Tag Archives: Ukraine

The People will only take so much – and we have reached that point

Written by Carol Benedict

White supremacists beating Deandre Harris in a Charlottesville parking ramp. Photo: Zach Roberts/Nation of Change

Across this country, we are witnessing the general population respond to the Charlottesville tragedy. Never since the Civil War have we seen such a divisive point. Even the Viet Nam era protests were more civilized than this, notwithstanding the killings at Kent State that to this day have never been served justice.

But what we are not talking about is scarier and even more detrimental to our way of life and what it says about Americans overall. What we are witnessing is the degeneration of a once proud society, now brought to its knees by what would have been considered just one year ago as preposterous and impossible.

In 1945, at the end of WWII, the world recoiled when the death of Benito Mussolini was reported in April. By 1956, civilization took to tearing down of the statues of dictators and rulers who were later judged to be on the wrong side of humanity, beginning with Stalin’s statue in Budapest. Saddam Hussein’s statue met the same fate in 2003 in the town of Firdos, Iraq. It followed with similar actions in other countries; Iran, Egypt, Ukraine and Poland, to name a few.

When Hussein’s statue was pulled down to a screaming throng of angry citizenry, many Americans looked on in horror, grateful nothing like THAT could ever happen in America. We were, after all, a nation of law and order, respect and civilized discourse.

In 2008, the world congratulated America for finally elevating itself to a seemingly post-racial society. Since that time, we have seen eight years of political obstruction referred to as “governance” in Washington DC, championed by Mitch McConnell , who proudly stated that the number one goal for the GOP was to obstruct any policy put forth by the Obama Administration.

In 2016, America responded to that recognition by our international friends and allies through electing a recognized businessman and self-elevated media celebrity with absolutely no political prowess or experience, to lead a country as if it were a corporate enterprise and all that matters is the bottom line profit margin at the end of the day. Along the way, he has collected the most incompetent cabinet that represents what Americans refer to as “the good ole’ boys” of white Caucasian men making the decisions for all of the country.

We now must ask ourselves, “What have we become? What will we accept as a society? Where do we turn when our own President praises the actions of racist bigots while promoting divisiveness through despicable stances on the first amendment protections for freedom of religion and freedom of the press?”

When it takes a ground-swelling effort from the veterans of this nation to protect the family of the victim killed in Charlottesville, we have said we will not take this any more.

Perhaps what we really need to say is, “The People will only take so much, and we have reached that point.”

About the Author:
Carol Benedict is an indépendent researcher and human rights activist. She is also an independent Journalist and a professional member of the US Press Association.

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After Exxon Fined for Sanctions Violations, Calls for Rex Tillerson to Resign

When secretary of state was CEO of ExxonMobil, says Treasury, the oil giant showed a “reckless disregard” for sanctions

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-20-2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil when the company violated U.S. sanctions against Russian officials in 2014. (Photo: Greenpeace/PolluterWatch)

“It’s time Rex Tillerson step down or be removed,” said Gigi Kellett of Corporate Accountability International, following an announcement on Thursday that ExxonMobil will pay $2 million for violating U.S. sanctions against Russian officials while the now-secretary of state was the company’s CEO.

“ExxonMobil demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanction requirements,” according to enforcement filing released by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which issued the penalty. Though the fine is reportedly the maximum penalty allowed, it’s pittance to one of the world’s most profitable and powerful corporations, which last year reported a profit of $7.8 billion. Continue reading

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Ukraine’s eastern front: a Trump card in a bigger game?

Everybody wants better relations between Russia and the west. But leaders in Moscow and DC could throw Ukraine under the bus to get them.

By Ian Bateson. Published 1-31-2017 by openDemocracy

Photo: @datensuche/Twitter

Last week, as I traveled around Ukraine’s eastern front, I found myself talking to soldiers stationed there. The new US president was a regular topic of conversation. “What’s with your new president? He seems unstable,” said one Ukrainian soldier before opening a gate to a hill-top military base. Another, examining our American passports at a checkpoint, asked us what we thought of him, and then threw in his own opinion that Trump is a “rare piece of shit”.

Others have responded more diplomatically. “If Trump is for democratic values and if his work is aimed at helping the development of democratic countries, then he will support Ukraine,” said Viacheslav Filin, commander of Ukraine’s 46th battalion, known as the Donbas Battalion. But for all of Trump’s talk about putting “the people” in charge, he isn’t very interested in promoting democracy at home or abroad as he dams the flow of information and enacts policy by executive orderContinue reading

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What is the nature of the “Ukraine crisis”?

