Sunday, December 21, 2014

subMedia's Decade of Subversion


A Decade of Subversion Free DVD Download

by subMedia.tv

A Decade of Subversion is a loving collection of foul-mouthed anarchy from subMedia.tv, creators of It’s the End of the World As We Know It and I Feel Fine, END:CIV, and Join the Resistance: Fall in Love!

Buy or download your copy now and own a full decade of flaming subversion with two hours of subMedia.tv’s best videos and a fold-out printable booklet. The DVD includes subtitles in Spanish, Portuguese, German, Czech, Dutch, Romanian, Slovene and Arabic. You can find the PDF of the booklet in the DVD files. Just navigate to the Z_FILES folder.




A Decade of Subversion collection also includes films about indigenous struggles, films about the Olympics, films about environmental issues and even films about stealing.

Proceeds from A Decade of Subversion are going to help fund subMedia.tv’s upcoming projects which include a series called What We Are Fighting For, about anarchists and other freedom fighters telling the stories of their struggles, and a feature film about the story of Anarchy with the working title of ¡Libertad!

Download Torrent (4.2gb)Download via Mega.co.nz (4.2gb)Buy DVD

Status Quo of Gaza Today "Uninhabitable"

UN predictions fall short: Gaza uninhabitable today

by Eva Bartlett - RT

Five months ago the world watched in horror as the bully of the Middle East, Israel, launched the most brutal massacre on the Palestinians of Gaza since the Nakba (perhaps more brutal, Palestinian friends in Gaza have said).

Lasting over twice as long as the 2008-09 war on Gaza (formerly the most-brutal massacre since the Nakba), and killing over 800 more Palestinians than in the attack six years ago, the July-August 51-day offensive killed 2,131 Palestinians and injured over 11,000, and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, buildings, businesses, hospitals, Gaza's only power plant and other key components of Gaza's infrastructure.

Palestinian and foreign activists and journalists within the 40 kilometer-long strip of open-air prison tweeted and live-streamed images more horrific than the best Hollywood productions. Weathered journalists broke down sobbing at the sight of Palestinian civilians, especially children being targeted like prey by one of the world's most wickedly powerful armies and navies. Doctors who have seen the mutilated corpses and scarcely-living bodies of Palestinian elderly, men, women and children many times before were yet still appalled by the brutality of these latest attacks.

Worldwide, protesters, journalists of integrity called the bombardment of Gaza genocidal (as Israeli officials and politicians called for genocide). One of the most shocking of many images was that of 4-year-old Saher Abu Namous's half blown-off head, his father cradling him and wailing. Entire families were murdered in this latest Israeli offensive. Not for the first time, the Israeli army bombed schools hosting internally displaced, hospitals (including a rehabilitation hospital for disabled and invalid), and entire neighborhoods.

As with prior military operations, the Israelis in 2014 targeted water and sewage lines, electricity networks, hospitals, primary health centers, ambulances and medics, bridges and major roads, key governmental buildings, schools and universities.They went further and attacked water, electricity and sanitation personnel, killing at least 14, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted. The resulting electricity, water and sanitation crises are such that until November, power was out 18 hours a day, and just 10 percent of the 1.8 million Palestinians get water once a day (for a matter of hours). As of mid-November, Oxfam reported, power cuts were 12 hours per day in some areas.

While the bombs rained down, some Israelis pulled up seats to watch the bloodshed, as 21st Century Wire noted:

“Old sofas, garden chairs, battered car seats and upturned crates provide seating for the spectators. ...Some bring bottles of beer or soft drinks and snacks. ...Nearly all hold up smartphones to record the explosions or to pose grinning, perhaps with thumbs up, for selfies against a backdrop of black smoke.”

The Israeli army used the same banned weapons on Palestinians this summer that they've used in the past two massacres, as well as "armour piercing bombs" which have “high explosive capabilities” and were used on Palestinian homes. Weapons-seekers flocked to Israel after seeing the effects of its weaponry and technology. Israel's weapons industry thrives with each massacre of the Gaza testing ground.

 

Strangling and starving Gaza


In September 2005, the 8,500 Israeli colonists finally, unwillingly leave their homes on stolen land. With no Jewish colonists in Gaza, Israel has since been free to lock-down all of Gaza and bomb whenever the whim occurs, with no fear of any Israeli loss of life. The Israelis have waged wars against Gaza every year or two since pulling their colonists out.

Since the June 28, 2006 Israeli repeating bombing of Gaza's sole power plant—destroying all six transformers – Palestinians in Gaza have neither been allowed to import the transformers and materials needed to rehabilitate the plant, nor offered an alternative solution. Through the now-destroyed tunnels, Palestinians did import smaller transformers and got the power plant hobbling again, but never to full capacity.

In a 2006 report on Israel's bombing of Gaza's power plant, B'Tselem called for Israel to:

“Cover the expenses needed to return the power plant to full capacity; Finance the upgrading of the infrastructure to transfer electricity from Israel to the Gaza Strip; Permit the entry of the equipment needed to rehabilitate the power plant, without delay.”

However, Israel did none of the obliged, nor has it ever paid (in any sense of the word) for the reconstruction of buildings and infrastructure it has repeatedly targeted over the years.

The supply of electricity bought from Israel and Egypt doesn't suffice for Gaza's now 1.8 million Palestinians. The crisis impacts on every facet of life: hospital functions, sanitation, water supply, refrigerators and appliances, and education.




Photo by Eva Bartlett

In 2006, B'Tselem noted: “The sewage system is on the verge of collapse.” Mohammed Omer's photos of the village of Um al-Nasser, flooded with overflown sewage in 2007, should have been a wakeup-call if official institutional and NGO warnings are not. At least five drowned in their own sewage, including an infant. A year ago, reports from Gaza showed the misery of Palestinians' homes flooded with a combination of that same overflown sewage compounded by heavy rains. Kids waded through sewage to get to school; elderly were, if lucky, paddled by small fishing boats. This, save the rains, was entirely preventable...if the UN and influential world bodies and leaders truly cared and dared to face up to the Israeli lobby.

In 2010, it was revealed that the Israeli authorities were implementing a plan to starve Palestinians. “The security establishment had calculated the number of calories consumed by Gaza residents and used it to establish a 'humanitarian minimum', a bottom line to which it was possible to reduce food supply to Gaza without causing hunger or malnutrition....These procedures included mathematical formulas for calculating the quantities of food and the basic products Israel would allow into the Gaza Strip.” The idea was mentioned back in 2006, when Dov Weissglass said, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

Power outages, 95 percent undrinkable water, constant fuel and cooking gas shortages, sewage and sanitation crises, a shattered economy (unemployment at 45 percent) and manufactured poverty rendering 80 percent of the population dependent on inadequate and dignity-shattering food aid hand-outs (no vegetables or fruit, high carb, almost no protein); food insecurity (72 percent insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity), stunting (31.4 percent) and anemia (72.8 percent) among children. This is Gaza, and with each passing month, even each day, life is less and less tolerable. In August, 2012, UNRWA questioned if by 2020 Gaza would be a livable place. We don't have to wait till 2020 for Gaza to be declared unlivable: it already is unlivable by any standards.

 

No crossing them


Since 2008, Israel has incrementally closed down three of Gaza's four commercial crossings, depriving Palestinians of adequate means for import and export. At present, the only operating (I use that term lightly) crossings are: Karem Abu Salem (commercial), Erez (transit), and Rafah (transit). The closure of Karni crossing, closed in March 2011, dramatically impacted on Gaza's economy. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) noted that Karni “is the biggest crossing in the Gaza Strip, in terms of its capacity to absorb the flow of imports and exports.” Gisha noted that Karni, the “main transit point (via truck) for goods” was “partially closed in 2007 save for the movement of grain and animal feed via conveyer belt. The conveyer belt was shut down in 2011.”

Nahal Oz crossing, closed in 2010, was the primary point for entry of gas and other fuel. And the closed Sufa crossing was notably the main point of entry of construction materials. The sole remaining commercial crossing, Karem Abu Salem, does not have the capacity to allow in the amount of goods needed, assuming the Israelis were to allow them entrance in the first place.

Al Akhbar reported: “Karm Abu Salem crossing has a maximum capacity to receive 450 trucks a day while the Gaza Strip needs a total of 1,000 trucks every day of the year without any interruptions. Today, the crossing is not working in full capacity, allowing only about 320 trucks to pass through each day. ...According to the Gaza Chamber of Commerce, the crossing closed down for 130 days in 2014, which means it was not operational for 35 per cent of the year.”

