Polls: What Americans Really Think of Russiagate and Charges of Trump Collusion; What Americans Care About vs. What Corporate Media Covers; How Does Syria Ceasefire Potentially Affect Iran and Why is Netanyahu Opposing it?; Pepe Escobar Discusses Syria’s Role in New Silk Road Project; Trump Jr.’s Emails – A Tempest in a Teapot or a Real Scandal?; Craig Unger’s Russian Mafia Claims

(Old) Arbat Street, Moscow; photo by Natylie Baldwin, May 2017

After months and months of being inundated with charges that Donald Trump and/or his campaign colluded with the Russian government to install him somehow as a Manchurian candidate in Washington – by hacking the election, facilitating the publication of true information that put candidate Hillary Clinton in a negative light, or clandestine meetings with various Russians (all of whom are assumed to have direct connections to the Kremlin/Putin because, after all, every Russian has connections to the Kremlin/Putin just like every American is personally connected to the White House/Obama/Clinton/Trump), there are some actual polls trying to ascertain what Americans really think of this media obsession and the charges proclaimed daily.

According to a June, 2017 Harvard-Harris poll, 62% of voters don’t think there is any hard evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia; 74% of Independents and 68% of Democrats believe the constant focus on this story is diverting attention away from other critical issues like the economy, healthcare and jobs; 64% of those polled said the constant flogging of this story by the media and politicians is hurting the country and 56% thought the media and Congress should move on.

Another Harvard-Harris poll from May found that 65% of Americans believe the mainstream media publishes a significant amount of  “fake news.” The partisan breakdown was:  80% of Republicans, 60% of Independents, and 53% of Democrats.   An annual Gallup poll conducted in the latter part of 2016 revealed that only 32% of Americans trust the media.

(Thanks to Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report for writing about both of these polls recently)

Speaking of the media, a Bloomberg graphic was recently brought to my attention revealing the top issues that Americans care about compared to the amount of corporate media coverage given to each.  The graphic is telling:

So why does the media insist on giving a disproportionate amount of coverage to an issue that has largely been unsubstantiated at the expense of issues that the American people care far more about. Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi gave his perspective in a recent interview with Aaron Mate of the Real News Network:

From the media standpoint, I think what people have to understand is that a lot of this is about money. The Russia story sells incredibly well and cable networks that traditionally have not made a lot of money are making a lot of money with this story. So I understand that the relentless emphasis on the Russia story makes a lot of sense from the networks’ point of view because it creates among viewers this impression that the fate of the nation may be decided any minute. This is like they’re selling it as a kind of Watergate sequel, so you have to tune in every night. Not just on election night, you have to keep tuning in. I almost understand it more coming from the media.

​It’s the political class that I understand less because their sort of relentless emphasis on this Russia story is a huge bet that I don’t know whether it’s going to pay off. I think they’re doing this at the expense of making a cogent argument on policy grounds against Trump, and they’re also forcing the resistance to be synonymous with this Russia story. So in order for the resistance to have meaning, the conspiracy has to be true. It would make a lot more sense if there was a resistance that was based upon opposition to Trump’s healthcare policies or his environmental views, all of which are totally repugnant.​

We’ve seen poll numbers consistently throughout the last six or seven months that Democratic voters just aren’t as excited about this policy-wise as the Party is. The Party is much more obsessed with this than their voters are. From a media standpoint of view, again, I understand it because people will tune in, but I don’t think that politically it’s necessarily a smart move to do what they’re doing because Democrats, if there’s one thing that has been clear about the election and what happened last year is that they have to reinvent themselves. They have to find a new way to talk to America. The Russia story is just delaying that process in my mind.


More analysis is coming out about the ceasefire agreement that resulted from the Putin-Trump meeting in Hamburg earlier this month.  Many details were not initially being made public and some that were supposedly dripping out were confusing.  Foreign policy journalist Ben Norton was interviewed recently at the Real News Network and offered the following commentary:

The exact details of the agreement are secret, and this was made by President Trump and President Putin without really the input even of the Pentagon, so many of the details are being leaked slowly, but what is very clear from the get-go is that this is an agreement about weakening Iran and containing its influence inside Syria. It looks like Russia has gone along with this so far. We will see what Russia’s response will be in the future, and there have also been questions about the fact of whether or not this is actually enforceable, but the general analysis that we’ve seen so far based on some internal leaks is that this agreement creates four so-called “de-confliction zones” inside Syria.

There actually are significant concerns that have been echoed by establishment pundits that this is paving the way for the partition of Syria. Right now, there is already a kind of de facto partition, but it looks like this ceasefire, if it holds, may lead to an actual political partition of the country, so according to the details we have so far, Iran and Iranian-backed groups including Hezbollah, which had been playing a lead role in the fight in Syria, especially against ISIS, are forbidden from the southwest of the country, and this was an agreement that was made between the U.S., Russia, Jordan, and Israel.

Jordan is officially part of the ceasefire agreement. Israel is not technically part of it, but internal sources told Foreign Policy Magazine that Israel is playing a role in the negotiating process, and Jordan and Israel, which see Iran as their mortal enemy, do not want Iran and its allies to have any influence inside Syria, especially in the areas near their borders. The Golan Heights, which have been illegally occupied by Israel since the 1967 war, are not going to be … They’re already Israeli-occupied territory where Islamist rebels have been fighting, including Al-Qaeda, but this is going to be an area near the border of Israel that is completely off-limits, and Russia says that it’s going to agree so far. Whether or not this is going to be able to be enforced is unclear.