New evidence throws light on the origins of the Russian-Ukrainian war.

By Andreas Umland. Published 11-15-2016 by openDemocracy

OSCE SMM monitoring the movement of heavy weaponry in eastern Ukraine, March 2015. Photo: OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

OSCE SMM monitoring the movement of heavy weaponry in eastern Ukraine, March 2015. Photo: OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Over the past few weeks, Russia-watchers have been intrigued by a leak of emails sent and received by the office of Vladislav Surkov, an official adviser to president Putin.

The Surkov Leaks, which have renewed discussion around Moscow’s involvement in the pseudo-civil war and emergence of “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine, confirm once more that the armed conflict in the Donbas is, to large extent, a Kremlin project. The conflict is merely one part of Moscow’s broader policy of undermining the Ukrainian state after the victory of the Euromaidan revolution in February 2014. Continue reading

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Is internet freedom a tool for democracy or authoritarianism?

Elizabeth Stoycheff, Wayne State University and Erik C. Nisbet, The Ohio State University

Internet censorship by country.

Internet censorship by country.

The irony of internet freedom was on full display shortly after midnight July 16 in Turkey when President Erdogan used FaceTime and independent TV news to call for public resistance against the military coup that aimed to depose him.

In response, thousands of citizens took to the streets and aided the government in beating back the coup. The military plotters had taken over state TV. In this digital age they apparently didn’t realize television was no longer sufficient to ensure control over the message.

This story may appear like a triumphant example of the internet promoting democracy over authoritarianism.

Not so fast.

In recent years, President Erdogan and his Justice & Development (AKP) Party have become increasingly authoritarian. They have cracked down heavily on internet freedom. President Erdogan even once called social media “the worst menace to society.” And, ironically, restoration of these democratic freedoms was one of the stated motivations of the coup initiators.

This duality of the internet, as a tool to promote democracy or authoritarianism, or simultaneously both, is a complex puzzle.

The U.S. has made increasing internet access around the world a foreign policy priority. This policy was supported by both Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.

The U.S. State Department has allocated tens of millions of dollars to promote internet freedom, primarily in the area of censorship circumvention. And just this month, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution declaring internet freedom a fundamental human right. The resolution condemns internet shutdowns by national governments, an act that has become increasingly common in variety of countries across the globe, including Turkey, Brazil, India and Uganda.

On the surface, this policy makes sense. The internet is an intuitive boon for democracy. It provides citizens around the world with greater freedom of expression, opportunities for civil society, education and political participation. And previous research, including our own, has been optimistic about the internet’s democratic potential.

However, this optimism is based on the assumption that citizens who gain internet access use it to expose themselves to new information, engage in political discussions, join social media groups that advocate for worthy causes and read news stories that change their outlook on the world.

And some do.

But others watch Netflix. They use the internet to post selfies to an intimate group of friends. They gain access to an infinite stream of music, movies and television shows. They spend hours playing video games.

However, our recent research shows that tuning out from politics and immersing oneself in online spectacle has political consequences for the health of democracy.

Two men talk in front of an internet cafe in Diyarbakir, Turkey. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

The power of distraction

Political use of the internet ranks very low globally, compared to other uses. Research has found that just 9 percent of internet users posted links to political news and only 10 percent posted their own thoughts about political or social issues. In contrast, almost three-quarters (72 percent) say they post about movies and music, and over half (54 percent) also say they post about sports online.

This inspired our study, which sought to show how the internet does not necessarily serve as democracy’s magical solution. Instead, its democratic potential is highly dependent on how citizens choose to use it.

The study was situated in two nondemocracies, Russia and Ukraine. The two share a common history, geography and culture. Both rank well above the global average of 48 percent of internet penetration. More than 70 percent of Russians and 60 percent of Ukrainians reportedly use the internet.

The results of our study revealed the internet’s double-edged sword. Citizens who used the internet for news and political information were more likely to express greater criticism about their country’s autocratic political institutions and leaders. As a consequence, they were more likely to demand greater democratic reforms.

But, when used differently, the internet can actually harm democratization efforts. Those who spent more of their online time engaging with entertainment content were more satisfied with living under autocratic conditions. These users were happy with the authoritarian elites who oversaw them and were uninspired by the prospects of greater freedom. In other words, online political use enhanced democratic attitudes, while online entertainment use entrenched authoritarian ones.

And it gets worse.