PCHR noted that closure of Karem Abu Salem has meant a cooking gas crisis. “Israeli authorities only allow an average of 98 tons of cooking gas into Gaza per day. This limited quantity is less than half of the daily needs, which is 200 tons per day of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip during winter. The crisis has unprecedentedly aggravated for around six weeks due to cold weather and overconsumption in addition to the power outage and using gas as an alternative in many instances of electricity. The lack of diesel and benzene led to the aggravation of the crisis as a result of using the gas cylinder for cars or as an alternative for benzene to run generators.”

Before ever visiting Gaza, I recall reading on how Palestinians overcame these fuel crises. At one point, they used cooking oil as fuel for their vehicles (“Gaza smelled like one big falafel shop,” I was told). They also used their kerosene lanterns (baboor) to cook over, that one I saw. The Israelis learned of their ingenuity and added kerosene to the banned items list.




Photo by Eva Bartlett

Israel has shattered Gaza's economy in a variety of clever ways: firing on farmers and bulldozing and burning their land; firing on fishers and stealing their fishing boats and equipment; bombing businesses and factories and preventing the materials needed to rebuild; drastically restricting imports. And banning exports save a token few trucks when Israelis need palm leaves for Jewish holidays. Oxfam in December 2014 noted: “Under the blockade, exports from Gaza have fallen to around 2 percent of pre-blockade levels, with devastating impact on the economy. While some extremely limited exports to international markets have been approved, the transfer of produce to Palestinian markets in the West Bank - and markets in Israel - has been banned since 2007. These were traditionally the most important markets for producers in Gaza.” And it isn't only produce. Furniture, clothing, and a surprising number of other goods which once flowed from Gaza's borders are banned from being exported.

 

Art of war


Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert has shared the last three major wars with the Palestinians in Gaza. Recently, Israeli authorities banned him from entering Gaza, in spite of him maintaining a professional neutrality. Gilbert said: “I think the truth is the security risk because when I, as a white medical doctor with blue eyes and white hair, tell the real story of the realities in the sharp end of the Israeli attacks, the Palestinians change from being terrorists to being humans, the numbers change from being numbers to being people, and the children appear as yours and my children. ...this is actually a danger to the Israeli narrative and, in a way, the global reputation of Israel, which is partially falling apart now.”

Aside from Gilbert's heart-breaking observations on the slaughter of Palestinians, he notes poignantly, “The average age is 17.6 years, ...a child ghetto of 1.2 million children and young people are being denied the right to escape the bombs, to fly, because they cannot get out.” This, incidentally, was the third major massacre for Palestinians six years or older in Gaza since December 2008.




Photo by Eva Bartlett

Six years ago, I was a month into what would be a year and a half stay in Gaza (followed by another cumulative year and a half over the years). In December 2008, the situation in Gaza was already desperate. Back then, Palestinians in Gaza were already feeling the choke of closed borders, no exports, sadistically-limited imports (between 30-40 items), and the beginning of cold winter months during which they would suffer in darkness without the means to even heat water.

The 23-day in 2008-09 offensive killed over 1,400 Palestinians. I shared the three plus weeks of hell, losing my own fiends to Israeli bombs and bullets, meeting tortured parents and families whose children had been shot dead point blank by Israeli soldiers. Like Amer al Helu's infant daughter Farah; like 4-year-old Ahmed al-Samouni with two bullets to his chest; like KhaledAbed Rabbo's 2 and 7 year old children, shot dead by soldiers casually snacking on junk food.

Canada's CBC interviewed then-frantic me some days after my medic friend Arafa was murdered by an Israeli dart-bomb shot directly at his ambulance, after the media building I was in was bombed, and after I had seen more mutilated bodies and white-phosphorous-charred skin than I could have imagined. My interview-balancing counterpart, a Canadian volunteering at an Israeli base, gushed about the weather and what a relaxed time he was having... and, oh yes (to the prompting of the CBC host), he did have to run down to the bomb shelter the other day. I'd just finished saying there were no bomb shelters in Gaza, everything was a target, the Israelis were even bombing schools, kindergartens, hospitals.




Photo by Eva Bartlett

The white phosphorus was a first for Gaza. The flechette bombs (shells packed with thousands of razor-sharp dart-nails) were old news. Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana was martyred by such a shell while filming victims of Israeli shelling in Johr ad-Dik in April 2008. Shana, like other Palestinian journalist maimed and martyred by Israeli attacks, wore the markings of a journalist when targeted.

Post-massacre, as I'd walked through the ruins of Ezbet Abed Rabbo to the east of Jabaliya, my friend from the neighborhood (whose mother was killed in the very first minutes of bombings as she walked to buy bread), joked in the way oppressed people do when getting on with life, “they make like art here,” gesturing to the graveyard of houses surrounding us.

In November 2012, the Israelis “mowed the lawn” again, murdering over 170 Palestinians. During the 8 days of slaughter, Israeli figures called to “blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages, destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water,” and to “Flatten all of Gaza. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing,” said the deputy Israeli Prime Minister Eli Yishai and Gilad Sharon respectively.

But these massacres haven't been without a fight. In spite of the massive power imbalance, Palestinian resistance have fought back by any means possible, as is their right, as noted in the UN General Assembly. For those who call for Palestinians to be non-violent (they are, the media just doesn't speak of the murdered, Bassem Abu Rahmes of Palestine), I quote political analyst Sukant Chandan:

"What we have is a largely defenseless population who has been usurped historically, who have been boxed into a ghetto of nearly 2 million people, in a tiny strip of land... and these people haven't got the right to resist? Absolutely Palestinians have the right to resist, and they should have more rockets, they should have better rockets, and they should have a Resistance that can match conventionally one of the biggest genocidal entities on the planet, which is the white, colonial state of 'Israel'."

 

Status Quo and 2015?


There are daily mini-massacres that go largely unnoticed, whether on the sea, in the Israeli-imposed “buffer zone” or by denying Palestinians the right to exit for health care unattainable within the confines of Gaza.

On December 6, Israeli gunboats machine-gunned Palestinian fishers 2-3 miles off the coast, surrounded and abducted 12 fishers, and stole their boats. A few days prior On Dec 3, a Palestinian fisherman was critically injured by shrapnel to his head after Israeli navy shelling, Maan News reported.

On November 22, an Israeli soldier shot and killed a Palestinian bird hunter 500 metres from the border, east of Jabaliya, shooting him in the back. The same day, in southeastern Gaza, an Israeli soldier shot a 17-year-old Palestinian in the chest. He was 1500 meters from the border. The combination of Israeli jeeps present at the border and the remotely-controlled machine gun towers make Gaza's border region – the most fertile area of Gaza – a killing field.

Naturally, these incidents, daily realities for Palestinians, didn't make the headlines.

Now, nearing the end of 2014, the reports coming out of Gaza are even more dismal than one could imagine. After lofty 5.4 billion pledges of rebuilding Gaza, virtually none of the 20, 000 homes destroyed or badly damaged, including entire neighborhoods like Sheyjaiyee, have been rebuilt. Palestinians stand blinking, wondering when and if that promise will materialize. At the end of October, the NY Times reported, “Officials say they have yet to collect a dime of the $5.4 billion that international donors have pledged to the effort.”




Photo by Eva Bartlett

The 106,000 Palestinians rendered homeless (40,000 of whom are staying in emergency shelters; many others living in the shells of their homes or in ramshackle tents) face cold rains and flooding. In its latest situation report, UNRWA noted extreme weather in Gaza and said a state of emergency was declared on November 27 “in Gaza City after severe flooding over a 48 hour period,” noting the evacuation of hundreds in flooded areas in Sheikh Radwan district.

Sara Roy notes the insidious nature of what rebuilding plans there are: Israel gets to decide who (if any) receive cement and building materials, and a “permanent and complex permit and planning system similar to the one Israel uses in Area C of the West Bank, which is under total Israeli control,” is being planned for Gaza.

Oxfam's December 2014 report notes that Gaza needs “at least 89,000 new homes, 226 new schools, as well as massive repairs to other infrastructure.” Even prior to the summer IDF military operation, Gaza faced a deficit of 71,000 housing units, OCHA noted. Gisha reported that “around 5 million tons of construction materials are required just for the most immediate needs. With 52,351 tons - or 1% - entering since the ceasefire, at this rate it would take more than 23 years to meet "immediate" needs alone.” According to PCHR, “For almost 8 consecutive years, Israeli forces have continued to prevent the delivery of construction materials to the Gaza Strip.”

Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing closed since October 25, justifying this after a suicide bomb killed 33 Egyptian soldiers, even though there is no evidence linking the bombing and Gaza. Only as of November 26 was the crossing briefly opened (for 2 days), allowing just 300 Palestinians in Egypt to return to Gaza, and briefly again from November 30 to December 2. A reported 6,000 more Palestinians remain stranded in Egypt or third countries. In early December, OCHA reported that 10,000 Palestinians wait to exit Gaza, including over 1,000 medical patients.




