Aletho News


Implementing Single Payer is Not Rocket Science

By Dr. Ida Hellander | Health Over Profit

Liberals have created a new single payer bogeyman to justify their renewed pursuit of failed incremental policies for health reform (“Medicare for All Isn’t the Solution for Universal Health Care” by Joshua Holland, The Nation, August 2).  It used to be that single payer was not “politically feasible”. Now, according to the likes of Joshua Holland, Harold Pollack, and Dean Baker, it’s that single payer advocates haven’t worked out a plan to “implement” single payer, or the “brass tacks.”

In fact, implementation is the easy part of health reform. The Canada Health Act is less than 14 pages long, and is only that long because it is also printed in French. Taiwan, which had a whopping 40 percent of its population uninsured in 1994, installed a universal, single payer system ahead of schedule in less than a year. The ease of adoption of the U.S.Medicare program, as Holland admits, also refutes the myth that a lack of policy detail will sink the single payer movement. Nearly every implementation issue Holland raises is already addressed in the Physicians Proposal for Single Payer National Health Insurance (2015) and Conyers’ bill, HR 676, which is the “gold standard” for single payer legislation.

The “single payer” envisioned in these proposals is not today’s Medicare, of course, but an improved version of Medicare, with more comprehensive benefits, and greater ability to control costs. HR 676 may not specify an exact financing plan, but gives specific enough parameters so that whatever financing plan is adopted (one possible version I worked on is below) will shift the burden from the sick and poor to the healthy and wealthy, and make care free at the point of delivery. Private employers only pay a paltry 20 percent of the current health care tab, which can be recouped with a small payroll tax or tax on corporate revenues (as recently proposed by Robert Pollin for California). Taxes already fund over 65 percent of health care in the U.S., so moving to a publicly-funded plan is a shift, not a radical change.

For one example of what the “brass tacks” of this shift might entail, Gerald Friedman, an economist at U. of Mass. at Amherst proposed this plan for the additional funding: a tax of 0.5 percent on stock trades and 0.01 percent tax per year to maturity on transactions in bonds, swaps, and trades (the so-called Tobin tax), a 6 percent high-income surtax (on households with incomes > $225,000), a 6 percent tax on unearned income from capital gains, dividends, interest, profits, and rents, a 6 percent payroll tax on the top 60 percent of income earners (with incomes over $53,000) and a 3 percent payroll tax on the bottom 40 percent of income earners. It could use a few tweaks, such as exempting people earning less than poverty from the payroll tax, but it’s otherwise a solid example of the kind of policy detail that advocates of incremental reform insist is missing.

Holland also wrongly asserts that physicians will have to be paid less under a single payer, which is false. There are many advantages to a single payer system, not least of which is the saving of $500 billion annually currently wasted on insurance overhead and excess provider bureaucracy – more than enough money to cover the extra costs of clinical care for the uninsured and under-insured, and to eliminate co-pays and deductibles for everyone, without cutting physician pay. Having said that, the single payer will have the ability to shift more funding towards primary care over time, which would help with both access and costs down the road.

Bizarrely, Holland tries to revive Jacob Hacker’s discredited proposal for a “public option” that would compete with private insurers. The premise for Hacker’s proposal is that Americans are “stubbornly attached” to employer-based insurance and don’t want to give it up.  Far from wanting to keep their rapidly shrinking employer-based coverage, polls show that about 2/3 of Americans consistently favor Medicare for All.  Adding one more insurance company to our fragmented and failing health system will not cover everyone or control costs.

Proposals for incremental reform to “fix” the ACA are on the Congressional agenda, but much more fundamental reform is needed. As Nina Turner, the new head of Sanders’ group Our Revolution, recently said, “If we can go to the moon we can have Medicare for all.” If Congress passed single payer today, we could implement it within a year and save tens of thousands of lives.” Time to get to work.

August 16, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Economics | , | Leave a comment

Pentagon Denies Sending Chemical Agents to Syrian Opposition Groups

Sputnik – August 16, 2017

The Pentagon said Wednesday it had never sent chemical agents to so-called Syrian opposition groups after Damascus accused the United States of supplying terrorists with toxic agents.

