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Brookings Wants to Strengthen the Syrian Rebels by Bombing Hezbollah

By Steven MacMillan – New Eastern Outlook – 24.10.2015

Western think tanks have been working relentlessly to try and counter Russia’s geopolitical masterstroke in Syria, which has clearly taken most strategists in the West by complete surprise. Reading through the analysis by these think tanks on Russia’s role in Syria, one is starkly reminded of how immoral Western foreign policy actually is, when you remember that these organisations are freaking out because Russia is bombing terrorists! Obviously, the reason why they are so distraught is because Russia is bombing the West’s terrorists, which they have been using as proxy armies to try and force regime change in Damascus (a strategy that has completely failed).

Potential countermeasures are the subject of a recent article for the Brookings Institution written by Pavel K. Baev, a nonresident senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings, titled: Russia’s Syrian entanglement: Can the West sit back and watch? Baev suggests that “the decision to withdraw the batteries of Patriot surface-to-air missiles [from Turkey] must be cancelled”,before arguing that the US and its allies could bomb “Hezbollah bands around Damascus”:

“Finally, the United States and its allies could deliver a series of airstrikes on the Hezbollah bands around Damascus. That would be less confrontational vis-à-vis Russia than hitting Assad’s forces. Hezbollah has already suffered losses in the Syrian war and is not particularly motivated to stand with Assad to the bitter end, away from [its] own home-ground in Lebanon. (Israel would appreciate such punishment, too.)”

Striking Hezbollah may not have the desired effect Baev seems to envisage however, as this belligerent action is as likely to galvanize the group and ensure it will fight “to the bitter end” with the Syrian army, than encourage it to scale back its involvement in Syria. Airstrikes on Hezbollah could also potentially provoke a response against the perpetrators of the violence, further escalating a conflict that already involves a plethora of regional and international powers. Furthermore, many people would consider an attack on Hezbollah to be essentially an attack on Iran, as the Lebanese based group is funded by Tehran and closely aligned with the country.

Brookings recommendations once again highlight the fact that large sections of the US establishment have absolutely no focus on defeating ISIS in the region, as Brookings is advocating bombing a major group that has been fighting ISIS for years now. Rather, many within the US are still focused on toppling the regime in Damascus (which is never going to happen) in addition to weakening the forces that are battling ISIS. If the West was serious about defeating ISIS, they would support and cooperate with the forces that are truly fighting against this new so-called caliphate.

TTIP is an Geoeconomic Tool against Russia

 Western strategists are terrified of Europe moving closer to the East, and an EU-Russian (especially a German-Russian) alliance arising. Merging Russia and the EU in the future is an objective of some US strategists, but Washington only desires this if both Russia and the EU are completely subservient to US dictates. Today however, Russia is a sovereign, independent nation which is not controlled by the US, and some within the EU are increasingly tiring of being vassals of Washington. This means closer relations between Russia and the EU is a geopolitical disaster for the US at the present moment, as Washington’s power will be severely diminished if this tectonic shift occurs.

By understanding this reality, it is now obvious how essential the trade deal between the US and the EU – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – is to US geostrategy. As well as being a corporate fascist deal that empowers multi-national corporations at the expense of citizens, TTIP is a geoeconomic weapon against Russia to cement the transatlantic alliance between the US and the EU.

Ensuring TTIP passes was a recommendation of another Western organisation that has been working on potential counter strategies to Russia, namely the Washington-based Atlantic Council (AC). In a testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on October 8, 2015, Gen James L. Jones, Jr., the Chairman of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and a former National Security Advisor, Jones emphasises the importance of TTIP “successfully concluding” for the West:

“Energy security is instrumental for transatlantic growth, prosperity, and security. The same can be said of successfully concluding TTIP. Europe and the US have the largest trading partnership in the world. Strengthening it serves our mutual interests and reaffirms the centrality of the transatlantic alliance in the 21st century. TTIP also affords the U.S. a unique opportunity to author the rulebook and roadmap for 21st century advanced economies.”

Jones other recommendations include working to diversify the EU’s energy supply to “undermine Putin’s use of energy as a political weapon”, continuing to impose sanctions on Moscow, in addition to admitting Montenegro into NATO next year and working to pull Macedonia into the military alliance. The retired General also asserts that the US should provide the government in Kiev with “anti-tank missiles, intelligence support, training and counter-electronic warfare capabilities”.

