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EXCLUSIVE: The Duran visits London fire ground zero

A combination of ‘life going on’ and everything pausing in moments of reflection, anger and sorrow has converged in the streets underneath the burnt out Grenfell Tower in London.

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Judging from the mainstream media reports in the UK, the area around the location of a massive fire which gutted Grenfell Tower, a large apartment tower in west London, is something of a war zone, a place where anger and bitterness is ready to burst open into displays of violence.

As it is with so much else to do with the msm, this was not the case.

The area was not only calm but in some ways was eerily silent. On every wall and lamppost were signs with photos of missing people, most sadly presumed dead.

Makeshift memorials dotted the streets, particularly outside of churches. Many people set up areas to give away free food and water to anyone passing by and also to police officers and journalists, many of whom were clearly overwhelmed by the scene.

Many locals in similar towers near by looked out of their window with a combination of visible anger and frustration. One local told me privately that their shattered community had become a ‘tourist attraction’. Others had large signs draped across the parapets asking for justice for their community, such people want the right kind of attention to be focused on their area.

While many businesses were converted into makeshift donation points, others continued to operate on a  normal basis, something which is  surreal and at the same time lends a sense of normalcy to a community upon which the shadow of a burnt out tower now reigns supreme. The smiling faces at local pubs and coffee houses show that within a small area, a wide range of human emotions and activities were commencing simultaneously.

Far from being chaotic as many have implied, if anything, people were more polite and calmer than usual on a long boiling summer’s day in a concrete clad part of a major city. However, behind the veneer of ordinary ‘hellos and goodbyes’ was the unavoidable, that a modern urban disaster that was almost certainly made worse by the hand of irresponsible individuals, was looming large. Everyone stopped to lock up at the burnt tower as they walked pass, as though there was a giant magnet inside the charred remains of the building in which many dead bodies still sit, waiting for their final resting place.

In one area, left-wing political activists set up a small sound system through which they allowed others to address the crowds who by that time had gathered.

Every speaker approached things from a similar perspective, that of anger at the poor standards of safety, anger at a UK government that acts with an arrogant indifference to their plight and most spoke openly and enthusiastically about their support for Jeremy Corbyn, Britain’s surging opposition leader.

The anger however was a political anger. I speak as someone who came expecting rage, instead I found people organised and united against what they see as common foes: big yet irresponsible government and likewise, big yet irresponsible business.

It is a worrying thought though that the longer government neglects to listen to the angry voices, the more likely the angry voices will turn into angry people on the brink of something physical.

Is the government so foolish as to not realise this? Or do they simply not care?

While some have said that it is wrong to politicise the incident, for the people who gathered, those who lived near by and in similar accommodations from other parts of the city,  it was a deeply political issue and for obvious reasons. The property was built by the state and managed by a private company at the behest of the local government, numerous complaints about fire safety from locals were ignored at all levels of government. It is simply impossible to say that there was no political angle.

However, what becomes starkly clear is that even if political heads electorally roll and I have no doubt that they will, even if a new culture of real safety comes into play and I certainly hope that it does, the failures that led to the disaster at Grenfell Tower in London are part of a political and indeed philosophical culture that has widely failed the people it was supposed to help.

Throughout much of the world, across many continents, the horrors of the Second World War led many people to re-consider the role of society in a future that many hoped would be better than a recent passed which produced the horrors of the War. The most deadly event in history led many to think that it was time to change the thinking that is connected to the violent hand of man.

This led to among other things, the idea that old communities were outdated and some certainly were. The slums which blighted post-war societies, including those like the United States which did not face any bombardment on the mainland, were simply awful. Everything from the lack of electricity, to no proper windows and doors and no in-door plumbing blighted major cities in the age of electricity, the jet engine and television.

One of the most common solutions to slum clearance was the construction of large tower blocs where ‘streets in the sky’ would offer the most downtrodden in society, a glimpse at a future that they might have otherwise been left out of. Such schemes were at the time embraced by both left and right wing politicians.

At first many residents loved their new apartments in the sky. New construction, indoor plumbing, modern kitchens, normal bedrooms, electricity and a futuristic ethos that was miles away from the view-less slums.

But then reality set in from all directions.

At a practical level, in countries like the UK and US in particular, the new modern buildings that required a great deal of attention and maintenance were neglected due to either a real or purported lack of funds.

Architects that wanted to provide spaces for leisure, sport and relaxation were often horrified to see their originally plans slashed by bureaucrats which rendered a sterling vision of the future into one which was partly blinded. Furthermore, many corners were often cut in terms of sound construction techniques which led to many early structural failures.

Then there was the human side. For years, the debate over modern tower blocs used to house the poor revolved around two polar perspectives. One side focuses exclusively on the lack of adequate public funds and efforts to maintain the structures and their accompanying facilities.

The other side blames the nature of poor individuals in urban settings for being incapable of such living, often pointing out that in many cities wealthy people also live in tower blocs of a not entirely dissimilar nature and do so with relatively few problems.

There is however a difference. Men and women were not meant to live in cities in the sky. They are often architectural marvels and occasionally eye-sores, but this is not a manner in which people were accustomed to living throughout human history.

The vast majority of the world’s population will never pilot a plane, take a journey in a submarine or attempt to go into space. These are aberrational vocations that take a particular kind of individual to embark on. One must consciously decide that one wants to go where others have not gone and in unique ways at that.

Those who elect to buy expensive apartments in skyscrapers do so consciously. They have made a decision to invest a great deal of money in order to live in a certain way.

By contrast, the poor who were housed in the kinds of towers like the one which was gutted by flame in London, did not have a choice. Of course they were at first grateful for the opportunity, but sooner or later human nature set in and an involuntary experiment to put humans in ‘streets in the sky’ failed for many.

The classic case study of where modernist tower living went wrong is Pruitt–Igoe, a housing complex made up of several towers in the American city of St. Louis.

The estate was meant to give slum-dwellers of St. Louis a glimpse into the future. Instead, Pruitt–Igoe became the victim of poor building, worse maintenance, lack of opportunity and an environment that due to human factors deteriorated rapidly from a futuristic dream to a crime ridden slum from which one couldn’t even escape by easily taking a walk down the street.

After opening in 1956, the entire area was demolished by 1976. Twenty years is a very short lifespan for any building, let alone such ambitious ones.

The demolition of Pruitt–Igoe was immortalised in the 1983 film Koyaanisqatsi which was a visual and musical meditation on everything wrong with the modern west.

The fire at London’s Grenfell Tower is the clearest indication yet that the 21st century is no better suited to the 1950s attempt to create a future than was the 20th century. Interestingly, the Grenfell Tower in London opened up just two years prior to the final demolition of Pruitt–Igoe.

It is a peculiar fact of life that even the worst politicians are far easier to remove than the worst buildings. I have no doubt that the credibility of the politicians presiding over the prelude and aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire will soon be voted out of office.

What is less clear is what the new leaders will do about the hundreds of buildings like Grenfell?

The immediate solution is to make all such structures safe for living in. The longer term solution will be to phase out such buildings by offering re-location opportunities to more traditional properties either as houses or low-rise apartments.

The amount of post-industrial commercial space that is rotting in many big cities is the perfect opportunity to build such places and most of the owners would happily part with their properties for a reasonable price which contrary to what many say, government can afford.

While the calm but unmistakable anger and sorrow on the streets of London was due to the fact that many people felt their governments have failed them. In the long term, many may take the view that modernism failed them.

Like all forms of idealism, the ‘perfect modern home’ eventually goes up in flames one way or another. One can only hope that such a realisation takes hold in the wider public conscientiousness before another actual major fire occurs.

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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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