Category Archives: EU

From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture

Food and environment campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason has just produced the report ‘Shockingly high levels of weedkiller found in popular breakfast cereals marketed for British children’. In this 68-page document, she draws from new research in the UK that mirrors findings from the US about the dangerous levels of glyphosate found in food, especially products aimed at children (glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s weedicide Roundup). Readers can access this report here (which contains all relevant references).

Mason begins by reporting on research that significant levels of weedkiller were found in 43 out of 45 popular breakfast cereals marketed to US children. Glyphosate was detected in an array of popular breakfast cereals, oats and snack bars.

Tests revealed glyphosate was present in all but two of the 45 oat-derived products that were sampled by the Environmental Working Group, a public health organisation. Nearly three in four of the products exceeded what the EWG classes safe for children to consume. Products with some of the highest levels of glyphosate include granola, oats and snack bars made by leading industry names Quaker, Kellogg’s and General Mills, which makes Cheerios.

Back in April, internal emails obtained from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) showed that scientists had found glyphosate on a wide range of commonly consumed food, to the point that they were finding it difficult to identify a food without the chemical on it. In response to these findings, however, The Guardian newspaper in the UK reported that there was no indication that the claims related to products sold outside the US.

In view of this statement by the Guardian, Mason was involved in sending samples of four oat-based breakfast cereals marketed for children in the UK to the Health Research Institute, Fairfield, Iowa, an accredited laboratory for glyphosate testing.

After testing the samples which were sent, Dr Fagan, the institute’s director, said:

The levels consumed in a single daily helping of any one of these cereals, even the one with the lowest level of contamination, is sufficient to put the person’s glyphosate levels above the levels that cause fatty liver disease in rats (and likely in people). (Access the Certificate of Analysis here.)

Just as concerning were results for two ‘organic’ products from the US that were also tested at the time: granola had some glyphosate in it and ‘organic’ rolled oats had even higher levels of the chemical.

Mason argues that the fact such high levels of glyphosate have been found in cereals in Britain should ring alarm bells across Europe, especially as the distribution of glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid in agricultural top soils of the European Union is widespread.

A question of power

As in her previous documents, Mason describes how regulators in the EU and the UK relicensed Roundup for the benefit of the industry-backed Glyphosate Task Force. Even more alarming is that, on the back of Brexit, she notes that a US-UK trade deal could result in the introduction of Roundup ready GM crops in the UK. Indeed, high-level plans for cementing this deal are afoot.

Mason offers worrying data about the increasing use of biocides, especially glyphosate, as well as the subsequent destruction of the global environment due to their use. As usual, she produces a very data-rich report which draws on many sources, including official reports and peer-reviewed papers.

Of course, there is a strong focus on Monsanto. Aside from the use of glyphosate, she also documents the impact of the company’s presence in Wales, where she lives, with regard to the dumping of toxic chemicals (PCBs) from its manufacturing site there between 1949 and 1979, the effects of which persist and still plague the population and the environment.

Mason asks: “Monsanto has been bought up by Bayer, so the Monsanto name has disappeared but where are the Monsanto executives hiding?”

She is aware, of course, that such figures don’t have to hide anywhere. The company ‘got away with it’ in Wales. And its recent crop of executives received huge ‘golden handshakes’ after the Bayer deal despite them having perpetuated a degenerative model of industrial agriculture. A model that has only secured legitimacy by virtue of the power of the global agritech lobby to lock in a bogus narrative of success, as outlined in the report ‘From Uniformity to Diversity’ by The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.

As that report notes, locking farmers into corporate-dependent treadmills, state support of (export) commodity cropping via subsidies and the discounting of the massive health, environment and social costs of industrial agriculture ensures that model prevails and makes it appear successful. If you base your food regime on short-term thinking and a reductionist yield-output paradigm and define success within narrow confines, then the model is a sure-fire winner – for corporate growth (profit) if little else.

Without being able to externalise the health, social and environmental costs of its actions and products, this model would not be viable for the corporations involved. Widening the parameters to properly evaluate ‘success’ entails asking the industry questions that it finds very difficult to gloss over, not least what has been the cost of input-(biocide)dependent yields of commodities in terms of pollution, health, local food security and caloric production, nutrition per acre, water tables, soil quality and structure and new pests and disease pressures?

Why have African countries been turned from food exporters to food importers? Why is land in South America being used for Roundup Ready crops to feed the appetite for meat in rich countries, while peasant farmers who grew food for themselves and local communities have been displaced?

And what are the effects on once thriving rural communities; on birds, insects and biodiversity in general; on the climate as a result of chemical inputs and soil degradation; and what have been the effects of shifting towards globalised production chains, especially in terms of transportation and fossil fuel consumption?

The global food regime degrades public health and the environment, and it has narrowed the range of crops grown, resulting in increasingly monolithic, nutrient-deficient diets. Yet the powerful industry lobby calls for more deregulation and more techno-fixes like GMOs to ‘feed the world’. This is in spite of the fact that hunger and malnutrition are political: these phenomena are in large part the outcome of a global capitalist food regime that, with help from IMF/World Bank geopolitical lending strategies and WTO rules, has undermined food security for vast sections of the global population by creating a system that by its very nature drives inequality, injustice and creates food deficit areas.

Moving to a more sustainable model of agriculture based on localisation, food sovereignty and agroecology calls for a different world view. Proponents of industrial agriculture are resistant to this because it would harm what has become a highly profitable system based on the capture of political, research and media institutions.

And this is where we return to Rosemary Mason. If there is an overriding theme within her work over the years, it is corruption at high levels which facilitate much of the above. For instance, she notes the determination of the UK government, working hand in glove with global agribusiness, to ensure certain biocide products remain on the market and to help major corporations avoid any culpability for their health- and environment-damaging practices and chemicals.

Mason and various whistleblowers and writers have over the years described how these corporations have become institutionally embedded within high-profile public bodies and scientific research policy initiatives. Regulatory delinquency, institutionalised corruption and complete disregard for the health and well-being of the public is the order of the day.

GMOs and a post-Brexit deal with the US

If the UK is about to introduce GM crops into its fields on the back of a post-Brexit deal with the Trump administration, then it should take heed of what the ex-director of J.R. Simplot and team leader at Monsanto Dr Caius Rommens says in his new book:

The main problem about the current process for deregulation of GMO crops is that it is based on an evaluation of data provided by the developers of GMO crops. There is a conflict of interest. I propose that the safety of GMO crops is assessed by an independent group of scientists trained at identifying unintended effects.

This former high-level Monsanto researcher of potatoes now acknowledges that genetic engineers had limited insight into the effects of their experiments. Genetic engineering passes off the inherent uncertainty, unintended consequences and imprecision of its endeavours as unquestionable certainty. And the USDA accepts industry information and reassurances.

After finding that most GMO varieties of potatoes that he was involved in developing were stunted, chlorotic, mutated or sterile, and many of them died quickly, Rommens renounced his genetic engineering career and wrote a book about his experiences, ‘Pandora’s Potatoes: The Worst GMOs’.

In an interview with GMWatch, Rommens is asked why regulators in the US, Canada and Japan, which have approved these potatoes, are ignoring these aspects.

Rommens responds:

The standard tests needed to ensure regulatory approval are not set up to identify unintended effects. They are meant to confirm the safety of a GM crop, not to question their safety. None of the issues I address in my book were considered by the regulatory agencies.

A damning indictment of regulatory delinquency based on ‘don’t look, don’t find’. GMOs have nonetheless become the mainstay of US agriculture. Now the industry is rubbing its hands in anticipation of Brexit, which would pry the UK from the EU and its precautionary principle-based regulation of GMOs.

The push to open up Britain to globalisation in the 1980s ushered in a free-for-all for global capital to determine the future direction of a deregulated UK. Three decades down the line, the consequences are clear for food, agriculture, democracy and public health. The worrying thing is that thanks to Brexit, it could be the case that even worse is yet to come!

