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[l] at 9/18/19 5:25am


I’m expected to write something about the Trump administration’s warmongering against Iran over an attack on a Saudi oil refinery, because that’s typically what I do in this ongoing improvisational exercise of mine: I write about the behavior of the US war machine and the propaganda that is used to bolster it. It’s what my readers have come to expect. But honestly I find the whole thing extremely tedious and I’ve been putting off writing about it for two days.

This is because from a propaganda analysis point of view, there’s really not much to write about. The Trump administration has been making bumbling, ham-fisted attempts at manufacturing public support for increasing aggressions against Iran since it initiated withdrawal from the JCPOA a year and a half ago, yet according to a Gallup poll last month Americans still overwhelmingly support diplomatic solutions with Tehran over any kind of military aggression at all. In contrast, most Americans supported a full-scale ground invasion of Iraq according to Gallup polls taken in the lead-up to that 2003 atrocity. With the far less committed Libya intervention, it was 47 percent supportive of US military actionversus 37 percent opposed.

That’s the kind of support it takes to get a US war off the ground these days. And it’s going to take a lot more than a busted Saudi oil refinery to get there, even in the completely unproven event that it was indeed Iran which launched the attack.

Donald Trump says he is ready to back Saudi Arabia in a conflict against Iran, if US concluded it was behind oil plant attacks pic.twitter.com/eT2Ki2toGS

— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) 17 сентября 2019 г.

The reason I’m able to spend so much time writing about war propaganda as part of my job is because war propaganda is happening constantly, and the reason war propaganda is happening constantly is because it’s absolutely necessary for the perpetuation of the US-centralized empire’s slow-motion third world war against unabsorbed governments. In other words, the propaganda apparatus of the empire works constantly to manufacture consent for military aggressions because it absolutely requires that consent.

When I say that the imperial war machine requires public consent before it can initiate overt warfare, I’m not saying that the US government is physically or legally incapable of launching a war that the public disapproves of, I’m saying that it is absolutely essential for the drivers of empire to preserve the illusion of freedom and democracy in America. People need to feel like their government is basically acting in everyone’s best interest, and that it is answerable to the will of the electorate, otherwise the illusion of freedom and democracy is shattered and people lose all trust in their government and media. If people no longer trust the political/media class, they can’t be propagandized. Without the ability to propagandize the masses, the empire collapses.

So out of sheer self-interest, establishment power structures necessarily avoid overt warfare until they have successfully manufactured consent for it. If they didn’t do this and chose instead to take off the nice guy mask, say “Screw you we’re doing what we want,” and start butchering Iranians at many times the cost of Iraq in both money and in American lives lost, people would immediately lose trust in their institutions and the narrative matrix which holds the whole thing together would crack open like an egg. From there revolution would become an inevitability as people are no longer being successfully propagandized by the establishment narrative managers into believing that the system is working fine for everyone.

I can’t believe that the “US intelligence community’s” accusations about a foreign adversary turned out to be not nearly as reliable, certain or definitive as they and the US media originally depicted them to be. Is this the first time in US history this has happened? https://t.co/o5rONYJLEy

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) 17 сентября 2019 г.

Think about it: why else would the mass media be churning out propaganda about disobedient governments like Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Russia and China if they didn’t need to? They need the citizenry they’re charged with manipulating to consent to important geostrategic imperialist maneuvers, or they’ll break the hypnotic trance of relentless narrative control. And make no mistake, maintaining narrative control is the single highest priority of establishment power structures, because it’s absolutely foundational to those structures.

This is why the warmongers have been favoring economic warfare over conventional warfare; it’s much easier to manufacture support for civilian-slaughtering starvation sanctions. It’s slower, it’s sloppier, and it’s surely a lot less fun for the psychopaths in charge, but because the public will consent to economic sanctions far more readily than ground invasions or air strikes, it’s been the favored method in bringing disobedient governments to their knees. That’s how important manufacturing consent is.

So a bunch of drama around a Saudi oil refinery isn’t going to do the trick. The US government is not going to leap into an all-out war which would inevitably be many times worse than Iraq based on that, because they can’t manufacture consent for it right now. All they’re trying to do is escalate things a bit further with the goal of eventually getting to a point where Iran either caves to Washington’s demands or launches a deadly attack, at which point the US can play victim and the mass media can spend days tearfully running photos of the slain US troops. If that happens they might gain their consent from the public. If not, we may see them get a little more creative with their “crisis initiation”.

Until then this is a whole lot of noise and very little signal, which is why I find this current circus uninteresting to write about. It seems like every week now the Trump administration is trotting out some new narrative with the help of the mass media explaining why the Iranian government is evil and must be toppled, and nobody buys it because it’s on the other side of the damn planet and it’s always about something silly like oil or broken drones. Their unappealing pestering about this is starting to remind me of a really awkward loser who’s constantly asking out the prettiest girl in the office over and over again; you just want to pull him aside and say dude, stop. She’s just not into you.

I think I’m going to stop paying as much attention to these high-noise, low-signal Trump foreign policy dances and wait until I actually see a hard, tangible thing to run commentary on instead, particularly with Iran. With the narrative battle still so far from success it’s entirely likely that such an event will not occur until at least 2021, possibly under a President Warren whose warmongering will be cheered on as a historic victory for women everywhere.

Until then, just remember: they’re trying to manufacture your consent because they need it. So don’t give it to them. Make sure others don’t, either.


[Category: Editor's Choice, Iran, JCPOA, Trump, US]

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[l] at 9/18/19 5:00am

Global Islamic Terrorism is universally recognized as today’s big threat and has been the justification for all sorts of changes, especially to life in the West after 9/11. The Islamic terrorists whom we are supposed to fear on a daily basis more or less believe in some form of Wahhabism, which grew up in and is spread from Saudi Arabia. Surprisingly the US and the Saudis have been and still are staunch allies. This makes little sense on the surface but Saudi exceptionalism extends to Russia as well. Russia and former parts of its territory have been some of the biggest victims of Wahhabism and still fight it to this day and yet President Putin just vowed to protect them from air threats via Russia’s top of the line equipment. So this raises the question by what logic would Russia want work with the Saudis who prop up the ideas that murder their citizens? The short answer is Multipolarity.

During the Cold War we saw two great powers with massive spheres of influence dividing the planet between themselves. This Bipolar (in the literal sense) structure forced everyone on America’s side to be Capitalist / Western-style Democratic and everyone on the USSR’s side to be Communist. So for every Communist revolution that succeeded Moscow’s sphere of influence grew while Washington’s shrank.

Now in the 21st century this dynamic is much different as the sole Hyperpower is fighting against any upstarts who challenge its status, which means that every nation that succumbs to the Washington status quo is a victory for Monopolarity, while any nation that begins to act on its own or under the influence of anyone besides the US/NATO/The West is a victory for Multipolarity.

This is why today, unlike during the Cold War Russia has a policy of being open to working with anyone who is willing to work with them regardless of ideology. Of course during the Cold War the US and the Soviet Union would work with countries outside their political theory of preference to some degree, but now Russia is free from the burdens of Communist ideology and is thus free to associate with anyone and Moscow is willing to work with anyone because any nation that rises up to a high level of sovereignty creates another crack in the monolith of Monopolarity.

This is why Moscow has been cooperating with Turkey who at times has been very aggressive towards them, shooting down a Russian plane, forcing their way into Syria and working against Assad’s and Russia’s interests in the region, and opening Turkish Universities across parts of the Former USSR challenging Russian cultural influence. These all sound bad, but Moscow has a bigger fish to fry and the upstart Turks, despite being in NATO are beginning to push for a more powerful sovereign pro-Turkish foreign policy, which is bad for Russia in doses, but on the whole is a huge stride towards a Multipolar World that Russia so desperately needs.

And this is the logic that applies to the Saudis. True the Saudi Wahhabism and loud inaction in terms of containing Wahhabism have lead to the deaths of many Russian-speaking people the world over, but the Multipolar mission takes precedence, thus Putin offered the Saudis to buy Russian S-400 systems because “Our (Russian) air defenses can protect you, like they do Turkey and Iran” and that “These kinds of systems are capable of defending any kind of infrastructure in Saudi Arabia from any kind of attack.”

Syria and Turkey are both major Multipolar victories so perhaps in Putin’s words there is a hint that Saudi Arabia could jump on the Other World Order’s boat by buying these defense systems. The S-400s in question could be used to defend against a local neighbor, but we could suppose that a massive surface-to-air set up would best be used to defend against NATO, who is the only serious missile launching threat.

To an extent it is very possible that this offer by President Putin to the parties indirectly responsible for a great deal of suffering in Russia could actually be an invitation to the Multipolar World.

Saudi Arabia has been very much the exceptional Arab nation in the Middle East when it comes to NATO’s actions, but nothing lasts forever. The Saudis have oil and little means to defend it, while at the same time maintaining an ideology that has been demonized by the Mainstream Media for almost 20 years, prepping the West with a casus belli when the time comes. The fear of Monopolar aggression could force the Saudis to buy into team Multipolarity.

[Category: Security, War and Conflict, Diplomacy, Middle East, New World Order, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey]

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[l] at 9/18/19 4:32am

London bourse turns down Hong Kong merger offer, saying it favors ties with Shanghai


The number of multinational corporations setting up their regional or Asian headquarters in Shanghai hit the 700 mark in August.

Among them, 106 companies including Apple, Tesla, General Motors, HP, Philips, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, German chemical giant Basf and others use the city as a base, managing their manufacturing and logistics across Greater China and even the entire Asia Pacific region.

Behind the sizeable cluster of head offices are the 4,661 new foreign investment projects registered in the first eight months, up 47.8% year on year, pooling US$13.07 billion, as Shanghai continues to reel in foreign capital.

The lion’s share of the money, or $11.57 billion, went into Shanghai’s service and financial sectors, according to statistics released by the city’s government.

The overall presence of foreign firms in Shanghai is comparable with Hong Kong, claimed a Shanghai official, although at present more Western firms run their Asian head offices from the former British colony.

The long-standing, interwoven relations between Shanghai and Hong Kong, when the former was a prime source of the flow of capital and talent to Hong Kong before 1949, shifted back to economic rivalry from 2000 onwards, especially after Shanghai surpassed Hong Kong in terms of gross domestic product for the first time in 2011.

Shanghai’s annual economic output is now one third larger than Hong Kong’s and will further edge up the elite league of the world’s top 10 in the near future, according to two separate rankings of urban agglomerations compiled by PwC and McKinsey.

Shanghai cadres are heartened by a special mention from the London Stock Exchange in its letterP of rejection regarding a US$36.6 billion merger proposed by the Hong Kong bourse, a deal that was announced earlier this month.

The London trading house noted it valued the mutually beneficial partnership with the Shanghai Stock Exchange as its “preferred and direct channel” to access the many opportunities with China and that Hong Kong’s proposal did not meet its strategic objectives, nor did the Hong Kong bourse offer the best long-term listing and trading platform for China.

Shanghai launched its stock connect with London in December 2018, and it has also been running a shared trading platform with Hong Kong since 2014. The city also boasted a stock market capitalization of $5.01 trillion as of May, larger than Hong Kong’s, with a daily turnover three times Hong Kong’s.

Shanghai’s financial sector booked an annual output of 578.2 billion yuan in 2018, compared with Hong Kong’s corresponding figure of about 550 billion yuan.

The city is also doubling down on reforms and liberalization of regulations and capital flows within its expanded pilot free trade zone, which aims to gradually ease restrictions on two-way flows of capital between the FTZ and offshore markets, as stated in a masterplan promulgated by the State Council and People’s Bank of China, China’s central bank.


[Category: Editor's Choice, China, Hong Kong]

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[l] at 9/18/19 3:55am

The Yemeni rebels’ drone blitz on the “nerve center” of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry was a devastating counter-offensive which potentially could end the four-year war in short order. What is even more catastrophic for the Saudi monarchy – especially the ambitious Crown Prince – is that the Houthi rebels have wielded the ultimate power to crash the kingdom’s oil economy.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) was the main architect of the disastrous Saudi war on Yemen. His military hard-man display was meant to consolidate his rise to power as heir to the Saudi throne. It was a calculation based on the blood of the Yemeni people. But now the war has gone from a callous game to a far-more dangerous threat to the House of Saud’s seat of power. If the Saudi oil economy is put at severe risk, then the lifeline for the monarchy is liable to be cut.

After last weekend’s spectacular air strike on the main oil processing plant in Saudi Arabia – northeast of the capital Riyadh, some 1,000 kms from Yemen – the Houthi military leadership is warning that more deeply-penetrating aerial attacks are on the way. The Yemeni rebels have demonstrated that nowhere in Saudi Arabia is safe.

Saudi air defenses and their multi-billion-dollar US Patriot anti-missile systems have been rendered useless against an-ever increasing arsenal of more sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operated out of Yemen. UN experts reckon that the Houthis’ UAV-X drone has a range of up to 1,500 kms, which means that all of the Saudi oil infrastructure located in the Eastern Province near the Persian Gulf is a viable target.

Last weekend’s air strikes carried out with 10 drones, according to the Houthis, caused Saudi oil output to shut down by nearly half. The main target – the Abqaiq refinery – processes some 70 per cent of all Saudi crude destined for export. It is not clear when the processing plant can be restored to normal function. It may take weeks or even months. But if the Yemeni rebels can inflict that extent of damage in one air raid, it is not hard to foresee how the Saudi oil-dependent economy could conceivably be brought to a crippling standstill.

“The only option for the Saudi government is to stop attacking us,” said a Houthi military spokesman following the drone strikes. The rebels also warned foreign workers in Saudi Arabia associated with the country’s oil industry to vacate.

The Yemenis have a gun to the House of Saud’s head. It must give the rebels great satisfaction to finally have the Saudi monarchy in their cross-hairs after four years of Yemen suffering relentless aerial bombardment and siege by the US-backed Saudi military. The Saudi-led war on its southern neighbor – the poorest country in the Arab region – was always an outrageous aggression under the guise of supporting the return of a corrupt crony who had been ousted by the Yemenis in early 2015. Up to 100,000 people have been killed – most of them from the indiscriminate bombing campaign by Saudi (and Emirati) warplanes supplied and armed by the US, Britain and France. Millions face starvation in what the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis for many years.

The Saudi rulers, Western governments and media have tried to obscure the genocidal war on Yemen as a “proxy war” involving Iran, as if Tehran is the instigator of subverting Saudi Arabia from the south. Iran backs the Houthis politically, and perhaps also militarily more recently, but any involvement by Tehran is a reaction to the initial Western-backed Saudi aggression against Yemen.

Claims by US and Saudi officials that Iran is responsible for the latest air strikes on Saudi Arabia’s vital oil industry are more of the same obfuscation. Such muddying of the waters is an attempt to distract from the central point that the Houthis are retaliating with the legitimate right of self-defense after years of merciless slaughter inflicted on their people by the Western-backed Saudi coalition.

There’s another urgent reason for why the Saudi rulers and the US are trying to blame Iran for the latest drone attacks on the Saudi oil industry. If admitted that the air raids were carried out primarily by the Houthis – perhaps even with Iranian drone technology – then that admission points to the complete vulnerability of the Saudi oil economy and the very power structure of the monarchial rulers.

A hint of the trepidation being felt in Riyadh are reports that the latest air strikes have rattled stock markets for Saudi petrochemical companies. Worse, it is also reported that the attacks may delay the planned stock market listing of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company. Worse still, the valuation of the company may be slashed due to the perceived risk from further Yemeni air strikes.

The planned Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Aramco – whereby the Saudi state is selling a portion of the company to private investors – has been one of the most talked about events in recent years among international business. The IPO which is due to be launched next year has been called the “biggest-ever” stock market sell-off.

In an extensive interview with Bloomberg in October last year, the Saudi Crown Prince, MbS, boasted that it was the “biggest IPO in human history”. He claimed then that Aramco’s total valuation was worth $2 trillion. If the Saudis sell off a 5 per cent share in the company, they are expecting to raise $100 billion in cash. The Aramco IPO is central to MbS’ ambitious diversification master plan for the entire Saudi economy, known as Vision 2030. The capital raised from the Aramco sell-off is intended to catalyze private sector employment and technological innovation in the oil-dependent kingdom whose budget is unsustainably propping up government-sector jobs and welfare largesse to prevent the young population of Saudis rebelling against the sclerotic House of Saud.

After the Houthis’ devastating air attacks on the Saudi oil heartland – the crown jewels of the kingdom – potential investors are now reportedly looking warily at the future risk of Aramco. Valuation of the company in the aftermath of the Yemeni drone strikes has been slashed by some estimates to $300 billion – that’s down by 85 per cent from the previous aspired-for $2,000 billion. If that downgrade holds or worsens with future Houthi attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure, then the capital raised from an IPO could shrink from the $100 billion projected by the Crown Prince to $15 billion. In short, his Vision 2030 plan is down the pan.

