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5 reasons Japan’s Shinzo Abe needs his meeting with Donald Trump to go well

With Japan rocked by scandals that have prompted speculation he will be out of office in a matter of months, Japan’s Prime Minister and US lapdog, Shinzo Abe, will meet with Donald Trump in the US this week to try and salvage his declining reputation.

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With a historic summit between the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and the South Korean president Moon Jae-in, less than two weeks away, followed by a possible summit between Kim and Donald Trump – Japan has found itself left out of diplomatic circles amid scandals at home.

Abe’s popularity among Japanese hit an all-time low after two allegations of cronyism connected to the PM surfaced, including a discounted sale of public land that had links to his wife.

The Guardian reported:

Abe has been badly bruised by allegations of cronyism centering on the heavily discounted sale of public land to the operator of an ultra-nationalist kindergarten in Osaka with links to his wife, Akie Abe.

He has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and said he would resign if he or his wife were shown to have been intervened in the sale of the land.

The finance ministry recently admitted to tampering with documents to remove references to Abe and his wife in papers relating to the decision to provide an 85% discount on the appraised value of the land.

He is also alleged to have used his influence to help a friend secure permission to open a veterinary school – claims he has rejected. Last week, however, an official document emerged describing the veterinary school as “an issue that involves the prime minister”.

Here are 5 reasons Shinzo Abe prays his meeting with Donald Trump goes well, via Ian Bremmer at Time:

1. Abe is facing trouble at home

Just six months ago Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) were riding high, having secured a 2/3 supermajority in snap elections for the lower house of the Diet, Japan’s national parliament. It was a decisive victory, boosting Abe’s confidence in his ability to push ahead in his quest to rewrite Japan’s “pacifist” constitution.

In the run-up to those elections, Abe’s popularity was above 50 percent, and pundits were bullish on the prospect of him winning a third term as president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in the post-war era (he’s currently third).

Today, his popularity has plummeted to below 30 percent according to one recent poll (lower than Trump’s current 39 percent). Much of that has to do with the Moritomo scandal, which involves allegations that a rightwing activist close to Abe and his wife secured a suspiciously good land deal from the government to establish an elementary school.

While the scandal has been plastered across Japanese headlines since early 2017 — and the Abes deny any wrongdoing — recent reports that Japan’s Finance Ministry doctored documents related to the deal to remove references to Abe, his wife Akie, and other political figures have breathed new life into accusations of impropriety and sparked a broader effort to dig up more examples of government misdoings.

Almost half (48 percent) of Japanese voters believe Abe should resign over the scandal; just this weekend, thousands took to the streets in Tokyo to demand his ouster. There are countries where protests like this happen once a week; Japan isn’t one of them.

2. Abe wants a seat at the table for North Korea talks

All these issues are coming to a head as Abe is preparing to run for reelection in the LDP’s presidential contest this September and serve another 3-year term. But it’s not just domestic politics that Abe needs to be worried about. Abe was caught completely off guard by Trump’s impromptu decision to accept North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un’s invitation to a summit later this spring.

Along with South Korea’s previous administration, Abe had held a tough-line on sanctioning and isolating the Kim regime. Now South Korea is headed by Moon Jae-In, a progressive politician who advocates peaceful engagement with North Korea, and the U.S. is being led by the mercurial Trump.

Japan is understandably concerned about being marginalized from, or even left out of, negotiations—it wants to make sure that if, for example, North Korea agrees to destroy the ICBMs that can hit the U.S. mainland, it will also destroy the short and medium-range ballistic missiles that can hit Japan, too.

A nuclear North Korea remains a non-starter for Japan, as it is for the U.S.—expect Abe to reaffirm his firm support for the U.S. “maximum pressure” strategy during discussions with Trump this week, and for Trump to agree wholeheartedly that keeping tough sanctions in place is critical to efforts to persuade Kim to abandon his nuclear ambitions.

3. Trump’s aggressive trade tariffs

North Korea is actually expected to be the easy part of the Trump-Abe summit. Much more contentious will be the trade talk—it hasn’t escaped Abe’s notice (nor that of his detractors in Japan) that his supposedly warm relationship with Trump failed to secure his country’s exemption from Trump’s Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs, which the US will likely impose next month. Japan is responsible for nearly 5 percent of all steel imported into the U.S., or roughly 1.9 million tons.

