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Kudrin Returns?

Why did Putin bring Alexey Kudrin back?

Alexander Mercouris

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The announcement that former Russian Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin has been appointed deputy head of Russian President Putin’s Council of Economic Advisers has provoked a stir.

This is not surprising. Few individuals in Russian politics polarise opinion as strongly as Kudrin does.

Kudrin’s admirers are to be found in the business community, amongst liberal economists and amongst people of generally elite backgrounds and liberal views. Amongst people of this sort Kudrin’s reputation is of the highest.

The wider Russian population – to the extent it is aware of him – however views Kudrin very differently, whilst his name is anathema across the very large “patriotic/left wing” section of Russia’s political spectrum

So who is Alexey Kudrin and why does he arouse such strong feelings? Kudrin was Russia’s Finance Minister from 2000 to 2011 as well as the Deputy Prime Minister in overall charge of the economy from 2007 to 2011.

Amongst his liberal admirers Kudrin is the official who is widely credited with engineering the economic boom Russia experienced during Putin’s first two terms as President. He is lauded for his rigidly orthodox free market economic thinking, his tight fiscal management, his refusal to run deficits, and for Russia’s early repayment of its sovereign debt just a few years after its humiliating default in 1998.

Above all he is credited with the creation of Russia’s two national savings funds, the Reserve Fund, which funds the national budget when it is in deficit, and the National Welfare Fund, which acts as Russia’s sovereign wealth fund.

Kudrin’s glowing reputation amongst people of elite and liberal backgrounds both in Russia and abroad is well illustrated by the awards they have showered on him.

He was named “Best Finance Minister of the Year 2005” by The Banker magazine, “Best Finance Minister of a Developing European Country”; in 2006 by the Emerging Markets newspaper (a journal published by the IMF and the World Bank) and “Best Finance Minister of the Year 2010” by Euromoney magazine.

Kudrin’s Russian critics have a very different view of him. They see him as a doctrinaire laissez faire Atlanticist, as the Finance Minister whose dogmatic insistence on cutting spending strangled the economy, causing its productive sectors to wither away as money which should have been used for investment was instead accumulated uselessly, becoming “dead money” in the two Funds.

In addition many Russians have not forgotten or forgiven Kudrin’s monetisation in 2005 of many of their Soviet era social security benefits, turning them from benefits in kind into benefits paid in money.

Given Russia’s historically high inflation and its two periods of hyperinflation in the 1990s this understandably was a very unpopular move and one which provoked widespread protests. Though in the West these protests are largely forgotten, they actually involved more people than the much better known protests which took place during the election season in 2011-2012.

Kudrin is also known to be a supporter of increasing the pension age – another reform that is for equally understandable reasons also very unpopular with many Russians. Beyond these very practical criticisms, much of the hostility to Kudrin within Russia has a distinct ideological hue.

In a country where opinion polls show a clear majority of the population favours a planned economy it is unsurprising that the man who was known as the most prominent economic liberal in the government became unpopular with many people. Russians also tend to conflate support for liberal economic policies with pro-Western political positions. As Russia’s relations with the West have deteriorated this has inevitably exposed economic liberals like Kudrin to charges that they are part of a pro-Western Fifth Column. In Kudrin’s case some of his actions have lent force to these fears.

Lastly but crucially, for many Russians an economic liberal like Kudrin who supports private business and private enterprise is almost by definition an apologist for the system that created the oligarchs – the hated class of plutocrats who emerged in Russia during the corrupt privatisations of the 1990s.

All these factors taken together explain why the individual who in the West was the most highly regarded official of Putin’s government in Russia is one of its least popular. The truth about Kudrin is that both the praise he gets and some – though not all – the criticism is overdone.

Kudrin as Finance Minister did indeed run a tight ship. He did indeed create the two Funds which did indeed help keep the economy stable by financing the budget deficit after the financial crash of 2008.

However the praise for Kudrin’s tight fiscal management ignores the fact that fiscal policy has been no loser since he left the government in 2011. On the contrary the high oil prices in 2012 and 2013 enabled the government to avoid running deficits in those years even though Kudrin before his dismissal had actually planned for them.

Since then the government has managed to run lower deficits during the current recession than those Kudrin ran and planned for during the 2008 crisis. In 2015 the federal deficit was just 2.4% of GDP and though it will probably be higher this year the target is still 3% of GDP.

If Kudrin is a fiscal conservative and a supporter of balanced budgets the record shows his successors also are. In the Russian government and in the Finance Ministry, Kudrin’s fiscal conservatism is not the exception. It is the rule.

This point about Kudrin that is consistently overlooked by his admirers is that whilst he was a member of the government he worked as part of a team. The head of that team was not Kudrin but Putin.

