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California Lawmakers Looking To Make Bad Law Worse By Banning ‘False’ Political Speech

By Tim Cushing | TechDirt | March 20, 2017

There’s something to be said for an informed electorate, although it really shouldn’t be elected officials advocating for it. They’d benefit least from people knowing more about sausage and the making thereof. And legislators definitely shouldn’t be robbing the First Amendment to pay for better information, as a few California lawmakers are attempting to do.

A new bill, pointed out by the EFF’s Dave Maass, seems to be a response of sorts to “fake news” and other political detritus of this highly-partisan system. Ostensibly, the bill is aimed at keeping voters from being misled on issues that affect them. The problem is, this bill would allow the government to determine what is or isn’t misleading and apply to a citizen’s social media posts, blog, etc.

California’s existing “political cyberfraud” law (yes, really) already contains wording that forbids cybersquatting, misleading redirects, and otherwise tricking internet users who are seeking information on ballot measures. The existing law is more concerned with acts along the lines of false impersonation and deliberate fraud. The amendment, however, isn’t. It adds a couple of new aspects, both making the bad law worse.

First, the law would no longer be limited to “cyberfraud” related to pending ballot measures. It would expand to protect political candidates from being bested by wily web denizens. Where it really goes downhill is this new clause, which criminalizes even more speech.

SEC. 2.

Section 18320.5 is added to the Elections Code, to read:

It is unlawful for a person to knowingly and willingly make, publish or circulate on an Internet Web site, or cause to be made, published, or circulated in any writing posted on an Internet Web site, a false or deceptive statement designed to influence the vote on either of the following:

(a) Any issue submitted to voters at an election.

(b) Any candidate for election to public office.

With this law, opinions and misinterpretations of ballot measures/candidates’ political stances are now illegal acts. The law goes further than simply punishing the writer of false statements. It also aims to punish publishers (which could be read as punishing hosts who would normally be protected by Section 230) and anyone who shares the newly-illegal content. If anything in the original post hints of political leaning, it can be construed as “designed to influence the vote,” which would make most heated political discussions a breeding ground for criminal communications.

It would seem the “victims” listed in the proposed amendment aren’t really in need of a free speech-abusing law. If California’s government doesn’t like the tone of online posts about ballot measures, it has plenty of opportunities (and numerous platforms) to set the record straight. Worse, it gives the government the power to shut down speech it doesn’t agree with under the pretense preventing voters from being misled.

As for political candidates, they rarely suffer the problem of having too little speech. Bullshit can be countered with more speech, a rhetorical weapon everyone has access to, but political candidates in particular tend to be especially well-equipped in this department.

How the original law managed to survive a constitutional challenge remains a mystery. This addition has zero chance of being found constitutional if it somehow manages to become law.

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | Leave a comment

Land Rights Activist Shot Dead in Brazilian Hospital

teleSUR | March 22, 2017

Waldomiro Costa Pereira, an activist with the Landless Workers Movement, MST, was killed Monday when gunmen stormed a hospital in Parauapebas in northeastern Brazil’s Para state, activists said in a statement.

Five armed men burst into a small town hospital in the Brazilian Amazon, surrounded security guards and shot dead the prominent land rights activist, in the latest deadly attack on land campaigners.

The motive for Pereira’s murder was unclear, the MST said, but the activist had been recovering in the hospital from a previous assassination attempt.

“This is yet another murder of workers in the state of Para,” the MST said in a statement. “Impunity has become commonplace as has the action of criminal militia groups,” the group said, adding that Pereira was a longtime activist in the “struggle for agrarian reform.”

At the time of his killing, Pereira was not active with the MST and was instead devoting his time to advising the local government on agriculture, the activist group said.

Local officials in the city of Parauapebas condemned the murder and police said they were investigating the killing, the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported.

Conflicts over territory are common in Brazil where 1 percent of the population owns nearly half of the nation’s land, according to a 2016 study from the University of Windsor in Canada.

Brazil has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for land rights activists, with 61 killed in 2016, the highest level since 2003, according to Brazil’s Pastoral Land Commission.

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Subjugation - Torture | , , | Leave a comment

Australia finds no funds diverted in World Vision probe, further debunking Israeli claims against al-Halabi

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network – March 22, 2017

In yet another blow to the propaganda-driven case against Palestinian aid worker Mohammed al-Halabi, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reported on Tuesday, 21 March that “an internal review into World Vision funding in Gaza has uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government aid funding to Hamas.”

Al-Halabi was seized by Israeli occupation forces at the Beit Hanoun/Erez crossing and in August 2016, Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, went on a propaganda offensive, claiming that Halabi had redirected World Vision funds to the Palestinian resistance organization, Hamas. Israeli occupation officials declared that he had diverted $43 million in charitable funds to the Palestinian resistance, including a video from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing Palestinians of not caring about their people.  The amounts cited dwarfed the actual budget to which al-Halabi had access, by all accounts.  These seemingly impossible claims were made after nearly a month of interrogation, during which Halabi was subjected to torture and inhumane treatment.

