How would we cope if Capitalism failed ? Ask 26 Greek factory Workers.

Aditya Chakrabortty

The GUARDIAN

July 18th, 2017

You could call the men and women at Viome factory workers, but that wouldn’t be the half of it. Try instead: some of the bravest people I’ve ever met. Or: organisers of one of the most startling social experiments in contemporary Europe. And: a daily lesson from Greece to Brexit Britain, both in how we work and how we do politics.
At the height of the Greek crash in 2011, staff at Viome clocked in to confront an existential quandary. The owners of their parent company had gone bust and abandoned the site, in the second city of Thessaloniki. From here, the script practically wrote itself: their plant, which manufactured chemicals for the construction industry, would be shut. There would be immediate layoffs, and dozens of families would be plunged into poverty. And seeing as Greece was in the midst of the greatest economic depression ever seen in the EU, the workers’ chances of getting another job were close to nil.
So they decided to occupy their own plant. Not only that, they turned it upside down. I spent a couple of days there a few weeks back, while reporting for Vice News Tonight on HBO, and it now looks like just an ordinary factory. Behind the facade, it has become the political equivalent of a Tardis: the more you look inside, the bigger the implications get.
For a start, no one is boss. There is no hierarchy, and everyone is on the same wage. Factories traditionally work according to a production-line model, where each person does one- or two-minute tasks all day, every day: you fit the screen, I fix the protector, she boxes up the iPhone. Here, everyone gathers at 7am for a mud-black Greek coffee and a chat about what needs to be done. Only then are the day’s tasks divvied up. And, yes, they each take turns to clean the toilets.
Let that sink in. A bunch of middle-aged men and women who have spent their entire careers on the wrong end of barked orders about what to do and when to do it have seized ownership of their own workplace and their own working lives. They became their own bosses. And they immediately align themselves to principles of the purest equality possible.
“Before, I was doing only one thing and had no idea what the others were doing,” is how Dimitris Koumatsioulis remembers the factory when he started in 2004. And now? “We’re all united. We have forgotten the concept of ‘I’ and can function collectively as ‘we’.”
The other massive change that has taken place is between the factory and its neighbours. When the workers “recuperated” their workplace (to use the local term), they could only do so with the help of Thessaloniki locals. Whenever representatives of the former owners came to requisition their equipment, as a court had given them permission to do, hundreds of residents would form a human chain in front of the plant (I contacted lawyers for Viome for comment but, despite assurances, no statement was forthcoming).
When the workers consulted the local community about what they should start to produce, one request was to stop making building chemicals. They now largely manufacture soap and eco-friendly household detergents: cleaner, greener and easier on their neighbours’ noses.
Staff use the building as an assembly point for local refugees, and I saw the offices being turned over to medics for a weekly free neighbourhood clinic for workers and locals. The Greek healthcare system has been shredded by spending cuts, its handling of refugees sometimes atrocious; yet in both cases, the workers at Viome are doing their best to offer substitutes.
Where the state has collapsed, the market has come up short and the boss class has literally fled, these 26 workers are attempting to fill the gaps. These are people who have been failed by capitalism; now they reject capitalism itself as a failure.
Another old-timer, Makis Anagnostou, talks of how their factory is proof “that an alternative economy is feasible”. Contrast this with the way we normally think about work. At any large factory or office, security guards keep the outside world at bay. You check your politics at the door, and listen to your line manager. We even talk about work-life balance as if the two were polar opposites. At Viome, they are combined. One of the results is a strong bond of loyalty between the workers and their community.
The evening I arrived, swarms of people turned up for a fundraiser. They sat on plastic chairs in the middle of the storage warehouse and watched a play by Dario Fo, enacted by a national theatre company. The lead actress altered some of the lines to refer to this place and its business: “They sell their soaps everywhere. And everyone is buying it!” Cheers broke out among audience members, alongside some fervent dabbing of eyes.
Viome is precious. It is also precarious. From the roof of the building, you can see the huge site owned by the parent company. It used to employ about 350 people; now the 26 men and women operate out of one small corner of the lot.

They earn the same amount as they would receive in unemployment benefit. And when night falls, one of the workers stays on to stand guard – just in case the old owners come back. During the day, a line of empty barrels acts as a barricade.
For all its fragilities, Viome still offers a lesson in politics to any British visitor. In the year since the EU referendum, Britons have entered an era of bullshit sovereignty. Sofa-loads of politicians claim they “get it”. They pretend to listen – yet hear only the answers they want. Dissenters are told they are “talking Britain down”. Any actual outbreaks of democracy, such as members of the Labour party wanting more of a say over their representatives, are leapt upon as an instance of mob rule.
Meanwhile, politics in Britain is retailed as what one would-be alpha Tory said to another at some champagne reception.
From Thessaloniki, you see all of that as the lie it is. Take back control? Just a means of allowing Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson some prime-time gurning. Referendums? Stuffed with lies and alarmism. If you’re tired of ex-public schoolboys playing at populism, come and see what democracy looks like when exercised directly by the people themselves. Come to Viome.

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The Mainstream Media

… Still Living in Propaganda-ville

The stakes in US-Russia relations could not be higher – possible nuclear conflagration and the end of civilization – but the US mainstream media is still slouching around in “propaganda-ville”.

by Robert Parry

Consortium News (July 06 2017)

As much as the US mainstream media wants people to believe that it is the Guardian of Truth, it is actually lost in a wilderness of propaganda and falsehoods, a dangerous land of delusion that is putting the future of humankind at risk as tension escalates with nuclear-armed Russia.

This media problem has grown over recent decades as lucrative careerism has replaced responsible professionalism. Pack journalism has always been a threat to quality reporting but now it has evolved into a self-sustaining media lifestyle in which the old motto, “there’s safety in numbers”, is borne out by the fact that being horrendously wrong, such as on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, leads to almost no accountability because so many important colleagues were wrong as well.

Similarly, there has been no accountability after many mainstream journalists and commentators falsely stated as flat fact that “all-seventeen US intelligence agencies” concurred that Russia did “meddle” in last November’s US election.