It is Putin not Kudrin who must ultimately take the credit – or blame – for the tough fiscal discipline of the Kudrin years. It is because of Putin’s heavy emphasis on budget discipline that budget spending has continued to be tight since Kudrin left the government in 2011. It was also Putin more than Kudrin who insisted on early repayment of Russia’s debt.

As for the idea of setting up the two Funds, credit – or blame – for that does belong to Kudrin. However it could not have happened without Putin’s support. One must resist the temptation – irresistible to Kudrin’s admirers – of giving Kudrin all the credit for everything that went right under his watch whilst putting all the blame on Putin for everything that went wrong.

If one believes that keeping tight control of budget spending, accumulating reserves and paying off debt is the hallmark of a good manager, then the record shows the good manager in Russia’s case is Putin not Kudrin and that it is Putin not Kudrin who should be given the credit.

In fact Kudrin’s record as an economic manager is decidedly mixed. It is certainly true that Russia’s economy grew rapidly during Putin’s first two terms when Kudrin was Finance Minister and that Kudrin’s success in restoring order to Russia’s previously chaotic budget played a role in this.

However though Kudrin – with Putin’s support – kept a tight lid on government spending he was far too complacent about the borrowing and spending binge Russian companies were cranking up towards in the years immediately prior to the 2008 financial crash.

Several commentators warned at the time that the credit build-up – much of it in foreign currency loans from Western banks – was getting out of control. However the mounting concern appears to have passed Kudrin completely by. Presumably as an economic liberal and as a believer in the virtues of free enterprise he found it difficult to believe the private sector could do wrong.

The result was that the country found itself dangerously exposed in the weeks and months following the financial crash of 2008 as Western banks at the urging of their own central banks scrambled to get cash out of Russia as fast as they could by calling in their loans.

Money poured out of the country putting the very existence of some of the country’s biggest companies at risk. The panic fed on itself as investors then also began to pull out of Russian companies causing Russia’s two stock markets to crash. For a few terrifying weeks it looked as if the entire economy was about to collapse.

In the event the reserves Kudrin and Putin had built up in the previous years proved sufficient to avert disaster, though the single thing that saved the economy… from a much more severe crisis was the sharp recovery in oil prices that took place in the spring of 2009.

Kudrin was obviously not solely to blame for all this. However as the country’s Finance Minister and as the man in overall charge of the economy he must bear the principal blame. At a crucial moment he took his eye off the ball and it was as much a matter of good luck as of good management that the country came through.

By contrast one of the reasons why the Russian economy has proved so resilient in the face of the sanctions and the 2014 oil price collapse is precisely because the lesson of those terrible months in 2008 and 2009 has been learnt. Instead of resuming their wild borrowing and spending spree when the crisis abated Russian companies and businesses instead – at the urging of their government – reined their borrowing and spending in as they moved to hedge and consolidate their positions.

The result was that this time round with the help of a certain amount of support from the government and the Central Bank they have been able to meet their debt obligations without undue strain and without the economy spiralling into crisis.

I would add in passing that the much discussed fall in the Russian growth rate since 2012 is in part a consequence of this process. Reining in borrowing and spending and consolidating positions has inevitably led to a cut in investment causing growth to slow. In other words the frenetic growth of the immediate period prior to the 2008 crash (which touched an annualised rate of 9% in the months preceding the crash) has had to be paid for by a lower growth rate since then.

None of these points are ever made by Kudrin’s admirers, just as when they claim – as they often do – that the Russian economy has been badly managed during Putin’s period as President so that the economy is supposedly insufficiently diversified they somehow manage to forget who was actually in charge of the economy during most of the time that Putin has been President.

This same exercise in selective memory comes up whenever the circumstances of Kudrin’s leaving the government are discussed. Kudrin’s admirers tend to claim that Kudrin left the government because of disagreements between him and Putin over defence spending. Kudrin supposedly was unhappy that defence spending was getting out of control and was becoming unaffordable. Putin supposedly refused to listen and

Kudrin therefore left the government rather than carry out a policy he considered irrational and unrealistic. No part of this is true. The true reason Kudrin was dismissed from the government was not because there was a row between him and Putin over defence spending. Kudrin was dismissed from the government because he made public his strong disagreement with Putin’s decision to appoint Dmitry Medvedev Prime Minister after the so-called “tandem switch” in 2011 when Putin and Medvedev swapped jobs, with Medvedev stepping aside from the Presidency to allow Putin to stand for the Presidency in the 2012 Presidential election and Putin in return nominating Medvedev to be his Prime Minister.

kudrin:medvedev

Alexey Kudrin with then President Dmitry Medvedev

What is strange about the claims Kudrin quit the government over defence spending is that his row with Medvedev which led to his dismissal was carried out in the most public way imaginable on national television for everyone to see. Kudrin started it all by saying on US television that he would not be able to stay in the government if Medvedev was appointed Prime Minister. There was then a public row between Medvedev and Kudrin in Russia shown in full view on national television during which an ashen-faced Kudrin asked for time to speak to Putin only to be sacked by Medvedev on the spot.

