On April 14th, 2017 Rick Perry wrote a memo headed “STUDY EXAMINING ELECTRICITY MARKETS AND RELAIBILITY” calling for study to investigate how long term energy trends my impact the grid.
My “sciencey” friends on social media are linking to this article, “Energy Secretary Rick Perry Wants to Know if Solar is Eroding the Electricity Supply” and reacting with incredulity and derision. Overall the comments mostly are insults such as wondering if this is really an article from the Onion, to questioning if he were dropped on his head as a baby. As far as substance I have not seen much that has gone beyond asserting that various places with more solar and/or wind resources have better reliability and lower outage rates. If the later sort of comments were the start of a dialogue, that would be a good thing. Unfortunately they seem to be a way to emphasize the discussion is over and dismiss any concerns around renewables. Why does any potentially critical examination around the capabilities of renewable energy engender such outrage?
What is contained in the memo?
It starts out reasonably enough:
At the most recent G7 Energy Ministerial, my colleagues discussed the need for an energy transition utilizing greater efficiency and fuel diversity. There was also notable concern about how certain policies are affecting, and potentially putting at risk, energy security and reliability. It impressed upon me that the United States should take heed of the policy choices our allies have made, and take stock of their consequences.
A reliable and resilient electric system is essential to protecting public health and fostering economic growth and job creation. The U.S. electric system is the most sophisticated and technologically advanced in the world. Consumers utilize heating, air conditioning, computers, and appliances with few disruptions. Nonetheless, there are significant changes occurring within the electric system that could profoundly affect the economy and even national security, and as such, these changes require further study and investigation.
Discussing a need for an energy transition with greater efficiency and diversity sounds like a positive step and it is prudent to consider impacts on energy security and reliability. Clearly we should look at what other nations are doing. We do have a great electric system but there are changes underway that could profoundly impact the power system. It should be obvious we need further study and investigation.
Baseload power is necessary to a well-functioning electric grid. We are blessed as a nation to have an abundance of domestic energy resources, such as coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric, all of which provide affordable base load power and contribute to a stable, reliable, and resilient grid. Over the last few years, however, grid experts have expressed concerns about the erosion of critical baseload resources.
Could not agree more. See my posting, Renewables and Grid Reliability, from January of 2016 for a full treatment of such emerging issues.
Specifically, many have questioned the manner in which baseload power is dispatched and compensated. Still others have highlighted the diminishing diversity of our nation’s electric generation mix, and what that could mean for baseload power and grid resilience.
Renewable resources are leaning on the power system. These are mainstream concerns that have increasingly been articulated in various forums. For more detailed treatment see, All megawatts are not equal and More renewables? Watch out for the Duck Curve.
This has resulted in part from regulatory burdens introduced by previous administrations that were designed to decrease coal-fired power generation. Such policies have destroyed jobs and economic growth, and they threaten to undercut the performance of the grid well into the future. Finally, analysts have thoroughly documented the market-distorting effects of federal subsidies that boost one form of energy at the expense of others. Those subsidies create acute and chronic problems for maintaining adequate baseload generation and have impacted reliable generators of all types.
I think coal fired-generation within the US has taken a hit which it is unlikely to recover from. Policies may have hastened the retirements of various coal facilitates, which if left alone might still be operational and contributing to the grid today. However with the cost of gas and its associated infrastructure it is too costly to bring back or construct new coal generation for the foreseeable future. I would not spend too much time crying over spilt milk.
Each of these and other related issues must be rigorously studied and analyzed, and the Department of Energy is uniquely qualified for the task. The results of this analysis will help the federal government formulate sound policies to protect the nation’s electric grid. In establishing these policies, the Trump Administration will be guided by the principles of reliability, resiliency, affordability, and fuel assurance-principles that underpin a thriving economy.
I’m glad to see the attention given to these important considerations. I would prefer the last sentence read, “In establishing these policies, the Trump Administration will be guided by the principles of reliability, resiliency, affordability, respect for the environment and fuel assurance-principles that underpin a thriving economy.” As argued here before (Balance and the Grid), energy policy must balance economics reliability and public responsibility. However I expect that in this case the Secretary may be trying to emphasize the major components that have suffered from a lack of attention.
I am directing you today to initiate a study to explore critical issues central to protecting the long-term reliability of the electric grid, using the full resources and relationships available to the Department. By Wednesday, April 19, 2017, present to me an implementation plan to complete this study 60-days from that date, that will explore the following issues:
- The evolution of wholesale electricity markets, including the extent to which federal policy interventions and the changing nature of the electricity fuel mix are challenging the original policy assumptions that shaped the creation of those markets;
- Whether wholesale energy and capacity markets are adequately compensating attributes such as on-site fuel supply and other factors that strengthen grid resilience and, if not, the extent to which this could affect grid reliability and resilience in the future; and
- The extent to which continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants.
I have committed to the President that this report will not only analyze problems but also provide concrete policy recommendations and solutions. I also committed to the President that I will do everything within my legal authority to ensure that we provide American families and businesses an electric power system that is technologically advanced, resilient, reliable, and second to none.
Certainly such information would help drive policy decisions. In closing he makes a strong commitment to advancing technology and providing resilience and reliability. This appears to be a perfectly reasonable request and commitment for the US Secretary of Energy to make. As mentioned earlier, perhaps this memo would include some commitment for environmental responsibility. But understand that in the United States we have multiple departments and agencies with often competing interests that are designed to provide balance. The Secretary of Energy will not operate in isolation and perhaps it is a good thing that he is primarily focused on “Energy” issues as his agenda will be balanced by other competing interests within our political process.
Reactions to the Memo
I struggle to find anything much of significance that anyone within the grid expert community would take issue with. Of course we will have to wait and see how the study comes out and examine its findings and conclusions. There may be problems at that point, but at this time it is just a call for information. Yet many “science fans” find Secretary Perry’s actions threatening, preposterous and ridiculous on the surface. Why is that?
The “science” support community as represented by recent marchers puts a lot of faith in what is seen as the consensus of climate experts. Evidently this respect for “experts” does not extend to grid experts. They tend to accept that there are no proper grid concerns because of assurances by those in the renewable industries, as well as those with strong self-promotional interests.
Does Mr. Nye have the answer?
I see “science fans” applauding and promoting Bill Nye’s call for 100% renewable generation by 2050. One might think if one endorsed Mr. Nye’s plan it would also be prudent to encourage studies such as the one advocated by the Secretary of Energy. Certainly Mr. Nye is not a power systems expert, nor have I seen him reference any when he is explaining how such a transition can be accomplished. We should all be at least somewhat skeptical about the potential consequences of such a significant endeavor.