It must be alarming to the young Saudi potentate that US President Donald Trump has begun to play down any retaliation against Iran, saying that he doesn’t want to be drawn into a war.

That means the Saudi monarchs are on their own and at the mercy of the Houthis and what they do next. The downfall of the scheming Crown Prince evokes a Shakespearian drama of treachery.

[Category: Middle East, World, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Aramco, Yemen]

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[l] at 9/17/19 5:25am


Now that the flags are back waving from the tops of flagpoles across the country, and the maudlin paeans to the close to 3000 lives lost in the airplane attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, it’s time we gave a thought to the dead who were ignored.

According to very conservative estimates, as reported by the “Costs of War” project of Brown University’s Watson Institute on International and Public Affairs, nearly 250,000 civilians have been killed during the 8 years since September 2001 in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in wars or attacks that were instigated by the United States.

Those are very conservative figures carefully compiled by organizations like Iraq Body Count, the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies. These numbers are people known to have died in the violence of war, mostly as so-called “collateral damage,” but often deliberately, as when the US bombs a hospital, a wedding or a private housing compound in order to kill some targeted individual considered an “enemy combatant,” unconcerned about the others in the area, often women and children, who are almost certain to die or suffer serious injury as the result of a strike.

The numbers do not include the deaths that also stem from America’s post 9-11wars — things like starvation, deaths from lack of medical care, and especially deaths from diseases like typhus or dysentery caused by lack of access to clean water or adequate sanitation facilities.

It is scandalous that the US government does not publish accurate information about the mayhem and slaughter that its wars have caused, especially because it is precisely because of the US extensive use of airpower, including remotely piloted drones as a means of keeping politically dangerous US military casualties in the so-called “War on Terror” at a minimum that produce so many civilian casualties.

Reporters who want to learn about civilian casualties from these US wars must either take the dangerous step of going to the battle zones without US official backing (what is called embedding with American forces — a set-up that keeps the military in control of access and message), or rely on reports from NGOs that monitor such things.

According to some accounts, civilian deaths caused by America’s permanent war in the Middle East since 2001 could exceed one million. And remember, none of those deaths, occurring in places ruled by dictators, authoritarian governments or armed groups in the case of Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan, had any involvement in attacks on the US. Their deaths, whether caused directly or indirectly by the US military, can in no way be construed as “retribution” for the attacks of 9-11.

Add to that the other uncomfortable reality that many of the combatant deaths caused by US forces in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, border areas of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria, are of fighters who are not terrorists at all, but rather, like the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces as well as the Pathet Lao in Laos, who fought and ultimately defeated US forces in the decade-long Indochina War of the ’60 and ‘70s, are actually “freedom fighters” who have been defending their countries from a US invasion and occupation.

Of course, if we were to acknowledge that the “War on Terror” launched by the Bush/Cheney administration against Afghanistan and later Iraq — two countries none of whose people had anything to do with the 9-11 attacks — had resulted in so many murdered civilians, it would not just tarnish the reputation of our country, but also those “heroes” in uniform who followed orders and did all the slaughtering.

Folks in Iraq Veterans Against the war and Veterans for Peace will readily explain that the high rates of traumatic stress suffered by returning US veterans of these undeclared and clearly illegal invasions and occupations by the US, like those among returning Vietnam War vets of a prior generation of US war, and the current high rate of suicide among veterans has much to do with the mission, which many troops admit has not had anything to do with “defending America” or “defending freedom,” and everything to do with projecting power and with seeking US global dominance in a world where the US is increasingly being challenged as the “sole power” envisioned by George H.W. Bush’s “New World Order” in the wake of the 1991 US-launched Gulf War against Iraq.

It’s time we as a nation gave some thought to and did some penance for all those civilian deaths and combatant deaths as we remember 9-11.

We might also bow our heads in mourning for the freedoms that we have surrendered to the national security state since that terrible day.


[Category: Editor's Choice, 9/11, Middle East, Terrorism, US]

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[l] at 9/17/19 5:00am

With President Trump’s long overdue firing of John Bolton on September 10th, a window into the battle between neocon zombies infesting the White House and Donald Trump was made visible once more. As much as people enjoy oversimplifying American politics- clumping all “right wing politicians” together as ideological war mongers, the reality as showcased again this week, is that things are more nuanced and that President Trump is not just another neocon.

To begin to appreciate this fight, it is useful to conduct a short survey of the 3 weeks of fanatical neocon maneuvers led by Bolton, Defense Secretary Esper, Sen. Marco Rubio, and VP Pence. These maneuvers were instigated by two “unforgivable sins” conducted by Trump when the latter: 1) stated his wish that Russia be re-introduced to the G7 on August 21 stating “I think it would be better to have Russia inside the tent than outside the tent”, and 2) his defense of President Xi Jinping as “a great leader” who must resolve the Hong Kong chaos without American interference. These initiatives had to come undone at all costs.

Rubio, Esper, Pence and Bolton Push For War

First, neocon war hawk Marco Rubio ranted at length in the Washington Post calling for the US government to intervene into the Hong Kong mess which itself has been stirred up by American intelligence outfits like the CIA-affiliated National Endowment for Democracy.

In his September 3 editorial, Rubio stated “the administration should make clear that the United States can respond flexibly and robustly in Hong Kong” and called for the Congress to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act co-sponsored by Rubio, Ben Cartin (Democrat), James Risch (Republican), and Robert Menendez (Democrat). The act, if passed would force the US government to fully support the Hong Kong color revolutionaries while sanctioning all

Chinese officials who “have undermined the city’s autonomy”.

Just before Rubio’s belligerent words went public, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper had already exclaimed publically that America had to confront China directly in support of US allies in the Asia-Pacific over territorial issues and containment of China’s growth. Esper shocked many Asian and western statesmen alike when he stated that there is a “coming shift” from “low intensity conflict… to high intensity conflicts against competitors such as Russia and China”.

In this surreal relay race to Armageddon, Vice-President Mike Pence next took the baton during his September 2 speech in Warsaw, Poland alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda. It was here that Pence here took the opportunity to demonize Russia when he said “with its efforts to meddle in elections across Europe and around the world, now is the time for us to remain vigilant about the intentions and the actions taken by Russia.” Pence went further to state without any evidence that “Russian forces still illegally occupy large parts of Georgia and Ukraine.”

Pence was joined in Poland by ex-US National Security Advisor John Bolton, who ended his tour of four former Soviet nations begun a week earlier (Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Poland). Beginning his tour on August 26 in Kiev, Bolton took the opportunity to attack Ukraine’s growing relationship with China which is on the verge of finalizing a deal to purchase the beleaguered Ukrainian aerospace giant Motor Sich. Ever since the Russian sanctions began, the Ukrainian company has lost over 40% of its markets with the Chinese providing the only chance for its salvation. Exhibiting his usual flare for hypocrisy, Bolton attacked China saying: “The Chinese are not afraid to use corruption – or to put it bluntly, bribes – to get the decisions they want”, calling for Ukraine to reject the deal.

The New Silk Road: A Nightmare for all Neocons

It is important to note that Ukraine signed an action plan to join the Chinese-led Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st century maritime Silk Road already 18 months ago with recent plans to accelerate that cooperation. Ever since the BRI and Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union increasingly began merging into a unified program, western NATO-philes have realized that their years of hard work to de-rail a pro-Eurasian alliance in Ukraine could easily come undone.

Having made a mess of Ukraine, Bolton then headed to Belarus, and Moldova pushing an anti-Russian line, ending his trip in Poland where he solidified the location for the additional American 1000 troops to be added to the 4500 US troops already operating in the nation- many of whom operate America’s anti-Russian ABM system.

The ABM system which has been built up around Russia’s southern perimeter and which Poland plays a key role, is part of a larger agenda identified by the Russian government as “Full Spectrum Dominance” and seeks a unipolar nuclear first strike monopoly. Poland’s only hope to avoid being caught in the middle of a nuclear exchange between NATO and Russia is to break free of this program and accept China’s offers to join the BRI which experts have recently stated would make Poland “The Buckle of the Belt and Road”.

It was not lost on Bolton and Pence that Poland is also a key member of the 17+1 Central and Eastern European nations + China group which has deeply tied itself to the BRI while Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union- making their allegiance to the western technocracy more fragile than some would like to admit.

Breaking Free of the Self-Destructive Psychology of Empire

When objectively assessing the psychological state of the western oligarchy at this particular moment in history, it must be concluded that certain forces operating on behalf of the City of London and Wall Street would go to any length– not excluding nuclear war- in defense of their failing system. There is thus no solution to this dark chapter of the human experience unless:

The bankruptcy of the financial system now sitting atop a $800 trillion derivatives bubble is fully acknowledged such that a serious discussion centered on bankruptcy re-organization can finally occur.

That the neocons and other deep state operatives be flushed from power- following Bolton into the trash bin of history.

That the need for a new system premised upon cooperation and long term development is adopted post-haste. This new system would have to contain certain non-negotiable features such as nationally-guided capital controls to prevent speculative fluctuations of currencies and other vital resources, the separation of investment banking from normal commercial banking functions as was done under the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act (repealed in 1999 in the USA), and long term credit generation for major infrastructure projects.

The BRI as the Foundation for a New System

Russia, China and India are increasingly becoming the foundation for a new multipolar world order founded upon the respect for sovereign nations and improvement of conditions of life of the people driven by Putin’s Far East/Arctic vision and China’s New Silk Road which are winning over dozens of nations to a new paradigm of political economy.

For all of his problems, Donald Trump has maintained a generally consistent (albeit flawed) intention to re-build American industry and infrastructure after decades of post-industrial decay and combat the Deep State which has worked on overtime to overthrow his presidency. On top of this, he has seriously worked to keep the nation out of foreign entanglements while avoiding any new wars (a first for any president in over 50 years). Most importantly, he has attempted repeatedly to create positive relations with Russia and China.

Whether the neo cons infesting the US administration successfully subvert this potential for a new paradigm which would be unstoppable under a Russia-China-India-USA alliance, or not remains an open question, but Trump’s firing of Bolton will hopefully represent a new purge of war mongering sociopaths while opening the door to a new foreign policy doctrine.

[Category: Americas, World, Bolton, China, Esper, Imperialism, Neocons, Pence, Rubio, Silk Road]

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[l] at 9/17/19 4:25am

Fringe practicing wanton destruction for destruction’s sake surely have learned tactics from European black blocs

Pepe ESCOBAR, Hong Kong

What’s going on deep down in Hong Kong? For a former resident with deep cultural and emotional ties to the Fragrant Harbor, it’s quite hard to take it all in just within the framework of cold geopolitical logic. Master filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai once said that when he came up with the idea for Happy Together, he decided to shoot the story of his characters in Buenos Aires because that was as far away from Hong Kong as possible.

A few weeks ago I was walking the streets of far away Buenos Aires dreaming of Hong Kong. That Hong Kong that Wong Kar-Wai refers to in his masterpiece no longer exists. Unfortunately deprived of Christopher Doyle’s mesmerizing visuals, I ended up coming back to Hong Kong to find, eventually, that the city I knew also no longer exists.

I started my journey in my former ‘hood, Sai Ying Pun, where I lived in a studio in an average, slim, ultra-crowded Cantonese tower (I was the only foreigner) across the street from the beautiful, art deco St Louis school and not far from Hong Kong University. Although only a 20-minute walk over the hills to Central – the business and political heart of the city – Sai Ying Pun is mostly middle class with a few working-class pockets, only recently marching towards gentrification after a local MTR – subway – station was launched.

The busy streets of Hong Kong’s Sai Ying Pun district. Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons

Mongkok, across the harbor in Kowloon, with an unfathomably large population density, is the haven of frenetic small business Hong Kong, always crammed with students in search of trendy bargains. In contrast, Sai Ying Pun is a sort of languid glimpse of Hong Kong in the 1950s: it could easily have been the set for a Wong Kar-Wai movie.

From retirees to Mrs Ling, the laundry lady – still there, but without her previous, sprawling cat population (“At home!”) – the refrain is unanimous: protests, yes, but they must be peaceful. In Kowloon the previous night I had heard harrowing stories of teachers brainwashing elementary school pupils into protest marches. Not at St Louis – they told me.

Hong Kong University is another story; a hotbed of protest, some of it enlightened, where the golden hit in humanities is to analyze China as a “perfect dictatorship” where the CCP did nothing but ratchet up crude nationalism, militarism and “aggression,” in propaganda and in dealing with the rest of Asia.

As we reach Central, the Hong Kong matrix of hyper turbo-capitalism, “protests” dissolve as an unwashed-masses, bad-for-business, dirty word, dismissed at the restaurants of the old, staid Mandarin and the glitzier Mandarin Oriental, the Norman Foster/IM Pei headquarters of HSBC and Bank of China, the headquarters of JP Morgan – with a swanky Armani outlet downstairs – or at the ultra-exclusive China Club, a favorite of old Shanghai money.

Prada meets class struggle

It’s on weekends, especially Sunday, that all of Hong Kong’s – and turbo-capitalism’s – internal contradictions explode in Central. Filipina maids for decades have been staging an impromptu sit-in, a sort of benign Occupy Central in Tagalog with English subtitles, every Sunday; after all they have no public park to gather in on their only day off, so they take over the vault of HSBC and merrily picnic on the pavement in front of Prada boutiques.

To talk to them about the protests amounts to a PhD on class struggle: “It’s we who should have the right to protest about our meager wages and the kind of disgusting treatment we get from these Cantonese madames,” says a mother of three from Luzon (70% of her pay goes for remittances home). “These kids, they are so spoiled, they are raised thinking they are little kings.”

Virtually everyone in Hong Kong has reasons to protest. Take the cleaning contingent – who must do the heavy lifting after all the tear gas, burnt-out bins, bricks and broken glass, like on Sunday. Their monthly salary is the equivalent of US$1,200 – compared with the average Hong Kong salary of roughly $2,200. Horrible working conditions are the norm: exploitation, discrimination (many are from ethnic minorities and don’t speak Cantonese or English) and no welfare whatsoever.

As for the ultra-slim fringe practicing wanton destruction for destruction’s sake, they surely have learned tactics from European black blocs. On Sunday they set fire to one of the entrances to ultra-congested Wanchai station and broke glass at Admiralty. The “strategy”: breaking off MTR nodes, because paralyzing Chek Lap Kok airport – one of the busiest on the planet – won’t work anymore after the August 12/13 shutdown that canceled nearly 1,000 flights and led to a quite steep drop in passengers coming from China, Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

Two years ago, in Hamburg, Special Forces were deployed against black bloc looters. In France, the government routinely unleashes the feared CRS even against relatively peaceful Gilets Jaunes/Yellow Vest protesters – complete with tear gas, water cannons and supported by helicopters, and nobody invokes human rights to complain about it. The CRS deploy flash ball  strikes even against the media.

Not to mention that any occupation of Charles de Gaulle, Heathrow or JFK is simply unthinkable. Chek Lap Kok, on a weekday, is now eerily quiet. Police patrol all the entrances. Passengers arriving via the Airport Express fast train must now show passport and boarding pass before being allowed inside the terminal.

Western media accounts, predictably, focus on the radical fringe, as well as the substantial fifth-columnist contingent. This weekend a few hundred staged a mini-protest in front of the British consulate asking, essentially, to be given asylum. Some of them are holders of British National Overseas (BNO) passports, which are effectively useless, as the provide no working or residency rights in the UK.

Other fifth-columnists spent their weekend waving flags from Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, South Korea, Ukraine, US, Taiwan, and last but not least, the Hong Kong colonial flag.

Meet homo Hong Kong

Who are these people? Well, that necessarily brings us to a crash course on homo Hong Kong.

Not many people in Hong Kong can point to ancestors in place before the Opium War of 1841 and the subsequent rule of imperial Britain. Most don’t know much about the People’s Republic of China, so essentially there’s no grudge. They own their own homes, which means, crucially, they are insulated from Hong Kong’s number one problem: the demented, speculative property market.

Then there are the old China elites – people who fled Mao’s victory in 1949. At first they were orphans of Chiang Kai-shek. Then they concentrated on hating the Communist Party with a vengeance. The same applies to their offspring. The ultra-wealthy gather at the China Club. The less wealthy at least can afford $5 million apartments at The Peak. Canada is a preferred destination – hence Hong-Couver as a substantial part of Vancouver. For them Hong Kong is essentially a transit stop, like a glitzy business lounge.

It’s this – large – contingent that is behind the protests.

