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This Oil Price Rally Has Reached Its Limit

By Nick Cunningham / Oilprice.com

Last week, crude oil rallied the most so far this year, gaining more than 8 percent, or $4 per barrel. Oil traders are much more optimistic than they were just a month ago, and the market is on the upswing. However, the rally could run out of steam in the not-so-distant future, a familiar result for those paying attention to the oil market in the last few years.

There are several significant reasons why oil prices have regained most of the lost ground since the end of May. First, the OPEC cuts continue to have an effect. We can quibble over the degree to which OPEC members are complying with their promised cuts, but the cartel is taking more than 1 million barrels per day off the market, with a small group of non-OPEC countries contributing about half as much in reductions. As time goes on, that will help narrow the imbalances.

Second, U.S. shale is showing some signs of slowing down. There are a variety of reasons for this, including fear of another price downturn, more caution from oil companies themselves and even a bottleneck in drilling services. But the bottom line is that we can’t simply look at the shale rebound that we saw in the first half of the year, and extrapolate that into the future. There is a good chance that things start to slow down from here, and the market is starting to wake up to that fact.

Another reason oil prices bounced last week was because several OPEC members promised deeper cuts. Saudi Arabia said that it would cut exports by another 600,000 barrels per day. The de facto OPEC leader will also be specifically curtailing exports to the U.S., which will help drain inventories. In the ensuing days, the UAE and Kuwait have also pledged to cut their output further.

"Fundamentals continue to suggest a more-balanced crude-oil market," said ANZ. The bank, along with other investment banks, are eyeing the shift in the futures market towards backwardation – a situation in which front-month crude futures trade at a premium to oil futures further out. Backwardation tends to signal near-term market tightness, a measure of bullishness that the oil market has not seen in quite a while. Backwardation suggests demand is strong and it also signals greater inventory drawdowns are coming down the pike.

The final and arguably most important reason for the latest price gains is the sizable drawdowns in U.S. crude oil inventories recently, a tangible signal that the market is finally rebalancing. Last week saw the biggest draw yet, with more than 7.2 million barrels taken out of storage.

But even as the oil market is suddenly looking a lot tighter than it did in June, there are also reasons to believe that the rally is running out of room.

Inventories are still high, and not just in the U.S. Also, while shale is slowing down, the U.S. is expected to add more output. Then there are other producers outside of the U.S. adding new supply. "We believe the latest price rise is on a fragile footing," analysts at Commerzbank wrote in a note, pointing to higher forthcoming production from Libya and Nigeria. "I don't see the physical market getting all that much better. There's still a lot of crude that's unsold, still a lot of Nigerian barrels floating out there," John Kilduff, founder of Again Capital, told CNBC.

There are also reasons less to do with the fundamentals and more related to the financial market that point to limited upside potential. The surge in oil prices over the past month has corresponded with a shift towards bullish positioning among hedge funds and other money managers. But the net-long positioning, as Reuters notes, has more to do with a liquidation of shorts rather than a major accumulation of long bets. That may seem like a trivial distinction, but if hedge funds are not scrambling to buy up long bets, that suggests that they are not all that confident about further price increases in the near-term.

Meanwhile, the oil market probably needs a breather after the gains since June. Matt Smith of ClipperData cites the fact that oil prices have surpassed their 200-day moving averages, which will make it more difficult for crude benchmarks to move even higher. "From a technical perspective, it seems as though this rally should be done," Smith told CNBC.

The one variable that could upend all market forecasts is Venezuela, which has been in economic turmoil for quite some time but is entering a new phase of crisis. The involvement of the U.S. government, which is retaliating against Venezuela for what it argues is a step towards dictatorship, threatens to accelerate the oil production declines in the South American nation.

If Venezuela sees its exports disrupted in a sudden way, the ceiling for oil prices in 2017 could be quite a bit higher than everyone expects at the moment. Otherwise, there is not a lot of room on the upside for oil prices in the short-term.

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Reckless IV: Lawyers For Murdered Mexican Women’s Families Targeted with NSO Spyware

By John Scott-Railton, Bill Marczak, Bahr Abdul Razzak, Masashi Crete-Nishihata, and Ron Deibert / The Citizen Lab.

Key Findings

  • Two prominent lawyers representing the families of three slain Mexican women were sent infection attempts with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware
  • The infection attempts occurred in September and October of 2015 as public frustration grew at the Mexican government’s seemingly contradictory statements about the “Narvarte” case
  • With this latest report, we have now identified at least 21 cases in Mexico of abusive, improper targeting with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware

Introduction

This research note reveals newly-discovered infection attempts using NSO Group’s government-exclusive Pegasus spyware. The targets were Karla Micheel Salas and David Peña, Mexican lawyers and human rights defenders representing the families of Nadia Vera, Yesenia Quiroz Alfaro, and Mile Virginia Martin. Vera was a government critic and women’s rights advocate who was slain in July 2015 along with journalist Rubén Espinosa, Alejandra Negrete, Quiróz, and Martín in the Narvarte neighborhood of Mexico City.

Salas and Peña were targeted with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware in September and October 2015 as questions grew about official accounts of the Narvarte killings, and the reported torture, and sexual assault of the victims.

The Narvarte killings illustrate the exceptionally serious threats to journalists and government critics in Mexico, and contribute to what has been called “climate of impunity” surrounding such killings.  Many of these cases are linked to the government, with a recent report linking officials to over half of the reported cases of violence against journalists. Evidence is also growing that digital surveillance of journalists with spyware is yet another aspect of this climate of extreme threat.

In four prior reports, Citizen Lab and our partners R3D, SocialTic, and Article19 have documented extensive abuses of NSO Group’s spyware in Mexico. Targets have included journalists, anti-corruption groups, health scientists, political figures, opposition party officials, and international investigators. In total, we have now publicly reported 21 cases in Mexico of abusive targeting with NSO’s spyware.