What I may be missing is the role of “optimism” which Mr. Nye assures us is a necessary ingredient for this transition. I’d seen hints of this before and perhaps what is happening is that far too many people obstinately reject any criticism regarding renewables because they believe that optimism is crucial if the planet is to be saved. Consequently no one should utter a disparaging word about any of the potential “preferred” renewable solutions. The view seems to be that we must get started now and we will work out the distracting details as we go along.
Perhaps this explains why those who view climate with extreme alarm often show no tolerance for criticism of renewable energy? Otherwise, why are grid experts not trusted? Grid experts have academic credentials, share a common body of knowledge, and continually build and alter their understandings based upon empirical evidence. Individually and collectively they work to be innovative and develop new approaches and challenge older perspectives. Grid experts have a proven track record of success. As I’ve argued before, grid experts do not for the most part have a strong vested personal interest in the status quo. An ambitious, aggressive transfer to greater renewables would increase the demand and likely compensation for most all existing grid experts.
Bill Nye says, “You are not going to accomplish anything unless you are optimistic”. Could it just boil down to a belief in optimism that causes the self-identified “science support community to recoil and scoff at projected potential risks to the grid? Is this the drive for so much anger and derision? Will increased knowledge and experience shrink the division? Certainly virtue signaling is going on, surely there is an element of tribalism, undoubtedly group think and cognitive dissonance play a part as well, but in the end is it just about optimism?
Hopefully it would go without saying, but let me be clear – The power system is a complex, crucial critical infrastructure that has overarching societal importance and benefits. Avoiding critical reflection while attempting to transition to something new, in order to maintain optimism with vague hopes that innovative solutions will somehow appear when needed is a ludicrous idea that will not only serve to harm us all, but will also work to retard the advance of future beneficial renewable technologies.
An Israel-Europe gas pipeline deal elevates Israel to the status of a major Mediterranean energy exporter. However, critics suggest the move is about more than mere economics, and serves a number of greater geopolitical objectives – namely, immunizing Israel from criticism and sanctions, and damaging relations between Europe and Russia further.
Ministers from Israel, Greece, Italy and Cyprus, as well as the European Union Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, signed a joint declaration in April, codifying a commitment to constructing a gas pipeline that will bring newly discovered natural gas in Israel [sic] to Europe.
The pipeline, described by Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz as “the longest and deepest subsea gas pipeline in the world,” is expected to be in operation by 2025.
Designated as a “project of common interest” by the EU, the pipeline has been marketed by both sides as an ideal alternative to the bloc’s continuing dependence on Russian energy — an overt indication the deal is being pursued for political rather than economic purposes. After all, high infrastructure costs coupled with low gas prices will almost by definition make it considerably dearer than the existing energy relationship between Russia and Europe.
The Atlantic Council Global Energy Center has even suggested the proposed project may never come to fruition, once the commercial difficulties inherent in making it operational become reality. Current European energy demands in no way commercially justify an additional gas supply source for the continent.
Furthermore, independent Palestinian human rights advocacy group Al-Haq has said the pipeline agreement will benefit corporations which directly profit from the occupation of Palestine — incentivizing Israel to maintain its current policy of illegal settlement expansion and its blockade of Gaza. If constructed, the pipeline will pump gas from Israel’s giant Leviathan field, the discovery of which in 2010 transformed Israel from a net importer of energy into a potential regional energy player — the field is estimated to hold around 20 trillion cubic feet of gas. Despite Lebanon arguing Leviathan sits partially in Lebanese waters, Israel has pushed ahead with international deals, selling 39.7 percent to US-based Noble Energy.
In March, Jordan became the first country to sign up for Leviathan gas. The move ignited waves of protest, on the basis the agreement would increase Jordan’s dependency on Israel, and potentially finance Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Such concerns go beyond reflexive prejudice. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has noted the potential of gas deals to insulate the country from international condemnation and action.
“Ensuring the supply of gas is essential not only to the country’s functioning, but also to its existence. I regard the gas supply as a foundation of national security. A country that exports things crucial for other countries has far more power. The ability to export gas makes us more immune to international pressure. We don’t want to be vulnerable to boycotts,” Netanyahu said.
Moreover, in a report, Annexing Energy, Al-Haq noted it was “impossible” to geographically isolate gas fields in mainland Israel and characterize them as separate from the country’s ongoing conflict with Palestine.
“In 2011, Noble Energy, the lead operator of the Leviathan field, unilaterally extracted gas from a joint Palestinian gas field without Palestinian permission as required under customary international law and the Oslo Accords. Israel has also employed a brutal and unlawful naval operation to protect Noble Energy’s gas platforms beside the Gaza Strip, routinely attacking, killing and injuring civilian Palestinian fishermen who fish in the vicinity of Israel’s illegally imposed six-nautical-mile closure of Palestine’s territorial waters,” the report said.
In a perverse twist, the deal also comes at a time when Gaza continues to reel from a major energy crisis, which has seen power cuts lasting as long as 18 hours, and results from Israel blocking the region from developing its own resources.
The Al-Haq report concluded that if Palestinians were permitted to do so, their own energy needs would be satiated, and they would be economically self-sufficient, freed from their current aid dependency.
Paris – The 2017 French Presidential election marks a profound change in European political alignments. There is an ongoing shift from the traditional left-right rivalry to opposition between globalization, in the form of the European Union (EU), and national sovereignty.
Standard media treatment sticks to a simple left-right dualism: “racist” rejection of immigrants is the main issue and that what matters most is to “stop Marine Le Pen!” Going from there to here is like walking through Alice’s looking glass. Almost everything is turned around.
On this side of the glass, the left has turned into the right and part of the right is turning into the left.
Fifty years ago, it was “the left” whose most ardent cause was passionate support for Third World national liberation struggles. The left’s heroes were Ahmed Ben Bella, Sukarno, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, and above all Ho Chi Minh. What were these leaders fighting for? They were fighting to liberate their countries from Western imperialism. They were fighting for independence, for the right to determine their own way of life, preserve their own customs, decide their own future. They were fighting for national sovereignty, and the left supported that struggle.
Today, it is all turned around. “Sovereignty” has become a bad word in the mainstream left.
National sovereignty is an essentially defensive concept. It is about staying home and minding one’s own business. It is the opposite of the aggressive nationalism that inspired fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to conquer other countries, depriving them of their national sovereignty.
The confusion is due to the fact that most of what calls itself “the left” in the West has been totally won over to the current form of imperialism – aka “globalization”. It is an imperialism of a new type, centered on the use of military force and “soft” power to enable transnational finance to penetrate every corner of the earth and thus to reshape all societies in the endless quest for profitable return on capital investment. The left has been won over to this new imperialism because it advances under the banner of “human rights” and “antiracism” – abstractions which a whole generation has been indoctrinated to consider the central, if not the only, political issues of our times.