The lower strata of the Escape from China elites are the economic refugees of 1949. Tough luck: still today they don’t own property and have no savings. A great many of the easily manipulated teenagers taking over the streets of Hong Kong dressed in black and singing “Glory to Hong Kong” and dreaming of “independence” are their sons and daughters. It’s certainly a cliché, but it does apply to their case: trapped between East and West, between an Americanized lifestyle on steroids and the pull of Chinese culture and history.

Hong Kong cinema, with all its pulsating dynamism and exhilarating creativity, may offer the perfect metaphor to understand the inner contradictions of the Fragrant Harbor. Take Tsui Hark’s 1992 masterpiece New Dragon Gate Inn, with Donnie Yen and gorgeous Maggie Cheung, based on what happened at a crucial pass in the Ancient Silk Road six centuries ago.

Here we may place Hong Kong as the inn between imperial despotism and the desert. Inside, we find fugitives imprisoned between their dream of escaping to the “West” and the cynically exploitative owners. That connects with the ghostly, Camus-infused existential terror for the modern homo Hong Kong: soon he may be liable to be “extradited” to evil China before he has a chance to be granted asylum by the benevolent West. A fabulous line by Donnie Yen’s character sums it all up: “Rain in the Dragon Gate mountains makes the Xue Yuan tiger come down.”

Good to be a tycoon

The drama played out in Hong Kong is actually a microcosm of the Big Picture: turbo-charged, neoliberal hyper-capitalism confronted to zero political representation. This “arrangement” that only suits the 0.1% simply can’t go on like before.

In fact what I reported about Hong Kong seven years ago for Asia Times could have been written this morning. And it got worse. Over 15% of Hong Kong’s population now lives in actual poverty. According to figures from last year, the total net worth of the wealthiest 21 Hong Kong tycoons, at $234 billion, was the equivalent of Hong Kong’s fiscal reserves. Most of these tycoons are property market speculators. Compare it to real wages for low-income workers increasing a meager 12.3% over the past decade.

Beijing, later rather than sooner, may have awakened to the number one issue in Hong Kong – the property market dementia, as reported by Asia Times. Yet even if the tycoons get the message, the underlying framework of life in Hong Kong is not bound to be altered: maximum profit crushing wages and any type of unionization.

So economic inequality will continue to boom – as an unrepresentative Hong Kong government “led” by a clueless civil servant keeps treating citizens as non-citizens. At Hong Kong University I heard some serious proposals: “We need a more realistic minimum wage. “We need real taxes on capital gains and on property.” “We need a decent property market.”

Will that be addressed before a crucial deadline – October 1st – when Beijing will be celebrating, with great fanfare, the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China? Of course not. Trouble will continue to brew at the Dragon Inn – as those underpaid, over-exploited cleaners face the bleakest of futures.


[Category: Editor's Choice, Capitalism, China, Hong Kong]

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[l] at 9/17/19 3:48am

In early August India deployed 38,000 troops in Indian-administered Kashmir to join the half-million already there. (There are two Kashmirs, administered respectively by India and Pakistan, following post-colonial dissent concerning accession of the territory.) There was then a massive clamp-down after a decree of 5 August annulled Article 370 of India’s Constitution which guaranteed the rights of Kashmiris to freedom under local laws. The region was subjected to military occupation, with central rule imposing unprecedented restrictions on movement and banning communication with the outside world. These have been enforced for over six weeks.

Associated Press managed to report some incidents, however, including one when “Indian soldiers descended on Bashir Ahmed Dar’s house in southern Kashmir on August 10… Over the next 48 hours, the 50-year-old plumber said he was subjected to two separate rounds of beatings by soldiers. They demanded that he find his younger brother, who had joined rebels opposing India’s presence in the Muslim-majority region… In a second beating at a military camp, Dar said he was struck with sticks by three soldiers until he was unconscious.” They released him but “on August 14, soldiers returned to his house… and destroyed his family’s supply of rice and other foodstuffs by mixing it with fertiliser and kerosene.”

Although there was a petition on 12 September to President Trump by four US Senators “to immediately facilitate an end to the current humanitarian crisis” in Indian-administered Kashmir, there has not been one syllable of condemnation by the administration in Washington. London remained silent also. These energetically vociferous supporters of human rights have voiced not the slightest criticism of India for its persecution and imprisonment of innocent Kashmiris.


If this sort of thing had happened in Crimea there would have been massive coverage in the Western media and loud and penetrating censure and denunciation of Moscow by politicians, pundits and the ever-attentive US military.

Western media always refer to the 2014 accession by Crimea to Russia as ‘annexation’ by Russia of the land that is historically Russian, whose citizens are predominantly Russian-speaking and Russian-cultured, and whose government held a referendum which overwhelmingly indicated preference for accession to Russia. One would not know it from Western media, but the referendum was witnessed by 135 international observers from 23 countries, including the Austrian MP Johannes Hübner who said that “The view we get from the American and European media is very distorted. You get no objective information. So we decided to come here to have a look at what’s really going on and see if this referendum is credible”. Which it was.

In contradistinction, there has been no referendum in Kashmir, as required by international legislature. In January 1949 the UN Commission for India and Pakistan announced that “The question of the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan will be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite” and the BBC notes that “in three resolutions, the UN Security Council and the United Nations Commission in India and Pakistan recommended that as already agreed by Indian and Pakistani leaders, a plebiscite should be held to determine the future allegiance of the entire state.”

But it seems that Western governments are given to condemning referendums when they don’t suit their purpose and ignoring UN Resolutions to hold them when that action would be embarrassingly inconvenient for the country involved.

There’s no freedom in Kashmir, and instead of enjoying a modicum of self-governance and being permitted a referendum on its future, Indian-administered Kashmir is subjected to what is called ‘lockdown’. Mobile phone networks and access to the internet have been blocked for over six weeks — and there hasn’t been an official syllable of disapproval in Washington or London. Certainly, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said on 9 September that she is “deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris” and also “alarmed” about “restrictions on internet communications and peaceful assembly, and the detention of local political leaders and activists” — but no Western government paid the slightest attention. Nor did the freedom-loving Western mainstream media, which is always alert for violations of human rights around the world. Well — in some parts of the world.

They ignore the savagery of Indian troops and the denial of basic freedoms in Indian-occupied Kashmir, but would they do that if such excesses were evident elsewhere? Imagine the uproar, the feverish surge of self-righteous passion, the fiercely critical condemnation of brutality and suppression of democracy if anything like this occurred in Crimea. The US and Britain would go berserk with sanctimony.

On 12 September Reuters reported that “Authorities in Indian Kashmir have arrested nearly 4,000 people since the scrapping of its special status last month, government data shows, the most clear evidence yet of the scale of one of the disputed region’s biggest crackdowns… More than 200 politicians, including two former chief ministers of the state were arrested.”

But Mr Trump didn’t say a word. He was otherwise occupied, tweeting insults, and while repression was surging in Kashmir was at a G-7 meeting in Biarritz where he referred to Egypt’s tyrannical Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as “my favourite dictator” which tells us a great deal about the outlook of the US President. It is not surprising that Trump doesn’t want to criticise Indian Prime Minister Modi, the director of despotism in Kashmir, as he considers that “Prime Minister Modi and I are world leaders in social media.” His final G-7 tweet was that he had “Just wrapped up a great meeting with my friend Prime Minister Modi of India at the G-7 Summit in Biarritz, France!” so it seems that the twitter soul mates approve of ultra-authoritarianism and that Trump isn’t going near the Kashmir human rights’ button anytime.

Britain’s Prime Minister Johnson is desperately trying to avoid the catastrophic outcome of quitting the European Union and has little time for wider affairs, so cannot be expected to say anything definitive about the atrocities in Kashmir other than his pronouncement of 9 August that the situation was “serious.” His stance on Crimea is set in the Western mould of ‘annexation’ and he is rabidly anti-Russia, so there is no chance of a movement to dialogue by the United Kingdom. The rest of Europe just wishes the Kashmir crisis would go away, and hangs on to the ‘annexation’ story about Crimea, where there was no ‘lockdown’, persecution or detention of innocent civilians at accession time. Imagine the furore if there had been use of pellet guns in Sevastopol.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Kumi Naidoo, urged the Indian government “to act in accordance with international human rights law and standards towards people living in Jammu and Kashmir, including in relation to arrests and detentions of political opponents, and the rights to liberty and freedom of movement” and pointed out that “The actions of the Indian government have thrown ordinary people’s lives into turmoil, subjecting them to unnecessary pain and distress on top of the years of human rights violations they have already endured.”

Will there be any action at all by Washington and London? No: not a hope. They’ll continue to bounce up and down about Crimea, where there is liberty and freedom of movement, while keeping silent about persecution in Kashmir.

They are looking at the world through a prism of hypocrisy.

[Category: Security, War and Conflict, Crimea, Human Rights, India, Kashmir]

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[l] at 9/17/19 3:32am

Will Trump let the Saudis dictate when and where the United States goes to war? Who did it and why Evidence? False flag? So many questions.

[Category: Ansar Allah, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Trump, US]

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[l] at 9/16/19 5:40am

John Bolton is out as Donald Trump’s second National Security Director.  That’s an unqualified good thing as we pass the eighteenth anniversary of 9/11.

But Bolton is only one out of half a dozen very problematic neoconservative/evangelical voices in Trump’s cabinet, though the most obviously insane.

Bolton’s missteps this year are legion and legendary.  From the failed coup in Venezuela I like to call the Bay of Fat Pigs to scuttling denuclearization talks with North Korea to helping maneuver Trump into a potential shooting war with Iran, Bolton’s fall from grace is emblematic of the inflexibility of neoconservative thinking.

And the irony here is that Bolton was fired just one day before the anniversary of 9/11, a day that can easily be seen as the day the growing cancer within U.S. foreign policy, neoconservatism, got its wings.

Trump finally seeing Bolton for the massive liability he was in achieving any of his ambitious foreign policy goals should be seen as their apotheosis.  This is Peak Neocon folks.

They got everything they wanted, a pro-Israeli President with a deep-seated need to be liked who valued trust and loyalty over competence.  Trump inherited a geopolitical landscape they’d engineered under Obama for their big win in the Middle East.  All they needed to do was manipulate a volatile and image-obsessed Trump into a moment he couldn’t return from.

That moment came when Iran shot down a U.S. Global Hawk stealth drone violating their airspace alongside a manned P-8 Poseidon.  Trump, smartly, didn’t take the bait and I said then he had a window of opportunity to put paid his peace bona fides by firing one of his inner staff who’d pushed him to that limit.

I give Trump a lot of credit here for not falling into the trap set for him. He now has to begin removing those responsible for this quagmire and I’m sure that will be on the docket when he meets with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping next week at the G-20.

It starts with John Bolton and it ends with Mike Pompeo.

And if he doesn’t replace them in the next six to eight weeks then we know Trump isn’t serious about keeping us out of war. He’s just interested in doing so until he gets re-elected.

He took a little longer than that but it’s clear Trump is not happy with the state of his foreign policy.  Firing Bolton was an excellent start. But it’s not enough, not even close.

The problem, as I see it, is that while Trump’s desire for peace in these hot spots is real, he is incapable of seeing the path to achieving it because he doesn’t care about the details.

And it’s the details that always undo the Neocons’ plans for humanity.  They apply the same tired trope, “squeeze them until the pipe squeak,” as Bolton put it, and if it doesn’t work, squeeze harder.

These folks are Trotskyites at heart, willing to do anything to bring about their revolution. Homeless after World War II, they found a home within the Republican Party starting with Bill Buckley and the National Review crowd in the 1950’s and slowly taking it over.

They have suffused both major parties with their dreams global domination by stoking American exceptionalism run rampant in the post WWII generations to intervene anywhere a wrong could be righted.

It’s pure insanity, if not inherently racist, and it needs to end.

My worry here is that Trump only did this to shore up his position with those who elected him for his foreign policy promises, none of which he has kept and nearly all of them he has broken, either willfully or through his passivity.

So, he needs to build on this down payment and get back to the table with North Korea, actually get Iran to sit at the table and tell the rabid anti-Russian political hoi polloi to just shut up and sit down.

His appeasement of the Neocons began with his bombing of the Al-Shairat airbase in April 2017 in response to the chemical weapons ‘attack’ in Khan Sheikoun.  Isn’t is ironic that just over two years later the re-taking of that town in Syria was the launching point for sweeping changes in the geopolitical chessboard?

Trump wants to be seen as the strong and competent archetype. That’s the mantle he wants to take on as president.  But he’s not doing that at all, he’s projected the aura of a mercurial and inconsistent bully with no clear strategy who refuses to keep his word.

How much of that comes from his staff, like Bolton, undermining him is irrelevant.  As the leader, as the CEO, you are responsible for everything that happens under your command.  Period.

Lead or get out of the way.

Since the Global Hawk incident Trump has gone from one foreign policy embarrassment to another.  Chinese Premier Xi Jinping openly said he cannot believe anything Trump says.  President Erdogan of Turkey recently came out and said he cannot keep silent anymore about how many weapons the U.S. shipped to the Kurdish SDF.  According to Erdogan that number is an astounding 30,000 truckloads.

This is not what we voted for and it isn’t the path to peace in the Middle East.

There are lots of signs that Trump is ready to reverse course on most of his pressure programs and is angling to cut deals.  He’s rumored to be meeting with Iranian President Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.   His opening up about how Bolton’s presence angered North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and killed hopes for talks in Hanoi in February was refreshing honesty.

It is, sadly, what passes for diplomacy in his administration.

With the emergence of French President Emmanuel Macron leading rapprochement with Russia, after very successful 2+2 talks recently, Trump’s passive-aggression towards our policy in Ukraine is finally opening the door to improving relations with Russia.

And, of course, there is the climbing down off the mountains by both China and the U.S. over trade and tariffs.  Finally, Trump might have been convinced that destroying global trade to accommodate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by plunging the world into a global financial crisis wasn’t going to get him onto Mount Rushmore.

Firing Bolton may have been a wake-up call to the rest of the neocons in his administration, tow the line or leave.  Pompeo, in particular, has to be reined in as spokesman for Trump with foreign powers.  His behavior to this point has been appalling, walking into places like Beirut and issuing threats like some out-of-touch monarch while availing himself liberally of the buffet table.

The early returns aren’t good.  We see more shenanigans with Venezuela on the horizon.  The U.S. is preparing sanctions on Rosneft and invoking a Cold War treaty to funnel money to pretender Juan Guido.

So, while I hope things improve, I’m not sanguine, in the near term.  Trump has a lot of work to do and he doesn’t look like the guy capable of doing it.  Having occasional bursts of outrage which culminate in him making grand gestures is not the same as having a plan and an agenda.

Like Xi, Trump has squandered the trust and goodwill of many who voted for him in 2016, and we simply don’t trust him anymore.  He’s got to do a lot more than just fire one mustached crazy person who he is responsible for hiring in the first place.

Leaders accept responsibility.  They accept their mistakes and chart a new course.  Everyone on the other side of the ledger wants Trump to do the right thing but to this point he has mostly done the opposite.   Personnel is policy.  And until Trump begins appointing people to key positions that are 1) competent and 2) have a soul the edicts coming from Imperial D.C. will continue.

And the world will adjust to the rapid decline.

[Category: Americas, World, Bolton, Establishment, Trump, US]

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[l] at 9/16/19 5:23am

Scott Ritter probes Oleg Smolenkov’s role as a CIA asset and the use of his data by the director of the CIA to cast doubt over the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 


Reports that the CIA conducted an emergency exfiltration of a long-time human intelligence source who was highly placed within the Russian Presidential Administration sent shock waves throughout Washington, D.C. The source was said to be responsible for the reporting used by the former director of the CIA, John Brennan, in making the case that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered Russian intelligence services to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election for the purpose of tipping the scales in favor of then-candidate Donald Trump. According to CNN’s Jim Sciutto, the decision to exfiltrate the source was driven in part by concerns within the CIA over President Trump’s cavalier approach toward handling classified information, including his willingness to share highly classified intelligence with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a controversial visit to the White House in May 2017.

On closer scrutiny, however, this aspect of the story falls apart, as does just about everything CNN, The New York Times and other mainstream media outlets have reported. There was a Russian spy whose information was used to push a narrative of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election; this much appears to be true. Everything else that has been reported is either a mischaracterization of fact or an outright fabrication designed to hide one of the greatest intelligence failures in U.S. history — the use by a CIA director of intelligence data specifically manipulated to interfere in the election of an American president.

The consequences of this interference has deleteriously impacted U.S. democratic institutions in ways the American people remain ignorant of — in large part because of the complicity of the U.S. media when it comes to reporting this story.

This article attempts to set the record straight by connecting the dots presented by available information and creating a narrative shaped by a combination of derivative analysis and informed speculation. At best, this article brings the reader closer to the truth about Oleg Smolenkov’s role as a CIA asset; at worst, it raises issues and questions that will help in determining the truth.