US military assistance to vetted Syrian opposition forces is limited to those fighting against the Daesh terrorist group (banned in Russia) and has never included chemical agents, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Sputnik on Wednesday.

The statement comes after Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad accused US and UK-based companies of supplying toxic agents to terrorists, adding that CS and CN substances, allegedly produced by NonLethal Technologies and Chemring Defence, were found in Aleppo and Damascus.

“Department of Defense assistance to Vetted Syrian Opposition groups is limited to those groups fighting ISIS [Daesh]. That assistance does NOT now, nor has it ever, included chemical agents like you describe,” Pahon said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the fact that the United States and the United Kingdom could have supplied toxic agents to militants in Syria is “beyond understanding.” The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in June that its fact-finding mission confirmed that man-made chemical sarin, a gas used as a chemical weapon, was used in an attack on Khan Shaikhoun in Idlib in early April, but did not determine who was responsible.

The US-backed militias blamed the use of chemical weapons on the Syrian government, despite Syrian President Assad told Sputnik following the attack in April that there was no chemical weapons  in Idlib.

August 16, 2017 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism, War Crimes | , | Leave a comment


A Brief Explanation of the Impact of the Morrill Tariff

By Mike Scruggs for the Tribune Papers

Most Americans believe the U. S. “Civil War” was over slavery. They have to an enormous degree been miseducated. The means and timing of handling the slavery issue were at issue, although not in the overly simplified moral sense that lives in postwar and modern propaganda. But had there been no Morrill Tariff there might never have been a war. The conflict that cost of the lives of 650,000 Union and Confederate soldiers and perhaps as many as 50,000 Southern civilians and impoverished many millions for generations might never have been.

A smoldering issue of unjust taxation that enriched Northern manufacturing states and exploited the agricultural South was fanned to a furious blaze in 1860. It was the Morrill Tariff that stirred the smoldering embers of regional mistrust and ignited the fires of Secession in the South. This precipitated a Northern reaction and call to arms that would engulf the nation in the flames of war for four years.

Prior to the U. S. “Civil War” there was no U. S. income tax. Considerably more than 90% of U. S. government revenue was raised by a tariff on imported goods. A tariff is a tax on selected imports, most commonly finished or manufactured products. A high tariff is usually legislated not only to raise revenue, but also to protect domestic industry form foreign competition. By placing such a high, protective tariff on imported goods it makes them more expensive to buy than the same domestic goods. This allows domestic industries to charge higher prices and make more money on sales that might otherwise be lost to foreign competition because of cheaper prices (without the tariff) or better quality. This, of course, causes domestic consumers to pay higher prices and have a lower standard of living. Tariffs on some industrial products also hurt other domestic industries that must pay higher prices for goods they need to make their products. Because the nature and products of regional economies can vary widely, high tariffs are sometimes good for one section of the country, but damaging to another section of the country. High tariffs are particularly hard on exporters since they must cope with higher domestic costs and retaliatory foreign tariffs that put them at a pricing disadvantage. This has a depressing effect on both export volume and profit margins. High tariffs have been a frequent cause of economic disruption, strife and war.

Prior to 1824 the average tariff level in the U. S. had been in the 15 to 20 % range. This was thought sufficient to meet federal revenue needs and not excessively burdensome to any section of the country. The increase of the tariff to a 20% average in 1816 was ostensibly to help pay for the War of 1812. It also represented a 26% net profit increase to Northern manufacturers.

In 1824 Northern manufacturing states and the Whig Party under the leadership of Henry Clay began to push for high, protective tariffs. These were strongly opposed by the South. The Southern economy was largely agricultural and geared to exporting a large portion of its cotton and tobacco crops to Europe. In the 1850’s the South accounted for anywhere from 72 to 82% of U. S. exports. They were largely dependent, however, on Europe or the North for the manufactured goods needed for both agricultural production and consumer needs. Northern states received about 20% of the South’s agricultural production. The vast majority of export volume went to Europe. A protective tariff was then a substantial benefit to Northern manufacturing states, but meant considerable economic hardship for the agricultural South

Northern political dominance enabled Clay and his allies in Congress to pass a tariff averaging 35% late in 1824. This was the cause of economic boom in the North, but economic hardship and political agitation in the South. South Carolina was especially hard hit, the State’s exports falling 25% over the next two years. In 1828 in a demonstration of unabashed partisanship and unashamed greed the Northern dominated Congress raised the average tariff level to 50%. Despite strong Southern agitation for lower tariffs the Tariff of 1832 only nominally reduced the effective tariff rate and brought no relief to the South. These last two tariffs are usually termed in history as the Tariffs of Abomination.

