The relationship between Washington and Moscow is already near the breaking point, and early this morning, risked spinning entirely out of control, when a pair of Russian jets first harassed and thenMore
“The year 2022 witnessed a landmark setback for U.S. human rights. In the United States, a country labeling itself a “human rights defender,” “chronic diseases” such as money politics, racial discrimination, gun and police violence, and wealth polarization are rampant. Human rights legislation and justice have seen an extreme retrogression, further undermining the basic rights and freedoms of the American people,” the Report on Human Rights Violations in the United States in 2022 issued by China today.
“The U.S. government has greatly relaxed gun control, resulting in high death toll from gun violence. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Bruen case in 2022 became a landmark regression in the field of gun control in the United States. Nearly half of U.S. states have relaxed gun restrictions. The United States leads the world in gun ownership, gun homicide and mass shootings, with more than 80,000 people killed or injured by gun violence in 2022, the third consecutive year on record that the United States experiences more than 600 mass shootings. Gun violence has become an “American disease,” the report asserted.
Midterm elections have become the most expensive ones in the United States, and American-style democracy has lost its popular support. The cost of elections in the United States has soared again, with cumulative spending of the 2022 midterm elections exceeding more than 16.7 billion U.S. dollars. Political donations from billionaires accounted for 15 percent of the federal total, up from 11 percent in the 2020 election cycle. “Dark money” donations manipulate U.S. elections furtively, and political polarization and social fragmentation make it difficult for the country to reach a democratic consensus. With 69 percent of Americans believing their democracy is at “risk of collapse” and 86 percent of American voters saying it faces “very serious threats,” there is a general public disillusionment of American-style democracy.
Racism is on the rise and ethnic minorities suffer widespread discrimination. Hate crimes based on racial bias in the United States increased dramatically between 2020 and 2022. The racist massacre at a Buffalo supermarket, with 10 African-Americans killed, has shocked the world. A total of 81 percent of Asian Americans say violence against Asian communities is surging. African Americans are 2.78 times more likely to be killed by police than whites. The sufferings caused by genocide and cultural assimilation taken by the U.S. government against Indians and other aborigines in history still persist today.
Life expectancy has plummeted, and deaths from drug abuse continue to climb. According to a report released in August 2022 by the National Center for Health Statistics under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, average life expectancy in the United States dropped by 2.7 years to 76.1 years from 2019 to 2021, the lowest since 1996. Interest groups and politicians trade power for money, allowing drug and substance abuse to flourish. The number of Americans dying from drug and substance abuse has increased dramatically in recent years, to more than 100,000 per year. Substance abuse has become one of America’s most devastating public health crises.
Women have lost constitutional protections for abortion, and children’s living environment is worrying. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade has ended women’s right to abortion protected by the U.S. Constitution for nearly 50 years, which lands a huge blow to women’s human rights and gender equality. In 2022, more than 5,800 children under the age of 18 got injured or killed by shooting in the United States, and the number of school shootings amounted to 302, the highest since 1970. The child poverty rate in the United States increased from 12.1 percent in December 2021 to 16.6 percent in May 2022, with 3.3 million more children living in poverty. The United States had seen a nearly 70 percent increase in child labor violations since 2018, and registered a 26 percent increase in minors employed in hazardous occupations in fiscal year 2022.
U.S. abuse of force and unilateral sanctions has created humanitarian disasters. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the United States has carried out military operations in 85 countries in the name of “anti-terrorism,” which directly claimed at least 929,000 civilian lives and displaced 38 million people. The United States has imposed more unilateral sanctions than any other country in the world, and it still has sanctions in place against more than 20 countries, resulting in the inability of those targeted to provide basic food and medicine for their people. Immigration issue has become a tool of partisan fight, and immigration farces have been staged on a large scale, making immigrants face extreme xenophobia and cruel treatment. There were a record high of nearly 2.4 million migrant arrests at the nation’s border in 2022, and the death toll of immigrants at its southern border reached 856, the deadliest in a single year.
The United States, founded on colonialism, racist slavery and inequality in labor, possession and distribution, has further fallen into a quagmire of system failure, governance deficits, racial divide and social unrest in recent years under the interaction of its polarized economic distribution pattern, racial conflict dominated social pattern and capital interest groups controlled political pattern.
American politicians, serving the interests of oligarchs, have gradually lost their subjective will and objective ability to respond to the basic demands of ordinary people and defend the basic rights of ordinary citizens, and failed to solve their own structural problems of human rights. Instead, they wantonly use human rights as a weapon to attack other countries, creating confrontation, division and chaos in the international community, and have thus become a spoiler and obstructor of global human rights development.
U.S. lawmakers early this week enacted a heinous political stunt to portray TikTok, a video-sharing social networking company, as a national security threat.
The nearly six-hour congressional grilling of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew left one wondering what the point of the hearing was other than to expose the incompetence of some congressional members.
Despite the congressional grilling, TikTok received unwavering support from its myriad U.S. users, who defended TikTok’s innocence, expressed their support and mocked the lawmakers’ hysteria and ignorance at the hearing.
Lasting for nearly six hours, Thursday’s hearing by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce centered on data privacy and child protection, about which Chew presented the committee’s bipartisan members with steps TikTok has been taking to address the associated risks that are of concern.
