Gaza | Iraq | Venezuela

Jeremy Scahill: Blacklisted Academic Norman Finkelstein on Gaza, “the World’s Largest Concentration Camp” (Intercept)

Israel has once again conducted a premeditated, full-scale massacre in broad daylight, in front of the cameras of the world. Once again, it took place in Gaza.
On May 14, Israeli snipers and other forces gunned down more than 60 Palestinians, and wounded thousands of others, including civilians, journalists, and paramedics. “You try nonlethal means and they don’t work,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “So you’re left with bad choices. It’s a bad deal. You know, you try and you go for below the knee, and sometimes it doesn’t work, and unfortunately these things are avoidable.”
It appears that the only way not to be killed, according to Netanyahu, is to meekly accept imprisonment inside the prison of Gaza. Among those killed by Israeli forces was an 8-month-old infant. Her name was Laila al-Ghandour. They also killed at least seven other children and a man in a wheelchair, and that man had lost his legs after they had to be amputated following an earlier Israeli attack.

Robert Fisk: How long after this week’s Gaza massacre are we going to continue pretending that the Palestinians are non-people? (Independent)

Remember how they were to blame for their own exodus seven decades ago, because they followed the instructions of radio stations to leave their homes until the Jews of Israel were ‘driven into the sea’. Only, of course, the radio broadcasts never existed.

Chemi Shalev: Carnage in Gaza Threatens to Revive Analogies Between Israel and Apartheid South Africa (Haaretz via Google)

American Evangelicals who now support Israel’s right-wing policies were once staunch defenders of Pretoria’s white supremacist regime. … Just as Evangelicals depict Israel today as the forward outpost of Western civilization against Islamic hordes, prominent Evangelical leaders such as Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart and Pat Robertson described apartheid South Africa as a vital Christian bastion against godless Communism. They preferred to camouflage their long-held support for segregation, which was probably one of their primemotivations to support South Africa’s white rulers in the first place. Their support for Israel may have more to do with biblical prophecies of End Times and their virulent opposition to Islam, but Israel has done much in recent years to portray itself as racist.

Roger Harris: Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly (CounterPunch)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is the frontrunner in the presidential elections scheduled for May 20. If past pronouncements and practice by the US empire are any indication, every effort will be made to oust an avowed socialist from what is considered the US’ “backyard.” …
In addition to summoning Venezuela’s sycophantic domestic opposition, who support sanctions against their own people, the US has gone on the offensive using the regional Lima Group to destabilize Venezuela. The group was established last August in Lima, the capital of Peru, as a block to oppose Venezuela…
Across the Atlantic on May 3, the European Parliament demanded Venezuela suspend presidential elections. Four days later, US Vice President Pence called on the OAS to expel Venezuela. Adding injury to insult, the US announced yet another round of sanctions. Then the next day, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley joined the chorus calling on President Maduro to cancel the presidential election and resign.

Alex MacDonald, Mustafa Abu Sneineh: First female Communist elected in Iraq’s holiest city calls for ‘social justice’ (Middle East Eye)

Iraqis appear to have broken with the political establishment in response to what they see as rampant corruption and incompetence.
The biggest winner in Saturday’s elections was the boycott movement, which was evident after it emerged that only 44.5 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.
But those who did vote overwhelmingly cast their ballot for the Sairoun Alliance, a coalition of supporters of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), as well as the smaller Iraqi Republican Party.

Gaza

Hosam Salem: Gaza: Refugees call for right of return in mass protests (AlJazeera)

Israeli forces have killed at least 15 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,000 others during a mass protest near the Gaza Strip’s eastern border.
Thousands attended Friday’s protest, dubbed the Great March of Return, which was organised by several Palestinian civil society organisations and backed by all of political factions.
The protest marked the 42nd anniversary of Land Day – on March 30, 1976, six unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by Israeli forces during protests against the Israeli government’s decision to expropriate massive tracts of Palestinian land.
Protesters said the main message of the march was to call for the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Edo Konrad: Videos show Israeli soldiers sniping unarmed protesters in Gaza (+972)

Attempts to retroactively portray Friday’s demonstrators as Hamas militants, stone-throwers, or human shields serves only one purpose: to quiet the Israeli conscience.

Hazem Balousha, Oliver Holmes: Palestinians hold day of mourning after 773 ‘shot with live ammunition’ (Guardian)

Gaza hospitals, running low on blood and overstretched by the huge number of wounded, were reeling after one of the enclave’s bloodiest days outside of open war, in which Israeli soldiers shot 773 people with live ammunition, according to the ministry of health.
Fifteen of the wounded died, said the ministry spokesperson Dr Ashraf al-Qidra. “Most of the dead were aged between 17 and 35 years old,” he said. “The injuries were on the upper part of the body.” He added that the remainder of the wounded, some of whom were in a critical condition, had been “shot with live ammunition”.

Robert Mackey: Israel Is Prepared to Kill More Unarmed Protesters in Gaza (Intercept)

Israel’s army expects up to 50,000 Palestinians to attend protests in Gaza on Friday, and is prepared to once again use deadly force against unarmed demonstrators, one week after Israeli snipers fired at least 650 bullets at Palestinian civilians, killing 15.
With President Donald Trump apparently ignoring last week’s massacre in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, senior Israeli officials brushed off pleas from human rights groups to rescind orders that permit snipers to open fire on protesters who approach Israel’s perimeter fence.
“We have defined the rules of the game clearly and we do not intend to change them,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said as he toured the frontier on Tuesday. “Anyone trying to approach the fence is putting their lives at risk.” …
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which monitors the treatment of Palestinians in the territories Israel’s military has controlled since 1967, published ads on Thursday urging soldiers to “refuse patently unlawful orders, to open fire on unarmed demonstrators in Gaza.”
“Approaching the Gaza perimeter fence is not an offense punishable by death or serious injury, to be executed immediately via shooting from a distance,” Hagai El-Ad, the rights group’s director, wrote.

