The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo. An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month.
Despite these similarities, the reporting by the international media of these two sieges is radically different.
In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. Isis is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the city so they can be used as human shields.
Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee. The UN chief of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, suggested this week that the rebels in east Aleppo were stopping civilians departing – but unlike Mosul, the issue gets little coverage.
The United States has warned China it will blacklist Chinese companies and banks that do illicit business with North Korea if Beijing fails to enforce U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang, according to senior State Department officials.
The tougher U.S. approach reflects growing impatience with China and a view that it has not strictly enforced existing sanctions to help curb Pyongyang’s nuclear program, which a U.S. policy of both sanctions and diplomacy has failed to dent.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave the message to Chinese officials in meetings in Beijing in October after North Korea conducted its fifth and largest nuclear test, the officials said.
U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry stressed the importance of choking off financial flows to Pyongyang during a meeting with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi in New York on Nov. 1.
In response to the U.S. warning, Chinese officials said they believe pressure alone on North Korea will not work, and that they oppose any U.S. action that would hurt Chinese companies, officials said.
President-elect Donald Trump stepped on a land mine today, when he exposed the facade of America’s “One China Policy” during the course of his continued phone conversations with foreign leaders, he called Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. It was the first US presidential call to his Taiwanese counterpart since 1979, despite the US military commitment to them. The call sparked a flurry of condemnation from diplomats who saw the call as upsetting the delicate balance of diplomacy with China and military support for Taiwan against them, and had many warning China might “retaliate” in some way.
The reaction to the call reflects the paradoxical nature of US policy in the region, as there is major trade between the US and Taiwan, and the US is committed to provide for their unconditional military defense and selling large amounts of arms to them annually, but there is no “official” diplomatic relationship between the two, with President Jimmy Carter cutting diplomatic ties in 1979.
Just 11 days before the U.S. presidential election, FBI Director James Comey wrote a letter to Congress letting them know that the agency had found additional emails that “appear to be pertinent” to its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
It was extremely unusual for the bureau to be so forthcoming about an investigation, and the move drew harsh criticism from both Democrats and Republicans who accused Comey of deliberately trying to turn the election in Trump’s favor.
Ten days after the election, the FBI responded to a longstanding VICE News Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, revealing that the bureau may very well have been investigating Donald Trump, too.
[…] An investigation with the US-based NGO China Labor Watch reveals that toys including Barbie, Thomas the Tank Engine and Hot Wheels were made by staff earning as little as 86p an hour.
Overtime can run to nearly three times the legal limit. In some factories – including one producing Happy Meal toys for McDonald’s from the new DreamWorks movie Trolls – that means some are on 12-hour shifts and have to work with hazardous chemicals.
According to China Labor Watch, the world of toys may be heaven for children, but it is a world of misery for toy factory workers.
The group’s founder and executive director, Li Qiang, said: “We can’t tolerate that children’s dreams are based on workers’ nightmares, and we must fight against the unfair oppression of workers who manufacture toys.”
Undercover investigators infiltrated four factories, and the group shared wage slips and pictures with the Observer to support their findings.
Boris Johnson will issue a warning that democracy is in retreat across the world and that a “cult of the strongman” is taking hold, raising the prospect that the concept of a global liberal order will fade into irrelevance.
In his first set piece speech as foreign secretary, he will argue that Britain outside the European Union could still play a global role in preventing a dystopian future in which the powerful devour the weak.
He will also set out a strong warning to Russia that the UK will not normalise relations with Moscow, or buckle over Ukraine or Syria, adding that he fully supports Donald Trump, the US president-elect, in demanding that more Nato member countries lift the levels of their defence spending.
The speech will be important in shaping Johnson’s secretaryship, as well as shoring up his credibility as someone at the heart of the cabinet’s discussions on the shape of Brexit.
As a theoretical physicist based in Cambridge, I have lived my life in an extraordinarily privileged bubble. Cambridge is an unusual town, centred around one of the world’s great universities. Within that town, the scientific community that I became part of in my 20s is even more rarefied.
And within that scientific community, the small group of international theoretical physicists with whom I have spent my working life might sometimes be tempted to regard themselves as the pinnacle. In addition to this, with the celebrity that has come with my books, and the isolation imposed by my illness, I feel as though my ivory tower is getting taller.
