MH17 Research is Flawed

Max Van der Werff

by Eric van de Beek for Novini.nl

Who brought down MH17? For the Dutch government it is certain that the Russian military is to blame. But according to researcher Max van der Werff there is every reason to doubt. “Based on the evidence that has been made public, I still cannot reach any definitive conclusion.”

The disaster of flight MH17 was caused by a Buk missile that was launched from an agricultural field in Eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels. Thus the official investigators of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) announced in September 2016. The installation that launched the fatal Buk missile is believed to be transported from Russia to Ukraine. In May 2018 the JIT added that the Buk installation came from the 53rd Brigade of the Russian army, but it is still unclear whether that brigade itself was actively involved in the shooting down of the Malaysian passenger plane. Subsequently, the Netherlands and Australia accused the Russian Federation of complicity for the disaster.

It appears that few in the Netherlands still doubt the official position of the JIT. If we are to believe the Dutch government and media, Russia is the major culprit. MH17 blogger Max van der Werff, however, stubbornly maintains that essential parts of the JIT investigation are flawed. Van der Werff’s name may be missing in the Dutch newspaper columns and from current affairs programs on radio and television, his findings are valued by mayor players concerned, not in the least by researchers from the JIT. Van der Werff was interviewed extensively by JIT investigators on three separate occasions. He has also submitted to them items from the plane that he received from people living in the disaster area. Van der Werff has traveled twice to eastern Ukraine to conduct his own research. He speaks Russian, has a background as a corporate investigator and has spent thousands of hours trying to find out the true cause of the disaster. His findings can be read on his blog Kremlintroll. Before the start of his investigation on MH17 Van der Werff made a name for himself as an independent investigator of war crimes commited by the Dutch military during the Indonesian War of Independence.

In June 2017 Dutch online magazine Novini published a comprehensive double interview with Van der Werff and another MH17 blogger, Marcel van der Berg, who claims he is confident about Russia’s involvement in the disaster. A part of this interview was published in English on Russia Insider. Novini invited both experts to follow up on their dialogue, but Van den Berg was unwilling to participate this time.

Max, last year we examined in great detail the first three years of MH17. In your opinion, what are the most important events and  developments over the past year?

Without a doubt, the formal accusation of the Russian Federation by the Netherlands and Australia, followed by the first real firm denial by President Vladimir Putin. The positions on what really happened can no longer be reconciled and neither party can go back.

Has your view on the disaster changed since last year? Are there any scenarios that you have eliminated? Or maybe there is a scenario that you want to defend?

Everyone seems to know exactly what happened. However, on the basis of what has been publicly disclosed as evidence, I still cannot draw any definite conclusion. If you find that strange, then examine my article MH17 – 1448 Days before making a judgment. In that article, I analyze all of the evidence which the JIT has presented, ranging from the first press conference on September 28, 2016 until the present.

I do not exclude the possibility that MH17 was shot down by rebels with a BUK installation supplied by Russia. However, I remain definitely open to scenarios that differ from the JIT finding due to the fact that not everything is known about the exact cause or all of the relevant circumstances. For example: the possibility that the rebels brought down MH17 with a weapon captured from the Ukrainian army. Or that an exercise by a brigade of Ukrainian air defenses got out of hand. The latter is a real possibility. Ukraine is capable of such a thing. In 2001, during a military exercise, a Russian charter aircraft was shot down over the Black Sea. Kiev initially denied being responsible.

On the raw radar images that Russia delivered in 2016 and 2017, no other aircraft can be seen in the vicinity of MH17. Would this by now be a reason to exclude the scenario that MH17 has been shot down by a fighter jet?

On the raw radar imagery supplied by Russia, not only are there no other planes seen, but there is also no missile seen. It is certain to me that fighter planes have flown just before MH17 came down. There are simply too many people who have seen that. That they flew at a low altitude is probably the reason that they cannot be seen on radar images. I am not an expert; therefore, I will not make any statements about that. However I did speak with dozens of people in the disaster area who have seen or claim to have seen something. One of those persons is Lev Bulatov from Petropavlovka. Lev saw fighter jets flying over at low altitude: not one, not two, but three! During the interview I did with him, he was standing in the same spot where parts of the wreckage of the Boeing fell into his garden.

