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US, Iran tiptoeing toward engagement

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | April 26, 2019

Winston Churchill has been often quoted as saying that Russian politics is comparable to a bulldog fight under a rug. “An outsider only hears the growling, and when he sees the bones fly out from beneath it is obvious who won.” The metaphor comes handy while fathoming the vicissitudes of the US-Iranian temper tantrums.

The only difference is that the bones never fly out and the growling keeps going on and on. It’s four decades already. Succinctly put, while the detail might be hard to unravel, the general pattern is not so difficult to understand.

On the face of it, the Trump administration is growling ominously. The US has taken two major steps within the recent weeks to advance the “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran — first, by designating Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards as a “foreign terrorist organisation” and, second, by deciding to end the so-called sanctions waivers for 8 countries that import Iranian oil.

Iran growled back. Tehran retaliated by declaring the US Central Command, headquartered in Doha, as a terrorist organisation. As for US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, Tehran simply shrugged it off, with Ayatollah Khamenei saying that Iran will export “as much crude as it needs and wishes” in defiance of American sanctions. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Iran will be resilient in the face of US sanctions. As he put it, “there are always ways of going around the sanctions. We have a PhD in that area.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is already backtracking  on the issue of IRGC designation. The US state department issued two notices on Wednesday in the nature of making exemptions to the earlier designation. According to these waivers, foreign governments and businesses that have dealings with the IRGC and its affiliates will not be subject to a ban on US travel. State Secretary Mike Pompeo clarified that he decided to waive the travel bans in the US foreign policy and national security interests.

The fact of the matter is that the US sees the folly of embargoing contacts with the IRGC in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon (or Afghanistan) where Iran has a compelling presence in the security sphere. Arguably, the US policies in these countries will suffer grievously if there are to be no dealings with the IRGC under American law. Washington is well aware that the IRGC played a pivotal role in the defeat of the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria.

However, what is even more stunning is the report that the US might, after all, change its mind and grant waivers to those countries that import Iranian oil beyond May 2. A report by Associated Press quoting congressional aides and outside advisers familiar with the matter said Washington might still reconsider the decision to do away with waivers.

According to the AP report, one scenario being considered by the Trump administration is that “buyers of Iranian oil could be allowed to place and pay for future orders before May 2, essentially front-loading continued imports. Washington could then grant waivers from sanctions to transport and refine the oil under a 2012 law.” The US State Department declined to comment on the possibility that Iranian oil imports might continue without sanctions.

Increasingly, it seems that the growling sounds from Washington and Tehran may be deceptive. Zarif who is currently visiting the US ostensibly to attend a UN conference, made a proposal at the Asia Society on Wednesday that Iran is willing to have a “serious dialogue” with the US on a possible swap of prisoners held by both countries.

Trump is known to be exercised over the imprisonment of American citizens in Iranian jails who have been convicted of espionage charges. But Washington is insisting on the unilateral release of American prisoners by Iran.

Zarif has since disclosed that his proposal is that Tehran is “ready to take action on the exchange of individuals convicted and imprisoned in Iran by the country’s Judiciary on specific charges” reciprocally for the release the release of all Iranians jailed in the US and the granting of “nolle prosequis” (dropping prosecution) to all those detained in different countries on charges of violating American sanctions against Iran, often under pressure from Washington.

Interestingly, Zarif acknowledged today that he had received a letter from Robert C. O’Brien, US special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, asking for the release of detained US citizens. Zarif divulged in this connection that he had had his deputy write a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, apparently proposing a prisoner exchange, or raising the issue of Iranians arrested for alleged violations of US sanctions laws. Zarif’s comments about the limited correspondence between his office and the Trump administration comes after he publicly proposed a prisoner swap on Wednesday

Any longtime observer of US-Iran relations would know that a “serious dialogue” between Washington and Tehran on the swap of prisoners means a constructive engagement that would hold the potential to reduce the tensions in the overall relationship and might even open channels of communication leading to a better understanding of each other’s intentions on a host of other issues as well.

