Biden is prepared to cut Assad some slack where there are obvious benefits to U.S. interests in the region

October 19, 2021

By Martin Jay

Source

Ten years after protesters in an obscure Syrian town demonstrated for change, a direct challenge to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, half a million Syrians dead and a 100,000 missing, finally the West is accepting the legitimacy of the regime and its leader.

It started with the Gulf Arabs, who have decided that Assad is worth more as an ally – both as a useful expert on defying the odds and suppressing an entire uprising but also for his Midas touch with the Russians who GCC leaders might have to turn to one day, if a new Arab Spring sweeps across the Peninsular.

But then inevitably Joe Biden, whose approach to the Middle East is to have as little to do with it as possible in preference for a foreign policy agenda focussing on China, is following through with this initiative to bring Assad in from the cold once and for all. Intense lobbying in recent month by, in particular the UAE and Saudi Arabia in Washington have paid off and we are witnessing the first tentative steps towards a normalisation of relations with the Syrian leader.

You might have missed the signs as they were not seized upon by western media. The lifting of sanctions against a businessman associated with Assad, followed just recently by allowing Syria to facilitate a gas and electricity to Lebanon – from Egypt, via Jordan and Syria – in what has been called “energy diplomacy” – are clear indications that Biden is prepared to cut Assad some slack where there are obvious benefits to U.S. interests in the region.

It would be hard to imagine that two key decisions in the regime’s favour – Interpol allowing Syria arrest warrant rights and for the WHO to give Syria a seat on its executive board – were not given the tacit approval of the Biden administration. Given that Interpol now is obliged to arrest anyone of the thousands of Syrian dissidents living around the world, or that Assad’s Syria today is a country of people starving while billions of dollars of drugs are being manufactured there, the shift is significant.

Pragmatism seems to be kicking in. The West has lost its own proxy war against the Syrian dictator and there is a general feeling now of working more with Assad and cutting our losses. The war is over, except for Idlib province where Russia fights Turkey-backed extremists and perhaps ten years later the general public who vote in western leaders have educated themselves and learnt a few of the nuances of the ten year battle to overthrow Assad, dressed up as a war against terror; these days, there are pockets of online pundits in both America and the UK who understand that Assad’s forces were allies in fact with the West, in their war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates – a nuanced detail regularly over looked or not even understood by MSM in America.

But what could Biden gain by signalling this shift and stopping short of going the full nine yards himself and lifting all sanctions? Or rather, is it more what he won’t lose?

Lebanon’s meltdown, which saw just this week a total blackout of electricity, is part of it. As Iran wasted no time sending fuel to this tiny country which in recent months has undergone massive shortages and long lines at the pumps, Biden does not want to be the U.S. president whose tenure in office is tarnished by letting Lebanon fall into the abyss and become a full-on Iranian colony, to join Syria, Iraq and Yemen as a fully signed up member of the axis of resistance to U.S. hegemony.

Yet it was a perceived threat to America’s hegemony which assisted the Muslim Brotherhood attempted overthrow of Assad in the first place, which is where this all started. Assad himself must be delighted with how history has done a full circle on him. Despite a country with a destroyed economy and people on the brink of starvation, politically perhaps at his lowest point, he has to only look to the future to see where all this is heading. In recent days, King Abdullah of Jordan made some headlines for having a secret overseas stash of a mere hundred million dollars (small change compared to his Gulf neighbours). He also telephoned President Assad, a man who he had defamed quite spectacularly before and wooed him, talking of the “brotherly” countries and signalling to the Syrian leader that he was ready to welcome him back as a friend and a neighbour. And so, with Syria almost certainly destined to be reinstated at the mother of all talk-lunch-sleep shops, otherwise known as the Arab League, it is probably only a matter of time before Biden moves up a notch the sanctions relief, hoping that this new Syria strategy will give him leverage with the Iranians at the negotiating table in Vienna over the so-called Iran Deal. This is the real story, in reality. Biden badly needs to stop sinking in the Iranian quagmire and showing some peripheral support for Syria is expected to earn him some points. It’s as though we’ve gone back to 2007 with Nancy Pelosi and her “let’s use Assad to control people we don’t normally talk to” approach which almost got the Syrian president “buddy” status in Washington. Almost.

Colin Powell’s Own Staff Had Warned Him Against His War Lies

October 18th, 2021

Colin Powell holds up a vial he said could contain anthrax as he presents evidence of Iraq's alleged weapons programs to the United Nations Security Council in this Feb. 5, 2003 file photo. (Photo: AP/Elise Amendola)

By David Swanson

Source

In the wake of WMD-liar Curveball’s videotaped confession, Colin Powell was demanding to know why nobody warned him about Curveball’s unreliability. The trouble is, they did.

Can you imagine having an opportunity to address the United Nations Security Council about a matter of great global importance, with all the world’s media watching, and using it to… well, to make shit up – to lie with a straight face, and with a CIA director propped up behind you, I mean to spew one world-class, for-the-record-books stream of bull, to utter nary a breath without a couple of whoppers in it, and to look like you really mean it all? What gall. What an insult to the entire world that would be.

Colin Powell doesn’t have to imagine such a thing. He has to live with it. He did it on February 5, 2003. It’s on videotape.

I tried to ask him about it in the summer of 2004. He was speaking to the Unity Journalists of Color convention in Washington, D.C. The event had been advertised as including questions from the floor, but for some reason that plan was revised. Speakers from the floor were permitted to ask questions of four safe and vetted journalists of color before Powell showed up, and then those four individuals could choose to ask him something related – which of course they did not, in any instance, do.

Bush and Kerry spoke as well. The panel of journalists who asked Bush questions when he showed up had not been properly vetted. Roland Martin of the Chicago Defender had slipped onto it somehow (which won’t happen again!). Martin asked Bush whether he was opposed to preferential college admissions for the kids of alumni and whether he cared more about voting rights in Afghanistan than in Florida. Bush looked like a deer in the headlights, only without the intelligence. He stumbled so badly that the room openly laughed at him.

But the panel that had been assembled to lob softballs at Powell served its purpose well. It was moderated by Gwen Ifill. I asked Ifill (and Powell could watch it later on C-Span if he wanted to) whether Powell had any explanation for the way in which he had relied on the testimony of Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law. He had recited the claims about weapons of mass destruction but carefully left out the part where that same gentleman had testified that all of Iraq’s WMDs had been destroyed. Ifill thanked me, and said nothing. Hillary Clinton was not present and nobody beat me up.

I wonder what Powell would say if someone were to actually ask him that question, even today, or next year, or ten years from now. Someone tells you about a bunch of old weapons and at the same time tells you they’ve been destroyed, and you choose to repeat the part about the weapons and censor the part about their destruction. How would you explain that?

Well, it’s a sin of omission, so ultimately Powell could claim he forgot. “Oh yeah, I meant to say that, but it slipped my mind.”

But how would he explain this:

During his presentation at the United Nations, Powell provided this translation of an intercepted conversation between Iraqi army officers:

“They’re inspecting the ammunition you have, yes.

“Yes.

“For the possibility there are forbidden ammo.

“For the possibility there is by chance forbidden ammo?

“Yes.

“And we sent you a message yesterday to clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas. Make sure there is nothing there.”

The incriminating phrases “clean all of the areas” and “Make sure there is nothing there” do not appear in the official State Department translation of the exchange:

“Lt. Colonel: They are inspecting the ammunition you have.

“Colonel: Yes.

“Lt. Col: For the possibility there are forbidden ammo.

“Colonel: Yes?

“Lt. Colonel: For the possibility there is by chance, forbidden ammo.

“Colonel: Yes.

“Lt. Colonel: And we sent you a message to inspect the scrap areas and the abandoned areas.

“Colonel: Yes.”

Powell was writing fictional dialogue. He put those extra lines in there and pretended somebody had said them. Here’s what Bob Woodward said about this in his book “Plan of Attack.”

“[Powell] had decided to add his personal interpretation of the intercepts to rehearsed script, taking them substantially further and casting them in the most negative light. Concerning the intercept about inspecting for the possibility of ‘forbidden ammo,’ Powell took the interpretation further: ‘Clean out all of the areas. . . . Make sure there is nothing there.’ None of this was in the intercept.”

For most of his presentation, Powell wasn’t inventing dialogue, but he was presenting as facts numerous claims that his own staff had warned him were weak and indefensible.

Powell told the UN and the world: “We know that Saddam’s son, Qusay, ordered the removal of all prohibited weapons from Saddam’s numerous palace complexes.” The January 31, 2003, evaluation of Powell’s draft remarks prepared for him by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (“INR”) flagged this claim as “WEAK”.

Regarding alleged Iraqi concealment of key files, Powell said: “key files from military and scientific establishments have been placed in cars that are being driven around the countryside by Iraqi intelligence agents to avoid detection.” The January 31, 2003 INR evaluation flagged this claim as “WEAK” and added “Plausibility open to question.” A Feb. 3, 2003, INR evaluation of a subsequent draft of Powell’s remarks noted:

“Page 4, last bullet, re key files being driven around in cars to avoid inspectors. This claim is highly questionable and promises to be targeted by critics and possibly UN inspection officials as well.” That didn’t stop Colin from stating it as fact and apparently hoping that, even if UN inspectors thought he was a brazen liar, US media outlets wouldn’t tell anyone.

On the issue of biological weapons and dispersal equipment, Powell said: “we know from sources that a missile brigade outside Baghdad was disbursing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agents to various locations, distributing them to various locations in western Iraq.”

The January 31, 2003, INR evaluation flagged this claim as “WEAK”:

“WEAK. Missiles with biological warheads reportedly dispersed. This would be somewhat true in terms of short-range missiles with conventional warheads, but is questionable in terms of longer-range missiles or biological warheads.”
This claim was again flagged in the February 3, 2003, evaluation of a subsequent draft of Powell’s presentation: “Page 5. first para, claim re missile brigade dispersing rocket launchers and BW warheads. This claim too is highly questionable and might be subjected to criticism by UN inspection officials.”

That didn’t stop Colin. In fact, he brought out visual aids to help with his lying

Powell showed a slide of a satellite photograph of an Iraqi munitions bunker, and lied:

“The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions . . . [t]he truck you […] see is a signature item. It’s a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong.”
The January 31, 2003, INR evaluation flagged this claim as “WEAK” and added: “We support much of this discussion, but we note that decontamination vehicles – cited several times in the text – are water trucks that can have legitimate uses… Iraq has given UNMOVIC what may be a plausible account for this activity – that this was an exercise involving the movement of conventional explosives; presence of a fire safety truck (water truck, which could also be used as a decontamination vehicle) is common in such an event.”

Powell’s own staff had told him the thing was a water truck, but he told the U.N. it was “a signature item…a decontamination vehicle.” The UN was going to need a decontamination vehicle itself by the time Powell finished spewing his lies and disgracing his country.

He just kept piling it on: “UAVs outfitted with spray tanks constitute an ideal method for launching a terrorist attack using biological weapons,” he said.

The January 31, 2003, INR evaluation flagged this statement as “WEAK” and added: “the claim that experts agree UAVs fitted with spray tanks are ‘an ideal method for launching a terrorist attack using biological weapons’ is WEAK.”

In other words, experts did NOT agree with that claim.

Powell kept going, announcing “in mid-December weapons experts at one facility were replaced by Iraqi intelligence agents who were to deceive inspectors about the work that was being done there.”

The January 31, 2003, INR evaluation flagged this claim as “WEAK” and “not credible” and “open to criticism, particularly by the UN inspectorates.”

His staff was warning him that what he planned to say would not be believed by his audience, which would include the people with actual knowledge of the matter.

To Powell that was no matter.

Powell, no doubt figuring he was in deep already, so what did he have to lose, went on to tell the UN: “On orders from Saddam Hussein, Iraqi officials issued a false death certificate for one scientist, and he was sent into hiding.”

The January 31, 2003, INR evaluation flagged this claim as “WEAK” and called it “Not implausible, but UN inspectors might question it. (Note: Draft states it as fact.)”

And Powell stated it as fact. Notice that his staff was not able to say there was any evidence for the claim, but rather that it was “not implausible.” That was the best they could come up with. In other words: “They might buy this one, Sir, but don’t count on it.”

Powell, however, wasn’t satisfied lying about one scientist. He had to have a dozen. He told the United Nations: “A dozen [WMD] experts have been placed under house arrest, not in their own houses, but as a group at one of Saddam Hussein’s guest houses.”

The January 31, 2003, INR evaluation flagged this claim as “WEAK” and “Highly questionable.” This one didn’t even merit a “Not implausible.”

Powell also said: “In the middle of January, experts at one facility that was related to weapons of mass destruction, those experts had been ordered to stay home from work to avoid the inspectors. Workers from other Iraqi military facilities not engaged in elicit weapons projects were to replace the workers who’d been sent home.”

Powell’s staff called this “WEAK,” with “Plausibility open to question.”

All of this stuff sounded plausible enough to viewers of Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. And that, we can see now, was what interested Colin. But it must have sounded highly implausible to the U.N. inspectors. Here was a guy who had not been with them on any of their inspections coming in to tell them what had happened.

We know from Scott Ritter, who led many UNSCOM inspections in Iraq, that U.S. inspectors had used the access that the inspection process afforded them to spy for, and to set up means of data collection for, the CIA. So there was some plausibility to the idea that an American could come back to the UN and inform the UN what had really happened on its inspections.

Yet, repeatedly, Powell’s staff warned him that the specific claims he wanted to make were not going to even sound plausible. They will be recorded by history more simply as blatant lies.

The examples of Powell’s lying listed above are taken from an extensive report released by Congressman John Conyers: “The Constitution in Crisis; The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War.”

What Is Really Happening In Lebanon?

23 OCTOBER 2021

By Sonja van den Ende

Source

What Is Really Happening In Lebanon?

Lebanese forces on the streets in Beirut, to control mainly the poor and Shia neighborhoods, many of these neighborhoods are suffering, they are the ones who don’t have electricity and lack food.

Lebanon is in a bad state for a long time already, the country is ripped apart through corruption, by mainly Western backed politicians, the influx from two million Syrian refugees, who are the poorest from poor and live in slums or ghettos, as I saw two years ago destroyed the country and already bad economy. It’s ripped apart by the US and Saudi influence who try to stir up the Lebanese and tell them the resistance group Hezbollah is very bad and also consider the Shia political AMAL movement bad because of their ideology. Well it depends how you see it, the Lebanese government has failed its own citizens since the end of the civil war in 1990, the West divided their politicial system and until today there is unrealistic segregation so finally the country totally collapsed when the Beirut explosion occurred. Hezbollah and the Amal were the only stronghold for the people, giving them free education and economic help, also the Christians speak well of them, they know that the Hezbollah and Amal parties are the ones who will help the needy and poor.

On 4 August 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the Port of Beiru tin the capital city of Lebanon exploded, causing at least 218 deaths, 7,000 injuries, and US$15 billion in property damage, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless. A cargo of 2,750 tonnes of the substance (equivalent to around 1.1 kilotons of TNT) had been stored in a warehouse without proper safety”.

The question now is who was responsible for storing such a large amount in a densely populated area? Of course people blame the ones responsible of managing the port, but in the end the government of Lebanon is responsible and what was the involvement of the US and its Western allies? The current judge on the case and several Lebanese MP’s want to blame the last sitting prime-minister Hassan Diab, who was only in office since 2020 and was informed only four days before the accident by the port authorities, but governments before him, like premier Saad Hariri (son of the murdered Rafic Harriri) was in office for thirteen years and knew all too well about the deadly cargo in the port of Beirut. Actually many of the prime-ministers of Lebanon of the last 15 years knew through several warnings from the port authorities about the deadly cargo, they were warned by them, received complaints and letters, but never did anything to get rid of the dangerous cargo or attempted to do so.

According to the leaders of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, but also the opinion of many Lebanese in the streets, according to my sources, the last incident and the murder of at least six people was an effort of destabilising Lebanon again, some elements like Samir Geagea, who served a long prison senctence and is now trying in cooperation with Western backed politicial parties and the deep-state a coup. Samir Gaegea, a Christian Maronite, is a notorious war criminal, responsible for the death of thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese during the civil war has re-emerged into the Lebanese spotlight, ready to kick off another civil war in his bid for power. We know all too well the West and the US are the masters of color-revolutions around the world, which usually ends up in war, upheaval and the the murder of millions of people, so this war criminal Samir Geagea tried another coup, after getting the back-up and support of the US, hardliner and warcriminal Victoria Nuland, who happened to visit Lebanon a few days before the attempted coup and spoke with members of the ultra-right-wing political party called the Lebanese Forces(LF) of which Samir Geagea is the leader.

This is what we have seen the last thrity years or maybe longer in in many countries around the world, the last attemted coup and which succeeded was in Ukraine, were Victoria Nuland tolled in a taped telephone call F***k the EU. The Lebanese experienced hardship since many years and certainly don’t want to experience a civil war anymore, they want prosperity and to overcome their religious differences, which never existed (like in Syria) before the West destroyed their societies and spreaded the poison of war and destruction, through their biggest asset, the Zionist state of Israel, not the Jewish people, but their government , military and deep-state, like in many Western countries, are the biggest repressor of the region, even surpressing its own people with a strict politized covid-regime. Before visiting Lebanon, Victoria Nuland visited Russia, most likely to speak with the so-called opposition around Navalny, always when Victoria is visiting, trouble will come. She is part of the illegal Biden government and serves as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the fourth-ranking position in the US government.

Samir Geagea is a Zionist asset and also paid the Israelian notorious Secret Service Mossad and he and the Mossad were trying everything in their power to blame Hezbollah, as part of the until now, hybrid war, between Israel and Iran, according to Benyamin Nethanyahu, the last prime-minister of Israel, charged with corruption. Late in September 2020, all attention in Lebanon suddenly shifted to the warehouse, the one which exploded in Beirut, in the port in Jnah, where Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged that Hezbollah was running a missile factory. In response, Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah invited reporters to tour the warehouse in Jnah and reporters were able to enter and had a tour. There was no no missile factory but in November 2020, various Lebanese news sites reported images and videos taken from that particular warehouse showing there was ammonium nitrate stored. Which was publicly known and of course the lebanese government was responsible for the storage of the highly dangerous ammonium nitrate which saw explosions which had similarities with a small atomic bomb.

The Lebanese people live in terrible conditions right now, similarities can be seen with the Syrian people, but even Syria supplied them with electricity, so bad is the situation. Recently petrol and gasoline has reached the port of Baniyas in Syria, from sanction stricken Iran to Lebanon. The West is still imposing sanctions on many countries in the Middle-East, another form of warfare.

Huge Crowds in Yemen Celebrate Prophet’s Birth and Recent Military Successes — Pledge Full Liberation

October 19th, 2021

By Ahmed Abdulkareem

Source

All were celebrating and dancing on the ruins of Saudi destruction in a demonstration that is also a challenge to the machine of death.

SANA`A, YEMEN — Carrying a green flag in his hand and with ribbons tied on his wrist, Walid Ahmed al-Thueli, accompanied by a big family, arrived at the Square of the Seventy in the capital Sana’a early morning of Monday. He came to celebrate the birthday of Islam’s Holy Prophet Muhammad and recent victories that have been achieved by Yemeni forces against Saudi-led Coalition. The Yemeni’s family, which abides in the Rawdah neighborhood north of Sana`a, left their house at 6 a.m. to ensure finding a good place in the arena but were unable to reach the center of the square. Inside the square filled with celebrators, thousands of protesters were singing traditional songs collectively and dancing to the tune of “al-Baraa,” a dance of the Yemeni heritage.

Despite an ever-present hovering of Saudi warplanes above, a fuel crisis, high prices and destroyed roads, massive demonstrations took place across 14 Yemeni provinces on Monday — including Sana`a, Sadaaal-HoudeidaHajjahal-Jawfal-BeydaTaizeAmranIbbDhamaral-MahwitRaymahShabwa, and the oil-rich Marib. The protests, organized by Ansar Allah (Houthis), were not only to celebrate the birth anniversary of the Prophet Mohammad, but also to send local, regional and international political messages, including pledging to expel Saudi-led Coalition forces from the whole country, rejecting the policy of normalization with Israel, and opposing the actions of industrialized countries that threaten the climate.

In Sana`a, where the largest demonstrations took place, hundreds of thousands of residents from the suburbs of Sana`a and its neighboring provinces gathered near the rubble left by Saudi air raids on the parade platform in the Square of the Seventy in the center of the capital. Since early Saturday evening, human torrents had been pouring into the square from four entrances, facing potential ​bombardment that might be renewed at any moment by fighters flying in Yemeni airspace. Other Arab and Islamic communities also joined with protestors in the Seventy Square, including Palestinian, Syrian, and Egyptian communities and a delegation from southern Saudi Arabia, specifically from Najran.

Welcome banners were hung over the square, which was decorated with green flags and colored lights. Loudspeakers blasted out hymns and the big flat-screens around the square displayed inspirational programs. All were celebrating and dancing on the ruins of Saudi destruction in a demonstration that is also a challenge to the machine of death. “We came to this place to make it clear to the world that our lives are continuing and that, despite the destruction, the bombing, we are winning and the joy is still here between us,” Walid said.