Russia of course is well aware of the importance of TTIP to Washington’s long-term agenda. In Vladimir Putin’s speech at the United Nations at the end of September, Putin appeared to confront some of the US-led trade deals which we have seen being negotiated in recent years, most probably referring to TTIP and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) (from 18.45 into the speech):

“I would like to point out another sign of a growing economic selfishness. Some countries have chosen to create closed and exclusion economic associations, with the establishment being negotiated behind the scenes in secret from those countries own citizens, the general public [and] the business community. Other states whose interests may be effected are not informed of anything either. It seems we are about to be faced with an accomplished fact that the rules of the game have been changed in favour of a narrow group of the privileged, with the WTO having no say. This could imbalance the trade system completely and disintegrate the global economic space. These issues affect the interests of all states and influence the future of the world economy as a whole.”

For a multitude of reasons, defeating TTIP would be a colossal achievement for the world. Many European’s are diametrically opposed to this deal, with hundreds of thousands protesting TTIP in Germany a recent illustration of this sentiment. Stop TTIP!

October 24, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EU drops controls on dangerous chemicals after TTIP pressure from US – report

RT | May 22, 2015

EU proposals to regulate hormone-damaging chemicals linked to cancer, fertility problems and diabetes were allegedly dropped following pressure from US trade officials amid talks on the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Draft EU criteria could have banned some 31 pesticides containing dangerous endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), but according to documents obtained by Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe and cited by The Guardian, they were cast aside amid fears of a trade backlash by a powerful US lobby.

According to the report, a high-ranking delegation from the US Mission to Europe and the American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham) visited European Union trade officials in July 2013 in a bid to urge the EU to drop its planned criteria for identifying EDCs in favor of a new impact study. The TTIP trade deal was at stake, and the EU allegedly agreed to the US demands.

TTIP is a highly controversial proposed EU-US free trade treaty that has been criticized for its secretiveness and lack of accountability.

AmCham representatives allegedly “complained about the uselessness of creating categories and thus, lists” of prohibited substances. The US trade representatives reportedly suggested taking a risk-based approach to regulation, and “emphasized the need for an impact assessment” instead.

The secretary-general of the commission, Catherine Day, allegedly sent a letter to the environment department’s director, Karl Falkenberg, telling him to drop the draft criteria, suggesting that “as other DGs [directorate-generals] have done, you consider making a joint single impact assessment to cover all the proposals” instead.

“We do not think it is necessary to prepare a commission recommendation on the criteria to identify endocrine disrupting substances,” she allegedly wrote.

The result, according to The Guardian, was that legislation planned for 2014 was “kicked back until at least 2016, despite estimated health costs of €150bn per year in Europe from endocrine-related illnesses such as IQ loss, obesity and cryptorchidism – a condition affecting the genitals of baby boys.”

On top of this, ahead of the meeting, AmCham had allegedly warned the EU of “wide-reaching implications” if the draft criteria came to be approved. According to The Guardian, AmCham wanted an EU impact study to set looser thresholds for acceptable exposure to endocrines, based on a substance’s potency.

Bas Eickhout, a Green member of the European Parliament, told The Guardian : “These documents offer convincing evidence that TTIP not only presents a danger for the future lowering of European standards, but that this is happening as we speak.”

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) of the UK House of Commons is currently carrying out an inquiry into the proposed TTIP and its impacts on the environment and the developing world.

“We are very concerned that the US government has a long history of lobbying against EU action on chemicals, and that TTIP could provide a method for them to institutionalise this,” EAC wrote in January, adding that the US approach to chemicals regulation is generally acknowledged to be “outdated and ineffective.”

“Our strong belief that the inclusion of chemicals within TTIP will lower protection in the EU, and will further slowdown efforts to protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals,” the committee warned.

Earlier this year, CHEM Trust (a UK charity whose aim is to prevent manmade chemicals from causing long-term damage to wildlife or humans) and around 150 other civil society groups signed up to a joint statement against regulatory cooperation in TTIP.

“Civil society groups denounce ‘regulatory cooperation’ in the TTIP negotiations as a threat to democracy and an attempt to put the interests of big business before the protection of citizens, workers and the environment,” the statement said.

According to the State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals 2012 report, many endocrine-related diseases and disorders are currently on the rise. Global rates of endocrine-related cancers (breast, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, testicular and thyroid) have been increasing over the past 40-50 years, researchers say.

“Close to 800 chemicals are known or suspected to be capable of interfering with hormone receptors, hormone synthesis or hormone conversion. However, only a small fraction of these chemicals have been investigated in tests capable of identifying overt endocrine effects in intact organisms,” the report stated.