So the recent apparent rejection of the elites in both America and Britain is surely aimed at me, as much as anyone. Whatever we might think about the decision by the British electorate to reject membership of the European Union and by the American public to embrace Donald Trump as their next president, there is no doubt in the minds of commentators that this was a cry of anger by people who felt they had been abandoned by their leaders.
It was, everyone seems to agree, the moment when the forgotten spoke, finding their voices to reject the advice and guidance of experts and the elite everywhere.
The European Commission has announced its new blueprint to phase out coal and energy inefficiencies, while supporting clean energy — but a coalition of civil society groups warns that the revised EU Renewable Energy Directive is fatally flawed.
And guess why? Because certain industries are not going to let go of their profits.
The campaign groups — Global Forest Coalition, Woodland League, Econexus, Biofuelwatch, Transnational Institute, NOAH, Corporate Europe Observatory, and Amis de l’Afrique Francophone-Bénin — point out that in the EU energy plan, bioenergy and waste account for some two-thirds of all energy classed as ‘renewable’. Most of this ‘bioenergy’ will also come from burning wood, both in power stations and for heating.
However, scientific studies increasingly prove that big bioenergy projects produce more greenhouse gases even than traditional fossil fuels.
According to Biofuelwatch, the EU’s cavernous demand for wood to burn for energy is directly tied to the acceleration of logging, land-grabbing from indigenous peoples in countries like Brazil and Ghana, and the conversion of more forests, farmland and grasslands into monoculture tree plantations. This has endangered biodiversity and caused “added harm to forests and people.”
Meanwhile, a new report by the conservation group Birdlife reveals that masses of protected forest areas across Europe are being felled to provide wood for the burgeoning biomass industry.
The European Union’s proposals for revising its renewable energy policies are greenwashing and don’t solve the serious flaws, say environmental groups.
The EU gets 65 per cent of its renewable energy from biofuels – mainly wood – but it is failing to ensure this bioenergy comes from sustainable sources, and results in less emissions than burning fossil fuels. Its policies in some cases are leading to deforestation, biodiversity loss and putting more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than burning coal.
“Burning forest biomass on an industrial scale for power and heating has proved disastrous,” says Linde Zuidema, bioenergy campaigner for forest protection group Fern. “The evidence that its growing use will increase emissions and destroy forests in Europe and elsewhere is overwhelming.”
On 30 November the European Commission unveiled a draft “clean energy” package for the period up to 2030. On the surface, these proposals address some of the issues with existing renewable energy policies.
But environmental groups who have been analysing the proposals say that the changes will make little difference.
“It’s almost worse than doing nothing,” says Sini Erajaa, the bioenergy policy officer for BirdLife Europe & Central Asia, who describes the changes as greenwashing.
Barack Obama roared onto the political stage in 2004 with a speech many Americans found soothing. “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America,” he said. “There’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states. … We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”
Twelve years later, the Obama era is ending with a lesson—taught by Donald Trump—in how deep political divisions of race and geography remain. The electoral map that emerged on Nov. 8 looked like a sea of red speckled with islands of blue. Hillary Clinton won the cities and close-in suburbs where affluent professionals, millennials and people of color are clustered. Donald Trumpprevailed in the farther-flung suburban, exurban and rural places where residents are disproportionately white and aging.
It will take a long time to fully understand why this election turned out the way it did. But part of it, undeniably, has to do with anxiety about how America is changing. Some voters idealized a picture they grew up with, in which culture and politics were dominated by a white Christian majority. They found a voice for their disorientation in Trump’s rhetoric and his promises that he could restore an older vision of the country.
Demographic change, however, is not a force that is easy to halt — and as American leaders and policymakers grapple with the country’s real challenges and political trajectory, it’s the actual face of Future America they’ll need to deal with, not an imagined one.
Amy Goodman speaks to Bruce Schneier, cybersecurity expert and author of Data and Goliath, who warns that America’s “newly computerised voting systems are vulnerable to attack by both individual hackers and government-sponsored cyberwarriors. It is only a matter of time before such an attack happens”. He latest article for the New York Times is titled ‘American Elections Will Be Hacked‘. (Democracy Now!)
Jill Stein: Recounts are Necessary Because Electronic Voting Invites Tampering, Hacking, Human Error
Amy Goodman speaks to Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein about her efforts to force recounts in three states: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. (Democracy Now!)
Narmeen Shaikh and Amy Goodman speak to Cornel West, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, as President-elect Donald Trump has announced a handful of new cabinet picks with deep ties to Wall Street. (Democracy Now!)
