Beijing Says That Taiwan Politicians Are Undermining ‘Status Quo’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI SHINE NEWSPAPER)

(THERE IS ONLY ONE CHINA AND THAT IS TAIWAN, IT IS THE ILLEGAL COMMUNIST PARTY ON THE MAINLAND THAT IS UPSETTING THE STATUS QUO IN THAT THEY HAVE NO LEGAL RIGHTS TO EVEN EXIST!)

Taiwan political force in power undermining cross-Strait ‘status quo’: Chinese FM

Xinhua

It is the Taiwan political force which has not given up the proposition of “Taiwan independence” that is “undermining the status quo of cross-Strait relations,” said visiting Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday.

Wang made the remarks during a joint press conference with Dominican Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas when he commented on questions from reporters.

One put forward that recently some countries and some public opinion claimed that the establishment of diplomatic relations between countries like Dominican Republic and China is “unilaterally changing the status quo across the Taiwan Strait” and is not conducive to the stability and development of the region.

Wang said there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory, which is both a basic fact and an important consensus of the international community.

The establishment of diplomatic relations between China and countries like the Dominican Republic has followed both historical and international trend, and standing together with most countries in the world is undoubtedly a correct choice and also in full compliance with the fundamental and long-term interests of the country and people of the Dominican Republic, said Wang.

As for the so-called “changing the status quo across the Taiwan Strait,” Wang said, what he wants to make clear is that the administration now in Taiwan is a political force that has not given up the proposition of “Taiwan independence.”

It is precisely what the Democratic Progressive Party administration has been doing that is undermining the “status quo” that both sides of the strait belong to the same country and cross-Strait relations are not country-to-country relations, he said.

What they have been doing not only hinders the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, but also erodes regional peace and stability, Wang added.

The Dominican Republic cut ties with the Taiwan authorities and drew a clear line with them, which is maintaining the international consensus of one-China principle and plays a positive role in the peace across Taiwan Strait, said Wang.

Wang said that sovereign independent countries such as the Dominican Republic, can completely decide their own foreign policy, which, according to the United Nations Charter, other countries have no right to and should not interfere with.

The Dominican Republic’s establishment of diplomatic relations with China does not target any third-party, does not affect respective foreign policy, and will not harm the traditional influence and legitimate rights of other countries in the region.

Wang is on his first stop during his official visits to the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Suriname from Thursday to Sunday.

Isle of Man: Truth, Knowledge, History Of This North Atlantic Island Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Isle of Man

Introduction Part of the Norwegian Kingdom of the Hebrides until the 13th century when it was ceded to Scotland, the isle came under the British crown in 1765. Current concerns include reviving the almost extinct Manx Gaelic language. Isle of Man is a British crown dependency, but is not part of the UK. However, the UK Government remains constitutionally responsible for its defense and international representation.
History Ancient times to present

The Isle of Man is one of six Celtic nations and its history reflects this. It is likely that the first Celtic tribes to inhabit the Island were of the Brythonic variety. Around AD 700 it is assumed that Irish invasion or immigration formed the basis of the early Manx population. This is evident in the change in language used in Ogham inscriptions. Manx Gaelic remains closely related to Irish Gaelic and Scots Gaelic.

Viking settlement on the Isle of Man began at the end of the eighth century. Though the Vikings established Tynwald and introduced many land divisions that still exist, they had little actual influence on the culture of the Manx people. Although the Manx language does contain Norse influences, they are few. The Norse Kingdom of Mann and the Isles was created by Godred Crovan in 1079. In 1266, as dictated in the Treaty of Perth, Norway’s King Magnus VI ceded the isles to Scotland. The Isle of Man came under English control in the fourteenth century and to the British Crown in 1765. While the British monarch became the Lord of Mann, the island was not incorporated into the United Kingdom but remained a Crown dependency.

During Viking times, the islands of the Norse Kingdom of Mann and the Isles were called the Súðreyjar or Sudreys (“southern isles”) in contrast to the Norðreyjar (“northern isles”) of Orkney and Shetland. This became Sodor. The Church of England diocese is still called the Diocese of Sodor and Man although it only covers Mann. (When the Rev. W. V. Awdry wrote The Railway Series, he invented the island of Sodor as an imaginary island located between the Isle of Man and the Cumbrian coast.)

The Isle of Man was used as a location for “Alien Civilian Internment” camps during both the First and Second World Wars.

Tynwald

Tynwald, the Island’s parliament, was nominally founded in AD 979. It is arguably the oldest continuous parliament in the world.[2] The annual ceremonial meeting in July on Tynwald Day, the Island’s national day, continues to be held at Tynwald Hill, where titles are announced and a brief description of the new laws enacted by Tynwald during the previous year is given.

Geography Location: Western Europe, island in the Irish Sea, between Great Britain and Ireland
Geographic coordinates: 54 15 N, 4 30 W
Map references: Europe
Area: total: 572 sq km
land: 572 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly more than three times the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 160 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive fishing zone: 12 nm
Climate: temperate; cool summers and mild winters; overcast about one-third of the time
Terrain: hills in north and south bisected by central valley
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Irish Sea 0 m
highest point: Snaefell 621 m
Natural resources: none
Land use: arable land: 9%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 91% (permanent pastures, forests, mountain, and heathland) (2002)
Irrigated land: 0 sq km
Natural hazards: NA
Environment – current issues: waste disposal (both household and industrial); transboundary air pollution
Geography – note: one small islet, the Calf of Man, lies to the southwest, and is a bird sanctuary
Politics Most Manx politicians stand for election as independents rather than as representatives of political parties. Though political parties do exist, their influence is not nearly as strong as is the case in the United Kingdom.

The largest political party is the recently established Liberal Vannin Party, which promotes greater Manx independence and more accountability in Government. The LibVannin party has two members of Tynwald including Leader Peter Karran MHK.

A nationalist pressure group Mec Vannin advocates the establishment of a sovereign republic.

People Population: 75,831 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 17.1% (male 6,645/female 6,330)
15-64 years: 65.8% (male 25,085/female 24,840)
65 years and over: 17.1% (male 5,232/female 7,699) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 39.8 years
male: 38.6 years
female: 41.2 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.513% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 10.96 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 11.1 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 5.27 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.68 male(s)/female
total population: 0.951 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 5.72 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 6.67 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 4.72 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 78.64 years
male: 75.3 years
female: 82.17 years

Over Turning Supreme Court Rulings

Over Turning Supreme Court Rulings 

 

If you live here in the U.S. and you pay any attention to the national news you probably know of a man named Brett Cavanaugh who is President Trumps hand-picked Judge to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Kennedy. Quite honestly the more I dig into the life and character of Judge Cavanaugh the less I want to see him confirmed by the Senate for this post. In this article I am not going to get into all of the reasons that I believe he is a very bad choice to be on the Bench but I am going to discuss the politics being injected into the choosing of Supreme Court Justices these days. As most of you probably know there are nine Justices that sit on the Bench and they are appointed to lifetime positions.

 

Of the eight current Justices it is considered that 4 are ‘liberal’ and 4 are ‘conservative,’ so this makes this 9th members spot very important to the politicians, both Republicans and Democrats. The Republicans want to get Mr. Cavanaugh confirmed before the mid-term elections that are being held in 7 weeks because they know if the Democrats are able to take control of the Senate that a ‘conservative’ like Mr. Cavanaugh will not happen because the Democrats would have the votes to block it. One of the big reason that the Republicans want Mr. Cavanaugh on the Bench is because they want to get some existing laws changed and they could do it with a 5 to 4 margin in the Supreme Court.