There was a similar mass demonstration for women, who gathered in Althawrah Sports City Stadium north of Sana`a. In oil-rich Marib, where the Yemeni Army has advanced steadily towards the last strongholds of the Saudi’s allies in the province, the demonstrations were held in Harib for the first time despite a constant hovering of Saudi warplanes above. In al-Jawf — an oasis region in western Yemen that was the core area of one of the most ancient of the Arabian kingdoms, “the Minaean state of Ma’in” — thousands also took to the streets in al-Hazm.

In Shabwa, the third-largest governorate by area in Yemen and home to the port of Balha’s natural gas refinery, thousands of southerners took the streets in Bihan, a newly liberated area  to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday and the expulsion of Saudi forces. The number of people who took part in the demonstrations dwarfed similar rallies that took place in previous years, indicating a growing support to Sana`a authority.

Celebrations and positions

The massive crowds were unprecedented, exceeding all expectations. Following the completion of preparations in various governorates, organizing committees opened the celebration squares in Monday’s early hours and more squares were opened to accommodate the large influx of protestors. Security was tight across Yemeni cities where the protests were held, as reports circulated that al-Qaeda and IS were planning attacks on demonstrators in retaliation for their recent crushing defeat in Al-Bayda. Police carried out special measures to ensure security, including establishment of additional checkpoints in the Yemeni capital and throughout Yemen’s provinces. Despite the huge crowds, no incidents or attacks were reported.

The leader of Ansar Allah, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, was the keynote speaker at the celebrations via video conference and giant screens. In the annual speech, in which the principles of the political program of Ansar Allah for the  year are laid out by the leader of the movement, al-Houthi outlined Ansar Allah’s strategy and position on a number of local, regional and international issues. He renewed Ansar Allah’s position on efforts to end the war in Yemen, saying that the Yemeni people’s efforts to achieve freedom and independence are uncompromisable, confirming that the Yemenis will continue struggle until the end of the war, expelling the occupiers, lifting the siege, paying compensation and reconstruction.

Al-Houthi renewed Yemenis’ support for the Palestinians. At this point, he also confirmed that the Yemeni Army will definitely be a part of determining the al-Quds Formula. “We confirm what we previously proclaimed, that we are part of the historical equation announced by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah that the threat to al-Quds means a regional war,” al-Houthi said. He also condemned the so-called Abraham Accords and recent normalization of relations between Israel and some Arab regimes, describing them as “demonic alliances.” Prior to that, Ansar Allah had announced their joining in an initiative, the so-called Jerusalem (Al-Quds) Formula, that ​was spearheaded by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and has already been embraced by Palestine’s armed resistance

Joyful chaos

The birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammad, which is also known as Eid Milad-un-Nabi or Mwaled, is observed on the twelfth day of Rabi-ul Awwal, the third month of the Islamic calendar. The Holy Prophet was born in Mecca on that day in the year 571. The revival of the Prophet’s birthday was prohibited under the Saudi influence during the previous regimes. Now — as in other Islamic countries, except Saudi Arabia where the prophet was born — this day is a time of rejoicing for all Yemenis. This year, the scenes inside the besieged, hungry and pandemic-ravaged country were abounding with joyful chaos, a rare sight in the war-torn country.

The cars, homes, public places, government buildings and squares are decorated with green lights despite the lack of power; and green flags fly, representing peace, spiritualism and patience. Yemen’s impoverished families were keen to distribute sweets and gifts, hold parties, and create paintings, sculptures, poetry and essays that are appropriate for al-Mwaled. The sky of Yemen was also decorated with fireworks

The massive and unprecedented celebrations, however, came also in the wake of the recent developments in Yemen`s Shabwa and Marib provinces, and southern areas. The spokesman for the Yemeni Armed Forces, Brigadier General Yahya Saree, confirmed at a press conference held in Sana`a on Sunday that Sana`a forces supported by local tribes have managed to liberate 3,200 square kilometers in Shabwa and Marib during new military operations dubbed Rabi’ al-Nasr’ (Spring of Victory). In Shabwa province, which contains Yemen’s largest natural-gas reserves and produces over 100,000 barrels of oil per day, General Saree confirmed that Baihan, Usailan and Markha Olaya had been liberated in the operation of Rabi’ al-Nasr.

US, facing defeat, cries foul, talks peace

In Marib, which lies about 120 km (75 miles) east of Sana`a,  Abdiyah, Harib, and parts of Al-Jubah and Jebel Murad are freed despite the fact that the United States has tried to stop Ansar Allah’s advance in the oil-rich province. In the statement of the U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, which was met with dismissal by Ansar Allah, was a call to “Houthis” to stop and ensure the opening of a safe passage for “life-saving aid and the wounded.” Mohammed Abdulsalam, Ansar Allah spokesman, said on Saturday night that “the U.S. demand is roundly condemned. It shows Americans are in close connection with al-Qaeda and Daesh militants, who suffered heavy defeat in the al-Abdiyah district of Marib province.” He added:

As Yemeni forces are closing in on the last bastions of Saudi-led militia forces as well as Daesh and al-Qaeda operatives, Americans are crying foul and claiming they seek peace. This is while they are the enemy of peace and tranquility in Yemen and worldwide. 

In the other southern areas, people are suffering from a serious humanitarian crisis because of Saudi policies that have led to high prices of food and medicine and frequent power outages. Yemeni currency has been in freefall, with the value now at a mere 1,180 Yemeni Rials to a single U.S. dollar, making food prohibitively expensive in a nation where 80% of the population is reliant on aid.

Report Reveals European Firms Have More Than $255B Entwined in Illegal Israeli Settlements

October 21st, 2021

By Jessica Buxbaum

Source

The Israeli Jewish-settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem, Feb. 7, 2017. (AP/Oded Balilty)
The continuous settler takeover of Palestinian land has prevented Palestinians from developing and utilizing their resources and therefore significantly depleted their economy.

OCCUPIED WEST BANK, PALESTINE — Nearly 700 European firms have financial ties worth $255 billion with businesses actively involved in Israeli settlements, according to a new civil society report.

The Don’t Buy Into Occupation (DBIO) coalition is a joint project between 25 Palestinian and European non-governmental organizations investigating the business connections between companies operating in illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT) and European financial institutions. The coalition’s latest research found 672 European financial institutions had relationships with 50 businesses participating in Israel’s settlement economy. Between 2018 and May 2021, major European firms provided loans and underwritings amounting to $114 billion to these businesses while investing $141 billion.

“The involvement of these corporations with the settlements — through investments, banking loans, resource extraction, infrastructure contracts, and equipment and product supply agreements — provides them with the indispensable economic oxygen they require to grow and thrive,” Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territory Occupied since 1967, wrote in the report.

The findings

The DBIO coalition found that the top 10 creditors collectively gave $77.81 billion to businesses involved in the Israeli settlements. These firms are BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Barclays, Société Générale, Santander, ING Group, Commerzbank, UniCredit, and Crédit Agricole. And the top 10 investors — Deutsche Bank, Crédit Agricole, Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), Investor AB, BPCE Group, Allianz, Swedbank, Legal & General, AB Industrivärden, and Alecta — contributed $67.22 billion.

The coalition reached out to 138 firms as well as three corporations highlighted in the report and additional businesses the coalition found to be heavily involved in the settlement economy. Booking.com, BNP Paribas, and HeidelbergCement and 21 financial institutions responded to the report’s results.

Replies varied, with some banks wanting to set up meetings to further discuss the findings while other institutions said they’ve already investigated human rights concerns with their business partners. The report’s authors declined to disclose with which institutions they are meeting, but DBIO said they plan to publish updates in the future.

“Some of them claim they did their human rights due diligence, but still decided to be involved in a settlement enterprise, which is quite against any of the suggestions or analysis of human rights experts,” Dr. Anna Khdair — a legal researcher at Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization, and one of the report’s co-drafters — told MintPress News.

Other institutions said any ties to Israeli settlements are not within their sphere of decision-making because settlements are legal under Israeli law. While they are warranted by Israel, settlements are illegal under international law.

“So, we still have a lot of work to do to explain how the settlement enterprise actually works and how much it is connected to the Israeli economy, [while] Israel itself will not provide enough information or transparency about those links with the illegal settlement enterprise,” Khdair said.

Holding corporations accountable

The Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has experienced incredible mobilization recently. American ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s made headlines over the summer after announcing it will stop selling in Israeli settlements. Two pension companies named in the DBIO report also recently divested from companies linked to the settlement enterprise. In July, Kommunal Landspensjonskasse (KLP), Norway’s biggest pension firm, divested from 16 companies involved in Israeli settlements.

“In KLP’s assessment, there is an unacceptable risk that the excluded companies are contributing to the abuse of human rights in situations of war and conflict through their links with the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank,” KLP said in a statement regarding their decision.

The businesses from which KLP divested are:

  • Ashtrom Group Ltd.
  • Electra Ltd.
  • Alstom SA
  • Bank Hapoalim
  • Bank Leumi
  • Israel Discount Bank
  • First International Bank Israel
  • Bezeq
  • Mizrahi Tefahot Bank
  • Altice Europe
  • Partner Communications
  • Cellcom
  • Delek Group
  • Paz Oil
  • Motorola Solutions
  • Energix Renewable Energies

In September, the Norwegian pension company GPFG announced it will stop working with Elco Ltd., Ashtrom Group Ltd., and Electra Ltd. because of their activities in the Israeli settlements. In the last decade, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and Barclays have also divested from some companies involved in the settlements.

Nonetheless, Willem Staes, coordinator of the DBIO coalition, noted:

Despite the illegal nature of Israeli settlements under international law, European financial institutions continue to throw a financial lifeline to companies operating in the settlements. European financial institutions should take up their responsibility and follow the example of KLP and GPFG. They should end all investments and financial flows into Israeli settlements, and not buy into the Israeli occupation.

Even with these divestment decisions, however, the aforementioned firms still associate with settlement-entwined businesses. KLP is invested in eight companies involved in the settlement enterprise: Delta Galil Industries, FIBI, Matrix IT, Mivne Group, Rami Levy Chain Stores Hashikma Marketing 2006, Shapir Engineering and Industry, and Shufersal. GPFG still has business dealings with 34 companies linked to the settlements. These businesses are:

  • ACS Group
  • Atlas Copco
  • Bank Hapoalim
  • Bank Leumi
  • Bezeq
  • Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF)
  • Caterpillar
  • Cellcom
  • CNH Industrial
  • Delek Group
  • Delta Galil Industries
  • DXC Technology
  • Energix
  • CETCO Mineral Technology Group
  • Cisco Systems
  • Expedia
  • FIBI
  • General Mills
  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE)
  • Israel Discount Bank
  • MAN Group
  • Tripadvisor
  • Manitou
  • Shufersal
  • Siemens
  • Matrix IT
  • Mizrahi Tefahot Bank
  • Volvo Group
  • WSP GLobal
  • Motorola Solutions
  • Partner Communications
  • Paz Oil
  • Rami Levy Chain Stores Hashikma Marketing 2006
  • Terex

These ongoing financial relationships put into question the firms’ commitment to human rights.

Maha Abdallah, one of the co-drafters of the report and the International Advocacy Officer at Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, told MintPress News that the DBIO’s findings definitely contradict the institutions’ purported ethical responsibilities.

“These companies and financial institutions claim that they’re committed to human rights, but then we see the facts on the ground and the level of their involvement in the settlements,” Abdallah said. “So clearly these are all in violation of their responsibilities under international law and towards human rights standards.”

Al-Haq’s Khdair speculated, however, that the slow pull-out from the settlement enterprise may stem from fears of political backlash. “We saw how the reaction from [the] Israeli government towards Ben & Jerry’s’ decision was,” Khdair said. “So some companies would be wary of reputational risk and also see [divestment] as problematic for their shareholders. It’s a process of finding the right balance in terms of their gains and their goals.”

All 50 companies named in the report participate in at least one of the activities listed by the United Nations as criteria for inclusion in its database of companies operating in the Israeli settlements. Of the 50 companies implicated, 15 are American. These businesses are:

  • Airbnb
  • Booking Holdings
  • Caterpillar
  • CETCO Mineral Technology Group
  • Cisco Systems
  • CNH Industrial
  • DXC Technology
  • Energix
  • Expedia
  • General Mills
  • HPE
  • Motorola Solutions
  • RE/MAX Holdings
  • Terex Corporation
  • Tripadvisor

Israeli settlements crushing Palestine’s economy

More than 600,000 Israelis live in settlements across the oPT and 42% of the West Bank is under settlement control. Area C of the West Bank abounds with natural resources, but 68% of this region is reserved for Israeli settlements while only 1% is designated for Palestinian use.

The continuous settler takeover of Palestinian land has prevented Palestinians from developing and utilizing their resources and therefore significantly depleted their economy.

Restricted access to the Dead Sea, quarries and mines has led to an over $1 billion annual loss in revenue for Palestine, according to a 2015 policy brief from Palestinian thinktank Al-Shabaka. And companies’ exploitation of West Bank quarries is estimated at $900 million annually. The DBIO report authors write:

The exploitation of natural resources means that the Palestinian people are denied their right to self-determination and permanent sovereignty over their natural resources. By profiting from the depletion of Palestinian finite quarry resources, individual corporate actors may be held criminally liable for complicity in the crimes of appropriation, environmental destruction and the pillage of natural resources.

European Union’s hypocrisy

The EU provided more than $40 million in humanitarian aid to Palestine in 2021. It also follows international law in declaring the Israeli settlements illegal. Yet the EU is Israel’s largest trade partner, with a total of approximately $36 billion in traded goods last year.

“There are conflicting interests even between different European institutions [each with] their [own] priorities,” Khdair said, explaining that the goals of foreign affairs units often clash with human rights entities in the EU.

The EU does not support the UN database on companies complicit in Israeli settlements and continues to block funding to update the resource over budgetary constraints. Yet again in contradictory fashion, an EU court also ruled in 2019 that consumers have a right to know if products sold in EU markets were made in Israeli settlements.

“On the one hand, the EU has a very consistent approach and position on the illegality of settlements and all the associated violations that come along with it that undermine Palestinian rights,” Abdallah said. “But at the same time, we’re seeing that European businesses and financial institutions are still freely and without any consequences are being involved and active with the settlement enterprise.”

For Abdallah, European business activity in the settlements seems in stark contrast to the EU’s stated allegiances to the Palestinian cause. “We know what that means in reality,” Abdallah said. “It means giving them an economic lifeline allowing them to sustain themselves and expand and grow with time because these settlements, at the end of the day, rely on money in order to prosper and sustain and expand.”

The New American Leadership: Biden Tells the World What He Wants It to Know

October 14, 2021

By Philip Giraldi

Source

It is sometimes difficult to absorb how much the United States has changed in the past twenty years, and not for the better. When I was in grade school in the 1950s there was a favorite somewhat simplistic saying much employed by teachers to illustrate the success of the American way of life that prevailed at that time. It went “What’s good for General Motors is good for America” and it meant that the U.S. version of a robust and assertive capitalist economy generated opportunity and prosperity for the entire nation. Today, having witnessed the devastation and offshoring of the domestic manufacturing economy by those very same corporate managers, such an expression would be rightly sneered at and considered risible.

Currently the politically motivated expressions of national greatness tend to honor America’s quality rather than the jobs and prosperity that it is able to generate. Presidents speak of the country’s “Exceptionalism,” as well as it being a “force for good” and “leader of the free world” with all that implies. That Americans are now in fact both poorer and less safe has generated its own national myth, that of a country beleaguered by terrorists who despise “our freedom” and which has been stabbed in the back by others, mostly in Asia, who have been engaging in unfair practices to bring America down. President Joe Biden’s gang of apologists has as well been fixated on the positive assertions that “America is back” and that the president will “build back better,” surely meaningless expressions that reflect the vacuity of the Democratic Party pre-electoral hype that Donald Trump had led the country to perdition.

President Joe Biden’s United Nations address three weeks ago was indeed largely Trump without all the bluster, threats and admonishments. He lied to the world leaders that: “I stand here today, for the first time in 20 years, with the United States not at war.” According to the latest available information, the U.S. was involved in seven wars in 2018: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Niger. Now that Afghanistan is nominally over, the number of current American wars is six officially, though none of them are actually declared by Congress as demanded the Constitution. If one includes clandestine counter-terrorism operations the real number is certainly much higher.

Joe Biden issued a call for all nations to work together to deal with transnational and even global threats like climate change and the pandemic, promising “relentless diplomacy” from the United States with a pledge that “we will look ahead, we will lead.” The response by the audience was predictably tepid as no one asked Joe whether anyone really wanted to be led any more, most notably America’s oldest friend and ally France, which was recently stiffed on a submarine deal by the White House. There are even reports that Biden is on bad terms with Great Britain, usually a completely reliable partner in crime. It was as if the U.S. president were reading from the “General Motors” script, having forgotten to refresh himself on what happened more recently in the debacle retreat from Afghanistan, which was not mentioned at all.

But it wasn’t all sugar and spice as Biden demonstrated his required toughness, cautioning Iran and skewering those who do not “…give their people the ability to breathe free, …who seek to suffocate their people with an iron-hand authoritarianism. The authoritarians of the world, they seek to proclaim the end of the age of democracy, but they’re wrong.” He was speaking, somewhat gratuitously, about Russia and China while also failing to mention the chaos on the U.S. southern border, demonstrating once again that everything is susceptible to change, but not in Washington.

To be sure, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the speech was the complete lack of self-awareness that the world has moved on without the United States, which has been locked into a certain foreign policy mindset since 9/11. In the past two decades Washington has invaded and brought about regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has attempted to do the same unsuccessfully in Syria. It has openly intervened in the electoral process in Ukraine, which brought about a change of government that also generated a major crisis with Russia. It joined together with European allies to overthrow the Libyan government, reducing that stable and prosperous country into what is currently little better than a gangster and terrorist stronghold. It has more recently been seeking to undermine the elected government in Venezuela and has worked assiduously to wreck that country’s economy. It has interfered in Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador and has dealt out devastating economic sanctions on adversaries like Iran.

It should be noted that all those initiatives, which Joe Biden might describe as “leadership,” took place under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, suggesting that if there is consensus in Washington it likely can be found in the willingness to wreck other nations. And Joe denounces “authoritarian” regimes without recognizing that many Americans have observed how the United States is itself becoming a model totalitarian state, irrationally obsessed with war while also having a health care system that has been ranked as one of the worst in the developed world. Witness the Patriot Act and the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which have empowered any president to go to war without being endangered by a foreign threat. And then there is the Military Commissions Act which permits the indefinite imprisonment of terror and other suspects without having to charge anyone with a crime. And what about the prisoners still held without trial at Guantanamo after twenty years, or the Obama initiated policy of assassinating U.S. citizens overseas using drones? Or using drones to wipe out entire wedding parties while imprisoning the whistleblower Daniel Hale who had the temerity to reveal that 90% of the drone deaths in Afghanistan were of innocent bystanders who fit a “profile”?

And then there is the handling of the COVID-19 virus vaccination program at home, making it mandatory if people want to stay employed or in school. Or have a government job. The Biden Administration is now making health care decisions that impact directly on all Americans. Joe Biden is all for that and some in his administration are calling for mandatory booster vaccinations to include everyone who is already allegedly protected. Many Americans are resisting the government policies and there is growing dissent from the scientific and medical community over the efficacy of the vaccines, to include some legitimate concerns that they do more harm than good.

The government is also planning on looking at everyone’s bank accounts, an enormous invasion of privacy. A proposal working its way into law would require all banks to report directly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) all relevant information on any account that has more than $600 in transactions in a year. That would mean nearly all accounts and one can combine that with continued government surveillance of the phones and emails of citizens who have not been involved in any criminal activity plus increased broadening of domestic terrorism legislation and guidelines which will turn half the population into “suspects.”

So, the myth of America trudges on with some new labels attached but otherwise pretty much the same. Many would argue that it is time for a reboot, to return to constitutionalism, small government and an end to pointless foreign wars and interventions. But to do that would pit individuals and small groups against some very powerful interests, i.e. the defense industry, big pharma, and government itself, which sees its natural role as one of growth. It is an unbalanced struggle, but it must be won if the United States of America is to survive with some basic freedoms intact into the 22nd century.

An Empty Building with a Tattered Flag: Palestinians Have No Voice in Washington

October 11th, 2021

By Miko Peled

Source

Sad to say, the role of the head of the PLO office in Washington was in fact little more than that of a punching bag for the television networks.

WASHINGTON  In January of 2021 Reuters reported on “U.S. President Joe Biden’s plan to work to reopen the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission in Washington.” The office was closed down by then-President Donald Trump almost 25 years to the day after the signing of the Oslo Accords at the White House. The report mentions some of the legal and political hurdles that stand in the way of this plan, many of which were put in place during the Trump administration precisely for the purpose of preventing the mission’s reopening.

No diplomatic status

The Reuters piece referred to the office as a “diplomatic mission;” however, no one in that office enjoyed diplomatic status; it was the PLO office in Washington and not a diplomatic mission. The PLO did not enjoy diplomatic status and although some referred to the head of the mission as “Mr. Ambassador,” he was not an ambassador. Sad to say, the role of the head of the PLO office was in fact little more than that of a punching bag for the television networks.

Since placing the blame for the violence in Palestine squarely on Israel, where it belongs, is not done in the corporate media, every time CNN or one of the other networks needed a Palestinian to blame for Israel’s brutal attacks on Palestinian civilians the PLO representative would be called on. The role also included traveling and speaking at events as the representative of the Palestinian people.

