Monday, November 20, 2017

Impeachment for Mugabe As Elites Jockey for Power Succession in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms

by Patrick Bond - CounterPunch


November 20, 2017
The palace coup, Mugabe’s demise and ‘nightmare’ versus ‘national unity’ scenarios

In Harare, Bulawayo and smaller Zimbabwean cities, hundreds of thousands joyfully took to the streets November 18, approving a Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) military semi-coup that resolves a long-simmering faction fight within the ruling party and ends the extraordinary career of Robert Mugabe at age 93. Initially refusing to resign, his rambling speech the following evening revealed a man either out of touch with reality, or attempting to compel from his enemies a full-fledged coup, or – as CNN speculated – delaying to ensure legal immunity and protection of his property from confiscation.

Still, he faces a parliamentary impeachment process on November 21.

After more than 37 years in power in the Southern African country he led to liberation in 1980, Mugabe is being replaced by his long-standing Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) comrade, Emmerson Mnangagwa (aged 75). On Sunday at Zanu-PF’s emergency central committee meeting, Mnangagwa was made president. To ease his departure, Mugabe might be offered exile in South Africa where his family and cronies also possess abundant luxury real estate, such as a seaside mansion near Durban’s airport.

But concerns immediately arise that celebration of the coup and at least momentary popular adoration of the army will relegitimise Mnangagwa’s brutal Zanu-PF network and thus slow a more durable transition to democracy and economic justice. Aside from a mass-based uprising to carry on Saturday’s momentum, the only other safeguard would be the (highly unlikely) appointment of a genuine, all-in national unity government, one that would acquire desperately-needed cash from both China and the main Western donors in Washington and the European Union.

A coup de Grace by ‘Crocodile’ Mnangagwa


In the context of a worsening financial liquidity crunch, the November 15 coup was catalyzed by Mugabe’s political over-reach: attempting to elevate his shopaholic wife “Gucci Grace” (aged 52) to the vice-presidency with the obvious intention of succession. Marching through the capital city Harare three days later, anti-Mugabe protesters carried professionally-produced signs including the message,

“Leadership is not sexually transmitted.”

Widely despised for a role akin to Lady Macbeth’s, Grace Mugabe’s faction of Zanu-PF is known as “Generation 40” (G40), implying the readiness of a younger replacement team within the ruling party. Mugabe himself was most closely aligned to this group. In contrast, Mnangagwa leads the older “Team Lacoste” faction, whose logo-based signifier is his revealing nickname, “The Crocodile.”

Mnangagwa is widely mistrusted due to his responsibility for (and refusal to acknowledge) 1982-85 “Gukhurahundi” massacres of more than 20,000 people in the country’s western provinces (mostly members of the minority Ndebele ethnic group, whose handful of armed dissidents he termed “cockroaches” needing a dose of military “DDT”); his subversion of the 2008 presidential election which Mugabe initially lost; his subsequent heading of the Joint Operations Committee secretly running the country, sabotaging democratic initiatives; as well as for his close proximity – as then Defence Minister – to widespread diamond looting from 2008-16. Mugabe himself last year complained of revenue shortfalls from diamond mining in eastern Zimbabwe’s Marange fields:

“I don’t think we’ve exceeded US$2 billion or so, and yet we think that well over US$15 billion or more has been earned in that area.”

Not only was this vast scale of theft confirmed by local anti-corruption campaigner Farai Maguwu. In order for Mnangagwa to establish the main Marange joint venture – Sino Zimbabwe – with the notorious (and now apparently jailed) Chinese investor, Sam Pa, the army under Mnangagwa’s rule forcibly occupied the Marange fields. In November 2008, troops murdered several hundred small-scale artisanal miners there. (At a massacre solidarity visit to Marange on November 10, two dozen progressive activists – including Maguwu and 21 foreigners from a People’s Dialogue network that includes Brazil’s Movement of Landless Workers – were arrested for trespassing, though they were later released after each paid a $100 fine.)

Mnangagwa had fought Rhodesian colonialism in the 1970s, and soon became one of Mugabe’s leading henchmen, rising to the vice presidency in 2014. But Mugabe fired him on November 6, signaling Grace’s ruthless ascent in spite of Chiwenga’s repeated warnings since early 2016. Three years ago, with Grace egging him on, Mugabe sacked another close revolutionary-era ally, vice president Joice Mujuru (62). (Mujuru subsequently launched a new party which subsequently showed no capacity to influence events, but she was expected to eventually forge an alliance with democratic opposition forces to contest the scheduled 2018 election.)

What with both economic and political degeneration accelerating, Mnangagwa’s firing was the catalyst for an emergency Beijing trip by his ally, army leader Constantino Chiwenga (61), for consultations with the Chinese army command. Mnangagwa received military training in China during Mao’s days, and China today has substantial assets in Zimbabwe, including repeated weapon sales and stakes in tobacco, infrastructure and mining, as well as its retail imports that continue to deindustrialize Zimbabwean manufacturing.

Beijing’s Global Times, which often parrots official wisdom, was increasingly wary of Mugabe. According to a contributor, Wang Hongwi of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, “Mnangagwa, a reformist, will abolish Mugabe’s faulty investment policy. In a country with a bankrupt economy, whoever takes office needs to launch economic reforms and open up to foreign investment… Chinese investment in Zimbabwe has also fallen victim to Mugabe’s policy and some projects were forced to close down or move to other countries in recent years, bringing huge losses.” (Hongwi did not mention whether Sam Pa represents the ethos of such Chinese investors.)

The sense that Mnangagwa could be a Zimbabwean version of market-liberaliser Deng Xiaoping – following Mugabe’s Mao routine – prevails in such circuits. The big question is whether, if Mnangagwa refuses to consider a unity government scenario, China will make available hard currency of a few hundred million dollars (it has more than $3 trillion in reserves) to stem the liquidity crisis.

A sense of such new benefactors’ potential generosity must have played a role in the coup plotters’ calculations. For Mnangagwa is not only being toasted in Beijing, but also by Tory geopolitical opportunists in London. Although many Britons object, their ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing has for three years attempted to “rebuild bridges and ensure that re-engagement succeeds to facilitate Mnangagwa’s rise to power” with a reported “$2 billion economic bail-out.”

The coup calculus


Chiwenga avoided an attempted police arrest at the Harare airport upon his return from Beijing. As the coup plan – initially scheduled for December prior to Zanu-PF’s next congress – was pushed forward, on November 13 he cautioned against “reckless utterances by politicians from the ruling party denigrating the military” – whom he termed “counter-revolutionary infiltrators” – and he insisted that Mugabe’s “targeting members of the party with a liberation background must stop.” Snubbing this warning the next day, the G40 maintained control of Zanu-PF’s machinery and issued a provocative statement highly critical of Mnangagwa and Chiwenga.

For such purposes, Mugabe’s erratic spin-doctor for most of the last two decades was Jonathan Moyo, a former US-trained academic. Moyo was responsible for some of Zanu-PF’s most extreme rhetorical attacks on political opponents, including media crackdowns a decade ago. But his prolific twitter feed suddenly went quiet on November 14 once ZDF tanks rolled into the city. The army rapidly occupied Mugabe’s main office and the national broadcaster, announcing to the country that the ZDF was in command and would ‘protect’ Mugabe while searching out the ‘criminals’ surrounding him. Moyo had repeatedly angered Chiwenga, even alleging several times that his 2015 doctoral thesis in ethics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal was authored by someone else.

The only armed resistance apparently came from a few Mugabe loyalists in the police force and Central Intelligence Organisation, and from Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo’s bodyguards, one of whom was murdered by army troops during Chombo’s arrest. Moyo and another G40 leader once considered potential presidential material, Saviour Kasukuwere, were apparently picked up early on November 15 and taken to the army barracks. According to an insider interviewed by journalist Sipho Masondo, “People are romanticising the coup and saying it was not bloody. It was damn bloody. People are being beaten badly.”

