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Who’s afraid of intra-Afghan dialogue?

Opening of two-day talks of Taliban and Afghan opposition leaders at the President Hotel in Moscow on February 5, 2019 (Photo by Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP)
By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | February 7, 2019

The two-day conference of mainstream Afghan politicians and Taliban representatives in Moscow on February 5-6 becomes a landmark event in the peace process.

Principally, it signifies the commencement of the ‘intra-Afghan dialogue’, a process that was struggling to be born. This process can be expected to galvanise the Afghan peace talks. Some of the most senior and influential Afghan leaders actively participated in the Moscow conference, including former President Hamid Karzai, stalwarts of the erstwhile Northern Alliance Atta Muhammad Nur, Yunus Qanooni and Muhammad Mohaqiq, Ahmad Wali Massoud and former National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar.

The embittered Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani  has been reduced to a rump. It has censured the event in Moscow, but its own growing isolation is self-evident. Ghani is now openly critical of the dynamics of the US-Taliban talks, won’t associate with any ‘intra-Afghan dialogue’ and threatens to reject any peace formula that is reached without him.

Ghani’s mindset is — ‘After me the Deluge.’ His preoccupation is about his own political future. Simply put, panic (that he is at the end of the road) is mixing with bewilderment (that he is in reality so easily expendable) and anger (that the US is inexorably disengaging from him). In fact, President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday completely omitted any reference to the Kabul set-up, leave alone Ghani himself.

The stunning outcome of the Moscow conference in the nature of a Joint Declaration highlights that the native Afghan genius for consensus-making has far from extinguished and can still provide the alchemy for reaching a peace settlement.

The key elements of the ‘nine point approach’ outlined in the Joint Declaration are the agreement on the ‘values’ that effectively provide the guiding principles of a post-settlement order — an Islamic system; an inclusive polity; a broad-based government with representation for all ethnic groups; assertion of national sovereignty; scrupulous neutrality vis-a-vis regional and international conflicts; adherence to Afghan national and religious values; and a unified and single policy.

The three striking templates of the document are the demand for the ‘complete withdrawal of foreign forces’, the political commitment to protect the rights of women and the entire people, and the openness to seeking international assistance for Afghan reconstruction. Taken together, the joint declaration gives the blueprint of the terms of an Afghan settlement.

Russia has been the patron behind the conference kickstarting an ‘intra-Afghan dialogue’. Conceivably, Russia took such an initiative in tandem with Pakistan — and, possibly, with Iran and China as well. Importantly, Russian diplomacy was successful in getting an impressive array of  Afghan politicians cutting across the spectrum of opinion to come on board. The new platform is destined to gain traction and provide an enduring underpinning for peacemaking and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Inevitably, the dialectic involving the US-Taliban talks and the new platform of ‘intra-Afghan dialogue’ will be crucial. Ideally, they should be mutually reinforcing. But life is real. Much depends on the US’ intentions. Washington cannot but be aware that the Ghani government lacks legitimacy and an interaction between it and the Taliban (assuming the latter agrees to it) is increasingly meaningless.

On the other hand, Ghani also enjoys the covert backing of the hardline elements within the US establishment some of whom are unhappy with Trump’s outlook of putting to sudden death America’s ‘endless wars’.

Ideally, therefore, it is in the US interest to widen the gyre of the peace process that has begun in Moscow and create synergy for Washington’s direct engagement with the Taliban, which is proceeding on a parallel track. The regional and international opinion will be supportive of such a constructive approach.

However, for this to happen, the US too should have a unified policy. There are disturbing signs that the US military-industrial complex is far from done with the ‘endless war’ in Afghanistan. Trump himself is buffeted by cross currents. He vaguely sounded placatory in his address to the US Congress on Tuesday by hinting at the need of continued counterterrorist operations with a reduced military presence.

Whereas, the resounding message out of the Moscow conference is that mainstream Afghan opinion identifies with the Taliban’s longstanding demand for complete vacation of foreign occupation in lieu of commitment that no extremist group will be allowed to operate out of Afghan soil. The US should heed this profound Afghan craving for national independence and sovereignty.