Russia has fairly good relations with Iran, which is seen as an important part of the future One Belt, One Road (or New Silk Roads) Eurasian economic project.  Furthermore, Iran agreed to increase some food imports to Russia with respect to the sanctions in 2014 and Russia is encouraging Iran’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).   So it strikes me as strange that Russia would agree to anything that would seriously undermine Iran in Syria, especially given their large role in helping the Syrian government regain control of rebel-held areas.  I also don’t believe that a partition of Syria would be perceived by Russia to be in the interests of Russia or Syria.  However, if this only pertains to limiting Iran in this one part of Syria in order to placate Israel for the time being, I could maybe understand it.

But no less than Israeli PM Netanyahu himself is complaining publicly about the ceasefire deal.   Robert Parry at Consortium News reports that the Israeli leadership, along with their Neocon minions in Washington, are trying to sabotage the ceasefire deal and are clinging to their receding hopes for regime change in Syria and beyond:

….After meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Sunday, Netanyahu declared that Israel was totally opposed to the Trump-Putin cease-fire deal in southern Syria because it perpetuates Iranian presence in Syria in support of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Netanyahu’s position increases pressure on Trump to escalate U.S. military involvement in Syria and possibly move toward war against Iran and even Russia. The American neocons, who generally move in sync with Netanyahu’s wishes, already have as their list of current goals “regime changes” in Damascus, Tehran and Moscow – regardless of the dangers to the Middle East and indeed the world.

At the G-20 summit on July 7, Trump met for several hours with Putin coming away with an agreed-upon cease-fire for southwestern Syria, an accord that has proven more successful than previous efforts to reduce the violence that has torn the country apart since 2011.

But that limited peace could mean failure for the proxy war that Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other regional players helped launch six years ago with the goal of removing Assad from power and shattering the so-called “Shiite crescent” from Tehran through Damascus to Beirut. Instead, that “crescent” appears more firmly in place, with Assad’s military bolstered by Shiite militia forces from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

In other words, the “regime change” gambit against Assad’s government would have backfired, with Iranian and Hezbollah forces arrayed along Israel’s border with Syria. And instead of accepting that reversal and seeking some modus vivendi with Iran, Netanyahu and his Sunni-Arab allies (most notably the Saudi monarchy) have decided to go in the other direction (a wider war) and to bring President Trump along with them.

So, if Israel is going to remain dangerously recalcitrant in its position with respect to Syria, then what motive would Russia have for making concessions in regard to Iran’s position?  I understand that Russia wants to have friendly relations as much as possible with all countries in the Middle East, but Russia’s interests most often align more closely with Iran’s recently than with Israel’s.   Moreover, Iran has shown less inclination toward aggression (haven’t invaded another nation in hundreds of years) and less inclination toward back-stabbing than Israel.  And, finally, Syria has been an ally of Russia since the Soviet era.

Pepe Escobar, within his larger analysis of how China is providing humanitarian aid and is set to provide much of the rebuilding in post-war Syria in anticipation of the country being an important hub in the New Silk Road (which, again, would imply a unified Syria), had this to say about the recent ceasefire deal:

A possible scenario out of what Putin and Trump negotiated in Hamburg – that was not relayed by either Lavrov or Tillerson – is that the ceasefire in southwestern Syria, assuming it holds, could mean US peacekeeping forces in effect sanctioning the creation of a demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the Syrian Golan and the rest of the country.

Translation: the Golan de facto annexed by Israel. And the “carrot” for Moscow would be Washington accepting Crimea de facto re-incorporated into the Russian Federation.

That may sound less far-fetched than it seems. The next few months will tell if this is indeed a plausible scenario.

Interesting.  But I’m not holding my breath that that scenario would work.  The Golan Heights would be costly for Syria to give up, materially, symbolically and security-wise.  This would be a heavy concession made in the hopes that the Trump administration would be able to overcome the immense resistance in Washington to any acceptance of Crimea as Russian – that’s assuming that Trump could be trusted to be tenacious in trying to push it through in the first place.  This strains credulity for me.


Earlier this month, it was reported – with the usual sensationalism reserved for anything remotely connected to Donald Trump, his campaign and Russia – that Donald Trump, Jr. held a meeting in June 2016 with a Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, at the suggestion of eccentric music promoter, Rob Goldstone, with the impression given that Ms. Veselnitskaya had information about Hillary Clinton that would be useful to the Trump campaign.  Apparently, this was a come-on to get the meeting with someone close to one of two candidates who would be the next president in order to lobby against the Magnitsky Act.   No information was offered about Hillary Clinton and the meeting did not last long.  NBC News provided the following details:

Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of the president, acknowledged Sunday that he met with a woman who turned out to be a Kremlin-connected lawyer during the 2016 presidential election — after being told she allegedly had information that could help his father’s presidential campaign.

Moscow said Monday, however, that it was unaware of who the lawyer is.

The New York Times first reported on Saturday that Donald Trump Jr. met with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, prompting him to respond with a short statement confirming that the meeting occurred.

He said he attended “a short introductory meeting” with Veselnitskaya, where the topic of conversation was primarily about adoption. He added that the topic was not a campaign issue at the time and that there was no followup conversation.

