Saturday, December 12, 2015
Video Shows Israeli Commandos Save Islamic Militants from the Syrian WarzoneUnder cover of darkness, an Israeli armoured car advances down the potholed road that leads to Syria. As it crests a small hill, the driver picks up the radio handset and tells his commanding officer that the border is in sight.
He kills the engine. Ten heavily-armed commandos jump out and take cover, watching for signs of ambush. Then five of them move up to the 12ft chainlink fence that marks the limit of Israeli-held territory.
On the other side, on the very edge of Syria, lies an unconscious man wrapped like a doll in a blood-drenched duvet. The commandos unlock the fence, open a section of it and drag him onto Israeli soil.
But this wounded man is not an Israeli soldier, or even an Israeli citizen. He is an Islamic militant. And his rescue forms part of an extraordinary humanitarian mission that is fraught with danger and has provoked deep controversy on all sides.
MailOnline has gained unprecedented access to this secretive and hazardous operation, embedding with the commandos to obtain exclusive footage, and interviewing the medics who are obliged to treat Syrian militants, some of whom openly admit that they intend to kill Israelis.
Don Siegelman on the Movie Karl Rove Doesn't Want You to SeeSam Sacks, filling in for Thom Hartmann, talks with Governor Don Siegelman, Governor of Alabama (1999-2003).
Website: http://free-don.org/, who says he is the victim of a politically motivated prosecution by the George W. Bush administration. They also discuss the upcoming documentary, "Killing Atticus Finch" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddbQu...
If you liked this clip of The Thom Hartmann Program, please do us a big favor and share it with your friends... and hit that "like" button!
Follow Us on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/thom_hartmann
Subscribe to The Thom Hartmann Program for more: http://www.youtube.com/subscription_c...
Paris deal: Epic fail on a planetary scale
by Danny Chivers and Jess Worth, New Internationalist
December 12, 2015
Today, after two weeks of tortuous negotiations – well, 21 years, really – governments announced the Paris Agreement.
This brand new climate deal will kick in in 2020. But is it really as ‘ambitious’ as the French government is claiming?
photo: System change not climate change,
'D12' day of action in Paris, France, 12 December 2015
Yann Levy / 350.org Creative Commons Licence
Before the talks began, social movements, environmental groups, and trade unions around the world came together and agreed on a set of criteria that the Paris deal would need to meet in order to be effective and fair. This ‘People’s Test’ is based on climate science and the needs of communities affected by climate change and other injustices across the globe.
To meet the People’s Test, the Paris deal would need to do the following four things:
1. Catalyze immediate, urgent and drastic emission reductions;
2. Provide adequate support for transformation;
3. Deliver justice for impacted people;
4. Focus on genuine, effective action rather than false solutions;
Does the deal pass the test? The 15,000 people who took to the Paris streets today to condemn the agreement clearly didn’t think so. Here’s New Internationalist’s (NI) assessment.
Test 1. Catalyze immediate, urgent and drastic emission reductions: ‘In line with what science and equity require, deliver urgent short-term actions, building towards a long-term goal that is agreed in Paris, that shift us away from dirty energy, marking the beginning of the end of fossil fuels globally, and that keep the global temperature goal in reach.’
NI assessment: Fail.
The Paris Agreement aims to keep the global average temperature rise to ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.’ But the emission cuts contained in the agreement are based on voluntary pledges called ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs) that governments drew up individually before the talks, based on what they were prepared to deliver, not what science or equity demanded. These cuts have now become an official part of the deal, but go nowhere near far enough to achieve a 1.5°, or even a 2° goal, and the agreement does not require these targets to be re-examined until 2020.
In the words of Asad Rehman from the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, ‘This agreement is a great escape for the big polluters, and a poisoned chalice for the poor. We’ve got some warm words about temperature levels, but no concrete action. Rich countries aren’t pledging to do any more about their inadequate emissions reduction targets which are going to lead us to 3.7° warming of the planet. None of the developed countries are doing their fair share to reduce their emissions and move away from dirty energy.’
This agreement is a great escape for the big polluters, and a poisoned chalice for the poor
According to Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, ‘The Copenhagen text included aviation and shipping emissions, that together are as large as the emissions of Britain and Germany combined, but they are not mentioned in the Paris text.’ Overall, he says, the agreement ‘is weaker than Copenhagen’ and ‘not consistent with the latest science’.
The Paris deal requires no emissions reductions from countries before 2020. Steffen Kallbekken, Director of the Centre for International Climate and Energy Policy, explains that ‘by the time the pledges come into force in 2020, we will probably have used the entire carbon budget consistent with 1.5°C warming. If we stick with the INDCs we will have warming between 2.7°C and 3.7°C.’
In order to have a decent chance of reaching that 1.5° target, we need to keep at least 80 percent of known fossil fuels in the ground, and urgently halt the exploration and extraction of new sources. We need to stop deforestation and reduce other greenhouse gases such as methane, by tackling major drivers such as the growth of animal agriculture. But the Paris agreement contains no mention of the words ‘fossil fuel’ – no coal, no oil, no gas - and not a whisper about the livestock, palm oil and other industries driving deforestation either.
‘Our survival is non-negotiable. But after all the hype about high ambition and the 1.5°C aspirational limit for global warming, the final version of the climate agreement is sentencing us to even more deaths and destruction’ said Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD).
Test 2. Provide adequate support for transformation: ‘Ensure that the resources needed, such as public finance and technology transfer, are provided to support the transformation, especially in vulnerable and poor countries.’
NI assessment: Fail.
Visit our #NICOP21 alternative media Paris hub
According to the International Energy Agency, the transformation to a fossil-free world will require $1,000 billion per year by 2020. Around two-thirds of this – so $670 billion - will need to be spent in developing nations, hence the need for a significant transfer of finance from North to South. This is only fair, because industrialized nations have grown so wealthy by burning fossil fuels for the last 200 years; countries containing just 10 percent of the world’s population are responsible for around 60 percent of the greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere.
However, the Paris Agreement only commits to ‘mobilizing’ $100 billion per year by 2020, to cover not just emission cuts but also adaptation (see 3, below). This is far short of the support required, and there is no firm commitment to increase this figure, merely an aspiration to review it by 2025. Meanwhile, the definition of ‘mobilize’ is purposefully broad, to include loans, private finance, grants with strings attached, and the reallocation of aid budgets. There has even been talk of calling the money sent home by migrants working in richer countries a form of climate finance, and counting it towards the total ‘mobilized’ by those rich countries.
This is inadequate and mean, especially given that governments spend an estimated $5,300 billion per year on direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels. Janet Redman, Director of the Climate Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, puts the finance required in perspective: ‘We spend $2,000 billion a year on our military and mobilized $14,000 billion to bail out banks. Wealthy nations have to shift money from banks and tanks to clean energy and climate resilience.’
Test 3. Deliver justice for impacted people: ‘Enhance the support for adaptation in a new climate regime, ensure that there will be a separate mechanism to provide reparations for any loss and damage that goes beyond our ability to adapt, and make a firm commitment to secure workers’ livelihoods and jobs through a Just Transition.’
NI assessment: Fail.
According to the UN Environment Programme, on top of the $670 billion needed for emissions cuts per year by 2020, vulnerable countries will also need around $150 billion per year for adaptation measures to protect them from the worst impacts of climate change. That’s more than $800 billion per year in total – so the $100 billion ‘finance floor’ represents less than 15 percent of what is actually needed.
Developed countries have done the most to cause the problem, and therefore have the responsibility to solve it, but this crucial principle (known as ‘Common but differentiated responsibility’) has been watered down in the Paris text at the behest of the US and other industrialized nations. Rather than a clear statement that richer countries should provide finance to poorer nations for adaptation, the Paris deal just says that developed countries should ‘take the lead’ on providing finance, as part of a ‘shared effort’ by all parties.