The claims against Halabi were accompanied by similarly touted claims against civil engineer Waheed Bursh, a contractor with the UN Development Program, also accused of redirecting resources to the Palestinian resistance – in his case, rubble from the Israeli bombing of Gaza. However, despite the large-scale publicity surrounding Borsh’s arrest, he was released seven months later, indicating that no serious charges were ever made. He was cited as a “witness” againat al-Halabi, and later confirmed that he completely denied any allegations against the aid worker.

“The news DFAT found no evidence of the misuse of World Vison funds comes as Mr Halabi’s trial continues in Israel. He has rejected a plea deal offered by Israeli authorities and has pleaded not guilty, claiming he is innocent of all charges,” reported the Australian Brodcasting Corporation. The plea agreement he rejected would have seen him imprisoned for three years, a short sentence which again indicates a lack of serious charges or evidence in the case.

Indeed, rather than presenting any evidence to back up the widely-publicized public claims against World Vision and Halabi, Israeli occupation officials have instead submitted additional, lesser charges against Halabi that have no relation to diverting funds or his work with World Vision; two such charges are those of  “passing information to the enemy” and of “aiding and abetting the enemy in a time of war,” with the enemy in question being Palestinians in Gaza. Al-Halabi is, himself, of course, a Palestinian living under occupation and siege in Gaza.

He is also charged with giving small donations of his own money, rather than redirecting World Vision funds, to charities and mosques in Gaza.  ABC notes that “One incident detailed accuses El Halabi of allegedly giving ‘300 Israeli shekels on a monthly base to a charity managed by Hamas’…Another says the defendant transferred ‘hundreds of shekels during 2015-2016 to a mosque managed by Hamas’… No details are given of the ‘millions’ of dollars Israeli intelligence officials initially accused El Halabi of diverting.” 100 NIS is approximately $26 USD.

“So far, our own ongoing forensic audit has not uncovered any money subverted and to hear DFAT say their investigation hasn’t either is consistent and is very good news,” said Tim Costello of World Vision.

Despite the severe lack of evidence or credibility for Israeli claims in this case, World Vision’s work in Gaza – and government funding from the Australian and German governments – have been shut down. Over 100 Palestinian workers for World Vision have lost their jobs in Gaza in an area already suffering from massive unemployment and poverty.

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Israeli occupation most malignant in the world, says UN rapporteur

Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied Michael Lynk [Alhadath24/Facebok]
MEMO | March 22, 2017

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, has described the Israeli occupation as “the most malignant” in the world. The Canadian official added that perpetuating an alien rule over almost five million people, against their fervent wishes, inevitably requires the repression of rights, the erosion of the rule of law, the abrogation of international commitments and the imposition of deeply discriminatory practices.

Lynk accused Israel of humiliating the Palestinians and intensifying the crackdown on human rights activists. He presented his report to the UN Commission on Human Rights and Human Rights Council during its latest session on Israel. Israeli and US diplomats boycotted the session dedicated to several UN reports criticising Israeli settlements, the blockade of Gaza and the excessive use of force against Palestinians.

The report also criticised the Palestinian authorities for their violations, including unlawful killings and detentions. It comes after the resignation of the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Rima Khalaf, after her report accusing Israel of being an apartheid state was rejected by the international body under pressure from Israel and the US.

The US boycotted the debate on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in Geneva on Monday, claiming that the UN Human Rights Council is biased against Israel. The move came after the US administration announced in March that it would review its relationship with the Geneva-based council, in light of its strong focus on Israel, Washington’s ally.

The HRC regularly addresses many areas of tension, including Syria and North Korea. However, Israel is the only state regularly placed on a separate agenda item with numerous human rights reports.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner claimed in a statement from Washington that the discussion of the Monday session is an additional reminder of the long-standing bias of this body against Israel. “The continued existence of this item on the agenda is among the greatest threats to the council’s credibility,” he added.

Read also:

Out of the UNHRC, US will not be able to ‘shield’ Israel

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | 1 Comment

Israeli forces detain Palestinian, confiscate vehicles in northern Jordan Valley

Ma’an – March 22, 2017

TUBAS – Israeli forces on Wednesday morning detained a young Palestinian man in the village of Ibziq in the northern Jordan Valley region of the occupied West Bank and confiscated a tractor and a private vehicle in the area.

Muataz Bisharat, an official who monitors settlement activity in the Jordan Valley, told Ma’an that Israeli forces, escorted by several Israeli Civil Administration jeeps, detained Mahmoud Muhammad al-Hroub, 23, and confiscated a tractor belonging to his father and a vehicle belonging to Hayil Turkman.