Scientists warn that while numerous laboratory studies support the idea that chemical exposures contribute to endocrine disorders in humans, the “most sensitive window of exposure to EDCs is during critical periods of development, such as during fetal development and puberty.”

Read more: US lawmakers agree to fast-track secretive international trade deals

May 22, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Free Trade, Corporate Plunder and the War on Working People

By COLIN TODHUNTER | CounterPunch | April 3, 2015

Prior to last year’s national elections in India, there were calls for a Thatcherite revolution to fast-track the country towards privatisation and neo-liberalism. Under successive Thatcher-led governments in the eighties, however, inequalities skyrocketed in Britain and economic growth was no better than in the seventies.

Traditional manufacturing was decimated and international finance became the bedrock of the ‘new’ economy. Jobs disappeared over the horizon to cheap labour economies, corporations bought up public utilities, the rich got richer and many of Britain’s towns and cities in its former industrial heartland became shadows of their former selves. Low paid, insecure, non-unionised labour is now the norm and unemployment and underemployment are rife. Destroying ordinary people’s livelihoods was done in the name of ‘the national interest’. Destroying industry was done in the name of ‘efficiency’.

In 2010, 28 percent of the UK workforce, some 10.6 million people, either did not have a job, or had stopped looking for one. And that figure was calculated before many public sector jobs were slashed under the lie of ‘austerity’.

Today, much of the mainstream political and media rhetoric revolves around the need to create jobs, facilitate ‘free’ trade, ensure growth and make ‘the nation’ competitive. The endless, tedious mantra says ordinary people have to be ‘flexible’, ‘tighten their belts, expect to do a ‘fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ and let the market decide. This creates jobs. This fuels ‘growth’. Unfortunately, it does neither. What we have is austerity. What we have is an on-going economic crisis, a huge national debt, rule by profligate bankers and corporate entities and mass surveillance to keep ordinary people in check.

So what might the future hold? Unfortunately, more of the same.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between the EU and US is intended to be the biggest trade deal in history. The EU and US together account for 40 percent of global economic output. The European Commission tries to sell the deal to the public by claiming that the agreement will increase GDP by one percent and will entail massive job creation.

However, these claims are not supported even by its own studies, which predict a growth rate of just 0.01 percent GDP over the next ten years and the potential loss of jobs in several sectors, including agriculture. Corporations are lobbying EU-US trade negotiators to use the deal to weaken food safety, labour, health and environmental standards and undermine digital rights. Negotiations are shrouded in secrecy and are being driven by corporate interests. And the outcome could entail the bypassing of any democratic processes in order to push through corporate-friendly policies. The proposed agreement represents little more than a corporate power grab.

It should come as little surprise that this is the case. Based on a recent report, the European Commission’s trade and investment policy reveals a bunch of unelected technocrats who care little about what ordinary people want and negotiate on behalf of big business. The Commission has eagerly pursued a corporate agenda and has pushed for policies in sync with the interests of big business. It is effectively a captive but willing servant of a corporate agenda. Big business has been able to translate its massive wealth into political influence to render the European Commission a “disgrace to the democratic traditions of Europe.”

This proposed trade agreement (and others like it being negotiated across the world) is based on a firm belief in ‘the market’ (a euphemism for subsidies for the rich, cronyism, rigged markets and cartels) and the intense dislike of state intervention and state provision of goods and services. The ‘free market’ doctrine that underpins this belief attempts to convince people that nations can prosper by having austerity imposed on them and by embracing neo-liberalism and ‘free’ trade. This is a smokescreen that the financial-corporate elites hide behind while continuing to enrich themselves and secure taxpayer handouts, whether in the form of bank bailouts or other huge amounts of corporate dole.

In much of the West, the actual reality of neo-liberalism and the market is stagnating or declining wages in real terms, high levels of personal debt and a permanent underclass, while the rich and their corporations to rake in record profits and salt away wealth in tax havens.

Corporate plunder in India 

Thatcher was a handmaiden of the rich. Her role was to destroy ‘subversive’ or socialist tendencies within Britain and to shatter the post-1945 Keynesian consensus based on full employment, fairness and a robust welfare state. She tilted the balance of power in favour of elite interests by embarking on a pro-privatisation, anti-trade union/anti-welfare state policy agenda. Sections of the public regarded Thatcher as a strong leader who would get things done, where others before her had been too weak and dithered. In India, Narendra Modi has been portrayed in a similar light.

