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TBR News January 17, 2016

Jan 16 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. , January 13, 2016: “I am now in France looking into various matters of interest and will report upon my return.”

 

Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversatins with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped  and later transcribed them.

These
conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.

http://www.amazon.com/Conversations-Crow-Gregory-Douglas-ebook/dp/B00GHMAQ5E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1450147193&sr=8-1&keywords=conversations+with+the+crow

 

Conversation No. 88

Date: Thursday, June 19, 1997

Commenced: 2:30 PM CST

Concluded: 3:01 PM CST

 

GD: Are you in the mood for several fairly sensitive questions, Robert? RTC: Why, Gregory, I am always ready for sensitive questions. Of course, I might not answer them but I will if I can.

GD: I have been reading about Gottlieb and Cameron and some stuff on your development of LSD and using it on unsuspecting people….

RTC: Like Olson…

GD: Yes. Interesting to note that the rapidly descending Olson worked up at Detrick. Question, if you want to get rid of an inconvenient person, how is it done?

RTC: Of course there is just taking them out into the woods and shooting them in the head. That is one method. Fake suicides are another. You know about those. And getting someone else to nail your person is another. Say we leak to a terrorist or criminal group we have infiltrated that the mark is a stool pigeon. They do it for us. And there are more technical means as well.

GD: Such as killing Hunt’s wife by crashing a commercial plane she was on?

RTC: Yes. Regretful collateral damage there. And sometimes, if we have access to a person who, let us say, is not dangerous now but could become dangerous later on or who has to be removed to make room for someone else, more friendly to us, to move into his place. We got rid of a British Prime Minister that way. Wilson. Too left-leaning for a lot of us so he suddenly got dementia and vanished from the scene.

GD: How ever did you accomplish that bit. Harold Wilson, of course. How?

RTC: Well, the people up at Deterick are very good at such things so, as I recall, they got up a solution that had a lot of mercury and aluminum in it and we got one of doctors on MI6’s payroll to inject him. Can’t have him just drop in his tracks so the injections come over a period of time as he gets dottier and dottier. It works so don’t knock it. That’s the long, slow but very safe way. They tell me that an autopsy won’t show it. They just figure the poor fool went around the bend and bought the farm,  And if the mark is too well protected and we don’t have anyone close enough to him to put a nice additive in his food or drink, we just shoot him in the head when he takes an open car trip through Dallas.

GD: Yes, I have that one down.  How about slow poison? RTC: No, that might have worked back in the Borgia’s day but not now. We don’t want anything detected at the post so it has to appear natural. Regretful, saddening but natural.

GD: You could have tried that on Nixon, couldn’t you? RTC: Oh, God no. Dick was batty enough without additives. And off the record, Henry Kissinger, his evil genius, is only a step behind him. A little push is all it takes, sometimes. Now our beloved President just calls up his friends and inconvenient people get shot in public lavatories by unknown gunmen, have ugly, disfiguring car accidents or whatnot. Brother Clinton is direct and not too subtle.

GD: The Foster business.

RTC: There old Vince was…by the way, Vince was getting religion and the Imperial Couple was starting to worry about him developing a conscience…and old Vince, lying on another grassy knoll in one of our lovely parks, shot through the head, gun in hand but the dried blood trail on his poor head was running up while his feet were down.. Of course Vince was shot elsewhere and dumped. They should have taken the elevation into account but of no matter. All we do then, or what they do, is to have the story tellers come up with complex, stunning theories, stuff them into the drooling idiot brigades just waiting for some new weird story and off they go.

GD: Camouflage.

RTC: I think distraction is a better word. The media is under tight control these days and we plant whatever sensational story we want and kill any story that might prove to be embarrassing to us. That used to be one of my jobs. Cord had it once but he is such an arrogant, threatening asshole that we had to replace him with someone like myself who is more political.

GD: And the Cameron torture palaces…

RTC: Oh, please, leave the poor doctor in peace. Completely nuts and starting to show it so he passed away, very quickly, while on a hiking trip. Once the local wildlife gets at them, there really isn’t much left over for a good autopsy.

GD: Well, I suppose you could analyze a pile of bear shit but I doubt if anyone would be that through. One would have to find the bear first and waiting around…well, you get my drift.

RTC: Well, our mark really just can’t vanish forever into the foundation of a stadium like Hoffa but then the people we send to Heaven are usually known. They have jobs, families and so on and if one of them just vanishes, there are annoying questions asked by wives and relatives. Actually, since most marriages go flat after a time, we are doing the wife a favor by doing her mate so the body can be found and wills can be probated. And new husbands located. And it’s nice for the children too. Tell me, Gregory, how many people have you sent off to play pool with Jesus? GD: Now, Robert, what a leading question. Not at all nice. I would like to think that Jesus was happy with my pool-playing friends but I don’t have the resources your people do. I usually get someone else to do the job. Like you, get the bad people to find a motive and then go to the movies and watch a religious picture. But be sure to go with friends. Now that’s of course if your bad people let you know just when they are going to effect the transfer from the mundane life here to the rapturous one there.

RTC: We all sleep better, knowing we have helped a fellow to better himself.

GD: Yes, and think of the bears, the foxes, the various insects and flies or perhaps the fish as in the case of the Paisley fellow.

RTC: He fed quite a few marine creatures before they found him.

GD: Yes, heartwarming how considerate the CIA can be of our wild creatures.

RTC: Colby…

GD: The cheese? No, the DCI.

RTC: Yes, but the former DCI.

GD: No, Robert, the late DCI. He might he been late to his own dinner but not to the bottom feeders.

RTC: Memories.

GD: Yes. I don’t like to have flu shots, Robert, and now I have an excellent reason to stop getting them.

RTC: Oh, Gregory, as much as I like you, I must tell you that you are only a nuisance, not a menace.

GD: Well, better to be a live dog than a dead lion. As they say. Fellow in England used to insure his new wife, lure her into a bathtub and then grab her ankles and pull the legs straight up. Drowned her almost instantly. Brides-in-the bath Smith they called him.

