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.

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)

Saudi Arabia | Zimbabwe | Iraq

Federico Pieraccini: Saudi-Israeli Friendship Is Driving the Rest of the Middle East Together (Strategic Culture Foundation)

Through its top official, Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia continues a wave of internal arrests, having seized nearly $800 billion in assets and bank accounts. A few days later, MBS attempted to demonstrate his authority by summoning Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Saudi Arabia, where he was forced to resign on Saudi state TV. Trump tweeted support for Bin Salman’s accusations against Iran and Hezbollah, and the future Saudi king even obtained Israel’s secret support. Iran, meanwhile, denies any involvement in Lebanon’s domestic affairs or involvement with the ballistic missile launched by Houthi rebels towards Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport a few days ago. Meanwhile, Trump, Putin and Xi met recently and seem to have decided the fate of the region in an exercise of realism and pragmatism.

Gregory Elich: What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe? (CounterPunch)

Long-roiling factional conflict within Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF political party exploded last week in a military coup that quickly seized control of the government and state media. The coup was led by Commander of Zimbabwe Defense Forces Constantino Chiwenga, who is closely aligned with former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Emboldened by President Robert Mugabe’s declining mental sharpness and physical health in recent years, Mnangagwa actively maneuvered to ensure that he would succeed the president. Mnangagwa served as one of Zimbabwe’s two vice presidents. From that position, he and his supporters, known as Team Lacoste, became embroiled in a bitter struggle with younger party members who coalesced around Secretary of Women’s Affairs Grace Mugabe, wife of the president, and whose group was known as Generation 40, or G40…
Western officials are keen to see the transitional government adopt economic policies to their liking. “It’s a transition to a new era for Zimbabwe; that’s really what we’re hoping for,” acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto said. [xxxiv] A European Union spokesperson announced that the EU is “committed to support Zimbabwe in the preparation of credible elections and the delivery of political and economic reforms.” … It can be expected that it will not be long before Western economic advisors are paying visits to the transitional government, urging it to enact reforms to liberalize the economy to suit Western investors.

Patrick Bond: Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms (CounterPunch)

Mnangagwa is widely mistrusted due to his responsibility for (and refusal to acknowledge) 1982-85 “Gukhurahundi” massacres of more than 20,000 people in the country’s western provinces (mostly members of the minority Ndebele ethnic group, whose handful of armed dissidents he termed “cockroaches” needing a dose of military “DDT”); his subversion of the 2008 presidential election which Mugabe initially lost; his subsequent heading of the Joint Operations Committee secretly running the country, sabotaging democratic initiatives; as well as for his close proximity – as then Defence Minister – to widespread diamond looting from 2008-16…
Mnangagwa is not only being toasted in Beijing, but also by Tory geopolitical opportunists in London. Although many Britons object, their ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing has for three years attempted to “rebuild bridges and ensure that re-engagement succeeds to facilitate Mnangagwa’s rise to power” with a reported “$2 billion economic bail-out.”

Julia Lynne Walker: Military is complicit in Mugabe misrule (Pambazuka/AFP)

The Global Pan African Movement condemns the military intervention in Zimbabwe in no uncertain terms. The generals of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces have been part of the repressive government. The huge problems of Zimbabwe cannot be resolved by the same soldiers who have been partners with Mugabe in the past 37 years.

