Hitler or UBER?

Stuck between fascism and neoliberalism, french voters are again blackmailed into voting for the lesser of two evils. While many refuse to vote, what are the other options to break the cycle?

We are millions to no longer bear this “voter for the lesser of two evils” blackmailing.

In a few days, the second round of the (french) presidential election will be held, with, for the umpteenth time, candidates whom are disconnected from our realities, and for the second time in fifteen years, the presence of the national front in the second round.

This situation was foreseeable. Successive governments, from both the right and the left, have on one side trivialized the National Front and on the other used their ideas.

The “de-demonization” of the National Front was brought about by the demonization of Muslim citizens.

The lure of gain, buzz, ratings, or simply the full adherence to racist ideas, beginning with Islamophobia, have made columnists and journalists help the National Front become approachable.

And it worked!

Ironically, this same press is already complaining that this party is expressing contempt towards them.

There are reasons to worry for May 7th (second round of the presidential election).

I have always thought that giving voting instructions is an insult to voters’ intelligence. But the aim of this video is to convince the abstentionists not to take risks and especially not to delegate to others the task of blocking the National Front.

The coming into power of Marine Le Pen will not provoke a revolution or opposition within the French State. No, it will not “blow up”. If she is here today, it is because many of the ruling elites already share her ideas.

As we have seen it for years, Islamophobia is a point of convergence from the extreme left to the far right. And it is because she has surfed on the wave Islamophobia that Marine Le Pen is not far from becoming president. Imagine the nightmare.

The extreme right-wing groups that are already preparing for civil war will have a boulevard. And don’t count on the police to be merciless with them, as they are with working class neighbourhoods or racialized people.

Yes, this same police which is phagocytosed by the extreme right and which are behaving as if their champion is already president.

If Marine Le Pen passes, she will have all the powers to make France a fascist and totalitarian country as was the case under Maréchal Petain, who is himself the spiritual father of her party.

We already know what living under the National Front looks like. It is enough to look at the cities that fallen in their hands to realize it:
Islamophobic obsession, corruption, violence, nepotism, refugee hunting, Petainist practices, guardianship of associations or intimidations, and contempt for institutions

I know, there is nothing new here

Under a socialist government we have experienced the brutality of the state of emergency, its indiscriminate violence, house searches, humiliations of families, ransacking of places of worship, arbitrary house arrests, militarization of the police, their brutality and their impunity, registration and filing of the population after having adopted the penalization of peaceful resistance movements (BDS, march against the labor law, freedom to boycott companies violating their social responsibilities, warning alert, solidarity with refugees …) , law on mass surveillance and the explosion of the prison population.

It is also under a socialist government that Muslim citizens have experienced the humiliation of their children in school, the increase of their demonization, the project of citizenship stripping or the national hysteria around the burkini.

And if a socialist government has been able to do this, imagine what it will be with a far-right president, in a country where overtly racist candidates have already won 46% of the votes in the first round.

Those who speak of abstaining from the second round or call to do so, are speaking from a position of privilege because few of them will fear for their integrity or that of their children.

As for those who give instructions for voting or abstention without sharing our daily lives, they miss an opportunity here to be silent. It’s easy to play Russian roulette with other people’s lives.

If Marine Le Pen is a political or ideological opponent for some, or a foreign problem for others … for the racialized populations to which I belong, blacks, Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Romas or Asians, she and her party represent a vital threat.

What about the other candidate?

With his neoliberal vision and his promise to turn France into a country of startup companies, which will decimate the working class and lock them into the digital proletariat, Emmanuel Macron represents a social threat.

Neither he nor Marine Le Pen represent a choice for social justice. Except that one is the heir of Milton Freedman, and the other, of Maréchal Petain. I let you guess which of the two is the immediate enemy.

But there is a third path. Your Emmanuel Macron bulletin will not be a vote of adherence but a vote of preparation for permanent defiance. It is out of the question to vote Macron and then resign and let him have it his way, but it is about voting Macron and to engage by joining associations, alongside activists, by responding to calls for mobilization and by filling the ranks demonstrations.

Our problems are structural and require a rethinking of our political regime. This fifth republic, inherited from the colonial era with its monarchical mode of operation, must be buried.

We need a new republic serving the citizens, which solves the racial question by liquidating the legacy of colonization,

A balanced organization of public authorities, a strengthened parliament, autonomous justice, transparency of the State, a demilitarized police force, social equity, taking environmental issues into account, in short, a new republic for a New world.

Once the national front disqualified from the presidential election, from the 8th of May on, civil society of which I am part, I belong will continue its struggle for social justice while others will be able to storm the national assembly by submitting their candidatures to the parliamentary elections.

Why?
Because both traditional parties will not recover from this presidential race and the renewal of the political class begins on 8 May. This is an opportunity for civil society to launch its own candidates at the local level, which at best will win, at worst will make others lose and will thus become the referees of the ballot.

After having made the (presidential) Elysée palace unattainable for the extreme right, it will be a matter of making France ungovernable for high finance and thus put an end to this neoliberal policy, in favor of a more social one.

You got it right, emancipation will be reached through politics and power struggles.

It’s on us to be up to the challenge on May 7th

— source medium.com/@yasserlouati by Yasser Louati

Obama and NATO were making Europe less secure

Dissolve NATO
Michael Hudson

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Washington.

President Obama met with NATO leaders in Warsaw last weekend to what seemed like a restatement of vows to protect Europe. Let’s take a listen to what the president had to say.

BARACK OBAMA: In this challenging moment, I want to take this opportunity to state clearly what will never change. And that is the unwavering commitment of the United States to the security and defense of Europe, to our transatlantic relationship, to our commitment to our common defense. Throughout my time in office, one of my top foreign policy priorities has been to strengthen our alliances, especially with NATO. And as I reflect on the past eight years, both the progress and the challenges, I can say with confidence that we’ve delivered on that promise. The United States has increased our presence here in Europe. NATO is as strong, as nimble, and as ready as ever.