 

Laws that the Republicans want over turned are things like ‘Roe V Wade’ which legalized abortion back in 1973, Gay marriage and ‘The Affordable Care Act/Obama Care.’ To me I have always felt that the purpose of the Supreme Court is for them to decide what is legal or not legal via the U.S. Constitution. The Court was set up by our Nations Founding Fathers about 240 years ago in an attempt to eliminate politics from the decision-making process of what is Constitutionally legal, or not. The term being thrown around in the Senate hearings is “precedent”, meaning, Judge Cavanaugh, do you believe in it? Judge, do you believe that once a law is in place that has been voted on by prior Supreme Court Justices should not be ‘revisited’? The purpose of these 9 Justices is for them to make their decisions on what our Nations Constitution says, not on what their personal likes or dis-likes are nor what their political view points are.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I personally believe that there have been Supreme Court decisions in the past that I think were bad decisions, ones that I wish the Court had ruled differently on like Roe V Wade. There is another Court decision from about 1963 where a Court ruling made it to where District Attorneys can not be criminally or materially sued for their Court decisions. The 1963 Ruling was because the Justices at the time believed that D.A.’s would always be honest and would never do things like obstruct justice in court decisions. I have often wondered if those Justices were actually that naive, or really just that stupid. But, I believe that once a Supreme Court Decision has been made that said decision should not be able to be ‘revisited’, that ‘precedent’ should always hold. Yet the validly of this line of though depends on all Supreme Court Justices, on every case, on every vote to be made by their interpretation of the Nations Constitution, if this is not what they are doing then in my opinion it is they who are breaking the laws of the every Constitution they have sworn to uphold.

Luxembourg: Truth, Knowledge, History Of This European Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Luxembourg

Introduction Founded in 963, Luxembourg became a grand duchy in 1815 and an independent state under the Netherlands. It lost more than half of its territory to Belgium in 1839, but gained a larger measure of autonomy. Full independence was attained in 1867. Overrun by Germany in both World Wars, it ended its neutrality in 1948 when it entered into the Benelux Customs Union and when it joined NATO the following year. In 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the European Economic Community (later the European Union), and in 1999 it joined the euro currency area.
History The recorded history of Luxembourg begins with the acquisition of Lucilinburhuc (today Luxembourg Castle) by Siegfried, Count of Ardennes in 963. Around this fort, a town gradually developed, which became the centre of a small state of great strategic value. In 1437, the House of Luxembourg suffered a succession crisis, precipitated by the lack of a male heir to assume the throne, that led to the territory being sold to Philip the Good of Burgundy.[3] In the following centuries, Luxembourg’s fortress was steadily enlarged and strengthened by its successive occupants, the Bourbons, Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns, and the French, among others. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, Luxembourg was disputed between Prussia and the Netherlands. The Congress of Vienna formed Luxembourg as a Grand Duchy in personal union with the Netherlands. Luxembourg also became a member of the German Confederation, with a Confederate fortress manned by Prussian troops.

The Belgian Revolution of 1830–1839 reduced Luxembourg’s territory by more than half, as the predominantly francophone western part of the country was transferred to Belgium. Luxembourg’s independence was reaffirmed by the 1839 First Treaty of London. In the same year, Luxembourg joined the Zollverein. Luxembourg’s independence and neutrality were again affirmed by the 1867 Second Treaty of London, after the Luxembourg Crisis nearly led to war between Prussia and France. After the latter conflict, the Confederate fortress was dismantled.

The King of the Netherlands remained Head of State as Grand Duke of Luxembourg, maintaining personal union between the two countries until 1890. At the death of William III, the Dutch throne passed to his daughter Wilhelmina, while Luxembourg (at that time restricted to male heirs by the Nassau Family Pact) passed to Adolph of Nassau-Weilburg.

Luxembourg was invaded and occupied by Germany during the First World War, but was allowed to maintain its independence and political mechanisms. It was again invaded and subject to German occupation in the Second World War in 1940, and was formally annexed into the Third Reich in 1942.

During World War II, Luxembourg abandoned its policy of neutrality, when it joined the Allies in fighting Germany. Its government, exiled to London, set up a small group of volunteers who participated in the Normandy invasion. It became a founding member of the United Nations in 1946, and of NATO in 1949. In 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the European Economic Community (later the European Union), and, in 1999, it joined the euro currency area. In 2005, a referendum on the EU treaty establishing a constitution for Europe was held in Luxembourg.

Geography Location: Western Europe, between France and Germany
Geographic coordinates: 49 45 N, 6 10 E
Map references: Europe
Area: total: 2,586 sq km
land: 2,586 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly smaller than Rhode Island
Land boundaries: total: 359 km
border countries: Belgium 148 km, France 73 km, Germany 138 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: modified continental with mild winters, cool summers
Terrain: mostly gently rolling uplands with broad, shallow valleys; uplands to slightly mountainous in the north; steep slope down to Moselle flood plain in the southeast
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Moselle River 133 m
highest point: Buurgplaatz 559 m
Natural resources: iron ore (no longer exploited), arable land
Land use: arable land: 27.42%
permanent crops: 0.69%
other: 71.89% (includes Belgium) (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Total renewable water resources: 1.6 cu km (2005)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 0.06 cu km/yr (42%/45%/13%)
per capita: 121 cu m/yr (1999)
Natural hazards: NA
Environment – current issues: air and water pollution in urban areas, soil pollution of farmland
Environment – international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification
Geography – note: landlocked; the only Grand Duchy in the world
Politics Luxembourg is a parliamentary democracy headed by a constitutional monarch. Under the constitution of 1868, executive power is exercised by the Governor and the cabinet, which consists of several other ministers. The Governor has the power to dissolve the legislature and reinstate a new one, as long as the Governor has judicial approval. However, since 1919, sovereignty has resided with the Supreme Court.

Legislative power is vested in the Chamber of Deputies, a unicameral legislature of sixty members, who are directly elected to five-year terms from four constituencies. A second body, the Council of State (Conseil d’État), composed of twenty-one ordinary citizens appointed by the Grand Duke, advises the Chamber of Deputies in the drafting of legislation.

The Grand Duchy has three lower tribunals (justices de paix; in Esch-sur-Alzette, the city of Luxembourg, and Diekirch), two district tribunals (Luxembourg and Diekirch) and a Superior Court of Justice (Luxembourg), which includes the Court of Appeal and the Court of Cassation. There is also an Administrative Tribunal and an Administrative Court, as well as a Constitutional Court, all of which are located in the capital.

People Population: 486,006 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 18.6% (male 46,729/female 43,889)
15-64 years: 66.6% (male 163,356/female 160,425)
65 years and over: 14.7% (male 29,206/female 42,401) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 39 years
male: 38 years
female: 40 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 1.188% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 11.77 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 8.43 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: 8.54 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.69 male(s)/female
total population: 0.97 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 4.62 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 4.62 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 4.62 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 79.18 years
male: 75.91 years
female: 82.67 years

The Hypocrisy Belongs To Some In The “LGBT” Community, Not To The Chicago Cubs

The Hypocrisy Belongs To Some In The “LGBT” Community, Not To The Chicago Cubs

 

This morning I had every intent to write an article about fallen Senator John McCain and I hope that I will still have the energy to do so after I finish this article first. I got up out of bed about 4 A.M. this morning and came out to my computer aiming to write the McCain article but as is normal I read some of the events I find on my computers main pages first. You know, things like I want to know if our “Mafia in Chief President” has started anymore new wars before I try to get my day started. To the best of my knowledge he has not so I then went on to some MLB Web-Sites as I am still somewhat of a baseball fan, not as much as when I was a kid, but it is still my favorite sport. I read an article from Yahoo-Sports that changed my thoughts about my first column today. My article about John McCain is still more important to me but it is going to be a mostly ‘positive’ article and this one on the Cubs (my life long favorite team) has more negative energy in it so I have decided to write this one first, to get the negatives out of my thought patterns.

