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Germany, France struggle with resurgent Russia

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | December 30, 2018

A German-French joint statement on Friday regarding Ukraine condemned Russia and demanded the immediate release of the sailors detained following the so-called Kerch incident in November. Moscow hit back in equally strong language summarily rejecting the Franco-German demand.

The Franco-German motivation in provoking Russia remains unclear. Maybe, a combination of circumstances would be at play. There is frustration in Berlin and Paris that 2018 is ending with Moscow rather comfortably ensconced in the Ukraine situation. Ukraine is de facto divided into two separate nations with the one in Donbass under Moscow’s tutelage. Crimea’s annexation by Russia has become irreversible, too. In sum, the February 2014 coup in Kiev has turned out to be a disaster for the Western powers – by the idiom of steak cuts, Moscow got the best cuts, including the Porterhouse (Crimea).

By the way, Moscow announced on December 28 the completion of construction of a 60-kilometre fence on Crimea’s border with Ukraine.

The West, on the other hand, is saddled with a residual Ukraine that is more of a long-term liability – politically, militarily and financially. In geopolitical terms, the West’s tensions with Russia have become hopelessly complicated and the Black Sea, in particular, has turned into a contested region. In the Barack Obama era, the turn of events in 2014 might have had a greater logic insofar as the regime change in Ukraine (sponsored originally by the European Union and navigated to its climax by the US) became a pivotal moment in post-Cold War big-power politics.

It cemented the US’ transatlantic leadership, gave NATO a new sense of direction with Russia cast as “enemy”, thwarted (from the American perspective) Moscow’s predatorial diplomatic incursions into Europe, and galvanized Ukraine’s induction into the western alliance system, thereby taking a big leap forward in the US strategy to encircle Russia.

However, the best-laid plans under Obama have gone awry. To be sure, the Russian intervention in Syria in September 2015 would have been partly at least attributable to the tensions building up in Moscow’s ties with the West, with the Kremlin assessing that without a toehold in Syria, an effective Russian presence in the Mediterranean would be unsustainable. In turn, Russia forcefully reversed the tide of the Syrian conflict, weaned Turkey away from the western camp, forged a veritable alliance with Iran and established a permanent politico-military presence on the Middle Eastern landscape.

More importantly, Hillary Clinton failed to win the 2016 US presidential election to carry forward Obama’s Ukraine agenda to its logical conclusion of containment of Russia. Donald Trump, on the contrary, takes no real interest in a concerted Western strategy over Ukraine and it is even debatable whether he sees US interests at stake in Ukraine. Thus, despite the covert axis working actively – even proactively – between the Pentagon under James Mattis (who used to be a NATO commander himself) and the hardliners among the allies in Europe, Trump has remained disinterested in turning Ukraine into a flashpoint against Russia. Trump’s support for Kiev has been by far sub-optimal.

Conceivably, Mattis’ ouster as US defence secretary will demoralize the hardliners amongst the US’ European allies. Their sense of vulnerability vis-à-vis the resurgent Russia is only increasing. Indeed, Trump’s announcement on the withdrawal from Syria has also stunned them, as they fear the spectre of a triumphalist Russia on the march.

For both Germany and France, a piquant situation also arises because the US withdrawal from Syria will expose their own covert military intervention in Syria without any UN mandate, lacking legitimacy under international law. Ironically, there is danger that without Russian acquiescence, a cover-up of the war crimes committed by the German and French forces in Syria may get exposed in the coming period, causing huge discomfort to their carefully cultivated image as the paragon of the liberal international order. Reports in the Russian press have hinted that Moscow is in a position to expose the German and French war crimes in Syria.

Therefore, the German-French joint statement can be seen against the backdrop of the inflection point in Russia’s relations with Europe. What complicates matters is that German politics is in turmoil. Ukraine, no doubt, puts a dark spot on Merkel’s foreign-policy legacy, because she took a big hand personally to queer the pitch of the regime change in Kiev in 2014, but is today helplessly watching Ukraine’s steady degradation.

What are the options available with Paris and Berlin over Ukraine vis-à-vis Russia? The faultlines in their relations with Trump seriously weaken their capacity to cope with Russian resurgence. Besides, the resilience of the Franco-German axis in the post-Merkel European scenario itself remains to be seen. Although France is slated to assume the rotating presidency of the EU in January, the French President Emmanuel Macron’s political standing to lead Europe is far from convincing.

Paradoxically, the sanctions against Russia have deprived the European powers of the ability to leverage their influence with Moscow. Russia has survived the sanctions. According to a statement by the Russian energy minister Alexander Novak last week, Moscow got a windfall of additional income to the tune of $100 billion thanks to the OPEC+ matrix through the past two-year period. On the other hand, the success of the “Swamp” in Washington in blocking Trump’s plans to improve relations with Russia has only guaranteed that the Russian-American relations are in free fall. It seems unlikely that Trump will succeed in turning around the US-Russian relations in the coming two years of his presidential term. To be sure, if the Trump administration goes ahead with the jettisoning of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Treaty, European security will take a serious knock. All in all, as the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall approaches in next year, it seems that the victors and losers of the Cold War remain indeterminate.

