Paris and Berlin are seriously concerned about Kiev’s unwillingness to adhere to the Minsk peace agreements on eastern Ukraine, according to the French newspaper Le Monde.
Kiev has failed to take steps to implement the Minsk peace agreements on eastern Ukraine, which continues to alarm Paris and Berlin. The countries’ leaders remain doubtful regarding the implementation of the accords, the French newspaper Le Monde said, citing a senior French official.According to the newspaper, this skepticism stems from the behavior of Ukrainian politicians, who had earlier played the role of “good students.” Le Monde quoted the official as saying that the situation remains the EU’s main concern, and “in the short term there is no reason for optimism in the matter.”
Donetsk units have delivered nine 82mm-caliber mortars to the site of their further storage in the neighborhood of Illovaisk. Under the Minsk accords, the Donetsk People’s Republic has accomplished its under-100mm-caliber artillery withdrawal from the contact line.
The official said that the past few years have seen an ever-increasing number of supporters of the normalization of relations with Russia in Europe, something that he said comes amid the Ukrainian side’s visible reluctance to comply with the Minsk agreements.
“Fatigue from the Ukrainian issue can quickly turn into fatigue from the Ukrainian partner, who has proven to be unreliable,” the official said, adding that “in this vein, the question of anti-Russian sanctions is seen in a different perspective.”
One of the main problems pertaining to the Minsk agreements is Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko‘s inability to approve the special status of eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region. The initiative is being blocked by many Ukrainian lawmakers, according to the Le Monde.
“Poroshenko’s hopes to gain a constitutional majority by getting two-thirds of the votes are already seen as unrealistic,” the newspaper said.
Another serious problem is related to the “vague wording on the implementation of some stages of the Minsk agreements,” Le Monde said. For example, restoring control of the region’s border with Russia to the Ukrainian government within the conflict zone after local elections. This has yet to be fulfilled because Kiev continues to insist that holding such elections in Donbass is impossible.In April 2014, Ukrainian authorities kicked off a military operation against supporters of Donbass independence in eastern Ukraine. The settlement of the conflict is still being discussed by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine in the Belarusian capital Minsk, which has already adopted three documents which establish guidelines for taking the necessary steps to de-escalate the conflict. The group includes representatives from Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Bernie Sanders is far too easy on Hillary Clinton in their debates. Clinton flaunts her record and experience in ways that Sanders could use to expose her serious vulnerabilities and disqualifications for becoming president. Sanders responds to Clinton’s points, but without the precision that could demolish her arrogance.
For example, she repeatedly says that Sanders has not levelled with people about the cost of full Medicare for all, or single-payer. Really? In other countries, single-payer is far simpler and more efficient than our present profiteering, wasteful, corporatized healthcare industry. Canada covers all of its citizens, with free choice of doctors and hospitals, for about $4,500 per capita, compared to the over $9,000 per capita cost in the U.S. system that still leaves tens of millions of people uninsured or underinsured.
Detailed studies in the New England Journal of Medicine show big savings from a single-payer system in our country.
It is Hillary Clinton who is not levelling with the people about the costs of maintaining the spiraling U.S. costs of drugs, hospital stays and insurance premiums that are the highest in the world. The costs include: 1) the waste of well over $1 trillion a year; 2) daily denials of coverage by the Aetnas of the corporate world; 3) about forty thousand Americans dying each year, according to a peer-reviewed Harvard Medical School study, because they cannot afford health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time; and 4) daily agonizing negotiations over insurance company denials, exclusions and bureaucratic paperwork that drive physicians up the wall.
Clinton hasn’t explained why she was once for single-payer until she defined her “being practical” as refusing to take on big pharma, commercial hospital chains and the giant insurance companies. She is very “practical” about taking political contributions and speaking fees from Wall Street and the health care industry.
As one 18 year-old student told the New York Times recently about Clinton, “sometimes you get this feeling that all of her sentences are owned by someone.”
This protector of the status quo and the gross imbalance of power between the few and the many expresses perfectly why Wall Street financiers like her so much and prove it with their large continuing monetary contributions.
Hillary Clinton is not “levelling with the American people,” when she keeps the transcripts (which she requested at the time) of her secret speeches (at $5,000 a minute!) before large Wall Street and trade association conventions. Her speaking contracts mandated secrecy. Clinton still hasn’t told voters what she was telling big bankers and many other industries from automotive to drugs to real estate developers behind closed doors.
She has the gall to accuse Bernie Sanders of not being transparent. Sanders is a presidential candidate who doesn’t take big-fee speeches or big donations from fat cat influence-peddlers, and his record is as clean as the Clintons’ political entanglements are sordid. (See Clinton Cash by Peter Schweizer.)
But it is in the area of foreign and military affairs that “Hillary the hawk” is most vulnerable. As Secretary of State her aggressiveness and poor judgement led her to the White House where, sweeping aside the strong objections of Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, she persuaded President Obama to bomb Libya and topple its dictatorial regime.
Gates had warned about the aftermath. He was right. Libya has descended into a ghastly state of chaotic violence that has spilled into neighboring African nations, such as Mali, and that opened the way for ISIS to establish an expanding base in central Libya. Her fellow hawks in Washington are now calling for U.S. special forces to go to Libya.
Whether as Senator on the Armed Services Committee or as Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton has never met a war or raid she didn’t like, or a redundant, wasteful weapons system she was willing to aggressively challenge. As president, Hillary Clinton would mean more wars, more raids, more blowbacks, more military spending and more profits for the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower so prophetically warned about in his farewell address.
So when Bernie Sanders properly chided her for having as an advisor, Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under Richard Nixon, she bridled and tried to escape by asking Sanders to name his foreign policy advisors.
In fact, Kissinger and Clinton do have much in common about projecting the American Empire to brutal levels. Kissinger was the “butcher of Cambodia,” launching an illegal assault that destabilized that peaceful country into the Pol Pot slaughter of millions of innocents. She was the illegal “butcher of Libya,” an ongoing, unfolding tragedy whose blowbacks of “unintended consequences” are building by the week.
In a devastating recounting of Hillary Clinton’s disastrous war-making, Professor of Sustainable Economies at Columbia University, Jeffrey D. Sachs concludes that Clinton “is the candidate of the War Machine.” In a widely noted article on Huffington Post Professor Sachs, an advisor the United Nations on millennium development goals, called her record a “disaster,” adding that “Perhaps more than any other person, Hillary can lay claim to having stoked the violence that stretches from West Africa to Central Asia and that threatens U.S. security.”
The transformation of Hillary Clinton from a progressive young lawyer to a committed corporatist and militarist brings shame on the recent endorsement of her candidacy by the Congressional Black Caucus PAC.
But then, considering all the years of Clintonite double talk and corporate contributions going to the Black Caucus PAC (according to FEC reports January through December, 2015), and the Black Caucus conventions, why should anybody be surprised that Black Lives Matter and a growing surge of young African Americans are looking for someone in the White House who is not known for the Clintons’ sweet-talking betrayals?
