René Magritte Morning star 1938
Maduro has been practicing the Trump style.
• Maduro Warns White House Will Be ‘Stained With Blood’ If Trump Invades (G.)
Venezuela’s embattled leader, Nicolás Maduro, has warned Donald Trump he will leave the White House “stained with blood” if he insists on pursuing what he called a “dirty” imperialist conspiracy to overthrow him. “Stop. Stop, Trump! Hold it right there! You are making mistakes that will leave your hands covered in blood and you will leave the presidency stained with blood,” Maduro warned during a combative interview with the Spanish journalist Jordi Évole. “Why would you want a repeat of Vietnam?” He also rejected European calls for elections, saying: “We don’t accept ultimatums from anyone. I refuse to call for elections now – there will be elections in 2024. We don’t care what Europe says.” He added: “You can’t base international politics on ultimatums. That’s the stuff of the empire, of colonial times.”
Tens of thousands of Venezuelan protesters streamed through the capital, Caracas, on Saturday to demand the exit of a president who has led the oil-rich South American nation into economic collapse and humanitarian crisis. [..] in his television interview Maduro – who came to power after the 2013 death of his political mentor, Hugo Chávez – signalled that he had no plans to go anywhere. “If the north American empire attacks us, we will have to defend ourselves … We aren’t going to hand Venezuela over,” Maduro said. The UN estimates that more than 3 million Venezuelans have fled overseas in recent years to escape hyperinflation, shortages of food, medicine and healthcare and chronic insecurity. That number is expected to rise to more than 5 million this year.
Trump and Trudeau, a happy couple. And of course Canada belongs in a regional bloc with Venezuela, it’s right next door.
• Regional Bloc Plans Pressure Campaign Against Venezuela’s Maduro (R.)
A major bloc of Latin American nations and Canada will discuss on Monday how to maintain pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to hold new elections as he faces widespread calls to resign after last year’s disputed presidential vote. Sources briefed on the matter said that the 14-nation Lima Group looked set, though, to hold off imposing further sanctions on the Maduro government when it meets in Ottawa. Most group members say Maduro should quit in favour of opposition leader Juan Guaido – who declared himself interim president last month – and are calling for a new presidential election in the troubled OPEC nation.
The United States, which is not a member of the group, also wants Maduro gone. “How can we continue to support the opposition to keep the pressure up on the regime and push for new elections? Certainly that’s something we’ll be looking at,” said a Canadian government official. Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse and the exodus of millions of Venezuelans, said in an interview that aired on Spanish television channel Antena 3 on Sunday: “We don’t accept ultimatums from anyone,” adding: “I refuse to call for elections now – there will be elections in 2024.” [..] Trudeau spoke on Sunday to Guaido and the two “discussed the importance of the international community sending a clear message regarding the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime,” Trudeau’s office said.
How the Tories got their Brexit.
• Austerity And Welfare Cuts Main Driver Behind Brexit Vote (Ind.)
Welfare cuts and other austerity measures implemented under the Conservatives pushed vital swing voters to back Brexit and won the EU referendum for the Leave campaign, according to a new report. Research published by the Social Market Foundation suggests the best indicator of a person’s referendum vote was not age or education, but happiness or sadness about their personal finances – with unhappy people tending to vote Leave and contented ones preferring Remain. The report, which analysed the level of cuts in each area of the UK alongside each area’s growth in support for Ukip, argues that had it not been for austerity, the referendum would not have turned out the way it did.
It found that in districts that received the average austerity shock, Ukip vote shares were on average 11.62 percentage points higher in the most recent local elections prior to the referendum than in districts with little exposure to austerity. As well as area-level analysis, the report looked at individual-level data and found that some people directly affected by welfare cuts shifted their political support to Ukip and rejected the political establishment. “Households exposed to the bedroom tax increasingly shifted to support Ukip and experienced economic grievances as they fell behind with their rent payments due to the cuts,” the paper stated.
As much as 9 percentage points of the 52 per cent support for Leave – around 3 million votes – was decided by concern about austerity and related issues, the researchers estimated. It suggests that without the effect of the “austerity shock” on welfare and public services, the Leave share of the referendum vote could have been as low as 43 per cent, delivering a comfortable win for Remain.