December 30, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palestine urges international probe into Jerusalem excavations

MEMO | December 30, 2018

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has called for forming an international commission to investigate Israeli excavations in the occupied city of East Jerusalem and beneath the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

In a statement on Saturday, the ministry warned that the Israeli diggings pose a major threat to Palestinian houses in the occupied city.

“These excavations aim to cause cracks in Palestinian houses, with Israeli authorities ordering residents to leave these houses on the ground that they are not fit for living,” the ministry said.

The ministry went on to describe the Israeli eviction of Palestinians from their homes as a “large-scale, systematic ethnic cleansing”.

There was no comment from Israeli authorities on the ministry’s statement.

Israel refuses to allow access to UNESCO to examine the holy sites in East Jerusalem.

In July 2017, the UNESCO executive board adopted a resolution that slammed “the failure of the Israeli occupying authorities to cease the persistent excavations, tunneling, works, projects and other illegal practices in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law”.

The resolution further stated that “legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered – or purport to alter – the character and status of the holy city of Jerusalem… are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith”.

In 2016, UNESCO passed a resolution describing Jerusalem as an “occupied” city and Israel as an “occupying power”, which, under international law, has no sovereignty over the historic city.

The same resolution stated that Jerusalem’s Old City was “entirely Palestinian”, going on to emphasise its historical “Muslim and Christian” identity and heritage.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. In a move never recognised by the international community, it unilaterally annexed the entire city in 1980, claiming it as its “eternal and undivided” capital.

Read also:

Israel to spend $16.6 million on excavations under Al-Aqsa Mosque

December 30, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Guns or Butter: Neocons Want More Weapons less Government Services

By Philip Giraldi | American Herald Tribune | December 30, 2018

It is one of the great ironies that the United States, which is not actually threatened by any foreign power, maintains a ruinously expensive and globally destructive national security policy that is based on fear. It can be argued that Washington was at least briefly a force for stability and good governance in the aftermath of the Second World War when much of Europe and Asia were in ruins, but America’s interference in the internal politics of other nations has, most particularly in the past twenty years, borne bitter fruit. The argument being made that the U.S. national security mandates “forward defense” by maintaining a string of overseas bases and outdated alliances has been proven wrong again and again as allies have proven feckless and countries that would otherwise be friendly have chafed and then rebelled under America’s imposed leadership role.

President and General Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned in 1961 about the developing military-industrial-complex (MIC), which he had originally dubbed the military-industrial-congressional complex before accepting that he would need legislative help if he were to reverse the seemingly inexorable spending on weapons and expansion of overseas military bases. In the event, Ike’s warning went unheeded and, more recently, the expected “peace dividend” that might have developed from the end of the Cold War in 1991 was wasted when the Clinton Administration recklessly enabled the looting of the former Soviet Union’s natural resources while also expanding the no longer needed NATO alliance up to the Russian border.

Many politicians and industrialists who directly benefit from the spending on the military are largely to blame for propagating the myth that the United States is vulnerable to enemy attack. One only has to recall the panic when Moscow launched a satellite into orbit in 1957 and then there was the essentially fraudulent “Soviet Estimate” by the intelligence community which persisted in overrating Russian military capabilities and the strength of the Soviet Union’s economy. Having a powerful enemy was a sine qua non for those who wished to profit from “defense” spending.

The situation currently is somewhat different than that which prevailed during most of the post-World War 2 era. To be sure, the spending on weapons has continued at a ruinous level but the enemy has changed. Russia is back as a major threat due to the seemingly endless investigations into the 2016 election that have been dubbed “Russiagate,” but it has been joined by China, which is being seen at the major “over the horizon” enemy. And there is also the ubiquitous non-state player “Islamic terrorism” as well as Iran for good measure to keep the money flowing.

It would not be completely fatuous to suggest that the list of all of America’s presumed enemies is at least somewhat contrived. And it is also important to note that the identification of enemies for most Americans depends on the mainstream media, which is now closely linked to corporate and government interests so as to be incapable of independent inquiry or investigation. The impact of a tame media is significant: during the Vietnam War the press was highly critical and hammered the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration. Since then, reporters are embedded and the stories they are allowed to write, are generally puff pieces because to report the truth would make them lose their access.

A recent article that appeared in The Washington Post perfectly illustrates how the newspaper is selling a product that fearmongers to sustain more military spending. It is entitled Wake up. America’s military isn’t invincible, written by regular columnist Robert J. Samuelson.

The article begins with “The most uncovered story in Washington these days is the loss of U.S. military power — a lesson particularly important in light of recent events: the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; President Trump’s rash decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria; North Korea’s announcement that it will keep nuclear weapons after all; and alleged massive computer hacking by Chinese nationals.”

Now, right off the bat, Samuelson’s argument can be challenged. “Loss of U.S. military power” if it can be quantified at all has nothing to do with Mattis or Syria, nor with North Korea or China. Or even with Donald Trump, who has increased the armed services budget, though one should presume that the president is the ultimate target of the article given that it has appeared in the Post.