Photo by Eva Bartlett

Egypt has also long-since destroyed the network of tunnels which were known as Gaza's “lifeline” for a very good reason: they imported the goods, including building materials, that Palestinians needed and Israel bans. They also served as an alternative conduit to the normally closed Rafah crossing, and having seen them I can attest they were far more efficient than the bureaucracy of the Egyptians' border crossing terminal. But they are largely extinct, and reports have Egypt creating a buffer zone extending 1 km to ensure the tunnels don't re-manifest, and to tighten the already strangling noose on Palestinians in Gaza.

During the summer Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, protests raged around the world. Indian peace activist and journalist, Feroze Mithiborwali, noted at a recent Beirut conference in solidarity with Palestine, “In practically every town and city across India, there were pro-Gaza, pro-Palestine demonstrations. There was a continuous spate of protests across India.”South African delegate Firoz Osman, of Media Review Network said, “Two hundred thousand people came out to demonstrations to support Gaza. That's even more than when Mandela was released.”

So there is an increased awareness of the unjust plight of Palestinians in Gaza and throughout occupied Palestine. But as we approach the end of the year, a time when much of the West will be preoccupied by holiday shopping and celebrations, will this awareness be enough to sustain pressure on Israel and prevent a new massacre of Gaza? Will it be enough to pressure both Israel and Egypt into allowing building materials into Gaza and opening the Rafah crossing to Palestinians needing to re-enter or to exit Gaza? Will it be enough for American citizens to call for an end to the billions of dollars of aid given to Israel, let alone munitions, including a reported 3,000 more precision-guided munitions of the type used over the summer? Or for British citizens to demand Britain end arms export to Israel?

Mads Gilbert said it spot on: “As a doctor, I say don’t send more bandages, don’t send more drugs, and don’t send equipment. Stop the bombing, lift the siege, treat the Palestinians as humans, include them in the human family, protect them by international law and find a peaceful political solution to the occupation of Palestine. That’s the preventative medicine of this mayhem that is going on.”

The status quo of Palestinian suffering in Gaza cannot continue as it has these past 8 years.


Eva Bartlett is a freelance journalist and rights activist who has lived in the Gaza Strip since late 2008.

Monsanto and Allergies: How Pre-Harvest RoundUp Herbicide Application May Affect Food Sensitivities

Monsanto Suggests RoundUp Herbicide Treatment For Many Crops Right Before Harvest, Not Just RoundUp Ready GMOs

by Inquisitir

Monsanto has genetically modified several crops to be RoundUp resistant. This means that the herbicide RoundUp can be sprayed on the crops and the crops will not die. Crops genetically modified by Monsanto to be RoundUp resistant include alfalfa, canola, corn, sweet corn, soybeans, and sugar beets. These GMOs are high on the list of food ingredients that Americans who are against GMOs try to avoid.

The blog The Healthy Home Economist made internet waves this week with a viral post suggesting that most people who believe that they cannot tolerate wheat, actually cannot tolerate RoundUp. In the post, the author claims that just before harvest, most of the wheat used in our foods is sprayed with the herbicide RoundUp.

“According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of 2012, 99 percent of durum wheat, 97 percent of spring wheat, and 61 percent of winter wheat has been doused with Roundup as part of the harvesting process,” the post claimed, though a link to these USDA statistics was not provided. 

One source on that blog post was an article in the Examiner. That article made the same claim about glyphosate, an active ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp.

The Examiner provided a chart from a USDA database, indicating that indeed, almost all of these types of wheat receive applications of glyphosate, even though there is no RoundUp-resistant wheat that is approved for mainstream use in the United States. According to Examiner, Barley is also treated with RoundUp right before harvest. Curious social media users began wondering what else, besides wheat, might be sprayed with RoundUp just before harvest.

According to Monsanto literature, farmers are encouraged to conduct pre-harvest RoundUp applications on many crops. Monsanto explains how to most efficiently use RoundUp as a pre-harvest treatment of wheat, feed barley, oats, canola, flax, peas, lentils, and dry beans.

“Preharvest is the best time for controlling Canada thistle, quackgrass, perennial sowthistle, dandelion, toadflax, and milkweed. A preharvest weed control application is an excellent management strategy to not only control perennial weeds, but to facilitate harvest management and get a head start on next year’s crop.”

Farmers often treat crops that are harvested after they have dried to create uniformity in the “drying down” of the crops for this purpose, according to Manitoba Pulse Growers‘ literature. The information warns farmers to be aware that some countries require crops to contain “less chemical residue” than others.

That literature states that, in the U.S., there are no marketing issues with excess RoundUp residue on plants.

The maximum residue level allowed is set, and provided farmers follow the directions on the labels on their RoundUp, they don’t need to worry. Selling to Japan is a bit more difficult if farmers use pre-harvest RoundUp treatments though, because, according to Manitoba Pulse Growers, the maximum residue level of RoundUp that Japan will tolerate on beans is “set at a rigidly low level.”

Though these crops are not always used in human foods, this might, in part, help explain to the public the results from a breast milk study released earlier this year that found higher than expected levels of glyphosate in breast milk samples.

Despite the herbicide being found in breastmilk, and even urine, Monsanto maintains that the use of RoundUp on feed crops and food crops alike is safe for animals and people under “present and expected conditions of use.”

Christmas Greetings from Palestine Museum of Natural History

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Palestine Museum of Natural History

by Mazan Qumsiyeh

English following Arabic


أسرة متحف فلسطين للتاريخ الطبيعي - جامعة بيت لحم- تتمنى لكم عيد ميلاد
سعيد وسنة جديدة 2015 سعيدة ومثمره . هذه أول رسالة عيد الميلاد منذ
إنطلاق المتحف في يونيو حزيران عام 2014. حقق المتحف بدعمكم إنجازات
متسارعة منها مهرجان العلوم التي جلب مئات من طلاب المدارس والمتطوعين
لأنشطة مثل تجارب ومناقشات علمية حول أمور تتراوح بين التفكير النقدي إلى
الفيزياء إلى حماية البيئة. ونشرنا أبحاث مهمه عن التنوع الحيوي وبدأنا
عدة مشاريع بحثية جديدة منها ما يشمل التقنيات الجزيئية والخلوية
الوراثية. ويواصل المتحف دراسة تأثير الأنشطة الاستعمارية الإسرائيلية
على صحة الإنسان والبيئية وتطور موقع أرضنا لاستعادة نظام بيئي متكامل من
حيوانات ونباتات فلسطينية أصلية (وليس حديقة حيوان أو حديقة نباتية ولكن
نظام بيئي متكامل). بدأنا في إعادة تأهيل بعض الحيوانات البرية المتأذية
أوالمُتخلى عنها. وبدأنا تطوير الزراعة المكثفة وتربية الأحياء المائية.
نحن نقوم بتدوير وإعادة تدوير النفايات وإنشاء مكتبة ألكترونية لكل
حيوانات ونباتات فلسطين. كل هذا من جهود المتطوعين والتبرعات الفردية فقط
ولكم الشكر. نحن نطلب منكم مشاركتنا في عام 2015 فمعا يمكننا تحقيق
الكثير للوطن.

This is our first Christmas message from the Palestine Museum of Natural History (PMNH) at Bethlehem University.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy, productive, and peaceful new year 2015. 

Since launching in June 2014, PMNH achieved remarkable and accelerated growth. PMNH held a science festival that brought hundreds of school children and volunteers together for activities like experiments and discussions on things ranging from critical thinking to physics to environmental protection.

PMNH published significant research on Biodiversity and initiated several new projects of research (some involving molecular and cytogenetic techniques). PMNH continues also to study genotoxic and environmental impact of Israeli colonial activities.

PMNH worked hard on our land site to create and reclaim an integrated ecosystem of endogenous Palestinian animals and plants (not a zoo or a botanical garden but an integrated ecosystem). We began to rehabilitate some injured and abandoned wild animals. PMNH began to develop permaculture and aquaculture. We are recycling and upcycling waste material. PMNH is creating a digital library for fauna and
flora.

With volunteer efforts and only individual donations, we are accomplishing much so thank you. We ask you to partner with us. Together we can achieve a lot more in 2015.

Palestine Museum of Natural History
Bethlehem University, Occupied Bethlehem, Palestine
http://palestinenature.org
Tel. 02-277-3553
info@palestinenature.org
_______________________________________________
HumanRights newsletter
http://lists.qumsiyeh.org/listinfo/humanrights

Canada at Year's End: Conservative Canards and Other Historical Revisions

Year End Interviews Part II - Conservative Canards

by Jim Miles, The Miles Report  - Axis of Logic 

 Saturday, Dec 20, 2014

It is the time of year for the mainstream media to make its lists, check them twice with the pundits, and find out who is naughty and who is nice.