His government is attempting to move ahead with ‘reforms’ that others dragged their feet on. To date, India has experienced a brand of ‘neo-liberalism lite’. Yet what we have seen thus far has been state-backed violence and human rights abuses to ‘secure’ tribal areas for rich foreign and Indian corporations, increasing inequalities, more illicit money than ever pouring into Swiss bank accounts and massive corruption and cronyism.

Under Modi are we to witness an accelerated ‘restructuring’ of agriculture in favour of Western agribusiness? Will more farmers be forced from their land on behalf of commercial interests? Officialdom wants to depopulate rural areas by shifting over 600 million to cities. It begs the question: in an age of increasing automation, how will hundreds of millions of agriculture sector workers earn their livelihoods once they have left the land?

What type of already filthy and overburdened urban centres can play host to such a gigantic mass of humanity who were deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ in rural India and will possibly be (indeed, already are) deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ once in the cities?

Gandhi stated that the future of India lies in its villages. Rural society was regarded as India’s bedrock. But now that bedrock is being dug up. Global agritech companies have been granted license to influence key aspects of agriculture by controlling seeds and chemical inputs and by funding and thus distorting the biotech research agenda and aspects of overall development policy.

Part of that ‘development’ agenda is based on dismantling the Public Distribution System for food. Policy analyst Devinder Sharma notes that the government may eventually stop supporting farmers by doing away with the system of announcing the minimum support price for farmers and thereby reduce the subsidy outgo. He argues that farmers would be encouraged to grow cash crops for supermarkets and to ‘compete’ in a market based on trade policies that work in favour of big landowners and heavily subsidised Western agriculture.

By shifting towards a commercialised system that would also give the poor cash to buy food in the market place, rather than the almost half a million ‘ration shops’ that currently exist, the result will be what the WTO/ World Bank/IMF have been telling India to for a long time: to displace the farming population so that agribusiness can find a stronghold in India.

We need only look at what happened to the soy industry in India during the nineties, or last year’s report by GRAIN, to see how small farmers are forced from their land to benefit powerful global agritech. If it cannot be achieved by unfair trade policies and other duplicitous practices, it is achieved by repression and violence, as Helena Paul notes:

“Repression and displacement, often violent, of remaining rural populations, illness, falling local food production have all featured in this picture. Indigenous communities have been displaced and reduced to living on the capital’s rubbish dumps. This is a crime that we can rightly call genocide – the extinguishment of entire Peoples, their culture, their way of life and their environment.”

Although Helena Paul is referring to the situation in Paraguay, what she describes could well apply to India or elsewhere.

In addition, the secretive corporate-driven trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and India could fundamentally restructure Indian society in favour of Western corporate interests and adversely impact hundreds of millions and their livelihoods and traditional ways of living. And as with the proposed US-EU agreement, powerful transnational corporations would be able to by-pass national legislation that was implemented to safeguard the public’s rights. Governments could be sued by multinational companies for billions of dollars in private arbitration panels outside of national courts if laws, policies, court decisions or other actions are perceived to interfere with their investments.

A massive shift in global power and wealth from poor to rich

Current negotiations over ‘free’ trade agreements have little to do with free trade. They are more concerned with loosening regulatory barriers and bypassing any democratic processes to allow large corporations to destroy competition and siphon off wealth to the detriment of smaller, locally based firms and producers.

The planet’s super rich comprise a global elite. It is not a unified elite. But whether based in China, Russia or India, its members have to varying extents been incorporated into the Anglo-American system of trade and finance. For them, the ability to ‘do business’ is what matters, not national identity or the ability to empathise with someone toiling in a field who happened to be born on the same land mass. And in order ‘to do business’, government machinery has been corrupted and bent to serve their ends. In turn, organisations that were intended to be ‘by’ and ‘for’ ordinary working people have been successfully infiltrated and dealt with.

The increasing global takeover of agriculture by powerful agribusiness, the selling off of industrial developments built with public money and strategic assets and secretive corporate-driven trade agreements represent a massive corporate heist of wealth and power across the world. The world’s super rich regard ‘nations’ as population holding centres to be exploited whereby people are stripped of control of their livelihoods for personal gain. Whether it concerns rich oligarchs in the US or India’s billionaire business men, corporate profits and personal gain trump any notion of the ‘national interest’.

Still want a Thatcherite revolution?