Throughout the hearing, the lawmakers neither cared about nor believed in the explanation by Chew. Instead, they were blindly focused on hammering home the message that TikTok is a threat to data privacy of 150 million American users and national security.
Lacking evidence, the only excuse by which the lawmakers singled out TikTok as the must-be-banned app is that its parent company, ByteDance, operates in China. Ignoring that ByteDance is a private business, the lawmakers remain fixed on the untenable logic that companies operating in China must heed directives from the Chinese government.
The congressmen couldn’t tolerate any further explanation from Chew beyond “yes” or “no” to their fishy questions. Perhaps they feared that giving Chew one opportunity to get into details would undercut the message they tried to convey to the public, and expose their hypocrisy to those watching from every corner of the world.
One stark example was when the committee’s chair, Republican Congresswoman Cathy Rogers representing the state of Washington, goaded Chew to admit that ByteDance and TikTok used certain tactics to “spy” on Americans.
In his response, Chew challenged Rogers’ characterization of spying, but he was immediately interrupted by Rogers, who almost lost her temper when saying “I want to hear you say with 100 percent certainty” that TikTok will not engage in surveillance activities against Americans.
Denying Chew the chance to make further statements because otherwise she wouldn’t have enough time to make her own, which she was keen to spread, Rogers rushed to conclude that TikTok is a “weapon” against Americans.
Similar interruptions happened numerous times during the subsequent rounds of exchanges between Chew and other committee members. The committee asked questions to which they already had answers not because they are curious about how TikTok would handle the issues of concern. They simply wanted Chew to concur with their judgments — most of which, unfortunately, are subjective and fanciful.
The U.S. government has forced TikTok to split off from ByteDance and be acquired by an American company, otherwise it would face a nationwide ban.
Asked at the hearing whether his company would comply with the divestment requirement, Chew told the lawmakers that ownership was not the issue. “With a lot of respect: American social companies don’t have a great record with privacy and data security. I mean, look at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” he said, referring to the revelation in 2018 that Facebook’s user data has long been secretly gathered by a British political consulting firm.
That scandal similarly triggered intense congressional investigation, involving testimony by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg before both the House and the Senate.
While the committee dismissed Chew’s explanation of the universal lack of protection of data privacy across the U.S. tech industry, The Washington Post found Chew’s point not only valid, but also worth those uproarious lawmakers’ introspection.
“At a hearing in which TikTok was often portrayed as a singular, untenable threat to Americans’ online privacy, it would have been easy to forget that the country’s online privacy problems run far deeper than any single app. And the people most responsible for failing to safeguard Americans’ data, arguably, are American lawmakers,” The Post said.
“But the compromises required to pass big legislation can be politically costly, while railing against TikTok costs nothing,” the report said.
TikTok users across the United States didn’t buy their congressional representatives’ browbeating of their beloved app. Following the hearing, one content creator posting on TikTok by the handle of “@notnotnotrekcut_” described the hearing as “awful” and a “hot garbage.”
He said in another video that since he has learned so much from TikTok, ranging from health tips to wealth management skills, he’s not going back to other social media platforms he once used. “I’m on TikTok’s side through and through!”
Beneath the videos posted by Chew, whose account’s user name goes as “@shou.time,” there are countless comments from TikTok users in support of the CEO and the app. One comment read: “Regardless of the outcome, thank you for creating such a platform for the world. The interconnectedness you gave us will not be forgotten.”
Another message under a separate video by Chew said, “I apologize for USA congress. You are amazing.”
On Tuesday, some 30 TikTok users held a rally outside the U.S. Capitol, demanding that the U.S. government continue to allow the use of TikTok by the American public, because their art creations, education, expression of views, and so much more by which they make a living depends on and thrives alongside the platform. They later met lawmakers and held a news conference with Jamaal Bowman, Democratic congressman representing New York.
“Why the hysteria and the panic and the targeting of TikTok?” Bowman asked behind a podium adorned with a “Keep TikTok” sign. “Let’s not marginalize and target TikTok,” he said, before noting that the national security risks TikTok was accused of posing are shared by famous American platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Twitter.
Bowman said instead of a “dishonest conversation” urging a ban on TikTok, what lawmakers really ought to do is having a “comprehensive conversation” about broader legislative efforts to protect online data, so that social media users’ safety and security is guaranteed.
“You can ban TikTok,” he said, but that wouldn’t at all prevent “data brokers” from selling social media user data without the knowledge and consent of the users.
Asked at a regular press briefing Friday to comment on Chew’s testimony, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said: “The U.S. government has provided no evidence or proof that TikTok threatens U.S. national security, yet it has repeatedly suppressed and attacked the company based on the presumption of guilt.”
“The United States should earnestly respect the principles of market economy and fair competition, stop suppressing foreign companies and provide an open, fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for foreign companies operating in the country.”
Experts argued that if the Joe Biden administration moved to ban TikTok nationwide, such an executive order would almost certainly be challenged by those opposing it, citing the measure’s violation of U.S. citizen’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
There was a recent precedent: a TikTok ban issued by then-President Donald Trump in 2020 was met with multiple lawsuits and ultimately blocked by a U.S. federal judge, who ruled that the International Emergency Economic Powers Act that the ban relied on was inapplicable in the case, because the ban will effectively restrict the free flow of information.