This led to the Nullification Crisis of 1832 when South Carolina called a state convention and “nullified” the 1828 and 1832 tariffs as unjust and unconstitutional. The resulting constitutional crisis came very near provoking armed conflict at that time. Through the efforts of former U. S. Vice President and U. S. Senator from South Carolina, John C. Calhoun, a compromise was effected in 1833 which over a few years reduced the tariff back to a normal level of about 15%. Henry Clay and the Whigs were not happy, however, to have been forced into a compromise by Calhoun and South Carolina’s Nullification threat. The tariff, however, remained at a level near 15% until 1860. A lesson in economics, regional sensitivities, and simple fairness should have been learned from this confrontation, but if it was learned, it was ignored by ambitious political and business factions and personalities that would come on the scene of American history in the late 1850’s.

High protective tariffs were always the policy of the old Whig Party and had become the policy of the new Republican Party that replaced it. A recession beginning around 1857 gave the cause of protectionism an additional political boost in the Northern industrial states.

In May of 1860 the U. S. Congress passed the Morrill Tariff Bill (named for Republican Congressman and steel manufacturer, Justin S. Morrill of Vermont) raising the average tariff from about 15% to 37% with increases to 47% within three years. Although this was remarkably reminiscent of the Tariffs of Abomination which had led in 1832 to a constitutional crisis and threats of secession and armed force, the U. S. House of Representatives passed the Bill 105 to 64. Out of 40 Southern Congressmen only one Tennessee Congressman voted for it.

  1. S. tariff revenues already fell disproportionately on the South, accounting for 87% of the total. While the tariff protected Northern industrial interests, it raised the cost of living and commerce in the South substantially. It also reduced the trade value of their agricultural exports to Europe. These combined to place a severe economic hardship on many Southern states. Even more galling was that 80% or more of these tax revenues were expended on Northern public works and industrial subsidies, thus further enriching the North at the expense of the South.

In the 1860 election, Lincoln, a former Whig and great admirer of Henry Clay, campaigned for the high protective tariff provisions of the Morrill Tariff, which had also been incorporated into the Republican Party Platform. Lincoln further endorsed the Morrill Tariff and its concepts in his first inaugural speech and signed the Act into law a few days after taking office in March of 1861. Southern leaders had seen it coming. Southern protests had been of no avail. Now the South was inflamed with righteous indignation, and Southern leaders began to call for Secession.

At first Northern public opinion as reflected in Northern newspapers of both parties recognized the right of the Southern States to secede and favored peaceful separation. A November 21, 1860, editorial in the Cincinnati Daily Press said this:

“We believe that the right of any member of this Confederacy to dissolve its political relations with the others and assume an independent position is absolute.”

The New York Times on March 21, 1861, reflecting the great majority of editorial opinion in the North summarized in an editorial:

“There is a growing sentiment throughout the North in favor of letting the Gulf States go.”

Northern industrialists became nervous, however, when they realized a tariff dependent North would be competing against a free trade South. They feared not only loss of tax revenue, but considerable loss of trade. Newspaper editorials began to reflect this nervousness. Lincoln had promised in his inaugural speech that he would preserve the Union and the tariff. Three days after manipulating the South into firing on the tariff collection facility of Fort Sumter in volatile South Carolina, on April 15, 1861, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the Southern rebellion. This caused the Border States to secede along with the Gulf States. Lincoln undoubtedly calculated that the mere threat of force backed by more unified Northern public opinion would quickly put down secession. His gambit, however, failed spectacularly and would erupt into a terrible and costly war for four years. The Union Army’s lack of success early in the war, the need to keep anti-slavery England from coming into the war on the side of the South, and Lincoln’s need to appease the radical abolitionists in the North led to increasing promotion of freeing the slaves as a noble cause to justify what was really a dispute over just taxation and States Rights.