RTC: Got caught? GD: Yes, and hanged. Interesting technique, however. We learn from the mistakes of others, Robert.

RTC: Yes I suppose we do.

GD: Whatever happened to Dr. Gottleib”

GTC: The Goat Boy? His real name is Scheider. Grandfather was a rabbi. That one is as vicious as they come and crazy. He believes in out of body intelligence work. The what…the remote viewing crazies. Yes, I am sorry to say we put good taxpayer’s funds into the strangest things.

GD: Ah, for a moment there, Robert, I thought you were going to say your pockets but strange things are more interesting. You know, what with all this equal opportunity crap the lefties are preaching, I suppose the next target will be the telephone company operators. They’ll have to start hiring hairlips next.

RTC: (Laughter) Or epileptic brain surgeons? GD: Oh, those flashing lights, Robert. I’ve heard of epileptic whores before…

RTC: Catch-22…

GD: I see you are a well-read person. Yes, I do recall that charming book. The next grand-mal is just for you, sweetie, and hang on for the ride.

RTC: I’m glad Emily went out to shop, Gregory. It would distress her to overhear me.

GD: She seems very conventional.

RTC: Most of the CIA wives are. If we talked shop with them, they would tell everyone at the beauty parlor and then our wet teams would be awfully busy. What brought this up, by the way? GD: Oh I was reading a tell-all book about Cameron and Gottleib.

RTC: Both of them were worse, ever, than the mythical Mengele. You should walk around this one, Gregory. No one cares any more but the Goat Boy is still alive and he could send you a virus laden box of candy.

GD: Just give it to the church for the poor. There are too many of them, anyway

 

(Concluded at 3:01 PM CST)

 

Armed occupiers in Oregon struggle to plan exit after court denies office space

January 16, 2016

RT

An exit strategy for the armed occupiers in Oregon was supposed to be negotiated by now, but a county judge’s refusal to grant access to public buildings postponed the meeting. “We will have one soon, but we do not know when or where,” one rancher said.

That rancher, Travis Williams of Drewsey, Oregon, sits on the Harney County Committee of Safety, a non-government makeshift group of six locals hoping to end the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation as it enters its third week.

The Committee of Safety is mostly aligned with the occupiers, officially named Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, when it comes to their demands and goals, but the CoS disagrees with their tactics. Nearly a week ago, they presented “articles of resolution” to the occupiers to outline talking points and an eventual diplomatic meeting with local and federal law enforcement.

Our county judge has blocked our path,” Williams told The Oregonian. “We’re working on that right now. We will be having one soon, but we do not know when or where.”

Harney County Court Judge Steven Grasty prevented the meeting from taking place between the Bundy group and the CoS, which was scheduled for January 15 on the county fairgrounds.

Given the recent activities at the Malheur refuge by the Bundys and the armed presence throughout the community by various groups, it is Harney County’s intent to provide the delicate balance in recognizing the public’s free speech be protected while at the same time protecting the public and the public facilities,” Judge Grasty said.

The CoS is seeking to overcome that and possibly find a way to hold the meeting on Monday night, but they may eventually take legal action on First Amendment grounds, according to The Oregonian.

Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, one of the occupiers, told reporters on Friday that the leader of the protest, Arizona businessman Ammon Bundy, is readying a PowerPoint presentation for the meeting, whenever it takes place.

RT’s Simone Del Rosario has been reporting from Burns, Oregon and the occupied refuge, speaking with community members, as well as protesters and law enforcement. In an exclusive interview with Bundy, Del Rosario asked about his group’s view of the law and its operations.

To Bundy, the US Constitution “has been violated to the point that ranchers don’t have any rights,” and by “common law established by natural law” the ranchers deserve to control the public land claimed by the federal government.

Bundy went on to describe his group’s sophisticated operations, including its “vast communications” and “deep pockets.” Yet with all of that, they have yet to conclusively demonstrate how they’re benefitting neighboring ranchers.

On January 12, Bundy and his supporters destroyed a government fence that marked grazing rights for Tim Puckett’s ranch, claiming Puckett had requested more space for his cattle. However, the rancher told the media he had never met with the Bundy group and never asked for anything to be done to the fence. Puckett went on to say he had good relations with federal agents.

No one has been charged in the fence incident yet, as federal law enforcers are staying quite a distance away to avoid triggering an escalation by a show of force. However, when one of the occupiers, Kenneth Medenbach, 62, drove a government truck from the wildlife refuge into town to pick up groceries at a Safeway, he was arrested by state police, making him the first member of the group detained since the occupation began 13 days ago.

Elsewhere on the refuge, government vehicles received new labeling to the occupiers’ liking.

The public image of the occupiers is certainly mixed, though locally the loudest voices are in opposition. About 100 anti-Bundy protesters showed up for a rally in Burns on Friday – further evidence that Bundy misjudged how the much the local community would support his cause.

Though Bundy was initially inspired to action by the prosecution of local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, the father and son denied his offer of sanctuary under occupation. They opted to return to federal prison after being re-sentenced for starting sagebrush fires on their own land that touched over onto federal land as well.

Native tribes dispute land rights claims by protesters

Although the Hammonds’ volatile relationship with the feds goes back decades, another group has an even starker one that goes back centuries. The Paiute tribe resents Bundy’s assertion that the land truly belongs to the ranchers when they have a treaty saying the federal government is the steward.

Did the ranchers just drop out of the sky into virgin territory that had never been touched by anybody?” local Paiute chairwoman Charlotte Rodrique told RT.

I think [the federal government] should be more aggressive,” Rodrique added. “Truthfully, I do think if it were people of color, the approach would be more aggressive.”

While the federal authorities have kept their distance thus far, tensions within the community seem to be building.

Burns Mayor Craig Lafollette told RT he serves a “very close-knit, resilient community.” He noted, however, that there has been “some division” since the occupation began, but he believes that the divide will subside once the standoff is over.