“The law says whatever Biden would do can’t impede the flow of information,” William Reinsch of the Center of Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, was quoted by the Post as saying. Reinsch is also a former U.S. Commerce Department official.
Citing a person with knowledge, the Post reported that Biden administration officials do not think they have the legal authority to ban TikTok without an act of Congress.
The Afghan caretaker government has dismissed Washington’s claim over the alleged stronger presence of Daesh, or Islamic State (IS), in Afghanistan as utterly fabricated.
“The statements of U.S. officials about the number of IS militants in Afghanistan are not true. Daesh militants have already been reduced in ranks and suppressed,” chief spokesman of the Afghan caretaker administration Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted.
U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Michael Kurilla, according to media reports, has said “IS is stronger today in Afghanistan” and warned of a possible IS attack on the interests of U.S. and allied nations within six months.
Brushing aside the baseless allegations by the U.S. general on the IS strength in Afghanistan, Mujahid said on his Twitter account, “The interest of the U.S. officials in this matter and their grandiosity is aiding and abetting the IS insurgents, which should be stopped.”
The Afghan caretaker government, which has downplayed Daesh, or the IS group, as a serious threat, has vowed to crack down on any armed opponents in the war-ravaged country.
The Afghan security forces have killed four armed militants affiliated with the rival IS group in two separate operations on the outskirts of Kabul over the past week.
Sure enough, Washington, London and Canberra have defied international opposition and announced recently the pathway to the AUKUS nuclear submarines pact. They have even coerced the IAEA Secretariat into endorsement on the safeguards issues.
Such a lowlight of March, revealing the self-serving nature of politicians from the new three-way alliance, adds nuclear proliferation risk, undermines the international non-proliferation regime, fuels arms race and destroys peace and stability in Asia-Pacific, thereby setting a damaging precedent.
Ever since the signing of AUKUS more than a year ago, the international community, especially countries from Asia-Pacific, have publicly and repeatedly expressed concerns, doubts and objections over the trilateral security pact. But the three wedded governments have turned a deaf ear to the world, and persisted on their unilateral path.
Days after the first AUKUS announcement in 2021, Indonesia, Malaysia and a few East Asian countries raised alarm bells that AUKUS will trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, showed reports by the Sydney Morning Herald.
A few days before the announcement of the pathway in mid-March this year, many IAEA member states at a board meeting called for advancing open, transparent, inclusive and sustainable intergovernmental discussions at the agency to address the AUKUS issue.
Later, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating published a statement, in which he called AUKUS “the worst international decision by an Australian Labor government.”
The trilateral pact marked the first time in history that nuclear weapon countries have set out to transfer naval nuclear propulsion reactors and weapons-grade highly-enriched uranium to a non-nuclear nation.
Constituting severe non-proliferation risks, the deal has blatantly trampled upon the purpose and object of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Worse still, the three governments’ claim that they would abide by nuclear non-proliferation commitments has turned out to be nothing but hogwash, given the current IAEA safeguards system which is not powerful enough to ensure effective supervision and prevent nuclear materials from being used in seeking weapons.
If the three countries are bent on defying international rules, other countries are likely to be prompted to follow suit, which will gravely harm global non-proliferation efforts and jeopardize peace and stability in Asia-Pacific and the world at large.
An article published in The National Interest magazine last year noted that AUKUS has “set a dangerous precedent” since potential nuclear proliferators “may use naval reactor programs as a cover for developing nuclear weapons and, with the deal as a precedent, they may escape intolerable costs for doing so.”
“This will weaken the deterrence of IAEA safeguards and make nuclear proliferation more likely,” it said.
Nuclear submarines cooperation is an international affair bearing heavily on the interests of all IAEA member states, and its safeguards issues should be settled through intergovernmental discussions by all interested IAEA parties.
Washington, London and Canberra have no right to put their own geopolitical ends above international laws and regulations or the interests of other countries, nor should they, or any other parties, put AUKUS in place before broad consensus is reached.
Considering AUKUS’ profound and long-time impact on international non-proliferation drive, global security order as well as regional and world peace and stability, all IAEA member states need to work together to keep intergovernmental discussions in place, find a way to resolve the safeguards issues and firmly defend the international non-proliferation regime so as to safeguard global peace and security.
On March 16, 2023, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced—during his visit to Niger—that the United States government will provide $150 million in aid to the Sahel region of Africa. This money, Blinken said, “will help provide life-saving support to refugees, asylum seekers, and others impacted by conflict and food insecurity in the region.” The next day, UNICEF issued a press release with information from a report the United Nations issued that month stating that 10 million children in the central Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger need humanitarian assistance. UNICEF has appealed for $473.8 million to support its efforts to provide these children with basic requirements. According to the Human Development Index for 2021, Niger, despite holding large reserves of uranium, is one of the poorest countries in the world (189th out of 191 countries); profits from the uranium have long drained away to French and other Western multinational corporations. The U.S. aid money will not be going to the United Nations but will be disbursed through its own agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.
Northeast of Niger’s capital Niamey, near the city of Agadez, is Air Base 201, one of the world’s largest drone bases that is home to several armed MQ-9 Reapers. During a press conference with Blinken, Niger Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massoudou affirmed his country’s “military cooperation” with the United States, which includes the U.S. “equipping… our armed forces, for our army and our air force and intelligence.” Neither Blinken nor Massoudou spoke about Air Base 201, from where the United States monitors the Sahel region, trains Niger’s military, and provides air support for U.S. ground operations in the region (all of this made clear during the visit by Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass to the base at the end of December 2021). The U.S. will spend $280 million on this base—twice the humanitarian aid promised by Blinken—including $30 million per year to maintain operations at Air Base 201.