While not officially a year end review, I have recently commented on Evan Solomon’s interview with General Breedlove in which mostly softball questions without curves or spins were gently lobbed at the General - who did a reasonably intelligent job of responding considering the knuckleball attempts on some of the questions.(1)

The next year end interview I viewed was between Peter Mansbridge, CBC’s senior correspondent, and Stephen Harper, Canada’s neo-Conservative head of state.

As with the former interview, the Mansbridge interview was rather innocuous, with responses essentially reflecting Conservative canards about the economy, climate change, and foreign affairs.

Climate change

After a brief introduction that actually contained the most powerful statement of the whole interview (and was ignored by Mansbridge) the first topic was climate change. Mansbridge introduced two quotes from Harper at the June 2007 Berlin climate change discussions and questioned Harper about his “walking the walk” comments. The reply did nothing more than reiterate the Conservative’s talking points, dissimulations, and evasions.

Harper indicated “bold action” was needed by everybody. He then said, “we are phasing out the use of traditional dirty coal...the biggest single GHG emitting source in the world. If they would just follow our lead, we’d have the problem solved.” Well, not quite. If everyone followed the province of Ontario’s lead, the problem would certainly be ameliorated. Except that Alberta’s tar sand production GHG emissions are increasing.

Well, okay, yes, GHGs in Canada have decreased from 2005 to 2011 - except not under Conservative guidance, unless Harper wishes to claim credit for the economic recession that started in 2007-08. At that point emissions dropped significantly as a weaker economy consumed less carbon fuel; after things stabilized, the new normal, GHGs began to increase again and have been doing so ever since. So much for federal government policy - oh which by the way, is supposedly done through “a scientific evaluation process,” a laughable comment coming from a government that has fired many scientists, stopped many environmental initiatives, and muzzled and collared the few scientists remaining working for the bureaucracy.

This discussion derived from comments about the Keystone pipeline. While using the usual talking points for the Keystone project Harper displayed a good degree of hypocrisy. He noted that, per energy resources, “We don’t direct the marketplace” and that “Ultimately it is up to the marketplace,” and the “scientific evaluation process...directed by others.” So somebody directs it? This could refer back to that first comment in the introduction that I will get to in a moment, but to argue that the “market” - this magical force of human mythology - is not directed is a lie, there are no ‘free’ markets in today’s highly financialized, manipulated, and controlled world.

Continuing this line of argument on climate change, Harper argued that “what is crazy would be for us to impose costs only on our industry in a way that would not reduce emissions but simply shift jobs and development to other parts of North America. That makes no sense.” But it makes sense to have lost manufacturing jobs under NAFTA “to other parts of North America [Mexico].” So what is your solution? None were offered.

Jihadism

After Keystone and climate change, the questioning turned towards “jihadism,” one of Harper’s favourite topics. Canada’s role alongside the U.S. imperial role was not questioned (certainly it never would be in those terms!) but whether the role would be extended in six months and to what degree was questioned.

The response was evasiveness at its best - “We don’t want anything that is interpreted as a war on the government of Syria. We’re invited by the government of Iraq into Iraq [the government that was set up by the U.S. after deposing Maliki]….We have condemned the Assad government but we have no desire to enter into any war with any government in that country and so that makes the situation a bit tricky.” Okay, so war is okay if it is not interpreted as a war on the government of Syria, all that after having said years previously that the Assad government must go: ““Canada’s position is clear: Assad must go,” Foreign Minister John Baird said in a statement.” (2) The tricky part I would have to surmise is going to war against Assad without it being interpreted that way.

The questions then naturally turned to the recent lone wolf attack on Parliament hill by a nutcase gunman. Harper’s take on the overall situation was that, “We’re not at risk from ISIL because we’re fighting them, we’re fighting them because we are at risk from them.” Perhaps neither is true: they pose no risk to Canada, at least if Canada would mind its own business and not support the U.S. imperial drive and the Israeli occupation of Palestine (which was the original source of terror prior to the “new Pearl Harbour” of 9/11).(3)

Of course it is Harper’s dream to have a few terror incidents in order to instill the ‘fear of the other’ across Canada - thus finding a focus for distraction from his own foibles; and then to try and be able to appear as the tough talking fearless leader (regardless of closets) who is in control of Canada - thus finding a focus for distraction from his own foibles.

Success of neo-Conservatism in Canada

There were three final questions, the first on Veterans Affairs, and the second on the problem of the missing women of the First Nations. Both received rather platitudinous answers without much positive forward action being mentioned. The third question was more of a self-evaluation task on how the nine years of Harperism had worked out. The latter comments proved quite interesting and return the idea to my original teaser opening comment about the most powerful comment.

First, the final self-evaluation. Generally,

I think if you ask any objective analyst right now in the world, what’s the politically and economically most stable country in the entire world right now, they would say Canada. There’s no reason for us to change that. What we want to do is entrench that. [italics added]
and that

Canadian approach to foreign affairs which is that we take stands, clear stands based on our values and interests….whether it’s jihadism or Russia or some of the events in the Middle East, I think the truth is that we’ve been well ahead of the curve. [italics added]
and then,

I don’t want to say if you’re not a Conservative you’re not really Canadian. I don’t think that would be fair. Um but look, I think we’re a country that’s pursuing good conservative economic, security and foreign policies.

First, yes we are stable country with a majority government that wants to entrench its particular sense of stability (clear majority, no questions, do it my way). Secondly, for those who have read my previous writings on the topic, Canada has been the yappy little terrier trying to front run the U.S. imperial hegemon, well ahead of the curve of demonizing Russia and Muslims for the general purpose of controlling the U.S. fiat/petro-dollar and protecting the occupation of Palestine.

Finally, you may not want to say it, because that “would make the situation a bit tricky,” seeing as how you only have eighteen per cent of the population actually voting for you, which in Canada’s idiotic first past the post system allows you to govern. The good conservative economic, security and foreign policies that are derived straight from the heart of corporate Republican America are good for one thing only, your ultimate dream that you stated at the beginning of the interview,

I think we’ve got the country on the right track but I would like to take some more time to put it on that track in a very permanent way. [italics added]

That one statement is the most important of all these, expressing the megalomania of a man wishing to assume full control of all aspects of Canadian life for all time. It makes all these other issues - other than for the direct impacts of the people involved within the veterans affairs comments and the indigenous women’s comments - pale by comparison.

So what is to be made ‘permanent’? Trade agreements that place corporations above the control of the sovereign government, corporations that have no responsibility towards the environment, or their workers, or society in general (there is nothing ‘free’ about trade agreements). Trade agreements that allow foreign corporations to dominate and control our markets (ironically, China will probably get there regardless as they buy up Canada’s energy resources). The executive control of the government by way of the PMO and its unelected staff so that there is ultimately only one supreme leader. The privatization of whatever can be privatized - regardless of the value to the Canadian public outside the profit motive - for the conservative desire for profits for the corporate elite. The disenfranchisement - even more so than now - of all First Nations people, so that their land and resources can be privatized and corporatized for more profits to the elites.

One has to consider ultimately, the idea is that of “Fortress North America”, with Canada tied up alongside U.S. foreign policy directives, tied into a continental energy market that serves mainly the corporate elites and the military. True there may still be an imaginary line at the 49th parallel, but structurally we are being integrated into the imperial hegemon at a corporate level above and beyond an independent sovereign nation.

Fortunately, permanence is impossible in human political considerations. Unfortunately, the megalomaniacal desire for permanence bodes poorly for the future of an independent sovereign Canada, in spite of the neo-Conservative jargon and rhetoric about Canadian values. Also unfortunately is that we have a mainstream media that increasingly does not seem capable of posing difficult questions about the corporate militarization of the world for the global hegemon…

...more on that as I deconstruct Baird’s interview with Evan Solomon on foreign policy, coming up soon.


Notes:
(1) General Breedlove about the long war

(2) Canada targets Assad family by stepping up sanctions against Syria.

(3) "Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event––like a new Pearl Harbor.” REBUILDING AMERICA’S DEFENSES Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century - A Report of The Project for the New American Century, September 2000.



Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles' work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

US ‘Group Think’ on Russia "Crazy"

The Crazy US ‘Group Think’ on Russia

by Robert Parry - Consortium News

Has anyone in Official Washington thought through the latest foreign policy “group think,” the plan to destabilize nuclear-armed Russia? All the “smart” people, including the New York Times editors, are rubbing their hands with glee over the financial crisis being imposed on Russia because of the Ukraine crisis, but no one, it seems, is looking down the road.

This reckless strategy appears to be another neocon-driven “regime change” scheme, this time focused on Moscow with the goal to take down Russian President Vladimir Putin and presumably replace him with some U.S. puppet, a Russian-speaking Ahmed Chalabi perhaps. Since the neocons have never faced accountability for the Iraq disaster – when the conniving Chalabi was their man – they are still free to dream about a replay in Russia.