On November 16, the society’s nervousness was expressed in a tweet by Tendai Biti (aged 51), a social democrat who in 2014 split from leading opposition figure Morgan Tsvangirai (65 and undergoing cancer treatment), after having served as finance minister in the 2009-13 government of national unity:

“Over the years in making the case for a National Transitional Authority, have written a lot about the possibility of an implosion in Zim. However nothing I have written or read prepared me for the surreal reality of the last two days. It has simply been a nightmare, a period of uncertainty, anxiety and doubt.”

But after the dust began to settle and a mass march was called for November 18, Biti was ecstatic:

“Today the wananchi [citizenry] bathed in freedom. She was on the street in her thousands. Today the citizen was let loose and not a single stone was thrown. Not a single window was broken. Love and solidarity were palpable. You could cut the citizens’ happiness with a hack saw. Today the tank was an instrument of resistance and not of power retention. Tomorrow might be a nightmare but today we breathe freely.”

That nightmare – Mnangagwa’s new-found ability to relegitimise Zanu-PF with army support – is now unfolding, with only an economic meltdown to compel him to negotiate.

Economic meltdown or government of national unity?


That nightmare scenario reflects the dangers of post-Mugabe Zanu-PF rulers maintaining old habits, combining state asset stripping and dictatorial repression. This is most likely, given the traditions Mnangagwa and Chiwenga represent. Explained one pro-Mnangagwa Zanu-PF leader, Patrick Chinamasa, “We have the majority in Parliament, we can expel the President alone and we are the ruling party, so where does a coalition come in? We don’t need them.” (In fact, to impeach Mugabe, as scheduled on November 21, a two-thirds majority will be required – so technically he is wrong, but it is the ruling party’s go-it-alone attitude that worries Zimbabweans.)

If donor aid to the new regime is not forthcoming, a desperation mentality will rapidly emerge, for economic barriers to bureaucratic looting are periodically reached in Zimbabwe. For example, when the world’s worst hyperinflation (500 billion percent) wiped out the former currency in 2008, new arrangements were required: in that case, the turn to the US dollar and rand. The only other option is recovering looted wealth by Mugabe and his cronies – but such an asset search might prove highly embarrassing to Mnangagwa and Chiwenga, too.

Late last year, $200 million worth of a dubious new currency (the ‘Bond note’) was introduced by the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank. The reason was that officially-accepted US dollars and South African rands, which most Zimbabweans have used since 2009, fell into increasingly short supply, causing payment-system blockages and renewing fear of hyper-inflation.

The elites and masses alike are withdrawing cash from the banks as fast as possible. They are now limited to as little as $20 daily withdrawals from their accounts, and regulations are periodically imposed to compel electronic purchases and incentivise cash savings. Instead, hoarding scarce hard currency under the matrass represents one form of storing value during crisis, since placing such funds in formal bank accounts risks Reserve Bank seizure. Other survival strategies include rapid purchases of consumer durables each pay day. There is also raging speculation in Bitcoin, real estate and the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, which was the world’s fastest-rising bourse in 2017 despite the economic decline, until last week when the market crashed.

If fresh financial liquidity is not provided in coming weeks, the formal economy and vast informal sector will suffer worse payments freezes and the black market will flourish to the point of panic, just as in late 2008. For nearly two decades, the Zimbabwe government has been in default on more than $9 billion of international debt and today is failing to pay foreign corporations the profit remittances they are due. Even the state’s strict restriction against importing those basic goods that should instead be manufactured within Zimbabwe has failed to ease the hard-currency shortage.

It appears that in this context, only the Zimbabwe government’s full-fledged relegitimation can attract sufficient foreign aid to avoid an economic meltdown. For this purpose, an ideal-type ‘national unity’ scenario – which appears unlikely, but nevertheless worth contemplating – would have Chiwenga quickly return his troops to the barracks and Interim President Mnangagwa appoint two Zanu-PF vice presidents: Mujuru and, for ethnic balance, Dumisa Dabengwa (77) from the Zimbabwe African People’s Union party. The latter party is a revival of one Mugabe had crushed and coopted in 1987, when he unsuccessfully attempted to establish one-party rule. Another Mnangagwa ally anticipated to rise to the top tier is Sydney Sekeramayi (73).

But most importantly, the unity regime would need to include at least three recently-reunited Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leaders: Tsvangirai as prime minister (his 2009-13 role), Biti in the finance ministry to raise support from Western donors, and Welshman Ncube (56) who enjoys widespread support among the Ndebele people.

If elections are indeed held as scheduled before mid-2018, the MDC could well defeat Zanu-PF in a free-and-fair vote. But whether and how quickly a ‘fresh start’ vote can be scheduled depends upon MDC negotiating power and the sense by Mnangagwa and his military stalwarts that in such a poll, they could repeat their decisive 2013 win (due largely to army mobilisation funded by the diamond theft), or steal it, as occurred in 2008 when Tsvangirai initially defeated Mugabe by more than 10% of the vote.

Not only are donors required, international tolerance will be needed on the country’s foreign debt and profit-repatriation arrears. In addition, there must be buy-in from regional neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), led this year by South Africa’s Jacob Zuma. Unlike earlier election controversies when – aside from Botswana’s leader – all of SADC and most of the African Union’s (AU’s) leaders supported Mugabe (leading Biti to term the larger grouping a ‘trade union of dictators’), no one has objected to the coup.

Indeed, following Chiwenga’s word play, African rulers won’t even term it a “coup” since that would lead to Zimbabwe’s automatic suspension from the AU plus new sanctions. Zuma and Mugabe have historically been very close allies but tellingly, neither the South African president nor his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – the former AU chairperson, now campaigning to succeed Jacob as ruling party leader in next month’s internal election – stepped in to defend Mugabe from Chiwenga.

Still, a widespread sentiment evident in urban Zimbabwe is that Zuma and SADC should stay out of the negotiations, given those historic ties – reflected in Zuma’s approval of Grace’s flight from justice after she beat up a Johannesburg model in August – as well as sub-imperialist power regularly wielded by Pretoria in the region. In any event, South Africa’s fiscal crisis is rapidly worsening as further junk ratings are anticipated from credit rating agencies in coming days, so it is far less likely that Zuma can chip in financial aid.

Zuma is also criticised for not halting periodic upsurges of anti-Zimbabwean xenophobic violence in South Africa, which in 2015 led to angry protests at South Africa’s High Commission in Harare. Meanwhile on November 18 at the Zimbabwe Embassy in Pretoria and High Commissions in Johannesburg and Cape Town (as well in London), thousands of protesters marched in solidarity with the Harare and Bulawayo rallies.

Bankruptcy for capitalism – and also for democracy and social justice?


Even before a new aid package is negotiated, two of the most crucial economic decisions a national unity government will face are whether to continue introducing $300 million worth of fast-devaluing Reserve Bank currency into the banking system this month, and whether to pay a massive fine to the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin (formerly of Goldman Sachs), is demanding immediate payment of $385 million – down from an initial $3.8 billion – by the country’s largest bank, Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe, following more than 15,000 separate cases of sanctions busting that date from the Bush and Obama regimes’ punishment of Mugabe for human rights violations.

In a third financial controversy, Biti suspects that his 2013-17 successor, Patrick Chinamasa (who was reshuffled from finance last month, into a new cybersecurity portfolio), fraudulently issued Treasury Bills and backed up the new currency with illegitimate African Export-Import Bank loans. Biti is calling for a full debt audit. To make matters worse, those whose savings were in the Harare stock market discovered that the coup week’s uncertainty left them 18% poorer, as the shares’ capital value fell from $15.1 billion to $12.4 billion, caused mainly by international investor panic selling.