While the US and some NGOs have been quick to blame developing countries for not pulling their weight in the agreement, the ‘Fair Shares: A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCs’ report, from climate justice organizations, social movements, faith groups, trade unions, environmental and development organizations, shows that the opposite is true. Many developing countries are pledging to do more than their ‘fair share’ to cut emissions while rich countries are dragging their feet.
The US and its allies do not want to pay for loss and damages which countries like mine are already experiencing
Furthermore, as climate change is already happening, many countries are already being hit by devastating floods, storms and droughts. These will continue – and worsen – for many years, even if the world succeeds in keeping temperature rises below 1.5 degrees. They deserve compensation and financial support to deal with the loss and damage caused by rich countries’ pollution. But the Paris Agreement denies them this by introducing a clause that says the deal provides ‘no basis for any liability or compensation’. Many climate-vulnerable nations fought hard for the right to compensation, but were bullied, bribed and browbreaten by the US and EU into accepting this clause.
As Asad Rehman puts it, ‘the EU, the US, and the umbrella group of rich countries have imposed a clause which absolves them of the legal, moral and political responsibility for the carbon pollution that they’ve created and that has devastated the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.’
Magline Peter, an Indian fisherfolk leader whose flight to Paris was delayed because of the floods in Chennai, also denounces this clause. ‘The US and its allies do not want to pay for loss and damages which countries like mine are already experiencing, whether through rising sea levels or freak floods, like the latest in Chennai. It’s absurd to see these developed countries continue to blame India for blocking a fair and just climate agreement.’
The concept of a just transition – that governments should provide training and financial support to ensure that workers in the fossil fuel industry can find alternative employment in the shift to a zero-carbon world – is mentioned in the preamble but not in the core, agreed text of the Paris deal. And the requirement that human rights should be taken into account has been stripped from the text.
This means that the rights of Indigenous peoples has also been removed from the binding part of the text. As Dallas Goldtooth, of Indigenous Environmental Network, explains:
‘It’s hard to take as an Indigenous person that our ability to decide and self-determine our futures, where we get our food from, where we get our water from is not legally recognised by the nations of this world. It’s destructive, it’s hurtful, and it shows that this agreement is a failure.’
Test 4. Focus on transformational action: ‘Ensure that renewable and efficient solutions are emphasized rather than false solutions that fail to produce the results and protection we need, such as carbon markets in land and soil, dangerous geoengineering interventions, and more.’
NI assessment: Fail.
The agreement talks vaguely about ‘technologies’ and ‘actions’ without defining what these are, leaving the door open to all kinds of false solutions. Renewable energy is mentioned just once, in relation to Africa. The deal aims to ‘achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century’. This could mean anytime between 2050 and 2100, when a 1.5 degree target would require a definitive end to fossil fuel use by 2050; and the purposefully slippery language allows for the possibility of continued fossil-fuel burning ‘offset’ by ‘removals’ via dubious carbon capture, geoengineering or forestry schemes.
The door is left open for carbon trading mechanisms – which have so far been wildly ineffective at cutting emissions – with ‘internationally transferred mitigation outcomes’ recognised in the text as a legitimate solution. Meanwhile, there is no mention of effective and fair solutions such as respecting the land rights of forest peoples, promoting clean democratic energy or ensuring food sovereignty for communities and small farmers, all of which would keep carbon safely locked up underground and in trees and soils. Regulations to rein in destructive industries, halt deforestation and keep fossil fuels in the ground are not even hinted at.
Worse, there is no language in the deal to give it precedence over imminent trade agreements such as Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trans-Pacific Partnership, which are threatening to give corporations the power to overturn environmental regulations that affect their profits.
The Paris agreement is a farce. Any discussion of carbon markets and carbon trading is a false solution
In the words of Dallas Goldtooth,
‘The Paris agreement is a farce. Any discussion of carbon markets and carbon trading is a false solution. The truest solution, which is backed up by science, is that we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We must see a moratorium on fossil fuel development, and we must see a just transition for all those communities that are dependent on fossil fuel economies. Whether we’re from the global north or the global south, we need help and support to create a future that has renewable energy for 100 percent of people on this planet.’
NI Final score: 0/4.
Scored in this way, the Paris Agreement is a disaster for the world’s most vulnerable people. The headline target of 1.5 degrees and eventual decarbonization look good on paper but there’s no sign that governments are willing to make them a reality yet. Paris could mark the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel industry, but much more needs to change before that becomes a reality.
So what next?
None of this comes as a surprise to climate justice campaigners. As Asad Rehman puts it: ‘When we came into these Paris talks we had very low expectations. These expectations have been exceeded in how low they are. It’s what happens on Monday that’s the most important thing. Do we return to our capitals, do we build a movement, do we make sure our countries are doing their fair share? Do we stop the dirty energy industry, do we invest in new climate jobs, do we invest in community-owned decentralized energy? And most importantly, do we stand in solidarity with the millions of people across the world who are struggling for climate justice?’
Dallas Goldtooth agrees:
‘The decision-makers of the world can’t make the changes that we want. It’s on us as people to make that change. And we’re already seeing the power of the people. Look at North America – the Keystone XL pipeline was taken down because of people organizing. It wasn’t the governments who made that choice, it was the ranchers and farmers, the Indigenous peoples on the frontline in the heartland of America that made that choice, and the politicians adjusted accordingly.’
People shouldn’t be surprised that the deal is bad, Goldtooth says. ‘Industry has heavily influenced these negotiations. We have nation states who are dependent on a fossil fuel economy influencing these negotiations. Grassroots people who are advocating for the alternatives are not allowed in those negotiations. So we shouldn’t be surprised. Instead we are using this moment to reinvigorate our base, to continue forward demanding climate justice, and to show the world, show the countries, show the corporations what people can do when we unite for climate justice.’
If you like New Internationalist’s coverage of the Paris climate talks, please support our alternative media and independent journalism by making a donation. - See more at: http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2015/12/12/cop21-paris-deal-epi...
by Chris Floyd - Empire Burlesque
December 12, 2015
An open letter to Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War coalition:
In your Guardian interview with John Harris, you joined David Cameron and the pro-war Blairites in completely mischaracterising my “Reaping the Whirlwind” blogpost. You said you objected to it because it did not “completely condemn the Paris massacres.”
This is absolutely untrue — as you would know if you had actually read the article which your own organisation posted on its website (without asking me) then removed. I ask you now to read this passage from the blogpost:
“I write in despair. Despair of course at the depravity displayed by the murderers of the innocents in Paris tonight.”
Is that not “complete” enough for you?
Yet your statement to Harris is, in many ways, even more egregious than the twistings of the article made by the Tories and Blairites to attack your organisation.
You say, falsely, that I did not “completely condemn” the attacks. So what does that mean? That I partially approved them? Is there a certain wording — a ritual incantation, a party line — that must be followed in order to qualify for “full” condemnation? Perhaps you could post it on your website, so we can all sing from the same hymn sheet.
Your statement is not only false and near-libelous, it is ludicrous on its face. The entire article is about the despair and anguish so many of us were feeling about evil of the Paris attacks — and our further despair that the policies of our own nations, particularly the US and UK, have been instrumental in creating a world where such self-evident evil can flourish. Jeremy Corbyn — and many other people associated with Stop the War — have made these very same points, both before and after the Paris attacks.
In what way is it “extremely insensitive,” as you put it, to speak of this element of our despair over the Paris atrocity, along with the specific, complete condemnation of it as the “depravity [of] the murderers of the innocents in Paris”?
Let me point out, for the nth time, that it was your organisation that put “Paris” in the headline of the article, therefore skewing perceptions of its actual content and giving an opening to your enemies among the warmongers and the seething factionalists in the Labour Party.
Yet instead of simply saying, “We did not want this post by someone outside the organization to represent the official position of Stop the War” — which would have been fair enough — you instead decided to join Cameron and the Blairites in twisting the post’s clear meaning, and painting me as someone who didn’t “fully condemn” the attacks; again, leaving behind the imputation that there was some element of this horrific crime that I did not condemn, or perhaps even approved.