Lev Bulatov MH17 witness

How do you know if Lev Bulatov speaks the truth?

Of course I am not sure if he is telling the truth, but to me he seems very credible. He is willing to make a statement under oath and with a lie detector. Unfortunately, to date the JIT has not interviewed him.

If Lev speaks the truth, and all of those many others who have seen fighter planes just before or during the downing of MH17, of course it is no proof at all that a fighter plane is the murder weapon. However, Kiev is lying about the fact that the air force that day was grounded. Hence, you can ask yourself: why would Kiev lie about its Air Force remaining grounded on July 17th 2014 if fighter jets were not involved in the incident in any way, not even indirectly?

Russia blames Ukraine for having brought down MH17. Has Russia ever provided serious evidence for that claim, apart from the fact that Ukraine has kept its airspace open in the middle of a war zone?

Russia has not presented any congruent scenario about what has happened. Russian information management concerning MH17 is embarrassingly bad. That is why I recently wrote a letter to Dmytri Polyanskiy, the Russian representative at the United Nations. And I even received an answer from him.

Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs has accused Russia in the UN Security Council of a lack of cooperation in the MH17 investigation. Is it clear to you what he meant by that?

It seems that Blok meant that Russia does not send the JIT any information which would confirm that Russia is guilty.

I have asked the JIT about this lack of cooperation from Russia. The reaction I received showed that Russia is being accused of not admitting that Russia has deployed a BUK-Telar in the east of Ukraine and was involved in the downing of MH17.

Is that a legitimate accusation?

Minister Sergej Lavrov of Foreign Affairs states that Russia has responded to all requests for legal assistance from the JIT and the Dutch Safety Board. He did so during a joint press conference with Minister Stef Blok in Moscow. Blok did not contradict that at the time.

On the Russian side, several objections have been raised that the JIT did not include all data supplied by Russia in its research. Is that right?

I think so. Chief investigator Fred Westerbeke of JIT pointed out in an interview that he did not include in the research the report from BUK manufacturer Almaz Antey. He literally said: “Their conclusion is the total opposite from our own conclusion. We disagree with it. However, I am not going to judge whether their conclusions are wrong or right.”

I found it rather disconcerting to read this, because Westerbeke actually says: The only information we want from Russia is information that would demonstrate their guilt, the rest does not interest us and we will not bother falsifying data that would benefit Russia.

The Netherlands holds Russia liable for the demise of MH17. Do you have any idea why the Netherlands doesn’t also hold Ukraine liable? After all, Ukraine had kept its airspace open after military planes had been shot down earlier.

According to journalist Pieter Klein of RTL Nieuws, the government has told the surviving relatives that holding Ukraine responsible for the open airspace might disrupt cooperation with Ukraine inside the JIT. That could in turn damage finding the perpetrators. The word ‘blackmail’ comes to mind when I read that the Netherlands is afraid of offending Ukraine.

Malaysia and Belgium have not joined the liability claim of the Netherlands and Australia. Do you think that’s because they really believe there is insufficient evidence, or is there something else at work?

The newly appointed Malaysian minister of transport, Loke Siew Fook,  stated after the JIT press conference of 28 May 2018 that there is ‘no conclusive evidence’ of Russian responsibility for the taking down of MH17 and that for that reason, Malaysia did not join the liability claim from the Netherlands and Australia.

Of course, there are other things going on as well. This has everything to do with geopolitics. The countries that are working together against Russia in the investigation into the MH17 disaster are the same ones that are working together in the case of the poisoning of the Skripals. I call these countries ‘the Yellow Team’, in the same vein as the picture that the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs distributed displaying the countries that expelled Russian diplomats because of the poisoning of the Skripals. These 26 countries claim to be ‘the international community’, but the fact is that over 80 percent of the world’s population is excluded.

Malaysia does not belong to this group of countries, so they can afford to hold a different view in the MH17 investigation?

Certainly. Their interpretation of international law is also very different. What hardly anyone knows in the Yellow Team area is that a Malaysian court in 2011 convicted former US President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for war crimes and genocide committed in Iraq.

Also, do not forget that Malaysia was initially not admitted to the official investigation. I can imagine how that must have been unpalatable to the Malaysians. Imagine that a plane from KLM with 43 Dutch on board was shot down above Burma and the Dutch were not allowed in the investigative team. How would that feel?