The issue of defence spending came up incidentally during the row as Kudrin searched for a reason to justify his objection to Medvedev’s becoming Prime Minister. The reason he hit upon was that he disagreed with Medvedev’s commitment to higher defence spending. He did not however exactly say it was completely unaffordable. Rather he said he wanted to spend more money on education instead.

As to the reasons for Kudrin’s objections to Medvedev’s appointment those to this day remain unclear. There were suggestions Kudrin was disappointed not to have been appointed Prime Minister himself.

There were also suggestions that he had come in for some criticism from within the government for his failure to foresee and pre-empt the 2008 financial crisis (see above) and that his position was already becoming shaky and that this provoked him to lash out.

It seems there was also a plan hatched by someone in the government (probably the Kremlin spin-doctor Vladislav Surkov) for Kudrin to leave the government to head a loyalist liberal pseudo-opposition party. It seems that Kudrin was unenthusiastic about this idea. However the fact it was floated at all shows that at the time of his dismissal the idea of Kudrin leaving the government was already in the air.

The true reason for Kudrin’s row with Medvedev is in fact obvious to anyone who watches the television film of their row: the two men detest each other. Quite why they do is unknown. Possibly it was rivalry for Putin’s favour and resentment by Kudrin that Medvedev – whom he obviously considers his inferior – was stealing a march on him.

Kudrin’s and Medvedev’s mutual dislike does however show one thing. This is that there is no united liberal Atlanticist bloc inside the government. At the time of their row Medvedev and Kudrin were widely credited with being the two most prominent liberal Atlanticists in the government.

Their all too evident mutual dislike however makes it all but inconceivable that they could forge a united front together. Having managed to get himself thrown out of the government in the most public way imaginable Kudrin then committed an action that deeply angered his former colleagues in the government and which has ever since fuelled widespread distrust of him in the country.

During the protests that followed the parliamentary elections in December 2011 Kudrin turned up and spoke at a liberal opposition rally on Sakharov Avenue in Moscow. By doing so he appeared to burn his bridges with the government and seemed to be aligning himself with the pro-Western liberal opposition against Putin.

Kudrin’s speech at the Sakharov Avenue rally in fact demonstrated something else: Kudrin’s complete lack of the most basic political skills needed by a successful politician. His speech at the rally was by common consent a disaster – a boring lecture from a former academic and technocrat that turned everybody off – very far from the rallying cry the situation demanded.

From that moment it was obvious to everyone including Kudrin himself that he could never successfully lead a political party or make himself a significant political force and that he represented no conceivable political threat or challenge either to Putin or to the government.

That realisation almost certainly explains Kudrin’s actions since then. Having realised that he had `no future as an opposition leader he began instead to try to work himself back into Putin’s favour.

The story of Kudrin’s career since then has been one of constant lobbying both by himself and by his supporters to bring him back into the government. Though during this period he regularly made coded criticisms of the government he always stopped short of direct attacks on it. The impression he gave was of someone who wanted the government to succeed but thought it was not being reformist enough. As is often the case with those in Russia who call for more reform he was vague about what was the reform he wanted but he tended to give the impression that he wanted to cut budget spending even more and wanted to raise the pension age.

It seems Kudrin finally persuaded Putin some months ago to bring him back and that the one issue that delayed his return was disagreement about the post he would be given.

In the event the post Kudrin was eventually given – deputy head of Putin’s Council of Economic Advisers – though important is advisory and hardly compares with the posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister he held before he was sacked in 2011. If Kudrin held out for a more important position -as is likely – then he clearly didn’t get it. In fact it seems that both Medvedev and Sergey Ivanov (Putin’s Chief of Staff) vetoed any possibility of Kudrin being given executive posts either in government or in the Presidential Administration.

Why then did Putin bring Kudrin back?

There may have been an element… of political calculation behind the decision. Though Kudrin’s new post is hardly one of key importance his reappointment does carry important symbolism. It could be intended as a gesture to the West – where Kudrin is held in high regard – at a time when the anti-Russian policy the US and the EU have been following has been coming under increasing challenge.

More cynically, bringing Kudrin back into the fold might have been intended to keep him quiet and onside in the run-up to the pending parliamentary elections this autumn. More practically, it seems Kudrin is being asked to work on a national economic plan. Almost certainly this will include a recommendation to raise the pension age – a deeply unpopular measure which Putin is known however to have come round to. Possibly Putin is using Kudrin for political cover – looking to Kudrin to recommend an unpopular reform Putin realises is needed whilst setting Kudrin up as the fall guy who will take the flak if or rather when the measure is opposed.

However beyond these tough-minded political calculations personal factors have probably also played an important role. One must put aside the idea of major ideological differences between Putin and Kudrin. To the constant dismay of most of his supporters Putin’s record shows that he is a convinced economic liberal. Putin has never shown the slightest inclination to row back on the market reforms Russia has followed since the USSR’s collapse. If Kudrin is an economic liberal then the record shows Putin is one too.