Barely Breathing: May’s Gasping Premiership

The Boris Johnson storm, beating away at the British Prime Minister’s doors with an ancient fury, has been stayed for the moment in the wake of the Conservative Party Conference held at Birmingham last week.  While the potential usurper batters away on the domestic front with red faced enthusiasm, Theresa May faces the impossible sell: convincing the European Union that the divorce Britain is initiating will still entail some form of faux conjugal relations.  In this, she must also convince the forces of the remainder group that she has a solution that is not the worst of all worlds, a form of permissive molestation that will yield some benefits from the Brussels machinery.

In the background, protests abuzz in an effort to turn the ship away from its current course for March 29, 2019.  The referendum of 2016 that led to a Brexit, goes this line of argument, was attained by audacious cheek, a fraud couched in populist sentiment.  London remains ground zero for the resistance (wasn’t it always?), with its mayor, Sadiq Khan, holding the fort in insisting for a second vote.  The UK, he argued, was trapped between cripplingly dangerous options: “a public vote on any deal or a vote on a no-deal, alongside the option of staying in the EU”.

Khan’s views function as vain hopes in search of a mind changing miracle.  Expressed from London, they might as well sound like the tinny sounds of a capsule lodged in the red earth of Mars.  “People didn’t vote to leave the EU to make themselves poorer, to watch their businesses suffer, to have the NHS wards understaffed, to see the police preparing for civil unrest or for our national security to be put at risk if our cooperation with the EU in the right against terrorism is weakened.”

European leaders, anxious that the EU compact is being gnawed at from within, have also been muttering approvingly for a change of heart.  Keep voting, seems to be this view, till the minds change, a recipe less for democracy than managed thought.  Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat went as far as to tell BBC Radio 4 last month that, “We would like the almost impossible to happen… that the UK has another referendum.”

Johnson did have a good go at stirring the pot, and delegates and those gathered at the Tory Conference – some 1,500 – were not disappointed.  “If I have a function here today it is to try, with all humility, to put some lead in the collective pencil, to stop what seems to me to be a ridiculous seeping away of our self-belief, and to invite you to feel realistic and justified confidence.”

As usual, Johnson was short on what exactly to do.  The hearts would beat, throb even, and the mind would catch-up.  After the wrecking ball, what’s there to do?  “Our diplomatic strategy,” he observed, “was focused on the EU.  That made sense in the 1970s. It makes much less sense today, when 95 percent of the world’s growth is going to be outside the EU.”  This has become a stodgy mantra – the world as Britain’s eager oyster waiting to be prized over, pearl and all.

May had certainly been struggling to contain the Johnson bull in the china shop, whose message is to “chuck Chequers”, which was nothing more than a “cheat” that, should it be enacted, would “escalate the sense of mistrust.”  It is a point that has noisy traction. Patrick Robinson, writing in The Telegraph, suggested that the “Chequers plan is not a ‘compromise’ or a negotiating position.  This was the public face of a ploy to keep the UK inside the EU by tying our hands on rules governing foods, food, the environment, the workplace and much else, and maintaining the supremacy of European law in our country.”

In this, he has found common ground from the EU technocrats, who are also none too keen on the prime minister’s distinction between the “common rulebook” for goods but not services, designed to prevent the creation of a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  As a wary Donald Tusk of the European Council explained in Salzburg last month, “The suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market.”

May claimed last Tuesday that she had a new policy about immigration in a post-Brexit Britain.  Critics were quick to point out she did not.  Instead of upstaging Johnson, Home Secretary Sajid Javid found himself left in the lurch.  “Boris,” claimed Charles Moore, “was boosted by her hostility, and people listened to his wide-ranging speech.”

Then came the Wednesday speech, made in the aftermath of Johnson’s show which, by her own admission, made her “cross.” She was attempting, while taking a swipe at Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, to appeal to those wishing for “a party that is decent, moderate and patriotic.” There would be no more fiscal conservatism in the Cameron-Osborne mould.  The political sectarians would be shunned.  And she could deliver all these promises with weak jokes and an awkward robotic dance.

While quantifiable figures on sentiment must be treated with studied caution, one poll conducted for The Observer in the aftermath of May’s concluding conference speech suggested that the prime minister had shored up her position. A small 17 percent pitted for Johnson; double that number preferred May.  Washed out and barely breathing, the pulse has returned.  Time, however, is running out.

The Dalai Lama’s Remarks on Migrants follow a CIA, Nazi and Slavery-linked History

This past week the 14th Dalai Lama, Tibet’s 83-year old self-declared spiritual leader in exile, made controversial remarks at a press conference in Malmö recognizing the 80th anniversary of the founding of Individual Humanitarian Aid, a Swedish development and philanthropic assistance program that took in Buddhist refugees after the Chinese annexed Tibet in 1959. His comments came as he addressed the European migrant crisis and his choice of words immediately sparked criticism because they seemed to express an attitude typically shared by the European Union’s far right. With the exception of his detractors, the views he expressed to most were unexpected coming from a monk known for preaching enlightenment and inner peace around the globe. “His Holiness”, AKA Tenzin Gyatso, stated:

Recently large numbers of refugees, many from the Middle East, have fled to Europe in fear for their lives. They have been given shelter and support, but the long-term solution should include providing training and education, particularly for their children, so they can return to rebuild their own countries when peace has been restored.

I think Europe belongs to the Europeans. … Receive them, help them, educate them … but ultimately they should develop their own country.

The comments occurred in Sweden on the heels of the country’s own shocking general election results which saw an impressive 18% performance made by the anti-immigrant and right-wing populist party, Sweden Democrats. Their third-place finish took place in the midst of a surge of far right nationalist political gains trending across the EU. Sweden, itself, has taken in tens of thousands of refugees during the influx of immigration in the last few years, a number which the Sweden Democrats have declared they want to halve and 60% of the public in polls wish to see lowered. Unlike far rightists in Eastern Europe or Greece’s Golden Dawn, the Sweden Democrats are part of a slick and optical re-branding of ultra nationalism that emphasizes Islamophobia over anti-Semitism, with other examples such as Ukip and France’s Front National. This pragmatic approach has not gone unpunished, however, as Viktor Orban of Hungary just saw his country slapped with sanctions by the European Parliament for enacting measures restricting immigration as the clash between anti-globalists and neo-liberal ‘inclusive capitalists’ appears to be escalating.

The remarks upset many of the Dalai Lama’s adoring fans as he knowingly or unwittingly appeared to be dog-whistling to their supporters. Still, this isn’t the first time the Tibetan leader has expressed such views. Along with singing praises for India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in 2016 he stated that Germany had “too many refugees” during an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In addition to demonstrating an oblivious lack of understanding about the migrant crisis, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner’s statements shocked many of his admirers, especially considering his own status as a refugee residing in India for more than 50 years. To his critics they served as further testimony to a hidden history largely unknown to his naive followers and a summation of his actual nationalist views —after all despite his refugee status, his entire political history has been based around returning to power in Tibet. In the West, he has been given the persona of a ‘simple Buddhist monk’ by the political establishment and Hollywood, cloaking his own past as a theocratic despot who speaks for a dominant class within Tibet that has collaborated with the interests of imperialism against China for more than fifty years.

The political author and critic Michael Parenti has written at length about the oppressive social system that existed in Tibet prior to the Chinese liberation in his 2003 essay “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth“. The Dalai (“ocean” in Mongolian) Lamas are believed to be reincarnations of the Buddha of Compassion, or manifestations in a lineage of the Bodhisattva (“enlightenment being”). It was the Mongol invasion of Tibet in the 13th century during the Yuan dynasty where Tibetan Buddhism first spread throughout Asia and for the next six centuries was the state religion of both the Ming and Qing dynasties. Following the disintegration of China’s last imperial dynasty, from 1912-1933 Tibet was an absolute monarchy under his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama.

During his brief tenure as the head of state until he was a mere 24 years old, the 14th Dalai Lama was not a democratically-elected leader but selected by a committee of elite lamas (priests of Tibetan Buddhism) following an extensive search guided by their religious beliefs just like those which preceded him. Under his brief but ultra-wealthy reign, Tibet was a remotely isolated and poor country for the vast majority of its population which mostly consisted of illiterate slaves and serfs who were treated like rental cars by overlords, resembling a Buddhist version of the Gulf State kingdoms more than any peaceful paradise. While presiding over a brutal caste system, the Dalai Lama lived in a 1000-room estate with a personal army at his disposal to hunt down deserters. Parenti writes:

The theocracy’s religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as a karmic atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve in their next lifetime. The rich and powerful treated their good fortune as a reward for, and tangible evidence of, virtue in past and present lives.