The confiscated vehicles were taken to the Nahal military site in the al-Maleh area of the Jordan valley, Bisharat said.

A spokesperson from Israel’s civil administration declined to comment on the incident.

Bisharat highlighted that Israeli forces had confiscated at least three tractors from the surrounding areas, which are located in Area C — the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli security and civilian control — during the past two months.

Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley regularly face evacuations and interruption due to Israeli military exercises on or near their land. The Jordan Valley district of Tubas is one of the occupied West Bank’s most important agricultural centers.

The majority of the Jordan Valley is under full Israeli military control, while at least 44 percent of the total land in the Jordan Valley has been reappropriated by Israeli forces for military purposes and training exercises.

According to the Palestinian nonprofit the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ), using data from the Palestine Ministry of Wall and Colonization Affairs, the group reported that more than 400,000 dunams (98,842 acres) of the 720,000 dunams (177,916 acres) that make up the total area of the Jordan Valley has been transformed into closed military and firing zones, with at least 27,000 dunams (6,672 acres) confiscated for illegal Israeli settlement building.

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palestinian legislator Mohammed al-Tal seized by Israeli forces; Samira Halaiqa indicted by military court

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network – March 22, 2017

The number of imprisoned Palestinian Legislative Council members climbed to 11 on Tuesday, 21 March after a pre-dawn raid by Israeli occupation forces seized PLC member Mohammed al-Tal from al-Khalil, along with 19 more Palestinians. Al-Tal has previously spent 11 years in Israeli prisons, half of those in administrative detention without charge or trial.

Also on Tuesday, 21 March, an Israeli occupation military court at Ofer submitted an indictment against PLC member Samira Halaiqa, 53, from al-Khalil, accusing her of participating in political and social activities and engaging in “incitement” for making political posts on Facebook.  Halaiqa was seized on 9 March by occupation forces who invaded her home. She, along with her husband Mohammed Halaiqa, had previously been imprisoned for one year in 2006 under administrative detention, following her election to the PLC.

Both Halaiqa and al-Tal are part of the Change and Reform bloc, the PLC bloc associated with Hamas.

The 11 detained PLC members include: Khaled Tafesh and Anwar Zboun, both from the Bethlehem area, members of the Change and Reform bloc, seized on Monday, 6 March. Zboun spent over six years in Israeli prison, including several months in administrative detention in 2014. Tafesh, a former deportee to Marj al-Zohour, was also previously held in administrative detention in 2014. Tafesh, Zboun, Halaiqa and al-Tal were all arrested in the month of March.

Other detained PLC members include Hassan Yousef and Ahmad Mubarak of Ramallah and Azzam Salhab and Mohammed Jamal Natsheh of al-Khalil. All members of the Change and Reform bloc, they are held in administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial. General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmad Sa’adat, is serving a 30-year sentence in Israeli prison, while Fateh leader Marwan Barghouthi is serving several life sentences. Jerusalemite PLC member of the Change and Reform bloc, Mohammed Abu Teir, was subject to expulsion from his home city of Jerusalem and is now serving a 17-month sentence in Israeli prison.

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Global Laundromat update: “Bank did bank things with famous person”

OffGuardian | March 22, 2107

Perhaps this is the beginning of a new series for the Guardian ? Maybe in the future we can expect stories entitled “Man who voted Brexit regularly beats wife” and “Angela Merkel lives in the same city Adolf Hitler called home”.

Has the Guardian hit a new low in shameless, dishonest, click-bait headlines? You be the judge.

I think the “Global Laundromat” scandal might not be having the massive impact that The Guardian expected it to (personally, I blame the rather silly name). When it was launched yesterday it was meant to be a splash, but it has landed more like a ripple, so far failing to even repeat the short-lived intensity of the Panama Papers.

Todays article is simply a readjustment of all same talking points mentioned several times each yesterday, only chopped up into a different order. Like that episode of the Simpsons where Marge keeps chopping up one Chanel suit into a variety of different outfits.

You can tell they are desperate to get people clicking, because they’ve tried to tie it into an actual talking point: Donald Trump’s “Russia connections”. The entirety of this “new information” is contained within the headline:

Bank that lent $300m to Trump linked to Russian money laundering scam

That’s it. That’s not a teaser for more information. That’s not a summary of a complex plot. That is literally all the information. To quote the article directly:

The German bank that loaned $300m (£260m) to Donald Trump played a prominent role in a money laundering scandal run by Russian criminals

That’s right: Deutsche Bank, one of the largest and most important banks in the world, handling literally billions of dollars worth of business, received exchanges from Latvian banks implicated in money laundering AND lent money to Donald Trump. This is a wonderful new method of reporting, simply stating two completely unrelated incidents and hoping people make the connection themselves. It would allow headlines like:

Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite tooth-paste also used by Pol-Pot

Later in the article, they try REALLY hard to big-up the whole Trump-Russia thing:

Ties with Russia are a matter of acute sensitivity for Deutsche. In February, it emerged that Deutsche had secretly reviewed multiple loans made to President Trump by its private wealth division to see if there was a connection to Russia.