Colin Todhunter is an extensively published independent writer and former social policy researcher based in the UK and India.

April 3, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Syriza-led Greek parliament ‘will never ratify TTIP’

At an anti-TTIP demonstration in Berlin last month. (Photo: Uwe Hiksch/flickr/cc)
By Sarantis Michalopoulos | EurActiv | February 2, 2015

The newly-elected government in Athens has always been suspicious of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and will use its Parliament majority to sink the EU-US trade pact, claims a former Syriza MEP now turned minister.

After making its voice heard in the debate over sanctions on Russia, the new government in Athens is now making its opposition known to the EU-US trade deal, TTIP.

Georgios Katrougkalos, a former influential Syriza MEP who quit his European Parliament seat to become deputy minister for administrative reform in the leftist Greek government, said the new leadership in Athens will use its veto to kill the proposed trade pact – at least in its current form.

Just before the January elections, he told EurActiv Greece that a Syriza-dominated Greek parliament would never ratify the EU-USA trade deal.

Asked by EurActiv Greece whether the promise still holds now Syriza is in power, Katrougkalos replied:

“I can ensure you that a Parliament where Syriza holds the majority will never ratify the deal. And this will be a big gift not only to the Greek people but to all the European people”.

Double veto power

The leftist Syriza party may not have an absolute majority in Parliament but its junior coalition partner seems to share the same views on the EU-US trade pact.

Syriza, which won a stunning victory at snap elections a week ago (25 January) formed a coalition with the right-wing anti-austerity Independent Greeks party, which is intent on opposing laws seen as too favourable to big business.

The coalition agreement gives the new Greek leadership an effective veto power over TTIP and other deals submitted to Parliament ratification.

Indeed, once the pact is negotiated – a process which may still take over a year –, it will be submitted for a unanimous vote in the European Council, where each of the 28 EU national governments are represented.

This means that one country can use its veto power to influence the negotiations or block the trade deal as a whole, an opportunity Syriza will no doubt use.

And even if the pact makes it past this first stage, it will then be submitted to ratification by all parliaments of the 28 EU Member States, offering opponents a second opportunity to wield a veto.

Welfare state under threat

Like many other leftists and social democrats in Europe, Katrougkalos raised serious concerns about the Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism, or ISDS, contained in the pact.

The mechanism is designed to protect companies’ foreign investments against harmful or illegal rulings in the countries where they operate. It gives them the chance to take legal action against a state whose legislation negatively impacts their economic activity.

Katrougkalos  underlined the uncertainty surrounding the ISDS negotiations, saying the European Commission’s precise mandate was unclear.

“An undemocratic practice of lack of transparency has prevailed from the very beginning of the negotiations,” he claimed.

The newly-appointed minister understands that TTIP’s objective was not to reduce tariffs, which are already “very low” but to make an adjustment to the rules governing other sectors. “It contributes to the elimination of some bureaucratic procedures on exports, helping this way the economic efficiency,” he said.

But he made clear that the danger lies in the fact that in most economic fields the regulatory rules are different in the EU and the US. For him, multinational companies stand to benefit the most from lower regulatory barriers, citing banks and brokerage firms, which are subject to weaker supervision in America than in Europe.

“For example we [the EU] don’t permit GMOs, data protection is significantly more important as well as the protection of national health systems,” he said, adding that any consolidation in these rules “will undermine the way the welfare state is organised in the EU.”

Independent Greeks take the same line

Meanwhile, Syriza’s coalition partner, the right-wing anti-austerity Independent Greeks party, takes a similar stance against TTIP.

In a statement issued on 4 November 2014, the then-opposition party said the deal will not live up to its promise of relaunching economic activity.

“It is supposed to be an agreement that will boost the real economy, but its main supporters are international bankers and lobbies,” emphasised Marina Chrysoveloni, a spokesperson for Independent Greeks.

“In simple words, the speculative capital will have even more freedom to move […] in a huge single market with eight hundred million people,” she concluded.

On Syriza’s side, Katrougkalos admitted there was uncertainty about how the talks will conclude but said he was confident that the trade pact “will be approved by the European Parliament”.

“The social democrats have objections on ISDS [investor-state dispute settlement] mechanism but it seems they accept the trade deal’s logic,” Katrougkalos said. In his view, the centre-right European People’s Party and the Liberal ALDE “have a safe majority in Parliament”.

Read:

Tsipras promises radical change, markets tumble

Greek leftist scores victory over austerity

February 2, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | 1 Comment