A Pattern of Targeting Lawyers and Investigators with NSO Group’s Spyware

A pattern has emerged in a subset of these cases: lawyers and investigators working on targeted killings in Mexico have been targeted with NSO Group’s spyware when their investigations questioned official accounts provided by the authorities.

Prior to this discovery, Citizen Lab reported that, in March of 2016, a team of international experts investigating the 2014 Iguala mass disappearance of 43 students in Veracruz were targeted with NSO’s Group’s Pegasus spyware as they prepared their final reports. Then, from April to June of 2016, lawyers working with Centro PRODH, an organization representing the families of the disappeared students, were also targeted with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.

Figure 1: To-date our research has identified over 21 cases of misuse of NSO Group’s spyware in Mexico

NSO Group: A Majority American-Owned Spyware Company

NSO Group is an Israel-based company that sells digital surveillance technology, known colloquially as “spyware,” that enables the operator to remotely infect and spy on mobile phones. The spyware infects phones once a target is tricked into clicking on a link, triggering a chain of sophisticated zero-day exploits that allow the surveillance technology to be implanted on the phone.

Although based in Israel, NSO Group’s majority owner is Francisco Partners, a private equity firm based in San Francisco. At the time of writing, American investment firms Blackstone Group Ltd. and ClearSky are reportedly in talks to purchase a 40 percent stake in NSO Group Technologies for $400 million from Francisco Partners.

Given NSO Group’s demonstrated difficulties preventing abuse of their export-controlled spyware, Citizen Lab has written an open letter to Blackstone. The letter informs Blackstone of our findings and requests clarification on the due diligence process surrounding the reported acquisition. A number of advocacy organizations, including Access Now, have also publicly stated concerns over the process.

Karla Micheel Salas and David Peña

Karla Micheel Salas and David Peña are Mexican lawyers and human rights defenders who have worked on a series of high profile cases. Notably, they represent the families of Nadia Vera, Yesenia Quiroz Alfaro, and Mile Virginia Martin who were slain alongside journalist Rubén Espinosa and Alejandra Negrete in the so-called Narvarte killings. In addition to this case, Salas and Peña are well known for their work on women’s rights.

Figure 2: Karla Micheel Salas and David Peña, prominent lawyers representing the family of Nadia Vera (Image: Cima Noticias)

The “Narvarte” Killings

On July 31, 2015, journalist Rubén Espinosa and activist Nadia Vera were killed, execution style, by shots to the head along with Vera’s flat mates and cleaner in Mexico City.  Espinosa and Vera had both been critical of Javier Duarte, the then-governor of Veracruz, and in the months leading up to the killing had traveled to Mexico City seeking safety from a series of increasingly troubling incidents and threats.  Reportedly, there was evidence that Espinosa had been tortured and that Vera and the others had been subjected to torture and sexual assault before being killed.

Figure 3: Nadia Vera and Rubén Espinosa were killed on July 31, 2015, along with three other women. The crime scene reportedly included evidence of torture and sexual assault. (Images: Rompeviento, W Radio)

In the wake of the executions, numerous questions were raised about the official investigation into the case, which promoted the theory of a robbery as the likely motive and identified a serial rapist and two never-found petty criminals as accomplices. This theory was rejected by many who pointed out that valuables were not taken and led to a public outcry and protests over violence against journalists.

A number of reports pointed to an another possible motive: governor Duarte was particularly irked by an unflattering photo taken by Espinosa. Reportedly, the governor attempted to buy out every copy of the magazine, Proceso, with the photo on the cover. In the month prior to the killing, Duarte had made statements that many viewed as thinly veiled threats against journalists whom he accused of being close with “criminals,” including stating that “…we will shake the tree and many rotten apples will fall…”  When asked after the murders to clarify his earlier statements, he denied that he was referring to journalists.

Duarte’s time in power was plagued with reports of corruption, and he later fled the country in the face of accusations of having stolen tens of millions of dollars in public money. He was later found in Guatemala and extradited back to Mexico to face corruption and graft charges.

The Narvarte killings have triggered local and international condemnation, including by the head of UNESCO.

Infection Attempts

This section outlines the infection attempts against Peña and Salas using NSO’s exploit infrastructure.  The targeting was collected by R3D and Article 19 and shared with Citizen Lab researchers.

Target: Lawyer David Peña

On September 25 and October 15, 2015, Peña received text messages containing infection attempts with NSO’s Pegasus spyware. The messages were designed to trick him into clicking on the links. Once clicked, the links would infect Peña’s phone. The first message referenced an organization Peña belongs to, the second masqueraded as a “service message” (See Figure 4).

Figure 4: Infection attempt sent to Lawyer David Peña in September and October 2015 (Picture: Cima Noticias)

On September 25, 2015, Peña received a “service message” containing a link.

Then, on October 15, 2015 he received a message purporting to be a news story revealing audio of a conspiracy to commit extortion by a member of Mexico’s Association of Democratic Lawyers (ANAD: Asociación Nacional de Abogados Democráticos, A.C.) and Perla Gomez, the Director of the Human Rights Commission for Mexico City (Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Distrito Federal).

Both messages contained links to smsmensaje[.]mx, a domain previously identified in our reporting as part of NSO’s exploit framework.

Target: Lawyer Karla Micheel Salas

On October 1, 2015, Salas received a message purporting to inform her of a death and inviting her to a wake (See Figure 5).  Clicking on the link would have resulted in the infection of her device with NSO’s Pegasus exploit infrastructure and spyware.