 

In an article dated yesterday afternoon (August 26th, 2018) on Yahoo-Sports written by Blake Schuster was an article about the recent trade that the Chicago Cubs made with the Washington Nationals for second baseman Daniel Murphy. Even though I have known of Mr. Murphy for several years I have only known of him from a ‘Baseball-Stats’ prospective, nothing about his personal life, either good or bad. By his stats I would say that I consider him an above average overall second baseman so I had no problem with the Cubs trading for him. But here is the ‘rub’ of the Yahoo-Sports article, evidently about 3 years ago he made some comments about the LGBT-Gay lifestyle that still to this day offends many folks who believe that this lifestyle is a perfectly fine way of life. Guess what folks, not everyone on the planet happens to agree wit you about it being an ‘okay’ way to live. Learn to deal with this reality, it is you being the hypocrites here, not Mr. Murphy.

 

About 3 years ago Mr. Murphy evidently said that he “disagreed with the gay lifestyle” so now it seems that many people in that community really do not like him. This seems to even go to the extent that they would prefer that Mr. Murphy wasn’t able to earn a living in his preferred profession as a major league baseball player. There is a rather large group of people in the Chicago land area who call themselves the “Out At Wrigley” LGBT organization. Yesterday was the ’18th annual LGBT original MLB Gay Day.’ As it turns out (I did not know of this fact until I read this Yahoo article) that one of the Ricketts family who owns the Cubs is an openly gay lady, Ms. Laura Ricketts. Some folks in the LGBT groups decided to wait to give their opinion on the trade for Mr. Murphy until Ms. Laura weighed in with her opinion on the issue. Other folks within the LGBT community there in the Chicago Land area weren’t quite so kind or patient. There will be some folks who read this article who will be mad at me and even call me a hypocrite and some other names for writing this article and for daring to have an opinion different from their own concerning the LGBT life style. My official opinion is that “I, just like Mr. Murphy, do disagree with the LGBT-Queer Lifestyle being an okay lifestyle.”

 

There are many who may well say things along the line of “why should I give a damn about what you have to say, your just an old white boy in Kentucky.” To this I say, exactly. Why should you care what I have to say if I disagree with you, but then again why am I suppose to care what you think or feel about this issue either? Now a third line of thought on this ‘caring’ issue, why should you or I care what Mr. Murphy’s thoughts or feelings are on this issue? He is a baseball player, concerning the Cubs trade for him, only what he does on the field should matter to any of us. Now, if Mr. Murphy was wearing a bright neon tea-shirt in the pregame fielding and batting practice that blared out something like “I hate Gay people” then yes, you should probably take offence to him doing that. Personally I would take offence to him doing that myself, just as I would if he or any other player decided to wear a dress out on the field. He is there to play baseball, he is paid to play baseball, if he has an opinion that is different from yours or mine on the “Gay issue,” so what!

 

There are probably a few folks in their anger at me for not having the same opinion as their, or for daring to state my beliefs who will bring up other ‘incidents’ to see if I feel the same way toward those folks. What I am getting at is that some folks will, in their anger, say things like, well I bet you would be okay with Murphy if he was a wife beater or a child molester too, as long as he was a good baseball player. Folks, that is stupid, being a wife beater or being a child molester is actually illegal, disagreeing with you about if a person agrees with or disagrees with your LGBT lifestyle is not ‘yet’ illegal. We do have something in the Constitution of the United States (First Amendment) saying that we the people are allowed to have free speech in this Country whether you happen to like it or not. Not everyone is going to agree with you, or me, on everything, grow up, learn to deal with reality just as those who don’t agree with you also have to do!

Putin’s Kremlin subverting Israeli democracy?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

(FOLKS, THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT ARTICLE, PLEASE TAKE A FEW MOMENTS TO READ THIS)

Is Putin’s Kremlin subverting Israeli democracy? A Russia expert thinks so

A devastating, complacency-shattering interview with Ilya Zaslavskiy, one of the world’s leading experts on Moscow’s overt and covert designs on the West

Main image by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

WASHINGTON, United States — Despite the global headlines about Russian meddling in foreign elections, Israeli experts have thus far expressed little concern that it could happen here.

At Tel Aviv University’s CyberWeek cybersecurity conference in June, for instance, Israeli officials made light of the impact of fake news and foreign influence campaigns on Israeli society. Fake news is a “nuisance,” Eviatar Matania, head of the National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, told a panel at the conference, not a major threat. Other speakers said they had seen no signs of Russian influence campaigns targeting Israel.

But the recent release by researchers at Clemenson University of three million Russian troll tweets created by Russia’s Internet Research Agency between 2012 and 2018 paints a different picture.

Reporters from Israel’s Channel 10 News found that tens of thousands of the tweets dealt with Israel and the region and some were written in Hebrew, indicating they were indeed targeting Israelis and people who care about Israel.

Ilya Zaslavskiy, a Washington, DC-based expert on Russia and head of research at the Free Russia Foundation — a nonprofit led by Russians abroad that says it “seeks to be a voice for those who can’t speak under the repression of the current Russian leadership” — told The Times of Israel that he would be extremely surprised if Russia weren’t carrying out covert influence campaigns in Israel.

“We now know for a fact that Russia has been interfering on a massive scale in US, German and UK elections and referendums,” said Zaslavskiy, who is also a member of the advisory board at the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative and an academy associate at Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) think tank.

Ilya Zaslavskiy (Courtesy)

“We know that they intervened in the Catalonia referendum as well as a referendum on Ukraine in Holland. They continue to interfere in the US midterms and they have been meddling in all sorts of local elections in Eastern Europe. and the post-Soviet space,” he said. “So why wouldn’t they interfere in Israeli elections when Israel is so important to their strategic interests?”

Asked why Israel is of interest to Russia, Zaslavskiy, who is Jewish and immigrated to the United States from Russia as a young adult, said that “Israel is of strategic importance to the Kremlin  — because Israel is actually one of the forces that could contain Russia, could prevent some of the abuses that Russians are carrying out.”

He cited, for instance, developments in Syria. “Israel is not a great friend of Assad, but now the Israeli government has sort of accepted that Russians uphold him and have got a foothold in Syria,” he said. Asked how things could have been different, Zaslavskiy replied “Israel could have been more vocal and critical about Russia’s role in Syria.”

This December 11, 2017 photo shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syrian President Bashar Assad watching troops march at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

More generally, “you could have expelled some of the Russian oligarchs, you could have prevented some of the money laundering,” he said. “You could actually impose some sanctions on Russia and limit their influence in your country.”

Why hadn’t that happened? During a deeply disconcerting interview in the US capital Zaslavskiy offered some insights. And as the conversation developed, he moved rapidly beyond election meddling to a wider, nightmare vision of an ascendant Russia, with Western democracies weakened and outflanked. Regarding Israel specifically, he described covert, Russian-led processes already unfolding that he believes are undermining the rule of law and democracy itself, and set out specific measures that he believes must urgently be taken if the decline is to be halted and contained.

An existential danger

Zaslavskiy believes that both Israel and the West face an existential danger from Russia unless the problem of covert and overt Russian influence is fully acknowledged and decisive measures are taken to combat it. He says most of the West fails to grasp the gravity of the threat, which includes not just efforts to meddle in elections but the exporting of corruption and criminality from post-Soviet countries to the West, thereby undermining democracy itself.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP/ Pool/Yuri Kadobnov)

In a recent report for the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative entitled “How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West,” Zaslavskiy argues that the West did not in fact win the Cold War and that its norms and values, like democracy and the rule of law, are very much in peril.

“When the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991, it was widely believed that Western-style democracy and liberal capitalism based on free elections, separation of powers and the rule of law would eventually take root in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and other regions emerging from the Cold War,” he writes. “Even when ex-Communist Party leaders and representatives of Soviet security services returned to power throughout the former Soviet Union (FSU) in the late 1990s to mid-2000s, mainstream political thought never once doubted the inevitability of democracy’s march across the globe. Experts debated speed and direction, but rarely questioned the ultimate destination.”

