Poland and the Netherlands are joining forces to counter so-called “Russian propaganda” with a new Russian-language “content factory,” after US Senator John McCain insisted that propaganda is key to “winning the Cold War” without a single shot.
The Dutch-Polish news agency will offer TV, radio, and online content in the Russian-language across the countries of Russia and eastern Europe. It is planned that the agency will start working next year, with the Netherlands and Poland hoping that other EU States will join them.
The project will “give the tools and the capacities for Russian language [media] and Russian social media to work on the basis of objective information … with the exchange of different viewpoints”, said Bert Koenders, the Dutch foreign minister. Koenders added that that there was “broad support” for the endeavor from EU foreign ministers.
The new news agency will be “something which doesn’t use the language of propaganda or aggression, but which has real, reliable information,” said Polish Foreign Minister, Grzegorz Schetyna. He added that a donor conference for the initiative will kick off in Warsaw in September with the Hague hopefully hosting another fundraising later this year.
The idea to create a Russian-language news agency stems from a Dutch-funded study on counter-propaganda by the European Endowment for Democracy (EED). The EED, a “brainchild of the Polish government,” as the Carnegie institute calls it, was established in October 2012 to support pro-democracy activists and organizations in Eastern Europe. In December 2014, EDD decided to expand their reach into Russia.
In May the organization recommended creating a “news hub” to exchange news material among leading Russian language media and launch a “content factory,” as well as a research center to study audience behavior.
A source within the project at EED told the EU observer that the new agency will be a “content factory” working as “a kind of European BBC”. The publication also reports that foreign service agencies from other EU states are also “taking action” since March to “challenge Russia’s … disinformation campaigns.”
So far five experts, from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, and the UK, have been employed to lead a new communications cell called East StratCom Team.
In an interview with Carnegie Europe, Jerzy Pomianowski, the EDDs executive director said that the organization is working with a group of 90 experts and media representatives to analyze their target audience and “what kind of content is needed.”
“With the support of a grant from the Dutch government, we have launched a feasibility study on Russian-language media initiatives. This is about providing Russian-language alternatives to Russian state broadcasting for societies in the Eastern Partnership countries and beyond,” Pomianowski said in March.
Meanwhile at stateside, US Senator John McCain has once again called on Washington and the US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to spread its outreach to counter Russian messaging. In June, McCain co-sponsored a bill requesting $728.2 million for the BBG to carry out international communications campaigns. That is in an addition to BBG’s $15.4 million request in April to expand its Russian-language programming and social media content projects.
“I love our folks in Prague and Radio Free Europe and all that, but we have got to catch up. We’ve got to catch up and understand that this is also a message of loyalties and truth. And we’re going to need to do a lot more,” McCain said in a speech to the Hudson Institute.
The Senator stressed that Russia’s news outreach could be countered by propaganda means alone, something that was done during the Cold War.
“One of the key elements of winning the Cold War without firing a shot… is the propaganda – the message, the social networking,” he said. “My friends, there is an inundation today in the Baltic, in Moldova, in Romania, and Poland even of Russian constant, incessant sophisticated messages that we have to counter.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry earlier criticized EU drafted information warfare initiatives to target so-called Russian propaganda. According to the ministry such activity is “clearly aimed at pushing out Russia’s presence in the international media field.”
Last month it was reported that EU has drafted a plan to counter what it sees as “Russian disinformation activities” calling for the promotion of EU policies in the post-Soviet space and the implementation of measures against Russian media, including RT.
EU drafts plan to counter Russian media ‘disinformation’, targeting RT
For propaganda & ‘democracy promotion’: State Dept seeks budget to counter RT
The West violates international law by plunging the world into chaos, Russia’s onetime envoy to Rome wrote in an article carried by an Italian magazine.
“Those who accuse Russia of annexing Crimea are destroying the rules of peaceful coexistence countries stuck to even during the Cold War era,” Felix Stanevsky wrote in his think piece, titled “Who breaks international law? Russia and wars of the West”, that appeared in the July 2, 2015 issue of Limes magazine.
Stanevsky mentioned the wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq and the breakup of Libya as examples of Washington’s aggressive policy.
By meddling in the internal affairs of Syria, European and North American countries also resorted to the use of force instead of trying to seek diplomatic solutions to regional problems as called for by international law, thus making war part of everyday Western reality, Stanevsky noted.
The United States has used military force ten times over the past 25 years, and it does not look like this practice is going to end anytime soon, the ex-envoy wrote, adding that examples of Western noncompliance with internationally-recognized norms of peaceful coexistence are too many to ignore.
“Given all these breaches of international law that have been going on for so long, who can really believe all these Western accusations against Russia regarding Crimea and Donbass?”
Stanevsky continued by saying that it is the West which is “waging war after war, killing and destroying, plunging whole regions into chaos and destroying international law.”
Europeans are losing faith in their governments’ declared adherence to peace, demonization of Vladimir Putin and accusations being brought against Russia, Felix Stanevsky wrote in conclusion.
The governmental commission for legislation has approved a bill that if passed would allow Russia to impound property of foreign states, so long as Russian courts rule these countries are infringing the sovereignty of Russian jurisdiction.
According to business daily Kommersant, the government will shortly look into the draft and then it will be submitted to the parliament.
The current draft, developed by the Justice Ministry, would give Russian courts more powers to impound the property of foreign states. Currently such steps are only allowed on condition the government of the country in question agrees. The new rules would cancel this stipulation and introduce another – impounding would only be possible as a reciprocal measure after a court decides that a nation has damaged the economic or other interests of the Russian Federation.
