Should Ukraine have given up its nuclear arsenal?

e13-iconThe Guardian reports: Ukraine’s prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has accused Russia of demonstrating unacceptable “military aggression” which has “no reason and no grounds”.

Moscow has deployed 10,000 troops along its border with Ukraine, deepening the crisis in Crimea ahead of a last desperate effort by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, to broker a deal with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in London on Friday.

Yatsenyuk told the UN security council on Thursday he is convinced Russians do not want war. He urged Russia’s leaders to heed the people’s wishes and return to dialogue with Ukraine. “If we start real talks with Russia, I believe we can be real partners,” Yatsenyuk said.

He said Ukraine gave up the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal in 1994 in exchange for guarantees of its independence and territorial integrity. After Russia’s recent actions, Yatsenyuk said, “it would be difficult to convince anyone on the globe not to have nuclear weapons”. [Continue reading...]

In an op-ed for the New York Times yesterday, John Mearsheimer wrote: The West has few options for inflicting pain on Russia, while Moscow has many cards to play against Ukraine and the West. It could invade eastern Ukraine or annex Crimea, because Ukraine regrettably relinquished the nuclear arsenal it inherited when the Soviet Union broke up and thus has no counter to Russia’s conventional superiority.

No doubt, if Israel’s leaders are ever pushed into a position where they need to defend retaining their own nuclear arsenal, they will surely be tempted to cite Professor Mearsheimer’s position — that giving up such weapons can turn out to be regrettable.

Let’s suppose, however, that Ukraine was still bristling with nuclear weapons — at its peak its arsenal was larger than those of Britain, France, and China combined — are we to imagine that its interim government would now be making veiled threats to incinerate Moscow? Are we to suppose that Russian forces would have stayed out of Crimea? After all, how many wars have Israel’s nuclear weapons prevented?

It seems just as likely that in the current situation, Putin would be arguing that Russia had no choice but take over the whole of Ukraine — not under the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians but in the name of defending global security, his argument being that in an unstable Ukraine, “loose nukes” pose a threat to everyone.

What seems regrettable is not that Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons but that the security guarantees it was given for doing so appear to have been worthless.

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Russia blocks access to major independent news sites

Electronic Frontier Foundation reports: Russia’s government has escalated its use of its Internet censorship law to target news sites, bloggers, and politicians under the slimmest excuse of preventing unauthorized protests and enforcing house arrest regulations. Today, the country’s ISPs have received orders to block a list of major news sites and system administrators have been instructed to take the servers providing the content offline.

The banned sites include the online newspaper Grani, Garry Kasparov’s opposition information site kasparov.ru, the livejournal of popular anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, and even the web pages of Ekho Moskvy, a radio station which is majority owned by the state-run Gazprom, and whose independent editor was ousted last month and replaced with a more government-friendly director.

The list of newly prohibited sites was published earlier today by Russia’s Prosecutor General, which announced that the news sites had been “entered into the single register of banned information” after “calls for participation in unauthorized rallies.” Navalny’s livejournal was apparently added to the register in response to the conditions of his current house arrest, which include a personal prohibition on accessing the Internet. [Continue reading...]

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How the Russia Today propaganda apparatus operates

a13-iconBuzzFeed reports: Staci Bivens knew something was seriously wrong when her bosses at Russia Today asked her to put together a story alleging that Germany — Europe’s economic powerhouse — was a failed state.

“It was me and two managers and they had already discussed what they wanted,” Bivens, an American who worked in RT’s Moscow headquarters from 2009 through 2011, said of a meeting she’d had to discuss the segment before a planned reporting trip to Germany. “They called me in and it was really surreal. One of the managers said, ‘The story is that the West is failing, Germany is a failed state.’”