The fact that “sovereignism” is growing in Europe is interpreted by mainstream globalist media as proof that “Europe is moving to the right”– no doubt because Europeans are “racist”. This interpretation is biased and dangerous. People in more and more European nations are calling for national sovereignty precisely because they have lost it. They lost it to the European Union, and they want it back.
That is why the British voted to leave the European Union. Not because they are “racist”, but primarily because they cherish their historic tradition of self-rule.
The Socialist Party shipwreck
As his five-year presidency drew to its ignominious end, François Hollande was obliged by his drastic unpopularity to let his Parti Socialiste (PS) choose its 2017 presidential candidate by primary. In a surprising upset, the Socialist government’s natural candidate, prime minister Manuel Valls, lost to Benoit Hamon, an obscure member of the PS left wing who refused to vote for the unpopular, neo-liberal, anti-labor laws designed by Hollande’s economic advisor, Emmanuel Macron.
To escape from the unpopularity of the PS, Macron formed his own movement, “En Marche!” One after another, Valls, Hollande and other prominent PS leaders are tiptoeing away, leaving Hamon at the helm of the sinking ship. As Hamon justifiably protests against their betrayal, the party bigwigs pledge their support to Emmanuel Macron.
Macron ostentatiously hesitates to welcome his shopworn converts into the fold, fearing that their conversion makes it too obvious that his “En Marche!” is a clone of the right wing of the PS, on the way to becoming the French subsidiary of the U.S. Democratic Party in its Clintonian form. Macron proclaims that he is neither left nor right, as discredited politicians from both left and right jump on his bandwagon, to his embarrassment.
Hamon himself appears to be unaware that the basic cause of the Socialist Party’s shipwreck is its incompatible devotion to two contrary principles: traditional social democracy, and the European Union (EU). Macron, Hollande and their fellow turncoats at least have made their choice: the European Union.
The Twilight of the Traditional Right
The great advantage of Republican candidate François Fillon is that his policies are clear. Unlike Hollande, who tried to disguise his neoliberal policies as something else, and based his claim to be on the left on “societal” issues (gay marriage), Fillon is an unabashed conservative. His policies are designed to reduce the huge national debt. Whereas previous governments (including his own, when he was President Sarkozy’s Prime Minister) beat around the bush, Fillon won the Republican nomination by a program of sharp cutbacks in government spending. Fillon claims that his austerity measures will lead French capitalists to invest in France and thus save the country’s economy from being completely taken over by foreign corporations, American retirement funds and Qatar. This is highly doubtful, as there is nothing under EU rules to encourage French investors to invest in France rather than somewhere else.
Fillon departs from EU orthodoxy, however, by proposing a more independent foreign policy, notably by ending the “absurd” sanctions against Russian. He is more concerned about the fate of Middle East Christians than about overthrowing Assad.
The upshot is that Fillon’s coherent pro-capitalist policy is not exactly what the dominant globalizing elite prefers. The “center left” is their clear political choice since Tony Blair and Bill Clinton revised the agendas of their respective parties. The center left emphasis on human rights (especially in faraway countries targeted for regime change) and ethnic diversity at home fits the long-term globalist aims of erasing national borders, to allow unrestricted free movement of capital. Traditional patriotic conservatism, represented by Fillon, does not altogether correspond to the international adventurism of globalization.
The Schizophrenic Left
For a generation, the French left has made “the construction of Europe” the center of its world view. In the early 1980s, faced with opposition from what was then the European Community, French President François Mitterrand abandoned the socializing program on which he been elected. Mitterrand nursed the hope that France would politically dominate a united Europe, but the unification of Germany changed all that. So did EU expansion to Eastern Central nations within the German sphere of influence. Economic policy is now made in Germany.
As the traditional left goal of economic equality was abandoned, it was superseded by emphatic allegiance to “human rights”, which is now taught in school as a veritable religion. The vague notion of human rights was somehow associated with the “free movement” of everything and everybody. Indeed the official EU dogma is protection of “free movement”: free movement of goods, people, labor and (last but certainly not least) capital. These “four freedoms” in practice transform the nation from a political society into a financial market, an investment opportunity, run by a bureaucracy of supposed experts. In this way, the European Union has become the vanguard experiment in transforming the world into a single capitalist market.
The French left bought heavily into this ideal, partly because it deceptively echoed the old leftist ideal of “internationalism” (whereas capital has always been incomparably more “international” than workers), and partly due to the simplistic idea that “nationalism” is the sole cause of wars. More fundamental and complex causes of war are ignored.
For a long time, the left has complained about job loss, declining living standards, delocalization or closure of profitable industries, without recognizing that these unpopular results are caused by EU requirements. EU directives and regulations increasingly undermine the French model of redistribution through public services, and are now threatening to wipe them out altogether – either because “the government is bankrupt” or because of EU competition rules prohibit countries from taking measures to preserve their key industries or their agriculture. Rather than face reality, the left’s reaction has mostly been to repeat its worn-out demand for an impossible “Social Europe”.
Yet the dream of “social Europe” received what amounted to a fatal blow ten years ago. In 2005, a referendum was called to allow the French to approve a Constitution for united Europe. This led to an extraordinary popular discussion, with countless meetings of citizens examining every aspect of this lengthy document. Unlike normal constitutions, this document froze the member States in a single monetarist economic policy, with no possibility of change.
On May 29, 2005, French voters rejected the treaty by 55% to 45%.
What seemed to be a great victory for responsible democracy turned into its major failure. Essentially the same document, renamed the Lisbon Treaty, was ratified in December 2007, without a referendum. Global governance had put the people in their place. This produced widespread disillusion with politics as millions concluded that their votes didn’t matter, that politicians paid no attention to the will of the people.
Even so, Socialist politicians continued to pledge undying allegiance to the EU, always with the prospect that “Social Europe” might somehow be possible.
Meanwhile, it has become more and more obvious that EU monetarist policy based on the common currency, the euro, creates neither growth nor jobs as promised but destroys both. Unable to control its own currency, obliged to borrow from private banks, and to pay them interest, France is more and more in debt, its industry is disappearing and its farmers are committing suicide, on the average of one every other day. The left has ended up in an impossible position: unswervingly loyal to the EU while calling for policies that are impossible under EU rules governing competition, free movement, deregulation, budgetary restraints, and countless other regulations produced by an opaque bureaucracy and ratified by a virtually powerless European Parliament, all under the influence of an army of lobbyists.