It’s no secret that Trump prefers bilateral trade deals to multilateral ones; Trump argues that the U.S. can exert more leverage on governments by confronting them one-on-one. So we can expect Trump to lean on Abe to begin negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), likely by tying them to the lifting of steel and aluminum sanctions.

Abe will try to avoid promising anything specific on that front, knowing that Trump will seek to extract more concessions from Japan than it already agreed to give in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

But Abe is not in a position to refuse Trump outright given Japan’s need to keep the economic and security relationship on an even keel. Abe will likely try to give Trump just enough to allow the U.S. president to declare that Japan has committed to a better deal for the U.S., but not so much that Abe looks like has caved into Trump’s demands.

That rather tortured compromise will probably come in the form of pledges to work harder to reduce the U.S. trade deficit and to allow U.S. firms more unfettered access to the Japanese market.

4. The possibility of the U.S. joining the Pacific region’s big trade pact

Instead of agreeing to near-term bilateral FTA talks, Abe will try to steer Trump back towards TPP, which was intended both to promote international commerce and to hem in China’s economic, political, and security ambitions in Asia.

Abe spent enormous political capital selling the Japanese public on the need for the 12-country trade deal when it was still being negotiated under Obama, but Trump withdrew the U.S. from TPP talks just three days into his presidency, fulfilling a key campaign promise. The rest of the signatories forged ahead and signed a revised agreement last month now colloquially referred to as TPP-11; this new trade deal dropped the U.S.-backed provisions on intellectual property and investor-state dispute settlements, among others.

Getting the U.S. under Trump to join TPP was always going to be a longshot. But those prospects received an unexpected boost late last week when Trump tweeted that he was open to looking again at TPP now that a possible trade war with China looms—albeit with the caveat that only “if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama.”

Given that the Obama team engaged in arduous negotiations for years to extract U.S.-friendly concessions, it seems unlikely the signatories would capitulate just because Trump tweeted his openness to joining; indeed, many of the TPP-11 countries were notably cool to the prospect, especially if that would require reopening and renegotiating the original TPP text.

Japan, however, is more open to the idea of helping create a pathway for the U.S. to join TPP — and even if it never comes to pass, Abe will express to Trump his government’s willingness to support him on this front.

5. The delicate art of golf diplomacy

The reality is that there are some unprecedentedly complex issues on the summit agenda this week, and the political troubles that both Abe and Trump are facing at home will make significant concessions tough for either to offer. But Abe arrives this week knowing that he must try his best to give Trump enough for him to declare (tweet?) the summit a success; it remains to be seen what Trump is willing to give Abe in return.

But make no mistake: now that Beijing is in Trump’s crosshairs (and vice versa), the Abe-Trump relationship is more important than ever. How important? Reports last week that Trump’s advance team hadn’t extended a formal invitation to Abe for a round of golf threw Tokyo into a tizzy. Thankfully, golf this week has been confirmed.

And if Abe can charmingly ingratiate himself to Trump as he did during their last outing on the links, so much the better for Japan—and the U.S., too.

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High-ranking Ukrainian official reports on US interference in Ukraine

It is not usually the case that an American media outlet tells the truth about Ukraine, but it appears to have happened here.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Hill committed what may well have been a random act of journalism when it reported that Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko, told Hill.tv’s reporter John Solomon that the American ambassador to that country, Marie Yovanovitch, gave him a “do not prosecute” list at their first meeting.

Normally, all things Russia are covered by the American press as “bad”, and all things Ukraine are covered by the same as “good.” Yet this report reveals quite a bit about the nature of the deeply embedded US interests that are involved in Ukraine, and which also attempt to control and manipulate policy in the former Soviet republic.

The Hill’s piece continues (with our added emphases):

“Unfortunately, from the first meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, [Yovanovitch] gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute,” Lutsenko, who took his post in 2016, told Hill.TV last week.

“My response of that is it is inadmissible. Nobody in this country, neither our president nor our parliament nor our ambassador, will stop me from prosecuting whether there is a crime,” he continued.

Indeed, the Prosecutor General appears to be a man of some principles. When this report was brought to the attention of the US State Department, the response was predictable:

The State Department called Lutsenko’s claim of receiving a do not prosecute list, “an outright fabrication.” 

