thieves (and mass murderers) fall out

Intelligence Spats: Australia, Britain and Huawei
Binoy Kampmark, Off-guardian, Feb 19 2020

A note of fraternal tension has been registered between the UK and Australia. It began with Britain’s decision to permit China’s technology giant Huawei a role in the construction of the country’s 5G network. While the decision is qualified to non-core functions, as UK boxtops term it, the irritations to Pindostan and, it follows, Australia, have been far from negligible. Pindo Congress critturs have been clear that letting Huawei into the stables of security risks future trade deals. Pompeo has been equally insistent on the dangers on his visit to the UK, saying among other things:

When you allow the information of your citizens of the national security information of your citizens to transit a network that the Chinese Communist Party has a legal mandate to obtain, it creates risk.

At the MSC, Esper warned:

Reliance on Chinese 5G vendors could render our partners critical systems vulnerable to disruption, manipulation and espionage.

As for Trump, the words “apoplectic” and “fury” figured in responding to the UK decision. Australian boxtops have relished their role in telling the old, long-in tooth Mother Country off. Simon Gilding, director of the ASD till December, wrote in The Strategist:

5G decisions reflect one of those quietly pivotal moments that crystallise a change in world affairs. The UK is putting its faith in a flawed and outdated cyber-security model, to convince themselves that they can manage the risk that Chinese intelligence services could use Huawei’s access to UK telco networks to insert bad code.

The British decision had been “disappointing, doing the wrong thing” on the technology. For instance, it had not considered Australian testing in the field. He recalled:

I was part of the team in the ASD that tried to design a suite of cyber-security controls that would give the government confidence that hostile intelligence services could not leverage their national vendors to gain access to our 5G networks. Measures of mitigation were designed with the express purpose of preventing a state actor from gaining access to the networks. All failed.

The UK government has been attempting to reassure the “Five Eyes” that their security concerns are unjustified. Raab spent a good deal of his time during this month’s visit to Canberra attempting to assuage members of the Federal Parliament Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees. That effort seemed to fall flat. In a report in the SMH, Deputy Intelligence Committee Chair and Labor MP Anthony Byrne was irate, notably at Raab’s response that the Huawei decision was a “technical” if “difficult” matter, but hardly political. Byrne is reported to have asked of Raab:

How would you feel if the Russians laid down infrastructure in your own networks? That’s how we feel about Huawei.

Officially, Byrne gave the impression that things had gone rather well in “a full and frank discussion regarding 5G, trade and strategic challenges.” Privately, that same Byrne was cocksure, daring, even rude. According to the source reported in the SMH, He basically said:

I’ll raise you my ASD against your GCHQ.

China, he argued, had become an “existential” threat to Australia, being both its largest trading partner and most formidable “security threat.” Few others were privy to the discussions that took place between Raab and various Australian parliamentarians. Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee’s Liberal MP Andrew Hastie was present, as was Foreign Affairs Committee chair, Liberal senator David Fawcett. The other person to bear witness to discussions was the UK High Commissioner Vicki Treadell. For Treadell, the matter was obvious. Someone in the meeting had ratted. As the ABC subsequently found out, “measured” and “stern” letters were duly sent from the High Commissioner’s Office to both committee chairs chiding them for the leaks. Despite failing to confirm the existence of such letters, the UK Commission being supposedly “unable to comment on private briefings, or on any information pertaining to these private briefings”, the shells had been fired. Feeling put out, Parliament’s intelligence and security committee cancelled a planned visit to the UK scheduled to take place in March, preferring the more reliable, anti-Huawei environs of Washington. The official, anodyne explanation for the cancellations was put down to advice given by Australia’s High Commissioner in the UK “as he advised that counterpart committees in the UK have not yet reconstituted following the UK’s December election.” The reasons given to the ABC by a member of the intelligence committee proved more forthright:

If this is the attitude of the British, we may as well visit the Pindos, who we can trust more on this stuff.

A right royal spat, indeed, and one not without its juvenile connotations.

this story is about pindostan’s degenerate & racist ‘journalism’, as much as it is about china

China expels WSJ reporters over ‘racist’ headline
Eva Xiao, AFP News, Feb 19 2020

China on Wednesday ordered three reporters from the WSJ to leave the country over what it deemed a racist headline, in one of the harshest moves against foreign media in years. Pindostan protested what it called an affront to press freedom. The day before, it had tightened rules on Chinese media organisations that it considers state propaganda. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the WSJ opinion piece, “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” had a “racially discriminatory” and “sensational” headline, and slammed the newspaper for not issuing an official apology. Geng told a press briefing:

As such, China has decided that from today, the press cards of three WSJ reporters in Beijing will be revoked.

The WSJ reported that deputy bureau chief Josh Chin and reporters Chao Deng and Philip Wen had been ordered to leave the country in five days. Pompeo condemned the expulsions and voiced hope that China would one day allow its citizens “the same access to accurate information” that Pindos enjoy. Pompeo said in a statement:

Mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions. The correct response is to present counter arguments, not restrict speech.

The three journalists work in the WSJ’s news section, which is not linked to the editorial and opinion section. The newspaper’s publisher, William Lewis, said the outlet was “deeply disappointed” with China’s decision and asked that the visas of the three reporters be reinstated. Lewis said in a statement:

This opinion piece was published independently from the WSJ newsroom and none of the journalists being expelled had any involvement with it. The need for quality, trusted news reporting from China is greater than ever, Roday’s decision to target our news department journalists greatly hinders that effort. However, this has clearly caused upset and concern amongst the Chinese people, which we regret.

The op-ed, written by Bard College professor Walter Russell Mead, criticised the Chinese government’s initial response to the new coronavirus outbreak, calling the Wuhan city government at the virus epicentre “secretive and self-serving,” while dismissing national efforts as ineffective. The phrase “sick man of Asia” originally referred to China in the late 19th and early 20th century, when it was exploited by foreign powers during a period sometimes called the country’s “century of humiliation,” Mead tweeted after the op-ed was published:

At Pindo newspapers, writers typically do NOT write or approve the headlines. Argue with the writer about the article content, with the editors about the headlines.

The new coronavirus epidemic has killed more than 2,000 people in China and infected more than 74,000, and has spread to at least two dozen countries. Geng said:

The article slandered the efforts of the Chinese government and the Chinese people to fight the epidemic.

The expulsions come a day after Pindostan angered China by classifying five state media outlets as foreign missions, including Xinhua and the China Global TV Network, with State Dept boxtops saying they were part of Beijing’s growing propaganda apparatus. On Wednesday, Global Times said in an editorial on its English-language website:

There are no connections between the two events, but it is not completely coincidental that they happened at about the same time. The two countries’ values are drifting apart. This is not a good sign.

China’s move to force out the three journalists marks a drastic escalation in pressure on the international media. Multiple foreign reporters have been effectively expelled over the past five years. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said in a statement:

The action taken against the WSJ correspondents is an extreme and obvious attempt by the Chinese authorities to intimidate foreign news organisations. China has not outright expelled a foreign correspondent since 1998. Nine journalists have been either expelled or effectively expelled through non-renewal of visas since 2013. In August, China refused to renew the press credentials of WSJ journalist Chun Han Wong, after he and Wen wrote an article on one of Pres Xi Jinping’s cousins. Our 2019 survey of 109 foreign journalists said many working in China have been threatened with visa delays, or issued with short-stay visas, which they believed were related to their coverage.

even the demure jason ditz is driven to an alarmist headline

Turkey Edges Toward Direct War With Syria in Idlib Province
Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com, Feb 19 2020

Erdogan says that a military operation in north-west Syria to expel Syrian forces from Idlib is only “a matter of time,” as Turkey continues to send more troops into the area. Turkey has launched multiple attacks against the SAA in the past month, mostly to try to slow SAA advances against AQ. Erdogan has repeatedly demanded Syria abandon the Idlib Province to the Islamist groups, and now intends to try to directly do this. Erdogan presented this new war as necessary because talks with Russia failed to get them to expel Syria from this Syrian province. Russia, however, is warning Turkey against trying to impose a military solution in north-west Syria. Turkey is trying to present operations in support of AQ’s territorial control as a humanitarian necessity, and Syria’s fighting as endangering civilians.

