decreasing. So why? Why drop it? Why drop this “Mother of All Bombs”? It’s such an insult to all of us.

A staff writer for Yes! Magazine asked his contacts who are in or know the area to provide feedback:

Nangarhar is a rugged, mostly rural region that shares a border with Pakistan. Many families were split when the border was drawn by the British in 1896. Residents mostly belong to the Pashtun ethnic group, and many are poppy farmers, surviving on small plots of mountain land. War has been constant for more than four decades.

“The way I see it, violence does not get fixed with more violence,” Akseer said. “I am thinking about my young cousins who looked up at the sky and saw the lights, the smoke, and felt the tremor of the bomb. I wonder what impact it will have on their mental well being.”

Akseer knows firsthand what it’s like to grow up with memories of war. She experienced the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as a child. “Decades later, I still have memories that I wish I did not have,” she said.

After the initial shock of the United States’ decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan by dropping the largest bomb short of nuclear weapons, some analysts concluded that the real purpose of the attack was to send a message to world leaders about U.S. military might. For those who live in the region, however, the bombing has immediate consequences. It adds to the trauma of decades of living with war—and threatens increasing violence and instability.

The massive size of the bomb have some pundits thinking the attack was showmanship.

The massive size of the bomb has some pundits thinking the attack was showmanship, a message perhaps to North Korea, Russia, or China. “Most generally, use of a bomb of this size now is probably a broad warning to others to avoid brinksmanship with the United States,” Rebecca Zimmerman, a policy researcher at RAND, told WIRED magazine.

Adding evidence to that argument is the relatively small scale of the local branch of ISIS—known there as the Islamic State Khorosan Province, or ISKP. Andrea Chiovenda, an anthropologist with Harvard Medical School who conducted his research not far from the bomb site, said that ISKP has only a few hundred fighters, most of them foreign. Even so, he said, these fighters have brutalized the local population. “You might tell me you want to cut it [the branch] down when it’s still young,” Chiovenda said. “But there’s plenty of evidence that it’s not gaining traction among the people.”

Chiovenda said regardless of whether the bomb made sense from a military perspective, his concern is the well-being of local people.

When he spoke with contacts who live about 10 miles away from the blast site on Thursday, they contradicted statements by the Afghan government that residents were warned to leave the area. Instead, they said they spotted soldiers leaving the region and asked them what was going on. The soldiers told them a bombing was coming. That’s when they too left.

“[They] managed to know about it in a very random way,” Chiovenda said.

Some residents initially thought the blast was a nuclear weapon and were concerned about exposure to radiation, said Melissa Kerr Chiovenda, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School who studies collective trauma in Afghanistan.

Andrea Chiovenda added that the video of the blast released by the Department of Defense shows that the bomb hit cultivated fields and terraces—and what looks like a cluster of buildings. However, district governor Ismail Shinwari has denied the existence of civilian property near the blast site.

“The likelihood is that those people who lost their fields have nothing else,” he said. “Arable land is very scarce. … Let’s hope it’s less devastating than it looks.”

Some researchers worry about other forms of damage, as well.

The cost of the bomb is already infuriating some local people.

“The scale of the explosive ordnance being used in this raid will not be lost on local Pashtun tribesmen, for whom the USA’s unmatched technological military is sometimes compared to that of an alien force appropriating the powers of god,” said Benjamin Walter, an Australian political scientist who’s worked with Afghan expatriates living in India. “Bombing strikes like this one will most likely be used by ISKP for propaganda purposes, to increase their recruitment and to delegitimize other insurgent factions like the Taliban.”

Walter is skeptical that bombs can solve Afghanistan’s problems. “The best way to stem the rise of [ISKP] and its ideology there would be to broker a peace agreement between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban,” he says.

But support from the national government would likely surprise most residents of southeastern Afghanistan. “This is a tribal and impoverished area,” said Pat Omidian, an anthropologist based in Pakistan who’s spent time in the area. “They welcome and care for guests in a way that the West cannot imagine,” she added. Yet most live their entire lives without ever seeing a doctor. Maternal and infant mortality rates are high.

And, as Melissa Kerr Chiovenda points out, nearly everyone suffers from longstanding trauma. “They say they almost don’t notice the sounds of the explosions and fighting anymore,” she says. “But they seem to sometimes break down at times when things just get to be too much.”

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It is being reported by the Japanese press that the USS Carl Vinson, sent to the vicinity of North Korea by Washington, has some company:  China and Russia have decided to send their own ships to shadow the US aircraft carrier:

China and Russia have dispatched intelligence-gathering vessels from their navies to chase the USS Carl Vinson nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which is heading toward waters near the Korean Peninsula, multiple sources of the Japanese government revealed to The Yomiuri Shimbun.

It appears that both countries aim to probe the movements of the United States, which is showing a stance of not excluding military action against North Korea. The Self-Defense Forces are strengthening warning and surveillance activities in the waters and airspace around the area, according to the sources.

4 Important Articles re the Chemical Weapons Attack in Idlib and Trump’s Decision to Bomb Syria

(The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ford Williams))

For those attempting to make some kind of rational sense of how we have arrived at Trump bombing Syria within literally a few days of his administration suggesting that regime change in that country was no longer being actively pursued, I would recommend the following four articles to understand the context and as a call for skepticism regarding these actions.

The first article is by Vijay Prashad, an international relations expert who teaches at Trinity College and has provided some good in depth analysis of the Syria war in the past.  I reproduce his article, which originally appeared at Alternet, in its entirety.  It  is fairly concise and urges the reader to ask questions and not allow propaganda and manipulative appeals to emotion to overtake reason when it comes to a country in which both nuclear superpowers have a military presence:

At the United Nations Security Council on April 5, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley held up pictures of children killed by a gas attack in Khan Shaykhun, south of the Syrian city of Idlib. Estimates suggest about 50 to 60 people died in this attack. The United States, the United Kingdom and France placed a resolution before the Security Council condemning the attack and asking for an investigation of it. There is no call for armed action against anyone because the Council is divided on who perpetuated the act.

Strikingly, Ambassador Haley then said, “We don’t yet know about yesterday’s attack,” meaning nobody had definitive intelligence about the attack. Yet, there was a hasty dash to judgment in the West that the perpetrator was the government of Bashar al-Assad—perhaps with Russian assistance.

How do we know what happened in Khan Shaykhun? The sources for the Western media outlets are mainly “opposition activists,” as BBC put it in one of its early reports. A BBC story from April 4 (Syria Conflict: ‘Chemical attack’ in Idlib kills 58[3]) lists the various sources it has relied upon:

1. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Founded in 2006, SOHR is based in the United Kingdom and receives funding from the European Union and—most likely—the United Kingdom. It relies upon a network of opposition activists across Syria to provide raw information, which its director, Rami Abdul Rahman, then digests. SOHR is openly anti-Assad.

2. Khotwa (Step) news agency. Founded by opposition activists in late 2013, Khotwa—as they say—aims to “bring the world’s attention to the suffering of the Syrian people.” Its 40 correspondents are mostly based in rebel-held areas. In 2014, its director, Mohammad Hrith, was in the news in Turkey due to a fracas between Hrith and the Prime Minister of the Syrian interim government Ahmed Touma. Touma’s people suggested Hrith came to demand funds from them.

3. Local Co-ordination Committee (LCC) of the town. The LCC is part of a network of local groups emerged to coordinate protests after 2011. They represent the politics of the area in which they are established. Their general tenor is anti-Assad.

4. Hussein Kayal, a photographer with the pro-opposition Edlib Media Center. Kayal and the Edlib Media Center are part of a network of journalists including those involved with the Aleppo Media Center. They are affiliated with the Syrian Expatriate Organization, led by Mazen Hasan, who is a leading figure in the Syrian opposition that is based in the West and a key person in the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for a Democratic Syria. The Coalition has been urging U.S. armed action to overthrow the Syrian government.

5. An AFP news agency journalist (unnamed). Some of the main photographs from Idlib came from two Agence France-Presse photographers, Omar Haj Kadour and Mohamed al-Bakour. Both offered vivid pictures from the hospital in Maaret al-Numan and Khan Shaykhun. Omar Haj Kadour’s Twitter account shows he is decidedly on the side of the opposition. The account by the stringer al-Bakour seems utterly sincere. He says, “My job is to take pictures. To cover this attack. To show this horrendous crime to the world.”

Neither of the AFP reporters confirms who used these weapons on the civilians, many of them young children. They merely document the act. They are not experts. Their evidence includes foam at the mouth of one of the victims and the smell (“The first thing that hits you is the smell”). Most nerve agents are odorless. The photographers describe what they experience. To analyze their information would take a great deal more time on the ground. The others quoted by BBC do not hesitate. They point their fingers at Assad. Those with the densest relationship to the armed opposition are the first to claim that this attack was done by the government.

Investigation

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which had previously worked in Syria to destroy all banned chemical weapons, now says it will investigate the attack in Khan Shaykhun. The OPCW has announced that the Fact Finding Mission (FFM) is already in “the process of gathering and analysing information from all available sources.” The FFM has had a very controversial history since its establishment on April 29, 2014.

Scholars Karim Makdisi and Coralie Pison Hindawai have authored an important study[4] of the U.N. role in the investigation of chemical weapons in Syria. In this study, they write that the FFM was from its inception seen by many well-regarded people in the U.N. as “highly political.”

That the FFM was sent into Syria, led by Malik Ellahi, to find out about chlorine use was itself a problem, Makdisi and Hindawai write, since “investigating allegations of use [of chlorine] would prove extremely challenging at best, and the actual use almost impossible to establish scientifically.” The FFM’s work was criticized for lacking in professionalism and for its methodology.

At any rate, the main point here was that the West seemed to want to push these investigations, knowing full well the difficulty involved in ascertaining use of chlorine, in order to create a narrative of chemical weapons use. The FFM’s reports became the basis for the U.N. Security Council Resolutions 2209 (2015) and 2235 (2015), both of which threated Syria with Chapter VII (armed) action by member states of the UN.

Denials

During the debate on UNSC resolution 2235 in August 2015, the Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin voted for the resolution. However, Churkin raised the “question of who had used chemical weapons.” He hoped an investigation would keep these questions alive and not begin with the assumption that the government had used these weapons. The Russian military intervened in Syria the next month. Between August 2015 and April 2017, with the Russian forces in Syria, there has been no serious allegation of chemical weapons use against the government.

Syria’s ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Ja’afari, said at the August 2015 meeting that his country had “warned the Council of the danger of chemical weapons use by terrorist groups, some of which were affiliated with al-Qaeda.” He pointed his finger at the Khan al-Assal incident of July 2013, which was not taken seriously in the West. SOHR posted a video which showed Syrian soldiers on the ground, as if gassed. Both the al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Ansar al-Khalifa brigade had conducted this attack. No investigation was held.

In June 2016, in eastern Ghouta, the Syrian army said its soldiers had been hit with toxic gas. The Saudi proxy in the area, Jaish al-Islam, denied the use of any chemical weapons. But video evidence suggested that there was some kind of atmospheric weapon used against the soldiers.