Another important factor and possible game changer is that the 92-year-old Mahathir bin Mohamad recently became prime minister of Malaysia. In 2015, when he was still in the opposition, he voiced strong criticism of the official investigation.

There’s a reason the Netherlands and Australia only informed Malaysia at the last minute that they were going to hold Russia legally responsible. Malaysia is not being trusted. The Netherlands and Australia suspect Malaysia of leaking to Moscow.

Why did Belgium not join in holding Russia liable?

RTL Nieuws has submitted this question to the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs but has received no answer.

The role of Belgium is interesting. Why is Belgium part of the JIT at all? They lost four citizens, as much as Germany. Other countries that are not on the team, Indonesia and Great Britain, lost more citizens, twelve and ten respectively.

You have been researching the MH17 disaster for four years now. To what extent is it possible as a citizen to falsify any claims of the JIT? You cannot gain access to all the evidence they submit, such as anonymous eyewitnesses and the remains of a BUK missile.

Falsifying is indeed difficult if you do not have access to the underlying data. However that the MH17 research is faulty remains clear to me. The suspicions went to Russia and the rebels from the very beginning. Just look at the composition of the JIT, where Ukraine is part of but not Russia. Of the five countries included in the JIT, four belong to the Yellow Team. Add to this the fact that the JIT ignores evidence provided by Russia and that it does not make any statements about the liability of Ukraine in connection with the non-closure of the airspace. Also telling: all telephone taps that the JIT presented as proof of the guilt of the rebels and the Russians come from the Ukrainian secret service, SBU. No serious court would value any evidence provided by this organization.

The telephone taps delivered by the SBU to the JIT, have you been able to falsify those?

Immediately after MH17 was shot down, the Ukrainian secret service, SBU, released an audio tape in which rebels allegedly admitted to shooting down MH17. Virtually all media in the world presented the audio as authentic, without reservation. Analysis of the audio clearly shows that the voices have been tampered with and that there has been all kinds of cutting and pasting. I have extensively covered this forgery in November 2015 in my article ‘MH17 – Lying for Justice’.

The SBU is not just the supplier of counterfeit tap calls. It is also the organization suspected of the robbery of paintings in the Westfries museum. They have spread fake news about an attack on former minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders, and recently they have staged a murder scene with a journalist.

In a response to a broadcast from Zembla, the JIT has stated that two former SBU executives have never been involved in providing any evidence. How do you see that? Does the JIT indirectly disqualify the telephone taps supplied by the SBU?

I think so. The two former SBU top people are Valentyn Naleyvaichenko and Vasyl Vovk. They left the SBU in 2015. However in 2014, during the shot down of MH17, Naleyvaichenko was at the head of the SBU and Vovk was head of investigation. Hence, they were responsible for the evidence that was delivered to the JIT.

Nalyvaichenko is the man who in August 2014 lied about rebels in Eastern Ukraine having tried to shoot down a Russian passenger aircraft in order to provide Russia with a casus belli. The SBU removed that lie from its own website, but it has been archived and there is also a video from the press conference.

It would also be good to understand that the JIT does not want to be associated with Vovk, the former MH17 principal investigator of the SBU. He said that Jews are not Ukrainians and that they must be destroyed. He also said that JIT researcher Wilbert Paulissen is a friend of his and that he stayed at his house. His view of the disaster is also different. According to Vovk, MH17 may have been shot down with a BUK which the rebels had captured from the Ukrainian army.

With the new SBU head, Vasyl Hrytsak, the Dutch authorities won’t feel comfortable either. That is the person responsible for the murder of a Russian journalist, which was staged with pig’s blood, and yet Hrytsak was still present at the last press conference of the JIT. You can see him sitting to the right of leader of the investigation, Fred Westerbeke.

I think the Netherlands made a big mistake when they became so close with Ukraine. People have underestimated how corrupt and criminal the current regime is. It now even appears that Kiev has spied on the Dutch MH17 mission.

The British investigative collective Bellingcat plays a remarkable role in the MH17 research. Many of their findings have been taken aboard by the JIT. They have severely attacked you several times. You would be a “useful idiot” of Putin; you criticize only Western research but not Kremlin propaganda.

You forget the word truther. The word is mainly linked to people who question the official version of 9/11.

Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat, again recently called me a truther and idiot. That was because of my correspondence with the Russian representative at the United Nations. I asked Polyanskiy why Russia does not provide satellite data and other data to support its claim that Ukraine had BUK installations in the vicinity of the crash site.

Polyanskiy replied that Russia has done this and will add data, but that the JIT ignores it. Higgins then completely twists Polyanskiy’s words. Higgins turns “delivering satellite data” into “Russia admits it submits MH17 Truther websites and blogs about #MH17 to the JIT as evidence.” And then he adds: “Russia admits to supplying conspiracy blogs to the JIT as #MH17 evidence. If they have to resort to that then they really are totally fucked.”

When I challenge Higgins on this, he tweets: “I don’t deal with idiots like Max who still think MH17 was a false flag.” Here I still get off easy. “Suck my balls” is how Higgins addresses Russian diplomats. Shortly after the publication of an article about this vulgarity, Higgins quietly removes three tweets, but fortunately they were archived online.

Obviously, the rough language of Eliot Higgins cannot be justified. However, it was a reaction to an allegation from Polyanskiy. He said that Bellingcat and JIT based their claims on counterfeits. When Higgins asked him to prove this, he did not respond. That is not good, is it?

Not good indeed.

You have followed the route which, according to the JIT and Bellingcat, the Volvo low-loader with the BUK installation would have taken. You came to a place near a bridge, and you asked yourself if the low-loader would fit underneath. Does that or any other findings from you, demonstrate that the route indicated by the JIT can not be correct?

When I drove route H21 from Donetsk to Torez in 2015, I had serious doubts whether the combination Volvo trailer with Buk-Telar could fit under a certain bridge.

Higgins reacted almost immediately. Again, the slur truther was made with the reprimand that the Buk could have driven via ‘the really obvious turn’ if it wouldn’t have fit under the bridge.

After the tweet from Higgins, I went back to the spot and made a video that shows that the ‘really obvious exit’ cannot be used at all because of concrete blocks which have been there for years.

The issue here is not whether the Buk fits under the bridge or not, because the Telar can be driven from the low-loader before the bridge, and after having passed the bridge drive back on the low-loader again. The issue here is that Higgins from his sofa claims something with absolute certainty, and when a refutation of his claim is made by someone who does research on the location, he does not withdraw his claim.

It is typical of Bellingcat. It is also worrying, given Bellingcat’s large influence on journalists who do not perform any investigations, not even into the financing of that group.

Bellingcat states that you have never faulted and corrected MH17 investigative results from the JIT and Bellingcat. What is your reaction to that?

This is a typical Bellingcat approach. They make the frame and others have to respond. I now set my own frame for this: The Ukrainian intelligence service, SBU, is the main supplier of the evidence to the JIT, and Bellingcat acts as a conduit. I’m doing an article on this. Get ready.

The original Dutch language version of this article was published July 11th 2018 on Novini

Eric van de Beek studied journalism at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences and philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. He worked as a journalist for Dutch geopolitical magazine Novini.

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Trump’s and Putin’s Responses to Mueller’s Russiagate Indictments

Eric Zuesse

In the July 16th joint press conference between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the question arose of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officials for allegedly having engineered the theft of computer files from the Democratic National Committee and from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. Here is that part of the press conference, in a question that was addressed to both Presidents (and I boldface here the key end part of Putin’s presentation, and then I proceed to link to two articles which link to the evidence — the actual documents — that Putin is referring to in his response):

REPORTER (Jeff Mason from Reuters): For President Putin if I could follow up as well. Why should Americans and why should President Trump believe your statement that Russia did not intervene in the 2016 election given the evidence that US Intelligence agencies have provided? Will you consider extraditing the 12 Russian officials that were indicted last week by a US Grand jury.

TRUMP: Well I’m going to let the president [meaning Putin] answer the second part of that question.

As you know, the concept of that came up perhaps a little before, but it came out as a reason why the Democrats lost an election, which frankly, they should have been able to win, because the electoral college is much more advantageous for Democrats, as you know, than it is to Republicans. [That allegation from Trump is unsupported, and could well be false.] We won the electoral college by a lot. 306 to 223, I believe. [It was actually 304 to 227.] That was a well-fought battle. We did a great job.

Frankly, I’m going to let the president speak to the second part of your question. But, just to say it one time again and I say it all the time, there was no collusion. I didn’t know the president. There was nobody to collude with. There was no collusion with the campaign. Every time you hear all of these 12 and 14 — it’s stuff that has nothing to do — and frankly, they admit, these are not people involved in the campaign. But to the average reader out there, they are saying, well maybe that does. It doesn’t. Even the people involved, some perhaps told mis-stories. In one case the FBI said there was no lie. There was no lie. Somebody else said there was. We ran a brilliant campaign. And that’s why I’m president. Thank you.

PUTIN: As to who is to be believed, who is not to be believed: you can trust no one. Where did you get this idea that President Trump trusts me or I trust him? He defends the interests of the United States of America and I do defend the interests of the Russian Federation. We do have interests that are common. We are looking for points of contact.

There are issues where our postures diverge and we are looking for ways to reconcile our differences, how to make our effort more meaningful. We should not proceed from the immediate political interests that guide certain political powers in our countries. We should be guided by facts. Could you name a single fact that would definitively prove the collusion? This is utter nonsense — just like the president recently mentioned. Yes, the public at large in the United States had a certain perceived opinion of the candidates during the campaign. But there’s nothing particularly extraordinary about it. That’s the normal thing.

President Trump, when he was a candidate, he mentioned the need to restore the Russia/US relationship, and it’s clear that certain parts of American society felt sympathetic about it and different people could express their sympathy in different ways. Isn’t that natural? Isn’t it natural to be sympathetic towards a person who is willing to restore the relationship with our country, who wants to work with us?

We heard the accusations about it. As far as I know, this company hired American lawyers and the accusations doesn’t have a fighting chance in the American courts. There’s no evidence when it comes to the actual facts. So we have to be guided by facts, not by rumors.

Now, let’s get back to the issue of this 12 alleged intelligence officers of Russia. I don’t know the full extent of the situation. But President Trump mentioned this issue. I will look into it.

So far, I can say the following. Things that are off the top of my head. We have an existing agreement between the United States of America and the Russian Federation, an existing treaty that dates back to 1999. The mutual assistance on criminal cases. This treaty is in full effect. It works quite efficiently. On average, we initiate about 100, 150 criminal cases upon request from foreign states.

For instance, the last year, there was one extradition case upon the request sent by the United States. This treaty has specific legal procedures we can offer. The appropriate commission headed by Special Attorney Mueller, he can use this treaty as a solid foundation and send a formal, official request to us so that we could interrogate, hold questioning of these individuals who he believes are privy to some crimes. Our enforcement are perfectly able to do this questioning and send the appropriate materials to the United States. Moreover, we can meet you halfway. We can make another step. We can actually permit representatives of the United States, including the members of this very commission headed by Mr. Mueller, we can let them into the country. They can be present at questioning.

In this case, there’s another condition. This kind of effort should be mutual one. Then we would expect that the Americans would reciprocate. They would question officials, including the officers of law enforcement and intelligence services of the United States whom we believe have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia. And we have to request the presence of our law enforcement.

For instance, we can bring up Mr. Browder in this particular case. Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 billion in Russia. They never paid any taxes. Neither in Russia nor in the United States. Yet, the money escapes the country. They were transferred to the United States. They sent huge amount of money, $400 million as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. [He presents no evidence to back up that $400 million claim.] Well, that’s their personal case. It might have been legal, the contribution itself. But the way the money was earned was illegal. We have solid reason to believe that some intelligence officers guided these transactions. [This allegation, too, is merely an unsupported assertion here.] So we have an interest of questioning them. That could be a first step. We can also extend it. There are many options. They all can be found in an appropriate legal framework.

REPORTER (Jeff Mason from Reuters): Did you direct any of your officials to help him [Trump] do that [find those ‘options’]?

PUTIN: Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the US/Russia relationship back to normal.