The Tibetan serfs were something more than superstitious victims, blind to their own oppression. As we have seen, some ran away; others openly resisted, sometimes suffering dire consequences. In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation — including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation — were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, and runaway or resistant serfs.

During the Cold War, interest in Tibetan Buddhism worldwide grew dramatically and so did a mainstream version of it in the West. This was supplied by an idealized and exoticized utopian portrayal of the Himalayas and the country akin to the imaginary ‘Shangri-La’ from the novel Lost Horizon, while Western media agencies promoted the ‘Free Tibet’ cause promoted by movie stars and popular musicians. Buddhism’s appealing teachings have led to the perception by many that it is exempt from the ugly history attributed to other major religions, but as we can see with modern examples such as the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar this is untrue— it has been used to justify various forms of oppression (including slavery) throughout its history just like other organized religions. Western buddhism became popularized after the establishment of teaching centers during the New Age movement of the 1970s but most of what people in the West know about Tibet is through its depiction in Hollywood, where he has been courted in the silver screen community by everyone from Martin Scorsese to Richard Gere. At the same time, the source of where Hollywood has pulled its superficial understanding of Tibet is from the 1952 book Seven Years in Tibet authored by Austrian mountain climber Heinrich Harrer which aggrandized the feudal government.

It turns out that Harrer wasn’t just any mountaineer but a member of the Sturmabteilung Nazi paramilitary and an SS officer, even meeting with Adolf Hitler after his expedition team successfully climbed the Eiger North Face in the Swiss Alps. In 1939, Harrer traveled in an expedition to the Himalayas to climb the Nanga Parbat peak, one of the world’s ten highest mountains but he was subsequently interned in India by British troops when the European theatre of WWII broke out. Harrer managed to escape to nearby Tibet where his knowledge of the native language led to a salaried employment in the Tibetan government and role as the Dalai Lama’s personal English tutor — in other words, Kundun’s introduction to the Western-world was through a member of Hitler’s Storm Detachment. After the communist Chinese took over, Harrer returned to Europe to write about his experiences and the book became an international best-seller. In 1997, Hollywood made a film version of his account starring Brad Pitt.

Harrer’s experiences weren’t the only instance of historical encounters between the Nazis and Tibet. During the 1930s, along with the occult, European fascists had a bizarre fascination with Asian mysticism. They admired the Tibetan Kingdom with its feudal pecking order and wide-ranging use of torture, mutilation, and the death penalty. In 1938, the Germans led a scientific expedition headed by animal biologist and SS officer Ernst Schafer under the patronage of Heinrich Himmler’s Nazi think tank, the SS Ancestral Heritage Society, which promoted racist pseudo-scientific research. While the voyage happened under the pretext of strategic military purposes against the British, it was also intended to validate Himmler’s racial theory that Aryans of unmixed ancestry had previously settled in the Himalayas. During their investigation, the Germans conducted cranial measurements of human skulls and bones obtained from Tibetan graves with the intent to find evidence supporting Himmler’s ideas that they would be of German ancestry. The Nazi Party’s appropriation of the swastika, a symbol connected to the caste system of Ancient India, was also based on this false idea. Schafer returned with his ‘findings’ just a month prior to the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

One of the Dalai Lama’s biggest talking points has been his supposed “commitment to non-violence.” This apparently does not apply to his own practices, where for years during the Cold War he participated in a covert program of the CIA which personally gave him an annual salary of $180,000 as it promoted the Tibetan independence movement, authorized by the same committee which green-lighted the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Not only did the CIA aid his escape to India, but the program also involved subsidizing a Tibetan guerilla movement based in Nepal waging a violent campaign against the Chinese. The program only ended in 1972 when the Nixon administration opted for détente with China under the foreign policy direction of Henry Kissinger. The Dalai Lama regretfully admitted to this decision in his auto-biography Freedom in Exile, but claimed he didn’t initially know of the agreement made with the CIA that was approved by his brothers . However, he avoided mentioning his presence on the CIA payroll proven by declassified documents and his representatives have denied awareness of it since. The Chinese have long claimed that the Tibetan independence movement was a cause under the influence of foreign powers and it appears by his own admission this is true.

China’s so-called ‘occupation’ of Tibet, while certainly not free of flaws (especially during the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward), nevertheless ended a brutal feudal and theocratic system and began a process of industrialization that continues to this day. Prior to 1959, much of Tibet did not even have running water or electricity, much less modern housing or healthcare. The introduction of non-religious education, reformation of the previous severe tax system, and abolishment of slavery and serfdom has lifted much of Tibet out of deep impoverishment and raised its standard of living. Even if one feels that the Chinese need to be more tolerant of its traditional culture or recognize its right to self-determination, the idea that this process should involve returning absolute authority to the Dalai Lama is self-appointed and not the wishes of most Tibetans. The Chinese to their credit since have given greater autonomy to Tibetans after reforms in the 1970s and to this day Buddhism is still practiced widely by its people and tolerated by the authorities. In fact, each year on March 28 Tibetans widely celebrate a Serfs Emancipation Day holiday to commemorate their liberation from theocracy. Tibet had been unified with China for many centuries and was not an independent state for the majority of its history — not only did the PRC free a slave kingdom from social injustice but from its influence under colonial powers who had used it as a chess piece to undermine China.

The architect of the Cold War, the U.S. diplomat and historian George F. Kennan, exposed the orientalist goals of imperialism towards China in his infamous PPS23 Memo when addressing the Far East:

We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.

Coincidentally, the migrant crisis has occurred alongside the modern equivalent of Kennan’s theory of containment in Obama’s failed “pivot to East Asia” regional strategy. Foreign policy toward East Asia under Obama saw the U.S. accelerate its military presence with aircraft carriers in forward deployment, increased presence of combat troops and naval access surrounding China. The U.S. is desperately trying to halt the rise of China on the global stage with its booming economy — journalist and filmmaker John Pilger’s The Coming War on China is an excellent documentary and cinematic exploration of this topic in what appears to be an increasing drive towards WWIII with Beijing. Just as it did throughout the Cold War with Tibet, U.S. media is also stepping up its propaganda campaign by exaggerating the plight of the Uyghur Muslim Turkic minority by falsely claiming they are being interned in concentration camps by the Chinese government.

The Dalai Lama’s comments have provoked a predictable reaction from the very liberals who have championed his cause as an instance of betrayal of their shared cosmetic values. This is emblematic of the entire political climate since the 2008 financial crash which preceded the migrant crisis that the centrist political establishment has done everything within its power to downplay its inseparable connection. The financial collapse is what opened up political space for new, radical ideas and that included a surge of interest in both far left and far right political organizations which spoke directly to the working class, from Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party. Liberals continue to express faux-outrage at developments of which their failed policies are responsible, while at the same time offering no alternative or solution except doubling-down on the same empty strategies.

While the Stop the War co-founder Jeremy Corbyn has become the leader of the UK’s Labour Party, democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the United States, and the disappointing SYRIZA coalition was elected in Greece, it is the far right which has made the greatest gains in response to the failures of capitalism. In 2016, it saw both the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. who campaigned pledging to build a wall on the Southern border and 17 million Brits voting to leave the European Union. Sadly, it is inevitable that their attempts to save capitalism from itself by restricting immigration and imposing tariffs will prove to be ineffectual as Keynesian economics. The real problem lies not with immigration or the demise of the nation state by globalism, but with increasing global inequality and the free market’s relentless drive to extract wealth and resources through imperial conquest of smaller nations, the actual cause of the migrant crisis.