As for Kudrin he is not quite the doctrinaire liberal or Atlanticist he is sometimes made out to be. He supported Putin’s action against Khodorkovsky and Yukos in 2004. As Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister he supported investment in Russia’s infrastructure. He also voiced support for the government’s policy of creating national champions in specific sectors of the economy.

Though a supporter of privatisation he never made this a fetish of his policy. Kudrin has also been careful not to challenge openly Putin’s foreign policy. Whatever his private thoughts on the matter he has never spoken out publicly against Crimea’s reunification with Russia. He surely knows that both for Putin and for the Russian public this question has become the touchstone of loyalty to the country.

Not only is there therefore enough common ground for Putin and Kudrin to work together in the future but there is a long history of close friendship and collaboration between them. Both Kudrin and Putin worked together in St. Petersburg in the 1990s for the city’s then mayor Anatoly Sobchak. Both Kudrin and Putin were then transferred to the Presidential Administration in Moscow when Sobchak failed to gain re-election in 1996. When Putin became the country’s President in 2000 he appointed Kudrin his Finance Minister and backed him in that post thereafter.

If there is one consistent pattern to Putin’s career it is his fierce loyalty to his friends even when – as in Kudrin’s case – that loyalty has not been fully reciprocated. It is probably Putin’s sense of friendship and loyalty to Kudrin which more than anything else explains his decision to bring him back.

Whether Putin’s feelings of friendship and loyalty to Kudrin will be enough to outweigh Kudrin’s unpopularity in the country and with many of his colleagues is another matter. On balance it is unlikely. However by bringing Kudrin back Putin has brought back into the fold an old friend and collaborator with a history of loyal service.

Should Putin decide to take a more liberal turn in managing the economy after the 2018 election Kudrin is there to help him take it. Whilst perennial rumours that Kudrin will become Prime Minister in place of Medvedev are probably misplaced, it is very much in character of Putin to move to keep his options open, and by bringing Kudrin back he has done just that.

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Pat Buchanan: Caravan Puts Trump Legacy on the Line

Unwanted mass migration is the issue of our time, as there is no foreseeable end to it before it alters America irremediably.

Patrick J. Buchanan

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Authored by Patrick Buchanan via Buchanan.org:


Our mainstream media remain consumed with the grisly killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and how President Donald Trump will deal with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Understandably so, for this is the most riveting murder story since O.J. Simpson and has strategic implications across the Middle East.

Yet far more critical to the future of our civilization is the ongoing invasion of the West from the Third World.

Consider the impact of the decision by Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015 to throw open Germany’s doors to 1 million refugees from Syria’s civil war.

Last weekend, in a crushing blow to Merkel, the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of her CDU, won its smallest share of the vote in half a century, 37 percent. Her coalition party, the SPD, saw its share of the Bavarian vote fall to a historic low of less than 10 percent.

The right-wing Alternative for Deutchland saw its support rise to 10 percent and has become a force in German politics. Some conservatives are urging the CDU to adopt the AfD hardline on illegal immigration.

The message sent by the Bavarian electorate is the message voters across Europe have been sending to their own capitals for years: You are failing in your first duty — defense of the homeland from foreign invasion. Mass migration of unassimilable peoples and cultures from a global South represents an existential threat to our Europe.

As Merkel’s chancellorship approaches its end, French President Emmanuel Macron, her progressive EU partner, has seen his approval fall to below 30 percent.

The U.S.-led NATO alliance may guard the Baltic and Black Sea regions against a Russian invasion from the east. But in Central, Southern and Western Europe, the more feared invaders are the peoples of Africa and the Muslim world, whose numbers are expected to triple or quadruple by this century’s end.

And as their numbers grow, so, too, does their desperation to escape, even at risk of their lives, the poverty, wars and repression of their homelands to cross the Med and fill the empty spaces left by a depopulating Europe.

It also now appears that the U.S. elections, not three weeks away, may be affected by another immigration crisis on the U.S. border.

As of Thursday, a caravan of 4,000 refugees without visas had crossed from Honduras into Guatemala and was heading toward Mexico. By Election Day, it will either have been stopped, or it will be here. And this caravan is a portent of things to come.

According to The Washington Post, during FY 2018, which ended last month, 107,212 members of “family units” crossed over into the U.S., “obliterating the previous record of 77,857 set in 2016.”

Citing DHS figures, the Post adds, “Border patrol agents arrested 16,658 family members in September alone, the highest one-month total on record and an 80 percent increase from July.”

When Trump, under intense political fire, ended his “zero tolerance” policy of separating refugees from their children, this message went out to Mexico and Central America:

Bring your kids with you when you cross the border. They will have to stay with you, and they cannot be held for more than 20 days. Thus, when they are released, you will be released to await a hearing on your claim of asylum. The odds are excellent that you can vanish into the U.S. population and never be sent back.