The evidence regarding that entire matter, of Bill Browder and the Magnitsky Act, can be seen in the links and the other evidences that are presented in two articles that I published on that very subject, earlier this year. One, titled “Private Investigations Find America’s Magnitsky Act to Be Based on Frauds”, summarizes the independently done private investigations into the evidence that is publicly available online regarding Bill Browder and the Magnitsky Act. The Magnitsky Act was the basis for the first set of economic sanctions against Russia, and were instituted in 2012; so, this concerns the start of the restoration of the Cold War (without the communism etc. that were allegedly the basis of Cold War I). The other article, “Russiagate-Trump Gets Solved by Giant of American Investigative Journalism”, provides further details in the evidence, and connects both the Magnitsky Act and Bill Browder to the reason why, on 9 June 2016, the Russian lawyer Nataliya Veselnitskaya, met privately at Trump Tower, with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner — the reason was specifically in order to inform them about the documentation on this case, so that Trump, if elected, would be aware of the contents of those documents. She had used the promise of dirt on Hillary so as to enable Trump, who effectively became the Republican nominee on 26 May 2016, to learn about the actual documents in this crucial case.

The Russian government has been legally pursuing Mr. Browder, for years, on charges that he evaded paying $232 million taxes that were due to the Russian government. These private investigations into this matter — regarding whether or not the Magnitsky Act was based on fraudulent grounds — have all found that Mr. Browder has clearly falsified and misrepresented the actual documents, which are linked to in those two articles I wrote. These might be the very same documents that she was presenting on June 9th.

So: this is a matter of importance not only to the validity (or not) of the Magnitsky Act economic sanctions against Russia, but to the Russiagate accusations regarding U.S. President Donald Trump. In my two articles, the general public can click right through to the evidence on the Magnitsky case.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Our Institutions Are Failing

The mainstream media and its well-paid army of “authorities” / pundits would have us believe the decline in our collective trust in our institutions is the result of fake news, i.e. false narratives and data presented as factual.

If only we could rid ourselves of fake news, all would be well, as our institutions are working just fine.

This mainstream narrative is itself false: our institutions are failing, and the cause isn’t fake news or Russian hacking–the cause is insider plundering and collusion, aided and abetted by a decline in transparency and accountability and the institutionalization of incompetence.

In other words, the citizenry’s trust in institutions is declining because the failure of institutions is undeniably the fabric of everyday life in America.

When was the last time you heard the top management of a university system take responsibility for the unprecedented rise in the cost of tuition and textbooks? The short answer is “never.” The insiders benefiting from the higher-education cartel’s relentless exploitation of students and their families act as if the soaring costs are akin to cosmic radiation, a force of nature that they are powerless to control.

The same can be said of every other cartel plundering the nation: healthcare (i.e. sickcare, because profits swell from managing chronic illness, not from advancing health); the Big Pharma cartel; the military-industrial complex; banking; student loans; the governance-lobbying cartels; the war-on-drugs gulag, the FBI and so on in an endless profusion of insiders whose self-serving plunder and gross incompetence rarely generates consequences (such as being fired or indicted) due to an absence of accountability and transparency.

Incompetence has been institutionalized, and is now the accepted norm.Schools fail, municipal agencies fail, oversight agencies fail, state agencies fail, and the public feels powerless to effect any systemic change.

Changing the elected officials who are the citizens’ representatives does nothing to rid the system of incompetence or enforce accountability and transparency; the insider elites have wired the system to avoid responsibility and maintain their institutionalized skims regardless of who is in elected office.

Budgets never decline, they only expand. The system is organized to punish frugality and reward incompetence, sweetheart contracts, overtime, and ever higher public spending.

Calls to trim waste are met by gestures of powerlessness: rising costs and institutional failure are presented as the equivalent of gravity: we can’t change the system, it’s unstoppable.

The general public has largely lost the experience of public-sector/institutional competence and accountability. As a result, resignation is now the response. So the public dutifully waits in line for hours to renew a drivers license, despite having made an appointment online, to take one common example in California, which likes to pat itself on the back as the tech / progressive capital of the galaxy, if not the universe.

How is it “progressive” to rob the working stiffs who pay all the taxes hours of their life for something that should be routine and quick? Where’s the Big Data and high tech when it actually counts? If citizens had a choice to renew their drivers license at (say) Amazon or the DMV, do you reckon Amazon might not make everyone cool their heels for hours?

The list of gross institutional incompetence is truly endless in America:Universities that can’t offer enough classes so students can graduate from college in four years (oops, you have to pay another rip-off tuition fee for another semester to get those last few classes you need for your worthless diploma); finance departments that can’t track payments (so here’s your bogus late fees that will take hours to challenge), and on and on.