The West has largely failed to export its democratic norms and is instead witnessing an increasingly coordinated assault on its own value system

In reality, Zaslavskiy goes on, “the West has largely failed to export its democratic norms and is instead witnessing an increasingly coordinated assault on its own value system. This destructive import of corrupt practices and norms comes not only from post-Soviet kleptocratic regimes like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia, but also from China and other countries around the world whose ruling elites now possess far-reaching financial and political interests in the West.”

The new norms being exported to the West, which he dubs neo-Gulag norms, include the idea that those in power are the only real and rightful decision-makers and that the rest are ultimately “prison dust.”

Another such norm, he writes, is that “everything and everyone is for sale, or at least susceptible to manipulation or some form of control.” And finally, the Russian ruling elite believes that “individual human life does not matter anywhere, unless it is someone from their inner circle or equally as powerful as they are.”

The Times of Israel sat down with Zaslavskiy at a cafe in Washington, DC, to discuss the connections between Putin, Israel, organized crime, election meddling and the decline of democracy in the West.

The Times of Israel: There has been a lot of talk about Russian influence campaigns and Russian interference in elections. What aspect of this threat do you think people in the West are failing to grasp?

Ilya Zaslavskiy: They are failing to grasp two main things. First they think that the corruption, criminality and anti-democratic developments that happen in a place like Russia have very little to do with their own life or their own country. That’s the first delusion.

Today, everything is so much more integrated. When criminal groups supported by security services are allowed to do things in their own country, they immediately export their practices and values to the West, to safe havens where they can actually not only keep their money but can continue their activities.

There are many oligarchs of Jewish background from the post-Soviet space, from Russia, Kazakhstan and the Caucasus, who earned their money in a very dirty way in the 1990s and 2000s, and now they’ve moved to Israel

The second thing people fail to realize is that, unlike during the Cold War, there are open channels of business that these kleptocrats can exploit to export their norms and practices legally.

You see a lot of money from kleptocratic countries pouring into the West and paying for lawyers, lobbyists, PR people, even journalists, as well as former security people and security companies. In Soviet times this was not possible. Today, a Russian kleptocrat can continue his criminal activities in the West in broad daylight, without being prosecuted and hardly being covered by the press.

How might this be happening in Israel, and how might Israelis not be aware of it?

There are many oligarchs of Jewish background from the post-Soviet space, from Russia, Kazakhstan and the Caucasus, who earned their money in a very dirty way in the 1990s and 2000s, and now they’ve moved to Israel.

Some have Israeli citizenship and operate abroad and some operate in Israel. It’s not only that they have a luxurious lifestyle, throw fancy parties and buy amazing real estate. That’s another delusion in the West. Many Westerners believe that oligarchs bring their dirty money to their new country but merely as consumers.

In fact, they start to invest in assets — in strategic assets, in politics and in newspapers.

The vast majority of oligarchs can be hired on an ad-hoc basis by the Russian state or Kazakh state, and can be exploited for political purposes by this kleptocratic state.

I recently co-authored a report — “How to Select Russian Oligarchs for New Sanctions?” — that explains why and under what criteria the US government should add oligarchs like the Alfa Group oligarchs to sanctions.

There are very powerful figures with lots of money, lobbyists and PR support in Israel. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu shows up at events with some of them.

Let’s say you have an oligarch who is close to Putin. What would they be doing in Israel? Why should Israelis care?

They can do multiple things. First, they can normalize Kremlin narratives about Israeli interests.

For example, the way they present Russia’s place in the Syrian conflict, in relations with enemies of Israel like Iran, or concerning the Soviet diaspora in Israel.

I’m sure they help promote Kremlin propaganda about the Second World War and Russia’s [ostensibly] almost exclusive role defeating the Nazis. And they peddle the Jewish veterans’ theme with the orange and black St. George ribbon. It’s a ribbon that commemorates the Soviet victory over Nazism that has come to be associated with Russian propaganda against Ukraine and against the West — how the West never really stood up to the Nazis, for example. These are not just historical narratives; they are very useful for today’s politics.

Above and photo at top: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, on May 9, 2018. Both men are wearing the orange and black St. George ribbon (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

But the other thing oligarchs can do in Israel is to co-opt the elite, under the guise of cultural and charity events. They can throw fancy parties with caviar and beautiful women and invite politicians. They have held these receptions around Western capitals. I have followed some of these in London, as well as here in Washington.

Why would a Russian oligarch own a newspaper or TV station?

They may have financial interests and hope to make money but for many of them it is not done for commercial purposes. The reason is to support politicians through the media, and that allows you to get a foothold in the government. You do nice things for the government and then they do nice things for you in return. You establish a relationship and it’s a long-term thing.

It’s all very interconnected. The payback is not immediate but it’s a very solid investment.

Let’s say a Russian oligarch moves to Israel and starts investing in all kinds of businesses and giving money to charity. Why not just assume he’s retired?

No one from that world of state security or organized crime is off the hook because the Russian state has too much compromising material on them, as well as incentives. Also, if you don’t comply you can be eliminated. There is now a book on how Putin most likely ordered killings of dozens of people inside Russia and outside Russia who did not comply with his interests, including from his own security services or organized crime.

A file photo taken on September 14, 2004, shows Alexander Litvinenko (L), a former Russian intelligence agent, speaking at a press conference in London. (AFP PHOTO / MARTIN HAYHOW)

For example, he first used polonium not on Alexander Litvinenko but most likely on Roman Tsepov, who was part of the organized crime group in St. Petersburg in the 1990s that allegedly worked closely with Putin during his rise to power. It’s easier for anyone to comply. There are many oligarchs abroad that he uses on an ad-hoc basis. It’s switch on, switch off. It’s not too demanding or too crazy, and it’s actually acceptable to most of these people.

What’s the connection between the Russian state and organized crime?

In Soviet times there were three worlds that were distinct — with separate, even contradictory, goals. There was the Communist Party, the security services and organized crime. Organized crime was more or less antagonistic to the Soviet regime.

Organized crime and its networks have become part of the Kremlin’s political instruments abroad, including in Israel

Under Putin these three worlds collided and fused and learned from each other. Security services now oversee the businesses of organized criminal groups. Organized criminal groups carry out the political building and conduct operations for the Kremlin. The ideology of the Communist Party was thrown down the drain but the cynical and pragmatic practices, like co-opting the far right, co-opting the far left, co-opting Christianity or Judaism, remained.

You co-opt whoever is important to you in any given country. You can even contradict yourself in different countries but just divide and rule through all these channels — through ideology, through organized criminal groups, through corruption. Organized crime and its networks have become part of the Kremlin’s political instruments abroad, including in Israel.

If there were a Georgian or Russian oligarch who wanted to open hundreds of call centers throughout Israel and scam people abroad out of money, is that something that co-opting the elite would allow them to do?

Yes. But compared to corruption in Russia which involves billions for a single road or pipeline, binary options and forex are a relatively small-scale fraud. Russia as a state is also involved in hacking and dodgy cryptocurrencies; we now know that for a fact from Robert Mueller’s investigation. Russia as a state, especially its security services and associated oligarchs, are involved in all sorts of dodgy things, including in the digital realm.

Someone like Putin would not follow specific criminal activities like binary options, but he sits at the top of a pyramid and there might be levies that make their way from an Israel-based criminal enterprise all the way to the top.

Why would a Georgian or Russian criminal decide to put call centers in Israel of all places?

For a variety of reasons. Corrupt Russian money penetrates any vulnerable spot in the world. The criminality has not just penetrated Israel. It’s in Europe, in Asia, the Middle East and the US.

Why do there seem to be many Jewish oligarchs?

