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Barack Obama goes after Russia’s senior police chief

Alexander Mercouris

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Barack Obama remains determined to exit the Presidency in a blaze of petulance.

Yesterday he announced a further set of sanctions against Russia, using as his legal authority the Magnitsky Act.

The Magnitsky Act was passed by Congress in 2012, and imposed sanctions on a group of Russian individuals who the US Congress says are guilty of causing the death in prison of Sergey Magnitsky.  This Act stemmed from a case involving allegations by the Russian authorities that the business Magnitsky whose accounts Magnitsky was handling – Hermitage Capital, which is run by the British businessman Bill Browder – was guilty of tax evasion, and Browder’s cross allegations that a group of corrupt Russian police officers and Russian mobsters had used the false tax evasion allegations to seize some of Hermitage Capital’s companies to carry out a tax fraud of their own.

The Russian authorities claim that Magnitsky was implicated in Browder’s and Hermitage Capital’s tax scam, and arrested him on that basis.  He was held on charges in prison for a year but died shortly before he was due to be released.

There is massive controversy both about the truth of the tax claims and about the circumstances of Magnitsky’s death.  Browder – who has repeatedly though it seems wrongly referred to Magnitsky as a lawyer – claims Magnitsky was murdered.  The Russian authorities deny this, and say he died of natural causes, though they admit the negligence of some of the prison officials tasked with looking after him.

The key point is that none of the allegations has ever been proved or disproved in any properly contested court hearing – though the Russians did try Browder and Magnitsky in absentia on the tax charges and found them both guilty – and though Browder was afforded an opportunity to prove his case in a defamation case in Britain but in the event declined to do so, citing (as is his right) jurisdiction issues.

Though it is beyond me to say where the truth lies in the tax case, and in the absence of a properly contested court hearing I do not see how anyone else can, I would repeat a certain point which I have made before, which is that if a businessman under investigation on tax evasion charges were to make the sort of claims that Browder is making in any other advanced country, most people would deem these claims fanciful.

I would also note that recently a Russian film (which I have not seen) has appeared made by a film director who says he had previously assumed Browder’s innocence, but who now believes in his guilt.

As to the causes of Magnitsky’s death, I think it is a virtual certainty that the Russian authorities are telling the truth, and that Magnitsky was not murdered as Browder says, but that he died as the Russian authorities say of natural causes compounded by the negligence of the prison officials.  The evidence of the official investigation conducted by Russia’s Investigative Committee which has looked into this issue seems to me overwhelming.

The paradox of these latest sanctions which Obama has imposed on the authority of the Magnitsky Act is that he actually opposed the Magnitsky Act when it was first proposed by Congress in 2012.  As a constitutional lawyer he undoubtedly knows that Congress is not a court and has no jurisdiction to pronounce on the guilt or innocence of anyone involved in the circumstances of Magnitsky’s death and to impose punishments on them, especially as Magnitsky died in Russia where Congress has no jurisdiction.   He must also know that around 4,400 prison inmates die in US prisons every year.  The sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act are therefore of dubious legality, and have no moral basis.  Nonetheless despite making known his disagreement with the Magnitsky Act, he signed it into law.

I should say that the slide in US-Russian relations under Obama’s administration began in my opinion with the Magnitsky Act, which preceded the Ukrainian crisis by more than a year.

Notwithstanding Obama’s (weak) opposition to the Magnitsky Act in 2012, he has now used it to impose further sanctions on several Russian individuals.  Two of them are Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, the two Russians the British authorities accuse of murdering Andrey Litvinenko with polonium in London in 2006.  In passing I should say that though the Magnitsky Act is named after Sergey Magnitsky and focuses on his alleged murder, it is drafted in such a way as to allow the US President to impose sanctions on anyone he considers guilty of human rights violations, and not just in Russia.

Lugovoy and Kovtun are small fry who have long been unable to travel to the West because of the British charges against them.  The Russians are unlikely to care about any US sanctions imposed on them.

The other person covered by Obama’s sanctions is a far more important person: Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee (“Sledkom”), Russia’s equivalent of the FBI.

Bastrykin has no connection to the Litvinenko murder, having been appointed to head the Investigative Committee in 2007 (when it was still part of the Procurator General’s Office) which is after Litvinenko was killed, and he has not previously been accused of having any direct involvement in the Magnitsky’s death.  However the Investigative Committee was placed in charge of the Russian investigations into Litvinenko’s and Magnitsky’s deaths – which are regularly condemned in the West as cover ups – and on that basis it is possible to construct a tenuous connection between Bastrykin and these two cases.