However, as catastrophic as the Iraq War was especially for Iraqis, the new neocon goal of Russian “regime change” is far more dangerous. If one looks at the chaos that has followed neocon (and “liberal interventionist”) schemes to overthrow governments in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine and elsewhere, what might the risks be if such political disorder was created in Russia?

Since the neocon plans don’t always work out precisely as they dream them up at Washington think tanks or at the Washington Post’s editorial board, what are the chances that some radical Russian nationalist might emerge from the chaos and take command of the nuclear launch codes? As much fun as the Washington tough guys and gals are having today, the prospects for thermo-nuclear war might not be as pleasing.

And, does anyone really think that cooler heads in Official Washington would prevail in such a crisis? From what we have seen over the past year regarding Ukraine – not to mention other international hot spots – it seems that the only game in town is to swagger around, as pumped up as Hans and Franz, just not as amusing.

You see, the Russians have already experienced what it is like to comply with U.S. economic edicts. That was tried during the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union when experts from Harvard University descended on Moscow with “shock therapy” for the post-communist society. What happened was that a handful of well-connected thieves plundered the nation’s resources, making themselves into billionaire oligarchs while President Boris Yeltsin stayed drunk much of the time and many average Russians faced starvation.

A key reason why Putin and his autocratic style have such a strong political base is that he took on some of the oligarchs and restructured the economy to improve the lives of many Russians. The neocons may think that they can oust Putin through a combination of economic pain and information warfare but there is a deep understanding among many Russians what a repeat of the Yeltsin years would mean.

So, even a “successful regime change” could end up with a more radical figure in charge of Russia and its nuclear arsenal than Putin. But that is the course that Official Washington has chosen to take, with Congress almost unanimously approving a package of harsher sanctions and $350 million in arms and military equipment for Ukraine to wage its “anti-terrorism operation” against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

Cuba Example


There is some irony here in that just as President Barack Obama finally begins to lift the ineffective, half-century-old U.S. embargo against Cuba, the U.S. Congress and the entire mainstream U.S. news media have jumped on another high horse to charge off against Russia, imposing new economic sanctions and dreaming of another “regime change.”

The promiscuous use of sanctions – as part of “regime change” strategies – has become almost an addiction in Washington. One can envision some tough-talking U.S. diplomat confronting the leaders of a troublesome nation by going around the room and saying, “we sanction you, we sanction you, we sanction you.”

Beyond the trouble that this pathology creates for American businesses, not sure whether they’re stumbling over one of these sanctions, there is the backlash among countries increasingly trying to circumvent the United States in order to deny Washington that leverage over them. The long-run effect is surely to be a weakening of the U.S. dollar and the U.S. economy.

However, in the meantime, U.S. politicians can’t seem to get enough of this feel-good approach to foreign disputes. They can act like they’re “doing something” by punishing the people of some wayward country, but sanctions are still short of outright war, so the politicians don’t have to attend funerals and face distraught mothers and fathers, at least not the mothers and fathers of American soldiers.

In the past, sanctions, such as those imposed on Iraq in the 1990s, took a fearsome toll, killing some half million Iraqi children, according to United Nations estimates.

Another example of how the sanctioning impulse can run amok has been U.S. policy toward Sudan, where leaders were sanctioned over the violence in Darfur. The United States also supported the secession of oil-rich South Sudan as a further penalty to Sudan.

But the U.S. sanctions on Sudan prevented South Sudan from shipping its oil through pipelines that ran through Sudan, creating a political crisis in South Sudan, which led to tribal violence. The U.S. government responded with, you guessed it, sanctions against leaders of South Sudan.

So, now, the U.S. government is back on that high horse and charging off to sanction Russia and its leaders over Ukraine, a crisis that has been thoroughly misrepresented in the mainstream U.S. news media and in the halls of government.

A False Narrative


Official Washington’s “group think” on the crisis has been driven by a completely phony narrative of what has happened in Ukraine over the past year. It has become the near-monolithic view of insiders that the crisis was instigated by Putin as part of some diabolical scheme to recreate the Russian Empire by seizing Ukraine, the Baltic states and maybe Poland.

But the reality is that the crisis was initiated by the West, particularly by Official Washington’s neocons, to pry Ukraine away from the Russian sphere of influence and into Europe’s, a ploy that was outlined by a leading neocon paymaster, Carl Gershman, the longtime president of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy.

On Sept. 26, 2013, Gershman took to the op-ed page of the Washington Post and pronounced Ukraine “the biggest prize” and an important interim step toward toppling Putin and putting down the resurgent and willful Russia that he represents.

Gershman, whose NED is financed by the U.S. Congress to the tune of about $100 million a year, wrote: “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents. … Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

In other words, from the start, Putin was the target of the Ukraine initiative, not the instigator. Beyond Gershman’s rhetoric was the fact that NED was funding scores of projects inside Ukraine, training activists, supporting “journalists,” funding business groups.

Then, in November 2013, Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych balked at an association agreement with the European Union after learning that it would cost Ukraine some $160 billion to separate from Russia. Plus, the International Monetary Fund was demanding economic “reforms” that would hurt average Ukrainians.

Yanukovych’s decision touched off mass demonstrations from western Ukrainians who favored closer ties to Europe. That, in turn, opened the way for the machinations by neocons inside the U.S. government, particularly the scheming of Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, the wife of arch-neocon Robert Kagan.

Before long, Nuland was handpicking the new leadership for Ukraine that would be in charge once Yanukovych was out of the way, a process that was ultimately executed by tightly organized 100-man units of neo-Nazi storm troopers bused in from the western city of Lviv. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Discovers Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis at War.”]

Worsening Crisis


The violent overthrow of President Yanukovych led to resistance from south and east Ukraine where Yanukovych got most of his votes. Crimea, a largely ethnic Russian province, voted overwhelmingly to secede from the failed Ukrainian state and rejoin Russia, which had been Crimea’s home since the 1700s.

When Putin accepted Crimea back into Russia – recognizing its historical connections and its strategic importance – he was excoriated by Western leaders and the mainstream U.S. media. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likened him to Hitler, as the narrative took shape that Putin was on a premeditated mission to conquer states of the former Soviet Union.

That narrative was always fake but it became Official Washington’s conventional wisdom, much like the existence of Iraq’s WMD became what “everyone knew to be true.” The “group think” was again so strong that not even someone as important to the establishment as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger could shake it.

In an interview last month with Der Spiegel magazine, Kissinger said that “The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia.”

The 91-year-old Kissinger added that President Putin had no intention of instigating a crisis in Ukraine: “Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine.”

Instead Kissinger argued that the West – with its strategy of pulling Ukraine into the orbit of the European Union – was responsible for the crisis by failing to understand Russian sensitivity over Ukraine and making the grave mistake of quickly pushing the confrontation beyond dialogue.

Kissinger’s remarks – though undeniably true – were largely ignored by the mainstream U.S. media and had little or no impact on the U.S. Congress which pressed ahead with its legislation to expand the anti-Russia sanctions, which – along with declining energy prices – were contributing to a severe economic downturn in Russia.

The New York Times’ editors spoke for many in their celebration over the pain being inflicted on Russia. In an editorial entitled “The Ruble’s Fall and Mr. Putin’s Reckoning,” the Times wrote:

“The blame for this [economic calamity] rests largely with the disastrous policies of President Vladimir Putin, who has consistently put his ego, his territorial ambitions and the financial interests of his cronies ahead of the needs of his country. The ruble fell as much as 19 percent on Monday after the Central Bank of Russia sharply raised its benchmark interest rate to 17 percent in the middle of the night in a desperate attempt to keep capital from fleeing the country.

“Since June, the Russian currency has fallen about 50 percent against the dollar. Because Russia relies heavily on imported food and other goods, the decline in its currency is fueling inflation. Consumer prices jumped 9.1 percent last month compared with a year earlier and also increased 8.3 percent in October.

“Russia’s immediate problems were caused by the recent collapse of global crude oil prices and the financial sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe in an effort to get Mr. Putin to stop stirring conflict in Ukraine. But the rot goes far deeper. …

“Mr. Putin has taken great relish in poking the West. Now that he is in trouble, the rest of the world is unlikely to rush to his aid. On Tuesday, a White House spokesman said that President Obama intends to sign a bill that would authorize additional sanctions on Russia’s energy and defense industries. That bill would also authorize the administration to supply arms to Ukraine’s government.

“The sensible thing for Mr. Putin to do would be to withdraw from Ukraine. This would bring immediate relief from sanctions, and that would ease the current crisis and give officials room to start fixing the country’s economic problems. The question is whether this reckless leader has been sufficiently chastened to change course.”