Russia and the Syrian government now suggest that there was perhaps a stockpile of such weapons in Khan Shaykhun, which combusted perhaps by a Syrian Air Force strike. There is no confirmed evidence of any such warehouse, although the Russian Defense Ministry says that this information is “fully objective and verified.” Whether aerial bombardment can have this effect on gas housed in a warehouse will need to be investigated.

The Politics of the Moment

The Syrian armed opposition was disheartened at the Geneva V talks. The Syrian Army and its Russian and Iranian allies have made gains across the country. The armed opposition’s political leadership in Geneva openly called for U.S. intervention to help them. They feel utterly isolated.

A few days later, the administration of Donald Trump said plainly what had been clear since the Russian intervention of September 2015: that regime change in Damascus was off the table. This had been the policy of the Obama administration for the past two years, but it did not directly say so. Trump’s people acknowledged reality: with Russia and Iran in the picture, removal of Assad would take a fierce international conflict far greater than the tragedy that has befallen Syria.

With Turkey now drifting toward the Russian-Iranian narrative and Jordan dragged into chaos by the refugee crisis, easy borders to resupply the rebels are no longer available. The defeat of the armed opposition, including the al-Qaeda proxies and others, in Aleppo was the greatest blow.

For the Syrian government at this time to use chemical weapons in such a public way would not only be foolhardy, it would invite a U.S. attack. It seems only an utterly arrogant and blind leadership in Damascus would have committed such a crime. But the leadership in Damascus has shown it is crafty, using openings of all kinds to ensure its survival. This is not to say it would not have necessarily done such an attack. Eagerness to end the war before it can impose a political settlement on the rebels could have led to the use of such weapons. But this is not considered likely.

Over half a million Syrians are dead. Half the population is displaced. There is sadness across Syria, from one side of the firing line to another. Aerial bombardment by the Americans, the Russians, the Syrians and others continues to devastate Syria and Iraq. The Americans recently admitted to a major atrocity in Mosul, where 200 civilians have been killed. That attack did not seize the Security Council or bring forth fulminations from the Western press. Hypocrisy is central to the morals at the Security Council. This does not mean one should not be horrified by what has happened at Khan Shaykhun.

But more than anything, the international community must urge a thorough investigation of these events before rushing either to a forensic judgment about what happened and to a response—particularly a military response—in retaliation. Sober heads need to prevail. War is rarely the answer. Particularly when we don’t as yet know the question.

 The second article is an excerpt from Robert Parry’s latest, Trump’s ‘Wag the Dog’ Moment.   According to Parry’s sources in the intelligence community, the narrative being offered by the corporate media and Trump administration officials that Assad was automatically to blame for the chemical weapons attack earlier this week in Idlib province was far from a consensus view by intel analysts.  They also claim there was a major split between’s Trump’s non-insider advisers (e.g. Bannon and Kushner) and the insider Neocons represented by new NSA McMaster:

 

There is also an internal dispute over the intelligence. On Thursday night, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. intelligence community assessed with a “high degree of confidence” that the Syrian government had dropped a poison gas bomb on civilians in Idlib province.

But a number of intelligence sources have made contradictory assessments, saying the preponderance of evidence suggests that Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels were at fault, either by orchestrating an intentional release of a chemical agent as a provocation or by possessing containers of poison gas that ruptured during a conventional bombing raid.

One intelligence source told me that the most likely scenario was a staged event by the rebels intended to force Trump to reverse a policy, announced only days earlier, that the U.S. government would no longer seek “regime change” in Syria and would focus on attacking the common enemy, Islamic terror groups that represent the core of the rebel forces.

The source said the Trump national security team split between the President’s close personal advisers, such as nationalist firebrand Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner, on one side and old-line neocons who have regrouped under National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, an Army general who was a protégé of neocon favorite Gen. David Petraeus.

White House Infighting

In this telling, the earlier ouster of retired Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser and this week’s removal of Bannon from the National Security Council were key steps in the reassertion of neocon influence inside the Trump presidency. The strange personalities and ideological extremism of Flynn and Bannon made their ousters easier, but they were obstacles that the neocons wanted removed.

Though Bannon and Kushner are often presented as rivals, the source said, they shared the belief that Trump should tell the truth about Syria, revealing the Obama administration’s CIA analysis that a fatal sarin gas attack in 2013 was a “false-flag” operation intended to sucker President Obama into fully joining the Syrian war on the side of the rebels — and the intelligence analysts’ similar beliefs about Tuesday’s incident.

Instead, Trump went along with the idea of embracing the initial rush to judgment blaming Assad for the Idlib poison-gas event. The source added that Trump saw Thursday night’s missile assault as a way to change the conversation in Washington, where his administration has been under fierce attack from Democrats claiming that his election resulted from a Russian covert operation.

If changing the narrative was Trump’s goal, it achieved some initial success with several of Trump’s fiercest neocon critics, such as neocon Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, praising the missile strike, as did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The neocons and Israel have long sought “regime change” in Damascus even if the ouster of Assad might lead to a victory by Islamic extremists associated with Al Qaeda and/or the Islamic State.

And, of course, most of the corporate media and politicians from both parties are bobbing their heads up and down in agreement (aside from some procedural quibbles), with news anchor Brian Williams of MSNBC describing American bombs flying into the air and hitting their targets as “beautiful” several times in what has to be one of the more vomit-inducing moments in recent memory and a new low for the corporate media.   So much for objectivity.

Glenn Greenwald outlines several points in his article The Spoils of War: Trump Lavished with Media and Bipartisan Praise for Bombing Syria.  Two of them relate to what I just discussed above, the craven media and bipartisan cheer-leading of (fascist buffoon – remember those descriptions of Trump?) Trump’s unleashing of violence and destruction on a foreign land which is wrapped in the usual self-righteous rhetoric, as well as the institutionalized illegality of the action.  I will excerpt a few of the points:  

2. Democrats’ jingoistic rhetoric has left them no ability – or desire – to oppose Trump’s wars.

Democrats have spent months wrapping themselves in extremely nationalistic and militaristic rhetoric. They have constantly accused Trump of being a traitor to the U.S., a puppet of Putin, and unwilling to defend U.S. interests. They have specifically tried to exploit Assad’s crimes by tying the Syrian leader to Trump, insisting that Trump would never confront Assad because doing so would anger his Kremlin masters. They have embraced a framework whereby anyone who refuses to confront Putin or Assad is deemed a sympathizer of, or a servant to, foreign enemies.

Having pushed those tactics and themes, Democrats have painted themselves into a corner. How could they possibly do anything but cheer as Trump bombs Syria? They can’t. And cheering is thus exactly what they’re doing.

For months, those of us who have urged skepticism and restraint on the Russia rhetoric have highlighted the risk that this fixation on depicting him as a tool of the Kremlin could goad Trump – dare him or even force him – to seek confrontation with Moscow. Some Democrats reacted with rage yesterday at the suggestion that their political tactics were now bearing this fruit, but that’s how politics works.

Much as George H.W. Bush was motivated to shed his “wimp” image by invading Panama, of course Trump will be motivated to prove he’s not controlled by Putin via blackmail by seeking confrontation with the Russian leader. And that’s exactly what he just did. War is the classic weapon U.S. Presidents use to show they are strong, patriotic and deserving of respect; the more those attributes are called in question, the greater that compulsion becomes:

Trump is the prime author of his wars, and of this bombing in Syria. He, and he alone, bears primary responsibility for it. But Trump is not an island of agency; he operates in the climate of Washington. A major reason why it’s so dangerous to ratchet up rhetorical tension between two major nuclear-armed powers is because of the ease with which those tensions can translate into actual conflict, and the motivation it can create for Trump to use war to prove he’s a patriot after all.

Whatever else is true, Democrats – with very few exceptions such as Rep. Ted Lieu and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard – have refrained from criticizing Trump’s bombing campaign on the merits (as opposed to process issues). Indeed, Democratic Party leaders have explicitly praised Trump’s bombing. They will have to continue to do so even if Trump expands this war. That’s what the Democratic Party has turned itself into to; indeed, it’s what it has been for a long time.

 

3. In wartime, US television instantly converts into state media.

As it always does, the U.S. media last night was an almost equal mix of excitement and reverence as the bombs fell. People who dissent from this bombing campaign – who opposed it on the merits – were almost entirely disappeared, as they always are in such moments of high patriotism (MSNBC’s Chris Hayes had two guests on after midnight who opposed it, but they were rare). Claims from the U.S. government and military are immediately vested with unquestioned truth and accuracy, while claims from foreign adversaries such as Russia and Syria are reflexively scorned as lies and propaganda.

For all the recent hysteria over RT being a propaganda outlet for the state, U.S. media coverage is barely distinguishable in times of war (which is, for the U.S., the permanent state of affairs). More systematic analysis will surely be forthcoming of last night’s coverage, but for now, here is Brian Williams – in all of his military-revering majesty – showing how state TV functions in the United States:

good thing we don’t have govt-controlled media in this country

And here’s Fareed Zakaria declaring on CNN that Donald Trump has now been instantly transformed into the President of the United States in all of the loftiest and most regal senses of the term:

.@FareedZakaria on Syria strikes: “I think Donald Trump became President of the United States” last night

4. Trump’s bombing is illegal, but presidents are now omnipotent.

It should be startling and infuriating that Trump is able to order a new attack on the Syrian Government without any democratic debate, let alone Congressional approval. At least when Obama started bombing Syria without Congress, he had the excuse that it was authorized by the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, since his ostensible targets were terrorist groups (even though ISIS did not exist until years after that was enacted and is hardly “affiliated” with Al Qaeda). But since there’s no self-defense pretext to what Trump just did, what possible legal rationale exists for this? None.

But nobody in Washington really cares about such legalities. Indeed, we have purposely created an omnipotent presidency. Recall that in 2011, Obama went to war in Libya not just without Congressional approval, but even after Congress rejected such authorization.

What happened to Obama as a result of involving the U.S in a war that Congress had rejected? Absolutely nothing, because Congress, due to political cowardice, wants to abdicate war-making powers to the President. As a country, we have decided we want an all-powerful president – one who can bomb, and spy, and detain, and invade with virtually no limits. That’s the machinery of the imperial presidency that both parties have jointly built and have now handed to President Trump.

Indeed, in 2013, Obama explicitly argued that he had the right to bomb Assad without Congressional approval – a precedent the Trump White House will now use.

And, finally, this is from Patrick Henningsen at 21st Century Wire, summarizing all of the propaganda and discredited sources of information in the past about the war in Syria and to keep this in mind when consuming “news” about what is going on currently.  In the excerpt below, he specifically takes issue with some of the BBC’s coverage of the chemical weapons attacks in Idlib and the response to it, illustrating how this all contributed to preparing the public for illegitimate military action:

 

At no point in its reporting does the BBC ever express any skepticism that maybe their ‘activist’ sources could be providing false or misleading information. Ultimately, these reports can be used to trigger renewed calls by Western officials for military strikes against the ‘Syrian Regime’ – which was exactly what happened today after these news stories were circulated. Within a few hours after these reports circulated, Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R, Illinois) came on CNN with Wolf Blitzer who asked Kinzinger point blank: What can be done to remove this regime? Kinzinger then replied by calling outright for US airstrikes to “Take out the Assad Regime in Syria”, including “cratering their airstrips so no planes can take off” and creating a “No Fly Zone” over Syria.