Writing in December of 1861 in a London weekly publication, the famous English author, Charles Dickens, who was a strong opponent of slavery, said these things about the war going on in America:

“The Northern onslaught upon slavery is no more than a piece of specious humbug disguised to conceal its desire for economic control of the United States.”

“Union means so many millions a year lost to the South; secession means loss of the same millions to the North. The love of money is the root of this as many, many other evils. The quarrel between the North and South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel.”

Karl Marx, like most European socialists of the time favored the North. In an 1861 article published in England, he articulated very well what the major British newspapers, the Times, the Economist, and Saturday Review, had been saying:

“The war between the North and South is a tariff war. The war, is further, not for any principle, does not touch the question of slavery, and in fact turns on the Northern lust for power.”

A horrific example of the damage that protective tariffs can exact was also seen in later history. One of the causes of the Great Depression of 1930-1939 was the Hawley-Smoot Act, a high tariff passed in 1930 that Congress mistakenly thought would help the country. While attempting to protect domestic industry from foreign imports, the unanticipated effect was to reduce the nation’s exports and thereby help increase unemployment to the devastating figure of 25%. It is fairly well known by competent and honest economists now that protective tariffs usually do more harm than good, often considerably more harm than good. However, economic ignorance and political expediency often combine to overrule longer-term public good. As the Uncivil War of 1861-5 proves, the human and economic costs for such shortsighted political expediency and partisan greed can be enormous.

The Morrill Tariff illustrates very well one of the problems with majoritarian democracy. A majority can easily exploit a regional, economic, ethnic, or religious minority (or any other minority) unmercifully unless they have strong constitutional guarantees that can be enforced, e. g., States Rights, Nullification, etc. The need to limit centralized government power to counter this natural depravity in men was recognized by the founding fathers. They knew well the irresistible tendencies in both monarchy and democracy for both civil magistrates and the electorate to succumb to the temptations of greed, self-interest, and the lust for power. Thus they incorporated into the Constitution such provisions as the separation of powers and very important provisions enumerating and delegating only certain functions and powers to the federal government and retaining others at the state level and lower. Such constitutional provisions including the very specific guaranty of States Rights and limits to the power of the Federal Government in the 10th Amendment are unfortunately now largely ignored by all three branches of the Federal Government, and their constant infringement seldom contested by the States.

The Tariff question and the States Rights question were therefore strongly linked. Both are linked to the broader issues of limited government and a strong Constitution. The Morrill Tariff dealt the South a flagrant political injustice and impending economic hardship and crisis. It therefore made Secession a very compelling alternative to an exploited and unequal union with the North.

How to handle the slavery question was an underlying tension between North and South, but one of many tensions. It cannot be said to be the cause of the war. Fully understanding the slavery question and its relations to those tensions is beyond the scope of this article, but numerous historical facts demolish the propagandistic morality play that a virtuous North invaded the evil South to free the slaves. Five years after the end of the War, prominent Northern abolitionist, attorney and legal scholar, Lysander Spooner, put it this way:

“All these cries of having ‘abolished slavery,’ of having ‘saved the country,’ of having ‘preserved the Union,’ of establishing a ‘government of consent,’ and of ‘maintaining the national honor’ are all gross, shameless, transparent cheats—so transparent that they ought to deceive no one.”

Yet apparently many today are still deceived, are deliberately deceived, and even prefer to be deceived.

Unjust taxation has been the cause of many tensions and much bloodshed throughout history and around the world. The Morrill Tariff was certainly a powerful factor predisposing the South to seek its independence and determine its own destiny. As outrageous and unjust as the Morrill Tariff was, its importance has been largely ignored and even purposely obscured. It does not fit the politically correct images and myths of popular American history. Truth, however, is always the high ground. It will have the inevitable victory.