DESVARIEUX: So ready that the president will be sending 1,000 troops to Poland as one of four battalions that are being sent to countries bordering Russia. But what is really at the heart of this matter? Are these just tactics by the U.S. leading to an escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Russia? And what role should NATO be playing in maintaining a balanced Europe?

Now joining us to help us answer these questions is our guest, Michael Hudson. Michael is a Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He’s also the author of many books, including his latest, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy. Thank you so much for joining us, Michael.

MICHAEL HUDSON: It’s good to be here.

DESVARIEUX: So, Michael, we just heard President Obama pledging his allegiance to protecting Europe. Does Europe really need protecting, though?

HUDSON: Well, as soon as Obama made those words, there was a flurry of European statements saying that Obama and NATO were making Europe less secure. The French prime minister, Francois Hollande, says that we don’t need NATO. NATO has no role to play in our Russian relations. That leaders of the two major German parties, both the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, said that NATO was warmongering. Gorbachev came out and said the world has never been closer to nuclear war than it is at present. William Perry, the former head of the Pentagon in the mid-90s, said that NATO was threatening and trying to provoke atomic war in Europe.

One of Russia’s leading military strategists said, here’s what the problem is: NATO wants to move bombers and atomic weapons right up to the border of Russia. That means that if they launch a missile over us, we have only a few seconds to retaliate. President Putin a little while ago had given a speech saying that Russia doesn’t really have a land army. In fact, today, no country in the world – in the Northern Hemisphere, at least – has a land army that can invade anywhere.

Try to imagine America being invaded by Canada, or by Mexico on its borders. You can’t imagine it. Impossible. No democracy can afford a land army anymore because the costs are so high that the costs of mounting a land war will just impoverish the economy.

As a matter of fact, what NATO is trying to do is to goad Russia into building up an army so the US can undercut its economy by diverting more and more resources away from the economy towards the military. Russia’s not falling for it. Putin said that Russia has no intention of mounting a land army. It is unthinkable that it could even want to invade the Baltics or Poland.

But Putin did say that Russia has one means of retaliation. That’s atomic bombs. Atomic weapons are basically defensive. They’re saying that they don’t need an army anymore. Nor does any country need an army if they have an atomic weapon, because if you attack them, they can wipe you out. And they’ll be wiped out, too, but no nation is going to be able to conquer them. No country, really, can conquer any other country in today’s world. That means that Russia can’t conquer Europe by invading and occupying it.

In e effect, Putin and the Russian leaders have said, look, if an American plane goes a little bit off into Russian territory, like ships often try to provoke things, they don’t know whether it’s an atomic attack at all. Russia can’t take a risk. If there’s a little bit of a movement against them, they’re going to launch the hydrogen bombs, and there goes Berlin, Frankfurt, London, Manchester, Brussels. That’s why you’re having all of these warnings.

Europe seems increasingly terrified that Obama is going to destabilize Eurasia. Even more terrified of Hillary getting in, who’s indicated she’s going to appoint a superhawk, the Cheney protege Michele Flournoy, as Secretary of Defense, and appoint Victoria Nuland as Secretary of State.

I’ve been in Germany twice in the last two months, and they’re really worried that somehow America is telling Europe, let’s you and Russia fight. And basically it’s a crisis.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Michael, I want to get back to your point about how we’re seeing this narrative develop about a potential nuclear war on the horizon. And it seems like it’s quite real. This is not just conjecture, here. We have U.S. and Russia’s military forces warning that a nuclear war is nearer than ever before.

So let’s talk about interests, here. On either side, let’s be as specific as possible, and call a spade a spade. In whose interest is it to keep up this narrative? Because I’m sure there are people not just in the United States that profit from this, but also in Russia. Can you speak to that?

HUDSON: Well, one of the points made at the NATO meetings was NATO urged countries not to rely on Russian weaponry. There was an insistence by Obama that the NATO countries spend 2 percent of their GDP on NATO, on arms, mainly by buying arms from American military manufacturers, Raytheon, Boeing and the others.

Now, look at what’s happening in Europe. It’s not even growing 2 percent, because of the austerity that’s being imposed on it. So 2 percent is the entire annual economic growth in Europe. This large amount has to be spent on American arms. So it turns out that this sabre-rattling to Russia is a means of obliging the European countries to pay the United States arms manufacturers for goods, and to basically hold Europe up for ransom, saying if you don’t be a part of this, we’re not going to defend you.

Europe is saying, well we really don’t need defense. We’d rather have an economic relationship with Russia. Especially the Germans say they don’t want the sanctions. The Italians say they don’t want the sanctions. The Americans say, we don’t want you to make money off Russia. Buy from us, not from Russia. Buy your agricultural goods and your other goods from us, or at least from countries in the dollar orbit, not from the Russian orbit.

That, essentially, is what Obama meant by the reset. It meant a new Cold War. But the essence of this new Cold War is to fight in the new way, which is a financial war. The military are now only a catalyst for the financial warfare by the United States.

The first effect of the reset was to drive Russia into an alliance with China. And now, NATO may be overplaying this right-wing hand so much that it’s driving Germany and Italy and France out of NATO. That is the effect this is–what it’s doing is counter-effective.

DESVARIEUX: Michael, what about on the Russian side? There are interests that are encouraging this reset?

HUDSON: They had hoped that the reset would mean a winding down of military spending. Russia and almost every country would like to use more of its resources for the domestic economy, not for military overhead. America is trying to force Russia to spend more on overhead as part of its economic warfare with Russia.