Lana Habash: Why is Israel Shooting at Unarmed Protesters? (CounterPunch)

Why would Israel’s soldiers be instructed to shoot to kill teens running away from the fence, Palestinian journalists, farmers, and unarmed protesters? Surely one of the most militarized states in west Asia is not scared of a march? In fact they are. Colonial governments are at their weakest when they use naked violence against indigenous people.

Mehdi Hasan: Israel Kills Palestinians and Western Liberals Shrug. Their Humanitarianism Is a Sham (Intercept)

“If the concept of intervention is driven by universal human rights, why is it — from the people who identify themselves as liberal interventionists — why do we never hear a peep, a word, about intervening to protect the Palestinians?”
That was the question I put to the French philosopher, author, and champion of liberal (or humanitarian) interventionism, Bernard-Henri Lévy, on my Al Jazeera English interview show “Head to Head” in 2013.
The usually silver-tongued Levy struggled to answer the question. The situation in Palestine is “not the same” as in Syria and “you have not all the good on one side and all the bad on the other side,” said Levy, who once remarked in reference to the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, that he had “never seen such a democratic army, which asks itself so many moral questions.”
I couldn’t help but be reminded of my exchange with the man known as “BHL” this past weekend, as I watched horrific images of unarmed Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border being shot in the back by the “democratic army” of Israel. How many “moral questions” did those Israeli snipers ask themselves, I wondered, before they gunned down Gazan refugees for daring to demand a return to their homes inside the Green Line? …
Palestinians, it seems, have been so dehumanized that they don’t deserve a humanitarian intervention; their blood is cheap, their plight is unimportant, and, perhaps above all else, their killers are our friends.

Britain | Russia | USA | Australia

Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by a nerve agent on March 4 on a park bench in Salisbury, England.
Skripal had been a Russian double agent, a spy who turned over 300 names of Russian spies to British intelligence from 1995 to 2004. He was (not so surprisingly) arrested in Russia in 2004 and sentenced to thirteen years in prison. He was released in a spy-swap in 2010, settled in the UK and became a British citizen…
Skripal posed no further threat to the Russian state. There is at least one report that he sought to return to Russia recently. It’s hard to comprehend why at this time Moscow would poison him and his young daughter visiting from Russia with a nerve agent (Novichok) created in the USSR from the 1970s but subsequently banned and destroyed under international supervision. Cui bono? Who profits from these poisonings?
In all the outrage, expressed in Britain and elsewhere, about this attack, there is precious little analysis.

Patrick Cockburn: It’s Wishful Thinking to Blame Trump’s Win on Cambridge Analytics (CounterPunch)

Many people who hate and fear Donald Trump feel that only political black magic or some form of trickery can explain his election as US President. They convince themselves that we are the victims of a dark conspiracy rather than that the world we live in is changing, and changing for the worse.
Cambridge Analytica has now joined Russia at the top of a list of conspirators who may have helped Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016. This is satisfactory for Democrats as it shows that they ought to have won, and delegitimises Trump’s mandate…
What is lacking in these scandals is much real evidence that Russian “meddling” or Cambridge Analytica “harvesting” – supposing all these tales are true – really did much to determine the outcome of the US election. Keep in mind that many very astute and experienced American politicians, backed by billions of dollars, regularly try and fail to decide who will hold political office in the US.
It simply is not very likely that the Kremlin – having shown extraordinary foresight in seeing that Trump stood a chance when nobody else did – was able to exercise significant influence on the US polls. Likewise, for all its bombastic sales pitch, Cambridge Analytica was really a very small player in the e-campaign.

Paul de Rooij: Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again (CounterPunch)

[I]t seems that AI is calling for a NATO bombing campaign similar to the one staged in Libya in 2011. There is also no ambiguity as to who AI deems to be culpable and ought to be at the receiving end of a “humanitarian bombing” campaign. Before cheering yet another US/NATO war, it is useful to analyse Amnesty International’s record in assisting propaganda campaigns on the eve of wars. It is also worthwhile reviewing AI’s reporting on Syria, and how it compares with that on other countries in the area.

David Brophy: ‘Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia’ by Clive Hamilton (Australian Book Review)

Lawyers, media organisations, human rights NGOs, and unions have been lining up recently to warn us of a serious threat facing civil liberties in Australia. It comes in the form of Malcolm Turnbull’s new national security laws, which, in the name of combating foreign influence, would criminalise anyone who simply ‘receives or obtains’ information deemed harmful to the national interest. Yet there, in the midst of this chorus of opposition, stood economist and public intellectual Clive Hamilton, with his Chinese-speaking collaborator Alex Joske, to tell us that to resist the threat of Chinese authoritarianism we would have become more authoritarian ourselves.
A notable contributor to 2017’s crop of ‘Chinese influence’ reportage, much of Hamilton’s new book will be familiar to readers of that genre. Yet in Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia, he has not missed the opportunity to turn things up a notch.
The loss of Australia’s ‘sovereignty’ has been a common, if slippery, talking point in the debate so far. Here, Hamilton cuts through the confusion: the ‘invasion’ in the book’s title is no mere flourish. The People’s Republic of China is laying the groundwork in order, one day, to make territorial claims on our nation. Failure to heed the author’s prescient warnings ‘would see Australia become a tribute state of the resurgent Middle Kingdom’.

China Scholars Issue Open Letter to Protest Australia’s Draft Spy Bill Amendment (News Lens)

As scholars of China and the Chinese diaspora, we write to express our concern regarding the proposed revision of Australia’s national security laws. We do so on two grounds; first, the new laws would imperil scholarly contributions to public debate on matters of importance to our nation; and second, the debate surrounding ‘Chinese influence’ has created an atmosphere ill-suited to the judicious balancing of national security interests with the protection of civil liberties.

