Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ukraine's Fascist Media Future in Pictures

Ukrainian Nationalists Block RT: YouTube Video of Brutal Assault on TV Chief

by RT

A Ukrainian parliamentarian from the nationalist Svoboda party has removed RT’s YouTube video of another Svoboda deputy physically abusing the head of a national television network in Kiev – saying it violates copyright.

Recorded on Wednesday, the footage shows ponytailed Igor Miroshnichenko and a coterie of other nationalist MPs bursting into the office of Aleksandr Panteleymonov, the acting head of the National Television Company of Ukraine, the country’s state broadcaster.

Miroshnichenko starts off by accusing the beleaguered Panteleymonov, who was appointed a month ago, of putting out pro-Russian coverage of recent events in Crimea. He then violently plunges him into his chair, and forces Panteleymonov to write an impromptu resignation.

The video, shot and uploaded by MP Aleksandr Aronec, immediately went viral, with hundreds of thousands of views on various websites. RT’s version, with English subtitles, accumulated more than 30 thousand views.

But now Aronec has struck it down on legal grounds.

“We know RT’s massive popularity on YouTube will always ensure we’re targeted in these situations. We will contest the rights call under fair use and believe the subtitling, context and news value of the video qualify it as important factual content. We’re proud we broadcasted another critical element of this, unfortunately very brutal, news story,” said Ivor Crotty, RT’s Head of Social Media.

It appears as if RT, which broadcasts to an international audience, was singled out - the video continues to be available on Aronec’s own Ustream channel - in a belated attempt at damage limitation.

“It’s disappointing and not unexpected. Video content from Ukraine has even dwarfed output from Syria and for an actual participant in the violent video to issue a ‘rights’ call is frustrating for publishers. That the video of the Svoboda MP’s brutality sparked anger and protests in Kiev may explain the attempt to censor it,” said Crotty.

Miroshnichenko, Aronec and others involved in the debacle were censured in the Rada, where fellow deputies accused them of spoiling the image of Ukraine abroad.

They also came under fire from more moderate politicians, including interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenuk, and Vitaly Klitschko, who said that those involved must surrender their seats.

The General Prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the incident, after public pickets in Kiev.

Miroshnichenko himself has said he regrets how he handled the situation, but not the nature of his complaints, and has urged the public and media to “close the page on the incident.”

Keeping Abu Ghraib Culture Going: Iraq's Women and the Fruit of Liberation

Preserving the Abu Ghraib Culture: The Harrowing Abuse of Iraqi Women

by Ramzy Baroud - PalestineChronicle

When they first put the electricity on me, I gasped; my body went rigid and the bag came off my head,” Israa Salah, a detained Iraqi woman told Human Rights Watch (HRW) in her heartrending testimony.

Israa (not her real name) was arrested by US and Iraqi forces in 2010. She was tortured to the point of confessing to terrorist charges she didn’t commit. According to HRW’s “No One is Safe” - a 105-page report released on Feb 06 – there are thousands of Iraqi women in jail being subjected to similar practices, held with no charges, beaten and raped.

In Israa’s case, she received most degrading, but typical treatment. She was handcuffed, pushed down on her knees, and kicked in the face until her jaw broke. And when she refused to sign the confession, it was then that electric wires were attached to her handcuffs.

Welcome to the ‘liberated’ Iraq, a budding ‘democracy’ which American officials rarely cease celebrating. There is no denial that the brutal policies of the Iraqi government under Nouri al-Maliki is a continuation of the same policies of the US military administration, which ruled over Iraq from 2003 until the departure of US troops in Dec. 2011.

It is as if the torturers have read from the same handbook. In fact, they did.

The torture and degrading treatment of Iraqi prisoners – men and women – in Abu Ghraib prison was not an isolated incident carried out by a few ‘bad apples.’ Only the naïve would buy into the ‘bad apples’ theory, and not because of the sheer horrendousness and frequency of the abuse. Since the Abu Ghraib revelations early in 2004, many such stories emerged, backed by damning evidence, not only throughout Iraq, but in Afghanistan as well. The crimes were not only committed by the Americans, but the British as well, followed by the Iraqis, who were chosen to continue with the mission of ‘democratization.’

“No One is Safe” presented some of the most harrowing evidence of the abuse of women by Iraq’s criminal ‘justice system’. The phenomenon of kidnapping, torturing, raping and executing women is so widespread that it seems shocking even by the standards of the country’s poor human rights record of the past. If such a reality were to exist in a different political context, the global outrage would have been so profound. Some in the ‘liberal’ western media, supposedly compelled by women’s rights would have called for some measure of humanitarian intervention, war even. But in the case of today’s Iraq, the HRW report is likely to receive bits of coverage where the issue is significantly deluded, and eventually forgotten.

In fact, the discussion of the abuse of thousands of women – let alone tens of thousands of men – has already been discussed in a political vacuum. A buzzword that seems to emerge since the publication of the report is that the abuse confirms the ‘weaknesses’ of the Iraqi judicial system. The challenge then becomes the matter of strengthening a weak system, perhaps through channeling more money, constructing larger facilities, and providing better monitoring and training, likely carried out by US-led training of staff.

Mostly absent are the voices of women’s groups, intellectuals and feminists who seem to be constantly distressed by the traditional marriage practices in Yemen, for example, or the covering up of women’s faces in Afghanistan. There is little, if any, uproar and outrage, when brown women suffer at the hands of western men and women, or their cronies, as is the situation in Iraq.

If the HRW report remerged in complete isolation from an equally harrowing political context created by the US invasion of Iraq, one could grudgingly excuse the relative silence. But it isn’t the case. The Abu Ghraib culture continues to be the very tactic by which Iraqis have been governed since March 2003.

Years after the investigation of the Abu Ghraib abuses had begun, Major General Antonio Taguba, who had conducted the inquiry, revealed that there were more than 2,000 unpublished photos documenting further abuse. “One picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee,” reported the Telegraph newspaper on May 2009.

Maj Gen Taguba had then supported Obama’s decision not to publish the photos, not out of any moralistic reasoning, but simply because “the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan.” Of course, the British, the builders of security in Afghanistan, wrote their own history of infamy through an abuse campaign that never ceased since they had set foot in Afghanistan.

Considering the charged political atmosphere in Iraq, the latest reported abuses are of course placed in their own unique context. Most of the abused women are Sunni, and their freedom has been a major rallying cry for rebelling Sunni provinces in central and western Iraq. In Arab culture, dishonoring one through occupation and the robbing of one’s land comes second to dishonoring women. The humiliation that millions of Iraqi Sunni feel cannot be explained by words, and militancy is an unsurprising response to the government’s unrelenting policies of dehumanization, discrimination and violence.

While post-US invasion Iraq was not a heaven for democracy and human rights, the ‘new Iraq’ has solidified a culture of impunity that holds nothing sacred. In fact, dishonoring entire societies has been a tactic in al-Maliki’s dirty war. Many women were “rounded up for alleged terrorist activities by male family members,” reported the Associated Press, citing the HRW report.

“Iraqi security forces and officials act as if brutally abusing women will make the country safer,” said Joe Stork, deputy MENA director at HRW. It was the same logic that determined that through ‘shock and awe’ Iraqis could be forced into submission.

Neither theory proved accurate. The war and rebellion in Iraq will continue as long as those holding the key to that massive Iraqi prison understand that human rights must be respected as a precondition to a lasting peace.

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant and the editor of His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

Neocon Plot Uses Ukraine Pawn to Get to Putin and the Ayatollahs

Neocons’ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit

by Robert Parry  - ConsortiumNews

You might think that policymakers with so many bloody fiascos on their résumés as the U.S. neocons, including the catastrophic Iraq War, would admit their incompetence and return home to sell insurance or maybe work in a fast-food restaurant. Anything but directing the geopolitical decisions of the world’s leading superpower.

But Official Washington’s neocons are nothing if not relentless and resilient. They are also well-funded and well-connected. So they won’t do the honorable thing and disappear. They keep hatching new schemes and strategies to keep the world stirred up and to keep their vision of world domination – and particularly “regime change” in the Middle East – alive.

Now, the neocons have stoked a confrontation over Ukraine, involving two nuclear-armed states, the United States and Russia. But – even if nuclear weapons don’t come into play – the neocons have succeeded in estranging U.S. President Barack Obama from Russian President Vladimir Putin and sabotaging the pair’s crucial cooperation on Iran and Syria, which may have been the point all along.