For months, this claim has been the go-to put-down whenever anyone questions the groupthink of Russian venality perverting American democracy. Even the esteemed “Politifact” deemed the assertion “true”. But it was never true.

It was at best a needled distortion of a claim by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence (“DNI”) James Clapper when he issued a statement last October 7 alleging Russian meddling. Because Clapper was the chief of the US Intelligence Community, his opinion morphed into a claim that it represented the consensus of all seventeen intelligence agencies, a dishonest twist that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton began touting.

However, for people who understand how the US Intelligence Community works, the claim of a seventeen-agencies consensus has a specific meaning, some form of a National Intelligence Estimate (“NIE”) that seeks out judgments and dissents from the various agencies.

But there was no NIE regarding alleged Russian meddling and there apparently wasn’t even a formal assessment from a subset of the agencies at the time of Clapper’s statement. President Obama did not order a publishable assessment until December – after the election – and it was not completed until January 6th, when a report from Clapper’s office presented the opinions of analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency – three agencies (or four if you count the DNI’s office), not seventeen.

Lacking Hard Evidence

The report also contained no hard evidence of a Russian “hack” and amounted to a one-sided circumstantial case at best. However, by then, the US mainstream media had embraced the “all-seventeen-intelligence-agencies” refrain and anyone who disagreed, including President Trump, was treated as delusional. The argument went: “How can anyone question what all seventeen intelligence agencies have confirmed as true?”

It wasn’t until May 8 when then-former DNI Clapper belatedly set the record straight in sworn congressional testimony in which he explained that there were only three “contributing agencies” from which analysts were “hand-picked”.

The reference to “hand-picked” analysts pricked the ears of some former US intelligence analysts who had suffered through earlier periods of “politicized” intelligence when malleable analysts were chosen to deliver what their political bosses wanted to hear.

On May 23, also in congressional testimony, former CIA Director John Brennan confirmed Clapper’s description, saying only four of the seventeen US intelligence agencies took part in the assessment.

Brennan said the January 6 report

followed the general model of how you want to do something like this with some notable exceptions. It only involved the FBI, NSA and CIA as well as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It wasn’t a full inter-agency community assessment that was coordinated among the seventeen agencies.

After this testimony, some of the major news organizations, which had been waving around the “seventeen-intelligence-agencies” meme, subtly changed their phrasing to either depict Russian “meddling” as an established fact no longer requiring attribution or referred to the “unanimous judgment” of the Intelligence Community without citing a specific number.

This “unanimous judgment” formulation was deceptive, too, because it suggested that all seventeen agencies were in accord albeit without exactly saying that. For a regular reader of The New York Times or a frequent viewer of CNN, the distinction would almost assuredly not be detected.

For more than a month after the Clapper-Brennan testimonies, there was no formal correction.

A Belated Correction

Finally, on June 25, the Times’ hand was forced when White House correspondent Maggie Haberman reverted to the old formulation, mocking Trump for “still refus[ing] to acknowledge a basic fact agreed upon by seventeen American intelligence agencies that he now oversees: Russia orchestrated the attacks, and did it to help get him elected”.

When this falsehood was called to the Times’ attention, it had little choice but to append a correction to the article, noting that the intelligence

assessment was made by four intelligence agencies – the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all seventeen organizations in the American intelligence community.

The Associated Press ran a similar “clarification” applied to some of its fallacious reporting repeating the “seventeen-intelligence-agencies” meme.

So, you might have thought that the mainstream media was finally adjusting its reporting to conform to reality. But that would mean that one of the pillars of the Russia-gate “scandal” had crumbled, the certainty that Russia and Vladimir Putin did “meddle” in the election.

The story would have to go back to square one and the major news organizations would have to begin reporting on whether or not there ever was solid evidence to support what had become a “certainty” – and there appeared to be no stomach for such soul-searching. Since pretty much all the important media figures had made the same error, it would be much easier to simply move on as if nothing had changed.

That would mean that skepticism would still be unwelcome and curious leads would not be followed. For instance, there was a head-turning reference in an otherwise typical Washington Post take-out on June 25 accusing Russia of committing “the crime of the century”.

A reference stuck deep inside the five-page opus, said, “Some of the most critical technical intelligence on Russia came from another country, officials said. Because of the source of the material, the NSA was reluctant to view it with high confidence.”

Though the Post did not identify the country, this reference suggests that more than one key element of the case for Russian culpability was based not on direct investigations by the US intelligence agencies, but on the work of external organizations.

Earlier, the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”) denied the FBI access to its supposedly hacked computers, forcing the investigators to rely on a DNC contractor called CrowdStrike, which has a checkered record of getting this sort of analytics right and whose chief technology officer, Dmitri Alperovitch, is an anti-Putin Russian emigre with ties to the anti-Russian think tank, Atlantic Council.

Relying on Outsiders

You might be wondering why something as important as this “crime of the century”, which has pushed the world closer to nuclear annihilation, is dependent on dubious entities outside the US government with possible conflicts of interest.

If the US government really took this issue seriously, which it should, why didn’t the FBI seize the DNC’s computers and insist that impartial government experts lead the investigation? And why – given the extraordinary expertise of the NSA in computer hacking – is “some of the most critical technical intelligence on Russia [coming] from another country”, one that doesn’t inspire the NSA’s confidence?

But such pesky questions are not likely to be asked or answered by a mainstream US media that displays deep-seated bias toward both Putin and Trump.

Mostly, major news outlets continue to brush aside the clarifications and return to various formulations that continue to embrace the “seventeen-intelligence-agencies” canard, albeit in slightly different forms, such as references to the collective Intelligence Community without the specific number. Anyone who questions this established conventional wisdom is still crazy and out of step.

For instance, James Holmes of Esquire was stunned on Thursday when Trump at a news conference in Poland reminded the travelling press corps about the inaccurate reporting regarding the seventeen intelligence agencies and said he still wasn’t entirely sure about Russia’s guilt.

“In public, he’s still casting doubt on the intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election nearly nine months after the fact”, Holmes sputtered before describing Trump’s comment as a “rant”.

So, if you thought that a chastened mainstream media might stop in the wake of the “seventeen-intelligence-agencies” falsehood and rethink the whole Russia-gate business, you would have been sadly mistaken.