Turkey edges towards direct conflict with Russian-backed Syria
Tuvan Gumrukcu, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Reuters, Feb 19 2020

ANKARA/AMMAN – Erdogan said on Wednesday a military operation by his forces to push back a Syrian government offensive against rebels in north-west Syria was now “a matter of time” after talks with Russia failed to halt the assault. Turkish troops have already massed inside the Idlib region and more were heading to the border area, bringing NATO member Turkey and Russian-backed Syria close to the brink of direct confrontation. The Kremlin, which has supported the SAA push with airstrikes, said a clash between Turkish and SAA forces would be a “worst-case scenario” and Russia would work to prevent the situation from worsening. SAA troops supported by Russian warplanes and special forces have been battling since December to eradicate the last rebel bastions in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in what could be one of the final chapters of the nine-year-old civil war. Speaking to MPs from his ruling AK Party on Wednesday, Erdogan said Turkey was determined to make Idlib a secure zone even while talks with Moscow continued. Several rounds of diplomacy had failed to reach an agreement so far, he said. Erdogan, whose country has the second-largest army in NATO, said:

We are entering the last days for the regime to stop its hostility in Idlib. We are making our final warnings. Turkey has made every preparation to carry out its own operational plans. I say that we can come at any point. In other words, the Idlib offensive is only a matter of time.

Erdogan on Saturday appeared to move forward his earlier end-of-February deadline for a Syrian withdrawal from Idlib. Assad has showed no sign of doing so and has predicted the eventual defeat of his foes. They include Turkish-backed rebels and jihadist militants. An opposition military source told Reuters that 15,000 Turkish soldiers were now in north-west Syria after numerous convoys had poured into the territory in recent days. he said, referring to a Turkish border town:

You can’t imagine the scale of Turkish reinforcements, half of Reyhanli is now full of Turkish commandoes ready to enter Syria. They are readying their forces for zero hour, operations are expected to start any time.

Ankara and Moscow signed an agreement in 2018 to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib allowing both sides to set up observation posts. Since the escalation in the conflict, both sides have accused each other of flouting the agreement. In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syrian forces were upholding previous agreements but also reacting to provocations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said:

If we talk about an operation against legitimate Syrian authorities and armed forces, it is of course a worst-case scenario.

In the past week the Syrian army has seized dozens of towns around Aleppo and the M5 highway linking Damascus to Aleppo. It was unclear when Ankara and Moscow might resume talks. Syrian military defector general Ahmad Rahhal said the talks in Moscow on Monday “were humiliating to Turkey” and had angered Ankara. He told Reuters:

The Russians have made a mistake. We are heading towards a Turkish military operation in Syria but no one knows exactly when. It may start in waves and gradually build up on several fronts.

Russia Warns Turkey, Blocks UN Bid To End Syria Bloodshed
Fulya Ozerkan, AFP, Feb 19 2020

Russia on Wednesday warned Turkey against intervening in Syria as it blocked a UN bid to end the Damascus regime’s brutal assault on the last rebel enclave. Syrian aid workers called urgently for a ceasefire and international help for nearly a million people fleeing the regime onslaught in the country’s northwestern Idlib province, the biggest wave of displaced civilians in the nine-year conflict. Turkey, supporter of some rebel groups in Idlib, has been pushing for a renewed ceasefire in talks with Russia, which backs the Syrian regime. Ankara is eager to prevent another flood of refugees into its territory adding to the 3.7 million Syrians it already hosts. The Syrian NGO Alliance said displaced people are “escaping in search of safety only to die from extreme weather conditions and lack of available resources.” Razan Saffour, of the Syrian Expatriate Medical Association, told AFP in Istanbul:

We have hundreds and thousands of people who are fleeing, not just from bombardments but from lack of insulation, from the weather, a lack of heating. It feels like doomsday.

The group said a total of $336m was needed for basic food, water and shelter. Education resources were also needed for 280 million displaced school-age children (sic! – RB). Erdogan said talks with Moscow over the past fortnight had so far failed to achieve “the desired result” and warned that Turkey would launch an offensive into Syria unless Damascus pulled its forces back by the end of the month. Erdogan said in a televised speech:

An operation in Idlib is imminent. We are counting down. We are making our final warnings.

He called for Syrian forces to retreat by the end of this month behind Turkey’s military posts in Idlib, which were set up under a 2018 deal with Russia designed to hold off a regime advance. The Kremlin quickly responded to Erdogan’s threat, saying that Turkey should instead act against “terrorist groups” in Idlib. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow:

If we are talking about an operation against the legitimate authorities of the SAR and armed forces of the SAR, this would of course be the worst-case scenario.

With Turkey moving large numbers of reinforcements into Idlib in recent weeks, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters in Ankara:

It is out of the question for us to withdraw from our observation posts. If there is any sort of attack against them, we will retaliate in kind.

Russia has repeatedly vetoed UNSCRs on the conflict, as it hopes for the triumph of the regime. At the UN, diplomats said they were unable to produce a statement on ending the fighting due to Russian objections. Nicolas de Riviere, the French ambassador to the UN, told reporters:

We tried very hard to have a press statement calling for cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access to Idlib. Basically Russia said no, which is very painful.

The UN envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, told the UNSC:

No progress has been reported after several rounds of talks between Turkey and Russia held in Ankara and Moscow. To the contrary, public statements from different quarters, Syrian and international, suggest an imminent danger of further escalation.

Earlier this week the UN said the displaced were mainly women and children. It warned that babies were dying of cold because aid camps are full. The Syrian NGOs called for the warring parties to allow safe access for humanitarian groups and for a “complete ceasefire and end to human rights violations.” According to the British-based SOHR, the regime offensive has killed more than 400 civilians since it began in December, adding to the toll of more than 380,000 who have died in the years of unrest. The UN OCHA head on site, Mark Lowcock, said earlier this week:

The violence in north-west Syria is indiscriminate. Health facilities, schools, residential areas, mosques and markets have been hit.

The head of the WHO said Tuesday that out of nearly 550 health facilities in north-west Syria, only about half were operational. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists in Geneva:

We repeat: health facilities and health workers are not a legitimate target.

yikes

Media report ‘Trump asked Assange to deny/cover up link with Russia,’ quoting statement showing no such thing
Nebojsa Malic, RT.com, Feb 19 2020

Almost a year since Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ probe dropped dead from lack of evidence, mainstream media outlets are still pushing ‘Donald Trump-Russia collusion’ as established fact, twisting words to make it seem that way. Case in point are breathless bombshells on Wednesday that Assange’s lawyers confirmed Trump offered the WikiLeaks founder a pardon if he “denied Russia link to hack” of the Demagogs in 2016 (Groon) or “cover up the involvement of Russia in hacking” the DNC (Beast).