See Michelle Alexander’s recent article in The Nation, “Hillary Clinton Does Not Deserve Black People’s Votes” for more information on this subject.
The federal government announced a $470 mil settlement with banking giant HSBC on Friday, despite causing financial crisis worth $22 tril
Banking giant HSBC has reached a settlement with the Federal government and most U.S. states for their part in the 2008 financial crisis—the largest such economic downturn since the Great Depression.
But as with Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase, no individuals will face trial for engaging in predatory lending tactics, selling bad mortgages to homeowners and forcing illegal foreclosures on millions.
The Justice Department announced the $470 million settlement on Friday, saying that HSBC’s tactics hastened the country’s economic meltdown.
The settlement includes the Justice Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as well as 49 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia’s attorney general.
In a Justice Department press release, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller states that such a settlement serves as precedent for how banks are allowed to behave.
“This agreement not only provides relief to borrowers affected by HSBC’s past practices, it puts in place protections for current and future homeowners through tough mortgage servicing standards,” Miller said. “For years we’ve worked together to hold mortgage servicers responsible for their past conduct. We’re doing that here through this settlement and we’ll continue to address bad conduct in the future.”
According to the terms of the agreement, HSBC’s payments will include $100 million to be distributed between the federal government and a state-administered escrow fund, allowing the states to reimburse borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure between 2008 and 2012.
Another $370 million in relief is slated directly for borrowers and homeowners in order to reduce mortgage principals for those at risk of default. The federal government says this relief is already underway, noting that the actual cost could be higher because HSBC cannot claim credit for every required consumer relief dollar.
A 2013 study by the Government Accountability Office, funded by a cost-analysis stipulation of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law of 2010, found that the economic crisis cost the American economy $22 trillion.
HSBC will be responsible for implementing standards for mortgage loan servicing, foreclosure procedure and ensuring accuracy of information provided to federal bankruptcy court, according to the federal government.
The deal unfortunately gives HSBC leeway in how it imposes the new standards.
In the past, the bank employed a plethora of intentionally ambiguous practices like robo-signing, false documentation and lost paperwork, in order to continue foreclosures.
The new standards also make it imperative that foreclosure is a last resort by requiring HSBC to provide loss-mitigation options first.
It is unclear how stringent the government will be in accepting applications for the state’s reimbursement plans, but the settlement will almost certainly not be a fix-all for homeowners still reeling from the economic crisis.
Tanuka Loha, then-director of Amnesty International’s Demand Dignity program wrote in 2011 about the severe consequences of the crisis.
“Since 2007, banks have foreclosed around eight million homes. It is estimated that another eight to ten million homes will be foreclosed before the financial crisis is over. This approach to resolving one part of the financial crisis means many, many families are living without adequate and secure housing.,” Loha said. “In addition, approximately 3.5 million people in the U.S. are homeless, many of them veterans. It is worth noting that, at the same time, there are 18.5 million vacant homes in the country.”
Almost a month after Iran saw a series of nuclear-related economic sanctions lifted, new indications show certain segments of the Iranian economy still remain shut out in what could be a violation of the nuclear deal that the country reached with the P5+1 last summer.
The US Treasury Department is reportedly warning European countries and companies to shut out a leading sanctioned Iranian airline – Mahan Air – or risk US retaliation.
“Treasury is engaging closely with stakeholders around the world, including our partners in Europe, regarding our sanctions targeting Iran,” a Treasury official told Al-Monitor. “Regarding Mahan Air specifically, we are doing this by working with our partners to prevent Mahan Air from acquiring aircraft and aircraft parts and software, preventing the opening of new routes and working to get existing routes canceled.”
Certain economic sanctions against Iran were lifted in mid-January when a deal that the country had reached with the P5+1 – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – was implemented.
A central sector that saw the sanctions lifted was Iran’s aviation industry and a lucrative contract that the country later signed with Airbus over the purchase of planes clearly testified to that.
Even before the JCPOA was implemented, US President Barack Obama ordered to lift a decades-long ban on the sales of planes to Iran.
The Treasury official – who has not been named by Al-Monitor – has emphasized that the JCPOA “does not preclude us from designating any entities that support Mahan Air or facilitate its activities.”
Iranian officials are yet to react to this.
Mahan Air, which isn’t sanctioned by the European Union, currently operates flights to Milan, Athens, the German cities of Dusseldorf and Munich, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and several other destinations in the Middle East and Asia. Mahan Air had announced that flights to Copenhagen, Denmark, were to start next month but the route opening was discreetly delayed last month.
The Obama administration is pushing ahead with its plans to slash pension benefits for up to one million participants in “underfunded” multi-employer pension funds as part of its drive to make defined-benefit pensions a thing of the past for all US workers.
The White House campaign, carried out in a conspiracy with the major trade unions and multinational corporations, takes place in the wake of the 2013–2014 bankruptcy of Detroit, which set a precedent for slashing the legally protected pension benefits of retirees.
Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama administration’s appointee to oversee the pension cuts, held a hearing on behalf of the Treasury Department in Detroit Monday to hear objections to the plan to slash the pension benefits of some 270,000 retired truck drivers, package handlers and other members of the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.
The hearing, which took place at Wayne State University, drew an overflow crowd at a 500-seat lecture hall, with up to 1,000 people participating in total. With the exception of the World Socialist Web Site, the media ignored the event, with no US video crews present.
Although retirees had initially been told that the cuts to their benefits would average less than 30 percent, nearly all of those who spoke at the hearing said they had been notified over the Christmas holiday that they would lose between 50 and 80 percent of their pension benefits.
During the two-hour hearing, not a single one of some two dozen pre-selected speakers spoke in favor of the plan to slash pensions. Instead, retirees voiced scathing denunciations of the managers of the Central States Pension Fund, who have received six-figure annual payouts even as they have moved to impose massive benefit cuts. Many made pointed criticisms of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union that jointly administers the fund.
“I suffered the loss of my first marriage, twisted ankles, and a damaged back, 21 dog bites, and all for that pension,” said one retired UPS delivery driver.
This overwhelming opposition by pensioners does not matter, according to Feinberg. When asked by the World Socialist Web Site after the hearing what would happen if workers voted down the proposed pension cuts, Feinberg said he had the prerogative to impose pension cuts regardless.
“The law says that I must impose it over their objections” Feinberg said. “So if I accept the plan and it’s rejected by a vote, the law requires me in that situation to overrule the vote.”
The law Feinberg was referring to is the Multi-employer Pension Reform Act of 2014, passed by Congress in December 2014 with virtually no public discussion as part of an omnibus appropriations bill. Acting on this law, in October 2015 the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund unveiled its plans to cut the benefits of workers it covers.
That law is itself the outcome of a February 2013 proposal, entitled “Solutions not Bailouts,” from the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, composed of major corporations and unions. The document lists among its signatories the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), both of which have since sought to publicly distance themselves from the pension-cutting bill.
