There is no contact between the Russian and US parliaments as the Congress has repeatedly ignored all initiatives of negotiators aimed at settling various international crises, a senior Russian MP stated in an interview.
“Currently there are no contacts whatsoever between the State Duma and the US Congress, but this is not our fault,” head of the State Duma Committee for International Relations Aleksey Pushkov told Izvestia daily.
He noted that it all started in 2013 when leaders of the State Duma proposed sending a delegation of MPs to Congress in order to discuss the crisis in Syria and possible ways to overcome it. At first, the US lawmakers agreed to this, but then replied with a refusal, Pushkov said.
Pushkov added that he personally had sent a message to his US colleagues via former US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, asking for a meeting on neutral ground, such as Vienna or Geneva, but received no answer at all.
“Any dialogue can be built on participation of two parties and we cannot impose it on the US if they think that it is not worth the effort. Since then there have been no relations between us,” he observed in the interview.
Pushkov noted that, in his view, over the past few years the United States were engulfed in anti-Russian sentiments.
“Political scientists who arrive from Washington observe that never before, not even in the height of the Cold War years, not even under President Reagan, have they witnessed such anti-Russian hysteria and so much anti-Russian propaganda,” Pushkov stated. He then suggested that this phenomenon is connected with the change in objectives pursued by the US authorities – if during the Cold War they sought to defeat the USSR in foreign policy, now they want to overthrow Russia’s domestic regime.
“In such circumstances I see no positive signals for inter-parliamentary dialogue with the United States, even though we do not dodge contacts with some of the congressmen,” he said.
When reporters asked Pushkov if he thought the US had already prepared a scenario for a ‘color revolution’ in Russia, the Duma official answered that this was possible, adding that there could be several such scenarios.
“Earlier they had plans of the Russian Maidan set on the Bolotnaya Square,” Pushkov noted. [Bolotnaya Square is a large site near the Kremlin that witnessed violent clashes between protesters and police during a mass rally in 2012 which led to a high-profile trial and about two dozen convictions]. “The US authorities considered the participants of these events as a long-term movement that required political and informational support.”
“Today they maintain close contacts with the radical pro-American opposition represented by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Kasyanov. Of course, these people’s political chances are miniscule, but this is the best the US could get.”
The third scenario, according to Pushkov, is consistent economic pressure on Russia in hope that it would cause a fall in living standards and provoke mass protests that would question Putin’s authority.
“These scenarios exist, but the question remains if they are feasible,” the MP concluded.
The coal miners of Western Ukraine who threatened a large-scale rebellion due to the three- month delay of salaries are being inducted into the army.
800 rebellious miners received notices directly from military commissars who delivered them to the coal mines.
According to the deputy mayor of Novovolynsk, Eduard Savik, the notices were delivered to coal mines no. 1 and no. 9 in Novovolynsk, which the state is planning to close. That’s where the majority of rebellious miners is employed.
The miners blocked highways several times this winter to protest government policies which does not finance the mines, but instead wants to close them and is not even paying coal miners’ salaries.
Several hundred miners are planning to stage a protest in Kiev on March 3 to force the government to pay them.
“They are taking revenge for strikes—they decided to simply draft the rebels. Many of my comrades who were blocking highways and were preparing to picket the Ministry of Energy and the Cabinet of Ministers, received draft notices,” says Aleksey, a miner from Novovolynsk. “This is even worse than the 1990s. There was hunger, but there was no war. Now it’s total chaos.”
This article was translated by J.Hawk.
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker compared labor unions to ISIS his audience cheered. At the end of the speech he got a standing ovation. His wealthy audience hated labor unions that much.
In fact, the 1% despises unions much more than they hate ISIS. Islamic extremists in the Syrian desert pose no threat to anyone in the U.S., while labor unions pose a direct threat to the profits of the super rich.
Conversely, the average U.S. worker has much more to fear from Scott Walker than any knife-wielding Jihadist. For example, Scott Walker is subtly campaigning for president among the elite by bragging about his successful butchering of Wisconsin unions, a model that he and his supporters hope to spread nationally.
Walker is idolized by the super rich for having dismembered Wisconsin unions in a way that recalls Ronald Reagan’s smashing of the PATCO air traffic controllers strike in 1981. The rich view Walker as a Reagan-like messiah who will transform labor relations yet again, giving corporations still more power in relation to the U.S. workforce.
For example, Walker’s anti-union laws have reduced union membership in Wisconsin by 50 percent since he defeated the “Wisconsin Uprising” in 2011, a battle victory that the super rich consider more heroic than the campaigns of any current military general.
The deathblow that Walker delivered to Wisconsin public unions devastated the powerful teacher union that has been the target of the 1% nationally, as reflected in Obama’s anti-union Race to the Top education policies that have weakened teacher unions in every state.
Walker’s stunning 2011 victory has been studied across the country by politicians inspired to follow in Walker’s footsteps by striking at the heart of union power, rather than the decades-long practice of chipping around the edges. The Walker copycat craze was described by the New York Times :
“[Governor Walker] has already emboldened other Republican-controlled states to enact measures that weaken unions and cut benefits. Tennessee and Idaho passed laws that cut back bargaining rights for public schoolteachers… Even longtime union strongholds like Michigan and Indiana have enacted right-to-work laws that undercut private-sector unions…”
Now the Illinois Governor, Bruce Rauner, is imitating Walker by signing an executive order that would cripple public sector unions in his state, which includes a direct attack on the very powerful Chicago Teachers Union. The president of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, Karen Lewis, recently called the Illinois governor “Scott Walker on steroids.” All the conditions for a Wisconsin-like clash in Illinois have been set.