Subsequently, Trump Jr. released all the emails relevant to the meeting to the public, reportedly after Julian Assange advised him to do so as a preemptive move, but with the suggestion to have them published by Wikileaks.

One thing that struck me in the emails was the reference to Veselnitskaya as the “crown prosecutor.”  No such position currently exists in Russia and would not have existed in the last 100 years since Russia ceased to be a monarchy in 1917.  I have not seen any evidence that Veselnitskaya works for the Kremlin.  I have heard that she has represented people connected to the political class in Russia, but so what?  There are many attorneys who have represented people associated with the political class in Washington but that doesn’t mean they are official representatives of the White House or Congress.   But this is the level of ignorance and misinformation pushed about how things work in Russia in order to keep resuscitating the Russiagate story every time it appears to be on life support.

Veselnitskaya  has recently claimed that William Browder is behind the sensationalizing of the meeting with Trump Jr. in order to keep the Magnitsky Act – which is predicated upon Browder’s version of the whole Magnitsky affair and his role as a victim in it, a version that has recently come into serious question by journalists and researchers – on the books:

Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has become a poster child for the mainstream media’s claims of collusion between the Trump administration and the Kremlin, agreed to speak to RT on the streets of Moscow.

The attorney, who met with Donald Trump Jr. during his father’s campaign for the presidency, said she knows who was behind the “mass hysteria” related to the meeting. She accuses Magnitsky Act lobbyist William Browder of masterminding the disinformation campaign, aiming to harm her as revenge for a defeat he suffered in a U.S. court in 2013 at the hands of a team of lawyers that included Veselnitskaya.

“I have absolutely no doubt that this whole information [campaign] is being spun, encouraged and organized by that very man as revenge for the defeat he suffered in the court of the Southern State of New York in the ‘Prevezon’ company case,” she said.

In 2013, Veselnitskaya was one of the lawyers who represented Cyprus-based holding company Prevezon, owned by Russian businessman Denis Katsyv, in its defense against allegations of money laundering. The case was settled with no admission of guilt by Prevezon.

“He wasn’t able to convince the court with his lousy human tragedy that actually never happened, about the fate of a dead man – who he only learned about after his death,” Veselnitskaya said, referring to the 2009 death of Russian lawyer [sic] and auditor Sergey Magnitsky in a Moscow detention center.

In a recent interview with Democracy Now!, attorney and journalist Glenn Greenwald stated that nothing in the emails constitutes a smoking gun:

Now, what the Democrats are saying is that the Trump administration and their defenders in the media at Fox News and the like are, quote-unquote, “moving the goalposts” by saying, “Well, this only shows that Trump Jr. was willing to get information from the Russian government about Clinton, but it doesn’t show there was actual criminal collusion.” To me, it seems as though the people who are moving the goalposts are the Democrats. The claim all along, the reason why there’s talk of impeachment, the reason why there is a special prosecutor, the reason why people want to see Trump and his associates criminally prosecuted, is because of the claim that they committed crimes by colluding with the Russians with regard to the hacking. That’s what Harry Reid has always said. That’s what John Podesta has always said. That has always been the Democratic claim. This newest evidence doesn’t in any way suggest that. What it suggests instead is that Donald Trump Jr. was told that the Russian government had incriminating evidence about Hillary Clinton and wanted to give it to him. And he said, “Well, I’d love to get it. I’d love to have it.” Now, I guess there’s some sense that it’s wrong for a political campaign to take dirt on your adversary from a foreign government. I don’t think it’s illegal at all to do that, but there’s a claim that it’s somehow sort of immoral.

And here’s what I don’t understand. The Steele dossier that everybody got excited about, that claimed that the Russians had incriminating videos of Trump in a Moscow hotel and other dirt on Trump, that came from somebody who was getting first paid by Republicans and then by Democrats, going to Moscow and getting dirt about Donald Trump from Kremlin-affiliated agents in Moscow. In other words, he went to Russia, talked to people affiliated with the Russian government and said, “Give me dirt about Donald Trump,” and then, presumably, got it and put it in the memo. Similarly, there’s an amazing Politico article from January of this year that describes how allies of the Clinton campaign, including somebody being paid by the DNC, met with officials of the Ukrainian government, which was desperate to help Hillary Clinton win and Donald Trump lose, and get information incriminating about Trump from Ukrainian officials. In other words, Ukraine was meddling in our election by giving Democrats incriminating information about Trump.

….So, I want to hear the standard that we’re supposed to use to assess Trump Jr.’s actions. Is it that it’s wrong in all cases to get incriminating information about your opponent from a foreign government? In which case, why is it OK for the Democrats to do it with Ukrainian officials or for their investigator to go to Moscow and get dirt on Trump? Or is it some other standard that distinguishes what Trump Jr. did in this case versus what Democrats did with the Steele dossier and with Ukraine? And I just don’t see this distinction.

Read the full interview with Greenwald here.

The Politico article Greenwald referenced is here.

Readers will have to draw their own conclusions as to whether there is a real scandal here.


A final item I’d like to address on this week’s post is a recent piece by investigative journalist Craig Unger called “Married to the Mob:  What Trump Owes the Russian Mafia.”  This came to my attention via an interview with Unger that Amy Goodman did on Democracy Now!.