The Justice Ministry said in comments that the main idea behind the bill was to ensure a “jurisdiction balance” between Russia and foreign states. “The number of lawsuits against the Russian Federation is constantly growing and this happens without asking for our agreement for participation in these processes,” ministry sources told Kommersant. Therefore, recognizing the ruling of foreign courts is equal to conceding national sovereignty, they added.
In early July, mass media reported that several European countries, such as Belgium and France had frozen Russian state companies’ assets and curtailed their agencies in these countries. The move was in connection with the June 2014 ruling by the International Court in The Hague that ordered Russia to pay compensation of $39.9 billion, $1.85 billion and $8.2 billion to three companies connected with Yukos. The oil giant was dissolved in 2007 after its top managers and key owners were jailed for tax evasion.
The Russian Foreign Ministry described these steps as blatant violation of international law and promised to contest these decisions. President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with the heads of international news agencies that Russia would challenge the decision to seize its assets. The president added that the country didn’t recognize the ruling of the Hague court, as it doesn’t participate in the European Energy Charter.
Earlier this month, the Russian Constitutional Court decided that no international treaty or convention has precedence over national sovereignty, and decisions by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) should be upheld only when they don’t contradict basic Russian law. The judge who announced the ruling explained that Russia can now refuse to fulfill the obligations imposed by the ECHR rulings, when such a refusal is the only way to prevent the violation of the basic law.
The same judge also told reporters there was a possibility the Constitutional Court would investigate the Yukos case, but only if it is taken to court by the plaintiffs. Besides, the Justice Ministry issued a statement saying all its actions connected with the ECHR’s ruling on the ‘Yukos vs. Russia’ case would be based on the ruling establishing the priority of the Russian Constitution.
These comments apparently concerned the ECHR’s ruling in July 2014 that ordered Russia to pay $2.5 billion in compensation and legal expenses to former Yukos shareholders.
Constitutional Court rules Russian law above European HR Court decisions
Russia will ‘protect its interests’ in European assets freeze – Putin
On Tuesday, July 14, German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared on a television program called “Good Life in Germany” in which she spoke to local teenagers. Among the audience was 13-year old Reem, a Palestinian refugee who fled their camp in Lebanon four years ago.
In a shaky voice of fluent German, young Reem said, “I have goals like everyone else…I want to go to university.” But, she explained, she and her family are facing deportation. “It’s very unpleasant to see how others can enjoy life, and I can’t myself,” she said, “I want to study like them.”
Chancellor Merkel responded with the standard western fear of immigrants. She said if Germany allows her to stay, there would be thousands of Palestinian refugees, then thousands from “Africa” [that singular large country] who will flood into Germany. “We can’t cope with that,” she said. Young Reem crumbled into sobs and the footage of her interaction with Chancellor Merkel went viral.
Headlines and political analyses across Europe and the US spoke of Merkel’s dry response to a brave young girl, desperate for an education, for a stable life, for something other than lingering fear and uncertainty to frame her life. I read at least 15 opinion pieces on the subject and most of them couched this incident in the much discussed “immigration crisis” across Western Europe. Leftist pundits decried the chancellor as heartless, insisting on Europe’s humanitarian responsibility toward the wretched of the earth. Right leaning pundits reflected Merkel’s sentiments that Europe has enough to worry about and should not be expected to shoulder the world’s problems. Others were simply pragmatic, echoing the words of Eva Lohse, president of the German association of Cities, who cautioned, “we’re reaching the limits of our capacity.”
All these analyses missed the most important point.
Not one of them touched on the fact that Reem is a refugee directly and indirectly because of German actions. Reem, and “thousands upon thousands of Palestinian refugees,” as Merkel put it, are stateless precisely because Germany, along with other western nations, continue to support zionist colonialism that expelled, and continues to expel, native Palestinians from their ancestral homeland.
Reem would not need German “charity” were Germany to insist that the massive military and financial aid it gives to Israel were contingent upon Israel’s adherence to basic tenets of morality and international law that explicitly provide for Reem’s right to live in her native homeland. Reem might not be lost in the world were Germany to make the many lucrative European economic and trade incentives with Israel subject to the dismantling of zionist Apartheid that deems Reem a lesser human, unworthy of her own heritage, home and history.
More than the enormous material support is the favor that Germany provides for Israel to continue its entrenchment of the structural and institutional racism that offers state privilege and entitlement to citizens in accordance with their religion. It because of the political cover that Germany offers Israel to destroy Palestinian life, society and culture with impunity that Reem remains a refugee. Last summer, for example, after Israel slaughtered Palestinians in Gaza from land, air, and sea, the UN Human Rights Council urged the UN to “urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations [of international law] in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014.” Despite the horrors that Palestinians endured in the course of 51 days, Germany could not muster the most minimal affirmation of Palestinian humanity to vote in favor of such an inquiry.
Watching the footage, those of us with a sense of history seethe at such a spectacle of western paternalism. Merkel’s response to Reem was a perfect display of the breathtaking willful denial of western governments, which are, indeed, creators of refugees. The truth is that our part of the world lay in ruin, fear, and devastation largely because of imperialist western “operations” in pursuit of a hegemony that holds our lives in contempt, utter disregard and disrespect. From Iraq to Palestine to Libya, Germany has played a terrible and pivotal role in the evisceration of us. Together with her western allies, they have made beggars of our mothers, doctors and teachers, and produced generations of traumatized, illiterates into what were once high functioning populations. They destroyed our societies down to their foundations, vanquishing the social mechanisms that marginalize extreme elements, such that into the chaos and gaping misery of our lives now runs amuck a powerful organization of ghoulish fanatics.