Both outlets base their headlines on a revelation from Westminster Magistrates Court, where Assange’s barrister Edward Fitzgerald presented a statement from another attorney, Jennifer Robinson, about Pindo Congressman Dana Rohrabaher “going to see Assange and saying on instructions from the president, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Assange said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC leaks.” Though both publications faithfully reproduced Fitzgerald’s quote, they both jumped to the exact same conclusion, presenting Robinson’s statement as proof that Trump sought to “deny” or “cover up” what they treat as the established fact, namely the ‘Russian hack’ of the DNC, and the subsequent publication of internal party emails. Never mind that the ‘Russian hack’ has only been alleged by Mueller’s prosecutors and the Pindo intelligence community, the same one that spied on Trump during and after the 2016 election, the main story around which this malicious misinterpretation resolves isn’t even true. While Rohrabacher did visit Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, he said it was Assange who showed him “definitive proof that Russia was not the source” for the DNC emails, according to a Feb 2018 report in the Intercept.

Furthermore, Rohrabacher said that he was never able to share this with Trump, because he was blocked by the president’s chief of staff at the time, John Kelly. Rohrabacher told the Intercept:

Not only Kelly, but others are worried if I say one word to Trump about Russia, that it would appear to out-of-control prosecutors that that is where the collusion is.

Meanwhile, Assange did not want to release the evidence publicly, so as not to compromise his sources and methods. The timeline of events also goes against the Groon’s and Beast’s interpretation. Months after the meeting with Rohrabacher, in Nov 2018, a secret Pindo indictment against Assange was revealed. Mueller delivered his report, finding no evidence of any Pindos “colluding” with Russia in the 2016 election, on Mar 22 2019. Less than three weeks later, on Apr 11, Assange’s asylum was revoked and he was hauled out of the embassy in handcuffs. The WikiLeaks publisher was thrown into a dungeon in Belmarsh, where he has been ever since. In May, the Pindo government revealed the expanded indictment, threatening him with 175 years behind bars for “attempted hacking,” but in relation to the 2010 Pentagon disclosures, not the 2016 election. Meanwhile, the same media outlets that have spent the past three years screeching about Trump’s “collusion” with Russia are twisting words of Assange’s lawyers to retroactively validate their repeatedly debunked reporting, and see the WikiLeaks journalist imprisoned forever.

UK post brexit

941Source: Groan

Priti Patel claims 8.5 m people could fill workforce gaps created by new immigration plan
Andrew Woodcock, Independent, Feb 19 2020

Priti Patel has been branded “clueless” after claiming that labour shortages caused by her tough new immigration plans could be filled by 8.5m “economically inactive” people in the UK. The home secretary was speaking as sectors from care homes to construction to farming warned that they will face difficulty recruiting enough staff after the points-based system comes into force at the end of the year. But official figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the 8.5m 16 to 64 year olds currently not seeking work include around 2.3m students and 2.1 million long-term sick, as well as more than 1.1m who are retired and 1.9m who are looking after their family or home. Fewer than 1.9m of the total were recorded as wanting a job. The IPPR think tank calculated that Ms Patel’s immigration plans, which replace free movement with a requirement for most migrants to have a job offer worth £25,600 or more, would rule out around 70% of EU workers currently in the country, delivering a “shock” to key sectors of the economy. Those excluded would include 90% of EU nationals in the transport and storage sector, 85% in hotels and restaurants, 66% in health and social care and 59% in construction, the think tank said. Boris Johnson said the changes would mean the UK “welcoming the best and brightest from around the world whilst maintaining full control of our borders.” And Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage hailed them as “a very big step in the right direction.” But Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said they spelt “absolute disaster” for the care sector, which has not been granted an exemption from the minimum pay threshold. And the Federation of Master Builders said closing the door on “low-skill” workers would stand in the way of Mr Johnson achieving his promises of massive infrastructure investment and 1m new homes. Brian Berry, the trade association’s chief executive, said:

It’s simply unrealistic to assume the domestic workforce will fill this gap in the next nine months.

Dame Sara Thornton, the anti-slavery commissioner, warned that the protection of vulnerable people needs to be “front and centre” of the debate on the changes, as people-traffickers “will seek every opportunity to abuse new immigration policies” during a period of significant upheaval in the system. Meanwhile, Ms Patel conceded that her own parents, who set up a chain of newsagents after arriving in the UK in the 1960s, would not have been allowed into the UK under her new rules, though she suggested that they might instead have qualified under arrangements for refugees, having faced persecution in Uganda. Challenged over fears her plans will leave gaps in the workforce, the home secretary told Sky News:

It is about time businesses started to invest in people in this country. We have over 8 million people aged between 16 and 64 that are economically inactive right now. That is 20% of the workforce. It is down to businesses to work well with the government and join us in investing in people, levelling up across the UK so we can have wage growth across the entire country.

Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, said it was “not credible” for ministers to expect millions of pensioners, students and carers to enter the workforce. she said:

Precarious youth and seasonal visas aren’t the answer either. The government’s plans will make it easier for bad bosses to exploit migrant workers and drive down pay and conditions for everyone.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said:

Priti Patel is clearly clueless about the labour market. Not only has she unveiled an immigration policy that potentially devastates our social care sector, detrimentally impacting on some of the most vulnerable in society, she’s also justifying it by saying that those who are carers, sick or retired should take up these jobs. Yet again, the Tories are putting dogma ahead of the needs of the economy and it’s the vulnerable paying the price.

Lib Dem home affairs spox Christine Jardine said:

Priti Patel’s comment is evidence that this government does not care a jot about people’s lives. Rather than allowing people to travel to the UK and contribute to our economy by working, Priti Patel would rather drag people out of education, out of retirement and out of hospital beds and set them to work.

Social care providers were loudest in their warnings about the blow the new immigration rules would deal to their sector. Migrants make up around 17% of staff in adult social care, 40% in London, and there are currently more than 120,000 unfilled vacancies across the country. The Nuffield Trust warned that Patel’s proposals risked pushing the sector “over the edge,” while Nadra Ahmed from the National Care Association said:

The government is either not listening or closing their eyes to the fact that social care needs to be on the shortage occupation list.

Farmers welcomed changes to increase the number of seasonal workers they can recruit from outside the EU from 2,500 to 10,000 for the coming harvest. But the National Farmers’ Union urged the government to commit to a full scheme for 2021, so growers can recruit the 70,000 seasonal workers needed on fruit, vegetable and flower farms. NFU president Minette Batters said that failure to provide an entry route not only for fruit-pickers, but also packers, meat processors and vets, would “severely impact” on their ability to deliver high-quality, affordable food for the public. And Martin Emmett of the Horticultural Trades Association said that a “significant increase” in numbers of seasonal agricultural worker places would be needed if the industry was to help Mr Johnson deliver his manifesto pledge to plant 75,000 acres of trees a year as part of the UK’s fight against climate change. he said:

The ornamental horticulture sector, along with other sectors, relies upon a seasonal workforce for its essential operations. We stand ready to support government targets on tree planting, import substitution, biosecurity and UK production, but the government needs to support the industry in how the shortfalls in labour are to be fulfilled in 2021 and beyond.

brain death of UK, never mind NATO

EU Says Northern Ireland Must Keep Custom Checks Post-Brexit
Demond Cureton, Sputnik News, Feb 19 2020

Northern Ireland must comply apply European Union customs codes as well as standards in goods, EU advisor Stefaan De Rynck said on Wednesday. The comments were made just weeks after Britain left the EU on Jan 31, triggering a year-long transition period of fierce negotiations on trade and cooperation agreements. De Rynck made the comments at a speech at the London School of Economics, which aimed to discuss concerns over post-Brexit trade and finance. The chief advisor to EU chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, also said that trade talks would be tougher than negotiations that secured the UK’s divorce settlement, due to the broader scope of issues and deadline. EU officials had told the UK ‘well in advance’ that free trade deals would require London to uphold comittments to fair competition, he added. The EU “respects” that the UK government has said that Brexit meant “friction and the creation of non-tariff barriers to trade,” De Rynck said as reported by Sky News political correspondent Rob Powell, but added that Mr Barnier had said in prior comments that “if you leave the single market, there will be friction.”