Kirsty Needham: China influence debate needs to calm down amid stigma (Sydney Morning Herald)

More than 30 China scholars in Australia, including world-renowned sinologist Geremie Barme, have urged the Turnbull government to delay its foreign influence legislation amid warnings that Chinese Australians are being stigmatised.

China’s influence in Australia: Maintaining the debate (Asia & the Pacific Policy Society)

We the undersigned are scholars of China, the Chinese diaspora, China-Australia relations and Australia’s relations with Asia. We are deeply concerned by a number of well-documented reports about the Chinese Communist Party’s interference in Australia. We strongly believe that an open debate on the activities of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in this country is essential to intellectual freedom, democratic rights and national security. This debate is valuable and necessary.
It is vital that the debate is driven by fact-based research and reporting rather than sensationalism or racism. It is also vital that this debate is not stifled by self-censorship. We firmly believe the current debate is not characterised by racism and that it is crucial for Australia to continue this debate…
[T]he Australian government and civil society must remain vigilant…

Korea | Iraq | USA

Kim Jong-un has committed to denuclearisation, says South Korea (Guardian)

South Korea’s foreign minister has said that North Korea’s leader has “given his word” that he is committed to denuclearization, a prime condition for a potential summit with President Donald Trump in May…
South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul has asked the North “to indicate in clear terms the commitment to denuclearization” and she says Kim’s “conveyed that commitment.”

Medea Benjamin, Nicolas J. S. Davies: The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion (CounterPunch)

March 19 marks 15 years since the U.S.-U.K invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the American people have no idea of the enormity of the calamity the invasion unleashed. The US military has refused to keep a tally of Iraqi deaths. General Tommy Franks, the man in charge of the initial invasion, bluntly told reporters, “We don’t do body counts.” One survey found that most Americans thought Iraqi deaths were in the tens of thousands. But our calculations, using the best information available, show a catastrophic estimate of 2.4 million Iraqi deaths since the 2003 invasion.

Masha Gessen: The Fundamental Uncertainty of Mueller’s Russia Indictments (New Yorker)

On Friday, the special counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment of thirteen Russians, for meddling with the 2016 election. Over the long weekend, four ways of interpreting the document solidified. The White House focussed on a statement by the deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who said the indictment contains no allegation that any American knowingly colluded with the Russian effort. President Trump tweeted, “They are laughing their asses off in Moscow.” Rob Goldman, Facebook’s vice-president for ads, took to Twitter to assert that the primary purpose of Russian meddling was to “divide America,” not to influence the election. Meanwhile, most of the legacy media interpreted the indictment as a major blow to Trump, who, they write, can no longer dismiss the allegations of Russian meddling as a hoax. Here is the bad news: all of this is true at the same time.
It is true that the indictment tells us nothing about connections between the Russian efforts and the Trump campaign, and the Trump victory. It is also true that Moscow is laughing, at least in part because the Kremlin had no grand plan to elect Trump.

Wikileaks | Israel | Syria

A travesty of justice in the 51st state of Amerikkka:
Owen Bowcott, Ewen MacAskill: Sweden tried to drop Assange extradition in 2013, CPS emails show (Guardian)

Swedish prosecutors attempted to drop extradition proceedings against Julian Assange as early as 2013, according to a confidential exchange of emails with the Crown Prosecution Service seen by the Guardian.
The sequence of messages also appears to challenge statements by the CPS that the case was not live at the time emails were deleted by prosecutors, according to supporters of the WikiLeaks founder…
The newly-released emails show that the Swedish authorities were eager to give up the case four years before they formally abandoned proceedings in 2017 and that the CPS dissuaded them from doing so…
The CPS lawyer handling the case, who has since retired, commented on an article which suggested that Sweden could drop the case in August 2012. He wrote: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”.

Jonathan Cook: The UK’s Hidden Hand in Julian Assange’s Detention (CounterPunch)

It now emerges that the last four years of Julian Assange’s effective imprisonment in the Ecuadorean embassy in London have been entirely unnecessary. In fact, they depended on a legal charade.
Behind the scenes, Sweden wanted to drop the extradition case against Assange back in 2013. Why was this not made public? Because Britain persuaded Sweden to pretend that they still wished to pursue the case…
In fact, Assange should have walked free years ago if this was really about an investigation – a sham one at that – into an alleged sexual assault in Sweden. Instead, as Assange has long warned, there is a very different agenda at work: efforts to extradite him onwards to the US, where he could be locked away for good. That was why UN experts argued two years ago that he was being “arbitrarily detained” – for political crimes – not unlike the situation of dissidents in other parts of the world that win the support of western liberals and leftists…
Now the UK (read US) authorities have a new, even less credible pretext for continuing to hold Assange: because he “skipped bail”. Apparently the price he should pay for this relatively minor infraction is more than five years of confinement…
One has to wonder at what point will most people realise that this is – and always was – political persecution masquerading as law enforcement.

Nadia Khomami: Julian Assange asks UK court to drop arrest warrant (Guardian)

Though Swedish prosecutors have dropped the investigation against him, Assange will be arrested if he leaves the building in Knightsbridge for breaching his former bail conditions in the UK.

Nadia Khomami: Judge refuses to withdraw Julian Assange arrest warrant (Guardian)

Handing down her judgment at Westminster magistrates court, the senior district judge Emma Arbuthnot said she was not persuaded by the argument from Assange’s legal team that it was not in the public interest to pursue him for skipping bail.
She said: “I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years…
Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said before Tuesday’s hearing that the US government had made clear its intention to bring a prosecution against WikiLeaks.
“The UK FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] refuses to confirm or deny whether there is an extradition request for Mr Assange,” she said. “In our recent FoI challenge against the CPS […] the CPS refused to disclose certain material because it would ‘tip off’ Mr Assange about a possible US extradition request. It is time to acknowledge what the real issue is and has always been in this case: the risk of extradition to the US.”