Figure 5: Infection attempt sent to lawyer Karla Micheel Salas (Picture: Publico)

The message contained a link to  to smsmensaje[.]mx, the same domain used to target Peña.

Links to NSO Exploit Infrastructure

The messages sent to lawyers Peña and Salas were ruses designed to trick them into clicking on a link. Clicking on the link would have resulted in the silent infection of their devices.

The messages sent to both Peña and Salas included links to the following domain:

smsmensaje[.]mx

Prior Citizen Lab research included Internet scanning using fingerprints matching command and control servers belonging to NSO Group’s exploit infrastructure.  The smsmensaje[.]mx server was first identified during this scanning.  The domain has been subsequently identified in all of Citizen Lab’s prior reports on the Mexican NSO case (reports: 1, 2, 3, 4).

Previous Citizen Lab investigations have shown that in 2016, for example, the system used a chain of three zero-day exploits against Apple’s iOS to deliver NSO’s spyware payload, called “Pegasus.” Once the link has been clicked, the exploit infrastructure exploits vulnerabilities in the device’s browser and operating system to deliver NSO’s Pegasus spyware for Apple devices.

Based on research by Google Inc. and Lookout Security, we know that NSO has developed a similar spyware product for the Android operating system.

Conclusion: 21 Cases and Counting

This investigation raises the number of confirmed abuses of NSO’s spyware in Mexico to 21. The murders and evidence of torture of Nadia Vera, Rubén Espinosa, Alejandra Negrete, Yesenia Quiróz, and Mile Virginia Martín are exceptionally disturbing, as are the reports that evidence of sexual assault and torture were found at the scene.

The Narvarte case served as a touchstone for popular anger over the mortal danger faced by journalists and advocates who earn the ire of Mexican government officials. Along with numerous other similar high profile cases, such as the 2014 Iguala Mass Disappearances of 43 students, and countless other murders less reported on, the case has crystallized popular frustration with official investigations.

Even as lawyers for the family of Nadia Vera were questioning how Mexico City’s Attorney General was investigating the case, their phones were targeted with NSO Group’s government-exclusive Pegasus spyware.

This is not the only case in which lawyers and investigators defending the families of victims of government-linked atrocities have been targeted with NSO Group spyware. This disturbing pattern also highlights the challenge that the Mexican Attorney General faces as they investigate these reported abuses.  While we cannot technically attribute the NSO deployment to a particular customer, or an entity within the Mexican government, it is noteworthy that, as leaked documents show, the Mexican Attorney General’s office has been one of NSO’s clients. The Mexican president has also confirmed Mexican government agencies have purchased NSO Group technology, but denied the abuses.

NSO Group: Patterns of Abuse and Due Diligence Issues

There is now abundant evidence that NSO Group has a problem preventing misuse of its export-controlled spyware.

Mexico is not the only case in which there is evidence of misuse of NSO’s spyware.  In the United Arab Emirates, Citizen Lab has shown how human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor was targeted with NSO’s spyware in August 2016.  Citizen Lab reports previously found that in 2011 and 2012 Mansoor was targeted by the UAE government using two other government-exclusive pieces of spyware. Mansoor is currently detained in the UAE as a prisoner of conscience according to Amnesty International. Clearly, NSO’s due diligence process for selling to the UAE is highly questionable given the UAE’s notorious spyware abuse in prior cases.

Panama: Reports of an NSO Customer Targeting Panamanians and Americans

Former president of Panama Ricardo Martinelli is currently detained without bail in the United States and facing extradition to Panama.  He is accused of diverting $13.4 million dollars intended for social programs to purchase NSO’s spyware. The accusations stem from criminal charges prepared by the Panamanian government that he used public money to set up an NSO deployment targeting Android and Blackberry phones to monitor up to 150 of his political rivals.

According to a recent investigative report by Univision citing affidavits in the case, NSO Group’s spyware was used to record communications, including spousal disputes, of Martinelli’s opponents. Recent reports provide a window into these cases and how the technology was used to spy on and discredit opponents.

Pitti acknowledged that he was in charge of eavesdropping on 25 people among whom was the opposition deputy Zulay Rodriguez…

“When I got a recording of a call in which Mrs. Rodriguez was arguing with her husband who accused her of infidelity, I immediately reported it to Ronny Rodriguez who informed Martinelli of the contents, ” Pitti explained.

According to Pitti, Martinelli ordered the audio edited and uploaded to YouTube from an internet cafe.

Source: Univision, citing an affidavit by Pitti

The criminal case prepared by the Panamanian government is built on the forensic analysis of materials (computers, hard drives, and digital media) generated as part of the program to store and review surveillance data.  The complaint outlines in detail a wide range of targets, including businessmen, journalists, civil society members, politicians, and their family members and relatives.  The complaint alleges that NSO Group’s spyware was used to monitor political discussions and strategy meetings of the president’s rivals, as well as their family and personal affairs.As with the Mexican case, the Panamanian case includes reports that NSO Group’s technology was used to monitor Americans, including staff at the United States Embassy in Panama. American targets also included political consultants working for two of the former president’s opponents in the 2015 presidential election: Christian Ferry and U.S. Army Colonel (Ret.) Richard Downie.

According to the investigation, the president received a sealed envelope each morning with the results of the previous day’s monitoring of his rivals. The president would also sometimes publicly intimate the possession of certain information or present it to the targets of monitoring.

Together, these cases, involving alleged gross abuse of NSO Group’s spyware, paint a troubling picture of the international market for spyware—and NSO’s Group’s role in supplying this technology in several highly questionable cases.

Citizen Lab has recently written a letter to Blackstone Group, which is contemplating a $400 million investment in NSO Group, to make them aware of these concerns and asking specific questions about due diligence. To date, the letter has received no response.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Karla Micheel Salas and David Peña who consented to share this case with the collaborating organizations and with the public.