The EU “precondition” of a robust level playing field guarantee was “no surprise,” as it had been addressed by the EU27 as early as Mar 2018, De Rynck said. Every FTA was tailored to the third country involved, he added, responding to comments from Downing Street tweeted on late Tuesday.

​The UK’s Brexit plans were a “source of concern” and that its “level of ambition” was not being met as stated in last year’s agreement, he added, citing a ministerial statement released earlier in February. De Rynck added that the closest possible security relationship would require work with the ECJ if EU concepts were to be used, including adherence to the ECHR. The UK’s decision to end freedom of movement in the country was no surprise, he said, adding:

Free movement has been a tremendous benefit for this country economically and culturally.

The news comes after Barnier said that the EU would “never, never, never” compromise on the integrity of the common market, adding that London would face the reality after ‘underestimating’ the costs of leaving the EU. The top EU Brexit chief made the comments at the Queen’s University in Belfast amid uncertainty over the Irish backstop, which would enforce physical custom checks at the border between the country and Republic of Ireland, Reuters reported in late January. He said at the time:

Leaving the single market, leaving the customs union will have consequences. And what I saw in the last year is that many of these consequences have been underestimated in the UK. Now we have to face the reality.

Further problems arose after Mr Barnier struck down any notion of a ‘Canada-style’ free trade agreement with Brussels, stating that the geographical proximities of a UK-EU free trade deal were “very particular” and could not work as with deals between the UK and South Korea or Japan. The comments were followed by London’s plans to bar non-English speaking migrants and unskilled overseas workers after Brexit, which the Cabinet Office arguing for further investment in automation and retaining current workforces, allowing Downing Street to keep campaign promises to reduce net immigration figures. The UK officially left the EU at 23:01 on Jan 31, with a deadline of Dec 31 to finalise any negotiations with Brussels and secure an FTA or risk entering a ‘no-deal’ scenario under WTO terms. Johnson said that he would deliver Brexit ‘come what may’ after snap elections in early December when UK Conservatives landed a further 80 seats in Commons.

Barnier rebuffs Frost over EU trade deal
Andrew Woodcock, Independent, Feb 18 2020

Michel Barnier has delivered a firm rebuff to Boris Johnson over claims that it would be “undemocratic” for Brussels to expect the UK to sign up to a “level playing-field” on rules and regulations in a future trade deal. The claim was made in a high-profile speech last night by the prime minister’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost, who said that the ability for Britain to diverge from EU rules was the main point of withdrawal. Barnier said that agreement on common rules in areas like workplace rights and environmental protections was necessary to avoid unfair competitive advantages between businesses on opposite sides of the Channel. Brussels fears that the absence of shared regulations would result in the UK dumping cut-price goods produced to lower standards in its markets. He pointedly noted that Mr Johnson himself signed up to “robust” level playing-field arrangements in the political declaration agreed with Brussels only a few months ago. And he cast doubt on the prospect of the UK securing the Canada-style trade deal which the PM is seeking without a commitment of this kind, insisting that Britain’s geographical proximity to the remaining 27-nation bloc meant the two countries’ positions were not comparable. In a signal that Brussels is not ready to budge on the position agreed with the UK in October, Mr Barnier said:

We remain ready to work very quickly with the UK on the basis of the political declaration agreed with Boris Johnson just a few months ago. We remain ready to propose a partnership if the UK want it.

The impasse points towards a strictly limited trade deal, or no deal at all, when the transition period to Brexit ends in December, raising the prospect of tariffs and non-tariff barriers on UK exports to the continent. Speaking in Brussels on Monday, Mr Frost said that the UK was “not frightened” by the threat of greater trade friction.“ He said:

This isn’t a simple negotiating position which might move under pressure. It’s the point of the whole project. Any attempt to force Britain to comply with Brussels regulations would be unsustainable. At some point, democratic consent would snap dramatically and finally.

But Mr Barnier said that the level playing field demand was “truly not” undemocratic, telling reporters in Brussels:

It is a sovereign decision of the UK and the EU to put in certain subjects their rules, their norms, in cooperation with each other. It is a sovereign decision of the EU. It is a sovereign decision of the UK to co-operate. In last October’s political declaration document, Mr Johnson agreed to pursue a future relationship ensuring open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field. It is formally written in the political declaration to prevent that distortion of competition, unfair competitive advantages. That is what Boris Johnson wrote in the political declaration. I am looking for a means calmly and seriously to translate into legal form the political commitments made with the UK, not without it.

The EU remains ready to seek an “ambitious partnership” with Britain, but its “particular and unique geographical proximity” means that any deal cannot be directly compared with those struck with Canada, South Korea or Japan, he said.

EU wages ‘slide wars’ against UK to convince Boris Johnson it will not back down in trade deal row
Rob Merrick, Independent, Feb 19 2020

The EU is waging ‘slide wars’ against the UK to convince Boris Johnson it will refuse a tariff-free trade deal if he insists on the right to break its rules. A graph sets out why the UK, a powerful economy on its doorstep, will not be allowed to wriggle out of past commitments not required of Canada, South Korea, Japan and other distant countries. It shows how about 13% of EU trade is with the UK, while just 2% or less is with countries many thousands of km away that enjoy favourable agreements with Brussels. What was widely-dubbed ‘slide wars’ is a riposte to the inflammatory speech by David Frost, the prime minister’s EU adviser, insisting democracy will “snap” unless the UK can set its own regulations. The stance puts the UK on course to crash out of the transition period at the end of 2020 with no trade deal, risking huge economic damage, unless one side gives ground. An aide to Michel Barnier, Brussels’ chief negotiator, again insisted it would not budge from maintaining “level playing field” on state subsidies, environmental protections and workers’ rights. Speaking in London, Stefaan De Rynck warned:

It’s clear that for us it’s a different ball game that we are playing with the UK to the one that we agreed with Canada in terms of the level playing-field. Some in the UK now seem to want to become Canadians, but Dover is much closer to Calais than Ottawa is. Proximity matters, distance matters in trade. What also matters is the interconnectedness between our economies. So, in terms of zero tariff, zero quota access, this brings a lot of benefits to the UK economy and with benefits come obligations.

The EU hit back after No 10 issued what was widely seen as a misleading claim about a 2017 EU slide, warning Theresa May she was heading towards a hard Brexit Canada-style deal she opposed. The official Downing Street account tweeted:

Now they say it’s not on offer after all. What’s changed?

Mrs May’s former chief of staff, backed the EU, saying:

Nothing has changed. The EU has always said an FTA with the UK would need greater level playing-field provisions.

He pointed to paragraph 77 of the political declaration signed by Mr Johnson last autumn, which pledged to “uphold the common high standards” for state aid and regulatory standards. The clash came as the EU further toughened its conditions for a tariff-free deal, on both regulatory alignment and access to UK fishing waters. A draft mandate discussed by EU ambassadors says any agreement must “stand the test of time,” suggesting Brussels will push for the UK to sign up to its future regulations. It also makes clear a deal should “uphold” EU fishermen’s current rights in UK waters, a problem for the UK government, which has promised to reclaim fishing rights.