Now, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if investigations into Trump turn up run-of-the-mill corruption about the president.  However, a few things raised red flags with Unger’s claims.  First of all, I noted in Unger’s background that he’s done many exposes and books digging up dirt on Republicans.  That’s fine, but he never seems to expose anything by the Democrats and that makes me wonder.  If he’s a non-partisan muckraker, are we supposed to think he suddenly takes long sabbaticals that coincide with when Democrats are in office? There’s never anything to report on what Democrats might be up to that would be less than honest?

Also, he talks about the Russian mafia as far back as the early 80’s when it was still the Soviet Union.  And I had to ask myself:  did Russia have what we would consider to be “the mafia” operating in the Soviet Union in the 1980’s?   And, of course, he recycles the discredited Karen Dawisha claims of Putin running a “mafia state.”  So, I asked my mentor on Russia, Sharon Tennison, who has been traveling all throughout Russia since 1983 when it was indeed still the Soviet Union, about these claims by Unger.   Here is what she had to say:

In the late 80S, Russians called anyone whom they distrusted “the mafia.”  It was a derogatory term loosely used. Then in 1990 as sharp young men in Moscow began grabbing Soviet enterprises and illegally privatizing them to themselves, they became  a mafia of sorts – again a loosely used term.  Simultaneously, a group of high risk young Russian guys began extracting money from Russians who had started microbusinesses. They demanded monthly payments for “protection” from these fledgling new businesses. If owners didn’t pay up, they torched their businesses. This was Russia’s real street mafia. This went on until the late 90s when many were getting killed by entrepreneurs so most of them decided to stop and go into business for themselves;  at the street level,  Russia’s  petty bureaucrats became known as “mafia” themselves because they extracted additional rubles beyond the normal fees for registering the entrepreneurs’ businesses or any official claim for which they could get extra money for themselves. This went on under the table up until 2005.

Back to 1996 – some of the most aggressive street mafia “went upstairs” to big businesses and continued their racket work. Many were killed.  Some of the murders of that time were later attributed to Putin. This was sheer fabrication.  Putin was busy doing registrations and joint ventures in St. Petersburg (he was deputy mayor)—and was known for being the only public official in the  Marienskii City Hall who didn’t  “Get rich on his seat” (Russian term for not making extra money off of one’s position.

There is no such thing today as a “Russian mafia state.”  Putin has put many lower level and higher level bureaucrats behind bars and is still bringing others to trial.  Slowly this is cleaning up Russia’s internal corruption, likely for the first time in centuries.

Chris Hedges Interviews Matthew Hoh About Status of Afghanistan War; Jimmy Dore Deconstructs CNN’s Whitewashing of Libyan War

Chris Hedges Afghanistan

Image courtesy of Dandelion Salad blog


On this week’s episode of On Contact, Chris Hedges takes an in-depth look at the 16-year-old conflict in Afghanistan with Matthew Hoh, a Marine Corps veteran and diplomat who resigned his State Department post in Afghanistan in protest over the war. RT Correspondent Anya Parampil looks at the decades of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Watch this important interview here:



A few days ago, Jimmy Dore did a show deconstructing how misleading a recent CNN segment on what’s going on in Libya was.   CNN started it’s timeline after the overthrow of Qaddafi and conveniently left out how the various militias fighting for control of the country emerged and who has been backing them.

As Dore shows, it’s not like this important contextual information isn’t out there.  Hillary Clinton’s emails, which were voluntarily released at the beginning of 2016, revealed that the desire to overthrow the Qaddafi government (which had always allowed women’s rights and had achieved the highest standard of living in all of Africa with a welfare state that would put Scandinavia to shame) was primarily driven by then-French president Nicholas Sarkozy who wanted to acquire control of Libyan oil, maintain influence in the former French colonies of Africa, and to stop Qaddafi’s plan to establish a gold-backed currency that would have provided African economic independence.   The emails also show that western special ops agents were in country at the beginning of the protests, creating provocations.   Genocide by NATO-backed “rebels” against black Libyans who were considered to be loyal to Qaddafi are also documented.

Watch Dore’s brilliant critique of the CNN report here:


Trump & Putin’s Meeting at the G20 Summit Results in Ceasefire Agreement for Southwest Syria; China & Russia Issue Joint Statement re Tensions on Korean Peninsula; Iraq Government Declares Victory Over ISIS in Mosul; New Academic Study Says Hillary Lost Voters in Areas Most Affected by War Casualties

US President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria

Trump and Putin finally met for the first time at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany this past Friday.  And, while it can’t be characterized as a major breakthrough, it did manage to exceed the paltry expectations that many had, myself included.   First, it was noted by Tillerson that the two leaders seemed to have a good rapport and the meeting went well past the allotted time of 30 minutes, clocking in at around 2 hours and 15 minutes.   Reportedly, the issues of alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. presidential election, Ukraine, cyber-security, terrorism and Syria were all addressed.  The last of which resulted in a ceasefire in the southwestern area of Syria.  But those who rely upon the corporate media or even the pseudo-alternative media (e.g. Huffington Post) would be hard-pressed to know this since most of the coverage mentioned the allegations of Russian hacking being discussed but either omitted the part about the Syria ceasefire or buried it at the bottom of the article.

Did the editors of these outlets think that the ceasefire was not newsworthy?