Enraged, Trump has threatened to cut off aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala if they do not stop the caravans and has warned Mexico he will use the U.S. military to secure our border.

Unwanted mass migration is the issue of our time, as there is no foreseeable end to it before it alters America irremediably.

As these migrants are almost all poor, not highly skilled, and do not speak English, most will join that segment of our population that pays no income taxes but qualifies for social welfare benefits like food stamps, medical care and free education in our public schools.

They are thus a net drain upon the resources of a nation that is already, at full employment, running a deficit of $779 billion a year.

These migrants, however, are a present and future benefit to the Democratic Party that built and maintains our mammoth welfare state, and which, in presidential elections, routinely wins 70 to 90 percent of the votes of people whose trace their ancestry to Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Not without reason, Democrats believe that if they can change the composition of the American electorate, they can control America forever.

If Donald Trump was elected on any one issue, it was immigration and his promises to secure the border, build the wall and halt the invasion.

How he deals with the impending crisis of the migrant caravan may affect both the fate of his party in November and his presidency in 2020.

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‘Mohammad bin Salman Must Go’, but US-Saudi Ties Are Here to Stay

Was it possible that Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was so arrogant that he could not imagine the consequences of such a heinous crime?

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Mohammad bin Salman is fully aware of the Western elite’s understanding of its own values. While he may be given a pass to bomb Yemen and kill thousands of innocent civilians, he should know better than to dare touch a Washington Post columnist – “one of ours”, as one MSNBC host said. Did he not realize there would be consequences?

As more information came out, many analysts began to confront the most obvious question. Was it possible that Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was so arrogant that he could not imagine the consequences of such a heinous crime? How could MBS betray Trump this way, not anticipating that the Democrats and the mainstream media would jump all over Trump’s friendship with him? Could he be so foolish as to place in jeopardy foreign investments planned at the Davos in the Desert conference on October 23? The answer to that question is apparently: yes, he could.

The only rational explanation for this behavior is that MBS thought he could get away with it. Remember that we are talking about someone who had Saad Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon, kidnapped and carried off to the Kingdom, with his whereabouts unknown for days but with very little reaction from the mainstream media or Western politicians. It is possible that in this instance, MBS simply misjudged the level of Khashoggi’s popularity amongst neoliberals of the Washington establishment, provoking an unexpected response. Furthermore, the thesis that the Saudis understood that they had some kind of green light from Trump is not to be totally dismissed. Such a backlash is what you get from having a big mouthpraise your friends too much, and tweet all the time.

The rapidity with which the US media, and especially dozens of Republican and Democratic senators, attacked Saudi Arabia, blaming it for the atrocious crime, is rather unusual. After all, the Saudi elites have been inclined to behave in such a manner over the last 40 years. But it also highlights the ongoing inconsistency and double standards: nothing is said about Yemen, but the Kingdom is currently under the strongest censure for allegedly offing a journalist.

As I had already pointed out in my previous article, Khashoggi was clearly part of a faction opposed to the current ruling royal family in Saudi Arabia, headed by MBS. To understand this Saudi golden boy of the US mainstream media as well as military-industrial-spying complex, we have to go back to Mohammed bin Nayef. Bin Nayef has been under house arrest for almost two years, immediately purged by MBS as soon as he assumed power as crown prince. Bin Nayef has for decades been the CIA’s go-to man in Riyadh, helping the CIA & Co. pretend to “fight” al Qaeda in the Kingdom while using al Qaeda as a tool to inflict damage on US geopolitical adversaries.

The removal of bin Nayef by MBS was greeted with anger by a part of the US establishment close to Washington think tanks and the CIA and was never fully digested. MBS and his father, King Salman, needed to consolidate power around the throne at the time, and bin Nayef was certainly part of the faction opposing MBS, as was Khashoggi.

Naturally, these antipathies were set aside by the CIA, think tanks and neoliberals in the media due to to the importance of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US, especially vis-a-vis the US Petrodollar. MBS even undertook a tour in the US to help smooth the relationship with the West, being hailed as a new reformer, if you can believe that.

Nowadays,the relationship between Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Washington is based on the strong friendship between Trump and MBS and Trump and Netanyahu. Furthermore, the strengthened link between Trump and MBS, facilitated by son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is close to Israel, served to create a new alliance, perhaps even hinting at the possibility of an Arab NATO. Israel is eager to see more Saudi and US engagement against Iran in the region, and the Saudis similarly praise Israel and the US for being engaged in a fight against Iranian influence in the region. In this way, Trump can please his Israeli friends and see Saudi money pour in as investments.