But are forced to admit:

Sources say the bank discovered no evidence of any Moscow link.

Just to put in context how completely inconsequential this information is – All five of the biggest banks in Britain have been “implicated” too, each will have a client/customer list literally millions of names long – some of those people will be famous. Obviously their doing business with a bank where money launderers also do business is meaningless.

From all over the world there have, so far, been 19 Russian banks, handfuls of banks in Moldova and Latvia and at least 2 German banks “implicated” in this “scheme”. In fact:

Deutsche Bank is one of dozens of western financial institutions that processed at least $20bn – and possibly more – in money of “criminal origin” from Russia.

“Dozens” of Western banks are possibly involved. Let’s hope the Guardian doesn’t reprint the same article, with a new headline, for every person each one of the “dozens” of banks lent money to.

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | | Leave a comment

Facebook expands roll-out of fact-checker in ‘fake news’ crackdown

RT | March 22, 2017

Facebook has expanded the roll-out of its fact-checker tool to combat ‘fake news’ as more users report the appearance of the ‘disputed’ message alert. The pop-up lets users know when a story’s accuracy is questionable before they share it.

Users in regions including the US have reported seeing the warning, advising them that “before you share this content, you might want to know that the fact-checking sites, Snopes.com and Associated Press disputed its accuracy.”

The alert then allows the user to share the story or cancel.

The tool is not yet in operation in all regions, with the UK, Ireland and Australia among countries so far known not to be seeing the alert when tested against a story known in some regions of the US to display the alert.

The alert first appeared earlier this month, when users reported a ‘disputed’ news tag appearing on stories deemed false by the organizations employed by Facebook to fact check.

Associated Press (AP), one of the fact checkers partnered with Facebook, published details last week on why a story on the alleged Irish slave trade was false. The story it’s based on is prompting the ‘disputed’ alert when users attempt to share it on Facebook.

Facebook announced the plan to crack down on ‘fake news’ last December, following unproven claims it contributed to the US presidential election result by providing a vehicle for questionable news sources.

The tech giant partnered with fact checkers including ABC News, FactCheck.org, AP, Snopes and Politifact as part of the plan.

READ MORE:

Facebook begins ‘fake news’ crackdown with ‘disputed’ story tag roll out

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | | Leave a comment

A Breach in the Anti-Putin Groupthink

By Gilbert Doctorow | Consortium News | March 21, 2107

Realistically, no major change in U.S. foreign and defense policy is possible without substantial support from the U.S. political class, but a problem occurs when only one side of a debate gets a fair hearing and the other side gets ignored or marginalized. That is the current situation regarding U.S. policy toward Russia.

For the past couple of decades, only the neoconservatives and their close allies, the liberal interventionists, have been allowed into the ring to raise their gloves in celebration of an uncontested victory over policy. On the very rare occasion when a “realist” or a critic of “regime change” wars somehow manages to sneak into the ring, they find both arms tied behind them and receive the predictable pounding.

While this predicament has existed since the turn of this past century, it has grown more pronounced since the U.S.-Russia relationship slid into open confrontation in 2014 after the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych and sparking a civil war that led Crimea to secede and join Russia and Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region to rise up in rebellion.

But the only narrative that the vast majority of Americans have heard – and that the opinion centers of Washington and New York have allowed – is the one that blames everything on “Russian aggression.” Those who try to express dissenting opinions – noting, for instance, the intervention in Ukrainian affairs by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland as well as the U.S.-funded undermining on Yanukovych’s government – have been essentially banned from both the U.S. mass media and professional journals.

When a handful of independent news sites (including Consortiumnews.com) tried to report on the other side of the story, they were denounced as “Russian propagandists” and ended up on “blacklists” promoted by The Washington Post and other mainstream news outlets.

An Encouraging Sign

That is why it is encouraging that Foreign Affairs magazine, the preeminent professional journal of American diplomacy, took the extraordinary step (extraordinary at least in the current environment) of publishing Robert English’s article, entitled “Russia, Trump, and a new Détente,” that challenges the prevailing groupthink and does so with careful scholarship.

In effect, English’s article trashes the positions of all Foreign Affairs’ featured contributors for the past several years. But it must be stressed that there are no new discoveries of fact or new insights that make English’s essay particularly valuable. What he has done is to bring together the chief points of the counter-current and set them out with extraordinary writing skills, efficiency and persuasiveness of argumentation. Even more important, he has been uncompromising.