Significantly, Zarif has since used an exclusive interview with Reuters on Friday to convey some meaningful signals to the Trump administration. The interview was recorded in Iran’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. Zarif signalled that:

  • In Iran’s assessment, Trump has no intentions to wage a war against Iran. But then, there is the ‘B Team’ — Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and  National Security Security Advisor John Bolton who are determined to scuttle peaceful resolution of US-Iran differences. These 2 hawks might precipitate some incident that may escalate into a crisis in which Trump may get entangled.
  • Iran does not seek confrontation with the US but make no mistake that it will defend itself.
  • Iran has been acting with great restraint as is evident from the fact that US Navy continues to operate in the Strait of Hormuz. The signal from the Pentagon commanders to Iran too is that the IRGC’s designation does not mean any change in the “rules of  behaviour” involving the US and Iranian militaries. Tehran is satisfied with that understanding. However, Tehran will react to any change in the “rules of behaviour, or rules of engagement” (involving the two militaries).
  • Put differently, Iran expects Washington to stick to the “rules of engagement (which have been) guiding how it interacts with Iran’s forces.”

Of course, Zarif is a seasoned diplomat who was educated in the US, assigned for long years to work in the Iranian mission in New York as a career diplomat and has extensive networking at personal level with the American elite. To be sure, his measured words in the Reuters interview are meant for Trump. Evidently, he is tamping down tensions, while testing the waters to commence a constructive engagement.

Iran has always been pragmatic. And it is entirely conceivable that back channels exist. As for Trump, most certainly, he’d know that the “maximum pressure” strategy has not resulted in any shift in the Iranian policies — in Syria, Iraq or Yemen. On the contrary, this week Zarif for the first time openly criticised the US-Taliban talks and voiced support for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s grievance that Washington bypasses him. It is a subtle hint that if push comes to shove, Tehran can make things very difficult for the US. But then, equally, it is a stark reminder that Tehran has been a responsible power through the period of the 18-year “endless war” and stakeholder in regional security and stability.   

April 26, 2019 Posted by | Wars for Israel | , , | 2 Comments

US troops kill Iraqi policeman, injure two others while ‘transferring’ Daesh terrorists: Report

Police vehicle belonging to Iraqi police forces that were targeted by US forces in the country’s northern province of Kirkuk on April 25, 2019. (Photo via Alahad)
Press TV – April 26, 2019

American troops have killed an Iraqi policeman and injured two others while allegedly transferring a group of Daesh Takfiri terrorists in the country’s northern province of Kirkuk.

The incident happened after American troops were deployed to the region by helicopter in an attempt to airlift the terrorists to an undisclosed region, Iraq’s Alahad television network reported on Friday.

The operation turned deadly after US forces opened fire on an Iraqi police unit nearby. Iraqi forces had been monitoring the Daesh elements but were not informed of the US operation.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command (JOC) later issued a statement announcing the formation of a committee investigating the incident.

During an interview with the Alahad, Iraqi law expert Ali al-Tamimi claimed the incident was a case of intentional murder that should be dealt with according to Iraqi law.

Tamimi stressed that based on mutual agreements, the military immunity of US forces expired after the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq.

The Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq group, a main component of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), later issued a statement describing the incident as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.

The statement said that despite Washington’s claims that US military presence in the country is to provide military and logistical assistance to Iraqi forces, American forces have operated in the country at will and without coordination with Iraqi forces.

While circumstances surrounding the incident remain unclear, this is not the first incident where US forces have ‘airlifted’ Daesh terrorists to undisclosed locations. Many similar cases have also been reported in Syria.

US aircraft reportedly airlifted Daesh commanders from a northwestern town before the Syrian army staged an offensive to liberate it.

Daesh overran large swaths of Syria and Iraq in offensives beginning in 2014. The group was, however, militarily defeated by the governments of the two countries in the course of some four years.

Speculations have been made about Washington’s direct or indirect support for the terrorist group in the past years.

Numerous accounts have emerged alleging airlifts, weapon airdrops and aerial support for the group, especially as its strength gradually diminished in the region.

April 26, 2019 Posted by | War Crimes | , | Leave a comment

BBC Accused Of Serious Errors And Misleading Statements In David Attenborough’s Climate Show

By Paul Homewood | Not A Lot Of People Know That | April 26, 2019

The GWPF has now formally submitted its complaint to the BBC about David Attenborough’s Climate Change – The Facts:

The BBC programme, presented by Sir David Attenborough, went far beyond its remit to present the facts of climate change, instead broadcasting a highly politicised manifesto in favour of renewable energy and unjustified alarm.

The programme highlighted suggestions that storms, floods, heatwaves and sea level rise are all rapidly getting worse as a result of climate change.

