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Riyadh doesn’t yet know who carried oil strikes or why: Saudi energy minister

Press TV – September 17, 2019

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman says Riyadh does not yet know who were behind the highly disruptive drone attacks on Saudi Aramco petroleum and gas processing plants at Abqaiq and Khurais in the kingdom’s Eastern Province, which sent crude prices skyrocketing.

“We don’t know who is behind the attack,” he told reporters in the western Red Sea city of Jeddah on Tuesday, adding that Riyadh wants “proof based on professionalism and internationally recognized standards.”

Prince Abdulaziz, who was only appointed to the role earlier this month, went on to say that Saudi Arabia had dipped into its strategic reserves to maintain supply to clients.

He said stricter measures were needed to be taken to prevent further attacks, but did not provide any elaboration.

The Saudi energy minister then alleged that the kingdom would achieve 11 million barrels per day (bpd) capacity by the end of September, and 12 million bpd by the end of November.

“Restoring sustainable production capacity to 11 million bpd by the end of the month is an ambitious target, given the amount of repairs required” at the sites, Alex Schindelar, president of the Energy Intelligence group, told AFP though.

The remarks come as the United States has tried to build its case that Iran was behind the attacks. Iran has denied being behind the assaults, which knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production.

Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement has claimed responsibility for the attacks, warning Saudi Arabia that their targets “will keep expanding.”

On Tuesday, Ansarullah censured support for the Saudi-led coalition of aggressors in the wake of Yemeni retaliatory drone attacks on Aramco oil facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia, stressing that those who have no reservations at all about the bloodletting in the war-ravaged country must bear the consequences of their actions.

“Peace in the region can be restored only through dialogue and understanding, and away from the clatter of weapons. Yemeni people hope to see security and peace prevail across the Arabian Peninsula. They will never surrender to oppression and others’ domination,” Mohammed Abdul-Salam, spokesman for the movement, said in a string of tweets.

He added, “Those condemning the September 14 operation have indeed denounced themselves as they have exposed their blatant bias in favor of the aggressor. In fact, their condemnation would embolden the criminal regime to continue its criminal acts against our people.”

The senior Houthi official noted that “Saudi oil is not more precious than Yemeni blood,” emphasizing that those who have no respect whatsoever for the Yemeni people’s lives must embrace all consequences of their actions.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power and crushing Ansarullah movement.

The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the war has claimed more than 91,000 lives over the past four and a half years.

The war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories. The UN says over 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including 10 million suffering from extreme levels of hunger.

September 18, 2019 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , | 1 Comment

Will the US use Greece to block Russia in the Black Sea?

By Paul Antonopoulos | September 18, 2019

The Trump administration last week made its first major step to create a Greek-centric NATO corridor following United States Ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, announcement that his country intends to acquire the strategic port of Alexandroupoli. If Athens is to accept such a proposal, the country would be contributing to a geopolitical escalation. The US is attempting to push Greece, a traditional rival to Turkey, closer to them at a time when Ankara continues to defy NATO by strengthening its relations with Russia.

The port of Alexandroupoli is of particular importance to US policy in not only the Balkans, but especially to Russia. It is also an important energy route as the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) pipeline and the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) is in the region. The port is also important for transportation as it is strategically located close to the Turkish-controlled Dardanelles that connects the Aegean/Mediterranean Seas with the Black Sea, and therefore Russia.

With the acquisition of this port, NATO and US forces may be in the Balkans in only a few hours and can easily stop Russian trade with the world via the Black Sea by blockading the Dardanelles. With Turkey increasingly defying NATO – in which Greece is also a member state of – by improving relations with Russia and buying the S-400, the US can make Greece more aligned with it under the guise of ensuring Greece’s security.

Turkey violates Greece’s maritime and air space on a daily basis, Erdogan makes continued threats to invade the rest of Cyprus. Only weeks ago he made a speech in front of a map that shows Greece’s eastern Mediterranean islands occupied by Turkey, and days ago Turkey removed the inhabited Greek island of Kastellorizo from online maps to claim sovereignty over oil and gas reserves, while continuing threats to flood Greece again with illegal immigrants, among others. Greece undoubtably has an extremely aggressive neighbour.

With Turkey illegally occupying large areas of northern Syria and Cyprus, and illegally intervening in Iraq, Greece must deal with an extremely provocative and expansionist-driven neighbour. With Russia traditionally remaining silent on Turkish provocations towards Greece, it is unlikely that Moscow will stop doing so now that relations are flourishing between the two Black Sea neighbours.

The US are trying to capitalize on Erdogan’s aggression towards Greece by attempting to pivot Athens towards them. If the Greek leadership decide to accept the US offer, it will be a powerful blow towards Turkish expansionism in the Aegean and will create a major security threat for Russia. As Greece is a rival of Turkey, the fact it prioritized creating a powerful navy and air force that could block the Dardanelles if needed, might embolden Greece to take direct actions against Turkey’s continued aggressions and threats.

Despite Greece being an economically ruined country today with a demographic crisis, it still maintains high military standards. This is reflected with Greece having the best pilots in NATO, in which Turkey is also a member of. In maritime matters, Greece has a far superior navy and experience in the Aegean. The Greek Navy has a long tradition and has never been defeated in combat. For this reason, Greece’s navy is one of the most important world naval powers today, at a military and commercial level. Although Turkey’s army makes it one of the largest in the world, it is rendered useless in any war with Greece. Although Greece has a significant maritime border with Turkey, the land border is only 200km long, making it easy to fortify.