Special thanks to the teams at Article19, R3D, SocialTic, for their careful and important investigative work. We would like to especially thank and highlight the contribution from Sandra Patargo at Article 19 and his colleagues as well as Luis Fernando García at R3D.

Thanks to the whole Citizen Lab team, especially Christine Schoellhorn, Lex Gill, Kenyon, and Adam Hulcoop.

Thanks to Amnesty International and Access Now for assistance in earlier phases of the investigation.

Appendix: Full Message Details

Target Original Message English Date Link in SMS Telephone Number
David Peña UNOTV.COM/ REVELAN AUDIOS TELEFONICOS ENTRE DE INTEGRANTE DE LA ANAD Y PERLA GOMEZ. PLANEARON EXTORSION. AUDIOS EN: [exploit link] UNOTV.COM/ PHONE CALL AUDIO BETWEEN MEMBER OF ANAD AND PERLA GOMEZ. THEY PLANNED EXTORTION. AUDIO: [malicious link] October 15, 2015 hxxps://smsmensaje[.]mx/6070525s/ (55)61676879
David Peña Mensaje de servicio [enlace malicioso] Service message [malicious link] September 25, 2015 hxxp://smsmensaje[.]mx/9142658s/ (55)49576224
Karla Micheel Salas Karla en la madrugada fallecio mi padre estamos devastados, te envio datos del velatorio, espero puedas venir: [enlace malicioso] Karla my father died this morning and we are devastated I am sending you the dates for the wake, I hope you can come: [malicious link] October 1, 2015 hxxp://smsmensaje[.]mx/2265561s/ (55)35044351
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Venezuela Regime Change Project Revealed

By David William Pear, August 4, 2017

[US Regime Change Project, Photo From Flickr Photos Commons Search]

When the U.S.A. wanted a regime change it used to be done in secret by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), especially when that country had a democratically elected government such as Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Chile (1973), Nicaragua (1980's), Haiti (2006), Honduras (2009), Ukraine (2014) and Syria, where the bloody project is still raging, the body count mounting, and millions of refuges are homeless.

In the last few decades the U.S. has grown bolder in its regime change projects. What used to be done secretly is now unabashedly done in plain sight. The 2017 Venezuela regime change project has gone public. Most of the U.S. public cannot see the forest for the trees of propaganda that has the public confused about what is behind the chaos in Venezuela today. Mostly what is behind it is U.S. funding millions of dollars to the political parties of the oligarchs. Without that money the opposition political parties would be more divided than they already are and weaker.

 

The mainstream media spreads the propaganda that President Nicolas Maduro is a dictator. That Maduro is repressive and killing his own people of peaceful demonstrators. That the Venezuelan Supreme Court judges are his cronies and exceeded their constitutional powers. That the Constituent Referendum called by Maduro was illegal. That the elections have been a fraud. That the opposition are patriots who are demanding democracy. That Maduro has singlehandedly destroyed Venezuela's economy. That the press and television media is censored by Maduro. That the reason President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Venezuela is because it is a national security threat to the U.S. That President Trump has imposed additional sanction because he is upset about democracy, freedom and the rule of law in Venezuela.

None of the above is true. Yet the main stream media keeps repeating it: New York Times , Washington Post , Guardian , Fox News , CNBC , and CNN . Members of Congress keep repeating these lies, a word I rarely use. Not since the mainstream media was a co-conspirator for the Bush-Cheney administration's illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 has the mainstream media fallen so low and been so guilty of collusion to spread false propaganda supporting illegal U.S. foreign policy aggression. Anyone who still has illusions that the U.S. mainstream media is free and independent should be dispelled of that belief by what it is misinforming us about Venezuela today.

[Photo:  The New York Times Building, photo by Geoff Livingston, from Flickr Photos Commons Search]

 

The co-opting of the mainstream media is not new. Here is a New York Times editorial the day after Hugo Chavez was kidnapped by a military coup government that was installed in 2002:

 

UPRISING IN VENEZUELA: THE GOVERNMENT; VENEZUELA'S CHIEF FORCED TO RESIGN; CIVILIAN INSTALLED

By JUAN FORERO APRIL 13, 2002

 

A transitional government headed by a leading businessman replaced President Hugo Chavez today, hours after military officers forced him to resign. It was a sudden end to the turbulent three-year reign of a mercurial strongman elected on promises to distance his country from the United States while uprooting Venezuela's old social order---

Pedro Carmona Estanga, the head of Venezuela's most important business association, was installed as interim president at a ceremony at 6 p.m. He promised that the new government would adhere to ''a pluralistic vision, democratic, civil and ensuring the implementation of the law, the state of law.''

 

Elections will be held within a year, officials said.

The Bush administration laid the blame for Mr. Chavez’s overthrow firmly with the ousted leader. Officials portrayed the ouster as a victory for democracy---

 

[Photo: Pedro Francisco Carmona Estanga is a former Venezuelan trade organization leader who was briefly installed as President of Venezuela in place of Hugo Chávez, following the attempted military coup on April 2002. Wikipedia]

 

The next day the New York Times was forced by circumstances to reverse itself, kind of a non-retraction retraction. Notice that the "prominent businessman", Pedro Carmona Estanga is not quite so "prominent" after he "dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, repealed the constitution, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding. He sounds more like the kind of right-wing fascist that the U.S. prefers to be in charge. And exactly who was it that "installed" him as the interim president, the New York Times does not say. It sure made Bush happy thought. Neither the Times nor the U.S. react the way democracy lovers would be expected to after a military coup d’état. How is that a victory for democracy?