Last week, as my colleague Sifan Liu and I were gnawing on some questions asked by Jim Tankersley of The Washington Post, we happened upon a revealing aspect of the election outcome. While looking at number of influences on the presidential vote outcome, we found that in a year of massive divides, one particular economic split stands out.
Our observation: The less-than-500 counties that Hillary Clinton carried nationwide encompassed a massive 64 percent of America’s economic activity as measured by total output in 2015. By contrast, the more-than-2,600 counties that Donald Trump won generated just 36 percent of the country’s output—just a little more than one-third of the nation’s economic activity.
[…] With the exceptions of the Phoenix and Fort Worth areas and a big chunk of Long Island Clinton won every large-sized county economy in the country. Her base of 493 counties was heavily metropolitan. By contrast, Trumpland consists of hundreds and hundreds of tiny low-output locations that comprise the non-metropolitan hinterland of America, along with some suburban and exurban metro counties, as Indeed Chief Economist Jed Kolko pointed out in a tweet.
Moreover, while this divide is striking by any standard, it appears to be “unprecedented in the era of modern economic statistics,” as Tankersley noted in his story, for a losing presidential candidate to have represented so large a share of nation’s economic base.
Thom Hartmann speaks to investigative journalist Greg Palast about the 2016 election and the recount being organized by Jill Stein. (Thom Hartmann Show)
There are a lot of theories on why Hillary Clinton lost the election, but in campaign postmortems on Thursday, the Trump team offered the most mind-bending explanation of them all: The Clinton campaign was done in by its insistence on operating in a world in which there are objective facts. The Trump team felt no such compunction, and as campaign manager Kellyanne Conway repeatedly declared during a combative event at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government on Thursday, “We won.”
After every presidential election since 1972, top aides from both campaigns gather at Harvard’s Institute of Politics to discuss their experience of the campaign for posterity. Usually the opposing teams are civil, but this year the event devolved into shouting, cross-talk, and nasty accusations.
One of the angriest exchanges came when someone praised Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon, who was not present. “If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost,” said Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri. “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”
[…] What brings these episodes to mind is the wave of indignation sweeping this capital over “fake news” allegedly created by Vladimir Putin’s old KGB comrades and regurgitated by U.S. individuals, websites, and magazines that are anti-interventionist and anti-war.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman says the “propaganda and disinformation threat” against America is real, and we must “counter and combat it.” Congress is working up a $160 million State Department program.
Now, Americans should be on guard against “fake news” and foreign meddling in U.S. elections.
Yet it is often our own allies, like the Brits, and our own leaders who mislead and lie us into unnecessary wars. And is not meddling in the internal affairs, including the elections, of regimes we do not like, pretty much the job description of the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy?
History suggests it is our own War Party that bears watching.
[…] P. T. Barnum was one of the original creators and commercializers of the pseudo-event, the vaguely real-but-also-not-real thing that, the historian Daniel Boorstin argues, has been the fundamental fact of American culture since the days of Barnum himself. Or, at least, in the years between those days and the days of the mid-20th century. Boorstin’s book on the matter, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, was first published in 1962; it was, in its time, a blistering indictment of newspapers and television and Hollywood and the habit they all had of turning mortals into gods. (The indictment was so blistering that, when the book’s publication date found Boorstin abroad for a longstanding lecture engagement, a reviewer suggested that perhaps the author had simply decided to flee the country that he had so recklessly libeled.)
Boorstin, in The Image, coined not just the term “pseudo-event,” but also the epithetic descriptions “famous for being famous” and “well-known for well-knownness”; he was, it would turn out, an extremely reluctant herald of postmodernism. While The Image may have arrived on the scene, chronologically, before the comings of Twitter and Kimye and an understanding of “reality” as a genre as much as a truth, the book also managed to predict them—so neatly that it reads, in 2016, not just as prescience, but as prophesy.
As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington. Now that he’s been elected and is embracing part of that very establishment, Democrats and many in the media are slamming him as a typical politician who abandoned a principle as soon as it suited him.
But when McClatchy checked in with several dozen voters in central Pennsylvania – one of the swing states that swung the White House to Trump – to see how they defined the swamp, most didn’t really care. Instead, they said it’s fine with them if he uses the expertise of a DC establishment of lobbyists, donors and special interests to to get his way – and their way.