Blinken is the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Niger, a country that his own department accused of “significant human rights issues” like “unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by or on behalf of government” and torture. When a reporter asked Blinken during the press conference what the U.S. will do “to bring democracy” to Burkina Faso and Mali, he replied that the United States is monitoring the “democratic backsliding, the military coups, which so far have not led to a renewal of a democratic constitutional process in these countries.” The military governments in Burkina Faso and Mali have ejected the presence of the French military from their territories and have indicated that they would not welcome any more Western military intervention. A senior official in Niger told me that Blinken’s hesitancy to directly speak about Burkina Faso and Mali might have been because of the distress about the faltering democracy in Niger.
Niger President Mohamed Bazoum has faced serious criticisms within the country about corruption and violence. In April 2022, president Bazoum wrote on Twitter that 30 of his senior officials had been arrested for “embezzlement or misappropriation,” and they would be in prison “for a long time.” This was a perfectly clear statement, but it obscured the deeper corruption within Bazoum’s own administration—including the detention of his Communications Minister Mahamadou Zada on corruption charges—which was revealed through an audit of the country’s 2021 spending that highlighted millions of dollars of missing state funds. Furthermore, a third of the money spent by Niger to buy $1 billion in weapons from arms companies between 2011 and 2019 was pilfered by government officials, according to a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
In December 2022, during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, President Bazoum joined Benin’s President Patrice Talon to be part of the U.S. project known as the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The U.S. government pledged $504 million toward facilitating transportation between Benin and Niger, to help increase trade between these two neighbors. The MCC, set up in 2004 in the context of the U.S. war on Iraq, has been expanded into an instrument used by the U.S. government to challenge the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Senior officials in Niger, who requested anonymity, and several studies by independent authorities indicate that this MCC money is being used to upgrade African farmlands and that the corporation has been working with U.S.-funded institutions such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Rockefeller foundations), and turn these agricultural resources over to multinational agribusinesses. The MCC grants, the senior officials said, are used to “launder” Niger’s land to foreign corporate interests and to “subordinate” Niger’s political leadership to U.S. government interests.
At the press conference, Blinken was asked about Russia’s Wagner Group. “Where Wagner has been present,” Blinken said, “bad things have inevitably followed.” Statements have been made recently about the Wagner Group operating in Burkina Faso and Mali by the U.S. State Department’s Vedant Patel after the second coup in the former country in September 2022, and by the RAND Corporation’s Colin P. Clarke in January 2023. Governments in both Burkina Faso and Mali have denied that Wagner is operating from their territory (although the group does operate in Libya), and informed observers such as the Nigerien journalist Seidik Abba (author of Mali-Sahel, notre Afghanistan à nous, 2022) said that countries in the Sahel region are being wary about any foreign intervention. Despite repeating many of Washington’s talking points about Wagner, Niger Foreign Minister Massoudou conceded that focus on it might be exaggerated: “As for the presence of Wagner in Burkina… the information that we have does not allow us to say that Wagner is still in Burkina Faso.”
Before Blinken left for Niger and Ethiopia, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee said that Niger is “one of our most important partners on the continent in terms of security cooperation.” That is the most honest assessment of U.S. interests in Niger—largely about the military bases in Agadez and Niamey.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Some U.S. politicians have hyped up the “lab leak” theory of COVID-19 again to shift responsibility for its own failure in handling the pandemic.
A group of U.S. Republican senators are pressing the Department of Justice to pursue legal action against Chinese officials after the COVID-19 leak theory was revived recently in the United States, according to a Fox News report.
This is another utterly irresponsible and senseless attempt by some U.S. politicians who try by all means to smear China, cover up the fatal incompetence of U.S. authorities in tackling the pandemic, and seek political gains for themselves.
Tracing the origins of the virus is a matter of science. To date, all the evidence that has stood up to scientific examination does not support the theory that the virus came from a laboratory.
In early 2021, experts of the World Health Organization (WHO)-China joint mission, after field trips to a lab in Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei Province and in-depth communication with researchers, reached the conclusion that “a laboratory origin of the pandemic was considered to be extremely unlikely.”
Fabian Leendertz, a zoonoses expert who had participated in the WHO search for the origins of the coronavirus, said that a laboratory leak as the possible origin of the COVID-19 pandemic was “purely politically motivated,” and that political power games were behind this theory.
The expert told German Press Agency recently that “there is no new data that would strengthen the laboratory hypothesis that I am aware of. It remains the most unlikely hypothesis of all.”
More and more clues from the international scientific community are linking the origins of COVID-19 to sources around the world. This study should be, and can only be, conducted jointly by scientists around the world.
China has supported and participated in global science-based origins-tracing. In contrast, the United States has never invited WHO experts to its land for joint study, or shared any early data on COVID-19 origins.
Rather, the U.S. has been politicizing and instrumentalizing the issue, and mongering its lab leak theory without any supporting evidence. By doing so, U.S. politicians just want to shift the blame for its own COVID-19 response failure and accumulate political capital as “blaming China for bad things” has become a potential consensus between the two major U.S. political parties.