Ruled out by EU.
• Hard Brexiters Say Only Acceptable Way Forward Is To Remove Backstop (G.)
Hard Brexiters have warned Theresa May that the only proposal they are likely to support to break the Brexit impasse is a version of the “Malthouse compromise”, which envisages removing the backstop from the draft European Union exit treaty. Steve Baker, vice chair of the European Research Group, said that he and other Conservative Eurosceptics could not support the alternative they believed Theresa May favoured – an addendum to the existing EU withdrawal agreement. Baker is one of five backbench MPs who will meet Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, on Monday, in the first meeting of a new working group aimed at examining whether technological solutions could eliminate the backstop.
The “Malthouse compromise” – named after the junior minister, Kit Malthouse, who brokered it – is a proposal to replace the unpopular backstop with alternative technological arrangements to prevent the return of a hard border in Ireland. It is supported by Baker, other Eurosceptics and the pro-remain former ministers Nicky Morgan and Damian Green, both of whom will attend further meetings with Barclay on Tuesday and Wednesday. “As far as I’m concerned the Malthouse compromise is the only game in town if we’re going to reach an agreement in Brussels,” Baker said, indicating that only rewriting the draft withdrawal agreement to remove the backstop would satisfy Tory Brexiters.
Last week MPs voted in favour of an amendment in the name of Sir Graham Brady, a senior Conservative, to examine the possibility of new customs arrangements but it is unclear that the necessary technology exists. May also instructed Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, to examine two other proposals that could be taken to Brussels – whether it would be possible to time-limit the backstop or to introduce a unilateral exit mechanism for the UK.
53 days to go: plenty time to waste.
• Theresa May Launches Committee To Find Irish Backstop Alternatives (Ind.)
Theresa May has been accused of “wasting valuable time” in the countdown to Britain’s exit from the EU as she announced plans to establish a Commons group probing alternative plans for the Irish border post-Brexit. Despite the prime minister’s hopes of reopening the withdrawal agreement already being dashed by EU leaders with just 53 days to go until Brexit, the new committee made up of senior Tory MPs will meet for the first time on Monday. Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay is expected to attend the sessions, alongside support from officials at HM Revenue and Customs, the Cabinet Office, and No 10. The group will aim to provide “alternative arrangements” to the backstop – the EU’s insurance policy in the withdrawal agreement that aims to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
[..] But the EU’s deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, has already dismissed using existing technology as an alternative solution to the question of the Irish border. “We looked at every border on this Earth, every border the EU has with a third country – there’s simply no way you can do away with checks and controls,” she said last week. Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney also rubbished the idea of “alternative arrangements”, adding in The Sunday Times: “This is not a new concept. The EU is committed to trying to agree alternative arrangements to replace the backstop. We want a comprehensive future relationship in place by the end of 2020 so the backstop is never used.
So they leave on March 29 and hold elections 2-3 months later?
• UK Home Secretary Dismisses Speculation Of Snap General Election In June (G.)
Sajid Javid has said “the last thing we want is a general election”, emphasising that the government is still hoping to secure a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism for the Irish border backstop. The home secretary dismissed newspaper reports that Downing Street strategists were considering holding a snap general election on 6 June, if Theresa May cannot get her Brexit deal through parliament before the 29 March deadline. “The last thing we want is a general election, the people will never forgive us for it,” Javid told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show. “They want politicians to get on with the job. They have been given a very clear mandate, now it’s our job to get on with it.”
There are signs that the Conservatives have started to gear up for a possible snap election, with the party’s chief executive, Sir Mick Davis, placing the Tories on a “war footing” last week and increased fundraising activities under the cover of the local elections in May. A poll by Opinium for the Observer showed the Conservatives seven points ahead of Labour on 41%, but few people believe the party would risk going to the country under May’s leadership after the disaster of 2017, when its overall majority was lost. “I know that Conservative party headquarters is planning on only one set of elections, which is the local government elections. The last thing this country wants is an election; they want parliament to deliver Brexit in an orderly way,” Javid said.