The political establishment is now fighting for its life as it outright denies the interdependence of failing global markets with the crisis, all the while fear-mongering the public in its efforts to reform capitalism under the phony banner of ‘inclusivity’, even as its very policies fuel the increase in xenophobia scapegoating the immigrants it claims to want to protect. These policies not only include the implementation of economic austerity, but military intervention abroad with support for jihadist-dominated uprisings and its failed ‘War on Terror’ in the Middle East which destabilized the region and fueled the wave of migrants seeking asylum in the EU. Much has been written about the contribution of migration and endless war to the Roman Empire’s collapse — it seems the same cards are in the deck for the United States and its hegemony.

Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era

In examining the future, we must look to the past.

As we watch the media today, we are spoon fed more and more propaganda and fear of the unknown, that we should be afraid of the unknown and have full faith that our government is keeping us safe from the unknown. But by looking at media today, those of us who are old enough will be reminded of the era of Cold War news articles, hysteria of how the Russians would invade and how we should duck and cover under tables in our kitchens for the ensuing nuclear war. Under this mass hysteria all Western governments were convinced that we should join Western allies to fight the unknown evil that lies to the east. Later through my travels in Russia during the height of the Cold War with a peace delegation, we were shocked by the poverty of the country, and questioned how we ever were led to believe that Russia was a force to be afraid of. We talked to the Russian students who were dismayed by their absolute poverty and showed anger against NATO for leading their country into an arms race that they could not win. Many years later, when speaking to young Americans in the US, I was in disbelief about the fear the students had of Russia and their talk of invasion. This is a good example of how the unknown can cause a deep rooted paranoia when manipulated by the right powers.

All military is expensive, and we can see in Europe that the countries are reluctant to expand their military spending and find it hard to justify this to their people. In looking at this scenario, we can ask ourselves what is beneficial about this hysteria and fear caused on both sides. All armies must have an enemy to deem them necessary. An enemy must be created, and the people must be convinced that there is need for action to safeguard the freedom of their country.  Right now, we can see a shifting of financial power from old Western powers to the rise of the Middle East and Asia. Do we honestly believe that the Western allies are going to give up their power? My suggestion is: not easily. The old dying empires will fight tooth and nail to protect their financial interests such as the petrol dollar and the many benefits that come through their power over poverty-stricken countries.

Firstly, I must say, that I personally believe that Russia is not by any means without faults. But the amount of anti-Russian propaganda in our media today is a throwback to the Cold War era. We must ask the question: Is this leading to more arms, a bigger NATO? Possibly to challenge large powers in the Middle East and Asia, as we see the US approaching the South China seas, and NATO Naval games taking place in the Black Sea. Missile compounds are being erected in Romania, Poland and other ex-Soviet countries, while military games are set up in Scandinavia close to the Russian border to practice for a cold climate war scenario. At the same time, we see the US President arriving in Europe asking for increased military spending. At the same time the USA has increased its budget by 300 billion in one year.

The demonization of Russia is, I believe, one of the most dangerous things that is happening in our world today. The scapegoating of Russia is an inexcusable game that the West is indulging in. It is time for political leaders and each individual to move us back from the brink of catastrophe to begin to build relationships with our Russian brothers and sisters. Too long has the elite financially gained from war while millions are moved into poverty and desperation. The people of the world have been subjected to war propaganda based on lies and misinformation and we have seen the results of invasions and occupations by NATO disguised as “humanitarian intervention” and “right to protect”. NATO has destroyed the lives of millions of people and purposely devastated their lands, causing the exodus of millions of refugees. The people around the world must not be misled yet again. I personally believe that the US, the UK and France are the most military minded countries, whose inability to use their imagination and creativity to solve conflict through dialogue and negotiation is astonishing to myself and many people. In a highly militarized, dangerous world it is important we start to humanize each other and find ways of cooperation, and build fraternity amongst the nations. The policies of demonization of political leaders as a means of preparing the way for invasions and wars must be stopped immediately and serious effort put into the building of relationships across the world. The isolation and marginalization of countries will only lead to extremism, fundamentalism and violence.

During our visit to Moscow we had the pleasure of attending a celebration of mass at the main Orthodox Cathedral. I was very inspired by the deep spirituality and faith of the people as they sang the entire three-hour mass. I was moved by the culture of the Russian people and I could feel that their tremendous history of suffering and persecution gave them sensitivity and passion for peace.

Surely it is time that we in Europe refuse to be put in a position where we are forced to choose between our Russian and American brothers and sisters. The enormous problems that we are faced with, such as, due to climate change and wars, mass migration and movement of peoples around the world, need to be tackled as a world community. The lifting of sanctions against Russia and the setting up of programs of cooperation will help build friendships amongst the nations.

I call on all people to encourage their political leaders in the US, EU and Russia to show vision and political leadership and use their skills to build trust and work for peace and nonviolence.

Our Broken System has no “Moderate” Devotees

Western politics is tearing itself apart, polarising into two camps – or at least, it is in the official narrative we are being fed by our corporate media. The warring camps are presented as “moderate centrists”, on one side, and the “extreme right”, on the other. The question is framed as a choice about where one stands in relation to this fundamental political divide. But what if none of this is true? What if this isn’t a feud between two opposed ideological camps but rather two differing – and irrational – reactions to the breakdown of late-stage capitalism as an economic model, a system that can no longer offer plausible solutions to the problems of our age?

Neighbouring news headlines this week offered a neat illustration of the media’s framing of the current situation. Representing the “moderates”, German chancellor Angela Merkel made a “passionate address” in which she denounced the outbreak of far-right protests in east Germany and reports of the “hunting down” of “foreigners” – asylum seekers and immigrants.

She observed:

There is no excuse or explanation for rabble-rousing, in some cases the use of violence, Nazi slogans, hostility towards people who look different, to the owner of a Jewish restaurant, attacking police.

Ostensibly pitted against Merkel is Viktor Orban, Hungary’s “extreme right” prime minister. Hungary risks being stripped of its voting rights in the European Union because of Orban’s “rabble-rousing” policies and his anti-migrant agenda.

Shortly before the European parliament voted against Hungary, accusing its government of posing a “systematic threat” to democracy and the rule of law, Orban argued that his country was being targeted for preferring not to be “a country of migrants”.

He is far from an outlier. Several other EU states, from Italy to Poland, are close behind Orban in pursuing populist, anti-immigrant agendas.

Family feud

But does this civil war in Europe really reflect a divide between good and bad politics, between moderates and extremists? Are we not witnessing something else: the internal contradictions brought to the fore by a turbo-charged neoliberalism that is now so ideologically entrenched that no one dares question its suitability, let alone its morality?

In truth, the row between Merkel and Orban is a family feud, between sister and brother wedded to the same self-destructive ideology but in profound disagreement about which placebo should be administered to make them feel better.

What do I mean?

Merkel and the mainstream neoliberal elite are committed to an ever-more deregulated world because that is imperative for a globalised economic elite searching to accrue ever more wealth and power. That elite needs open borders and a lack of significant regulation so that it can plunder unrestricted the Earth’s resources – human and material – while dumping the toxic waste byproducts wherever is most profitable and convenient.

In practice, that means creating maximum damage in places and against life-forms that have the least capacity to defend themselves: the poorest countries, the animal kingdom, the forests and oceans, the weather system – and, of course, against future generations that have no voice. There is a reason why the deepest seabeds are now awash with our plastic debris, poisoning and killing marine life for decades, maybe centuries, to come.

Interestingly, this global elite makes a few exceptions to its policy of entirely open borders and sweeping deregulation. Through its pawns in the world’s leading capitals – the people we mistakenly think of as our political representatives – it has created small islands of opacity in which it can stash away its wealth. These “offshore tax havens” are highly regulated so we cannot see what goes on inside them. While the elite wants borders erased and the free movement of workers to set one against the other, the borders of these offshore “safe deposit boxes” are stringently preserved to protect the elite’s wealth.

International order

Meanwhile, the global elite has created international or trans-national structures and institutions precisely to remove the power of nation-states to regulate and dominate the business environment. The political class in the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Mexico or Brazil do not control the corporations. These corporations control even the biggest states. The banks are too big to fail, the arms manufacturers too committed to permanent war to rein in, the largely uniform narratives of the corporate media too powerful to dissent from.

Instead, global or trans-national institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary, the European Union, NATO, BRICS and many others, remake our world to promote the globalised profits of the corporations.