So, to the leftist, the right wing, and the pragmatic pundits, I say spare us, please, the self-serving blather about whether you should or should not “help” others. It would be enough to cease the harm caused and perpetuated by the west. At a minimum, try to inject a kernel of honest self-reproach into your discourse on immigration. Examine your role in creating the crises around the world that bring desperate human beings to your shores. Ask why is Reem a refugee, perhaps third or fourth generation, and what is Germany’s role in the boundless tragedy that continues to befall Palestine.
Susan Abulhawa is a bestselling novelist and essayist. Her new novel, The Blue Between Sky and Water, was released this year and simultaneously published in multiple languages, including German.
The nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran will reset key economic and geopolitical relationships but perhaps not in the way many Western pundits expect. Iran, unshackled from international sanctions, is sure to reach out to U.S. and European companies for goods and technology but may favor Russia most of all because of a budding relationship built on mutual trust and mutual interests.
Iran’s difficult history with the United States – dating back to the CIA coup overthrowing Iran’s elected leader in 1953 through the tensions with Iran’s Islamic Republic and U.S.-instigated economic sanctions – makes Iranian leaders leery of again becoming dependent on Western banks and being vulnerable to U.S. geopolitical designs.
Iran has had troubled relations with Russia historically, too, but has come to see Russia under President Vladimir Putin as something of a regional partner, even if not exactly an ally. Russia pressed for a positive outcome in the nuclear negotiations and supports Iran’s regional resistance to Sunni terror groups, such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, especially in Syria. Russia also sees Sunni extremism as a serious threat to its own security.
That collaboration – when combined with worries about the possible renewal of Western sanctions sometime in the future – suggests that Iran will seek to consolidate its marriage of interests nurtured recently with Russia. Both countries have experienced the economic pain that comes from charting independent policies that conflict with U.S. and European demands.
So, with the United Nations Security Council soon expected to lift many international sanctions on Iran, Russian companies will work to not only maintain but to deepen their ties with Iran’s economy. Iran also might look to other BRICS countries, such as China, Brazil and South Africa, as natural allies in standing up against future U.S. pressure and displeasure.
Iran’s suspicions toward the United States and Europe will surely be slow to recede even as Western corporations make an aggressive bid to access Iran’s lucrative markets, from the energy industry to manufacturing to finances. Some $100 billion in investment is needed for Iran’s energy sector alone with other promising opportunities in consumer goods, banks, telecommunication, vehicle manufacturers and more.
The West possesses technology that Iran will need to rebuild its shattered economy, but there is a trust deficit. Iran is sure to remember the past when the West has frozen Iran’s assets, blocked access to spare parts, and confiscated Iranian property through one-sided legal proceedings, some of which even European courts have overturned.
Though Europe might be on somewhat friendlier terms with Iran than the United States, Europe’s close adherence to U.S. foreign policy means Europe can’t offer a long-term strategic relationship to Iran. So, the Islamic Republic likely will buy what it needs in business-to-business transactions with the West but will not forget the years of hostility.
It was Russia and China that worked to blunt Western hawkish demands, which included open threats to bomb Iran and force “regime change.” Russia and China also found ways to ease the sanctions, especially in regards to the arms embargo, while helping Iran fashion an agreement not to develop nuclear weapons.
Days before the final deal was signed, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met Putin in the sidelines of a BRICS meeting and praised Russia for its role in the negotiations. “I consider it my duty to thank Russia for the efforts it has made in resolving and negotiating the Iranian nuclear program, and for the personal efforts made by Mr. [Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov.”
Downsides to a Relationship
But there are economic downsides to this Russian-Iranian diplomatic collaboration. Some Russians note that the reintroduction of Iranian oil onto world markets will depress oil prices and thus hurt a key sector of Russia’s economy, which is already suffering amid a glut of Saudi oil. But that factor was already a given. Putin brushed it aside in seeking the nuclear deal and in recognizing how a resurgent Iran could fit within Russia’s broader strategic calculations.
Putin began turning to Asia after Moscow’s overtures to the West, in his view, were betrayed in Libya, Syria and especially Ukraine. Putin had sought to build a positive relationship with President Barack Obama by working closely on mutual concerns such as Islamic terrorism and Mideast unrest. However, that collaboration was shattered in February 2014 when the United States backed a “regime change” in Russia’s neighbor Ukraine and applied the lash of Western sanctions to Russia when it would not accept the new anti-Russian regime.
Faced with this U.S. and Western hostility, Putin rebalanced Russia’s strategic relationships toward the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Iran fits neatly into that equation as Putin’s best option to leverage Russia’s interest in the vital Middle East, where it has been losing influence since the end of the Cold War.
In line with Putin’s strategy, Iran and Russia have worked hard to overcome lingering suspicions based on centuries of border tensions, recognizing that they now have more interests pushing them together than pulling them apart.
While Russia generally can’t compete with Western technology, it has advantages in some other commercial and industrial sectors, including nuclear energy, foodstuffs and arms. Last year, the two countries agreed to a package worth billions of dollars in hard cash for Russia involving building up to eight nuclear reactors within five years for power generation purposes. The nuclear deal signed this month only paves the way for those deals to be developed further.
On the agricultural side, Iran is the third biggest buyer of Russian wheat and has sold Russia fruits and vegetables which helped Russia replace European imports that the Kremlin blocked in retaliation for Europe’s economic sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.