Benoit Hamon remains firmly stuck on the horns of the left’s fatal dilemma: determination to be “socialist”, or rather, social democratic, and passionate loyalty to “Europe”. While insisting on social policies that cannot possibly be carried out with the euro as currency and according to EU rules, Hamon still proclaims loyalty to “Europe”. He parrots the EU’s made-in-Washington foreign policy, demanding that “Assad must go” and ranting against Putin and Russia.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon Grasps the Nettle
Not only is the drab, conformist Hamon abandoned by his party heavies, he is totally upstaged on the left by the flamboyant Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a maverick ready to break the rules. After years as a PS loyalist, Mélenchon broke away in 2005 to oppose the Constitutional Treaty, gaining prominence as a fiery orator. In 2007, he left the Socialist Party and founded the Parti de Gauche (Left Party). Allied with the much weakened Communist Party, he came in fourth in the first round of the 2012 Presidential election with 11% of the vote. This time he is running for President with his own new movement, La France Insoumise, which can be translated in a number of ways, including “the France that does not submit”.
Submit to what? Mainly, to the euro and to the antisocial, neoliberal policies of the European Union that are ruining France.
French flags and la Marseillaise have replaced the Internationale at Mélenchon rallies. “The Europe of our dreams is dead,” he acknowledges, vowing to “end the nightmare of dictatorship by banks and finance”.
Mélenchon calls for outright disobedience by violating EU treaties that are harmful to France. That is his Plan A. His Plan B is to leave the EU, in case Plan A fails to convince Germany (the current boss) and the others to agree to change the treaties. But at best, Plan B is an empty threat to strengthen his hand in theoretical negotiations. France is such a crucial member, he maintains, that a French threat to leave should be enough to force changes.
Threatening to leave the EU is just part of Mélenchon’s vast and complicated program which includes calling a national convention to draft a constitution for France’s “sixth Republic” as well as major ecological innovation. Completely changing both France and the European Union at the same time would require the nation to be in a revolutionary effervescence that is by no means visible. It would also require a unanimity among the EU’s 28 member States that is simply impossible.
But Mélenchon is canny enough to have recognized the basic problem: the enemy of jobs, prosperity and public services is the European Union. Mélenchon is by far the candidate that generates the most excitement. He has rapidly outdistanced Hamon and draws huge enthusiastic crowds to his rallies. His progress has changed the shape of the race: at this moment, he has become one of four front-runners who might get past the first round vote on April 23 into the finals on May 7: Le Pen, Macron, Fillon and himself.
The Opposites are (almost) the Same
A most remarkable feature of this campaign is great similarity between the two candidates said to represent “the far left”, Mélenchon, and “the far right”, Marine Le Pen. Both speak of leaving the euro. Both vow to negotiate with the EU to get better treaty terms for France. Both advocate social policies to benefit workers and low income people. Both want to normalize relations with Russia. Both want to leave NATO, or at least its military command. Both defend national sovereignty, and can thus be described as “sovereignists”.
The only big difference between them is on immigration, an issue that arouses so much emotion that it is hard to discuss sensibly. Those who oppose immigration are accused of “fascism”, those who favor immigration are accused of wanting to destroy the nation’s identity by flooding it with inassimilable foreigners.
In a country suffering from unemployment, without jobs or housing to accommodate mass immigration, and under the ongoing threat of Islamist terror attacks, the issue cannot be reasonably reduced to “racism” – unless Islamic terrorists constitute a “race”, for which there is no evidence. Le Pen insists that all French citizens deserve equal treatment regardless of their origins, race or religion. She is certain to get considerable support from recently nationalized immigrants, just as she now gets a majority of working class votes. If this is “fascism”, it has changed a lot in the past seventy years.
What is significant is that despite their differences, the two most charismatic candidates both speak of restoring national sovereignty. Both evoke the possibility of leaving the European Union, although in rather uncertain terms.
The globalist media are already preparing to blame the eventual election of a “sovereignist” candidate on Vladimir Putin. Public opinion in the West is being prepared for massive protests to break out against an undesired winner, and the “antifa” militants are ready to wreak havoc in the streets. Some people who like Marine Le Pen are afraid of voting for her, fearing the “color revolution” sure to be mounted against her. Mélenchon and even Fillon might face similar problems.
As a taste of things to come, on April 20, the EU Observer published an article entitled “Russia-linked fake news floods French social media”. Based on something called Bakamo, one of the newly established “fact-check” outfits meant to steer readers away from unofficial opinion, the article accused Russian-influenced web sites of favoring Marine Le Pen, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, François Fillon, Francois Asselineau, and Philippe Poutou. (They forgot to mention one of the most “sovereignist” candidates, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, currently polling in sixth place.) Since a large majority of the eleven candidates, including three of the four front-runners, are strongly critical of the EU and of NATO and want to improve relations with Russia, it would seem that Putin wouldn’t have to make a great effort to get a more friendly French government next time around. On the other hand, the EU Observer article is only a small sample of blatant “interference in the French election” on the part of the globalists on behalf of their favorite, Emmanuel Macron, the most enthusiastic Europhile.
The Future of France
Among those listed as alleged Russian favorites, François Asselineau is by far the most thorough critic of the European Union. Systematically ignored by the media since he founded his anti-EU party, the Union Populaire Républicain (UPR), ten years ago, François Asselineau has thousands of ardent supporters who have plastered his poster all over the country. His tireless didactic speeches, reproduced on internet, have driven home several key points:
– there is no way to improve the EU from the inside, because any change would require unanimity among 27 member states who disagree on key issues.
– the only solution for France is to use Article 50 of the EU treaties to withdraw entirely, as the United Kingdom is currently doing.
– only by leaving the EU can France save its public services, its social benefits, its economy and its democracy.
– it is only by restoring its national sovereignty that genuine democratic life, with confrontation between a real “left” and “right”, can be possible.
– by leaving the EU, France, which has over 6,000 treaties with other countries, would not be isolated but would be joining the greater world.
Asselineau is a single issue candidate. He vows that as soon as elected, he would invoke Article 50 to leave the EU and immediately apply to Washington to withdraw from NATO. He emphasizes that none of the other critics of the EU propose such a clear exit within the rules.
Other candidates, including the more charismatic Mélenchon and Le Pen, echo some of Asselineau’s arguments. But they are not ready to go so far as to advocate a clear immediate break with the EU, if only because they realize that the French population, while increasingly critical of the euro and alienated from the “European dream”, is still fearful of actually leaving, due to dire warnings of disaster from the Europeists.
The first round campaign is an opportunity for Asselineau to present his ideas to a wider audience, preparing public opinion for a more coherent “Frexit” policy. By far the most fundamental emerging issue in this campaign is the conflict between the European Union and national sovereignty. It will probably not be settled in this election, but it won’t go away. This is the major issue of the future, because it determines whether any genuine political life is possible.
Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book is Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton. She can be reached at email@example.com
The early reports on the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s talks in Moscow on Wednesday have a positive ring but how far it is real, time only can tell. Indeed, almost in real time as soon as Tillerson’s all-important meeting in the Kremlin with President Vladimir Putin (which lasted for over two hours) got over, President Donald Trump remarked that from the feedback he got, “things went pretty well, better than expected.”
Trump noted that Tillerson had a “very successful meeting in Russia” as the “end result” will show – “which will be in a long period of time, perhaps.” Interestingly, Trump said this in the presence of the visiting NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the joint press conference in the White House, adding,
- It would be wonderful, as we were discussing just a little while ago (with Stoltenberg), if NATO and our country could get along with Russia. Right now, we’re not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of a relationship with Russia. This has built for a long period of time. But we’re going to see what happens. Putin is the leader of Russia. Russia is a strong country. We’re a very, very strong country. We’re going to see how that all works out.
Make no mistake, Trump knows his job. He knows Stoltenberg’s mission was to amplify the cacophony over “Russian aggression”. So, perhaps, he deliberately went into a stream of consciousness:
- And I’ll also see about Putin over a period of time. It would be a fantastic thing if we got along with Putin and if we got along with Russia. And that could happen, and it may not happen, it may be just the opposite. I can only tell you what I would like to do. I would love to be able to get along with everybody. Right now, the world is a mess. But I think by the time we finish, I think it’s going to be a lot better place to live. And I can tell you that, speaking for myself, by the time I’m finished, it’s going to be a lot better place to live in — because right now it’s nasty.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described his negotiations with Tillerson as “substantial and very frank.” Obviously, there were sharp differences — future of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, for instance. He said Moscow is “realistic” that much effort is needed to overcome the obstacles in the Russia-US ties but “we seek to do that… (and Putin) reaffirmed our will to do that.”
Tillerson himself described the meeting with Putin as “productive” where they discussed “approaches to improving our channels of communication and there was a “lengthy exchange of views” regarding Syrian situation and “shared perspectives on possible ways forward.” Tillerson underscored that mutual trust is very low and the two countries have differences over a broad range of issues. He said,
- The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship… We need to attempt to put an end to this steady degradation, which is doing nothing to restore the trust between our two countries or to make progress on the issues of the greatest importance to both of us.
Unsurprisingly, Syria topped the agenda of talks. (Ukraine took a back seat, though.) The Russian side seems to have shown willingness to revive the “de-confliction” procedure in the military operations in Syria. The two sides agreed on an investigation by the OPCW at The Hague over the chemical attack in Idlib on April 4. Equally, US-Russia consultations will resume with a view to find a solution to the Syrian conflict.
Yet, reading the transcript of the Lavrov-Tillerson press conference in Moscow yesterday, the overpowering sense is one of deja vu. We’ve been there before, haven’t we? The issues and problems in the Russian-American relationship are so deep-rooted and are not only bilateral but also regional – and some even have global character. This is the main difference between what Trump is attempting with Russia and China respectively. Paradoxically, China-US issues are rather straightforward in comparison – identifiable, quantifiable, and possible to be prioritised – if only the rivalry could be overcome in “win-win” spirit.
Unlike with US-China relations, however, the diplomatic channels between Washington and Moscow are clogged, historically as well as thanks to the deliberate policy moves by the Barack Obama administration. The good part is that both Lavrov and Tillerson acknowledged the need to improve the state of affairs. Moscow is manifestly keen to have sustained dialogue, explore possibilities for cooperation, and even seeks “joint activities” (as Lavrov put it.) But it takes two to tango.
The Trump administration is far from stable and Russophobia is pervasive within the American establishment. Any significant improvement in the relations will take time. Tillerson himself somehow gives the impression of being too decent a fellow to elbow aside roughnecks like Senator John McCain. His influence within Trump’s foreign-policy team also remains unclear. To be sure, Russophobes will now begin sniping at the nascent beginning made by Tillerson in Moscow.
The Russian diplomacy needs to slow down on the American front a bit and work its way back and re-engage Europeans. The G7 meet in Luca on Tuesday showed that Germany and Italy understand the imperative need to work with Russia to find a solution to the Syrian conflict under UN auspices. Federico Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief, is due to visit Moscow on April 24.
The United Nations has raised alarm over a climbing number of refugees passing through Libya who are being traded in so-called slave markets before being held for ransom and subjected to malnutrition and sexual abuse.
Migrants are typically traded for as little as $200 to $500, and are held for an average of two to three months, said the head of the UN migration agency’s Libya mission, Othman Belbeisi, in a Geneva press briefing on Tuesday.
He emphasized that “migrants are being sold in the market as a commodity,” cautioning that “selling human beings is becoming a trend among smugglers as the smuggling networks in Libya are becoming stronger and stronger.”
Many of the asylum seekers are used as day laborers in construction and agriculture, Belbeisi further stated, noting that although some are paid, others are forced to work without pay before being sold again to new buyers.
He also pointed to the extremely tragic fates that female refugees often encounter, saying, “About women, we heard a lot about bad treatment, rape and being forced into prostitution.”
According to a report released Tuesday by the agency, officially called the International Organization for Migration (IOM), its representatives have spoken to African refugees who recounted their experiences of being bought and sold in garages and parking lots in the southern Libyan city of Sabha, one of the nation’s main refugee smuggling hubs.
In the report, the IOM recounted the story of a Senegalese refugee – referred to as ‘SC’ to protect his identity — who spoke of being ‘bought’ and taken to his first ‘prison’ – a private home where more than 100 asylum seekers were beaten and held as hostages.
SC, the report added, was asked to pay 300,000 Central African Francs ($480) for his release, which he could not pay. He was then sold to another Libyan, who set his release price at 600,000 CFA ($970).
The Senegalese refugee further spoke of awful sanitary conditions and meals offered only once per day, adding that he was eventually able to get money from his family and work as an interpreter to avoid future beatings.
However, the IOM report added, others are not so lucky. Those who cannot pay are often killed or left to starve to death. They are buried without being identified.
“What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder,” said IOM’s director of operations and emergencies, Mohammed Abdiker. “We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”
The development came as Libya remains a major gateway for asylum seekers hoping to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, with more than 450,000 people making the crossing over the past three years.
So far this year, of an estimated 26,886 refugees who have crossed into Italy, more than 600 are known to have drowned at sea while an unknown number perish during their journey north through the desert, according to press reports.
The European Commission has refused to comment on a proposal by the Danish government to modify the country’s laws allowing it to block the construction of a Russian natural gas pipeline to Europe.
Earlier this week, a bill was put to the Danish parliament to make sure foreign, and security policy is considered when assessing the approval of projects such as Nord Stream-2.
According to the Danish energy ministry, the present regulations do not allow Denmark to decide on permits for transit pipelines to pass through Danish waters due to foreign policy considerations.
“We want to have the possibility to say yes or no from a perspective of security and foreign policy,” said Energy and Climate Minister Lars Christian Lilleholt, adding that it was the only possible way to veto such projects due to environmental concerns.
Denmark’s right-wing minority government will reportedly negotiate with other parties to win support for the proposal.
The Nord Stream- 2 pipeline aims to double the existing capacity delivering natural gas from Russia to Germany and Northern Europe under the Baltic Sea.
The pipeline bypasses Ukraine, which the Kremlin says proved to be unreliable for both the exporter and the importer. The gas transit contract between Moscow and Kiev expires in December 2019 and has not yet been extended.
Last month, EU officials announced plans to enter security negotiations with Moscow over the project, saying the bloc no longer had legal grounds to stop it.
The move followed years of delays over EU concerns the project would strengthen Russia’s dominance of the European gas market and minimize Ukraine’s participation.
In an interview with Sputnik, Russian political analyst Alexey Zudin expressed doubt over the G7 countries’ willingness to agree with the UK Foreign Secretary’s latest demand to inflame the sanction war with Russia.
The interview came after The Times reported that during the upcoming G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Italy, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will urge the G7 member states to tighten sanctions against Russia following the latest developments in Syria.
The newspaper said that “Britain is pushing western nations to impose new sanctions on Russia if it fails to cut ties with President Assad as the conflict over Syria escalates.”
According to The Times, the document was prepared ahead of the G7′ ministerial meeting which kicks off in Lucca, Italy, later on Monday. The newspaper said that Johnson wants the G7 to issue a joint statement after an alleged chemical attack in Syria, according to which Russia should stop supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and withdraw its troops from Syria.
In case of Moscow’s refusal, new sanctions will follow in addition to those already slapped on Russia in connection with the situation in Ukraine, according to The Times.
Alexey Zudin, of the Moscow-based Institute for Social, Economic and Political Studies think tank, said that this move, initiated by Washington and London, is unlikely to be supported by other G7 countries.
“It is unlikely G7 members will agree to this, at least for now. It seems that the absence of proof [pertaining to the Syria chemical attack] has not put off the main initiator, the US, and its closest ally Britain, which is not the case with other G7 countries who are hardly likely to support the American position,” Zudin said referring to “clear collaboration between Washington and London on the issue.”
According to him, this move is timed to coincide with the visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Moscow, which begins on April 11.
“It would be pointless for Tillerson to start his visit with a direct threat to his Russian colleagues, about the US preparing a new package of anti-Russian sanctions, which is why this role was delegated to UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson,” Zudin concluded.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow is not aware of any possible new US sanctions against Russia over Syria, as neither President Donald Trump or his administration have made any statements.
“Not knowing what is at issue, and we really do not know what is at issue, it is difficult to talk about any reaction,” Peskov told reporters.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday that Trump and members of his team “have started to have” conversations related to imposing sanctions on Russia and Iran in connection to their support for Damascus.
“Yes, there was a statement by the US ambassador, but we have not heard about any statements to this effect from President Trump or his representatives,” Peskov said.
Last Thursday night, at least five people were killed and seven others injured after the United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian military airfield in Ash Sha’irat, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the city of Homs.
US President Donald Trump said the attack was a response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria’s Idlib province on Tuesday, which Washington blames on the Syrian government.
Syrian President Assad argued that his government has no chemical weapons left, and never used the stockpile Syria used to maintain.His government handed over this stockpile, which included precursors to the nerve gases sarin and VX as well as hydrogen fluoride, to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a global chemical weapons watchdog, in 2013 amid international pressure.
All of the weapons were then destroyed by the OPCW, which completed this task in January 2016.
Things were looking good for days. President Donald Trump had reportedly sent US senator Tulsi Gabbard on a fact-finding mission in Syria and wanted to know if President Assad would cooperate with the US in defeating ISIS. Assad was willing to cooperate with the new American president. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent statement in Ankara that the US had renounced its desire to remove Assad seemed to mark a major policy shift in the right direction.
French presidential favourite Marine Le Pen was unequivocal in her desire to work with the Syrian government to defeat Takfiri terrorism. France’s Popular Republican Union party (UPR) recently invited journalist Vanessa Beeley to address their election campaign where she delivered an inspiring speech on Syria. Francois Asselineau, the party’s leader, is the most progressive and anti-imperialist candidate in the French election.
For a few days, it seemed as though the tide was turning in favour of peace and good sense. Then, as peace negotiations with the Syrian government were progressing, the Syrian gas saga returned with a vengeance.
If you are new to the topic of Syria, there are a few matters which need to be cleared up here. The country’s leader, Bashar Al-Assad, is democratically elected. He is neither dictatorial nor brutal. All of the “sources” which the mainstream Western media use to write their stories on Syria come from organisations such as the ubiquitously cited Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). SOHR is neither Syrian nor a human rights organisation. It is a one-man show run by Rami Abdel Rahman, an anti-government exile based in Coventry England. He hasn’t been in Syria for more than two decades. Almost all Western media sources come from this man!
So, the intrepid and indefatigable purveyors of “serious” journalism in France’s Le Monde were busy yesterday doing what they do best: war propaganda. Having implanted the belief in the uncritical reader’s brain through headlines accusing the Syrian government of gassing its own people – this time in Khan Cheikoun in the outskirts of Idlib – according to “the sources”, the real story emerges from the rubble of the aforementioned “sources”: the Syrian Army have intensified operations against “rebels” in the area contiguous to Idlib and Hama in recent weeks.
“The Operation” writes Le Monde’s Benjamin Barthes “which enabled the insurgents to come to at least within 10 kilometres of their aim, was led by the Jihadists of the Fatah Al Sham Front, an emanation of Al Qaida”. So there you have it! Le Monde has just told you once again that the “rebels” and “insurgents” are in fact led by an “emanation of Al-Qaida.
Our governments are supposed to be fighting Al-Qaida, supposed to be protecting us from them. The Syrian government – which NATO admitted in 2013 has the support of the majority of the Syrian people – claims to have bombed a chemical weapons depot in Khan Cheikoun. The information has been confirmed by the Russian military.
Even if you believe Bashar Al-Assad is secretly a devil “killing his own people”, surely the man is intelligent? If he wants to stay in power, getting the United States off his back would be a major help, would it not? So, just days after the United States looked like it was going to work with Assad against ISIS, he just couldn’t resist spraying that gas on innocent children and all the war-weary generals of the Syrian Arab Army are cowering in the barracks, abjectly carrying out every whim of the Damascene butcher and now facing a carpet bombing campaign by NATO! How did such a crazy fool manage to stay in power so long!?
Yesterday morning on France Inter radio station, academic dullards were pontificating about “post-truth”, “fake news” and of course, “conspiracy theories”. Russian media in France is increasingly coming under the spotlight. Some pundits have accused Moscow of destabilising European opinion. But critical minds always seek clarity and the French are a most critically-minded people. The war lobby is howling in Washington and Brussels and a silence of cruel complicity was observed in Western capitals following the terrorist attacks in St Petersburg on Monday. We have been taught to hate Russia.