 

Popular Uprising Allows Chavez to Reclaim Venezuelan Presidency

By GINGER THOMPSON and JUAN FORERO APRIL 14, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela, April 14 -- Two days after one huge political movement forced President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela out of power, a countervailing uprising that swept like wildfire through the slums surrounding the capital carried the populist leader back to the presidency today.

 

Once in power, the short-lived interim government, led by a prominent businessman, Pedro Carmona Estanga, dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding.

The new government announced that Mr. Chavez had resigned from power. But word began to spread mostly through international television news reports that Mr. Chavez had not resigned. His followers in slums and poor towns across the country began to worry for his safety. They took to the streets to demand that Mr. Chavez be freed. And they won.

[The Bush administration showed no remorse in its attempt to violently overthrow Chavez, a coup which cost the lives of dozens of people.]

The New York Times went on:

 

The Bush administration, which showed little regret with Mr. Chavez’s apparent ouster on Friday, said it supported the O.A.S. [endorsing Chavez's return to power] resolution. But it called on Mr. Chavez to change his policies.

 

"I hope that Hugo Chavez takes the message that his people sent him, that his own policies are not working for the Venezuelan people, that he's dealt with them in a high-handed fashion," , President Bush's national security adviser, said today on the NBC news program "Meet the Press."

 

[Photo: Condoleezza Rice, From Flickr Photos Commons Search]

 

The Bush Administration, the New York Times and the mainstream media showed no remorse or shame---the U.S. government continued to watch and undermine the Chavista movement, Venezuela's Bolivarian Socialism, in any way that it can. The U.S. continues to be involved and fund a long-term regime change project. The Empire never gives up.

 

The U.S. has been perfecting its regime change techniques, camouflaging them as "democracy promotion", which is funding subversion through the Agency for International Development (AID), the United States Information Service (USIS), and the Congressional funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), International Republican Institute (IRI) and co-opted non-governmental organizations (NGO). Covertly the CIA and US military continue to this day to undermining democracy in Venezuela.

 

Regime change is being perfected by sophisticated public relations techniques using marketing strategies, constant repetition, image control, word selection, negative campaigns, mass media, false propaganda and mind shock. The public justification for ousting a democratically elected head of state, such as today's Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro, is cynically said to be democracy promotion and human rights. The real U.S. foreign policy motivation is to recruit a compliant head of state; but that is not what one will hear from the mainstream media propaganda machine cabal, as the New York Times demonstrated after the U.S. backed military coup in 2002.

[Photo:  Deputy Secretary of Defense, Flickr Photos Commons Search]

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the U.S. has been on a mission of global hegemony, known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine:

"To prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power".

[Photo:  Brzezinski and fellow former National Security Advisers meet with President Obama in the Situation Room. September 1, 2010.  CSIS: Center for Strategic & International Studies from Flickr Photos]

 

And the Grand Chessboard master Zbigniew Brzezinski:

"The most immediate task is to make certain that no state or combination of states gains the capacity to expel the United States from--- [anywhere in the world] ---or even to diminish significantly its decisive arbitrating role."

 

The U.S. is imposing world hegemony by military might, political arm twisting and economic domination.

 

The military might of the U.S. is unquestionable with its trillion dollar annual budget, 1000 foreign outposts in every region of the world, interlocking military alliances such as NATO, and its apparatus of covert special para-military forces and cyber surveillance.

Economic hegemony requires controlling world organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, mega-international corporations and maintaining world financial transactions in the U.S. dollar. The raw economic power of the U.S. is regurgitated by the false theory of neoliberal economics, which has deservedly been labeled Voodoo Economics for good reasons.

 

Nothing and nobody takes preference ahead of U.S. military and economic world hegemony. To maintain it requires a cadre of academia, mass media, bureaucrats, politicians, and a servant class that is willing to sell their soul for prestige and remuneration. One of the most important functions of this cadre is to manufacture the consent of the majority of the population of the U.S. and its allies. The U.S. will not hesitate to kill millions of people to maintain every link in the chain of hegemony. As the Grand Chess Master Zbigniew Brzezinski himself said:

 

"It is now harder to control, but easier to kill, a million people".

 

Brzezinski's words were not the idle musing of an intellectual, political scientist or philosopher. He was dead serious. The number of people who have been killed directly and indirectly for U.S. hegemony since 1991 is in the millions. Those millions could not be controlled so they were killed or they became collateral damage, for the benefit of the U.S. Empire. The number of people the U.S. has killed for the sake of democracy and human rights is zero.

 

[Photo:  NSA, Jeepers Media from Flickr Photos Commons Search]

 

The U.S. public has become controllable by a security state apparatus of spies, militarized police, incarceration on an industrial scale, rigged elections, policies to dumb down the population, keep them literally fat and lazy, constantly preoccupy them with meaningless sensationalism, create a consumer culture, entertain them with mindless saturations of sex and violence, and keep them obedient with propaganda from a network of willing corporate mass media.

 

Gaining the implied consent of the public for an astronomical military budget, foreign wars, military campaigns, and regime change projects has been perfected to a degree that makes George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four look like a child's primer. Despite the trillions of dollars spent on empire, the public has been convinced that the U.S. cannot afford investments in human resources such as healthcare, education, affordable housing, antipoverty programs, mass transportation and needed infrastructure maintenance and improvement.

 

Nor will the U.S. sit idle while another country invests in its human capital. The U.S. has been on a campaign to overthrow the government of Venezuela since the 1998 election of Hugo Chavez. Chavez broke with the neoliberal neocolonial mold of being compliant to the U.S. Among Venezuela's natural resources is the world's largest proven oil reserve. That is a resource that the U.S. wants to dominate.