Samuelson makes his case by citing defense modernization programs in China and Russia and “advances” in Iran and North Korea that undercut U.S. military capabilities. He refers to a recent report of the congressional National Defense Strategy Commission (NDSC), which identifies specific areas in which Russia and China have upgraded their capabilities and quotes “If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency or China in a war over Taiwan . . . Americans could face a decisive military defeat.” The report concludes that “America has reached the point of a full-blown national security crisis.”

The possible armed conflicts cited by Samuelson are, of course, carefully chosen to produce a desired result. Confronting Russia or China in their home waters thousands of miles away from the U.S. gives all the advantage to the defense, which will be able to operate on interior lines and maximize available land, sea, and air forces. And the NDSC report itself is suspect, designed to promote a certain point of view. Its authors are top heavy with retired senior military officers and defense industry “experts” who have a personal interest in more spending on weapons.

Samuelson also cites fellow Post columnist Max Boot, writing that he had “done a great favor by publicizing the report.” He quotes Boot: “Air superiority, which the United States has taken for granted since World War II, is no longer assured. And, without control of the skies, U.S. ships and soldiers would be [highly] vulnerable.” Boot,  sometimes referred to as the Man Who Has Never Been Right About Anything is, of course, a neocon mouthpiece who is in favor of war all the time and nearly everywhere, particularly if Israel is involved. He characteristically, like Samuelson, fancies himself as an expert on national security even though he has never served in the armed forces. His “air superiority” mantra is ridiculous as it would seem to suggest that the U.S. should be able to “control the skies” everywhere simultaneously, which is impossible. And he ignores the fact that the United States uniquely has 19 aircraft carriers which can project air power to anywhere in the world.

Samuelson goes on to condemn what he calls “unwise cuts in defense spending” and cites a 12% decline in spending on the military between 2010 and 2015 as well as a decline in the “defense” share of the GDP from 1960 until 2017. Both figures come from the NDSC report. He does not, however, mention that the current defense budget is larger than the military spending of the next eight countries combined, to include both China and Russia.

Samuelson, doing a great impersonation of ex-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, blames the lack of money for the Pentagon on “the American welfare state — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and the like.” He advocates cutting “welfare” to buy more and better weapons. He then goes on to liken the current situation to that existing before World War 2, when Adolph Hitler’s Germany rearmed while England and France did nothing. The analogy is not exactly correct as, when war broke out, France alone fielded an army greater than Germany’s, but it’s always reassuring to have Hitler cited yet again in a neocon op-ed.

Samuelson concludes with the obligatory slap at Trump: “We need to keep our commitments — Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from Syria devalues our word. And we need to repair our alliances,” but one might well opine that there is something seriously wrong with that kind of thinking, where guns always take precedence over butter. Government exists to benefit the citizens that together make up the state, not to meddle in the affairs of other nations and peoples worldwide.

The selling of America the All-Powerful is a bit of a con job promoted by neocons like Samuelson and Boot but we do not need to send tens of thousands of young Americans overseas to give “value to our word.” We do not need to enter into pointless wars in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. We do need an America that is at peace with itself and which is willing to be strong and brave enough to realize that real security will come when the United States is no longer the world’s designated bully. Let’s consider a New Year’s wish to see a 2019 where the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen finally come home and where scribblers like Samuelson and Boot find themselves unemployed.

December 30, 2018 Posted by | Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Russophobia | , , , , | Leave a comment

Iran arrests corrupt evangelists in Alborz Province

Press TV – December 30, 2018

Iranian authorities have arrested four members of a Zionist group engaging in corrupt evangelism and promotion of a falsified version of Christianity in the province of Alborz.

“These people were in systematic contact with elements based outside the country, and spread corrupt Christian beliefs and ideas,” Tasnim news agency reported on Saturday.

The agency said the Christian faithful in Alborz had officially protested against the propagation of the falsified Christian cultism throughout the province.

The arrests came following the detention of five members of the group in the province on Wednesday.

According to Tasnim, they engaged in misleading the people of faith, including Muslims, by setting up cults and home churches.

Zionists and evangelical extremists have historically found good friends in each other as they have targeted practicing Jews and Christians.

Describing the bad influence of Zionism on Judaism, a US-based rabbi told Press TV in late October that Zionists had “hijacked the identity” of Jews in favor of their goals.

Rabbi Dovid Weiss said they were pushing ahead with their policy of grabbing Palestinian properties “in the name of the Jewish people and the Jewish religion.”

According to the Islamic constitution of Iran, churches, synagogues and temples of divine religions are officially recognized and are free to operate and serve their congregations.

Iran has the biggest Jewish population of any country in the Middle East outside Israel and one of the biggest Christian communities in the region.

They have lived side by side with other Iranians for millennia and freely practiced their religions.

Iran’s Armenians and Assyro-Chaldeans, who practice Christianity, as well as its Jews and Zoroastrians are each represented by their lawmakers in the parliament.

December 30, 2018 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , | Leave a comment

Israel arrested 5,700 Palestinians, 980 children in 2018

MEMO | December 29, 2018

Israel arrested 5,700 Palestinians in 2018, including 980 children and 175 women, the Palestine Prisoners’ Centre for Studies announced yesterday.