No Palestinian representation

The problem is that the person filling the role of PLO representative in Washington does not represent the Palestinian people. He, or in some cases she, represents the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority does not represent the Palestinian people either.

The Palestinian Authority and its representatives do not represent the millions of Palestinian people who live in the Naqab or Lyd, the Galilee or Jerusalem. Nor does the PA represent the millions of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip or those who live in the Palestinian refugee camps spread across the Arab World. The heads of the PLO missions are representatives of the PLO, which represents the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, which represents no one but themselves.

Financial and legal hurdles

According to the Reuters report, “under an anti-terror amendment passed by Congress and signed into law by Trump in 2019, the Palestinians would become liable for $655.5 million in financial penalties against them in U.S. courts if they open an office in the United States.”

This enormous sum of money comes from lawsuits by 11 American families who sought to hold the PA and PLO liable for armed resistance acts between 2002 and 2004 in which several Americans were also killed. It should be noted that in 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider awarding those claims, upholding a lower court ruling that there was no jurisdiction for attacks outside the U.S.

But that is not all. Palestinian political prisoners are referred to by Israel and Zionists around the world as “terrorists.” They receive a stipend from the Palestinian authority so that their families can survive. As the Reuters report correctly states, the Taylor Force Act, passed by Congress in 2018, restricts aid to the Palestinian Authority until it agrees to stop payments to the families of people jailed by Israel. The Act specifically reads:

Congress makes the following findings:

(1) The Palestinian Authority’s practice of paying salaries to terrorists serving in Israeli prisons, as well as to the families of deceased terrorists, is an incentive to commit acts of terror.

This is flawed in several ways. First of all, it is ridiculous to assert that a Palestinian, or any individual for that matter, would be incentivized to risk dying or risk imprisonment and torture by Israel just so that their family could receive the miserly allowance from the Palestinian Authority. Furthermore, the issue of prisoners is one that is dear to the Palestinian people. Palestinians deeply appreciate the enormous sacrifice the prisoners pay. Ending the payments to the families, who often have no other source of income, is plain cruelty.

A flag

A photo of the building on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, which used to house the PLO office, was also included in the Reuters piece.

What is a flag but a piece of colored cloth? The answer to that has to do with the circumstances surrounding the flag. The flag of Israel, for example, represents violence, racism, tyranny, oppression, and apartheid. The Palestinian flag represents resistance to all of that. In the photo in the Reuters piece the Palestinian flag is hanging on the building. However, that was three or four years ago.

Today, the building is empty, and the flag, which still hangs, is in tatters. Was it forgotten or maybe left there by design? Either way, it represents the state of the Palestinian reality. The piece of cloth that still hangs from the building used to have the Palestinian colors and is now a tattered piece of cloth no one cares about. It is symbolic of the situation in Palestine and of how Palestine is viewed in Washington.

The PLO Office in Washington has been closed since 2018.

No one currently represents Palestinian interests in the U.S. capital. There is no discussion on the rights of the millions of Palestinian refugees languishing in camps; there is no discussion on the rights of thousands of Palestinians shot and injured by Israel and left disabled; there is no discussion of the families whose loved ones are dead or injured and have no means of livelihood; there is no discussion on the rights of countless thousands of Palestinians who were tortured by Israel, spent years in Israeli prisons and were left permanently disabled. Finally, there is no serious demand that the United States end its support and impose harsh sanctions on Israel. Sadly, bringing back a representative of the Palestinian Authority will not change that.

The New Orwellian World Based On Control & Surveillance

14 OCTOBER 2021

Sonja van den Ende

Source

The New Orwellian World Based On Control & Surveillance

I wrote about it many times, we can see it’s progressing, but only in the so-called developed world. A dystopian society, which is doomed to fail, eventually. A world of surveillance, health-dictatorship, QR codes, cashless payments and for most people unlivable, it resembles the old systems like fascism or totalitarian communism, in a new outfit, which I will call a technocratic based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) totalitarian system, but all systems and ideologies that become totalitarian will fall, history has learned.

A lot of evidence about the dystopian new society, based on so-called pandemic, or as I would call it a new technocratic dictatorial, including health, system has been put in place in many parts of the developed world, tests for this new worldwide including social credit system has been performed in Africa, as I wrote before experiments are conducted in Africa to implement this social credit system, based on a pandemic, with the cooperation of GAVI, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and with the World Economic Forum. They ironically call it a “Wellnes-pass”, mind you in Africa, how utopian you can get! As we all know by now (I sincerely hope many are awake) it was never about a virus, but about control, smart cities, electrical cars, where Africa will be exploited again for Lithium, also Afghanistan, this is why the Western world had to withdraw, a geopolitical conflict is going on, not about Afghanistan as a territory, or pity the people, but about Lithium. Build Back Better, depopulation of the world, which Bill Gates and especially his father are experts in doing so are all part of the new dystopian world.

Even the Catholic Church is involved in this great experiment, in Africa of course since many years, but also in the Western world, after years of child abuse and pedophilia scandals, they are just continuing with their unchristian policies. But we must not forget that the Catholic Church is an outgrowth of the Roman Empire, or as many these days call it the British Empire, basically it’s the same, it’s all about the Western unipolar ideology and colonialism with all their excesses. So the church, i.e. the Catholic, is involved in this dystopian new world, because they have a lot of money and have their own state called the Vatican. The Protestant church is not in this position and is now seen as an ‘enemy’ of the state, especially in the Netherlands. The Dutch government has now started their ‘soft approach’ to persecute the Protestants, a deja-vu is emerging about the times of the Huguenots, it is actually the descendants of these Huguenots, who will suffer the same fate again, now in the countries they had chosen centuries ago, to be free and where people are tolerant. In the Netherlands these Protestants will be forced into lockdowns, because many of them, on religious grounds, won’t be vaccinated. Also, the Dutch government has started (with organizations) a research project, to establish if the Protestant church was involved into slavery in the Dutch East Indies. Of course they were, the whole of society was in these days, but the biggest criminals, just like now, are the rich, the elite and the Dutch royal family, who pretend to be Christian, but this Christianity is just a show, a performance for the ignorant citizens.

The Dutch parliament rejected a motion that various parties, including Forum for Democracy (FVD) submitted against the introduction of a social credit system in the Netherlands, the government can now legally introduce the social credit system, which they have already started, of course, by introducing the so-called QR Corona pass. The next step is the Co2 level and the measurement of eating meat and eventually censor the Internet, by introducing a digital pass, put on your existing pass to use the internet. The European Union (EU) Social Credit System will me much worse than the Chinese experiment, which was only conducted in a few cities. The EU social credit system is about total control, about your body, your behaviour, your private life and eventually about your physical life, when you don’t comply, there will be no mercy and no help, your life will be like a wanderer, without any benefits or life as you used to know it, be prepared.

In other parts of the Western world, like in Australia, the dystopian society has become reality already. Australia with its past and present and being part of the British Empire (BE) and under the influence of the US, preparing for a conflict with China, Australia is closest to China and we all know their new “AUKUS” a new so-called security pact between The UK, US and Australia, in what’s seen as an effort to counter China. To be prepared and outsmart China, they already started with their draconian social credit system and moreover and most worse their surveillance state has become reality, alarming reports come out of the country which was once called the land of the free is now the most repressive country in the Western world and I wonder where Amnesty International or Human Right are? Of course, they will not report, they are a tool from the same Western world, reporting only about non-complying countries like Russia, Syria or the underdeveloped countries. But Australia was always a ‘racist’ country built on the principles of murdering the Aboriginals and sending criminals to their conquered land. Canada is another example, in a different way than Australia but withe the same ideology. Of course, the uttermost worst country is the so-called democracy of Israel, where life is “hell” for most citizens, it was already worse for Palestinians, but now especially for the Orthodox Jews.

Conclusion

I would like to write a conclusion, but can we make a conclusion? I guess not, the world as we are experiencing it today, is unstable, full of conflict and polarization, with many geopolitical differences. I am afraid we are back, like the roaring twenties of the last century resulting in the grim thirties, unemployment, the introduction (by force) of a new system, designed by the elite of the Western world. Like now It’s ripe for conflict and most likely war, not like WWII but a different war, biological warfare (maybe we are already experiencing this), depopulation agenda, implemented by vaccinations and biological warfare and the introduction of AI. Eugenics (not new) is necessary according to the elite, like in the two world wars were eugenics happened through killing of soldiers on the battlefield and of course the holocaust. Now according to the elite there are too many mouths to feed and no jobs (AI) and of course the elite will not share their money with the poor. A dark time in human history has come again.

CNN’s Halloween Horror Story About Xinjiang Is Full Of Holes

14 OCTOBER 2021

By Andrew Korybko

Source

CNN

Their Halloween horror story was invented in order to attract the Western audience’s attention during this scary season and then remind them of the US government’s false claims of genocide in the XUAR.

It’s October, which means that many in the West are preparing to celebrate Halloween at the end of the month. This occasion usually sees folks talking about scary things and sharing stories that are intended to frighten others, though all for the purpose of having a little bit of fun. CNN is also participating in this seasonal activity as proven by the horror story that they published last week about the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). As with everything that has to do with Halloween, it’s also fake and has nothing to do with reality.

This leading Western mainstream media outlet claims to have obtained exclusive testimony from a former Chinese police detective who says that he tortured minorities in the XUAR. The alleged details are straight out of a Hollywood horror flick, complete with accusations of extreme violence, gang rape, and even murder. It’s very disturbing to read, but the story is full of holes. CNN refuses to release any evidence backing up that person’s claims, unconvincingly saying that it’s to protect their identity.

Their Halloween horror story was invented in order to attract the Western audience’s attention during this scary season and then remind them of the US government’s false claims of genocide in the XUAR. It’s not unprecedented for self-interested individuals to flee their countries in order to participate in an adversarial government’s meddling campaign against their homeland in exchange for promised economic opportunities. That’s exactly what’s happening here since the alleged source cannot back up his audacious claims of crimes.

His haste to concoct the most horrific stories possible just in time for Halloween resulted in him making several glaring mistakes that disprove his story. It’s also surprising that his media partners at CNN didn’t realize this ahead of time and refined their narrative in order to account for these inconsistencies. The source says that his superior told him that “we must kill them all” in the XUAR, yet the Chinese census’ figures from this summer confirm that minority populations grew by 14.3% in 10 years in that exact same region.

The next hole in his story was when he says that “Many restaurants and places are closed” in the XUAR. That’s also not true as confirmed by the many foreign diplomats who’ve visited the region to assess the veracity of the US’ genocide claims there. Video footage from the XUAR that’s routinely shared on Chinese social media also debunks this false claim. In fact, that region actually has a thrivingtourismsector that’s become very popular with Chinese during the pandemic while international travel remains restricted. Everything is open, not closed.

CNN’s source then spews another false claim by asserting that “it was common knowledge among police officers that 900,000 Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities were detained in the region in a single year.” Not only is this figure completely unsubstantiated and therefore untrue, but it also suggests a contradiction with what the outlet reported earlier in their story when writing that “The US State Department estimates that up to 2 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been detained in internment camps in Xinjiang since 2017.”

To explain, this implies that almost half of the alleged genocide took place in a single year, meaning that it’s presumably become less intense with time. Of course, no such genocide has ever occurred, but those who’ve been misled by this false narrative should question this inconsistency. It doesn’t make sense for the US to claim that a genocide is still occurring in the XUAR when the indexing of fake figures from CNN’s source and the State Department suggests that the number of allegedly detained minorities has actually been decreasing each year.

The outlet couldn’t help but reveal the intention behind their Halloween horror story when quoting their source’s claim that he had become “disappointed” with the Communist Party of China (CPC) even before becoming a torturer due to what he says is its “corruption”. He claims that he wanted “to stand on the side of the people” by admitting to his alleged crimes against humanity that he’s curiously not being prosecuted for in the unnamed European country where CNN says he’s hiding despite supposedly sharing evidence of them.

Any objective observer should now realize that this source is a foreign intelligence asset otherwise there’s no way that he’d escape prosecution for the crimes against humanity that he claims to have shared evidence of committing. The whole point of CNN’s Halloween horror story about the XUAR is discredit the CPC and falsely make it seem like the Chinese people are against it. In reality, Chinese people of all ethnicities proudly support the CPC for successfully eliminating terrorism in the XUAR in a way that’s fully consistent with human rights.

Lee Camp: Julian Assange’s Father, John Shipton, on the U.S. Government’s ‘Scandalous’ Plan to ‘Murder’ His Son

October 13th, 2021

By Lee Camp

Source

Britain WikiLeaks Assange

One of the biggest moments in Julian Assange’s trial is slated to happen next month, when the embattled and imprisoned WikiLeaks founder’s final extradition hearing is held in Great Britain. And as host Lee Camp points out before introducing his guest in this clip from “Redacted Tonight,” there have been some stunning developments recently in Assange’s story—namely, the revelation that the U.S. government and a certain three-letter intelligence agency were ginning up possible plans to assassinate Assange.

If ever there were an expert on Julian Assange, it would surely be Camp’s guest, John Shipton—Assange’s father—who calls the assassination plot considered by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other U.S. officials “pretty scandalous,” if not entirely surprising. Shipton also holds forth on the American government’s big quandary if Assange were to be brought onto U.S. soil to face charges, the man who perjured himself to implicate Assange, and why he thinks his son’s work has been a “great success” despite his plight. Have a look at the clip above to watch the whole interview.

Secret Deployment of US Troops to Taiwan — The Stephen Lendman Blog

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported the following: US troops have been “secretly training” Taiwanese forces “for at least a year,” adding: A “special-operations unit and contingent of marines” are involved, citing unnamed US officials. Claiming they number “two dozen (along with) support troops” may way understate the extent of Pentagon ties to Taiwan’s […]

Secret Deployment of US Troops to Taiwan — The Stephen Lendman Blog

Europa Scorned and Forsaken

October 8, 2021

By Alastair Crooke

Source

alia however, was a centrepiece to Paris’s strategy for European ‘strategic autonomy’. Macron believed France and the EU had established a position of lasting influence in the heart of the Indo-Pacific. Better still, it had out-manoeuvred Britain, and broken into the Anglophone world of the Five Eyes to become a privileged defence partner of Australia. Biden dissed that. And Commission President von der Leyen told CNN that there could not be “business as usual” after the EU was blindsided by AUKUS.

One factor for the UK being chosen as the ‘Indo-Pacific partner’ very probably was Trump’s successful suasion with ‘Bojo’ Johnson to abandon the Cameron-Osborne outreach to China; whereas the big three EU powers were perceived in the US security world as ambivalent towards China, at best. The UK really did cut links. The grease finally was Brexit, which opened the window for strategic options – which otherwise would have been impossible to the UK.

There may be a heavy price to pay though further down the line – the US security establishment are really pushing the Taiwan ‘envelope’ to the limit (possibly to weaken the CCP). It is extremely high risk. China may decide ‘enough is enough’, and crush the AUKUS maritime venture, which it can do.

The second ‘leg’ to this global inflection point – also triggered around the Afghan pivot into the Russo-Chines axis – was the SCO summit last month. A memorandum of understanding was approved that would tie together China’s Belt and Road Initiative to the Eurasian Economic Community, within the overall structure of the SCO, whilst adding a deeper military dimension to the expanded SCO structure.

Significantly, President Xi spoke separately to members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (of which China is not a part), to outline its prospective military integration too, into the SCO military structures. Iran was made a full member, and it and Pakistan (already a member), were elevated into prime Eurasian roles. In sum, all Eurasian integration paths combined into a new trade, resource – and military block. It represents an evolving big-power, security architecture covering some 57% of the world’s population.

Having lifted Iran into full membership – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt may also become SCO dialogue partners. This augurs well for a wider architecture that may subsume more of the Middle East. Already, Turkey after President Erdogan’s summit with President Putin at Sochi last week, gave clear indications of drifting towards Russia’s military complex – with major orders for Russian weaponry. Erdogan made clear in an interview with the US media that this included a further S400 air defence system, which almost certainly will result in American CAATSA sanctions on Turkey.

All of this faces the EU with a dilemma: Allies who cheered Biden’s ‘America is back’ slogan in January have found, eight months later, that ‘America First’ never went away. But rather, Biden paradoxically is delivering on the Trump agenda (continuity again!) – a truncated NATO (Trump mooted quitting it), and the possible US shunning of Germany as some candidate coalition partners edge toward exiting from the nuclear umbrella. The SPD still pays lip service to NATO, but the party is opposed to the 2% defence spending target (on which both Biden and Trump have insisted). Biden also delivered on the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Europeans may feel betrayed (though when has US policy ever been other than ‘America First’? It’s just the pretence which is gone). European grander aspirations at the global plane have been rudely disparaged by Washington. The Russia-China axis is in the driving seat in Central Asia – with its influence seeping down to Turkey and into the Middle East. The latter commands the lions’ share of world minerals, population – and, in the CTSO sphere, has the region most hungry and ripe for economic development.

The point here however, is the EU’s ‘DNA’. The EU was a project originally midwifed by the CIA, and is by treaty, tied to the security interests of NATO (i.e. the US). From the outset, the EU was constellated as the soft-power arm of the Washington Consensus, and the Euro deliberately was made outlier to the dollar sphere, to preclude competition with it (in line with the Washington Consensus doctrine). In 2002, an EU functionary (Robert Cooper) could envisage Europe as a new ‘liberal imperialism’. The ‘new’ was that Europe eschewed hard military power, in favour of the ‘soft’ power of its ‘vision’. Of course, Cooper’s assertion of the need for a ‘new kind of imperialism’ was not as ‘cuddly’ liberal – as presented. He advocated for ‘a new age of empire’, in which Western powers no longer would have to follow international law in their dealings with ‘old fashioned’ states; could use military force independently of the United Nations; and impose protectorates to replace regimes which ‘misgovern’.

This may have sounded quite laudable to the Euro-élites initially, but this soft-power European Leviathan was wholly underpinned by the unstated – but essential – assumption that America ‘had Europe’s back’. The first intimation of the collapse of this necessary pillar was Trump who spoke of Europe as a ‘rival’. Now the US flight from Kabul, and the AUKUS deal, hatched behind Europe’s back, unmissably reveals that the US does not at all have Europe’s back.

This is no semantic point. It is central to the EU concept. As just one example: when Mario Draghi was recently parachuted onto Italy as PM, he wagged his finger at the assembled Italian political parties: “Italy would be pro-European and North Atlanticist too”, he instructed them. This no longer makes sense in the light of recent events. So what is Europe? What does it mean to be ‘European’? All that needs to be thought through.

Europe today is caught between a rock and a hard place. Does it possess the energy (and the humility) to look itself in the mirror, and re-position itself diplomatically? It would require altering its address to both Russia and China, in the light of a Realpolitik analysis of its interests and capabilities.

Academic David Miller Speaks Out Following Firing & Israel Lobby Smear Campaign

October 08th, 2021

David Miller Watchdog Feature photo

By Lowkey

Source

Ironically, Miller’s book, “Bad News for Labour: Anti-Semitism, the Party and Public Belief,” detailed how bogus charges of anti-Semitism were weaponized against Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in order to defame and destroy him.

Instead of simply stopping its human rights abuses, the Israeli government has built an extensive and sophisticated public relations network across the West in order to protect itself from criticism.

Today, Lowkey speaks to one of the latest victims of that smear campaign, Professor David Miller. A prominent critic of the state of Israel’s policies, Miller was recently sacked from his position as Professor of Sociology at the University of Bristol, after a pressure campaign involving Zionist student groups and even members of parliament, who accused him of “inciting hatred against Jewish students.”

Miller, a graduate of the University of Glasgow Media Group, was appointed to his position at Bristol University in 2018. He also held positions at the University of Strathclyde from 2004 until 2011 and the University of Bath from 2011 until 2018.

Miller is the creator of the websites SpinWatch and Powerbase, both of which are dedicated to revealing networks of influence and power in Western society. Much of his academic work revolved around Islamophobia in the post-9/11 era. Miller maintained that Zionist organizations were one source of anti-Muslim bigotry, an accusation that put him on a collision course with those groups.

The final blow came late last month, as the university, under enormous external pressure, sacked Miller, citing his comments that certain Jewish students were being used as “pawns of Israel.”

Miller’s case has drawn considerable attention from those who see it as a harbinger of things to come. An open letter to Bristol University defending him as an “eminent scholar” was signed by hundreds of academics and public intellectuals — including prominent Jewish public intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler, Norman Finkelstein and Illan Pappe, who described him as a trailblazer “exposing the role that powerful actors and well-resourced, co-ordinated networks play in manipulating and stage-managing public debates, including on racism.”

Miller described the disciplinary procedure as “a shambolic process that seems to have been vetted by external actors,” adding that, “Israel’s assets in the U.K. have been emboldened by the university collaborating with them to shut down teaching about Islamophobia. The University of Bristol is no longer safe for Muslim, Arab or Palestinian students.”

Miller is far from the first academic to be targeted in such a manner, and it is unlikely that he will be the last. Ironically, Miller’s book, “Bad News for Labour: Anti-Semitism, the Party and Public Belief,” detailed how bogus charges of anti-Semitism were weaponized against Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in order to defame and destroy him. Just such an occurrence appears to have happened in his case as well.