“This is his thing. He is a successful businessman who hires people to get him . . . what he wants,” said Fred Harris, 42, who works at a gas station near Philipsburg, Pa. “If he has to use swamp people to make America great again, why not?”
No victim has come forward. There’s no investigation. And physical evidence? That doesn’t exist either.
But thousands of people are convinced that a paedophilia ring involving people at the highest levels of the Democratic Party is operating out of a Washington pizza restaurant.
The story riveted fringes of Twitter – nearly a million messages were sent last month using the term “pizzagate”.
So how did this fake story take hold amongst alt-right Trump supporters and other Hillary Clinton opponents?
Bankers Behind ‘Great Foreclosure Machine’ Join Trump’s Cabinet as Treasury and Commerce Secretaries
Amy Goodman speaks to David Dayen, journalist and author of Chain of Title, about two of Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks: Steven Mnuchin for treasury secretary and Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary. Dayen’s most recent for The Nation is ‘Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin—Profiteers of the Great Foreclosure Machine—Go to Washington‘. (Democracy Now!)
In late October, I received an e-mail from “The PropOrNot Team,” which described itself as a “newly-formed independent team of computer scientists, statisticians, national security professionals, journalists and political activists, dedicated to identifying propaganda—particularly Russian propaganda targeting a U.S. audience.” PropOrNot said that it had identified two hundred Web sites that “qualify as Russian propaganda outlets.” The sites’ reach was wide—they are read by at least fifteen million Americans. PropOrNot said that it had “drafted a preliminary report about this for the office of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and after reviewing our report they urged us to get in touch with you and see about making it a story.”
Reporting on Internet phenomena, one learns to be wary of anonymous collectives freely offering the fruits of their research. I told PropOrNot that I was probably too busy to write a story, but I asked to see the report. In reply, PropOrNot asked me to put the group in touch with “folks at the NYTimes, WaPo, WSJ, and anyone else who you think would be interested.” Deep in the middle of another project, I never followed up.
PropOrNot managed to connect with the Washington Post on its own. Last week, the Post published a story based in part on PropOrNot’s research. Headlined “Russian Propaganda Effort Helped Spread ‘Fake News’ During Election, Experts Say,” the report claimed that a number of researchers had uncovered a “sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign” that spread fake-news articles across the Internet with the aim of hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump. It prominently cited the PropOrNot research. The story topped the Post’s most-read list, and was shared widely by prominent journalists and politicians on Twitter. The former White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer tweeted, “Why isn’t this the biggest story in the world right now?”
The Washington Post (11/24/16) last week published a front-page blockbuster that quickly went viral: Russia-promoted “fake news” had infiltrated the newsfeeds of 213 million Americans during the election, muddying the waters in a disinformation scheme to benefit Donald Trump. Craig Timberg’s story was based on a “report” from an anonymous group (or simply a person, it’s unclear) calling itself PropOrNot that blacklisted over 200 websites as agents or assets of the Russian state.
The obvious implication was that an elaborate Russian psyop had fooled the public into voting for Trump based on a torrent of misleading and false information posing as news. Everyone from Bloomberg’s Sahil Kupar to Robert Reich to Anne Navarro to MSNBC’s Joy Ann Reid tweeted out the story in breathless tones. Center for American Progress and Clinton advocate Neera Tanden even did her best Ron Paul YouTube commenter impression, exclaiming, “Wake up people.”
But the story didn’t stand up to the most basic scrutiny. Follow-up reporting cast major doubt on the Washington Post’s core claims and underlying logic, the two primary complaints being 1) the “research group” responsible for the meat of the story, PropOrNot, is an anonymous group of partisans (if more than one person is involved) who tweet like high schoolers, and 2) the list of supposed Russian media assets, because its criteria for Russian “fake news” encompasses “useful idiots,” includes entirely well-within-the-mainstream progressive and libertarian websites such as Truth-Out, Consortium News,TruthDig and Antiwar.com (several of whom are now considering lawsuitsagainst PropOrNot for libel).
The Snooper’s Charter became law on the 29th of November 2016 meaning that the United Kingdom now has by far the most invasive state surveillance laws of any nation in the developed world.
The invasive domestic snooping legislation means that the UK state will attempt to maintain a massive database recording the Internet browsing history of every person in the UK, innocent or guilty. They will then allow dozens and dozens of government agencies and quangos to trawl through this database looking for dirt.
