"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"

Father God, thank you for the love of the truth you have given me. Please bless me with the wisdom, knowledge and discernment needed to always present the truth in an attitude of grace and love. Use this blog and Northwoods Ministries for your glory. Help us all to read and to study Your Word without preconceived notions, but rather, let scripture interpret scripture in the presence of the Holy Spirit. All praise to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Please note: All my writings and comments appear in bold italics in this colour

Friday, February 23, 2018

Chinese Regulators Seize Anbang Insurance; Chief Wu to be Tried for Fraud

Corruption is Everywhere - even China

By Ed Adamczyk  

Chinese office workers leave Anbang Insurance's (AD) China headquarters in Beijing on June 14, 2017. AD's chairman and insurance mogul Wu Xiaohui was reported detained in China's continued crack down on corruption, according to a major Chinese magazine. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

UPI -- The Chinese government on Friday seized the assets of privately-owned Anbang Insurance Group, which owns New York City's Waldorf-Astoria hotel and other global properties.

Anbang founder Wu Xiaohui will be prosecuted for fraud, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission announced. The action, which furthers Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption efforts, is meant to end the acquisition fervor of Chinese tycoons and offer government protection to millions of Chinese citizens who bought Anbang investments. It is also an indication that China will no longer encourage global asset growth and will instead focus on shoring up its internal economic structure, Bloomberg News reported.

Anbang has $315 billion in assets and is among the highest-profile Chinese company in international investments. The company purchased the iconic Waldorf-Astoria in 2014. The hotel, and Anbang's other properties, are now is been overseen by government regulators. A year ago the company was in talks to invest in a company owned by the family of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and White House adviser.

The seizure is China's largest takeover of a privately owned company.

Wu has been in custody since June, when the government began its crackdown on Chinese tycoons accelerating global mergers and acquisitions.

His detention is meant to distance Wu from his company and prevent purchasers of high-yield Anbang insurance companies from panicking and surrendering policies for cash, the South China Morning Post reported.

Backlash Against NRA, Gun Industry Spreads in Wake of Florida Shooting

Are the voiceless finding their voice?

Several notable businesses have either cut ties with the NRA
or demanded measures to reduce violence
CBC News

Over 20 businesses offer some type of incentive to National Rifle Association members in the U.S., according to reports. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

The National Rifle Association and the firearms industry are facing backlash in the wake of the deadly Florida high school shooting, with calls to boycott the big lobby group spreading from social media to businesses.

Over the past week, several notable businesses have either cut ties with the NRA or demanded measures from the association to address gun violence in the U.S.

First National Bank of Omaha announced Thursday it would not renew a contract with the group to issue NRA-branded Visa credit cards.

"Customer feedback has caused us to review our relationship with the NRA," said bank spokesperson Kevin Langin.

Meanwhile, rental car company Enterprise, which also owns Alamo and National car rentals, said on Twitter it would end its discount program for NRA members as of March 26. 

U.S. cybersecurity firm Symantec also took to Twitter on Friday to announce it would stop its discount program with the group.

Insurance giant Metlife  cut discounts for members, while Chubb announced it would stop underwriting a controversial NRA-branded insurance policy for gun owners that covers legal costs in self-defence shootings.

Over 20 businesses offer some type of incentive to NRA members in the U.S., according to reports.

Gun stocks
On Wall Street, the world's largest asset manager, BlackRock, said it would be speaking with weapons manufacturers and distributors to "understand their response" to the Florida high school killing last week that killed 17 people, in the second deadliest public school shooting in U.S. history.

"We focus on engaging with the company and understanding how they are responding to society's expectations of them," BlackRock spokesperson Ed Sweeney told Reuters.

The investment company has over $6 trillion in assets under management and is the largest shareholder in major gunmakers such as Sturm Ruger & Co. and American Outdoor Brands.

Shares of the two gun manufacturers recovered from steep losses in morning trading on Friday, with Sturm Ruger closing up 1.8 per cent, while American Outdoor Brands lost 1.2 per cent in New York.

Under pressure
The responses from businesses come as gun control activists and social media users continued to increase pressure on lawmakers and industry players to take action in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas HIgh School.

The hashtag #BoycottNRA remained one of the top trending topics on Twitter in the U.S. on Friday.

Online backlash heightened this week after NRA leaders attacked the Democratic Party and gun control activists, saying they were exploiting the Florida shooting. 

"Evil walks among us and God help us if we don't harden our schools and protect our kids," said NRA executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday.

"The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous."