Haggai Matar: A downed F-16 and an Iranian drone: The other side always started it (+972)

According to the Israeli narrative, the timeline of violence that resulted in Syria shooting down an Israeli fighter jet began just a few hours earlier. But Israel has been bombing inside Syria for months.

Joshua Leifer: Not just Ahed: Israel holding 300 Palestinian minors in prison (+972)

While the case of Ahed Tamimi has garnered international media attention, the Israeli military prison system’s treatment of Ahed and her mother is not unique. Israel Prison Service (IPS) statistics published by Israeli anti-occupation organization B’Tselem earlier in January reveal that Israel is holding over 300 Palestinian minors in prison. Over 180 of those minors are being held in detention until the end of legal proceedings, without having been convicted, like Tamimi.
According to IPS data handed over to B’Tselem, as of the end of November 2017 there were 5,881 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, of whom 1,775 were being detained until the conclusion of legal proceedings. Over 400 were administrative detainees, including three women and two minors (aged 16 and 18). Administrative detention is a measure Israel uses to detain Palestinians (and some Jews) indefinitely without charge or trial. It is meant to be adopted rarely and with moderation. In practice, however, Israel uses administrative detention as a first, not last, resort.
In total, 2,200 Palestinians were being held in Israeli jails without having been convicted of any crime.

Ayelet Shaked: Israel must safeguard Jewish majority (AlJazeera)

Israel must safeguard a Jewish majority even at the expense of human rights, the country’s justice minister has said in a speech defending a bill that would legally define Israel as the “national home of the Jewish people” for the first time.
Ayelet Shaked said on Monday that Israel must maintain both a Jewish majority and democracy, but stressed that keeping the state’s Jewish character may come “at the price” of human rights violations…
The bill states that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people”.
It also demotes Arabic from an official language to a language with “special status”, even though it is the mother tongue of approximately 1.7 million Palestinian citizens of the state.

Africa | Israel

Patrick Bond: New Evidence of Africa’s Systematic Looting, From an Increasingly Schizophrenic World Bank (CounterPunch)

A brand new World Bank report, The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018, offers evidence of how much poorer Africa is becoming thanks to rampant minerals, oil and gas extraction. Yet Bank policies and practices remain oriented to enforcing foreign loan repayments and transnational corporate (TNC) profit repatriation, thus maintaining the looting.
Central to its “natural capital accounting,” the Bank uses an “Adjusted Net Savings” (ANS) measure for changes in economic, ecological and educational wealth…
In its latest world survey (with 1990-2015 data), the Bank concludes that Sub-Saharan Africa loses roughly $100 billion of ANS annually because it is “the only region with periods of negative levels – averaging negative 3 percent of GNI over the past decade – suggesting that its development policies are not yet sufficiently promoting sustainable economic growth… Clearly, natural resource depletion is one of the key drivers of negative ANS in the region.”

Robert Mackey: Palestinian Legislators Bundled Out of Israeli Parliament for Protesting Mike Pence (Intercept)

More than a dozen Palestinian members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, were ejected from the chamber for protesting a speech by Vice President Mike Pence on Monday.
The legislators, who represent Palestinians living inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, stood at the start of Pence’s address and held up signs with the slogan “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine” over an image of a mosque and a church in the city. The placards signaled dissent from the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy there next year, despite international consensus that the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 was illegal…
The spectacle struck the visiting American correspondent Andrea Mitchell as out of tune with Israel’s boast about being the region’s only true democracy. “Can you imagine,” she wrote on Twitter, “Capitol Police dragging members of the Congressional Black Caucus off the House floor?

Odeh Bisharat: With Pence Visiting, It Took 10 Seconds and the Knesset Was Empty of Arabs (Haaretz)

Even the Israeli president tossed statesmanship aside and enthusiastically applauded the disgraceful scene… MK Dov Henin, noting the significance of the brutal event, wrote on Twitter: “The removal of an entire faction from a Knesset session is an unprecedented move. Apparently they want to show what democracy really looks like in Israel.” Aside from Henin, not a single Jewish MK was willing to identify with the Arab MKs and say – I cast my lot with you, my Arab brothers.

Glenn Greenwald: In a Major Free Speech Victory, a Federal Court Strikes Down a Law that Punishes Supporters of Israel Boycott (Intercept)

Korea

Gavan McCormack: North Korea and a Rules-Based Order for the Indo-Pacific, East Asia, and the World (Japan Focus)

Two main sets of proposals now rest on global tables: that by the US and its allies, notably Japan and Australia, demanding North Korean submission as precondition for any negotiation, and the call for freeze and negotiations, such as proposed by China and Russia and supported by other states such as Germany and France and by prominent US figures such as former Defense Secretary William Perry.
As China’s Foreign Minister put it in May 2017, the latter proposal entails

“that, as a first step, the DPRK suspend its missile and nuclear activities in exchange for a halting of large-scale US-ROK military exercises. This ‘double suspension’ approach can help us break out of the security dilemma and bring the parties back to the table.”

North Korea for at least the past several decades has sought talks on resolving its highly abnormal situation. What it wants, according to Jimmy Carter, ex-president and presidential envoy who negotiated a way through the crisis of 1994, is a peace treaty with the United States and an end to economic sanctions…
The stance of the US and its allies in threatening, denouncing, and refusing to negotiate is patently illegal and criminal…
In a remarkable 6-7 September 2017 meeting that passed almost unnoticed in the Western and Japanese media, the two Koreas (South and North), Japan, Russia and China met at Vladivostok under the auspices of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), a relatively new (established in 2015) Russian initiative to promote the development of its Eastern zone. The five states (absent only the United States) of the Beijing Six Party Conference proceeded in low key, consensual mode, to endorse (or in the case of North Korea at least “not oppose”) what has been called the Putin plan. It dealt essentially with economic cooperation, railways and pipelines, but its implications are far from mundane.
The Vladivostok parties looked to open multiple lines of cooperation and communication across North Korea, extending Siberian oil and gas pipelines to the two Koreas and Japan and opening railways and ports linking them across Siberia to China, the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe. South Korea’s President Moon projected his understanding of this within the frame of what he called “Northeast Asia-plus,” which involved construction of “nine bridges of cooperation” (gas, railroads, ports, electricity, a northern sea route, shipbuilding, jobs, agriculture, and fisheries), embedding the Korean peninsula in the frame of the Russian and Chinese-led BRICS, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Shanghai Cooperation Organiziation (SCO) organizations, extending and consolidating those vast, China- and Russia-centred geo-political and economic groupings.