It was no great shock to see how the Tory-Blairite pro-war coalition seized on my article to bash your organisation; but it is very surprising — and very disheartening — to see you do the same thing.
I “completely condemn” the Paris attacks, Mr Murray.
I completely condemned them in the article which your organisation posted without my permission.
I don’t know why you wish to compound the problems that the article has caused you by continuing to misrepresent it just as Cameron and others have done.
Oh, by the way: do feel free to post this piece on your website.
Bell Canada's Plan to Play Politics with Your Internet Bill
Today we're asking you to to urgently take action and tell the government to reject Bell Canada's plan to play politics with our Internet bills.1,2
As you know, the government has announced they will hear Bell's case to undo new Internet choice rules using a little-known, rarely-invoked parliamentary procedure.
If successful, Bell could kill Canada's smaller Internet providers so they can price-gouge you at will.3
But we're running out of time to push back. We only have until December 21 to get as many people as possible to tell the government to stop Bell's plan.4
There are only 9 days left on the Internet Emergency countdown. Speak out NOW by signing our petition while there's still time.
If Bell gets its way, it will mean the death of affordable Internet access for households and businesses.5 Smaller more affordable indie Internet providers would be forced out of business - leaving the way open for telecom giants like Bell to hold our digital economy hostage.
We've stood up against Bell at the CRTC6 and sent an open letter to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, urging him to listen to Canadians and reject the telecom giant's appeal to Cabinet.7
Now we're ready to stand together with the over 40,000 Canadians who have already spoken out. At this point, the only missing ingredient is you.
Please speak out now before we run out of time [ https://act.openmedia.org/emergency?src=158868 ], and we'll ensure the name of every signer goes on the public record to oppose Bell's power-grab in time for the December 21 deadline.
We've called this the #InternetEmergency on purpose – it's a big one, and we need all the help we can get.
–Josh, on behalf of your OpenMedia team
P.S., Can you chip in today to our Internet Emergency defence fund to stop Bell's plan to control our entire Internet market? Your donation will fund a crack team of policy experts to knock down Bell's arguments, and get as many petition signatures as possible on the public record before time runs out.
 Bell playing politics with your Internet bill by appealing CRTC ruling. Source: The Globe and Mail [ http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-commentary/bell-playing-politics-with-your-internet-bill-by-appealing-crtc-ruling/article27030604/ ].
 Petition to the Governor in Council concerning Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2015-326. Source: Industry Canada [ http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/smt-gst.nsf/eng/sf11141.html ].
 Bell is lobbying the Canadian government for a "free pass". Source: Medium [ https://medium.com/@jdtabish/bell-is-lobbying-the-canadian-government-for-a-free-pass-from-new-customer-protection-rules-3417259b3a7c ].
, OpenMedia is fighting Bell at the CRTC and Parliament on your behalf. Source. OpenMedia [ https://openmedia.org/en/openmedia-fighting-bell-crtc-and-parliament-your-behalf ].
 Bell appeals CRTC ruling forcing company to sell fibre internet access to small ISPs. Source: CBC News [ http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/crtc-bell-fibre-1.3350885 ].
 Minister Navdeep Bains: Listen to Internet users and reject Bell Canada's appeal. Source: OpenMedia [ https://openmedia.org/en/minister-navdeep-bains-listen-internet-users-and-reject-bell-canadas-appeal ].
Israeli Forces Raid Bethlehem Medical Center
by IMEMC News
Israeli military forces ransacked several homes and a medical center in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, before dawn on Saturday, locals said.
According to locals, soldiers broke into al-Sadaq Medical Clinic, in the al-Madbasa neighborhood at the center of Bethlehem, removing the clinic's main door and confiscating equipment.
The medical clinic is a part of al-Ihsan Charitable Association, it was added.
The Israeli military also raided a residential building and broke into three apartments, a Palestinian family told Ma’an News Agency.
The Buja family said that soldiers broke into the homes of Ahmad Theib Buja, Muhammad Buja and Ashraf Abu Hlayyil, damaging the interior of the apartments.
Seperately, Israeli forces raided a science supply store, al-Maktaba al-Eilmia -- located in the city center of Ramallah -- for the second night in a row.
Locals said that around ten military jeeps entered the area before clashes broke out.
An Israeli army spokesperson had no immediate information on Saturday's raids.
Israeli forces raided the same shop early Friday, breaking the doors of the shop and confiscating surveillance cameras, the owner of the center, Azmi Walid Abu Rahmeh said, at the time.
Five Palestinians were injured with live fire when clashes broke out during the night raid. An Israeli army spokesperson denied the use of live fire at the time, saying Israeli forces entered Ramallah on "routine activity," and were met by dozens of Palestinians who "attacked forces by hurling rocks at them and blocking roads."
The spokesperson said Israeli forces "responded using riot dispersal means in order to prevent and escalation of violence." The spokesperson added that "hits were confirmed," but said no live fire was used during the incident.
Israeli forces regularly carry out search and arrest raids in the occupied Palestinian territory, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs documenting a weekly average of 83 raids since the start of 2015.
Such raids have increased over the past few months, coinciding with a series of measures implemented by Israeli authorities in the wake of violence that increased in October.
The military raids have regularly taken place in areas under full Palestinian jurisdiction.
Friday, December 11, 2015
Exposing BlackRock: Who's Afraid Of Laurence Fink and His Overpowering Institution?
by Andrew Gavin Marshall - Dissident Voice
December 10th, 2015
It’s not a bank, nor an insurance company, central bank, finance ministry or sovereign wealth fund. But it advises or owns such institutions. It operates virtually unregulated, often in the background, yet there is scarcely a company, country or region of the planet that this, the world’s largest asset management firm, does not touch or influence.
At a mere 27 years of age, BlackRock manages $4.5 trillion in assets, making it the single largest investor on Earth. It manages more wealth than Japan and Germany have in GDP.
In fact, only China and the United States have a larger GDP than BlackRock has assets under management. Yet when one includes assets that the company not only manages, but advises upon, the number soars to around $15 trillion, roughly equal to U.S. GDP.
It’s safe to say that BlackRock is the single largest financial institution in the world: a vast holding company that has become a major shareholder in roughly 40% of all publicly traded companies in the U.S., the largest single shareholder in one out of every five U.S. corporations, and one of the largest shareholders in companies around the world, from Canada to Brazil, Germany, Japan, China and beyond.
Owning it All
Specifically, BlackRock is one of the top shareholders in all major U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo.
In terms of America’s most profitable and recognizable corporations, BlackRock is a top shareholder of Walmart, General Electric, General Motors, Ford, AT&T, Verizon, Google, Apple, Exxon Mobil and Chevron.
BlackRock’s other large holdings include Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Amazon, Facebook, Berkshire Hathaway, Gilead Sciences, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Merck, Intel, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney Company, Home Depot, Philip Morris, VISA, McDonald’s, Cisco Systems, PepsiCo, IBM, Oracle, Comcast, Lockheed Martin, MasterCard, Starbucks, Boeing and ConocoPhillips, along with thousands of other, smaller brands.
But despite its size and influence, BlackRock remains virtually unregulated as an asset management firm. Unlike a bank, asset management firms do not manage and invest their own money, but do so on behalf of their many clients. In the case of BlackRock, those clients come in the form of banks, corporations, insurance companies, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, central banks and foundations. Gerald Davis, a professor of management and organization at the University of Michigan, described BlackRock as “the silent giant” that few know about, but which is “incredibly powerful.”
The company’s power is expressed not merely in terms of its equity (shareholdings) and bonds (debt ownership), but in its role as an adviser to governments and institutions. This role is not only played by certain divisions within the company, but by the co-founder and CEO of BlackRock itself, Larry Fink. The son of a shoe salesman and English professor, Laurence Fink started his finance career working for First Boston, trading bonds during the 1980s, and became the firm’s youngest-ever managing director at the age of 31.