It’s a very useful topic to anti-Semitic circles and it’s not true. Maybe in the late 80s and 90s indeed there were a lot, perhaps too many, visible Jewish oligarchs because of the legacy of the Soviet era and tsarism. Jews had been marginalized and pushed into the black market. They traditionally had math skills, due to the way they were raised, and they helped each other, as does any minority network; ethnic minorities tend to help each other.

Under Putin, I think it’s a specific propaganda tool to expose Jewish oligarchs much more than the rest of the oligarchs. “Oligarch” is actually no longer a useful term in my view, because it suggests that they still have some power. They lost all their power to Putin. Their only currency today is loyalty, it’s not dollars.

Half of the major Jewish events that I see here in Washington, the fancy ones where you can co-opt elites, are co-sponsored by Russian oligarchs

Whatever dollars they have in their accounts can be taken away from them at a snap. Yes, they can store their money offshore but they can’t stop working for the Kremlin. Most of them still own too much in Russia and there are too many hooks and levers on them.

There is no distinction between public and private property in Russia. Everything is owned in one way or another by the Kremlin. So the money that they give as donations, very often they are asked to give the donation. And they have no choice but to give it.

Actually, the Russian state tries to present some of these oligarchs as if they are no longer with the regime, as if they are now in the West. It’s all very misleading. I could count actual Russian oligarchs who are completely removed from the Russian state with one hand.

What about Leonid Nevzlin?

Well, Nevzlin is one of the exceptions. He was ousted from Russia. Mikhail Khodorkovsky too.

I don’t like the term oligarch. I prefer the term handlers, operatives, maybe agents, rich agents. Many of them are actually front men for the money that they ostensibly have. It’s not actually considered fully their money. I’m sure they’re representing some of the Kremlin money, just under the guise of it being their money.

Just to return to your question about the Jewish oligarchs. Currently there are many rich and powerful security people around Putin. They are mostly Russian or a variety of nationalities, but they are secretive and very well protected. Some of the federal ministers as well. Most of the Russian Duma and government are millionaires. They’re just officials but they have the lifestyle of a mini-oligarch.

Should we feel sorry for the oligarchs? It sounds like they can’t escape their gilded cages.

Well some of them managed to escape and these are very exceptional, but obviously at a very high cost to themselves.

There are actually many whistleblowers and refugees from the Russian regime, some of them reformed, some of them not. London has a lot of people like that. Some of them managed to take out some money while others didn’t. They lost a lot, some involuntarily because they fell out of the system. Only few deserve any kind of empathy. Otherwise it’s a very complicated and dark world.

Why do oligarchs give so much money to Jewish and Israeli charities, especially religious ones?

It’s co-option and soft power, and they may be even be using these charities to give political donations.

For themselves, it’s reputation-laundering and legitimacy. It also allows them to advance narratives that are useful to the Kremlin — like about World War II.

If you look at the list of art galleries, museums, and all sorts of Jewish organizations, in New York, Europe and Israel that are associated with Putin’s oligarchs, you will be absolutely amazed

For instance, this whole debate about Ukraine. Russia tries to say the current government is a Nazi government, and how all of western Ukraine and their parties are anti-Semitic, how the West opened a second front in World War II at too late a stage and did not help Russia. The Kremlin can co-opt Jews to promote these narratives.

And then there are the May 9th celebrations [V-Day, commemorating the surrender of the Nazis in 1945] by Russia around the world, including in Israel on a large scale now.

Funding Jewish charities also gives them access to people. If you have a high-level event at the Metropolitan Museum or the Museum of Jewish History, you get access to politicians so you can co-opt them. If you look at the list of art galleries, museums, and all sorts of Jewish organizations, in New York, Europe and Israel that are associated with Putin’s oligarchs, you will be absolutely amazed and stunned. MOMA, the Metropolitan Museum, operas, Carnegie Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery. The list is endless.

Half of the major Jewish events that I see here in Washington, the fancy ones where you can co-opt elites, are co-sponsored by Russian oligarchs.

I’m sure that Russian oligarchs have managed to co-opt many politicians in Israel.

Look at [the rise in Russia of] Chabad. People in Chabad say, “We are just promoting the Jewish legacy. At least there is no anti-Semitism under Putin.” They find all sorts of excuses [to be supportive of Putin]. Before Putin, Chabad was a marginal group, at least in the former Soviet Union.

Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman seen with Russian-Israeli World War II veterans, as they take part in the Veterans Day parade in honor of the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany, at the Knesset. May 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

What is the Russian ruling class’s goal in Israel?

To create an environment — a political environment and economic environment — where it’s too difficult for Israel to resist some of the strategic interests of the Kremlin in the region. Not to oppose Russia’s interests.

But they’re also interested in subverting democracy. A strategic goal for the next few years is to subvert democracy in the West. In some ways they have already succeeded, and the appetite comes with food, as they say. So once they subvert democracy, the goal is to advance more corruption, more vested interests and then just turn the whole West into a corrupt world.

Why do they want to turn the West into a corrupt world?

Because then you can engage in what Russians love, which is realpolitik. Whoever is strong gets his own zone of influence and no one else can interfere. Russia would like to divide the world into zones of interest.

Look at what they did with influencing the American elections and possibly Brexit.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) and US President Donald Trump talk as they attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. (AFP/Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev)

By the time of the 2016 elections in the United States, Russians already had all sorts of Putin understanders and supporters in the press, in the lobbying groups, in business circles, in chambers of commerce, among politicians, even in Congress. They have all these people who are associated with Russia through attending events at the Russian Embassy, going to conferences in Russia and Europe, sitting on boards of Russian companies or galleries associated with Russian money. It’s all done through open channels.

There are several think tanks in Washington which are completely subverted by Russians and that put forward narratives useful to the Kremlin about everything — from Ukraine, to Israel, to corruption. That acts as a force against an independent press, independent thinking, because you can pollute the whole policymaking and debating environment

They also influence think tanks and their debates and narratives about Russia. There are several think tanks in Washington, for example, which are completely subverted by Russians and that put forward narratives useful to the Kremlin about everything — from Ukraine, to Israel, to corruption — and that acts as a force against an independent press, independent thinking, because you can pollute the whole policymaking and debating environment.

Why does Putin want to destroy democracy? Because it competes with his patronage system?

Yes. If I had to judge, I think it’s just his enormous lust for power and he’s a control freak. He just can’t get enough. But maybe, some people suggest that his circle pressures him. I would imagine they pressure each other and it’s a constant game of power, so he has to stay afloat and show benefits.

You’ve said you think journalists are not writing enough about Putin and his oligarchs?

I see it as a huge problem that the Western press is just incapable of covering many of these topics. The press has been marginalized by the internet, so it’s a global trend. Newspapers have lower budgets, they struggle more for advertising, there is much more private and partisan ownership of media outlets. These are all global trends but they influence coverage on Russia also.

Even high-level, big outlets like The New York Times and Guardian face extremely aggressive, litigious teams of lawyers and lobbyists of these oligarchs who have infinite pockets and can afford long legal fights.

Many newspapers don’t have proper foreign country correspondents. If they do, they have to write quick articles, like one per week without delving into difficult topics. Then there is a vicious cycle where complicated cases about Russia are not covered in the West and so there is no interest about them. And since there is no interest there is no coverage.

The first stage is that you lose transparency, democracy and good governance. Israel is already losing that

Very often I found that I wasn’t able to put important topics out there just because it was too complicated for the journalist to write. Not even because of libel issues or because of time constraints. He or she would say, “My editor will not take it through because it’s too complicated. It delves too much into Russian detail.”

Most amazingly, most major media outlets do not have a full-time Russian translator and researcher who can fully devote his or her time to the most basic background research for the few investigative journalists that these outlets struggle to support.

What will happen to Israel if it does nothing about the corrupt kleptocratic influence you describe?