“[far] rightists, leftists, and the Russians.”
• Macron Blames Social Media & Russia For Yellow Vests (RT)
Who is at fault for Yellow Vest protests raging in France since November? For President Emmanuel Macron it’s not actual economic problems or his own decisions, but the right, the left, social media and, of course, “Russes.” Macron blasted the nation’s mainstream media for failing to control the narrative and argued that social networks and “the Russians” are driving all content instead, with traditional outlets falling into line. The president’s calculated outburst was published by the weekly Le Point on Friday, just before the Yellow Vests officially marked the 12th consecutive week of staging large-scale protests against the government.
The president dismissed Eric Drouet, the 33-year-old trucker who emerged as a prominent figure in the protests, as “a media product, a product of social networks,” and claimed that the demonstrators are being “advised from outside,” without elaborating. He argued that 90 percent of the chatter online about the Yellow Vests comes from the “[far] rightists, leftists, and the Russians.” Yet, 18 months after bending the French party system to his will and his triumphant win against bien-pensant pariah Marine Le Pen, Macron’s excuses for disappointing expectations are running thin. His first cannonade in what was intended to be a sweeping march of modernity, was a labor reform that he claimed would help small businesses. It was met with protests from unions, public sector workers who said it made firing easier, and those fearing loss of benefits.
In a preview of what has now become the norm, Macron dismissed the opponents of his policies as “slackers.” [..] The government has already suspended the fuel tax hike that caused the traffic law-mandated vests to be put on in the first place, while the president has promised to raise the minimum wage. But for many demonstrators these actions are belated, and do not address underlying issues. “It’s not enough. We still have to fight the current taxes, the ones that have been in place for years. We should have woken up years ago, and now we have to make up for the years we missed,” one of the original and most popular Yellow Vests, Ghislain Coutard, told Deutsche Welle, adding that Macron should “come out of his hole and face” the people.
It’s a model that works inside the echo chamber.
• NBC News Claims Russia Supports Tulsi Gabbard (Greenwald)
NBC News published a predictably viral story Friday, claiming that “experts who track websites and social media linked to Russia have seen stirrings of a possible campaign of support for Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.” But the whole story was a sham: the only “experts” cited by NBC in support of its key claim was the firm, New Knowledge, that just got caught by the New York Times fabricating Russian troll accounts on behalf of the Democratic Party in the Alabama Senate race to manufacture false accusations that the Kremlin was interfering in that election. To justify its claim that Tulsi Gabbard is the Kremlin’s candidate, NBC stated: “analysts at New Knowledge, the company the Senate Intelligence Committee used to track Russian activities in the 2016 election, told NBC News they’ve spotted ‘chatter’ related to Gabbard in anonymous online message boards, including those known for fomenting right-wing troll campaigns.”
What NBC – amazingly – concealed is a fact that reveals its article to be a journalistic fraud: that same firm, New Knowledge, was caught just six weeks ago engaging in a massive scam to create fictitious Russian troll accounts on Facebook and Twitter in order to claim that the Kremlin was working to defeat Democratic Senate nominee Doug Jones in Alabama. The New York Times, when exposing the scam, quoted a New Knowledge report that boasted of its fabrications: “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the [Roy] Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.’”
[..] In any event, NBC News, to smear Gabbard as a Kremlin favorite, relied on a group that it heralded as “experts” without telling its audience about the major fraud which this firm just got caught perpetrating in order – on behalf of the Democratic Party – to fabricate claims of Kremlin interference in the Alabama Senate race. That’s because the playbook used by the axis of the Democratic Party, NBC/MSNBC, neocons and the intelligence community has been, is and will continue to be a very simple one: to smear any adversary of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party – whether on the left or the right – as a stooge or asset of the Kremlin (a key target will undoubtedly be, indeed already is, Bernie Sanders).
Tulsi Gabbard: The US should not be in the business of intervening in Venezuela and picking who should lead the country. And we certainly should not be threatening military action. The US needs to stay out of Venezuela and let the Venezuelan people determine their own future. pic.twitter.com/v5wW7lPdL3
— Sarah Abdallah (@sahouraxo) February 4, 2019
They’ll just paper it all over.