 

[Photo:  Hugo Chavez, From Flickr Photos Commons Search]

 

Chavez committed the unforgiveable crime, in the eyes of the hegemonic U.S., by rejecting neoliberal economics, using Venezuela's oil wealth for the benefit of the Venezuelan people, nationalizing the oil operations in its country, adopting a socialist economic model, entering into a friendship with Cuba, and setting an example for South America that openly defied U.S. domination. Hugo Chavez, his Bolivarian Socialism and his successor Nicolas Maduro are unacceptable to the U.S., and it has been attempting to eradication them.

In 2002 the George W. Bush administration was caught red handed in a plot with the wealthy and upper middle class of Venezuela to overthrow Chavez in a coup d’état. Chavez was briefly kidnapped, held at a U.S. military facility, and the U.S. immediately recognized the legitimacy of the coup government.

To the U.S. surprise, and Bush's befuddlement, the people of Venezuela turned out in mass demanding Chavez's return as their democratically elected president. The coup government and the U.S. were left with no choice but to comply. But that did not stop the U.S. from continuing to demonize Chavez and attempting to overthrow his democratic socialist government.

 

After Chavez's death in 2013 his democratically elected Vice President Nicolas Maduro assumed the office of president, according to constitutional law. New elections were held and Maduro again was democratically elected president. The U.S. refused to recognize the legitimacy of the election and together with the wealthy upper class of Venezuela immediately cried election fraud.

 

[Nicolas Maduro from Flickr Photos Commons Search]

 

The U.S. continued to villainize Maduro, labeling him a dictator and a human rights abuser. The U.S. did not letup on its regime change project. The U.S. has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on so-called "democracy promotion" by USAID, USIS, NED, IRI, NGO's and numerous front organizations in Venezuela to overthrow Maduro and Bolivarian Socialism, either in elections, street violence or by a military coup. To the increasing frustration and anger of the U.S. they have so far failed.

We are now witnessing today a U.S. intensive phase of the regime change project in Venezuela. It is a coup in the making in plain sight. It is following the textbook example used in Ukraine, Honduras and elsewhere over the decades. The people of Venezuela like their democracy the way it is. But no one in the US would know it from the mainstream media propaganda.

 

[Photo:  Former CEO of Exxon Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Jeepers Media from Flickr Photos Commons Search]

 

President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Congress are supporting the wealthy coup plotters in Venezuela. Many of the coup plotters are the same ones that backed the kidnapping and attempted coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002.

 

The U.S. is financing the opposition, leading international diplomatic pressure against Venezuela's democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro, imposing sanctions, and encouraging the Venezuelan military to overthrow the government. The U.S. rhetoric and Fake News propaganda is full of outright lies, there is no nice way to say it. There is no polite word for lies. The regime change artists and coup plotters know exactly what the truth is. Here are just a few examples of the outrageous statements:

"As President Trump has made clear, the United States will not ignore the Maduro regime's ongoing efforts to undermine democracy, freedom, and the rule of law", said Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.

 

[The truth: Venezuela is a democracy, with the best voting system in the world as certified by the Carter Foundation and the Organization of American States (OAS). Maduro is lawfully following the Constitution of Venezuela and he is not a dictator.]

 

Here is what CIA director Mike Pompeo had to say, "At any time you have a country as large and with the economic capacity of a country like Venezuela, America has a deep interest in making sure that it is stable, as democratic as possible. And so, we're working hard to do that."

 

[Truth: Venezuela is more democratic and has a better human rights record than the compliant governments of Mexico, Columbia and Brazil that are joining the U.S. in criticizing Maduro for allegedly being a dictator. Pompeo let it slip that the CIA's interests in Venezuela is its "economic capacity". He must mean oil.]

 

The Fake News is a co-conspirator to the U.S. regime change project. They pound away that Maduro is a "dictator", that Sunday's referendum for a Constituent Assembly, which had one of the largest voter turnouts in the history of Venezuela, was fraudulent. That Maduro's security forces are the ones responsible for the deaths and violence which is untrue; the opposition has caused most of the deaths. The Fake News keeps repeating the numbers killed without revealing who is doing the killing, leaving it as if Maduro is largely responsible. It is another lie by omission.

 

Those deadly mysterious snipers, which we saw in Ukraine, have shown up again. The agent provocateurs have mostly killed innocent bystanders and their own opposition demonstrators, as in Ukraine. It is cold blooded murder for oil.

 

[Photo:  Saudi ‘Headchopper’ on UN Human Rights Committee, From Flickr Photos Commons Search]

The U.S. is not concerned about democracy and human rights. If it were it would be waging a campaign and imposing sanctions against Saudi Arabia, which is on a head-chopping spree since the beginning of the year. The U.S. would be concerned with the obscene number of journalists that have been murdered in Mexico, that Honduras overthrew a democratic government with a military dictatorship (and U.S. help), that Columbia has some of the most dirty politics in South America, where 60% of Columbian voters do not even turn out, that Brazil is mired in scandal and corruption and a recession and that lest than 5% of the population gives President Michel Temer a favorable rating.

The American people have to internalize that the U.S. does not care about democracy, human rights, justice, political prisoners, torture, journalists or millions of people killed and maimed in U.S. wars of aggression, instigation of chaos and perpetration of regime changes. Of twenty South American countries, Venezuela comes in 7th in the United Nations Index of Human Development. The Fake News propaganda will not mention that fact.

 

[Photo:  President Jimmy Carter Image by LB Library Now]

 

In the 2012 elections of Hugo Chavez as president, the international humanitarian and election observer President Jimmy Carter certified the results and called Venezuela's voting system "the best in the world". The opposition and the U.S., which before the elections promised to honor Carter's certification, were crying fraud no sooner than the results were announced. Only the U.S. because of its supposed exceptionalism gets to decide who wins elections, who is democratically elected president and who is a dictator.