Bivens, who had spent time in Germany, told the managers the story wasn’t true — the term “failed state” is reserved for countries that fail to provide basic government services, like Somalia or Congo, not for economically advanced, industrialized nations like Germany. They insisted. Bivens refused. RT flew a crew to Germany ahead of Bivens, who was flown in later to do a few standups and interviews about racism in Germany. It was the beginning of the end of her RT career.

“At that point I’d been there for a little bit and I’d had enough of the insanity,” Bivens said. She stayed until the end of her contract in 2011 and didn’t make an effort to renew it.

Judging by interviews with seven former and current employees, Bivens’ story is typical. [Continue reading...]

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Remembering Tony Benn (1925-2014)

f13-iconTony Benn interviewed by Anthony Clare in 1995.

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Yarmouk and a contagion of doubt

U.N. Denies That Syria Image Was Faked” and “U.N. Denies Altering Image of Palestinian Refugees in Damascus” — both headlines appeared in the New York Times on Tuesday and referred to doubts that have been expressed about the authenticity of what has become an iconic representation of suffering in Syria.

Yarmouk

As the following screenshot taken from a video that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) posted on YouTube and filmed at the same time as the photo above makes clear, the photograph’s authenticity is beyond doubt.

unrwa-yarmouk

Paradoxically, the fact that UN officials were put in a position where they needed to refute accusations that the photograph had been faked, and the New York Times’ own headlines, will quite likely have had the opposite of the intended effect. Where doubts may have previously been few, they are now just as likely to continue growing.

We live in an age of doubt and the internet is its engine — the very notion that something can be “beyond doubt” has itself become an object of doubt.

As someone who from a very early age was taught to question — I was lucky enough to have parents and teachers who recognized that questioning is a vital instrument of intelligence — the proliferation of doubt might to my eye look like a positive development. It might seem like a sign that people are less susceptible to manipulation by the political and corporate forces which shape popular thought. But I see little evidence that this is indeed the case.

On the contrary, the doubt that spreads so easily has less to do with critical intelligence and much more to do with suspicion and fear. The “fake” meme is much more contagious than any sober analysis.

Doubt and cynicism are held onto because they offer psychic armor for shielding ourselves from the dark forces controlling the world. The price, however, for those who employ this form of protection, is that it tends to render them immobile.

Yet clearly, the image of Yarmouk’s starving residents that got retweeted more than eight million times was not being passed around primarily by those who had doubts about what the photograph depicted.

As Chris Gunness, the spokesman for UNRWA said: “I saw that image and said, ‘This has the wow factor.’”

It is an image that resonates and does so for multiple reasons. Strange as it may sound, this is not only a news image but also a work of art.

In accordance with the principle of the “golden ratio” (or divine proportion), it is a perfectly balanced composition. It is a photograph that could just as easily be a painting.

More than simply capturing a moment of one day for one particular group of people, it seems to represent something timeless about the vulnerability of all people throughout history in times of war.

Within the skeletal remains of a city shattered by human brutality, we see that reinforced concrete is easier to destroy than the will to live.

Hope and desperation come together.

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U.N. refugee chief warns world powers not to forget Syria conflict

n13-iconn13-iconReuters reports: The head of the United Nation’s refugee agency said on Tuesday it must be ready in case Ukraine’s crisis causes refugees to flee Crimea, but his biggest worry is that “a total disaster” could occur if the international community diverts its attention away from Syria’s conflict.

Antonio Guterres, the head of the U.N.’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said in an interview that little progress was being made in efforts by the United States and Russia, now at loggerheads over Ukraine, to bring Syria’s warring sides together after the collapse of talks in Geneva last month.

“In the moment in which we need the most relevant countries in the world to be able to come together to narrow their differences and to try to find a way to move into peace for Syria, this tension around Ukraine will obviously not help,” Guterres told Reuters while visiting Washington to discuss Syria’s refugee crisis.

“I hope that those that have the most important responsibility in world affairs will be able to understand that forgetting Syria will be a total disaster,” he said. [Continue reading...]