• D-Day For Australian Banks As Bombshell Inquiry Report Set For Release (R.)
The Australian government is due to release on Monday the final recommendations of the independent inquiry that exposed systemic wrongdoing in Australia’s financial sector last year, likely leading to sweeping changes to the country’s banking industry. The big banks, insurers, pension funds and regulators who oversee the financial industry are bracing for a brutal summary of their misdeeds and weaknesses, and a list of tough recommendations including possible criminal charges. The Royal Commission was a quasi-judicial independent body led by a former high court judge that was tasked by the government, reluctantly at first, with investigating financial sector misconduct following a string of banking scandals.
For 11 months its public hearings shocked the country and wiped more than A$60 billion ($43.4 billion) from top financial stocks as investors factored in the prospect of tougher regulation, higher compliance costs and thinner margins. Regulators were also grilled by the commission’s barristers about why they seemed reluctant to crack down on wrongdoing, sometimes penalizing firms with little more than a mildly worded press release. “There will be nothing positive in the recommendations because the banks have clearly breached various obligations in the laws, and obligations to good customer service,” said Matthew Wilson, a banking analyst at Deutsche Bank.
Pepe appears blind to China’s multiple bubbles. I could see them halt any expansion and close their borders first to sort out the financial mess.
• MAGA Misses the Eurasia Train (Escobar)
We should know by now that the heart of the 21st Century Great Game is the myriad layers of the battle between the United States and the partnership of Russia and China. Even the U.S. National Defense Strategy says so: “The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by … revisionist powers.” The recently published assessment on U.S. defense implications of China’s global expansion says so too. The clash will frame the emergence of a possibly new, post-ideological, strategic world order amidst an extremely volatile unpredictability in which peace is war and an accident may spark a nuclear confrontation.
The U.S. vs. Russia and China will keep challenging the West’s obsession in deriding “illiberalism,” a fearful, rhetorical exercise that equates Russian democracy with China’s one party rule, Iran’s demo-theocracy and Turkey’s neo-Ottoman revival. It’s immaterial that Russia’s economy is one-tenth of China’s. From boosting trade that bypasses the U.S. dollar, to increasing joint military exercises, the Russia-China symbiosis is poised to advance beyond political and ideological affinities. China badly needs Russian know-how in its military industry. Beijing will turn this knowledge into plenty of dual use, civilian-military innovations.
The long game indicates Russia and China will break down language and cultural barriers to lead Eurasian integration against American economic hegemony backed by military might. One could say the Eurasian century is already upon us. The era of the West shaping the world at will (a mere blip of history) is already over. This is despite Western elite denials and fulminations against the so-called “morally reprehensible,” “forces of instability” and “existential threats.” Standard Chartered, the British financial services company, using a mix of purchasing power exchange rates and GDP growth, has projected that the top five economies in 2030 will be China, the U.S., India, Japan and Russia. These will be followed by Germany, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and the UK. Asia will extend its middle class as they are slowly killed off across the West.
[..] Beijing is realizing it can’t meet its geo-economic goals on energy, security, and trade without bypassing the U.S. dollar. According to the IMF, 62 percent of global central bank reserves were still held in U.S. dollars by the second quarter of 2018. Around 43 per cent of international transactions on SWIFT are still in U.S. dollars. Even as China, in 2018, was the single largest contributor to global GDP growth, at 27.2 percent, the yuan still only accounts for 1 percent of international payments, and 1.8 per cent of all reserve assets held by central banks.
Our history. A proud story. We bring democracy and freedom and prosperity.
• The Chinese Were White – Until White Men Called Them Yellow (SCMP)
How did East Asians come to be referred to as yellow-skinned? It was the result of a series of racial mappings of the world and had nothing to do with the actual colour of people’s skin. In fact, when complexion was mentioned by an early Western traveller or missionary or ambassador (and it very often wasn’t, because skin colour as a racial marker was not fully in place until the 19th century), East Asians were almost always called white, particularly during the period of first modern contact in the 16th century. And on a number of occasions, even more revealingly, the people were termed “as white as we are”. The term yellow occasionally began to appear towards the end of the 18th century and then really took hold of the Western imagination in the 19th.