The United Nations – a rival international project – is more problematic. It was created immediately after the Second World War with the aim of imposing a law-based international order, premised on respect for human rights, to prevent future large-scale wars and genocide. In practice, however, it chiefly serves the interests of the dominant western states through their capture of the Security Council, effectively the UN’s executive.

A few UN institutions – those in charge of human rights and prosecuting war crimes – that have the potential to restrain the power of the global elite find themselves ever more marginalised and undermined. Both the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court have been under sustained assault from US officials, both before and after Donald Trump became president.

Towards the abyss

The internal contradictions of this globalised system – between the unfettered enrichment of the elite and the endless resource depletion of the Earth and its weakest inhabitants – are becoming ever more apparent. Historically, the toxic waste from this system was inflicted on the poorest regions first, like puddles forming in depressions in the ground during a rainstorm.

As the planet has warmed, crops have failed, the poor have gone hungry, wars have broken out. All of this has been an entirely predictable outcome of the current economics of endless, carbon-based growth, coupled with resource theft. But unlike puddles, the human collateral damage of this economic system can get up and move elsewhere. We have seen massive population displacements caused by famines and wars, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. These migrations are not about to stop. They are going to intensify as neoliberalism hurtles us towards the economic and climate abyss.

The political class in the west are now experiencing profound cognitive dissonance. Merkel and the “moderates” want endless growth and a world without borders that is bringing gradual ruination on their economies and their privileges. They have no answers for the “extremists” on the right, who acknowledge this ruination and say something needs to be done urgently about it.

Orban and the far-right want to fiercely resurrect the borders that globalisation erased, to build barriers that will stop the puddles merging and inundating their higher ground. This is why the right is resurgent. They, far more than the moderates, can describe our current predicament – even if they offer solutions that are positively harmful. They want solid walls, national sovereignty, blocks on immigrants, as well as racism and violence against the “foreigners” already inside their borders.

The system is broken

We have to stop thinking of these political debates as between the good “moderates” and the nasty “extreme right”. This is a fundamental misconception.

The deluded “moderates” want to continue with a highly unsustainable form of capitalism premised on an impossible endless growth. It should be obvious that a planet with finite resources cannot sustain infinite growth, and that the toxic waste of our ever-greater consumption will poison the well we all depend on.

The west’s deluded far-right, on the other hand, believe that they can stand guard and protect their small pile of privilege against the rising tide of migrants and warming oceans caused by western policies of resource theft, labour exploitation and climate destruction. The far-right’s views are no more grounded in reality than King Canute’s.

Both sides are failing to grasp the central problem: that the western-imposed global economic system is broken. It is gradually being destroyed from within by its own contradictions. The “moderates” are doubly blind: they refuse to acknowledge either the symptoms or the cause of the disease. The “extremists” are as oblivious to the causes of the illness besetting their societies as the “moderates”, but they do at least recognise the symptoms as a sign of malaise, even if their solutions are entirely self-serving.

Squaring the circle

This can be seen in stark fashion in the deep divide over Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, so-called Brexit, which has cut across the usual left-right agendas.

The Remain crowd, who want to stay in Europe, believe Britain’s future lies in upholding the failed status quo: of a turbo-charged neoliberalism, of diminishing borders and the free movement of labour, of distant, faceless technocrats making decisions in their name.

Like a child pulling up the blanket to her chin in the hope it will protect her from the monsters lurking in the darkness of the bedroom, the “moderates” assume European bureaucrats will protect them from economic collapse and climate breakdown. The reality, however, is that the EU is one of the trans-national institutions whose chief rationale is accelerating our rush to the abyss.

Meanwhile, the Brexit crowd think that, once out of the EU, a small island adrift in a globalised world will be able to reclaim its sovereignty and greatness. They too are going to find reality a terrifying disappointment. Alone, Britain will not be stronger. It will simply be easier prey for the US-headquartered global elite. Britain will be jumping out of the EU frying pan into the flames of the Atlanticists’ stove.

What is needed is not the “moderates” or the “extreme right”, not Brexit or Remain, but an entirely new kind of politics, which is prepared to shift the paradigm.

The new paradigm must accept that we live in a world that requires global solutions and regulations to prevent climate breakdown. But it must also understand that people are rightly distrustful of distant, unaccountable institutions that are easily captured by the most powerful and the most pitiless. People want to feel part of communities they know, to have a degree of control over their lives and decisions, to find common bonds and to work collaboratively from the bottom-up.

The challenge ahead is to discard our current self-destructive illusions and urgently find a way to solve this conundrum – to square the circle.

There is a Deeper, Darker Agenda Afoot as the US cuts UNRWA Funding

The Trump administration’s decision to scrap all future aid payments to the main agency helping Palestinian refugees marks a new – and most likely disastrous – chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The US State Department said on Friday it would no longer continue its $360 million annual contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), depriving it of a third of its budget. US officials described the organisation as “irredeemably flawed”.

The move follows an announcement last week that Washington had slashed $200 million from other aid programmes for the Palestinians.

About five million Palestinians – many languishing for decades in refugee camps across the Middle East – rely on the agency for essential food, healthcare and education.

Other states in the Middle East have reason to be fearful. Jordan’s foreign minster, Ayman Safadi, warned on Saturday that the denial of aid would “only consolidate an environment of despair that would ultimately create fertile grounds for further tension”.

Jordan, which hosts two million Palestinian refugees, has called a meeting at the UN later this month, along with Japan, the European Union, Sweden and Turkey, to “rally political and financial support” for UNRWA.

Traditional American and European backing for the UN agency could be viewed as reparations for their complicity in helping to create a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. That act of dispossession turned the Palestinians into the world’s largest stateless population.

Except there are few signs of guilt.

The handouts provided via the UN have served more like “hush money”, designed to keep the Palestinians dependent and quiet as western states manage a crisis they apparently have no intention of solving.

That was why the European Union hurriedly promised to seek alternative funds for UNRWA. It noted that the agency was “vital for stability and security in the region” – a stability that has enabled Israel to disappear the Palestinians, uninterrupted, for seven decades.

The Trump administration, by contrast, is more brazen about the new way it wishes to weaponise aid.

US officials have not concealed the fact that they want leverage over the Palestinians to force them to submit to Donald Trump’s long-promised “deal of the century” peace plan.

But there is a deeper and darker agenda afoot than simply reviving failed negotiations or pandering to the Trump administration’s well-known antipathy towards international institutions.

Over the past 25 years, peace talks have provided cover for Israel’s incremental takeover of what was supposed to be a future Palestinian state. In the words of Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarazi, while Israel and the Palestinians were discussing how to divide the pizza, Israel ate it all.

So Mr Trump’s team has, in effect, reverse-engineered a “peace process” based on the reality on the ground Israel has created.

If Israel won’t compromise, Mr Trump will settle the final-status issues – borders, Jerusalem and the refugees – in the stronger party’s favour. The only hurdle is finding a way to bully the Palestinians into acceptance.

In an indication of how sychronised Washington and Israel’s approaches now are, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, made almost identical speeches last week.

In an address to American Jewish leaders, Mr Friedman noted that a “different way of thinking” prevailed in the Middle East. “You can’t talk your way, you just have to be strong,” he said.

The next day, Mr Netanyahu reiterated that message. He tweeted: “The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.”

That sounded uncomfortably like a prescription for the Palestinians’ future.

Israel has already carved out its borders through the ethnic cleansing campaigns of 1948 and 1967. Since then, it has mobilised the settlers and its military to take over almost all of the remnants of historic Palestine. A few slivers of territory in the West Bank and the tiny coastal ghetto of Gaza are all that is left for the Palestinians.

A nod from the White House and Israel will formalise this arrangement by gradually annexing the West Bank.

As far as Jerusalem is concerned, Mr Trump recognised it as Israel’s capital by moving the US embassy there in May. Now, even if it can be born, a Palestinian state will lack a meaningful capital and a viable economy.

The final loose end are the refugees.

Some time ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas surrendered their right – sanctioned in international law – to return to their former lands in what is now Israel.

Instead, the question was whether Israel would allow the refugees encamped in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to move to the West Bank and Gaza and become citizens of a Palestinian state.