Tamping down political interest

It seems the world’s most shrewd authoritarian leaders have predicted these consequences. They have implemented policies that greatly restrict the internet’s political benefits while enabling a rich entertainment culture that carefully sidesteps political issues.

For example, since 2012, Russia has precipitously increased its censorship of political opposition websites and has recently engaged in consultations with Chinese censorship experts to curtail it even further. In China’s tightly controlled online environment, even entertainment content is carefully screened for subversive messages. Unsurprisingly, both Russia and China did not support the UNHRC human rights resolution guaranteeing citizens unfettered access to the internet.

However, censoring political content is only part of the authoritarian’s “online toolkit.” As we have discussed previously at The Conversation, authoritarian governments seek to create a “psychological firewall” that paints the internet as a scary world full of political threats. This rationale increases threat perceptions among the public. This, in turn, increases the public’s support for online political censorship. These threat perceptions also further motivate audiences to seek “safe” entertainment content rather than “risky” news and information.

When this approach proves unsuccessful, authoritarian regimes instead turn to even more overt scare tactics. Under President Erdogan, the Turkish government has created an aggressive program of legal, political and economic intimidation targeting not only journalists but also average citizens. As a consequence at least one-third of Turkish internet users are afraid to openly discuss politics online. This trend will likely only become worse as the Turkish government carries out its purge of political opponents in the wake of the failed coup.

The final component of the authoritarian toolkit is propaganda and disinformation. Such efforts limit the ability of citizens to separate truth from fiction, demobilize citizens and “undermine the self-organizing potential of society” to pursue democratic change.

The internet freedom advocacy challenge

Ensuring citizens have access to the internet is not sufficient to ensure democracy and human rights. In fact, internet access may negatively impact democracy if exploited for authoritarian gain.

The U.S. government, NGOs and other democracy advocates have invested a great deal of time and resources toward promoting internet access, fighting overt online censorship and creating circumvention technologies. Yet their success, at best, has been limited.

The reason is twofold. First, authoritarian governments have adapted their own strategies in response. Second, the “if we build it, they will come” philosophy underlying a great deal of internet freedom promotion doesn’t take into account basic human psychology in which entertainment choices are preferred over news and attitudes toward the internet determine its use, not the technology itself.

Allies in the internet freedom fight should realize that the locus of the fight has shifted. Greater efforts must be put toward tearing down “psychological firewalls,” building demand for internet freedom and influencing citizens to employ the internet’s democratic potential.

Doing so ensures that the democratic online toolkit is a match for the authoritarian one.

The Conversation

Elizabeth Stoycheff, Assistant Professor of Political Communication, Wayne State University and Erik C. Nisbet, Associate Professor of Communication, Political Science, and Environmental Policy and Faculty Associate with the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, The Ohio State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Only 10 Countries in the Entire World Are Not Currently at War

By Claire Bernish. Published 6-9-2016 by The Anti-Media

A U.S. soldier stands guard duty near a burning oil well in the Rumaila oil field, 2 April 2003. Photo: US Navy (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

A U.S. soldier stands guard duty near a burning oil well in the Rumaila oil field, 2 April 2003. Photo: US Navy (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

United States — A troubling report by the Institute for Economics and Peace found a mere ten nations on the planet are not at war and completely free from conflict. According to the Global Peace Index 2016, only Botswana, Chile, Costa Rica, Japan, Mauritius, Panama, Qatar, Switzerland, Uruguay and Vietnam are free from conflict. Iceland tops the list of most peaceful countries in the world, followed by Denmark, Austria, New Zealand, Portugal, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, and Slovenia — while the United States ranked far lower, at 103. Palestine, placed in the index of 163 nations for the first time this year, ranked 148th.

War-torn Syria placed at the bottom of the list, lower than only South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Central African Republic, Ukraine, Sudan, and Libya. Continue reading

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Ratcheting Tensions, Obama Orders Huge Weapons Increase Along EU-Russia Border

Just last week, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov referred to NATO’s build-up near Russia’s borders as “counterproductive and dangerous.”

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-2-2016

During a 2015 NATO exercise. (Photo: Gonzalo Alonso/flickr/cc)

During a 2015 NATO exercise. (Photo: Gonzalo Alonso/flickr/cc)

Less than a week after Russia’s foreign minister warned that NATO’s military build-up near Russia’s borders is “counterproductive and dangerous,” the United States is ramping up the deployment of heavy weapons and armored vehicles to NATO member countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Administration officials told the Times “the additional NATO forces were calculated to send a signal to President Vladimir V. Putin that the West remained deeply suspicious of his motives in the region,” referring to Russia’s ongoing presence in eastern Ukraine. Continue reading

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Warming World of Chaos Fueling Global Refugee Crisis Never Before Seen

‘The year 2015 will be remembered for the heart-breaking image of a lifeless little boy on a beach—one of many who came before him; one of many who came after him.’