These statements, as bombastic as they may sound, are serious and should not be taken casually. The problem is they are based on a series of lies. Of course, Kinzinger was followed on-air by John McCain protesting against US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent comments this week that, “The Syrian people should be able to choose their own (political) future” – effectively holding the overwhelming majority of Syrian in contempt for supporting their government.

CNN Senior Middle East correspondent Arwa Damon also chimed in with Blitzer from New York, and without any real evidence presented as to what has happened and who is to blame, she swiftly concluded that the Idlib “chemical attack” was the work of ‘the regime’ and that America cannot stand back idly and do nothing, and how this would show a “lack of humanity,” 

 I highly recommend reading the full article here:

More Sporadic Posting Through End of May

Church on Spilt Blood, St. Petersburg, Built at the site of reformist Czar Alexander II’s 1881 assassination.  Russia; Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015

I will be posting more sporadically through the end of May due to preparations for my return trip to Russia in the first half of May.  I will be visiting Moscow in time for the annual Victory Day celebrations on May 9th, commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany and will then be heading to St. Petersburg.

I am currently doing research on Russia’s three revolutions (1905, February 1917 and October 1917) and will be asking Russians what they think of the 1917 Revolutions and finding out how the government intends to commemorate it.

Palace Square, St. Petersburg, Russia.  Where desperate workers and peasants hoped to appeal to Czar Nicholas II to implement reforms to improve their lives and were massacred on Bloody Sunday in January, 1905, kicking off the first Russian Revolution; Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin

I will be writing an article on the 1905 Revolution and then another on the 1917 Revolution(s), the latter of which will include information gleaned from my discussions with Russians.

Monument to Soviet Workers Moscow.Edited

Monument to Soviet Worker, Moscow, Russia; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin

I also hope to maybe get a couple of travelogue-style posts in while I’m in Russia, but that will depend on the technology I have available.

Regards,

Natylie

 

Latest on Ukraine; Protests in Russia; U.S. Announces it Has Abandoned Regime Change Policy in Syria, Appears to Be Angling for Partition; Wikileaks Releases “Marble” Files on CIA’s Ability to Conduct Cyberwar and Falsely Attribute to Russia or China

Firefighters working on the blaze at a Kharkov munitions depot; ©  EPA/SERGEY KOZLOV

Conditions in Ukraine – which were never great – continue their downward spiral as the IMF postponed a decision on whether to keep loaning Kiev money as part of the IMF’s bailout deal for the impoverished country.  Although the official reason given for suspending the payout was to monitor the effect of the Donbass blockade on the Ukrainian economy, it is believed that this was really done to see what the High Court of London will decide in the case before it of whether Kiev’s debt to the Russian government is deemed legitimate.  It is anticipated that the court will rule that it is, which will render Kiev in violation of IMF rules about defaulting on debts owed to governments, making them technically ineligible to receive more funds from the institution.   Alexander Mercouris writes more about this explanation:

 

It is not impossible that a further factor is IMF concern about the outcome of the High Court case in London brought by Russia in connection with Ukraine’s failure to repay the $3 billion debt it owes Russia.  The Russians have applied to the High Court for summary Judgment, and the High Court is expected to rule on this in April.  If the Judgment is in Russia’s favour, then Ukraine will be legally in default to a member of the Paris Club, and according to the IMF’s own rules ineligible for further funding.

Since a Judgment from the High Court in Russia’s favour would call into question the entire wisdom of the IMF agreeing to a bailout plan with Ukraine in the first place, it is understandable if the IMF is unwilling to say anything about it.

Without further help from the IMF the economic pressures on Ukraine will grow.  As Zolotaryov says, Ukraine is already running budget and trade deficits, which the transport blockade and the nationalisation of the enterprises will only make worse.  If IMF funding is cut off following a decision by the High Court in London that Ukraine is in default, then Ukraine will lose its external funding.

Zolotaryov says Ukraine has no option but to cover its existing deficits by printing more money.  If external funding is cut off, money printing will have to accelerate in which case inflation might take off.

A few days ago, the London court granted a motion to have the hearing expedited and reportedly rejected all of Ukraine’s arguments against Russia’s request for the expedited hearing.  This is believed to be a good indication that the court will rule in Russia’s favor.   TASS reported the following:

LONDON, March 29. /TASS/. London’s High Court has ruled to hear the case of Ukraine’s $3 billion sovereign debt to Russia in an expedited procedure, the presiding judge said on Wednesday.

The presiding judge also rejected all of Ukraine’s objections under Russia’s lawsuit.

The court has thus supported Russia’s position on the case’s expedited examination.

The Ukrainian side, on the contrary, insisted on a full-scale judicial process that would include the study of all the political aspects of the case.

As readers of this blog may remember, Poroshenko’s political fortunes have evaporated since he took over the presidency of a nation that has become a political and economic nightmare.  He is essentially hogtied in terms of implementing the Minsk Agreement because of the increasing influence and violence of the right-wing ultra-nationalists who have threatened him if he should make any concessions (real or perceived) to the Donbass region.  The groups that comprise this movement, such as Svoboda and Right Sector, have recently held a conference and released a Manifesto outlining their vision for the country.   Anatoly Karlin provided the following commentary and translation of the Manifesto:

On March 16, representatives of the political party Svoboda, Right Sector, and the National Corpus (i.e. the Azov batallion’s political wing) gathered to sign a National Manifesto.

The document affirms the ideological unity of the three main forces of Ukrainian nationalism, and conveniently summarizes its core vision.

Considering the Poroshenko’s governments ever greater submissiveness before Ukrainian nationalist forces, and the specter of them assuming an even more central role in the regime that might well soon replace his, it is now all the more vital to understand their vision for Ukraine.

Below, I provide a translation of this document, stressing readability over word-for-word accuracy.

Read Karlin’s translation here:

http://theduran.com/the-manifesto-of-ukrainian-nationalism/

As a result of this increasing mentality in Ukraine, there were violent attacks against the Polish consulate with damage to the roof and windows but no casualties.  This, in turn, prompted the Polish government to close their consulates in the country temporarily.   Reutersreported the following:

Poland temporarily closed its consulates in Ukraine after a grenade attack overnight at one of its buildings near the Polish border that Kiev said was intended to harm bilateral ties with Warsaw.

Relations between Poland and Ukraine have deteriorated in the past year in a row over World War Two atrocities [including the official revering of Stepan Bandera – the ultranationalist Ukrainian who actively colluded with Nazi Germany during WWII and played a role in atrocities against Poles and Jews – Natylie], although Warsaw still strongly supports Western sanctions imposed on Russia for the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and Polish president Andrzej Duda both condemned the attack, which took place in the early hours on Wednesday in the town of Lutsk near the border.

No one was hurt but the roof of the Polish consulate there and some windows were damaged. Ukraine’s Security Service said the weapon used appeared to be a rocket from an RPG-26, a disposable anti-tank launcher developed by the Soviet Union.

“The investigation considers several options of the incident, including act of terrorism,” the security service said in a statement.

The Ukrainian government, of course, found a way to try to blame Russia as the statement by the Ukrainian security service continued:

“The provocations against the Republic of Poland, which once in a while occur in Ukraine, are of benefit only to one party – the Russian Federation. Its methods of operation can be seen from far off.”

….The head of Poland’s National Security Bureau, Pawel Soloch, said: “Undoubtedly, this was a provocation.”

“The question is: who did it and for what purpose? We know the context – there is a Russian aggression against Ukraine,” he said on Polish private RFM-FM radio.

Between overthrowing American democracy, current programs to undermine upcoming European elections, and creating myriad provocations in Ukraine, the Baltics and the Balkans,  those Russians sure are impressive.   I wonder if Putin puts on a cape and tights before he leaps those tall buildings in a single bound.

How does he do it all and still manage to be dating those scores of women the western media told us about as well as overseeing an empire of wineries, villas, castles and mansions all over the world?  Is he on meth?

Back to Ukraine…

As if this all wasn’t enough, an explosion and fire raged for several days at what is believed to be the largest munitions depot in Europe, located in the Ukrainian region of Kharkov.  This prompted the evacuation of around 20,000 residents.  RT had the following details in the early hours of the disaster:

Thousands of people are being evacuated from Balakleya in the Kharkov region of Ukraine, as a massive fire has broken out at a munitions depot, which is said to be the largest in the country. There are reports of explosions and shattered windows.
Chaotic scenes with hundreds of vehicles stuck in traffic jams were reported on social media after the Balakleya city administration ordered an emergency evacuation of most of the city.

Videos uploaded by local residents show a huge blaze with what appears to be a missile flying off in a random direction and falling to the ground, as detonations are heard in the background.

 ….More than 16,000 people have been evacuated from the city of Balakleya, home to 29,000 people, the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry reported. Over 3,500 people were also evacuated from nearby villages.

On March 28th, TASS reported that the fire had finally been put out and residents were returning to their homes.

KIEV, March 28. /TASS/. Fires at a military depot in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkov region have been extinguished now and the evacuated citizens have returned home, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine said on Tuesday.

“As of 7 a.m. on March 28, no fires caused by munitions explosions are registered in Balakleya and the nearby settlements. The territory of Balakleya and the neighboring villages in the emergency zone has been cleared of explosives,” the service said in a statement.

The town’s power supply has been fully restored and gas supply has been resumed in 50% of the areas.

Nearly 1,500 explosive objects have been seized since the effort began. Pyrotechnic specialists are now examining the area and clearing of explosives the territory close to the depot.

….The depot may house up to 150,000 tonnes of armaments. Media reports say some 125,000 tonnes of munitions had been there before the incident.

*********************************

As readers may recall from a recent post on this blog, Alexei Navalny released a report on Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s alleged corruption.  This led to demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg as well as other smaller cities and towns throughout Russia, in response to Navalny’s call to protest.  Estimates vary from a few thousand to tens of thousands of protesters total.  I hate to burst anyone’s bubble but that is not much in terms of Russia’s total population, especially in the big cities like Moscow with a population of millions.  I’m not saying it’s nothing, just that those westerners who are hot for a regime change in Russia should temper their expectations.  As my previous post made clear, Medvedev is not terribly popular in Russia anymore and, according to recent polling from Gallup and Levada, the larger issue of corruption and the lethargic economy are not adversely affecting Putin’s overall approval rating, but they have hurt Medvedev who has made comments that make him seem out of touch with and unsympathetic to the concerns of average Russians.   It is also possible that, in time, Putin will use this as a good reason to dump Medvedev and pursue a different path, being able to argue that Medvedev and the ideas he advocated were given a chance and did not work.
The Washington Post’s David Filipov tweeted the following observation of the protests in Moscow on March 26th:

 

There were some pretty rough arrests, & 1 officer was hospitalized but for most of the day police in #Moscow were generally patient w crowds

The Kremlin’s official response via spokesman Dmitry Peskov follows, in part, courtesy of Johnson’s Russia List:

 

MOSCOW, March 27. /TASS/. The Kremlin respects the citizens’ right to take part in rallies provided they are conducted in accordance with the law, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

When commenting on the protests that took place in a number of Russian cities on Sunday, he said that “the Kremlin respects people’s civil position and their right to express it.” “But we respect it when civil activism is expressed in accordance with the law and in places where the law prescribes,” Peskov added.