But the problem is not just the question of whether Russia hacked into Democratic emails and slipped them to WikiLeaks for publication (something that both Russia and WikiLeaks deny). Perhaps the larger danger is how the major US news outlets have adopted a consistently propagandistic approach toward everything relating to Russia.

Hating Putin

This pattern traces back to the earliest days of Vladimir Putin’s presidency in 2000 when he began to rein in the US-prescribed “shock therapy”, which had sold off Russia’s assets to well-connected insiders, making billions of dollars for the West favoured “oligarchs”, even as the process threw millions of average Russian into poverty.

But the US mainstream media’s contempt for Putin reached new heights after he helped President Obama head off neoconservative (and liberal interventionist) demands for a full-scale US military assault on Syria in August 2013 and helped bring Iran into a restrictive nuclear agreement when the neocons wanted to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran.

The neocons delivered their payback to Putin in early 2014 by supporting a violent coup in Ukraine, overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych and installing a fiercely anti-Russian regime. The US operation was spearheaded by neocon National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman and neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, with enthusiastic support from neocon Senator John McCain.

Nuland was heard in an intercepted pre-coup phone call with US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt discussing who should become the new leaders and pondering how to “glue” or “midwife this thing”.

Despite the clear evidence of US interference in Ukrainian politics, the US government and the mainstream media embraced the coup and accused Putin of “aggression” when ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, called the Donbas, resisted the coup regime.

When ethnic Russians and other citizens in Crimea voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to reject the coup regime and rejoin Russia – a move protected by some of the 20,000 Russian troops inside Crimea as part of a basing agreement – that became a Russian “invasion”. But it was the most peculiar “invasion” since there were no images of tanks crashing across borders or amphibious landing craft on Crimean beaches, because no such “invasion” had occurred.

However, in virtually every instance, the US mainstream media insisted on the most extreme anti-Russian propaganda line and accused people who questioned this Official Narrative of disseminating Russian “propaganda” – or being a “Moscow stooge” or acting as a “useful fool”. There was no tolerance for skepticism about whatever the State Department or the Washington think tanks were saying.

Trump Meets Putin

So, as Trump prepares for his first meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, the US mainstream media has been in a frenzy, linking up its groupthinks about the Ukraine “invasion” with its groupthinks about Russia “hacking” the election.

In a July 3 editorial, The Washington Post declared,

Mr Trump simply cannot fail to admonish Mr Putin for Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. He must make clear the United States will not tolerate it, period. Naturally, this is a difficult issue for Mr Trump, who reaped the benefit of Russia’s intervention and now faces a special counsel’s investigation, but nonetheless, in his first session with Mr Putin, the president must not hesitate to be blunt …

On Ukraine, Mr Trump must also display determination. Russia fomented an armed uprising and seized Crimea in violation of international norms, and it continues to instigate violence in the Donbas. Mr Trump ought to make it unmistakably clear to Mr Putin that the United States will not retreat from the sanctions imposed over Ukraine until the conditions of peace agreements are met.

Along the same lines, even while suggesting the value of some collaboration with Russia toward ending the war in Syria, Post columnist David Ignatius wrote in a July 5 column, “Russian-American cooperation on Syria faces a huge obstacle right now. It would legitimize a Russian regime that invaded Ukraine and meddled in US and European elections, in addition to its intervention in Syria.”

Note the smug certainty of Ignatius and the Post editors. There is no doubt that Russia “invaded” Ukraine; “seized” Crimea; “meddled” in US and European elections. Yet all these groupthinks should be subjected to skepticism, not simply treated as undeniable truths.

But seeing only one side to a story is where the US mainstream media is at this point in history. Yes, it is possible that Russia was responsible for the Democratic hacks and did funnel the material to WikiLeaks, but evidence has so far been lacking. And, instead of presenting both sides fairly, the major media acts as if only one side deserves any respect and dissenting views must be ridiculed and condemned.

In this perverted process, collectively approved versions of complex situations congeal into conventional wisdom, which simply cannot be significantly reconsidered regardless of future revelations.

As offensive as this rejection of true truth-seeking may be, it also represents an extraordinary danger when mixed with the existential risk of nuclear conflagration.

With the stakes this high, the demand for hard evidence – and the avoidance of soft-minded groupthink – should go without question. Journalists and commentators should hold themselves to professional precision, not slide into sloppy careerism, lost in “propaganda-ville”.

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Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. His latest book is America’s Stolen Narrative (2012).

https://consortiumnews.com/20seventeen/07/06/msm-still-living-in-propaganda-ville/

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How Russia and China are Creating a New World Order

by Federico Pieraccini

Strategic Culture Foundation (June 20 2017)

The last thirty days have shown another kind of world that is engaging in cooperation, dialogue and diplomatic efforts to resolve important issues. The meeting of the members of the Belt and Road Initiative (“BRI”) laid the foundations for a physical and electronic connectivity among Eurasian countries, making it the backbone of sustainable and renewable trade development based on mutual cooperation. A few weeks later, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (“SCO”) meeting in Astana outlined the necessary conditions for the success of the Chinese project, such as securing large areas of the Eurasian block and improving dialogue and trust among member states. The following Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (“AIIB”) meeting in the Republic of Korea (“ROK”) will lay out the economic necessities to finance and sustain the BRI projects.

The SCO and the BRI have many common features, and in many ways seem complementary. The SCO is an organization that focuses heavily on economic, political and security issues in the region, while the BRI is a collection of infrastructure projects that incorporates three-fifths of the globe and is driven by Beijing’s economic might. In this context, the Eurasian block continues to develop the following initiatives to support both the BRI and SCO mega-projects. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (“CTSO”) is a Moscow-based organization focusing mainly on the fight against terrorism, while the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (“AIIB”) is a Beijing-based investment bank that is responsible for generating important funding for Beijing’s long-term initiatives along its maritime routes (ports and canals) and overland routes (roads, bridges, railways, pipelines, industries, airports). The synergies between these initiatives find yet another point of co nvergence in the Eurasian Economic Union (“EEU”). Together, the SCO, BRI, CTSO, AIIB, and EEU provide a compelling indication of the direction in which humanity is headed, which is to say towards integration, cooperation and peaceful development through diplomacy.