Andre Damon: US brands RT a “foreign agent:” A chilling move against free speech (WSWS)

On Thursday, RT America, the US-based subsidiary of RT (formerly known as Russia Today), announced that it would, under pressure from the United States government, register as a “foreign agent” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The Justice Department’s demand that RT register as a “foreign agent” is aimed at delegitimizing RT as a news source, intimidating its journalists and guests, and setting the precedent for taking similar actions against other news outlets.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad: After the liberation of Mosul, an orgy of killing (Guardian)

In the dying days of the battle of Mosul, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad followed Iraqi soldiers during the last push against Isis. But following their victory, a new wave of savagery was unleashed…
One of the factors that had aided Isis’s takeover of Mosul was the conduct of the Iraqi army and security forces stationed in the city, who behaved like sectarian occupation forces, mistreating and detaining the population at will…
On 9 July, … the defeat of Isis was declared in Mosul …
Pockets of Isis fighters continued to resist for another week, but gradually the fighting died down, and a day came in Mosul when, for the first time in many years, machine-guns, car bombs and jet fighters went silent. Then the orgy of killing started.
Night after night, in ruined houses, makeshift cells and the dark streets of Mosul, those identified as members of Isis were tortured and executed. Jubilant Iraqi soldiers filmed themselves beating and shooting prisoners.

October Revolution | Neoliberalism

Eric Blank: October and its Relevance: A Discussion with China Miéville (Portside)

The first purpose of the book is to tell the story for readers who don’t necessarily know anything about the Russian Revolution, who want to know what happened when, the stakes, the rhythms, the events. This is not a history of the Russian Revolution for leftists, but for everyone; it is, though, a history of the Russian Revolution for everyone by a leftist.

Stephen Metcalf: Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world (Guardian)

The word has become a rhetorical weapon, but it properly names the reigning ideology of our era – one that venerates the logic of the market and strips away the things that make us human.

Syria

Spencer Ackerman, Ed Pilkington, Ben Jacobs, Julian Borger in Washington: Syria missile strikes: US launches first direct military action against Assad (Guardian)

The US military has launched a cruise missile attack on a Syrian airfield in response to Bashar al-Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons this week, marking the first time the US has become a direct combatant against the Syrian regime.
The US move drew an angry response from Russia, which described the strike as an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”…
Speaking during a trip to Uzbekistan, Sergei Lavrov said the strike was launched on an “absolutely made-up pretext”, adding: “It reminds me of the situation in 2003 when the United States and Britain, along with some of their allies, attacked Iraq.” …
Neither the US Congress nor the UN have authorized war against Assad. Mary Ellen O’Connell, an international law scholar at the University of Notre Dame, said Trump did not have a legal basis for military action.
“Under international law, he has zero right to attack Assad. It would be a reprisal attack. You won’t find any international law specialists who will find a legal right to carry out a reprisal,” O’Connell said…
Tillerson suggested “steps are under way” to rally an international coalition to remove Assad diplomatically, a position long thwarted by Moscow and Beijing.

Nadia Khomami, Jamie Grierson: US military strikes on Syria: what we know so far (Guardian)
Shaun Walker: Moscow: Syria airstrikes ‘significant blow to Russian-US relations’ (Guardian)

Vladimir Putin views the US missile strikes on Syria as “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law, and under a false pretext,” according to the Russian president’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.
“With this step Washington has struck a significant blow to Russian-American relations, which were already in a sorry state,” Peskov said on Friday.

Tareq Haddad: Before We Go to War With Syria, Inconvenient Truths Must be Confronted (CounterPunch)

One: In spite of the assertions of US officials, there is still no independently verified evidence to suggest President Bashar al-Assad’s troops were behind the suspected chemical weapon attack.
Two: Most evidence thus far has come from the British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights – a network of opposition activists – and the White Helmets, founded by a former British Army officer. Both groups openly align with anti-Assad forces and are not impartial.
Three: One of the doctors who documented the alleged use of chemical weapons and appeared on television networks claiming sarin was used is Shajul Islam, 31, from east London. In 2013, he was arrested for the kidnapping of two Western journalists and was considered a “committed jihadist” by MI6 before being struck off the General Medical Council in 2016.
Four: Assad, who trained as an eye doctor in London, is said to be so daft that he authorised the attack days before a major peace conference in Geneva and after he has already vastly gained the upper hand against anti-government militants.
Five: Faced with US invasion in 2013 and when former President Barack Obama made his “red line” declaration, Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and destroyed its 1,300-ton stockpile of chemical weapons and so-called precursor chemicals that can be used to make weapons.
Six: Though Assad is still believed to have some access to chemical weapons, he is not the only actor in Syria to do so. Following the 2013 chemical weapon attack in eastern Ghouta, which was immediately blamed on Assad, it emerged that groups such as the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front were more likely to be the perpetrators.