Almost certainly the main reason Bastrykin has been targeted has however nothing to do with either the Litvinenko or Magnitsky cases, but is because in Western and Russian liberal demonology Bastrykin is a notorious anti-Western hardliner.

Much of this stems from Bastrykin’s role pursuing corruption investigations against Russian businessmen, some of whom  (eg. the banker Andrey Borodin) then complain that they are being persecuted because of their political views.

These claims are then often treated uncritically in the West, where they occasionally result in grants of asylum, and where they become a regular part of the charge sheet against Russian President Putin and Russia.

The paradox of the West simultaneously criticising Russia for corruption and criticising Russia for acting against corruption, never seems to get noticed.

Another reason for going after Bastrykin is however that it complicates cooperation between Western and Russian police forces.

Following the election of a senior Chinese and Russian police officials to senior posts in Interpol – the international police coordination agency which until recently has been under effective US control – it is understandable why some people in Washington might be concerned about such cooperation and anxious to disrupt it.  Going after Bastrykin looks like an attempt to do it.

Regardless of the precise motive, this shabby episode, coming at the fag end of Obama’s Presidency, with Obama due to leave office in just 10 days, has to be seen as yet another slight by Obama towards Trump, his soon-to-be successor.

With Trump making clear his determination to press on with his policy of detente with Russia, it seems Obama simply cannot stop doing everything he can to foul the nest.

This petty episode, which Trump and Putin will simply disregard, further diminishes Obama, once again making him vindictive and small-minded.

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New York Times hit piece on Trump and NATO exposes alliance as outdated and obsolete (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 61.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a quick look at the New York Times hit piece citing anonymous sources, with information that the U.S. President dared to question NATO’s viability.

Propaganda rag, the NYT, launched its latest presidential smear aimed at discrediting Trump and provoking the establishment, warmonger left into more impeachment – Twenty-fifth Amendment talking points.

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Via The American Conservative


The New York Times scored a serious scoop when it revealed on Monday that President Trump had questioned in governmental conversations—on more than one occasion, apparently—America’s membership in NATO. Unfortunately the paper then slipped into its typical mode of nostrum journalism. My Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “nostrum” as “quack medicine” entailing “exaggerated claims.” Here we had quack journalism executed in behalf of quack diplomacy.

The central exaggerated claim is contained in the first sentence, in which it is averred that NATO had “deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.” This is wrong, as can be seen through just a spare amount of history.

True, NATO saved Europe from the menace of Russian Bolshevism. But it did so not over 70 years but over 40 years—from 1949 to 1989. That’s when the Soviet Union had 1.3 million Soviet and client-state troops poised on Western Europe’s doorstep, positioned for an invasion of Europe through the lowlands of Germany’s Fulda Gap.

How was this possible? It was possible because Joseph Stalin had pushed his armies farther and farther into the West as the German Wehrmacht collapsed at the end of World War II. In doing so, and in the process capturing nearly all of Eastern Europe, he ensured that the Soviets had no Western enemies within a thousand miles of Leningrad or within 1,200 miles of Moscow. This vast territory represented not only security for the Russian motherland (which enjoys no natural geographical barriers to deter invasion from the West) but also a potent staging area for an invasion of Western Europe.

The first deterrent against such an invasion, which Stalin would have promulgated had he thought he could get away with it, was America’s nuclear monopoly. By the time that was lost, NATO had emerged as a powerful and very necessary deterrent. The Soviets, concluding that the cost of an invasion was too high, defaulted to a strategy of undermining Western interests anywhere around the world where that was possible. The result was global tensions stirred up at various global trouble spots, most notably Korea and Vietnam.

But Europe was saved, and NATO was the key. It deserves our respect and even reverence for its profound success as a military alliance during a time of serious threat to the West.

But then the threat went away. Gone were the 1.3 million Soviet and client-state troops. Gone was Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Indeed, gone, by 1991, was the Soviet Union itself, an artificial regime of brutal ideology superimposed upon the cultural entity of Mother Russia. It was a time for celebration.

But it was also a time to contemplate the precise nature of the change that had washed over the world and to ponder what that might mean for old institutions—including NATO, a defensive military alliance created to deter aggression from a menacing enemy to the east. Here’s where Western thinking went awry. Rather than accepting as a great benefit the favorable developments enhancing Western security—the Soviet military retreat, the territorial reversal, the Soviet demise—the West turned NATO into a territorial aggressor of its own, absorbing nations that had been part of the Soviet sphere of control and pushing right up to the Russian border. Now Leningrad (renamed St. Petersburg after the obliteration of the menace of Soviet communism) resides within a hundred miles of NATO military forces, while Moscow is merely 200 miles from Western troops.

Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has absorbed 13 nations, some on the Russian border, others bordering lands that had been part of Russia’s sphere of interest for centuries. This constitutes a policy of encirclement, which no nation can accept without protest or pushback. And if NATO were to absorb those lands of traditional Russian influence—particularly Ukraine and Georgia—that would constitute a major threat to Russian security, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to emphasize to Western leaders for years.

So, no, NATO has not deterred Russian aggression for 70 years. It did so for 40 and has maintained a destabilizing posture toward Russia ever since. The problem here is the West’s inability to perceive how changed geopolitical circumstances might require a changed geopolitical strategy. The encirclement strategy has had plenty of critics—George Kennan before he died; academics John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Robert David English; former diplomat Jack Matlock; the editors of The Nation. But their voices have tended to get drowned out by the nostrum diplomacy and the nostrum journalism that supports it at every turn.

You can’t drown out Donald Trump because he’s president of the United States. And so he has to be traduced, ridiculed, dismissed, and marginalized. That’s what the Times story, by Julian Barnes and Helene Cooper, sought to do. Consider the lead, designed to emphasize just how outlandish Trump’s musings are before the reader even has a chance to absorb what he may have been thinking: “There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.” Translation: “Take that, Mr. President! You’re an idiot.”

Henry Kissinger had something interesting to say about Trump in a recent interview with the Financial Times. “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history,” said the former secretary of state, “who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretenses.” One Western pretense about Russia, so ardently enforced by the likes of Julian Barnes and Helene Cooper (who, it may be safe to say, know less about world affairs and their history than Henry Kissinger), is that nothing really changed with the Soviet collapse and NATO had to turn aggressive in order to keep that menacing nation in its place.

Trump clearly doesn’t buy that pretense. He said during the campaign that NATO was obsolete. Then he backtracked, saying he only wanted other NATO members to pay their fair share of the cost of deterrence. He even confessed, after Hillary Clinton identified NATO as “the strongest military alliance in the history of the world,” that he only said NATO was obsolete because he didn’t know much about it. But he was learning—enough, it appears, to support as president Montenegro’s entry into NATO in 2017. Is Montenegro, with 5,332 square miles and some 620,000 citizens, really a crucial element in Europe’s desperate project to protect itself against Putin’s Russia?

We all know that Trump is a crude figure—not just in his disgusting discourse but in his fumbling efforts to execute political decisions. As a politician, he often seems like a doctor attempting to perform open-heart surgery while wearing mittens. His idle musings about leaving NATO are a case in point—an example of a politician who lacks the skill and finesse to nudge the country in necessary new directions.

But Kissinger has a point about the man. America and the world have changed, while the old ways of thinking have not kept pace. The pretenses of the old have blinded the status quo defenders into thinking nothing has changed. Trump, almost alone among contemporary American politicians, is asking questions to which the world needs new answers. NATO, in its current configuration and outlook, is a danger to peace, not a guarantor of it.


Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington journalist and publishing executive, is the author most recently of President McKinley: Architect of the American Century

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Nigel Farage To Back Another “Vote Leave” Campaign If UK Holds Second Brexit Referendum

Nigel Farage said Friday that he would be willing to wage another “Vote Leave” campaign, even if he needed to use another party as the “vehicle” for his opposition.

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Via Zerohedge


Pro-European MPs from various political parties are pushing back against claims made by Prime Minister Theresa May’s government that a second Brexit referendum – which supporters have branded as a “People’s Vote” on May’s deal – would take roughly 14 months to organize, according to RT.

But while support for a second vote grows, one of the most notorious proponents of the original “Vote Leave” campaign is hinting at a possible return to politics to try and fight the effort.

After abandoning UKIP, the party he helped create, late last year, Nigel Farage said Friday that he would be willing to wage another “Vote Leave” campaign, even if he needed to use another party as the “vehicle” for his opposition. Farage also pointed out that a delay of Brexit Day would likely put it after the European Parliament elections in May.

“I think, I fear that the House of Commons is going to effectively overturn that Brexit. To me, the most likely outcome of all of this is an extension of Article 50. There could be another referendum,” he told Sky News.

According to official government guidance shown to lawmakers on Wednesday, which was subsequently leaked to the Telegraph, as May tries to head off a push by ministers who see a second referendum as the best viable alternative to May’s deal – a position that’s becoming increasingly popular with Labour Party MPs.