Indeed, the Moscow conference underscored that the Afghan conflict is at its core a fratricidal strife (which foreign powers took advantage of) and it can be ended only through a genuine, free-wheeling intra-Afghan dialogue. The Russians have shown that just by being an honest broker, the Americans could as well have kickstarted the intra-Afghan dialogue a long time ago — arguably, even when the late Richard Holbrooke was around. So much destruction and suffering and loss of lives could have been spared if only there was sincerity of purpose.

The Moscow conference has exposed the self-serving Western notion that the Afghans are inherently incapable of molding the destiny of their nation. That such an impressive outcome of consensus-making was possible when Afghans were left to confabulate among themselves for two days only goes to show that the so-called international community is more the problem than the solution.

(Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai (R) and Head of Political Office of the Taliban Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai briefing the media at the Moscow conference, February 5, 2019)

The Moscow conference agreed that ‘intra-Afghan dialogue must continue on regular basis’ and that the next session be held in Doha, Qatar, ‘as soon as possible.’ The next round of the US-Taliban talks is also due to take place in Doha in February focusing on the interim government and ceasefire. Several top participants at the Moscow conference voiced support for the formation of an interim government. The time has come to address the issue.

The big question is whether the US is willing to let go of Afghanistan, finally. Admittedly, the geopolitics of Afghanistan becomes a compelling factor for the Pentagon, which is keen to retain the military bases in the emerging New Cold War conditions. Besides, there is no dearth of potential deal breakers. Persuading the present rulers in Kabul to make way is going to be a tough challenge. Ghani’s hope lies in offering the Taliban a few slots in his government. But that formula won’t work.

The US should not encourage Ghani’s vaulting ambition to wield power for a foreseeable future. Conditions were far more complicated in 2001 when the Northern Alliance government led by Burhanuddin Rabbani was persuaded to step down and an interim government led by Karzai took over in Kabul at the insistence of Washington.

On the other hand, the Moscow conference has shown that inter-Afghan amity and reconciliation is a realistic goal. Karzai can still play a leadership role in any orderly transition in Kabul. Karzai led the way at the Moscow conference.

February 7, 2019 Posted by | Militarism | , | 1 Comment

US federal judge dismisses lawsuit against BDS supporters

MEMO | February 7, 2019

Pro-Israeli groups have suffered a major defeat in a US court after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the American Studies Association’s (ASA) resolution to endorse the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions as part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

On Monday a district court in Washington threw out the lawsuit against ASA, which is the oldest scholarly organisation devoted to the interdisciplinary study of US culture and history. The federal judge ruled that the anti-BDS plaintiffs were unable to explain how they were injured by the boycott, a requirement for the lawsuit to go forward.

The ruling is a significant victory for human rights campaigners and a blow to efforts by Israel lobby groups to use courts to harass, intimidate and silence supporters of Palestinian rights in US universities – a tactic known as lawfare. It’s also a major boost for Americans sacked from their jobs on the back of anti-BDS legislation, denounced by critics as unconstitutional.

Pro-Israeli group, the Louis D. Brandeis Centre, filed a lawsuit against ASA in April 2016 over its resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The lawsuit argued that in adopting the resolution, which was voted on by an overwhelming democratic majority, the ASA operated beyond its corporate charter and caused the plaintiffs to “suffer significant economic and reputational damage.”

In the court’s 20-page ruling, US District Judge Rudolph Contreras wrote that the pro-Israeli group had “danced around key issues” and was unable to show that they had suffered enough monetary damages to warrant a federal case.

The judge found that at most, the individual plaintiffs could seek damages of a few hundred dollars to cover membership dues they allege were misappropriated, but they would have to find some other venue to pursue their claims.

Radhika Sainath, senior attorney with the civil rights group Palestine Legal, summed up the court’s judgement saying that “the court basically said, in no uncertain words, that the plaintiffs suing ASA lied when they claimed to have ‘suffered significant economic and reputational damage’.”

“But, as the court explained, ‘nowhere’ in the lawsuit could the plaintiffs explain what that damage was. It didn’t pass the smell test,” she added.