Because of the international sanctions against Iran, bilateral trade between Russia and Iran remains modest, only $1.5 billion, a fraction of Russian trade with Israel for example. But Russia and Iran seek a ten-fold increase in bilateral trade this decade and have talked of up to $70 billion in potential investments. Even half of that would be transforming for both countries.
There is also the all-important arms business. Iran needs to update its military, and Russia and China are set to sell more than any other countries. In April, Putin agreed to restart talks to deliver the S-300 anti-aircraft defense system as a prelude no doubt to everything else Iran needs, especially to update its air force which hasn’t been modernized since the revolution in 1979. Some estimates suggest a $15 billion market up for grabs.
And there is another Iranian top priority: security. Iran and Russia signed an intelligence-sharing agreement and their cooperation has intensified, especially in regards to Syria where the two can each fill a need, with Russia providing the military hardware and Iran having military advisers and other assets on the ground.
The nuclear deal also could pave the way for the West to join them in arranging serious negotiations between Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and his more moderate opponents and possibly end or curtail Syria’s bloody civil war. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Russia and Iran together seeking more informal collaboration with the U.S. and Europe in Syria and Iraq against the Sunni radicals of the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
Iran’s influence among fellow Shiites and Shiite offshoots in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen could offer Russia more leverage in the Middle East, even if Moscow does not want to pick a fight with Arab countries outside Syria.
Putin also is gingerly approaching stresses in the bilateral relationship with Israel, with which Russia has important business, financial and cultural ties. Many Russian Jews have relocated to Israel, which views Iran as its greatest regional enemy.
Another ‘I’ in BRICS
But the prospect of Iran, in effect, becoming a second “I” in the BRICS acronym is not what many Western economic observers expected. They were looking at the potential boon for European and U.S. businesses and the prospect that Europe, in particular, could weaken Russian-Iranian ties by trading with Iran and by playing off Iran and Russia over energy.
And surely there will be some of both. European companies expect to be in the forefront of a business gold rush to Tehran – and Europe will buy Iran’s oil that, pre-sanctions, filled Europe’s energy needs by some 600,000 barrels a day, mostly to Italy, Greece and Spain.
Iran currently produces less than 3 million barrels of oil per day but could increase that to at least 4 million bpd. And Iran’s gas reserves, the second biggest in the world, could eventually make their way to Europe, reducing the Continent’s dependence on Russian natural gas. While there are many obstacles to an Iran-to-Europe pipeline, there are cheaper alternatives, like shipping liquefied natural gas.
But even if that were to happen, Russia is already looking toward Asia, not Europe, to increase energy exports. So, a gradual reorganization of the market – with Iran’s energy supplies coming back online – will likely have little long-term impact on Russia’s economy.
Whatever the case, Iran’s post-sanctions reality will develop gradually, not just because of the phasing-in of the nuclear deal itself, but because Iran needs to manage popular expectations to avoid potential social disruptions. However, regarding which countries can most gain from the opening of Iran, Russia has the early advantage, especially diplomatically, followed by China.
Europe and the U.S. have quality products to sell but also fences to mend and suspicions to dispel. And while it’s true there is mistrust to overcome between Moscow and Tehran, their current objectives are more in sync. They will not become allies overnight, but the relation will mature as long as both keep their ends of the deals, which in the past has proved difficult.
But there is a strong incentive for Iran and Russia to make their new relationship work. For Russia, it’s about strategic access to the Mediterranean (via Syria) and the ability to retain and even expand its influence in the vital Middle East (by expanding ties to Iran and its regional allies). For Iran, it’s about strengthening its regional position vis a vis its regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The West, too, will no doubt benefit from Iran’s economic renaissance. Western business interests, including Americans, lobbied hard in favor of lifting the sanctions. Corporate delegations from the U.S., Canada, France, Germany and other Western nations have already flocked to Iran to prepare for reentering Iran’s markets as soon as sanctions are lifted.
There will be room for all to benefit, even Arab countries like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman. But Russia is the best positioned to gain from Iran’s comeback.
That Syriza has made mistakes isn’t in dispute: they themselves have admitted to two main ones.
1) They failed to recognize, despite early warnings from party members such as Costas Lapavistas, that the EU was negotiating in bad faith. The EU’s intention was never to reach an agreement but to destroy Syriza and with it the hope that the victims of the endless bleeding of austerity had any democratic recourse. Furthermore, the negotiations were themselves a tactic in that, as former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis now admits, they prevented him from focussing on the one thing which Syriza could have used in its negotiations: a viable plan to exit the Eurozone in a way which minimized disruption to the economy and maximize the chances that it would return to health in the shortest possible time.
2) We now know from Varoufakis that Syriza had “a small group . . . within the ministry, of about five people” that were planning in secret for a Grexit. This was, as he concedes, not even close to what was required to effect a viable transition to a new currency. Of course, no serious person should have any illusions that a Grexit would be “easy”, even with a massive investment in staff and infrastructure, any more than recovering from a major earthquake, hurricane or bombing of a nation’s major cities by a foreign power. Rather, just as a government is expected to prepare for disasters whether these are acts of god or attacks from hostile foreign powers, Syriza was derelict in failing to plan for what Varoufakis now accepts was “a coup” albeit executed not by “tanks” but by “banks”.
1) The Bankruptcy of “Speaking Truth to Power” Liberalism
Despite Syriza’s self-definition as “the party of the radical left”, much of its leadership and many of its advisers would reject the designation, more accurately being categorized within our political lexicon as liberals. Among these is Varoufakis’s close friend and UT Austin colleague Jamie Galbraith who described himself as “a reasonable and hopeful observer” of Syriza’s initial negotiations with the E.U. Rather than dismiss German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a right wing ideologue Galbraith praised her for “having made some of the mildest comments of any German politician,” and for having “chosen with care” her words on the subject of debt relief which, according to him, she had not rejected.