In addition to the devastating loss of life and leadership during the War, the South suffered considerable damage to property, livestock, and crops. The policies of “Reconstruction” and “carpetbagger” state governments further exploited and robbed the South, considerably retarding economic recovery. Further, high tariffs and discriminatory railroad shipping taxes continued to favor Northern economic interests and impoverish the South for generations after the war. It is only in relatively recent history that the political and economic fortunes of the South have begun to rise.

One last point needs to be made. The war of 1861-65 was not a “civil” war. To call it the “Civil War” is not a historically accurate and honest use of language. It is the propaganda of the victors having attained popular usage. No one in the South was attempting to overthrow the U. S. government. Few Southerners had any interest in overthrowing their own or anyone else’s state governments. The Southern states had seen that continued union with the North would jeopardize their liberties and economic wellbeing. Through the proper constitutional means of state conventions and referendums they sought to withdraw from the Union and establish their independence just as the American Colonies had sought their independence from Great Britain in 1776 and for very similar reasons. The Northern industrialists, however, were not willing to give up their Southern Colonies. A more appropriate name for the uncivil war of 1861-65 would be “The War for Southern Independence.”

But had it not been for the Morrill Tariff there would have been no rush to Secession by Southern states and very probably no war. The Morrill Tariff of 1860, so unabashed and unashamed in its short-sighted, partisan greed, stands as an astonishing monument to the self-centered depravity of man and to its consequences. No wonder most Americans would like to see it forgotten and covered over with a more morally satisfying but largely false version of the causes of the Uncivil War.

Mike Scruggs is an historian who now lives in Hendersonville, NC


Principal References and Recommended Reading:


Charles Adams; For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes in the Course of Civilization, 1993.


Charles Adams; When in the Course of Human Events: Argueing the Case for Southern Secession, 2000.


Frank Conner; The South Under Siege 1830-2000; A History of the Relations Between North and South, 2002.


John G. Van Deusen; Economic Bases of Disunion in South Carolina, 1928. Reprinted by Crown Rights Book Company, 2003.


Thomas J. DiLorenzo; The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, 2002.


Ludwell H. Johnson; North Against South: The American Iliad 1848-1977, 2002 printing.


Mark Thornton; Tariffs, Blockades and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War, 2004.


Principal Reference and Recommended Listening


Dr. David Livingston; Rethinking Lincoln: Abe Lincoln and Slavery, Lectures at League of South Conference, 2000. Available on cassette or CD at Apologia Book Shoppe online. A valuable portion of this lecture concerns the Morrill Tariff.


Revised 4 June 2005


August 16, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , | 3 Comments

Islamic Jihad, Hamas and PFLP reject PNC meeting in Ramallah

Palestine Information Center – August 16, 2017

GAZA – The Islamic Jihad Movement on Tuesday announced its rejection of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) meeting set to be held in Ramallah and considered it a prelude to the exclusion of Palestinian resistance factions from any future national project.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Movement said that the statements made about the current arrangements for holding a PNC meeting will entrench the internal division.

According to statements by a number of Fatah representatives lately, the Palestinian Authority (PA) president, Mahmoud Abbas, decided unilaterally to hold a PNC meeting in Ramallah in September.

Islamic Jihad called on Fatah Movement and the PA to abide by the understandings reached in Cairo and in the PNC preparatory committee meetings in Beirut.

Hamas Movement as well as the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine expressed earlier their rejection of Fatah’s call for a PNC meeting in Ramallah.

August 16, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , | Leave a comment

Artists boycott Israel sponsored festival in Germany

MEMO | August 16, 2017

Four artists have cancelled their scheduled performances at an international festival in Berlin citing the festival’s partnership with the Israeli embassy and their support for the Palestinian call for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The Pop-Kultur festival, which is due to take place in Berlin next week, is an annual event that attracts thousands of visitors. While the two-day event also boasts over 30 sponsors including several internationally recognised brands, Israel appears to be the only foreign country taking a keen interest.

Tunisian singer-songwriter Emel Mathlouthi, one of the four to cancel their performance, said in a statement posted on Facebook yesterday that she “was looking forward to playing until [I] realised the festival was sponsored by Israeli embassy”. The musician went on to say: “As things get tougher inside and outside Palestine, what each one of us can always do is show solidarity and empathy, as artists it starts by being true and faithful.”