Scott Walker himself discussed the national significance of his actions in Wisconsin:
“I’m at the top of the list of people they’d [labor unions] have on a platter. Not just for retribution, but they understand that if they could take me out [electorally], it would send a very powerful message to other governors and other mayors. But if we’re able to win again in a tough, evenly divided battleground state, that would send another message — that you can take on some of these issues and still survive.”
Walker is right. He struck at the heart of union power and won. The unions blinked first. And Walker wants to take the Wisconsin model nationwide. In the same speech that Walker compared unions to ISIS he said:
“If we can do it in Wisconsin, there’s no doubt we can do it across America.” He was talking about crushing unions, and his wealthy audience cheered wildly.
But Walker isn’t resting on his laurels after crushing Wisconsin unions. Now that he’s unofficially running for president he has to maintain his anti-union momentum, to convince the rich that he’ll continue his “bold” anti-worker agenda if elected. Walker has thus voiced support of new Wisconsin legislation that would eviscerate what little power Wisconsin unions have left.
The New York Times acknowledged the political motive for Walker’s new attack on Wisconsin unions:
“As Mr. Walker builds a presidential run on his effort to take on unions four years ago, he is poised to deliver a second walloping blow to labor.”
Scott Walker, however, can’t be blamed for everything. Wisconsin unions are not mere victims, but powerful actors that pursued bad strategy. When the unions were mobilizing hundreds of thousands of supporters alongside an activated rank and file, they backed down from Walker instead of organizing mass civil disobedience or advocating a general strike.
Instead, Wisconsin unions wasted their momentum by collecting signatures for a recall election, where they stupidly backed an anti-union Democrat against Walker. Surviving the re-call election further empowered Walker and weakened the unions.
And the unions were weakened even further recently when Walker won his re-election campaign. Yet again, the Wisconsin unions threw their weight behind an uninspiring corporate Democrat, who completely ignored union issues in her losing campaign that wasted enormous union resources. The Wall Street Journal correctly noted that the recent Wisconsin gubernatorial election signaled “a historic shift in the power of unions,” exposing the weakness of their political strategy.
Scott Walker’s new anti-union attack in Wisconsin has provoked fresh calls for a general strike to stop the legislation. If Wisconsin unions have the organizational power to win a general strike they should immediately begin preparations for it. However, it’s unclear if the rump that remains of the Wisconsin movement is organized enough to win a general strike, and losing one would certainly encourage Walker to napalm what remains of the Wisconsin labor movement.
Scott Walker and his followers have made it clear: they are declaring total war on unions, who can either fight back or accept their fate. The labor movement must engage its rank and file over a national discussion on fighting back and strategy.
Many unions remain suicidally content with burying their heads in the sand and hoping the attackers go away. Other unions, however, are taking powerful, pro-active steps to defend themselves.
SEIU, for example, was one of the Wisconsin unions in 2011 that got their teeth kicked in. Consequently they initiated a national campaign for “$15 and a union,” a masterstroke that has directly led to thundering union victories in Seattle and San Francisco that won a citywide $15 minimum wage. Such a campaign is now being mimicked statewide by Oregon’s labor movement.
The $15 campaign has inspired low wage workers across the country, making the West Coast unions less vulnerable to “right to work” legislation, since an active and strong labor movement is itself a repellent to anti-union attacks. The $15 campaigns have arguably been the biggest victories for unions in decades, especially given the current political climate. These unions have dominated the public political discussion and multiplied the popularity of unions in the broader community.
Also critically important are the actions of unions across the country that are building political programs such as “labor candidate schools,” where union members are being trained and encouraged to run for office. Ohio unions showed the potential of such a strategy by running for and winning several elections against Democrats, prompting calls for the creation of a labor party. This is crucially important given the events in Wisconsin, where unions tied their fate to the Democrats, who dragged the unions underwater in losing campaigns that wasted millions of their members’ money.
The U.S. labor movement has reached a historic crossroads, as labor relations in the United States are undergoing dramatic, sudden shifts. The only way to answer the aggressiveness of Scott Walker and his clones is by aggressively throwing counter punches that mobilize union members and the community. The Steelworkers union is waging its first strike in decades and other unions must re-learn how to effectively organize lest they die without a fight.
Shamus Cooke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Uruguay’s president, Jose “Pepe” Mujica, a former guerrilla who lives on a farm and gives most of his salary to charity, is stepping down after five years in office, ending his term as one of the world’s most popular leaders ever.
Mujica, 79, is leaving office with a 65 percent approval rating. He is constitutionally prohibited from serving consecutive terms.
“I became president filled with idealism, but then reality hit,” Mujica said in an interview with a local newspaper earlier this week, according to AFP.
Some call him “the world’s poorest president.” Others the “president every other country would like to have.” But Mujica says “there’s still so much to do” and hopes that the next government, led by Tabare Vazquez (who was elected president for a second time last November) will be “better than mine and will have greater success.”
Mujica said he succeeded in putting Uruguay on the world map. He managed to turn the cattle-ranching country, home to 3,4 million people, into an energy-exporting nation, Brazil being Uruguay’s top export market (followed by China, Argentina, Venezuela and the US.)