Meanwhile, democratic activists are concerned that what once had been a formidable set of progressive civil society organisations – trade unions, urban community groups, women and youth – back in 1999 when their “Working People’s Convention” launched the MDC, can no longer influence this transition. The last attempt in 2016, a “This Flag” meme launched by local pastor Evan Mawarire, soon ran out of steam.

Moreover, warns Maguwu in a new essay, “Dawn of a New Error!,” the MDC is a “weak, bankrupt and defeated opposition” and if it enters a national unity government, will be co-opted just as from 2009-13. He begs his readers to recall that “Zimbabweans have struggled to replace Mugabe with a popular democratically elected leader since 2000. These efforts have been dashed by the military and the entire security establishment.”

But now that celebratory citizens have given the palace coup far more legitimacy than it deserves, it becomes s even more vital for progressives committed to democracy and social justice to redouble grassroots organising and generate crystal-clear demands, especially in the urban areas. (The rural peasantry suffers far tighter systems of socio-political control by Zanu-PF, so have never been reliable allies.)

If not, says International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe leader Munyaradzi Gwisai, “There’s a potential that the Mnangagwa, MDC elites and the military could be part of a national unity government. Ultimately they are also scared of the working class, because austerity could lead to revolts.”

As Harare activist Tom Gumede wrote me privately on November 17 just before the masses hit the streets,

“This is the time for workers, students and the poor of Zimbabwe to build a formidable unity for the future beyond Mugabe. A fractured population will lose the battles of the future… Another Zimbabwe is Possible. Through mass action the resistant Mugabe will finally be dislodged. His current cover under the Constitution will be blown up when people have spoken beyond the military takeover… Viva People Power and No to Elitist Transitions.” 

Patrick Bond (pbond@mail.ngo.za) is professor of political economy at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Governance in Johannesburg. He is co-editor (with Ana Garcia) of BRICS: An Anti-Capitalist Critique, published by Pluto (London), Haymarket (Chicago), Jacana (Joburg) and Aakar (Delhi).
More articles by:Patrick Bond

Passing: Father of "Fake News" Debunking, Edward S. Herman

'Manufacturing Consent' Co-Author and Media Critic Ed Herman Dead at 92 - His critique of US media still resonates

by Dave Lindorff - This Can't Be Happening  


November 20, 2017 

Edward Samuel Herman, who died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 92 on Nov. 11, didn’t just cry out “fake news” like so many politicians and media pundits do today referring to stories that they object to.

Rather, he explained why so much of the news in the US is and has long been fake and how the seemingly independent system of news organizations go about creating it, almost as if they were operating under the direction of some government of propaganda.

Ed Herman, 1925-2017 RIP

The co-author (actually the primary author, as his non-alphabetical top billing on the cover makes clear) with Noam Chomsky of the ground-breaking 1988 book Manufacturing Consent, Herman, a professor of economics in the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, devoted much of his career to exposing the lies and distortions of the US media.

But unlike most media critics, he took his critiques much deeper, explaining how the US media, especially since the end of World War II, have actually come to function as an unofficial Ministry of Truth, creating a false narrative of the US as a benevolent, democratic promoter and defender of freedom around the world, even as it has actually become the world’s greatest purveyor of violence, defender of tyrants and transgressor of international law. 

I first got to know about Ed through his writings in publications like Lies of Our Times and Extra!, but especially because of Manufacturing Consent, a touchstone of any serious modern media criticism. After reading that book for the first time 15 years after I had begun my career as a journalist, I suddenly understood exactly why I had become alienated from my employers — both in newspapers and television — that I had to quit working as a staff journalist and become a freelancer after just seven years in the business. When I would find my best stories killed by editors, or buried on inside pages, I used to blame it on the gutlessness or idiocy of individual editors, not realizing that it was a systemic problem, bigger than individual editors or even individual news corporations.

Herman and Chomsky explained what I had, before reading their book, never quite realized: that what I was doing in reporting and writing news articles, was not at all the product of the industry I worked for. I was merely a cog in the machine helping them to harvest the real product, which is “eyeballs” — the readers or viewers of my work — which they could then sell to advertisers. Viewed in that light it became clear why our employers wanted us journalistic workers to focus on stories that had drama and controversy but that didn’t make readers feel overly angry or depressed, and they certainly didn’t want stories that offended major advertisers or, god forbid, entire industries or government regulators.

Realizing that, like a scythe or a threshing machine on a farm harvesting wheat, as a staff journalist I was just a tool, a cog, part of a machine on the media plantation harvesting eyeballs, and not a creator and a crusading tribune of truth, was a profound awakening.

It was only years later that I got to know Ed Herman personally as a friend. It was after I had moved to Philadelphia, following six years of living and working as a journalist in China and Hong Kong. Ed contacted me because of Killing Time, a book I’d written investigating the controversial death penalty case of Black Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who had been convicted at a particularly corrupt trial in 1981 of the murder of a white police officer, and sentenced to death. Ed liked the book and had read some of my other articles and invited me to write critical pieces for a blog he had founded and continued to run for a few years called Inkywatch, to critique one of his bêtes noire, the local Philadelphia Inquirer.

He later became an enthusiastic reader and generous supporter of the collectively run alternative news site I founded in 2010, ThisCantBeHappening.net, though I never managed to get him to contribute a piece to our publication. He said he was kept busy enough contributing pieces to Z Magazine.

Ed kept writing his incisive articles right into the last year of his life, even contributing a chapter to the latest edition of Project Censored’s just released Top Censored Stories of 2018. He also, only weeks before his death, contributed an article to Monthly Review titled “Fake News on Russia and Other Official Enemies,” which directly spoke to the current sorry state of US journalism, particularly at in the case of his other bête noire, the New York Times. As he wrote:


“It has been amusing to watch the New York Times and other mainstream media outlets express their dismay over the rise and spread of ‘fake news.’ These publications take it as an obvious truth that what they provide is straightforward, unbiased, fact-based reporting. They do offer such news, but they also provide a steady flow of their own varied forms of fake news, often by disseminating false or misleading information supplied to them by the national security state, other branches of government, and sites of corporate power.”

He added,

“Fake news on Russia is a Times tradition that can be traced back at least as far as the 1917 revolution.”

Ed grew frail in recent years but remained as full of a passion for life as ever. Last year he had my wife Joyce and me come over for lunch at his beautiful if terribly in need of repair house perched on a steep, wooded hillside in Penn Valley, PA, because he wanted Joyce, an early keyboard player, to take a beautiful multi-volume edition of keyboard music by Domenico Scarlatti off his hands, as well as any of his huge classical record collection that she wanted.

It turned out that in addition to being a brilliant economist and an incisive media critic, Ed was an amateur pianist and a lover of classical music —especially keyboard music. He even managed earlier this year to attend a fair portion of a day-long Scarlatti marathon Joyce organized for herself and her harpsichord students as well as other members of the Temple University Boyer School of Music’s keyboard faculty, presented by the Temple Library.

Fortunately he didn’t attempt to drive to the campus himself. (To my horror, Ed kept driving his battered old early ‘90s Lexus into his 90s. When I inquired about the broken front and rear bumpers, the dented doors, the stoved-in headlight and the two precariously broken and dangling side mirrors, he said, dismissively, “Oh, the drivers in Philadelphia are terrible. I keep getting run into.” I got him a replacement right-side mirror from a local scrapyard and urged him to go to his mechanic and have it installed, but I don’t know whether he ever did it. Somehow he managed to avoid for years having some cop stop him and force him to get his treacherous wreck of a vehicle repaired or off the road.)

Ed remained as undaunted by the slings and arrows of his many conservative and liberal critics as he was by the aggressive Philly drivers he claimed were mauling his poor car from left and right, and while some of those liberal critics argued that his and Chomsky’s devastating characterization of US corporate media as propaganda vehicles could be demoralizing to opposition movements, Ed never seemed demoralized himself, but rather appeared energized by the battle. He was also not shy about tackling that taboo topic of Israel and the power of the Israel lobby in the US to influence US media coverage, particularly of Middle East issues, or about clearly characterizing Israeli policy towards Palestinians as “ethnic cleansing.”