These agreements have led to a series of disasters in the Middle East that go against the interests of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US. Israel’s recklessness has led to the deployment of a wide range of Russian state-of-the-art weapons to Syria, preventing Israel and the US from acting as freely as before. The disastrous Saudi war in Yemen, the almost diplomatic break with Canada, the kidnapping of the prime minister of Lebanon, and now the Khashoggi affair, have further weakened and isolated Saudi Arabia, MBS, and therefore Trump. The US is no longer able to influence events on the ground in Syria, and so the initial plans of Israel and Saudi Arabia have foundered, after having devoted hundreds of millions of dollars to arm and train terrorists to overthrow Assad.

The Khashoggi affair plays into this situation, exacerbating the war between elites in the US as their strategies in the Middle East continue to fail. The neoliberal mainstream media immediately used the Khashoggi story to pressure Trump into taking a firm stance against one of his last friends and financiers, trying to further isolate him as the midterms approach. Many in the US deep state are convinced – as they were convinced that Clinton would win the presidency – that the House and Senate will end up in Democratic hands in the November elections, paving the way for Trump’s impeachment and for Mike Pence to become president. Pence, a prominent figure of the evangelical right, would be the perfect president for Israel, placing Tel Aviv in the driving seat of US foreign policy as never before. In this scenario, it would certainly be preferable for certain parts of the elite to have a different figure at the helm in Saudi Arabia, seeing as MBS appears to be an unstable leader. Possibly they would prefer someone tied to the US secret services – someone like Mohammed bin Nayef. For these reasons, Democrats, some Republicans and the mainstream media have gone all out against MBS and Trump.

Turkey seems to be using the situation to further widen the fracture between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world. Since Doha is paying the bills for Erdogan these days, with the Turkish lira at a low, it is essentially the Al Thani family running the PR show in the Turkish media. It looks like the Qatari media are paying back with interests all the negative media they received from the Saudis over the past year. Despite this, neither Ankara nor Riyadh is intent on any kind escalation, both knowing that any suffering on their part is a boon for their enemies.

An interesting aspect related to the Khashoggi affair concerns the sources of the news about the investigation, all anonymous and coming from Turkish police or from people linked to the top echelons of the Turkish state. Knowing the odd state of relations between Ankara and Riyadh, and especially between Turkish ally Qatar and Saudi Arabia, all this news coming from one source should at least be taken with a grain of salt. What is certain is that the Turks had immediate knowledge of the matter regarding who, what, where, when and why. This means that they must have bugged the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, allowing the MIT, Turkey’s intelligence service, to know in real time what was happening to Khashoggi. The story concerning the Apple watch appears to be an attempt by the Turks to thrown off the scent Saudis who may be scratching their heads wondering how the Turks came to have such intimate knowledge of what transpired in their consulate.

For Turkey, the Khashoggi affair could be the occasion for a rapprochement with the US, following a deterioration in relations in the last two years. Turkey has few friends left, and after being cornered by Russia and Iran in Astana with regards to Syria,  it also has to deal with the tensions between Riyadh and Qatar as well as balance its relations with Iran and Israel. Erdogan would like to exploit this event as much as possible, and the release of Pastor Brunson seems to indicate Ankara’s willingness to extend an olive branch to Washington.

Russia, Syria and Iran have everything to benefit from this ongoing internal quarrel between elements within Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Qatar and the US. Whatever the outcome of the Khashoggi affair, Moscow, Tehran and Damascus can only benefit from any deterioration of relations between these countries.

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Boycott Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Here’s Why

The way to boycott Facebook, Twitter, and Google, is to NOT respond to their ads, but instead to blacklist their advertisers and all media that rely upon those giant social-media sites.

Eric Zuesse

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Originally posted at strategic-culture.org:


NATO — the neoconservatives, the marketeers for firms such as Lockheed Martin and BAE — has taken over the social-media giants and much of online international ‘news’-reporting, including that of virtually all independent news-sites and blogs.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google, in recent days, delivered what might be the death-blows.

NATO’s main PR agency, think-tank, and lobbying organization, is ‘non-profit’ — a legal tax-dodge that’s financed by donations from those weapons-making firms and their supporting firms and their ‘non-profits’, so that the taxes that it doesn’t pay will need to be paid instead by the general public. Billionaires know how to avoid taxes, and they hire politicians who write the laws with all the ‘right’ loopholes for them — and only for the very richest — to use. This PR agency is called “The Atlantic Council,” and it was set up in 1961, the exact same year that U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower left office warning that “the military-industrial complex” might take control of the U.S. Well, it did so, with The Atlantic Council’s help; and, now, it is finally lowering the boom against democracy itself — at least among the U.S. and its allied nations (the governments whose weapons-manufacturing firms are in, and sell to, NATO governments). The aim is to drive up the percentage of government-expenditures there that go to pay those firms, and so to reduce the percentages that go to pay everything else. The aim, in short, is the permanent-warfare-economy. After all, firms such as Lockheed Martin and BAE sell only to allied governments. They have virtually no consumers except those governments. So: their (and their ‘charities’) basic message is ‘austerity’ — except on ‘defense’ or realistically called “aggression.” This is national ‘defense’ such as against Iraq in 2003, and against Libya in 2011 — it is instead sheer aggression. George Orwell predicted “Newspeak” — well, here it is. It’s today’s norm, so normal that the public think it’s just natural, and conservatives and even many liberals think it’s the way that ‘a free market’ ought to be.