Yet baselessly blaming and slandering others for one’s own failures might deflect people’s attention for a while, but it is never conducive to solving problems.
The spread of SARS, Ebola and COVID-19 demonstrated painfully that unknown, lethal viruses do exist and are able to wreak extensive havoc, making humanity’s destiny closely linked. How humanity can better cope with the next pandemic is a question demanding a good answer, and one consensus is to apply a science-based approach.
The United States should do better to respect science and facts, stop its political manipulation, and refrain from undermining global cooperation on science-based origins-tracing.
Disinformation and smear can go nowhere, but put humanity in greater jeopardy.
In the span of only about a week, Vladimir Putin was issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for ongoing war crimes, while Donald Trump looks set to be indicted on felony charges in a Manhattan courtroom. These twin developments seem to signal the beginning of the end of impunity for the world’s two most destructive, authoritarian leaders in a generation, the Hitler and Mussolini of our day, as the democratic world responds to this new breed of violent fascism.
Their crimes are numerous, and extensively documented, and perhaps finally the law will confront these two autocrats with a fondness for unleashing political violence, and terror.
Indeed, Putin launched a brutal war of aggression in the heart of Europe, starting the largest and bloodiest conflict since the Second World War. Trump attempted to defy America’s voters, and keep himself in office with lies, pressure, political violence, and ultimately a siege of the U.S. Capitol, unsuccessfully attacking American democracy from within.
For years, they’ve been intimate partners, bound together in their mutual loathing for Western democratic values, and their violent lust for absolute power. Putin played Trump’s political benefactor, interfering in the 2016 election on his behalf, and enabling his rise to power. In office, Trump returned the favor by weakening America on the global stage, and groveling before Putin in public, siding with him over his own intelligence agencies. He nearly destroyed NATO, and savaged America’s traditional alliances, even as he offered rhetorical and political support to his patron in the Kremlin.
These two men represent humanity’s darkest impulses, toward violent domination, autocracy, political extremism, war crimes, hatred, and genocide. Their poisonous partnership is the nexus of modern global fascism, and right-wing radicalism, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Now, the two aging tyrants are finally facing at least the prospect of justice for their crimes, as one prosecutes a cataclysmic failed war in Ukraine, while the other attempts to finish off the ailing democracy he once led, with a third run at the presidency. It’s a moment of hope, and peril.
An element of genocide
“What the nations can offer in the way of good blood of our type, we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them here with us.”
That’s SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler speaking at an infamous secret address in Posen in October, 1943, where he discusses the Third Reich’s policies of ethnic annihilation. The abduction of children en masse is a classic feature of genocide, as articulated by the 20th century’s great genocidaire innovator, Himmler, in a Nazi policy now being widely replicated by Putin in Ukraine.
Indeed, Putin was issued an arrest warrant last week for his role in the abduction of tens of thousands of Ukraine’s children, treated as spoils of war by his regime, and forcibly resettled in Russia at gunpoint. However, this is merely one element of the Kremlin’s larger policy of national and cultural extermination, amid the raining bombs and bullets, as Putin attempts to erase Ukraine from the map.
The Russian dictator has declared the “historical unity” of Russia and Ukraine, arguing that Ukraine as such does not exist, as he goes about trying to annihilate Ukrainians physically, politically, culturally, linguistically, and nationally. He’s razed their cities, slaughtered their civilians, stolen their children, and annexed their territory, using his nuclear weapons to guarantee freedom of action, in what amounts to the gravest threat to global peace and stability since Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht began to devour Europe.
But the Russian military has been utterly unable to stanch fierce resistance, consolidate territorial gains, nor defeat Ukraine’s forces on the battlefield, leading to a protracted bloodbath, as the Western world arms Ukraine to fight back. As the Biden administration leads a coalition of countries to defy Russian aggression, by arming Ukraine to the teeth, Putin’s campaign is in serious jeopardy.
He has failed to subdue or absorb Ukraine, instead embroiling Russia in a strategic nightmare, producing a catastrophic waste of human life, losing hundreds of thousands of his soldiers to casualties, while inflicting mass terror on Ukraine’s towns and cities. After a long delay, the West is now speeding main battle tanks, air defense systems, and long range missile systems into Ukraine, as the war reaches a critical turning point, amid expected Ukrainian counteroffensives.
But Putin has several cards left to play. He was meeting today with his most important international partner, Chinese President Xi Jinping, during a warm three-day summit at the Kremlin in Moscow, where he was received with endless pomp and circumstance. Amid the touted diplomatic friendship, there’s still no sign the Chinese intend to deliver weapons or matériel to Moscow; instead, Xi’s providing crucial political and economic support, or what Secretary of State Antony Blinken called “diplomatic cover” for Putin’s war crimes.
However, Putin has other well-placed allies.
His ideological partners in the United States are beginning to reassert themselves in Washington, as Donald Trump and his lesser protege, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, enter the presidential race by declaring they would end American assistance to Ukraine, effectively handing it over to Putin.
The Trump case
Thus, Donald Trump’s possible criminal indictment is reverberating from Washington to New York to Moscow to Kyiv. If the expected indictment does go through, it’s likely to carry inherently unpredictable effects into the budding presidential race, particularly within the Republican Party.