Though the Ukraine crisis has roots going back decades, the chronology of the recent uprising — and the neocon interest in it – meshes neatly with neocon fury over Obama and Putin working together to avert a U.S. military strike against Syria last summer and then brokering an interim nuclear agreement with Iran last fall that effectively took a U.S. bombing campaign against Iran off the table.

With those two top Israeli priorities – U.S. military attacks on Syria and Iran – sidetracked, the American neocons began activating their influential media and political networks to counteract the Obama-Putin teamwork. The neocon wedge to splinter Obama away from Putin was driven into Ukraine.

Operating out of neocon enclaves in the U.S. State Department and at U.S.-funded non-governmental organizations, led by the National Endowment for Democracy, neocon operatives targeted Ukraine even before the recent political unrest began shaking apart the country’s fragile ethnic and ideological cohesion.

Last September, as the prospects for a U.S. military strike against Syria were fading thanks to Putin, NED president Carl Gershman, who is something of a neocon paymaster controlling more than $100 million in congressionally approved funding each year, took to the pages of the neocon-flagship Washington Post and wrote that Ukraine was now “the biggest prize.”

But Gershman added that Ukraine was really only an interim step to an even bigger prize, the removal of the strong-willed and independent-minded Putin, who, Gershman added, “may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad [i.e. Ukraine] but within Russia itself.” In other words, the new hope was for “regime change” in Kiev and Moscow.

Putin had made himself a major annoyance in Neocon World, particularly with his diplomacy on Syria that defused a crisis over a Sarin attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. Despite the attack’s mysterious origins – and the absence of any clear evidence proving the Syrian government’s guilt – the U.S. State Department and the U.S. news media rushed to the judgment that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad did it.

Politicians and pundits baited Obama with claims that Assad had brazenly crossed Obama’s “red line” by using chemical weapons and that U.S. “credibility” now demanded military retaliation. A longtime Israeli/neocon goal, “regime change” in Syria, seemed within reach.

But Putin brokered a deal in which Assad agreed to surrender Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal (even as he continued to deny any role in the Sarin attack). The arrangement was a huge letdown for the neocons and Israeli officials who had been drooling over the prospect that a U.S. bombing campaign would bring Assad to his knees and deliver a strategic blow against Iran, Israel’s current chief enemy.

Putin then further offended the neocons and the Israeli government by helping to facilitate an interim nuclear deal with Iran, making another neocon/Israeli priority, a U.S. war against Iran, less likely.

Putting Putin in Play

So, the troublesome Putin had to be put in play. And, NED’s Gershman was quick to note a key Russian vulnerability, neighboring Ukraine, where a democratically elected but corrupt president, Viktor Yanukovych, was struggling with a terrible economy and weighing whether to accept a European aid offer, which came with many austerity strings attached, or work out a more generous deal with Russia.

There was already a strong U.S.-organized political/media apparatus in place for destabilizing Ukraine’s government. Gershman’s NED had 65 projects operating in the country – training “activists,” supporting “journalists” and organizing business groups, according to its latest report. (NED was created in 1983 to do in relative openness what the CIA had long done in secret, nurture pro-U.S. operatives under the umbrella of “promoting democracy.”)

So, when Yanukovych opted for Russia’s more generous $15 billion aid package, the roof fell in on him. In a speech to Ukrainian business leaders last December, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Victoria Nuland, a neocon holdover and the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, reminded the group that the U.S. had invested $5 billion in Ukraine’s “European aspirations.”

Then, urged on by Nuland and neocon Sen. John McCain, protests in the capital of Kiev turned increasingly violent with neo-Nazi militias moving to the fore. Unidentified snipers opened fire on protesters and police, touching off fiery clashes that killed some 80 people (including about a dozen police officers).

On Feb. 21, in a desperate attempt to tamp down the violence, Yanukovych signed an agreement brokered by European countries. He agreed to surrender many of his powers, to hold early elections (so he could be voted out of office), and pull back the police. That last step, however, opened the way for the neo-Nazi militias to overrun government buildings and force Yanukovych to flee for his life.

With these modern-day storm troopers controlling key buildings – and brutalizing Yanukovych supporters – a rump Ukrainian parliament voted, in an extra-constitutional fashion, to remove Yanukovych from office. This coup-installed regime, with far-right parties controlling four ministries including defense, received immediate U.S. and European Union recognition as Ukraine’s “legitimate” government.

As remarkable – and newsworthy – as it was that a government on the European continent included Nazis in the executive branch for the first time since World War II, the U.S. news media performed as it did before the Iraq War and during various other international crises. It essentially presented the neocon-preferred narrative and treated the presence of the neo-Nazis as some kind of urban legend.

Virtually across the board, from Fox News to MSNBC, from the Washington Post to the New York Times, the U.S. press corps fell in line, painting Yanukovych and Putin as the “black-hat” villains and the coup regime as the “white-hat” good guys, which required, of course, whiting out the neo-Nazi “brown shirts.”

Neocon Expediency

Some neocon defenders have challenged my reporting that U.S. neocons played a significant role in the Ukrainian putsch. One argument is that the neocons, who regard the U.S.-Israeli bond as inviolable, would not knowingly collaborate with neo-Nazis given the history of the Holocaust (and indeed the role of Ukrainian Nazi collaborators in extermination campaigns against Poles and Jews).

But the neocons have frequently struck alliances of convenience with some of the most unsavory – and indeed anti-Semitic – forces on earth, dating back to the Reagan administration and its collaboration with Latin American “death squad” regimes, including work with the World Anti-Communist League that included not only neo-Nazis but aging real Nazis.

More recently in Syria, U.S. neocons (and Israeli leaders) are so focused on ousting Assad, an ally of hated Iran, that they have cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s Sunni monarchy (known for its gross anti-Semitism). Israeli officials have even expressed a preference for Saudi-backed Sunni extremists winning in Syria if that is the only way to get rid of Assad and hurt his allies in Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Last September, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post that Israel so wanted Assad out and his Iranian backers weakened, that Israel would accept al-Qaeda operatives taking power in Syria.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said in the interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.”

Oren said that was Israel’s view even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Oren, who was Israel’s point man in dealing with Official Washington’s neocons, is considered very close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reflects his views. For decades, U.S. neocons have supported Netanyahu and his hardline Likud Party, including as strategists on his 1996 campaign for prime minister when neocons such as Richard Perle and Douglas Feith developed the original “regime change” strategy. [For details, see’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

In other words, Israel and its U.S. neocon supporters have been willing to collaborate with extreme right-wing and even anti-Semitic forces if that advances their key geopolitical goals, such as maneuvering the U.S. government into military confrontations with Syria and Iran.

So, while it may be fair to assume that neocons like Nuland and McCain would have preferred that the Ukraine coup had been spearheaded by militants who weren’t neo-Nazis – or, for that matter, that the Syrian rebels were not so dominated by al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists – the neocons (and their Israeli allies) see these tactical collaborations as sometimes necessary to achieve overarching strategic priorities.

And, since their current strategic necessity is to scuttle the fragile negotiations over Syria and Iran, which otherwise might negate the possibility of U.S. military strikes against those two countries, the Putin-Obama collaboration had to go.

By spurring on the violent overthrow of Ukraine’s elected president, the neocons helped touch off a cascade of events – now including Crimea’s secession from Ukraine and its annexation by Russia – that have raised tensions and provoked Western retaliation against Russia. The crisis also has made the continued Obama-Putin teamwork on Syria and Iran extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Like other neocon-engineered schemes, there will surely be much collateral damage in this latest one. For instance, if the tit-for-tat economic retaliations escalate – and Russian gas supplies are disrupted – Europe’s fragile recovery could be tipped back into recession, with harmful consequences for the U.S. economy, too.

There’s also the certainty that congressional war hawks and neocon pundits will press for increased U.S. military spending and aggressive tactics elsewhere in the world to punish Putin, meaning even less money and attention for domestic programs or deficit reduction. Obama’s “nation-building at home” will be forgotten.

But the neocons have long made it clear that their vision for the world – one of America’s “full-spectrum dominance” and “regime change” in Middle Eastern countries opposed to Israel – overrides all other national priorities. And as long as the neocons face no accountability for the havoc that they wreak, they will continue working Washington’s corridors of power, not selling insurance or flipping hamburgers.

[For more of’s exclusive coverage of the Ukraine crisis, see “Mainstream US Media is Lost in Ukraine”; “Corporate Interests Behind Ukraine Putsch”; “Can Obama Speak Strongly for Peace?”; “Neocons Have Weathered the Storm”; “Crimea’s Case for Leaving Ukraine”; “The ‘We-Hate-Putin’ Group Think”; “Putin or Kerry: Who’s Delusional?”; “America’s Staggering Hypocrisy”; “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis”; “Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many?”; “A Shadow US Foreign Policy”; “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine”; “Neocons and the Ukraine Coup.”]

