Posts Tagged ‘propaganda’

‘Transparency’ is the Mother of Fake News — Opinion

May 7, 2018

For some time now everyone has been worrying about “fake news” or the world of “alternative fact” and wondering just how and why this unhappy phenomenon has flourished. My take on this question is simple, although I hope not simple-minded: Fake news is in large part a product of the enthusiasm — not to say rage — for transparency and absolutely free speech.

By Stanley Fish

Mr. Fish is a legal scholar and author.

Credit Mike Clarke/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

I know that this is a counterintuitive proposition. I would like to begin my defense of it with an anecdote.

In November 2016, Scott Titsworth, dean of the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University, informed the university community of the first meeting of a presidential advisory group charged with recommending free speech policies for the campus. Titsworth reported that the group’s first action was to affirm transparency as one of its “core values”; the second action was to decide (unanimously) that its meetings would not be open to the public, but held in private.

As you can imagine, it was easy to make fun of the obvious contradiction, but the contradiction is not so glaring once we understand that two notions of what “free” means are in play here. The group wants (understandably) to be free of the pressures that would be felt if the proceedings were conducted under public scrutiny; at every moment members would be tempted to tailor what they said to the responses and criticisms of an imagined audience. In short, they would not be speaking freely but under a shadow if the meaning of “freely” in force were “entirely without filters, gatekeepers and boundaries.”

That sense of “freely” is championed by techno-utopians whose mantra is “information wants to be free” and who believe that the promised land predicted by the authors of every technological advance — the printing press, newspapers, the telegraph, the railroad, radio, television, the digital computer, the internet — is just around the corner. It is a land in which democracy’s potential is finally realized in a communication community where all voices are recognized and none marginalized, with no one hoarding information or controlling access or deciding who speaks and who doesn’t.

What Titsworth and his fellow committee members see is that this more ambitious and abstract sense of “freely” is antithetical to the successful completion of their task: Not speaking freely in front of everyone is a condition of speaking freely — without anxiety and mental reservation — on the way to exploring the complexities and difficulties of their charge.

The moral (provisionally, and perhaps prematurely, drawn) is that transparency is not unambiguously a good thing. (I pass over for the moment the prior question of whether it is a possible thing.) And if that is right, then the proliferation of speech may not be a good thing either; silence and the withholding and sequestering of speech may be useful and even necessary in some contexts, like the preparing of a report or maintaining of a marriage. I say this aware that many free speech advocates believe that the more free speech there is the better the human condition will be, and who believe, too, that it is the business of our institutions, including our legislatures and courts, to increase the amount of speech available.

At first glance the bias in favor of unlimited speech and information seems perfectly reasonable and even unassailable. What arguments could be brought against it? An answer to that question has been offered in recent years by a small, but growing, number of critics.

In a 2009 essay in The New Republic titled “Against Transparency,” the law professor Lawrence Lessig (known as an apostle of openness), asked, as I just have, “How could anyone be against transparency?” Lessig responds to his own question by quoting a trio of authors who in their book “Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency” observe that by itself information doesn’t do anything; its effects depend on the motives of those who make use of it, and raw information (that is, data) cannot distinguish between benign and malign appropriations of itself. Misunderstanding and manipulation are always more than possible, and there is no way to assure that “new information is used to further public objectives.”

Another way to put this is to say that information, data and the unbounded flow of more and more speech can be politicized — it can, that is, be woven into a narrative that constricts rather than expands the area of free, rational choice. When that happens — and it will happen often — transparency and the unbounded flow of speech become instruments in the production of the very inequalities (economic, political, educational) that the gospel of openness promises to remove. And the more this gospel is preached and believed, the more that the answer to everything is assumed to be data uncorrupted by interests and motives, the easier it will be for interest and motives to operate under transparency’s cover.

This is so because speech and data presented as if they were independent of any mechanism of selectivity will float free of the standards of judgment that are always the content of such mechanisms. Removing or denying the existence of gatekeeping procedures will result not in a fair and open field of transparency but in a field where manipulation and deception find no obstacles. Because it is an article of their faith that politics are bad and the unmediated encounter with data is good, internet prophets will fail to see the political implications of what they are trying to do, for in their eyes political implications are what they are doing away with.

Indeed, their deepest claim — so deep that they are largely unaware of it — is that politics can be eliminated. They don’t regard politics as an unavoidable feature of mortal life but as an unhappy consequence of the secular equivalent of the Tower of Babel: too many languages, too many points of view. Politics (faction and difference) will just wither away when the defect that generates it (distorted communication) has been eliminated by unmodified data circulated freely among free and equal consumers; everyone will be on the same page, reading from the same script and apprehending the same universal meanings. Back to Eden!

This utopian fantasy rests on a positive, vaguely perfectionist view of human nature: Rather than being doomed by original sin to conflict, prejudice, hatred and an insatiable will to power, men and women are by nature communitarian, inclined to fellowship and the seeking of common ground. These good instincts, we are told, have been blocked by linguistic differences that can now be transcended by the digital revolution.

A memorable Facebook news release written by Mark Zuckerberg a few years back, cited by Evgeny Morozov in his book “To Save EverythingClick Here” tells the happy and optimistic story: “By enabling people from diverse backgrounds to easily connect and share their ideas, we can decrease world conflict in the short and long run.” The idea, Morozov explains, is that factions and conflict “are simply the unfortunate result of an imperfect communication infrastructure.” If we perfect that infrastructure by devising a language of data algorithms and instantaneous electronic interaction that bypasses intervening and distorting institutions like the state, then communication would be perfect and undistorted, and society would be set on the right path without any further political efforts required. Talk about magical thinking!