Presumably, it could either strengthen or weaken Trump’s chances in the upcoming primaries, and lead to far-reaching political consequences in the United States of America. Certainly, the Kremlin will be paying extraordinarily close attention, at a moment that could be pivotal for its war effort in Kyiv, and much else.
An indictment could potentially spell the beginning of the end of Trump’s long stranglehold over the Republican Party, offering an opening to DeSantis and others eager to move on from his poisonous leadership, or it could strengthen his grip. After all, he’s survived numerous crises that would’ve permanently ended the careers of most politicians several times over.
And yet, he’s never been arrested, or tried.
It’s something he’s been afraid of his entire life, apparently, leading him to burnish his links with prosecutors in New York. But he has no way to prevent the prosecutors now pursuing him.
This could be the beginning of a ferocious power struggle in the GOP, and see the morphing of Trumpism from a mainstream political movement into a violent right-wing insurgency, to the extent it already isn’t one.
It’s impossible to predict, especially with an uncertain future outcome in court. It could presage a further cascade of criminal charges, with at least four extremely serious criminal investigations currently pending, for hoarding classified documents and instigating a failed coup d’etat, among other inquiries, whereas a failure could doom efforts to hold Trump accountable.
In any case, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s destinies remain intertwined, as ever, as both men face the first real consequences from their long and ruthless political careers. Suddenly, Putin faces limitations on his movements, and a barrier to travel in the 123 nations that have signed the Rome Statute (China, U.S., and Russia have not signed those accords).
Trump, for his part, faces the real prospect of being fingerprinted, possibly even handcuffed, and of course incarcerated, however unlikely that might be. Still, it’s something that is reportedly giving him great anxiety, although he apparently craves a “perp-walk” to enrage and galvanize his followers, telling associates it would be a fun experience, according to the New York Times.
Certainly, these legal developments are historic, carrying grave implications for American democracy, but also geopolitically. It’s a moment that’s fraught with tension, and truly unprecedented, as a former American president again seeking the presidency faces the prospect of arrest, and trial.
For a country that’s been traumatized, and battered, by Trump and his minions, it’s been a long time coming. It’s a moment of anxiety and high hope, that finally justice will hold this sociopathic criminal accountable for his wrongdoing, and protect American democracy from a would-be dictator.
But with House Republicans already trying to obstruct justice, and interfere with the prosecution that hasn’t even begun, there are also dark possibilities to contemplate. The United States would be deeply destabilized by a failed prosecution, leaving Trump more powerful, his radicalized party more united around him.
In other words, there are real risks to indicting the Republican frontrunner, and a former American president. However, the risks of not indicting Trump are clear: a lawless nation without recourse to justice, or the rule of law, and the death of our democracy. It’s the kind of country Trump wishes America to be, where the strong cull the weak, and powerful men get away with murder.
If we want to avoid living in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, this is the price. It’s the price of democracy, and freedom from tyranny. Of course, Trump is already wielding his supporters like a cudgel, and he will do everything in his power to obstruct justice, and destabilize the country.
It won’t be easy, but democracy never is.
Views expressed are the author’s own
Though 20 years have passed since the United States launched a blatant invasion into the sovereign state of Iraq, justice has not been done for Iraq and its people, many of whom are still suffering from the pain created by the unjust war.
During the more than eight-year war and ensuing years of violence after the 2011 U.S. pullout, more than 200,000 civilians were killed and over 9 million others displaced in Iraq. Much of the country’s infrastructure was also destroyed during the relentless bombings launched by the U.S.-led coalition.
As a result, Iraq, a rich country before the invasion, had quickly degenerated into a poor state and is still mired in poverty and chaos due to the political instability and economic hardship caused by the U.S. invasion and its impact.
The U.S. government justified its invasion into Iraq on concocted lies about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, but no trace of such weapons has been found until today. On this point, Washington owes Iraq and the international community a thorough explanation.
Iraq has neither received any formal apology from Washington for its illegal invasion, nor got any financial compensation for the massive destruction of its infrastructure and the crimes committed by U.S. troops against Iraqi civilians.
Meanwhile, none of those in Washington who made the decision to invade a sovereign state in blatant violation of the United Nations Charter has been brought to justice. None of those who encouraged or committed the heinous war crimes against civilians in Iraq has been truly prosecuted.
Worse still, if those who committed such crimes as invading a sovereign country could escape any punishment, they will repeat them again and again. As long as the United States continues its hegemonic and belligerent policies, the world will never be peaceful.
Indeed, with its previous crimes unpunished, the United States regards itself as being above the UN charter and other norms guiding the international order. Thus Washington is always tempted to repeat such crimes to serve its own interests, as shown by its launch of airstrikes against Libya and Syria not long after the Iraq War.
Even today, U.S. politicians insist that invading Iraq and ousting its government was a right thing to do. Washington still readily threatens to use force to interfere in the internal affairs of any other country that refuses to obey its orders. The world continues to live under the shadow of war and insecurity.
History has proven that though claiming itself as “peace lover,” the United States is indeed a “war empire.” Ever since its founding in 1776, the country has been at war for 93 percent of its existence. Even former U.S. President Jimmy Carter admitted that the U.S. is undoubtedly the most warlike nation in history.
Though little can be done to bring the American warmongers and criminals to justice for now because the United States remains the sole superpower, it is believed that the time of atonement will eventually come.
