December 17, 2014

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Turmoil in Hong Kong, terrorism in Xinjiang: America’s covert war on China

Tony Cartalucci is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer.

Turmoil in Hong Kong, terrorism in Xinjiang: America’s covert war on China
Tony Cartalucci New Eastern Outlook Russia October 21, 2014

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China is facing increasing pressure along two fronts. In its western province of Xinjiang, terrorists have been stepping up destabilization and separatist activities.

In China’s southeast Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, protests have disrupted normality in the dense urban streets, with protest leaders seeking to directly confront Beijing while dividing and destabilizing both Hong Kong society and attempting to “infect” the mainland.

What is more troubling is the greater geopolitical agenda driving both of these seemingly “internal” conflicts – and that they both lead back to a single source beyond China’s borders. With the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS) now implicated in receiving, training, and employing terrorists from China’s Xinjiang province, and considering the fact that ISIS is the result of an intentional, engineered proxy war the US and its allies are waging in the Middle East, along with the fact that the unrest in Hong Kong is also traced back to Washington and London, presents a narrative of an ongoing confrontation between East and West being fought on the battlefield of fourth generation warfare.

It is not a coincidence that ISIS is standing in for and fulfilling America’s deepest imperial aspirations from North Africa, across the Middle East, and now inching toward the borders of the West’s two largest competitors, Russia and China. Nor is it a coincidence that “Occupy Central” protesters [in Hong Kong] are parroting verbatim talking points scripted in Washington earlier this year. It is no coincidence that the US State Department’s NED is found involved in every hotspot of instability and conflict both within China’s borders and beyond them. It is a documented conspiracy that is now increasingly seeing the light truth cast upon it. Whether or not that is enough to end the unnecessary barbarism and bloodshed that has resulted from the West’s hegemonic aspirations remains to be seen.

Jim comment: SOTT (Signs of the Times) is an aggregate news site—the news there comes from hundreds of different websites. But besides the wide selection of news, SOTT also has a team of independent writers and researchers from all over the globe who contribute articles about many different topics. SOOT is not for the faint of heart, nor those that do not at least tolerate ‘new agey’ sentiments. I have to carefully and critically pick and choose from the site, but I often find solid stuff. And more often than not, that special blend of solid and slightly spacey, such as the post below. Of himself, the author Anenas Georg says: “I’m a train manager and ticket inspector on international train routes in Europe. I’ve been reading SOTT since 2003 and first joined the editorial team in 2007 after realizing I had to do something about the deteriorating state of our world. I’m particularly interested in ‘following the money’ to track the machinations of the deceptive ones in high places. I suppose you could say I’ve taken my chosen profession to a new level, and now with SOTT I’m “inspecting the flows” of people and money in more ways than one.”

China is on to U.S. regime change tactics
Aeneas Georg Sott.net International November 17, 2014


Though it has a new catchy name, the recent “revolution” in Hong Kong followed a very familiar pattern of US engineered regime change and destabilisation. And the Chinese are well aware of it!

Now we know that Russia knows full well the ways and means of ‘regime changing’ the empire of chaos uses over and over to ensure its supremacy. This was made clear by Putin in his Valdai Club speech:

Incidentally, at the time, our colleagues [the US] tried to somehow manage these processes, use regional conflicts and design ‘colour revolutions’ to suit their interests, but the genie escaped the bottle. It looks like the controlled chaos theory fathers themselves do not know what to do with it; there is disarray in their ranks.

China has also been subject to attempts at regime change both in the Xinjiang province in West China and most recently in Hong Kong. The question is how aware are the Chinese of the US role in these protest movements? A recent YouTube video makes it abundantly clear that the Chinese read the geopolitical chess game very well, if the views presented also reflect the views of Chinese people generally. The video maps out 12 steps that the US uses for regime change and goes on to explain how these “regime changes” around the world and the antagonizing of Russia and China follow a pattern that could lead to World War III.

The 12 Steps to regime change, employed by the USA as outlined in the video:

Anyone who has being paying just a little attention to the world events can recognise this pattern. Psychopaths are not that creative and therefore tend to use the same method again and again. And mostly it works out to the benefit of the psychopaths in power, to whom it doesn’t matter if their hand in the regime change is exposed after the installment of a new puppet. The subservient MSM is always on hand to further the propaganda and knock down any objecting views that reveal the hand of the man behind the curtain and can always rely on name calling when arguments are lacking. An example of how this works with regard to the Hong Kong protests can be seen here:

Though the video blames it all on the Freemasons, it would be more correct to say the pathological elite. One of the key defining traits of this subspecies is the fact that they have no conscience and therefore care naught about human suffering and deaths. It could even be argued that they relish such suffering.

As always the onus is on us to acquire knowledge and to wake up to this nightmare and the fact that there are predators among us who don’t have essential human qualities. This is becoming easier as the empire of chaos, in its desperate battle to maintain hegemony, is showing its true nature for all to see. Thus the emperor is exposed as being naked, something that the BRICS countries and a number of other countries are becoming aware of. There is no doubt that greater cooperation among these countries has helped to spread knowledge about the psychopaths’ modus operandi. The above video is an example of the exposure of this pattern.

Posted at: December 17, 2014 - 3:04 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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Economic warfare the main Western Axis weapon. A former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and the head of Russia’s external intelligence agency agree Western Axis responsible for ruble, oil price collapse. Dispatches from the war

Intro: About Us
Russia: Another Point of View USA

We are a group of people who are affiliated with the Center for Citizen Initiatives (please check the History section). Fortunately, we have a wide range of contributors – experts on Russia, professors, Congress members, foreign analysts working in Russia, American CEOs living and working in Russia, former diplomats, tens of thousands of Russians at all levels of society and 30,000 American business and civic leaders who have trained the thousands of Russians brought to the US for training.

Campaign to end cold or hot war with Russia
Russia: Another Point of View USA December 8, 2014

Friends, for the remainder of 2014, I will send articles to help us examine the nature of the U.S.-Russia relationship and how it has developed over the past 130 years. Until we understand the differences in the evolution of these two cultures, we cannot hope to untangle the current picture which is now dangerous for the entire world. Until we understand the impact of public media on the relationship between the two countries, we will be hopelessly trapped in a mesh of misunderstandings and misinterpretations. We must find ways to hold journalists responsible for irresponsible headlines and faulty war-making scenarios. Sharon Tennison

Russian spy chief blames U.S., EU for ruble, oil price collapse
Ilya Arkhipov Bloomberg News USA December 4, 2014

The U.S. and its allies are seeking to change the regime in Moscow through sanctions and attacks on the ruble and the oil price, Russia’s spy chief said.

A decline of more than 30 percent in the oil price this year is caused partly by U.S. actions, Mikhail Fradkov, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, said after President Vladimir Putin’s annual address to parliament.

Foreign investment funds are “taking part” in ruble speculation via intermediaries, Fradkov, a former prime minister, said in an interview in the Kremlin. “Any speculation has specific schemes and the schemes have a number of participants,” he said.

The ruble has lost 39 percent of its value against the dollar this year, the world’s worst performance after the Ukrainian hryvnia, as the U.S. and the European Union imposed sanctions after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March. They also accuse Russia of providing military support to separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a charge Russia denies.

The U.S. and its allies want to oust Putin from power and achieve regime change, Fradkov said. “Such a desire has been noticed, it’s a small secret” he also told reporters. “No one wants to see a strong and independent Russia.”

The ruble weakened 1.8 percent to 54.1770 at 5:27 p.m. in Moscow, after Putin vowed that Russia would never back down over Crimea in his address to legislators at the Grand Kremlin Palace. The president pledged to punish speculators attacking the ruble, while he made no comment on the slump in the oil price in his 70-minute speech.

Sanctions are forcing Russia to focus on solving domestic issues, Fradkov said. The confrontation with the U.S. and the EU will continue until Russia’s adversaries learn to stop attacking the country and respect its geopolitical interests, he said.

It will take two to four years to reach the “more objective understanding needed for lifting some barriers and cooperation,” according to Fradkov.

A different point of view: Martin Hutchinson over at the Prudent Bear (“Oil free market is bad news for U.S.”) writes: “The fall in the oil price is caused by a fundamental shift in the market. Price is now being driven by supply, whereas previously it was driven by demand. This has happened before: the oil price fell from $27 a barrel at the beginning of 1986 to $10 at the year’s end, where it remained until around 2000, with only a short blip during the Gulf War. … The market and its Keynesian boosters have taken the fall in oil prices as yet another positive sign for the beleaguered U.S. economy. The cheerleaders are wrong.”

Items: The engineered decline in oil prices: Economic warfare is the West’s main weapon
Takis Fotopoulos Global Research Canada December 8, 2014

Visit this page for its appended links.

In the globalization era, economic warfare is the main weapon used by the Transnational Elite to integrate into the New World Order of neoliberal globalization any country resisting the loss of economic and national sovereignty that joining it implies. Its conclusion is that only the building of an economic and political union of sovereign nations, like the original conception of the Eurasian Union was, which would embrace the nations all over the world still fighting the NWO of neoliberal globalization, from Europe and Asia up to Latin America and the Arab world, could possibly create conditions of self-reliance and self determination and, at the same time, an alternative pole to the present criminal unipolar world.

In recent developments, it became clear that economic warfare is the main weapon used by the Transnational Elite, (TE- i.e. the network of the elites based mainly in the G7 countries which run the New World Order of neoliberal globalization), to subordinate Russia and integrate every other country still resisting the process, e.g. Iran and Venezuela. This includes not just the usual economic sanctions, or the blocking of new projects to facilitate distribution, like the South Stream project but, also, as the dramatic decline in the price of oil has shown in the last few months, the induced fall in its price. This was the case of the last OPEC meeting when Saudi Arabia was the main organ for the implementation of this plan.

In fact, the present dramatic fall in the price of oil is part of a long-term plan to force the ‘nationalist’ part of the Russian elite to submit to the Transnational Elite’s (TE) rule, despite the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of the Russian people that follows it. This was clearly shown when this majority enthusiastically welcomed the only real counter-attack so far against the continuing and intensifying attack by the TE against Russia, i.e. the re-integration of Crimea.

Therefore, only the building of an economic and political union of sovereign nations like the original conception of the Eurasian Union was, which would embrace the nations all over the world still fighting the NWO of neoliberal globalization, from Europe and Asia up to Latin America and the Arab world, could possibly create conditions of self-reliance and self determination and, at the same time, an alternative pole to the present criminal unipolar world. This is the only way to effectively disable the West’s economic weapon, which successfully led to the collapse of USSR and threatens a similar fate today to the aspirations of the Russian people for a sovereign Russia.

Below: Matt O’Brien is a reporter for Wonkblog covering economic affairs. He was previously a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

Sorry, Putin. Russia’s economy is doomed
Matt O’Brien Washington Post, Wonkblog USA December 15, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded and related links, its chart and video.

A funny thing happened on the way to Vladimir Putin running strategic laps around the West. Russia’s economy imploded.

The latest news is that Russia’s central bank raised interest rates from 10.5 to 17 percent at an emergency 1 a.m. meeting in an attempt to stop the ruble, which is down 50 percent on the year against the dollar, from falling any further. It’s a desperate move to save Russia’s currency that comes at the cost of sacrificing Russia’s economy.