Joseph Essertier: North Korea: The Deafening Silence around the Moon-Putin Plan (CounterPunch)

As the world hurtles ever closer to war in Asia, there is an Alice-in-Wonderland media narrative that has North Korea as the aggressor that must be controlled and punished at all costs. And in the face of that narrative, the deafening silence of intellectuals is starting to bear a remarkable resemblance to appeasement…
One could be forgiven for not having heard of it since it disrupts the standard “North-Korea-Problem” narrative, but there is a realistic solution to the crisis that liberal and progressive appeasers are keeping silent about. This is the Moon-Putin Plan unveiled in September in Vladivostok. President Moon outlined it as nine “bridges” of cooperation linking South Korea to Russia via North Korea—“gas, railroads, ports, electricity, a northern sea route, shipbuilding, jobs, agriculture, and fisheries.” Siberian oil and gas pipelines would be extended to Korea, both North and South, as well as to Japan. Both Koreas would be linked up with the vast rail networks of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, including high-speed rail, and the Eurasian Economic Union, which includes the Trans-Siberian Railway. In the words of Gavan McCormack, “North Korea would accept the security guarantee of the five (Japan included), refrain from any further nuclear or missile testing, shelve (‘freeze’) its existing programs and gain its longed for ‘normalization’ in the form of incorporation in regional groupings, the lifting of sanctions and normalized relations with its neighbour states, without surrender.” This Moon-Putin Plan has the potential to satisfy all the states involved, possibly even the US. One would think, “Done deal. Problem solved.” Yet mainstream journalists in Japan and English-speaking countries have largely ignored it, and even very few non-mainstream journalists have covered it.

Bruce Cumings, Nermeen Shaykh, Amy Goodman: North and South Korean Leaders Agree to Direct Negotiations as Trump Provokes Kim Jong-un on Twitter (Democracy Now)

[T]he tone of Kim Jong-un’s statement … was very conciliatory toward the South and was followed up by a high official who was even more conciliatory, talking about North Korea’s hopes for the South Korean Winter Olympics going well. And, of course, Kim Jong-un offered to send a delegation to the Olympics…
And secondly, he said something that North Korean officials have been saying for the last six months without a lot of attention. And that is words to the effect that their nuclear program is nearly completed, which would mean they don’t have to test so much…
[T]he Trump administration was very opposed to President Moon Jae-in of South Korea’s proposals for talks… [T]he Trump administration position is that there can be no talks until North Korea commits to denuclearization…
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Tuesday …: “We won’t take any of the talks seriously if they don’t do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea. We consider this to be a very reckless regime. We don’t think we need a Band-Aid, and we don’t think we need to smile and take a picture. We think that we need to have them stop nuclear weapons, and they need to stop it now. So, North Korea can talk with anyone they want, but the U.S. is not going to recognize it or acknowledge it, until they agree to ban the nuclear weapons that they have.”

Wada Haruki: The US-North Korean Crisis and Japan’s Responsibility (Japan Focus)
Andrew Salmon: South, North Korea to talk after military drills postponed (Asia Times)

North Korea has agreed to South Korea’s proposal for “high-level” inter-Korean talks at the truce village of Panmunjeom next Tuesday, Jan. 9, as a series of rapid rapprochement moves ahead of the Winter Olympics gain momentum.
The North Korean acceptance was delivered early Friday, the morning after South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump agreed, during a late-night (Korea-time) phone call Thursday to suspend military exercises during the Winter Olympics, set for Pyeonchang, South Korea, in February.

Andrew Salmon: North Korea offers ‘gift’ as inter-Korean talks start in DMZ (Asia Times)

The discussions are the first high-level negotiations between the Koreas since 2015, and the first of South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration, which took power in May 2017.
The talks follow North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s customary New Year’s message, during which he said that his state would “mass-produce” nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, but also offered a surprise olive branch – suggesting immediate inter-Korean talks, and wishing the South a successful Olympics.

Iran | Honduras | South Africa | USA

Patrick Cockburn: What’s Driving Iran’s Protests? (CounterPunch)

Iran is seeing its most widespread protest demonstrations since 2009. They are still gaining momentum and some 15 people are reported to have been killed, though the circumstances in which they died remains unclear. The motive for the protests is primarily economic, but many slogans are political and some directly attack clerical rule in Iran which was introduced with the overthrow of the Shah in 1979.

