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Schulz bombs, Merkel set for re-election, Macron doomed

Merkel’s victory in the state election in North Rhine Westphalia crushes the challenge from the SPD’s Martin Schulz and dooms the hopes of reform of Emmanuel Macron.

Alexander Mercouris

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Angela Merkel’s CDU party has a won a surprise victory in the state election in North Rhine Westphalia setting the scene for what now looks like her inevitable re-election in four months time.

The CDU’s victory by a convincing margin in North Rhine Westphalia is a bitter blow to the SPD.  North Rhine Westphalia is Germany’s most populous state and is the SPD’s traditional heartland state.  It is also the state where Martin Schulz – the SPD’s Chancellor designate – was born.  Moreover the leader of the local SPD Hannelore Kraft was a well regarded local politician who is widely admitted to have outshone during the state election her CDU rival Armin Laschet.

Just a few weeks ago the SPD was universally expected to win the North Rhine Westphalia election.   Instead on an increased turnout of 65% the SPD’s share of the vote crashed by 7% from the previous election, down from 39% to 32%, whilst the CDU’s increased its share of the vote from 26% to 33%, leaving the CDU the biggest party in the state parliament.  The new right wing party the AfD won 7.7%, enough to enter the local parliament but well below its own target of 10%.

What explains this remarkable turnaround?

There is no doubt that the CDU’s victory is a personal victory for Angela Merkel over her SPD rival Martin Schulz.  Her victory shows that the “Schulz effect”, which briefly caused the SPD to surge in the polls when Schulz was nominated the SPD’s Chancellor designate, has entirely dissipated just 100 days after Schulz’s nomination.  The result is that the SPD has slumped back to the disastrous level it was polling before Schulz was nominated

That is wholly unsurprising.  The “Schulz effect” shows that many Germans are tired of Angela Merkel and would welcome a genuine alternative.  However as I pointed out previously it is difficult to see in Schulz such an alternative.  Here is what I wrote about him in January shortly after he obtained the SPD’s nomination

it has to be said that as President of the European Parliament Schulz has been a devoted follower of the EU’s current orthodoxies at the very time that they have been coming under the strongest challenge both in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.  From outside Germany that doesn’t make Schulz a very obvious candidate to lead the SPD to victory against the rising tide of the AfD.

If anything the choice of Schulz appears to show how narrow the choice has become within Germany’s two big established parties – the CDU and SPD – a fact which in part explains why the AfD and Germany alternative hard left Die Linke are continuing to make inroads.

And here is what I wrote about him in February, when the SPD briefly passed the CDU in the opinion polls

News that a recent opinion poll has put the SPD for the first time one point ahead of Angela’s Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc has inevitably triggered speculation about whether or not she is now in serious danger of losing the forthcoming German parliamentary elections.

Schulz however differs little from Merkel on foreign policy questions, and the extent of his differences with Merkel on domestic issues is for an outsider difficult to judge.  The parliamentary elections are not due till November, and it is far obvious that Schulz will be able to sustain what for the moment looks very much like a bounce.

What could turn out to be an ephemeral lead by the SPD over Merkel does however show one thing: the extent to which Merkel’s hitherto impregnable position in German politics has weakened, and the extent to which many Germans have tired of her, and long for an alternative to her.

This is not because Merkel has been Chancellor for a long time.  In Germany’s incumbency confers a huge advantage, with Helmut Kohl in 1998 being the first Chancellor to lose a parliamentary election in Germany after the Second World War.  It is rather that with growing challenges in Europe and in Germany’s dealings with Donald Trump’s US, Merkel is looking increasingly short of answers.

Whether the German people will eventually decide that Martin Schulz is the person to find those answers is open to doubt, but his sudden rise in the polls shows how much desire for an alternative to Merkel there now is.

As is clear I have been dubious about Schulz from the moment the SPD nominated him its Chancellor designate, and I was never convinced that his poll lead over Merkel would last.