Fink Ascends to the Top
In 1988, Fink, along with a handful of other traders, founded BlackRock with support from its first financial backer, the private equity firm Blackstone (notice the similar name). Within five years, BlackRock had more than $20 billion under management. But in 1994, a conflict with Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman led to a separation of the two companies.
Schwarzman sold Blackstone’s 32% share of BlackRock to a Pittsburgh bank, PNC, for $240 million, a transaction Schwarzman would later regret.
BlackRock went public in 1999 and began acquiring other companies throughout the 2000s. But the company’s most profitable move was its purchase of Barclays Global Investors for $13.5 billion, turning BlackRock into the world’s largest asset management firm overnight. This occurred in 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis, and the firm took on a vast portfolio of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) known as iShares.
But even before it earned the title of largest money manager in the world, BlackRock was raising eyebrows concerning its business advising and contracting with governments. When the financial crisis struck the U.S. in 2008, the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve turned to BlackRock and Larry Fink for support. BlackRock advised the government on the rescues, bailouts and purchases of Bear Stearns, American International Group (AIG), Citigroup, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Throughout the crisis, Fink would find himself on the phone multiple times a day in conversation with then-President of the New York Federal Reserve, Timothy Geithner, Treasury Secretary and the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Hank Paulson, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Fink explained, “It gives comfort to our clients that we are being involved in some of the solutions of our economy, and it allows us to show our clients that we are being asked in these difficult situations to provide advice.”
According to Vanity Fair, one of Fink’s favorite phrases to insert into casual conversations is: “As I told Washington…” And it’s something to be said without much exaggeration. When Timothy Geithner went from being President of the New York Fed to Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Fink’s access to the top echelons of political power grew immensely. Indeed, apart from other government officials, the BlackRock chief became “the Treasury secretary’s most frequent corporate interlocutor and an emblem of BlackRock’s growing influence in global financial affairs,” noted the Financial Times.
Using data compiled from the Treasury Secretary’s public records from 2009 to 2013, Geithner held phone calls or private meetings with Fink at least 104 times during the duration of his term. Even with Geithner’s successor at Treasury, Jack Lew, pervasive contact has been maintained with Fink.
Enter Hillary’s Right-Hand Woman
In 2013, BlackRock hired to its board of directors Cheryl Mills, a “longtime confidant and counselor to former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.” Mills was chief of staff to Clinton at the State Department, and was “among the inner circle of advisers helping Clinton chart her plans for the future.”
Mills has a long history with both Clintons; she was one of President Bill Clinton’s top attorneys during his impeachment. A former aide with knowledge of the Clinton-Mills relationship explained,
“There are no secrets… Cheryl knows everything and that’s a great equalizer for them.”
In an interview with the Washington Post, Mills explained that she still advises and speaks with Hillary regularly.
As Hillary Clinton campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination, her discussions of Wall Street regulations focus almost exclusively on banks – but nowhere does she mention the role played by asset management firms like BlackRock. In fact, in her comments on the subject, Clinton actually tends to parrot the ideas that have been put forward by Fink himself. For instance, after Clinton gave a speech on Wall Street reform, The New York Times noted that it seemed as if “she could have been channeling Laurence D. Fink.”
For years, Fink has been touted as a possible Treasury Secretary the likelihood of which may increase if Clinton becomes president. Indeed, Fink, a longtime Democrat, would be perfectly suited to such a position as the “top consigliere” of Wall Street in Washington, Suzanna Andrews writes in Vanity Fair, “and the leading member of the country’s financial oligarchy.”
And, of course, it helps that Fink and BlackRock are not simply influential within the U.S. but across the globe. BlackRock has been hired as a consultant and adviser in Europe multiple times throughout the European debt crisis, having worked with the Irish central bank, the Greek central bank, and more recently the European Central Bank to advise on its quantitative easing program.
With $4.5 trillion in assets, under management the firm is without a doubt “one of, if not the, most influential financial institutions in the world,” noted a BlackRock co-founder. And Larry Fink, the architect of “his own Wall Street empire,” could become a household name in U.S. politics soon enough.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is co-editor of the book, The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century. Read other articles by Andrew Gavin, or visit Andrew Gavin's website.
Love, Marriage and Imperialism
by Andre Vltchek - CounterPunchDecember 11, 2015
After photographing the new, enormous and undoubtedly sinister building of the US embassy in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, I was driven by a local left-wing politician towards the mountains.
We agreed to have lunch; simple, good local food.
In front of the restaurant, which my friend selected, was parked an indescribable monster: a white double-decker ‘extremely stretched’ limousine with tinted windows.
I had never seen a double-decker limo before.
“An American-style wedding”, my host commented gloomily.
The bride was dressed all in white. She looked rather depressed. The groom appeared to be concerned, scared of something. Some 100 guests were desperately trying to appear merry and positive.
The wedding was monstrously kitschy. ‘So will be their married life’, I thought. It was obvious. Bad taste has lately been penetrating everything, everywhere: from the lives of married couples to kindergarten wards.
I looked at the bride. Our eyes met for a few seconds. I thought that I read in her desperate gaze, “Take me to Patagonia or to Polynesia”. Maybe I was wrong… Maybe she was actually happy… With that stretched limo at the parking lot.
She smiled shyly. I smiled back, and then I went to a backroom to eat and to discuss with my friend how the West destroyed the Soviet Union, and how it then implanted hate, tribalism and extremism in all parts of Central Asia.
I have seen hundreds of weddings, all over the world. Almost all of them based on some outdated, depressing monotheist ideology. All offering shackles instead of wings, depressing obligations and prison bars instead of love; consumerism instead of dreams.
Possess, possess; control, control, consume, consume, consume…
Possess the other person, break her or his identity and will, control her or his steps, while consuming what the market tells you to consume. And don’t forget about Jesus, even if you absolutely don’t believe in that gentleman. Because Jesus has been converted into some sort of justification for why you consume the way you do, step on others every day, and fuck (or don’t fuck) at night.
A man and a woman, two loving beings, are now expected to spend, reproduce, pay taxes to some monstrous state, and behave obediently and “morally”, instead of turning their feelings into some positive creative force, instead of dreaming and fighting side by side for a much better society and for a much better world.
After the 1917 Revolution, the Soviets considered abolishing the institution of marriage altogether as something obsolete, religious, oppressive, regressive and grotesque. But inertia in the psyche of the masses proved to be too great. The desire to control other human beings was still deeply rooted even in the psyche of the wretched of the earth.
Love that would be simply based on trust and on free choice appeared too ‘risky’.
Handcuffs and ropes survived.
Even now, in the 21st Century, before a man and a woman are allowed to make love, some sclerotic bureaucrat or child-molesting priest, is expected to slam a stamp on a paper form and declare: “you can now kiss the bride.”
How thoroughly disgusting, patronizing and humiliating… for love! How, actually, endlessly feudal and sleazy!
Isn’t love supposed to be the highest form of rebellion, a fight for something totally new? Its purity should not be based on virginity, but on beauty, trust, determination and courage.
It should be, but as we all know, it is not.
Instead, the monotheist religions and Western cultural imperialism are using the institution of marriage for their own despotic, dictatorial interests. While the weddings, themselves, exactly like Christmas and other religious gaga carnivals, are converted into some pathetic and shameless orgy of consumerism.
The “Bride’s dream” is now mostly that of a Disneyland-style bad taste orgy of consumption and cash burning, designed as an injection of funds into a private sector service industry.
Imperialist and market fundamentalist ideologues love the game – as long as there is no deep meaning left in all this! And there certainly isn’t. The modern marriage institution is not unlike some low Hollywood film or pop tune.
Once rings are exchanged, papers stamped and excessive food puked out in overflowing toilets, what follows is the brutal reality of married life, in most cases broken, forced, depressing, sustained only because of “children”, or “obligation”, or because of guilt, or because of religious idiocy.