In the French presidential debates on the 4th of April there were only two candidates the establishment fear: François Asselineau and Marine Le Pen. Of the two, Asselineau is unquestionably superior. Unlike Le Pen, Asselineau wants to leave NATO and not just the Military Command Structures. He wants leave the EU and not just have a time-wasting referendum on it. Asselineau wants to reform the Conseil de Resistance Nationale (the National Council of the Resistance) – the post war council formed by patriots and communists to reconstruct France.
Asselineau’s UPR could be the surprise in this election. No genuine communist could vote for that perfidious caitiff, that execrable little Trotskyite trashbag Jean-Luc Mélenchon! The pseudo-leftist defends wars of aggression as long as they have their UN mandates and ‘humanitarian’ cover. Mélenchon is the incarnation of everything that is putrid and pathetic on the “Left.” In fact, he is not left-wing at all. He is a right-wing demagogue who pipes the far-left tune – another Alexis Tsipras, another Sorosite, fake social-democratic class traitor!
Yesterday morning the republican presidential candidate was drilled by France Inter’s war-monger-in-chief Patrick Cohen concerning the French government’s response to the alleged gassing in Syria. Fillon, who has faced an avalanche of dubious allegations due to his connections with pro-Assad Lebanese businessmen and his desire for peace with Russia, said tellingly that the Syrian leader makes “incredible mistakes”. Fillon seemed to suggest that Assad couldn’t be that stupid and demanded “proof”- to the chagrin of Patrick Cohen!
Trump has now excluded Chief Strategist Steve Bannon from the National Security Council. The CIA and Joint-chiefs of Staff are also back in the council. The US Deep State is triumphant and the White House is pushing UN war resolutions against Syria. In France we need a patriotic leader capable of challenging the Empire; we need the National Council of the Resistance. In the aftermath of American populist failure, now is the time to build the European popular front!
The German government has approved a new bill on combating hate speech and fake news, under which social networks could face hefty fines if they fail to remove offensive content promptly. Critics denounced the bill as a violation of free speech.
The bill, introduced by German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, is aimed at forcing social network giants such as Facebook or Twitter to take more responsibility for the content posted by users and to make it compliant with German law.
“We do not accept the fact that companies in Germany do not adhere to the law. Therefore in future, if it doesn’t get better, we will impose high fines on these companies,” Maas told German broadcaster ARD’s ‘Morgenmagazin’ show.
“Social-network providers are responsible when their platforms are misused to propagate hate crimes and fake news,” he wrote in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.
Earlier, Maas had already warned that online companies that fail to delete content tagged as offensive by some users within the timeframe set in the new bill would face fines of up to €50 million (US$53 million).
Executives of social media groups also risk individual fines of up to €5 million ($5.3 million) in case of non-compliance.
The proposed legislation says that “openly offensive” content should be deleted by social networks within 24 hours after being reported by users, while content whose nature is not clearly offensive should be examined and removed within a week if its illegality is confirmed.
The legislation also stresses that the authorities should take a “cautious approach” towards fining online giants, and only in cases when they regularly fail to remove explicitly offensive content. Social networks should not be punished if the violations of the new regulations take place only in some “specific individual cases,” it states.
The list of offensive materials includes various forms of hate speech and online incitement of hatred as well as fake news, libel, and defamation, along with child pornography and terrorism-related activities.
However, the task of identifying, examining and removing such content is in fact handed over to social network administrators and the users themselves.
At the same time, the bill obliges social networks to provide users with “an easily recognizable, directly reachable, and constantly available” complaint process for “prosecutable content.”
The legislation also obliges online giants to provide reports to the German authorities concerning how many complaints they receive from users, how many offensive posts they remove and how quickly they do it.
The reports, which should be provided every three months, must also include data on how many employees are tasked with dealing with offensive content in each social network company.
Earlier, Maas admitted that an attempt to make social networks remove offensive content on a voluntary basis “has failed,” as he explained the necessity for the new measures, German media report.
According to a survey conducted by the Justice Ministry, Facebook deleted about 46 percent of offensive and illegal content between July and August 2016, while between February and January 2017 this figure dropped to 39 percent. Twitter reportedly removed only 1 percent of content deemed illegal in recent months. YouTube, however, deleted as much as 90 percent of such material over the same period, as reported by Deutsche Welle.
‘Freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins’
The bill provoked a wave of criticism from opposition politicians, media companies and various network activists.
Renate Kuenast, the Green Party’s legal expert, criticized the legislation by saying that it would effectively limit the freedom of expression.
“My fear, and that of many others, is that in the end the version [Maas] is now presenting will limit freedom of opinion because it will simply become delete, delete, delete,” she said, as cited by Deutsche Welle.
She also said that the hefty fines envisaged in the bill would work as “almost an invitation to not only delete real insults, but everything for safety’s sake.”
Her words were partly echoed by Google representatives, who warned that the proposed legislation could lead to “overblocking.”
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki called the proposed fines “a heavy burden for the [social network] platforms,” adding that “the platforms could remove content that should not be removed” out of fear of being fined, Der Spiegel reports.
The German Publishers Association (VDZ) went further and denounced the justice minister’s proposal as an attempt to create a “state-imposed private thought police.”
Even some NGOs, such as the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which campaigns against right-wing parties, racism and anti-Semitism, said that the new bill is “in fact a limitation of the freedom of expression.”
In the comments on his new proposal, Maas acknowledged that freedom of expression “has huge significance in our democracy,” adding at the same time that “freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins” and stressing that the new bill would be only the beginning.
According to the German media, the parliament plans to pass the new bill before the summer break. Some critics explain such a “rush” by the government’s desire to make it a law before the elections in September.
Russia strongly opposes sanctions imposed by the US and EU on Syria, which punish ordinary Syrians and prevent the delivery of aid to a country facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
The sanctions and war have severely destabilized the Syrian economy, transforming a once prosperous country into an aid-dependent nation. They block access to aid, particularly medicines. Medical equipment, fuel, food, building materials, are desperately needed today.
A report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia describes the sanctions as some of the most complicated and far-reaching ever imposed. For example, sanctions on Syrian banks have made the transfer of money into the country nearly impossible, preventing, among other things, aid groups from paying local staff and suppliers. Pharmaceutical factories that haven’t been destroyed by the fighting have been forced to shut down because of the sanctions-related restrictions on raw materials and foreign currency. US trade restrictions on Syria prescribe items that contain 10 percent or more of US content, including medical equipment, which is banned from sale to Syria.