“In order to inform the discussions, a very short paper set out in factual detail the number of months that would be required, this was illustrative only and our position of course is that there will be no second referendum,,” May said. The statement comes as May has been meeting with ministers and leaders from all parties to try to find a consensus deal that could potentially pass in the House of Commons.

The 14 month estimate is how long May and her government expect it would take to pass the primary legislation calling for the referendum (seven months), conduct the question testing with the election committee (12 weeks), pass secondary legislation (six weeks) and conduct the campaigns (16 weeks).

May has repeatedly insisted that a second referendum wouldn’t be feasible because it would require a lengthy delay of Brexit Day, and because it would set a dangerous precedent that wouldn’t offer any more clarity (if some MPs are unhappy with the outcome, couldn’t they just push for a third referendum?). A spokesperson for No. 10 Downing Street said the guidance was produced purely for the purpose of “illustrative discussion” and that the government continued to oppose another vote.

Meanwhile, a vote on May’s “Plan B”, expected to include a few minor alterations from the deal’s previous iteration, has been called for Jan. 29, prompting some MPs to accuse May of trying to run out the clock. May is expected to present the new deal on Monday.

Former Tory Attorney General and pro-remainer MP Dominic Grieve blasted May’s timetable as wrong and said that the government “must be aware of it themselves,” while former Justice Minister Dr Phillip Lee, who resigned his cabinet seat in June over May’s Brexit policy, denounced her warning as “nonsense.”

As May pieces together her revised deal, more MPs are urging her to drop her infamous “red lines” (Labour in particular would like to see the UK remain part of the Customs Union), but with no clear alternative to May’s plan emerging, a delay of Brexit Day is looking like a virtual certainty.

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The National Security Agency Is A Criminal Organization

The National Security Agency values being able to blackmail citizens and members of government at home and abroad more than preventing terrorist attacks.

Paul Craig Roberts

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Via Paul Craig Roberts…


Years before Edward Snowden provided documented proof that the National Security Agency was really a national insecurity agency as it was violating law and the US Constitution and spying indiscriminately on American citizens, William Binney, who designed and developed the NSA spy program revealed the illegal and unconstitutional spying. Binney turned whistleblower, because NSA was using the program to spy on Americans. As Binney was well known to the US Congress, he did not think he needed any NSA document to make his case. But what he found out was “Congress would never hear me because then they’d lose plausible deniability. That was really their key. They needed to have plausible deniability so they can continue this massive spying program because it gave them power over everybody in the world. Even the members of Congress had power against others [in Congress]; they had power on judges on the Supreme Court, the federal judges, all of them. That’s why they’re so afraid. Everybody’s afraid because all this data that’s about them, the central agencies — the intelligence agencies — they have it. And that’s why Senator Schumer warned President Trump earlier, a few months ago, that he shouldn’t attack the intelligence community because they’ve got six ways to Sunday to come at you. That’s because it’s like J. Edgar Hoover on super steroids. . . . it’s leverage against every member of parliament and every government in the world.”

To prevent whistle-blowing, NSA has “a program now called ‘see something, say something’ about your fellow workers. That’s what the Stasi did. That’s why I call [NSA] the new New Stasi Agency. They’re picking up all the techniques from the Stasi and the KGB and the Gestapo and the SS. They just aren’t getting violent yet that we know of — internally in the US, outside is another story.”

As Binney had no documents to give to the media, blowing the whistle had no consequence for NSA. This is the reason that Snowden released the documents that proved NSA to be violating both law and the Constitution, but the corrupt US media focused blame on Snowden as a “traitor” and not on NSA for its violations.

Whistleblowers are protected by federal law. Regardless, the corrupt US government tried to prosecute Binney for speaking out, but as he had taken no classified document, a case could not be fabricated against him.

Binney blames the NSA’s law-breaking on Dick “Darth” Cheney. He says NSA’s violations of law and Constitution are so extreme that they would have to have been cleared at the top of the government.

Binney describes the spy network, explains that it was supposed to operate only against foreign enemies, and that using it for universal spying so overloads the system with data that the system fails to discover many terrorist activities. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/50932.htm

Apparently, the National Security Agency values being able to blackmail citizens and members of government at home and abroad more than preventing terrorist attacks.

Unfortunately for Americans, there are many Americans who blindly trust the government and provide the means, the misuse of which is used to enslave us. A large percentage of the work in science and technology serves not to free people but to enslave them. By now there is no excuse for scientists and engineers not to know this. Yet they persist in their construction of the means to destroy liberty.

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