But even that wasn’t enough. After a brief rally, the ruble resumed its cliff-diving ways on Tuesday, falling another 14 percent to a low of 80 rubles per dollar. It was 60 rubles per dollar just the day before. The problem is simple. Oil is still falling, and ordinary Russians don’t want to hold their money in rubles even if they get paid 17 percent interest to do so. In other words, there’s a well-justified panic. So now Russia is left with the double whammy of a collapsing currency and exorbitant interest rates. Checkmate.

It’s a classic kind of emerging markets crisis. It’s only a small simplification, you see, to say that Russia doesn’t so much have an economy as it has an oil exporting business that subsidizes everything else. That’s why the combination of more supply from the United States, and less demand from Europe, China, and Japan has hit them particularly hard. Cheaper oil means Russian companies have fewer dollars to turn into rubles, which is just another way of saying that there’s less demand for rubles—so its price is falling. It hasn’t helped, of course, that sanctions over Russia’s incursion into Ukraine have already left Russia short on dollars.

Add it all up, and the ruble has fallen something like 22 percent against the dollar the past month, with 11 percent of that coming on Monday alone. As you can see below, the Russian ruble has fallen even further than the Ukrainian hryvnia or Brent oil has this year. The only asset, and I use that word lightly, that’s done worse than the ruble’s 50 percent fall is Bitcoin, which is a fake currency that techno-utopians insist is the future we don’t know we want.

Putin’s Russia, like the USSR before it, is only as strong as the price of oil. In the 1970s, we made the mistake of thinking that the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan meant we were losing the Cold War, when the reality was that they had stumbled into their own Vietnam and could only afford to feed their people as long as oil stayed sky-high. The USSR’s economic mirage, though, became apparent to everybody—none less than their own people, who had to scrounge in empty supermarkets—after oil prices bottomed out in the 1980s. That history is repeating itself now, just without the Marxism-Leninism. Putin could afford to invade Georgia and Ukraine when oil prices were comfortably in the triple digits, but not when they’re half that. Russia can’t afford anything then.

Putin might be playing chess while we play checkers, but only if we lend him the money for the set.

Russian ruble’s fall: A classic ‘currency collapse’
Chris Matthews Fortune USA December 16, 2014

The decline of the ruble is the result of Western policy. The question now is how will Putin respond?

The fall of the ruble has been swift and devastating. Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, referred to the currency’s plummet as “an unrecoverable spiral” in a note to clients on Tuesday. He argues that what we are seeing now is a classic “currency collapse,” brought on by both economic factors like sanctions and falling oil prices as well as financial factors like the Russian central bank printing money to help state-owned oil company Rosneft cover its debt denominated in foreign currencies.

Normally, when countries find themselves in a situation like Russia’s, they turn to the IMF, which would provide funding and debt restructuring in exchange for the enactment of economic reforms. But as University of Oregon economist Tim Duy writes, it’s tough to see either the IMF swooping in to help an international pariah like Russia or Vladimir Putin submitting to any reforms imposed by the West.

So, how will Russia’s currency crisis affect the U.S.? It’s tough to say for sure. A recession in Russia won’t have much of an effect on the American economy, as the two nations conduct very little trade with each other. But make no mistake, the crisis in Russia today is at least partially a result of the diplomatic policies of the United States. We are seeing the kind of economic misery the U.S. and Europe aimed to inflict on Russia as a result of its aggression in Ukraine.

The question now is whether the economic pain will convince Russia to back down, or double down, in Eastern Europe. Weinberg, for one, worries that Putin will instruct Russian companies to renege on their foreign obligations. This could spell bad news for banks and investors across Europe and the U.S. that have loaned money to Russian companies, and it could allow Russia’s financial instability to infect other emerging markets and the already shaky E.U. economy.

How OPEC destroyed the Russian Ruble
Frances Coppola Forbes USA December 16, 2014

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The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) was doing everything right. Responding to recent oil price falls, it floated the ruble and allowed it to fall in line with the oil price, intervening only to smooth out sharp price fluctuations. It hiked interest rates to counter domestic inflation despite the weakness of the Russian economy, due (in part) to Western sanctions. It resisted political calls to intervene to defend the currency, even when it was accused of being an “enemy of the country”. It sought, and obtained, political backing at the highest levels for its actions.

The CBR’s Governor, Elvira Nabiullina – no doubt mindful of previous disastrous attempts to support falling currencies – expected that allowing the ruble to fall freely would enable Russia to ride out the storm without suffering catastrophic loss of reserves. If the oil price stabilized at say $65 a barrel, the ruble would also stabilize, the Russian economy would be down but not out and everyone would laud her as a heroine. But she reckoned without OPEC. Or rather, she misunderstood OPEC.

Despite appeals from its smaller members such as Ecuador and Venezuela for production to be cut, OPEC has allowed the oil price to fall freely. On November 27thit announced that it would not cut production. And on December 15th, the United Arab Emirates’ Energy Minister suggested that oil could fall as low as $40 a barrel.

This was disastrous. The CBR’s worst-case scenario for the Russian economy assumed the oil price would fall to $60 a barrel. A price of $40 a barrel was simply unimaginable. Russia’s economy is terribly dependent on oil: if the oil price falls so low, severe economic recession is inevitable and default becomes a real possibility. The ruble’s slide worsened, bond yields spiked and CDS rose exponentially as capital flight intensified.

At this point Nabiullina’s inexperience became apparent. Any other central bank governor faced with such carnage would have openly talked up the ruble and calmed fears of economic collapse and default, and would have ensured that politicians sang the same song. Media management is an essential skill for central bankers, but unfortunately it does not seem to have featured largely in Nabiullina’s training. And because of this, it all went horribly wrong.

This is Nabiullina’s Norman Lamont moment. But Lamont still had the ace of leaving the ERM up his sleeve. Has Nabiullina run out of ammunition?

Not quite. She is belatedly learning media management, it seems. Reuters reports that on Russian state TV this morning, the Governor described the ruble as “undervalued”, and said the central bank was ready to coordinate with the government to support its value.

The geopolitical aspects of this game make it impossible for a central bank to play it alone. Nabiullina made a terrible mistake yesterday, but today she has done the right thing. Her strategy has failed partly because OPEC played a harder game than she expected, and partly because the political tensions around Russia are spooking investors. Now she must mobilize the heavy artillery. In the end, responsibility for the economy rests with politicians, not central bankers. Capital controls will probably be needed to stem capital flight and restore confidence. Over to you, President Putin.

Here’s why the Russian Ruble is collapsing
Natalie Kitroeff and Joe Weisenthal Bloomberg Businessweek USA December 16, 2014

What’s the best-case scenario for Russians right now?

In an ideal world, Putin would see that his economy is crumbling (the weakening currency and surging interest rates make for a deadly combination of economic contraction and rampant inflation) and take steps to convince Europe and the U.S. to ease the sanctions. That would probably be enough to stem the panic and also offer real economic benefit. To do that, he’d have to dramatically pull back activity in Ukraine; frankly, that’s extremely unlikely. Putin’s adventures in Ukraine are very popular in Russia, and that’s the one thing he has going for him.

Worst case scenario? Are we there yet?

Out-and-out economic collapse and hyperinflation. It’s frightening to think what Putin might do in response to that, but the big fear is that he will become even more aggressive on the geopolitical front to persuade his people that Russia’s problems are being caused by an outside enemy and that the time is now to stand up militarily.

Below: Among the many positions in his long and varied career, Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. Roberts also held the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy at Georgetown University for a dozen years. As well, he was a senior editor with the Wall Street Journal. He is a prolific periodical writer and is the author of several books. Dr. Roberts produces articles every week for the public to read free of charge on his website, PaulCraigRoberts.org.

Is ruble collapse act of war-Paul Craig Roberts
Greg Hunter USA Watchdog USA December 17, 2014

You can watch Greg Hunter’s full interview with Paul Craig Roberts (38:54) from this page.

Former Assistant Treasury Secretary Dr. Paul Craig Roberts thinks the only thing that explains the plunge in the Russian ruble is that it is being attacked by America. Roberts contends, “It is not a currency crash in the sense there are no economic reasons for the ruble’s fall. Unlike the United States, which has a massive trade deficit, and if the currency markets were not rigged, the dollar would be collapsing, the Russian economy has a trade surplus. Therefore, there is no pressure on its currency for economic conditions.” Dr. Roberts goes on to say, “This is not some independent action of market forces. So, it’s either hedge funds, currency speculators like Soros, or it’s an Act of War on behalf of the United States government by the Federal Reserve or the Exchange Stabilization Fund. . . or possibly both hedge funds working with the federal government.”

Manipulating the markets, any market, is supposed to be illegal, but don’t count on the bankers going to jail. Dr. Roberts, who has a PhD in economics, thinks, “The big banks, the big Wall Street money, are essentially agents of the government. This is why they don’t get prosecuted. This is why they can break all kinds of laws, commit felonies and settle with a fine. This is what we’ve been watching in the financial arena. When these financial gangsters are caught, instead of being indicted and put on trial, they pay money.”

How could the Russians retaliate? Dr. Roberts says, “If the Russians wanted to do payback, it’s very easy for them. The next time all of these contracts, paper gold contracts, are dumped on the futures market, the Russians need to go and buy them all up, then demand delivery because there is no gold to deliver. The whole system would collapse. So, the Russians could cause a gold squeeze here anytime they want. . . . They would blow the system wide open because they can’t make delivery.”

On war, Dr. Roberts says recent resolutions passed in Congress certainly point to it. Dr. Roberts explains, “These resolutions demonize Russia and define it as a great threat. They call on Obama to arm the Ukrainians so we can use the Ukrainians to fight Russia. In other words, we are going to fight Russia down to the last Ukrainian. Of course, the Ukraine can’t fight Russia. The whole purpose of this is to have the Russians slap them down, then we can go to the Europeans and say see, see the Russians invaded and look how dangerous they are. You’re next. They will be in Berlin tomorrow. They’ll be in London by the end of the week. Paris will fall, and Rome will burn. We can’t wait to tell the Europeans this because the whole purpose of this is to completely break every kind of relationship, economic, political and cultural, between Russia and Europe. That’s what Washington’s goal is. That’s what it’s all about. This includes attacks on the ruble and sanctions. They are setting up a war that nobody can win, for what reason? For American superiority? You don’t have superiority if the world is awash in radioactive waste and there is nuclear winter. The climate has collapsed. The whole thing is an absurdity.”

Russia has enough resources to reverse ruble crisis – Medvedev
RT Russia December 17, 2014

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Russia has enough market instruments to soothe the drastic ruble drop, which is a result of a “game on emotions,” said Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Russia’s Government and the Central Bank of Russia have worked out a joint strategy to stabilize Russia’s financial market, Medvedev said at a meeting with leading officials from the Central Bank, the ministries dealing with the economy, and the largest Russian companies.

“As for all economic and production goals which you set, our country has foreign currency resources to attain them, you know this, there are market instruments needed to satisfy the specific demand,” he told his audience.

“We will coordinate actions”, he said, specifying that it would include an increase in foreign exchange bank refinancing, and balancing demand and supply of foreign currency through increasing provision of foreign currency liquidity if necessary.

Medvedev admitted there are certain fundamental factors behind the weakening ruble, like lower oil prices and no access to international financial markets, but said the psychological factor is huge.

“… the numbers that we’ve seen in the exchange offices over the past few days do not correspond to the real situation, and are way beyond the limits of the range comfortable for the economy and for the people,” he said, adding that emotions have played a big role in this situation.

The Prime Minister said this isn’t the first ruble turmoil for Russia.

“…we have an experience of anti-crisis decisions,” he said, adding he also held a meeting on the financial and economic situation on Tuesday.