Of course it makes sense to allow the secret services to look into what suspected terrorists are plotting, but this legislation doesn’t just do that. It goes much much further. The first thing it does is presume that every single UK citizen is a potential criminal who needs to be spied on, then it allows all kinds of non-terrorism related agencies to trawl through people’s Internet browsing histories.
Yes, Donald Trump’s politics are incoherent. But those who surround him know just what they want, and his lack of clarity enhances their power. To understand what is coming, we need to understand who they are. I know all too well, because I have spent the past 15 years fighting them.
Over this time, I have watched as tobacco, coal, oil, chemicals and biotech companies have poured billions of dollars into an international misinformation machine composed of thinktanks, bloggers and fake citizens’ groups. Its purpose is to portray the interests of billionaires as the interests of the common people, to wage war against trade unions and beat down attempts to regulate business and tax the very rich. Now the people who helped run this machine are shaping the government.
I first encountered the machine when writing about climate change. The fury and loathing directed at climate scientists and campaigners seemed incomprehensible until I realised they were fake: the hatred had been paid for. The bloggers and institutes whipping up this anger were funded by oil and coal companies.
There’s been so much complete nonsense since I first broke the news that the Green Party would file for a recount of the presidential vote, I am compelled to write a short guide to flush out the BS and get to just the facts, ma’am.
Nope, They’re Not Hunting for Russian Hackers
To begin with, the main work of the recount hasn’t a damn thing to do with finding out if the software programs for the voting machines have been hacked, whether by Putin’s agents or some guy in a cave flipping your vote from Hillary to The Donald.
The Green team does not yet even have the right to get into the codes. But the question of flipped votes is not the core of the work.
The scope of war-making authorities and powers available to the Trump administration depends on decisions made by the Obama administration. Two recent news reports shed some troubling light on its approach to the coming transition.
The Obama administration’s present mindset reflects a departure from its approach in the fall of 2012. In anticipation of an election it believed Republican challenger Mitt Romney might win, the Obama White House accelerated the development and implementation of a “drone rule book” that codified the procedures for drone strikes in non-battlefield settings. As one official worried aloud in November 2012, “There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands.”
The latest reporting suggests that, rather than restraining and limiting Trump, the Obama administration, in its final weeks in office, is further expanding the geographic scope of airstrikes, the nature of combatants who can be targeted, and the legal justification underpinning such strikes. The incoming president-elect, who has previously pledged to “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” will have the capabilities and authorities to do just that — for the Islamic State and other terrorist and militant armies.
A cross-party group of MPs will make a fresh effort to hold Tony Blair to account for allegedly misleading parliament and the public over the Iraq war.
The move, which could see Blair stripped of membership of the privy council, comes as the former prime minister tries to re-enter the political fray, promising to champion the “politically homeless” who are alienated from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and the Brexit-promoting government of Theresa May.
The group, which includes MPs from six parties, will put down a Commons motion on Monday calling for a parliamentary committee to investigate the difference between what Blair said publicly to the Chilcot inquiry into the war and privately, including assurances to then US president George W Bush.
Backing the motion are Alex Salmond, the SNP MP and former first minister of Scotland; Hywel Williams, Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru; and Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas.
The UK is likely to slip further down the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index when it is published next year, according to the charity’s UK bureau director, Rebecca Vincent.
She was speaking to Press Gazette ahead of the launch of the organisation’s first UK office in London next month.
The UK is currently ranked 38th out of 180 countries around the world on press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, which Vincent said is “not great for a democracy”.
She added: “I think it’s likely that the UK will slide further down the list when the new index is released next year. We should be really concerned about that downward trend.”
Last week, a technology reporter for the Washington Post named Craig Timberg ran an incredible story. It has no analog that I can think of in modern times. Headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” the piece promotes the work of a shadowy group that smears some 200 alternative news outlets as either knowing or unwitting agents of a foreign power, including popular sites like Truthdig and Naked Capitalism.
The thrust of Timberg’s astonishingly lazy report is that a Russian intelligence operation of some kind was behind the publication of a “hurricane” of false news reports during the election season, in particular stories harmful to Hillary Clinton. The piece referenced those 200 websites as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.”
The piece relied on what it claimed were “two teams of independent researchers,” but the citing of a report by the longtime anticommunist Foreign Policy Research Institute was really window dressing.
The meat of the story relied on a report by unnamed analysts from a single mysterious “organization” called PropOrNot – we don’t know if it’s one person or, as it claims, over 30 – a “group” that seems to have been in existence for just a few months.