The first stage is that you lose transparency, democracy and good governance. Israel is already losing that. There is no longer separation of powers. There is prevalence of the executive. There is organized crime and no one takes action against it. The police do nothing. This is the first step.

Israel may give up many of its positions in Syria very soon. I can’t exclude that.

What definitely will happen if we continue on the current trajectory is that the entire West will turn into some kind of Hong Kong. where superficially it is democracy. It has some kind of elections, it looks capitalist and there is modern technology, but in reality a corrupt, non-democratic government actually runs it.

For the average person what does that mean? That you’re either a criminal or you’re poor?

Exactly, if you don’t become part of the corrupt network, you’re much worse off. You’ll be on the sidelines, as happens now in post-Soviet states. There will be growing income inequality, shady deals, no social mobility and all these problems that are associated with semi-corrupt authoritarian states.

There may still be some semblance of democracy. The press will do fewer and fewer investigations and more entertainment and brainwashing. It will be much more partisan — so the only differences of opinion you can get is from vested interests, not from independent and objective civil society.

What can be done?

It’s a very harsh, difficult choice. The first step is acknowledgement of what is going on, followed by investigations and revelations of all these things.

I am not even sure what can trigger such acknowledgement and exposure. Even the meddling in US elections has not triggered the United States enough, although at least something is happening.

After this acknowledgement happens, you need a very robust policy of containment. There is no other choice.

People walking near Red Square in Moscow, Russia. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Some money flows have to be stopped; some people have to be kicked out of your country, or even stripped of their Western citizenship. There must be much stricter anti-money laundering and due diligence of companies, and auditors should hire Russian or Georgian or Chinese translators to look into the background of people trying to buy assets in the West.

Security services have to have a major say in any strategic purchase related to security, defense or the national interest.

And then obviously there should be more funds for independent investigative reporters. I am friends with an organization called the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). They tell me that to train one proper investigative journalist and to keep him safe and to keep him protected from libel suits, you have to have a budget of about $300,000 a year, maybe $400,000.

If your readers care about Israel, about keeping it democratic, there should definitely be some civil society efforts

When societies start investing in investigative journalism like that, that’s when the job will be done. And it can’t be one investigative journalist. You have to have dozens.

If your readers care about Israel, about keeping it democratic, there should definitely be some civil society efforts, some donations, some Kickstarters. Ultimately people should understand that this will hit them back in terms of their own welfare and their access to democratic institutions, but ultimately even economically.

It could happen in very unexpected ways. Your child could end up in a war with Syria, or some conflict instigated by Russia somewhere in the world. In a way this is a repetition of the 1930s. No one thought that events in Nazi Germany would have any repercussions for the United States. But then the country ended up fighting the Germans when it was too late.

Could this covert Russian influence constitute a factor in a future Israeli war?

The West is like a small clean lake, or relatively clean lake, in the middle of a swamp. And the floodgates have been opened

What people in general in the West should understand is that the West and NATO are now becoming a minority force in the world; the power of the United States is declining. These large authoritarian states are taking over if not the world then at least Eurasia, countries like China and Malaysia that are not going to become democratic any time soon. The richer they get, the more authoritarian and the more aggressive and expansionist they become.

Democratic countries are becoming like an oasis in the desert. A better metaphor is that the West is like a small clean lake, or relatively clean lake, in the middle of a swamp. And the floodgates have been opened. It’s not like the small lake will clean up the swamp. It’s the other way around. So unless you close the doors and put some filters in place, you will be taken over as a swamp as well.

It won’t be easy. Consumption in the West will have to be scaled back from those money flows from Eurasia. Some industries will have to suffer, especially those that benefit from gas and oil contracts, as well as lobbyists, PR people, lawyers, all offshore accountants and real estate people. They will have to suffer; they will not make as much money.

But the society as a whole will benefit and be able to hold on to its values, like due diligence and good governance.

In terms of Israel specifically, if this does not happen, then I think the NATO alliance will be marginalized and might have to be involved in conflicts it doesn’t want. And then Israel will be much more on its own against its foes, and might not receive as much American help as it might hope to in such circumstances.

So all this has direct security implications for Israel as a society, and Israel as a state, unfortunately.

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COMMENTS

Israeli’s Are Destroying Israeli Democracy Themselves From The Inside

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

OP-EDWE’RE BEING BATTERED… FROM WITHIN

Israeli democracy isn’t broken, but it is under assault

Minorities are worried, their supporters are besmirched, key hierarchies are undermined, and our most hostile critics are empowered

David Horovitz
A man walks past a poster criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his residence in Jerusalem, as police investigators arrive to question him on corruption allegations, July 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A man walks past a poster criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his residence in Jerusalem, as police investigators arrive to question him on corruption allegations, July 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There’s a purportedly reasonable explanation for everything.

The detention and questioning of Peter Beinart, when he flew into Israel earlier this week to attend his niece’s bat mitzva, was a mistake — a case of overzealous Shin Bet officers getting carried away. Just like the recent questioning at airports and border crossings of several other Israel-critics, whose challenges to government policy fall well within the parameters of legitimate free speech.

The predawn arrival of cops at the Haifa home of Conservative Rabbi Dov Haiyun, to take him to the police station for questioning one day last month, was another regrettable but atypical incident — in which police foolishly heeded instructions from some jumped-up nobody in the local rabbinate who had issues with Haiyun’s officiating at weddings.

The controversy over the candidacy of Yair Golan as the next chief of staff, who faces opposition because he has had the temerity to warn of dangerous trends in Israeli society and to assert that soldiers should be prepared to take risks in order to protect Palestinian civilians, is a minor fracas that is unlikely to affect the appointments process. He probably wasn’t going to get the job anyway.

The battle over who will helm Israel’s police is nothing to be too concerned about. Even though Roni Alsheich had made it known he wanted to stay on, and even though it doesn’t look terribly good for Benjamin Netanyahu to be replacing the law enforcement chief whose officers are investigating him in a welter of corruption allegations, the prime minister has every right and plenty of precedent not to extend Alsheich’s term for a fourth year.

The abrupt abrogation last year of the solemnly negotiated Israel-Diaspora agreement on pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall was an unfortunate consequence of Israeli realpolitik. The prime minister genuinely wanted to implement the deal, but believed he would no longer be prime minister if he did so, since his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners would bring him down.

The same goes for attempts to loosen the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate’s iron grip on life-cycle events — its monopoly on the formalities of how one gets born, converted to Judaism, married, divorced and dead in this country. And for efforts to resist ultra-Orthodox pressure for more stringent implementation of laws on Sabbath observance. And for the endlessly thwarted bid to conscript or enforce national service for young ultra-Orthodox Israelis: Unfortunately, all resistance is stymied by the coalition leverage of ultra-Orthodox MKs, an entirely legitimate function of our political system.

As for the prime minister’s zigzag on extending surrogacy rights to single-sex couples, here, too, he simply didn’t have the votes he needed.

The arithmetic was different for the nation-state law. If a phrase noting Israel’s commitment to full equality for all its citizens had not been excised from the text, support in the Knesset for the legislation, with its overdue definition of Israel as the “national home of the Jewish people,” would have been overwhelming. But the argument was made that provisions for equality are already enshrined in existing legislation, albeit without the actual word “equality,” and notwithstanding the fact that this is the law that defines the very nature of Israel.

The justice minister warned of an “earthquake” were the Supreme Court to dare to intervene and strike down the nation-state law. Plainly, such talk was out of line, but the justices, formidable and independent, are unlikely to be deterred — even though the composition of the Supreme Court is gradually changing as the self-same justice minister seeks appointees she thinks are not unsympathetic to her worldview.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Taken one at a time, ostensibly acceptable rationalizations can be found for all the crises and controversies I’ve listed. Taken together, the picture is bleak.