On the other side, we have the “old world order” made up of the IMF, the World Bank, the European Union, the UN, Nato, the WTO, with Washington being the ringmaster at the centre of this vision of a world order. It is therefore not surprising that Washington should look askance at these Eurasian initiatives that threaten to deny its central and commanding role in the global order in favour of a greater say by Moscow, Beijing, New Delhi and even Tehran.

One of the most significant and noteworthy events in the last month, or even in recent years, has been the admission into the SCO of India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers with a history of tension and conflict between them. These two countries are critical to the peaceful and fruitful integration of Eurasia. The slow, two-year process of India and Pakistan’s admission into the SCO benefited greatly from China and Russia’s mediation, culminating in the historical agreement signed by Modi, Sharif, Putin, and Xi. This is not to mention Afghanistan’s Ghani being at the same table with Modi and Sharif, representing one of the most infamous locations where Eurasian powers have clashed with each other, acting as an obstacle to the integration and development of the region. The main goal of the new SCO organization is a peaceful mediation between New Delhi and Islamabad, and certainly to reach a wider agreement that can include Afghanistan. Kabul is a good example of how the SCO can offer the ideal framework for achieving a definitive peace settlement. This reflects the sentiment that was expressed during the meeting that took place a few weeks ago in Moscow between Pakistan, India, China, Russia, and Afghanistan over the complicated situation in the country. Clearly, there are conflicting interests, and it is only through the mediation of Beijing and Moscow that it will be possible to reach a wider agreement and end the sixteen-year-old conflict.

Afghanistan is a good example of how the SCO intends to support the BRI. In this sense, it is important to note that Moscow and Beijing have decided to engage in a partnership that looks more like an alliance with long-term projects planned deep into 2030. The extent to which Russia and China are committed to common initiatives and projects can be seen in the BRI, SCO, AIIB, and CTSO.

Security and Development

Beijing is fully aware that it is impossible to defeat terrorism without laying the foundation for economic growth in underdeveloped countries in Africa, Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. Terrorist organizations are generally better able to recruit from populations suffering from low income and poor schooling. The SCO is required to manage and control its members’ most unstable areas (Central Asian republics, Afghanistan, India-Pakistan border, Beijing-New Delhi relations) and mediate between parties. The BRI and SCO go hand in hand, one being unable to operate without the other, as Xi and Putin have reiterated.

The SCO and BRI are both capable of meeting the challenges of economic growth through development and progress. Just looking at the BRI’s major projects helps one understand the level and extent of integration that has been agreed. The Eurasian Land Bridge begins in Western China and ends in Western Russia. The China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor begins in Northern China and arrives in Eastern Russia. Central Asia will be connected to Western Asia, which practically means China linking with Turkey. The China-Indochina corridor runs from Southern China to Singapore, and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor starts in Southern China and arrives in India. The nearly completed China-Pakistan corridor starts in south-western China and reaches Pakistan. Finally, the maritime route running from the Chinese coast through to Singapore will reach the Mediterranean in Greece or, in the future, Venice.

What is evident is that countries like India, Singapore, Turkey, and Myanmar, just to name a few, do not wish to miss the opportunity to join this initiative that promises to revolutionize trade and globalization as we know it. Today’s main economic problems, as well as the problem posed by terrorism, stem from the lack of economic growth brought on by a globalization that enriches the elites at the expense of ordinary people. The BRI aims to reinvent globalization, avoiding the protectionist drift that many countries today adopt in response to an aggressive and failed approach to globalization. Beijing intends to bring about a radical change to its industries by restructuring its production and boosting its investment in technology, generating more internal consumption, and becoming a country that offers services and not only manufacturing. For this process to be successful, it will be fundamental to reorganize the regional supply chain by transferring production to more competitive countries that will play important roles in sectors such as agriculture, energy, logistics, and industry. Southeast Asia, in particular, seems to offer ideal destinations for transferring Chinese industries.

In this process of transforming a good part of the globe, some countries currently outside of the SCO organization are nevertheless fully part of the integration schemes and will play a decisive role in the future. In particular, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt are the main focus when one looks at their geographical position. The importance of these three countries vis-a-vis the SCO arises mainly from the need of the organization to pursue its work of political expansion and, in the future, to counter militarily the problem of terrorism and its spread. Naturally, countries like Iran and Egypt already devote a large part of their resources towards counteracting the terrorist phenomenon in the Middle East and North Africa. Their entry into the SCO would be seen by many protagonists of the BRI, especially China, as providing the opportunity to expand their projects in areas in North Africa and the Middle East that are currently tumultuous.

This should not come as a surprise since even countries like Jordan and Israel have been taken into account by Beijing for important infrastructure projects related to the transport of desalinated water to regions with a high rate of drought. With Israel, the Chinese partnership is stronger than ever, counting on various factors such as technological development and the expansion of several Israeli ports to connect more Chinese maritime routes with destinations in the Mediterranean like Piraeus in Greece and probably Venice in Italy. Turkey’s entry into the SCO is mainly aimed at gathering the region’s major oil and gas suppliers and consumers under a single umbrella guaranteed by the SCO. These operations take time and a degree of cooperation that is hard to maintain, although the resolution of the situation in Syria, in addition to the crisis in the Gulf between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, could accelerate synergies and easily facilitate them.

The entry of Iran, Egypt, and Turkey into the SCO is inevitable, receiving the strong encouragement of China and Russia, especially as regards the future connection between BRI and other infrastructure projects that are part of the EEU. The advantages are quite obvious to everyone, bringing about greater integration and infrastructure links, the increase of trade between nations, and general cooperation in mutual development. Products can travel from one country to another based on conditions determined bilaterally, something that often favours bigger nations rather than smaller ones. The intention of China’s Globalization 2.0, coupled with a Eurasian revival of the EEU, is to change the future of humanity by shifting the global pole of globalization and development towards the east. The BRI is immense and mind-boggling in its scope, given that it embraces realities ranging from Panama (focused on the extended channel and the Nicaragua project for a new channel) to Australia, passing through Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Persian Gulf.