Galbraith’s report of the negotiations gave further grounds for hope that “the German government, having taken a very tough line through the process, took a step back from that tough line in order to secure a basic framework agreement for going forward.”
As we now know, the softening on the German’s hard line was a liberal chimera. Galbraith now recognizes that “the negotiations were a bit of a farce all along” and has admitted that he should have recognized that Chancellor Merkel was always “completely unreceptive.”
Varoufakis, while famously defining his political orientation as “Marxist” (albeit “erratic”) evidently shared Galbraith’s liberal confidence in the good will of the Eurocrat negotiators. This is apparent in his surprise when his attempts to reason with them were unsatisfactory-to put it mildly. According to his recent interview in the New Statesmen,
“It’s not that (they) didn’t go down well – it’s that there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. … You put forward an argument that you’ve really worked on – to make sure it’s logically coherent – and you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken. What you say is independent of what they say. You might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem – you’d have got the same reply. And that’s startling, for somebody who’s used to academic debate. … The other side always engages. Well there was no engagement at all. It was not even annoyance, it was as if one had not spoken.”
What is on display is the disenchantment of liberals who operated on a presumption of good intentions and underlying rationality of elite technocrats. Radicals such as Lapavistas do not. For them, providing “arguments” to the institutional representatives of capital makes no more sense than addressing a hyena with its fangs clamped on one’s jugular. The hyena is acting not according to reason but according to its fundamental nature and so are the capitalist hyenas who were Syriza’s negotiating partners.
It was foolish to negotiate with any other expectation, as both Varoufakis and Galbraith now have effectively conceded.
2) Goldman Sachs DOES care (if you raise chickens)
A second explanation for one of Syriza’s crucial mistakes involves assumptions made by segments of their left, as opposed to (neo-) liberal wing, which includes Varoufakis and others who he refers to as “committed Europeanists.” By that he means that they are committed to the longstanding principle of left internationalism and cosmopolitanism. They also tend to view favorably the comparative advantage accruing to globalized trading networks which provide the economies of scale making possible large efficiencies in production of basic goods and also in making available raw materials at low cost. While their position is reasonable, it also has a negative side in that internationalists tend to denigrate the potential of local, small scale experiments in alternative economic systems of the sort which have been championed by Richard Wolff and Gar Alperowitz among others under the heading of worker self directed enterprises and workplace democracy.
Why this matters is that it is apparent that some form of what Wolff and Alperowitz are proposing will be crucial in the event of a Grexit. Prior to a national currency being re-established, local networks of production and exchange of the sort which globalization has long since eradicated will need to be revived and again made viable. That includes, incidentally, various forms of local food production of the sort denigrated by the verticalist left under the widely circulated meme “Goldman Sachs doesn’t care if you raise chickens.”
In fact, whether Greece will collapse into chaos and starvation will have to do with whether they are able to reduce their reliance on imported goods ramping up local production in all spheres including most crucially in food production-not as a neo-Calvinist moral imperative but to maintain a minimal caloric intake. It is likely that many small scale initiatives will need to be launched and developed to accomplish that, some along the lines the WW II Victory Gardens whose production equalled that of all commercial sources of vegetables during the war years. Of course, Goldman Sachs would like nothing better than for Greek efforts at self-reliance to fail which is to say they hope the Greeks don’t raise chickens-and starve for not having done so: the exact opposite of facile, leftish conventional wisdom.
Conclusion: No War but the Class War
While small, the Victory Gardens were not an insignificant contribution to a nation in a state of war. And, to reiterate the point, the comparison of a state of war to what will be required under a Grexit is entirely appropriate.
For while some of us want to avert our eyes, the left always recognized that the war by the rich against the poor is a war just as much as any other. An economic war does not involve missiles, antipersonnel weapons and M-16s. Its weapons are state enforced privatization schemes, debt swaps and interest rate manipulation. Rather than puncture wounds, severed limbs and the casualties take the form of thousands of unnecessary deaths due to inadequately staffed and supplied hospitals, bacterial infections due to inadequately maintained sewage treatment facilities and collapsing buildings, food poisoning epidemics due to the mass layoffs of inspectors in regulatory agencies. An almost endless list can be compiled itemizing the social collapse resulting from economic warfare carried about by fountain pens rather than guns. Varoufakis has now woken up to the reality that his country has been attacked by an axis of foreign powers, that they are bent on its destruction and have one goal in mind: claiming the spoils of victory, disbursing to their owners in the investor class. It is time the rest of the left joined him there and here-on our feet and ready to fight them, in whatever way we can.
Studies show that people are gullible enough to believe anything if it appears on TV and sounds authoritative. If this is really true, upper-echelon pharmaceutical companies may be using the media to bend the public’s perception.
Giant corporations—and other entities that act as though they own the entire galaxy—have a tendency toward the chameleonic behavior of astroturfing because it works so well.
Astroturfing involves an individual or organization masquerading as a grassroots movement while hiding the true wizardly sponsor and its intentions behind the curtain. It can get even more complicated with story layers—carefully constructed narratives—that include made-up groups “false flagging” themselves and co-opting a movement mimicking or debunking myths (that weren’t even myths in the first place) in order to sway public opinion.