In the alternative and true story rehearsed by many, human difference is irreducible, and there is no “neutral observation language” (a term of the philosopher Thomas Kuhn’s in his 1962 book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”) that can bridge, soften, blur and even erase the differences. When people from opposing constituencies clash there is no common language to which they can refer their differences for mechanical resolution; there are only political negotiations that would involve not truth telling but propaganda, threats, insults, deceptions, exaggerations, insinuations, bluffs, posturings — all the forms of verbal manipulation that will supposedly disappear in the internet nirvana.

They won’t. Indeed, they will proliferate because the politically angled speech that is supposedly the source of our problems is in fact the only possible route to their (no doubt temporary) solution. Speech proceeding from a point of view can at least be recognized as such and then countered. You say, “I know where those guys are coming from, and here are my reasons for believing that we should be coming from some place else” — and dialogue begins. It is dialogue inflected by interests and agendas, but dialogue still. But when speech (or information or data) is just sitting there inert, unattached to any perspective, when there are no guidelines, monitors, gatekeepers or filters, what you have are innumerable bits (like Lego) available for assimilation into any project a clever verbal engineer might imagine; and what you don’t have is any mechanism that can stop or challenge the construction project or even assess it. What you have, in short, are the perfect conditions for the unchecked proliferation of what has come to be called “fake news.”

The rise of fake news has been attributed by some to the emergence of postmodern thought. Victor Davis Hanson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University wrote in 2017 that fake news can be “traced back to the campus,” specifically to “academic postmodernism,” which Hanson says, “derides facts and absolutes, and insists that there are only narratives and interpretations.”

That’s not quite right. The insistence on the primacy of narratives and interpretations does not involve a deriding of facts but an alternative story of their emergence. Postmodernism sets itself against the notion of facts just lying there discrete and independent, and waiting to be described. Instead it argues that fact is the achievement of argument and debate, not a pre-existing entity by whose measure argument can be assessed. Arguments come first; when they are successful, facts follow — at least for a while, until a new round of arguments replaces them with a new set of facts.

This is far from the picture of Nietzschean nihilism that Hanson and others paint. Friction, not free invention, is the heart of the process: You commit yourself to the standards of evidence long in place in the conversation you enter, and then you maneuver as best you can within the guidelines of those standards. Thus, for example, a judge who issues a decision cannot simply decide which side he favors and then generate an opinion; he must first pass through and negotiate the authorized routes for getting there. Sometimes the effort at negotiation will fail and he will say that despite his interpretive desires, “This opinion just won’t write.”

Any opinion will write if there are no routes to be negotiated or no standards to hew to, if nothing but your own interpretive desire prevents you from assembling or reassembling bits of unmoored data lying around in the world into a story that serves your purposes. It is not postmodernism that licenses this irresponsibility; it is the doctrine that freedom of information and transparency are all we need.

Those who proclaim this theology can in good faith ignore or bypass all the usual routes of validation because their religion tells them that those routes are corrupt and that only the nonmethod of having no routes, no boundaries, no categories, no silos can bring us to the River Jordan and beyond.

In many versions of Protestantism, parishioners are urged to reject merely human authority in any form and go directly to the pure word of God. For the technophiles the pure word of God is to be found in data. In fact, what is found in a landscape where data detached from any context abounds is the fracturing of the word into ever proliferating pieces of discourse, all existing side by side, indifferently approved, and without any way of distinguishing among them, of telling which of them are true or at least have a claim to be true and which are made up out of whole cloth.

That is the world of fake news. It is created by the undermining of trust in the traditional vehicles of authority and legitimation — major newspapers, professional associations, credentialed academics, standard encyclopedias, government bureaus, federal courts, prime-time nightly news anchors.

When Walter Cronkite was the longtime anchor at CBS, he was known as the most trusted man in America; and when he signed off by saying, “And that’s the way it is,” everyone believed him. In the brave new world of the internet, where authority is evenly distributed to everyone with a voice or a podcast, no one believes anybody, or (it is the same thing) everyone believes anybody.

This wholesale distrust of authoritative mechanisms leads to the bizarre conclusion that an assertion of fact is more credible if it lacks an institutional source. In this way of thinking, a piece of news originating in a blog maintained by a teenager in a basement in Idaho would be more reliable than a piece of news announced by the anchor of a major network. And, again, what has brought us to this sorry pass is not the writings of Derrida or Foucault or any postmodern guru but the twin mantras of more free speech and absolute transparency.

Stanley Fish is a professor of law at Florida International University and a visiting professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He is the author of many books and is currently at work on a book about free speech in America.

Now in print: “Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments,” and “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” with essays from the series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.

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NYT, May 7, 2018


Islamic Jihad Releases “Assassination Video” Ahead of Protest

April 20, 2018

‘You’re killing our people in cold blood and think that you’re protected,’ Gaza group says in video ahead of weekly border demonstration

A screenshot of an Islamic Jihad video.
A screenshot of an Islamic Jihad video.

Islamic Jihad published a video Thursday threatening Israeli soldiers ahead of the weekly demonstration along the Israel-Gaza border this Friday.

Image result for Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, photos

Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai

The clip shows the group’s operatives looking through the scope of a rifle at Israeli military figures, including Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories. The video ends with a slide reading, “You’re killing our people in cold blood and think that you’re protected, but our snipers’ sights are on your top commanders.”