With security against Turkey’s continued aggression being a major priority for Greece, the US ambassador is trying to woo the country into allowing the privatization of the port of Alexandroupoli. He stated: “Alexandroupoli is a crucial link to European energy security, regional stability, and economic growth, so it makes sense that the United States and Greece have chosen here to work together to advance our shared security and economic interests.”

With his emphasis on security, it will likely spark huge debates in Athens as it needs security assurances but will also not want to provoke Russia, a country that Greeks see with fraternity when remembering their shared Christian Orthodox faith and Russia’s military and diplomatic role in securing Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Empire. Although Russia is unlikely to back one side or another, a US-controlled port in Alexandroupoli can significantly weaken Russia’s Black Sea capabilities.

If comments by the National Defense Minister, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, of the newly elected neoliberal government is anything to go by, it can be expected that Athens will allow Alexandroupoli to become a US-controlled port. He said that the “use of the port by the US Armed Forces” will be allowed “when there is [certainly] a need” for it, especially as Greece’s current “strategic defense relationship with the US and cooperation” are strengthened, “thereby contributing to regional stability and security.” In direct reference to Turkey, he also said “Greece is ready at any time and moment to defend and safeguard in full its sovereign rights.”

In order to avoid a US naval base on the other side of the Dardanelles, Russia should take a position it has proven to be capable of, and something the US lacks experience in- peacebuilding. If Russia can act as a mediator between Greek and Turkey, it might be enough to avoid Athens pivoting towards the US so that it can ensure its security. Russia has proven in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere that it is willing to serve as a mediator in international affairs. With Moscow currently having amicable relations with Ankara, Russia being viewed positively by the majority of Greeks, being a regional country to both Greece and Turkey, and having its owned vested interests in the region, Russia is in a unique position to be able to mediate mutually to find a lasting peace between Greece and Turkey, and to prevent the US acquiring the port of Alexandroupoli.

Paul Antonopoulos is the director of the Multipolarity research centre.

September 18, 2019 Posted by | Militarism | , , , | 3 Comments

Facebook will bankroll an ‘independent supreme court’ to moderate your content & set censorship precedents

By Helen Buyniski | RT | September 18, 2019

Facebook has unveiled the charter for its ‘supreme court,’ a supposedly independent content moderation board that will take money from, and be appointed by, Facebook itself – while making binding decisions. What could go wrong?

Facebook has released preliminary plans for an “Oversight Board” tasked with reviewing content disputes. The 40-member body, referred to previously as Facebook’s “supreme court,” will have the authority to make binding decisions regarding cases brought to it by users or by the social media behemoth itself, according to a white paper released Tuesday, which stresses that the new board will be completely independent of Facebook, by popular request.

The company has clearly taken pains to make this new construct look independent, the sort of place a user might be able to go to get justice after being deplatformed by an algorithm incapable of understanding sarcasm or context. But board members will be paid out of a trust funded by Facebook and managed by trustees appointed by Facebook, while the initial board members will also be appointed by Facebook.

“We agreed with feedback that Facebook alone should not name the entire board,” the release states, proceeding to outline how Facebook will select “a small group of initial members,” who will then fill out the rest of the board. The trustees – also appointed by Facebook – will make the formal appointments of members, who will serve three-year terms.

Facebook insists it is “committed to selecting a diverse and qualified group” – no current or former Facebook employees or spouses thereof, current government officials or lobbyists (former ones are apparently OK), high-ranking officials within political parties (low-ranking is apparently cool), or significant shareholders of Facebook need apply. A law firm will be employed to vet candidates for conflicts of interest, but given Facebook’s apparent inability to recognize the conflict of interest inherent in paying “independent” board members to make binding content decisions, it’s hard to tell what would qualify as a conflict.

How will Facebook decide which cases get the democracy treatment? Cases with significant real-world impact – meaning they affect a large number of people, threaten “someone else’s voice, safety, privacy, or dignity,” or have sparked public debate – and are difficult to parse with regard to existing policy will be heard first. “For now,” only Facebook-initiated cases will be heard by the board – Facebook users will be able to launch their own appeals by mid-2020. Is the company merely reaching for an “independent” rubber-stamp to justify some of its more controversial decisions as the antitrust sharks start circling? Decisions will not only be binding, but also applicable to other cases not being heard, if they’re deemed similar enough – potentially opening a Pandora’s box of far-reaching censorship.

In a letter accompanying the white paper, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claims the company’s moderators take into account “authenticity, safety, privacy, and dignity – guided by international human rights standards” when they make a decision to take down content. Given that the company’s own lawyers have questioned the very existence of users’ privacy, what does this bode for the other “values,” let alone international human rights standards?

Perhaps most ominously, Zuckerberg seems to have bigger things in mind for his Oversight Board than merely weighing in on Facebook content moderation decisions. “We expect the board will only hear a small number of cases at first, but over time we hope it will expand its scope and potentially include more companies across the industry as well” (emphasis added). Not exactly a throwaway line from the man who said he wanted Facebook to become an internet driver’s license. The private-sector social credit score may be closer than we think – and Zuckerberg would very much like to be the scorekeeper.

September 18, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , | 4 Comments