The simple fact is that Angela Merkel for all her many faults – about which I have written extensively – is within the context of German electoral politics an exceptionally successful politician.  Her success stems from three factors (1) an overriding focus on remaining Chancellor to which all other considerations are sacrificed (2) her extraordinary success in disposing of potential rivals and (3) the strength of the German economy whose export oriented businesses are benefitting disproportionately from the low interest rates and weak euro caused by the loose monetary policies of the European Central Bank even as Merkel’s insistence on Germany maintaining fiscal surpluses increases German competitiveness by containing wage growth and reducing domestic demand.

Points (1) and (3) incidentally seal the fate of Emmanuel Macron.  He has been elected President of France on an agenda of reforming the eurozone in order to adapt it to French needs.  However as Tsipras and Varoufakis discovered after Syriza won the 2015 elections in Greece, so Macron before long will discover that behind the honeyed words Merkel always uses to defuse opposition she is implacably opposed to any reform of the eurozone, since that might negatively effect, if only in the short term, the performance of the German economy upon whose continued growth her position as Chancellor depends.  Since Merkel’s overriding priority is to remain Chancellor at all costs that means that Macron’s hopes of reforming the eurozone are going to be stillborn.  Only if France had elected a President who gave the impression of being willing to take France out of the eurozone might Merkel have been panicked into carrying out the reforms Macron says he wants.  Since no one believes Macron will do that his fate and that of his reforms is sealed.

Which brings me to the larger point about Merkel.  I have previously discussed how her conservatism differs profoundly from that of her great rival Vladimir Putin

Though Putin and Merkel are often referred to as conservatives, in reality that does neither of them justice.

Though in many of his professed attitudes Putin is a conservative, he is also the leader of a dynamic and purposeful government which in the years he has been in power has transformed Russia, changing it more completely than any other country during the same period apart from China.

Merkel is more truly conservative in the sense that she sees herself as essentially Germany’s caretaker, preserving the German political and economic system unchanged from the way she found it.  Where Putin’s policies are marked by dynamism and change, her policies can be best described as immobilism bordering on stagnation.

Briefly, both in Germany and Europe Merkel is the great defender of the status quo, ensuring that nothing changes, and that things continue as they are.  Her whole position as Germany’s Chancellor depends on it.  It is a type of conservatism Europe has not seen since the age of Metternich.

Just as Metternich’s system was stifling for Europe, so Merkel’s is.  Metternich’s system, since it could not be changed, ended in crisis and revolution.  Perhaps in time the Europe of Angela Merkel – Europe’s present day Metternich – will go the same way.  However if that happens, it will be a long time before it does.  In the meantime those looking for a change of direction in Germany or Europe, whether in terms of economic or foreign policy, are about to have their hopes dashed.

 

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Beijing Threatens “Severe” Retaliation Against Canada If Huawei CFO Is Not Released

China’s warning marks an escalation in Beijing’s rhetoric as investors worry that the arrest could cause the shaky trade detente between the US and China to devolve into acrimony.

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Via Zerohedge


Canada’s extraordinary arrest one week ago of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei founder and billionaire executive Ren Zhengfei, and its decision to charge her with “multiple” counts of fraud – a preamble to her likely extradition to the US to face charges of knowingly violating US and EU sanctions on Iran – has elicited widespread anger in Beijing, which declared Meng’s detention a “violation of human rights” during a bail hearing for the jailed executive on Friday.

That anger has apparently only intensified after the hearing adjourned without a decision (it will resume on Monday, allowing Meng’s defense team to argue for why she should be released on bail, contrary to the wishes of government attorneys who are prosecuting the case).

And with Canada insisting that it will prosecute Meng to the full extent of the law over allegations that she mislead banks about the true relationship of a Huawei subsidiary called Skycom, angry Chinese officials have decided to issue an ultimatum directly to the Canadian ambassador, who was summoned to a meeting in Beijing on Saturday and told in no uncertain terms that Canada will face “severe consequences” if Meng isn’t released, according to the Wall Street Journal.