Astroturfing can involve a deceptive or purposely controversial method of selling products all the way up to overthrowing governments with color revolutions. All of those goals can involve the use of online comments, blogs, studies, and social media to give the appearance of an organic effort with widespread support or to create confusion that lulls the audience into belief.
How far does it really go with Big Pharma?
Investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson explains how to keep from getting duped by the newest in expertly deceptive propaganda techniques. She calls the prevalence of astroturfing and media manipulation a “Truman Show–esque alternate reality all around you.” With a probing, astute mind like hers, is it any wonder she was essentially shut down by CBS? Check out her new book: Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington.
The TEDx Talk description explains that
“In this eye-opening talk, veteran investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson shows how astroturf, or fake grassroots movements funded by political, corporate, or other special interests effectively manipulate and distort media messages.”
Remember to look for these four astroturfing techniques as you encounter health-related information online:
- Inflammatory and charged language – i.e., “quacks,” “kooks,” “pseudo,” or “conspiracy theorist”
- Made up myths that are “debunked,” which can wind up on Snopes (I call them Inception stories)
- Attacking the character of people or organizations instead of addressing the facts
- Those that reserve all of their public skepticism and criticism for those exposing the wrong-doers instead of directing that skepticism to the wrongdoers themselves. A prime example Attkisson mentions is those “skeptics” who, instead of questioning authority, question those that question the authority.
After watching this, you will never again read Wikipedia, Snopes, the news, blogs, Facebook comments, or Google results without a major guard. With just ten minutes and the tips above, you, too will be better at researching and spotting hidden propaganda and bots and not falling for the appearance of skeptics—which could actually be pharma-funded attackers on legitimate exposé.
Paris – On July 12, Greece surrendered abjectly and totally. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had promised to combat the austerity measures that are driving the Greek people to ruin, poverty and suicide, betrayed all his promises, denied the will of the people expressed in the July 5 referendum, and led the Greek parliament to accept an agreement with the nation’s creditors even worse than all those that had already caused the economy to shrink and which further abandoned the last scraps of national sovereignty.
Yes, Greece surrendered unconditionally, as has been thoroughly and eloquently expressed here on CounterPunch and elsewhere. But one crucial question appears not to have been adequately answered. To whom, exactly, did Greece surrender?
A common answer to that question is: Germany. The poor Greeks surrendered to the arrogant Germans. This theme has served to revive anti-German feelings left over from World War II. Frau Merkel is portrayed as the heartless villain. One thing is sure: the animosity between Greece and Germany aroused by this debt catastrophe is proof that the “European dream” of transforming the historic nations of Western Europe into one single brotherly federation, on the model of the United States of America, is a total flop. The sense of belonging to a single nation, with all for one and one for all, simply does not exist between peoples whose languages, traditions and customs are as diverse as those between Finns and Greeks. Adopting a common currency, far from bringing them together, has driven them farther apart.
But was this disaster actually dictated by the wicked Germans?
In reality, very many Germans, from the right-wing Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaüble all the way to the former leader of the left party “Die Linke” Oskar Lafontaine would have preferred a very different solution: Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. Schaüble was thinking of German finances, while Lafontaine was thinking of what would be best for the people of Greece – and of Europe as a whole.
Between those two extremes, a German compromise could have averted the abject surrender of July 12, by organizing Greece’s return to its national currency, the drachma.
Indeed, by the time of the Greek referendum, a majority of European Union creditor governments would have preferred to see Greece leave the Eurozone.
The one government that crowed with victory over the Greek surrender was the French government of François Hollande. In last minute negotiations, France took the position that Greece absolutely must be kept in the Eurozone, in order to “save Europe”. French commentators are jubilant that Hollande “stood up to Merkel” and saved both the sacrosanct “Franco-German couple” and the European Union itself by insisting that Greece stick to the hard currency that is killing it.
So can we conclude that Greece surrendered to France?
Let’s not be ridiculous. The French debt rivals that of Greece, with the difference, of course, that France has a real economy. France owns the largest share of Greek debt after Germany. But nevertheless, France is also eventually threatened by the Eurozone rules that are imposing debt servitude on southern European member states. France is in no position to dictate economic policy to Germany.
And that observation brings us around to the factor that has been overlooked in the case of Greece: the relationship of forces within the “trans-Atlantic community” and its military branch, NATO.
The United States has been relatively discrete during this crisis, but Washington’s will is known. Greece must stay tightly within the European Union, for geopolitical reasons. Just look where Greece is, and what it is: an Orthodox Christian country with traditional good relations with Russia, located on the Mediterranean not so far from “Putin’s Russia”. Greece must not be allowed to drift away. Period.
Another question that has been totally overlooked: is it possible for a NATO member country to shift policy in a way contrary to U.S. interests? Is it free to move toward truly friendly relations with Russia? Greece has seen a military putsch in the not so distant past. The command and control of NATO member countries is closely monitored by the United States military.
Since former President Nicolas Sarkozy reversed General de Gaulle’s strategic move to ensure national independence and returned France to the NATO command, France has indeed aligned itself with Washington to an unprecedented extent. With his brief show of “standing up to Madame Merkel”, François Hollande was in fact carrying out the policy of Victoria Nuland.
The European Union (including Germany) will continue to wrestle with its “Greek problem”, while Greece will continue to be strangled by the European Union.