Announcing their cancellation, the Egyptian group Islam Chipsy said on Monday that they had cancelled their performance because of the participation of the Israeli embassy. The group posted on Facebook that they wanted to make it clear that their music seeks to “resist violence, persecution and discrimination of any kind against each other”.

Mohammad Abu Hajar of the Mazzaj Rap Band, who was previously jailed in Syria for his activism, explained why his group had cancelled its appearance last week:

It did not take us a minute to know what we had to do; we will not participate in a festival that accepts the partnership with an embassy representing a state and a government – led by right-wing party Likud and Netanyahu – which openly declared on many different occasions anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Black attitudes.

“Given this and its perpetration of all previous government’s colonial behaviour, we understand the partnership with an embassy as an attempt to whitewash the image of its government and an endorsement of its behaviour.”

Abu Hajar went on to say that the festival cannot achieve its stated aim of bringing artists from different backgrounds together on one stage under such conditions. “Our stand is not against a culture, but resistance against a discriminatory, colonial government,” he added. “It is not merely an opinion that we disagree with, but a whole set of oppressive structures, manifesting themselves in the policies of the Israeli state.”

Syrian DJ and producer Hello Psychaleppo, the third artist to cancel, said on Monday that at the time he agreed to take part in the festival over a couple of months ago, he was not aware that the Israeli embassy was amongst the sponsors of the event.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) welcomed the cancellations saying in a statement released yesterday: “[PACBI] salutes the artists who have cancelled their participation in Pop-Kultur to protest Israel’s sponsorship.”

As in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, a regime of oppression and racism should never be welcomed in cultural spaces claiming to advocate for openness, inclusion and human rights.

PACBI, a founding member of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) National Committee, went on to condemn Pop-Kultur’s acceptance of Israel’s sponsorship describing the decision as “a conscious act of complicity in whitewashing Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid”.

Pop-Kultur responded to the string of cancellations in a statement yesterday to confirm that the four artists had cancelled their performances at this year’s festival due to its partnership with the Israeli embassy. They also confirmed that the Israeli embassy “partly contributes to the travel expenses for artists performing at the festival”.

Meanwhile, Artists for Palestine UK (APUK) published an open letter addressed to UK musicians scheduled to perform at Pop-Kultur calling on them to withdraw from the event.

“When you signed up to play Berlin Pop-Kultur, you possibly didn’t know that the Israeli embassy in Germany was a sponsor. Maybe you also don’t know that Palestinian civil society, living under Israeli military occupation or in exile, is appealing to artists not to take part in events sponsored by the state of Israel, in solidarity with the Palestinians’ long struggle for rights and freedom.”

“But now that you do know, will you follow the example of the musicians who have withdrawn from Pop-Kultur in the past few days?”

APUK, whose pledge to uphold the cultural boycott of Israel has been signed by more than 1,200 UK artists continued:

You have the power to tell the Palestinians they are not alone under occupation and in exile. Please use your power. Please withdraw from Berlin Pop-Kultur.

Pop-Kultur is one of several cultural festivals which the Israeli embassy has been keen to support. The Edinburgh Fringe, one of the UK’s major festivals, also partnered with the Israeli embassy. Critics say that under the banner of coexistence and cultural cooperation Israel is trying to whitewash its brutal occupation of Palestine and the long list of human rights abuses committed by its occupying forces against the Palestinians.

Read also: Palestinians protest Radiohead’s support for ‘apartheid’ Israel

August 16, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism | , , | Leave a comment

A ‘new normal’ in South China Sea

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | August 16, 2017

India’s ‘Look East’ policy, which shifted to ‘Act East’ under the Modi government circa 2015, may now have to quickly shift again – to, say, ‘Watch East’. It will be on the one hand a judicious shift in tune with the rapid stabilization of the ASEAN’s relations with China and on the other hand a cathartic experience insofar as the rapid flow of events in the south-east Asian region holds some useful lessons for Indian diplomacy.