Vijay Prashad: What the Protests in Iran Are Really About (AlterNet)

Trump and Netanyahu are trying to take credit, but this movement is all about the people…
This is unlike the Green Movement of 2009, when Tehran’s reform-minded citizens came onto the streets angry with what they saw as a stolen election. It is unlike the student uprisings of 1999, again centered in Tehran, when students protested over the closure of the reform newspaper Salam.
Those were protests of a rising middle-class, throttled by social sanctions and by political limitations. Their protests culminated in the election of President Hassan Rouhani, who is the current standard bearer of their hopes…
The current wave of protests is characterized not so much by a desire for an expanded political system, the terms of previous ‘reform’ protests. This is an upsurge against the privations in Iran – unemployment, deprivation and hopelessness. The sharpness of the slogans – even against the Supreme Leader of the country – indicates the level of anger at the failure of the Islamic Republic to deliver the basic needs of a growing and youthful population…
[I]n the city of Mashhad, where the protests began, the Astan-e Quds Razavi, Iran’s largest endowment, a foundation that controls a shrine in the city, owns 43% of the land in the city and has an income near $150 million per year. In the 2017 presidential election, Ibrahim Raisi, the candidate of the Supreme Leader Khamenei and head of Astan-e Quds Razavi, openly said that Khamenei had allowed the endowment not to pay taxes. This rattled a population that saw these institutions as sponges on a state that had turned its back on ordinary Iranians…
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets. But tens of thousands more followed to defend the Islamic Republic. These are tense times for Iran. It is clear that the government is going to have to accede to the pressure from this working-class uprising. It is not enough to describe the protestors as foreign agents. Even if Trump and Netanyahu, the monarchists and the Mujahideen Khalq try to take credit for the uprising, they are not in charge. The well of Iranian patriotism is deep. The Iranians will not take their orders from the White House. But neither will they sit quietly as their lives fall apart before their eyes.

Murtaza Hussein: Protests in Iran took many by surprise — but not Iranian labor activists (Intercept)
Brandon Turbeville: What Is Happening in Iran? Is Another “Color Revolution” Underway? (GlobalResearch)
Reza Fiyouzat: Iran and the Left: a Dissenting View (CounterPunch)

Allan Nairn: U.S. spent weeks pressuring Honduras opposition to end protests against election fraud (Intecept)

[T]he U.S. congratulated Juan Orlando Hernández on what it said was his re-election as president of Honduras. The U.S. State Department’s congratulations to Hernández came a month into a standoff between the government and the opposition over the vote tally, and five days after the Honduran electoral commission, which is controlled by Hernández-installed allies, declared him the winner.
The State Department message came amid continuing vote-fraud allegations by the opposition, journalists, and foreign observers. The Organization of American States had announced on December 17 that the purported victory was “impossible” to verify, and called for a new, clean election.

Amy Goodman, Allan Nairn: United States Tries—But Fails—to Stop to Stop Hondurans from Protesting Election Fraud (Democracy Now)
Danielle Marie Mackey: The election fraud in Honduras follows decades of corruption funded by the U.S. war on drugs (Intercept)

Irvin Jim: NUMSA New Year Statement: A clarion call to build a Revolutionary Workers Party! (Dawn)

The recent leadership changes that have resulted in the Deputy President of the country Cyril Ramaphosa ascending to the presidency of the ANC is not a reason to celebrate, particularly for the working class. NUMSA refused to endorse one faction of the ANC over another. We have always known that regardless of who emerged the winner, the governing party will continue to pursue backward, right wing, neo-liberal macro-economic policies which are hurtful to the working class and the poor.
For the last two decades, the ANC government has waged an all-out assault on the African working class in order to defend White Monopoly Capital… These policies have resulted in massive job losses and long-term mass unemployment. They have created a society of extreme inequality. The majority suffer as they did under Apartheid, living crammed together with cockroaches and rats in townships and shacks, without sanitation, water and electricity.
NUMSA shares SAFTU’s view that “Cyril Ramaphosa is a deeply compromised capitalist billionaire, with hands stained with the blood of the 34 victims of Marikana who were shot in cold blood by the state to shield White Monopoly capital in general and Lonmin in particular”.

Philip Bump: There’s still little evidence that Russia’s 2016 social media efforts did much of anything (Washington Post)

[W]hat we actually know about the Russian activity on Facebook and Twitter: It was often modest, heavily dissociated from the campaign itself and minute in the context of election social media efforts…
A little-noticed statement from Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, detailed how unsophisticated the Russian ad targeting actually was in the context of the election. Among the points he made:

  • Maryland was targeted by nearly five times as many ads as was Wisconsin (262 to 55).
  • Thirty-five of the 55 ads targeting Wisconsin ran during the primary.
  • More ads targeted DC than Pennsylvania.
  • A total of $1,979 was spent in Wisconsin — $1,925 of it in the primary.
  • The spending in Michigan and Pennsylvania were $823 and $300, respectively.
  • More of the geographically targeted ads ran in 2015 than in 2016…

Just before Election Day in 2016, Twitter announced 1 billion tweets had been sent from August 2015 through that point. Even assuming all 202,000 of those tweets from the Russian accounts were in that period, it means they constituted 0.02 percent of the election-related tweets…
As it stands, the public evidence doesn’t support the idea that the Russians executed a savvy electoral strategy on social media to ensure Trump’s victory. In fact, it seems less the case that they did so now than seemed might be possible back in July.

Rober Harris: The Real Problem With US Elections Isn’t Russia (CounterPunch)

It’s over a year since the presidential elections. Yet some folks seem ever more obsessed about possible Russian influence; what with revelations of Moscow gold spent on Facebook ads for clickbait showing adorable puppies and the outing of alleged Kremlin operative Jill Stein. With the hindsight of history, we can now look back at what some Democrats have called the crime of the century and see how it could have been averted.
What a crime it was! After all, the US is the one that is supposed to have a monopoly on “democracy promotion” in other countries. Our government most recently endorsed the fraudulent re-election of the incumbent in Honduras, who was a product of a coup backed by the Obama administration. And let us not forget Bill Clinton’s well timed loan to good ole Boris Yeltsin in Russia. The WTO should fine Russia for unfair practices and infringement on the US concession…
[T]he most outstanding fact of that election and of elections in the US in general is that close to half of the adult population doesn’t vote. Only 55% of the electorate cast ballots in the hotly contested 2016 presidential race, and that was considered a great achievement. Compared to other developed nations, the US is among the ones with the lowest voter turnouts…and for good reasons besides the unpalatability of the proffered candidates…
What if everyone voted? The answer is that our politics would look very different than what we have now. For this deep reason, the two-party duopoly wants to keep voter participation low for fear the populace would make the wrong choices.