This was Brzezinski’s plan in Afghanistan, you know, under the Carter administration. The idea was that if you could force Russia to pay more for its military to defend Afghanistan, then its economy would buckle and discontent would spread. This is the essence of American strategy: to spread chaos. Then the Americans can come in and promote nationalist and other localist breakups, and try to break up Russia just as America is trying to push a breakup of China as a long-term strategy. There’s no way that this cannot backfire on the United States.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s talk about what everyday people could do to move away from accepting this narrative, or move away from this potential reset that President Obama is proposing? What policy decisions could be made to de-escalate this tension?

HUDSON: Essentially to dissolve NATO, which France has been pushing now for many years. There’s no need for NATO now that there’s no threat of any military invasion anymore. Remember after World War II, NATO was put up when there was an idea that European countries should never go to war with each other again. There will never be war between France, Germany, Italy. That’s been solved. There’s no way in which European countries will go to war.

The second thing was, what if Russia would re-invade like it did when it fought against Hitler? Well, there’s no danger of Russia invading anymore. In fact, in 1990, when the Soviet Union broke up, the Ukraine passed a resolution that it wanted to remain neutral and benefit from its neutral buffer pivot between Russia and Europe. The United States then put $5 billion into Ukraine, and spurred a nationalist-ethnic revolution. It took the United States 20 years to turn that around and break up this neutrality.

The U.S. strategy is to prevent neutrality. Europe’s economic interest is to achieve neutrality with Russia, and have economic unity so that there’s little chance of any confrontation with Russia as there is among the European countries themselves.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Michael Hudson, always a pleasure having you on the program. Thank you so much for being with us.

HUDSON: Good to be here.

Acts of Murder

18 May 1999
How many NATO aircraft have really been shot down or crashed? This is suppressed, of course.

The room is filled with the bodies of children killed by Nato in Surdulica in Serbia. Several are recognisable only by their sneakers. A dead infant is cradled in the arms of his father. These pictures and many others have not been shown in Britain; it will be said they are too horrific. But minimising the culpability of the British state when it is engaged in criminal action is normal; censorship is by omission and misuse of language. The media impression of a series of Nato ‘blunders’ is false. Anyone scrutinising the unpublished list of targets hit by Nato is left in little doubt that a deliberate terror campaign is being waged against the civilian population of Yugoslavia.

Eighteen hospitals and clinics and at least 200 nurseries, schools, colleges and students’ dormitories have been destroyed or damaged, together with housing estates, hotels, libraries, youth centres, theatres, museums, churches and 14th-century monasteries on the World Heritage list. Farms have been bombed, their crops set on fire. As Friday’s bombing of the Kosovo town of Korisa shows, there is no discrimination between Serbs and those being ‘saved’. Every day, three times more civilians are killed by Nato than the daily estimate of deaths of Kosovans in the months prior to the bombing.

The British people are not being told about a policy designed largely by their government to cause such criminal carnage. The dissembling of politicians and the lies of ‘spokesmen’ set much of the news agenda. There is no sense of the revulsion felt throughout most of the world for this wholly illegal action, for the punishment of Milosevic’s crime with a greater crime and for the bellicose antics of Blair, Cook and Robertson, who have made themselves into international caricatures.

‘There was no need of censorship of our dispatches. We were our own censors,’ wrote Philip Gibbs, the Times correspondent in 1914-18. The silence is different now; there is the illusion of saturation coverage, but the reality is a sameness and repetition and, above all, political safety for the perpetrators.

A few days before the killing of make-up ladies and camera operators in the Yugoslav television building, Jamie Shea, Nato’s man, wrote to the International Federation of Journalists: ‘There is no policy to attack television and radio transmitters.’ Where were the cries of disgust from among the famous names at the BBC, John Simpson apart? Who interrupted the mutual back-slapping at last week’s Royal Television Society awards? Silence. The news from Shepherd’s Bush is that BBC presenters are to wear pinks, lavender and blues which ‘will allow us to be a bit more conversational in the way we discuss stories’.

Here is some of the news they leave out. The appendix pages of the Rambouillet ‘accords’, which have not been published in Britain, show Nato’s agenda was to occupy not just Kosovo, but all of Yugoslavia. This was rejected, not just by Milosevic, but by the elected Yugoslav parliament, which proposed a UN force to monitor a peace settlement: a genuine alternative to bombing. Clinton and Blair ignored it.

Britain is attacking simultaneously two countries which offer no threat. Every day Iraq is bombed and almost none of it is news. Last week, 20 civilians were killed in Mosul, and a shepherd and his family were bombed. The sheep were bombed. In the last 18 months, the Blair government has dropped more bombs than the Tories dropped in 18 years.

Nato is suffering significant losses. Reliable alternative sources in Washington have counted up to 38 aircraft crashed or shot down, and an undisclosed number of American and British special forces killed. This is suppressed, of course.

Anti-bombing protests reverberate around the world: 100,000 people in the streets of Rome (including 182 members of the Italian parliament), thousands in Greece and Germany, protests taking place every night in colleges and town halls across Britain. Almost none of it is reported. Is it not extraordinary that no national opinion poll on the war has been published since April 30?

‘Normalisation,’ wrote the American essayist Edward Herman, depends on ‘a division of labour in doing and rationalising the unthinkable, with the direct brutalising and killing done by one set of individuals… [and] others working on improved technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive Napalm). It is the function of experts and the mainstream media to normalise the unthinkable for the general public.’

This week, the unthinkable will again be normalised when Nato triples the bombing raids to 700 a day. This includes blanket bombing by B-52s. Blair and Clinton and the opaque-eyed General Clark, apologist for the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, are killing and maiming hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent people in the Balkans. No contortion of intellect and morality, nor silence, will diminish the truth that these are acts of murder. And until there is a revolt by journalists and broadcasters, they will continue to get away with it. That is the news.