In short: married life exists mainly so that many absolutely despicable, and for centuries unreformed societies (including those in the West), could survive intact. Through the degenerate institution of marriage, sadistic Christian dogma manage to persist…
Western-style marriage, now also implanted into virtually all parts of the world, is resting on several mighty columns including fear, selfishness (like putting the family unit above national and other objective interests, which indisputably breeds corruption), submission, lack of creativity and imagination, and yes, lack of love.
Because love, if allowed to bloom, is mostly founded on trust, understanding, generosity, but also on rebellion, freedom, and a desire to live one’s life in a totally new way. All of the above is directly opposed to Western cultural imperialism, Christian dogma and market fundamentalism, read: opposed to the global fascism that is ruling the world.
Global fascism wants married couples to live like slaves, consuming like idiots, erecting a twisted Disney-style “reality” for their children, while following the most idiotic religious and cultural concepts of their parents and grandparents: concepts that already brought our planet to its present pitiful state!
All this – in the name of “morality”! A penis entering an “unmarried vagina” being portrayed as more immoral than murdering millions, spreading nihilist ideological and religious lies, corrupting, stealing from and scaring billions of poor people.
One day after our lunch at the restaurant converted to a wedding parlor, we drove to the southern shore of a mighty Central Asian lake. There, several years ago, a Canadian mining company managed to drive a truck full of cyanide, into a river. In order not to pay compensations, the company lied. It corrupted the then country’s President, as well as the local press and several MPs. My friend was heading the investigating commission. He refused to betray his people. One day, a representative of the company came into his office, with a case full of US dollars. My friend kicked them out, and then made everything public.
Until now, hundreds of people are dying from cancer. Until now, children are born deformed. Mining goes on.
“The mining company arranges small events in the village,” I was told.
Village, which lost so many people! Events include weddings. Why?
The entire Central Asia is dreaming about the old Soviet Union. I was told this in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, even in Uzbekistan, and I will address the topic in my future essays.
The West corrupts, steals and supports nationalist and religious extremists. Not only is ISIS now active, but also several extremist Christian fascist organizations had been implanted, like in Indonesia and Africa. Like everywhere in the world!
But smashing countries to pieces is not considered “immoral”. Robbing them is fine. Indoctrinating, brainwashing them – all just part of some daily routine.
While love is being reduced to a filthy market place, while marriage feels increasingly like a prison, while human relationships are mass-produced. There is almost no space left for imagination, the ability to dream, the desire to fight for a much better world!
Like Western porn, mechanical and gym-like, like Western culture, increasingly resembling a supermarket, like childhood that is infiltrated by mass-produced unsavory chemical-colored characters, a union between a woman and a man now consists of pre-fabricated, computer-generated gigs and squeaks. It appears to be toxic, unfit for human consumption.
I say: “screw such unions!” Let’s think about something better. Let’s laugh at morally corrupt preachers and bureaucrats, and at their stamps! Let’s try to bring back poetry, dreams and humanism. And trust! And let’s do it really soon!
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”.Discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. Point of No Return is his critically acclaimed political novel. Oceania – a book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about Indonesia: “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Press TV. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.More articles by:Andre Vltchek
Reinventing Banking: From Russia to Iceland to Ecuador
by Ellen Brown - ICH
December 11, 2015
Global developments in finance and geopolitics are prompting a rethinking of the structure of banking and of the nature of money itself. Among other interesting news items:
- In Russia, vulnerability to Western sanctions has led to proposals for a banking system that is not only independent of the West but is based on different design principles.
- In Iceland, the booms and busts culminating in the banking crisis of 2008-09 have prompted lawmakers to consider a plan to remove the power to create money from private banks.
- In Ireland, Iceland and the UK, a recession-induced shortage of local credit has prompted proposals for a system of public interest banks on the model of the Sparkassen of Germany.
- In Ecuador, the central bank is responding to a shortage of US dollars (the official Ecuadorian currency) by issuing digital dollars through accounts to which everyone has access, effectively making it a bank of the people.
Developments in Russia
In a November 2015 article titled “Russia Debates Unorthodox Orthodox Financial Alternative,” William Engdahl writes:
A significant debate is underway in Russia since imposition of western financial sanctions on Russian banks and corporations in 2014. It’s about a proposal presented by the Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church. The proposal, which resembles Islamic interest-free banking models in many respects, was first unveiled in December 2014 at the depth of the Ruble crisis and oil price free-fall. This August the idea received a huge boost from the endorsement of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It could change history for the better depending on what is done and where it further leads.
Engdahl notes that the financial sanctions launched by the US Treasury in 2014 have forced a critical rethinking among Russian intellectuals and officials. Like China, Russia has developed an internal Russian version of SWIFT Interbank payments; and it is now considering a plan to restructure Russia’s banking system. Engdahl writes:
Much as with Islamic banking models that ban usury, the Orthodox Financial System would not allow interest charges on loans. Participants of the system share risks, profits and losses. Speculative behavior is prohibited . . . . There would be a new low-risk bank or credit organization that controls all transactions, and investment funds or companies that source investors and mediate project financing. . . . Priority would be ensuring financing of the real sector of the economy . . . .
On September 15, 2013, Sergei Glazyev, one of Vladimir Putin’s economic advisers, presented a a series of economic proposals to the Presidential Russian Security Council that also suggest radical change is on the horizon. The plan is aimed at reducing vulnerability to western sanctions and achieving long-term growth and economic sovereignty.
Particularly interesting is a proposal to provide targeted lending for businesses and industries by providing them with low-interest loans at 1-4 percent, financed through the central bank with quantitative easing (digital money creation). The proposal is to issue 20 trillion rubles for this purpose over a five year period. Using quantitative easing for economic development mirrors the proposal of UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbin for “quantitative easing for people.”
William Engdahl concludes that Russia is in “a fascinating process of rethinking every aspect of her national economic survival because of the reality of the western attacks,” one that “could produce a very healthy transformation away from the deadly defects” of the current banking model.
Iceland’s Radical Money Plan
Iceland, too, is looking at a radical transformation of its money system, after suffering the crushing boom/bust cycle of the private banking model that bankrupted its largest banks in 2008. According to a March 2015 article in the UK Telegraph:
Iceland’s government is considering a revolutionary monetary proposal – removing the power of commercial banks to create money and handing it to the central bank. The proposal, which would be a turnaround in the history of modern finance, was part of a report written by a lawmaker from the ruling centrist Progress Party, Frosti Sigurjonsson, entitled “A better monetary system for Iceland”.
“The findings will be an important contribution to the upcoming discussion, here and elsewhere, on money creation and monetary policy,” Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson said. The report, commissioned by the premier, is aimed at putting an end to a monetary system in place through a slew of financial crises, including the latest one in 2008.
Under this “Sovereign Money” proposal, the country’s central bank would become the only creator of money. Banks would continue to manage accounts and payments and would serve as intermediaries between savers and lenders. The proposal is a variant of the Chicago Plan promoted by Kumhof and Benes of the IMF and the Positive Money group in the UK.
Public Banking Initiatives in Iceland, Ireland and the UK
A major concern with stripping private banks of the power to create money as deposits when they make loans is that it will seriously reduce the availability of credit in an already sluggish economy. One solution is to make the banks, or some of them, public institutions. They would still be creating money when they made loans, but it would be as agents of the government; and the profits would be available for public use, on the model of the US Bank of North Dakota and the German Sparkassen (public savings banks).
In Ireland, three political parties – Sinn Fein, the Green Party and Renua Ireland (a new party) — are now supporting initiatives for a network of local publicly-owned banks on the Sparkassen model. In the UK, the New Economy Foundation (NEF) is proposing that the failed Royal Bank of Scotland be transformed into a network of public interest banks on that model. And in Iceland, public banking is part of the platform of a new political party called the Dawn Party.