“And Ye Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Make You Free,” John 8:32, is etched into the wall of the main lobby of the Old CIA Headquarters Building.

The Recruit

In 2007, Oleg Smolenkov was living the life of a Russian diplomat abroad, serving in the Russian embassy in Washington. At 33 years of age, married with a 1-year old son, Smolenkov was the picture of a young diplomat on the rise. A protégé of Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov, Smolenkov worked as a second secretary assigned to the Russian Cultural Center, a combined museum and exhibition hall operated by the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (better known by its common Russian name, Rossotrudnichestvo), an autonomous government agency operating under the auspices of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In addition to hosting Russian artists and musicians, Rossotrudnichestvo oversaw a program where it organized all-expense paid cultural exchanges for young Americans to travel to Russia, where they were accommodated in luxury hotels and met with Russian officials. Smolenkov’s boss, Yegeny Zvedre, would also tour the United States, speaking at public forums where he addressed U.S.-Russian cooperation. As for Smolenkov himself, life was much more mundane — he served as a purchasing agent for Rossotrudnichestvo, managing procurement and contract issues for a store operating out of the Rossotrudnichestvo building, which stood separate from the main embassy compound.

Rossotrudnichestvo had a darker side: the FBI long suspected that it operated as a front to recruit Americans to spy for Russia, and as such every Russian employee was viewed as a potential officer in the Russian intelligence service. This suspicion brought with it a level of scrutiny which revealed much about the character of the individual being surveilled, including information of a potentially compromising nature that could be used by the American intelligence services as the basis of a recruitment effort.

Every Russian diplomat assigned to the United States is screened to ascertain his or her susceptibility for recruitment. The FBI does this from a counterintelligence perspective, looking for Russian spies. The CIA does the same, but with the objective of recruiting a Russian source who can remain in the employ of the Russian government, and thereby provide the CIA with intelligence information commensurate to their standing and access. Turning a senior Russian diplomat is difficult; recruiting a junior Russian diplomat like Oleg Smolenkov less so. Someone like Smolenkov would be viewed not so much by the limited access he provided at the time of recruitment, but rather his potential for promotion and the increased opportunity for more essential access provided by such.

The responsibility within the CIA for recruiting Russian diplomats living in the United States falls to the National Resources Division, or NR, part of the Directorate of Operations, or DO — the clandestine arm of the CIA. In a perfect world, the CIA domestic station in Washington, D.C., would coordinate with the local FBI field office and develop a joint approach for recruiting a Russian diplomat such as Smolenkov. The reality is, however, that the CIA and the FBI have different goals and objectives when it comes to the Russians they recruit. As such, Smolenkov’s recruitment was most likely a CIA-only affair, run by NR but closely monitored by the Russian Operations Group of the Agency’s Central Eurasia Division, who would have responsibility for managing Smolenkov upon his return to Moscow.

The precise motive for Smolenkov to take up the CIA’s offer of recruitment remains unknown. He graduated from one of the premier universities in Russia, the Maurice Thorez Moscow State Pedagogical Institute of Foreign Languages, and he married his English language instructor. Normally a graduate from an elite university such as Maurice Thorez has his or her pick of jobs in the Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Defense or the security services. Smolenkov was hired by the Foreign Ministry as a junior linguist, assigned to the Second European Department, which focuses on Great Britain, Scandinavia and the Baltics, before getting assigned to the embassy in Washington.

Felt Underpaid

But his job as foreman of the Rossotrudnichestvo coop was not the kind of job a Maurive Thorez graduate gets; Smolenkov had to have felt slighted. He allegedly turned to drink, and his marriage was on the rocks; his colleagues spoke of a man who believed his salary was too low. The enticements of money and future opportunity — the CIA’s principle recruitment ploys — more than likely were a factor in convincing this dissatisfied diplomat to defect. Did the CIA compromise him by dangling the temptation of contract-based embezzlement? Or did the FBI uncover some sort of personal or financial impropriety that made the Russian diplomat vulnerable to recruitment? Only the CIA and Smolenkov know the precise circumstances behind the Russian’s decision to betray his country. But the fact is, sometime in 2007-2008, Smolenkov was recruited by the CIA.

After Smolenkov accepted the CIA’s offer, there was much work to be done — the new agent had to be polygraphed to ascertain his reliability, trained on covert means of intelligence collection, including covert photography, as well as on how to securely communicate with the CIA in order to transmit information and receive instructions. Smolenkov was also introduced to his “handler,” a CIA case officer who would be responsible for managing the work of Smolenkov, including overseeing the bank account where Smolenkov’s CIA “salary” would be deposited. Various contingencies would be prepared for, including procedures for reestablishing communications should the existing means become unavailable, emergency contact procedures and emergency exfiltration plans in case Smolenkov became compromised.

Took Away His Name, and Gave Him a Code

The recruitment of a diplomat willing to return to Moscow and be run in place is a rare accomplishment, and Smolenkov’s identity would become a closely guarded secret within the ranks of the CIA. Smolenkov’s true identity would be known to only a few select individuals; to everyone else who had access to his reporting, he was simply a codename, comprised of a two-letter digraph representing Russia (this code changed over time), followed by a word chosen at random by a CIA algorithm (for example, Adolf Tolkachev, the so-called “billion dollar spy,” was known by the codename CKSPHERE, with CK being the digraph in use for the Soviet Union at the time of his recruitment.) Because the specific details from the information provided by Smolenkov could compromise him as the source, the Russian Operations Group would “blend” his reporting in with other sources in an effort to disguise it before disseminating it to a wider audience.

Smolenkov followed Ambassador Ushakov when the latter departed the United States for Moscow in the summer of 2008; soon after arriving back in Moscow, Smolenkov and his wife divorced. Ushakov took a position as the deputy chief of the Government Staff of the Russian Federation responsible for international relations and foreign policy support. Part of the Executive Office of the Government of the Russian Federation, Ushakov coordinated the international work of the prime minister, deputy prime ministers and senior officials of the Government Executive Office. Smolenkov took up a position working for Ushakov, and soon found himself moving up the ranks of the Russian Civil Service, being promoted in 2010 to the rank of state advisor to the Russian Federation of the Third Class, a second-tier rank that put him on the cusp of joining the upper levels of the Russian government bureaucracy. He was granted a “second-level” security clearance, which allowed him to handle top secret information.

Moscow Station

In 2013 Ushakov received a new assignment, this time to serve in the Presidential Executive Office as the aide for international relations. Smolenkov joined Ushakov as his staff manager. Vladimir Putin was one year into his second stint as president and brought Ushakov, who had advised him on foreign relations while Putin was prime minister, to continue that service. Ushakov maintained an office at the Boyarsky Dvor (Courtyard of the Boyars), on 8 Staraya Square.

The Boyarsky Dvor was physically separate from the Kremlin, meaning neither Ushakov nor Smolenkov had direct access to the Russian president. Nevertheless, Smolenkov’s new job had to have pleased his CIA masters. In the five years Smolenkov worked at the Executive Office of the Government, he was not privy to particularly sensitive information. His communications with CIA would most likely have been administrative in nature, with the CIA more interested in Smolenkov’s growth potential than immediate value of any intelligence he could produce.

Smolenkov’s arrival in the Presidential Administration coincided with a period of operational difficulty for the CIA in Moscow. First, the CIA’s internet-based covert communications system, which used Google’s email platform as the foundation for accessing various web pages where information was exchanged between the agent and his CIA handlers, had been globally compromised. Smolenkov had been trained on this system, and it provided his lifeline to the CIA. The compromise first occurred in Iran, and then spread to China; in both countries, entire networks of CIA agents were rounded up, with many being subsequently executed. China is believed to have shared the information on how to detect the covert communication-linked web pages with Russia; fortunately for Moscow Station, they were able to make the appropriate changes in the system to safeguard the security and identity of its agents. In the meantime, communications between the CIA and Smolenkov were cut off until the CIA could make contact using back-up protocols and re-train Smolenkov on the new communications procedures.

Moscow Station, however, was having trouble carrying out its clandestine tasks. In the fall of 2011, the CIA’s chief of station in Moscow, Steven Hall, had been approached by his counterpart in the Russian Federal Security Service (the FSB, Russia’s equivalent of the FBI) and warned that the CIA should stop trying to recruit agents from within the FSB ranks; the FSB had detected several of these attempts, which it deemed inappropriate given the ongoing cooperation between the intelligence services of the two countries regarding the war on terrorism.

But Hall had his orders, and after a year-long pause to review its operating procedures, Moscow Station resumed its targeting of FSB officers. Things went real bad real fast. In January 2013, a CIA officer named Benjamin Dillon was arrested by the FSB as he tried to recruit a Russian agent, declared persona non grata, and expelled from Russia. Then in May 2013 the FSB arrested another CIA officer, Ryan Fogle. Fogle was paraded before television cameras together with his spy paraphernalia, and like Dillon before him, expelled from the country. Moreover, the Russians, in condemning the CIA actions, revealed the identity of the CIA’s Moscow chief of station (Hall), who because of the public disclosure was compelled to depart Russia.

A CIA Dream

The loss of Dillon and Fogle was a serious blow to Moscow Station, but one from which the CIA could recover. But the near simultaneous loss of two case officers and the chief of station was a different matter altogether. Hall was one of the few people in the CIA who had been “read in” on the recruitment of Smolenkov, and as such was involved in the overall management of the Russian agent. The loss of Hall at this very sensitive time created a problem for both the CIA and Smolenkov. Smolenkov’s new assignment was a dream come true for the CIA — never before had the agency managed to place a controlled agent into the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation.

But while Smolenkov had been able to provide evidence of access, by way of photographs of presidential documents, the CIA needed to confirm that Smolenkov hadn’t been turned by the Russians and was not being used to pass on disinformation designed to mislead those who used Smolenkov’s reporting. Normally this was done by subjecting the agent to a polygraph examination—a “swirl,” in CIA parlance. This examination could take place at an improvised covert location in Russia, or in a more controlled environment outside of Russia, if Smolenkov was able to exit on work or during vacation. But arranging the examination required close coordination between the CIA and its agent, as well as a healthy degree of trust between the agent and those directing him. With communications down, and the chief of station evicted, Smolenkov was left in a state of limbo while the CIA trained up new case officers capable of operating in Moscow and sought a replacement for Hall.

One of the ironies surrounding the arrest and expulsion of CIA officer Fogle, and the subsequent outing and eviction of Hall, was that Smolenkov was ideally positioned to provide an inside perspective on how the Russian leadership reacted to the incident. Smolenkov’s boss, Ushakov, was tasked with overseeing Russia’s diplomatic response. In a statement given to the Russian media, Ushakov expressed surprise at the timing of the incident. “To put it mildly,” Ushakov said, “it is surprising that this extremely crude, clumsy attempt at recruitment took place in a situation where both President Obama and President Putin have clearly stated the importance of more active cooperation and contacts between the special services of the two countries.”

Ushakov coordinated closely with the head of Putin’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, regarding the content of a letter Putin was planning to send in response to a previous communication from  Obama. While the original text focused on missile defense issues, Ushakov and Patrushev inserted language about the Fogle incident. As a senior aide to Ushakov, Smolenkov was ideally positioned to gather intelligence about the Russian response. If he was able to communicate this information to the CIA, it would have provided Obama and his advisers time to prepare a response to the Russian letter. The situation meant that Smolenkov may have been reporting on events related to the expulsion of Hall, one of the CIA officers specifically trained to manage his reporting.

The Center

Amid the operational challenges and opportunity provided by Smolenkov’s new position within the Russian Presidential Administration, the CIA underwent a radical reorganization which impacted how human agents, and the intelligence they produced, would be managed. The past practice of having intelligence operations controlled by insular regional divisions, which promoted both a physical and philosophical divide between the collectors and their analytical counterparts in the respective regional division within the Directorate of Intelligence, or DI, was discontinued by Brennan, who had taken over as director of the CIA in May 2013.

To replace what he viewed as an antiquated organizational structure, Brennan created what he called “Mission Centers,” which combined analytical, operational, technical and support expertise under a single roof. For Moscow Station and Smolenkov, this meant that the Russia and Eurasia Division, with its Russian Operations Group, no longer existed. Instead, Moscow Station would take its orders from a new Europe and Eurasia Mission Center headed by an experienced CIA Russia analyst named Peter Clement.

Clement, who had earned a PhD in Russian history from Michigan State University, had a diverse resumé with the CIA which included service as the director for Russia on the National Security Council and as the CIA representative to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Clement served as the director of the Office of Russian and Eurasian Analysis and as the CIA’s Russia issue manager from 1997 to 2003; as the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) briefer for Vice President Dick Cheney from 2003-2004, and from 2005-2013, as the deputy director for intelligence for analytic programs. In 2015 Brennan appointed Clement to serve as the deputy assistant director of CIA for Europe and Eurasia, where he directed the activities of the newly created Europe and Eurasia Mission Center. If one was looking for the perfect candidate to manage the fusion of operational, analytical and technical experience into a singular, mission-focused entity, Peter Clement was it.

As Clement got on with the business of whipping the Europe and Eurasia Mission Center into shape, Smolenkov was busy establishing himself as an intelligence source of some value. Smolenkov’s success was directly linked to the work of his boss, Ushakov. In June 2015, Ushakov was put in charge of establishing a high-level working group in the fuel and energy sector for the purpose of improving bilateral cooperation with Azerbaijan. The reporting Smolenkov would have been able to provide on the work of this group would have been of tremendous assistance to those in the Obama administration working on U.S. energy policy, especially as it related to countering Russian moves in the former Soviet Republics.

Another project of interest was Russia’s sale of advanced Mi-35 helicopters to Pakistan in support of their counterterrorism efforts. Coming at a time when U.S.-Pakistani relations were floundering, the Russian sale of advanced helicopters was viewed with concern by both the Department of State and the Department of Defense. Again, Smolenkov’s reporting on this issue would have been well received by critical policymakers in both departments.

But the most critical role played by Ushakov was advising Putin on the uncertain state of relations between the U.S. and Russia in the aftermath of the 2014 crisis in Ukraine, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Ushakov’s 10-year tenure as Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. gave him unprecedented insight into U.S. decision making, experience and expertise Putin increasingly relied upon as he formulated and implemented responses to U.S. efforts to contain and punish Russia on the international stage.

While Ushakov’s meetings with Putin were conducted either in private, or in small groups of senior advisers, meaning Smolenkov was not present, Smolenkov was able to collect intelligence on the periphery by photographing itineraries and working papers, as well as overhearing comments made by Ushakov, that collectively would provide U.S. policymakers with important insight into Putin’s thinking.

Managing an important resource like Smolenkov was one of the critical challenges faced by Clement and the Europe and Eurasia Mission Center. Smolenkov’s reporting continued to be handled using special HUMINT procedures designed to protect the source. However, within the Center knowledge of Smolenkov’s work would have been shared with analysts who worked side by side with their operational colleagues deciding how the intelligence could best be used, as well as coming up with follow-up questions for Smolenkov regarding specific issues of interest.

Given the unique insight Smolenkov’s reporting provided into Putin’s thinking, it would be logical that intelligence sourced from Smolenkov would frequently find itself briefed to the president and his inner circle via the PDB process, which was exacting in terms of vetting the accuracy and reliability of any intelligence reporting that made it onto its pages. As a long-time Russia expert with extensive experience in virtually every aspect of how the CIA turned raw reporting into finished intelligence, Clement was ideally suited to making sure his Center handled the Smolenkov product responsibly, and in a manner which maximized its value.

Meanwhile, Moscow Station continued to exhibit operational problems. By 2015 the CIA had managed to rebuild its stable of case officers operating from the U.S. embassy. But the FSB always seemed to be one step ahead. According to the FSB, the Russians were adept at identifying CIA officers working under State Department cover and would subject these individuals to extensive surveillance. As if to prove the Russian’s point, in short order the FSB rounded up the newly assigned case officers, along with the deputy chief of station, declared them persona non grata, and expelled them from Russia. To make matters worse, the FSB released surveillance video of all these officers, who in some cases were joined by their spouses, as they engaged in elaborate ruses to evade Russian surveillance in order to carry out their covert assignments.

Moscow Station’s string of bad luck continued into 2016, when one of its officers, having been detected by the FSB during a meeting, fled via taxi to the U.S. embassy, only to be tackled by a uniformed FSB officer as he tried to enter the compound. In the scuffle that followed, the CIA officer managed to make entry into the embassy building, compelling the FSB guard to release him once jurisdiction was lost. The CIA officer, who suffered a separated shoulder during the incident, left Russia shortly thereafter, together with a female colleague who had also been detected by the FSB while engaged in clandestine activities and subsequently declared persona non grata.