Medvedev said everyone admits the ruble is now undervalued.

“Its course has pulled away from fundamental indexes and does not reflect the state of the economy,” he said.

Restoring order in the foreign exchange market is in everyone’s common interest, but stressed that Russia wouldn’t use any extreme measures, the PM said.

“Our future actions should be based on market mechanisms.”

One of the biggest worries for Russia’s Western partners is the risk of capital controls, which Russia has repeatedly denied it would introduce.

The MSCI investment group has warned that it would exclude Russia from the MSCI Emerging Markets Index should it start controlling capital flows or currency transactions.

The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) has spent more than $80 billion of its foreign exchange reserves since the beginning of 2014 propping up the ruble. As of the start of December, Russia’s FX reserves stood at $418 billion, which far exceeds the $16 billion Russia had saved up ahead of the 1998 default.

Russian ruble firms sharply as government pressures exporters
Vladimir Abramov and Alexander Winning Thomson Reuters Canada/UK December 17, 2014

Visit this page for its related links and video report (2:25).

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s ruble strengthened sharply on Wednesday after dramatic falls on the previous two days as the government pressured exporters not to hoard foreign-currency earnings and the central bank announced new measures to support financial stability.

The ruble was around 9 percent firmer against the dollar in volatile trading, with the market also boosted by central bank plans to ease concerns over approaching external debt repayments by Russian firms and stabilize the ruble.

Traders also saw targeted sales of foreign currency by exporters, in part because of upcoming monthly tax payments.

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The ruble has come under heavy selling pressure this week, falling around 20 percent against the dollar at one stage on Tuesday, sparking fears of financial meltdown, despite the central bank hiking its key interest rate by 650 basis points.

The situation poses a major challenge for President Vladimir Putin whose popularity, based partly on providing stability and prosperity, is at risk from a ruble decline that is damaging Russia’s credibility among investors.

“Sooner or later they’ll flood the market with foreign currency, that’s what the market expects. We’re awaiting foreign currency from exporters, the finance ministry and central bank,” said Igor Akinshin, a forex trader at Alfa Bank in Moscow.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called on Russia’s top exporters on Wednesday to behave “responsibly” with their forex revenues after meeting with the heads of state exporters including Gazprom and Rosneft.

The Finance Ministry, meanwhile, said it had started selling foreign currency left over on its accounts.

Analysts say the ruble’s slide has meant exporters have held on to as much of their forex earnings as possible.

The slide was deepened early this week by concerns Russian oil major Rosneft, which recently issued 625 billion rubles ($10.11 billion) in bonds, was converting the money it had raised into foreign currency to meet debt repayments.

Rosneft has denied the money would be used to buy dollars and is expected to repay a $7.6 billion portion of a bridge loan that matures on Sunday.

Putin holds his annual end-of-year news conference on Thursday, when he will field questions from a studio audience and television viewers around Russia, and is expected to comment on the ruble’s decline of about 45 percent this year.

Putin failed in a state-of-the-nation address on Dec. 4 to offer any big ideas to turn around the economy – which is sliding towards recession after being hit by Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis and by a fall in the global price of oil, on which the Russian economy is heavily dependent.

The ruble’s slide has stirred memories of the 1998 Russian financial crisis, when the currency collapsed within days.

Related: Shopping frenzy, social media fuss and jokes in Russia as ruble collapses
RT Russia December 17, 2014

Visit this page for its related links and its audio and video components.

Luxury cars, jewellery, fridges and TVs are selling like hot cakes. Russians are rushing to buy retail after ‘Black Tuesday’ – the day the Ruble lost 20% of its value. And you can watch it on social media.

Consumers scooped up iPhones and iPads at prices over $100 lower than in the US . Apple’s Russian website stopped online sales “due to extreme fluctuations in the value of the ruble…”.

Currency exchanges have been overwhelmed across Moscow and local media outlets are reporting get-rich-quick schemes.

Amid the ruble collapse Russian social media is exhibiting its usual knack for humor.

Shopping in Russia just got really weird
Natalie Kitroeff Bloomberg Businessweek USA December 17, 2014

The Russian ruble lost as much as 19 percent of its value on Tuesday, partly because of Western sanctions and plummeting oil prices, but also because of mass panic. Russians of all stripes—traders, car buyers, and furniture shoppers—are clamoring to get their money out of the country. The hysteria has turned a slow-burning problem into a nightmare, and has also led some unexpected things to happen, both in Russia and elsewhere. A few odd side effects of Russia’s currency horrors:

Posted at: December 17, 2014 - 1:44 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Western Axis war on its own people: How much longer will people allow themselves to be scammed or, worse, robbed? Trickle-down economics? It’s a scam, confirms OECD & The global bankers’ coup: Bail-in and the shadowy Financial Stability Board

Trickle-down economics? It’s a scam, confirms OECD
Linda McQuaig rabble.ca Canada December 11, 2014

This article originally appeared in iPolitics. Visit this page for its embedded links.

No doubt the rich and powerful have been cracking up with laughter for decades over their ability to peddle “trickle-down economics” to a trusting public.

But a surprisingly strong report just released by the prestigious Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) may cause the public to regard these wealthy snakeoil salesmen more skeptically in the future.

Essentially, the OECD report reveals the immensity of the trickle-down scam, which the report shows has not only failed to foster economic growth as promised, but has proved to be an overall killer of economic growth.

And the report puts actual numbers on how much growth has been reduced as a result of trickle-down. In the case of Canada, the reduced economic growth amounts to about $62 billion a year — which economist Toby Sanger notes is almost three times more than the estimated annual loss to the Canadian economy of lower oil prices.

But while dropping oil prices are grabbing headlines, the serious negative economic consequences of Canada’s pro-rich economic policies are largely ignored. Certainly the Harper government promises to entrench these policies more deeply if re-elected.

First, a little background. As the dominant economic theory for the past 30 years, trickle-down economics — also known as Thatcherism, Reaganomics, neoliberalism or even just the “austerity agenda” — has led to a set of economic policies that have concentrated income and wealth at the top.

From the outset, critics charged that, despite its intellectual pretensions, neoliberalism was simply a confidence game aimed at redistributing resources to the rich.

Not so, responded most mainstream economists (particularly those employed by right-wing think-tanks). Rather, they insisted, neoliberal policies would — by providing generous incentives for top performers and cutting back expensive social programs — foster overall economic growth, with benefits ultimately “trickling down” to all.

This unproven claim became the justification for imposing this largely Anglo-American economic theory on the developing world as well. For years, powerful bodies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forced poor countries to adopt radical neoliberal reforms in order to qualify for desperately needed loans.

Meanwhile, there was mounting evidence — advanced by Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and other high-profile liberal economists — that neoliberal policies did little more than the obvious: making the rich richer, with no benefits for anyone else.

In the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, even the mainstream international economic organizations — including the IMF and the World Bank — began releasing studies with findings that seemed to contradict their organizations’ longstanding support for neoliberal orthodoxies.

With its report this week, the Paris-based OECD has gone farther still, stating unequivocally that its research shows that policies favouring the rich haven’t just failed to create overall economic growth, they have actually “curbed economic growth significantly.”

Related: The global bankers’ coup: Bail-in and the shadowy Financial Stability Board
Ellen Brown Web of Debt blog USA December 12, 2014


Visit this page for its embedded links.

On December 11, 2014, the US House passed a bill repealing the Dodd-Frank requirement that risky derivatives be pushed into big-bank subsidiaries, leaving our deposits and pensions exposed to massive derivatives losses. The bill was vigorously challenged by Senator Elizabeth Warren; but the tide turned when Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorganChase, stepped into the ring. Perhaps what prompted his intervention was the unanticipated $40 drop in the price of oil. As financial blogger Michael Snyder points out, that drop could trigger a derivatives payout that could bankrupt the biggest banks. And if the G20’s new “bail-in” rules are formalized, depositors and pensioners could be on the hook.

The new bail-in rules were discussed in my last post here. They are edicts of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), an unelected body of central bankers and finance ministers headquartered in the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. Where did the FSB get these sweeping powers, and is its mandate legally enforceable?

Those questions were addressed in an article I wrote in June 2009, two months after the FSB was formed, titled “Big Brother in Basel: BIS Financial Stability Board Undermines National Sovereignty.” It linked the strange boot shape of the BIS to a line from Orwell’s 1984: “a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” The concerns raised there seem to be materializing, so I’m republishing the bulk of that article here. We need to be paying attention, lest the bail-in juggernaut steamroll over us unchallenged.

Alarm bells went off in April 2009, when the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) was linked to the new Financial Stability Board (FSB) signed onto by the G20 leaders in London. The FSB was an expansion of the older Financial Stability Forum (FSF) set up in 1999 to serve in a merely advisory capacity by the G7 (a group of finance ministers formed from the seven major industrialized nations). The chair of the FSF was the General Manager of the BIS. The new FSB was expanded to include all G20 members (19 nations plus the EU).

Formally called the “Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors,” the G20 was, like the G7, originally set up as a forum merely for cooperation and consultation on matters pertaining to the international financial system. What set off alarms was that the new Financial Stability Board had real teeth, imposing “obligations” and “commitments” on its members; and this feat was pulled off without legislative formalities, skirting the usual exacting requirements for treaties. It was all done in hasty response to an “emergency.” Problem-reaction-solution was the slippery slope of coups.

Buried on page 83 of an 89-page Report on Financial Regulatory Reform issued by the US Obama administration was a recommendation that the FSB strengthen and institutionalize its mandate to promote global financial stability. It sounded like a worthy goal, but there was a disturbing lack of detail. What was the FSB’s mandate, what were its expanded powers, and who was in charge? An article in The London Guardian addressed those issues in question and answer format:

Who runs the regulator? The Financial Stability Forum is chaired by Mario Draghi, governor of the Bank of Italy. The secretariat is based at the Bank for International Settlements’ headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.

Draghi was director general of the Italian treasury from 1991 to 2001, where he was responsible for widespread privatization (sell-off of government holdings to private investors). From 2002 to 2006, he was a partner at Goldman Sachs on Wall Street. He was succeeded in 2011 by Mark Carney, who also got his start at Goldman Sachs, working there for 13 years before going on to become Governor of the Bank of Canada in 2008 and Governor of the Bank of England in 2012. In 2011 and 2012, Carney attended the annual meetings of the controversial Bilderberg Group.

What will the new regulator do? The regulator will monitor potential risks to the economy . . . It will cooperate with the IMF, the Washington-based body that monitors countries’ financial health, lending funds if needed.

The IMF is an international banking organization that is also controversial. Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist for the World Bank, charged it with ensnaring Third World countries in a debt trap from which they could not escape. Debtors unable to pay were bound by “conditionalities” that included a forced sell-off of national assets to private investors in order to service their loans.

Members were required to provide a “picture of the structure and finances of government” that was complete enough for an assessment of its “soundness” — but an assessment by whom, and what if a government failed the test? Was an unelected private committee based in the BIS allowed to evaluate the “structure and function” of particular national governments and, if they were determined to have fiscal policies that were not “sound,” to impose “conditionalities” and “austerity measures” of the sort that the IMF was notorious for imposing on Third World countries? Suspicious observers wondered if that was how once-mighty nations were to be brought under the heel of Big Brother at last.

For three centuries, private international banking interests have brought governments in line by blocking them from issuing their own currencies and requiring them to borrow banker-issued “banknotes” instead. Political colonialism is now a thing of the past, but under the new FSB guidelines, nations could still be held in feudalistic subservience to foreign masters.