Workers denounced the Teamsters’ lobbying on behalf of the bill, as well as the decision by the union to allow shipping company United Parcel Service (UPS) to exit the fund in 2007. This removed the largest base of active employees in the fund in exchange for allowing the Teamsters to extract union dues from the company’s freight division workers. As a result, UPS retirees said at the meeting that they are facing pension cuts of more than 50 percent, despite the fact that UPS earned record profits in the fourth quarter of 2015.
“Why on Earth would you let UPS leave the fund?” asked Debra Bakus, the daughter of Dennis Siecienski, a member of Teamsters Local 51 who worked for Entenmann’s for 41 years. She added, “I find it appalling that the trustees of this fund would pay millions to lobbyists out of your fund to get [the Multi-employer Pension Reform Act] passed.”
“I have to move in with my daughter if they cut my pension,” said Mr. Siecienski, who faces a reduction of 51 percent. “His employer is still contributing to the fund,” added Ms. Bakus.
Nationwide, there are some 10 million beneficiaries of multi-employer pension funds, of whom about 1 million receive benefits from “underfunded” plans.
As the Obama administration’s “special master” of executive compensation during the 2008 bank bailout, Feinberg rubber-stamped multi-million-dollar bonuses for executives at companies whose activities helped cause the financial crash.
Now, as the official responsible for imposing sweeping benefit cuts on hundreds of thousands of workers, Feinberg is working diligently to ensure that the transfer of social resources from working people to Wall Street continues unimpeded.
In 2009, the Obama administration justified giving multi-million-dollar bonuses to executives at American International Group, which had received a $185 billion bailout from the federal government, on the grounds that contractual obligations were sacrosanct and could not be abridged by the government.
Asked by the World Socialist Web Site whether he would use a similar approach with regard to workers’ pensions, Feinberg declared that he never approved multi-million-dollar bonuses to Wall Street executives.
Retiree Richard Fairley asked Feinberg, “can you fix my ignition switch?” in reference to his kid glove treatment of General Motors in the deaths of over a hundred people due to defective ignition switches.
But a 2012 report by Neil Barofsky, the inspector general for the TARP bank bailout, exposes Feinberg’s statement as a lie. Barofsky found that Feinberg “approved total compensation packages in the millions” and did not “effectively rein in excessive compensation.”
Barofsky’s report added, “In 2009, OSM [Office of the Special Master, i.e., Feinberg] approved total compensation of cash and stock of more than $1 million each for five AIG employees including a $10.5 million pay package for AIG’s new CEO that included a $3 million cash salary.” Barofsky added that Feinberg “approved compensation ranging from $4.3 million to $7.1 million each for four AIG employees who that year were also scheduled to receive cash retention awards of up to $2.4 million.”
At the hearing, speaker after speaker described how the proposed pension cuts would financially devastate them and their families. They appealed for Feinberg to see reason and deny the proposal by the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.
But far from being an independent arbiter, Feinberg is a bag-man for Wall Street and its representatives in the Obama administration. His role is not to arbitrate an equitable solution to the chronic de-funding of employee pensions in the United States, but rather to facilitate the outcome most favorable to the banks and major corporations.
Monday’s meeting took place in the context of a growing resistance and opposition by the working class. Over the past month, Detroit teachers and students have defied the Detroit Federation of Teachers to stage sick-outs at over eighty schools. Teachers in Chicago, Illinois have launched protests against efforts to further starve public schools and slash wages and benefits.
Meanwhile, protests in Flint, Michigan have made the lead poisoning of residents by officials at the state, local, and federal level a national and international issue. These actions follow the eruption of opposition among US autoworkers last year against efforts by the United Auto Workers to ram through contracts that further undermine jobs and benefits.
In each case, workers are being drawn into conflict with both big business parties, along with the trade unions, which defend the capitalist system and are collaborating with the corporations in driving down the conditions of the working class.
The task now is to unify these struggles in a common working class movement, armed with a socialist perspective of breaking the power of the financial oligarchy and reorganizing society in the interest of social need, not private profit.
NLRB Finds Employer Rule Prohibiting Audio and Image Recording at Work Violates Employees’ Labor Rights
The National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) recently held that employees can take photos and record conversations in the workplace to safeguard their labor rights, setting an important precedent in the workplace in an era of smartphones and social media.
The case took issue with Whole Foods’ rule prohibiting employees from taking photos or recording conversations in a store without a managers’ prior permission or unless all parties involved give consent. The Board found the rule unlawful because of its potential chilling effect on employees’ Section 7 rights under the National Labor Relations Act. Section 7 rights include the right to take action together with other workers for the purpose of collective bargaining or protecting each other’s work place rights.
The Board made it clear workers have the right to use smartphones or other recording devices in their workplace to:
- document unsafe working conditions or hazards,
- record uneven application of workplace rules,
- capture evidence to use in employment-relations actions (such as conversations revealing discrimination), and
- record discussions about terms and conditions of employment.
The Board specifically reiterated the concept that photography and audio or video recording is protected in the workplace when done in the context of protected concerted activity or Union activity. Where employees are acting together and for the mutual aid and protection of their coworkers, and no overriding employer interest is present, such conduct is protected by law. Accordingly, the Board ordered Whole Foods to rescind or revise its handbook rules related to recording, and notify employees of this change.
The Board’s ruling is significant given the potential impact of smartphones in the workplace. First, managers’ knowledge of workers’ ability to take photos and record conversations should act as a deterrent to unlawful conduct by management and encourage compliance with the law. Second, when labor laws are broken, workers’ ability to prove and vindicate their rights increases. Third, the ruling signals another potentially powerful organizing tool. For example, workers in an organizing drive can record “captive audience” meetings to reveal a company’s aggressive anti-union tactics and expose the meetings’ true purpose. Lastly, any company with a policy similar to Whole Foods’ policy can now be more easily challenged as to that policy.
State laws on recording may still apply in certain scenarios. For example, California requires that parties to an audio recording or phone conversation must consent to its recording (for more detail, see Cal. Penal Code § 632). Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington have similar consent laws related to recording.
For more information regarding the use of smartphones or other devices in the workplace, contact your labor law counsel.
According to a “sensational” article by the Telegraph, the US director of National Intelligence was recently instructed by Congress to “conduct a major review into Russian clandestine funding of European parties over the last decade.” This disclosure – a classic “controlled leak” – is intended to warn disobedient yet popular political entities across Europe to scale back their ambitions to rebalance the roles and weight of their nation states within the European Union. Hungary’s Jobbik, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Italy’s Lega Nord, and France’s Front National are explicitly included in the US “warning list,” while other unnamed “parties” in Austria, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands are being advised that they are “under a US security probe.” Even the new British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is suspected of flirting with the Russians. So, according to the sponsor of the Telegraph’s story, any European politician who dares to question NATO’s eastward expansion, the policy of anti-Russian sanctions, or the current European stance on the Ukrainian conflict is essentially a witting or unwitting tool of “Russia’s hybrid warfare.”