China’s foreign ministry publicized the warning in a statement (though Canadian officials have yet to comment):

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned Canada’s ambassador to Beijing, John McCallum, on Saturday to deliver the warning, according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The statement doesn’t mention the name of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, though it refers to a Huawei “principal” taken into custody at U.S. request while changing planes in Vancouver, as was Ms. Meng. The statement accuses Canada of “severely violating the legal, legitimate rights of a Chinese citizen” and demands the person’s release.

“Otherwise there will be severe consequences, and Canada must bear the full responsibility,” said the statement, which was posted online late Saturday.

Phone calls to the Canadian Embassy rang unanswered while the Canadian government’s global affairs media office didn’t immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The warning marks an escalation in Beijing’s rhetoric as investors worry that the arrest could cause the shaky trade detente between the US and China to devolve into acrimony. A federal judge issued a warrant for Meng’s arrest back in August. Though after she was made aware of the warrant, Meng avoided travel to the US. She was arrested in Vancouver last Saturday while traveling to Mexico.

Aside from breaking off trade talks, some are worried that Beijing could seek to retaliate in kind by arresting a notable US executive. While the threats of Chinese bureaucrats might not amount to much in the eyes of US prosecutors, threatening a US executive with long-term detention in a Chinese “reeducation camp” just might.

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The trials of Julian Assange

Eresh Omar Jamal interviews Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi in relation to the situation of Julian Assange.

The Duran

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Authored by Eresh Omar Jamal for The Daily Star (Bangladesh):


Stefania Maurizi is an investigative journalist working for the Italian daily La Repubblica. She has worked on all WikiLeaks releases of secret documents and partnered with Glenn Greenwald to reveal the Snowden Files about Italy. She has authored two books—Dossier WikiLeaks: Segreti Italiani and Una Bomba, Dieci Storie. In an exclusive interview with Eresh Omar Jamal of The Daily Star, Maurizi talks about the continued arbitrary detention of Julian Assange, why powerful governments see WikiLeaks as an existential threat, and the implications for global press freedom if Assange is prosecuted for publishing secret government documents.

You recently had the chance to visit Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. When was this and can you describe the state he is in?

I was able to visit him on November 19, after 8 months of failed attempts, because last March the Ecuadorian authorities cut off all his social and professional contacts, with the exception of his lawyers, and in the preceding 8 months, I had asked for permission to visit him nine times without success—the Ecuadorian authorities didn’t reply at all to my requests.

When I was finally granted permission to visit the WikiLeaks founder at the Ecuadorian embassy in London last November, I was literally shocked to see the huge impact his isolation has had on his health. Because I have worked as a media partner with him and his organisation, WikiLeaks, for the last nine years, I have met him many times and can tell when there are any changes in his body and mind. I wondered how his mind could keep working; but after talking to him in the embassy for two hours, I have no doubt that his mind is working fine. I still wonder how that’s possible after six and a half years of detention without even one hour of being outdoors. I would have had a physical and mental breakdown after just 6 months, not after 6 years.

Detention and isolation are killing him slowly, and no one is doing anything to stop it. The media reports, the commentators comment, but at the end of the day, he is still there; having spent the last six and a half years confined to a tiny building with no access to sunlight or to proper medical treatment. And this is happening in London, in the heart of Europe. He is not sitting in an embassy in Pyongyang. It is truly tragic and completely unacceptable. And I’m simply appalled at the way the UK authorities have contributed to his arbitrary detention, and have opposed any solution to this intractable legal and diplomatic quagmire.

Having bravely defended Assange for years, the Ecuadorian government in late March cut off almost all his communications with the outside world. What prompted this turnabout and what is its purpose?

Politics has completely changed in Ecuador, and more in general, in Latin America, since 2012, when Ecuador granted Julian Assange asylum. I have never had any interviews with the current Ecuadorian President, Mr Lenin Moreno, but based on his public declarations, it’s rather obvious to me that he does not approve of what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks do.

