It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

WAYNE MADSEN in Strategic-Culture

Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

5 Year Statistics and Exports

Godfree Roberts says:

Have you ever investigated the results of a Chinese Five Year Plan? Just one? They’re all published online, as are the claimed results.

Have you ever dived deep into official Chinese statistics? If you did, did you find anomalies suggesting they’re inaccurate or misleading?

I’ve been paddling around at the shallow end in the deep pool of Beijing’s official figures since 1951. By now, I can now check almost any official statistic against several others, usually from open, multinational sources like the World Bank, the CIA and the OECD.

So far, the figures line up: claimed GDP growth matches (actually trails) observed wage rises of 6% a year compounded, for example. The WTO says the country’s exports and imports match its records, that its trade is in balance with the world and that exports are moving up the value chain as predicted.

Authorities as diverse as Mark Mobius, who invested billions in both countries, says China’s stats are as good as Canada’s. So does Hong Kong University’s Prof. Carsten Holz, who has devoted decades to verifying China’s stats.

I suggest you go to China regularly, as I do, and visit second, third and fourth tier cities to see if what you see lines up with the official stats.

China’s trade with the world, imports/exports, is in balance.

China is a below-average exporter. Compared to Germany, her exports account for less than half as much of GDP. China is even less export dependent than Canada.

You can see Chinese tariffs here:

Soviet Technology

One of the last American crown jewels of micro-electronics is fast losing its shine.

This is an important point. One of the few technological areas the US had a clear lead over the Soviets in was microelectronics, specifically mass produced microelectronics and thus increased transistor density which leads to the higher clockspeed of computers, signal processing capabilities, avionics, and stuff like adaptive optics (microcomputers are also directly applied in NC machine tools in industry). The Soviets made up for this one area by a much broader spectrum of high technology. The Soviets also could always batch produce small quantities of the very best microelectronics, since their expertise (in physics, chemistry, materials science) was higher. It was just a question of perfecting the mass production of it (the particular kind of precision tooling, clean rooms, quality control practices) to such a degree of uniformity so as to mass produce it cheaply – that was something American industry perfected in the period from WWII to the Apollo program. Also, due to economic problems Soviets did not build enough production plants for microelectronics, so there was a production bottleneck on top of it. But the “technology” was in fact developed (just that actual components were in short supply).

Basically, since the Bell Labs system was destroyed in the 70s/80s, the US has “invented” nothing comparable. No interesting mechanisms (like the advances in WWII electro-mechanical fire control systems, servomechanisms and automatic control), no fundamentally new devices, no really new materials, etc. The US decided to just completely exploit an existing area (microelectronics – in one of those rare situations in which tiny advances in one narrow area automatically lead to “revolutionary” capabilities elsewhere (towards lower weight and power consumption) just because they are all related to a common device, the transistor) until now when semiconductors have reached a physical dead end, and on the other hand import Japanese machine tools for producing its own military equipment (e.g., atomic submarines). Soviets were ahead in: the automatic docking of spacecraft, virtually all parts of robotics and electro-mechanical (as opposed to purely solid state electronic) systems, hybrid computers instead of purely digital computers, photodetectors (lead-salt detectors used in military and IRST systems) used in homing devices, portable power plants (like the Pamir-3U device). Fundamentally new device schemes and even whole parts of fundamental science close to technology – nonlinear optics, “chaos in dynamical systems”, sustained thermonuclear fusion (the tokamak fusion trap), and ion (Hall effect) electrostatic thrusters (that are still the key to deep space propulsion), the “synchrotron” method of particle acceleration, were invented by Soviets.

That is to say: the US altered the nature of its technology base around the 1970s. Instead of expanding on a very broad front as in WWII, it relied on a single technology (that of microelectronics) with the belief that this is the most important part of the “technology base”. This it true in some ways: it is the most important base for increasing the economic effectiveness of ordinary (not high-performance) products, and so the most important base for boosting the economy as a whole. It improves the vast majority of the products that circulate in the economy. Production processes get far quicker and more efficient, energy consumption is reduced, etc. It is also crucial for discovering oil prospects (which depends heavily on microelectronics and general information processing) — this is why Russia still inherits this dependence on Exxon (but also why it has no good reasons for continuing to do so).

Thus if the US loses its predominance in microelectronics, it has nothing left.

Moral disgrace’: EU Parliament lectures world on rule of law, then destroys legality in Venezuela

‘Moral disgrace’: EU Parliament lectures world on rule of law, then destroys legality in Venezuela

It’s a moral disgrace when the EU Parliament, which lectures the world on the need to respect the rule of law, uses legal language to tell lies about the legality of the situation in Venezuela, and to destroy that legality.

Exciting news from France: Marine le Pen is the country’s new president. After the Macron regime plunged the country into political crisis, Mrs Le Pen took the oath of office on Place de la Concorde on Friday before a small crowd of gilets jaunes (yellow vests) specially assembled – with the TV cameras – for the occasion.