Director of the centre Riyadh Al-Ashqar said that the Israeli occupation continued its violations against Palestinian prisoners in clear violation of international law, Quds Net News reported. As evidence of this violation, Al-Ashqar cited Israel’s daily detention campaigns, severe torture – including beating prisoners with batons and rifle butts – as well as raiding prisoners’ cells, confiscating their belongings, isolating them under harsh conditions and issuing vengeful sentences against them.

Al-Ashqar noted that Israeli occupation forces this year detained several children under the age of ten, including 3-year-old Durgham Maswada who in March was detained in the Old City of Hebron, in the south of the occupied West Bank.

He also noted that the 175 women detained, including the elderly, wounded, journalists, academics and university professors, as well as 14 female minors. In addition, Al-Ashqar said that 1,300 of the imprisoned men were ex-detainees, while 150 were disabled – including 53-year-old Ali Hannoun who is blind.

In addition, Israel’s military courts issued 920 administrative detention orders against women, children and politicians, Al-Ashqar said. One of the most prominent detainees was 92-year-old Ali Al-Haj who was arrested from his home earlier this year.

December 29, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , | 1 Comment

Israel demolished 538 homes, facilities in West Bank in 2018

Palestinian boys watch Israeli excavators demolish an allegedly unauthorised Palestinian apartment block in E. Jerusalem, 1 May 2018 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]
MEMO | December 29, 2018

Israel demolished 538 Palestinian homes and facilities across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem in 2018, leaving 1,300 Palestinians and 225 children homeless.

A report issued yesterday by the Abdullah Al-Hurani Centre – an affiliate of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) – stressed that these demolitions were carried out in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international laws.

In the report, the centre said that Israel “continues its policy of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem,” pointing out that, in addition to the demolitions, Israel had issued 460 “stop-building orders” during the same period.

Israel’s Civil Administration – which carries out Israeli policy in the occupied West Bank – issued a military order to demolish all the targeted buildings less than 30 days before the demolition was carried out, a move the centre sees as aiming to cut short the possibility of appealing such orders.

The report also documented the demolition or closure of 12 Palestinian schools and kindergartens built by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.

December 29, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | 2 Comments

Persecution & intimidation: Fate of Russians in US prisons casts shadow on American justice system

© (top left) Viktor Bout / Reuters / Damir Sagolj; (top right) A placard with an image of Konstantin Yaroshenko / Sputnik;
(bottom left) Maria Butina / Reuters / Alexandria Sheriff’s Office; (bottom right) Family photo of Roman Seleznyov / AFP
RT | December 29, 2018

As Washington continues detentions of Russians across the world the plight of those, who have already fallen into the clutches of the US authorities, raises suspicion about the true colors of the US justice system.

In mid-December, yet another Russian citizen was detained outside of Russia’s borders – this time in Finland – at the request of the United States, marking the latest episode in what the Russian Foreign Ministry decried as a “de-facto hunt” for the Russians on a global scale.

The news about the arrest of a Russian woman in Finland, who was placed in a “male” detention center and reportedly complained of poor conditions, came just days after a long-time Russian prisoner jailed in the US revealed that he was offered various favors, including a Green Card for his family in exchange for accusing the Russian government of corruption.

These developments shed light on how the US justice works, at least when it comes to Russians. RT looks at some of the high-profile cases, involving Russian citizens who have been detained or imprisoned in the US.

1. Viktor Bout

A businessman jailed in the US on accusations of being an international arms dealer, Viktor Bout, is one of the Russians who has spent the longest period of time in a US prison in recent history. He has been in custody for a decade now, after being arrested in 2008 in Thailand during a sting operation. He was convicted in the US in 2012 on a charge of conspiring to kill American citizens, by selling weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and was handed a 25-year sentence.

The businessman himself has denied accusations. As the scandal developed he’s been in the media spotlight. While talking to reporters he spoke about life in the US high-security prison claiming that a maximum-security prison he is in spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on every prisoner from the US budget. Nevertheless, the conditions in the facility leave much to be desired and “nobody ever investigated” why the cost is so high, he said.

Bout was also highly critical of the US justice system by calling it a “cheap farce” and saying that the only reason behind his incarceration was to “intimidate other Russians”. It was also him, who said that the US offered him a deal in exchange for “telling the US authorities about corruption in the Kremlin.”

Still, he remains full of optimism and says that yoga, learning foreign languages and anecdotes keep him in good shape both physically and mentally.

2. Konstantin Yaroshenko

Other Russian citizens faced a much more ghastly fate and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot arrested in Liberia back in 2010, is one of them. Detained as a result of another US sting operation, Yaroshenko was accused of participating in a plan to smuggle drugs into the US and was handed down a 20-year sentence in 2011, which he has been serving ever since.

Yaroshenko has always insisted that he is completely innocent and that the whole process was part of a scheme by US agents to extract evidence against Bout. He also repeatedly complained about the conditions he was held in. He claimed he had been denied medical assistance despite health problems and was tortured by the prosecutors.