Naturally, in this delicate balance, Europe is called on to play a decisive role in the future. The United States, with its “America First” policy, has already burned bridges with the Chinese BRI revolution, and indeed hopes to throw a spanner in China’s works. European countries including England, France, Germany, and Italy have already begun to sign onto various Chinese proposals. It looks as if America’s allies are no longer listening to their former boss. The European Central Bank has for the first time diversified $500 million into Yuan currency, and London, together with Rome, Berlin, and Paris, was present in Beijing for the launch of the BRI. France, Germany, and England sent high-level representations and delegations, Italy directly the Prime Minister. For Europe, the largest exporter to China and the second-largest regional block importing from China, it is inevitable that it will be an integral part of the BRI, looking to reach Iran, Turkey and Egypt for energy supplies and diversifying sources, all within the framework of the BRI.

In this process of Eurasian integration, there are some key countries to keep in mind, but the first steps have already been made with almost indissoluble ties having been made between Moscow and Beijing, as well as the monumental inclusion of Pakistan and India at the same table. With an understanding between India, Russia and China, as well as a lack of hostility to the project in Iran, Israel, Germany, England, Turkey and Egypt, it will be possible to speed up this global change, bringing it to the African countries, Gulf monarchies, South Asian countries, and even South and Central America. Even Washington’s historic allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the EU vacillate in the face of such an opportunity to broaden their horizons with significant gains. As far as their alliance with the United States, in this world rapidly heading towards a multipolar world order, not even Riyadh, Tel Aviv or London can afford the luxury of ignoring the project that perhaps more than any other will revolutionize the future of humanity in the near future. Not being a part of it is simply not an option.

The United States has two diametrically opposed options before it. It can operate alongside the BRI project, trying to fashion its own sphere of influence, albeit smaller than the countries residing within the Eurasian continent; but of course for Washington, simply being part of a grand project may not be enough, since it is used to getting its own way and subordinating the interests of other countries to its own. If the US decides to try and sabotage the BRI with their normal tools like terrorism, it is very likely that the countries historically aligned with Washington in these affairs (such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) will be subjected to Chinese economic pressure and encouraged to instead participate in a more positive manner.

Cooperation Against Threats

The main question is the extent to which Chinese economic persuasion will succeed in overcoming US military threats. In this respect, the SCO will be a decisive factor as it expands its influence beyond the Eurasian bloc into Africa and the Middle East. To date, the SCO cannot be considered a military bloc opposed to Nato. Everything will depend on the pressures that the United States will bring to bear on participating countries. Therefore, it is likely that the SCO will evolve to include a strong military aspect in order to counter American destabilization efforts.

It is difficult to predict whether the US will be neutral or belligerent. But considering recent history, American hostility is likely to force Moscow and Beijing into an asymmetric response that will hit Washington where it hurts most, namely its economic interests. Aiming at the dollar, and in particular, the petrodollar seems to be the best bet for advancing the BRI, threatening a massive de-dollarization that would end in disaster for Washington. This is the nuclear option that Beijing and Moscow are looking into, with more than a desire to accelerate this economic shift.

The future of humanity seems to be changing in exciting and unprecedented ways. The full integration of the Eurasian bloc will eventually end up changing the course of history, allowing nations that are currently weak and poor to withstand colonial pressures and broaden their cooperation and dialogue. Peace as a method for developing synergies and prosperity seems to be the new paradigm, contrasting with war and destruction as has been the case in the last decades.

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Republishing is welcomed with reference to Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal http://www.strategic-culture.org.

https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/06/20/leading-multipolar-revolution-how-russia-china-creating-new-world-order.html

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Security is Ruining the Internet

by Ted Rall

CounterPunch (May 17 2017)

Another major cyber attack, another wave of articles telling you how to protect your data has me thinking about European ruins. Those medieval fortresses and castles had walls ten feet thick made of solid stone; they were guarded by mean, heavily armoured, men. The barbarians got in anyway.

At the time, those invasions felt like the end of the world. But life goes on. Today’s Europeans live in houses and apartment buildings that, compared to castles of the Middle Ages, have no security at all. Yet: no raping, no pillaging. People are fine.

Security is overrated.

The ransomware attack that crippled targets as diverse as FedEx and British hospitals reminds me of something that we rarely talk about even though it’s useful wisdom: A possession that is so valuable that you have to spend a lot of money and psychic bandwidth to protect it often feels like more of a burden than a boon.

You hear it all the time: Change your passwords often. Use different passwords for different accounts. Install File Vault. Use encrypted communications apps. At what point do we throw up our hands, change all our passwords to “password” and tell malicious hackers to come on in, do your worse?

I owned a brand-new car once. I loved the look and the smell but hated the anxiety. What if some jerk dented it? Sure enough, within a week and the odometer reading in the low three digits, another motorist scratched the bumper while pulling out of a parallel parking space. I was so determined to restore the newness that I paid $800 for a new bumper. Which got scratched too. That was 13 years, 200,000 miles and a lot of dings ago. Still drive the same car. I don’t care about dents.

I’m liberated.

The Buddha taught that material attachments bring misery. He was right. During the 1980s crack epidemic addicts stole car stereos to finance their fixes. To avoid smashed windows, New Yorkers took to posting “No Radio” signs on their cars.

But the really smart drivers’ signs read “Door unlocked, no radio”. It worked.

Hackers, we’re told, are ruining the Internet. I say our reaction to hack attacks has ruined it. It’s like 9/11. Three thousand people died. But attacking Afghanistan and Iraq killed more than a million. We should have sucked it up instead.

Security often destroys the very thing it’s supposed to protect. Take the TSA – please! Increased airport security measures after 9/11 have made flying so unpleasant that Americans are driving more instead. Meanwhile, “civil aviation” flights out of small airports – which have no or minimal security screenings – are increasingly popular. So are trains – no X-ray machines at the train station, either. Get rid of TSA checkpoints at the airport, let people walk their loved ones to the gate so they can wave goodbye, and I bet more people would fly in spite of the risk.

It’s not just government. Individuals obsess over security to the point that it makes the thing they’re protecting useless.