One of the four co-defendants, Dr Stephen Salaita, an outspoken advocate of Palestinian rights who was fired from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for tweets criticising Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, said after the verdict: “I’m thrilled that this baseless case has been dismissed. It served no purpose other than persecuting those who dare to criticise Israeli policy and seek to end the occupation through peaceful means,”

Another co-defendant Wesleyan University Professor Kehaulani Kauanui denounced the lawsuit as a politically motivated attempt to suppress free speech. “The Brandeis Centre did not hold back its clear intent to punish me for standing up in solidarity with Palestinians and to deter others. They don’t call it lawfare for nothing.”

The court’s decision comes in the context of a broader federal assault on BDS for Palestinian human rights. On Tuesday, the US Senate passed a measure that would criminalise politically motivated boycotts of Israel across the US.

February 7, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , | 3 Comments

US blocks UNSC criticism of Israel’s expulsion from Hebron of international monitors

MEMO | February 7, 2019

The US blocked a draft United Nations Security Council statement yesterday from issuing a statement that would have expressed concerns over Israel’s decision to expel the international observatory task force that has been monitoring the situation in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron for 20 years.

The 15-member UN Security Council discussed Israel’s decision behind closed doors at the request of Kuwait and Indonesia, which also drafted the statement. Such a statement has to be agreed unanimously.

UN diplomats said that the US had blocked the statement saying that they did not believe a council statement on the issue was appropriate.

The draft statement, seen by Reuters, would have also recognised the importance of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) and its “efforts to foster calm in a highly sensitive area and fragile situation on the ground, which risks further deteriorating.”

The proposed statement also intended to express the Security Council’s “regret” about Israel’s “unilateral decision” to eject the force from occupied Hebron and call for “calm and restraint”.

The TIPH was set up after a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, massacred 29 Palestinians in 1994 at the Ibrahimi Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week he would not renew the mandate of TIPH accusing the observers of unspecified anti-Israel activity. His decision heightened Palestinian concerns over their safety. Palestinian residents of Hebron regularly come under attack from illegal settlers and Israeli occupying forces. They often say that they are living under an apartheid Israeli system. The Old City of Hebron is completely divided through the presence of barriers, closures, military zones and settlements, to accommodate some of Israel’s most extreme settlers.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) echoed the concerns and called for a UN protection force to ensure the safety of Palestinians until Israel ends its “belligerent occupation”. The UN should “guarantee the safety and protection of the people of Palestine” until “the end of Israel’s belligerent occupation,” said Palestinian official Saeb Erekat.

February 7, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | 1 Comment

Pompeo: America ‘obligated’ to fight ‘Hezbollah’ in Venezuela to save ‘duly elected’ Guaido

RT | February 7, 2019

Straining to explain Washington’s eagerness for regime change in Caracas, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Cuba was already occupying Venezuela, misunderstood how democracy works, and claimed Iran had a presence in the country.

While navigating extremely delicate issues like international diplomacy for most world leaders requires finesse and sophistication, Pompeo opted for a more ham-fisted approach in an interview with Fox Business on Wednesday. Weaving together a loosely-knit narrative of garish moralizing and lists of countries on America’s naughty list, President Donald Trump’s chief diplomat attempted to help American audiences understand what the State Department is doing in Venezuela.

After making the expectant accusations of Russian and Chinese interference in Venezuela, Pompeo decided to mobilize his go-to excuse for US meddling – Iran!

“People don’t recognize that Hezbollah has active cells — the Iranians are impacting the people of Venezuela and throughout South America,” adding that “We have an obligation to take down that risk for America.”

It might seem that Pompeo merely has trouble with geography, having recently shared a bizarre map on Twitter that featured the non-existent countries of East and West Turkey, among other things. However, in the course of the interview, he also made several other puzzling declarations, such as referring to self-declared Venezuelan leader Juan Guaido as having been “duly elected,” even though the Washington-backed politician never even ran for president.

When asked why the issue was so important for “our hemisphere,” Pompeo answered that “American values are at stake,” in Venezuela. He believes US interference in internal affairs of Venezuela is an “obligation,” although last year he waxed concerned about alleged foreign interference in US elections.