The facts laid out by English could have been set out by one of several experienced and informed professors or practitioners of international relations. But English had the courage to follow the facts where they lead and the skill to convince the Foreign Affairs editors to take the chance on allowing readers to see some unpopular truths even though the editors now will probably come under attack themselves as “Kremlin stooges.”

The overriding thesis is summed up at the start of the essay: “For 25 years, Republicans and Democrats have acted in ways that look much the same to Moscow. Washington has pursued policies that have ignored Russian interests (and sometimes international law as well) in order to encircle Moscow with military alliances and trade blocs conducive to U.S. interests. It is no wonder that Russia pushes back. The wonder is that the U.S. policy elite doesn’t get this, even as foreign-affairs neophyte Trump apparently does.”

English’s article goes back to the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and explains why and how U.S. policy toward Russia was wrong and wrong again. He debunks the notion that Boris Yeltsin brought in a democratic age, which Vladimir Putin undid after coming to power.

English explains how the U.S. meddled in Russian domestic politics in the mid-1990s to falsify election results and ensure Yeltsin’s continuation in office despite his unpopularity for bringing on an economic Depression that average Russians remember bitterly to this day. That was a time when the vast majority of Russians equated democracy with “shitocracy.”

English describes how the Russian economic and political collapse in the 1990s was exploited by the Clinton administration. He tells why currently fashionable U.S. critics of Putin are dead wrong when they fail to acknowledge Putin’s achievements in restructuring the economy, tax collection, governance, improvements in public health and more which account for his spectacular popularity ratings today.

English details all the errors and stupidities of the Obama administration in its handling of Russia and Putin, faulting President Obama and Secretary of State (and later presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton for all of their provocative and insensitive words and deeds. What we see in U.S. policy, as described by English, is the application of double standards, a prosecutorial stance towards Russia, and outrageous lies about the country and its leadership foisted on the American public.

Then English takes on directly all of the paranoia over Russia’s alleged challenge to Western democratic processes. He calls attention instead to how U.S. foreign policy and the European Union’s own policies in the new Member States and candidate Member States have created all the conditions for a populist revolt by buying off local elites and subjecting the broad populace in these countries to pauperization.

English concludes his essay with a call to give détente with Putin and Russia a chance.

Who Is Robert English? 

English’s Wikipedia entry and biographical data provided on his University of Southern California web pages make it clear that he has quality academic credentials: Master of Public Administration and PhD. in politics from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He also has a solid collection of scholarly publications to his credit as author or co-editor with major names in the field of Russian-Soviet intellectual history.

He spent six years doing studies for U.S. intelligence and defense: 1982–1986 at the Department of Defense and 1986-88 at the U.S. Committee for National Security. And he has administrative experience as the Director of the USC School of International Relations.

Professor English is not without his political ambitions. During the 2016 presidential election campaign, he tried to secure a position as foreign policy adviser to Democratic hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders. In pursuit of this effort, English had the backing of progressives at The Nation, which in February 2016 published an article of his entitled “Bernie Sanders, the Foreign Policy Realist of 2016.”

English’s objective was to demonstrate how wrong many people were to see in Sanders a visionary utopian incapable of defending America’s strategic interests. Amid the praise of Sanders in this article, English asserts that Sanders is as firm on Russia as Hillary Clinton.

By the end of the campaign, however, several tenacious neocons had attached themselves to Sanders’s inner circle and English departed. So, one might size up English as just one more opportunistic academic who will do whatever it takes to land a top job in Washington.

While there is nothing new in such “flexibility,” there is also nothing necessarily offensive in it. From the times of Machiavelli if not earlier, intellectuals have tended to be guns for hire. The first open question is how skilled they are in managing their sponsors as well as in managing their readers in the public. But there is also a political realism in such behavior, advancing a politician who might be a far better leader than the alternatives while blunting the attack lines that might be deployed against him or her.

Then, there are times, such as the article for Foreign Affairs, when an academic may be speaking for his own analysis of an important situation whatever the political costs or benefits. Sources who have long been close to English assure me that the points in his latest article match his true beliefs.

The Politics of Geopolitics

Yet, it is one thing to have a courageous author and knowledgeable scholar. It is quite another to find a publisher willing to take the heat for presenting views that venture outside the mainstream Establishment. In that sense, it is stunning that Foreign Affairs chose to publish English and let him destroy the groupthink that has dominated the magazine and the elite foreign policy circles for years.

The only previous exception to the magazine’s lockstep was an article by University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer entitled “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” published in September 2014. That essay shot holes in Official Washington’s recounting of the events leading up to the Russian annexation of Crimea and intervention in the Donbass.

It was a shock to many of America’s leading foreign policy insiders who, in the next issue, rallied like a collection of white cells to attack the invasive thinking. But there were some Foreign Affairs readers – about one-third of the commenters – who voiced agreement with Mearsheimer’s arguments. But that was a one-time affair. Mearsheimer appears to have been tolerated because he was one of the few remaining exponents of the Realist School in the United States. But he was not a Russia specialist.

