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[l] at 9/25/20 2:32pm

Faced with thousands of conservative opposition demonstrators camping out in the streets of Mexico City since he took office, the administration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is under renewed pressure to come up with a strategy to address the nation’s tottering energy sector, which has reached a critical juncture in the historic and controversial privatization carried out by his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, which marked the ostensible end to a central tenet of modern-day Mexican self-determination and reintroduced foreign and U.S. oil interests into the core of Mexico’s socio-economic development.

Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), once a bastion of Mexican national sovereignty, threatens to become an “incurable cancer,” according to Bank of Mexico’s deputy governor, Jonathan Heath, as the ‘liberalized’ state oil company tops the list of the world’s most indebted, with a balance owed in excess of $100 Billion.

On Thursday, AMLO announced his intention to reverse Peña Nieto’s energy reform bill if he is unable to find structural solutions to the company’s severe financial problems, which have been further complicated by the downgrading of its stock to junk status in April of this year by credit rating agencies Moody’s and Fitch, triggering billions of dollars worth of bond sell-offs.

 

COVID economy

Mexico’s financial outlook has dimmed considerably due to the confluence of the energy company’s problems and the internationally-imposed COVID-19 economic lockdown protocols. AMLO has blamed foreign oil interests for constricting his plans to use PEMEX as a springboard to correcting the nation’s economic woes and, in 2018, suspended all international oil auctions for three years after successful bidders failed to actually invest in oil exploration or production.

Mr. Heath, who was appointed by Obrador to head Banxico, the country’s national bank, came to assume the role after serving as chief Latin American economist for HSBC; a bank deeply embroiled in laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels.  According to him, if AMLO doesn’t limit the company’s tax obligations, it will eventually affect Mexico’s sovereign rating because a full 14% of GDP is contingent on PEMEX’s production.

AMLO first hinted at the prospect of re-nationalizing Mexico’s oil industry in August and doubled down on the idea during Thursday’s press conference, as well as leaving open the possibility of refinancing the energy sector’s enormous debt. In June, Obrador vowed to boost capacity at the country’s six refineries in order to achieve gasoline independence by 2023.

“López Obrador has the potential to be one of the best presidents,” Heath claimed in a 2018 interview. He also “has the potential to be one of the worst…,” Heath told the Financial Times. In May, the head of Banxico characterized AMLO’s approach to the country’s economic crisis as swapping one problem for another, referring to AMLO’s decision to avoid debt as a mechanism to escape the economic problems brought on by the pandemic and the energy sector’s systemic issues. “Instead of having a short recession and then an immense headache with an unplayable debt,” Heath observed, “[AMLO] is betting on having a more profound and complicated recession, but once we are out, we will not have the same headache that other countries will have.”

 

Historical returns

The history of how PEMEX came into existence and its significance in the geopolitical landscape between the U.S. and Mexico, in particular, cannot be overstated. In the throes of one of the world’s bloodiest revolutions at the turn of the twentieth century, foreign oil companies and their respective governments were intervening directly in the pivotal conflict more than a hundred years ago.

British, German, and American firms were fighting amongst each other to control the country’s oil and were contributing to the turmoil by financing the different factions vying for control of a nascent political system. The Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the conservative party that emerged out of that war and that would rule uninterrupted for the next seven decades, hinged nearly all of its power on the nationalization of the country’s oil, which served to not only to eject the deleterious influence of the burgeoning foreign energy cartels from Mexico but also to forge a national identity.

As the world undergoes a transformation on par with the one that marked the beginning of Western hegemony in the twentieth century, Mexico, once again stands at the threshold of a pivotal course of action that will determine if the nation survives into the second half of the twenty-first century.

Feature photo | Striking workers from Mexico’s state oil company, PEMEX, stand next to their encampment outside the National Palace in Mexico City, Sept. 15, 2020. Rebecca Blackwell | AP

The post Mexico to Renationalize Oil Next Year If Current Laws Fail to Save Reeling PEMEX appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, AMLO, Mexico, Oil, Pemex, Privatization]

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[l] at 9/25/20 12:21pm

The extradition case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange continues in London. The U.S. government is indicting the Australian living on the other side of the world under its own Espionage Act, with the case widely seen as setting an important precedent for freedom of speech and of the media worldwide.

Yet as the case reaches its pinnacle, a number of press freedom groups have gone silent on the matter. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has not mentioned Assange in months, on either its website or its Twitter account. London-based PEN International has only one article this year on the Australian and appears to have gone quiet since July. The CPJ has also refused to include him among its list of jailed journalists, arguing that Wikileaks’ role is more that of a publisher. While this could be debatable, the omission of by far the most famous and influential of the world’s 248 imprisoned media figures could be seen as a politically calculated decision.

Big media outlets seem just as uninterested in the U.S. government’s attempts to capture the man who released hundreds of thousands of documents detailing American war crimes, including the deliberate killing of two Reuters journalists. The New York Times, for instance, has published only two articles on the subject, and nothing in eleven days. But the Times’ coverage is better than most outlets, with nothing whatsoever in CNN, and MSNBC’s entire coverage amounting to one sentence, which discussed the DNC hacks, but not the hearing.

To be fair to the media, the conditions the U.K. government has set for the case make it absurdly difficult for journalists to follow. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that public access is highly restricted, while only a small handful of journalists are allowed into the courtroom every day. Journalists wishing to watch live proceedings must register as journalists and log in between exactly 9:30 and 9:40 a.m. If they miss the time, they cannot access the session, and if they disconnect at any time, even because of a momentary lapse in wifi, they are shut out of the system. Journalists have complained throughout Assange’s cases of poor connections and an inability to hear anything during proceedings. That has not stopped the committed, however, with smaller organizations continuing to report the proceedings live.

In recent days the argument between the prosecution and the defense has revolved around Assange’s mental state. A psychiatrist on the U.S.’ government’s side told the Old Bailey yesterday that he believes Assange to be a “resilient” character with only “mild clinical depression” and would therefore be able to “resist any suicidal impulse” were he to be sent to the U.S. Assange is facing up to 175 years in a Colorado supermax jail, sometimes described as one of the few blacksites on American soil. Inmates at the center are regularly force fed and are barred from sharing their stories.

On the other hand, a doctor who treated him while he was forced to live in the Ecuadorian embassy in London stressed her dismay at his deterioration while being held in Belmarsh Prison. “I think Mr. Assange is at very high risk of completing a suicide if he were to be extradited,” she told the judge.

Julian Assange Ecaudor

Assange, left, with Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, June 16, 2013. Frank Augstein | AP

The Assange case has enormous ramifications for the future of press freedom. The government has included a great many standard journalistic procedures — such as protecting sources’ names, using encrypted files, and encouraging sources to leak more to them — among its reasons for indictment. This, many have argued, would essentially criminalize investigative journalism. Trevor Timm, a co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told the courtroom that if Assange is prosecuted, then every journalist who has possessed a secret or leaked file — the lifeblood of the industry — could be charged.

Speaking to German filmmakers, ex-CIA Director Leon Panetta was remarkably blunt about the U.S.’ goal: “All you can do is hope you can ultimately take action against those that were involved in revealing that information so you can send a message to others not to do the same thing,” he said, strongly implying that the indictment is politically motivated and a warning to others who might challenge the empire.

Unfortunately, many of the mainstream rights groups that the world relies on to lead on matters of importance have a mixed history when it comes to directly opposing Washington’s agenda. Human Rights Watch (HRW), for instance, carried water for the U.S.-backed coup in Bolivia last year, its director, Kenneth Roth, describing it as a “transitional moment” and an “uprising,” rather than the manifestly more appropriate word, “coup.” HRW also described the new military government’s law giving all security forces complete immunity from prosecution merely a “problematic decree,” rather than a license to massacre, which is exactly what they did immediately.

HRW has not discussed Assange for nearly 18 months, the most recent result on its website dated May 2019 (although this was a clear defense of his rights). Amnesty International, on the other hand, has forcefully condemned the U.S. attempt and has been repeatedly blocked in its attempts to have its fair trial monitors enter the courtroom. “This hearing is the latest worrying salvo in a full-scale assault on the right to freedom of expression,” said Amnesty’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks.

Feature photo | People queue at the entrance of the Old Bailey court in London, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, as the Julian Assange extradition hearing to the US continues. Frank Augstein | AP

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post As His Extradition Trial Drags on, Media and Rights Groups Are Still Ignoring Julian Assange appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, News, Top Story, Julian Assange, Media, trial, Wikileaks]

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[l] at 9/25/20 11:01am

Brett Hankinson, the sole Louisville police officer indicted Wednesday over his role in the killing of African-American ER technician Breonna Taylor, posted his $15,000 bail within hours of being booked. Hankinson is being indicted on three counts of wanton endangerment over the March 13 incident, where a squad of police conducted a no-knock raid on Taylor’s apartment, shooting the 26-year-old six times while she was barely awake. Hankinson fired ten rounds into the crowded apartment, with many piercing the walls and endangering neighbors. The other officers, who have not been charged, fired 22 rounds. Thus, only one officer is being held accountable for any of his actions, and then only for the bullets that did not hit Taylor, only the ones that endangered others. If convicted on all counts, he faces a maximum of 15 years in prison. Last week, the city of Louisville agreed to pay Taylor’s family $12 million in compensation. 

The decision not to charge anyone with her murder enraged many, sparking large protests in Louisville, where at least 24 people were arrested last evening on charges of unlawful assembly, failure to disperse, and rioting, according to local law enforcement. In this racially charged era, spontaneous protests also broke out in many cities across the country.

In Los Angeles, one protester was seriously injured after a pickup truck sped into a large crowd of anti-racist protesters, an increasingly common tactic of violence and intimidation seen throughout the summer. The driver sped off and was apprehended by police several blocks away, who quickly let the attacker go free.

Content warning. Protesters get struck by car during Hollywood march/protest #losangeles #protest #hollywood pic.twitter.com/MJfParkHsS

— jessicarayerogers (@jessicarayerog1) September 25, 2020

 

“Blatantly Unconstitutional”

The lenient treatment Hankinson and other killer cops have received is in direct contrast to those protesting police violence. Earlier this month, police in Lancaster, Pennsylvania shot and killed 27-year-old Ricardo Muñoz, leading to protests in the city. Lancaster police used pepper spray and chemical agents against those demonstrating, who they accuse of “pil[ing] street signs, trash cans, a metal dumpster, a metal bike rack, pieces of plywood and a wooden pallet,” then proceeding to, “fill the dumpster with additional trash bags, as well as the wood, and set the contents on fire.” For these actions, seven protesters are being held on $1 million bail each. 

The punishment was so extreme that Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman decried the move as “blatantly unconstitutional.” Here, Fetterman is referring to the Eighth Amendment, which reads that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Earlier in the year, protesters in the state were charged with up to 80 years in prison for burning police vehicles. 

Only after committed resistance from organizations like the ACLU did judges reduce the $1 million figure to between $25,000 and $100,000 depending on the individuals — still far more than Hankinson’s.

This photo is of Taylor Enterline, staging a peaceful protest for racial justice in front of the Manheim Borough Police station this summer. A Lancaster judge just set her bail at one million dollars for participating as a medic in last night’s protests. pic.twitter.com/nR43TNJFDP

— Lancaster Stands Up (@lancstandsup) September 15, 2020

Taylor’s lawyers allege that she was killed as part of a wider gentrification plan to force poor African-American residents out of their homes in order for private developers to cash in. Narcotics detectives had been deliberately misled by police intelligence to believe that some of the city’s largest and most violent criminal drug rings were operating out of the building, hence the reason for the no-knock raid with guns drawn. Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who was with her at the time of the incident, drew his handgun and fired back at the police, thinking the police were would-be home invaders. Hankinson’s colleague Jonathan Mattingly was injured, although it is not certain if Walker was the one who hit him.

Police violence against people of color has been a front-and-center issue in the United States, particularly since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. Images of Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes until he suffocated to death went viral, causing a storm of outrage across the world. It is estimated between 15-26 million Americans joined a demonstration for black lives during the summer, with the movement enjoying strong public support. A new Gallup poll found that a record low 35 percent of Americans are satisfied with how black people are treated in the United States.

The fact that Hankinson is being indicted only for the bullets that did not hit Taylor and for damaging property suggests that to the legal system, black lives do not matter, or at least no more than $15,000.

Feature photo | People chant during a protest at the scene of a police shooting on Laurel Street and Union Street in Lancaster city on, Sept. 13, 2020. Andy Blackburn | LNP via AP

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post $15,000 Bail for Breonna Taylor Killers. $1 Million Bail for People Protesting Police Violence appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, Breonna Taylor, Excessive Bail, Lancaster, Police, protesters]

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[l] at 9/25/20 8:40am

The completely fair super awesome trial of Julian Assange continues in the U.K. as I write this. It’s a beautiful blend of the works of Kafka, Stalin and Joseph Heller.

Seeing as Julian is kept in a glass container in the courtroom, like a captured cockroach, maybe Kafka wins the day.

The court clearly must keep Julian in that giant Tic-Tac container because he’s undoubtedly as dangerous as Hannibal Lecter. If he weren’t in there, no one would know when he might lurch forward and PUBLISH SOMETHING THAT’S TOTALLY TRUE!

What they’re deciding in this trial is whether Assange should be extradited to the United States, or “kidnapped” as the kids call it these days.

If he is lovingly black-bagged by our government, they have promised he will face 175 years in prison if convicted by another super rad show trial presided over by an American government puppet judge. (A puppet judge is just like a real judge but they’ve got the government so far up their backside they can taste the Cheetos.)

Countless excitable activists out there say this persecution of Julian Assange is unheard of. They’re acting like no journalist has ever been prosecuted under the Espionage Act. They’re acting like it’s unprecedented for the U.S. to go after a journalist who’s not even a U.S. citizen and has never operated his organization from the U.S. They’re acting like it’s ridiculous to add on new superseding indictments days before the trial begins.

But all the people saying that are… um… correct. Yeah, they nailed it. (Sorry for the buildup – I thought that paragraph would come out differently.)

 

Two journalists

Right now, one journalist, Julian Assange, is on trial while being held in a maximum-security prison in London. Another journalist, Bob Woodward, is in a very different situation. The liberal Establishment is preparing to chisel his likeness out of a small boulder and display it next to the Lincoln Memorial. They love him because he got President Donald Trump to do interviews wherein Trump, as always, sounds like a lying buffoon. Among other things the president admits he knew Covid-19 was “deadly stuff” back in at least February, but played it down anyway.

But this is nothing new. Every time Bob Woodward puts out a book, the mainstream media fan-girls all over him. Myriad kings and queens of televised logorrhea describe him as a “veteran reporter,” a “famed reporter,” or “synonymous with investigative journalism!”

So what’s the difference between liberal-hero journalist Bob Woodward and dastardly evil villain cannibal-pedophile Julian Assange (who Hillary Clinton famously said we should drone bomb)?

Well, Julian is on trial for obtaining and disclosing classified information from the U.S. government. Liberal superhero Bob Woodward would never do such a thing like that! …Oh, that’s right. He actually said in his own online journalism class — “I have rarely found a significant story where there isn’t a document. …Often you can’t get it because it’s classified but… it’s there, and if you can get somebody to assist you, it will indeed help you with your story. …The hardest documents [to get] are intelligence documents. …And I’ve had them and printed them.”

Hmm, so the icon of investigative journalism actually brags about printing classified information. Well, maybe the difference between Assange (currently being fed to the lions) and Woodward (currently being lionized) is that Assange supposedly pressured people into giving him classified information whereas Woodward would never do that. For Bob the information just arrives at his door unsolicited.