‘Racist’ is not a word that should be used lightly, but it is absolutely correct when applied to Boris Johnson
Tom Peck, Independent, Feb 18 2020

It is, in its way, unfortunate that the term “racist” is so very blunt. It is a word of tremendous force and width. “Racist” begins its journey somewhere around the BBC Parliament caption writer accidentally miscaptioning black MPs with each others’ names, and rides all the way up to and beyond the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Partly, that explains its popularity. There is nothing worse a person can be than a racist. To call someone a racist leaves a thrillingly salty taste in the mouth. If a political opponent or public figure can be found to have made some poorly phrased comments at some point in the fairly distant past, they can be bludgeoned with the “R” word, and dragged by association, and with thrilling potency, to the very extreme end of its scale. So when the rapper, Dave, reaching the conclusion of a stunning performance at the Brit awards, drops his pre-planned bomb, and says “the prime minister’s a real racist,” the instant response of whoops of delight from the crowd speak to the thrill of the attack: the severity of the crime of which the prime minister has been accused. But the use of the word also offers a way out. It is no surprise that it should take only seconds for those on the other side to say that of course Johnson is not a racist. The guys who killed Stephen Lawrence. They were racist. It’s just some old newspaper columns.

If you actually READ the column about Muslim women looking like bankrobbers and letterboxes, you’ll see it was a DEFENCE of liberalism.

Yes, yes of course it was. And, if you actually read my absolutely glowing review of my local curry house, you’ll see there are scarcely any more than two very light-hearted jokes about the waiting staff, and they still kicked me off TripAdvisor. The world’s gone mad. Is Boris Johnson a racist? Has he actively discriminated against people of colour throughout the course of his life? Probably not. But has he contributed to the suffering and the general hardness of life on non-white people living in Britain? Absolutely yes. Without any shadow of a doubt. Is it boring to have to bring up again, the columns about African children looking like “flag-waving piccaninnies?” About “watermelon smiles”? About even more egregious examples than that, calling a group of Ugandan children who once sang for him at a ceremony in Uganda as “aids-ridden choristers”? That the quotes haven’t died is that the new prime minister has declined two decades worth of opportunities to apologise for them. Is Dominic Cummings a racist? Does he consider non-white people to be inferior? Almost certainly not, even after this week’s hideous descent into the world of eugenics. But he certainly had no problem producing Islamophobic lies about “the UK’s “new border is now with Syria and Iraq” during the 2016 referendum. Providing Islamophobes with the Islamophobic lies they needed to vote for Brexit was a core strategy of the Vote Leave campaign. Is that racist? Yes, it absolutely is.

It is also a somewhat delicious irony that, on stage at the Brit awards, the rapper Tyler, The Creator, should be thanking Theresa May for preventing him from coming to the country five years ago, a matter of minutes before the government was about to launch its new salary-linked immigration scheme. By way of background: in 2015 Theresa May used anti-terror legislation to prevent Tyler, The Creator from performing at Reading and Leeds festival, on the grounds that his music “encourages violence and intolerance of homosexuality.” He has since made the point the songs in question were written from the point of an alter ego. That they were, you know, artistic works. No one has, as yet, banned James Bond movies because of the remarkable tendency of people within them to seek to blow up the world. Still, Tyler has made it now so evidently the laws have been relaxed. And as Theresa May herself is now out on the public speaking circuit, we can only assume she is also ascribing her edgy early work, you know, the “citizens of nowhere” stuff to some sort of Theresa May act that she, Theresa May, was working on at the time. Only trouble is, the old Theresa May, the actual prime minister one, was making a lot less money than the new one. And as Lorraine Kelly’s accountant will tell you, if you’re going to start claiming that you spend half your life doing a slightly tweaked impression of yourself, it makes much more financial sense if the fictional you is the higher earner. Poor May, cursed again.

All of which leaves us precious little time to consider the government’s new, “Australian points-based immigration system,” other than to point out it is nothing like the Australian one, which actually increases immigration, and isn’t points-based at all, other than that you gain or lose points based on how much money you earn. But an Australian style points-based immigration system is what the voters want, so it’s what we’re getting. It will mean that high-skilled, high earning, doctors and scientists and so on will be able to come to the UK, but it will spell, we are told, “the end of unskilled cheap labour.” Because when the native population makes it clear at the ballot box not once but twice that they’ve had enough of immigrants, what they obviously want is for the skilled jobs still to be taken by immigrants, but the unskilled, poorly paid ones to be saved for them. They’ve had enough of them all, coming over here, cooking our food, waiting our tables, cleaning our houses. It’s time those jobs were given back to their rightful owners, the British. From now on, the immigrants will have to know their place, which is flying our planes, running our universities, performing our complex surgical operations, and headlining our music festivals. That’s what taking back control was always about. And anyone that tries to tell you otherwise, ignore them. They just think you’re a racist.

syria for wednesday feb 19

Kremlin slams Turkey’s threat of military operation against Syrian government in Idlib
RT.com, Feb 19 2020

Turkey sending troops to Syria to fight against the government would be the ‘worst case scenario,’ the Kremlin spokesman said after Ankara threatened that such an operation was imminent. Erdogan said on Wednesday Ankara was prepared to launch a military incursion into Idlib to force the SAA out. Kremlin spox Dmitri Peskov said:

Russia’s reaction to such a development would depend on what goals the Turkish troops decide to pursue. If it will be an operation against terrorist forces in Idlib, that would certainly be within the spirit of Russia’s agreements with Turkey. But if it is about an operation against legitimate Syrian armed forces, that would certainly be the worst case scenario.

Russia and Turkey agreed on the process of de-escalation in Idlib, the last stronghold of anti-government forces in Syria. Under the so-called Sochi agreement, Turkey is supposed to use its clout among the armed groups to scale down and eventually halt attacks from within the province. The arrangement was taken as an alternative to a major military offensive by Damascus, which Ankara said would cause a major exodus of refugees from Syria to Turkey. Peskov said:

In reality this didn’t happen. We were satisfied with the agreements that were reached in Sochi over a year ago, and the satisfaction was mutual. We were absolutely not satisfied after militants and terrorist groups started launching attacks from Idlib territory against the Syrian armed forces and Russian military sites. That is when our satisfaction ended.

The talks between Russia and Turkey on how to proceed in Idlib, which were held earlier this week, failed to produce a breakthrough. Commenting on the volatile situation, Sergei Lavrov dispersed rumors that Moscow had a new set of demands for Ankara and said the two parties simply “need to implement everything that our leaders have agreed upon.” He added the Syrian government forces were acting in Idlib “in response to gross violations of the agreements” by anti-government groups. Damascus has been responding to cross-border attacks with its own operations, taking control over parts of Idlib. The advances however put them in proximity with Turkish forces stationed in Syria as observers. In at least two incidents clashes between them resulted in deaths of Turkish soldiers, infuriating Ankara. The Russian military said one of the incidents may have been caused by the failure of the Turkish side to warn about the movement of their convoy. Erdogan said on Wednesday he was prepared to launch a military offensive in Idlib at any moment. Speaking before Turkish MPs, he said Turkey will not allow the Syrian government to take control of the province.

Turkish military op in Idlib only ‘matter of time,’ Erdogan warns Damascus
RT.com, Feb 19 2020

A new Turkish military incursion into Syria’s Idlib governorate has been planned and may start at any moment, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned, ramping up a tense standoff with Damascus. Erdogan referred to previous incursions into Syria conducted in 2016, 2018 and 2019, saying:

As with all operations, we say we could suddenly come one night. In other words, an Idlib operation is a matter of time. We will not leave Idlib to the Assad regime and its backers. We are determined at all costs to turn Idlib into a safe haven for the sake of Turkey and the people of the region. This is a final warning.