Looking back, the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s award of 12 July 2016 on the South China Sea (SCS) has turned out to be a turning point, opening a new page of cooperation between the ASEAN and China. A fair amount of ground has been covered in the past year with the hotline at foreign ministry level to manage maritime emergencies, the operationalization of the observance of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, and the framework of the Code of Conduct in the SCS. Sourabh Gupta at the Institute for China-America Studies in Washington sums up:

  • In fact, every member of Asean, with the exception perhaps of Singapore, yearns for the success of Asean-China political relations – but not at the inadmissible cost of having to capitulate to Beijing’s unilateral and non-conforming sovereign rights claim to oil and gas resources in their respective exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea.
  • The current easing cycle, rather, will lend itself to a period of strategic calm in this critically important waterway. Without an agitated local claimant on whose behalf it can claim to be intervening to uphold the stability of the South China Sea, the US has few other tools at its disposal to assert its relevance and authority in this body of water other than to endlessly navigate its length and breadth.

No doubt, the announcement in Manila on Wednesday of a new “modus vivendi” or a new “way to get along” is in sync with the trend outlined above by Gupta. It appears that there has been a diplomatic breakthrough between the Philippines and China. “The Chinese will not occupy new features in the South China Sea nor are they are going to build structures in Scarborough Shoal,” Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana told lawmakers in Manila on Tuesday. Cayetano also said the Philippines was working on a “commercial deal” with China to explore and exploit oil and gas resources in disputed areas of the SCS with an aim to begin drilling within a year. (Reuters )

To be sure, when the “frontline state” that is Philippines leaves behind standoffs and brinkmanship with China, something has fundamentally changed in the SCS. There are lessons here for other countries having territorial disputes with China. The Philippine approach under President Rodrigo Duterte is strikingly similar to India’s under the leadership of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – “compartmentalizing” different templates of the relationship with China whereby hugely beneficial economic engagement is possible without forfeiting the prerogative to uphold national security interests.

The East Asia Forum has featured a riveting analysis of Duterte’s policy by Prof. Aileen S P Baviera at the University of the Philippines, who writes,

  • By de-linking economic relations from management of the disputes, Manila can benefit from Beijing at a time when sustained high growth and investor confidence in the Philippines coincides with a massive investment drive by China as part of BRI… Duterte’s China policy shift also reduces disagreement within ASEAN over the handling of the disputes.

Of course, the success of the policy also depends on China. To quote Baviera, “China would have to downplay nationalist emotions and restrain military adventurism. This could give Duterte breathing space both for repairing relations with China and reorienting the US alliance towards more convergent objectives.”

Ironically, Duterte’s new thinking bears striking similarity with the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s policies toward China. Yet, Duterte’s political personality happens to have more in common with Prime Minister Modi than with Manmohan Singh. Like Modi, Duterte is also a strongman populist. Both thrive on polarizing domestic politics and both pursue controversial approaches to social problems. Neither can claim to have a sophisticated understanding of international affairs. But where Duterte leaves Modi miles behind is in his pragmatism to eschew confrontation and megaphone diplomacy to leave the territorial disputes as a stalemate and instead maximise the economic benefits of the China relationship .

These are early days, but according to reports from Hanoi, the Spanish drilling ship, which has been prospecting in the disputed waters in in Vietnam’s Block 136/3 last month, has left the area after pressure from China. Interestingly, according to reports citing a “diplomatic source with direct knowledge of the situation”, Hanoi’s decision to suspend the drilling followed the visit of a Vietnamese delegation to Beijing.

The big question is whether the tidings from Manila and Hanoi presage a “new normal”. Though the Code of Conduct between China and the aggrieved members of the ASEAN is not yet a done deal, a future order of the SCS based on international rules and norms seems a near-term possibility. The Global Times newspaper carried on Tuesday a “preview” of what a future SCS order might look like – based on principles of “equality”, “balance” and “openness”. Read it here.

August 16, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | Leave a comment

Shocking videos raise #Venezuela fake-news fears

SKWAWKBOX · 03/08/2017

All the mainstream news channels and publications have been running dramatic footage of a night-time police raid to arrest one of two Venezuelan opposition leaders as part of their odd clamour for the UK’s opposition leader to ‘condemn’ Venezuelan President Maduro’s actions.