…Oh, wait a second. On video Woodward recently said, “Documents rarely just arrive in the mail out of the blue. …You have to go to human beings and say, ‘Will you give it to me?’ You say, ‘Come on, let’s talk. Let’s, uh, not be chickenshit about this.’”

Soooo, the guy that has the entire mainstream media licking his shoes has been involved in obtaining and publishing classified information, and in fact pressuring sources into supplying him those documents? Wow. Bob Woodward and Julian Assange are exactly the same except Assange has actually not been proven to have pressured sources into giving him documents.

And there’s one other difference between the Almighty Bob Woodward and the so-called servant of Lucifer, Julian Assange.

Nothing WikiLeaks has ever published has been proven false. Not one sentence. Whereas, the outlets Woodward works with like The Washington Post and The New York Times publish false information all the time.

They said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; they said Kim Jung-Un killed his girlfriend while she was still alive; they published 16 anti-Bernie Sanders stories in the span of 16 hours while trying to sink his candidacy. They said China imprisoned millions of Uighurs based on extrapolating from the accounts of EIGHT PEOPLE! They are utter garbage when compared to the unassailable record of WikiLeaks. But when needed, legacy media like The Washington Post and The New York Times bend over for the national security state. That’s the real difference.

Julian Assange actually stood up to the U.S. and U.K. empires by publishing their war crimes. Woodward hasn’t really done that since President Richard Nixon was in office. Most big-time American journalists back down to the State Department when push comes to shove. Those who don’t — like Seymour Hersh, Robert Scheer, Chris Hedges, and a few others — are never allowed in the pages of the mainstream media again.

The next time you see a mainstream media talking-head fawn over Bob Woodward, just remember that if they had any backbone, any moral core, they would be fawning over Julian Assange instead.

The jaw-dropping video clips of Bob Woodward were discovered and put together by Matt Orfalea. You can watch his work here:

 
Feature photo | Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward arrives at Trump Tower in New York. Andrew Harnik | AP

Lee Camp is the host of the hit comedy news show Redacted Tonight. His new book “Bullet Points and Punch Lines” is available at LeeCampBook.com and his stand-up comedy special can be streamed for free at LeeCampAmerican.com.

This article was published with special permission from the author. It originally appeared at Consortium News.

The post Lee Camp: Woodward Accidentally Reveals He’s No Different Than “Super Villain” Julian Assange appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Insights, National, News, Bob Woodward, Julian Assange, Mainstream Media, whistleblower]

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[l] at 9/24/20 9:59am

A dauntless supporter of Israel, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) will retire in January after over thirty years in the House. Lowey hopes to leave behind a legacy of progress toward peace in the Middle East. That legacy, she hopes, will be achieved with the passage of her bill, the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (H.R.3104).

The bill, which was rolled into appropriations bill H.R.7608, passed the House in July 2019; Lowey hopes that fellow Israel-backer Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) can push it through the Senate before the end of the session in January.

The Middle East Partnership for Peace Act pledges to “promote joint economic development and finance ventures between Palestinian entrepreneurs and companies and those in the United States and Israel.”

With a budget of $50 million a year for five years, it hopes to purchase an end to “the incitement and dehumanization that have plagued both sides of the [Israeli/Palestinian] conflict.”

As Lowey states:

I cannot retire from the Congress without ensuring that there is funding for the people on the ground who want to come together and make progress in their communities [with] peaceful coexistence, reconciliation and economic cooperation.

At face value, the bill – and Lowey’s sentiment – sound commendable, a balanced approach to an issue on which Congress tends to take sides. Israel’s side, most often.

 

Economic incentive

H.R.3104 relies heavily on economics as a road to peace. “[E]conomic development is an important tool for stabilizing conflict-prone settings… [and] has been shown to support stabilization by empowering entrepreneurs, growing the middle class, and mitigating unemployment,” it proclaims, pointing to Gaza’s record high unemployment rate.

It promises that “Increased economic activity and projects” can “improve the quality and conditions of life for the Palestinians” and “help create a viable Palestinian economy.”

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), sponsor of Senate bill (S.1727) which is identical to Lowey’s House bill, agrees. Coons explains that “job creation is the best way to turn people away from violence,” a sentiment echoed by Senator Graham, who declared that the plan would “promote economic opportunity to people who have been systematically abused by their leadership for decades.”

 

Congress-splaining

If the sixty-seven Congress members who co-sponsored the twin bills are correct, the Palestinian-Israeli divide simply boils down to economics, and while it is true that the Palestinian economy is in shambles and unemployment is high, the solution Palestinians seek is not an infusion of Western cash, but of freedom.

Lowey’s bill fails to address the need for the Israeli government to make major policy shifts in the interest of pursuing peace. That fact goes unacknowledged not only in H.R.3104 but in the at least 66 additional bills focused on Israel in this session of Congress.

Real support for Palestinians has been rare on Capitol Hill and this session has seen just one bill wholeheartedly dedicated to improving Palestinian lives. That bill, H.R.2407, seeks to shield Palestinian children from being tortured on America’s dime. With just twenty-four cosponsors, it lacks the popularity usually needed for a bill to become law.

 

No strings attached for Israel

Lowey’s bill stipulates that any Palestinian recipient of funding must first be vetted for any connection to “terrorist organizations,” and must always operate in conjunction with Israeli or American supervision. Israel, however, is not subject to any conditions for its share of the $50 million each year.

The same is true for the $3.8 billion in military aid that the United States gives to Israel every year, although U.S. law does stipulate that due to Israel’s gross violations of human rights, some of that aid ought to be withheld.

In fact, Americans, especially Democrats, favor a reduction in aid to Israel because of its human rights abuses (45% of voters and 64% of Democrats according to Data for Progress) or make aid conditional upon Israel’s behavior (56% of voters and 71% of Democrats according to Center for American Progress).

Nevertheless, the Democratic candidates for both President and Vice President have stated unequivocally that aid to Israel will never be conditional.

Like H.R.3104, the Trump-Kushner “Peace To Prosperity” plan (aka Deal of the Century) focuses on economics, overlooking the Palestinians’ now decades-old call for an end to the occupation, land appropriation, and human rights abuses.

Other Trump policies include moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, green-lighting Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights and parts of the Palestinian West Bank, endorsing Israeli settlements built illegally on Palestinian land, discontinuing aid to they only UN organization that cares for Palestinian refugees, and terminating its assistance to East Jerusalem hospitals.

Not surprisingly, the Palestinian leadership has now cut ties with the U.S. government, stating that it is not an “honest broker” in the quest for peace in the Middle East.

Feature photo | Israeli soldiers prevent Palestinian laborers from the West Bank from crossing a fence, south of the West Bank town of Hebron, Sept. 6, 2020. Oded Balilty | AP

Kathryn Shihadah writes for MintPress News and If Americans Knew. She speaks regularly about the injustice and demonization Palestinians face at the hands of Israel with complicity from the United States, especially to Christian audiences. Kathryn has lived in the Middle East for ten years and has traveled extensively. She blogs at PalestineHome.org.

The post New Middle East Peace Plan Would Use Jobs to “Turn Palestinians Away from Violence” appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, News, Top Story, H.R.3104, Israel, Middle East Partnership for Peace Act, Palestanians, S.1727]

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[l] at 9/24/20 8:23am

Princeton, New Jersey (Scheerpost) — Two of the rebels I admire most, Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks publisher, and Roger Hallam, the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, are in jail in Britain. That should not be surprising. You can measure the effectiveness of resistance by the fury of the response. Julian courageously exposed the lies, deceit, war crimes and corruption of the ruling imperial elites. Roger has helped organized the largest acts of mass civil disobedience in British history, shutting down parts of London for weeks, in a bid to wrest power from a ruling class that has done nothing, and will do nothing, to halt the climate emergency and our death march to mass extinction.

The governing elites, when truly threatened, turn the rule of law into farce. Dissent becomes treason. They use the state mechanisms of control – intelligence agencies, police, courts, black propaganda and a compliant press that acts as their echo chamber, along with the jails and prisons, not only to marginalize and isolate rebels, but to psychologically and physically destroy them. The list of rebels silenced or killed by ruling elites runs in a direct line from Socrates to the Haitian resistance leader Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led the only successful slave revolt in human history and died in a frigid French prison cell of malnutrition and exhaustion, to the imprisonment of the socialist Eugene V. Debs, whose health was also broken in a federal prison. Rebel leaders from the 1960s, including Mumia Abu Jamal, Sundiata Acoli, Kojo Bomani Sababu, Mutulu Shakur and Leonard Peltier, remain, decades later, in U.S. prisons. Muslim activists, including those who led the charity The Holy Land Foundation and Syed Fahad Hashmi, were arrested, often at the request of Israel, after the hysteria following 9/11, and given tawdry show trials. They also remain incarcerated.

Resistance, genuine resistance, exacts a very, very high price. Those in power drop even the pretense of justice when they face an existential threat. Most rebels, like Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and the tens of thousands of rebels the U.S. has had kidnapped, disappeared and brutally tortured and killed throughout American history end up as martyrs.

Once a rebel is caged the state uses its absolute control and array of dark arts to break them. Julian, whose extradition hearing is underway in London, and who spent seven years trapped as a political prisoner in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, is taken from his cell in the high security Belmarsh Prison at 5:00 am. He is handcuffed, put in holding cells, stripped naked and X-rayed. He is transported an hour and a half each way to court in a police van that resembles a dog cage on wheels. He is held in a glass box at the back of court during the proceedings, often unable to consult with his lawyers. He has difficulty hearing the proceedings. He is routinely denied access to the documents in his case and is openly taunted in court by the judge.

It does not matter that Julian, being prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act, is not a U.S. citizen. It does not matter that WikiLeaks, which he founded and publishes, is not a U.S.-based publication. The ominous message the U.S. government is sending is clear: No matter who or where you are, if you expose the inner workings of empire you will be hunted down, kidnapped and brought to the U.S. to be tried as a spy and imprisoned for life. The empire intends to be unaccountable, untouchable and unexamined.

Julian Assange Cartoon

Illustratin by Mr. Fish for Scheerpost

The U.S. created in the so-called “war on terror” parallel legal and penal codes to railroad dissidents and rebels into prison. These rebels are held in prolonged solitary confinement, creating deep psychological distress. They are prosecuted under special administrative measures, known as SAMs, to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media and people outside the jail. They are denied access to the news and other reading material. They are barred from participating in educational and religious activities in the prison. They are subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring and 23-hour lockdown. They must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. They are permitted to write one letter a week to a single member of their family, but cannot use more than three pieces of paper. They often have no access to fresh air and must take the one hour of recreation in a cage that looks like a giant hamster wheel.

The U.S. has set up a segregated facility, the Communication Management Unit, at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. Nearly all the inmates transferred to Terre Haute are Muslims. A second facility has been set up at Marion, Ill., where the inmates again are mostly Muslim but also include a sprinkling of animal rights and environmental activists. Their sentences are arbitrarily lengthened by “terrorism enhancements” under the Patriot Act. Amnesty International has called the Marion prison facility “inhumane.” All calls and mail – although communication customarily is off-limits to prison officials – are monitored in these two Communication Management Units. Communication among prisoners is required to be only in English. The highest-level “terrorists” are housed at the Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, known as Supermax, in Florence, Colorado, where prisoners have almost no human interaction, physical exercise or mental stimulation. It is Guantánamo-like conditions in colder weather.

Julian is already very fragile. His psychological and physical distress include dramatic weight loss, severe respiratory problems, joint problems, dental decay, chronic anxiety, intense, constant stress resulting in an inability to relax or focus, and episodes of mental confusion. These symptoms indicate, as Nils Melzer, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture who met and examined Julian in prison has stated, that he is suffering from prolonged psychological torture.

If Julian is extradited to the U.S. to face 17 charges under the Espionage Act, each carrying a potential 10 years, which appears likely, he will continue to be psychologically and physically abused to break him. He will be tried in the burlesque of a kangaroo court with “secret” evidence, familiar to Black and Muslim radicals as well as rebels such as Jeremy Hammond, sentenced to 10 years in prison for hacking into the computers and making public the emails of a private security firm that works on behalf of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, and corporations such as Dow Chemical.

Roger is being held in Pentonville Prison in London which was built in 1842 and is in disrepair. He is charged with breaking bail conditions over an action that saw activists throw paint on the walls of the four major political parties, as well as conspiracy to cause criminal damage. A Green Party member leaked to the British police a recorded Zoom discussion Roger was having with three other members of Burning Pink, an anti-political party organized to create citizen assemblies to replace ruling governing bodies, as they discussed upcoming actions. The homes of the four activists on the Zoom meeting – Roger Hallam, Blyth Brentnall, Diana Warner, Ferhat Ulusu and Anglican priest Steven Nunn – were raided on August 25. Their electronic devices were confiscated by police and they were arrested.

Roger is housed in a dirty, vermin-infested cell and denied books and visitors. A vegan, he is forced to live on a diet of cold cereal and bread. On many days there is no hot food served in the prison. Violent altercations within the prison are commonplace. The overcrowded cells often lack lighting and heat. He has no change of clothes and has been unable to wash the clothes he is wearing for weeks. He stuffs bed sheets and paper in the cracks of the door to block mice and cockroaches. The toilet in his cell has no seat, is covered in excrement and does not flush properly. He goes days without access to the outside. His reading glasses are broken. He is waiting on a request for tape to fix them. The COVID-19 pandemic is in the prison. Two of the staff have died from the virus. Roger could be imprisoned in these conditions until February if he is denied bail in a hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

Roger’s arrest came as Extinction Rebellion was planning the blockade of the printing presses of News Corps Printworks, which prints the newspapers The Times, Sun on Sunday, Sunday Times, The Daily Mail and The London Evening Standard. The blockade took place on September 4 to protest the failure of the news outlets to accurately report on the climate and ecological emergency. The blockade delayed distribution of the papers by several hours.

“The days of standing up to tyranny have long faded,” Roger writes from prison. “The life-and-death struggle against Hitler and fascism is consigned to the history books. Today’s liberal classes believe only in one thing: maintaining their privilege. Their one priority is power. The number one rule is: preserve our careers, our institutions at all cost. The historical rule number one of fighting evil is the willingness to lose your career and to risk the closing down of your institution. The prospect of death and destruction is lost in a postmodernist haze. Leadership has decayed into sitting behind a desk, following public relations protocols (otherwise known as lying). Leading from the front, the first to go to prison Martin Luther King-style died with the passing of the World War II generation.”

“The game is up,” Roger continued. “The old alliance with the liberal classes is dead. New forms of revolutionary initiative and leadership are rising up. Members of the new political party Burning Pink have thrown paint at the doors of the NGOs and political parties calling for open dialogue and public debate. The response, true to form, has been a lethal and deafening silence. We are now in prison from where I write this article after a Green Party member recorded a Zoom call and passed it to the police. We have not been let out for exercise for the first five days. We have no kettle, no pillows, no visits. But we don’t give a shit. We are doing something about Evil.”

Feature photo | Protesters move a banner at the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, in London, Sept. 21, 2020, as the Julian Assange extradition hearing to the US continues. Frank Augstein | AP

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 wrote a weekly column for the progressive website Truthdig for 14 years until he was fired along with all of the editorial staff in March 2020. [Hedges and the staff had gone on strike earlier in the month to protest the publisher’s attempt to fire the Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer, demand an end to a series of unfair labor practices and the right to form a union.] He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact.