With all his problems, Rafael Correa (former president of Ecuador) protected Assange from the very beginning, whereas Lenin Moreno considers him a liability. Moreno is under pressure from the right-wing politicians in Ecuador, and also from very powerful governments, like the US and UK governments, who will leave no stones unturned to jail Assange and destroy WikiLeaks. I am not sure how long Lenin Moreno will hold out against this immense pressure, provided that he wants to hold out at all.

Assange was vindicated not so long ago as to why he cannot leave the embassy when the US Department of Justice “accidentally” revealed in November that the founder of WikiLeaks had been secretly charged in the US. What do you think those charges are for?

It’s hard to say unless the charges get declassified and I really appreciate how the US organisation, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, is fighting before the court in the Eastern District of Virginia, US, to have the charges declassified.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the US authorities have always wanted to charge him for WikiLeaks’ publications. They have wanted to do so from the very beginning, since 2010, when WikiLeaks released its bombshell publications like the US diplomatic cables.

But the US authorities have been unable to do so due to the fact that WikiLeaks’ publication activities enjoy constitutional protection thanks to the First Amendment. So it will be very interesting to see how they will get around this constitutional protection in order to be able to charge him and other WikiLeaks journalists and put them all in jail.

Why have some of the most powerful governments and intelligence agencies invested so much resources to attack Assange and WikiLeaks?

You have to realise what it meant for the US national security complex to witness the publication of 76,000 secret documents about the war in Afghanistan, and then another 390,000 secret reports about the war in Iraq; followed by 251,287 US diplomatic cables and 779 secret files on the Guantanamo detainees; and to watch WikiLeaks save Edward Snowden, while the US was trying everything it could do, to show the world that there is no way of exposing the NSA’s secrets and keep your head attached to your neck having done so.

You have to realise what this means in an environment like that of the US, where even the most brilliant national security reporters didn’t dare to publish the name of the head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, Michael D’Andrea, even though his name and the abuses committed by his centre were open secrets within their inner circles. Although the New York Times finally did, later on. But this was and still is the reality in the US, and even though it may not be as bad in the UK, it’s still quite bad. Look at what happened with the arrest of Glenn Greenwald’s husband, David Miranda, at the Heathrow Airport during the publication of the Snowden Files. Look at what happened with The Guardian being forced to destroy its hard drives during the publication of those files.

There are different levels of power in our societies and generally in our western democracies, criticism against the low, medium and high levels of power via journalistic activities is tolerated. Journalists may get hit with libel cases, have troubles with their careers; however, exposing those levels is permitted. The problem is when journalists and media organisations touch the highest levels, the levels where states and intelligence agencies operate.

WikiLeaks is a media organisation that has published secret documents about these entities for years, and Julian Assange and his staff have done this consistently, not occasionally like all the other media organisations do. You can imagine the anger these powerful entities have towards WikiLeaks—they perceive WikiLeaks as an existential threat and they want to set an example that says, “Don’t you dare expose our secrets and crimes, because if you do, we will smash you.”

If Assange is prosecuted, what impact might it have on other publishers and journalists and on press freedom globally?

It will have a huge impact and that is why organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union are speaking out. Never before in the US has an editor and media organisation ended up in jail for publishing information in the public interest. If Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks’ staff end up in jail, it will be the first time in US history and will set a devastating precedent for attack on press freedom in the US, but actually, not only in the US. Because if a country like the US, in which the activities of the press enjoy constitutional protection, treats journalists this way, you can imagine how other countries where the press doesn’t enjoy such strong protection will react. It will send a clear message to them: “Your hands are free.”

At the end of the day, I think there are two sides to this Assange and WikiLeaks saga: the US-UK national security complex, but more in general, I would say, the people within the national security complex, who want to destroy Julian Assange and WikiLeaks to send a clear message to journalists: “Don’t mess with us if you don’t want your lives to be destroyed.” While on the other side, there are the freedom of the press guys, meaning journalists like me, who want to demonstrate the exact opposite: that we can expose power at the highest levels, we can expose the darkest corners of governments and come out alive and well. And actually, we must do this, because real power is invisible and hides in the darkest corners.