In May 2018, he told his wife by phone that his health problems could be due to deliberate poisoning. He also said he was put in a disciplinary cell for 30 days despite serious health issues. “He said he was tired of the torments and that 30 days in the disciplinary cell would kill him, he would not walk out of it alive,” she told reporters. His lawyer, meanwhile, assumed that it might have been punishment for talking to the Russian media.

Moscow has repeatedly urged Washington to pardon Yaroshenko but the US rejected any appeals.

3. Maria Butina

A pro-gun rights activist, Maria Butina, has become one of the latest Russian citizen jailed in the US in a high-profile case. Living in the US on a student visa, she was arrested in mid-July in the middle of the hunt for “Russian agents” and accused of secretly working for the Russian government as an unregistered lobbyist.

While being far from a dangerous criminal, Moscow said that Butina faced unnecessarily harsh treatment during her pre-trial detention. She was kept in solitary confinement for months, denied medical help and “subjected to a kind of torture,” as the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov put it.

While initially pleading not guilty, Butina, who faced up to 15 years in jail, then changed her mind and agreed to strike a deal with prosecutors. Lavrov then said that he had “reasons to believe” the conditions she was kept in were “intended to break her will and make her confess to something she likely didn’t do.”

4. The hunt for ‘Russian hackers’

In recent years, the US also started a real hunt for those it called the ‘Russian hackers.’ About half a dozen Russian programmers were arrested in various corners of the world upon similar US requests and were all accused of various cybercrimes.

Roman Seleznyov, the son of Russian MP Valery Seleznyov, was arrested as he was on holiday in the Maldives in 2014. He was accused of being involved in bank fraud, obtaining information from protected computerized cash registers and aggravated identity theft.

Seleznyov has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. The man was held in prison even before trial despite his lawyer arguing that his client did not represent any danger to society. “This case does not involve an act of terrorism. It does not involve an act of war,” the lawyer said at that time.

Seleznyov was eventually sentenced to 27 and 14 years in two separate cases. Both sentences will run concurrently.

A similar fate befell programmer Pyotr Levashov, accused by US prosecutors of being the mastermind behind a large bot net. He was extradited to the US from Spain in February 2018 and initially pleaded not guilty to all 8 counts against him.

He also said his life would be in danger if Spanish authorities complied with the US extradition request, and afraid that he might face torture in the US “in order to extract Russian secrets.” Just seven months later, he pleaded guilty. His trial is scheduled for September 2019. Until then, he will still stay in prison.

Another Russian programmer, Stanislav Lisov, was extradited to the US from Spain in January 2018 and has been held in the Metropolitan correction center in New York.

The FBI claims that Lisov was the creator and administrator of NeverQuest, a banking trojan that has defrauded thousands of people, and cost the US some $5 million. Lisov denied all accusations and said that he just provided tech support for websites. He also said he was long kept in the dark about the real charges and was asked if he “broke into the Pentagon” or the FBI or the CIA.

His wife told RT before his extradition that she and her husband were “ninety-percent certain that the case is politically motivated.” In October, his lawyer told the Russian Izvestia daily that Lisov, 32, could get a “de-facto life sentence” even though the maximum sentence in his case could not exceed 25 years.

These are just some examples. As many as 54 Russians were held in US prisons in 2017, according to the data provided by the US Federal Bureau of prisons to RT. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has, in turn, condemned the US for “acting on the sly” and simply “abducting” the Russian citizens during their travels abroad.

Although almost all the cases against the Russians in the US do look like simple criminal proceedings, the circumstances surrounding these cases still leave many questions about whether they were solely about the pursuit of justice.

December 29, 2018 Posted by | Russophobia | , , , | Leave a comment

Gefälschte Nachrichten

ZMAN | December 23, 2018

Last week, the German publication Der Spiegel was forced to fire its star performer, when it was revealed he was a fabulist. Claas Relotius had written for the publication for close to a decade. He had been handed several awards by other media organs. His exposure as a serial fabricator was the result of his piece on the small town of Fergus Falls Minnesota, after the 2016 election. The thrust of his story was that rural America voted for Trump, because it is full of xenophobic weirdos and economic losers.

His mistake was to pick on a small town in the age of the internet. The yokels were able to look up the article and compare his version of reality with their own. More important, they could go to a popular platform and post their reactions to his article, so the world could then compare his work to reality. Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn, who live in Fergus Falls, posted their analysis of the article on Medium. Eventually, it took over a year, Der Spiegel was forced to address the issue publicly.

In Germany, this is quite a scandal in media circles, because Der Spiegel is like their version of New York Times. That is, it positions itself as the official arbiter of truth, with regards to public morality. They not only decide what is true, they decide which truths can be said. Worse yet for them, they have been bragging about their fact checking for a long time. As a result of this tent pole toppling over, the German media is scrambling to convince everyone that it is an isolated incident, not a system failure.

The amusing bit is the German media is rushing around looking puzzled, as to how the vaunted fact checking system could have failed. After all, the best people are in control of the media. How could the best people have made such basic errors? As is the case in America, whenever these things happen, the media hand-wringing is just a dodge. What really concerns them is how easy it was for two bumpkins from dirt country to sluice out the facts from the fiction in this particular article.