As for sickcare–how about the evidence-free embrace of synthetic heroin as a “safe” and “non-addictive” pain treatment? Skeptics were bulldozed or marginalized, because there was simply too much money to be made by jumping on the Oxy et al. bandwagon.

As Scientific American reported in its June 2018 issue, “Powerful drug-marketing efforts had somehow swamped science.” When a large study was finally done comparing the effectiveness of opioid and non-opioid drugs, “The results, published in March, were eye-opening. Patients given alternative drugs did just as well as those taking opioids in terms of how much pain interfered with their everyday life. In fact they reported slightly less pain and had fewer side effects.”

Yes, many transactions are more complex now than they were 30 years ago.30 years ago it took less than a day to obtain a building permit for an entire house in the rural county I lived in. Now it takes 3 to 4 months in the same county to get a permit, which must now be stamped by a licensed architect or engineer (at great expense, of course).

OK, we get it– things are more complex now. But how does a one-day process balloon into a 100-day process at best? We can understand a one-day process becoming a 3 day process, but did the complexity really rise 100-fold?

I think we all know the answer is “no.” The vast majority of the wasted time, effort and cost is the result of unaccountable insider incompetence enabled by a complete lack of accountability and transparency.

Conscientious public servants and institutional insiders are thwarted by incompetent managers, lazy co-workers and institutional bloat designed to increase costs and inefficiencies because higher budgets and inefficiencies boost payrolls and thus power. Organizations within the failing institutions are loathe to surrender their gravy trains, so they resist any change, even those which might have saved the institution from its inevitable collapse.

Our institutional failure reminds me of the phantom legions of Rome’s final days. Legions existed in the bureaucracy, and payrolls were sent to the pay masters, but the Legions were mere fictions–there were no soldiers, and no fighting force; there were only a few insiders skimming their take, confident that accountability and transparency had been irrevocably lost.

Systems fail one institution at a time. No wonder the super-wealthy are building bunkers. 

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Assad Rejects Trump’s ‘Peace’ Terms

Eric Zuesse

Elijah Magnier, one of the world’s most respected reporters in and about the Middle East, reported on Sunday, July 15th, that Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, has rejected a proposed offer from the U.S. Trump Administration. The offer was that U.S. forces will leave some of its key military bases in its military occupation of Syria, if all of Iran’s forces, which Syria’s Government had invited into Syria in order to help conquer the tens of thousands of jihadists who are trying to overthrow and replace Syria’s Government, leave all of Syria, and if Iran also stops supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, and stops supporting Shiites in Iraq.

Here is the key part of Magnier’s report:

According to the source involved in overseeing the entire military operation for the last years of war in Syria, “President Assad was very clear in his answer to the US establishment. Syria – said Assad – is determined to liberate the entire Syrian territory regardless of the consequences. There is of course a price to be paid to obtain the liberation of north Syria which is occupied by both the US and Turkey, neither of whom were invited by the Syrian government: this price is worth it”.

The American message is clear: ”The US will leave al-Tanf crossing and abandon north-east Syria in al-Hasaka and Deir Ezzour as soon as possible. 

Assad responded: “Iranian forces and their allies came to Syria under an official request by the [Syrian ]central government and [Iranian forces] will leave when this [Syrian] government asks the allied forces to leave, and only when all terrorists have been eradicated from the Levant”.

“You – said Assad [to Trump’s people]  – came to Syria without any permission and occupied our territory. It is therefore our duty to push you out by all means. You shall not obtain by negotiation and peace what you failed to obtain after seven years of war”.

Russian-led peace-talks are being held between Russia, Turkey, and six of the groups in Syria that are trying to overthrow and replace Syria’s Government. These peace talks are being held in Astana, Kazakhstan, and are summarized not in a Wikipedia article but instead buried in a Wikipedia article that’s titled “Syrian peace process”, and these talks are discussed chronologically there, in 11 stages, up through March 2018, as:

• 1.17 Initiation of Astana talks, and ceasefire (December 2016)

• 1.18 First round of Astana talks (January 2017)