He accused Democrats and "elites" of wanting to "eradicate all individual freedoms."

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to speak at the same conference today after aligning himself with the group on Thursday when he suggested that some teachers could be be armed in schools.  

The NRA is one of the biggest financial contributors in elections, spending nearly $55 million in influencing the leadership race in 2016, according to records.

Gun regulation
Yet despite his support for the NRA, Trump called for more gun regulation in the U.S. after meeting this week with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and their families.

He has commented and tweeted this week about measures such as background checks and increasing the age limit for purchases of some kinds of guns.

Several U.S. states have also announced new gun safety initiatives. 

The Democratic governors for northeastern states of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island said they would co-operate to seize and trace illegal guns and prevent dangerous people from making legal purchases. 

The states are vulnerable to trafficking, because they are located on the Interstate 95 corridor, which is the one of the most travelled highways in the U.S.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott announced proposed measures to address state gun laws, including raising the age to purchase firearms to 21, and banning the purchase and sale of bump stocks. 

German Prisons may Face ‘Wave of Extremists’, State Justice Minister Warns

The New Normal - Radicalized German prisons

FILE PHOTO: The high security prison of Stuttgart-Stammheim © Ralph Orlowski / Reuters

Detention facilities in Germany are trying to cope with a growing number of radical Islamist extremists, and officials fear a “wave of extremists” in jails.

Around 150 Islamists are currently being held in prisons across Germany, Die Welt reported on Wednesday, citing the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). They are either serving jail sentences or are in custody on terror-related charges. A number of other inmates being held, the so-called "relevant persons," are said to be sympathizers or supporters of radical Islam. 

Eva Kuhne-Hormann (CDU), who is minister of justice for the German state of Hessen, painted a bleak picture of the country’s security situation. "Over the next few years, we must expect a wave of extremists in our prisons," she told the newspaper. She noted that the sheer number of Islamists in German jails "poses great challenges for our deradicalization and prevention work."

The Federal Prosecutor's Office in Karlsruhe initiated around 1,000 terrorism prosecutions last year alone, Die Welt reported. Rene Muller, chairman of the Federal Association of Criminal Investigators, fears that "If more people are arrested, the security risk for the employees will also increase.”

Muller says it’s important to have special training and education for the staff in the face of dangerous Islamist prisoners.

His parents sure named him wrong
Last month, Christian Ganczarski, a German Islamic convert and a former senior Al-Qaeda member, attacked and wounded guards at the high-security prison in Vendin-le-Vieil in northern France after learning that he might face extradition to the US in connection with investigations into the September 11, 2001, attacks. The prison service said the 51-year-old assailant was armed with scissors and a razor blade. 

Experts agree that dangerous Islamists being held in prisons across Germany pose a real threat to public security. “The number of Muslims in the jails is big enough to create a group who can influence others in the jails because the others are not organized in any form,” Ralph Ghadban, a Lebanese-German political scientist and publicist, told RT.

The problem is that “Our society is not prepared for dealing with such problems,” Rainer Rothfuss, a former German intelligence officer, said.

“I think we really need to think of alternative solutions. The legal basis in parliament would need to be prepared, discussed, debated, decided. What is the purpose of keeping [extremists] in our prisons instead of solving the problem by deporting them, sending them back to their countries of origin. Deportation is something that threatens their existence, and therefore I think this would be much, much stronger of a signal compared to just social reintegration programs,” he told RT.

The number of violent Islamist radicals living in the German capital jumped more than fourfold in six years, a new security report said last month. As many as 950 followers of Salafism, a radical, ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, currently live in Berlin, the Tagesspiegel daily reported, citing a report by the German domestic intelligence service, BfV. The number of Islamists in Berlin has more than doubled since 2011, and is steadily rising as 100 new followers joined local Salafist groups since last spring, the paper reported. 

Over recent years, 127 radicals traveled from Berlin to Syria and Iraq to join terrorist organizations such as Islamic State, BfV said. 

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, recently warned that the security services are facing a record number of Islamists. The number of Islamist sympathizers is at an “an all-time high,” he noted in December. The official noted that the fundamentalists are increasingly abandoning radicalization in mosques in favor of “small conspiratorial circles, primarily on the internet,” which is proving a “particular challenge” for the security services. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

New South African President Wants to Seize Land from White Farmers Without Compensation

Corruption is Everywhere - will it be in Ramaphosa's South Africa?

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa © Mike Hutchings / Reuters

South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has pledged to return the lands owned by white farmers since the 1600s to the black citizens of the country.