Justice could be late, but won’t be absent forever.
The breakup of banks that is now occurring in the United States is the inevitable result of the way in which the Obama administration bailed out the banks in 2008.
When real estate prices collapsed, the Federal Reserve flooded the financial system with 15 years of quantitative easing (QE) to re-inflate real estate prices—and with them, stock and bond prices.
What was inflated were asset prices, above all for the packaged mortgages that banks were holding, but also for stocks and bonds across the board. That is what bank credit does.
This made trillions of dollars for holders of financial assets—the One Percent and a bit more.
The economy polarized as stock prices recovered, the cost of home ownership soared (on low-interest mortgages), and the U.S. economy experienced the largest bond-market boom in history, as interest rates fell below 1%.
But in serving the financial sector, the Fed painted itself into a corner. What would happen when interest rates finally rose?
Rising interest rates cause bond prices to fall. And that is what has been happening under the Fed’s fight against “inflation,” by which it means rising wage levels.
Prices are plunging for bonds, and also for the capitalized value of packaged mortgages and other securities in which banks hold their assets against depositors.
The result today is similar to the situation that savings and loan associations (S&Ls) found themselves in the 1980s, leading to their demise.
S&Ls had made long-term mortgages at affordable interest rates. But in the wake of the Volcker inflation, the overall level of interest rates rose.
S&Ls could not pay their depositors higher rates, because their revenue from their mortgages was fixed at lower rates. So depositors withdrew their money.
To obtain the money to pay these depositors, S&Ls had to sell their mortgages. But the face value of these debts was lower, as a result of higher rates. The S&Ls (and many banks) owed money to depositors short-term, but were locked into long-term assets at falling prices.
Of course, S&L mortgages were much longer-term than was the case for commercial banks. And presumably, banks can turn over assets for the Fed’s line of credit.
But just as QE was followed to bolster the banks, its unwinding must have the reverse effect. And if it has made a bad derivatives trade, it’s in trouble.
Any bank has a problem of keeping its asset prices up with its deposit liabilities. When there is a crash in bond prices, the bank’s asset structure weakens. That is the corner into which the Fed has painted the economy.
Recognition of this problem led the Fed to avoid it for as long as it could. But when employment began to pick up and wages began to recover, the Fed could not resist fighting the usual class war against labor. And it has turned into a war against the banking system as well.
Silvergate was the first to go. It had sought to ride the cryptocurrency wave, by serving as a bank for various brand names.
After vast fraud by Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) was exposed, there was a run on cryptocurrencies. Their managers paid by withdrawing the deposits they had at the banks—above all, Silvergate. It went under. And with Silvergate went many cryptocurrency deposits.
The popular impression was that crypto provided an alternative to commercial banks and “fiat currency.” But what could crypto funds invest in to back their coin purchases, if not bank deposits and government securities or private stocks and bonds?
What was crypto, ultimately, if not simply a mutual fund with secrecy of ownership to protect money launderers?
Silvergate was a “special case,” given its specialized deposit base. Silicon Valley Bank also was a specialized case, lending to IT startups. First Republic Bank was specialized, too, lending to wealthy depositors in San Francisco and the northern California area.
All had seen the market price of their financial securities decline as Chairman Jerome Powell raised the Fed’s interest rates. And now, their deposits were being withdrawn, forcing them to sell securities at a loss.
Reuters reported on March 10 that bank reserves at the Fed were plunging. That hardly is surprising, as banks are paying about 0.2% on deposits, while depositors can withdraw their money to buy two-year U.S. Treasury notes yielding 3.8% or almost 4%. No wonder well-to-do investors are running from the banks.
This is the quandary in which banks—and behind them, the Fed—find themselves.
The obvious question is why the Fed doesn’t simply bail them out. The problem is that the falling prices for long-term bank assets in the face of short-term deposit liabilities now looks like the new normal.
The Fed can lend to banks for their current short-fall, but how can solvency be resolved without sharply reducing interest rates to restore the 15-year, abnormal Zero Interest-Rate Policy (ZIRP)?
Interest yields spiked on March 10. As more workers were being hired than was expected, Mr. Powell announced that the Fed might have to raise interest rates even higher than he had warned. Volatility increased.
And with it came a source of turmoil that has reached vast magnitudes beyond what caused the 2008 crash of AIG and other speculators: derivatives.
JP Morgan Chase and other New York banks have tens of trillions of dollars worth of derivatives—that is, casino bets on which way interest rates, bond prices, stock prices, and other measures will change. For every winning guess, there is a loser.
When trillions of dollars are bet on, some bank trader is bound to wind up with a loss that can easily wipe out the bank’s entire net equity.
There is now a flight to “cash,” to a safe haven—something even better than cash: U.S. Treasury securities. Despite the talk of Republicans refusing to raise the debt ceiling, the Treasury can always print the money to pay its bondholders.
It looks like the Treasury will become the new depository of choice for those who have the financial resources. Bank deposits will fall. And with them, bank holdings of reserves at the Fed.
So far, the stock market has resisted following the plunge in bond prices. My guess is that we will now see the Great Unwinding of the great Fictitious Capital boom of 2008-2015.
So the chickens are coming hope to roost—with the “chickens” being, perhaps, the elephantine overhang of derivatives.