But if Israel refuses to concede a Palestinian state, even that minimal ambition is doomed.

Israel and the US have an alternative solution. They prefer to dismantle UNRWA and disappear the Palestinians in the swelling tide of refugees spawned by recent western interventions in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. On Sunday Mr Netanyahu welcomed what he called a US move to “abolish the refugee institution, to take the funds and really help rehabilitate the refugees”.

The US and Israel want the Palestinian refugees to fall under the responsibility of the UNHCR, the UN’s umbrella refugee agency – or better still, their host countries.

In a leaked email reported by Foreign Policy magazine this month, Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, wrote that it was time to “disrupt UNRWA”. He added that “sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there”.

Central to that disruption is stripping millions of Palestinians of their status as refugees. The Trump administration is due to publish a report later this month, according to Israeli media, that will propose capping the Palestinian refugee population at 500,000 – a tenth of the current number.

Mr Kushner has reportedly been leaning on Jordan to revoke the status of its two million Palestinian refugees, presumably in return for US compensation.

When UNRWA’s mandate comes up for renewal in two years’ time, it seems assured Washington will block it.

If there is no UNRWA, there is no Palestinian refugee problem. And if there are no refugees, then there is no need for a right of return – and even less pressure for a Palestinian state.

Israel and the US are close to their goal: transforming a political conflict governed by international law that favours the Palestinians into an economic problem overseen by an array of donors that favours Israel.

• First published in The National

Credit Suisse Freezes $5 billion of Russian Money due to U.S. Sanctions

A few days ago, Reuter reported that Switzerland’s second largest bank, Crédit Suisse, has ‘frozen‘ about 5 billion Swiss francs of Russian money, or about the same in US-dollars, for fear of falling out of favors with Washington – and being ‘sanctioned’ in one way or another. Crédit Suisse, like her bigger sister, UBS, have been amply punished already by Washington for facilitating in the US as well as in Switzerland tax evasion for US oligarchs. They want to be good boys now with Washington.

Switzerland’s banking watchdog, FINMA, does not require Swiss banks to enforce foreign sanctions, but has said they have a responsibility to minimize legal and reputational risks. Crédit Suisse is cautious. In 2009, it reached a $500 million settlement with U.S. authorities over dealings with sanctions-hit Iran. And most every major bank remembers the 2014 settlement of France’s BNP Paribas for a record $8.9 billion fine for violating U.S. sanctions against Sudan, Cuba and Iran.

When asked, two other Swiss banks, UBS and Julius Baer, who are known to deal with Russian clients, declined a straight forward answer whether they too will resort to sanctioning their Russian customers. An UBS spokesman said evasively, they were “implementing worldwide at least the sanctions currently imposed by Switzerland, the U.N., the EU and the U.S.”

What doesn’t stop amazing me is how the western world just accepts such horrendous US fraud, or better called, outright theft of other countries resources, be it monetary or natural resources. And all that is possible only because the entire western world and all those African and lately again, Latin American countries – many of them developing countries, including some of the major oil producers – are still tied to the US dollar. All international money transactions, regardless whether they concern the United States, or simply two completely independent countries, have to transit through a US bank either in London or New York. This is what makes it possible for the US to implement financial and economic sanctions in the first place.

A few days ago, the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, dared proposing that the EU detach itself from the international, totally privately run, Belgium registered SWIFT transfer system, as it is fully controlled by the US banking oligarchy, is operating in more than 200 countries and territories. He suggested that the EU create an independent transfer system, much like Russia and China have done, to free themselves from the financial slavehood to Washington. The reaction of one of his right wing German countryman and parliamentarian was swift – it was not the right time to even think of de-coupling the EU from Washington, now where Russia is in dire straits and Germany and the rest of Europe needs the US more than ever.  Can you imagine!

In this pathetic, gutless Europe, it is highly questionable whether Mr. Mass’s excellent idea will survive and actually gain support. Hardly at this stage.

Irrespective of the spineless behavior of the EU and the Swiss Government, the latter unable even to stand up to its own neutrality – let them rot in their submissiveness to empire and its EU vassals – gutlessness, which by the way they, the Swiss Government, has also demonstrated vis-à-vis Venezuela – more important, much more important is, what does this all mean for Russia?

To begin with, the Crédit Suisse ‘frozen’ 5 billion dollars, you may as well call it what it is in reality: Totally illegally “confiscated” Russian assets. It is rare, if ever, that the US government returns so called ‘frozen’ assets of any sanctioned country. And under the current scenario, Trump and his masters and the pressure of the corrupt Hillary swamp, will not let go of demonizing and ‘sanctioning’ Russia, regardless of the real impact of these sanctions, and regardless of the total lawlessness of these actions, regardless of the manufactured and lie-based reason for these sanctions, regardless of the fact that everybody with a half-brain knows about the manipulated and false pretexts for sanctions, and regardless of another fact, namely, that these actions are contributing to an ever accelerating suicide of the empire and its corrupt system that eventually will drown in its own Washington swamp. Good riddens!  The sooner the better.

And the impact of these sanctions is hardly what they pretend to be. They are foremost a call on the Atlantists – or call them Fifth Columnists, of which there are still too many embedded in the Russian financial sector – to counteract the internal measures Russia is taking to escape the dollar slavehood. They will not succeed. The vessel is turning and turning ever faster; turning from west to east.

Despite the constant demonization of the ruble, how it lost 50% of its value because of the sanctions, the Russian currency is worth way more than all the western fiat currencies together. The western dollar-dependent moneys are based on hot air, or not even – on zilch, nada, zero; they are literally produced by private banks like casino money. The ruble is doubly-backed by gold and by Russia’s well-recovered economy and so is the Chinese Yuan.

So, what does a 50% loss of the ruble mean? Loss against what? Loss against the US dollar and the currencies of Washington’s vassal allies? With a de-linked Russian economy from the western economy, the western concept of ‘devaluation’ is totally meaningless. The ruble doesn’t need to compare itself anymore to the western dollar-enslaved currencies.

So, the urgent call by the nature of things for Russia to delink from the western economy, from the western fraudulent dollar-based monetary system, is being heeded by Russia.  I cannot but repeat and repeat again that the dollar economy and the enslaving monetary system it produced is an absolute fraud. It is a crime that would be punishable by any international court that deserves the name of a court of law, that is not bought and whose judges are not threatened if they don’t fold to the dictate of Washington. But upholding the laws of ethics and moral, the laws that our more honest and humble forefathers not too long ago crafted, is a thing of the past. The corruption in everything accompanied by intimidations and coercions, have been accepted by just about everybody as the new normal. This, in itself, is not normal. It creates a pressure cooker that eventually will simply explode.

To move away from this ever-increasing stench of cultural decay, a de-dollarization is a must, is a recipe for survival. And survive, Russia will. Russia is buying massively gold, shedding US treasury bonds from its reserves, replacing them with gold and Chinese Yuan, an IMF-accepted official reserve currency. In July 2018 Russia purchased a record 26 tons of gold, leading up to gold reserves of close to a total of 2000 tons, quadrupling her gold inventory since 2008. This makes Russia the world’s fifth largest gold holder.

As Mr. Putin said already a few years ago, the sanctions are the best thing that happened to Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It forced us to rehabilitate and boost our agricultural production for food self-sufficiency and to rebuild and modernize our industrial park. Today Russia has a cutting-edge industrial arsenal and is no longer dependent on “sanctioned” imports. Russia is not only food-autonomous but has become the world’s largest wheat exporter. And take this – according to Mr. Putin, Russia will supply the world with only organic food, no GMOs, no toxic fertilizers and pesticides.

Russia has clearly and unstoppably embarked on an “Economy of Resistance”: Local production for local markets with local money based on and for the development of the local economy; trading with friendly nations who share similar cultural and moral values.  It’s called regaining economic sovereignty. That’s key. That’s what most countries in the west under the yoke of the US empire and its puppets, enforced by NATO, have lost in the steadily increasing stranglehold of globalization. Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, Syria, North Korea, Pakistan, soon Mexico, and others are breaking loose from the fangs of the Washington Consensus that brought the world almost three decades of pure misery, exploitation and monetary enslavement.