— source johnpilger.com

Meet the EU’s own tropical tax haven: Madeira

This week has seen another revelation about one of the world’s lesser known tax havens. After the big(ger) leaks from Switzerland, Luxembourg, Panama and the Bahamas over the past years, a small island in the Atlantic ocean is in the limelight this time: Portugal’s own offshore paradise Madeira.

German broadcaster Bayrischer Rundfunk (BR) has done the bulk of the work and meticulously crafted a database of the island’s company register – information that had been technically available online but not in any usable format, so far. It has subsequently been shared with Spanish, French and Austrian colleagues for joint reporting.
A haven’s usual business…

Unsurprisingly, what the journalists found looks familiar to the characteristics of other offshore havens previously in the public spotlight. Hundreds of firms registered at the same address without any visible physical presence and hundreds of such letterbox companies run by the same directors, often provided to wealthy clients by law firms enabling the offshore business as a ready-made package together with the letterboxes. Also a sizable portion of the companies itself is owned by other firms that are resident in notorious secrecy havens such as Panama or the British Virgin Islands. The offshore world works like a web where things are linked and layered to provide perfect anonymity.

Interestingly, the Madeira database also exhibits several links to the most recent major offshore revelation Football Leaks. Javier Mascherano from Barcelona or Xabi Alonso from Bayern Munich are only two of the prominent players which channeled income to Madeira in order to benefit from its generous tax regime. The offshore dealings of football players are obviously just one of many examples in a system where the richest parts of society systematically shirk obligations that the vast majority of people comply with.

Our GUE/NGL group has already made a substantiated call for the European Parliament to investigate this sector in its on-going committee of inquiry given the ample evidence now on the table. A hearing on the matter is currently foreseen for September 2017 following a recent decision, in principle, to request a six months extension as a consequence of continuous obstruction of the committee’s work by EU Member States.
…rubber-stamped by the EU

What is striking about the Madeira case – the history and details of which have been neatly summarised by Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes – is that it has neither evolved outside the European Union’s jurisdictions (like one could argue for Panama, even if a large part of the cases exposed in the Panama Papers is somehow connected to territories under EU control) nor that its main features are secretive (like the now infamous Luxembourg rulings, aka sweetheart deals). Pretty much to the contrary, Madeira’s 0% tax regime has been formally approved by the European Commission: first in 1987 after Portugal’s accession to the bloc and subsequently again in 2002, 2007, 2013, 2014 and 2015, with effects until 2027.

The Commission did however explicitly insist in 1987 that Madeira not use the privileged regime – granted as exceptional aid because of Madeira’s location as outermost region – to establish an “offshore financial centre”. A conditionality that rings hollow given this week’s revelations, which did not come as a surprise for long-standing critics of the tax giveaways inside Portugal. Besides a slight increase of the rate from 0% to 5% as late as 2013, there was actually not much change over the years. Tellingly, this increase was already too much to ask for some of the biggest multinationals in the data set. US oil giant Chevron, its Italian competitor Eni or the drink producer Pepsi all closed down letterboxes on the island at that time.
Tax haven blacklist as fig leave

Not just did the European Commission approve Madeira’s regime from the point of view of European state aid rules. The topic of special economic zones (SEZ), notably Madeira, has also been under discussion for years in the secretive Code of Conduct Group on business taxation in the Council of the European Union. This is where Member States meet since 1998 to combat harmful practices of corporate taxation but which has been rendered entirely ineffective by a lack of political will and transparency. The discussion on guidelines for SEZ has been dormant since 2008.

Currently under discussion in the same group is the EU’s much taunted blacklist against tax havens. We have previously discussed the limitations of this project at the occasion of Commissioner Moscovici’s hearing at the PANA committee. The final episode of the preparatory work for this list is set to take place next week at the 21 February ECOFIN summit. After this, screening of more than 90 jurisdictions globally will finally commence. Excluded per definition are, however, all territories within the EU. This covers the bigger tax havens like Malta and Luxembourg, but obviously also places like Madeira. The same principle obviously also applies to the separate blacklist for jurisdictions with insufficient anti-money laundering practices.

Hence, for as long as Member State governments keep protecting offshore paradises en masse within their own borders, talk about cracking down on money laundering, tax evasion and tax avoidance really seems like not much more than that: empty talk. The constant flow of leaks and the analysis of these scandals are necessary to draw public attention and expose the hypocrisy of our elites. Fundamental change will, however, require a longer breath and people standing up to the theft by the rich and powerful they are continuously being made to pay the bill for in the form of austerity budgets and deteriorating public services.

— source guengl-panamapapers.eu

Europe’s Largest Pension Funds Heavily Invested in Illegal Israeli Settlements

Europe’s five largest pension funds have €7.5 billion invested in companies with business activities in and around illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. This is at odds with United Nations guidelines, clear warnings from 18 European countries, and undermines the two-state solution, experts warn.

European investors have billions of euro invested in companies with activities in and around illegal Israeli settlements, according to a new investigation from Danwatch that screened the investment portfolios of Europe’s top five pension fund managers.

Statens pensjonsfond utland (Oljefondet) (NO), Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP (NE), Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (NE), Arbejdsmarkedets Tillægspension (DK), and Alecta Pensionsförsäkring (SE) have a total of €7.5 billion invested in 36 Israeli and international publicly-traded companies, most of which have long been under public scrutiny because of their activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Hugh Lovatt, expert on Israel and Palestine at the respected think-tank European Council on Foreign Relations, explains the problem with settlements:

“Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal and have led to the dispossession of Palestinians and the fragmentation of Palestinian land. They infringe on Palestinian rights and exploit Palestinian natural resources.”