Glenn Greenwald: Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments (Intercept)

Catalonia | China | USA

Thomas S. Harrington: Big Media on Last Thursday’s Vote in Catalonia: “Never Mind” (CounterPunch)

[T]he Spanish government repeatedly issued threats of violence against the Catalanists in the lead up to their Declaration of Independence on October 27th. And since their coup against that legally-elected government, effected during the first week of November, central government officials have crowed unabashedly about the positive effects of their campaign of violence and intimidation[.]
An example of the first case mentioned came on October 7th when Pablo Casado, an official spokesman for the ruling Popular Party, obliquely threatened Catalan president Puigdemont with death by evoking how the last Catalan president to declare independence from Spain, Lluis Companys, was shot by a Francoist firing squad.
An example of the second case came on December 16th when Soraya Saenz de Santamaría, the Vice President of the current Spanish government (and widely acknowledged to be the brain of the cabinet) bragged, complete with repugnant Clintonian body language, about having “decapitated” and “liquidated” Catalan nationalism through the forceful takedown of the Catalan government.
Not to be outdone, the putatively leftist former Spanish Socialist cabinet member and candidate for Prime Minister, José Borrell, spoke on the same day about the need to “disinfect” Catalonia and its media of their independentists…
1) If the majority of Catalans are … unionists, why was this faction unable to come anywhere close to a majority in the 2015 plebiscitary elections?
2) If the majority of Catalans are, as you repeatedly claim, unionists, what could you possibly have to fear with letting the October 1st referendum go ahead unimpeded? …
Despite all the central government’s attempts to rig them in favor of the unionist parties, the independentists in fact added to the number of seats they control in the Catalan parliament, thus holding on to the absolute majority they had before the central state’s armed coup against them.

Pepe Escobar: China plans to break petrodollar stranglehold (Asia Times)

Petrodollars have dominated the global energy markets for more than 40 years. But now, China is looking to change that by replacing the word dollars for yuan.
Nations, of course, have tried this before since the system was set up by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in tandem with the House of Saud back in 1974
Vast populations across the Middle East and Northern Africa quickly felt the consequences when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein decided to sell oil in euros. Then there was Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi’s pan-African gold dinar blueprint, which failed to create a splash in an oil barrel.
Fast forward 25 years and China is making a move to break the United States petrodollar stranglehold. The plan is to set up oil-futures trading in the yuan, which will be fully convertible into gold on the Shanghai and Hong Kong foreign exchange markets.

Statement on Visit to the USA, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner)

  • By most indicators, the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined.
  • US health care expenditures per capita are double the OECD average and much higher than in all other countries. But there are many fewer doctors and hospital beds per person than the OECD average.
  • US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
  • Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the U.S. and its peer countries continues to grow.
  • U.S. inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries
  • Neglected tropical diseases, including Zika, are increasingly common in the USA. It has been estimated that 12 million Americans live with a neglected parasitic infection. A 2017 report documents the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama.
  • The US has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world.
  • In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
  • America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, ahead of Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Its rate is nearly 5 times the OECD average.
  • The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.
  • The Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks the most well-off countries in terms of labor markets, poverty, safety net, wealth inequality, and economic mobility. The US comes in last of the top 10 most well-off countries, and 18th amongst the top 21.
  • In the OECD the US ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality.
  • According to the World Income Inequality Database, the US has the highest Gini rate (measuring inequality) of all Western Countries
  • The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality characterizes the US as “a clear and constant outlier in the child poverty league.” US child poverty rates are the highest amongst the six richest countries – Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and Norway.
  • About 55.7% of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. In the OECD, the U.S. placed 28th in voter turnout, compared with an OECD average of 75%. Registered voters represent a much smaller share of potential voters in the U.S. than just about any other OECD country. Only about 64% of the U.S. voting-age population (and 70% of voting-age citizens) was registered in 2016, compared with 91% in Canada (2015) and the UK (2016), 96% in Sweden (2014), and nearly 99% in Japan (2014).

Ed Pilkington: A journey through a land of extreme poverty: welcome to America (Guardian)

The UN’s Philip Alston is an expert on deprivation – and he wants to know why 41m Americans are living in poverty…
Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance…
Black people are 13% of the US population, but 23% of those officially in poverty and 39% of the homeless.
[Puerto Rico] has twice the proportion of people in poverty (44%) than the lowliest US state, including Alabama (19%). And that was before the hurricane, which some estimates suggest has pushed the poverty rate up to 60%.

And yet the Democracts have other problems:

Nicholas Fandos: Senate Investigators Scrutinize Another Presidential Candidate: Jill Stein (New York Times)
Danielle Ryan: McCarthy-style targeting of Jill Stein proves Democrats have truly lost the plot (RT)
Socialist Equality Party: Democratic Party witch-hunters target Green Party candidate Jill Stein (WSWS)

Catalonia | Jerusalem | Myanmar | Zimbabwe

The post-fascist government in Madrid dissolved the Catalan parliament and jailed Catalan leaders, a speaker of the ruling conservative party suggested that the Catalan president Puigdemont could or should be executed, but once again, the people of Catalonia voted for independence. Maybe the regime will now ban the pro-independence parties and dissolve the parliament once more, jail some more people, ban the parties who got an absolute majority?