Ed’s more than 20 books and his prodigious output of articles and essays on media issues remain as relevant today as when they were written. As Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibi wrote in a short obituary, not only is Ed’s work still relevant today, but “It's a shame he never wrote a sequel” to Manufacturing Consent, which we need “now more than ever.”

All of us concerned about the seemingly terminal decline of the Fourth Estate and of growing pressures on the alternative media from both government and the giant corporations that control the internet will sorely miss this warrior for truth and defender or dissent.

Ed, who lost his first wife of 67 years Mary Woody in 2013, is survived by Christine Abbott, a long-timer friend whom he married in 2015, as well as by a brother.

To date, neither the New York Times nor the Philadelphia Inquirer has published an obituary acknowledging the death of this critic of their work. This though the Inquirer diligently publishes obituaries about every professor of the city’s universities who dies. (The Times did deign to run a very brief notice of Ed’s death sent out by the Associated Press.)

Ed, I’m sure, would not be surprised that his passing appears to be being studiously ignored by these two media outfits.

Trump's Bid for Middle East Peacemaker

Trump's 'ultimate deal' only offers hard choices for Abbas 

by Jonathan Cook - The National AE


November 20, 2017

It is in Donald Trump’s nature to bargain ruthlessly and then cut a quick-and-easy deal, and in this environment, something has to give, writes Jonathan Cook

The long wait appears to be coming to an end on Donald Trump’s “ultimate deal”, one supposedly capable of unlocking the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians.

The United States peace initiative may be unveiled as soon as January, marking the first anniversary of Mr Trump’s arrival in office. Other reports suggest it may be delayed until March. But all seem sure it will be upon us soon.

Neither Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, appear keen to enter another round of fruitless dialogue.

But for good reason, Mr Abbas is far more reticent.

This month, in statements presumably directed at Washington, he insisted he would not agree to a Palestinian state without Gaza, or one restricted to Gaza. He also warned again that, in the absence of a two-state solution, Israel would face demands from Palestinians for equal rights in one state.

Strong-arming Mr Abbas was doubtless the motive behind US threats at the weekend to shut down what is effectively the Palestinians’ embassy in Washington – unless the Palestinian leader agrees to peace talks.

Outrage from Palestinian officials, who referred to the White House move as “extortion”, was an indication of their mounting exasperation.

Given that Mr Abbas is invested exclusively in diplomacy, his resistance to this round of US-led peacemaking should serve as warning enough of how bad a Trump peace is likely to be.

At the weekend Israeli media offered the first substantive clues of what might be on offer.

The headline news is not entirely bad – so long as one ignores the small print. Most significantly, if reports are accurate – and Washington and Israel say they are not – the US is said to be ready to recognise a Palestinian state.

It is a move characterised by the kind of bullishness that is Mr Trump’s trademark and has left Mr Netanyahu anxious. But everything else should reassure him.

The US will apparently agree that no one will be forcibly moved from their home. That may prove the answer to Israel’s prayers. It will finally have US blessing for all its illegal settlements, which have eaten into the bulk of the West Bank, turning it into a patchwork of Palestinian enclaves.

After five decades of Israel clearing most of the Palestinian population from the same area, penning them up in cities, the reported Trump deal will offer no restitution.

The most intractable issue, Jerusalem, will supposedly be kept off the table for now. But reports say Israel will be allowed to continue its military chokehold on the large agricultural spine of the West Bank, the Jordan Valley.

Everything else will be up from grabs – or as a US official noted, its role would be “not to impose anything” on the two parties. In practice, that means the strongest side, Israel, can impose its will by force.

All of this suggests that the “state” the US recognises will be a demilitarised archipelago of mini-Palestines. This Trumpian version of statehood could be the weirdest one ever conceived.

That should not surprise us. At a meeting in London this month to mark 100 years since the signing of the Balfour Declaration, Mr Netanyahu suggested that the Palestinians were an example of a people unsuited to “sovereignty”.

It is striking how little the prospect of a Trump peace process has ruffled the feathers of Israel’s far-right government.

That is in part because they have put in place measures to tie Mr Netanyahu’s hand. He is precluded from negotiating with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, and he would have to refer any peace proposal to a referendum. And if he tests his colleagues’ loyalty too far, they can always bring down the coalition.

But their best hope is that the Trump deal will be so outrageously divorced from reality that Mr Abbas could never sign up to it, even if Washington secures Arab money to pay for its implementation.

The biggest danger may turn out to be the US president himself. Previous efforts at peacemaking, however skewed to Israeli interests, were at least premised on reaching a consensual agreement.

It is in Mr Trump’s nature to bargain ruthlessly and then cut a quick-and-easy deal. In this environment, something has to give.

In one scenario, that could be the US president’s interest in solving the Israel-Palestine issue. But it could also be Mr Abbas and his increasingly authoritarian Palestinian Authority.

Forced into the corner by a bull-headed Trump administration, Mr Abbas may be faced with a hard choice: either he agrees to a series of non-viable statelets under Israel’s thumb, or he steps down and dismantles the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting.

In these circumstances, bringing down the house of cards that is the Palestinian Authority may be the best option, even if it delights many in Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet. It will leave a void, and one that will be filled by a new generation of Palestinians no longer distracted by empty promises of statehood.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Uncredible: When They Stop Believing in Us

When Russians Stopped Believing in the Western Media

by  Oleg Kashin - Meduza


13 November 2017

Journalist Oleg Kashin says American journalism has lost his compatriots' faith.

Earlier this month, leaked documents known as the Paradise Papers revealed new details about how the Russian investor Yuri Milner (right) once poured millions of dollars into Facebook and Twitter, where America’s “Russia investigation” has raised questions about Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. A headline published by The New York Times read “Kremlin Cash Behind Billionaire’s Twitter and Facebook Investments”; a story by the Guardian began, “Two Russian state institutions with close ties to Vladimir Putin funded substantial stakes in Twitter and Facebook”; and according to the LA Times, Milner’s investments “had Kremlin ties.” Russian journalist Oleg Kashin, perhaps best known in the West for surviving a near fatal assault by thugs in November 2010, is a prolific columnist whose work has appeared repeatedly in The New York Times and the Russian edition of Deutsche Welle. On November 8, in an op-ed at the news site Republic, Kashin responded to the Western media’s coverage of Russia over the past year and a half. With permission, Meduza is making Kashin’s text available in English.

The Western press has learned that businesses close to the Kremlin were buying up shares in Facebook and Twitter (obviously, with far-reaching political aims). If it were just five years ago, it doesn’t seem so crazy to assume that this story would have become a sensation in Russia. At the very least, we would have discussed it seriously, like we once discussed Alexander Mamut’s purchase of LiveJournal.

Today, years later, the political significance of that deal seems indisputable: it was precisely under Mamut’s influence that LiveJournal ceased to be a space for free expression, transforming into one of the lesser parts of Mamut’s unequivocally loyalist media empire. When Mamut bought LiveJournal, the only people who worried publicly that the Kremlin would put the blogosphere under its control were Russia’s most alarmist ultra-oppositionists, but clearly it’s these individuals who turned out to be right. Maybe five years ago, this experience could have mattered, if the Western press had then accused the Kremlin of buying up social networks. Five years ago, it would have at least been taken seriously.

Today, that’s not possible.


The problem isn’t even that it’s rather difficult to call Yuri Milner a businessman who’s “close to the Kremlin.” The man has lived in the public eye for many years, and even the most radical conspiracy theorists and investigators trained in finding the secret “pocketbooks” of Russia’s highest-ranking officials have never tied Milner to any of these people.

The problem isn’t that a loan from VTB Bank or the word “Gazprom” in the name of Alisher Usmanov’s “Gazprominvestholding” doesn’t prove in the slightest that this was all some political machination.