Proclaiming that she was acting according to Article 7 of the Constitution of the 5th Republic, Mrs Le Pen announced that Emmanuel Macron is no longer in office. To be sure, the government and civil service, the police and the armed forces all continue to operate normally, and Mr Macron continues to work in the Elysée Palace as usual, while Mrs Le Pen is under investigation for financial irregularities. But as she has received official recognition from both Russia and China, she has now become the legitimate president of France.

Of course, this fictitious scenario is ridiculous. But it is no more ridiculous than the recognition of Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela, voted by the European Parliament on January 31, one week after the recognition of him by US President Donald Trump.

Indeed, Brussels’ vote in favour of recognition is even more absurd than recognising Marine Le Pen because, unlike her, Juan Guaido has never been a candidate in his country’s presidential election, let alone been elected to it, and until a few weeks ago no one, not even in Venezuela, had even heard of him.

The resolution voted by the European Parliament is actually worse than President Trump’s “recognition” of Guaido on January 23. Four political groups in the European Parliament, acting independently of one another before later agreeing on a common resolution, sat down to formulate their texts, in legal language, which state that Juan Guaido is the legitimate president “according to Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution.”

That they did this, and that the common resolution was then voted by all but 100 or so MEPs, is a frightening illustration of power of groupthink. Or perhaps it is just dishonesty. No one who has ever read Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution could possibly conclude that it says anything of the kind.

On the contrary, Article 233 is precisely what Juan Guaido violated when he performed his little stunt of proclaiming himself president in a public square in Caracas on January 23.

Most countries’ constitutions have articles like Article 233 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. It deals with what happens if the president of the Republic does not, or cannot, fulfil his duties.

It lists six circumstances in which his term can be cut short: if he dies; if he resigns; if he is removed from office by a ruling of the country’s supreme court; if he is proclaimed physically or mentally unfit after a formal medical procedure validated by the National Assembly and by the supreme court; if he abandons his office; or if he is impeached by a popular referendum.

Not a single one of these conditions has been fulfilled: President Maduro has not resigned; he is not dead or unfit; he has not been impeached by the courts or by the people. Worse, Article 233 goes on to say who takes power if the presidency falls vacant – which it has not – and, guess what? It specifies that it is the vice-president who takes over, in this case Mrs Delcy Rodriguez, not the president of the National Assembly (Guaido).

The only circumstance in which the president of the National Assembly takes over is if the president has not been inaugurated. As Maduro has been president since 2013, it is impossible to pretend that this is the case. He took the oath of office for his second term on January 10, in front of the president of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice.

Maduro’s opponents in the European Parliament, like the head of the Spanish conservative Partido popular delegation, Esteban Gonzalez Pons, claim that the inauguration of 10 January was invalid. In support of this claim, in an open letter sent to the president of the European Parliament on January 24, Mr Pons quotes Article 231 of the constitution: “The candidate elected shall take office as President of the Republic on January 10 of the first year of his constitutional term, by taking an oath before the National Assembly.”

If one took Mr Pons at his word, one might perhaps believe that Maduro’s inauguration had indeed been invalid. But Mr Pons’ dishonesty is easily demonstrated: he does not quote the next sentence of this same Article 231 which says: “If for any supervening reason, the person elected President of the Republic cannot be sworn in before the National Assembly, he shall take the oath of office before the Supreme Tribunal of Justice.”

So, the form of inauguration which Maduro’s enemies from Venezuela’s former colonial power in Europe claim is anti-constitutional is, in reality, specifically provided for in the constitution.

As Mr Pons also knows perfectly well, although he chooses to hide this too from his readers, there is a very good “supervening reason” why Maduro could not be sworn in before the National Assembly. It is that it was dissolved in 2017 for electoral fraud. The assembly had sworn in members whose elections had been declared invalid by the Supreme Court, which incidentally is the guardian of the constitution when it comes to electoral disputes.

In all other circumstances – in Poland, for instance, or in Hungary – members of the European Parliament typically demand that judges be given total independence and the right to overrule the decisions of elected assemblies if they deem laws anti-constitutional.

On Venezuela, by contrast, MEPs deploy precisely the opposite argument: the European Parliament pronounced in its resolution that the (dissolved) National Assembly was the only legitimate body in Venezuela, i.e. that the Supreme Court has no legitimacy.

It is obvious that there is a serious political crisis in Venezuela, between a presidency elected by universal suffrage and a political class in the parliament which opposes him. For foreign powers to wade into such a crisis is politically foolish and incidentally quite illegal under international law. But when a body like the European Parliament, which lectures the whole world on the need to respect the rule of law, uses legal language to tell outright lies about the legality of the situation in another country, and to destroy that legality, it is a moral disgrace.

By John Laughland