Well, that would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous. In fact, any impartial observer would pose some simple questions: Why the hell do US intelligence agencies care about challenges to Europe’s internal security? Aren’t they the same agents who finance, recruit, and control countless political organizations, individuals, and media outlets on the European continent? Why are they so brazenly revealing their dominion over Europe?
A politically correct challenger would argue that the United States saved Europe from the “Communist threat” after the end of WWII, facilitated its speedy economic recovery, and is still safeguarding the continent under its nuclear umbrella. Perhaps. But a review of the historical background should not begin with the Marshall Plan. First of all, that was launched in April 1948. Since the Nazis capitulated in May 1945, a misinformed reader might deduce that the United States had been drafting a massive investment program for Europe for as long as three years, and … he would be wrong. At the Second “Octagon” Quebec Conference in September 1944, President Roosevelt and US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. submitted to the British PM Winston Churchill their Post-Surrender Program for Germany. That strictly confidential document envisaged the partition and complete deindustrialization of the German state. According to the plan, Germany was to be divided into two independent states. Its epicenters of mining and industry, including the Saar Protectorate, the Ruhr Valley, and Upper Silesia were to be internationalized or annexed by France and Poland. Following are a few excerpts:
- The [US] military forces upon entry into [German] industrial areas shall destroy all plants and equipment which cannot be removed immediately.
- No longer than 6 months after the cessation of hostilities, all industrial plants and equipment not destroyed by military action shall either be completely dismantled and removed from the area or completely destroyed.
- All people within the area should be made to understand that this area will not again be allowed to become an industrial area. Accordingly, all people and their families within the area having special skills or technical training should be encouraged to migrate permanently from the area and should be as widely dispersed as possible.
- All German radio stations and newspapers, magazines, weeklies, etc. shall be discontinued until adequate controls are established and an appropriate program formulated.
That was the original postwar recovery program for Germany, known as the Morgenthau Plan. The notorious Joint Chiefs of Staff Directive 1067 (JCS 1067) addressed to the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Occupation Forces in Germany, which was officially issued in April 1945, was fully in line with that document.
Partition of Germany according to Morgenthau Plan, 1944
The Morgenthau Plan very quickly proved to be a strategic mistake. The United States underestimated the ideological and cultural impact the Soviets would have on European societies. Left to their own judgment, American strategists failed to understand the attraction that a socialist system held for the majority of the population of the liberated nations. A vast spectrum of pro-socialist and pro-communist politicians began winning democratic elections and gaining political influence not only in Eastern Europe, but also in Greece, Italy, France, and other European states (Palmiro Togliatti and Maurice Thorez are just a few who could be named here). Thus Washington came to understand that its forced de-industrialization of Europe could result in Soviet-style reindustrialization and eventual Russian dominance of the continent… Therefore the US had to promptly replace the Morgenthau Plan with one named after Secretary of State George Marshall… Over the course of four years it provided Europe with $12 billion USD in credits, donations, leases, etc., for the purpose of buying … American machinery and other goods. Although the plan undoubtedly revived the economies of Europe, its biggest positive effect was on … the US economy itself! Simultaneously a wave of political repression was launched throughout Europe, most notably in Germany.
The media has largely forgotten about a Soviet initiative, proposed in 1950, to withdraw from the GDR and to reunify a neutral, non-aligned, demilitarized Germany within one year of the conclusion of a peace treaty. As a matter of fact, the resolution adopted at the Prague meeting of the foreign ministers of the Soviet Bloc on Oct. 21, 1950 proposed the establishment of an all-German Constituent Council, with equal representation from East and West Germany to prepare for the formation of an “all-German, sovereign, democratic, and peace-loving provisional government.” Needless to say, the US government and West German administration in Bohn strongly opposed the initiative. While a plebiscite on the issue “Are you against the remilitarization of Germany and in favor of the conclusion of a Peace Treaty in 1951?” was announced in both halves of the divided state, that referendum was held and officially acknowledged only in East Germany (with 96% voting “yes”). The authorities in US-controlled West Germany failed to respond in a truly democratic manner. They refused to recognize the preliminary results of the referendum that had been held since February 1951 (of the 6.2 million federal citizens who had taken part by June 1951, 94.4% also voted “yes”) and introduced the draconian cautious Criminal Law Amendment Act (the 1951 Blitzgesetz) on July 11. According to that legislation, anyone guilty of importing prohibited literature, criticizing the government, or having unreported contacts with representatives of the GDR, etc. was to be prosecuted for “state treason,” which was punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison. Consequently, between 1951 and 1968, 200,000 charges were brought against 500,000 members of the Communist Party and other left-wing groups in Germany under this law. Ten thousand people were sent to prison, and most of those who were “cleared” of charges never resumed their political activities. Additional legal amendments in 1953 actually abolished the right to freely hold gatherings and demonstrations, and in 1956 the Communist Party of Germany was banned. [More details can be found in Daniel Burkholz’s 2012 documentary Verboten – Verfolgt – Vergessen (Forbidden-Followed-Forgotten. Half a Million Public Enemies), which is surprisingly unavailable on YouTube].
The political repression that occurred in Germany from the 1950s to the 1980s, compared to similar events in other European countries during the same period, is a very taboo topic. Operation Gladio in Italy, the crimes of the regime of the Black Colonels in Greece, and the controversial assassinations of realistic European politicians who openly advocated for historical compromise with the Soviet bloc – such as Italian PM Aldo Moro (1978) and Swedish PM Olof Palme (1986) – all received far more media attention. The revelations made by a former correspondent for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Udo Ulfkotte, in his book Gekaufte Journalisten (“Purchased Journalists”) about the mechanism of media control in Germany (remember the Morgenthau Plan?) represent only the tip of the iceberg. The almost complete lack of reaction seen in Berlin after Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the blanket electronic espionage routinely conducted against German leaders by the NSA means that in reality, Germany has acknowledged its loss of sovereignty over its own country and thus has nothing to lose.
So, after taking all these facts into account and rereading the article in the Telegraph, are you still so sure that the United States is truly the guardian of Europe’s sovereignty? Is it not more likely that by using the alleged “Russian threat” to control and harass the political establishment and civil society in Europe, Washington is making headway toward a simple and primitive goal – that of merely keeping its sheep within the fold?
On Jan. 26, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held an important year-in-review press conference before an audience of about 150 journalists, including the BBC correspondent Steve Rosenberg and many other well-known representatives of mainstream Western media. The purpose of this annual event is to look back at issues faced by his Ministry over the past year and to give his appraisal of results achieved.
Lavrov’s opening remarks were concise, lasting perhaps 15 minutes, and the remaining two hours were turned over to the floor for questions. As the microphone was passed to journalists from many different countries, the discussion covered a great variety of subjects, including the likelihood of a new “re-set” with the United States, the negotiations over re-convening the Syrian peace talks in Geneva, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments on the findings of a U.K. public inquest into the Litvinenko murder, the possibilities for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Georgia, and prospects for resolving conflicting claims over the Southern Kurile islands so as to conclude a peace treaty with Japan.