Uruguay’s $55 billion economy has grown an average 5.7 percent annually since 2005, according to the World Bank. Uruguay has maintained its decreasing trend in public debt-to-GDP ratio – from 100 percent in 2003 to 60 percent by 2014. It has also managed to decrease the cost of its debt, and reduce dollarization – from 80 percent in 2002 to 50 percent in 2014.
“We’ve had positive years for equality. Ten years ago, about 39 percent of Uruguayans lived below the poverty line; we’ve brought that down to under 11 percent and we’ve reduced extreme poverty from 5 percent to only 0.5 percent,” Mujica told the Guardian in November.
After Latin America’s anti-drug war proved a failure, the South American country became the first in the world to fully legalize marijuana, with Mujica arguing that drug trafficking is in fact more dangerous than marijuana itself.
One of the most progressive leaders in Latin America. Muijica also legalized abortion and same-sex marriage and agreed to take in detainees once held at the notorious Guantanamo Bay. Six former US detainees, who were never charged with a crime, came to Uruguay in December as refugees. The six included four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian. Although they were cleared for release back in 2009, the US was not able to discharge them until Uruguayan President offered to receive them.
Mujica, a former leftist Tupamaro guerrilla leader, spent 13 years in jail during the years of Uruguay’s military dictatorship. He survived torture and endless months of solitary confinement. Majica said he never regretted his time in jail, which he believes helped shape his character.
Mujica’s kindness speaks volumes: He refused to move to Uruguay’s luxurious presidential mansion to live in a farm outside Montevideo with his wife and a three-legged dog named Manuela. Pepe gives away about 90 percent of his salary to charity, saying he simply doesn’t need it. He drives an 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
Last year, Mujica turned down a $1 million offer from an Arab sheik who offered to buy his blue car. Pepe refused to sell the vehicle, saying it would offend “all those friends who pooled together to buy it for us.”
In January, a young Uruguayan man posted a message on his Facebook page recounting how Mujica and his wife picked him up while he was hitchhiking.
“On Monday, I was looking for a ride from Conchilla and guess who picked me up on the road?” Gerhald Acosta wrote on his Facebook post January 7. “They were the only ones who would stop!”
“When I got out, I thanked them profusely because not everyone helps someone out on the road, and much less a president,” the man told Uruguay’s El Observador newspaper.
A study by the International Monetary Fund tracked three decades of income and found that as unionization declined, the wealth of the richest 10 percent in advanced countries showed a continuous increase.
More specifically, the study’s authors found that when researching income levels during the period of 1980-2010, the decline in unionization explained about half of the rise in incomes for the richest 10 percent, and half of the increase in the Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality).
“While some inequality can increase efficiency by strengthening incentives to work and invest, recent research suggests that higher inequality is associated with lower and less sustainable growth in the medium run, even in advanced economies,” argued the paper’s authors, Florence Jaumotte and Carolina Osorio Buitron.
The authors said traditional research has argued that the rise of inequality in advanced economies can be attributed to skill-based technology changes – such as new technology displacing workers – and globalization. They found that these developments led to some inequality changes at different rates and magnitudes, but not enough to account for the consistent increase in inequality that was being measured.
Researchers looked for answers in recent studies that made the claim that financial deregulation and lower taxes were another factor – but again, that wasn’t showing the steady increases that researchers were charting.
“…A rising concentration of income at the top of the distribution can reduce a population’s welfare if it allows top earners to manipulate the economic political system in their favor,” they wrote, referring to things such as lower taxes and business subsidies.
They then considered what effect the decline in unionization and a flat-lining minimum wage could have on wealth disparity. Previous research said such things were unlikely to have a direct impact, but that is not what Jaumotte and Buitron found. They took samples of advanced economies between 1980 and 2010 and considered gross income, labor market institutions and controls for globalization, financial liberalization, and common global trends.
“Our results confirm that the decline in unionization is strongly associated with the rise of income shares at the top…about half the increase…in net income is driven by deunionization,” said Jaumotte and Buitron.
Economists argue that stronger unions and higher minimum wages increase unemployment, but there isn’t strong evidence to support the claim. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development only found three studies out of 17 that showed an association between unions and unemployment.
What it did find was that union rules lead to equal pay for workers, and that unionization didn’t maintain wages above “market-clearing” levels and cause unemployment. And unions, by mobilizing workers, encourage policymakers to engage in income redistribution and support for social and labor rights.
In the US, there were 14.5 million union members in 2013, or 11.3 percent of the working population, compared with 17.7 million in 1983. Union members in the private sector have fallen under seven percent, levels not seen since 1932. Internationally, Germany has 18.4 percent of its population in unions, Canada 27.5 percent, and Finland 70 percent.
It was another difficult week for Israel.
In Britain, 700 artists, including many household names, pledged a cultural boycott of Israel, and a leader of the Board of Deputies, the representative body of UK Jews, quit, saying he could no longer abide by its ban on criticising Israel.
Across the Atlantic, the student body of one of the most prestigious US universities, Stanford, voted to withdraw investments from companies implicated in Israel’s occupation, giving a significant boost to the growing international boycott (BDS) movement.
Meanwhile, a CNN poll found that two-thirds of Americans, and three-quarters of those under 50, believed the US foreign policy should be neutral between Israel and Palestine.