But the reality has been that Putin has tried to keep his distance from the ethnic Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, even urging them to postpone a referendum that revealed strong support for the region’s secession from Ukraine. But he has faced a hard choice because the Kiev regime launched an “anti-terrorist operation” against the eastern region, an offensive that took on the look of ethnic cleansing.

The Ukrainian government’s strategy was to pound eastern cities and towns with artillery fire and then dispatch neo-Nazi and other extremist “volunteer battalions” to do the dirty work of street-to-street fighting. Amnesty International and other human rights groups took note of the brutality inflicted by these anti-Russian extremists. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Seeing No Neo-Nazi Militias in Ukraine.”]

Faced with thousands of ethnic Russians being killed and hundreds of thousands fleeing into Russia, Putin had little political choice but to provide help to the embattled people of Donetsk and Luhansk. But Official Washington’s narrative holds that all the trouble in Ukraine is simply the result of Putin’s “aggression” and that everything would be just peachy if Putin let the Kiev regime and its neo-Nazi affiliates do whatever they wanted to the ethnic Russians.

But that’s not something Putin can really do politically. So, what we’re seeing here is the usual step-by-step progress toward a neocon “regime change” scenario, as the targeted foreign demon fails to take the “reasonable” steps dictated by Washington and thus must be confronted with endless escalations, all the more severe to force the demon to submit or until ultimately the suffering of his people creates openings for “regime change.”

We have seen this pattern with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, for instance, and even with Ukraine’s Yanukovych, but the risks in this new neocon game are much greater – the future of the planet is being put into play.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Bailing In: How the Banksters will Take Your Savings Too

Russian Roulette: Taxpayers Could Be on the Hook for Trillions in Oil Derivatives

by Ellen Brown - ICH

The sudden dramatic collapse in the price of oil appears to be an act of geopolitical warfare against Russia. The result could be trillions of dollars in oil derivative losses; and the FDIC could be liable, following repeal of key portions of the Dodd-Frank Act last weekend.

Senator Elizabeth Warren charged Citigroup last week with “holding government funding hostage to ram through its government bailout provision.” At issue was a section in the omnibus budget bill repealing the Lincoln Amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act, which protected depositor funds by requiring the largest banks to push out a portion of their derivatives business into non-FDIC-insured subsidiaries.

Warren and Representative Maxine Waters came close to killing the spending bill because of this provision. But the tide turned, according to Waters, when not only Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, but President Obama himself lobbied lawmakers to vote for the bill.

It was not only a notable about-face for the president but represented an apparent shift in position for the banks. Before Jamie Dimon intervened, it had been reported that the bailout provision was not a big deal for the banks and that they were not lobbying heavily for it, because it covered only a small portion of their derivatives. As explained in Time:

The best argument for not freaking out about the repeal of the Lincoln Amendment is that it wasn’t nearly as strong as its drafters intended it to be. . . . [W]hile the Lincoln Amendment was intended to lasso all risky instruments, by the time all was said and done, it really only applied to about 5% of the derivatives activity of banks like Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo, according to a 2012 Fitch report.

Quibbling over a mere 5% of the derivatives business sounds like much ado about nothing, but Jamie Dimon and the president evidently didn’t think so. Why?

A Closer Look at the Lincoln Amendment


The preamble to the Dodd-Frank Act claims “to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts.” But it does this through “bail-in”: authorizing “systemically important” too-big-to-fail banks to expropriate the assets of their creditors, including depositors. Under the Lincoln Amendment, however, FDIC-insured banks were not allowed to put depositor funds at risk for their bets on derivatives, with certain broad exceptions.

In an article posted on December 10th titled “Banks Get To Use Taxpayer Money For Derivative Speculation,” Chriss W. Street explained the amendment like this:

Starting in 2013, federally insured banks would be prohibited from directly engaging in derivative transactions not specifically hedging (1) lending risks, (2) interest rate volatility, and (3) cushion against credit defaults. The “push-out rule” sought to force banks to move their speculative trading into non-federally insured subsidiaries.
The Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in 2013 allowed a two-year delay on the condition that banks take steps to move swaps to subsidiaries that don’t benefit from federal deposit insurance or borrowing directly from the Fed.

The rule would have impacted the $280 trillion in derivatives primarily held by the “too-big-to-fail (TBTF) banks that include JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo. Although 95% of TBTF derivative holdings are exempt as legitimate lending hedges, leveraging cheap money from the U.S. Federal Reserve into $10 trillion of derivative speculation is one of the TBTF banks’ most profitable business activities.

What was and was not included in the exemption was explained by Steve Shaefer in a June 2012 article in Forbes. According to Fitch Ratings, interest rate, currency, gold/silver, credit derivatives referencing investment-grade securities, and hedges were permissible activities within an insured depositary institution. Those not permitted included “equity, some credit and most commodity derivatives.” Schaefer wrote:

For Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the rule is almost a non-event, as they already conduct derivatives activity outside of their bank subsidiaries. (Which makes sense, since neither actually had commercial banking operations of any significant substance until converting into bank holding companies during the 2008 crisis).
The impact on Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and to a lesser extent, Wells Fargo, would be greater, but still rather middling, as the size and scope of the restricted activities is but a fraction of these firms’ overall derivative operations.

A fraction, but a critical fraction, as it included the banks’ bets on commodities. Five percent of $280 trillion is $14 trillion in derivatives exposure – close to the size of the existing federal debt. And as financial blogger Michael Snyder points out, $3.9 trillion of this speculation is on the price of commodities.

Among the banks’ most important commodities bets are oil derivatives. An oil derivative typically involves an oil producer who wants to lock in the price at a future date, and a counterparty – typically a bank – willing to pay that price in exchange for the opportunity to earn additional profits if the price goes above the contract rate. The downside is that the bank has to make up the loss if the price drops.

As Snyder observes, the recent drop in the price of oil by over $50 a barrel – a drop of nearly 50% since June – was completely unanticipated and outside the predictions covered by the banks’ computer models. The drop could cost the big banks trillions of dollars in losses. And with the repeal of the Lincoln Amendment, taxpayers could be picking up the bill.

When Markets Cannot Be Manipulated


Interest rate swaps compose 82% of the derivatives market. Interest rates are predictable and can be controlled, since the Federal Reserve sets the prime rate. The Fed’s mandate includes maintaining the stability of the banking system, which means protecting the interests of the largest banks. The Fed obliged after the 2008 credit crisis by dropping the prime rate nearly to zero, a major windfall for the derivatives banks – and a major loss for their counterparties, including state and local governments.

Manipulating markets anywhere is illegal – unless you are a central bank or a federal government, in which case you can apparently do it with impunity.

In this case, the shocking $50 drop in the price of oil was not due merely to the forces of supply and demand, which are predictable and can be hedged against. According to an article by Larry Elliott in the UK Guardian titled “Stakes Are High as US Plays the Oil Card Against Iran and Russia,” the unanticipated drop was an act of geopolitical warfare administered by the Saudis. History, he says, is repeating itself:

The fourfold increase in oil prices triggered by the embargo on exports organised by Saudi Arabia in response to the Yom Kippur war in 1973 showed how crude could be used as a diplomatic and economic weapon.

Now, says Elliott, the oil card is being played to force prices lower:

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, allegedly struck a deal with King Abdullah in September under which the Saudis would sell crude at below the prevailing market price. That would help explain why the price has been falling at a time when, given the turmoil in Iraq and Syria caused by Islamic State, it would normally have been rising.

. . . [A]ccording to Middle East specialists, the Saudis want to put pressure on Iran and to force Moscow to weaken its support for the Assad regime in Syria.

War on the Ruble


If the plan was to break the ruble, it worked. The ruble has dropped by more than 60% against the dollar since January.

On December 16th, the Russian central bank counterattacked by raising interest rates to 17% in order to stem “capital flight” – the dumping of rubles on the currency markets. Deposits are less likely to be withdrawn and exchanged for dollars if they are earning a high rate of return.

The move was also a short squeeze on the short sellers attempting to crash the ruble. Short sellers sell currency they don’t have, forcing down the price; then cover by buying at the lower price, pocketing the difference. But the short squeeze worked only briefly, as trading in the ruble was quickly suspended, allowing short sellers to cover their bets. Who has the power to shut down a currency exchange? One suspects that more than mere speculation was at work.

Protecting Our Money from Wall Street Gambling


The short sellers were saved, but the derivatives banks will still get killed if oil prices don’t go back up soon. At least they would have been killed before the bailout ban was lifted. Now, it seems, that burden could fall on depositors and taxpayers. Did the Obama administration make a deal with the big derivatives banks to save them from Kerry’s clandestine economic warfare at taxpayer expense?

Whatever happened behind closed doors, we the people could again be stuck with the tab. We will continue to be at the mercy of the biggest banks until depository banking is separated from speculative investment banking. Reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act is supported not only by Elizabeth Warren and others on the left but by prominent voices such as David Stockman’s on the right.