It’s not fair that this wonderful, peaceful community has been put in the limelight for this reason,” Lafollette said, relaying that Sheriff Dave Ward told him there have been “upticks” in threats, intimidation, and vandalism, including against Ward’s wife, whose tires were allegedly slashed, causing her to leave town for a week.

Speaking with a former Bureau of Land Management worker of 30 years who requested to remain unnamed out of caution for his business, RT’s Del Rosario asked about the difficulties in settling disputes with ranchers.

It’s painful, and it takes a long time, but at least we’ve always talked. We’ve always been able to talk and work through things. Not everybody always gets what they want,” the former federal employee said, but he added, “This community has a phenomenal ability to listen to each other.”

Chinese Environmental Problems are Taking a Serious Turn for Worse

January 16, 2016

by Dmitry Bokarev

New Eastern Outlook

The recent announcement that heavy smog has triggered an orange level alert in Beijing, the densely populated capital of China, once again drew the attention of the international community to the environmental problems China faces. In fact, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is paying a staggering price for its rapid industrial and economic growth, since the levels of air and water pollution in urban areas are at unprecedented levels across China. Moreover, the sorry state of Chinese ecology has ceased being its internal issue, since the extensive amount of damage that China inflicted on the environment has started affecting neighboring countries and the planet as a whole, provoking new tensions in the state of international relations.

There’s little doubt that air pollution is among the primarily concerns of the international community. In most Chinese cities the maximum acceptable levels of air pollution have been exceeded two or even three times. The toxic haze produced by coal plants and heavy industry factories is a long-standing and persistent problem that the PRC has been facing. It gets particularly dense in the Chinese capital and surrounding areas. In 2015 air pollution levels in Beijing have hit record levels. The situation got particularly tense last November due to the increased use of heating, since the absolute majority of Chinese boiler stations are using coal to produce heat, even despite the fact that coal combustion is one of the main factors believed to drive the greenhouse effect.

The second most serious cause of air pollution in China is exhaust emissions which pushed the level of concentration of hazardous substances in the air in Beijing last November to exceed the maximum acceptable level of the World Health Organization by more than 17 times. This fact forced city’s authorities to declare a so-called “orange alert”. This is not the highest possible level but when it’s declared factories are ordered to cut production, the transportation of building materials and industrial wastes is prohibited and heavy trucks are not allowed to enter the city area.

Later on, Chinese officials were forced to announce the highest level of air pollution alert – red – which was in effect until December 22, 2015 . Yet on December 25, they declared orange alert once again. According to the standards of the World Health Organization, the maximum acceptable concentration of harmful microscopic particles in the air is 25 micrograms per cubic meter per day. According to sources at the US embassy on December 25 this level has been exceeded by 25, with the particles concentration reaching 620 micrograms. Due to low visibility, Beijing International Airport canceled hundreds of flights.

Beijing is not the only one to suffer, about 50 cities in the northern and eastern parts of China are experiencing similar problems. Recently in 10 large cities, authorities advised people to stay home because of excessive levels of toxic substances in the air.

But the sad news is that Beijing’s problems is just the tip of the iceberg, which should draw public attention to the huge amount of environmental problems in China that have accumulated over the years due to uncontrolled industrialization. Chinese authorities have started taking them seriously recently since environmental problems have become a threat to national security. Air pollution, contaminated water and soil leads to a huge amount of various diseases among the population. According to the World Bank, up to 750,000 people are dying annually due to the air pollution in China. Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from the poor quality of drinking water and from acid rain. The situation has even endangered the ruling political order in China since people have been protesting further development of hazardous industries for years now. Mass rallies are often turning into riots, that result in clashes with the police and attacks on government buildings.

The situation at hand has been demanding urgent measures to be taken for a while. Back in 2013, China began a campaign for environmental protection, allocating a hefty sum of some 600 billion dollars to make it a reality. After numerous inspections, the Chinese government decided to close up to 17,000 facilities that were polluting the environment back in 2015, another 28,000 had to cease their operations. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection of China, nearly 1.5 million enterprises were subjected to a thorough inspection, a huge portion of which were initiated by citizens and their complaints about the state of environment.

Despite all these measures, the Chinese environmental crisis is not going anywhere. China’s growing economy requires more resources. As the demand for electricity has been growing steadily, China carries on with the construction of thermal power stations across the country. In the coming years the country can open more than 500 new stations that will be hazardous to the environment. Despite the fact that China has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, it faces no restrictions on the level of emissions it produces since it is still a developing country.

Additionally, China can overtake the United States in the number of personal vehicles being sold every year. Currently, the Chinese government is taking all possible measures to maximize the popularity of electric cars, since they are friendly to the environment. However, hydrocarbon powered vehicles are not going anywhere, which makes China one of the main culprits of global warming, which even today presents a threat to the ecological security of the whole world.

Moreover, there are other environmental problems: the uncontrolled discharge of sewage and toxic waste into rivers and coastal waters which contaminates huge areas; ill-conceived agricultural policies, leading to soil erosion and gradual transformation of once fertile soils into deserts – all this affects China’s neighbors in one way or anotherIn particular, more than two dozen rivers in Central Asia start in China, and its authorities are taking full advantage of this fact, often without taking into account the interests of the countries that lay downstream.

Russia is also facing risks here, since Chinese plants have repeatedly discharged toxic substances in the Songhua River, a tributary of the Russian Amur. Enterprises that are not equipped with purification facilities, often dump all wastes directly into the river – in water that flows to Russia, presenting a possible catastrophe to the whole Amur region. At the same time, China simply ignores these facts and doesn’t respond to any demands from Russian authorities.

As a result of these developments, Russia decided to establish an analytical monitoring center of water quality in Khabarovsk that should keep a watchful eye on the state of the Amur and Ussuri rivers, along with increasing the number of hydrological stations along the banks of these rivers.