This drip-drip of bad news, as American and European popular opinion shifts against Israel, is gradually changing the west’s political culture and forcing Israel to rethink its historic alliances.
The deterioration in relations between Israel and the White House is now impossible to dismiss, as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama lock horns, this time over negotiations with Iran.
The US was reported last week to be refusing to share with Israel sensitive information on the talks, fearful it will be misused. A senior Israeli official described it as like being evicted from the “deluxe guest suite” in Washington. “Astonishing doesn’t begin to describe it,” he said.
The fall-out is spreading to the US Congress, where for the first time Israel is becoming a partisan issue. A growing number of Democrats have declared they will boycott Netanyahu’s address to the Congress next month, when he is expected to try to undermine the Iran talks.
Things are more precarious still in Europe. Several leading parliaments have called on their governments to recognise Palestinian statehood, and France rocked Israel by backing just such a resolution recently in the UN Security Council.
Europe has also begun punishing Israel for its intransigence towards the Palestinians. It is labelling settlement products and is expected to start demanding compensation for its projects in the occupied territories the Israeli army destroys.
This month 63 members of the European Parliament went further, urging the European Union to suspend its “association agreement”, which allows Israel unrestricted trade and access to special funding.
None of this has gone unnoticed in Israel. A classified report by the foreign ministry leaked last month paints a dark future. It concludes that western support for the Palestinians will increase, the threat of European sanctions will grow, and the US might even refuse to “protect Israel with its veto” at the UN.
Israel is particularly concerned about the economic impact, given that Europe is its largest trading partner. Serious sanctions could ravage the economy.
One might assume that, faced with these drastic calculations, Israel would reconsider its obstructive approach to peace negotiations and Palestinian statehood. Not a bit of it.
Netanyahu’s officials blame the crisis with Washington on Obama, implying that they will wait out his presidency for better times to return.
As for Europe, Netanyahu blames the shift there on what he calls “Islamisation”, suggesting that Europe’s growing Muslim population is holding the region’s politicians to ransom. On this view, the price paid for the recent terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen is Europe’s support for Israel.
Instead, Netanyahu has begun looking elsewhere for economic – and ultimately political – patrons.
In doing so, he is returning to an early Israeli tradition. The state’s founders were inspired by the collectivist ideals of the Soviet Union, not US individualism. And in return for attacking Egypt in 1956, Israel was secretly helped by Britain and France to build nuclear weapons over stiff US opposition.
In response to recent developments, Netanyahu announced last month that he was courting trade with China, India and Japan – comprising nearly 40 per cent of the planet’s population.
Last year, for the first time, Israel did more trade with these Asian giants than with the US. Much of it focused on the burgeoning arms market, with Israel supplying nearly $4 billion worth of weapons in 2013. A region once implacably hostile to Israel is throwing open its doors.
India, plagued by border tensions with Pakistan and China, is now Israel’s largest arms purchaser – and such trade is expected to expand further following the election last year of Narendra Modi, known for his anti-Muslim views.
He has lifted the veil off India’s growing defence cooperation with Israel, one reason why Moshe Yaalon last week became the first Israeli defence minister to make an official visit.
Ties between Israel and China are deepening rapidly too. Beijing has become Israel’s third largest trading partner, while Israel is China’s second biggest supplier of military technology after Russia.
Last month the two signed a three-year cooperation plan, with China keen to exploit – in addition to Israel’s military hardware – its innovations on solar energy, irrigation and desalination.
Emmanuel Navon, an international relations expert at Tel Aviv University, claims that, despite its poor public image, Israel now enjoys a “global clout” unprecedented in its history.
Israel’s immediate goal is to future-proof itself economically against mounting popular pressure in Europe and the US to act in favour of the Palestinian cause.
But, longer term, Israel hopes to convert Chinese and Indian dependency on Israeli armaments – based on technology it tests and refines on a captive Palestinian population – into diplomatic cover. One day Israel may be relying on a Chinese veto at the UN, not a US one.
British arms maker BAE Systems boasts lucrative weapons deals as the result of the so-called anti-ISIL fight
British arms manufacturer BAE Systems has boasted hiking demand for its support services of war machines, citing growing engagement of its Arab clients in the so-called anti-ISIL battle.
Speaking to journalists after posting the weapon maker’s 2014 spending, BAE’s Chief Executive Officer Ian King described the rise in demand as a “call to arms” and said, “You cannot let any performance degrade at this time when people are dependent on these assets,” RT reported Friday.
King further said the rise of the ISIL terror group as well as the persisting conflict in Ukraine would mean that governments will keep military spending high on their agenda despite degrading defense budgets due to austerity measures.
“We have a lot of bidding activity going on at the moment and a lot of support activity going on,” he said.
The report comes as some Middle Eastern states, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, have joined the so-called anti-ISIL alliance led by the United States.
This is while some of the parties to the same coalition have been among the staunch supporters of the Takfiri groups operating against Syria over the past few years.
“For the first time in the Middle East, the big Middle East countries are deploying their assets against IS[IL],” King said. “Urgent operational requirements are high, support arrangements are high. It is high up on people’s agendas.”
According to the report, BAE’s support service to Saudi Arabia is its third largest market after Britain and the US. However, there is no evidence that the Saudis have engaged in any strikes against the ISIL terrorist group, which is widely believed to be financed by the US-backed kingdom and its other Persian Gulf rulers.