For my twelfth birthday, my dad gave me a ten-speed road bicycle. I still have that Azuki. It weighs a ton but it runs great. It’s worth maybe $20.

Bike theft is rife in Berkeley and Manhattan, but I tooled around both places on that banana yellow relic of the Ford Administration without fear of anything but the shame of absorbing insults from kids on the street. I often didn’t bother to lock up my beater. Never had a problem.

In my early forties and feeling flush, I dropped $2400 on a royal blue Greg LeMond racing bike. Terrified that my prize possession might get stolen, I only ride it to destinations I deem ridiculously safe or where I’ll only have to leave it outside for a few minutes. So I hardly use it.
I’m an idiot.

Nice things are, well, nice to have. But they’re also a pain in the ass. In college one of my girlfriends (who I am not suggesting was a “thing”, obviously, and whom equally obviously I never thought I “had” in any ownership-y sense) had dazzling big blue eyes and golden blonde hair down to her waist and was so striking that guys literally walked into lampposts while gawking at her. Being seen with her was great for my ego. But every outing entailed a risk of violence as dudes catcalled and wolf-whistled; chivalry (and my girlfriend) dictated that I couldn’t ignore all of them. I sometimes suggested the 1980s equivalent of “Netflix and chill” (Channel J and wine coolers?) rather than deal with the stress. (We broke up for other reasons.)

So back to the big ransomware attack. What should you do if your ‘puter locks you out of your files unless you fork over $300? Wipe your hard drive and move on.

Back up regularly, Internet experts say, and this threat is one reason why. With a recent backup, you can usually wipe your hard drive and restore your files from a backed-up version that predates the virus. Take that, villains! But no one does.

Meanwhile, our online lives are becoming as hobbled by excessive security as the airlines. Like the countless locks on Gabe Kaplan’s Brooklyn apartment door in “Welcome Back Kotter”, two-step authentication helps – but at what cost? You have to enter your password, wait for a text – if you’re travelling overseas, you have to pay a dollar or more to receive it – and enter it before accessing a site. Tech companies force us to choose a new password each time we forget the old one. Studies show that makes things worse: most users choose simpler passwords because they’re easier to remember.

The only thing to fear, FDR told us, is fear itself. What if we liberated ourselves from the threat of cyber attack – and a ton of work maintaining online security – by not having anything on our Internet-connected devices that we care about?

This would require a mental shift.

First, we should have fewer things online. When you think about it, many devices are connected to the Internet for a tiny bit of convenience but at significant risk to security. Using an app to warm up your house before you come home is nifty, but online thermostats are hardly worth the exposure to hackers who could drive up your utility bills, start a fire or even cause a brownout. Driverless cars could be remotely ordered to kill you – no thanks! I laugh at the Iranian nuclear scientists who set back their nation’s top-secret research program for years because their desire to cyber commute opened their system to the Stuxnet attack. Go to the office, lazybones!

The Internet of Things needs to be seriously rethought – and resisted.

As for your old-fashioned electronic devices – smartphones, tablets and laptops – it might time to start thinking like a New Yorker during the 1980s. Leave the door unlocked. Just don’t leave anything in your glove compartment, or on your hard drive, that you wouldn’t mind losing.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/05/17/security-is-ruining-the-internet/

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Major Developments Strongly Suggest

 

 
… the End of Unipolar World Order

by Federico Pieraccini

Strategic Culture Foundation (May 14 2017)

With Moon Jae-In’s victory in South Korea, the period of tension on the Korean Peninsula is likely to end. With the rise to power of the new president, South Korea can expect a sharp decline in hostilities with North Korea as well as a resumption of dialogue with China.

An expected and highly anticipated victory was confirmed in South Korea on May 9, with candidate Moon winning South Korea’s presidential race over his rivals Hong Joon-pyo (Liberty Korea Party) and Ahn Cheol-soo (People’s Party). After the resignation and arrest of former President Park Geun-hye over an immense corruption scandal, public opinion turned away from her party in favour of the main opposition representative, a center-left lawyer specializing in humanitarian issues.

Moon spent several years in the opposition party advocating for greater cooperation in the region and dialogue with Pyongyang as well as with Beijing, representing quite a contrast to Guen-Hye’s pro-Americanism. Along the lines of Duterte in the Philippines, Moon intends to resume dialogue with all partners in order not to limit his options in the international arena. Such an approach reflects the essence of the multipolar world order: cooperation and dialogue with all partners in order to achieve a win-win outcome.

Looking at the situation in the region, the victory of a politician who seems to have every intention of negotiating an agreement rather than supporting military escalation seems to provide for a hopeful future for China and her neighbors. The level of cooperation and trade between South Korea and China is fundamental to the economy of both countries, so a return to the negotiating table over the issues surrounding the deployment of THAAD are a hopeful sign that the business communities of China and South Korea value deeply.

Duterte Strategy

The United States is again faced with a Filipino-like scenario. Historically, South Korea and the Philippines have always been two fundamental US allies, more concerned with Washington’s interests than their own national political agendas. Over the last few decades, both countries have been governed by politicians careful not to upset the sensibilities of US policy makers. South Korea and the Philippines are at the heart of the political strategy Obama called the Asian Pivot, more explicitly, a policy aimed at containing China and its expansion as a regional hegemon in Asia.

Following the Trump administration’s focus and threats against North Korea in recent weeks, war has seemed more likely on the peninsula. But with Moon’s victory, it has probably been permanently excluded as a possibility. In several interviews weeks prior to the election, Moon stated that a war between the US and the North Korea would constitute an impossible burden for South Korea to sustain. Moon is very realistic about the conventional deterrence that North Korea possesses, maybe even more so than the nuclear development.

Even though Trump has said he is willing to meet with Kim Jong-un, most of his decisions seem to depend on the hawks surrounding him. Looking at the first hundred days of the Trump administration shows a remarkable departure from electoral promises, with the influence of generals he nominated, leading to various escalations in the hot regions of the world. Bottom line is, Trump’s intentions and words matter to a certain extent as US posture in the region seems to be guided by military generals and inner circle family members. Fortunately for the world, the tentative moves in Syria and Afghanistan have not amounted to much, such as with the bombing of the Shayrat airbase or the show in Afghanistan involving the MOAB.