US sanctions, he went on to explain, “aren’t aimed at the Venezuelan people,” but are instead aimed at “a really good outcome.” Though it was Pompeo who openly argued that US sanctions against Iran were intended to effect regime change by starving its citizens, he tried to argue that in Venezuela US sanctions are “for the good” of the Venezuelan people because they are against the “evil Mr Maduro.”

UN-appointed human rights expert Idriss Jazairy has a different opinion on the matter. While failing to spell out who is good and who is evil, he did point out that the sanctions against Venezuela may “lead to starvation and medical shortages.”

Just in case these helpful sanctions packages don’t end up being “really good” enough, the US is not ruling out plan B: military invasion. A few days ago, Trump told CBS a military option was still on the table, despite overwhelming opposition on both sides of the Venezuelan crisis.

Pompeo brushed off rumors of a possible US invasion, saying the US technically can’t invade Venezuela because “Cuba already did” and has been secretly controlling the country “for an awful long time.”

February 7, 2019 Posted by | Militarism, War Crimes | , | 5 Comments

Hillary Clinton: Trump’s INF Treaty Withdrawal is “Gift to Putin”

Sputnik – 07.02.2019

Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington would suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and begin a six-month withdrawal process. The following day Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Moscow was providing a mirror response.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has slammed the Trump administration’s decision to pull out from the INF Treaty as a “gift to [Vladimir] Putin”.

Speaking at an event hosted by Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and its Institute of Politics and Public Service on Wednesday night, she claimed that the current administration withdrew “without really holding Putin accountable for his cheating on the treaty”.

“I think there is agreement, it started in the Obama administration, that the Russians were not only developing intermediate-range capacity, but deploying it — and so, when that happens… it seems to me that you want to do some public diplomacy. We clearly have pictures and we clearly know a lot about their cheating, and we should have done a better job in making it abundantly clear, not only to the American people but the Russian people, and Europeans, and others who are on the front lines, that the Russians were evading responsibilities in the INF”, Clinton said.

She went on to tell the crowd that instead of demanding talks on the matter, the US decided to pull out, and claimed that Russia was going “to go forward and develop even more of these” weapons.

Looking at the situation from a global perspective, Clinton suggested that the world could face some bleak prospects following the collapse of the landmark treaty:

“It increases the unpredictability, and I believe the danger, that can come from throwing around more missiles and weapons of all kinds, but particularly nuclear ones, within the European theatre. […] The last thing the world needs right now is a nuclear arms race”.

Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington would be suspending its obligations under the INF Treaty starting on 2 February.

He further said that the accord would be entirely terminated if Russia doesn’t meet Washington’s demands regarding the alleged treaty violations, namely to destroy all ground-based 9M729 missiles and their launchers, as well as other associated equipment that purportedly breached the agreement.

Pompeo stated that Russia has six months to save the deal while the US goes through the process of withdrawing from it.

Shortly after the withdrawal announcement, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, during which the head of state said that Moscow was suspending its obligations under the INF Treaty in response to Washington’s move. While saying that Moscow was still open to negotiations, President Putin instructed the ministers not to initiate talks on the matter.

In addition, President Putin stressed that the use of target rockets and the deployment of Mk 41 launchers in Europe since 2014 by the United States was a direct violation of the arms control treaty and reiterated that Moscow had been fully complying with the agreement.

Putin further emphasised that notwithstanding reciprocal measures, Russia should not and would not be drawn into an arms race.

In December, the US gave Russia a 60 day warning about withdrawing from the treaty, asking Moscow to return compliance by destroying the missiles that allegedly violate the treaty. The 60 days were up at the beginning of February.

The United States has repeatedly accused Russia of violating the 1987 treaty with the development of its 9M729 ground-based missile systems (known as the SSC-8 under US classification), which Washington claimed had a range of over 1,000 km, while the agreement bans missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km.

Moscow has vehemently denied the claims, citing a lack of proof, and stressed that the range of these weapons was 480 km, which is in full compliance of the INF.

