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South Korea shifts towards China

South Korea imposes limits on THAAD, rejects formal alliance with US and Japan, begins defence dialogue with China

Alexander Mercouris

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The big news in Asia this week is not US President Trump’s grand but ultimately empty visit to China.  It is the quiet steps China and South Korea have begun to take towards each other.

In a recent article for The Duran I discussed how Russian foreign policy seemed to be edging towards a solution to the Korean crisis involving direct Chinese – Russian brokered talks between North and South Korea which would not involve the US.

I also referred to the longstanding Russian projects to build railway lines and gas pipelines across North Korea to South Korea, providing South Korea via North Korea and Russia with a land bridge to Europe, whilst bringing the two Koreas together and binding them closer both economically and politically to the two Great Eurasian Powers ie. Russia and China.

I also speculated that these Russian plans – which I said had unquestionably been worked out in collaboration with China – might also involve the two Koreas coming together in some form of confederation with each other, this being an idea first mooted by North Korean President Kim Il-sung in the 1970s, and floated from time to time since.

In my article I summed this all up as follow

It is not after all as if the contours of a possible Korean settlement are difficult to see: a non-aggression pact between the two Koreas, a withdrawal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula, and an agreement by North Korea that it give up its weapons in return for formal security guarantees from the Great Powers (in this case this means the two Eurasian Great Powers, Russia and China).

There is no logical reason why any of this should require the agreement of the US, and if the two Koreas were to agree to this the US would not be in a position to prevent it.

The South Koreans are not ready for this message at the moment, but the Russians – who privately probably already think all these things – may calculate that if they bide their time and wait for the right moment the South Koreans will become more willing to listen as the true extent of US intransigence becomes clear.

That after all is how the big breakthrough came in the Syrian crisis, with Russia and Turkey agreeing a deal with each other after the fall of the Jihadi stronghold in Aleppo, which did not involve the US.

We are some way from this point in the Korean crisis. The North Koreans will need a great deal of persuasion before they are prepared to talk to the South Koreans whose government they consider to be a US puppet.  The South Koreans will need a great deal of persuasion before they are willing to break with the US and are ready to act without the prior agreement of the US.

However given the strong interests all three parties have in a settlement, if the US is not careful it may not be so long before it comes to that.

In that case we could see Russian diplomats in Pyongyang and Seoul, and North Korea’s and South Korea’s leaders – Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in – in Moscow, with the US completely cut out of the talks – brokered by China and the Russia – for a comprehensive settlement of the Korean crisis, which would be going ahead without them.

It goes without saying that China will be involved every step of the way.  Indeed the Russians are undoubtedly informing the Chinese in advance about every step they are taking, just as Iran was kept informed and was involved in every step the Russians and the Turks took together towards bringing the Syrian crisis to an end, and has been made a co-chair of the Astana talks.

China’s involvement and agreement is in fact essential.  Ultimately, because of the history of mistrust between the two Koreas, China as well as Russia will almost certainly have to act as a co-signatory and guarantor of whatever agreement the two Koreas finally agree with each other.  Almost certainly that will require China and Russia giving formal security guarantees not just to North Korea but probably to South Korea as well

It turns that whilst the Russians have been talking to the North Koreans – as I discussed at length in my article – the Chinese have been talking to the South Koreans, and the proposals they have been making to the South Koreans have been exactly in line with what I predicted in my article.

Moreover these discussions are bearing fruit.  Here is how Global Times describes their outcome

Trump’s visit to South Korea comes as Beijing decides to mend ties with Seoul. On October 30, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha ruled out the possibility of deploying additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense batteries, the South joining US-led missile defense system, and entering into a formal trilateral military alliance with Washington and Tokyo.

Kang’s strong comments are rare for the traditional diplomat whose language usually comes with nuance and strategic ambiguity to secure greater diplomatic maneuverability and leverage, highlighting South Korean President Moon Jae-in‘s firm will to improve relations with China…..

On October 14, Moon had called for military restraint on all sides, stating that he would “block war by all means” and that military action against North Korea should be decided only by South Koreans and “not by anyone else.”…….