Ecuador’s Dinero Electronico: A National Digital Currency
So far, these banking overhauls are just proposals; but in Ecuador, radical transformation of the banking system is under way.
Ever since 2000, when Ecuador agreed to use the US dollar as its official legal tender, it has had to ship boatloads of paper dollars into the country just to conduct trade. In order to “seek efficiency in payment systems [and] to promote and contribute to the economic stability of the country,” the government of President Rafael Correa has therefore established the world’s first national digitally-issued currency.
Unlike Bitcoin and similar private crypto-currencies (which have been outlawed in the country), Ecuador’s dinero electronico is operated and backed by the government. The Ecuadorian digital currency is less like Bitcoin than like M-Pesa, a private mobile phone-based money transfer service started by Vodafone, which has generated a “mobile money” revolution in Kenya.
Western central banks issue digital currency for the use of commercial banks in their reserve accounts, but it is not available to the public. In Ecuador, any qualifying person can have an account at the central bank; and opening one is as easy as walking into a participating financial institution and exchanging paper money for electronic money stored on their smartphones.
Ecuador’s banks and other financial institutions were ordered in May 2015 to adopt the digital payment system within the next year, making them “macro-agents” of the Electric Currency System.
According to a National Assembly statement:
Electronic money will stimulate the economy; it will be possible to attract more Ecuadorian citizens, especially those who do not have checking or savings accounts and credit cards alone. The electronic currency will be backed by the assets of the Central Bank of Ecuador.
That means there is no fear of the bank going bankrupt or of bank runs or bail-ins. Nor can the digital currency be devalued by speculative short selling. The government has declared that these are digital US dollars trading at 1 to 1 – take it or leave it – and the people are taking it. According to an October 2015 article titled “Ecuador’s Digital Currency Is Winning Hearts!”, the currency is actually taking the country by storm; and other countries in Latin America and Africa are not far behind.
The president of the Ecuadorian Association of Private Banks observes that the digital currency could be used to finance the public debt. However, the government has insisted that this will not be done. According to an economist at Ecuador’s central bank:
We did it from the government because we wanted it to be a democratic product. In any other countries, [digital currency] is provided by private companies, and it is expensive. There are barriers to entry, like [expensive fees] if you transfer money from one cellphone operator to another. What we have here is something everyone can use regardless of the operator they are using.
Banking Moves into the 21st Century
The catastrophic failures of the Western banking system mandate a new vision. These transformations, current and proposed, are constructive steps toward streamlining the banking system, eliminating the risks that have devastated individuals and governments, democratizing money, and promoting sustainable and prosperous economies.
They also raise some provocative questions:
- Would issuing “quantitative easing” to the tune of 20 trillion rubles for Russian development and trade trigger hyperinflation?
- Could merging the Iceland version of the Chicago Plan with a public banking initiative return the power to create money to the public without collapsing credit?
- How does the Ecuadorian national digital currency mesh with the “war on cash” underway in Europe?
These and related questions will be explored in later articles. Stay tuned.
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 300+ blog articles are at EllenBrown.com. Listen to “It’s Our Money with Ellen Brown” on PRN.FM.
Why Did Turkey Shoot Down That Russian Plane?
by Conn Hallinan - CounterPunch
December 11, 2015
Why did Turkey shoot down that Russian plane?
It was certainly not because the SU-24 posed any threat. The plane is old and slow, and the Russians were careful not to arm it with anti-aircraft missiles.
And it wasn’t because the Turks are quick on the trigger, either.
Three years ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphatically declared that a “short-term violation of airspace can never be a pretext for an attack.” There are even some doubts about whether the Russian plane ever crossed into Turkey’s airspace at all.
Indeed, the whole November 24 incident looks increasingly suspicious, and one doesn’t have to be a paranoid Russian to think the takedown might have been an ambush. As retired Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney, former U.S. Air Force chief of staff, told Fox News, “This airplane was not making any maneuvers to attack the [Turkish] territory.” He called the Turkish action “overly aggressive” and concluded that the incident “had to be preplanned.”
It certainly puzzled the Israeli military, not known for taking a casual approach to military intrusions. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told the press on November 29 that a Russian warplane had violated the Israeli border over the Golan Heights. “Russian planes do not intend to attack us, which is why we must not automatically react and shoot them down when an error occurs.”
So why was the plane downed?
Perhaps because, for the first time in four years, some major players are tentatively inching toward a settlement of the catastrophic Syrian civil war, and powerful forces are maneuvering to torpedo that process. If the Russians hadn’t kept their cool, several nuclear-armed powers could well have found themselves in a scary faceoff, and any thoughts of ending the war would have gone a-glimmering.
A Short Score Card
There are multiple actors on the Syrian stage — and a bewildering number of crosscurrents and competing agendas that, paradoxically, make it both easier and harder to find common ground. Easier, because there is no unified position among the antagonists; harder, because trying to herd heavily armed cats is a tricky business.
A short score card on the players:
The Russians and the Iranians are supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and fighting a host of extremist organizations ranging from al-Qaeda to the Islamic State, or ISIS. But each country has a different view of what a post-civil war Syria might look like. The Russians want a centralized and secular state with a big army. The Iranians don’t think much of “secular,” and they favor militias, not armies.
Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and most the other Gulf monarchies are trying to overthrow the Assad regime, and are the major supporters of the groups Russia, Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah are fighting. But while Turkey and Qatar want to replace Assad with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia might just hate the Brotherhood more than it does Assad. And while the monarchies are not overly concerned with the Kurds, Turkey is bombing them, and they’re a major reason why Ankara is so deeply enmeshed in Syria.
The U.S., France, and the United Kingdom are also trying to overthrow Assad, but are currently focused on fighting ISIS using the Kurds as their major allies — specifically the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party, an offshoot of the Turkish Kurdish Workers Party that the U.S. officially designates as “terrorist.” These are the same Kurds that the Turks are bombing and who have a friendly alliance with the Russians.
Indeed, Turkey may discover that one of the price tags for shooting down that SU-24 is the sudden appearance of new Russian weapons for the Kurds, some of which will be aimed at the Turks.
A Suspension of Rational Thought
The Syrian war requires a certain suspension of rational thought.
For instance, the Americans are unhappy with the Russians for bombing the anti-Assad Army of Conquest, a rebel alliance dominated by the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria. That would be the same al-Qaeda that brought down the World Trade Center towers and that the U.S. is currently bombing in Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan.
Suspension of rational thought is not limited to Syria.
A number of Arab countries initially joined the U.S. air war against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, because both organizations are pledged to overthrow the Gulf monarchies. But Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar have now dropped out to concentrate their air power on bombing the Houthis in Yemen.
The Houthis, however, are by far the most effective force fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda in Yemen. Both extremist organizations have made major gains in the last few weeks because the Houthis are too busy defending themselves to take them on.
Moves Toward a Settlement
In spite of all this political derangement, however, there are several developments that are pushing the sides toward some kind of peaceful settlement that doesn’t involve regime change in Syria. That is exactly what the Turks and the Gulf monarchs are worried about, and a major reason why Ankara shot down that Russian plane.
The first of these developments has been building throughout the summer: a growing flood of Syrians fleeing the war. There are already almost 2 million in Turkey, over a million each in Jordan and Lebanon, and as many as 900,000 in Europe. Out of 23 million Syrians, some 11 million have been displaced by the war, and the Europeans are worried that many of those 11 million people will end up camping out on the banks of the Seine and the Ruhr. If the war continues into next year, that’s an entirely plausible prediction.