Eresh Omar Jamal is a journalist for The Daily Star (Bangladesh). You can find him on Twitter: @EreshOmarJamal and Stefania Maurizi: @SMaurizi

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Diplomacy a Waste of Time with Washington

Trump’s JCPOA pullout and threatened INF Treaty withdrawal show Washington can never be trusted.

The Duran

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Authored by Stephen Lendman:


The US is a serial lawbreaker, operating by its own rules, no others.

Time and again, it flagrantly breaches international treaties, Security Council resolutions, and other rule of law principles, including its own Constitution.

Diplomacy with Republicans and undemocratic Dems is an exercise in futility.

Trump’s JCPOA pullout and threatened INF Treaty withdrawal show Washington can never be trusted.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova’s proposed US outreach to discuss INF Treaty bilateral differences is well intended – despite knowing nothing is accomplished when talks with Washington are held, so why bother.

It’s just a matter of time before the US breaches another promise. They’re hollow when made. Kremlin good intentions aren’t enough to overcome US duplicity and implacable hostility toward Russia.

“We are ready to continue the dialogue in appropriate formats on the entire range of problems related to this document on the basis of professionalism and mutual respect, without putting forward unsubstantiated accusations and ultimatums. Our proposals are well known and remain on the negotiating table,” said Zakharova, adding:

“We have admitted (US) documents for further consideration. This text again includes accusations in the form of unfounded and unsubstantiated information about Russia’s alleged violations of this deal.

Comments to Washington like the above and similar remarks are like talking to a wall. The US demands all countries bend to its will, offering nothing in return but betrayal – especially in dealings with Russia, China, Iran, and other sovereign independent governments it seeks to replace with pro-Western puppet ones.

Not a shred of evidence suggests Russia violated its INF Treaty obligations. The accusation is baseless like all others against the Kremlin.

“No one has officially or by any other means handed over to Russia any files or facts, confirming that Russia breaches or does not comply with this deal,” Zakharova stressed, adding:

“We again confirm our consistent position that the INF Treaty is one of the key pillars of strategic stability and international security.”

It’s why the Trump regime intends abolishing it by pulling out. Strategic stability and international security defeat its agenda. Endless wars and chaos serve it.

The US, UK, France, Israel, and their imperial partners get away with repeated international law breaches because the EU, UN, and rest of the world community lack backbone enough to challenge them.

It’s how it is no matter how egregious their actions, notably their endless wars of aggression, supporting the world’s worst tinpot pot despots, and failing to back the rights of persecuted Palestinians and other long-suffering people.

The only language Republicans and Dems understand is toughness. Putin pretends a Russian/US partnership exists to his discredit – a show of weakness, not strength and responsible leadership.

In response to the Trump regime’s intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty, he said Russia will “react accordingly” – precisely what, he didn’t say.

A few suggestions, Mr. President.

  • Recall your ambassador to Washington. Expel the Trump regime’s envoy from Moscow and other key embassy personnel.
  • Arrest US spies in Russia you long ago identified. Imprison them until the US releases all Russian political prisoners. Agree to swap US detainees for all of them, no exceptions.
  • Install enough S-400 air defense systems to cover all Syrian airspace. Warn Washington, Britain, France and Israel that their aircraft, missiles and other aerial activities in its airspace will be destroyed in flight unless permission from Damascus is gotten – clearly not forthcoming.
  • Publicly and repeatedly accuse the above countries of supporting the scourge of ISIS and likeminded terrorists they pretend to oppose.
  • Warn them in no uncertain terms that their aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic no longer will be tolerated. Tell them the same goes if they dare attack Iran.
  • Stop pretending Mohammad bin Salman didn’t order Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, along with ignoring the kingdom’s horrendous human rights abuses domestically and abroad – including support for ISIS and other terrorists.
  • Put observance of rule of law principles and honor above dirty business as usual with the kingdom and other despotic regimes for profits.
  • Do the right things at all times and damn the short-term consequences – including toughness on Washington, the UK, Israel, and their imperial partners in high crimes of war and against humanity.

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at [email protected].

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

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