Consider this scenario: the new FSB rules precipitate a massive global depression due to contraction of the money supply. XYZ country wakes up to the fact that all of this is unnecessary – that it could be creating its own money, freeing itself from the debt trap, rather than borrowing from bankers who create money on computer screens and charge interest for the privilege of borrowing it. But this realization comes too late: the boot descends and XYZ is crushed into line. National sovereignty has been abdicated to a private committee, with no say by the voters.

Marilyn Barnewall, dubbed by Forbes Magazine the “dean of American private banking,” wrote in an April 2009 article titled “What Happened to American Sovereignty at G-20?”:

It seems the world’s bankers have executed a bloodless coup and now represent all of the people in the world. . . . President Obama agreed at the G20 meeting in London to create an international board with authority to intervene in U.S. corporations by dictating executive compensation and approving or disapproving business management decisions. Under the new Financial Stability Board, the United States has only one vote. In other words, the group will be largely controlled by European central bankers. My guess is, they will represent themselves, not you and not me and certainly not America.

Are these commitments legally binding? Adoption of the FSB was never voted on by the public, either individually or through their legislators. The G20 Summit has been called “a New Bretton Woods,” referring to agreements entered into in 1944 establishing new rules for international trade. But Bretton Woods was put in place by Congressional Executive Agreement, requiring a majority vote of the legislature; and it more properly should have been done by treaty, requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate, since it was an international agreement binding on the nation.

“Bail-in” is not the law yet, but the G20 governments will be called upon to adopt the FSB’s resolution measures when the proposal is finalized after taking comments in 2015. The authority of the G20 has been challenged, but mainly over whether important countries were left out of the mix. The omitted countries may prove to be the lucky ones, having avoided the FSB’s net.

Jim comment: But bail-in is the law in Canada and now the United States. Canada: Economic Action Plan, submitted March 21, 2013 (AKA the Canadian Federal Budget), pages 144-145. …. ” The Government proposes to implement a “bail -in” regime for systemically important banks.” United States: See below a comment from a former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Paul Craig Roberts. (Roberts held the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy at Georgetown University for a dozen years.)

Is Ruble collapse act of war-Paul Craig Roberts
Greg Hunter USA Watchdog USA December 17, 2014

You can watch Greg Hunter’s full interview with Paul Craig Roberts (38:54) from this page.

On the teetering economy and possible economic collapse, Dr. Roberts says, “We know something serious is wrong. The only provision of Dodd-Frank that has any teeth is the provision that says if the big banks are going to be casinos and gamble on derivatives, they cannot do that in the depository institution where depositors have their accounts. They have to farm it out into subsidiaries. So, if the subsidiaries get into trouble, the subsidiaries have no access to depositors’ money. This is the only real reform part of Dodd-Frank. Citigroup got put into the recent spending bill, the repeal of this, so they can gamble on derivatives, and taxpayers and depositors are on the hook for the losses. Why would you do that unless you had a lot of derivatives trouble. It could easily be the oil derivatives. . . . The banks can gamble all they want and they are covered by the FDIC, which has no money. . . . This gives the banks access to depositors’ money. . . . This is sick, and it shows the United States government is the most corrupt government on earth, far more corrupt than Russia or China.”

Posted at: December 17, 2014 - 1:37 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

December 16, 2014

Hanukkah: Bringing light into a dark time

These are dark times. But life goes on. The story of Hanukkah (Chanukah) is one of revolution and miracles. The eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality. This year Hanukkah begins in the evening of December 16 and ends in the evening of December 24.

Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish visitors, Ashkanazi and Sephardic. Gut yom tov! Gut yontiff! Chag same’ach.

Jim comment: I’m not Jewish but I lived a period of my life close to a Jewish community, sharing their joys, rituals and wisdom. I gained many life gifts from that time. This evening will mark the beginning of the Hanukkah festival. Hanukkah celebrates a miracle at the ancient Temple on a night when the Jews thought they had only enough oil to light the candles for that one evening. To their delight, the oil lasted eight miraculous nights, and that’s why foods cooked in oil are a common part of the Hanukkah observance. If your religion doesn’t have a doctrine that requires you to deep-fry something, I’m sorry.

Posted at: December 16, 2014 - 2:32 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown. Social science is being militarized to develop ‘operational tools’ to target peaceful activists and protest movements

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is an international security journalist and academic. He ends his report: “Minerva is a prime example of the deeply narrow-minded and self-defeating nature of military ideology. Worse still, the unwillingness of DoD officials to answer the most basic questions is symptomatic of a simple fact – in their unswerving mission to defend an increasingly unpopular global system serving the interests of a tiny minority, security agencies have no qualms about painting the rest of us as potential terrorists.”

Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown
Nafeez Ahmed Guardian UK June 12, 2014


The Pentagon is funding social science research to model risks of “social contagions” that could damage US strategic interests. Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters. Visit this page for its embedded links.

A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar programme is designed to develop immediate and long-term “warfighter-relevant insights” for senior officials and decision makers in “the defense policy community,” and to inform policy implemented by “combatant commands.”

Launched in 2008 – the year of the global banking crisis – the DoD ‘Minerva Research Initiative’ partners with universities “to improve DoD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US.”

Last year, the DoD’s Minerva Initiative funded a project to determine ‘Who Does Not Become a Terrorist, and Why?’ which, however, conflates peaceful activists with “supporters of political violence” who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on “armed militancy” themselves. The project explicitly sets out to study non-violent activists:

“In every context we find many individuals who share the demographic, family, cultural, and/or socioeconomic background of those who decided to engage in terrorism, and yet refrained themselves from taking up armed militancy, even though they were sympathetic to the end goals of armed groups. The field of terrorism studies has not, until recently, attempted to look at this control group. This project is not about terrorists, but about supporters of political violence.”

The project’s 14 case studies each “involve extensive interviews with ten or more activists and militants in parties and NGOs who, though sympathetic to radical causes, have chosen a path of non-violence.”

I contacted the project’s principal investigator, Prof Maria Rasmussen of the US Naval Postgraduate School, asking why non-violent activists working for NGOs should be equated to supporters of political violence – and which “parties and NGOs” were being investigated – but received no response.

Similarly, Minerva programme staff refused to answer a series of similar questions I put to them, including asking how “radical causes” promoted by peaceful NGOs constituted a potential national security threat of interest to the DoD.

Among my questions, I asked:

“Does the US Department of Defense see protest movements and social activism in different parts of the world as a threat to US national security? If so, why? Does the US Department of Defense consider political movements aiming for large scale political and economic change as a national security matter? If so, why? Activism, protest, ‘political movements’ and of course NGOs are a vital element of a healthy civil society and democracy – why is it that the DoD is funding research to investigate such issues?”

Minerva’s programme director Dr Erin Fitzgerald said “I appreciate your concerns and am glad that you reached out to give us the opportunity to clarify” before promising a more detailed response. Instead, I received the following bland statement from the DoD’s press office:

“The Department of Defense takes seriously its role in the security of the United States, its citizens, and US allies and partners. While every security challenge does not cause conflict, and every conflict does not involve the US military, Minerva helps fund basic social science research that helps increase the Department of Defense’s understanding of what causes instability and insecurity around the world. By better understanding these conflicts and their causes beforehand, the Department of Defense can better prepare for the dynamic future security environment.”

In 2013, Minerva funded a University of Maryland project in collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to gauge the risk of civil unrest due to climate change. The three-year $1.9 million project is developing models to anticipate what could happen to societies under a range of potential climate change scenarios.

Related: Pentagon bracing for public dissent over climate and energy shocks
Nafeez Ahmed Guardian UK June 14, 2013

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Top secret US National Security Agency (NSA) documents disclosed by the Guardian have shocked the world with revelations of a comprehensive US-based surveillance system with direct access to Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants. New Zealand court records suggest that data harvested by the NSA’s Prism system has been fed into the Five Eyes intelligence alliance whose members also include the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But why have Western security agencies developed such an unprecedented capacity to spy on their own domestic populations? Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis – or all three.

Just last month, unilateral changes to US military laws formally granted the Pentagon extraordinary powers to intervene in a domestic “emergency” or “civil disturbance”:

“Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.”

Other documents show that the “extraordinary emergencies” the Pentagon is worried about include a range of environmental and related disasters.

The Pentagon knows that environmental, economic and other crises could provoke widespread public anger toward government and corporations in coming years. The revelations on the NSA’s global surveillance programmes are just the latest indication that as business as usual creates instability at home and abroad, and as disillusionment with the status quo escalates, Western publics are being increasingly viewed as potential enemies that must be policed by the state.

Facebook mind control experiments linked to DoD research on civil unrest
RT Russia July 2, 2014

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Facebook’s experiment on over half-a-million unsuspecting users has taken a new twist with the revelation that a researcher connected to a Department of Defense-funded program to use the military to quell civil unrest also participated in the study.

Social media sites exploded over the weekend after it was revealed that Facebook, no stranger to controversy of late, secretly manipulated posts being seen by nearly 700,000 users in 2012 in order to allow researchers to study how emotional states are transmitted over the platform.

Results of the week-long study conducted by researchers at Facebook, Cornell University, and the University of California appeared in the June edition of the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists’ (PNAS) under the rather insidious title, ‘Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks’.

Facebook altered the content that showed up on certain users’ news feeds to control the number of posts that contained words with positively or negatively charged emotions.

The team concluded its federally funded study by saying that “emotions spread via contagion through a network.”

When word hit the internet that Facebook was essentially conducting Orwellian thought policing, an electronic outpouring of condemnation greeted the company that Mark Zuckerberg built. One of the study’s authors, Adam Kramer, took to his own Facebook account to offer more of an explanation than an apology for the secret study.

“We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out,” Kramer said. “At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook. We didn’t clearly state our motivations in the paper.”

The attack on Facebook looks set to worsen as it was discovered that one of the authors of the platform’s mind study, Jeffrey T. Hancock of Cornell University, also received funding from the Pentagon’s so-called Minerva Research Initiative to conduct a similar study entitled ‘Modeling Discourse and Social Dynamics in Authoritarian Regimes’.

Hancock’s description page at Cornell University cites “psychological and interpersonal dynamics of social media, deception, and language” as his research and academic interests.

Hancock’s study appeared in 2009, one year before the US Army War College’s Strategic Institute warned in a different study, and in the wake of the global financial meltdown, that the United States could experience massive civil unrest from a series of crises it termed “strategic shock.”

The report, which carried the Rumsfeldian title, ‘Known Unknowns: Unconventional Strategic Shocks in Defense Strategy Development’, suggested that the military may have to be called in to restore domestic order in the event of a massive social breakdown.

Coming so soon after the Snowden leaks, the idea of a researcher closely affiliated with a Pentagon study now secretly examining the behavior of Facebook users under ‘controlled conditions’ is certainly cause for alarm.

This latest scandal also speaks volumes about the disturbing frequency of US educational facilities cooperating so directly with military programs that do not appear to have the best interests of the civil society at the core of their actions.

Below: Was there a cover-up surrounding the Pentagon’s direct funding of Facebook’s notorious mass psychological study in order to conceal the fact that the experiment’s true purpose was part of preparations to manipulate public opinion in times of civil unrest?

Cover up surrounding Pentagon funding of Facebook’s psychological experiment?
Paul Joseph Watson InfoWars/Global Research USA/Canada July 2, 2014

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It now appears as though information indicating that the Department of Defense bankrolled the experiment was scrubbed from an online press release by Cornell University in order to hide the connection.