The post Chris Hedges: The Cost of Resistance appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Insights, National, News, Chris Hedges, Julian Assange, Prison, Roger Hallam]

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[l] at 9/23/20 2:48pm

Palestine can never be truly understood through numbers, because numbers are dehumanizing, impersonal, and, when necessary, can also be contrived to mean something else entirely. Numbers are not meant to tell the story of the human condition, nor should they ever serve as a substitute for emotions.

Indeed, the stories of life, death – and everything in-between – cannot be truly and fully appreciated through charts, figures and numbers.  The latter, although useful for many purposes, is a mere numerical depository of data. Anguish, joy, aspirations, defiance, courage, loss, collective struggle, and so on, however, can only be genuinely expressed through the people who lived through these experiences.

Numbers, for example, tell us that over 2,200 Palestinians were killed during the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip between July 8 and August 27, 2014, over 500 of them being children. Over 17,000 homes were completely destroyed, and thousands of other buildings, including hospitals, schools and factories were either destroyed or severely damaged during the Israeli strikes.

This is all true, the kind of truth that is summarized into a neat infographic, updated occasionally, in case, inevitably, some of the critically wounded eventually lose their lives.

But a single chart, or a thousand, can never truly describe the actual terror felt by a million children who feared for their lives during those horrific days; or transport us to a bedroom where a family of ten huddled in the dark, praying for God’s mercy as the earth shook, concrete collapsed and glass shattered all around them; or convey the anguish of a mother holding the lifeless body of her child.

It is easy – and justifiable – to hold the media accountable for the dehumanization of the Palestinians or, sometimes, ignoring them altogether. However, if blame must be apportioned, then others too, including those who consider themselves ‘pro-Palestine’, must reconsider their own position. We are all, to an extent, collectively guilty of seeing Palestinians as sheer victims, hapless, passive, intellectually stunted and ill-fated people, desperate to be ‘saved.’

When numbers monopolize the limelight in a people’s narrative, they do more damage than merely reduce complex human beings to data; they erase the living, too. Regarding Palestine, Palestinians are rarely engaged as equals; they persist at the receiving end of charity, political expectations and unsolicited instructions on what to say and how to resist. They are often the fodder for political bargains by factions or governments but, rarely, the initiative takers and the shapers of their own political discourse.

Palestinians Statistics

A shopkeeper visits with a girl and her mother where he sells snacks in the Old City of Jerusalem, Aug. 10, 2020. Maya Alleruzzo | AP

The Palestinian political discourse has, for years, vacillated between one constructed around the subject of victimhood – which is often satisfied by numbers of dead and wounded – and another pertaining to the elusive Fatah-Hamas unity. The former only surfaces whenever Israel decides to bomb Gaza under any convenient pretext at the time, and the latter was a response to western accusations that Palestinian political elites are too fractured to constitute a potential ‘peace partner’ for Israeli rightwing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Many around the world can only understand – or relate to – Palestinians through their victimization or factional affiliation – which, themselves, carry subsidiary meanings relevant to ‘terrorism’, ‘radicalism’, among others.

The reality is, however, often different from reductionist political and media discourses. Palestinians are not just numbers. They are not spectators either, in a political game that insists on marginalizing them. Soon after the 2014 war, a group of Palestinian youth, together with supporters from around the world, launched an important initiative that aimed to liberate the Palestinian discourse, at least in Gaza, from the confines of numbers and other belittling interpretations.

‘We Are Not Numbers’ was launched in early 2015. The group’s ‘About Us’ page reads: “numbers don’t convey  … the daily personal struggles and triumphs, the tears and the laughter, the aspirations that are so universal that if it weren’t for the context, they would immediately resonate with virtually everyone.”

Recently, I spoke to several members of the group, including the Gaza Project Manager, Issam Adwan. It was, indeed, inspiring to hear young, articulate and profoundly resolute Palestinians speaking a language that transcends all the stereotypical discourses on Palestine. They were neither victims nor factional, and were hardly consumed by the pathological need to satisfy western demands and expectations.

“We have talents – we are writers, we are novelists, we are poets, and we have so much potential that the world knows little about,” Adwan told me.

Khalid Dader, one of the Organization’s nearly 60 active writers and bloggers in Gaza, contends with the designation that they are ‘storytellers.’ “We don’t tell stories, rather stories tell us  … stories make us,” he told me. For Dader, it is not about numbers or words, but the lives that are lived, and the legacies that often go untold.

Somaia Abu Nada wants the world to know her uncle, because “he was a person with a family and people who loved him.” He was killed in the 2008 Israeli war on Gaza, and his death has profoundly impacted his family and community. Over 1,300 people were also killed in that war. Each one of them was someone’s uncle, aunt, son, daughter, husband or wife. None of them was just a number.

“‘We Are Not Numbers’ made me realize how necessary our voices are,” Mohammed Rafik told me. This assertion cannot be overstated. So many speak on behalf of Palestinians but rarely do Palestinians speak for themselves. “These are unprecedented times of fear, when our land appears to be broken and sad,” Rafik said, “but we never abandon our sense of community.”

Adwan reminded us of Arundhati Roy’s famous quote, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

It was refreshing to talk to Palestinians who are taking the decisive step of declaring that they are not numbers, because it is only through this realization and resolve that Palestinian youth can challenge all of us and assert their own collective identity as a people.

Indeed, Palestinians do have a voice, and a strong, resonating one at that.

Feature photo | A Palestinian girl walks next to an apartment building destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Nov. 13, 2018. Khalil Hamra | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post More Than Just Statistics: On the Future of the Palestinian Discourse  appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Insights, News, Israel, Palestinians, statistics, War]

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[l] at 9/23/20 2:37pm

In 2014, former Blackstone and Goldman Sachs investment banker Ryan Williams got together with his “college buddy,” Joshua Kushner – Jared’s brother – to form a real estate investment platform they called Cadre. Cadre sought to disrupt the real estate industry in the wake of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis by tinderizing property deals through a tech platform that brought investors and sellers together. According to Williams, whose other investors include George Soros and Peter Theil, Cadre’s mission is “to level the playing field in an industry that is often tilted toward the biggest players” by taking an “offline” industry online and making it “transparent.”

A pre-Covid initiative to capitalize on its platform came in the form of the so-called “opportunity zones,” that Jared Kushner directly lobbied for inclusion in Trump’s 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, billed as a funding mechanism to help poor and distressed communities, which turned into a multi-billion-dollar land heist by the wealthiest Americans, like the Kushner family. The pandemic lockdown protocols forced Cadre to downsize, laying off 25 percent of its workforce in March.

But now, the company is restarting its predatory engines as the home eviction wave forming on the horizon signals potential windfalls for companies like Cadre, that are in a position to profit. It is doing so by launching a pop-up banking operation called “Cadre Cash,” which will try to lure deposits from “investors” by offering a three percent annualized “reward” to finance a new round of land-grabs as millions of Americans teeter on the edge of homelessness and landlords look to unload un-rentable properties.

Another company, Civvl, is tackling a different side of the burgeoning housing crisis in America with its on-demand service model for eviction crews. Just like Uber, the Civvl app lets “frustrated property owners and banks secure foreclosed residential properties” by connecting haulers and the rentier class.

Civvl’s parent company, OnQall, specializes in mobile app platforms that monetize side-hustles like moving, cleaning and lawn care services. The eviction crew app has, predictably, drawn a storm of criticism since Motherboard‘s article on Civvl this past Monday.

“It’s fucked up that there will be struggling working-class people who will be drawn to gigs like furniture-hauling or process-serving,” exclaimed housing activist Helena Duncan, who also pointed out the clear dystopian contours evident in a scenario where working class people are paid to wage economic warfare on fellow working class people. Civvl puts up a disingenuous defense against the earned invectives, comparing itself to Monster.com. “They’re not evicting anyone,” a Civvl spokesperson told Motherboard, “they’re just the help.”

Both Cadre and Civvl are poised to make a killing as eviction moratoriums abate across the country and millions find themselves on one side or another of evictions – tenants forced onto the streets by small landlords who will have little choice but to sell in a depressed market. Only the CDC’s national eviction moratorium, issued three weeks ago, stands in the way of the avalanche of displacement and dispossession at our doorstep. But, even the risks of fines and jail time doesn’t seem to be discouraging companies like OnQall or landlords, in general.

 

Ridiculous loopholes

Cadre, in particular, is at the head of the pack of “disruptive” real estate tech platforms mostly due to the favor it enjoys in the halls of the Trump administration. “Jared was one of the key people early on. And his contributions were critical,” says Cadre CEO Ryan Williams of Jared Kushner, whose stake is worth over $50 Million, according to 2018 SEC filings.

Despite claims that Kushner sold a “substantial portion” of his shares in the company and that the president’s son-in-law has no role in the business endeavor, recent history surrounding the so-called “opportunity zones” of Trump’s Tax bill revealed Cadre’s and Kushner’s central role in a multi-billion dollar land heist by the wealthiest Americans, like the Kushner family.

Paying lip service to the same “diversity” principles Cadre’s African American founder asserts underlie his company’s vision, the more than 200 federally-designated “opportunity zones” for disadvantaged communities that resulted from the legislation, Cadre’s machine-learning and processed census data was simply serving to make a “ridiculous loophole” available to wealthy investors to buy up land at a serious discount.

The bulk of the opportunity zone funding, some of which was set up by William’s former employer and Cadre investor, Goldman Sachs, went to high-end real estate development projects in affluent areas, retail developments and luxury hotels, such as Richard Branson’s 225-room hotel in William’s home state of Louisiana, less than two miles away from one of the poorest parts of New Orleans. The project had been announced by Branson a year before the tax-cut legislation was signed into law, but nevertheless qualified to participate in the opportunity zone program.

 

Picking up the bodies

The housing catastrophe in the United States is barley gathering steam, and while many landlords and property owners still face legal challenges in cases where eviction moratoriums remain in place, the loose patchwork of laws governing property rights across the nation – not to mention foundational ideology – gives companies like Civvl and Cadre the chance to circumvent these and rely on naked power to drive people away from their homes or convince them to sell it to massive real estate concerns, like CBRE or Kushner’s rich buddies.

Civvl is confident that they can take advantage of people’s lack of knowledge about their rights to make money as the eviction middle man. Indeed, the company is betting that municipal and federal authorities will see things their way. “This is something that has to be done,” says a company spokesman. “Listen,” he continued, “if someone is killed on the street, someone needs to go pick their body up.”

Feature photo | File photo | Jessie Wardarski | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Kushner-Linked Firm and Gig Economy Set to Reap Huge Profits as Mass Evictions Begin appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, Cadre, evictions, Gig Economy, Jared Kushner]

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[l] at 9/23/20 12:43pm

Elections for Venezuela’s National Assembly are fast approaching. But the United States does not want them to go ahead at all. Sanctions on Venezuela are nothing new. But yesterday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the unusual step of sanctioning leaders of local opposition parties in an attempt to pressure them to pull out of the contest in December.

Remarkably, considering the well-documented flaws with the same problems in the U.S., Pompeo’s statement dubiously claimed that Venezuelan voting machines are unreliable, that millions of voters remain unregistered, and that the country’s supreme electoral council is politicized and hand-picked by the executive branch.

That many parties are contesting the upcoming December elections to the National Assembly (that the opposition already controls) seems to undermine Pompeo’s claim that Nicolas Maduro is a “desperate and illegitimate dictator.” The 56-year-old former CIA Director, however, explained that they are merely “puppet parties” participating in an “electoral charade.” The National Assembly is roughly akin to the French Assemblée Nationale or the U.S. House of Representatives.

Last week Pompeo toured Venezuela’s neighbors to discuss regime change. “Maduro has to go,” Pompeo said while in Guyana. “We know that the Maduro regime has decimated the people of Venezuela and that Maduro himself is an indicted narcotics trafficker. That means he has to leave.” The United States and Guyana announced that they would subsequently be carrying out joint military border patrols along the country’s sparsely populated bur disputed frontier with Venezuela.

The Venezuela-Guyana border dispute is an extremely old one, going back to unresolved disagreements between the Spanish and British empires, long before either’s establishment as a state. The large, heavily forested region claimed by both countries is largely untouched and thought to be home to uncontacted tribes. Because of this, the dispute has never spilled over into a serious conflict. Pompeo claimed that the operation is purely an anti-drugs operation, but in the same speech described as a “narco-trafficker,” muddying the waters further.

Earlier this month an American ex-C.I.A. agent was arrested outside the country’s largest oil refinery complex in possession of C4 explosives, a grenade launcher, and other weapons.

The United States already tried the tactic of sanctioning Maduro’s opponents during the 2018 presidential elections, when it demanded opposition leader Henri Falcon drop out, threatening him with sanctions. Falcon remained in to contest the election, but with many of his coalition heeding American advice and boycotting it, he was resoundingly beaten. In the end, Maduro won with 68 percent of the vote. The process was watched over by 150 international observers and foreign dignitaries, who attested to its veracity. Maduro has asked teams from the United Nations and European Union to oversee the December vote, something the U.S. does not want to happen.

Since coming to power in 2013, Maduro has presided over an increasingly dysfunctional economy and falling standards of living. Inflation has racked the country, there have been acute shortages of certain goods, oil production has collapsed, and many have left the country as a result. Much of the mayhem, however, is due to the impact of American sanctions, formally condemned by the U.N., and estimated to have killed at least 100,000 people. Earlier this week, the State Department announced sweeping new “humanitarian support” for Venezuelans, although, given its history in the country, it is highly likely to be politicized. Much of it is actually earmarked for the neighboring countries Pompeo visited.

Maduro’s public approval rating is very low. Yet his party still stands a decent chance in the National Assembly elections. This is partly due to the equally unpopular opposition coalition, which is fractured and unsure what to do. Some favor a boycott of the vote like in 2018, others to compete and win.

Historically, when eschewing violence and pursuing purely electoral means, the opposition has fared relatively well at the ballot box, winning the National Assembly in 2015. Two years earlier, their candidate Henrique Capriles received 49 percent of the vote for the presidency. However, they are beset with infighting, with the United States propping up self-declared president Juan Guaidó as the legitimate ruler of the country, even though he wields no power. Earlier this month Capriles called on him to stop “playing at government on the internet.”

Guaidó rose to prominence in January 2019 when, as it was his party’s turn to lead the institution, he was appointed head of the National Assembly for one year. He immediately declared himself president, however, shocking the world, and would go on to launch five unsuccessful coup attempts since, all with U.S. backing.

While Guaidó enjoys virtually unanimous support among Democrats and Republicans (he was a guest of honor at Trump’s State of the Union, where he was given a standing ovation by both parties), a number of embarrassing financial and alcohol-related scandals have made him a deeply unpopular figure inside the country. Recent polls put his public support at three percent. In January he “resigned” from his party, meaning he has no formal political office at all.

Despite this, the U.S. continues to bankroll his stunts, even supplying him with money it stole from the Venezuelan government so he could give a large stipend to the country’s 62,000 health workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trying to explain Latin America to an international audience, the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano described his region as an “upside down world,” where everything is turned on its head. Thus, Venezuela is an autocracy with upcoming elections, presided over by a dictator who was elected twice, with a larger share of the electorate than Trump in 2016 or Obama in 2012, holding sham votes watched over by impressed international observers. The land of the free, however, attacks anyone who participates in elections or the 97 percent who do not support their own self-declared president, a man who has never even run for the office he claims he holds. The U.S. helps forces for democracy launch coup d’etats, assassination attempts, or terror plots in order to bring about relief from the suffering it is causing through its own actions. No wonder so many people are confused.