The problem isn’t that the Kremlin — between 2009 and 2011, when Milner bought the shares — was in the era of Dmitry Medvedev, who was captivated not only by a “reset” with the United States, but also all sorts of young people’s trends, including various gadgets and social networks. Back then, it wasn’t the Kremlin that influenced Twitter and Facebook, but the other way around: these networks influenced Russia’s young president, who took to social media like an excited teenager, not some Dr. Evil.

And the problem isn’t that Russian businessmen’s investments in Western companies (at least since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea) have been seen not as the Kremlin’s expansion, but — on the contrary — as the desire of the wealthy to invest in places where the Kremlin can’t climb into their pockets. Throughout the 2000s, almost every Russian state official — no one louder than Vladimir Putin — railed against the irresponsibility of the nation’s elites and their unwillingness to invest their money in Russia.

All this is important, of course, but it’s nothing compared to the main reason today’s allegations against Milner can’t be taken seriously. There’s no name for this reason, and it’s considerably hard to articulate the logic without slipping into the same rhetoric that someone like RT chief editor Margarita Simonyan and many others have used to build their careers.


In Russia, we’ve repeated too often and for too long that the Western mainstream media is wrong most of the time




When it comes to this subject, it’s become difficult to find the right words, without becoming a voluntary accomplice to Russia’s propagandists and counter-propagandists. And yet the main problem with the allegations against Milner are his very accusers. Those writing that the Kremlin acted through him are the same outlets and individuals that have already demonstrated convincingly that anything they publish about Russia is, as a general rule, total garbage. The image of Putin’s Russia constructed by Western and, above all, American media outlets over the past 18 months shocks even the most anti-Putin reader in Russia.

Maybe separately all the stories about Russia wouldn’t trigger this response, but it’s different when looking at the coverage combined: Moscow suburban “power broker” Natalia Veselniktskaya playing the part of Putin’s agent, Dr. Rodchenkov’s tales of test tubes for doped urine, singer Emin Agalarov acting in the Kremlin’s interests, and Russian ads on social media — bought for pennies compared to the millions spent by the Clinton and Trump campaigns — that supposedly influenced American voters. There’s more, of course, and in this context the claims that Milner was working on behalf of the Kremlin become a joke by default — where there’s no need to refute or dispute anything, and the only thing Russians can do is laugh.

But what we ought to do is cry, of course, because for Russians everything that’s happening is a serious tragedy that has nothing to do with Yuri Milner or the other stars of Western investigative reporting, much less with America’s political infighting, which strictly speaking isn’t any of our business. Something else that’s important here is that Russia, compared to the United States, is a backward, small, and young country. Our political culture isn’t yet 30 years old, and what we’ve got is trampled by years of authoritarianism. Someday, someone will have to create it again.

It’s the same story with our media culture, which emerged on the ruins of Soviet propaganda. It’s endured so many mutations and external influences that there aren’t any pleasant words to describe its current state. It’s not even a crisis, but something worse, and someone at some point will have to deal with the consequences. Generally speaking, we’re nobody to scold the Americans for what’s happening to them now, and this is just another one of our problems, because what’s happening in the U.S. is important for Russians, too.

You don’t have to watch CNN or read The New York Times to have them constantly in mind as an achievable or unachievable standard in journalistic professionalism, responsibility, and influence. Every time a Russian television network or pro-Kremlin newspaper reaches a new low, it was once commonplace among independent thinkers to say that the Western media giants never allowed themselves such mistakes. Throughout Russian journalism’s post-Soviet history, faith in CNN as a kind of celestial constellation has been an essential factor. The archetype has been necessary as a model to strive toward or turn away from, and it will remain a key element in Russian journalism’s coordinate system.

There’s a thoroughly naive misperception that the people working for propaganda outlets are all hard-nose cynics ready to say that black is white just so they can make their mortgage payments. In fact, anyone who’s talked with just one of these people knows that any cynicism that might guide them is something entirely different: it’s not “I lie because of my mortgage,” but “I say what serves the state’s interests because that’s how it works everywhere — we serve Russia, CNN serves the U.S., and the BBC is itself a state organization.”

Hearing this kind of talk, Russians from the independent media of course always laughed, but time has shown that the ones who said “it’s like this everywhere” were right. At the very least, over the past year and a half, the Western press with its highest standards has gifted us too many outrageous stories to ignore. When Russian network television aired a story about the public crucifixion of a three-year-old boy by Ukrainian soldiers, it was clearly nonsense from the start and no one actually believed it.

When it comes to the wild conspiracy theories about Russia now circulated by the Western media, Russians are also able to grasp that it’s all drivel, but their understanding has no effect on the irreproachable reputation of these newspapers and TV stations, whose standing remains unchanged no matter how many Russians stop believing in them. And we truly have no right, moral or otherwise, to criticize the Western news giants. We are too small, provincial, and backward, and this isn’t a case where someone needs to hand back a corrected celestial map. Instead, it’s probably time to treat the map like a fake, and to realize that nobody really knows what the hell is up there in the sky.

All this sounds a bit like “there are no hipsters in America,” but if they’re really aren’t any hipsters then it would be important news for us. The Western press has already reported so many inaccurate, exaggerated, knowingly untrue things about Russia that today the Russian reader who seriously starts talking about Yuri Milner as an agent of the Kremlin is either a very naive person or a cynical hypocrite. Until now, this characterization has applied mainly to the audience of Russia’s state television networks. Today, it also works with those who look for truth about Russia in the Western media. It’s probably still too soon to call this a tectonic shift, but it’s nonetheless important to note this potentially important factor: the crisis of faith (the faith of us provincial Russians) in the Western news media will inevitably affect Russia’s public atmosphere.
 

Read the original Russian text of Oleg Kashin’s op-ed at Republic.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock.

Canada the Good Judging Badly: Sanctioning "Sins" to Curry the Devil's Favour

The world's saints and sinners, according to Canada

by Andrew Mitrovica - Al Jazeera


November 17, 2017

Venezuela's government is bad, but the US and Israel's are good. Why?

Turns out, the Pope isn't alone in the saint-anointing business.

Canadian Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, and, by extension, Canada, are also, it appears, ordained not only to pick saints but sinners.

I was reminded of this grating impulse after Freeland unveiled recently - with a burst of self-congratulatory fanfare - sanctions against 52 foreigners Canada deems corrupt and who, apparently, are guilty of human rights abuses too.

Not surprisingly, Canada's swaggering list of sinners is dominated by easy marks: Russians, Venezuelans, and South Sudanese.

Most of the names on Freeland's register of alleged trespassers are largely unknown save for one, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro.

Clearly, Freeland didn't feel compelled to offer a morsel of evidence to back her incendiary claim that Maduro, and scores of other top Venezuelan officials, are mendacious, human rights violators.

She didn't have to. Her allegations were regurgitated as gospel delivered from on high by a fawning Canadian corporate media that instantly abandoned even a hint of scepticism and unanimously demonised a South American head of state by declaring: Guilty on all counts.

Predictably, sympathetic news stories about Freeland's "get tough" gambit referred to Maduro's government as a leftist "regime". That's establishment code for a thuggish, venal bunch of third-world rubes who don't share Canada's ever-so-pristine, first-world commitment to honesty, probity and human rights.

Freeland's revisionism and signature condescension were greeted, almost universally, with broad applause and without so much as a lonely note of censure from Canada's so-called democratic socialists, the New Democratic Party that shares, at least theoretically, Maduro's politics.

Canada continues to unquestionably support Israel at all times, on any matter, at any cost.

Freeland went into chest-thumping action just weeks after the Canadian Parliament unanimously backed the anti-graft "Magnitsky Law", named after the Russian tax lawyer who was beaten to death in a Moscow prison after accusing government apparatchiks of theft.

Canada joined the United States, the UK and Estonia in passing legislation designed to punish the aforementioned sinners by freezing their assets and banning their overseas travel.