• 1.19 Geneva IV, February–March 2017

• 1.20 February 2017 Astana talks

• 1.21 March 2017 and May 2017 Astana talks: De-escalation zones

• 1.22 Astana talks, July 2017

• 1.23 Astana talks, September 2017

• 1.24 Astana talks, October 2017

• 1.25 Astana talks, December 2017

• 1.26 Sochi talks, January 2018

• 1.27 Astana talks, March 2018

The present reporter has earlier described how and why the Asatana peace process overtook the earlier peace-talks, which the U.S. had arranged to be held under the U.N. in Geneva, and in which the negotiants were actually the Saud family versus Syria’s Government, and where no progress was made, because Syria’s Government insists that only the voters in Syria, and Syrian citizens abroad, in free and fair internationally monitored elections, will determine whom the President of Syria will be; the Sauds won’t be permitted to do that — so, those U.S.-initiated talks were, essentially, replaced by the ones in Astana, which are being headed instead by Russia.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Big Pharma and the Rise of Gangster Capitalism

Thanks to decades of gangster films, we all know how gangster capitalism works: the cost of “protection” goes up whenever the gangster wants to increase revenues, any competition is snuffed out, and “customer demand” is jacked up by any means available– addiction, for example.

This perfectly describes the pharmaceutical industry and every other cartel in America. You might have read about the price increase in Acthar gel, a medication to treat Infantile Spasms. (via J.F., M.D., who alerted me to the repricing of this medication from $40 in 2001 to the current price of $38,892.)

The compound first received approval in 1950, and various branded versions have been approved in recent years. Let’s be clear: this medication did not require billions of dollars in research and development, or decades of testing to obtain FDA approval; it’s been approved for use for the past 68 years.

Yes, you read that correctly: a medication that’s been in use for 68 years went from $40 a dose in 2001 to $38,892 today. Don’t you love the pricing? Not a round 38 grand, but $38,892. You gotta love these gangsters!

There’s another related term to describe this form of capitalism: racketeering.That’s what mobsters do–operate rackets.

The Big Pharma racket enriches a number of gangs practicing gangster capitalism: the drug companies themselves, of course, but some doctors are profiting from the racket, and so are pharmaceutical lobbyists:

Study highlights role of doctor conflicts of interest in Medicare spending on Mallinckrodt drug Acthar Study published in JAMA indicates nearly 90 percent of doctors prescribing HP Acthar Gel took payments from drug’s manufacturer.

Here are the money quotes:

In 2014 Mallinckrodt raised the price of Acthar further to $34,000. The Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general from five states sued Mallinckrodt for anti-competitive behavior with regard to the acquisition of Synacthen Depot and the monopolistic pricing of Acthar, and in January 2017 the company settled, agreeing to pay $100 million and to license Synacthen Depot to a competitor. According to Kaiser Health News, Mallinckrodt responded by increasing its Congressional lobbying to $610,000, and its contributions to Congress members to $44,000, in the first quarter of 2017.

As an off-patent pharmaceutical, a similar drug, differing in formulation, available in Europe, made by a different manufacturer, sells for $8 per vial.

So a medication to treat infants costs $8 per vial in Europe and $38,892 in the U.S. Don’t you just love gangster capitalism to death? Because death and suffering is the gangsters’ ultimate threat: pay up or die.

Here’s another example of Big Pharma gangster capitalism at work: Insulin Drug Price Inflation: Racketeering or Perverse Competition?

Don’t you wish you had a racket where you could raise prices by 10% a year like clockwork, or triple the price of your “product” every decade?

Pfizer just raised prices on 100 medications:

The increases are effective as of July 1. In most cases, the increases are just over 9%, which is in line with the annual 10% price hikes adopted by most drug companies. Putting that number in context, core inflation printed at 2% last week.

Here’s a chart of the net result of gangster capitalism:

Gangster capitalism is the new model of “growth” in America, the model used by every cartel from higher education to Pentagon contractors. Eliminate actual competition, raise prices in lockstep with other cartel members, lobby the government to pay your extortionist prices, and threaten any resisters with severe consequences.

Try resisting your local government’s property tax increases to cover insiders’ pensions and healthcare benefits: it’s always “for the children,” of course, and if you don’t pay up, we’ll just auction off your house.

There’s no difference between that and being told you’re gonna be wearing concrete overshoes if you don’t comply.

The U.S. economy is nothing more than an exploitive jumble of rackets, insider plundering and gangster capitalism. $8 per vial competing developed-world nations and $38,892 in the U.S. That says it all. 

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