To the best of my knowledge, not a single report of the event has yet appeared on major online American, French, British and German newspaper portals or television channels. This was not for lack of substance or newsworthy sound bites, including Lavrov’s headline comment that he agreed with Western leaders who said there would be “no business as usual” between Russia and the West.
As part of his opening comments, Lavrov said, “Our Western colleagues sometimes declare with passion that there can no longer be ‘business as usual with Russia.’ I am convinced that this is so and here we agree: there will be no more ‘business as usual’ when they tried to bind us with agreements which take into account above all the interests of either the European Union or the United States and they wanted to persuade us that this will do no harm to our interests. That history is over and done with. A new stage of history is dawning which can develop only on the basis of equal rights and all other principles of international law.”
Regarding a similar news blackout that followed another major Russian press briefing, the sharp-tongued Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commented, what are all these accredited Western reporters doing in Moscow if nothing gets published abroad? Do they have some other occupation?
In keeping with custom, the Russian Foreign Ministry posted the entire video recording of Lavrov’s press conference on youtube.com and posted transcripts in Russian and English on the www.mid.ru site. The Russian version takes up 26 tightly spaced printed pages. This is what I have used, since I prefer to go to the source and do my own translations when I have the option. The English version probably takes 40 pages, given the normal expansion from Russian to English in the translation process.
What I noted first in the television broadcast on Russia’s Pervy Kanal and then in the transcript was both how well prepared Lavrov was to deal with a plethora of issues and how he gave detailed answers that went on for many minutes without making reference to any notes.
Secondly, it was obvious he spoke more “freely,” using fewer diplomatic euphemisms than I have ever seen before. I conclude that he was given a nod by his boss, President Vladimir Putin, not to hold back, to speak with perfect clarity. Given his experience as one of the longest-serving foreign ministers among the major powers and his innate intellect, Lavrov delivered what sounds at times like dictation for essays in proper written Russian.
For these reasons, I have decided to divide my treatment of the press conference into two parts. One will be Lavrov in his own words. And the other will be my conclusions about the international environment in the coming year given Russia’s basic positions, particularly the possible lifting of sanctions on Russia by the United States and the European Union and how the next U.S. administration can best prepare for relations with Russia, assuming there is no dramatic change in the thinking of American elites.
Sergey Lavrov in His Own Words
From the press briefing, I have extracted several big chunks of text that characterize the overarching views on international relations of Lavrov and the Kremlin, applying their Realpolitik prism and focused primarily on U.S.-Russian relations. This is essential if we are not to lose sight of the forest for the trees.
In questions and answers dealing with all countries but one, we hear about separate issues in various locations around the world holding interest mainly for discrete national audiences with their private concerns. With respect to one country, the U.S., Russia’s bilateral relations transcend the minister’s in-basket of contingencies.
Indeed, the whole Russian foreign policy really is about relations with the U.S. as expressed in the first two of the three passages in quotation marks below. The third passage, on sanctions, would seem to be more about relations with the E.U. I selected it because the issue of lifting sanctions will surely be a key foreign policy issue facing Russia in the first six months of this year, and behind it all looms the U.S. position on the question.
Question: Is a “re-set” possible in this final year of Barack Obama’s administration?
Lavrov: “The question should not be addressed to us. Our inter-state ties sank very low despite the excellent personal relations between former U.S. President George Bush and Russian President Putin. When U.S. President Barack Obama came to the White House and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a ‘re-set,’ this reflected the fact that Americans themselves finally saw the abnormality of the situation wherein Russia and the USA were not cooperating to solve those problems which could not be decided without them…
“We gave a rather constructive response to the ‘re-set.’ We said that we appreciate the decision of the new Administration to correct the errors of its predecessors. We achieved quite a lot: the New START Treaty, the entry of Russia into the WTO, an array of new agreements on various conflict situations. But somehow this quickly began to drop back to zero. Now everyone, including our American colleagues, is telling us: ‘Just fulfill the Minsk accords on Ukraine and immediately everything will return to normal. We will immediately cancel the sanctions and tempting prospects of cooperation will open up between Russia and the United States over much more pleasant issues, not just in the management of crises; right away a constructive partnership program will take shape.’
“We are open for cooperation with everyone on an equal, mutually advantageous basis. We, of course, do not want anyone to build their policy based on the assumption that Russia and not Ukraine must fulfill the Minsk accords. It is written there who must fulfill them. I hope that this is well known to the USA. At least, my latest contacts with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the contacts of Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland with Assistant to the Russian President Surkov indicate that the USA can sort out the essence of the Minsk accords. Grosso modo, everyone understands everything. …
“I have just mentioned that people have begun to promise a new ‘re-set.’ If we fulfill the Minsk accords, then immediately everything will become fine, with splendid and tempting prospects.
“But the cooling off of relations with the Administration of U.S. President Barack Obama and the end of the period associated with ‘re-set’ began long before the Ukraine. Let’s remember how this occurred. First, when we finally got the consent of our Western partners to terms of our joining the WTO which were acceptable to Russia, the Americans understood that it was not in their interests to keep the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Otherwise they would be deprived of those privileges and advantages which are linked to our participation in the WTO. They began to prepare for the removal of this amendment.
“But Americans would not be Americans if they simply abolished it and said ‘Enough, let’s now cooperate normally.’ They dreamed up the ‘Magnitsky Act,’ although I am certain that what happened to Magnitsky was not set up. I very much hope that the truth will become known to everyone. It is disgusting how a provocation and speculation were built up around the death of a man. Nonetheless, this was done and you know who lobbied for this ‘Magnitsky Act,’ which immediately replaced the Jackson-Vanik amendment.”
[The Magnitsky Act was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 2012 with the goal of punishing Russian officials believed responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in prison in 2009 amid accusations and counter-accusations of fraud.]
“This all began when there was still no Ukraine [crisis], although they now try to lay the blame on violations of OSCE principles. Everything that is going on between the West and Russia is explained by the fact that Russia did not fulfill its obligations, did not respect the world order which was put together in Europe after the Helsinki Act [of 1975], etc. These are all attempts to justify and find an excuse for continuing the policy of containment. But this policy never ended.
“After the ‘Magnitsky Act’ [in 2012], there was the completely inappropriate, overblown reaction to what happened to Edward Snowden, who found himself in Russia against our wishes [in 2013]. We did not know about this. He did not have a passport – his document was canceled while he was in flight. He could not go anywhere from Russia because of decisions taken in Washington. We could not help but give him the possibility to remain in Russia so as to stay safe, knowing which articles of the law they were threatening him with. The Americans made no secret about this. This was done simply as an elementary protection of a person’s right to life.
“U.S. President Barack Obama then canceled his visit to Russia. They made a huge scandal. Dozens of telephone calls came in from the FBI, from the CIA, the State Department. There were direct contacts with the President. They told us that if we do not give up Snowden, then relations will be broken off. The USA canceled the visit. It did not take place but U.S. President Obama came for the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg, where we, by the way, did something useful – we reached agreement on the principles of the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons.