Curtis F. J. Doebbler: Why the United States’ Use of Force Against Syria Violates International Law (CounterPunch)

The United States’ use of force against the sovereign state of Syria is a prima facie violation of international law. It is an act of aggression against an UN Member State in violation of the Charter of the United Nations.

Dave Lindorff: Yet Another President Commits the Ultimate War Crime of Launching a War of Aggression (CounterPunch)

The pretext for the US cruise missile blitz, an alleged attack on a rebel-held town called Khan Shiekhun in Idlib province, where some 70 people, including children, were reported to have died from illegal Sarin-gas bombs said to have been dropped by Syrian planes, has yet to be investigated by any independent observers…
All information about the attack has come from sources there, where no Western reporters or independent investigators are allowed, and from the so-called “White Helmets” — a supposedly humanitarian volunteer organization that calls for the overthrow of the Syrian government and that openly backs Al-Qaeda rebels…
[T]he appalling hypocrisy of the US here also needs to be called out. It was only a few weeks ago that US aircraft bombed two locations, one on a school in the town of Mansoura, in Raqqa Province, and one on a Mosque in the town of Al Jina in western Alleppo Province, killing over 79 civilians, including children. These were crimes equally obscene to the gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, but where is the public outrage in the US over what our own military has done?

Syria | Iraq | Rwanda

Matthew Allen: US Proxies Set Stage for Syria Balkanization (Russia Insider)

A leading Kurdish politician has confirmed that “the northern Syrian city of Raqqa is expected to join a decentralized system of government being set up by Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies once it is freed from Islamic State,” according to Reuters.
Saleh Muslim, the co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, made his comments on the same day that a U.S.-led operation near Raqqa blocked “any advance by Syrian government forces from the west”. In other words, the U.S. has reserved Raqqa for its proxies.

Simon Tisdall: The west condemned Russia’s bombs – now coalition attacks are killing civilians in Mosul (Guardian)

The leaders who denounced Putin for deadly airstrikes in Syria are not speaking out over the siege of the Iraqi city.
America and the UK condemned Russian airstrikes that killed or injured hundreds of civilians during last autumn’s siege of Aleppo, accusing Vladimir Putin of war crimes. The question now is whether the US, backed by British air power, is committing similar atrocities against civilians in Mosul.
[In Mosul,] misdirected US airstrikes caused a massive explosion that reportedly killed at least 150 civilians sheltering in a basement. The Americans say they were targeting Islamic State fighters. The Russians said much the same about Aleppo – that they were attacking jihadi terrorists. Many people, not least the relatives of the Mosul dead, will struggle to see the difference…
[T]he high death toll places the Mosul carnage, if confirmed, among the worst such incidents since the US invasion in 2003. It also serves to highlight a new pattern of behaviour by US forces since Donald Trump took office in January. Since then, the monthly total of recorded civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria has more than doubled, according to independent monitors.

Margaret Kimberley: Is Trump the DNC Hacker? (Black Agenda Report)

The Democratic Party is going all out with its charge of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. In doing so they achieve two very important goals. First, they distract their voters from asking why Hillary Clinton lost and why they are perennial losers at every level of government across the country. Secondly, they can wage war by other means as they attempt to exact regime change in Russia. That is the desired endgame as they attempt to crush the sovereignty and independence of that resource-rich nation which spans Eurasia.