Foreign Affairs may have turned to Robert English because the editors, as insider-insiders, found themselves on the outside of the Trump administration looking in. The magazine’s 250,000 subscribers, which include readers from across the globe, expect Foreign Affairs to have some lines into the corridors of power.

In that regard, the magazine has been carrying water for the State Department since the days of the Cold War. For instance, in the spring issue of 2007, the magazine published a cooked-up article signed by Ukrainian politician Yuliya Tymoshenko on why the West must contain Russia, a direct response to Putin’s famous Munich speech in which he accused the United States of destabilizing the world through the Iraq War and other policies.

Anticipating Hillary Clinton’s expected election, Foreign Affairs’ editors did not hedge their bets in 2016. They sided with the former Secretary of State and hurled rhetorical bricks at Donald Trump. In their September issue, they compared him to a tin-pot populist dictator in South America.

Thus, they found themselves cut off after Trump’s surprising victory. For the first time in many years in the opening issue of the New Year following a U.S. presidential election, the magazine did not feature an interview with the incoming Secretary of State or some other cabinet member.

Though Official Washington’s anti-Russian frenzy seems to be reaching a crescendo on Capitol Hill with strident hearings on alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election, the underlying reality is that the neocons are descending into a fury over their sudden loss of power.

The hysteria was highlighted when neocon Sen. John McCain lashed out at Sen. Rand Paul after the libertarian senator objected to special consideration for McCain’s resolution supporting Montenegro’s entrance into NATO. In a stunning breach of Senate protocol, a livid McCain accused Paul of “working for Vladimir Putin.”

Meanwhile, some Democratic leaders have begun cautioning their anti-Trump followers not to expect too much from congressional investigations into the supposed Trump-Russia collusion on the election.

In publishing Robert English’s essay challenging much of the anti-Russian groupthink that has dominated Western geopolitics over the past few years, Foreign Affairs may be finally bending to the recognition that it is risking its credibility if it continues to put all its eggs in the we-hate-Russia basket.

That hedging of its bets may be a case of self-interest, but it also may be an optimistic sign that the martyred Fifteenth Century Catholic Church reformer Jan Hus was right when he maintained that eventually the truth will prevail.


Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | 1 Comment

Trump opens the Russia file, finally

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 21, 2017

The first half of April will witness the first major forays by the United States into the foreign policy arena under President Donald Trump. The summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping is slated for April 6-7 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. On April 12, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be visiting Moscow.

There is much heartburn already in Washington and in some European capitals that Trump administration is showing preference for big powers and is ‘ignoring old allies’. The lamentation is factually baseless. There have been a string of visits by leaders of allied powers to meet with Trump in the White House – Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Shinzo Abe and so on.

Interestingly, however, Tillerson showed disinterest in attending the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on April 5-6 and is instructing his deputy Tom Shannon to represent the US, pleading he will be preoccupied with Xi’s visit to Florida. The Reuters reported that NATO offered to re-schedule the Brussels meeting to suit Tillerson’s convenience, but that Washington ‘rebuffed’ the offer.

If so, it is a big statement on the Trump administration’s foreign-policy priorities. Possibly, Washington has decided to subject the alliance to a spell of benign neglect if only to show who calls the shots in the western alliance system. There were some testy exchanges between the US and Germany over Trump’s taunt against the backdrop of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent trip to the White House that “Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!” German Defense Minister Ursula von Der Leyen, a close associate of Merkel, promptly snapped back at Trump the next day saying, “There is no debt account at NATO.” (See my blog Trump hangs tough on Germany, eases on China.)

At any rate, the symbolism is profound when Tillerson signals that he has more important things to do than wasting time with NATO counterparts. The message Trump conveys here is that he doesn’t care to consult the NATO allies or to handle Russia ties on the basis of a unified policy toward Russia with the European allies. Trump would rather pursue US interests. In essence, it means he will not be held hostage by the European allies in the pursuit of his agenda to engage with Russia constructively and improve relations with Russia, western sanctions notwithstanding.

Interestingly, mutinous elements within the US state department – probably Obama-era holdovers – appear to have leaked the info regarding Tillerson’s intention to travel to Russia on April 12, presumably with a view to create a public controversy and somehow force the cancellation of the visit. (Guardian ) This, in turn, prompted the state department to formally announce on Monday within a few hours of the Reuters report that Tillerson proposes to travel to Moscow. It is extremely unusual for a VIP visit to be formally announced full 3 weeks in advance. In sum, Trump administration is creating a fait accompli. Curiously, Moscow learnt about Tillerson’s visit from the state department announcement!