The European surrender to the United States occurred about seventy years ago. It was welcomed as a liberation, of course, but it has turned into lasting domination. It was simply reconfirmed by the July 12, 2015, Greek surrender. And that surrender has been enforced by an increasingly hegemonic ideology of anti-nationalism, particularly strong in the left, that considers “nationalism” to be the source of all evil, and the European Union the source of all good, since it destroys the sovereignty of nations. This ideology is so dominant on the left that very few leftists dare challenge it – and Syriza was leftist in exactly that way, believing in the virtue of “belonging to the European Union”, whatever the pain and suffering it entails. Thus Syriza did not even prepare for leaving the Eurozone, much less for leaving the European Union.
As a result, only “right-wing” parties dare defend national sovereignty. Or rather, anyone who defends national sovereignty will be labeled “right-wing”. It is too easily forgotten that without national sovereignty, there can be no democracy, no people’s choice. As the Greek disaster obliges more and more Europeans to have serious doubts about EU policy, the mounting desire to reassert national sovereignty faces the obstacle of left-right stereotypes. Much of the European left is finding itself increasingly caught in the contradiction between its anti-nationalist “European dream” and the destruction of democracy by the EU’s financial bureaucracy. The Greek drama is the opening act of a long and confused European conflict.
Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book, Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton, will be published by CounterPunch in September 2015. She can be reached at email@example.com
Not content with permanently extending and rupturing negotiations over the two-state compromise, Israel has announced a new twist to the internationally accepted framework. According to Haaretz, a senior Israeli official declared that it would only engage in talks with the EU as long as settlement construction would remain off the agenda. The talks, according to the official, would centre upon “improving the economic situation for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
The EU initiative, which consisted of a request to initiate talks regarding the West Bank and the defunct two-state paradigm, was proposed to Israel in November 2014. Electoral preparations and the formation of the new government hindered a prompt response from Israel, according to the official.
Another condition imposed by Israel is the avoidance of discussing a permanent agreement with the Palestinians. The result would be a diluted semblance of negotiations – one that would limit political commitment while imposing even more conditions upon Palestinians, including permanent acquiescence and dependence.
While seemingly veering away from the usual negotiations, the latest Israeli response to the EU proposal has exacerbated the “waiting” game inflicted upon Palestinians. Discussing the economic situation in the West Bank while avoiding the topic of settlement expansion will ultimately result in additional economic benefits for Israel, as it expropriates more land and utilises Palestinian territory for its own gain – a continuation of the early colonisation policies that paved the way for the inception of the fabricated state.
EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg Andersen had declared the EU’s intention to preserve the two-state hypothesis, stating that “a series of red lines” would be drawn up, leading to sanctions if Israel crossed them. Meanwhile in recent weeks, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas in a bid to seek reassurances of continued PA subjugation with regard to future negotiations. For every half-hearted initiative conjured up by the EU, individual initiatives seeking to protect Israel from any consequences are consistently applied, in order to reassure Israel of the international community’s perpetual support.
Israel has also been conducting studies with regard to a complete boycott of Israel within the EU – such a move would, according to the Israeli Finance Ministry, cost the settler-colonial state $23.3 billion in losses. The commissioned study departed from a worst case scenario that would shift Israel’s status from Western ally to a state targeted both politically and through NGOs.
Whether discussions incorporate or omit the two-state compromise, the outcome will be ingrained within complicity and impunity. Punitive measures against Israel have been discussed, drawn up as a plan and heralded in the media, yet implementation is always halted by further discussions and concessions. The latest dissociation by Israel is effectively a plan to increase its settlement expansion plans while feigning cooperation with the PA to improve the economic situation. If the EU agrees to this proposal it will constitute further proof of its complicity with Israel’s colonial enterprise.
An asylum request from a group of ethnic Poles living in Ukraine’s war-ravaged Donbass has been turned down by Warsaw, a Ukrainian newspaper wrote on Wednesday.
Fifty ethnic Poles from the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol received a flat “no” from the Polish government, the Kiev-based Evropeiska Pravda newspaper wrote, quoting Freedom and Democracy Foundation chairman Michal Dworczik.
The Polish Foreign Ministry said the January evacuation of nearly 200 ethnic Poles from war zone in Donbass was a one-off measure and that there was no fighting going on in Mariupol.
“Mariupol is located in direct vicinity of the frontlines and everything will depend on what happens next… If the hostilities intensify and spread to new areas groups of local ethnic Poles may try to flee and find refuge in Poland,” Dvorczik said in an interview with Radio Poland.
In January, Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna did not rule out an additional evacuation of ethnic Poles from eastern Ukraine if the worsening situation there put their lives in danger.
Why did Kyiv invade the Donbass region? To that question you might respond quizzically: who did WHAT? Everyone knows it was Russia that invaded Ukraine, right?
Not only that, but Russia isn’t going to stop in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. We all know of Putin’s aggressive territorial ambitions. He wants to recreate the Soviet Union, right?
If you have no personal knowledge of these facts, you can take it from President Barack Obama. Recently he issued a warning at the June 7 summit of the G7. He admonished the world to “stay vigilant and stay focused on the importance of upholding the principles of territorial integrity” regarding Ukraine.
Obama explained that Putin is “in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire.”
However, the president failed to disclose how he knows that Putin has territorial conquest on the agenda. Putin denies it. How do we know who’s right?
The rhetoric of Obama about Ukraine reminds me of the commonly-accepted version of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. Reportage then was replete with unsubstantiated allegations, too. Typical headlines exclaimed “Russia Invades Georgia.” Territorial expansion was in the news. President Mikheil Saakashvili was out in front bemoaning the tragedy that was inflicted upon his country.
That’s what set me comparing the ongoing Ukrainian crisis with what happened in Georgia. Despite the assertive headlines, Georgia was another case where reliable facts were hard to find. There were a lot of confident allegations, but few hard facts on the Georgian side of the story.