Islamic Jihad video

According to Palestinian officials, Israeli soldiers have killed 34 people and injured hundreds more, many by live fire, since the beginning of the weekly demonstrations. The deaths sparked widespread criticism of Israel by both human rights groups and foreign leaders.

>> As an officer, I urged soldiers not to shoot demonstrators. Now it’s policy | Opinion >>

Speaking at J Street’s annual conference Sunday, Senator Bernie Sanders said Israel “massively overreacted” to the protests. “The presence of Hamas members among a crowd of tens of thousands does not justify the level of violence we saw,” Sanders said.

The fence on the Israel-Gaza border is backed by a second fence inside the Strip, and the army’s rules of engagement allow snipers to shoot anyone who enters the region between the two fences with apparent intent to breach the border. However, they are supposed to aim only at the lower body, unless the person is armed and appears to pose a threat to the soldiers. In that case, they are allowed to shoot to kill.

The army says there have been numerous attempts to breach the border and attack soldiers, including with firebombs, during previous demonstrations along the fence. The protests are part of the “March of Return” and have been taking place every Friday for three weeks thus far. The protests are set to culminate on May 15, on Nakba day. The U.S. embassy is set to be opened in Jerusalem on the same day.

Last Tuesday, Israel attacked a Hamas outpost in response to shots fired at soldiers from an area close to where the weekly protests take place. The Palestinian Healthy Ministry reported no casualties in the strike.

The incident came days after the Israeli military destroyed a Hamas attack tunnel located near the site of the marches. According to Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the tunnel was the “longest and deepest exposed so far,” and cost Hamas millions of dollars.

How China is trying to export its soft power — “Shaping the ideal image abroad”

April 5, 2018

In recent months, China’s Communist Party has been setting up an international soft power network, while consolidating domestic media to shore up its image at home. William Yang reports from Taipei.

Chinese President Xi Jinping at China Central Television CCTV (picture alliance/ZUMA Press/M. Zhancheng)

China’s growing attempts to amplify its influence overseas were amplified after the ruling Communist Party announced its plan to impose stricter surveillance on all media content in March.

This consolidation aims to make all broadcast media serve as China’s mouthpiece, allowing the Communist Party to have a streamlined institution to project its ideal image abroad.

This move came after Chinese President Xi Jinping laid out a vision during a speech last December that Beijing is ready to “provide more opportunities for the world through our development.”

Analysts have recently said that the series of moves adds up to the Communist Parties consolidation of its efforts to expand strategies designed to influence foreign governments and major global institutions like the United Nations.

As China grows into an economic and political world power, it is accompanied by an increasing need to frame a dominant image domestically to prove this to Chinese citizens.

“What we are seeing [under Xi Jinping] is the expansion of influence abroad in the last five years,” said Sarah Cook, senior research analyst for East Asia at the Washington-based think tank Freedom House.

Read more: Will China’s regulator reshuffle turn all state media into propaganda?

China has been advancing its agenda at the UN by curtailing human rights advocacy efforts. For example, China and Russia led a group of countries to block the secretary-general’s request to fund a key human rights unit within his office.

This case is part of a larger trend with Beijing and the Kremlin gaining more influence in international forums like the UN.

According to Merriden Varrall, Director of the East Asia Program at the Lowy Institute, since China feels it is being forced by other countries to comply to standards that it argues aren’t universal, the recent soft power push is a sign that Beijing wants the issue of human rights to take a back seat on the international agenda.

“Some would see this as being quite convenient given where China sits on international measures of human rights,” Varrall told DW.

The ‘United Front’

China largely relies on the operation of the so-called United Front Work Department to cultivate support and grow influence overseas.

Through a range of carefully orchestrated movements, the United Front is entrusted with the mission to “unite all forces that can be united” worldwide while establishing a “iron Great Wall” to prevent opponents abroad from interfering.

As Xi highlights the significant role played by the United Front in the Communist Party, several members of the United Front have risen through the ranks inside the party.

The Financial Times recently reported that Beijing has also designated works related to the United Front to Chinese embassies across the world, setting up a streamlined operation that allows China to advance its agenda.

However, analyst Cook points out that other countries have become more aware of China’ soft power influence operations. Bodies like the United Front and cultural institutes like the Confucius Institute have come under scrutiny.

Even though awareness about the United Front’s agenda is growing, western countries still face the challenge of determining the appropriate countermeasures to threats from Beijing in a democratic setting.

“I think the main challenge is how do [western governments] respond to genuine threat to freedom but do it in a way that’s compatible with democratic values,” Cook said.

Read more: Soft power – China’s expanding role in the Middle East

A retreat of ‘western’ values?

China’s rise to success has been dubbed the “China Model,” referring to an authoritarian capitalism that Beijing has been actively promoting in developing countries.

In a report published by the Brookings Institute in Washington, non-resident fellow Yun Sun highlights how African countries like Ethiopia consider the China Model a complete success and want to build their system and institutions based on the Chinese system.

Even though China emphasizes that the training programs mostly focus on capacity development of political parties, Beijing still attempts to promote China’s experience in governance and development to African countries on these occasions.

“China actively pushes African political party members to personally experience China’s economic success and systematically train them on China’s paths to such a success,” Sun wrote in the report.

Varrall indicates that the China Model remains appealing to countries without a strong liberal-democratic tradition, as China indicates that a country can succeed economically while remaining politically closed.

“There has been some positive responses to China’s media efforts, for example in some parts of Africa and the Pacific,” Varrall said.