Here’s what we know for a fact to be true. Facebook’s mass psychological study, which proved that altering a user’s timeline feed was a successful method of causing emotional “contagion” to spread through the social network, was conducted in part by Cornell University’s Jeffrey T. Hancock, who was listed as one of the study’s authors.

Hancock is also involved with the Pentagon’s Minerva Initiative, which recently hit the headlines for its role in bankrolling a program which provides “funding to universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world.”

However, an even more creepy connection between the Facebook experiment and the Pentagon has emerged after it was revealed that the original press release from Cornell highlighting the study included a passage at the bottom which read, “The study was funded in part by the James S. McDonnell Foundation and the Army Research Office.”

According to the Army Research Office’s official website, “Basic research proposals from educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and private industry are competitively selected and funded,” as part of the Pentagon’s mission of “combating terrorism and new emerging threats.”

However, the text indicating the Facebook study was bankrolled by the Pentagon was later scrubbed from the website, with Cornell claiming it had made a mistake, an explanation that Jay Rosen, Journalism Professor at NYU, finds highly dubious.

“Why do I call this strange? Any time my work has been featured in an NYU press release, the PR officers involved show me drafts and coordinate closely with me, for the simple reason that they don’t want to mischaracterize scholarly work,” writes Rosen.

“So now we have to believe that Cornell’s Professor of Communication and Information Science, Jeffrey Hancock, wasn’t shown or didn’t read the press release in which he is quoted about the study’s results (weird) or he did read it but somehow failed to notice that it said his study was funded by the Army when it actually wasn’t (weirder).”

“I think I would notice if my university was falsely telling the world that my research was partially funded by the Pentagon… but, hey, maybe there’s an innocent and boring explanation that I am overlooking.”

The Pentagon’s involvement with a Facebook study which would have given the DoD a revealing insight into how to manipulate public dissatisfaction via social media during potential civil unrest would not be a surprising move given the Army’s obsession with anticipating domestic disorder.

Below: The Diamondback is the University of Maryland’s independent student newspaper.

University researchers study the effect of foreign aid in warring countries
Rokia Hassanein The Diamondback USA November 25, 2014

Researchers at this university’s Center for International Development and Conflict Management will study the correlation between conflict and aid through a $2.5 million Minerva Initiative grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The three-year grant will allow for research to be conducted by collecting and geolocating data on foreign aid in developing counties experiencing or coming out of armed conflict, said government and politics professor Paul Huth, the director of CIDCM and a principal investigator for the grant.

While most of the cases studied will be in Africa, parts of Asia and Latin America will also be studied, he said.

“The overriding argument that will be evaluated through the project is that under the right conditions, this development in foreign aid can help to reduce armed conflict, but under less favorable conditions, it may actually exacerbate and contribute to a longer conflict that’s ongoing, so it’s very much an argument that aid doesn’t have unconditional effects,” Huth said.

Political, economic and social context in which aid is delivered in a country makes a large difference on whether it is beneficial or has adverse effects on that country, he said.

David Backer, assistant director at CIDCM, said the geocoding portion of the research aims to identify the specific locations where development assistance and foreign aid projects take place within those countries.

“The U.S. and other countries around the world spend considerable amounts of money on foreign assistance,” he said. “Lots of questions are being asked recently about what sort of impact this assistance has.”

From 2001 to 2010, the U.S. has delivered more than $200 billion in development assistance, according to a university press release.

“These questions about impact and effectiveness of dollars that are being spent around the world — do they matter? If so, how, when and where?” Backer said.

Students will play a role toward developing the data, he said. Starting next semester, the course “Geographies of Conflict and Development” will enroll about 40 students giving them specialized training for the project.

Students will spend time working in teams developing specific data on certain countries and continue through the summer as research assistants. By fall 2015, students will develop specific analytical products such as country profiles that look at patterns. About 100 undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will be involved, Backer said.

“I think it’s important to emphasize that academics are sometimes challenged for not doing enough policy-relevant work that has application to the real world,” Backer said. “This work grew out of working with U.S. government agencies on things that are feeding into a media policy-making context.”

Kevin Jones, a research associate at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and a co-principal investigator on the grant, said that CISSM’s role will be recruiting graduate students and analyzing the impact of micro-level events such as riots, protests and migration shifts that might provide early warnings or potential for conflict.

“A primary objective of the grant is to cultivate students’ interests and skills in studying the geographic patterns, trends and relationships of armed conflict and development assistance around the world,” Jones said.

Previously, Backer and Huth have worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development, where they evaluated the relationship between food aid and the continuation of armed conflicts.

“That’s what sparked a lot of our interest in the topic and the idea that much better data is needed to examine the relationship between aid and conflict,” Huth said. “We found that a shortcoming of the research was at an aggregated national level — you couldn’t really draw direct conclusions about aid and conflict because you weren’t able to pin-point where the aid in the country was located.”

Huth and Backer met with government officials from the State Department and Defense Department in October.

“They all have a lot of interest in what we’re doing,” he said. “It matters to them what our results are.”

Posted at: December 16, 2014 - 2:17 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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The government most Japanese don’t want. Abe liquidating the three basic charters on which post-war Japan rests

When Prime Minster Abe announced his decision to dissolve the Lower House and call a general election, he offered as his reason the wish to secure the electorate’s approval of his decision to postpone for 18 months the raising of the consumption tax from 8 to 10 per cent. Almost nobody believed that, however, and virtually all commentators agreed that his real motive was to entrench himself in power before support for his government, already commencing significant decline, reached critical levels. Re-elected, he would stand a reasonable chance of remaining in office until 2018. That would allow him to fulfil his grand plan, which is nothing less than the remaking of the Japanese state. The three basic charters on which the state rests are the Constitution (1946), the Fundamental Law of Education (1947), and the San Francisco Treaty (1951). Commonly described as a “conservative,” Abe has followed a radical political career bent on revision of all of these. He would liquidate the post-war regime and replace it with a “new” and “beautiful” Japan. - Gavan McCormack, in “The End of the Postwar? The Abe Government, Okinawa, and Yonaguni Island”, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 48, No. 3, December 8, 2014.

Shades of Stephen Harper, eh?

Sunday we posted Japan: Election result ensures rip-roaring asset prices and a continued shift of income and wealth to the rich, restarting of nuclear reactors and strengthening the nation’s military, all of which a majority of Japanese oppose. Three links. It now appears the estimated voter turnout was an all-time low since figures were first kept in 1890! Since 1990 (95% turnout) voter participation has steadily declined. The highest voter turnout since 1990 was in Japan’s 2003 election when it was just above 80%. Since 2003, the decline has been precipitous. Sunday’s election saw 52.4 percent of eligible voters show up at the polls. The most generous, gentle description of the average Japanese voter these days is perplexed. That said, perhaps a more accurate description is pissed off.

Colin in Edmonton pointed us to this link yesterday. A British economist’s commentary on the Japanese election. Thanks, Colin.

Japan: No mandate
Michael Roberts Michael Roberts Blog UK December 15, 2014

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Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party won the snap general election. The LDP won 290 of 475 seats in the lower house of parliament — the more powerful of the two chambers — roughly matching its performance two years ago, Together with its coalition partner, the Buddhist-affiliated Komeito, which won 35 seats, the LDP has retained the two-thirds majority necessary to pass legislation without recourse to the upper house.

Abe called the election, he said, to get a ‘mandate’ from the electorate for his so-called Abenomics. This is a set of policies of monetary easing, fiscal tightening and ‘supply-side neoliberal ‘reforms’ designed to get Japanese capitalism out of its stagnation. On the level of accelerating real GDP growth, investment and ending deflation, it has miserably failed (see my post, http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/japan-the-failure-of-abenomics/). The economy remains flat at best.

But where he has succeeded is in reducing the real incomes of the average Japanese household and boosting the profitability of big business.

Under Abenomics, household real incomes have fallen 4%, while profits and profitability has risen 6-9% (if still below the peak of 2007).

But so far, this has been to no avail in raising business investment. Instead higher profits have been diverted into the stock market and property – the usual results of monetary easing and ‘labour reform’ everywhere since the end of the Great Recession.

Abe claims he has his mandate for more of the same. But the election results hardly show that. The snap election exposed the weakness of the main opposition Democrat Party that did not even run enough candidates to win. Even so, the DP increased its number of seats from 62 to 73. And the Communists doubled their representation. Abe’s LDP did no better than last time and the coalition with the religious Komeito will be in the same position as last time.

Indeed, the most significant figure in the election was the historically low turnout, down from the previous record low in 2012 of 59.3% to just 52.3%. Many Japanese citizens either did not see the point of the election or were not enamoured of any the major parties. Once again in an election in a major capitalist economy since the Great Recession, the NO VOTE party won. Since 2009, over 20m voters have stopped voting.

Posted at: December 16, 2014 - 2:12 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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Civil society—angry, frightened, restless. Immigration and terrorism will increase with climate change, says military leader & Level of opposition to the dangers of transporting explosive oil in DOT-111 rail cars continues to grow

Immigration and terrorism will increase with climate change, says military leader
Kyla Mandel DeSmogBlog.com British Columbia Canada December 15, 2014

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Climate change will lead to terrorism and increased immigration into the UK as millions are displaced by rising seas, a senior military figure warned as the Lima climate talks entered their final hours.

Displaced and marginalized climate refugees will be forced to abandon their homes as vast areas of countries, such as Bangladesh, are lost due to sea level rise over the next 35 years, warned Major General Munir Muniruzzaman, a former military advisor to the president of Bangladesh.

This will create a vast “breeding ground for recruitment for extremists and radicals,” General Muniruzzaman told The Telegraph. And since the already-overpopulated country will not be able to accommodate its refugees, many will flee to Britain where there is already a substantial Bangladeshi population.

According to a Bangladeshi government strategy paper on climate change more than 20 million people could be displaced due to global warming impacts.

“The settlement of these environmental refugees will pose a serious problem for the densely populated Bangladesh and migration must be considered as a valid option for the country,” the strategy paper says.

However, not all people will be able to migrate to nearby countries such as India, which borders Bangladesh on three sides. This is because these borders are fenced off, meaning refugees will reach out wherever they have friends and family. “No country is out of their reach,” General Muniruzzaman said.

“The capability of the state to absorb this very large number of climate-displaced people is not there at all. So we are looking at the prospect of…outward trans-border migration,” said General Muniruzzaman, head of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change.

This is not the first warning that climate change will lead to mass migration and radicalisation. The General’s statements come at the same time as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that climate change now ranks alongside terrorism, nuclear proliferation and epidemics as a threat to global security.

Related: Calls to ban bomb trains ramp up while communities await new regulations
Justin Mikulka DeSmogBlog.com British Columbia Canada December 15, 2014

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Earthjustice has challenged the Department of Transportation’s denial of a petition by Sierra Club and Forest Ethics to ban the transportation of Bakken crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars.

“Most of the explosive crude oil on U.S. rails is moving in tanker cars that are almost guaranteed to fail in an accident,” explained Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.

“The risks are too great to keep shipping explosive Bakken crude in defective DOT-111s. The National Transportation Safety Board called them unsafe two decades ago, and by the Department of Transportation’s own estimates, the U.S. could see 15 rail accidents every year involving these cars until we get them off the tracks.”

At the same time Earthjustice was bringing this challenge, the Canadian government was announcing that it will ban 3,000 of the riskiest DOT-111s from carrying materials like Bakken crude.