THAAD to Divide

The deployment of the THAAD system continues as part of a belligerent attitude towards North Korea. The strong and firm rhetoric of Pyongyang is justified and not surprising given the context and the threats facing the country in wake of US provocations. The deployment of THAAD has had consequences, such as increasing tensions between South Korea and China. Moon’s victory goes contrary to the goal of the US policy-makers in Washington to isolate China. In this light, the hurried deployment of THAAD before the South Korean election obliged the probable winner, Moon, to be faced with an accomplished fact. This first step makes it clear what Washington’s attitude towards the new South Korean president will be.

The THAAD has also been deployed to antagonize the most frustrating point between Seoul and Beijing: North Korea. The measure was intentionally taken by Washington to pressure Seoul. THAAD has all the characteristics of a Trojan horse. Placed to reassure an ally (Seoul) against a fake-threat (Pyongyang), it becomes a weapon against China that puts in place a system, only a few hundred miles from its border, potentially able to affect China’s strategic nuclear forces. The US military accelerated the deployment of THAAD in the knowledge that this would immediately place the future president in a difficult situation, in that removing THAAD would not be easy in the face of huge American pressure. This may perhaps be Moon’s first challenge; to use the dismantling of THAAD as a means of exchange with Beijing to return to a normal relationship of co-operation. If Beijing wants to believe Moon’s goodwill in eliminating the THAAD system, it may begin to loosen some of the measures imposed on Seoul as retaliation for the deployment of the US system.

Multipolar World to the Rescue

In this scenario, one must not make the mistake of believing that Moon’s victory means that a major US ally will cease its support for Washington. As always, in this era of transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world, the pressure that Washington will decide to apply to South Korea will affect the nature of the US-ROK alliance. The United States will have to abandon the warlike posture so dear to Mattis, McMaster and Admiral Harris (the commander of the US Pacific Fleet). In this Tillerson as a realist might be the right man at the right place to negotiate with Moon. Potentially it could be possible to solve the problem in whole by dealing with North Korea, although that seems unlikely given the pressures the deep state will put on the administration to continue using North Korea to create instability in the region.

This is why much of the region’s future will remain subordinated to potential negotiations between Beijing, Pyongyang and Seoul on the Korean peninsula, especially after Moon’s victory. If these three nations succeed in finding common ground on which to set upon a path of reconciliation, the region will benefit greatly. Of course, in this context, the one most likely to lose influence is the United States. If Washington wants to remain relevant, it should abandon the Chinese containment plan through the Korean peninsula by exploiting North Korean problems. If they instead decide to try to sabotage any peace agreement in the peninsula, this will only push Seoul and Pyongyang even closer together, to Beijing’s great pleasure.

Recent years have seen a mounting showdown between the old world order configuration based on chaos and destruction and led by Washington, and the new multipolar order that focuses on win-win opportunities, dialogue and sincere cooperation. If Washington decides not to accept the new rules of the game, where it can no longer dictate the law, it will end up producing more damage against itself than any foreign country could actually do, in actual fact accelerating the formation of the multipolar world and putting to bed the unipolar world order for good.

http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/05/14/major-developments-strongly-suggest-the-end-of-unipolar-world-order.html

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The Global RansomWare Attack

… and the Crimes of the US Spy Agencies

by Andre Damon

World Socialist Web Site wsws.org (May 16 2017)

Over the past four days, some 350,000 computers have been infected by the so-called “WannaCry” malware, including 70,000 devices such as MRI scanners, blood storage refrigerators and operating equipment used by Britain’s National Health Service. As a result of the attack, the NHS was forced to turn away emergency room patients and divert ambulances, potentially resulting in serious illnesses and even fatalities.

The worm is a piece of “ransomware” that encrypts users’ data until the creators receive a payment. It uses “exploits” developed by the US National Security Agency as just a small part of the NSA’s catalog of hacking tools.

When NSA researchers discovered the vulnerability in the Windows operating system targeted by “WannaCry”, they refused to inform Microsoft. The company found out about the existence of the vulnerability only shortly before the general public, when it was leaked by the Shadow Brokers hacker group on April 14 of this year.

On Saturday, Microsoft President Brad Smith, in a tersely worded blog post, faulted the NSA for failing to share its knowledge of the exploit. “This attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem”, he wrote, adding that “this most recent attack represents a completely unintended but disconcerting link between the two most serious forms of cybersecurity threats in the world today – nation-state action and organized criminal action”.

He concluded, “We need governments to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits”.

Microsoft is far from blameless when it comes to the NSA’s operations. It has established a standing practice of reporting bugs to the US government before they are repaired and publicly acknowledged, allowing the NSA to use these vulnerabilities to break into systems.

Regardless, Smith’s statement represents a stinging indictment of the operations of the US intelligence apparatus, implying that its actions are only once removed from those of criminals.

The hacking tools used in the “WannaCry” malware serve an even more malevolent purpose than any ransomware: illegal spying on the population of the whole world as part of a systematic practice of subversion and cyber aggression.

In May 2013, NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the US intelligence apparatus collects, processes, reads and catalogues a vast quantity of private communications, both in the United States and internationally. Snowden explained that the stated aim of the NSA, the “signals intelligence” arm of the US intelligence apparatus, is unfettered access to all private information. Its mottos are, according to a leaked internal presentation, “Collect it All”, “Process it All”, “Exploit it All”, “Sniff it All” and “Know it All”.

Illegal domestic surveillance operations authorized by the Bush administration after 9/11 resulted in the vastly expanded scale of government spying that was exposed by Snowden. With the collaboration, both voluntary and coerced, of the major telecommunications companies, the US government was able to vacuum up nearly all phone conversations, email and chat messages exchanged on digital devices.

In subsequent years, common communications platforms substantially improved their security capabilities, with nearly all Internet communication systems enabling encryption by default. These developments prompted US intelligence officials to complain of the Internet “going dark” to the NSA and CIA, prompting repeated calls by politicians, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, to criminalize the use of encryption.