“Ukraine was just a pretext. The Ukrainian crisis is linked not so much with justified concern over an alleged violation by Russia of the Helsinki principles (although everything began with Kosovo, with the  bombing of Yugoslavia, etc). This was an expression of irritation that the coup d’etat did not lead to the results that were expected by those who supported it.
“I will tell you honestly that we don’t hold a grudge. We have no such traditions in relations between states. We understand that life is tougher than any ideal, romantic scheme like ‘re-set’ or similar. We also understand that this is a world in which there are harsh clashes of interests that come down to us from the age of the West’s total domination and it is in the midst of a long transition period to a more durable system in which there will not be one or even two dominant poles – there will be several. The transition period is long and painful. Old habits die slowly. We all understand this.
“We understand that the USA is interested in having fewer competitors even with regards to those comparable to it in size, influence, military power, economy. We see this in the relations between the USA and China, in how the USA works with the European Union, trying to create a ring around it via the Transatlantic Partnership, and to the east of Russia, to create a Trans-Pacific Partnership which will not include Russia and China. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about this in detail when he analyzed the processes at work in the world economy and politics. We understand all of this.
“Surely every age brings with it new tendencies, frames of mind in one or another of the elites, especially in major countries which see in their own fashion the ways to fight for their interests. It would be very bad and ruinous for all of us if these processes moved outside the framework of generally accepted norms of international law.
“Then, simply put, everything would be topsy-turvy, and we would be drawn into a world of anarchy and chaos – something like what is going on in the Near East, perhaps without bloodshed. Each would act as he reckons necessary and nothing good would come out of this. It is very important to observe some kind of general rules of play.
“To answer your question, I would like for the USA to have a ‘re-set’ with the whole world, so that the ‘re-set’ was general, so that we could gather together and reconfirm our commitment to the UN Charter, to the principles embodied in it, including non-interference in internal affairs, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity and the right of peoples to self-determination, the right of peoples to choose their own future without interference from outside.”
Question: At the Munich Security Conference in 2007 President Putin said to the West “you need us more than we need you.” Is that still Russia’s position?
Lavrov: “Ideally we both need one another to face the challenges and threats. But, the reality is different. The West comes to us much more often for help than we come to the West.”
(Lavrov said that in response to Western sanctions, Russia was striving to be self-sufficient and promoting import substitution, but not trying to cut itself off from the world and ready for cooperation based on equality.)
“We must do everything to ensure we do not depend on the whim of one or another group of countries, above all from our Western partners” – as happened when the West took offense at Russia for supporting ethnic Russians in Ukraine who did not recognize the 2014 coup d’etat.
“I have cited Dmitry Yarosh [leader of the radical nationalists, the Right Sector] that they wanted to destroy Russian speakers in Ukraine or deprive them of their rights. We want to insure ourselves against such situations. …
“I note that it’s not we who are running to our European colleagues and saying ‘Let’s do something to remove the sanctions.’ Not at all. We are focused on not depending on such zigzags in Western policy, not depending on Europe’s saluting the USA. But in our bilateral contacts our European colleagues, when they come to us or meet us in international forums, say: ‘Let’s think of something. Help us carry out the Minsk accords, otherwise these sanctions will do a lot of damage. We want to turn the page.’
“It turns out that in this situation we are needed more by them than they are needed by us. Including for fulfillment of the Minsk accords. … Yes, we have influence in Donbass [the ethnic Russian section of eastern Ukraine] and we support them. Surely, without our help and humanitarian deliveries Donbass would be in a pitiful state. But one also has to exert influence in Kiev. We need the West to influence the Kiev authorities, but so far this is not happening.
“Or look at the question of the Iranian nuclear program. At the decisive stages of these negotiations we were literally bombarded with requests when it was necessary to solve the questions of exporting enriched uranium in exchange for natural uranium, which was the key condition for achieving agreements; when it was necessary to resolve the question about who will convert the enrichment sites at Fordu into research for production of medical isotopes, etc.
“They came with requests to us, requests which carry a significant financial burden, or at least which do not bring any material benefit. But we fulfilled our part of the work. Now everyone is calling us and our Chinese colleagues about the North Korean problem: ‘help us do something to make North Korea observe its obligations.’ Or take the case of Syria….
“I can’t think of any requests we made to our Western colleagues recently. We don’t believe it is proper to make requests. After you sign agreements following negotiations, you now have to execute obligations, not to make requests for favors.”
Question: Will the sanctions end early?
Lavrov: “I’d say that among a large number of our partners there is the awareness that they cannot go on this way any longer, that this is harmful to them. Our justification for speaking about some possible positive changes comes down to the following: our Western partners more and more often begin to understand that they have fallen into a trap of their own making when they said that they will lift the sanctions after Russia fulfills the Minsk accords. They have now understood that, very likely, this was a ‘slip of the tongue.’
“But in Kiev this was heard very often and was interpreted as an indulgence allowing them not to carry out the Minsk accords. Their failure to perform not only means that Kiev does not have to undertake any actions and fulfill its obligations. It also means that the West will have to keep the sanctions in place against Russia. It was necessary to prove all of this to some gentlemen who are in Kiev fanning radical attitudes. …
“The West understands the hopelessness of the present situation, when everyone pretends that Russia must fulfill the Minsk accords but Ukraine can do nothing – not change its constitution, not give a special status to the Donbass, not put through an amnesty, not organize elections in consultation with Donbass. Everyone understands that no one will resolve these things for Ukraine.
“Everyone understands that this is abnormal, something pathological which emerged in turning the Ukrainian crisis, which arose as a result of an absolutely illegal, anti-constitutional coup d’etat, into a measuring stick for all relations between Russia and the West. This is absolutely abnormal, an unhealthy situation, artificially fanned from countries that are far removed from Europe. Europe no longer wants to be held hostage to this situation. For me, this is obvious.”
In presenting these three long excerpts from Lavrov’s Jan. 26 press conference, my intention was to give readers a feel for Lavrov’s method of argumentation and his somber tone in what was delivered without notes and in response to questions from journalists in the audience.
In his prepared opening remarks, Lavrov had already set out some of the key points in the overall approach to international affairs from Russia’s analytical tool of realism and national interest. The number one issue facing Russia and the world from his perspective is to arrive at a new system of managing international affairs. Russia’s relations with the West are part and parcel of this broader challenge.
This wished-for new system would be one built on full equality of relations between states, respect for their interests and non-interference in internal affairs. Lavrov was repeating Vladimir Putin’s call upon nations to re-dedicate themselves to the principles of the United Nations Charter that Putin issued in New York in September 2015 at the 70th anniversary gathering of the General Assembly. The new system of global governance will come about as a result of reforms to the basic international institutions whereby political and economic power is reallocated in ways that reflect changes in relative economic and military power of nations from the days when these institutions were established.