In the Byzantine world of diplomacy, this presents itself indeed as one of those extraordinary spectacles where powerful interest groups or die-hard ideologues in Washington and holdovers from the Obama administration within the USG plus kindred souls in some European capitals — Britain and Germany, in particular — just do not want any easing of US-Russia tensions! They would rather have war drums beating! One is reminded of the famous slice of our own history in 1960 in Delhi when some of Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet colleagues demanded that the visiting Chinese Premier Chou-En Lai should not be allowed to have a private session with the then Defence Minister Krishna Menon, which, they feared, might lead to some amicable formula for border settlement! (Indira Gandhi apparently received Chou at Nehru’s reception at Teen Murti House clad in a Tibetan dress.)

Be that as it may, it seems Trump is beginning to force the pace of his foreign-policy agenda. What all this underscores is that Trump is finally asserting. His address to the US Congress, in retrospect, would have been the turning point. All the hoopla over the FBI investigation over alleged Russian interference in the November election in the US hasn’t affected him. Trump seems supremely confident of weathering the storm, and is going ahead on that basis.

One purpose of Tillerson’s visit to Moscow could be to prepare a summit meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | 1 Comment

‘Russiagate’ and the House Intelligence Committee

By Alexander Mercouris | The Duran | March 21, 2017

FBI Director Comey’s and NSA Director Rogers’s public testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on Monday 20th March 2017 cast some interesting light on the ‘Russiagate’ allegations, though these were not the ones the media has sought to emphasise.

Firstly, almost from the moment the House Intelligence Committee began its session, the establishment media as one chose to highlight Comey’s public confirmation that the FBI is investigating Russia’s alleged interference in the US election, and that this involves investigating allegations of collusion between some of President Trump’s associates and the Russians, as if this was a major revelation.

Suffice to say that this was the headline story in all the British newspapers on Monday and on the BBC, as well as in the Washington Post. The confirmation was called a ‘bombshell’, or at least a ‘setback’ for the President.

It should be said clearly that it was nothing of the sort.

The fact that the FBI is investigating Russia’s alleged interference in the elections, and that this involves investigating allegations of collusion between some of President Trump’s associates and the Russians, has been all over the media for months, in fact since long before the election. It would have been nothing short of ridiculous, and would have served no purpose, if Comey had refused to confirm that such an investigation was underway when he appeared publicly before the Committee, and it would have rendered his entire public appearance before the Committee completely pointless had he done so.

It should also be said clearly that the mere fact that an investigation is underway is not in itself proof that any crime or wrongdoing was committed or that any person is guilty of anything.  Comey made that very point in his testimony, and it is the reason why he – very properly – repeatedly refused to discuss individual cases. The way in which some sections of the media are trying to overturn the whole presumption of innocence by insinuating that the mere existence of an investigation is a sign of guilt, is actually shocking.

A far more important revelation to have come out of the Committee is that this is a counter-espionage not a crime investigation, and that it was (according to Comey) launched at the end of July 2016.

We can probably be a little more precise as to the precise date.  On 22nd July 2016 Wikileaks began publishing the DNC emails. On 25th July 2016 the FBI publicly confirmed that it was investigating the hack of the DNC’s computers (though in the event it never actually examined them). That suggests that the investigation was launched between those dates, ie. almost immediately after Wikileaks started publishing the DNC emails.

That is important since the US intelligence community did not publish its first assessment that Russia was behind the DNC and Podesta leaks before October 2016, and did not publish its final assessment until January 2017.

In other words someone decided between 22nd and 25th July 2016 – long before any intelligence assessments had been published blaming Russia, and directly after the DNC leaks appeared – that the Russians were responsible, and initiated an FBI counter-espionage investigation.

What this also means is that this investigation was underway throughout the critical weeks of the election, with Donald Trump’s associates, and quite possibly (indeed probably) Donald Trump himself, being investigated and monitored by the FBI and by other US intelligence agencies throughout the election period as part of a counter-espionage investigation.

There was no word at the House Intelligence Committee hearing of who was the person or persons who initiated the investigation, or what were the reasons for doing so before any intelligence assessments blaming the Russians had been published.

For the record, I will say that though Barack Obama was the President at the time, and would have been receiving any confidential intelligence assessments, I am sure he was not that person.

Despite the denials of physical wiretaps of Trump Tower, that an investigation and surveillance operation of at least some of Donald Trump’s associates and quite possibly of Donald Trump himself was underway during the election period is therefore now officially confirmed as fact, and is no longer subject to doubt.

I would add that since this was a counter-espionage investigation and not a crime investigation, it was and could be launched despite the fact that neither in July 2016 nor at any time since has there been any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of those US citizens who are being investigated and who might have been placed under surveillance.

We know this for a fact because numerous sources, including Devin Nunes, the Committee Chair who together with the other members of the Committee receives in private classified updates of the progress of the investigation, have told us as much.