"Canada is determined to protect human rights and combat corruption worldwide. Today's announcement sends a clear message that Canada will take action against individuals who have profited from acts of significant corruption or who have been involved in gross violations of human rights," Freeland said after imposing sanctions on Maduro et al.

Curiously, Freeland's most wanted list of international miscreants did not include any senior or not-so-senior Israeli or US officials. In her cynical, myopic geopolitical calculus, Venezuela and Russia are sinners, while Israel and the US are saints.

This, despite the marquee-sized fact that Donald Trump's authoritarian regime was labelled earlier this month as "one of the most corrupt administrations in US history, one of first-class kleptocrats," by Newsweek magazine.

Somehow, Freeland missed Newsweek's damning cover story that catalogued the systemic, rampant malfeasance that is now generally accepted - even among obsequious US mainstream media - to be synonymous with Trump's wretched rule.

Still, Freeland's glaring oversight is particularly puzzling since, in her former life as a journalist, she wrote a much heralded book about the insatiable avarice of plutocrats, aptly titled: "Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich."

Oh well, Freeland's stupefying stupour is, I suppose, a reflection of the institutional expectation that Canada's top diplomat will slavishly curry favour with the well-heeled Western powerbrokers that she once vigorously excoriated.

And Freeland remembers, no doubt, that more than a few of those American plutocrats, turned "statesmen," were intimately implicated in the torture and degradation of countless innocents in secret, state-sanctioned "dark sites," Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
 
Yet, none of the architects of any of those crimes has ever been sanctioned by Canada, or that preening human rights champion, Chrystia Freeland.

Of course, Freeland's recurring bout of amnesia and blindness extends, as well, to Israel's long, exhaustively documented history of egregious human rights offences.

Like her boss, Justin Trudeau, Freeland was mute while the Israeli military enthusiastically engaged in what amounted to a murderous turkey shoot in Gaza in 2014 at the explicit behest of its political masters who issued their grotesque orders comfortably from Tel Aviv.

The Israeli invasion's final, inhumane death toll included more than 500 Palestinian children, while thousands more remain permanently scarred physically and psychologically.

Through it all, Trudeau and Freeland (then, in opposition) sided rhetorically with former Prime Minister Stephen Harper who, in words and deeds, encouraged Benjamin Netanyahu to please proceed.

Three years later, and now wielding authority over Canada's foreign policy, Trudeau and Freeland remain fused to Harper's ideological hip vis-à-vis Israel. This has meant that Canada continues to unquestionably support Israel at all times, on any matter, at any cost.

This has also meant Trudeau and Freeland either have not read or dismissed outright the scathing opening paragraphs of a June 4, 2017, Human Rights Watch press release detailing the watchdog's core findings of Israel's 50-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip which read:

"Fifty years after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it controls these areas through repression, institutionalized discrimination, and systematic abuses of the Palestinian population's rights…

"At least five categories of major violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law characterize the occupation: unlawful killings; forced displacement; abusive detention; the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions on movement; and the development of settlements, along with the accompanying discriminatory policies that disadvantage Palestinians."

That was six months ago. Trudeau and Freeland's response: Silence.

But on November 10, Freeland tweeted the following message to her followers and Canadians:

"As we mark the memory of Kristallnacht in 1938, a night of anti-Semitic violence and a turning point in the vicious persecution of Jews, let it be a reminder that we must stand up against prejudice and hate, wherever it appears."

Sure you will, Ms Freeland. Sure you will. 


Andrew Mitrovica is an award-winning investigative reporter and journalism instructor. He writes for a variety of Canadian news organisations and publications, including The Globe and Mail, where he was a member of the national newspaper's investigative unit.

"J’accuse!" Stupor-Struck the Mob Seeks Scapegoats

J’accuse! The Demand For Injustice

by Christopher Black - NEO


November 17, 2017

J’accuse! The phrase of Emil Zola, that shook a nation because it demanded justice for a falsely accused man, the phrase that will ever be remembered, as will the man who wrote it, is a phrase now used to condemn people, without trial, without fair hearing, without right of reply, without justice.

The phrase “I accuse” is now not a demand for justice but is considered proof of any accusation that follows it; it has become a demand for injustice.

“I accuse X of this.” “A accuses B of that.”

The Media (suitably horrified) calls out, “Horror! Horror! The social fabric is coming apart. Hang him. Hang her. Hang them all!”

The consumers of this information, the mass of the people who have been robbed of their reason and can react only as unthinking automatons, dutifully react,

“Did you hear that? She accuses him of this! Terrible. Terrible. He should be shot and quartered.”

“Did you hear that the Russians did that? My God, they should be taught who’s who.”
“Did you hear that John Doe did this to ….? He has to be punished. Ruin him. Throw him in jail!” as shouts of derision resound.

The lynch mob is back, this time tapping out their calls for punishment on the keys of their computers and the social media. The rumour mills are working overtime. The vigilantes are out everywhere, the watch committees, the informers, the armchair lawyers and judges, the salivating scavengers of other peoples’ lives who lust for revenge, for someone, somewhere, to be punished, for something.

It can be an accusation of a sexual nature from decades before. It can be a political accusation from the present. It can be a campaign of rumours spread through the media, never confirmed, but spread with great indignation accompanied by looks of disgust for anyone who asks, “But is it true? But is there proof? What really happened? How do you know this? If true, what was the context? What is to be learned? ” Such people are themselves accused of defending the crime the accused is accused of. And so it goes. Prejudice breeds hatred. Hatred calls for blood. And we call ourselves humane, civilised, reasoned, and good.

The first to join the mob, to call for the immediate revenge are those that consider themselves the most righteous, the most liberal, the most dedicated to justice and “human rights.” But it’s all just the fashion of the time. They pretend to believe in right and good because they have no real conception of what right is, what the good is. An eye for an eye, a tooth of a tooth is their cry and to hell with fairness, with trials. If the accused denies the charge, hang him quicker and higher. If anyone defends their right to be heard, hang them too.

Bertolt Brecht was right. Mac the Knife is back in town and ready to stab and cut and crucify at a whim.

This seems to be a heightened phenomenon in the USA. The past few weeks we have seen allegations of a sexual nature thrown at a series of Hollywood figures. This is nothing new in Hollywood. The scandal sheets have been full of this since the silent film era. But the hunt today seems even more vicious than in the past and reflects the toxic political atmosphere in the entire western world but which is at its most toxic in the United States.

For the past year we have seen absurd accusations made against political figures in the US about connections to Russia. We have seen world leaders standing in the way of US interests accused of war crimes. Assad used barrel bombs, and gas on civilians. Proof to the contrary be damned. Maduro is starving his people. No evidence needed. Kim Il Sung is going to kill us all. War is prepared. One accusation after another made so rapidly our heads are kept spinning trying to keep track of it all.

Entire pages of newspapers and hours of television news time are devoted to things that never happened. Investigative committees pretend to investigate. News anchors pretend to be alarmed. Accusations have been made. If an accusation is made, it must be true. That is the way it is now, the fascist way, to spread suspicion everywhere.

The acceptance without question of the accusations against Kevin Spacey, as one famous example, and the denial of his right to be heard, the acceptance of the destruction of his life and career without trial, without any recourse open to him makes it all the easier to convince the population that the accusations against Russia deserve action, against Syria, against Venezuela, Korea, Iran, against Milosevic, Ghaddafi, Ndindiliyimana, Gbagbo, and the rest of the political victims of these witch hunts. It sets the tone for the whole society.

Facts are not important. The story is what is important. Agitate the people and keep them agitated against someone. Pick a target, a scapegoat. Get the people angry with them, just so they forget to ask the bigger questions. Who is making their lives miserable? Who is destroying the economy, the ecological systems the climate? Who is murdering civilians en masse in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan? Who has robbed us of what little democracy we had?