It came down to a question of who shot first. The Russian counter-version of the story claimed the Georgians started the conflict and that Russia was merely being reactive. The Russian argument was greeted with quite a lot of disbelief.
Later, however, a multinational EU fact-finding mission issued a report that blamed Georgia for the war. A Spiegel Online headline proclaimed, “EU Investigators Debunk Saakashvili’s Lies.” The Russia-Invades-Georgia story was a highly successful fabrication.
Now in Ukraine the question is not who shot first. It’s who invaded who. If we take Obama’s word for it, the headline would be “Russia Invades Eastern Ukraine.”
But I think there’s another side to the story. What is it? It is that maybe Kyiv invaded Donbass, the area in which thousands of Ukrainians have died in horrific battles.
You see, if you think about it, there are two Ukraines. To justify that statement let me paraphrase a Clintonism: it depends on what the meaning of the word Ukraine is. There is a “former Ukraine.” That’s the country that existed before the Maidan uprisings. It was territorially whole, constitutional, and not beset by bloody internal war.
Now there is the new Ukraine, the Ukraine created by the Maidanists. Many observers, like Obama, automatically equate the borders of the new Ukraine with those of the former Ukraine. But that equivalence does not seem to be rooted in reality.
The notion that the new Ukraine is entitled to all the territory of the former Ukraine is quite tenuous. There was no constitutional transfer from the former to the new. Instead, an armed junta took over in Kyiv by force. It chased the democratically-elected president Yanukovych out of the country under threats of death. And it nullified the democratically-instituted constitution.
A so-called interim government was put in place by the junta. It ruled from February 27, 2014 until June 7, 2014 when President Petro Poroshenko assumed office following a democratic election. In the meantime, however, two areas of former Ukraine, Donbass and Crimea, declined to become parts of the new Ukraine. The new Ukraine never had controlled those territories, and the majority of the inhabitants wanted no part of the new Ukraine.
I find it is hard for many people to wrap their minds around the foregoing explanation. The media drumbeat has constantly sounded out the Kyiv-centric version of things. Most casual observers have accepted it as gospel. Passions run high among those immersed in the news reports.
So it might be helpful to strip away the polarized positions that many have taken regarding Ukraine. To sidestep those entrenched views, let’s explore the relevant issues with a hypothetical parallel:
Just say that in Spain there is a revolution whereby people who feel antagonistically toward Catalonians take over by force in Madrid. They throw out the Spanish constitution. There is no legal continuity of government. The junta immediately advances threats that diminish the cultural and linguistic heritage and practices of Catalonians.
In response the Catalonians take charge of their own territory. That region was never under control of the junta. What in the world would broadly legitimize a junta’s claim of a right to control Catalonia?
And what just person would not condemn the junta if it invaded Catalonia, causing thousands of deaths and much economic destruction?
Of course the situation in Ukraine is much more complicated due to the Soviet background, differing World War II related sentiments and legends, and a long-running and well-crafted demonization of Putin in the press. But the principle seems the same to me. The hypothetical Catalonian scenario is the reality of Ukraine today. All of it. Donbass is the real Catalonia.
What this adds up to is that Kyiv indeed invaded Donbass.
All the flap about Russia sending troops and weapons into Eastern Ukraine has things backwards. What’s being called Eastern Ukraine in the press is in reality Donbass. Russia actively denies that it has supported Donbass with military personnel and equipment. I don’t know whether it has or not.
But isn’t whatever Russia might be doing really a moot point? The real issue is that Kyiv invaded Donbass. That’s the source of all the death and destruction. Once again, Russia didn’t shoot first. It was just made the villain by a skillful campaign based on fabrications.
Unfortunately, world attention has been diverted from Kyiv’s transgressions and the horror they have wreaked. It’s been redirected to the reported Russian aggression. I’ve documented in my book Ukraine in the Crosshairs how those allegations are not fact based.
I think it is very important to question why the press, the US, NATO, and the EU have so contorted their depiction of the Ukrainian crisis. Their actions have worked to the detriment of the Ukrainian people.
Ostensibly, the Maidanists claimed from the start to be seeking greater democracy and closer ties to Europe. The junta argued that a proposed EU association agreement was the key. Not everyone agreed. And that divisive issue spawned the internal conflict that precipitated the great Ukrainian crisis.
Look at what’s happened in the junta’s wake:
–Before the escalation of the Maidan protests, there was no threat of a Russian invasion, there were no fighting “separatists,” there was no war in Donbass. Ukraine was whole.
–Sanctions were not causing ruinous economic damage to many countries. Relations between the US and Russia were not in dangerous disarray.
–There were no war-torn Donbass cities, towns, and villages. Thousands of now deceased Ukrainians were still alive.
–And the opportunity for replacing the unpopular leader Yanukovych through a democratic election was on the immediate horizon. Change was in the offing without any need for war.
Take a good look at what’s transpired and tell me what tangible benefit has accrued to the Ukrainian people. The Maidanists set out to improve the population’s lot. But things have gotten worse. Much worse.
It is difficult to imagine why anyone would believe that association with the EU will undo all the damage that conflict has caused. Claims it will help seem illusory. In the end, the horrors inflicted upon Ukrainians by the junta were totally unnecessary, ineffectual, and counterproductive.
What on earth are the motives of the people and governments that promoted and supported all this needless death and destruction?
William Dunkerley is author of Ukraine in the Crosshairs. He is a media business analyst, principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, and a Senior Fellow at the American University in Moscow.