And in California, where last week a train carrying grain derailed into the Feather River, democratic state senator Jerry Hill called on Governor Jerry Brown to impose a moratorium on oil trains in the state. The Feather River rail line is also used for Bakken crude oil trains.

In Toronto, the new mayor called for an end to these dangerous trains passing through the city.

“I said during the campaign and I’ll repeat it now, that I think we should be moving in the direction, in negotiation with the railways and the federal government, to stop movement of toxic and dangerous substances through the city at all,” reported The Star.

Perhaps the fact that the new mayor isn’t smoking crack like his predecessor has something to do with this rather clear-headed assessment. You would, after all, have to be on crack to think running DOT-111s filled with Bakken crude through highly populated areas was an acceptable practice.

Meanwhile in Baltimore, residents are fighting a new proposal for an oil-by-rail facility that would bring these trains right through their neighborhoods.

In addition to calls for outright bans of the DOT-111s, two states recently released new studies about the oil train issue.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking for ways to fund the oil spill clean up fund for the state. The fund is projected to be in the red financially by 2016 and currently collects no fees from the oil companies transporting the Bakken and tar sands oil through the state. As many as 44 oil trains carrying at least 1,000,000 gallons of oil, and often more than 3,000,000 gallons, cross New York each week.

Cuomo criticized the federal government’s lack of movement on new oil-by-rail regulations referring to their progress as “unacceptably slow” according to The Record Online.

“Over the past six months, our administration has taken swift and decisive action to increase the state’s preparedness and better protect New Yorkers from the possibility of a crude oil disaster,” Cuomo said. “Now it is time for our federal partners to do the same.”

Cuomo’s self-assessment of New York’s actions didn’t impress oil train activists. Sandy Steubing of Albany, NY, based group PAUSE isn’t pleased with the state’s progress.

“The Governor’s response is lame; he’s either urging other entities like the railroad and the Federal government to protect New Yorkers or he’s trying to appear like the measures he’s taking will protect us,” Steubing said. “There’s not enough foam in the entire state to protect us from an explosive derailment the likes of which we’ve seen five times since July of 2013.”

Meanwhile in Washington State, the draft of the 500-page 2014 Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study was released. The report contains some staggering growth projections for oil-by-rail transportation in the state, as reported by The News Tribune.

As communities across the country await new oil-by-rail regulations and continue to hear about close calls regarding oil train accidents the level of opposition to the dangers of transporting explosive oil in DOT-111s continues to grow. Unfortunately for them, the lobbyists for Big Oil and Big Rail are still hard at work protecting their profits above all else.

Posted at: December 16, 2014 - 2:09 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Not just falling oil prices and fierce British Columbia civil society protests challenging Harper’s petrostate dreams: EU effort to label tarsands dirty not dead yet & Liberals, following NDP, create distance from Energy East

Update: Oilsands exporters dodge European vote
Bruce Cheadle Canadian Press/National Newswatch Canada December 17, 2014

OTTAWA – Canadian oilsands exporters narrowly survived a vote today in the European Parliament that could have once again labelled Alberta bitumen as dirty oil.

A proposed fuel quality directive for European Union refineries has been the subject of a well-funded Canadian lobbying campaign for more than two years.

Canadian negotiators thought the matter was settled this fall when the European Commission backed off and agreed to allow Canadian bitumen without singling it out as having a much more intense carbon footprint.

However, the European Parliament’s environment committee flatly rejected the proposal earlier this month, forcing today’s vote.

More elected parliamentarians actually voted to reject the new fuel quality directive than accept it — 337-325 — however, with 48 abstentions, their numbers fell short of the 376 votes required for an absolute majority to overturn the proposed deal.

The fuel quality directive, as written, will now go to a ratification vote early in 2015.

“Our government will continue advocating for Canadian interests and Canadian jobs,” Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said in a release after the vote.

“We are encouraged the European Parliament relied on science and the facts in making this decision.”

EU effort to label oilsands dirty not dead yet
Bruce Cheadle Canadian Press/National Newswatch Canada December 15, 2014

OTTAWA – Like a movie monster from the black bog, a European Union directive that would stigmatize “dirty” imports of Canadian bitumen refuses to die.

A vote Tuesday in the European Parliament could reject a compromise draft bill and revive tough fuel quality directive labelling that would target unconventional crude, specifically Alberta’s oilsands.

The vote of the full plenary was prompted earlier this month when the European Parliament’s environment committee flatly rejected a deal worked out after more than two years of lobbying by Canada.

Briefing documents obtained by Ottawa reporter Mike DeSouza show the Conservative government set aside $30 million in 2013 to be spent over two years on an “international stakeholder and outreach campaign to protect market access for Canadian energy and mining resources.”

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford and International Trade Minister Ed Fast met last week with 25 European Union representatives in advance of the vote.

“He reiterated Canada’s position that any measure that provides separate, more onerous treatment for oilsands crude relative to other crude with similar or higher (greenhouse gas) emission intensities is discriminatory and adverse to the FQD’s intent,” Chris McCluskey, Rickford’s spokesman, said in a release.

The EU’s fuel quality directive, or FQD, has been the subject of intense lobbying since early 2012, when it was proposed that Canadian bitumen be rated 22 per cent more carbon-intensive than conventional oil.

Under European emissions rules, that dirty-oil designation would make Canadian oilsands imports deeply unattractive to Europe’s refineries.

“EU legislation requires a reduction of the greenhouse gas intensity of the fuels used in vehicles by six per cent by 2020,” using 2010 as a baseline, says the European Commission website.

“The greenhouse gas intensity of fuels is calculated on a life-cycle basis, meaning that the emissions from the extraction, processing and distribution of fuels are included.”

Below: If Canadian public opinion turns as negatively on Energy East as it has on Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway and TransCanada’s Keystone XL, the possibility of other options – Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion – to do the job becomes increasingly far-fetched.

Liberals, following NDP, create distance from Energy East
James Munson iPolitics Canada December 16, 2014

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The Liberals are joining the NDP in putting to rest any tacit support for TransCanada Corp.’s $12 billion Energy East pipeline as public approval of the project continues to drop in Quebec.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau told Le Soleil newspaper this weekend that Energy East has failed to earn a social license to operate in Quebec. His comments come less than two weeks after NDP leader Thomas Mulcair penned an op-ed that put to rest any speculation that the party supports the 4,600- kilometre pipeline, which would carry 1.1 million barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the East Coast.

Both parties repeatedly voiced support for west-to-east pipelines over the past year, but have only now begun voicing criticism specific to Energy East. The NDP shared a quote by Trudeau Monday afternoon that they said shows he has endorsed Energy East in the past, which the Liberals dispute.

“I think with the judgment of the court and the support of the provincial government, we should move forward,” Trudeau said during an interview in September with Radio-Canada over the proposed Cacouna petroleum port along the St.Lawrence.

Trudeau was only referring only to the Cacouna port at the time and not the pipeline, said Liberal spokesperson Cameron Ahmad Monday. But after a government-mandated report that found nearby beluga populations were endangered led TransCanada to put the Cacouna port on hold, the Liberals changed their position on the port specifically.

“At the time, I think we had a more optimistic outlook on it,” said Ahmad. He added the provincial government’s support in September as another reason why Trudeau backed Cacouna back then.

Until recently, the Energy East pipeline was perceived as a political no-brainer given its branding as a national project.

But TransCanada was hit by a litany of setbacks over the fall, including an intense focus on specific environmental threats like Cacouna’s belugas, a successful fundraising drive by high-profile Quebec activists and the leak of an internal TransCanada public relations plan that sought to tar the reputation of environmental groups.

And both parties [Liberal, NDP] have criticized the pipeline’s regulator, the National Energy Board, questioning even the possibility of earning a social license under its current mandate.

“The NEB is now, effectively, an advisory board to cabinet,” Trudeau told the Calgary Petroleum Club in October 2013. “It is no longer a quasi-judicial body. So how can it grant the social license you need to proceed with big, complex, multi-year projects that require billions in capital expenditure?”

The Green Party, like the Liberals and the NDP, supports a west-to-east pipeline in principle but opposes pipelines like Energy East that would carry diluted bitumen for export.

Related: Falling oil price puts Ottawa’s surplus at risk
Bill Curry Globe and Mail Canada December 16, 2014

Visit this page for its video report (1:13) and related links.

OTTAWA – Finance Minister Joe Oliver is acknowledging the dramatic drop in oil prices will take a further bite out of government revenues, making Ottawa’s previously declared surplus less certain.

The government already shaved billions off of its revenue forecasts when it released a fiscal update on Nov. 12, when the price of North American crude was around $81 (U.S.). That price closed Monday below $56.

As the price of oil continued to slip after his fiscal update, Mr. Oliver initially maintained that these adjustments were conservative enough to capture lower prices without affecting Ottawa’s bottom line. But he said Monday the further drop will have an impact.

“We’re not about to come out with a number at this point. However, we’re confident we will achieve a budgetary balance next year,” he said Monday, before a meeting of provincial and territorial finance ministers in Ottawa.

The government is forecasting a surplus of only $1.6-billion, which would be at risk of slipping into deficit territory should oil prices stay low. Ottawa has set aside $3-billion for unforeseen events, and several economists said Monday that should be enough to maintain a small surplus.

A report to be released Tuesday by CIBC World Markets projects Ottawa will lose $2.5-billion in revenue if the oil price levels out around $70 next year. Provinces would be hit harder, suffering a combined loss of $5-billion to $8-billion under that scenario. Alberta could face a $7-billion hit on its own.

Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter said fluctuating oil prices amount to a “huge wild card” for finance ministers that will make it very difficult to produce economic forecasts.

“It looks like [Ottawa] might still be able to claw out a surplus if absolutely everything went right from here, but we know better than to expect everything to go right. So I think very much they’re at risk of remaining in deficit in the next fiscal year based on today’s oil prices,” he said.

Craig Alexander, the chief economist of TD Economics, estimates the drop will eat up about two-thirds of the $3-billion set aside for contingencies. “That’s the whole reason why we have a contingency reserve. The contingency reserve is there in case the economy doesn’t play out the way you anticipate,” he said.

At a meeting in Washington, North America’s three federal energy ministers conceded Monday much more needs to be done if their bold vision of an integrated continental energy market is to become a reality. Greg Rickford, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, called the meeting a crucial start, and said the three came up with a “to-do list as opposed to a wish list.”

Mr. Rickford said short-term price volatility should not drive policy. “Our best decisions and therefore the policy of our government are typically made with a view to long-term – 20-to-40-year market expectations. We are equally interested in the cost averaged out over those times,” he said.

Oil price drop means lost billions for Canada, CIBC says
Pete Evans CBC News Canada December 16, 2014


Cheaper oil could cost Canadian governments up to $13 billion, but the pain will not be evenly spread out, CIBC says. Photo: Reuters. Visit this page for its related links.

The dramatic decline in oil prices will cost Ottawa about $5 billion in lost revenue and provincial economies a little more than that, one of Canada’s biggest banks suggested today.

That’s one of the main takeaways from a CIBC report that attempts to quantify the impact of plunging oil prices on many aspects of Canada’s economy.

“The recent dive in crude oil prices is an unprecedented development for the Canadian economy,” the report by CIBC economists Avery Shenfeld, Peter Buchanan and Warren Lovely says.

There’s a broad consensus that the declining price of oil is bad economic news for Canada, since the country has made major moves in the last decade or so to increase oil output and become a major global player in energy.