The government plans to accelerate land redistribution through expropriation without compensation.

“The expropriation of land without compensation is envisaged as one of the measures that we will use to accelerate the redistribution of land to black South Africans,” said Ramaphosa, who was sworn into office to succeed Jacob Zuma as president last week.

The millionaire ex-businessman Ramaphosa promised that land expropriation operations will not be a “smash and grab” exercise and promised to handle the matter properly, adding that people “must see this process as an opportunity.”

“No-one is saying that land must be taken away from our people,” he said, “Rather, it is how we can make sure that our people have equitable access to land and security of tenure. We must see this process of accelerated land redistribution as an opportunity and not as a threat,” he added during a speech to parliament on Tuesday.

Such a drastic move would not damage the country’s agriculture or economy, the South African president promised.  

“We will handle it with responsibility. We will handle it in a way that will not damage our economy, that is not going to damage agricultural production,” he said.

This I gotta see!

More than two decades after the end of apartheid in the 1990s, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party is under pressure to tackle racial disparities in land ownership in South Africa. The country is home to over 50 million people, with whites owning most of the land.

According to a recent study, black South Africans constitute 79 percent of the population, but directly own only 1.2 percent of the country’s rural land. Meanwhile, white South Africans, who constitute 9 percent of the country’s population, directly own 23.6 percent of its rural land, and 11.4 percent of land in towns and cities, according to the Land Audit report.

Zimbabwe land grab

A similar program of land redistribution was carried out by then-Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Thousands of white farmers were forced from their lands.

However, food production plummeted without the experienced farmers’ contribution, and Zimbabwe’s economy suffered massively. In 2010, the Guardian reported that Mugabe used land reform to reward his allies rather than ordinary black Zimbabweans. 

In 2016, Mugabe signed a decree that foreign companies would face closure unless they sold or gave up 51 percent of their shares.

Speaking about the redistribution of land in his country, Ramaphosa said that “in dealing with this complex matter” South Africa would not “make the mistakes that others have made.”

Good luck with that, Cyril!

Merkel Walks Out of Parliament After AfD Leader Lambasts her Support for Migrant Quota System

In several decades as a political junkie, I have never heard of a
head of state walking out of parliament because they didn't like
what the opposition was saying. Is Angela getting tired?

Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the German parliament on February 22, 2018. © Axel Schmidt / Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel walked out of a parliamentary session after a leader from the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party criticized her support of a proposed EU refugee distribution system.

While Merkel and AfD have never been friends, one particular comment by the party’s co-founder, Alexander Gauland, prompted her to leave the Bundestag on Thursday. That remark slammed the chancellor's support for an EU quota system for accepting refugees.

"Countries want to decide for themselves who they take in. There is no national duty with regard to multiculturalism," Gauland said.

AfD co-founder Alice Weidel also had a lot to say during the session, including her view that Merkel is trying to punish the UK for voting to leave the European Union.

"The EU wants to make an example of Great Britain, a punishment beyond any economic or political reason. This is not how one treats a European partner," Weidel said. "Now Brussels, Paris, and Berlin are afraid that others could follow, that other states in Europe could take back their sovereignty."

She went on to accuse the European Commission of "planning to restrict Britain's access to the single market even during the transition period." Such a plan against Germany's biggest trading partner in the EU amounts to "taking free trade and competition as a hostage and making a failed EU ideology," Weidel said.

"The good trading relationship with Great Britain and the rest of the continent have to be maintained – otherwise Europe will be at a disadvantage in global trade." Merkel appeared to be less offended by Weidel's comments, as she at least remained inside parliament while the AfD leader was speaking.

While some of the AfD leaders' remarks were booed in the Bundestag on Thursday, the fact remains that it has seen a sharp growth in popularity. Recent polling found that it has garnered record-high support, becoming more popular than the Social Democrats (SPD) for the very first time. 

I wonder if the Visegrad group knew they have an ally in the German Bundestag?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Ex-Bolivia President to Become First Former Head of State to Stand Trial in US

Corruption is Everywhere
 - and Death Squads often follow in South America

Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada © Joyce Naltchayan / AFP

A federal judge has ruled that the former president of Bolivia must face a civil trial in the US. The case alleges the Bolivian military massacred at least 50 citizens in extrajudicial killings in 2003.

A judge in Florida ruled last week that former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and his former defense minister, Jose Carlos Sanchez Berzain, must stand trial in the US, where they both live.