For all the talk of cancel culture, it is highly unlikely that Miller’s case will be taken up by the usual suspects who pontificate about the increasingly stifling atmosphere on university campuses.

Join us as Lowkey and Miller discuss his work, his dismissal, and the network of power Israel has built in the West.

Silencing Julian Assange: Why bother with a trial when you can just kill him?

October 7, 2021

By Philip Giraldi

Source

It is an issue of the abuses enabled by powerful men who believe that their power is unlimited, Philip Giraldi writes.

An English friend recently learned about the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) plan to either kidnap or kill journalist Julian Assange and quipped “I’ll bet he’s happy to be safe and sound in Belmarsh Prison if he has a chance to read about that!” I replied that his time in Belmarsh has been made as demeaning as possible by an English judge and the British are just as capable of executing a Jeffrey Epstein suicide or “accident” if called upon to do so by their American “cousins.” He agreed, reluctantly. Indeed, the roles of American allies Britain and Australia in what is turning out to be one of the world’s longest-playing judicial dramas has been reprehensible.

For those readers who have missed some of the fun of the Assange saga, a recap is in order. Julian Assange, an Australian citizen who was living in London, was the Editor in Chief and driving force behind Wikileaks, which debuted in 2006 and was one of the alternative news sites that have sprung up over the past twenty years. WikiLeaks was somewhat unique in that it often did not write up its own stories but rather was passed documentary material by sources in government and elsewhere that it then reprinted without any editing.

Assange attracted the ire of the ruling class when he obtained in 2010 a classified video from an unidentified source that showed an unprovoked 2007 shooting incident involving U.S. Army helicopters in Baghdad in which a dozen completely innocent people were killed. The government’s anger at WikiLeaks intensified when, in 2013, Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor, fled to Hong Kong with classified material that demonstrated that the U.S. government was illegally spying on Americans. WikiLeaks also reportedly helped to arrange Snowden’s subsequent escape to Russia from Hong Kong.

The bipartisan animus directed against WikiLeaks intensified still further in the summer of 2016 when the group’s website began to release emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The immediate conclusion propagated by Team Hillary but unsupported by facts was that Russian intelligence had hacked the emails and given them to WikiLeaks.

It was perhaps inevitable that Assange’s reporting, which has never been found to be factually inaccurate, was in some circles claimed to be based on information provided to him by Russian hackers. Even though he repeatedly denied that that was the case and there are technical reasons why that was unlikely or even impossible, this led to a sharp Russophobic response from a number of intelligence and law enforcement services close to the United States. Assange was charged in Britain in November 2010 on an international warrant demanding that he be extradited to Sweden over claims that he had committed rape in that country, an accusation which later turned out to be false. He posted bail but lost a legal battle to annul the warrant and then skipped a preliminary hearing in London in June 2012 to accept asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy, which has diplomatic immunity. He stayed in the Embassy for eighty-two months, at which point a new government in Quito made clear that his asylum would be revoked and he would be expelled from the building. He was preparing to leave voluntarily in April 2019 when police arrived and he was arrested on a charge of his failure to appear in court seven years before which was regarded as “bail jumping.” He was sent immediately to Belmarsh high security prison, where Britain’s terrorist prisoners are confined.

After his arrest, Assange continued to be incarcerated due to a U.S. Justice Department extradition request based on the Espionage Act of 1918, apparently derived from possible interaction with the Chelsea Manning whistleblower case. Assange has now been in Belmarsh for 29 months in spite of increasing international pressure asserting that he is a journalist and should be released. The British have hesitated to extradite him on the basis of the evidence produced by the U.S. government, which included the claim that Assange aided the former U.S. Army analyst Manning break into a classified computer network in order to obtain and eventually publish classified material, but they have likewise failed to release him. The British judge denied extradition in January, suggesting that if he were to be returned forcibly to the U.S. he would likely commit suicide, but she also denied Assange bail as he was considered to be a flight risk. The U.S. appealed that verdict and the next hearing is scheduled for the end of October. It should be noted that no evidence produced by the Justice Department has plausibly linked Assange to the Russian intelligence services.

Which brings us to the Yahoo news revelation regarding the CIA plot to shoot, poison or kidnap Assange while he was sheltering in the Ecuadorian Embassy. It goes something like this: in 2017, Assange’s fifth year in the Embassy, the CIA debated going after him to end the alleged threat posed to government secrets by him and his organization, which was still operating and presumed to be in contact with him. WikiLeaks had at that time been publishing extremely sensitive CIA hacking tools, referred to as “Vault 7,” which constituted “the largest data loss in CIA history.”

In an April 2017 speech, Donald Trump’s new CIA Director Mike Pompeo said “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service and has encouraged its followers to find jobs at the CIA in order to obtain intelligence. It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” It was a declaration of war. The label “non-state hostile intelligence service” is a legal designation which more-or-less opened the door to non-conventional responses to eliminate the threat. CIA Stations where WikiLeaks associates were known to be present were directed to increase surveillance on them and also attempt to interdict any communications they might seek to have with Assange himself in the embassy. A staff of analysts referred to as the “WikiLeaks Team” worked full time to target the organization and its leaders.

At the top level of the Agency debate over more extreme options prevailed, though there were legitimate concerns about the legality of what was being contemplated. In late 2017, in the midst of the debate over possible kidnapping and/or assassination, the Agency picked up alarming though unsubstantiated reports that Russian intelligence operatives were preparing plans to help Assange escape from the United Kingdom and fly him to Moscow.

CIA responded by preparing to foil Assange’s possible Russian-assisted departure to include potential gun battles with Moscow’s spies on the streets of London or crashing a car into any Russian diplomatic vehicle transporting Assange to seize him. One scenario even included either blocking the runway or shooting out the tires of any Russian plane believed to be carrying Assange before it could take off for Moscow. Pompeo himself reportedly favored what is referred to as a “rendition,” which would consist of breaking into the Ecuadorian Embassy, kidnapping Assange, and flying him clandestinely to the U.S. for trial. Others in the national security team favored killing Assange rather than going through the complexity of kidnapping and removing him. Fortunately, saner views prevailed, particularly when the British refused to cooperate in any way with activity they regarded as clearly illegal.

So Assange is still in prison and what does it all mean? The only possible charge that would convincingly demonstrate that Assange was spy paid by Russia would be related to his possibly helping Chelsea Manning to circumvent security to steal classified material, but there is no real evidence that Assange actually did that or that he is under Russian control. So that makes him a journalist. That he has embarrassed the United States, most often when it misbehaves, is what good journalists do. But beyond that the disgraceful CIA plans to kill or abduct Assange as an option to get rid of him reveal yet again the dark side of what the United States of America has become since 9/11.

More to the point, getting rid of Assange will accomplish nothing. He worked with a number of like-minded colleagues who have been more than able to pick up where he left off. He has been largely incommunicado since he has been languishing in Belmarsh Prison and it is his associates who have continued to solicit information and publish it on their site. Mike Pompeo’s unapologetic response to this assassination or kidnapping story was “They were engaged in active efforts to steal secrets themselves, and pay others to do the same …” Of course, if all that were true Mike and the government lawyers have had an opportunity to demonstrate just that in a British court. They couldn’t do so and instead promoted the easier option of just killing someone for publishing something true. And assassination is a blunt instrument that rarely accomplishes anything. One recalls that in January 2020 Pompeo certainly participated in the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi Militia Leader Muhandis in Baghdad. What did that accomplish apart from turning a nominally friendly Iraq hostile to the U.S. presence?

Or, as Assange’s lawyer put it more to the point, “As an American citizen, I find it absolutely outrageous that our government would be contemplating kidnapping or assassinating somebody without any judicial process simply because he had published truthful information.” Unfortunately, that is not all that the Assange case is about. It is not just a question of truth or fiction and journalistic ethics, but rather an issue of the abuses enabled by powerful men who believe that their power is unlimited. That is the real abyss that the United States has fallen into and the only way out is to finally hold such people, starting with Pompeo, accountable for what they have done.

Chris Hedges: The Anonymous Executioners of the Corporate State

October 07th, 2021

By Chris Hedges

Source

The Anonymous Executioners of the Corporate State Feature photo
Imprisoning the David to Chevron’s Goliath is the latest outrage by a US judiciary now engineered to always favor the interests of capital.

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY (Scheerpost— Judge Loretta Preska, an advisor to the conservative Federalist Society, to which Chevron is a major donor, sentenced human rights attorney and Chevron nemesis Steven Donziger to six months in prison Friday for misdemeanor contempt of court after he had already spent 787 days under house arrest in New York.

Preska’s caustic outbursts — she said at the sentencing, “It seems that only the proverbial two-by-four between the eyes will instill in him any respect for the law” — capped a judicial farce worthy of the antics of Vasiliy Vasilievich, the presiding judge at the major show trials of the Great Purges in the Soviet Union, and the Nazi judge Roland Freisler who once shouted at a defendant, “You really are a lousy piece of trash!”

Donziger, a graduate of Harvard Law School, has been fighting against polluting American oil companies for nearly three decades on behalf of indigenous communities and peasant farmers in Ecuador. His only “crime” was winning a $9.5 billion judgment in 2011 against Chevron for thousands of plaintiffs. The oil giant had bought Texaco oil company holdings in Ecuador, inheriting a lawsuit alleging it deliberately discharged 16 billion gallons of toxic waste from its oil sites into rivers, groundwater, and farmland. Since the verdict, Chevron has come after him, weaponizing litigation to destroy him economically, professionally, and personally.

The sentencing came a day after Donziger petitioned the court to consider an opinion by the United Nations human rights council that found his house arrest a violation of international human rights law. The U.N human rights council said his house arrest counted as detention under international law and it was therefore illegal for Judge Preska to demand an additional six months in jail. Amnesty International also called for Donziger’s immediate release.

Donziger and his lawyers have two weeks to appeal the judge’s order that Donziger be sent immediately to jail. Preska denied Donziger bail claiming he is a flight risk. If the Federal Court of Appeals turns down Donziger’s appeal he will go to jail for six months. The irony, not lost on Donziger and his lawyers, is that the higher court may overturn Preska’s ruling against him, but by the time that decision is made he will potentially have already spent six months in jail.

“What Judge Preska is trying to do is force me to serve the entirety of my sentence before the appellate court can rule,” Donziger told me by phone on Monday. “If the appellate court rules in my favor, I will still have served my sentence, although I am innocent in the eyes of the law.”

Donziger, his lawyers have pointed out, is the first person under U.S. law charged with a “B” misdemeanor to be placed on home confinement, prior to trial, with an ankle monitor. He is the first person charged with any misdemeanor to be held under home confinement for over two years. He is the first attorney ever to be charged with criminal contempt over a discovery dispute in a civil case where the attorney went into voluntary contempt to pursue an appeal. He is the first person to be prosecuted under Rule 42 (criminal contempt) by a private prosecutor with financial ties to the entity and industry that was a litigant in the underlying civil dispute that gave rise to the orders. He is the first person tried by a private prosecutor who had ex parte communications with the charging judge while that judge remained (and remains) unrecused on the criminal case.

“No lawyer in New York for my level of offense ever has served more than 90 days and that was in home confinement,” Donziger told the court. “I have now been in home confinement eight times that period of time. I have been disbarred without a hearing where I have been unable to present factual evidence; thus, I am unable to earn an income in my profession. I have no passport. I can’t travel; can’t do human rights work the normal way which I believe I am reasonably good at; can’t see my clients in Ecuador; can’t visit the affected communities to hear the latest news of cancer deaths or struggles to maintain life in face of constant exposure to oil pollution. In addition, and this is little known, Judge [Lewis A.] Kaplan has imposed millions and millions of dollars of fines and courts costs on me. [Kaplan is the judge for Chevron’s lawsuit against Donziger; Preska is his handpicked judge for the contempt charges.] He has ordered me to pay millions to Chevron to cover their legal fees in attacking me, and then he let Chevron go into my bank accounts and take all my life’s savings because I did not have the funds to cover these costs. Chevron still has a pending motion to order me to pay them an additional $32 [million] in legal fees. That’s where things stand today. I ask you humbly: might that be enough punishment already for a Class B misdemeanor?”

Judge Preska was unmoved.

“Mr. Donziger has spent the last seven years thumbing his nose at the U.S. judicial system,” Preska said at his sentencing hearing. “Now it’s time to pay the piper.”

The six-month sentence was the maximum the judge was allowed to impose; she ruled that his house arrest cannot be counted as part of his detention. From start to finish, this has been a burlesque. It is emblematic of a court system that has been turned over to lackies of corporate power, who use the veneer of jurisprudence, decorum, and civility to make a mockery of the rule of law.

When the law is neutered, judges become the enforcers of injustice. These corporate judges, who epitomize what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil, now routinely make war on workers, civil liberties, unions, and environmental regulations.

Preska sent Jeremy Hammond to prison for a decade for hacking into the computers of a private security firm that works on behalf of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, and corporations such as Dow Chemical. In 2011, Hammond released to the website WikiLeaks and Rolling Stone and other publications some three million emails from the Texas-based company Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor. The sentence was one of the longest in U.S. history for hacking and the maximum Preska could impose under a plea agreement in the case. I sat through the Hammond trial. I watched Preska spew her bile and contempt at Hammond from the bench with the same vitriol she used to attack Donziger.

Preska is also infamous for her long judicial crusade to force New York public schools to provide tax-subsidized free space for evangelical churches based on blatantly illogical readings of the Constitution.

The persecution of Donziger fits a pattern familiar to millions of poor Americans who are coerced into accepting plea deals, many for crimes they did not commit, and sent to prison for decades. It fits the pattern of the judicial lynching and prolonged psychological torture of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. It fits the pattern of those denied habeas corpus and due process at Guantánamo Bay or in CIA black sites. It fits the pattern of those charged under terrorism laws, many held at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan, who cannot see the evidence used to indict them. It fits the pattern of the widespread use of Special Administrative Measures, known as SAMs, imposed to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media, and people outside the jail. It fits the pattern of the extreme sensory deprivation and prolonged isolation used on those in our black sites and prisons, a form of psychological torture, the refinement of torture as science. By the time a “terrorist” is dragged into our secretive courts the bewildered suspect no longer has the mental and psychological capability to defend themselves. If they can do this legally to the demonized they can, and one day will, do it to the rest of us. The Donziger case is an ominous warning that the American legal system is broken.

Ralph Nader, who graduated from Harvard Law School, has long decried the capture of the courts and law schools by corporate power, calling the nation’s attorneys and judges “lucrative cogs in the corporate wheel.” He notes that law school curriculums are “built around corporate law, and corporate power, and corporate perpetration, and corporate defense.”

Victor Klemperer, who was dismissed from his post as a professor of Romance languages at the University of Dresden in 1935 because of his Jewish ancestry, astutely noted how at first the Nazis “changed the values, the frequency of words, [and] made them into common property, words that had previously been used by individuals or tiny troupes. They confiscated words for the party, saturated words and phrases and sentence forms with their poison. They made language serve their terrible system. They conquered words and made them into their strongest advertising tools [Werebemittle], at once the most public and most secret.” And, Klemperer noted, as the redefinition of old concepts took place the public was oblivious.

This redefinition of words and concepts has, as Klemperer witnessed during the rise of fascism, allowed the courts to twist the law into an instrument of injustice, revoking our rights by judicial fiat. It has seen the courts permit unlimited dark money into political campaigns under Citizens United, defending our money-saturated elections as the right to petition the government and a form of free speech. The courts have revoked our right to privacy and legalized wholesale government surveillance in the name of national security. The courts grant corporations the rights of individuals, while rarely holding the individuals who run the corporations accountable for corporate crimes.

Very few of the legal rulings that benefit corporate power have popular support. The corporate disemboweling of the country, therefore, is increasingly given cover by Christian fascists, who energize their base around abortion, prayer in schools, guns and breaking down the separation of church and state. These issues are rarely addressed in cases before federal courts. But they distract the base from the slew of pro-corporate rulings that dominate most court dockets.

Corporations such as Tyson Foods, Purdue, Walmart, and Sam’s Warehouse have poured millions into institutions that indoctrinate these Christian fascists, including Liberty University and Patrick Henry Law School. They fund the Judicial Crisis Network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which campaigned for Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Barrett opposes abortion and belongs to People of Praise, a far-right Catholic cult that practices “speaking in tongues.” She and the other far-right ideologues are hostile to LGBTQ rights. But this is not why she is so beloved by corporations, who are not interested in abortion, LGBTQ equality or gun rights.

Barrett and the Christian fascists embrace an ideology that believes that God will take care of the righteous. Those who are poor, those who are sick, those who go to prison, those who are unemployed, those who cannot succeed in society do so because they have failed to please God. In this worldview there is no need for unions, universal health care, a social safety net or prison reform. Barrett has ruled consistently in favor of corporations to cheat gig workers out of overtime, green-light fossil fuel extraction and pollution and strip consumers of protection from corporate fraud. The watchdog group Accountable.US found that as a circuit court judge, Barrett “faced at least 55 cases in which citizens took on corporate entities in front of her court and 76% of the time she sided with the corporations.”

The Christian fascists, allied with organizations such as the Federalist Society, under the Trump administration gave lifetime appointments to nearly 200 judges, roughly 23 percent of all federal judgeships. That included 53 to the nation’s appellate courts, the court immediately under the Supreme Court. The American Bar Association, the country’s largest nonpartisan coalition of lawyers, has rated many of these appointments as unqualified. There are currently six Federalist Society Supreme Court justices, including Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, who Nader calls “a corporation masquerading as a human being.” Two Federalist Society Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia, who was an original faculty advisor to the organization founded by conservative law students in 1982, were supported in the nomination process by Joe Biden.

The stacking of the courts with corporate puppets, however, began long before Trump. It was carried out by both Republican and Democratic administrations. Preska was appointed by Republican President G.W. Bush. However, the judge who preceded Preska in the Donziger case, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, a former lawyer for the tobacco industry who had undisclosed investments in funds with Chevron holdings, according to his public financial disclosure statement, was appointed by Democratic President Clinton.

The targeting of the courts was one of the key goals of Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer later elevated to the Supreme Court by President Nixon. In Powell’s 1971 memo to the Chamber of Commerce, a blueprint for the slow-motion corporate coup that has taken place, he called on business interests to pack the judiciary with corporate-friendly judges.

The courts in all tyrannies are dominated by mediocrities and buffoons. They make up for their intellectual and moral vacuity with a zealous subservience to power. They turn courtroom trials into opera buffa, at least until the victim is shackled and pushed out the door to a prison cell. They fulminate in caustic tirades at the condemned, whose sentence is never in doubt and whose guilt is never in question.

“It started when Texaco went into Ecuador in the Amazon in the 1960s and cut a sweetheart deal with the military government then ruling Ecuador,” Donziger told me for a column I wrote about his case a year ago. “Over the next 25 years, Texaco was the exclusive operator of a very large area of the Amazon that had several oil fields within this area, 1500 square miles. They drilled hundreds of wells. They created thousands of open-air, unlined toxic waste pits where they dumped the heavy metals and toxins that came up from the ground when they drilled. They ran pipes from the pits into rivers and streams that local people relied on for their drinking water, their fishing, and their sustenance. They poisoned this pristine ecosystem, in which lived five indigenous peoples, as well as a lot of other nonindigenous rural communities. There was a mass industrial poisoning.”

“The verdict came down, about $18 billion in favor of the affected communities, which is what it would take at a minimum to clean up the actual damage and compensate the people for some of their injuries,” Donziger told me. “That eventually got reduced on appeal in Ecuador to $9.5 billion, but it was affirmed by three appellate courts, including the highest court of Ecuador. It was affirmed by the Canadian Supreme Court, where the Ecuadorians went to enforce their judgment in a unanimous opinion in 2015.”

Chevron promptly sold its assets and left Ecuador. It refused to pay the fees to clean up its environmental damage. It invested an estimated $2 million to destroy Danziger. Chevron sued him, using a civil courts portion of the federal law famous for breaking the New York Mafia in the 1970s, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO Act. Chevron, which has more than $260 billion in assets, hired an estimated 2,000 lawyers from 60 law firms to carry out its campaign, according to court documents. But the oil giant, which did not want a jury to hear the case, dropped its demand for financial damages, which would have allowed Donziger to request a jury trial. This allowed Judge Kaplan to decide the RICO case against Donziger alone. He found credible a witness named Alberto Guerra, an Ecuadorian judge, relocated to the US by Chevron at a cost of some $2 million, who claimed the verdict in Ecuador was the product of a bribe. Kaplan used Guerra’s testimony as primary evidence for the racketeering charge, although Guerra, a former judge, later admitted to an international tribunal that he had falsified his testimony.

John Keker of San Francisco, one of Donziger’s lawyers on that case, said he was up against 160 lawyers for Chevron and during the trial he felt “like a goat tethered to a stake.” He called the court proceedings under Kaplan “a Dickensian farce” and a “show trial.”