That’s always the thing with these scandals. The media big shots always come off as if they have been insulted about their shenanigans being revealed. In this case, the other major media outfits are rallying to defend Der Spiegel. In the dreaded private sector, competitors are always quick to take advantage of the mistakes of a competitor. In the main stream media, the opposite is always true. They circle the wagons and begin lecturing the hoi polloi about the dangers of questioning the media.

That is the real cause of these scandals. For a long time, the mass media in the West has been a mono-culture. You can’t have a career in the media if you don’t hold all the right opinions. To call the media an echo chamber for the left is to understate the problem. The better analogy is a school of fish. Each individual just reacts to those around him, giving the effect of the school having agency as a whole. What looks like collusion is just the result of a uniformity of mind, experience and social class.

That’s why no one at Der Spiegel, or anywhere else in the German media, noticed the fraudulence of Claas Relotius. He was writing the things his coevals and superiors said at luncheons, cocktail parties and in the office. His story about slack-jawed yokels in the American heartland ticked all the boxes popular with the left-wing cultural outlook. He was not sent there to report on the place. He was sent there to confirm what his employers already knew about Middle American and Trump voters.

This is why Western media is something worse than propaganda. The person hired by the state or hired by the corporate marketing department has self-awareness. They know their job is to polish the apple of their superiors. The tricks they employ to do that are done with knowledge and forethought. The guy telling the public that his employer, the pesticide company, is deeply concerned about the environment does so knowing full well that no one believes him, including his family.

The media is a different thing. They really believe their own nonsense. They think they are part of a special class of human, a priestly class that not only reports facts to the public, but provides moral instruction. The mass media is so intoxicated by their own self-righteousness, they lack the ability to question their own actions. When Claas Relotius came back from the bush, reporting exactly what his bosses knew was the case, they had no reason to question it. It was too good to check.

December 29, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Progressive Hypocrite | | Leave a comment

Irony alert: Firm that warned Americans of Russian bots… was running an army of fake Russian bots

By Danielle Ryan | RT | December 29, 2018

The co-founders of cybersecurity firm New Knowledge warned Americans in November to “remain vigilant” in the face of “Russian efforts” to meddle in US elections. This month, they have been exposed for doing just that themselves.

Ryan Fox and Jonathan Morgan, who run the New Knowledge cybersecurity company which claims to “monitor disinformation” online, penned a foreboding op-ed in the New York Times on November 6, about “the Russians” and their nefarious efforts to influence American elections.

At the time, it struck me that Fox and Morgan’s reasoning seemed a little far-fetched. For example, one of the pieces of evidence presented to prove that Russia had targeted American elections was that lots of people had posted links to RT’s content online. Hardly a smoking gun worthy of a Times oped.

Morgan and Fox, intrepid cyber sleuths that they are, claimed in the article they had detected more “overall activity” from ongoing Russian influence campaigns than social media companies like Facebook and Twitter had yet revealed — or that other researchers had been able to identify.

The New Knowledge guys even authored a Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russia’s alleged efforts to mess with American democracy. They called it a “propaganda war against American citizens.” Impressive stuff. They must be really good at their job, right?

This week, however, we learned that New Knowledge was running its own disinformation campaign (or “propaganda war against Americans,” you could say), complete with fake Russian bots designed to discredit Republican candidate Roy Moore as a Russia-preferred candidate when he was running for the US senate in Alabama in 2017.

The scheme was exposed by the New York Times — the paper that just over a month earlier published that aforementioned oped, in which Fox and Morgan pontificated about Russian interference online.

New Knowledge created a mini-army of fake Russian bots and fake Facebook groups. The accounts, which had Russian names, were made to follow Moore. An internal company memo boasted that New Knowledge had “orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”

Moore lost the race by 1.5 percent. To be fair, accusations published by the Washington Post that he pursued underage girls back in the 1980s may have had something to do with it as well, but that’s a different story.

Of course, New Knowledge and even the New York Times, which blew the lid of the operation, are trying to spin this as some kind of “small experiment” during which they “imitated Russian tactics” online to see how they worked. Just for research, of course. They have also both claimed that the scheme, dubbed ‘Project Birmingham’ had almost no effect on the outcome of the race.

The money for the so-called research project came from Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, who contributed $750,000 to American Engagement Technologies (AET), which then spent $100,000 on the New Knowledge experiment. After the scheme was exposed, Hoffman offered a public apology, saying he didn’t know exactly how the money had been used and admitting that the tactics were “highly disturbing.”

If people like Fox and Morgan actually cared about so-called Russian meddling or the integrity of American elections, they would not have run the deceptive campaign against Moore, no matter how undesirable he was as a candidate. Their sneaky and deceitful methods are in total contrast to the public profile they have cultivated for themselves as a firm fighting the good fight for the public good. But is it really that much of a surprise?

You would think that a newspaper like the New York Times would have cottoned on to the fact that guys like Fox and Morgan, with their histories in the US military and intelligence agencies, have clear agendas and are not exactly squeaky clean or the most credible sources of information when it comes to anything to do with Russia. But that kind of insight or circumspection might be too much to ask for in the age of Russiagate.