However, the best available data, published in the last few years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and NASA, contradicts the BBC’s alarmist exaggeration of empirical evidence.

In its 5th Assessment Report (2013), the IPCC concluded:

“Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century … No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin.”

In its more recent Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, published in 2018, these findings were reconfirmed. It stated that

“Numerous studies towards and beyond AR5 have reported a decreasing trend in the global number of tropical cyclones and/or the globally accumulated cyclonic energy… There is consequently low confidence in the larger number of studies reporting increasing trends in the global number of very intense cyclones.”

Regarding floods, the IPCC’s Special Report concluded:

“There is low confidence due to limited evidence, however, that anthropogenic climate change has affected the frequency and the magnitude of floods. “

There is also no observational evidence that the rate of sea level rise is getting worse. NASA satellite data shows that since 1993, there has been an annual mean sea level rise of 3.3mm, with no significant level of acceleration in the last three decades.

Suggestions by David Attenborough and Michael Mann that climate change is causing increases in wildfires in the US and globally are also misleading and not supported by any empirical evidence.

According to a survey published by the Royal Society the global area burned has actually declined over past decades, and there is increasing evidence to suggest that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago. These are vitally important facts that should have been mentioned if an accurate description of the impact of climate change on wildfires was to be maintained.

In his letter of complaint, Dr Benny Peiser, the GWPF’s director, has asked the BBC to acknowledge and correct the evident errors and misleading suggestions documented in the complaint and offer remedial measures as soon as possible.

The full complaint is available here (pdf)

April 26, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Science and Pseudo-Science | | Leave a comment

Coming Clean on Washing Machine Tariffs

By Dean Baker | CEPR | April 23, 2019

Jim Tankersley had a piece in the NYT yesterday on the cost per job saved of Trump’s tariffs on Chinese washing machines. According to the study, the cost per job saved was $817,000. While that is a steep tab, there are a few points that should be added to this sort of analysis.

First, if the point of the tariffs is to benefit workers, part of this $817,000 cost is going to higher pay to workers who would have jobs with or without the tariff. The study doesn’t look at the impact on wages of workers in the industry, but if the goal is to help workers who make washing machines, then this should be factored into the assessment.

The second point is that this is a partial equilibrium analysis. It doesn’t look at the overall effect on the economy of a reduction in the money we spend on importing washing machines. While this can be hard to assess, since imports of washing machines from China are a very small part of the total economy, other things equal we would expect that less money spent on imported washing machines would translate into a higher-valued dollar. (We are reducing the supply of dollars on world markets, thereby raising the price of dollars.)

This effect is almost certainly very small, but suppose that the reduced payments for imported washing machines raised the value of the dollar by just 0.01 percent. If this rise in the dollar were fully passed on in lower import prices (it isn’t), that would translate in a reduction in the cost of imports to US consumers of $320 million, more than 20 percent of the cost of the tariffs estimated in this study. Even if it would be hard to get any sort of precise numbers, the point is that this is an offsetting effect which could be large relative to the estimated cost of the tariffs.

The third point is that tariffs can sometimes make sense if they allow an industry breathing space to reorganize and regain competitiveness or serve some other goal (e.g. persuading a country to raise the value of its currency). In 1983, Ronald Reagan imposed tariffs on Japanese motorcycles in order to help out Harley Davidson. In 2006, when President George W. Bush wanted to tout the virtues of free trade, he visited a Harley Davidson factory in Pennsylvania which was a major producer of motorcycles for exports. It is unlikely that Harley Davidson would have been exporting motorcycles in 2006 without the tariffs that allowed it some breathing space in 1983.

Of course, none of this means that Trump’s washing machine tariffs are a good idea. If they are in fact part of a well-crafted trade and industrial policy strategy, he is managing to keep this strategy secret from just about everyone. It looks mostly like the main effect will just be that we pay more for washing machines, even if the story may not be quite as bad as advertised.

April 26, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | Leave a comment

Wikipedia founder appointed to judge trustworthiness of news, proving satire is dead

By Helen Buyniski | RT | April 26, 2019

The Orwellian browser plugin NewsGuard, which purports to judge the trustworthiness of media outlets, has appointed Wikipedia’s founder to its board, proving that even neoliberal thought police have a sense of humor.

In its bid to “tackle misinformation online,” NewsGuard has named such defenders of journalistic integrity as former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to its advisory board. That’s Wikipedia, “the encyclopedia anyone can edit,” where propaganda and hoaxes cross-pollinate to produce mutant strains of fake news that would make a 19th-century ‘yellow journal’ merchant blush.