Business activities in and around settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are not necessarily against the law, but according to the United Nations, investors are obliged to carry out enhanced due diligence and to demonstrate that their activities do not contribute to negative effects on human rights.
Warning from European governments

In addition, 18 European countries warn their citizens and businesses in no uncertain terms against undertaking financial and economic activities that could support illegal Israeli settlements.

“Financial transactions, investments, purchases, tenders, and other economic activities (including services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements are associated with legal and economic risks due to the fact that, according to international law, the Israeli settlements are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a lawful part of Israel’s territory,” wrote the Danish Foreign Ministry in a 2014 statement similar to statements published by other countries.

“One should also be aware of possible violations of international humanitarian law and human rights,” the statement warns and refers to OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (2011) and United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights (2011).
Undermining the two-state solution

In addition to the “increased risk of adverse human rights impacts”, as the UN puts it, European investors are also actively undermining the official policy of the EU regarding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“When European investors finance, fund or facilitate the settlement enterprise and illegal actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, they are contributing to the undermining of the two-state solution and therefore the undermining of the EU’s own foreign policy objectives,” [said] Policy fellow Hugh Lovatt at the European Council for Foreign Relations states to Danwatch.

“And these investments are illegal under international law – or at least very problematic – and exposes European investors to reputational, financial and legal risks,” says Lovatt.

Investments in companies with business activities in and around settlements tie European investors to potential violations of international humanitarian law and Palestinians’ human rights.

Lars Erslev Andersen, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), agrees that it is problematic when companies have activities in settlements.

“In my opinion, businesses that have branches or factories in the occupied Palestinian territories help to maintain the occupation and facilitate Israel’s continued construction of settlements, infrastructure and security apparatus in the West Bank,” Andersen tells Danwatch.

“This is problematic, because it undermines the two-state solution, which is gradually becoming an illusion for a great number of people,” [said] Lars Erslev Andersen, senior researcher at DIIS.

Norwegian fund biggest investor

The largest single investor by far is Statens Pensjonsfond Utland, the Government Pension Fund of Norway, with €5.2 billion out of the total €7.5 billion invested in all 36 companies on Danwatch’s list.

This includes €135 million in Caterpillar, which supplies bulldozers for the demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories; €286 million in HeidelbergCement, which has been blacklisted by several other European investors due to exploitation of Palestinian natural resources; and €1.5 billion in Siemens, which has installed traffic systems on Israeli roads in the West Bank and placed bids on projects on occupied territory with Israel Railways.

The Norwegian Government Pension Fund also has €233 million in five Israeli banks financing settlement construction and operating in the West Bank in various ways: Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel Ltd, Israel Discount Bank Ltd and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank Ltd.

These same banks are blacklisted by Europe’s third largest pension fund Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (PFZW) (NE) which in 2014 ended several years of dialogue.

“Given the day-to-day reality and domestic legal framework they operate in, the banks have limited to no possibilities to end their involvement in the financing of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories,” wrote PFZW (formerly PGGM) about the decision to divest from Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot because they finance settlements and operate branches on occupied territory.

Danwatch asked The Norwegian Government Pension Fund specific questions about each of their investments in the 36 specific companies, but received no specific reply. Instead the fund answers in general terms about how they expect companies they invest in to strive to observe “the G20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the UN Global Compact.”

“Our expectations are especially relevant for companies with direct operations, supply chains or other business relationships in high-risk sectors, high-risk geographical areas, or otherwise high-risk operational environments,” they explain.

The Norwegian oil fund’s decisions about excluding specific companies is regulated by an independent council appointed by the Norwegian Ministry of Finance.

New findings will be considered

Of the five largest European pension funds, Denmark’s ATP is by far the smallest investor in companies on Danwatch’s list, with about €1 million in total in Siemens and The Priceline Group Inc, the owner of booking.com, which facilitates hotels in a number of settlements. However, ATP’s publicly available stock portfolio does not include index futures, which amounts to almost 95% of ATP’s entire foreign holdings.

On the two specific investments, ATP explains that Danwatch’s findings includes new information not covered by their external screening partner, and that they will have to consider this before they can answer specific questions.

Sweden’s largest pension fund, and Europe’s fifth-largest, Alecta Pensionsförsäkring, only has investments in one company on Danwatch’s list: Volvo Group. The Swedish industrial conglomerate partly owns Merkavim, which provides armoured busses for Egged bus lines in the West Bank, where Volvo busses are also used for transport. Two Volvo-certified garages operate in the illegal industrial zones of Mishor Adumim and Atarot in the occupied West Bank. Furthermore, Volvo excavators are used by the Israeli army to demolish Palestinian houses on occupied land, as documented in February, April and October 2016 in the Palestinian villages of Jinba, Halaweh, Um Al Kher and in the Jordan Valley. Danwatch presented these findings to Volvo Group, but received no reply.

On the subject of house demolitions, Volvo Group stated in 2011 that “Volvo neither can nor wants to take a position in international conflicts […] We regret if they are used for destructive purposes, but it does not stop us from believing that our excavators and vehicles largely play a part in making the world a little better.”

Alecta Pensionsförsäkring explains to Danwatch that their due diligence is outsourced to external partner GES, and that GES confirm their knowledge about the issue and have concluded that Volvo Group’s activities is not a breach against international conventions.

“Volvo has limited possibilities to influence how their products are used and we believe that Volvo cannot be directly linked to human rights violations,” Swedish investor Alecta therefore tells Danwatch.

“Alecta has an active and ongoing dialogue with Volvo as well as with our external partner GES and has so far not received any indication pointing towards an exclusion. If necessary we will as a first priority engage further in our dialogue with Volvo to make them comply with international law, rather than exclude them as an investment,” Alecta says.

Danwatch also contacted the two Dutch pension funds Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP and Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (PFZW), but received no reply.