Last week, the Bank of Canada estimated that on the whole, suddenly cheaper oil will knock about a third of a percentage point off of Canada’s GDP next year. But the CIBC report points out that gauging the impact of that decline is far more complex than simply measuring the impact on GDP.

“The bottom line is that references to a few decimal places in real GDP miss the point,” the bank says. “The value of what Canada sells to the world … is what filters into wages and profits, government revenues and economic well-being.”

It’s clear that the impact isn’t going to be felt evenly.

Some provinces are poised for tough times ahead, while others may ultimately see some benefits.

“The energy sector directly accounts for nearly 10 per cent of Canada’s GDP, but in the oily corners of the country — Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador — that sector’s weighting is closer to 25 to 30 per cent,” the bank says.

A world where the price of oil is under $60 and dropping is an unquestioned negative for those places. But contrast those provinces with the rest of the country and cheap oil is not nearly as dire. Outside of those three, no other province relies on energy for more than four per cent of its GDP.

“Energy’s share of Ontario’s economy is a scant two per cent, and that province will actually benefit by a weaker Canadian dollar.” CIBC says.

Slumping oil creates a virtuous cycle for those who like a cheap loonie, like many businesses and consumers in Central Canada. The bank reckons that oil’s 40 per cent decline has already directly shaved about five per cent off the value of the loonie.

Better still is that Canadian consumers will see real-dollar savings every time they fill up the car with gas, or buy heating oil to heat their home.

By CIBC’s reckoning, about five per cent of consumer spending goes directly to oil-based fuels. Every $2 drop in crude oil shaves about a cent from gasoline prices, so that alone could mean $10 billion extra dollars in Canadians pockets.

That’s good news too, even if “as with any transitory bump in income,” CIBC warns, “not all of that money is likely to be spent.”

And cheap oil could also compel the Bank of Canada to put off rate hikes a little longer, something that would add to the loonie’s weakness. All in all, the bank foresees a floor of about 81 cents for the Canadian dollar.

Posted at: December 16, 2014 - 2:05 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

December 15, 2014

Venice Commission (European Commission for Democracy through Law) faults Ukraine’s law on government cleansing & Russia: Lavrov says Russia wants east Ukraine to stay with Kiev under reformed constitution; Medvedev says the planned economic cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union looks very much like neo-colonialism

Intro: lustrate (verb): to purify ceremonially

The Venice Commission is an advisory body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts in the field of constitutional law. It was created in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin wall, at a time of urgent need for constitutional assistance in Central and Eastern Europe. The Commission’s official name is the European Commission for Democracy through Law, but due to its meeting place in Venice, Italy, where sessions take part four times a year, it is usually referred to as the Venice Commission. The Council of Europe (CoE) is an advisory international organisation promoting co-operation between all countries of Europe in the areas of legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation. It was founded in 1949, has 47 member states with 820 million citizens, and is an entirely separate body from the European Union. The headquarters of the Council of Europe are in Strasbourg, France, with English and French as its two official languages.

Items: What is lustration and is it a good idea for Ukraine to adopt it?
Maria Popova and Vincent Post Washington Post, Monkey Cage blog USA April 9, 2014

The following is a guest post from McGill University political scientists Maria Popova and Vincent Post. Visit this page for its embedded and related links.

*****

The idea of lustration is gaining momentum in Ukraine. A recent survey shows that nearly 80 percent of respondents support the policy. Lustration (from the Latin verb lustrare, to ceremonially purify) refers to a policy that seeks to cleanse a new regime from the remnants of the past. The process involves screening new officials (elected or appointed) for involvement in the former regime and sets some consequences if they are found to have been involved. These consequences can range from publicizing information about collaboration in the previous regime, through dismissal and banning from holding certain offices.

Lustration started gathering attention during the Euromaidan protests, initially in the context of discussions on how to root out political corruption, which has permeated Ukrainian governments. Investigative journalist and Euromaidan Council member Egor Sobolev became one of the most vocal proponents of the idea, and just a couple of days after Yanukovych’s ouster, was appointed to head a Lustration Committee, attached to the Cabinet of Ministers. As a first step toward lustration, Ukraine’s parliament has taken preliminary steps to prepare a bill on judicial lustration. If the bill becomes law, all court chairs appointed by Yanukovych will be fired from their administrative positions. All judges will be screened for corruption and participation in politicized justice during Euromaidan, and those who do not pass the review will be fired and possibly criminally prosecuted for corruption. In addition, the Lustration Committee and the Ministry of Justice are currently working on a broader law on lustration. Sobolev has said in interviews that the goal of the lustration law will be to ban Yanukovych and his closest allies from politics for life, as well as to screen and remove those who are “agents of foreign secret service, people who have been involved in corruption, and people who have been involved in the destruction of democracy.” The radical nationalist party, Svoboda, has already submitted its version of a general law on lustration for consideration in parliament. In addition to the parameters discussed by Egor Sobolev, the Svoboda bill envisions lustrating all former KGB informants. The Svoboda bill stipulates that public servants at all levels, as well as applicants for state jobs will have to undergo a screening procedure. Those who fail the screening will be dismissed from their positions.

To the extent that there is similarity between the proposed Ukrainian lustration and the lustration laws on the books elsewhere in the region, it is important to note that there is no hard evidence that lustration laws contributed to democracy, that they improved governance, or that they curbed corruption. Some have claimed such positive effects off the cuff, but no study has shown them empirically. In the majority of cases, lustration laws were passed well after the transition to democracy had been completed, in countries where the transition to democracy had been a relatively smooth process. Thus if any correlation does exist between lustration and a successful democratic transition, the direction of causality may actually run from the latter to the former. Of course, one might argue that Ukrainian regime change is still under way, but that lustration can be a tool in accomplishing that goal. However, nothing of the sort occurred in any other place that introduced lustration.

Before adopting lustration, Ukrainian politicians should think carefully about how to define the scope and content of the policy. If they opt for imposing lifetime bans on participation in politics for certain elites, they should be aware that such move would be unprecedented in the post-Communist region. They should also consider the consequences of lustrating most of the Party of Regions officials, because of the extremely lopsided regional effects of such a policy. Despite the temptation to start anew by removing remnants of the Yanukovych regime, incorporating, rather than lustrating Southern and Eastern Ukrainian elites might contribute more to Ukraine’s political stability. And last, but not least, lustration proponents would do well to take notice that the front-runner in the upcoming presidential election, Petro Poroshenko, an early supporter of Euromaidan, is also a co-founder of the Party of Regions and a former minister in Yanukovych’s cabinet.

Lustration in Ukraine
Wikipedia Last modified December 12, 2013

In Ukraine, the term lustration refers to the exclusion from public office of civil servants who worked under Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for more than a year “and did not resign of their own accord” between 25 February 2010 and 22 February 2014 and civil servants who were active in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. They may be excluded for five to ten years.[1]

Lustration was one of the demands of the Euromaidan-protestors.[4] The Euromaidan-protests started in November 2013 and ended with the 22 February 2014 removal of office of President Viktor Yanukovych.[5] On 26 February 2014, Ehor Sobolev was nominated to lead the “Committee on Lustration” in the new Yatsenyuk Government.[6] On 14 August 2014, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a bill on government lustration that introduced “procedures for conducting checks of government officials and people nominated for government position with the purpose of deciding whether they meet certain criteria for occupying relevant post”.[7] The bill was passed with the support of 252 out of 450 MPs.[7][8] On 16 September 2014 the Ukrainian parliament at the third reading adopted the law on lustration and thus finally passed the bill that took effect on 16 October 2014.[2] The head of the working group which finalized the bill on lustration, Yuriy Derevianko, said that the adopted document differed from the bill considered by the parliament at first reading.[9]

The first lustration wave, in October 2014, resulted in the removal of 39 high-ranking officials.[10]

According to General Prosecutor of Ukraine Vitaly Yarema the lustration law adopted by the Ukrainian parliament complied neither with the Ukrainian Constitution, nor international law, and he warned “its enactment will have negative consequences”.[2]

Volodymyr Yavorsky of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group described the 14 August 2014 lustration bill as “unreasonable” and warned that its implementation would be a “serious systematic violations of human rights”; (among other reasons) because too many people would be affected by it, including the dismissal of officials even if they could not be easily replaced.[11]

The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission ruled on 12 December 2014 that the lustration law contained some serious flaws; it called for revision of the lustration criteria, administrative decisions on lustration to be postponed and that information on who is subject to lustration should only be published after a final court ruling issued.[12]

Ukraine’s law on government cleansing
Venice Commission Council of Europe France December 12, 2014

The European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission), the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, in its interim opinion on Ukraine’s law on government cleansing adopted today, 12 December 2014, concluded that the law in its current form contained several serious shortcomings and welcomed the readiness of the Ukrainian authorities to amend the law in line with the Ukrainian Constitution and European standards.

Council of Europe Venice Commission: Some provisions of Ukrainian lustration law should be revised
Interfax-Ukraine Ukraine December 12, 2014

It follows from the preliminary decision released by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe on Friday that the Ukrainian law on Lustration contains some serious flaws.

The decision, specifically, states that the Venice Commission believes the provisions of the law containing the list of positions subject to lustration should be revised, saying that lustration should only apply to those positions that could pose considerable danger to human rights and democracy.

The document also calls for a revision of the lustration criteria, saying that guilt should be proven in each specific case and cannot be considered as proven based on an official’s affiliation with a specific category of public establishment alone.

The Venice Commission also believes the body in charge of lustration should be a specially established independent commission, not the Justice Ministry.

The document says that people’s right to a fair trial (including the right to a lawyer, equal rights of the parties, and the right to be heard in court) should be observed, administrative decisions on lustration should be postponed during the trial until the final sentence is handed out, and the law on lustration should contain some provisions dealing with these guarantees.

The document says that information on people who are subject to lustration should only be published after a final court ruling is issued.

At the same time, the Venice Commission hails the Ukrainian authorities’ readiness to make amendments to the law in accordance with the Ukrainian Constitution and European standards.

The commission’s experts are expected to arrive in Ukraine in early 2015 to discuss the law on lustration.

The Venice Commission is a consultative body on constitutional law issues in the Council of Europe.

EU says Ukraine ‘government cleansing’ law not in line with bloc’s principles
RT Russia December 13, 2014


Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada deputies at a session. Photo: Evgeny Kotenko/RIA Novostu. Visit this page for its embedded and related links and video report (2:13).

Ukraine’s recently passed law on lustration – the cleansing of government from past regimes’ officials – “does not live up to” European principles, according to the Venice Commission, the EU’s advisory body on constitutional matters.

The law, according to the president, is aimed at bringing the county’s political system “in line with European standards,” but it has “several serious shortcomings,” the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) has concluded.

The so-called “lustration law” adopted in October could see a million Ukrainian officials, including members of government, investigated, Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk estimates. Introducing the legislation was one of the most vigorous demands of the Maidan protesters, who took part in overthrowing President Yanukovich a year ago.

The political cleansing spree has spilt into the streets in a wave of mob “trash lustrations,” with angry crowds attacking officials, beating them up and dumping them in trashcans.

The European democracy watchdog has also questioned the inclusion of the recent Yanukovich period into the law.

“Applying lustration measures in respect of the recent period during which Mr Yanukovych [Yanukovich] was president of Ukraine would ultimately amount to questioning the actual functioning of the constitutional and legal framework of Ukraine as a democratic state governed by the rule of law,” the Commission’s verdict reads.