Sam Jones, Stephen Burgen: Catalan pro-independence parties keep their majority in snap poll (Guardian)

Catalan pro-independence parties have held their absolute majority in snap regional elections, dealing a severe blow to the Spanish government, which had called the polls in the hope of heading off the secessionist push.
The deposed Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, described the result as a “a slap to the face” to the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy.
The three separatist parties won a total of 70 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament even though the centre-right, pro-unionist Citizens party was the single biggest winner, taking 37 seats.
Between them, the three parties will have enough seats to reassemble the parliamentary majority that put them into office after the 2015 elections if they can agree a new coalition…
Spain’s ruling People’s party … won three seats – eight fewer than in 2015…
Thursday’s snap election was called by the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, in October after he used article 155 of the constitution to take control of Catalonia and sack its government over its unilateral referendum and subsequent declaration of independence.
The vote, which pitted secessionists against unionists, attracted a record turnout of more than 80%, dispelling fears that holding the election on a weekday rather than the usual Sunday would hit turnout.
Puigdemont had been campaigning from Belgium after fleeing to Brussels on the grounds that he would not receive a fair trial in Spain over possible charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
His former vice-president, Oriol Junqeras, leader of the ERC, is in prison along with two prominent pro-independence leaders.

Resultats 21-D (El punt avui)
Catalonia election: full results (Guardian)

On Thursday night pro-independence parties secured a renewed majority in the Catalan parliament. Although the pro-union centre-right Citizens were the largest party, the result is a blow to Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s hopes of defusing the constitutional crisis in Catalonia.
In 2015, ERC ran as part of the Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition. This time they ran on their own ticket, led by Oriol Junqueras, the sacked deputy president who is currently in prison; the remainder of the coalition campaigned as Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), led by Carles Puigdemont, the sacked president who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium.

Peter Beaumont: US outnumbered 14 to 1 as it vetoes UN vote on status of Jerusalem (Guardian)

A UN security council resolution calling for the withdrawal of Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been backed by every council member except the US, which used its veto.
The unanimity of the rest of the council was a stark rebuke to the Trump administration over its unilateral move earlier this month, which upended decades of international consensus…
The resolution was denounced in furious language by the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who described it as “an insult” that would not be forgotten. “The United States will not be told by any country where we can put our embassy,” she said.

Peter Beaumont: US will ‘take names of those who vote to reject Jerusalem recognition’ (Guardian)

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has warned UN members she will be “taking names” of countries that vote to reject Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In a letter seen by the Guardian, Haley told countries – including European delegations – that she will report back to the US president with the names of those who support a draft resolution rejecting the US move at the UN general assembly on Thursday, adding that Trump took the issue personally.

Peter Beaumont: UN votes resoundingly to reject Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital (Guardian)

The United Nations general assembly has delivered a stinging rebuke to Donald Trump, voting by a huge majority to reject his unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The vote came after a redoubling of threats by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, who said that Washington would remember which countries “disrespected” America by voting against it…
But only nine states – including the United States and Israel –voted against the resolution. The other countries which supported Washington were Togo, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, Guatemala and Honduras.

Karen McVeigh: ‘A travesty’: Trump censured over UN Jerusalem vote comments (Guardian)

Donald Trump’s threat to withhold US aid from countries voting in favour of a UN general assembly resolution rejecting his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been described as a “travesty” by experts.
On Thursday, an emergency session of the UN general assembly voted 128-9 against Trump’s declaration, pronouncing it “null and void”. There were a total of 35 abstentions.

Patrick Wintour: <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/21/trumps-bullying-and-bluster-on-jerusalem-

is-bad-news-for-the-un”>Trump’s bullying and bluster on Jerusalem is bad news for the UN (Guardian)
“Strong, sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures and different dreams not just coexist but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect,” Donald Trump said in his first speech to the UN general assembly, in September, drawing sighs of relief.
Three months later, those same diverse nations were warned by the US president’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, that she would take their names if they failed at the UN to support the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognise the city as the capital of Israel. The era of mutual respect was short-lived.

David Scott Mathieson: Suu Kyi takes a populist, paranoid turn (Asia Times)

Myanmar’s increasingly internationally maligned de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi signaled a neo-populist turn in her speech on Monday to the Asia Europe Foreign Ministers (ASEM) meeting held at Naypyitaw…
Without mentioning the exodus of over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine state since the August 25 attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Front (ARSA) sparked a harsh security force response, Suu Kyi conflated illegal migration with terrorism, a core justification of the military’s abusive treatment of the minority.

Yash Tandon: Robert Mugabe: A political epitaph (Pambazuka)

He is an emblematic, historical figure. He is a giant, whose boot steps inaugurated a revolutionary era in the early years – boots that, sadly, became too heavy for him, and too painful for the ordinary people for whose liberation he had fought.

David Seddon: Zimbabwe: Popular protest, social movements and class struggle (Pambazuka)

The ordinary people of Zimbabwe, who have experienced decades of repression and hardship, are rejoicing and are optimistic following the dramatic removal of Robert Mugabe from power. But very soon there will be a renewed struggle for the future of Zimbabwe. And the outlook remains very uncertain.

Cameron Doudu: Oh Comrade Bob, did it have to come to this? (Pambazuka)

As Frantz Fanon had prophesied, President Mugabe was impelled by his associates to become chairman of the business entity known as Zimbabwe. There were super-shareholders in that enterprise. In-fighting between the various groups with bank notes hidden in their revolutionary berets led to disillusionment and even rebellion.

Theogene Rudasingwa: Mugabe fall an indictment of Africa’s ruling elite (Pambazuka)

Robert Mugabe belongs to the generation of Africans who fought for Africa’s self-determination only to finally succumb to the selfish pursuit of power that has left a country with tremendous opportunity on its knees.But he is not the only big man who has betrayed the aspirations of African peoples for authentic peace, prosperity, unity and healing.

Grant Newsham: Coup in Zimbabwe: A win-win for China – for now (Asia Times)

Did Beijing give the go-ahead to remove Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe? Nobody is saying. But it is suspicious that Zimbabwe’s army chief General Chiwenga visited China a few days before he moved against Mugabe. Presumably, nobody in Beijing told him ‘no.’
China has huge investments in Zimbabwe – including tobacco, diamonds, and power generation – and is by far the country’s largest benefactor.