Russia is strengthening her ties with China, with whom she has already for years a ruble-yuan swap agreement between the respective central banks, indicating a strong economic and trading relation. Both are members of the SCO – Shanghai Cooperation Organization. And Russia is also an integral part and link in President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative – BRI – a multi-trillion-yuan economic development scheme for the next at least hundred years, that will span the world with several transport routes, including shipping lines, ports and industrial expansion, as well as cultural exchange, education and research centers on the way. Members of the SCO encompass half the world’s population and account today already for about a third of the globe’s GDP and growing fast, both in members as well as economic output.

Russia as part of this block of sovereign nations doesn’t need the west anymore, doesn’t need the Crédit Suisse confiscated 5 billion dollars anymore. Freedom is priceless. Sanctions are like the fiat currency they are based on; not more than rotten smelling hot air, and dissipating fast into oblivion.

Finding Fault and Faulty Infrastructure: Genoa’s Morandi Bridge Disaster

Bridges are the great symbols of human connection. They suggest a certain animal pride in the human race, a technological capacity to trick, and even subordinate nature.  Across ravines, rivers and bodies of space, the bridge suggests the raising and linking of the miraculous, a suspension that facilitates contact and speed.  They also suggest power, triumph, and continuity.

Little wonder then, that such disasters as the collapse of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa on August 14 cripple pride and shock the senses.  On this occasion, nature was not going to be tricked.  A storm did its work, and duly brought down a 100 metre section of the viaduct, inaugurated in 1967, with ferociously lethal consequences.  Decades of maintenance had failed to stem the fall, and 35 cars and heavier vehicles plummeted some 45 metres below. This beast of Italian structural engineering was gone.

Almost 40 people are dead, several lie in critical condition and more bodies promise to be found.  In the words of fire fighter Stefano Zanut, “We are trying to find points where we can penetrate these incredibly heavy slabs.  Then the earthmoving equipment moves in to create a passageway where dogs can enter.”

The Italian government duly blamed the operator of the viaduct, Autostrade per l’Italia, promising mild retribution in the form of stripping contracts and revoking operating licenses.  “It is the company that holds the license who is responsible for maintenance and safety,” explained Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, an observation that suggested more than a hint of hand washing of responsibility.  “If a bridge like this one collapsed it means this maintenance hasn’t been carried out.”

The process of revocation began over the weekend, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte promising in a statement that the government had “formally sent to Autostrade per l’Italia the letter of complaint that launches the process of revoking the concession.”  The company, for its part, is claiming that it did all that was necessary to ensure monitoring “with highly specialised technology.”

But the broader picture was hard to ignore: creaking infrastructure is back on the cards, and various agents are being viewed as catalysts.  Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has issued an irate order to the company to pay 500 million euros to assist the families and local government.  In a move that suggests that the horse has all too readily bolted, the Ministry of Infrastructure will be given more intrusive powers of monitoring and inspection and compel motorway operators to shift more profits from their enterprise towards safety and maintenance.

A number of the grieving families of the dead showed little interest in participating in a state funeral duly run in the hall in Genoa on Saturday.  They have pointed fingers in fury at state authorities who have all too readily divested their obligations on safety, favouring the good graces of the private sector.  “It is the state who has provoked this; let them show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” came the remarks of one aggrieved mother, whose views of resigned fury were noted in La Stampa.

Where there is crisis, there are those willing to speculate and exploit.  Crisis breeds chances and prospects.  Large dollops of blame are being handed out to a range of players, much of it done with calculated effect.  More reactionary elements of the British press, ever keen to suggest traces of primitive provincialism in Italy, suggested that the mafia might have had a hand in it, notably in its link to using an inferior form of cement known as “cemento depotenziato”.  No hard evidence has been adduced on that specific connection in the Genoa disaster, but that hardly stops speculation from flapping its wings.

Italian authorities have also found their handy alibi: spending constraints stemming from Brussels in the name of budgetary prudence.  Salvini is certainly convinced, linking the bridge collapse in Genoa to EU budget rules.  “If external constraints prevent us from spending to have safe roads and schools, then it really calls into question whether it makes sense to follow these rules.”  Ever sniffing a populist chance, Salvini insisted that there could be “no trade-off between fiscal rules and the safety of Italians.”

The EU budget commissioner, Günther Oettinger, dismissed Salvini’s remarks as being “very human”, which was another way of claiming he was being erringly foolish.  “It is very human to look for somebody to blame,” he tweeted with dripping condescension, in the face of such disasters.  Nor could the EU be accused of being miserly on the issue of funding.  It had already forked out some 2.5 billion euros to fund Italian roads and trains for the current budgetary cycle.

Commission spokesperson Christian Spahr felt a need to issue a clarification over the remarks of the interior minister. “Under agreed fiscal rules, member states are free to set specific policy priorities, for instance, the development and maintenance of infrastructure.”  The Commission had also been generous, approving in April 2018 “under European state aid rules an investment plan for Italian motorways.”

The shoe, came the implication, was actually on the other foot.  Indigenous factors had come into play.  Italy needed to ensure that infrastructure such as motorways needed to be monitored and inspected on a regular basis.  Neither Salvini nor his populist ally Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement, have much time for such paperwork niceties. A point worth noting here is that the Five Star Movement citizen’s committee in Genoa had declared, in an April 2013 release, that any potential collapse of the Morandi bridge was the stuff of fairy tales.  For them, the EU looms like a chiding, despotic behemoth, dictating budgetary rules of prudence that have duly sacrificed efforts to keep Italian infrastructure in good hands.

On the home front, the Italian government will be facing a bind.  Autostrade is hardly going out of pocket, nor will it do so without a fight.  Cancellation of the license will result in compensation – some 20 billion euros is one estimate.  Where infrastructure fails, death might ensue, but money payments will always follow.  In the meantime, the problems of funding ailing infrastructure will continue to give the government profound headaches.  The battle over irresponsibility will continue to be fought.

New US Sanctions on Iran and their Impact

(PressTV referring to the New Sanctions regime imposed by the US, as of 7 August 2018.)

PressTV:  How do you see this?

Peter Koenig: First off, this is just another flagrant violation of international law, even of US law, after having ratified the Nuclear Deal. Any interference in another country’s economic affairs, including in a country’s trade sovereignty, is an international crime. That’s precisely what Trump, under the leadership of those who command him, is doing. For example, Netanyahu, is largely calling the shots in Washington.

The idea is weakening Iran to the point that a war would be easier. Although, I really do not believe that the US is daring to go to war with Iran. They know too well what’s at stake with Russia and China firmly behind Iran.

They may send Israel as a forerunner to attack Iran and wait for Iran’s reaction. But even that, I believe will be a losing proposition. The empire knows it’s on a descending course. This is fearmongering and warmongering, which will allow the war industrial complex to increase its profits as a last-ditch effort.

But Iran, in fact, has nothing to fear if she plays her cards according to what she knows is best: Applying the principles of resistance economy, meaning foremost de-linking from the dollar economy and becoming quickly food self-sufficient, with increased trading with the East; i.e., the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries.

PressTV: What are Iranian options to counter this?

PK: Well, as indicated before, Iran should gradually but ever so fast detach from the dollar economy. As a matter of fact, one of the sanctions prohibits Iran from dealing in dollars. All the better. Iran has other resources, or it must now look for other resources, like the Yuan and the Ruble – and other SCO currencies – and definitely do whatever is needed to hasten the pace towards full integration into the eastern economy. And, realize her plan of creating her own crypto-currency, similar to Venezuela’s Petro, based on and backed by Iran’s immense reserves of hydrocarbon.

Let’s not forget, and I have said this many time before – the future is in the East.

Always remember what President Putin has come to tell The Ayatollah last November, namely, that sanctions were the best thing that ever happened to Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It forced Russia to rebuild its economy towards self-sufficiency, especially agriculture where in the 90s everything was imported from the EU. Now Russia is fully food self-sufficient. Actually Russia has become the world’s largest exporter of wheat by far, for the last two years, and this year also promises to be a record year.