The FSB indicated, at the time these two officers were being expelled, that it had evicted three other CIA officers during the year. In addition to the decimation of its staff, Moscow Station was experiencing an alarming number of its agents being discovered by the FSB and arrested. While the Russians were circumspect about most of these cases, on several occasions they indicated that they had uncovered a spy by intercepting the electronic communications between him and the CIA. This meant that the Russians were aware of, and actively pursuing, the Google-based internet-based system used by the CIA to communicate with its agents in Russia.

Meanwhile, Smolenkov continued to send his reports to his CIA handlers unabated, using the same internet-based system. Under normal circumstances, an exception to compromise would raise red flags within the counterintelligence staff that evaluated an agent’s reporting and activity. But by the summer of 2016, nothing about the work of the CIA, and in particular the Europe and Eurasia Mission Center could be considered “normal” when it came to the Russian target.

Little White Envelope

Sometime in early August 2016, a courier from the CIA arrived at the White House carrying a plain, unmarked white envelope. Inside was an intelligence report from Smolenkov that CIA Director Brennan considered to be so sensitive that he kept it out of the President’s Daily Brief, concerned that even that restrictive process was too inclusive to adequately protect the source. The intelligence was to be read by four people only — Obama, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. The document was to be returned to the courier once it had been read.

The contents of the report were alarming —Putin had personally ordered the cyber attack on the Democratic National Committee for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential election in favor of the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.

The intelligence report was not a product of Clement’s Europe and Eurasia Mission Center, but rather a special unit of handpicked analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI who were brought together under great secrecy in late July and reported directly to Brennan. These analysts were made to sign non-disclosure agreements protecting their work from their colleagues.

This new analytical unit focused on three new sensitive sources of information — the Smolenkov report, additional reporting provided by a former MI6 officer named Christopher Steele, and a signals intelligence report provided by a Baltic nation neighboring Russia. The Steele information was of questionable provenance, so much so that FBI Director James Comey could not, or would not, vouch for its credibility. The same held true for the NSA’s assessment of the Baltic SIGINT report. By themselves, the Steele reporting and Baltic SIGINT report were of little intelligence value. But when viewed together, they were used to corroborate the explosive contents of the Smolenkov intelligence. The White House found the Smolenkov report so convincing that in September 2016, during a meeting of the G-20 in China, Obama pulled Putin aside and told him to stop meddling in the U.S. election. Putin was reportedly nonplussed by Obama’s intervention.

It is extraordinarily difficult for a piece of intelligence to be deemed important and reliable enough to be briefed to the president of the United States. The principal forum for such a briefing is the Presidential Daily Brief, which prior to 2004 was a product produced exclusively by the CIA. When the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act was signed into law in 2004, the responsibility for the PDB was transferred to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), a newly created entity responsible for oversight and coordination of the entire Intelligence Community, or IC. The PDB is considered to be an IC product, the production of which is coordinated by ODNI’s PDB staff in partnership with the CIA Directorate of Intelligence (DI)’s President’s Analytic Support Staff.

Since he began reporting about his work in the Russian Presidential Administration in 2013, Smolenkov had, on numerous occasions, produced intelligence whose content and relevance was such that it would readily warrant inclusion in the PDB. After 2015, the decision to submit a Smolenkov-sourced report for inclusion in the PDB would be made by Clement and his staff. For a report to be nominated, it would have to pass an exacting quality control review process which evaluated it for accuracy, relevance and reliability.

Sometime in the leadup to August 2016, this process was halted. Oleg Smolenkov was a controlled asset of the CIA. While he was given certain latitude on what information he could collect, generally speaking Smolenkov worked from an operations order sent to him by his CIA controllers which established priorities for intelligence collection based upon information provided by Smolenkov about what he could reasonably access. Before tasking Smolenkov, his CIA handlers would screen the request from an operational and counterintelligence perspective, conducting a risk-reward analysis that weighed the value of the intelligence being sought with the possibility of compromise. Only then would Smolenkov be cleared to collect the requested information.

It is not publicly known what prompted the report from Smolenkov which Brennan found so alarming. Was it received out of the blue, a target of opportunity which Smolenkov exploited? Was it based upon a specific tasking submitted by Smolenkov’s CIA handlers in response to a tasking from above? Or was it a result of the intervention of the CIA director, who tasked Smolenkov outside normal channels? In any event, once Brennan created his special analytical unit, Smolenkov became his dedicated source. If Smolenko was in this for the money,  as appears to be the case, he would have been motivated to come up with the “correct” answer to Brennan’s tasking for information on Putin’s role.  By late 2016, Western media had made quite clear what kind of answer Brennan wanted.

Every intelligence report produced by a controlled asset is subjected to a counterintelligence review where it is examined for any evidence of red flags that could be indicative of compromise. One red flag is the issue of abnormal access. Smolenkov did not normally have direct contact with Putin, if ever. His intelligence reports would have been written from the perspective of the distant observer. His report about Putin’s role in interfering in the 2016 election, however, represented a whole new level of access and trust. Under normal circumstances, a report exhibiting such tendency would be pulled aside for additional scrutiny; if the report was alarming enough, the CIA might order the agent to be subjected to a polygraph to ensure he had not been compromised.

This did not happen. Instead, Brennan took the extraordinary measure of sequestering the source from the rest of the Intelligence Community. He also confronted the head of the Russian FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, about the risks involved in interfering in U.S. elections.

Whether Brennan further tasked Smolenkov to collect on Putin is not known. Nor is it known whether Smolenkov produced more than that single report about Putin’s alleged direct role in ordering the Russian intelligence services to intervene in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Despite Brennan’s extraordinary effort to keep the existence of a human source within the Russian Presidential Administration a closely-held secret, by December 2016 both The Washington Post and The New York Times began quoting their sources about the existence of a sensitive intelligence source close to the Russian president. The timing of these press leaks coincided with Smolensky being fired from his job working for the Presidential Administration; the method of firing came in the form of a secret decree. When the CIA found out, they desperately tried to convince Smolenkov to agree to extraction, fearing for his safety should he remain in Moscow. This Smolenkov allegedly refused to do, prompting the counterintelligence-minded within the CIA to become concerned that Brennan and his coterie of analysts had been taken for a ride by a Russian double agent.

Smolenkov’s firing occurred right before the Intelligence Community released its much-anticipated assessment on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Like the special analytical unit created by Brennan to handle the intelligence about Putin ordering the Russian intelligence services to intervene in favor of Trump in the 2016 election, Brennan opted to produce the Russian interference assessment outside the normal channels. Usually, when the IC opts to produce an assessment, there is a formal process which has a national intelligence officer (NIO) from within the National Intelligence Council take the lead on coordinating the collection and assessment of all relevant intelligence. The NIO usually coordinates closely with the relevant Mission Centers to ensure no analytical stone was left unturned in the pursuit of the truth.

The 2016 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) was produced differently — no Mission Center involvement, no NIO assigned, no peer review. Just Brennan’s little band of sequestered analysts.

Smolenkov’s information took top billing in the ICA, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” published on Jan. 6, 2017. “We assess,” the unclassified document stated, “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” Smolenkov’s reporting appears to be the sole source for this finding.

The ICA went on to note, “We have high confidence in these judgments.” According to the Intelligence Community’s own definition, “high confidence’” generally indicates judgments based on high-quality information, and/or the nature of the issue makes it possible to render a solid judgment. A “high confidence” judgment is not a fact or a certainty, however, and still carries a risk of being wrong.

The same day the ICA was published, Brennan, accompanied by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, met with President-elect Trump in Trump Tower, where he was briefed on the classified information behind the Russian ICA. Included in this briefing was the intelligence from “a top-secret source” close to Putin which sustained the finding of Putin’s direct involvement.

Brennan had sold the Smolenkov reporting to both President Obama and President-elect Trump, along with the rest of the intelligence community, as “high-quality information.” It was, at best, nothing more than uncorroborated rumor or, at worst, simple disinformation. This reporting, which was parroted by an unquestioning mainstream media that accepted it as fact, created an impression amongst the American public that Vladimir Putin had personally ordered and directed a Russian interference campaign during the 2016 election designed “to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible,” according to the ICA.

As CIA director, Brennan understood very well the role played by intelligence in shaping the decisions of key policy makers, and the absolute need for those who brief the president and his key advisers to ensure only the highest quality information and derived assessments are briefed. In this, Brennan failed.

Coming in From the Cold

After being fired from his position within the Presidential Administration, Smolenkov continued to live in Moscow, very much a free man. By this time he was the father of three children, his new wife having given birth to two daughters. Following Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, Brennan resigned as CIA director. By May, Brennan was testifying before Congress about the issue of Russian interference. Increasingly, attention was being drawn to the existence of a highly-placed source near Putin, with both The New York Times and The Washington Post publishing surprisingly detailed reports.

Concerned that Smolenkov could be arrested by the Russians and, in doing so, have control over the narrative of Russian interference transfer to Moscow, the CIA once again approached Smolenkov to defect to the United States. This time the Russian agent agreed.

In July 2017, Smolenkov, accompanied by his wife and three children, travelled to Montenegro on vacation. They arrived in the resort city of Tivat, flying on a commercial air flight from Moscow. The CIA took control of the family a few days later, spiriting them away aboard a yacht that had been moored at the Tivat marina. Upon his arrival in the U.S., Smolenkov and his family were placed under the control of the CIA’s resettlement unit.

According to the Russian media, Smolenkov’s disappearance was discovered in September 2017. The FSB opened an investigation into the matter, initially suspecting foul play. Soon, however, the FSB reached a different conclusion — that Smolenkov and his family had defected to the United States.

Normally a defector would be subjected to a debriefing, inclusive of a polygraph, to confirm that he or she had not been turned into a double agent. Smolenkov had, over the course of a decade of spying, accumulated a considerable amount of money which the CIA was holding in escrow. This money would be released to Smolenkov upon the successful completion of his debriefing. In the case of Smolenkov, however, there doesn’t seem to have been a detailed, lengthy debriefing. His money was turned over to him. Sometime in June 2018, Smolenkov and his wife bought a home worth nearly $1 million in northern Virginia. The couple used their real names. They were not afraid.

I can only speculate as to the circumstances that led to Smolenkov’s firing by secret decree. Normally, Russians charged with transmitting classified material to the intelligence services of a foreign state are arrested, placed on trial and given lengthy prison sentences, or worse. This did not happen to Smolenkov.

But this does not mean the Russian authorities were ignorant of his activities. This raises another possibility, that Smolenkov could have been turned by the Russian security services before he had compromised any classified information, and that he operated as a double agent his entire CIA career. Since the only classified information he transferred would, in this case, be approved for release by the Russian security services, he would not have technically committed a crime.  If Smolenkov was working both sides, it could have been a Russian vehicle to create distrust between the U.S. intelligence community and Trump.

Smolenkov was fired, and left to his own devices, once his utility to Russia had expired. Having escaped being arrested as a spy, Smolenkov believed he might be able to live a normal life in Moscow. But when the potential for compromise arose due to leaks to the press, I asses that it was in the CIA’s interest to bring Smolenkov in, if for no other reason than to control the narrative of Russian interference.

Three Scenarios

There are three scenarios that could be at play regarding Smolenkov’s bone fides as a human intelligence source for the CIA. First, that this was a solid recruitment, that Smolenkov was the high-level asset the CIA and Brennan claim he was, and the information he provided regarding the involvement of Putin was unimpeachable. Mitigating against this is the fact that when Smolenkov was fired from his position in late 2016, he was not arrested and put on trial for spying.

Russia is fully capable of conducting secret trials, and controlling the information that is made available about such a trial. Moreover, Russia is a vindictive state–persons who commit treason are not tolerated. As Putin himself noted in comments made in March 2018, “Traitors will kick the bucket. Trust me. These people betrayed their friends, their brothers in arms. Whatever they got in exchange for it, those thirty pieces silver they were given, they will choke on them.” The odds of Smolenkov being fired for committing treason, and then being allowed to voluntarily exit Russia with his family and passports, are virtually nil.

The second scenario is a variation of the first, where Smolenkov starts as a solid recruitment, with his reporting commensurate with his known level of access–peripheral contact with documents and information pertaining to the work of the aide to President Putin on international relations. Sometime in July 2016 Smolenkov produces a report that catches the attention of DCI Brennan, who flags it and pulls Smolenkov out of the normal operational channels for CIA-controlled human sources, and instead creating a new, highly-compartmentalized fusion cell to handle this report, and possibly others.

Three questions emerge from the second scenario. First, was Smolenkov responding to an urgent tasking from Brennan to find out how high up the Russian chain of command went the knowledge of the alleged DNC cyber attack, or did Smolenkov produce this report on his own volition? Was Brennan arranging evidence to show that there was indeed a Russian hack. After all, all the FBI had to go by was a draft of a report by the virulently anti-Russian private security firm CrowdStrike. The FBI never examined the DNC server itself.

In any case, the Smolenkov report in the white envelope represented a level of access that would have significantly deviated from what one could expect from a person in his position and which suggests he may have been telling the CIA what he knew Brennan wanted to hear. As such, normal counterintelligence procedures should have mandated an operational pause while the intelligence report in question was scrubbed to ensure viability. Under no circumstances would a report so flagged be allowed to be put into the Presidential Daily Brief. However, by pulling the report from the control of the Europe and Eurasian Mission Center, turning it over to a stand-alone fusion cell, and bypassing the PDB process to brief the president and a handful of advisors, there would be no counterintelligence concerns raised. This implies that Brennan had a role in the tasking of Smolenkov, and was waiting for the report to come in, which Brennan then took control of to preclude any counter-intelligence red flags being raised.

The third scenario is that Smolenkov, a low-level failure of a diplomat with drinking issues, marital problems and monetary frustrations, was recruited by the CIA, but only with the complicity of the Russian security services. The same red flags that the CIA looks for when recruiting agents are also looked at by Russian counterintelligence. At what point in the recruitment process the Russians stepped in is unknown (if they did at all.) But it is curious that this professional failure was suddenly transferred from running a co-op to being the right hand man of one of the most influential foreign policy experts in Russia–Yuri Ushakov.

Moreover, this muddling diplomat whose questionable behavioral practices scream “recruit me” is, within three years of returning to Moscow, given a significant promotion that enables him to follow Ushakov into the Presidential Administration–a posting which would require extensive vetting by the Russian security services. Smolenkov’s promotion pattern is enough, in and of itself, to raise red flags within the counterintelligence offices tasked with monitoring such things. The fact that it did not indicates that the quality and quantity of reporting being provided by Smolenkov was deemed by the Americans too important to interfere with.

In this scenario, Smolenkov would have been playing to a script written by the Russian security services. Since he, technically, had broken no laws by serving as a double agent, he would not be subjected to arrest and trial. But once his existence became the fodder of the U.S. media via inference and speculation, his services as a double agent were no longer needed. He was fired from his position, via a secret Presidential proclamation, and set free to live his life as he saw fit.

The most pressing question that emerges from this possibility is why? Why would the Russian security services want to cook the books, so to speak, in a manner which made the Russians look guilty of the very thing they were publicly denying?

In my view, if one assumes that the Smolenkov July 2016 report at the center of this drama was not a result of serendipity, but rather a product derived from a specific request from his CIA managers to find out how high up in the Russian decision-making chain the authorization went for what U.S. intelligence agencies were already publicly pushing as an alleged DNC cyber attack, then the answer I believe becomes clear–the Russians knew the U.S. had an intelligence deficit.  I am speculating here, but if the Russians provided an answer guaranteed to attract attention at a critical time in the U.S. presidential election process, it would inject the CIA and its reporting into the democratic processes of the United States, and thereby politicize the CIA and the entire intelligence community by default. This would suppose, however, that the agencies did not have their own motives for wanting to stop Trump.

Rogers, Comey, Clapper and Brennan all in a row.

In this scenario, the Russians would have been in control of when to expose the CIA’s activities–all they had to do was fire Smolenkov, which in the end they did, right as Smolenkov’s report was front and center in the post-election finger-pointing that was taking place regarding the allegation of Russian interference. The best acts of political sabotage are done subtlety, where the culprit remains in the shadows while the victims proceed, unaware that they have been played.

For the Russians, it didn’t matter who won the election, even if they may have favored Trump; simply getting President Obama to commit to the bait by confronting Putin at the G20 meeting in September 2016 would have been a victory, because I assess that at that point the Russians knew that they were driving the American narrative. When the President of the United States acts on intelligence that later turns out to be false, it is an embarrassment that drives a wedge between the intelligence community and the Executive Branch of government. I have no solid evidence for this. But in my speculation on what may have happened, this was the Russian objective–to drive that wedge.