The recent Australia, U.S., and UK $368 billion deal on buying nuclear submarines has been termed by Paul Keating, a former Australian prime minister, as the “worst deal in all history.” It commits Australia to buy conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines that will be delivered in the early 2040s. These will be based on new nuclear reactor designs yet to be developed by the UK. Meanwhile, starting from the 2030s, “pending approval from the U.S. Congress, the United States intends to sell Australia three Virginia class submarines, with the potential to sell up to two more if needed” (Trilateral Australia-UK-U.S. Partnership on Nuclear-Powered Submarines, March 13, 2023; emphasis mine). According to the details, it appears that this agreement commits Australia to buy from the U.S. eight new nuclear submarines, to be delivered from the 2040s through the end of the 2050s. If nuclear submarines were so crucial for Australia’s security, for which it broke its existing diesel-powered submarine deal with France, this agreement provides no credible answers.
For those who have been following the nuclear proliferation issues, the deal raises a different red flag. If submarine nuclear reactor technology and weapons-grade (highly enriched) uranium are shared with Australia, it is a breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which Australia is a signatory as a non-nuclear power. Even the supplying of such nuclear reactors by the U.S. and the UK would constitute a breach of the NPT. This is even if such submarines do not carry nuclear but conventional weapons as stated in this agreement.
So why did Australia renege on its contract with France, which was to buy 12 diesel submarines from France at a cost of $67 billion, a small fraction of its gargantuan $368 billion deal with the U.S.? What does it gain, and what does the U.S. gain by annoying France, one of its close NATO allies?
To understand, we have to see how the U.S. looks at the geostrategy, and how the Five Eyes—the U.S., the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—fit into this larger picture. Clearly, the U.S. believes that the core of the NATO alliance is the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada for the Atlantic and the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia for the Indo-Pacific. The rest of its allies, NATO allies in Europe and Japan and South Korea in East and South Asia, are around this Five Eyes core. That is why the United States was willing to offend France to broker a deal with Australia.
What does the U.S. get out of this deal? On the promise of eight nuclear submarines that will be given to Australia two to four decades down the line, the U.S. gets access to Australia to be used as a base for supporting its naval fleet, air force, and even U.S. soldiers. The words used by the White House are, “As early as 2027, the United Kingdom and the United States plan to establish a rotational presence of one UK Astute class submarine and up to four U.S. Virginia class submarines at HMAS Stirling near Perth, Western Australia.” The use of the phrase “rotational presence” is to provide Australia the fig leaf that it is not offering the U.S. a naval base, as that would violate Australia’s long-standing position of no foreign bases on its soil. Clearly, all the support structures required for such rotations are what a foreign military base has, therefore they will function as U.S. bases.
Who is the target of the AUKUS alliance? This is explicit in all the writing on the subject and what all the leaders of AUKUS have said: it is China. In other words, this is a containment of China policy with the South China Sea and the Taiwanese Strait as the key contested oceanic regions. Positioning U.S. naval ships including its nuclear submarines armed with nuclear weapons makes Australia a front-line state in the current U.S. plans for the containment of China. Additionally, it creates pressure on most Southeast Asian countries who would like to stay out of such a U.S. versus China contest being carried out in the South China Sea.
While the U.S. motivation to draft Australia as a front-line state against China is understandable, what is difficult to understand is Australia’s gain from such an alignment. China is not only the biggest importer of Australian goods, but also its biggest supplier. In other words, if Australia is worried about the safety of its trade through the South China Sea from Chinese attacks, the bulk of this trade is with China. So why would China be mad enough to attack its own trade with Australia? For the U.S. it makes eminent sense to get a whole continent, Australia, to host its forces much closer to China than 8,000-9,000 miles away in the U.S. Though it already has bases in Hawaii and Guam in the Pacific Ocean, Australia and Japan provide two anchor points, one to the north and one to the south in the eastern Pacific Ocean region. The game is an old-fashioned game of containment, the one that the U.S. played with its NATO, Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), and Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) military alliances after World War II.
The problem that the U.S. has today is that even countries like India, who have their issues with China, are not signing up with the U.S. in a military alliance. Particularly, as the U.S. is now in an economic war with a number of countries, not just Russia and China, such as Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia. While India was willing to join the Quad—the U.S., Australia, Japan, and India—and participate in military exercises, it backed off from the Quad becoming a military alliance. This explains the pressure on Australia to partner with the U.S. militarily, particularly in Southeast Asia.
It still fails to explain what is in it for Australia. Even the five Virginia class nuclear submarines that Australia may get second hand are subject to U.S. congressional approval. Those who follow U.S. politics know that the U.S. is currently treaty incapable; it has not ratified a single treaty on issues from global warming to the law of the seas in recent years. The other eight are a good 20-40 years away; who knows what the world would look like that far down the line.
Why, if naval security was its objective, did Australia choose an iffy nuclear submarine agreement with the U.S. over a sure-shot supply of French submarines? This is a question that Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating, the Australian Labor Party’s former PMs, asked. It makes sense only if we understand that Australia now sees itself as a cog in the U.S. wheel for this region. And it is a vision of U.S. naval power projection in the region that today Australia shares. The vision is that settler colonial and ex-colonial powers—the G7-AUKUS—should be the ones making the rules of the current international order. And behind the talk of international order is the mailed fist of the U.S., NATO, and AUKUS. This is what Australia’s nuclear submarine deal really means.