He said negotiations with Russia over Idlib have so far failed to meet Ankara’s demands, and that the two sides are “miles away” from resolving the ongoing crisis. He said he is determined to safeguard Idlib, as Turkey would otherwise face a new wave of refugees. The north-western Syrian province bordering Turkey is the last major stronghold of anti-government forces in the protracted civil war. Ankara backs some of the armed groups in the area, but there is also a strong presence of Jihadis, who have no interest in a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Under an agreement with Russia, Turkey is supposed to use its leverage in Idlib to curb violence and prevent attacks on other parts of Syria. The arrangement never fully worked, with Damascus regularly complaining about cross-border militant attacks. Its response was to gradually take control over some parts of the province, forcing Jihadis to retreat. Since last month, their advances put Syrian troops in direct opposition to Turkish forces, which have been deployed in Idlib to monitor the situation. At least two clashes between them have resulted in casualties among the Turks, angering Ankara. Moscow is mediating in the situation to prevent it from boiling over into a major confrontation. Erdogan has demanded that Damascus pull back its forces from Idlib, and threatened to use the Turkish army to force a retreat if necessary.

Moscow Says Attacks on Russian, Syrian Troops in Idlib Continue as Erdogan
Sputnik News, Feb 21 2020

Idlib Province in Syria has suffered an uptick of clashes between the SAA and militants supported by Turkey. Ankara maintains that Damascus breached a ceasefire agreement and threatened to launch a military offensive in retaliation. Russian and Syrian forces continue to come under attack from Idlib Province, Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday. The minister added that Russia lends its support to the SAA, which simply responds to provocations. Lavrov said:

The DMZ containing the whole Idlib zone has not been created yet. In addition, we see the continuation of shellfire from the DEZ on SAA positions and on civilian assets, as well as attempts to attack Russia’s Khmeimim base. Nobody gave a promise to terrorists that they would be safe in the Idlib zone. Just read the agreements between the Russian and Turkish presidents, and everything will fall into place. Russia is willing to continue working with Ankara on Idlib, including at the highest level, but there has been no information regarding any upcoming meetings between our two leaders.

Kremlin spox Dmitri Peskov said on Wednesday that Russia is dissatisfied with the implementation of the Sochi agreement with Turkey on creating a DMZ in Idlib, but will continue cooperating with Turkey to prevent a further escalation of tensions. Peskov said:

We used to be satisfied with the agreements reached in Sochi more than a year ago and this satisfaction was mutual. However, we are completely dissatisfied now that militants and terrorists have begun advancing from Idlib and attacking Syrian forces and Russian military installations.

Erdogan said on Wednesday that Russia-Turkey talks on Syria’s Idlib have not been conducive to bringing about the desired result and bilateral discussions are still far from meeting Ankara’s demands. Speaking at a parliamentary meeting with his ruling AKP party, Erdogan warned that an offensive in Idlib could begin “at any moment.” TRT Haber quoted the president as saying:

Turkey has made all necessary preparations to kick off an operation in Idlib. As in the case with any other operation, we say we could come at night at any moment. In other words, the Idlib offensive could begin at any time.

He emphasised that Ankara is seeking to turn the embattled province into a secure zone even while discussions with Russia continue. He added that he had discussed potential action in Syria with Trump over the phone, and asserted:

We will not leave Idlib to the regime, which does not understand yet how determined we are. We are adamant in our desire to transform Idlib into a safe haven, both for civilians and for Turkey, at whatever cost.

The Turkish president previously called on Putin to exercise pressure on Assad in a bid to make the SAA halt its offensive in Idlib and retreat from Turkey’s observation posts by the end of February. If these demands are not met, Turkey threatened to launch retaliatory military action. In 2017, Russia, Turkey and Iran created four DEZs in Syria during their talks in Astana. Three out of four zones are controlled by the SAA,but it does not exercise control over the fourth zone, located in Idlib Province and a portion of Latakia, Hama, and Aleppo provinces. A major part of the area is controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra. In Sep 2018, Moscow and Ankara agreed in Sochi to establish a DMZ in Idlib, where more than a dozen forces are stationed.

OPCW on the run

Scandal-Ridden OPCW Now Using Twitter’s “Hide Replies” Function
Caitlin Johnstone, Feb 19 2020

When Twitter first implemented its “hide replies” function last year, I published an article warning that it could be used by establishment narrative managers to marginalize dissident voices and diminish the relatively egalitarian nature of the platform. When I wrote it, I was imagining the function being used by overt manipulators like cable TV pundits and WaPo columnists, and think-tank operatives like Neera Tanden who vocally supported the implementation of the function. What I absolutely was not expecting, as paranoid and conspiracy-minded as I am, was a highly regarded UN-associated international chemical watchdog group using the function for that purpose. As of this writing, if you go to the Twitter account for the OPCW, you’ll see this tweet at the second from the top:

If you log on to Twitter and go to that tweet and click this little button, it will take you to a section of “hidden replies” which aren’t visible on the main tweet.

You will not be surprised to learn that the tweet which the OPCW’s Twitter account has chosen to hide is critical of the organization:

That “#wikileaksdoumareport” hashtag in the hidden tweet refers to the leaks which have been pouring out from the OPCW, adding to the mountain of evidence that FUKUS bombed the Syrian government in 2018 as a retaliation for a CW attack in the town Douma which did not occur. Whoever is in charge of the OPCW’s Twitter account does not like the lowly commoners talking about this on their page. Here’s an OPCW tweet from a week ago which has the same issue:

Click the same little button to view hidden replies and you’ll see three of them on this one, again all discussing the scandal-ridden Douma investigation:

It doesn’t seem to happen if you’re not logged on to your account, and seems to express differently on different browsers, but if you log in and scroll through the OPCW Twitter page you’ll find many tweets with hidden replies, almost all of which directly pertain to the Douma scandal. The OPCW tweet which appears to have the largest number of replies is the smear job they released earlier this month attacking the whistleblowers whose leaks poked giant holes in the official Douma narrative. This smear job has been ripped to shreds in an article by The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté, who in his trademark style systematically debunks the organisation’s attempts to spin the whistleblowers as incompetent outsiders who tried to manipulate the Douma investigation for no clear reason.

If you go to that OPCW tweet and scroll down, you’ll see dozens of spaces where replies ought to be, with the message “This reply was hidden by the original Tweet author,” meaning hidden by the author of the initial top tweet by the OPCW. I’ve archived screenshots of the entire thread here, as it looks from my account as of this writing, but here’s a small sample of what the top of the replies section looks like on that tweet:


I myself posted the reply that got the most likes and retweets back when the OPCW first shared its smear job, but in a strange twist on Twitter’s “hide replies” function it doesn’t show up in the main thread or in its “hidden replies” section. Other users also say they can’t see it in either section. So as things are right now it looks like some posts in threads with a large number of hidden replies are just disappeared entirely, which is all the more incentive for narrative managers to use it. There are already many users in the comments objecting to the OPCW yet again making use of opacity to silence dissident voices, and understandably so. Ever since the first Douma leak in May 2018, this organisation has been stonewalling journalists, refusing to answer crucial questions, smearing its own investigators and denying them a platform to speak, all after hiding from the public the fact that there had been large amounts of internal dissent regarding its Douma investigation. This dissent included unanimous agreement between four toxicologists that no chlorine attack occurred in Douma, and reports that some 20 OPCW inspectors had voiced objections to the way the Douma investigation was taking place. The OPCW had no business hiding all this information from the public about an event which led to an act of war against a sovereign nation, and it has no business hiding the public’s attempts to demand more information be brought into the light.