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

Cui Bono: Who Stands to Gain Ukraine's IMF "Bailout"?

Who In Ukraine Will Benefit From An IMF Bailout?


Economists Michael Hudson and Jeffrey Sommers discuss how provisions in an IMF deal like cuts to gas subsidies and pensions will hurt the average Ukrainian citizens and benefit kleptocrats.

Jeffrey Sommers is an associate professor and Senior Fellow of the Institute of World Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is also visiting faculty at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. He is co-editor of the forthcoming book The Contradictions of Austerity. In addition to CounterPunch he also publishes in The Financial Times, The New York Times, The Guardian, TruthOut and regularly appears as an expert on global television.

Michael Hudson is a Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. His two newest books are “The Bubble and Beyond” and “Finance Capitalism and its Discontents,” available on Amazon.

GWOT: Deadly Dance in the Rat's Alley

Rat's Alley: The Deadly Dance of the "War on Terror"

by Chris Floyd - Empire Burlesque

The "Global War on Terror" may have been semantically erased by the propagandists of the Obama Administration, but on the ground, it is still going on -- and still spawning a multititude of malevolent consequences, as Patrick Cockburn details in a powerful series of articles.

Cockburn's look at the historical record doesn't begin with 9/11, of course; the fatal alliance between Washington and the most retrograde and repressive forms of Islam -- which gave rise to the Terror War and its present reality -- goes back several decades. [The first three parts of the series are here, here and here.]

But as Cockburn rightly points out, the ostensible enemy that America's national security state is ostensibly fighting -- violent, hidebound, Sunni extremism -- is now more powerful and deadly than ever ... and has been made so at every turn by the actions of America's national security state.

Cockburn's series is a shattering read. Not much of it is new to anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to reality in the past 10 to 20 years, but it is still a very useful reiteration of what is really going on behind the torrent of blather and bullshit that constitutes our "public debate".

Reading it, one can't help but think of those chilling lines from T.S. Eliot, which have echoed in my head for years as I've watched our bipartisan political (and imperial) elite lead us from disaster to disaster:

I think we are in rat's alley,
where dead men lost their bones.

Read it and weep -- if you have any tears left in you.

Ukraine Coupsters "Win" EU/IMF Eternal Poverty Package

EU-Ukraine trade pact paves way for brutal austerity

by Mike Head - WSWS

Amid intensifying US and European Union sanctions and military provocations against Russia, the EU and the Western-backed government in Ukraine yesterday signed a pact that paves the way for brutal austerity measures and free market “reforms.”

The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is based on the deal that former President Viktor Yanukovych’s Ukrainian government rejected, leading to the US- and EU-instigated protests and violence that ousted him last month.

The pact, signed in Brussels, declares that the Ukrainian government must “embark swiftly on an ambitious program of structural reforms” and submit to “an agreement with the [International Monetary Fund].” The plans being drawn up are based on the “Greek model”—the savage cuts imposed on Greece by the IMF and the EU that have produced a massive growth in unemployment and poverty.

For all their claims of a “democratic revolution,” the EU leaders and Ukraine’s unelected regime of former bankers, fascists and oligarchs announced that they would delay finalizing the economic clauses of the EU association pact—and hence unveiling the austerity measures—until after elections in May.

The pact is another step toward realising the underlying objectives of the Ukrainian coup—Ukraine’s integration into the orbit of the Western powers, the transformation of the country into a cheap labour platform for global capitalism and the ratcheting up of economic and strategic pressure on Russia itself.

Ukraine’s hand-picked interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, declared: “Frankly speaking, I don’t care about Russia [in] signing this deal … This deal meets an aspiration of millions of Ukrainians that want to be a part of the European Union.” Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, said it would bring Ukraine closer to a “European way of life.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the event demonstrated “jointly held values.”

What is the “European way of life”? For the working class, not just in Greece but across the continent, it means social misery—drastic cuts in jobs, wages, public services and living conditions—to satisfy the demands of the same banks, financial institutions and corporate giants that were responsible for the economic meltdown that erupted in 2008. In Ukraine, after two decades of capitalist restoration following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there is already widespread poverty and shocking health and social conditions.

What are the “values” invoked by Merkel? They can be judged by the anti-Semitism and ultra-nationalism promoted by her Ukrainian allies. Three days before the ceremony in Brussels, a video on YouTube provided a glimpse of the reign of terror that pro-regime fascist thugs are unleashing in Kiev. Led by Igor Miroshnichenko, a Svoboda party MP notorious for his anti-Semitism, a gang broke into the offices of Ukraine’s state television, NTU, and forced its president to sign a resignation letter.

To further undercut Russia, the EU said it would sign similar association agreements with Georgia and Moldova, two other impoverished territories once part of the Soviet Union.

US President Barack Obama this week formally denied any plans for outright war with Russia over Crimea, after its people voted to join Russia. However, Washington and its European allies are continuing to exploit the crisis they created in Ukraine by targeting the Russian economy and conducting military exercises along Russia’s borders.

As Obama and the European leaders announced new sanctions against Russia, credit ratings agencies Fitch and Standard & Poor’s both revised Russia’s debt rating to negative. The latest US sanctions impose asset freezes and travel bans on 20 individuals, some regarded as close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and prohibit US citizens and companies from doing business with them, as well as a Russian bank, Bank Rossiya.

Visa and MasterCard immediately stopped processing payments for Bank Rossiya. Shares on the Moscow stock exchange, which have lost $70 billion of their value this month, fell sharply after Obama threatened to target major sectors of the economy. Obama said he signed an executive order authorising such measures, even though they could be “disruptive to the global economy.”

After a closed-door summit on Thursday, EU leaders then added a dozen more names to the list of mostly Russian and Crimean officials on whom they have imposed travel bans and asset freezes. They instructed EU officials to draft wider “stage three” economic sanctions. German Chancellor Merkel declared: “We are ready to start stage three if there is further escalation with a view to Ukraine.”

The EU also provocatively imposed restrictions on goods from Crimea that pass through Russia.

“From now on, goods from Crimea have to come through Ukraine or they’re going to get very hefty penalties and tariffs put on them,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said.

Despite concerns over the potential impact of wider sanctions on their corporate interests—such as German auto sales and energy investments in Russia, French arms sales to Moscow and the financial services of the City of London—the European powers are committed to the offensive against Russia.

The US and its NATO partners are continuing to stoke military tensions, with Obama claiming that Russian military exercises inside its western borders carry “dangerous risks of escalation.”

Yesterday, the US ambassador to Poland, Stephen Mull, said the US military was planning large-scale war games in Poland, involving troops from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia).

Also on Friday, the Ukrainian military joined two weeks of multinational military exercises in Bulgaria that involve troops from 12 NATO members and partner nations, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Serbia and Turkey.

A day earlier, the US and NATO announced that annual Rapid Trident war games would proceed in Ukraine this summer. In addition to US and British soldiers, there will be units from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Ukraine.

The Pentagon has already dispatched 12 warplanes and hundreds of troops to Poland. Last week, the US military announced that the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and its group would remain in the Mediterranean Sea.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Shale Peak? Energy Investors Eye Canadian Producers

Time to Look North of the Border

by - Inside Investor with Dan Dicker

2014 has been a tough year to find value in energy. With oil shale still representing the best investment opportunity in the United States but with the massive run that most US E+P's have already had, it's been tough to find value in the space. That's why I'm starting to think that the remaining value in E+P might lie north of the border, in Canadian oil companies.

The model for production and the risks between the US and Canadian companies I follow couldn't be more different, with US firms pursuing unconventional oil from horizontal hydraulic fracturing and Canadian firms generating growth from oil sands development, mostly in the Athabasca. But in the end, value in the E+P space is related to price -- and with Canadian share prices staying steady while US companies soar, oil sands, as burdened as it is, is looking better all the time.

Of course, it is the Keystone pipeline controversy that helps keep the price of shares of Suncor (SU), Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ) and Cenovus (CNE) down. Even if the further development of oil shale isn't much dependent upon Keystone, and other pipelines for transport are available, the overhang of Keystone as the symbol of oil sands remains. A Keystone approval would be the ultimate signal for getting into these names.