In the end, Kaplan ruled that the judgment in the Ecuadorean court against Chevron was the result of fraud. He also ordered Donziger to turn over decades of all client communication to Chevron, in effect eradicating attorney-client privilege, a backbone of the Anglo-American legal system with roots dating to ancient Rome. Donziger appealed what was, according to legal experts following the case, an unprecedented and illegal order. While Donziger’s appeal was pending, Kaplan charged him with misdemeanor criminal contempt for this principled stance — carrying a maximum sentence of six months — as well as his refusal to turn over his passport, his personal electronics and to refrain from seeking the collection of the original award against Chevron. When the U.S. attorney’s office declined for five years to prosecute his criminal contempt charges against the environmental lawyer, Kaplan, using an exceedingly rare judicial maneuver, appointed the private law firm of Seward & Kissel, to act in the name of the government to prosecute Donziger. Neither the judge nor the law firm disclosed that Chevron has been a client of Seward & Kissel.

Kaplan also violated the established random case assignment protocol to personally assign Preska, who had served on an advisory board of the Federalist Society, a group to which Chevron has been a lavish donor, to hear the case. Kaplan had Preska demand Donziger post an $800,000 bond on the misdemeanor charge. Preska placed him under house arrest and confiscated his passport, which he has used to meet with attorneys around the world attempting to enforce the judgment against Chevron. Kaplan managed to have Donziger disbarred. He allowed Chevron to freeze Donziger’s bank accounts, slapped Donziger with millions in fines without allowing him a jury, forced him to wear an ankle monitor 24 hours a day and effectively shut down his ability to earn a living. Kaplan allowed Chevron to impose a lien on Donziger’s apartment in Manhattan where he lives with his wife and teenage son.

None of this would surprise those targeted by the tyrannies of the past. What would be surprising, perhaps, to many Americans is how advanced our own corporate tyranny has become. Donziger never stood a chance. Neither does Julian Assange. These judges are not, in the end, focused on Donziger or Assange, but on us. The show trials they preside over are meant to be transparently biased. They are designed to send a message. All who defy corporate power and the national security state will be lynched. There will be no reprieve because there is no justice.

Water as Weapon of War: Activists Say Israel is Drying Out the West Bank to Drive Out Palestinians

October 06th, 2021

By Jessica Buxbaum

Source

MASAFER YATTA, OCCUPIED WEST BANK — Last weekend, around 600 Israeli, Palestinian and international activists marched across Masafer Yatta in the Occupied West Bank to deliver a water tanker to Palestinian villagers. Their message was clear: Water is a human right, and Israel is depriving Palestine of this basic necessity.

Amid a sea of rippling Palestinian flags, demonstrators walked alongside a tractor transporting the water tanker from the village of At-Tuwani. The protesters did not reach their intended destination. Instead, they turned back at the village of Mfakara in order to avoid a confrontation with the Israeli Army waiting for them atop a nearby hill.

Demonstrators attempt to deliver a water tank from the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani.

“Water is a right for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white or Jewish or Arab,” ​​Adam Rabee — an activist with Combatants for Peace (CFP), one of the march’s organizers — told MintPress News.

On Monday, CFP, along with other human rights organizations, submitted an urgent appeal to international bodies, demanding they “pressure Israel to allow access to water to Palestinians living in Area C,” the Occupied West Bank area that includes Masafer Yatta.

CFP started the water accessibility campaign for Palestine in August. In September, they led a field visit to Masafer Yatta for 20 diplomats from the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Switzerland. During the tour, CFP raised awareness of Palestine’s water crisis and urged the representatives to engage in dialogue with Israel toward providing Palestinians with full access to water.

“[The diplomats] saw families and children without water,” Rabee said of the visit. “My feeling is that they want to help and we have support.”

Soldiers aiding settlers in water attacks

Saturday’s protest was calm and without clashes, but the event was underscored by earlier violence.

Tuesday of that week, at least 60 masked Israeli settlers raided Mfakara — throwing stones, turning over cars, cutting water pipes and slitting the throats of sheep. Five children were injured during the attack, including a four-year-old boy who was sent to the hospital after being pelted in the head with rocks. Israeli soldiers watched from the sidelines — during what activists are describing as a “pogrom”– intervening only to fire tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets at Palestinians.

Earlier in September, a CFP protest to deliver water to Palestinian communities was met with violence from Israeli soldiers. Six Israelis and two Palestinans were injured — including Rabee, who was hit in the stomach with a tear-gas canister.

Protesters held blown-up images of the recent violence as they marched last weekend. In Mfakara, the ground was strewn with shards of glass. Several of the villagers’ cars were dented and the windshields shattered.

The windshield of a Palestinian villager’s car was shattered when Israeli settlers and soldiers attacked the village of Mfakara.

Noma Hamamdah, a Palestinian shepherd living in Mfakara, picked up a tear gas canister off the ground outside his home. He said this was one of 20 launched at the community by the army on Tuesday. He lifted his pants’ leg to reveal where he was hit with a rubber bullet. His daughter-in-law, Sabreen Hamamdah, said the army fired tear gas into their homes and settlers slashed the tires of their water tanker during the raid.

Noma Hamamdah with his son.

“Since last Tuesday we didn’t get water until today,” Noma said, referring to the delivery of the new tanker from activists. “The army aids the settlers and it’s because of the army the settlers have the ability to attack us and destroy our water tanks.” Eight windows in the family’s home were broken, Noma said. He pointed to a bullet hole in the wall of his house where Israeli soldiers fired when trying to disperse settlers. “We’ve been told [President Joe] Biden is a man of peace and he loves peace, but we’ve never heard him mention the Palestinians even once,” Noma continued. “And if the Havat Maon illegal settlement leaves us alone, then there will be peace in this area.”

Noma Hamamdah standing next to his water cistern, in which he stores the water.

Havat Maon is a notoriously violent, illegal settlement outpost adjacent to the Palestinians villages in Masafer Yatta. All of Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law but legal under Israeli law. Outposts, constructed without Israeli authority, are defined as illegal by both international and Israeli law.

Living without water

On days without water, Mfkara operates much like a commune. “We usually borrow from each other and when the water comes, we redivide the water,” Noma said.

Sabreen described how household chores like washing dishes, doing laundry and bathing the children are put off until water is replenished. “I have to put everything on hold until there is water,” she told MintPress. “I can’t do anything until the water comes back.”

Noma Hamamdah’s daughter-in-law, Sabreen.

Sabreen receives 20 liters of water (about 5 gallons) costing 500 shekels ($155) from At-Tuwani, or she sources water from a nearby aquifer. That same amount of water costs nearby Israeli settlers about 100 shekels or $30. Water is stored in a cistern serving 10 people for domestic, agricultural and livestock use and may last between two to four days.

The average American uses between 80-100 gallons of water per day for indoor use. This number doesn’t account for outdoor water use, which, for herding communities like Masafer Yatta, is a significant portion of their water consumption. According to the Palestinian Hydrology Group (PHG), Palestinians in the West Bank consume about 18 gallons of water per day. This is below the World Health Organization recommendation of 26-31 gallons of water daily to maintain a basic standard of living. By comparison, Israelis use about 80 gallons of water per day and Israeli settlers may use up to 210 gallons daily.

The history of water apartheid

When Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 war, it took control of the areas’ water resources. The state established pumping quotas and banned construction of new wells in the occupied territories.

Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, was put in charge of the Occupied Palestinian Territories’ (oPT) water in 1982. By 1986, pumping quotas were reduced by 10 percent for Palestinian wells — fostering greater water insecurity.

The 1995 Oslo II Accord was portrayed as a turning point for water independence in Palestine. The Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) and Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee were created but Israel retained control of the flow and volume of water given to the oPT. Despite the name, the PWC doesn’t oversee water resources. Instead its role is to distribute the limited water supply Israel provides.

The agreement was supposed to last only five years but remains in effect today. Under the initiative, 80 percent of the West Bank’s water is for Israeli use and 20 percent is for Palestinian use. Israelis also enjoy an unlimited supply of water while Palestinians have their supply restricted.

What was billed as a cooperative venture between Palestine and Israel is merely the occupation of water in disguise.

“There are no official meetings between the Palestinans and the Israelis because the Israelis don’t consider us as a counterpart,” Dr. Abdelrahman Al Tamimi, PHG’s director, said.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) nonetheless told MintPress that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for providing water to the West Bank and touted collaboration between Palestine and Israel.

“Master programs are being promoted in the area of Judea and Samaria [West Bank], which will address the water supply until the years 2040-2050, to all populations in the area. We will note that these programs are being coordinated with the Palestinian Water Authority and [have] even been shifted in light of its requests,” a COGAT spokesperson said.

“The only solution for lack of water is water”

Dr. Al Tamimi outlined the three main reasons for water scarcity in the oPT — all originating from Israel’s occupation.

First, Israel has not increased the West Bank’s water quota to meet the demands of its rapidly growing population, which is now nearly double what it was in 1995. Al Tamimi explained Israel only increased the commercial consumption (about 10-12 percent of the demand) to around 160 million gallons.

Al Tamimi added that the Oslo II Accord doesn’t allow for Palestinians to do groundwater drilling — eliminating this as a possible water resource. And finally, owing to Israeli military control of Area C of the West Bank, Palestinians are often blocked from developing wells and springs in the region.

Al Tamimi explained these three main factors have intensified the water crisis, specifically in remote Palestinian communities, noting “Some villages in the south of Hebron or north of Jenin receive water twice a month or once a week.”

Water access varies by region in the West Bank. Urban and developed areas have running water while villages Israel prevents from connecting to a water grid rely mostly on costly trucks delivering water that is then stored in black and white tanks on people’s roofs.

“When water is moved from place to place, it’s vulnerable to pollution,” Al Tamimi said. “Because you cannot guarantee the cleanliness of the truck, how they pumped water from the well to the truck and how they empty the trucks. Water is vulnerable to be polluted by air, by bacteria and by other things.”

“The problem is there is no monitoring and there is no authority controlling the quality of water in Area C,” he added.

Palestinians also have to pay a relatively high price for potentially unsafe water. Tanker prices increase when transported on rough terrain — another infrastructural problem, caused by Israel forbidding these communities to pave their roads.

“According to international standards, the average cost of the water bill should not be more than 1 percent of that family’s income. But in some Palestinian villages, they pay more than 10 or 12 percent of their income just to purchase the water,” Al Tamimi said. “The only solution for lack of water is water. There are no other alternatives.”

Access to water in Area C is exacerbated by Israel’s systematic policy of demolishing and confiscating water equipment and resources. Italian NGO WeWorld reported nearly 10 percent of the buildings demolished by Israeli forces in 2020 were water, sanitation and hygiene structures.

CFP’s statement said:

The Military Commander of the West Bank justifies these practices by saying that the Palestinian communities in Area C did not receive building permits; however, the Israeli government’s own policy does not allow Palestinians to obtain building permits in this area. At the same time, all the Israeli outposts and settlers who live in buildings without legal permits are allowed to connect to the water grid.

Activists from the Israeli organization Combatants for Peace hold a banner demanding water for all.

For CFP’s Rabee, water deprivation in Area C highlights the severe discrimination Israel perpetuates. “The Palestinian man can only get water three days a week. And then this illegal outpost next to it has running water,” Rabee said. “So it’s just a very stark example of apartheid.”

CIA Plot to Murder Assange Is Open Season on Independent Journalism

September 30, 2021

By Finian Cunningham

Source

If Assange is not freed then the war on truth is going to explode. All independent journalism and basic human rights are under threat.

A report that the CIA was plotting to murder or kidnap Julian Assange is credible and it should not be in the least bit surprising that the agency sometimes known as Murder Inc would stoop to such criminality.

The CIA has for decades since its formation in 1947 involved itself in assassinating foreign political leaders and is implicated in the 1963 killing of its own President John F Kennedy in what amounted to be a coup d’état in the United States. The agency has operated as a rogue shadow government, an unelected permanent bureaucracy or deep state, that is above the law.

However, what is disturbing about the revelations from the Yahoo News investigation based on interviews with 30 former U.S. national security officials is that the “extreme measures” were being touted against an internationally renowned journalist and publisher. It was around 2017 during the Trump administration when Assange was being sheltered in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He fled there after breaching bail in 2012 to escape fabricated extradition to Sweden on behalf of the United States.

President Donald Trump reportedly asked personally about the assassination option (a claim which he has since denied). The then CIA director Mike Pompeo and his deputy Gina Haspel were reportedly more unequivocal about using extreme methods. They both wanted vengeance against Assange over Wikileaks’ publishing of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures about CIA global hacking techniques known as Vault 7. Those disclosures caused immense embarrassment for U.S. intelligence especially in light of hoary American allegations of Russian and Chinese cyberattacks.

Pompeo went on to become Secretary of State until Trump left the White House in January this year. Haspel was elevated to become CIA director by Trump in 2018, a position she still maintains under President Joe Biden. She gained notoriety for overseeing torture and rendition programs while a CIA station chief in Thailand during the GW Bush administration.

It is a shocking revelation that the extrajudicial murder of a renowned journalist supposedly protected by international laws of asylum and Vienna Conventions respecting consular inviolability could be so breezily discussed by senior CIA figures and top U.S. government officials.

The conceptual trickery giving a pseudo-legal cover to the heinous plot was the U.S. intelligence designation of Assange as a collaborator of a foreign enemy state – Russia. After the 2016 presidential elections, it was asserted that Russian military intelligence had hacked the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and supplied troves of emails to Wikileaks that were damning of Hillary Clinton’s corruption. The damage to Democratic candidate Clinton cost her the presidential election allowing Donald Trump to pull off a remarkable victory against the odds.

Julian Assange categorically stated that his source for the Clinton emails was not the Russian intel services. It is believed that the source was a disgruntled DNC insider who leaked the information to Wikileaks.

But the designation of Assange as a foreign enemy gave the CIA a legalistic license to use offensive counterintelligence techniques that do not require oversight by the president or congress. In short, the agency gave itself a license to kill Assange based on the spurious designation that he was colluding with a foreign adversary – Russia.

This got to the point where the CIA reportedly believed that Russia was going to exfiltrate Assange from London under diplomatic secrecy. The Americans drew up plans to have a shoot-out with Russian agents in London to thwart them, or even blow out the tires of a Russian jet trying to take off with Assange onboard.

The Kremlin has not responded to these reported claims. The hunch is that those racy details are a red-herring in an otherwise credible account of what the CIA was planning to do with Assange. The Russian intrigue facet is simply being used to lend credence to the false premise that Assange was working with the Russians and that the Kremlin hacked the DNC computers with the objective of influencing the 2016 election in favor of Trump over Clinton. Moscow has consistently denied that it interfered in the election or subsequent ones.

The purported scenario of a CIA shoot-out with Russian intelligence on the streets of London is a distraction from the heart of the story which is that the U.S. government and its rogue agency were ready and willing to murder an innocent civilian. Because the journalistic integrity of this civilian – Australian national Julian Assange – led him to publish damning revelations about Washington’s systematic war crimes and crimes of mass surveillance against its own citizens.

Acts of state terrorism by the CIA have always been carried out under cover or with plausible deniability. But in the case of Julian Assange Murder Inc was discussing “termination with extreme prejudice” (the euphemism for murder) as if it were ordering in coffee and donuts.

In the end, for whatever reason, the CIA did not go through with its assassination plot against Assange. But it got the next option: extraordinary rendition. The raiding of the Ecuadorian embassy in April 2019 by British police to snatch Assange was rendition under the guise of British justice. Assange has been in solitary confinement for two and a half years in a British maximum security prison reserved for psychopaths and dangerous terrorist offenders, awaiting an extradition appeal by the United States. In that event, Assange will die inside a U.S. prison. So, while Washington’s powers-that-be didn’t get to murder Assange outside prison, they have succeeded in rendering him to a black site.

That is where we are now at. Journalists telling the truth are openly targeted for murder or burial under concrete as a prisoner of the state.

The public case is clearer than ever after the latest revelations of the CIA plotting to murder or kidnap Assange. He must be freed from such blatant, premeditated persecution. If Assange is not freed then the war on truth is going to explode. All independent journalism and basic human rights are under threat.

Lab-Leak, Gain-Of-Function, and the Media Myths Swirling Around the Wuhan Institute of Virology

September 29th, 2021

By Joshua Cho

Source

The neverending accusations and assumptions that Chinese scientists are lying, without evidence, are rooted in Orientalist tropes of the “dishonest Chinese” based on centuries of Western propaganda, which is why some equate lack of evidence for a lab leak with evidence of a coverup.

UHAN, CHINA —In recent months, “gain-of-function” (GoF) research has been a topic of great controversy, the subject of intense and ongoing public disputes. With the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic under a powerful microscope, documents recently obtained through leaks or Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation have purported to show that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) was engaged in dangerous GoF research. Many people appear, however, to be confused about what the term “gain of function” means and have been driven into mass panic over ordinary scientific research dealing with pandemic preparedness.

I previously investigated for MintPress News popular claims about the WIV, the Chinese research facility at the center of most of the lab-leak speculations, regarding its allegedly subpar safety standards. While these allegations have been uncritically accepted as true by both those who reject and those who subscribe to the hypothesis that Covid-19 originated in a laboratory, I found that there is little evidence for any of them.

Another of the most popular and explosive claims commonly accepted as fact is the charge that the WIV was doing controversial GoF research, lab work that is reasonably anticipated to make viruses more virulent and/or transmissible in people. In this article I will address more specifically the honesty and accuracy of those claims.

Did the NIH fund GoF research at the WIV?

In May, during a highly publicized confrontation between Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Anthony Fauci — director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the branches of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — Paul accused Fauci of being responsible “more than any other single living American” for the pandemic. Paul claimed:

To arrive at the truth, the U.S. government should admit that the Wuhan Virology Institute was experimenting to enhance the coronavirus’s ability to infect humans.

Juicing up super-viruses is not new. Scientists in the U.S. have long known how to mutate animal viruses to infect humans. For years, Dr. Ralph Baric, a virologist in the U.S., has been collaborating with Dr. Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Virology Institute, sharing his discoveries about how to create super-viruses. This gain-of-function research has been funded by the NIH.”

In response, Fauci denied that the NIH funds GoF research in Wuhan, and claimed that the NIH had funded the New York-based EcoHealth Alliance, which subcontracted part of its grant to the WIV, in order to better understand potential epidemic viruses and how to prepare for them:

Senator Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely and completely incorrect… [T]he NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology…

The SARS-CoV-1 originated in bats in China. It would have been irresponsible of us if we did not investigate the bat viruses and the serology to see who might have been infected in China.”

From this exchange, it’s clear that Paul and Fauci have different understandings of what constitutes GoF research since they disagree on whether the heavily scrutinized 2015 study led by virologist Ralph Baric — in collaboration with the WIV’s eminent virologist Shi Zhengli — counts as GoF research. However, when one reads many reports by journalists covering the topic, it is clear that they also don’t have a clear idea of what GoF research is.

For instance, when Newsweek’s Fred Guterl fact-checked the Paul/Fauci dispute, he not only reported the allegation that the WIV was conducting GoF research as a fact, he went further and claimed that scientists around the world do the same by collecting viruses and making them more dangerous with GoF research:

Scientists in laboratories all over the world have for the past decade been collecting dangerous viruses and making them even more dangerous by performing “gain-of-function” experiments on them — manipulating the viruses to make them more infectious or deadly or both…

The Wuhan Institute of Virology, under the direction of Dr. Shi Zengli, was clearly doing GOF experiments before the pandemic arose. But GOF work is now commonplace. The real scandal is not that the Wuhan Institute was doing GOF work, it’s that everyone does it. That, and not the Wuhan lab origin theory, is what we should all be arguing about.

Everyone involved with the WIV denies GoF research allegations

To be clear, it’s undeniable that some U.S. funding went to the WIV. What is disputed is whether the research the WIV conducted with that money constitutes GoF research. However, it is crucial to note that all parties involved reject the accusation that the NIH funded GoF research, and scientists who have worked at the WIV also claim not to have performed or seen any GoF research there.

Corroborating Fauci’s claim that the NIH “has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Francis Collins, director of the NIH, released a statement in support:

…[N]either NIH nor NIAID have ever approved any grant that would have supported “gain-of-function” research on coronaviruses that would have increased their transmissibility or lethality for humans.

In email exchanges, Robert Kessler, a spokesman for the EcoHealth Alliance, told The Washington Post, “The NIH has not funded gain-of-function work… EcoHealth Alliance was funded by the NIH to conduct study of coronavirus diversity in China. From that award, we subcontracted work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology to help with sampling and lab capacity.” Kessler added that “much of that work [described in the grant] wasn’t done because the grant was suspended. But GoF was never the goal here.” As he put it, “gain of function research is the specific process of altering human viruses in order to increase their ability (the titular gain of function) either to spread amongst populations, to infect people, or to cause more severe illness.”

Dr. Shi Zhengli also denied that her laboratory conducted GoF research in an interview with The New York Times.

Dr. Shi, in an emailed response to questions, argued that her experiments differed from gain-of-function work because she did not set out to make a virus more dangerous, but to understand how it might jump across species.

“My lab has never conducted or cooperated in conducting GOF experiments that enhance the virulence of viruses,” she said.

Dr. Shi’s testimony is corroborated by Australian virologist Danielle Anderson, who worked at the WIV’s BSL-4 laboratory (the subject of many irrelevant speculations as the “source” of the pandemic) until November 2019. For Bloomberg, she testified that she never saw any evidence of GoF research being conducted there — while acknowledging that she wasn’t aware of what everyone was researching, owing to the WIV’s size — and supports further investigation into the WIV to rule out the lab-leak theory:

The Wuhan Institute of Virology is large enough that Anderson said she didn’t know what everyone was working on at the end of 2019. She is aware of published research from the lab that involved testing viral components for their propensity to infect human cells. Anderson is convinced no virus was made intentionally to infect people and deliberately released — one of the more disturbing theories to have emerged about the pandemic’s origins.