Feature photo | A man passes a mural of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, July 22, 2020. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Hoping to Force an Outcome, US Sanctions Opposition Parties in Venezuela Ahead of Elections appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, Elections, National Assembley, Sanctions, United States, Venezuela]

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[l] at 9/23/20 10:14am

A sobering new report from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) lays bare the consequences that capitalist globalization has wrought on the planet. Since 1970, their research calculates, global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles plunged by 68 percent. Just two years ago in a previous report, that number was only 60 percent. Humans, it notes, are overusing Earth’s biocapacity by at least 56 percent.

The figures for the report were compiled by a worldwide team of 134 experts tracking 4,392 species of vertebrates, finding that species with larger bodies, often called “megafauna,” (e.g. Giant Panda, White Rhinoceros) were faring the worst. This was because they were less resilient to changes in the environment as they require larger and more complex habitats, reproducing more slowly and having fewer offspring.

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region of the world where the most precipitous drop in wildlife has occurred; a 94 percent reduction since 1970. President Bolsonaro of Brazil, where most of the Amazon rainforest is located, is a leader in this charge, vowing in 2017 that under his premiership, not one inch of the Amazon would be left for indigenous groups to live in. In Africa there was a recorded drop of 65 percent, the Asia Pacific region lost 45 percent of its wildlife. Europe and North America were the regions with the least catastrophic animal population reductions, at 24 and 33 percent respectively.

The reasons for the current mass extinction were also laid out. Changes in land and sea use, as humanity continually expands its domain, were the primary factor. But others, including species overexploitation by humans, the arrival of invasive species, pollution, and global warming were also key factors. Thus, humanity, and in particular the growth-obsessed capitalist system we live under, is overwhelmingly responsible for the crisis. The report, for WWF International Director General Marco Lamberini, “underlines how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives.”

The study comes upon the back of an Oxfam report published Monday, which detailed the shocking continued rise in CO2 emissions and the extraordinary inequality between those who pollute and those who do not. Globally, the wealthiest 1 percent are responsible for over twice the amount of CO2 than the bottom half of humanity. “The over-consumption of a wealthy minority is fuelling the climate crisis yet it is poor communities and young people who are paying the price. Such extreme carbon inequality is a direct consequence of our government’s decades-long pursuit of grossly unequal and carbon-intensive economic growth,” said Tim Gore, Head of Climate Policy at Oxfam.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the huge social and economic upheaval it has caused presents an opportunity to implement far-reaching changes that will radically divert our current trajectory towards destruction. But, even middle-of-the-road CNN notes, it is being squandered. While CO2 emissions have decreased in 2020, relative to expectations, the projections are still well above what is needed to meet the Paris Agreement, and vastly over what scientists predict is needed to prevent a devastating rise of 2 degrees Celsius, considered by many to be the upper limit for non-catastrophic changes.

Unfortunately, President Trump has pulled the United States, the world’s only superpower and the country responsible for most carbon dioxide emissions historically, out of the Paris Agreement. His Democratic challenger Joe Biden has pledged to re-enter the accords if elected. However, he has refused to go much further, distancing himself from activists and members of his own party putting forward a Green New Deal.

However, the environment is simply not a pressing issue in elite politics. During the 2016 presidential debates, neither Hillary Clinton nor Trump was asked a single climate-related question. The first 2020 presidential debate is set for Tuesday, and the climate is again off the agenda. Campaign groups such as Climate Power 2020 are organizing so this does not happen again. “It’s impossible to ignore the importance of the climate crisis on people’s lives,” they wrote. “Climate is inextricably linked to each of the debate’s stated topics and its exclusion as a priority is unjustifiable.”

Feature photo | Golden lion tamarins sit on a tree branch in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, one of the planet’s most threatened biomes, more than 90 percent of it which has been deforested. Leo Correa | AP

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post New Report Links Mass Extinction of Animals To Human Activity appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, climate crisis, CO2 emissions, mass extinction, report, World Wide Fund for Nature]

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[l] at 9/22/20 8:44am

Operation Warp Speed has grabbed all the headlines when it comes to the federal government’s efforts to deploy a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. A colossal enterprise, some supply chain experts have called it “an Amazon Prime delivery model for a vaccine.”

But, the real distribution networks tasked with the job are located in 64 jurisdictions brought together under the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Prevention and Control of Emerging Infectious Diseases (ELC) cooperative agreement; a 25-year old funding program inside the CDC used to enhance “state, local and territorial capacities for emerging infectious disease control.”

In March, the Trump Administration secured $631 Million from Congress for these jurisdictions through the CARES Act to “expand their capacity for testing, contact tracing, and containment,” according to HHS director, Alex Azar. But, the CDC has come back, months later, with a counteroffer ten times the original award, requesting $6 Billion to cover the logistical requirements of distributing a vaccine to the entire U.S. population and beyond.

The $6 Billion-dollar request was made privately among CDC officials and members of Congress before CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield called the agency’s need for more funds “urgent” during an open congressional hearing last week. The decision to go public was likely motivated by the Democrats’ blocking of the GOP coronavirus relief bill last week, which contained the $6 Billion allocation in addition to the $20 Billion requested separately by HHS for further vaccine manufacturing and development, The Hill reported.

 

First blood in November

Besides the 50 states, ELC jurisdictions also include five U.S. territories and three freely associated states, as well as all federally recognized tribal nations serving more than 50,000 people. In Trump’s first year in office, the CDC introduced a new funding mechanism for the jurisdictions to more quickly deploy resources in a public health emergency over which the CDC, itself, exercises discretion.

In August of 2019, the ELC launched “a new 5-year period of performance” dubbed the “next generation” ELC Cooperative Agreement that prioritized surveillance, detection, and response to “the growing threats posed by infectious diseases,” a full two months before news of a mysterious bat-borne virus broke. Other priorities included implementing “public health interventions and tools,” which together with their stated intent to use “surveillance data to inform and prepare intervention strategies,” sounds exactly like contact tracing.

The $631 Million from the CARES Act went directly to these ends in all jurisdictions and now, as a still-unknown COVID-19 vaccine comes closer to fruition, the real and expensive implications of a mass vaccine distribution operation in a country of 328 million people begin to take shape.

The sheer scope of the proposed mass inoculation entails a herculean logistical effort to supply millions of vaccine doses to all the hospitals, clinics, and assorted facilities that will physically deliver them to the citizenry. It is also a considerable political undertaking, which Redfield himself took on by sending a letter to all state governors urging them to waive requirements and expedite applications for distribution centers in order to have them fully operational two days before the presidential election.

The November 1 deadline came down straight from the Trump White House, according to Redfield, who stressed that the president wanted them “to do everything in their power to eliminate hurdles for vaccine distribution sites to be fully operational” by that date.

 

A protracted affair

Marcus Plescia from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASHTO), worries that lack of funding will leave many health departments in the “technological dark ages” because they “will struggle to adequately track who has been vaccinated and when.” Plescia also believes that underfunded vaccine distribution efforts will pose a public health challenge, claiming that it would “probably going to be even worse than the problems with testing.”

In an August 4 memo circulated among members of Operation Warp Speed, the CDC delineated many of these challenges and identified five jurisdictions that would serve as “pilot sites for joint planning missions” for the eventual distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. North Dakota, Florida, California, Minnesota, and Philadelphia are working to “plan and prepare for the COVID-19 vaccination response” helping to create a “planning tool with model approaches,” that will then be used in the remaining jurisdictions.

Even after vaccinations get underway, life won’t return to normal for a while, according to a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who told KHN in August that “We have to be prepared to deal with this virus in the absence of significant vaccine-induced immunity for a period of maybe a year or longer,” due to the limited doses expected to be available in the fall.

The CDC’s memo revealed that the National Academies of Science has formed a committee to determine which “populations [are] to be reached early,” formulating the criteria that will be furnished to lawmakers, in order “to ensure the equitable allocation of limited doses until there is sufficient global supply.”

Feature photo | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield holds up a CDC document that reads “COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations” as he speaks appears at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on a “Review of Coronavirus Response Efforts” on Capitol Hill, Sept. 16, 2020, in Washington. Andrew Harnik | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Trump Pushes CDC To Release COVID Vaccine Before Election, Experts Warn It’s Too Early appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: National, News, Top Story, 2020 presidential elections, CDC, COVID-19, Operation Warp Speed, Vaccine]

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[l] at 9/22/20 7:34am

Israel destroyed nearly 90 Palestinian-owned structures last month, rendering 202 people homeless, half of them children. The demolitions mark a fourfold increase in the average number of demolitions carried out by the Israeli government in 2020.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, in spite of Israel’s promise to refrain from home demolitions during the pandemic, the government has instead has stepped up the practice. The average number of demolitions in 2020 now stands at 60, compared to 36 in 2017. The period from March to August of 2020, a period marking the height of the coronavirus pandemic, showed the highest rate in four years.

In nearly every incident during August, the reason given for the demolitions was a “lack of building permits,” a problematic allegation as it is “virtually impossible” for Palestinians to obtain permits from the Israeli government thanks to a “restrictive planning regime” that applies only to Palestinians.

 

Set up to fail

One Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem describes the typical procedure: after spending about $22,000 on pre-application requirements, Alaa Borqan applied for a building permit – a process that can take five years and cost upwards of $50,000 – but was denied. Like many who need space for a growing family or business, he decided to take his chances and build anyway.

Borqan invested all of his savings, took on $230,000 in loans, and spent four years building his four-bedroom home before Israel fined him $17,000 for building without a permit and forced him to raze it with his own hands or pay a government demolition crew to do it for him.

While Borqan now pays $800 a month for an apartment for his family, many Palestinians end up homeless or are forced to move in with relatives – which can require expanding their home, which requires a permit, and the cycle continues.

Homes and businesses all over East Jerusalem and the West Bank have been served with open-ended demolition orders; others are “illegal” but have not been tracked down yet. OCHA reports that “At least one-third of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack an Israeli-issued building permit, potentially placing over 100,000 residents at risk of displacement.”

 

Israel takes a village

In what can only be described as an ongoing human rights travesty, Israeli forces razed an entire village in August, the Bedouin village of Al-Araqeeb in the Israeli desert for the 177th time in ten years. The demolition was the sixth in 2020 alone. Middle East Monitor reports that the residents of Al-Araqeeb have deeds to their land and pay taxes but Israel refuses to recognize the existence of the village, withholding services like electricity, water, and schools, in hopes of pressuring them to relocate to a place of Israel’s choosing.

The village of Wadi as Seeq also experienced demolitions in August, displacing 24 Palestinians and destroying the shelters they used to house their livestock.

A mosque in East Jerusalem faces imminent demolition after an Israeli court threw out an appeal by residents. Funded through donations, the mosque was constructed eight years ago and serves the area’s 7,000 residents.

To make matters even more daunting for would-be Palestinian builders, Military Order 1797 enables Israel to begin demolition of new structures within four days if no permit is produced, expediting a procedure that was often drawn out for months while Palestinians fought (and almost invariably lost) a court battle. The order also “virtually strips the affected residents of the right to due process and the capacity to challenge the demolition orders through legal avenues…fast-tracking the forced transfer of the occupied population” – a crime against humanity according to the International Criminal Court.

The Israel government is not opposed to all construction projects though. In March, Israel approved plans for the construction of almost 3,500 settlement housing units on Palestinian land, a move expected to cause the forcible transfer of about 3,700 Palestinian Bedouins.

 

Discriminatory deadlines

While the East Jerusalem mosque has been given a month’s notice for demolition, the situation is completely different for one Israeli outpost – illegal even by Israeli government standards – that has also been slated for destruction.

Mitzpeh Kramim, built on privately-owned Palestinian land, is one of a very few areas colonized by Israelis that has been unable to withstand the Israeli High Court – at least so far.

In contrast to the one-month warning the East Jerusalem mosque received, or the four days granted under Military Order 1797, the Israeli community has been given three years to relocate, and the Israeli government and offered to foot the bill. Israeli lawmakers have vowed to pass a law in the interim to make that court decision null and void.

Israeli settlements are illegal according to the United Nations and the International Court of Justice; the demolition of homes is also a violation of international law. Even the United States has sided with the international community on the illegality of settlements until President Donald Trump finally reversed that position. Many experts consider the practice a form of ethnic cleansing and the Israeli government’s discriminatory housing laws to be state-sanctioned apartheid.

Feature photo | Palestinians inspect a house after it was demolished by the Israeli army in the West Bank city of Jenin, Feb. 6, 2020. Majdi Mohammed | AP

Kathryn Shihadah writes for MintPress News and If Americans Knew. She speaks regularly about the injustice and demonization Palestinians face at the hands of Israel with complicity from the United States, especially to Christian audiences. Kathryn has lived in the Middle East for ten years and has traveled extensively. She blogs at PalestineHome.org.

The post Israel Promised to Slow Down Home Demolitions During COVID-19, It Stepped Them Up Instead appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, home demolitions, Israel, military order 1797, Palestinians, United Nations]

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[l] at 9/21/20 1:10pm

Deutsche Bank, along with several of the world’s biggest commercial banks, are embroiled in a global money laundering scandal that spans over two decades, as documents leaked to BuzzFeed show the movement of $2 Trillion in illicit cash through the Western banking establishment.

The cache of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) detailing years of potentially illegal banking transactions were shared with 108 news organizations in 88 countries, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). These records are a requirement for any financial institution that engages in dollar-denominated transactions anywhere in the world and are filed with the Treasury Department’s intelligence unit, the Financial Crimes and Enforcement Network or FinCEN.

The more than 2,100 SARs released to the press are considered “historical” documents by the implicated banks, who responded with their usual Pontius Pilate routine when reached for comment by the media and washed their hands of the matter by claiming to have fulfilled their legal obligation before the U.S. Treasury “as part of our partnership with regulators and law enforcement to protect the global financial system,” as a Deutsche Bank statement puts it.

The Trump-linked German bank is, by far, the most beset by the suspicious activity records totaling well over half of the $2 Trillion-dollar sum the FinCEN Files trace, with approximately $1.3 Trillion of it moving through the scandal-plagued financial institution. Most of the press coverage in the U.S., so far, has focused on the ties to Russian oligarchs and assorted narratives that are hovering over election-year American political discourse. Deutsche Bank’s central role, nevertheless, betrays a far greater problem as the bank’s potential collapse could send the financial world into a tailspin and result in the greatest economic crisis in history.

 

1MDB

As European bank stocks tumble amid the revelations, FinCEN condemned the unlawful disclosure of the SARs to the press and warned that it could “impact the national security of the United States.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department is in the middle of the largest asset-recovery effort in U.S. history, filing its latest complaint regarding $300 Million the department is attempting to recover for an $11.7 Billion Malaysian sovereign wealth fund called 1MDB, one of the major cases highlighted by ICIJ in its report on the leaked SARs.

Absent from most coverage of the FinCEN leaks, however, is how all of these banks and financial institutions are not only laundering trillions, but are doing so together and in consort with each other, as is plainly demonstrated in the 1MDB fraud case. Most publications point the finger at JP Morgan Chase as the entity that moved more than $1 Billion for Jho Low, one of the 1MDB’s central figures, but they fail to mention the role of Goldman Sachs, which orchestrated a significant part of the scheme that defrauded the Malaysian people and led to criminal charges against 17 of its current and former executives, including Goldman Sachs former vice-chairman and now president of Chinese mega eCommerce platform Alibaba, Michael Evans.