He added that the Kremlin “cannot respect those who deliberately misguide people and who instigated these illegal activities yesterday.” “We cannot respect those who deliberately misled underage minors promising them some payment in return for participating in an unauthorized protest, thereby exposing them to danger. We cannot accept, nor respect this,” Peskov added.

The Kremlin is not worried about any possible repetition of such protests, but is concerned that some elements will manipulate civil activists for their goals, the spokesman said.

The thing is not about fears. We are afraid that someone will continue using civil activists, people who are actively engaged in civic activities, for their goals, calling on people to take part in illegal and unauthorized events. We are concerned about this, not about the manifestation of civil activism and holding various events in line with the law,” Peskov explained.

The Kremlin spokesman noted that there is a rather active dialogue with the civil society through different channels and at various levels. He stressed that the president actively contacts with people who work in different fields. “During this dialogue there is a constant exchange of information and the possibility is given to understand the current problems and if people are dissatisfied and their assessment on the positive outcome of the authorities’ work,” he said.

Russia Beyond the Headlines filed the following report (excerpt) on March 27th:

 

On March 26, protests against corruption were held across Russia, the largest of which took place on Moscow’s main central street, Tverskaya. According to the Interior Ministry, around 7,000 to 8,000 people rallied in the capital, although the protest organizers are yet to release their estimates.

The protests were fueled by the government’s failure to respond to the investigation by opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) into Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. It’s claimed he has embezzled a secret empire worth $1.2 billion.

Most of the demonstrations, including the Moscow march, had not been sanctioned by the authorities, resulting in multiple arrests and clashes with the police. In the Russian capital alone, some 850 people have been detained.

Since the FBK film – “He is not Dimon to you” – making the allegations against Medvedev was released online, it has received 13 million views. Several days before the protests, the Moscow police said they could not be held responsible for unsanctioned rallies. Four hours before people protested on Tverskaya scores of special vehicles and buses with riot police lined the streets. Demonstrators, many of whom looked like ordinary people out for a walk, marched south towards the Kremlin. The large majority were peaceful, did not seek clashes with the police, and urged against rash actions. They objected to comparisons with Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan revolution and took pictures with riot police in the background.

What do you want?

“How shall we recognize our own? Are they with the authorities or not?” – these were the questions being asked in the somewhat confused crowd 15 minutes before the protest. People were coming out of the subway and joining the masses watching the police with suspicious, worried eyes. “Look, are they all for corruption, since we are against it?” asked a surprised elderly lady pointing at the officers, who were staring back at the growing crowds. Features typical of opposition protests were missing: There were no leaders, megaphones, or a clear plan of action. People didn’t know if they should be standing or moving.

Many were watching live broadcasts from other parts of Tverskaya. “In Pushkinskaya [square], a guy holding a placard that read ‘Corruption kills’ has been detained,” a man with a selfie stick and a large smartphone announced loudly. People immediately surrounded him, thinking he was the best informed among them. Another man suggested that the police would not be able to put a crowd of 500 people into police vans: “To stop a crowd like that, the only option is to start killing them”.

“What do we want? Do we want to fight or what?” asked an intellectual looking young man. “I and you know one thing – the dialogue with the authorities is over. We want change. Not promises. The first thing why we are here is to demand the resignation of the government, not just Medvedev.”

From the other side of the square, somebody suggested deciding there and then whether “Crimea is ours or not ours”, but this was quickly dropped as others said this discussion was for another time, as this was not what the protest was about.

A man called Oleg standing with his elderly mother also spoke out: “We all demand an answer to the film that Navalny released. The media are silent, the authorities are silent, as if nothing had happened. Although that film very much looks like the truth. Why have they not denied anything, why have they not sued Navalny for libel if it’s a lie?” He also told me his parents continue working beyond their retirement age because they do not have enough money to buy food. “The authorities ask us to be patient, but why don’t they tell us what for? It is time they explained at least something,” he added.

Somebody in the crowd suddenly shouted: “Let’s go” and people start moving towards the Kremlin. Oleg and his mother followed without hesitation. Aren’t you afraid of clashes with the police? – I ask him. “It is time we stopped being afraid, we are tired of being afraid. Something needs to be done,” he replied.

The Irrussianality blog, run by British Russia expert Paul Robinson, provided some contextual information as to whether Russia’s youth is, in fact, becoming more liberal or western-oriented or significantly turning against Putin:

 

So which is it? Are young Russians turning against the state, or do they idolize Vladimir Putin and ‘more than any other generation are proud of their country’? Will a new generation liberalize Russia, or not? To answer that, we need to move beyond anecdotal stories and look at the hard data of sociological surveys. These are quite revealing.

For instance, sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya surveyed young Russians in 26 cities. She concluded that ‘there is widespread cynicism among Russia’s young people’, but ‘despite their alienation, most young Russians are not clamoring for democratic change.’ She found also that:

  • About 25 percent of those polled consider themselves “liberals” or “democrats,” but relatively few people understand what those terms mean.  Many respondents would like to see a nationalist, monarchist or anarchist party.
  • The younger the respondent, the more likely he or she is to believe that Russia is a great power.
  • Putin remains the most popular politician among younger Russians.  …
  • Russia’s young people are more inclined to support “the complete destruction of the system”—even by revolution—than gradual change. But many consider revolution difficult to achieve.
  • Young people put little stock in the opposition or anti-Kremlin leaders such as Alexei Navalny.

Kryshtanovskaya concludes that ‘there is potential support among young people for a wide range of outcomes, not just a Russia that is pro-Western and democratic.’

Interestingly, other surveys suggest that young Russians are more optimistic about their country than older people. One poll, for instance, concludes that, ‘those ages 18 to 29, are the most likely to hold positive views about the economy’.  This perhaps helps in part explain why Putin’s popularity is higher among young Russians than among older ones. As the Levada Centre noted, in a 2014 poll ‘Eighteen-to-24-year-olds … backed Putin more than any other age bracket’.  Later polls have shown a similar picture. Julia Ioffe admits, ‘Russians between the ages of 18 and 24 approve of him [Putin] at a higher rate than any other age group: 88 percent.’ This hardly suggests that Russian youth are turning against their political leadership en masse.

As for more general political attitudes, Pew Global concludes that, ‘Older Russians ages 50 and older are more willing to say NATO is a major military threat (55%) than Russians ages 18 to 29 (43%)’, but also says that, ‘Nearly equal numbers of men and women and young (18-29) and old (50+) think homosexuality is morally unacceptable.’ Thus while, younger Russians may be less hostile to the West than their parents and grandparents, they are not obviously more socially liberal.

All in all, therefore, sociological data suggests that on the whole young Russians are politically apathetic, but in so far as they do have political opinions they are in fact more patriotic than their elders, more optimistic about the future, more supportive of the country’s president, and just as socially conservative. The hype about youth participation in last Sunday’s protests is probably just that – hype.

Again, I don’t think Russians are going to overthrow Putin any time soon.  Western journalists and politicians – even ones as high up the ladder as to serve as advisers to presidents – who believe this are showing that they have absolutely no understanding of Russians as they actually are.  This is why Obama’s advisers, who thought that implementing some economic sanctions and possibly manipulating oil prices in league with Saudi Arabia, would force Russians into the streets to call for Putin’s head were woefully ignorant of both Russia in particular and political psychology in general.  Any time a leader – even one who is not popular among their people – is perceived to be getting beat up on by a foreign power, they will rally around their leader, increasing his popularity.   Moreover, due to Russian’s culture and history, they have a high degree of stamina.   A modest recession was not going to turn Russians into pitchfork-wielding mobs baying for blood in front of the Kremlin.

*********************************

During a press conference in Ankara last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, stated that the Syrian president’s fate “will be decided by the Syrian people.”

Washington’s UN representative, Nikki Haley, also announced that the ousting of Assad is no longer a priority:

You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out…

According to Reuters, another (unnamed) administration source confirmed that regime change is no longer being pursued in Syria.

A recent interview with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange covers what Assange believes to be behind the change in policy with regard to Syria and the conflict between Trump and organs of the national security state, particularly the CIA, which have vested interests in regime change in Syria.

Speaking of Wikileaks, late last week the organization released documents relating to the CIA’s “Marble” program whereby the intelligence agency can conduct cyberwarfare while making it look like their operations are originating from Russia or China.

You’d think this might be newsworthy but, as of Friday afternoon, I could only find a major story in the UK Mirror as well as coverage by RT and one Huffington Post columnist who didn’t appear to have many readers.

No mention by Amy Goodman, Common Dreams, or The Real News Network.

Is it that Wikileaks isn’t reliable?  Well, no.  They have a 100% authenticity rate over the decade that they’ve been publishing.

It’s interesting that Liberals and Democrats praised Wikileaks years ago when their leaks were perceived to be exposing the Bush administration or the various institutions responsible for enabling Bush’s crimes.

Now, when it’s somehow perceived that Wikileaks’ leaks are making Trump not look bad, Liberals and Democrats are calling Assange and Wikileaks Russian stooges.  The comments section of the NYT is filled with this kind of mentality in response to the Vault 7 leaks exposing the CIA’s nefarious activities in violation of Americans’ privacy rights, in addition to their unaccountable crimes in the foreign policy realm.

Regardless of how one feels about Trump (and I find most of his policies abhorrent),  this is childish and intellectually dishonest.

People will have to face up to the fact, sooner or later, that Democrats are just as bought off as their Republican counterparts.  This is why Democratic party leaders have shown no evidence that they’ve learned anything from the election.  Nancy Pelosi has stated that the Democrats don’t need to change and more recently slurred out an incoherent answer to Anderson Cooper’s inquiry as to who the leaders of the Democratic Party were in an interview.

Furthermore, Tom Perez – the new milquetoast leader of the DNC – spewed platitudes in response to being asked what the Democratic Party stood for.  Instead of articulating a program of policies that would create concrete improvements in Americans’ lives and revive the party, like a $15 an hour minimum wage, Medicare for All, or pulling out of our wars and investing the money in infrastructure and a green jobs program, he sputtered on about “leading with our values.”

They aren’t going to do this because their elite donors will not let them.  The party leadership recently voted to keep taking corporate money from these same elites.  Is it because they have to?  Well, no. Bernie Sanders proved they didn’t have to when he raised more money overall than Clinton with small donations and nothing from corporations.