Beijing recently said they would not seek to export their social models abroad in a editorial in the party mouthpiece Global Times. However, Cook explains that China is adopting a new strategy that allows them to avoid explicitly stating their intention to promote China’s governance model. She said this new tactic could potentially exacerbate risks to democratic values in certain countries.

Even though China’s strategy may have proven to be partially effective, Cook believes that there is a possibility that China could see some negative consequences.

“I think [we could] see increased censorship and control over access to information domestically,” Cook said. “Internationally, there might be ways that some of these measures are more effective, but in other ways, it can also backfire at them.”

Includes videos:


North Korea: Why Kim Jong Un came in from the cold with his trip to Beijing

March 30, 2018

Financial Times (FT)

By Bryan Harris in Seoul

March 30, 2018


With his trip to Beijing, Pyongyang’s leader has moved beyond survivor mode and shown that he has tightened his hold on power

He controls a million-strong army and runs a nuclear weapons programme but for years Kim Jong Un has ruled with a nagging sense of fear.

Kim Jong Un, center, and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, center right, are greeted by Chinese officials in Beijing.

The young North Korean dictator, some argue, was afraid to leave his isolated, impoverished nation in case his generals launched a coup or foreign forces used the opportunity to bring his brutal reign to an abrupt end. Such notions were shattered this week as a private armoured train trundled 20 hours from Pyongyang to Beijing for Mr Kim’s first trip abroad as paramount leader of North Korea. The visit, initially shrouded in secrecy with the Chinese capital on lockdown, was seen by experts as an attempt to mend Pyongyang’s frayed ties with Beijing — its principal backer — ahead of a possible summit between Mr Kim and US president Donald Trump in May.

But to others it signalled something more: the dictator’s growing confidence in his hold on power — a position that he has for years meticulously strengthened through a series of political, economic and military policies that are becoming synonymous with his reign. “The trip to China marks a major change in his operating mode and it signals that he does feel that his control . . . is secure enough for him to be away from his headquarters for a few days,” says Hank Morris, an adviser at Erudite Risk in Seoul.

Members of the Korean People's Army (KPA) attend a ceremony at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on Monday to mark Day of the Sun.

“That in itself is meaningful.” Kim Jong Un is greeted by Chinese Communist party officials as he steps off a train in Beijing on March 26 © AP For close watchers of the nation of 25m, Mr Kim has followed a three-pronged strategy to cement his grip on power: high-level political repression, grassroots economic liberalisation and the unwavering development of his nation’s nuclear programme. Surveys of defectors appear to show that his policies are having an impact.

They indicate that Mr Kim enjoys broad support among ordinary North Koreans, while analysts now believe he has the nation’s military on a tight leash. “This is the dictator model to the extreme,” says Andrei Lankov, a noted North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul.

Children with fans entertain foreign journalists.

“Kim wants to keep people’s stomachs full of food but their hearts full of fear.” The developments are crucial to diplomacy in the region. A newly emboldened Mr Kim now feels ready to pursue ambitious foreign policies, such as the summit with Mr Trump and a meeting with Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, on April 27. For many observers, the North Korean regime is motivated by just one thing: survival. Mr Kim, 34, wants “to die a natural death at an advanced old age,” says Prof Lankov.

As such, its policymaking, from building nuclear weapons to developing the economy, is overwhelmingly weighted in support of this goal. Mr Kim’s first obstacle when he took power after the death of his father in 2011 was opposition from the country’s elite and military, who viewed him as an unknown quantity. This scepticism triggered a bloody years-long purge that has claimed some of the nation’s biggest scalps, including Kim Jong Nam, Mr Kim’s own half-brother who was murdered in Malaysia last year. Waiting for a bus in Pyongyang © AFP It also ensnared Jang Song Thaek, Mr Kim’s uncle, who was tried for treason and executed by firing squad in 2013.

“The crackdown on the elites was a move to consolidate power by removing his father’s people and putting his own in place,” says Ahn Chan Il, president of the World Institute for North Korean Studies and a prominent defector. Unlike Kim Jong Il — his father whose reign became associated with a famine that killed hundreds of thousands in the 1990s — Mr Kim has focused his ire mainly on the North Korean elite and military, leaving his image among the wider populace relatively unscathed. “From the people’s perspective, the purging of elites is seen as the right thing to do due to their alleged wrongdoings,” says Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul. Prof Lankov echoes the sentiment, saying Mr Kim was “only killing people [holding] guns”.

“He has not touched a single economy manager. If you are a bank manager, you are safe. In six years, he has had seven ministers of defence, which is as many as his father and grandfather [Kim Il Sung] had combined in 60 years. He is playing it safe [with his own security],” he says. Mr Kim further weakened the power of the military hierarchy by transferring rights to operate foreign currency-earning businesses away from certain generals back to the ruling Workers’ party, according to Mr Ahn, who formerly served in the North Korean army.

Alongside purges of the elite, Mr Kim has also taken steps, via a rebooted propaganda operation, to bolster his image among ordinary North Koreans. US president Donald Trump is set to meet Kim Jong Un in May © AP Human rights violations still plague the nation, with arrests, forced labour and executions endemic.

But like Maoist China, Mr Kim has honed his cult of personality, which appears to keep him above the fray. He is regularly portrayed in state media with a broad grin or engaged in frivolous activities with civilians or soldiers. Most importantly for his reputation, however, Mr Kim has overseen a period of quiet but effective and gradual economic reform by allowing the spread of markets and de facto private enterprises, which have led to a clear uptick in wage levels and the standard of living.