And of course someone like Spacey is an easy target, famous, rich and popular. The people love nothing better than to see the mighty fall. Give them one or two or three. Throw them some bones so long as it keeps them distracted. Besides Spacey deserves it. He was just too good at showing us what criminals the US presidents have become in his role in House of Cards.

Even Martin Luther King has once again been smeared on the BBC and CNN, which have repeated, as news, through the JFK Assassination files, the slanders made against him by the US secret services when he was alive.

As Zola wrote: “The nation is struck into a stupor, whispering of terrible facts, monstrous treasons which make History indignant; naturally the nation is so inclined. There is no punishment too severe, it will applaud public degradation, it will want the culprit to remain on his rock of infamy, devoured by remorse.”

So every time you hear of an accusation and think about taking part in it by repeating it on Facebook or elsewhere in some misguided sense of righteousness and self-vindication of your humanity think about the injustice you are serving. Every time you call for some one’s head based on some one’s mere say so and feel all cozy in your smugness, consider what Emil Zola would think of you.

For it is a crime of the corrupted press to destroy people without the means to defend themselves. It is a crime that injustice is celebrated by the high and the low, that injustice triumphs while fairness, law and simple probity are spat upon. It is a crime to distort the public opinion, to pervert it to the point of delirium. It is a crime to poison the small and the humble, to exasperate passions of reaction and intolerance, while taking shelter behind the odious mask of injustice masquerading as justice by which they are destroying all sense of decency, of reason, in order to exploit the peoples fear, anger and hatred of the system in which they are forced to live, for the interests of the those that oppress us.

Christopher Black is an international criminal lawyer based in Toronto. He is known for a number of high-profile war crimes cases and recently published his novel “Beneath the Clouds. He writes essays on international law, politics and world events, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

The Credibility Manufacturers (Syria): Phonies Marshal Fools for Endless War

How Syrian-Nuke Evidence Was Faked

by Gareth Porter - Consortium News


November 19, 2017

Exclusive: In joining Israel and the White House selling military intervention in Syria, the CIA and international inspectors hid key evidence that would undermine the case, says Gareth Porter in a second part of a two-part series.

When Yousry Abushady studied the highly unusual May 2008 CIA video on a Syrian nuclear reactor allegedly under construction when Israeli jet destroyed it seven months earlier, the senior specialist on North Korean nuclear reactors on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s staff knew that something was very wrong. Abushady quickly determined the CIA had been seriously misled by Israeli intelligence and immediately informed the two highest officials of the Vienna-based IAEA, Director General Mohamed ElBaradei and Deputy Director for Safeguards, Olli Heinonen, that the CIA’s conclusions were not consistent with the most basic technical requirements for such a reactor.

But it did not take long for Abushady to realize that the top IAEA officials were not interested in drawing on his expertise in regard to the alleged Syrian reactor. In fact, the IAEA cited nonexistent evidence linking the site to a Syrian nuclear program while covering up real evidence that would have clearly refuted such a claim, according to Abushady and other former senior IAEA officials.

When Abudhsady met with Heinonen to discuss his analysis of the CIA’s case in May 2008, Abushady asked to be included on the team for the anticipated inspection of the al-Kibar site because of his unique knowledge of that type reactor.

But Heinonen refused his request, citing an unwritten IAEA rule that inspectors are not allowed to carry out inspections in their countries of origin. Abushady objected, pointing out that he is Egyptian, not Syrian, to which Heinonen responded, “But you are an Arab and a Muslim!” according to Abushady. Heinonen declined a request for his comment on Abushady’s account of the conversation.

A Curious Inspection


In June 2008, an IAEA team consisting of Heinonen and two other inspectors took environmental samples at the al-Kibar site. In November 2008, the IAEA issued a report saying that laboratory analysis of a number of natural uranium particles collected at the site “indicates that the uranium is anthropogenic,” meaning that it had been processed by humans.

The implication was clearly that this was a reason to believe that the site had been connected with a nuclear program. But former IAEA officials have raised serious questions about Heinonen’s handling of the physical evidence gathered from the Syrian site as well as his characterization of the evidence in that and other IAEA reports.


 Olli Heinonen, former IAEA inspector

Tariq Rauf who headed the IAEA’s Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office until 2011, has pointed out that one of the IAEA protocols applicable to these environmental samples is that “the results from all three or four labs to have analyzed the sample must match to give a positive or negative finding on the presence and isotopics or uranium and/or plutonium.”

However, in the Syrian case the laboratories to which the samples had been sent had found no evidence of such man-made uranium in the samples they had tested. ElBaradei himself had announced in late September, three months after the samples had originally been taken but weeks before the report was issued, “So far, we have found no indication of any nuclear material.” So the November 2008 IAEA report claiming a positive finding was not consistent with its protocols.

But the samples had been sent to yet another laboratory, which had come up with a positive test result for a sample, which had then touted as evidence that the site had held a nuclear reactor. That in itself is an indication that a fundamental IAEA protocol had been violated in the handling of the samples from Syria.

One of the inspectors involved in the IAEA inspection at al-Kibar later revealed to a fellow IAEA inspector what actually happened in the sample collection there. Former senior IAEA inspector Robert Kelley recalled in an interview that, after the last results of the samples from the al-Kibar inspection had come back from all the laboratories, the inspector, Mongolian national Orlokh Dorjkhaidav, came to see him because he was troubled by the results and wanted to tell someone he trusted.

Negative Results


Dorjkhaidav told Kelley that all the samples taken from the ground in the vicinity of the bombed building had tested negative for man-made uranium and that the only sample that had tested positive had been taken in the toilet of the support building.

Dorjkhaidav later left the IAEA and returned to Mongolia, where he died in December 2015. A video obituary for Dorjkhaidav confirmed his participation in the inspection in Syria. Kelley revealed the former inspector’s account to this writer only after Dorjkhaidav’s death.


David Albright, former weapons inspector and founder 
of the Institute for Science and International Security.

In an e-mail response to a request for his comment on Kelley’s account of the Syrian environmental samples, Heinonen would neither confirm nor deny that the swipe sample described by Dorjkhaidav had been taken inside the support building. But in January 2013, David Albright, Director of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C., who has co-authored several articles with Heinonen, acknowledged in a commentary on his think tank’s website that the al-Kibar uranium particles had been “found in a changing room in a building associated with the reactor.”

Given the dispersal of any nuclear material around the site by the Israeli bombing, if man-made uranium was present at the site, it should not have shown up only inside the support facility but should have been present in the samples taken from the ground outside.

Former IAEA senior inspector Kelley said in an e-mail that a “very likely explanation” for this anomaly is that it was a case of “cross contamination’ from the inspector’s own clothing. Such cross contamination had occurred in IAEA inspections on a number of occasions, according to both Kelley and Rauf.

Kelley, who had been in charge of inspections in Iraq in the early 1990s, recalled that a set of environmental swipes taken from nuclear facilities that the United States had bombed in Iraq had appeared to show that that Iraq had enriched uranium to 90 percent. But it turned out that they had been taken with swipe paper that had been contaminated accidentally by particles from the IAEA laboratory.

But what bothered Abushady the most was that the IAEA report on Syria had remained silent on the crucial fact that none of the sample results had shown any trace of nuclear-grade graphite.

Abushady recalled that when he challenged Heinonen on the absence of any mention of the nuclear graphite issue in the draft report in a Nov. 13, 2008 meeting, Heinonen said the inspectors had found evidence of graphite but added, “We haven’t confirmed that it was nuclear-grade.”

Abushady retorted, “Do you know what nuclear-grade graphite is? If you found it you would know it immediately.”

Heinonen was invited to comment on Abushady’s account of that meeting for this article but declined to do so.

After learning that the report scheduled to be released in November would be silent on the absence of nuclear graphite, Abushady sent a letter to ElBaradei asking him not to release the report on Syria as it was currently written. Abushady protested the report’s presentation of the environmental sampling results, especially in regard to nuclear-grade graphite.