It is not that the Democratic Party leadership can’t change, it doesn’t want to change because it is too invested in its corrupt ways.  Of course, they will not admit this to the American public so they must keep up the circus of Russiagate as a distraction.

Meanwhile, the American people will continue to suffer and tensions with the world’s other nuclear superpower will continue to be ratcheted up.

Evacuation of Armed Rebels from Homs Seen as Breakthrough Right Before Heavy Fighting Broke Out in Damascus; 60% of U.S. Government PR Budget Goes to Pentagon; German-Russian Thaw?; Dem Party Officials Now Trying to Prepare Base for Letdown on Evidence of Russia-Trump Collusion/Election Meddling

Syrian (L) and Russian soldiers oversee safety of evacuation plan from city of Homs on March 18, 2017. Nearly all residents are remaining in the city (Omar Sanadaki, Reuters)

The recent evacuation of armed rebels and their families from the Syrian city of Homs marked what many considered to be a turning point toward peace in the country, as Homs was considered a major base for the armed rebellion from the beginning.  According to a Reuters report:

Several buses drove out of the al-Waer district in Homs, which was an early centre of the popular uprising against President Assad. Between 10,000 and 15,000 rebels and civilians would evacuate in batches over the coming weeks under the deal, according to opposition activists in al-Waer and war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Britain-based war monitor said the buses would go to the Jarablus area held by Turkey-backed rebels in the northern Aleppo countryside.

Syrian state television said that under the agreement, fighters could stay in al-Waer if they handed over their weapons and settled their affairs with the government. Homs governor Talal Barazi said he expected 1,500 people to depart on Saturday for rebel-held areas north-east of Aleppo, and that most of al-Waer’s residents would stay.

….Along with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), Russian and Syrian forces were overseeing the evacuation, which would take about six weeks, he added.

“The preparations and the reality on the ground indicate that things will go well,” Governor Barazi said. “The first stage is expected to move up to 500 rebels with their families to the countryside of Aleppo [province].”

The Syrian government described such deals as a “workable model” that would bring the country closer to peace after six years of conflict.

But the opposition decries them as a tactic of forcibly displacing people who oppose Mr Assad after years of bombardment and siege.

Governor Barazi said there was communication with other rebel-held areas north of Homs city to reach similar deals. “We are optimistic that the full exit of armed [fighters] from this district will pave the way for other reconciliations and settlements,” he said.

However, days later, a jihadi offensive into eastern Damascus resulted in heavy losses (~70 – 100 for each side) though the Syrian government pushed back the offensive within a day or so.   The Duran reports that at least one of the rebels groups who signed on to the ceasefire had participated in the offensive:

However ominously one of the groups that has joined the Russian-Turkish brokered ceasefire is reported to be joining the fighting in Damascus on the Jihadi side.  If that sets a trend then it could endanger the whole ceasefire, which would make Moscow very concerned.

Latest reports suggest that the Syrian military backed by the full force of the Russian air force is readying for a counter-attack.  In the meantime the phone lines between Moscow and Ankara will be busy.

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According to a GAO report on federal spending on public relations in general, it was revealed that 60% – or $626 million – went to the Pentagon to promote its agenda.

This report is from October of 2016 but represents the most recent data on the U.S. government’s spending on P.R..

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to visit Moscow on May 2nd.   Much speculation is being made as to the reason for the trip (with Germany’s elections not far off and Merkel’s support sagging) and what might be desired, particularly on the part of Germany.

Alexander Mercouris provides a detailed analysis of these issues:

As to why Merkel might think that, at its simplest, with crises (eg. Brexit, Le Pen, the refugee crisis, relations with Turkey, Poland, Grexit etc) rapidly building up all around her, Merkel – rather like Erdogan in June 2016 – probably has come to realise that with a difficult election coming she needs to start solving problems more quickly than she is causing them.  With her other problems both intractable and largely beyond her control it is understandable why she might be looking to improve relations with Russia where at least some progress is possible.

Having said this, there are three pressing issues that must be causing Merkel concern, and which may explain why she is looking to mend at least some fences with Moscow now.

The first is the rapidly deteriorating situation in Ukraine.  Some time ago one of Merkel’s aides let slip that Merkel regards the crisis in Ukraine as by far the biggest crisis she faces, and that it is the one that keeps her awake at night.

With the situation in Ukraine going rapidly from bad to worse, it is understandable if Merkel wants to talk about it with Putin to see how the crisis might be contained.  The fact that she was on the receiving end of a furious lecture from Putin a short while ago during the military crisis in Avdeevka will have spelled out to her how important it is as the situation in Ukraine deteriorates that she keeps her lines of communication to Putin open.

Significantly criticism of Putin and Russia over Ukraine from Merkel and other Western leaders has been surprisingly muted over recent weeks, even as Russia recognises the validity of the documents issued by the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, and even as the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics have nationalised Ukrainian businesses located on their territories in retaliation for the Ukrainian transport blockade.

Another fact that is probably causing Merkel to reconsider her hardline policy towards Russia is the coming of Donald Trump.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Donald Trump is not going to be driven from the White House because of the ‘Russiagate’ scandal, and Merkel must calculate that once he has put this essentially fake scandal behind him he will be able to press ahead with his stalled plan for detente with Russia.

Certainly Merkel will have noticed – even if most Western commentators have not – that since Trump arrived in the White House the US and Russian militaries have been quietly talking to each other, and have even been quietly cooperating with each other in Syria.

If the drive for detente between the US and Russia is renewed, perhaps in the summer, then Merkel does not want to be left high and dry, clinging on to an anti-Russian policy the US is no longer intent on.

I must admit that, upon hearing of Merkel’s plans to travel to Moscow in May to “mend fences” with Russia after her recent meeting with Trump, my initial reaction was much simpler:  after personally getting a taste of Trump, Merkel is starting to appreciate Putin’s steady and rational temperament.

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The Intercept is reporting that many of the Democratic Party officials and their minions in the media who have irresponsibly hyped the “Russia colluded with Trump to manipulate the U.S. presidential election” meme are gradually starting to temper expectations of any substantive evidence coming to light.  Former CIA chief and Hillary supporter Michael Morell’s admission of the lack of evidence for these charges, which I covered in a previous blog post is mentioned, along with some others:

FROM MSNBC POLITICS shows to town hall meetings across the country, the overarching issue for the Democratic Party’s base since Trump’s victory has been Russia, often suffocating attention for other issues. This fixation has persisted even though it has no chance to sink the Trump presidency unless it is proven that high levels of the Trump campaign actively colluded with the Kremlin to manipulate the outcome of the U.S. election — a claim for which absolutely no evidence has thus far been presented.

The principal problem for Democrats is that so many media figures and online charlatans are personally benefiting from feeding the base increasingly unhinged, fact-free conspiracies — just as right-wing media polemicists did after both Bill Clinton and Obama were elected — that there are now millions of partisan soldiers absolutely convinced of a Trump/Russia conspiracy for which, at least as of now, there is no evidence. And they are all waiting for the day, which they regard as inevitable and imminent, when this theory will be proven and Trump will be removed.

Key Democratic officials are clearly worried about the expectations that have been purposely stoked and are now trying to tamp them down. Many of them have tried to signal that the beliefs the base has been led to adopt have no basis in reason or evidence.

Read the full article here

Russia Officially Exits Recession, Inflation Rate Close to Targeted Low; Russian Budget Sees Major Cuts to Defense; Medvedev Corruption Scandal, Will Patrushev Be Next P.M.?; Kremlin Says Hillary’s Team Also Met with Ambassador; Ex-CIA Head & Hillary Supporter Says Claims Against Russia Unsubstantiated; Podesta Group Hired by Russian Bank to Lobby Against Sanctions (!)

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

According to Bloomberg News, Russia has officially come out of its longest recession in many years, having registered growth for several quarters in a row.  Ironically, Bloomberg states that part of the growth is due to increased military spending, but the new budget figures, released by the Russian Federal Treasury, call for the most significant decrease in military spending since the 1990’s.

Additionally, higher oil prices, a stronger ruble, increased consumer demand and lower inflation were cited.

The Duran is reporting that, according to Russia’s state statistical agency (Rosstat), annualized inflation has reached a low of 4.5%.  The target set by the Russian Central Bank is 4%, which is expected to be reached by mid-year.  Once that target is hit, it means that there is no official excuse not to lower interest rates to allow more lending and a  further increase in GDP.

Suffice to say that less than a year ago the Russian Central Bank was predicting that inflation in Russia would not fall to 5% before April and would finally hit the 4% target at the end of the year.  Inflation has instead fallen to 4.5% less than midway through March, with some forecasts now predicting it will hit the 4% target by mid-year.  Indeed there is now a serious possibility that inflation for the whole year could significantly over-shoot the Central Bank’s target and fall significantly below 4%.

This plunge in inflation is crucial for the economy’s future.  As I have repeatedly pointed out, it is the sky high interest rates (currently 10%) the Central Bank has been imposing to achieve the 4% inflation target which caused Russian economic growth to slow from mid 2012.  Far more than low oil prices it is these high interest rates which are continuing to hold the economy back.  There is a direct historic correlation between the rise of Russian interest rates since the Central Bank began serious inflation targeting in 2012, the decline in inflation in Russia, and the fall in Russia’s GDP growth rate, even if most commentators are blind to it and even if the Central Bank itself downplays it.  I have discussed all this in detail previously here.

So perhaps the Kremlin does not believe that it has to rely on increases to the military budget for economic investment.  Moreover, with the presidential election coming up in 2018, it would behoove Putin and his United Russia Party to find other areas of the budget to invest in, particularly social spending.

Speaking of election politics, there is speculation on what significance to attach to reports that current prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, owns multi-million dollar real estate and has a wealth of assets.

Gordon Hahn has written a detailed article on the expose of Medvedev’s “assets”:

On March 2 the FBK published an article and video detailing a large empire of foundations. One is a supposed philanthropic foundation ‘Dar’ or ‘Giving’. It appears to stand at the center of the empire’s acquisitions around which others such as ‘SotsGosProekt’ and ‘Gradislav.’ Through Dar’s and the others’ accounts investments are made by Kremlin-tied oligarchs, and various properties, including wineries, yachts, and luxurious residences are held and de facto ‘owned’ indirectly by Russian Prime Minister and former Russian president Dmitrii Medvedev. Navalnyi’s estimation is that the sum of the properties can be valued at R70 billion – approximately $1.2 billion (http://dimon.navalny.com).

Some believe that this information was published with the tacit approval of the Kremlin – or the faction of the Kremlin that opposes the Neoliberal policies that Medvedev has been associated with. There have been rumors for years that there has been a battle in the Kremlin between the “Eurasianists” who advocate a more nationalist economic policy and an economic and geopolitical turn toward the East (China’s One Belt One Road program, SCO, BRICS, and a strengthening/expansion of EEU) and the “Atlantic Integrationists” supposedly embodied by Medvedev which supports a Neoliberal economic model and playing a subordinate geopolitical role to Washington and the various organizations it controls (NATO, WTO, World Bank, etc.).  It has been thought that Putin has been playing a balancing act with the two factions and both sides have been trying to win him more strongly over to their side.