Ann Garrison: Israel’s African Darling: Paul Kagame: An Interview with Robin Philpot (Black Agenda Report)

Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame, who recently addressed AIPAC, in Washington DC, is Israel’s favorite African, a man the Zionists permit to use the term “genocide.” Both nations claim their wounds give them a special status in the world. “Rwanda and Uganda could be called mad dog states – they’re highly militarized, and they serve as sheriffs for the U.S. at the same time as they pursue their own interests.”

Netherlands | February 1917 | Morocco | USA

Jon Henley: Dutch PM Mark Rutte sees off election threat of Geert Wilders (Guardian)

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has seen off a challenge from the anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders to claim a resounding victory in parliamentary elections widely seen as a test for resurgent nationalism before other key European polls.
With nearly 95% of votes counted and no further significant changes expected, Rutte’s centre-right, liberal VVD was assured of 33 MPs, by far the largest party in the 150-seat Dutch parliament, the national news agency ANP said.
Wilders’ Freedom party (PVV) looked certain to finish second, but a long way behind on 20 seats, just ahead of the Christian Democrat CDA and liberal-progressive D66, which both ended third with 19 seats.

Jon Henley: GreenLeft proves to be big winner in Dutch election (Guardian)

The big winner of Wednesday’s election – and now the largest party of the Dutch left for the first time – was GreenLeft, headed by 30-year-old Jesse Klaver, hailed by his enthusiastic supporters as the “Jessiah”…
[T]he party – formed 25 years ago by a merger of communists, pacifists, evangelicals and self-styled radicals – boosted its MPs from four to 14 after a storming campaign by [Jesse] Klaver.

Kevin Murphy: The Story of the February Revolution (Jacobin)

That the most important strike in world history started with women textile workers in Petrograd on International Women’s Day 1917 (February 23 in the old Julian calendar) was no coincidence. Working up to thirteen hours a day while their husbands and sons were at the front, these women were saddled with a life of singlehandedly supporting their families and waiting in line for hours in the subzero cold in hopes of getting bread… “No propaganda was necessary to incite these women to action.” …
By evening, the Vyborg side was controlled by the rebels. Demonstrators had sacked the police stations, captured revolvers and sabers from tsarist sentinels, and forced the police and gendarmes to flee…
The paradox of the February Revolution was that while it swept away tsarism, it replaced it with a government of unelected liberals who were horrified by the very revolution that had placed them in power.

Aidan O’Brien: The Empire’s Fifth Column in Africa: Morocco (CounmterPunch)

In 1984 Morocco turned it’s back on Africa because the Organisation of African Unity refused to support it’s 1975 conquest of Western Sahara. For the next few decades Morocco followed the example of apartheid Israel and looked only towards Europe and America. Morocco, for example, applied (and failed) to join the European Economic Community in 1987. While today (since 2008) it is considered an “advanced” EU neighbour. And militarily it became a NATO partner in 1994 and a major non-NATO US ally in 2004.
Morocco in other words did everything it could to be an honorary white man: it shamelessly raped part of Africa and looked down on the black man. And the white man rewarded it by investing in it.
A few weeks ago however (January 31, 2017) Morocco suddenly rejoined Africa. In Addis Ababa the African Union decided to accept Morocco as a member, even though Western Sahara remains in Moroccan hands. Why the sudden change of policy in Morocco and in the African Union? In a word: the killing of Muammar Gaddafi.
The present scramble for Africa is the overall reason. But Gaddafi was the last pan African barrier to Western imperialism 2.0 in Africa. His removal opened the floodgates to 21st century Western power in Africa. The French are now back in Mali. AFRICOM (the US military) is all over the place. And now Morocco wants to be African again.