— source bdsmovement.net By Mikkel Bahl, Hanan Chemlali & Kristoffer Marslev

Ukraine A Longtime Pawn

Historically, Ukraine has been treated as a pawn since the late Seventeenth Century. In 1918, Ukraine was made a German protectorate by the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. Ukraine was also a part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 signed between Germany and Russia, but violated by Adolf Hitler when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941.

The reaction of many in Ukraine to Hitler’s aggression was not the same as it was in the rest of the Soviet Union. Some Ukrainians welcomed the Nazis. The most significant Ukrainian nationalist group, Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), had been established in 1929. Many of its members cooperated with the Nazis, some even enlisted in the Waffen SS and Ukrainian nationalists participated in the massacre of more than 33,000 Jews at Babi Yar ravine in Kiev in September 1941. According to scholar Pers Anders Rudling, the number of Ukrainian nationalists involved in the slaughter outnumbered the Germans by a factor of 4 to 1.

But it wasn’t just the Jews that the Ukrainian nationalists slaughtered. They also participated in massacres of Poles in the western Ukrainian region of Galicia from March 1943 until the end of 1944. Again, the main perpetrators were not Germans, but Ukrainians.

According to author Ryazard Szawlowksi, the Ukrainian nationalists first lulled the Poles into thinking they were their friends, then turned on them with a barbarity and ferocity that not even the Nazis could match, torturing their victims with saws and axes. The documentary places the number of dead at 36,750, but Szawlowski estimates it may be two or three times higher.

OUN members participated in these slaughters for the purpose of ethnic cleansing, wanting Ukraine to be preserved for what OUN regarded as native Ukrainians. They also expected Ukraine to be independent by the end of the war, free from both German and Russian domination. The two main leaders in OUN who participated in the Nazi collaboration were Stepan Bandera and Mykola Lebed. Bandera was a virulent anti-Semite, and Lebed was rabidly against the Poles, participating in their slaughter.

After the war, both Bandera and Lebed were protected by American intelligence, which spared them from the Nuremburg tribunals. The immediate antecedent of the CIA, Central Intelligence Group, wanted to use both men for information gathering and operations against the Soviet Union. England’s MI6 used Bandera even more than the CIA did, but the KGB eventually hunted down Bandera and assassinated him in Munich in 1959. Lebed was brought to America and addressed anti-communist Ukrainian organizations in the U.S. and Canada. The CIA protected him from immigration authorities who might otherwise have deported him as a war criminal.

The history of the Cold War was never too far in the background of Ukrainian politics, including within the diaspora that fled to the West after the Red Army defeated the Nazis and many of their Ukrainian collaborators emigrated to the United States and Canada. In the West, they formed a fierce anti-communist lobby that gained greater influence after Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980.

Important History

This history is an important part of Dean’s prologue to the main body of Ukraine on Fire and is essential for anyone trying to understand what has happened there since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. For instance, the U.S.-backed candidate for president of Ukraine in 2004 — Viktor Yushchenko — decreed both Bandera and Lebed to be Ukrainian national heroes.

Bandera, in particular, has become an icon for post-World War II Ukrainian nationalists. One of his followers was Dmytro Dontsov, who called for the birth of a “new man” who would mercilessly destroy Ukraine’s ethnic enemies.

Bandera’s movement was also kept alive by Yaroslav Stetsko, Bandera’s premier in exile. Stetsko fully endorsed Bandera’s anti-Semitism and also the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Stetsko, too, was used by the CIA during the Cold War and was honored by Yushchenko, who placed a plaque in his honor at the home where he died in Munich in 1986. Stetsko’s wife, Slava, returned to Ukraine in 1991 and ran for parliament in 2002 on the slate of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party.

Stetsko’s book, entitled Two Revolutions, has become the ideological cornerstone for the modern Ukrainian political party Svoboda, founded by Oleh Tyahnybok, who is pictured in the film calling Jews “kikes” in public, which is one reason the Simon Wiesenthal Center has ranked him as one of the most dangerous anti-Semites in the world.

Another follower of Bandera is Dymytro Yarosh, who reputedly leads the paramilitary arm of an even more powerful political organization in Ukraine called Right Sektor. Yarosh once said he controls a paramilitary force of about 7,000 men who were reportedly used in both the overthrow of Yanukovych in Kiev in February 2014 and the suppression of the rebellion in Odessa a few months later, which are both fully depicted in the film.

This historical prelude and its merging with the current civil war is eye-opening background that has been largely hidden by the mainstream Western media, which has downplayed or ignored the troubling links between these racist Ukrainian nationalists and the U.S.-backed political forces that vied for power after Ukraine became independent in 1991.

The Rise of a Violent Right

That same year, Tyahnybok formed Svoboda. Three years later, Yarosh founded Trident, an offshoot of Svoboda that eventually evolved into Right Sektor. In other words, the followers of Bandera and Lebed began organizing themselves immediately after the Soviet collapse.

In this time period, Ukraine had two Russian-oriented leaders who were elected in 1991 and 1994, Leonid Kravchuk, and Leonid Kuchma. But the hasty transition to a “free-market” economy didn’t go well for most Ukrainians or Russians as well-connected oligarchs seized much of the wealth and came to dominate the political process through massive corruption and purchase of news media outlets. However, for average citizens, living standards went down drastically, opening the door for the far-right parties and for foreign meddling.

In 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, whose political base was strongest among ethnic Russians in the east and south, won the presidential election by three percentage points over the U.S.-favored Viktor Yushchenko, whose base was mostly in the country’s west where the Ukrainian nationalists are strongest.