The INF Treaty was signed by the Soviet Union and the US, and envisages the destruction of all nuclear-armed ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometres (about 300 to 3,400 miles).

February 7, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Militarism | , , , | 4 Comments

Finally, Washington is Now Law-Bound to Compensate its Victims!

By Grete Mautner – New Eastern Outlook – 07.02.2019

Since most of us are aware of the way Washington approaches its alleged fight against terrorism, murdering tens of thousands of civilians in the process, it seems that the relatives of all those who perished under American bombs in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria may finally get their day in court. To be specific, it has recently been reported that a US court found Damascus liable in the death of American journalist Marie Colvin, who was killed during the shelling of Baba Amr district of Homs back in 2012.

It was stated that Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the US District Court for the District of Columbia chose to double the typical compensation that the relatives of the deceased journalist would receive, bringing it up to 302.5 million dollars.

This decision was made in spite of the fact that in his interview for NBC News, Syria’s president Bashar Assad made it clear that:

“It’s a war and she came illegally to Syria. She worked with the terrorists, and because she came illegally, she’s been responsible of everything that befalls on her.”

As most of you must be aware, the US legal system is based on the so-called common law principle that America inherited from the United Kingdom. In this situation it’s only natural to ask: could the above mentioned US District Court decision force Washington to pay billions of dollars in compensations to the families of those who are being unscrupulously referred to in the West as “collateral damage”? As it’s pretty clear for everyone that a precedent has been set. Moreover, on numerous occasions, US authorities would be forced to officially describe a great many of the air raids they launched as erroneous, thus taking full responsibility for the civilian death toll those attacks inflicted.

And the number of such air strikes is growing by the day! Thus, in Afghanistan alone, there’s been an unprecedented increase in the number of civilians killed by the US Air Force, while Washington pretends to be interested in negotiations with the Taliban. Over the last two months, at least 10 of such erroneous strikes were reported, resulting in 68 people perishing. Over the last two weeks alone, some 35 peaceful Afghan citizens would die in the course of US air raids. A lot of attention should be paid to the most recent incident when a US military drone murdered 16 civilians in a single attack in the Afghan province of Helmand in late January. On the next day, the funeral procession organized by the relatives of the victims of the first strike came under fire of yet another US drone, which resulted in 13 more people perishing. So far, the Pentagon failed to provide any intelligible comment on the bloodbath its people created, while only making a remark that it was going to launch an investigation. However, as it became evident from hundreds of similar investigations, nobody in the US armed forces is ever going to be held accountable for such crimes.

In Syria, similar air raids have become a daily occurrence. For instance, as it’s been reported by the Kurdish TV-channel Rudaw, a recent air strike launched by the Pentagon in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate resulted in numerous civilian casualties, including women and children.

This attack took place on January 23, when local refugees would try to flee advancing militant groups, when they were hit by the US Air Force. A week later, 11 civilians perished in yet another attack launched by the US-led coalition in the same province. Earlier, in mid-December, a similar strike in Deir ez-Zor left 17 civilians dead.

To make the matters worse, the US-led coalition has been repeatedly accused of using white phosphorus munitions in its attacks against residential areas; which resulted in Syrian authorities filing a request to the UN last year so this blatant violation of international law would be properly investigated.

On January 19, Syria’s officials demanded the United Nations to put an end to the onslaught that the US-led coalition has been carrying on for months across numerous Syrian towns.

However, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are not the only states that fell victims of the unscrupulous bombing raids of the US armed forces.

So it’s safe to say that countless lawyers across different countries may now have their hands full of work, filing lawsuits to numerous US courts to represent the families where people felt victims to American bombs.

If the family of Mary Colvin alone managed to receive 300 million dollars in compensation, it’s safe to say that the sky is the limit if those lawsuits start piling up across all of the US District Courts.

Grete Mautner is an independent researcher and journalist from Germany.

February 7, 2019 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

US Sanctions Against Syria, Iran is ‘Economic Terrorism’ – Moscow

Sputnik – 07.02.2019

According to Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Moscow and Tehran will be advancing ways in which to defend their economies from US sanctions.