One particular point constantly made by Hillary Clinton’s supporters – that Comey treated Hillary Clinton unfairly by making public the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server whilst concealing the ‘far more serious investigation’ of the contacts between Donald Trump’s associates and Russia – might as well be addressed at this point.

Hillary Clinton’s defenders who make this claim consistently underestimate the seriousness of the issue of her misuse of a private server. The key point anyway is that these are two completely different types of investigation.

The investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server was a crime investigation into a potential federal felony. The investigation into the contacts between Donald Trump’s associates and Russia falls under a counter-espionage investigation, in which they are not necessarily suspected of any crime or wrongdoing. Since this is a counter-espionage investigation whose subject is classified, and which has been brought in the absence of any suspicion of any crime or wrongdoing by any particular person, it would have been wholly wrong for Comey to disclose its existence until the Justice Department gave him permission to do so, which it only did just before his appearance before the Committee on Monday.

One other important fact came out of the Committee hearing.

The Republicans on the Committee have rallied behind the President, almost certainly because – as Nunes says – the investigation has produced no evidence of any crime or wrongdoing by anyone. Instead, to Comey’s obvious unease, they are refusing to let the question of who was responsible for the leaking of the classified information that destroyed General Flynn’s career rest.

Both Representative Schiff for the Democrats and Representative Gowdy for the Republicans set out in public for the Committee the persons who each believes should be investigated, in the one case for collusion with the Russians, in the other for leaking the information about General Flynn.

It should be stressed that in neither case has any evidence been published against any of these persons. Nunes and Gowdy have however correctly pointed out that in contrast to the claims about collusion with Russia, in the case of the leaking of classified information to destroy General Flynn there is no doubt that a federal felony was committed. That does make Gowdy’s list of names at least interesting

GOWDY: I guess what I’m getting at, Director Comey, is you say it’s vital, you say it’s critical, you say it’s indispensable. We both know it’s a threat to the reauthorization of 702 later on this fall. And by the way, it’s also a felony punishable by up to 10 years.

So how would you begin your investigation, assuming for the sake of argument that a U.S. citizen’s name appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times unlawfully. Where would you begin that investigation?

COMEY: Well, I’m not gonna talk about any particular investigation…

GOWDY: That’s why I said in theory.

COMEY: You would start by figuring out, so who are the suspects? Who touched the information that you’ve concluded ended up unlawfully in the newspaper and start with that universe and then use investigative tools and techniques to see if you can eliminate people, or include people as more serious suspects.

GOWDY: Do you know whether Director Clapper knew the name of the U.S. citizen that appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post ?

COMEY: I can’t say in this forum because again, I don’t wanna confirm that there was classified information in the newspaper.

GOWDY: Would he have access to an unmasked name?

COMEY: In — in some circumstances, sure, he was the director of national intelligence. But I’m not talking about the particular.

GOWDY: Would Director Brennan have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: In some circumstances, yes.

GOWDY: Would National Security Adviser Susan Rice have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: I think any — yes, in general, and any other national security adviser would, I think, as a matter of their ordinary course of their business.

GOWDY: Would former White House Advisor Ben Rhodes have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: I don’t know the answer to that.

GOWDY: Would former Attorney General Loretta Lynch have access to an unmasked U.S. citizen’s name?

COMEY: In general, yes, as would any attorney general.

GOWDY: So that would also include Acting AG Sally Yates?

COMEY: Same answer.

GOWDY: Did you brief President Obama on — well, I’ll just ask you. Did you brief President Obama on any calls involving Michael Flynn?

COMEY: I’m not gonna get into either that particular case that matter, or any conversations I had with the president. So I can’t answer that.

I have recently written that the true scandal of the 2016 US Presidential election is that under cover of a counter-espionage investigation cooked up through a wave of anti-Russian hysteria US citizens who had been accused of no wrongdoing were being investigated and placed under surveillance by the US’s intelligence and security agencies during the election. Despite all the evasions and qualifications that came from the Committee and from Comey and Rogers during the hearings, there is now official confirmation that this investigation and surveillance during this election actually took place.

What was interesting is that their questions about the leaks suggest that the Republicans on the Committee are beginning to see it this way, and are starting to look beyond the cloud of anti-Russian paranoia which has been blown up to confuse the issue. This is why they homed in on the question of who was behind the leaks that destroyed General Flynn.

As for the Democrats, they may also be starting to sense this as well. Glenn Greenwald thinks they are starting to have doubts about ‘Russiagate’, and I think he is right. That no doubt explains the frantic attempts of people like Schiff to keep ‘Russiagate’ going by conjuring up more and more claims against people like Manafort and Carter Page, who must by now have been investigated already. It may also explain some of the fantastic language some of the Democrats on the Committee resorted to.

Comey said that the FBI investigation is open-ended and has far to go. Given the stakes involved, I wonder whether it will report at all.

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment