Aletho News


The US was named the best equipped country to deal with a pandemic not a year ago — what happened there?

By Peter Andrews | RT | March 31, 2020

Just last year, the US topped a list of the countries best equipped to deal with a pandemic. But the experts have egg on their face as America spirals into Covid-19 catastrophe. What went wrong?

It looks clear now that the US is going to be one of the countries worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Their stock market has gone into full blown meltdown, and is set for its worst quarter of all time. It seems inevitable that their economy will be plunged into a second Great Depression.

Soon they will overtake China’s number of deaths from Covid-19. Their figures now stand at almost 165,000 people infected, and having doubled in three days, the death toll has surpassed 3,000 people. President Trump has had to quickly recant his rhetoric about the lockdown being lifted and the country being put back to work by Easter. It now appears that the US, and its economy, is in for a long dark summer.

A bad bet

In October of last year, the Global Health Security Index was published. Its website bills it as “the first comprehensive assessment of global health security capabilities in 195 countries.” Developed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, in collaboration with The Economist Intelligence Unit, its major funders were the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Philanthropy Project and the Robertson Foundation.

Ever since the West African Ebola epidemic of 2014, which the Global Health Security Index calls “a wake-up call,” projects like this have been created to put better mechanisms in place for future pandemics of all kinds; be they naturally occurring viruses or genetically engineered bioweapons.

The tests the Index was based on concerns whether countries have “functional, tested, proven capabilities for stopping outbreaks at the source” which are then “regularly tested and shown to be functional in exercises or real-world events.” Pretty serious stuff, then.

Countries were assessed based on six criteria: “Prevention, Detection and Reporting, Rapid Response, Health System, Compliance with International Norms, and Risk Environment.” Of those six, the US topped the field in four, even scoring an almost perfect 98.2 in “Early Detection & Reporting.” (So much for that.)

Overall, the US put the rest of the world to shame, scoring 83.5 out of a possible 100. In second place was the United Kingdom, followed by the Netherlands, Australia and Canada. Italy is in 31st place overall, and China is in 51st place. Most of the lowest scoring countries are small islands or African countries, and Equatorial Guinea gets the wooden spoon. The full list and report can be viewed here.

A comedy of errors

Being one of the richest countries in the world at the cutting edge of scientific innovation and medicine should have gone some way towards making America pandemic-proof. So why, then, are they in such big trouble now? The answer lies in their government’s poor decision-making from the very beginning, which has sent them on the most dangerous of all possible paths.

They were too slow to begin testing suspected cases, and when they did, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bungled the rollout. Their cases really began to spike around mid-March, but now that they have taken the lead in confirmed cases outside of China, one feels that they will not look back. Just how bad the situation could deteriorate in the US remains to be seen.

A lot of very clever think tanks and one of the nation’s top universities collaborated on this project, and it turned out to be completely wrong. Their ’About’ page lists no fewer than 21 members of their International Panel of Experts, all with a list of qualifications and job titles as long as their arm.

If the experts could have looked into the future, they would have seen that South Korea, Singapore and China probably should have scored highest on the Index. Perhaps next time their predictions will be more accurate. That is, if the US economy has not been too badly decimated to fund research like this in the future.

Peter Andrews is an Irish science journalist and writer based in London. He has a background in the life sciences, and graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in genetics.

March 31, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 4 Comments

Can the United States decline peacefully?

By Kevin Barrett | Press TV | March 31, 2020

Professor Atta-ur-Rahman from Pakistan recently in an interview argued that this coronavirus pandemic may have originated as a US bioweapon. He’s not just any doctor, but he’s the chairman of (Pakistani Prime Minister) Imran Khan’s National Task Force on Science and Technology. And Pakistan’s former UN Ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon said the same thing.

This is very interesting. The US, of course, has been very close to Pakistan in the past. And today Pakistan is trying to balance between the US and China. Hearing this kind of statement from high level people in Pakistan is a wakeup call that the world needs to take this seriously.

I think that the context is such that anybody who’s seriously paying attention to contemporary history has to admit that from the circumstantial evidence alone, it seems very likely that we should see this as a deliberate US biological attack on China, and perhaps on Iran or perhaps the Israelis did that.

The reason for this is that the US has entered into a period of great power competition with a rising China, not just a rising China but with a very rapidly rising China, if we listen to serious geostrategic analysts such as John Mearsheimer, a very brilliant man who tries to tell the truth as he sees it, as we all know, from his analysis with, with Walt on the Israel lobby here in the United States.

In October 2014, just about six years to the day before the US military sports team came to Wuhan, China, perhaps bringing that virus and while at the same time an exercise was being run, “Event 201”, mimicking exactly what would happen in the case of this kind of pandemic, John Mearsheimer published an article called, Can China Rise Peacefully? His answer was no.

John Mearsheimer is an American political scientist and international relations scholar. And he argued that the United States is going to take extraordinary measures to kill Chinese economic growth, which has been averaging 10% since 1980, and which is still up at 7%, putting China on a course to grossly eclipse the United States in economic and enhanced technological and military power within a decade or two at the very most.

Mearsheimer says the United States will undoubtedly do what it takes to stop this no matter what. Here’s a quote from his article he said,

“All of this tells us the United States has a profound interest in seeing Chinese economic growth slowed considerably in the years ahead. That outcome might not be good for American prosperity, much less for global prosperity, but it would be good for American security, which is what matters most.”

So that prediction was that the US would be willing to kill not only the global economy, but the American economy as well in order to stop this precipitous Chinese ascendance in the world. That’s what’s happened obviously.

If China’s growing at over 7% and the US is growing at a couple of percent at most, that differential leads to quick Chinese dominance of its region and then the world, whereas if the whole world’s growth is killed, and China’s dives down to a percent or two, and even if the US growth goes a little bit negative, this change doesn’t happen, the US maintains its current global military supremacy or so it may think.

So clearly, from the background, the historical background in the context everybody in the world who knows anything about history needs to be talking about, this as a US bioweapon attack on China just as the Chinese are saying, just like the Iranian government’s saying just like the Russian government’s saying and now just like the top people in Pakistan are saying.

Kevin Barrett is an American author, journalist and radio host with a Ph.D. in Islamic and Arabic Studies.

March 31, 2020 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, War Crimes | , , | 6 Comments

UAE’s Rapprochement With Syria Aimed Against Turkey

By Paul Antonopoulos | March 31, 2020

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the head of United Arab Emirates (UAE), spoke by phone on Friday in the first such communication since the Syrian War began in 2011. This shows a metamorphosis of alliances and geopolitics in the Middle East and the wider region considering the UAE was one of the main backers of terrorist organizations who fought to remove Assad from power. However, for more than a year, the UAE has been sending signals showing a change in policy towards Syria. The phone call was after a long series of rapprochement that began in late 2018 with the reopening of the Emirati embassy in Damascus.

“I have discussed with the Syrian president… updates on the coronavirus. I assured him of the support of the UAE and its willingness to help the Syrian people,” Prince Mohammed said on Twitter. “Humanitarian solidarity during trying times supersedes all matters, and Syria and her people will not stand alone.”

A diplomatic source close to the case was quoted by the Lebanese daily L’Orient-Le Jour as saying the “Westerners, the Americans and French particularly, were against” a Syrian-Emirati rapprochement. According to the diplomatic source, the UAE is trying to gain favours from Moscow and has already won dozens of contracts, including in armaments, gas and infrastructure, but also with space cooperation. This is part of a broader geostrategic context and the stakes go far beyond Syria and the UAE. Rather, the UAE has acknowledged that Russia has taken a greater interest in the region, in particular in Syria and Libya.

Relations between the Gulf monarchies and the United States, traditional allies, have greatly deteriorated in recent years. The gradual disengagement of American forces from the region, but especially the lack of support from Washington against Turkey, made the monarchies with the exception of Qatar, lose the confidence they once had in the United States. According to the diplomatic source quoted by L’Orient-Le Jour, the UAE is trying to get closer to Beijing and Moscow, and the Crown Prince’s phone call to Assad is evidence of that. The call also comes as relations with Iran softened, especially seen with the many Emirati delegations who visited Iran last year, however this has not softened the UAE’s brutal Yemeni policy. None-the-less, this suggests a change in foreign policy that appeals to Moscow.

It appears then that the UAE’s turn around in its Syria policy serves two purposes: first – to strengthen relations with Russia, second – to form an anti-Turkish bloc.

As Turkey actively pursues the establishment of a neo-Ottoman Empire, the UAE is aggressively undermining the project as it opposes the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has openly supported and backed in Syria, Libya and Egypt. The UAE recognized the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization in 2014 after the fundamentalist group made plans to infiltrate and destabilize the Gulf country to take control – the main reason for the ever-increasing deterioration in relations between the UAE and Turkey.

Since then, the UAE has been actively countering Turkish influence across the region. As part of its efforts to create an anti-Turkish block, the UAE have strengthened their relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt fear being taken over by Muslim Brotherhood rule. However, the UAE’s pursuit of countering Turkey has not been reduced to only the Islamic world.

Greece, considered the “Old Enemy” by the Turks, received 11 tons of medical aid from the UAE on Thursday, with a Greek government press release stating that relations “began as economic cooperation, but thanks to the trust that was developed, it evolved into a strong bond.” This came as a working meeting of the Greece-UAE Broader Strategic Cooperation Forum was held in Athens on February 19 following the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ visit to UAE. In 2019 and 2020, the UAE and Greece has conducted joint military drills and military heads have been meeting each other often in a clear directive against Turkey.

In Libya, the UAE has not held back in supporting the Libyan National Army in their struggle against the Muslim Brotherhood government in Tripoli, headed by the ethnic Turk Fayez al-Sarraj who has the full backing of Erdoğan. The UAE’s material assistance has been crucial in the success of the Libyan National Army’s battle against Muslim Brotherhood forces, a clear demonstration that the UAE are willing to directly check Turkey’s ambitions to exert its influence and power across the region.

By securing close relations with Greece and directly countering Turkey in Libya, the UAE’s rapprochement with Syria is another step in formulating an anti-Turkish bloc, with itself at the head. While Turkey has acted to strangulate countries who oppose its hegemony in the region, it now appears that it is the UAE who is pressurizing Turkey and isolating it. There is every chance that the UAE will begin sending material aid to Syria that will be crucial in its future battles to expel the Turkish military and their jihadist proxies from Syrian territory. This will once again undermine Turkey’s efforts to dominate Syria and be the main power in the region, a move that Erdoğan would not have expected.

Paul Antonopoulos is a Research Fellow at the Center for Syncretic Studies.

March 31, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump tiptoeing toward energy market management

Oil price war in the time of Covid-19
By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | March 31, 2020

On Monday, the US President Donald Trump literally bit the bullet by telephoning Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the state of the energy markets, which are at a crisis point not seen in history. As of last weekend, global oil prices collapsed by over 50 percent and are the lowest seen in almost twenty years.

A defining moment has come. Starting April 1, OPEC+ countries (OPEC plus Russia) are at liberty to pump as much oil as they please. The increased oil volumes are sure to flood the oil market. Saudi Arabia has talked of offering 12.3 million barrels per day to the market.

The combination of a massive supply overhang and a significant demand shock at the same time has created an unprecedented situation in the oil market history. It threatens to have a multiplier effect on the deep recession in the world economy due to the coronavirus and the consequent lockdowns in large swathes of China and the industrial world.

For the US, the oil market bust could mean that over half of its shale industry, which has been charioting the country’s newfound oil superpower status, may go bankrupt. Breakeven price for US shale industry ranges from $40-50 per barrel — and prices have plummeted to around $20.

A similar crisis had arisen in 2014-2016 period but shale industry survived through a combination of pushing costs lower and retrenching — and bouncing back with higher profits once the crisis was over. However, this time around, shale drillers were already facing substantial hurdles with cash flow problems and maturing debt and the dramatic fall in income simply drives them bankrupt. Again, whereas the problem earlier was one of fall in oil prices, today it is also combining with the biggest demand slump in the history of oil.

The US shale sector is getting completely killed and tens of billions of dollars in equity could get wiped out. 13 US senators wrote to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman earlier this month urging halt to efforts to boost production and lower prices. They threatened to take action against Saudi Arabia if the “economic warfare” continued.

Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas told CNBC on Monday: “The Saudis are hoping to drive out of business American producers, and in particular shale producers, largely in the Permian Basin in Texas and in North Dakota. That behaviour is wrong, and I think it is taking advantage of a country that is a friend… If they don’t change their course, their relationship with the United States is going to change very fundamentally.”

However, the Saudis are not backing down from the oil price war for market share and are planning another increase in its oil exports starting in May. A prominent Saudi establishment commentator Bernard Haykel wrote recently that Riyadh’s decision reflects a broader and more fundamental strategic shift led by the Crown Prince. To quote Haykel, “He (Crown Prince) has embarked on a policy of capturing market share rather than trying to set the price.”

Indeed, the warning bells are ringing already for the shale industry. Tens of thousands of roughnecks are getting laid off. The Oil Price magazine forecasts that layoffs in the US oil industry could be as high as 200,000 jobs.

Tens of thousands are getting laid off in the US shale patch

The Brookings Institution anticipates in a study that the Midland-Odessa region of West Texas, where Occidental Petroleum and Parsley Energy have dominated, could be decimated. A top oil executive, Dan Eberhart, CEO of Denver-based Canary has been quoted as saying, “There’s definitely blood in the water. The weakest oil and gas companies, oilfield service companies and banks with heavy energy exposure might submerge beneath the waves before the end of the cycle never to surface again.”

The ripple effect is staggering. When the fracking companies go bankrupt and cannot repay debts, the credit market and the banks face a crisis, which in turn threatens the whole system of oil stock exchange.

Simply put, Saudi Arabia and Russia have dealt a lethal blow to the decade-old American fracking industry, which they have seen as a mortal enemy. The crux of the matter is that they are independently fighting the US and are determined to take the price war forward to conclusively finish off the American encroachment into their market share. (See my blog Oil price war is more about market share)

Recently, the chairman of Russia’s state-owned Rosneft, Igor Sechin, who is a longstanding associate of President Vladimir Putin, stated bluntly that as soon as US shale leaves the market, prices will rebound and could reach $60 a barrel.

The bottom line is that for President Trump, the political costs are exceedingly high. For one thing, his boast that the US has become the most significant player in global oil markets is coming unstuck and his agenda to secure “energy dominance” on the back of a shale boom is exposed as a pipedream.

More importantly, Trump’s trademark policy of weaponisation of sanctions against Iran, Venezuela and Russian oil industry and its flagship Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project to grab these countries’ market shares is running into headwinds.

Russia is moving in quickly to turn the “oil war” also into a war for natural gas market share in Europe. Russia has watched with unease the arrival of shale gas on European shores that could potentially erode its commanding position as the single largest supplier of natural gas to Europe. The US has been touting the LNG sales to Europe as “freedom gas”, which helps European countries to reduce their high level of dependence on Russian supplies.

The US sanctions against Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which connects Russian fields with Germany and northern Europe and was nearing completion, is a case in point. The sanctions targets Russia’s Gazprom from expanding and consolidating its towering presence in Europe’s energy market. Unsurprisingly, Moscow is in an unforgiving mood.  

Following Trump’s phone call to Putin, the White House said the Russian and US leaders “agreed on the importance of stability in global energy markets.” The US Department of Energy Spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes hyped it up further and told TASS, “[US Energy] Secretary Brouillette will discuss with his Russian counterpart, Minister Novak, ways the world’s largest producers can address volatility in the global oil markets during this unprecedented period of turmoil.”

But the Kremlin readout merely said, “They (Trump and Putin) exchanged views on the current state of the global oil market and agreed that Russian and American energy ministers should hold consultations on this topic.”

The big question is whether Trump’s phone call to Putin signifies Washington’s first step in a historic move to cooperate with Moscow in energy market management. Objectively speaking, the oil crisis needs a joined-up international response, and, arguably, the solution lies in looking beyond OPEC (and OPEC+) at a wider coalition — OPEC++ that includes the US. In principle, Saudi Arabia and Russia would favour the idea that the high-cost producers outside the OPEC+ group must finally share the burden of balancing the oil market.

Given the fact that Trump is vying for re-election this year and a significant portion of his supporters are engaged in shale oil and gas production, he may bite the bullet — at least, as a one-off, time-limited bite.


March 31, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Europe sends medical supplies to Iran in first INSTEX transaction: Germany

Press TV – March 31, 2020

Germany says the three European signatories to the 2015 Iran deal have registered the first transaction under a trade system set up last year to protect companies doing business with Iran from US sanctions, delivering medical supplies to the Islamic Republic amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, Berlin’s Foreign Ministry said Germany, France and Britain “confirm that INSTEX (trade system) has successfully concluded its first transaction, facilitating the export of medical goods from Europe to Iran.”

“These goods are now in Iran,” it said in a statement, giving no further details.

The German Foreign Ministry added that Berlin hopes to enhance the mechanism and carry out more transactions with Tehran.

“Now the first transaction is complete, INSTEX and its Iranian counterpart STFI (Special Trade and Finance Instrument) will work on more transactions and enhancing the mechanism,” the German Foreign Ministry said.

Iranian authorities have not commented on the news so far.

The transaction comes over a year after the European trio announced the creation of INSTEX — a non-dollar direct payment channel officially called the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges — in an effort to keep Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers alive.

The apparatus was designed to circumvent the sanctions that the United States re-imposed against Iran after leaving a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, the trio, plus Russia and China.

However, the Europeans have not been able to operationalize the non-dollar trade mechanism under pressure from the US.

The system was launched after Iran complained about the European countries failing to maintain trade with the country as mandated under the nuclear deal, and bowing instead to Washington’s pressure.

In May, Iran initiated a set of countermeasures against Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and following the European partners’ failure to guarantee Tehran’s business interests under the agreement.

Iran had accepted the nuclear limits voluntarily as part of the deal, despite not being obligated by the UN nuclear agency to commit to any such restrictions.

Tehran has vowed to reverse all its nuclear activities as soon as the other JCPOA signatories begin fully implementing their obligations.

March 31, 2020 Posted by | War Crimes, Wars for Israel | | 2 Comments