“We must — and many have already spoken about this, including our ambassador in Tehran — complete the transition process of economic interaction in the national currency as the best way to protect ourselves from the US abusing the role of the dollar”, Ryabkov told reporters on Thursday.

He also slammed Washington for the sanctions imposed on Damascus.

“There are ways to minimise the consequences of US sanctions, and these ways will be improved. There are alternative partners and formats, they need to be strengthened. I am sure that in the case of Syria, Russian-Syrian relations will only continue to ascend; neither the United States nor anyone else will interfere with this. And I agree that the US sanctions are economic terrorism”, the deputy minister stressed.

The statement by the Russian diplomat comes just a day after the US Senate voted to expand economic sanctions on Syria and to condemn President Donald Trump for announcing a full US troop withdrawal from that country.

Last November, a second package of US sanction against Tehran came into effect following the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the Iran nuclear deal — in May, 2018. The sanctions are aimed at exercising maximum pressure on Iran and forcing it to negotiate a new deal.

February 7, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Export–Import Bank: The Government Subsidy “Free Traders” Love

By Dean Baker | Beat The Press | February 5, 2019

I have long had fun with the folks who call themselves “free traders.” Essentially, these are people who argue it is a high moral principle to eliminate any barrier to trade that might support the income of working class people, but suddenly get really stupid and defensive when we talk about barriers that support the income of professionals and the wealthy.

This means that a 10 percent tariff on imported steel is an outrage against all that is good and decent in the world. But when it comes to protectionist restrictions that prevent highly qualified foreign doctors from practicing in the United States and bringing the pay of our doctors more in line with other rich countries, they suddenly have no idea what you’re talking about. (FWIW, we spend far more money on doctors than steel.)

The same story applies to patent and copyright protection. (Yes, that is “protection” as in protectionism.) These government-granted monopolies are treated as part of the world’s natural order. Instead of recognizing them as forms of protectionism, countries that don’t have patent and copyright rules as strong as in the U.S. are treated as being violators of free-trade.

In other words, “free trade” is a make it up as you go along rationale for ways to redistribute income upward. This is why I got a big kick out of seeing Charles Lane’s column today on the Export–Import Bank.

The Export–Import Bank is a mechanism for the United States to subsidize its exports by providing below-market interest rate loans and loan guarantees for exporters. There actually can be some argument for this sort of support in cases where small- and medium-sized firms are just getting into the export market. (It’s still a government subsidy.)

However, that was not the story with the Ex–Im Bank. The overwhelming majority of its loan money (in the neighborhood of 90 percent) went to a tiny number of multi-nationals like Boeing, Caterpillar, and GE. This is not a help-the-upstart story, this was a subsidy-to-politically-connected-corporate-giants story.

Incredibly, the vast majority of the self-proclaimed free traders were big advocates of the Ex–Im Bank. They would go along with the absurd games pushed by the hacks.

For example, they would tell people that some very high percentage of the loans went to small businesses. (Yes, this is in Econ Stupid Tricks 101 — a high percentage of the loans go to small businesses, a tiny percentage of the dollars go to small businesses.)

And, we got the story that some huge number of US jobs depend on the Ex–Im Bank. In this story, we assume that the US would lose all the exports supported by Ex–Im loans or guarantees, as opposed to some realistic number like 2–3 percent.

Anyhow, with pushing from the free traders, the Export–Import Bank was reauthorized by Congress. I had thought the free traders had won and got their government subsidies.

But as Lane points out, Republicans in Congress refused to approve new members for the bank’s board. This meant that the board lacked a quorum. And, without a quorum, the board could not approve loans of more than $10 million. This meant the bank was actually in the business of making loans to small- and medium-sized businesses, rather than subsidizing Boeing and Caterpillar.

It turns out the big companies were still able to export without the subsidy, although I’m sure they made somewhat less money. Anyhow, it’s a nice story. It shows how free trade can be better than “free trade.”

February 7, 2019 Posted by | Economics | | Leave a comment

Does Washington Rule the World?