But by the 17th century, the Chinese and Japanese were “darkening” in published texts, gradually losing their erstwhile whiteness when it became clear they would remain unwilling to participate in European systems of trade, religion, and international relations. Calling them white, in other words, was not based on simple perception either and had less to do with pigmentation than their presumed levels of civilisation, culture, literacy, and obedience (particularly if they should become Christianised). Swedish botanist and physician Carl Linnaeus decided that varieties of homo sapiens could be similarly separated into four continental types, one of which was called homo asiaticus. The colour of that group, he said, was fuscus, which can be best translated as “dark”. This was in 1735.
Evidently there was some difficulty deciding on a precise colour for Asian Man, since the other three types, European, African, and American, could be “unproblematically” identified according to already accepted stereotypes of white, black, and red. In the tenth edition of Linnaeus’ taxonomy, however, published in 1758, fuscus was silently changed to luridus, meaning “lurid”, “sallow”, or “pale yellow”. The reasons for this alteration were never explained, although luridus also appeared in several of Linnaeus’ botanical publications to characterise unhealthy and toxic plants. Was Asian Man also to be viewed as sickly or dangerous?
Animals and birds? You sure about that?
• Animals And Birds Under Increasing Threat From Plastic Waste (G.)
Wildlife and pets are under increasing threat from plastic waste and litter, according to new data from the RSPCA, which shows the number of incidents of animals hurt by plastic litter has risen sharply on previous years. Plastic litter led to 579 cases of damage to wildlife or pets that were reported to the animal charity in England and Wales in 2018, up from 473 in 2015. That rise came against a background of falling damage to animals from other forms of litter, down from 4,968 reported incidents in 2015 to 4,579 last year. Water birds and marine animals were particularly at risk, with 28 incidents involving seals hurt by plastic litter in 2018, compared with five in 2015. Among birds, swans were among the worst affected, followed by geese and gulls.
Plastic has become an increasing focus of concern, as it does not break down in the natural environment and can continue to cause problems in waterways for years. The government has increased charges on disposable plastic bags to discourage their overuse, and businesses from supermarkets to consumer goods companies are changing their practices to use less plastic packaging in response to public concerns. But the biggest source of damage to wildlife from litter comes from angling, according to the RSPCA’s findings, with discarded equipment such as lines, nets and hooks causing more than 3,200 of last year’s reports.
“[Fishing] lines can wrap around necks, causing deep wounds in flesh and cutting off the blood supply,” said a spokeswoman for the charity. “Hooks can pierce beaks or feet, become embedded in skin or get caught in the bird’s throat, and weights can be swallowed causing internal injuries and blockages.”
It just got a whole lot scarier. Has plastic been banned where you live yet?
• Bacteria Glues Plastic Together Posing Even Deadlier Threat To Sea Life (Ind.)
Plastic in the oceans is being turned into an even greater threat to small sea creatures than previously thought because bacteria are sticking particles of it together, scientists have discovered. Glue-like substances secreted by bacteria are sticking tiny bits of plastic to form larger clusters that marine animals could mistake for food, experts fear. They also worry that the clumping could divert the natural flow of food from the ocean surface to the seafloor, leading to deep sea creatures being starved. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh staged experiments with seawater, adding plastics in conditions simulating the ocean surface. Within minutes, the minuscule pieces of plastic grouped together with bacteria, algae and other organic particles to form larger clumps.
The scientists are said to have been surprised to discover that large masses of biopolymers – molecules made by organisms – formed the bulk of the plastic clusters. About eight million tonnes of plastic are thrown into the ocean each year, research shows. Team member Stephen Summers said: “This is a first step towards understanding how nanoplastics interact with natural biopolymers throughout the world’s oceans. “This is very important, as it is at this small scale that much of the world’s biogeochemistry occurs.” The clumps became visible to the naked eye. “The fact that these agglomerates become large enough to see raises concern, as they are likely to be seen as a food source by small marine animals,” he said.
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