One of the few outlets that did headline the Syria ceasefire development was the Associated Press:

HAMBURG, Germany (AP) — The United States and Russia struck an agreement Friday on a cease-fire in southwest Syria, crowning President Donald Trump’s first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is the first U.S.-Russian effort under Trump’s presidency to stem Syria’s six-year civil war.

The cease-fire goes into effect Sunday at noon Damascus time, according to U.S. officials and the Jordanian government, which is also involved in the deal.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who accompanied Trump in his meeting with Putin, said the understanding is designed to reduce violence in an area of Syria near Jordan’s border that is critical to the U.S. ally’s security.

It’s a “very complicated part of the Syrian battlefield,” Tillerson told reporters after the U.S. and Russian leaders met for more than two hours on the sidelines of a global summit in Hamburg, Germany.

Of the agreement, he said, “I think this is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria.”

It should be remembered, however, that the Obama administration, working via then-Secretary of State John Kerry, also worked out a ceasefire deal in Syria with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov last September, which was later torpedoed by the Pentagon’s “accidental” bombing of a heavily monitored airbase where Syrian army troops had been stationed for a long period of time.

Given how zealous members of the deep state have been to sabotage any move by Trump toward detente by keeping the empty accusations of Russiagate at high pitch, folks should be very cautious in their optimism for the long-term success of this recently agreed ceasefire.   Attempts to sabotage it will likely become obvious in the near future.

Ex-CIA analyst and expert on Russia/Soviet Union, Ray McGovern, reminds readers of this in his analysis of the Putin-Trump meeting and the Syria ceasefire at Consortium News:

With the ceasefire in tatters, Kerry publicly complained on Sept. 29, 2016: “Syria is as complicated as anything I’ve ever seen in public life, in the sense that there are probably about six wars or so going on at the same time – Kurd against Kurd, Kurd against Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sunni, Shia, everybody against ISIL, people against Assad, Nusra [Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate]. This is as mixed-up sectarian and civil war and strategic and proxies, so it’s very, very difficult to be able to align forces.”

Only in December 2016, in an interview with Matt Viser of the Boston Globe, did Kerry admit that his efforts to deal with the Russians had been thwarted by then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter – as well as all those forces he found so difficult to align.

“Unfortunately we had divisions within our own ranks that made the implementation [of the ceasefire agreement] extremely hard to accomplish,” Kerry said. “But it … could have worked. … The fact is we had an agreement with Russia … a joint cooperative effort.

“Now we had people in our government who were bitterly opposed to doing that,” he said. “I regret that. I think that was a mistake. I think you’d have a different situation there conceivably now if we’d been able to do that.”

….As the new U.S.-Russia agreed-upon ceasefire goes into effect on Sunday, Putin will be eager to see if this time Trump, unlike Obama, can make a ceasefire in Syria stick; or whether, like Obama, Trump will be unable to prevent it from being sabotaged by Washington’s deep-state actors.

According to Democracy Now!, so far the ceasefire appears to be holding since it went into effect on Sunday afternoon:

Monitoring groups say a ceasefire brokered by Trump and Putin for parts of southwest Syria does appear to be holding, as a new round of U.N.-sponsored peace talks open today in Geneva. The territory covered by the ceasefire includes rebel-held areas of Daraa, where opposition officials say weeks of intense bombing by the Syrian government stopped after the ceasefire took effect Sunday. However, fighting continues in other parts of the country, including in Raqqa, where the journalistic group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently says 23 civilians were killed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and shelling by U.S.-backed forces over the weekend.

As journalist and geopolitical analyst, Pepe Escobar, pointed out in his thoughts on the meeting, this was actually only one in a series of diplomatically critical meetings that Putin participated in.  Several days earlier Putin met with Chinese leader Xi on which they agreed upon several important geopolitical points:

And then, there’s the big story of the G-20 in Hamburg, which actually started three days earlier in Moscow, in a full-fledged official summit between Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi repeatedly extolled the “strategic alliance”, or “the fast-growing, pragmatic cooperation”, or even the “special character” of China’s ties with Russia.

Putin once again pledged to support the New Silk Roads, or One Belt, One Road initiative (Obor), “by all means”, which includes its interpenetration with the Eurasia Economic Union (EEU).

The Russian Direct Investment Fund and the China Development Bank established a joint $10 billion investment fund.

Gazprom and China’s CNPC signed a key agreement for the starting date of gas deliveries via the Power of Siberia pipeline; December 20, 2019, according to Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller. And that will be followed by the construction of Power of Siberia-2.

They kept discussing a military cooperation roadmap.

And at a closed Kremlin meeting the night before their official summit, in which they clinched yet another proverbial raft of deals worth billions of dollars, Putin and Xi developed a common North Korea strategy; “dialogue and negotiation”, coupled with firm opposition to the THAAD missile system being installed in South Korea.

Alexander Mercouris has posted the entire Joint Statement by Russia and China on the North Korean situation, along with his own comments, here.

Just prior to Xi’s meeting with Putin,  the Chinese leader proclaimed the best period of Sino-Russian relations in history in an interview with the Russian state media outlet TASS.   The comments were reported in the Chinese media outlet Xinhua as follows:

BEIJING, July 3 (Xinhua) — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday said China-Russia relations are at their “best time in history,” and expressed hope the Group of 20 major economies (G20) will continue their support for multilateral free trade and leadership in innovation-driven growth.