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 12-18-2015

A group of Syrian refugees arrives on the island of Lesbos after traveling in an inflatable raft from Turkey near Skala Sikaminias, Greece. 15 July 2015. (Photo: UNHCR/Andrew McConnell)

A group of Syrian refugees arrives on the island of Lesbos after traveling in an inflatable raft from Turkey near Skala Sikaminias, Greece. 15 July 2015. (Photo: UNHCR/Andrew McConnell)

As ongoing violence and conflicts continue to grip the warming planet, the number of people worldwide forced to flee their homes this year is on track to shatter all previous such records, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned Friday.

For the first time ever, that number could hit 60 million by year’s end.

The figures on worldwide displacement are documented in the agency’s Mid-Year Trends 2015 report, which looked the number of people who were either refugees, asylum-seekers, or internally displaced. Continue reading

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Ukraine: Europe’s forgotten refugees

While the world focuses on refugees arriving in Europe from warzones in the Middle East, the plight of those fleeing war in Ukraine has been forgotten.

By Sara Cincurova. Published 11-10-2015 at openDemocracy

Across the world people are concerned by the current European refugee crisis, however there are thousands of Ukrainians who have fled war in their own  country and are now living as refugees on the borders of Eastern Europe. Their destinies remain overlooked and unknown.

The very Western parts of Ukraine have become home to several thousand refugees who have fled the armed conflict in Donbas; some of them are now living no further than two kilometres from the EU border. They have fled the war, traveled thousands of kilometres, lost their loved ones and risked their lives so that they can get closer to European borders. Unlike those who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea, however, Ukrainian refugees know that entering Europe is impossible for them – no matter how close it may be. Continue reading

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NATO and Russia ‘War Games’ Not Games At All

The nature and scale of ongoing exercises suggest ‘Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia.’

Written by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-12-15.

At the opening ceremony of a NATO exercise in Latvia this June. (Photo:Latvijas armija/flickr/cc)

At the opening ceremony of a NATO exercise in Latvia this June. (Photo:Latvijas armija/flickr/cc)

War games conducted by Russian and NATO forces go far beyond the hypothetical, raising the specter of a very real conflict on the European continent, a new study warns.

According to the European Leadership Network (ELN), a think tank based in London, “[o]ver the last 18 months, against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, the relationship between Russia and the West has deteriorated considerably”—at least in part due to war games that feed a “climate of mistrust.”

ELN’s report, Preparing for the Worst: Are Russian and NATO Military Exercises Making War in Europe more Likely? (pdf), analyzes a Russian ‘snap exercise’ in March involving 80,000 military personal from bases all across the country, and NATO’s Allied Shield set of war games conducted on air, land, and sea in June, which involved 15,000 personnel from 22 countries.

Though both sides “may maintain that these operations are targeted against hypothetical opponents, the nature and scale of them indicate otherwise: Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia,” the authors write.

NATO’s activities, for example, are “clearly intended to simulate the kinds of operations NATO forces would need to engage in, in the context of a military crisis or confrontation with Russia somewhere in the Baltic region,” the report reads, while the scale and geographical distribution of Russia’s drill “means it could only have been a simulated war with U.S.-led NATO.”

“We do not suggest that the leadership of either side has made a decision to go to war or that a military conflict between the two is inevitable,” the report continues, “but that the changed profile of exercises is a fact and it does play a role in sustaining the current climate of tensions in Europe.”

The exercises also indicate “what each side sees as its most exposed areas,” ELN states, with NATO concentrating its activities in the Baltic States and Poland and Russia focusing primarily on the Arctic and High North, the seaport city of Kaliningrad, occupied Crimea, and its border areas with NATO members Estonia and Latvia.

While Russia and NATO both insist that their moves are defensive in nature, the authors argue that war games can be easily perceived “as provocative and deliberate aggravation of the crisis.”

To “defuse or at least minimize the tensions” between the world powers, the report recommends increased transparency and communication around scheduling of exercises; “restraint in terms of size or scenarios used in exercises;” and—most grandly—the immediate commencement of “conceptual work” on a new treaty limiting deployment of specific categories of weapons.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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