Hence, the Europeans have quietly shelved their demand that Assad resign as a prerequisite for a ceasefire and are leaning on the Americans to follow suit. The issue is hardly resolved, but there seems to be general agreement that Assad will at least be part of a transition government. At this point, the Russians and Iranians are insisting on an election in which Assad would be a candidate because both are wary of anything that looks like “regime change.” The role Assad might play will be a sticking point, but probably not an insurmountable one.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are adamant that Assad must go, but neither of them is in the driver’s seat these days. While NATO supported Turkey in the Russian plane incident, according to some of the Turkish press, many of its leading officials consider Erdogan a loose cannon. And Saudi Arabia — whose economy has been hard hit by the worldwide fall in oil prices — is preoccupied by its Yemen war, which is turning into a very expensive quagmire.
The second development is the Russian intervention, which appears to have changed things on the ground, at least in the north, where Assad’s forces were being hard pressed by the Army of Conquest. New weapons and airpower have dented a rebel offensive and resulted in some gains in the government’s battle for Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.
Russian bombing also took a heavy toll on the Turkmen insurgents in the Bayir-Bucak region, the border area that Turkey has used to infiltrate arms, supplies, and insurgents into Syria.
The appearance of the Russians essentially killed Turkey’s efforts to create a “no fly zone” on its border with Syria, a proposal that the U.S. has never been enthusiastic about. Washington’s major allies, the Kurds, are strongly opposed to a no fly zone because they see it as part of Ankara’s efforts to keep the Kurds from forming an autonomous region in Syria.
The Bayir-Bucak area and the city of Jarabulus are also the exit point for Turkey’s lucrative oil smuggling operation, apparently overseen by one of Erdogan’s sons, Bilal. The Russians have embarrassed the Turks by publishing satellite photos showing miles of tanker trucks picking up oil from ISIS-controlled wells and shipping it through Turkey’s southern border with Syria.
“The oil controlled by the Islamic State militants enters Turkish territory on an industrial scale,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said November 30.
“We have every reason to believe that the decision to down our plane was guided by a desire to ensure the security of this oil’s delivery routes to ports.”
Erdogan and NATO
Erdogan didn’t get quite the response he wanted from NATO following the shooting down of the SU-24. While the military alliance backed Turkey’s defense of its “sovereignty,” NATO then called for a peaceful resolution and de-escalation of the whole matter.
At a time when Europe needs a solution to the refugee crisis — and wants to focus its firepower on the organization that killed 130 people in Paris — NATO cannot be happy that the Turks are dragging them into a confrontation with the Russians, making the whole situation a lot more dangerous than it was before the November 24 incident.
The Russians have now deployed their more modern SU-34 bombers and armed them with air-to-air missiles. The bombers will now also be escorted by SU-35 fighters. The Russians have also fielded S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft systems, the latter with a range of 250 miles. The Russians say they’re not looking for trouble, but they’re loaded for bear should it happen.
Would a dustup between Turkish and Russian planes bring NATO — and four nuclear armed nations — into a confrontation? That possibility ought to keep people up at night.
Coming to the Table
Sometime around the New Year, the countries involved in the Syrian civil war will come together in Geneva. A number of those will do their level best to derail the talks, but one hopes there are enough sane — and desperate — parties on hand to map out a political solution.
It won’t be easy, and who gets to sit at the table has yet to be decided. The Turks will object to the Kurds; the Russians, Iranians, and Kurds will object to the Army of Conquest; and the Saudis will object to Assad. In the end it could all come apart. It’s not hard to torpedo a peace plan in the Middle East.
But if the problems are great, failure will be catastrophic. That may be the glue that keeps the parties together long enough to hammer out a ceasefire, an arms embargo, a new constitution, and internationally supervised elections.
Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.comMore articles by:Conn Hallinan
Fidel Castro Congratulates Nicolas Maduro for December 6 Speech
by Fidel Castro - Granma
December 10, 2015
Dear Nicolás: I share the unanimous opinion of those who have congratulated you for your brilliant, valiant speech on the night of December 6, as soon as the election’s outcome was announced.
In world history, the highest level of political glory which a revolutionary can reach, is that of the illustrious Venezuelan combatant, Liberator of America, Simón Bolívar, whose name now belongs not only to this sister country, but to all peoples of Latin America.
Another Venezuelan official of honorable legacy, Hugo Chávez, understood and admired him and struggled for his ideas until the last moment of his life. As a boy, attending elementary school in the country where the poor children of Bolívar were obliged to work to help support their families, he developed the spirit in which the Liberator of America was forged.
The millions of children and youth who today attend the largest and most modern system of public schools in the world are Venezuelan. More can be said about the country’s network of medical care centers and the attention paid to the health of its people, brave but poor as a result of centuries of plunder by Spanish colonialism, and later by huge transnationals, which for more than 100 years extracted from its entrails the best of the immense oil reserves nature bestowed on this country.
History also bears witness that workers exist, and make possible the enjoyment of nutritious food, medicine, education, security, housing and the world’s solidarity. You could ask the oligarchy, if you like: Do you know all of this?
Cuban revolutionaries – just a few miles from the United States, which always dreamed of taking possession of Cuba to make it a hybrid casino-brothel, as a way of life for the children of José Martí – will never renounce their full independence or respect for their dignity.
I am sure that human life on Earth can only be preserved with peace among all peoples of the Earth, and acknowledgement of the right to make the planet’s natural resources common property, as well as the sciences and technologies created by human beings to benefit all of its inhabitants. If humanity continues along the path of exploitation and the plunder of its resources by transnationals and imperialist banks, the representatives of states meeting in Paris, will draw the relevant conclusions.
Security does not exist today for anyone. There are nine states which possess nuclear weapons. One of them, the United States, dropped two bombs which killed hundreds of thousands of people in just three days, and caused physical and psychological harm to millions of defenseless people.
The People’s Republic of China and Russia know the world’s problems much better than the United States, because they were obliged to endure the terrible wars imposed on them by fascism’s blind egoism. I do not doubt that, given their historical traditions and their own revolutionary experience, they will make the greatest effort to avoid a war and contribute to the peaceful development of Venezuela, Latin America, Asia and Africa.
Fidel Castro Ruz
December 10, 2015
Ukraine and NATO Threats Against Russia Continue
by Roger Annis - CounterPunch
December 10, 2015
A recent edition of The Current on CBC Radio One in Canada featured a panel discussion of respected, liberal journalists discussing how mainstream media should report on Donald Trump and his campaign for the U.S. presidency. Among those on the panel was Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail daily in Canada.
The panelists agreed that journalists have a duty to explain how Trump’s views are racist and worse. Ten days earlier, the same program featured a panel discussion of two scholars discussing ‘Is Donald Trump a fascist?’
An article which I wrote summarized that episode of The Current and included an open letter I sent to producers of the The Current. In my letter, I concurred with the views of the two scholars that Donald Trump leads an incipient fascist movement.
Extreme-right in the U.S. and extreme right in Ukraine
As my letter to the CBC commented, there is much irony to a CBC broadcast voicing concern over Trump’s extreme-right views. CBC and the rest of Western, mainstream media have spent the past 21 months ignoring or downplaying the rise of fascism and extreme, right-wing nationalism in Ukraine. Some CBC journalists, including the very host of The Current, have strongly-held, anti-Russia prejudices which they do not hide from their audiences and which obviously influence their decisions to hide the news about Ukraine from their viewers and listeners.
In Ukraine, the extreme right has succeeded in permeating the institutions of government, the military and police. It has played a key role in bringing these institutions into line with extreme-nationalist, social and political ideologies, including deep-going racism and hostility to immigration.
With respect to Crimea, the extreme right has scored great success in cajoling or assisting the governing regime in Kyiv to institute blockades of commercial, road-transport and electricity supply against the peninsula.
The road blockade was formally declared by Kyiv on November 23. It was preceded by a food-transport blockade which the extreme right initiated on September 20 and which it was able to conduct with impunity.
The electricity blockade was initiated by terrorist bombings of the transmission lines from Ukraine to Crimea on November 20 and 21. The Ukrainian government has refused to reconnect the lines and Western governments and media haven’t uttered a peep of concern. Sadly, too much of the political left in the West has also been silent.