….China and Russia have built high-level political and strategic mutual trust, Xi said, noting that China and Russia have completely resolved their border issues left over from history, turning the 4,300-km boundary line into a bond of friendship between the two peoples.

“Our two countries have built a high level of political and strategic trust,” Xi said, adding that the two nations are each other’s most trustworthy strategic partners.

“I believe the visit will lend new impetus to the growth of bilateral relations,” said Xi.

Xi said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin both think China and Russia should deepen economic and trade cooperation so as to reinforce their interests bond and better benefit the two peoples.

“Economic cooperation and trade is the most wide-ranging area in our practical cooperation and enjoys great potential,” Xi said, adding that the structure of China-Russia economic cooperation and trade continues to improve and quite a few new areas of growth have emerged.

China is also set to play a dominant role in the re-construction of Syria as reported yesterday by Syria’s state media outlet SANA:

Syrian Ambassador in Beijing Imad Mustafa said that Chinese companies are expected to play a big role in the reconstruction phase in Syria after the end of the crisis, pointing out that the Syrian government will give top priority to Chinese companies in investment and reconstruction opportunities.

Media Recklessness

Stephen Cohen gives his commentary on the Hamburg meeting in an interview with Tucker Carlson, lamenting the corporate media’s narrative of constantly demonizing Putin and Russia and creating an atmosphere in which any attempt by President Trump to constructively work together with Russia on mutual interests and to decrease tensions between the world’s nuclear superpowers is either pilloried and sabotaged or ignored.   Watch the 5-minute video here

The excellent foreign policy journalist Max Blumenthal goes over the history of the corporate media’s dangerously disingenuous coverage of the war in Syria as well as U.S.-Russia relations.  Watch the video or read the transcript here.


The Duran reports , along with other media outlets, that the Iraqi government has now regained full control over the ISIS stronghold of Mosul:

The Iraqi army has won the battle of Mosul.  Though ISIS has resisted with fierce determination, and has held the Iraqi army off for 9 months, the last buildings in Mosul’s Old City still under ISIS control have now been freed.


Reason Magazine has written an article about an academic study done by a political science professor at Boston University and a law professor at University of Minnesota, Douglas Kriner and Francis Shen, showing that Hillary Clinton’s support of war policies cost her support in areas that were most affected by military casualties in America’s myriad wars:

A new study attributes Donald Trump’s victory last year to communities hit hardest by military casualties and angry about being ignored. These voters, the authors suggest, saw Trump as an “opportunity to express that anger at both political parties.”
The paper—written by Douglas Kriner, a political scientist at Boston University, and Francis Shen, a law professor at the University of Minnesota—provides powerful lessons about the electoral viability of principled non-intervention, a stance that Trump was able to emulate somewhat on the campaign trail but so far has been incapable of putting into practice.


The study, available at SSRN, found a “significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.” The statistical model it used suggested that if Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin had suffered “even a modestly lower casualty rate,” all three could have flipped to Hillary Clinton, making her the president. The study controlled for party identification, comparing Trump’s performance in the communities selected to Mitt Romney’s performance in 2012. It also controlled for other relevant factors, including median family income, college education, race, the percentage of a community that is rural, and even how many veterans there were.

“Even after including all of these demographic control variables, the relationship between a county’s casualty rate and Trump’s electoral performance remains positive and statistically significant,” the paper noted. “Trump significantly outperformed Romney in counties that shouldered a disproportionate share of the war burden in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Spotlight on Corporate Media Malfeasance on Syria, Russia, etc.; A Few Facts About Russia; Leader of Afghan Taliban Says U.S. Occupation is Main Obstacle to Peace; Trump & Putin to Meet at G20

Seymour Hersh

Renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has published a report detailing how President Trump ordered the Tomahawk missile strike in Syria this past April even though he received reporting from his intelligence and military advisers that stated there was no concrete evidence at the time that the Assad government was guilty of a sarin (or any intentional chemical) attack in the rebel town of Khan Sheikhoun.  Hersh wrote:

The available intelligence made clear that the Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives. Details of the attack,  including information on its so-called high-value targets, had been provided by the Russians days in advance to American and allied military officials in Doha, whose mission is to coordinate all U.S., allied, Syrian and Russian Air Force operations in the region.

Some American military and intelligence officials were especially distressed by the president’s determination to ignore the evidence. “None of this makes any sense,” one officer told colleagues upon learning of the decision to bomb. “We KNOW that there was no chemical attack … the Russians are furious. Claiming we have the real intel and know the truth … I guess it didn’t matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump.“

…..To the dismay of many senior members of his national security team, Trump could not be swayed over the next 48 hours of intense briefings and decision-making. In a series of interviews, I learned of the total disconnect between the president and many of his military advisers and intelligence officials, as well as officers on the ground in the region who had an entirely different understanding of the nature of Syria’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun. I was provided with evidence of that disconnect, in the form of transcripts of real-time communications, immediately following the Syrian attack on April 4. In an important pre-strike process known as deconfliction, U.S. and Russian officers routinely supply one another with advance details of planned flight paths and target coordinates, to ensure that there is no risk of collision or accidental encounter (the Russians speak on behalf of the Syrian military). This information is supplied daily to the American AWACS surveillance planes that monitor the flights once airborne. Deconfliction’s success and importance can be measured by the fact that there has yet to be one collision, or even a near miss, among the high-powered supersonic American, Allied, Russian and Syrian fighter bombers.