Anderson did concede that it would be theoretically possible for a scientist in the lab to be working on a gain of function technique, to unknowingly infect themselves, and to then unintentionally infect others in the community. But there’s no evidence that occurred and Anderson rated its likelihood as exceedingly slim.

It is quite striking that all of the parties directly or indirectly involved with the WIV have denied the allegations that the WIV was conducting GoF research, whether it was funded by the NIH or not. These statements should be given more credibility than hearsay or accusatory speculations from those not involved with the WIV, but one common tactic among lab-leak conspiracy theorists is to simply accuse those involved of “lying,” also without any evidence.

Unconfirmed allegations and sloppy reporting on GoF research

It’s not surprising that many people now seem to think they know what GoF research is, and believe that the WIV was performing GoF research, because sloppy reports earlier in the pandemic presented GoF in ill-defined ways, and reported the claims as if they were true.

Journalist Sam Husseini’s report for Salon characterized GoF research as work that “actually seeks to make deadly pathogens deadlier, in some cases making pathogens airborne that previously were not.” Husseini reported that the U.S. government issued a moratorium on GoF research in 2014 for “certain organisms” before lifting it in late 2017, though he stated that “exceptions for funding were made for dangerous gain-of-function lab work.” Husseini falsely claimed that the 2015 study cited by Rand Paul – a collaboration between the University of North Carolina, Harvard and the WIV — was among the exemptions to this “dangerous gain-of-function lab work” ban, when in fact it was not found to be GoF work at all.

An earlier alarmist Newsweek report, “The Controversial Experiments and Wuhan Lab Suspected of Starting the Coronavirus Pandemic,” also reported as fact that the WIV was engaged in GoF research:

… Wuhan Institute of Virology scientists have for the past five years been engaged in so-called “gain of function” (GoF) research, which is designed to enhance certain properties of viruses for the purpose of anticipating future pandemics. Gain-of-function techniques have been used to turn viruses into human pathogens capable of causing a global pandemic…

Some of this research involves taking deadly viruses and enhancing their ability to spread quickly through a population — research that took place over the objections of hundreds of scientists, who have warned for years of the program’s potential to cause a pandemic.

The Post published a report mischaracterizing both the WIV and the 2015 Baric study, while also reporting the claim that the WIV was engaged in GoF research as fact:

More controversial was the Wuhan institute’s 2015 research into creating a chimera, the hybrid virus that combined elements from two bat-borne coronaviruses, including one that causes SARS. The mutated virus that resulted was more easily able to infect human cells, making it more useful for lab experiments. Such “gain of function” experiments — which enhance a pathogen’s natural traits — have been a source of controversy in the West because of the potential for harm if an altered strain escapes the confinement of the lab, experts say.

Explaining relevant GoF terminology

Before attempting to explain GoF research and the Baric/Shi experiments, it is necessary to briefly explain some technical scientific terminology. In numerous reports on this topic, terms like “pathogenic,” “virulent,” “infectivity” and “transmissibility” are frequently misused to create the impression that the WIV was engaged in the controversial kind of GoF research.

Viruses are bits of genetic material and associated proteins that essentially do nothing but replicate themselves by hijacking a host cell to use its cell reproduction workshop to make copies of themselves. “Infectivity” refers to a virus’s ability to infiltrate a host cell and replicate once it does. However, just because cells can be infected doesn’t necessarily mean the host will suffer, as some viruses can infect cells without apparent harm to the host. Thus, some people infected with the virus SARS-CoV-2 are asymptomatic carriers who otherwise appear healthy, with little to no symptoms of the disease Covid-19.

A virus is either pathogenic or not, since “pathogenicity” refers to whether a virus is able to cause disease, whereas ”virulence” refers to the degree of disease caused to the host by the virus —  such that lethal viruses like Ebola are very virulent while common colds are less virulent. However, it is important to stress that many people use the terms “pathogenicity” and “virulence” interchangeably.

“Transmissibility” refers to the virus’s ability to pass from one person to another, and it is possible for a virus to be highly infective without also being highly transmissible, as there are viruses that can infect a member of another species without being able to transmit easily between members of that species. An example would be viruses that have limited human-to-human transmission, where outbreaks are primarily triggered by infections from animals but die out soon after infecting a few people, like MERS.

Changing definitions of GoF research over time

Plenty of scientists have already explained that “GoF” research can be a broad and vague term. Regarding GoF research, the Times reported:

“It’s a horribly imprecise term,” said Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Many gain-of-function experiments could never pose an existential threat; instead, they have provided huge benefits to humanity. In 1937, researchers found that when they passed the yellow fever virus through chicken cells, it lost the ability to cause disease in humans — a discovery that led to a vaccine for yellow fever. Likewise, herpes viruses have been engineered to gain a new function of their own: attacking cancer cells. They’re now an approved treatment for melanoma.

When Poynter reported on the spectacle between Rand Paul and Anthony Fauci in May, it cited biologist Alina Chan, one of the most prominent boosters of the lab-leak hypothesis, to make several important clarifications. She clarified that the lab-leak theory is “distinct from the hypothesis that gain-of-function research created the new coronavirus,” and that the lab-leak theory can be “as simple as a researcher being infected by an animal or even another infected person in remote areas, and then bringing it into one of the most densely populated cities on Earth.” She also explained that the definition of GoF changed over time, with the original definition including “any selection process involving an alteration of genotypes and their resulting phenotypes,” which is why subsequent definitions were narrowed to target obviously dangerous experiments that enhance the transmissibility and virulence of “potential pandemic pathogens,” as the broader definition “covers a ton of research that doesn’t even come close to risky pathogen research.”

The Post’s fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, is one of the few journalists who came closest to defining what GoF research is, according to the official 2017 definition under the P3CO framework (issued after years of deliberation on the risks and benefits of GoF research), which is research that is reasonably anticipated to enhance the virulence/pathogenicity or transmissibility of viruses in humans. In Kessler’s words:

“Gain of function” is one of those insider-y terms that are subject to different definitions… In many ways, it is basic biological research. It’s done all the time with flies, worms, mice and cells in petri dishes. Scientists create novel genotypes (such as arrangements of nucleic acids) and screen or select to find those with a given phenotype (such as trait or ability) to find new sequences with a particular function.

But it’s one thing to experiment with fruit flies and another thing when the research involves genotypes of potential pandemic pathogens and functions related to transmissibility or virulence in humans. That’s when “gain of function” becomes controversial.

Deflating ‘Gain-of-Function’ fearmongering

The popularized notion of all GoF research being “dangerous” stems from scientific illiteracy regarding how uncontroversial it is to do many experiments. The original definition was so broad that it covered many genetic modifications that pose no threat. This is why the NIH used a more narrow definition to capture only experiments with potential harm in its 2014 moratorium, and why entire panels were created to review whether an individual experiment qualifies as GoF. Some experts have proposed different names to distinguish between the potentially dangerous and safe kinds of GoF research because some of the studies affected by the 2014 moratorium on GoF research had no risk of setting off a pandemic.

However, many fearmongering reports on GoF research ignore the fact that many GoF experiments (including many of the most feared experiments alleged to be GoF) “often also lead to loss of function.” For instance, Husseini’s report erroneously described virologist Ron Fouchier’s experiments passaging the H5N1 virus through ferrets to make it more transmissible, as having made it “more virulent,” when the opposite was true. When one actually reads the study, although the H5N1 virus became airborne transmissible when it previously wasn’t, it also became less lethal, and therefore less virulent, which is why “[n]one of the recipient ferrets died after airborne infection with the mutant A/H5N1 viruses.” However, these crucial details are omitted from Husseini’s report.

Microbiologist Stanley Perlman at the University of Iowa explained to me that, under the broader definition of GoF research, certain aspects of the WIV’s research could appropriately be characterized as “GoF” even if scientists there weren’t trying to make viruses more virulent or transmissible. But he clarified that it is “nothing in the worrisome category” because “making a virus better able to infect mice while losing the ability to infect human cells is a gain of function of sorts.”

NIH grant was funding basic research, not GoF research

One of the most frequently cited bits of “evidence” for whether the WIV was engaged in GoF research are sections from grants for the fiscal years 2018 and 2019 referenced by the disgraced science writer Nicholas Wade, found in his influential Medium blog post, which was later reprinted by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

Test predictions of CoV interspecies transmission. Predictive models of host range (i.e., emergence potential) will be tested experimentally using reverse genetics, pseudovirus and receptor binding assays, and virus infection experiments across a range of cell cultures from different species and humanized mice.

We will use S protein sequence data, infectious clone technology, in vitro and in vivo infection experiments and analysis of receptor binding to test the hypothesis that % divergence thresholds in S protein sequences predict spillover potential.

According to Wade’s fearmongering presentation of these selective quotes:

What this means, in non-technical language, is that Shi set out to create novel coronaviruses with the highest possible infectivity for human cells.

It is admittedly difficult for nonscientists to interpret what these grants mean, so I reached out to experts like virologists James Duehr at the University of Pittsburgh and Stephen Goldstein at the University of Utah to help interpret their language.

Dr. Duehr explained why Wade’s characterization of Dr. Shi’s work as trying to create the “highest possible infectivity for human cells” is ridiculous, and stated that it’s more accurate to say Dr. Shi was trying to test when an animal virus’s spike protein (“S protein sequence”) becomes sufficiently compatible with human ACE2 receptors (“receptor binding,” the cellular doorway that allows SARS-CoV-2 to bind to host cells). He confirmed that “% divergence thresholds” as described in the grant are actually about trying to figure out what is the smallest % change (the “threshold”) needed at the genetic level for an animal virus to diverge into becoming a human virus capable of starting a pandemic. Claiming that Dr. Shi was trying to create coronaviruses with the “highest possible infectivity” is not only false, but also pointless because it doesn’t answer any relevant questions described in the grants designed to predict when an animal virus becomes capable of starting an epidemic in humans (“spillover potential”).

Most importantly, Duehr specified:

[Shi] wasn’t trying to make the viruses more infectious, she was just trying to figure out how infectious they already were. That’s why it isn’t “gain-of-function” research in my eyes.”

Dr. Goldstein clarified that the portions of the grants Wade cites are actually describing standard and classical methods of doing biology and virology. Goldstein stated that it’s “ridiculous” to say that Dr. Shi or Dr. Baric were trying to create “superviruses” because they were “trying to see if different coronaviruses are able to infect humans, not make them more infectious.”

This is why virologist Kristian Andersen pointed out that news outlets like Fox are confusing “Gain of Function Research” and “Basic Research.” He explained:

The bat research performed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology [of which] EcoHealth was a part, was basic research – and in fact, was instrumental in our ability to respond quickly when SARS-CoV-2 emerged.”

This is also why microbiologist Robert Garry stated that attempting to shut down basic research by confusing potentially dangerous GoF research with basic virology, where scientists “swap bits and pieces of viruses,” could backfire by endangering the world’s ability to study viruses that could be harmful to humans.

Why Rand Paul is wrong

With regard to the 2015 Baric experiments, in which chimeric viruses were created, both Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Perlman agreed with Dr. Baric’s statement denying that his study counts as GoF research, and confirmed that it is a misrepresentation to portray it as a nefarious attempt to create “superviruses,” as Rand Paul did in his confrontation with Fauci in May. Goldstein confirmed that it is “completely normal” for virologists to create chimeric viruses in a lab, and Perlman stated that the Baric experiments have no relevance to the Covid-19 pandemic because SARS-CoV-2 is not a chimeric virus.

Reading Dr. Baric’s study, one also discovers that the experiments were conducted in North Carolina, not China, with pseudoviruses that can’t cause pandemics, and that Dr. Shi had only provided the genetic sequence used in Dr. Baric’s experiments, as confirmed by an MIT Technology Review report.

Dr. Duehr explained that the Baric experiments also don’t count as GoF because taking bat virus spike proteins to facilitate the infection of human cells “isn’t increasing the infectivity of any virus, and indeed what they found is that it was very similar to the ability of the virus to infect the cell to begin with. None of their chimeras had increased ability to infect compared to the natural virus, which is why I wouldn’t characterize it as gain-of-function work.”

Although creating chimeric viruses may sound scary to some, Duehr, in a Reddit post for non-scientists, explained why virologists conduct this basic research:

If you want to show that a certain part of a virus is what allows it to infect a certain type of cells, you take that part, and you put it on a virus that, right now, can’t infect those cells.

Then, when you make the chimera, you try and infect the cells with it. If you’re successful, you’ve shown that the part you spliced in (the “spike” in this case) was sufficient for infection! And you can also go to the original virus, the one you stole the spike from, and trade its spike for the new one that couldn’t infect. And if, now, the old virus with the new spike can’t infect, then you’ve also shown the spike was “necessary.” Necessary and sufficient.

Along the way, you’ve demonstrated that part of the virus (the spike) would be a great target for a vaccine! And that drugs that inactivate this part of the virus could be very useful.

When one understands the science, it is clear why all the parties involved with the WIV deny that U.S. money was funding GoF research there, why WIV scientists claim they haven’t performed GoF research, and why there’s no evidence they’re “lying.”

It is also how we can confirm that Anthony Fauci is correct to say that Rand Paul is lying and doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he claimed that “all the evidence is pointing that it came from a lab,” when Paul falsely accused Fauci of lying about GoF during their second publicized confrontation in July.

Numerous scientists defended Fauci’s statements and explained that the 2017 paper Paul was citing in that confrontation does not count as GoF research because the viruses retained function: they were already capable of infecting human cells, and didn’t become any better at doing so afterwards.

GOF research on known viruses couldn’t create SARS-CoV-2

It should be deeply disturbing that much of the popularized evidence-free lab-leak speculations depended on the major premise that the WIV was engaged in GoF research, which is yet another set of evidence-free speculations. However, a much more potent argument is that GoF research couldn’t have created SARS-CoV-2 even if WIV scientists had tried.

There is a credulous belief among lab-leak theorists that GoF research can serve as some kind of deus ex machina to explain why their pet conspiracy theory can be true, but this is demonstrably false because such GoF experiments also have their limitations.

Novelist Nicholson Baker has published a lengthy speculation in New York Magazine arguing that SARS-CoV-2 was “designed,” and cites methods like “no-see’m” as ways for scientists to manipulate viruses without “any signs of human handiwork.” In contrast, prominent scientists like microbiologist Susan Weiss and virologist Linfa Wang have argued that they couldn’t create SARS-CoV-2, even if they tried.

Sam Husseini criticized virologists like Kristian Andersen for supposedly not considering “other lab methods” that could have created coronavirus mutations without leaving behind any laboratory signatures in an influential Nature study, which concluded that they “do not believe that any laboratory-based scenario is plausible” for the Covid-19 pandemic. Husseini argued, implying Dr. Andersen’s naivete, that “other forms of lab manipulation” besides bioengineering — such as “serial passage,” where one passages a virus through animals (rather than cell culture) to induce mutations — could have created SARS-CoV-2.

Husseini credulously cites biologist Richard Ebright’s claim:

Very easy to imagine the equivalent of the Fouchier’s “10 passages in ferrets” with H5N1 influenza virus but, in this case, with 10 passages in non-human primates with bat coronavirus RaTG13 or bat coronavirus KP876546.

Plenty of things, however, are “very easy to imagine” without being plausible, as scientists like Dr. Garry and Dr. Perlman have clarified that in order to construct SARS-CoV-2 with GoF experiments one would need a virus backbone that matches at least 99% of its genome, if not as high as 99.9%. This is why Dr. Goldstein told me that the odds of someone creating SARS-CoV-2 from RaTG13 (previously the closest known relative to SARS-CoV-2, with a 96% genome match, until Laotian and French scientists published a preprint this month, a study yet to be peer-reviewed, reportedly finding three bat viruses that are the closest relatives to SARS-CoV-2 in Laos) are “zero percent.”

review in a peer-reviewed journal by over twenty of the world’s eminent virologists argues that the 4% genetic distance between the SARS-CoV-2 and RaTG13 genomes (equivalent to approximately 1,150 mutations) reflects decades of evolutionary change, and that the discovery of other bat viruses — not collected by the WIV and sequenced after the pandemic began — which share a more recent common ancestor with SARS-CoV-2 than RaTG13, demonstrates “beyond reasonable doubt that RaTG13 is not the progenitor of SARS-CoV-2, with or without laboratory manipulation or experimental mutagenesis.”

Dr. Perlman also explained that passaging a virus through non-human primates or humanized mice to make a virus more virulent or transmissible to those species doesn’t necessarily mean it would be capable of infecting humans, as many animal viruses aren’t capable of infecting humans.

This demonstrates that those claiming that GoF research on viruses like RaTG13 is capable of creating SARS-CoV-2 are either misrepresenting the capabilities of GoF research or are simply unaware of its limitations.

The Intercept’s dodgy reporting on “gain-of-function” research

In light of all this information, it becomes obvious why The Intercept’s latest reporting detailing research by the WIV based on an NIH grant to the EcoHealth Alliance, obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation, is so misleading. I previously reported that The Intercept did not understand the significance of their own documents when they tried to misleadingly present them as “new” information that “raise[s] additional questions about the theory that the pandemic may have begun in a lab accident,” when it is actually evidence against a lab leak.

The grant confirmed what we have already known since the beginning of the pandemic: that the WIV was merely doing research on viruses related to SARS-CoV-1, not SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV-1 is even more genetically distant from SARS-CoV-2 than is RaTG13, sharing only ~80% of its genome, which means that SARS-CoV-1-like viruses are even further removed than the minimal 99% genetic similarity required for a virus to plausibly serve as the backbone for SARS-CoV-2 being created from GoF experimentation. This may be why The Intercept clarified in a later incoherent and contradictory report, “NIH Documents Provide New Evidence U.S. Funded Gain-of-Function Research in Wuhan,” that the experiments with transgenic mice, which it cites as “new evidence” that the WIV was conducting GoF research, “could not have directly sparked the pandemic:”

None of the viruses listed in the write-ups of the experiment are related to the virus that causes Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, closely enough to have evolved into it.

However, when one reads the report carefully, it is clear that the documents don’t in fact provide “new” evidence that the WIV was engaged in GoF research. The Intercept actually notes that the experiments being discussed were already reviewed twice by the NIH and deemed not to be GoF, and even cites their explanations. The NIH argued that WIV research published in 2017 showed that in cells in a laboratory, similar chimeric viruses reproduced less effectively than the original, making it more appropriate to describe it as “loss of function,” not a “gain of function.” Yet another reason the NIH gave was that although the differences in the rates of viral reproduction were particularly pronounced two and four days after the mice were infected with the virus, the amount of virus produced by the parent and chimeric strains “evened out” by the end of the experiment.

In other words, the NIH’s rationale is that experiments with chimeric viruses created with WIV1 as the parent virus (a virus that hasn’t been shown to cause disease in humans) between 2017 and 2018 resulted in either a loss of function or retained function by the experiments’ conclusion. The Intercept actually cites the EcoHealth Alliance’s argument that the NIH grant being renewed in 2019 — despite being informed twice about the WIV transgenic-mice experiment briefly passing the official virus growth benchmark, where scientists have to cease experiments and inform relevant authorities, before subsiding below it by the end of the experiment — is evidence the organization did nothing wrong procedurally. Both Dr. Perlman and Dr. Duehr agreed that the EcoHealth Alliance was “following the rules.” Virologist Angela Rasmussen at the University of Saskatchewan added: “There’s no evidence of malfeasance here; this is evidence that they were reporting the work they were doing to program, exactly as they are supposed to.”

The Intercept tried to argue that the NIH was wrong not to deem the experiments GoF, such evidence notwithstanding, by citing the majority opinion among 11 scientists they selected to opine on their documents, which considers the experiments to be GoF based on two main arguments:

Scientists working under a 2014 NIH grant to the EcoHealth Alliance to study bat coronaviruses combined the genetic material from a “parent” coronavirus known as WIV1 with other viruses. They twice submitted summaries of their work that showed that, when in the lungs of genetically engineered mice, three altered bat coronaviruses at times reproduced far more quickly than the original virus on which they were based. The altered viruses were also somewhat more pathogenic, with one causing the mice to lose significant weight. The researchers reported, “These results demonstrate varying pathogenicity of SARSr-CoVs with different spike proteins in humanized mice.” 

However, The Intercept’s journalists don’t demonstrate a clear understanding of the significance of the “reasonably anticipated” clause in official definitions of GoF — or the significance of the fact that human beings are different animal species from transgenic mice — when they cite seven out of 11 scientists claiming the transgenic mice experiments meet the NIH’s criteria for GoF research, without including how each scientist defined GoF research.

The biggest clue showing The Intercept’s journalists don’t understand either of these crucial concepts is when they cite the sole dissenting scientist, Dr. Rasmussen, arguing that the experiments don’t meet the NIH’s criteria for GoF research (three out of the 11 scientists stated they didn’t have enough knowledge about U.S. policies to determine whether the WIV experiments met the NIH’s criteria), without ever explaining why they believe she’s wrong. Dr. Rasmussen argued that the experiment “absolutely does not meet the bar” for GoF research because “[y]ou can’t predict that these viruses would be more pathogenic, or even pathogenic at all, in people,” and since WIV scientists “did not study transmissibility at all in these experiments.”