“Ironically, as UN sanctions have tightened in recent years, the economy has become more decentralised and productive, as weakening state controls have allowed the spread of market activities, providing incentives for individuals and families to work in their own self-interest,” says William Brown, a professor in Asian economies at Georgetown University and a former US intelligence officer. Recommended Philip Stephens Philip Stephens: Trump, Xi and playing poker with Pyongyang In the eyes of the public these changes are intimately associated with the supreme leader.

They form a crucial element of his byeongjin ideology. Translated as simultaneous advancement, byeongjin is a survivalist dogma that promotes the dual development of the economy and nuclear weapons. “This is his signature policy. His identity is based on this,” says Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea expert at Troy University’s international relations faculty in Seoul.

The reforms have triggered an uptick in growth — the Bank of Korea measured a 4 per cent rise in gross domestic product in 2016, which Mr Kim believes can — at least in the short-run — act as a damper on popular dissent. “This is his survival code. For Kim, the economic reforms are crucial to keeping power,” says Kim Byung-yeon, a professor at Seoul National University and author of a book on the North Korean economy.

Adding that the decision of the North Korean leader to meet Mr Trump is a strategic ploy to get sanctions relief. Kim

An image from the North Korean state news agency purporting to show Kim Jong-un and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, to his right, at a performance to celebrate North Korea’s nuclear test. CreditKCNA, via Agence France-Presse

Polling of public opinion is impossible in North Korea. However, academics in South Korea have charted how an admittedly limited number of North Koreans perceive the regime.

Almost 65 per cent of a group of 650 defectors who lived under Kim Jong Un’s regime at some stage say the overall perception towards him domestically is positive, according to a survey by Seoul National University. “Kim Jong Un’s reputation is relatively good compared with his father,” says Kang Myung Do, a high-ranking defector and son-in-law of former North Korean premier Kang Sung San.

Image may contain: 12 people, people smiling, people standing and crowd

 North Korean leader Kim Jong-un celebrates the country’s latest nuclear test with scientists and party officials. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

“Ordinary people don’t care about him that much. They are OK with him so long as he doesn’t interrupt their market activities and livelihood,” says Prof Kang, who teaches at Kyonggi University in Suwon. Prof Kim puts it even more bluntly: “People appear to be now saying as long as you don’t touch my money, you can rule the country.” In November, the Korean peninsula appeared on the verge of conflict as Mr Kim launched his third intercontinental ballistic test missile of the year, triggering global condemnation that was especially sharp from the Trump White House.

Amid the furore, many observers overlooked comments from the leader that North Korea had completed its “state nuclear force”.

Pyongyang conducts its third intercontinental ballistic missile test of the year and declares completion of its “state nuclear force”. JAN 2018 Kim extends an olive branch to Seoul in his new year’s message, triggering a flurry of diplomacy and an inter-Korean summit slated for April 27.

For Mr Kim, this announcement represented the pinnacle of success: he had achieved the goals of his father and grandfather and upheld his byeongjin line. It was a boon for his leadership in a nation that is indoctrinated to cherish state might and nuclear weapons. But Mr Kim received more than just domestic dividends. The north’s development of nuclear weapons afford him leverage when approaching meetings with the US, South Korea and even China.

It is highly unlikely Mr Kim will abandon the regime’s nuclear weapons programme despite repeated claims that he is willing to denuclearise. At the summit with Mr Trump, he may potentially offer a freeze in weapons testing in exchange for the easing of sanctions.

Yet Mr Kim now believes he has enough of a deterrent to prevent a US attack and thus ensure his own survival.

A senior US administration official told the FT that following the Beijing meeting, Washington was determined to keep the pressure on North Korea and ensuring that China maintains its commitment to uphold sanctions and isolate the regime. Jean Lee, a fellow at the Wilson Center, says Mr Kim’s strengthened position has tremendous implications for how he will engage not only with Mr Trump but also China’s President Xi Jinping.

Kim Jong Un confirms talks with US and S Korea “Now that he’s happy with his nuclear programme, and the relative position of strength it puts him in at home and abroad, Kim Jong Un is turning his attention to inter-Korea and foreign affairs,” she says. “It has been clear he has wanted to settle the question whether he is qualified to be a military leader for many years. He used the White House’s rhetoric to justify the nuclear programme, and has now settled that question. He feels confident.”

Additional reporting by Kang Buseong in Seoul, Charles Clover in Beijing and Katrina Manson in Washington

Peace and Freedom Note: China also wants to defend its ally in Iran while also positioning itself to best Donald Trump in his tariffs and trade war talk….

A Bolton from the blue… Trump’s scary war-hawk advisor is so yesterday’s man

March 28, 2018

Russia Today (RT)

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglasses and text

Since US President Donald Trump announced John Bolton as his new top national security advisor last week, the world has been reeling from multiple predictions of wars breaking out.

The following is not meant to sound complacent, but the inclusion of arch war-hawk Bolton in Trump’s inner circle may actually turn out to be a good thing. For it will hasten America’s reckless foreign policies and its decline as a world power.

Admittedly, such an outlook is proffered against a very grim background.

John Bolton has been described not so much as “America First” as “Military First”. He is credited as being the chief architect of the Iraq War under the GW Bush administration. He remains bumptiously unapologetic about promoting that war, which was based on lies and resulted in as many as one million deaths.

Bolton relishes in open contempt for the United Nations and international law, viewing both as hampering the United States from using military force whenever and wherever it wants, in pursuit of its geopolitical objectives.