The NSA responded by vastly expanding its use of “Tailored Access Operations”, the arm of the NSA devoted to “computer network exploitation”, commonly known as hacking. The agency adopted the slogan, “Your data is our data, your equipment is our equipment – any time, any place”.

The NSA worked to build up a catalogue of cyber weapons, known as “exploits”, which allow it to easily break into almost any Internet-connected device. One internal NSA document from 2012 claimed that the NSA worked with the largest telecommunications and technology companies in the world to “insert vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems, IT systems, networks and endpoint communications devices used by targets”.

The NSA’s massive team of security researchers – the largest in the world – also worked to discover and exploit vulnerabilities within existing products, keeping these bugs a secret from manufacturers in order to allow the NSA to exploit them to gain access to computers, networks and Internet-connected devices before other researchers could discover them and recommend fixes to manufacturers.

In addition to using these tools to carry out mass surveillance, the NSA weaponized them in order to carry out cyberattacks against Washington’s geopolitical adversaries. The most notorious of these efforts was the release of the Stuxnet worm in 2010, which ruined some 1,000 Iranian nuclear centrifuges. The cyberattack was coordinated with a series of car bomb murders, attributed by the media to the US and Israel, which killed at least three Iranian nuclear physicists.

The fact that over seventy percent of the initially reported “WannaCry” infections took place in Russia raises the very real possibility that the current disaster is the result of a Stuxnet-like cyberattack by the United States. The other country disproportionately affected was China.

Speaking in Beijing on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “As for the source of these threats, Microsoft’s leadership stated this directly. They said the source of the virus was the special services of the United States.”

White House Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert declared that finding those responsible for cyberattacks is “something that sometimes eludes us. Attribution can be difficult here.”

Bossert’s statement contrasts sharply with the declaration by the director of national intelligence in October 2016 that the US spy agencies were “confident that the Russian Government directed … recent compromises” of emails related to the Clinton campaign.

That declaration was part of a vast campaign by the Democratic Party, the media and much of the political establishment aimed at demonizing Russia by claiming it had “hacked” the 2016 US elections. As part of that campaign, media outlets, led by The New York Times, sought to present Russia as a global hacking powerhouse, subverting the spotless US electoral system.

One can only imagine what would have happened if, instead of the current malware attack mainly affecting Russia and largely bypassing the US in its initial stages, the situation had been reversed. The media would be up in arms about Russian “hackers”, with demands that the Trump administration retaliate with sanctions, cyberattacks and more menacing military moves. The Democrats would be in the forefront of calls for new war-mongering resolutions in Congress.

An examination of the facts exposed by the “WannaCry” attack, however, show that the world’s biggest band of cyber criminals by far is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Copyright (c) 1998-2017 World Socialist Web Site – All rights reserved

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/05/16/pers-m16.html

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Theresa May is the most incompetent leader in all the UK elections I’ve seen.

Joyce Brand

The Guardian

May 30, 2017

The Conservative manifesto assault on pensioners bore all the hallmarks of Thatcherism – without the competence. Even the U-turn on the “dementia tax” will do little to win back pensioners who’ve been thrown under the bus – the one with £350m a day for the NHS emblazoned on the side – once too often.
Theresa May’s intervention was designed to mollify us oldies, but it did nothing of the sort. There was nothing that made me feel more secure in my home than I had before the whole sorry mess had started.
That the Tories would come after their most loyal supporters wasn’t a shock to me. We’re vulnerable and compliant and, in the past at least, voted Tory out of habit. Even with the extortionate charges for residential care and the drive to force people into buying their hip replacement surgery, pensioners were still set to vote Tory. But the election’s triple whammy – scrapping the triple lock guarantee on our pensions, attacking the winter fuel allowance, and the social care plans that mean vulnerable pensioners could be made homeless – has changed that.
This attack came in a context in which pensioners are increasingly scapegoated. The headlines would have us believe that it’s “bed-blockers” making the NHS grind to a halt. Not Tory cuts. There’s a constant, nasty subtext that, in times of austerity, old people are living too long which is damned inconvenient because we’re expensive to maintain.
The fact that May thought she could get away with this flagrant attack on her most steadfast supporters shows just how out of touch she is. But blaming the vulnerable is a strategy that has worked for the Tories. Deflecting the financial crash away from financial institutions and political failings, and on to the poor, the sick and the old, has allowed the Tories to justify austerity, to say: “It’s not bankers’ bonuses we should be cutting back, it’s the welfare state.”
The elderly, disabled and mentally ill are portrayed in much of the media as shirkers and spongers, so it’s no wonder we’re seen as easy prey.
Pitting the elderly against the young has been a growing and divisive tactic. Our protected state pensions and our dominance in the housing market are cited as causing the financial misery of the younger generation. We have our great big madeira cake and we’re jolly well going to eat it.
The reality is quite different; 1.9 million pensioners live below the poverty line, one in four people over 65 struggle to survive to the end of each month, the waiting list time for elective surgery is anything up to a year, and now, should we need nursing home care, our own homes will be sold to pay for it. Old people are not the cause of the problems of today’s younger generation, they are scapegoats for a social care system that has been made bankrupt by reckless cuts and Tory incompetence.
May’s dementia tax betrayed the underbelly of the nasty party. It has not only abandoned but attacked a generation of citizens, many of whom lived through the second world war and the dire austerity that followed. She would rather steal from her loyal pensioners than ask her friends in the city to pay their fair share. The curtain has been lifted, and we see May as she really is – a reverse Robin Hood, stealing from the palms of the poor to line the pockets of the rich.

This gigantic own goal will be followed by days of grovelling promises to “look after” older people. I may be old but I’m not stupid. Who on earth would trust anything Theresa May now says? I’ve lived through many an election but never in my life have I seen a U-turn on a manifesto pledge before an election has even been won. Incompetence on this scale is unprecedented. If Theresa May can’t get this right, how can we possibly trust her to handle complex Brexit negotiations?
If we want a strong and stable leader, someone who will protect our pensions and homes, someone who offers our grandchildren a future of hope instead of fear and debt, there’s only one contender – Jeremy Corbyn. In light of the Tories’ misery manifesto, I doubt I’ll be the only OAP voting for the Labour party, under the principled stewardship of their leader on 8 June.

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