By itself, there is nothing particular new in this vision. It has been in the public domain for years and guided calls for readjusting the voting powers within the International Monetary Fund. The novel element, which will be shocking to many in Washington, was Sergey Lavrov’s clear and repeated identification of the United States as the power frustrating the renewal of world governance by stubbornly defending its hegemonic control of institutions and seeking to consolidate still further its control over its allies in Europe and Asia at the expense of their national interests and in furtherance of its own interests.
Hence, Lavrov’s mention of the TPP and TIPP projects. Hence, his repeated mention of forces from afar, meaning the U.S., that have imposed European sanctions on Russia against the wishes of separate E.U. member states.
At one point, in responding to a journalist from Japan, Lavrov completely abandoned veiled language. He said Russia favored in principle giving a permanent seat on the UN Security Council to Japan, but would do so only when it was clear Japan will contribute its own national views to deliberations, broadening the perspectives on the table, and not merely provide the United States with an additional voting member under its control.
It is interesting that Lavrov explicitly denied that Russia feels “offended,” or as I have written using an alternative translation, “holds a grudge” over how it has been treated by the United States in the downward spiral of relations from the high point of the 2009 “re-set” to today’s nadir.
The context for this remark is the ever-present denunciations in mainstream Western media of Vladimir Putin’s speeches on foreign affairs. Putin’s observations on how things went awry since the end of the Cold War are regularly categorized as “diatribes” and “revisionist,” by which is meant aggressive, threatening and possibly irrational.
Lavrov said Russia acknowledges it is a tough world out there and competition is harsh. That is the true sense of his headline remark that there can be no return to “business as usual” or the idealistic notions underlying the “re-set” even when the current sanctions against Russia are lifted.
Russia is nonetheless open for business on equal and mutually advantageous terms where and when possible. In this regard, Lavrov is in complete agreement with American experts like Angela Stent at Georgetown University who advise the incoming U.S. administration in 2017 against planning some new “re-set.” They come to that common conclusion from diametrically opposed premises over who is responsible for the new reality.
Lavrov speaks of our being in a long and painful transition period from a world dominated by the West, which in turn is dominated by one power, the United States, to a multipolar world with a number of key participants in global governance. But that does not exclude amelioration and he appears to share the view now spreading in Western media, that U.S. and European sanctions will be lifted in the near future.
One recent example of this expectation that generates euphoria in Western business circles appeared in Bloomberg online the day before Lavrov’s news conference: “Russian Entente Nears as Allies Hint at End of Ukraine Sanctions.”
The important message, which Sergey Lavrov delivered on Jan. 26, is that Russia has not and will not mend its ways. He told us Russia did not beg for relief from sanctions and is not trading its support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria in return for relief over Ukraine.
We may be sure that the United States and the European Union will present the lifting of sanctions as a trade-off. But the reality will be a retreat from a policy that is unsustainable because it harms Western interests far more than Russian interests. This was the sense of Lavrov’s insistence that the West needs Russia more than Russia needs the West.
The present, ongoing economic harm to European farmers and other select sectors of the economy from Russia’s tit-for-tat embargo is obvious. The harm to U.S. interests is more subtle.
It was recently highlighted in an article published in Foreign Affairs magazine by a research fellow of the Cato Institute entitled “Not-So Smart Sanctions.” There we read that the Washington establishment is finally worried over the creation by Russia and China of alternative global financial institutions to those based in Washington.
The BRICS Bank, the Asia Infrastructure Development Bank, the introduction of bank clearing centers competing with SWIFT: all are intended to end, once and for all, America’s possibilities for inflicting crippling economic pain on those falling into its latest list of enemies as was done to punish the Kremlin over annexation of Crimea and intervention in Donbass.
Lavrov spoke repeatedly about defending “national interests” as the guiding principle of foreign relations. In this connection, the shadow of Hans Morgenthau, a founder and major theorist of America’s Realist School, may be said to have shared the podium with him. But Lavrov and the Russians have taken to a new level the principles set out in Politics Among Nations, Morgenthau’s famous textbook which generations of American college students once studied in their Government 101 courses.
Lavrov’s Russia is calling upon nations to shed their chains, to stop pushing their national interests to one side while listening to instructions from Washington. Nations should compete and jostle for influence in a free market of ideas and influences, while playing by generally recognized rules.
If the rules are followed, the international environment will not collapse into chaos notwithstanding sharp contradictions between nations.
Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2015
Monsanto, the US-based biotech and agribusiness colossus, is seeking a merger with its European competitor Syngenta. Such a transaction would create a gargantuan corporation that would control 45% of the world’s commercial seeds and 30% of the farm chemicals market. This is a time of major mergers in the ag sector. The largest of these took place last November, when two of the largest US players, Dow and Dupont, agreed to merge. The resulting spawn of both will have no less than 25% of the world commercial seed market.
The much-talked about Monsanto-Syngenta merger is likely but not inevitable. Monsanto began 2016 with its third buyout offer to the European corporation in less than a year. Syngenta’s management announced it will not decide on Monsanto’s latest bid right away because it is considering other offers. In a conference in Switzerland in mid-January, company chairman Michael Demare said it is evaluating proposals from German companies BASF and Bayer, which are also world leaders in the agricultural biotech and pesticide sectors, and from ChemChina.
Although not very well known in North America and Europe, the Chinese state-owned ChemChina is one mammoth of a corporation. With $45.6 billion in annual revenues and some 140,000 employees, it ranks 265th in the Fortune 500 index.
“ChemChina became a pesticide powerhouse in 2011 when its subsidiary, China National Agrochemical Corporation, acquired Makhteshim Agan Industries (Israel), the world’s 7th largest pesticide manufacturer, and became ADAMA”, said the Canada-based ETC Group. “With revenues over $3 billion in 2013, ADAMA sells generic pesticide products in more than 120 countries… ADAMA’s largest market is Europe (37%), followed by Latin America (25%).” (Parentheses in original)
ChemChina’s interests go way beyond agrochemicals. Last year it acquired Italy’s Pirelli, one of the world’s leading tire manufacturers, for $7.9 billion. Its other major purchases include French firms Adisseo and Rhodia, Australia’s Qenos, Norwegian silicon maker Elkem, German machinery maker Krauss Maffee, and 12% of Swiss energy trader Mercuria.
ChemChina is headed by the flamboyant Ren Jianxin, a high-ranking Communist Youth League member who took the unusual step of going into business rather than politics. “Over three decades, Ren has led the restructuring of China’s chemicals industry, organizing more than 100 firms under the ChemChina banner into six main operating divisions, producing everything from basic chemicals to fertilizers and silicones”, said Reuters. Ren recently hired Bayer director Michael Koenig to run one of ChemChina’s subsidiaries, a move that raised eyebrows since state-owned companies very rarely ever hire foreigners to executive positions.
The company is also looking to expand its presence in the domestic market. A merger with Syngenta would turn ChemChina into the country’s top pesticide company. This is no small undertaking, given that China is the world’s third largest pesticide market, after the US and Brazil. If foreign agrochemical companies were to be interested in investing in China’s vast market they would find themselves squeezed into a minor corner by a gigantic Syngenta-ChemChina combination.