Another alternative for protecting our funds from Wall Street gambling can be done at the local level. Our state and local governments can establish publicly-owned banks; and our monies, public and private, can be moved into them.

Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. Her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 200+ blog articles are at EllenBrown.com.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How Vulnerable is Putin?

Ruble Takedown Exposes Cracks in Putin’s Defense

by Mike Whitney - CounterPunch

Russian President Vladimir Putin suffered a stunning defeat on Tuesday when a US-backed plan to push down oil prices sent the ruble into freefall. Russia’s currency plunged 10 percent on Monday followed by an 11 percent drop on Tuesday reducing the ruble’s value by more than half in less than a year.

The jarring slide was assisted by western sympathizers at Russia’s Central Bank who, earlier in the day, boosted interest rates from 10.5 percent to 17 percent to slow the decline.

But the higher rates only intensified the outflow of capital which put the ruble into a tailspin forcing international banks to remove pricing and liquidity from the currency leading to the suspension of trade.

“The plunge of the Russian currency this week is the drastic outcome of policies implemented by the major imperialist powers to force Russia to submit to American and European imperialism’s neo-colonial restructuring of Eurasia. Punishing the Putin regime’s interference with their plans for regime change in countries such as Ukraine and Syria, the NATO powers are financially strangling Russia.” Alex Lantier, Imperialism and the ruble crisis, World Socialist Web Site

“The struggle for world domination has assumed titanic proportions. The phases of this struggle are played out upon the bones of the weak and backward nations.” Leon Trotsky, 1929 

According to Russia Today:

“Russian Federation Council Chair Valentina Matviyenko has ordered a vote on a parliamentary investigation into the recent activities of the Central Bank and its alleged role in the worst-ever plunge of the ruble rate…

“I suggest to start a parliamentary investigation into activities of the Central Bank that has allowed violations of the citizens’ Constitutional rights, including the right for property,” the RIA Novosti quoted Tarlo as saying on Wednesday.

The senator added that according to the law, protecting financial stability in the country is the main task of the Central Bank and its senior management. However, the bank’s actions, in particular the recent raising of the key interest rate to 17 percent, have so far yielded the opposite results.” (Upper House plans probe into Central Bank role in ruble crash, RT)

The prospect that there may be collaborators and fifth columnists at Russia’s Central Bank should surprise no one. The RCB is an independent organization that serves the interests of global capital and regional oligarchs the same as central banks everywhere. This is a group that believes that humanity’s greatest achievement is the free flow of privately-owned capital to markets around the world where it can extract maximum value off the sweat of working people. Why would Russia be any different in that regard?

It isn’t. The actions of the Central Bank have cost the Russian people dearly, and yet, even now the main concern of RCB elites is their own survival and the preservation of the banking system. An article that appeared at Zero Hedge on Wednesday illustrates this point. After ruble trading was suspended, the RCB released a document with “7 new measures” all of which were aimed at protecting the banking system via moratoria on securities losses, breaks on interest rates, additional liquidity provisioning, easier credit and accounting standards, and this gem at the end:

“In order to maintain the stability of the banking sector in the face of increased interest rate and credit risks of a slowdown of the Russian economy the Bank of Russia and the Government of the Russian Federation prepare measures to recapitalize credit institutions in 2015.” (Russian Central Bank Releases 7 Measures It Will Take To Stabilize The Financial Sector, Zero Hedge)

Sound familiar? It should. You see, the Russian Central Bank works a lot like the Fed. At the first sign of trouble they build a nice, big rowboat for themselves and their dodgy bank buddies and leave everyone else to drown. That’s what these bullet points are all about. Save the banks, and to hell the people who suffer from their exploitative policies.

Here’s more from RT:

“Earlier this week a group of State Duma MPs from the Communist Party sent an official address to Putin asking him to sack (Central Bank head, Elvira) Nabiullina, and all senior managers of the Central Bank as their current policies are causing the rapid devaluation of ruble and impoverishment of the majority of the Russian population.

In their letter, the Communists also recalled Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly in which he said that control over inflation must not be in the way of the steady economic growth.

“They listen to your orders and then do the opposite,” the lawmakers complained.” (RT)

In other words, the RCB enforces its own “austerity” policy in Russia just as central bankers do everywhere. There’s nothing conspiratorial about this. CBs are owned and controlled by the big money guys which is why their policies invariably serve the interests of the rich. They might not call it “trickle down” or “structural adjustment” (as they do in the US), but it amounts to the same thing, the inexorable shifting of wealth from working class people to the parasitic plutocrats who control the system and its political agents. Same old, same old.

Even so, the media has pinned the blame for Tuesday’s ruble fiasco on Putin who, of course, has nothing to do with monetary policy. That said, the ruble rout helps to draw attention to the fact that Moscow is clearly losing its war with the US and needs to radically adjust its approach if it hopes to succeed. First of all, Putin might be a great chess player, but he’s got a lot to learn about finance. He also needs a crash-course in asymmetrical warfare if he wants to defend the country from more of Washington’s stealth attacks.

In the last 10 months, the United States has executed a near-perfect takedown of the Russian economy. Following a sloppy State Department-backed coup in Kiev, Washington has consolidated its power in the Capital, removed dissident elements in the government, deployed the CIA to oversee operations, launched a number of attacks on rebel forces in the east, transferred ownership of Ukraine’s vital pipeline system to US puppets and foreign corporations, created a tollbooth separating Moscow from the lucrative EU market, foiled a Russian plan to build an alternate pipeline to southern Europe (South Stream), built up its military assets in the Balkans and Black Sea and, finally–the cherry on the cake–initiated a daring sneak attack on Russia’s currency by employing its Saudi-proxy to flood the market with oil, push prices off a cliff, and trigger a run on the ruble which slashed its value by more than half forcing retail currency platforms to stop trading the battered ruble until prices stabilized.

Like we said, Putin might be a great chess player, but in his battle with the US, he’s getting his clock cleaned. So far, he’s been no match for the maniacal focus and relentless savagery of the Washington powerbrokers. Yes, he’s formed critical alliances across Asia and the world. He’s also created competing institutions (like the BRICS bank) that could break the imperial grip on global finance. And, he’s also expounded a vision of a new world in which “one center of power” does not dictate the rules to everyone else. That’s all great, but he’s losing the war, and that’s what counts. Washington doesn’t care about peoples’ dreams or aspirations. What they care about is ruling the world with an iron fist, which is precisely what they intend to do for the next century or so unless someone stops them. Putin’s actions, however admirable, have not yet changed that basic dynamic. In fact, this latest debacle (authored by the RCB) is a severe setback for the country and could impact Russia’s ability to defend itself against US-NATO aggression.

So what does Putin need to do to reverse the current trend?

The first order of business should be a fundamental change in approach followed by a quick switch from defense to offense. There should be no doubt by now, that Washington is going for the jugular. The attack on the ruble provides clear evidence that the US will not be satisfied until Russia has been decimated and reduced to “a permanent state of colonial dependency.” (Chomsky) The United States has launched a full-blown economic war on Russia and yet the Kremlin is still acting like Washington’s punching bag. You can’t win a war like that. You have to take the initiative; take chances, be bold, think outside the box. That’s what Washington is doing. The rout of the ruble is perhaps the most astonishingly-successful asymmetrical attack in recent memory. It involved tremendous risks and costs on the part of the perpetrators. For example, the lower oil prices have ravaged important domestic industries, created widespread financial instability, and sent markets across the planet into a nosedive. Even so, Washington persevered with its audacious strategy, undeterred by the vast collateral damage, never losing sight of its ultimate objective; to deprive Moscow of crucial oil revenues, to crash the ruble, and to open up Central Asia for imperial expansion and US military bases. (The pivot to Asia)

This is how the US plays the game, by keeping its “eyes on the prize” at all times, and by rolling roughshod over anyone or anything that gets in its way. That is why the US is the world’s only superpower, because the voracious oligarchs who run the country will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Does Putin have the grit to match that kind of venomous determination? Has he even adjusted to the fact that WW3 will be unlike any conflict in the past, that jihadi-proxies and Neo Nazi-proxies will be employed as shock troops for the empire clearing the way for US special forces and foot soldiers who will hold ground and establish the new order? Does he even realize that Barbarossa 2 is already underway, but that the Panzer divisions and 2 million German regulars have been replaced with high-powered computers, covert ops, color-coded revolutions, currency crises, capital flight, cyber attacks and relentless propaganda. That’s 4th Generation (4-G) warfare in a nutshell. And, guess what? The US attack on the ruble has shown that it is the undisputed master of this new kind of warfare. More important, Washington has just prevailed in a battle that could prove to be a critical turning point if Putin doesn’t get his act together and retaliate.

Retaliate?!?

You mean nukes?