“We have seen reports of the allegations,” a department spokesperson told Hill.TV. “The United States is not currently providing any assistance to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), but did previously attempt to support fundamental justice sector reform, including in the PGO, in the aftermath of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. When the political will for genuine reform by successive Prosecutors General proved lacking, we exercised our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer and redirected assistance to more productive projects.”

This is an amazing statement in itself. “Our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer”? Are Americans even aware that their country is spending their tax dollars in an effort to manipulate a foreign government in what can probably well be called a low-grade proxy war with the Russian Federation? Again, this appears to be a slip, as most American media do a fair job of maintaining the narrative that Ukraine is completely independent and that its actions regarding the United States and Russia are taken in complete freedom.

Hill.TV has reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine for comment.

Lutsenko also said that he has not received funds amounting to nearly $4 million that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine was supposed to allocate to his office, saying that “the situation was actually rather strange” and pointing to the fact that the funds were designated, but “never received.”

“At that time we had a case for the embezzlement of the U.S. government technical assistance worth 4 million U.S. dollars, and in that regard, we had this dialogue,” he said. “At that time, [Yovanovitch] thought that our interviews of Ukrainian citizens, of Ukrainian civil servants, who were frequent visitors of the U.S. Embassy put a shadow on that anti-corruption policy.”

“Actually, we got the letter from the U.S. Embassy, from the ambassador, that the money that we are speaking about [was] under full control of the U.S. Embassy, and that the U.S. Embassy did not require our legal assessment of these facts,” he said. “The situation was actually rather strange because the funds we are talking about were designated for the prosecutor general’s office also and we told [them] we have never seen those, and the U.S. Embassy replied there was no problem.”

“The portion of the funds, namely 4.4 million U.S. dollars were designated and were foreseen for the recipient Prosecutor General’s office. But we have never received it,” he said.

Yovanovitch previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia under former presidents Obama and George W. Bush, as well as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan under Bush. She also served as ambassador to Ukraine under Obama.

Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who was at the time House Rules Committee chairman, voiced concerns about Yovanovitch in a letter to the State Department last year in which he said he had proof the ambassador had spoken of her “disdain” for the Trump administration.

This last sentence may be a way to try to narrow the scope of American interference in Ukraine down to the shenanigans of just a single person with a personal agenda. However, many who have followed the story of Ukraine and its surge in anti-Russian rhetoric, neo-Naziism, ultra-nationalism, and the most recent events surrounding the creation of a pseudo-Orthodox “church” full of Ukrainian nationalists and atheists as a vehicle to import “Western values” into a still extremely traditional and Christian land, know that there are fingerprints of the United States “deep state” embeds all over this situation.

It is somewhat surprising that so much that reveals the problem showed up in just one report. It will be interesting to see if this gets any follow-up in the US press.

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Bercow blocks Brexit vote, May turns to EU for lifeline (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 112.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s latest Brexit dilemma, as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, shocked the world by citing a 1604 precedent that now effectively blocks May’s third go around at trying to pass her treacherous Brexit deal through the parliament.

All power now rests with the Brussels, as to how, if and when the UK will be allowed to leave the European Union.

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Via Bloomberg


Theresa May claims Brexit is about taking back control. Ten days before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, it looks like anything but.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s intervention, citing precedent dating back to 1604, to rule out a repeat vote on May’s already defeated departure deal leaves the prime minister exposed ahead of Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels.

Bercow, whose cries of “Orrdurrr! Orrdurrr!’’ to calm rowdy lawmakers have gained him a devoted international following, is now the pivotal figure in the Brexit battle. May’s team privately accuse him of trying to frustrate the U.K.’s exit from the EU, while the speaker’s admirers say he’s standing up for the rights of parliament against the executive.

If just one of the 27 other states declines May’s summit appeal to extend the divorce timetable, then the no-deal cliff edge looms for Britain’s departure on March 29. If they consent, it’s unclear how May can meet Bercow’s test that only a substantially different Brexit agreement merits another vote in parliament, since the EU insists it won’t reopen negotiations.

Caught between Bercow and Brussels, May’s room for maneuver is shrinking. Amid rumblings that their patience with the U.K. is near exhaustion, EU leaders are girding for the worst.

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President Putin signs law blocking fake news, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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