But there are other, more fundamental reasons to own Canadian E+P. While the costs of initiation of an oil sands "well" are greater than for a fracked well in West Texas, the costs to keep it running are far lower. And, the life of an oil sands well is generally much longer too. In terms of technology, there is nothing quite as advanced as the new shale stimulation techniques being used in fracked wells in West Texas. But oil sands recovery hasn't stood still either -- it is no longer just ugly strip mining of bitumen in wide open pits. Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage, called SAGD, is an old technology that melts the bitumen underground with hot steam and then separates it from the water that comes back up. But SAGD has moved forward too, using less water and able to recycle more of it. As the environmental disadvantages of oil sands recovery continue to lessen and the costs continue to drop, these Canadian companies are going to be more and more competitive with US E+P's for refinery contracts.

And then there are the local oil markets and their influence. Benchmarked to West Texas Intermediate (WTI), Permian oil (Midland) has been running at a deeper and deeper discount, amounting to more than an $8 discount last week. In contrast, Canadian sour grades (WCS) has been running at less and less of a discount to WTI, coming from as deep a discount of $30 a barrel in 4Q of 2013 to less than $15 last week. This is an enormous turnaround in local crude pricing that makes Canadian sources for crude a whole lot more compelling to Midwest and Eastern Canadian and US refineries than ever before. And I believe that these differentials are more likely to last for a lot longer than most others think.

Of the three benchmark companies I slightly prefer Cenovus (CVE) for their innovation in SAGD processes. None of the three companies I mention will blow you away with their dividends, delivering between 2% - 3.5 %, but they won't leave you in the lurch waiting for share appreciation either.

And in a very tough market, they might be the best opportunity left out there in the energy space.

What the Farm Bill Means for Small Dairy

Has America Stopped Squeezing the Dairy Farmer?

by Jason Velazquez - Pen and Plow Farm

The Farm Bill has passed, despite a pretty rocky year of negotiations. Rather than celebrate that Congress achieved something (anything), however, some in the media are, predictably, focusing on a potential economic hardship caused by a potential rise in the price of a gallon of milk. And based on the comments I’ve read beneath article after article, many Americans either don’t have a clue about what it takes to get a gallon of milk on the store shelves (likely), or they think that somehow the increase in retail milk prices means that dairy farmers are getting filthy rich.

What people should understand is that the Farm Bill that just passed change the way farmers are protected from wild fluctuations in the market in a momentous way. In a sense, the burden of protection has been shifted to the farmers themselves through the creation of insurance policies that farmers will need to purchase. In a sense, it’s the Affordable Dairy Care act, though in truth, the premiums are apparently going to be subsidized in part, and the coverage is not mandatory.

I recommend reading this article in the Journal Citizen and another article by AgWeb if you want to know what’s changed after 70 years of subsidies and price supports. You might be surprised at just how much common sense and the common good trumped crass greed and self-interest.

And that last thing is what’s got my nose out of joint. I’m losing patience with the dolts who cannot swallow an increase of any size in the price of food, attributing it always to farmer greed.

Darwin Clarke, a local dairy man who died in 2012, told me a few years ago that he’d make more money doing just about anything else besides dairy farming. “I need to make $17-$18 dollars per hundred weight just to break even,” he explained to me. “What am I supposed to do now? The co-op is paying me less than $12. I’m paying to farm. That’s what I’m doing.”

It is true that programs out of the USDA helped to make up the difference, but Darwin’s costs were immediate. Caring for his herd couldn’t wait on a government check. Even now, the $23 per hundred weight (farmers are paid per units of one hundred pounds of milk—milk weighs about eight pounds per gallon) doesn’t solve immediate problems of cost.

As David Doak told the Bangor Daily News, “The price isn’t the problem right now, it’s the input,” including not only feed, but fuel costs, veterinary care, and all the other incidentals. The prices of all these inputs have risen disproportionate to the prices farmers receive for there milk.

These inputs have always threatened to break farmers. In December of 1976 farmers were paid $10.30 per hundred weight (CWT), while they had watched their inputs go up over 190% in ten years, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The prices of all agricultural prices since the 1960s are available for online viewing for anyone who wants to see the economic reality faced by the majority of the last two generations of the nation’s farmers.

And this is right about where Dean Pierson comes in. Almost exactly four years before the passage of the Farm Bill, Mr. Pierson walked into his barn with a long rifle and killed 51 of his milking cows with bullets to their heads. Then he sat down in a chair and put a bullet through his own heart. He left alive the heifers and dry cows because, not needing to be milked, they would not suffer in his absence.

Among the explanations that his family and friends provided for his actions was the bitter and simple truth that Dean Pierson came to the desperate conclusion that he was milking himself into the poorhouse.

His coffin was, apparently, transported to the graveyard on a flatbed trailer pulled by his tractor. Heartbreaking in its poetry.

Tragically, Dean Pierson was not alone in his his suffering. Many farmers responded to the last several years of economic hardship the same way.

So we’re all good now, though, right? The price is up to around $23 CWT from $17–$18 last year at this time. Not hardly.

The passage of the Farm Bill with its revolutionary changes to the way dairy farmers will deal with price fluctuations is a great start. But let’s look at the numbers for a minute. Let’s say that a dairy farmer needs to have a gross personal income of $50K / yr. to provide for himself and his family.

Dairy farmers say that they need to make a profit of $8 per CWT. We’ve already mentioned that a gallon of milk weighs about eight pounds, so that puts about 12.5 gals. to the CWT. A typical Holstein gives about 8.75 gals. of milk a day.

Our farmer would need to earn $136.98 per day to meet his $50K goal, which means that he needs to milk 24.5 cows (okay, so one of them didn’t eat her Wheaties that morning) each day. But, wait—a cow is typically dried off two months out of the year, so that means he has to own 30 cows (or 29.4 cows if they will agree to a partial lease option) just to make the $5.60 profit per cow per day.

And he still has to feed those five recuperating cows for two months, And cows eat a lot. A whole lot.

I don’t know exactly how the profit margins are typically calculated for the dairy farmer. I don’t expect that the inputs take into consideration the unexpected breakdown of a tractor that requires an $800 visit from the dealership just to plug into the onboard computer and find out what’s wrong. Or the day of work lost because some feisty heifer knocked the farmer into a gate panel and he had to keep ice on his back for eight hours.

I just know that the margins are atrociously slim when a dairy family breathes a sigh of relief because one cow can earn them $4 a day more than she did last year.

So I hope that more people pay more attention to what’s actually in the Farm Bill. They might actually be proud to pay another $0.50 a gallon at the checkout line. They might realize that they maybe saving more than a farmer’s livelihood—they may be saving a farmer’s life. The farmers I know tend to believe that they are working as hard as they do in the service of their neighbors and their nation.

For the rest of the public to believe that we’re selfish for wanting to live just a little bit above poverty while we toil would indeed be almost to depressing to deal with.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

California's Shrinking Boards: Water and the Future of America's Food

Water, Water Everywhere, or Not 

by Sheila Velazquez -

In California, where most of the food eaten in this country is grown, the painful drought is being addressed in a number of ways. One is that waste treatment water is being turned into drinking water.

As noted in the Mother Jones article “It Takes How Much Water to Grow an Almond?!”, according to 2010 figures, the average daily water use, not including for farming, of one person living in Palm Springs is more than 700 gallons a day.

I’m guessing that while the repurposed toilet water is not going to families in Palm Springs, others drink what they flush–water from which the pesticides, carcinogens and crap have been filtered out.

To be fair, cities with the lowest usage, like San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, offset the Palm Springs numbers, and hopefully people across the state are not flushing as often. Remember, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” While this idea may be abhorrent to some people, a family could save thousands of gallons a year by following this dictum.

Trees are toppling over because their roots cannot hold on to dust, and California livestock operations are selling out and shutting down because there is no grass and the cost of buying hay is prohibitive. Yet, alfalfa grown in California is being pressed and plastic wrapped, then shipped to the Middle East and Asia. It’s a profitable business, but at what cost?

“A hundred billion gallons of water per year is being exported in the form of alfalfa from California,” Arizona College of Law Professor Robert Glennon notes in “California drought: Why farmers are ‘exporting water’ to China” in the “BBC News Magazine.”

The U.S. imports more than twice the quantity of fruits and vegetables than it exports. This has historically been due in part to the fact that farm subsidies seldom reached fruit and vegetable growers, with the benefit largely going to producers of grains, cotton, oil seeds and dairy.

Produce growers go where the money is. While recent improvements in support of more diverse agriculture have been legislated, they are a fraction of what needs to be done to support our farmers and secure our food supply.

The Mother Jones article also notes the water cost of growing individual foods. I was stunned to learn that growing a single walnut requires 4.9 gallons of water. According to Euromonitor International’s “Outlook for US Dried Fruit & Tree Nuts: Consumption & Export Trends,” nearly $5 billion worth of tree nuts were exported from the United States in 2011.