The raid, which occurred earlier this week and was caught on apparent mobile phone footage inside the raided house, is certainly dramatic enough, with half a dozen police officers in camouflage uniforms bundling Antonio Ledezma out of his house at night:

Equally dramatic daytime footage, however, sheds new light on the incident – and raises fears that the presentation of events in Venezuela may involve fake news:

Of course, this video is not of a raid in Venezuela. It was taken on a smartphone in the Fallowfield area of Manchester as dozens of police raided the house of someone suspected of involvement in the Manchester Arena attacks.

Only exterior footage is available, but watching police surround the house in order to enter from all directions simultaneously, it’s not hard to see that the scene inside the house would have been even more dramatic than the Venezuelan footage.

But of course, there were no demands for Jeremy Corbyn to condemn the Fallowfield raid because, well – we’re the United Kingdom.

Police raid houses regularly, of course. What matters is whether they do so lawfully, act proportionately – and what happens after the arrest.

The way the Venezuelan video has been presented is a classic example of ‘framing’. How a thing is described and presented can dramatically affect how we perceive it – and we’re meant to perceive the Venezuelan footage in a very different way than we see the Fallowfield raid.

But was it really different? Look again at the Ledesma arrest video. There’s no apparent violence – he’s not struck, he doesn’t crack his head on the police car as they put him in it. The police officers are walking him out, not dragging him or going faster than he can keep up. There’s even an officer filming the arrest as if to prevent any later accusations of brutality:

ledesma video.png

Hardly something you’d expect in a ‘hard-line socialist dictatorship’ or however your preferred news source and various opportunistic politicians have described Venezuela under Maduro.

Nor is this the case of a man beyond reproach being summarily arrested.

Much of the UK media has, curiously, left it out of their coverage of the arrest, but Antonio Ledezma was jailed in 2014 for inciting violence – and in fact, is still serving his sentence. But Venezuelan authorities released him earlier this month to serve his sentence as ‘house arrest’.

Again, not exactly the behaviour of a repressive state.

Ledezma was being re-arrested, not summarily arrested. What was the cause? We don’t know – but ‘don’t know’ is the key point. The UK’s mainstream media and right-wing politicians don’t know either. But you’d never guess there might be a legitimate cause, from the way they’ve framed the issue.

And you don’t have to look too hard to find out what might be the cause. As noted, Ledezma was already convicted of incitement to violence and returned home to house arrest in early July. The other man arrested this week, Leopoldo Lopez, was released from prison to house arrest at the same time – and he ‘celebrated’ his return home to house arrest with a pledge to continue his fight:

If continuing my fight for freedom means going back to Ramo Verde [prison], I am ready to do it. … I reiterate to you my commitment to fight until we conquer

What does ‘continuing my fight’ mean? Again, we don’t yet know, although the Venezuelan government has said that both men had violated the terms of their house-arrest – but we do know (if we look, because the UK media are not telling us) that other opposition leaders have been calling for violent protest for months.

And got violent protests, including bombs used against police::

Evidence for the opposition plans to create violent riots and plant car-bombs includes audio of an alleged meeting discussing explosives and a plan to create a situation requiring foreign intervention to remove the Maduro government.

The SKWAWKBOX does not assert that Ledezma and Lopez have been fairly treated – we don’t know, nor do the mainstream media. That’s the whole point.

What we do know is that the evidence paints a different, less one-sided picture than has been presented to us by the UK mainstream media.

A night-time police raid to re-arrest two men – convicted of incitement to violence and released to serve house arrest – is not in itself evidence of anything. Especially when the arrest appears to have been non-violent, carried out with professional restraint – and filmed by one of the officers as well as by one of the familes of the arrested man.

The arrest video, when watched free of the media’s framing, looks very different – and that difference allows us to see that the framing of the events by the media may be designed to prevent a balanced view – in order to create a particular perception.

A perception skewed and one-sided enough to raise genuine concerns that we are – yet again – being fed fake news.

A perception that the Establishment can then weaponise to attack – for a change – one Jeremy Corbyn.

August 16, 2017 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Video | , | 1 Comment