Examining Dr. Rasmussen’s logic, it’s clear that reasonable anticipation of the viruses studied becoming more virulent or transmissible in humans is an essential component of her definition of GoF research, as she rejects that these experiments constitute GoF because WIV scientists weren’t studying transmissibility, and could not anticipate whether these chimeric viruses would be pathogenic or more virulent in people. This precludes the intentionality required to make viruses “more pathogenic or transmissible” in The Intercept’s own stated GoF definition.

Dr. Perlman (who does a lot of research with humanized mice) confirmed that The Intercept’s report contained “essentially no new information” and stated that “everything depends on how one defines gain of function,” and that one could potentially receive different answers depending on “whom you ask.” He stated that if one defines GoF as making something more virulent or transmissible in mammals like mice, then it “would technically count as gain-of-function.” But Perlman ultimately agreed with Dr. Rasmussen and the NIH’s rationale for not deeming those experiments GoF, and stated that “it’s gain-of-function for mice, but not for people” because making viruses more virulent or transmissible in mice doesn’t necessarily mean they would be in humans, since humanized mice aren’t humans.

As did Rasmussen, Perlman questioned the relevance of whether the WIV’s transgenic mice experiments constituted GoF research, and stated that a virus becoming more virulent or transmissible “in humans” is an essential component of his GoF definition, and clearly also a part of the NIH’s definition cited by The Intercept. The NIH told The Intercept that they never approved “any research that would make a coronavirus more dangerous to humans,” and that the changes to the chimeric viruses “would not be anticipated to increase virulence or transmissibility in humans.”

Perlman also cited The Intercept’s inclusion of microbiologist Vincent Racanellio’s statement that “[y]ou can do some kinds of gain-of-function research that then has unforeseen consequences and may be a problem, but that’s not the case here,” as evidence that some of the seven scientists arguing that the transgenic mice experiments constitute GoF research may not consider making a virus more virulent or transmissible in humans an essential part of their GoF definition.

Yet The Intercept omits the critical distinction between humans and mice as different species in their definition of GoF as merely “intentionally making viruses more pathogenic or transmissible.” They try to make it seem as if differing definitions of GoF aren’t important when they cite Jacques van Helden, a professor of bioinformatics at Aix-Marseille Université, arguing that debate over defining GoF “has been too much focused on technical aspects,” when those “technical aspects” could determine everything.

Dr. Duehr agreed with the NIH and Dr. Rasmussen’s arguments because he also considers “reasonable anticipation” of the viruses becoming more virulent or transmissible “in humans” to be essential components of his GoF definition. However, he does not consider the transgenic-mice experiments to be GoF, even for mice, because he argued “the most important part” to consider is that WIV scientists “weren’t passaging the virus in mice,” and “only infected them once” to measure the chimeric viruses’ effects on mice, not to intentionally make them more virulent (p. 298). Duehr explained that in order for a virus to reliably gain a function for a species, one would need to passage a virus multiple times through different individual members of that species, like Fouchier’s ferret experiments, because “one round of replication does not adaptation make,” since there’s “variation among members of animal species.”

The Intercept’s flawed methodology

Out of the 11 scientists The Intercept claims to have contacted, only six of them are identified, and their report omits critical information such as how each scientist defines GoF. We don’t know, for instance, whether The Intercept asked these scientists whether those experiments could be reasonably anticipated to enhance virulence or transmissibility of those viruses for humans. If some or all of the seven scientists who argued that the WIV experiments constitute GoF for mice would reject that they constitute GoF for humans, then that dramatically changes how worried people should be about those experiments, and raises the question of why The Intercept would omit such necessary information.

Even if one concedes, for the sake of argument, that the WIV experiments are GoF in mice, The Intercept doesn’t explain what relevance that would have for humans. If animals like transgenic/humanized mice could serve as perfect predictors for how viruses and drugs would behave in humans, then there would be no need for human research after animal research.

There’s reason to suspect that The Intercept’s methodology of arguing that the NIH’s decision was wrong — based merely on tallying up the opinions of the scientists they contacted, without refuting Dr. Rasmussen and the NIH’s arguments — is unreliable. Their first bad-faith report on the grant asked only scientists who have been promoting the lab-leak theory, Richard Ebright and Alina Chan, to opine on their documents — hinting that the lab-leak theory is a predetermined narrative for the report’s authors Sharon Lerner and Mara Hvistendahl — and it’s possible that The Intercept is engaged in similarly biased source selection with this report too. Dr. Duehr stated that if reporters really want to argue that the NIH was wrong by merely tallying the opinion of scientists instead of making their own argument, then the proper approach would be to “ask an unbiased large sample of people with relevant expertise, not just people who already agree with you, or [a] few people.”

The fact that Intercept journalists credulously cite biologist Stuart Newman’s irrelevant statements like “making chimeric coronaviruses, mixing and matching RBDs [a part of the virus that allows it to attach to receptors] and spike proteins” being “exactly the scenario imagined” by lab-leak theorists is proof that they don’t understand basic information about SARS-CoV-2 not being a chimeric virus, with no signs of human manipulation, acknowledged even by lab-leak boosters like Richard Ebright.

Even RaTG13, which shares a 96% genome match with SARS-CoV-2, has over a thousand nucleotide differences spread throughout its genome like raisins in a pudding, not just in the receptor binding domain and spike protein sequences, which means scientists can’t just “mix and match” RBDs and spike proteins, like cutting and pasting paragraphs of an essay, to create SARS-CoV-2 with chimeric experiments. If Intercept journalists don’t even understand basic information about SARS-CoV-2’s genome, what reason is there to trust their judgment on which scientists to contact or believe?

When I reached out to Dr. Rasmussen for comment, she confirmed that The Intercept’s Sharon Lerner and Mara Hvistendahl were explicitly informed that their methodology of presenting people like Richard Ebright and Alina Chan as experts equivalent with actual virologists like herself, or experts on dual-use research, is flawed because they don’t have the relevant expertise to assess whether a study presents an undue risk. Rasmussen also confirmed that they were explicitly informed that it is a mistake to call the hACE2 transgenic mice used in the WIV experiment “humanized mice” in their report (even if the grant itself referred to them as “humanized mice”) because “[e]xpressing a single human gene” does not “render a mouse analogous to a human,” and that they had the critical distinction between the “fundamentally different physiology” of different animal species explained to them. This means that they were not merely ignorant, but deliberately omitted critical information by creating the misimpression to a general audience that mice are analogous to humans and insisting on erroneously using the term “humanized mice” throughout their report despite correction.

After examining their email correspondence, I confirmed that Dr. Rasmussen was asked only general questions like “Did the work described below fit NIH’s definition of GoF research at the time?” instead of more precise questions referencing specific NIH documents containing definitions for GoF. She also clarified that her understanding of GoF research being lab work that’s reasonably anticipated to enhance the virulence and/or transmissibility of viruses in humans is not an arbitrary or idiosyncratic one. She answered the question of whether the 2017-2018 transgenic mice experiments met the NIH’s criteria for GoF according to the 2017 P3CO framework that defines potential pandemic pathogens, which was drawn up by the NIH, and even referenced by The Intercept in their own article.

If other scientists contacted by The Intercept were asked similarly vague questions like Dr. Rasmussen, this left more room for scientists to answer whether the transgenic mice experiments qualify as GoF in open-ended ways. Rasmussen also stated that criticisms of the U.S. government’s oversight process are a “separate question” from how GoF is “defined currently by the U.S. government.”

None of the other five named scientists explain why the NIH and Dr. Rasmussen’s arguments related to reasonable anticipation or relevance to humans are wrong and thus there is no logically necessary reason for readers to conclude that the NIH and Dr. Rasmussen are wrong. Certainly not based on a mere tally of a small and apparently arbitrary selection of scientists by The Intercept, especially when they omit necessary context such as how each scientist defines GoF.

Leaked EcoHealth Alliance grant not evidence of GoF research in Wuhan

Many of the same points made above apply to the latest Intercept report on a grant proposal from the EcoHealth Alliance rejected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2018, which was leaked by DRASTIC, a group of internet activists pursuing the lab-leak theory. Assuming the documents are authentic, the grant proposed things like creating full-length infectious clones of SARS-CoV-1-like coronaviruses and inserting a “proteolytic cleavage site” into bat coronaviruses. One type of cleavage site was able to interact with furin, an enzyme expressed in human cells, and has drawn attention because SARS-CoV-2’s furin cleavage site has never been seen before among sarbecoviruses (the category of viruses to which SARS-CoV-2 belongs), which is why some lab-leak theorists suspect it doesn’t have natural origins.

However, The Intercept omits that furin cleavage sites are “commonplace in other coronavirus spike proteins,” such as MERS and other endemic human coronaviruses. Virologist Stuart Neil’s Twitter analysis on the leaked documents noted that although the EcoHealth Alliance proposed what could appropriately be called GoF research, the important thing to note is that the SARS-CoV-1-like coronaviruses are too genetically distant and “can’t possibly be the source” of SARS-CoV-2.

He also noted that the proposal (which was never funded), would have been carried out in the U.S., not China, since the WIV’s major role in the proposal was to sample and sequence viruses, not do any molecular virology, consistent with the division of labor in previous collaborations with Dr. Baric. This is why Dr. Goldstein told The Intercept that it’s “hard to assess any bearing” the documents have on pandemic origins. SARS-CoV-2 is also not a chimeric virus, and inserting a furin cleavage site into SARS-CoV-1-like coronaviruses that haven’t been shown to cause disease in humans wouldn’t be able to create SARS-CoV-2 anyways.

The Intercept notes that scientists have argued that there’s “no logical reason” why an engineered virus would utilize such a “suboptimal” furin cleavage site, which would just be “an unusual and needlessly complex feat of genetic engineering,” since scientists can just insert furin cleavage sites known to be more efficient, and as there was “no evidence of prior research at the WIV involving the artificial insertion of complete furin cleavage sites into coronaviruses.” However, it still implied that the WIV could have found other ways to “pay for the experiments” and do the work on their own, despite how unusual, or ethically out of character, that would be for someone like Dr. Shi Zhengli, who, according to Dr. Rasmussen, is “by all accounts [a] good collaborator.” Thus far, although the leaked documents may raise legitimate questions about transparency from the EcoHealth Alliance, there is no evidence the WIV was engaged in GoF research that is reasonably anticipated to enhance the virulence or transmissibility of pathogens in humans — only a lot of innuendo.

The ‘Lying Chinese’ redux

Ultimately, lab-leak conspiracy theorists resort to these ever-shifting appeals to possible explanations like “no-see’m” and “serial passage” (without arguing for a specific scenario), and reject the credibility of scientists, because there is no evidence for a lab leak or laboratory manipulation of SARS-CoV-2. Some even go so far as to speculate that Chinese scientists have been using U.S. grant money to conduct GoF research in secret, as when Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) questioned Anthony Fauci on whether “the Chinese” would “lie” to him, since the grants typically cited as “evidence” don’t prove that the WIV was doing GoF research.

GoF research is subject to intense government scrutiny and oversight and is hard to do under the radar. But even if it were true that the WIV was conducting GoF research, it has no relevance to the Covid-19 pandemic unless it can be shown that it possessed SARS-CoV-2, or an undisclosed virus that is genetically closer to it than is RaTG13, prior to the pandemic. GoF research on known viruses being unable to create SARS-CoV-2 may be why some accuse the WIV of possessing an undisclosed virus and hiding research on it from international scientists with whom they collaborate. However, Dr. Shi has denied that she conducted or collaborated on any GoF experiments on coronaviruses that weren’t published, and many scientists have also pointed out there’s “no evidence that the WIV sequenced a virus that is closer to SARS-CoV-2 than [is] RaTG13, and no reason to hide research on a SARS-CoV-2-like virus prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

These neverending accusations and assumptions that Chinese scientists are lying, without evidence, are rooted in Orientalist tropes of the “dishonest Chinese” based on centuries of Western Yellow Peril propaganda, which is why some equate lack of evidence for a lab leak with evidence of a “coverup.”

How the Pentagon Leaned on Hollywood to Sell the War in Afghanistan

September 28th, 2021

By Alan Macleod

Source

Visual search query image
In hundreds of films and TV shows, every single word and image has been closely scrutinized and signed off on by senior military figures, all in an effort to convince viewers into supporting deadly and grossly immoral campaigns around the world.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA — The (official) 20-year U.S. occupation of Afghanistan has come to a close, with the military beating a hasty and ignominious retreat. The puppet Afghan government NATO installed lasted fewer than two weeks on its own, with President Ashraf Ghani fleeing for the UAE, allegedly with around $169 million in cash.

If the occupation was so unpopular and weak, how was it able to last so long? The Afghanistan Papers  — a trove of military documents leaked to The Washington Post — showed that high-ranking government officials knew that the war was unwinnable but were openly lying to the public about how it was going, all while NGOs and military contractors made billions

But documents obtained by journalist Tom Secker under the Freedom of Information Act and shared with MintPress also show that Hollywood also played a significant role, knowingly collaborating with the Pentagon to produce pro-war propaganda about Afghanistan, ultimately helping to artificially buoy public opinion on the unwinnable campaign. This typically included giving the Pentagon direct editorial control over scripts and even removing any anti-war content or scenes that would show the military in a negative light. In exchange, the military offered its human resources, its bases as locations for filming, and its wide range of hi-tech vehicles to be used in movies. This quid pro quo effectively turned much of Hollywood, and the entertainment industry more generally, into cheerleaders for imperialism. 

The military-industrial-media complex

Reading through the documents, what becomes clear is the sheer scale of the military’s involvement in the silver screen, and in pop culture more generally. For instance, between 2015 and 2017, the U.S. Army’s Office of the Chief of Public Affairs West (OCPA-W) — based just outside of Hollywood, CA — was generally working on between 40 and 70 entertainment media projects at one time. The OCPA-W is one of three Army regional offices, the others being in Chicago and New York City. The Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, CIA and other government organizations all have similar agencies and programs aimed at manipulating their image in mass media. 

The OCPA-W’s weekly summary of its affairs for the week of December 22, 2016, for example, notes that it is involved in 63 working projects; 15 in pre-production, 26 in production and 22 in post-production. According to research by Secker  and Matthew Alford for their 2017 book “National Security Cinema,” the Department of Defense has supported at least 814 movies and 1,133 separate TV shows, the majority of those in recent years.

Afghanistan is generally far from American minds. This is by design: few at the top of American society want the public to be scrutinizing U.S. actions there. When the country is portrayed on American screens, the military works extremely hard to present the war in a way most conducive to its interests. Hollywood has been a willing collaborator in this. Below is a selection of case studies of movies about or featuring the war in Afghanistan and a discussion about how the U.S. military has had those movies sanitized before they ever met the public eye. 

12 Strong (2018)

“12 Strong” is a jingoistic action film based on a true story about a small unit of 12 U.S. Special Forces who invaded Afghanistan immediately after the September 11 attacks, thus being the first American boots on the ground of a two-decade campaign that cost the lives of an estimated 176,000 Afghans, displacing almost 6 million more. 

The film entails the elite group attempting to capture the city of Mazar-i-Sharif before NATO forces arrive. The team, so they say, is outnumbered by “50,000 Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces,” as if the two were close allies. This is despite the fact that the Taliban immediately condemned the 9/11 attacks and that Western estimates put al-Qaeda’s global forces at the time at below 100 members. “If we don’t take that city, the World Trade Center is just the beginning,” says one of the heroes of the film, whose tagline is “twelve soldiers gave us a reason to hope.”

Documents show that the military was eager to help with such a nationalistic film, and matched what they called the production company’s “breathtaking” list of asks, including access to a number of military bases in New Mexico for shooting; army uniforms for actors; “target” vehicles they could blow up; the hire of a number of aircraft, including Chinook and Seahawk helicopters; and appropriate Soviet tanks for the enemy to use. They also aided the company in finding military extras to appear in minor roles.

Despite the movie’s strongly pro-war message, the OCPA-W, Air Force, and other military organizations still insisted on going through the script with a fine-toothed comb, removing even minor details it did not like. This included demanding that writers changed their plans to present the 12 soldiers as rugged men with full beards and tattoos. An email from OCPA read: 

My other concern is that during the loadout sequences at Fort Campbell that occurred shortly after 9/11 our soldiers did not have full length beards and neck tattoos. That came later. I hope [REDACTED] guys are going to Shave for those sequences.

A few weeks later, the seemingly minor point had not been resolved. In a show of just how much control over creative direction the military had, the OCPA threatened to pull out of the movie, reminding the production company of the agreement they had signed up for: 

The production company agrees to cast actors, extras, doubles, and stunt personnel portraying military men and women who conform to individual Military Service regulations governing age, height / weight, uniform, grooming, appearance, and conduct standards. DoD reserves the right to suspend support in the event that disagreement regarding the military aspects of their portrayals cannot be resolved in negotiation between the production company and DoD within the seventy-two hour cure-period. The DoD Project Officer will provide written guidance specific to each Military Service being portrayed.

  1. U.S. Army.

(1) The depiction of Soldiers in the Continental United States prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks should be in accordance with U.S. Army Regulation 670-1, West and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia. Soldiers would meet height/weight standards, be clean shaven, with a well-groomed haircut and be wearing the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU). Load bearing equipment would be olive drab or the BDU pattern.

(2) The depiction of deployed Soldiers following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks would be in accordance with the tactical situation. Soldiers would still meet height/weight requirements (appear physically fit) with relaxed grooming standards for extended operations. The deployed Soldiers would be wearing the Desert Combat Dress Uniform (DCU) with olive drab or BDU pattern load bearing equipment.

The Department of Defense is well aware that the sort of assistance they offer (free equipment, filming locations, etc.) would be enormously expensive, if not impossible, to otherwise obtain. Therefore, they leverage their considerable influence into what amounts to control over every aspect of a movie or TV show they work on. This often even means jettisoning reality in favor of a relentlessly pro-war message.

Emails show that OCPA instructed the production company to change the minor criminal backstory of one of the 12 soldiers, despite the fact it was perfectly real. As one OCPA official wrote: 

I told him our two biggest issues were the background story of Cpt [REDACTED]

being any FNG [“Fucking New Guy,” a derogatory military term for recruits] when he was actually a Team Leader for two years and the comment about Sergeant [REDACTED] having a choice between Jail and the Army.

According to the book the bar fight incident did happen, [REDACTED] attorney

was able to plea deal it down to a misdemeanor with a probation period. He

did lose his job as a school teacher and he started to work construction. I [sic]

period of time later, he decided to join the US Army.

Production quickly agreed to the changes, a few weeks later sending a new script for the OCPA and Air Force’s approval. “Here is a revised draft of Horse Soldiers,” they replied. “We changed [REDACTED]’s backstory per your suggestion. Please let me know if this works for you. [PERSON’s NAME REDACTED], would you send this draft to the appropriate Air Force personnel and let me know whom to follow up with?” (Cross referencing the documents with the book it is based on makes it clear that the sergeant in question is Sam Diller, one of the main characters in both book and movie). 

None of the military’s demands appear to have caused much resistance from the company. Indeed, towards the end of filming, a senior member of the team even emailed the OCPA and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to offer his profound gratitude for their services: 

[The] Army and the entire team have been absolutely fantastic and helped us achieve an amazing air-to-air shoot this evening. They are the utmost professional highly trained crew. We know if it wasn’t for your great efforts to make this movie badass we would have never gotten such a team. We promise to make the Army proud, so THANK YOU!!!!!

Lone Survivor (2013)

“Lone Survivor” is the largely true story of a Navy SEAL team that was discovered and attacked by the Taliban while carrying out a special operation to assassinate the organization’s commander, Ahmad Shah. The SEALs suffered devastating losses, leaving only one man — Marcus Luttrell — to tell the story. 

The plot of the film revolves around the squad being discovered by local goat herders and their supposedly heart-wrenching decision on whether to kill the shepherds to cover their tracks, or let them go, the assumption being that the old man and two children in question would immediately alert the Taliban to their whereabouts. The group decided to let their captives go, which almost immediately turned out to be a deadly mistake. 

The story is based upon the book by Luttrell, who is now a Trump-loving media anchor on Glenn Beck’s conservative TV network “TheBlaze.” At times, Luttrell’s book reads like the manifesto of a white-nationalist mass-shooter, and is peppered throughout with his seething hatred of liberals. Luttrell is extremely regretful that he went along with the decision to let the Afghans go and did not stick to his gut feeling and insist they murder an old man and two children (all unarmed). “It was the stupidest, most southern-fried, lamebrained decision I ever made in my life,” he wrote. “I’d turned into a fucking liberal, a half-assed, no-logic nitwit, all heart, no brain.” By way of explanation, he said that it was his certainty that the liberal media would betray the troops and side with the Taliban that made him release them, telling his fellow SEALs at the time: 

Just so you all understand, their bodies will be found, the Taliban will use it to the max. They’ll get it in the papers, and the U.S. liberal media will attack us without mercy. We will almost certainly be charged with murder.