By Philip M. GIRALDI | Strategic Culture Foundation | 07.02.2019

One of the most disturbing aspects of the past two years of Donald Trump foreign policy has been the assumption that decisions made by the United States are binding on the rest of the world. Apart from time of war, no other nation has ever sought to prevent other nations from trading with each other. And the United States has also uniquely sought to penalize other countries for alleged crimes that did not occur in the US and that did not involve American citizens, while also insisting that all nations must comply with whatever penalties are meted out by Washington.

The United States now sees itself as judge, jury and executioner in policing the international community, a conceit that began post World War 2 when American presidents began referring to themselves as “leader of the free world.” This pretense received legislative backing with passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987 (ATA) as amended in 1992 plus subsequent related legislation, to include the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act of 2016 (JASTA). The body of legislation can be used by US citizens or residents to obtain civil judgments against alleged terrorists anywhere in the world and can be employed to punish governments, international organizations and even corporations that are perceived to be supportive of terrorists, even indirectly or unknowingly. Plaintiffs are able to sue for injuries to their “person, property, or business” and have ten years to bring a claim.

Sometimes the connections and level of proof required by a US court to take action are tenuous, and that is being polite. Suits currently can claim secondary liability for third parties, including banks and large corporations, under “material support” of terrorism statutes. This includes “aiding and abetting” liability as well as providing “services” to any group that the United States considers to be terrorist, even if the terrorist label is dubious and/or if that support is inadvertent.

There have been two recent lawsuits seeking civil damages under ATA and JASTA involving Iran and Syria. Regarding Iran, in June 2017 a jury deliberated for one day before delivering a guilty verdict against two Iranian foundations for violation of US sanctions, allowing a federal court to authorize the US government seizure of a skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan. It was the largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture in United States history. The presiding judge decided to distribute proceeds from the building’s sale, which could amount to as much as $1 billion, to the families of victims of terrorism, including the September 11th attacks. The court ruled that Iran had some culpability for the 9/11 attacks as a state sponsor of terrorism, though it could not determine that Iran was directly involved in the attacks.

The ruling against Iran has to be considered somewhat bizarre as it is clear that Iran had nothing to do with 9/11 but was considered guilty anyway because the State Department in Washington has declared it to be a state sponsor of terror. Being able to determine guilt based on an interpretation of a foreign government’s behavior puts incredible power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats who are making political decisions regarding who is “good” and who is “bad.”

A second, more recent, court case has involved Syria. Last week a federal court in the District of Columbia ruled that Syria was liable for the targeting and killing of an American journalist who was covering the shelling of a rebel held area of Homs in 2012.

The court awarded $302.5 million to the family of the journalist, Marie Colvin. In her ruling, Judge Amy Berman Jackson cited “Syria’s longstanding policy of violence” seeking “to intimidate journalists” and “suppress dissent.” As it is normally not possible even in American courts to sue a foreign government, a so-called human rights group funded by the US and other governments called the Center for Justice and Accountability made its case relying on the designation of Damascus as a state sponsor of terrorism. The judge believed that the evidence presented was “credible and convincing.”

The complexities of what is going on in Syria are such that it is difficult to imagine that a Washington based judge could possibly render judgment in any credible fashion. Colvin was in a war zone and the plaintiffs, whose agenda was to compile a dossier of war crimes against Syria, made their case using documents that they provided, which certainly presented a partisan viewpoint and might themselves have been fabricated. Based on her own comments, Judge Amy Berman Jackson certainly came into the game with her own particular view on Syria and what the conflict there was all about.

Another American gift to international jurisprudence has been the Magnitsky Act of 2012, a product of the feel-good enthusiasm of the Barack Obama Administration. It was based on a narrative regarding what went on in Russia under the clueless Boris Yeltsin and his nationalist successor Vladimir Putin that was peddled by one Bill Browder, who many believe to have been a major player in the looting of the former Soviet Union. It was claimed by Browder and his accomplices in the media that the Russian government had been complicit in the arrest, torture and killing of one Sergei Magnitsky, an accountant turned whistleblower working for Browder. Almost every aspect of the story has been challenged, but it was completely bought into by the Congress and White House and led to sanctions on the Russians who were allegedly involved despite Moscow’s complaints that the US had no legal right to interfere in its internal affairs relating to a Russian citizen.