According to Renée Johnson, author of “The U.S. Trade Situation for Fruit and Vegetable Products,” a report published by the Federation of American Scientists, ”A number of factors shaping current competitive market conditions worldwide, and global trade in fruits and vegetables in particular, partially explain the rising fruit and vegetable trade deficit.”

Johnson cites these factors:
  • a relatively open domestic import regime and lower average import tariffs in the United States, with products from most leading suppliers entering the U.S. duty free or at preferential duty rates;
  • increased competition from low-cost or government-subsidized production;
  • continued non-tariff trade barriers to U.S. exports in some countries, such as import and inspection requirements, technical product standards, and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements;
  • opportunities for counter-seasonal supplies, driven in part by increased domestic and year-round demand for fruits and vegetables; and
  • other market factors, such as exchange rate fluctuations and structural changes in the U.S. food industry, as well as increased U.S. overseas investment and diversification in market sourcing by U.S. companies.

More than three gallons of water is required to grow either a head of lettuce or one tomato.

Consider the big picture. Income distribution in this country has become lopsided, and while the incomes of workers globally has risen, those in the United States are stagnant. Many families can’t afford to buy healthy nuts and other foods that command high prices overseas. If it’s cheaper to load vegetables onto a container ship and send them across the Pacific Ocean than it is to truck them to the East Coast, does that mean we should?

Should government subsidies be top-heavy for behemoth companies that grow grains that are turned into energy, but not support farmers who are growing for the American table? Why aren’t American food growers rewarded and encouraged to keep our food, and our water, here at home.

As our trade deficit grows and more and more of our water is exported through the foods and feed we sell to other countries, it will become necessary for farmers in drought-stricken regions to buy their water from more water-rich areas, and even across borders. This is not fair to them or the consumer when conservation and a revision of trade practices might even the playing field, assure a decent income for our farmers and lock down food security for the rest of us.

Sheila Velazquez lives and writes in western Massachusetts. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Sheila, or visit Sheila's website.

The Return of Michelle Bachelet: Chile's Former President Back at Head Post

Michelle Bachelet Returns To Her Old Job, Being President Of Chile

by Brian McAfee

Michelle Bachelet's first term as president of Chile ran from 2006 to 2010. After her term as president ended she was chosen to head "UN Women", a newly created UN entity that promotes gender equality.

Bachelet accepted the presidential sash from Senate President Isabel Allende, the daughter of Chile's late Socialist President Salvador Allende. Both women have had remarkable lives given the hardships both have had to endure.

Michelle Bachelet's father Air Force General Alberto Bachelet was loyal to the idea of democracy and to the Allende presidency and because of this on September 11, 1973, the day of the Pinochet/Nixon Kissinger coup, was jailed. General Bachelet died March 12, 1974 in one of Pinochet's prisons; he died of a heart attack after being tortured.

Michelle Bachelet and her mother were also imprisoned for a short time but fortunately they were able to flee the country spending about a year in Cuba and 15 years in Mexico. The Pinochet/Nixon Kissinger junta killed at least 3,206 Chilean and foreigners living in Chile. Thousands more were imprisoned and tortured because of their political beliefs.

Another interesting milestone for Bachelet was that prior to her winning the presidency she had spent time as head of the Chilean Military. An action taken to ensure that the abuses of the past would never happen again.

2014 brought two firsts; one was Michelle Bachelet serving two terms as president (since the restoration of democracy) and the other is Isabel Allende being Senate President, the first time Chile has had a woman hold the leadership position in the Senate.

Bachelet has put one of her primary goals to be improving Chile's education system also she has said she will increase taxes on corporations and the very wealthy.

She, and other Chileans share in a trend that continuous to cover almost all of South and Central America, Nicolas Maduro-Venezuela, Jose Mujico-Uruguay, Ollanto Humala-Peru, Rafael Correa-Ecuador, Dilma Rousseff-Brazil, Evo Morales -Bolivia, Daniel Ortega- Nicaragua Salvador Sanchez -El Salvador.

Making the Frame for the Newest Next Hitler: Washington Post's Lockstep Putin "Reportage"

WPost’s Anti-Putin ‘Group Think’

by Robert Parry - ConsortiumNews

Not since Feb. 6, 2003, the day after Secretary of State Colin Powell wowed the world with his slam-dunk speech “proving” that Iraq was hiding WMD, has the Washington Post’s editorial section shown this unity of “group think.” On Thursday, the Post presented a solid phalanx of denunciations directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Across the two editorial pages, Post writers and columnists stood, shoulder to shoulder, beating their chests about Putin as evil, mad or both. “A dangerous Russian doctrine,” screamed the lead editorial. “An elemental fear” was the headline of a George F. Will column. “Making Russia pay” was the goal of Sen. Marco Rubio’s opinion article. “Putin’s fantasy world” was explored by editorialist Charles Lane.

The one slightly out-of-step pundit was E.J. Dionne Jr. whose column – ”Can Crimea bring us together?” – agreed on Putin’s dastardly behavior but added the discordant note that most Americans weren’t onboard and didn’t want their government to “get too involved” in the dispute over Ukraine and Crimea.

All the other opinion articles marched in lockstep to the theme that Putin was crazy and delusional. The Post’s lead editorial favorably quoted Secretary of State John Kerry as saying that Putin’s speech about the Ukraine crisis “just didn’t jibe with reality.”

This was the same John Kerry, who earlier in the Ukraine crisis, denounced Putin’s intervention in Crimea by declaring that “you just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.” Kerry, of course, voted in 2002 to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in pursuit of hidden WMD stockpiles that didn’t exist.

However, what now should be painfully clear is that since almost no one in Official Washington paid any serious price for following neocon propaganda into the Iraq War a decade ago, the same patterns continue to assert and reassert themselves in other crises a decade or more later, often executed by the same people.

The Washington Post’s editorial page is run by literally the same people who ran it when all those Post’s opinion leaders were standing with the estimable Colin Powell on Feb. 6, 2003, and asserting the existence of Iraq’s WMD as “flat fact.” Fred Hiatt is still the editorial-page editor and Jackson Diehl is still his deputy.

Putin’s Thoughtful Address

Yet, contrary to the Post’s latest “group think,” Putin delivered a rather remarkable, even insightful speech on Tuesday, explaining Russia’s not unreasonable view of recent history. Recognizing the actual U.S. approach to the world – not the fairy-tale one favored by Kerry and the Post – Putin said:

“Like a mirror, the situation in Ukraine reflects what is going on and what has been happening in the world over the past several decades. After the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet [i.e. the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991], we no longer have stability. Key international institutions are not getting any stronger; on the contrary, in many cases, they are sadly degrading.

“Our western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right.

“They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle ‘If you are not with us, you are against us.’ To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organizations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall.”

Nothing in that key passage of Putin’s speech is crazy. He is stating the reality of the current era, though one could argue that this U.S. aggressive behavior was occurring during the Cold War as well. Really, since World War II, Washington has been in the business of routinely subverting troublesome governments (including overthrowing democratically elected leaders) and invading countries (that for some reason got in Washington’s way).

It is a challenge to list all the examples of U.S. interventions abroad, both in America’s “backyard” (Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Grenada, Haiti, Venezuela, Honduras, etc.) and in far-flung parts of the world (Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Congo, Lebanon, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, etc.). These actions – usually outside international law and in violation of those nations’ sovereignty – have continued into the current century and the current administration.

It’s also true that the United States has behaved harshly toward Russia during much of the post-Cold War era, reneging on an understanding with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that his concessions to President George H.W. Bush regarding German reunification and Eastern Europe would not be exploited by the U.S. government.

Yet, the U.S. government and corporate America moved aggressively against Russia in the post-Soviet era, helping to plunder Russia’s resources and pushing the frontlines of NATO right up to Russia’s borders. For all his autocratic faults, Putin has moved to put a stop to these encroachments against Russian national interests.

Offending the Neocons

Putin also has helped President Barack Obama extricate the United States from dangerous situations in Syria and Iran – while the neocons and Washington Post’s editorialists were pounding the drums for more confrontation and war.

And, therein may lie the problem for Putin. He has become a major impediment to the grand neocon vision of “regime change” across the Middle East in any country considered hostile to Israel. That vision was disrupted by the disaster that the American people confronted in the Iraq War, but the vision remains.

Putin also is an obstacle to the even grander vision of global “full-spectrum dominance,” a concept developed by neocons in the two Bush administrations, the theory that the United States should prevent any geopolitical rival from ever emerging again. [See’s “Bush’s Grim Vision.”]