The Wikipedia model posits that it’s hopeless to look for absolute truth, so the best we can hope for is “verifiability.” This is achieved by querying “reliable sources” and writing up whatever the consensus is. Editors are forbidden from drawing conclusions based on the sources they use – if a “reliable source” hasn’t covered it, it didn’t happen. And what does Wikipedia consider reliable? The same type of publications that NewsGuard assigns a “green” rating – mainstream media outlets – along with scholarly journals, books from reputable publishers, and so on.

Giving Wikipedia’s co-founder a say in determining what sources will be considered “reliable” in the future may sound like a terrible idea, but wait – there’s more. Wales’ latest project, WikiTribune, launched in 2017 with the lofty goal of fixing the news (sound familiar?) and attempting to wed the Wikipedia model of volunteer editors with the mainstream-media model of paid journalists. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn’t work out, and Wales fired all the journalists. The project went dormant last year, but is now being re-launched as a “fact-checking wiki,” according to Wales. Surely it’s just a coincidence that he’s been welcomed onto the board of a company that wants to make its plugin part of the internet experience for everyone.

Hoaxes, mistakes, and propaganda written into Wikipedia make their way into “reliable sources” frequently, when rushed journalists who don’t have time for proper fact-checking instead glance at Wikipedia and uncritically reprint what they find there. If these journalists happen to write for a “reliable source,” what they’ve printed then becomes “reliable” for the purposes of Wikipedia, meaning that even if the original hoax, mistake, or propaganda is uncovered and removed, it can now be re-added ad infinitum, because a reliable source said it. This process is so common it has a name – “citogenesis.

Coverage of Wikipedia hoaxes that became ‘real’ tends to focus on the ridiculous ones – the fake Australian Aboriginal deity ‘Jar’Edo Wens’ who made it into a book on religion after hiding out in a Wikipedia entry for nine years – or the seemingly endless parade of celebrity death hoaxes. But citogenesis can have far more damaging effects. Turkish history professor Taner Akcam was detained by Canadian and later US authorities because Wikipedia vandals had written that he was a terrorist.

Editor Edward Patrick Alva fudged the facts in Wikipedia articles about controversial rape incidents on college campuses in order to make them conform to the version of events reported in ‘The Hunting Ground’, a film he helped produce, writes the Washington Examiner. The depiction of colleges as “hunting grounds” for sexual predators has arguably terrified a generation of women based on false and misrepresented data, and the editing of protagonists’ biographies to emphasize rape accusations that were never substantiated rises to the level of libel.

The US media spent years embroiled in a fictional conspiracy involving the Russian government colluding with Donald Trump to get him elected president, and Wikipedia had more to do with that than many people think. After all, when one encounters an unfamiliar name or term in the news – ‘Seth Rich’, ‘kompromat’ – they Google it, and the first result on Google is usually Wikipedia.

Yes, political operatives are editing Wikipedia, and they favor a certain narrative. Before the Mueller report crushed the Russiagate hopes of millions of #Resistance keyboard-warriors, Wikipedia editors – including several administrators – were seriously discussing banning“pro-Trump users” (a category some expanded to include users who denied the reality of the Russian-collusion conspiracy theory) from editing political articles. They had already decided to “purge” an article on “Russian interference in the 2016 US elections” of sources contradicting Russian hacking claims, so it was a logical next step. After all, reliable sources said there was collusion, so it must be true!

Wikipedia claims to be written by everyday people, but its history of pay-for-play editing by everyone from congressional aides to intelligence agencies to members of Parliament to “Zionist editing initiatives” to the Vatican – to say nothing of an army of corporate shills and PR flacks – proves that isn’t the whole story. Wikipedia does not actually forbid editing for pay, nor does Jimmy Wales condemn it, so long as the editor admits their paid status (on their profile page, which the casual Wikipedia reader never sees). What better partner for NewsGuard than a website where the ruling establishment can inject favorable coverage of itself while pretending it comes from the hoi polloi?