Worse still, the Magnitsky Act has been broadened and is now the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2017. It is being used to sanction and otherwise punish alleged “human rights abusers” in other countries. It was most recently used in the Jamal Khashoggi case, in which the US sanctioned the alleged killers of the Saudi dissident journalist even though no one had actually been convicted of any crime.

Independent of Magnitsky and the various ATA acts is the ability of the US Treasury Department and its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to sanction a country’s ability to move money through the US controlled dollar financial system. That is what is taking place currently regarding payments for Venezuela’s oil exports, which have been sanctioned and will not be able to use the dollar denominated system after April 28th. A similar US imposed sanctioning is currently in effect against Iran, with all potential purchasers of Iranian oil themselves being subject to secondary sanctions if they continue to make purchases after May 5th.

Most of the world oil business is transacted in dollars, so the Treasury Department has an effective weapon in hand to interfere in foreign countries without having to send in the Marines, but there is, of course, a danger that the rest of the world will eventually read the tea leaves and abandon the use of petrodollars altogether. If that occurs it will make it more difficult for the American government to continue to print dollars without regard for deficits as there will be little demand for the extra US currency in circulation [In fact there are numerous reasons for the international demand of US currency, oil transaction payments being just one and not even among the most imperative – Aletho News ].

The principle that Washington should respect the sovereignty of other states even when it disagrees with their internal policies has effectively been abandoned. And, as if things were not bad enough, some new legislation virtually guarantees that in the near future the United States will be doing still more to interfere in and destabilize much of the world. Congress has passed and President Trump has signed the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, which seeks to improve Washington’s response to mass killings. The prevention of genocide and mass murder is now a part of American national security agenda. There will be a Mass Atrocity Task Force and State Department officers will receive training to sensitize them to impending genocide, though presumably the new program will not apply to the Palestinians as the law’s namesake never was troubled by their suppression and killing by the state of Israel.

February 7, 2019 Posted by | Economics | , , , | 3 Comments

Uruguay, Mexico Unveil Four-Step Proposal on Venezuela Crisis

Al-Manar | February 7, 2019

Uruguay and Mexico on Wednesday unveiled a four-step proposal to end the political crisis in Venezuela.

The “Montevideo Mechanism” was announced by Uruguayan Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa and his Mexican counterpart Marcelo Ebrard at a press conference in the Uruguayan capital one day before Montevideo is set to host an international meeting on Venezuela.

The first step calls for immediate dialogue to create conditions for direct contact between Venezuela’s ruling socialist party and President Nicolas Maduro on the one hand and the right-wing opposition led by self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido on the other, Novoa said.

That would be followed by a negotiation phase, a commitments phase, and a finally implementation phase, according to Novoa.

The proposal did not insist on holding snap presidential elections as the opposition had been demanding.

“If we ask for elections at such a moment, we are imposing conditions that hinder dialogue,” said Novoa.

Uruguay and Mexico have also proposed three prominent regional figures to advance the mechanism: ex-president of the Inter-American Development Bank Enrique Iglesias, former Mexican foreign affairs secretary and former judge of the International Court of Justice Bernardo Sepulveda, and Ibero-American Secretary General Rebeca Grynspan, a Costa Rican economist and former United Nations under-secretary-general.

February 7, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 2 Comments

Israeli exploration move threatens Lebanon’s oil wealth – parliament speaker

RT | February 7, 2019

Lebanon’s parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said on Thursday that an Israeli move to license energy exploration near a disputed maritime boundary threatened to drain Lebanese oil wealth before its own drilling had started.

The previous day, Berri accused Israel of breaching Lebanese waters by licensing a company to exploit the area, Reuters reported.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has not commented on the accusation.

Lebanon last year licensed a consortium of Italy’s Eni, France’s Total and Russia’s Novatek to carry out the country’s first offshore energy exploration in two blocks. One of the blocks, Block 9, contains waters disputed with Israel.

Berri said the Israeli move threatened “to drain a whole basin and a large part of the oil wealth.”

February 7, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , | 2 Comments