US admits ISIL established by its allies
The development comes after a former US military official admitted earlier this week that Washington’s Middle Eastern allies established the ISIL as part of a strategy to eliminate the Lebanese Islamic resistance group Hezbollah.
“ISIS got started through funding from our friends and allies,” said retired US general Wesley Clark on Tuesday, using another acronym for ISIL, adding the only group that would fight Hezbollah is ISIL because they are “zealots” and resemble a “Frankenstein.”
‘BAE prosperity at expense of human rights’
Critics, however, insist that BAE’s emerging prosperity comes at the expense of human rights and ethical trading. BAE weaponry is also thought to have fallen into the hands of the ISIL terrorists.
Speaking to RT, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) described the remarks by BAE’s chief as “tasteless.”
“This is yet another tasteless reminder that arms companies like BAE depend on war and conflict in order to make a profit. BAE isn’t concerned about human rights or democracy; many of the governments it sells weapons to are among the most oppressive in the world,” he said.
CAAT had also emphasized in the past that the British government is highly in favor of international weapons trading.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will “launch a campaign of undercover attacks to destabilise the Baltic states on Nato’s eastern flank”, the Telegraph reports today – along with all other mainstream news media.
How do we know this? Because the UK’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said so. Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia watch out – the Russian peril is fast coming your way.
“There are lots of worries”, Fallon told the newspaper. “I’m worried about Putin. There’s no effective control of the border, I’m worried about his pressure on the Baltics, the way he is testing NATO, the submarines and aircraft … They are modernising their conventional forces, they are modernising their nuclear forces and they are testing NATO, so we need to respond.”
Covert attack by Russia on the Baltic states is “a very real and present danger”, Fallon insisted. Now where did we hear that before? Ah yes. On 16th December 1998 President Bill Clinton said that that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein presented “a clear and present danger” to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere.
We all know where that led: the Iraq war followed a few years later. We also know that the claim was a monstrous untruth: Saddam had no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. So why should we believe Fallon now? Where is his evidence? He has none. When you already know the truth, who needs evidence?
Fallon – and NATO – should keep their eyes on the ball
But while Fallon’s attention is focused on the imaginary threat to the Baltic states, there is another country that really could be ‘at risk’ – and not because of cyber-attack, invasion by ‘green men’ or a campaign of destabilisation emanating from the Kremlin.
No, the EU, the European Central Bank, the IMF and European finance ministers have already been doing all the destabilisation that’s needed – forcing Greece into a deep programme of austerity that has seen the economy shrink by 25% over five years, the closure of vital public services, mass unemployment and the forced sell-off of public assets.
And now the Greeks – and their newly elected Syriza government – have had enough. This week the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras flatly refused to renew the €240 billion ‘bailout’ package, which comes with all the austerity strings, and he today advanced proposals for a ‘six-month assistance package’ free of harsh conditions to give Greece time to renegotiate its debt.
The standoff continues, and will be decided tomorrow by EU finance ministers. It’s not looking good: Germany has already stated that the Greek proposal “does not meet the conditions”. But if the finance minsters don’t agree, then what?
You guessed it: Tsipras will turn to Russia. Earlier this month Tsipras and Putin agreed on a range of bilateral ties, including the construction of a pipeline that would carry Russian natural gas from the Turkish border across Greece to the other countries of southern Europe.
This follows the re-routing of the ‘South Stream’ pipeline, which had been due to cross Bulgaria but was effectively blocked by the EU’s retrospective application of energy market rules, under heavy pressure from the USA. Last November and December Putin negotiated the pipeline’s realignment across Turkey with Turkish President Erdogan – right up to the Greek border.
Following the agreement between Putin and Tsipras, which came complete with an invitation to Moscow on Victory over the Nazis day, 9th May, the pipeline link to the major countries of southern Europe is now complete, at least on paper. And once it’s built, Greece will effectively control – and profit from – that gas supply, and take a strategic position in Europe’s energy landscape.
But Greece is a NATO member!
Greece’s increasingly warm relationship with Russia is already causing concern among other EU and NATO countries. German Defense Minister Ursula von Der Leyen has said that Greece was “putting at risk its position in the NATO alliance with its approach to Russia.”
This provoked a fierce retort from Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos who branded the attack as “unacceptable and extortionate” – noting that “Greece was always on the side of the Allies when they pushed back German occupation troops.”
“Statements that replace the EU and NATO’s institutional bodies are unacceptable as blackmailing”, he added. “They undermine the European institutions except if Germany’s aim is to dissolve the European Union and the NATO.”
So if Tsipras’s refinancing proposal is refused tomorrow will Greece quit NATO and the EU, to join the Eurasian Union? Not if Mr Putin gets his way: Greece is worth much more to Russia as an ally within the EU and NATO than outside – where it can veto more trade sanctions against Russia, block the TTIP and CETA trade deals with the USA and Canada, and oppose NATO’s increasing belligerence from within.
But we could see Greece simply renouncing its manifestly unpayable and unjust €320 billion national debt, and quitting the Eurozone straitjacket – while receiving an emergency liquidity package from Russia to support the launch of the New Drachma.