Immediately, Yushchenko’s backers claimed fraud citing exit polls that had been organized by a group of eight Western nations and four non-governmental organizations or NGOs, including the Renaissance Foundation founded by billionaire financial speculator George Soros. Dick Morris, former President Bill Clinton’s political adviser, clandestinely met with Yushchenko’s team and advised them that the exit polls would not just help in accusations of fraud, but would bring protesters out into the streets. (Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Vol. 19, Number 1, p. 26)

Freedom House, another prominent NGO that receives substantial financing from the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), provided training to young activists who then rallied protesters in what became known as the Orange Revolution, one of the so-called “color revolutions” that the West’s mainstream media fell in love with. It forced an election rerun that Yushchenko won.

But Yushchenko’s presidency failed to do much to improve the lot of the Ukrainian people and he grew increasingly unpopular. In 2010, Yushchenko failed to make it out of the first round of balloting and his rival Yanukovych was elected president in balloting that outside observers judged free and fair.

Big-Power Games

If this all had occurred due to indigenous factors within Ukraine, it could have been glossed over as a young nation going through some painful growing pains. But as the film points out, this was not the case. Ukraine continued to be a pawn in big-power games with many Western officials hoping to draw the country away from Russian influence and into the orbit of NATO and the European Union.

In one of the interviews in Ukraine on Fire, journalist and author Robert Parry explains how the National Endowment for Democracy and many subsidized political NGOs emerged in the 1980s to replace or supplement what the CIA had traditionally done in terms of influencing the direction of targeted countries.

During the investigations of the Church Committee in the 1970s, the CIA’s “political action” apparatus for removing foreign leaders was exposed. So, to disguise these efforts, CIA Director William Casey, Reagan’s White House and allies in Congress created the NED to finance an array of political and media NGOs.

As Parry noted in the documentary, many traditional NGOs do valuable work in helping impoverished and developing countries, but this activist/propaganda breed of NGOs promoted U.S. geopolitical objectives abroad – and NED funded scores of such projects inside Ukraine in the run-up to the 2014 crisis.

Ukraine on Fire goes into high gear when it chronicles the events that occurred in 2014, resulting in the violent overthrow of President Yanukovych and sparking the civil war that still rages. In the 2010 election, when Yushchenko couldn’t even tally in the double-digits, Yanukovych faced off against and defeated Yulia Tymoshenko, a wealthy oligarch who had served as Yushchenko’s prime minister.

After his election, Yanukovych repealed Bandera’s title as a national hero. However, because of festering economic problems, the new president began to search for an economic partner who could provide a large loan. He first negotiated with the European Union, but these negotiations bogged down due to the usual draconian demands made by the International Monetary Fund.

So, in November 2013, Yanukovych began to negotiate with Russian President Putin who offered more generous terms. But Yanukovych’s decision to delay the association agreement with the E.U. provoked street protests in Kiev especially from the people of western Ukraine.

As Ukraine on Fire points out, other unusual occurrences also occurred, including the emergence of three new TV channels – Spilno TV, Espreso TV, and Hromadske TV – going on the air between Nov. 21 and 24, with partial funding from the U.S. Embassy and George Soros.

Pro-E.U. protests in the Maidan square in central Kiev also grew more violent as ultra-nationalist street fighters from Lviv and other western areas began to pour in and engage in provocations, many of which were sponsored by Yarosh’s Right Sektor. The attacks escalated from torch marches similar to Nazi days to hurling Molotov cocktails at police to driving large tractors into police lines – all visually depicted in the film. As Yanukovich tells Stone, when this escalation happened, it made it impossible for him to negotiate with the Maidan crowd.

One of the film’s most interesting interviews is with Vitaliy Zakharchenko, who was Minister of the Interior at the time responsible for law enforcement and the conduct of the police. He traces the escalation of the attacks from Nov. 24 to 30, culminating with a clash between police and protesters over the transport of a giant Christmas tree into the Maidan. Zakharchenko said he now believes this confrontation was secretly approved by Serhiy Lyovochkin, a close friend of U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, as a pretext to escalate the violence.

At this point, the film addresses the direct involvement of U.S. politicians and diplomats. Throughout the crisis, American politicians visited Maidan, as both Republicans and Democrats, such as Senators John McCain, R-Arizona, and Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut. stirred up the crowds. Yanukovych also said he was in phone contact with Vice President Joe Biden, who he claims was misleading him about how to handle the crisis.

The film points out that the real center of American influence in the Kiev demonstrations was with Ambassador Pyatt and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland. As Parry points out, although Nuland was serving under President Obama, her allegiances were really with the neoconservative movement, most associated with the Republican Party.

Her husband is Robert Kagan, who worked as a State Department propagandist on the Central American wars in the 1980s and was the co-founder of the Project for the New American Century in the 1990s, the group that organized political and media pressure for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Kagan also was McCain’s foreign policy adviser in the 2008 presidential election (although he threw his support behind Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race).

Adept Manipulators

As Parry explained, the neoconservatives have become quite adept at disguising their true aims and have powerful allies in the mainstream press. This combination has allowed them to push the foreign policy debate to such extremes that, when anyone objects, they can be branded a Putin or Yanukovych “apologist.”

Thus, Pyatt’s frequent meetings with the demonstrators in the embassy and Nuland’s handing out cookies to protesters in the Maidan were not criticized as American interference in a sovereign state, but were praised as “promoting democracy” abroad. However, as the Maidan crisis escalated, Ukrainian ultra-nationalists moved to the front, intensifying their attacks on police. Many of these extremists were disciples of Bandera and Lebed. By February 2014, they were armed with shotguns and rapid-fire handguns.

On Feb. 20, 2014, a mysterious sniper, apparently firing from a building controlled by the Right Sektor, shot both police and protesters, touching off a day of violence that left about 14 police and some 70 protesters dead.