Thus, Putin must be portrayed as unstable and dangerous even though much of his account of the Ukraine crisis fits with what many on-the-ground reporters observed in real time. Indeed, many of the key facts are not in serious dispute despite the distortions and omissions that have permeated the U.S. mainstream press.

For instance, there’s no factual dispute that Viktor Yanukovych was Ukraine’s democratically elected president. Nor is there an argument about him having agreed to a European-negotiated deal on Feb. 21, which included him surrendering much of his power and moving up elections so he could be voted out of office.

After that agreement – and Yanukovych’s order to pull back the police in the face of violent street demonstrations – it was widely reported that neo-Nazi militias spearheaded the Feb. 22 coup d’etat which forced Yanukovych to flee. And no one is credibly saying Ukraine’s constitutional rules were followed when a rump parliament stripped him of the presidency.

Nor is there any serious doubt that the people of Crimea, which has historically been part of Russia, voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to separate from the coup regime now governing Ukraine. The difference between exit polls and the official results was 93 percent in the exit polls and 96 percent in the final tally.

Only in the neocon-dominated and propaganda-soaked U.S. news media is this factual narrative in dispute – and mostly by ignoring or ridiculing it.

American Hypocrisy

However, when Putin politely takes note of these realities, he is deemed by the Washington Post’s editorialists to be a madman. To hammer that point, the Post turned to one of its longtime neocon writers, Charles Lane, known for his skills at bending reality into whatever shape is needed.

In his column, Lane not only denied the reality of modern American interventionism but cleverly accused Putin of doing what Lane was actually doing, twisting the truth.

“Putin presented a legal and historical argument so tendentious and so logically tangled – so unappealing to anyone but Russian nationalists such as those who packed the Kremlin to applaud him – that it seemed intended less to refute contrary arguments than to bury them under a rhetorical avalanche,” Lane wrote.

Lane then suggested that Putin must be delusional. “The biggest problem with this cover story is that Putin may actually believe it,” Lane wrote.

Lane also was offended that – when Putin later spoke to a crowd in Red Square – he concluded his remarks by saying “Long live Russia!” But why that is so objectionable coming from a Russian politician is hard to fathom. President Obama – and other U.S. politicians – routinely close their remarks with the words, “God bless the United States of America!”

But double standards have always been part of Charles Lane’s repertoire, at least since I knew him as a fellow correspondent for Newsweek in the late 1980s. Before Lane arrived at the magazine, Newsweek had distinguished itself with some quality reporting that belied the Reagan administration’s propaganda themes in Central America.

That, however, upset Newsweek’s executive editor Maynard Parker, who was a strong supporter of U.S. interventionism and sympathized with President Ronald Reagan’s aggressive policies in Central America. So, a shake-up was ordered of Newsweek’s Central America staff.

To give Parker the more supportive coverage he wanted, Lane was brought onboard and dispatched to replace experienced reporters in Central America. Lane soon began getting Newsweek’s field coverage in line with Reagan’s propaganda themes.

But I kept messing up the desired harmony by debunking these stories from Washington. This dynamic was unusual since it’s more typical for reporters in the field to challenge the U.S. government’s propaganda while journalists tied to the insular world of Washington tend to be seduced by access and to endorse the official line.

But the situation at Newsweek was reversed. Lane pushed the propaganda themes that he was fed from the U.S. embassies in Central America and I challenged them with my reporting in Washington. The situation led Lane to seek me out during one of his visits to Washington.

We had lunch at Scholl’s cafeteria near Newsweek’s Washington office on Pennsylvania Avenue. As we sat down, Lane turned to me and, rather defensively, accused me of viewing him as “an embassy boy,” i.e. someone who carried propaganda water for the U.S. embassies.

I was a bit nonplussed since I had never exactly put it that way, but it wasn’t far from what I actually thought. I responded by trying to avoid any pejorative phrasing but stressing my concern that we shouldn’t let the Reagan administration get away with misleading the American people – and Newsweek’s readers.

As it turned out, however, I was on the losing side of that debate. Lane had the support of executive editor Parker, who favored an aggressive application of U.S. power abroad and didn’t like his reporters undermining those efforts. Like some other young journalists of that era, Lane either shared that world view or knew what was needed to build his career.

Lane did succeed in making a profitable career for himself. He scored high-profile gigs as the editor of the neocon New Republic (though his tenure was tarnished by the Stephen Glass fabrication scandal) and as a regular guest on Fox News. He’s also found steady employment as an editorialist for the Washington Post.

Now, Lane and other Post columnists have made it clear who Official Washington’s new villain is and who must be loudly hissed: Vladimir Putin.

[For more of’s exclusive coverage of the Ukraine crisis, see “Neocons’Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit”; “Mainstream US Media is Lost in Ukraine”; “Corporate Interests Behind Ukraine Putsch”; “Can Obama Speak Strongly for Peace?”; “Neocons Have Weathered the Storm”; “Crimea’s Case for Leaving Ukraine”; “The ‘We-Hate-Putin’ Group Think”; “Putin or Kerry: Who’s Delusional?”; “America’s Staggering Hypocrisy”; “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis”; “Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many?”; “A Shadow US Foreign Policy”; “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine”; “Neocons and the Ukraine Coup.”]

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

Roger Waters Answers on Palestine Support Effort

Why I Must Speak Out on Israel, Palestine, and BDS

by Roger Waters (via Salon)

Seventy years ago, my father – 2nd Lt. Eric Fletcher Waters – died in Italy fighting the Nazis. He was a committed pacifist, and a conscientious objector at the start of the war, but as Hitler’s crimes spread across Europe, he swapped the ambulance he had driven through the London blitz for a tin hat and a commission in the Royal Fusiliers and he joined the fight against fascism.

He was killed near Aprilia in the battle for the Anzio Bridgehead on Feb. 18, 1944. My mother – Mary Duncan Waters – spent the rest of her life politically active, striving always to ensure that her children, and everyone else’s children, had no Sword of Damocles in the form of the despised Nazi Creed or any other despicable creed hanging over their heads.

Last month, thanks to the good people of Aprilia and Anzio, I was able to pay tribute to the father I never knew by unveiling a memorial in the town where he died and laying a wreath to honor him, and all the other fallen. Losing my father before I ever knew him and being brought up by a single, working mother who fought tirelessly for equality and justice colored my life in far-reaching ways and has driven all my work. And, at this point in my journey, I like to think that I pay tribute to both my parents each time I speak out in support of any beleaguered people denied the freedom and justice that I believe all of us deserve.

After visiting Israel in 2005 and the West Bank the following year, I was deeply moved and concerned by what I saw, and determined to add my voice to those searching for an equitable and lawful solution to the problem – for both Palestinians and Jews.

Given my upbringing, I really had no choice.

In 2005, Palestinian civil society appealed to people of conscience all over the world to act where governments had failed. They asked us to join their nonviolent movement – for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) – which aims to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, to secure equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to uphold the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the cities and villages they were violently forced out of in 1948 and 1967.

After more than two decades of negotiations, the vulnerable Palestinian population still lives under occupation, while more land is taken, more illegal settlements built, and more Palestinians are imprisoned, injured or killed struggling for the right to live in dignity and peace, to raise their families, to till their land, to aspire to each and every human goal, just like the rest of us. The Palestinians’ prolonged statelessness has made them among the most vulnerable of all peoples, particularly in their diaspora where, as now in Syria, they are subject, as stateless, powerless refugees, to targeted violence, from all sides in that bloody conflict, subject to unimaginable hardship and deprivation and, in many cases, particularly for the vulnerable young, to starvation.

What can we all do to advance the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories, Israel and the diaspora? Well, BDS is a nonviolent, citizen-led movement that is grounded in universal principles of human rights for all people. All people! In consequence, I have determined that the BDS approach is one I can fully support.

I feel honored to stand in solidarity alongside my father and my mother, and alongside my Palestinian brothers and sisters, and so many others of all colors, faiths and circumstances from all over the world – including an ever-increasing number of courageous Jewish Americans and Israelis – who have also answered the call.

In the furor that exists in the U.S. today about BDS and the right and wrong of a cultural boycott of Israel, a quote from one of my heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, has been on my mind. He prophetically said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” The BDS movement is fulfilling its promise and fits Gandhi’s description. Once dismissed by many as a futile strategy that would “never work,” BDS has gained much ground in recent weeks, bringing with it the expected backlash.

Divestment votes at major U.S. universities, European pension funds divesting from Israeli banks that do business with illegal Israeli settlements, and the recent high-profile parting of the ways between actor Scarlett Johansson and the global anti-poverty group Oxfam are symptoms of a growing resistance to the Israeli subjugation of the indigenous people of Palestine, and also, to the decades of occupation of land designated by the U.N. as a future state for the Palestinian people.