He has stridently called for US military attacks on North Korea and Iran, to instigate regime change.

So, for “mad hatter” Bolton to have the ear of the president in matters of international security is indeed a cause for a foreboding apprehension. Especially given also that President Trump already seems riven with a confused foreign policy and a worrying impetuousness in dealing with the rest of the world.

It says a lot whenever US media are rattled by the bellicose prospect of John Bolton guiding Trump on precarious issues.

“The return of John Bolton paves the way for more war,” warned the Washington Post.

The New York Times cautioned: “The whole world should be concerned”.

Both news outlets had previously acted as cheerleaders for the overseas wars which Bolton promulgated when he was serving in the Bush State Department some 15 years ago. Evidently, the return of war-hawk Bolton to White House policy-making is just too much to bear.

As already noted, Bolton is gung-ho for regime-change wars against North Korea and Iran. He is also hawkish towards China and what he views as the latter’s military expansion in the Asia-Pacific region. Bolton has accused Russia of “an act of war” by allegedly meddling in US politics. He also berated Trump last year for not being tougher towards President Vladimir Putin when the two leaders met at the G20 summit in Hamburg. Bolton claimed Putin blatantly lied to Trump when he assured him that Russia had not interfered in US elections.

On any number of international tensions, the Trump administration is liable to take an even more aggressive turn with John Bolton in the wheelhouse of foreign policy. With more aggression, the odds are significantly shortened on the danger of an armed confrontation erupting.

Nevertheless, there are also sound reasons why war will not break out. Far from portending a more dominant United States, the Trump administration is leading the presumptuous “uni-power” into greater international isolation.

One reassurance: Russia and China’s formidable military strength would give pause to even a warmonger like Bolton. This is especially true after President Putin earlier this month unveiled a new arsenal of hypersonic missiles that are invulnerable to American ballistic defense systems.

Secondly, the world has changed dramatically from 15 years ago, when people like Bolton and other Neoconservatives in Washington and Europe pushed their agenda for wars and regime change. The Western public is in no mood for such warmongering, given the experience of lies and immense suffering.

A case in point is Syria. In Bolton’s heyday, it might have been possible for Washington and its NATO allies to pull off a regime-change intervention by stealth. That is not likely today. Simply because the Western public has become much more informed and disdainful about their governments’ propaganda and murderous mendacity.

Trump’s foreign policy chaos, augmented by the unilateralism of Bolton (and the hawkish former CIA chief Mike Pompeo, nominated to become Secretary of State), will hasten the degeneration of American world power.

Let’s look at two imminent collision points. On Iran, the Trump administration is calling for a drastic renegotiation of the 2015 international nuclear accord – or it will walk away from the deal. Bolton and Pompeo are zealous for ripping up the Iran accord. Therefore, they can be expected to hold sway over Trump following through on his threats to axe the deal in the next two months.

In such a case, the Trump administration will set itself on a collision course with European allies who have invested much economic development in Iran. The Europeans are not going to sacrifice multi-billion-euro commitments in Iran just because of Trump’s recklessness. Out of necessity, the main EU states like Germany and France will adopt a more challenging attitude towards Washington’s bullying.

Walking away from the Iran deal may embolden Israel and Saudi Arabia to ramp up hostilities towards Tehran. Of course, such hostility will be fomented by Bolton and Pompeo. But Iran is no pushover. It also has the backing of Russia and China as military allies, which may serve as a guarantor against Washington and its clients pushing their war agenda towards Iran.

North Korea is the other immediate collision point. The prospect of meaningful dialogue between Trump and Kim Jong-un – tentatively set for May after Trump’s surprise acceptance of an invitation to talk – is not promising.

With the appointment of Bolton as national security advisor and the nomination of Pompeo at the State Department (Congress still has to confirm the latter), it seems clear that any engagement with North Korea will be all about imposing an ultimatum for denuclearization. Bolton is openly disparaging towards North Korea. He rejects any proposal for a mutual settlement involving, for example, economic aid to Pyongyang.

But, again, this precipitous unilateral American approach impelled by John Bolton as Trump’s right-hand man will serve to alienate US power still further.

China and Russia have both ruled out any American military option on North Korea.

Trump’s slapping of China’s with severe export tariffs, and his administration’s provocative undermining of the One China policy towards Taiwan, will ensure Beijing taking a tough line on any American aggression towards North Korea.

The European Union and United Nations have also warned Washington that diplomacy is the only acceptable option to resolving the Korean conflict. So, too, has South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has consistently said that no war will be permitted on the Korean Peninsula.

Trump and his war cabinet are certainly an ominous danger for conflict in several world regions. But the one abiding cause for sobriety is the military power of Russia and China, to act as the bucket of ice-cold water to reality-check any American delusions.

That, however, will not stop Washington heading into its own oblivion from the combined chaos and hubris of Trump and his deluded aides.

Washington is alienating and isolating itself from the world. John Bolton is a powerful catalyst to this process.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

China urges US to ‘stop economic intimidation’ over tariffs (Communist China Media Machine and Propaganda in High Gear)

March 26, 2018


© AFP/File | China has unveiled a list of $3 billion worth of US goods, including pork, fruits and wine, that could be targeted with tariffs in retaliation for steel and aluminium tariffs — if negotiations fail
BEIJING (AFP) – China on Monday lashed out at US “economic intimidation” following President Donald Trump’s announcement of new import tariffs, but said it was open to negotiations to resolve trade frictions.

The two countries have traded threats and heated rhetoric in recent days, ratcheting up fears that the world’s two biggest economies are heading towards a damaging trade war.