Heck no. But, by the same token, you can’t expect to win a confrontation with the US by rerouting gas pipelines to Turkey or by forming stronger coalitions with other BRICS countries or by ditching the dollar. Because none of that stuff makes a damn bit of difference when your currency is in the toilet and the US is making every effort to grind your face into the pavement.

Capisce?

There’s an expression is football that goes something like this: The best defense is a good offense. You can’t win by sitting on the sidelines and hoping your team doesn’t lose. You must engage your adversary at every opportunity never giving ground without a fight. And when an opening appears where you can take the advantage, you must act promptly and decisively never looking back and never checking your motives. That’s how you win.

Washington only thinks in terms winning. It expects to win, and will do whatever is necessary to win. In fact, the whole system has been re-geared for one, sole purpose; to beat the holy hell out of anyone who gets out of line. That’s what we do, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. So, if you want to compete at that level, you’ve got to have “game”. You’re going to have to step up and prove that you can run with the big kids.

And that’s what makes Putin’s next move so important, crucial really. Because whatever he does will send a message to Washington that he’s either up to the challenge or he’s not. Which is why he needs to come out swinging and do something completely unexpected. The element of surprise, that’s the ticket. And we’re not talking about military action either. That just plays to Uncle Sam’s strong hand. Putin doesn’t need another Vietnam. He needs a coherent gameplan. He needs a winning strategy. He needs to takes risks, put it all on the line and roll the freaking dice. You can’t lock horns with the US and play it safe. That’s a losing strategy. This is smash-mouth, steelcage smackdown, a scorched-earth event where winner takes all. You have to be ready to rumble.

Putin needs to think asymmetrically. What would Obama do if he was in Putin’s shoes?

You know what he’d do: He’d send military support to Assad. He’d arm rebel factions in Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Nigeria and elsewhere. He’d strengthen ties with Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador providing them with military, intelligence and logistical support. He’d deploy his NGOs and Think Tank cronies to foment revolution wherever leaders refused to follow Moscow’s directives. He would work tirelessly to build the economic, political, media, and military institutions he needed to impose his own self-serving version of snatch-and-grab capitalism on every nation on every continent in the world. That’s what Obama would do, because that’s what his puppetmasters would demand of him.

But Putin must be more discreet, because his resources are more limited. But he still has options, like the markets, for example. Let’s say Putin announces that creditors in the EU (particularly banks) won’t be paid until the ruble recovers. How does that sound?

Putin: “We’re really sorry about the inconvenience, but we won’t be able to make those onerous principle payments for a while. Please accept our humble apologies.” End of statement.

Moments later: Global stocks plunge 350 points on the prospect of a Russian default and its impact on the woefully-undercapitalized EU banking system.

Get the picture? That’s what you call an asymmetrical attack. The idea was even hinted at in a piece on Bloomberg News. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“Sergei Markov, a pro-Putin academic, wrote in a column on Vzglyad.ru. “Since the reasons for the ruble’s fall are political, the response should be political, too. For example, a law that would ban Russian companies from repaying debts to Western counterparties if the ruble has dropped more than 50 percent in the last year. That will immediately lower the pressure on the ruble, many countries have done this, Malaysia is one example. It’s in great economic shape now.” (Is Russia ready to impose capital controls? Chicago Tribune)

Here’s more background from RT:

“Major banks across Europe, as well as the UK, US, and Japan, are at major risk should the Russian economy default, according to a new study by Capital Economics. The ING Group in the Netherlands, Raiffeisen Bank in Austria, Societe General in France, UniCredit in Italy, and Commerzbank in Germany, have all faced significant losses in the wake of the ruble crisis…

Overall Societe General, known as Rosbank in the Russian market, has the most exposure at US$31 billion, or €25 billion, according to Citigroup Inc. analysts. This is equivalent to 62 percent of the Paris-based bank’s tangible equity, Bloomberg News reported.

Following the drop, Raiffeisen, which has €15 billion at risk in Russia, saw its stocks plummeted more than 10 percent. Raiffeisen also has significant exposure in Ukraine, which is facing a similar currency sell-off as Russia.” (Russia crisis leaves banks around the world exposed by the billions, RT)

So Putin defaults which nudges the EU banking system down the stairwell. So what? What does that prove?

It proves that Russia has the tools to defend itself. It proves that Putin can disrupt the status quo and spread the pain a bit more equitably. “Spreading the pain” is a tool the US uses quite frequently in its dealings with other countries. Maybe Putin should take a bite of that same apple, eh?

Another option would be to implement capital controls to avoid ruble-dollar conversion and further capital flight. The beauty of capital controls is that they take power away from the big money guys who run the world and hand it back to elected officials. Leaders like Putin are then in a position to say, “Hey, we’re going to take a little break from the dollar system for while until we get caught up. I hope you’ll understand our situation.”

Capital controls are an extremely effective of avoiding capital flight and minimizing the impact of a currency crisis. Here’s a short summary of how these measures helped Malaysia muddle through in 1998:

“When the Asian financial crisis hit, Malaysia’s position looked a lot like Russia’s today: It had big foreign reserves and a low short-term debt level, but relatively high general indebtedness if households and corporations were factored in. At first, to bolster the ringgit, Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim pushed through a market-based policy with a flexible exchange rate, rising interest rates and cuts in government spending. It didn’t work: Consumption and investment went down, and pessimism prevailed, exerting downward pressure on the exchange rate.
So, in June 1998, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad… appointed a different economic point man, Daim Zainuddin. In September, on Daim’s urging, Malaysia introduced capital controls. It banned offshore operations in ringgit and forbade foreign investors to repatriate profits for a year. Analysts at the time were sharply critical of the measures, and Malaysia’s reputation in the global financial markets inevitably suffered.

According to Kaplan and Rodrik, however, the capital controls were ultimately effective. The government was able to lower interest rates, the economy recovered, the controls were relaxed ahead of time, and by May 1999 Malaysia was back on the international capital markets with a $1 billion bond issue.”
(Is Russia ready to impose capital controls, Chicago Tribune)

Sure they were effective, but they piss off the slacker class of oligarchs who think the whole system should be centered on their “inalienable right” to move capital from one spot to another so they can rake-off hefty profits at everyone else’s expense. Capital controls push those creeps to the back of the line so the state can do what it needs to do to preserve the failing economy from the attack of speculators. Here’s a clip from a speech Joseph Stiglitz gave in 2014 at the Atlanta Fed’s 2014 Financial Markets Conference.

He said:

“When countries do not impose capital controls and allow exchange rates to vary freely, this can give rise to high levels of exchange rate volatility. The consequence can be high levels of economic volatility, imposing great costs on workers and firms throughout the economy. Even if they can lay off some of the risk, there is a cost to doing so. The very existence of this volatility affects the structure of the economy and overall economic performance.”

That sums it up pretty well. Without capital controls, the deep-pocket Wall Street banks and speculators can simply vacuum the money out of an economy leaving the country broken and penniless. This nihilistic decimation of emerging markets via capital flight is what the kleptocracy breezily refers to as “free markets”, the unwavering plundering of civilization to fatten the coffers of the swinish few at the top of the foodchain. That’s got to stop.

Putin needs to put his foot down now; stop the outflow of cash, stop the conversion of rubles to dollars, force investors to recycle their money into the domestic economy, indict the central bank governors and trundle them off to the hoosegow, and reassert the power of the people over the markets. If he doesn’t, then the speculators will continue to peck away until Russia’s reserves are drained-dry and the country is pushed back into another long-term slump. Who wants that?

And don’t think that Putin’s only problem is Washington either, because it isn’t. He’s got an even bigger headache in his own country with the morons who still buy the hogwash that “the market knows best.” These are the fantasists, the corporate toadies, and the fifth columnists, some of whom hold very high office. Here’s a clip I picked up at the Vineyard of the Saker under the heading “Medvedev declares: more of the same”:

(Russian Prime Minister) “Medvedev has just called a government meeting with most of the directors of top Russian corporations and the director of the Russian Central Bank. He immediately announced that he will not introduce any harsh regulatory measures and that he will let the market forces correct the situation. As for the former Minister of Finance, the one so much beloved in the West, Alexei Kudrin, he expressed his full support for the latest increase in interest rates.”

This is lunacy. The US has just turned Russia’s currency into worthless fishwrap, and bonehead Medvedev wants to play nice and return to “business as usual”??

No thanks. Maybe Medvedev wants to be a slave to the market, but I’ll bet Putin is smarter than that.

Putin’s not going to roll over and play dead for these vipers. He’s got to much on the ball for that. He’s going to beat them at their own game, fair and square. He’s going to implement capital controls, restructure the economy away from the west, and aggressively look for ways to deter Washington from spreading its heinous resource war to Central Asia and beyond.

He’s not going to give an inch. You’ll see.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.