Read Hersh’s full article at Die Welt.   While nothing in this article should be a surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time, it is nonetheless important to have the details and confirmation from a reputable journalistic source like Hersh.   It’s a sad commentary that this kind of investigative reporting has become so rare in the U.S.  One must ask themselves why, after the Bush administration ended, Hersh has had to publish at the London Review of Books and Die Welt.

Moving right along on the topic of pathetic mainstream (corporate) media in the U.S., Glenn Greenwald has written another great primer on the latest installment of horrible reporting on Russia and “Russiagate.”  Since it never ends, the few good journalists have to keep track of the misinformation and counter it on a regular basis.   In this latest piece, Greenwald discusses the larger context of the recent resignations of 3 journalists at CNN – one a Pulitzer Prize winner who was formerly a regular for the NYT – due to sloppy journalistic practices in writing an article that relied on one anonymous source with respect to allegations that Trump associate Anthony Scaramucci was tied to a Russian investment bank that was being probed by Congress.  The story turned out to be bogus and, as I noted previously, the concept of due diligence in contemporary corporate reporting is apparently considered to be out of fashion, something only pedantic un-hip nerd types and old maids who purse their lips would insist on.

From Greenwald:

In announcing the resignation of the three journalists — Thomas Frank, who wrote the story (not the same Thomas Frank who wrote “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”); Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Eric Lichtblau, recently hired away from the New York Times; and Lex Haris, head of a new investigative unit — CNN said that “standard editorial processes were not followed when the article was published.” The resignations follow CNN’s Friday night retraction of the story, in which it apologized to Scaramucci.

….BUT CNN IS hardly alone when it comes to embarrassing retractions regarding Russia. Over and over, major U.S. media outlets have published claims about the Russia Threat that turned out to be completely false — always in the direction of exaggerating the threat and/or inventing incriminating links between Moscow and the Trump circle. In virtually all cases, those stories involved evidence-free assertions from anonymous sources that these media outlets uncritically treated as fact, only for it to be revealed that they were entirely false.

Read Greenwald’s entire skewering of the corporate media’s reporting here.

But, as a producer at CNN admitted in a recent video, there is no proof of any of the Russiagate accusations but it is constantly hammered on at the media outlet because it gets great ratings.  Watch the video here:


But CNN isn’t the only mainstream outlet that’s finally being forced to acknowledge it’s less than stellar journalistic record on “Russiagate.”  As Robert Parry reports, the New York Times just issued a retraction of its repeated claim that all 17 intelligence agencies signed off on the “assessment” – note that an assessment is not at all the same thing as an intelligence estimate.  In fact, only the CIA, NSA, FBI and the DNI signed off on the estimate earlier this year about Russia’s supposed hacking of the election.  Furthermore, only a handful of cherry-picked analysts from those few agencies contributed to the assessment.

On Thursday, the Times appended a correction to a June 25 article that had repeated the false claim, which has been used by Democrats and the mainstream media for months to brush aside any doubts about the foundation of the Russia-gate scandal and portray President Trump as delusional for doubting what all 17 intelligence agencies supposedly knew to be true.In the Times’ White House Memo of June 25, correspondent Maggie Haberman mocked Trump for “still refus[ing] to acknowledge a basic fact agreed upon by 17 American intelligence agencies that he now oversees: Russia orchestrated the attacks, and did it to help get him elected.”

However, on Thursday, the Times – while leaving most of Haberman’s ridicule of Trump in place – noted in a correction that the relevant intelligence “assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”

The Times’ grudging correction was vindication for some Russia-gate skeptics who had questioned the claim of a full-scale intelligence assessment, which would usually take the form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE), a product that seeks out the views of the entire Intelligence Community and includes dissents.

The reality of a more narrowly based Russia-gate assessment was admitted in May by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan in sworn congressional testimony.

Parry has just been awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism for his steady and astute reporting and analysis at Consortium News.   He was awarded the prize in London on June 27th by another iconic journalist (whom I’ve admired since reading his book Heroes in college), John Pilger.  Here is an excerpt of Pilger’s comments when he presented Parry with the award:

There are too many awards for journalism. Too many simply celebrate the status quo. The idea that journalists ought to challenge the status quo — what Orwell called Newspeak and Robert Parry calls “groupthink” — is becoming increasingly rare.


More than a generation ago, a space opened up for a journalism that dissented from the groupthink and flourished briefly and often tenuously in the press and broadcasting. Today, that space has almost closed in the so-called mainstream media. The best journalists have become – often against their will – dissidents.

The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism recognizes these honorable exceptions. It is very different from other prizes. Let me quote in full why we give this award:

“The Gellhorn Prize is in honor of one of the 20th century’s greatest reporters. It is awarded to a journalist whose work has penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth – a truth validated by powerful facts that expose what Martha Gellhorn called ‘official drivel.’ She meant establishment propaganda.”

Martha was renowned as a war reporter. Her dispatches from Spain in the 1930s and D-Day in 1944 are classics. But she was more than that. As both a reporter and a committed humanitarian, she was a pioneer: one of the first in Vietnam to report what she called “a new kind of war against civilians”: a precursor to the wars of today.