In fact, we could see a re-run of important elements of the Ukraine play of December 2013, when Russia offered a support package under which it would buy $15 billion in bonds from Ukraine, supporting its collapsing currency, and supply it with deeply discounted gas – £268 per cubic metre rather than the maarket price of $400.
A $15 billion purchase of New Drachma denominated Greek bonds would be a superb launch for Greece’s new currency, and would firmly cement Greece’s long term alliance with Russia, providing it with a valuable long term bridgehead into both the EU and NATO.
This move would also give inspiration and confidence to progressive political movements across Europe that take inspiration from Syriza’s fight for economic justice – in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, the UK and beyond – and bear the powerful message: there is an alternative.
And while NATO, the EU, the USA and their loyal servants, among them the UK’s Michael Fallon, deliberately whip up a fictitious threat in the Baltic, ignoring the real danger they face to the south, the masterly Mr Putin would once again make fools of them all.
Ukraine’s new Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, who has become the face of reform for the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev and will be a key figure handling billions of dollars in Western financial aid, was at the center of insider deals and other questionable activities when she ran a $150 million U.S.-taxpayer-financed investment fund.
Prior to taking Ukrainian citizenship and becoming Finance Minister last December, Jaresko was a former U.S. diplomat who served as chief executive officer of the Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), which was created by Congress in the 1990s and overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) to help jumpstart an investment economy in Ukraine.
But Jaresko, who was limited to making $150,000 a year at WNISEF under the U.S. AID grant agreement, managed to earn more than that amount, reporting in 2004 that she was paid $383,259 along with $67,415 in expenses, according to WNISEF’s public filing with the Internal Revenue Service.
Later, Jaresko’s compensation was removed from public disclosure altogether after she co-founded two entities in 2006: Horizon Capital Associates (HCA) to manage WNISEF’s investments (and collect around $1 million a year in fees) and Emerging Europe Growth Fund (EEGF) to collaborate with WNISEF on investment deals.
Jaresko formed HCA and EEGF with two other WNISEF officers, Mark Iwashko and Lenna Koszarny. They also started a third firm, Horizon Capital Advisors, which “serves as a sub-advisor to the Investment Manager, HCA,” according to WNISEF’s IRS filing for 2006.
U.S. AID apparently found nothing suspicious about these tangled business relationships – and even allowed WNISEF to spend millions of dollars helping EEGF become a follow-on private investment firm – despite the potential conflicts of interest involving Jaresko, the other WNISEF officers and their affiliated companies.
For instance, WNISEF’s 2012 annual report devoted two pages to “related party transactions,” including the management fees to Jaresko’s Horizon Capital ($1,037,603 in 2011 and $1,023,689 in 2012) and WNISEF’s co-investments in projects with the EEGF, where Jaresko was founding partner and chief executive officer. Jaresko’s Horizon Capital managed the investments of both WNISEF and EEGF.
From 2007 to 2011, WNISEF co-invested $4.25 million with EEGF in Kerameya LLC, a Ukrainian brick manufacturer, and WNISEF sold EEGF 15.63 percent of Moldova’s Fincombank for $5 million, the report said. It also listed extensive exchanges of personnel and equipment between WNISEF and Horizon Capital. But it’s difficult for an outsider to ascertain the relative merits of these insider deals and the transactions apparently raised no red flags for U.S. AID officials.
Bonuses for Officers
Regarding compensation, WNISEF’s 2013 filing with the IRS noted that the fund’s officers collected millions of dollars in bonuses for closing out some investments at a profit even as the overall fund was losing money. According to the filing, WNISEF’s $150 million nest egg had shrunk by more than one-third to $94.5 million and likely has declined much more during the economic chaos that followed the U.S.-back coup in February 2014.
But prior to the coup and the resulting civil war, Jaresko’s WNISEF was generously spreading money around. For instance, the 2013 IRS filing reported that the taxpayer-financed fund paid out as “expenses” $7.7 million under a bonus program, including $4.6 million to “current officers,” without identifying who received the money.
The filing made the point that the “long-term equity incentive plan” was “not compensation from Government Grant funds but a separately USAID-approved incentive plan funded from investment sales proceeds” – although those proceeds presumably would have gone into the depleted WNISEF pool if they had not been paid out as bonuses.
The filing also said the bonuses were paid regardless of whether the overall fund was making money, noting that this “compensation was not contingent on revenues or net earnings, but rather on a profitable exit of a portfolio company that exceeds the baseline value set by the board of directors and approved by USAID” – with Jaresko also serving as a director on the board responsible for setting those baseline values.
Another WNISEF director was Jeffrey C. Neal, former chairman of Merrill Lynch’s global investment banking and a co-founder of Horizon Capital, further suggesting how potentially incestuous these relationships may have become.
Though compensation for Jaresko and other officers was shifted outside public view after 2006 – as their pay was moved to the affiliated entities – the 2006 IRS filing says: “It should be noted that as long as HCA earns a management fee from WNISEF, HCA and HCAD [the two Horizon Capital entities] must ensure that a salary cap of $150,000 is adhered to for the proportion of salary attributable to WNISEF funds managed relative to aggregate funds under management.”
But that language would seem to permit compensation well above $150,000 if it could be tied to other managed funds, including EEGF, or come from the incentive program. Such compensation for Jaresko and the other top officers was not reported on later IRS forms despite a line for earnings from “related organizations.” Apparently, Horizon Capital and EEGF were regarded as “unrelated organizations” for the purposes of reporting compensation.