Facebook removed Morgan’s account on Saturday for “engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior” around the Alabama election. Three days after publishing its initial article on the scandal (the one in which it played down the effects of New Knowledge’s disinfo campaign), the New York Times published a follow-up piece about the Facebook removal, in which it admitted that the controversy would be a “stinging embarrassment” for the social media researcher, noting that he had been a “leading voice” against supposed Russian disinformation campaigns.

In Fox and Morgan’s original NYT oped, they warned of the ubiquitous “Russia-linked social media accounts” and estimated that “at least hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions” of US citizens had engaged with them online. One must now wonder, were they including their own fake Russian bots in that count, or were they leaving those ones out?

It’s nearly two years into the Trump presidency and still we have no solid evidence that the Russian “collusion” theory is anything more than a fantasy concocted by Democrats desperate to provide a more palatable reason for Hillary Clinton’s loss than the fact that she simply ran a bad campaign.

In fact, at this point, we actually have more solid and irrefutable evidence of election meddling from the likes of dodgy American and British companies like Cambridge Analytica and New Knowledge than we do of any meddling orchestrated by Russia.

Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, teleSUR, RBTH, The Calvert Journal and others. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleRyanJ

Also on rt.com:

The only ‘Russian bots’ to meddle in US elections belonged to Democrat-linked ‘experts’

LinkedIn billionaire ‘sorry’ for funding ‘Russian bot’ disinformation campaign against Roy Moore

December 29, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , | Leave a comment

Argentina: Milagro Sala to Run for Governor of Jujuy in 2019

teleSur | December 28, 2018

Sala was recently acquitted of attempted murder, an accusation she claims is politically motivated.

Activist and Indigenous leader Milagro Sala, now in detention, has announced she will run in the 2019 regional elections for governor of Jujuy province, northern Argentina.

“I have the intention of competing against Gerardo Morales in the elections,” said Sala during a radio interview on Thursday.

Sala said she wants to improve the living conditions of the people of Jujuy, where she says there’s “no democracy or freedom, only hunger.”

The activist was unanimously acquitted of attempted murder on Thursday in the ‘Shooting of Azopardo’ case, from October 27, 2007. Sala celebrated the verdict and thanked the judges for not succumbing to government pressure.

Morales, Jujuy’s incumbent governor, described the court’s decision to acquit the activist as “shameful.”

“The ruling acquitting two criminals such as Milagro Sala and Beto Cardozo is shameful,” Morales wrote on Twitter.

“If there’s something that the people of Jujuy know about is the violence they committed and how much they stole. The struggle against impunity continues.”

Sala is one of the founders and leaders of the Tupac Amaru Neighborhoods’ Organization, providing housing and other services to informal workers and working-class sectors since 1999.

She is also being investigated for alleged illicit association, fraud and extortion, crimes she was charged with days after being detained in early 2016 for allegedly instigating violence during a protest against Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales, which she didn’t attend.

The case is known as the “Pibes Villeros” and Sala claims it’s political persecution “to discipline the leaders and the opposition,” as she told teleSUR in October.

Tupac Amaru Neighborhoods’ Organization claims the persecution against Sala is “politically motivated.”

The activist has expressed multiple times her intentions to participate in the regional elections in Jujuy. In 2017, while she was under house arrest, Sala said she would like to run against Morales “as equals, not from prison while he is ruling over everything here in Jujuy.”

Sala served as an Argentine legislator between 2013 and 2015 and was later elected to Mercosur’s Parliament (Parlasur), prior to her arrest in 2016 for allegedly instigating violence against the state.

December 29, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

Christmas 2018: Iran and Syria show respect, Israel and Saudi Arabia don’t

By Neil Clark | RT | December 29, 2018

Christmas is a time of goodwill to all men. Or at least it should be. But while the West’s Middle East ‘bad guys’ Iran and Syria, showed the Yuletide spirit, its closest allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel, failed to do so.

Iran is demonized by Western neocons and we’re meant to see the country as an evil, ‘monster‘ regime of foaming-at-the-mouth religious fanatics who hate everyone.

So it goes against the dominant narrative somewhat that Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted a Christmas message and wished ‘peace and joy to all in 2019’, on Christmas Eve.

It also goes against the narrative, that Zarif, back in September, wished Jews, in Iran and across the world, “a very Happy New Year filled with peace and harmony.”

We’re told repeatedly that the Iranian ‘regime’ is ‘anti-Semitic’, but do ‘anti-Semites’ wish Jews a happy ‘Rosh Hashanah’? If so, it’s a rather strange definition.

The Iranian Foreign Minister also tweeted on December 26 a message of goodwill to Iran’s Zoroastrian community.

Contrast this consideration to people of different faiths from Tehran, with the lack of congratulations on other religious holidays from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A week before Iran’s Foreign Minister was tweeting positively about Jesus, the KSA’s Customs Authority was also on the social media platform, confirming that Christmas trees were banned from entering the Kingdom for the festive season.