She was the reason I was sent to Vietnam as a reporter. My editor had spread across his desk her articles that had run in the Guardian and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A headline read, “Targeting the people.” For that series, she was placed on a blacklist by the U.S. military and never allowed to return to South Vietnam.

She and I became good friends. Indeed, all my fellow judges of the Martha Gellhorn Prize  – Sandy and Shirlee Matthews, James Fox, Jeremy Harding — have that in common. We keep her memory.

She was indefatigable. She would call very early in the morning and open up the conversation with one of her favourite expressions – “I smell a rat.”

Martha Gellhorn – this is what a real journalist looks like

When, in 1990, President George Bush Senior invaded Panama on the pretext of nabbing his old CIA buddy General Noriega, the embedded media made almost no mention of civilian suffering. My phone rang. “I smell a rat,” said a familiar voice.

Within 24 hours Martha was on a plane to Panama. She was then in her 80s.  She went straight to the barrios of Panama City, and walked from door to door, interviewing ordinary people. That was the way she worked – in apartheid South Africa, in the favelas of Brazil, in the villages of Vietnam.

She estimated that the American bombing and invasion of Panama had killed at least 6,000 people.

She flew to Washington and stood up at a press conference at the Pentagon and asked a general: “Why did you kill so many people then lie about it?”

Imagine that question being asked today.  And that is what we are honoring this evening. Truth-telling, and the courage to find out, to ask the forbidden question.

Robert Parry is a very distinguished honorable exception.

Read the full speech here.

Speaking of war reporting.   Adam Johnson at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has written a great piece on how corporate media outlets all characterize the U.S. as being the hapless humanitarian that is constantly being “sucked into” or “stumbling into” wars against its will.   They are mediasplaining to us rubes how the political class in Washington consists of a bunch of well-meaning clowns who bumble around not knowing what to do with all that humanitarian concern welling out of them so they are slipping and sliding around and if others get hurt, well, gee shucks, we’re just a great big well-meaning dufus.

Sliding,” “stumbling,” ”sucked into,” “dragged into,” ”drawn into”: The US is always reluctantly—and without a plan—falling backward into bombing and occupying. The US didn’t enter the conflict in Syria in September 2014 deliberately; it was forced into it by outside actors. The US didn’t arm and fund anti-Assad rebels for four years to the tune of $1 billion a year as part of a broader strategy for the region; it did so as a result of some unknown geopolitical dark matter.

When US empire isn’t reluctant, it’s benevolent. “Initially motivated by humanitarian impulse,” Foreign Policy‘s Emile Simpson (6/21/17)  insisted, “the United States and its Western allies achieved regime change in Libya and attempted it in Syria, by backing rebels in each case.”

“At least in recent decades, American presidents who took military action have been driven by the desire to promote freedom and democracy,” the New York Times editorial board (2/7/17) swooned.

“Every American president since at least the 1970s,” Washington Post’s Philip Rucker (5/2/17) declared, “has used his office to champion human rights and democratic values around the world.” Interpreting US policymakers’ motives is permitted, so long as the conclusion is never critical.

Johnson goes on to contrast this with how other nations’ actions are characterized, like Russia.

Russia isn’t “drawn into” Crimea; it has a secret “Crimea takeover plot” (BBC, 3/9/15). Putin doesn’t “stumble into” Syria; he has a “Long-Term Strategy” there (Foreign Affairs, 3/15/16). Military adventurism by other countries is part of a well-planned agenda, while US intervention is at best reluctant, and at worst bumfuzzled—Barney Fife with 8,000 Abrams tanks and 19 aircraft carriers.
Johnson’s full article can be read here.



I’ve noted a lot of polls, surveys and statistics that have come my way recently that readers may find interesting or enlightening about the Russian economy or Russian attitudes toward various things.

1) According to Russia’s Finance Ministry, Russians’ real incomes rose by 3% in May;

2) Despite that increase – and Russia’s official exit from recession this year – many Russians still worry about wages, the economy overall, and health care – which is undergoing a process of streamlining and reform that has prompted dissatisfaction in some quarters;

3) After suffering one of the worst mortality crises of any nation in peacetime during the 1990’s, Russia is enjoying its 3rd year in a row of natural population growth;

4) The vast majority of Russians – 86% – have no desire to leave Russia and relocate to another country;

5) Russians view the U.S. and Ukraine as the most hostile nations toward them and just over half see no sign of improvement in U.S.-Russia relations on the horizon.


At the close of Ramadan recently, the leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, declared that the main obstacle to peace in his country was the U.S. occupation:

“Americans should understand that continuation of war in Afghanistan, upsurge of bombardment … will never usher in success for them. The Afghans are not a people to kowtow to someone,” he said.

The fact is, all occupiers eventually pack up their tents and go home. The only variable is how long the occupier continues his folly and how much death and destruction he is going to be responsible for before the light bulb goes on.


And to wrap up today’s post, it has been reported by Russia’s TASS news agency, that Putin and Trump will meet for the first time at the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 7 – 8.   The AP further reports that some of Trump’s advisers say the president is eager for his first meeting with his Russian counterpart.
How the actual meeting goes between Trump, who is notoriously unpredictable, and the calm, cool and collected Putin (who doesn’t impress easily) is anyone’s guess.  Should be interesting to watch video of it.