The Malaysian government recently agreed to drop charges against Goldman Sachs after a $2.5 Billion-dollar settlement was reached with the giant investment bank; nearly a fourth of the $10.5 billion-dollar debt hole it created for Malaysia’s ruling coalition, resulting in the cancelation of major infrastructure projects. Deutsche Bank was also involved in the multi-pronged attack of the Western financial vultures on the Malay through the provision of hundreds of millions in stock-buy-back loans through the 1MDB fund for the former prime minister, who was convicted in July of graft.

 

A Hit Job?

The ostensible purpose of the 1MDB fund was to finance infrastructure projects, like the oil and gas pipeline projects shelved as a result. But, according to a report by Business Insider, the money “veered into lavish spending,” such as art purchases, and, quite fittingly, to the production of the “The Wolf of Wall Street” – a story about the unmitigated fraud and graft that the very same people and institutions ensnared in this scandal carry out day in and day out.

It is reported that former Goldman Sachs CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, met with the disgraced Malaysian PM and the fugitive businessman, Jho Low, before the fund’s debut in 2009. Another lawsuit brought against Goldman Sachs details the investment bank’s “central role in a long-running effort to corrupt former executives” of An Abu Dhabi wealth fund called International Petroleum Investment Corporation and its subsidiary, Aabar Investments, which partnered with the 1MDB, calling it “a massive, international conspiracy to embezzle billions of dollars.”

Few can argue with that characterization, but as the chickens come home to roost, it is important to keep an eye on who gets exposed and who doesn’t; who gets punished and who doesn’t. The FinCEN Files are meant to draw most of the attention to Deutsche Bank and has all the hallmarks of a premeditated hit on one of the lynchpins of the prevailing financial structure. Much like Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns were sacrificed for the subprime mortgage crisis and opened the door for even greater consolidation among the “too-big-to-fail” banks, a calculated take-down of Deutsch Bank will, no doubt, allow for a similar consolidation to occur at a far larger scale.

Feature photo | The towers of the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. Michael Probst | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Deutsche Bank Money Laundering Scandal Could Create Greatest Economic Crisis in History appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, 1MDB, Deutsche Bank, FinCEN, goldman sachs]

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[l] at 9/21/20 12:32pm

In an increasingly angry and bad faith campaign, Donald Trump and his team are presenting Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as an anti-police radical controlled by the far left. Last week, the Trump campaign sent a text message to supporters warning them that Antifa would raid their homes if Biden wins in November. “They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door,” warned Florida congressman Matt Gaetz.

The reality, however, is that the 77-year-old former vice president has a long history of opposing progressive legislation and spearheading increasingly more draconian police, immigration, and criminal justice measures. Biden first shot to prominence in the 1970s, when, as a freshman senator, he became a leading voice against bussing, the practice of desegregating schools via public transport (something his now-running mate Kamala Harris grilled him on during the debates). He also maintained a close relationship with arch segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, who left the Democratic party and became a Republican due to his vehement opposition to the Civil Rights Act. He even read the eulogy at Thurmond’s funeral, around the time of which it came out that Thurmond had fathered a child with a 15-16-year-old black servant girl working for him.

 

“Hang People for Jaywalking”

But Biden’s problematic history with race goes much further; the Delawarian has been one of the chief architects of the racist prison system we live under today. For decades, he pushed for more cops, more jails, more arrests, and more convictions, even criticizing the notorious Ronald Reagan for not locking enough people up.

Throughout the 1980s, he and Thurmond worked on a number of bills that radically reshaped the criminal justice system, including the 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act which limited parole and cut sentence reductions for good behavior. Biden continued to attack Republican George H.W. Bush from the right on crime, in 1989, condemning his draconian proposals as not going far enough. “In a nutshell, the President’s plan does not include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, enough prosecutors to convict them, enough judges to sentence them, or enough prison cells to put them away for a long time,” he said, later demanding to know why Bush hadn’t executed more drug dealers like he wanted.

Despite Bush pushing through substantial increases to the prison industrial system, Biden continually demanded more, publishing his own plans that included billions more in funding for increased numbers of police, FBI, and DEA agents.

This all culminated in what in 2007 he called his “greatest accomplishment” in politics: the controversial 1994 Crime Bill. Often labeled the “Biden Crime Bill” because of its author and chief promoter, the bill laid the basis for an ever-increasing prison population, introducing the death penalty for dozens of new offenses and spent billions on hundreds of thousands of extra police and prison cells. Just as Bill Clinton was making a point of returning to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a mentally handicapped black man, Biden was staking out his position as a new leader of the new, “tough on crime” Democrats, boasting that his bill meant that “we do everything but hang people for jaywalking.” As his biographer Branko Marcetic wrote, Biden makes Hillary Clinton look like [civil rights advocate] Michelle Alexander.

 

Incarceration Nation

The effects of the increase in mass incarceration are relatively well known but are still shocking nonetheless. From less than 200,000 in 1970, the prison population exploded in the 1980s and 1990s, increasing to 740,000 in 1990 and 1.33 million by 2000, where it continued to grow to the point where nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners are American. African Americans — who Biden and Hillary Clinton described as “thugs” and “superpredators” — are incarcerated at over five times the rate of whites. In five states (Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, and Wisconsin), the disparity is more than 10 to 1. One in three black men will be incarcerated during their lifetimes. The United States locks up a higher proportion of its citizens than any other country in the world. More people are serving life in 2020 than were serving at all in 1970.

Much of the spike in numbers can be attributed to Richard Nixon’s war on drugs, now often understood as a political project to criminalize his two major political enemies: black people and the antiwar left. “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” one of Nixon’s aides admitted to Harper’s Magazine.

Biden continued to support the drug war, hyping up the threat, and even championing the notorious 100-to-1 sentencing disparity in crack versus powder cocaine. Crack was rampant in poor black communities, while the more expensive powder was synonymous with Wall Street traders. Throughout this time, his son Hunter struggled with addiction, even buying crack himself. But even his son’s problems did not soften his hardline approach.

 

Plan Colombia

Yet the destruction and devastation caused by policies Biden proposed or supported pales into comparison with the consequences of the U.S. drug war in Latin America, most notoriously of all, Plan Colombia.

Plan Colombia was originally conceived as a peace and development proposal by then-Colombia President Andres Pastrana in 1999. However, in the Clinton administration’s hands, it was radically altered into a massive militarization of Colombian society, Biden successfully lobbying for 80 percent of the $7.5 billion total to go to the Colombian military (with much of the weaponry finding its way into the hands of far-right death squads linked to the government). In the era of 9/11, narco-traffickers were rebranded “narco-terrorists” as a flimsy justification for U.S. interference. Biden was among its key architects, telling the Des Moines Register in January that “I’m the guy who put together Plan Colombia,” adding that it “straightened that government out for a long while.”

Joe Biden brags

"I'm the guy who put together Plan Colombia".#PlanColombia used murderous, failed drug war policies as cover to destabilize democracy in South America, arming right wing death squads so openly that Congress had to force it to stop with an amendment. pic.twitter.com/8qtLhirf1P

— CPD Action (@CPDAction) January 17, 2020

When the bill came to the Senate floor, Biden worked with Republicans to push for a hardline strategy, declaring that, “What is at stake is whether or not Colombia becomes a narcostate or not,” warning that if the bill was not passed, the hemisphere would turn into a haven for terrorists and drug dealers.

What was billed as a huge anti-drug push turned into a war against the population, with the government carrying out a massive chemical defoliation regime, forcing huge numbers of people off the land and clearing it for multinational corporations. The plan also ended up giving the government and associated far-right paramilitaries carte blanche to massacre whom it liked under the premise that anyone opposing them were drug smugglers. Over 10,000 innocent civilians were murdered, the government dressing them up as narco-terrorists, their numbers being used to trigger more funding from the U.S. on the grounds that dead bodies equaled progress in the fight against drugs. Under Plan Colombia, the country became the most dangerous place to be a trade unionist, according to Amnesty International, with more unionist murders happening inside Colombia than in all other countries combined. The United Nations estimates that 7.4 million Colombians are internally displaced to this day because of the ongoing civil war and Plan Colombia, with millions more leaving the country altogether.

The plan’s stated goal of drug reduction did not even work, as cocaine producers simply moved across the border to other Andean countries not affected by the war, returning when the violence subsided. By 2017, domestic coca production reached an all-time high, according to the U.N.

Since Trump took over the White House, American policy in Latin America has become more openly belligerent, with the president publicly supporting coups around the region. However, as Dr. Barry Cannon of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, told MintPress,

It’s important to keep in mind the continuities in the U.S.’ Americas policy with Trump in charge rather than the differences. U.S. policy, with Democrats or Republicans, has always been suspicious of any government in the region which can undermine U.S. power, be that political, economic, military, or cultural.”

 

The Biden Plan

The growing refugee and migrant crisis of people coming from Central America will be a key policing and criminal justice question of the next presidency. Unlike most Democratic presidential candidates, Biden favors retaining the policy of criminally prosecuting those crossing the border, even if they are fleeing violence or persecution elsewhere. He also rejects abolishing, or seriously defunding Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a policy pushed heavily by the progressive wing of the Democratic party following the allegations of human rights abuses carried out by the organization and condemned widely by human rights groups. “We shouldn’t abolish ICE… ICE is not the problem,” he said in November.

Yet barely mentioned in the debate about the crisis is that people fleeing are doing so, in no small part, due to U.S. foreign policy, many of them masterminded by Biden in his role as vice president. In 2014, President Obama charged him with spearheading a Central American development plan that would attack the root cause of the wave of migration. Like Plan Colombia, his $750 million plan included privatizations and austerity measures that perpetuated the very economic and political conditions that led migrants to flee in the first place. Under Biden’s Plan, health services were gutted, teachers laid off, and utilities like electricity were privatized, driving prices skyward. Added to that were a number of environmentally destructive infrastructure projects that forced people from their land.

The North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and similar agreements devastated Central America, with peasant farmers now having to compete against massive, U.S.-government subsidized agribusiness, leading to an exodus from the countryside to ever-growing slums around the region’s largest cities. Biden voted for NAFTA, something that, of late, Trump has turned into a political weapon.

Worse still, the Obama administration supported a coup against democratically-elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, Hillary Clinton boasting that in her role as Secretary of State she worked with allied nations to “render the question of Zelaya moot.” Today, the country is ruled over by the American-backed Juan Orlando Hernandez, who came to power in a highly dubious election in 2017. After the coup, the country exploded in violence, becoming one of the most dangerous in the world. And despite “the Biden Plan,” as the U.S’ 2014 project was called, there has been no reduction in poverty since its implementation there.

Thus, the Obama-Biden administration’s actions have directly contributed to the growing migrant crisis. Yet they were treated with brutality once they arrived at the American border.

“We would not be where we are today without the devastating groundwork laid by the Biden Plan and the profitable, xenophobic border militarization schemes of the Deporter-in-Chief and his vice president,” Dr. Adrienne Pine, an anthropologist at the American University in Washington, D.C. told MintPress, adding that,

While ostensibly intended to fund development, anti-corruption efforts and security, the Biden Plan only increased narco-dictator Juan Orlando Hernandez’s power without doing anything to improve safety or security for Hondurans, who have since fled the country in droves — not despite the Biden Plan, but because of it.”

President Obama did indeed deport more individuals than all other presidents. And while many like to present the problem of ICE concentration camps as purely a Trump affair, Pine notes that those facilities were being built long before his ascension to power.

 

President Biden

As part of his presidential bid, Biden has unveiled a new $4 billion plan to deal with Latin American refugees, but it is difficult to discern how it would be qualitatively different from Plan Colombia and the Biden Plan, especially as he still promotes the two as triumphs of legislation.

What would a Biden presidency mean for Latin America and the drug war? Dr. Cannon, an expert on Andean and Central American politics, was skeptical that there would be any major changes under Democratic leadership, stating,

I wouldn’t expect any great departures from Trump era policies. Colombia — which has a far worse human rights record than Venezuela, for example — is almost always supported by the U.S. under most circumstances, and now that it is a member of the OECD from most other developed countries as well…there may be a change in tone, with perhaps a greater level of engagement with the region, but the underlying U.S. objective of supporting its dominance in the region will remain as consistent as it has always been in recent decades.”

In recent months he has categorically opposed defunding the police or abolishing ICE, despite what pro-Trump media might say, and continues to shy away from marijuana legalization. As self-described “California’s top cop,” his running mate Kamala Harris oversaw 1,900 marijuana convictions in the San Francisco area, yet laughed about her own usage last year. Thus, it seems likely that in this era of self-reflection about systemic racism and police brutality, a Biden-Harris ticket would offer more of a continuation of, than a break from, the drug war, mass incarceration, and the criminalization of undocumented immigrants.

With only weeks to go before the election, and with Biden’s lead over Trump narrowing, things are beginning to feel worryingly like 2016 again, where the Democrats rejected an insurgent progressive candidate in favor of an established one with a troubling history on racial justice, drugs and immigration. And we all know what happened four years ago.

Feature photo | Vice President Joe Biden, left, his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, center, and Colombia’s Commander of the Armed Forces Alejandro Navas, stand for the Colombian national anthem in Bogota, Colombia, May 27, 2013. Fernando Vergara | AP

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post From Mass Incarceration to Plan Colombia: Biden’s Role in the Failed War on Drugs appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: National, News, Top Story, 1994 crime bill, Immigration, Joe Biden, Plan Colombia, war on drugs]

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[l] at 9/21/20 12:18pm

A new report published today by international charity Oxfam lays bare the massive disparities in carbon dioxide emissions between the world’s wealthy elite and the rest of society. Titled “Confronting Carbon Inequality,” the study found that over the previous 25 years, the globe’s richest one percent are responsible for 15 percent of all carbon emissions — more than double that of the bottom 50 percent (over three billion people).

The other nine percent of the population who make up the richest decile used up 37 percent of humanity’s CO2 output, meaning that the top 10 percent — mostly located in Europe and North America — are responsible for the majority of the problem. The middle 40 percent used up the remaining 41 percent. This means that the wealthiest one percent use over 100 times the carbon dioxide as someone in the bottom half of humanity.

A new report from Oxfam underlines the astonishing inequality of co2 emissions, with the top 1% responsible for twice as much as the bottom 50%https://t.co/Dy6oJrkDda pic.twitter.com/SLwNKmKdul

— Alan MacLeod (@AlanRMacLeod) September 21, 2020

The current system, the report warns, is completely unsustainable if humanity is to avoid catastrophic global warming that will challenge organized human society. If the planet is to avoid a temperature increase of over 1.5 degrees Celsius — the target set by the Paris Agreement — then we will have to radically reduce our collective carbon footprint. Unfortunately, Oxfam notes, the rich have been blowing through our remaining carbon budget at a perilously fast rate; the per capita carbon usage of the world’s rich being 35 times higher than the targets for 2030 set by the Paris Agreement.

While energy consumption has dropped during the COVID-related lockdown this year, if the wealthiest ten percent of society continues to live as they do, the world’s entire carbon budget will be blown by 2033, even if all other emissions from the bottom 90 percent drop to zero.

“The over-consumption of a wealthy minority is fuelling the climate crisis yet it is poor communities and young people who are paying the price. Such extreme carbon inequality is a direct consequence of our governments decades long pursuit of grossly unequal and carbon intensive economic growth,” said Tim Gore, Head of Climate Policy at Oxfam.

While many in the West brush off any moves towards radical action on climate change by by pointing to growing populations in the Global South, calling for population control rather than limits on emissions, the reality is that the United States has around 160 times the per capita emissions of Malawi or Uganda, two of the fastest growing populations in the world, meaning that life in Africa is vastly more sustainable than in the U.S.

From wildfires in Australia and the Western United States to tornadoes in the midwest, climate catastrophes have been headline news in 2020, along with the COVID-19 pandemic. The causal link between man made climate change and extreme weather events is well established. Yet both the media and politicians continue to shy away from discussing the problem. If inequality is a driver of climate change as the report states, then 2020 is not good news. The world’s billionaire class has added nearly $1 trillion to their wealth during the pandemic, with multinational companies with robust supply chains and delivery services prospering. On the other hand, small businesses are failing en masse. Data from Yelp shows that 60 percent of American businesses that shut their doors during lockdown are now permanently closed.

By far the largest share of emissions from high earners comes from travel, in particular flights, meaning that the jet set elite bear the brunt of the responsibility. Gore suggested that it was possible and necessary to tackle both the climate and inequality crises together. “Governments must curb the emissions of the wealthy through taxes and bans on luxury carbon such as SUVs and frequent flights. Revenues should be invested in public services and low carbon sectors to create jobs, and help end poverty,” he said.

The report also suggested ending airline companies’ right to buy fuel tax free and a huge investment in public infrastructure projects, such as public transportation networks, that would allow individuals to travel in a more sustainable manner. It even suggested a ban on advertising to reduce the consumption of unnecessary items.

Ultimately, the report demonstrates that the income and wealth gap between the world’s rich and everybody else is inherently unsustainable on a planet with finite resources. The question now is whether we change it or simply watch the world burn.

Feature photo | People tour a private jet at Flexjet’s Richmond Heights, OH headquarters on June 27, 2019. Michael Mcelroy | AP via Flexjet

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Top 1% Responsible for Double the Carbon Emissions of Bottom Half: Oxfam appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, Climate Change, CO2 emmisions, inequality, Oxfam, study]

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[l] at 9/21/20 11:12am

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has returned from his official visits to Suriname, Guyana, Colombia and Brazil, where he discussed the possibilities of regime change in Venezuela, a nation which has drawn Washington’s ire for over 20 years.

On Saturday the 56-year-old former CIA Director announced a $348 million package he said was a “response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by the corrupt and illegitimate Maduro regime,” and signaled the U.S.’ “commitment to the Venezuelan people.”

“U.S. humanitarian assistance provides access to emergency food, safe drinking water, direct cash assistance, sanitation, and hygiene support, health care, medical supplies, psychosocial support, livelihoods, and protection for vulnerable groups including women, youth, and indigenous people,” the State Department’s press release on the issue read, programs that the U.S. government is failing to provide for its own citizens during the pandemic. It also noted that much of the cash would actually be going to neighboring countries that have taken in migrants, rather than individuals themselves.

Yet neither Pompeo nor the State Department noted that Venezuela is in such parlous economic straits in no small part due to the actions of the U.S. government. Washington has placed the country under ever-tightening sanctions for years, going after any individual, business or government who trades with the country. This has effectively led to an international blockade of the country, where Venezuela can neither import vital products like food or medicines nor sell oil, its primary export.

The long economic malaise also brought on by government incompetence, local elites’ intransigence, and a continued regional downturn has led to extreme hardship for millions, with the U.S. sanctions alone directly responsible for over 100,000 deaths, according to Swiss-American U.N. Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who visited the country and declared the U.S. guilty of “crimes against humanity.” Thus, it could be said that the State Department’s actions are merely attempting to put a bandaid over a deep cut they themselves stuck a knife into.

While in Colombia, Pompeo discussed regime change in Venezuela with Colombian President Ivan Duque, who described the Kansan as a “dear friend of Colombia” and accused President Maduro of Venezuela of crimes against humanity. In Brazil, Pompeo managed to get the Bolsonaro administration to sign off on his “Democratic Transition Framework” (DTS) for Venezuela as the way forward.

The DTS requires Maduro to resign and for the country’s Constituent Assembly to be completely dissolved, with all power going to the National Assembly, the only branch of government the opposition currently controls. From there, the National Assembly would appoint new members to the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council. And while the DTS does not specifically state Maduro could not run for office again, Pompeo made it clear, stating, “Nicolas Maduro will never again govern Venezuela.” Therefore, it seems unlikely that Maduro, who was elected by a larger share of the electorate than Trump in 2016 or Obama in 2012, would sign off on such sweeping changes to the country that the Trump administration demands.

The United States also continues to support self-declared president Juan Guaidó, who has launched a series of unsuccessful coup attempts since January 2019. Washington has recently been transferring seized Venezuelan government assets to him so he can personally give every health worker $20 per month during the coronavirus pandemic. With the Venezuelan bolivar so weak, the stipend amounts to a sizable subsidy. Guaidó has retained strong bipartisan support in Washington, despite leaked contracts between himself and U.S. mercenary group Silvercorp showing he intended to rule alone after the coup, paying the organization to become his personal security force and crushing any resistance to his rule. Inside Venezuela, however, polls show only three percent of the population back him.

 

Biden: a break with the past or more of the same?

With elections coming up in November, it is possible that there will be a change in government in the United States before Venezuela. Democratic challenger Joe Biden currently holds a 6.5 point nationwide lead in combined polling. Over 100 organizations are urging the former vice-president to adopt a “good neighbor” policy with regards to the region. And while the Democratic National Platform is more progressive on Cuba, it makes clear that it wants regime change in Venezuela as well.

In order to better understand the potential for a different American path for Latin America under a Biden presidency, MintPress spoke with Dr. Barry Cannon, a sociologist specializing in Latin American politics at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Cannon was hopeful that a Biden presidency could mean a more multilateral approach in the region, some lessening of sanctions on Venezuela, and more openness towards negotiations. It could also mean the U.S. moving away from such close support with the far-right Bolsonaro administration and more cooperation with left-of-center governments, such as those in Mexico and Argentina.

“However, I wouldn’t expect any great departures from Trump-era policies,” he warned, noting that Colombia, “which has a far worse human rights record than Venezuela,” is, “almost always supported by the U.S.” While Washington will “continue to actively work against any Latin American country which challenges U.S. imperial power in the region,” such as Venezuela or Bolivia, where Movement to Socialism candidate Luis Arce is the frontrunner in October’s election. “It’s important to keep in mind the continuities in U.S. Americas policy with Trump in charge rather than the differences,” he concluded.

Feature photo | U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second right, and Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, are received at a reception center in the Boa Vista Air Base in Roraima, Brazil, Sept. 18, 2020. Bruno Mancinelle | Pool via AP

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Pompeo Announces Funding for Welfare, Healthcare and Indigenous Support. In Venezuela appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, humanitarian aid, Mike Pompeo, Regime Change, United States, Venezuela]

[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 9/18/20 3:36pm

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is getting ready for the “next battlefield” and counting on the expertise of private concerns, like Booz Allen Hamilton, to implement what it calls Machine-assisted Analytic Rapid-repository System, or MARS for short. MARS is a critical data management system for “military targeting” and operation planning.

MARS is currently the DIA’s top priority, and according to DIA director Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley Jr., the aim is to replicate “the commercial Internet that everybody uses every day,” with the added functionality of providing a “foundational intelligence picture […] at speed and at scale.”

Terry Busch, chief of DIA’s integrated analysis and methodologies division, highlights the difference between the MARS program he manages and the old “stovepipe” data management technologies it is meant to replace: “What comes out of MARS at the end is not data, it’s analysis. It’s finished intelligence.”

Which kind of intelligence, specifically, will be assessed dynamically by the machine’s algorithms in a new kind of database management system using AI functionality. It will revolutionize the way data is received and acted-upon. As it scours and collects vast datasets and volumes of foreign intelligence that support U.S. military operations around the world, MARS will be equipped to handle both large amounts of data, like the storage-intensive images and videos collected by the National Reconnaissance Office and also analyze the information to produce actionable leads in the battlefield.

It is nothing less than the 1983 sci-fi classic “WarGames” come to life. A ‘machine’ that decides when to go to war based on the information it is fed. In the movie, a military drill of a surprise nuclear attack on the United States accidentally goes live after a hacker, played by Matthew Broderick, “unwittingly” puts the world on the brink of nuclear war.

MARS program manager Terry Busch doesn’t discount the possibility. “On the machine side,” Busch stated, “we have experienced confirmation bias in big data,” adding that it was a “real concern” given that they’ve had “the machine retrain itself to error”.

COVID-19, however, has given the top military intelligence department the opportunity to “prove [its] ability to deliver the capabilities of MARS”, as DIA chief of Staff, John Sawyer, said at a National Security Summit that concluded Friday. The “assumptions about the nature of our work,” he claims were challenged during the pandemic, were especially fruitful in regards to the MARS program, which can now benefit from a new modality of military intelligence propagation that will be “the future of how we are going to understand fighting”.

 

Privatizing war

The massive scope of the DIA’s database retooling can be glimpsed by the size of the multiple-award contract it announced in August of last year, totaling over $17 Billion in contracts to 16 different companies, from large and established military contractors to startups. The largest “individual task orders” went to companies like Booz Allen Hamilton, the long-time private military intelligence-gathering operation that once employed Edward Snowden, and the far less known – but far more significant – Harold Thomas Martin III, who pled guilty in 2019 of stealing classified material pertaining to NSA “source code to break into computer systems of adversaries like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.”

In September 2019, Booz Allen Hamilton received a $90 Million contract to deliver “services for the production, dissemination, and tracking of DIA’s finished intelligence products, including the development and maintenance of applications and tools used to perform the mission.” Other private defense contractors include aerospace giant BAE Systems, Leidos (formerly Science Applications International Corporation, SAIC), and Vencore.

At the two-day intelligence summit, Sawyer alluded to the importance of the private sector in this endeavor, stating that “We have to rely on our partners and industry,” and “have them help us understand the art of the possible and the cutting-edge technology that is out there and to provide the expertise that will allow us to maintain our qualitative edge.”

 

This is not a drill

The rationale behind prioritizing the overhaul of the DIA’s data management system, a system that is tasked with the “delivery of intelligence to military planners, international partners and analysts,” is the “re-emergence” of “great powers.,” according to the agency. In addition, the DIA claims that everything “the nation knows about adversaries’ capabilities, tactics and military doctrine” is no longer enough in a “more competitive, dynamic and dangerous” global environment.

Touted by the DIA as a “decision advantage for the 21st century”, MARS, represents a perilous use of artificial intelligence, and program manager Busch’s aforementioned claims regarding “finished intelligence” should be noted, again, as advances in cloud computing will allow MARS to simulate “courses of action, allowing operators to quickly and fully grasp the likely effects of proposed activities or movements.”

WarGames ends like you’d expect a Hollywood movie to end, with all the built-up suspense and danger is resolved by the hero before the credits start rolling. In the film, the human wins and manages to get WOPR, the artificial intelligence machine, to relinquish control of the nuclear trigger and avert a nuclear conflagration. The acronym chosen for its real-life manifestation, named after the Roman god of war, should remind us that real life isn’t like the movies.

Feature photo | Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, left, accompanied by Defense Intelligence Agency Director Gen. Robert Ashley and National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Jan. 29, 2019. Jose Luis Magana | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Pentagon’s Top Spy Agency Turns To AI for Targeting and Operations Planning appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, artificial intelligence, Booz Allen Hamilton, Defense Intelligence Agency, Mars]

[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 9/18/20 2:53pm

From Djurgården, I walk along the water on Strandvägen – a rising fall whips in a determined wind across the water, slicing at remnants of summer and carving pathways around centuries-old buildings. Colors like Nordic interior design catalogs look like they’ve been stirred among clouds – a muted vibrance that evokes a calm and stoic resolve.

Albeit quieter than a typical early fall day, there’s a bustle. People are out and their faces are bare. Buses and trolleys roll by and not a mask can be seen inside. Scuffed and faded stickers on the street remind people to keep their distance yet they seem like relics from a time long gone when a global pandemic was something people needed to worry about. The only time I could feel the ghostly press of the pandemic was in the Old Town. Typically wall-to-cobbled-street-wall with tourists, it was surprisingly empty. A few crinkled and hand-scribbled signs in shop windows announced limited hours or closures – no opening date, just closed.

But like a fleeting eerie patch in a lucid dream, as soon as I wandered across the bridge to Söder, the Southern island of Stockholm, the bustle was back – and bigger. On Götgatan, the main thoroughfare that runs the length of the island, streets and sidewalks were thick with pedestrians. Bikes zipped to and fro, people sauntered, rushed and stopped to chat. Absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary. Restaurants were open, barbershops, clothing stores, and even pharmacies were welcoming unmasked patrons in. As I stepped tentatively into a shop I’d frequented many times – looking for a special Swedish soap – my flowery mask was greeted as if I had strapped a giant dildo to my forehead. By the register, a plexiglass shield sat uselessly as the woman ringing me up poked her head around it to speak to me. I couldn’t help but laugh. Into my mask.

Before this pandemic began, I had started writing an article about Sweden – about the shiny facade of democratic socialism that hides a decidedly capitalist reality shifting more and more towards the U.S. model on how to fuck people over more efficiently and for more profit. Still, when the pandemic hit, I was sure that Sweden would respond the way our neighbors did in Denmark and Norway. After all, for all their faults, Sweden believes in things like climate change. Sweden uplifts scientific research and surely, Sweden wouldn’t turn its back on clear cut epidemiological evidence. Right?

 

Ice in your belly

Enter Anders Tegnell, the controversial State Epidemiologist who has led Sweden’s COVID response – or lack thereof. As nations around the globe locked down, mandated face masks, and engaged in contact tracing and mass testing, Sweden implemented measures such as banning gatherings of more than 50 people, closing high schools and universities while keeping younger children in school (homeschooling is not allowed except in “extraordinary circumstances”). Shops stayed open as did most other businesses save big amusement parks, concert venues, and the like. As I was headed back to the states in early September, a neighbor’s high school kids were on a three-day rotation: two days in school for at most a half-day, and then one day of remote learning.

None of these moves were spontaneous or without measured consideration. Ask any Scandinavian – Swedes aren’t known for our carefree spontaneity. No, at the start of the pandemic, the plan was clear. Tegnell and friends said they’d be leaning heavily on “folkvett,” which basically translates to common sense. Of course, the problem with common sense during a pandemic is twofold. One, not everyone has it. Two, common sense doesn’t help address the failures or shortcomings of a government butt-scooting down the human decency curve on a neoliberal slip-n-slide. Still, like any neoliberal endeavor, this one comes pre-packaged with all kinds of slick excuses and explanations.

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Tegnell notes that the goal from the beginning was “sustainability… to be resistant to quick fixes, to realize that this is not going to be easy… it’s not going to be fixed by one kind of measure.” The fallacy here of course is to conflate stricter measures with a quick fix and to ignore the fact that stricter measures on the front-end saves lives and allows for an easing of restrictions later on (just look at New Zealand and South Korea). But ignore this he does! Tegnell taps an old Swedish saying “is i magen” which translates literally to ice in your belly – the idea that you should remain calm and not panic in stressful situations. Here again, Tegnell falls into a false equivalency. Panic is not the same thing as a calm but quick and logical response. An EMT for instance has to act quickly, but should obviously not panic in the midst of stabilizing a patient for transport from the bloody scene of an accident.

Tegnell Sweden

Tegnell, Sweden’s COVID-19 guru, gives a daily update on the coronavirus situation in Stockholm, June 3, 2020. Anders Wiklund | TT via AP

Tegnell, however, is the EMT in the passenger seat smoking a cigarette. He trusts that things will work out fine and in Tegnell’s case, he feels that they largely have. Back in June, he conceded during an interview that “If we would encounter the same disease, with exactly what we know about it today, I think we would land midway between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world did.” Yet, come September he told the Financial Times that he’s actually not sure the response would have changed much. This comes after an incident in mid-August where he again drew international ire for saying that wearing masks could actually be “dangerous” as it gives the wearer a false sense of security. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Biden’s quip when asked if he feels bad about any of his policy choices: “I regret nothing.”

Sadly, Tegnell’s thinking is something you can hear echoing across the political spectrum in Sweden. From my more conservative friends to anarchists, people are saying that wearing masks just promotes carelessness as opposed to safety. There’s a surprising uniformity of support for the government’s COVID response. The nearly 6,000 deaths of predominantly seniors are astonishingly shrugged off by the center and right while those to the left point a singular finger at the privatization and diminished quality of elder care in the country.

 

A neoliberal wet dream

An article from April in the leftist media outlet The Proletarian notes that some 21 percent of Swedish elder care is privatized, compared to 10 percent in Norway. What this shakes out to in terms of quality of care is that private firms require lower levels of schooling, fewer employees overall, and a more rapidly revolving door of part-time and temp employees thanks to corporate attempts to side-step the benefits guaranteed to full-time, non-temp workers. This also means that the workers have less power in the workplace, and there have been more than a few cases of workers quietly showing up to work with symptoms simply because they want to keep their jobs and not give the boss cause to fire them. Sound familiar?

Indeed, Sweden’s elder care is a neoliberal wet dream in many ways and provided a ready petri dish for COVID. That being said, shitty elder care and a shitty COVID strategy are not mutually exclusive issues. For instance, back in April, the Guardian reported on the fact that workers in Swedish elder care facilities weren’t wearing masks or gloves. When questioned, workers said they were just following guidelines.

As of September 14, according to the Public Health Authority, 41 percent of all the COVID deaths have been among those aged 80-89 years old, and an astonishing 88 percent of all deaths have been among those aged 70 and over. That is both a failure of COVID policy and a failure of elder care policy. It’s reminiscent of the legend of the ättestup which tells that in Viking times, the elderly were supposedly thrown off of cliffs or jump of their own accord so as not to be a burden to their communities. While historians have debunked this legend, it would seem from recent events that Sweden is attempting a morbid modern-day re-enactment of this old legend.

To give some context to these numbers, with a population roughly that of North Carolina, Sweden has the fifth-highest mortality rate per capita in Europe – five times higher than Denmark, and ten times higher than Norway and Finland.

Sweden

Laid-off flight attendants learn basic skills to work in nursing homes due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Stockholm. David Keyton | AP

Still, Tegnell seems undeterred. In a September interview with news outlet France24, he notes that “Of course something went wrong when 5,800 people died. That’s definitely not something we expected. Nothing we planned for, nothing we hoped for. So that’s definitely gone wrong. But that does not mean that the strategy itself has gone wrong.” One might be inclined to wonder what it would take for Tegnell to admit that a strategy is wrong.

One might even be inclined to ask what that strategy is. In that same interview, Tegnell denied ever suggesting that herd immunity was the goal of the Swedish strategy despite the fact that leaked emails from March of this year prove otherwise.

In the same email dump, Tegnell responds to his Finnish counterpart, Mika Salminen who expressed concern over Tegnell’s wish to keep schools open, pointing out that closing schools could stop the spread of COVID to vulnerable age groups by 10 percent. Tegnell’s response: “10% might be worth it?” Worth it how exactly? So you can eat at a restaurant? So third-year students can celebrate their final exams, as was suggested in another email to Tegnell? We may never know the answer to this question – or others – considering the fact that Tegnell deleted many emails that were requested by journalists in Sweden. Maybe he should get some tips from Hillary Clinton on private servers.

 

Cast off the cliff of capitalism

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which of the many possible reasons Tegnell chose to sidestep scientifically-proven measures during a pandemic. What matters is that almost 6,000 people were cast off the cliff of capitalism unnecessarily. Indeed, if the hope was to shelter Sweden’s capital, that didn’t work out either. In an analysis of data by the Financial Times, Sweden’s economy is doing worse than the economies of both Finland and Norway, while again leading the way in COVID deaths for Scandinavia – by a long haul. Unfortunately, the global capitalist market doesn’t really care whether or not Sweden stayed open for business.

In the midst of all this death and economic downturn, Sweden’s politicians have tip-toed around truth and riffed on classic neoliberal double-speak. They uplift the idea of common sense while failing to use any of their own. They dare to quip about sustainability at a time when Sweden is seeking to expand their oil refineries. They take credit for avoiding a current surge in European cases when the fact is that their policy has cost lives, not saved them.

If anyone can be thanked for avoiding all out disaster, it is (some of) the Swedish people themselves. A recent analysis from researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden and the University of Virginia School of Medicine show that nearly a third of Swedish residents voluntarily self-isolated. Many people, particularly those in high-risk groups, ignored Tegnell and donned masks and face shields in order to go shopping, using creative hand signals to remind people to respect the time-honored Swedish tradition of social distancing. Some families, including high-risk households, even tried to keep kids at home when schools reopened this fall, precipitating either fines or harassment from social services. Experts and academics signed on to a letter demanding a “more responsible policy” at the start of the school year, citing ongoing research that shows children do spread the virus, even if they are asymptomatic themselves.

Sweden COVID

People sit in a crowded restaurant in Stockholm. David Keyton | AP

And herein lies the crux of the whole shebang – a silver lining and indeed a silver thread that connects our struggles here in the U.S. with those in Sweden and across the globe: at best, the government does nothing, and more often than not they actively obstruct people’s ability to thrive or even survive. Sweden still enjoys many socialized institutions and is admittedly a far cry from this shitty city upon a hill – this most capitalist of all cut-throat capitalist goons that is the U.S. But they are headed this way. The siren call of neoliberalism can be heard in more places than just elder care centers. The rise of fascism there learns and adapts from the rise of fascism here.

And so we too must adapt. We must decouple our minds from the decrees of our politicians. Again, the striking support for Tegnell’s dumbshittery across the political spectrum in Sweden is very worrisome. We must indeed consider and fight for something sustainable – but that should not be (and in reality can not be) a sustainable capitalism. Indeed, what better current critique of capitalism is there than the fact that people must cheat death in order to financially survive? Or that our lowest paid workers are our most essential?

It is beyond infuriating, and unacceptable to think that (as I write this) 5,877 people have died from COVID in Sweden. But in the dark reality of government failures, we can see the light of actual common sense, of collectively using it. We can see laid bare the deeper cancers eating away at our present and our future. The French Revolutionary Maximillien Robespierre once wrote that “Louis must die so that France may live.” To repurpose that for our times: capitalism must die so that the world may live.

Feature photo | A hair stylist works inside her shop in Stockholm, Sweden. Andres Kudacki | AP file photo

Eleanor Goldfield is a creative activist and journalist. Her work has appeared on Free Speech TV where she produced and hosted the weekly radical news show, Act Out! for five years. Her print work has appeared via MintPress News, ROAR, Popular Resistance, RT, and more. She is the host of the podcast Act Out! and the co-host of the podcast Common Censored along with Lee Camp. Her first long-form, deep-dive video piece, “Hard Road of Hope,” covers past and present radicalism in the resource colony known as West Virginia. Besides touring, performing and media work, she assists in frontline action organizing and activist training. Visit her website at artkillingapathy.com

The post No Socialist Paradise: Sweden’s COVID-19 Response Is Nothing to Envy appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, Insights, News, Top Story, Anders Tegnell, COVID-19, Democratic Socialism, privitization, Sweden]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 9/18/20 2:53pm

From Djurgården, I walk along the water on Strandvägen – a rising fall whips in a determined wind across the water, slicing at remnants of summer and carving pathways around centuries-old buildings. Colors like Nordic interior design catalogs look like they’ve been stirred among clouds – a muted vibrance that evokes a calm and stoic resolve.

Albeit quieter than a typical early fall day, there’s a bustle. People are out and their faces are bare. Buses and trolleys roll by and not a mask can be seen inside. Scuffed and faded stickers on the street remind people to keep their distance yet they seem like relics from a time long gone when a global pandemic was something people needed to worry about. The only time I could feel the ghostly press of the pandemic was in the Old Town. Typically wall-to-cobbled-street-wall with tourists, it was surprisingly empty. A few crinkled and hand-scribbled signs in shop windows announced limited hours or closures – no opening date, just closed.

But like a fleeting eerie patch in a lucid dream, as soon as I wandered across the bridge to Söder, the Southern island of Stockholm, the bustle was back – and bigger. On Götgatan, the main thoroughfare that runs the length of the island, streets and sidewalks were thick with pedestrians. Bikes zipped to and fro, people sauntered, rushed and stopped to chat. Absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary. Restaurants were open, barbershops, clothing stores, and even pharmacies were welcoming unmasked patrons in. As I stepped tentatively into a shop I’d frequented many times – looking for a special Swedish soap – my flowery mask was greeted as if I had strapped a giant dildo to my forehead. By the register, a plexiglass shield sat uselessly as the woman ringing me up poked her head around it to speak to me. I couldn’t help but laugh. Into my mask.

Before this pandemic began, I had started writing an article about Sweden – about the shiny facade of democratic socialism that hides a decidedly capitalist reality shifting more and more towards the U.S. model on how to fuck people over more efficiently and for more profit. Still, when the pandemic hit, I was sure that Sweden would respond the way our neighbors did in Denmark and Norway. After all, for all their faults, Sweden believes in things like climate change. Sweden uplifts scientific research and surely, Sweden wouldn’t turn its back on clear cut epidemiological evidence. Right?

 

Ice in your belly

Enter Anders Tegnell, the controversial State Epidemiologist who has led Sweden’s COVID response – or lack thereof. As nations around the globe locked down, mandated face masks, and engaged in contact tracing and mass testing, Sweden implemented measures such as banning gatherings of more than 50 people, closing high schools and universities while keeping younger children in school (homeschooling is not allowed except in “extraordinary circumstances”). Shops stayed open as did most other businesses save big amusement parks, concert venues, and the like. As I was headed back to the states in early September, a neighbor’s high school kids were on a three-day rotation: two days in school for at most a half-day, and then one day of remote learning.

None of these moves were spontaneous or without measured consideration. Ask any Scandinavian – Swedes aren’t known for our carefree spontaneity. No, at the start of the pandemic, the plan was clear. Tegnell and friends said they’d be leaning heavily on “folkvett,” which basically translates to common sense. Of course, the problem with common sense during a pandemic is twofold. One, not everyone has it. Two, common sense doesn’t help address the failures or shortcomings of a government butt-scooting down the human decency curve on a neoliberal slip-n-slide. Still, like any neoliberal endeavor, this one comes pre-packaged with all kinds of slick excuses and explanations.

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Tegnell notes that the goal from the beginning was “sustainability… to be resistant to quick fixes, to realize that this is not going to be easy… it’s not going to be fixed by one kind of measure.” The fallacy here of course is to conflate stricter measures with a quick fix and to ignore the fact that stricter measures on the front-end saves lives and allows for an easing of restrictions later on (just look at New Zealand and South Korea). But ignore this he does! Tegnell taps an old Swedish saying “is i magen” which translates literally to ice in your belly – the idea that you should remain calm and not panic in stressful situations. Here again, Tegnell falls into a false equivalency. Panic is not the same thing as a calm but quick and logical response. An EMT for instance has to act quickly, but should obviously not panic in the midst of stabilizing a patient for transport from the bloody scene of an accident.

Tegnell Sweden

Tegnell, Sweden’s COVID-19 guru, gives a daily update on the coronavirus situation in Stockholm, June 3, 2020. Anders Wiklund | TT via AP

Tegnell, however, is the EMT in the passenger seat smoking a cigarette. He trusts that things will work out fine and in Tegnell’s case, he feels that they largely have. Back in June, he conceded during an interview that “If we would encounter the same disease, with exactly what we know about it today, I think we would land midway between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world did.” Yet, come September he told the Financial Times that he’s actually not sure the response would have changed much. This comes after an incident in mid-August where he again drew international ire for saying that wearing masks could actually be “dangerous” as it gives the wearer a false sense of security. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Biden’s quip when asked if he feels bad about any of his policy choices: “I regret nothing.”

Sadly, Tegnell’s thinking is something you can hear echoing across the political spectrum in Sweden. From my more conservative friends to anarchists, people are saying that wearing masks just promotes carelessness as opposed to safety. There’s a surprising uniformity of support for the government’s COVID response. The nearly 6,000 deaths of predominantly seniors are astonishingly shrugged off by the center and right while those to the left point a singular finger at the privatization and diminished quality of elder care in the country.

 

A neoliberal wet dream

An article from April in the leftist media outlet The Proletarian notes that some 21 percent of Swedish elder care is privatized, compared to 10 percent in Norway. What this shakes out to in terms of quality of care is that private firms require lower levels of schooling, fewer employees overall, and a more rapidly revolving door of part-time and temp employees thanks to corporate attempts to side-step the benefits guaranteed to full-time, non-temp workers. This also means that the workers have less power in the workplace, and there have been more than a few cases of workers quietly showing up to work with symptoms simply because they want to keep their jobs and not give the boss cause to fire them. Sound familiar?

Indeed, Sweden’s elder care is a neoliberal wet dream in many ways and provided a ready petri dish for COVID. That being said, shitty elder care and a shitty COVID strategy are not mutually exclusive issues. For instance, back in April, the Guardian reported on the fact that workers in Swedish elder care facilities weren’t wearing masks or gloves. When questioned, workers said they were just following guidelines.

As of September 14, according to the Public Health Authority, 41 percent of all the COVID deaths have been among those aged 80-89 years old, and an astonishing 88 percent of all deaths have been among those aged 70 and over. That is both a failure of COVID policy and a failure of elder care policy. It’s reminiscent of the legend of the ättestup which tells that in Viking times, the elderly were supposedly thrown off of cliffs or jump of their own accord so as not to be a burden to their communities. While historians have debunked this legend, it would seem from recent events that Sweden is attempting a morbid modern-day re-enactment of this old legend.

To give some context to these numbers, with a population roughly that of North Carolina, Sweden has the fifth-highest mortality rate per capita in Europe – five times higher than Denmark, and ten times higher than Norway and Finland.

Sweden

Laid-off flight attendants learn basic skills to work in nursing homes due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Stockholm. David Keyton | AP

Still, Tegnell seems undeterred. In a September interview with news outlet France24, he notes that “Of course something went wrong when 5,800 people died. That’s definitely not something we expected. Nothing we planned for, nothing we hoped for. So that’s definitely gone wrong. But that does not mean that the strategy itself has gone wrong.” One might be inclined to wonder what it would take for Tegnell to admit that a strategy is wrong.

One might even be inclined to ask what that strategy is. In that same interview, Tegnell denied ever suggesting that herd immunity was the goal of the Swedish strategy despite the fact that leaked emails from March of this year prove otherwise.

In the same email dump, Tegnell responds to his Finnish counterpart, Mika Salminen who expressed concern over Tegnell’s wish to keep schools open, pointing out that closing schools could stop the spread of COVID to vulnerable age groups by 10 percent. Tegnell’s response: “10% might be worth it?” Worth it how exactly? So you can eat at a restaurant? So third-year students can celebrate their final exams, as was suggested in another email to Tegnell? We may never know the answer to this question – or others – considering the fact that Tegnell deleted many emails that were requested by journalists in Sweden. Maybe he should get some tips from Hillary Clinton on private servers.

 

Cast off the cliff of capitalism

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which of the many possible reasons Tegnell chose to sidestep scientifically-proven measures during a pandemic. What matters is that almost 6,000 people were cast off the cliff of capitalism unnecessarily. Indeed, if the hope was to shelter Sweden’s capital, that didn’t work out either. In an analysis of data by the Financial Times, Sweden’s economy is doing worse than the economies of both Finland and Norway, while again leading the way in COVID deaths for Scandinavia – by a long haul. Unfortunately, the global capitalist market doesn’t really care whether or not Sweden stayed open for business.

In the midst of all this death and economic downturn, Sweden’s politicians have tip-toed around truth and riffed on classic neoliberal double-speak. They uplift the idea of common sense while failing to use any of their own. They dare to quip about sustainability at a time when Sweden is seeking to expand their oil refineries. They take credit for avoiding a current surge in European cases when the fact is that their policy has cost lives, not saved them.

If anyone can be thanked for avoiding all out disaster, it is (some of) the Swedish people themselves. A recent analysis from researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden and the University of Virginia School of Medicine show that nearly a third of Swedish residents voluntarily self-isolated. Many people, particularly those in high-risk groups, ignored Tegnell and donned masks and face shields in order to go shopping, using creative hand signals to remind people to respect the time-honored Swedish tradition of social distancing. Some families, including high-risk households, even tried to keep kids at home when schools reopened this fall, precipitating either fines or harassment from social services. Experts and academics signed on to a letter demanding a “more responsible policy” at the start of the school year, citing ongoing research that shows children do spread the virus, even if they are asymptomatic themselves.

Sweden COVID

People sit in a crowded restaurant in Stockholm. David Keyton | AP

And herein lies the crux of the whole shebang – a silver lining and indeed a silver thread that connects our struggles here in the U.S. with those in Sweden and across the globe: at best, the government does nothing, and more often than not they actively obstruct people’s ability to thrive or even survive. Sweden still enjoys many socialized institutions and is admittedly a far cry from this shitty city upon a hill – this most capitalist of all cut-throat capitalist goons that is the U.S. But they are headed this way. The siren call of neoliberalism can be heard in more places than just elder care centers. The rise of fascism there learns and adapts from the rise of fascism here.

And so we too must adapt. We must decouple our minds from the decrees of our politicians. Again, the striking support for Tegnell’s dumbshittery across the political spectrum in Sweden is very worrisome. We must indeed consider and fight for something sustainable – but that should not be (and in reality can not be) a sustainable capitalism. Indeed, what better current critique of capitalism is there than the fact that people must cheat death in order to financially survive? Or that our lowest paid workers are our most essential?

It is beyond infuriating, and unacceptable to think that (as I write this) 5,877 people have died from COVID in Sweden. But in the dark reality of government failures, we can see the light of actual common sense, of collectively using it. We can see laid bare the deeper cancers eating away at our present and our future. The French Revolutionary Maximillien Robespierre once wrote that “Louis must die so that France may live.” To repurpose that for our times: capitalism must die so that the world may live.

Feature photo | A hair stylist works inside her shop in Stockholm, Sweden. Andres Kudacki | AP file photo

Eleanor Goldfield is a creative activist and journalist. Her work has appeared on Free Speech TV where she produced and hosted the weekly radical news show, Act Out! for five years. Her print work has appeared via MintPress News, ROAR, Popular Resistance, RT, and more. She is the host of the podcast Act Out! and the co-host of the podcast Common Censored along with Lee Camp. Her first long-form, deep-dive video piece, “Hard Road of Hope,” covers past and present radicalism in the resource colony known as West Virginia. Besides touring, performing and media work, she assists in frontline action organizing and activist training. Visit her website at artkillingapathy.com

The post The Final Nail: COVID-19 Marks the End of Democratic Socialism in Sweden appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, Insights, News, Top Story, Anders Tegnell, COVID-19, Democratic Socialism, privitization, Sweden]

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[l] at 9/18/20 12:54pm

Another grim milestone has just passed in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia’s war against the poorest country in the Middle East reached its two-thousandth day. Ostensibly, the war was launched to restore President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to power after he was ousted following Houthi-led popular protests amid the Arab Spring.

Realistically, the war has become little more than a pretext to control Yemen’s strategic sites and natural wealth. Saudi Arabia and the UAE now occupy entire southern provinces from al-Mahara to the Bab al-Mandab Strait. Somehow, though, they have not yet allowed Haddi and his old guard to return.

 

Grim statistics

The numbers are astonishing. Since 2015, Saudi-led coalition warplanes have pounded the country with over 250,000 airstrikes. Seventy percent of those have hit civilian targets, killing more than 100,000 people since January 2016, according to a report by the Armed Conflict and Location Event Data Project (ACLED). Those numbers do not include those who have died in the humanitarian disasters caused by the war, particularly starvation and thousands of tons of weapons, most often supplied by the United States, have been dropped on hospitals, schools, markets, mosques, farms, factories, bridges, and power and water treatment plants.

Unexploded ordnances have been left scattered across populated areas, particularly in the urban areas of Sana’a, Sadaa, Hodeida, Hajjah, Marib, and al-Jawf, and have left the country one of the most heavily contaminated in the world.

As the war officially passes its two-thousandth day, the Eye of Humanity Center for Rights and Development, a Yemeni advocacy group, issued a report on where some of the estimated 600,000 bombs have landed. According to the non-governmental organization, those attacks have destroyed more than 21 economically-vital facilities like factories, food storage facilities, fishing boats, markets, and food, and fuel tankers and have damaged 9,000 pieces of critical infrastructure, including 15 airports, 16 seaports, 304 electrical stations, 2,098 tanks and water pumps, and 4,200 roads and bridges. At least 576,528 public service facilities, including more than 1,000 schools, 6,732 agricultural fields, and 1,375 mosques have been destroyed or damaged.

Yemen

A medic checks a malnourished newborn inside an incubator at Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, June 27, 2020. Hani Mohammed | AP

The blockade and bombing of civilian infrastructure, particularly hospitals, have also crippled Yemen’s health system, leaving it unable to deal with even the basic public health needs. Eye of Humanity reports that the coalition has destroyed 389 hospitals and health centers while most of the country’s estimated 300 remaining facilities are either closed or barely functioning as COVID-19 spreads through the country like wildfire.

Household food insecurity now hovers at over 70 percent, with fifty percent of rural households and 20 percent of urban households now food insecure. Almost one-third of Yemenis do not have enough food to satisfy basic nutritional needs. Underweight and stunted children have become a regular sight, especially among holdouts in rural areas.

This is Yemen after 2,000 days of war. A dirty war and a brutal siege on a forgotten people subsisting in unlivable conditions. If one is able to dodge death from war, starvation, and COVID-19, they face unprecedented levels of disease. Yemen’s average life expectancy now hovers at around 66, one of the lowest in the world. The Saudi blockade has imposed tight control over all aspects of life, severely restricting not only the movement of aid and people but also of UN flights. Last week, both the Ministry of Transportation and the General Authority of Civil Aviation and Meteorology announced that Sana’a International Airport was no longer equipped to receive the official airplane of UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffith.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is still preventing fuel tankers from delivering much-needed fuel to Yemen’s hospitals, water pumps, bakeries, cleaning trucks, and gas stations, plunging it, particularly northern districts, into a fuel crisis. The blockade has not only forced thousands to wait for days in lines as far as the eye can see but has forced many facilities to shut down altogether. All while Saudi Arabia and its local militias plunder crude oil in Marib, Shabwah, and Hadramout.

 

After normalization, the UAE steps up attacks

For many Yemenis, there is little reason for optimism entering what feels like the third phase of the war against their country, as Israel ostensibly enters the fray. They believe that the situation will escalate as a result of normalization between the UAE and Israel, and indeed, Tel Aviv’s entrance into the already convoluted theater appears to have already opened the door for further escalation.

Since normalization, UAE warplanes have intensified airstrikes against populated areas throughout the country’s northern provinces. In Sana’a, approximately 20 aerial attacks hit densely populated neighborhoods and brazenly targeted the Sana’a Airport, a military engineering camp, and a poultry farm, among other targets.

UAE warplanes are believed by locals to be receiving logistical support by Israel, although no evidence has yet surfaced yet to substantiate those fears. In a stark departure from the UAE’s more conciliatory tone in Yemen over the past year, UAE aircraft have carried out more than 100 airstrikes since August 13, when Trump announced the normalization between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. They also pounded the oil-rich province of Marib, located east the country, where UAE jets dropped more than 300 bombs targeting transport trucks, fuel stations, homes, and farms. Advanced military sites belonging to the Ansar Allah-led were also targeted.

Reinforcing the heir of hopelessness is that the United States continues to neglect Yemen’s suffering, despite its designation by the United Nations calling as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Even with the 2020 election looming and President Donald Trump leaning heavily into his foreign policy accomplishments, the U.S. role in Yemen has been noticeably absent from the discussion. Biden has been no better, leaving little hope that the December elections could bring an end to the war.

 

Half-hearted attempts at peace

There are efforts underway to bring some semblance of peace to Yemen by parties in both Qatar and Oman. Secret negotiations have been held in Sana’a, but they seem aimed at stopping the Houthi advance in Marib and not the war in general.

In reality, international voices are loudest when the war begins to affect Saudi Arabia, as they were last September when Saudi oil facilities were attacked, or when a Houthi advance threatens the Saudi border as it did in August of 2019 when an operation captured 4,000 square kilometers of Saudi territory in Najran.

Qatari and Omani efforts are not the only ones on the ground. The United Nations envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is leading other efforts aimed at stopping the Houthi advance in Marib. Griffiths said during a recent Security Council session that, “The situation in Marib is of concern. Military shifts in Marib have ripple effects on conflict dynamics. If Marib falls, it’d undermine prospects of convening an inclusive political process that brings about a transition based on partnership and plurality.”

Neither the efforts in Qatar nor those by the UN even purport to be focused on bringing an end to the war or mitigating the blockade, instead, they seem only concerned with assuring the Coalition retains its competitive advantage.

2,000 days of war, in fact, have proven an insufficient term to bring peace to the war-torn country. With the exception of a fragile ceasefire in Hodeida and a small number of prisoner releases, negotiations between the two sides, even on minor issues, often reach a dead end. Numerous negotiations between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia have failed, including UN-brokered peace talks in Switzerland last year.

 

The Houthis grow stronger

When the war began over five years ago, Saudi leaders promised a decisive victory in a matter of weeks, one or two months at most. Yet the Houthis remain steadfast in their resistance and, in fact, have grown even more powerful leading to consternation in the Kingdom, with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz dismissing the leader of the Coalition forces Fahd bin Turki and a number of senior officers following a series of recent Saudi battlefield failures.

On Thursday, Houthi forces carried out drone strikes against the al-Abha Airport in Saudi Arabia’s southwestern province of Asir. The operation was the fifth against the airport and a sign that half of a decade of war has done little to bring security to the Kingdom.

In fact, the Houthis now seem intent on moving the frontline into Saudi Arabia and UAE territory and have even promised retaliatory action against Israel should they continue to escalate their involvement in the war. According to Houthi spokesman Mohammed AbdulSalam, “the Saudi-led war on Yemen the price the Arab nation is paying for taking a firm stance against Israel,”  adding “Israelis are involved in most of the conflicts plaguing the region, including the Riyadh-led aggression against Yemen.”

Feature photo | Tribesmen loyal to the Houthis hold their weapons as they ride in a vehicle during a gathering against the agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, in Sanaa, Yemen, Aug. 22, 2020. Hani Mohammed | AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post 2,000 Days Since It Began, the War in Yemen Is Poised To Turn Even More Deadly appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, Yemen Coverage, airstrikes, Israel, UAE, War, Yemen]

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[l] at 9/18/20 10:13am

The world’s wealthiest nations have already quietly bought up more than half of the potential future supply of the most promising COVID-19 vaccine doses, leaving little for anyone else. International charity Oxfam studied five leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates, currently under clinical trials, and found that rich countries had pumped billions of dollars into research, securing 51 percent of the promised doses. This means that the United Kingdom will have 45 times more doses per head of population than a poor country such as Bangladesh.

Worryingly, the vaccines are being researched and produced by for-profit transnational pharmaceutical corporations, who have already announced they intend to make profits on any future sales. Massachusetts-based Moderna, for example, has already sold options for all its supply to rich nations, for up to $35 per dose, effectively pricing out poorer countries who cannot afford to pay such a high price.

More concerning still, however, is that the five companies surveyed have nothing like the capacity to produce enough vaccines for all. Even if all five potential remedies succeed (an extremely unlikely best-case scenario), the large majority of the world’s population will not be able to be treated until at least 2022, Oxfam warns. Moderna, it notes, could only produce enough for around six percent of the world’s population on its own.

Without organized and committed popular pressure, big pharma has shown minimal interest in working together for the good of humanity, sharing knowledge and expertise, another example of the profit motive clashing with the public interest. “Governments will prolong this crisis in all of its human tragedy and economic damage if they allow pharmaceutical companies to protect their monopolies and profits,” said Chema Vera, Interim Executive Director of Oxfam International, “No single corporation will ever be able to meet the world’s need for a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s why we are calling on them to share their knowledge free of patents and to get behind a quantum leap in production to keep everyone safe. We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine.”

Pharmaceutical corporations are already engaged in serious pandemic profiteering. Antiviral drug Remdesivir has proven relatively effective in fighting COVID-19. California-based operation Gilead Sciences has been charging Americans over $3,000 for a full course of the drug, despite the fact that it costs them less than the price of a Subway sandwich to produce. Indeed, so cheap is the antiviral that the syringes and equipment needed to administer it cost more to make. Gilead’s price gouging was described as “ethically unacceptable” and “a new low” in pharmaceutical malpractice by medical researcher Dr. Andrew Hill.

While morally questionable, the pharmaceutical industry has a long history of reprehensible actions. Gilead itself is being sued in the U.S. and accused of deliberately holding back a lifesaving HIV drug for years to extend the profitability of its previous, inferior one. It has been alleged that this caused 16,000 needless deaths over a nine-year period. Gilead sells the drug for around $8 in Australia, but charges Americans $2,000 per month, thanks to U.S. laws preventing government price bargaining.

Dozens of pharmaceutical companies also took Nelson Mandela’s South African government to court for its decision to use generic HIV medication over infinitely more expensive brand name drugs, claiming it was breaching trade laws. They only dropped the case in 2001 after worldwide public pressure. 7.7 million South Africans live with HIV/AIDS, an official prevalence rate of over 20 percent, according to the U.N., although actual numbers may be higher.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to a rise in highly questionable behavior from nation-states. The U.S. under Trump has led the world in confiscating and stealing vital supplies bound for other nations, seizing ventilators meant for Barbados, masks meant for Germany, and equipment Brazil, France, and Canada had already paid for. It has also used the pandemic to push for harsher sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. Nearly 7 million Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 200,000 have died, although some believe the official figure is too low.

The global pandemic presents an opportunity for worldwide solidarity and cooperation, with viruses not respecting international borders. Unfortunately, the crisis seems to have brought out some of the worst behavior from corporations and governments alike. It appears the most powerful nations are treating lifesaving treatments as commodities to be bought and sold, rather than a pressing need for all of humanity.

Feature photo | Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Jenner Institute in Oxford, England, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. The Prime Minister toured the laboratory and met scientists who are leading the COVID vaccine research. Kirsty Wigglesworth | AP

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post According to Oxfam, Rich Countries Have Already Hoarded Most Future COVID Vaccines appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, COVID-19, Oxfam, study, Vaccine]

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