The recent international conference in Dushanbe on the state of today’s drinking water reserves gathered up 1,500 participants from across the globe. The President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmon, proposed to hold a decade under the motto “water for sustainable development”, however the results of the conference are not binding in their nature.

It becomes obvious that the Chinese environmental disaster is not merely an internal problem of China, therefore, there’s no solving it without the joint effort of the international community. The only problem is to persuade Chinese authorities to cooperate with other countries in order to address the grave environmental problems it faces along with its neighbors.

 

After historic election, China says Taiwan an internal affair

January 16, 2016

Reuters

Taiwan is an internal matter for China, there is only one China in the world and the island’s election neither changes this reality nor international acceptance of it, China’s government said after the pro-independence opposition won a landslide.

Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won a convincing victory in both presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday.

President-elect Tsai pledged to maintain peace with giant neighbor China, which claims Taiwan as its sacred territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control.

Shortly after her victory, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office warned it would oppose any move towards independence and that Beijing was determined to defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In a short statement released just before midnight on Saturday, China’s Foreign Ministry said no matter what changes there may be on the island, China would never change its policy of opposing Taiwan’s formal independence.

The Taiwan issue is an internal matter for China,” it said.

“There is only one China in the world, the mainland and Taiwan both belong to one China and China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will not brook being broken up,” the ministry added.

The results of the Taiwan region election does not change this basic fact and the consensus of the international community.”

China hopes the world will continue to uphold a “one China” principle, oppose any form of Taiwan independence and takes “real steps” to support the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Strait, it added.

 

Army report: Shipments of live anthrax spores resulted from ‘serious breaches’

The Army released a heavily redacted report on Friday that examined serious lapses at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Going forward, Army officials are calling for more oversight.

January 15, 2016

by Anna Mulrine

CS Monitor

Washington — There were “serious breaches” of regulations that led to an Army lab repeatedly shipping out live anthrax spores to 194 labs in the United States and abroad over the course of a decade.

In a heavily redacted report released Friday, the Army acknowledged that a “culture of complacency” was permitted to “flourish” at Dugway Proving Ground (DPG) in Utah, a major production and testing facility for the military’s chemical and biological defense programs.

This included, among other notable lapses, a “failure to investigate and hold personnel accountable for biological mishaps” and commanders who “blamed external entities or downplayed the seriousness of the incidents in reports to higher headquarters.”

The commander who was cited repeatedly in the report is Col. William King IV, who commanded Dugway from 2009 to 2011 and has since been promoted to brigadier general

Last year, he took command of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

Colonel King repeatedly deflected blame and minimized the severity of incidents,” the report notes. “Even now, Brig. Gen. King lacks introspection and fails to recognize the scope and severity of incidents that occurred during his command at DPG.”

Surveillance cameras at Dugway showed personnel dropping anthrax samples and failing to properly clean up, for example. Personnel also “manipulated and carelessly generated critical documents,” according to the report.

Army officials stressed at a Pentagon press conference Friday that these failures “did not pose a risk to public health,” mostly because the lab workers who handled the anthrax spores “used proper protective equipment at all times,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, who led the review team.

Still, “by any measure, this was a massive institutional failure,” Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said in July, when the Army issued its initial report on the breach.

It was last May that a private company phoned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta to let officials know that it received what it thought would be inactive anthrax spores from the Army.

The problem was that they were not inactive. They were live spores that had been shipped across the country from Dugway. One month earlier, the same thing had happened. The incident set off a series of media reports and Pentagon investigations.

The anthrax samples sent out by Dugway are used by companies to run diagnostics in equipment and devices that are meant to detect biological threats that could be used, for example, in terrorist attacks at airports and other public spaces.

The CDC, with Pentagon support, determined that over a 12-year period, samples of viable anthrax had been sent by Dugway to 194 labs.

In August, the CDC formally suspended Dugway’s right to possess, use, or transfer any agents or toxins for failure to comply with safety regulations.

In examining the way forward, Army officials said that there should be more oversight, including inspections that “should not be announced,” said Major General Ostrowski, so “we can see the lab working as it does on a daily basis.”The Army report also noted that Dugway “often had a difficult time drawing in new highly educated and experienced scientists because of its remote location” – some 90 miles west of Salt Lake City.

The “senior virologist” in its microbiology branch, for one, had only a high school education, and many others “do not have the expertise to ask the questions that due diligence would have required,” noted the report, which posited that perhaps hiring practices at the facility, in which third- and forth-generation workers are often brought on, should be examined.

Though scientists had complained about safety practices, some Army personnel acknowledged that while they received the complaints, they dismissed them in at least one instance as the “innate tendency of scientists to constantly question the skills of their colleagues as a reason why the accusation did not need to be taken seriously.”

It was, the report concluded, a series of “missed opportunities.”

 

4.5mn Russian tourists won’t visit Turkey this year

January 15, 2016

RT

Turkey expects to lose 4.5 million tourists from Russia this year, as tourism has been badly hit by the Russian crisis and regional uncertainties, said the Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Mahir Unal.

The number of Russian visitors declined by 18 percent to 3.6 million in the first eleven months last year compared to the same period of 2014. The number of total foreign arrivals dropped by 1.4 percent in the same period, according to the data revealed by the Tourism Ministry last month.

Russia’s travel agencies canceled Turkish packages after Moscow introduced sanctions against Ankara following the downing of a Russian warplane in Syria. The measures targeted the Turkish tourism industry and exports to Russia.

Russia represented the second largest source of tourists for Turkey after Germany.

The minister hopes to recover the losses in the Russian market with the planned EXPO in Antalya between April and October this year.

Principal Turkish tourism players will focus on the Chinese and Indian markets in the medium-term to overcome the potential losses linked to the current diplomatic crisis.

The tourism associations are concerned 2016 will be a difficult year.

The tourism industry accounts for 11 percent of Turkey’s GDP, or $170 billion. The loss of Russian tourism could cost Turkey about $7 billion a year, according to analysts.