And with each new BDS headline, the ferocious reaction from the movement’s critics, with Netanyahu and his AIPAC fulminations in the vanguard, has risen exponentially. I think it’s safe to say BDS is in the “then they fight you” stage.

Some wrongly portray the boycott movement, which is modeled on the boycotts employed against Apartheid South Africa and used in the U.S. civil rights movement, to be an attack on the Israeli people or even on the Jewish people, as a whole. Nothing could be further from the truth. The movement recognizes universal human rights under the law for all people, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or color.

I do not claim to speak on behalf of the BDS movement, yet, as a vocal supporter, and because of my visibility in the music industry, I have become a natural target for those who wish to attack BDS, not by addressing the merits of its claims but, instead, by assigning hateful and racist motivations to BDS supporters like me. It has even been said, cruelly and wrongly, that I am a Nazi and an anti-Semite.

When I remarked in a recent interview on historical parallels, stating that I would not have played Vichy France or Berlin in World War II, it was not my intention to compare the Israelis to Nazis or the Holocaust to the decades-long oppression of the Palestinians. There is no comparison to the Holocaust. Nor did I intend or ever wish to compare the suffering of Jews then with the suffering of Palestinians now. Comparing suffering is a painful, grotesque and diminishing exercise that dishonors the specific memory of all our fallen loved ones.

I believe that the root of all injustice and oppression has always been the same – the dehumanization of the other. It is the obsession with Us and Them that can lead us, regardless of racial or religious identity, into the abyss.

Let us never forget that oppression begets more oppression, and the tree of fear and bigotry bears only bitter fruit. The end of the occupation of Palestine, should we all manage to secure it, will mean freedom for the occupied and the occupiers and freedom from the bitter taste of all those wasted years and lives. And that will be a great gift to the world.

“Ashes and diamonds

Foe and friend

We were all equal

In the end.”

More Roger Waters...

Ukraine: Personal Presidential Profiles and the Press

The 'Professorial President' and the 'Small, Strutting Hard Man'

by David Cromwell and David Edwards

Exactly what is happening in Ukraine is not easy to disentangle from corporate news media reports. The current crisis began last November when the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, withdrew from a cooperation agreement with the European Union to forge closer ties with Russia. As Peter Oborne notes:

'Up to that point, the West had concealed any distaste for Yanukovych. Thereafter, we [sic] started to ally ourselves with the protesters against his regime.'

These included 'a group of violent and unpleasant Right-wing parties'. Three months of violent protests followed in Kiev. On February 22, Yanukovych suddenly fled Kiev and the pro-Western opposition took power. Peter Schwarz and David North write that:

'the United States and Germany instigated the crisis in Ukraine, installing a right-wing nationalist regime completely subservient to Washington and NATO, with the intention of provoking a confrontation with Russia. [...] American warplanes have been dispatched to the Baltics and US warships have entered the Black Sea.'

Within days of the coup, troops loyal to Russia took control of Crimea, the peninsula in the south of Ukraine. Later, on March 6, the Crimean parliament asked Moscow to become part of Russia, which it had been in the past (Crimea was transferred from Russia to Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in 1954).

The motives and actions of the various factions involved, and the rapidity of developments, make 'the story' difficult to follow; certainly as presented by the 'mainstream' media. But one unchanging and reliable factor is that BBC News sticks to a propaganda framework which reflects the values and priorities of the UK government and wider Western power.

For example, there was repeated headline coverage given to the deceptive rhetoric of Foreign Secretary William Hague:

'We have to recognise the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine has been violated, and this cannot be a way to conduct international affairs.'

Or, even more galling, US Secretary of State John Kerry:

'You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.'

But when it came to purported 'analysis' by senior BBC correspondents, such as Bridget Kendall and John Simpson, nobody made any reference to the West's invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. Not a single BBC journalist, as far as we know, pointed out the hypocrisy displayed by Hague and Kerry. And not even just hypocrisy; but something bordering on contempt for public memory and understanding of recent historical events.

For BBC News to be a prime mover in this sham tells us much that we need to know about the BBC's propaganda role.

'Bare-Chested Thuggery'

It is worth recalling Bridget Kendall's 'impartial' assessment of the Iraq war when she looked back on the third anniversary of the invasion:

'There's still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq. Was it justified or a disastrous miscalculation?' (BBC News at Six, March 20, 2006)

That is indicative of what passes for 'balanced' BBC journalism. Kendall's skewed formulation blanked out the view of many informed people, including former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, international lawyers and much of the public, that the Iraq war was an illegal war of aggression, not merely a 'disastrous miscalculation'.

Another salutary reminder of the BBC's default power-friendly mode is to recall the way the broadcaster reported the conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008. It was encapsulated by this introduction by Emily Maitlis to an edition of Newsnight:

'Hello, good evening. The Russians are calling it [a] "peace enforcement operation". It's the kind of Newspeak that would make George Orwell proud.' (BBC2, August 11, 2008)

That may well have been fair comment. But has this kind of sceptical description ever been heard whenever the BBC relays US-UK propaganda about the 'peace enforcement operation' in Afghanistan or Iraq, or anywhere else? Surely no BBC journalist would be bold enough to declare such propagandistic claims 'the kind of Newspeak that would make George Orwell proud.'

Last week on Newsnight, Maitlis once again demonstrated that her intuitive grip of the required propaganda role has not loosened. Chairing a discussion on Ukraine with the former Kremlin adviser Alexander Nekrassov and Liberal Democrat Sir Menzies Campbell, she leaned forward and challenged Nekrassov:

'So there is no moral authority with Putin's actions. It looks like bare-chested thuggery, doesn't it?'

But when has Maitlis ever challenged a former White House adviser along similar lines?

'So there is no moral authority with Obama's actions. It looks like bare-chested thuggery, doesn't it?'

Whatever is going on in Ukraine, it is mandatory for BBC News to portray Russia largely as a threatening, dangerous power in a manner that the broadcaster does not do with the UK, the United States or Nato. Russia is presented as inflexible, adopting an aggressive stance towards the peaceful, reasonable, conciliatory West. Thus, on BBC News at One, presenter Sophie Raworth in the studio turned to world affairs correspondent Richard Galpin in Moscow:

'no sign of Moscow relenting and no sign of the bullish language coming from Moscow softening in any way.' (BBC1, March 3, 2014)

BBC political editor Nick Robinson was not to be outdone. He mocked the 'Russia Today/Putin view of Ukraine - troops greeted with flowers, kisses & selfies'. But he was challenged by followers on Twitter, including Bally Singh, a Labour councillor in Coventry, who noted:

'and then we have the #bbc propaganda #samedifference'

Robinson was, predictably, incredulous that anyone would compare the state-run BBC with state-run Russian media. But the parallels are persistent and longstanding. Ironically, in a piece titled 'Inconvenient truths: Mainstream media's mistakes on Ukraine', RT was able to land a direct blow on BBC News and, in particular, on Nick Robinson's reporting (at 2:44).

Robinson's incredulity intensified when we challenged him over his piece titled, in Cold War fashion, 'Russia – punish or dialogue?' Sticking to the usual pro-Western power perspective, Robinson posed the loaded question:

'What is the right balance between moves to punish Russia and deter her from further aggression and those to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine and encourage dialogue?'

We challenged him via Twitter:

'Imagine this title from rebel without a pause @bbcnickrobinson "US-UK - punish or dialogue?" Wait, sorry, that's "us"'

and we followed up by asking him:

'Nick, "what is the right balance between moves to punish" US-UK and deter them "from further aggression after" Iraq/Libya?'

Robinson's response was evasive:

'Do you prefer Russia Today's coverage?'

We answered:

'Does it really have to be a choice? Can we not aspire beyond the filtered, power-friendly propaganda we see on BBC and RT?'

The BBC's political editor did not answer our question.

John Simpson, the grandly titled BBC world affairs editor, delivered his own peach of a propaganda performance when he told News at Ten viewers:

'In Moscow today, President Putin, who rarely does anything without a purpose behind it, was making a deliberate show of being relaxed and easy when he gave a press conference.' (BBC News at Ten, March 4, 2014)

Those wily Russians! How dare they always have some 'purpose behind' whatever they say and do! Such deviousness, and so unlike 'our' beloved leaders in the West.

Mark Mardell, the BBC's Washington-based North America editor, played his part in defying the definition of 'impartiality' when he proclaimed:

'Putin and Obama are such different characters.