De Lozada was first elected in 1993 and remained in power until 2003. His regime was staunchly pro-US and pro-privatization. This is the first time that a former head of state will stand accused in a civil human rights trial in a US court. 

In 2016, a US appeals court held that the trial could proceed under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), which allows lawsuits in US federal courts for extrajudicial killings. District Court Judge James Cohn ruled last week that there was sufficient evidence to move to trial.

In October 2003, de Lozada’s military forces killed 67 people  and injured 400 more, mostly those who were poor and from the nation's indigenous Aymara communities. The citizens were protesting the privatization of Bolivia’s oil and gas reserves.

Mamani v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, filed by families of eight Bolivians killed, alleges that the politicians ordered the extrajudicial killings in advance. Most of the violence took place in El Alto, a city overlooking the capital La Paz.

The trial has important social and political implications for the country’s indigenous population. “The trial will offer indigenous Aymara people, who have historically been excluded from justice, a chance to testify about events that led to dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries,” Beth Stephens, an attorney for the Plaintiffs, told the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“The former president and his minister of defense must now listen as we testify about what happened,” said Teofilo Baltazar Cerro, a member of the indigenous Aymara community of Bolivia, which was heavily involved in the protests. “We look forward to this historic opportunity to have our day in court."

The trial will begin on March 5, in the federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Sanchez de Lozada, nicknamed ‘Goni’, fled to the US in 2003. He is a multimillionaire mining executive who was educated in the US from a young age. He speaks Spanish with a noticeable American accent, which earned him the nickname ‘El Gringo’ in Bolivia.

Bolivia has been seeking de Lozada’s extradition from the US for over 10 years. In 2007, he was formally charged by Bolivian prosecutors with genocide over the 2003 incidents. The Obama administration refused to extradite him to Bolivia to stand trial in 2012, however.

The conflict in which the killings allegedly took place concerned the privatization of natural resources and the exploitation of Bolivia’s vast natural gas reserves. The protests become known as the ‘Gas Wars’ and ultimately led to the resignation of de Lozada.

In the US he became closely aligned with the administration of former President George W Bush. According to the Center for Public Integrity, he was listed in 2012 as the head of Petromina LLC, a mining advisory firm.

Much of Bolivia's oil and gas industry ended up in the hands of Amoco, Enron, and Shell. Brazil's Petrobas was involved in building pipelines to Brazil. How much money changed hands below the table is anybody's guess, but I suspect it was considerable.

Dutch Lies Over Putin’s ‘Aggression’ Expose NATO War Agenda


By finian cunningham 

Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte was this week forced to bear a parliamentary vote of no confidence after his foreign minister finally came clean over a dangerous lie he has been telling for two years concerning Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Halbe Zijlstra quit in shame on Monday as the country’s foreign minister after admitting that a story he had peddled about personally hearing Putin plotting to create a “greater Russia” was false. That then forced premier Rutte to endure a “no confidence” motion from parliamentarians. In the end, Rutte survived the vote. If a majority had voted against his leadership, his coalition government may have collapsed.

But the deep damage done to the Dutch authorities will not be so easily repaired by Rutte’s survival as premier. What has been exposed this week is a senior member of government recklessly telling bare-faced lies in an attempt to slander Russia, poison international relations, and ratchet up already dangerous geopolitical tensions.

Zijlstra had claimed two years ago, in 2016, that he had personally witnessed Russian leader Vladimir Putin boasting about creating a “greater Russia” which, it is claimed, would incorporate Ukraine, the Baltic states, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The newly resigned Dutch top diplomat claimed he heard Putin making the remarks while present with others at the Russian leader’s dacha (summer house) back in 2006.

This week, Zijlstra finally came clean and admitted before parliament that he hadn't in fact been present at the alleged gathering. He still maintains, however, that a confidante who was among the guests at Putin’s dacha informed him of the alleged “greater Russia” plan. But how can we now trust the word of a self-confessed liar?

Zijlstra’s boss, Prime Minister Rutte, also sought to downplay the debacle, claiming that his foreign minister had made “a big mistake” – but that “lying was not a deadly sin.”

Unless it starts a war - then it's pretty deadly!

Rutte is in for a rude awakening due to his complacent thinking. For indeed his government has been caught telling a very grave lie whose ramifications concern issues of war and peace in Europe.

Disgraced former minister Zijlstra stands accused of gross distortion of Russia’s foreign policy.

Since the US and European-backed illegal coup in Ukraine in early 2014, geopolitical reality has been turned upside-down. American and European corporate media have peddled relentless anti-Russia propaganda accusing Moscow of “aggression” and “expansionism” in Europe.