According to independent reports, the sanctions became the main reason for the shortage of goods and rampant inflation, plunging over 80 percent of Syrians into poverty.
The work of Syrian charities and humanitarian organizations is severely impeded under the pretext that they have links to the people from the so-called inner circle of President Bashar Assad. One can recall the campaign in the British media criticizing the UN for cooperating with the Syrian Government in the distribution of humanitarian aid.
Unfortunately, on March, 20 the EU imposed a new set of sanctions on Syria, showing disregard for the aspirations of the Syrians for the better future. The statements of our Western partners about the need to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people contradicts their sanction policy. We hope that common sense and compassion will prevail over political and ideological considerations.
The West has been wrong on Syria from start to finish. Maybe, now is the time to bring its narrative in line with reality on the ground and the real needs of Syrians.
Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko
Eleven were killed and 51 injured in a suspected suicide bomb blast inside a train in the St. Petersburg Metro, but you won’t see the expression of solidarity in European cities often displayed when other nations suffer similar heinous attacks.
That fact was not lost on the curious few who took to Twitter to question if Paris, Berlin, London or other Western capitals would be granting the victims of Russia the same acknowledgement given to so many in the wake of several terrorist attacks.
Many world leaders expressed their condolences with those impacted by the attack, including the Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo.
However, no landmark was decorated with Russia’s national colours Monday evening, although some creative types did try their best to rectify the snub.
Germany’s Brandenburg Gate has a history of showing solidarity with nations after similar attacks in Paris, Brussels, London, Orlando, Istanbul, Nice and Jerusalem, according to Berliner-Zeitung, but a senate speaker from the German press agency said the landmark would not radiate the Russian national colours because St. Petersburg is not a partner city of Berlin, and “exceptions should only be made in exceptional cases.”
Israel, however, did express its condolences and solidarity with the victims of the attack by lighting up city hall in Tel Aviv with the colours of the Russian flag.
I try to keep a certain distance from the anti-Trump circus. But I do want to put some thoughts on record, given the obsession with Trump’s Russia connection and what I see is a determined effort to minimize the British/NATO angle in the attack on Trump.
My personal feeling is that there are significant swaths of the European establishment that derive their mission and meaning from serving as allies to the United States in an anti-Trump effort: the British government and intelligence services, NATO, various right-leaning European governments, their think tanks, in other words, the Atlanticists.
They didn’t like Trump because he was more interested in dealing directly and positively with Russia on matters of US strategic concern in the Middle East and Asia and much less interested in perfecting the Atlanticist Euro-centric anti-Russian containment/deterrence apparatus and backing crazy EU/NATO expansion stunts like the Ukraine operation.
Perhaps similar to Trump’s interest in dealing with China instead of doing pivot. Difference is, Atlanticist lobby is much more entrenched in Washington, the NATO alliance is miles ahead of the “box of sand” Asian containment network, and Great Britain is America’s primary intelligence partner.
So I think people over the pond, particularly in Europe, were interested in feeding documentation on Trump’s murky Russia connections to his opponents, and especially on behalf of Hillary Clinton, who is very much an Atlanticist fave. Effort was pretty low key at first because nobody expected Trump to get anywhere, but things picked up when he got the nomination, and then shifted into apesh*t crazytime when he got the presidency.
The British link is there for all to see in the notorious Steele dossier. What people don’t want to see is the inference that Steele was either getting dirt from MI5/GCHQ or is simply a cut-out for a British effort.
I should say the possibility that the UK intelligence service may have been deeply involved in preparing the brief against Trump does not elicit an urge from me to spontaneously genuflect concerning the accuracy of the evidence. I daresay psyops—packaging and releasing selective intel and innuendo at opportune times through deniable channels for maximum effect–is a core mission of British spookdom, as is making up utter crap, like the notorious “dodgy dossier” on Saddam Hussein.
An interesting datapoint is the Guardian leg-humping a story about Michael Flynn having conversations with a Russian-English historian causing “concern” to “US and UK officials”. The only useful conclusion from this farrago, as far as I can tell, is that a) investigating Things Flynn was an official US-UK joint and not just Christopher Steele lunching Russian emigres in Grosvenor Square and b) the UK press is doing a similar tag teaming with US media to sell Trump/Russia like it pitched in with the US to sell Saddam/Iraq.
And the Guardian is doing it this time! You’ve come a long way, baby!
The mega-uproar over the “GCHQ tapped Trump” story was, to me, quite interesting, for the massive full-court pushback it elicited and the grudging backdown from the Trump administration.
If the story proved out true, it would be a disaster for the UK.
On the institutional level, confirmation that US investigatory and intel outfits resorted to GCHQ to, shall we say, supplement collection related to US citizens and *ahem* circumvent US laws would lead to demands for that bane of all spook prerogatives, oversight and perhaps a committee to review requests for intel exchange between the US and GCHQ before they happened (I recall reading that currently the NSA can reach into Five Eyes servers and pull out whatever it wants whenever it wants; it would be fun to find out in open testimony if that actually happens!).
On the political level, it would be hard to escape the imputation that Great Britain was conducting politically-motivated collection/querying/handover of intel concerning disfavored US politicians and officials, and that the English bulldog was INTERFERING IN AMERICA’S SACRED ELECTIONS, you know, like a certain country, name begins with R ends with A led by a guy name begins with P ends with N is allegedly doing.
It would be interesting to see how the public relations fracas on terms of “Putin trolls pushed fake news on Facebook” vs. “GCHQ pushed fake news into the FBI” would play.
GCHQ/MI5’s powerful capabilities and their slavish eagerness to put them at the service of the US are the glittering jewels in the tattered collar of the British poodle. If GCHQ becomes a “normal” intelligence interlocutor of the US—with the added stigma of having engaged in politicized active measures on behalf of US factions—then the UK risks dropping to parity with *gasp* Germany as another arm’s length partner.
Fox’s alacrity in yanking some guy called “Judge Nap” for publicizing the GCHQ surveillance allegations was interesting. You might expect Fox would be keen to push this rather provocative and open-ended talking point to provide some aid and comfort to Trump and ride a ratings-boosting angle. But Fox shut Nap down!
Wonder if Rupert Murdoch got the call from the UK government that any encouragement of this kind of tittle-tattle would call down the wrath of the British government on Rupert’s extensive media holdings in Britain.
Well, with Judge Nap in the cooler, I doubt any other Fox commentators will be too interested in pursuing that allegation.
And maybe the US intel community told Trump he’d be gone in a heartbeat if he threatened to compromise the US-GB special spook relationship to save his skin. So he backed off.
If Trump falls on his ass I expect that will provide the political cover for some discrete “now it can be told” bragging about how the Atlanticist band of brothers joined hands to defeat the Russian menace. If Trump hangs on, it just goes into the secret museum of US-UK ratf*cking operations.