 

Prisoner release and nuclear deal sees Iran sanctions lifted as US heralds ‘safer world’

Washington and Tehran spring surprise swap of detainees as John Kerry and Iranian foreign minister welcome turning point in relations

January 16, 2016

by Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Julian Borger

The Guardian

Iran took a huge leap out of isolation on Saturday night when it was declared that the country had shrunk its nuclear programme sufficiently to benefit from the lifting of a decade’s worth of sanctions.

A dramatic day witnessed a surprise prisoner swap between Iran and America, a by-product of the years of nuclear diplomacy, that included the release of a Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian, who had been held since 2014, and four other American nationals. Then there was a tense wait for the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, to confirm that Iran had carried out all the steps it agreed to in a landmark deal with six major powers last July in Vienna.

Relations between Iran and the IAEA now enter a new phase. It is an important day for the international community. I congratulate all those who helped make it a reality,” the agency’s director general, Yukiya Amano, said in a televised statement in the Austrian capital. The announcement was the formal signal required for sanctions to be lifted.

Today marks the first day of a safer world,” US secretary of state John Kerry said. “We’ve seen that diplomacy works, armed conflict is not always the answer.

The steps Iran has taken to fully implement the [agreement] have fundamentally altered the country’s nuclear programme. Today we are confident it would take Iran at least a year to break out of the agreement.

Verification remains the backbone of this agreement. We welcome Iran has kept its word. We will continue to do the same.”

The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said in a joint statement: “This achievement clearly demonstrates that with political will, perseverance, and through multilateral diplomacy, we can solve the most difficult issues and find practical solutions that are effectively implemented.”

The moment, called Implementation Day, marked a turning point in the nearly 14 years since the existence of Iran’s uranium enrichment and heavy water programme was first revealed. During that time, the nuclear aspirations of the Islamic republic, and Israel’s avowed aim of stopping the programme by force if necessary, threatened to cause a major new war in the Middle East.

With Saturday night’s declaration, the EU oil embargo came to an end, banking restrictions were erased, and Iran will be readmitted to the Swift electronic banking system, critical for modern international trade transactions.

Furthermore, Iran will gain access to billions of dollars in frozen assets, and will be able to buy commercial airliners to upgrade its dated and increasingly unsafe fleet. Abbas Akhoni, Iran’s minister for roads and urban development, was quoted by Fars news agencyas saying that Iran had struck a deal with the European company Airbus for the purchase of 114 new aeroplanes.

To qualify for sanctions relief under the Vienna agreement, Iran had to slash its nuclear capacity, and it did so at a speed that surprised many observers.

Within a few months, it dismantled 14,000 centrifuges, two-thirds of its total capacity, and put them into storage under IAEA seal. It shipped out or diluted 98% of its stockpile of low-enrichment uranium, which had been the main source of concern for the international community, as it could be relatively quickly turned into highly enriched, weapons grade, uranium. In the past few days, technicians have removed the core from its heavy water reactor in Arak – a potential source of plutonium and the second big proliferation worry – and filled it with concrete so it cannot be used again.

Tehran also cooperated with the IAEA so that the agency could complete its investigation into Iran’s suspected past work on nuclear weapons design.

The IAEA declared it closed in December, saying that the concerted weapons programme halted in 2003, and continued in a more sporadic basis for a few years after that.

Iran released Rezaian; three other Iranian-Americans it had detained, including a former marine, Amir Hekmati, a Christian pastor, Saeed Abedini, and a writer and researcher named Matthew Trevithick.

In return, the US released seven people, mostly dual nationals, who had been convicted of nuclear smuggling, and lifted extradition requests for others. “Through a diplomatic channel that was established with the focus of getting our detained US citizens home, we can confirm Iran has released from imprisonment four Americans detained in Iran,” a US official said.

We offered clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom are dual US-Iranian citizens, who had been convicted or are pending trial in the United States. The United States also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.”

Rezaian was arrested at his home in Tehran in July 2014. His closed-door trial began in May this year when he appeared before a hardline judge on charges of espionage, collecting confidential information and spreading propaganda against the Islamic republic.

Trevithick is a journalist and student who had travelled and worked in conflict-torn nations including Syria, Mali and Afghanistan, pausing along the way to try to start a rowing team. He was in Tehran studying Dari when he was arrested and sent to Evin prison. The reasons for his imprisonment are not yet known, but he had worked at American universities in Afghanistan and Iraq and written for publications including the Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Beast.

Throughout the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme, which began in earnest after the election of reformist president Hassan Rouhani two years ago, diplomats on both sides denied that the fate of the detained Iranian-Americans was on the table. But the timing of the prisoner swap, on the day the nuclear deal was due to take effect, triggering the lifting of multiple sanctions, pointed towards a strong connection.

Rouhani has pushed for speedy implementation in the hope that reformist candidates will benefit from the psychological, and eventually economic, boost of sanctions relief in parliamentary elections next February.

His success in rapidly dismantling Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, persuading the Revolutionary Guards to quickly release 10 US sailors who had steered into Iranian waters on Tuesday, and then convincing the judiciary to release the four Iranian-Americans, suggests he now wields considerable power inside Iran’s complicated system of government.

Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said an attack on the Saudi embassy by a hardline mob on 2 January, in response to the Saudi execution of a Shia cleric, provided Rouhani with an opportunity.

I think the attack on the Saudi embassy and its consequences provided Rouhani with a potent tool to push back the hardliners at a crucial juncture for Iran,” Vaez said. “Rouhani can advance his agenda as long as it overlaps with that of the system.

The political establishment wants to reap the full benefits of sanctions relief. The image of Iran as the embassy burning and hostage taking country could play into its foes’ hands and diminish the deal’s positive dividends. It might look like Rouhani is on a roll, but the guardians of the system can pull many levers to ensure that the existing balance of power is preserved.”The 39-year-old Rezaian was arrested along with his Yeganeh Salehi, also a journalist, and two friends, an Iranian-American couple. The friends were released shortly after their arrest, while Salehi was released on bail in October and is facing a separate trial.