The number of officials subject to scrutiny has also raised doubts, with the European constitution experts believing “lustration must concern only positions that may genuinely pose a significant danger to human rights or democracy.”

The EU body has also urged the Ukrainian lawmakers to reconsider the criteria for picking officials to be investigated.

“Guilt must be proven in each individual case, and cannot be presumed on the basis of merely belonging to a category of public offices,” the Commission warns.

In general, it calls on the Ukrainian political purge advocates to curb their appetite for persecution, as the watchdog does not believe “that lustration measures are the most appropriate means to combat corruption.”

Some in the Ukrainian capital, like the architect of the purge – Egor Sobolev, the head of the Lustration Committee, are unhappy with the EU assessment.

“Our friends in the Venice Commission say that they could, without even consulting the Ukrainian people, judge our lustration to be inhumane and un-European,” he said.

Sobolev is against an individual approach in Ukraine’s lustration bid.

“Former KGB – out! Can’t explain family wealth – out! Otherwise it won’t work. Proving individual guilt of each official, policeman or judge in our own courts is a road to hell,” he added.

MP Yury Derevyanko, a co-author of the lustration law, believes the bill got a negative review because those who presented it to the Commission – Party of Regions members, Serhiy Kivalov and Volodymyr Pylypenko – are themselves subject to lustration.

“They are doing their best to completely destroy the lustration law,” Derevyanko told The Kyiv Post.

Opposition block MP, Yury Miroshnichenko, meanwhile, says the law was indeed too hastily adopted under pressure from the raging Maidan mob.

“The bill is rough and needs amendments,” he told Kommersant.

The Venice Commission experts have promised to come to Ukraine early next year to help the lawmakers there amend the law so it will “meet the applicable international standards.”

Related: Russia says it wants east Ukraine to stay with Kiev under reformed constitution
Gabriela Baczynska Thomson Reuters Canada/UK December 15, 2014

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow wants Ukraine to carry out a constitutional reform to allow more autonomy to Russian-speaking eastern regions that would then stay with Kiev, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments published on Monday.

In an interview with the Interfax news agency, Lavrov said Ukraine needed a constitutional reform “with the participation of all regions and all political powers” that would allow the two rebellious eastern regions to remain part of the country.

Lavrov put the blame on Kiev for what he said was forcing the eastern regions out of Ukraine by refusing to give them more autonomy to seek ways out of the conflict that has killed more than 4,700 people since the violence started mid-April.

“I very much hope that the steps which the Ukrainian leadership is taking, provoking the tearing away of Donbass will end,” he said in referring to the two eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

“…that Kiev’s policy will change towards establishing dialogue with Donbass in order to work out the agreements that will allow all Ukrainians from all the regions to live in Ukraine with equality and respect.”

‘Dating that will never end in marriage’ – Medvedev describes Ukraine’s chances in EU
RT Russia December 15, 2014


Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Photo: Alexander Astafyev/RIA Novosti

The program imposed by the EU on Ukraine to diminish its alleged economic dependence on Russia is pushing this unstable country into a full scale crisis, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev writes in a newspaper article.

The PM emphasized that the planned economic cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union looks very much like neo-colonialism. “The EU needs Ukraine primarily as a source of raw materials and definitely as a new market for European companies,” he wrote. According to some estimations, the Ukrainian economy will lose about $33 billion annually as a result of these policies, Mr Medvedev added.

The association agreement with the EU, which the current Kiev regime sees as an ultimate goal and key to prosperity, has definite priority over Ukrainian laws and national interests, Medvedev noted. Currently, no one in Europe wants to lend money to Ukraine. “No one is burning with desire to give money to Kiev even for most urgent needs. In a very desperate situation, Europe would allocate some money to repay the debts on the verge of default. The European economy is itself getting out of crisis with great difficulty,” reads Medvedev’s article.

The US “$1 billion guarantees” also turned out to be empty words, and so far there is no financial help coming to Ukraine from America, it adds.

“No one is hurrying to invite Ukraine to the common European table as an equal partner. They aren’t even offering a side chair; they are deliberately putting this country in a position of a girl who goes on dates that never end in marriage. It is sufficient to have a look at Turkey – this country signed the association agreement 51 years ago and it’s still not a European Union member,” the Russian PM says.

Medvedev also recalled a joke by one of his predecessors, Viktor Chernomyrdin, who was once asked when in his opinion Ukraine could become a EU member. “Right after Turkey,” Chernomyrdin answered quickly. “When should we expect Turkey’s membership,” pressed the reporter. “Never!” quipped Chernomyrdin.

The Russian prime minister covered the whole history of relations between Russia and Ukraine from the late 19th century through to the Soviet period and recent times. In the text published by the mass circulation daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta on Monday, he also concentrated on the future relations between nations that, in Medvedev’s words “don’t have and never will have real borders between them.”

Posted at: December 15, 2014 - 3:07 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

How Ayn Rand helped turn the U.S. into a selfish, greedy nation

I shall choose friends among men, but neither slaves nor masters. And I shall choose only such as please me, and them I shall love and respect, but neither command nor obey. And we shall join our hands when we wish, or walk alone when we so desire. For in the temple of his spirit, each man is alone. Let each man keep his temple untouched and undefiled. Then let him join hands with others if he wishes, but only beyond his holy threshold.

For the word “We” must never be spoken, save by one’s choice and as a second thought. This word must never be placed first within man’s soul, else it becomes a monster, the root of all the evils on earth, the root of man’s torture by men, and of an unspeakable lie.

The word “We” is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the grey of it. It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.

What is my joy if all hands, even the unclean, can reach into it? What is my wisdom, if even the fools can dictate to me? What is my freedom, if all creatures, even the botched and the impotent, are my masters? What is my life, if I am but to bow, to agree and to obey?

But I am done with this creed of corruption.

I am done with the monster of “We,” the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame.

And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride.

This god, this one word:

“I.”

- Ayn Rand from her 1938 novella, Anthem, Part 11, page 2

Bruce E. Levine is a practicing clinical psychologist. He writes and speaks widely on how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect. His latest book is Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite. It calls for a new kind of politics to help Americans overcome political demoralization. Below: Levine contends Ayn Rand made selfishness heroic and caring about others weakness.

How Ayn Rand helped turn the U.S. into a selfish, greedy nation
Bruce E. Levine AlterNet USA December 10, 2014

Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society….To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil.— Gore Vidal, 1961

Only rarely in U.S. history do writers transform us to become a more caring or less caring nation. In the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was a strong force in making the United States a more humane nation, one that would abolish slavery of African Americans. A century later, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) helped make the United States into one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world, a neo-Dickensian society where healthcare is only for those who can afford it, and where young people are coerced into huge student-loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

Rand’s impact has been widespread and deep. At the iceberg’s visible tip is the influence she’s had over major political figures who have shaped American society. In the 1950s, Ayn Rand read aloud drafts of what was later to become Atlas Shrugged to her “Collective,” Rand’s ironic nickname for her inner circle of young individualists, which included Alan Greenspan, who would serve as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006.

In 1966, Ronald Reagan wrote in a personal letter, “Am an admirer of Ayn Rand.” Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) credits Rand for inspiring him to go into politics, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) calls Atlas Shrugged his “foundation book.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) says Ayn Rand had a major influence on him, and his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is an even bigger fan. A short list of other Rand fans includes Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Christopher Cox, chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission in George W. Bush’s second administration; and former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.

But Rand’s impact on U.S. society and culture goes even deeper.

Ayn Rand’s books such as The Virtue of Selfishness and her philosophy that celebrates self-interest and disdains altruism may well be, as Vidal assessed, “nearly perfect in its immorality.” But is Vidal right about evil? Charles Manson, who himself did not kill anyone, is the personification of evil for many of us because of his psychological success at exploiting the vulnerabilities of young people and seducing them to murder. What should we call Ayn Rand’s psychological ability to exploit the vulnerabilities of millions of young people so as to influence them not to care about anyone besides themselves?

While Greenspan (tagged “A.G.” by Rand) was the most famous name that would emerge from Rand’s Collective, the second most well-known name to emerge from the Collective was Nathaniel Branden, psychotherapist, author and “self-esteem” advocate. Before he was Nathaniel Branden, he was Nathan Blumenthal, a 14-year-old who read Rand’s The Fountainhead again and again. He later would say, “I felt hypnotized.” He describes how Rand gave him a sense that he could be powerful, that he could be a hero. He wrote one letter to his idol Rand, then a second. To his amazement, she telephoned him, and at age 20, Nathan received an invitation to Ayn Rand’s home. Shortly after, Nathan Blumenthal announced to the world that he was incorporating Rand in his new name: Nathaniel Branden. And in 1955, with Rand approaching her 50th birthday and Branden his 25th, and both in dissatisfying marriages, Ayn bedded Nathaniel.

What followed sounds straight out of Hollywood, but Rand was straight out of Hollywood, having worked for Cecil B. DeMille. Rand convened a meeting with Nathaniel, his wife Barbara (also a Collective member), and Rand’s own husband Frank. To Branden’s astonishment, Rand convinced both spouses that a time-structured affair—she and Branden were to have one afternoon and one evening a week together—was “reasonable.” Within the Collective, Rand is purported to have never lost an argument. On his trysts at Rand’s New York City apartment, Branden would sometimes shake hands with Frank before he exited. Later, all discovered that Rand’s sweet but passive husband would leave for a bar, where he began his self-destructive affair with alcohol.

By 1964, the 34-year-old Nathaniel Branden had grown tired of the now 59-year-old Ayn Rand. Still sexually dissatisfied in his marriage to Barbara and afraid to end his affair with Rand, Branden began sleeping with a married 24-year-old model, Patrecia Scott. Rand, now “the woman scorned,” called Branden to appear before the Collective, whose nickname had by now lost its irony for both Barbara and Branden. Rand’s justice was swift. She humiliated Branden and then put a curse on him: “If you have one ounce of morality left in you, an ounce of psychological health—you’ll be impotent for the next 20 years! And if you achieve potency sooner, you’ll know it’s a sign of still worse moral degradation!”

Rand completed the evening with two welt-producing slaps across Branden’s face. Finally, in a move that Stalin and Hitler would have admired, Rand also expelled poor Barbara from the Collective, declaring her treasonous because Barbara, preoccupied by her own extramarital affair, had neglected to fill Rand in soon enough on Branden’s extra-extra-marital betrayal. (If anyone doubts Alan Greenspan’s political savvy, keep in mind that he somehow stayed in Rand’s good graces even though he, fixed up by Branden with Patrecia’s twin sister, had double-dated with the outlaws.)

After being banished by Rand, Nathaniel Branden was worried that he might be assassinated by other members of the Collective, so he moved from New York to Los Angeles, where Rand fans were less fanatical. Branden established a lucrative psychotherapy practice and authored approximately 20 books, 10 of them with either “Self” or “Self-Esteem” in the title. Rand and Branden never reconciled, but he remained an admirer of her philosophy of self-interest until his recent death in December 2014.

Ayn Rand’s personal life was consistent with her philosophy of not giving a shit about anybody but herself. …

To wow her young admirers, Rand would often tell a story of how a smart-aleck book salesman had once challenged her to explain her philosophy while standing on one leg. She replied: “Metaphysics—objective reality. Epistemology—reason. Ethics—self-interest. Politics—capitalism.” How did that philosophy capture young minds?

Posted at: December 15, 2014 - 2:53 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post