Neither AID officials nor Jaresko responded to specific questions about WNISEF’s possible conflicts of interest, how much money Jaresko made from her involvement with WNISEF and its connected companies, and whether she had fully complied with IRS reporting requirements.
Despite such ethical questions, Jaresko was cited by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman as an exemplar of the new Ukrainian leaders who “share our values” and deserve unqualified American support. Friedman uncritically quoted Jaresko’s speech to international financial leaders at Davos, Switzerland, in which she castigated Russian President Vladimir Putin:
“Putin fears a Ukraine that demands to live and wants to live and insists on living on European values — with a robust civil society and freedom of speech and religion [and] with a system of values the Ukrainian people have chosen and laid down their lives for.”
However, Jaresko has shown little regard for transparency or other democratic values, such as the right of free speech when it comes to someone questioning her financial dealings. For instance, she has gone to great lengths to block her ex-husband Ihor Figlus from exposing what he regards as her questionable business ethics.
In 2012, when Figlus tried to blow the whistle on what he saw as improper loans that Jaresko had taken from Horizon Capital Associates to buy and expand her stake in EEGF, the privately held follow-on fund to WNISEF, Jaresko sent her lawyers to court to silence him and, according to his lawyer, bankrupt him.
The filings in Delaware’s Chancery Court are remarkable not only because Jaresko succeeded in getting the Court to gag her ex-husband through enforcement of a non-disclosure agreement but the Court agreed to redact nearly all the business details, even the confidentiality language at the center of the case.
Since Figlus had given some of his information to a Ukrainian journalist, the court complaint also had the look of a leak investigation, tracking down Figlus’s contacts with the journalist and then using that evidence to secure the restraining order, which Figlus said not only prevented him from discussing business secrets but even talking about his more general concerns about Jaresko’s insider dealings.
The heavy redactions make it hard to fully understand Figlus’s concerns or to assess the size of Jaresko’s borrowing as she expanded her holdings in EEGF, but Figlus did assert that he saw his role as whistle-blowing about improper actions by Jaresko.
In a Oct. 31, 2012, filing, Figlus’s attorney wrote that “At all relevant times, Defendant [Figlus] acted in good faith and with justification, on matters of public interest, and particularly the inequitable conduct set forth herein where such inequitable conduct adversely affects … at least one other limited partner which is REDACTED, and specifically the inequitable conduct included, in addition to the other conduct cited herein, REDACTED.”
The filing added: “The Plaintiffs’ [Jaresko’s and her EEGF partners’] claims are barred, in whole or in part, by public policy, and particularly that a court in equity should not enjoin ‘whistle-blowing’ activities on matters of public interest, and particularly the inequitable conduct set forth herein.” But the details of that conduct were all redacted.
In a defense brief dated Dec. 17, 2012 [see Part One and Part Two], Figlus expanded on his argument that Jaresko’s attempts to have the court gag him amounted to a violation of his constitutional right of free speech:
“The obvious problem with the scope of their Motion is that Plaintiffs are asking the Court to enter an Order that prohibits Defendant Figlus from exercising his freedom of speech without even attempting to provide the Court with any Constitutional support or underpinning for such impairment of Figlus’ rights.
“Plaintiffs cannot do so, because such silencing of speech is Constitutionally impermissible, and would constitute a denial of basic principles of the Bill of Rights in both the United States and Delaware Constitutions. There can be no question that Plaintiffs are seeking a temporary injunction, which constitutes a prior restraint on speech. …
“The Court cannot, consistent with the Federal and State Constitutional guarantees of free speech, enjoin speech except in the most exceptional circumstances, and certainly not when Plaintiffs are seeking to prevent speech that is not even covered by the very contractual provision upon which they are relying.
“Moreover, the Court cannot prevent speech where the matter has at least some public interest REDACTED, except as limited to the very specific and exact language of the speaker’s contractual obligation.”
Figlus also provided a narrative of events as he saw them as a limited partner in EEGF, saying he initially “believed everything she [Jaresko] was doing, you know, was proper.” Later, however, Figlus “learned that Jaresko began borrowing money from HCA REDACTED, but again relied on his spouse, and did not pay attention to the actual financial transactions…
“In early 2010, after Jaresko separated from Figlus, she presented Figlus with, and requested that he execute, a ‘Security Agreement,’ pledging the couple’s partnership interest to the repayment of the loans from HCA. This was Figlus first realization of the amount of loans that Jaresko had taken, and that the partnership interest was being funded through this means. … By late 2011, Jaresko had borrowed approximately REDACTED from HCA to both fund the partnership interest REDACTED. The loans were collateralized only by the EEFG partnership interest. …
“Figlus became increasingly concerned about the partnership and the loans that had been and continued to be given to the insiders to pay for their partnership interests, while excluding other limited partners. Although Figlus was not sophisticated in these matters, he considered that it was inappropriate that HCA was giving loans to insiders to fund their partnership interests, but to no other partners. …
“He talked to an individual at U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington D.C., because the agency was effectively involved as a limited partner because of the agency’s funding and supervision over WNISEF, but the agency employee did not appear interested in pursuing the question.”
A Spousal Dispute
Meanwhile, Jaresko’s lawyers mocked Figlus’s claims that he was acting as a whistle-blower, claiming that he was actually motivated by a desire “to harm his ex-wife” and had violated the terms of his non-disclosure agreement, which the lawyers convinced the court to exclude from the public record.