These deliberate acts of obfuscation make no sense if you look at the OPCW as an independent international investigative body whose sole interest is truth and the elimination of chemical weapons, but they make perfect sense if you see it as a narrative management apparatus of the US-centralized empire. The Pindo government already has an established history of manipulating the OPCW into facilitating the advancement of pre-existing regime change agendas in the Middle East, and not one but two whistleblowers have separately attested that Pindo government boxtops were brought in by OPCW leadership, in violation of the organisation’s supposed independence, to persuade them that the Syrian government had committed a CW attack. The OPCW is acting like a narrative management operation because that is what it has become: a tool to help the Pindocentric empire spin narratives favorable to pre-existing regime change agendas like the one it has long had for the Syrian government. That’s how it behaves, so we should ignore all narrative spin and assume that that’s what it is until its behavior changes. As long as it continues walking like a duck and quacking like a duck, we should continue to assume that it’s a duck. The OPCW has been hiding replies on Twitter, yes. But at least it has stopped hiding what it is.

political hara-kiri on a world scale

Trump’s Vanished ‘Liberal Middles’
Alastair Crooke, Strategic Culture, Feb 17 2020

Take Jordan (or Lebanon) as an example: Both have a broken economic model. One, (Lebanon), has had its huge deficits financed by expatriate remittances; and the other (Jordan), has had its budget deficits (6% of GDP), until now covered by annual stipends provided by Gulf States and Pindostan. The EU provides relatively little financial subsidy. For both, these external inflows are either in, or are heading toward draught conditions, as the low price of oil eviscerates Gulf State finances. Some Gulf States are no longer willing to finance a generic Jordanian deficit for the future, but only to offer ‘business loans.’ So what to do? To whom to turn now, for future patronage and subvention, since self-sufficiency is nigh impossible? It is not easy. Real root-and-branch reform, though universally acknowledged as essential, is effectively blocked by one élite, or sectarian ‘capo’, or another. Hence the desire to do what has always been done before: to try to find a way to hold the ‘stick by its middle’ and solicit patronage from all the differing political poles. But this ignores something essential: Trump ‘politics’ and his undisguised contempt for the ‘liberal middle’ leave no middle to the ‘stick’ on which mid-East states may seize. Trump intentionally polarises issues into binary extremes. The cumulative effect of this Trumpian maximum pressure binary approach, against the backdrop of decades of Pindostan underpinning for Israel’s security hegemony, may well end not with the so-called jungle but an extended desert, with the region’s few independent means of production devastated by endless hot wars, Treasury wars and harsh ubiquitous sanctions. The formerly productive olive trees of Syria’s Idlib are stumps, and the agricultural lands of al-Hasakah face ruination, as but one example.

In other words, we are postulating a collapsed economic model, not just for Jordan and Lebanon, who already face that prospect, but for wealthy Gulf States, too. For without decisive reforms, which likely will be blocked by one corrupt élite or another, the richest Middle Eastern states could exhaust their net financial wealth by 2027 and 2034 as the region becomes a net debtor, according to IMF projections out this month. Within another decade, their total non-oil wealth would also be exhausted, the IMF predicts. And this prospect faces an oversized, young, unemployed and angry youth population, ready to explode. Here is another Trumpian vanished Liberal Middle, taken from Haaretz. Jonathan Tobin notes that the problem facing AIPAC is that the political climate simply is no longer conducive to the way it has carried out its mission for the last several decades. In earlier political times, it was easy for the group to act as an umbrella group, uniting supporters of Israel from the right, left and centre behind a common agenda of support for Israel’s government and the Jewish state’s security, the article observes:

The first obstacle to AIPAC’s ability to maintain at least a façade of bipartisanship rests on the fact that the Trump administration has given both Israel and its American friends more or less everything it has been demanding of every White House for the last 40 years. Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal put him in sync with the lobby’s desperate battle to defeat Obama’s signature foreign policy accomplishment. But with Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, support for its sovereignty on the Golan Heights, demands for the PA to halt its subsidies for terrorists and their families and now a peace plan that is heavily tilted toward the Jewish state, he’s left no room for the Demagogs to compete with him for the title of Israel’s friend.

Worse, there is no ‘middle to the stick’ in the Demagog Party either, or for the region’s Arab ‘Democratic’ diaspora, for as Max Blumenthal explains in conversation with Robert Scheer:

The Clinton Machine will do anything to stop Bernie Sanders.

This is the title of the interview, which is focused on the rightward shift of the Clintonite Demagog Party and of Israeli politics. The discussion converges on Bernie Sanders, the man who might possibly become the first Jewish POTUS, if the Demagog machine does not succeed in destroying him first, as Blumenthal suggests it will. Financial markets seem to think that Sanders may win the nomination, only subsequently to lose to Trump in November, which would be fine by Pindo market investors. Scheer says to Blumenthal:

It seems to me there’s a real contradiction in the Demagog Party, which you know quite a bit about. There’s this great loathsome feeling about Donald Trump, and many of these people don’t really like Netanyahu. The polling data shows that Jews are just about as open to the concern for the Palestinians as any other group and Bernie Sanders, the one Jewish candidate, the one who dared to bring up the Palestinians, that they have rights also, that they’re human beings, is being attacked for it like you as a self-hating Jew.

So, hoping for a more accommodating Demagog President after 2020 may prove a wistful dream. The expectation is that Sanders will either be stopped before nomination or else defeated after it, at the elections. Either way, the “Deal of the Century” stays. Here lies the dilemma. Netanyahu, working closely with Jared Kushner, has taken the middle ground of the two-state solution off the table piece by piece, by insisting on conditions to it intended never to be met. More than that, they have undercut the ‘moderates’ of the region by demonstrating that the Oslo ‘Peace Process’ could be suffocated with no adverse consequences for Israel; the ‘deal of the century’ could be launched to international silence; the Pindo Embassy moved to Jerusalem, to zero adverse reaction; Jerusalem ‘made’ Israel’s undivided capital, and the Golan ‘given’ to Israel, all without any of the damage to Israel that the Israeli and regional ‘moderates’ insisted would result from such actions. Rather, contrary to the moderates’ expectations of Israeli isolation, world leaders flocked to Jerusalem for the recent Holocaust summit.

Back to Jordan: just as after Trump’s Israeli radical polarisation, the political climate for AIPAC has become “no longer conducive to the way the lobby has carried out its mission for the last several decades,” so too for Jordan and for the same reason. Once the Jordan valley has been annexed, Jordan will lose relevance for Israel, except as a recipient for Palestinian refugees. This probably won’t be long in coming. The CIA, already tightly embedded into the Jordanian Intelligence Service, will act for Israeli interests there. And the writing already is on the wall: Lebanon will be told that it must assimilate its Palestinians with full rights, and Jordan is likely to be next. In fact, this is already happening. It is a commonplace today that Jordan is caught between a rock and a hard place, but even that comfortless expression implies that Jordan has options, whereas effectively it has none. What can Jordan offer the Gulf, beyond being a monarchy and therefore supportive of other regional monarchies? Would Jordan’s future stipends be assured by a more overtly hostile attitude to Iran? Possibly, but already Toad funding to Jordan is curtailed. The Gulf States are facing their own financial stringencies. The main import of escalating King Abdallah’s Shi’a Axis ‘threat’ further might simply be to complicate the KSA’s economic relations with its neighbours, who all enjoy better relations with Iran than does Jordan.