Apologizing for not carrying out what amounts to a war crime, he writes: 

That situation might look simple in Washington, where the human rights of terrorists are often given high priority. And I am certain liberal politicians would defend their position to the death. Because everyone knows liberals have never been wrong about anything. You can ask them. Anytime.

The book is a glorification of supposedly righteous violence against a subhuman opponent. As he explains: 

“In the global war on terror, we have rules, and our opponents use them against us. We try to be reasonable; they will stop at nothing. They will stoop to any form of base warfare: torture, beheading, mutilation. Attacks on innocent civilians, women and children, car bombs, suicide bombers, anything the hell they can think of. They’re right up there with the monsters of history.

The original script stayed close to Luttrell’s interpretation of events. Needless to say, however, the military demanded major rewrites. In the finished version, the Navy SEAL commander simply decides to let the goat herders go, with no arguments about whether to kill them and hide their bodies and certainly no long soliloquies about the treachery of the liberal media, as happens in the book.

The military often claims that they aid the film industry merely to ensure depictions of themselves are more accurate. Yet reading through 131 pages of declassified emails between them and production company, Film 44, it is clear that this is not the case. Indeed, Philip Strub, the Department of Defense’s chief Hollywood liaison, made this explicit, writing in a now-declassified email:

While maximizing historical authenticity is our mandate, we share responsibility for the reputations of the four SEALs and to their families’ memories of them.

What also becomes apparent after reading the documents is the level of intimacy between the movie industry and the military, and the latter’s fastidious attention to detail, poring over every single word of dialogue to ensure each frame is as pro-war as the film can get. Strub and his associates even insisted minor touches, like visible tattoos on the SEALs, be written out of the script. They also demanded the deletion of a scene in which Luttrell and another SEAL have a conversation about Power Bars, taunting each other, with Luttrell shouting “blow me, fag,” then loudly farting. This was presumably in an effort to ensure members of the Navy SEALs did not come across as uncouth as Lutrell does in his own book. 

“I just learned from Film 44 (Sarah and Braden) that they are ready to submit Pete’s latest rewrite to us. They say that they have used our notes as a kind of check-list, and addressed all of our concerns. You’ll be receiving the watermarked script via email very shortly,” Strub wrote in an email that suggests that every draft script needed to meet the military’s exacting standards. Strub is one of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry. The list of movies and TV shows for which he is (publicly) credited is staggering, surely more impressive than virtually any other director or producer in Hollywood. Yet his name is all but unknown to the public.

According to the documents, the military categorized their role in the movie into four parts: “script review and vetting,” “production department consulting,” talent training” and “on-set coaching.” In exchange for what amounts to total content control, the military provided “Lone Survivor’s” producers with the use of Kirtland Air Force Base in a rocky and sandy part of New Mexico that could easily pass for Afghanistan; the use of a multitude of expensive aircraft, including Black Hawk and Apache helicopters; and parachute jumpers and other general military personnel.

One reason for this continued involvement is obvious, and made explicit in the emails. “One of the criteria for DoD to support the movie is recruiting,” wrote an officer from U.S. Special Operations Command. 

What is particularly noteworthy about this movie is that its entire premise — that if the SEALs chose not to kill the goat herders they would be found out — is demonstrably incorrect. Interviews with locals (including the man who hid and protected Luttrell, ensuring he was the lone survivor) establish that everybody in the area knew the SEALs were there, thanks to the elite unit’s own incompetence when it came to stealth. An enormous American helicopter landing in a remote part of rural Afghanistan was enough to raise suspicions among locals. If that was not enough, the SEAL team failed to dispose of evidence of their landing. 

Unsurprisingly, Strub and his colleagues insisted this scene, which threatened to introduce a potential alternative reading of the movie — in which bungling Americans get caught, outmaneuvered, then slaughtered — was changed. This helped ensure the movie was as relentlessly pro-military as possible, despite the fact that it was telling the story of one of the deadliest U.S. military blunders of the entire war.

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

“Charlie Wilson’s War” tells the story of the eponymous Texas politician most famous for being the driving force behind Operation Cyclone — the CIA’s funding and training of the Afghan Mujahideen (an action that also turned the country into the world’s largest heroin producer).

The original script did not portray Wilson or his endeavors especially sympathetically, explicitly noting how he was supporting extremists like Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. One of these ultra-radicals was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a brutal warlord widely accused of starting the trend of throwing acid in women’s faces. Throughout the original script, 9/11 is presented as a foreseeable consequence of the U.S.’s decision to empower these violent fanatics. Indeed, the original end scene took place at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, with Wilson hearing the deafening screech of an airliner hitting the building.

However, all this — al-Qaeda, Hekmatyar, and the 9/11 scene — was cut from the script after the CIA reviewed it. Instead, the finished film ends with Wilson receiving a medal for his services to freedom in Afghanistan. Also removed was a scene discussing the Sabra and Shatilla Massacres, where Israeli-backed forces slaughtered hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian refugees.

Earlier versions of the script also portrayed the Soviets somewhat sympathetically, with one character noting that Soviet atrocities in Afghanistan included “forc[ing] them [Afghans] to learn to read and write.” This was also cut in favor of portraying Soviet soldiers as brutal and unthinking monsters slaughtering the local population. 

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) 

The comedy-drama — which stars Tina Fey, Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman as Western journalists covering the Afghan War — was something of a flop at the box office. Still, it managed to reduce losses significantly by filming at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico (just as “Lone Survivor” did) and using real U.S. Marines as extras. In exchange, producers handed over significant editorial control of the story to the military, which insisted on changing a scene where a U.S. military truck crashed into a crowd of civilians. In the final movie, there are no images of this, and the incident is referred to only in a 20-second news segment that describes it merely as “a fatal traffic accident involving a coalition truck.” 

The crash was a real incident. In 2006, the truck plowed through Kabul during rush hour, killing at least three civilians and injuring many others. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is based on American journalist Kim Barker’s memoir “The Taliban Shuffle.” The incident plays a major role in her book as the point where she finally understood how pointless and unwinnable the war was, how there was no accountability for the rich and powerful and no justice for the “have nots.” She described it and the following anti-U.S. riots as “a major breaking point in Afghanistan, the time when we first saw just how angry some Afghans were, just how ripe the country was for a Taliban comeback, just how leaderless Afghanistan really was.” Yet in the movie, the crash is mentioned only in passing, making the rioting Afghans appear irrationally angry and violent, a typical stereotype of Afghan War films. 

Iron Man (2008)

The original “Iron Man” script was decidedly pacifist, with protagonist Tony Stark attempting to use his enormous manufacturing empire to battle against war profiteers and the military industrial complex. However, after the Pentagon got involved, with Philip Strub again acting as the military liaison, the tone of the movie was radically altered. Much of the fighting in the movie takes place in modern-day Afghanistan, with the U.S. military serving the role of the good guys. In this sense, the film’s stance on war was reversed.

In exchange, the production agreement notes that the military would allow the movie to be shot at Edwards Air Force Base, just north of Los Angeles; provide “approximately 150 extras at Edwards AFB to play military members from various services and Afghan nationals;” help produce around 100 uniforms; and provide the opportunity to use a range of expensive aircraft.

Tom Secker, when asked by MintPress to assess the U.S. film industry’s role in prolonging the Afghan war, responded: 

Hollywood’s coverage of NATO’s war in Afghanistan has been notable by its absence, its silence, and its use of contextless microcosms which represent the war, rather than explore or explain it. “Iron Man” and “Lone Survivor” — two Pentagon-supported blockbusters — are both set during the U.S. occupation, but the scale of that occupation and the mess it was making of the country are ignored by both narratives, in favor of tightly-focused cinematic synecdoches which conveniently avoid the suffering of everyone involved.

Secker concluded:

In that sense, of course Hollywood has played a crucial role in perpetuating the war. They either failed to remind people that the war was still going on, or painted it in heroic, decontextualized colors that make it seem like a benevolent adventure halfway round the world, rather than the crushing, destructive geopolitical ratfuck it truly is.  

A mediated war 

It is not just big-budget Hollywood movies that the Pentagon works on, however. Practically every medium is used to spread a pro-war message. Declassified documents show that the Army flew Arnold Schwarzenegger to Afghanistan for the global-warming documentary TV series “Years of Living Dangerously.” This was, laughably, an effort to present the U.S. military — the single largest polluter in the world — as a force for good with regard to climate change, showing the former bodybuilder their supposed efforts to set up renewable energy systems across the Middle East. 

Likewise, pop culture is full of strategically inserted pro-war messages. For instance, declassified documents show that the OCPA-W carefully placed uniformed service members in opportune spots in the audience of the game show “The Price is Right.” The military pays the National Football League millions of dollars to put troops on the field or fly aircraft over the stadium before big football games, turning the entire event into a recruitment drive. It also has a video-games team called “U.S. Army Esports,” helping to associate the military with fun in the minds of the children watching. They have also been accused of using the same grooming techniques pedophiles use, only to recruit children into joining the war machine. 

Meanwhile, the music video for pop star Katy Perry’s song “Part of Me” was shot at Camp Pendleton Military Base in California, and shows Perry getting over a bad breakup by joining the Marines. The training process shows her finding herself again and growing as an individual. When Fox News asked Perry’s team if they had been paid by the military for the video, they refused to answer. The video currently has 887 million views on YouTube.

“The whole videography … is straight out of [Nazi film maker] Leni Riefenstahl: the same angled, heroizing upward shots, the same fetishization of physical power, of gleaming armaments, and of the rigor and mechanism of human beings cohering into living militarized units,” wrote feminist critic Naomi Wolf, who labeled the song “war propaganda.”

TV news is also filled with former high-ranking military officials who play the role of neutral expert while sticking, laser-like, to pro-war talking points, helping to give cable news coverage of the conflict a decidedly jingoistic bent. 

What these documents ultimately underline is the deep interlocking connections between Hollywood and the national security state. Few Americans experience the war from close up. Even fewer realize that depictions of the conflict come heavily mediated through the military. In hundreds of films and TV shows, every single word and image has been closely scrutinized and signed off by senior military figures, all in the effort to convince viewers into supporting deadly and grossly immoral campaigns around the world. Long ago, the military realized the power of Hollywood. It is high time that Americans realized that, when watching movies and TV shows about war, all too often they are not seeing neutral works of art, but carefully constructed pieces of national security propaganda.

Chris Hedges: America’s Fate: Oligarchy or Autocracy

September 27th, 2021

Chris Hedges

Source

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The competing systems of power are divided between alternatives which widen the social and political divide — and increase potential for violent conflict.

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY (Scheerpost) — The competing systems of power in the United States are divided between oligarchy and autocracy. There are no other alternatives. Neither are pleasant. Each have peculiar and distasteful characteristics. Each pays lip service to the fictions of democracy and constitutional rights. And each exacerbates the widening social and political divide and the potential for violent conflict.

The oligarchs from the establishment Republican party, figures such as Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, George and Jeb Bush and Bill Kristol, have joined forces with the oligarchs in the Democratic Party to defy the autocrats in the new Republican party who have coalesced in cult-like fashion around Donald Trump or, if he does not run again for president, his inevitable Frankensteinian doppelgänger.

The alliance of Republican and Democratic oligarchs exposes the burlesque that characterized the old two-party system, where the ruling parties fought over what Sigmund Freud called the “narcissism of minor differences” but were united on all the major structural issues including massive defense spending, free trade deals, tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, the endless wars, government surveillance, the money-saturated election process, neoliberalism, austerity, deindustrialization, militarized police and the world’s largest prison system.

The liberal class, fearing autocracy, has thrown in its lot with the oligarchs, discrediting and rendering impotent the causes and issues it claims to champion. The bankruptcy of the liberal class is important, for it effectively turns liberal democratic values into the empty platitudes those who embrace autocracy condemn and despise. So, for example, censorship is wrong, unless the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop are censored, or Donald Trump is banished from social media. Conspiracy theories are wrong, unless those theories, such as the Steele dossier and Russiagate, can be used to damage the autocrat. The misuse of the legal system and law enforcement agencies to carry out personal vendettas are wrong, unless those vendettas are directed at the autocrat and those who support him. Giant tech monopolies and their monolithic social media platforms are wrong, unless those monopolies use their algorithms, control of information and campaign contributions to ensure the election of the oligarch’s anointed presidential candidate, Joe Biden.

The perfidy of the oligarchs, masked by the calls for civility, tolerance, and respect for human rights, often out does that of the autocracy. The Trump administration, for example, expelled 444,000 asylum seekers under Title 42, a law that permits the immediate expulsion of those who potentially pose a public health risk and denies the expelled migrants the right to make a case to stay in the U.S. before an immigration judge. The Biden administration not only embraced the Trump order in the name of fighting the pandemic, but has thrown out more than 690,000 asylum seekers since taking office in January. The Biden administration, on the heels of another monster hurricane triggered at least in part by climate change, has opened up 80 million acres for oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and boasted that the sale will produce 1.12 billion barrels of oil over the next 50 years. It has bombed Syria and Iraq, and on the way out the door in Afghanistan murdered ten civilians, including seven children, in a drone strike. It has ended three pandemic relief programs, cutting off benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance that were given to 5.1 million people who worked as freelancers, in the gig economy or as caregivers. An additional 3.8 million people who received assistance from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation for the long term unemployed have also lost access to their benefits. They join the 2.6 million people who no longer receive the $300 weekly supplement and are struggling to cope with a $1,200 drop in their monthly earnings. Biden’s campaign talk of raising the minimum wage, forgiving student debt, immigration reform, and making housing a human right has been forgotten. At the same time, the Democratic leadership, proponents of a new cold war with China and Russia, has authorized provocative military maneuvers along Russia’s borders and in the South China Sea and speeded up production of its long-range B-21 Raider stealth bomber.

Oligarchs come from the traditional nexus of elite schools, inherited money, the military and corporations, those C. Wright Mills calls the “power elite.” “Material success,” Mills notes, “is their sole basis of authority.” The word oligarchy is derived from the Greek word “oligos” meaning “a few” and it is the oligos that sees power and wealth as its birthright, which they pass on to their family and children, as exemplified by George W. Bush or Mitt Romney. The word “autocracy” is derived from the Greek word “auto” meaning “self,” as in one who rules by himself. In decayed democracies the battle for power is always, as Aristotle points out, between these two despotic forces, although if there is a serious threat of socialism or left-wing radicalism, as was true in the Weimar Republic, the oligarchs forge an uncomfortable alliance with the autocrat and his henchmen to crush it. This is why the donor class and hierarchy of the Democratic Party sabotaged the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, although on the political spectrum Sanders is not a radical, and publicly stated, as the former CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein did, that should Sanders get the nominee they would support Trump. The alliance between the oligarchs and the autocrats gives birth to fascism, in our case a Christianized fascism.

The oligarchs embrace a faux morality of woke culture and identity politics, which is anti-politics, to give themselves the veneer of liberalism, or at least the veneer of an enlightened oligarchy. The oligarchs have no genuine ideology. Their single-minded goal is the amassing of wealth, hence the obscene amounts of money accrued by oligarchs such as Bill Gates, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos and the staggering sums of profit made by corporations that have, essentially, orchestrated a legal tax boycott, forcing the state to raise most of its revenues from massive government deficits, now totaling $3 trillion, and disproportionally taxing the working and middle classes.

Oligarchies, which spew saccharine pieties and platitudes, engage in lies that are often far more destructive to the public than the lies of a narcissist autocrat. Yet, the absence of an ideology among the oligarchs gives to oligarchic rule a flexibility lacking in autocratic forms of power. Because there is no blind loyalty to an ideology or a leader there is room in an oligarchy for limited reform, moderation and those who seek to slow or put a brake on the most egregious forms of injustice and inequality.

An autocracy, however, is not pliable. It burns out these last remnants of humanism. It is based solely on adulation of the autocrat, no matter how absurd, and the fear of offending him. This is why politicians such as Lindsey Graham and Mike Pence, at least until he refused to invalidate the election results, humiliated themselves abjectly and repeatedly at the feet of Trump. Pence’s unforgiveable sin of certifying the election results instantly turned him into a traitor. One sin against an autocrat is one sin too many. Trump supporters stormed the capital on January 6 shouting “hang Mike Pence.” As Cosimo de’ Medici remarked, “we are nowhere commanded to forgive our friends.”

The political and economic disempowerment that is the consequence of oligarchy infantilizes a population, which in desperation gravitates to a demagogue who promises prosperity and a restoration of a lost golden age, moral renewal based on “traditional” values and vengeance against those scapegoated for the nation’s decline.

The Biden’s administration’s refusal to address the deep structural inequities that plague the country is already ominous. In the latest Harvard/Harris poll Trump has overtaken Biden in approval ratings, with Biden falling to 46 percent and Trump rising to 48 percent. Add to this the report by the University of Chicago Project on Security & Threats that found that nine percent of Americans believe the “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.”  More than a fourth of adults agree, in varying degrees, the study found, that, “the 2020 election was stolen, and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” The polling indicates that 8.1 percent  — 21 million Americans  — share both these beliefs. Anywhere from 15 million to 28 million adults would apparently support the violent overthrow of the Biden administration to restore Trump to the presidency.

“The insurrectionist movement is more mainstream, cross-party, and more complex than many people might like to think, which does not bode well for the 2022 mid-term elections, or for that matter, the 2024 Presidential election,” the authors of the Chicago report write.

Fear is the glue that holds an autocratic regime in place. Convictions can change. Fear does not. The more despotic an autocratic regime becomes, the more it resorts to censorship, coercion, force, and terror to cope with its endemic and often irrational paranoia. Autocracies, for this reason, inevitably embrace fanaticism. Those who serve the autocracy engage in ever more extreme acts against those the autocrat demonizes, seeking the autocrat’s approval and the advancement of their careers.

Revenge against real or perceived enemies is the autocrat’s single-minded goal. The autocrat takes sadistic pleasure in the torment and humiliation of his enemies, as Trump did when he watched the mob storm the capital on January 6, or, in a more extreme form, as Joseph Stalin did when he doubled over in laughter as his underlings acted out the desperate pleading for his life by the condemned Grigori Zinoviev, once one of the most influential figures in the Soviet leadership and the chairman of the Communist International, on the way to his execution in 1926.

Autocratic leaders, as Joachim Fest writes, are often “demonic nonentities.”

“Rather than the qualities which raised him from the masses, it was those qualities he shared with them and of which he was a representative example that laid the foundation for his success,” Fest wrote of Adolf Hitler, words that could apply to Trump. “He was the incarnation of the average, ‘the man who lent the masses his voice and through whom the masses spoke.’ In him the masses encountered themselves.”

The autocrat, who celebrates a grotesque hyper-masculinity, projects an aura of omnipotence. He demands obsequious fawning and total obedience. Loyalty is more important than competence. Lies and truth are irrelevant. The statements of the autocrat, which can in short spaces of time be contradictory, cater exclusively to the transient emotional needs of his followers. There is no attempt to be logical or consistent. There is no attempt to reach out to opponents. Rather, there is a constant stoking of antagonisms that steadily widens the social, political, and cultural divides. Reality is sacrificed for fantasy. Those who question the fantasy are branded as irredeemable enemies.

“Anyone who wants to rule men first tries to humiliate them, to trick them out of their rights and their capacity for resistance, until they are as powerless before him as animals,” wrote Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power of the autocrat. “He uses them like animals and, even if he does not tell them so, in himself he always knows quite clearly that they mean just as little to him; when he speaks to his intimates, he will call them sheep or cattle. His ultimate aim is to incorporate them into himself and to suck the substance out of them. What remains of them afterwards does not matter to him. The worse he has treated them, the more he despises them. When they are no more use at all, he disposes of them as he does excrement, simply seeing to it that they do not poison the air of his house.”

It is, ironically, the oligarchs who build the institutions of oppression, the militarized police, the dysfunctional courts, the raft of anti-terrorism laws used against dissidents, ruling through executive orders rather than the legislative process, wholesale surveillance and the promulgation of laws that overturn the most basic Constitutional rights by judicial fiat. Thus, the Supreme Court rules that corporations have the right to pump unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns because it is a form of free speech, and because corporations have the constitutional right to petition the government. The oligarchs do not use these mechanisms of oppression with the same ferocity as the autocrats. They employ them fitfully and therefore often ineffectually. But they create the physical and legal systems of oppression so that an autocrat, with the flick of a switch, can establish a de facto dictatorship.

The autocrat oversees a naked kleptocracy in place of the hidden kleptocracy of the oligarchs. But it is debatable whether the more refined kleptocracy of the oligarchs is any worse than the crude and open kleptocracy of the autocrat. The autocrat’s attraction is that as he fleeces the public, he entertains the crowd. He orchestrates engaging spectacles. He gives vent, often through vulgarity, to the widespread hatred of the ruling elites. He provides a host of phantom enemies, usually the weak and the vulnerable, who are rendered nonpersons. His followers are given license to attack these enemies, including the feckless liberals and intellectuals who are a pathetic appendage to the oligarchic class. Autocracies, unlike oligarchies, make for engaging political theater.

We must defy the oligarchs as well as the autocrats. If we replicate the cowardice of the liberal class, if we sell out to the oligarchs as a way to blunt the rise of autocracy, we will discredit the core values of a civil society and fuel the very autocracy we seek to defeat. Despotism, in all its forms, is dangerous. If we achieve nothing else in the fight against the oligarchs and the autocrats, we will at least salvage our dignity and integrity.

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