……South Korea’s and China’s recent decision to resume military dialogue comes at an opportune time. On October 24, defense ministers of the two countries held their first one-on-one meeting in two years. Working-level talks and chief-of-staff dialogue mechanism severed since January 2016 and June 2013, respectively, are also scheduled to resume at a later time. Such military channels provide a niche to improve the quality of bilateral relationship, and can add both content and substance to their existing “strategic and cooperative partnership.”

As to China’s ultimate objectives in its negotiations with South Korea, here is how the article in Global Times describes them

In this context, South Korea is in a unique position to become a strategic fulcrum for China, at least under the Trump and Moon administration. It is crucial that both countries utilize this historical moment to build up strategic and military substance, so that any future possible security frictions do not erode their hard-won friendship.

Professor Yan Xuetong of Tsinghua University once argued that South Korea could and should be a natural security ally of China. Although Yan’s vision is unlikely to materialize in the near to medium future, the two countries at least have sufficient collective economic, diplomatic, and military power to leverage peace in East Asia and provide global public goods for the region in the form of traditional and non-traditional security. Such strategic objectives are beneficial for both China which seeks to become a major power with Chinese characteristics and South Korea which needs to boost its diplomacy.

(bold italics added)

Compare these words with my description in my article of Russia’s ultimate objective in the Korean Peninsula

If the two Koreas – with an aggregate population of almost 80 million people, a highly trained and well-educated population, abundant natural resources, and advanced industries (including some in North Korea) – were ever to come together in that way the result would be an economic colossus, potentially rivalling Japan as the second biggest economy after China in East Asia.

For the Russians – with their good relations with both Koreas – it is a tantalising prospect, especially if they can use the prospect of better economic and political links between themselves and the two Koreas – and between the two Koreas with each other – to distance South Korea from the US, and to draw the two Koreas into closer relations and perhaps in time into full integration with the Eurasian powers (ie. with China and Russia).

(bold italics added)

The Chinese and Russian objectives are in all respects identical, conclusively confirming that the two Eurasian Great Powers are acting in concert towards the same objective,.

Clearly there is an agreed division of labour between them, with the Chinese talking to the South Koreans over whom they have substantial economic leverage (see this article by Reuters), and with the Russians talking to the North Koreans, with whom – unlike the Chinese – they have traditionally always had good relations.

What are the prospects of these Chinese-Russian moves?

A trip I took to South Korea in 2004 made me starkly aware of the overwhelming cultural influence in South Korea of China, compared to which the US presence in South Korea seemed ephemeral.

It also brought home to me the extent of the South Korean people’s pride in the achievements of the Korean nation – achievements which are both very great and little known in the West – and of the deep suspicion most of them still have of Japan, which was Korea’s colonial master from 1910 to 1945.

In that context a key development of the last two weeks – touched on by Global Times – is that the South Korean government has emphatically ruled out any idea of South Korea joining a trilateral alliance of the US, South Korea and Japan directed in theory against the threat from North Korea but in reality pitched also against the Eurasian Powers: China and Russia.

Lastly my 2004 trip made me vividly aware of the longing of the Korean people – South as well as North – for peace and independence, and for at least some form of reunification of the Korean nation, divided against its wishes at the end of the Second World War.

In light of all this the possibility of an eventual South Korean realignment with South Korea agreeing to become part of some sort of regional structure bringing together however loosely the two Koreas and China and Russia does not seem to me altogether farfetched.

Whether Kim Jong-un and his officials would be interested in such an arrangement is another matter.  Doubtless the Russians are working hard to try to find out, and in time they will no doubt point out to Kim Jong-un its very obvious advantages to him

Such an arrangement would obviously distance South Korea from the US. However it would not mean that South Korea would have to become an enemy of the US.

The Chinese and the Russians know that that is something to which the South Koreans would not agree, and from their point of view it would not be desirable anyway.

However South Korea – unlike say Germany or Turkey – is not a member of a tightly structured US-led alliance like NATO in Europe.  A shift by South Korea away from its current close security relationship with the US would not therefore require a formal break with the US.  That makes a realignment easier to achieve.

As the article in Global Times shows, the Chinese and the Russians – being the highly practical and realistic people that they are – are not proposing such a realignment to Seoul at the moment.