Dave Lindorff: WikiLeaks’ Latest CIA Data Dump Undermines Case Against Russia Election Hack (CounterPunch)

The so-called Deep State and Democratic Party campaign to demonize Russia for allegedly “hacking the US election,” and delivering the country into the hands of Donald Trump suffered a huge and probably mortal blow this week with the release by WikiLeaks of over 7000 secret CIA documents disclosing secret CIA hacking technologies.
The case being made against Russia as being the source of leaked emails of the Democratic National Committee and of Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta — documents that proved that the DNC had been corrupting the primary process in favor of corporatist candidate Hillary Clinton and undermining the campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and that also revealed the embarrassing contents of Clinton’s highly paid secret speeches to a number of giant Wall Street banks — had always been tenuous, with no hard evidence ever presented. All the intelligence agencies would say was that they had a “high degree of certainty,” or “strong reason to believe” that the Russians were the source of the deeply damaging documents late in the campaign season.
Adding to doubts that Russia had actually hacked the DNC was WikiLeaks itself, which insisted that it had obtained the DNC and Podesta emails not from a hack of computers, but from an internal DNC staffer who actually pulled them off computers with a thumb drive and provided them to the organization — a person later identified as Seth Rich, who was mysteriously murdered on his way home from DNC headquarters in Washington, shot in the back at night in an unsolved case that the local police quickly labeled a “botched burglary,” although nothing was taken from his body by his assailant — not his wallet or watch even. (Wikileaks has offered a $20,000 reward for information that helps solve that uninvestigated case.)

Oliver Ortega: Before Trump, the Border Wall Was a Bipartisan Project (CounterPunch)

Rightwing fantasies of a southern border wall are not new. Nor are they limited to Republicans or Trump supporters.
When President Trump signed an executive order last week to complete a wall along the 2,000 mile border with Mexico, he was building on decades of bipartisan consensus among lawmakers.
In fact, Congress had already approved a border wall not too long ago. In 2006, legislators—including many Democrats—passed the Secure Fence Act, which called for 700 miles of double-fence construction along certain stretches of the border. Trump cited the Bush-era law in the first paragraph of the executive order he signed Wednesday as rationale for his executive authority to order a wall be built.
Many of the same democratic leaders now bemoaning Trump’s wall voted for one at the time— Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein.
Then-Senator Barack Obama, who as President would later deport a record-high 3 million people during his two terms, lauded the bill on the Senate floor, saying it would “help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country.” …
Some on the left have taken the border with Mexico as a given. Rather than focusing on whether it should be a wall or a fence, its length or thickness, a more useful exercise would be to reframe the parameters of debate by asking whether there should be a border at all.

Melvin Goodman: Return of the Torturers: Back to the Crime Scenes of the Past (CounterPunch)

The Trump administration has signaled that it is willing to return to the heinous crimes of the past two decades, including torture and abuse, secret prisons, and extraordinary renditions. …
Perhaps if former president Barack Obama had sought accountability and responsibility for the crimes of torture, then we would not be witness to the return of war criminals to positions of responsibility.

USA | Russia | Israel/Palestine

Glenn Greenwald: Jeremy Corbyn Accused of Being Russian “Collaborator” for Questioning NATO Troop Build-Up on Border (Intercept)

The leader of the U.K.’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, called for a “de-escalation” of tensions between NATO and Russia, adding in a BBC interview on Thursday: “I want to see a de-militarization of the border between them.” Along with the U.S., the U.K. has been rapidly building up its military presence in the Baltic region, including in states that border Russia, and is now about to send another 800 troops to Estonia, 500 of which will be permanently based.
In response, Russia has moved its own troops within its country near those borders, causing serious military tensions to rise among multiple nuclear-armed powers. Throughout 2016, the Russian and U.S. militaries have engaged in increasingly provocative and aggressive maneuvers against one another. This week, the U.S. began deploying 4,000 troops to Poland, “the biggest deployment of U.S. troops in Europe since the end of the Cold War.”

Trump’s pick for CIA says he’s open to waterboarding (CNN)

President Donald Trump’s pick to run the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo, has told Congress that he would consider bringing back waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation measures under certain circumstances.