Similar, with renewing Russia’s industrial park, Russia today has a cutting-edge technology industry, and can compete everywhere in the world. Russia is immune to sanctions.

Iran can do the same. Mr. Rouhani, a few weeks ago, said something to this effect, namely, that the course of moving away from the west – meaning also the EU/Europe and the Euro – may hurt at the beginning for a short while, but once that hurdle is overcome, they will be independent, gained new political and economic sovereignty. And that’s the way to go.

However, Iran has a strong Fifth Column which will not shy away from starting internal protests and upheavals against the government. These are people trained by the US/CIA, NATO to do exactly that – bringing an internal conflict about – that the US and its vassals hope will eventually lead to Regime Change, forced from within.

This, I believe is the biggest challenge, confronting and combating the Iranian Fifth Column.

Mind you Fifth Columns are everywhere. They are also in Russia, China, Venezuela, North Korea…

This is the means the empire uses.

Fifth Columnists were largely responsible for the Arabs Spring and for what was eventually called the ‘civil war’ (sic) in Syria.

PressTV: How will EU, Russia and China hold up to their side of the deal?

PK:  Surely Russia and China will stand up for Iran. They are true allies.

I would not trust Brussels; i.e., the EU – not for an inch.

They say now they will stand up to the Nuclear Deal, respect it. But when it comes down to it, they will abandon it all the same.

I think their saying so now is maybe just a ruse to incite Iran to trust them and to continue doing business with them. But you know, doing business with the EU, meaning with euro as trading currency, is the same as doing business in dollars. The euro is but a foster child of the US dollar, and therefore Iran would still be bound and linked to the US dollar hegemony.  And, worse, would continue being vulnerable to US sanctions.

Kosovo at Delicate Crossroads Between East and West

The people of Kosovo were and still are cheering for joy. The European Commission (EC) recently decided that Kosovars won’t need visas any more to visit EU countries. Up to now, getting such visas was a horrendously complicated and bureaucratic procedure, especially hurtful, since Kosovo, with a population of about 1.8 million Kosovars living in Kosovo, has a diaspora estimated at 800,000 to a million, most of them in western Europe. For Kosovars, with close-knit families, 90+ percent Albanian Muslims, being able to visit their relatives and friends is a priority. So, this sudden EU opening up, was a great “gift” and a tremendous relief. But, at what price? What happened? Why did it happen this turnabout by the treacherous EU?

Let’s go back to a bit of history.

Kosovo, a strategic pivot in the center of the Balkans; a landlocked country surrounded by Montenegro, Albania, Serbia and Macedonia. Kosovo, carved out from Serbia during or after the Clinton Administration invoked war – the infamous 69 days of bombing Serbian troops in Kosovo, following a ten-year period of systematic US-NATO- European vassals’ destruction of Yugoslavia, arguably the most prosperous country in Europe at the time.

You may want to recall, the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, started with the “Ten Days War” on Slovenia in 1991, followed by the Croatian War (1991-95); then the Bosnia War (1992-95); and the Kosovo War (1998-99), culminating with the Clinton induced 69-day NATO bombing of Kosovo, under the leadership of Wesley Clark, head of NATO in Europe. The latter under the pretext of freeing the Kosovo Albanians from Serbian Milosevic’s atrocities.

Of course, how Milosevic was used by the West to literally slaughter his neighbors, so far hardly anybody has dared to analyze and write about. He was on trial by the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. He was actually awaiting a court decision on his request to subpoena former President Clinton, as a witness, when he was suddenly found dead in his cell on 11 March 2006. The Dutch court coroner immediately certified that Milosevic died a natural death. Strangely, his death came less than a week after the star witness in his trial, former Croatian Serb leader, Milan Babic, was found dead in the same prison. Babic’s testimony in 2002 described a behind the scene political and military command structure headed by Milosevic. Babic served a 13-year prison sentence. His sudden death was said to be a suicide.

Too many Serbs die suddenly in The Hague to be called ‘coincidences’. In October 2015, Dusan Dunjic, a forensic pathologist, was found dead in his hotel room, just hours before he was due to testify as a key defense witness in the trial of the Bosnian Serb and genocidal general Ratko Mladic, who was on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Dutch police said, “we have no reason to suspect that a crime had been committed”. They gave no further detail. Case closed.

This is just to make the point that the murderous and atrocious Balkan wars were western instigated from the very preparation – including through decades long Fifth Column type – infiltration in Yugoslavia’s institutions.

Today, Kosovo lacks recognition from sufficient countries to be considered a “real country”. Kosovo is not a member of the UN, because she has only been recognized by 114 of the current 193 UN members. It needs two thirds of UN members recognition to apply for UN membership. Kosovo, of course, is not a member of the EU either, only 23 of the 28 EU countries recognize her as a country. The reasons for it are multiple and complex. But Kosovo, with a surface of 10,900 km2, and less than 2 million inhabitants, prides herself with having already two military bases, one US – a huge one, and a “subordinate” NATO base – what else.

Like all the Balkans, Kosovo wants to get into the EU as fast as possible. But, they are far from even getting onto the “accession” path – which is like the runway to fly into the EU. When you get to accession status, you have pretty much fulfilled all or most of the EU conditions and are now accepted to negotiate. And ‘accession’ is a privilege that, aside from some rather ridiculous EU conditions, depends pretty much on Washington’s use for a country, once it has become part of the overall EU vassalage. Kosovo is no priority. The US military is already there and NATO has a base – so what more is needed for right now? The EU today in many countries is considered identical with NATO.

Kosovo is hungry though, to get into the EU, so hungry, it can be easily blackmailed – and bribed – into accepting almost anything, in order to gain kudos with Brussels. The best blackmail object is visas, or the waiver of visas, particularly to western Europe, where most of the Kosovar diaspora lives – an estimated 800,000 to one million people.

Montenegro, an EU candidate on fast track, NATO member since 2017, is building or expanding a NATO base right at the border to Kosovo. In fact, it requires Kosovo to give up some 8,200 ha of her land to Montenegro, the new ‘demarcation line’ (see map – red areas are Kosovo concessions to Montenegro). According to “Prishtina Insight”, the Kosovo Parliament ratified a few weeks ago the “land concession”, also called the “Demarcation Deal with Montenegro” with 80 votes against 11 opposition. And this amidst several teargas canister explosion episodes initiated by the opposition in Parliament.

This was the deal: Kosovo give up a stretch of 8,200 ha of your land to Montenegro and you will get visa-free entry to all of Europe. Blackmail only the west in its greed and hegemonic drive is capable of exercising over countries. Identifying their weak spots – in the case of Kosovo, the desire to get easy access to their relatives and friends living in Europe, and then hitting them with an “offer” they can’t refuse.

In fact, going by the strict rules of the EU, which can only slightly be bent to accelerate access, lest more ‘honest’ EU members might protest, none of the Balkan countries are complying with the EU access regulation. Most of them are far from doing so, for multiple reasons; i.e., drug dealing, high crimes in human and organ trafficking, as well as more down-to-earth environmental conditions.

However, the EU and Washington are pushing for the pretty arbitrary target of 2025, simply because they are afraid that the Balkans may drift eastwards into the realm of Russia and on a larger scale, China. Most educated Kosovars are much more “awake” than the average European. While intellectually they may know that east is where the future lays, their trauma of being persecuted and killed by the Serbs under Milosevic, is still strong and they are leaning towards the west. Ideally, though, what they want is full independence, being able to choose their allies that best suit them, as every sovereign nation should be able to do. Not having to confront the dilemma, ‘you are either our friend or our enemy’ – which is how the west attempts to buy the Balkans’ politicians.

The western push to prepare and forge these former Yugoslav republics into EU-NATO vassals is enormous. Every military base the Balkans allow to be built in return for being integrated into Europe, is for the west a step closer to Moscow – an increased threat for the Kremlin, so the western empire believes. If these new Balkan nations play their cards right, they may have it both ways – becoming EU members, benefitting from EU subsidies and trade advantages, while leaning eastwards to Russia and China, and eventually the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the new Silk Road, China’s One Belt Initiative (OBI), the multi-trillion-dollar equivalent economic development plan, on course to span the world.

This article was first published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)