 

Venezuela does not need "democracy promotion" (i.e. subversion) from USAID, USIS, NED, IRI and any of the phony NGO's. Venezuela could teach the rest of South America and the U.S. about democracy and human rights. There is only interest in Venezuela "economic capacity", as CIA director Mike Pompeo admitted, meaning mostly oil. The U.S. wants Venezuela to embrace neoliberalism so that international mega-corporations can exploit its oil, which is the largest proven reserve in the world. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon, wants to see his former employer get in on the profits, instead of profits being invested in Venezuela's people.

When is the public ever going to get it that the U.S. does not care about democracy, human rights, the deaths of innocent civilians and those widowed, orphaned and made homeless by U.S. stoked wars? They want the oil.

[Photo:  Oil well, From Flickr Photos Commons Search]

 

You may also wish to read my previous two articles on Venezuela:

Venezuela Under Siege by U.S. Empire

Venezuela on the Edge of Civil War

 

David William Pear is a progressive columnist writing on economic, political and social issues. His articles have been published by OpEdNews, The Greanville Post, The Real News Network, Truth Out, Consortium News, Russia Insider, Pravda, and many other publications.

David is active in social issues relating to peace, race relations, homelessness and equal justice. David is a member of Veterans for Peace, St Pete for Peace, CodePink, International Solidarity Movement, and Uhuru Solidarity Movement.

David has a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from the University of Maryland and attended classes at George Washington University to receive his Certified Financial Planner certification. He also attended courses at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for his certification as a Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA).

David resides with his wife and three cats in Clearwater Beach, Florida. His hobbies include boating, fishing and motorcycle touring. He is also a licensed skydiver (USPA-inactive)

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Study: Only Wealthiest and Best Educated Benefit from Mediterranean Diet

By Yves Smith / Naked Capitalism.

In a noteworthy first, a large-scale study in Italy has found that following the so-called Mediterranean diet reduced heart disease risk only for those in top of the educational and income cohorts. Even more disconcerting, the researchers pushed the data around and didn’t find strong explanations for what might have caused the disparity in results.

We’ll discuss the study, High adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with cardiovascular protection in higher but not in lower socioeconomic groups: prospective findings from the Moli-sani study in more detail below. I encourage the medically and statistically minded to read the study in full and add their views.

We pointed out in 2007 that socioeconomic status played a big role in health outcomes, and even more so in countries with high degrees of economic disparity. So one has to wonder to what degree the stress of being poor, and of increased precariousness for older low and middle income individuals (the people selected for this study were over 35 and were in less than perfect health) offset the benefits of a good diet, meaning even though the Mediterranean diet may not have led to better results, they would have been worse off had they not followed it.

The study was large scale, starting out with over 24,000 participants and winding up with nearly 19,000 after various screens were applied, like missing data and implausible inputs. Subjects provided extensive information on health indicators, and in many ways, the diet reporting was detailed (for instance, it scored the variety of fruit and vegetable consumption as well as “healthier” versus less healthy veggie and protein cooking methods, as well as the level of organic food consumption). The findings were controlled for age, smoking level, body mass index, and amount of physical activity.

They also scored the participants’ diets on “food antioxidant content.” But there were some odd gaps, like looking only at whether the participants ate whole grain bread as the measure of whole grain consumption. Anyone who had made “whole grain” bread will tell you it still consists primarily of white flour, plus looking only at bread would omit those who ate oatmeal or other cooked cereals (where does polenta fit in the “healthy grain” spectrum?) Nevertheless, the effort to score the diets on a more granular basis looked sound.

The researchers divided participants into three socioeconomic groups based on income and educational levels.

The social stratification impact was strong enough that the authors flagged it as a “key message:”

Cardiovascular advantages associated with the Mediterranean diet are confined to high socioeconomic status individuals.

The International Journal of Epidemiology article also highlighted that there were “inequities” in “diet-related behaviours and nutrient intake”. However, if you read the piece, you can infer that the authors are scratching their heads a bit, in that the differences in eating behaviors that they observe by socioeconomic group don’t seem to be sufficient to add up to the difference in results.

However, the biggest disparity, and this could potentially be significant, is that the best-off ate more fish and less meat. However, the meat they did eat was prepared more often in the methods the researchers deemed to be less healthy, namely frying or grilling as opposed to stewing or boiling. The highest status groups ate more organic food, but since many studies have found that organic foods don’t contain more nutrients, they seemed unwilling to attribute much significance to that.1 Conversely, less well off participants used the “less healthy” cooking methods more often on veggies. Higher income people ate more whole grain bread; the less well off groups had more variety in their fruits and vegetables and consumed a smidge more of the mono and poly-unsaturated fatty acids.

The top income group also ate more “nutritionally dense” foods.2:

Dietary intake of polyphenols, antioxidants, fibre and indicators of TAC [total antioxidant capacity] were all increased in the higher income group as compared with the lowest.

Lambert had an interesting theory: that olive oil is often adulterated, and therefore the lower income groups might not be getting the “monounsaturated fatty acid” benefit that the researchers thought they would from their reported oil oil consumption. I doubt that would swing the results but it could be a contributing factor.

The authors admit they are groping for explanations:

On the basis of our results and by accounting for all the limitations inherent to our approach, we suggest that at comparable levels of adherence to the MD, higher SES groups actually select foods with increased nutritional value as those higher in antioxidant content or capacity, and are more keen on reporting a larger variety in fruit and vegetable consumption, thus obtaining more adequate intake of essential nutrients. Such nutritional gaps may partly explain the observed socioeconomic pattern of protection derived from apparently similar scores of adherence to the MD. Of note, the interaction between diet and SES on CVD health outcomes was found both for cultural (education) and financial resources (income), likely indicating that healthier choices are driven either by a good set of knowledge and skills or greater financial resources.