Permanent NATO occupation in western Ukraine
Simultaneous to the Crimea blockade, NATO has turned western Ukraine into a permanent training ground of the Ukrainian army and National Guard by NATO forces. The former, paramilitary battalions of the extreme right have been integrated into Ukraine’s army and National Guard, thus helping to deflect public relations embarrassments and strictures against arming the extreme-right that may arise.
The U.S., Britain and Canada have several thousand troops in western Ukraine conducting permanent training in the how-to’s of modern warfare. Ukraine’s police and armed forces are engaged in civil war against the country’s civilian population, notably the people of the Donbas region (Donetsk and Lugansk) in the east of the country, while a more effective Ukrainian army may someday prove useful for NATO in its historic ambition to weaken and attack the Russian Federation. The September 1 ceasefire-within-the Minsk-2 ceasefire of Feb 12, 2015 has seen a reduction of shellings and attacks by the Ukrainian army against the rebellion in the east of the country, but only to a degree. Meanwhile, the ongoing military training by NATO speaks volumes of the long-term intentions of Kyiv and NATO to subjugate the rebellion and continue to threaten Russia.
The scope of the NATO occupation and military training in western Ukraine is well described in a November 26 article by German journalist Ulrich Heyden. Titled, ‘West Ukraine is now a permanent playground for NATO forces’, the article is translated to English here by New Cold War.org.
Ulrich Heyden co-produced a 45-minute documentary film (sub-titled in English, released in February 2015) on the Odessa atrocities of May 2, 2014 when at least 48 people who were protesting the right-wing, ultra-nationalist government in Kyiv were murdered in an arson attack by extreme-right gangs. Heyden’s book on Ukraine was published earlier this year (in German): War of the oligarchs: The tug of war over Ukraine’.
Revisiting Crimea’s “annexation”
Coincidental to the erecting of the Crimea blockade is the recent publishing of an interview with Ilya Ponomarev, the one deputy in the Russian Duma who voted ‘no’ in the vote of the Russian Duma (Parliament) on March 20, 2014 to accept Crimea’s application to join the Russian Federation. The interview was conducted and published by a blogger on the left-wing website and news service in Canada, Rabble.ca. Ponomarev calls Crimea’s secession referendum from Ukraine an “annexation” by Russia.
Crimea’s application to join (or more accurately, rejoin) the Russian Federation followed a referendum on March 2014 to secede from Ukraine. The vote was conducted by the elected and constitutional government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, as today’s Republic of Crimea was constituted under Ukraine. At the time, Ukraine’s elected president had been overthrow in a right-wing coup on February 21, 2014. Crimeans feared that the declared goal of Ukraine’s new rulers to violently suppress any opposition in Crimea and the rest of the country to their coup was more than boasting. What’s more, unlike in Crimea, the new coup regime in Kyiv had no constitutional authority.
Ponomarev has lived in exile in the United States since May 2014. He fled Russia when criminal charges of corruption and bribery dating from events in 2013 were threatened against him. In April 2015, the Russian Duma voted to lift his immunity as a Duma deputy from criminal prosecution.
Since the Crimea secession, Ponomarev has been a darling of the neo-conservative right-wing in the U.S. He is regularly featured by neo-conservative outlets such as the Heritage Foundation, Atlantic Council, Washington Post and New York Times. He also gives lectures advising how Russia’s elected and constitutional government might best be overthrown by the Western powers. To wit, the lightweight interview with him in Rabble.ca was conducted while he was a guest of the annual, pro-militarism Halifax International Security Forum, in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Writing on November 28, Russia Insider correspondent Alexander Mercouris catalogued the recent deterioration in Ukraine-Russia relations. Ominously titled, ‘War returns to Ukraine’, his article listed recent increases in ceasefire violations by Ukraine in the east of the country, the blockade of Crimea, the cessation by Ukraine of air travel links with Russia beginning October 25, and a rising drumbeat of demands by ultra-nationalists in Ukraine to sever all ties with Russia.
Since Mercouris’ article, U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden has made another visit to Ukraine on December 7 and 8, promising ongoing financial and military support to the beleaguered and financially bankrupt government and urging it to keep up its hostile posture towards Russia.
Mercouris argued that it’s no coincidence that the hardening of Ukrainian attitudes comes at a time when European attentions are preoccupied with the crisis in the Middle East and some German leaders as well as many business interests are calling into question the ongoing economic sanctions against Russia. He wrote:
For the Maidan movement, any sign Russia is gaining credit with the Western public is like a red rag to a bull. There is no need to look for calculation in Ukrainian behaviour in order to understand it.
The underlying problem – as we have said many times – is that the Maidan movement is inherently incapable of the sort of compromise that Minsk II envisages. To see how that is so, consider what has happened since the October summit in Paris where the Europeans in effect ordered Poroshenko to implement Minsk II within a revised timetable.
The Ukrainians have done nothing of the sort, and the new timetable for carrying out the terms of Minsk II is already slipping.
Any discussion of the internal aspect of the Ukrainian conflict – as opposed to its external aspect – has to proceed from the fact that the present Ukrainian government is simply incapable of compromise unless overwhelming external pressure is brought upon it.
Should the Russian intervention in Syria turn the tables on the ‘regime change’ intentions of the imperialist powers, the desperation in Kyiv and also in NATO can be expected to grow. There are early signs that thwarting of regime change could be in the offing, namely in the ceasefire reached in the city of Homs on December 9 and in the cautious but hopeful view of the Russian intervention by Kurdish forces, at least those in Syria and Turkey.
These signs may auger broader ceasefires and political agreements between the government and opposing forces in Syria. A new national government in Syria capable of addressing the deep and longstanding grievances of sections of the population would be a very welcome thing.
A lessening or cessation of war in Syria would not put eastern Ukraine and eastern Europe out of the danger zone of NATO war threats and planning. But it would make the sales job for that more difficult for Western capitals.
 After the bombings of the electrical transmission lines to Crimea on November 20 and 21, Crimea’s emergency electrical backup began providing approximately 30 per cent of normal electrical supply. Russia was already planning to construct large-capacity electrical transmission lines as well as a natural gas pipeline across the Kerch Strait that would make Crimea electricity-independent of Ukraine by later in 2016. That work is now proceeding at breakneck speed. The first of the transmission lines went into service on December 3, providing 200 megawatts of power. A second, 200 MW service will commence on December 20. Crimea’s average electricity usage is 900 MW daily. That that will rise as a result of the significant investments being made by the Russian state and entrepreneurs in transportation, tourism, agriculture and industry. Crimea’s economy stagnated during the 23 years that the region was part of post-Soviet Union Ukraine.
 The U.S. Congress voted in June 2015 against any supplying of weapons or other assistance to the ‘Azov Battalion’, one of the many extreme-right paramilitary battalions in Ukraine. Voilà, several months later the ‘battalion’ became a constituent unit of Ukraine’s National Guard.
 In 1954, Crimea’s political status in the Soviet Union was changed by an administrative decision of the country’s leadership. The region’s administrative and political affiliation was switched from the Russian Soviet republic to the Ukraine Soviet republic. Government leaders in Moscow argued at the time that this would facilitate post-World War Two reconstruction, but the decision took no formal account of the attitudes and wishes of the Crimean people. A supreme, contemporary irony is that the noisy cabal of ultra-nationalists in Ukraine and warmongers in NATO (not to speak of many left-wing voices internationally) who cry “annexation” of Crimea are effectively upholding the ill-considered and undemocratic decision in 1954 of the Soviet Union whose legacy they profess to hate so much!
Roger Annis is an editor of the website The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond. On June 12, he gave a talk in Vancouver, Canada reporting on his visit to Donetsk, eastern Ukraine in April 2015 as part of a media tour group. A video broadcast of that talk is here: The NATO offensive in eastern Europe and the class and the national dynamics of the war in eastern Ukraine.More articles by:Roger Annis