Trump said last Thursday that the United States would impose new tariffs on some $60 billion of Chinese imports over the “theft” of intellectual property, rattling global financial markets.

Vice President Mike Pence boasted that the measures mean that the “era of economic surrender is over”.

Asked about the remarks, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press briefing on Monday that “it would have been more appropriate to say that it’s time to stop the US’s economic intimidation and hegemony”.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Hua Chunying

Beijing has not stood idle. On Friday, it unveiled a list of $3 billion worth of US goods, including pork, fruits and wine, that could be targeted with tariffs in retaliation for steel and aluminium tariffs — if negotiations fail.

“We also have the confidence and the capacity to safeguard our legitimate and legal interests, whatever the circumstances,” Hua said. “Now the ball is in the US court.”

While the two sides have traded barbs in public, US and Chinese officials have begun behind-the-scenes negotiations to improve American access to the Asian country’s huge market, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“We keep saying that the Chinese side is willing to negotiate with the US to properly manage divergences, on the basis of mutual respect and equal mutual benefits,” Hua said when asked about the report.

“Our door is always wide open to dialogue and consultation.”


  (Wall Street Journal)

 (The New York Times)

In Turkey, Europe Just Can’t Compete With Putin

March 25, 2018


Turkey and the West no longer share any strategic interests. In fact, Ankara regards the West as a key security threat

.A banner showing Turkey's President Erdogan and Russian President Putin during a protest against the Turkish offensive targeting Kurds in Afrin, Syria outside the U.S. embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus. March 12, 2018
A banner showing Turkey’s President Erdogan and Russian President Putin during a protest against the Turkish Afrin offensive outside the U.S. embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus. March 12, 2018Petros Karadjias/AP

Varna, Bulgaria, will be the 26 March setting of yet another meeting between European and Turkish officials who will once again try to bridge some of the rifts between Turkey and the West.

Turkey and Europe are unlikely to kiss and make up anytime soon. There are just too many outstanding issues between them. One problem, which really stands out, is the sides’ strategic orientations.

In strategic terms, Turkey and Europe have completely different priorities. No wonder they continually fall out.

If one were to think of the two or three biggest security threats facing Europe or the West, Russia – with its aggressiveness in both a traditional military perspective and in the realm of cyberspace – would probably be near to the top of the list. So would ISIS, together with lawlessness and civil war in the Middle East and the related problems of radicalization and refugees. Iran might also spring to mind.

But Ankara’s main security concerns are completely different. It is not ISIS, Russia or Iran that keep Turkish government politicians awake at night but rather the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with its secessionist aspirations and violent activities in the southeast of the country.

Ankara’s other main threat is the Gulen movement, followers of the self-exiled Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who resides in Pennsylvania. He is blamed for heading a network which infiltrated Turkish state institutions for nefarious purposes including the attempted coup in July 2016.

What is noticeable about both the PKK and the Gulen movement is that they are, for the most part, an internal Turkish security concern, and barely a threat to Europe or America.

.Syrian children carrying food walk in the northwestern city of Afrin, Syria, during a Turkish government-organised media tour into northern Syria. March 24, 2018

Syrian children carrying food walk in the northwestern city of Afrin, Syria, during a Turkish government-organised media tour into northern Syria. March 24, 2018Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

The only shared enemy of both the West and Turkey is ISIS, but Turkey for the most part turned a blind eye to Islamic militancy in Syria and allowed Turkey to be used as a gateway for the movement of arms,  jihadists and oil to and from all kinds of Salafist groups.

Instead Ankara prioritized defeating the PKK-affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG) which was the West’s best partner in the fight against ISIS.

Under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Europe  and America are seen as enemies, countries who collaborate with terrorists and supported the July 2016 coup attempt. The West is Turkey’s main security threat after the PKK and the Gulen movement.

This is why since 2016, Ankara has cozied up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, despite his intervention in Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea. President Erdogan and Turkish ministers have met their Russian counterparts on many occasions despite Russia’s perpetual violations of the exclusive economic zones and airspace of European nations.

Image may contain: 20 people, people smiling

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a ceremony marking the 103rd anniversary of Battle of Canakkale, also known as the Gallipoli Campaign, in Canakkale, Turkey. March 18, 2018\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

And while Russia peddles fake news and propaganda, Turkey agrees to let Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) build a $20 billion nuclear power plant in southern Turkey and boost the value of bilateral trade to $100 billion.

While Russian nationals are being poisoned and murdered in Britain, Turkey continues with its intension to purchase S400s, the Russian surface-to-air missiles that are incompatible with NATO equipment.

Not only does Ankara believe that Moscow is the dominant power in its region, but Russia shares with Turkey a joint enemy, the West.

Meanwhile, by cozying up to Russia, Turkey was able to get involved in the future of Syria in talks and discussions in Sochi and Astana together with Iran. This legitimizes the wholly negative involvement of Moscow and Tehran (which Turkey helped to bypass the Iran Sanctions Act) in the Syrian civil war, the spillover of which in terms of refugees and radicalization negatively affects European security.

Even in the case of refugees, Turkey’s actions have hardly been rosy. True, Turkey has played host to over three million Syrian refugees. However, Turkish officials have declared that hundreds of thousands of these refugees will return to the tiny Syrian enclave of Afrin.

A kurdish boy holds his baby brother, as he walks with his family in Afrin, Syria March 18, 2018

A kurdish boy holds his baby brother, as he walks with his family in Afrin, Syria March 18, 2018REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

But very few of the refugees are actually from Afrin, and if such a policy is implemented, Turkey will be interfering in the demographic make-up of the region, a recipe, as we have learned from other parts of the Middle East, for chaos and disaster.