Ankit Panda: Rex Tillerson, Trump’s Secretary of State Nominee, Has a Dangerous Idea for the South China Sea (Diplomat)

Rex Tillerson, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, presented a proposal for what the United States should do in the South China Sea disputes on Wednesday that you don’t hear often — even among China hawks in the United States.
Speaking at a confirmation hearing the before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday evening, Tillerson remarked that China’s actions in the South China Sea — where it has most recently drawn attention for building seven militarized artificial islands in the Spratly Islands — were “akin to Russia’s taking [of] Crimea” from Ukraine…
Tillerson went further, and here he entered relatively uncharted territory: “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”

Tom Phillips: China hits back at US over South China Sea ‘takeover’ claims (Guardian)

China has warned the US to “speak and act cautiously” after the White House said it would act to foil Chinese attempts to “take over” the South China Sea, amid growing hints that Donald Trump’s administration intends to challenge Beijing over the strategic waterway.
At a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday, the foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, urged Washington to tread carefully “to avoid harming the peace and stability of the South China Sea”.
Hua was responding to comments made by White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, the previous day.
Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Spicer vowed the US would “make sure that we protect our interests” in the resource-rich trade route, through which $4.5tn (£3.4tn) in trade passes each year.

Reuters: US ‘at very beginning’ of talks to move Israel embassy to Jerusalem (Guardian)

Washington’s embassy is in Tel Aviv, as are most foreign diplomatic posts. Israel calls Jerusalem its eternal capital, but Palestinians also lay claim to the city as part of an eventual Palestinian state. Both sides cite religious, historical and political claims.

Peter Beaumont: Israel announces 2,500 more West Bank settlement homes (Guardian)

Israel has approved a massive new building programme of Jewish settlement homes in the occupied Palestinian territories, following hard on the heels of the swearing-in of the US president, Donald Trump…
About 400,000 settlers live in the West Bank and a further 200,000 in East Jerusalem, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war…
“We are building and we will continue to build,” Netanyahu wrote, in a brief Facebook post.

‘Not like Gitmo’: Israeli interrogators explain torture techniques to media (RT)

Israeli interrogators with experience in using ‘special means’ of interrogation, which involve inflicting physical pain on detainees, have described details of their methods to an Israeli newspaper…
[I]nterrogation using what Israel calls “special means” remains widespread. The UN Committee Against Torture last year cited continued complaints of torture by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) as well as Israel’s refusal to implement the convention on occupied Palestinian territories and reluctance to criminalize torture among its concerns.

Chaim Levinson: Torture, Israeli-style – as Described by the Interrogators Themselves (Haaretz via Google News)

For years, the Israeli establishment has tried to conceal what happens in interrogation rooms. When interrogators use torture – or “special means,” to use the establishment’s term – the concealment efforts are redoubled. Even when testimony of torture reaches the public, the system does everything it can to leave the interrogators’ role in darkness, including signing lenient plea bargains with suspects who were tortured to ensure that the conspiracy of silence remains unbroken.
People who have undergone interrogation have described various methods, from interrogators screaming in their ear, to blows, to being forced into painful positions for long periods. To date, however, all these descriptions have come from the complainants.
But recently, a conversation among interrogators in the presence of several witnesses provided a chance to hear from the interrogators themselves about the kinds of torture used in major cases, who approved it and what information it produced…
In 1999, the High Court of Justice outlawed torture, which had been permitted until then. But subsequent regulations issued by then-Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein said interrogators who nevertheless used torture wouldn’t stand trial if they could demonstrate that it was “immediately necessary to save his own or another person’s life, freedom, person or property from a concrete danger of serious harm,” and that “there was no other way to do so.”…
After the High Court issued its ruling, the torture techniques in use were changed, and they were also used less often. But in recent years, that trend has started to reverse.

Israel Must Stop the Torture (Haaretz via Google News)

The admissions by Shin Bet investigators published in Haaretz Tuesday confirm the claims that have been heard for years about torture during interrogations.