“In my technical view,” Abushady wrote, “these results are the basis to confirm the contrary, that the site cannot [have been] actually a nuclear reactor.”

But the report was published anyway, and a few days later, ElBaradei’s Special Assistant Graham Andrew responded to Abushady’s message by ordering him to “stop sending e-mails on this subject” and to “respect established lines of responsibility, management and communication.”

A Clear Message


The message was clear: the agency was not interested in his information despite the fact that he knew more about the issue than anyone else in the organization.


Satellite photos of the supposed Syrian nuclear site 
before and after the Israeli airstrike.

At a briefing for Member States on the Syria reactor issue on Feb. 26, 2009, the Egyptian representative to the IAEA confronted Heinonen on the absence of nuclear-grade graphite in the environmental samples. This time, Heinonen had a different explanation for the failure to find any such graphite. He responded that it was “not known whether the graphite was in the building at the time of the destruction,” according to the diplomatic cable reporting on the briefing that was later released by WikiLeaks.

But that response, too, was disingenuous, according to Abushady. “Graphite is a structural part of the reactor core in the gas-cooled reactor,” he explained. “It is not something you add at the end.”

The IAEA remained silent on the question of graphite in nine more reports issued over more than two years. When the IAEA finally mentioned the issue for the first time officially in a May 2011 report, it claimed that the graphite particles were “too small to permit an analysis of the purity compared to that normally required for use in a reactor.”

But American nuclear engineer Behrad Nakhai, who worked at Oak National Laboratories for many years, said an interview that the laboratories definitely have the ability to determine whether the particles were nuclear grade or not, so the claim “doesn’t make sense.”

News outlets have never reported on the IAEA’s role in helping to cover up the false CIA claim of a North-Korean-style nuclear reactor in the desert by a misleading portrayal of the physical evidence collected in Syria and suppressing the evidence that would have made that role clear.

Heinonen, who was directly responsible for the IAEA’s role in the Syria cover-up, left the IAEA in August 2010 and within a month was given a position at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He has continued to take positions on the Iran nuclear negotiations that were indistinguishable from those of the Netanyahu government.

And he is now senior adviser on science and non-proliferation at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank whose positions on the Iran nuclear issues have closely followed those of the Likud governments in Israel.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian on U.S. national security policy and the recipient of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. His most recent book is Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, published in 2014. [For a previous segment of this two-part series, see https://consortiumnews.com/2017/11/18/israels-ploy-selling-a-syrian-nuke-strike/]

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sucking Canada into a World War III Vortex

Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?

by Murray Dobbin - CounterPunch


November 17, 2017 

The world is now at the mercy of a coalition of three of the most dangerous autocrats on the planet: Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s new absolute ruler Mohammad bin Salman a name that will become increasingly familiar as the months go by. These three ‘leaders’ are now collaborating in an incredibly reckless plan to permanently reshape the Middle East.

The final outcome will unfold no matter what Canada does. But unless the Trudeau government gets a grip on reality Canada will be drawn into this potential catastrophe by virtue of foreign policy positions it has already taken.

Geopolitics is getting incredibly complex and there is little evidence that the Liberal government has a clue how to navigate through the dangers. The problem is that despite all the hype about “being back” Canada’s foreign policy under Trudeau and Freeland is still characterized by cynicism and ill-considered trade-offs on files within the broad spectrum of foreign affairs – including investor rights agreements like NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Obviously a certain amount of realpolitik is inevitable and even necessary to protect Canada’s interests. But even so it begs the question of how Canada’s interests are defined. How much of the store is Trudeau willing to give away to buy favour with the US on NAFTA, especially when it seems concessions like putting our troops on Russia’s border has gotten us nothing in return? With Trump and his redesigned US Empire, there is no quid pro quo.

The embarrassing “me too” gang up on Russia is bad enough. The Canadian version of the US Magnitzky Act is a pathetic effort to please the US (EU allies in NATO are increasingly uneasy about Russophobia given their own particular national interests). And Putin can hurt Canada and Canadian businesses more than we can hurt Putin and his oligarchs – and he has promised to do so.

And the Middle East is a whole other question. Canada’s past sins like torture in Afghanistan, and the destruction of Libya can be dismissed by the government as old news. Canada has thankfully avoided getting re-involved in the chaos that is Middle East politics. But with the coming to (absolute) power of the new and reckless Saudi ruler Mohammad bin Salman Middle East policy is suddenly fraught with danger and risk for any country allied with the US or with any claim to interests in the region.

The new Saudi prince (who has arrested everyone who might challenge his authority) is encouraging Israel to invade Lebanon, urging the Israelis to do what they want to do anyway: deal a crippling blow to Israel’s most effective foe, Hezbollah. Hezbollah basically governs Lebanon and has its own well-armed force. Funded by and allied to Iran, it fought the Israeli army to a standstill in 2006. It is this fact that prompted the Saudi’s to force the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri: he refused or was unable to curb Hezbollah’s political power. The Saudi government upped the ante saying the Lebanese government would “be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia.” It ordered all Saudi citizens to leave Lebanon.

For the Saudi’s the ultimate target is Shiite Iran and its significant influence in the Middle East and presence, directly or indirectly, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. When bin Salman declared that a rocket attack on Riyadh by Yemeni rebels could be seen as an act of war by Iran, the US backed him up, implicitly giving the Saudi dictator a green light for more aggressive action.

Given the political situations in the he US, Israel and SaudiArabia all sorts of sorts case scenarios are now being speculated about.

With the potential for a rapid escalation of military confrontations, to the point of risking a confrontation between the US and Russia. The first would be an Israeli assault on Hezbollah and Lebanon’s infrastructure. That could be followed by a Saudi-led invasion of Qatar and the removal of its government. While less likely, another confrontation could see the US launch a campaign to seize Syrian territory reclaimed by the Assad regime, on behalf of Israel and risking a direct confrontation with Russia.

All of this could be a prelude to an attack on Iran itself and possibly the use by Israel of nuclear weapons. The rich potential for unintended consequences includes world war three.

If all of this sounds fantastical consider who currently runs Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia. Netanyahu is mired in his own corruption scandal and needs a distracting war to survive. Bin Salman has already demonstrated a stunning recklessness and ruthlessness: the brutal bombing of Yemen (and now a blockade of food and medicine), the blockade of Qatar, and the house arrest of another country’s prime minister. As for Trump (and some of his generals) he seems to genuinely believe that the US is invulnerable, a truly suicidal assumption. All three heads of state adhere to the doctrine of exceptionalism: the normal rules of international behaviour don’t apply to them.

If one or more of these scenarios begins to play out just what will Trudeau do? His government’s policy towards Israel is driven by political cowardice rooted in fear of the Israel lobby. Towards Saudi Arabia, it is driven by sales of armoured personnel carriers and a blind eye towards gross human rights violations. With respect to the US it is characterized by ad hoc efforts to predict the unpredicatable.

If any of this war scenario plays out Trudeau will suddenly be pressed to come up with principled positions in response and not just political opportunism and calculated ambiguity. And he should take note: Canadians’ attitudes towards Israel have turned very critical with 46 percent expressing negative views and just 28 percent positive views of that country. As for our proposed $15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, 64 percent disapprove.

While these progressive attitudes lie relatively dormant at the moment another slaughter of innocents will bring them to life. Is the Prime Minister prepared?
  
MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years. He can be reached at murraydobbin@shaw.ca
More articles by:Murray Dobbin

Friday, November 17, 2017

Harvey's People: The Israel-Hollywood Nexus

Harvey Weinstein Hired Israeli Spies to Silence His Victims 

by TRNN


November 17, 2017

The disgraced film producer contracted the firm Israeli firm Black Cube to spy on his accusers. Journalist and best-selling author Max Blumenthal says that's no surprise given Israel's role as a "leading expert on repression".



Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. His most recent book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. His other book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller.