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[l] at 10/21/21 3:47pm
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 theyre 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 & Jerrys’ decision was,” Khdair said. “So some companies would be wary of reputational risk and also see [divestment] as problematic for their shareholders. Its 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, were 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.” Feature photo | The Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem, Feb. 7, 2017. Oded Balilty | AP Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News. The post Report Reveals European Firms Have More Than $255B Entwined in Illegal Israeli Settlements appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Inside Stories, Inside Stories, Top Story, BDS movement, Israeli Settlements, Palestine, West Bank]

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[l] at 10/21/21 3:22pm
(The Grayzone) — A former employee of Facebook named Frances Haugen earned national renown after appearing before Congress on October 5, 2021 to accuse the company where she once worked of everything from poisoning the minds of young American women to aiding and abetting global evildoers. While Haugen has presented herself as a “whistleblower” who risked it all to expose the secrets of the powerful, she was cultivated and legally represented by an organization led by former intelligence insiders with close ties to the US national security state. Called Whistleblower Aid, the outfit was founded by a national security lawyer, Mark Zaid, who has been accused of ratting out his client, CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, to his employers in Langley. Zaid is joined by a former State Department official and government-approved whistleblower, John Tye, ex-CIA and Pentagon official Andrew Bakaj, and veteran US government information warrior, Libby Liu, who has specialized in supporting color revolution-style operations against China. John Kiriakou, the CIA whistleblower jailed for exposing the agency’s role in the serial torture of terror suspects, commented to The Grayzone, “Mark Zaid presents himself to the public as a whistleblower attorney, however, he is anything but. Instead, he has betrayed his clients and come down on the side of prosecutors in the intelligence community. He is not to be trusted.” Kiriakou continued, “My own personal belief is that he is the intelligence community’s preferred ‘whistleblower’ attorney because he’s willing to place their interests over his clients.” Tech billionaire and media mogul Pierre Omidyar has provided funding to Whistleblower Aid, as well as to a public relations firm assisting Haugen. Omidyar has played his own role in US foreign interventionism, sponsoring anti-government media outlets and activists alongside US government agencies in states where Washington seeks regime change. Following the October 5 remarks by the “Facebook whistleblower,” Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection Chair Sen. Richard Blumenthal commended Haugen for her “courage” and “strength” in “standing up to one of the most powerful, implacable corporate giants in the history of the world.” For her part, Haugen claimed to have come forward with her testimony “at great personal risk.” However, Haugen is now set to meet with the oversight board at Facebook, suggesting the supposed underdog whistleblower had never been a threat to her former employer, and may have been colluding in a mutually beneficial operation. Haugen emphasized in her testimony that she “doesn’t want to break up” Facebook; she was merely looking for increased “content moderation” to root out “extremism” and “(mis/dis)information.” While the public has been led to believe that Haugen embarked on her censorious moral crusade all by herself, driven by nothing more than her own sense of indignation and desire to stamp out “misinformation,” her testimony tracked closely with a narrative that has emerged from the US national security state and which aims to prevent the flow of information from counter-hegemonic “bad actors.” The agenda was laid bare by Haugen herself, who claimed she worked alongside intelligence assets at a previously unknown Facebook “threat intelligence unit,” and made repeated reference to supposed malign activities by designated US enemies including Ethiopia, Myanmar, Western China and Iran.. As this report will reveal, Haugen appears to be little more than a tool in a far-reaching plan to increase the US national security state’s control over one of the world’s most popular social media platforms. “Facebook whistleblower” Frances Haugen in 2015.   The making of a phony Facebook whistleblower Haugen first appeared in September 2021 as the supposed source of a leak called “The Facebook Files.” She was immediately hailed as a “modern US hero” in the media for secretly copying tens of thousands of internal Facebook documents and releasing them to the Wall Street Journal, which published a series of nine articles based on the documents. The WSJ initially kept its source anonymous, rolling out the series two weeks before Haugen came forward in an October 3 interview with 60 Minutes. On camera, she complained that Facebook was “tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.” “Ethnic violence including Myanmar in 2018 when the military used Facebook,” narrated 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, to “launch a genocide.” When pressed by 60 Minutes about what motivated her to leak the documents, Haugen answered vaguely: “at some point in 2021, I realized I’m going to have to do this in a systematic way and I have to get enough [so] that no one can question that this is real.” Yet Haugen first divulged company information before 2021. In the final installment of the Journal’s series, the outlet revealed that Haugen first sent an encrypted text to one of their reporters on December 3, 2020. That same article, published the day the 60 Minutes interview aired, reported that Haugen “continued gathering material from inside Facebook through her last hour with access to the system. She reached out to lawyers at Whistleblower Aid, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that represents people reporting corporate and government misbehavior.” Haugen’s resignation with Facebook was effective in March, but the precise day of her client-attorney relationship with Whistleblower Aid remains unknown. What is known is that it all came together quickly. John Tye, a founder and the Chief Disclosure Officer at Whistleblower Aid, told the New York Times that he agreed to represent Haugen “within a few minutes” of speaking with her. On October 5, Haugen testified at a Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. But already she had “spoken to lawmakers in France and Britain, as well as a member of European Parliament,” according to the New York Times on October 3, the day her identity was revealed on 60 Minutes. The outlet added: “This month, she is scheduled to appear before a British parliamentary committee. That will be followed by stops at Web Summit, a technology conference in Lisbon, and in Brussels to meet with European policymakers in November,” citing Tye. Alongside Haguen’s big reveal came the launch of a new website and a new Twitter account, which was immediately verified. Haugen’s old Twitter account was locked when she went public and has since been deleted, while her old blog is no longer online. It is instructive to contrast Haugen’s overnight verification with the way Twitter has treated others who have furnished secret documents in order to expose wrongdoing by the elite – namely, the jailed Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, who never received verification from Twitter. During her opening remarks to Congress, Haugen weaved a narrative that tied the State Department’s interventionist agenda to the Democratic Party’s crusade for online censorship. She commented that “what we saw in Myanmar and are now seeing in Ethiopia are only the opening chapters of a story so terrifying no one wants to read the end of it.” Later, Haugen nodded her head in agreement as Sen. Dan Sullivan called Iran the biggest state sponsor or terrorism in the world and China a “communist party dictatorship” that is the most serious competitor to the US in the 21st century. Oddly, she made no mention of malign activity by any US ally or country that was not currently sanctioned by the US Department of State. At Facebook, Haugen claimed she worked as product manager on a “threat intelligence unit” at the company. “So I was a product manager supporting the counter-espionage team,” she claimed to Sen. Sullivan. Part of her job included “directly work[ing] on tracking Chinese participation on the platform,” she claimed. Further, she alleged that Iran used the platform to conduct “espionage” on the platform. “I’m speaking to other members of Congress about that,” Haugen acknowledged. “I have strong national security concerns about how Facebook operates today.” As journalist Kit Klarenberg reported, the little-known Facebook “threat intelligence unit” where Haugen claimed to have worked is staffed by former CIA, NSA, and Pentagon operatives. Those who work at the unit must have “5+ years of experience working in intelligence (either government or private sector), international geopolitical, cybersecurity, or human rights functions,” according to a job posting. Yet Haugen’s now-deleted blog and Twitter account feature no political content, nor does her resume. On Twitter, she frequently discussed taking Ambien and flirting with boys, while on her blog she wrote about cycling through Europe. Apart from a lecture she delivered on “The Intersection of Product Management and Gender,” and donations to the Democratic Party, she has shown little discernible interest in politics. So how did a certifiable normie with jobs at Google, Pinterest, Yelp! become an expert on Iran and China? The background of Haugen’s shady legal team suggests she has been cultivated, coached and deployed to complete Facebook’s transformation into a fully-controlled vehicle of US foreign policy imperatives, willing to de-rank or outright censor any views the US government deems “misinformation.”   The best whistleblower outfit Pierre Omidyar’s money could buy Whistleblower Aid bills itself as “a pioneering, non-profit legal organization that helps patriotic government employees and brave, private-sector workers report and publicize their concerns — safely, lawfully, and responsibly.” But is this group truly the whistleblower protection outfit it claims to be? In fact, Whistleblower Aid appears to have been modeled as a sort of anti-Wikileaks organization.  “Whistleblower Aid is not Wikileaks,” the “vision” page of the former organization insists. On another section of its website, it states, “No one should ever send classified information to Whistleblower Aid. Whistleblower Aid will never assist clients or prospective clients with leaking classified information.” #WhistleblowerAid at work spreading message in DC for ppl to be lawful #patriots. Dont be @wikileaks & ruin career. Hold Govt accountable. pic.twitter.com/sIKTbkiGgz — Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) September 19, 2017 Whistleblower Aid was launched with support from Ebay founder and billionaire media mogul Pierre Omidyar. Through his Luminate foundation, Omidyar lavished $150,000 on the organization, while funding a non-profit, the Center for Humane Technology, that works for the same PR firm that represents Haugen. Politico has portrayed Omidyar as a “tech critic,” suggesting his support for Haugen is motivated by his disgust at Facebook’s propagation of toxic content. However, as this journalist and Max Blumenthal reported, Omidyar’s political empire has functioned for years as a force multiplier for interventionist US initiatives. Over the past decade, Omidyar’s various non-profits have sponsored the establishment of a broadcast outlet, Hromadske, in Ukraine that drove the country’s 2014 coup, backed anti-government bloggers and activists in Zimbabwe, and funded anti-government media in the Philippines, including 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa. In each case, Omidyar’s beneficiaries were simultaneously sponsored by US government entities dedicated to advancing regime change. A further hint of Omidyar’s adjacency to US intelligence operations can be found in the 2018-2022 strategy plan of the billionaire’s Luminate foundation, which lists “counter[ing]” Russia and China & “provid[ing] critical support” to groups in “countries in transition” as top priorities. The 2018-2022 strategic plan of @Pierre Omidyars @luminategroup lists "counter[ing]" Russia and China & "provid[ing] critical support" to groups in "countries in transition" as top priorities. Thats code for supplementing US regime change operations. https://t.co/AXFBhAduCR pic.twitter.com/gwPmC9da2s — Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) September 9, 2020 Whistleblower Aid rose to national prominence by representing the anonymous whistleblower who fueled the carefully confected Trump-Ukraine scandal that eventually led to former President Donald Trump’s impeachment. But Whistleblower Aid is more than a mere law firm. It also “prep[s] clients in order to be focused on how to answer questions properly,” Mark Zaid, the organizations’ founding legal partner, told Gizmodo. “We have media experts that we work with to guide folks with something as simple as, you know, where do you look when you’re talking to a camera or a host?” Zaid explained. “How do you best fluidly answer a question to come across in a positive way? Everything that might be connected to ensuring the individual’s image and substance are at their best.”   “The US government’s ideal whistleblower” The rollout of the Frances Haugen story was methodical and lightning-paced, and clearly a collaborative effort. “I came forward at great personal risk because I believe we still have time to act,” Haugen told Congress. Sen. Blumenthal responded with a promise that Congress would protect her. But was any risk truly present? In Haugen’s first conversations with Whistleblower Aid founder and Chief Disclosure Officer John Tye, she asked him for “legal protection and a path to releasing the confidential information.” Zaid launched the group after serving as legal counsel for his co-founder, John Tye, when Tye supposedly “blew the whistle” on the State Department. Tye was recruited to the State Department by former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Michael Posner. Now a prominent “human rights” lawyer, Posner was tasked with providing counsel to a group of seven Israeli generals accused by the United Nations of war crimes following Operation Cast Lead, a three-week long massacre of 1,400 Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, Wikileaks revealed in its release of US diplomatic cables. Ironically, Posner was also charged with overseeing the State Department’s review of those cable leaks. Tye was named as the section chief for internet freedom under Posner at the State Department. But to understand Tye’s work at the State Department, it is necessary to revisit a speech from his former boss, ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, delivered a year prior to Tye’s appointment at State, but nonetheless a blueprint for the kind of work the department was doing; attacking countries like Iran and China for “erect[ing] electronic barriers.” It was during Clinton’s campaign for “internet freedom,” which established Tye’s position, that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an arm of the State Department, developed ZunZuneo, a fake social media service marketed to Cubans. This information weapon was deployed by the US in a failed attempt to spur Cuban youths to launch street protests and destabilize Cuba’s socialist government. It was Tye’s job to travel around the world and push for “the open use of the internet, free from government interference and monitoring.” However, following Edward Snowden’s exposure of mass surveillance by the National Security Agency, Tye began working explicitly against the open exchange of information by collaborating with the agency on tactics to undermine the leaker. Around the same time, Tye learned about Executive Order 12333, which allows the NSA to collect information on American citizens outside of US borders. Tye “blew the whistle” in an op-ed at the Washington Post, allowing both the NSA and the State Department to review his disclosures before publishing. Neither made any changes to the policy. Prior to speaking with reporters about his disclosure, Tye made sure he had a witness present and promised that he would not be revealing any classified information. “If you hear something that sounds like I am talking about classified activities or NSA activities, I want to tell you right now you misheard what I said,” his disclaimer went. “The only reason why I ever got an NSA briefing was because we had to develop a response to Snowden’s leaks,” Tye told Ars Technica. “I never would have found out enough to file a complaint if it hadn’t been for those leaks.” He also enlisted the help of Mark Zaid “to help him navigate the lawful reporting process.” Despite being indebted to Snowden, and Snowden having actually been the first to expose how EO 12333 was “the wellspring of NSA’s collection of information,” Tye’s attorney, Zaid has repeatedly maligned Snowden. “Unlike Snowden, Tye will not offer up any examples of actual unlawful surveillance he learned about while working at the State Department. He’s honoring his secrecy agreements,” Zaid has said. Zaid, who has falsely accused Snowden of refusing to attempt to go through proper channels, argues that the best way to seek policy change is through official processes. And he has painted Tye as “a shining example of how a national security whistleblower should raise his concerns lawfully and give the system and public time to debate the concerns, rather than decide unilaterally as Snowden did…” Tye quickly emerged as a model for disclosing government secrets, with corporate media headlines describing him as “the US Government’s Ideal New Whistleblower” and “the kinder, gentler, and by-the-book whistleblower.” Just Security, a Democratic Party-oriented national security blog funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and featuring a board of insiders including Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, hailed Tye at the time as a “hero” on par with the late Senator John McCain. However, the site noted that “the jury is still out on whether Tye’s whistleblowing will lead to meaningful reforms.” At the time, Tye claimed he hoped to “see a public response to my complaint that describes what changes have been made.” Flash forward to September 16, 2021, and Just Security is still calling for reform to EO 12333. Indeed, Tye’s milquetoast brand of whistleblowing failed to result in any meaningful policy changes, though he did get some presidential lip service, commenting that “even President Obama has acknowledged that the issues raised since those disclosures have been important for our democracy.” Coincidentally, days before leaving office, Obama expanded Executive Order 12333, allowing the NSA to share the data it warrantlessly collected with other intelligence agencies without the requirement of a court order. It was this executive order which enabled the NSA to wiretap Trump’s incoming National Security Director Michael Flynn, and leak the contents of his phone call with Russia’s then-Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak to the media. Despite the abject failure of Zaid’s preferred “lawful” method of whistleblowing, he and Tye would go on to form Whistleblower Aid, but not before leaving the State Department to work for another shady outfit that was knee deep in NATO interventionist operations. From July 2014 to July 2015, Tye served as the Legal Director and Campaign Director of Avaaz, a digital activist group and PR firm that helped drum up support for a no-fly zone in Libya, as Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal has reported. During Tye’s time with Avaaz, which received early financial backing from Soros’ Open Society Foundation, the organization pushed for a no-fly zone again, this time in Syria. Further, Avaaz helped spawn a PR organization called Purpose, which handled public relations for the USAID-funded and al-Qaeda-linked White Helmets organization in Syria. During the Arab Spring, Avaaz ponied up $1.5 million to “provide pro-democracy movements with ‘high-tech phones and satellite internet modems, connect them to the world’s top media outlets, and provide communications advice,’” according to the BBC. Avaaz has set up proxy servers in Iran to support the Iran’s Green Movement and orchestrated a “three mile human chain handshake from the Dalai Lama to the doors of the Chinese Embassy in London.” More recently, the organization sponsored a rally demanding an investigation on Capitol Hill in response to the Wall Street Journal’s “Facebook Files” series, which featured Haugen as its source. Time and time again, we’ve seen Facebook fail to address the rampant disinformation, extremism, discrimination, and hate on their platforms. Join us on Thursday as we rally on Capitol Hill to demand Congress #InvestigateFB: https://t.co/AoFpqSN75Q pic.twitter.com/LyvapuDIOw — Avaaz (@Avaaz) September 29, 2021 Shortly before leaving Avaaz, Tye responded to criticism of the billionaire-backed group’s advocacy for a no-fly zone, writing “thousands and thousands of people will die, for years to come, if we turn away and wring our hands.” Like his former client-turned-legal partner, Mark Zaid has clamored for ramped up US intervention in Syria, tweeting to then-President Trump “what are you going to do about Syria? It’s your problem now, We can’t stand by and let innocent people continue to be slaughtered.”   Whistleblower Aid, or whistleblowers played? Early in Zaid’s legal career, he “helped lobby Congress to change the law so the Libyan government could be sued for its secret plot to blow up Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.” Since then, he has built a reputation around representing whistleblowers, though he is now “representing many of the federal officials who have been afflicted with the mysterious symptoms known as Havana syndrome.” While Mark Zaid may earn the most corporate media ink of any lawyer specializing in supposed whistleblower cases in the US, he is also one of the most vitriolic antagonists of those who blew the whistle without official consent. Regarding Edward Snowden, Zaid has tweeted that the exiled whistleblower “in no way deserves a pardon.” Zaid believes that only those who have exposed wrongdoing dutifully within an organizational infrastructure deserve to be designated as whistleblowers. If they have attempted to do so but found themselves stonewalled, and took their information to the media, in his view, that action classifies them as a traitor guilty of espionage. Thus according to Zaid, Snowden is not a whistleblower, nor is Julian Assange a journalist. Zaid celebrated the June 2020 superseding indictment of Assange by the Department of Justice as “a message to those who want to undermine US national security that you will be pursued.” Even Reality Winner, whose leak of classified information was spun by the media to advance the discredited narrative of Russian collusion with President Donald Trump – whom Zaid has attacked and even sued – is also not a whistleblower, Zaid argued in the Washington Post. While Zaid has made his feelings clear towards those who leak classified information through “improper” channels, he has faced harsh criticism for his handling of the case of one of his former clients, CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling. “WikiLeaks is aware, from those directly involved, of serious allegations that Mark S. Zaid revealed one of his clients to the CIA. The client was later imprisoned,” WikiLeaks has tweeted. CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou has written of Zaid: “Any friend or advocate of rats and snitches is no friend of whistleblowers.” You are 100 percent correct. @MarkSZaidEsq is not a whistleblower attorney, his protestations notwithstanding. Any friend or advocate of rats and snitches is no friend of whistleblowers. Just ask #JeffreySterling. — John Kiriakou (@JohnKiriakou) December 4, 2018 Whistleblower Thomas Drake has raised similar concerns, pointing in 2015 to transcripts detailing FBI special agent Ashley Hunt’s comments during the trial of Jeffrey Sterling. “The CIA advised that on February 24, 2003, it was contacted by Mark Zaid and Roy Krieger,” Hunt told the court. “They told the CIA on February 24 that a client of theirs had contacted them on February 21, 2003, and that that client, that unnamed client at the time, voiced his concerns about an operation that was nuclear in nature, and he threatened to go to the media.” Additionally, the FBI served Zaid with a subpoena compelling him to testify in the case of his former client, Sterling. Zaid has claimed that he did not breach attorney-client privilege at any time and called FBI agent Ashley Hunt’s testimony “hearsay.” Sterling declined to comment to The Grayzone about Zaid’s performance as his lawyer, and whether he played a role in his prosecution. “With no intention of stating an opinion one way or another, I will not comment on Mr. Zaid or his representation,” Sterling stated.   “All the Disney one needs and wants to be” While Zaid maintains utmost hostility towards those who leak classified information, even refusing to work with them, he has no moral qualms about getting security clearances for “guys who had child porn issues.” Ive gotten clearances for guys who had child porn issues — Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) February 11, 2018 Zaid also has a special place in his heart for Disney and potentially “Disney girls.” An archived version of a YouTube channel which appears to belong to him shows that he ‘liked’ videos including “Top 10 prettiest disney channel stars” and “Top 10 Disney Girls.” One does not need kids to be all the Disney one needs and wants to be pic.twitter.com/3Fymj86zKG — Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) February 11, 2018 While Tye and Zaid’s records raise serious questions about their commitment to protecting whistleblowers at genuine risk of high-level retaliation, they are not the only staffers at Whistleblower Aid with close ties to the US national security state. Whistleblower Aid CEO Libby Liu details how she is “fighting against the Chinese government.”   The spooks at Whistleblower Aid’s door At almost the same time that Haugen began working with Whistleblower Aid in the Spring of this year, the organization took on a new CEO named Libby Liu. Liu previously served as CEO of Open Technology Fund (OTF), which was established by the CIA-founded propaganda outlet Radio Free Asia as part of Hillary Clinton’s “internet freedom” campaign. Prior to her role at OTF, Liu served as President of Radio Free Asia for over 14 years. The Radio Free Asia website credits Liu herself with creating the Open Technology Fund. In addition to pumping millions of dollars into projects like Tor and Signal, the Open Technology Fund boasts that “more than two-thirds of all mobile users globally have technology incubated by OTF on their device.” Moreover, OTF claims it “has investigated and exposed apps used for repressive surveillance throughout China, including tools used by the government to target religious minority Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province.” OTF helped fund the 2019 protests and riots in Hong Kong “to provide fast relief for civil society groups, protesters, journalists and human rights defenders who have come under digital attack.” Having helped rioters who invaded and ransacked Hong Kong’s parliament  to evade censorship, Liu is now working with a legal firm representing a client that will meet with the Congressional committee investigating the January 6 “insurrection” – undoubtedly to bolster the case for more internet censorship. Another key figure at Whistleblower Aid is Andrew Bakaj. Like John Tye and Mark Zaid, Bakaj is not only representing Haugen, but promoting her in the media as well. Bakaj also happens to be a former CIA officer and criminal investigator at the Department of Defense. Since leaving the agency, he has teamed up with his former attorney, Mark Zaid, and taken on similar cases including the “Ukraine whistleblower” and “State Department officials impacted by ‘Havana Syndrome.’” #JulianAssange will finally be brought to justice. He is complicit in the deliberate leak of classified information that has jeopardized our national security and directly placed our sources and assets in grave harm. Perhaps one day @Snowden will see the same fate. pic.twitter.com/nFkvqvZKOC — Andrew P. Bakaj (@AndrewBakaj) April 11, 2019 On Twitter, Bakaj mocked Julian Assange as he took refuge inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, taunting him to “step outside” and get some Vitamin D. Behind the carefully confected image of Frances Haugen as a courageous whistleblower, the stated views and questionable record of her legal team at Whistleblower Aid suggest she is little more than pawn in a much more far-reaching game aimed at enhancing the national security state’s already substantial power over social media. Feature photo | Former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen speaks during a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, in Washington. Matt McClain | The Washington Post via AP, Pool Alex Rubinstein is an independent reporter on Substack. You can subscribe to get free articles from him delivered to your inbox here, and if you want to support his journalism, which is never put behind a paywall, you can give a one-time donation to him through PayPal here or sustain his reporting through Patreon here. The post Facebook ‘Whistleblower’ Frances Haugen Represented by US Intelligence Insiders appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Front Page: National, National, Top Story, Facebook, Frances Haugen, intelligence community, national security, Whistleblowers]

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[l] at 10/19/21 1:04pm
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 Sanaa 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 Yemenis 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, Sadaa, al-Houdeida, Hajjah, al-Jawf, al-Beyda, Taize, Amran, Ibb, Dhamar, al-Mahwit, Raymah, Shabwa, 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 Saudis 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 Main” 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 Balhas 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 Mondays 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 Allahs strategy and position on a number of local, regional and international issues. He renewed Ansar Allahs 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 Prophets 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. In Shabwa, Yemen, Saudis Give Ground but Kill from the Air as War Rages On   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. Featured photo | Fireworks are launched and buildings illuminated with green lights during celebrations for the Prophet Muhammads birthday, in Sanaa, Yemen, Oct. 17, 2021. Hani Mohammed | AP Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist based in Sana’a. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media. The post Huge Crowds in Yemen Celebrate Prophet’s Birth and Recent Military Successes Pledge Full Liberation appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Top Story, Yemen Coverage, Ansar Allah, Sanaa, Saudi Arabia, Yemen]

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[l] at 10/19/21 11:58am
There seem to be few limits to bias and cruelty when it comes to the United States judicial system in the service of political and geopolitical agendas. Communities of color in the U.S. have experienced this cruelty for centuries but for those of us who live outside of that realm, who live in the sphere of the privileged, meeting this cruelty face to face is shocking. In my book “Injustice, The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five,” which was published in 2018, I tell the story of five innocent men who were wrongfully accused, tried and convicted for providing material support to a terrorist organization. If they were guilty of anything at all, it was caring more for their fellow humans than they did for themselves. The five men went through two trials and in the end were convicted and sentenced to sentences of 15 to 65 years in federal prison. The men are Shukri Abu Baker, sentenced to 65 years; Ghassan Elashi, sentenced to 65 years; Mufid Abdulqader, sentenced to 20 years; Abdulrahman Odeh, sentenced to 15 years; and Mohammad Elmezain, sentenced to 15 years. Fifteen years are almost up and two of the five men are up for release. Abdulrahman Odeh is finally at home in Dallas, albeit living with the restriction of a released felon. Mohammad Elmezain was supposed to be released but, because he is not a naturalized citizen of the United States, rather than let him go to his family the authorities “released” him to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.   The Holy Land Foundation Once the largest Muslim relief organization in the United States, The Holy Land Foundation (HLF) was shut down after the 9/11 attacks by President George W. Bush via an executive order. After the attacks of 9/11, the U.S. government wanted to show that it was acting swiftly and effectively against terrorism, so the Treasury Department was instructed to find and close down operations that were funding terrorism in the U.S. In his book “The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul ONeill,” published in 2004, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind describes the post 9/11 atmosphere in Washington as one of “round up the usual suspects.” The Holy Land Foundation, being a Muslim charity with a focus on Palestine, was a prime target. In addition, since the early 1990’s the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which is an anti-Palestinian, Zionist organization had engaged in a  smear campaign against The Holy Land Foundation. Along with American Zionist politicians like Chuck Schumer, Anthony Wiener and others, the ADL was claiming that HLF was funding terrorism. The smear campaign against HLF was working even before the attacks of September 11, 2001. As the defendants learned during the trial, the FBI had been tapping some of their phones since the 1990’s. Furthermore, the campaign was hurting the relations HLF had with other organizations; and in some cases important alliances had been brought to an end as a result of the false accusations. On December 4, 2001 the President of the United States declared that he had closed down “a major terrorist funding network,” and the Holy Land Foundation was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of Treasury. The process of so designating an organization or an individual requires little due process, far less than what is required in a court of law.   A weak case In accusing the Holy Land Foundation of funding terrorism, the government has a serious problem. While President Bush rushed to designate them a terrorist organization and declare that closing them down was somehow a great achievement in the fight against terrorism, the fact of the matter was that he had no proof. The officers of the Holy Land Foundation kept impeccable accounts and every penny that went through the organization was accounted for. No money had gone to any terrorist organization, not one penny. Most of what the HLF was giving away was in-kind: they were providing school supplies, food, medicine, along with a relatively small number of school scholarships that were paid directly to educational institutions. No money or goods ever went from the Holy Land Foundation to any organization that was not recognized and approved by the U.S. government. The groups and organizations with which HLF worked on the ground in Palestine were not only vetted by the CIA, they were also receiving funds and goods from other U.S. and international relief organizations. In order to make a case that would convince a jury that the HLF was actually supporting terrorism, the U.S. government falsified evidence, presented documents that were wrongly translated, and even allowed two Israeli nationals to testify as expert witnesses anonymously. No one knew who these witnesses really were and whether or not what they were claiming was true. What was obvious through reading the trial transcripts is that the lawyers for the HLF made it clear that these witnesses knew very little and that their claims were untrue.   First generation refugee Mohammad Elmezain, or Abu Ibrahim, was born in a refugee camp near the city of Khan Yunis, which is enclosed within the prison called The Gaza Strip. Born in 1953, he was part of the first generation of Palestinians born as refugees. His family comes from the village of Bashshit, which was destroyed in 1948 by the Israeli army’s Giv’aty Brigade. As did countless Palestinian refugees, he went to a school run by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine. He then studied at the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Like many Palestinians, he ended up working in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states before coming to America in 1983. He immediately went to school and got a masters degree. He lived in New Jersey for a few years, where he served as an Imam, and eventually moved to San Diego where he settled and raised his family. Everywhere he went he was loved and respected by the community. When the indictments came down for the Holy Land Foundation Five, he found himself in the midst of a terrorism case and during the trial he discovered that his phone had been subjected to a wiretap from 1994 until 2003. The FBI agent who testified against him told the court that there were seven thousand pages of summaries made of these phone conversations.   Khaki uniform I met Abu Ibrahim in prison twice while he was held at the federal facility in Long Beach, California. I knew he was the elder of the Five, and that he was not in the best of health. However, the man I met was not weak and frail as I had expected, but strong, full of life and determined. I saw a proud man with a strong handshake, who was proud of who he was and proud of the important work that he had done with the Holy Land Foundation. What the future holds for him is uncertain. It is unclear when or whether the U.S. government will allow him to be united with his family again. What is clear is that the imperatives of U.S.-Israel relations had corrupted not only the political system in the United States but also the judicial system. Feature photo | This courtroom illustration depicts the Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial at the federal courthouse in Dallas, Oct. 22, 2007. Pat Lopez | AP Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books are The Generals Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, and Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five. The post The HLF Five: How US-Israeli Geopolitics Cruelly Warped the US Judicial Process appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Insights, Holy Land Foundation, Israel, Palestine, United States, war on terror]

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[l] at 10/19/21 11:31am
The British National Health Service (NHS) once stood as an internationally renowned example of a tax-funded health system that delivered public-health services to millions of British citizens, lifting a huge burden from the sick. However, the rise of neoliberal policies in the United Kingdom has targeted the NHS to become the latest victim of a U.S.-U.K. economic trade deal that would put health care services in the hands of private U.S. corporations. This means that private U.S. healthcare corporations would capitalize on the taxpayer funded budget, “creating private insurance-style funding pools” similar to how healthcare is conducted in the U.S. In this segment of The Watchdog, host Lowkey is joined by Bob Gill family doctor, NHS campaigner and director of the film The Great NHS Heist who argues that the NHS is heading towards becoming a ”two-tier system that will be lower quality, more expensive, bureaucratic, with perverse incentives that damage professionalism, patients, taxpayers and the privately insured, who risk claims being denied or capped, as we see clearly in America.” Gill’s film makes clear parallels between the U.S. healthcare system and how it’s making its way into the NHS. For example, the film exposes how the transition of control of these budgets to insurance companies is now presided over by “Simon Stevens as Chief Executive of NHS England since 2014, formerly president of global expansion for UnitedHealth,” Americas largest private health insurance conglomerate. This new system also puts the once-private patient data into the hands of Big Tech giants   outsourced data-systems and pharmaceutical companies that will market their drugs to patients while incentivizing prescriptions for medical doctors. The corporate takeover of the NHS is already having dire effects on an already economically struggling society, especially in the post-COVID era, with patients being forced to pay for more out-of-pocket costs that are handing major profits to U.S. healthcare and insurance companies.  “The comprehensive range of NHS services salami, sliced down to a remnant of poor standard emergency care in fewer locations. For non-urgent care the choices will be to go without treatment, pay out of pocket or buy top-up insurance,” Gill wrote in 2020. The new MintPress podcast “The Watchdog,” hosted by British-Iraqi hip-hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know including intelligence, lobby and special-interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media.  MintPress News is a fiercely independent, reader-supported outlet, with no billionaire owners or backers. You can support us by becoming a member on Patreon, bookmarking and whitelisting us, and by subscribing to our social media channels, including Twitch, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. Also, be sure to check out the new Behind the Headlines channel on YouTube. Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic, political campaigner, and a MintPress video and podcast host. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique, and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network, and The Peace and Justice Project founded by Jeremy Corbyn. The post GP Bob Gill Outlines the US Corporate Takeover of the British NHS appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Podcasts, Top Story, Bob Gill, healthcare, Lowkey, National Health Service, UK]

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[l] at 10/18/21 4:30pm
RAMLA, HISTORIC PALESTINE — Palestinian prisoner Miqdad al-Qawasmeh has entered his 86th day on hunger strike. He is overcome with weakness and can’t move from his hospital bed, not even to shower or use the bathroom. He suffers from joint, kidney, head, bone, muscular and abdominal pain. He has trouble speaking and has lost more than 75 pounds. Despite his deteriorating health, al-Qawasmeh won’t end his hunger strike, as he and six other prisoners refuse food in protest of their ongoing administrative detention. Kayed Fasfous has been on hunger strike for 92 days; Alaa Al Araj has spent 68 days without food; Hisham Abu Hawash started his hunger strike 61 days ago; Rayeq Bsharat hasn’t eaten for 56 days; Shadi Abu Akar is now in his 52nd day without food; and Hassan Shouka has been on hunger strike for 27 days. Additionally, at least 250 prisoners associated with the Islamic Jihad organization began a hunger strike on Oct. 13 in protest of their relocation to isolated cells. Alaa Al Arajs son protesting his fathers administrative detention. Israel’s Supreme Court froze the detentions of both al-Qawasmeh and Fasfous owing to their declining health. Al-Qawasmeh was detained on Jan. 2 and Fasfous was detained in July 2020. However, the prisoners’ relatives and Palestinian government organizations say the Israeli decision isn’t coming from a place of morality but rather from liability concerns. The Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs said in a statement: The decision to freeze does not mean cancellation, but in fact, it is the disclaimer of the Occupation Prisons Administration and the Intelligence [Shabak] for the fate and life of prisoner Fasfous, and turning him into an unofficial ‘prisoner’ in the hospital. He remains under the guard of the hospital ‘security’ instead of the prisons guards. Family members and relatives can visit him like any patient according to hospital rules, but cant move him anywhere. The commission added that Fasfouss health is worsening with each day. The 32-year-old is persistently dizzy, has severe fatigue and chest pain, and his blood pressure and blood sugar levels are low. Fasfous also refuses to take supplements or undergo medical tests, saying he didn’t suffer from health problems or illnesses prior to his arrest. Fasfous and al-Qawasmeh were transferred from the prison clinics to Israeli hospitals. Al-Qawasmeh’s mother, Umm Hazem, told MintPress News that the family received a permit to enter Israel (or 1948-Occupied Palestine). “The [Israel] Prison Service wants to relieve their responsibility from his life in case anything happens,” Hazem said. “It’s not a human-rights thing.”   Administrative detentions increasing Israel’s policy of administrative detention allows it to imprison individuals indefinitely on secret information without charging them or allowing them to stand trial for a period of six months, with the possibility of renewal. Neither the detainee nor his attorney can access the classified evidence. While Israelis and foreigners can also be subject to administrative detention, the practice is mostly used against Palestinians. In September, Palestinian prisoner-rights organization Addameer sent an urgent appeal to the United Nations to intervene and pressure Israel to end administrative detention. Addameer’s letter emphasized the fact that administrative detentions have spiked recently. Milena Ansari, Adameer’s international advocacy officer, said: The Israeli Occupations use of administrative detention has drastically increased especially this year, where arbitrary detention has been a key feature to maintain control over the Palestinians, especially with regards to what was happening in Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah, in the West Bank, and especially with the escape of the six prisoners from Gilboa Prison. In 2020, Israel issued at least 1,114 administrative detention orders against Palestinians, while no less than 759 administrative detention orders were issued from January through June 2021. Currently, 520 Palestinians are held in administrative detention. Ansari suspects the number of administrative detentions will continue surging before the year ends. What’s become particularly concerning is the dramatic increase in Palestinian children held in administrative detention. Under the Freedom of Information Law, Israeli human-rights organization HaMoked found three minors were administratively detained in January of this year. By June, that number had risen to eight. Amal Nakhleh, 17, was arrested and placed in administrative detention on Jan. 21, 2020. He was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a rare medical condition that requires constant medical care and monitoring. “Even a child who suffers from health implications is subjected to administrative detention,” Ansari said, adding his detention has been renewed three times. “So you can see the arbitrary use of this against children where according to international law the detention of children should come as the last resort and for the least amount of time possible. But this is in complete contrast [to Israel’s use] of administrative detention.”   For security reasons Administrative detention is permitted under international law but only within the confines of extreme circumstances related to a national emergency and security purposes. Israel abuses this reasoning by declaring it is in an ongoing (i.e., perpetual) state of emergency. Addameer argued in a July 2017 publication that Israel uses administrative detention as a form of collective punishment, noting how the number of administrative detainees soared to 8,000 during the First Intifada, a mass Palestinian uprising against the Israeli Occupation lasting from 1987 to 1993. Following the Gilboa Prison break, more than 100 Palestinians were arrested, including family members of the escaped prisoners. And in May Israel issued 155 administrative detention orders during the protests against the forced displacement of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the war on Gaza. According to HaMoked, more than 10 % of Palestinians incarcerated by Israel are administrative detainees. Over 10% of Palestinians incarcerated by Israel are administrative detainees! So what should be a rare, exceptional measure is in fact common practice for the Israeli military pic.twitter.com/uHw1kJV8q8 — HaMoked (@HaMokedRights) October 13, 2021 “When there was an increase of use of force in Jerusalem, with regards to Damascus Gate and Sheikh Jarrah, Israel used administrative detention to rearrest former prisoners under the basis that they might impose a risk on the Occupation,” Ansari said. To her, Israel explains away these arrests by saying “Lets detain them in the meantime for no reason just to make sure that nothing happens to the security of Israel, which is a 100 times greater than any Palestinian.” Detainee Hisham’s brother, Saad Abu Hawash, said Hisham was jailed under the guise of security. “The Shabak [Israeli intelligence unit] told Hisham, ‘While you are free, your existence is dangerous for Israelis,’” Saad said. Hisham, 38, was arrested on Oct. 28, 2020 and his administrative detention was renewed in April. He is currently held in Ramleh Prison in Ramla, where Saad said his health is in danger. “The only thing he can move in his body is his tongue, and even that he can barely move  because hes so tired from the hunger strike,” Saad added. “And the moment he drinks water, he vomits it immediately with some blood.” Hisham is also refusing medicine and supplements. Despite his debilitating condition, Hisham was placed back into a cell, which his lawyer said is dirty, small, and lacks sunlight. This week, Israeli human-rights organization B’Tselem submitted a request to the Ministry of Health to have Hisham transferred to a civilian hospital. At the time of this writing, no government entity had responded to the request   History of hunger strikes in Palestine Palestinian prisoners started executing hunger strikes in 1968 after Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, as a way to protest ill treatment and conditions inside Israeli jails. This tactic later grew into demonstrating against administrative detention specifically. Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strikes have had varying degrees of success throughout the decades. Some have managed to get their demands met, while others have been subjected to solitary confinement, force-feeding, and banned family visits. Addameer’s Ansari stated that hunger strikes are used as a last resort mechanism to gain adequate living standards in prison, explaining: Palestinian prisoners have no other means to fight for their rights but to use their own bodies as a tool. Theres no judicial system to try them fairly. Theres no party inside prison that can share their demands. So the sole item that they can use to protest and fight for their rights is their bodies. We understand the controversy of how risky it is for their health. But this only makes us understand how desperate prisoners are to gain a bit of dignity when they are detained in Israeli prisons.   ‘A normal life’ Asmaa Jalal Quzmar hasn’t seen her husband, Al Araj, since his arrest on June 30. Asmaa Jalal Quzmar with her son protesting the administrative detention of her husband, Alaa Al Araj. “A special unit from the Israeli forces bombed the main entrance of the house, beat him, and arrested him,” Quzmar recalled. She received permission to visit him in September, but the Israeli Prison Service revoked Al Araj’s visitation rights as punishment for his hunger strike. “He cant stand. If he drinks water, it will just come out of his nose. He cant concentrate. And he’s having a hard time breathing,” Quzmar said. Al Araj is also suffering from panic attacks and has lost 44 pounds. Al Araj wanted to go on a hunger strike during his first administrative detention last year, but Quzma convinced him not to. This time around, she couldn’t stop him. Al-Qawasmeh’s mother, Hazem, hasn’t left his bedside since he was transferred to Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot. Hazem is begging her son to take supplements but he refuses, knowing that the moment his health improves, the 24-year-old will be sent back to jail. “He would love to live his life freely and have a normal life, not get arrested every few periods,” Hazem said. Al-Qawasmeh vowed to never go back to prison. This sentiment is motivating him to persist with the hunger strike. “He says, ‘When I dont do anything, Im in jail. What will happen when I do something? Even if by the end of it, I’m shahid, I deserve to continue the hunger strike,’” Hazem said. Shahid originates from the Quran and refers to a person dying for what they believe in. Saad hopes his brother’s hunger strike will exert enough pressure on the Israeli government to release him so Hisham can experience a normal life. Hisham’s family also needs him, Saad said. His mother died when he was in prison in 2008, and now his six-year-old son, who has a kidney problem, may have his kidneys removed. “Its very hard to lose a person because of a hunger strike, and for some unfair situation where there are no charges, nothing is happening,” Saad said. “He deserves to have a peaceful life.” Feature photo | Asmaa Jalal Quzmar with her son protesting the administrative detention of her husband, Alaa Al Araj. Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News. The post Palestinian Prisoners Under Israeli Administrative Detention Continue Long, Brutal Hunger Strikes appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Inside Stories, Inside Stories, Top Story, Israeli prisons, Palestine, Palestinian prisoners, prison hunger strike]

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[l] at 10/18/21 11:39am
(DavidSwanson.org) — 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.” Feature photo | Colin Powell holds up a vial he said could contain anthrax as he presents evidence of Iraqs alleged weapons programs to the United Nations Security Council, Feb. 5, 2003. Elise Amendola | AP David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is executive director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. The post Colin Powells Own Staff Had Warned Him Against His War Lies appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Front Page: National, National, Colin Powell, invasion of Iraq, Iraq War, Iraq WMD]

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[l] at 10/14/21 12:27pm
WASHINGTON (Jacobin) — Since the Taliban took control of Kabul and the central government on August 15, efforts to support Afghan women have become extremely challenging. According to some prominent U.S. feminists with strong ties to Afghan women, the Taliban “has no legitimacy beyond the brutal force it commands,” and governments, the United Nations and regional actors should not recognize or work with it. For some, this means isolating the Taliban by continuing to freeze Afghan funds held overseas and suspending any assistance that is coordinated with a government agency. But does that position really help Afghan women? There’s little question that gains made by Afghan women over the past 20 years, particularly urban women, have been rolled back—at least temporarily. Since coming to power, the Taliban have said girls would be allowed to go to school, but in some parts of the country, girls are being kept out of grades 7-12. And while female students have continued to attend private universities, most women enrolled in public universities have not been attending classes due to fear, canceled classes or Taliban restrictions. Even though Taliban spokesmen insist that women can continue to work, there are also frequent reports of Taliban militants ordering women to leave their workplaces. While we should all be outraged about the abuses and deterioration of rights that Afghan women are experiencing, the Taliban aren’t the only cause of women’s distress right now. The economy and public services are screeching to a halt because the international community has pulled the plug on funding. Afghanistan is a country that has relied on outside donors to fund its vital services for most of its modern existence. When the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan, it froze $9.5 billion of the Afghan Central Bank’s assets and pushed the International Monetary Fund to block Afghanistan’s access to over $450 million earmarked for COVID-19 relief. Adding fuel to the fire, the World Bank suspended financing to the Afghan healthcare system through its Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. Given that foreign aid to Afghanistan had previously been about $8.5 billion a year — nearly half of the country’s gross domestic product — the impact of freezing these funds is catastrophic for women and their families. There are about 220,000 teachers in Afghanistan, and UNICEF estimates that about a third of them are women. Since June, most teachers haven’t been paid their salaries. On October 6, the 45,000-member Afghan Teachers Association put out an urgent appeal calling attention to their dire situation. “The Ministry of Education has very few resources, and it is hard to ask our teachers to keep working without salaries. Many of them are the sole breadwinners in their families, and they are really struggling. It will be difficult to keep the schools open if we have no funds.” And it isn’t just Afghan teachers. Most of the nation’s healthcare workers have also been working without salaries. Right now, the country’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that due to the suspension of funding, Afghan medical facilities have been unable to buy supplies and pay salaries. According to UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Director Kanni Wignaraja, only about 17 percent of some 2,200 health facilities in Afghanistan are fully functional and the personnel who are working are doing so on a voluntary basis. “There is a risk that the Afghan people will have virtually no access to primary health services,” she said. Prior to the U.S. military withdrawal, the World Bank funded the Sehatmandi project—a project administered by NGOs that in 2020 provided healthcare services to 30 million people. To avert a total collapse in healthcare, the UN Development Fund recently announced that it will temporarily take over management of the Sehatmandi project from the World Bank, but this is just a stop-gap measure. The European Union’s announcement on October 12 of a $1.2 billion aid package is certainly welcome news. So is the announcement by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken that the US would help fund humanitarian aid. But it will be nearly impossible to effectively distribute aid while Afghan banks remain under US and UN sanctions, unable to access physical dollars. And humanitarian aid will not provide salaries for the nation’s civil services. For that, Afghan’s frozen funds must be released. We understand the opposition to payment mechanisms that flow through Taliban hands. For salaries, the option of direct payments through UN agencies and NGOs is indeed the preferred option, as already existed in the case of many healthcare workers. But can this really be accomplished for the nation’s over 350,000 public workers? And how can the banking system be saved without lifting sanctions? These are issues that the Biden administration and world leaders must solve. The intricacies will be discussed at the October 11-17 World Bank and IMF meetings in Washington and at the G20 summit in Rome at the end of the month. Feminists must also discuss the complexities. They should not take the simplistic view that a policy of non-cooperation with the Taliban is the way to support women. As John Sifton of Human Rights Watch said, “Afghanistan’s underlying economic and humanitarian problems, which disproportionately affect women and girls, cannot simply be ignored because of the Taliban’s record.” We in the West who call ourselves feminists must grapple with the complexities and emerge as strong advocates for releasing funds that can stop an entire nation of 40 million people from facing a future of starvation and misery. Feature photo | Afghan women march to demand their rights under the Taliban rule during a demonstration near the former Womens Affairs Ministry building in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 19, 2021. | AP Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ariel Gold is the national codirector and senior Middle East policy analyst with CODEPINK for Peace. The post How Feminists Can Support Afghan Women Living Under the Taliban appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Insights, Afghan women, Afghanistan, feminism, Taliban]

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[l] at 10/13/21 1:15pm
 Scheerpost — 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. Feature photo | WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London, May 1, 2019. Matt Dunham | AP Lee Camp is an American stand-up comedian, writer, actor and activist. Camp is the host of the weekly comedy news TV show “Redacted Tonight With Lee Camp” on RT America. He is a former comedy writer for the Onion and the Huffington Post and has been a touring stand-up comic for 20 years. The post Lee Camp: Julian Assange’s Father, John Shipton, on the U.S. Government’s ‘Scandalous’ Plan to ‘Murder’ His Son appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Front Page: National, National, extradition, Julian Assange, Mike Pompeo, Wikileaks]

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[l] at 10/12/21 3:45pm
MINSK, BELARUS — Quietly, the U.S. national security state is turning up the heat on Belarus, hoping that the ex-Soviet country of 9 million will be the next casualty of its regime-change agenda. This sentiment was made clear in President Joe Biden’s recent speech at the United Nations General Assembly. Biden announced that the U.S. would pursue “relentless diplomacy” finding “new ways of lifting people up around the world, of renewing and defending democracy.” The 46th president was explicit in whom he meant by this: “The democratic world is everywhere. It lives in the anti-corruption activists, the human rights defenders, the journalists, the peace protestors on the frontlines of this struggle in Belarus, Burma, Syria, Cuba [and] Venezuela,” he said, putting Belarus first on the list of states in desperate need of a change in government. This builds on the back of previous statements the administration has released. In June, a joint announcement by the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom and the European Union essentially pronounced the death penalty on the Lukashenko government, in power since 1994. “We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments,” they wrote, as they announced new sanctions.   A “modest but significant contribution” Covertly, Washington is taking far more wide-ranging action. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is spending millions of dollars yearly on Belarus and has 40 active projects inside the state, all with the same goal of overthrowing Alexander Lukashenko and replacing him with a more U.S.-friendly president. Although not a single individual or organization is named, it is clear from the scant public information it reveals that Washington is focusing on three areas: training activists and civil-society organizations in non-violent regime-change tactics; funding anti-government media; and bankrolling election-monitoring groups. Earlier this year, on a Zoom meeting infiltrated by activists and released to the public, the NED’s senior Europe Program officer, Nina Ognianova, boasted that the groups leading the nationwide demonstrations against Lukashenko last year actions that made worldwide headlines were trained by her organization. “We dont think that this movement that is so impressive and so inspiring came out of nowhere that it just happened overnight,” she said, noting that the NED had made a “modest but significant contribution” to the protests. On the same call, NED President Carl Gershman added that “we support many, many groups and we have a very, very active program throughout the country, and many of the groups obviously have their partners in exile.” Gershman also boasted that the Belarusian government was powerless to intervene and stop them: “Were not like Freedom House or NDI [the National Democratic Institute] and the IRI [International Republican Institute]; we dont have offices. So if were not there, they cant kick us out.” The NED was set up by the Reagan administration as a front group for the CIA, to continue the agency’s work in destabilizing other countries. “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA,” Gershman said, explaining its creation. Another NED founder, Allen Weinstein, was perhaps even more blunt: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” he told The Washington Post. Belarusians are largely ignorant that this is going on beneath the surface. A poll taken by the NED’s sister organization USAID found that around two-thirds of the public were unaware of the actions of any NGOs inside their country, let alone where their funding came from.   The chosen one The U.S. and Europe have not only decided Lukashenko must go, but have even agreed on his replacement. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a 39-year-old former schoolteacher and wife of anti-government activist Sergei Tikhanovsky, is the D.C. establishment’s clear candidate of choice. Described almost universally in corporate media as a pro-democracy activist, Tsikhanouskaya emerged from obscurity last year after her husband was barred from standing in the 2020 elections. Sergei is currently on trial for his role in organizing the nationwide demonstrations last year, an event the government sees as a coup attempt. The government reportedly detained tens of thousands of people, and it was this heavy-handed response that added fuel to the flames of protests, turning them into a demonstration against political repression. If convicted, Tikhanovsky faces up to 15 years in prison. Sviatlana ran in his stead, officially winning 10% of the national vote (although she maintains that she actually won an overwhelming victory and that the contest was rigged). In recent months, she has been doing the rounds in the West, meeting with foreign leaders in an attempt to convince them to support her. In July, she traveled to Washington for a meeting with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who conveyed the U.S.’ “respect for the courage and determination of the opposition” in Belarus. Later that month, Tsikhanouskaya received what she was looking for: an endorsement from the president of the United States. After an in-depth meeting with Joe Biden, he promoted her as the true leader of her country. “The United States stands with the people of Belarus in their quest for democracy and universal human rights,” he said in a statement. She also received NATO’s blessing, meeting with senior figures from its think tank, the Atlantic Council, on several occasions. At a recent event with the Council on Foreign Relations, Tsikhanouskaya made it clear that she was dependent on foreign support to continue her campaign. “We don’t have a lot of space inside the country. That’s why we are so [grateful for a large] amount of help from outside,” she said, telling the audience of business figures, state officials and media personalities that she and they “shar[ed] common values.” Perhaps the clearest indication that she had won the favor of the Western establishment were the rumors of a Nobel Peace Prize. At the time of its awarding, she was equal third with the bookmarkers, but ultimately lost out to journalists Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa. I was honored to meet with @Tsihanouskaya at the White House this morning. The United States stands with the people of Belarus in their quest for democracy and universal human rights. pic.twitter.com/SdR6w4IBNZ — President Biden (@POTUS) July 28, 2021 Despite the official endorsements, there are strong indications that Tsikhanouskaya enjoys little public support in Belarus and that her position is largely buoyed by foreign backing. A study conducted by Chatham House and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) found that only 10% of Belarusians believed she would be a good president (as opposed to 25% for Lukashenko). Both Chatham House and RUSI are directly funded by NATO and its member states like the U.S., and both have previously advocated for regime change in Belarus. More worryingly, Tsikhanouskaya appears to be among the least trusted and most disliked people in the entire country, the poll finding that even among people who supported the 2020 protests her trustworthiness score is negative. Furthermore, the poll was carried out by an organization that makes blatantly clear throughout the report that it wants Lukashenko overthrown, and was conducted largely online, among tech-savvy, younger Belarusians in large cities — all groups that trend heavily towards being pro-protest and anti-Lukashenko. As such, the survey could barely have been designed any more favorably for Tsikhanouskaya. That even under these circumstances her popularity is so low is telling. Moreover, the polling was carried out before she began touring the West, asking for more crippling economic sanctions on her own country.   Washington’s woman Why, then, has the West decided to champion her, and not other opposition leaders, many of whom have a far greater support base according to the poll? One explanation is that the Lukashenko administration has already imprisoned them. Viktar Babaryka, for example, was sentenced to 14 years in a penal colony for a host of financial crimes. Amnesty and other Western organizations have described the ruling as “politically motivated.” Other opposition figures, such as Maksim Znak and Maria Kalesnikava have also been jailed. Another reason could be Tsikhanouskaya’s seeming total willingness to be a representative of the U.S. government in Belarus. Her senior advisor, Franak Viačorka, for example, is a consultant for the U.S. Agency for Global Media; the creative director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, an organization described by The New York Times as a “worldwide propaganda network built by the CIA.” He is also a Non-Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council, a NATO-linked organization that boasts no fewer than seven former CIA directors on its board. At an Atlantic Council event in July, Tsikhanouskaya called on the West to do more to overthrow her opponent, saying “I think its high time for democratic countries to unite and show their teeth.” According to the NED’s Gershman, the U.S. continues to work “very, very closely” with her. Tsikhanouskaya’s ascension from obscurity to political stardom mirrors that of Venezuelan politician Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. contends is the country’s rightful president. According to Cuban intellectual Raul Capote, whom the CIA recruited to become president of the country after what it hoped would be a successful regime-change attempt, the U.S. prefers to work with unknown figures because of their lack of political baggage and Washington’s ability to shape them in a manner it sees fit. Tsikhanouskaya apparently sees herself in the same mold as Guaidó, describing him as “inspiring.” Meanwhile, Venezuelan anti-government demonstrators can be seen flying the flag of the Belarusian opposition at rallies. Thank you, Mr. Guaido! Its an honor for me to be on the list. Your entry is quite inspiring — Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) February 18, 2021 Tsikhanouskaya fashions herself merely as a “transition president” who would not run for re-election after Lukashenko falls. This is eerily similar to how Jeanine Añez, the U.S. backed Bolivian leader who came to power after a coup against Evo Morales in 2019, described herself. Like Tsikhanouskaya, Añez was also an obscure political figure held up by the United States as the savior of democracy. Despite describing herself as the “interim president,” she immediately began radically transforming the country’s economy and foreign relations, privatizing state assets and moving Bolivia closer to the U.S. She also suspended elections three times before being forced to concede after a nationwide general strike paralyzed the country. While in the United States, Tsikhanouskaya made sure to publicly meet with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland. To those in the know, this was another clear message. Nuland was the brains behind the U.S.-backed Maidan Insurrection in Ukraine that overthrew the government of Viktor Yanukovych, bringing in a far-right, pro-Western administration. Nuland flew to Kiev to personally participate in the demonstrations herself, even handing out cookies in Independence Square in the city center. At the Council on Foreign Relations, Tsikhanouskaya said she saw “a lot of parallels” between her situation and the Maidan, adding that “the Belarusian people will fight till our victory.” While Railing Against Trump Coup, Biden Appoints Chief Ukraine Coup-Plotter Victoria Nuland   Journalist or Neo-Nazi paramilitary poster child? A second Ukrainian connection is the case of the arrest of opposition figure Roman Protasevich. In May, the Belarusian government forced a Ryanair flight between Greece and Lithuania that Protasevich was on to land in Belarus so that they could arrest him. By way of an excuse for the flagrant breach of international law, the government claimed it had received a credible bomb threat. Video footage has now emerged of so-called Belarus Journalist Roman Protasevich who it appears was in fact part of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion and fought in the #Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/MUyOc9tng3 — Dean OBrien BA (Hons) (@DeanoBeano1) May 26, 2021 Western nations strongly condemned the move, imposing sanctions on Belarus in retaliation. Left unreported in Western media, however, were Protasevich’s ties to both the Maidan Revolution and to Western governments. Universally described as a courageous journalist, Protasevich had, in fact, been a member of the infamous Azov Battalion, a Neo-Nazi paramilitary that did much of the heavy lifting to overthrow Yanukovych. He was literally the group’s poster child, appearing on the front cover of its magazine Black Sun in full fatigues and holding a rifle. The Azov Battalion has since been absorbed into the Ukrainian armed forces. After leaving the Azov Battalion, Protasevich was awarded the Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellowship in Prague and worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Thread. Re Protasevich and Azov. Heres whats out there to be analyzed against other evidence, commentary: 1st photo is Protasevich, 2nd photo is the cover of Azovs "Black Sun" publication July 2015 issue #15. 3rd photo is what @azure says: "0.70 confidence" (thats high-ish). pic.twitter.com/ucrjma8GEd — Oleksiy Kuzmenko (@kooleksiy) May 25, 2021 Protasevich had traveled to Greece to attend a meeting with Tsikhanouskaya, the president of Greece, and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. Officially, he was there as a photographer. However, these connections certainly suggest there could be more to this story than meets the eye and that perhaps Belarusian authorities suspected something about the meeting, taking a calculated decision to detain him at all costs. What they found out or what information Protasevich was carrying will likely never be made public. Посчастливилось поснимать @Tsihanouskaya в ходе её визита в Афины. Было безумно круто получить такой опыт! Больше фото — в официальных аккаунтах Светланы Георгиевны. pic.twitter.com/ugHVHXLzrQ — Roman Protasevich (@pr0tez) May 16, 2021   US supports plenty of tyrants, just not those who won’t play ball The primary reason the U.S. government opposes the Lukashenko administration is not its authoritarianism, real as that might be. Even by its own definitions, the U.S. actively supports around three-quarters of the world’s dictatorships. Instead, Lukashenko’s steadfast refusal to privatize state assets, join NATO, or open the country up for foreign exploitation are Washington’s principal objections. Lukashenko has directly controlled the country since 1994; and, unlike the other former republics of the U.S.S.R., he has retained state control over industry and the comprehensive welfare state built up in previous decades. As a result, there is essentially no extreme poverty in Belarus; according to a report by the World Bank and European Union, only 0.4% of the population live on less than $5.50 per day, with no one living on less than $3.20. This cannot be said for its neighbors; the number of people per capita living on less than $5.50 per day is 10 times higher in Lithuania and 18 times higher in Russia. In some other ex-Soviet countries that took different paths, such as Armenia and Georgia, the vast majority live in poverty, with fewer than 10% earning $10 or more per day. Much of this reduction in poverty occurred in the 2000s. As most countries were entering a protracted recession after the 2008 financial crisis, Belarus was going from strength to strength. Between 2003 and 2014, the number of people unable to spend more than $5.50 per day dropped from 38.3% to 0.4%, while those making a middle-class income (defined by the World Bank as being able to spend more than $10 per day) rose from under 20% to over 90% over the same period, a feat the World Bank no lover of Belarus or the U.S.S.R.  described as “impressive.” The government continued to provide universal healthcare and socialized housing while developing new industries such as the tech sector. During this time, economic inequality actually decreased, Belarus becoming as equal as the Scandinavian countries much feted for their progressive societies. Since 2015, however, the economy has struggled. The World Bank’s advice to Belarus was predictable: privatize, cut benefits (particularly heating allowances) and allow business to do its job. The Lukashenko administration has actually partially moved in that direction, a decision the World Bank described as “encouraging.” For the first time, the state now directly employs fewer than half the workforce. However, this has led to increases in poverty and a reduction in support for Lukashenko, who once seemed untouchable. Nevertheless, a survey conducted by hostile neighbor Poland still found the 67-year-old former state farm boss had a 41% approval/ 46% disapproval rating (not dissimilar to that of Trump and Biden). Hardly helping this have been the U.S. and European sanctions that have targeted the country. While billed as an effort to “get tough” on the Lukashenko “regime,” sanctions, as the United Nations notes, “disproportionately affect the poor and most vulnerable.” In August of this year, the U.S. announced a new round of sanctions, specifically targeting state-owned businesses in an attempt to make them less profitable. The European Union did likewise, also promising to pull Belarus out of its downturn if it overthrew Lukashenko. “Once Belarus embarks on a democratic transition, the E.U. is committed to help Belarus stabilise its economy, reform its institutions in order to make them resilient and more democratic, create new jobs and improve people’s living standards,” they announced, adding, “The E.U. will continue to support a democratic, independent, sovereign, prosperous and stable Belarus. The voices and the will of the people of Belarus will not be silenced.” The government heavily restricts polling, so any gauge of the public mood in Belarus is far from precise. However, judging by the Chatham House/RUSI survey, it is clear that significant portions of the country support Lukashenko while other significant portions oppose him, along with some who are unsure. Opposing Lukashenko, however, does not necessarily translate into backing Tsikhanouskaya. Russia is by far the most popular country among Belarusians, 32% of whom want to formally unify with their larger neighbor. Only 9% want to join the E.U. and only 7% wish to join NATO. The U.S. is the most distrusted country, even among the young, urban tech-savvy citizens Chatham House and RUSI polled. Thus, while Tsikhanouskaya consistently claims to be the authentic voice of Belarus, it appears her prime constituency is in Washington and Brussels. The United States might be able to hurt the Belarusian economy through economic warfare, but it is unable to make the people accept Washington’s chosen candidate. Living under an authoritarian system, Belarusians understandably dream of a more democratic future. However, they should be extremely careful whom they align themselves with: the U.S., NATO and the World Bank’s vision of democracy and prosperity might not align with what they naively had in mind. Feature photo | Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, right, pauses during a meeting with high level military officials in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 5, 2021. Nikolay Petrov | AP Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.org, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams. The post US Writes Belarus into Its Familiar Regime-Change Script appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Inside Stories, Inside Stories, News, Top Story, Belarus, foreign intervention, Lukashenko, Regime Change, United States]

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[l] at 10/12/21 1:51pm
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — The Western corporate media peddled claims of direct Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but remains silent on the seemingly provable interference of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Even worse is that the Biden administration, armed with information about the interference, is still selling weapons to Abu Dhabi. In July, at the beginning of what should really be labeled as “UAE-Gate,” Thomas J. Barrack Jr. a close aide, Inaugural Committee head, and fundraiser for the Trump campaign was accused alongside two others as having operated as a UAE spy. The charges against Barrack include conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and lying in an interview with law enforcement; but, most importantly, influencing former President Donald Trump’s foreign policy. Prosecutors believe that Barracks influence campaign over the former president was directed by UAE royals and that he received a hero’s welcome in the Emirates just two weeks after the 2016 election. It is alleged that Barrack met the UAE’s crown prince, the country’s national security adviser, and a third, unnamed, royal. The November 2016 meeting was said to have been a secret back-channel effort to influence the foreign policy of the Trump campaign and to increase the UAE’s clout in Washington. The alleged conspiracy to illegally influence Donald Trump prior to and during the first two years of his administration, specifically involved promoting the idea of a tight relationship with “brilliant young leaders” such as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Two weeks prior to the 2016 election, Barrack published a comment piece in Fortune magazine advocating for “such triumphs as the Nixon-Kissinger pacts with China that isolated the Soviet Union and helped to end the Cold War,” in which he stated: It’s in the interest of all these [Gulf Cooperation Council] allies, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Palestine, other GCC members, along with Israel, to join forces. That alliance would provide a countervailing balance to the Revolutionary Guard in Iran, the ISIS caliphate and the aggressive aspiration of Turkey, which is further fueled by a renewed Russian push. It is important to note that the above quoted statement came well prior to any public notion of the normalization deals dubbed the Abraham Accords between Israel and Arab States, which included the UAE. In a 2018 exposé published by The New Yorker, entitled “Donald Trump’s New World Order,” it was claimed that Israel-UAE normalization talks had been held in secret since the early 1990’s and that in 2016, just prior to Trump winning election, Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv were closer than ever. The New Yorker also revealed the secrecy of the discussions that were taking place between Israel and the UAE prior to Donald Trump’s election, explaining that: Toward the end of [President Barack] Obamas second term, U.S. intelligence agencies learned of phone calls between senior UAE and Israeli officials, including calls between a senior Emirati leader and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. Then U.S. intelligence agencies picked up on a secret meeting between senior UAE and Israeli leaders in Cyprus. U.S. officials suspect that Netanyahu attended the meeting, which centred on countering Obamas Iran deal. The Israelis and the Emiratis didnt inform the Obama Administration of their discussions. Back in the earliest traceable UAE-Israel meetings, during the Clinton administration, Abu Dhabi sought to attain F-16 fighter jets from Washington as a reward for normalizing ties with Israel, while the 2020 Abraham Accords seemed to be signed with F-35 fighter jets in mind. Although U.S. senators have put up some potential roadblocks for the export of the technology to the UAE, a deal was signed between the U.S. and the UAE for the sale of 50 F-35s and up to 18 drones this past January. The significance of any UAE collusion with elements of the Trump administration, given what we know about the UAE’s prior intentions to normalize ties with Israel and receive backing in their anti-Iran Middle East strategy, would be a damning indictment. This should also raise questions about the role that the UAE may have played in drumming up major tensions regionally as a result of Abu Dhabi’s alleged influence on U.S. foreign policy.   Hackers for hire In September, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that three former U.S. Intelligence Community and military personnel had agreed to pay $1.68 million to resolve criminal charges, stemming from their work as mercenary “hackers for hire.” The documents released by the Department of Justice stated: According to court documents, the defendants worked as senior managers at a United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)-based company (U.A.E. CO) that supported and carried out computer network exploitation (CNE) operations (i.e., “hacking”) for the benefit of the U.A.E government between 2016 and 2019. Despite being informed on several occasions that their work for U.A.E. CO, under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), constituted a “defense service” requiring a license from the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), the defendants proceeded to provide such services without a license. The men charged were said to have been responsible for helping the UAE to spy on targets internationally, including targets inside the United States itself. MIT Technology Review later revealed, through two sources, that not only had the UAE used U.S. citizens to do its hacking, but that the technology used for a 2016 iPhone hack was sold to them by U.S.-based firm Accuvant. According to a report, which Reuters first broke in 2019, in 2016 the UAE’s spying “Project Raven,” formed of a clandestine team including dozens of ex-U.S. intelligence officers, had moved to a cybersecurity firm named DarkMatter. It was here that “Americans involved in the effort say they saw the mission cross a red line: targeting fellow Americans for surveillance.”   Barrack’s back channel? In the Thomas Barrack case, one of the co-conspirators, Matthew Grimes, was a former executive at Barrack’s company who got slapped with a seven-count indictment. Also charged was Rashid al-Malik, who has been described as a businessman from the UAE. Al-Malik supposedly worked as a direct connection between Barrack and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed. Interestingly, al-Malik’s name popped up in a probe by U.S. federal prosecutors into illegal foreign funding of the Trump inaugural fund and a pro-Trump Super PAC in 2018. In 2019 The Intercept stated that sources confirmed that the U.S. Intelligence Community had concluded al-Malik was a UAE intelligence source since 2017. It was claimed that “Al-Malik reported to UAE intelligence about aspects of the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, according to a former U.S. official and documents viewed by The Intercept.” Written in the 46-page indictment of the three alleged UAE agents are charges that Emirati government officials: tasked the defendants … with, variously and among other things, (a) influencing public opinion, the foreign policy positions of the [Trump] Campaign and the foreign policy positions of the United States government; (b) obtaining information about foreign policy positions and related decision-making within the Campaign and, at times, the United States Government; (c) developing a backchannel line of communication with the campaign and, at times, officials of the United States government; and (d) developing plans to increase the United Arab Emirates’ political influence and to promote its foreign policy preferences.  Besides the record-breaking weapons sales and Israel normalization deals, it is also important to note that Barrack, and his co-conspirators, allegedly played a role in pushing the Trump administration to back the Saudi-UAE-led blockade of Qatar in 2017. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain all severed diplomatic ties with Doha. Later that September, Tom Barrack was said to have persuaded Trump not to hold a summit, at Camp David, to address the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis. This came following an announcement by the president to bring rivals to the White House to work on ending the dispute. The dispute between Qatar and its Persian Gulf Arab neighbors was reported at the time to have been to do with Doha’s funding of alleged terrorist groups, namely Hamas, and additionally its relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, the blockade was eventually lifted and proved to be completely ineffective, with Qatar coming out of it unscathed in January of this year.   Jilting Jordan The blockade, however, did not pass by without causing any knock-on effects, one of which was the sidelining of the decades-long, reliable U.S. ally Jordan. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan broke with its two year stance against Doha in 2019, when Amman restored full economic ties. Donald Trump’s staunch support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE had led to the U.S. coming to loggerheads with its traditional ally, especially after King Abdullah II of Jordan caught wind of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman perhaps taking seeking to take over the Hashemite ruler’s symbolic role as the Guardian of Jerusalem al-Aqsa Mosque compound. This April a plot to “destabilize the country,” according to the Jordanian government, was launched by a number of Jordanian nationals, including King Abdullah’s half-brother, Prince Hamzah. Also part of the alleged plot, which was dubbed a coup attempt at the time, was Bassem Awadallah, an influential businessman who also served as an adviser to the Saudi crown prince and resided primarily in the UAE. The meddling in Jordanian affairs was a plot organized by Saudi Arabia, along with the United States and Israel, according to sources quoted by David Ignatius at The Washington Post. The damage that such events have led to, in terms of the relationships formed regionally, has had major implications and, although the Biden administration has sought to undo the harm that was done, it has kept on with some of the same strategies. While Doha and Riyadh have grown closer, since the end of the blockade, the United States has grown closer with Abu Dhabi this as the UAE seems to be breaking away from their Saudi allies. The Biden administration has not acted against the UAE over the allegations that it did much of what the Democratic Party, along with much of the U.S. media, was furiously claiming Russia did in 2016. President Biden and his fellow Democrats, instead of voicing concern, seem only to be embracing a closer relationship with the Emirates and seeking to build off of the Trump-era Abraham Accords.   Profit über alles and a double standard Thomas Barrack claims that he is an innocent man but if he or any of his alleged co-conspirators are convicted, it would establish that the United Arab Emirates is responsible for doing much of what the U.S. media and Democratic Party were claiming Russia was doing, during the presidency of Donald Trump. This would mean that while the focus was on Russian collusion during the Russia-Gate scare, many of the same conspiracies that were said to have been taking place in that case, were happening in the case of the UAE. Even without these men sentenced to prison, there is enough evidence there to prompt an immediate investigation, but instead it seems that the profits of the U.S. military industrial complex have been put ahead of security, and the relationship between Abu Dhabi and Washington has only grown stronger. All this begs the question as to whether influence is currently being exerted over the Biden administration and why it is so difficult for the president to take a stand. It also demands an answer as to why the Persian Gulf monarchy is continuing to have arms funneled to it, with less resistance than to the arms sales approved for Saudi Arabia. The UAE is the third largest purchaser of U.S. weapons, behind Australia and Saudi Arabia. The relationship between the U.S. and UAE, however, seems to be based on much more than just weapons trade, and maintaining a close diplomatic relationship seems to enjoy bipartisan consensus; nevertheless, if there was in fact UAE collusion, shouldn’t the response be similar to what we saw enacted against the Russian government? Feature photo | Tom Barrack, the chair of former President Donald Trumps 2017 inaugural committee, allegedly conspired to influence U.S. policy to benefit the United Arab Emirates, even while he was seeking a position as an American diplomat. Barrack, center, leaves Brooklyn federal court in New York, July 26, 2021. Mark Lennihan | AP Robert Inlakesh is a political analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker currently based in London, UK. He has reported from and lived in the occupied Palestinian territories and hosts Press TVs show Palestine Files. Director of ‘Steal of the Century: Trumps Palestine-Israel Catastrophe’. Follow him on Twitter @falasteen47. The post Choosing Its “Gates”: US Punishes Russia but is Giving UAE a Free Pass appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Abu Dhabi, Russiagate, Thomas Barrack, Trump, United Arab Emirates]

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[l] at 10/11/21 2:26pm
ADAMS MORGAN PLAZA, WASHINGTON — “Where that McDonalds is right now,” he says pointing across the street. “That used to be a news stand where Id buy comics as a kid.” Dumah Muhammad stands in Adams Morgan Plaza in Washington, D.C., a light drizzle misting a small crowd of supporters and press. A few people wrangle a tarp over the PA system and theres a tent where folks can grab snacks, pamphlets, water and shelter. Five Metropolitan Police cars are parked alongside the plaza and just behind the plaza theres a staging area stacked with fencing and mingling cops. Despite literally being surrounded, the energy in the plaza is that familiar direct-action blend of defiance and celebration. Between speeches, music pumps out of the PA and folks dance alongside anti-gentrification artwork and handmade signs. A luxury condo looms up the street like a sterile square omen. Therell be a similar behemoth where were all standing (and dancing) if Truist Bank gets its way: a seven-story luxury condo right here in the middle of whats locally known as AdMo Plaza, a space won through grassroots organizing now hoping to be saved by the same. Truist Bank is a banking conglomerate made up of several banks including BB&T and SunTrust, themselves products of bloated mergers and acquisitions that go back to the Savings and Loan debacle. Before it was devoured by this insatiable stream of mergers, Perpetual Federal Bank owned the lot that is now the plaza, having bought it in 1976 after the community won a fight to keep the empty lot from becoming a BP gas station. What followed marked an incredible shift in banking policy. As the AdMo Plaza site tells it: Perpetual Federal agreed in the chartering of the Adams Morgan branch by the Home Loan Bank Board to redress its history of redlining and discriminatory lending, to provide specific changes to its banking practices, and to create a sizable community space for public use, covered in a good neighbor agreement between the Adams Morgan Organization and the bank.   Truist’s lawyers and hardhats keep trying Truist has no interest in upholding its small predecessors agreement, which might not be surprising when you consider the fact that in just the last 10 years theyve “paid $1,300,000,000 to settle three Federal cases for fraud, abuse, and racist discriminatory banking practices against Black and Latino customers.” Now Truist claims theres nothing legally binding in the deed to keep the plaza as is. Plaza protectors counter by pointing out that public-use spaces are rarely deeded as such. Vikram Surya Chiruvolu, co-facilitator with Adams Morgan for Reasonable Development, points to Columbia Rd. NW, one of the plazas cross-streets, as an example. “It was once the boundary line of a number of plantation properties, and the road was created through public use to access those properties,” he explains. “It was never deeded specifically to the city nor recorded on the deeds of those properties.” The battle between Truist and community members has slogged on now for five years, and Chiruvolu gives me the Cliff Notes of this judicial morass, saying that the goal now is to keep Truist from taking over the plaza while legal proceedings are ongoing. Despite the ongoing litigation, Truist has already tried twice to fence off the plaza, on September 22 and 24. On the 22nd, they were shut down by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) for not having the appropriate permit. On the 24th, they returned with the same permit and attempted to block off the plaza again, this time with heavy machinery. “They had four semis filled with concrete barriers blocking the road and idling – spewing exhaust all over the place,” Chiruvolu explains. Once again, however, they were shut down, but not before they had a chance to assault a few people including Chiruvolu, who stood in front of one of the semis with his service dog Reggie. Plaza protectors are in a holding pattern now as Truist gets to work on securing the correct permits. In the meantime, plaza protectors continue to get the word out and advocate for those living in the plaza. A plaza protector holds a sign in defense of the anti-racist legacy of AdMo (Adams Morgan) at the rally on September 22nd, 2021. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com   DC: a national champ in gentrification The fight for AdMo plaza and those who live there is a connective thread in the history of grassroots organizing in what was once known as Chocolate City, where Black and Brown organizers resolutely asserted that Black lives are worth more than white property long before there were hashtags. And its this history of anti-racist and anti-gentrification organizing thats at risk of being bulldozed along with the public spaces still enjoyed by residents today – residents who are increasingly white and well off. “You cant have a community with one type of people,” Muhammad says. The loss of community history represents a loss of present community and an imminent threat to the future. The deep roots of place that support a diverse and strong community are severed. In their place an arid topsoil blisters, supporting only the flimsy and splintered monocultures of gentrification. Graphics by DC artist Divorce Culture pasted around AdMo plaza: Developers Burn in Hell, Gentrification Zone. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com As defined by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), gentrification is “a policy-driven process that begins with targeting low-income, urban communities for discrimination and neglect and ends with improvements that exacerbate vulnerabilities that culminate in displacement.” In other words, white property over Black and Brown lives. For more than a decade, D.C. led the nation in gentrification, and is one of seven cities that together account for nearly half of all gentrification in the nation. According to a 2019 study by the NCRC, D.C. “was the most gentrified city by percentage of eligible neighborhoods that experienced gentrification” between 2000 and 2013, displacing an estimated 20,000 Black residents in that time period.   Diversity, lol Unlike the tactics of old like redlining and racial restrictive covenants (stipulations on deeds that, for instance, barred the sale or rental of property to “non-whites and people of Jewish descent”) gentrification is more subtle. For instance, in Adams Morgan, youll see banners around the neighborhood that brag about diversity; the AdMo Business Improved District (BID) touts AdMo as being the most “vibrant and eclectic” neighborhood in D.C. while unironically posting a picture of all-white members on their “History of the BID” page. It would seem that the History of the BID doesnt include the history of Chocolate City. The AdMo BID is one of 11 BIDs across the city, private-public partnerships that amount to joint ventures between business and property owners to do a wide variety of things – from power washing sidewalks to light installations and, of course, oiling the gentrification slip-n-slide. As Shannon Clark, co-founder of the unhoused support and advocacy group Remora House, put it: “Its basically private governance over space where public money is funneled.” In Northeast D.C., the NoMa (North of Massachusetts Ave.) BID has adopted a similar spin, reusing the word “vibrant” and throwing in descriptors like “hip” and “smart center of the nations capital.” Its unclear whether they mean people who live there are supposedly more intelligent, or it’s a tech reference, or Im just not hip or smart enough to get it. I know Im certainly not “hip” enough to get behind the recent eviction of unhoused encampments at the foot of entire city blocks’ worth of new luxury real estate developments. But thats probably because I dont find racist capitalism hip either. View from the M & 2nd St. NE underpass: more than a city block of new luxury real estate development. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com If you peruse the list of “Whats Next” on the NoMa BID site, they outline pretty clearly what all that new construction is for: swanky hotels, hundreds of new apartments, dozens of new condos, and hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and retail space listed as Class A, a marker for the highest-quality, newly constructed, top-of-the-line spaces, which, as noted by commercial real estate experts SquareFoot, “command top rental rates” and attract “large financial institutions, ad agencies, law firms, and tech giants.” In other words, it sure as shit isnt for the poor. In fact, its so off limits to the poor that they can not even be allowed to gaze upon it. Instead, they must be moved.   Clearing the brush On October 4, city officials callously and violently removed unhoused people and their belongings from two underpasses in the NoMa area: L & 2nd St NE and M & 2nd St. NE. The official story was that it was a matter of public health and safety. This seems like an odd pitch when the CDCs guidelines on encampments state: [A]llow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.  According to D.C.s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS), their reasons for health and safety clean-ups is about garbage piling up, extreme weather in which unhoused would be at risk of injury or death, lack of running water, etc. These are indeed health and safety risks the health and safety risks that go along with being unhoused. They can only really be solved by removing the unhoused element from the equation. Still, DMHHSs own documentation explains that they will often do trash pickups from various encampments around the city and that after a full clean up, unhoused folks can and often do return to that same area, thus addressing health and safety concerns while simultaneously mitigating the risks highlighted in the CDCs most recent guidelines. But see, the idea of returning to the same space doesnt work within the paradigm of gentrification. So these most recent evictions in NoMa are part of a new cruelty a new Pilot program that seeks to make more areas of D.C. permanent tent-free zones; in other words, to further criminalize poverty. And while the goal of essentially outlawing homelessness can never be humane, it doesnt even make logical sense unless youre also eradicating the conditions that result in homelessness. If not, youre just outlawing the effect without outlawing the cause, criminalizing poverty in a system that demands poverty as a foundation from which to extract, and on which to build, wealth. A DC city worker operating a front-end loader crushes a person’s tent and belongings as another city worker pushes sweeps belongings to the side at the M & 2nd St. NE underpass. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com   View from the front By the time I get to NoMa around 9:30 a.m., caution tape has already been bandaged around each underpass. Advocates and volunteers hold space, helping folks move their belongings and speaking out against the city for its inhumane treatment of the predominantly Black unhoused residents. Maurice Cook, part of D.C. Ward 6 Mutual Aid and the Executive Director / Lead Organizer of Serve Your City DC, holds a megaphone and points it at city workers waiting for the signal to move in. “Its easy to put a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard,” he says. “But what good is it if youre not willing to stand up for Black folks?” He addresses the Black city workers assembled on the other side of the street: “You could slip into this situation at any time. This country does not love us. It hates us.” He motions to the long block of new luxury buildings and then looks back to both the city workers and the unhoused residents: “Look at all the work going into making sure we get nothing.” In the simmering chaos, a man cries as workers in white coveralls walk around him to sweep up crushed belongings poor people paid to destroy the lives of other poor people. Another man ducks under the caution tape in order to pick up his dog, placing it in a bike basket. A woman picks through a pile, as if shes looking for something lost. A man hurries through his tent as the lights from a front-end loader blaze across his face. Community members step in to ask the heavy-machinery operator to start somewhere else. And in case youre wondering, a front-end loader is basically like a bulldozer but with wheels rather than tracks like a tank. Its mainly used to pick things up, and in this case deposit them in a waiting garbage truck. That being said, its very capable of doing the damage of a bulldozer be it to tents or indeed to people. A man was transported to a hospital after a front-end loader rammed into his tent while he was still inside. In the ensuing madness, city officials including MPD and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Christopher Geldart tried to block advocates from reaching the man to see if he was ok. One advocate suffered multiple bruises from being grabbed and manhandled as she tried to squeeze through and check on the man, who was clearly in shock as well as being physically injured.   A big man, a little cosplay Geldart in particular piqued my curiosity, as his bulky frame strode through the underpass wearing a shirt that identified him as part of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA). When I reached out to HSEMA to ask why Homeland Security needed to be involved in an encampment eviction, the HSEMA Office of Public Affairs told me that “no employees or representatives from D.C. HSEMA were present or otherwise involved” in the eviction. When I sent in a picture of Geldart, they replied: “That is not an HSEMA employee. The photo is Christopher Geldart. He is DC’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice. He has access to our apparel and wears it sometimes.” Wait, what?! He has access to our apparel and wears it sometimes?! Who else has these closeted privileges? Can anyone just show up to official proceedings, start throwing their weight around while playing a shady game of dress up? I followed up, asking whether it was common practice to let people who arent affiliated with the agency wear agency clothing while on duty in other capacities, but received no reply. Its worth noting as well that Geldart did at one point work for HSEMA but resigned in 2017 “following a report from the Office of the Inspector General that substantiated two ethics allegations.”   Bowser’s performative wokeness He was appointed Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice this past January and pretty quickly embraced the irony of his title, dodging a question about racial justice (or lack thereof) in the district. This isnt really that unusual for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowsers office though. In 2016, Bowser appointed Peter Newsham as Chief of Police – a man with a history of racism and brutal crackdowns against protestors, who in 2019 penned a letter claiming “Stop and Frisk is essential.” But hey, Bowser also had Black Lives Matter painted onto 16th St. NW outside the White House so she gets full points for performative wokeness. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Christopher Geldart wearing HSEMAclothing while walking through the taped off underpass at M & 2nd St. NE. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com Also in the arena of performative wokeness is Bowsers approach to ending homelessness. Back in 2015, Bowser announced “a plan to make homelessness, rare, brief and non-recurring by 2020.” Spoiler alert: its not rare, its not brief, and it is recurring. On October 1 of this year, her office released a statement outlining plans and monies for affordable housing and to once again “make homelessness, rare, brief and non-recurring” but this time without a deadline. Just kicking the can down the street of luxury real estate developments. Interestingly enough, her office omitted any mention of violent encampment evictions as part of their strategy. Theres also no mention of how to actually facilitate outreach to unhoused folks, an issue that has already seen dozens of people fall through the gaping chasms in city policy.   Perpetual insecurity I strike up a conversation with a man named Rick who tells me he used to live at the L & 2nd St. NE underpass in NoMa some eight years ago. Now his brother lives here. He would like to have his brother come stay with him but the affordable housing guidelines dont allow it. So, hes down there just to help his brother move and try to save some of his things. Jeffrey Tsoi, from the Georgetown chapter of National Lawyers Guild, walks through the encampment with a colleague, talking to residents and taking pictures of their belongings. “The city is moving people out without a guarantee of housing,” he explains. “If property is thrown out, well make a claim.” Some folks will head to another encampment and may have to redo this whole traumatic mess in a matter of weeks or months. One woman says shes heard people talking about the city getting hotel rooms to house people temporarily but Rick shakes his head. “The city keeps saying that everyones taken care of but its not true,” he explains. “Sixty-six people need housing,” he says, moving his arm towards the underpass behind him and then down the block. “Only twelve people have gotten an apartment. And thats temporary housing its not even for good.” Shannon Clark echoes Ricks sentiment. “Theres a perpetual feeling of insecurity,” she says. Of those who do get housing, they “know they might not have that voucher funded or renewed.” Amidst the confusion, one thing is clear: the city has done a terrible job on outreach and ensuring that those who need permanent housing have access to it. Clark says that DMHHSs approach has been one that betrays a foundational misunderstanding of the lived experience of being unhoused. Remora House does distribution to several encampments and Clark explains that “when we go out to them, were maybe seeing 20% of the people who live there. So if we know one person who isnt on the list, theres gotta be more.” The list shes referring to is the By-Name List (BNL), which is the citys list of people currently in encampments who need housing. She says that if the city really wanted to compile a legitimate list like this, it would take a long time not just a couple of weeks of people going out for a short walk-through of an encampment. People dont just wait around for a city employee to come around and count them, and even if they did, that wait would be punctuated by disappointment. “DMHHS says theyre doing this work but theyre outsourcing it to NGOs and just posting up signs saying that people must have housing in two weeks,” Clark says. When she and other advocates confronted DMHHS in a recent digital meeting about the people who were falling through the cracks, the response was defensive, deflective and at times bizarre with comments like this one from Deputy Mayor Wayne Turnage: “I dont work for you, Im a public servant.” “They said we will continue to do outreach in that area, but theyre not gonna be in that area anymore, youre evicting them,” Clark says, sighing. “Then they said, well, we do outreach all over the city. But thats not how that works. People scatter and even advocates cant find them again,” she says. This scattering of course represents another health and safety issue the fact that the Pilot program aims to permanently clear several central D.C. encampments means that people will be farther away from help and services. It also poses a risk for those who end up in dangerous situations away from a place and people theyd gotten to know, a point to which I can personally relate, as someone who was unhoused in LA and skirted more than a few dangerous situations by having folks around me give me a lay of the land, and a rundown of everything from when cops roll by to which areas and people to avoid. But very hypothetically, lets say that DMHHS managed to properly count all the people who have now been scattered after the October 4 eviction, whats the city-wide outreach plan look like now that the so-called eviction moratorium is ending? Back in July, D.C. Council voted to end the moratorium in stages with Stage 2 hitting on October 12, when landlords can file for eviction for non-payment of rent. Considering the fact that D.C. has the third highest rental costs in the country and that, already in October of last year, some 34,000 tenants were behind on rent the outlook is grim.   Not rare, not brief, and very much recurring Tenants who are behind on rent can apply to a program called Stay DC to cover what they owe but, as reported by one applicant, the application process is long and difficult, and the wait even more so. “My approval took 69 days, a very long time to wait for money intended to help neighbors who need emergency cash to keep roofs over their heads next month,” the author Gordon Chaffin writes. These hurdles come on top of pre-existing information gaps and barriers that I mentioned in a previous article on housing accessibility. In short, homelessness is about to be a lot less rare, brief and non-recurring. Even before the pandemic, homelessness was on the rise and unsheltered homelessness had risen particularly sharply some 30% over the last five years. A DC city worker moves belongings past the caution tape as a weathered sign next to him reads “For every choice there is a consequence. Choose wisely.” Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com These numbers might make it seem that eradicating homelessness is nearly impossible. Its not a way to do it thats lacking, however; its a will. Chiruvolu has been helping folks living in AdMo Plaza navigate bureaucratic abysses and get things like IDs that will allow them to access housing and services, something at which the city has completely failed. “[D.C. Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne] Nadeau claims shes been working very hard for the plaza folks,” he says. “But she basically just shifted case management to [local NGO] Miriams Kitchen. After six months of work, she couldnt seem to get the people in the plaza an ID,” he explains, shaking his head. On October 5, a two-week stay at a local Motel 6 was up for residents of the plaza, and I met a few as they came back, more frustrated than ever. Incidentally, it wasnt even the city that paid for their stay. Truist Bank paid Miriams Kitchen to house the plaza residents, clearly hoping that the plaza would be fenced off and secured by the time the stay was up. As it stands, the plaza still stands, but its small consolation for those who arent sure where and how theyll be living in the coming days and weeks.   “This is what they offer me” “Im caught between,” Larry Richardson says. A Vietnam veteran, Richardson grew up in Adams Morgan and Southeast D.C. and has lived in AdMo Plaza for two and a half years. “I want an apartment. I dont wanna live like this. Im 74 years old.” Chiruvolu and other advocates are currently working to untangle an identity mess that Richardson finds himself in with the VA, who has confused him with a deceased Larry Richardson and therefore claims he isnt eligible for benefits. “The things that Ive been through for this country,” he says, bowing his head. “And this is what they offer me. And Ive tried to pick myself up its hard. The government makes it hard. The city hasnt helped at all,” he explains. “I tried staying in a shelter but I couldnt deal with it the bugs, the whole thing. Inhumane. And Im human, I can only take so much. I got feelings, just like everyone else.” His story isnt uncommon. Many people avoid shelters for any number of reasons from unsanitary conditions, to accessibility, to violence, to being split up from partners. Meanwhile, I call Muhsin Boe Luther Umar, Resident Council President at Garfield Terrace and D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B03 Member, to ask if he has any suggestions on how to get Richardson housed. Garfield Terrace is a senior living building in D.C.s Ward 1. Umar sighs and says, “Weve got 220 units at GT, and only 120 apartments filled. Id love to get him here but the only way I know to do it is their way.” Much like Rick, who cant have his brother come stay with him, housing advocates and even ANC members cant fill empty apartments with people who need them.   “A political and economic racket” Chiruvolu says hes run into similar hurdles with regards to saving the plaza. “There have been five ANC resolutions against re-privatizing the plaza including one that suggests turning the building into a public library while keeping the plaza as is,” he explains. “ANC resolutions arent law but theyre supposed to hold a lot of weight before the mayor. Clearly, thats not the case here. Its a political and economic racket.” Instead of addressing these completely illogical and corrupt webs of gentrified inhumanity, politicians and city employees put their full attention and literal weight behind tangling them further. They partner with big businesses and real estate developers rather than community members and organizers. They lean into gentrification rather than revitalization, evicting people rather than making sure they can stay in their homes or find a home. Meanwhile, the big banks and business development organizations hide behind vibrant and eclectic PR campaigns as they whitewash history, gut communities, and exile the diversity they so boldly claim to uphold. Vietnam vet and Plaza resident Larry Richardson. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com “People used to care,” Richardson says, looking down and shaking his head. “People used to say good morning. There used to be unity, forgiveness and heart.” Richardson and I sit in AdMo Plaza in a couple of chairs overlooking the old redline crossroads of 18th St. NW & Columbia Rd. NW. “Im living in a time period I dont recognize. Were all living on this earth, we should work together,” he says. “I grew up in a good family where we helped each other. This is not my way. The way I came into this world thats how I wanna go out.”   One street corner and sea to shining sea This is a D.C. story but it is also a microcosm of mayhem. It may seem small to focus energy or even a whole article on a single plaza, a couple of underpasses but these are the literal frames of our daily lives, the spaces in which we exist, the ground where we may sink or thrive. What radical histories are being bulldozed in your town, your city? How many of your neighbors are caught in the jaws of gentrification, literally and figuratively shoved aside in the quest for more profit, more property? What spaces are being overtaken by this creeping death? Its a stark and gloomy consideration, but alongside these microcosms of mayhem are the microcosms of humanity: the people who refuse to accept that white property matters more than Black and Brown lives, the people who refuse to accept hundreds of empty homes when hundreds are unhoused. The battle against gentrification is just as national as it is local. The battle waged on one street corner echoes across redlined borders from coast to coast. These are our local frontlines and in naming them, in uplifting them and the communities and history they hold, we build not only resistance but active solidarity. We uncover buried and bulldozed histories we sow seeds of community in that arid topsoil. “You gotta believe in something,” Richardson says as the sun dips down behind the plaza. “I choose to believe in goodness. I refuse to surrender. I cant give up.” Co-facilitator with Adams Morgan for Reasonable Development Vikram Surya Chiruvolu sits in AdMo plaza with filmmaker and activist Kristin Adair and plaza dog Reggie. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com For more on the fight to save AdMo Plaza and advocate for the folks living there, visit Admoplaza.com   For more on Shannon Clark’s advocacy work via Remora House, visit linktr.ee/remorahousedc Eleanor Goldfield is a creative radical, journalist, and filmmaker. Her work focuses on radical and censored issues via photo, video, and written journalism, as well as artistic mediums including music, poetry, and visual art. She is the host of the podcast, Act Out, co-host of the podcast Common Censored along with Lee Camp, and co-host of the podcast Silver Threads along with Carla Bergman. Her award-winning documentary film, “Hard Road Of Hope” is about West Virginia as both resource colony and radical inspiration. She also assists in frontline action organizing and training. See more of Eleanors work @ ArtKillingApathy.com | HardRoadofHope.com The post Microcosms of Mayhem Humanity: Destroying Black Brown Lives for High-Rises in the Nations Capital appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Front Page: Inside Stories, Front Page: National, Inside Stories, National, Top Story, gentrification, Homelessness, Housing, Washington DC homeless]

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[l] at 10/11/21 11:45am
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. Feature photo | The Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Nov. 18, 2017. Alex Brandon | AP Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books are The Generals Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, and Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five. The post An Empty Building with a Tattered Flag: Palestinians Have No Voice in Washington appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Insights, diplomatic offices, Palestine, Palestine Liberation Organization, Palestinian Authority]

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[l] at 10/8/21 12:00pm
 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. The new MintPress podcast “The Watchdog,” hosted by British-Iraqi hip-hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know including intelligence, lobby and special-interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media.  MintPress News is a fiercely independent, reader-supported outlet, with no billionaire owners or backers. You can support us by becoming a member on Patreon, bookmarking and whitelisting us, and by subscribing to our social media channels, including Twitch, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. Also, be sure to check out the new Behind the Headlines channel on YouTube. Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic, political campaigner, and a MintPress video and podcast host. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique, and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network, and The Peace and Justice Project founded by Jeremy Corbyn. The post Academic David Miller Speaks Out Following Firing Israel Lobby Smear Campaign appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Podcasts, Top Story, anti-semitism, David Miller, Israel Lobby, Lowkey, Smear Campaign]

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[l] at 10/8/21 10:26am
 Haiti is adrift. Since the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse by Colombian mercenaries, the Haitian people have effectively had no coherent state leadership. Two weeks after the grisly killing, Washington and its allies, assembled in an ambassadorial front called the “Core Group,” appointed Dr. Ariel Henry, a long-time U.S. ally, to be the interim prime minister and de facto president, despite the fact that he spoke just hours after the killing to the man, Joseph Félix Badio, whom authorities believe ordered the triggermen to gruesomely riddle Moïse with bullets. Henry has refused to provide any explanation of his many conversations with Badio in the days before and after the assassination, and most Haitians reject his legitimacy and suspect his involvement. This has created a national leadership void that is being filled by the “Revolutionary Forces of the G9 Family and Allies: Mess with One, You Mess with All” (FRG9), an alliance of armed neighborhood organizations formed in June 2020. Their charismatic leader and spokesman is Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, a former elite police commander who has become an outspoken opponent of Henry and a champion of Haiti’s vast urban underclass, which makes up most of Port-au-Prince’s 3 million residents. Cherizier has called for a revolution against the “stinking, rotten system” controlled by the “corrupt bourgeoisie,” under which 5% of Haiti’s population controls 86% of its wealth and resources. He has threatened to lead Haiti’s impoverished masses in seizing the bourgeoisie’s grocery stores, car dealerships, and banks in order to take back what he says “rightfully belongs to the people.” The U.S. Embassy, and the human rights organizations it supports and works with, have branded Cherizier as a “criminal.” Washington has targeted him with Magnitsky Sanctions, and the U.S. diplomats tasked with overseeing Haiti’s rump government’s policies have repeatedly emphasized the need for the Haitian state to crush the growing power of the “gangs,” and in particular the FRG9. Indeed, the neighborhood groups affiliated with the FRG9 find themselves in a bitter struggle with other neighborhood groups that are either supported by the bourgeoisie or live off of criminal activities, including merchant extortion and widespread, indiscriminate kidnapping. The FRG9 formally seeks to stop such criminal activity but has ironically been accused of being its principal purveyor by human rights groups, which Cherizier says have “transformed themselves into political parties,” affiliated with the loyal opposition backed by Haiti’s bourgeoisie and working with PM Ariel Henry. A new film, produced by MintPress News in collaboration with Behind the Headlines and the weekly Haïti Liberté, will explore the fierce debate raging around the dangers and potential of the FRG9, taking the viewer inside the neighborhoods caught up in a dramatic ideological and armed struggle. Exclusive, revealing, extended interviews will help viewers understand the goals and drivers of the shantytown movement that threatens to upend Washington’s well-laid plans of reinforcing Haiti’s neo-colonial status. “Another Vision: Inside Haiti’s Uprising” will also offer an intimate look at the deep passions, personal sacrifice, and political intrigue that are the hallmarks of this dramatic chapter in Haiti’s history, and perhaps a notion of what the future holds for this long-suffering people. Dan Cohen is the Washington DC correspondent for Behind The Headlines. He has produced widely distributed video reports and print dispatches from across Israel-Palestine. He tweets at @DanCohen3000. The post Watch Trailer For Another Vision: Inside Haiti’s Uprising appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Inside Stories, Inside Stories, Top Story, Dan Cohen, Haiti, Jovenel Moise, Kim Ives, Uprising]

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[l] at 10/7/21 11:50am
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. Feature photo | Original illustration by Mr. Fish. Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact. The post Chris Hedges: The Anonymous Executioners of the Corporate State appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Front Page: National, Insights, National, Top Story, Chevron, Chris Hedges, Ecuador, federalist society, rule of law, Steven Donziger]

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[l] at 10/6/21 12:10pm
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. “Water is a right for everyone. It doesnt matter if youre 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 Palestines 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. 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. “Since last Tuesday we didnt 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.” 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 cant do anything until the water comes back.” Sabreen receives a water tanker costing 500 shekels ($155) every two to four days from At-Tuwani. That same amount of water costs nearby Israeli settlers about 100 shekels or $30. The tank provides water for 10 people and includes domestic, agricultural and livestock use. She also sources water from a nearby aquifer. 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 dont 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. 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.” Feature photo | Palestinian children play by a new water tank that replaced a damaged one following a settlers attack in the West Bank village of Mfakara, September 30, 2021. Nasser Nasser | AP Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News. The post Water as Weapon of War: Activists Say Israel is Drying Out the West Bank to Drive Out Palestinians appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Inside Stories, Inside Stories, Top Story, Israel, Masafer Yatta, occupation, Palestine, Settlers]

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[l] at 10/5/21 10:31am
HAVANA After gaining access to their private Facebook group, MintPress can reveal that the people who sparked the July 11 protests in Cuba are planning similar actions for October and November. The group, La Villa del Humor, is widely credited with providing the initial spark that ignited nationwide protests on the Caribbean island in the summer, the most significant demonstrations since the 1990s. On July 10, one of the group’s administrators posted this message: Tired of not having electricity? Stubborn because they didnt let you sleep for 3 days? Tired of putting up with the impudence of a government that doesnt care about you? It is time to go out and demand. Do not criticize from home, lets make ourselves heard. If were not going to do it, wed better shut our mouths and not talk shit from home that doesnt solve anything. Are we more afraid to go out than to put up with all this cheek? How is it possible? We demand that [Presidents Miguel Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro] also have blackouts. We demand that, since we have no food, at least they let us sleep. Hit the streets. Down with the opportunistic communist government now. This Sunday at 11am, Parque de la Iglesia. See you there. If you dont go, stop complaining so much. The moderator also went on to provide a detailed itinerary of the march, including instructions on where they would march and what items to bring. The post quoted in English above. News and images of the demonstrations were immediately signal-boosted by individuals and groups in the United States, including the large and vocal Cuban ex-pat community in Miami, politicians, celebrities, and even U.S. government officials, to the point where even President Joe Biden put out an official statement endorsing events. The massive, global exposure this protest received turned it into worldwide news and rallied U.S.-backed anti-government forces across the island into the streets. However, the movement failed to break into the mainstream of Cuban society and quickly collapsed after it became clear that it had nothing like the numbers needed to achieve critical mass.   October surprise The administration team of La Villa del Humor considered the July action to be a roaring success, and the first step toward a revolution that will depose the Communist government, in power since 1959. Fresh from their achievements, the group is helping to organize two new actions: a planned general strike in October and a larger set of nationwide demonstrations for November. Sunday, October 10 is Cuban Independence Day and a national holiday. Organizers are calling for it to mark the start of a general strike (paro nacional in Spanish) to cripple or topple the government. An announcement shared on social media (including on La Villa del Humor) states that organizations across the country are gearing up for a strike next week, with hashtags like #ParoNacionalCuba and #SOSCuba trending. “We summon all worthy Cubans, lovers of freedom, their neighbors, their friends and their families, to a National Strike on Monday, October 11,” the communique reads. A post outlining the planned Oct. 11 nationwide strike. As with most anti-government activity in Cuba, there is very little transparency. No individuals or organizations are named, the announcements simply ordering all Cubans to put down tools. This leaves many on the island wondering whether this is simply another operation by the U.S. government, which spends tens of millions of dollars annually on clandestine regime-change efforts, creating or propping up anti-government groups for that sole purpose. La Villa del Humor is playing a significant role in promoting the general strike. On September 23, the group’s chief administrator, Alex Perez Rodriguez, recorded a livestream for group members, beseeching them to act as one. On October 10, we are calling on all of Cuba, on the occasion of another year of independence from Spanish conquistadors, to protest again to demand its rights, to express its longing for freedom and democracy. God willing, all the towns of Cuba will be willing to, and will want to, protest one more time and to take the streets. “The dictatorship,” he insisted, “is about to collapse…” “I am certain that on July 11, Cuba began to head to democracy,” he added, before sharing a conspiracy theory about the country’s domestically-produced COVID-19 vaccines, claiming that they do “absolutely nothing but make people even sicker.” “Cuba, hit the streets! Do it! And if you’re scared, do it with fear.”   Peaceful march or beginning of a revolution? It is, however, the actions scheduled for November 20 that appear to be generating more excitement in the community. Marches across the island are planned, including in Guantanamo, Holguin, Camaguey and Havana, where organizers hope to begin at the iconic Malecón in Old Havana and end up in front of the National Capitol building, the headquarters of the National Assembly of Peoples Power. The movement is being outwardly advertised as a “peaceful march in favor of human rights and against violence,” and already has a who’s who of U.S.-backed figures such as the San Isidro Movement rap group and politician Manuel Cuesta Morúa signed on. Yet, internally, the goals of the action appear quite different. Sharing an image reading “hit the streets until they [the government] fall,” Perez Rodriguez gleefully announced that “all of Cuba is preparing for this!” quite a different message from the somber and respectful protests being reported on by sympathetic expat media in Florida. Other group members shared advice on planning and getting permits. Organizers hope to bring out thousands of people in Havana and other cities in what they hope will be the beginning of a revolution. Conservative Cuban blogs claim that the government is already aware of the plans and has already taken action against those individuals whose names were on the protest permits. Peaceful march for liberty, Cuba, November 20, Fatherland and Life (a common rallying cry of anti-government groups). A post from Alexander Perez Rodriguez urging people to hit the streets until they [the government] falls. La Villa del Humor: by Americans, for Cubans Although the group is private, it merely took changing my name to a less English-sounding one and pretending I was from the group’s home town for the moderators to approve my application. The group itself was created in 2017, ostensibly as a local online message board and marketplace for the people of Santiago de los Baños, a town of about 50,000 people situated in western Cuba. The name “La Villa del Humor” refers to a biannual comedy festival held in the town. For a while it did function as such a service, as locals posted complaints about thoughtless neighbors, advertised second-hand goods they wanted to sell, or alerted residents about lost pets. In the past year, however, it has taken a radical turn, becoming a hotbed of anti-government organizing to the point where there are now barely any posts relevant to local people. Indeed, many of the group’s posters are not even from Cuba, their profiles revealing that they live in Florida. One particularly frequent contributor even lists his place of work as The Miami Herald, the city’s local newspaper. In the hours during and after the July protests, the group’s membership more than doubled before the admins set the group to private, meaning all new members need to be pre-vetted. As such, the group has become a conservative echo-chamber, with users primarily posting anti-communist memes or cartoons or promoting actions against the Cuban government. In essence then, La Villa del Humor is a place where Americans go to cajole the residents of a small Cuban town into overthrowing their government. Frequent La Villa del Humor posters showing Florida residence. None of the administration team except Perez Rodriguez reveal their identity, hiding behind pseudonyms, meaning that anyone could be running the group. Perez Rodriguez himself does not live in Santiago de los Baños. In fact, he does not even live in Cuba; he left the island in 2010 and today works as a pastor at a Seventh Day Adventist church in southern Florida. The involvement of foreign nationals in the domestic affairs of Cuba is on a level that can scarcely be conceived of in the United States, with even the most adamant RussiaGate proponents stopping short of claiming that Russians directly planned the George Floyd protests or the January 6 insurrection. What is also clear from interacting with the group and reading its messages is that there is no interest in discussing or improving the lives and rights of Afro-Cubans, despite the fact that corporate media in the U.S. incessantly presented the July demonstrations as so aimed, even chastizing Black Lives Matter and other black liberation groups for refusing to support the protests and siding with the Cuban government. On the contrary, La Villa del Humor continues to be full of pro-Trump content and posts condemning former President Barrack Obama as a dangerous socialist. The idols of ignorant people includes most of Latin Americas most prominent left-wing politicians, including Evo Morales (Bolivia), Lula da SIlva (Brazil) and Nicolas Maduro (Venezuela). A cartoon showing a Cuban woman throwing Raul Castro out of Cuba while shouting Fatherland and life, dickhead! Another meme using Patria y Vida (Fatherland and life) as a rallying cry. President Miguel Diaz Canel has been knocked out by the protestors. Recent pro-Trump content on La Villa del Humor.   A long history of meddling La Villa del Humor’s arc from useful local service to foreign-controlled regime-change operation closely mirrors that of Zunzuneo, a Twitter-like app launched in 2010. Providing a dependable messaging service and undercutting the competition on price, Zunzuneo quickly gained a wide following in Cuba, attracting 55,000 people by 2012 — an enormous number considering the era and the lack of Internet access on the island. However, at the height of its popularity, it abruptly shut down. Unknown to either the Cuban government or its public was that the app had actually been commissioned and paid for by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Washington’s regime-change front group. The U.S. government’s plan was to first capture the Cuban market and gain the trust of the people, then to slowly drip-feed users anti-communist messaging, making it appear as if there was a groundswell of resentment. Then, one day, users would be alerted that a huge protest was happening and that they should all attend. The NED was reportedly finding it increasingly difficult to hide who was behind Zunzuneo, at one point even meeting with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in an attempt to have him buy the service. An Associated Press investigation later found that the NED chose to pull the entire project rather than risk being caught in the act. While it is still possible to argue that La Villa del Humor is a quasi-independent forum, Facebook certainly is not, and has aligned itself closely with the American government. Last year, after the Trump administration assassinated Qassem Soleimani, the social media giant removed all content praising the Iranian general, despite the fact that he was by far the most popular political figure in the country. Explaining its decision, Facebook stated that it, “operate[s] under U.S. sanctions laws, including those related to the U.S. government’s designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its leadership.” In short, if the U.S. government deems any group or individual to be a terrorist, then social media platforms are required to remove content challenging that idea. Facebook has also signed a deal with NATO think tank The Atlantic Council, whereby the latter helps curate the news feeds of the Silicon Valley company’s 2.9 billion worldwide users. The Atlantic Council’s board of directors is a who’s who of establishment American power, including senior statesmen like Henry Kissinger, multiple military generals and seven former heads of the CIA. It is also directly funded by the U.S. and other NATO governments, as well as by arms manufacturers. That Facebook chose to hand over partial control of its content moderation to this group gives us a taste of just how close the relationship between big tech and big government has become. Facebook has also admitted to censoring Palestinian voices at the behest of the U.S. government and its Israeli ally.   Quo vadis? Each year, the United States spends tens of millions of dollars in an effort to oust the Cuban government and install one responsive to U.S. interests. The most recent House Appropriations Budget, for example, allocates $20 million for “democracy programs” in Cuba, helping to support “free enterprise and private business organizations.” In case there is any confusion at what “democracy” means, it goes on to insist that “none of the funds made available under such paragraph may be used for assistance for the government of Cuba.” This is far from the only source of funding for regime-change operations. The U.S. Agency for Global Media, for instance, is spending between $20 million and $25 million on a similar goal. Most of that money goes towards an information barrage aimed at convincing the Cuban population that their future lies with the U.S. and away from the Communist Party. Online activities are preferred, as it is much easier to remain anonymous and hide where the money for websites and publications comes from. The U.S. funds groups that produce all forms of public online content, including articles, videos and audio. It also provides training courses for young activists both online and in person, using tactics honed around the world to produce change. They additionally fund and support Cuban artists, intellectuals and musicians who promote anti-government messages. One particularly notable example is rapper Yotuel and the San Isidro Movement, whose song “Patria Y Vida” has become an anthem for regime change. “Patria y vida” (fatherland and life) is a play on Fidel Castro’s slogan “Patria o Muerte” (fatherland or death). Yotuel led a sympathy demonstration in Miami in July. The CIA also groomed Cuban professor Raul Capote to become the new president of the country. Unbeknownst to the agency, however, Capote was a double agent the whole time, and when the time came for him to lead a protest, he publicly revealed the plan and how he had tricked them into trusting him. There is no way of knowing for sure who is calling the shots at La Villa del Humor; Perez Rodriguez denies any connection to the U.S. government. However, most of the Florida Cuban community have some links with Washington, even if they do not realize it. The U.S. has spent over half a billion dollars on beaming a TV and radio network into Cuba, creating large numbers of jobs in the process. Added to those are all those working for “non”-governmental organizations dedicated to cataloging human rights transgressions of the Cuban government. There are also contractors paid to build websites, translators, staff paid to work at events, and more. And that is not counting those directly involved in clandestine activities. Thus, the entire local economy is significantly buoyed by the South Florida-based, recession-proof regime-change industry aimed at Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other Latin American countries. How the US Government Stokes Racial Tensions in Cuba and Around the World While Villa del Humor did manage to be the catalyst for a local protest that, in turn, sparked a significant event in Cuban politics, the actual extent of their influence remains highly debatable. What is beyond doubt, however, is that they are indeed planning and hoping that their July stunt was just the beginning and that the end is near for the Communist Party in Cuba. Time will tell whether they can marshal enough forces to take this to the next level. If they are successful, history will absolve them. If not, history will likely forget them. Feature photo | Cuban Americans rally against the Cuban government outside of the White House, July 17, 2021. Jose Luis Magana | AP Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.org, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams. The post Private Facebook Group that Organized the July Protests in Cuba Plans Bigger Ones Soon appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Inside Stories, Inside Stories, News, Top Story, Cuba, La Villa del Humor, Protests, Regime Change, Social Media]

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[l] at 10/4/21 12:24pm
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY As these words are being written, Palestine and those who support freedom and justice commemorate the horrific murder of Muhammad al-Durrah and serious wounding of his father Jamal by Israeli forces in Gaza. It was September of 2000. The video of the killing of 12-year-old Muhammad and wounding of his father, who was trying to shield him, became one of the symbols of the second Palestinian Intifada. The following day, October 1, 2000, the Israeli police shot and killed 13 young Palestinian citizens of Israel who stood up and protested in northern Palestine, near Umm El-Fahm. No one stepped in to save the father and son, few stand today to oppose Israeli brutality. When an individual does dare to stand, they are, more often than not, punished.   Punished for standing up In the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Fethi Nourine, an Algerian Judo competitor stood up. He refused to compete with a member of the Israeli olympic team. Nourine placed his principles, standing with Palestine and its people, ahead of his own career and, in a move that could cost him his career, he challenged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Judo Federation and said that racist, apartheid Israel has no place in the Olympics. In September of 2021, the International Judo Federation (IJF) issued a statement regarding Nourine and his coach Ammar Benikhlef. The statement read: For the IJF Disciplinary Commission, it is evident that the two Algerian judoka, with malicious intent, have used the Olympic Games as a platform for protest and promotion of political and religious propaganda, which is a clear and serious breach of the IJF Statutes, the IJF Code of Ethics and the Olympic Charter. Therefore, no other penalty than a severe suspension can be imposed in this case. On these grounds the IJF Disciplinary Commission: Pronounces against Mr. NOURINE and Mr. BENIKHLEF ten (10) years suspension each from all events and activities organised or authorised by the International Judo Federation and its unions, commencing 23rd July 2021, through to 23rd July 2031. First of all, they did not promote religious or political propaganda. Nourine stood up for principles that both the IOC and the IJF need to adapt as well: supporting justice and freedom and opposing racism and violence. Second, why not use the platform of the Olympics to stand for justice and freedom? What better place than the Olympics to show that one is not only a great athlete, dedicated and disciplined but also caring and principled?   International Organization dereliction of duty Once again, here is an example of a person who stands up and does the right thing and is being punished. During the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Nourine was suspended because he refused to compete with a member of the Israeli team. Nourine’s actions are completely justified and show that he is a man of character, a principled athlete, and an exemplary martial arts practitioner. The big question here is why does the IJF and the IOC allow athletes who represent Israel to participate in their games? If organizations such as the IJF, the IOC, and other international sporting giants acted responsibly and prevented teams that represent Israel from participating in international sports, individual athletes would not need to risk their careers and act, as Fethi Nourine did, alone. It is only because the large organizations are derelict in their duties to adhere to international law, maintain a moral code, and act responsibly that Nourine had to do what he did.   Standing against Apartheid South Africa During the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the IOC banned the South African team from participating in the Olympics in order to demonstrate the unified and international disapproval of South African apartheid. In 1980, the United Nations began compiling a list that was known as the Register of Sports Contacts with South Africa. This was a list of athletes and officials who had participated in events within South Africa; it was compiled mainly from reports in South African newspapers. Even though being on the list did not result in any punishment, it was used as pressure on athletes, a sort of moral litmus test. Then, in 1968, after the South Africans made some cosmetic changes to the way athletes were chosen and allowed a few token Black South Africans on the team, the IOC voted to allow the Republic of South Africa to participate in the Summer Olympics, which were held in Mexico City. In response to this, several countries mobilized to boycott the Olympics of 1968. They wanted to make their disapproval of South African apartheid practices known. Those countries believed that the reforms implemented by the South Africans did not ensure equality for nonwhite South African athletes. Then the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa, a coalition of 32 countries in Africa, initiated the boycott campaign against South Africa’s participation in the Summer Olympics of 1968. The 32 were unanimous on this issue and were later joined by Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Somalia. India and the Soviet Union threatened to join the boycott as well. A story in the March 8, 1968 issue of Time magazine reported about the possibility of a second, mini-Olympics to be held during that year’s summer olympic games: A mini-Olympics? That was the possibility last week as no fewer than 39 nations announced that they would boycott next Octobers Mexico City games in protest over the International Olympic Committees decision to readmit South Africa. This led to a decision by the IOC to officially withdraw its invitation to South Africa to participate in the Summer Olympics that year. The ban against South African participation in the Olympics continued until 1992, when South Africa appeared to be making headway in ending apartheid and finally demonstrating equal treatment of all athletes. In time, South Africa was expelled from every major world sports federation. In Britain the turning point came in 1969–70. Demonstrations and direct action took place at every rugby match played by the Springbok rugby team on its 23-game tour of Britain. Then the following summer’s cricket tour was canceled. When people hear that there must be a boycott in place and that sanctions must be placed on Israel, they think of agricultural produce and that sort of thing. However, the call for boycott requires the kind of action taken by Fethi Nourine on a massive scale. Currently he and a few other athletes who refuse to legitimize apartheid Israel are the lone voices amidst a choir of complicity. Feature photo | Fethi Nourine poses with a Palestinian flag. Photo | @staddoha | Twitter Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books areThe Generals Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, and Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five. The post Algerian Judoku Fethi Nourine Suspended: A Brave Individual Pays the Price for Institutional Failure appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Front Page: Foreign Affairs, Insights, 2021 Olympic Games, boycott, Fathi Nourine, Israel, Palestine]

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[l] at 9/29/21 7:00am
Editor’s Note | We recognize that COVID-19 coverage can inflame passions and is prone to controversy. In the past, MintPress News has published varying viewpoints on the topic (including ones that stand in contrast to those represented in the following article). We strive to provide well-researched articles representing a diversity of views to our readers in the interest of fostering healthy discussion in the public interest. WUHAN, 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. How US Media Misrepresent the Wuhan Institute of Virologys Laboratories and Safety Protocols   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, its 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 programs 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] wasnt trying to make the viruses more infectious, she was just trying to figure out how infectious they already were. Thats why it isnt 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 wouldnt 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. In this clip @SenRandPaul FALSELY claims https://t.co/xUV7gC9vQG that the @cambridgeWG has characterized work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology as gain-of-function. — Marc Lipsitch (@mlipsitch) May 13, 2021 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 Fouchiers 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.” A 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 NIHs 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 its 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. 14. So the nature of the recombinant viruses that would accept the spikes id’d by WIV – more of the same. Using WIV1, and the 2 other SARS CoV1 related viruses. GoF or not, these (a) can’t possibly be the source of SARS2 and (b) would have been done in the US not China — Stuart Neil (@stuartjdneil) September 23, 2021 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.” Dr. James Duehr assisted with fact checking this article, and Dr. Diana Lu provided research assistance. Feature photo | A view of the Wuhan Institute of Virologys P4 lab after a visit by a WHO team on Feb. 3, 2021. Ng Han Guan | AP Joshua Cho is a Korean-American writer based in New York. The post Lab-Leak, Gain-Of-Function, and the Media Myths Swirling Around the Wuhan Institute of Virology appeared first on MintPress News.

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