The Post reporter was held on unspecified charges for more than seven months before appearing in court. He was kept incommunicado for most of his time in jail, with little access to his lawyers and family.

The Mehr news agency said Rezaian was among the released prisoners.

Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, said the release of the prisoners was “a triumph of diplomacy that should be universally commended. “Now, the freed Americans can be reunited with their families and friends after an extraordinarily trying time for everyone involved. We hope that they find solace in their freedom from the turmoil that they endured.”

Troublked relationship

1979 In January the Shah flees Iran once more, after several months of mass demonstrations. Two weeks later Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returns from Paris after 14 years in exile and starts forming an Islamic republic. In November, Iranian students storm the US embassy and take 52 American diplomats hostage.

A rescue mission the following year fails and the diplomats are not freed until the start of 1981, after spending 444 days in captivity.

1980 Iraq attacks Iran, starting a brutal war which will drag on for eight years, making it the 20th century’s longest conventional war.

1985 US government officials offered secret arms deals to Iran, then under a weapons embargo, in an attempt to secure the release of several hostages and fund the Contra rebel groups fighting the government in Nicaragua. The scandal would become known as the Iran-Contra.

2003 Russian technicians resume construction of Iran’s first nuclear reactor in Bushehr. International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran failed to meet obligations under nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

2009 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims victory in a presidential election that rivals say was rigged. Their supporters take to the streets for demonstrations in which at least 30 people are killed and hundreds are arrested. Iranian authorities blame foreigners for stoking unrest.

2013 Reformist cleric Hassan Rouhani sweeps to power, promises that Iran will never build nuclear weapons and offers “time-bound” talks on the nuclear programme.

2015 Iran reaches a historic deal on its nuclear programme with western powers, and prepares to come in from the cold as they dismantle sanctions regime in return for major concessions.

Saudi Aramco – the $10tn mystery at the heart of the Gulf state

If Saudi Arabia’s state oil company floats, it will be the biggest producer in the world by a factor of 10. Or so experts believe – but the secrecy that surrounds it makes it impossible to know for sure

January 16,2016

by Ian Black in Riyadh and Terry Macalister

The Guardian

Along the King Fahd highway in downtown Riyadh, signs of the country’s wealth glitter and dazzle. Monuments include the massive Kingdom Centre – instantly recognisable by the giant bottle-opener feature formed by its two wings – and the beautiful and futuristic Faisaliyah building. New ones are still rising, like the King Abdullah financial district, still under construction: a reminder of the fat years of high oil revenues under the previous monarch.

On nearby Tahliya Street, lined with young Saudi men watching black-robed, headscarfed women saunter past, crowds throng into American-style shopping malls flaunting the world’s priciest and most luxurious brands.

Saudi wealth – whether in downtown Riyadh or Knightsbridge – is highly conspicuous. And they have the colossal Saudi Aramco oil corporation to thank for it.

Locals were stunned by the sudden news of the possible sale of part of the company that has been synonymous with their country’s history almost since its foundation. Uncertainty about exactly what it would mean has not been laid to rest by the cautious statement confirming the impending plan to float the business later issued from Aramco’s headquarters in the eastern province of Dammam.

There was also concern that news of the momentous decision was first aired in an interview given by the powerful deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to foreign media. “Aramco is our spine and they suddenly announce this!” exclaimed Professor Fawziah al-Bakr, an education expert and women’s activist.

Aramco’s history is the story of the “discovery and development of the greatest energy reserves the world has ever known and the rapid transformation of Saudi Arabia from desert kingdom to modern nation state,” the company says. Its pledge has always been to “maximise the value of the country’s petroleum reserves for the benefit of the kingdom’s citizens”. Exactly how that will be done if foreign investors can buy shares is a troubling and unanswered question, say critics.

But a 75% plunge in global crude prices over the last 18 months to $30 per barrel – caused by a downturn in demand and a supply glut that Saudi Arabia and fellow Opec members have refused to address in their determination to drive US fracking rivals out of business – has caused financial pain to producing nations around the world, who had grown used to funding pretty much their entire economies and social programmes on black gold.

The Saudi budget deficit rocketed last year to 15% of gross domestic product and more than $100bn of the country’s $650bn of foreign reserves has already been used to fill up gaps left by depleted oil revenues.

The 2016 income and expenditure plan has involved a huge rise in the price of petrol, electricity and water along with a pledge to introduce a value added tax of 5%, together with tariffs on sugary drinks and tobacco.

The 60% increase in petrol prices – to 16p a litre – has shocked many Saudis but not all motorists. “Yes, the cost of petrol has gone up,” said a Bangladeshi taxi driver stuck on King Fahd highway. “But it is still probably the cheapest in the world.”

Mohammed, a Saudi government official, was more worried about future rises than this one. But the increase has triggered alarm, with some car owners rushing out the night before it took effect to fill their tanks and save the equivalent of a few pennies.

At least Saudis, who live in an autocratic state where free education and other social benefits have effectively been traded by unspoken compact for political freedom, are not alone. Last week, the neighbouring Gulf state of Bahrain, just off the coast of Saudi’s eastern province, also raised the price of fuel by 60% – for the first time in 33 years. Oman had already done the same.

The possible selloff of at least part of Aramco, previously considered the country’s crown jewel, has stunned the global energy and investment sectors as much as locals.

One Wall Street report claimed an American financial adviser was forced to stop his car because he was laughing so much from sheer incredulity when the Aramco float news broke. But plans for an initial public offering by what may be most secretive – but almost certainly the most valuable – company in the world have been confirmed by its chairman, Khalid al-Falih.

We are considering … a listing of the main company and obviously the main company will include upstream,” he said last week, thereby indicating that the flotation plan could give access to the country’s 260bn barrels of oil reserves and 263 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Among the more than 100 oil and gas fields controlled by Aramco – which began life as the California-Arabian Standard Oil Company in 1933 – are Ghawar, the world’s largest onshore oil location, plus Safaniya, the biggest offshore field in the world.