Regardless, this remains the policy of Ankara following the city’s fall to Turkish-backed forces which include nefarious Jihadist elementswho may well one day be cause for European concern. This while Ankara uses the possibility of allowing an influx of Syrian refugees into Europe as a sword of Damocles over European lawmakers, a completely unproductive policy.

Turkish and Western strategic interests are running in diametrically opposite directions. They do not share the same enemies, and, as a result, have different allies.

Until this is realized and recognized, handshakes and meetings at international summits and symposiums will be ineffectual.

Dr Simon A. Waldman is a Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center and a visiting research fellow at King’s College London. He is the co-author of the recently published The New Turkey and Its Discontents (Oxford University Press: 2017). Twitter: @simonwaldman1  

US hostility means Iran must boost China, Russia ties: official (Actually, Iran has been in bed with Russia and China for some time….)

March 24, 2018


© AFP/File | Former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton addresses a conservative conference in Maryland on February 24, 2017

TEHRAN (AFP) – Growing hostility from US President Donald Trump means Iran must strengthen its ties with Russia and China, a top official said on Saturday.”The use of radical elements hostile to the Islamic Republic shows that the Americans are trying to increase the pressure against Iran,” said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

His comments, carried by the semi-official ISNA news agency, were the first reaction by a senior Iranian official to Trump’s appointment of conservative firebrand John Bolton as his national security chief.

That came days after Trump picked hardliner Mike Pompeo as his top diplomat.

The appointments raised fears of US military action against Iran.

Bolton, a former UN ambassador and outspoken supporter of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, opposes a historic 2015 Iran nuclear deal which Trump has threatened to scrap.

Bolton has also championed regime change in Tehran, writing in a 2015 op-ed that “only military action … can accomplish what is required”.

Boroujerdi said that Trump was working “to reassure the Zionists (Israel) and Saudi Arabia”.

“We need to strengthen our relations with important countries like China and Russia, which are also subject to US sanctions and face significant challenges from that country,” he said.

Boroujerdi said boosting ties with China and Russia, permanent members of the UN Security Council, would “help reduce the impact of US pressure”.

Iran has in recent years developed its relations with China and Russia.

Tehran and Moscow are key backers of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, while China is Iran’s top trading partner.




Pentagon looks to counter ever-stealthier warfare

March 24, 2018


© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / by Sylvie LANTEAUME | Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has warned that both Russia and China are experimenting with ways to take out the US military’s satellites

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US military has for years enjoyed a broad technological edge over its adversaries, dominating foes with superior communications and cyber capabilities.

Now, thanks to rapid advances by Russia and China, the gap has shrunk, and the Pentagon is looking at how a future conflict with a “near-peer” competitor might play out.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson recently warned that both Russia and China are experimenting with ways to take out the US military’s satellites, which form the backbone of America’s warfighting machine.

“They know that we are dominant in space, that every mission the military does depends on space, and in a crisis or war they are demonstrating capabilities and developing capabilities to seek to deny us our space assets,” Wilson said.

“We’re not going to let that happen.”

The Pentagon is investing in a new generation of satellites that will provide the military with better accuracy and have better anti-jamming capabilities.

Such technology would help counter the type of “asymmetric” warfare practised by Russia, which combines old-school propaganda with social media offensives and cyber hacks.

Washington has blamed Moscow for numerous cyber attacks, including last year’s massive ransomware attack, known as NotPetya, which paralyzed thousands of computers around the world.

Little Green Men invaded Crimea — Photo: Sergey Ponomarev

US cyber security investigators have also accused the Russian government of a sustained effort to take control of critical US infrastructure systems, including the energy grid.

Russia denies involvement and so far, such attacks have been met with a muted US military response.

– Public relations shutdown –

General John Hyten, who leads US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told lawmakers the US has “not gone nearly far enough” in the cyber domain.

Image result for General John Hyten, photos

General John Hyten

He also warned that the military still does not have clear authorities and rules of engagement for when and how it can conduct offensive cyber ops.

“Cyberspace needs to be looked at as a warfighting domain, and if somebody threatens us in cyberspace, we need to have the authorities to respond,” Hyten told lawmakers this week.

Hyten’s testimony comes after Admiral Michael Rogers, who heads both the NSA — the leading US electronic eavesdropping agency — and the new US Cyber Command, last month said President Donald Trump had not yet ordered his spy chiefs to retaliate against Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

Russia has also been blamed for the March 4 poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in England.

NATO countries are working to determine when a cyber attack might trigger the alliance’s Article 5 collective defense provision, General Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of NATO forces in Europe, said this month.

Image result for u.s. satellites, photos

NATO “recognizes the difficulty in indirect or asymmetric activity that Russia is practising, activities below the level of conflict,” Scaparrotti said.

In 2015, the Air Force opened the highly secretive National Space Defense Center in Colorado, where airmen work to identify potential threats to America’s satellite network.

After officials told a local newspaper, The Gazette, that the center had started running on a 24-hour basis, Air Force higher ups grew alarmed that too much information had been revealed.

In an example of how sensitive the issue of cybersecurity now is, the Air Force reacted by putting its entire public operations department on a “stand down” while it reviews how it interacts with journalists.


Billionaire ex-Facebook president Sean Parker unloads on Mark Zuckerberg and admits he helped build a monster — “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

March 22, 2018

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