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Editor of independent Russian news site replaced with pro-Kremlin figure

n13-iconThe Guardian reports: In what appears to be part of a growing state crackdown on liberal media, the editor of a major independent Russian news website has been replaced by a Kremlin-friendly editor after running an interview with a controversial Ukrainian nationalist.

Lenta.ru announced on its site on Wednesday that Galina Timchenko, who had worked there since its founding in 1999, would immediately be replaced by Alexei Goreslavsky, the former editor of the pro-Kremlin internet publication Vzglyad. Goreslavsky is currently deputy general director for external communications at the Afisha-Rambler-SUP media holding that owns Lenta.ru.

The news came only hours after the state communications watchdog issued a warning to Lenta.ru over a recent interview with Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the Ukrainian ultranationalist paramilitary group Right Sector, which played a key role in the protests that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. The Investigative Committee of Russia, the country’s main federal investigator, has charged Yarosh, who recently announced he would run for president in Ukraine’s May elections, with inciting terrorism over a post on a Right Sector social network page that called on Russia’s most-wanted terrorist, Doku Umarov, to “activate his struggle.”

But a letter posted on Lenta.ru and signed by 69 employees and correspondents said Goreslavsky’s appointment amounted to “direct pressure on the Lenta.ru editorial staff” and a violation of censorship laws. Lenta.ru’s editorial policy, which embraced controversial topics and was often critical of the Kremlin, won the site a wide readership, including 13.6 million unique visitors last month, according to Rambler.ru rankings.

“This is absolutely a political situation,” said Lenta.ru’s night editor, Pavel Borisov. “Galina Timchenko was the best editor-in-chief I ever had. I don’t plan to work with Goreslavsky.” The change in editor came with no warning, he added. [Continue reading...]

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Nick Turse: American proxy wars in Africa

Our major post-9/11 wars are goners and the imagery of American war-making is heading downhill. The Iraq War was long ago left in the trash heap of history, while in Afghanistan the talk is now about “the zero option” — that is, about an irritated Obama administration making a lock, stock, and drone departure from that country as 2014 ends. Meanwhile, back in America, headlines indicate that the U.S. military stands trembling at the brink of evisceration, with the U.S. Army soon to return to pre-World War II levels of troop strength and all the services about to go on a diet in an era of belt-tightening.  The only new arms being promoted are the ones Republicans are “up in” when it comes to the potential destruction of U.S. military might.

As it happens, the impression this leaves bears only the most minimal relationship to the actual U.S. global military posture of this moment.  The Middle Eastern and Persian Gulf buildup around Iran remains massive, even as talks on that country’s nuclear program are underway.  Despite the “zero option” media focus on Afghanistan, Obama administration officials seem determined that a residual force of trainers, mentors, and special operations types will remain in that country to anchor a rump war after combat troops leave this year.  They clearly expect the successor to the recalcitrant President Hamid Karzai to sign the necessary bilateral security pact — even if at the last moment.  As for the axe being taken to the Pentagon budget, it turns out, at worst, to be a penknife.

In the meantime, hardly noticed amid all the hoopla about future cuts to Army strength (which do indicate a genuine no-invasions-no-occupations-on-the-Eurasian-landmass change of strategy initiated in the late Bush years), there has been next to no attention paid to a striking piece of budgetary news: despite speculations about cuts to its fleet of aircraft carriers, the U.S. Navy is expected to keep its full contingent of 11 aircraft carrier strike groups — essentially 11 giant floating bases off the world’s coasts.  This fits well with the Obama administration’s much ballyhooed “pivot” to Asia.  As Michael Klare recently explained, that pivot is, at heart, a naval strategy (consonant with those 11 carriers) of ensuring ongoing control over the crucial energy sea lanes in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and the East and South China Seas through which China is going to have to import staggering amounts of liquid energy in the coming decades.

Finally, on a planet still impressively heavily garrisoned by Washington, hardly noticed by anyone and rarely written about, the U.S. military has for years been quietly moving into Africa in a distinctly below-the-radar fashion.  This represents a major new commitment of American power in a world of supposed cutbacks, but you would never know it.  If you’re a news jockey, every now and then you can catch a report, like David Cloud’s recently in the Los Angeles Times, which offers a brief snapshot of that process with, for instance, a head’s-up that 50 U.S. Special Operations troops have just been put on the ground at a “remote outpost” in Tunisia.  However, only at TomDispatch, thanks to the reporting of Nick Turse, can you find an ongoing account of the U.S. military move into Africa, its planning, its implementation, and the destabilization and blowback that seem to accompany it.  The Pentagon’s newest tactic for Africa, as he documents today: refight the colonial wars in partnership with the French.  Just tell me: What could possibly go wrong? Tom Engelhardt

Washington’s back-to-the-future military policies in Africa
America’s new model for expeditionary warfare
By Nick Turse

Lion Forward Teams? Echo Casemate? Juniper Micron?

You could be forgiven if this jumble of words looks like nonsense to you.  It isn’t.  It’s the language of the U.S. military’s simmering African interventions; the patois that goes with a set of missions carried out in countries most Americans couldn’t locate on a map; the argot of conflicts now primarily fought by proxies and a former colonial power on a continent that the U.S. military views as a hotbed of instability and that hawkish pundits increasingly see as a growth area for future armed interventions.     

Since 9/11, the U.S. military has been making inroads in Africa, building alliances, facilities, and a sophisticated logistics network.  Despite repeated assurances by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) that military activities on the continent were minuscule, a 2013 investigation by TomDispatch exposed surprisingly large and expanding U.S. operations — including recent military involvement with no fewer than 49 of 54 nations on the continent.  Washington’s goal continues to be building these nations into stable partners with robust, capable militaries, as well as creating regional bulwarks favorable to its strategic interests in Africa.  Yet over the last years, the results have often confounded the planning — with American operations serving as a catalyst for blowback (to use a term of CIA tradecraft). 

[Read more...]

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Blackwater in Ukraine? No, it was Alpha

Yesterday I laid out a timeline suggesting how the Blackwater-in-Ukraine story may have evolved. I did not, however, attempt to identify the armed men in the video that has kept this rumor alive in social media.

Thanks to a reader who said that the Ukrainian press identified the armed men as “Спецназ (Alpha) СБУ,” I have been able to piece together the story.

The elite Alpha special operations unit is attached to the Security Service of Ukraine.

The reason for their appearance outside the regional administrative building in Donetsk was given in the following local press report, Преступности.Нет (English version):

In Donetsk day 3 March during the seizure of the regional state administration of protesters attacked the ex-Governor of area Andrey shishatskiy.

It is reported by channel «Donbass» on his Youtube page.

So, the footage shows a group of people, among them people with the Russian flag in his hands, and beat former Governor of Donetsk region Shishatskiy.

According to the TV company, beat it from the attackers, interferes with the police and the special forces of the security service of Ukraine covers of his departure.

As is known, today the building of the Donetsk regional Council were captured by a group of Pro-Russian activists, who declared about the illegitimacy of Kyiv and declared himself the new authorities in Donetsk region.

This is the video showing former Governor Shishatskiy being attacked. Although the Alpha unit is not shown, they can be seen in another news report on the same incident.

alpha-donetsk

Before any of the dozens of copies of the video labelled “USA military mercenary BlackWater in Ukraine (Donetsk)” appeared on YouTube, the same video had been posted with this title: “Alpha” – Donetsk. 03/03/2014. The video’s description says: “After the Russian provocations, Special Forces of Alpha security appeared in Donetsk.”

No mention of Blackwater.

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How the NSA plans to infect ‘millions’ of computers with malware

f13-iconRyan Gallagher and Glenn Greenwald report: Top-secret documents reveal that the National Security Agency is dramatically expanding its ability to covertly hack into computers on a mass scale by using automated systems that reduce the level of human oversight in the process.

The classified files – provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – contain new details about groundbreaking surveillance technology the agency has developed to infect potentially millions of computers worldwide with malware “implants.” The clandestine initiative enables the NSA to break into targeted computers and to siphon out data from foreign Internet and phone networks.

The covert infrastructure that supports the hacking efforts operates from the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, and from eavesdropping bases in the United Kingdom and Japan. GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, appears to have played an integral role in helping to develop the implants tactic.

In some cases the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server, using the social media site as a launching pad to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive. In others, it has sent out spam emails laced with the malware, which can be tailored to covertly record audio from a computer’s microphone and take snapshots with its webcam. The hacking systems have also enabled the NSA to launch cyberattacks by corrupting and disrupting file downloads or denying access to websites.

The implants being deployed were once reserved for a few hundred hard-to-reach targets, whose communications could not be monitored through traditional wiretaps. But the documents analyzed by The Intercept show how the NSA has aggressively accelerated its hacking initiatives in the past decade by computerizing some processes previously handled by humans. The automated system – codenamed TURBINE – is designed to “allow the current implant network to scale to large size (millions of implants) by creating a system that does automated control implants by groups instead of individually.” [Continue reading...]

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How a shift in the FISA court secretly facilitated mass surveillance

n13-iconThe New York Times reports: Ten months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the nation’s surveillance court delivered a ruling that intelligence officials consider a milestone in the secret history of American spying and privacy law. Called the “Raw Take” order — classified docket No. 02-431 — it weakened restrictions on sharing private information about Americans, according to documents and interviews.

The administration of President George W. Bush, intent on not overlooking clues about Al Qaeda, had sought the July 22, 2002, order. It is one of several still-classified rulings by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court described in documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.

Previously, with narrow exceptions, an intelligence agency was permitted to disseminate information gathered from court-approved wiretaps only after deleting irrelevant private details and masking the names of innocent Americans who came into contact with a terrorism suspect. The Raw Take order significantly changed that system, documents show, allowing counterterrorism analysts at the N.S.A., the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. to share unfiltered personal information.

The leaked documents that refer to the rulings, including one called the “Large Content FISA” order and several more recent expansions of powers on sharing information, add new details to the emerging public understanding of a secret body of law that the court has developed since 2001. The files help explain how the court evolved from its original task — approving wiretap requests — to engaging in complex analysis of the law to justify activities like the bulk collection of data about Americans’ emails and phone calls.

“These latest disclosures are important,” said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “They indicate how the contours of the law secretly changed, and they represent the transformation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court into an interpreter of law and not simply an adjudicator of surveillance applications.” [Continue reading...]

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Conflict of interest: CIA lawyer at center of computer snooping clash

n13-iconThe Associated Press reports: The senior CIA lawyer accused by the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee of trying to intimidate the panel over its investigation into secret prisons and brutal interrogations of terrorism suspects was himself involved in the controversial programs. The attorney, the CIA’s top lawyer, is cited by name for his role more than 1,600 times in the Senate’s unpublished, 6,300-page investigative report, according to the panel’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Until the California Democrat’s extraordinary Senate speech Tuesday, the CIA’s senior deputy general counsel, Robert Eatinger, was little known outside a small cadre of highly specialized national security lawyers. He has maintained a low profile in a legal career that has spanned two decades at the CIA and in the Navy. But Feinstein’s remarkable accusations instantly made Eatinger famous — or infamous — over a simmering constitutional dispute that threatens to engulf two branches of the government.

Eatinger had filed a formal criminal complaint earlier this year on behalf of the CIA asking the Justice Department to investigate whether the Senate Intelligence Committee had improperly obtained classified CIA documents for an as-yet unreleased Senate report on the agency’s use of waterboarding and other abusive tactics against al-Qaida prisoners during the George W. Bush administration.

Eatinger’s move boomeranged Tuesday. [Continue reading...]

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Why John Kerry’s peace mission should worry liberal Zionists

o13-iconPeter Beinart writes: As John Kerry’s bid to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace approaches its moment of truth, you can sense the desperation among liberal Zionists. “Kerry’s mission is the last train to a negotiated two-state solution,” declared Thomas Friedman in January.

“This is a watershed moment after which Israel will face a completely different situation – one which will be governed by new realities much less favorable than those Israel faces today,” argued the philanthropist S. Daniel Abraham that same month. Kerry himself has said that, “If we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.”

I get it. You have to be blind not to see that liberal Zionists—those of us who believe in the legitimacy of a state dedicated to Jewish self-protection and the illegitimacy of Israel’s unjust, undemocratic control of the West Bank—are losing ground to one-staters at both ends. Kerry’s failure, which might spell the end of the American-led peace process itself, could turn that retreat into a rout.

But there’s a problem with being desperate for a deal: You lose your leverage over its content. Kerry and the rest of the Obama foreign policy team know that if they present a framework that Benjamin Netanyahu dislikes, he and the right-leaning American Jewish establishment will make their lives miserable. If, on the other hand, they present a framework that tilts against the Palestinians, the resulting Palestinian outrage will be far easier to withstand. That’s partly because Palestinians wield little influence in Washington. And it’s partly because we liberal Zionists—desperate to see Kerry succeed—have given every indication that we’ll support whatever he serves up, the particulars be damned.

The consequences of this political imbalance have been quietly playing themselves out for months now. Numerous press reports have suggested that Kerry is contemplating a framework that offers the Palestinians substantially less than what Bill Clinton offered them in December 2000 and what Ehud Olmert offered in 2008.

The Clinton parameters, for instance, called for Israeli troops to leave the Jordan Valley—the twenty-five percent of the West Bank that abuts its border with Jordan— within three years of a peace deal. Olmert was willing to withdraw them even faster

Mahmoud Abbas is also reportedly calling for a transition of three to five years. Netanyahu, by contrast, depending on whose reporting you believe, insists that Israeli troops must remain for ten or even forty years. 

And Kerry? Palestinian sources say he’s endorsed the ten-year timetable. According to the Washington Post, he’s suggested somewhere between five and fifteen

Kerry’s proposal, in other words, violates both the Clinton parameters and the understanding reached by Olmert and Abbas. Yet with rare exceptions, liberal Zionists aren’t protesting at all.

That’s just the beginning. When it comes to Jerusalem, the Clinton Parameters declared that, “the general principle is that Arab areas are Palestinian and Jewish ones are Israeli.” 

According to Bernard Avishai, Olmert and Abbas agreed to the same concept: “Jewish neighborhoods [of Jerusalem] should remain under Israeli sovereignty, while Arab neighborhoods would revert to Palestinian sovereignty.” 

And Kerry? In January, Israeli television reported that he had offered to locate the Palestinian capital in only one, relatively remote, neighborhood of East Jerusalem. (Either Isawiya, Beit Hanina, Shuafat or Abu Dis, which is not even in Jerusalem at all). Late last month, the Palestinians leaked that Kerry had again offered them a capital in Beit Hanina alone

Notice a pattern? Once again, assuming the reports are true, Kerry is pulling back from the principles established by both Clinton and Olmert. And once again, liberal Zionists are cheering him on.

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Turkish government seeks legal power to shut down any website in four hours

o13-iconSemih Idiz writes: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried hard to bring the Turkish media under government control, succeeding to a significant extent by getting crony businessmen to buy major national dailies and television channels.

Turkey has nevertheless remained an open society to a large extent with regard to the flow of information to the public, due not only to the independent portion of the media that continues to resist government pressures but also the Internet, and particularly social media.

It is no surprise then that the Internet should have become the bane of Erdogan’s life, particularly after taped conversations implicating him and members of his government in massive corruption allegations started appearing on video sharing sites.

Kadri Gursel’s March 7 post for Al-Monitor gives details about a voice recording leaked in this way, which has provided more fodder for his political rivals just as his Justice and Development Party (AKP) heads for crucial local elections at the end of this month.

Erdogan’s troubles with social media began after last summer’s Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, and the following nationwide anti-government riots during which many people were mobilized through Twitter, the social networking service.

“There is now a scourge called Twitter. The biggest lies can be found there. This thing called social media is currently the worst menace to society,” Erdogan complained bitterly on June 2, 2013.

Aware of the growing political threat to itself from social media, the Erdogan government introduced a draconian Internet law that effectively allows the head of Turkish Telecommunications Directorate (TIB), a government appointee, to close down any Internet site in four hours. [Continue reading...]

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Rebecca Solnit: Evacuate the economy

Call it a nightmare that passes for good news. Recently, the New York Times optimistically headlined a front-page piece by reporters Coral Davenport and Steven Erlanger, “U.S. Hopes Boom in Natural Gas Can Curb Putin.” It offered an eerie overview of where the administration of the president who came into office committed to reversing global warming has ended up.  If there’s “green” left in his presidency, it’s evidently the green of envy — that’s what some of his advisors believe countries like Russia will feel on learning that, with our new frackable energy wealth, we are going to be “Saudi America” in a decade or two.  Then, the implication is, Washington will really be able to throw its weight around geopolitically.

The Times piece began, “The crisis in Crimea is heralding the rise of a new era of American energy diplomacy as the Obama administration tries to deploy the vast new supply of natural gas in the United States as a weapon to undercut the influence of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, over Ukraine and Europe.”  Admittedly, given the lack of facilities for exporting those new reserves of natural gas, this isn’t going to happen any time soon.  Still, filled with hair-raising quotes — “‘In World War II, we were the arsenal of democracy,’ said Robert McNally, who was the senior director for international energy issues on the National Security Council during the Bush administration. ‘I think we’re going to become the arsenal of energy’” – it describes an approach that’s been caught with eerie accuracy by Michael Klare under the label “petro-machismo” in a piece at the Nation magazine.

According to the Times, in 2011 Hillary Clinton, while secretary of state, set up an 85-person bureau to channel “the domestic energy boom into a geopolitical tool to advance American interests around the world.” In a sentence that goes right to the heart of the matter in the sixth year of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Times article pointed out that “the administration’s strategy has attracted unlikely allies, including major oil and gas producers like ExxonMobil and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill…”  Amusingly, in the online version, that ill-chosen phrase “unlikely allies” has been expunged and the sentence rewritten (without any indication of a change or correction) — since, in the Green Revolution president’s new version of energy geopolitics, ExxonMobil and its big energy compatriots are now clearly “likely” allies.

There’s little new in an imperial power (or wannabe) using its control over energy resources as a source of geopolitical influence.  (See: the United States in the twentieth century; see: Russia today.)  In fact, in normal times on a different planet, the Obama administration’s new energy path would pass for a sensible approach to maximizing national strength.  As it happens, these are not normal times and we are not on the planet we once thought we knew.  As a result, this supposed renaissance of American global energy and power, which will put the production of ever more fossil fuels on the American agenda for decades, is in climate change terms the path to hell.  No matter who hails it, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit makes vividly clear, the new normal, the logical, the obvious, the prudent is these days a formula for, and a guarantee of, a planetary train wreck.  And if anyone cares about irony at all a couple of decades from now, this could well be Barack Obama’s true legacyTom Engelhardt

By the way, your home is on fire
The climate of change and the dangers of stasis
By Rebecca Solnit

As the San Francisco bureaucrats on the dais murmured about why they weren’t getting anywhere near what we in the audience passionately hoped for, asked for, and worked for, my mind began to wander. I began to think of another sunny day on the other side of the country 13 years earlier, when nothing happened the way anyone expected. I had met a survivor of that day who told me his story. 