As those crises and controversies accumulate, the explanations stretch and strain but cannot cover the concern that what we’re witnessing is our democracy under assault from within.

There are attempts to intimidate the judiciary. The media is both demonized and compromised. Financial corruption goes untreated and seeps into politics

Israeli democracy isn’t broken. The attorney general will investigate the rash of border detentions. Haifa police likely won’t go round collaring too many non-Orthodox rabbis in the near future.

Crowds of Israelis will continue to demonstrate against the nation-state law, against alleged corruption in high places, against economic inequality, against the failure to legislate surrogacy rights for single-sex parent families, against religious coercion. Their concerns may even be heeded; they are guaranteed the opportunity to change their leadership if not.

But Israeli democracy is being battered. There are attempts to intimidate the judiciary. The media is both demonized and compromised. Financial corruption goes untreated and seeps into politics.

As a result of the abiding ultra-Orthodox monopoly, of the scrapping of the Western Wall deal, and of the government’s evident indifference or worse to the concerns of non-Orthodox religious Jews, millions at home and abroad feel alienated from the “national home of the Jewish people” that the government went to such lengths to declare.

As a result of that nation-state law, Israeli minorities worry about their status and their rights, and they and their supporters are besmirched for saying so. Backers of Israel overseas, who play an important role in defending the country against its legions of haters worldwide, find themselves baffled, defensive, even alienated; it gets harder to argue against allegations of discrimination when the Druze community, Israel’s own most loyal minority, is leveling the charge.

The prime minister’s rapid about-face on an agreement that he had rightly said represented the “best possible” resolution of the fate of tens of thousands of African migrants, because of mild pressure from a part of his voter base that would not tolerate providing residential status for fewer than 20,000 refuge-seekers, further undermines support and empowers detractors.

Key hierarchies are being undermined and corroded, as exemplified by Netanyahu’s allegations of police bias against him. People in positions of power are exercising it without due heed for essential rights and freedoms. Internalizing what is now expected, some, in organizations such as the Shin Bet and police force, are trending to the overzealousness epitomized by the detention of the visiting journalist and the summons of the non-Orthodox rabbi.

Uniquely in the Middle East, we in Israel have enjoyed free speech, freedom of religion, a free press, equality before the law, an independent judiciary and more.

But in this Israeli summer of 2018, there’s a chill in the air. There’s a danger — and it’s not only from Damascus and Tehran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Israelis from the Druze community participate in a rally against Israel’s Jewish nation-state law, in Tel Aviv, August 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
READ MORE:

Corporate concentration threatens American democracy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE WORLD POST’)

 

Corporate concentration threatens American democracy

By Nathan Gardels, WorldPost editor in chief

Corporate concentration in the United States is not only increasing inequality but also undermining competition and consumers’ standard of living. Politically, the commensurate lobbying influence of big tech, big finance and other large conglomerates has created what political scientist Francis Fukuyama calls a “vetocracy” — where vested concerns have amassed the clout to choke off legislative reforms that would diminish their spoils.

Why the opposite is happening in the European Union is an unfamiliar tale of how governance one step removed from electoral democracy has been able to resist the lobbying of organized special interests to make policy that benefits the average person.

Active antitrust policies in the second half of the 20th century fairly leveled the playing field of American commerce. “But starting around 2000, U.S. markets began to lose their competitive edge,” Germán Gutiérrez and Thomas Philippon write, based on a new study of theirs.

“Now, Internet access and monthly cellphone plans are much cheaper in Europe than in America, as are flights. Even in Mexico, mobile data plans are better priced than in the United States. … Meanwhile in the United States, deregulation and antitrust efforts have nearly ground to a halt. The United States has not completed a major reform to the goods and services market since 1996, and as a result, its industries have grown increasingly concentrated.”

What explains this stunning shift is deliberate policy choices. As the authors relate: “European countries created the single market, which took effect in 1993, and deregulated their domestic markets. Today, most European Union countries score better than the United States in enacting policies that make industries more competitive. Not surprisingly, antitrust enforcement remains active in Europe, with two recent cases against Google resulting in over $7.7 billion in fines. European markets are also less concentrated than U.S. markets.”

Gutiérrez and Philippon argue that “free markets are supposed to discipline private companies, but today, many private companies have grown so dominant that they can get away with bad service, high prices and deficient privacy safeguards. … If America wants to lead once more in this realm, it must remember its own history and relearn the lessons it successfully taught the rest of the world.”

Mario Monti — who was Italian prime minister from 2011 to 2013 as well as the E.U. competition commissioner from 1999 to 2004 and is famous for “shooting down mergers in flames” — agrees with Gutiérrez and Philippon. But he adds an important dimension they don’t discuss: how the much-maligned “technocratic” European Commission has been more able than American antitrust authorities to resist undue corporate influence over policy decisions.

While antitrust efforts in the United States are highly sensitive to election cycles and outcomes, Monti points out, the European Commission (which is indirectly elected by the European Parliament) operates at arm’s length from politics and can make decisions that are independent from lobbyist pressures on parliaments at both the national and European level. As he put it in a recent interview, “the more far away you are, the less you feel under pressure.”

The result is policy decisions that are more disinterested because the process is less politicized. This same technocratic distance in Brussels that has enabled a vigorous competition policy also applies to Europe’s landmark privacy regulation, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), passed earlier this year.

Yet as Giovanni Buttarelli, the E.U.’s data protection supervisor charged with implementing the GDPR, laments, passing a law is only the beginning of reining in big tech abuses. “First came the scaremongering. Then came the strong-arming. After being contested in arguably the biggest lobbying exercise in the history of the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation became fully applicable at the end of May,” he writes from Brussels. “Since its passage, there have been great efforts at compliance, which regulators recognize. At the same time, unfortunately, consumers have felt nudged or bullied by companies into agreeing to business as usual. This would appear to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the new law.”

The challenge of implementing the law now, says Buttarelli, is continually challenging big tech. As he puts it, “The E.U. is seeking to prevent people from being cajoled into ‘consenting’ to unfair contracts and accepting surveillance in exchange for a service.”

Buttarelli is looking ahead to the next phase of reform. Under that reform, “Devices and programming would be geared by default to safeguard people’s privacy and freedom. Today’s overcentralized Internet would be de-concentrated, as advocated by Tim Berners-Lee, who first invented the Internet, with a fairer allocation of the digital dividend and with the control of information handed back to individuals from big tech and the state.”

While big tech lobbyists have so far frustrated privacy legislation at the national level in the United States, California has been able to pass curbs on abuses of personal data. Ironically, this was due not to technocratic insulation from politics but its opposite: the citizens’ ballot initiative. A San Francisco real estate magnate funded the gathering of qualifying signatures for a proposition that would impose the same kind of limits on use of personal data in California as contained in the GDPR, forcing big tech to come — reluctantly — to the table.

State legislators then negotiated and passed a measure this summer along GDPR lines that would be open to amendment as technology evolves. With legislation secured, the initiative was withdrawn from the public ballot. (If law is made by the citizens’ ballot initiative, it can only be amended by another vote of the public.) As state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D), who crafted the compromise between privacy advocates and the tech companies, notes, the law in effect makes California’s attorney general the nation’s “chief privacy officer,” since most of the big tech companies affected are located in Silicon Valley.

Making a market that works for the average citizen requires government that acts in the public interest, not at the behest of the largest players in the economy who underwrite the electoral and legislative process. To the extent that elected legislatures are captured by organized special interests, the “vetocracy” can be circumvented either by indirectly elected technocratic authorities or by direct democracy through the citizens’ ballot initiative.

The experiences with antitrust and privacy regulation examined in The WorldPost this week suggest that a mixed system that combines disinterested technocrats, elected representatives and direct democracy — each as a check and balance on the other — would be the most intelligent form of governance.