The scale of the Aramco empire dwarfs every other corporation in the world. Its oil assets alone are 10 times more than those held by the world’s largest publicly quoted oil company, ExxonMobil. If the Texas-based business has a stock market value of $400bn, that would make Aramco’s oil assets potentially worth $4tn (£2.7tn).

Energy analysts admit they find it impossible to accurately calculate the exact worth of a company that boasts of producing 9.5m barrels of oil a day – one in every eight of the world’s production. But some estimates go as high as $10tn. That is 10 times the combined value of Apple and Alphabet (the new parent company of Google).

They know Aramco has huge oil and gas reserves, a raft of refineries and other business interests, but details are scant. The company does not publish its accounts or even its revenues, never mind its profits.

What is known about Aramco by anyone outside the company tends to come from bland information provided by its official websites or an annual review of “facts and figures” – the last one covering 2014.

You will find no mention of the flotation proposal on its website. The latest bit of news concerns what appears to be a low-key joint venture with a German chemical company called Lanxess. There is no date given for when it was announced, nor who to contact should one require more information.

A plan to float even a relatively small slice of the business would change all that. “You cannot take public funds (foreign investment) without sufficient operating and financial results being made available,” says Fadel Gheit, a veteran oil analyst with the Oppenheimer brokerage in New York.

And you would not choose to float a company when commodity prices are so low. But the Saudis are clearly in need of money and part of it is their own fault. They ignored plenty of warnings that US shale production was on its way into the market. It is too late to stop that now.”

What Aramco’s annual review does say is that the company – alongside its mountainous oil and gas reserves – controls more than 3m barrels a day of refining capacity, both inside Saudi and abroad.

There are some joint refining ventures with foreign oil companies inside the Middle Eastern kingdom, such as the Saudi Aramco Shell Refinery Company, which operates a plant in Yanbu on the north-west Saudi coast with Royal Dutch Shell.

There are similar local refining partnerships with Exxon, Total of France and Sinopec of China, while Shell has the most substantial joint venture with Aramco outside Saudi in its Motiva Enterprises operation in the US.

More recently there have been moves to establish chemical plants at refineries through tie-ups with the likes of Dow Chemical of the US and Sumitomo Chemical of Japan. The American firm has a joint venture, Sadara, building a facility at Jubail while the Japanese are involved in a joint venture at the Petro Rabigh plant on the Red Sea.

In addition there are oil exploration agreements inside Saudi with Shell and for gas development with Russia’s Lukoil, Sinopec and a consortium of Italy’s ENI and Spain’s Repsol. Industry experts say these deals give very little real access to rich resources and have produced little of benefit to the foreign companies so far.

Aramco until recently owned a fleet of very large tankers to ship oil abroad through a separate subsidiary it established, called Vela International Marine. But the business – one of the biggest of its kind in the world and which still handles much of Saudi’s oil exports – was recently transferred to the ownership to the Saudi national shipping company.

Aramco continues to keep a network of international offices in locations such as Paris, the Hague and London. It also keeps a research base in Aberdeen, centre of UK North Sea activity.

The assumed wisdom about Aramco is that it is relatively well run but is used as a personal piggy bank by the ruling family as well as an income to fund government social and other policies. There are question marks over why the company is reported to be running four Boeing 747s and four other jets as well as a number of football stadiums around the country.

Aramco’s crude is especially attractive because it almost gushes out of the ground with barely the prod of a stick. Operating costs of $12 per barrel make it the cheapest in the world after Kuwait and five times cheaper than the UK North Sea.

Shell, Total and Sinopec would almost certainly look at taking a stake in any Aramco IPO for strategic reasons, but whether sovereign wealth funds or big western pension funds would queue for a stake is less certain at a time of low crude prices.

Gheit thinks they might, but traditional institutional investors would need to see audited financial information and know they would be able to pursue legal remedies in the event of a dispute.

Any float will ultimately come down to price and (royal) pride. But in the meantime expect to see western investment bankers, lawyers and PRs – who want a slice of what will be very lucrative advisory work in the run-up to any IPO – joining the queue on King Fahd highway.

 

THE COST OF FALLING PRICES

by Terry Macalister

Standard Chartered last week issued the most gloomy forecast yet on the future price of oil: $10 a barrel. What impact would such a fall have on North Sea companies, the consumer and the economy?

OIL INDUSTRY

Up to 65,000 jobs have already been lost from the British offshore oil industry since the cost of crude fell from a peak of $115 per barrel in June 2014 to its latest level of $30. A further decline to $10 would clearly turn a cull into a massacre, not least because the North Sea is a high-cost place to operate, with the break-even price for many fields around $60.

Just last week BP unveiled plans to axe a further 4,000 jobs – most over the next 12 months – with 600 of them in Aberdeen. Shell has promised to cut 2,800 if, as expected, its merger with BG goes through in the next few weeks.

Around the world, 68 oil projects with a combined investment cost of $380bn have been dumped over the last year, according to Edinburgh-based global oil consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

Thirty-seven north American oil and gas producers have filed for bankruptcy, says Texas-based law firm Haynes and Boone, while analysts have warned half of US shale drillers could be out of business if the slump continues.

Dividend payments from Shell and others could be slashed if oil skids further and a major new round of takeovers would almost certainly begin. Sub-$10 oil in the late 1980s led to BP buying rival Amoco for $42bn and a series of other mega-mergers as companies sought to bulk up while cutting jobs and offices.

CONSUMERS

Motorists have already benefited from lower petrol prices, which are now below £1 a litre in some places – but they still do not reflect the true cost of supplies, and $10 oil would bring more benefits.

The last time that price was reached – during the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1998 – petrol prices fell to around 86p per litre. Oil companies argue that the vast majority of the petrol price is made up of taxes but a further collapse in crude values would produce a glut of cheap refined products and pressure to pass on cuts.