In light of our findings, we speculate that standard dietary scores, although useful and valid parameters to quantify the adherence to the Mediterranean diet, may not fully capture the complexity of this diet, leaving out a number of additional dietary details mainly related to the quality of the products. If so, we would be dealing with a methodological limitation which may be overcome by the use of other tools to better appraise the dietary behaviours of a given population.

Needless to say, this finding is intriguing but leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Again, the most likely hypothesis would seem to be that diet can’t explain the difference in results. The most likely non-diet factor would be stress, either overall or greater incidence of high stress events in the lower 2/3 groups played a role.

Is it possible that mere concerns about food safety could be a significant factor? More diet-conscious Americans are nervous, to the degree of neuroticism, about what they eat, so you get self-undermining behaviors like people drinking bottled water when it turns out sitting in plastic means the water picks up chemical nasties from the plastic. However, given how powerful placebo effects are, I wonder if better off-people are more confident in their food choices, like buying more organic food, and that helped contribute to these results.

Needless to say, this is an important indicator if disheartening indicator of yet another way those at the top of the heap come out ahead.
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1 My view, consistent with that of a relative who had a healthy cooking venture and later coached health coaches, was that people in the US eat organic food to avoid things like pesticides and artificial hormones, and not because they think they have more “nutrients”.

2 The reason I am signaling some skepticism is “nutritional density” has become a fad in the US. While some foods clearly have more nutritional value than others, such as dark leafy greens versus, say cucumber, the “supernutrient” fetish implies that you can get enough nutrients without supplementation. The USDA said in 1938 that soils were so depleted that it was no longer possible to get enough nutrients from one’s diet. It’s also pretty much impossible for women to get enough calcium on a caloric intake that won’t make them overweight (note this presumably was possible when women were eating a lot more because they were engaged in strenuous physical activity on a regular basis, like helping out in the fields, beating rugs out, and churning butter by hand). So while there is some merit in the line of thinking, it’s been overhyped.

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We now know how the Trump presidency will end. Let's hope we survive: Burman

By Tony Burman.

The outlines of the end are becoming more clear, as Robert Mueller’s investigators dig away. Expect things to be vicious

How will the Donald Trump presidency end? It will end badly, so let me count the ways:

1. America is hurtling towards a constitutional crisis that will rock its institutions to the core.

2. Its president and his business empire will soon be exposed as beholden to Russian oligarchs and mobsters.

3. Trump will try to fire special counsel Robert Mueller to prevent this from becoming known, but Congress will intervene.

4. His only remaining hope will be a 9/11-scale disaster or contrived war that he can exploit.

5. If we are lucky enough to survive all of the above, Trump will resign before he is impeached — but only in exchange for a pardon from his servile vice-president, Mike Pence.

Yes, this scenario is anything but far-fetched.

One lesson we have learned from the slow-motion train wreck of this Trump presidency is that precise predictions are impossible to make. That is true, except for one thing.

We are now getting a much clearer sense of where this high-stakes drama is heading. The details may change but the contours of this epic chapter in American political history are beginning to emerge.

Although it has been another head-spinning week, perhaps the most important disclosure was a Washington Post story (notwithstanding reports that Mueller empanelled a grand jury to probe Russia’s ties to the 2016 campaign). The story suggested how centrally involved Donald Trump has become in the expanding inquiry about his secret connections with Russia.

The story revealed that, contrary to previous public assurances, Trump himself dictated a misleading statement about the nature of a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.

Mueller, a former FBI head, is examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, including potential obstruction of justice and allegations of cover-up. But much to Trump’s horror, Mueller’s investigation is expanding to include the history of connections between Trump’s controversial business empire and Russian government and business interests.

In this latter category are some of the most corrupt Russian oligarchs and mobsters, involved in widespread money laundering, who rose to prominence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

On the surface at least, one of the most perplexing questions still unanswered from last November’s shocking election result has been Trump’s persistent refusal to single out Russia or President Vladimir Putin for dramatically interfering in the American presidential election.

This has prompted many people in the U.S. and abroad, not only his critics, to ask the question: “What does Russia have on Trump?”

Increasingly, it appears that the Mueller investigation will help answer that question by examining the close but largely secret relationship between the Trump empire and Russian financial interests.

According to leaks, it has only been in recent days that Trump has realized that this Mueller probe, if not stopped, may even include an examination of his tax returns that he has been so stubborn to keep secret.

A revealing preview of what Mueller is undoubtedly discovering was featured as the extensive cover story of September’s issue of the U.S. magazine New Republic. Written by investigative journalist Craig Unger, the story was titled: “Married to the Mob: What Trump Owes the Russian Mafia.”

Unger was stark in his conclusions: “Whether Trump knew it or not, Russian mobsters and corrupt oligarchs used his properties not only to launder vast sums of money from extortion, drugs, gambling and racketeering, but even as a base of operations for their criminal activities. In the process, they propped up Trump’s business and enabled him to reinvent his image. Without the Russian mafia, it is fair to say, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.”

More than anyone, Trump knows what Mueller will discover. He knows the legal peril that he and his family are in. He also knows that his presidency is certain to end — in some way — if that story ever becomes public.

We should remember this when we see how Trump acts in the weeks to come. Like a cornered rat, he will fight to protect his interests. In every conceivable way, he will work to stop Mueller’s probe, to challenge Congress if it intervenes, to undermine the press and judiciary if they get in the way and — yes — even to engage in reckless military adventures if he thought that would strengthen his position.

This next stage of this Trump story will no longer be a diverting reality show. It will be the moment when Americans — and the rest of us — will learn if U.S. democracy is strong enough to stop him.

Tony Burman is former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News. Reach him @TonyBurman or at tony.burman@gmail.com

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