Rather they are pressing Seoul and Pyongyang to begin direct talks with each other.  At the back of their minds they will hope that when such talks begin the idea of a realignment will emerge naturally out of them.

The prospects are in fact better now than they have ever been.

A rapprochement bringing together the two Koreas and China and Russia would have been inconceivable during the Cold War when Kim Il-sung first proposed it because of the bitter ideological divisions of that period.

In the early 2000s, when it was again mooted, the US was still very much the hyper-power with an effective veto over any move by South Korea and with the Chinese and the Russians having little to offer.

By contrast today the huge growth of Chinese power and the strong recovery of Russia mean that for the first time a rapprochement between the two Koreas, China and Russia looks both attractive and viable.

Whether the negotiations currently underway between the Chinese and the South Koreans and the North Koreans and the Russians eventually lead to that outcome remains to be seen.

However already Chinese diplomacy has achieved a dramatic success, with South Korea’s agreement to limit THAAD deployments on the Korean Peninsula, the South Koreans ruling out the idea of a tripartite alliance between themselves the US and Japan, and with the South Koreans also agreeing to re-start defence talks with China.

My guess is that a rapprochement bringing together the two Koreas and realigning them closer to China and Russia is both fully viable and much closer than many realise.

Indeed its logic is so strong that if or rather when the two Koreas finally begin to talk to each other I expect it to come to the forefront quickly.

The challenge is to get those talks started.

The Russians have made a strong pitch to the North Koreans, whilst the Chinese breakthrough with the South Koreans suggests that the start of direct talks between Seoul and Pyongyang may not be as far off as most people think.

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Denmark As A Model For American Socialists?

In Denmark, everyone pays at least the 25% value-added tax (VAT) on all purchases. Income tax rates are high.

The Duran

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Authored by Lars Hedegard via The Gatestone Institute:


Here are some facts to consider before American “democratic socialists” look to Denmark for guidance, as Senator Bernie Sanders did during the 2016 presidential campaign.

First of all, Danes actually pay for their brand of socialism through heavy taxation. In Denmark, everyone pays at least the 25% value-added tax (VAT) on all purchases. Income tax rates are high. If you receive public support and are of working age and healthy enough to work, the state will require that you look for a job or it will force a job on you.

The willingness of all the Danes to pay high taxes is predicated on the country’s high degree of homogeneity and level of citizens’ trust in each other, what sociologists call “social capital.” By and large, Danes do not mind paying into the welfare state because they know that the money will go to other Danes like themselves, who share their values and because they can easily imagine themselves to be in need of help — as most of them, from time to time, will be.

Whenever politicians propose tax cuts, they are met with vehement opposition: So, you want to cut taxes? What part of the welfare state are you willing to amputate? And that ends the debate.

Danes, in contrast to American socialists gaining ground in the Democratic Party, are increasingly aware that the welfare state cannot be sustained in conditions of open immigration. A political party agitating for “no borders” could never win a Danish election. Danes do not suffer from historical guilt: they have not attacked any other country for more than two centuries and have never committed a genocide.

Moreover, there is an even deeper truth to ponder: Denmark is not really socialist but constitutes a sui generis fusion of free-market capitalism and some socialist elements. Denmark has no minimum wage mandated by law. Wages, benefits and working conditions are determined through negotiations between employers and trade unions. 67% of Danish wage-earners are members of a union, compared to 19% in Germany and 8% in France. Strikes and lockouts are common, and the government will usually stay out of labor conflicts unless the parties are unable to agree.

It is uncomplicated for enterprises to fire workers, which gives them great flexibility to adapt to shifting market conditions. To alleviate the pain, the state has in place a number of arrangements such as generous unemployment benefits and programs to retrain and upgrade redundant workers.

Danish companies must make ends meet or perish. They generally will not get handouts from the government.

Denmark is more free-market oriented than the US. According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2018 Index of Economic Freedom, Denmark is number 12, ahead of the United States (number 18). Venezuela is at the bottom, one place ahead of number 180, North Korea.

Mads Lundby Hansen, chief economist of Denmark’s respected pro-free-market think tank CEPOS, comments:

“Very high taxes and the vast public sector clearly detract in the capitalism index and reduce economic freedom. But Denmark compensates by protecting property rights, by low corruption, relatively little regulation of private enterprise, open foreign trade, healthy public finances and more. This high degree of economic freedom is among the reasons for Denmark’s relatively high affluence.”
Trish Regan recently claimed on Fox Business that Danes pay a “federal tax rate” of 56% on their income. This is misleading. The 55.8% is the levied on the marginaltax for the top income bracket, only on the part of their income above DKK 498,900 ($76,500). Any income under DKK 498,900 is taxed at lower rates. And the 55.8% marginal rate does not represent a “federal” or “national” rate. It represents the total of all taxes on income: national tax, regional tax, municipal tax and labor market tax. It does not, however, include Denmark’s 25% value-added tax (VAT), paid on all purchases.

Regan also claimed that Danes pay a 180% tax on cars. While it is true that there was once a maximum tax of 180% on care in Denmark, the vehicle tax rates have been lowered in recent years. Today, the first DKK 185,100 ($28,400) of the price of a gas- or diesel-powered car is taxed at 85%, and if the car’s price is above DKK 185,100, the remaining amount is taxed at 150% — which is of course bad enough.

Denmark’s total tax burden amounts to 45.9% of GDP, the highest of all countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

As pointed out in the Fox Business segment, all education for Danes is tuition-free, all the way through to a Ph.D. Not only that; the state will, within certain time constraints, pay students to study. For students at university level no longer living with their parents, the monthly cash grant comes to almost $1,000 per month. No fewer than 325,000 students out of a total population of 5.6 million benefit from this generous arrangement setting the state back to the tune of DKK 20.9 billion or 1% of GDP (latest 2018 figures just in and supplied by Mads Lundby Hansen). Denmark even pays student support to 20,000 foreign students.

Attempts by fiscal conservatives to cut down on payments to students have been successfully resisted by the vociferous and influential student organizations; at present it would appear impossible to muster anything like a parliamentary majority to limit the student handouts.

Fox Business is right that a great many Danes are on public transfer payments. Government figures from 2017 indicate that 712,300 Danes of working age (16-64) — not including recipients of student benefits — get public financial support. But Regan’s claim that most Danes do not work is ludicrous. According to Statistics Denmark, 69.9% of Danes aged 16-64 are active in the labor market.

How can Denmark pay for its comprehensive welfare state, which includes free medical care regardless of the severity of your condition? Regan claims that Denmark is “heavily in debt.” Not so. As it turns out, Denmark is among the least indebted countries in the world, even when compared to other Western countries. The Danish government’s gross debt stands at 35.9% of GDP. Compare that to, e.g., The United Kingdom (86.3 %), The United States (108%), Belgium (101%), Canada (86.6%), France (96.3%), Germany (59.8%), The Netherlands (53.5%), Italy (129.7%), Spain (96.7%) and even Switzerland (41.9%).

Comparing Denmark to the US, Madsen notes that the latter has a problem with fiscal sustainability that may necessitate tax increases. Denmark enjoys what he labels fiscal “oversustainability” (“overholdbarhed”).

At a time when socialism appears to be popular among certain sections of the American population, its proponents would do well not to cite Denmark as a model. The Danish fusion of free-market capitalism and a comprehensive welfare state has worked because Denmark is a small country with a very homogeneous population. This economic and social model rests on more than 150 years of political, social and economic compromises between peasants and landowners, business-owners and workers, and right- and left-leaning political parties. This has led to a measure of social and political stability that would be hard to emulate in much larger and more diverse counties such as the United States.


Lars Hedegaard, President of the Danish Free Speech Society, is based in Denmark.

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Ron Paul: Protectionism Abroad and Socialism at Home

One of the most insidious ways politicians expand government is by creating new programs to “solve” problems created by politicians.

Ron Paul

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Authored by Ron Paul via The Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity:


One of the most insidious ways politicians expand government is by creating new programs to “solve” problems created by politicians. For example, government interference in health care increased health care costs, making it difficult or even impossible for many to obtain affordable, quality care. The effects of these prior interventions were used to justify Obamacare.

Now, the failures of Obamacare are being used to justify further government intervention in health care. This does not just include the renewed push for socialized medicine. It also includes supporting new laws mandating price transparency. The lack of transparency in health care pricing is a direct result of government policies encouraging overreliance on third-party payers.

This phenomenon is also observed in foreign policy. American military interventions result in blowback that is used to justify more military intervention. The result is an ever-expanding warfare state and curtailments on our liberty in the name of security.

Another example of this is related to the reaction to President Trump’s tariffs. Many of America’s leading trading partners have imposed “retaliatory” tariffs on US goods. Many of these tariffs target agriculture exports. These tariffs could be devastating for American farmers, since exports compose as much as 20 percent of the average farmer’s income.

President Trump has responded to the hardships imposed on farmers by these retaliatory tariffs with a 12 billion dollars farm bailout program. The program has three elements: direct payments to farmers, use of federal funds to buy surplus crops and distribute them to food banks and nutrition programs, and a new federal effort to promote American agriculture overseas.

This program will not fix the problems caused by Tramp’s tariffs. For one thing, the payments are unlikely to equal the money farmers will lose from this trade war. Also, government marketing programs benefit large agribusiness but do nothing to help small farmers. In fact, by giving another advantage to large agribusiness, the program may make it more difficult for small farmers to compete in the global marketplace.

Distributing surplus food to programs serving the needy may seem like a worthwhile use of government funds. However, the federal government has neither constitutional nor moral authority to use money taken by force from taxpayers for charitable purposes. Government-funded welfare programs also crowd out much more effective and compassionate private efforts. Of course, if government regulations such as the minimum wage and occupational licensing did not destroy job opportunities, government farm programs did not increase food prices, and the Federal Reserve’s inflationary policies did not continuously erode purchasing power, the demand for food aid would be much less. By increasing spending and debt, the agriculture bailout will do much more to create poverty than to help the needy.

Agriculture is hardly the only industry suffering from the new trade war. Industries — such as automobile manufacturing — that depend on imports for affordable materials are suffering along with American exporters. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (who supports tariffs) has called for bailouts of industries negatively impacted by tariffs. He is likely to be joined in his advocacy by crony capitalists seeking another government handout.

More bailouts will only add to the trade war’s economic damage by increasing government spending and hastening the welfare–warfare state’s collapse and the rejection of the dollar’s world reserve currency status. Instead of trying to fix tariffs-caused damage through more corporate welfare, President Trump and Congress should pursue a policy of free markets and free trade for all and bailouts for none.

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In Monsters We Trust: US Mainstream Media No Friend of the American People

Over 300 US newspapers ran editorials on the same day denouncing Trump, an event in itself that points to some high degree of collusion and groupthink.

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Authored by Robert Bridge via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Over the course of his turbulent presidency, Donald Trump has accused various media companies, with special attention reserved for CNN, as being purveyors of ‘fake news.’ In one early-morning Tweet last year, he slammed the “FAKE NEWS media” as the “enemy of the people.”

This week, over 300 US newspapers ran editorials on the same day – an event in itself that points to some high degree of collusion and groupthink – denouncing Trump’s insensitive portrayal of them, as if the notion that journalists were not in the same sleaze league as lawyers, politicians and professional con artists never crossed anyone’s mind before. Even the peace-loving Mahatma Gandhi recommended “equality for everyone except reporters and photographers.”

But is the MSM really an “enemy of the people?”

First, it cannot be denied that the US media, taken in all its wholesomeness, has been overwhelmingly consistent in its ‘style’ of reporting on Donald Trump, the 45th POTUS. And by consistent I mean unprecedentedly critical, misleading and outright aggressive in its guerilla coverage of him. If one is not convinced by the gloom-and-doom Trump stories featured daily in the Yahoo News feed, then a study by the Media Research Center (MRC) should do the job. From January 1 through April 30, evening news coverage of the US leader – courtesy of ABC, CBS and NBC – were 90 percent negative, which is pretty much the same incredible average revealed by MRC one year earlier.

The study looked at every one of the 1,065 network evening news stories about Trump and his administration during the first four months of 2018. Total negative news time devoted to Trump: 1,774 minutes, or about one-third of all evening news airtime. That’s pretty much the definition of a circle jerk.

“Nearly two-fifths (39%) of the TV coverage we examined focused on Trump scandals and controversies, while 45 percent was devoted to various policy issues,” MRC wrote in its report.

Meanwhile, the farcical Russia ‘collusion’ story was consistently the main grabber — clocking in at 321 minutes, or nearly one-fifth of all Trump coverage. Of the 598 statements MRC calculated about Trump’s personal scandals, virtually all of them (579, or 97%) came out of the media wash cycle tarred and feathered.

If this represents an orchestrated attack on the Commander-in-Chief, and in light of those numbers it would be difficult to argue it isn’t, the strategy appears to be falling flat. Despite, or precisely because of, the avalanche of negative media coverage, Trump’s popularity rating smashed the 50 percent ceiling in early August and continues to remain high.

In Monsters We Trust

Although it can be safely stated that the MSM is an entrenched and relentless enemy of Donald Trump, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an “enemy of the American people,” as Trump argues it is. Let’s be a bit more diplomatic and say it isn’t our friend.

One yard stick for proving the claim is to consider the steadily mounting concentration of media holdings. In 1983, 90 percent of US media were controlled by 50 companies; today, 90 percent is controlled by the Big Six (AT&TComcastThe Walt Disney Company21st Century FoxCBS and Viacom control the spoken and printed word from sea to shining sea).Although many people are aware of the monopolistic tendencies of the US mainstream media, it’s important to understand the level of concentration. It means the vast majority of everything you see and hear on any electronic device or printed publication is ‘democratically’ controlled by six average white guys and their shareholders.

However, keeping track of who owns what these days is practically impossible since the dozens of subsidiary companies that fall under each main company are themselves fiefdoms, each with their own separate holdings. In fact, the already short ‘Big Six’ list is already dated, since National Amusements, Inc. has gobbled up both Viacom and CBS, while 21st Century Fox merged with Disney this year. As for the 350 US newspapers that penned tortured editorials decrying Trump’s critical opinion of them, many of those ‘local’ publications get their marching orders from either the Hearst Communications or the Gannett Company on the East Coast.

Now, with this sort of massive power and influence lying around like dynamite, it stands to reason, or unreason, that the corporate and political worlds will succumb to the law of attraction and gravitation, forging powerful and impregnable relationships. It’s no secret that the politicians, our so-called ‘public servants,’ are mostly in the game to make a fast buck, while the corporations, desperate for ‘democratic representation’ to control regulation and market share, have an inexhaustible source of funds to secure it. Naturally, this oligarchical system precludes any sort of democratic participation from the average person on the street, who thinks just because he remembers to yank a lever once every several years he is somehow invested in the multibillion-dollar franchise.

As far as media corporations being ‘private enterprises’ and therefore free to demolish the freedom of speech (even censoring major media players, like Infowars, simply because they whistle to a different political tune), that is quickly becoming revealed as nothing more than corporate cover for state-sponsored machinations.

“In a corporatist system of government, wherein there is no meaningful separation between corporate power and state power, corporate censorship is state censorship,” writes Caitlin Johnstone. “Because legalized bribery in the form of corporate lobbying and campaign donations has given wealthy Americans the ability to control the US government’s policy and behavior while ordinary Americans have no effective influence whatsoever, the US unquestionably has a corporatist system of government.”

Meanwhile, it cannot be denied, from the perspective of an impartial observer, that the mainstream media is nearly always positioned to promote the government narrative on any number of significant issues. From the media’s unanimous and uncritical clamoring that Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9/11 (even the FBI has admitted it has no “hard evidence” that bin Laden carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon), to its gung-ho enthusiasm for the 2003 Iraq War, to the sycophantic cheerleading for a war in Syria, the examples of media toeing the government line are legion. And if US intel is in bed with Hollywood you can be damn sure they’re spending time in the MSM whorehouse as well.

Is it any surprise, then, that public trust in the US media is reaching all-time lows, while news consumers are increasingly looking to alternative news sites – themselves under relentless attack – to get some semblance of the elusive truth, which is the God-given right of any man? Truth is our due, and we should demand nothing less.

As Thomas Paine reminded the world in the face of a different foe: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

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