This torrent of Russophobia spewed out by Washington, the Pentagon, NATO, and the European Union has created the worst crisis in relations with Russia since the Cold War ended nearly three decades ago. There are real fears that the mounting crisis could escalate into an all-out war involving nuclear powers.

Zijlstra’s offense therefore is not merely a “mistaken” lie. His flagrant public distortion has contributed directly to the grave deterioration in geopolitical relations. One could even argue such reprehensible remarks amount to incitement of war, which is a cardinal crime under Nuremberg legal principles.

Lamentably, the mendacious senior Dutch politician is not an isolated case. Recall how former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski was caught out telling similar defamatory lies about Russia in 2014.

Sikorski, who has been an ardent supporter of NATO force build-up against Russia, reportedly claimed that he personally overheard Vladimir Putin in 2008 plotting to annex Ukrainian territory in a covert plot. Sikorski claimed that he heard Putin propositioning then Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk with a carve-up deal of Ukraine between Poland and Russia.

Sikorski was obliged to swiftly retract the claims published in US media, and awkwardly admitting that he was not present at the alleged meeting with Putin, and that his quoted remarks were meant as a “surreal joke.”

But, again, this is no joke or mistake. It is deadly serious disinformation by senior government officials, which is recklessly inciting war tensions with Russia. Sikorski is prominently associated with pro-NATO think-tanks like the hawkish American Enterprise Institute. He is married to Anne Applebaum who makes a living from writing anti-Russian screeds for news outlets like the Washington Post.

Zijlstra and Sikorski join the ranks of Russophobia regurgitated by other European foreign ministers like Britain’s Boris Johnson who issued the outlandish claim earlier this year that Russia is “targeting” British infrastructure; or French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who has impugned Russia for chemical weapons use in Syria – only for the French President Emmanuel Macron to admit this week that his government has actually no evidence about the use of such weapons in Syria.

Macron has made his own contribution to Russophobia by leveling unsubstantiated allegations that his presidential election campaign last year was “hacked” by Kremlin agents. He has since banned Russian news media from attending his press conferences.

All these senior government figures are irresponsibly fueling a climate of demonization against Russia which is compounding other unhinged claims made by politicians in Washington and the Baltic states. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, for example, recently claimed that Russian Iskander missiles based on Russian sovereign territory of Kaliningrad were targeting half of Europe, an alarmist claim which has been amplified by US secretary of defense James Mattis in the Pentagon’s recent Nuclear Posture Review.

The climate of hysteria – based on false, fevered official claims – is militating against normal political and diplomatic relations, which is, in turn, exacerbating the war in Ukraine and leading to wider war tensions with Russia across Europe.

A good question is why the ousted Dutch minister decided to own up this week to his lies about Putin.

The answer may be related to the bigger credibility crisis of the Dutch government and its NATO allies with regard to the whole Russophobia propaganda war.

Next month, the Netherlands is to hold a national referendum on extending powers of Dutch state intelligence to monitor public electronic communications. To convince the Dutch public to vote for more snooping powers, the authorities are relying on the hackneyed claims about Russian “meddling” and “interference”.

It seems significant that Dutch media reported last month that the country’s secret services allegedly “hacked into” Russian state hackers who were allegedly penetrating the American Democratic party’s databases during the US presidential elections back in 2015-2016. As usual, no evidence was provided to support the claims. We know from other credible reports that the Democratic party was quite possibly not hacked at all, but rather was leaked from inside by a Democrat staffer. So the Dutch intel story smearing Russia is highly dubious.

But it seems that the purported “good deed” performed by the Dutch intelligence services was pitched in the media as a way to ingratiate bona fides with the Netherlands public. The aim being to dispose the public toward voting in the referendum next month to give the Dutch state more intrusive powers over citizens to “protect” them from “nefarious Russians”.

Now, if the Dutch minister had held on to his office any longer there was a risk that his lies may have become public embarrassingly close to the March referendum, which could have resulted in the public rejecting the authorities’ desire for more snooping powers.

Perhaps then the decision was taken in high office for the minister to take the fall now in order to get rid sooner of an embarrassing story concerning his lies over Russia.

Whatever the explanation about the timing, the admission of Dutch government lying about Russian aggression in Europe is nevertheless an illuminating and appalling insight into how Russophobia and war is being fomented by the US and its European NATO allies.

Abominably, European government officials are willing to risk plunging millions of citizens into a war with Russia based on lies and warped, self-serving prejudices.