This is not intended to pick unfairly on Jordan or Lebanon. In reality, Trump’s deliberate slashing away of the Liberal Middle is intended to make the key dynamics and power distribution between the parties stand out starkly, and in short to attenuate any negotiation down to a binary alternative of “take my offer or be crushed financially.” This is the New York real-estate way. When a tenant stands in the way of a big development, weaken him; take away his electricity; turn off the water, and finally infest him with rats. That is the binary choice: get out of my way or stay and your life will be made miserable. The Palestinians are being made unwanted tenants within an actualized Greater Israel real-estate development. Kushner’s team may assume that eventually they will tire of being miserable and find accommodation elsewhere, in Jordan and Lebanon inter alia. Insisting limply on the now defunct two-state solution, or any other initiative, probably will not help Jordan to brush aside compromise proposals. That’s the whole point of binary politics. No doubt about it. Trump’s binary Middle East policies threaten Arab states in a profound way. Some states may not survive the experience intact. Indeed, the editor of Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, Ibrahim Al-Amine, wrote this week:

It seems that the Pindo decision to let Lebanon collapse is being implemented. The Toads have endorsed the same idea. For the rest of the regional sides, these seem to be standing in a state of major confusion.

The nature of this threat may not be so apparent now, but it soon will be. Don’t the Pindos understand the implications of creating a desperate, unemployed and radicalised constituency across the entire Middle East? Of course, some of them do. They are not stupid. But for those who don’t, policy is just process, the long-term process of establishing Greater Israel. Even for those of them who do have an inkling, as the novelist Upton Sinclair pointed out:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

going to idlib city

Turkish-Russian Negotiations On Idlib Finish With No Breakthrough
South Front, Feb 18 2020

The second round of the Russian-Turkish taks on the situation in the Syrian province of Idlib ended in Moscow on Feb 18. The Turkish delegation left Russia. The sides released no official statement on the talks’ outcome hinting that no breakthrough was achieved. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported the following on the agenda of the talks:

According to diplomatic sources, the Turkish delegation stressed the need to rapidly reduce the fighting and prevent further worsening of the humanitarian situation in the region. Another point on the agenda include measures that could be taken in Idlib to ensure full implementation of the agreements reached under the Sochi memorandum.

A spokesman for Erdogan’s ruling party claimed that Ankara had officially informed Moscow about its policy in north-western Syria and once again threatened Syria with a military agression. Turkey seeks to rescue its little AQ friends in Greater Idlib from the SAA advance in order to attempt to limit the ability of the Syrian government to restore control of the country devastated by the years of war. Meanwhile, the Syrian Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Forces conducted a new round of airstrikes on positions of AQ-linked groups across Idlib. It seems that Turkish threats don’t work very well.

Militants In Northeastern Syria Are Being Armed By Pindostan: Russian Reconciliation Center
South Front, Feb 18 2020

The weapons that militants in Syria are using against Turkish troops and civilians are entering north-eastern Syria from Iraq with the “direct participation” of Pindostan. This was announced by the head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria in Syria, Rear Admiral Oleg Zhuravlev, cited by TASS. Rear Adm. Oleg Zhuravlev said in a daily briefing:

The Pindo command in the region (CENTCOM – RB) is intensively saturating the territory east of the Euphrates with weapons and ammunition. Since the beginning of 2020, 13 military convoys have arrived from Iraq to Syria, which included over 80 armored vehicles and more than 300 trucks loaded with various types of weapons, ammunition and materiel. Against the backdrop of a difficult humanitarian situation and settlements being constantly shelled by militants, as a result of which civilians are injured and killed, the civilian population in north-eastern Syria has to flee their homes and move to territory controlled by the Syrian government. About 23,000 Syrians, most of whom are families with old people and children, have passed through the al-Salihiya checkpoint near the city of Deir ez-Zor since the beginning of 2020. Since Feb 17, checkpoints have been operating in the settlements of Bjarez, Maarat-an-Numan and Habit, for the passage of civilians from areas controlled by armed groups of the Idlib DEZ to territories controlled by the SAA, through which passed on Feb 18, 177, 171 and 35 people respectively. Russian military police continued to patrol a number of routes in the province of Aleppo. All activities within the framework of patrolling took place in accordance with the approved plans, without incident.

Earlier, Erdogan accused the troops of the SAA and the Russian military operating with them of attacking civilians and shelling the Turkish military. This statement was made after five military personnel were killed during shelling of a Turkish post in the province of Idlib. Erdogan disputed the claim of the Russian Defense Ministry that the reason for the escalation of the conflict in Idlib was Ankara’s failure to fulfill its promises. Dmitri Peskov also said that Turkey is not fulfilling its part of the Sochi agreements. The last agreement between the countries, concluded in October, called for the cessation of operations in northern Syria, as well as the creation of DEZs in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. Meanwhile, if the reports are true, Pindostan is attempting to consolidate its grip on Syria’s oi fields with its troops, as well as by arming groups to protect them, even against the local population.

Idlib City Is Preparing Ticker Tape Parade For Assad
South Front, Feb 18 2020

Syrian government forces did not stop their operation in Greater Idlib with the success in the western countryside of Aleppo city, and continued making gains in the province. During the past 24 hours, they took control of over 10 settlements. Furthermore, they forced members of the mighty Idlib rebels to retreat from Sheikh Aqil, besieged another Turkish observation point, and set a foothold for a possible offensive on the city of Darat Izza. This town, located 30km west of Aleppo, had an estimated population of approximately 42,000 in 2013. In the modern Syria, it is most-widely known as the stronghold of HTS/Nusra, which hosts its key forces and facilities in this part of the province. The fall of Darat Izza into the hands of government troops will also disrupt a link between the Turkish-occupied Afrin region and armed groups hiding in the countryside of Idlib city. Thus, Ankara will not be able to freely redeploy its proxies from one part of north-western Syria into another. On the same day, Pres Assad congratulated the Syrian people and the SAA with the victory in western Aleppo. However, he said that this achievement “does not mean the end of the war” and declared that the military will continue combating terrorism in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib. Turkish threats to launch a war on Syria if its forces do not stop their anti-terrorism campaign, al-Assad described as empty words. The televised speech of the president came amid reports that HTS/Nusra started evacuating its remaining weapon depots in the Mount Simeon District of Aleppo province towards the region of Afrin, and the border with Turkey west of Idlib. These developments indicate that the group does not really believe that it is able to defend Darat Izza in an open battle with the SAA. It is interesting to note how the public rhetoric of pro-militant media outlets changes depending on the military successes of the SAA. During the previous stages of the conflict, they preferred to call the Damascus government a bloody dictatorship that is killing peaceful moderate rebels all around Syria. Then, it evolved into the regime fighting against the ‘Syrian revolution’, while ‘Assad sectarian militia’ evolved into ‘Assad forces.’ After the deployment of the SAA in the vicinity of Idlib city, ‘Assad forces’ started slowly becoming ‘government troops.’ It seems that when the army enters the city itself, Idlib grant-eaters will welcome the internationally recognized government. Taking into account the recent developments on the front-line, they probably should start preparing posters featuring great leader Bashar al-Assad immediately. Therefore, the main hope of Idlib groups and their supporters is the Turkish diplomatic efforts in the framework of the Astana format. On Feb 17, Moscow and Ankara started a new round of negotiations on the situation in Idlib. The Turkish leadership’s current main goal is to stop the Syrian advance and to consolidate its own influence in the scraps of the militant-held part of Idlib. In turn, it will likely have to surrender a part of its lovely moderate rebel groups that are publicly linked with AQ. If Russia and Turkey find no understanding on the situation, Ankara will continue making attempts to protect Idlib groups with a variant of military and diplomatic measures. This will likely lead to a further escalation of the conflict.