'One is a small, strutting hard man with a passion to re-create an old empire, the other the professorial president - concerned not to repeat the mistakes that happen when America behaves like an empire - ever-hesitant to use the massive brute force his country can muster.'

Ah yes, the 'mistakes that happen' when America struts around the globe! Can Mardell really be trying to sell the myth that the US tries to do good around the world, but just keeps on making 'mistakes'? Is that how to explain the long, tragic list of US wars, bombings and coups since 1945? (See here and here.)

Would a senior BBC editor, like Mardell, ever describe a US president or UK prime minister as a 'strutting hard man'?

We tweeted Mardell, asking him:

'When did you, when would you ever, describe a US president, or a UK prime minister, as a "small, strutting hard man"?'

How many wars and 'interventions' would be required before doing so? How many bombs dropped? How many drone attacks? How many war crimes committed? How many war crimes overlooked when committed by 'our' allies, notably Israel? How many wedding parties obliterated, civilians blown to pieces, homes destroyed and hearts broken?

Mardell ignored our tweet but he responded to a challenge from journalist and activist Ian Sinclair, and described us as 'the people's Soviet of East Acton'. (Mardell, email to Ian Sinclair, March 5, 2014). An intriguing comment that recalled BBC colleague John Sweeney's caricature of us as 'two moonlighting clerks from the White Fish Authority'. (Sweeney, letter to New Statesman, September 22, 2003).

The 'Conspiracy Theory' Phone Call: Let's Pretend It Never Happened

Later last week, a phone discussion was leaked in which Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton discussed the recent Ukrainian protests. According to Paet, people on both sides of the conflict – protesters and police - were killed by snipers hired by leaders of the opposition rather than, as reported at the time, snipers on the government side. Estonia's foreign ministry has confirmed that the recorded telephone call is authentic.

RT suggested that the revelations were a 'game-changer'. But not for the corporate media in the West where, instead of headline news coverage, analysis and follow-up investigations, there has been scant mention. The BBC even buried the revelations inside an online piece about something else, titled 'Top diplomats seek Ukraine solution in Paris talks'. When we conducted an online search on March 10, fully five days after the revelations had appeared, that single article was still the only mention anywhere on the BBC News website.

The Guardian did report the story of the leaked phone call, but pitched it dismissively as a 'conspiracy theory'. As ever, crimes committed by the 'good guys' - by definition, us or 'our' allies - are to be downplayed or ignored. A search of the Lexis newspaper database on March 10 showed that there have been only seven mentions of the leaked phone call in the British national press or their websites. By comparison, prior to this leak, there were around 250 reports that mentioned snipers, with many articles directly attributing the killings to the then pro-Russian Ukrainian government. The contrast is stark, and entirely consistent with the usual propaganda performance of the corporate media. Note that we are not saying that the evidence is 100 per cent unequivocal. Our point is that it is the job of the media to highlight the story and investigate the evidence. But the almost total lack of coverage is telling.

An online Channel 4 News piece reported the leaked phone call in an article, but it also highlighted 'worrying signs that Russia and Russian media are deploying underhand tactics in order to boost the propaganda in Crimea and wider Ukraine.' Again, it is par for the course to highlight 'underhand tactics' and propaganda campaigns conducted by official enemies. But when it comes to Western propaganda campaigns justifying mass slaughter, devastation in places like the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Western support for Israel's crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories, even the 'best' media like Channel 4 News tend to shuffle their feet and emit embarrassed noises, or simply look the other way. Because, quite simply, 'we' don't do propaganda; only 'our' enemies do that.

The general content and tenor of C4 news coverage of Russia and Ukraine were summed up in an email by Ed Murray. Ed is a Media Lens reader who regularly fires off emails to the leading lights of C4 News. They rarely, if ever, deign to respond to him. This one was sent to news presenter Cathy Newman (March 2, 2014):

'Ms Newman,

'In tonight's "Snowmail, concerning Obama's "order" that Putin should not intervene in the Ukraine, you say:

'"That the Russian president has directly flouted that order suggests to some that western divisions and paralysis over Syria have now emboldened Putin over Ukraine."

'The nonchalance with which you talk about the US giving out orders to other sovereign countries and the implied belligerence of Russia in flouting these orders reveals a lot about the attitude of our msm [mainstream media] hacks and the revelation is one of pro-Americanism and demonisation of "official enemies".

'Who'd have thunk it?

'If I may offer a a more accurate translation of your paragraph:

'"Putin isn't the lapdog of America and "some" like arms peddler Sir Malcolm Rifkind and James Jeffrey, deputy national security adviser to George Bush and close associate of war criminals Colin Powell and John Negroponte hate him even more because he stymied the US and Nato in their salivating desire to bomb the crap out of Syria."

'Time you started informing your viewers and stopped treating them with contempt as you foist upon them an endless line of hypocritical, deceptive, neocon warmongerers who should be in jail, not spreading their lies on Channel 4 News.

'Try asking yourself and your guests just what right has the USA, that constant flouter of international law, frequent fomentor of coups against democratically elected governments and instigator of the supreme war crime in Iraq the moral authority to tell anyone, let alone a sovereign country, what to do?

'Ed Murray.'

Channel 4 News did have one welcome exception to its 'mainstream' news coverage on Ukraine when it published a blog piece by its correspondent Alex Thomson. He noted that much of the media coverage of the protests in Kiev had been 'completely one-sided', adding:

'Vladimir Putin is an easy bogeyman. He is everything we want a "Big Bad Russian" to be. In his shirt-removing, animal hunting absurdity he is too easy to pigeon-hole. [...] for now "big bad Russia", "big nasty Putin" and "poor heroic Ukraine" looks a little too simplistic to me.'

But such a refreshingly realistic perspective appeared to be too dangerous for the 'pinko-liberal' Jon Snow-fronted C4 news as broadcast on television. Perhaps Thomson is tolerated on the C4 News team so long as he doesn't become too pushy, and instead restricts his hardest-hitting journalism to the blog.

Other dark, dingy corners of the internet harbouring the few further examples of well-rewarded journalists expressing dissent included the Mail Online, of all places. Peter Hitchens noted:

'What continues to strike me about this whole row is the inability of most people to view Russia as a country, or Russians as people. Russia is portrayed as a bogeyman, and its people as either oppressed or as tools of a new Hitler.

Hitchens added:

'I still hope this will end without tears or blood, but the overblown, piously shocked rhetoric of western politicians and media is making that much harder.'

And indeed the danger of violent conflict tragically remains high. Chris Marsden notes today that:

'Washington spent the weekend ramping up pressure on its allies to intensify the provocations and threats against Russia over Ukraine.'

Marsden adds some of the vital context that is so lacking in 'mainstream' news coverage:

'The US has spent the past two decades seeking to eliminate Ukraine as a strategic buffer between Russia and the West, sponsoring the "Orange Revolution" in 2004 in an ultimately abortive attempt to install a wholly pro-Western government. Washington and its allies have tried to do the same in other former Soviet states by integrating them into the structures of NATO and the European Union, encouraging Georgia, in particular, and former Soviet republics in Central Asia to take the path of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

'Washington has been funnelling money into the region for years and has now opened the taps all the way. According to an admission in December by Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, the US had invested "over $5 billion" to "ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine."'

Nuland is the US official who infamously said in a leaked phone call last month: 'Fuck the EU', letting slip the US's intention to interfere in Ukrainian domestic affairs. As Patrick O'Connor observed:

'The Obama administration's rhetoric about "democracy" and the Ukrainian people's right to determine their own future is a charade, concocted for public consumption. Behind the scenes, government officials speak frankly with one another about the real agenda—advancing Washington's geo-strategic and economic interests in Eastern Europe by installing pro-US and anti-Russian puppet figures in the Ukrainian capital.'

By contrast, as we noted at the start, BBC News continues to portray Obama as a 'professorial president' with decent intentions, striving to export democracy, good governance and freedom around the world. The huge chasm between image and reality is an appalling media deception perpetrated on the public which is paying for it out of its own pocket, as well as in terms of the awful consequences of this cynical propaganda.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to:

Paul Royall, editor of BBC News at Ten, and BBC News at Six
Twitter: @paulroyall

Mark Mardell, BBC North America editor
Twitter: @BBCMarkMardell

Nick Robinson, BBC political editor
Twitter: @bbcnickrobinson

Contacting the BBC's John Simpson is somewhat problematic as he (in)famously steers clear of email and Twitter. However, the BBC's world affairs editor does have his own website: which indicates that he is available via the 'talent management and event support company', Kruger Cowne Ltd of Chelsea Wharf, London.
And the price? A mere snip at £10,000-£20,000.

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