An Idyllic Truce

In my view, the CIA, Russia and Smolenkov were happy to maintain the status quo, with Smolenkov living in comfortable retirement with his family, the CIA continuing to accuse Russia of interfering in the 2016 presidential election, and Russia denying it. As well, Russia seems to have brushed off the sanctions that resulted from this alleged “interference.” This idyllic truce started to unravel in May 2019, when Trump ordered Attorney General William Barr to “get to the bottom” of what role the CIA played in initiating the investigation into allegations of collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russians that led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller’s investigation concluded earlier this year, with a 400-plus page report being published which did not find any evidence of active collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

Trump’s instructions to Barr are linked to a desire on the part of the president to hold to account those responsible for creating the narrative of possible collusion. Reports indicate that Barr is particularly interested in finding out how and why the CIA concluded that Putin personally ordered the Russian intelligence services to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Barr’s investigation will inevitably lead him to the intelligence report that was hand couriered to the White House in early August 2016, which would in turn lead to Smolenkov, and in doing so open up the can of worms of Smolenkov’s entire history of cooperation with the CIA. Not only could the entire foundation upon which the intelligence community has based its assessment of Russian interference collapse, it could also open the door for potential charges of criminal misconduct by Brennan and anyone else who helped him bypass normal vetting procedures and, in doing so, allowed a possible Russian double agent to influence the decisions of the president of the United States.

Seen in this light, the timing of the CNN and New York Times reports about the “exfiltration” of the CIA’s “sensitive source” seems to be little more than a blatant effort by Brennan and his allies in the media to shape a narrative before Barr uncovers the truth.

At the end of the day, Smolenkov and his family are not at risk. If the Russian government wanted to exact revenge for his actions, it would have done so after firing him in late 2016. In any event, Smolenkov and his family would never have been allowed to leave Russia had he been suspected or accused of committing crimes against the state. A few days following Smolenkov’s “outing” by the U.S. media, the Russian government filed a request with Interpol for an investigation into how someone who had gone missing in Montenegro was now living in the United States.

The only person at risk from this entire sordid affair is Brennan, whose reputation and potential livelihood is on the line. At best, Brennan is guilty of extremely poor judgement; at worst, he actively conspired to use the office of Director of the CIA to interfere in the outcome of a U.S. presidential election. Neither option speaks well of the U.S. Intelligence Community and those in Congress charged with oversight of its operations.  


[Category: Editor's Choice, CIA, Russia, Spying]

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[l] at 9/16/19 4:48am

The saga of daring escape by a supposed Russian CIA agent from the Kremlin’s clutches and then the added twist of a security-risk American president putting the agent’s life in danger does indeed sound like a pulp fiction novel, as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov put it.

How to explain this sensational story? “Opportunism” is one word that comes to mind.

The news media who pushed the story, CNN, the New York Times and Washington Post, are vehemently “anti-Trump”. Any chance to damage this president and they grab it.

Also, perhaps more importantly, these media are desperate to salvage their shot-through journalistic credibility since the “Russiagate” narrative they had earnestly propagated died a death, after the two-year Mueller circus finally left town empty-handed.

This damage to supposed bastions of US journalism cannot be overstated. More than two years of spinning speculation-cum-reporting about Russian collusion with Trump and/or interference in US politics has produced not a crumb of substantive fact. That means those media responsible for the “Russiagate” nonsense have forfeited that precious quality – credibility. They no longer deserve to be categorized as news services, and are more appropriately now listed as fiction peddlers.

So when they got the chance to seemingly resurrect their buried “Russiagate” yarn with this latest fable about agent Oleg Smolenkov being exfiltrated from Russia to the US, they leapt at it because their equally buried reputations are also at stake.

As far as we can tell, an anonymous intelligence source started the ball rolling. The source is likely to be former CIA chief John Brennan or former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Both are hangouts for the anti-Trump media since they lost their intel jobs at the beginning of 2017, and both are believed to have seeded the “Russiagate” narrative in 2016 from before Trump was elected.

Notably, the current CIA assessment of the latest US media reporting on the exfiltrated spy is that the reporting is “false” and “misguided”. In particular, the CNN spin that the agent (Smolenkov) had to be extricated from Russia in 2017 because Langley feared that Trump may have endangered the supposed Kremlin mole when he hosted Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in the White House in May 2017.

Also of note is the dismissive response from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who rubbished the reports. He was head of the CIA during 2017. (Admittedly, Pompeo is a self-confessed liar.)

According to CNN, NY Times and Washington Post, the former spy in the Kremlin, named as Oleg Smolenkov by subsequent Russian media reporting, was a top mole with direct access to President Vladimir Putin. It is claimed that Smolenkov confirmed allegations about a Putin-directed plot to interfere in US presidential elections. The agent is said to have also confirmed that Putin (allegedly) ordered the hacking of the Democratic party’s central database to obtain scandalous material on Hillary Clinton which was then fed to the Wikileaks whistleblower site for the purpose of scuttling her bid for the presidency in November 2016, thus favoring Trump.

Smolenkov was allegedly providing this information on a purported Kremlin interference campaign in 2016.

The US media claim Smolenkov was exfiltrated from Russia by the CIA in June 2017 – out of concern for his safety, which CNN reported was being jeopardized by President Trump due to his implied compromised relations with Putin. Smolenkov and his family disappeared while on a holiday in Montenegro in June 2017.

After the story broke earlier this week about the exfiltrated Kremlin mole, subsequent media reporting tracked down Oleg Smolenkov and his wife living in a $1-million-dollar mansion in Stafford, Virginia. Curiously, public records showed the house purchase was in their names, which seems odds for a supposed top-level spy, who had apparently committed extreme betrayal against the Kremlin, to be living openly. The family apparently fled the house to unknown whereabouts on September 9 after the story about his alleged spy role broke this week.

Who is Oleg Smolenkov? The Kremlin said this week that he previously worked in the presidential administration, but he was sacked “several years ago”. He did not have direct access to President Putin’s office, according to the Kremlin. For his part, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says he never heard of the man before, never mind ever having met him.

It is understood that Smolenkov previously worked in the Russian embassy in Washington under ambassador Yuri Ushakov (1999-2008). Smolenkov reportedly continued working for Ushakov when the diplomat returned to Moscow after his ambassadorial tenure in the US.

Here is where we may speculate that Smolenkov was recruited by the CIA during his diplomatic assignment in the US. But we assume that the Kremlin’s assessment is correct; he did not have a senior position or access to Putin’s office. By contrast, the US media are claiming Smolenkov was “one of the CIA’s most valuable assets” in the Kremlin and that he was providing confirmatory information that Putin was (allegedly) running an interference campaign to subvert the US presidential elections.

The discerning detail as to the truth of the imbroglio is revealed by the US media claims that Smolenkov corroborated the alleged hacking into the Democratic party database in 2016. However, that specific allegation has been disproven by several top hacker experts, notably William Binney who was formerly technical head at the US National Security Agency. There was no hacking. The damaging information on Hillary Clinton was leaked by a Democratic party insider, possibly Seth Rich, who soon after was shot dead by an unknown attacker. In short, the entire narrative about the Kremlin hacking into the Democratic party is a fiction. The premise to “Russiagate” is baseless.

Thus, if Smolenkov is peddling fiction to his former handlers in the CIA, that means he has no credibility as a “top mole”.

Again, opportunism is the key. Somebody came up with a lurid story about “Russian interference” in US democracy and “collusion” with Trump. Maybe it was Smolenkov who saw an opportunity to win a big pay day from his CIA patrons by flogging them a blockbuster. Or maybe, Brennan and Clapper (known liars in the public record) dreamt up a scheme of Kremlin malignancy to benefit Trump, and if that could be tied to Trump then his election would be discredited and nullified. But what they needed was a “Kremlin source” to “corroborate” their readymade story of “Russian interference”. Step forward Oleg Smolenkov – fired and out of work – to do the needful “corroboration” and in return he gets a new life for himself and family with a mansion in a leafy Virginian suburb.

CNN, NY Times, Washington Post, Brennan and Clapper are so much damaged goods from past failure of “Russiagate” fabrications, they find an opportunity to salvage their disgraced names by outing the hapless Smolenkov at this juncture.

That then raises the grave question of why he was permitted to live openly in his own name?

There is a sinister similarity here to the Sergei Skripal case in England. Is Smolenkov being set up for hit which can then be conveniently blamed on Russia as “revenge” by the Russophobic, anti-Trump, deep state US media?

[Category: Society, CIA, Corporate Media, Propaganda, Russia]

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[l] at 9/16/19 4:40am

In all the hullabaloo of Brexit and its associated parliamentary infighting, little noticed has been how Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson are attempting to change the very nature of the UK political landscape. Of course, the Brexit angst is making the attempt to leverage a strategic political shift much more visible, and more acute. Yet, actually the changes are not wholly, or even predominantly Brexit related, but reflect underlying tectonic plates clashing.

The point here is that the chaos in London is no parochial British, Brexit affair. It reflects something wider at work. Recognition of ‘plate’ movement already has been politically leveraged in the US (by Trump), and almost certainly the similar symptoms will present themselves across Europe too. These symptoms are here now (though they may not always be recognised as such, as one commentator already has noted – see later).

“The last Conservative MP in the seat of Newcastle-under-Lyme was Charles Donaldson-Hudson”, Daniel Capurro writes. “A JP [a local Judge] and member of the landed gentry, he held it from 1880 to 1885. Yet, when the autumn election finally arrives, Newcastle [a Labour bastion, ever since] will be one of the Tory party’s top target seats. The targeting of such seats is not the madness it might first appear. It is, in fact, part of Boris Johnson and his chief adviser Dominic Cummings’ masterplan for the future of the Conservative Party”.

A little back-context is required: In the late 1990s, the then leader of the Labour Party started to move the Party away from its roots in the Trade Union and labour rights movement, towards a ‘Washington Consensus’, neo-liberal stance, as epitomised by Tony Blair (who was drawing on the then Clinton winning experience). Labour had begun to understand that the endorsement of Wall Street and the City of London was a perquisite for any return to Office, and that in any case, the factory-based politics of the past, in this shiny, new cosmopolitan world of the urban and suburban élite, simply would not propel the movement into power.

Labour, at that moment, wished to become a typical Euro Centre-Left party, representing middle class voters who wanted to display their decency by voting for a party that espouses some, albeit quite restricted, notion of ‘social concern’.

But, as the preoccupations of the élite, metropolitan consciousness turned more and more ‘globalist’-espousing ‘disadvantaged’ groups, such as ethnic minorities, women, and gender non-conformists, rather than show empathy for the stresses of ordinary working men and women (whom they came to regard with contempt, as Ludite backwoodsmen and racists), so the Party’s internal gap opened wide.

This is the opening Cummings and Johnson have espied. The new demographics they believe, require rewriting the electoral landscape. Out is the Conservative electoral coalition of the recent past, which married urban and suburban social liberals with rural small-c conservatives (a marriage which was itself a cause of an internal tension, not dissimilar to that in the Labour Party – and as witnessed by the Tory 21 ‘Remainer’ rebels who were expelled from the Party). Centrism, in short, is no longer seen as advantageous. And, in comes a working-class, socially-conservative politics targeted at non-graduates in the Midlands and the North of England – i.e. at the Sixty-percenters as a whole.

“In this viewing, an extraordinary array of Labour seats [most of whom voted Leave] from Wrexham and Wakefield to Stoke-on-Trent Central and North could tumble into the Tory column on election night, and send Mr Johnson into Downing Street with a commanding majority”, Capurro suggests. Yes, the price may involve the loss of Conservative seats in London and the South East, but in practice the former electoral prize contested by both the main parties – the urban middle class – is itself suffering stress from globalist dynamics, as it bifurcates into the truly rich élite, and a struggling, belt-tightening Middle Class.

The Establishment élite sees the threat: This might – in the long game – end with the enthronement of the politics of the ‘deplorables’, and the eclipse (or ‘obsolescence’ in President Putin’s terminology) of liberalism.

Hence the bitter counter-revolution being mounted by the Establishment in the UK Parliament and the media. And hence the deep Establishment distrust of Johnson, for although he may represent the epitome of Establishment in one sense, he has always tried to position himself as the archetypical ‘outsider’.

The Northern working-class votes are those which Johnson wants to capture most dearly. Dominic Cummings knows from the ‘Leave’ campaign, and from Trump’s successes in US states not traditionally regarded as voting ‘Red’, that a focus on the culture ‘war’ – on issues such as transgender rights and ‘political correctness’ – can mobilise today’s voters, more than traditional family party affiliations. Cummings precisely intends to lever the toxicity of globalism not just with the ‘deplorables’, but with a Middle Class increasingly fearful of slipping into the abyss.

There are many problems to this evolving contestation of prevalent liberal millenarianism. A major problem is much more subtle, and less amenable to solution, than just the outbreak of ‘culture war’ – and it applies to all western economies: How – in this post-heavy-industry era – to maintain large-scale employment particularly for those with low (or no) skills.

Globalism unquestionably has contributed to the off-shoring of jobs to other parts of the globe, but the reality is that many of those jobs are not coming back ‘home’. They are assimilated elsewhere. They are lost for good.

The ‘new normal’ being touted by the US Administration is one that is not particularly concerned to re-capture, and bring home, mundane manufacturing processes. It wants for the US, the ultra high-tech end of manufacturing mainly, or only. This, it views, will represent the commanding heights of the new economics. And this view evidently is orientated more towards the objective to maintain US hegemony, than rather than for concern for the welfare of the US people. Such an economy – even if it were feasible to achieve – concentrated in the ultra high-tech, would face the issue of the 20% of Americans who then would become ‘unnecessary’ – surplus to needs, as it were. Do we really want to go there …?

Globalisation has had a great deal to do with this, but the decline of the factory-based economy in the West lies right at the very heart of our troubled political landscape (as Trump’s appeal to the ‘deplorables’ from a stance on the Nationalist-Right, rather than the globalist Left, strongly suggests).

Thibault Muzergues, European director of the International Republican Institute, warns that a structural divorce between the people and their representatives is in play. This happens once state institutions are viewed as a brake to preserve a status quo that is already in dispute, and in crisis. In other words, the Establishment counter action, and its rhetorical flourishes (i.e. describing the prorogation of the UK parliament as (literally) a coup d’état) in order to facilitate the crushing of the threat of ‘deplorablism’, precisely sets the ground for more bitter internal European strife.

“Some extol the unwavering will of the British leader [Johnson] to do what is necessary (within the limits of his constitutional rights, at least as long as the British courts will not block him) to put an end to the debate on Brexit by respecting the popular will … whilst others [in juxtaposition], praise the virtue of the [Italian] President for saving parliamentary democracy – in the face of the risk of a Salvini government … [coming to power].

“In both cases we are confronted with a conflict between direct democracy and parliamentary democracy, but this is not necessarily what is played out in the minds of actors, let alone citizens. For them, it is not so much a crisis of the institutions; but rather that of a crisis around Brexit, or in the person of Matteo Salvini.

“The problem is that the politicians in each camp (and with them their supporters) will be able to radically change their discourse on this question of legitimacy according to their own interests …

“This is a very dangerous game because it prepares the excessive politicization of institutions in a context of polarization of debates, and their use for partisan ends only – which undermines their legitimacy a little more. Without these institutions to manage or even settle our political conflicts, there is little that separates us from civil war or, as Hobbes described almost four centuries ago, from bellum omnium contra omnes, the war of all against all. The slope we are currently following is therefore necessarily dangerous.”

But in comparing Johnson to Viktor Orban —as Austrian newspaper Der Standard did, with its London correspondent writing “Johnson and his henchmen clearly think Brexit is more important than democracy and the rule of law”; with Germany’s international public broadcaster DW calling “Boris Johnson, the UK dictator,” and Yascha Mounk in France’s Le Monde newspaper writing that suspending Parliament constituted the “most flagrant attack on democracy that Britain has ever known”, there is a distinct whiff of that old Viet Nam axiom of ‘destroying a village to ‘save’ a village’ metamorphosing into one of having a constitutionally legitimate British government overturned and destroyed, in order ‘to save democracy itself’ (and to save Britain from elections which might not produce the ‘correct’ outcome’).

If populism blighted “the most entrenched of democracies,” said an editorial in Le Monde, it “would be terrible news for the entire continent.” Well … welcome to the new Grand Inquisition: Does the prisoner (Johnson) confess before the Holy Inquisition that Parliament was suspended for heretical motives; or will he deny it, and face being burnt at the stake?

[Category: Europe, World, Blair, Brexit, Johnson, Labour Party, Tory, UK]

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[l] at 9/16/19 4:18am


I didn’t watch the last Democratic presidential primary debates because I figured that without Tulsi Gabbard in there shaking things up it would be a boring, vapid parade of insubstantial verbal foam, and I love myself too much to go through such a horrible ordeal. By all accounts my prediction was correct, but I did miss one thing that’s been making the rounds in video clips for the last couple of days which I find absolutely bizarre.

Most of you have probably heard about Biden’s infamous “record player” comment by now, but for those of you who missed it, Biden was asked by debate moderator Linsey Davis to defend some comments he made about America’s problems with racism in the 1970s, and he responded by essentially saying that Black people don’t know how to raise their kids so they need to be taught how by social workers. Biden has been receiving mainstream criticism for his racist and paternalistic position, along with plenty of mockery for saying that parents need to be told to “make sure you have the record player on at night” so that kids hear enough words in early childhood.

It is pretty clear that Biden was trying to communicate an idea that is premised on a deeply racist and condescending worldview, so it’s to be expected that people would want to talk about that. It’s also to be expected that people would be making jokes about how the cute old man said “record player” like a grandpa. But what isn’t being discussed nearly enough is the fact that what Biden said was also a barely coherent, garbled word salad stumbling out of a brain that is clearly being eaten alive by a very serious neurological disease.

I’ve typed out a transcript of what Biden actually said, verbatim. There are no typos. I’ve also noted where Biden closes his eyes, probably to concentrate, which he does whenever he seems to be struggling especially hard to string words together. Try to read through it slowly, word-for-word, resisting the instinct to mentally re-frame it into something more coherent:

“Well they have to deal with the — Look, there is institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved I started dealing with that. Redlining. Banks. Making sure that we’re in a position where — Look, talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title 1 schools, triple the amount of money we spend from 15 to 45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise that equal [closes eyes] raise to getting out — the sixty-thousand dollar level.

“Number two: make sure that we bring into the help the — [closes eyes] the student, the, the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home. We need — We have one school psychologist for every fifteen hundred kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are reca — Now, I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. [Closes eyes briefly] We have make sure that every single child does in fact have three, four, and five year-olds go to school — school, not daycare. School. We bring social workers into homes of parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t wanna help, they don’t want — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television, [closes eyes tightly] the — ‘scuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the-the-the-the phone, make sure the kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school, [closes eyes] a very poor background, will hear four million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.”

Notice how it gets more garbled the longer he speaks. The response I transcribed was about eighty seconds in length. That was just one small part of a debate in which the former vice president performed no better and forgot three of his fellow candidates’ names.

Compare this befuddled, incoherent mess with footage of a younger Biden, like his famous quip about how Rudy Giuliani only ever mentions “a noun and a verb and 9/11” in a sentence, or this clip where he said if Israel didn’t exist America would have to invent it to protect its interests in the Middle East. Biden has always been notoriously gaffe-prone, but he was also sharp, alert, and articulate enough to deliver a punchline. As journalist Michael Tracey has been pointing out, what we’re consistently seeing over and over again from the former vice president now are not “gaffes”, but clear signs of cognitive decline. Contrast the difference between Biden’s younger footage and what was seen at the last debate with footage of Bernie Sanders throughout the decades, who has remained virtually identical save for appearance and hoarseness. Age does not account for this difference. Biden’s brain is dying.

It is certainly understandable that people are concerned about the presidential frontrunner having a racist worldview. But what’s really weird and creepy is how few people are discussing the obvious fact that the presidential forerunner is also clearly suffering from the early stages of some kind of dementia. The brain that spouted the gibberish transcribed above would probably score poorly on a basic test for the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, yet discussion of his inability to complete a coherent sentence is relegated to the margins of political discourse. This is someone who is campaigning to have access to the nuclear codes, yet we’re only talking about how he’s kind of racist and not about the fact that his brain is turning into Swiss cheese right before our eyes. It’s freaky.

It’s freaky, but it kind of makes sense. One common difficulty in getting early treatment for people with Alzheimer’s disease is that those suffering from it often go to great lengths to hide their impairments, and another difficulty is that their families are often deeply in denial about their loved one’s mental decline. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Some people hide their symptoms, or family members cover for them. That’s easy to understand, because Alzheimer’s dementia is associated with loss, such as loss of independence, loss of a driving privileges and loss of self.”

I think we’re seeing precisely this happening, both with Biden, and with his supporters. Biden himself is clearly doing everything he can to feign mental competency, and as a powerful politician aiming to accomplish a lifelong ambition to become the US president he’d certainly have a lot egoically invested in doing so. His supporters seem to be doing all kinds of denial mental gymnastics around his cognitive decline as well; just check out the responses to this Washington Post tweet for its article about Biden’s “record player” response.

Biden: “Make sure the record player is on at night” so kids hear more words https://t.co/szcq0vjVPP

— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) September 13, 2019

Here are a few examples:

“Don’t pretend you didn’t understand what he was saying.”

“Actually, I recently saw a turntable for sale at Best Buys & vinyl records are back on the market. Try to keep up, WaPo.”

“My 22 year old son and all his friends play records on record players these days. If you’re insinuating that Joe is out of touch, you’re out of touch.”

“Actually currently, there are some people playing record players because they find the vinyl record has better sound quality. I think you are just picking and choosing who to go after.”

“He was saying they not hearing enough words. We did. We were read to. We listened to children’s albums. We had conversations. He was trying to get at the importance of those things. He didn’t do a great job on communicating it but he was right.”

“Twitter snark aside, there are studies to back up that claim.”

“He got 80% of the way through the debate without an embarrassing gaffe that highlights his age. Of course, Trump couldn’t get halfway through a debate without threatening his opponent with imprisonment.”

“Honestly…so what. I got the sentiment.”

“Not sure why people are being so condescending. Vinyl outsold CD last year, so, you know, record players are everywhere these days. You could say he’s stuck in the past or you could say he’s trending. Be kind.”

We saw this same impulse to protect and compensate for Biden’s mental decline from audience members during the debate, who gasped out loud when Julian Castro suggested that Biden had forgotten what he’d said two minutes ago. Many rank-and-file Democrats are so desperate for an end to an administration that is making them increasingly anxious and neurotic that they find it cognitively easier to compartmentalize away from the obvious fact that Biden is in a state of mental decline than to turn and face that reality. So they make excuses and pretend that his demented word salads are perfectly rational, hip references to the resurging popularity of vinyl records.

The only people who are absolutely acutely aware of Biden’s cognitive decline and yet still want him to become president are his handlers. There is no way his consistent pattern of verbal unintelligibility has gone unnoticed by those who are responsible for facilitating his election, and indeed The Hill reports that his “allies” have been floating the idea of scaling back his campaign appearances and scheduling them for earlier in the day when he’s not tired to help minimize his “verbal flubs”. These people are aware that Biden is losing his mind, but they are pushing him toward the White House anyway.

If Biden supporters were really intellectually honest with themselves about what’s going on, they’d see that they don’t actually want Joe Biden to be president, they want his unelected, unaccountable handlers to be president. From a position of intellectual honesty they’d be taking the position of arch neocon Bill Kristol, who once said he’d “prefer the deep state to the Trump state.”

And of course that wouldn’t be a first among US presidents even in recent history. Ronald Reagan had early signs of Alzheimer’s disease during his presidency according to his own son, and George W Bush was infamously just a puppet of his handlers like Dick Cheney. Indeed it would be possible to have an actual, literal Jim Henson puppet as president of the United States without America’s unelected power establishment skipping a single beat.

But that’s exactly the point: having a real human being in there with even a semi-functional mind can put some inertia on the most sociopathic impulses of America’s unelected permanent government. Both Trump and Obama are of course horrible presidents who have continued and expanded the Bush administration’s most evil agendas, but Obama slowed down the push to arm Ukraine against Russia and slammed the brakes on a full-scale bombing campaign on Syria, while Trump was unable to get along with John Bolton and is losing interest in Venezuela while resisting the push to start new wars. Despite all their flaws, they’ve resisted the permanent government’s worst impulses in some key ways. If it’s just Biden’s handlers and the unelected power establishment, there’s no humanity anywhere near the brake pedal.

Joe Biden thanks his longfriend timefriend who’s a friend and has been a friend in and out of public life. pic.twitter.com/EoUWZeW0an

— Florian (@BetaODork) August 22, 2019

So this makes sense to talk about no matter how you look at it. But we’re not. In mainstream discourse we’re speaking as though this is just a charmingly gaffe-prone old man who makes a few controversial statements from time to time but would still make a fine president, when really he shouldn’t even be allowed a driver’s license.

And I just find that really creepy and uncomfortable. As someone who’s never been able to leave elephants in rooms alone, the fact that the leading presidential contender is neurologically incapable of speaking coherently for eighty seconds sticks out like dog’s balls and it’s absolutely freakish that this isn’t front and center of our political discourse right now. Biden’s dementia should be the very first thing we discuss whenever his name comes up, not the last.


[Category: Editor's Choice, Biden, Democratic Party]

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[l] at 9/15/19 6:48am

The disclosure by the British Parliament of the “Most Sensitive” Operation YELLOWHAMMER document describes a United Kingdom ripe for the machinations of Britain’s proto fascists, who make up a large part of the Tory government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. YELLOWHAMMER’s prediction of economic and social chaos in the United Kingdom resulting from a hard-British exit (BREXIT) from the European Union will have dire consequences for the rule of law and democracy throughout the United Kingdom.

Chaos is what fascists thrive upon. It was the pre-war and wartime British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley who opined that order could be created out of chaos. Therefore, Mosley’s modern-day fellow travelers, individuals like Johnson, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, Home Secretary Priti Patel and others felt the need to create, through a hard Brexit, chaos where none existed before. In a chaotic United Kingdom, these proto-fascists can achieve their ultimate goal of unquestioned authority and order in a post-Brexit United Kingdom, where far-right English nationalism holds sway.

In August of this year, 113 Member of Parliament signed a letter to Johnson that accused the prime minister of deploying the language of “fascism and authoritarianism” in plowing ahead with plans to leave the EU with no deal. Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament for five weeks, thus stifling debate on a hard Brexit, was seen by pro-EU MPs expelled from the Conservative Party by Johnson, as well as by MPs from the opposition Labor, Liberal Democratic, Green, Scottish National, Change UK, and Plaid Cymru parties, as one step toward fascism. The renegade Tory and other MPs actually questioned Johnson’s commitment to democracy.

As bad a Operation YELLOWHAMMER is for economic and political stability in a post-hard Brexit United Kingdom, it pales in comparison to another classified report on Brexit, Operation BLACK SWAN. This document foresees a doomsday scenario for the United Kingdom on par with World War II. BLACK SWAN includes nationwide food and fuel shortages, unavailability of medicines and medical supplies, a spike in unemployment, transport delays, and mass protests.

What the United Kingdom is currently experiencing is not much different than what occurred in Chile during the eighteen months prior to the September 11, 1973 fascist military coup that deposed Socialist President Salvador Allende. In 1972, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, then under a right-wing pro-Henry Kissinger cabal that included Deputy Director Vernon Walters, Counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, Deputy Director for Plans, Thomas Karamessines, and Western Hemisphere Division chief Theodore Shackley, commenced Project FUBELT. CIA operatives in Chile fomented labor strikes in an effort to undermine Allende’s government. Strikes by truckers, taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and white-collar workers created the climate for a fascist coup. A similar right-wing cabal currently exists in the CIA and Trump administration – primarily CIA director Gina Haspel and her predecessor, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, that is undermining the British political and business community opposition to Brexit and fomenting, through the disruptions foreseen in the Yellowhammer and Black Swan documents, civil strife that will create in the United Kingdom favorable conditions for a fascist and undemocratic power grab by Brexiteers and the far-right.

The current crop of right-wingers in ascendant positions inside the CIA and who are part of an interventionist cabal that includes Haspel, Pompeo, and Vice President Mike Pence used in Venezuela the economic chaos template in store for the United Kingdom. The CIA’s Operations CONSTITUTION and ARMAGEDDON sought to bring about a Venezuelan military revolt against President Nicolas Maduro by causing disruption in the Venezuelan economy, particularly the oil sector, and assassinating Maduro, respectively. The CIA’s chaos-creating operations, led by Juan Guaido, a Venezuelan opposition leader on the payroll of the CIA and Colombian narco-lords, failed miserably.

The chaos envisaged for the United Kingdom is not much different than what the CIA helped launch in France in 1968. The CIA’s program, MHCHAOS, specifically targeted “New Left” groups in the United States and abroad. The CIA’s infiltration of the French leftist student and labor union uprising in 1968 was meant to target French President Charles De Gaulle as retaliation for his pulling France out of the NATO military structure in 1967, calling for U.S. military withdrawal from South Vietnam and the Dominican Republic, and cutting off French military sales to Israel. The CIA was suspected of actually training some radical student organizations in how to conduct street fighting.

One of the main leaders of the Paris Spring revolt of 1968 was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a darling of the New Left movement. He told French journalist Hervé Bourges in 1968 that the leftist rioters and protesters were offered “significant sums” of money by “American associations, subsidiaries, and intermediaries of the CIA.” Moreover, Cohn-Bendit was aware of a May 30, 1968 report by CIA director Richard Helms that denounced President De Gaulle as a “dictator.”

Today, instead of relying on leftist provocateurs like Daniel “Danny the Red” Cohn-Bendit in France in 1968, the CIA — under Haspel and far-right elements introduced by Pompeo — is relying on alt-right interlocutors like Steve Bannon, British Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, and Prime Minister Johnson’s political “Svengali” Dominic Cummings to bring about utter chaos in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Bannon and other alt-right leaders have made no secret of their policy to use the tactics of the New Left in the 1960s to bring about the chaotic conditions necessary for the introduction of fascist rule in countries like the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany.

In 1968, the CIA’s chaos in France was designed to replace De Gaulle with a government led by either Socialist leader Pierre Mendes-France or his colleague, Francois Mitterand. Unlike De Gaulle, these “leftists” were in the hip pocket of the CIA. In 2016, the CIA and its alt-right agents of influence were successful in running Prime Minister Theresa May and her allies from power in London. The goal of the chaos engineers at CIA headquarters in Langley – primarily found within the Special Activities Center (SAC) — is a post-Brexit United Kingdom and Ireland subservient to the political and economic diktats of a far-right cabal in Washington.

One recent classic textbook CIA use of chaos to bring about fascist rule took place in Brazil. In 2016 — the same year that Trump was elected president of the United States and the Brexit referendum passed in the United Kingdom — Brazil’s leftist president, Dilma Rousseff, was removed from office during an economic and political scandal disruption campaign enacted by the CIA. Not only was Rousseff impeached and removed from office but her leftist predecessor and likely successor, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, was hit with trumped up criminal charges stemming from Operation CAR WASH (“LAVA JATO”).

Brazilian federal judge and prosecutor Sergio Moro, who had been a CIA asset ever since he received specialized training in soft coup “lawfare” at Harvard University and the U.S. State Department in 1998, managed to produce a conviction of Lula on charges of money laundering and corruption arising from the criminal probe of Western Hemisphere-wide bribery involving the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht S.A. Lula’s 9 1/2 year prison sentence eliminated him from running for president in 2018. As a Brazilian economic recession worsened with prompting from CIA chaos engineers, the presidential election went to Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right admirer of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler and avid admirer of Donald Trump. It turned out that there were significant connections between Bolsonaro and his family and Trump’s brain trust of Steve Bannon and data analytics companies involved in Trump’s election and the passage of Brexit.

To practically no one’s surprise, Bolsonaro appointed Moro as his Justice Minister. Bolsonaro’s green light for massive burning of the Amazon rainforest fit in nicely with the Trump-Pompeo-Haspel CIA’s economic chaos policy for not only Brazil but neighboring Bolivia.

Bolivia and the government of leftist president Evo Morales also came under economic and political pressure resulting from cross border forest fires.

Chaos is what has helped drive CIA operations since its creation in 1947. Chaos creation has now arrived in the United Kingdom with YELLOWHAMMER and BLACK SWAN and the main casualty is that nation’s long history of parliamentary democracy.

[Category: History, Brexit, CIA, Democracy, Fascism, Johnson, UK, Venezuela]

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[l] at 9/15/19 6:34am

In the above video, the men of “Right Angle” try to get down to the mystery behind Bolton’s sudden firing but really couldn’t provide an answer. One of the hosts Bill Whittle, in regards to the constant disagreement between Trump and Bolton, made a good point that at times we need an advisor to disagree with us and mentally challenge the leader. But it is highly unlikely that Trump brought someone on to challenge himself, the real reason is a lot more practical for his particular presidency.

The men of Right Angle, like many in the media seem to forget that the President is not a omnipotent dictator. Very often and especially under continuous media attack the man in the highest office in the land needs to play ball in the system just like anyone else. Office politics can lead to a miserable work experience or even getting fired, if you’ve ever been afriad to express your true opinions at work or school just imagine what it is like to be the POTUS.

Trump came to power amidst a hurricane of madness claiming that he would be the next Hitler, that he would doom the economy and most insane of all that he was a Russian Manchurian Candidate just waiting to surrender to Moscow. In this sort of climate it was pivotal for Trump to demonstrate that he was at one with the swamp. This situation is like being a conservative professor at a university in California, you better hire a “diverse staff” to deflect any future allegations against you.

Candidate Trump was very angry at America’s wasteful foreign wars, viewed NATO as obsolete and wanted to work with Russia, not out of love for Putin or pelmeni but probably as a means of leverage against China. These sorts of radical opinions can be bad for your health on the Beltway so Trump immediately raised defense spending by 54 billion dollars after taking office. Bringing on good ole reliable pro status quo Bolton, after his spat with pro status quo McMaster probably gave Trump further breathing room.

Supposedly McMaster’s gruff attitude and aggression towards the narcissist-in-chief was his reason for being fired. Trump reacts very sharply to criticism and what he sees as betrayal, so perhaps The Donald just wanted a new quieter mumbling warmonger that would be easier to ignore. Curiously, Trump has greenlit further defense spending opportunities right before dumping Bolton. Maybe he has bought his way out of the need for a military industrial complex nanny?

We also should not forget that, Trump despite his “reputation” has not started any new conflicts and is more or less from a military standpoint stagnant as a leader, he really hasn’t done anything other than make threats and ignore or allow the State Department to continue to do its thing in regions like Venezuela and Hong Kong.

2017 and 2018 Trump needed to play ball, 2019 Trump who has cleared the media field of all the insane unfounded allegations against him has a lot more freedom to act. He is more free now to fire an advisor, whose advice he really didn’t listen to anyways and move forward. We should look at the firing of the frail moustached chickenhawk with some optimism.

If Trump is able to fire “one of the boys” from the Washington consensus then he must have already worked out enough deals to do things at least partially the way he wants to do them. True, there is not much time before the next election but Trump is now out from under the yoke of accusations.

The men in the video from Right Angle ended their conversation with Scott Ott’s view that Trump is simply bad at making a team. It would seem hard to believe that a titan of real-estate who has also been a key figure in television at his ripe old age has no idea how to build a team. In this regard Trump knows exactly what he is doing and whom he needs to pick for effect.

McCain picked Palin to have a younger female candidate to draw more votes. Obama picked Biden as a generic white person to play down any racial issues. Trump may be picking advisors the same way Presidents pick their back up – purely for PR, it is just that Trump’s PR is more internal and not aimed at any voters.

[Category: Americas, World, Bolton, Establishment, Trump, US]

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[l] at 9/15/19 6:26am


According to Bloomberg News this morning, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed he is set to defy the new law designed to stop him forcing the U.K. out of the European Union with no deal next month, and is braced for a fight to settle Brexit in court.

According to a senior official in the U.K. government, Johnson has resolved on a hard-line plan as he prepares for his first face-to-face negotiations with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday.

Rumours in government have it that Johnson would prefer to lose at every stage and be remembered as the PM who fought for democracy to the bitter end.

In the meantime, John Bercow has threatened  Boris Johnson  that he will be prepared to rip up the parliamentary rulebook to stop any illegal attempt by the prime minister to take the UK out of the EU without a deal on 31 October.

In a direct warning to No 10, the Speaker of the  House of Commons  said at the end of last week he is prepared to allow “additional procedural creativity” if necessary to allow parliament to block Johnson from ignoring the law.

Johnson faced yet another difficult day on Thursday as  he was forced to deny having misled the Queen over his reasons for proroguing parliament , which was  judged unlawful this week by a Scottish court . That decision looks set to be reversed in England on Tuesday.

That would be more than just another setback in a Brexit journey that has literally been full of them from the day Article 50 was triggered. Democracy itself is now being challenged in Britain.

As Prof Meg Russell of UCL’s Constitution Unit puts it: “The political constitution cannot operate properly if parliament is not sitting.” Under our system, parliamentary sovereignty is the whole shooting match: it is the constitution. “If you shut parliament, it’s very hard to say your constitution is working.”


[Category: Editor's Choice, Brexit, European Union, Johnson, UK]

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[l] at 9/15/19 6:20am


A large number of Americans still don’t believe the official version of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. I am one of them.

The government and tame media version – that crazed Muslims directed by Osama bin Laden attacked New York’s twin towers and the Pentagon because they hated ‘our freedoms’ and our religions – is wearing very thin as contrary evidence piles up.

Ever since the attacks, I’ve held the belief that neither bin Laden nor Afghanistan’s Taliban were involved, though bin Laden did applaud the attacks after the fact and remains a key suspect. Unfortunately, he was murdered by a US hit squad instead of being brought to the US to stand trial. Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, was adamant that bin Laden was not behind the attacks.

So who did it? In my view, the attacks were financed by private citizens in Saudi Arabia and organized from Germany and possibly Spain. All the hijackers came from states nominally allied to the US or its protectorates.

Fifteen of the 19 were Saudis. Two came from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and one each from Egypt and Lebanon. Amazingly, during the national uproar after the attacks, little attention was focused on Saudi Arabia, a key US ally (or protectorate) even though most of the hijackers were Saudi citizens, and a planeload of important Saudis were quietly ushered out of the US by the CIA soon after the attacks.

Saudi Arabia was too important to US domination of the Mideast to point any fingers at the Saudis. The Saudi royal regime in Riyadh did not appear to have been involved – why would it since their survival and gravy train depended on US protection?

But the royal regime does not represent all Saudis, as many people believe. Saudi Arabia is a collection of tribes played off against one another by Riyadh and kept in line by the US Air Force from its bases in Saudi and a tribal force, ‘the white army,’ led by American ‘advisors.’ Saudi Arabia has little in the way of a regular army because its rulers fear coups by the armed forces such as occurred in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.

In addition, over 40,000 Americans live and work in Saudi. Another 5,000 US military personnel are stationed there. Much of the kingdom’s technology – banking, telecommunications, airports and flights, trains, military affairs, TV and radio – are supervised by foreigners. This process began in the 1920’s when the British moved into Arabia and helped promote the Saudi tribe to prominence.

A sizeable Yemeni community lives in Saudi. The bin Laden family originally hailed from Yemen. Saudi also has an important Shia Muslim minority, about 20% of the population, with smaller numbers of other Muslim sects. Most important, the reactionary, ultra rigid Wahabi religious sect still dominates the nation and royal family. The Wahabis hate Shia, calling them apostates and heretics. A similar dim view is taken of the nine million foreign workers, principally Indians, Pakistanis and other South Asians, who do all of the Kingdom’s dirty work.

Within the complexities of Saudi Society lie bitterly anti-western groups who see the nation as being militarily occupied by the US and exploited – even pillaged – by foreigners. Arabia was originally the holy land of Islam. Today, it has been westernized, occupied by US military power, and given marching orders by Washington.

While covering the Afghan War in the 1980’s, I met Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, a fiery nationalist leader and anti-communist who was bin Laden’s teacher and spiritual mentor.

“When we succeed in kicking the Russians out of Afghanistan,” Azzam told me, “we will go on and kick the Americans out of Saudi Arabia.” I was shocked, never having heard of Americans called ‘occupiers’. Azzam was murdered by a bomb soon after, but his words kept ringing in my ears. He thought of the Americans as much colonialists as the Soviets.

Private nationalist groups in Saudi who bitterly opposed foreign domination of their country could very well have financed and organized 9/11. But, of course, Washington could not admit this. That would have brought into question the US occupation of Saudi.

What’s also pretty clear is that Israel – at minimum – knew the attack was coming yet failed to warn its American ‘allies.’ Israel was the chief beneficiary of the 9/11 attacks – yet its bumbling Arab foes and bin Laden were blamed for this crime.


[Category: Editor's Choice, 9/11, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, US, War Crimes]

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[l] at 9/15/19 4:07am

Gerald Epstein responds to Randall Wray’s defense of MMT.

[Category: Capitalism, Monetary Theory]

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[l] at 9/14/19 5:25am

Departure of US security hawk lowers the risk of war and has changed the dynamic in energy markets

William PESEK

Turns out, John Bolton is good for something: brightening the outlook for Asia’s inflation and growth.

Oil prices fell $1 per barrel within hours of news US President Donald Trump either demanded or accepted the resignation of his uber-hawkish national security adviser. Bolton had been angling behind the scenes for 17 months to invade every place from Iran to Venezuela. He did his best to break up Trump’s “love” affair with Kim Jong-un.

Bolton’s sudden departure has already changed the dynamics in energy markets. Punters spent much of 2018 – Bolton started in April of last year – pricing in military misadventures. In June, for example, bombers were actually en route to Iran – until Trump thought better of it and called off the airstrike.

For now, sliding oil prices is the best news Asia’s trade-reliant economies have received in those 17 months. On top of Trump’s trade war, oil’s 20% surge this year has been an intensifying headwind from Japan to Singapore. It’s been the added hit China didn’t need as Trump’s tariffs send growth to 27-year lows.

For nations facing dual budget and current account deficits, higher energy prices only add for financial strains. The “Bolton effect” is a load off for governments from India to Indonesia to the Philippines. They face their fair share of inflation spikes over the last year. They all have something else in common: epic infrastructure booms necessitating increased energy imports.

Those with healthier balance-of-payments positions – Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan – have been less vulnerable to this year’s market chaos. Here, too, less worrying about Bolton-instigated clashes in the Strait of Hormuz, South America, the Korean peninsula or elsewhere are a plus for top-line Asian growth. It’s one less major risk factor for executives planning investments and compensation for 2020.

Relief factor

There are other factors that could work in Asia’s favor. The relief-factor in Washington might offset Saudi Arabia’s efforts to hike prices ahead of the initial public offering of Aramco, the world’s most profitable oil company. So might a slowing US. Earlier this week, the US Energy Information Administration cut its outlook for oil consumption. It now expects global demand of about 900,000 barrels per day this year, which could be the weakest period since 2011.

Yet the Bolton news “tapped the brakes on prices” in ways sure to cheer investors and governments alike, says Ben Geman of Washington-based Axios news and data site.

There’s still a question of who Trump hires to replace Bolton, says Cliff Kupchan of Eurasia Group. “But,” he adds, “several key policy issues will probably take [a] less hardline. Regarding Iran, Bolton has been ‘Dr No’ when it comes to talks with Iran.

Trump, by contrast, says he hopes to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Bolton’s departure, meantime, means that even as Pyongyang expands its nuclear program, the odds of “fire and fury,” as Trump once put it, are declining.

“Bolton never bought the idea of talks,” Kupchan says. “The US is now even more likely to accept Kim’s demand for a phased approach to talks, and formal negotiations seem poised to restart. A breakthrough deal involving Kim agreeing to abandon his nuclear arsenal, however, remains very unlikely.”

Any U-turn in Afghanistan policies could, at least in the short run, reduce the uncertainty factor. Getting a key architect of the 2003 Iraq invasion girding for any number of clashes out of the West Wing is dollar-positive.

Yet Bolton is just a symptom of the Trumpian chaos roiling markets. As analysts at ClearView Energy Partners argue: “We would caution against the a priori conclusion that a post-Bolton administration might materially pivot from those positions.”

Who knows, Trump might replace Bolton with an even bigger hawk.

Good for Manila, Jakarta

Lower oil prices, though, would act like a stealth tax cut for households and smaller businesses. They offer Rodrigo Duterte an insurance policy against runaway inflation in the Philippines. They will aid Indonesia’s Joko Widodo in taming local bond markets and boosting investor confidence.

For Japan’s Shinzo Abe and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, calmer energy makers are always a plus for their resource-poor economies. And in a year in which so little is going China’s way, lower import prices give Xi Jinping’s a bit more latitude to let the yuan slide.

Even on Trump’s island of misfit toys, Bolton was a particular standout for the way he made the world a riskier place. His departure is the best news Asia’s economies have received in quite some time.


[Category: Editor's Choice, Asia-Pacific, Bolton, Energy, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan]

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[l] at 9/14/19 4:50am

The people of Hong Kong enjoy one of the highest standards of livings of any city across continental Asia. Since peacefully being reabsorbed into mainland China in 1997, they have confounded endless Western Prophets of Doom: These falsely claimed that Beijing would not maintain its solemn undertakings for peace and security in the city and territory. They maintained that Hong Kong’s historic position as one of the great business hubs of Asia and the world would rapidly be destroyed. Nothing of the sort happened.

But the prosperity of Hong Kong for generations to come is danger now – and the threat manifestly does not come from Beijing.

The mass protests for greater democracy and freedom continue. And following a grim dynamic that goes back well over two centuries to the French Revolution they can never be satisfied.

The more that the administration of Hong Kong led by Carrie Lam and the national Chinese government in Beijing seek to avoid the undue use of force and the infliction of casualties, the more violent, the demonstrations slowly and remorselessly become, the broader and more sweeping are their demands for political liberties – though these are invariably vague and ill-defined.

I predict here – simply and clearly – that no matter how many concessions allegedly for liberty are given they will never satisfy the protestors and the Western governments who at the very least are using them as political puppets and pawns. All that can possibly be achieved is to create an atmosphere of fear, insecurity and violence: That is toxic to attract both Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and also regular investment from the rest of China.

Therefore Hong Kong’s economy will founder, while unemployment and economic suffering will grow. Then, those suffering from it will be encouraged to blame the very government that has sought so long and so hard to prevent disasters from happening.

I speak with a particular authority on these matters: Half a century ago as a teenage Irish boy, I watched the same kind of protests destroy forever the peace and prosperity of one of the most advanced industrial centers on the face of the planet in the city of Belfast.

The lessons I learned then would serve the people of Hong Kong well today before they bring an unimaginable disaster upon themselves.

For popular violent protests against authorities never bring peace: They only bring war – Almost always on a scale that none of the protestors dreamed of when they took to the streets.

Prosperity never follows. At best there is mass unemployment and despair as local businesses and national investment flee the territory for decades and generations. You do not build factories and hire workers for them when the factory will be burned down in one of the endless clashes that will soon follow.

The “freedom” that the protestors demand is illusory. It is fools’ gold: It is the fantasy of wealth at the end of the rainbow that is never found.

Hong Kong’s enormous economic advantage for nearly 180 years under first British and over the past two decades of enlightened Chinese autonomous rule has been that it has been a secure, predictable and safe place to do business with the Mainland and with the wider region.

But that is no longer true: The longer the protests rage and the wider and more serious they become, the more that incalculable advantage is eroded before our eyes.

When I was a young boy, my father on Sunday mornings proudly took me down to the Harland & Woolf Shipyard on Queen’s Island to see some of the biggest moving vehicles in the world – giant cargo vessels, tankers, aircraft carriers and cruise ships – being built.

My father was proud of his son, but he was proud of his city too: Belfast was still the largest ship building center on earth. The great shipyard at its peak employed 35,000 workers. Enormous rivers of humanity would flow back and forth on the bridge over the River Lagan every day as its workers streamed to and from their labors. But for most of the past 50 years, almost all of it has become an industrial wasteland peopled only by ghosts.

Peace finally returned to Northern Ireland after 30 years of civil strife, but it was too late. The great shipyard never recovered and it never revived. What had been done could not be undone.

If these riots continue, that will be the fate of Hong Kong too. Nearly two centuries of growth and prosperity will wither and die.

This is no wild prediction. It is tantamount to a mathematical inevitability: There is a remorseless tidal wave of fate to the pattern of rising political protests that escalate into a violent revolution that can only be contained by the use of military force.

The Civil War in Northern Ireland raged – sometimes horrifically, sometimes more subdued – from 1968 to the landmark Good Friday Agreement of 1998. My old, dear friend, British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Marjorie “Mo” Mowlam was the key figure driving the negotiations. She undermined her health doing so. Then a host of political parasites from US President Bill Clinton to British Prime Minister Tony Blair were eager to hog all the praise and credit for themselves years later as Mo lay dying from a brain tumor.

The decades that followed the collapse of law and order in Ireland in 1968-1972 were the darkest in the island’s troubled history since the Great Famine of the 1840s. The British government’s record of secret manipulation and involvement in dark excesses and crimes during those years gives London no moral standing today to lecture China on how it handles the unrest in Hong Kong, or anywhere else.

I never expected to see the end of apparently endless war in Ireland in my own lifetime. Thanks to Mo Mowlam’s selfless labors and those of countless other British and Irish figures great and small, peace finally came. The protestors of Hong Kong too now need to take a step back, suck in a deep breath and pause to think long and hard before they charge down that same doomed and awful path.

[Category: Asia-Pacific, World, China, Color Revolution, Democracy, Hong Kong]

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