Here was Facebook’s announcement, on October 11th:

——

newsroom.fb.com

11 October 2018

Removing Additional Inauthentic Activity from Facebook

Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior. Given the activity we’ve seen — and its timing ahead of the US midterm elections — we wanted to give some details about the types of behavior that led to this action. Many were using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names and posted massive amounts of content across a network of Groups and Pages to drive traffic to their websites. Many used the same techniques to make their content appear more popular on Facebook than it really was. Others were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.

——

Those 559 and 251 weren’t identified; none of them were. Facebook wants them to need to scream in order for them to be able to be noticed at all by the public. The announcement didn’t even say by what criteria they were measuring ‘Inauthentic Activity’ versus ‘legitimate political debate’. Their announcement did say “we look at these actors’ behavior – such as whether they’re using fake accounts or repeatedly posting spam – rather than their content when deciding which of these accounts, Pages or Groups to remove,” but unless they make public what the actual algorithms are by means of which they remove sites, no one should trust them, at all, because they can remove whatever NATO or The Atlantic Council (neither of which their announcement even mentioned) want them to remove.

The background for this act by the war-economy’s billionaires had already been reported at Mint Press on May 18th“Facebook Partners With Hawkish Atlantic Council, a NATO Lobby Group, to ‘Protect Democracy’”, where Elliott Gabriel opened:

Facebook is hoping that a new alliance with the Atlantic Council — a leading geopolitical strategy think-tank seen as a de facto PR agency for the U.S. government and NATO military alliance – will not only solve its “fake news” and “disinformation” controversy, but will also help the social media monolith play “a positive role” in ensuring democracy on a global level.

The new partnership will effectively ensure that Atlantic Council will serve as Facebook’s “eyes and ears,” according to a company press statement. With its leadership comprised of retired military officers, former policymakers, and top figures from the U.S. National Security State and Western business elites, the Atlantic Council’s role policing the social network should be viewed as a virtual takeover of Facebook by the imperialist state and the council’s extensive list of ultra-wealthy and corporate donors.

Then, on October 12th, Mint Press’s Whitney Webb bannered “Facebook Purges US-Based Independent Media For Political Disinformation”, and reported that,

Notably, Facebook’s statement on the mass purge of pages was co-authored by Facebook Head of Cybersecurity Nathaniel Gleicher, who is a former White House National Security Council director of cybersecurity policy.

Twitter also banned many of the pages targeted for deletion by Facebook on Thursday, suggesting a coordinated censorship effort between the two most popular social media platforms.

Many of the pages banned had millions of likes, such as the Free Thought Project (3.1 million likes), Antimedia (2.1 million), Cop Block (1.7 million), and Police the Police (1.9 million). Several of the pages that were deleted on Thursday had been targeted by Facebook in recent months, both through new censorship algorithms and Facebook’s controversial team of “fact checkers.”

For instance, the Free Thought Project had been flagged earlier this year as “fake news” by Facebook “fact checking” partner organizations, including  the Associated Press (AP) and Snopes. In one case, a story published by the Free Thought Project was flagged as “false” by the AP. That story, which detailed the documented case of Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) being forcibly removed from a DHS migrant detention center that had once been a Walmart, was marked false because the AP asserted that the article made the claim that Walmart was housing immigrants for DHS. However, the article does not make the claim, instead accurately noting that the facility used to be a Walmart.

Censorship algorithms had also greatly affected traffic to the recently deleted pages for much of the past year. In the case of Antimedia, its traffic dropped from around 150,000 page views per day in early June to around 12,000 by the end of that month. As a reference, in June of last year, Antimedia’s traffic stood at nearly 300,000 views per day.

Also on October 12th, heavy dot com bannered “‘Facebook Purge’: List of Some Deleted Accounts on Left & Right” and listed a few dozen sites that the article’s writer had seen online screaming about having been removed.

Meanwhile, in UK’s very mainstream Daily Mail (the second-largest-circulation of all UK’s newspapers), columnist Michael Burleigh headlined on October 13th “Putin’s taking over Libya by stealth in order to point a new weapon at the West — millions of desperate migrants” and he opened:

So bloody and extensive is President Putin’s record of aggression, not least in Syria and Ukraine, that an incursion into the empty deserts of North Africa might hardly seem worth noting.

Yet the discovery that Russia is moving troops and missiles into war-torn Libya has rightly caused alarms to sound throughout the capitals of Europe.