With Kiev slipping out of control, Yanukovich was forced to negotiate with representatives from France, Poland and Germany. On Feb. 21, he agreed to schedule early elections and to accept reduced powers. At the urging of Vice President Biden, Yanukovych also pulled back the police.

But the agreement – though guaranteed by the European nations – was quickly negated by renewed attacks from the Right Sektor and its street fighters who seized government buildings. Russian intelligence services got word that an assassination plot was in the works against Yanukovych, who fled for his life.

On Feb. 24, Yanukovych asked permission to enter Russia for his safety and the Ukrainian parliament (or Rada), effectively under the control of the armed extremists, voted to remove Yanukovych from office in an unconstitutional manner because the courts were not involved and the vote to impeach him did not reach the mandatory threshold. Despite these irregularities, the U.S. and its European allies quickly recognized the new government as “legitimate.”

Calling a Coup a Coup

But the ouster of Yanukovych had all the earmarks of a coup. An intercepted phone call, apparently in early February, between Nuland and Pyatt revealed that they were directly involved in displacing Yanukovych and choosing his successor. The pair reviewed the field of candidates with Nuland favoring Arseniy Yatsenyuk, declaring “Yats is the guy” and discussing with Pyatt how to “glue this thing.” Pyatt wondered about how to “midwife this thing.” They sounded like Gilded Age millionaires in New York deciding who should become the next U.S. president. On Feb. 27, Yatsenyuk became Prime Minister of Ukraine.

Not everyone in Ukraine agreed with the new regime, however. Crimea, which had voted heavily for Yanukovych, decided to hold a referendum on whether to split from Ukraine and become a part of Russia. The results of the referendum were overwhelming. Some 96 percent of Crimeans voted to unite with Russia. Russian troops – previously stationed in Crimea under the Sevastopol naval base agreement – provided security against Right Sektor and other Ukrainian forces moving against the Crimean secession, but there was no evidence of Russian troops intimidating voters or controlling the elections. The Russian government then accepted the reunification with Crimea, which had historically been part of Russia dating back hundreds of years.

Two eastern provinces, Donetsk and Lugansk, also wanted to split off from Ukraine and also conducted a referendum in support of that move. But Putin would not agree to the request from the two provinces, which instead declared their own independence, a move that the new government in Kiev denounced as illegal. The Kiev regime also deemed the insurgents “terrorists” and launched an “anti-terrorism operation” to crush the resistance. Ultra-nationalist and even neo-Nazi militias, such as the Azov Battalion, took the lead in the bloody fighting.

Anti-coup demonstrations also broke out in the city of Odessa to the south. Ukrainian nationalist leader Andrei Parubiy went to Odessa, and two days later, on May 2, 2014, his street fighters attacked the demonstrators, driving them into the Trade Union building, which was then set on fire. Forty-two people were killed, some of whom jumped to their deaths.

‘Other Side of the Story’

If the film just got across this “other side of the story,” it would provide a valuable contribution since most of this information has been ignored or distorted by the West’s mainstream media, which simply blames the Ukraine crisis on Vladimir Putin. But in addition to the fine work by scenarist Vanessa Dean, the direction by Igor Lopatonok and the editing by Alexis Chavez are extraordinarily skillful and supple.

The 15-minute prologue, where the information about the Nazi collaboration by Bandera and Lebed is introduced, is an exceptional piece of filmmaking. It moves at a quick pace, utilizing rapid cutting and also split screens to depict photographs and statistics simultaneously. Lopatonok also uses interactive graphics throughout to transmit information in a visual and demonstrative manner.

Stone’s interviews with Putin and Yanukovych are also quite newsworthy, presenting a side of these demonized foreign leaders that has been absent in the propagandistic Western media.

Though about two hours long, the picture has a headlong tempo to it. If anything, it needed to slow down at points since such a large amount of information is being communicated. On the other hand, it’s a pleasure to watch a documentary that is so intelligently written, and yet so remarkably well made.

When the film ends, the enduring message is similar to those posed by the American interventions in Vietnam and Iraq. How could the State Department know so little about what it was about to unleash, given Ukraine’s deep historical divisions and the risk of an escalating conflict with nuclear-armed Russia?

In Vietnam, Americans knew little about the country’s decades-long struggle of the peasantry to be free from French and Japanese colonialism. Somehow, America was going to win their hearts and minds and create a Western-style “democracy” when many Vietnamese simply saw the extension of foreign imperialism.

In Iraq, President George W. Bush and his coterie of neocons was going to oust Saddam Hussein and create a Western-style democracy in the Middle East, except that Bush didn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shiite Moslems and how Iraq was likely to split over sectarian rivalries and screw up his expectations.

Similarly, the message of Ukraine on Fire is that short-sighted, ambitious and ideological officials – unchecked by their superiors – created something even worse than what existed. While high-level corruption persists today in Ukraine and may be even worse than before, the conditions of average Ukrainians have deteriorated.

And, the Ukraine conflict has reignited the Cold War by moving Western geopolitical forces onto Russia’s most sensitive frontier, which, as scholar Joshua Shifrinson has noted, violates a pledge made by Secretary of State James Baker in February 1990 as the Soviet Union peacefully accepted the collapse of its military influence in East Germany and eastern Europe. (Los Angeles Times, 5/30/ 2016)

This film also reminds us that what happened in Ukraine was a bipartisan effort. It was begun under George W. Bush and completed under Barack Obama. As Oliver Stone noted in the discussion that followed the film’s premiere in Los Angeles, the U.S. painfully needs some new leadership reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, people who understand how America’s geopolitical ambitions must be tempered by on-the-ground realities and the broader needs of humanity to be freed from the dangers of all-out war.

James DiEugenio is a researcher and writer on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other mysteries of that era. His most recent book is Reclaiming Parkland.

— source consortiumnews.com By James DiEugenio