ChemChina’s ambitions are part of a larger story. Chinese food and agriculture companies are moving abroad and starting to compete toe to toe with their Western counterparts and even buying them out. In 2013, China’s Shuanghui corporation bought Smithfield, the leading US pork company, for $7.1 billion, the largest ever purchase of a US company by Chinese investors.
Another Chinese company to watch is COFCO, the country’s leading food processor, which acquired a controlling stake in the Netherlands’ agricultural commodity trader Nidera. The majority stake in Nidera would give COFCO greater control over pricing and better access to Latin America and Russia, important grain-growing regions, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2014.
So what happens if ChemChina beats Monsanto to the Syngenta finish line? The Missouri-based company, which has been hitting hard times in the recent months, may end up trampled and squashed, unable to compete with a Dow-Dupont and a Syngenta-ChemChina.
According to the ETC Group: “No matter which mergers/acquisitions ultimately materialize, there’s little doubt that the infamous Monsanto name will soon be history.”
Owen Covington. “Syngenta board reportedly supports pursuing ChemChina deal” Triad Business Journal, January 19 2016. http://www.bizjournals.com/triad/news/2016/01/19/syngenta-board-reportedly-supports-pursuing.html
ETC Group. “Breaking Bad: Big Ag Mega-Mergers in Play” December 15 2015. http://www.etcgroup.org/content/breaking-bad-big-ag-mega-mergers-play
Financial Times. “ChemChina closes in on another prize purchase” http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/78d04e32-c26e-11e5-808f-8231cd71622e.html#axzz3yGS3Cp7E
Sophie Song. “China State-Owned Food Giant COFCO Corporation Spends Billions Buying Nidera” International Business Times, February 28 2014. http://www.ibtimes.com/china-state-owned-food-giant-cofco-corporation-spends-billions-buying-nidera-nv-1558616
Carmelo Ruiz is a Puerto Rican author and journalist currently living in Ecuador. His Twitter ID is @carmeloruiz.
The fact that a majority of Americans support a single-payer, or Medicare for all, health care system is not news. Or at least it ought not to be news, especially to veteran political journalists.
But enter the vaunted PBS Newshour, which bills itself as “one of the most trusted news programs on television.” (In fairness, that’s a medium not eliciting much in the way of stiff competition.)
On Friday’s broadcast, during the program’s weekly left/right debate segment, featuring New York Times columnist David Brooks on the right and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus (seen burnishing her “progressive” credentials here) on the “left,” the topic of discussion turned to the differing health care proposals of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Sanders supports a Medicare for all system, while Clinton supports maintaining the status quo of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But with Sanders now surging in both Iowa and New Hampshire, the health care schism between the Democratic front-runners has taken center stage in the campaign, with Clinton camp surrogates attacking Sanders by going so far as to incredulously assert that Sanders, by seeking to expand health care to all Americans, is really threatening to strip health coverage from millions.
Taking up this debate between the two Democratic candidates, Brooks commented Friday on the Newshour that, “They also had an interesting debate about health care reform. And that was her [Clinton] making an incremental argument, we have got to make our changes gradually, and him [Sanders] making a radical argument. And so it was interesting. That was a substantive, real argument about how you change any system.”
Newshour co-anchor Judy Woodruff then interjected to clarify, “… essentially, the argument is whether you just wipe away… what we have done and you go to a single-payer health care system, which most Americans say they don’t want… [emphasis added]”
Wait, what? Most Americans say they don’t want a single-payer health care system? Where did Woodruff pull that one from?
According to a 2014 Program for Consultation study analyzing public polling occurring between 2008 and 2013, majorities in both “red” (Republican-dominated) and “blue” (Democratic-dominated) congressional districts prefer government to play a greater role in health care.
When presented with the statement, “Healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” 62.3% of respondents in red districts agreed, compared to 62.9% of respondents in blue districts.
When presented with the statement, “Government should be responsible for ensuring health care needs of its citizens,” 55.6% of respondents in red districts agreed, compared to 64.1% of respondents in blue districts.
The Program for Consultation study even found 47.8% of respondents from red districts to agree that they, “Favor government paying for all necessary medical care for everyone.” That compared to 54.9% of respondents in blue districts.
Meanwhile, a 2015 Progressive Change Institute poll found over 50% of Americans support a single-payer health care system like that proposed by Sanders, including 80% of Democrats.
Given all this, a Newshour viewer may have reasonably hoped that at the very least Marcus, the segment’s “left” perspective, would have interjected to correct Woodruff with any of the above. But, alas, Woodruff’s complete distortion of reality, whether a result of a confounding ignorance or ideological blindness, passed without comment.
It seems that not even a “trusted news program” on an ostensibly public channel is capable of conceding the progressive views of the American public.
While a sharp drop in commodity prices is hitting resource-based economies hard, analysts suggest China has arguably become the biggest beneficiary.
Last year, China became the world’s top buyer of crude oil and nearly every other commodity. According to calculations by Kenneth Courtis, former Asia vice chairman at Goldman Sachs Group, the world’s second biggest economy saves $320 billion on cheaper oil, and another $140 billion in metals, coal and agricultural produce.
This has allowed China to cut or keep steady prices of everything from utility bills and petrol prices to the cost of raw materials at plants, Bloomberg reports.
Keeping the money within the economy has also given Beijing a chance to continue the transformation from an industrial to a consumer-driven economy.
“It’s shown up in low consumer-price inflation and more stuff that households have been able to buy,” Louis Kuijs, the head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics in Hong Kong and a former World Bank economist told Bloomberg. “Manufacturing companies would have had even worse profit developments if it had not been for those low commodity prices,” he added.
Besides importing a record volume of oil in 2015, China also had record imports of iron ore, soybeans and copper concentrate. Paying less for the imports, Beijing saw a $594.5 billion trade surplus surge last year, which has softened the consequences of capital outflows.
“China is the great winner from the crash of commodity prices,” said Courtis, the author of the calculations. “A significant portion of that windfall gain is being transferred to the domestic population,” he added.
Iraqi citizens are now being asked for fees at healthcare facilities around the country, a source at the Ministry of Health has informed Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
The oil-rich country has offered a free healthcare system since 1970.
The source said the ministry sent letters and a 10-page report to hospitals and clinic asking them to collect fees from patients to cover the cost of treatment after the deficit caused by the sharp decline in oil prices.
Many have warned that this could lead to a dangerous situation in public health due to the severe poverty in the country.
The ministry is looking into pricing medicines and services across the country.
Iraqis expressed their anger with the decision amid the difficult economic situation which they are facing.
Patient Raghib Hassan said: “During my visit to a government hospital in Baghdad, I was surprised that I was asked to pay for the medical examination, x-ray, medical tests and treatment.”
“This means that one visit to a government hospital needs between 30,000 to 50,000 [Iraqi] dinars ($27-$45).”