It is a step of huge significance, and one with potentially disastrous results for Western nations.

The discovery that Vladimir Putin, above, and his government is moving troops and missiles into war-torn Libya has rightly caused alarm. Russia – this time in the form of Rosneft, the huge oil company controlled by Putin’s sinister crony Igor Sechin – is interested in a slice of Libya’s vast oil reserves, the largest in Africa

Libya has both oil and Mediterranean ports, and Russia is hungry for both.

But was it Russia that in 2011 had invaded and destroyed Libya, or was it U.S., UK, and France, who invaded and destroyed Libya — a country that like Iraq, Syria, Yemen and others which The West has destroyed, had never threatened nor invaded any of them?

Burleigh continued:

– cause enough for concern, perhaps. Yet the real fear for European governments is this: Libya, with its porous southern borders, has become the main jumping-off point for the hundreds of thousands of African migrants now seeking to cross the Mediterranean to the shores of the EU and, in particular, Italy.

So, his own country, UK, had helped with the bombing of Libya that had caused all those ‘migrants’ (actually refugees) into Europe, but now he’s trying to blame Putin for it, as if Russia and not UK, U.S., and France were the cause of it. Doesn’t that “mislead people”?

But is the Daily Mail being strangled by Facebook, Twitter, and Google; or is it instead being done to the small-fry political sites, which aren’t owned and controlled by the aristocracies of the U.S., UK, France, and their allied aristocracies — all the aristocracies that are in NATO and promoted by The Atlantic Council?

Here is yet more from Elliott Gabriel’s excellent news-report at Mint Press on May 18th, providing background to the present purges and censorships:

The announcement, made last Thursday in a Facebook Newsroom post, explained that the social network’s security, policy and product teams will coordinate their work with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) to analyze “real-time insights and updates on emerging threats and disinformation campaigns from around the world.”

DFRLab employees include pro-war media activist Eliot Higgins (of Bellingcat fame) and Ben Nimmo — a senior fellow for information defense at the Atlantic Council, who earned infamy for his groundless accusations that actual Twitter users are Russian trolls.

Read more on Facebook

Continuing, Facebook global politics and government outreach director Katie Harbath explained:

“This will help increase the number of ‘eyes and ears’ we have working to spot potential abuse on our service — enabling us to more effectively identify gaps in our systems, preempt obstacles, and ensure that Facebook plays a positive role during elections all around the world.”

“We know that tackling these problems effectively also requires the right policies and regulatory structures, so that governments and companies can help prevent abuse while also ensuring that people have a voice during elections. The Atlantic Council’s network of leaders is uniquely situated to help all of us think through the challenges we will face in the near- and long-term.”

“The think-tank’s Digital Research Unit Monitoring Missions will also be tapped by the social network during elections and “other highly sensitive moments” to allow Facebook the ability to zero in on key locales and monitor alleged misinformation and foreign interference.”

Who is the Atlantic Council?

Hillary Clinton at the 2013 Atlantic Council Distinguished Leadership Awards (Photo: Atlantic Council)

The Atlantic Council was recently in the news for receiving a donation of $900,000 from the U.S. State Department for a “Peace Process Support Network” program to “promote non-violent conflict resolution” in support of Venezuela’s scattered opposition, with which the council enjoys very close ties. The council also advocates the arming of extremist militants in Syria (a “National Stabilization Force”) and a hard-line policy toward Russia.

Established in 1961 by former U.S. Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and Christian Herter, the Atlantic Council of the United States was originally conceived as a means to drum up support for the Cold War-era NATO alliance, which had formed in 1949 as the basis of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture during the post-WWII competition with the Soviet Union. Dozens of similar Atlantic Councils were eventually established throughout the NATO and Partnership for Peace states.

The council is a part of the Atlantic Treaty Association, a NATO offshoot that claims to unite “political leaders, academics, military officials, journalists and diplomats in an effort to further the values set forth in the North Atlantic Treaty, namely: democracy, freedom, liberty, peace, security, and the rule of law.”

In general, groups such as the Atlantic Council are meant to secure the legitimacy of U.S. policies and neoliberal economics in the eyes of world audiences and academia, whether they live in the “advanced democracies” (the imperialist center) or “developing democracies” (the post-colonial and economically exploited nations).

Mint Press — a real news-operation, instead of the fake-news operations that are being boosted by Facebook, Twitter, and Google — apparently hasn’t yet been removed by Facebook, but the permanent-war-economy is only just starting to lower the boom. And, who knows what’s next, in American ‘democracy’, now?

The way to boycott Facebook, Twitter, and Google, is to NOT respond to their ads, but instead to blacklist their advertisers and all media that rely upon those giant social-media sites. There are competitors, and those need to be aggressively favored by anyone who doesn’t want to be mentally strangulated by these three giant corporations.

These media-giants want to strangle the public; so, the public needs to strangle them first.

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