In fact, despite the large number of Christians from other countries who work in the country, including many Britons, the holding of any Christmas-related services or commemorations in Saudi Arabia is strictly banned. “The Christmas season – often a season where Christians around the world are most visible – is a tense time for Christians in Saudi Arabia, who have to celebrate the holiday in secret, risking arrest and deportation,” said Jeff King, President of the International Christian Concern, in 2016.

Imagine being a Christian and not being able to openly celebrate the birth of Christ. It happens in Saudi Arabia, yet Western leaders, so keen to lecture others about ‘human rights’ and ‘religious freedom’ stay silent, preferring to pick on Iran – where Christmas can be openly celebrated.

Syria is another country ‘monstered’ by the endless war lobby but where, against all the odds, the Christmas spirit is still maintained. Big seasonal celebrations were held this year in Aleppo and Damascus. Remember Aleppo?

It was recaptured by the Syrian Arab Army from Islamist ‘rebels’ two years ago this month, and the neocon/’liberal interventionist’ commentariat, and most of the political class portrayed it as a most terrible thing. Ian Austin MP said that people in Aleppo faced ‘slaughter’.

John Woodcock MP called the Morning Star newspaper ‘traitorous scum’ for referring to the recapture of Aleppo by Syrian forces of their own territory, as a ‘liberation’. But if you look at the pictures of Christians celebrating Christmas there once again, which they were forbidden to do under the western-backed head-chopping ’rebels’ you can see that the ‘L’ word was indeed appropriate.

This year in Damascus though, the festive celebrations were defiled by another act of aggression against Syria from a Western-supported-country, one which incidentally Ian Austin and John Woodcock have been Parliamentary ‘Friends’ of.

On the evening of December 25, loud explosions could be heard seven miles from the center of Damascus. Russia’s Defense Ministry said that Israel’s Christmas Day F-16 strikes endangered two civilian flights – as well as injuring three personnel at the logistics compound.

Whatever your stance is on Middle Eastern affairs – and leaving aside the illegality of the operation whenever it took place – the question is: did Israel really have to bomb Syria on Christmas Day?

Would Israel’s ’security’ have been lessened if the raid had taken place on December 28 and not the 25th? Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did tweet Christmas greetings out to ‘Christian friends’ in Israel and around the world on December 24, but why did his forces attack a country where Christians were celebrating one day later?

Just imagine the enormous outcry if Russia had carried out air strikes on Ukrainian targets on the evening of 25th December. In fact, the US magazine Newsweek, doing its best to ratchet up East-West tensions still further, predicted such an event only last week. They published an article on Christmas Eve which began with the words “As people in Western Europe and the United States get comfortable for the holidays, the chances increase that Russia will take advantage of the distraction to launch attacks against its neighbor Ukraine, experts said.”

And who are these ’experts’, I hear you ask. Well, guess what, they were all from the Atlantic Council.

The ‘experts’, surprise surprise, were wrong. The ‘monster’ Russia did not launch attacks on Ukraine over Christmas. But Israel did attack Syria – and there was silence from those who would have screeched very loudly (and be calling for RT to be taken off the air immediately) if the Kremlin had ordered such a sacrilegious act.

Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) were also busy bombing on Christmas Day. The genocidal group carried out suicide bomb attacks on Libya’s Foreign Ministry in Tripoli on Tuesday morning, killing three and leaving over half-a-dozen injured.

One doesn’t expect IS to respect Christmas, but you would expect Western leaders – of predominantly Christian nations to regard the group as public enemy number one. Yet in Syria, the US and its allies welcomed the group’s growth precisely because it threatened the secular, Christian-protecting government of Bashar al-Assad. A declassified US intelligence report from August 2012 predicted the establishment of a “Salafist principality in Eastern Syria” and said that this is “exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Furthermore, in a leaked tape recording the former Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that the US allowed IS to expand its territory to threaten Damascus.

At the same time, those fighting IS, and other al-Qaeda-linked death squads in Syria, namely the Syrian Arab Army, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, have been ‘monstered’ by the West and its regional allies’ propaganda machines.

Reflect on this: It wasn’t Syrian, Russia, Iranian or Hezbollah forces or followers who slaughtered British and other Western holiday-makers on the beach in Tunisia in 2015 – but an IS terrorist who is thought to have trained at a jihadist camp in neighboring Libya and whose government had been forcibly toppled by NATO powers four years earlier. Similarly, it wasn’t Syrian, Russian, Iranian or Hezbollah forces or followers who carried out murderous attacks against civilians in Paris, Nice, Brussels, and London, or at Christmas markets in Berlin and Strasbourg.

Respecting Christmas and what it stands for is an important litmus test, as it tells us a lot about the actors involved, especially if they are not themselves Christians.

The ‘monstering’ of those who do show the proper ‘Yuletide spirit’, and the turning of a blind eye to those that don’t, highlights the spectacular hypocrisy of those in power in the West who profess to support ‘Christian values’ but in fact do everything possible to subvert them.

If anyone needs an Ebenezer Scrooge-style epiphany this Christmas, it’s the ‘monster-slayers’ themselves.

Read more:

Christmas in Aleppo: Syrians celebrate as city recovers from years-long bloodshed (VIDEOS)

December 29, 2018 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , | 2 Comments