While there are some who believe that the person behind the report, Kremlin nemesis Alexei Navalny, worked with western intelligence to obtain the information on Medvedev in order to give Russia another scandal, others wonder if Putin is finally throwing Medvedev under the bus in time for the elections next year.   Russia analyst, The Saker, predicted this would happen back in November after the arrest of then Economic Minister Alexei Uliukaev, who was considered to be an ally and philosophical fellow traveler of Medvedev:

The way Uliukaev was detained was carefully choreographed to instill the strongest sense of fear possible in all the other 5th columnists still in power because in so many ways Uliukaev was a symbol for all the the “Atlantic Integrationists” (those in the Kremlin who want to integrate Russia into the US controlled international security system): Uliukaev was a known liberal, just like Nikita Belykh, governor of Kirov Region, who was detained in a high-publicity arrest in June for taking a 400,000 Euros bribe. I would even say that Uliukaev could be considered the ultimate symbol of the Atlantic Integrationists and a faithful member of the Russian “liberal” (meaning the “Washington consensus” type) sect who, in the past had worked with Egor Gaidar and Alexei Kudrin and who now has been brought down by the Russian “siloviki”, the top officials of the so-called “power ministries” (defense, state security, intelligence). This was immediately recognized by everybody and the main headline of the popular website Gazeta.ru could not be clearer, it read: “The Siloviki brought down Uliukaev” and featured a photo of the key actors of this drama, including the tough-looking man thought to have brought Uliukaev down, Sergei Korolev, the Head of the Economic Security service of the FSB (shown on photo here).

….The list of potential ‘candidates’ to be purged next is still long and includes names like the Deputy Prime Minister Arkadii Dvorkovich, the First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, the Governor of the Russian Central Bank Elvira Nabiullina, the Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov and, of course, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. Uliukaev was only one amongst many more. Still, he was definitely a top-level target and the manner in which he was arrested must have sent a chill down the spine of all the other 5th columnists in the Kremlin. Just the fact that his phone was tapped for so long is quite unthinkable and clearly points to the fact that nobody is safe from Putin’s purges. And that, by itself, is truly a most welcome change: every member of the Medvedev government now has been put on notice that his/her life is now spent under the close scrutiny of the FSB.

Among others speculating about a purge after Uliukaev’s downfall was Newsbud‘s Russia expert, Filip Kovacevic, who wrote an article about the potential for Medvedev to be replaced by Nikolai Patrushev.

First, Kovacevic defines what a Liberal is in Russia:

We first need to define what it means to be a liberal in the Russian government today. The designation does not refer to political positions (like in the U.S.) as much as it highlights the approach to the economy. Liberals in Russia are those who believe that the role of the state should be minimized and that private, corporate ownership is the best way to run the economy. They are also advocates of Russia’s full-fledged participation in the international economic system dominated by the so-called Bretton Woods institutions, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. Obviously, this means a commitment to the so-called free trade and opposition to any policy of tariffs and import substitution.

The liberals were politically dominant in Russia during Boris Yeltsin’s two-term presidency in the 1990s. Those who brought Putin to power in the late 1990s (the intelligence and military networks) made an uneasy compromise with the liberals, which lasted throughout Putin’s first two presidential terms (2000-2008). The liberals even seemed in ascendance after Medvedev replaced Putin at the helm.

As regular readers of this blog know by now, Yeltsin is the least popular leader of the last 100 years in Russia.  His economic policies are associated with the collapse of Russians’s standard of living in the 1990’s:  massive poverty, loss of life savings, sky-high inflation, food deprivation and the worst mortality crisis since WWII.  Hence, Liberals have no support among the Russian public, with Liberal politicians typically achieving single digit approval ratings and Liberal “activists” and their agenda being spurned more often than not.

Kovacevic next explains the downfall of Medvedev and his policies:

However, soon afterwards, in August 2008, a surprise military attack by the Georgian troops, heavily assisted by NATO and the U.S., on the rebellious enclave of South Ossetia defended by the Russian “peace-keepers” took place. Consequently, the Russian military directly intervened and the Georgians were pushed back. That was the first time since the end of the Cold War that the Russian military crossed the borders of Russia. This created a pattern that will later be repeated in Ukraine, Syria, and no doubt in other places in the future. The genie was out of the bottle.

This was the beginning of the end for the Russian liberals who counted on honest and friendly relations with the West and believed in the existence of a fair playing field for Russia in the global economy. It became clear that the West would allow nothing of the sort. No wonder then that Putin, who initially was ambivalent about running again, returned as the president in 2012.

He goes on to detail how the Ukraine crisis of 2014 only reinforced the distrust of the west and the ideas of Medvedev and his political allies.   He then explains how and why the purge will take place, why Patrushev is in a good position to be Medvedev’s replacement and the likely response of the Russian people:

The ordinary Russian people have no pity for the liberals because they know well the extent to which liberal politicians and their business cronies got rich abusing governmental power for private gain. The recently arrested Ulyukaev is the case in point. Most liberal politicians can easily move to the West – their apartments, yachts, and bank accounts are waiting for them. This is why the majority of the population will support Putin’s purge, even though the purge will be far from democratic and may at times turn violent.

Putin will replace the purged liberals by his trusted allies from the intelligence and military structures. One of them Sergey Naryshkin, the former president of the Russian Parliament, has been appointed to the position of the chief of the Russian external intelligence agency (SVR) immediately after the elections results were in. I have discussed Naryshkin’s appointment in detail in an earlier article,[3] but what is important to keep in mind here is that by appointing a long-time friend and fellow intelligence operative, Putin has cut off any possibility of the liberal insiders at the top leaking national security information to the West. In other words, Putin has built up another layer of protection around the future Russian military and intelligence agenda. In my opinion, he demonstrated that he had no trust left in the West and that he was getting the country ready for a possible military confrontation.

….This is why I think that, parallel with his efforts to develop a detente relations with the U.S. under Trump, Putin will bring in more personal loyalists into the highest offices of the Russian government. Considering the power of the U.S./NATO lobby working against it, the chances of an authentic detente (unfortunately) do not look very good and Putin knows that he must not make a misstep. He may not have another chance.

….Patrushev is one of the top members of the so-called KGB aristocracy of whose mission to lead Russia he himself spoke in an interview more than 15 years ago at the time when Russia was in the midst of the Chechnya crisis that dangerously threatened its very foundations.[6] Such an early mention of this powerful group, which later came to yield tremendous power in the Russian political life, shows that Patrushev was one of its main driving forces.

Over the years, Nikolai Patrushev has been even closer to Putin than Naryshkin. They are almost the same age and their friendship goes back to the 1970s KGB days in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). In the late 1990s, Patrushev’s rise closely followed Putin’s. It is very significant that it was Patrushev who succeeded Putin as the head of the FSB and held this position for nine years (1999-2008), which is longer than anybody since the Communist Yuri Andropov who was the KGB head from 1967 until 1982 and then became the leader of the Soviet Union (that is, the general secretary of the central committee of the Soviet Communist party).

This analogy may not be accidental. After all, in 2006, there was some speculation that Patrushev would succeed Putin.[7] However, the position went to Medvedev, a member of the liberal camp and not a KGB aristocrat. I believe that now the political tide has turned.

In his interviews with various Russian newspapers, Patrushev, who has a doctorate in law, reveals himself as a serious scholar of the post-WWII global politics. He is a strong critic of the U.S. foreign policy claiming that the U.S. involvement in the world is bent on regime change and state fragmentation.[8] He blames the U.S. for the break-up of Yugoslavia, the numerous so-called color revolutions, the putsch in Ukraine, and the carnage in the Middle East. In fact, he asserts that the wars of the Yugoslav succession were nothing else but the testing ground for the ongoing efforts to break up the former Soviet Republics, including Russia itself.[9] In all of this, he discerns a malicious Western anti-Russian prejudice that is grounded in the historical push for the control of the Eastern territories and resources. This puts Patrushev firmly in the tradition of the Russian Eurasianists. As a result, if chosen by Putin to be the next prime minister, he can be expected to formulate and oversee a very hawkish foreign and national security policy.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few months.

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Turning to American politics, as recently reported by the UK Telegraph, the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, announced that members of Hillary Clinton’s team also had contact with the Russian ambassador during the campaign.  So far, nobody seems up in arms about this allegation.  Hmmm.

And in a still stranger and more cynical turn of events, the Podesta Group (the lobbying business of Clinton manager John Podesta) has been hired by Russia’s largest bank to lobby for the end of sanctions. So much for all the sanctimonious shrieking by the Clinton campaign of Trump being Putin’s stooge and being too soft on Russia.

And before we leave the topic of Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign, it should be noted that one of her biggest and most ardently anti-Russia allies, ex-CIA chief Michael Morell, admitted in a recent presentation to a group of intelligence professionals that there was no evidence to support the allegations of collusion between Trump and the Russians or that the allegations in the Trump “dossier” had any validity:

On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all.  There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it….

….[With respect to the dossier] Unless you know the sources, and unless you know how a particular source acquired a particular piece of information, you can’t judge the information — you just can’t.  [The dossier] doesn’t take you anywhere, I don’t think.  I had two questions when I first read it. One was, How did Chris (Christopher Steele, the former MI6 who compiled it – AM) talk to these sources?  I have subsequently learned that he used intermediaries.  And then I asked myself, why did these guys provide this information, what was their motivation? And I subsequently learned that he paid them. That the intermediaries paid the sources and the intermediaries got the money from Chris. And that kind of worries me a little bit because if you’re paying somebody, particularly former FSB officers, they are going to tell you truth and innuendo and rumor, and they’re going to call you up and say, ‘hey, let’s have another meeting, I have more information for you [because they want to get paid some more].  I think you’ve got to take all that into consideration when you consider the dossier.

 

 

 

Just When You Thought Corporate Media Couldn’t Get Any Lower; Putin Cautiously Optimistic on Syria Settlement; Back Channel Communication Line Between Trump & Putin?; Kiev Breaks Transport Ties with Donbass, Poroshenko Sidelined?; North Korea FUBAR

(Photograph of large Soviet hatch ship Poltava on its way to Cuba, September 15, 1962, leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis; photo courtesy of National Security Archive)

Just when you thought the corporate media couldn’t get any lower with its shenanigans, along comes Ruth Marcus, the deputy editor of the Washington Post, who recently tweeted the following:

So excited to be watching The Americans, throwback to a simpler time when everyone considered Russia the enemy. Even the president.

So, according to Ms. Marcus, we should all be waxing nostalgic for those good old days when fall-out shelters were a thing and we all were scared shitless of scenarios like those portrayed in Fail-Safe or The Day After.   Instead of spending her days heavily medicated and weaving baskets at the nearest mental institution, this woman is the deputy editor of the second most widely read newspaper in America – and no one at the paper bats an eye at such moral and intellectual bankruptcy displayed publicly by one of its own.