Many international gas contracts are also tied to oil prices, and wholesale prices have fallen by at least 30% over the last 18 months. These lower costs have not been fully passed onto householders. Energy regulator Ofgem said on Friday that the “big six” UK suppliers are overcharging “for the vast majority of people”.

Despite the growth in wind and solar for providing electricity, gas is still the key fuel for energy generation, whether in the home or the power station. Even without lower crude prices, there have been growing expectations that power prices will at least remain flat from now until the end of the decade.

THE ECONOMY

A fall in the oil price is the same as a tax cut for consumers. It means they have more to spend on other goods and services, though there is some evidence that UK car owners are spending some of their windfall on extra petrol as they increase the miles they drive.

A slump to in the oil price to $10 will not mean a big fall in pump prices because of the tax levied – but businesses will get a big lift from cheaper oil products. It cuts the cost of transport and there are also benefits from cheaper plastics, fertilisers and synthetic fabrics.

The downward pressure on inflation will persuade the Bank of England to keep interest rates lower for longer. That is bad news for savers, but good for mortgage payers and high-street spending.

The government’s hope will be that consumers spend more on goods and services produced by UK businesses, boosting growth. But Britain is an open economy, with trade accounting for around a third of economic activity, so if extra cash goes on imports it will widen the trade deficit.

Scotland will suffer as more oil firms pull out of North Sea production or lay off staff. From the Treasury’s point of view, the bad news is the big loss in tax revenues that inevitably follows, though this should be compensated by tax receipts from a higher growth rate.

Oregon militia’s behavior increasingly brazen as public property destroyed

Occupiers of Malheur refuge apparently testing officials’ patience: ‘They’re really trying to get a rise out of somebody,’ says local tribal leader

January 16, 2016

by Sam Levin

The Guardian

The militiamen occupying a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon have adopted increasingly bold and risky tactics in their protest against the federal government, raising questions about how long law enforcement officials can allow the standoff to continue.

Now entering their third week of occupying the Malheur national wildlife refuge in rural Harney County, leaders of the militia appear to be testing the patience of the local sheriff’s department and the FBI by brazenly commandeering and in some cases destroying public property while escalating their anti-government rhetoric.

Community leaders and government officials in Oregon and beyond say they fear there could be major damage at the refuge and elevated safety risks for employees and local residents if the militia continues to stand its ground, seemingly emboldened by the continuing lack of consequences.

For these people to go in and just be destructive, they’re really trying to get a rise out of somebody,” said Charlotte Rodrique, chairwoman of the local Paiute Indian tribe, who has argued that Native Americans have much more of a claim to the public land in question than the out-of-state militiamen running the takeover.

They really want a confrontation.”

On Friday evening, Rodrique said she was horrified to learn that the militia, led by Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, had paved a road through part of the wildlife sanctuary. That move came days after occupiers destroyed part of a US Fish and Wildlife Service fence, to allow cattle to freely graze on public lands the federal government controls.

Militiamen have also removed cameras at the refuge they claim the FBI was using for “surveillance”. LaVoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher and one of the main spokesmen for the militia, showed up to a Saturday morning press conference carrying a basket filled with black cameras.

Do you not get tired of the mass surveillance in this country?” Finicum told reporters. “This, in my opinion, is unreasonable search.”

He added: “I want to call out the FBI and their harassment of neighborhood families.”

Finicum and other militiamen seemed undeterred by the Oregon state police’s arrest on Friday of occupier Kenneth Medenbach, 62, who drove a government vehicle off the refuge to the local Safeway supermarket in the town of Burns, 30 miles away.

Sometimes we make dumb choices,” Finicum said of the arrest.

When driving their own vehicles, however, high-profile militia leaders have had no difficulty entering and leaving the compound. In fact, Finicum and Ryan Bundy, Ammon’s brother, recently left the refuge and drove out of Oregon and were then able to return to the occupation without facing any contact with law enforcement, Finicum told the Guardian.

Finicum said he and Ryan Bundy met out-of-state ranchers interested in mounting a similar protest against the federal government, but declined to say where the meeting took place. During his short trip, he said, he felt confident that law enforcement would not approach or arrest them.

We did watch our mirrors a lot,” he said.

In addition to his criticisms of the federal government, Finicum slammed Harney County officials for denying the militia access to a community building in Burns, where the occupiers want to present their plans to local residents. Members of a so-called Harney County Committee of Safety, who have worked with Bundy and say they want to take over his cause, are threatening to file a complaint against the county for refusing to allow the militia to use its buildings.

Regarding the wildlife refuge, the Burns Pauite Indian tribe and federal government officials said they were worried about possible damage to cultural resources, artifacts, sensitive records and local wildlife habitats.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service strongly condemned the occupiers for building the new road.

It’s deplorable,” spokesman Jason Holm said in an email. “I’m not sure what part of the [occupiers’] interpretation of the constitution promotes the destruction and desecration of culturally significant Native American sites … This is disgusting, ghoulish behavior.”

Holm also said the fish and wildlife service had received reports that the occupiers were accessing federal records at the refuge, raising concerns about a possibly dangerous data breach. He said the government was now contracting with a data protection and credit monitoring service to safeguard refuge employees whose personal data may have been compromised.

Rodrique said that when refuge officials undertake projects that disrupt the land, they consult the tribe’s leaders and archaeologists to ensure that there is no damage to burial sites or potential artifacts.

There is so much history in that area,” she said. “We’ve gotten to a point where everyone is cooperating and working together to preserve archaeological historical sites.”

If the militiamen damage or steal tribal artifacts or confidential documents related to Native American history, Rodrique said, she hoped federal officials would prosecute the men to the fullest extent of the law.

Asked about the tribe’s concerns, Finicum said Native Americans should be working with the militia.

We’re here for the natives,” he said. “The federal government has been their biggest oppressor.”

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