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Trump Trying To ‘Stifle Free Speech,’ 12 Former Intelligence Officials Say

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

 

Trump Trying To ‘Stifle Free Speech,’ 12 Former Intelligence Officials Say

The rare rebuke comes after the president revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.
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In a joint statement Thursday, a dozen of the nation’s leading former intelligence officials slammed President Donald Trump’s recent decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance.

The officials, who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, include former CIA Directors Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta, William Webster, Porter Goss, David Petraeus and George Tenet, several of the agency’s former deputy directors and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

“We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances ― and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” they wrote. “You don’t have to agree with what John Brennan says (and, again, not all of us do) to agree with his right to say it, subject to his obligation to protect classified information.”

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Elana Schor

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New: Statement from a dozen former top intelligence officials representing R and D admins (including ex-CIA chiefs) says yanking Brennan’s clearance has “everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

Trump announced Wednesday that he had revoked Brennan’s clearance, part of an ongoing effort to retaliate against those who have criticized the administration. Former top intelligence and law enforcement officials have traditionally been allowed to retain their clearances as a professional courtesy, which also allows future administrations to call upon them for their expertise.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday also read a list of several other former officials whose credentials are currently being reviewed, including two people who signed Thursday’s statement.

“We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case,” the 12 intelligence leaders wrote. The officials, who served under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, stressed that Brennan was an “enormously talented, capable, and patriotic individual who devoted his adult life to the service of this nation.”

Brennan himself fired back at the White House after the announcement, saying it was “an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge” Trump.

Despite the outcry, The Washington Post reported Thursday that Trump felt bolstered by his decision and was eager to revoke the clearances of others in the near future, an effort sure to provoke the signers of Thursday’s statement.

“As individuals who have cherished and helped preserve the right of Americans to free speech ― even when that right has been used to criticize us ― that signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable,” the former intelligence officials wrote.

Israeli democracy isn’t broken, but it is under assault

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israeli democracy isn’t broken, but it is under assault

Minorities are worried, their supporters are besmirched, key hierarchies are undermined, and our most hostile critics are empowered

David Horovitz
A man walks past a poster criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his residence in Jerusalem, as police investigators arrive to question him on corruption allegations, July 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A man walks past a poster criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his residence in Jerusalem, as police investigators arrive to question him on corruption allegations, July 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There’s a purportedly reasonable explanation for everything.

The detention and questioning of Peter Beinart, when he flew into Israel earlier this week to attend his niece’s bat mitzva, was a mistake — a case of overzealous Shin Bet officers getting carried away. Just like the recent questioning at airports and border crossings of several other Israel-critics, whose challenges to government policy fall well within the parameters of legitimate free speech.

The predawn arrival of cops at the Haifa home of Conservative Rabbi Dov Haiyun, to take him to the police station for questioning one day last month, was another regrettable but atypical incident — in which police foolishly heeded instructions from some jumped-up nobody in the local rabbinate who had issues with Haiyun’s officiating at weddings.

The controversy over the candidacy of Yair Golan as the next chief of staff, who faces opposition because he has had the temerity to warn of dangerous trends in Israeli society and to assert that soldiers should be prepared to take risks in order to protect Palestinian civilians, is a minor fracas that is unlikely to affect the appointments process. He probably wasn’t going to get the job anyway.

The battle over who will helm Israel’s police is nothing to be too concerned about. Even though Roni Alsheich had made it known he wanted to stay on, and even though it doesn’t look terribly good for Benjamin Netanyahu to be replacing the law enforcement chief whose officers are investigating him in a welter of corruption allegations, the prime minister has every right and plenty of precedent not to extend Alsheich’s term for a fourth year.

The abrupt abrogation last year of the solemnly negotiated Israel-Diaspora agreement on pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall was an unfortunate consequence of Israeli realpolitik. The prime minister genuinely wanted to implement the deal, but believed he would no longer be prime minister if he did so, since his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners would bring him down.

The same goes for attempts to loosen the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate’s iron grip on life-cycle events — its monopoly on the formalities of how one gets born, converted to Judaism, married, divorced and dead in this country. And for efforts to resist ultra-Orthodox pressure for more stringent implementation of laws on Sabbath observance. And for the endlessly thwarted bid to conscript or enforce national service for young ultra-Orthodox Israelis: Unfortunately, all resistance is stymied by the coalition leverage of ultra-Orthodox MKs, an entirely legitimate function of our political system.

As for the prime minister’s zigzag on extending surrogacy rights to single-sex couples, here, too, he simply didn’t have the votes he needed.

The arithmetic was different for the nation-state law. If a phrase noting Israel’s commitment to full equality for all its citizens had not been excised from the text, support in the Knesset for the legislation, with its overdue definition of Israel as the “national home of the Jewish people,” would have been overwhelming. But the argument was made that provisions for equality are already enshrined in existing legislation, albeit without the actual word “equality,” and notwithstanding the fact that this is the law that defines the very nature of Israel.

The justice minister warned of an “earthquake” were the Supreme Court to dare to intervene and strike down the nation-state law. Plainly, such talk was out of line, but the justices, formidable and independent, are unlikely to be deterred — even though the composition of the Supreme Court is gradually changing as the self-same justice minister seeks appointees she thinks are not unsympathetic to her worldview.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Taken one at a time, ostensibly acceptable rationalizations can be found for all the crises and controversies I’ve listed. Taken together, the picture is bleak.

As those crises and controversies accumulate, the explanations stretch and strain but cannot cover the concern that what we’re witnessing is our democracy under assault from within.

There are attempts to intimidate the judiciary. The media is both demonized and compromised. Financial corruption goes untreated and seeps into politics

Israeli democracy isn’t broken. The attorney general will investigate the rash of border detentions. Haifa police likely won’t go round collaring too many non-Orthodox rabbis in the near future.

Crowds of Israelis will continue to demonstrate against the nation-state law, against alleged corruption in high places, against economic inequality, against the failure to legislate surrogacy rights for single-sex parent families, against religious coercion. Their concerns may even be heeded; they are guaranteed the opportunity to change their leadership if not.

But Israeli democracy is being battered. There are attempts to intimidate the judiciary. The media is both demonized and compromised. Financial corruption goes untreated and seeps into politics.

As a result of the abiding ultra-Orthodox monopoly, of the scrapping of the Western Wall deal, and of the government’s evident indifference or worse to the concerns of non-Orthodox religious Jews, millions at home and abroad feel alienated from the “national home of the Jewish people” that the government went to such lengths to declare.

As a result of that nation-state law, Israeli minorities worry about their status and their rights, and they and their supporters are besmirched for saying so. Backers of Israel overseas, who play an important role in defending the country against its legions of haters worldwide, find themselves baffled, defensive, even alienated; it gets harder to argue against allegations of discrimination when the Druze community, Israel’s own most loyal minority, is leveling the charge.

The prime minister’s rapid about-face on an agreement that he had rightly said represented the “best possible” resolution of the fate of tens of thousands of African migrants, because of mild pressure from a part of his voter base that would not tolerate providing residential status for fewer than 20,000 refuge-seekers, further undermines support and empowers detractors.

Key hierarchies are being undermined and corroded, as exemplified by Netanyahu’s allegations of police bias against him. People in positions of power are exercising it without due heed for essential rights and freedoms. Internalizing what is now expected, some, in organizations such as the Shin Bet and police force, are trending to the overzealousness epitomized by the detention of the visiting journalist and the summons of the non-Orthodox rabbi.

Uniquely in the Middle East, we in Israel have enjoyed free speech, freedom of religion, a free press, equality before the law, an independent judiciary and more.

But in this Israeli summer of 2018, there’s a chill in the air. There’s a danger — and it’s not only from Damascus and Tehran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Israelis from the Druze community participate in a rally against Israel’s Jewish nation-state law, in Tel Aviv, August 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
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