Political comedian Jimmy Dore (a much edgier version of Jon Stewart) deconstructs the tweet, Ms. Marcus and some of the reaction to it by the likes of Glenn Greenwald and others  here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhJwt_awaWM

Meanwhile, Putin – during a March 10th joint press conference with Turkish president Erdogan – announced that he was cautiously optimistic about a political settlement of the Syrian war.   RT provided the following details:

“As for the prospects [of the settlement in Syria], we must say frankly that the situation remains complicated. There are a lot of uncertainties; a lot of contradictions in the region and in the country itself – in Syria,” Putin said after the talks with Erdogan in the Russian capital on Friday. “Therefore, I want to express cautious optimism that by joining efforts with other solid players, including the US, we will be able to effectively contribute to the strengthening of the ceasefire regime and, on its basis, to move towards a full-fledged political settlement,” he said.

The Russian leader stressed that peace in Syria and the whole region can only be achieved if Syrian territorial integrity is restored. “For peace and calm to remain in the region and the rebuilding of Syria to begin, the principle of the territorial integrity of states must be respected, and in this sense the restoration of the territorial integrity of Syria is – in our view – a paramount condition for a full-fledged settlement in this country,” he said.

Erdogan echoed Putin’s words by saying that “both in Syria and in Iraq, the territorial integrity of the countries is our main goal. We can’t tolerate the division of these territories.”

The Russian leader has praised the level of cooperation between the Russian and Turkish militaries and intelligence agencies in Syria. “Mainly due to the active role of Russia and Turkey, it became possible not only to achieve cessation of hostilities between the government forces and the opposition, but to start direct, concrete negotiations between the warring sides in Astana,” he said. “Because of the coordinated actions by Russia, Turkey and Iran, the ceasefire in Syria is generally being observed. The level of violence has decreased,” Putin added.

Erdogan also called the meetings in Astana, Kazakhstan where the Syrian ceasefire was agreed earlier this year “an additional factor, making the process launched in Geneva more effective.”

The Turkish president said that both Ankara and Moscow “want to cooperate with the (US-led) coalition on liberating the city of Manbij” in northern Syria on the River Euphrates.

However, the Russians, Turks, Iranians and (above all) the Syrians, may end up regretting the suggestion of cooperation with Washington in Syria.  Pentagon sources have acknowledged that Washington is considering sending 1,000 more ground troops to Syria in the coming weeks.  This follows its alleged bombing of a Syrian mosque during evening prayers, killing dozens and wounding many more, just outside of Aleppo.

In an interesting article from Russia expert Gilbert Doctorow, it is speculated that there could be a back channel line of communication being developed between Trump and Putin in response to the fact that Trump is encountering too many political obstacles to any plan for detente between the world’s nuclear superpowers:

From the Sunday CNN interview of Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, we got a sense of how the Kremlin views the anti-Trump feeding frenzy now going on in the U.S. media and especially the attempt to portray Russian “meddling” as the reason that Trump won. Peskov called these assertions the “demonizing of Russia,” a situation to which Russians cannot be indifferent.

But the sentiment was much less negative on some of the leading news programs in Moscow, including channel Rossiya 1’s weekly news wrap-up delivered by Dmitry Kiselyov, who heads the news services on all Russian state radio and television channels, and Vladimir Solovyev’s political talk show, which brought together some of the country’s top legislators and leaders of key policy think tanks.

General to General

Both the Kiselyov news program and the Solovyov talk show drew attention to a development that was covered in the U.S. and Western press but with little or no interpretation so that it was easily missed: the meeting in the southern Turkish resort of Antalya of senior military officers of Turkey, the United States and Russia to discuss coordination of their military actions in northern Syria, where they are operating in close proximity and often at cross purposes. The meeting involved the Turkish Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

From the Russian standpoint as revealed by Solovyov’s guests, the meeting went very well and the only glum participant leaving the meeting was the Turkish general. The Americans and Russians seem to have been in agreement over how to keep the U.S.-sponsored Kurdish fighters — so resented by the Turks — in the forefront of the assault on the ISIS “capital” at Raqqa, and, as a corollary, how to sideline Turkish ambitions of capturing a sphere of influence in northern Syria using Turkish troops and local Turkmen proxies.

Elsewhere in the Solovyov program, panelists hinted that there also are ongoing talks between Trump’s people and various Russian institutions. But the Antalya military contact — involving top generals for the first time since the deep slide in U.S.-Russian relations in 2014 over the Ukraine crisis — bears more attention.

Trump appears to have concluded that the way forward in relations between the U.S. and Russia is to make progress out of sight of the media. Whereas bringing Russia into the U.S.-run anti-Islamic State coalition meeting in Washington would have invited the U.S. media’s brickbats, a summit of generals in a provincial coastal town of Turkey could be far more productive and produce much less controversy. It is not for nothing that the press is now complaining that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is inaccessible. That follows the desires of the Oval Office, which prefers a “just get it done” approach.

Trump can also expect the greatest loyalty in the U.S. government’s hierarchy from the military as well as fewer leaks from holdovers hostile to any rapprochement with Russia. Indeed, many senior U.S. officers had constructive relations with their Russian counterparts for years on crucial issues such as supplying U.S. troops in Afghanistan and in sharing intelligence on terrorism. That was disrupted by the coalition of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists dominating the State Department and holding top political jobs at the Pentagon. So Trump has removed many of President Obama’s political appointees and has turned more to the military high command.

A friend and fellow-Russia watcher – one who’s been at this for far longer than I have, keeps insisting in response to my many laments about our current president, that on this issue he’s being crazy like a fox.  Perhaps she will turn out to be correct.   Maybe Trump or Putin is taking a cue from Kennedy and Khrushchev who started a back channel correspondence in 1961.  Both leaders then knew that they had to do so quietly, out of the limelight and doing an end run around certain hawks in both of their respective camps who would have viewed such cooperation as alarming or even traitorous.

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In response to the Donbass leaders’ announcement that they had seized and nationalized certain industries in their territory, the Kiev government has announced the suspension of all transport links to Donbass.

Russia’s TASS news agency reported the following:

KYIV – Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council has decided to suspend all transport services with the territories of Donbass not controlled by Kiev, the council’s head, Alexander Turchinov, said at the meeting of the presidential administration.

….Turchinov said the ban will be in force until points 1 and 2 (ceasefire and withdrawal of weapons) of the February 2015 Minsk peace deal are implemented and the seized enterprises return to Ukraine’s jurisdiction,

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, National Police, National Guard and Security Service have been ordered to halt all movement of cargos through the contact line by rail links and vehicles.

It was also recently announced by the Kiev government that the blockade by ultra-right nationalists of coal from the Donbass had now been officially sanctioned.  Analyst Alexander Mercouris observed that the latter announcement, along with another involving further sanctions against Russia, were not made by Poroshenko.

The decision to legalise the blockade of Donbass was announced by Alexander Turchinov (pictured), who is the head of Ukraine’s National Defence and Security Council, and who is a significant figure in Ukrainian politics in his own right, whilst the request to Ukraine’s Central Bank to propose sanctions on Russian banks operating on Ukrainian territory was also made by Turchinov on behalf of Ukraine’s National Defence and Security Council, which he heads.

It may be that Ukraine’s legal and constitutional system makes Ukraine’s National and Defence Council the appropriate body to make these sort of decisions, though Ukraine’s chaotic legal and administrative structure and the notorious indifference of Ukrainian leaders to legal and administrative rules makes that a less than convincing argument to make.

However even if that were the case a statement from Poroshenko – the country’s leader and the nation’s President – explaining to the Ukrainian people the reasons for these important decisions and justifying the hardship they will cause, whilst making it clear that the decisions originate with him and that they have his full support, is the least one would expect in the circumstances.

Indeed the correct thing would surely be for the actual announcement of these decisions to have been made by Poroshenko himself, at the very least through the publication of a public statement issued in his name, or (much better) by way of a televised address to the Ukrainian nation.

….It could be that Poroshenko did not make the announcement today because he is embarrassed by the weakness on his part that it shows, and because his own website shows that he was giving assurances only yesterday to an EU official that Ukraine was about to do something totally different.

If so then that reminds me of the way Ukraine’s previous President, Viktor Yanukovych, failed to announce his decision to delay implementation of Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU, leaving the announcement to his Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov.  At the time I thought this was a act of extraordinary weakness on Yanukovych’s part, and in fact it set the pattern for his pusillanimous behaviour during the subsequent Maidan protests, which eventually caused his overthrow.  If Poroshenko is now behaving in the same way, then it speaks extraordinarily poorly both of him and of his prospects as Ukraine’s President.

However there has also to be the further possibility that the reason Poroshenko did not announce the decisions today is because ultimately he didn’t make them.  Indeed his comments to the EU official might even suggest he was resisting the idea of a total blockade as recently as yesterday, possibly because of EU pressure.

If so then Turchinov’s announcements today suggest that Poroshenko has been shunted aside, and that key decisions such as the decision to legalise the blockade of the Donbass are now being made without him.

In that case then that would suggest that Poroshenko’s authority as Ukraine’s President is seeping away, and that he is no longer fully in control, just as the Russian military move on Pristina in June 1999  during the Kosovo conflict, made without any order from Boris Yeltsin, was a clear sign that his authority as Russia’s President was seeping away.

This comes a few days after reports appeared in the Russian media claiming that Yulia Tymoshenko, Poroshenko’s long time enemy and bitter political rival, is making another visit – this time in secret – to Washington where early in February she had a brief meeting with Donald Trump, which looked to me like a case of Trump sizing up his options, and considering her as a possible alternative to Poroshenko.  Suffice to say that I do not think it was a coincidence that on returning to Ukraine Tymoshenko immediately sought to oust Ukraine’s government by proposing a vote of no confidence in Ukraine’s parliament, a move which by using procedural devices the government however managed to block.

*************************

(North Koran missile launch, March 6, 2017; https://consortiumnews.com/2017/03/08/north-korea-fears-regime-change-strike/)

In other foreign policy news, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced on March 17th that “all options are on the table” in response to North Korea’s recent firing of missiles, which is part of its continuous posturing and to show its progress toward the development of missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.  This follows a Chinese official’s warning recently, comparing the U.S. and North Korea to “accelerating trains coming toward each other.”

One of the U.S.’s foremost experts on North Korea is Bruce Cummings who was interviewed on Democracy Now!, along with Christine Ahn, a peace activist on the Korea issue.  An except follows:

CHRISTINE AHN: Well, I’m concerned that we have a situation in South Korea that is essentially a political vacuum until the next progressive president comes into power. And we have a Trump administration that has said that it’s, you know, undertaking a Korea policy review, which has ranged from he’s willing to sit down with Kim Jong-un and have a hamburger to preemptive strikes. And what really worries me is, while these military exercises may be routine, you know, the South Korean media just reported that the U.S. has deployed a team of Navy SEALs, that basically took out Osama bin Laden. You know, it includes unmanned aircraft that could basically completely destroy Pyongyang. That could be a signal. That’s one way, since there is no communication between the two countries. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Deployed where?