Trust in mainstream media dropped to historic lows on both sides of the pond around the time Trump was elected and the Brits voted themselves off the World-Island, outcomes that were both met with apocalyptic dismay from the ruling class. This outbreak of populism was blamed on ‘fake news’, a phenomenon that sprung fully-formed from the forehead of mainstream-media propagandists to explain away the people’s maddening tendency to vote in what they believed to be their best interests. Even though fake news has been a problem since the advent of the printing press, Americans and Brits were told that this new strain of disinformation, bearing the unmistakable imprint of Putin Inc., could single-handedly shatter our fragile democracies if we did not at once put down the independent media and rush back into the comforting arms of “reliable sources” (which happens to be the name of Brian Stelter’s show on CNN, a fact that is surely coincidental).

NewsGuard continues that patronizing narrative, serving up color-coded ‘nutrition labels’ to ensure internet users they won’t accidentally ingest anything spicy that might cause them to radically reconsider their place in the world, or their country’s policies, or their relationship to technologies like NewsGuard. It’s an extra-delicious irony that Tom Ridge, the same man who introduced a color-coded terror warning system during George W. Bush’s presidency, also sits on the advisory board of NewsGuard.

NewsGuard gives WikiLeaks, which has never had to issue a correction, an untrustworthy “red” rating, while trusting Wikipedia – which has unleashed literally hundreds of hoaxes on the world, and that’s only the ones we know about – so much they name its founder to their board. Wales’ appointment to the advisory board of NewsGuard is proof that this organization has never been about stopping the spread of fake news – only spreading their own.

April 26, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | 1 Comment

Trump’s Arms Proposal Is Really All About The Space Race

By Andrew Korybko | EurasiaFuture | 2019-04-26

There’s nothing that anyone can argue about in principle concerning the spirit behind Trump’s arms proposal, but peel back a few strategic layers and it becomes clear that it’s really all about the Space Race and weakening the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership.

Trump’s arms proposal is making waves all across the world after officials in his administration told the media that “he thinks that arms control should include Russia and China and should include all the weapons, all the warheads, all the missiles”, suggesting a comprehensive global military pact that could in theory change the course of International Relations in the 21st century. On the surface, there’s nothing that anyone can argue about in principle concerning the spirit behind this idea, but peel back a few strategic layers and it becomes clear that it’s really all about the Space Race and weakening the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership.

The US evidently believes that its much-touted “Space Force” gives it a noticeable edge over its competitors and will eventually neutralize Earth-based weapons platforms, something that Russia already suspects is the case after First Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operations Department Lt. Gen.Viktor Poznikhir told the Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) earlier this week that “the US had developed a concept of pre-launch interception and planned to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles of Russia, China and other countries while they are still in launchers”, strongly hinting at its strategic adversary’s impressive space-based military capabilities.

It’s likely for this reason why Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov cautiously welcomed this proposal but qualified his country’s support for it by saying that “further steps towards nuclear disarmament will require creating a number of prerequisites and taking into account many factors that have a direct impact on strategic stability – from the emergence of a missile defense system and the possibility of weapons deployment in space to fundamental changes in the sphere of conventional weapons, the emergence of cyber weapons and many other factors.” Evidently, Russia senses a trap, and not without good reason.

Trump knows that his proposal is misleading but will probably generate a lot of positive coverage in the global press, which not only boosts his re-election prospects next year but also improves the US’ international image to an extent. In addition, his strategists are aware that the proposal is more attractive to Russia than it is to China, which experts interviewed by CNN about this noted when they described the People’s Republic as not “even in the same ballpark” with those other two Great Powers and “not even playing the same game” when it comes to the weapons that Washington wants to limit.

Knowing that his proposal will probably flounder, Trump likely intends to use it for short-term soft power purposes and to exploit its likely failure as the long-term pretext for doubling down on the US’ military-industrial complex and specifically its missile defense and space-based component that will greatly offset the strategic stability that relatively stabilized International Relations up until this point. In the event that Russia plays along with the US for appearance’s sake in entering into some degree of negotiations about this topic while China predictably stays away, then Washington might seek to exploit this divergence between its two Great Power rivals in order to divide them further.

That, however, will probably only be as successful as Trump’s arms proposal (which is to say, that it’ll likely also fail) because President Putin just proudly proclaimed that Russia and China’s supercontinental integrational projects of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) will begin the process of merging into a multipolar megastructure during the speech that he gave at the ongoing BRI Forum in Beijing. Despite the occasional differences between these two strategic partners and their underwhelming real-sector economic cooperation so far, neither of them wants the US to get its way in dividing and ruling Eurasia at their expense.

April 26, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Militarism | , , | Leave a comment