A high-powered financial executive, he had just arrived on the 66th floor of his office building and entered his office carrying his coffee, when he saw what looked like confetti falling everywhere — not a typical 66th floor spectacle. Moments later, one of his friends ran out of a meeting room shouting, “They’re back.”

It was, of course, the morning of September 11th and his friend had seen a plane crash into the north tower of the World Trade Center. My interviewee and his colleagues in the south tower got on the elevator.  In another 15 minutes or so, that was going to be a fast way to die, but they managed to ride down to the 44th floor lobby safely. A guy with a bullhorn was there, telling people to go back to their offices.

Still holding his cup of coffee, he decided — as did many others in that lobby — to go down the stairs instead.  When he reached the 20th floor, a voice came on the public address system and told people to go back to their offices. My storyteller thought about obeying those instructions. Still holding his coffee, he decided to keep heading down. He even considered getting back on an elevator, but hit the stairs again instead. Which was a good thing, because when he was on the ninth floor, the second plane crashed into the south tower, filling the elevator shafts with flaming jet fuel. Two hundred to 400 elevator riders died horribly. He put down his coffee at last and lived to tell the tale. 

[Read more...]

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Beware the rise of Russia’s new imperialism

o13-iconRobert Horvath, a specialist on Russian politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, wrote the following op-ed in August 2008, at the outbreak of the Russo-Georgian War. It is as relevant now as it was then.

Horvath wrote: Perhaps the worst thing about the anti-American left is not its prejudices but its parochialism. Fixated upon the evils of US global hegemony, its publicists turn a blind eye to the imperialism of regimes opposed to that hegemony.

Consider this analysis by Guardian columnist Seumas Milne: “By any sensible reckoning, this is not a story of Russian aggression, but of US imperial expansion and ever tighter encirclement of Russia by a potentially hostile power.”

To deny that Russian imperialism is shaping the events unfolding in the Caucasus is to ignore the public pronouncements of Russian leaders and the climate of nationalist hysteria that permeates the Russian media. Within hours of his arrival in Vladikavkaz last week, Vladimir Putin boasted that Russia “for centuries” played a “positive, stabilising role (as) a guarantor of the security, progress and co-operation” in the Caucasus and “would remain so in the future”.

That confident affirmation of Russia’s imperial destiny is a tribute to the achievements of a decade of nationalist propaganda in the state-controlled media. No longer is public opinion agitated by the memory of Russia’s 19th-century conquest of the Caucasus, Stalin’s genocidal deportations, and the two brutal Chechen wars. As human rights activist Sergei Kovalev has lamented, the regime’s tribunes “have drummed the values of the imperial state into the social mind”.

This indoctrination was made possible by the subjugation of the mass media during Putin’s early years in power. As a result of the displacement of liberal journalists by “patriotic” ideologues, Russian television became a forum for the most improbable conspiracy theories, sneering contempt for the West, sycophantic adulation of Putin and the celebration of Russian military power. It also provided a platform for charismatic commentators such as Mikhail Leontev and Vladimir Solovev, vehement converts to the imperial idea.

The ascent of the new Russian imperialism is exemplified by the philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, who emerged in the radical nationalist underground of the late 1980s. Languishing at the margins of politics during the Yeltsin years, he adopted Eurasianism, an ideology formulated in the 1920s by Russian emigres and popularised in the late Soviet period by the historian Lev Gumilev.

For Eurasianists, Russia was a unique Slavic-Turkic civilisation of the steppe and the eternal enemy of decadent Europe. In Dugin’s reworking, Eurasianism became a justification for the resurrection of an empire on the ruins of the Soviet Union and for a struggle to the death against the Atlantic democracies. [Continue reading...]

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