CHRISTINE AHN: To the Korean Peninsula as part of these regular exercises. And that’s all under this Operation Plan, you know, 5015, that includes decapitation of Pyongyang’s leader. And so, I think that there has been this perception—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, includes decapitation of the leader?

CHRISTINE AHN: Yeah, that’s basically taking out the North Korean leader. And I think that there is a perception in this country that—that regime collapse is imminent and that all it will take is a military action to conduct it. And when has regime change ever been successful? And what would be the likelihood for the millions of South Koreans right across the DMZ and the innocent civilians? But it would engulf the entire region into a very dangerous regional conflict—Russia, China, Japan, the United States. By being part of mutual defense treaties, it will engulf the entire region. Five of those—of the top 10 countries in terms of their military capacity and defense spending are in that region. It’s a tinderbox. And so, we really need to understand that the Korean conflict is at the root of that. And so we have to really seriously pressure our government. I mean, it’s obviously—how do we, you know, pressure the Trump administration, that seems to not have a clue about Korea? But we have to. I think it’s a very dangerous situation, and we have to be very vigilant.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Professor Bruce Cumings, what about this? You have the Chinese officials issuing this warning. You have people in the United States deeply concerned that when you have a very unpopular president, and they’re having—embroiled in trouble at home, that he might want to focus attention elsewhere, on an enemy outside, and the idea that North Korea could become that country, a country that the U.S. engages militarily. Do you think there’s any possibility of this?

BRUCE CUMINGS: I actually don’t think the Trump administration can get its act together to appoint high people in the State Department, high officials in the State Department and the Pentagon. I don’t know how they can start a war in Korea or decapitate Kim Jong-un. I think the situation is actually worse, in the sense that over the last year or so there’s been a bipartisan, inside-the-Beltway consensus that most of our methods for dealing with North Korea—sanctions, cap on their tests, talking with them—those things have not worked over the years. They’re still building their arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, and so some sort of force may be necessary, either to take out those missiles preemptively or to force an end to the Kim Jong-un regime. The Council on Foreign Relations, last October, published a paper on North Korea, where it came very close to saying the U.S. might have to use force to change the regime in North Korea. So we’re not talking about Donald Trump and a bunch of yahoos; we’re talking about a consensus in Washington.

Also, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s statement was very important, I think unprecedented. I’ve never heard a high Chinese official say that we’re moving toward a collision on the Korean Peninsula, that it’s like two trains rushing toward each other. Furthermore, over the weekend, William Perry, the former defense secretary and Bill Clinton’s roving ambassador for North Korea in the late ’90s, also said that he thought a train wreck was coming.

The simple way to handle this is the way Jimmy Carter did in 1994, when it looked like Bill Clinton was about to launch a preemptive attack on North Korea. And he just basically cut through all the bull in our relations with North Korea, going back decades, and flew to Pyongyang to talk to Kim Il-sung. And out of that came a complete freeze on North Korea’s plutonium facility for eight years. For eight years, they had no access to any bomb-making materials, 24/7 controls on that facility.

So, if Donald Trump wants to share a hamburger with Kim Jong-un, that’s a very good idea. But the idea of using force against North Korea, when even their artillery, 10,000 guns north of Seoul, conventional artillery, can take out a city that has a third of the South Korean population, you just really have no military option on the Korean Peninsula. But unfortunately, a lot of folks in Washington haven’t gotten that straight.

Jonathan Marshall also provided very important context in a recent article:

Mentioned only in passing — if at all — in most news stories was the context for the latest of Pyongyang’s seemingly random acts of aggressive militarism.

Korea experts had in fact long predicted that the North would — as it does every year — undertake “military provocations” to protest the start of the latest annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises on March 1. The same day those exercises began, the Wall Street Journal reported ominously that “an internal White House review of strategy on North Korea includes the possibility of military force or regime change to blunt the country’s nuclear-weapons threat.”

A North Korean diplomat condemned the latest joint exercises as “massive” and “unprecedented in size,” saying, “It will certainly jeopardize peace and stability in the region and drive the situation in the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war.”

His rhetoric had more than a little factual basis. South Korea’s defense minister confirmed that the exercises are similar in scale to those held last year. With more than 300,000 South Korea and 17,000 American troops, 2016’s war games were the largest in the region’s history.

Although officials in Washington and Seoul invariably characterize the maneuvers and simulations as “defensive” and “non-provocative,” last year’s exercises reportedly included“rehearsals of surgical strikes on North Korea’s main nuclear and missile facilities and ‘decapitation raids’ by special forces targeting the North’s leadership.”

Taking part in the exercises was a naval strike group led by the nuclear-powered supercarrier USS John C. Stennis, along with the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS North Carolina, stealth F-22 fighter aircraft, nuclear-capable B-52 and B-2 bombers, and Marine special forces who practiced amphibious landings.

Those forces represent exactly the capabilities that informed military analysts say would be used if Washington decided to unleash a preemptive, surprise “surgical strike” against North Korea’s nuclear forces and command and control centers.

Dangerous Precedents

Viewing that array of forces in the light of past “U.S. attacks on Libya and Iraq and Serbia,” leaders in Pyongyang last year understandably saw “the potential for a U.S. attack,” remarked Bruce Klinger, a Korea analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, at the time.

“They know the history of the Marine Corps,” he added, “so they would see a large presence of Marines on the peninsula as possibly a prelude to an attack or an invasion — especially when it’s coupled with the presence of B-52s and nuke-capable submarines.”

 

The New Nuclear Scare

nuclear bombs nuclear explosions j robert oppenheimer bhagavad gita atomic bomb 1920x1200 wallpa Art HD Wallpaper

Verse from the Bhagavad Gita that occurred to Robert Oppenheimer while witnessing the first successful nuclear test blast in 1945

(http://www.knowledgehi.com/Sciences/explosions/nuclear_bombs_nuclear_explosions_j_robert_oppenheimer_bhagavad_gita_atomic_bomb_1920x1200_wallpa_33597)

As some readers familiar with my past writings will already know, there were high-ranking individuals in the U.S. military who had advisory positions to the president and advocated a first-strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union during the first Cold War.  These advisers even encouraged President Kennedy to escalate during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  By then, Kennedy had learned of the madness with which he was dealing and had his meetings with his national security advisers secretly tape recorded during the crisis. The transcripts are available for reading in the form of a book.

I have also discussed, to some extent, the warped cultural and ideological thinking that can produce such individuals in both my review of JFK and the Unspeakable by James Douglass and this post.

John Marshall’s must-read article at Consortium News “Dreams of Winning Nuclear War on Russia” covers some of this background and discusses the findings of a new disturbing analysis put out by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists about the cutting edge new technologies that could make it even more tempting for such ideologues to consider a first-strike on Russia.   An excerpt is below:

In 1961, senior Pentagon consultants drafted a 33-page blueprint for initiating — and winning — a nuclear war against the Soviet Union. It was based on top-secret intelligence that Soviet nuclear forces were few in number and poorly defended — making them an easy target for a U.S. preemptive strike.

Convinced of U.S. superiority, the Joint Chiefs of Staff began advising President John F. Kennedy to risk nuclear war over Cuba and Vietnam — even though their own analysis conceded that if something went wrong, 75 percent of Americans might die. If JFK hadn’t rejected their advice, we might not be here today.

President Trump may soon face a similar test. With almost no public awareness, the Pentagon’s nuclear program has achieved unprecedented capabilities that once again raise the possibility that a U.S. first strike could cripple Russia’s nuclear arsenal and “decapitate” its leadership. Such capabilities all but ensure that hawks will begin lobbying for more aggressive measures toward Russia, based its growing vulnerability to U.S. nuclear weapons.

A frightening new analysis for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — by three eminent strategic arms experts at the Federation of American Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council, and MIT — provides evidence that U.S. nuclear planners have “implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the US ballistic missile arsenal,” giving it for the first time in decades “the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.”

U.S. Navy’s ‘Super-Fuse’

The concept of nuclear superiority seemed to lose its relevance in the mid-1960s, when Moscow finally built a large enough nuclear arsenal to withstand attack. Subsequent arms control treaties, starting in the Nixon years, maintained reasonable parity between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, discouraging either side from contemplating the use of atomic weapons for anything but deterring a nuclear attack.

With absolutely no fanfare, however, U.S. technology advances have once again called mutual deterrence into question. The secret is a “super-fuse” first implemented by the U.S. Navy in 2009 as part of its “life-extension” program for submarine-based nuclear missiles. By permitting more accurate timing of nuclear blasts, this flexible trigger gives America’s sub-launched missiles three times their former killing power — enough to take out even “hardened” Russian missile silos and command centers with a high probability of success.

The authors calculate that a mere 272 warheads could wipe out all of Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles housed in hardened silos — leaving in reserve more than 600 lethal warheads deployed on U.S. submarines, as well as hundreds more on U.S. land-based missiles.

Although U.S. war planners would still be challenged to target warheads on Russia’s submarines and mobile land-based missiles, the authors support claims by other scholars that “for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy.” Russia’s vulnerability will likely increase over time, as the Pentagon’s implements its planned trillion-dollar nuclear “modernization” program over the next 30 years.

I highly recommend reading the full article here

A detaling of the level of actual damage that could be done by a nuclear attack in one large city is shown here

Here’s what would happen if the bomb targeted Times Square in New York City:

Courtesy of http://viableopposition.blogspot.ca/2017/02/nuclear-superpowers-and-impact-of.html

Here’s what would happen if the bomb targeted Red Square in Moscow:

Courtesy of http://viableopposition.blogspot.ca/2017/02/nuclear-superpowers-and-impact-of.html

For a primer on how easy it would be for an accidental nuclear war to be launched, due to either human or technological error, read Eric Schlosser’s “World War III, By Mistake” from a recent issue of The New Yorker:

The dangers of “launch-on-warning” have been recognized since the idea was first proposed, during the Eisenhower Administration. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, McNamara advised Kennedy that the United States should never use its nuclear weapons until a nuclear detonation had occurred on American soil, and could be attributed to an enemy attack. The first Minuteman missiles had already become a great source of stress for McNamara. The control system of the original model had a design flaw: small fluctuations in the electricity entering the command center could mimic the series of pulses required by the launch switch. An entire squadron of fifty missiles might be launched accidentally without anyone turning a key. “I was scared shitless,” an engineer who worked on the system later confessed. “The technology was not to be trusted.” McNamara insisted that the control system be redesigned, at great expense. The destruction of fifty Soviet cities because of a mechanical glitch, a classified history of the Minuteman program later noted, would be “an accident for which a later apology might be inadequate.”

Read the full article here

It should be noted that Russia has not been resting on its laurels when it comes to maintaining, and even improving, its nuclear defense capabilities.  Over the past year it has begun rolling out its S500 air defense system, which some geopolitical analysts suggest would be able to completely seal off Russian airspace to incoming missile attacks after its implementation all over the country.

Analysis & Book Reviews on U.S. Foreign Policy and Russia

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