“Figlus, having previously received an audit from the General Partner, provided it to REDACTED [the Ukrainian reporter] with full knowledge that the audit was non-public. Also on or about October 2, 2012, REDACTED [the reporter] contacted multiple Limited Partners, informed them that he possessed ‘documented proof’ of alleged impropriety by the General Partner and requested interviews concerning that alleged impropriety.”
The filing noted that on Oct. 3, 2012, the reporter told Figlus that Jaresko “called two REDACTED [his newspaper’s] editors last night crying, not me, for some reason.” (The Ukrainian story was never published.)
After the competing filings, Jaresko’s lawyers successfully secured a restraining order against Figlus from the Delaware Chancery Court and are continuing to pursue the case against him though his lawyer has asserted that his client will make no further effort to expose these financial dealings and is essentially broke.
On May 14, 2014, Figlus filed a complaint with the court claiming that he was being denied distributions from his joint interest in EEGF and saying he was told that it was because the holding was pledged as security against the loans taken out by Jaresko.
But, on the same day, Jaresko’s lawyer, Richard P. Rollo, contradicted that assertion, saying information about Figlus’s distributions was being withheld because EEGF and Horizon Capital “faced significant business interruptions and difficulties given the political crisis in Ukraine.”
The filing suggested that the interlocking investments between EEGF and the U.S.-taxpayer-funded WNISEF were experiencing further trouble from the political instability and civil war sweeping across Ukraine. By last December, Jaresko had resigned from her WNISEF-related positions, taken Ukrainian citizenship and started her new job as Ukraine’s Finance Minister.
In an article about Jaresko’s appointment, John Helmer, a longtime foreign correspondent in Russia, disclosed the outlines of the court dispute with Figlus and identified the Ukrainian reporter as Mark Rachkevych of the Kyiv Post.
“It hasn’t been rare for American spouses to go into the asset management business in the former Soviet Union, and make profits underwritten by the US Government with information supplied from their US Government positions or contacts,” Helmer wrote. “It is exceptional for them to fall out over the loot.”
Earlier this month, when I contacted George Pazuniak, Figlus’s lawyer, about Jaresko’s aggressive enforcement of the non-disclosure agreement, he told me that “at this point, it’s very difficult for me to say very much without having a detrimental effect on my client.” Pazuniak did say, however, that all the redactions were demanded by Jaresko’s lawyers.
I also sent detailed questions to U.S. AID and to Jaresko via several of her associates. Those questions included how much of the $150 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money remained, why Jaresko reported no compensation from “related organizations,” whether she received any of the $4.6 million to WNISEF’s officers in bonuses in 2013, how much money she made in total from her association with WNISEF, what AID officials did in response Figlus’s complaint about possible wrongdoing, and whether Jaresko’s legal campaign to silence her ex-husband was appropriate given her current position and Ukraine’s history of secretive financial dealings.
U.S. AID press officer Annette Y. Aulton got back to me with a response that was unresponsive to my specific questions. Rather than answering about the performance of WNISEF and Jaresko’s compensation, the response commented on the relative success of 10 “Enterprise Funds” that AID has sponsored in Eastern Europe and added:
“There is a twenty year history of oversight of WNISEF operations. Enterprise funds must undergo an annual independent financial audit, submit annual reports to USAID and the IRS, and USAID staff conduct field visits and semi-annual reviews. At the time Horizon Capital assumed management of WNISEF, USAID received disclosures from Natalie Jaresko regarding the change in management structure and at the time USAID found no impropriety during its review.”
One Jaresko associate, Tanya Bega, Horizon Capital’s investor relations manager, said she forwarded my questions to Jaresko last week, but Jaresko did not respond.
Further showing how much Jaresko’s network is penetrating the new Ukrainian government, another associate, Estonian Jaanika Merilo, has been brought on to handle Ukraine’s foreign investments. Merilo’s Ukrainian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (UVCA), which is committed to “representing interests of private equity investors to policymakers and improving the investment and business climate in Ukraine,” included Jaresko’s Horizon Capital as a founder.
In a way, given Jaresko’s background of parlaying U.S. taxpayer’s money into various insider investment deals, perhaps she does have the experience to handle the incoming $17.5 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund.
But the question remains whether Jaresko’s is the right kind of experience – and whether the money will go to help the impoverished people of Ukraine or simply wind up lining the pockets of the well-heeled and the well-connected.
–With research by Chelsea Gilmour
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
ABC Australia Investigative Report on Statin Scam Pulled from YouTube
Dr. MaryAnne Demasi’s documentary on the criminal activity of the pharmaceutical industry regarding cholesterol-lowering statin drugs sent shock waves through the mainstream media in Australia at the end of 2013. Published in two parts on the popular news show The Catalyst, the pharmaceutical industry complained loudly after the first show, and requested the network not air the second episode, “Heart of the Matter Part 2 – Cholesterol Drug War.”
ABC Australia aired it anyway, but the pharmaceutical influence was apparently too strong, as they later announced that the network would remove the videos from their website because “they breached its impartiality standards.” All copies found on YouTube were also removed.
Dr. Michael Eades has published them on his Vimeo channel, however, and you can watch them below.
Heart of the Matter – Part 1
Heart of the Matter Part 2 – Cholesterol Drug War